All posts by Jeremy Ponti

I'm a lover of pop culture. Video Games, Movies, animation, and comics are my life.

Sony Unveils New System Bundle in time for the Holidays

The love-fest to all that is Disney, the D23 Expo, took place this weekend in Anaheim. And lo, much rejoicing rang through the halls as Disney revealed information ranging from Toy Story 4 to giving the audience their first glimpses of Dr. Strange and the next Captain America film.  But that is a topic for a different conversation.  Instead, let us turn our attention to a galaxy far, far away for this bit of information.

Continue reading Sony Unveils New System Bundle in time for the Holidays

Rock Band 4: The Return Of The Plastic Instruments

It’s been awhile since I’ve been excited for a game announcement. Sure, Uncharted 4 looks amazing and Mortal Kombat X looks gloriously gory. But it’s been awhile since, upon hearing of a release announcement that I did a fist pump in the air and thanked the gods. That happened on March 5 when the good folks at Harmonix announced their plans to release Rock Band 4 on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Continue reading Rock Band 4: The Return Of The Plastic Instruments

The Order: 1886 – A Gorgeous But Shallow Gaming Experience

Publishers don’t take chances like they used to.  Developing a game has become so costly that if a game fails to sell millions within the first few weeks of release, it could easily mean bankruptcy for the studio.  It’s the reason so many publishers are sticking with the certainty of sequels and familiar franchises – Even if they do poorly, they’ll still likely sell better than an unknown quantity. There’s far less risk. But as a result of this policy fans take notice when a brand new IP is announced. Repetition has become such a common thing that a lot of hope goes into the debut of a new franchise. It could be the thing that shakes up an entire genre (think Arkham Asylum‘s free-flow combat, or Assassin’s Creed‘s free running mechanic). We’re over a year into the new generation of consoles now, and with new hardware comes an eagerness for new experiences.  As one of the most talked about new IPs of the PS4/Xbox One era, The Order: 1886 is expected by many to be just that.

The Order surprised many people when it was revealed at E3 in 2013.  No one had heard anything about the title before the trailer reveal, and the footage shown was impressive.  As the months went on, developer Ready At Dawn gave us more glimpses into this strange, new steampunk, Victorian London world.  Was what we were seeing merely footage of cutscenes?  Was it gameplay?  What was the game about?

I was extremely excited about The Order.  Everything Ready At Dawn released had me changing my pants.  Steampunk?  Yes, please!  Werewolves (or, in this instance, lycans)? Sure, I’ll have some.  Nikola Tesla?  Oh, hell yes! Sign me up!  And those graphics?  :::pants heavily:::

It’s been a long wait to finally get ahold of the game since its original Summer 2014 launch date was pushed back, and all the while the important question was whether or not I’d feel the same way after playing the game. And so, many months later, now that I’ve had the chance to finish The Order: 1886, does that excitement still hold?

It does… sort of.

Let’s talk about the graphics first.  Here is a game that makes a compelling argument as to why a person needs to upgrade to the current gen.  Presented in a cinematic letterbox format, the game is just gorgeous.  I’m not just talking about the cutscenes.  I’m talking about the gameplay, too.  The cinematic camera angles and lighting add an unimaginable atmosphere to the environments you explore. Whether you’re walking the dirty streets of White Chapel or scaling the side of a zeppelin, there is so much subtle attention to detail you’ll marvel at the technology behind it. You can shoot hats off enemies or pots off their hangers. A zeppelin’s form will shift and deflate as you rappel down its side. The graphical fidelity is so great that the transition from cutscene to gameplay is practically seamless.  There will be moments when you are watching a cutscene and nothing is happening and you realize it’s time for you to take control of your character again.

But graphics alone does not a great game make.  And it’s here that the game starts to falter.

As beautiful as the world is, there’s just not much you’re actually doing in it.  The visuals are great to look at but the game doesn’t do enough to try and bring you inside its world.  Walking off the obvious route doesn’t yield many rewards.  You might find an occasional newspaper or phonograph tube, but beyond that there’s little incentive to turn your eyes off the beaten path.  It seems like they want you to explore the environments, but when you do you’ll oftentimes encounter a dead-end with nothing to interact with.  The few times you do find something, the flavor text doesn’t do much in the way of world-building.  It’s horribly frustrating because I wanted so badly to learn more about The Order and the Lycans, but barely anything I found added felt like a worthwhile addition to the central storyline.

