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Reign in Blood

It’s hard to say for how long I’ve played Bloodborne. The timestamp isn’t reliable, because there’s no pause. But I’ve killed a couple of bosses, eight I think.

And yes, I’ve cheated, and therefore I might not rightfully be entitled to write about the game… I do it anyway.

Bloodborne is too damn hard. Autosaving checkpoints are few and far between. I know, I miss “the thing” with these games – the great reward after a great struggle and shit. Well, in short, I don’t have time to invest and it’s not my idea of having fun to repeat a gaming sequence in absurdum. (I can, however, sympathize with the mechanism if it had to do with something important in real life, but this is merely a video game for fuck’s sake.)

Anyhow, I’m not writing to tell you only this, no I wanna say that I really like Bloodborne, even if my playthrough is an abuse of sorts.

It’s a beautiful game. It’s one of the best looking games on the PS4. I like the gothic aesthetics and the profound art direction, it’s extraordinary, and don’t mind any bitter review of the graphics.

The controls are responsive and the game mechanics are satisfying. You’ll need to learn and practice a few tricks to master your techniques, which is only fair. Then you need to study your opponent, know your enemy to be successful in battle.

And the level design is fantastic. Things are connected. There’s no map, no compass. You’re on your own, and it’s great to explore the world. Bloodborne isn’t sandbox-wide, but it’s still pretty open with lots of junctions and different routes.

So far the story and lore is great. As the mystery unravels, anything can still happen.

Beyond the Hinterlands

I think I’m done with Dragon Age: Inquisition, at least for now. Finally, after a hundred hours and thousands of foes slain.

Now, was it all worth it? Well, let me put it like this: the game’s scope is its bless and curse.

For obvious reasons you don’t want a small or limited RPG. You want a big game, right? And DAI is enormous with lots of locations, missions, loot, collectables and what have you.

You could spend hours doing side quests and investigating shit – not advancing the main story at all. And here lies some of the game’s charm: to be totally buried in its lore.

But a world this big is populated with so much stuff it hurts.

I mean, how many of these hours are well-spent? Some quests are pretty pointless – and being that special chosen one, whom you are, the Inquisitor and all – well, collection plants for some random dude in the forest isn’t really worthy your royal lifestyle, nor does it make you feel any heroic.

For sure, many hours are spent on collecting a certain amount of a certain item, killing a certain number of enemies et cetera. In short, DAI is full of nonsense that isn’t very interesting to do. And If you’re a grown up, playing a game of this reach is surly a time investment. With all (intruding) responsibilities in everyday life, playtime is lacking nowadays.

Still, like many suckers before me, I ended up doing plenty meaningless side quests – not because the were any fun, but because the completionist in me demanded it.

Anyway, DAI was kinda great, but in a way I’m glad it’s over (for this time).

An Unworthy Hardline

I’ve played six and a half hour of Battlefield Hardline and reckon I’m entitled to say something: the game sucks!

It’s not that the game is particularly buggy, unpolished or broken. Nah, it has to do with the feeling that this isn’t a standalone full game. It feels more like a DLC expansion, or worse, like a
homemade mod. It’s Battlefield alright, in a new costume – but a costume that
fit the game series badly.

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While the singleplayer campaign may be
good, the Battlefield series has always been about multiplayer.

There’s a couple of new game modes
(Heist and Hotwire), the areas of engagement are more focused; 150 meters
between the flags in Conquest mode et cetera.

The engine and mechanics runs quite the
same as in Battlefield 4, no apparent tweaks. At the same time they say that
Hardline is the fastest Battlefield ever made. Maybe that’s true, but the speed
buff is really nothing compared to the boost from Ghosts to Advanced Warfare. (On
top of that, any given Call of Duty is much faster-paced than this.)

Vehicles play a big part in every Battlefield,
but mostly if they’re armed. And the unarmed cars are fast but also plain ugly
– stiff polygon boxes floating around. This is far from GTA.

Okay, maybe I’m being too hard on
Visceral’s effort, this is only a preview. But remember that “open beta” multiplayers
tends to actually be the final releases these days, well minus the 1.01 updated
with minor fixes which is released the same day as the game hits the stores. (One
could even argue that “open betas” have come to replace many limited
pre-releases that before were labeled “demos”, but that’s another discussion.)

Lastly, this cop and robber theme is
just ridiculous. What the fuck were they thinking? This is war man, who wanna
be a cop anyway? Not to even mention the police brutality and stupidness of the
context itself.

On every level, DICE’s originals are
better, this is just sell out. Usually I don’t give a damn about trademarks,
but Hardline is unworthy the Battlefield brand.

That being said, I guess Hardline will
sell like hot cakes, and if my buddies will decide to pick this game up, so
will I.

