Category: reviews

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Pokémon ‘NO’ – launch issues and first impressions of Pokémon GO!

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Pokémon GO

How do you mess up the launch of a huge franchise like Pokémon? It’d be hard to, really, it’s one of the most popular gaming franchises out there and when a new game is out, all people want to do is pick it up and play.

Which is exactly how Niantic and Nintendo screwed this up.

As we speak, it still seems like the servers are down. There are thousands of third-party installed APKs on Android, and the rest are clamouring in fear of bans, bugs and of fearing being left behind in a persistent world, being the have-nots in a world of haves.

I put the blame for different parts of this diabolical launch with each of the respective companies. Firstly, Niantic really do know better than the server issues suggest; they have experience of Ingress and the millions of consecutive users that it entails. I put the blame here firmly on Nintendo, who have historically had low quality server capacity for online games and been criticised for this in the past. The giveaway for me is that it’s no coincidence that the Pokémon Trainer Club login is also down, leading me to the conclusion that the game, whilst running on Niantic servers (probably sharing Ingress data, really), the authentication goes via Nintendo, and its here that I expect everything has fallen over.
However, I’m not giving Niantic a pass here either; you guys grew out of Google, and have experience here – why the hell did you allow Nintendo to go with a phased rollout by region? That was NEVER going to work, in 2016 is a flawed business model, AND you know that APKs on Android can easily be extracted and sideloaded. It was inevitable that those outside the regions would install it, and if you wanted to keep it to particular regions you should have just GPS locked the game. Which is why I think all this talk of banning those early adopters is baloney. Paranoia is rife when the servers are so unreliable; you may think you’re banned because you can’t log in anywhere!

Pokémon GO
Not really going yet – but has promise!

No doubt, in time, the game will be playable. Right now, it isn’t; just too many server issues going on. I tried a gym fight and got locked in the battle, unable to leave it, to finish it, nothing but able to attack and attack. The CPU got bored with even trying to hit me and just stood there. There is significant lag, and the battery drain is obscene, even by Ingress standards!

So let’s talk about that a bit; Ingress. To me, it’s like when you have an Android phone. Underneath is Google’s Android, but Samsung etc. always slap their skin over the top. Such is the case here – this is Ingress with Pokémon layered over it. Colours are brighter, graphics updated, augmented reality is here, and the factions have been upped from 2 to 3, to represent the three legendary birds. Portals from Ingress have been torn in half, a mix of Pokéstops and Gyms. The former is what you use to gather resources, the latter are the places you are vying for control of in your faction. The evidence clearly shows that the same source data from Ingress is in use here; portals in Ingress match up well with the stops and gyms, although the frequency of them has been dialled back – probably because in urban areas Ingress was more like In-‘mess’.

So, how is it to play? Unsure. Its fun, I enjoyed walking around, and anything that gets my lazy ass moving isn’t a bad thing. But it has a while to go. It has made tweaks to the Ingress formula, and we all know there is a pay model in the background (hopefully not too much ‘pay to win’ but I wouldn’t be surprised…). Plus, you get to throw pokéballs at things, and battle, I haven’t had a good enough experience of battling to give my thoughts yet. I’ll definitely be playing more of it as it goes on, but I hope it grows a bit beyond the Ingress model.

But come on, Niantic / Nintendo!!! Release worldwide, and buy some extra servers!!! It’s 2016!!!

Best games of 2015

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As far as gaming goes, 2015 has been an interesting year for me. More and more I lack the time for the triple A, big budget games, and find myself drawn to the simpler and more innovative games.

So my list of games of the year are the following:

Undertale
This game is amazing, very Earthbound-style and meta, exploring morality, relationships, flowers, skeletons… It has a killer soundtrack, very NES but with a modern flair. Replayable at least a few times,  if you can count it as a replay!

– Axiom Verge
Wearing the Metroid influence very much on its sleeve, this retro styled action exploration game has a sorta cyberpunk theme. It’s fun to play, lots of cool weapons, story and theme, enemies, bosses, and yet again, an outstanding soundtrack.

– Downwell
A great little pick-up-and-play game, you are falling down a long deep well bouncing on enemies with your gunboots, building combos and going deeper. Very recommended for casual play, when you have 10 mins!

– Rocket League
I unexpectedly loved this! Simple concept but a crazy one – 3-man team football with rocket-propelled cars. Glorious 5 minute fun, with some serious competitive play going on.

