Xbox Game Pass Announced

Microsoft recently announced their Xbox Game Pass subscription service.

Most people are comparing it to a Netflix for games, it’s not a bad comparison excepting that while Netflix streams, the games with Microsoft’s service will download to an Xbox One.

The selection of games available will be pretty small, “over 100” when the service becomes available later this spring for $10 a month. The games will change every month, and once the game is cycled out you lose access to it. You do get a discount for purchases of games in the Game Pass library. The Xbox Game Pass games are mostly older from the Xbox One and 360, no real newer options though there isn’t a final list of what will be available.

There’s nothing exactly comparable to this from Sony, their Playstation Now service on the PS4 and Windows is $15 a month at its cheapest (3 month subscription), only streams older Playstation 3 games. The PlayStation 4 has no backwards compatibility with the PS3 otherwise.

Both Microsoft and Sony include “free” games every month with the subscription they charge for online play. I dropped my Xbox Gold subscription because I wasn’t playing online regularly, and the games they were offering weren’t as good as the Playstation Plus games.

Nintendo is going to include free games with their online service for the Switch, but final pricing is unknown, and they’ll all be swapped out every month.

There’s nothing at all like it from Valve on Steam or Windows, though the third-party Humble Bundle has a monthly subscription for $12 that acts like a blind box. Subscribing to that only gives you access to the next month’s games.

There are a lot of questions left to be answered. Games are different from movies, you might take more than a month to play through something and even some games could stick around for multiple months you might be coming up on the end of the month wondering if the one you’re playing is going to cycle out.

PS4 Pro Boost Mode

When Sony’s upgraded Playstation 4 Pro shipped it only offered performance improvements for games that were updated to support it. That’s a manual process that costs money (in wages) on the part of the developer to support. Not every game is going to get an update. It’s an impossible task for games that have had their development teams disbanded, or small studios that don’t have time to go back and retest and resubmit their updates to Sony.

An upcoming firmware update (4.50) is to resolve this issue, partially. Boost mode will offer enhanced performance for all older games. With the caveat that there is no guarantee they will support it.

Richard Leadbetter has thoroughly tested the new mode for Eurogamer:

In short, boost mode will work best in stabilising performance closer to target frame-rates and should prove interesting on unlocked titles, but you can’t expect game-changing miracles. Games like Destiny that stick doggedly to their 30fps cap will see no improvement, and titles certainly won’t break their performance limits and suddenly run at 60fps. However, there are plenty of games out there that glitch badly or run nowhere near their theoretical limits. In this scenario, boost mode could be revelatory.

Enhanced performance isn’t everything, and I’d be surprised if Sony didn’t eventually blacklist games that don’t work well with the boost, but this is huge news for anyone that bought a Pro and a disappointment for anyone that bought the regular Playstation 4 before this functionality was announced.

September 7th is Going to be a Busy Day

Now we know where Patrick Klepek went. In a post for Vice Gaming, with fellow Giant Bomb alumnus Austin Walker, Klepek confirms that the rumored variation of the Playstation 4 with improved horsepower would be announced on a very busy September 7th:

Sony will reveal the first details on an upgraded PlayStation 4 at a September 7 event in New York, French gaming website Gameblog reported today. VICE Gaming can confirm that it’s heard the same information from multiple sources familiar with the planned rollout for the new machine. These sources chose to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to speak publicly about Sony’s plans.

Previously, previously, previously.

That’s not the only announcement that is rumored to occur on the 7th, the iPhone 7 should be announced on the same day.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Review (PS4)

Again?

I can’t believe that Naughty Dog, the developers of The Last of Us and 3 prior Uncharted games came back to make another Uncharted again. Nevertheless, here we are for Uncharted 4. It’s almost like they’re running a business of making excellent games and then selling them for money but have locked onto this one idea of climbing and third person shootering and will keep going until it is no-longer making money.

Like the final season of a favored television series, all of the beloved characters have reached their final form by the time this game is done.

Nathan Drake is still our protagonist, he’s been wedded with Elena, I must have missed that when I skipped out on Uncharted 3. Nate has a normal-ish job these days, you’ll see what it is if you play the game. Sully (Victor Sullivan) is still old as dirt and this time won’t participate much in the action but is happy to lend a hand or fly everyone around. New to Uncharted 4 is a surprise guest appearance by Nathan’s older brother, Sam. I can’t remember ever hearing about him before, but here he is complete with flashback sequences to Nate and Sam’s childhood together throughout the game.

