On Infamous Second Son…

 

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The gift of power has long been an entertaining topic in the world of video games. Even before then, novels and comic books have detailed histories exploring what happens when someone with nothing is given the ability to have everything. Infamous Second Son is Suckerpunch Studios’ third foray into the world of superheroes born from the common man, and from the first few hours it is evident they have honed their process to a fine science. Though Second Son’s moral impact and karma system don’t hold up as strongly as its two predecessors, Second Son shines brightest through its incredible visuals and near-perfect game play. Delsin Rowe is a fine evolution from the days of Cole McGrath, even if the implications of his actions don’t weigh as heavily upon him as one might hope.

 

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Seven years after the events of Infamous 2, the world has turned against Conduits and seeks to wrangle every last one into custody to keep the world from becoming a battleground like New Marais. Unlike before, Second Son utilizes a real city as the setting for the next chapter, and it is obvious that Suckerpunch went to great lengths to render Seattle in all its hip, indie vibe and beauty. Utilizing the PS4’s hefty processing horsepower, Seattle comes alive around every street corner and rooftop. As sunlight reflects off of puddles and casts shadows through the trees, its a wonder how easily the PS4 can keep up as Delsin turns picture-perfect parkways into smoking disasters. Particle effects flow brilliantly from Delsin’s hands, swirling into concentrated projectiles and laying waste to enemy squadrons and vehicles. And at the center of even the most intense of firefights, the framerate never stumbles or shows the slightest hiccup. If this is any indication of the PS4’s potential, it’s difficult to fathom what future games will look like in just a few years’ time.

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Speaking of Delsin, Second Son’s protagonist is decidedly different than the franchise’s previous hero, Cole McGrath, which at times feels like a double-edged sword. Troy Baker’s performance of Delsin is refreshingly energetic and more animated than Cole, lending to a more believable main character who receives super powers. Akin to a kid in a candy store without an adult, it is fun to see Delsin react accordingly and find entertainment in his new abilities at first, while his law-enforcing brother juxtaposes him by reminding him that he is labeled a “bio-terrorist”. Their abrasive relationship does lead to some funny banter and a kind of brotherly love that I could certainly relate to, but it does not resonate as well as Cole’s relationship with Zeke was. Delsin does make a decent attempt at showing the inner turmoil of controlling his emotions and his new powers, but this conflict fades into obscurity rather quickly, and is all but gone by the game’s final act.

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The Infamous franchise has also hinted at the breadth of various superpowers controlled by different conduits, but it isn’t until Second Son that we get to see how unique these powers can be. Delsin’s smoke powers are a visually distinctive start, but the game’s later powers really take Second Son’s creativity to another plateau. If the point of the Infamous franchise is about becoming powerful, Second Son succeeds brilliantly. Enemy forces grow in strength and number as the story progresses, but they fail to keep up with Delsin as you perfect each of your abilities. By the final few hours, Delsin is nothing short of a one-man apacolypse. In the end, only the story’s stoic villain Augustine proves to be any real challenge, and even she proves to be a disappointingly linear boss fight.

 

Delsin’s powers and some portions of the story depend on the karmic choices you are faced with as the story progresses, and it is here where Second Son falls a bit short of its previous titles. Karma-specific missions are few and far in between, and even when Delsin is faced with making a decision between good or evil, the repercussions don’t ripple out nearly as much as they should. Rather than add more emotional turmoil or impact between Delsin and his brother, the karma system feels more like a mechanism by which you grow your powers in a certain way. The story’s resolution is the only thing that truly changes depending on your choices, and in all honesty I found the evil ending more satisfying than the positive one (to be fair, though, the game isn’t called Hero Second Son).

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Open-world action games like Infamous are almost always centered on toppling those on top or growing in strength to finally enact their revenge upon those that did them wrong, and Second Son is no different. This, however, is a fantastic example of how such a game can be done with expertise and style and infused with a good dose of humor. While it may not have been as morally thoughtful as Cole’s legacy, Delsin’s Rowe’s chapter in the human vs. conduit world of Infamous is incredibly fun and aesthetically hypnotizing from start to finish.

 

See you in the next level,

Gray

Computer America: Gamer Tuesday

On the second Tuesday of each month, the Computer America Radio Show hosts “Gamer Tuesday” in which Craig and Ben devote the entire show to news and reviews about video games and the video game industry. Invited on as a guest host, I debate the latest topics with them and how they might affect the future of the industry.

