‘Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate’ for PS Vita is Stuck back in 1997

The good thing is the highly regarded Batman: Arkham series has finally made its way to handhelds. The bad news is Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate offers only a taste of the precedent set by the main series. Blackgate borrows some mechanics and certain gameplay elements from the console games, but ultimately decides to be its own thing and not an open-world action-adventure. Instead, Blackgate is a 2.5D side-scroller with gameplay that closely resembles Castlevania. Although the concept is completely acceptable, the execution was all wrong.

Blackgate‘s story is told through comic-style art accompanied by decent voice-over, which you will appreciate once you hear the first set of banter between Batman and Catwoman. The work may not be on the level 90’s Batman: The Animated Series, but it’s certainly above average. Blackgate takes place 3 months after Arkham Origins finishes and the 3 main foes are Joker, the Penguin and Black Mask. Commissioner Gordon sends Batman to investigate an explosion at Blackgate Prison and winds up embarking on a rescue mission to save the guards and security men who have been taken hostage.

Batman begins this adventure with a limited set of moves and equipment. As you make your way deeper into the depths of Blackgate Prison, you will discover and unlock new gadgets. From there, you can make your way back to that originally unopenable door you passed 30 minutes ago and bust it open with your new found toy. It’s a tried and true gameplay style that has served many classics well, but Blackgate screams unpolished and mundane.

Getting lost in Blackgate is fairly easy, because environments in Blackgate Prison look vastly similar and maps are represented only in 2D. Every area has a fixed camera angle and path and that’s where the problem lies. Because the game is constantly pushing and pulling Batman into the background and foreground, it is disorienting and it’s hard to tell which direction you’re going in regards to the map. Most of the time, I found myself checking the map as a reference point, going a certain direction for a few steps and then checking the map again to confirm which way I was going. It’s a poor design choice, because maps should be intuitive and easy understand.

Gameplay in Blackgate is very constrictive in terms of what you can or can’t do. Jumping, crawling and even using some of the Bat’s tools are completely context sensitive. Discovering a path or secret ledge is determined by whether or not you decided to try out the grappling hook’s autolock or not with a push of a button. What ends up happening is you try to autolock on stuff in every area, which is not only repetitive, but also makes sweeping a room of all its nooks and crannies incredibly easy.

What isn’t context sensitive are Batman’s combat moves. Punching and throwing batarangs are available for use at any time, but this also adds to some of Blackgate‘s troubles. There is a half second delay when you approach a door or a ledge and are prompted to act upon it. So, what ends up happening more times than desired, especially for impatient speedsters like me, is that you end up swinging wildly at a door that you simply wanted to open. It makes the entire experience feel clunky and becomes very noticeably bothersome as you progress.

Combat closely resembles its console counterpart and translates well onto a 2D plane. Enemies with guns are a bit tougher here, because shots just need to be going your direction in order to hit its mark whereas the 3D world offers the ability to sidestep. Boss battles are one of the only highlights of Blackgate as they are a breath of fresh air compared to the constant backtracking and trial and error door hacking. The bull-fighting esque battle against Solomon Grundy or one-on-one battle against Joker serve well as entertaining and challenging battles.

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is everything you would want from a Batman game if this was 1997 and the Arkham main series hadn’t already set a bar really high. The thing is, Blackgate is certainly not on par with your Castlevanias and Metroids and is not anywhere close to being a good Batman game comparatively speaking. For that, it’s hard to forgive the missteps taken by Armature Studios, a team that consists of key members who worked on the Metroid Prime Trilogy. For now, it’s best to steer clear of this handheld companion game and revisit the consoles titles.

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate
Genre: Action-Adventure
Platform: Reviewed on PS Vita
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: October 25, 2013

Rating:

5.0 / 10

Playstation Vita Becomes the Next Apple TV for Gamers

Hey, you know what would be cool? The chance to play PS Vita games without, you know, a PS Vita. Sometimes you want to play your portable console at home and it just doesn’t make sense when you’ve got that giant HD TV in front of you.

