Quick Thoughts: August Playstation Plus Freebies

Last month, as a result of the Playstation Plus program, I spent a few days reveling in Detroit: Become Human. A new month has come, and with it more free games. Each time we get a new announcement from Sony about what titles are going to be included there are always two camps: Some folks clamor for better options, stating they’re discontinuing use of the service, while others will endlessly defend crappy selections. I fall somewhere in the middle. There have definitely been months where the subscription was well worth it; just a single game can sometimes make it worth the cost of entry. There have also been down months where I couldn’t care less about any of the games included. More recently, the PS3 and PSVita support has been pulled from the service so instead of getting between 2-4 games per month we now almost strictly get only two. Of course, people have complained about this too. I miss the cross-play titles that actually end up being pretty good. I don’t miss wasting time downloading throwaway games. I’ve still been pretty consistent with downloading nearly all of the games available (if not at least adding them to my library), and I at least try the ones I download. The free games for August were a mixed bag at first glance, and having played each for a little while I have some impressions to share.

A game I didn’t realize had even come out, the Wipeout Omega Collection collates Wipeout 2048 and Wipeout HD. I’m pretty sure HD is a remake of the original from way back on the original Playstation, and 2048 must have been a sequel at some point. Whatever the case, it’s been a game I’ve played each time I’ve seen a new version, but was never overly good at nor did it ever really hold my attention for long. I do enjoy a good racer though, and this one actually feels a lot better than I remember — I say this tepidly, because I’m sure actually difficult levels are near impossible. It looks good, much better than I remember, but I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time I played a Wipeout game. From what I’ve read there aren’t any plans for new iterations either, so this might be the ultimate edition that you’ll have to settle for.

This is combat racing, so most game modes include AI competitors along with power-ups you can use to slaughter the competition. It doesn’t feel as fast paced as it did back in the day, but I’m sure that has more to do with my memory being off than actual facts. I really like the way it controls and the way it looks, even the music is pretty damn good. I ended up playing both 2048 and HD for a few races and noted that they feel pretty much the same as far as quality goes.  There is a really nice photo mode that allows you to capture some cool moments, and I wouldn’t recommend trying to take screenshots while racing as you’ll just lose position. Overall, this title was a surprise hit for me, much like Detroit: Become Human was last month. I still need to try out Heavy Rain on that note.

The other free title is one that I’m sure plenty of people would be excited about, but it ended up being underwhelming for me. The one and only Sniper Elite game I played was the second entry, and I found the slow-motion x-ray trick shot bits to be a little over the top and felt that they took away from the moment to moment combat. As such, I expected this game would be one that I’d glaze over pretty quickly. I will say that I rather enjoyed playing the Zombie Army Trilogy at a friend’s house a few years back (it’s made by the same devs) but it also didn’t focus so much on sniping and was more about killing zombies at a rapid clip.

Sniper Elite 4 takes place in Italy, and is sort of part of the side story of World War II. I imagine they are running out of theaters of war at this point anyway, but maybe not. Whatever the case, you play a lone wolf commando dude who is a badass sniper. You start off with a mission to kill some dudes, and you head off into a semi open world environment, and you’re taught how various mechanics work while trying not to get killed. From what I saw, this is just not a game for me. There is more focus on you trying to get stealth kills and remain undetected, while enemies swarm around looking for you. I hate being forced into this play pattern, and seeing people getting their insides exploded doesn’t really help it feel any better. So yeah, a hard pass for me, but I’m sure someone around here will enjoy it.

That’s all I got for today.

Reconnecting with Borderlands

When Borderlands 3 was revealed at this year’s E3, I knew it was a game I’d have to play. The best looter shooter out there, in my humble opinion at least, it’s been a lot of fun over the years and I look forward to co-oping my way through it with my best friend come September. At the same time though, a brand new DLC for Borderlands 2 was announced, called Commander Lilith & The Fight For Sanctuary. Coincidentally, Borderlands: The Handsome Collection was one of the Playstation Plus free games for that month, so it turned out anyone with a PS4 would be able to grab this DLC and play right away. It was free for a time as well, so that was an added bonus. Also, for those not familiar, The Handsome Collection collates both Borderlands 2 along with it’s plethora of DLC and Borderlands The PreSequel as well. I’ve talked about the latter, as it was a game I played a little bit but never completed — nonetheless my best friend has expressed interest in playing that one as well. I suppose that could be done before the release of the proper sequel, but we’ll see.

