Lego Worlds – Seven Days Later

I’m still not ready to review Lego Worlds, I’ve been playing it for seven days straight, and I still feel like I’m just scratching the surface. (Normally this would sound like a good thing, but if you’d read my first impressions of Lego Worlds, you’d see I find the surface to be deeply flawed.) I promised myself I’d stick with the game until I unlocked the 100 gold bricks that unlock world creation, and so I will, but in the meantime it’s hard to forget how divided I am over the experience still.

I still hate the early game grind for gold bricks, but I blame myself a little more than I did last week. What seemed, at first, to be a ridiculous restriction nobody in their right mind could like, feels a little bit more subjective now. I’ve been streaming the game, so there are times I’ve had to force myself to stop hunting for gold bricks just because the audience is getting a little tired of it. In those moments the game starts to feel more fun. The quests are still shallow and tired, but requiring myself to stop and have a building session often creates my most entertaining moments with the game. It has left me feeling like maybe it’s my own interpretation of the questing that is at fault. If I’d just stopped a while in the first world and built, let myself feel part of the proceedings, maybe I’d feel less like the game was holding key features back.

The quests are still shallow and tired, but requiring myself to stop and have a building session often creates my most entertaining moments with the game. It has left me feeling like maybe it’s my own interpretation of the questing that is at fault. If I’d just stopped a while in the first world and built, let myself feel part of the proceedings, maybe I’d feel less like the game was holding key features back. Anyone can, if that like, stop and build in the Worlds you find. Questing isn’t essential unless you want to randomly find larger planets. I continue to believe the game disincentivises building, and presents a structured experience that isn’t reflective of the main body of the game, but it’s partly my own failing that I feel so uncomfortable removing myself from that structure and working with what it gives me.

Lego Worlds Xbox One

My worry is still that unlocking 100 bricks will take so long that I’ll have sunk a good fifteen hours into the game before I get there. Spending all that time on a treasure hunt just to unlock a free-form crafting mode intended to be the game’s centrepiece feels like a colossal waste of time, and brings back that paranoid feeling that maybe I’m playing the game wrong which we all know is impossible, but feels like a more realistic fear here than in most other games I’ve played.

What I didn’t expect, however, was the joy I’ve found in unlocking new characters and vehicles. The items are mostly a bust, as the game’s inventory UI is atrocious, but finding new cars and skeletons and stuff to bounce around with captures that toybox feel the game is going for.

I’m still going to push for the 100 gold bricks first. I’m in the 70s now and it seems silly to stop the quest so close to completion, but I’m wondering if I couldn’t have found a more satisfying approach right from the start. At times I feel a little cheated by the game, like in its quest to offer freedom, it accidentally led me to believe I had this huge limitation, that isn’t really a limitation, and that I’m free to dive in whenever I like. Then I start to build and remember that until I can make my own worlds, these spaces are just temporary and I’ll soon be hopping to the next.

The game never discourages me, and it’s the path the tutorials sent me on… Who am I to argue. Anyway, that’s where I’m at with it right now. I’ve still got a lot of gold bricks to grind through before I can free things up, so for now I’m basically holding on to the hope that the game changes completely for me once I’ve unlocked that world creation.

All-Amazing – The Amazing Spider-Man #6 – Review

It’s All-Amazing time again, where I review each and every issue of The Amazing Spider-Man. Today we’re covering issue 6, which introduces yet another classic Spidey villain, and might be my favourite so far. 


The Amazing Spider-Man Issue 6 – Review

Wow, this might just be the best issue yet.

These early Spider-Man comics have been a little hit and miss, with inconsistent plotting and a goofy Archie style to everything, but one consistent highlight has been the introduction of classic villain after classic villain. Issue 4 had been my favourite so far, with its sympathetic first appearance of Doctor Octopus, but the guy didn’t take long to descend into a raving mad-man. Amazing #6 brings The Lizard into the Marvel universe and really crafts a nuanced take that I wasn’t expecting from the series. Lizard has never been one of my favourite Spider-Man villains, too B-List, and one of so many “Help, I turned myself into a monster” villains that plagued the animated series I loved so dearly as a kid, but this is a pretty gripping story.

The Lizard makes his first appearance in Spider-Man

We kick things off nice and fast with The Lizard terrorising people in the swamps of Florida, word spreads about a monster in the Sunshine State, and J. Jonah Jameson, ever trying to make a buck off Spider-Man’s name publishes a challenge to our hero; Defeat The Lizard! Peter figures this is a terrible idea but if Jameson will pay to send him to Florida and get photos, at least he’ll get a free holiday out of it. Jonah doesn’t bit though, and reveals that he’s fairly certain Spider-Man won’t rise to his challenge; he just printed it to shift a few extra copies. JJJ is quite the capitalist these days.

 

Peter stays home to fight a few local thugs, but after noticing more and more New Yorkers thinking he’s too frightened to tackle The Lizard, he figures if he doesn’t go then Spider-Man’s going to be a laughing stock at home. He breaks into JJJ’s office (again) and gives him a little scare. He brags he’ll rise to Jonah’s challenge, and then webs him to the roof. Jameson, appropriately outraged, arranges for Parker to head for Florida immediately, and tags along for the ride. This is all setup, but it shows a side of Spider-Man we don’t see as much in these early issues; the resourceful, cheeky opportunist. Jonah is also taking shape here a little more, represented in the early issues as a mogul and publisher more than an editor, this JJJ has been all about the sales, but he’s also starting to show a bit more interest in the actual journalism of it all. The dynamic between the two of them is already pretty perfect.