The folks at Sony saw the need and announced the Playstation Vita TV in Japan. It measures 65x105x13.6mm and weighs 110 grams. Gamers will be able to insert their Vita games and memory sticks into the tiny device and play their Vita games in up to 1080i resolution.

If you’re thinking, hey, that sounds and looks a lot like Apple TV. You wouldn’t be wrong. The PS Vita TV will allow you to stream Hulu (and probably Netflix down the road), plus pipe your Playstation 4 games over to another TV. How cool is that?

The Vita TV is expected to hit Japan in late Fall. Currently, the device is expected to be priced at about $100, plus there will most likely be several bundle variations over the launch year.

Sony is also introducing a modified Vita, called the PS Vita 2000 (or PCH 2000). It’s designated as a more “casual” device in the marketing spiel. The Vita 2000 will be 15% lighter and 20% thinner. Plus, it’s coming in six colors, including: white, black, hot pink, yellow, pastel blue and what looks like a greyish brown (check the video below).

Once again, it looks like Sony is smartly out-maneuvering Microsoft in the Next-gen war. But, we’ll have to wait and see if it takes a bite out of Apple as well.

‘Killzone: Mercenary’ Far Surpasses your Typical PS Vita Shooter

First person-shooters are arguably the leading source for visual immersion and gameplay depth on the console, but those same FPS titles are practically non-existent on Vita. Based on the general consensus on previous shooters, Resistance was passable at best and Call of Duty was downright laughable. Now all eyes are on Killzone: Mercenary, which has already had a good response from fans with its preview build and multiplayer beta. One could only hope that the final product is as good as what has been a successful build-up.

The standard package of a FPS includes a campaign and multiplayer; Killzone: Mercenary has them both. Mercenary‘s campaign takes place after the original Killzone and stars a mercenary named Arran Danner, who is a former UCA-soldier that is now hired gun for the ISA and the Helghast. The campaign starts with routine missions to get paid, but this soon lands Danner in the middle of something bigger. The war is now heavily in the favor of the Helghast and Danner finds himself rescuing the Vekton Ambassador’s son. The story is spread across 9 missions and run about 15-25 minutes to complete. The campaign in its entirety can be finished in under 4 hours and although it’s not 6-10 hours long like your typical console ventures, it’s paced with perfectly bite-sized sessions for a portable game.

The majority of the missions are filled with 1-on-10 firefights, but there is variety mixed in there by a healthy batch of VIP escorting, on-rails gunning and methodical 1-on-1 moments that keeps things fresh. Environments are also kept fresh with areas ranging from high in the sky to being on the water to indoors of gorgeous architectural works. When you’re moving through a building and you stop to notice a painting on the wall, Guerrilla Cambridge’s attention to detail makes clear their goal was to offer something more than a cheap, watered-down Killzone spin-off. Some smoke and particle effects are noticeably choppy, but the visuals are overall very impressive.

The gameplay of Mercenary feels responsive and laid out well on default, but is hindered by the system itself. The less-than-accurate thumbsticks and toy-like triggers of the Vita is hard to overlook and makes you wish you were playing on your console. Touch-screen controls work well to execute brutal kills and assassinations as well as performing puzzle-like system hacks, but are annoyingly tacked on to actions like flipping a switch. Flipping on an elevator requires a button press followed by swiping the touch-screen upwards — that’s two actions for something that only takes one in real life. It’s a bizarre design choice that adds no fun and only slows down the flow of the game, even if for only half a second.

Unique to Killzone: Mercenary is the ability to fully customize your loadout throughout the campaign. Primary and secondary weapon, equipment, armor and Van-Guard (killstreak reward in CoD terms) are all available for purchase early in the game as long as you have the funds. Currency is earned in multiple ways, including performing double kills, getting headshots and playing matches online. Yes, weapons bought for loadouts for the campaign are also unlocked for multiplayer and vice versa. This means playing the single player game first doesn’t penalize those who choose to do so before playing online.

Mercenary features a fully robust online multiplayer and it could very well be the best online experience so far on the Vita. Holding up to 8 players, matches before the game’s actual release have been running well and smooth. The multiplayer is far from perfect as there have been instances where kills and deaths were hard to explain, such as when a player would spawn and instantly get assassinated. However, as long as you know that this isn’t going to be the next MLG title and play it for what it is, a lot of enjoyment is to be had. Gametypes are limited to three, but playing the Guerrilla Warfare mode includes five different scoring methods that switches up after a set amount of time and that will be worth playing for a long while alone.