Another nice touch, for those of us who played the original game on Playstation 3 and can’t seem to find our save files on the cloud, you are able to create level 30 characters right off the bat in order to jump right into the new DLC. This is where me and my best friend started out. During my first playthrough of Borderlands 2 (back in 2012 I think it was?), I played Zero, while during our co-op jaunts I would play Lilith. This time around I decided to play Axton, the Commando. My friend went with the Gunzerker, and away we went. As the notice above states, this DLC bridges the story between Borderlands 2 and the new game, so you probably should have already played the other games before this. I guess that means if you are worried about spoilers, you should probably avoid reading the rest of this post as well.

The game is still running on the same engine that it always has, but it does seem to run a bit smoother on PS4 as opposed to the PS3. It probably looks a little sharper too, but my memory of the details is hazy, and that’s fairly unimportant. The storyline picks up a while after the end of Borderlands 2, where the vault hunters had found a vault key that functioned as something of a map, and you now know that they are vaults all over the universe. This could potentially make the series infinite as long as the company continues to want to make new areas and new stories. Most of the story is revealed in the game, with characters speaking to you and events happening as you play. There are cutscenes sprinkled throughout, and they tend to be a similar flavor that you’ll know and love (if you’re a fan). So far we have been introduced to a new bad guy who has created a sort of gas that transforms humans and creatures alike into these mutant plant beasts. He attacks Sanctuary and takes it over, and we have had to go and clear out another location called “The Backburner” in order to have a functional base again. Familiar characters pop up along the way, and some can be recruited to your base of operations. After a few missions, it’s clear that there is a lot to do in this DLC.

Otherwise it really is more of the same, but that’s not really a bad thing. I always enjoyed playing the Borderlands series, though I haven’t really reached the end game since the first iteration and I definitely haven’t put the time into the other games outside of completing main campaigns. I think this little foray will whet my whistle for a bit, but once Borderlands 3 arrives I can’t wait to dive in full force. My recommendation is to play this first if you’ve already completed the other games, but if you’re not a fan of the series, then carry on and have fun with your thing!

Apex Strategies

As I mentioned in my recent round-up post, I’ve been playing Apex Legends again pretty regularly. Outside of the initial complaint of there not really being enough new content to keep me coming back, there have been some decent content patches in the interim and I’ve been enjoying myself in the game. Some observations before we get to the meat of this post:

  • I’ve found that the population seems unharmed regardless of negative press and the fact that this title fell off the charts shortly after launch while others like PUBG and Fortnite continue to be at least listed on the top income charts. I didn’t have queues to begin with and I don’t now. Wait times between games are minimal.
  • While playing the game during launch I had exactly one win. It was actually the first round I had played. I didn’t touch Apex Legends at all during the first season, but have racked up 6 more wins during season two, and honestly I don’t think my play pattern has changed. Practice makes perfect and all, but for whatever reason things have clicked and I’ve been doing really well. I’m not sure if this is a reflection on the quality of players still playing on the Playstation 4, or if it’s a reflection of personal skill growth. I prefer to think it’s the latter.

