The age of the Internet has broke down the barriers that once existed between Australia and the rest of the world. We’re keenly aware that there are vast numbers of products and services available overseas that we want to take advantage of but either can’t, because they don’t want to bring it to us, or won’t because it’s far too expensive. We’re a resourceful bunch though and whilst companies will try their darnedest to make us pay the dreaded Australia Tax we’ll find a way around it, legitimately or otherwise. Probably the most popular of services like this is Netflix which, even though it’s not available here, attracts some 200,000 subscribers here in Australia. That number could soon rocket skywards as Netflix has finally announced that they’ll be coming to our shores early next year.
Australia will be the 16th country to receive the Netflix service, 7 years after they originally launched in the USA. Whilst there’s been demand for them to come Australia for some time now the critical mass of semi-legitimate users, plus the maturity of the cloud infrastructure they will need to deliver it here (Netflix uses AWS), has finally reached a point where an actual presence is warranted. Details are scant on exactly what they’ll be offering in Australia but looking at the other 14 non-US countries to get Netflix we can get a pretty good idea of what to expect when they finally hit the go live button for the Australian service.
For starters the full catalogue of shows that the USA service has will likely not be available to Netflix Australia subscribers. Whilst original content, like House of Cards or Orange is the New Black, will be available the content deals inked by rights holders with other companies in Australia will unfortunately take precedent over Netflix. This doesn’t mean that this won’t change over time as it’s highly likely that rights holders will look to move onto Netflix as old contracts expire but it might put a damper on the initial uptake rate. Considering that there are numerous services to change your Netflix region to get the full catalogue though I’m sure the restriction won’t have too much of an effect.
The DVD service probably won’t be making it here either, although I don’t think anyone really cares about that anyway.
Probably the biggest issue that Netflix will face coming to Australia is the dismal state of the Internet infrastructure here. Whilst most of us have enough speed to support some level of streaming the numbers of us that can do anything above 720p is a much more limited market. As long time readers will know I have little faith in the MTM NBN to provide the speeds required to support services like Netflix so I don’t think this is a problem that will be going away any time soon. Well, unless everyone realises their mistake at the next election.
Overall this is good news for Australia as it has the potential to break the iron grip that many of the pay TV providers have on the content that Australians want. It might not be the service that many are lusting after for but over time I can see Netflix becoming the dominant content platform in Australia. Hopefully other content providers will follow suit not long after this and Australia will finally get all the services it’s been lusting after for far too long. Maybe then people will realise the benefits of a properly implemented FTTP NBN and I’ll finally be able to stop ranting about it.
The state of broadband Internet in Australia is one of incredible inconsistency. I lived without it for the better part of my youth, being stuck behind a dial up connection because my local exchange simply didn’t have the required number of people interested in getting broadband to warrant any telco installing the required infrastructure there. I was elated when we were provided a directional wireless connection that gave me speeds that were comparable to that of my city dwelling friends but to call it reliable was being kind as strong winds would often see it disconnect at the most inconvenient of times.
The situation didn’t improve much when I moved into the city though as whilst I was pretty much guaranteed ADSL wherever I lived the speed at which it was delivered varied drastically. In my first home, which was in an affluent and established suburb, usually capped out at well below half of its maximum speed. The second home fared much better despite being about as far away from the closest exchange as the other house was. My current residence is on par with the first, even with the technological jump from ADSL to ADSL2+. As to the reason behind this I can not be completely sure but there is no doubt that the aging copper infrastructure is likely to blame.
I say this because my parents, who still live out in the house that I grew up in, were able to acquire an ADSL2+ connection and have been on it for a couple years. They’re not big Internet users though and I’d never really had the need to use it much when I’m out there visiting but downloading a file over their connection last week revealed that their connection speeds were almost triple mine, despite their long line of sight distance to their exchange. Their connection is likely newer than most in Canberra thanks to their rural neighbourhood being a somewhat recent development (~30 years or so). You can then imagine my frustration with the current copper infrastructure as it simply can not be relied upon to provide consistent speeds, even in places where you’d expect it to be better.
There’s a solution on the horizon however in the form of the National Broadband Network. The current plan of rolling out fibre to 93% of Australian households (commonly referred to as Fibre to the Premises/Home, or FTTP/H) elminates the traditional instability that plagues the current copper infrastructure along with providing an order of magnitude higher speeds. Whilst this is all well and good from a consumer perspective it will also have incredible benefits for Australia economically. There’s no denying that the cost is quite high, on the order of $37 billion, but not only will it pay itself back in real terms long before its useful life has elapsed it will also provide benefits far exceeding that cost shortly after its completion.
