Monday, December 31, 2012

What It's Like To Buy A Game On PlayStation Network

So I bought a Vita two weeks ago and I love the thing to death. I've been having a blast with Rayman Origins, Frobisher Says!, and WipEout 2048 among other games, but really, I bought it for Lumines: Electronic Symphony.

I've been holding off on buying Lumines just in case it goes on sale during Sony's Holiday Essentials sales they've been doing, or if it gets added to the PlayStation Plus Instant Game Collection that already includes big hits like WipEout 2048 and Gravity Rush. I already have so many games to play for my Vita that waiting a few weeks seemed like a relief, honestly.

Well, here we are in the third and final week of Holiday Essentials and Lumines is finally on sale. Maybe. I think. I'm not really sure.

Here's where the confusion comes from:

The first post that announced the sale listed it as part of the last week of the Holiday Essentials promotion, giving it a sale price of $24.99 or $17.49 for Plus members. But that doesn't match up with the Holiday Essentials promotion accurately because Lumines got a price drop to $29.99 a few weeks ago. Since the Holiday sales are supposed to be 30% off normally and 50% for Plus members, the price should be $20.99 for regular members and $14.99 for Plus members, but they were using the old MSRP of $35.99. So already, there's a problem.

Then the second post comes in, this time advertising the PlayStation Plus content for the week, including the Holiday Essentials sales. This one has the same list, sans Lumines. It's just completely missing from the update. So does the sale exist or doesn't it? I asked Morgan Haro, PlayStation's Community Manager, to clear things up. He had three responses. Here's the first:

I believe Lumines may have been a typo and wasn’t part of the sale. I’ll ask that the team remove it from the Holiday Sale post. Apologies for the miscommunication there.

Okay, so that's a bummer. It's just not on sale at all. What a weird, incredibly detailed typo to make. Oh wait, hold on a second. Morgan's second response:

Actualy, [sic] correction: Lumines is sill on sale in the Holiday Sale, there just is not an extra discount for Plus members. So all should be accurate.

Wait, what? It's part of Holiday Essentials, but... not... part of Holiday Essentials? I don't really get it.

EXTRA Correction; it will still be on sale, just not part of the Holiday Sale. You’ll be able to find the discount for it under the “weekly deals’ section of the Store. Sorry, everyone is a bit on new Years [sic] break mode! =)

Okay, there we go. That's better. So it is on sale, but it's not part of Holiday Essentials and therefore, does not have an extra discount for Plus members but will be listed under the Weekly Deals section of the PlayStation Store. All right. Everything's totally clear now, right?

Not quite. Fast-forward to the third post of the day, the one explaining the PlayStation Store update for the week, including price drops, sales, special promotion, PlayStation Plus updates, everything. Ultimately, this is the post that matters. And this post doesn't mention Lumines at all. What is going on?

I logged into the PlayStation Store and checked out the Weekly Deals section and Lumines: Electronic Symphony is nowhere to be found, but Lumines Supernova is apparently on sale for $9.99. Was that the typo? Did they just totally misread which game they were putting on sale? So I looked up Electronic Symphony directly.

It's listed as $20.99, a $9 sale. That's pretty good. Given Sony's track record today, that might not be the final sale price, but I went ahead and bought it anyway. Meanwhile, there are still people in the comments of the PlayStation Store update post who are still understandably confused about whether Electronic Symphony is on sale or not.

There also appears to be some confusion over the price of Touch My Katamari and Skullgirls, but I just got out of a price discrepancy issue and don't feel like wading directly into another one, so that's somebody else's battle.

Figuring out how much Lumines: Electronic Symphony would be on sale for today (if at all) was a five-hour journey. Why was it that complicated? My best guess is to look at the authors of each post.

  1. Pierre Gravereau, Sony's Senior Manager of Digital Distribution, wrote the initial post about the Holiday Essentials sale.
  2. Morgan Haro, Community Manager of PlayStation Digital Platforms, wrote the next post, which outlined the PlayStation Plus update.
  3. Grace Chen, Director of the PlayStation Store, wrote the final post, which went over the PlayStation Store update for the week.

I'll take a wild guess and say that these three probably don't proofread each other's posts.

But they should. Straight up, this shouldn't happen. I get that it's the holidays, but it's happened before. There needs to be real coordination between the different branches of the PlayStation Network. There's no reason that three different people working at the same company should have three different answers for "is Lumines on sale?"

Regardless, I own Lumines: Electronic Symphony now and I'm pretty stoked about that, even if it did take me five hours to figure out how much it would cost.


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Review // This Is 40

It was maybe an hour and 45 minutes into This Is 40 when I thought, "Oh my god, this movie is never going to end." And I don't mean that in a funny "I'm exaggerating for effect; obviously, the movie will end" kind of way, either. I mean that I briefly considered the possibility that this purgatory of a movie would literally never end. I thought the boring lives of Debbie and (hold on a second while I look up his name) Pete had somehow turned into The Truman Show and would just keep going and I was bound to sit there forever, watching their boring, boring lives play out.

Okay, listen. That sounds pretty harsh. I didn't hate the movie. In fact, I found it pleasantly surprising for a while. I was paying attention and sitting up straight in my seat and by god, I was even laughing. The film felt on track to being perfectly adequate. It's hard to hate a movie like that. Really, it's hard to feel anything for a movie like that.

But then it just kept going and going, introducing new threads right up until the time that some beautiful person finally told Judd Apatow to end the fucking movie already, and so it just does.

There's no restraint. The movie gets bored with itself and decides to spice things up by casually trying on and discarding new plot lines like a 16-year-old girl picking an outfit for the big party at Todd's house tonight. These are the kind of plot lines that would normally get their own movie, like "a woman tries to reconnect with her biological but estranged father who has his own family," or "a man in financial straits needs to stop lending money to his lazy father who is taking advantage of him."

So the movie meanders absentmindedly from one story to the next, never really making progress anywhere, and I kept checking to see how much time had passed since I last checked. (Usually about eight minutes.)

There's too much going on, and the movie never feels enthusiastic about any of it. There's a fine premise in "Debbie and Pete come to terms with turning 40" for a comedy. It's loose enough that Apatow has plenty of room to sit back and tell jokes and get his characters in all sorts of hijinks. But when you start layering in all the other threads, like Pete's label is going out of business, and one of Debbie's employees is stealing money, and all the stuff with their parents, it chokes all the comedic potential right out of the movie.

The movie's biggest problem is Apatow's ambitious but misguided desire to make a meaningful comedy that
tries to be sad, heartfelt and funny all at once.

Think back to Superbad, inarguably Apatow's best film to date. What was the premise there? "Two friends go to a party." That's it. Apatow adds depth where it makes sense, like the fear of separation as the two deal with being accepted to different colleges, but he leaves it pretty open otherwise so he can just cram in whatever dumb, hilarious scenes he can.