The gameplay functions well enough. It’s serviceable.  Sometimes you’ll have to sneak, in which case you automatically go into a crouch to “quick-time” death your victim.  It works, for the most part, although sometimes you can find yourself sticking to the wall unintentionally or dropping out of a wall-hug at inopportune moments.  These moments can be irritating but they’re manageable.

The action works fine, too.  It’s a typical third-person cover-based shooter, and it controls responsively.  A quick push of the circle button puts you under cover.  Melee is a timed pressing of the triangle button and gunplay is handled with R2.  Much like the graphics, however, the action will leave you wanting more.  For all the talk of interesting and creative weapons, a lot of the firearms you use can feel underpowered.  Sometimes it feels like the the enemies are taking far too much punishment before they’ll go down.  The biggest travesty is how infrequent Nikola Tesla’s weapons are used, especially for the way his tech has been advertised by Ready At Dawn.  My favorite weapon is the thermite gun, but it is tragically under-used throughout the campaign.

Finally, we come to the story.  Again, as with the rest of The Order, the story works. For the most part.  You play as Galahad, a Knight of The Order, tasked with unraveling a massive conspiracy that could change the face of the known world.  Who can he trust?  Who are his friends?  Who are his foes?  The story is told through sixteen chapters and by the end you can’t help but feel like they told the wrong part of the story.  You want to learn more about the lycans and hopefully encounter them more.  You want to know more about The Order and your teammates.  Hell, you want to learn more about this weird, anachronistic steampunk London.  But by the end of the game, you’re left with nothing more than a set up for The Order‘s next chapter.  Like the trade negotiations in Star Wars Episode I, the part that they focused on the most – the conspiracy – was probably the least interesting part of the game.

And since we’re talking about the story, now would be a good time to talk about the game’s length.  Much has been said about the running time of the game.  Some sites have reported the game can be finished in four – five hours.  The game’s length is in line with other single player action titles.  That is to say, while it isn’t a short game, don’t expect to find 50 hours of game in here either.  On a thorough playthrough, expect to sink about seven to ten hours into the story.  Unfortunately, there is no multiplayer of any kind nor is there a New Game + mode, so there is little reason to replay the game unless you’re hoping to achieve a platinum trophy.

Ultimately, The Order is a fun romp but it left me wanting more.  The game’s gorgeous graphics almost brought me into Ready At Dawn’s gorgeous world but, once I took the time to inspect my surroundings, I found there’s really not much beneath the beautiful textures and lighting. It constantly feels like something big and exciting is just around the corner but never gets introduced.  And with no real replay value, it’s hard to imagine a reason to revisit the game once it’s finished.  The Order: 1886 is a solid first effort by Ready of Dawn but it falls just short of great.

Images: Ready at Dawn

Powers: Sony’s Playstation Network Banking on Indie Comic Adaptation

The television landscape has seen radical changes over the last few years.  The days of network television being a source of water cooler talks are getting fewer and fewer.  New competitors in the programming market have chipped away at the once dominant share that network television held.  Look, for example, at the rise in popularity in cable television programming.  Once an afterthought and home of countless hours of Full House reruns, both basic cable channel and shows like AMC’s The Walking Dead or Breaking Bad as well as premium cable services like HBO’s Game of Thrones dominate the populations’ television discussions.

powers-posterThe newest era of contenders in the television game comes from streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu.  Look at the rise in popularity of programs like Orange is the New Black or House of Cards on Netflix as well as Transparent on Amazon Prime.  There is money to be made and execs know it.

And what’s en vogue right now?  Comic book properties.  Not only is there a record number of comic book based shows on television right now (Flash, Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Walking Dead, etc.), but there are new properties coming down the pike. Netflix for example, has partnered up with Marvel to bring the likes of Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, and The Defenders to the streaming screens. Now Sony Pictures Television is hoping to tap into this interest in comic properties by releasing their own show. Enter: Powers.

Powers is based off the Marvel/Icon comic of the same name, and created by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming, the comic is about two homicide detectives and the cases they solve in a world filled with superhumans.  The show will follow the same concept.

Along with the comic’s creators acting as executive producers, the show will be overseen by Charlie Huston (writer of Moon Knight and Wolverine: The Best There Is) and Remi Aubuchon (Falling Skies, 24). The show will star Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium) as Det. Christian Walker and Susan Heyward (The Following) as Det. Deena Pilgrim.  Other notable actors set to appear on the show are Michelle Forbes (Battlestar Galactica, The Killing) as Retro Girl and Eddie Izzard (Velvet Goldmine, Hannibal) as Wolfe.  The first season consists of ten episodes.

