The Sandbox

Home of The Laymen's Gamer



[ Review ] PlayStation Now

Were you one of the unfortunate few that had to give up their PlayStation 3 in order to get the PlayStation 4? Have you ever thought “Hey, I’d like to play that game but the chances of me finding it, because it’s not that popular or it’s out of print, are kind of slim”? Have you ever wanted to try a game on but you weren’t sure if you wanted to buy it and, like many cities in North America, renting physical copies of video games have become a thing of the past? Well, hop aboard, guys, let me tell you all about my first experiences as a PlayStation Now subscriber.

psnow_trailer_logoPlayStation Now: The Service

Now, you’re probably wondering what this is all about – in talking about it with just my local circle of gamer friends, there still seems to be a tiny bit of confusion surrounding the service and what it’s all about. As you’ve probably heard, PlayStation Now is a cloud-based service that allows you to stream some of your favorite games to your console of choice. All you need to do is install the application for PlayStation Now, pay a subscription fee of 20$ per month or 45$ for three months, and browse to your heart’s content. You’ll have to pass a connection test once all that is done to make sure your connection speed is up to the task – and, trust me, if my connection can do it where I’m at and which internet provider I’m with, you can, too – you’re all set to go.

If you’re familiar with Netflix then you’re already familiar with how PlayStation Now is set up: based on varying categories, you’re lined up with a selection of games to choose from. You find one that you like, you select it, it takes you through the initialization process which, for me, never took more than about 30-40 seconds. There’s a few things to note, here, though: the start and select buttons are done in a different way if you’re doing this with a PlayStation 4 controller or on your PlayStation Vita but they show you the differences in control and make no qualms about getting you set up as quickly as possible.

One of the main complaints about this service was the initial approach to payment: each game was individually paid for on a rental basis and, even then, the rental prices were crazy. All things considered, some of the prices were reminiscent of what places like Blockbuster used to charge; they had reason, though, as they had overhead to worry about and employees to pay. That was somewhat fixed by changing things to subscription method: while the price is still a tad steep, 20$ a month is still cheap, comparatively, for the ability to choose from and play the entire selection of games.

Speaking of game selection, while it’s still, pretty much, limited to games that you could play on the PlayStation 3 in one form or another, Sony is planning on continually expanding this as licensing allows – some third party companies might not want to jump ship on titles they’re still making retail sales on. I’ve gotten my subscription today and I wouldn’t be wholly disappointed if the selection stopped right in its tracks. The fact that it’s going to grow only keeps me wanting to stick around.

It should also be noted that of the platforms I’ve tested it on – the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation TV – only the PlayStation 4 worked in the way I’ll be describing below. It wouldn’t work in the same way on PlayStation TV as it’s still running an outdated version of the app and has the per-game rental charges still as the only way you can pay for the services. I was also unable to try it via Remote Play from my PlayStation TV to my PlayStation 4 because it blocked me from being able to do so, much like trying to Remote Play Netflix, which is nothing but aggravating. I can’t imagine it being any different on my PlayStation Vita but I’ll admit I haven’t tried it there, yet. That’s bound to change, though, as they bring the rest of the brand out of beta and go into full release.


PlayStation Now: The Experience

This is probably one of the most painless setups for an online streaming service that I’ve ever had: I literally took the time to add the funds to my account – the longest part of the process, I might add – and it wasn’t more than ten minutes after the service was paid for that I was well into the tutorial of the first game I brought up, Tokyo Jungle. Given, yes, I already had the app downloaded back from when I wanted to see the game selection for an article I was writing, at the time, but downloading it again for the PlayStation TV didn’t take more than three or four minutes so I can’t see that being much of a problem if you didn’t have the app prior.

