Review – Sword Art Online Hollow Realization

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After selling more than a million copies of the previous games worldwide, BandaiNamco is fully aware that Sword Art Online is now a big asset of its JRPG line-up. By deciding to re-create Aincrad in Sword Art Online Hollow Realization, the publisher bets on nostalgia for this episode.

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Invited by Seven to beta test a new virtual reality game, Kirito and his friends come to Sword Art Origin. This software being developed on Aincrad as base (where Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment took place), the infamous «death game» surfaces again in the form of a mysterious message saying «I’m back to Aincrad». This, and the arrival of a NPC of complex AI named Premiere will mark the start of troubles because the development of Sword Art Origin will soon go awry.

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PS4

The dev team defends this new yet old setting because they said they wanted players to experience an Aincrad from the start (in Hollow Fragment, you start at floor 76). The game system is roughly the same as in the first game on PSVita and PS4 : you prepare your gear and interact with your buddies in the town before teleporting yourself in the various worlds of Sword Art Origin. The only difference is that you can now bring 3 allies and not just one. But the fact that Seven is part of the plot suggest that Sword Art Online Hollow Realization is actually closer to Sword Art Online Lost Song than you might think.

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PSVita

Indeed, as in Lost Song, death in Sword Art Online Hollow Realization is not definitive : you can easily revive a fallen ally whereas in Hollow Fragment, any KO meant an immediate game over. While players in Sword Art Origin are safe, NPCs don’t come back the same. NPCs are a key element in this episode : there are dozens of them in the village and you can invite any of them in your party. BandaiNamco makes the risky bet that you’ll like them as much as the heroines. But in the end, an NPC is nothing more than a series of 0 and 1, and can’t have the charisma of a main character. Sword Art Online Hollow Realization clearly fails at delivering intensity in its narrative, which by the way accounts for a tiny part of the total length of the game. Nothing like the mature atmosphere and the suspense of the recent anime series.

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The story actually doesn’t unfold before 30 or 40 hours. There at last you get a few (precious few) cut-scenes, but for most part you won’t have anything else to follow than character side events. Let’s say it straight, those events have a very light tone : slice of life only, the dark atmosphere of the Hollow Area doesn’t exist here. True, it’s fun at times but it never goes beyond the friendship and worries of your average teenagers. Another disappointment is the further use of live 2D for dialog. That means next to no cut-scenes in the scenario and rather boring scenes describing battles that aren’t shown. It feels cheap for a game that sells hundreds of thousands and comes from such a great anime. Even tinier series like Atelier have dropped that for years.

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The (numerous) illustrations look a bit commonplace compared to what was offered in Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment. The latter was rated CERO C in Japan (CERO B for Hollow Realization) and had more risqué and more interesting artwork. It’s better investing in the excellent manga adaptations Sword Art Online Progressive and Sword Art Online Girls’ Ops at this point.

Let’s go into the field of Sword Art Origin. It’s not an open-world as we know it nowdays because each of the six themed worlds (forest, desert, citadel, etc.) are unlocked progressively, and themselves divided into smaller linear areas. Sword Art Online Hollow Realization never escapes its linearity and doesn’t give much freedom to the player. Objectives are all marked (giving very inaccurate information at times) and there’s no secondary quest that would invite you to explore further or go back in former places. The only entertainment lies in Event Fragments, random hunt quests in which you face tougher monsters. Those represent excellent leverage because you often get high-rank equipment.

The battle system is a mix of the first two episodes : it’s basically an action-RPG since you attack directly with square (Hollow Fragment was relying on auto-attack) but the action aspect is less rich than in Lost Song. On the tactical side, you get back the skill palettes from Hollow Fragment. L1 and R1 allow you to give orders to allies, including the now famous switch that switches positions between Kirito and a friend, then triggering a powerful attack. Even better, you can order all your teammates to fire at will for maximum damage. Linking attacks effectively sometimes leads to a skill chain, which launches a light spell of dramatic effect. Accuracy is a problem, because the lock isn’t effective and you’re likely to hit the void. Premiere is the only character that can «die» but here again the game is a bit lenient since you have 60 seconds to revive her. Far, very far from Hollow Fragment where any mistake had you start from scratch, giving real heat to battles.

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PSVita

The palette at the bottom of the screen contains the passive skills regarding the status of your character. There’s quite some room to cram everything you need to strengthen your hero. It’s possible to dramatically increase your attack, your defense, your HP, your resistance to bad statuses… Becoming such a superman necessitates that you analyse the skill tree, so large that you can only fill a fraction during the main story, and choose wisely the most effective items for your playstyle. So and despite a poorer gameplay than the past episodes in general, there is depth in Sword Art Online Hollow Realization.

