Archive for the ‘ PS4 ’ Category

Suggestion for New Ubisoft Game: Marvel’s Daredevil

I have to admit the Assassin’s Creed series is a guilty pleasure for me. I didn’t love the first one, but it was enjoyable and I could see potential to build on what it started. Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood were a fantastic improvement and Revelations was a satisfying conclusion to Ezio’s trilogy. Assassin’s Creed III offered a fun addition in ship combat, which took center stage with Black Flag. I didn’t play Rogue and I picked up Unity and Syndicate when they were cheap, but I didn’t get around to them for a long time.

The past few weeks, I finally started playing Unity. More than a year after release, the bugs are mostly smoothed out, so I had a fairly standard play through in that regard. Overall, I wasn’t as pulled into the story now that the meta narrative has been largely abandoned and we’re just loosely still concerned with modern day conflict. Arno didn’t grab my interest at first, either. Then, as I upgraded gear and started looking at color options I unlocked, something occurred to me.

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With the Prowler outfit dyed red, I’m basically playing Assassin’s Creed: Daredevil. I can be le diable de Paris, the devil of Paris, rather than Hell’s Kitchen. Oddly enough, this simple thing increased my interest in the game. Switching from a sword to a mace, a non-lethal weapon, completed the motif. I could have played the DLC and unlocked a cane club as well, which would have been better, but I wasn’t that committed to the idea.

Medieval mace

Don’t ask me how smashing this over someone’s skull is non-lethal, though.

 

The leather of the Prowler set is absolutely perfect in the red. In the light, it’s the bright red Daredevil is known for. In shadows, it’s a dark red and can almost look black at times. In some shading, it even looks a bit brown, like dried blood. It’s exactly what I imagine Daredevil’s costume is really meant to look like, the right shade of red and the right material to go from red to concealed in the shadow.

As I progressed through the game, Arno’s relationship and partnership with Elise even gave me a slight Matt / Elektra vibe with the two being close, then driven apart by differing loyalties, enemies due to those loyalties, then ultimately teaming up again.

Running across roof tops, parkouring around the city, leaping across streets with impossible bounds to grab onto a ledge and climb up to perch upon the gothic architecture of a Catholic church, even the series’ Eagle Vision akin to Matt’s sonar/radar ability; it all fit so well, I began to realize something…

The Assassin’s Creed engine, at its fundamental base, is perfect for a full fledged Daredevil open world game!

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Recently, it’s no secret Disney/Marvel has begun to license out its properties to reliable studios to work on rather than making games in house. Square Enix is working on an Avengers game while Insomniac is developing a Spider-Man game.

The good news here is Insomniac is being allowed freedom to do their own world, or a more comic based world, for Spidey, so a Daredevil game could use a gamut of comic book villains and could stay more true rather than being limited to the more gritty and grounded Netflix MCU world.

If Ubisoft were to gain said license and make such a game, the Assassin’s Creed engine and gameplay would be near perfect for implementing the radar and horn-head’s method of traversing the city with just a few tweaks to allow for his grappling hook for the taller buildings and greater distance between city blocks. Combat would work better with a bit of Rocksteady’s Arkham series influencing it, giving Daredevil the ninja martial arts style and better fluidity of tackling a dozen enemies at a time.

I’d love to see a few opportunities woven into the story to delve into the Murdock side of Daredevil with court cases to be able to play through as well. Not all would dig this, so perhaps optional side missions to access.

The parkour of Assassin’s Creed, the Arkham-esque combat, with just a hint of both series’ crime solving, plus some of Spider-Man’s web swinging to translate into the briefer grappling for Daredevil. He doesn’t have the full web swinging of Spidey, nor the grapple and glide of Batman, so it would have to be adjusted to work for DD. The overall idea certainly intrigues me and I’d love to see Ubisoft tackle the project.

Anyone else think Assassin’s Creed has the right elements for the foundations of a Daredevil game?

 

Counterview from a Wide-Eyed Video Game Industry Fool

In a recent pre-E3 post at Scholarly Gamers, video game advocate Patrick Scott Patterson detailed his precarious position on the precipice of cynicism for the industry he loves. I’ve followed PSP for a while on social media, I’ve even had dinner at WingStop with the guy once, and I’ve agreed with a lot of his opinions and efforts, but I’ve disagreed from time to time as well. Where he’s peering into the pit of cynicism, hoping E3 2017 will deliver a swinging vine with which to grab and swing over, I feel quite different about the state of the industry right now.

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Totally professional artist’s rendition of Patrick Scott Patterson’s E3 2017 goal.

I think PSP’s lamentation of a time in the 90s where hardware was the focal point of discussion rather than games is fair. He specifically states: “…this time period seemed to focus too much on technology and not enough on games. All I wanted out of the industry – all my friends wanted out of the industry – were games.

I think that’s a fair statement and one that holds true for most gamers today. We saw that in the push back to X-Box One’s announcement focusing on television, television partnerships, a Halo television series with Steven Spielberg, and the multimedia capabilities of the system, to which gamers replied “where are the games?”

In fact, Sony “won” E3 that year and has been “winning” the latest battle for the living room by their message of being for gamers and putting the focus squarely on games at their presentations. Sure, they still had Netflix, were still working on a more a la carte TV offering, and were still a multimedia system too, but they knew that gamers want games and made that their focus.

Where Scott and I first diverge is on the opinion of delivering on this desire. I’ve talked with Scott via social media posts before have the impression he feels the PS4 doesn’t have the library to draw him in. I, on the other hand, have an ever growing library of games for the system that I can’t keep up with (as a typical gamer, my backlog doth floweth over), but I’ll touch on that a bit more later.

Hardware or Software? Who Gets the Spotlight?

GameInformer Issue 289

But is hardware overtaking the spotlight when it comes to games? Overall, I don’t think so. Let’s start by the fairest comparison we can have to the 90s with a print magazine. May’s Issue 289 of Game Informer dedicates four pages to VR hardware technology, but four pages to games coming out that will take advantage of VR headsets. Two pages discuss the Nintendo Switch, which is arguably a look at hardware.

