Putty Squad Review (PS4): “Silly Putty Is More Fun”

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Back in the days of gaming, platformers were the ultimate go-to games. Who didn’t love the challenge and finesse of a fun, colorful 2D side-scroller? During the 16-bit era, UK developer System 3 had created a title called Putty Squad for the Amiga console in 1994, but never saw the light of day in retail. The review copies of the game were actually sent out to the press but for some reason, the game never got published. It is now 20 years later and Putty Squad is actually released to the public for all to experience. The question that remains is, has it stood the test of time?

Gameplay: 2/5

Putty Squad is a 2D platformer that has you in control of Putty, our blue blob hero of the journey. You’ll explore nine worlds in Marathon Mode (the game’s campaign), all varying between jungles, deserts, snowy plains, etc. Each level has you saving the red putties taken captive by Scatterflash and his army of cronies. The reason for this? Well, that’s never explained, nor is there any story or background to go off of. However, this is a retro game that was originally developed two decades ago and doesn’t need any elaborate story to go off of. That being said, Putty has a decent amount of abilities at his disposal.

Aside from moving and jumping, Putty can form blob fists to punch enemies out of the way. Collect enough stars in an area, and Putty will upgrade his ability to gain electricity around his fists or even launch explosive sheep (yes, you read that correctly). You can even acquire certain special items like nitro bombs, a pod that you can fly in, and rockets to name a few. Since you’re controlling a blob, the character can move like-so. The Square button is an integral button since you’ll use that to have Putty prepare stretching movement. For example, to climb ladders, you will have to hold Square and pressing Up on the D-Pad or Analog Stick to have Putty stretch upwards and latch onto an object to pull himself up to. To climb down objects, you’ll have to do the same except pressing Down. To move faster along the platforms, you can hold Square and press Left or Right to stretch Putty forward. Even if there are little steps, Putty will climb up or down them smoothly just stretching in the direction of it. It’s a nice touch. Putty can even inflate himself to elevate to harder to reach areas. He can inflate up to three times, each making him bigger and elevating faster. Careful though, as Putty can pop from over-inflating and drop him back down below.

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Putty will have to face off against a ton of enemies, whether it be cat soldiers, toads, sultan cats, and many more different types. The enemies vary in each world, fitting the theme of the environment. Dealing with enemies single-handedly isn’t much of an issue. However, the game dishes out a barrage of enemies on-screen that can be overwhelming and a downright confusing mess at often times. While Putty can withstand a decent amount of damage (he has 5 hearts and can take 2-3 hits on each heart), there are enemies and traps that kill Putty instantly. These instances can be incredibly frustrating due to how indistinguishable the enemy or trap is where it would even be considered an instant death. You only get 2-3 lives per level and when you die, you start at the beginning of the level but with the progress of putties you’ve rescued. If you’re ever looking for where the red putties are, you can pull out the handy Map Mode with the L2 button. The game will pause and you can scroll across the level to see flashing red blips of where the red putties are held captive or need rescuing.

One of the immensely frustrating moments in Putty Squad is the lack of hit detection Putty will receive; it’s practically non-existent. There were countless moments where Putty would take damage yet there’s no indication or feedback to showcase this. This would lead to scenarios of having full health to only hearing the “near death” audio in a matter of seconds. Another frustrating factor is when going into the next level, you will carry over not only the amount of lives you have, but also your current health state. While old-school games were notorious for carrying over your lives count into the next stage (and that’s completely fine), carrying your health over is questionable. When you lose all your lives, you’ll just get to retry the level again with a full health state and two lives. It’s just odd that at the very least, your health doesn’t refill at the start of a new level.

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For a platformer, the controls are not as fluid as it should be. We all know that platformers require fluid, responsive controls and while Putty Squad isn’t as intensive with this, it can become an annoyance. Jumping doesn’t feel refined, making jumping on enemies or certain platforms more of a chore than it needs to be. Combat is handled in an odd manner as well. You’ll press R1 to attack to the right and L1 to attack to the left, which isn’t your standard controls for attacking in a platformer. I’m all about trying new elements or mechanics in a genre, but this one just didn’t feel right. Even when inflating Putty, to deflate you’ll have to press Down on the D-Pad or Analog Stick, which never felt natural to do honestly. Putty Squad’s overall mechanics aren’t terrible, but there are enough issues where it hurts the experience and makes it a chore to play at times.

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Graphics: 3/5

Visually, Putty Squad is a colorful and vibrant looking game. The environments are very nicely detailed, with lush colors littered across the screen. Character animations and models are also pretty well done for the retro style the game is going for. Framerate holds up pretty steadily as well, no matter how much is happening on-screen. However, the biggest issue with the visuals is that the background and foreground clash, resulting in confusing level design layouts. For example, you can run on a platform and then fall right through it due to the slightest variation in color palette (which is barely even evident unless you very carefully scan the screen). Also, enemies and Putty can blend into the background a bit too easily causing things to get unnecessarily chaotic. It’s an overall nice art style, but one that’s too busy at times and starts to conflict with the gameplay. While the game is on the PlayStation 4, there’s nothing here that’s shown that couldn’t be done on a previous generation console. The graphics are certainly serviceable and it looks nice, but it’s nothing that really impresses.

