About time I got a PlayStation 3

PlayStation 3 40GB UKI decided I was well overdue for a bit of high-definition console action while taking a week off work at the end of March, so I treated myself to a PlayStation 3. It arrived within days courtesy of Play.com, and naturally I’ve been giving it a good burning in. I have to admit: it’s pretty damned good!

I pretty much just got the console for the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 4, the latest and supposedly last in the amazing Metal Gear Solid series. But having been sampling the many other delights on the console, the general notion of the PlayStation 3 not having plenty of fun games seems unwarranted. There’s enough here to keep me going for ages!

Some of these are a bit old so I’ll just drop down some general feelings of mine regarding the PlayStation 3 games I’ve played (all supplementary screenshots are in-game):

Uncharted: Drake’s FortuneUncharted: Drake’s Fortune. I’m enjoying the thick storyline of this, and the overall tone of the game gives me some serious vibes of Broken Sword — a classic adventure game. It even looks superficially reminiscent of some parts of Broken Sword 3 (yes, you have to climb those cliffs). Gameplay-wise it’s above average but not fantastically original, with gunfights being very similar in nature throughout the game but always tactically interesting due to your fragility and the emphasis on using cover. It’s more a game of exploration and storyline though, so it’s appropriately right up any adventure game fan’s alley.

Heavenly SwordHeavenly Sword. I haven’t got very far into this, but the scale of the combat has been repeatedly astounding me and it looks like another quality storyline’s on the cards. Great voice acting, sound effects, characters, and accessible but deep combat options keep things spicy. While I don’t want to focus on graphics too much, they really do deserve note here — just check out IGN’s image gallery for a taste, which pales in comparison to how intense it looks in motion. Easily one of the most technically accomplished PS3 titles.

Gran Turismo 5: PrologueGran Turismo 5: Prologue. I’m disappointed that there’re no damage models (supposedly being included in an Autumn 2008 patch), but for £17 I’ve been having a great time with this — in no small part because of the online play, which is a far cry from the offline play and has nutters running you off the road at every opportunity. It’s definitely a much purer racing game than most though with absolute focus on the driving/track physics, so I’ll need something like MotorStorm to satisfy my more destructive side. Especially fun if you have someone to play it with.

Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of DestructionRatchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. The in-engine cutscenes are amazing, and the gameplay is fun and varied too. There’s a lot of scripting going on, but it makes the experience of stuff like the opening level’s city incredible due to how much is going on around you. This is one of the few platform games other than Nintendo’s efforts that’s worth your time thanks to a great combination of classic platforming, weaponry, and presentation. No particular part is outstanding, but it all comes together beautifully.

Assassin’s CreedAssassin’s Creed. This is actually much better than I expected after witnessing the initial flurry of disappointment following its release. The graphics are amongst the best, the storyline seems pretty reasonable, the environment interaction and controls are brilliant, and I’ve been having fun going around doing what I’ve been asked to do. I imagine it’ll get repetitive if it doesn’t go beyond listening to conversations, picking pockets, and killing, but it’s fun while it lasts. I play it in short bursts so perhaps that helps.

Ninja Gaiden SigmaNinja Gaiden Sigma. I think this is really poor to be honest, and not my type of game at all. The environments are clearly of a last generation and’ve been given some superficial improvements, the gameplay doesn’t appeal to me at all, and the general atmosphere of the game just turns me off on every level. While I’m sure it’s a good buy for die-hard fans of the original (it would seem to be the definitive version), I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have liked it back when that came out either. I just don’t like how it feels and was unable to derive any real joy from it. Mostly just frustration.

MotorStormMotorStorm. Crazy fun! MotorStorm has provided me with lots of laugh-out-loud moments, with thematically limited but insanely intricate courses leading to all sorts of crashes, near-misses, and road rage. The magic is in the opposition, with the AI vehicles being surprisingly vicious: they push you into rocks, they nudge your back so you spin out, and will generally do anything they can to screw you up — pretty realistic as it’s exactly the kind of scumbag behaviour online players exhibit too. My only real criticisms are that more courses would have been nice, and the surprising lack of non-online multiplayer: it’s quite clearly the type of game that’s begging for split-screen social play.

I’m of the opinion that all the above games sans Ninja Gaiden Sigma are must-play titles for any PlayStation 3 owner.