Voice chat is not included, but all hope is not lost. Connecting with friends is possible through the Vita’s party chat system. Connecting in general was quite seamless and players were able to drop and enter games with no lag or drag whatsoever. Leaderboards, public and private matches, gaming dollars and loadout customization is what you’ve come to expect of any FPS and it’s all here.

Killzone: Mercenary is as good as it gets on PS Vita. An average single-player experience and a functional multiplayer mode would have been enough to make this the best portable shooter, but Mercenary is actually more than that. It is an excellent alternative for when you need to take a break from Call of Duty, Halo 4 or Battlefield on the PC or console. If you’ve been looking for something to good to play and developed exclusively for the PS Vita to validate your purchase of the system, look no further than Killzone: Mercenary.

Killzone: Mercenary
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: PS Vita
Developer: Guerilla Cambridge
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: September 10, 2013

Rating:

8.5 / 10

‘Dragon’s Crown’ Review: The Total Package when it comes to Beat ‘em Up Action

dragons crown

When thinking about the beat ‘em up genre, classics like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Final Fight come to mind. Revisiting those games now, especially through remakes older gamers felt obliged to pick up, you quickly realize there wasn’t ever much depth to keep you coming back for more. Punch, punch, punch, kick, kick, rinse and repeat just isn’t as appealing as it was when you were a 5 year old. Modern instant classic, Castle Crashers did it right with the level up system and slew of collectible pets and weapons that made each level playthrough feel unique and worth your time. Dragon’s Crown takes that same hook and expands it deeper and further. It has all the entry level appeal of a beat ‘em up with the complexity that will keep veteran players invested.

Before getting into any of the 2D side-scrolling action, you’re prompted to choose 1 of the 6 radically different characters. These classes include the typical warrior, dwarf and wizard classes seen in many other games; whether or not they want to be a brawler-type player, a spellcaster or a character somewhere in the middle, a player’s preference of playstyle is catered to and available in Dragon’s Crown. As you play, you’ll pick up AI partners to battle alongside that are not the same class as you. You’ll notice some of the moves these computer controlled characters are pulling off and it’ll make you want to try them out. At some point playing as my Wizard character, I was too distracted and dazzled by the flashy combos my Fighter friend was using that I lost track of my own whereabouts.

Speaking of losing track, this may happen often as up to four characters are fighting and even more enemies are flooding the screen. It can get real crazy and the visual stimulus is quite a sight to see. In fact, the game slows down significantly when the on-screen happenings become too much to handle and that’s a downfall Dragon’s Crown for the PS Vita suffers for the over-the-top action it tries to pack into the portable. It disrupts the flow of play, but I’ve learned to take this moment as a time to gather my thoughts and pinpoint where exactly my character is in the midst of all the fire, lightning and explosions. Might as well take a bad thing and turn it into a good thing.

In the spirit of old school, a stage is comprised of trekking through and beating down baddies followed by a boss. Each stage is vastly different from one another with multiple paths and secret rooms containing treasure, but the downside is that there aren’t enough and they will often be revisited for quests and other missions. Certain stages will offer unique twists like the ability to ride a beast to dish out pain or darker rooms that require lighting. Some of the stage’s bosses will require a different strategy than to simply attack such as bringing to life a giant statue and protecting it as it takes on the boss since your team is too weak to get the job done.

dragons crown

Not that it matters much, because this is a beat ‘em up after all, each stage is driven by a story and objective at hand. The story told is one that revolves around royalty, castles and magic, but the gist of it is to simply fetch what the characters want. Your mission may be to obtain a sword or an orb, but all it really equates to is complete the next stage. It’s filler that really doesn’t enhance the experience and it’s a bummer when I have to go and find someone to deliver an object when all I really want to do is to continue beating stuff up. Also feels like a waste of what is actually great voice acting.