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PS4

You quickly understand that in the fight against the main bosses, rather interesting because more complex than before. Each of them has body parts that you’ll have to break in order to deal critical damage. You side with a large number of NPCs, which gives a real impression of raid as it is depicted in the anime. The boss fights get increasingly harder and you’ll have to be ready with the right abilities if you want to succeed. The final boss is absolutely ferocious and show a more unforgiving side of the gameplay, which goes in the right way because it arouses passion. Too bad nothing of this is felt during random battles or mid-bosses that are quite tiresome.

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PS4

As much as Sword Art Online Hollow Realization is faithful to Hollow Fragment’s system, this status quo is in fact a step back if you consider the elements in Lost Song that have vanished without reason. In particular, how can you not be revolted by the fact that the twenty or so playable characters of the previous game are no longer playable at all? You are forced to play as Kirito : BandaiNamco has de facto divided the number of playable characters by 20… Worse, the bow doesn’t exist anymore! Shinon, sniper in the Phantom Bullet part of the anime and Archer in Mother Rosario is now stuck with a damn spear… So not only does Sword Art Online Hollow Realization limit the gameplay, but it also fails to follow the context.

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PSVita

On the positive side, let’s stress that the hero’s look can be modified anytime. The character creation menu is rich and effective, allowing to give birth to your ideal protagonist in no time. That said, it stays as Kirito in the narrative, which is extremely confusing in case you choose a female character. Moreover, a man’s voice in the narrative is mandatory, so you have to deactivate it if you’re playing a girl. The multiplayer mode, which has you travel into Sword Art Origin with other players in order to defeat named monsters, is a good, profitable and entertaining way of enjoying your own avatar.

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PSVita

On PSVita, Sword Art Online Hollow Realization is even less convincing. Graphically speaking, texture quality drops seriously and character modeling is really poor in some cases. It clearly lacks polish if you compare with Sword Art Online Lost Song, released last year. We’re surprised to witness bland environments, while Hollow Area had complex architecture and breathtaking sceneries. Disarray at experienced the framerate hiccups, being progressively fixed thanks to 5 updates. On boss fights, the drop is astonishing… A funny way to thank Vita players, whose enthusiasm two years ago made the once Vita exclusive Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment a global success.

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PS4

The result is of course a bit better on PS4. Textures are a lot sharper, especially in the town, but dungeons don’t feel really more impressive. Lightning effects and attack effects, on the other hand, look great. Character modeling show some progress but not enough : Premiere’s 3D model is still hideous, and graphical bugs are often spotted. No problem in motion though, 60 fps is guaranteed on the home console. Music is maybe the only department where Sword Art Online Hollow Realization performs well : symphonies are great and live up to the series, and field themes make the walk enjoyable. Welcome to SAO is so remarkable that you could stay in the menu for hours.

Sword Art Online Hollow Realization is the story of a publisher that makes AAA revenues while keeping making a AA game. Under-investment hurts this newest episode even more than last year, making it impossible to reach the greatness of the anime. The unacceptable loss of the new features brought by Lost Song leaves me crestfallen and the feeble technical side doesn’t help. A less-than-average Sword Art Online game that I can hardly recommend at full price.

Review – God Eater 2 Rage Burst

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In the long struggle to mimic the success of Monster Hunter and despite capable rookies like Tôkiden, the God Eater series has always been a solid 2nd so far. Although well behind Capcom’s champion, it still is one of the most popular action games in Japan. All that BandaiNamco had to do was to erase the image of a mere hunting game and offer a richer experience.

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PSVita

In the distant future of God Eater, mankind is nearly extinct. Humans are being preyed by aggressive and monstrous creatures called Aragamis, which also possess evolving capabilities far beyond those of humans. The longer the war against the Aragamis lasts, more hopeless it becomes. To make it worse, a crimson rain starting pouring, infecting those under it with an incurable disease. God Eaters are mankind’s only hope to avoid destruction : those men and women are chosen for their ability to equip jinki, weapons borrowing Aragami cells and therefore the only way to fight them. God Eater 2 Rage Burst impresses immediately by its post-apocalyptic setting and its vision of the future, symbolized by its protean weapons as large as their bearer, and capable of morphing into a railgun or any high-caliber rifle.