My LOVEFiLM list (monthly subscription for unlimited holding of 1–3 games/films at a time) is currently populated with Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2, Burnout Paradise, Turok, and Resistance: Fall of Man. On my to-buy list is Metal Gear Solid 4, Battlefield: Bad Company, and Grand Theft Auto 4. I’m hopeful I can review all titles in the latter list after their release.

On a non-gaming note, the multimedia capabilities of the PlayStation 3 are quite an unsung asset. The level of polish to the music, DVD, and Blu-Ray playing software is impressive, with slick menus for navigating practically any format you stick in it — including a data DVD full of AVI files (which I found useful for watching some television programmes I’d missed and downloaded). With the console physically looking good too and outputting via HDMI, it’s a very feasible replacement for a lot of your home cinema equipment, and is probably more configurable/extensive than a lot of people’s home cinema equipment too. While I knew it could do this stuff, I didn’t expect it to be as sophisticated as it is.

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How HMV made me annihilate a game I bought

HMV GitsIf you were running an online game shop, what would you say is the best way of guaranteeing customers never, ever buy from you again? Leaving the disc out of the box? Overcharging them? Delivering it weeks later than you expected? No. The best way is to make them have to utterly destroy the box to gain access to the disc.

I’ve been doing a bit of catch-up with games having taken a week off work, and one I meant to play but never did was Black & White 2: Battle of the Gods, the expansion pack for Black & White 2 — a superb game in my opinion. It’s become very difficult to get hold of though, so with little choice I ordered from HMV’s online shop. For those of you outside the UK, HMV is one of the largest music/game/film chains in the country and has stores in practically every town and city; as such, you’d think their online shop would be pretty reliable. You’d be wrong.

The game arrived, and I was all in the mood for some epic god action. Then I noticed a strange red piece of plastic lodged into the part of the DVD case that you open. Intrigued, I went to open the DVD case so I could see what it was — but it very quickly dawned on me that this was in fact the security seal. I couldn’t get into the damned thing! Slightly irritated but undeterred, I tried to ply it out with a knife. All I accomplished by doing this was breaking part of the plastic around the edges of the case, so I went searching online and found that some other fellow got exactly the same thing a couple of years ago. The result? Well, it’s not pretty.

There are three things I’ve managed to establish about this red piece of plastic:

  • It will make normally opening the case impossible
  • Fridge magnets and any amount of banging on the case seems to have no effect on it
  • They are typically removed in HMV shops with an ultra-strong magnet
  • It goes through the entire case, so using physical tools to extract it will almost certainly fail

HMV GitsFor anyone else who stumbles across one of these security seals (I’m sure more than a few people will), the best way to remove it without irreparably destroying your game assets or going to your local HMV shop is to:

  • Use scissors to cut open the thin plastic sleeve that holds the cover art
  • Remove the cover art
  • Pull the case open from the bottom until you have enough room to remove the manual
  • Remove the manual
  • Do whatever it takes to remove the entire front cover, thus revealing the disc
  • The security seal goes underneath the button used to release the disc, so you need to push together the two halves of the circular button so you can simultaneously remove the disc
  • Find an unused DVD case or buy some (it’s useful to have a stock in your house for general storage and situations like this)
  • Put the cover art, manual, and disc into the new DVD case

Hope this helps. And remember: order from somewhere else if you can! If you receive a DVD case toting this monstrous security seal, you’ll most probably have to either go to your local HMV shop or destroy the case.

Update: The customer service manager of HMV got in touch with me a few days after writing this article and offered to send me a replacement box, explaining that the mix-up was due to the same facility mailing out games to the physical shops and the online shop. Makes sense I guess, although I hope they improve their quality checking routines to ensure it doesn’t happen to more unfortunate customers. Still, I’m pleased that HMV contacted me of their own accord, and the gesture of sending a replacement — complete with cover art and manual — is appreciated. I guess it was an honest mistake that they will rectify if you ask them to.

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Super Mario Galaxy on the Super Nintendo

Super Mario Galaxy on the Super Nintendo (SNES)As I’m sure anyone who’s been reading my blog for a while is aware, I’m a big fan of the Wii’s Super Mario Galaxy. I have to admit that I’ve still not completed it and have been slowly grabbing bits of playtime on it whenever I feel like it, but then that goes for pretty much every brilliant single-player I have in my backlog (BioShock, Command & Conquer 3, Company of Heroes, and more). Kind of amazing how a job saps your desire to play lengthy single-player games — it isn’t just me who ends up with a huge backlog like this, right?