Lizard challengeOnce they arrive, Peter ditches JJJ and heads out in search of The Lizard. The swamp is cordoned off, but Spidey swings in, and is attacked by the Lizard almost. The Lizard overpowers him embarrassingly quickly, and so Spidey retreats to consult with local reptile expert Dr. Curt Connors. Sound familiar? He doesn’t find Connors, but he does find his grieving wife, who tells him the story we all know and love. Dr. Curt Connors was a brilliant scientist who lost an arm; motivated by the ability for some reptiles to regrow lost limbs, he worked to combine reptile DNA with Human into a serum that would grant people the same ability. He tested it on himself, because all mad scientists seem to do that, and found that the serum did exactly what he needed and grew him a new arm, as well as a new tail, and a lot of other new stuff too. The origin is a typical Jekyll and Hyde story, but it’s the little touch of pseudo-science that sells it. You feel for Connors, even when its clear he’s lost his mind, because his original intention is genuinely relatable.

The flashback is interrupted when a child screams from the swamps, the Connors’ son has wandered out and come face to face with the Lizard himself. At first he seems to recognise the boy, but when Spider-Man returns he is enraged and the fight continues. Only the sound of Connors’ wife pacifies The Lizard and makes him retreat back under the swamp. Spider-Man meanwhile accompanies the family home, certain he can make an antidote for Connors’ condition. Which he does, because Peter Parker is a super genius.

Spider-Man creates antidote for the lizard

He takes the antidote and heads out in search of the Lizard, who he discovers having a tender moment with some alligators, and monologuing to himself about his plans to drop his own serum into the water and turn everyone into lizard people. Without a moment to spare, Spider-Man gets spotted, and starts another fight which lasts several pages and culminates with Spider-Man and the Lizard trapped in a well. Spidey force-feeds him the antidote; it takes a while to take effect, but when it does Connors returns conspicuously back to normal and Spider-Man reunites him with his family. All is well. Parker takes photos of the Lizard to Jameson, who wanted photos of Spider-Man instead, and has decided the Lizard is fake, and they all go home.

This is such a good story. It’s the first to take Peter out of the city, and with Jameson too! Over the course of the plot a lot unfolds but it does so at a pretty nice pace, in a new type of scenery, but it’s The Lizard himself that really keeps the story going. We really haven’t had a character like this so far and it’s funny how well it works despite being Marvel’s tried and tested Jekyll and Hyde plot. I really enjoyed it, but more than that, I felt like I was being more challenged with ideas that I have up to this point. Connors’ nature, and his problem, are ethically complex, even if we have seen the story before, and I think it’s a shame The Lizard has been so overused since. 2012’s Amazing Spider-Man keeps the basic character ,but loses his family, his humanity. It’s a pretty lousy change.

Another interesting thing to note is how grounded in 60s science fiction this is. We’re used to seeing Superheroes presented as Sci-Fi concepts all the time now, even the lofty ones like Thor, but Marvel is really setting up a tone for its New York based characters now that we see in Iron Man and The Fantastic Four too.

This is easily the strongest issue we’ve seen so far, and if the series keeps up this pace, I’ll soon be reading these less for historical context and more for honest to goodness investment in the storytelling! The art is really growing on me too, as Ditko is really finding a style for the character that sticks closer to his Teenage background and less of the Superhero archetype. The strip looks and feels so much fun right now… unfortunately new characters keep looking unpracticed and a little goofy.

All in all, the series is getting really good. Continuity is light still, we’re in the age of self contained books here, but he’s building up a family of characters that work well together. I’m invested, and next time we see our first returning villain!

 

Rogue One – A Star Wars Story – Review (with Spoilers)

I have things to say about this movie, and to really get into it, I’m going to be talking about plot details big and small. You have been warned. 

When George Lucas announced that he was retiring from the franchises that had made his name, and selling Lucasfilm to Disney, nobody was surprised by the announcement of a new Star Wars trilogy. Less predictable however was the announcement of a several side-titles on an alternating release schedule that would take place away from the main characters we’re familiar with and explore more experimental ground for the franchise. Rogue One – A Star Wars Story, which takes place just before the opening of the original Star Wars, is the first of these, and tells the story of the Rebel team sent to recover the plans of the first Death Star. Probably the best thing I can say about Rogue One is that by the end, the “a Star Wars story” moniker feels defensive and unnecessary. This is a Star Wars movie through and through, and fits just as neatly into the mythos as last year’s The Force Awakens.

The film follows Jyn Erso, a wandering trouble causer recruited by the Rebel Alliance; her father is the Imperial Scientist behind the creation of the Death Star, but the Alliance has heard he’s trying to defect. The only problem is the Rebel Leader he’s in contact with has splintered from the main forces of the Alliance and become more aggressive and militant. This general, Saw Gerrera, was Jyn’s guardian after her father was taken, but they haven’t been in contact for years. Jyn reluctantly agrees to help the Alliance set up a meeting, taking them to an ancient Jedi city on the planet Jedha to meet Gerrera and collect her father’s message. Along the way, Erso assembles a team of misfits including a Rebel officer who struggles to live with the things he’s had to do, an idealistic Imperial pilot who wants to make things right, a blind man who’s not quite a Jedi but certainly understands the Force, and a robot that speaks his mind. Events conspire to push these characters closer together, until ultimately they are forced to make the ultimate choice, to give their lives for a cause they believe in. When that choice is made, the consequences are devastating. Meanwhile we see one of the most incredible space battles the franchise has ever shown.