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PS4

Inspired by this rich base storyline, BandaiNamco’s title features a complex scenario, far beyond your average hunting game. Let’s stress that the European branch of the publisher is rather generous at this occasion, because not only does God Eater 2 Rage Burst fully includes God Eater 2 (released in Japan in 2013), but they also give you God Eater Resurrection (the remake of the very first one) for free! You have the entire saga for the price of one game, no better deal. This sequel has quite a couple of twists to startle and fascinate the player : treason and drama are on the agenda, coupled with mature themes like human experiments, loyalty or sacrifice. Told with care, this tale is full of emotions, with political conflicts and frightening revelations. God Eater 2 Rage Burst follows with a dark atmosphere, but also touching thanks to Livie : the hooded girl has the power to adapt any jinki and see the past of the previous bearer.

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PSVita

Having a good story is nice, but having a correctly-paced story is better. Let’s say it straight, God Eater 2 Rage Burst is loaded with uneventful missions that extend the playtime to 50 hours or more. Not especially a drawback provided you have fun with the gameplay, but it certainly does water down the narrative. To fill the void, nothing better than tackling character events. God Eater’s universe is full of buddies who have all a role, comic or dramatic. In particular, everything linked to Canon, a pink-haired girl whose aiming is terrible, has been tremendously funny. Eventually, the only sad news is that none of those characters are playable, the player being stuck to the avatar created at the very beginning. The character creation menu is fairly good and allows you to design a character you’d like, but what a shame given the numerous lovable mates…

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PS4

As for the game system, God Eater 2 Rage Burst is not an Action-RPG, but a pure action game since there isn’t experience to gain, and that the dexterousness of the player is way more important than improving his character. The only way to make your hero stronger is to improve his weapon. Your jinki will get new forms as you go further in R&D, kafkaesque system with poor ergonomy given the length of the item lists. Other problem, the necessary materials are scarce, the drop rate being at best 10 or 15%. The result is even more tiring sub-missions that we surely could have done without, spending hours to strengthen one blade not being very motivating. You can also allocate skills to your weapon and shield, skills that you get from relics obtained after the battles. Rise your HP, improve close range combat, stamina… the possibilities have been greatly enhanced since the original God Eater 2.

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PSVita

Missions will always send you face one or several Aragamis in closed and relatively small areas. Therefore, all the fun in God Eater 2 Rage Burst will come from its fast-paced combat. The game features super high-speed action and you do have to dodge every few seconds or so if you don’t want to take critical damage. Half a dozen close-range weapons are available, from the very classic but reliable two-handed blade to the scythe introduced in this 2015 version. There are as many fireweapons, from light machine guns to railguns. No doubt that everyone can find its own battle style, and even vary to enjoy a different experience at times.

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PS4

In terms of active capacities, God Eater 2 Rage Burst allows you to modify the base combo of your weapon by adding Blood Arts. Those have different effects like throwing shockwaves, extend the reach of a weapon, healing or adding a devastating blow to a downed Aragami. The hoshoku will use the Aragami cells of your weapon : it will morph into a giant jaw that can bite the enemy. Very base of God Eater’s gameplay, it makes your character enter Burst mode, improving agility and stamina. This must be used as often as you can, even though finding an opening is not always easy. At such occasion you also gain special bullets taken from Aragamis, that are more efficient than average.

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PS4

But the big novelty in God Eater 2 Rage Burst is the Blood Rage state. Activating it is tricky and risky : you have to be at 100% symbiosis level or more with your weapon (which gradually go up by attacking normally) and achieve one or several covenants. The more convenants, the more powerful the Blood Rage gets.

Still, you have only 30 seconds to accomplish those actions (deal a certain amount of damage, bite your enemy, etc) so it won’t work every time since any interruption can ruin your attempt. It’s still highly rewarding because it can turn the tables in difficult missions : your character takes an angel form, becomes fully invincible, and twice as fast and strong.

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PS4

Even if you come to master all this perfectly, Argamis will make you bite the dust. Not only are BandaiNamco’s creatures strong enough to KO your avatar in a few blows, but they’re also astonishingly nimble. Even the most massive Aragamis move faster than you! Battles are violent and fast, every struggle is desperate and you need to adapt quickly if you want to win. Each Aragami has one or several elemental weaknesses : you therefore need to prepare your equipement so as you get the advantage, for example by manufacturing elemental blades or bullets.