This brings me to the topic of this post. I feel like my experience being at the bottom (prior to the first season) and losing repetitively but learning the core mechanics of the game has now combined with being relatively good at the game. As such I feel pretty confident sharing some tips with you that might help you to become a better player as well. So let’s get to it shall we? Here are some of my personal tips for getting better at Apex Legends, in no particular order:

Situational Awareness:

The first tip I have for you is to try and have situational awareness. You should know if you have short-range weapons equipped, so don’t fire at long range targets giving away your position. Shooting shotgun shells at someone on top of a cliff isn’t going to do anything except give away your position, and that means getting flanked by the enemy team. Perhaps your team isn’t ready for an altercation — one guy is looting a death box and another is heading in the opposite direction. Your mini-map can help with this information in split seconds. You should also be calling out enemies seen and where you are going using the game’s ping system. Sometimes it’s tempting to be a commando/hero and go it alone, but you should stick with the group. You are more powerful as a unit than on your own (despite the fact that there will be times you will have to carry your teammates). Listen to the environment for incoming threats — the game’s sound is there for a reason, and you’ll hear the enemy’s movements oftentimes before you see them. Know your enemy’s abilities! Every playable character has special abilities, you need to know how they work and how you can respond to them. For instance, Wattson’s ultimate will protect you from air strikes, but only if you’re inside its sphere of influence!

Environmental Awareness:

This comes down to being aware of escape routes, jump stations, ziplines and etcetera. Constantly check your map for your allies and for pings. Also, pay attention to where the ring is and where it’s going next. I’ve found that in my early game sessions I used to always try to be as close to the middle of the ring as possible throughout the match. Oftentimes this meant leaving teammates behind and heading off on my own, which I clearly no longer recommend. What I have found now is that hugging the edge of the ring seems to be more effective. Not only will you be able to pick off stragglers, oftentimes they will have been damaged by the ring so they are easy pickings. You also tend to see more teams trying my old strategy and being closer to the middle so you avoid some of the bigger conflicts. Staying alive is the name of the game after all.

The rest of my tips are less meaty:

  • Holster when you run long distances. This makes a huge difference, especially when trying to outrun the ring.
  • Always try to revive or respawn teammates but be safe. Don’t dive on a downed teammate immediately. Try to make sure threats are eliminated or distracted first.
  • Don’t carry items you don’t need. Give syringes and shield cells to teammates if they need them. Use the ultimate accelerants as soon as you pick them up.
  • Keep your shields and health topped off. Don’t be afraid to use these items during fights, but be aware of how/when you can do so.
  • Don’t forget to use your grenades!! I was guilty of not using my secondary equipment very often but now I try to do so every match.
  • Don’t use finishers if you only down one member of an enemy squad. You’ll get caught mid animation if you do. I believe there is a way to shortcut the animation but I’d avoid it until it is safe to do so.

That’s all I can think of for now, but hopefully these tips stick in your head and you are able to implement them. You can see me following many of these ideals in the following video, which ended up being one of my better matches in the game and one that I remembered to record.

State of the Game: Filler

I remember when I first started this column and it was initially created as a way for me to cram a bunch of small details into a larger post and get something published. At the time I wasn’t blogging as regularly as I would have liked, and part of that was due to playing many games at once and not feeling like I had enough to say about each on individually. As such, this became a weekly series that would be devoted to those Playstation Plus freebies and other games that I was playing that didn’t have much lasting appeal but I still wanted to throw down some thoughts. Or, I’d discuss progress from larger games I was playing, or throw in news about games I regularly played that had new patches or things of that nature. In the following years this turned into less of a weekly post and just a catch all for when I didn’t have much else to say. Lately it’s been even more sporadic, to the point where sometimes I think there’s no point in keeping it going, but I still need a catch all post format and this has worked so I’m going to continue to use it. It’s been about three months since the last SotG post, and this edition I have updates on games I’ve been playing in recent weeks that I’ve touched on in the past.

Apex Legends:

I wrote some fond thoughts about Apex Legends when it released, but you’ll probably note that I haven’t talked about it since. Part of this was due to the fact that I was getting a case of Battle Royale fatigue — since the genre started to take off in popularity, everyone was throwing their hat into the ring and I tried many iterations of the concept. Some I enjoyed more than others, and Apex Legends is definitely one of the better versions of this style. The other reason I haven’t talked about it is because I stopped playing for a while. A few of my friends play along with my son and I primarily played with them but the slow pace of content updates made the game stale after a while. Even the introduction of seasons and a battle pass system wasn’t exciting to me, and my stats prove that I didn’t play a single game during that first season. We did see the release of a couple of guns and the new character Octane during that time, but earning the in-game currency to unlock new champions is painfully slow, and they run you about $10 to unlock individually. I’d gladly plop down $30-40 if you’d give me all of the characters unlocked along with all future releases but I don’t really want to spend the money otherwise.

