Batman: Arkham Knight Approaches

Good golly today started with some splendid news! The finale to the top-notch Batman: Arkham series is scheduled for release this year on PS4, Xbox One and PC. The game, titled Batman: Arkham Knight, will supposedly wrap up the world Rocksteady has created with one final bang. But Rocksteady looks poised to introduce some major changes to the series after three very similar beat-em-up games.

But first, here’s the four-minute intro trailer for Batman: Arkham Knight.

As you might have noticed, the Batmobile looks to co-star with the Dark Knight. Not only will the functionality of driving the Batmobile change the game, but it must also alter map size and design. The maps in Arkham City and Origins wouldn’t support a driving feature very well, so it’s up to Rocksteady to mold a Batmobile-friendly maze.

Bruce Wayne squares off against the familiar foes, with Two-Face, Harley Quinn, Penguin and Scarecrow making appearances in the trailer. I’ll be happy to see this gang again, especially the batshit (zing!) crazy Harley Quinn.

GameStop has listed the game for all three systems with a release date of October 14, 2014, which will probably change at least once. But either way, a next-gen Batman game this year will be delicious. Especially one that nails the coffin in this very satisfying Arhkam world. Hopefully the next series will be just as good.

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Welcome Home, PS4

After weeks and months of waiting, the best moment of 2014 arrived early Thursday afternoon. The sun was shining as I walked in GameStop, the box sitting on the counter in front of me and, fortunately, there was just enough money in my bank account. One swipe of plastic adorned with a Columbus Blue Jackets logo later and, after turning down offers for a handful of game preorders, the elusive PlayStation 4 belonged to me.

Success!

Success!

And despite my paranoia, ninjas did not appear from the tops of buildings and behind corners to take away my newfound joy. No crazed people surrounded me on the train ride home to steal it from my arms. There was no Cato to be found in my apartment, ready to grab the glorious console. And when I plugged it in, it worked. Paranoia over.

But the real story takes place from July 2013 up to the morning hours of February 27.

With my internship at Penn State in the books and July on the calendar, I was the typical, 23-year old unemployed kid moving back into my childhood bedroom while I sent out job applications in disgustingly large quantities. For the summer months, I watched my bank account dwindle while rallying funds from a part-time job at Office Depot to pay student loans and as friends debated which console to preorder and pick up on release day, I was buying into the belief that playing PS3 well into 2014 and even 2015 didn’t sound too horrible. It was with a twang in my heart I accepted that future.

Release day came and went. I watched the FX special for the PS4 and nearly wept (not really; it was sad though). I’ve been an early adopter of gaming tech since the PS2 came to North America when I was at the ripe old age of 10. Since then, despite a year-long experiment with Xbox 360, I’ve been mainly a Sony buyer and to see the PS4 everywhere except connected to my TV was upsetting. Luckily, I had the trusty PS3 and even received a PS Vita as a college graduation present from my best friend. Lucky, I was.

Just a month later, the luck hit a new high as I accepted a job in New York City. So now here I am and after a couple months of work, the bank account was fully equipped to take a $400 blow. And then the shortages became increasingly apparent. Missed out on the preorder and early holiday buying? Sucks for you. They’ll be available again in April, Sony said. But the Xbox One is available everywhere! I almost caved and went the Microsoft route a few times, but stayed true to uniting my Vita with a PS4.

I scoured the internet, basically living on Twitter and Reddit for a few days to look for news of availability. With the help of nowinstock.net, I found a two-game PS4 bundle from Walmart.com that I didn’t really want, but I was desperate. I had all my information entered and waited for the product to go back in stock. It popped up, I hit buy and ship and received the confirmation 10 minutes later. Joyous day! Two days from then, I would have the PS4.

Like all good things, I was forced to wait a little longer. I awoke the next morning to an email (a common one, it seems) claiming that despite my successful order AND the money being removed from my bank account, my “payment was invalid” and there was no console heading my way. Bummed, I was. Very bummed. Five hours of staring at Walmart.com wasted.