Jyn Erso Rogue One

It is this brutality, this raw exposure of the reality of war, that really sets Rogue One apart. We are in the Star Wars universe, but we aren’t seeing it through the eyes of idealistic farm boys or apathetic smugglers. This time we follow soldiers who are fighting and dying to bring down oppression, and each of our main cast are uniquely damaged people, convinced they’re fighting a lost cause. Gerrera’s extremists, for example, are the focus of a harrowing scene in which they attempt to seize an Imperial armoured vehicle as it passes through streets full of civilians. The Rogue One crew passes through, attempting to reach Gerrera undetected, but soon they’re surrounded by gunfire and death. People run and scream, soldiers on both sides die, and the camera stops on the sight of a child crying in the street. For the first time in nine films, there’s a sense that this is a real war unfolding, and it’s incredibly moving. The extremists themselves are eerily evocative of real world terrorist organisations, and while the movie takes lengths to distinguish them from the Alliance we’re familiar with, it subtly raises troubling questions about just how altruistic the Rebels really are. This is a question that even the Alliance seems to struggle with, as they’re at once committed to liberation of the Galaxy and deeply uncomfortable at the military solution this requires.

What redeems the Alliance is ultimately the tyranny of their opposition. The Death Star is almost complete as the film opens, and while they thoughtfully preserve the planet Alderaan’s dubious honour of being the first planet to fall to the battle station, the sheer destruction of it is felt on two major cities. And yet, the station is humanised, in a way. We see the competing visions of two men behind its creation, Krennic who believes the project will be his legacy; a petty man who wears his dress uniform at all occasions and seeks to rise in ranks. On the other side, Galen Erso, Jyn’s father, who fears his creation and is working towards its destruction. Though it isn’t given too much time, the relationship between the two men is fascinating, their shared history is implied in a few words and shared glances, but ultimately left unexplored. Possibly for the best. It is ultimately the legacy of these two men that drives the story forward, Krennic’s aspiration ultimately leads him to his downfall, while Galen’s fear of what he has created dooms himself and ultimately his child, but proves to be the making of the Rebel Alliance.

Orson Krennic in Rogue One

Where the film lacks is an unfortunate tendency to lean on the original trilogy too much. One major character returned from the first film is Grand Moff Tarkin, brought to life by a digital rendition of Peter Cushing that is phenomenally well animated, but still sticks out against the largely practical filming around it. The effect is somewhat like a crowbar, prying you out of the film so fast you just have to laugh. Some have argued restoring actors digitally is distasteful, it’s not a concern I share, but I do find it jarring and unpleasant to watch. There have been excellent uses of the technology, of course. (The young Michael Douglas in Ant-Man is probably still the strongest) but here its’s overplayed and unnecessary. His role in the story could have been filled by someone else, or the screen time cut back, but I suspect this is an irksome wrinkle that will become less so with time. Similar cameos do appear, but this was the standout negative one for me. More impressive was the appearance from Darth Vader, who is so restored from years of spoofing and “NOOOOOOOOOOO” gifs that I was surprised to find myself genuinely frightened by the character for the first time.

Rogue One is a strangely satisfying bundle of contradictions. It is the story of a suicide mission, driven by the hope of a better future, and while characters you have grown to love over two hours are dying amidst the beauty of a tropical beach, we have the bittersweet reassurance of knowing that their sacrifice is rewarded. Fan service is heavy at times, particularly during the close, which takes us right up to the opening of Star Wars, but in those final scenes it seems to work the best, and when credits roll I realised how much how much the film had enriched a franchise I already loved so much.

If you enjoyed this, take a look at my review of the tie-in Rogue One VR mission for the Playstation VR. 

Star Wars Battlefront: Rogue One X-Wing VR Mission – Review

It’s silent out in space, I’m squeezed into the cockpit of a T-65 X-Wing Starfighter and my only company is a little red Astromech Droid who seems to feel the isolation as much as I do. Something has gone wrong, wherever we are, the fleet is somewhere else… Then in a sudden eruption of light and noise, rebel ships drop out of hyperspace around me. A Rebel Blockade Runner glides above, and I know I am back in the Star Wars Universe.

 

 

In reality I am playing the absurdly titled Star Wars Battlefront: Rogue One X-Wing VR Mission, a label that has obviously been passed through every marketing department at EA, Sony, LucasArts, and Disney, with each being allowed to shove another word in somewhere. Ostensibly a tie in to Rogue One, opening this month, we all know what the X-Wing VR Mission exists for. Sony needs to sell the VR headset and Star Wars is a bankable property these days. Throw in a dash of nostalgia and the promise that you’ll really feel like you’re flying an X-Wing, and the game sells itself. As a bonus, it’s free to anyone who already owned Star Wars Battlefront.

 

Star Wars VR mission At-AT

 

The mission itself is another short, guided experience that slots neatly between the more arcade style shooting of Call of Duty’s Jackal Mission, and the non-interactive, scripted experiences of Playstation VR Worlds. It’s narrative driven and totally focused on giving the player an authentic Star Wars adventure. While you have the freedom to roam around and check out classic ships from whatever angle you like, the mission progresses under a very tight set of circumstances that take you from navigating asteroids, to escorting a damaged ship, and finally to taking on a Star Destroyer. By the end you’ll enjoy a lot of authentic Star Wars moments along with a fully voiced and well written cast of peers, culminating in the familiar end music while you check your scores.

