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Platinum Review – The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season (PS Vita)

There was a time that I didn’t think I’d ever earn any Platinum Trophies.  I had largely ignored Achievements on Xbox 360, and I didn’t think there was much reason to handle Trophies any differently.  But then I ended up with this one by accident, for The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season, and I felt a strange sense of accomplishment.

I then learned that this Platinum is in fact completely unmissable.  That is to say, you get it simply by completing the game.  Many trophy purists found this to be quite annoying, since most other games require a great deal more effort — a great deal more care.  After considering this fact, I realized that trophies offered a great measure for comparing just how much you cared about a certain game with your friends, and that I suddenly wanted to start collecting them for my favorite titles, almost out of a respect for the developers.

The Walking Dead was not a favorite of mine, as I’ve written before.  That voice acting and storyline were all very good, but the general controls combined with the astoundingly poor performance of this game on Vita made me severely unhappy to actually play it.  On this level, I’m slightly embarrassed to acknowledge it as my first, but here we are.

For this series of Platinum reviews, I will pick what I think is the best trophy, the worst trophy, a special mention trophy, and my overall rating for how much I enjoyed earning the Platinum itself.

Best Trophy: What Remains (Gold) — complete Episode 5: “No Time Left”.  I selected this because it was the end of the first season, the end of a miserable experience, which is kind of a terrible thing to say, but seriously, the technical issues were that bad.

Worst Trophy: The Walking Dead (Platinum) — earn all trophies in “The Walking Dead”.  As already stated, the idea that you get this one simply by playing through the story is a bit offensive to the idea of what a Platinum should be.

Special Mention Trophy: Lend Me Your Ears (Gold) — complete Episode 3: “The Long Road Ahead”.  This episode was especially powerful, storytelling-wise, featuring a shocking fate for multiple characters as well as a great twist at the end.

Rating: D — I wanted to give this an F for being so ludicrously easy to get, but the story was compelling enough throughout that it still felt like an achievement to complete (read: endure) it.

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Written by Michael

15 August 2014 at 12:14 am

Why I Don’t PC Game Anymore

I have a Mac.

I was very tempted to leave this article exactly as that one sentence, but that would have been disingenuous even if it were amusingly trollish.  That said, I haven’t concentrated on very many computer games since switching to Mac OS X, but I have dabbled here and there with such titles as EVE Online, Starcarft 2, Minecraft, and even Skyrim (via Windows in Bootcamp).  I have a number of unplayed Steam games to get to one day, even.  However, for the purposes of this blog, I will transport my mind back to my Windows PCs in college, back when I used to game heavily on them.  Considering this, I remember how the longer I owned a PC, the less valuable it felt to me.  Despite the progress that new programming and graphical techniques inevitably bring, games start to not look as good — not by comparison to other, newer gaming PCs anyway.  Contrast this with my PlayStation 4: I know that a PS4 manufactured five years from now will not outperform my launch unit.  It’ll be smaller and run cooler and be less expensive, but it will still output the very same images to someone else’s TV as my original does to mine.  But in the world of PCs, a five-year gap is like an epoch of computing.  It almost seems like you need to upgrade your video card every other year to keep the games looking just like the launch trailers for them.  That’s before we start getting into the mess of having to download the latest drivers, tweaking everything just so for maximum frames-per-second, and then still learning to be disappointed that such-and-such-game was actually fine-tuned for an nVidia card, not an ATI, so we’ll never experience it exactly in the way the developer wanted.

The opposite is true where my consoles are concerned: the longer I own them, the more valuable they seem to me.  The games look better and better as new ones release, they get more epic in both writing and gameplay, and the overall library of available titles grows so large I could never have any chance of completing them all.  Consoles improve with age by their very nature.

And while it’s true that contemporaneous PC games have better graphics, they need to be more powerful by necessity in order to draw quality images on a higher-resolution display than that of an HDTV, and they also need to hold up at two feet rather than eight.  When taking these distances into account, the differences aren’t so vast.  Moreover, I can’t shake the feeling that sitting at this desk, hands on this keyboard, feels like work to me.  Reclined on the couch with a controller, on the other hand, feels like leisure.  I know there are many out there that feel differently, who don’t mind and are actually enraptured by the idea of constantly tweaking and tinkering with their software and hardware as new games come out.  Or even if they’re not into those things, they don’t mind how each successive year of games requires that they move those graphics sliders further away from Maximum and closer and closer to Low.