A feature on indie games at GDC 2017 covers 12 different games with quick looks. 12 more games are given quick hit blurbs, then a page each for an afterwards look at Horizon: Zero Dawn and For Honor. Halfway through the issue, we’re on to reviews for Hellblade, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, Injustice 2, Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Perception, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Sonic Forces, Kingsway, Hob, Tacoma, Into the Breach, Quake Champions, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III, Perception, Escape from Tarkov, Tokyo Xanadu, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Ghost Recon Wildlands, Yooka-Laylee, Persona 5, The Elderscrolls Legends, and Tumbleweek Park. That’s 6 pages for hardware with 47 games getting attention in the issue.

Moving beyond print media and looking at the online landscape of games sites, where does hardware fall?

What is Real? – Virtual Reality

Honestly, things are pretty sparse on VR coverage. Many are concerned Sony has already given the PSVR the same vaulted position next to the Vita and PSP under a rug. Where Scott wasn’t impressed with its presence at E3, many are worried about a lack of it this year, myself included.

Specifically speaking, Virtual Reality is another point I disagree with PSP on in general. Or at least, I’m hopefully disagreeing while fearful he’s right, but here’s where wide eyed fool meets at-risk cynic with more matured observational experience. I’m a firm believer that we can look to our actual future by looking to the science fiction of our past. Whatever we imagine, we eventually find a way to bring to life. From Star Trek automatic doors and communicators to modern day….well automatic doors was on the nose, but surpassing the science fiction with Smart Phones, we’ve made science fiction reality. Self driving cars have long been a staple of science fiction and we’re on the verge of reaching for that goal in the next decade.

Likewise, we’ve long imagined virtual reality, where we can be fully immersed in another world, transported through some form of technology, dreaming of a day when the virtual is near indistinguishable from the real. While I don’t think we’re on the verge of that, I actually am excited by the modern adoption and interest in virtual reality and want it to be pushed. I want games exploring the possibilities. I want the clunky headsets of today because they’ll become the sleek visor/ear covers of tomorrow. I want the groundwork laid out now to be deep diving into VR when I’m in a retirement home.

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Obligatory Morpheus pic while talking about Virtual Reality…check!

I’ve never liked first person games, but based on my experience with Arkham VR, I look forward to an Elder Scrolls game in VR and am fully hoping next week’s E3 includes the announcement of Star Wars Battlefront 2 being fully playable in VR.  I haven’t played it myself yet, but most reviewers and commenters seem to agree Resident Evil 7 is a whole different experience in VR, and far more terrifying than it is without.

State of the Consoles Address

I somewhat agree with Scott’s view on the state of the consoles, though not completely. Nintendo needed to bring out the Switch to replace the Wii U. While the Wii U had some fantastic games and I agree will likely be seen as an under-appreciate system in the future, this fall will mark 5 years since its release. That’s only 1.5 years less than the Wii’s lifecycle. If the sales-struggling Wii U managed to reach that close to its juggernaut predecessor’s life, I consider that pretty good longevity.

The PS4 Pro and Project Scorpio, however, I agree are a bit unnecessary and I’m not crazy about the idea of half step generations becoming the standard, especially depending on how much more they start to offer in the future over their “lesser” versions. Right now, however, they haven’t seemed to be that much of a game changer. If Scorpio proves to be more of a true next-gen step with Microsoft stepping into a staggered cycle, that’ll be a bit different, but it remains to be seen.

However, going back to hardware overshadowing software, I’m not sure that spec comparisons of PS4 to PS4 Pro and XB1 to Scorpio, as well as PS4 Pro to Scorpio, are really overshadowing the games. Searching “IGN + E3” gives you IGN’s page featuring 29 articles on game expectations with only 2 on Scorpio. Searching for “Game Informer + E3” yields articles primarily about games. Similar results are found at GameSpot’s E3 page.

Obviously, Scorpio and its specs will be a big part of Microsoft’s presentation with them feeling they’re in a similar position as Nintendo and need to get back in the race. I’ll agree a stronger, more horsepower, console isn’t how I’d expect them to win gamers back, though. Scalebound and more exclusive first and second party titles would have done more than a beefier processor in a new system replacing what people already own. But that’s the course Microsoft is taking for E3, so…

Where’s the Beef Games?

When Scott says “I hope I can see an industry that is once again focused on providing wonderful and groundbreaking game play experiences, rather than continuing to hype the boxes that are supposed to run those experiences,” I think that’s a valid desire, one which I think is going to be delivered from Sony and Nintendo this year. Their boxes are out and they’ve said what they do, so now they can focus on the software for them.

He goes on to say, “If anything else, it’s a case of clarity as to where we need to put our hard earned money. There is a clarity and confidence in knowing that you have invested in a video game console that you know is going to give you joy for years to come. There’s a warm, fuzzy feeling in seeing a game library grow and grow on hardware you know will be the focus for quite a while yet, rather than this look-over-your-shoulder feeling the marketplace has created for itself now.

I really feel like here’s where we stop walking on different sides of the path and diverge in two different directions. I got a day one PS4 and I’ve not been disappointed with the first 3.5 years and I expect plenty more games in the next 2 or 3 years as well. I own 59 titles for the system (not including about 50 more from Limited Run games) and have completed less than half of them. And there’s no evidence to suggest PS4 is slowing down with God of War, Spider-Man, The Last of Us 2, Days Gone, Death Stranding and more on the way (though I suspect Death Stranding will be the system’s swan song at the end of its life cycle), not to mention third party titles that will be available on multiple platforms.

I jumped on the Switch at launch as well and I thoroughly enjoyed Breath of the Wild and look forward to Cave Story+ next (even though that’s not new, per se) and have heard ARMS is surprising people with how fun and challenging it is. I think Nintendo has something hot on their hands that isn’t going to cool off for a while still and hopefully that will be reflected in the software down the road for the next 5 or 6 years as well. Since this little device is so unique apart from XB1 and PS4, I don’t see it having to sweat the advance of technology as much for a good while still.

Khajit Has Wares, But Are They Worth Coin?

Sony and Microsoft need to show me something jaw dropping for me to trust them enough to buy their shiny new hardware.

I think Sony’s already made their position clear regarding PS4 Pro. It’s the console enthusiast version of the PS4. Much like a good $800 PC will play most games on high settings and you’ll thoroughly enjoy those games without missing out, there are going to be people with $1800+ PCs that play everything on extreme settings while running 100 resource hog addons at the same time without a hitch. PS4 Pro is merely that higher end one, but nothing demanding PS4 owners to plop down another stack of cash to replace their PS4. Sony’s not trying to convince you otherwise, and if you don’t have a 4K television, it’s a moot point to begin with.

