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The PlayStation Classic takes you back to the ’90s, for better and for worse – TechCrunch

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Lifelong PlayStation fans have probably decided already if they’re interested in buying the PlayStation Classic — particularly since Sony has already released a list of the 20 games preloaded on the console.

But the company has also said it wants to attract players who are new to the platform — the kind who like the idea of finally checking out classic titles like “Final Fantasy VII,” “Metal Gear Solid” and “Grand Theft Auto” without actually having to track down 20-year-old hardware.

That’s me: a PlayStation neophyte who’s spent the past couple of weeks with a Classic, getting a crash course on the console’s best games. I’ll admit that I couldn’t quite match the dedication of my colleague Devin Coldewey, who reviewed all 30 games on the Nintendo Classic. Instead, I tried out 10 of the 20 preloaded games, and since I was usually playing with friends or family, I generally spent more time with the titles that supported two players.

Let’s just get this out of the way: If you’re thinking about getting a Classic, particularly if you’ve played and enjoyed the games in the past, you should go for it when it hits shelves on December 3. After all, it’s hard to argue with the value of getting 20 games for a price of $99.99.

If you’re wondering about the hardware, the console feels almost comically small (Sony says it’s 45 percent smaller than the original PlayStation), but all the games loaded up and played smoothly.

My only real complaint is that the controller cords are too short, requiring me to either sit at the very edge of my sofa or set up chairs closer to the TV. If you’ve got a normal living room setup, I suspect you’ll have similar issues, but this is something Nintendo Classic and Super Nintendo Classic owners have to deal with, as well.

The bigger question is: Do the games have anything to offer besides nostalgia? The answer varies from title to title.

“Cool Boarders 2,” for example, is very ’90s — I got a good laugh out of the extreme opening montage, followed by the process of styling my badass snowboarding avatar.

Meanwhile, if you’re familiar with the expansive world and fun storylines of the “Grand Theft Auto” franchise, then the original game will feel a bit simplistic. It’s worth playing to see how much the writing and the technology have evolved, but after a few minutes you’ll probably be tempted to swap it out for one of the later games.

And time seems to have been particularly unkind to “Resident Evil,” where any scares are now fatally undermined by the combination of amateurishly acted cut scenes and blocky animated gameplay.

There’s no denying that my lukewarm response to some of the games reflects my age and gaming history — the PlayStation simply doesn’t have the same childhood associations for me as the Nintendo Classic. But there may also be something inherently awkward about where these games fall in the broader evolution of the industry: They don’t have the “classic” look or easy-to-learn gameplay of 8-bit or 16-bit Nintendo titles, but they still feel primitive by the standards of today’s consoles. So you don’t get the nostalgia hit of an older game, or the genuinely impressive visuals and depth of a new one.

That doesn’t make them bad games; it’s just harder to enjoy them in 2018. At the very least, there may be an adjustment process. (I took the PlayStation Classic with me when I was visiting family for Thanksgiving, and at one point my mom asked, “Why does everyone look so strange? Why can’t you see anything on their faces?”) Even if we were still impressed by the graphics, not all of the games are winners, and have little to offer now beyond historical curiosity.

But the best titles still hold up: Thanks to games like “Tekken 3,” “Twisted Metal” and “Super Puzzle Fighter II,” I’ve spent a good portion of the past couple of weeks frantically mashing my controller as everyone I know took a turn at humiliating me, whether that was whizzing past me on a race track, knocking my fighter out again or lining up the perfect set of “Puzzle Fighter” combos to leave me helpless to respond.

Final Fantasy VII

And you won’t be surprised to hear that “Metal Gear Solid” and “Final Fantasy VII” are still really, really good — as I played “Metal Gear,” I became less and less conscious of the graphics, and more and more immersed in the stealth gameplay and convoluted storyline. (I never stopped cringing at Solid Snake’s habit of constantly hitting on all his co-workers, though.) And with its stunning steampunk-y environments, “Final Fantasy VII” is probably the best-looking game in the collection, one that feels timeless rather than clunky.

