Proteus (PS3/PS Vita) Review – 5th November 2013 – By Scott Barker

Proteus #2

It’s somewhat ironic that Proteus – a calm and soothing Indie game based on exploration – releases on the same week as action-orientated blockbusters Battlefield 4 and Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. But this is the way with Indie games and their developers as they move away from the tried-and-tested videogame mold, and strive to give us something different. Proteus hits the mark for being different all right, and in fact developers Ed Keys and David Kanaga should be commended for boldly making a game that is stripped entirely of complications and objectives. However, Proteus‘ strength in simplicity is also where its weakness lies.

Just what the hell is Proteus? Twenty minutes in, and didn’t know what it was. It looks fairly similar to Minecraft except there’s no crafting, I thought to myself. Literally just walking. At first you may not get it, but sort of like when you’re first learning to drive and you have that epiphany moment and it just all makes sense all of a sudden. It clicked with me in Proteus; this game is about pure exploration. Essentially, yes, you are just walking around; but it’s not the same as just walking around in any other videogame; the experience in Proteus is crafted around your experience of “walking around.” The sky, the sun, the moon, the leaves on the trees will all change as seasons pass, and just like that the world you’re in changes.

 

Proteus sees you walk around from the first-person perspective. There’s no button for defend or attack because there’s nothing to attack or defend from. You walk with the right stick and look with the left. You can sit, too, and watch the world go by if you want. It doesn’t get more simplistic than this, and that’s why Proteus is the perfect sort of game to play after a hard day of work when you can just switch your brain off and walk around as the seasons and the world you’re in changes. Plenty of games drop you into a world and expect you to get to the next point of destination so a cutscene can take place and the story can progress until the game reaches its ending. Proteus does have an ending, but every player is going to get to it differently. I’ve played Proteus three times to completion now and all three times I took vastly different journeys and my game ended at completely different times. You stand still, time won’t stand still with you.

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Who needs a next generation of consoles when we’ve got good old fashioned pixel art? The Playstation 3 version, as expected, is upscaled and is of a higher resolution from the Playstation Vita version. But the good news here, folks, is that Proteus is cross-buy, meaning that you get both the PS Vita and PS3 version for one price of admission. Both look fantastic in their own rights, but I do believe Proteus is one of the best looking games to date on the Playstation Vita. The changing of a season in Proteus is a gaming moment that will stand out to me in time to come thanks to its vibrant colour palette and ambient soundtrack that matches the surroundings. The ending, too, (without spoiling anything) is a feast for the eyes and remains as beautifully ambiguous as the rest of the game.

There is no multiplayer mode in Proteus. It’s obvious that it was designed to be a solitary experience, but perhaps an optional multiplayer component akin to Journey‘s (where other players join your world) would’ve worked nicely. The biggest issue many will have with Proteus is that there’s no objective, nothing to interact with and, well, not a lot to do other than to walk around. Although I’ve praised Proteus for having no objectives or buttons of command, the price tag of £10/$12.50 is questionable, considering Proteus can be completed in – roughly, depending how you play – an hour or so. I’m all for short and sweet experiences, but after your first play-through you may feel the price tag is a little too high. The good news though: Proteus‘ world is randomly generated so each time you play should be different, even if the end goal is the same.

Proteus is unconventional and so left of field that it’s going to diversify gamers (even more so than usual); you’re either going to get Proteus, or you aren’t. So while most gamers this week may be immersed in military warfare or battles at sea, Proteus offers a nontraditional gaming option for those looking to escape from the real world and be lost and immersed in the ever changing, soothing and ambiguous world.

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Batman: Arkham Origins Review – 3rd November 2013 – By Scott Barker

 

batman Arkham Origins #5

 

If there’s one thing we’re not short of regarding anything Batman related, it’s 1) Batman’s origin, and 2) stories involving The Joker. Both The Joker and Batman’s origins are so iconic in their own rights that someone – anyone – writing a Batman story would probably have a hard time avoiding either. Rocksteady’s Arkham games didn’t outright ignore Batman’s/Bruce Wayne’s origin, but neither did they try to blatantly retell the story we’re all too familiar with. Rather, they cleverly showed us in increments via flashbacks in the Scarecrow segments in Arkham Asylum. Even more of a bold move was (kind of a spoiler but not really) killing off The Joker in Arkham City. I, for one, was excited for a new villain to step up and take the centerpiece in the next Arkham game. After all, there’s hardly a shortage of villains in Batman’s lore. But then Batman: Arkham Origins was announced… a prequel. And it was everything I didn’t want. Now, after having played the game, I’m not so much bitterly disappointed, just rather nonchalantly unsurprised that Batman: Arkham Origins is a huge letdown in the Arkham series.

