Gravity Rush 2

After experiencing a year of lackluster sequels, Gravity Rush 2 is a breath of fresh air and a hopefully a harbinger of great things coming in 2017.
Longtime fans of the series will be thrilled to know that this game follows immediately after the events of Gravity Rush and stays true to its roots throughout the game.  The game has gotten a makeover in both its gameplay as well as its setting, but the fundamentals of what made me a fan of Gravity Rush are still present throughout.

The story begins with Kat and Syd in a mining settlement called the “Banga Settlement” and a brief introduction of how you guys landed there.  For fans of the series, or those who are familiar with the lore in this game, these events occur almost immediately after the closure of Gravity Rush.  It almost feels like this was intended to be a “Part 2” to Kat’s story, rather than a sequel.  The game does a decent job of introducing the new characters within the world, as well as introducing both Syd and Kat to newcomers.  However, the game does lack in its later levels when introducing some of the other prominent characters that came from Gravity Rush.  

As an example, in Gravity Rush 2, you can play alongside a character by the name of Raven.  This ability is unlocked after a quest is completed in the main storyline, and the story of the quest is dripping with throwback lore to Gravity Rush.  Existing fans, or even people who have played through the first game would understand the prominence of both the quest as well as unlocking Raven, however, newcomers would struggle to understand its significance.  The game simply assumes that if you are playing this game, then you’ve played through Gravity Rush.  This may be the case for the clear majority of players, but doesn’t’ help to get newcomers to the series.  Which is unfortunate because when comparing the overall playability of Gravity Rush 2 to Gravity Rush, this game takes the cake.

I was never able to play Gravity Rush in its original form on the PS Vita, but I was lucky enough to play through the remastered version on PS4 shortly before Gravity Rush 2 came out.  Although the developers did an amazing job of making this remastered version feel like a PS4 game, there were still pockets here and there where it was blaringly obvious that this game was initially designed to be on a handheld system.  The controls for flying were cumbersome to master and the occasional weird glitch during moments of battle were all constant enough for me to feel like I was playing a PS Vita game on the PS4.  As a newcomer to the series, Gravity Rush was hard for me to get through because of how challenging it was to master the controls on a PS4 controller.  It felt like a grind at times, and I found myself running through the game to experience the story rather than the game itself.  

With Gravity Rush 2, I did not experience this feeling once.  I wanted to keep playing through all the side quests and challenge missions just to experience more of the gameplay.  It was polished and fun to play because it was such a striking change to the first installment.  The developers also added several new fighting mechanics throughout the game that you unlock at different points.  The level up system is still the same in that you obtain power crystals to then spend on upgrading Kat, but the developers have changed it to allow for more customization in how you play.  Instead of spending all crystals on one ability or upgrade at a time, you can allocate certain percentages of your crystals to different abilities to work around how you, as a player, play Kat.

The setting of Gravity Rush, although fun to play through, at times felt drab and dreary.  It was always a constant reminder that I was playing a remastered version of a game that had previously been released on a handheld system.  Gravity Rush 2, in comparison, felt alive and vibrant.  The city setting was so colorful and full of people to pick up with your stasis field and chuck around!  

Director Keiichiro Toyama cites that much of the inspiration for the setting of both Gravity Rush and Gravity Rush 2 was drawn from the surreal sci-fi styles of French cartoonist Jean “Moebius” Giraud.  “Moebius” was a pseudonym that Giraud used while creating some of his work and is defined as, “an impossible object that loops back into itself perpetually; a single surface that exists as both one and a pair”.  This is fitting for a game that you can literally play with dimension at the press of a button, a game where you can see the world as one way and then the next second see it in a completely new light.  Gravity Rush 2 far outshines its predecessor in capturing this feeling as you warp space around you and experience the beautiful world from all angles.  One critique that I had with Gravity Rush was that even if you were running around on the side of a building or underneath the floating city platform, it felt like you were doing just that.  It felt like you had just shifted your camera but that the world itself was still just the same.  In Gravity Rush 2 when you shift your gravity to go under or on the side, you feel like you have just stepped into another world within the world you were running around in before.

