There are few games that have managed to reinvent themselves as successfully as the BioShock series has. Whilst the first and the second did not differ too much in terms of setting they did play as wildly different games and they both managed to explore different parts of the same universe. The Rapture universe was pretty much tapped out however (barring a prequel) and so it was with a sense of intrigue that I waited to see what Irrational had planned for their magical steam punk world. BioShock Infinite is the next installment in the BioShock franchise and the first one to be set outside of Rapture, but that’s not the only difference this game brings with it.
Set about 48 years prior to the original BioShock Infinite puts you in the shoes of Booker Dewitt, a private security agent who works for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. You are charged with a simple mission, retrieve a girl and your large gambling debt will be wiped clean. It’s not going to be that simple of course as she’s being held captive in a city called Columbia, a city that resides in the clouds and is ruled by a man whom everyone calls The Prophet. Thus a simple snatch and grab soon turns into much more than that as you unravel the events that led up to you being here, and why your opponents seem to know so much about you.
BioShock Infinite has the same art deco feel as its predecessors and there’s been a notable step up in the graphics. Whilst Rapture is quintessential BioShock I can’t say that I missed it much when playing through Columbia as the wide open environments just felt a whole bunch better. Sure there wasn’t a lot more detail, with the world rapidly fading into the blue sky, but there was something refreshing about being out in the open. Combined with the excellent foley and music work the environment of BioShock Infinite is top notch and is something I’ve come to expect from Irrational’s games.
The way BioShock Infinite plays will feel instantly familiar to anyone who’s played the previous instalments. Lovers of the original’s much more RPG like elements will be disappointed to know that the simplification has continued with many of the more complicated ideas being distilled down to their basics. The necessary elements of a BioShock game are still there, plasmids are called vigors and you use salt instead of eve, but on a scale from Mass Effect 1 to Call of Duty we’re definitely starting to lean towards the latter side in terms of overall game complexity.
Probably the biggest change to BioShock’s combat, at least in terms of its overall impact to the game, was the addition of a rechargeable shield. Now it’s not like this was just slapped on top of the previous combat system, no its implementation seems to come at the cost of being able to carry consumables. The reasons behind this seem to be two fold: the primary one being to facilitate the overall simplification in aid of making the game more fluid. At the same time though it also encourages you to search around as you’ll often find yourself low on health, salts or both. However the infusion system, which allows you to upgrade your health/sheild/salts capacity, would seem to heavily favour you going for shields before anything else, well at least if you were playing BioShock the way I was at least.
Many of the vigors will seem familiar, notably ones like Shock Jockey and Devil’s Kiss, but they’ve all got a unique twist to them that sets them apart from their predecessors. I’m not exactly sure why but the alternate use mode for most of them, activated by charging up the power, is usually to create a trap version of said vigor. This can be useful if that’s your play style but for someone like me they were mostly useless unless I was facing down one of Columbia’s larger enemies. The traps might come in handy if you’re playing on 1999 mode difficulty but after a certain point I rarely found myself needing them due to the plasmid/gear combination I found that made me feel completely broken.
My vigor of choice was Charge which allowed me to get up close and personal with enemies who were usually quite a distance away from me. It wasn’t particularly great initially however once you’ve upgraded it not only do you get bonus damage on your target your shields are instantly recharged and you’re made invulnerable for a couple seconds. Combine this with some gear that gives you a 30% chance to possess things and a 400 damage fire nova when struck and you have a recipe for someone who’s essentially invulnerable in battle with most of the enemies tearing each other apart, if they’re not on fire already. Once I had that combo down there wasn’t really enough enemies in Columbia to stop me, unless they weren’t grouped together.
Gone is the two tiered currency system where Adam was used for plasmids and cash for everything else, now all you’ll deal in is cash. Again this seems to be done in aid of simplifying the whole game although this means that gear prioritizing cash rewards, like the Extra Extra! hat that gives you cash from voxophones, is by far the smartest choice early on. This does feel a bit limiting to begin with as taking away those sources of revenue, in favour of other gear upgrades, feels like you’re cutting yourself off from a potential killer build.
This is in stark contrast to BioShock 2 where you were basically able to try out any build you wanted in the space of a single playthrough. In BioShock Infinite there’s no way that you’ll be able to get the cash required to upgrade all the vigors and all the guns in a single play through (I say this as someone who found the vast majority of voxophones and much of the hidden coin stashes and finished with 2 maxed weapons and vigors. I could have afforded 1 more of each though). This is possibly done to encourage additional playthroughs as previous BioShocks could be done as one shot deals, should you make the right choices. I don’t necessarily hold this against BioShock Infinite though as it forces you to make choices about how you’re going to play rather than just pick and choosing whatever you need for the particular situation.
Minor-ish plot spoilers follow.
One very notable thing that’s absent from BioShock Infinite is the franchise’s moral choice system. Now it’s not like you’re completely absent choice, there are many occasions where you’re presented with similar binary choices that affect the game in some way, but the whole idea of crafting a good/bad/mixed character is gone. I believe this is mostly due to how the story is constructed, what with the whole pre-determined fate idea woven throughout the game’s narrative, but it did remove a significant amount of the agency in Booker’s character which was one of the stronger points of BioShock franchise previously.
This is not to say that the story suffers because of this, far from it. Whilst it will be easy to pick holes in the “tear” idea that’s central to Elizabeth’s character and the overall plot it does function well as a plot device. This, combined with Ken Levine’s brilliant writing and the various voice actor’s great performances, make BioShock’s story engaging, thrilling and, whilst ultimately tragic, beautifully executed. The only criticism I’d level at it was it became somewhat predictable past a certain point but the overall concept was still solid.
BioShock Infinite is another great instalment in the BioShock franchise, aptly demonstrating that Irrational is capable of delivering a fresh game experience when it would be all too easy to just crank out another Rapture. Whilst the game may have undergone a lot of simplification from its predecessors I don’t feel that it suffered because of it. Indeed BioShock Infinite feels a lot more fluid, the story flows better and rarely would I find my immersion broken by something in game. For both fans of the series and newcomers alike BioShock Infinite provides a gaming experience that’s hard to find a direct comparison to, one that’s incredibly enjoyable.
Rating: 9.25 /10
BioShock Infinite is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $69.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC on Hard difficulty with 10 hours play time and 48% of the achievements unlocked.