Once you’re into a game, though, it feels just like the real deal, to be honest. I tested it for input lag and, sincerely, there’s very little, even on my shitty internet connection. Tokyo Jungle played very well and it was entirely a surprise right from start to finish. I felt, though, that Tokyo Jungle wasn’t exactly a demanding game, in terms of processing power and visual streaming so I opted to find something a little more so: that’s when I tried on Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2. Episode 2 was just as responsive and while there was a little visual stutter, it wasn’t unlike Remote Play between the Vita or PlayStation TV connecting to the PlayStation 4, where heavy network activity would cause that, sometimes, and at the times where I had a little stutter, there was some heavy network activity, so that explained that. Like I’d stated before, my current home network situation is not the best, so the fact that it ran as well as it did surpassed my expectations.

I’ll be honest: the day I tested all this was not one of my best days. I only tested a couple games because I wasn’t feeling entirely well but based on what I was able to try I’m actually excited to go back and play some more.



PlayStation Now: Should You Get It?

If you can spare the cash, monthly, honestly, you should get it. Even if you can’t, you should fork up for at least one month to try it on. It’s really something else. When I felt like it was Netflix for PlayStation games, that was based only on suggestion from the information I’d been hearing about the service but now that I’ve gotten the pleasure of trying it for myself, it sincerely feels like that’s a label that is very appropriate.

That being said, though, I think there are two main groups that would jump onto this service in the near future: those that had to give up their PlayStation 3 in order to get a PlayStation 4 and those who are new to the PlayStation brand or those who just would like to try games without having to purchase them first. I know the physical rental racket isn’t very lucrative since Netflix came around and killed Blockbuster, pretty much, so this kind of thing seems quite awesome to those who don’t want to get roped into purchasing a used game just to try it out, later finding they didn’t like it and it was a waste of money.

I’m positive that outlets like GameStop and EB Games are going to have a lot to say about this as they make a lot of money from refurbishing games and peripherals; not that I particularly care, honestly, because those kinds of stores have been cutting corners and ripping us off for a very long time, all while hiring the lowest common idiot to work at most of their stores…

It’s pretty great and you get a lot of bang for your buck. That’s about as neutral of an opinion as you’ll get out of this guy.


[ Blog ] Change Will Do You Good

We are at the precipice of change in the gaming industry, right now: how we game, going forward, can change in a way that’s massive and irreversible. It’s been quite apparent that a huge change has been coming for a while now and it’ll be on us before any of us really know it; no one really knows which direction gaming will take, for sure, because it seems to be moving in so many different directions at once. Between microtransactions, downloadable content, virtual reality headsets, streaming video games, the cloud, and goodness knows how many more innovations that are coming down the pipeline, there’s a very high probability that gaming is going to change and change for good. If #GamerGate has proven anything to me, it’s that the gaming industry is changing and society at large is reacting much how they always react to change: with fear, doubt, and general negativity.

You see, video games are much like music, movies, and pictures in that there are many different mediums by which to experience them because the experience transcends them all. Video games also suffer from many of the same issues that are just the nature of the beast: you need to change the medium by which the product is consumed or else you face market saturation or stagnation, the former almost nearly claiming gaming as an industry back in the 80s. We’ve been resting on a singular format for almost all of our entertainment – optical disc – for decades, now, and things have been slowly moving to purely digital formats to amend for that format change, which means that systems are able to become smaller and less apt to wear over time. We’ve also been resting on a singular approach to gaming for longer than I’ve been alive – controlling the game through input feed from some kind of remote or controller. That’s been changing largely in part due to mobile devices as a gaming platform but also with innovations in virtual reality headsets headed up by projects like Morpheus from Sony and the Oculus Rift and could change the experience completely.

Change is coming, folks: it’s coming fast and it’s undeniable. Something big is happening and it would be futile to resist it. It would seem, though, that unlike the days of the 80s where gaming was in its infancy and gamers responded by simply not buying games and speaking with their wallets – which led to Nintendo breaking out of the mindset everyone had regarding gaming and stepped into the console market with an Earth-shattering console, still considered one of the best console releases in history – things have changed in this day and age: people are not satisfied with simply not buying what they don’t like, anymore. They have standards and demands and each gamer has slightly different requisites for what a game should or shouldn’t be and the more a gamer feels slighted by a company the more vocal they’re going to be about it, regardless of how reasonable or unreasonable they’re being. While the complaints come from what has to be a minority of the general gaming public – because, in spite of this problem, games that receive the most complaints still find a way to sell – that minority has become increasingly vocal.