Now, will Microsoft treat consumers the same? Will they assure customers that their X-Box One is just as valid and just as much a focus this holiday season as the Scorpio system? One can hope. I would certainly hope Microsoft wouldn’t be arrogant enough to think they can put all their efforts to the new system and expect everyone to jump on it, especially after so many X-Box fans jumped ship to PS4 at the start of this generation and even more are seeing the PC as the best option for the X-Box exclusives. An X-Box isn’t an Apple product, after all.

In Conclusion

I’ve been gaming for around 26 years, give or take, just about a decade (little more, little less) than PSP has been drawn to the industry and its offerings. Perhaps it’s that decade difference of experience and observation that still has me wide eyed and bushy tailed where he’s resisting what I expect will be a temporary threat of cynicism.

It could also be a shift in tastes. I know Scott’s voiced preference for shorter play times and quick plays with his kids, over the sprawling narratives and vast open world games while I remain single and afforded the free time to explore a large Hyrule or take in the story of games like Uncharted or the mix of both with Horizon: Zero Dawn. I think there’s definitely a difference in approach to games for a husband and father who is self employed versus a single bachelor with time on his hands.

I really hope this happens. For almost 36 years now, I have been one of the loudest advocates for the video game industry, save for that one confusing period in the 90s. I hate that I have been starting to feel like that again, but there it is. Just give me something fun to play, folks. Show me some focus.

Please.

I just feel if further rests on tastes and what you’re looking for. There are a ton of great looking games coming out and while some look similar to one another (yes, I noted the Assassin’s Creed similarities while playing Horizon: Zero Dawn), that doesn’t make them the same ol’ same ol’ either. Each definitely have their own flavor to offer.

I don’t platinum games often, but I try to finish every game I pick up. Even when games don’t hit the mark, I still find them enjoyable in some way and appreciate the different things many try to accomplish, even if they don’t quite get there.

I’d be curious to know what Patrick Scott Patterson’s top 15 games (total, not each) from 360 / PS3 / Wii (and Wii U) are. It would definitely be interesting when watching E3 to speculate what, if anything, catches his eye.

For me, I’m looking forward to all of it. I’ve never been burned by my own E3 excitement. Honestly, and seriously, not once. Bring on the games so I can start budgeting the rest of my year. I’m sure October’s going to hurt, as always.

National Videogame Museum Opens Its Doors

The National Videogame Museum (NVM) opened in Frisco, TX on April 2, 2016. It was a bright, sunny Saturday morning. 10:00 AM, to be precise, was the opening of the doors. I was there and I was excited. Obviously, it’s taken a while for me to get to writing my thoughts on the grand opening of the nation’s, the world’s, first museum dedicated to the history of video games (I use “video game” though the museum officially uses “videogame”).

I had arrived at the Frisco Discovery Center, where the NVM is located, at 10:05 with a bit of a hurried step. I wanted to get in with plenty of time to look around as I was meeting someone in 3 hours to hand over some video games I had accumulated that weren’t going into my collection. I knew the doors opened at 10, so I went right in. And found the line. I followed the line outside again and saw just how many had arrived to see the history of their hobby.

There were a lot. The Museum holds about 240 people and the line was well out of the building and along the sidewalk, starting to curl around the build like a human formation of Nibbles.

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One or two people showed up

I stood in line with a mother whose 7 year old son was running around playing with other kids while they waited. Preston was here to see more about video game history, particularly Pac-Man and Galaga. I learned something from Preston’s mother in the hour we waited outside.

Pixels was a good movie. That’s right, Pixels.

Pixels

Yes, THAT Pixels.

Preston saw Pixels more than once in theaters and probably a dozen times at home since it released on blu-ray and DVD. Pixels introduced this young boy to Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Q*bert, and made him want to learn more. He went to Google and began reading about these games and these characters and when they came out. He grew interested not only in the games themselves, but their history.

If a 7 year old boy loves a movie about video game characters, and that movie drives him to pursue the history of the industry, then I have to say the movie did something right. Adults and critics may not like it, but if it stirred the interest and curiosity of children, then it’s a good movie by my measure.

And so, there we were, at the first museum in the nation that would let him explore more of that history. TekForce was present and volunteered to provide music and MC the waiting room that we reached at 11 o’clock. I was able to speak with him a moment and learned that the museum was expecting 1,500 visitors for the grand opening day. In the first hour, they were adjusting expectations to 4,000. They underestimated how many people would come out for the grand opening.

As we waited for our ticket groups to be called there were pictures available to color, music played, and a couch set up with a Wii U and Super Mario Bros. available to play. Kids were having a great time. There was also trivia to win prizes – the question I was present for was regarding Pac-Man’s original name (The answer is Puck Man).

At 11:35, our ticket group was called up and we finally went into the NVM lobby to pay for our tickets to the museum proper. Tickets are $12 for adults, but include $1 worth of tokens for the arcade at the end of the museum. By noon, 2 hours after arrival, I finally set foot inside.

The Museum is divided into 16 stages, all of which cover a different portion of video game history.

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But first, you’re greeted by Mario

 

Stage 1, “Begin” covers the early days of video game history. In fact, with Ralph Baer’s “Brown Box Prototype” on display, it might be safe to say this touches on video game pre-history and then advances through history from there.

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An important aspect of the NVM is that it’s not just exhibits to look at and read. There are a lot of interactive features at the museum, mostly in the form of playable games in the exhibits. Almost every Stage has something you can play.

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Just like the one you grew up with, right?

Stage 2, “Timeline” is the most time consuming interactive option. With screens set up above oversized Super Nintendo controllers, this allows visitors to browse every single video game console ever released to get some information about them. Release year, MSRP, some highlighted games, as well as notorious games, and some of the most valuable on the system can be reviewed. There are 53 different consoles to read about, all of which are on display on the wall.

Stage 3, “Third Party” showcases a number of the third party titles that helped consoles excel with the public. Pitfall, which is playable in the exhibit, Stampede, Megamania, River Raid are on display in their original boxes in a display case while some notable Nintendo entries from Activision share the bottom shelf of the display with Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, Rampage, and more.

Stage 4, “Control” is, quite simply, a full wall with a history of controllers through the years. Multiple controllers from each system are displayed, as well as a disassembled Atari 5200 controller.