Should this year’s election go the way everyone is thinking it will though the glorious NBN future will look decidedly grim if the Coalition has their way with it. They’ve been opponents of it from the get go, criticising it as a wasteful use of government resources. Whilst their plan might not sound that much different on the surface, choosing to only run Fibre to the Node (FTTN) rather than the premises, it is a decidedly inferior solution that will not deliver the same level of benefits as the currently envisioned NBN. The reason behind this is simple: it still uses the same copper infrastructure that has caused so many issues for current broadband users in Australia.
You don’t have to look much further than Canberra’s own FTTN network TransACT to know just how horrific such a solution is. After a decade of providing lackluster service, one that provided almost no benefit over ADSL2+, TransACT wrote down their capital investment and sold it to iiNet. If FTTN can’t survive in a region that is arguably one of the most affluent and tech savvy in Australia then it has absolutely no chance of surviving elsewhere, especially when current ADSL services can still be seen as competitive. You could make the argument that the copper could be upgraded/remediated but then you’re basically just building a FTTP solution using copper, so why not just go for optic fibre instead?
What really puts it in perspective is that the International Space Station, you know that thing whizzing 300KM above earth at Mach 26, has faster Internet than the average Australian does. Considering your average satellite connection isn’t much faster than dial up the fact that the ISS can beat the majority of Australians speed wise shows just how bad staying on copper will be. FTTN won’t remedy those last mile runs where all the attenuation happens and that means that you can’t guarantee minimum speeds like you can with FTTP.
The NBN represents a great opportunity to turn Australia into a technological leader, transforming us from something of an Internet backwater to a highly interconnected nation with infrastructure that will last us centuries. It will mean far more for Australia than faster loading web pages but failing to go the whole for the whole FTTP will make it an irrelevant boondoggle. Whilst we only have party lines to go on at the moment with the “fully detailed” plan still forthcoming it’s still safe to say that the Coalition are bad news for it, no matter which angle you view their plan from.
Ah Crysis, one of the few games that basically dared anyone with a top of the line PC to try and run it max settings only to have it bring it down in a screaming mess. I remember the experiences fondly with many machines coming up against the Crysis beast only to fall when things were turned up to the nth degree. To it’s credit though it aged quite well, meaning that unlike other games like Far Cry 2 that chugged for seemingly no reason Crysis was really a generation ahead of itself. I only managed to get a full play through of it done after I upgraded in mid-2008 and I can remember it being quite a beautiful game even then. It’s been a long time between drinks for the Crysis series but last week, after over 3 years since its first release, Crysis 2 debuted to much fanfare and the lament of those who had not upgraded.
I was amongst those who had upgraded just after the original Crysis came out and haven’t done so since. Apart from upgrading the graphics card once my machine is still a Core 2 Duo E8400 with 4GB RAM and a Radeon HD4970 graphics card. You can then imagine my anxiety as I booted up the game for the first time and seeing the game choosing a somewhat less than optimal display resolution for my widescreen monitors. Still I figured I should at least give it a go at native resolution before turning it down again, figuring it would be fun to see my beast struggle under the load of the next generation of Crysis, something which I haven’t really seen in years.
You can then imagine my surprise when everything ran, for want of a better phrase, fucking brilliantly.
Whilst the first 15 minutes of the game aren’t much more than a glorified movie quite a lot of it is done in game. Whilst I was first taken a back by how smooth it was running I figured it was because of the limited scenery and effects, thinking that once I was out in the urban jungle of New York my PC would begin crying under the load. But still the whole way through the game from wide open scenes with explosions going off everywhere to the various underground passages I spelunked the game ran incredibly smooth with the only signs of the framerate dropping when my PC decided it really needed to do something on my games drive.
It’s at this point that I’d usually make some quip about how all games run well on old hardware since they’ve all been primarily designed for consoles first but looking at Crysis 2, even though it’s on all major platforms, I couldn’t really pick any areas that suffered because of this. The graphics are phenomenal, easily trouncing everything I’ve played through this year. This is even after they’ve included all the goodies like volumetric lighting, realistic fog and awesome effects like the cloaking transparency. Truly Crytek have outdone themselves with CryEngine 3 bringing great graphics to the masses.
After all that gushing about the graphics, I suppose I should say something about the game 😉
Crysis 2 is set entirely in New York City where the Ceph, an alien race that players of the original Crysis will be familiar with, have begun their invasion of earth. It appears to be a 2 pronged invasion with them releasing a virus that seems to be randomly striking down all of the burrow’s denizens as well as flooding the streets with their cyborg warriors. You play as Alcatraz a marine who’s being sent into New York to extract Dr. Gould, a scientist who may have information regarding the alien invasion. Unfortunately your submarine is taken out by a Ceph ship and you’re seemingly left to die until Prophet (again a familiar face for original Crysis players) rescues you and bestows his nanosuit upon you.