As long time readers will know I’m a big fan of Crytek’s flagship series Crysis as it’s one of the few no-holds-barred PC games when it comes to ratcheting up the graphics to insane levels. It harks back to the golden era of PC gaming where every new title attempted to do exactly that, pushing the boundaries of the hardware so hard that yearly upgrade cycles were not only desirable, they were almost required. The consolization of PC games took a heavy bat to this idea and strangely enough even Crysis 2 fell prey to it somewhat with my rather mediocre PC at the time being able to run it perfectly (and admittedly it was still quite good for its time). When Crytek announced that Crysis 3 would be a returning to its roots with insane levels of graphics I was incredibly excited and I’m glad to say that they didn’t disappoint.
Crysis 3 takes place 24 years after the incidents in Crysis 2. Prophet, in reality the amalgam of Alcatraz and the remaining memories of the original Prophet that the NanoSuit stored, has been in stasis for the past 2 decades since CELL captured captured him. You’re broken out of your prison by Psycho, one of your former suit buddies who’s been stripped of his NanoSuit. You find out that CELL has been using some Ceph technology to generate unlimited amounts of energy and has used that to enslave most of the world in crippling amounts of debt. Psycho, saved by people in the resistance, needs your help in order to take them down. As you start to dig into CELL’s activities however the real plan becomes apparent and it becomes clear that only you are able to stop them.
The technology under the hood of Crysis 3 is the same as Crysis 2 so you can imagine I was a little sceptical as to how much of an improvement they could make in the 2 years since their last release. Figuring that my still semi-new upgrade would be up to the task I cranked everything up to its highest, leaving only the anti-aliasing at a tame 2x. What resulted afterwards can only be described as slide show, a very pretty one but it ran so slow that many of the models glitched out and it was essentially unplayable. Dialling back the settings to their recommended levels turned that slideshow into a much more playable game and what a game it is.
Every screenshot you’ll see in this review was taken in game with most of the settings at 1~2 notches below the maximum possible. The level of detail is simply amazing with all models being of the level I’ve come to expect from most game’s cutscenes rather than their in game representations. Crysis 3 makes use of the entire DirectX 11 feature set and does regular things like motion blur, specular highlights and bump mapping better than any other game I’ve played recently. Whilst the framerate wasn’t the greatest in large outdoor areas it was absolutely butter in small to medium sized zones and it was so good that I almost feel like upgrading my PC again just to how Crysis 3 would fair if had room to stretch its legs.
Suffice to say that Crytek has really returned to form with Crysis 3’s graphics.
For those who’ve played Crysis 2 the game play will be very familiar to you with the NanoSuit design staying basically the same as it did in the previous game. You have 3 modes available to you: regular, armoured and cloaked which you can switch between at will. Armoured mode drains energy when you get hit by various things and cloaked mode slowly drains away energy whilst your standing still and even more when you move around. These two active modes are essentially the two ways of completing any obstacle that you might face in Crysis 3: either by stealth or by raw fire power.
Whilst there might be a choice available to you it does seem like Crysis 3 would prefer you to go with one over the other. Right at the beginning you’re given what amounts to the biggest change between Crysis 2 and 3’s combat: the compound bow. Essentially it functions like a backup weapon as it doesn’t count towards one of your 2 regular weapons but like them its customizable with different ammo types and scopes. The key difference between the bow and other weapons however is the fact that upon using it you will still stay cloaked, allowing you to take out enemies with ease and drastically increasing the amount of time you can remained cloaked. Couple this with the fact that the primary type of arrows you can use (impact) can be picked up after you use them you essentially a weapon that’s got unlimited ammunition, kills in one hit and allows you to stealth around everywhere without getting caught. Running and gunning seems rather moronic by comparison.
This is only amplified by the upgrade system which allows you to beef up aspects of the NanoSuit to fit your play style. Whilst its entirely possible to make yourself nigh on indestructible the upgrades for stealth users simply magnifying the already over powered combo of cloak plus bow. Indeed for quite a while I was running around with just the stealth upgrades and multitudes of points available to me. I ended up spending them just before a particular boss fight that required me to go toe to toe with it but I actually found that using stealth was a viable option once I had worked out the fight a little more. This may be due to the difficulty level I was playing on however and I’m sure at easier levels run and gunning would be more viable.
Crysis 3, whilst still technically being an on-rails shooter, does retain the non-linear variations for each section that help to keep it from being yet another corridor shooter. When you’re moving between sections there’s definitely only one path that you can progress through however in those sections there’s usually additional objectives that you can go for which will assist you in getting to the primary objective. For instance there’s one section where two giant walkers are blocking your path. Now on the ground nearby there’s a ton of RPGs scattered about so with a little bit of legwork you could probably take them down. However there’s also a nearby mortar team that’s in need of assistance and should you help them out they’ll let you tag targets which they can then take out for you.
The vehicle sections feel tacked on, almost as if they’re only there to serve as an introduction into what will be available in multi-player. Whilst I applaud their use of larger-than-life maps they only seem to be there to facilitate the inclusion of the speedy Half Life 2-esque dune buggy. I will admit that the optional tank section was pretty fun but it was cut brutally short, right before a time where it would have been a hell of a lot of fun to blast a whole bunch of Ceph out of the skies. This was followed shortly after by an on-rails vehicle section putting you as the gunner which was frankly suicidal as all the Ceph aircraft targeted you instantly and your mounted gun was highly ineffective against them. I’d prefer that these sections stayed in and were revamped rather than them being removed however but they really do feel out of place with the rest of Crysis 3.
There’s also few bugs and glitches to speak of although it pains me to say that at least one of the issues that plagued Crysis 2 are still present in 3. Some guns, for example, will simply not be able to be picked up which can be pretty devastating should you not be able to swap a weapon out for a particular section. The graphics glitches appear to only happen if you’re stressing your hardware too much and disappear the second you revert them to more sane settings. The vehicles are mostly fine except for one part when my tank slowly started turning itself over and then eventually capsized for no apparent reason. Getting out of the vehicle seemed to let it right itself however but the behaviour was still very odd.