Nonetheless, season two launched recently and another new character, Wattson, was introduced. The arena was also changed up, with the large creatures that were off in the distance are now on the island, and some structures have been destroyed. Otherwise not much has changed, and yet I’ve been having fun playing it. One motivator is the battle pass, despite the fact that I haven’t paid for it. Everyone can participate for free, and new daily and weekly quests give you points towards your battle pass level. You’ll get free rewards just for playing, and though they aren’t amazing it’s better than nothing (or just the apex packs like before). If you want to drop the cash, the battle pass will get you a ton of extra value in the form or cosmetics ranging from character skins to different music and loading screens. We’ve seen all of this sort of monetization before, but it actually seems worth it in some ways. Unfortunately just unlocking the battle pass doesn’t do a whole lot for you, unless you’ve leveled up enough to get a large chunk of the rewards. I don’t see myself maxing out to get all of the super cool loot, so I’m still on the fence about spending the money. We’ll see where I am towards the end of the season to see if it’s justifiable. I can’t speak to other platforms, but the game still seems very much alive and well on the Playstation.

Clash Royale:

Clash Royale is still my go-to mobile game and I don’t see that changing. It’s been over two years, and I can’t say I’ve been playing anything that long anymore. I maxed out my ladder deck a while ago, and most of the cards have at least one star level as well. The new battle pass system, Pass Royale is going strong, and I’ve unlocked 10 levels, but you can essentially grind them out as you play. I like the fact that they streamlined quests as well, where you are not limited to a particular game mode to complete them. For instance, before there were quests that said “play 30 buildings in 1v1 battles” and you would only get updates while playing the ladder — not in 2v2, challenges or clan wars. Now that same quest reads “play 30 buildings” without the limitation, and it’s a nice way to clear quests faster. I’ve been working on leveling up my cards that weren’t a part of my ladder deck, and so far each deck I play has almost all of its cards at level 12 or maximum. I have a queue of cards that are ready to upgrade, a couple of them to maximum level but gold income is slow going. I should have a 2nd max level deck within a couple of months. I’ve been as high as Master 2 since the rework to matchmaking, and have been at that sort of level for the past couple of seasons. The guild has been floating at high gold/low legendary, but we can’t seem to keep afloat in the higher tier. Our core group was promoted to Elder recently and we seem to be the ones gaining ground, but some of the stragglers have kept us from staying in the top league. I’m sure that will continue to be the norm for a while but as the core gets stronger we just might be able to keep it going.

SEGA Heroes:

My 2nd favorite mobile game and one I’ve been playing for nearly a year, this game has a ton of progression that is slow going as well. Currently my account is level 63 (I have no idea what the maximum is), and my main team of heroes are all level 60, with Sonic being level 63 (they are capped at your account level). They are also all at 2 blue stars, which means I put a shit ton of cards into their progression. My focus as of late is farming skill upgrades (they all have their three skills at level 8) and trying to upgrade them further. The reagents needed to upgrade their levels are getting ridiculous, hence why Sonic is the only one above level 60. They also introduced some guild related progression, in that we have events that happen regularly where your individual progress helps the guild as well, so at the end of the event you’ll get your own solo rewards along with guild rewards. There are also boss battles that anyone in the guild can initiate, but they are timed events so you might not get to participate if you don’t notice or aren’t online when it happens. We have yet to down a boss, but you still get rewards if you participate. It seems okay but I can think of a few improvements to the system.

