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Jack Gardner
I’ve had my PlayStation 4 for almost two weeks now, just enough time to sink my teeth into a few of the launch titles and get over the initial zealous excitement of opening a box of new hardware. Even after ruminating on the new machine for a while, I have to say that I am still very much impressed.
 
Before I even get into the actual hardware and software, I want to give a thought or two on Sony’s marketing strategy. Sony did a great job of raising public awareness of its console, obviously learning a bit from Nintendo’s missteps with the Wii U. The Greatness Awaits and Perfect Day commercials performed their jobs admirably and rank among some of my favorite video game commercials (yes, I have a list). However, neither of their biggest commercials talk about one of the biggest selling points of Sony consoles: PlayStation Plus. While the service gives subscribers access to lower prices on PSN and allows online play on the PS4, it also gives subscribers free games every month and people still seem surprised when they find that out. Nestled in amongst the cellophane-wrapped goodies of a new PlayStation 4 is a small voucher that provides codes for $10 on the PSN store, a free 30-day trial of the Music Unlimited service, and a month of free PlayStation Plus. Not only did I pick up Knack and Killzone Shadow Fall with my console, I also received the fast-paced and addictive side-scrolling shooter Resogun and the indie platformer Contrast for free. Let me reiterate that: I got two games for free and yet that seems to be a secret. Sony, you’re doing something wrong if people don’t know they can get video games for free just by purchasing your console and using a code to get a brief PlayStation Plus membership.
But I digress.

The physical design of the machine is pleasing, with slightly slanted front and back sides giving an air of futuristic sophistication. If these things were white instead of black, they wouldn’t look out of place as a sci-fi gadget in the next J.J. Abrams Star Trek film. The only complaint I have is that the slants can make it unnecessarily difficult to plug and unplug wires from the back of the machine if you need to shuffle it around or have a limited supply of HDMI cables.
 
On first booting up the console, expect to put in around 30-40 minutes of set-up time. This includes syncing up PSN accounts, downloading launch updates to access the PlayStation Network, setting system preferences, and downloading/installing new games. Once all of that is finished and the console reboots, the dashboard is opened up. One of the things that most impresses me about the PS4 is the fluidity of its menus, which are arranged into two rows. The primary row functions as the main menu with the most recently used games or apps placed farther left where they can be quickly accessed. Selecting a game or app from this list instantly launches it, while hovering on it for a second reveals drop down menus with more specific options. Meanwhile, the PSN store, friend lists, notifications, and messages are located in the secondary row. Players can freely flick between the two rows at any time, ridding gamers from the headache of shuffling through an ocean of icons. My biggest complaint with the user interface isn’t ever related to the PlayStation 4, it is with the online store Sony built for it. The PSN store menus are still a huge pain to navigate and I can only image they will get worse as more games, movies, and television shows are added. Unfortunately, that complaint also applies to many of the other apps available to PS4 users (with the notable exception of Netflix).
 

 
That being said, once the device has been set-up and the menus successfully navigated, the console moves incredibly fast. Netflix opens and begins streaming a show or movie within 10 seconds. As you play, the PS4 constantly records your previous 15 minutes of gameplay. Pressing the share button on the PS4 controller brings up the option to edit a video clip from that footage and upload it online to share with friends. Uploading videos takes under 20 minutes with decent internet speeds. You can immediately suspend gameplay at any time to return to the menus to send friends messages or fiddle with settings. Once installed, games launch within a matter of seconds.
 
The controller for the PlayStation 4 is arguably one of its best features and represents a drastic step forward from the previous incarnations of the DualShock. While it retains a design very similar to previous iterations, there are a number of small improvements that add up to a truly great controller. The material which covers the front is smooth, while the back plating is slightly textured to give it a bit more traction when gripped. Both of the analog sticks have ridges surrounding the edges to give thumbs more of a hold. The L2 and R2 triggers have a bit of an outward flair making them easier to press and providing a comfortable resting position for fingers. The touchpad in the center of the controller is perhaps the biggest addition and the source of my only complaint. The only game that has required me to use the touchpad has been Killzone Shadow Fall where it is used to give orders to a tactical drone. It feels awkward to quickly switch between joysticks and buttons to reach the touchpad with a thumb.
 