Sam is reunited with Nate for one last adventure to save Sam’s bacon over a debt that could cost him his life if they don’t quickly recover Henry Avery’s pirate treasure to pay off a drug lord.

You and me

Early on I was incredibly bored with Uncharted 4’s gameplay. The style of the climbing and third person shooting is still good, but was so similar to previous games that I thought I might not make it very far in. This is one of the best looking games I have ever seen, but good looks only get you so far without new adventuring mechanics.

Thank goodness there are changes to the gameplay as well as the story.

Everyone knows that Nathan Drake is kind of an ass. He straight up murders hundreds of dudes in each game’s beautiful set pieces, usually in places that he doesn’t really have an excuse for being in. The witty remarks he makes about straight up murder seem to indicate that he doesn’t seem to be losing any sleep over it.

The most important thing upgraded in this sequel’s story is that while Nathan Drake is still a compete ass to everyone around him, finally, in Uncharted 4 the consequences for his behavior are found in his rapidly dissolving marriage and through witnessing his brother’s impulsiveness impacting the lives of those around him.

He isn’t constantly a jerk to his wife, Elena, but he certainly isn’t upfront and truthful about the work he needs to do in order to liberate his brother from the drug lord to whom he owes his life. Those moments with Elena and Nate upset with each other aren’t necessary fun, and it can be awkward to watch Nathan’s “real life” crumble, but watching their life unfold at home before he leaves for another adventure is very relatable to anyone who has been in a long term relationship. Not that normal people are going out to find pirate treasure, it just humanizes the characters in a way that isn’t typical for big action games.

This story is what carried me through the otherwise same-y climbing and terribly implemented one on one fist-fighting introduced early on in the game. That part of the game’s combat just isn’t fun, thankfully it isn’t something that you’ll be forced to play through much before going back to ducking behind cover and shooting in set piece areas that you can decide how you want to approach. Stealth options are present, and it is fun to kick a dude off a cliff, snap his neck and drag his corpse into the bushes, or pull him over a ledge that you’re hanging below, but you’re going to end up breaking out of it before long when a more distant enemy who has slightly better vision than Metal Gear Solid goons spots you grabbing one of the other guys.

There are gameplay improvements as well. Since this is an adventure about pirating Nate is now equipped with some magic grappling rope that can attach itself to any grapple point at a distance. This can be used to quickly get up over an obstacle or more often the rope is used for swinging around between chasms, buildings, and everything, like Tarzan. It is a fun as hell addition and you can use this in combat to move quickly between vantage points as well as shooting while swinging which works amazingly well. It’s completely ridiculously implemented, you’ll always attach to the appropriate point as long as it is on screen. After playing around with it I would love to see a Spider-Man game from Naughty Dog.

The new climbing piton, the spike that mountaineers drive into walls when there otherwise isn’t a handhold, allows Nate to climb along a little bit more organically into points that are specifically designated for it. It’s not as great an addition as the grappling rope, but any positive change to a climbing mechanic that has been brutally beaten into us in every Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed is an improvement. I wonder how different it would have been if you could have combined the piton with the grappling rope and attached one to the other, swinging across larger gaps between handholds in rock faces more easily.

Due to the success of Call of Duty 4’s laser-like focus on a critical path through a single player campaign, other action games tend to focus on a very limited path through the environment, to the detriment of exploration. The reasoning behind this decision has been “why spend a game’s budget on something the player might never see? Also, we don’t understand pacing at all.”

In a very few open-world games you do have a bit more freedom to explore but it’s usually not worth spending the time to do so. What’s the point of exploring if the world doesn’t have any detail to it outside of where the major story beats take place?

This is it

Uncharted 4 gives you a few open areas that are very detailed, a Jeep with your buddies in it, and says “have fun.”

Driving that Jeep and watching as it attacks the terrain is super fun. Attaching its winch in order to solve puzzles in the environment is fun. The chatter from your passengers and how they switch seats to help you out instead of the game making you backtrack to the jeep in order to artificially lengthen the experience is fun.

