Category Archives: PlayStation 4

Revisitation Hours: The Last of Us Remastered

The Last of Us Remastered

The Last of Us, irrespective of its quality, sits in a weird place. It was a fresh IP from a storied developer, coming to us a full six months after the combined launches of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One and, subsequently, the perceived start of the next generation. It left many that would have played it lingering on the fiscal vacuum of new consoles and others lamenting another take on the zombie shtick.

It even got ignored by those in the industry recovering—and even actively enduring—the onslaught of launch titles smeared across a liberal interpretation of a “window.” Speaking with a lot of people and discussing their yearly top 10 lists, The Last of Us was often left off simply because they didn’t play it. It certainly didn’t help that its official launch in North America was the day after the close of last year’s E3.

Yeah, last year’s E3. The Last of Us Remastered has released for the PlayStation 4 barely a year after its original debut on the PlayStation 3. It seems a bit odd to rerelease a game so soon after its first launch (the ending is still considered a spoiler, for cry out loud), perhaps setting a terrible bar for repackaged game collections as quick cash-in opportunities, but precisely because of all the aforementioned reasons a shameful slew of folk skipped it the first time around, this is a fantastic time for this move.

It’s also a fantastic time to come back and see if you remember that game for everything that it was and not something you’d skewed into a rose-tinted wish as you look back. It doesn’t take a lot for psychological biases to take hold, memories reinforcing themselves as highlight both the good and the bad in some sort of grotesquely growing harmonic frequencies. Even after writing so god damn much about the game already, I wanted to see whether I was victim of my own mental sabotage.

Immediately, I’m overcome with the sensation that I’d just never even bothered to notice something so substantial in lieu of talking at length about the game’s narrative, but The Last of Us is so awfully…rich. Specifically in its environments, it’s like a heavy stew of thick and varied flavors that are distinct and bold that it all feels so fantastically cohesive that the individuality is skimmed over.

Coming across repeated elements is such a rarity. While the cities feel oddly alive after nature has reclaimed the man-ravaged land has been littered with concrete monstrosities, it also feels incredibly lived-in because of the universally remarkable cardinality of set dressings. It would have been easy assume that every wall would just be another half vine, half brick texture, but even the serpentine foliage slithers in particular ways.

The Last of Us Remastered

Chairs, dressers, cars, graffiti, signage, and so much more help place you in regional locales and not just within a specific level of the game. And it makes every little interaction between the characters immensely more meaningful because you have this wholly unique visage to stow away in your memory. This especially comes through in the Left Behind DLC that comes packaged with The Last of Us Remastered.

And considering how many people skipped the main game, it’s not surprising that even more never got around to playing this fantastic bit of DLC. It adds colorful literality to a lot of assumptions and oblique references made in the main story between Joel and Ellie, choosing instead to focus on Ellie’s life before she ever met with her eventual protector and companion.

There’s one particular scene where Ellie and her friend Riley come across a Halloween store in a mall. Each aisle of the store is crammed full of things you simply won’t ever see again. There’s no reason for these pumpkin heads and werewolf masks to ever pop up again, and if they did, it would just be out of place. But each one is seemingly placed with purpose and care, as if there was store stocking logic and narrative impetus behind why each item is where it is.

The Last of Us: Left Behind

The interactions are so expertly written, as well. With such a beautiful economy of words that flows stiltedly parallel to the broken world around them, we learn so much about Ellie and why she becomes the person she is when she finally meets Joel. It paints such a succinct and painfully vivid picture of the tragedy of growing up without knowing a world before the Cordyceps outbreak.

Even beyond that, it’s also a heartbreaking depiction. Not necessarily because it’s so overtly sad that these kids never knew a carefree childhood but because it renders their nature as so pure. There really is no room for grey areas in this post-apocalyptic world, so you either land on being a good person or a bad person, though levels of innocence, acceptance, and compliance all still fall on a spectrum. You either kill and take advantage of others or you don’t as even dealing with the dirty underground still doesn’t make you a bad person—just a survivor.

And because of this, what we get from Ellie and Riley is a purity of spirit that comes from a life where there is no time for the dangerously easy and explosive little lies of our own daily lives. Those that come from the world that we know that is full of superficiality and first world problems, they’ve hardened by the time we meet Ellie. But for those born into this world, they are a perpetually open wound. No time to patch up, just time to watch everyone around you bleed out.

The Last of Us Remastered

If not for the richness of the palette supporting The Last of Us and Left Behind, none of this would have the stickiness it has. Our brains are like ships looking for a dock, looking for something to anchor to in the storm of the everyday blur of just living. With the delectably unique and flavorful sets of the game, we find our port. We come bearing potent words painted across an infected, heartbreaking, hopeful, and sometimes inspiring canvas.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Resogun Review: Fire Away

Resogun

What works so well about Resogun is that it doesn’t hold anything back. It doesn’t care if you think it’s just like Defender (which it is), it doesn’t care that levels end with a display of technical prowess and showmanship (so many voxels), and it definitely doesn’t care that it just gave you a bomb half a second after you really could have used one (that seems a lot like you’re fault). It just cares that you’re doing your damnedest to save the last humans.