In a lot of ways, playing games on the PlayStation Classic was like watching a classic film. You may snicker at first at the primitive special effects (or graphics), and sometimes the old clothes, hairstyles or acting may be hard to take seriously. But that’s the easy response. If you’re willing to dig, you’ll find plenty of rewards under the surface.

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That time Roger Ebert said games will never be as worthy as movies

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Enlarge / Film critics Roger Ebert (center) and Gene Siskel appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson on December 12, 1986.

Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Update: Fifteen years ago around Thanksgiving, legendary film critic Roger Ebert set off a mini-storm in video game journalism circles by taking to his column and poo-pooing the medium. And with Ars staff off for the holiday weekend, we thought it’d be interesting to resurface this analysis of Ebert’s critiques from Ars contributor Jeremy Reimer. While there have definitely been a few game-to-film duds in the intervening years (ahem, Assassin’s Creed), there’s been no shortage of breathtaking video game storytelling (Her Story) or Hollywood looking to new titles (Last of Us on HBO, either. This piece originally ran on November 30, 2005 and appears unchanged below.

Roger Ebert, the famed movie critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and co-host of the syndicated TV show Ebert and Roper at the Movies has thrown down the gauntlet on his website by stating that video games will never be as artistically worthy as movies and literature. Ebert does not believe that this quality gap can ever be crossed, as he feels it is a fundamental limitation of the medium itself:

There is a structural reason for that: Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control.

Whether or not interactive art can still be art is an interesting question. Modern artists such as Chin Chih Yang, who design interactive multimedia projects as well as creating “traditional” art, would probably tell you that whether something is “art” depends on only the artist and the audience, and not the medium itself. However, there are undoubtedly more conservative artists who would dismiss “interactive multimedia projects” as not being worthy of the term art. Of course this debate is not a new one, nor has it been confined to video games. Movies and comic books both struggled (and still struggle) to receive the same level of respect as traditional media, such as literature and dramatic plays.

But is it really the “interactive” part of video games that Ebert is criticizing? To me, it seems like a convenient excuse to dismiss for all time a new form of entertainment that has not only influenced movies (with endless releases of video-game-themed movies such as Tomb Raider, Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, etc.) but at times even seems to be in competition with cinema itself. Every time movie sales go down, some pundits start looking to the video game industry as being the source of the problem.

I don’t believe the “interactive” nature of video games is what Ebert is really railing against here. While he gave a poor review to the movie Clue, which featured multiple endings, he admitted in his review that it would have been more fun for viewers to see all three endings. He seemed to be indicating that if the movie itself was of higher quality, being given a choice of endings would have made it even more entertaining. Like Clue, video games can feature multiple endings or storylines, but all of them have been written by the writer ahead of time. The fact that the player can choose between them does not make any of the choices less of a creation by the game developers.

A closer examination of Ebert’s comments seems to indicate that he is critical of the artistic value of the games themselves, not their structure:

I am prepared to believe that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art. To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.

Some might be eager to tell Ebert about games that he may not have ever seen or played, such as Star Control II, or Planescape Torment, where the story is given higher focus than the graphics and is at least comparable to literary fiction. Or games such as ICO, where the atmosphere and feel of the environment and characters is on par with any “serious” art film. But perhaps Ebert hasn’t heard of these titles because video games in general have been deluged with an endless parade of flashy sequels and movie tie-ins that favor graphics over gameplay. Perhaps if a viable analog to the independent movie industry emerged for video games, Ebert might change his tune. But is this likely to happen?

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Review: Fatman’s concept is better than its execution, but it’s still kinda fun

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Enlarge / Mel Gibson plays Chris Cringle, a disillusioned Christmas shopkeeper in North Peak, Alaska.

There’s a fine line between comedy and tragedy, which is why black comedy is a film genre that is notoriously tough to get right. Despite good performances and some nice moments, Fatman—in which Mel Gibson plays a gruff, grizzled, disillusioned Santa—doesn’t quite succeed tonally in finding that elusive sweet spot. The trailer was certainly promising, but the concept is better than the ultimate execution. That said, it’s still pretty entertaining, and a solid addition to the growing genre of what one might call “anti-holiday” films.