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Sound: 3/5

Putty Squad’s audio is pretty solid all-around. Sound effects also round up to be quite decent and make the game feel retro. There’s even a cool sounding announcer to announce when you’ve collected a “new sticker” that sounds like the announcer from Killer Instinct. It may seem weird to have that kind of voice in a game like this, but it actually sounds cool. The soundtrack is quite catchy, with songs fitting the theme of each world and matching the action on-screen. While it’s not at the caliber of anything “great”, what’s here is certainly good and catchy enough to stay with you for a short while after the experience.

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Replay Value: 3/5

Putty Squad has a good amount of content to have you coming back for more. Aside from the solid length of the Marathon (campaign) mode, there’s a Challenge mode that has you completing levels with a variety of objectives. On top of that, you can go back and try to collect all the stickers scattered throughout levels to complete your Sticker Book. Additionally, each level has you earning star badges to show if you’ve completed a level without losing a life or if you collected all the stars within an area. There’s no denying that Putty Squad has content for the $29.99 asking price. The main hinderance is mainly dealing with the game’s unbalanced mechanics. Regardless, it’s a game I did find myself returning to on-and-off.

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Overall Score: 11/20 = 5.5 out of 10

Putty Squad is a 20-year old game that finally sees the day of light after being restricted from release on the Amiga console due to those games being removed off shelves. The lush visuals are quite nice to look at and the game is mildly entertaining at times, but it can become a frustrating experience for the wrong reasons. It’s by no means an awful game, and there’s enough of a niche to it that retro side-scrolling fans may get some enjoyment out of it.

Pros:

+ Nice looking environments

+ Catchy soundtrack

+ Good amount of content

+ Only $29.99

Cons:

– Level designs are unpolished

– Hit detection on Putty himself is almost non-existent

– Background and foreground clashes making it utterly confusing what is and isn’t a platform to stand on

– Absurd and random amount of enemies on-screen

– Combat is awkward

– Controls are a bit odd and not fluid

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Putty Squad! Copy reviewed on PlayStation 4.

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inFamous Second Son Review (PS4): “A Next-Gen Masterpiece”

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inFamous Second Son is the third installment in the inFamous series. Unlike most superpower games, you don’t play as the traditional superhero. A once normal human being, you play as Delsin Rowe, new to the whole “conduit powers thing”. You can choose to take the path of righteousness, giving a good name to all conduits and gifted alike; or you can choose to abuse your powers, reign hell upon the city you inhabit and strike fear into the hearts of civilians. Do you have what it takes to handle the responsibility that comes with superpowers? Does inFamous Second Son have what it takes to be the superpower behind the PS4’s game lineup?

Story: 5/5

InFamous Second Son takes place 7 years after the events of inFamous 2. Cole MacGrath is no longer in the picture and instead you take control of Delsin Rowe, a vigilante troublemaker who’s got a good heart and a lot of spray paint. Delsin, with his cop brother Reggie, belong to the Akomish tribe living on the outskirts of Seattle. The world is well aware of conduits, or “bio-terrorists”, after the events that occurred in inFamous 1 & 2, and they are not exactly welcome anymore. A special government division called the Department of Unified Protection (or DUP) runs a campaign against conduits, rounding them up like prisoners so that the rest of the world can live in harmony and safety. A special convoy carrying three highly dangerous conduits is driving through the Akomish territory, only a quick opportunity quickly finds the vehicle relieved of its inhabitants in a terrible crash. Viewing the accident, Delsin and Reggie quickly run to help, not knowing the danger that awaits them; and when Delsin gets too close to one of the trapped prisoners, he gets more than he intended. Coming into contact with one of the prisoners, Delsin seems to absorb his superpower, transforming him into something the whole world feared.

With a new arsenal of tricks, Delsin realizes he just gained a huge target on his head and aims to hunt down the prisoner to get him to undo the transformation. Before Delsin can get any useful information out of him however, the DUP arrives. Augustine, the head of the DUP quickly apprehends the prisoner and begins questioning Delsin over how he got so close to him and what he might have told him. When Delsin refuses to co-operate, he is quickly taken down a notch and immobilized. With no way to fight back, and without any credible information to satisfy Augustine, she turns her efforts towards the tribe, torturing every person for answers that may not even exist until she is satisfied.

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When Delsin learns of Augustine’s tyranny, he vows revenge and the turn of his people to good health. Together with Reggie, he sets out to learn how to use his powers and build his arsenal even more until he can rectify everything that’s happened.

Second Son has a certain realism about it that truly pulls you in and makes you believe everything could actually happen. Conduits are not normal, and therefore not accepted, even Delsin knows and realizes this in his struggle to control his abilities. The entire time you never take your powers for granted, constantly being reminded that whatever it is you’re doing – it’s awesome – something not often focused on in many “superhero” games.

Returning in Second Son is inFamous’ karma system; a system that rewards you for performing either good or evil deeds. This branches so far as to tie its way directly and majorly into the main story line. You’ll have multiple opportunities to drastically alter the way the game ends, truly adding to the experience of making the game how you want to play it (not to mention replay value). With each event, you really get sucked into the feeling of “what I do matters”, allowing you to easily get emotionally involved into the story.

These small, yet consequential aspects really bring the story to life. Throughout the entire game, you will meet new people and develop relationships that you can grow or separate with, depending on how you choose to play. With the addition of having a truly down-to-earth evil antagonist, Second Son really hits the mark on delivering a story you will remember and yearn to complete. Even after one playthrough, you’ll immediately want to go back and find out what happens if you decide to play the other way.