Seriously, though, I appreciate that there’s no such thing in the world of consoles.  I also appreciate that abandoning PC gaming has led me to keeping this Late 2009 iMac around longer than I usually keep computers, and that it still doesn’t feel slow to me because I haven’t thrown the latest graphics powerhouse game at its now outdated and underpowered video card.  While PC gamers will often cite that they can build a better game system for the same amount of money that a console costs, it’s often a false economy when considering this.  To stay current is to commit oneself to countless upgrades — more RAM, a faster solid-state drive, a new video card with more pixel pipelines or whatever.  If you’re passionate about this enough, you’re even upgrading your cooling system so you can overclock safely.  It’s truly mind boggling to me.

My disinterest with micromanaging my computer is probably the single most significant reason I switched to the Mac platform, but this realization about the value of PC gaming compared with console gaming is the reason I likely will remain there permanently, even if those Steam Summer Sales are pretty awesome.

Written by Michael

4 August 2014 at 12:08 am

Posted in Games, Musings

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Snap Judgment – Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (PS3)

Whereas Starbreeze Studios has created longer, more mainstream games like The Darkness, Syndicate, and Payday 2 in the past, with Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, the developer went for quainter, more intimate story.  At just three hours long, this is a game that begs to be played in one sitting — and you ought to, given its ever compounding sentimentality.  Once enthralled, it’s hard to set down.

In this title, you’re tasked with controlling the two brothers simultaneously, one on either analog stick, and must manipulate the world around you or avoid enemies completely in tandem.  If this sounds difficult (or even tedious), I’ll admit that it can be.  There were a few moments I vocally expressed frustration at some of the controls in the game, especially where the jumping mechanic was concerned, which was strangely mapped to both of the gamepad’s triggers — one for each brother, just like the sticks.

That said, the game itself is never really difficult, and it’s fairly forgiving of mistakes.  This is, like so many other small titles out there, an experience: you won’t be racking up a score, gathering collectibles, or even deviating much from the linear path the writers have laid before you.  And truly, Brothers is beautiful (in art direction, score, and its conceit), from its most light-hearted moments to its most dire.  Given the attention paid to the non-gamey elements of the title, some of those controls do suffer a bit, as I explained, and there are some dropped frames and the occasional glitch, too; thankfully, these do not detract from the overall narrative.  In fact, all of the dialog is rendered in an incomprehensible language, and you are forced to intuit what is going on from context alone.  Amazingly, this works, as does the whole game in its totality.

But the best part is an element of gameplay that is so brilliant towards the end, it forced me to once again appreciate gaming differently than I had before.  But to explain it would be to spoil the plot.  As such, I’ve added those details to the end of this review, past the grade.  I do encourage you to go ahead and spend the $14.99 for it (SEN or Marketplace), as it is worth your time if you enjoy the art of this medium.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is imperfect in some of its execution, but it remains stunning on several levels, from art direction to narrative. What I described in the Spoiler section above was so powerful that I have given this game one higher letter-grade that I otherwise would. A-

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Written by Michael

14 June 2014 at 12:21 am

Top 10 Games I Played in 2013

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Due to how slow I can be at getting to new titles and finishing them, this list includes games that were published before 2013 – the only requirement here is that I played and beat it in 2013.  I have not added any PS4 titles either, since I intend to do a First Year of PS4 Retrospective at some point after November 15.

1. The Last of Us (PS3)
No surprise here.  This was Game of the Year for many sites, and it truly was one of those situations where all the hype and anticipation I had for it was rewarded by a title that exceeded what I thought a video game narrative could accomplish.  The ending of this game stayed with me, even vexed me, for days after with its profundity.  Naughty Dog turned in four spectacular games this last generation, and I believe they represent the very best of what the industry currently offers.

2. Tomb Raider (Xbox 360)
This game is really excellent – and is actually the last game I finished on Xbox 360 before liquidating that collection.  I think there were many who went into it with suspicion due to how poorly the series had been going in recent years, but I think Crystal Dynamics turned in a worthy reboot.  This title features some of the best third-person platforming and combat I’ve ever seen (truly), and the portrayal of Lara Croft was extremely well done (kudos to the lovely and talented Camilla Luddington).  For a long time, Lara was presented in a very objectified way, with her cartoonishly out-of-proportion features.  After years of this sexist portrayal, this reboot presents us with a very reasonable and human portrayal of the character.  I liked it so much I purchased it again for PS4.  (My God, it’s beautiful in 1080p/60fps.)

