As one does

The boy is on his way to bed, or at least what we’ve come to call bed one, and so I suppose I can begin safely downloading his Christmas presents. Yes, downloading, and I may very well not reveal the existence of Immortals: Fenyx Rising on the PS5 until he notices it on his own. He and his mom have been reading through the Percy Jackson series together for the last several … months? … sure, let’s go with months, and it’s triggered a moderate obsession with Greek mythology, so he was all over the game. Hopefully it’s actually fun.

Other than that, well, there’s a reason it took until 9:00 to get even a short post up. This has been the least Christmas Eve-ish Christmas ever, and I fully expect tomorrow to be the least Christmasy Christmas ever, and honestly right now I’m fine with both of those things.

Yep, it’s a Spider-Man game

I don’t know how many of you recall the numerous posts I made about the PS4 Spider-Man game when it came out a couple of years ago, but I went back and forth on it several times only to end up deciding I loved it not on the strength of the gameplay (which ranged from deliberately annoying to phenomenal, depending on what was going on) but on the strength of the story. Miles Morales has been one of my favorite comic book characters basically since his introduction and there was no way in the damn universe that I wasn’t going to end up jumping at this game.

Unsurprisingly, so far, it’s basically the exact same game, only with a few alterations made to account for Miles’ slightly different power set. And I’ll tell you what: at about the hour and a half mark (and it’s important to realize that I’ve also spent some time in the last couple of days playing Marvel: Ultimate Alliance with my son) I was musing to myself that it was kind of tiring how superhero-themed video games had limited themselves so thoroughly to beating up bad guys and causing property damage, and how it was so exceptionally rare to feel like I was saving lives in these games as opposed to endangering them.

Well, uh, there’s a massive set piece that occurs right around the two hour mark or so that put that particular worry to rest rather authoritatively. I’m in damn good hands here, I think. This isn’t nearly as long a game as the PS4 Spider-Man was, so I’ll likely have it done and dusted before Christmas, but I’m pretty damn sure I’m going to enjoy the hell out of it along the way.

In which fun is hurty

In general, I’ve been really pleased with the PS5 so far. I’m enjoying the hell out of the Demon’s Souls remake, the new Spider-Man game hasn’t gotten a lot of attention yet but I’m expecting to really like it, and I keep discovering new little quality-of-life details that I enjoy, like the fact that it notices and puts itself to sleep if I turn off the TV. It loads games so quickly that it’s honestly kind of ridiculous. I can sit down in the rocking chair I use to play in and be playing a game like twenty seconds later. All of that is great.

The new controller is exactly the wrong size, and it’s the wrong size in a way I didn’t notice until today. I love all the programming touches– the new haptics are awesome, the use of audio is fantastic at least the way it’s done in Demon’s Souls— things like sword swings and hit noises come from the controller as well as the TV and the end result is a lot more immersive. But it’s the wrong Goddamned size, and it’s potentially going to be a problem for me going forward.

This is the PS4 controller:

And yeah! At least on the outside, other than the colors they look damn near identical. But if you compare this to the new PS5 controller above, you’ll notice that the grips are just slightly more rounded on the outside, and I think the triggers, which you mostly can’t see, are positioned slightly differently as well. And while I haven’t measured to check, and I don’t see a lot of difference in the pictures, the four buttons on the right and particularly the circle button feel like they might be positioned slightly farther apart on the PS5 than they are on the PS4. That flat circle they’re set into rather than the slightly more curved surface on the PS5 might be making a difference too.

At any rate, the cumulative effect of the exact size of my hands and what is admittedly a small handful of tiny changes forces my right thumb into a weird position. I have spent maybe an hour today playing– probably not even that long– and I tell you right now that my thumb hurts, right at the joint where it attaches to my hand. I’m willing to believe that the control layout of Demon’s Souls isn’t helping– the two triggers on the right side are mapped to attacks so they get used all of the time, and I think it’s the combination of keeping my index and middle fingers on the triggers (or my index finger moving back and forth) and my thumb on the face buttons and the thumbstick that is causing the problem. I think if I wasn’t using the triggers as often it might not be as much of an issue.

Obviously it’s possible that I’ll get used to it, and I’ll limit my playtime until I know whether that’s going to be the case; if it gets better, we’re all good, and if it doesn’t, the fact that the PS5 currently doesn’t have any 3rd party controllers is going to become an issue. My ability to type is a lot more important than my ability to play video games, and I’m not about to start fucking with my hands. So, uh, “keep fingers crossed” might not really be the best available expression of well-wishes here, but if you don’t mind doing something on my behalf– ask Jesus or something, I dunno– I’d appreciate it.