Void Bastards and Amid Evil:

I wrote about Void Bastards and Amid Evil recently after I picked them up during the Steam Sale. Since, I’ve put a few hours into each title and I’m still very pleased with the purchases. I’ve cleared the first world in Amid Evil and made some progress in the second. There really isn’t much to report there, it’s a straight forward game but it’s still a cool retro styled game that I highly recommend. I’ve got even more positive things to say about Void Bastards, it’s quickly become one of my favorite Rogue-lites of all time. The game play loop is similar each time but there is just enough variety for it to not get boring. I have opened up a bunch of different items and equipment that have made runs last much longer, and I’ve learned the general strategy of getting through the nebulas quickly. You don’t have to dock at every port, you can skip things and only loot ships when you need food or fuel (or a key item you’ve been looking for). You do need some of the upgrades to items and things before you can really get to this point though. Once here, you can get to the next story related items you need quite fast, and from there it’s on to the next thing. Currently trying to get together the pieces for the HR Computer, this coming after completing the ID Badge. It’s been a blast on both accounts.

Horizon Chase Turbo:

The other free game this month besides the one I already wrote about, Horizon Chase Turbo is a strange game that melds retro with modern aesthetics. I can’t quite place what game it reminds me most of… probably something on the NES or Sega Genesis, but whatever the case it feels like games I’ve played in the past, but boy does it run a hell of a lot faster than those games did. It’s 2D sprite graphics but they run fast and it’s hard to keep up with the twisting tracks coming ahead — particularly when there are hills and valleys. It is however quite a bit of fun! I’ve enjoyed clearing the first few areas of the game and testing out the other game modes. I’d recommend trying it if you need a game to jump in and play for a few minutes here and there, the races don’t last too long and they are enjoyable.

Crash Team Racing:

Speaking of racing games, I’ve also been putting my way through the CTR Remake. I’ve cleared the first couple of worlds along with some of the side events and have also toyed with playing online a bit. Like many games of this era, CTR has added a big content patch that brings a battle pass like system to the game. There are daily and weekly tasks that are earned just by playing the game in any of its modes, but playing online seems to get you more points faster. Leveling up your pass level brings rewards like skins and whatnot, but again there is no RMT here — everything that was added can be earned just by playing the game, and it doesn’t appear that they are planning on any further monetization. They even added several new tracks, something that didn’t happen with the original and something that gives me hope that this game will be playable for much longer than the original. New tracks keep things fresh and tasks keep you feeling like there’s always something to do. This is the model I like to see and wish more companies went this route instead of bleeding their customers.

That’s all I have for this round-up… Hope everyone else is having as much fun as I am!

Quick Thoughts: Castlevania Collection and Dragon’s Crown Pro

There was a “Retro Sale” on PSN the other day and a few titles caught my eye. There has been a nice trend of old school games getting repackaged into collections and ported to the Playstation and though we’ve seen this before, it’s become more prominent. Not only are we getting some awesome retro games you can’t get elsewhere (unless you own the original consoles and cartridges, which most of us do not [hence the retro console emulation boom]), we’re also getting retro games redone with modern graphics and I couldn’t be happier with some of these products. Not only have I picked up the NES and SNES minis, I have a retro Genesis console, a Genesis collection, I picked up Shadow of the Colossus, the Crash Trilogy and CTR, even the new Resident Evil 2 redo. One that is on my list to pick up is the remake of the Spryo Trilogy, and though it was on sale too I didn’t want to spend too much all at once. There were a few other collections of old arcade style games that I was interested in as well, but I try to limit my spending on games particularly when I’m already working my way through multiple titles. As such, I settled on the recently released Castlevania Anniversary Collection, and the upgraded Dragon’s Crown Pro.

Truth be told, I don’t think I’ve ever completed a Castlevania title. I remember playing Simon’s Quest and Dracula’s Curse on my NES, and the Genesis title Bloodlines, but I don’t think I ever completed them. The other games on the list are all new to me.

The menu is slick, and the collection boasts eight full games. The original trilogy from the NES, Super Castlevania IV from the SNES, two Gameboy titles, the Genesis version, and the never before released in the US Kid Dracula. The games are pixel perfect, meaning they won’t fill up the entire screen and are displayed in 480p. The games run fine, but do have the same sort of clipping and hitching present in the original cartridges.