Resogun is the latest from Finnish developer Housemarque, a studio you may remember from Super Stardust HD. Nary a year into Sony’s last console launch with the PlayStation 3, Housemarque made quite the splash with the old school Asteroids/Robotron mashup, going from developing for N-Gage and Gizmondo to making Dead Nation and Outland. They seem to have found their niche as they continue the trend of success with another retro-design space shooter.

In it, you play as one of several space fighter ships, scrolling left and right as you attempt to rescue the last humans from the grasps of the Sentients. The structure is most obviously inspired by Defender, but the twist is that the humans are locked up and have to be freed by defeating green glowing enemies called Keepers. Once you do that, you have to go track them down before they’re killed or abducted.

It’s a fantastic wrinkle to a framework we’re all familiar with for many reasons, namely because it all coincides with a bullet hell slant. There are a lot—like a lot—of enemies coming at you, some of which fire bullets while others move insanely fast unless you bust them up with a few shots and these really annoying ones that set up laser barriers that you have to destroy before you can pass.

So in the middle of simply trying to survive, you have to also pay attention to when the speaker in your controller calls out that Keepers are coming because if you don’t track them down and kill them, you lose that human. You can see a green orb fly out of their alien corpses to the free human, or you can follow the arrow coming out of your ship. And if you miss both of those cues, you can look at the counter (there are 10 humans per level) to see the status of each hostage: dead, alive, freed, dead from failure to rescue, rescued, dead from dying, etc.

If that sounds like a lot of information, that’s because it is. You also have to keep tabs on whether or not your overdrive is powered up (necessary for finishing the harder difficulties as it is insanely powerful, slightly freezing time and firing a giant Fuck You laser) and how many bombs you have left and if you have any shields left and and and.

Resogun

And that’s part of the beauty of Resogun. It really doesn’t hold anything back, but it does it fairly. It gives you all the information you could ever need at any point such as how many lives you have left or if you just earned a bomb or where a human is. It’s up to you to keep track of it all or check on it at your own risk because hey, guess what, there are more bad guys coming your way.

It never feels overwhelming, though. It feels precisely as tense as it needs to be without forcing you to rip a controller in half after every death. Much like any bullet hell game, there’s always a way out. It’s just up to you to have the dexterity and reflexes and awareness to know where that exit is. Whether it’s a bomb or a boost or just deft maneuvering, it’s up to you to know what to do and when and where.

Part of that is the level design. They vary in content, but the overall structure is always the same, which is a cylindrical 2D plane. At any given moment, you can glance off into the background to see what is coming around the endless bend. It lends the game a very gladiatorial feel, being locked up in a pit with these heathens. You’re made to lose but you’re determined to come out on top.

Resogun

This has to be one of the most empowering games I’ve ever played. One hit and you’re dead, but your mobility, your powers, and your foresight all enable you to be better than these droves of enemies. In any given moment, you are tracking and modeling in your mind at least half a dozen of possible outcomes. They’re closing in, you’re out of bombs, and you don’t have overdrive.

Your only hope is to boost free, grab the human, throw him into the goal, and slug it out in the open. Just like Resogun, you have to be relentless. It’s taxing and calming and punishing and rewarding all at the same time. This is a game that you should most definitely play, and given that it’s a PlayStation 4 exclusive free with PlayStation Plus and all new consoles come with 30 free days of Plus, you have no excuse to waste your entire night playing Resogun.

+ Looks gorgeous and sounds amazing
+ Makes the speaker in the controller a great idea instead of a dumb addition
+ An unbelievably well-crafted blend of familiar designs into something new and exciting
+ Nothing has been as rewarding this year as throwing a human into a goal and boosting away to rescue another

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Resogun

Game Review: Resogun
Release: November 15, 2013
Genre: Side-scrolling shoot ’em up
Developer: Housemarque
Available Platforms: PlayStation 4
Players: single-player offline, two players online
MSRP: $14.99
Website: http://www.resogun.com/

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Hands-on With Secret Ponchos: Fighting Ways

Secret Ponchos

I just fist-bumped the guy next to me and I’m not sure why. I mean, I know why; we just won the match, and by a heavy margin. I guess some sort of celebration was in order. But it struck me later on that it was really because Secret Ponchos offers up such immediate rewards for picking up on its core principles. It’s pretty much impossible at that point to resist the physical act of acknowledging your teammate’s valiant and successful efforts.