Stage 5, “Portable” explores portable games. Game n’ Watch is on display, along with others that pre-dated the Game Boy most think of when “portable gaming” is mentioned.

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Again, there are playable games set up here as well. However, one of the most notable items features in this display is the Barbie Edition Game Boy, which is an unreleased prototype Game Boy Pocket. Supposedly the deal never went through and only two of the systems, along with a gaudy carry case, were made.

Stage 6, “Crash” is ironically my favorite exhibit, despite its dark days in gaming history. It deals with the video game crash of 1983. The first thing I liked was the introduction plaque does detail that the cause of the crash is much more complicated than the simple examples often cited, but not without being self aware of these rumors. Poor E.T. still appears in the stage’s image, even though it’s acknowledged the game was not the cause.

What I really liked about this exhibit, though, was the “going out of business” store front. With various 80s items such as Pac Man trading cards and bubble gum under the glass, a Top 5 sign for the week’s hottest games (which includes E.T., I might add), and a sign indicating the store is going out of business, it’s a very nicely done presentation.

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I promise I was also NOT the cause of the crash.

Stage 7, “Rise” presents the return of video games, stronger than ever, on both computer and with the Nintendo Entertainment System. A lot, and I do mean a lot, of set ups are here to play and interact with.

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At this point, as you venture through the museum, you’ll find the bathrooms. Not exactly something you’d think worth mentioning, but this is the NATIONAL VIDEOGAME MUSEUM, so of course the bathroom entries are worth mentioning with their clever indication of “Men’s” and “Women’s” signs.

 

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Women’s

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Men’s

Stage 8, “Create” presents games moving from just being games and actually involving the user in the creative process. Games like Mario Paint are on display, but I wasn’t able to spend much time hands on (there were a lot of people here, remember?).

Stage 9, “Invent” presents a theoretical game studio’s office. Games adorn the shelves, a PC and work station are present, various articles and news clippings are framed on the walls.

Stage 10, “Transmit” discusses the rise of online gaming with various Blizzard entries, Quake, and two terminals that visitors can use to communicate and send a webcam image to each other on either side of the exhibit with.

Stage 11, “Listen” details music coming into games more with entries such as Parappa the Rapper and, of course, Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution.

Stage 12, “Unplugged” is likely to surprise many visitors with the various board games that were released based on video game properties. Frogger, Q*bert, Pac-Man, Legend of Zelda, and more are all on display.

Across from “Unplugged” is an exhibit showcasing various items. Systems, the Pokemon series, rare and valuable games, this section is an eclectic mix of things that didn’t belong to a single exhibit, but are definitely fun to look at.

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Before venturing to the next stage, there’s also an exhibit with various pieces of merchandise, including the wearable Mega Man helmet.

Stage 13, “Family” accurately portrays a family living room from the 1980s, with a console hooked up for play on the television, a fake plant, wood panel walls, and a Dogs Playing Poker painting on the wall! There are even family photos on display.

Stage 14, “Sanctuary” depicts a teen’s bedroom. Bear in mind, the NVM is in Frisco, Tx, so if you aren’t a Cowboys and Rangers fan, forgive the decor!

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A Pac-Man throw pillow, 80s movie posters, a record playing 80s music, and a Mario phone. It’s worth noting that the visitor I caught in this picture….still had trouble with the NES Zapper hitting the ducks in Duck Hunt.

Stage 15, “Respect” isn’t an exhibit so much as an art display. A cube art mural of Ralph Baer hangs near the conclusion of the museum tour.

Stage 16, “Bonus” is a collection of framed posters, displays, arcade machines, and a life size statue of Gabriel Belmont. Along the wall next to Stage 16 are a line of consoles, all of which had someone playing them. I did get to finally play a bit of Bonk’s Adventure on Turbo Grafx-16, though. Above the consoles is a mural with a number of recognizable video game characters.

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Stage 16 leads to an 80s style arcade to conclude the tour of the National Videogame Museum. The lights are dark and lit more by the neon marquees and the screens of video games than overhead light and it was packed with a person on just about every cabinet. A machine is in the arcade to give tokens for dollar bills in case your 4 tokens from entry aren’t enough to get your gaming fix.

Finally, you exit the arcade to find yourself in the gift shop. I didn’t look at everything, but overall they had some cool items in there. Some books particularly caught my eye and they were all priced reasonably compared to Amazon.

I’ve gone on for over 1700 words about this museum and don’t think I’ve scratched describing it. I was hopeful for this endeavor after visiting the “History of Videogames” exhibit at the Experience Music Project museum in Seattle, WA, but this is far beyond what was presented there.

The one thing I’d like to see NVM add if they are ever able to expand in size is to build a display library for every system. The curators, I believe, have only brought out a small part of their overall collection. I would love to see a glass display shelving every Atari or NES title in their boxes. In time, seeing every video game on every system lined up on shelves, their spines facing out would be truly a sight to see.

If conclusion, if you’re in the DFW area in Texas and have time to get to Frisco, the National Videogame Museum is well worth your time. I only had a couple of hours available and don’t feel like it was remotely enough time. I’m looking forward to going back with friends when they come into town, but I might have to sneak an extra trip before they make it.

My only hope is that they get repeat business and are able to stay open for a long time to come. Video games have become a huge part of our culture, both in America and across the globe, and it’s great to see a museum preserving and sharing their history.

 

Backlog Review: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

It’s been almost a year since Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag released and I just recently got around to playing it.  I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who, like me, have a bit of a back log of games to play (My back log is dozens if not 100 games across all systems).  I’m actually happy Dragon Age Inquisition is delayed until November.  It gives me just a little more time to catch up on a few games, not to mention Final Fantasy XIV should be letting me play ninja by then.

That said, I have to say AC IV: Black Flag is pretty fun.  I know there are detractors out there who don’t like the Assassin’s Creed series coming out annually with pretty much the same gameplay with a few additions here and there.  Honestly it doesn’t bother me too much.  The formula works well enough, so I don’t feel it’s necessary to reinvent the wheel with each game.  Using the same basic formula with a few new bells and whistles here and there is perfectly fine by me if the story is good and the game play is fun.  After all, Mega Man did alright coming out on an annual basis (with an extra year between a couple of them).