I was all ready to pan the story as for the first couple hours there’s really no tension, character development or anything that made me feel for the characters. This all changes later on as the voice acting seems to improve a lot, especially towards the end when certain reveals ramp up the tension between the characters. It’s not an emotional roller coaster like other, more story focused games but it was unexpectedly good for an on rails shooter. They also thankfully avoided the extremely obvious “INCOMING SEQUEL” stuff which plagued Crysis 2, but the current story wraps up well with enough leeway that a sequel is possible without it being obnoxious.
Crysis 3 is simply stunning; a visual masterpiece coupled with highly refined game play that we’ve come to expect from the people at Crytek. There’s no doubt that the graphics are what makes this game so impressive as Crysis 3 is probably the only game that demonstrates the full capability of DirectX 11 on the PC platform today. It’d all be for naught however if the rest of the game didn’t stand on its own however and I’m glad that it does otherwise it’d just be another tech demo ala ID’s Rage. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Crysis 3 and I’d encourage anyone who’s still a dedicated PC gamer to spend some time with it, if only to see how capable your rig really is.
Crysis 3 is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $69.99, $98 and $98 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC on the second hardest difficultly with a total of 7 hours played.
Much to the chagrin of many of my friends I haven’t really got into the whole Walking Dead craze that seemed to sweep the Internet over the past couple years, mostly because my wife went ahead and started watching them without me. Couple that with the fact that I’m a terrible reader (I only seem to find time for it on long haul flights) I have also given the comics on which the whole craze is based a miss. I tell you this because The Walking Dead game seemed to attract just as much fandom as the IP’s other incarnations but that was most certainly not the reason I decided to play it. Instead I had heard that Telltale Games had done well with this particular franchise and since their treatment of Sam & Max was pretty decent I figured the hype was probably well earned.
The Walking Dead takes place in modern day America with you playing as Lee Everett, a university professor who’s been recently convicted of killing his wife’s lover and is on his way to jail. On the way however the police car you’re in hits an unidentified person sending the car tumbling over the embankment and leaving you trapped in the car. After looking around it’s clear that something is amiss with the officer who was driving you rising from the dead and attempting to attack you. Things only seem to get worse from here on out as you struggle to survive and protect the few people you manage to team up with.
Whilst I haven’t played many Telltale games (although I’ve watched someone play through most of the Sam & Max series) I still got the feeling that their titles had a distinctive style and The Walking Dead certainly fits in with that idea. Due to the extreme cross platform nature of The Walking Dead the graphics aren’t particularly great but the heavy use of comic-book stylization (I’ve seen people say its cel-shaded but I’m not entirely sure about that) means that it still works well. The animations and sound effects are somewhat rudimentary but this is made up in spades by the voice acting which I’ll touch on more later.
Whilst The Walking Dead is more like an interactive movie with game elements the core game mechanics are those of an adventure game coupled with a few modern innovations like quick time events to drive some of the more action oriented sections. If you’ve played other titles in the same genre like Heavy Rain then this style will be very familiar to you where the game play elements are there to serve as a break from the usually quite intense story sections. Of course decisions you make during these sections can also have an impact on how the story unfolds, something which The Walking Dead informs you of at the start of every episode.
Even for a modern adventure game the puzzles that are thrown at you are rather simplistic usually consisting of you tracking down a particular item or following the bouncing ball in order to progress to the next area. Some of the puzzles are also completely optional, as far as I could tell, as there were a couple times when I’d do things that didn’t seem to have any impact past the scene in question. For a game that is heavily focused on the story rather than the game play I can’t really fault it for this as hard puzzles usually only serve to break immersion and frustrate the player but if you were expecting The Longest Journey level brain ticklers than you’ll be disappointed.
What I was thankful for was the simplistic inventory system that shied away from having some form of combine or use one item with another item type mechanic that a lot of games like this have. Usually this just ends up in frustration as you try to find the right item combination in order to solve the problem, something that I’m not usually a fan of. Instead if you have an item that can interact with something in the world it’ll show up as an option taking a lot of the guesswork out of the equation. Sure figuring something out can be fun and The Walking Dead certainly has some satisfying challenges but playing inventory item roulette isn’t one of them.
The Walking Dead is, for the most part, bug and glitch free however I had several occasions when the game broke on me in one way or another. Typically this took the form of the keyboard or mouse simply not responding during an interactive section, rendering me unable to progress any further until I reloaded. This wasn’t usually a problem but sometimes it did mean losing a bit of progress, forcing me to replay through a section. By far the worst bug was when a particular cut scene somehow managed to double itself up with all the characters saying their lines twice over the top of each other and the animations attempting to do the same. Personally I’d put this down to the multi-platform release which means that the amount of time that Telltale could spend on QAing each platform was reduced significantly. In all honesty though I thought most of these bugs would be ironed out given the time since the initial release.
Realistically though you wouldn’t be playing this game for the game mechanics, you’ll be playing it for the story. The Walking Dead tells you in no uncertain terms that the choices you make will affect the outcome of the game and that’s 100% true. Depending on the choices you make certain characters may or may not be alive, people might react to you differently or you might end up in a situation that you didn’t expect to find yourself in. At the end of each episode you’ll also be greeted with a statistic screen which shows how your choices lined up with the greater community and the results can be rather surprising at times.
What really got me initially were the small decisions that I’d make in the heat of the moment having drastic repercussions later on, sometimes right after doing so. Traditionally your choices in these kinds of games were almost irrelevant due to the complexity of creating multiple story arcs that have some level of coherency. The Walking Dead still has decisions like that at times during the game but it’s hard to know which one is which before you make it. I can’t tell you the number of times that I found myself wanting to go back and change something because the result wasn’t what I had expected but since there’s no quick save/load function (a deliberate omission) there’s really no way to do it unless you want to play the whole episode over again. Even then you might not be able to shape the story in the way you want.
I also want to give a lot of credit to the voice acting as it’s not easy to make something fully voice acted and have it come out as well as it has in The Walking Dead. Whilst there can be some strange fluctuations in tone should you choose different types of responses (Lee usually has passive, neutral and aggressive options) the sound bites themselves are well spoken and full of emotion which is probably one of the reasons I found it so easy to sympathize with the characters. There’s been quite a few games I’ve played recently that have been ruined by sub-par voice actors so The Walking Dead was a welcome change and one that I hope more game developers take note of.