In spite of this, the industry has found a way to break through to create and innovate by creating new gaming technologies, by creating an atmosphere that allows smaller developers to succeed, by creating more and more experiences that allow the players, themselves, to tailor the experience to their desires. Gaming has finally become a place where it can finally stand tall and proud as something that everyone can enjoy and create; it’s become something that can stand on its own. All you need is the drive, motivation, and vision and you can create something many can enjoy. This is a great time to be a gamer, in spite of what the vocal minority might tell you, because everything and everyone will be able to come together in a way that will allow them to share their experiences without divide or consequence.

What side do you take on this?

[ Blog Post ] A Tale of Three Console Stores

The Last of Us: Remastered. I really shouldn’t have been as excited about it as I got. I didn’t even have to spend a dime on it as I got it as payment for doing a favor for a friend of mine. Anticipation has a weird way of betraying that kind of knowledge, though; I’d purchased the game for my PlayStation 3 when it was released but I had to sell it quite a bit later due to hard times. Before you ask, yes, I have modded my system but this game was made in such a way that it had to be loaded into the system itself; I know I could just replace the internal drive but, like I’ve previously implied, I’m not exactly made of money so that wasn’t an option… so I was without the game for a long time and, because my PS3 had been banhammered, I’d never been able to play the game online. Trust me, that anticipation was there for a reason. I’d pre-ordered it on the PlayStation Store as it was the method of payment my friend had chosen for me and, well… like someone who’s been anticipating something for a long time, I waited through the wee hours for the game to drop. Nothing came, through the night, leaving me to have to wait until I woke up to see if it downloaded.

If you’ll believe it, this is not the first time I’ve been in this kind of situation with content I want to purchase from the PlayStation Store. There’s been numerous times where I’ve had to wait long periods of times just to get content that should have been out when it was promised. This isn’t always the case with disc-based games as, if I’m anxious enough, I’ll just purchase the game in a retail store, or something, but with something like downloadable content, you don’t have much of a choice.

If you’ve not gotten something from this, so far, this is more of a rant about the PlayStation Store: I’ve never had the kind of anticipation frustration in waiting for something I’ve wanted like Sony has continually put me through and I sincerely don’t understand why. You guys already know quite a bit about my experience with their customer service but let me give you a rundown of how Sony’s PlayStation division handled my banhammering all those years ago: they ban my account and my console and, knowing fully why that might be and calling only to confirm my suspicions, a Sony representative replies only with the reasoning of “violation of Terms and Conditions” and repeats this infinitely as I try to prod him for further information. After doing some research, the code I got was likely for using unsigned software, which was exactly what I was doing but I don’t understand why the representative wouldn’t relinquish that information, especially when it’s made public via the error code I received from my system. I got in with another few representatives and, while I had a little more luck, there was, generally, very little help to be had from their customer service departments. I pray that I never have to call them again. In regards to my experience in the PlayStation Store, generally speaking, all of my annoyances are probably brought on by myself, like the previously stated issue, but they should be asserted by the company that is providing the services, instead of getting the general feeling of “you should be grateful we’re even providing this to you!”

This wouldn’t be as bad if this was a problem across the board, from all companies that provide a similar service. Let’s look at my brief but deep experience with prodding around in the XBOX Live Arcade: I can easily get to what I want, how I want, and in a reasonable amount of time, I can access what I purchased. As far as release times go, it’s on the same time, every week, that all major releases get dropped, with some small variances in smaller billing content. Given, there’s not quite as much that I wanted from XBOX 360 that I couldn’t get elsewhere, in terms of digital content, so my experience with this one is limited but the general experience in getting what I want in a timely fashion in a fashion that doesn’t leave me upset or frustrated is positive.