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PS4

God Eater 2 Rage Burst also introduces two elements that make the game harder. The first is a resistance gauge that goes down everytime your avatar is KO. When it reaches zero, the mission is a failure even if your comrades are still standing. It was a necessary evolution of the gameplay since game over could virtually never occur in the God Eater 2 of 2013. The second point is that you now face survival missions, which actually are 3 to 5 battles in a row with no more recovery items than usual. The game lets you have only a limited set of potions, not enough to survive on the long term.

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PS4

God Eater’s bestiary is of uneven design. The art direction leans more towards a devilish and grotesque look for most of the creatures so we’re pretty far off Monster Hunter’s majestic dragons. Besides, it’s not that varied either, the same monsters being thrown at you regularly. That said, some fiends like the infamous Kyûbi are charimastic. The well-known mythological fox is so fierce that even getting close to it is risky. Worse still, some bosses can KO you in one blow, and those are the longest fights. In God Eater 2 Rage Burst, you’re not hunting, you’re the hunted.

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PS4

When it goes real hard, the best thing to do is to call reinforcements. God Eater is first and foremost a multiplayer series, so it’s quite easy to create a lobby and get some buddies to join you (or invite a friend). The online environment is rock-solid, with no framerate drop observed. Bear in mind that you can only progress in the story with players that have reach the same point as you. It’s possible to filter players so that you meet only people of similar level.

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PSVita

Despite living in the shadows of PS4, the Vita version of God Eater 2 Rage Burst is comparatively the best one. The overall contents are the same, online is as good as on PS4 and of course, you can play wherever you are! Graphically speaking, the game looks better relatively to the system it runs on : the 3D of God Eater 2 is ageing a bit, but stays a lot above the average of portable games. The only drawback concerns the healing items : it’s not possible to use potion via the touchscreen, whereas Phantasy Star on Vita allowed it. On PS4, it’s quick and effective thanks to the touchpad of the controller.

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PS4

Clearly on PS4 the game looks average at best. While for financial reasons it’s difficult to expect that the PS4 version could have a 3D engine of its own, the devs could have at least corrected the character models a bit, since they look unrefined. As it is, God Eater 2 Rage Burst hasn’t progressed much technically compared to God Eater 2 in 2013 on Vita, the PS4 display being an HD slightly upscaled version of the former. The game is not even in 1080p but actually 1000p, which adds ugly black outlines on your screenshots. The dynamic sound environment will make up for it : the orchestrations of this action game are varied (rock, electro, symphonic…) and give an epic dimension to the fights. Kaketa mono for example concludes the hardest survival mission in a wonderful way. The frequent communications with the operator also make a great atmosphere. Pure art.

BandaiNamco did the right thing in making God Eater 2 Rage Burst more than a mere hunting game. It’s a solid action game boasting fast and thrilling gameplay as well as a good (but badly paced) storyline. The bestiary is not the best in the field and the PS4 version could have looked better, but that doesn’t alter the intense and compelling gaming experience.

Special thanks to Akuma for his help during those long campaigns

Review – Gal Gun Double Peace

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No one saw it coming, but here it is. The growing appetite for eccentric (and kinky) Japanese games in the West allowed the rise of new business actors like PQube, which is bringing Gal Gun Double Peace to our shores. That might not be the biggest game of the year, but I’ve cleared it last year and it’s worth a little mention.

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When I say “cleared”, that’s actually not that complicated since its main story lasts for approximately three hours. No big drama then : the main character called Hôdai (you, in fact since everything is from a first person perspective) is hit by a cupid trainee, Ecolo. Having been shot at full power, poor (?) Hôdai is immediately pursued by every single girl of the school!

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In this bizarre rail shooter, the player will have to calm things down by shooting… pheromones at the girls! There are 70 schoolgirls in the game, so fatally you’ll come across the same ones pretty often given the density of the levels. They all have a weak point (head, arm, thighs or… elsewhere) so you maximize your time and score if you’re accurate enough. If the girls come close to you, they will confess their love and that will have for effect to diminish your life bar. Aside of that, you’ll find between each chapters small requests from classmates asking you to find one particular thing hidden in the background. A little plus that gives a little more interest to the challenge because your spotting skills will be tested.

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The game also include boss characters against which you’ll have to be even more smart and precise. Nothing extraordinary, but a high score in those battles is required to get the best possible ending. Those sequences then appear has a real challenge for the player who has no choice but to seek the perfect. Unorthodox in its theme, Gal Gun Double Peace ends up being kind of classic in its gameplay. The shooting elements alone don’t really make a difference.