The story was one of the great examples where I could hate everything that was happening but still felt a deep emotional connection to most of the characters. The relationship between Lee and Clem is a beautiful one and whilst I won’t spoil the ending anyone who’s been through it will tell you that it’s utterly heart breaking, to the point where I was just staring at the monitor, not wanting to accept what was happening. From what I can gather though this is what The Walking Dead franchise is all about and it does a damn good job of making you care for a lot of people before putting them through all sorts of hell, taking you along with them.
The Walking Dead is a great example of an episodic game done right as each of the sections stands well on its own but together they form something that is very much greater than the sum of its parts. The graphics are simple yet well executed, the voice acting superb and the story so engrossing that you’re likely to be thinking “what if” for a long time to come after you finish it. If you’re a fan of adventure games or The Walking Dead itself then there’s going to be a lot to love in this cinematic adventure game and I can recommend it enough.
The Walking Dead is available on PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox360 and iOS right now for $24.99, $29.99, $29.99 and $14.99. Game was played on the PC with around 10 hours played and 100% of the achievements unlocked.
Even though in my heart I’m a PC gamer I was never without a console growing up. For the most part I was a Nintendo kid, seeing every console from the NES upwards making its way into my family’s living room. That changed when I had my own job and enough money to buy a PlayStation 2, secluding myself away in my room to play Gran Turismo for hours on end trying to justify the $700 odd sum I had spent on this magnificent piece of hardware. Nowadays you’ll find every major console lining up beside my TV so that I can indulge myself in any title regardless of its platform.
The past couple decades has been quite an interesting time for consoles. They really came into prominence after the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1985 (2 years later for us Australians) and Nintendo continued to be highly successful with it’s successor. Their reign as the king of consoles came to an end with the release of the original PlayStation back in 1994 which saw Sony catapulted to the top of the console kingdom. Microsoft, seeing a great opportunity to compete in the gaming market, released the Xbox back in 2001 and whilst it didn’t dethrone Nintendo or Sony it enjoyed some mild success in the market, even if it wasn’t a success financially. The release of the PlayStation 2 kept Sony at the top for quite a while as neither the Xbox nor Nintendo’s GameCube could hold a candle to it.
The current generation of consoles saw another shift in the king of consoles crown, but not for the traditional reasons that gamers had come to expected. Whilst the PlayStation 3 was a technical marvel the Xbox360 hit the trifecta of price, performance and catalogue of good platform exclusives that helped build it up to the success it is today. Neither of them however could hold a candle to the success that is the Nintendo Wii. Aiming at their largest untapped market Nintendo created a console that appealed to non-gamers and gamers alike. The result being that they couldn’t manufacture the things fast enough, seeing wide spread shortages for the console that only helped to sustain the fever pitch surrounding it. With a grand total of 90 million consoles sold to date it’s well on its way to be the most successful console ever released, although it still has a long way to go to match the PlayStation 2 (coming in at a whopping 153 million).
The next generation of consoles is still some ways off however. Traditionally you’d see a new console generation every 5 years but the only ones with any official plans so far are Nintendo with their Wii U console which isn’t slated for release until sometime next year. Granted the current generation of consoles has aged far better than any of their previous generations what with developers finding all sorts of optimizations to squeeze extra performance out of them but even the best programming can’t hide the aging hardware that’s running in these consoles. It is then up for debate as to what the next generation of consoles will look like and there’s speculation that it may be the last.
Richard Garriott AKA Lord British, games industry celebrity and space tourist, has gone on record that he believes that the next generation of consoles will be the last:
IG: It’s always tough to completely change the way you look at things. The bigger the company, the more conservative they tend to be. Do you think consoles as we know them are doomed, or are we going to get a new generation, or is it just becoming irrelevant?
RGC: I think we might get one more generation, might, but I think fundamentally they’re doomed. I think fundamentally the power that you can carry with you in a portable is really swamping what we’ve thought of as a console.
IG: If we’ve got a smartphone that can do Xbox level graphics, which we’ve almost got, and I can hook that up to a TV and use a controller, what’s the difference between that and a console? It’s just whatever games are available.
RGC: Yes, exactly. That’s why I think there may be one more round of consoles left, but not many.
The idea of consoles going away isn’t a new one, hell there was a time when everyone thought the PC would be the dominant platform for all time, but them being replaced outright by mobile devices is a new one on me. For starters whilst you can get current Xbox level graphics on a handheld it’s always going to be a game of cat and mouse as to how far ahead the consoles are. Realistically current smart phones capabilities are only catching up to what was possible 5 years ago, not what’s possible today. Indeed once the next generation of consoles is released the smart phones (and other portable entertainment systems) will again be behind in terms of technology. The fact of the matter is you can’t shoe horn current generation technology into a portable form factor so I doubt we’ll see the loss of consoles after the next generation.
Although there is potential for the console market to be shaken up somewhat by the portable industry. The Wii showed that a console can succeed without having cutting edge technology in it (the Wii is basically a GameCube on the inside) and it’s that same market that gobbled up the Wii that will turn to other places for their gaming fix. Whether this will make the transition into some form of home based entertainment like consoles currently do remains to be seen however, but there’s definitely potential for it to happen.
As for the the future of console gaming? More of the same I believe. Whilst we may have seen some technical marvels in the form of the Wii, PlayStation Move and Kinect the bread and butter of these consoles doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, even in the face of challengers like the iPhone. For the non-gamer market however there’s a strong possibility that they’ll shift away from their Wiis in favour of their smart phones or tablets but there’s still a massive market that will crave the better graphics and performance that can only come from a console.
I’m not really sure I could call myself a fan boy of any technology or company any more. Sure there are there are some companies who’s products I really look forward to but if they do something completely out of line I won’t jump to their defense, instead choosing to openly criticize them in the hopes that they will get better. Still I like to make known which companies I may look upon with a rose tint just so that anyone reading these posts knows what they’re getting themselves into. One of these such companies is Sony who I’ve been a long time fan of but have still criticized them them when I’ve felt they’ve done me wrong.
Today I’ll be doing that once again.
As you’re probably already aware recently the Playstation Network (PSN), the online network that allows PS3 owners to play with each other and buy digital content, was compromised by an external entity. The attackers appear to have downloaded all account and credit card information stored on Sony’s servers prompting them to shut down the service for an unknown amount of time. The breach is of such a large scale that it has received extensive coverage in both online and traditional news outlets, raising questions about how such a breach could occur and what safeguards Sony actually has to prevent such an event occurring.