Also, the red team was yelling a lot, so we were all getting kind of rowdy anyways. But that’s beside the point. Shown off at Sony’s E3 press conference of this year, Secret Ponchos is a fix-perspective online shooter set in a spaghetti western world. It’s got a seriously nice and unique art style, but its presentation most notably resembles a multiplayer online battle arena game, or MOBA, like Defense of the Ancients or League of Legends. It plays, however, like a dual joystick shooter where you move about with the left stick and aim with the right stick, shooting at your discretion with the right trigger.

Most interestingly, though, is the fact that the game trades most heavily in the fundamentals of fighting games. Talking with Yousuf Mapara, president of developer Switchblade Monkeys, he says that the combat design was originally inspired by fighting games like Street Fighter (the character classes, however, were more from MOBAs and team shooters like Team Fortress 2) due to the reaction-based play. I say, however, that fighting games to me are all about spacing and timing.

Mapara almost immediately lights up and says, “Yes! That’s exactly what it is!” It seems that talking about the reactionary moments of fighting games is much easier to translate for people that aren’t as deep into the pugilistic sort. But as a former high-level Muay Thai competitor, Mapara knows what he’s talking about. “It’s about knowing when to back off and when to get in there, take advantage of your reach or speed when the time comes.”

This notion stuck out to me almost immediately as I dropped into my first match. I was playing as The Deserter, a larger, slower mustachioed character. My primary fire was shooting out one of two barrels in my shotgun. It’s a short range, but it spreads nicely and makes for dinking small chunks of damage off of speedier characters easier. His other attack is a sniper-esque shot that has a long range and sizable damage while his other weapon is a medkit for self-healing. Both of his reloads are, unsurprisingly, also lethargic, making the intensely small map somewhat intimidating.

The Deserter is obviously and painfully sluggish. His dodge roll doesn’t seem to dodge so much as lumber about, but it’s nice because he can stun people if he makes contact, making unloading a double dose of shotgun pain especially fun. But this also made my play very tactical, much more so than I was expecting. An opponent was playing as Kid Red, a blisteringly fast character who spews bullets from his dual revolvers. I wasn’t dying much at first, but that was because I was running a lot and had a lot of health. It took a while for me to remember to always reload, but once I got the hang of that, it was game on.

Secret Ponchos

Getting within range of anyone wasn’t going to happen of my own ambulations, so I hung around in the middle a lot. I could take most of the hits, but most importantly it shortened my average travel distance to any particular enemy. The slow but powerful sniper shot could harass players from afar and corral them around the borders until they came in close. Then I could stun them and blast them.

It was a simple strategy offensively, but I also had to utilize those same skills to get away from the players that could just wreck me given the chance. Chasing away pests with the shotgun and keeping them at bay with the sniper was key to not getting bullied into a bad situation. What really helps with that is that with any given attack, you are shown both the range and spread via an attack cone/line once you aim with the right stick. It makes you visualize your effectiveness and facilitates you in deciding to advance or retreat.

As that hazy idea of how to effectively play this game came into focus, I realized it reminded me of Divekick, that two-button fighting game all about diving and kicking. It strips a fighting game down to its absolute bare essentials where all you have is your ability to judge your spacing and timing. And as a slower, more deliberate character, I had to judge both of those accurately or be punished for it.

Secret Ponchos

In the second match, I chose to play as The Killer after I was warned that Phantom Poncho was a difficult character to play. The Killer is the all-around guy with moderate stats through and through. He’s got a revolver that he can either shoot off one at a time or fire all six shots in a fury. This is where I remember the other lesson of fighting games: play to your strengths.

Though much more mobile, landing hits consistently with a single revolver shot was a lot more frustrating than blasting with a shotgun with haphazard aim and still putting out damage. It was so frustrating, in fact, that I soon only exclusively used the six-shot frenzied dump in an attempt to emulate the shotgun. The problem is that reloading took so long (one bullet at a time) that I often found myself running away and firing off potshots with my single-round attack.

We still won the match, but it was a lot tougher. I was playing one character as if it was another, an amateur and foolish move in fighting games (and really any game with character classes). Eventually I settled into a nice rhythm of rolling around my partner and stabbing dudes with my knife once I’d unloaded my revolver, but I was still finding The Killer’s utility by the end of it.

Secret Ponchos

It was a hard-earned victory, and a fist bump seemed most appropriate. A physical analog to the fighting roots of Secret Ponchos, perhaps, as I turn to Mapara to talk more about spacing and timing, about the foundations of good fighting strategy. My time with the game was short, but this seems to be a mishmash of the tried-and-true blended into a quick and approachable title that’s been steeped in the fundamentals of a deeper, more thoughtful base.

Look for Secret Ponchos sometime in Q1 of 2014 for the PlayStation 4.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,