Your reward for exploring those open areas is more information about the quest you’re on as well as more quick sketches of what the characters are looking at and thinking about in Nate’s journal.

Those sketches feel like Nathan, and the designer’s, notes to the player. While playing I was unexpectedly excited every time I got the prompt for Nathan to write or draw in his journal. You can tell that Naughty Dog knew what a great thing they had made since you can access Nate’s journal directly from the main menu of the game.

There are still puzzles, just like previous Uncharted games, and they are fun. The way they integrate with the journal is nice and the puzzles are still best when you have an audience of friends or family locally to help you solve them. Not that they are any kind of serious challenge, it’s just fun to have the input.

Journal

Multiplayer is still included and is still incredibly well put together. It isn’t why you would buy an Uncharted, but it feels like something that could be packaged up on its own with a different name and compete for the multiplayer shooter players’ attention with Overwatch and other recent games. The multiplayer package is far more than you might expect to be bolted onto a series that is regarded only for its single player campaign just to keep people from trading the game in.

This time Naughty Dog have wisely decided to not lock the additional levels they’ll make to their multiplayer after the game is released behind a season pass or another additional charge. You can buy cosmetic items that change the look of your characters but the game isn’t going to be less fun when 10 identical Nathan Drakes are running around the map. That is sometimes pretty hilarious.

The only real fault with the game is that it waits until chapter 10 to give you access to the Jeep and open areas. It should be inexcusable to hide the best part of the game until then.

So many people have already spoiled some of the great parts of this game, and I’ve tried to avoid doing so here. it is a surprisingly great sequel to a series that could otherwise have stopped at the second game in it and been fine.

Before this game came out, I couldn’t name an exclusive for the PlayStation 4 that made the console worth recommending. If you have never played an Uncharted before, or if you have and gave up on the series’ repetitive nature, you should come play Uncharted 4. Those in the first group, well, I imagine that you’ll enjoy the first ten chapters even more.

Why stay

4 out of 5 Pyrate Adventures for Uncharted 4.

Here’s an extended snippet of gameplay, without commentary, I recorded while I’m putting my recording studio back together. This features almost everything I’ve talked about in this review that makes the game great but does contain some story spoilers if you’re concerned about plot details.

Upgraded Playstation 4 Rumors Confirmed by Sony

Speaking with the Financial Times’ Tim Bradshaw, Sony’s Andrew House confirmed the rumors of an upcoming upgrade to the Playstation 4:

Andrew House, president and global chief executive of Sony Interactive Entertainment, told the Financial Times that the “high-end PS4” would be more expensive than the current $350 version.

“It is intended to sit alongside and complement the standard PS4,” he said. “We will be selling both [versions] through the life cycle.”

The new console, which is codenamed “Neo”, will target hardcore gamers, he said, as well as consumers with a 4K television set looking for more high-resolution content.

You should probably still hold off on buying one since pricing information (beyond that it will be more expensive) and other details were not revealed, and won’t be announced at E3 next week.

It’ll be very interesting if this is the final console generation for a long time and we end up with a more iPhone-like annual or bi-annual console upgrade cycle that maintains software compatibility.

Don’t Buy a Playstation 4

Austin Walker has the scoop on the recent rumors regarding a new half-step Playstation 4 upgrade console:

The NEO will feature a higher clock speed than the original PS4, an improved GPU, and higher bandwidth on the memory. The documents we’ve received note that the HDD in the NEO is the same as that in the original PlayStation 4, but it’s not clear if that means in terms of capacity or connection speed. Starting in October, every PS4 game is required to ship with both a “Base Mode” which will run on the currently available PS4 and a “NEO Mode” for use on the new console.

The article has many more details regarding the upgraded console and what Sony will require of developers, but it really doesn’t read like a huge upgrade to me, and it certainly won’t be true 4K. Even a high-end gaming computer can’t hit 4K at a good framerate for big 3D games.

For now, original PS4 purchasers are good, but I would be surprised if a year into the release of this new console the original “base” PS4 isn’t discontinued in favor of the NEO, and then soon after the requirement that developers target both consoles is dropped as well. Either way, don’t buy a Playstation 4 until you hear Sony give plans publicly at E3.