Initially there was little information as to what this breach actually entailed. Sony had chosen to shutdown the PSN to prevent any further breaches and left customers in the dark as to the reason for this happening. It took them a week to notify the general public that there had been a breach and another 4 days to contact customers directly. Details were still scant on the issue until Sony sent an open letter to Congress detailing their current level of knowledge on the breach. Part of the letter hinted that the hacktivist group Anonymous may have played a part in the breach as well but did not blame them directly for the breach. More details have made themselves public since then.
It has also recently come to light that the servers that Sony was using for the PSN were running out-dated versions of the popular Apache web server and lacked even the most rudimentary security provisions that you’d expect an online service to have. This information was also public knowledge several months before the breach occurred with posts on Sony’s forums detailing the PSN servers status. As a long time system administrator I find it extremely ludicrous that the servers were able to operate in such a fashion and I’m pretty sure I know where to lay the blame.
Whilst Anonymous aren’t behind this attack they may have unwittingly provided cover for part of the operation. Their planned DDoS on the PSN servers did go ahead and would’ve provided a timely distraction for any would be attacker looking to exploit the network. Realistically they wouldn’t have been able to get much of the data out at this point (or so I assume, Sony’s servers could have shrugged off the DDoS) but it would have given them ample opportunity to set up the system for the data dump in the second breach that occurred a few days later.
No the blame here lays squarely with those in charge, namely the PSN architects and executives. The reason I say this is simple, an engineer worth his salt wouldn’t allow servers to run unpatched without strict security procedures in place. To build something on the scale of the PSN requires at least a modicum of expertise so I can’t believe that they would build a system like that unless they were instructed to do so. I believe this stems from Sony’s belief that the PS3 was unhackable and as such could be trusted as a secure endpoint. Security 101 teaches you though that any client can’t be trusted with the data that it sends you however and this explains why Sony became so paranoid when even the most modest of hacks showed the potential for the PS3 to be exploited. In the end it was Sony’s superiority complex that did them in, pretending like their castle was impregnable.
The fallout from this incident will be long and wide reaching and Sony has a helluva lot of work to do if they’re going to fully recover from this damage. Whilst they’re doing the right thing in offering some restitution to everyone who was affected it will still take them a long time to rebuild all the good will that they’ve burned on this incident. Hopefully though this teaches them some valuable lessons on security and they’ll stop thinking they’re atop the impregnable ivory tower. In the end it will be worth it for Sony, if they choose to learn from their mistakes.
Sony really has no tolerance when it comes to piracy on their systems. Whilst in the past they were mostly disinterested (since there was little they could do about it) their reaction to the current state of piracy on the Playstation 3 has been nothing short of full fledged war on those who’d seek to get something for nothing. Still it seems like their efforts might be misplaced as the damage has already been done and any methods taken to try and contain it merely serve as a Streisand Effect, further publicising the efforts of those they’d seek to contain. Still for all the hubbub that’s going on I personally believe that it’s a storm in a teacup, with both sides making a bigger deal of this than it really is.
The roots of this entire debacle can be traced back to one curious hacker, Geohot. Just on a year ago he released details of a hack that basically enabled him full control over the PS3 when it was in OtherOS mode, opening the door for much better homebrew applications that could take full advantage of the PS3’s power. Sony, to their discredit, overreacted to this by removing OtherOS as a feature in the next update. In all honesty Geohot’s initial hack was barely a threat to anyone as it required a very high level of knowledge and the guts to crack open your PS3 and solder switches across vital components. Removing said feature then triggered many other hacker groups to start having a shot at breaking open the PS3, and 8 month’s later we saw the rise of the PS3 jailbreaks.
Most recently however the whole scene went into overdrive after the hacker team fail0verflow released details on how to recover many of the private keys that Sony uses to verify game discs and other critical GameOS functions. It didn’t take too long after that for Geohot to release the root key which, in essence, cracked the entire system wide open. Whilst I’ve yet to dive into the nitty gritty myself it would seem that this round of hacks requires no crazy dongles or anything that’s above the level of the average Windows user. A quick look over some of my old hacking haunts shows there’s quite a spread of tools available, even a nifty little program that can point your PS3 to a share where you can store all your games, neat. Sony has been quick to come down on these hacks and the hackers have been even quicker in response, showing that the arms race Sony is playing against the masses will never be won.
The thing is though that whilst this enables piracy on a console that has been immune to it for the majority of its life it’s far from being the catastrophe that Sony seems to think it will be. The PC and the Xbox have both suffered from rampant piracy from their earliest days and the industry continues to flourish in spite of them. The fact is that anyone who would be solely pirating games isn’t a lost customer in the first place and many of them would’ve steered clear of the PS3 because of that. Heck even after I modded my Xbox so I could play some “backed up” games I ended up reverting it back simply because I wanted to play online and I didn’t play any of those games for longer than an hour. The simple fact is that a game I’m not willing to part with the money for is a game I wouldn’t play anyway, and I’m sure that’s common across most console owners.
Piracy is often the excuse used for all sorts of draconian measures that publishers use to try and protect their investments. Time and time again however it has been shown that users who can’t pirate aren’t instantly converted into paying customers, they simply do without and move onto another source of free entertainment. Piracy, on the surface at least, appears to be a much worse problem than it actually is and whilst the PS3 may now be wide open for all those who want to exploit it I doubt we’ll see publishers pulling releases for the platform any time soon. Personally I’d love to be able to rip my library of games to a hard drive so I could have them all on tap whenever I wanted them, but with Sony’s rampant anti-piracy stance it looks like I’ll have to forgo that dream until I don’t want to use my PS3 online anymore.
And I don’t think that’s going to be any time soon, either.
It’s late 2005, I had just sworn off World of Warcraft forever and I had begun reintegrating myself with the world of gaming outside the single window I had been staring at for just over a year. On the horizon was a promise of something new, something revolutionary. It was the Playstation 3 something that had been rumoured about for the longest time and was finally beginning to take shape. Best of all some of the launch titles were beginning to trickle into the news stories and they promised the world to us with visuals and games unlike any of those that came before. One of those games was White Knight Chronicles a RPG that showcased a beautiful menu system, battles on scales of the most epic proportions and a story to bind it all together.
I was hooked. That game would be mine.