Destiny: Fight the Good Fight

When I first got Destiny I wasn’t sure about many things. I didn’t know whom the Traveler was or what the Darkness was, but I was eager to learn. Hell, I was starving for a new next-gen game.

Unfortunately I still don’t know. The Traveler could be a philosophy, a technology or that giant sphere hovering over the Tower. It seems to have some self-proclaimed protectors called the Guardians, but how the Traveler is communicating with them is still not known to me.

There are three different playable species: Human, Exo and Awoken. It doesn’t matter what you chose, they pretty much play the same. In the beginning of the story, your assistant drone called Ghost, re-activates you from being dead. It says much has changed since you were alive, and that’s that.

There’s no story arc to build a narrative or dramaturgy. You live your second life like it was your first, no questions asked – and still nothing’s clear why you do anything at all.

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Anyway, you fight your way to the Tower – which is a lifeless hub where you can do almost nothing – and then the game starts. Or had it already started? (I’m now on level 20 and still waiting for something to happen.)

There’s this mysterious Stranger that appears a few time during the story, but nothing is revealed about her, and she still seems strange to me.

And who the hell is Rasputin? An AI? What is its legacy, how do we benefit from it?

In a cutscene, halfway through the game, the Awoken are conspiring against you, saying something like: why reveal our true purpose, well by the end of the campaign story this is still a secret.

The Vex is so evil it despises other evil – very cliché, but this doesn’t bring anything in terms of storytelling or even harder enemies. It’s all for nothing.

In brief, I don’t get the story. I think the mythology is weak and there are no motives for doing shit, and all shit works the same way: go to a planet kill aliens, headshot a boss, hijack a network, find coordinates for a new location, repeat.

And the world of Destiny is small, only a handful of planets and moons. It’s a world where nothing ever happens. A pseudo-sandbox game with nothing to do in it. And stay long enough at one place and the enemies will spawn forever like life means nothing at all.

You fight the Fallen and the Hive, Cabal and Vex, and sometimes they fight each other. You fight with friends and random players online, and sometimes you fight solo. You fight without a cause.

Fighting with friends is fun for a bit, but usually ends up in competing over kills, and steal kills your friends will.

The voice acting is really the worst I’ve heard, even though Bungie claims to have rework the much mocked Peter Dinklage recording on the public alpha release.

But on the better side of things, Destiny looks good, that is, if you like non-realistic, heavy saturated matte paintings with sci-fi fantasy touch; you look Boba Fett, riding an Imperial Speeder Bike at dawn. Also the game mechanics works great. This is a first person shooter that feels good.

Verdict: this game had potential once (read: on alpha) but has been abused and badly misconducted.

Thoughts on The Last of Us (Spoiler Free)

Some days ago I finished playing through The Last of Us. I must say I enjoyed that journey, pretty much so.

But I figure the game isn’t for everybody. For example, among my Call of Duty crew, half of them diss The Last of Us, because they rather drive fast, shoot fast, live fast and die young. Yeah, you play shooters together with your homies over and over again, for hundreds of hours. Hail to the clan! Whilst The Last of Us is more like a season or two of a TV series, that lasts for around 15 hours.

And having seen a couple of zombie flicks (and played a couple of post-apocalyptic video games), you should be quite familiar with the premises and settings. Some events here may even seem a bit predictable. But the game’s take on the genre and the scale of it, is mostly impressive. And the craft and artwork is just fantastic.

This is character-driven storytelling at its best. And the characters, their motives and reactions are believable, I think. At least the voice acting and motion captures are perfect.

The game doesn’t play like Uncharted or Gears of War. The graphics might look like a mixture of these titles, but there’s no spraying and praying. Actually not much shooting at all. Instead, patience is golden; you’ll spend most of your time sneaking, finding spots and waiting for the right moment to take down the foes.

The Last of Us has bittersweet mood, perhaps a bit like Red Dead Redemption.

The game also offers online multiplayer, called Factions. I just tried it out for like twenty minutes, therefore I’m not in a position to adequately review it. Though my first impression is, that the stealth and strategic approach doesn’t translate that well to multiplayer gameplay. But that’s just me – remember, I like fast paced FPS.

Here’s an easy way out: if you want something more in depth, read Kirk Hamilton’s well-written review, which shares many of my opinions of the game.

Al Dente Headphones

Firstly, thank you guys for the feedback on the previous posts, I’m now trying out new weaponry in COD based on your suggestions. Now I’d like some recommendations for iPhone headphones.

So I bought new headphones the other day, the a-JAYS Four by Swedish manufacturer Jays, for my old and dirty iPhone 4.