As for working with Nintendo, well, in working with them to handle a situation regarding my Nintendo 3DS and 3DSXL has easily been one of the most positive customer service experiences I’ve ever had. My general experiences with the eShop for the 3DS and the Nintendo Shop for my old Wii have been some of the best online purchases I’ve ever made, though I do have one very specific complaint: the separation of shops for each of Nintendo’s consoles. It really seems redundant to have a separate store and currency for each system, especially when the other players have made all of their consoles available under their same relative markets. Other than that, I haven’t had many issues other than their catalog, which seems limited to only so many titles when opening up their library, especially regarding Virtual Console, would make much more business sense.

While each market has its flaws and strengths, at least Nintendo and Microsoft’s online markets seem to be a bit more grateful to the user, presenting itself in a way that makes it rewarding for the user to indulge in its content, lacking or otherwise. In Sony’s case, it feels as if they’ve always been doing things their way and the only reward we get is the privilege of being able to indulge in their content: feels very “it’s our way or the highway.” Every single time someone points this out or criticizes them about it and they actually take the time to publicly respond, they always deflect the question: they claim that it isn’t as simple as just pushing out the content on time, often blaming developers and back end staff, saying things without really saying anything of substance and explanation. This really pisses me off because it feels as though the other companies try hard to reward the gamer for choosing their systems while Sony doesn’t reward the gamers: it comes off as “this is our playground, feel grateful we’re opening the gate to you and if you want to play elsewhere, you’re just plain wrong.” It feels very arrogant and snobbish. Given, I agree that I love the content Sony’s systems offer, more generically speaking, but this feeling I’ve gotten, over time, is not a good feeling. It’s almost like they feel like they know they’re the best and they’re showboating.

If EB Games had released a game late by no flaw other than the explanation of “we’ll release when we damn well feel like it,” people would be burning locations down to the ground. There would be riots. Why the hell are we accepting Sony’s version of things? This is not the standard, this is the exception, and we can’t accept this. Something needs to be done.

[ Review ] The Last of Us

This one doesn’t need much introduction; unless you’ve been hiding underneath a large rock in the gaming world for the last year, you’ve heard of this one. In case you haven’t heard, it’s also doing really well among critics and fans. If this, still, isn’t enough to convince you, many are already making game of the year predictions – myself included – and the ending is disturbing a lot of people’s shit and causing a general ruckus. That’s usually how you can tell a seriously high-quality game apart from the rest, these days – see how much dramatics it’s causing and you can almost gauge how good it is by how many people are fighting over it. Seemed to work for Mass Effect 3.

I shouldn’t have to say this but this review won’t be spoiler-free. You have officially been warned and normally I try to be as neutral as possible when talking about a game that not everyone was able to get their hands on for a while, I feel I’ve waited long enough to write this review that everyone that intends to buy this game has already played at least a little of it, so here goes, my review for The Last of Us:


The Game

Once you first boot up the game, you’re not initially treated to anything incredibly unique: The Last of Us is a cover-based, third-person shooter with a strong emphasis on scavenging and melee combat. As you progress, though, things begin to change – you find that there’s many ways to progress through the game and how prepared you are for every combat situation can drastically change how – or even if – you progress further.

The best way to explain how combat goes down in The Last of Us is to demonstrate it: you’re in what used to be an office cubicle farm, stationed in a building that’s almost toppled over, leaning on another skyscraper. Lights are down and the area is positively filled with these things called clickers – if you haven’t read my article about the infected in this game you definitely should now – and you’re already faced with a few options: there’s about ten clickers in the office, meaning that if you make any amount of loud noise, you’re going to be swarmed and, unless you have a good plan, you won’t be able to get the clickers off of you. Your one-hit melee weapons and your shivs are the only things capable of taking out the clickers at close range once they’re closing in on you and once they grab you, the only thing that can save you are shivs. Even then, the shivs only get them off of you and you need to spend points towards the ability to do just that. I try to keep my shivs and modified melee weapons aside for emergencies. If you used a long-range weapon, in this situation, you will immediately alert them all to your presence, demanding that have at least two shots per clicker for even your high-powered weapons, if they’re not upgraded. You could sneak by them, find alternate routes, but even that is absolutely fraught with danger – one slip-up and you’re gutted. This is where the survival and scavenger instincts come into play and turn this usual cover-based game into something special: when you start, if you take one path, you find a lead pipe lying there at your feet, which is the best melee weapon you can pick up from the ground. You can also find ammunition lying around on the person of many infected. Factor in that you can makeshift a kind of proximity bomb and Molotov cocktails – which send shrapnel firing off in many directions once triggered and sets an area of the ground on fire on impact, respectively – and you have a great deal of options. What I did, personally, in that particular situation was this: I threw a Molotov cocktail at a couple of the clickers that were close enough together where I could hit them both and after the fire died down and enough of them came around to investigate the noise and burning, I threw a proximity bomb and the shrapnel took out the stragglers. This strategy, though, wasn’t perfect and I still had to defend myself against a couple others that were walking around elsewhere.