Aside from a solid and diverse combat system, leveling up and picking up loot is also strung together very well in Dragon’s Crown. After a stage is over, the experience points earned is applied and loot you gathered is collected. Each level up boosts stats, including INT, STR, etc., and also allows one skill point boost. This skill point can be applied to either the character’s job specific skill or one of the skills every job can learn. This makes every level up an exciting moment, because there are close to two dozen skills to learn and each can be added on multiple times to make it stronger and perfected.

On top of leveling up and getting skill points, loot is also evaluated after a stage is completed. Items gathered throughout the stage can be appraised at a price to see the stats of said item. These spoils are ranked by a letter grade and a better rank means a better chance of getting good stat items. Sometimes you reveal awesome items and sometimes it’s a complete bust — it’s an addicting risk and reward system.

Dragon’s Crown is a technically sound game that is complemented by great art direction. The storybook-like graphics is a sight to see and all the character art is vibrant and full of life. The grotesque are ghastly and haunting and the females are risque and over-sexualized. Each character is an exaggerated caricature of who the team behind the game wanted them to be. Also done exceptionally well is the music in Dragon’s Crown, which must have taken a lot of inspiration from Lord of the Rings or the operatic opening of every Halo game.

When it comes to beat ‘em ups, Dragon’s Crown is the complete package. It doesn’t lack much and what it’s lacking is easily overlooked. The main game can be completed in about 15-20 hours, but the replayability this game offers turns those hours three, four or even five fold. Dragon’s Crown is what the player makes of it and it can be a simple or very deep experience. Simply put, this is the best original beat ‘em up to come in a while, whether alone or multiplayer on or offline. It’s just too bad there’s no crossplay with PS3 players to broaden the multiplayer horizon. Nonetheless, Dragon’s Crown has arrived to a resounding ‘finally, classic fun brought to relevancy and modernized to cater to this generation.’

Dragon’s Crown
Genre: Beat ‘Em Up
Platform: Reviewed on PlayStation Vita (also available on PS3)
Developer: Vanillaware, Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: August 6, 2013

Rating:
9.0 / 10

‘Killzone: Mercenary’ – The Epic Music Will Make You a Believer (Preview Impressions)

The PlayStation Vita sports the power of a home console, but the portable has yet to realize one of the premiere console experiences — first-person shooting. The Resistance franchise and shooter juggernaut, Call of Duty gave it a shot last year, but both fell short of being the complete FPS package. Now the Killzone series is giving it a shot with its second handheld title and first game on PS Vita. I got a chance to download the preview build of Killzone: Mercenary and what I played was an overall enjoyable ride.

My Mercenary experience begins with a typical, but gorgeous looking brief of the mission at hand and then gliding through the air as a character named Aaran Danner. Running and gunning along with getting from one point to the other is the name of the game and it’s not anything groundbreaking. Environments are generically metallic and rusty industrial settings, but the music is epic and engaging enough to allow you believe in the somber world of Killzone.

Like the opening sequence and briefing, actually playing the game is nice to look at too. I dare say it is one of the “prettier” games on Vita. I noticed the framerate drop every now and then, but it wasn’t enough to disrupt the flow of play. A huge plus is that there aren’t much load times and I especially looked for this when moving from one large area to the other. The majority preview session is seamless aside from the one or two moments of slowdown.

The presentation is matched by equally as good gameplay. Controls are as rock solid as they can get on a handheld system, AI is actually smart and killing things feels satisfying. Minutes into the action, I was already racking up my headshot count. That’s good enough for me to enjoy a shooter, but as good as Mercenary is compared to others on Vita, it’s not to say it doesn’t have its flaws.

A slight gripe I have is with the auto-aim. One of the common issues with shooters is the slight rubber-band effect that occurs when auto-aim setting is on. An example of this is when you have your crosshairs set on an enemy and the aim would sometimes move on its own and focus on another enemy running by. This would interrupt your accuracy on a shot and mess with your game — often times followed by obscenities when it takes place online. Mercenary has this too and it is more exaggerated than any other shooter I’ve played. I suppose it is set up this way in order to make up for the less-than-perfect Vita thumbsticks, but to not feature the option to turn this off is a bit irksome.