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Gameplay: 5/5

Second Son utilizes previously installed gameplay mechanics from its predecessors. You have powers that evolve based upon your karma to become more deadly and effective. Alongside of a ranged attack, you also have melee, a special ability and some different ways of getting around (who walks anymore?). However, whereas before you would play the entire game to acquire all the different types of abilities, you’re now given each ability basically as soon as you earn the power. At first, this feels a little cheap, like the game is spoon feeding you. However, as you progress through the story, you find that there is a lot withheld from you, and each newly gained power changes the way in which you play – just when you get used to a certain style, you’re given more options and suddenly you’re right back into learning and more excitement!

Enemies seem to have a certain intelligence about them. Take on a group and they’ll fight relentlessly, but get one alone and he’d rather put down his weapon and surrender. There are different rankings of enemies, from standard minions, to elites, to (of course) boss fights. Each has their worth and will make you strategize before you jump (or comet drop) right in. Even though you have super powers, you’re not invincible, something you’ll be reminded of repeatedly on expert mode.

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Besides the normal missions that pit you against waves of enemies, have you tracking a cell phone, or investigating a crime scene, there are a few side missions you can do throughout the mid-sized map of Seattle. Labelled on the mini-map, these vary from an extremely clever and enjoyable spray painting session to tracking bonus story audio files. Most of these are also karmic actions that will help you progress your powers, adding even more value to their worth. Speaking of spray painting sessions, the mechanic is brilliantly utilized. You’ll hold the DualShock 4 vertically and shake the controller as if it were the spray can, then press down the R2 button to spray away while using the motion sensor to aim the cursor. Also on the mini-map are blast shards, which are basically the in-game currency required to “buy” an upgrade. Past installments have had you racing all over the large map searching for any hidden location the blast shards could be held. In Second Son however, they’re all displayed nicely for you on the map, just so long as you can infiltrate a DUP stronghold, clear it of all enemies and destroy the tank-sized recon station in the middle of the district. You’ll not only earn a respawn point, but all the locations of the blast shards and side missions in the area.

While it would have been nice to have a bit more variety in the capabilities of each specific power as seen in past inFamous games, the end game result of owning multiple powers and how they are utilized is enough to make you feel like a god amongst ants.

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Graphics: 5/5

inFamous Second Son sets the new benchmark for graphics on next-gen. From amazing sunsets, to incredible detail on buildings and uniforms, Second Son truly delivers on the wow factor. One of the things that sets games apart is how fluid they are; luckily Second Son stays consistent with its quality, offering the same beautiful images from gameplay to cutscenes, back to gameplay again. Some of the best facial expressions in any game can be seen here, which takes the emotional connection of the events to a whole new level. While fluid and normal body gestures and reactions remind you that these are actual people, you’ll consistently be stunned at how well the small things look. One of the most impressive aspects is the particle control throughout the game. Every time you absorb a power or attack, you get the glorious display of a million independent particles, without any loss to framerate or quality ever. While I had a small personal issue with the smoothness of some of the faces, I never once felt like I had played a game with better graphical quality.

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Sound: 5/5

It’s been a while since I’ve played a game with such an upbeat soundtrack, I forgot what music could really do to you while you game. inFamous Second Son really embraces the idea that you’re playing in current day, as a sort of punk kid, and transcribes it into music to embrace the situations. Heavy guitar tracks and thick rock accompanies you destroying a group of DUP agents, and melodic and subtle rhythms help capture the ambiance of the city at night. Gunfire will easily direct you to where you’re being assaulted from, and the clever effects of different powers being utilized remind you that what you’re capable of is truly dangerous. Citizens will applaud or disdain you based upon your karma and you will react when necessary. However, the most impressive and immersive quality of the entire game that seems to know no bounds, wrapping its pervasive hands around you in an unfailing attempt to make you feel, is the voice acting. From the causal sly remarks and the sympathetic care of a brother, to the power driven revenge of a loved one, you will never forget that this game has people in it. Not characters, people.

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Overall Score: 20/20 = 10 out of 10 

inFamous Second Son is the game we’ve been waiting for on next-gen. With amazing graphics, sound quality and a perfectly executed story, Sucker Punch has truly delivered. The platinum trophy won’t take you long to achieve, but you’ll enjoy every second of it. The immersion of the player into the game is hard to match and you’ll easily find yourself getting tied up in the addictive quest of becoming the strongest conduit that’s ever lived. You won’t need to have played the last 2 games to understand and enjoy this story, so this is a great time to get involved in the series.

Pros:

+ Voice acting is impeccable on all parts

+ Graphics remain top quality consistently without hindrance to game

+ Super powers are awesome and everyone knows it!

+ Story can essentially be what you make it

Cons:

– I wanted more to do after I spend ~25+ hours playing (luckily there’s DLC being released each week for 6 weeks)

inFamous Second Son was purchased by the reviewer and tested for the PlayStation 4 system.

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Trine 2: Complete Story Review (PS4): “An Adventure Worth Revisiting”

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Throughout this generation of consoles, we’ve seen numerous indie developers create games that offer unique experiences from those that are already on the market. In 2009, indie developer Frozenbyte released a side-scrolling puzzle-platformer that incorporated in-depth physics called Trine. The game received a solid amount of positive feedback, with the exception that it lacked an online co-op mode and forced those wanting to play together local only. In December of 2011, Frozenbyte released the sequel to their puzzle-platformer, Trine 2. Taking the elements of the first game, while expanding upon them in practically every department, Trine 2 was the improvement many fans of the first game appreciated. Now, with any new hardware comes the opportunity for developers to provide enhanced versions of their previously released games. Last year, we saw Trine 2: Director’s Cut hit the Wii U. This year, Frozenbyte decided to bring the Wii U’s edition to the PS4, with all the bonus content they added there. However, did Trine 2: Complete Story translate as well to the PS4 as it did the Wii U with Director’s Cut?