It's not all bad, though. Jason Segel and Chris O'Dowd have a couple really funny scenes together addressing such hot topics as, "What is the difference between a gay man's mustache and a straight man's mustache?" and, "What the fuck is going on?"

Paul Rudd as Pete and Leslie Mann as Debbie both do a fine job, but their delivery sometimes feels jarringly unnatural, even for an Apatow comedy. The scene in the trailers where they talk about how Pete is actually "such a dick" is a good example.

The movie's biggest problem is Apatow's ambitious but misguided desire to make a meaningful comedy that tries to be sad, heartfelt and funny all at once. Funny People was good, but not nearly as funny as it should've been, and the same goes for This Is 40. Apatow throws as many attempts as he can muster at the wall to have some kind of emotional resonance that sticks, and none of them do. They just bloat an already bloated movie.

So This Is 40 ends up being not that funny, not that fun, and is so long that, for a fleeting moment, I actually thought it would never end. It has a few good laughs and is inoffensive enough that you could do worse, but I wouldn't recommend it if you have anything better to do. Seriously, anything at all.

This Is 40 / 2hr 13min / Released December 21, 2012


Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Many (Major) Missteps of Far Cry 3

I've been having a blast with Far Cry 3, but no game is perfect and neither is this one. I already covered the game's more annoying minor issues, the ones that pop up frequently but aren't that bad, really. They don't significantly detract from the quality of the game, but they're there. You can work around them, but you can't avoid them. You deal with them. They're the kind of flaws you can love the game in spite of.

But Far Cry 3 has major issues too, and they're much harder to deal with.

These are the ones that threaten to destroy all the goodwill the game builds up by being so awesome in so many other ways. These are the ones that don't just annoy; they infuriate. These are the ones that keep it from being the best game of the year.

No New Game +

Last time, I told you that I was considering starting the game over because "there's no one left to kill." I'm not going to do that anymore. Why? Because I don't want to give up all my upgraded skills from a dozen hours of earning experience points. I don't want to give up all my upgraded gear and weapons from a dozen hours of skinning the right animals and earning enough money. I don't want all the collectables to repopulate after a dozen hours of methodically hunting each down.

I don't want to start over from scratch; I just want to start over.

This might actually be the game's biggest flaw because it's literally the only thing stopping me from playing it right now. I'm out of guys to kill but I'll be damned if I'm giving up my wingsuit.

The Co-op Missions

In theory, co-op in Far Cry 3 should be a no-brainer. Just drop a few of my buddies into my world and unleash us to do whatever dumb, demented stuff comes to mind. But that would make too much sense, wouldn't it? Instead, Far Cry 3 delivers a series of claustrophobically linear, poorly designed missions that abandon literally everything good about the single-player campaign.

If you liked all the deranged, well-written characters of the story mode, that's gone. If you liked the freedom of exploring an entire island, that's gone. If you liked using all that space to pull off crazy strategies, that's gone. If you liked the interplay between nature and humanity as rampaging animals interjected into your fights, that's gone. If you liked enemies that take a realistic amount of damage, that's gone. If you liked having a mostly glitch-free and responsive experience, that's gone.

There is nothing good about Far Cry 3's co-op. It was a complete and total waste of resources.

Competitive Multiplayer

If I were to tell you to design the most cynical, creatively bankrupt multiplayer mode possible for Far Cry 3, a game otherwise brimming with imagination, what would you come up with? A progression-based Call of Duty ripoff with customizable weapons, perks, and kill streaks? Hey, what do you know? Ubisoft did too! Coincidence!

This is less offensive than the pile of filth that is the co-op mode because at least it works, but it's no less boring. There's just nothing special about it at all and I don't know why I'm supposed to play it over any of the other dozen Call of Duty clones.

I'm going to have to talk about the story in detail now, so if you haven't beaten the game yet and
don't want it spoiled, stop reading now.

The Second Half of the Game

Far Cry 3's early hours are defined by Vaas, that guy with a penchant for talking about the definition of insanity. Once he's gone, though, the game loses its magic. Hoyt, the next big bad on the roster, just can't hack it on his own and the story ends up puttering across the finish line instead of roaring. There are still a few really good moments post-Vaas, but by and large, the game gets pretty boring.

But it gets frustrating too. Even though the mechanics only get stronger the further into the game you go, the mission design gets uncharacteristically restrictive. "Here, have a scripted turret sequence," the game says dismissively. "Or I don't know, some instant-fail linear stealth missions. The kids like those, right?"

Not even a little bit, Far Cry 3. Not even a little bit.

Killing Vaas Too Early

I wasn't kidding about this one. Far Cry 3 lives and dies by Vaas. Michael Mando absolutely crushes it with his performance as Vaas with the kind of hard emotional swings at the drop of the hat that make a person truly scary. Every scene with Vaas is arresting and unsettling and terrifying in all the right ways. He's the kind of character that sticks with you for years, like Andrew Ryan or the G-Man.

Then the game tosses it all away halfway through. And for what? For Hoyt? Please. In most games, Hoyt would shine as a fun, dynamic villain more interesting than most, but next to Vaas, he's like a plank of wood with a face drawn on it.

I'm not even saying that I needed to have been Vaas the whole time or whatever. I just wanted more Vaas.

And that's it — between this article and the last one, that's everything I don't like about Far Cry 3. I wouldn't care enough to list it all out like this if I didn't love the game so much. It does so much right that the things it does wrong stick out that much more, and this is just a way to process it all.

Seriously, Far Cry 3 is a wonderful game. Go play it if you haven't already.


Friday, December 21, 2012

So I Bought A Vita

Yep. I saw this very quickly turning into a PSP situation for me, where I just kept putting it off and putting it off, waiting for it to drop in price to a comfortable level for so long that eventually I realized I'd may as well just wait for the Vita to come out.

But Sony's strategy of continually giving away Vita versions of PS3 games for free and extending PlayStation Plus to Vita at no extra cost is nothing short of brilliant. I didn't even realize how many Vita games I already own until recently, and that's ultimately what pushed me over the edge.

So I bit the bullet and got the Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified bundle, not because I wanted Call of Duty but because I figured I could just trade it in to GameStop and get a game I'm actually interested in.