The ties to Rogue One are minimal, with one character from the film making his first appearance here, as well as a new ship, but for the most part this is about a rag-tag, anonymous flight of Rebel pilots doing what they do best. The story, such as it is, works well enough for the length of the mission, and creates a good sense of a wider conflict going on while the pilots themselves have good chemistry, with both voice actors representing the male and female player avatar doing an amazing job of capturing the player’s inner enthusiasm.

 

X-Wing Vr cockpit

 

Gameplay is pretty strong too. This is just a first person equivalent of Battlefront’s third person dogfighting, but it works really well; gunning down Tie Fighters feels appropriately challenging but never impossible, and just flying around is a smooth and satisfying experience. During the asteroid sequence, weaving in and out of the belt is awe inspiring, as giant rocks threaten to crush your ship at any moment. Battlefront’s flight controls wouldn’t seem up to the challenge, but you always feel in control of the craft, even if your manoeuvrability options are limited. Everything is kept simple so you can focus on watching your squadmates duck and weave while sharing Rebel banter. It’s a nice atmosphere throughout.

 

VR cockpit Blockade Runner

 

Attention to detail seals the deal though, with every button in the X-Wing’s cockpit accurate and interactive, every ship you fly past looking practically film perfect. It draws you in so perfectly, even in places you don’t expect. The mission opens with an X-Wing sat in a VR hanger room surrounded by white space, should you speak during these scenes, the VR headset mic will take your voice and add an echo to the room’s ambient noise. Just one of the little ways the developers have tried to move your further into the game’s world, and utterly stunning the first time you hear it. So much of making VR work is about this little illusions that blur the line between your game and the real world, so every time you experience a new one, it’s a real pleasure.

 

Red Leader in X-Wing Vr mission

 

If there are problems with the X-Wing VR Mission (besides the title) it’s more about the climate it has launched into. As much as I enjoyed the mission on its own merits, there’s still a feeling that this is too little to really sell anyone on a unit. It’s certainly fun, but it still requires a PS4, VR, Camera, and copy of Star Wars Battlefront to get through the door. It’s asking an awful lot for 20 minutes of gameplay. Worse still, if you own the VR, this is probably the third free (ish) cockpit shooting demo you’ve played in the last few months. With EVE Valkyrie’s demo and the Call of Duty Jackal Mission filling the same niché. X-Wing is the best of the lot, but it’s still an experience we’ve had a lot of right now, with only EVE Valkyrie offering a full length (though very pricey) title if you want it. What the X-Wing VR mission did the most was convince me we need a real VR Rogue Squadron game. This really feels like a mission straight out of Rogue Leader, with its jump in controls, and focus on set pieces and authentic feel, but as soon as you begin, it ends. If it had launched standalone alongside the headset, this would be the standout VR launch title, as it is, it feels like just one more all-t00-brief proof of concept, with nowhere to go once you’re sold on the idea.

 

Fighting a Star Destroyer in VR

 

At the end of the day though, the content is so good while it lasts that it just shines through those concerns. So far it’s the only piece of VR software that I’ve found myself returning to over and over again just to live in its world, and unlike some VR launch titles, it screams effort from the moment you put the headset on. Short lived or not, this is the kind of game VR was made for.

9/10

All-Amazing – The Amazing Spider-Man #5 Review

It’s All-Amazing, the series where I review every issue of The Amazing Spider-Man and tell you all about it. Today, Spider-Man meets a guest from someone else’s rogue’s gallery…


The Amazing Spider-Man – Issue 5 – Review

Amazing Spider-Man 5 is kind of special, y’know? This marks the first time in Spider-Man’s history that he fights a villain from someone else’s book. This is also the first issue not to introduce any major players to the Marvel universe. Our story begins with Peter Parker and his friends watching Spider-Man get trounced by the press again. His friends all love Spider-Man so Parker comes up with an ingenious plan to throw them off the scent.

Parker hates spider-man

Meanwhile, they aren’t the only ones watching, because Doctor Doom is also taking in a little TV and he decides Spider-Man is just who he needs. The press is so convinced Spider-Man is New York’s greatest villain, Doom decides to try and hire him to defeat the Fantastic Four. He does this by putting a spider into a transmitter and using it like a CB radio. It’s sort of like Gene Hackman’s supersonic broadcast in Superman: The Movie, except dumb.

Doctor doom's spider radio

Spider-Man picks up the signal and follows it back to Doom, who puts the offer to him directly. Spidey appears to consider it seriously for a moment, before remembering he’s supposed to be the hero of the book and webbing Doom up. At this point Doom reveals Spider-Man has been talking to a dummy the whole time, and Doom has actually been stood three feet away in the closet. This was the point I realised that 1963 Spider-Man isn’t all that bright. What I am starting to notice however is just how right Tom Holland’s Spider-Man in Civil War is to this era. His Peter Parker is reluctant, goofy, and nerdy too; he can’t stop talking, he seriously considers terrible ideas, and he dramatically underestimates how far over his head he is. So, moments later, Doom kicks his ass. Parker escapes unscathed, but he has to dive out the window to do it. By the time he gets back, Doom has fled, and our hero gets the blame for the devastation once again.