Much like how Scott Pilgrim has 8 of Ramona Flowers’ 8 evil ex’es out to get him, Batman has 8 evil assassins out to get him thanks to Black Mask putting a 50 million dollar bounty on his head. A unique 8 choice of villains as well I might add. It’s a great setup, and the story starts off strong. Early on in the game however, the story takes a dramatic turn for the worse due to a way, way too cliché and obvious plot twist that happens, that any bat-fan should be able to see coming from a mile away. After this all too obvious twist is where I lost complete interest in where the story was going. Why would they even tease us that someone passes away in the game, when we already know that same character is well and alive in both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City? It was never the brightest idea to make a prequel after things had really started to heat up in the Arkham series, and the restraint on the storytelling just proves the point.

And aside from a couple of new gadgets, the gameplay has stayed largely the same. Identical, in fact. Now I know if it’s not broken you shouldn’t fix it, and Arkham Asylum‘s two-button, attack and counter combat system may have been somewhat revolutionary in 2009, but four years down the line and two sequels later and it most definitely isn’t. It feels so repetitive getting into fist-fights with goons, and the game constantly throws more and more enemies at you as you progress. Throwing more enemies in doesn’t offer too much more of a challenge; it just becomes more time-consuming — and at times, frustratingly so. The developers at WB Montréal played it safe, but it’s too safe; Arkham Origins, for the most part, reeks of fear from the developers. Fear as if the developers from Rocksteady are constantly looking over WB Montréal’s shoulders with a checklist of things they aren’t allowed to do or explore. However, one gameplay saving grace are the boss battles, which shakes the gameplay up, and they all, more or less, hit the mark. A challenging and fast-paced brawl with Deathstroke stands out above the rest.

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If I didn’t know that Troy Baker was voicing The Joker instead of Mark Hamil and that Roger Craig Smith was replacing Kevin Conroy for the voice of Batman this time around, then I would’ve been none-the-wiser. A testament to both Troy’s and Roger’s skills, and their voice acting is so good that it’s in another league compared to most of the rest of the cast. Prison guards and hostages are embarrassingly bad for the most part, with their wooden facial expressions matching their lifeless line deliveries. Arkham is dark, gritty, muddy, and won’t be blowing anyone away in the graphics department. Definitely not bad, but just a port over from the two-year old Arkham City. Cutscenes, on the other hand, are masterfully crafted. It’s just a shame the storyline isn’t as interesting as the well put together CGI.

Firstly, I don’t think that anyone has played through an Arkham game and craved for a multiplayer mode, but regardless, we got it — and it is legitimately terrible. Secondly, the multiplayer component isn’t developed by Warner Bros. Montréal (who did the single player component); it’s developed by Splash Damage. I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to be able to play as one of the brainless goons that you beat the snot out of in single-player, but whoever it was should probably be in Arkham Asylum. Yes, seriously, you can actually play as a gun-wielding goon, in what is a terrible third person shooter 3v3 match with two additional players getting to play as either Batman or Robin and swoop in for kills. In all seriousness, Arkham Origins‘ multiplayer has to be up there in the all time greats of “Worst Multiplayer Modes Ever Created”.

I found it extremely hard to even find a multiplayer match of any kind. Maybe this could possibly be to people’s complete lack of interest in the multiplayer mode?  It took 40 minutes for me to actually find a match on one occasion. The multiplayer won’t actually start without eight players in a lobby, so there were people losing patience and jumping in and out all the time, therefore the amount of time to actually get a match going. When I did finally find a match, it was never, ever worth the wait. I’ve never been a fan of developers outsourcing their multiplayer modes, and Arkham Origins is a prime example of why.