Game play has been refined and streamlined from the original Crysis. Instead of picking a particular mode for your suit (speed, strength, cloak, armor) most abilities will automatically engage when you do something that requires it (like sprinting or holding down the jump to do a super jump). You still have cloak and armor modes which have to be actively enabled but thankfully they’re mapped by default to E and Q respectively, making the transition quite easy. Additionally the suit can be upgraded through a very similar interface to the gun modification menu, requiring you to collect Nano Catalyst which drops from Ceph enemies when you defeat them. This allows you to change the way you play the game quite significantly, giving you the choice between your typical run and gun FPS to an entirely stealth game with only smatterings of toe-to-toe combat.
Indeed unlike many of the more recent cinematic shooters we’ve seen released over the past year or so Crysis 2 doesn’t have that feeling of being totally locked to the one path the game designer had in mind. Nearly every encounter can be completed through the use of stealth or just as easily by jumping into the thick of battle and blasting your way through the waves of enemies that come at you. This is also complemented by the range of weapons the game throws at you, leaving you the choice to take the most appropriate one for your particular play style. Of course there are some encounters where doing it in a particular way with a certain weapon will be an order of magnitude easier than the other choices but it’s still much better than have no choice at all, like we’ve become accustomed to with the recent influx of AAA FPS titles.
The game is unfortunately not without its faults however, as the screenshot above would allude to. Whilst this particular incident of tearing was isolated to a 30 minute section of game play (and no it was not overheating since it went away in the next scene) there were a couple other non-breaking issues that plagued my game time. Often I’d find a weapon I’d like to swap my current one for after seeing what’s coming up ahead only for the game to not register the gun’s existence, rendering me unable to pick it up. Reloading would usually fix this but since there’s no option to manually save your game this could sometimes send me quite far back in the game so most of the time I just went wanting. Additionally some of the scene geometry’s hit boxes would be bigger than they appeared on screen, getting my character stuck on invisible boxes. All these problems pale in comparison to the games biggest flaw: the multi-player.
Now I don’t do a whole lot of multi-player gaming unless it’s with friends but I really enjoyed the multi-player in Crysis and Crysis: Warhead so I figured I’d give it a go, thinking it would make good blog fodder. Hitting the multi-player link on the main screen I was prompted to enter in my game key again, strange since I was pretty sure I had to do that to play the game. Thankfully it came up with my pre-order bonuses so I figured it must’ve just needed it for the initial multi-player set up. After looking around the server list for a while I found one with some spots spare and clicked join, only to receive the error “Serial code currently in use”. Unphased I restarted Crysis 2 to attempt it again, only to be asked yet again for my serial key and receiving the exact same error upon attempting to join a server.
Strangely enough I could join empty games no problem so I figured it might be something to do with the way I was trying to join games. I hit up the quick match and chose Instant Action (everyone for themselves) and managed to get 2 games in. Those brief moments were quite fun as the games were chaotic with people appearing and disappearing everywhere. Satisfied that I wasn’t doing something wrong I tried yet again to join a server only to be greeted with the same errors. My frustrations were compounded by the fact that there’s no auto-retry function to attempt to join a server that’s full, leaving me the option of trying to find one that’s partially full (which doesn’t seem to happen very often) or waiting in an empty room for people to join (which also doesn’t happen). I tried in vain for another 30 minutes to get in one more game before giving up entirely and tweeting my frustrations at the Crysis team.
Like nearly all AAA titles Crysis 2’s ending also screams “OMG THERE WILL BE A SEQUEL” so loudly at the end that you’d have to leave the room not to know about it. Sure they made it clear at the start that Crysis was a trilogy so 2 sequels were a given but this almost felt like Crytek saying “Hey guys, guess who’s going to be the next Call of Duty franchise?”. I’m a fan of solid FPS action as much as the next guy but leaving the ending deliberately open just gives me the shits, even if the current story was wrapped up well enough.
Despite these problems the core of the game is good, extending on the success that Crysis enjoyed whilst showing off the capabilities of the CryEngine 3 magnificently. I’ve had several on the fence friends see me playing through the game on Steam ask me if it was worth the purchase and I’ve told them, even if you negate the multi-player (which in all honesty where the true replay value of games like this lie), the game is still good value for money. Whilst I haven’t been at a LAN in over a year I can still see Crysis 2 being a LAN favorite for some time to come with the extensive variety of multiplayer modes available along with numerous smaller maps to cater for smaller groups. Whilst the game ran incredibly smooth on my current rig I’m still excited at the prospect of upgrading yet again just to see how capable the game is when everything is driven to its absolute max as it was unabashedly gorgeous on my now 3 year old rig.
Rating: 9.0/10 (I’m being kind an excluding the multi-player snafu since I don’t usually include multi, but if you want to know I’d rate it 8 with it in).
Crysis 2 is available right now on PC, Xbox360 and Playstation 3 right now for $69.99, $108 and $108 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC version on Hard difficulty with around 10 hours of game time total. Multiplayer was attempted on the 28th of March 2011 with 2 Instant Action games played totaling about 30 minutes.