House of Duty: Frank Underwood Gives You A Call

Ladies and gentlemen….take a gander:

This little gem greeted me this morning as I logged into check how things have been going.

Everyone knows my feelings about Call of Duty. I think the series is excessive, repetitive and just a money-milking cash cow for Activision.

But…

Not everyone knows my feelings…

About Kevin…freakin’…Spacey.

Man-crush.

Spacey is one of my favourite actors and I am pretty excited that they’ve gotten him into a game, even if it is Call of Duty. I suppose only Activision would have the kind of muscle and charm needed to snag someone of his caliber. The fact that he seems to be an exact copy of his character from House of Cards even heightens the appeal.

Despite the explosion exhaustion I tend to feel with CoD, I have to say that their last two or three games have seemed to focus on the notion that the citizenry of any nation doesn’t want the lofty promises that the concept of democracy offers. The grandiose voice-over Spacey gives as the trailer plays follows a similar line to previous titles, that well, here the USA is trying to police the world and maybe the world doesn’t need policing. This is a debate that raged in the majority of my classes at university, particularly because I started my degree courses a month before the 9-11 attacks. So much of humanity’s horrific periods can be attributed to people/nations wanting to “fix” other people/nations. The slave trade, the spread of Christianity, ethnic cleansing in Serbia, Middle East wars based on bringing “democracy” to the world at large…unfortunately, some of these things aren’t broken…so how much longer are certain nations going to continue to try and “fix” them, thus making a pile of enemies along the way?

I’m not saying that Activision’s gone all Bioware on us, with “The More You Know” messages littered throughout their game. But wouldn’t that be nice?

Still though guys! KEVIN SPACEY! Will you be getting CoD: Advanced Warfare?

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Event: First Look 2013 Review

Every year in Utrecht, The Netherlands, the First Look Event is held at the Jaarbeurs, a gigantic event space that plays host to thousands of gaming and technology fans. It gives attendees the opportunity to view and play upcoming titles before their release dates, as well as get their paws all over the latest in tech offerings from the likes of Asus, Logitech, NVIDIA and more. Last year, Ubisoft reigned supreme with their Assassin’s Creed III preview, the cosplay alone making it worth waiting in line for entry to the venue. The Nintendo WiiU also made its grand appearance at First Look 2012, with a playable preview of ZombiU. Nothing , however, could compare to the almost palpable excitement for today’s First Look outing. In a year in which two top-tier consoles prepare to duke it out for your hard-earned money, who would know which to touch first at First Look 2013?

I arrived at the venue with my band of merry men (and women) at 9:45 AM. As a regular ticket holder, I was only allowed actual entry at 12 PM, but I had learned my lesson from the previous year and decided to line up super early. This was by far the best strategy, as it ensured that we were among the first 10 regular ticket holders to enter (this, of course, after the 800+ VIP ticket holders). Our plan of action was:

– Bathrooms

– Bottled water

– XBox One booth

The Green Monster.

The Green Monster.

Thankfully, we were only in line for an hour and a half. Upon entering the green box, I saw that Microsoft had opted for quite a few XBox Ones, along with the controller and a gaming headset for each player. This was a nice touch, as it provided some blocking for the cacophony of sound happening outside and immersed the player in the game before them. Interestingly enough, one of the XBox guys mentioned that they (the Microsoft team in The Netherlands) were pretty frustrated at the communication debacle that their US counterparts set off with the announcement in April, and subsequent statements in the press and at E3. HOW ABOUT THAT EH? Anyway. I was wonderfully surprised to find that Microsoft had thrown four games into the preview pile for today’s event: Killer Instinct, Ryse: Son of Rome, Dead Rising 3 and Forza 5. Obviously, I am just one person, and this is why I travelled with 6 companions. We decided while on line what games we would each take. After convincing my friends to quickly text me their reactions right after playing their games, I gathered the following impressions:

1. Dead Rising 3: My sister adores the Dead Rising series, so naturally I sent her to play this demo. Her feelings afterwards were a potent mix of rabid excitement and careful awe. As she puts it, “Your shoe is literally a weapon.”She felt that the overall controls were trigger-happy, as in, hyper-sensitive, but that could have been a setting placed by one of the XBox One personnel. But then, she was probably too busy having fun mowing over zombies with a tractor to care much about that. As for graphics, she had nothing but good things to say.