Touch screen and rear touch panel controls are here and it has its ups and downs. Switching weapons can be done with the push of a button or tapping the touch screen, which is appreciated to accommodate for both tastes. On default, sprinting is done with tapping the rear touch panels and although it’s not a preference of mine to have this, it is the best option for the lack of clickable thumbsticks. Lastly, a physical take down of an enemy is initiated by pressing ‘triangle,’ but the finish is done through swiping the touch screen a la quick time events. It’s a tacked on feature that feels gimmicky and it certainly cheapens the otherwise solid gameplay.

This was just a 30-minute introduction of Killzone: Mercenary and I already have a good idea what to expect come September 2013. Even though I was able to pick up little hiccups here and slowdown areas there, it shouldn’t break the otherwise stellar game. And if these kinks are sorted out or nonexistent in the final build, then this could be the killer app the system has needed.

Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R Review: Balanced Fighting Trapped in a Matchmaking-less Past

To someone who isn’t well-versed in fighters, Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R may blend in with previous Guilty Gear titles. To die-hard fans and expert fighters, this is the definitive version in the series that can finally be played in portable fashion. This is the Super Street Fighter II: Turbo if you will of a franchise that may be pushing the whole update thing a bit far — even further than Capcom ever has. With the fighting game scene booming in 2013, there’s reason to believe that even the best retooling and re-balancing for a decade old fighter couldn’t help this game from being overlooked.

AC+R includes a cast of 25 very diverse characters that duke it out in traditional 2D gameplay. Each character plays radically different from each other and it’s darn near impossible to pinpoint any two characters that play similarly to each other. That should sound great to anyone who cringes at the sight of Shoto clones seen in Street Fighter or ninja clones littered in Mortal Kombat. Their personalities shine right through too with everything from strong, tough guy types like Sol Badguy and Ky Kiske to out of this world bizarre kinds like Faust, Bridget and Zappa. Just to give anyone unfamiliar with these characters a taste of just how weird these characters can be, Zappa fights while possessed by spirits and Bridget is a cross-dresser who dresses up like a nun and his main weapon of choice is a yo-yo. Yep.

Experimenting with characters and learning combos is intimidating and will take a lot of dedication just to scratch the surface of the depth AC+R offers. There are still some things that catch me off guard, even from characters I’ve played with the most. There are combo breakers, super combos and even a one hit kill move. As an example of how much is involved with just one component of the fighting system, a one hit kill requires activation followed by landing the actual hit. Any time that passes by while this move is activated will drain your health. Also, if you miss, you cannot try it again and you can no longer use any of your super moves. Again, it’s at times overwhelming, but it’s very enjoyable when you’re learning, experimenting and getting better.

Now that we’ve established AC+R is an above average fighting game at face value, what makes it lose its appeal is its price for what you get. With no extras, special features or even online play, there really isn’t much that make it worth a revisit for $14.99. Guilty Gear XX #Reload was priced for $19.99 on Xbox in 2003 and it had decent online matchmaking for one of the earliest console fighting games. There’s no excuse why 10 years later a perfectly capable system wouldn’t include such a feature.

Games such as Marvel vs. Capcom Origins and Street Fighter: Third Strike Online Edition have set a standard for releasing 2D fighters of the past and AC+R falls far below that bar. Lacking online matchmaking and overall polish makes this $14.99 downloadable title feel very thrown together. With perfect balancing being the highlight of the game, it feels like a total waste when it can only be enjoyed versing the CPU or that rare chance of finding another person with a Vita and the game.

As a full-priced downloadable title, it’s a true disappointment AC+R doesn’t come with what you’d expect from such. I could live with the lack of true widescreen and extra modes when a fighter is already quite good, but having no online features whatsoever renders the whole thing useless. When so many other fighters on Vita feature net play and this doesn’t, it’s very hard to overlook. I know I’m not alone when I would buy fighting games solely to play online (it’s why unlockable characters have become a thing of the past), and it’s hard to find interest in investing in getting good at a fighting title when I will have little to no opportunity to show them off.

Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus
Genre: Fighting
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Developer: ARC System Works
Publisher: Arc System Works
Release Date: April 23, 2013
Rating:

6.0 / 10

PS Vita finally gets to show off some muscle

Early on during the Sony press conference at E3 2013, PS Vita got a healthy boost of announced titles. God of War 1 and 2 in HD, Final Fantasy X and X-2, Dead Nation and Flower are slated to release on the system. Not that these aren’t good games, but these titles should have been part of the Vita line-up much earlier than over a year in the system’s life cycle.

Alongside this slew of remastered and re-released games from 2009, Jack Tretton of Sony also announced that TellTale’s next wave of The Walking Dead episodes will come to the system, starting with 400 Days. By that time, the entire series will be available for the Vita.

Are you excited to play games you may already own? Would you like to see more games of the past make an appearance on Vita? Let us know your thoughts.

Week in Gaming: EA Sucks, Rayman Wii U Exclusives, Tearaway & the End of the Wii

EA named worst company
A Consumerist readers’ poll has named EA the worst company in America for the second year in a row. This vote comes shortly after a messy SimCity release, but other than that, it seems to be a completely unjustified decision. EA got 78% of the votes, which makes the runner-up, Bank of America a far 2nd. Really? A video game company is far more evil than a bank? EA isn’t perfect, but I don’t know about this one. You’d think America would have bigger entities to point its angst toward.

Rayman Legends to get exclusive content on Wii U
The outcry for the Rayman Legends delay for Wii U seem to have been heard. The Wii U version of the game will be getting exclusive content that the other versions will not have when the game arrives later this fall. In an recent interview with Ubisoft’s Senior Game Manager Michael Micholic, he revealed that the exclusive content comes in the form of 30 new levels and several new bosses. That doesn’t sound too shabby and may have been worth the nearly year long delay.

tearawayTearaway has a release date
The game from the guys who brought you LittleBigPlanet has a release date. Media Molecule’s Tearaway for PS Vita is set to arrive on October 22, 2013. Outside of contributing to various projects in between, this will be the developers’ first title since LittleBigPlanet 2 and first PS Vita game. From what has been played and seen so far, the game is looking to be as creative and charming as the LittleBigPlanet series has been. We anxiously await to get our grubby little hands on Tearaway.

Nintendo pulling plug on several Wii channels
All good things come to an end and it looks like the Nintendo Wii is closing up shop. Come June 28, Nintendo is shutting down support for several of its Wii channels, including The Forecast Channel, New Channel, Nintendo Channel, Check Mii Out and Everybody Votes. Not that I have used any of these “apps” any time recently, but it’s a bit saddening to know that all these channels will be a shell of themselves come summer time. At least Netflix will still work on the console.

Pricing out the Playstation 4

We all remember how the PS3 struggled out of the gates with $599 (60GB) price tags in the fall of 2006. This was before blu-ray won the hi-def war and was welcomed by home theater enthusiasts. The general public didn’t understand what HDMI was and everyone and their brother were years away from owning a HDTV in every room. No one knew where the PS3 architecture would take console gaming, including the game developers and lackluster exclusives stunted what should have been a more successful launch. We’re still several months away from figuring out how many pennies to save to be among the first to bring a PS4 home, but it’s one of the biggest concerns facing Sony’s console of the future. Before we can speculate, we need to look at Sony’s history and put into perspective the new hardware.

playstation 4 conference

Will History Repeat
Nearly a year after its initial launch, the PS3 dropped to $499 but was still getting slaughtered by all of the Halo players scooping up Microsoft’s Xbox 360 in droves and the Nintendo Wii annihilated both as it sat pretty at $250 despite its inferior graphics and awkward game play. Consumers couldn’t get past that initial price tag despite being one of the best blu-ray players money could buy (and still continues to be) and that it could be customized.

Five generations of PS3 have been produced, with each version boasting more storage or a slimmer profile than the last for 250GB and 500GB models, settling down to $249 and $200 respectively in the summer of 2011.  Sony eventually closed the gap on Microsoft and pulled even in total sales, both still far behind the Wii. After seeing Sony’s Playstation 4 unveiling this past Wednesday, one wonders where they plan to start the price wars for the next generation of consoles.