I've been messing around with it for a few days now, and here's what I think so far:

  • I'm way too OCD for screen protectors. I spent literally an hour and a half putting this one on because there's a bubble in the top-left corner that doesn't affect anything except that it's driving me insane.
  • The Vita is a super slick device. Everything from how gorgeous the screen looks to how responsive the touch controls work is really impressive.
  • The way the Welcome Park application turns teaching you all the features of the Vita into a set of time trials is cool, but now I'm going to end up spending all my time in Welcome Park obsessing over getting my times down instead of playing actual Vita games. I will become the greatest Welcome Park player in the world.
  • It astounds me that the Facebook application is so bad when the Twitter application is so good.
  • I had fun playing some of Rayman Origins on PS3, but eventually it lost me. After playing the demo of it on Vita, it seems pretty clear that this is the place to play it. It is so goddamn good-looking.
  • Seriously, I cannot get over how awesome the screen is. I keep having to wipe my own drool from it.

  • Waking up and playing PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale without leaving my bed is great, but I'm pretty sure it means I'm never going to be able to get up and get ready for work on time again.
  • Also: in my first match online in the Vita version of All-Stars, I was playing against a Big Daddy and a Good Cole. Big Daddy and I were matching each other kill for kill and went into 4x Overtime, but I finally pulled ahead by a mile so he quit just before the match ended to nullify it. Seriously? Just take the loss, dude.
  • The analog sticks are pretty disappointing. They're too small and too sensitive, so I feel like there's no finesse to them. I'm finding myself naturally using the Vita's stellar D-pad whenever I can instead.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified is an abomination. There's no story mode, just a series of missions with boring cut scenes before each. But the controls are so awkward even with two analog sticks and brain dead AI that I can't even make it past the first mission. And yet, in my first and only online match, I went 20:4 because everyone else was having more trouble than me.
  • Declassified doesn't even come with a box, presumably out of spite to make sure I can't trade it in for as much.
  • Frobisher Says is a delightfully weird WarioWare-esque palette cleanser after suffering through as much Declassified as I can take for one day.
  • I just can't wait for my 32GB memory card to get here. Right now I'm trying to avoid playing too many games knowing that I'll have to transfer it all over to the bigger card soon, but good lord I cannot wait to jump into Lumines: Electronic Symphony.

So far, I really, really like the Vita. I can definitely tell why people would be bored with it by now if they bought it at launch, but for me, there's so much I want to play that I can't imagine being bored with it for a very long time.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Many (Minor) Missteps of Far Cry 3

Guys, I'm hooked on Far Cry 3. Seriously, somebody pull me away from this thing. I've beaten the story, cleared out all the outposts, and collected all the relics, letters, and memory cards. And now I'm considering starting it all over again because there's no one left to kill.

But when you spend this much time with a game, you really start to notice all the minor flaws. After spending dozens of hours running, swimming, gliding, spelunking, and parachuting over every inch of Rook Island, I'm starting to notice the seams.

Even great games have little niggling issues, and this one is no different. They don't detract significantly from the overall experience, but they're there nonetheless. Here are all the things that have been bugging me while playing Far Cry 3.

Constant Notifications

Every time you pick up a relic. Every time you pick up a letter. Every time you pick up a memory card. Every time you fill up your loot rucksack. Every time you get a skill point. Every time there's a new objective. Every time you harvest a new plant. Every time you skin a new animal. Every time you meet a new person. Every time you go to a new location, drive a new vehicle, or use a new weapon.

Far Cry 3 is always bugging you to read something, manage something, or spend something, and it all totally breaks the flow. I don't care about the description of a bear while it's mauling me. I don't care about the description of a hibiscus flower when I'm just trying to make a healing syringe in the middle of a firefight. And good lord, I don't care about the descriptions of any of the relics ever because they're all the same description.

There's no option to turn any of it off (yet) so for right now, you'll just have to endure all the nagging pop-ups.

Mountain Climbing

How am I even supposed to scale this? I'll tell you how: by going all the way around and finding the developer-designated pathway up. Sometimes you can finesse your way up by continually sprinting and jumping, but it feels really clunky and you might end up sliding all the way down to the bottom.

For a game that gives you easy access to cars, ATVs, jet skis, hang gliders, infinite parachutes, and eventually a badass wingsuit, it feels a little prudish that you don't just have a grappling hook or some climbing pickaxes.

Context-Sensitive Buttons

In the middle of a chaotic firefight, this can mean a swift (and frustrating) death. Sometimes, when I'm low on health and I start holding triangle, the game thinks I'm trying to switch weapons. Sometimes, it decides that I didn't actually want it to do anything at all, that I just wanted it to know I'm still here. But no, game, I'm trying to hurry up and start the long heal animation so I don't die.

It's even worse in co-op and multiplayer where you'll launch into a reload animation instead of reviving a downed teammate and end up dying yourself as you just stand there over your friend like an idiot, reloading.

Lack Of Healing Options

In Far Cry 3, you heal yourself with medical syringes you craft from specific green plants you can harvest around the island. If you don't have any syringes, you'll launch into a painful-looking animation like the one above.

Now, when I'm embroiled in a hectic shootout with a dozen guys and a tiger on a burning hilltop, I don't mind burning one of my syringes to heal quickly and get back in the game. But when I'm alone and safe and have plenty of time for a long animation, I shouldn't have to waste a syringe.

For whatever reason, the medical syringes are the only type mapped to a face button instead of to a customizable spot on the directional pad. Two spots are reserved for your camera and for rocks. If I want to, I should have the option to swap one of them out for a medical syringe, which would make healing in a pinch easier and would allow me to heal manually outside of combat.

The Frame Rate

I'm playing the PlayStation 3 version of Far Cry 3, and for as fun and engaging as it is, it's not so hot on the technical side. After you've seen how gorgeous and smooth the PC version is, it's hard to look at the console versions the same way.

I can deal with a game having a paltry presentation because it needed to simplify geometry and remove effects to maintain a smooth frame rate, but Far Cry 3 on consoles doesn't have a smooth frame rate. Mind you, it's not nearly as bad as the atrocious Assassin's Creed III, but it still holds the game back.

Far Cry 3 makes some pretty major missteps too, and I'll be covering those as well, but these minor ones are what stick with me because they're always there. It's unfortunate that the game has these little flaws here and there, but it's still a fantastic experience overall.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

I Can't Even Tell What Dead Space 3's Monsters Are Anymore

Before Dead Space came out, I loved watching the developer diaries that came out because it showed just how much thought and care was being put into it. They'd talk about how the designs for the Necromorphs told a grotesque story of pain: bodies twisting, bones breaking, skin tearing. And that story was what made them so terrifying. You could see how the transformation happened just by looking at them, and that was my favorite part.

Now let's watch the new trailer for Dead Space 3:


Let's just ignore how tonally different it feels from Dead Space for a minute. Let's ignore how it feels claustrophobic not from tight, dangerous corridors where you're never more than a few feet from a monster viciously stalking you, but from too many people, too much dialogue, and too much story. Let's even ignore how the power dynamic has shifted from the first game's trailers that simply showed all the gruesome ways Isaac can die to all the empowering ways Isaac (and Carver) can kill.