Trine 2 follows the events of the first game, in which we find the wizard Amadeus waking up in his home to see a glowing light piercing through his room. After going after the light, Amadeus then realizes that it is the Trine, which reunites him with Pontius (the Knight) and Zoya (the Thief). The Trine brings the heroes together once again as they’re help is needed to restore the kingdom. Along the way, the heroes will run into Rosabel, the Princess of the kingdom, and aid her with vanquishing all the evil in the land. The story is told as if someone were narrating a fairy tale, while there is some banter amongst the characters and some storybook sequences to watch. Additionally, there are poems and letters that can be found in levels that provide a bit more background to the story being told. It’s a charming story and one that evolves as you progress deeper into the game.

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There are a number of elements that Trine 2: Complete Story truly achieves. Let’s start with the gameplay. As mentioned earlier, Trine 2 is a side-scrolling, puzzle-platformer that relies heavily on physics. You’ll take control of Amadeus, Pontius and Zoya, as each one of them will excel in a variety of situations. Amadeus can conjure up mechanical blocks and planks to help the heroes traverse through the environment. He can also interact with the objects within the environment to help solve certain puzzles or further help the heroes navigate ahead. However, when it comes to battling goblins or other creatures, the wizard doesn’t quite excel here. Pontius is a all-out offense character. When it comes to combat, Pontius can clear out waves of creatures standing in the heroes’ way, whether with his trusty sword and shield or with his hammer. He can also utilize his shield to press forward through areas that have projectiles blocking your path. Zoya is more the all-range character. Her combat is more long-distance, resorting to her utilizing the bow and arrow. One of her neatest qualities is traversing with the grappling hook. You’ll be able to attach the grappling hook to any wooden object or ceiling and either climb, descend or swing your way across. As a puzzle-platformer, Trine 2 doesn’t offer a strict design in terms of solutions. There’s always a solution to an environmental puzzle, whether it’s the way the developers intended or more creative methods by the player. It’s an interesting execution, as it doesn’t restrict players from thinking a bit “outside the box” and being creative on how to advance through the levels.

Progressing through the environments, you’ll find blue experience jars that can be collected, some more difficult to nab than others. Every 50 experience points you get will grant you a Skill Point. Pressing the Minus Button, you’ll open up the Skill Tree, in which you’ll be able to distribute points amongst the three heroes. Amadeus can upgrade his conjuring ability to create up to four blocks at once, or even imprison goblins in battle. Pontius can upgrade his sword to have fire surround it for more damage, make his shield magnetic and also throw his hammer across the screen. Zoya will be able to upgrade her arrow types such as ice and explosion, while also getting a stealth ability. If, for any reason, you’re not crazy about the way you upgraded the heroes, you can reset the skill points and respec your characters. In Complete Story, each of the heroes have received an extra exclusive ability to upgrade them to. Amadeus can conjure magnetic objects to stick to each other, Pontius can use his shield to glide across chasms, and Zoya can shoot low-gravity arrows that create a field that slows everything down. Each of the heroes’ new abilities are certainly welcome additions and actually add a new element of play to the game.

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On the Wii U, Frozenbyte took advantage of utilizing the system’s GamePad functionality. With the PS4, they transferred a part of the experience by using the DualShock 4‘s touch-pad. Drawing your finger on the touch-pad, you will be able to aim projectiles and create objects with ease. While it may not feel as natural as the Wii U’s GamePad since you could actually touch where on the actual screen to make actions happen, the touch-pad works really well also.

Trine 2: Complete Story contains not only the 13 levels from the original campaign, but all the content from the Wii U’s “Director’s Cut”. This includes the six levels from the PC-exclusive “Goblin Menace” DLC, as well as the exclusive level that was only available on the Wii U. Once you complete the main campaign, you’ll go right into the Goblin Menace stages. The story continues with Amadeus’s wife being kidnapped from goblins and the heroes are under attack in the kingdom. From here, our heroes continue their quest, but to much more extravagant locales. They’ll venture through the scorching desert, floating islands, and even the insides of a beast. Personally, the stages incorporated here actually seemed to stand out a bit more than the original campaign’s. That’s not to say the original 13 levels were of lesser quality by any means, but the Goblin Menace stages were slightly more memorable. Additionally, you’ll have to find map pieces hidden in each of the Goblin Menace levels to unlock the 20th and final new level, the Dwarven Caverns. This stage serves as more of an epilogue to the two campaigns included and is a nice addition.

Throughout the game, you’ll encounter a few boss battles, which tend to get a bit intense. The bosses in this game will kill you…instantly, if you’re not quick on your feet. You normally can’t approach a boss head-on, swinging your sword like crazy and hope to win. This is a good thing, as a boss should always entail a challenge. While Trine 2’s boss aren’t “insanely” difficult, they maintain a solid challenge that will test your skills. The final boss battles in both the main campaign and Goblin Menace aren’t as difficult as the main bosses due to not being able to die instantly from them, but they’re still challenging battles that feel climatic.