3. Journey (PS3)
For only being a couple of hours, there is no better example of a profound and moving experience in such an efficient package.  As I said in my review, Thatgamecompany’s take on multiplayer is especially noteworthy, as it manages to bring a sense of companionship and cooperation to a game that literally features no verbal communication whatsoever.  You don’t even know the name of the person you might end up journeying with until the credits roll.  And it works.  Beautiful, haunting score, and dazzling graphics.  This game is truly great.  And it means so much to so many different people; this was so strongly evidenced by hearing Shuhei Yoshida (President of Worldwide Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment) in tears as he described how it comforted him through tragedy (PlayStation Blogcast 099: Best of a Generation at timestamp 1:41:05).

4. Uncharted: Golden Abyss (PS Vita)
Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series set the bar for action/adventure platformers this last generation.  (It wasn’t until Tomb Raider that I thought a game had better mechanics for it.)  This title was developed by Sony Bend, however, and they did an extremely admirable job with it.  Using the same voice actor for series star, Nathan Drake, as well as the same sound design (including Uncharted’s great score), Golden Abyss was just about everything I wanted from a handheld version of this now classic series.  Indeed, this title alone convinced me that the Vita was worth owning, and I was rewarded with many other great experiences because of it.

5. inFAMOUS (PS3)
This is quite an old game now, but I didn’t get around to playing it until I heard for the millionth time how great this series is.  What’s so great is that you ostensibly play a superhero, and you feel powerful right from the start.  Despite this, the game designers at Sucker Punch found ways to give you more powers as the storyline progresses, to the point that you feel nearly godlike at the end.  (It’s still quite challenging in areas, despite your abilities.  I died a lot until I started being more strategic about my approach.)  inFAMOUS 2 is supposed to be even better, and with inFAMOUS: Second Son for the PS4 coming soon, I’ve got a lot more heroics ahead of me.

6. Gravity Rush (PS Vita)
Project Siren developed what is probably my second favorite Vita game.  Admittedly, I didn’t get it at first, and I nearly gave up on it after a few minutes.  I’m thankful that I stuck with it, however, because this title is pretty rad.  You play a character who has the ability to control gravity for short periods of time, which allows you to engage in challenging forms of combat, exploration, and platforming.  Its anime tropes and sensibilities are welcome, since I don’t possess many games like this.  The story is compelling but not always well executed upon (there are some dangling plot threads that it’s announced sequel will hopefully tackle).

7. Unfinished Swan (PS3)
Like Journey, this is another great indie title.  This one is by a developer named Giant Sparrow, and it’s a spectacular first effort.  You play a boy who gets pulled into another world through an unfinished painting of a swan – one where a king from long ago used a magic paint brush to build his own kingdom – and your objective is to pursue that swan who manages to lead you through a beautiful world full of charming narration and wonder.  Unfinished Swan also features a story that teaches an important lesson about the impermanence of human legacy and how it’s more important to appreciate the here and now of life more than your longterm contributions.  I’m excited to see where this studio goes.

8. Limbo (PS3)
Limbo features some of the simplest but strongest art direction you’ll see in video games, using inky black silhouettes and bright, blown-out lighting.  Limbo is also one of the harshest games I’ve played, reveling in its unfairness and darkly comical death animations, which you’ll see much of since you will die many, many times – be that by the creepiest giant spiders ever portrayed skewering you, drowning, getting cut in half by buzz saws, electrocution, being crushed, or any other sick idea the designers had.  But there is a masochist pleasure in playing this indie game, which like Journey features no spoken dialog or narration, but still manages to convey a sense of purpose, a goal to achieve and a reason to achieve it.  Bravo.

9. Beyond: Two Souls (PS3)
Despite being maligned by various members of the video game press, I think this game is about on par with Heavy Rain, which received far more acclaim.  But the tricks Quantum Dream employed this time weren’t all that different, and I think there’s a certain fatigue in playing Heavy Rain and then following it up with this one.  There’s also a sense of frustration for some of those people, who were engrossed by the illusion of choice that Heavy Rain used, whereas Beyond: Two Souls has a much more lead-by-the-nose, linear plot line – a vision that the writers wanted to execute on and not dilute with branching plot alternatives.  The decision to tell the story out of chronological order also baffled many, including myself.  That all said, I found the acting to be hugely compelling (kudos to Ellen Paige and Willem Dafoe for their powerhouse performances), and the conceit was far more intoxicating and intriguing an idea than the one featured in Heavy Rain to me.  It’s worth the time, if you can get past not having as much agency in it as some other games.