2. Killer Instinct: Two of my friends played the demo version of this highly anticipated title. In addition to their impressions, I got the chance to speak to Ryan Hart about it, and he relayed that he had been impressed and that the potential was all there for this to be an attention-grabbing title. My two pals were so deep into their game, they had to be told twice that the demo time for our group was over and that they had to leave the area. They admitted that there was some lag during the game, but took into consideration that this was a demo version. One said that it reminded him of the classic Killer Instinct, so much so that within a few minutes, he was pulling off ultra combos just like in the old days (we’re not that old). Character select screen, like it was at E3, had an arcade feel to it, but the actual fight boasted seriously beautiful graphics, particularly on Sabre Wolf.

3. Forza 5: I sent my racing game lover to tackle this title (not really; he told me he was going no matter what). He thoroughly enjoyed the game’s admittedly gorgeous design, and he also raved about the controller’s responsiveness and how it seemed to respond to every instance in the game that called for any action. For example, when forced to hit the brakes in-game, the responsible trigger reacted much like a car would once the ABS kicked in for the driver. More on his overall impression at the end of this post.

4. Ryse: Son of Rome: As you may have sorted out, I played this demo myself. It offered a Gladiator-like play-through in which you partner up with either a friend or the AI and then proceed to fight your way through a series of challenges. Visually, Ryse is incredibly pleasing, with extraordinary detail in the environments, armour and weaponry. Game play, however, was a bit confusing to get a handle on at first, considering there was no explanation of controls at the beginning of the demo. However, once I figured out the two-button combination for blocking and countering, combat flowed smoothly and was bloody and brutal. And yet, it was still the usual medieval slash ‘n stab to me; this might be an unfair impression, considering it was just a demo of a gladiator setting, but the general thought was that the story should serve to carry the game through its business-as-usual combat. The AI companion: I can’t even with the world right now. I did truly enjoy the controller; it was a smooth design and was tons more comfortable than the 360’s. Good job, Microsoft.

Once we ended off at the XBox One booth, we took a walk around and enjoyed some of the Ubisoft’s booth Just Dance action, as well as the FIFA 14 station. Somehow we ended up stepping into a demonstration for Raven’s Cry, an upcoming title from Top Ware (the studio behind Two Worlds II) and Reality Pump, I guess? I know that TW handed the title to Reality Pump, but the branding all over this booth belonged to them. Inside was a build of the game dated October 2nd, 2013, loaded onto a PC and played by one of their booth attendants. While the game has some decent graphics, the movement of the main character was slightly off. He seemed to be fighting with himself on whether to do an Ezio-like swagger or a Connor-like stride. Either way, buddy was trying to pull off an Assassin’s Creed gait, even while speed-walking through water like he was Christ himself. Seriously, the man was practically walking on the surface and it was the first of three main complaints that we had about this demo. The second, and most important, would be the combat system. It was incredibly rudimentary and was perhaps the most telling factor behind their decision to transfer the project to Reality Pump’s control. Two combat situations were played on screen, both of which resembled little more than a fencing lesson. And finally, the naval component needs some serious work to even light a candle to hold beside Assassin’s Creed IV. I do hope they get this title off the ground now that Reality Pump’s taken the wheel, because it does look promising and you can never have enough pirate games.

Or...Not So Much?

Or…Not So Much?

After some time, we decided to brave the PlayStation 4 line, which at one point curved two ways across the walkway. With the day winding down, the line moved swiftly and within a few moments we were inside the PS4 booth. This is where you see that, regardless of their earlier communication missteps, Microsoft sometimes does a better job at picking themselves up and marketing their product right. I’m not sure if Sony is so confident in their self-assured superiority that they don’t think they need to put on a good show at these events, but they did not impress me nor any of my friends. While I didn’t have the chance to snap images in the Microsoft booth (you know, because I was playing), I managed to get these two of the PlayStation 4:

The Console.

The Console.

As you can see, the console itself is neat and slim, which I do appreciate. Not particularly flashy or snazzy, but it works.

The Controller.

The Controller.

I have never been a fan of PlayStation controllers, so it would be unfair of me to comment. However, my friend (whose hand you see) and some others with us didn’t particularly think it was as revolutionary as Sony thinks it is. The general verdict within my Magnificent Seven was that if today had been a competition, the XBox One would have won (heh). We’re not fan-boys or fan-girls; we just love games. I fear that the PS4 might suffer from the same launch issues that its predecessor did, but I could be wrong. I previewed Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag in my play-time with the PS4, and the game looked as beautiful there as it might have on the XBox One. This makes all the ridiculous name-calling and posturing on message boards even more useless, but I know that’s what the companies love. Stir the pot, thicken the stew or whatever? I don’t know.