Back to the point at hand though, TechEBlog have produced a really nice video that shows how they’d see Super Mario Galaxy looking if it were created over a decade ago (Yikes!) on the Super Nintendo. Complete with 2D elements grabbed from some classics of the era such as Yoshi’s Island, it’s probably not that far off!

It kind of saddens me that it could have easily been a lot better, though. I wish they’d put some sound effects in instead of a generic remix of the star music, thus solidifying the illusion of watching a non-existent game. Some of the animation is also pretty flaky, with the rotation in particular often seeming a bit rushed. Still, pretty good stuff! Just, if you’re going to all the trouble of making the custom artwork and whatnot for a video like this, why not spend that little bit longer perfecting it?

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Team Fortress 2 to get loads of new weapons

Team Fortress 2Most Team Fortress 2 players have caught wind that new maps are coming to the game, with references to Badlands having existed in the game way back during the beta and numerous hints from Valve throughout the period since. However, Valve have revealed that they’re undertaking a “large-scale modification” of the game and will be introducing two new unlockable weapons or tools for each class. Brilliant!

I’ve seen a bit of negativity concerning this from forums and whatnot, but in my opinion this is a great idea. The unlockable weapons will be based on your in-game achievements, which all vary tremendously and will total at about 35 per class as the new equipment is introduced. So what Valve are doing is giving you new goals to aim for while playing as usual (at the moment there’s no real incentive to go out of your way to earn an achievement), and keeping their ‘simple for newbies’ style by not overwhelming new players with too much equipment.

The unlockables will apparently be similar to what the classes already have, but will of course differ in critical ways, none of which make any unlockable better than another — just different. For example, Valve is on about giving the Medic an alternative healing gun that cannot ubercharge (or can do so extremely slowly), but instead permanently buffs people’s health up to 200% instead of only temporarily to 150%.

Team Fortress 2 DemomanNo other weapons to be introduced have been announced, and they’ll also be rolled out gradually so you won’t suddenly open the game and find dozens of new weapons firing all over the place — existing players will be eased in as new weapons slowly make their debut. I’m hoping the second Medic unlockable will be a healing gun that sacrifices ubercharge in exchange for the ability to infect enemy players with disease just like the Medic from Team Fortress Classic.

Also in the article is the much-expected announcement of Badlands (overview of Team Fortress Classic original), and a new map called Goldrush that will feature a new style of play where you have to push a mine cart from end of the map to the other while fighting off the enemy. The cart moves if friendlies are near it, and it doesn’t if enemies are near it. Simple, and very different, but it’ll probably be great in typical Valve fashion.

Anyone else as excited about this as me? I’ve got tonnes of hours logged in Team Fortress 2, and I have to admit the ol’ basic selections of weapons are wearing a little thin (even if I am still coming up with new ways of using them). Some fresh equipment is just what’s needed, as well as new maps. Good to see Team Fortress 2 is continuing Team Fortress Classic tradition and keeping content coming (the teleporters were introduced to TFC years after it came out)!

Update: A capture-the-intel version of Well is also due to be released during the next few days. Hot damn, Valve!

Update #2: Someone has pointed out that Goldrush is almost certainly the new version of the much-loved ‘hunted’ game type from Team Fortress Classic. Valve confirmed that a hunted map was in production quite a while ago, but things went quiet apart from Valve expressing that they’re having difficulty finding a way of making the game fun for the weak civilian who traditionally only has a melee weapon. Looks like their solution was to do away with the civilian completely and replace him with a mine cart — presumably only one team has one.