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Short, Gal Gun Double Peace still has a big replay value by having a dozen of different endings depending on your relation with the 6 main girls. You’ll have to choose between Hôdai’s childhood friends : Shinobu the sporty girl a bit tsundere, or her timid little sister Maya. Later in the game, you’ll be able to shift to a parallel route in which you can be more intimate with Kurona the demon girl or Ecolo, the angel responsible for all this mess. The last two characters are hidden and are to be discovered during the progression.

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The friend level necessary to obtain a true ending (or at least a good ending) depends on various factors. First of all, the answers you’ll give to the multiple-choice questions you’ll be asked will, like in a dating sim, impact your relations with other characters. Therefore, you need to try to guess which one will please your partner. The second parameter is the boss fights, in which you’ll have to do your best to achieve something. Last thing, you’ll have to be extremely precise in the character events. Those are particularly quirky situations in which you have to zoom on your girl’s body and shoot small icons, but avoiding hitting her directly! Those sequences can be replayed later in score attack mode.  

The big problem is that the progression system leaves little room for mistake : you have to be near perfect in everything you do. Otherwise, you have no choice but to restart from scratch. Because of that, the fear of failure lessens the fun. It’s pretty much impossible to find all the right answers in one walkthrough : if we set q the number of questions, the number of possibilities is 5q, and then the probability of a perfect score is 1/5q! Maybe not to that extend if you discard the obvious joke answers, but it’s so annoying that you literally have to read a walkthrough while playing… I do reckon that Gal Gun Double Peace should have had a lot more tolerance, especially in easy mode, so that non-veterans players can fully enjoy it too without having to redo it 20 times.

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That makes it a slight disappointed as far as I’m concerned, but Gal Gun Double Peace is by no means a bad game. It’s first and foremost an ecchi game and it does it really well. You have to consider it more like a fan-service interactive visual novel. Inti Creates’ character design for this game is wonderful and efficiently rendered by the modeling. This is not super amazing 3D of course, but it does look sharp and nice, and still technically solid for PSVita (the pictures of this article are all taken from PS4 though). Dubbing is quite fantastic too, partly thanks to Yui Horie who plays Ecolo’s role in a very cute voice. Kurona’s lines are also hilarious in her tendency to say DEATH instead of です in Japanese, and her natural inclination to make a fool of everyone. Illustrations, events and outfits reach high levels of sexiness and the game certainly doesnt hold back in being provocative, using hentai themes in numerous situations.

Short and frustrating in its gameplay, Gal Gun Double Peace is no less a very pleasant title for its target audience. Gifted with cool design and fun characters, it delivers its fan-service offering to the fullest, which may well make up for its drawbacks.

A look back at some E3 2016 videos

Fate Tamamo

Nier Automata (PS4)

Not such a good a trailer, because it’s ill-paced somewhat. That said it does show a bit of exploration. Which surprised me to be honest, I thought that it would be a «corridor» game of sorts. I was obviously wrong about that. There are a few seconds of battle, but very valuable seconds! It’s ultra fast, super thrilling, you have to dodge countless stuff, the boss design is wild and… well, please this release quickly, SE.

Battlefield 1 (PS4/XB1/PC)

As usual another masterpiece of a trailer from DICE. Immediately in the flames of war by the scene inside the tank, Battlefield 1 is showing off its dream-like 3D engine to make World War more real than any documentary. The violence and the fury of combat is breathtaking . It was by far the best-looking game of E3, and the choice of a lesser known era really gives the sensation to experience something new.

Fate Extella (PS4/PSVita)

Although I only know the Fate IP by watching Ilya, this new beat’em all by Marvelous has my interest for the extraordinary quality of the action. The number of foes is seriously impressive, more than in any Warriors game. The combos are quite flashy and lavish in their colors and large moves.

Tales of Berseria (PS4/PC)

My hypometer rose a bit further after this trailer. The narrative seems very dark and you can sense strong hatred and rivalries already : two things that generally lead to great JRPGs. Velvet is such a awesome character, Namco’s Lighting I’d daresay since she seems to have every possible quality you’d expect from a female lead, including a well-chosen voice actress. The general design split between holy, darkness and burlesque makes a great artistic touch even though the 3D engine looks quite worn off.

Gravity Daze 2 (PS4)

Despite my anger towards the fact that it’s not coming to Vita, I have to admit that Gravity Daze 2 looks more beautiful and richer each passing day on home console. This trailer show how much SCEJ is serious about this : the town is extremely lively, full of colors and the particle effects get sharper each time the game is shown. It’s pretty that it looks exactly like a live comic. I thought the kinda vintage music was very clever too. The framerate does show some weaknesses so we’ll have to wait for a future build, but I think I can can at last put my frustration behind me.