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Upon beating the game, you’ll unlock a few extra features to tinker around with. For starters, you’ll unlock “Hardcore Mode”, which only allows your characters to respawn when you reach a checkpoint once. Also, it removes any mid-level saving. If all your heroes fall, it’s back to the very beginning of the level. This is more for the old-school gaming fan and those really looking to test your skills. You can also now make the Player Selection “Unlimited” so that when you play online with other people, you’re not restricted to a character that’s not in play. Speaking of the online, I’m pleased to state that the game ran smooth as butter, with not an ounce of lag. Playing the game online with a friend or two is definitely the way to go, as chances are you’ll get even more enjoyment out of the game helping each other…or laughing at each other’s mistakes. The trophy set is also much more extensive than the original’s release on PS3, offering 51 trophies now (Platinum is still included).

When it comes to the visual and audio presentation of Trine 2: Complete Story, it’s simply a spectacle. Visually, Trine 2 is absolutely beautiful, full of color, lush detail and incredibly rich texture work. This is one of those games where your jaw will hit the ground when you see how stunning the environments look. It did so when we saw the original release, it furthered that on the Wii U, and I can happily state that it continues to do so on the PS4. The visuals are in full 1080p like the Wii U edition but the enhancement here is that it runs at a smooth 60 fps. The incredibly silky smooth framerate was what really stood out the most for my experience in Trine 2: Complete Story. Ari Pulkkinen (whom is known for his exceptional soundtracks for “OutLand” and “Dead Nation”, as well as the original “Trine”) is brought on board once again to provide another great soundtrack. Whether you’re exploring the lush jungles, scorching desert, or combating enemies, each track fits perfectly in the game. Some tracks are heroic, some charming, some more engaging, and they all blend to provide a soundtrack that nails the game’s atmosphere. The voice acting is decent as well, with the game having that fairy tale feel to it. None of the characters sound “too” serious, but they don’t sound mundane either. It’s that fine line of solid voice acting for the game it’s intended to be. Sound effects are also very effective. Whether you’re hearing the environmental ambiance, the exploding arrows hitting against an enemy, the fire sword swinging away, or even the audio muffling a bit when going underwater, the attention to detail is here.

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Frozenbyte really won me over with Trine 2: Director’s Cut last year and the same remains with Complete Story. Players whom only played the original PS3 release would do very well to double-dip into Complete Story, as the Goblin Menace DLC actually surpasses the core campaign. With it’s charming story, jaw-dropping visuals, great audio, impressive physics and unique gameplay, Trine 2: Complete Story is a game that any PS4 owner can really dig into. It may be one of the pricier indie-based games available on the PSN at the moment ($19.99), but it’s well worth every penny and highly recommend it for platforming fans.

Overall Score: 8.5 out of 10 = BUY IT!

A special thank you to Frozenbyte for providing us the review copies for “Trine 2: Complete Story”! Copy tested on the PS4.

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Killzone Shadow Fall Review (PS4): “Taking a 30-Year Old War Closer to Home than Ever Before”

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Killzone Shadow Fall is the linear continuation of the previous installments: Killzone, Killzone 2 and Killzone 3. It takes place 30 years after the events of Killzone 3 and the drastic war that had started then is still taking place now, with one exception. Instead of fighting across the planets Vekta and Helghan, the war is taking place solely on Vekta. A giant wall separates the two factions after Vekta offered refuge for the Helghans. You play as Lucas Kellan, a shadow marshal employed by the Vektan Security Agency (VSA). As you attempt to win the war for the Vektans you soon find that things aren’t always as they seem – and people are not always as they appear.

Story: 4/5

Killzone Shadow Fall takes a dramatic leap forward in time, in which many things have changed. The Vektans and Helghans now live side by side (again), Lady Visari has resumed control of the Helghan political party, and there is a new enemy – The Black Hand, a radical Helghan group bent on eliminating the Vektans completely. Your job as shadow marshal is to stop all of this and bring Vekta to victory.

Killzone Shadow Fall has a wonderful beginning to its story. It starts off showcasing the events of the past, how we got to where we are now, and begins right after the events of Killzone 3. You get a small, but impactful glimpse into how Lucas came to be what he is, and why he fights for the Vektans so passionately. With some summaries and an easy-to-follow time lapse, we arrive in present time, with Lucas doing whatever is necessary to protect his squad and his homeland. Lucas has allowed himself to be captured by the Helghans, and is about to be traded for a prisoner the VSA have, when someone opens fire and all hell breaks loose. Lucas quickly dispatches his Helghan escort and attempts to make it back to his armada, when the prisoner he was to be exchanged for pins him down. However, instead of killing Lucas, the prisoner decides to leave him and run back to safety. Little does Lucas know this prisoner will play a pivotal role in the events that are to follow.

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The campaign proceeds with Lucas following orders from Sinclair – his leader in command and father figure. Multiple missions pit him against the newly developed and highly-trained Helghan army. Lucas is ordered to cover up many tasks, including one very suspicious weapons research in space. Massar, a VSA scientist in charge of discovering new technology to fight the Helghans with, has been captured and Lucas must retrieve her for the VSA. However, things take an interesting turn and Lucas begins to see what no one could have anticipated. From this point on, it is up to Lucas to save the Vektan race.

Killzone Shadow Fall does a marvelous job at continuing the war torn story of the past titles. It beautifully displays the politics and underlying actions of two nations at war, and how everything affects not just the governments, but the people living in each country as well. With a few plot twists and clever planning to ensure validity to the series, it is a solid installment in what has already been put into place.