EDITOR’S PICK: PlayStation 4: An Exercise in Cautious Optimism

Nintendo entered the next-gen market last November, albeit with dated hardware. Although the company gave us last-gen tech, it was the first “new console” to tease the next gen era. Nintendo priced the Wii U at $299 and $349, investing heavily in their current Wii users to upgrade to a second screen/ über Wiipad controller experience and HD graphics.

The Witness PS4

PC Roots
The Playstation 4 boasts a new architecture that’s been shaped by the industry’s brightest developers, new controllers, Gaikai streaming for cloud gaming, social network integration, compatibility with the PS Vita, smartphones and tablets, motion control, and CG-movie quality graphics. Let’s say the final PS4 rolls out with all of the above. Don’t expect it to get in a price war with the Wii U, not with those new bells and whistles. Aim higher, way higher.

We weren’t shown the hardware; that’s probably being saved for E3 2013. But we know is that the console will have a supercharged PC Architecture, an enhanced 8-core X86 CPU, an AMD Radeon GPU, 8GB of unified GDDR5 system memory for 176 GB/s of bandwidth, read-only optical drive to read blu-rays and DVDs, USB 3.0, Bluetooth 2.1, and a 802.11 b/g/n network. PC Gamers, used to spending $1000 on their game machines, would argue that the guts of a PS4 would run anywhere from $500-$600 for the savvy PC do-it-yourselfer.

The Target Consumer
Frugal gamers were probably hoping for something in the $400 range, but let’s be realistic and aware of what the hottest holiday gift was this past year was, tablets. Consumers had no problem dropping $400-800 on an iPad or comparable Android tablet. So the days of saying that $300 is the magical threshold where the console consumer draws the line are gone. They’ll spend the money if they have it.

Whether or not they can convert those tablet users to PS4 users, to enhance their PS4 experience with their tablet is up for discussion. Most gamers know that the games found on the iTunes store or Google Play store are no match for a console game, but it’s getting the general public to buy in is when the PS4 will have legs. The gaming experience has to be such an upgrade and the tablet integration has to be so stellar that they won’t think twice about spending that much again for a console.

This machine is for the serious gamer, it might pull some of the PC gamers away from their computer desks, but what a coup it would be to get those lure the casual gamer who has settled for iTunes games in recent years to get a richer, fuller experience without the limitations of a 10-inch or 4-inch touch screen can deliver. So it has to do more, and that’s why third-party entertainment providers like Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Sony Music are early pre-loaded apps. Who knows, the PS4 may even help Facebook generate income too.

Then there are the accessories.

dualshock4

Nickel and Dime
Sony is many things, but they do not have a history of making a console that is friendly on your wallet. First lets take a look at that controller. The PS3 Sixaxis controller, which later evolved into the Dualshock 3 controller sat comfortably at the $50-60 range for six years. The Dualshock 4 has a touchpad similar to the PS Vita’s on top, advanced motion control, a share button and a light bar to identify players with different colors. It can also be used to communicate to the player messages like low health, ammo, and will likely communicate that with the Eye. A mono headset will connect to the controller as well. $60-75 is a reasonable expectation for an additional one.

An updated version of the Playstation Eye will be part of the bundle with 85° field-of-view and a 4-channel microphone. A Playstation Move wand could be included too, especially if they want to impact and expand their motion library.

Sony has always tried to stretch its tech until it dies. That’s why they’re looking at making the entire library of PS1, PS2, PS3, and mobile games available through their upcoming Gaikai PS Network. That’s why blu-ray, the Move, the Eye and the Vita are being integrated. Once could say that for Sony loyalists that’s just more to love because they don’t have to get rid of everything–not yet anyway. Skeptics will simply stand by their PS3.

playstation 4 game demo

We haven’t even discussed the games, which will likely start at a $69.99 price point.  But unlike the PS3, we go back to the new architecture that’s been shaped by the industries top game developers. We don’t see a sluggish start in the library of games again. It’s the games more than anything–especially exclusives–that will cause PS4 interest to soar, no matter the price point of the console.