10. The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season (PS Vita)
This is a game that would probably have been higher on my list if its performance on Vita weren’t so terrible.  (And I blame Telltale Games for that, since Vita runs every other game I’ve played on its so well.)  That said, there’s a lot to like here, including good voice acting and general sound design, as well as a compelling story lines in each episode – the ending, in particular, is quite impressive.  Telltale made a great decision to not try to create a game directly involving the comic book or television show cast, but instead the developers chose to simply use the “universe” of The Walking Dead and create all-new characters and situations.  Also great is the included add-on 400 Days, which is a set of vignettes about the early days of the zombie outbreak following previously unseen characters.  Very strong stuff.  As for Season Two, I’m now debating whether I should simply switch to PS3 for it, in which case I would feel compelled to re-buy and re-play Season One on that console for the ability to transfer my save.  (That’s a great feature this series has.)  Alternatively, I would have to wait for a Season 2 port to Vita and hope it has good performance.

Looking back at this list, I’m pleased to see three indie titles (Journey, Unfinished Swan, and Limbo), as well as two games by small studios (Gravity Rush and The Walking Dead).  One of the defining developments of this last generation was the fall of the second-tier developer, that is, the ones who made your so-so games (usually rated 5, 6, 7, and occasionally 8 on gaming review sites).  The top-tier developers have remained strong, and are usually the ones who have major blockbuster releases each year, and have regrettably crushed those smaller developers with their onslaught of successful sequels.  In the vacuum that has resulted in these bankruptcies and mergers, indie studios have arisen and really taken the gaming world by storm with thoughtful, innovative titles, the likes of which has come to help define the PlayStation 4’s launch lineup due to Sony’s embrace of these guys.  The notion of playing a handful of large-scale AAA titles per year and filling in the rest of the time with indie titles excites me.  Because of this, I think that gaming is healthier than it’s ever been.

Snap Judgment – PlayStation Vita (Console Review)

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PlayStation Vita (Console Review)

I haven’t owned a handheld gaming console since the original GameBoy.  Let’s just say the technology has progressed quite a bit since then.

But the truth of the matter is that I always preferred gaming on consoles to handhelds — mostly because the games always felt lower-tier and thin to me.  (That’s pretty unfair, obviously.  There are examples like The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, which are pretty beefy.)

So, my game console-ownership progression looks something like this:

NES -> SNES -> GameBoy -> N64 -> PlayStation -> GameCube -> PS3 -> Xbox 360 -> PS Vita -> PS4.

Now, that’s the order in which I originally received or purchased those consoles.  I still play PS3, even though the Xbox 360 came after in that lineup.

Near the end of that is PlayStation Vita, the handheld that convinced me of two things: handhelds can, in fact, showcase console quality games; handhelds are dead.

Hardware
The PlayStation Vita is a fine piece of hardware.  It’s piano black casing is very attractive, if fingerprint prone, and its screen is enormous.

Screen
Many have waxed poetically about how gorgeous the 5” AMOLED screen is, and is quite good looking.  But I tend to judge screens against the iPhone’s Retina display, and AMOLED has never even felt close to me.  Colors are shifted far too blue, and the remaining colors are a bit smeared together.

It’s still quite good looking though, and is more than serviceable for games.  (AMOLED fails, in my estimation, on smartphones, where there are so many different application types.  Camera and web tend to look atrocious to me on phones that use the technology.  Games look pretty good, though, so Sony’s decision to embrace the technology pays off here.)

Controls
But the brilliance of Vita is the decision to use dual analog sticks.  This makes 3D gaming feel right on a handheld, and is the single most important thing to me, even over the use of the touchscreen and the touchpad back panel.

In fact, the buttons on the Vita push it close to being a DualShock.  It’s missing L2 and R2 (secondary shoulder buttons), as well as L3 and R3 (analog push-in), but it does have a pretty good D-pad, as well as L1 and R1, and the iconic PlayStation face buttons.

The use of the touchscreen and touchpad make up for the missing buttons otherwise, and the Vita is motion capable as well, much like the SIXAXIS function in the DualShock 3.