Playstation 4’s PS2 Emulator Disappointment

A few weeks ago there was a rumor that Sony would soon announce some kind of software support for the Playstation 4 to emulate the Playstation 2. It would be a nice favor to players since Sony very quickly dropped Playstation 2 compatibility from the Playstation 3 in order to lower the price of that console’s guts.

The rumor was based on the special edition of the Playstation 4 bundled with Star Wars Battlefront. That bundle also included a code for four older Star Wars games. Star Wars: Racer Revenge, Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter, Super Star Wars, and Star Wars: Bounty Hunter. Super Star Wars originally hails from the Super Nintendo and was actually ported to the Playstation 4, the other three are Playstation 2 games running under emulation.

This was very promising. The emulator appeared to be robust in taking advantage of modern amenities like trophies and upscaling, and generic enough in its implementation by virtually mapping the Dual Shock 4 and virtual PS2-era memory cards to support a range of games instead of just the three in the bundle. The Digital Foundry article analyzing the emulator for the Star Wars games was simply titled “Hands-on with PS4’s PlayStation 2 emulation.”

Why would Sony go to all of this trouble just for three Playstation 2 games? They wouldn’t. Surely it would be for more than just those. A Sony representative vaguely confirmed the coming emulator to Wired.

Surely, surely, surely there would be a generic Playstation 2 emulator coming along any day now where you could just insert a Playstation 2 disc and receive most of these features, maybe trophies would be limited to especially popular games.

Nope.

Instead of attempting to compete with Microsoft’s recent addition of Xbox 360 emulation on the Xbox One, Sony announced that they were simply offering a short list of games for download at $10 or $15. Here’s the list:

$15 Games:
Dark Cloud
Grand Theft Auto III
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Rogue Galaxy
The Mark of Kri

$10 Games:
Twisted Metal: Black
War of the Monsters

People who had already purchased those games can’t just pop in a disc and play them, they have to be repurchased and more games are promised be added for download regularly.

It’s not completely unreasonable to charge that price for a download version of the game, and clearly it would require work per-game to support trophies, but it is incredibly boneheaded to not just drop a generic Playstation 2 emulator and leave out trophy support for games unless they are purchased again.

Almost more boneheaded is that some of these games had already been available for download on the Playstation 3 with an emulator running there, but they’ll still need to be repurchased even for people who bought those versions. I just don’t understand this strategy. Sony has been great with allowing people to purchase games online for the Vita, Playstation 4 or 3 and get the other platforms for free. They even have a goofy marketing name for it, Crossbuy. It should extend to emulated Playstation 2 games.

The only place you can still get a generic Playstation 2 emulator is on a computer with PCSX2. Using this kind of emulator is still finicky enough that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the experience. Unlike emulators for 16-bit consoles like the Genesis and Super Nintendo where you kind of just choose an emulator, find a ROM image of the game and go, Playstation 1 and 2 emulators are highly dependent upon selecting the right group of plugins to provide support for things like reading the disc, USB input, audio, and video. Sometimes this process has to change depending on the game.

Getting PCSX2 to work for your games is more complicated than sticking a disc into a Playstation 4, but Wes Fenlon has a nice introductory guide up if you’re willing to battle with the open source software and move past the disappointment of Sony’s business decision to not release Playstation 2 emulation to the public on the Playstation 4.

Playstation 4 OS 3.00

John Koller on the Playstation Blog has some of the improvements coming to the Playstation 4‘s operating system. In addition to YouTube’s new streaming service we’re finally getting an increase in storage space for cloud saves:

PS4 online storage capacity has increased from 1GB to 10GB for all PS Plus members. In 3.00 system software, you’ll see that we added a handy usage meter to monitor your available storage capacity, and a new Auto-Upload menu has been added to Application Saved Data Management.

The 1 gigabyte limit was ridiculously small. Microsoft has no storage limit with their cloud save service on the Xbox and while it did require a subscription for the service on Xbox 360 that requirement went away with the Xbox One.

Grow Home on TimeDoctor.org Live

Grow Home is going to be put out on the Playstation 4 soon so I thought this would be as good an excuse as any to go back and play one of my favorite games from earlier this year. You can get it right now on Steam, and I would recommend that you do so. It’s an amazing game.