 

This month, we take one final look at the upcoming launches of the PS4 and Xbox One:their advantages, challenges, exclusive titles, and which product is the best fit for the average consumer. We also recap Blizzcon 2013 and detail some of their bigger announcements, including details on a live-action Warcraft movie due out in 2015. 

 

Click here for hour 1, and click here for hour 2. Hope you enjoy!

 

See you in the next level,

Gray

Advantage–Sony: Compete Finds PS4 Gaining More Interest Than Xbox One

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With the next-generation consoles just a month away from release, consumer interest is starting to swell. Those unable to snag a reservation last summer are still combing through the web looking for any chance to lock in a console come November. According to a study released yesterday by digital intelligence firm Compete, consumers are showing more interest in the Playstation 4 than the Xbox One by a margin of 2 to 1.

Matt Pace, vice president of retail and consumer products at Compete, studied online shopping habits and trends from June through September and found that 61% of next generation shoppers were considering the PS4 exclusively, and 27% were considering the Xbox One exclusively.

“The fact that 12% of these online shoppers have shown interest in both systems, suggests that at least so far the next-generation consoles are attracting platform loyalists, rather than casual gamers,” wrote Pace.

Although interest has declined 53% since June, Pace expects consumer interest to rise significantly in the next few weeks. While pre-orders accounted for most of the traffic in the summer months, TV commercials and marketing tie-ins have already begun to drive up consumer interest. Sony’s tie-in commercial with Taco Bell started airing last week, and given that the PS4 has been projected by other analysts to be publicly favored over the Xbox One, it is expected by many that Sony will take the lead in the holiday season. In response, Microsoft commented that the next-gen race is “a marathon, not a sprint.”

The Playstation 4 launches on November 15 for $399.99, and the Xbox One launches a week later on November 22 for $499.99.

On The Last of Us…

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Trust and survival are mortal enemies. In a world torn asunder by disease and strife, inviting one into the world of the other undoubtedly means death. When one is forced to live day by day, ration by ration, and bullet by bullet, trusting your fellow man can often be the siren luring you into a false comfort. This kind of dance has been done many times before in other popular movies, TV series and games, but the Last of Us is something much more. Smartly avoiding simple plot structures such as finding a cure or massacring hundreds of infected in blood-soaked fervor, Naughty Dog’s latest title strips down a standard survival-horror game and infuses heart and sorrow into every corner. Complete with intensely gripping character performances and an almost-perfect stealth and combat system, The Last of Us is a visceral, graphic, and moving story about some of our most intense emotional experiences.

Many years after mankind has been ravaged by Cordyceps–a real fungus that infects several species of insects–those that are left are quarantined and monitored. Joel, a grizzled and by-the-numbers survivor, takes on jobs as they come and doesn’t look back. But when a certain job goes south, he is entrusted to protect and transport Ellie, a 14-year old teenager, to a group of rebels for unknown reasons. While the various narrative twists and turns bring more depth to what is really going on involving Ellie, Naughty Dog went to great lengths to ensure such details do not occlude the primary story they meant to tell. The Last of Us is, first and foremost, about Ellie and Joel. Pitted against a world of lawless marauders and ravenous infected, their journey is as much emotional as it is physical. Drawing several comparisons to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the pair will face the harshness of reality in the darkest of ways. And yet, in such times of darkness and sadness, they also remember parts of humanity they had both given up on.

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Rooted in the survival-horror genre, The Last of Us is just that–surviving the horrors of a world that has long since fallen apart. Switching frequently between fighting humans and the infected, you quickly adopt two styles of play that take up most of the game. While there are portions of the story that make combat and gun play the best means of moving forward, the key of The Last of Us is patience. Huddled in dark corners and hiding behind debris, Joel’s best offense is knowing when and when not to strike. When faced with several infected creatures and only six bullets at hand, you quickly start to understand the kind of desperation Naughty Dog wanted you to experience. Although crafty and quick-thinking, Joel is no hero, and he can die very easily and very quickly.