Maybe I just have small hands or it was clumsily implemented in Shadow Fall, but whatever the reason I am not overly fond of the touch pad. The controller also includes a light on the back which changes colors depending on the in-game situation, but seems to serve no real purpose except looking cool and helping gamers to find their controllers in the dark. There is also a built in speaker which yells things at you during various in-game situations. Most often it will be too loud and jarring, so you will want to turn it down with the in-game options.
 

 
The Share and the Options buttons have replaced the traditional Start and Select buttons. As previously discussed, the share button allows players to share a clip from their past 15 minutes of gameplay, but it also can take screenshots or initiate a livestream. The Options button pauses the game to bring up the in-game options, crazy, right? One of the most convenient aspects of the PS4 controller is that it allows users to plug their own headphones into the audio jack built into the bottom. You can then stream all of the audio to your headphones and not have to worry about disturbing sleeping housemates or neighbors. The controller also has a fairly decent rechargeable battery life and can be set to turn off after being left untouched for a set amount of time. Maybe it is the addition of the touchpad, light and speakers, but the PS4’s controller has a more agreeable heft to it than that of previous DualShock controllers. Overall, the controller just feels good to hold and play with, excepting the times when it shouts too loud or requires quick and awkward swipes on the touchpad.

What good is a console without good games to play on it? While not nearly as lackluster as the 3DS or Wii U launch line-up, the PlayStation 4 library at this time isn’t terribly compelling. Outside of Shadow Fall, Knack, and Resogun nearly every game available on PS4 can also be played on other systems. I think Sony was hoping that Killzone would be a console-selling IP, but I don’t think it is a must have. The shooting is a bit loose, certain mechanics don’t live up to their full potential, and the story is fairly standard as far as sci-fi shooters go. Knack is a simplistic, yet fun and challenging brawler for a younger type of gamer that is certainly charming, but also not a system seller. Resogun is a great arcade game on par with Geometry Wars or a supercharged Space Invaders, but it isn’t going to convince people to buy PS4s. True, you can play Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, and Assassin’s Creed IV on the console, but you can play those on any other piece of last-gen tech. As it stands now, the library is a bit slim and could use an infusion of life. This is likely to come slowly over the course of next year as the industry shifts to the next-gen with the release of games like Infamous: Second Son and The Order: 1886 and the various console-exclusive indie games like Helldivers and Guns of Icarus Online (and maybe Rime, my most anticipated indie game at the moment?). Unfortunately if you are looking to pick up the console at this time you are looking at a hefty amount of cross-platform sports titles and FPS games, with exceptions for kid-friendly Knack or Lego Marvel Super Heroes (which won’t release until the 29th).
 

 
From the physical design to the user interface, the overall impression of the PlayStation 4 is fantastic. It is a solid piece of hardware that possesses so many advantages over its predecessor that it is kind of silly. The ability to share gameplay clips, screen shots, or livestream on the fly is a very welcome addition to functionality and in all other respects the console seems built for the convenience of gamers. The biggest strike against the console is that there aren’t any truly amazing titles, but this is less of a problem because the hardware is so much better than what was available previously. I am honestly surprised at how tangible the improvements to the console feel beyond the expected visual upgrades.
 
My recommendation: If you are the kind of person who loves to stay up to date with the latest gaming technology, the PlayStation 4 is an impressive piece of hardware and has some fun titles worth playing, just don’t expect any life-changing experiences from the games currently available. If you aren’t thrilled by FPS games, Assassin’s Creed, or sports titles, you might want to hold off on a PlayStation 4 until that must-have game drops or a price drop hits.  
 
Extra Lifers out there, what do you think of the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One? Are they worth buying right off the bat or are prospective customers better off waiting a while?