Spider-Man leaves the building

This creates a problem for Doom, Spider-Man knows he’s in the city and is on the case, and Doom has a pathological need for revenge. Now he knows Spider-Man is a hero, he also figures he can threaten his life, and the Fantastic Four will come running to his rescue instead. This is a pretty nice touch really. Doom isn’t my favourite Marvel villain, but even an amateur admirer like me knows his main beef is with Reed Richards, and that comes through. Even when Spider-Man’s in his grasp, The Fantastic Four are his endgame. With all this in mind, Doom develops a device that will actually use Spider-Man’s spider sense against him, tracking him down anywhere in the city.

Flash Thompson dressed as spider-man

Coincidentally, at exactly this moment, Flash Thompson and Peter’s 1960s, white toothed, dead-eyed school chums are planning on scaring Peter by having Flash jump out dressed as Spider-Man and surprise him… do I even need to tell you where this is going?

Doom Kidnaps Flash

The rest of the book unfolds pretty neatly from here, Doctor Doom goes on TV and reveals to the world that he has kidnapped ‘Spider-Man’, and if the Fantastic Four don’t disband immediately he’s going to murder him, Parker finds out about the planned prank and figures out who must be in the Spider-Man costume (and, I shit you not, considers leaving Flash to die), and Aunt May makes Peter promise not to leave the house and get hurt. Peter does it anyway, because he’s a jerk.

He makes a fairly rapid entrance to Doom’s hideout after deducing that Evil Genius Doctor Doom probably only designed traps to protect against the Fantastic Four. He gets in by climbing down the air vent, because Reed Richards could never do that or nothin’…

Spider-Man crawls down an air vent

There our intrepid hero fights Doom while being subjected to various traps, including another robot, something lightning related, and a machine with lots of spinning balls on it. The fight lasts a while, but neither has the upper hand, in a way that feels a bit too much like Stan Lee not wanting to let either of his babies look soft. It only ends when The Fantastic Four arrives to save the day. Flash Thompson unfortunately survives.

This is an interesting issue, because the addition of Doctor Doom is clearly supposed to be a big draw. His name is as big as the title on the cover, and he drives most of the plot forward. He’s a pretty brutal opponent too, he never loses a fight and he outsmarts Peter several times. The only problem is nobody really loses anything at any time in the book. It’s like play-sparring where you know there are no real consequences, and Doom is exactly what he always is, the most cliche and moustache twirling villain in the Marvel library.

The issue is fun at times, but separated from the hype, it just feels like a bit of a distraction. For a series that has prided itself so much on developing Spider-Man as a real character, there’s none of that here. Even Flash’s stupid prank feels more like a chance to have Doom make his scary message than part of Parker’s personal life story. It’s not bad, it’s just very safe, like neither character could step too much on the other’s toes.

One thing I did really love about this issue though was the art, which was heavy and stylised all the time. Ditko has always been a bit off-model for me, but here he really finds his groove and every panel looks great. Top notch stuff.

That’s all for this time, but coming up next we have a hell of a villain making their first appearance.

 

Playstation VR Worlds – Review

If you’d like to see my review for the PSVR hardware itself, click here.

Playstation VR Worlds – Review

Playstation VR Worlds is an oddity. On the one hand, it’s the most well rounded and effective demo of the Playstation VR in the launch lineup, on the other, it’s exactly that… a demo. Or rather five demos, thematically distinct apart from their ability to show off a different style of VR game. The quality varies but the entire package represents the essential beginner’s guide to VR.

So why does Sony want more money for it?

Vr Worlds Shark Attack

The Games

VR Luge

VR Luge is the weakest of the bunch, embodying all the Playstation VR’s most prominent weaknesses in one package. You play a street-luge racer, hurtling down a mountain road through busy traffic, construction sites, and other perils. Steering with your head, your goal is to reach the bottom of the mountain in the best time possible. It sucks. Visually it’s just hideous, with low resolution visuals combining with fast paced action to make a blurry mess that feels anything but immersive. Steering is awkward and flimsy, running in to the cars is unpleasant in VR and the whole thing just feels flat and dull. Worse still, the underlying game is terrible. It promises multiple tracks, but most seem to be part of the same course with different start and end points chosen, like the project started as an early tech demo stretched to meet the definition of a game.

Danger Ball

Danger Ball is better, though still not the most immersive experience. It’s Pong, basically, but from a first person perspective. You tilt your head to move a paddle that is locked to the centre of your view and while a ball bounces between you and your opponent. Meanwhile, you’re set in a series of Tron-Style sci-fi environments that really steal the show. Danger Ball is a strong, arcade style action and pretty fun in short sessions but doesn’t have a lot of substance. The VR effect here is better, but still doesn’t lure you in much. You’re too focused on the game really, and while 3D in VR has been some of the best I’ve ever experienced, the ball still doesn’t really feel like it’s flying towards you . Worse still, if the game gets really vigorous it starts to take it’s toll on your neck. This is one of the stronger games in terms of pure gameplay and design, but it’s hard not to feel like this is an experience I’d rather not play in VR at all. The game would work just as well on a 2D TV.