Let's instead focus on what the hell was that?

Seriously, just look at this thing:

What is that? I mean, I guess it used to be a baby judging by the size, but what was the transformation process? Did it just get overtaken by black goo like in Spider-Man 3 and have an allergic reaction on its back? Does it feed through the top of the baby's skull now? What?

Or this:

I don't even know what I'm looking at anymore. I don't even know which direction this thing is pointing. How can I possibly be scared or grossed out by it if I can't even tell what it is? It's just some dumb mass of flesh.

And check this guy out:

Okay, this is just getting embarrassing. The guy looks like he fell out of a PlayStation-era Resident Evil. Is he seriously holding a pickaxe? They don't even use pickaxes anymore in Dead Space; that's what plasma cutters are for. And why are his eyes glowing? Ooooooh, scary. I'm shaking in my zero-gravity boots.

Remember in the first game when you watch the body of the Ishimura's captain get turned and you witness firsthand exactly how the Necromorphs are made? Remember all the care that was put into the opening scene of the second game where a guy gets transformed just inches from your face?

Those were stellar scenes that legitimized the Necromorph presence in that world, forgoing the typical notions of "nothing is scarier than the unknown" for a detailed look into the game's monster closet, and I loved it. The way Dead Space 3 seems to be tossing all that believability out the window in favor of visually incomprehensible beasts, crusty zombies with glowing eyes, and "human enemies [with] guns" is really disappointing to see.

I want to be excited for Dead Space 3, but everything they've shown off has inspired zero confidence in me. Here's hoping that it doesn't turn out as bad as that trailer makes it look.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Assassin's Creed III Made Me Swear Off Digital Distribution. PlayStation All-Stars and Far Cry 3 Brought Me Back.

I can't remember the last time I actually went to a store to buy a game. Getting up, putting on pants, dealing with people... It's all just a hassle. If I can't download the game directly, I'll order it online, but even that's not ideal. Paying for shipping, checking tracking numbers, and waiting for the game to show up isn't that much better than driving to a store. It's more convenient, sure, but it's slower and I still end up with a disc.

That's right, I don't want the disc, either. I'm at that stage. Even though getting up to swap discs is the most minor of inconveniences, it's an inconvenience nonetheless and it's often enough to kill an impulse to boot up a given game on a whim.

It's like a TV remote. If you've ever had a broken remote and needed to get up and walk to the TV every time you wanted to change the channel, you know that it radically changes how you watch television. You don't mindlessly surf. You don't fiddle with the volume. You don't flip back and forth between channels during commercial breaks. You stick with what you're already on.

Sony's been doing a fantastic job recently at offering full-priced retail games, the kind you'd normally have to buy at a store on a disc, through the PlayStation Network with its Day 1 Digital initiative. It's all old hat for the PC gamers who haven't bought a game on a disc in almost a decade, but on console, it's still new and exciting.

And I can't think of three more perfect games to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of digital distribution than Assassin's Creed III, Far Cry 3, and PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale.

The only questions I had about buying Assassin's Creed III digitally were, "Should I buy the bundle with the season pass or get it piecemeal later?" and, "How soon can you take my money?" I was pumped.

But then it turned out to be a huge disappointment, and now I'm stuck with this 11GB file I don't want anymore.

I can't sell it back or give it to a friend or anything. All I can do is delete it, but that feels too much like deleting money, so instead, it just greets me every time I turn on my PS3 and reminds me how much money I wasted. An Assassin's Creed III disc would at least politely collect dust on the shelf like the latest useless trinket from Grandma and wait until it's convenient for me before reminding me how much money I wasted.

I'm pretty selective about the games I buy, so I hadn't had that problem before with a game I've downloaded. Just like that, I never wanted to download another game again for fear it would also be terrible and I'd be stuck with it.

But then Sony put PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale up for download and the temptation not to put on pants and leave the house was too strong to pass up. So I downloaded it.

Now, I find myself getting in a couple rounds of All-Stars any time my PS3 was on because, well, why not? I don't have to move or think about it at all, just tap a button and there we are. You get the same accessibility with little PSN games like Rock of Ages, but there's still something novel about a digital copy of a game that feels like I should have had to insert a disc first.

I don't like it, but because it's digital, I'm stuck with it.

Then Far Cry 3 came out as a download too, and now I'm constantly giving in to the urge to boot it up and sadistically hunt pirates in the jungle. It's just so easy.

Far Cry 3 and PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale exemplify everything I've always loved about digital distribution: Like Just Cause 2 and Need For Speed: Most Wanted before them, they're impulse plays, games that allow me to get in for a few minutes or a few hours and feel fulfilled either way. I can load them up without any consideration of whether it's worth it to get off the couch and swap out the disc.

Assassin's Creed III is the total opposite: I don't like it, but because it's digital, I'm stuck with it. And to add insult to injury, it cost just as much as a retail copy. Need For Speed: Most Wanted had a $6 discount if you pre-ordered digitally, and Just Cause 2 was free as a PlayStation Plus promotion.

The only real downsides I've had with Sony's Day 1 program so far are with the timing. You can't preload the game and start playing it right at midnight when it releases, and for that matter, you can't even start downloading it at midnight because the PlayStation Store never updates until around 6 p.m. or later anyway.

Still, it's a great start, and bodes well for the future. It's encouraging that almost all games on the Wii U are available for download, even if the system doesn't actually have the memory to support it.

It's interesting how quickly my opinion of digital distribution changed over the course of a couple weeks. I'm sure publishers are happy that my copy of Assassin's Creed III is stuck with me for life, but I'd rather there be an alternative, like forfeiting my license to the game to get a percentage of my money back in credit.

It'll be really interesting to see what Sony and Microsoft do with digital distribution with their next consoles.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Preview // DmC: Devil May Cry

If you haven't played the new DmC: Devil May Cry demo yet, you should get on that. I just finished playing it myself and I've got to say, it is one hot slice of pie. The new Dante—who seems like one of the most universally hated redesigns of a character in recent history if Internet message boards are to be believed (and really, when aren't they?)—already appeals to me way more than the old Dante ever did.

Old Dante will always be defined for me by that ridiculous cutscene where he's eating pizza and fighting demons, flipping chairs and striking poses, all the while spouting cheesy lines like, "This party's getting crazy! Let's rock!" and "I can already tell, looks like this is going to be one hell of a party!" It reeked of trying too hard to be cool.

Is new Dante trying a little too hard to be edgy? Sure, but I'll take that over old Dante any day.

The writing is a lot subtler here and Dante has a simple, straightforward charm. He and his companion, Kat, run into danger and split up. They reunite a few minutes later.

"There you are!" Kat exclaims, relieved to see him.