The sailing feature from Assassin’s Creed III proved popular so Ubisoft built ACIV around it even more.  I actually enjoyed it in III and it’s still fun in Black Flag.  There’s no shortage of things to do outside of the main story as well.  With treasures spread about the Caribbean, buried treasure to find, a ship to upgrade, equipment to upgrade with crafting, and a home base to upgrade similar to past games, there’s a lot of things to spend your time on.  I haven’t used the Fast Travel option much since it’s fulfilling enough to choose plenty of extra stops on the way to the next main mission.  And of course there are always ships to come across to attack and pillage for loot.  The life of a pirate, yo ho.

Combat hasn’t gotten a real upgrade, mostly the same as we’ve seen before.  I have to say it’s enjoyable to see a dual wielding character this time, though. The new animations are fun to watch that movie-inspired swashbuckling flair.

I’m not too far through the story, but I do like the slight change. Edward Kenway is not an Assassin nor a Templar. He is truly just a pirate, though he’s gotten mixed up in the plot of Templar vs Assassin.  Granted, this does raise the question of how he seems to have all the Assassins’ skill set without any training, but let’s just let that slide for game play sake.  I’ve been told by a friend the story is a bit weaker than the others and seems it could be a bit shorter.  I am a bit unclear on why they decided to call it Assassin’s Creed IV rather than only the subtitle “Black Flag” since it seems like the game is more of a resolution of AC III tying up some plot threads.  The main character is the grandfather of Connor and outside of Edward’s story the Abstergo Entertainment plot seems to be tying up the last of Desmond’s story.  In contrast, we have Assassin’s Creed: Unity coming out this year, not Assassin’s Creed V: Unity.

Overall, if you enjoyed past Assassin’s Creed games, I think you’ll enjoy Black Flag.  If you haven’t played any of the Assassin’s Creed games, Black Flag isn’t a bad one to hop into since there’s not as much intertwined back story from previous games to worry about too much.  Set sails on the open seas and live the life of a pirate.  Drink up, me hearties, yo ho!

Xbox One Error: Leveraging Lara Croft against Nathan Drake

Microsoft dropped a bit of a bombshell on everyone at Gamescom this year when they announced Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider sequel ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’ would be an exclusive release on Xbox One.  Gamers predictably reacted less than unanimously in favor of Microsoft’s announcement.  Why would gamers be upset?  Isn’t console exclusive titles par for the course?  Well, yes and no.  There’s a few reasons this was a bad move for Crystal Dynamics but equally bad for Microsoft.

For the week of August 9th, VGChartz has PS4 sales at 9.4 million units (though Sony stated at Gamescom it has sold over 1- million now) against the 5.1 million units Xbox One has sold.  For that same week, not a single Xbox One title appeared on the global top 10 software chart.  To be fair, PS4 only had one title, but it was #1 with ‘The Last of Us Remastered.’  PS4 is doubling Xbox One sales globally and even outselling the console in the US, which has traditionally been Xbox One faithful as it’s Microsoft’s home turf.  In fact, more than a few weeks, even the WiiU has sold more units globally than Xbox One.

It’s clear Microsoft is feeling the need to lock in some major titles and gain some ground in the latest round of the “console wars” and it’s looking for a strong system seller to help gain that ground.  WiiU has seen a surge after E3 with some strong titles announced and Mario Kart’s release for the system.  It’s no secret that a handful of strong games can really move systems.  However, Rise of the Tomb Raider is not the game that can launch Xbox One back into the game with a vengeance.  In fact, I think the announcement further hurt Microsoft.

Microsoft has erred and made misstep after misstep since Xbox One was revealed.  With the unveiling spending the vast majority of their time talking about television connections that many users outside the US would be unable to benefit from, television productions they’d be working on with Steven Spielberg, and sports sports sports (that gamers outside the US wouldn’t really care about), Microsoft concluded the system’s unveiling leaving gamers vocal about feeling left out in the cold as an afterthought.  It didn’t help that there were features announced that made gamers very uncomfortable.  No more used games and a heavy handed DRM policy set the Interwebz ablaze with outrage over Microsoft trying to control gamers and dictate how much they actually owned what they purchased.

E3 came around and it was time for Microsoft to right the ship and get gamers back on their side. Instead, they continued to insist their vision was the future of gaming and their system was designed with their vision in mind.  Angry Joe even asked Major Nelson directly about turning off some of these features and was told with quite certainty that it wasn’t so easy to just deactivate these systems.  The Kinect would be always on, you had to be always connected or at least check in once per day for your games to function, there would be no disc after installation and used games would not be an option unless possibly paying for an activation code which rumors had spread of costing almost as much as a new game.  Microsoft tried to promote the idea of sharing one’s games with friends so friends didn’t have to buy it, but full explanation of this feature, which some believed to be a glorified demo program, was never given.

Some gamers defended Microsoft, pointing to Steam and its frequent sales (which will bleed you dry faster than buying new games because, honestly, how do you say no to some of those deals?) as an example of what Microsoft was trying to do.  The problem, however, is Microsoft never indicated anything of the sort.  And therein lies the problem with Microsoft’s build up to the launch of the Xbox One: they had the most disastrous public relations team in recent memory.  It wasn’t necessarily that their plans were bad, but their legal caution and double speak, their reluctance to commit to answering gamers’ biggest concerns and questions, and their overall attitude that they knew what gamers wanted more than gamers came off extremely arrogant and seeming like they were hiding something.  There was no sense of a clear vision and a road map into the future they were wanting to go towards that they were willing to share.  And that makes people nervous.

Jump ahead more than a year later and Microsoft walked right into the same scenario with this announcement for Rise of the Tomb Raider.  They announced it was going to be released exclusive to Xbox One in holiday 2015.  People were stunned and confused.  Tomb Raider was, and has always been, and multi-platform title. The original Tomb Raider was on Playstation and PC.  Later games were on PS2 and Xbox.  PS3 and Xbox 360.  And most all of them on PC.  The Tomb Raider reboot was on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC and the Definitive Edition sold on PS4 more than 2:1 against Xbox One sales.  Yet Microsoft was announcing that they had struck a deal with Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix to make the sequel exclusive to their system in 2015.