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

Written and directed by brothers Eshom and Ian Nelms (Small Town Crime), the film co-stars Walton Goggins (The Righteous Gemstones, Ant-Man and the Wasp) and Oscar-nominee Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Secrets and Lies, Blindspot). Per the official premise:

To save his declining business, Chris Cringle (Gibson), also known as Santa Claus, is forced into a partnership with the U.S. military. Making matters worse, Chris gets locked into a deadly battle of wits against a highly skilled assassin (Goggins), hired by a precocious 12-year-old after receiving a lump of coal in his stocking. ‘Tis the season for Fatman to get even, in the action-comedy that keeps on giving.

Chris and his wife, Ruth (Jean-Baptiste) run a Christmas present manufacturing operation in North Peak, Alaska, with the help of their workers (elves), led by the elfin factory foreman, Seven (Eric Woolfe). Apparently the US government pays Chris an annual subsidy to run the factory, since Christmas generates some $3 trillion a year in holiday spending.  But in recent years, so many children have made the naughty list—thereby meriting a lump of coal in lieu of a gift—that it’s significantly reduced the factory’s output, resulting in much smaller subsidies. Chris tries to find other clients, but “everybody is outsourcing,” and he keeps getting underbid. To save the factory, he accepts a one-time contract from the US military to manufacture control panels for a new jet fighter program.

Cut to Christmas morning, when young Billy (Chance Hurstfield, The Package, Good Boys) opens a gift from Santa, only to find a lump of coal inside. Billy is not amused. In fact, he is outraged to the point of hiring Goggins’ assassin, Jonathan Miller (aka Skinny Man), to kill Santa Claus, aka the titular Fatman.  But first, Miller has to figure out where Santa’s been holed up all these years.

This is not a film with many laugh-out-loud moments, or even hearty chuckles; it’s more likely to elicit wry appreciative grins. Tonally, it’s pretty dark, although the violence is largely off-camera until the climactic confrontation. The ultra-dry humor lurks around the edges, in small ornamental details, like watching Captain Jacobs (Robert Bockstael) lecture Seven about the elves’ unhealthy diet. They subsist entirely on simple carbs and sugar six times a day, and he thinks they should at least get a bit of protein now and then. And when a smarmy government suit gets nipped by Donner, Chris rasps, “You’re lucky it wasn’t Blitzen. She’ll tear your package clean off.”

Goggins’ Miller pretty much steals this film, as we see him intently building up his weapons cache, brushing up on his mixed martial arts, and taking a few practice punches at a cartoonish Santa head target. He doesn’t even try to be “funny,” playing it straight with a deadpan delivery that lets the absurdity of the situation speak for itself—especially in his interactions with his young client.

For instance, once Miller locates Santa, Billy demands the big man’s head as a trophy, but Miller warns him that heads rot and mold. When Billy next demands his beard, the hit man refuses: “I’m not shaving off a dead man’s beard.” (Miller is clearly not fond of his client, since the caller ID for Billy is “Little S*&t.”) And despite being a cold-blooded assassin, Miller keeps a pet hamster, even stopping off in a pet store en route to kill Chris so he can mount a hamster wheel on the car dashboard for his rodent companion. He is not pleased when the pet store owner suggests he seems more like a snake person: “Snakes eat hamsters.”

There’s a theme here of absent, neglectful fathers—and in the case of Miller, outright abusive fathers. Billy’s father prefers to spend Christmas in the Bahamas with his hot young girlfriend rather than with his own son, and he sends Billy a giant stuffed teddy bear as a gift, suggesting he might not even remember his son’s age. One might be tempted to feel bad for Billy if we hadn’t just watched him hire Miller to kidnap the young girl who won the school science fair instead of him, and threaten to electrocute her with a 12-volt car battery if she didn’t confess to cheating, so he would win by default. Oh, and he stole blank checks from his wheelchair-bound grandmother and forged her signature to take out a hit on Santa. Billy totes deserved that lump of coal.