Putting aside the difficulties new players will face in grasping the story, Gravity Rush 2 is able to pick up where Gravity Rush left off.  The controls have drastically improved to make a much more enjoyable experience for both newcomers and longtime fans.  The concept of “Moebius” has been taken to the next level in level design and the vibrancy of the world helps to make it a much more immersive experience.  But for everything that it does well, if I had not played the first game I would have been lost in the character development and story.  This is unfortunate because if they had at least created a prolog to the game, this could have been resolved.  This game is far more enjoyable to play than the first game, but the confusion holds it back.  For this reason, I score this game a solid 8 out of 10.
 

My Most Anticipated Games of Q1 2017

First of all, I understand this is a different take on “Most Anticipated Games…” topic that so many like to do- but the truth is that by the end of March we will already have some serious potential Game of the Year candidates. When reviewing what we already know is set to release, unless I want to create a “Top 25” then I am going to miss something crucial. So instead I am going to follow up with this list at the beginning of each quarter to help keep things into perspective. Without further ado, here are my most anticipated games set to release by the end of March 2017.

1. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Release Date: January 24, 2017

I will be first to admit that it’s been nearly 8 years since I found myself excited to pick up a new entry in the Resident Evil franchise, but with Biohazard looking to take a big step back and re-evaluate what makes the name so special, I am once again ready to step back in the universe that haunted so much of my childhood. After the failure of titles like Umbrella Corp. or even the former Resident Evil 6, it appears that Capcom heard the outcry for less shoot em’ up action, and get back to their survival-horror roots. After having already completed the captivating demo that was originally released shortly after E3 2016, I have found myself spending more time booting up the new updates they have offered than I care to admit. Luckily, we don’t have much longer to wait in order to get our hands on the final product. The only thing left to question on this title, is if I want to try to play the game on the PSVR… *Yikes*

2. Horizon Zero Dawn

Release Date: February 28, 2017

After having spent some hands-on time with a demo build at PSX 2016, it is not difficult to see why Sony seems to be placing so much faith in the upcoming title. Horizon not only plays incredibly well, but with what looks like to be a captivating story from the mind that brought us Fallout: New Vegas, there is no doubt in my mind that we are looking at a new tentpole franchise for the PlayStation Exclusive lineup. While I only had about 10 minutes to spend with a vertical slice of the game, the skills, environment, animal AI, and Aloy herself were fleshed out and well polished. Every fight felt different depending on my approach and skill choice, which made running around looking for various elements a blast. For those of you with a PS4pro and 4k TV, this will be the game to show off to your friends- because every single moment in this world is gorgeous. 

3. Nier: Automata

Release Date: March 7, 2017

It’s definitely fair to say that there have been two different versions of Platinum Games; on one hand you have the fast paced bullet-hell style of the Bayonetta franchise that critically delivers, while on the other you have the dumpster fire that is The Legend of Korra. It’s almost incredible to think that both games came from the same studio. Needless to say, I was hesitant to test the waters with a demo for the upcoming Nier: Automata demo, however I had time to kill so I decided to see which rendition of Platinum showed up to the party. I am happy to report that not only does Nier deliver in the small portion that I have played, but I think this very well could be my favorite game to come from the studio yet. If you have not tried out the demo yet, I urge you to add it to your queue. The story looks unique, boss battles are epic, and the action is incredibly addictive when adding up your combos. Simply put: I cannot wait for this game. 

4. Mass Effect Andromeda

Release Date: March 21, 2017

What is there left to say about the greatness that is the Mass Effect franchise that has not yet already been said a hundred times over? With well more than 100 hours spent across 3 separate entries in the original trilogy, Andromeda has a lot to live up to. However, if there is one group that I have faith in to deliver, it is the folks with Bioware. From the small pieces that they have revealed and the promise of a clean slate for first timers to the series, everything looks like it’s in good hands. And let’s be honest, as long as there is a random dance club on some far off planet that you can show off your sweet moves, I will be happy. 