Aesthetics
The Vita isn’t too heavy.  I know that Sony has released a thinner and lighter variant in Japan, but I’m not too upset about that.  If I have a complain about the Vita’s size, it’s the fact that it stretches 7.2” wide, which is wonderful for controls but terrible for pocket-ability.  The slimmer Vita doesn’t address that (and can’t, really).

Vita’s hardware controls convince me that touchscreen-only games, as are found on smartphones, are terrible.  I played Mass Effect: Infiltrator on both my iPad and iPhone, and found the game likable but annoying to control.  Since playing Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Gravity Rush on Vita, I am completely convinced that game would have been way more enjoyable on a real gaming handheld.

Battery
Battery life is good, too.  I’ve been playing it a fair amount lately, and am charging it maybe every other day.  Now, if I used it as Sony seems to think I want to, including checking my email and browsing the web on it, it probably wouldn’t last nearly as long.  (I have other devices for that.)

Games
Many called PlayStation Vita’s launch lineup the best ever, on any platform in history.  I believe there were over thirty available on day one, and many were reviewed quite well.

I’ve played a number of Vita games so far, as I’ve been reviewing on this site.  The experience has been quite good, with the sole exception being the poorly optimized first season of The Walking Dead.  Where the Vita excels is in games that are designed to straddle the line between handheld and console, and where it struggles is in games that are designed for smartphones and tablets.

Why Handheld Gaming is Dead
With so many positives, and the fact that the console was only $249 for the WiFi version at launch (now $199), there’s no reason it shouldn’t have been wildly successful.

But by all accounts, Vita has been a massive sales failure.  If so many great things going for it can’t give it the momentum it deserves, then this medium is going away, likely to be taken over by the casual space on smartphones.

Perhaps with the price drop and the promise of PS4 Remote Play, it’ll receive a second wind.  I’ll keep rooting for it, and keep buying from the large library of great games it already has.

Written by Michael

11 November 2013 at 1:10 am

Posted in Games

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Snap Judgment – The Unfinished Swan (PS3)

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The Unfinished Swan (PS3)

As I continue my backlog of critically acclaimed indie titles, I’m beginning to realize that there’s a good chance that these kinds of titles will mean more to me in the long than many triple-A games.  Each one of these has accomplished something unexpected: efficient and concise profundity.

The Unfinished Swan is no different.  Like Journey, this game is pretty short — a few hours at most, but in that time it conveys a storybook sense of wonder and even manages to leave you with a important life lesson.  Despite my fear of spoiling it, I’m going to relay that here:

Life isn’t about legacy.  As easy as it is to get caught up in our accomplishments and the kind of mark we’re leaving behind, these conceits are futile.  Nothing is as important as a life well lived.  Enjoy it.  It’s ephemeral.  Time, progress, and rebirth will erase everything else.

This tenet flies in the face of our, I dare say, selfish sensibilities about our own importance in the grand scheme of things.  As depressing as this idea may seem, The Unfinished Swan will convince you at the end that it’s beautiful, if bittersweet.

The Unfinished Swan is a artfully beautiful, labyrinthine puzzler with no real penalties for failure, requiring no real twitch skill for navigating its world.  Only determination and a desire to unveil all its mysteries is required.  And while there are areas that are maddening because of how difficult it can be to see (you’ll understand if you play), I found the entire experience to be…  Moving.  A

Written by Michael

1 November 2013 at 12:05 am

Posted in News

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Why PlayStation 4

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Philosophy
As we entered this year, I was pretty convinced I would be getting Microsoft’s next-generation console.  Indeed, my brother and I owned more than forty games between us on the Xbox 360, making it the most prolific console, title-wise, we’ve ever owned, so upgrading to its successor seemed like a no-brainer.

That said, I owned a PlayStation 3 and liked a lot about it, especially its adhere to open standards (including non-proprietary, user-replaceable hard drives, Bluetooth, mini-USB charging, day-one inclusion of WiFi, day-one use of 1080p-capable HDMI, and rechargeable controllers out-of-the-box).  But I never treated it like my primary console, and so I was leaning towards not giving much consideration to the PlayStation 4 until, perhaps, later in this generation when certain exclusives came out.  (Really, my relationship with PlayStation was always awkward anyway: I grew up a Nintendo fan, so I had strong feelings about those N64 vs PlayStation days.)