A moment, long-awaited

A moment, long-awaited

So I swore off buying one from the internet and instead decided to call every GameStop in NYC. None of them were very helpful, understandably. None in stock, not sure when a new shipment will arrive, they said. So I headed to my most-visited GameStop with a surprisingly decent staff. One short conversation with a GS employee and he let me know to head back six days later, Feb. 28. Circled on the calendar.

As you can guess from the Feb. 27 date mentioned before, I didn’t wait until Feb. 28. Despite staying up until 5 a.m. the morning of the 27th playing Guacamelee!, I swore to myself I’d wake up at 10 a.m. and call GS as soon as they opened. Somehow, I fought through just a few hours of sleep and was greeted on the phone by Rashaun, the same guy who gave me the tip days earlier. There were no PS4s in stock at the moment, but call again around noon, he said. Called again.

Nothing.

To hell with waiting, I said. He assured me they were coming today, so I got on the train and made my way to the Bronx. One annoying train delay later, I walked in on that sun-shining day and promptly took my place in line behind what appeared to be three groups of customers outside the stereotypical gamer demographic. Older, maybe mid-30s-40s moms trading in (relatively) ancient 360 games and a couple guys in their late 20s buying a random motocross game for PS3. So I waited in line for what seemed an eternity.

I knew the inevitable “sorry, man, none in stock” response was approaching as I opened my mouth to pop the question. So instead, I delayed the moment and opted for karma points by telling Rashaun I appreciated his help the past week and for putting up with my multiple phone calls. And then it came: “Do you have any PS4s?”

“Sure thing, let me go grab one from the back.”

HOLY BALLS THE WAIT IS OVER.

YOU’RE BACK IN THE GAME, BRIAN!

CHECK YOUR BANK ACCOUNT, BRIAN, YOU BUMBLING IDIOT!

Thank the tech gods and developers everywhere for mobile banking apps. I shifted a few dollars around and I was ready to swipe the plastic card adorned with the Columbus Blue Jackets. No ninjas, no thieves on the train, no Cato. Just me, my PS4 and plenty of gaming memories on the horizon.

Welcome Home, PlayStation 4

Welcome Home, PlayStation 4

Thanks Rashaun, GameStop and the MTA for delaying the 1 train like a bunch of assholes.

But mostly, thanks Sony. I think the PS4 is a keeper.

PlayStation Plus – March 2014 (Dead Nation!)

The PlayStation Blog announced March’s lineup of free games for PlayStation Plus Thursday morning and I AM SO PUMPED.

Dead Nation, huzzah!

Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition was one of my favorite games for the PS3 and by far my favorite digital game of the last generation of consoles. Developer Housemarque’s top-down, gruesome shooter throws you, as Jack McReady or Scarlett Blake, up against a load of angry zombies and is an endless source of fun. Lots of weapons, some frustration, unique enemies and a smooth co-op experience make for a blast. And it’ll be totally free on PS4 starting next week.

But I suck because the PS4 still eludes me. The first thing I’m doing once I acquire the glorious console will be to download Dead Nation. It’s that great.

So for the moment my concern is the Vita lineup. March’s freebies are Unit 13 and native PSP game Monster Hunter: Freedom Unite. From what I’ve heard about Unit 13, it’s a solid shooter worth a playthrough. I’ve never been a fan of the Monster Hunter series, but it’s free. We’ll see what happens.

The acclaimed Tomb Raider headlines the list for PS3 and is joined by Thomas Was Alone and Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut.

The Wednesday Gaming Report (Feb. 26)

All in one bubble

All in one bubble

Thanks to a plethora of sales on the PlayStation Network Store and my continuous inability to find a PS4, I committed a fair amount of money to my game library for the PS Vita this week. It really started last week when I finally bought a PS Plus subscription and I’m so damn happy I did. It was a relief to get around to playing Uncharted: Golden Abyss after carefully avoiding any kind of spoilers on it for the last two years. Now I’m screwing around trophy-whoring with Nathan Drake before moving on to the following lovely games.


Hotline Miami
Super old-school, 80s-style badassery on a five-inch screen with a splash of neon. I’ve read a fair amount about Hotline Miami and am most excited to see just how much of a difficult game it is. And, of course, gratuitous killing in art form is always fun. That also happens to be my explanation of why I enjoy Quentin Tarantino. And Super Mario.