Gamers have become a savvy bunch and they, and gaming press, were quick to latch on to Microsoft being careful to include “holiday 2015” or just “2015” in their comments about the exclusivity.  It became frustrating, however, when they were asked directly if this was a timed exclusive and Microsoft representatives would only repeat the press release lines of “exclusive to Xbox One in holiday 2015.”  It was the same “something to hide” sensation they had given with E3 the previous year.  Eventually, a few days later, Microsoft would acknowledge they didn’t have an exclusive deal in perpetuity, but gamers were already irritated with the announcement.  Even Xbox faithfuls in some forums were baffled by the decision and many simply felt it wasn’t right to take a multi-platform game and lock the sequel into an exclusive agreement, though many on both sides were willing to grumpily accept it as a timed exclusive.

Needless to say, many gamers were upset with Microsoft over this situation and I don’t really think it was entirely the exclusivity.  That was a large part of it, for sure.  PS4 owners bought a lot more copies of the Definitive Edition than Xbox One owners and their reward was “sorry, you can’t have the sequel” from what the initial announcement indicated.  It gave the impression that Microsoft was not willing to invest in developing games so much as throwing money at developers to try and buy their way to victory.  It just felt like a cheap shot, or as most comments I read put it “a dick move.”

I can’t help but wonder, though, if Microsoft would have come out better in the whole deal if they would have just come clean and been up front and honest out of the gate.  Announce that holiday 2015 would see Rise of the Tomb Raider release first on Xbox One as a holiday exclusive and leave it at that, perhaps throw in a tongue in cheek remark about Lara having teamed with Xbox One to show “that other guy” how adventuring is done.  It was made pretty clear this was their way of competing with Uncharted, why not just admit that in a smile and wink kind of way?

Sony has really excelled with their marketing and PR this generation.  They’ve joined the gamers in taking shots at their competition, though I think Sony does it far more playfully than their fans tend to.  He took a shot at Square Enix saying they wanted Tomb Raider to be uncharted – not on the charts – by limiting it to the smaller installation base.  He took a shot at his own company saying he thought they were revealing nine PS Vita games at Gamescom, but it was actually nein.  He even recently commented on twitter that PSN had released “PSN Outage: Remastered” as the remaster of the 2011 network issues “in glorious HD” with the DDOS attacks PSN suffered this weekend.  Some may find it to be taking issues too lightly or attacking his competition, but I think it’s gone a long way to make Sony feel like “one of us” among gamers while Microsoft has come across more and more as the greedy corporation that cares about money instead of making fun games.

Regardless of Microsoft’s strategy and the public’s perception of them with Xbox One, Rise of the Tomb Raider is not a system seller.  Sony has been pushing to present major announcements and exclusives to their system.  Bloodborne, The Order, Uncharted are all Playstation exclusives.  They revealed the Hideo Kojima/Guillermo del Toro Silent Hills project with a playable teaser available for download at announcement.  They’re still presenting themselves as a huge partner to indie developers.  They’re coming across as a company that has learned from past mistakes and understand what gamers want.  Microsoft seems like they’ve lost sight of their system as a gaming console in their push for all-in-one entertainment.

I’ve admittedly never been an Xbox fan and I’ve always felt Microsoft has made a chief focus of their strategy to be “throw money at it until we win,” so this feels like more of the same, but that doesn’t make me feel justified or righteous for my opinion on them.  A weak Xbox One will likely lead to a complacent PS4, just as a strong Xbox 360 forced a struggling PS3 to step up what it had to offer.  The disappointing thing in this is they’ve recently announced lay offs and their forecast for original IPs exclusive to their system remain slim.  Microsoft needs to put their money into some system exclusive games that are new for them rather than paying off third parties for limited time sequel exclusives.

Essentially, Microsoft needs to find the right developer or do it in-house and find their Mario Kart 8.

Watch Dogs – Completed and Reviewed

So I finally put the time in to play through Watch Dogs on Playstation 4.  I didn’t want to review it before playing through the whole thing and I have to say despite the multitude of complaints levied against the game, I particularly enjoyed it.  It’s not flawless and some of the complaints are valid, but the game was fun for me.

I’ll agree with the complaints I’ve read about Aiden Pearce himself.  Ubisoft didn’t do the greatest job in presenting him and fleshing out his motivations.  His main story makes sense; he and his partner ran into trouble on a heist and got caught, someone sent a hit crew after him who inadvertently killed his niece and he’s been trying to track down who was responsible.  That makes sense for the main story pursuing that end, but it doesn’t really explain why he became the vigilante taking down criminals around Chicago.  Why does a criminal turn vigilante to stop muggings around the city?  We never really find out.

I also felt like Pearce wasn’t given enough room to develop beyond the gruff vigilante. He shows almost no emotion.  When his sister and nephew get mixed up, his nephew learns the truth of his extra activities, or tragedy strikes in the story, he doesn’t seem to be terribly affected. No tears or anything.  We see that he has some self loathing in blaming himself for his niece’s death, but not much more other than his quest for justice/vengeance.

If you’re creating your own Batman emulating hero, you should really put more into his motivations as a whole.

Other complaints I’ve seen have been directed towards the handling of the cars, the open world being boring, the missions being unoriginal, and the game being overall repetitive in main mission and side missions.  I’d seen some complaints about lacking options as well, particularly claiming that the game gives you no options other than shooting up everything that opposes you.

I admit I’ve not played much of the games in similar style. Grand Theft Auto was never my genre, though I played True Crimes on PS2 and I’m not a racing game enthusiast.  I didn’t find much particularly troublesome with the driving. Once I got the hang of it, I enjoyed flying through Chicago streets, hitting turns in slides and even spinning around to head back the way I came during chases.

As for boring, unoriginal, and repetitive aspects of the game, I can see the complaint.  I found enjoyment by mixing up what I did from main story to gang infiltration and chasing down the side investigations.  I’m willing to accept these complaints for now and hope Watch Dogs is a form of investment and Watch Dogs 2 will be the return on that investment much as Assassin’s Creed II was such an improvement over Assassin’s Creed (which was far more repetitive with dull side objectives than Watch Dogs).  What Ubisoft has at the core of the game is fantastic and some improvements can make the sequel a real gem.

I don’t feel like the game forced you into shoot outs, though.  I felt like the game actually gives you a great range of choice there.  My friend approached the game like the Punisher, even telling me to get the grenade launcher as soon as possible as it was “the great equalizer.”  On the other hand, I rarely drew any gun through my entire play through, despite unlocking all of them.  Every mission, every gang hideout infiltration, I made judicious use of the tools and the environment.  I tried to handle missions by getting in and out unseen as much as possible.  There’s some real satisfaction in taking out an entire gang of enemies without firing a shot and only directly attacking a single one.