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I found it extremely hard to even find a multiplayer match of any kind. Maybe this could possibly be to people’s complete lack of interest in the multiplayer mode?  It took 40 minutes for me to actually find a match on one occasion. The multiplayer won’t actually start without eight players in a lobby, so there were people losing patience and jumping in and out all the time, therefore the amount of time to actually get a match going. When I did finally find a match, it was never, ever worth the wait. I’ve never been a fan of developers outsourcing their multiplayer modes, and Arkham Origins is a prime example of why.

What’s most frustrating in Batman: Arkham Origins is how much old ground it retreads. Do you remember going to Penguin’s Ice Lounge in Arkham City where you got to beat up goons and punch a shark in the face? You’re going to be doing exactly that in Origins, except you won’t be punching any sharks in the face. Remember The Mad Hatter side mission? Yeah, he’s back with another all-too-familiar side mission for you to do. Remember swooping around Gotham for the first time in Arkham City? Well the map’s largely the same in Origins, except it feels very bare and devoid of anything but buildings and goons, and there’s a lot less to do. There’s a large bridge in the center that is annoying to get across this time, too, but thankfully you can fast travel, which is a nice, handy addition.

I suffered severe framerate issues in Arkham Origins, which became so bad that on three specific occasions my game froze and I had to switch my PlayStation 3 off and restart from my last checkpoint (there’s nothing wrong with my PS3, for the record). A quick Google search later and I found that I wasn’t the only one suffering from this problem. Having to actually restart my console three times during a 8-12 hour playthrough of a game is hardly convenient.

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There’s plenty of Riddler Puzzles to solve and there’s a few bog-standard side missions to do here and there. Once I was through with the main story, though, I didn’t find much incentive in investing a lot of time in them. Challenge maps make a return also, but having already pounded more than enough enemies in the story, there’s no real need for them to be there other than to fill up the options menu.

f you haven’t played Arkham Asylum or Arkham City, and Batman: Arkham Origins is your first foray into the series, then you’re probably going to enjoy it. You may even be highly impressed. Whatever you do though, just don’t play it after you’ve played Asylum and City — it’ll be like playing games in HD, only to be reverted back to standard definition. If you’re really craving to play as Batman once again and keep Arkham safe, then renting would be your best option. Just make sure to lower your expectations beforehand.

The Last Of Us Abandoned Territories Map Pack Review – 28 October 2013 – By Scott Barker

The Last Of Us is going to win game of they year awards from numerous outlets, and deservedly so. In years to come TLOU may not be remembered for its multiplayer mode (that Naughty Dog was ambiguously quiet about until launch) but it will be for its incredible single-player campaign. So while The Abandoned Territories map pack isn’t the single-player DLC a lot of fans are waiting on, it does offer four new fresh and diverse multiplayer maps to an already great multiplayer mode, along with a new patch to fix and tighten the multiplayer itself.

TLOU Bookstore
Bus Depot

Admittedly I haven’t played The Last Of Us’ multiplayer component since June, so I was a little rusty and I needed to gain my bearings upon my first couple of matches. It seems like I was in the minority of people who hadn’t played the multiplayer in a while though, as I was in multiplayer matches with rank 100s, 200s and even 300s. So, suffice to say, I was getting my righteous-A kicked. So if you’re buying these maps casually like me, then be warned: these are hardcore players buying the Abandoned Territories map pack. Good news, though: You’re going to have these hardcore players on your team as well.

I mostly played the relatively new mode Interrogation — which was added a few months back — and I found that it heavily relies on teamwork — which a team-based multiplayer match should do. Every match I’ve played in, regardless of whether or not my teammates had microphones, we were working as a team. Healing each other, gifting each other items, and even moving around as a team — especially when a match first starts and you and your team are stealthily moving around to locate the other team. This is something I didn’t notice when playing The Last Of Us’ multiplayer mode there and around its launch, so it just goes to show how a dedicated fan-base and time can greatly alter how a multiplayer mode is played.

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Suburbs

What about the actual maps themselves, then? Firstly, I should say that I had almost forgotten just how good The Last Of Us looks; it’s without a doubt one of the best looking games on consoles, and the four new maps are no exception to the rule. All four maps are cut out portions of certain areas you may recognise from the campaign, and this isn’t a bad thing. No map particularly stands head-and-shoulders tall above another, though, and no map particularly stands out as being bad. A healthy dose of thought and care has gone in to all of them, though my particular favourite is Bookstore; mainly because it’s the smallest of the bunch, and it’s a great map for close-quarters, shotgun-style combat. There’s still plenty of room to take the stealth route, though, either by flanking around the sides or by going up the stairs.