E3 2016 Sony – Divided we stand

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Sony comes to E3 as victor. Not only does the lack of NX and Microsoft’s current state of weakness clear the way for him, but the manufacturer can also boast growing economic results. Its consolidated result has more than doubled, and is now positive.

Surprisingly it’s not by achieving superior sales that Sony reached profitability : revenues are slightly down. On the other hand and very much like its rival, the electronics giant has been mainly saving money. Production costs have been reduced by 2%, administrative costs by 6% and other expenses by 72% (but the latter represent a much lower figure). It’s fairly obvious on several product lines (mobile, TVs, photography) which sees their profitability boosted by the lesser costs. Only black mark on the record, semi-conductors are unhealthy and dive into the red. Batteries and other pieces aren’t very competitive any more, and caused amortizations.

The gaming division is still shining : the branch’s operating result surged almost 100% thanks to staggering PS4 and PS4 software sales. Sony had planned 16m shipments for the system, and ended up shipping 17,7m. Clearly the powerful partnerships signed in 2015 have brought results, AAA games players generally preferred PS4 versions. By doing multiple astonishing conferences throughout the year, Sony gave some line of sight t customers who know they’ll have plenty of choice between Western and Japanese games, including countless exclusives. Japanese games seem locked for PS4 and Vita as publishers drive away from 3DS. We’ll have to wait and see how they react to NX, but as things stand Sony has almost everything. It’s worth noticing that the Playstation Network alone generated more revenues than the whole Nintendo. Yes, the domination is huge.

Sony is then able to multiply its consolidated operating result by 5! As for taxes, the firm finally eases the pain, because its net profits allow a reversal on deferred taxes amortizations and much to its delight, Sony received direct tax benefits. The manufacturer seems definitely in luck.

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Sony’s E3 actually starts well before the show officially opens. In the first days of June, a frenzy of reveals takes place in the gaming world and developers put everything on the table right away! Horizon Zero Dawn gets a release date, as well as Dragon Quest Builders, World of Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts 2.8. Gran Turismo Sport is shown again, Persona 5 details its plans for America, Final Fantasy XII HD is unveiled, Akiba’s Beat is announced (worldwide), Fate Extella and SummonNight 6 let us know they are being localized and Tokyo Xanadu all but confirms it’s coming west by being ported to PS4. The producer of TitanFall 2, before saying anything about his game, warmly welcomes PS4 gamers. The play stands for EA’s futuristic shooter are all PS4. The Japanese company couldn’t be more pleased… PS4 Neo (the super-powerful 4K version of the system), which was supposed to be the star of the show, is confirmed but doesn’t make any appearance at E3. So what’s left for the conference? Will there be even crazier things? Confusion and suspense cause headaches, but Playstation has already won the first round by the usual method : games, games, games.

Before we answer the above question, you have to consider what happened after the conference. It so happened that most publishers released their trailers once the E3 doors were officially opened. In mid-day in the 14th, several companies posted trailers more or less at the same time, making it difficult for any of them to stand out. NieR Automata is briefly seen with 1 minute of video or so, accurate details being saved for the next Famitsu 2 days later. Tales of Berseria reminds us that it comes West, as well as Sword Art Online Hollow Realization which can’t avoid a delay to 2017. Attack on Titan, Ni-Ô and Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 also gatecrash during the afternoon. The power of the rich line-up is indeed on the showfloor, but you’re probably starting to imagine the problem.

TLG

Fatally, with that much content before and after, there is little left for the conference, short and lifeless. By focusing on a couple of western-centric games (God of War, Days Gone, Spiderman, etc.), Sony shatters the unity and diversity that made it strong last year in every part of the world. The company looks like it doesn’t want to unite its fans anymore. The Last Guardian only got 3 minutes of a confusing trailer, and Gravity Daze 2 won’t even be shown (it had been in the Paris conference). Poor Kat’s trailer will be posted in the internet just after the conference, like a bone thrown to a dog. Meanwhile, the conference features Skylanders and Lego Star Wars Episode 7. It’s absolutely pathetic, a conference where you prefer Skylanders to Gravity Daze is is FU** BULLSH**! “4 the players” has become “4 the masses”, a retarded view of the industry in which you don’t take any risk, stop innovating in order to get easy cash. Art and diversity will manage to survive someway, they must think… This conference should have included games like Persona 5 or NieR Automata, at least to balance its message and so that its host lives up to its leadership. That night, Sony was everything but a worldwide leader. Microsoft invited Platinum Games, SquareEnix and BandaiNamco on stage, Sony couldn’t care less and doesn’t even answer to that. The Japanese manufacturer keeps thinking locally in the biggest international show of the year. Huge mistake : Sony is being divisive at the very time it must gather people together.