"Here I am," Dante says with easy confidence.

Still, this new Dante is no stranger to cocky flamboyance, but now it's refreshing instead of being cringe-inducing. At least in this demo, it never feels forced.

It helps that the new game seems like it'll actually be fun to play, a quaint little concept that the old games never seemed to care for, preferring to revel in their unrelenting difficulty like Ninja Gaiden with skintight leather pants and a curious aversion to wearing a shirt. By the time I'd gotten through the first fight in Devil May Cry 3, I was ready to put the game down already. It was exhausting.

DmC lets you ramp the difficulty up to sadomasochistic levels if you're into that kind of thing, but it seems more concerned in just making sure you're having a good time. It smartly uses its loading screens to demonstrate the kind of crazy, super long combo you can get yourself into if you can manage to wrap your head around everything Dante can do.

He's got you covered if you're just looking to flip guys into the air and shoot them with two pistols, but the real fun lies in his new angel and devil attacks. Hold L2 for the angel mode and Dante will pull out a scythe great for quick, stylish combos, or R2 for his devil mode for a flaming axe all about big swings and heavy damage. Sometimes enemies will require one or the other, but most of the time, you're free to go with whatever strikes your fancy. And for me, that meant carving enemies with my spinning scythe high above the ground. You know, like an angel.

Dante can also use his angel and devil modes to launch himself toward an enemy or pull it to him, respectively. It's a cool carryover from Devil May Cry 4 that makes it really easy to keep moving through the fight and keep the pace up. Be aggressive enough and you'll be able to activate Devil Trigger mode that brings Dante back to his white-haired, red-jacketed roots and grinds the world around him to a standstill.

But the coolest part of the demo is undoubtedly Limbo City. It's the city itself more than anything that wants Dante dead, reshaping itself at will to break him, bury him, kill him.

As Dante passes through an alleyway, buildings desperate to crush him grate together violently. The word "FALL" scrawls onto a cobblestone road as it breaks apart beneath Dante's feet and stretches impossibly, ripping a bellowing chasm below. The world shifts angrily at Dante's presence, a howling whisper piercing, "KILL DANTE."

It's the kind of reality-bending fantasy I've wanted to see in games for a long time, executed marvelously here.

The old guard Devil May Cry fans can lament the death of their dear Dante all they want. I couldn't be more happy with the change.

DmC: Devil May Cry will be released on January 15, 2013 for PS3, 360, and PC.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Review // Lincoln

As I sat in the theater on Thanksgiving, sandwiched between my brother and a blond woman I didn't know, watching the third of an eventual five warnings either to silence or turn off my phone before the movie—this one featuring a clueless and charming Billy Crystal fretting that an incoming unknown caller might be important and answering to the horror that it's only his dry cleaner informing him that a stain couldn't be removed—I couldn't help but wonder: Who seriously answers their phone during a movie anymore? And when did Billy Crystal get so old?

I was there for Lincoln. Well, no. I was there for Daniel Day-Lewis, and he just happened to be in Lincoln. It's been my opinion for quite some time now that Daniel Day-Lewis is the finest actor alive today, and I was frothing to watch him take on the role of arguably America's finest president.

Though I couldn't help but notice, as the previews began to roll, that the aspect ratio of the screen was off, leaving huge gaps above and below the picture, and for some trailers, to the sides as well. I tried to put it out of my mind. Daniel Day-Lewis. Abraham Lincoln.

The movie began and everyone finally shut up. I was stunned by how easily Day-Lewis seemed to assume the role, how quickly he disappeared into it, how enrapturing his performance was. I was initially impressed with the focus of the movie, homing in specifically on the issue of the 13th Amendment alone, ignoring the greater conflicts at hand until the moments it needed to instill upon the audience just how great those conflicts were and how much pressure they put on the 13th Amendment and on Lincoln himself.

I started mentally taking notes: There are so many recognizable actors in this movie. Tommy Lee Jones is stealing the show. The soundtrack is overbearing, a little too broad and sweeping to really have an impact. It gives too much reverence and not enough reality. My god, Tommy Lee Jones is stealing the show.

Then the yawning began.

All around me, I could hear people yawning and growing restless. They would wake during the more intense scenes—Lincoln arguing with his cabinet, the members of the House of Representatives yelling at and insulting each other, Tommy Lee Jones being anywhere on-screen—but during the less gripping parts of the movie, the yawns began to chorus around the theater. Specifically, the woman beside me, and the woman behind me.

I don't think I've ever hated anyone
more than that man right then.

Now, let me just clarify: These were not the polite, quiet yawns of a normal, considerate person. These were audible yawns, comically loud and impossibly impolite. These were the kind of yawns you'd base an episode of Seinfeld on, the kind that annoys Jerry to the point that he ignores George's warnings and finally turns around to confront the offending yawner. Fast-forward to Jerry being escorted out of the theater. Well, I decided that I didn't want to be escorted out of the theater, so I just sat there instead, plotting how I'd passive aggressively get my revenge by complaining later on the Internet like any self-respecting modern man.

An ominous rumbling shook our theater momentarily. A few people looked around. It rumbled again. The sound was bleeding through from another movie like a half-naked Chinese man sprawled on your dining room table during a dinner party: noticeably. And then, it happened. It finally happened.

A guy actually answered his phone during the movie.

His phone rang. He didn't silence it. After all the melodramatic warnings, he answered it anyway, began talking, then stood up and began to walk out of the theater. "Hey, I'm in a movie," I probably heard him say on his way out. "Yeah, Lincoln. It's shit. Of course I'm still in the theater; so what? Well, fuck them, right? Hahahaha!"

I don't think I've ever hated anyone more than that man right then.

The woman beside me, one of the serial yawners, began to scratch her arm. You wouldn't think that would be a big deal, but it was like someone had just told her that she had a parasite in her arm that would kill her before the credits if she couldn't dig it out in time. It was deafening. And all the while, she had the raw, unfettered audacity to claim the entire armrest for herself.

Listen. I'll admit that Lincoln is not the most exciting film I've ever seen. It's too long, it's often meandering, and it putters across the finish line instead of roars because it didn't have the good sense to know when to end, trying to turn Lincoln into a god to be worshipped by suddenly deciding that it can't resist but needlessly tackle Lincoln's assassination in the most bizarre way imaginable: from the perspective of a different theater receiving the news. But it's certainly not so boring that it deserves to be yawned through. Really, Lincoln the film is a lot like Lincoln the man. It's deliberate. It takes a winding path to its destination, but it gets there eventually.

As we left the theater, my family started talking about what they thought of it:

"I don't think it's the kind of movie I'd watch more than once," my brother started, "but I really liked it."