– Super Smash Bros 3DS
I don’t have a WiiU so don’t get me wrong, I love playing it on the big screen too, but it’s great to me to be able to play on the move and in my palms. A steady stream of great, though pricy, DLC characters has been particularly tasty.

These are my top 5 of 2015! Let me know yours!

Movies of 2015 – “Big Hero 6” and “Taken 3”!

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Baymax and a Ball

In a week, I’ve seen two movies – Last night I saw Taken 3, and on Sunday I saw Big Hero 6. Suffice to say, I think Big Hero 6 is the better of the two haha. Both are good movies though!

Big Hero 6 has been out in the US for ages already, they had it in November I think. It’s a bit of a weird departure for Disney; it’s basically the first fruit borne of the recent merge of Marvel into Disney, as Big Hero 6 was a Marvel comic superhero team originally. What you will probably already know is it’s a Pixar-treated Disney movie – and so Disney has thrown all of the delicious Pixar cuteness onto it. So, we end up with the loveable robot Baymax doing all sorts of quirky and cute things, since he’s essentially a big balloon (very different to his comic origins!).

Baymax and a Ball
Baymax and a ball he can’t reach… adorable!

I’m not gonna go into too much detail on story and stuff because spoilers would abound, but they’ve torn up most of the original story from the comics in favour of a less complicated and simpler story. In keeping with recent Disney/Pixar there’s plenty of feels going around. It otherwise is fun, entertaining and bound to be a good hit for Disney – with undoubtedly plenty of toys and such soon to follow. As a film, the only thing I thought was disappointing was the pace near the end. It almost finishes all of a sudden – it seemed like there was the build up to the finale and the finale went at breakneck speed, then very little wrap up afterwards, basically like “all done! see ya later!”. I also thought they didn’t do much developing of the other heroes on the team, some of which were pretty interesting in their own right. It seems like a time thing for both.

On the opposite end of film genres is Taken 3 (Tak3n?), the last in a trilogy which I would have sworn would never get two films yet alone three. Having evolved rapidly from Taken’s “You’re going to be taken” to Taken 2’s “Your mom and I are going to be taken”, the trailer reveals a minor spoiler that shows this isn’t going to be a film about that kind of being ‘Taken’. Thankfully, Liam Neeson takes a lot more lives once more to make up for it, in a typical action movie that despite being really rather unspecial is still quite entertaining. It’s not good cinema, but if you’re like me you’ll like it anyway. My personal highlight is when Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is conversing in Russian to a bad guy at his mercy, and the Russian switches to English and deadpans “Your accent is terrible!”; bravo, stereotypical Russian bad guy number 3, bravo.

Bryan Mills
Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills – DILF?

It’s always interesting to see on Rotten Tomatoes when a film like Taken 3 has only 10% from critic reviews but holds a currently 75% from user reviews. This isn’t a film critics are going to see much of value in, but somehow the formula works well for mindless action that you don’t have to think too much about. I always like Forest Whitaker though, even though his character in this movie is a bit odd.

So, if you’re at all like me, both these films are worth a watch – although you’ll have to wait a few more weeks for Big Hero 6, as I caught an advance preview. It comes out at the end of January!

What films are you looking forward to in 2015?

Categories: movies reviews

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Antichamber – You are not here

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Antichamber - Sometimes condescending
One box or two?
One box or two?

Not since Portal have I had this much fun playing a puzzle game. And there is a distinct feel of Portal going on here, with the clean whites, the clever puzzles, a strange gun, and the outlandish physics.

Is Antichamber just another Portal?

I sound dangerously close there to doing Antichamber a disservice – it’s also got its own unique feel to it, quite apart from Portal – no voices at all for one. In fact, for me it almost gives me a retro feel of sitting with a 2D Amiga puzzler; the days where back story and plot, celebrity voices are gone. This game is just puzzle and BGM, and very nice BGM at that. OK, so graphically it isn’t retro – it uses some kind of cell shading on top of the powerful Unreal Engine. It looks superb. All whites, blues, reds, yellows, greens. Bold block colour that stands out well.

The puzzles range from easy as pie to fiendishly difficult, and the game doesn’t give you clues in as much as it taunts you with a kind of “here’s what you learned” quote after each puzzle. It’s a nice touch – and I’m thankful for a puzzle game that pulls out the difficult mind benders, I know that I’ve often been frustrated that puzzle games just didn’t challenge enough to be satisfying. I’m still working out a few of Antichamber’s 😉 and i guess that’s why they can afford to throw in the difficult ones, because you don’t need to solve them all to reach the end.