This is a great example of the beauty of why combat works in this game and doesn’t feel stapled on. It compliments the setting of the game and the story that goes along with it all. You’re not some high-powered mercenary fighting off gun-toting thugs on a aircraft carrier, you’re a goods smuggler fighting off what appear to be plant zombie things in the shattered and broken remains of what’s left of the planet – which, I might add, seems like there’s not much of it left to speak for. Of course, things change when you introduce the human element and, yes, you will be fighting various human varieties of enemies, too. How you have to approach each combat situation is changed centrally around how much attention you’ve been paying to the world around you and how many resources you’ve gathered in the meantime. 

Everything else is just your basic exploration-type gameplay between combat segments, really: something already familiar to Naughty Dog veterans like myself but a fresh change of pace in how it’s handled. There’s a lot of extrapolation through dialogue between characters and you get a real feeling for how much of an impact that exploration is actually making for your party. It’s another thing that feels more organic, even if it’s less integral than the combat and story segments. Everything feels incredibly organic and it flows very nicely with everything else in the game.

With that in mind, though, the game is not without basic flaws: you have path-finding problems with the non-player characters, periodically, and sometimes the environments don’t respond the way they should. These are all things that can be fixed with time with patches but they shouldn’t really have left the factory with some of the periodical glitchiness that does come up. While this could be excused by trying to stay in context of the game’s story and environment, I was really unimpressed with the unstable difficulty level. It could be completely tense for a time, keeping you on the edge of your seat, and then for no reason at all, the area becomes a complete death zone. I’m not going to spoil it for you but there’s a spot where you’re just exploring a building, trying to get through, which is tense enough because things are too quiet, but you drop through the floor into a literal hotplate for the infected, complete with runners, stalkers, clickers, and a couple bloaters. Did I mention that the only way to proceed further out of that section is to start a gas generator, guaranteeing you alert each and every one of them? It’s that kind of difficulty spike that’s really unnecessary, to me, but it can be explained away in the context of the setting and plot and that’s the only reason I’m not cursing it.


The Story

This is the big one, folks: the one game of the year that will blow your socks off. While Bioshock Infinite gave you Shyamalan-style twists that were fantastic and otherworldly, The Last of Us presents us with a very realistic, scary, and terrible circumstance: a pandemic washes over humanity that expands so quickly that humanity has no time to react in kind. This pandemic comes in the form of a fungal plague that actually exists in reality but only for a select type of ants; this fungal plague mutates so that it is able to perform its functions on humanity, effectively turning those infected into shambling shells of their former selves, resembling zombies. We gain control of our main character, Joel, who lost his daughter as a direct result of the panic caused by this pandemic, and has not been able to cope with his loss since. Fast-forward twenty years and you start to see Mother Nature taking her planet back and the infected are sporadic all throughout the world, or so it seems. All have their stake in the shaken world around them but there are two main factions known to Joel and the citizens left in the world – the governments, as broken as they are, and the Fireflies, who are basically rebels against the government faction: the government is trying to get everything in order and reestablish the control they once had while the Fireflies appear more concerned with humanity and its recovery from this pandemic and also its freedom from governmental control.