"Oh, it was a fantastic movie," said my dad. He's the kind of person who falls asleep during movies and needs to be poked awake, so coming from him, that's high praise. "What great acting!"

"Yeah, I really liked that guy who played Lincoln," my mom agreed. "And Sally Fields did such a wonderful job. What'd you think?" They all looked at me. I kept walking.

"I think I need to get as far away from this theater as I possibly can."

Lincoln / 2hr 30min / Released November 9, 2012


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review // Assassin's Creed III

Assassin's Creed III is the most dramatic overhaul in the series. It proudly features a new engine with streamlined controls, revamped combat, and reworked animations, among a host of other changes. It introduces a groundbreaking new setting with unflinching, unromanticized depictions of history. It promises to finally deliver on Desmond's potential and end his part in the overarching storyline.

Assassin's Creed III is also a total disaster from start to finish.

Many of the game's problems are subjective, just matters of personal taste. But many are not, as evidenced by the unbelievable notes for the game's upcoming second patch. Fixes range from "let's try and stop players from falling through the map" to "this mission is unreasonably hard. Let's do something about that." Plain and simple, Ubisoft released an unfinished game, and not even the substantial day-one patch could fix it all.

I encountered floating objects, disappearing civilians, scripting errors, broken AI routines, a grinding frame rate, and total system hard locks as I trudged through the game. Just watch as my Assassin recruit fails to kill two random guards for the fourth time:

It is a broken game, yet surprisingly enough, that's not even its biggest failure.

The game stumbles right from the start with a video that summarizes all the previous games and makes a strong case for why there's no reason for us to play as any more of Desmond's ancestors... just moments before Desmond literally says, "ah, not again," faints, and enters the memories of yet another ancestor. At best, it's just one more cheap speed bump on a road littered with cheap speed bumps that prevent the main plot from moving forward, and weak justification for the game's very existence at worst.

More frustrating than that, though, is how none of the characters in the present ever address how Desmond murdered Lucy at the end of Brotherhood until a couple of easily skippable, throwaway lines many hours into the game. Apparently, nothing you learned in Revelations was relevant at all to the main plot except its $10 "Lost Archive" downloadable content, which is pretty vital stuff if you played through Brotherhood and wanted to know how Lucy's death would be handled.

Similarly, the game barely introduces Desmond's father, the current leader of the Assassins, or Daniel Cross, a Templar sleeper agent who murdered the previous Assassin leader and is responsible for the near-complete destruction of the Assassin Order, neither of whom have been in previous games. Put it this way: if you don't know what "The Great Purge" is, you might want to do some homework before jumping into Assassin's Creed III to really get the most out of it. For all the game does to prepare players new to the series, it does a terrible job preparing veteran players.

From there, it's about six hours before you don the familiar Assassin hood and you're playing the game you probably assumed you'd be playing right from the start. There's an interesting twist early on that almost completely justifies how boring the introductory hours of the game are, but it's also an unearned twist that the game achieves by outright lying to the player during one mission.

I beat Assassin's Creed III in a little over 12 hours, and for the first six hours, I was being tossed from one tutorial to the next. Imagine that: six hours of tutorials. That's half the game. That's an entire Call of Duty campaign. That's The Dark Knight, twice.

This is a series in desperate need of focus. There's padding everywhere. It's an incredibly bloated experience full of all sorts of story beats and gameplay mechanics and mundane missions that simply aren't needed, would be laughed at in any other medium, and add nothing to the core concept of assassinating people.

For instance, you can build up your "homestead" by hiring different kinds of artisans, like a farmer, a lumberer, and a blacksmith, and level up each by doing favors for them. You can craft recipes for items that you trade through caravans to get more materials for crafting. You can engage in naval warfare to unlock new trade routes to make trading more profitable. You can hunt animals and collect their pelts to use for crafting and trading. These are whole systems that I avoided completely (with the exception of naval warfare, but only because those missions were marked by Templar icons, so I thought I was advancing the plot in some way instead of just wasting my time) because they have nothing to do with assassinating people.

I guess that's to be expected when you consider that the protagonist, Ratonhnhaké:ton, isn't even an Assassin. Sure, he'll eventually put on the hood and look the part, but he is not an Assassin. He doesn't believe in the cause or care about the Order. He barely cares about fighting Templars. Really, all he wants is to protect his village from all the encroaching white people.

And that's where the game gets really bad: with its haphazard, factually inaccurate, extremely judgmental depiction of history. When Ubisoft Montreal said that Assassin's Creed III is not a pro-America game, they weren't kidding. On a surface level, it absolutely is. You'll predominantly be killing British soldiers, working with colonists, and replacing British flags with American ones. But actually, there's a much deeper undercurrent of thinly veiled hatred toward America lurking just below the surface that's almost impossible to avoid.

Ratonhnhaké:ton is a fiercely self-righteous idealist through and through, but ultimately nothing more than a conduit meant to channel Ubisoft Montreal's disgust at America's history with slavery. The game comes back again and again to the hypocrisy of the colonists fighting for freedom while simultaneously engaging in slave trading. The game pathetically trots out historical figures like Samuel Adams to try to defend it half-heartedly with weak rationalizations, but eventually drops all pretense with a lengthy conversation between Desmond and his British ally, Shaun, where Shaun lambasts America's founding fathers and follows it up with an in-game email subtly titled "American Politics." I'm sure you can guess the content of that email.

Did you know that the Mohawk tribe to which Ratonhnhaké:ton belongs to in the game also engaged in slavery? You probably wouldn't if you trusted Assassin's Creed III's skewed version of history where all white people were bad and all Native American people were good. Then again, I don't know why anyone would trust a game that literally renames its protagonist "Connor" because his actual name is too hard to pronounce to not be racist itself.

There are plenty of other factual inaccuracies, like uniforms and flags being used before they would have been created or grossly modified versions of well-documented historical events. It all culminates in a mission that is both ridiculous and annoying where Ratonhnhaké:ton is literally on the horse with Paul Revere as he makes his famous Midnight Ride, tasking you with steering the horse in whichever direction Revere yells in your ear to go. Again, subtlety is not this game's strong suit.

Imagine that: six hours of tutorials. That's half the game. That's The Dark Knight, twice.

So yeah, on top of everything else, the game's not much fun, either. The controls have been simplified to the point that it feels like you have no real control over the character, which is the opposite direction the series has needed to go for a long time. It tries so hard to let you hold one button and go anywhere that it inevitably ends up being extremely clunky and constantly misinterprets your inputs. You'll scramble up the side of a tree or cling to the wall of a tight alleyway in the middle of a chase and lose your target. The game needed to segregate the running and climbing commands to different buttons, but instead, it interlocked them tighter than ever.