I ended my day with a visit to the booth I’d been waiting on since the start of the day: Warner Bros’, where I got to have some fun with Batman: Arkham Origins.  I was not allowed to take pictures of the booth itself, so here, have this instead:

He's not the hero First Look deserves, but he's the hero it needs...or something.

He’s not the hero First Look deserves, but he’s the hero it needs…or something.

Running on a PlayStation 3, Arkham Origins was as beautiful as they’ve promised it would be. You were only given one mission to complete, but since there was no timer, you had the opportunity to swoop around the city and beat up thugs. The combat system you’ve come to know and love is still there, and it flows even smoother than it did in Arkham City (is that even possible?). I am most anxious to see how Troy Baker (Joker) and Roger Craig Smith (Batman) will hold up to their predecessors (the incomparable Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy). Baker has such a distinct timbre (most recently, as Bioshock Infinite‘s Booker DeWitt and Joel from The Last of Us) that it will be odd to hear him in insane-mode as The Joker. Smith is most notable as Ezio Auditore da Firenze of Assassin’s Creed II (and all subsequent sequels, aside from III) fame, and I’m interested to see how he handles Bruce Wayne

Fun Fact: Troy Baker voiced Batman/Bruce Wayne in LEGO Batman: DC Superheroes Unite.

Also available at the Warner Bros booth was Dying Light, a zombie game that in all actuality looks and plays like a Dead Island clone with a dash of Mirror’s Edge sprinkled on top, except with an incredibly clunkier combat system. I am not sure if this game should have been first-person; it made it feel awkward and enhanced the unrefined combat mechanics. Zombie game fanatics will enjoy it, but for now, it’s not on my Must Buy list.

Final Thoughts

Now that I’ve played both systems, I can honestly say that the hoopla surrounding their specs and which is better than the other is almost a moot point. Both ran at the same speed when I played, with the PS4 doing a slightly better job at handling the heavy weight that is Assassin’s Creed IV, but I encountered a tiny lag with both consoles, so it’s not as if either one was a perfect smooth ride. Black Flag on the PS4 even seemed choppy at some points, but then, that could have been the monitor they had me playing on. This is where most casual gamers find reason to complain: the graphics. And you know what? I reckon that both consoles have more or less the same to offer in that department. More and more it seems that the display you opt to use for your experience will be the deciding factor in the image you are faced with at play-time. For example…outside the XBox One booth, they had a stream of Forza 5 on an LG 60-inch 4K television which was, in a word, amazing. Inside, we played on LED SMART TVs, which didn’t affect the beauty of the games that drastically, but you could see the obvious difference. I’ve always told people that in the end, if you have a crappy display device, what you see will be crappy. HD doesn’t quite work unless your display is, well, HD.

The Forza fan who accompanied me on Sunday had the following to say about his experience, and I agree with him on every point:

After a few minutes of playing both the XBox One and the PS4, it’s still a difficult choice for me to make a conclusion as to which is better. Theoretically, on paper, the PS4 has the advantage. They both have equal-level graphic cards, both are AMD 7000 HD. However, the XBox one uses 8 GB DDR RAM as the processor with a 32 MB eSRAM, which are current generation and for future game development I’m a bit skeptical if the XBox One launch version will remain a strong fighter in the long run. Of course, they might launch new versions in the future, as both companies did this generation. The PS4 has the same graphics card, but their processor is 8GB GDDR5 RAM so…theoretically, the PS4 wins as a gaming system that is geared towards new game development. When it comes to the gaming experience….this was an entirely different story. The exclusive titles for the XBox One dominates PS4 left, right, and centre. The XBox controller feedback was amazing; I didn’t get the same rush or effect when playing on the PS4. This is where it becomes difficult to choose. I’m trying to keep an open mind and not be brand loyal; the facts and theory tell me to go for the PS4, but the feel and exclusivity of games, along with the experience, has me leaning towards the XBox One.