Jack Gardner
Steam sales are kind of a big deal in the world of video games and this season's is no exception with bargains like BioShock Infinite for $9.99 and Street Fighter IV for $4.99.
 
Until December 3, tons of games will be marked down anywhere from 30%-90%. Basically, that means if you need some new PC games, head over to the Steam site and browse some bargains!

Jack Gardner
RPG enthusiasts across North America have been clamoring for the next official installment in the Persona series. Now Atlus has revealed the future of the franchise, but they didn't just show one game; they showed several.
 
Persona 4 was released in 2008 for the PlayStation 2. Since then, the series has had numerous spin-offs and remakes limited for the most part to handheld systems like the PSP or the Vita, with the notable exception of Persona 4 Arena on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2012. Now, it would appear that Atlus is gearing up for an all-out blitz across numerous platforms. 
 
Of course, the biggest announcement is that there will indeed be a Persona 5. The trailer doesn't give away much in terms of information, but it gives off a bit of a Matrix-y vibe with the tagline of "You are a slave. Want emancipation?" Knowing the Persona series, though, the game will hardly be that straight forward with it's teaser. Right now, all that is known for certain is that the game is currently slated for a winter 2014 release date in Japan. No word on when to expect a North American release quite yet.
 
 
Persona 4 Dancing All Night shines the spotlight on Rise Kujikawa, who will be the protagonist of Dancing All Night. Supposedly the game will fall into the music action category. Japan can expect to see this title appear on PS Vita sometime in fall 2014.
 
A third announcement heralded a sequel to Persona 4 Arena, titled Persona 4 Arena: Ultimax Ultra Suplex Hold. The fighting game will hit Japan sometime next year on PlayStation 3.
 
 
Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth will appear on 3DS and, according to this Gematsu translation, will feature a branching storyline that will have vastly different content depending on the player's decision to join the Persona 3 SEES team or the investigation team from Persona 4. Japan can expect to see Persona Q hitting shelves on June 5, 2014.
 
 
Personally, I think it is a bit odd that none of these games will be appearing on PlayStation 4 (at least, not that I know of at this time) and that the follow-up to Persona 4 Arena won't be coming to 360 like its predecessor, but it is still pretty amazing to see Atlus putting so many games out around the same time. The only thing that would make this news better is if Atlus had also released tentative localization dates for these games to be released in North America and Europe. Well, what do you think?

Jack Gardner
Galactic Civilizations III looks better than ever with improved graphics and additional races while also welcoming newcomers into the fold by presenting galactic histories as well as an interactive timeline for curious prospective players to delve into the lore of the galaxy circa 2242.
 
Galactic Civilizations is a series of turn-based, 4X strategy titles dating back to 2003 (after Stardock remade the original from 1994). Basically, it applied Sid Meier's Civilization to outer space and different alien species. Rather than dealing with purely terrestrial ideological and technological differences, players had to navigate sticky situations like how to deal with the Yor, an implacable race of sentient robots with one mind and a deep hatred of organic life.
 

 
Now the third official installment is gearing up to come to PCs. For people who never played the previous entries, which covered the beginnings of human expansion into the larger galactic stage and a gigantic war against a faction of one of the oldest space-faring races known as the Dread Lords, Stardock has written up background info for most of the playable races (more will be revealed soon), and a timeline of the galaxy beginning billions of years ago. 
 
You might be thinking to yourself, "Why would I care to know the lore of Galactic Civilizations?" For one, it gives you an idea of what each civilization is looking for on the diplomatic side of the game. For another, it provides context for this awesome announcement trailer.
 
 
For more information on Galactic Civilization III, check out the databanks on the game's website.
 
Any strategy fans out there chomping at the bit to get their hands on the next big space 4X?

Jack Gardner
In a week between the release of a new generation of video game hardware and software, the release of a fighting game from a decade ago can easily be overlooked.
 
"Transcending history, and the world, a tale of souls and swords, eternally retold," it would appear that the opening words of Soulcalibur II ring true as one of the most popular fighting games of the GameCube, Xbox, and PlayStation 2 era has been remastered and ported to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as a digital download.
 