Hometown is the darkest multiplayer to date, and fans may recognise it from the very beginning of the single-player, in Joel’s hometown. Unlike Joel’s Hometown, Suburbs is a bright and colourful suburban area, and it actually looks peaceful and natural in contrast. Both maps are medium sized. Bus Depot, on the other hand, is the biggest of the bunch, and patience is needed to sneak around the map and seek out the other team. Not being the most patient of players, I would’ve said that Bus Depot is my least favourite of maps; however, this was up until (spoiler) I saw the giraffes in the background.

TLOU Bus Depot
Bookstore

There’s a separate DLC playlist to play all three multiplayer modes on The Abandoned Territories map pack, but for some rather bizarre reason the original maps have been included in the cycle and can be voted to play on as well.  Granted the original maps didn’t come up much, and when they did they were never voted to play anyway, but I just feel that it’s bizarre to have included them in the cycle in the first place. I was spawn-killed a couple of times and I was kicked from a match on one occasion for no apparent reason, but apart from those minor gripes the multiplayer ran smoothly and I experienced no lag whatsoever.

If you enjoyed The Last Of Us’ multiplayer the first time round and you’re looking for an excuse to jump into the multiplayer again, then don’t hesitate to purchase Abandoned Territories. If you’re eagerly anticipating the single-player DLC as well as wanting to play on more multiplayer maps then you’re going to save money purchasing the season pass, which gains you access to both the single-player and multiplayer DLC. Purchasing the season pass will also nab you a 90-minute documentary style making of The Last Of Us video, which I can wholeheartedly say you’ll love if you enjoy seeing how games are made as much as you love playing them.

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Hometown

The Abandoned Territories Map Pack will set you back £7.99, and the Season Pass will cost you £15.99.

The Pros and Cons of Buying a Console at Launch – 24th October 2013 – By Scott Barker

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With the Xbox One launching on November 22 here in the UK and the Playstation 4 launching one week later on November 29, the big question posed to gamers is: Will you be buying the Playstation 4 or Xbox One? It’s very much a two horse race in the next generation console war between Sony and Microsoft, and getting a head-start out of the gates is of vital importance. The Xbox 360 launched a full year before the release of the Playstation 3, and consequently the PS3 has never quite managed to catch up with the amount of Xbox 360 units that have been sold. Both launch within a week of each other this time around, though, and a lot of gamers around the world (including myself) won’t be able to afford both. Some may not be able to afford either.

Is It the end of the world if you miss out on the launch of a console, though? Short answer: no. However, as a gamer, do you want to be ahead of the curve and be playing on the future of gaming? Or do you want to be left behind playing on old technology? Each gamer is going to have their own subjective standpoint as to when and why they’ll buy a next generation console, but below I have listed three universal cons and three universal pros to buying a console at launch.

Pro 1: To Finally Play on and own a New Piece of Hardware

We’re at a point in time now where the graphical power and fidelity of videogames and consoles has gotten so enhanced that the lifecycle of consoles is evermore getting longer and longer, with technical geniuses having to find out more and new ways of being able to push the boundaries, while keeping sure it stays as cost effective as possible for the consumer. So cost effective that the hardware itself of the upcoming Playstation 4 will actually be sold at a loss. The longevity of this current generation console cycle, then, is a big reason why a lot of gamers (myself included) can’t wait to get their hands on a new piece of hardware. Having gone hands on with both the Xbox One and Playstation 4, I can confidently say that there is a huge forward leap in terms of power; from enhanced visuals to quickened loading loading times. Minor nuances to some perhaps who aren’t willing to put down mega bucks, but looks are imperative as they’ve ever been to a videogame in this modern age, and no gamer likes waiting for a game to load or to be sitting in a lobby searching for a multiplayer match for long periods of time…

Pro 2: Getting The Most Out of Your Purchase 

…In the next ten years we could be looking forward to the same improvements in the Playstation 5 and the Xbox Two(?), then. For those opting to buy a next generation console on day one, then – arguably – they’re going to get the most out of their purchase if it’s their main gaming platform of choice for the next ten years. If you bought an Xbox 360 from day one, then suffice to say you probably got your money’s worth out of the eight years that you’ve owned it. The same goes for the PS3 which launched in 2006.  At the end of the day, it goes down to personal standpoint on whether or not you feel like you’ve invested enough time in your console and you feel as if you’ve got your money’s worth. Chances are you’re a hardcore gamer and you’re going to more than get your money’s worth if you’re buying a next generation console on day one, though.