Playstation VR, awkwardly pushed by worthless-looking in-game features, doesn’t make us optimistic either. Batman VR, Stra Wars X-Wing VR, a dumb shooting mini-game for FFXV in which you play as Prompto (the least character you’d want to play as) are announced without a single detail on how they are played. Eagle Flight and Star Trek VR from Ubisoft clearly look bad, so at this point you’d pretty much pity virtual reality.

RE7

Until that moment. Resident Evil 7 is announced by a frightening trailer and is indeed back to its horror roots. Fear is back and action is sacked. Fans rejoice, and even more so when they find out that it will be 100% VR compatible and that a demo has been discreetly delivered on the PS+. The short gameplay is absolutely scary on a regular screen : the atmosphere is so oppressive that the first noise almost cause a heart attack. Just imagine that in VR! The demo is also rich and complex, including several endings and little secrets. It’s quickly made a strong buzz in the web, so that might be the killer-app PSVR needs to take off.

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In Japan, Famitsu reveals that Project Diva X will be updated to be compatible with PSVR in the future, to coincide with Hatsune Miku VR Future Live. Both titles allow the player to watch Miku’s performance in a more intimate way. Summer Lesson, Harada’s bizarre game which puts you in relation with pretty chicks, finally becomes a full-fledged launch line-up product. Of course, this information is not discussed at E3, SCEA having closed cultural borders. At the very least, PSVR has a chance to sell decently at launch.

In short, this E3 is a leap forward for Playstation, but a huge step backwards for Sony which is weak and divisive. While its accounts have never been better, the manufacturer plays it safe and entrusts part of the promoting job to publishers and the community. The Playstation ecosystem widely dominates in both number and variety of releases, but this rich line-up has to live in blackout. We’ll have to observe how this situation evolves and if Sony really decided to leave part of its audience behind.

Review – Overwatch

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Overwatch is an FPS. At reading this, you probably thought “grey”, “shallow”, “tiresome”, “second-hand”, “not fun”… No, not today! Because Overwatch is a multiplayer FPS that kicks the habit and revolutionizes the genre.

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I hadn’t really been paying attention to this game until D.Va artworks started popping on twitter roughly 3 days before release, sign that social media marketing is something legit. Sign also that Overwatch’s design is very powerful. In the mind of the geniuses at Blizzard, no John Doe but heroes, as they are called. The choice of a weapon shifts to the choice of a character who was its own specialization and personality. No more soulless avatars, you’re gonna play fun and charismatic characters like you would do in a good RPG.

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Sure thing is that the developers did their best so that everyone can jump in : from the land of the Rising Sun to the one of the setting sun, there is a character for you among the 21 in Overwatch. McGree the Cow-boy is quick on the trigger, Genji the Ninja can deflect bullets with its sword, Tracer the British agent can rewind time to recover HP, etc. Overwatch is full of all those cliches we’ve grown up with and came to love, but it also gives them actual gameplay application. Although it doesn’t show cutting-edge graphics (textures are average at best), the little animations here makes it incredibly lively. Every character has its own cliche, but super-fun lines which makes the universe of this new IP even more enjoyable. Better still, they sometimes speak in their mother tongue! Genji for example shouts 勇刃の剣を喰らえ! aloud when unsheathing its Dragon Blade. Widowmaker expresses her feelings in French and Mercy in Suiss German. No doubt about it, Overwatch is a ground-breaking FPS and triggers love at first sight.

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In terms of gameplay also, Overwatch establishes a new paradigm. Characters are divided between some roles that remind us more of RPGs than action games : there are attackers, defenders, “tank” characters and support ones. Widowmaker, as a sniper, is a defender because she can protect objectives by taking out enemies in 1 or 2 shots from afar. Tracer, being quick and unpredictable, is perfect to cut through enemy lines. “Tank” characters like Reinhart have a shitload of HP and defensive capabilities to block assaults. They are used to confuse the opponent team and unsettle their strategy. Support characters will simply heal or give a attack boost to their teammates so that they can hold longer on the frontline. The combinations of those roles and the surprising depth in each hero’s gameplay makes the battles extremely tactical and complex. The possibilities are endless and and you learn how to improve your game every time.