Joel makes a living – or what resembles a living in this climate – being a goods smuggler, a kind of modern-day Robin Hood, taking from government supplies that are stocked but not given to those in need, and distributing it among those in his community. Joel also takes contracts, it would seem, so he seems to be a jack of all trades. After settling up a feud with a personal enemy of his, him and a personal friend – there seems to be a romantic tension there that’s never really addressed – receive a contract to smuggle a young girl out of government control and to a hand-off point where a Firefly agent would receive her and transport her further. The contract starts out as one in trade for guns and ammunition but, as the escort goes on, things complicate further.

There’s a lot that happens after but there’s a lot of heart-wrenching and mind-blowing that goes on here that any post-apocalyptic tale-done-right will wave around – society has crumbled, people are showing their true colors, there’s no room for tact or professionalism, and some have turned into psychotic bandits. You’re faced with humankind at its worst and you’re merely just trying to find your way through without losing Ellie, Joel’s escort.

Ah, Ellie: the raison d’etre, as it were: I’m going to get a little spoiler-heavy, here, because the relationship between Joel and Ellie is a big part of this game and a lot of the plot is involved in Ellie, so… just skip it if you don’t want to be spoiled, I guess. Ellie is Joel’s contract from the head of the Fireflies and you learn early on that Ellie appears to be immune to the infect as she’s harboring a bite and she hasn’t turned over. After the transport to the Fireflies goes awry a couple of times and Joel losing his partner-in-crime, Tess, Joel takes it upon himself to transport her to the Fireflies, much to his dismay. What you see is a serious internal confrontation going on – Joel lost his daughter and seriously blames himself for not being able to protect her. He’s had this boiling in the back of his mind for twenty years and he’s not exactly apt to let that bitterness go anytime soon. Ellie, not knowing this, tries to get him to open up but she’s got some personal wounds of her own to deal with, not to mention the weight of the fact that she may be humanity’s only hope in overcoming the pandemic. As you’d guess, they don’t always meet eye-to-eye but then something happens: they realize that they’re perfect for one another – Joel is looking for someone to protect in his daughter’s stead, where he could actually help and feel like he actually has value; Ellie, on the other hand, is tired of being such a big deal and just wants to give in to the feeling of becoming a daddy’s girl. They start licking each other’s wounds and, after some time, come to rely strongly on one another.

That brings us to the controversial ending which, even though this is spoiler-rich, I’m not going to give away. Let’s just say that things happen as you should have expected and yet not, at the same time, leaving a lot of possibility open for DLC and any kinds of sequels, though talks of either have been limited. Naughty Dog has been adamant in saying that Joel and Ellie’s story has ended but I feel that they are kind of being dodgy about this; that they are choosing their words carefully so that way they can take certain paths and not run into the hellfire Bioware had to face a year and change ago. The way I see it, there will be some side-stories told in the form of DLC soon – could be a story of how Joel and Tess got together and their story explaining all the romantic tension, a story of the Fireflies and the government, a story of what happened shortly after the pandemic started, away from Joel, maybe telling it from the perspective of a drafted soldier. However, there does leave room for a sequel – what happens to just Ellie? The fact that Joel survived for as long as he did after being wounded bad and then not having proper antibiotic treatment is a miracle but he won’t be around forever: Ellie will have to launch out on her own and I think that will offer a different story altogether. Yes, Joel and Ellie’s story may be done – the one they had together – but Ellie’s story, alone, is not.


The Final Verdict

This is a game you cannot miss, this year. There is absolutely no reason why you can’t at least try it – you can download a demo from the PlayStation Network and the demo also comes packed in a very decent game, God of War: Acension – so if you haven’t at least tried it, at this point, you’re avoiding it, and you’re missing out on one hell of an experience.