After First Look, it honestly felt as though we were heading to a similar launch scenario as we had with the PlayStation 3: a short catalogue of launch titles, whereas the XBox One has the advantage of, among others, Killer Instinct. On the train ride back, we discussed the fact that as the years tick by, the number of PlayStation exclusives have slowly dwindled; even Metal Gear Solid is no longer safe. For all the marketing push of the PS4 being more developer friendly than the XBox One, why haven’t they landed the prime real estate titles and held onto historically PlayStation exclusives? It’s something to think about, particularly if you, like me, are exhausted with both companies’ PR machines churning out one silly snarky article after another. Personally, I would love to own both systems; however, if I look at what I play and what I plan to play in the future, then an XBox One it should be…just not right away, because I’m not the launch-day-purchase kind of gamer.

Whew! What a post, eh? I hope you enjoyed this run-through of First Look 2013, and I hope it’s at least given you a clear view of where both consoles stand, as we await their release this year. I sure enjoyed attending it, and I’m looking forward to next year. If you attended and have your own thoughts, please feel free to share them. Until then, peace!

The PlayStation 4 (Controller) Launch Press Con: Questions, Questions, Everywhere…

Let me start off by saying that I live tweeted the event from its start until about an hour and 45 minutes in, which was quite a feat considering I had to be at work early in the morning. Time differences are not kind. Now that a colleague has talked me off the ledge of breaking my almost year-long coffee ban, let me see if I can recall what I did see and piece together the bits I missed (like the Watch Dogs preview; so pissed I fell asleep before that). There were two buzz words dominating last night’s sometimes shaky experience (for example, nobody applauding after the Killzone Shadowfall demo) and each trendy term applies to different parties: mobile is for PS4 and familiarity is for me.

Mark Cerny, the most enthusiastic speaker there.

Mark Cerny, the most enthusiastic speaker there.

Anyone who stayed up to watch the press conference knows that they didn’t actually show you the console itself, but that’s to be expected. E3 is still a few months away and it wouldn’t be a console war if Sony didn’t do this dog and pony show now to one-up Microsoft. This does not mean that I like it or approve of it, but we’ll get to that eventually. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t surprised at the lack of actual hardware display. Nor was I actually surprised at the early discussion of the PlayStation Vita; as I tweeted, Sony really had no other choice but to offer you Wii-U functionality of porting your game to your Vita in order to make that platform even a tad more appealing. A PS3 fan friend of mine furiously WhatsApped me the same text but with more profanity, which gave me a laugh. But yes…Sony revealed that you can port your in-progress game to your PS Vita in the event your kids or grandmother take over the TV, enabling you to resume play while they watch Yo Gabba Gabba or Price Is Right. What’s more, Sony spent a major chunk of the start of the press conference stressing that yes, gaming has moved beyond the living room and that to enhance the gamer’s experience, they will be supporting connectivity with iOS and Android devices with a second-screen app. Strange…I felt like I was looking at a combination of the Wii-U and the XBox SmartGlass presentation. I honestly believe that the focus on mobile connectivity and the constant emphasis of connecting with your friends via Facebook and UStream, and even giving a friend the possibility to access your game if you’re ‘having a hard time with a particular level’ muddled the presentation a bit and was just meant to pacify the rabid gaming journalists who spent all of 2012 screaming MOBILE at the console developers. I don’t care about being able to use Facebook on my console; I have a phone and a PC for that. Sony doesn’t think that’s enough though, so they put a dedicated Share button on the controller to allow you to record and share game-play videos instantly. That’s about the only cool bit I thought about the whole social connectivity stress point; game-play videos from my friends are always enjoyable.

After showing us the snazzy new dashboard interface (*cough*XBOX*cough*), they then moved on to show off some launch titles, including Killzone: Shadow Fall and Drive Club. The latter looked pretty engaging; the former looked, unfortunately, like more of the same. The one title that caught my eye was Infamous: Second Son, and this is an IP I’ve always meant to play but never got the opportunity. I had an inkling that Bungie would display Destiny at this press conference but yes, I was fast asleep before that came around, so I had to catch up on that via GamesIndustry et al this morning. After Killzone, Drive Club and Infamous, Sony gave the stage to David Cage of Quantic Dream and Media Molecule, respectively. This led to a pretty funny contrast wherein Cage made some e-love to the polygon and MM went on to declare war on said polygon in their presentation. Media Molecule then trotted out the PlayStation Move and displayed some creative activities that the Move now suddenly possesses, thanks to PlayStation 4. I’m just gonna let Regina George respond to that.

Stop trying to make the Move happen. It's not going to happen!