There I was on the PS3 launch night, sitting in the Belconnen Westfield food court with 50 or so like minded souls waiting for EB Games to open so I could get my console. My ever patient fiancée (now wife) was sitting by my side patiently knowing why I had to be there at this ungodly hour. The doors finally opened I and since there was a queue system for getting the consoles out of there in an orderly fashion I took it upon myself to check out the games available. I mean there was no point to getting a console without a game right? Problem was I couldn’t find the prize I had been yearning for, White Knight Chronicles was just no where to be found. I could have sworn I heard someone saying they picked up a copy but talking with my friends it seems I may have just misheard someone buying Fight Night.
I returned home, confused.
The next day was filled with Internet searches, forum posts and fleeting conversations with friends. Finally I came across some articles saying that White Knight Chronicles was going to be released in Japan before anywhere else and that had been delayed until some unknown time in the future. I sunk back into my chair defeated feeling like something great had been snatched from my grasp. Still the fervent excitement I felt didn’t let go and I spent the next two years devouring every little detail I could find about the game. Eventually the game was released in 2008 to the Japanese market and I knew that it wouldn’t be long before I had it in my grasp.
A year and 2 months passed before I was able to get my hands on the game. It was amongst several other large releases at the time so I didn’t get it straight away but every time I walked in to pick up another title I’d see it on the shelves, tempting me with thought of fulfilling promises long forgotten. A month or so passed and I returned from my blockbuster gaming binge and couldn’t resist any longer, I bought the game and took it home not wasting any time before I placed that magical disc into my now 4 year old Playstation 3. The menu came up and I started playing but something was wrong.
Almost 45 minutes passed before I actually got to play the game. This wasn’t all for patching or firmware updates, those took less than 10 minutes, no the game took me through so many in game cinematics that I wasn’t allowed to actually do anything until they were done. The next 30 minutes were filled with me running crazily through the town trying to figure out where I needed to be. Finally I found the mission and was sent to another town which I had to make my way to through a forest filled with possible enemies. 2 hours later I discovered what the game was, it was a single player version of World of Warcraft and one that was none too good at that.
I was devastated, the game that had been hyped so much in my head for the past 5 years turned out to be a turd. I tried several times to play it again but there just wasn’t anything interesting about the game that could keep me coming back. I put the game in the drawer and resigned myself to forget about it and resolved myself to never, ever get so drawn into the hype ever again lest I be caught in a devilish web like the one White Knight Chronicles had spun for me.
So now whenever something is announced or hyped I usually don’t go much deeper into it than the basic facts like it’s release date and who is developing it. White Knight Chronicles wasn’t the only game to be ruined (wholly or in part) by its hype, Modern Warfare 2’s “shocking” scene was almost utterly lost on me because of all the talk about it. Sure there are plenty of games I get really excited about (Mass Effect 3 for example) but apart from knowing they’re being developed and should be awesome I don’t trouble myself with all the details lest they fall short of my crazy expectations. This means I may miss a few things but in the long run I get to play the games with fewer preconceptions so the games can stand by themselves, as I believe they should.
Was I solely to blame for getting too caught up in the hype? Most definitely. Had I adopted my current regime of letting the hype slide until after I’d played the game I may have lasted long enough for White Knight Chronicles to shine and instead you’d be reading a review of it rather than a rant. Still I believe I’m better served by this minimalist approach and realistically it was only a matter of time before I got so caught up in something that the above story would’ve happened again. So if I seem disinterested when you’re really excited about a game it’s nothing personal, I just want to make sure the game doesn’t ruin itself before I’ve had the chance to play it.
Nearly every device that happens to make its way into my home ends up being modified in some not-intended-by-the-manufacturer way. Usually this is because there’s some cool feature I can unlock by doing so and the process of modifying the device is usually quite enjoyable, for an engineer like myself at least. There are of course two notable exceptions that have managed to avoid the mod stick and they are my PlayStation 3 and my iPhone. Both of them were expensive pieces of electronics to purchase and whilst the former has long been out of warrenty the iPhone is still good for another 8 months. Additionally I haven’t had a compelling reason to jailbreak the iPhone yet and probably won’t since I’ll be fiddling around with at least 2 other handsets very soon.
The PlayStation on the other hand has been immune to any attempts to modify it for a long time. You could up the hard drive size (with instructions directly from Sony) and even run some homebrew in the form of Blu-ray Disc Java that allowed people to use emulators for a short time. Sony eventually clamped down on it limiting the functionality only to actual Blu-ray discs but you can still run the emulators should you have the inclination to burn a disc for the experience. Such behaviour is typical for any company wanting to protect their systems from piracy as these small chinks in their armour eventually lead to cracking the system wide open, but it was still a long time before we heard anything about the PS3.
Early in the year we saw the first steps towards a full blown system hack of the PS3 in the form of an incredibly complicated bus glitching memory allocation attack from GeoHot, the prolific iPhone hacker. At the time I dismissed the ideaof pirating PS3 games as doing so would be quite an extravagance considering the cost of discs, burners and bandwidth. In the time between then and now my ISP upped my cap not once, but twice to a grand total of 240GB/month for the exact same price I was paying before. Suddenly the notion of downloading a PS3 game didn’t seem like such a waste of bandwidth, in fact I’d be struggling to use such an immense amount of data without downloading a few massive files like Blu-ray disc copies.
However such an idea was still curtailed by the fact that there wasn’t any way to actually backup or play backed up games on the PS3. Sony managed to get a lot of people off side when they removed the Other OS functionality triggering GeoHot to work towards fully cracking open the system (and thus enabling the piracy nightmare that Sony had thusfar avoided) but many months passed and we heard nothing from the hacking scene. It seemed that the PS3 would be one of the first platforms to resist all attempts to crack into it.
That was until just recently.
The hack was met with a healthy dose of skepticism when it was first shown by the guys over at OzModChips and rightly so, the system has been unhackable for quite some time and every hack that we’d seen so far turned out to be fake. Still they assured us it was real and further reports showed that it in fact was the first legitimate hack of the PS3 to make prime time. The fact that it required no physical modifications to the console made everyone even more curious as to how the hack actually worked as just plugging in an USB stick seemed far too easy.