London Heist

I’m torn on this one, it’s probably the strongest experience on the disc but the gameplay is limited. London Heist is ostensibly Sony’s stand in for the big budget, narrative driven, AAA shooter that they want on the platform. Still, it isn’t a complete game, but a twenty minute segment in which you’ll visit a short but fairly well written story about a diamond heist gone wrong, enjoy a few pretty absorbing shooting sections, and play with a few motion control sections where you get to really get your hands involved. It tries to show you everything, and to its credit most of the sections are really strong. I enjoyed the shooting a lot, even using the normal DualShock 4 to control. Holding the controller like a single pistol and turning the gun around in your hands gave me some of the most immersive moments in VR so far. Shooting is strong and well thought out, with a laser sight equipped at all times avoid a HUD crosshair. I also loved having to physically move yourself around objects to get a better shot; it might get tedious after a while, but for this little adventure it ever outstayed its welcome. London Heist persuaded me that the best VR games in the world and those in which you can see your hands, watch them respond to your movement, and feel like you’re directly controlling the world around you. It’s amazing how soon your brain adapts to what it’s seeing and starts to play along.

There are problems though; too much of it is sitting in a chair while characters talk at you, and often it can be a bit too “hey, you’re in VR” about it all. In one segment you’re supposed to be receiving your mission briefing, and meanwhile the guy talking is depositing enough trinkets on the table to stock a reasonably priced market stall. Each can be picked up and turned around, played with, and thrown about the room, which is fun and all but the effect is like being told “this is serious, stop and listen” while a man fills up a ball pool full of balls. London Heist might be the best entry on here, but it feels least like a product that deserves to exists separately from the hardware. It’s only purpose is to soft tutorial different ways of interacting with a VR world, to sell it separately shows a lack of understanding in the product, and what people expect from a retail game.

Scavenger’s Odyssey

Scavenger’s Odyssey is a decent enough concept that tries to fill another AAA game niche, but feels like it undermines VR more than it sells it. You pilot an armed mech that leaps from asteroid to asteroid, fighting bugs, and raiding wrecked spacecraft in environments evocative of Metroid Prime. It’s one of the longer titles on here, and can be pretty fun. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the less immersive. Going in, I was excited. Like a lot of people I’ve long suspected cockpit and mech based VR games would be some of the strongest VR experiences due to the player’s seated position. For Savenger’s Odyssey at least, this isn’t true. Leaping from asteroids can be engrossing, or queasy, but the more mundane shooting and scavenging bits don’t feel immersive at all. Looking around the cockpit is great, but once you’re staring through the glass, the immersion drops the more you’re focused on the game. It’s another that feels like once the initial “wow” has faded, the game would be more fun on a TV. It’s designed well enough, though, and a lot of mythology and lore seems to have gone into the backstory just for this little experience.

Ocean Descent

I saved the best for last. This was the game that sold me on the PSVR, and I’m not even sure why. I never really wanted to descend in a shark cage or visit the bottom of the ocean, but from the minute I saw clips of reviewers at press events having their pants scared off by shark attacks, I was on board. It just looked like fun. And it is. It’s so fun.

Ocean Descent is the least interactive game on the disk. You have no controls, you do nothing to change the outcome of the experience. It is, in just about every way possible, a VR short movie. You are in a diving cage, a voice in your earpiece tells you that you’re part of a salvage crew here on a tip-off. They lower you into the ocean past a variety of wildlife, and then things take a turn for the worse. It really feels like a theme park ride, and yet it’s astonishingly real. The visuals are tight and clean, everything just looks so beautiful and when that cage drops, your stomach lurches. It’s just a shame it lacks any kind of hand tracking. Early builds of this game saw players equipped with a targeting gun for tagging salvage, a feature cut from the final release. I’d have liked something in its place. Being able to control my hands completes VR for me, I can see why it was cut when there’s really nothing for your hands to do, but I’d have still liked it there.  The only other problem is replayability. This is another short experience and you’re only going to want to do it a couple of times, once again it’s the kind of thing that makes so much sense on a free demo disc, and none on a paid product.

London Heist VR

In Conclusion

You can probably guess what I’m going to say, I’ve said it before many times, but…

Playstation VR Worlds should have been free. The experiences within it scream free-demo, they’re paced like that, they were shown completely to press at events like that, it’s what they exist for. The complete package is strong, with some duds, some solid games, and some really great experiences, but they’re all short single use adventures. Releasing them as a paid package feels like greed, or serious lack of judgement.

Technically they’re impressive, however, with all but VR Luge looking cleaner and more immersive than anyone else’s software right now. They do a great job of showing why the PSVR is quite so fantastic at doing what it does. And then it ends and you’re wondering what you spent your £30 on.

Why is 7 Days to Die so ugly on PS4?

As a Youtuber who falls reluctantly under the label of “Minecraft channel”, I’ve had 7 Days to Die recommended to me a lot. I’ve held back because I don’t really want to reinforce that label, and the market is so flooded with survival crafting zombie games it sort of feels like covering the existence of drinking water at this point. Still, it recently went on sale on the PS4 so I thought I’d check it out.

I like it. It might just be because this isn’t a genre I’ve spent much time with really, (I stream Minecraft every day but I draw the line there. When I’m done with Minecraft’s quota on the channel I put it away and play something else.) but I found myself really drawn in to the realist take on survival. This has always been my favourite part of Minecraft, and 7 Days to Die doesn’t prod as hard as We Happy Few did, so it has all been rather enjoyable. It’s hit and miss at times, the UI is a nightmare from hell, but the sophistication and intricacy of the gameplay grabbed me. I just don’t get why it looks so hideous.

7 Days to Die ps4 graphics

I know the game is procedurally generated, but it honestly looks a mess. Minecraft gets away with basic visuals because it has a complementary style, this aims for realism and undermines it any time you actually stop to look at anything. Character models are hideous, tools like like crap, digging the ground turns everything in a mess of muddy textures, the supposedly frightening Zombie enemies sometimes look like pre-bought assets lumbering around in different lighting to everything around them.