Combat is the same way. Ratonhnhaké:ton is a vicious fighter, and he doesn't really need your help to do it. There are tons of really cool, really brutal animations that want nothing more than for you to sit back, stop pressing buttons, and appreciate them like a museum piece. This is a game that resents player input.

But I can't think of a much better example to demonstrate how backward some of the game's systems are than to just show off how the fast travel works:

Assassin's Creed III is absolutely baffling in how poor the fundamental design can be.

After recently coming off of Dishonored, a game that encourages players to have a unique approach to each mission and gives them the tools and space to do so, Assassin's Creed III felt claustrophobic. There's nothing inherently wrong with taking a linear approach to mission design, but the missions here just aren't fun. Very few of them even involve assassinating a high-profile target, more often opting to have you eavesdrop on moving targets, perform busywork for other characters, or directly intervene in a historical event in whatever way makes the least amount of sense, like having Ratonhnhaké:ton command colonial troops in battle.

Ratonhnhaké:ton's story is rarely exciting, so I jumped at any opportunity to play as Desmond instead and advance the main plot. But even Desmond is a bust in this game.

Since the first Assassin's Creed, there's been an implied promise that, at some point, you'll play as Desmond in modern times, roaming a modern city, and assassinating modern Templars. And given that Ubisoft explicitly said that "you're going to see a lot of Desmond. More so than in any past game," I had assumed that meant that they were finally making good on that promise. Not so. Desmond gets a few missions, but only one of them is the least bit interesting, all of them are poorly executed, and his story wraps up in such a rushed, unsatisfying way that I could barely believe that the credits were already rolling.

If you do make it that far in the game, though, make sure to stick around for the heavy-handed epilogue after the credits so Ubisoft Montreal can bash you over the head one last time with its political agenda.

Assassin's Creed III is the weakest game in the series yet and a clear sign that it's time to give the franchise a break and refocus before it becomes completely irrelevant. There will be an Assassin's Creed game next year, but there shouldn't be.

Assassin's Creed III / $59.99 / PS3 [reviewed], 360, PC


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Review // Calvin Harris - 18 Months

It's a weird feeling, realizing that one of your favorite artists has sold out. It's weirder realizing that you don't mind.

The first thing that struck me while listening to Calvin Harris's new album, 18 Months, is how many of the songs I'd already heard before at clubs and parties and just never knew they were Calvin Harris because they sound nothing like him. In fact, as far as I can tell, Calvin himself only sings on two songs, and one of them only as a fairly minor role.

It's pretty obvious listening to 18 Months what Calvin was up to: He's chasing club hits, and he's doing it from an incredibly academic perspective. He's definitely successful at it, but there's a hint of cynicism behind the whole album that doesn't come as much of a surprise when you consider that Calvin freely admits to being really awkward and shy, passing on the drinking and partying that defines the DJ lifestyle. He doesn't even like dancing. So he naturally approaches designing a club hit from an unnatural perspective, from the outside fringes of that world like an uprooted wallflower withering at a party.

And it shows. Almost every song on the album follows the exact same build-and-release structure and has the same three ingredients: a short, repeating synth riff; metronomic, driving bass; and a guest vocalist.

Calvin used to embrace his awkwardness in his music with a faux-egotistical wink; now it feels like he's trying to fly under the radar and pass for one of the cool kids. He doesn't sing about all the different types of girls he likes (but isn't getting) anymore. Instead he has guest vocalists come on to tackle such club-friendly themes as "tonight" and "drinking" to be more palatable to the general public.

One of the songs, a sophisticated little ditty cleverly titled "Drinking From The Bottle," decides to drop all pretense and just cuts to the chase: "Forget about tomorrow / Tonight, we're drinking from the bottle." Another song, "Let's Go," follows suit with lines so generic they sound like a parody: "Tomorrow's good, tonight is better / Let’s make it happen / Let’s make it happen tonight."

Those lyrics from the guy who calls himself "the anti-party," likes going to bed early, doesn't drink, and said he was "really awkward" when Rihanna invited him to hang out in her dressing room with her. It seems just a tad disingenuous in that context.

So yeah, as a huge fan of Calvin Harris's last two records, it's tough to look at 18 Months or his new Ryan Gosling in Drive-inspired makeover without two spoonfuls of skepticism. But it's too easy to get pulled into the songs here to care all that much, even when he's transparently sticking to the club song formula, and that's where he succeeds most. Yes, I could tell that Calvin was trying to draw me into "We'll Be Coming Back" in the cheapest possible ways he could, but that didn't stop me from chanting "we'll be coming back for you one day" and hitting my steering wheel to the beat the whole drive to work.

Of course, that's the interesting thing about releasing an album of dance songs: What is that experience like away from the dance floor? Well, let me tell you, there's something kind of sad about listening to a club banger like "We Found Love" in your room by yourself. 18 Months doesn't even feel like an album, really; it's just a collection of disconnected singles. But I guess that's just what happens when practically every song features a new guest vocalist.

They aren't bad songs. It just sounds like listening to the radio or something. They aren't bad.

Actually, okay, wait. That's not entirely true. "Awooga" might just be the most annoying song I've heard in my entire life, like Calvin left the room and a five-year-old jumped onto his synth.

I still like the album though. "Green Valley" and "School" are both low-key tracks with a lot of style and just a dollop of the funk that made Calvin's last album, Ready For The Weekend, so great. Two early songs, "Bounce" and "Feel So Close," feel like Calvin trying to brace long-time fans like myself for his transition into mainstream obscurity with "We Found Love" and the rest of the album.

Like I said before, I really don't mind. If his goal was to become a household name, he achieved that, and I'm glad he did. I realized that I'd never actually heard Calvin Harris being played in public until 18 Months. Now I can't get away from him. I mean, honestly, the first place I heard "Let's Go" was in a Zumba class (shut up) and had no idea I was listening to Calvin Harris until I heard it again on the album.

And that's kind of what defines 18 Months for me. It doesn't sound anything like his old stuff. It's a pretty obvious grab at generating an album's worth of club hits that all sound generic enough to drift dangerously close to "all these songs sound the same" territory. It's catchy, mindless fun. And sometimes, that's enough.

Calvin Harris — 18 Months / $9.99 / Released October 30, 2012


Sunday, November 11, 2012

In The Shadow Of Giants: The PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale Multiplayer Beta - Part IV

This is the fourth and final installment in a series of articles about PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and its now-finished multiplayer beta. This part will focus on two of the characters, Parappa the Rapper and Sly Cooper.

Last up are the mid-tier characters from the beta, Parappa the Rapper and Sly Cooper. They don't quite pack the punch of Kratos or Colonel Radec, let's say, but at least they make up for it by being nowhere near as slow and lumbering as Sweet Tooth and Fat Princess. They're both really unique characters that play significantly differently from everyone else.