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Paradoxically, Overwatch has few battle modes despite being a multiplayer-only title. Maps are quite varied, but are always played in the same way. Liujan Tower is always about taking control of a neutral area, Hanamura is played by defending a set territory and Route 66 will always ask attackers to move the now famous payload. Nothing more on Blizzard’s menu, not even team deathmatch or free-for-all. Too bad. But even as it is, impossible to feel bored while playing because maps feature a remarkable architecture, objectives are wisely placed. Defense maps allow long range warfare while payload maps favor mid-range and close-range engagement : everyone is invited. Balance has proved to be rather excellent during those 2 first weeks, it’s not complicated to perform well and have fun with minimum training. Besides, Overwatch values healing/supporting allies, and automatically saves your best killstreaks. It couldn’t be more user-friendly.

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The heroes all have a range of fancy skills more or less linked to their role : D.Va can deploy a magnetic field to repel attacks, Tracer can teleport so that opponents lose trace of her, widowmaker sets poison traps, Genji throws shurikens, etc. Each character has 2 or 3 special moves classy or/and funny that are just exhilarating to use. Not to mention the ultimate skill, very long to charge but capable to decimate several enemies at once. As for characters, I usually play five of them.

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She’s the sniper of the game, so clearly for me. The scope of her rifle pops out when you push L2, and you can charge your shoot for maximum firepower. On the contrary hip fire is strictly automatic, although just as powerful to finish off a weakened opponent. It’s actually the architecture of some maps that makes her strengh : the Temple of Anubis on the defense side for example has a certain number of high locations from where she stop the attackers’ progression. Widowmaker having a grapnel to reach high ground, she’s nearly the only to be able to get up there.

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Hanzô is a seriously cool character but I sometimes have a hard time playing as him as he can’t zoom in like Widowmaker. He fights with a modest bow, but his arrow deal considerable damage to make up for the lesser precision! His “fire rate” is fairly high, allowing skilled players to do some nice killstreaks at mid-range. He is also widely used for counter-sniping. His ultimate is powerful and multi-purpose, he unleashes two large dragons right in front of him and over a long distance.

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Probably the most interesting character to use. Genji is Hanzô’s brother, and knows the Japanese way of fighting. He throws shurikens as a base attack, but they somewhat lack power to be efficient at short range : like Hanzô, it’s best to fight at mid-range. His R1 ability is absolutely fantastic because he uses his sword to deflect whatever comes at him : your opponent die from their own bullets! But here again, the effect is too weak to make it a real asset. He draws a powerful blade when using his ultimate, but his low HP makes it difficult to achieve a successful assault. I’m fond of this character but his stats are definitely too weak.

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I thought support characters would but tricky to use but it’s actually not the case. Mercy uses a Caduceus that heals by pressing R2 or increases an ally’s damage with R1. It’s very simple since the game shows you the teammates that need healing in priority (they appear in yellow) and it’s really effective in terms of teamplay. When she has to defend herself, she can switch to her blaster.

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The best character, and not just because she’s sexy and wears an Evangelion suit. The young Korean girl pilots a mech that has 500HP : less than other tank characters, but the machine has high mobility and can dodge easily when the shield is charging. Even better, its cannons have no reload or cooldown!!! That makes D.Va a nightmare for attackers since she can fire at will without pausing, even at long range! When her ultimate is charged, D.Va ejects from her mech after pushing the self-destruct button, the blast radius of which will surprise the opposing team. A bit like this…

But it’s not over yet, because D.Va can keep fighting outside her mech with a blaster of respectable power and range, and summon the robot again after a short while.

Overwatch Tracer

Some regrets? Yes. Too many characters benefit from auto-aim, or overpowered weapons like rocket launchers or those bloody turrets. It’s quite annoying because players who stick to complex characters are giving their best and making tremendous efforts. The other drawback is the lack of story mode. True, you can play against AI opponents, but with such a great character design, it’s almost criminal not to offer a narrative. Strangely enough, it has been done through promotional videos before launch, but nothing of the sort in the game itself : to find out more about the characters, you need to check the official site…

As much as you can be critical of those little things, it’s probably just the start for Blizzard’s new IP. And a great one, Overwatch’s impact on the FPS market is huge. Once you start playing it’s impossible to drop the controller. Both the design and the gameplay are revolutionary enough to hook you for a long time. I think it’s safe to say that Overwatch is already the FPS of the year.