Forcefields
Forcefields tend to eat blocks
D'oh!
D’oh!

Progress is through upgrading your ‘gun’ through the colours, in order for you to manipulate blocks. The degree to which blocks can be manipulated increases with higher colour levels, meaning that hard blue puzzles might become really easy with green powers, but that some puzzles must be solved to reach the new colour guns ensures you don’t get too easy a time. You don’t get too these new powers either, at one point I got stuck just because I never realised I could DO something.

The game suggests that it is a deeply psychological exploration game, and it feels it sometimes. The goal of the game isn’t really the ‘end’, its to solve all the puzzles, and in that sense, as I’ve said, I haven’t completely done it all.

Sometimes condescending
Sometimes condescending, these messages are your ‘completion percentage’

You can track your progress in this regard by the number of little pictograms / “what you’ve learned” / taunting messages you’ve seen.

The real standout is the non-euclidean nature of the game – the map just doesn’t obey the normal rules of the world. You might turn a corner, look back, and the corridor is gone. You can go up a set of stairs forever. A box open on one side might seem like a Tardis.

Atomic
Atomic ‘things’ are a recurring puzzle element

 

It’s mind-bending, but very fun. There IS a map, but it’s not as useful as you might think!

All-in-all, if you enjoy puzzle games, it’s highly enjoyable, cheap on Steam, and will definitely give you those frustrating but ultimately rewarding moments. I think I ‘finished’ it in <5 hours, which interestingly raptr was telling me (at the time, close to release I guess) made me only an hour’s playtime from number 1 player on the service, which I guess meant at first it snuck in under the radar. Good job, Epic. No real flaws, good difficulty curve, good total time, graphics, sound, style. If pushed, I’d struggle for a firm reason to dock the final point, but it feels like a 9 out of 10 for me.

– Zuki

Living in the Nexus

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I recently purchased a new Asus / Google Nexus 7 tablet, and I’m writing this entry on it! It’s awesome, and at a great price, I recommend it to anyone considering a tablet – whilst it is smaller than the iPad, and with a slightly less good screen, its specs measure up well otherwise, and the price is ace. £160 or £200 (depending on storage space) and generous current offers from Tesco Direct for £20 off (see HotUKDeals.com). You even get £15 worth of Google Play credit, to spend on music, movies, books and apps.

As I already said, you get a 7 inch, HD screen, covered by Corning Glass (although jury is out on whether it is their ‘gorilla’ brand – some report yes, some report no but with a scratch-resistant coating, some report a so-called ‘gorilla glass v2’). Regardless, the screen is good, clear and durable – I can tell as I already dropped mine! (Actually I think it was a poltergeist – it was sitting on a flat desk yet slid off). As usual, it collects fingerprints like most touchscreens…
The processor, for those interested, is an awesome quad-core ARM Cortex A9 at 1.3GHz, running on an nVidia Tegra 3 platform. This gives it great power both at regular tasks as well as multimedia. It multitasks brilliantly, and thanks to this power as well as Project Butter, transitions are smooth and seamless. It just feels NICE to use, and as an Android user, I admit that has been a problem in the past – but not on the Nexus 7.

One side point, the original release was a bit of a mess, with many more preorders than expected. This high demand led to a bit of a nightmare for Google, with a considerable quantity of preorders arriving late, in some cases after the brick and mortar stores had received them. This is something that Google will need to improve upon if it continues to supply physical devices for sale on its Play Store. Some users who had preordered from the beginning ended up cancelling and walking into stores to get it there. It’s a heavy criticism, mitigated by the much higher preorder numbers than expected.

That aside – I can’t express how happy I am with it. It took all my current Android apps from my phone fine, it took my email accounts, my Facebook, Twitter. Chrome runs beautifully and looks just like my desktop. Battery life is fantastic – definitely the quoted 8 hours of moderate to heavy use it was quoted for. Streaming video and music works great. It feels nice in the hand, perfectly portable, with a nice rubberised feel to its back cover.

So, if you are considering a tablet, whether its for gaming, movies, reading, on-the-go documents, you could do worse than the Nexus 7 – and its worth having a play with while you look at that shiny iPad, and it is a fraction of the price, courtesy of Google selling it at cost.

Give it a look – you might find it to be just what you want!