Fatman might be deemed the evil twin to the 1989 French cult film Dial Code: Santa Claus (itself a precursor to Home Alone), in which a Rambo-obsessed young boy named Thomas battles a murderous intruder on Christmas eve. Both films share a dark sensibility, with only touches of wry humor. Dial Code: Santa Claus is essentially a violent fairy tale about the loss of childhood innocence; Thomas is a sweet-natured boy form a wealthy family, with a loving mother and grandfather, who is genuinely traumatized by the violence that breaks out when “Santa” comes down the chimney. Billy is his polar opposite: spoiled, entitled, and most definitely a sociopath who really doesn’t seem to comprehend things like empathy for others’ suffering. The question Fatman ultimately poses is whether Billy deserves punishment or a chance for redemption.

Fatman is now available on VOD. Pair with Dial Code: Santa Claus (if you can find it), or perhaps Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Gremlins, or Bad Santa.

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We test Herman Miller’s $1,499 gaming chair: All business—to a fault

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Enlarge / The Herman Miller x Logitech Embody chair.

Sam Machkovech

Recently, our coverage of the work-from-home universe expanded to include “gaming” chairs. This is because, in spite of their branding, they’re not much different from average office chairs—and in a year when remote work has become ever more commonplace, they’re sometimes a competitively priced home-office option.

But what about the inverse idea of a traditional office-chair company launching a gaming chair? That’s the idea behind Herman Miller’s latest line of Logitech-branded chairs, which caught our eye when the company reached out with a loaner chair. Herman Miller’s decades of $1,000-and-up chairs have never previously included a gaming-branded product, while Logitech, better known for peripherals like keyboards, mice, and headsets, has never produced its own chairs. We were curious what the mashup would produce.

The quick answer is simple enough: it’s an existing Herman Miller chair model with a mild aesthetic tweak. And while it’s as solid as you might expect from a $1,499 home office chair, its game-specific branding doesn’t quite add up.

Unboxing and (lack of) assembly

The best part about the Herman Miller x Logitech Embody chair is the unboxing experience—if your home is suitable for it.

When reviewing a pair of gamer chairs in October, my colleague Jim Salter received each chair as its disassembled parts, and his initial setup included two different versions of the unboxing-and-assembly process. HM, conversely, ships the Embody in a larger-than-average, 40-inch-tall box, and its unboxing process is decidedly simple: open box, pull off a single cardboard mount, and roll the chair out, already assembled.

Should your ideal office or gaming environment be easy to reach from your preferred outside door, then it’s a matter of lugging the chair (38-inches tall, 26-inches wide at its most shrunken state) inside. But if you need to move the chair through narrow doorways or over stairs—or if you ever want to ship it in a smaller box in the future—be warned that there’s no official way to neatly disassemble and reassemble the Embody. Herman Miller only offers Embody buyers a “recycling” disassembly manual, which requires, among other things, a variety of Torx bits and a hammer to tear it apart.

Adjusting for office use

Weirdly, the model I received included a “welcome” booklet printed on fancy paper stock, but that booklet included zero instructions on how to adjust the chair to my liking. Since this chair has a few unique levers and a trippy grid of bracing points on its back, I opted to search the Internet for a setup guide. When I received the chair in October, I could only find a non-Logitech manual for the older Embody model online, though Herman Miller has since uploaded a Logitech-branded manual.

Unsurprisingly, those manuals are nearly identical, pointing to the same seven points of customization. Where the Logitech manual differs is its lack of recommendations. The normal Embody manual points out ideal or proper tweaks, accounting for things like when your feet touch the ground or how your shoulders shouldn’t lift when elbows touch the arm rests. The Logitech version’s manual does not.

Everything that has proven time-tested about the Embody applies to the Logitech model. Its adjustable seat depth, in particular, is a customization godsend, ensuring that bigger and taller users can enjoy as much under-thigh leverage as they might desire. I easily found an ideal tilt adjustment, which means I can enjoy a gentle, comfortable curve of increasing resistance as I lean back.