The Bottom Line
So what does the ability to do all of the above worth? Rumors of a $430-$530 price point would give the console its best chance to get traction before Microsoft reveals their answer. We’re not as optimistic. A realistic starting price is $550-$600 sounds more reasonable given the PC guts, the blu-ray drive and all of the accessories. Hard drives should be at least 500GB but push into the 1TB or 2TB range, especially if gamers are sharing HD video clips as opposed to screen shots.

It looks to be well worth $200 more than the Wii U, in potential game play alone. The touted download speeds would certainly give value, as would no fear of any red lights of doom, or hacked networks. There will be a price distinction between what the PS4 gives you and the Wii U offers, if just to remind those consumers that this is the major leagues. The casual gamer will probably scoff at the idea of the PS4 coming out at around $600 yet again, but if it can deliver on what Sony says it will do, that price will get the console a good start.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time welcomes tried-and-true toon play (PS Vita)

Eight years have passed since the last Sly Cooper title and, more often than not, a series returning from such a long hiatus usually means it’s being brought back to make some quick cash. Not going to name games, but it’s hard to count how many genuinely great franchises have left a sour taste with their last effort to be “revived.” Thankfully, this isn’t the case for Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time and the team over at Sanzaru Games do the suave raccoon justice.

Like previous entries in the series, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a 3D platformer that contains a healthy balance of exploration and sneaky stealthiness. There is little to no hiccups when it comes to gameplay and things are kept fresh throughout. One moment you could be staying out of sight and swiping over-sized keys from guards and the next moment you’ll find yourself leaping across long distances; it’s a rollercoaster ride of methodical and action-based gameplay.

Of course, all the fun of the game would go to waste without a proper story to complement the play and Thieves in Time definitely has it. It’s hard to tell which outshines the other, because both the story and gameplay are very well done. Sly and his team, like the title suggests, travel through time to stop whoever is changing the timeline and attempt to save the Thievius Raccoonus (book with all of Sly’s ancestors’ thieving moves) and the Cooper legacy. As you can tell, the story is not a very complicated one.

The main story is told through cartoon-like cutscenes and the adventure eventually takes Sly and his pals through familiar times and areas of the past. Your first stop is Feudal Japan and you’ll end up somewhere as different as the Wild West. There are five episodes total and you’ll notice cool little things like the coins dropping from down baddies are context sensitive and will reflect the time period currently being played.

The voice acting and humor is top-notch in — not only the cutscenes — but throughout the game. On top of the story, Sly and his trusted friends, Bentley and Murray, also banter back and forth during missions and each of them is full of character and charm. Did I mention Sly’s friends are a talking turtle and pink hippo? Yeah, it’s that kind of silly. Playing with each of them is also a different experience as Bentley has his hacking tricks, while Murray is more about brute strength. Along the way, you’ll also get to play with Sly’s ancestors met and they are just as cool (if not cooler) as Sly.

Playing through the main game is a enjoyable time to be had, but there is also plenty of side stuff to do to keep the experience going. There are lots of collectibles and side missions to be accomplished and it’s up to you if you want to get sidetracked by all the other happenings in the world of Sly. Finding hidden objects, retrieving items within a time limit and traversing difficult leaps and gaps are just some of the extra content that offer up replayability and lots of bang for your buck.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time for PS Vita is the same game as the PS3 release and does take a graphical hit from its console counterpart. However, the game still looks very good and shouldn’t be a problem outside of thinking “this could have looked better.” Load times are as long as 25 seconds, but only happen in the beginning of a new mission and is the same on the PS3 version. At the end of the day, it’s $10 cheaper than the already bargain price PS3 game ($13 off of PSN) and a steal if you get the $40 PS3 version which comes with the Vita version for free.

Sanzaru Games stuck to a tried and true formula, which could have ended Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time up lost in a shuffle of many other games. But what makes Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time exceptional is that everything is executed so well. Solid platforming, enjoyable gameplay, lots of variety and an engaging story make this a welcome return for the Cooper gang. If you get the chance to play this one, don’t pass it up.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time
Genre: Platform Stealth
Platform: PS Vita also available on PS3
Developer: Sanzaru Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: February 5, 2013

Rating:

8.5 / 10