I’ll basically repeat to you something I said to a coworker of mine who was deciding on whether or not to purchase the game because he “had heard things from both sides, saying that it was equally bad and good” and wanted to, at least, check it out because he enjoyed the Uncharted games: I would pay three times the money I initially paid to buy this game. I almost feel like buying ten copies to support this kind of approach to game-making. I want more games like this: not games that take place in a post-apocalyptic zombie-not-zombie wasteland – no, that can get overdone really quickly. I want games that have this kind of in-depth storytelling, that have this much attention to detail, that have this kind of graphical prowess that accepts the weaknesses of the system but also plays to its strengths, that plays to what’s necessary to the narrative and not, particularly, everything the market demands – yes, it is a cover-based combat game but it doesn’t pander to all the standards demanded – a game that just makes all the extra efforts in all the right ways. Mass Effect 3 went from credible artistic integrity to trying to hard to keep everyone happy over time and, while that did work, for the most part, I did lose a little respect for Bioware, going forward from that, even if going with EA would have been a dual-edged blade to begin with. The Last of Us is a game that brings out the best in gaming while telling a story that stays true to its context. It’s a brilliant melding of mediums and I don’t think I’ve seen a game that has brought these together so well since Metal Gear Solid 4.

Buy it. Enjoy it. Complete it. Discuss it. That’s what I think.

[ News ] Sony’s Just Desserts

If you watch the hardware and software ends of gaming as closely as I did you would know that most of Sony’s updates for the PlayStation 3 are mostly redundant: they superficially add one or two features, claim to be patching a series of bugs and that’s about it. However, what isn’t shown on the surface and lies a little bit deeper is what I think is Sony’s true purpose to most of these updates – bolstering the PlayStation’s already hardened security. Daily, there’s been attempts to unlock secrets beneath the casing and it has, after many years now, been met with steady success, Sony has been pressing hard to keep it under wraps and to keep it from sustaining.

However, you can’t keep them away forever – they ended up unlocking the core of the system and Sony brought out the bigger weapon in a fit of desperation: the “banhammer”. Most of the time Sony justifiably bans users for using unsigned software – Sony can only assume that all unsigned software enables some form of piracy, I suppose, in lieu of doing some real research – but there’s a lot of times where some are banned without reason. I’ve heard of a few instances where accounts are banned for “suspicious” behavior without backing up their claims – claiming that they have no obligation to release their reasoning – and other times console ids are banned for no apparent reason at all, again, reasons Sony often won’t release.

Sony tripped up large yet again, releasing a new update that didn’t, on the surface, seem to be doing much but there are reports that PlayStation users with systems that are housing hard drives above 500 GB are failing, claiming their systems are “bricked”, a term usually reserved for an improper firmware flashing. Not only does this prove that Sony is doing more than they let on to common users but this is also proving to people the kind of user-unfriendly behavior that Sony commonly practices on the regular.

Will Sony play the humble card and hold themselves accountable for their mistakes, try to sweep it under the rug as a once-off problem, or will they take a “come at me bro” stance like the USA government has regarding the NSA leaks? Only time will tell, I suppose, but I hope that Sony takes this chance to humble themselves in the marketplace before their new system drops. They don’t need to be alienating customers now that Microsoft is finally humbling themselves and turning off their stubbornness.

Show me your moves, Sony!

[ First Impressions ] The Last of Us

I’m going to warn you now: this is not a spoiler-free review. I’m not going to ruin the game for you but I’m not tip-toeing around. That’s all you’re getting.

Have you ever watched I Am Legend? You know, that movie with Will Smith about the end of the world at the hands of some kind of manufactured disease that turns humans into some kind of monstrosities similar to vampires or zombies? In case you haven’t, Will Smith’s character parades around a metropolitan city, living day to day, trying to reach out to what remains of humanity while coming up with a cure, as he’s a military scientist, in spite of the fact that the city is overrun with these monsters during the nighttime. He tries to eke out some semblance of a normal life with his dog and his… imaginary friends. Later on in the movie, it’s implied that there are quarantine zones where the military is holed up, securing survivors. Over the course of the movie, too, you see how Will Smith was forced to respond as this disease is released on humanity and causing immediate and desperate evacuations.