As it turns out whilst it isn’t a direct clone of the JIG module used to enable the service mode of the PS3 it does in fact contain parts of the JIG code in order to enable the hack. The device itself, whilst looking like a USB stick, is in fact just a USB controller board. Plugging this into your PS3 and then powering it will first establish a connection to your console. Shortly after it begins to load the JIG code which then enables it to load a custom application under the games menu part of the XMB. Once this has been installed you can then rip games to the internal hard drive or an USB storage device. This is exactly what Sony had been fighting against for a long time and now the walls that once stood so tall are crumbling underneath them.
Sony’s initial volley against this hack is to stop the distribution of the devices in Australia where thanks to a small loop hole in the law such devices are in fact legal. There are a multitude of them already out in the wild and Sony has picked up on this and begun banning those who are using the device. No doubt the next firmware release will stop this hack in its tracks and the game of cat and mouse that Sony has been playing with the PSP will begin in earnest on the PS3. I believe that this hack shows a missed opportunity for Sony, one that would’ve struck a major blow against the true pirates whilst rewarding their real customers.
To me: a loyal Sony fan, avid gamer and part time device tinkerer I’ve always wanted to have my large trove of games available on a hard drive, just like I do on my PC. Whilst the beginnings of this are starting to show with online stores like the Xbox Marketplace and the Playstation Network store they still charge me for the privilege of doing the format shiftingfor me. I’d happily pay for a backup application and/or emulator in order to cover for the costs of development and would even accept DRM in the form similar to that of what Steam has so that I could keep my purchases safe on an external drive. This also has the side effect of dismissing the backup excuse that is often used to legitimize the hacks used to pirate games in the first place. Sony could then argue their point from a moral high ground, although the homebrew scene would probably still kick up a stink.
As always it comes down to an argument of perceived value. The product being provided by this hack is perceived as being a higher value than the legitimate product provided by Sony. Indeed it is as it allows you to back up your original media and keep them in storage whilst you reap the benefits of faster game load times and the knowledge that should the media fail you have a backup ready to go. It’s quite possible that the next generation of consoles will end up being entirely digital but until then we’ll be privvy to these games of cat and mouse that the console giants play with the hackers and history shows that they’ll always end up being the loser.
Call me old fashioned but I’m still not convinced about the whole motion controller thing. Sure there are some games where its highly appropriate (light saber battles anyone?) but overall motion control always feels like a tacked on extra rather than an integral part of the game play. There are some good examples of it being used to augment game play, Heavy Rain being one of them, but for the majority of the games they get by quite well without adding any motion at all. This hasn’t stopped Sony and Microsoft collectively soiling their pants when the Wii was announced and went on to smash their respective consoles in sales (and indeed they were making money on each console instead of losing like they were).
And so here we are over 3 years after the release of the Nintendo Wii and Sony has finally announced the Playstation Move, an odd looking device with a technological cornucopia under its shell:
The PlayStation Move motion controller offers a motion-based, High Definition gaming experience unlike anything on the market. At the same time, SCE will also release the PlayStation Move sub-controller to be used along with the motion controller for intuitive navigation of in-game characters and objects.
The PlayStation Move platform, including the motion controller, sub-controller and PlayStation Eye camera, together with a strong line-up of software titles, will deliver an innovative and highly immersive experience on the PS3 system.
The combination of the PS3 system and PlayStation Eye camera detects the precise movement, angle and absolute position in 3D space of the PlayStation Move motion controller, allowing users to intuitively play a game as if they themselves are within the game.
Now this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this controller floating around the Internet. There’s been talk about this device since it was first unveiled in the middle of last year and prototypes were shown off at various games conferences towards the end of the year. Additionally the controller has been in the hands of developers for quite some time since there are already a few titles launching soon that are boasting Move capability, something which is not entirely easy to shoehorn into an existing project.
For an engineering geek though the real meat of this controller isn’t in what it provides to the gaming scene but the amazing amount of technology they’ve managed to cram into this little wand. Unlike the Wii before it there are 3 different types of motion detectors inside it and while that glowing orb on the top might look like an unnecessary decoration it actually serves quite an interesting purpose. To give you an idea of just how crammed with tech this thing is here’s a breakdown of what each bit does:
Of course since you have 2 hands they also have a sub controller that will be available for the Playstation Move. The first part I’m thankful for here is that it’s wireless as whilst the cord for the nun-chuck on the Wii wasn’t too bad it was a little bit of a pain, especially when it got caught on the edge of the coffee table. Additionally it contains all the motion detecting goodness (minus the ball) that the full controller contains, another thing that the Wii lacked. Unfortunately you won’t have a full party of 4 people using the Move + sub controller as it takes up a full controller “slot” on the Playstation 3, meaning you’ll either have 4 full remotes or 2 pairs of each. Annoying when the Wii lets all 4 have their own nun-chuck but I can see their point in doing so.
So is this thing going to be worth it? Looking at the list of the games that will get Move compatibility plus the upcoming releases I only see one game on there that I already own (LittleBigPlanet) and really it’s the only one I want to own that’s on that list. Sure you expect that the first generation of games using this are going to be fluff pieces that are somewhat rushed to demonstrate to everyone that yes, it does actually work but it’s still another US$100 that I’m going to have to fork over for yet another peripheral that’s not going to see a great amount of use. I’m sure my wife, who is unashamedly addicted to LittleBigPlanet and the cute sack-people within, will want one so her little avatars will be able to emulate her even more realistically but for the current generation of gamers I can’t see it taking off for at least another year.
Most of the big titles these days are cross platform and hence omit motion control simply because it can’t be guaranteed that a user has it. This hasn’t been helped by the fact that all 3 of the console giants are going about motion control in different ways and as such must have their control schemes written specifically for them (Xbox and PS3 are similar enough at least), something I know game developers aren’t keen to do. I can foresee a couple must have titles that will make use of the controller but that will probably only see 1 of them per serious gamer household. The Wii still reigns supreme as the multi player party console.
Still should this controller turn out to be as hackable as the Wiimote proved to be then I can see a healthy secondary market for these controllers. They apparently connect via Bluetooth but if they’re anything like the PS3 controllers (which again use Bluetooth) an interface driver will be a long way off for anyone interested in using them, as the controllers themselves took around 2 years before you could use them. To Sony’s credit though they did work right away if they were plugged in via USB.