#REVIEW: The PS4

The PS5 is in place, in the location in front of the new TV where it will likely remain for several years, and … damn, I knew the thing was going to be a behemoth, but it is a behemoth. I’d post a picture of mine instead of this one I grabbed from the Web, but there are cables everywhere and it looks like butt, and this gives you the idea. The thing is gorgeous, with this oddly architectural look that I’ve never seen from a console before, and while I actually haven’t spent a ton of time playing (because downloading all the shit that I need to download takes forever, and I had stuff to do today,) the first fifteen minutes or so of Spider-Man: Miles Morales and the first level of the Demon’s Souls remake are astonishing. I still need to figure out how to get my son’s save games moved over from the PS4, but that’s the only technical hitch I haven’t overcome so far.

I still can’t chase people for shit in the Spider-Man game; it’s nice to learn quickly that I’m not going to be any better at that.

But this post isn’t about the PS5, it’s about the PS4, and it’s specifically about me making this comment: I have been a gamer for a very long time– we had an Atari 2600– and I am fairly certain that the PS4 is my favorite console that I have ever owned. I bought mine in 2014, maybe seven or eight months after the thing launched (I’m writing this without bothering to look up the dates, so if they’re wrong, trust the “seven or eight months” part more) after a couple of generations of being an Xbox Guy (I never owned a PS1, had a PS2 but rarely played it, and bought a PS3 specifically to play The Last of Us, a decision I never regretted) and I never even glanced at the last Xbox generation. We have a Switch but it’s basically for the boy; other than the latest Mario I don’t think I’ve beaten a single game on it.

But the PS4? Jesus. God of War and Sekiro and the Dark Souls games and Spider-Man and Ghost of Tsushima and Bloodborne and Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Witcher 3 which was kind of a pain in the ass but aged well and Fallout 4 and Fallen Order and Hollow Knight and Nioh and Nioh 2, a game I just discovered I have sunk three hundred and fifteen hours into playing. Like, any one of these games could conceivably have sold me the console, and it had all of them.

To be clear, the message here is “If you’re a gamer, and you don’t own one of these yet somehow, you could buy one right now at a low cost and have years of unbelievable games to play before you worry about the next-gen shit.”

Just fuckin’ awesome.

#REVIEW: The Surge 2 (PS4)

The PS5 hasn’t made an appearance yet, and I did a test drive by Best Buy earlier to see if it was reasonable to get the new TV brought out, and it … was not. I might take another shot at it after dinner, but I’ll probably just wait until tomorrow at this point. I did put The Surge 2 to bed last night, and it has the distinction of almost certainly being the last game I’ll beat on my PS4, since the PS5’s backwards compatibility is pretty universal so there won’t be a need to pull this console out of mothballs if I decide I want to go back to something.

Short version: 8/10, solid but occasionally garbagey. The Surge 2 takes the Soulslike tradition of losing resources on death, mild RPG elements, and punishing difficulty and sets it in a cyberpunk/nanotech future sort of world. As basically everything I play nowadays is a Soulslike of some sort (and the first game that graces the PS5 is going to be the Demon’s Souls remake) this was more or less right up my alley.

Strengths: weapon and armor variety is awesome, and the armor pieces in particular are interesting; each set has six pieces (two arms, two legs, body and head) and they can be mixed and matched, and each set also has a bonus if you’re wearing three pieces of it and a bigger bonus if you’re wearing six pieces, and the bonuses are different between sets– so you find yourself wearing three pieces of one set and three of another a lot. Weapons are varied enough that I never kept one for very long, although I definitely found myself gravitating toward the spear- and staff-class weapons by the end of the game, which both had good range and were fast. Nothing really looks like anything else, though, which is great.

The combat in general was one of the game’s strengths, although there’s a directional block mechanism built in that I never really got the hang of, and timing on blocks in particular felt sluggish a lot of the time. That may just be me, though as timed-parry mechanisms almost always give me fits, but I swear a lot of the time I’d hit block and my dude just wouldn’t. Sometimes that was due to being out of stamina, but by the end of the game my stamina pool was so huge that that was rarely an issue and I still had a hell of a time with timings.

The story is … fine. I never played The Surge and I never got the impression that I needed to; the sequel is completely standalone.

Less good: boss fights are challenging but repetitive, the game was buggy (I don’t remember the last time I had a game hard crash to the desktop, and this game did it six times) and level design was kinda samey and I had a hell of a time finding my way around. They did a good job of different levels wrapping around and connecting to each other in lots of places, with lots of shortcuts and secret passages and such, but the game’s color palette and overall look just didn’t really vary all that much from place to place, and there’s an event partway through the game that rips up the old map and throws it away, and after spending as much time as I had exploring and trying to figure out where everything was, having all that knowledge stripped away from me was really annoying. The trophies also seemed sort of buggy, and I’m convinced that I earned one of them that never popped for me at all.

The game also does a sort of cool thing after the credits roll where it shows you a bunch of stats that compare you to how other players did, both in terms of how many deaths and playtime in levels and to bosses. This was neat but I’d rather have had access to it in the game. There’s also a new piece at the beginning of New Game + where you pay through something that happened offscreen in the first playthrough, which was kind of neat.

This has been out for a while (every game I review has been out for a while) but if it slipped your radar and you are into this kind of game, it’s worth checking out.