What's interesting about both of these guys is how small they are in comparison to everyone else. In fact, these are the only two characters in the beta that aren't even human. Given how poorly balanced the rest of the beta is, it's not hard to imagine that Parappa and Sly's size could be a killing blow for them as viable characters. Surprisingly enough though, SuperBot Entertainment has done a fine job giving both fighters fair ways of closing the distance and dealing real damage.

I'd even be willing to say that Parappa and Sly are the only two characters in the beta that feel balanced at all.

Parappa the Rapper is a pretty basic character, which is probably why the beta's quick tutorial has you use him. His punches and kicks are all pretty standard stuff and mapped to the square button, making him one of the most quickly accessible characters in the beta. Just mash square and that's one combo you've learned, right there. Mash square while in the air above another player and that's another combo. Very easy stuff.

His square combos are especially useful because they're extremely fast to execute, giving you the upper hand on other players using slower characters. As well, those are the ones that lock other players up in them, so if you want to set your teammate up for a more powerful attack, Parappa can hold those other players in place to buy valuable time.

Parappa can also smack other players around with his skateboard. It's good for slamming enemies into the ground to give yourself a second to think, but I personally haven't found much benefit to knocking enemies over in All-Stars. You can't attack them while they're on the ground, and they have a short period of invulnerability when they get up, so I almost always found it preferable to try to keep opponents standing or knock them up in the air so I can keep attacking and earning super. I really didn't find much use for Parappa's skateboard, especially given the long windup and recovery time that can be easily punished if you miss.

Parappa becomes really interesting with his circle attacks though. Tapping circle without a direction will actually reel other players in (think Scorpion from Mortal Kombat: "Get over here!") next to Parappa so he can start attacking them. It's a fantastic way for Parappa to deal with characters like Kratos who just inherently have a longer reach than him. I will say, though, that it took me a long time to figure out how to even pull off this move due to the game's simplified control scheme. It's still too easy to be always pressing a direction on the left analog stick and forget that there's a whole separate move waiting for you when you stop moving for a second.

He also has a basic dash attack mapped to circle that's similarly good for closing the distance. Parappa can use his boombox to blast other players away, which is a great anti-air attack, or he'll drop it on the ground to continually generate orbs to fill up the super meter. It's particularly risky because anyone can pick up those orbs, so if you've put one down, you might want to stick near it and defend it. It's also another excellent tool when in a team — if you're on a team with a Radec, let's say, who will probably be more or less stationary and holding his ground anyway, dropping a boombox to generate super meter by him will help both of you tremendously and give you an edge over the competition. In free-for-all play, though, there's no one to defend it but yourself.

Parappa and Sly end up being the only two characters
in the beta that actually feel balanced.

Parappa's fortunate in that he has a pretty good lineup of supers, too. His level one is a pretty simple move where Parappa flips forward and kicks in mid-air, killing anyone he comes in contact with. It's good for quickly getting one kill, but not especially great for landing multiple kills at once. It's also very low-cost, so if you have just below a level two super, you can perform it a couple times without having to generate more super meter.

His level two is probably his best. Parappa will hop on his skateboard and ride around the stage, killing anyone he touches. It's like Fat Princess's level two chicken super, but fast enough to actually make it worthwhile. You can often kill the same player again after he respawns if you're quick enough, so for a level two super, it's pretty great.

Parappa's level three super takes over the battle with a short cutscene of him rapping "I Gotta Believe!" and kills all other players on the field. It's good in a pinch since it's guaranteed to kill everyone else, but for my money, I vastly preferred to just use his level two super and try to get three (or more) kills for less super cost. It's especially useless in 2v2 team battles where saving up for a level three super that will only get two kills makes no sense.

The biggest difference between Sly Cooper and the other characters in the beta is that he can't block. Instead, hold the block button turns Sly invisible. It's a pretty fascinating trade-off that makes Sly the most interesting character to play, easily. It radically changed how I approached fights.

Rather than hopping right into the middle of a group fight, I'd turn invisible and pick my moment to strike, then get out again. Rather than dealing with Radec's annoying sniper rifle head-on, I'd sneak up behind him over and over and throw him to steal his super meter. Rather than trying to avoid some of the most dangerous super attacks, like Radec's shooting gallery or Kratos's divine wrath, I'd hide in a corner, unseen, and laugh as they wasted half their super attack looking for me.

Of course, it also means that Sly needs to be extra careful when he finally does fight other characters. His primary attack is his hooked cane, and like Parappa, they're all very basic attacks to understand. He can swipe, dive forward, uppercut, and do a downward smash, all depending on which direction you're pointing with the left analog stick.

Sly has a suite of useful tools that make him a really dynamic character. He has a few moves that stun enemies in place, like an alarm clock and a forward slide that leaves the ground behind him electrified. He can leave a decoy, a mine, or an explosive barrel. He can use a smoke bomb to escape and he has a parachute to slow his fall. But my favorite tool of his though is a little gas bomb that will change the controls around for whichever player it hits, making them easy prey as they panic to figure out what their new button layout is.

Sly's a bit of a mixed bag in terms of supers. His level one super has his pal Murray show up and body slam anyone in front of him. It feels a little more short range than other characters' level one supers, and weaker as a result. His level two super is worse though. He straps on Carmelita Fox's jetpack and flies around the level, dropping bombs on other players. It's a pretty useless super since the jetpack just isn't fast enough to make it a real threat, and I've seen many players come away with zero kills.

His level three is probably the best of any character in the beta. Sly's friend Bentley uses his "binocucom" to take pictures of other players, wiping them from the stage. It's similar to Radec's but can kill multiple players at once, so it can be even more dangerous. The only difference is that Radec's zooms out to the whole stage and gives him a reticle to move around while Sly's zooms in a bit and he moves the camera. It's harder to find players that way, but it's still so easy to kill people that it doesn't matter.

Parappa and Sly end up being the only two characters in the beta that actually feel balanced. They both have really unique abilities that take time to learn and have fair limitations to keep them in check. There's not really much I'd change about Parappa to balance him, but Sly could probably use a little tweaking to make his level one and level two supers better so his winning strategy doesn't always completely revolve around working up to his overpowered level three.

The only other big criticism I have of the beta is that it's way too easy to lose your character in the shuffle, either because if other people are using the same character, the alternate costumes often aren't distinctive enough, or because the game doesn't have an option to have a player indicator over your character only.

Beyond that, I was really impressed with how fun it was. I wasn't sure going in whether the supers concept could be nearly as fun as the damage percentiles in Super Smash Bros., but the beta did wonders to convince me. It's got some issues, but the beta was based on a months-old version of the game, so hopefully they'll be ironed out by the time the game releases.

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale will be released on November 20 for PlayStation 3.