Stop trying to make the Move happen. It’s not going to happen!

I signed off around this time, not thoroughly impressed enough to stay up beyond 2 AM. Let’s just get through a round-up of what we were told:

1. Bungie promised that the PlayStation 4 would receive exclusive Destiny content, which kind of ticked me off but then, it’s not as if XBox doesn’t have these moments as well.

2. The PlayStation 4 will come with 8 GB of unified on-board memory, so, hurrah for that.

3. The controller features, as mentioned before, the Share button (for the gamer who Facebooks while gaming) and a touchpad.

4. Launch titles will follow the usual pattern of FPS/Racing/Puzzle…I’m waiting for the RPG/fantasy adventure game to pop out.

5. Blizzard has come down to mingle with the commoners, with Diablo 3 confirmed for both the PS3 and the PS4.

6. Because they’re probably having issues selling them now, Sony has woven the Vita and the Move into the fabric of the PlayStation 4 (making you have to buy a whole new platform to get Wii-U functionality), kind of like that annoying pocket on polo shirts. Seriously…pockets on polo shirts? But I digress…

7. The controller will interact with what is called the PlayStation Eye (aka the XBox Kinect).

8. It’s going to revolutionize the way we do gaming…haha no just kidding, I just really wanted to use that line. Fans of the late series Better Off Ted will know what I’m talking about. Instead of using that awesome line, Sony stressed that the PS4 was going to be epic. EPIC.

And now…the ugly truth of it…

Have you ever had a moment at work when your boss asks you for a presentation or a report, but they don’t exactly state what they want in it? There’s no information provided as to the parameters of the research, the timeline for delivery, the desired content or even the platform they’d prefer for presentation. Isn’t that frustrating? That must have been how the poor marketers behind this press conference must have felt. I can see it now:

Sony Exec, sinisterly twirling his mustache: We’ve got to announce the PS4 months ahead of E3 so we can beat Microsoft to the punch! I need you to draw up enough presentations to stuff between the developers’ speeches.

Sony Marketer: Hey, that’s  great! We’ll get on it right away. All we need are some stock photos of the platform-

Sony Exec, now sipping on some brandy: You can’t have those.

Sony Marketer: Um…okay. Well, we can at least start out with the new logo and maybe the release date flashed underneath at the end of the video. The initial price point can come later, maybe the Group CEO can close off the conference with it!

Sony Exec, back to the mustache: No. You can’t have that either.

Sony Marketer: I…well…okay. What do we have to work with here?

Sony Exec, leaving the room: Not much, actually. Just this controller here. *thunk* And the new logo. It’ll be great, I can feel it! Great work!

Sony Marketer: …..

Yeah, that conversation that totally took place in my head quite succinctly sums up what we didn’t learn at the press conference. And as I said before, I understand why: the ongoing console war between Microsoft and Sony. I leave Nintendo out of that statement because I think they don’t spend half as much time trying to one-up their competitors. There’s also an argument for marketing tactics; if you tease a little bit between now and E3, you remain relevant and that’s the key to success, right? Only it’s gotten boring and frankly, insulting to our intelligence as gamers. As Eric states in his well-written and much more technically insightful post about the press conference, which you can read here, we’re a much more informed and critical market and can clearly recognize when we’re having the marketing wool pulled over our eyes. It’s almost as if Sony has been doing business under a rock and doesn’t realize that teasers don’t have the same effect as they once did. The information is out there and waiting to be consumed…by consumers! The disappointing thing is that it’s usually Sony pulling this stunt. Does it really make sense to continue this ridiculous trend of announcing before Microsoft and wasting a ton of cash on a lukewarm press event to just state the name of the product and show us…a controller? And the Move? The Vita? What now?

This would be more of a war (and less insulting to us) if you just waited for E3 and announced right alongside Microsoft, because that would mean you’d actually have to show us something of substance and give us some actual information. “Leaks” are all well and fine for generating the buzz, so I’m not sure why any company would insist on hosting underwhelming press events scattered between here and E3 to truly make an impression on their target market. This press con played out like an extended leak. It’s not endearing and I’d prefer to see a no-holds-barred slug fest on the E3 stage than be fed tiny morsels that are not filling and beg the question of “Please Sony, may we have some more?”

Sony Marketer: Maybe just the release date…please?

Sony Exec: Yeahhhhh…no.

Sony Marketer: *sigh*