The ten year anniversary HD release stays true to the original, with a few minor improvements. The character roster includes Spawn and Heihachi Mishima, previously only available on the Xbox and PS2 versions, respectively. Nintendo didn't allow Link, the exclusive character in the GameCube version, to appear in the re-release. Most importantly, as the name would imply, Soulcalibur II HD Online will include online matchmaking.
 
 
Any Extra Lifers out there have fond memories of Soulcalibur II? Thinking about picking up HD Online? Let us know what you think!

Jack Gardner
Square Enix is gearing up to re-release the definitive RPGs of the PlayStation 2 era in glorious high-definition and they have a trailer to prove it.
 
Both titles in the HD Remaster will be updated version of the international Final Fantasy X and X-2, which contain content that was never seen in the North American releases. Square Enix has set the release to be March 18, 2014.
 
 
As of this time, it is unknown when the Vita versions of both titles will release, as the given North American date only applies to the PS3 releases.
 
Anybody else gearing up to replay this or play it for the first time?

Jack Gardner
The next expansion of the free-to-play Star Wars MMO promises to bring the two faction into conflict with spaceships and lasers. Lots of lasers.
 
The Domination trailer shows the expansion, Galactic Starfighter, in action. The main addition will be of free form, 12v12, aerial dogfights pitting the Sith Empire and the Republic against one another in customization starfighters. Players will be able to recruit co-pilots to activate ship abilities as well as additional crew members for passive abilities. Performance in space battles will have effects on the ongoing ground wars, as well as a direct effect on your ground characters in the form of experience and credits.
 
 
Subscribers will have access to the expansion beginning December 3, preferred players will gain access on the January 14, and everyone will have access by February 4. For more information, you can visit the Galactic Starfighter website.
 
Any Extra Lifers out there who play SWTOR?

Jack Gardner
Next week from November 22-24 Major League Gaming is hold their season ending championship tournaments and expects it to be the largest event in their 11 year history.
 
With an ever-increasing prize-pool, currently worth approximately $150,000 and expected to increase drastically as the tournament nears, dozens of the world's leading players will descend on Columbus, Ohio to battle in Call of Duty: Ghosts and Dota 2.
 
Ghosts will be played in an official tournament for the first time and the Dota 2 event will be the largest since Valve's own tournament, The International 3. Additionally, fans that purchase digital tickets for the Dota 2 tournament will be directly contributing to the the tourney prize-pool.
Call of Duty will be featured on two streams commentated by veterans Chris “Puckett,” Ryan “Fwiz” Wyatt, John “Revan” Boble, Benjamin “Benson” Bowe, and Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez.
 
Dota 2 will be on three streams, plus free in-game viewing commentated by David “LD” Gorman, David “Godz” Parker, Ben “Merlini” Wu, and David “Luminous” Zhang.
 
The competition will be broadcast in HD on the MLG site beginning Friday, November 22 beginning at 5pm ET with five streams showcasing the tournament.  Broadcast schedules are available on the MLG web site: Call of Duty: Ghosts and Dota 2.

Jack Gardner
Trailers for Blizzard's upcoming MOBA Heroes of the Storm, World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor, and Diablo III: Reaper of Souls have appeared online and beg for you to look at them with your face.
 
Tell me if you have heard this one before: An angel, a space marine, and an assassin walk into a desert and run into a lich king, an alien, and the devil... then they fight! While that might not make a very funny joke, it does make a pretty flippin' awesome trailer, especially when it is made by Blizzard, who have pretty much cornered the market on flippin' awesome cinematics.
 
 
I'm pretty hopeful that Heroes of the Storm will turn out well. With great examples of how to develop and run successful MOBA titles in League of Legends and Dota 2 and Blizzard's tendency to support titles for long periods of time, I can't really see how they could botch an attempt to create a successful MOBA. Time, of course, will be the judge, but I have faith that Blizzard can deliver.
 