Overall, I liked Watch Dogs and, while some sections felt unnecessary, and a few key plot points seemed to end more abruptly than I’d have liked (or weren’t explored as well as I’d like), I think some changes could really make the game better.

As I finished Act I, I started looking at what could be unlocked through side missions.  I saw the Vespid LE which had resemblance to the Dodge Charger from finding all the burner phones around the city.  Burner phones…Dodge Charger….Burn Notice reference?  Once I made that connection, I started realizing the game has a rather strong Burn Notice “feel” to the whole game.  With Aiden still continuing to be the vigilante “the fox” at the end of the game, stating he will continue to watch, protect and, if necessary, punish, I assume he is likely the intended protagonist for the sequel.

If that’s the case, I think Ubisoft should spend some time looking at Burn Notice for further inspiration.  Having Aiden still working from the bunker as the vigilante, but coming across people that need help, contacts or even friends coming across people needing help and having missions with purpose unrelated to one another with an overarching story building up towards the end.  A twitter message from the Watch Dogs account has noted high crime cities are increasing surveillance and Camden, New Jersey had the highest crime rate in 2012.  Perhaps T-Bone calls Aiden in for help on a job and the reputation of “the fox” has spread to other cities?  This approach of actually helping people needing it would also allow for some additional variety in mission objectives to scare or influence enemies rather than always taking them out.  Speaking of scared enemies, shouldn’t some of them turn tail when things are exploding and bullets start flying? Some even say “I don’t wanna go out like this” so why don’t some of them do something to ensure that?

It might be worth considering adding more of a difference in the game depending how you approach with power vs finesse, going in guns blazing or going for minimal casualties.  Since I’ve already touted support of Burn Notice influence, add more gadgets and more ways to handle situations outside of blowing up or shooting enemies with the environment since “Guns make you stupid; better to fight your wars with duct tape. Duct tape makes you smart.”  In other words, creative ways to bring down enemies other than shooting them would be nice, more than just blowing up fuse boxes, panels, and grenades the enemies are carrying.  Though, sure, once in a while a gun fight with properly placed explosives are absolutely fun too.

They should definitely tweak the way the world interacts with your actions and how the UI reacts.  I had a few too many situations where I’d stop a crime just after a gunshot went off and the police would respond to the call and bee-line for me guns blazing in the opposite corner of where the shots were fired.  It would be more fun if they swarmed the area in force and you had to sneak past their dragnet.  On the other hand, there were times I had to wonder where the police were after a gunfight and explosions.  And to top it off, why do the police seem willing to ignore the gang bangers firing automatic weapons at them to chase me down because I was leaving the area?  Tweak the AI to end the “psychic cop syndrome.”

Since Watch Dogs has such a healthy dose of Assassin’s Creed to it, I’m hoping we see the bunker, or whatever other HQ, built up over time with upgrades to the HQ available.  Likewise, I think you should be able to set some choices and customize the cars a bit.  I do enjoy a sleek black car fulfilling the sense of having my hacker-mobile emulating Batman, so the random colors Jordi supplies you with can be a bit hit or miss.  Having the ability to customize the cars would be nice to have your preference in looks and performance with some give and take.  Add speed, lower handling, etc.

All in all, I think Watch Dogs was a fine start for the series and I thought it looked okay, but I agree even the PS4, based on what other games are showing, seems like it should have been able to come closer to 2012 E3’s graphics, if not right on them (and yes, PC will always have the highest potential for graphics).  I think it’s worth playing through if you like this type of game and there’s plenty of side things to do to spend some time here and there.  Hopefully, though, the sequel will show some real improvements much like Assassin’s Creed saw with its sequel.

Amazing Spider-Man 2; Good, but not Amazing (Spoiler Free)

Fair warning, I say “spoiler free” but there are two minor spoilers regarding what I’d say is more of an Easter egg than a plot point.

I saw Amazing Spider-Man 2 on opening night, or apparently on preview night as the showings prior to midnight are apparently called, and while I’ve seen a lot of people hated the movie, I really enjoyed it.  Is it one of the best comic book movies? Probably not. Is it the worst? Absolutely not.  It’s a good movie, it’s fun, and it’s the best version of Spider-Man himself on film thus far.

The first thing I knew from the trailer proved to be accurate; I love the costume.  They finally managed to bring the classic Spider-Man costume to screen in complete accuracy (well, except the stylized spider emblem, but I’ll forgive that).  It looks like cloth, it folds and creases with his movements, it ripples in the wind as he’s free falling, and it looks fantastic with the large white eyes. Hopefully they don’t try to tweak the costume going forward and they just keep this one from here on out.

Seriously, it looks really freakin' awesome.

Seriously, it looks really freakin’ awesome.

Peter Parker is well presented as well, his inner conflict, his hesitation to get close to people out of concern for them, but unable to stay away because he genuinely cares for people.  This is also the semi absent-minded Peter that will ramble a bit before realizing his surroundings when he’s excited or upset.  Honestly, I think Andrew Garfield nailed both Peter and Spider-Man in this film.  He’s got Peter’s emotional anguish as well as his compassion, but foremost, he just seems like a fun Spider-Man.  Cracking jokes, making quips at the expense of his enemies, even just sort of talking to himself while he’s web swinging.

Emma Stone still plays a fantastic Gwen Stacy and the relationship between her and Peter is still perfect on screen. Aunt May is good, though I still can’t quite get over her still having color to her hair, but she’s definitely the caring aunt who still worries but also has her own strength (as she should be).  The only supporting cast member we haven’t seen that I am still looking forward to is J. Jonah Jameson, though I wonder if they’re delaying to set themselves apart from Raimi’s trilogy or if they can’t decide on an actor.  Minor, very minor, spoiler: Jameson does “appear” in the movie in the form of an e-mail response to Peter who is starting to freelance photos for the Bugle.  Personally, I don’t care that it’s a new continuity, I want J.K. Simmons to reprise the role.

