My Pre-E3 2018 Post

by Matthew Thompson

I haven’t found myself as excited this year in the lead up to E3 as I usually am. Part of that has just been being busy in real-life and not thinking about it as much as I once did. Part of it is me preferring to go into game experiences more blind these days. And part of it I think has to do with the diminished importance of the expo to publishers. Sony and Nintendo in particular have been announcing their games throughout the year as opposed to saving them for the E3 stage. So I guess I’m not expecting as many surprises as normal. But with less than a week to go, I find my anticipation for E3 rising and I’m here to do my usual mix of pre-show expectations, predictions and wishes. Here it goes Continue reading

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LittleBigPlanet 3 Story Mode Impressions

by Matthew Thompson

I am in no way prepared to review LittleBigPlanet 3. I’ve yet to dig into Create mode or the community’s offerings, but I figured I’d drop in for some brief impressions of LBP3’s story mode Continue reading

Infamous: First Light Review

by Matthew Thompson (Images from the PS Blog’s First Light Flickr set found here)

I’ve yet to be blown away by an Infamous game and as I mentioned back in my review of Second Son, this series has always remained a step away from the top-tier of gaming franchises for me. But it is a very consistent series and I always have fun with Sucker Punch’s superhero simulator. That remains true with the latest game, First Light, a standalone downloadable entry focusing on one of Second Son’s supporting players Continue reading

My Resogun Survival Mode Strategy

by Matthew Thompson

(Author’s Note: This article was written around the launch of Resogun Survival Mode. That means it is rather outdated if you are running into it now. So keep in mind that these tips may only be useful to beginners at the mode.)

Since it came out about a month ago I have been addicted to Resogun’s new Survival Mode. I reviewed it back around its release, but after really sinking some time into it and finding myself regularly in the top 100 on the leaderboards, I thought I’d share a little about how I approach the mode and some little strategies I have developed to help up my score Continue reading

Resogun Heroes DLC Review

by Matthew Thompson (Images-Sony/Housemarque; this game’s page can be found here)

Resogun was pretty much the sole reason I would turn my PS4 on early in its life. But it was a damn good reason to do so. Its addictive shooter gameplay was a blast, but at some point along the way I hit a wall in terms of upping my score and the game faded to the background for a while. That is why the recent update and DLC is such a nice addition to the game. It has really given Resogun a shot in the arm and got me back on the horse chasing down that elusive high score and trying to stay ahead of my friends on the leaderboards Continue reading

The Games of E3: Downloadable Content

by Matthew Thompson

(I was trying to work out how to discuss E3 this year (Note: I’m not there, just watching from home) and I’ve settled on rolling out about 10-15 small blogs over the next two weeks. Each will focus on a game shown or announced at E3 that caught my eye and will be presented in alphabetical order. I will include some other impressions when appropriate as well. You can find all of these blogs archived here. Enjoy!)

E3 DLC

One of the biggest reasons I was excited for E3 this year was to see the future of the PlayStation 4. I got one at launch more for its potential and my love of PlayStation than because I really needed one right away. I have certainly enjoyed the time I have spent with it, but I wish I had reason to use it more often than I have. There are plenty of big AAA games coming for it that I will talk about over the next couple weeks, but I also found myself intrigued by two pieces of DLC for a couple of my favorite games on the young system so far.

Resogun Heroes

The first bit of DLC is for my favorite PS4 game to date, Resogun. It’s new content was announced before E3 even began and detailed more throughout this past week. The Heroes DLC contains two new modes. Survival is what you’d think, an endless mode that sees how long you can last, but tweaks to scoring and enemies as well as a new day/night cycle should help liven things up. Demolition adds an old-school brick-breaker twist to the Resogun formula which will be accented by new power-ups like being able to unleash multiple balls at once. It looks to be a fairly big departure from the base game which should help add a bit of variety to this addictive shooter.

Along with these, Resogun will be receiving a new patch that delivers a local co-op mode and ship editor adding some fun new features to one of last year’s best games. This will all be coming later this month and I can’t wait to dive back into the game and re-spark the rivalry with my friends via the game’s leaderboards.