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While the sound was good – a relatively rich, deep bass response provided, much better than the Apple default headset – the a-JAYS Four had other problems:

They weren’t in place and fell out too easily. (Even if they were delivered with different sizes of the silicone sleeves.) Really I think my ear canals must be somewhat misshaped; and if so, I just need to deal with it.

The a-JAYS Four totally seal that ambient door. You see, I don’t need maximum external sound insulation, I wanna be able to hear the traffic around me when I’m riding my bike. And yes, I’ve tried to lower the volume to balance this.

I didn’t appreciate the distinguished tangle-free, flat cable (it’s like an al dente pasta linguine string). The problem is that the cable was reproducing the sounds that occur when it’s hitting your body or clothes while moving, straight to the ear canals.

In short, Imma return these suckers to the store.

I never cared too much about headphones for my cell phone/MP3 player. Listen to music outdoors, is done quite passively and purely for pleasure. So I’ve had five or six of the standard iPhone sets, which worked well for this, but the durability is awful.

I’m now looking for alternatives. I’m not interested in any hi-fi gadgets. For me, such tech is overkill. But I’m not getting any garbage either. I want some in-ear or earbud headphones, with full-feature remote and mic. And they should be affordable. (Yes, I want the headphones to be discrete.)

Not the Best Customer Review

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Warning! Avoid the Sony PULSE wireless stereo headset – Elite Edition. I returned ‘em to the store after a couple of weeks of testing. If you want any sort of audio advantage in your shooter, this is not the headset to go with.

Actually, the sound of the Sony PULSE isn’t that bad, but the big selling point, the BassImpact, destroys the whole experience.

The BassImpact feature supposes to trigger pulses in the earpads that let you feel the sound. But in reality it just feels like someone knocking on the headband. And that’s totally awkward. The contour of the deep bass just disappears in a cacophony sounding like thunder. However, you’re able to adjust the strength of this feature with a slider, but lowering it will also affect the overall low frequencies, not just the rumble motors.

With the 7.1 virtual surround, I wasn’t able hear the direction of an approaching enemy. Nah, it just required too much imagination. (Maybe my ears weren’t sufficiently trained for sound whoring with this system.) Anyway, why settle with Sony’s homemade faux virtual surround sound when other manufactures offer the genuine Dolby Surround Sound?)

The battery life is terrible, approximately five hours on a charge.

And Sony PULSE is one oversized motherfucking headset.

The only thing I do like is the built-in (hidden) mic, which itself is a great innovation and the voice quality is clear enough.

So, if you want a pair of comfortable, wireless, great-sounding, surround sound cans with a set of different audio profiles/presets to chose from, a sidetone feature (which play back your own voice into the headset) and you wanna be able to pair it with your cellphone, what gear then should you get?

Try the Turtle Beach Earforce PX5. Also works with the Xbox. Maybe a little pricier, but worth it.

Please Shoot Me: A Review of Far Cry 3

Far Cry 3 received widespread acclaim from critics. I just can’t understand this. I don’t like this game at all. It’s ugly and clunky and it doesn’t bring anything fresh. Far Cry 3 is a potpourri of incongruous games and mechanics – where nothing is done right.

The Havok physics engine, with its ragdoll techniques, hasn’t looked this dull since 2007, when the PS3 was new. (Bear in mind that environment, nature, trees and stones, always look good as computer-generated imagery.)

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Far Cry 3 is a sandbox game, set on a tropical archipelago called the Rook Islands. The protagonist is trying to survive and escape from pirates dealing in human trafficking, whilst also saving his friends.

The campaign is kinda repetitive and the story isn’t as compelling as some critics suggest; the writer of the plot claims to investigate what killing does to humanity, how being force to kill, effects the Average Joe. These heavy issues inside the framework of a first-person shooter? And for kids? Come on motherfucker, don’t believe the hype. There’s no such subtext – ambitious yes, but still vague and mal placé.

The more I think about the plot and narrative, the dumber it seems. E.g. in the end when you must chose between your life long friends or the catalyst Citra – that you’ve briefly met like five times  the decision should be obvious, still the game presents this as a tough one.

The cast of characters are awkwardly binary, either they’re good or they’re bad. And you know this from the first time they enter the scene. And they’re just boring (there’s no Brucie Kibbutz or Mordin Solus.) Moreover, the cast is not a complex web of relations, there’s really no intrigues, like in Metal Gear Solid or Mass Effect.

This is a FPS but its mechanics are slow and inaccurate, nothing like Call of Duty, Killzone or Battlefield. Headshots are essential due to the slow time to kill. Aiming for the body, you’ll quickly burn through your ammo.

Far Cry 3 also features role-playing game elements including experience points, skill trees, and a crafting system. But these are not nearly as sophisticated, as let’s say, Fallout or Skyrim.