Then we got a February event from Sony detailing the PS4, and I left it pretty impressed with the new attitude Sony was exuding from its development team, most specifically in the form PlayStation 4 architect Mark Cerny, an industry legend and maverick who helped usher in some of the most important franchises in gaming history.  He spoke about Sony’s passion for gaming, and how the PS4 was going to be a gamer’s gaming device.  This was a pretty strong turnaround from the all-in-one entertainment and media console that the PS3 was billed as.

Despite my positivity, I knew that I still needed to see Microsoft’s response.  Sure enough, the company held a pre-E3 reveal for the Xbox One, and literally proceeded to spend the first thirty minutes of a one-hour event talking about how great its television integration was going to be.  I felt like I was watching a Sony event from the days of yore.

Oh, I know that many Xbox-loyalists had a good excuse for this: they said something along the lines of, “Of course the Xbox One will have games.  That’s a given.  Why show stuff everyone knows will be there?  This event is about showing how it’s so much more than just a gaming machine.”  There’s a certain internalized logic to this idea, but it ignores the audience Microsoft was actually reaching — namely, gamers.  It’s preposterous to think that anyone besides the hardcore were turning into this event; the features they proceeded to focus on were certainly tantalizing, but wholly secondary to the early-adopter crowd an event like this attracts.  Indeed, when it came time to show a game during the back half of the reveal, Microsoft chose to show Call of Duty: Ghosts, a current-gen title that’s being cross-released on Xbox 360/PS3 and Xbox One/PS4.  While the up-port certainly looks better than its current-gen version, this title did not even remotely look next-gen, and thus inspired very few with positive feelings about Xbox One.  (Later demonstrations of games like Titanfall certainly improved my attitude towards the hardware, but not enough to sway my opinion by the time E3 hit.)

If the company were trying to broaden its appeal with this wide-net strategy, then it should have made them secondary in this presentation and made sure to first lock in the hardcore gaming crowd, trusting that these Xbox early adopters would proselytize these TV features to their non-gaming friends and family.  (I’m convinced this is how the Wii was so successful — word of mouth and personal demonstration.)

Sony did not take this tact, as I’ve already mentioned.  Instead of using Microsoft’s approach, again summed up as, “of course there will be games — that’s a given — check out these cool media features instead”, Sony instead said, “of course there will be media support — that’s a given — check out these cool games instead”.

Now you have my attention.

Console Hardware Considerations
Microsoft has doubled down on Kinect, its camera-based motion gaming technology.  Many are dismissive of this, since it is ostensibly intended for casual gaming in much the same way that the Wii was.  Even so, I appreciate how impressive the technology is, so I’m not strongly against it.

What frustrated me, however, was that it became clear that Microsoft had traded some of its horsepower in order bundle this device in with every console.  (Sure, making them mandatory ensures more developer support, but this seems ham fisted in light of the concessions made.)

How so?  By all accounts, Sony has architected a state-of-the-art gaming machine, with its1.84 TFLOPS of processing power and its 8GB of ultra-fast GDDR5 (!!!) memory.  That’s not to say that Microsoft’s Xbox One will be a slouch (1.23 TFLOPS, 8GB of the slower, hotter GDDR3 memory), but these numbers are notably better for Sony.  Will this translate to any dramatic difference in graphics?  I have no idea, except to say that while cross-platform games on Xbox 360 and PS3 looked very similar, despite PS3’s mostly stronger specs, the first-party exclusives Sony enjoyed were pretty blow-away.

Now, the Xbox One will debut for $499, of course, whereas the PlayStation 4 will cost $399.  For $100 more, Xbox owners will get weaker processing and memory and a mandatory camera that the hardcore will mostly be uninterested in at best, hostile towards at worst.

The tech enthusiast in me, who craves horsepower above the still-experimental Kinect, is more inclined to embrace Sony’s vision in this scenario.

(I also find it frustrating that Microsoft did choose older, less heat efficient RAM for its new console, as mentioned above.  The net result of this is a large, boxy device that looks an awful lot like a cable box — which I guess is deliciously appropriate.  Adding further insult to injury on the aesthetics front, the Xbox One also requires an external power adapter, unbelievably, due to these thermal issues.  Just like the PS3, the PS4’s brick will be internal, where it belongs.  Stranger still, the TV functionality will require the use of a thinly-wired infrared blaster pointed at or affixed to your TV’s sensor — now we’re just getting tacky looking.)