Infamous First Light 1

The first DLC for Infamous: Second Son will also be coming this summer in August. Titled Infamous: First Light, it will tell the origin story of Abigail “Fetch” Walker, someone who players of the main game should be familiar with. She was by far my favorite conduit that Delsin meets in Second Son and she also has my favorite set of powers. It might have been a bit cooler if we’d have gotten a whole new power set to play with in the DLC, but Nate Fox of Sucker Punch inferred in an interview I watched that Fetch’s form of Neon would feel quite different from Delsin’s. A new version of my favorite powers feels like a decent compromise. None of the side characters really got much screen time in the full game, so I think there is plenty to learn from a Fetch-focused chapter in the series.

The trailer also showed some new environments that should be fun to explore, namely Curden Cay, the much-talked about Conduit prison. It is situated in a snowy, mountain area that should make for a nice change of pace assuming we get to play around there.

Much like Festival of Blood on the PS3, First Light will be available as a standalone product. Apparently having the original game will give you some extra perks, but I love these kind of separate pieces of DLC that don’t require the disc. It could act as a nice introduction to players who might want to try the game at a lower price. In First Light‘s case, that will be $14.99.

Both of these pieces of downloadable content should help keep me busy on my PS4 between bigger releases and I look forward to diving back into the addictive shooting action of Resogun as well as the fun, fluid combat of Infamous later this summer.

Infamous: Second Son Review

by Matthew Thompson (All images are from the Second Son page found here)

Infamous: Second Son couldn’t come soon enough for early adopters of the PlayStation 4. As much as I’ve enjoyed my PS4, it has been a little light on big new game releases so far. Second Son acts as a great way to spend time on Sony’s latest console whether you were already an Infamous fan or not. While SS takes place in the same universe as the first two games in the series, its link to the earlier titles is tenuous which means those unfamiliar with Sucker Punch’s superhero saga can jump in and have a blast all the same while series vets get another very good entry in what has been a very consistent series so far.

Second Son puts you into the shoes of Delsin Rowe, a graffiti artist in the Seattle area, who has just gained super powers. Events at the game’s start put his Native American family in a troubling situation, so Delsin, with the help of his brother Reggie, heads into Seattle to try to gain the abilities necessary to set things right. Delsin is an entertaining character, voiced by the talented Troy Baker (The Last of Us, Bioshock: Infinite… and a million other games) and I liked his brother as well. Their interactions are fun and I found them to be more capable leads that those of the original Infamous games. I also preferred this game’s supporting cast, in particular a couple of fellow conduits (the series’ term for those with super powers), but they really don’t get enough screen time to make the kind of impact I’d have liked. The plotting isn’t all that compelling. Too much of it feels like Delsin just tracking down new powers. The game once again allows you to be a hero or a villain. The morality choices are as subtle as ever, which is to say they aren’t subtle at all. The two different endings also lack the punch of the first game’s twist ending or the memorable and wildly different finishes to the second game.

Infamous Second Son 2

While Second Son’s narrative won’t win it too many accolades that isn’t a big deal because where it truly shines is in the nuts and bolts of its gameplay and the pure fun it provides. While climbing isn’t as smooth as before, the new traversal powers you gain make that a non-issue. Your smoke abilities allow you to zoom through vents which send Delsin hurtling into the air above rooftops where you can throw yourself into a glide or dash from vent to vent. This is nothing compared to the dash ability of your neon power set which lets you sprint around at super speeds right up the sides of buildings and even hopping around similar to last gen’s Crackdown. It is right up there with Gravity Rush’s traversal methods as one of the most fun ways to get around an open-world environment. And this says nothing about the latter two power sets (that I will leave players to discover for themselves) which provide their own unique ways of exploring Second Son’s digital Seattle.

Your combat powers aren’t quite as unique. All the power sets are filled with various rapid fire beams, grenades and missiles that wouldn’t have felt out-of-place in the earlier games. There are some standouts though. I loved the ability to snipe enemies weak points in slow motion with neon blasts when taking the heroic path. One of the later abilities gives you a way to turn invisible and sneak up on baddies for an instant kill. I did appreciate how much easier it was to minimize collateral damage when leaning to the good side of the morality system. You could even subdue enemies similar to Batman instead of killing them. What helps the combat take steps forward from its predecessors, are the improved controls. All your projectile powers are moved to the shoulder buttons now making aiming easier and combat generally tighter. When combined with the superior movement abilities, Second Son provides a much smoother gameplay experience filled with fun enemy encounters and the simple joy of navigating Seattle’s narrow alleyways and towering downtown skyscrapers with ease.