5. The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild

Release Date: March 3, 2017

If you had told me a year ago that I would be more excited for any other game than a new Mass Effect entry, I probably would have fought you- true story. However, since the gameplay of Breath of the Wild had been show cased at E3 2016, and the incredible trailer released for the Switch conference, my need to set off through Hyrule once again has become a real problem. The gorgeous art style, captivating story, new voice overs, and furtherance into modern RPG elements– I can already see every aspect of my life about to be put on hold for a while once this title hits my system. Whether you play this on your new shiny Nintendo Switch, or you blow the dust off of your WiiU, there is no reason why you should not play this game. Now don’t mind me as I go practice my Goron Dance in my green tunic. *Turns on some drums*

Will You Buy the PlayStation 4 Pro?

     It has been exactly one week (at the time of me writing this) since the announcement of the PlayStation 4 Pro and new slimmer model of the standard PS4, and now that I have had ample time to analyze the conference, I still have a hard time understanding why? While I can wrap my head around the fact that Sony is attempting to future proof their product, which is now sitting at a staggering 40+ million sold into the market, I simply can’t grasp the focus on their messaging around the Pro. 

      Now, I understand that the past week has been a rather tough one for Sony. After The Last Guardian delay, bad PR from their halt on mods for both Fallout 4 and Skyrim Special Editions, and a rather underwhelming conference to show off the forthcoming consoles, picking on a couple poor decisions on Sonys part has been a popular topic over the last few days. To make myself abundantly clear: this is not my intent, nor the purpose of this article. 

…if graphical fidelity is as big of a concern as 1st parties are trying to make it nowadays, then why don’t we just all jump to PC…

     In the past days I have discussed this topic at length with other columnists as well as a featured topic on The Heads Up Display podcast, and to this point, no one can seem to give me a solid reason as to the reasoning behind the PlayStation 4 Pro. Or at least Sony’s messaging behind the product. I have played every console exclusive as well as the majority of 3rd party titles on my launch day PS4, and at no point thus far have I ever said to myself, “man this game does not look good”. Now for those of you screaming at your monitor, “then don’t buy it and stop complaining”, I simply pose this question: if graphical fidelity is as big of a concern as 1st parties are trying to make it nowadays, then why don’t we just all jump to PC where Ultra settings reign supreme?

    During the conference I found myself dying for information on how the PlayStation 4 Pro could improve the games themselves, not just how awesome they look on my 4K TV. Instead of Mark Cerny spending an ample amount of time showing me differentiating pictures via a twitch stream that isn’t even hosted at 4K quality anyway, let him talk about how the power of the Pro can fundamentally change the way games play. Show us how they are now able to fill the emptiness in the vast universe of No Man’s Sky with the increased GPU, how they can improve framerates and overall quality for the forthcoming PSVR, or how the upcoming Day’s Gone gameplay becomes all the more hectic when they are able to fill the screen with that many more ‘Freakers’. These are the facts and specs that will sell the Pro to the hesitant consumer such as myself. Now after all this, the 4K specs and HDR capability is just icing on the cake

     Now I present you with this question, Sony: if your aim with the Pro (which Cerny has confirmed in other interviews) is to go after the gamer that is more concerned with graphical fidelity, and more often than not later finds themselves on PC, won’t these players be more likely to wait for the Scorpio- which is already promising to be more powerful in virtually every way? You cannot win on graphical power alone, and this is why you must focus on how the Pro makes your (already) incredible games, that much better. 

     Enough from me, because those of us at The HUD wants to hear your opinion on the matter. Has Sony sold you on the PlayStation 4 Pro, and if yes then why? Or have they slipped up on this one and you are still unsure? Let us know in the comments below!

          

Real Backwards Compatibility on PS4?

During the E3 2015 showcase, Microsoft dropped a surprising announcement that many consider the highlight of the conference: Backwards Compatibility. In the year since then, Xbox has added more than 200 Xbox 360 games to the available catalog, and continues to iterate on almost a weekly basis. From classics such as Mass Effect to the recent addition of Red Dead Redemption, this feature has added a lot of value to the Xbox Ecosystem by allowing players the ability to play games they already own for fee. However, since the introduction its introduction, more often I have heard players inquire whether or not Sony is looking at a similar feature on their platform. While this would most certainly be a “win” for the PlayStation community, there are roadblocks that make the probability off this addition highly unlikely. 