The game’s AI gives artificial intelligence a bad name. The enemy is like a five year old child, and at the same time got a sixth sense, finding you in a bush a thousand meters away camping like a boss with a sniper rifle and suppressor.

The missions are rip off of other games and franchises: the resemblance to Grand Theft Auto and Uncharted series, and Red Dead Redemption are striking.

Sneaking missions seems to play a large role here, but they are poorly executed. Nothing like Hitman or Assassin’s Creed.

There’s a few type of vehicles, although none of them are fun to drive. And they differ only in size and how well they grip the underlying terrain (if you’re off road with a quad bike, it’s like driving on ice, man).

Far Cry 3 also features co-op and a competitive multiplayer mode. All this is a total waste of time.

Note: The comparisons to other titles above, refers only to specific mechanics, not as games in whole.

A Wordy Review of Focusrite Scarlett 2i4

I myself was searching for reviews of this USB interface before buying it. I had little success. Most of the articles about the Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 were bold copies of the specification found on Focusrite’s site.

In Sweden, the Scarlett 2i4 was released in late October 2012. At the same time, there were quite a few reviews of the older Scarlett 2i2. I got that model a couple of weeks prior to the Scarlett 2i4, and I was quite satisfied with the sound and build quality of the Scarlett 2i2. But I felt somewhat deceived when the Scarlett 2i4 was announced with its four RCA outputs and MIDI I/O – features that I really missed on the predecessor.

The newer Scarlett 2i4 is, more or less, an expanded or developed version of the Scarlett 2i2, I believe built from the same blueprint, though Focusrite has added some great new features.

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Looking stupid, sounding great

The Scarlett series still looks pretty stupid with its strong red color, large control knob and unibody chassis (read: design “inspired” from Clavia Nord keyboards, large silver knob taken from Apogee’s line, altogether merged with any Apple aluminum device).

Nevertheless, you can’t overlook the most important thing, the sound, this little box brings, at least not at this price point. In its class, the sound is straight up excellent.

The I/Os

Whilst there are many parameters in a signal chain, it’s hard to isolate and identify a specific part or device as being the weak link. Therefore I just state my setup and connections.

Perhaps you should know that the Scarlett 2i4 USB 2.0 is paired with my MacBook Pro (15-inch Retina, 2.6 GHz i7 with 16 GB RAM) running the latest edition of OS X.

Anyway, I’ve connected the I/O of the Scarlett 2i4 to different gear: the balanced TRS go to monitor speakers, Yamaha HS 50M, and the headphones output (TRS) to some top notch headphones, Sennheiser HD 25-1 II. Briefly, I’ve also tested the two pairs of RCA phono to a NAD C 320BEE stereo amplifier. All of these outputs sounded damn crisp.

I’m sure your already familiar with Focusrite’s award-winning preamps. To tell you the truth, I haven’t really used ‘em, they’re barely tested. But they, ehum, work: I’ve recorded my phantom powered voice with a condenser shotgun microphone (RØDE NTG2). It sounded clean. I also plugged in my trashy guitar, a creamy Fender Squier Bullet Stratocaster, and it sounded, well, trashy.

I’ve also tried out the MIDI I/O without any headache, I’ve controlled my old Roland Juno-106 flawlessly.

Who is it for?

So what useful things could I write about this piece of equipment then? And who should get the gadget?

Because I haven’t used all features I can’t really tell you about the promised excellency of the preamps. The company itself describes the product as a “perfect audio interface for musicians and digital DJs”. But of course Focusrite says so, duh. For the time being, for what it’s worth, we have to believe this. The only thing I know, is that it works in my limited habitat, I have yet to do a field test.

I am, first and foremost, an electronic musician. Right now, mostly into dubstep and such. I work natively in 96 KHz, 24-bit in Propellerhead Reason 6.5, sometime as a standalone program and sometimes I’m running a host like Apple Logic Pro 9. So what I can say, is that the Scarlett 2i4 is a good choice for the bedroom producer or for the small home studio.

The interface works as expected – without any hassle. (Even if bedroom producers usually are particularly skilled in solving technical issues.) It might as well be for the singer-songwriter whom are technically illiterate and want an acoustic guitar to sound like an acoustic guitar.

Some users have reported a little latency, although I haven’t had any problem with it.

I had a couple of USB interfaces before: the Line 6 POD Studio UX2 and way back in the days, the M-Audio Audiophile USB. These worked alright, especially the POD Farm software to the POD Studio UX2, but I must say that the Scarlett 2i4 sounds even tighter.

Summary

So far I had no problem with the Scarlett 2i4, quite the opposite, everything I tried has worked like a charm.

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