Infamous Second Son 1

While Second Son has taken big forward strides from a mechanical standpoint, I can’t say the same for the mission designs. I still miss the linear levels that tasked you with more challenging platforming and let you explore areas not typically open to you in the sandbox that have become less prominent since the first game. These always stood out a bit more to me and added a nice change of pace from the standard “Go here, kill some enemies, repeat” style-objectives that make up so much of the series. The side missions are really lacking in quality as well. I enjoyed the ones that had you ridding different districts of the DUP presence (think an anti-super hero police force) since the combat is just so fun and there are so many options on how to approach them. I also thought the spray paint ones were a neat concept in theory. But when the same missions are copied and pasted ad nauseam throughout the map, even the best of them can get a bit tiring. I’d have loved a side mission that tasked you to use the Delsin’s unique traversal skills in creative ways as well, but there was nothing of the sort to be found. I must also mention that while Seattle is a fun enough sandbox to play around in, it lacks the variety in locations of the best open-world environments. Infamous 2 for example featured a much more diverse set of locations from busy downtown areas to murky swamplands to abandoned flooded areas filled with watery hazards. Second Sons‘ two islands just don’t compare favorably.

While playing Infamous: Second Son, you can’t help but marvel at the visuals. You’ll be hard pressed to find a prettier game on consoles especially when you start looking into the open-world genre. Impressive facial animations help make the characters come to life. Top-notch image quality makes everything look sharp and allows the details to shine through. And the effects that accompany your myriad of super-powered abilities means that combat is as dazzling in appearance as it is deadly in effect. I can’t help but be impressed with how far developer Sucker Punch has come on the technical side of development going from the messy graphics of Infamous 1 to the visual splendor of Second Son. Even when taking into account the generational leap and differing release windows, their latest effort shows a leap forward in technical expertise that just wasn’t present back in their PS3 debut.

Infamous Second Son 3

I also came away impressed by the game’s score which is probably underused at times. The piece that plays as your make your way through the final mission is one that stands out as particularly memorable, but the soundtrack as a whole is definitely a winner.

I certainly mentioned quite a few issues throughout this review, but I think overall Second Son is the best Infamous game to date if only by a bit. While the game is a little lacking in overall content (it is the shortest of the series’ mainline games) and some things like the mission design leave quite a bit to be desired, I think these negatives are far outweighed by the polished combat and traversal mechanics and just how fun it is to zoom around blasting DUPs and generally wreaking havoc with Delsin’s wide array of super powers in Sucker Punch’s digital representation of their hometown of Seattle. Second Son has done nothing to dispel me of the notion that the Infamous series remains a rung below the A-tier gaming franchises out there, but that isn’t such a bad thing especially when it is so consistent in its quality. Infamous: Second Son is a blast and I’d recommend it to new players and series’ veterans alike.

Killzone: Mercenary Campaign Impressions

by Matthew Thompson (All images courtesy of the KZ: Mercenary page found here)

Killzone Mercenary 3

Ever since the Vita was first announced, I have dreamt of seeing certain genres done justice on a portable platform for the first time. For one, the Vita’s dual analog setup looked like it might finally deliver the FPS I coveted on the go. It seemed  my best hopes came in the form of the Killzone project that was shown briefly during the reveal of Sony’s next generation portable system. It had a quality developer behind it, a suitable amount of time in the cooker, and was an original experience designed for the Vita rather than just a port. On the other hand, Killzone is more of a multiplayer series and since I was looking for something good to sink my teeth into solo, it might not give me what I want. But I had to give it a try to see for myself.