One of the best things about Shadow Fall’s campaign is the emotional connection it attempts to make with the player. This is done by highlighting the effects the war has had on the people and allowing Lucas Kellen to talk. It may seem like a silly notion for such a small detail to make a large difference, but it truly helps you to get inside the person’s head you’re playing as and become invested into the story. With some clever, subtle and outright ties to the past games, Shadow Fall is a must play for fans of the series. While those who are new to the story may not get as much out of it, they will certainly enjoy what it has to offer.

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Gameplay: 5/5

Killzone has always been known to have a unique feel to it; an inertia that the guns would have making it more realistic. However, that is no longer a part of the game and it now feels much like every other shooter. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is slightly disappointing to see something that was specific to the Killzone franchise omitted. Nonetheless, it has the same qualities as the past installments, with a few key differences. Instead of playing with a squad as you have in past games, you are now running solo – with a little help. You now get control over a small but powerful little robot, the OWL. The OWL acts as your companion throughout the game and is more valuable than any teammate could ever be. With a smooth and easy swipe on the PS4’s touchpad, you can assign the OWL different commands (attack/distract, stun, shield or zipline) and active it with L1. This process is very well integrated and makes for a welcomed addition into playing the campaign.

The rest of the campaign is played out as it has been in the past, relying heavily on gun fights to progress. While the cover system has lost some of its focus, it is still present and fairly fluid. An interesting addition to the game progression is the ability to choose multiple ways to deal with an objective. In many circumstances you are offered multiple paths, making progression seem less linear. In a page from Guerilla Cambridge’s earlier installment, Killzone: Mercenary, you may choose to move forward with guns blazing, or stealthily via ventilation shafts, overpasses or different routes. The amazing thing is that this theme is carried into multiplayer. Level design has never been so well done in a shooter – ever. Brutal melees make a pleasant return and even get an overhaul with new drop down melees and dual kill melees. Have two enemies within view? No problem – drop down and stab one in the back of the neck, then click R3 to throw your knife into the other enemies’ head! There’s nothing more satisfying than going on a stealth rampage, snapping necks and slitting throats.

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When you’re all done with single player you can make your way over to multiplayer, where a whole new experience is waiting for you. You will quickly learn that just about everything is automatically unlocked for you, which creates the argument of “why should I even play this then if there’s no real objective?” Well, hopefully because it’s fun; and to be honest, it is fun! You can still unlock a few weapon attachments such as flashlights, scopes and under-barrel attachments, but as far as new abilities go, what you start with is what you end with. Gameplay is largely based on teamwork, something often forgotten in the FPS world. Three distinct classes allow you to help your team how you want, though some classes feel a little forced. The scout will take care of enemies from a distance with its sniper rifles; the assault class will take care of everyone up close; and the support class will do everything else. Literally. Everything. Else. This is a large disappointment to series veterans as you are now forced to pick an ability you like and deal with whatever weapons are offered by that class. Gun variation is both large and small as different classes’ weapons vary dramatically, but within each class the guns are practically identical. Throw some terribly useless secondary weapons and some simple yet practical explosives into the mix and you’re basically just choosing an ability to run with, without much thought to anything else. Thankfully, Guerilla Games has finally appeared to balance the abilities out; giving usage and lifespan timers to everything – and finally getting spawn points right.

Nonetheless, Shadow Fall does offer a large teamwork feel but if you would like to run off on your own, you can certainly do so. As mentioned before, the level designs are impeccable, offering multiple ways to traverse through any map, largely diminishing camping and promoting strategic playing. Also, GG has seemingly done away with spawn camping. Most maps have at least 3 to 4 exit points, protective barriers and dangerously powerful turrets at each team’s spawn, meaning that if you’re getting spawn camped – it’s your fault. With a variety of game modes and a pleasant, yet underused game creation mode multiplayer, Shadow Fall is sure to stay fresh for a long time, especially considering the verification of plenty of DLC in the future.

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Graphics: 5/5

Since Killzone 2, GG has had a reputation for creating beautiful games and Shadow Fall is no exception. It certainly does help that it has always been designed for, and on the PS4, but if this is just the beginning, I cannot wait to see what lies in the wake of the next few years. Traversing through the game (in general, campaign and multiplayer are essentially equal in visual quality), you will notice rich and deep textures that continue on for as far as you can see. Detail is seemingly not lost at long distances and you will constantly be reminded of this every time you look down a scope. By far, the largest jump in graphical quality from the PS3 are the lighting effects. Flashlights intended to blind enemies are perfectly created, spotlights and small LED’s create realistic glares, and streaks in the night and the environmental effects are unprecedented. Even in multiplayer you will find yourself inhibited by the strong glow of the sun on a bright map – try not to stare at it in all of its beauty. While the rain and water effects could have been improved, this is truly a benchmark for future games on next-gen.

