Destined?

I’m going to buy Destiny 2. There are some games that I always want on my HDD ready to jump into. That’s Destiny. I’m going to buy it digitally – at full price. Not many games can demand that decisiveness of purchase. My modest gaming budget for September into October is going to Bungie. Judging by how many hours I spent on the original, it will be a wise investment. 

Last week, the first Destiny 2 gameplay was revealed. This footage wasn’t for me; this trailer would be to get new players in. My mind was made up already. What could they possibly show me? Then I watched it. The familiar sight of the Tower being decimated – loot and all – wipes the slate clean for new guardians to join the fight whilst at the same time drawing a line under Destiny 1 for existing players. The horrowing sight in the linking corridor to the Speaker’s area got me. This trailer was for me. The attention to detail of the robot I’d passed thousands of times (usually to find Xur, not the speaker) still sweeping diligently amid the chaos yanked on the memories of hundreds of hours of play. That’s Destiny. 

Before Destiny, games had hype and noise around them but I remember something being different about it. I had been very passive towards it in the build up. ‘Online’, ‘co-op’ and ‘shooter’ were not in my vocabulary. Although Halo had grabbed my attention briefly it had been more out of curiosity. September 2014 – I remember watching let’s plays of the game pre-release and something hooked me. It looked fun. I’d played Halo because I felt it was part of the rite of passage as an advocate of the medium but Destiny looked fun. I didn’t have any idea what I was watching until after I’d bought the game a few weeks after release. The footage was of a warlock sliding, shooting and – storming the moon. More and more footage was watched before I finally took the plunge. 

At this point in life, my first born was nearly one and although not as penniless as I am now (it really hits you after child number 2 FYI) time to play games was in decline. No longer could I get away with sneaky PS4 sessions whilst she slept on me. Now she could talk and wanted to do stuff. Destiny’s loop of short jump in, jump out missions, familiar strikes and I’ve-only-got-5-minutes-let’s-do-a-patrol fit my new lifestyle perfectly. It was comfort food. How many times did I – along with 2 other random guardians – take down Sepiks Prime? It was familiar, easy to slot into mid game – comfort food. Put any seasoned Destiny player into those original strikes and I guarantee they will know immediately what’s going on and what they need to do. That’s Destiny.

Destiny 1 and all it’s add ons sucked me back in twice again over the last 3 years. No other game has seen me return to it so often. My recent ‘lost weekend’ (read: month) with Zelda: Breath of the Wild reminded me of each time Destiny pulled me back, thrusting a rocket launcher into my hands. It will be interesting to see if Zelda: BotW has the longevity Destiny had. It never bothered me the complaints about the story or my robotic companion. Destiny is the best gun play in any game. Any FPS which doesn’t follow the control scheme or make that satisfying pop of sparks when you make a Fallen headshot seems wrong.

Hiding behind those boxes on Mars. Pegging it through the Dust palace. Bugging out as the last guardian standing. Geeking out over Firefly alumini voice actors. Sitting down when a mission’s complete. Having your phone next to you to figure out exactly how you get the things to make your things better. As Cade 6 told us in that first trailer, that’s all gone now…

I can’t wait to do it all over again. That’s Destiny. 

Batman Return to Arkham 

Version reviewed: PS4

Without question, the Arkham series – including Origins – is a shining light of gameplay, style and story. Since trying to escape the Gerudo Prison in Zelda: Ocarina of Time I dreamt of grapple hooking my way around Gotham. Now, nearly 10 years since its introduction with the Dark Knight delivering Joker to the infamous asylum we take a retrospective at last years remaster bundle.

Prior to playing the collection I would have ranked the games as:

  1. Arkham Asylum
  2. Origins
  3. City
  4. Knight
  5. VR
  6. Blackgate 

However, revisiting the games has changed this order and perhaps my memories of some of the games. Before Arkham Knight, I replayed the original game through PS Plus. It was a great playthrough. The atmosphere of the iconic Setting along with the attention to detail of environmental storytelling were unrivalled in my opinion by the other games in the series. Skulking in air vents with bat-eared shadows echoing the stylised silhouette, which instantly puts fear in the hearts of Gotham’s rogues, felt as good as it did all those years ago. The smaller, focused setting had always been my preference over the vast expansiveness of the later games. However, this is a post Knight world which for all its flaws was a slick, smooth experience. The team at Rocksteady had learnt from their prior work. 

When popping back in to Arkham Asylum, the combat felt sluggish and clunky. Not being able to deploy all the tricks I’d developed over the more recent bat-games also felt off. The graphical update adds a layer of polish but this is now markedly a game of the previous generation. City, too, felt clunkier plus literally and figuratively smaller than Knight. 

The two games on offer here are both 10/10 unmissable experiences. Though in 2017, their mechanics have been surpassed by the games of the current console generation. The game was recently on sale for £15.99 on PSN and if this is your first time with these games it is a steal. However if you already own them from the previous generation (and penniless!) it is difficult to justify buying them again. In 2017, gameplay-wise there are better ways to be the bat. Controversially the list now reads:

  1. Origins (should have been in the collection)
  2. Knight
  3. Asylum
  4. City
  5. VR
  6. Blackgate (we can all agree on that one!)