Pro 3: To be Part of History 

Yes, to be part of history. It’s not everyday that a console launches. It’s not every month that a console launches. And it’s not even every year that a console launches; it’s years. Both the Xbox One and Playstation 4 will only ever launch once (unless something goes drastically wrong). If you’re attending a midnight launch for either one of the next generation consoles, then I guarantee you won’t forget it. I bought the Playstation Vita at launch just over a year and a half ago now. I remember it well; it was on February 22, 2012. A day like any other to non-gamers – but it was as good as Christmas day to me. That launch ‘buzz’ excitement in the crowded store. That feeling of knowing that the wait is finally over and I can get my hands on a Playstation Vita. To not feel left out when other friends are all on their shiny, new Vitas. Sure, you may be as equally excited to buy a next generation console a year, two years from now, but the world won’t be excited with you.

Con 1:  Day One Purchase Means Premium Price 

I mentioned that I bought the Playstation Vita on day one earlier, and on that day of purchase I was quizzing myself. Asking myself questions such as: ‘Do I really want this?’ ‘Couldn’t I just wait until there’s a price-drop sometime in the future?’ I imagine some people ask themselves such questions when buying a game console or any expensive product, too. Personally speaking, I’m willing to spend the £350/$400 for the Playstation 4. The Xbox One on the other hand, which costs a whopping £429/$500, I am willing to wait for. I’m willing to go out on a whim and say that this time next year there will be an £80/$100 reduction in price, or at least thereabouts, and I know I would have buyers remorse if I didn’t wait for it to come down in price.  If you do wait for it come down in price, then after all you are getting the exact same console as the people who bought it a year or so before you, but they just paid more for it.

Con 2: That Dreaded Post Launch Draught of Games 

So you opted to buy your new console on day one and, good news, you love it. It’s a few months down the line once you’ve finished playing the games you bought at launch and you’re waiting for something new to play. Bad news, I’m afraid. There’s nothing out. You didn’t spend all that money on shiny new hardware to gather dust now, did you? Yes, the dreaded post launch gaming drought. Gamers loathe it, publishers assure us it won’t happen, but once excitement of the launch is over and the dust settles, without fail there doesn’t seem to be any new games on the horizon. There’s really nothing you can do but wait for them to release. If you didn’t buy a console on day one however, then you may never run into this problem at all. You may even have a backlog of great games waiting to be played — which is always a great problem for a gamer to have. Who said there’s anything wrong with being late to the party?

Con 3: You’re Essentially Buying The Console During Its Beta Period

We all remember that dreaded red ring of death that plagued early models of the Xbox 360, don’t we? I think it’s fair to say that Microsoft will have learned their lesson and the red ring won’t be showing up on the Xbox One (well at least we hope it won’t be). And let’s not forget the ‘yellow light of death’ that affected early Playstation 3’s. Not quite as dramatic or damaging as the red ring, but problematic for owners of the PS3 in the early going. When buying a console at its early stages, you’re essentially buying it during its beta stage. Not only are you – potentially – going to have hardware faults, but you’re also going to see plenty of system updates/bug fixes along the way,. So many changes in fact that you may not even recognize the graphic interface of your PS4 or Xbox One ten years from now. The 360 has gone through numerous dashboard changes, and the Playstation 3‘s Playstation Store has had several overhauls too. Other things like Trophies – which are a necessity for some gamers – weren’t added until later on in the Playstation 3’s life cycle. And let’s not even go there with the infamous Playstation Network outage…

So there’s that. My thoughts on the good and the bad that come hand-in-hand with buying a console at launch. Use my sage advice wisely when you’re stuck in decision-limbo on whether to empty your wallet now, or wait a few months – even years, to do so later. Be sure to let us know in the comments below about why you will be, or won’t be, picking up a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One at launch.