Sony is banking heavily on the show, hoping that by introducing the show to video gamers, it will translate into ratings.  Let’s be honest, while not all video gamers are comic book readers, a lot of comic book readers are video game players.  It’s this audience that Sony is attempting to court.  That’s why Sony has a rather bold plan to get viewers to tune in.

Starting March 10, PlayStation Network users will be able to watch the first episode for free.  For those without access to the PlayStation Network, the first episode will also be available through YouTube and Crackle.  Also on that day, viewers will be able to watch 2 more episodes.  New episodes will then debut every Tuesday until all 10 episodes are released.  Sony is so sure you’ll support the show that they will allow PlayStation Plus subscribers to watch the complete first season as a part of their membership.

powers poster

PlayStation Plus is the premium online membership that allows subscribers access to many privileges like free games every month, automatic game updates, and special deals and discounts.  At CES this past January, Sony announced that over 18 million units of the PlayStation 4 have been sold worldwide.  Of those, over half of the users are also PlayStation Plus subscribers. Sony is hoping that those nine million plus users will tune in.

The question is, will the audience tune in?  While there is an interest in shows based on the properties of the Big two publishers, Marvel and DC, is there interest in a relatively unknown indie property?  Another question is: with so many other online services (like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc.), will the customers stand for one more source for programming in an already cluttered field?

Is there really a market for original programs, at least where the video game market is concerned?  Microsoft was originally planning on joining the original programming space but back in July 2014, they shuttered the doors of their original programming division.  While plans were made to have programming based on their Fables and Gears of War franchises (as well as others), the only original program that survived was Halo: Nightfall.  Will Sony succeed where Microsoft failed?  So far, Sony has not announced any other shows in development.

Check out Powers on the PlayStation Network on March 10.

Images: Sony Pictures Television, Image Comics, Marvel Icon

PlayStation Now: New Pricing Plan For Sony’s Streaming Service

Earlier this week, Sony PlayStation announced a major change coming to their PlayStation Now service.  Starting January 13, PlayStation Now users can start streaming 100+ games via a subscription plan. For $19.99 a month or $44.99 for 3-months, PSNow users on their PS4’s will be able to stream hundreds of PS3 games as many times as they would like.  This subscription plan will be available first to PlayStation 4 users with the eventual rollout to other platforms.

The first 100+ games you’ll be able to play on PlayStation Now

For those not in the know, PlayStation Now is the Netflix-like PS3 game streaming service that is available on PS4, PS3, PS Vita, select Sony branded TVs and, just recently announced, select upcoming Samsung televisions.  When the beta launched last year, gamers could choose to rent and stream selected PS3 games for a set amount of time for a small rental fee.  The problem was that the pricing made little sense.  Games ranged from $4.99 for a 4 hr. period, all the way up to $39.99 for 90-days.  At that type of pricing, you were better off just buying the game used!  And while, during the beta period, pricing did become more realistic, most people held out until word of a subscription plan came through.

Still, at $19.99/month, many folks feel that the price is still too high. And yet, looking at the game rental landscape, there really isn’t anything like PlayStation Now. GameFly and RedBox are both physical-disc rental services.  Neither offer the opportunity to stream games from the comforts of home.  Also, you are limited by the amount of physical discs you rent so you either have to wait until GameFly sends you your next game or you travel out to a RedBox kiosk.  The closest service that is comparable to PSNow is OnLive ($14.99/month) but even they don’t offer a large selection of games to choose from.

I’ve been on PlayStation Now since it was in its private closed beta form.  On top of the price, I know many of you are worried about how the games play.  Let’s face it, if you’re streaming, issues like latency are really important especially on certain game types like fighting games that require split-second timing.  In the time that I’ve used the service, however, I have not experience any significant lag in gameplay, and I have my PS4 set up to my network wirelessly. The only issue I’ve had was that the games weren’t as sharp as I remember on the PS3.  This isn’t that surprising considering we’re talking about streaming a full, complex game over the internet.  A drop in resolution is a small price to pay for instant streaming of games.

Should you pay the $19.99/month?  If all you have is a PlayStation 4 and you really want to play some of the games you missed in the previous generation, then go ahead.  You’ll find many gems to play.  And since it’s unlimited, you can try as many games as you’d like.  If you still own a PS3, then you’d probably be better off just buying the physical disc or downloading the full copy instead.  Make the jump once Sony starts offering PSOne and PS2 games.  Another option is to just do the individual game rentals which will still be available.

If you want to try out the service for yourself, there will be a free 7-day trial membership available when the service launches on January 13.

Images: Sony Computer Entertainment