The shooting itself feels really great in Killzone: Mercenary which despite some of its other shortcomings is a constant in the series. I still love the M82 rifle… maybe a little too much as I rarely swapped it out for another firearm. There were times where I equipped a sniper rifle of some sort to take on certain encounters for strategic reasons, but other standard rifles were no substitute for the M82 in my opinion. In my other slot, I ended up settling on a shotgun that lit enemies on fire which is always a plus and gave me something for up-close messy confrontations to go alongside my versatile go-to assault rifle with the occasional rocket launcher mixed in when the situation warranted it.

Killzone Mercenary 1

Guerrilla Cambridge has done a good job matching the feel of the controls on consoles, but they couldn’t quite pull it off perfectly. As good as the hardware of the Vita is, it lacks a couple of shoulder buttons and clickable sticks when compared to a standard controller. Putting crouch on the same button as sprint led to some slight annoyances when trying to duck behind cover and no dedicated grenade button meant they are a little trickier to work into frantic firefights. And I could have done without the swipe-based melee attacks.

The level design is thankfully more reminiscent of the earlier entries in the franchise than the PS4’s Shadow Fall. The more linear structure means the focus can stay on shooting and avoid the pitfalls that dogged SF‘s campaign when it tried it’s hand at non-combat scenarios. I also enjoyed the various abilities granted by your Vanguard particularly a drone that would fly by my side and zap enemies which would help thin numbers when I felt a bit overwhelmed by a large swarm of opposing soldiers.

There is a story here, but I doubt anyone will care much about it. I did like that as a mercenary for hire you ended up fighting for both sides of the conflict which meant taking on Helghast and ISA soldiers at different times throughout the game. And I appreciated the little history recap that set things up before the game sent you on your first mission.

Killzone Mercenary 2

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the graphics. While Killzone: Mercenary isn’t as beautiful as Tearaway or some other standout Vita titles, I think as far technical proficiency it has to be tops on the system. It is hard to not be impressed by this aspect of the game even if the color palette and art leave something to be desired.

And I can’t finish talking about Killzone: Mercenary without mentioning how I found the length of the campaign to be totally unacceptable, finishing it in under four hours. I know campaigns particularly in this genre and maybe more often in portable games have gotten shorter and shorter over the years, but I have never come to accept it. I suppose the game wants to you to replay missions for money and under different parameters. It is supposed to fit into the merc theme I think. But it seems a little cheap to try to add extra replay value this way. If I enjoyed the core content more, I’d probably be more lenient on this aspect because then I’d probably play it through a few times just because I liked it so much. But that just isn’t the case here.

Again I realize this is a series about multiplayer first and I’m sure there is great fun to be had in Mercenary‘s MP modes if my samplings of other Killzone games’ competitive components are anything to go off of. I guess I was just hoping some game would deliver that great FPS campaign I want so badly on a portable and I was hoping, maybe against reason, that this could sate my appetite in that regard. But with its short story mode and solid gameplay, the campaign itself is just an above average one at best. It does reiterate what I already believed to be true after playing even the lesser title Resistance: Burning Skies, the Vita could give me what I want in a portable FPS. It’s certainly capable, but it just hasn’t done it yet. And I’m not sure when it will.

A Ranking of the Gods

by Matthew Thompson

I spent the early parts of 2014 catching up with the God of War series and am really glad I finally jumped in. It’s an impressive series overall and while a couple entries fell a little flat for me, I found it to be a fairly well balanced action/adventure game and makes me really curious what Sony’s Santa Monica studio is up to next. Today I will be ranking the six entries in the series so far and explaining a little on why they landed where they did (also worth noting is that I played all of these on PS3) Continue reading

More Spoilery Left Behind Impressions

by Matthew Thompson (All images courtesy of The Last of Us: Left Behind site found here)

(In this blog, I give more impressions on The Last of Us’ recent DLC Left Behind. This time I have included spoilers and this post is aimed at those who have had the chance to play Left Behind for themselves already. If you have not yet done so and are curious whether it is worth your time, check out my spoiler-free review over here.)

The Last of Us Left Behind 5

It only took a few seconds for Left Behind to surprise me. It opens with scenes from the end of The Last of Us’ University section and right then a light bulb went off in my head. My big wonder going into this DLC was how Naughty Dog would handle combat. While I believe the segments spent exploring TLOU’s locales, talking to Ellie, and gathering resources worked well in the main game, they really don’t without acting as breathers between the more intense sections of combat that make up so much of the game. So how would content focusing on Ellie in a time before she ever shot a gun work?