Update #3: The capture-the-intel version of Well is now live! Here’s the patch notes for the January 25th updat, which also include a rack o’ performance fixes:

  • Added new capture the flag map CTF_Well
  • Added Spanish map descriptions
  • Added new option to auto-save a scoreboard screenshot at the end of a map to the Multiplayer->Advanced dialog
  • Added more particle optimizations for mid range and low end hardware
  • Updated CP_GravelPit to fix all known exploits and changed the scoring method to score per capture rather than per round
  • Updated “nextlevel” CVAR to trigger a changelevel at the end of the current round (not mini-round)
  • Fixed SourceTV demo recording problem
  • Fixed mp_stalemate_enable not preventing Sudden Death mode on some maps
  • Fixed a couple cases where player stats were not being recorded correctly
  • Fixed some log entries being truncated
  • Fixed crash caused by trying to import a custom player spray
  • Removed the “Reset Stats” button from the Player Stats screen
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Christmas 2007 Black Mesa (Source) media release

black_mesa_source_1_thumb.jpgSeemingly recently renamed to plain old ‘Black Mesa’ rather than ‘Black Mesa: Source’, a whole stack o’ media was released several days ago that shows off more of the upcoming remake of Half-Life 1 for the Source engine. The level design section is by far the most interesting and freshest (at least half of the media on show is quite dated). I especially like how the areas as they appeared in Half-Life 1 is shown in the corner.

This game continues to intrigue me. First announced pretty much right after Half-Life 2 was released, it generated a lot of buzz and the prospect of being able to play a real remake of Half-Life 1 on a newer engine really got people excited. However, it slipped into a lull of information and apart from some rubbish media we didn’t see much of it for a very long time. Indeed, it was widely regarded as vapourware quite quickly. I guess people were expecting it to somehow be developed in a few months.

Black Mesa SourceInterest picked up again a couple of years later as more media began to roll out, with a quality standard far exceeding that seen earlier. At this point my faith turned from ‘pessimistic’ to ‘optimistic’, and I decided that this might actually be a really good mod after all. At the time, January 2007, I wrote a post about the trailer (Still great!).

Here we are almost a year later, and things still seem to be coming along nicely. It’s important to remember that this is an unpaid team of volunteers, but I do know a few of them through forums and there’s serious dedication to the job here. The results speak for themselves, with the many environments of Half-Life 1 lovingly remade and made visually more expansive now that engine technology allows it.

black_mesa_source_2_thumb.jpgHave a look at all the screenshots, and if that gets you in the mood be sure to check the trailer out again and listen to the soundtrack samples on their home page (very nice). They also now have an interesting development blog up that peeks into the design process. Some pretty useful stuff is already for people interested in game/level design themselves.

There’s still no clear indication of how long it’ll be until this thing is out, but the sheer amount of love and time being poured into it is clear and they deserve to have occasional exposure for it. The production values match that of a commercial game in most cases, and I know just from looking at the mappers involved that the experience of playing them will be just as compelling.

Make sure this stays on your radar!

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Child’s Play breaks one million dollar barrier again

Child’s Play CharityFounded by the Penny Arcade guys, Child’s Play is a charity that’s designed to make life for children in hospital a little bit better by providing gaming consoles and whatnot for them. It’s a simple idea, but I’m guessing it really does help a child get past the pain if they have something interactive and awe-inspiring like Super Mario Galaxy to focus on.

Following much effort from gamers and the games industry, Child’s Play has again managed to break the million dollar barrier with a whopping $1,135,000 donated (about £567,000). These funds will be used to provide gaming joy to the 50 hospitals involved.

I personally think this is a fantastic initiative and it deserves mainstream attention, what with the majority of mainstream attention having focused on violence or sales during 2007. For once games are being used to do something unquestionably good (Assuming the games given to the hospitals are rated for children!).

Hopefully the charity will continue to grow, and provide increasing amounts of hospitals with gaming kit. A million dollars goes a long way when it comes to gaming, so every donation is going to be significant.

Well done guys! And it’s good to see there’s now a UK hospital as one of the participating hospitals. Certainly better hospital gaming news than the scumbag I wrote about a couple of years ago.

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Saving Private Ryan, Team Fortress 2 style

Team Fortress 2 DemomanFrom the ‘stupid video that’s actually kind of inspired’ department comes Saving Private Ryan, Team Fortress 2 style. There really isn’t much I can say about this video other than point you towards it, but I’m so obsessed with Team Fortress 2 right now I think I’ll excuse myself on this occassion.

Enjoy! Although please note that this video will entirely fail if you don’t actually play Team Fortress 2, in which case I’d recommend that you sort yourself out. Just imagine how much fun you could be having right now, playing with me! You can stalk me using my Steam Community page if you already have the game.

And while we’re on the subject, you have seen Meet the Heavy, Meet the Soldier, Meet the Engineer, and Meet the Demoman, right? The last one is my favourite.

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