There are definitely some memorable moments here, the church with the creepy looking priest has been etched into my mind from my youth. I love the quote above, there’s actually a Black Dahlia Murder song by the same name. Castlevania is a typical platforming game, but Simon’s Quest was truly epic and was one of the first games I played with RPG elements. The third title introduced branching storylines and additional playable characters, and this feels like it was before its time. The SNES and Genesis games are better performing and slightly better looking, but overall follow the same formula. I couldn’t get into the gameboy versions… they are just terrible to look at and not satisfying to play. Kid Dracula seems fine as platformers go, but I actually like the more adult oriented games in the series, and this one is a little too cute for my liking, but overall they are cool games that everyone should at least check out if nothing else.

The collection also has a bonus digital book that is actually really cool. It tells the developer’s stories, the game’s stories and even has artwork and compares and contrasts the Japanese and US versions. I spent some time pouring through this and I think it was a nice touch.

The other game I picked up is Dragon’s Crown Pro. I played the original Dragon’s Crown on PS3 a few years back, and I remember hearing about the game being ported to the PS4 but when it launched they were still asking $40 for it which I felt was a bit much. I paid full price for the original but it was a new game and something that appealed to me so it was a no-brainer. In this case I wanted to wait for a sale, because though the game has been made to support up to 4k resolutions, I don’t have a capable TV so the only real upgrade here is that the full soundtrack was redone by an orchestra. It does seem to run smoother too, I’d attribute that to the better hardware. Either way it’s still the same game, but it was an awesome game and I’ve been having a blast playing it again. Both versions have the same trophy set, and upon inspection it turns out that the last time I earned a trophy on the PS3 was back in 2013, so it’s definitely been long enough that I don’t really remember the storyline.

Playing again has been refreshing. I remember there being some updates that occurred with the game that sounded interesting but I never went back and played it after beating it a single time through. The character I played on the PS3 was the Dwarf, so this time around I created a Fighter and have started over. It does support save game importing, but for whatever reason it was saying that it couldn’t find my save data from the PS3, so I would have had to track that down and it wasn’t worth the effort to me. I’m okay with playing the whole game through again anyway. Dragon’s Crown is essentially Golden Axe meets Diablo. It’s a side-scrolling 2D fantasy brawler that you’ll be familiar with if you ever played Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, TMNT, X-Men or countless other Arcade and Console titles. What keeps things interesting here is the fact that there is a town that serves as a central hub where you can buy and sell goods, pick up quests, modify your party of AI characters and other various activities. You’ll also get gear as you play, level up and spend skill points to customize your character. You’ll always only have one character to play, but you’ll change out the AI quite regularly, or you can go online and play with friends or strangers.

The art style is amazing, hand-drawn and slick. I love it but I’m also not easily offended. There was controversy over this game due to the depiction of its characters — women are almost always scantily clad and out of proportion, and men are also muscle bound meat heads. If you can overlook this, you’ll find a cool story with great music and voice acting, along with fun mechanics that have a lot of replay value.

The bosses in each stage get progressively more challenging, and in between story quests you’ll get side quests that require you to revisit areas you’ve already been to. Later on you’ll also gain access to branching paths that expand on previous areas and give more opportunity for stories and loot. From what I remember they had also added in an endless mode or something to that effect, and in that you can level up to ridiculous power levels. Some of the trophies require finishing all of the quests or beating certain bosses on harder difficulties in short amounts of time, so it’s a game that can potentially be played for a very long time.

The skill system is set up with various cards, and each character has their class specific abilities along with those common to all classes. A fair mix of both is probably the best course of action, but you’ll be able to tack on extra effects to your attacks along with making things you pick up give you health or extra points that translate into XP. It’s a well balanced game and each character has interesting skills, though it all really boils down to mashing the right buttons at the right times. Don’t forget to bring healing potions too!

Overall both of these games are worth their asking price, but even better on sale.