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Joel is no stranger to death, however, and knows how to deal it out. It is important to understand that although The Last of Us is very graphic and violent, it does not abuse the use of it. Having become accustomed to a world of “him or me”, Joel’s kill animations are graphic, but necessarily so. Unlike other stealth games that strive for the silent kill, Naughty Dog ensured The Last of Us was up-front about what they wanted you to see; strangling someone is not quick and silent, but long, guttural and awkward. Makeshift weapons you craft do not last long, but leave a very fatal mark on whomever you use it on. No matter the victim or fashion, choosing to kill is, in this game, brutal and hard to watch. It is in this manner that I applaud Naughty Dog for handling violent scenes in such a mature way, opting to contextualize the necessity for such violence instead of making it so gratuitous.

On a visual level, The Last of Us might be the PS3’s swan song. Whether it’s wading through a jungle of metal and vegetation or slowly creeping down a pitch-black corridor lit only by your flashlight, nearly every detail of the world is beautiful and lush. Even more impressive are the characters themselves, who convey some of the most impressive emotional performances I have ever seen. Over the course of the journey, Joel and Ellie not only experience a gamut of emotions, but they express them convincingly with amazing facial fluidity and expression and tight script writing. By the game’s conclusion, you will firmly believe these people are quite human.

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In the oft moment you are not hiding from your enemies, much of your time is spent searching the nooks and crannies for ingredients used to fashion supplies. Certain items such as pills or tools are used for upgrades such as health or weapon improvements, but the majority are shared between more common concoctions that are equally important. Because of their rarity (at least in the harder difficulties), you will still be making tough choices about which supply might be more important in the near future. Do you use your last bottle of alcohol to create a med kit, or a molotov cocktail? You’ll find yourself weighing this decision more times than you can count, and it’s yet another welcome detail that helps cement the feelings of desperation and survival.

The game’s greatest flaw, like most games that incorporate an AI partner, comes in Ellie. While her vocal performance is spot on and her interactions with Joel are organic and believable, her actions during stealth are not. Since the enemy is programmed to react to your movements and actions, Ellie is left to her own devices as she follows you. While she is competent for the most part, there are times when you will see her move and act right in front of enemies that would normally see or hear her. Seeing her get away with such liberal acts of movement take you out of the intended experience only for a moment, but the occurrence is far too frequent to not be noticed. It is a minor grievance compared to the rest of the game, but it is still worth noting.

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The game’s climax is a melting pot of questions and emotions, neither of which are less important than the other. Naughty Dog was very deliberate to leave us with such feelings because it is the very philosophy that The Last of Us wanted to follow. In times of desperation, anger and uncertainty, the most human reaction is precisely how Joel and Ellie have acted the entire story. Do we rely on our instinct to survive, or do we open ourselves up to the potential pitfalls of trust and reliability? After such a journey that couldn’t be possible without trusting another, how do we grapple with our humanity in a world that is without it? These questions, and many others, remain the crux of the story that The Last of Us wanted to tell, and I don’t think there is a better example of it.

See you in the next level,

Gray

Computer America Radio Show–Gamer Tuesday

On the second Tuesday of each month, the Computer America Radio Show hosts “Gamer Tuesday” in which Craig and Ben devote the entire show to news and reviews about video games and the video game industry. Invited on as a guest host, I debate the latest topics with them and how they might affect the future of the industry.

In this month’s edition, we dive into E3 and the many announcements and surprises from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo as they each took the main stage. Which camp stole the hearts of gamers across the nation this year? Tune in and find out!

 

Here is the link for hour 1, and Here is the link for hour 2. Hope you enjoy!

 

See you in the next level,

Gray

Computer America Radio Show–Gamer Tuesday

Each month, the Computer America national radio show hosts their second Tuesday as “Gamer Tuesday”, for which I am their guest host and official video game correspondent. Over the 2-hour show, we talk about major video game reviews, news, and current trends facing the industry today. This month, we delve into the hardware of the recently announced PS4, and talk about the biggest hits and misses of March.

 

Click Here for hour 1, and click here for hour 2. Enjoy the show!

 

See you in the next level,

Gray

Computer America: Gamer Tuesday!

Another second Tuesday of the month means another edition of Gamer Tuesday on the Computer America Radio Show! This month Craig, Ben and I talk about major cable TV providers providing cloud-gaming services, Microsoft updating their policies regarding using their games to make original content (example: Red vs Blue), and we revel in the glory that was Borderlands 2. Below is the link to the first hour, followed by the link for the second hour.

And hey, while you’re at it, you can now find Computer America on iTunes and subscribe to their podcasts! Enjoy the show!

 

 

See you in the next level,

Gray