Now for the reason the movie was good and not great.  The villains.  Electro is perfectly adapted to screen in terms of his powers and the visual portrayal of them. The fight with Spider-Man is pretty cool and seeing him at full power “living electricity” Electro is pretty cool (unless you’re a purist who wanted the Earth 616 Electro, but remember the movies are, like Marvel Studios films, largely influenced by Ultimate Universe of the comics).  The problem with Electro was Max Dillon.  I don’t fault Jaimie Foxx for a bad performance so much as the writers.  It just felt like he had poor motivation for becoming a villain against Spider-Man.  I kind of dug the origin of him being a nobody that everyone overlooks. Electro has always been a second rate villain in the eyes of many of the rogues’ gallery in the comics and he’s often had stories where his goal is to prove himself a legitimate power player as much as accomplishing whatever scheme he has in the works, so the basic premise of his arc was fine.  It’s just that the build up just seems decent, then the “moment” of going rogue seems fairly forced.

It also felt like the music for Electro’s first fight had this sort of “hearing voices” effect to it, which I felt seemed off for Electro, particularly in a movie with Green Goblin, who is supposed to pretty much be outright insane.  Speaking of Goblin, he also didn’t have the greatest development. Harry had a much better motivation as a foundation for his actions, but it still felt a bit rushed.  I think I also missed a single line that explained why Harry decided to put on the military suit thing that goes with the glider after becoming Goblin.  No spoilers, so I won’t go into detail there.

I will say I didn’t care for Goblin overall, though. It’s one thing I really don’t like from Ultimate Universe being used in film. I really want to see Norman Osborn, completely batty out of his mind, dressed up like a fairy tale goblin with green and purple.  It’s not like it has to be total spandex. Green Goblin has had enough iterations that his traditional look should be able to be pulled off instead of some quasi-pseudo-military/paintball suit.  There are plenty of versions of Osborn’s Goblin costume that has a bit of a scale mail design to it, so I’m just not clear on why they can’t go with that for a movie.

Because this could actually look cool on film

Because this could actually look cool on film

Instead we keep getting all green robo-suits for some reason. Osborn, either Harry or Norman, is crazy as a loon. There’s really no reason someone that far off their rocker couldn’t rationally, in their mind, dress up like this actual goblin to terrorize people and Spider-Man.  On top of that, is it just me or does Dane DeHaan look more like he’s supposed to be Hobgoblin than Green Goblin?

Looks more like Hobgoblin to me.

Looks more like Hobgoblin to me.

Add to the rushed, rather weak, development of the villains with a terribly short fight against Green Goblin and you’ve got a rather disappointing film in terms of villains.  There’s also Rhino, who is really used more as a set up to lead into the Sinister Six film, or Amazing Spider-Man 3 (I’m not sure which they plan on doing first), which Paul Giomatti seems underutilized for.  Mickey Rourke seems like he would have been a better choice after his role as Whiplash to play the Russian Rhino.

All in all, I still enjoyed the film. I know critics hated it, though the review I read from a critic seemed overly critical to me, even suggesting that the movies staying true to their source material is a detriment because it takes away some possible surprises.  Critics aren’t comic book fans, it seems.  I don’t know of any fan who WANTS the movies deviating from the source material.  A Spider-Man movie where Gwen and Peter move to Europe and live happily ever after isn’t what fans are looking for.  We want to see our comic stories brought to life and while I’ll agree adaptation does not mean scene by scene replication, the general direction of the films should be true to their origins.

"I would look across the tables and I'd see you there with Gwen, maybe a couple of kids" --wait, wrong movie!

“I would look across the tables and I’d see you there with Gwen, maybe a couple of kids” –wait, wrong movie!

 

Honestly, though, my favorite addition to the Amazing Spider-Man trilogy came in the form of Norman, then Harry’s, personal assistant at Oscorp.  A pretty raven haired young woman by the name of, spoiler, Felicia.  I’ll leave you to guess her last name, which is not stated nor listed in the credits, but I think we all know what the plan is for her.  I think it would be interesting for Peter to have an ally in ASM 3 myself.

Now, that said, I spent a bit of time playing The Amazing Spider-Man 2 game on Playstation 4 today as well.  Honestly, it seems like it would have been a better overall script, but you’d need a lot more time, even trimming it down from game length.  I’m well into it and dealing with a gang war, Russian mafia, Kinpin’s presence, and Kraven the Hunter thus far as an ally and I’ve only met Max Dillon once.  I’m interested to see how they develop Dillon into Electro in the game’s story, which may be able to flesh him out further than the film.  He just seemed so sniveling in the film…

The game, however, is pretty fun but nothing new.  The combat is fun, but not as sharp as the Arkham series and I’m beginning to wish, like many, that Rockstar could get a crack as Spidey since Activision seems happy to recycle every previous iteration of free roaming Spider-Man with a few tweaks.  I do like that the game finally returns to the style from Spider-Man 2’s game where you actually have left and right triggers for web swinging. If there’s a building on the left, a right trigger isn’t going to do anything if it’s just open air and you can’t snag a web line to the sky.  I’m still unlocking things, so I’m not sure if it gets as detailed as Spider-Man 2, which is currently still the best free roam web swinging – being able to do different tricks while swinging and such was a nice addition.

Overall, the game doesn’t seem too ground breaking over Amazing Spider-Man, though there’s a few new random crimes to help with.  Since there’s a crime wave, I’d like to see the petty crimes getting so out of hand that there’s almost no way to manage them all and have that reflect on the city’s opinion of you.  Mostly, though, I just wish Marvel and Activision would develop a free roam Spider-Man game with a lot of thought into it and set firmly in the Marvel comics world.  Let players swing out to the Statue of Liberty and hang out with Johnny Storm.  Have Wolverine cameo.  Contact the Avengers for help to find they’re off world or out of the country.  Iron Man cameo would be another nice touch (get a good Robert Downey Jr impersonator and let the game indulge our fantasy of the merged cinematic universe).  Still, if you enjoy Spider-Man games, this one doesn’t have too much to disappoint other than a general lack of new or groundbreaking features.

So far, at least the story has been interesting and Stan Lee is always a welcome addition to any game (it’s still the same “Stan” you were house sitting for in the first game, who owns a comic book store, the “Comic Stand” with the neon D burned out).  The store is where you can view the statues, comics, art, and access the fight challenges on the arcade machine. I also was amused to bring up my camera and zoom in to look over the comics on the stand, t-shirts on the walls, etc.

All in all, I’d say Amazing Spider-Man 2 is worth the look, either in theaters or on your console.