So for the most part I’m excited about the Playstation Move not because it’s Sony’s motion controller answer to the Wii but because it’s actually something of a engineering marvel. Instead of just copying the Wiimote outright (which they did with the Sixaxis controllers) Sony made something that’s technologically superior in almost every way to the aging Wiimote. Time will tell if all this effort was worth it but in the mean time I’m content to sit back and just admire the innards of such a device in my own twisted engineering way.
Hey it’s not often I get good engineering porn in the world of games 😛
Back in the early days of the Playstation 3 there wasn’t that many good games to be had on the console. The only launch title that was any good was Resistance: Fall of Man and that was enough to tide most people over until some of the big titles started to hit the shelves. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune came out in November almost 9 months later to a crowd of Playstation owners who were desperate for something new, exclusive and hopefully good. By all accounts Uncharted managed to fulfill these expectations completely and the wise cracking hero had his triumphant return announced a year later, and was on the shelves a year after that. In my first weekend off from various project work in well over a month I decided to sit down and play through the sequel from almost start to end (I caved when I bought it last year and played about 2 hours before putting the controller down) and thought I’d share my experiences with you.
The first thing that you’ll notice about Uncharted 2 is the absolutely stunning graphics that Naughty Dog has managed to cram into this game. From the jungle ruins to the mountains of Nepal all of the levels are carefully crafted to be visually stunning and not one of them fails to deliver on this aspect. I caught myself a few times just spinning the camera around just to look at everything and was always suprised to see those little details that you usually go wanting for in such games. You can see why this game was made exclusive for the PS3 as they needed the full 25GB of space on the blu ray disc in order to have such rich detailed environments.
The visual onslaught doesn’t stop there either. One of my gripes I had with Assassin’s Creed 2 (although I failed to mention it in the review) was that whilst the story was deep and thoroughly engaging many of the characters were stuck firmly in the uncanny valley. In Uncharted 2 however the motion capture technology coupled with the extremely well done character models made the characters that much more believable. Couple this with the amazing voice actors and exceptional camera work done for many scenes and you have a game that has an almost Hollywood feel to it. This is quite a feat for a game that isn’t part of my secret pleasure genre cinematic gaming.
Uncharted 2 is a strange mix of several different core game play mechanics. Initially it starts out as your not-so-typical 3rd person shooter, with Drake being able to carry 2 guns, some grenades and of course his fists. The variety of weapons isn’t huge but there’s enough for you to be able to handle any situation the game throws at you. The inclusion of special items such as riot shields, chain-guns and mounted weapons (ala the first Predator movie) also provide some fun with an almost comic relief quality to them. Whilst there aren’t any vehicle sections that you control in Uncharted 2 you’re not starved for vehicle hi-jinks, with many adrenaline fueled scenes to play through.
The next game play mechanic is that of a 3D platformer. Having just finished Assassin’s Creed 2 just a week before you’ll excuse me for making some direct comparisons between the two. With Drake the climbing is much less of a star than it was in Assassin’s Creed 2. Realistically it would be more appropriate to call the platformer sections of Uncharted 2 a mini-game as whilst there are many of them (and it has been integrated with the other mechanics seamlessly) all of them are quite linear with few opportunities for you to stray from the designer’s path. That’s not to say that some of them aren’t challenging, far from it. But if you’re used to being able to climb almost anywhere ala Assassin’s Creed 2 you’ll be sorely disappointed in Uncharted 2, as many of the surfaces that appear climbable simply aren’t. One advantage of this is there’s less chance for you to leap unknowingly off a cliff or into a deep abyss, although that can still happen from time to time. Overall the platformer aspect of Uncharted 2 is quite good and I won’t fault the game because of it, but that still doesn’t make the numerous falling deaths Drake suffered at my hand any less annoying 😉
The last is something that many games attempt to do and usually fail at: stealth combat. Whenever games have tried to give you the option of going stealth it usually ends up in a blithering mess. Games with it as a core mechanic such as the Theif series and Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow usually do quite well but until Uncharted 2 I hadn’t had one that seemlessly integrated the stealth with its shooter aspect. They even give you “ninja bonuses” for taking out opponents in sneaky ways, something that lead me to try it whenever I could. Granted you’ll usually end up in a point where you can no longer do it by stealth and have to start spraying bullets, but that just seemed to be part of the fun.
There’s something to be said for a game that’s both visually gorgeous at the same time as having a plot to rival most blockbuster movies . Just like Modern Warfare 2 Uncharted 2 had a kind of hollywood action feel to it. In fact both of them share very similar lineage as both of them were new IP when they were released (MW2 had the edge here with brand name, but make no mistake MW1 was new IP for Infinity Ward) and both were leaps and bounds more successful than their prequels. Most of this can be put down to them building successfully on the groundwork laid by their predecessors, which is unfortunately the source of my biggest gripe with Uncharted 2.
It would seem that we as a gaming community have a very short memory in terms of prequels. For all the accolades that Uncharted 2 seems to pile up none of them seem to make the connection that the game is really not that much more different from Uncharted 1. The climbing mechanics are the same, the weapons are the same and whilst the levels are set in a different location they play almost exactly the same as they did in Uncharted 1 all those years ago. Sure the game is enjoyable and the plot is vastly different but when you had something like Assassin’s Creed 2 that managed to basically reinvent itself between releases you start to wonder why Naughty Dog didn’t attempt the same thing. Granted when you have a formula it’s hard to convince the investors to let you deviate from it but at its heart Uncharted 2 is the same game as Uncharted 1, which is why it is surprising to see this one so critically acclaimed whilst its predecessor’s reception was lukewarm by comparison.
To be honest though I don’t think I could’ve spent my first Saturday off any better than playing my way through Uncharted 2. I put off playing the first one for a long time until one of my long time friends (and fellow blogger, definitely worth a read) swapped me Uncharted for Assassin’s Creed. I’m glad I did as the first one was a refreshing change from the garbage I had been playing and Uncharted 2 is no exception. Whilst it may be almost the same game it was 2 years ago that doesn’t stop it from being extremely enjoyable and well worth a playthrough should you be a memeber of that not-so-exclusive club of Playstation 3 owners.
Uncharted 2 is exclusively available for PS3 right now for AU$78. Game was played on the Playstation 3 with around 12 hours of gameplay total and a paltry 37% achievement completion. No multiplayer has yet been attempted but from all accounts it appears good. Review may be updated should I ever attempt it