I Am Legend – Alternatively: “Will Smith as Will Smith in Will Smith”

There’s a lot of parallels in I Am Legend and The Last of Us. Not just in its story but in its presentation. It moves quickly to establish a very serious tone and gets only more serious and dire from that moment. The Last of Us opens with a segment showing the main character, Joel, with his daughter at the onset of the pandemic – some kind of parasitic plague that acts like cordyceps unilateralisa naturally occurring organism that is capable of altering the form and function of ants – that mounts against humanity so sharply and quickly that humanity has almost no time whatsoever to respond. A lot of people die and things just get worse from there – this pandemic has turned infected humans into a shambling semblance of their former selves. The infected either continue to change and grow or they start breaking down and become more plant than human.

Fast forward twenty years and you have an embittered Joel trying to get through life the best way he knows how: as a goods smuggler. He and his partner, Tess, are confronted with an extremely awkward contract from a rebel cause called the Fireflies: smuggle a child out of the military blockade and into a Firefly compound. Joel is given no real information other than the girl is extremely important and that the contract comes from the leader of the Fireflies, making this even more important.

"I'm sorry, you want to smuggle what in where?"
“I’m sorry, you want to smuggle what in where?”

You don’t really need to know more than that to know that your journey will take you across the wasteland and things go from bad to worse to even worse at almost regular intervals. This game makes absolutely no mistakes about the tone and tries to be as realistic as it can be about the circumstances presented. These creatures that you’re faced against have one purpose and one purpose only: to spread the infection.

That brings me to the gameplay: this game seems to borrow elements from many triple-A titles but keeps all the gameplay elements in context with the story. Like Tomb Raider and Fallout 3 before it, the name of the game is that of resourcefulness: you have to conserve every bullet, you have to make every item, you have to find every resource you can and you can only upgrade your weapons at workbenches. If you’re not resourceful, you will not succeed. You sometimes have to pick your battles based on how your inventory counts out. Combat is a very important part of the game and it actually plays very differently depending on what you’re fighting – the infected come in different varieties and sometimes you’re fighting fellow survivors.  For example, there are two main grunt types: runners and clickers. The clickers’ heads have been deformed to the point where they have absolutely no vision so, like bats, they make this sound in order to find their way around using echolocation. They are easy to navigate around if you’re careful and strategic but one slip-up could mean disaster, killing either you or your inventory. Runners, on the other hand, haven’t been infected as long as clickers so they still have their sight and enter into rage as soon as another uninfected human is seen. They often move in larger numbers and can overwhelm you easily if you’re not careful but they are easier to fend off via melee combat. Humans operate in much the same way they do, realistically, like in other stealth combat games before it, nothing really new, there.

Everything feels very organic and flows very well together – there’s a lot of times where I caught myself thinking I was in an exploration section just to be jumped from behind by a runner and find out that the area is crawling with infected. Combat scenarios and story exposition doesn’t feel disconnected, either, which is great. It drives home the sense that no matter where you are, no matter what you’re doing, you should never assume you’re safe – and if you’re safe and calm, there’s a good chance you got lucky, in the context of the story.

Oh, yeah. They got off really lucky.
Oh, yeah. You got off real lucky.

They took everything they did right about every game they made before and propped them into this game. They have learned from other developers, for sure, as well. I see flavors of many games and experiences past. I was still shocked by some of the story’s twists that I’ve discovered so far – which doesn’t happen very often – but those twists are definitely not new for the whole “zombie, not zombie” style of story: this is something that I’d like to point out. This game is nothing new. This game doesn’t do anything that games past haven’t done. Why this game is a shining example of how games should be made is not in the new ground it paves or risks it takes but rather in the attention to detail, the writing, and refinement this game shows. There is definitely a sense of what people really want from a game in this and there is an extreme sense of care and detail that went into this. I am reminded of how Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty felt when I first played it: I went in with great expectations and anticipation going into the game and I was taken for a ride – not a path I haven’t been down before but rather given a ride that made the journey from point A to point B extremely worth it.

Given, there’s a lot of the game left open to me so it’s possible that my opinions will change but as it stands, right now, I am so impressed that I’ll be hard-pressed to find a better title this year for the PlayStation 3. I think it’s sold out around the world for a reason – hype alone can’t always do that.

No, we don't need you this time.
No, we don’t need you this time.

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