Back in 2013, during what is still considered one of the most notorious E3 showcases, Sony described the integration of Gaikai with the PS4 platform and how the  technology would be utilized. Through applications such as “Remote Play” on Sony mobile devices and the Vita, then PlayStation Now with cloud based gaming in the console space, it seemed like the service was an obvious “slam dunk” for the PlayStation community. When purchased for $380 million dollars, Sony was placing a large bet on Gaikai to handle the aspect of backwards compatibility for PS4 with a subscription based service that boasts a library over 400 games. The only problem with this, is that if you don’t have internet speed that is consistently “good”, then this service cannot do much for you. 

While there are different PlayStation Classics that you are able to purchase through the PS Store, there is no emulator on the hardware that allows you to play these games if you already physically own them. So the question stands: does Sony cut out the legs from underneath PlayStation Now and offer a similar feature as the Xbox One, or do they stick to their guns and try to make their money back through the income generated off of the PS Now Subscription model?

Thus far in the console life cycle of the PS4, Sony has done nearly everything “right” in terms of messaging, product, and overall image to the gaming community- which is a quantum leap when compared to the rocky start of the PS3. Many hold on to the belief that Sony will eventually offer some type of solution that meets in the middle, holding on to the fact that Sony continues to impress. The issue that I see is that PlayStation is still a business, and Sony needs to be able to justify that $380 million dollar check it shelled out for the technology- it can’t simply push it aside for public image/service alone. Basically, Sony is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Regardless of how you want to spin it, this is an issue that we need to address for the sake of keeping the history of these games alive. Too many times I think of a game that I would love to play, however because of hardware constraints I am unable to play it (PC players I envy you for this). Whether publishers embrace the feature of full backwards compatibility or double down on the subscription style model, classic games are getting lost in the void and this needs to change. Now the questions comes to you, the reader. How would you solve this? Do you abandon Gaikai and push forward on efforts to bring an emulator to the console? Or is this not even an issue that justifies the capital lost? Let me know in the comments below.   

The Xbox E3 Briefing is Complete; Your Move Sony

Well then, if you had the ability to watch the Microsoft E32016 briefing, I don’t think I need to tell you that they did very well. For those of you that missed it, or are waiting to catch the highlights later tonight then let’s just say that they made good use of all 90 minutes of their time slot. New console announcements, game beta’s, first time seen footage, exclusive 1st party lineups… the list goes on. If there is one conference that you should definitely watch from start to finish, it would be this one. Now the question that remains, and most in the gaming community is asking: How does Sony respond?

Microsoft did a solid job of keeping their showcase rolling from one game announcement or clip, to the next, with very little interruption from a random “Believe in the Product” speech. Regardless of whether you are a Sony Fanboy or find yourself in the Xbox corner, you have to admit that Xbox gave the gamer several reasons why their console is a great place to be this year, and in the year to come. So as Sony takes the stage tonight and Andrew House or Shuhei Yoshida open their conference, the thing that I want to remind them is that this is not the same Xbox that they trounced a few E3’s ago during the console announcement. I have every ounce of faith that Sony will come out and deliver a solid showcase, but do not take the 20 million gap between the xbox competitor for granted. 

Sony has already confirmed that they will not be talking about the PS4k tonight, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take a similar approach in announcing a slim version of the PS4 and foreshadow an imminent console upgrade, the same way that Microsoft did. Think about it, Microsoft made a “Console Sandwich” out of their press conference. Xbox One Slim announcement at the beginning, an hour + of games-games-games, then ended with a 2 minute video of Project Scorpio. No image of the new console was shown, vague specs, and a strong message that the current model will not be phased out by this new iteration. Sony can and should do the same; keep it vague but push the message that the PS4 is here to stay.

Last year, Sony had an excellent showcase boasting titles of Final Fantasy 7 remaster, Shenmue 3, and of course (the soon to become mythological) The Last Guardian. So I know that Sony has every opportunity this year to make another solid showing. However, I think we are going to spend a lot of time looking at these games once again… Which is not a bad thing, but we need to see what the console has coming on the back end of this year since Horizon: Zero Dawn was pushed to Q1 of 2017. Why should we be excited right now?

What are your thoughts, and what do you think Sony could announce that would dominate the press conference? A The Last of Us 2 teaser? A cheaper console price and No Mans Sky PSVR integration? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!