BlizzCon was also a perfect time to announce a new World of Warcraft expansion that uses time travel to revisit ground covered in the original Warcraft titles, as well as implementing a slew of new features. Warlords of Draenor will overhaul the character models, up the level cap to 100, provide new PvP zones, add new monsters, dungeons, and raids, and the ability to boost to level 90 immediately to play late game content right off the bat. Will this be enough to bring back people who have strayed from the Warcraft fold?
 
 
Finally a gameplay trailer was shown regarding the Diablo III expansion Reaper of Souls. The new add-on will include an adventure mode that unlocks all waypoints, dramatically opening up the world for players to begin playing and go fight anything, anywhere. Two other additions are made to the adventure mode: Bounties and Nephalem Rifts. Bounties are basically random hits on powerful monsters that can be used to get more gold and experience, while rifts are portals to dungeons that contain rare and valuable loot. In addition to the adventure mode teaser, there was also snippets of gameplay shown from the PS4 version of Diablo III. 
 
 
What do you think? Excited? Itching to try World of Warcraft or return to it? Ready for a new MOBA or more Diablo III? Let us know what you think!

Jack Gardner
The award-winning game Faster Than Light is receiving a free expansion that includes a slew of new features and it will now see an iOS release on the iPad.
 
FTL, a beautiful, brutally difficult Rogue-like game, is one of my favorite indie games or the last few years. You take command of a spaceship tasked with warning the Federation of an impending attack by rebel forces. Every playthrough is drastically different and exhilarating, and players find them selves compelled to play again and again even though beating the game is a near herculean feat of micromanagement and luck. 
 
The expansion includes new tools, systems, and weapon abilities including: mind control, hacking, area of effect targeting, weapon overcharging, and basically more of everything. A new sector as well as new events have been added to the game, written by returning writer Tom Jubert and special guest Chris Avellone, who has worked on Planescape, Wasteland 2, and Project Eternity. Additionally, developer Subset games has listened to community feedback and added a few oft requested features like saving crew positions on the ship, the ability to save and quit during combat, and finding more items to purchase in stores.
 
As someone who loves FTL, this is pretty much a dream come true.
 
 
The PC and iPad versions will launch at the same time in early 2014. Subset will also be working to get FTL on Android tablets, but will not be bringing the title to phones due to the limited amount of interface space.

Jack Gardner
Following an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign (which raised over seven times what developer Stoic Games asked for) and several months of development, the gorgeously animated The Banner Saga is finally coming to PC and Mac.
 
The meat of The Banner Saga is that of a turn-based strategy game set in a world of Norse mythology, giants, and sorcery. However, the single-player campaign will be similar to a, quoting from Rock, Paper, Shotgun, "ultra high-stakes game of Oregon Trail," with every step in the overworld potentially bringing a new event or enemy encounter for players to deal with and live with the repercussions.
 
After receiving their Kickstarter funds, Stoic Games released a free multiplayer version of their game that showcased the vibrant visuals of the full game as well as the gameplay in a PvP setting. This trial version/demo was called The Banner Saga: Factions and can be downloaded and played here. Following the release of Factions, the studio went quiet, until now.
 
 
The Banner Saga's first installment will release on PC and Mac on January 14, 2014. To hammer that point home, Stoic has released a ned trailer heralding their game's impending release, which you can view below.

Jack Gardner
GlassLab, a part of the Institute of Play, is dedicated to helping create games that are both financially successful and help educate players regarding important social, scientific, and practical issues in today's world. Their latest effort with EA has resulted in SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge!, which challenges students to minimize pollution while juggling employment rates and citizen satisfaction while also providing lesson plans and resources for teachers to fit the program into their curriculum. 
 
Jessica Lindl, General Manager of GlassLab, summed up the project, saying, “Taking the essential elements of games, we’ve created an educational tool that will keep students excited and engaged in real-world problem solving, while providing teachers with actionable reports aligned to standards.”
 
 
You can purchase SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge! or learn more about it at www.simcityedu.org.

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