I know, I know, PC isn’t much better, but there’s a reason for that. It came out longer ago, it has to run on wider hardware while being procedurally generated, and on PC once you get the gameplay right, mods can fix the rest. The PS4 entry has had a long time to tighten things up, and it just feels like a cheap rush job. It’s a shame because I really want to like the game. I can see myself continuing to play it and really finding a lot of fun with it, but I’m going have to do that in spite of awful visuals and an interface that makes no attempts to help the player out.

Maybe I’m expecting too much from a quick port of a budget game, but trying to play it on the PS4 just shows how cheap, frustrating, and unrefined everything feels. Like the developers thought “people bought it on PC, this’ll do fine” without ever taking into account just how much customers can fix later on a PC game. I never wanted to like a game so much that felt like it was refusing to meet me half way at all.

Playstation VR – Video Review

Playstation VR – Video Review

As you know, I picked up a PSVR recently after being very skeptical about VR’s potential for greater immersion, but won over by a really strong launch lineup. With that in mind I put together something I’ve never really done before; a video review! (With me on camera and everything…) Check it out below, and I have a few final thoughts after the vid if you keep reading.

Now since I posted that to the channel I’ve had a little feedback I’d like to address. Firstly, there were some concerns that I’d reviewed the unit without the Playstation Move controllers. While the motion controllers are heavily marketed with the PSVR, they are sold separately, and unlike the Playstation Camera, aren’t essential to the device. I, and many others, bought the unit without the move controllers, and as such I think reviewing it without was appropriate. Most importantly, most of the game I covered in the review itself played great with the Dualshock 4 alone and so it didn’t influence my opinion of the hardware itself. I’m a consumer too, and like most consumers, I’m on a budget. I can only review what I can get a hold of, and if Sony wants to sell them without, they need to be prepared for reviews without too. Fortunately the VR passed.

Secondly, I didn’t cover a lot of software in the review, limiting my discussing mainly to the Demo Disc and VR Worlds as these two packages are generally considered to be the PSVR’s pack-in software. (Even if they are charging extra for worlds.) The reason for this was firstly, that this was mainly a hardware review and not an exhaustive look at PSVR software which I’m covering separately, and secondly, that the Demo Disc and VR Worlds contain a wide variety of experiences and interaction styles that gave me enough to communicate my opinion about the hardware as a whole. (Also, while these are my honest and genuine thoughts on the VR, it’s a light-heart, 7 minute video intended to get a few laughs across too. It’s about my experience with the device, not shilling extra games for Sony.)

So, how do I feel about the VR since I filmed this? The X-Wing Battlefront VR mission has launched since I made this so it’s a shame I couldn’t include my sheer joy in playing that game here, but VR continues to be one of the most exciting experiences for me. Mileage may vary, but for me each new VR title is a joy to dive into.

Finally, this was a really knew type of video for me. I’d leave to hear your feedback in the comments!

All Amazing – The Amazing Spider-Man #4: Review

It’s time once again for All Amazing! The series in which I read and review every issue of Marvel’s flagship comic, The Amazing Spider-Man. Today we reach Issue 4, and the introduction of The Sandman… and Peter Parker’s failed love-life. 

J Jonah Jameson no Pants


The Amazing Spider-Man – Issue 4 – Review

Something that keeps cropping up in these early issues of Amazing Spider-Man is Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s impeccable sense of what the character is all about, and what his weaknesses are. We’re only in the fourth issue and already they’ve been adept at writing characters and scenarios that seem perfectly designed to match this particular hero. You might think that’s what writers are supposed to do, but comics prior to Marvel in the 60s were often about indistinguishable god-like heroes who fought, and surpassed, whatever foe happened to be trendy that week. Spider-Man is so different right from the start in that each foe he faces challenges him and forces him to confront his own limitations. It’s refreshing and gives the series a weird sort of Smallville vibe. I know it’s easy to say this in retrospect, but the series feels written like a good prequel. We find Spider-Man unformed and learning, incomplete. It’s a joy to read. In this issue we meet another new villain, and he works because Spidey’s powers really offer him little advantage in a fight.

Enter Sandman.

 

 

Before that however, the book continues to remind us how much of a comedy it is with a really quite funny opening. After stopping a heist before the goons have managed to break the glass, both Spider-Man and the crooks realise he can’t actually apprehend them because they haven’t committed a crime yet. While he’s manhandling them, they start to cry assault until New York’s finest arrive and Spidey has to scarper. After getting all stroppy about it, he decides to blame J. Jonah Jameson for nobody in the city respecting him and, I swear to god, goes to his office to leave a “deposit” on Jameson’s office chair.

Spider-Man pranks jamesonNow, the deposit turns out to be webbing, but I don’t believe for a second Stan Lee didn’t know what he was writing here. Just read this.

Spider-Man gets revenge on Jameson

While still feeling a bit sulky about things, and doubly miserable because he has to sew the holes in his own costume, word gets out that the dangerous bank robber, The Sandman, has arrived in New York. Spidey makes plans to track him down after school, and blows off a girl way out of his league to do it. (Sometimes you wonder if Parker doesn’t bring these problems on himself really.) It’s a waste of time though because while on the run from his latest heist, The Sandman conveniently runs into Peter’s school to hide. Pete ducks away to change, and Spider-Man emerges to save the day.