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Sound: 3/5

Let me get this out of the way: there is no more grenade beep. Instead, there is now a subtle and mechanical clicking noise. Never fear however, as the kill chirp and melon popping goodness from a headshot in multiplayer are still present! Though Shadow Fall has a plethora of different effects, none of them are really anything we haven’t seen or heard before. Weapons all make different sounds when firing or reloading; automata will make noises when being constructed, taken down or being activated, and the classic Helghan voice work is still present. While you will appreciate some nice petrusite effects, there isn’t much that really grabs you, with the exception of one thing: the music. Throughout the campaign, the music reflects what is going on and will help guide you to you current objective. If enemies are sounding an alarm, you’ll know from the heavy energetic music. If you’re sneaking through a corridor trying not get bombarded by Higs, the music will reflect that as well. All the while if your status changes, so will the music, making it a truly dynamic experience. While I wish I could reprimand the person responsible for passing the multiplayer objective announcer voiceovers (they are truly awful, both Higs and VSA), the rest of the game’s audio won’t blow you away. However, you will be content with what detail has been added, as it’s basically what you would expect after seeing the rest of the game’s quality.

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Overall Score: 17/20 = 8.5 out of 10

Killzone Shadow Fall offers a tremendously enjoyable experience for a launch title on the PS4, and gives justice to the past installments by continuing the war we have come to know, which is especially enjoyable to series veterans. While the multiplayer has its quirks, many things have been improved upon, making for an enjoyable, and hopefully long lasting, experience overall. The attention to graphical detail is unprecedented and even though the audio throughout the game isn’t extraordinary, it will satisfy your thirst for quality (just don’t pay attention to the multiplayer commanding voiceovers). Killzone Shadow Fall definitely sets the bar for future next-gen games and should not be ignored if you’re looking for something that plays just a little differently from other shooters.

PROS:

+ Amazing graphics

+ Continues with a well-grounded story

+ Seriously impressive level design

+ “Play how you want” MP – team/solo

CONS:

– Multiplayer mostly completed for you upon start

– Awful voice acting in multiplayer commanders

Killzone Shadow Fall was purchased by the reviewer for the PlayStation 4 system.

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DualShock 4 Controller Hands-On Preview

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Several retailers, such as Amazon and Best Buy, are beginning to sell the PlayStation 4’s DualShock 4 controller nearly two weeks ahead of the console’s release. This might seem like a strange move, but it’s been confirmed that the new controller is, in fact, compatible (at least in the most essential capacities) with many current PS3 games, such as Call of Duty. Some, like myself, also wanted to make sure we have an extra controller handy on release day so our friends can get in on the multiplayer action with us on day one.

A controller is one of the most essential pieces of a great gaming experience with a console. Sony’s always managed to make waves with their line of DualShock controllers, released as far back as for the original PlayStation. Every iteration has seen streamlines and improvements on the core design while still maintaining the originality that makes the DualShock line one of the most preferred controllers in gaming. With that in mind, I was excited to get my hands around a DualShock 4 of my own, and for those of you who are still wondering how it stacks up, read on; I’ll get into the form and function, the good and the bad, and even a little hands-on time with the DualShock 4 during a few games of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.

First Impressions

The first thing you’ll notice after picking up the DualShock 4 is that it feels much more solidly built than the DualShock 3. While both controllers’ internals are contained in a plastic chassis, the DualShock 4 feels much sturdier and less cheaply-built. The controller also seems a tad bit bigger than its last-gen cousin, which might throw some die-hards off at first, but adjustment comes quickly. It’s also pretty hard not to notice the new design of the control sticks, and it’s an excellent modification from the previous line. The raised lip around the edges of the top make it much harder for your thumbs to slip off when doing constant rotations and split-second flicks. The D-Pad has been improved upon too, in spite of its previous excellence. Each cardinal direction is a bit more spaced from the others, and the entire D-Pad is a bit larger overall. I’m very happy with this change – it’s a great boon for fighting fans, where the slightest false read from a controller can mean the difference between a Hadouken and a Shoryuken, and nobody wants to lose a close match over using the wrong move.

No doubt one of the most controversial changes to the DualShock 4 will be the new L2 and R2 triggers. Now, they seem to deserve the name much more than they used to, as they sport a concave curve (like an actual trigger on a firearm) rather than the convex curves of old. It’s true that the DualShock 4 may be losing a bit of its originality by making its triggers more like the ones found on an Xbox 360 controller, but coming from someone whose fingers would sometimes slip off the triggers when in use, this is a welcome change. Interestingly enough, this could change the dynamic of the default controller configuration in shooters on the PS4; whereas games previously used L1 and R1 for aiming and shooting, respectively, the new upgrades to L2 and R2 could very well make them the standard. So long as they provide the option to switch between the two setups, though, everyone should be happy.

The newer additions to the DualShock 4 – the Share button, touch pad, and light bar – are certain to make a real splash once the PS4 is released. Naturally, as of yet they have no functionality, not even the light bar (which, theoretically, should be compatible with the PS3’s existing Move system). Speaking for their position, however, everything sits right where it should. The Share button is accessible without getting in the way, and it’s unlikely you’ll accidently post a video of your most humiliating defeat unless you intend to. The light bar remains completely unobstructed when holding the controller, even if you put a finger on each of the L and R buttons simultaneously (as I’ve known some players to do). It’s safe to say that its functionality will work smoothly during even the most intense gameplay session. As for the touch pad, while it may seem out of place at first, it’s clear that it isn’t meant to be used alongside the more typical gamepad buttons. It is, however, a pleasure to interact with. The entire touch pad clicks in when pressed, not unlike the touch pads featured on many laptops today. Also of note are the inclusion of a speaker and audio-in jack on the front and bottom of the controller face, respectively, with an add-on port next to the audio jack. This is no doubt to accommodate the upcoming PS4 wired headset, but it would seem the inclusion of a speaker also expands on the audio output options available to PS4 developers, much like the WiiMote’s speaker did for its games. It may also give us an option for listening to voice chat without the need for an attached headset. Overall, these wildcards are sure to make a real splash once the PS4 makes it proper release.