Rayman Origins
This one presented kind of a knuckleball for me. Rayman is a renowned series and this is sadly my first taste of that world. It’s a beautiful and colorful game though. That counts for a lot on handheld systems.


Velocity Ultra
“America is all about speed. Hot, nasty, badass speed.” – Eleanor Roosevelt


Guacamelee!
By far what I’m most excited to play is Guacamelee! I have a hard time paying full price for anything in life and unfortunately that includes video games. But I can name a handful of nights where I almost broke down to grab Guacamelee! because it looks like so much fun. Few plots are better than a Mexican farmer inheriting superpowers from a luchadore mask. It’s like The Mask, but cooler.

Persona 4 Golden has also taken its semi-permanent spot on the backburner. It’s a practice of caution. If I make it my main gaming focus, I’ll end up playing seven hours a day and not sleeping until 5 a.m.

Thanks, Canada, for Ruining My Day

If you like sports or have any Internet access, you’ve probably seen that the United States men’s hockey team lost to Team Canada, 1-0, in the semifinals of the Winter Olympics earlier Friday. In light of that, I have been in a less-than-spectacular mood. And whom do I blame?

Canada. (Like, all of it, not just the hockey team. This sadly includes Tim Hortons and the cold in general… because they come from Canada.)

So here’s this:

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone provided the soundtrack for my day back in 1999 when they included the song above in the cinematic gem, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. The film is a cornerstone of my childhood. In the movie, the parents of our favorite cartoon children squarely lay the blame on Canada for their kids’ foul-mouthed behavior. I, too, blame Canada for every foul thought I’ve had today. And there have been a handful of them.

Don’t fret for too long though, my fellow Americans. Just remember, they’re not even a real country anyway.

And Dunkin Donuts is better than Tim Hortons and Budweiser makes Labatt taste like elk piss. Okay, neither of those are true (and elk piss is actually a pretty good drink at one bar in Lincoln, Neb.). I still love the by-products of your existence, Canada. But you, northerly neighbors, suck this week. I’m glad Wayne Gretzky left you in 1988.

#MURICA

‘Murica

Grounded: The Making of The Last of Us

I’m usually not a huge fan of committing up to two hours of my life toward watching documentaries, but some subject matter is way too enticing not to watch. That happened to be the case with Grounded: The Making of The Last of Us, a documentary that is both 1) totally free on Amazon Instant Video and 2) all about the extraordinary PlayStation 3 game, The Last of Us.

Click here to fly away to Amazon and start watching. (Please finish reading first though!)

Grounded has a little bit of every aspect of the video game process. So if you’re into writing and creation, go for it. Like dev lingo? Go for it. A fan of voice acting and/or motion capture? Go for it. Like music and soundtrack creation or the artistic process or lighting. Yep.

It gets an 11/10

For those who haven’t played The Last of Us (shame on you), it’s developer Naughty Dog’s magnum opus for the PS3 generation and my favorite Naughty Dog game ever. For the non-hardcore gamers, that’s a pretty hefty compliment. The studio created the PS3-exclusive flagship Uncharted trilogy but more importantly, way back in the 1990s, they were responsible for pumping out one of my first favorite characters – Crash Bandicoot. I spent a lot of time with the marsupial hero Crash in my fledgling PlayStation One days.

The Last of Us is such an emotional game it’s difficult to classify it solely in the video game realm, which is generally thought of as just mindless entertainment. TLoU creates just as much, if not more, tension than any movie or book I’ve ever watched or read. A lot of that has to do with a fast-growing attachment to the two main protagonists, Joel and Ellie (the people on the cover). The writing introduces a quick-but-not-too-quick father-daughter dynamic that feels completely natural. As natural as any relationship could blossom in a post-apocalyptic world of the near-future with free-roaming zombie-types and generally shitty humans with guns, at least.

The documentary really drives home everything that makes the game powerful and the 2013 Game of the Year for pretty much everyone (if you disagree, again, shame on you). From writer Neil Druckmann to lead actors Troy Baker (Joel) and Ashley Johnson (Ellie) to the hilarious sound guys and the more-serious lighting and UI people, everyone talks about it with a lot of love, which I imagine is exactly what it takes to create a AAA game over the span of a couple years.