Most of my early testing on the Embody revolved around working on Ars articles at my desk, and this was the more comfortable way to use the chair. Its arm rests fan forward in a way that promotes sitting upright and resting elbows while typing, and its back support revolves around a “flat or curved” adjustment dial. The latter essentially operates as a lumbar adjustment, but it works less as a pad to sink that portion of your lower back into and more like an active support meant to promote even posture while actively using a computer.

Quibbles with gaming use

Once I moved my attention to gaming on the Herman Miller x Logitech Embody chair, on the other hand, I ran into personal usability gripes.

My biggest is with the armrests, which are designed to guide the right hand either to a keyboard or to very mild mouse use. If I’m playing games at my desk on PC, my right hand is locked onto a mouse, but the specific shape of the Embody’s armrest is sloped and weighted in such a way that my elbow isn’t supported if I go beyond micro-movements with my mouse. I’m surprised that the Logitech version of the Embody doesn’t let users change the arm rest’s angle so that an arm’s rotation toward a mouse pad is better supported.

Worse is the armrests’ clear focus on upright mouse-and-keyboard use, which is wonderful for an average day’s duties on a computer but less so should you lean back and hold a gamepad. Doing this exposes the armrests’ shallower bases closer to the chair’s back. If I’m not sitting at Herman Miller’s preferred “upright” position while holding a gamepad, my elbows slip off. The solution has been to adjust the back-support curve in a way that leads my elbows to the armrests’ sweet spot, but even when I do that, my posture continues to degrade over time with a gamepad. This is when my forearms fall back and become my arms’ resting point, which is worse in terms of posture. A deeper position for elbows to rest comfortably would fix this and prove better for my back.

More than any of this is the sense that the Embody is designed to keep you forward-and-upright while sitting, which is arguably the right call for an hours-every-day office chair. But whenever I turned the chair away from my desk and toward my living room TV, I always felt like I was at work. There’s nothing in this chair that manages to combine best-in-class posture support with coziness. The adjustable back support either pushes firmly into your back to ensure lumbar support, or it gives way as an uncomfortable curve. And there’s no headrest that my noggin can splash back on when things go awry in a tricky, modern game like Demon’s Souls.

Aesthetics, fabric, and bottom line

In good news, the aesthetic touch-up is in line with Logitech’s more tasteful strides in recent years. You can barely tell it’s a “gaming chair” from the front, since the only indication is a “G” marker on the chair’s face. (The letter receives a different black stitching than the rest of the black chair, so it’s visible, but mild.) On the back, the Embody’s plastic back-support grid is set off with a bold teal coloration, and the black-and-teal grid will be up to personal taste. I’m personally a fan, as this shade of teal doesn’t look particularly garish or clashy, but the color makes it easier to tell that this is a plastic grid than you might notice with the same grid in black.

Otherwise, again, this is identical to the default Embody, with an apparent exception to its fabric construction. Though I do not have another Embody to compare with, I’ve seen reports about the fabric used on the Logitech model, including a mild tweak to its padding—enough so that dedicated Herman Miller users have called the Logitech update a preferable option of this model for anyone set on the Embody as a home chair option.

That’s assuming you have $1,499 to devote to a new chair, either for your home office or your favorite gaming room. And when we take a hard look at ergonomics in a chair you use frequently, the Herman Miller x Logitech Embody hits many crucial notes—adjustability on multiple axes, room to comfortably shift, and promotion of proper posture. The thing is, you can likely find those in solidly built chairs for hundreds less, whether or not they include gaming logos or branding.

I enjoyed testing this version of the Embody, as it’s a dependable chair without issues like uneven wheels, squeaky joints, or other things that are easy to take for granted. And I appreciated that it left good-enough alone instead of adding questionable updates like “racer”-minded redesigns. Still, I didn’t send the loaner back convinced that I needed to swap out my existing chairs or that Herman Miller had solved problems in the gaming-chair spectrum.

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