There’s another quirk here that DualShock veterans may notice right away – while the familiar PS button is present in the bottom-middle of the controller face, the start and select buttons are nowhere to be found. The lone “Options” button, present opposite the Share button on the right of the controller face, seems to have replaced these two individual buttons, and it’s probably safe to say that this button will roll the functionality of the Start and Select buttons into one. If it works, I’m all for this streamlining, though it’s possible some finagling might have to happen for users who are going to subscribe to the PS4’s upcoming Gaikai service for backlogged games. Clicking in the added touchpad certainly seems like a possible replacement.

Other than these specific points, I’ve got to say that overall, the controller just sports a really solid feel. From the chassis itself to each and every button, the DualShock 4 feels like it’s built to last. Button presses are easy, yet sport an impact you can feel. The overall bigger shape and added spacing between buttons means it’s much easier to avoid pressing extra buttons by accident. And it really has to be said what a welcome improvement the new L2 and R2 triggers are.

Field Tests

In order to test the DualShock 4’s new build, I decided to play a few rounds of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 using the new controller. A few notes about this if you’re looking to try it yourself:

  • The DualShock 4 will only work when plugged in with a USB cable. The PS3 can’t pick up the DualShock 4 over Bluetooth.
  • The PS button will not work on the DualShock 4. You’ll need a PS3 controller to access the PS button’s functionality, like quitting a game.
  • The Select and Start buttons’ functionality is replicated with the Share and Option buttons, respectively.

With all of that in mind, I booted up BLOPS 2 and went into a multiplayer match. Though I hadn’t played for a month or two, I was able to quickly adjust to the new feel of the DualShock 4. To really put the controller through its paces, I played my LMG class – one of the slower, more lumbering and deliberate weapon classes in the game.

However, once I got to lining up my shots and opening fire, I was amazed by how accurate and responsive the new R stick is. Sony have really tweaked the sensitivity from the DualShock 3, and the new level of control and accuracy was impressive. Whereas I would sometimes aim too far and miss my mark with the DS3, my shots landed dead-center every time with the DS4. I also elected to switch the assignments of the L and R buttons, such that L2 and R2 are used for aiming and shooting, respectively. Though I’m still a big fan of the instant responsiveness of L1 and R1 for FPS games, I have to say that the triggers on the DualShock 4 just feel right, and are extremely responsive. There was a familiar yet fresh feeling to these triggers, and it was extremely satisfying to squeeze them and unload a hail of lead on my opponents. The switch brought back a nostalgic feel from my days with the Xbox 360 controller, and aside from accidently firing off a shot instead of throwing a grenade, the switched control setup was extremely intuitive and didn’t take long to get back into.

I made a very subtle discovery while playing with this setup – the DualShock 4 seems ergonomically designed for this sort of control setup with shooters. After a couple of games, I noticed that my hands fit more comfortably around the controller with my index fingers on the 2 triggers, while my thumbs were more relaxed on the control sticks. While I’m sure old-school fans will be just fine using the classic PS shooter setup, it seems the controller is built for this new  intended use of the triggers.

With a few games down, I have to say that the DualShock 4 really did make a difference in my game. It seems like my K/D ratio was actually higher in spite of being a couple of months out of practice, and there’s no question that the new, finely-tuned DS4 is the reason why. While I don’t yet have the chance to see what the touchpad, light bar, and share button can really do, in terms of the more salient aspects of the controller, it’s safe to say that any PS4 owner is going to have an excellent, precise, and comfortable experience with the DualShock 4.

Just for bonus points, I decided to give the new D-Pad a run too, and loaded up Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition. Here’s another game that I’ve fallen out of practice with for a few months, and so I was expecting at least a little bit of a warm-up curve; yet again, however, I was pleasantly surprised. The newer, larger D-Pad really does make a difference when executing attacks, and the face buttons seem extremely responsive as well. I was pulling off combos and stringing together special moves more easily than I ever could with the DS3. The most die-hard fighting fans will no doubt be sticking with an arcade stick for the PS4 (once one is released), but the rest of us certainly have an excellent and capable control method for fighters in the DualShock 4.

Wrapping It Up

What we’ve seen of the DualShock 4 from press conferences and commercials is certainly exciting from an innovation perspective, with the new input methods and the inclusion of a share button, but when it comes to the improvements in mechanics and build quality, nobody can just tell you how it’s improved – you’ve got to get your hands on it for yourself. After hearing a lot of talk, I was extremely impressed and excited by what I got to experience in Sony’s new controller. Finely-tuned controls, ideal button placement, and solid build quality come together in a package that’s going to improve the gameplay experience over anything Sony have come out with before. If you’re already on board for getting a PS4, I’d encourage you to get yourself a spare controller early, and start to experience how much the DualShock 4 is going to up your game. If you’re still on the fence, try to get your hands on a DS4 and see how it feels to you. The controller is a central component in a console experience, and the DualShock 4 may very well win you over.

Radio Xtreme – Episode 29: “PlayStation 4 Recap and Thoughts”

DualShock 4

In this special episode of Radio Xtreme, Glacier928 and special guest, K20NY, recap the Sony event and discuss all the latest info for the PlayStation 4. Sit back and enjoy as we condense the 2 hour conference into 20+ minutes!