Perhaps the original list could be proof of the existence of rose tinted glasses. Although it could just be defective vision on the fritz…

Virtually Over

Whilst perusing the PlayStation store – like a lost lamb – I’ve found myself scrolling, sorting and just staring at the PlayStation VR section. When announced, I remember saying it looked promising but I wouldn’t commit until there was a Batman game…Well after E3 2016, I made my commitment. Having played Arkham VR as well as a handful of other experiences (Battlefront, Rise of the Tomb Raider among them) I now find myself desperately seeking the next game to justify my expensive new purchase. 

Full disclosure; Resident Evil 7 was too scary in VR. The Killer Croc bit in Arkham VR led to a rapid removal of the headset and hiding behind the settee. Playing the Kitchen demo and the cat jumping on me was the last straw. The off screen benefits of PlayStation VR can not be ignored but what outweighs the minority of essential experiences and this facility is the growing noises  – or lack of – from Sony.

Now 6 months in, PlayStation VR – and VR in general – has already started to mimic the slow, undignified deaths of Wii U and PlayStation Vita. An initial sense of optimism, coupled with a smattering of launch curios has led to a worrying roadmap for my sleek, beautiful visor. Where are the first party offerings? Why aren’t lesser VR apps etc ported up to the PlayStation headset? There’s only so many Minecraft 360 degree videos one can watch on YouTube. 

Desperately trying to justify the purchase, the lack of anything of interest now or on the horizon, signifies what this ultimately always was; a tech experiment. Splintering user bases has never worked in the console space (32x, N64 expansion pak, Kinect etc). Nor, has sharing of development resources. Microsoft, Sony and now Nintendo have all had more optimal output with just one clear focal point. All of which has led me to a sad conclusion. PlayStation VR is done. The slapped on Move controllers already outdated with the lack of a z axis and chugging on the now 3 year old PS4 hardware. Couple this with shoddy Pro support, this was never going to be the next big thing. Just Sony not wanting to miss a trick. I backed the wrong horse so PlayStation VR, say hello to eBay…hashtag sad face

Off-Screen Play

Whilst our younger selves would no doubt be glued to our 4K 3D 1080p HDR 60fps pro S set ups (back then widescreen, composite, 60hz, 56k internet), an arguably higher priority is the increasing presence of off-screen play.

Since child number one was born – coinciding with the launch window of Wii U – the time share of television has become a much smaller fraction. And so began the birth of the idea of console quality gameplay without the need to dominate the living room. Daily fixes of FIFA career mode were in danger of reducing severely without the facility to play off screen. And this is how the story of off-screen play unfolded…

Confused messaging regarding off screen functionality for Wii U (it was later added as a symbol on the back of boxes) – in my eyes – was one of many missed opportunities for the console. What about all those who now had to fight for the TV? What about those whose playing time was at a premium?

The confused messaging was also mirrored in the PS4 Vita Remote Play ‘compatibility’ as despite a universal approach, the two did not make good bed fellows. The – at this point – pipe dream of FIFA off screen (I’ll keep returning to this FYI) remained that. PS Vita’s lack of second shoulder buttons and inconsistent lag led to the novelty of remote play remaining a novelty.

Fast forward a bit.

With the death of the Wii U and PS Vita, new ways to play off screen were born. The Remote Play functionality with PS4 was transferred to PC via a free app. This remains a great way to play PS4 away from TV and home. However another contender ushered forwards from Sony – PS VR.

Virtual reality aside, a great asset to the Playstation’s VR expansion is the ability to play games in a variety of modes off screen. Forget 4K 3D 1080p HDR etc etc for a moment. Stylized games like Disney Infinity look great on the headset and it is by no means a lesser experience. I played Rise of the Tomb Raider and the PS2 port of Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer Revenge on the headset and they were both enjoyable experience. The recent update to 3D Blu Ray compatibility is also a major plus. But…what about FIFA? Although passable, something does seem ‘off’ about playing FIFA this way. It gives the player models a chunkiness akin to ISS 64. Which leads to the obvious question and the latest contender in off-screen console games – Nintendo Switch.

It is with regret – as a penniless dad – getting a one is not in the cards at the moment. The last great purchase before becoming a single income household was the PS VR. However, the ability to take the exact console experience anywhere, on screen or off screen is a major selling point. Dads will surely be interested but perhaps mums (or vice versa???) may be more interested to keep the off-screen ball rolling. The recent phenomenon of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (dusted off the Wii U for it) proved that the market for this is there and may be expansive than Nintendo first anticipated. The blue ocean strategy Nintendo had shot for with the Wii could have been there for all perhaps with a clearer message. Now, the opportunity is out there for someone to join the dots together, for the stars to align and erm..the Matrix to sync so this – in my opinion- untapped potential market is explored to its fullest. And hopefully…finally, perhaps the Switch version of FIFA might be the one to finally nail that true console experience without the need for a TV.