SpiderMan issue 4 panelsSo far I think this is the first time a fight has taken place on the school ground, in front of his peers. It’s a scene we’d see play out in so many versions of Spider-Man, but it’s a natural fit for the character. The bullies who taunt the nerd, unaware they’re watching the same guy kick-ass and cheering him on. It’s real underdog porn right there, and on behalf of all underdogs, it’s always appreciated. Still, Spider-Man isn’t having the best time. Sandman is pretty brutal, he can be powder when he needs to be, and solid as a rock the next moment. Peter’s webbing is useless, and at one point he resorts to trying to use a woodwork drill on him. Suffice to say it doesn’t really go so well.

The fight is actually really solid. It takes up a big chunk of the book, and more than once Spidey takes a pretty brutal hit. Of all the fights we’ve seen him in so far, this is one of the most tough and you feel it. It’s weird to think that a minor goon like Sandman would be so effective in his first appearance, but it’s honestly my favourite action sequence in the series so far… until the end. The end sucks.

Spider-Man Sandman Battle


How does Spider-Man dominate Sandman? Soak him and turn him to mud? Melt him into glass? Disperse the sand in the air?

No, he just sucks him up in a little vacuum cleaner.

The ending is also a bittersweet victory for Peter. After washing the crap out of his slacks, Jameson turns up at the school and promises to buy Parker’s photos sight unseen; Parker has the evening free and money in his pocket, but his date now thinks he’s a coward who spent the day hiding under the desk. Not for the last time, Peter Parker ends a fight feeling like he was punished for doing the right thing.

This is a simple but solid issue; all the Spider-cliches are here, but it’s just so well done. The villain is genuinely threatening, Peter’s humiliation is similarly well communicated. There’s a moment after the whole class publicly humiliates him for his assumed cowardice, he turns to Flash, and threatens him. He’s the good guy, of course, so he holds back and reminds himself that Spider-Man can’t just go thrashing teenagers, (even if he’s just a teen himself) but the look on his face as he realises he has to back down and double humiliate himself is pretty sad.

This issue shows why the series deserved to become the hit it did!

Overwatch Review – PS4

Overwatch Review – PS4

Overwatch is a refreshing example of high production values and solid gameplay overcoming traditional expectations of what a big budget game should be. It features no in-game narrative, no single player worth mentioning, and aside from its large cast of characters, a relatively sparse amount of content, but it makes up for it with focus and a level of polish that makes you forget you’re playing the same selection of modes and maps over and over again. Even when you do notice, you’re having so much fun it’s not really an issue.

While fundamentally a multiplayer shooter, it borrows liberally from MOBAs, delivering an array of distinct characters that all feel unique and occasionally genre-breaking. Shooter fans will feel at home with gunslingers like McCree or Soldier 76, but might find ninja robot Genji or mad-bomber Junkrat to be a bit of an adjustment. There’s enough variety that most players will find a play style that suits them, and despite this range of approaches, balancing feels finely tuned and appropriate. Each character comes with a unique weapon, special skills, and a powerful ultimate attack, but no character has the best of everything; often you’re forced to choose between a weapon you really like and a devastating ultimate, but it always feels like a willing concession, not a compromise.

Lucio doing special attack

A big part of the fun comes not just from trying new skills, but after each death you’re treated to seeing exactly how someone downed you. It’s good for stealing strategies, as well as learning which skills you want to try next. Even after you’ve been playing a while it’s possible to see someone do something you hadn’t even thought of, sending you scurrying to the character select screen to give it a go. The game rewards this by incentivising all skills, not just kills. Handling objectives, healing damage, eve blocking damage, are all considered worthy of score at the end of the game, and as such the community at large seems less fixated on maintaining their Kill / Death ratio and actually on switching it up and having fun. There’s an experimental camaraderie to it all, and this cycle of charging ultimate attacks, forcing your enemies to change character, and changing your own in response, keeps every game a revolving door of changing tactics that can provide endless variety. Almost.

All this takes place in a series of fifteen maps that represent futuristic interpretations of real world cities, and seem ripped right out of a Pixar movie. They play a massive part in setting the scene, with little consistent details popping up over and over like hidden machinery, hover cars, and skyscrapers towering over historical buildings, hinting at a deeper lore, Blizzard has hidden away in short films and other merchandise. Each does a great job of showing off how colourful the game is, and disguising how samey the game modes can be. It’s great to zip up to the roof of a Buddhist temple and pick enemies out from below, or surprise someone from behind the British postbox, but most of the maps are basically linear zig-zag paths between two bases. Even the game modes are largely indistinguishable from one another, with heavy objective based modes that see you claiming and reclaiming control points until time runs down.

Reaper being Badass

Overwatch is the most fun I’ve had with an online shooter in years, but it’s hard to shake the feeling the content is a little thin on the ground. The character roster is huge and will take hours to play through properly, but once you’ve picked a character you can play most of the modes and maps in less than a day. The lack of single player or story don’t hurt a game that feels so well developed for multiplayer, but it does make it feel, on consoles at least, a little expensive compared to other big budget games offering the whole package. And yet, the experience is so addictive, and so well designed that it’s hard to really feel this complaints while you’re in the game, all you want to do is jump in for one more round.

8/10

Overwatch is a solid, and compelling multiplayer game that hides a sparse amount of content behind a huge roster of characters. It’s great fun and will keep you coming back for more, but after a few hours you’ll have seen everything there is, even if you’re still having a great time.