Gamepad
I’ve long felt that the Xbox 360 controller was the best design I had ever seen, it’s horrid D-pad notwithstanding.  (I think the GameCube controller is a close second, which really pioneered the asymmetric analog stick layout and curved triggers.)  On the other side, I liked but didn’t love the PlayStation 3’s DualShock 3, which featured looser symmetric analog sticks and flat triggers, and a lighter, flimsier feel overall.  While it was awkward switching from the Xbox 360 gamepad over to the DualShock 3 at any given time, I was always able to adapt after an hour or so of gameplay, I should note.

But I have a DualShock 4 sitting next to me right now, courtesy of a local GameStop selling them way early.  I think I’ve found my new favorite controller.

This design has ergonomics in spades, feels very solid, has much tighter analog sticks (still symmetric, but that’s fine), and great curved triggers.  I haven’t picked up a Xbox One gamepad to compare, though I’ve read several comparisons that favor the DS4.  Either way, I’m very pleased with this design and won’t feel like I’m compromising on the feel of my gamepad when I play games in the future.  (For those wondering about Sony’s unexpected and, admittedly, unusual decision to include a touchpad, this is quite easy to reach.  Ergonomically, this inclusion is fine; I only hope developers will made good, appropriate use of it.)

Software
At the end of the day, however, it’s all about the games.  We’ll have to ignore cross-platform AAA titles, since they essentially look and play the same across different systems, and should continue to do so in this new generation.  Instead, I’m more interested in the exclusives.

In the world of Xbox, I only ever really cared about one exclusive, which was my favorite franchise of this generation: Mass Effect.  (This series has since come to the PlayStation but the first title was solely Xbox-only for quite a while.)  Many others are in love with games like Halo, Fable, Forza, Gears of War, and so on, but these series didn’t interest me all that much.  (Halo and Gears are both first-person shooters, which I never cared that much about, Fable is a neat fantasy RPG game that just never hooked me, and Forza is a racing series — a genre I haven’t touched since the N64 days.)

Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying the Uncharted trilogy, The Last of Us, Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, Journey, inFAMOUS, and so on over on PlayStation this generation.  These aren’t casual throwaways to me, either.  I strongly feel that these are some of the finest games ever made.  Throw in the now cross-platform Mass Effect trilogy along with the Dragon Age games and Skyrim, and you have a set that I could probably play for a decade, over and over again without evening buying a PS4.

Sony’s commitment and support for indie development can’t be ignored by me either.  The mid-tier developer has all but gone extinct towards the end of the current generation, and so it will be critical to see indie releases fill in the gaps between the AAA games that will debut periodically throughout each year.  Indie games are also exceptionally well placed to do risky or avant garde things, pushing the storytelling and gameplay boundaries of what I thought was even possible in this medium.  —Seriously, go check out previews for games like The Witness.  Or over on PC, Gone Home.

Indeed, one of my all-time favorite games, Journey, is the epitome of what indie studios can do.  I was so touched, so moved, that my time with it left an indelible mark: my thoughts return to it far more often than I would have dreamed a game could elicit.  But due to the kind of audience I believe the Xbox world engenders, with its concentration on shooters and sports titles, I don’t think it would have been nearly the success on that platform as it was on the PS3.  I predict that creative, mind-expanding games like this will continue to find a welcoming home on PlayStation, whereas they will only be an afterthought on Xbox.

Microsoft has improved its relationship with indie developers in recent months (after some true horror stories), so I’m sure there will be many great titles available to both.  However, the buzz out of those studios seems strongly tilted towards PlayStation, and Sony has strongly embraced this trend.

Now you have more than my attention.  You have my business.

A Brave New World
I’ve spent a lot of time bashing the Xbox One, I’m sure it seems like.  Undoubtedly, however, it will be quite good despite my complaints, and I might even one day own it as a second console, in much the same way that I planned to own a PS4 before everything transpired this year.  And while Microsoft seems to be embracing the casuals with its Kinect and with TV integration, and Sony the gaming hardcore with its technical prowess and focus on gaming itself, I’m left with one last thought: inconceivably, I — an ardent Nintendo fan in my childhood, an avowed Sony-hater — chose PlayStation.  A teenaged version of myself would have had a hell of an argument with the current me.

P.S.  Check out Sony’s #4ThePlayers campaign, especially its “Since 1995” commercial.  I’ve never been able to say these words about this company, but Sony gets it: http://blog.eu.playstation.com/2013/10/21/playstation-4theplayers-since-1995/

Written by Michael

27 October 2013 at 11:55 pm