Well after watching the intro that became obvious. Along with Ellie and Riley’s prequel adventure, we’d be playing as Ellie as she searches for a way to patch up Joel in an unseen section that took place between the Fall and Winter of the full game. And it was in this portion that Left Behind would deliver its much needed dose of action and along with it came a new twist. The last few encounters see Ellie not just facing hunters or infected, but both at once. More importantly it allows you to pit the groups against each other. One well tossed brick and you’ll have clickers mauling Hunters as they fight for their lives. All the while, you are safely tucked behind a nearby checkout counter (probably giggling to yourself). It undeniably takes some of the challenge out of things, but it sure is fun. I was also impressed on a second playthrough how differently things played out. The infected dominated these matchups in my first go ’round, but I was happy to see the hunters win out in several of the fights in my second time through if for no other reason than to show that these battles were a bit more dynamic than I had originally thought. This new mechanic  seems like a great addition to the series. Assuming there is a sequel in the future, it will add another layer of variety to the game’s wickedly fun enemy encounters.

The Last of Us Left Behind 4

Raja’s Arcade isn’t the only reference you will find to some of Naughty Dog’s older games in Left Behind.

While Ellie’s solo trip through the snowy mall might look to some as just a way to sneak some combat in, I thought it fit nicely. It makes for a good contrast to the much lighter side of this DLC that finds the girls on their own mall adventure. And I think I came away even more impressed with this part of Left Behind. Naughty Dog had to think outside the box a little here. With no combat to be had and no reason for Ellie to be gathering supplies, they needed something to make this more than just walking around. What I found most clever was their use of existing mechanics to create activities for Ellie and Riley to engage in. First with a contest to see who can break all the windows on a car with their brick throwing abilities and later with a stealth hide and seek battle that mimicked some of the game’s traditional combat, but with a pair of super soaker-esque water guns.

Along with this, there were a couple of decidedly less game-y activities that I really enjoyed as well. My favorite occurs when the girls hit the arcade. There they find an old cabinet for The Turning (one of many things that connect to conversations Ellie had with Joel in the main game). It isn’t functioning properly anymore, but Riley walks Ellie through what it was like to play it. For us, it is kind of just one big QTE, putting us through some typical fighting game button combos. But there is this moment where Ellie goes from thinking the whole exercise is silly, to getting really into it. And the way the visuals and sound effects compliment this change in attitude makes this a wonderful moment for me. Other stuff like this works too. The photo booth is goofy fun as are the myriad of jokes you can read off from the pun book. And the Halloween store is loaded with little things to interact with. Of course, the game has plenty of optional conversations to be had throughout as well. I thought some of the references to the comic book found in various pieces of dialog were a neat touch.

The Last of Us Left Behind 6

Make sure to hit the square button from time to time in the prequel sections especially in the Halloween shop.

A lot will be made of the kiss. And I personally thought the moment was well-earned after all the things that preceded it in this DLC. But to me the most important thing was just seeing how strong their bond was. All these little ways you interact with Riley and the world really drive home just how close they are. And better understanding of just how important this relationship was adds a little extra weight to the main game’s ending which to me was pitch perfect already.

I really think Naughty Dog knocked it out of the park with Left Behind. The snowy side of things brought me more of the combat that I loved from the main game with a new wrinkle to liven things up. While the other side of this mini-adventure let us explore a relationship that clearly had an impact on the Ellie we came to know in the full game. There was also an interesting juxtaposition of the bleak white landscape as Ellie tries to survive on her own matched up against the brighter, lighter fun of two girls cutting loose during the other segments. And yet, these two sides compliment each other so well. Not just by exploring different types of gameplay, but because the prequel is just another reason why Ellie would fight so hard for Joel in the opposing sequences. While the DLC wasn’t without its issues (something I touched more on in the objective spoiler-free review earlier this week), I just loved the overall package Naughty Dog delievered to us with Left Behind.

What did you think of Left Behind? What were your favorite moments? Let me know in the comments below. And thanks for reading!