The coolest part for me was seeing the entire process explained from concept to finished product. I’ve been playing these massive games since I was five (The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, what’s up!?) and although I’ve had a basic working knowledge of the creation process it was really cool to see it all with such depth. The casting of voice actors was really cool and cemented my crush on Ashley Johnson, who is more than a few years older than the 14-year old character she portrays. There’s also a lengthy look into the motion capture stuff, which made me think of the video below the entire time (it’s significantly funnier if you’ve finished TLoU).

Other standout parts include the story of the game’s A-List composer, Gustavo Santaolalla, who ABSOLUTELY F’ING CRUSHED the soundtrack. It’s really, really striking in its down-tuned (which I love) and creepy, crawly sound. You can listen to all of it here. Santaolalla immigrated from tumultuous 1970s Argentina and his past plays a part in how he achieved the previously-mentioned perfection of a soundtrack. He won Academy Awards for his work on Brokeback Mountain and Babel, so he was kind of a big deal coming in.

Seeing the lighting added in the game made me reevaluate just how great that stuff was, too. It’s difficult to appreciate the minor design aspects of a game when the story is so captivating, but from a distance you can really see how everything works together to create the illusion that you’re living in within the game. But the highlight of it all was listening to the sound guys talk about creating the signature “clicking” sound of the aptly-named killer Clickers in the game. Hilarious moment involving a Snapple lid.

Clickers are assholes

Overall, I honestly just enjoyed reliving the game through the documentary. Had my trusty PS3 not been sacrificed and left behind during my move to NYC, I surely would have played The Last of Us at least once again since last autumn. I couldn’t help but get a little antsy watching the in-game action at points and cringing because I remember just how badly I screwed up some parts of the game, including the “Rage-WTF-Mode” inducer in the bookstore area.

Fittingly, The Last of Us was literally the last game I played on my PS3 (the title pun… it’s not really that funny, but I tried). In an honest sense, I saved the best for last. Thank you, Naughty Dog.

Like I mentioned way up at the top, Grounded: The Making of The Last of Us is totally free, so there’s no reason not to grab it and keep it for a rainy day. You’ll be better for it. Just make sure you play the game first.

SIDENOTE: The new Bayside album, CULT, released today and is a fantastical work of pure joy! I listened to it three times in the five hours after I bought it and it just keeps getting better with familiarity. GO GO GO BUY IT!

Go forth and purchase!

FOO FIGHTERS FRIDAY (V)

If you’re reading this, you made it through another seven days of work, school, life, etc., so congratulations! Here’s your reward:

“My Hero” is one of the earliest Foo Fighters singles from the legendary 1997 album The Colour and the Shape, but still remains hugely popular among show-going fans. Although Dave Grohl and Co. have been playing it acoustically quite a bit in recent years, which is a little unfortunate since (in my very humble opinion) the song is much better with the power of electric guitars behind it.

In the Back and Forth documentary, bassist Nate Mendel mentioned questioning whether he thought the Foo Fighters were going to keep the train rolling after touring so long for the first record, but “My Hero” confirmed his faith in the future of the band. Maybe that’s why he didn’t leave to go back to Sunny Day Real Estate a couple years later.

The video is pretty notable for a couple reasons, as well. It remains one of the few non-humor-based Foo videos, much like “Best of You” and “The Pretender.” Grohl himself directed “My Hero,” which indeed portrays a heroic individual running through a burning apartment building and saving all kinds of sentimental items, babies and family pets and… stuff. All while the Foos jam on in the corners of the burning rooms.

But you never see the hero’s face because, you know… “he’s ordinary!”

Most notably, however, “My Hero” is the lone music video to include short-lived guitarist Franz Stahl. In somewhat of a coincidence, Grohl has stated multiple times that the song is partly about Stahl’s older brother, Pete, who was much like a father figure to a young Dave back in his time touring with D.C. punk band Scream. All the media in the 90s assumed it was about Kurt Cobain though, I’m sure.

So there you have it. The last of January’s Foo Fighters Friday videos. We’re 1/12th of the way through 2014!

See you next Friday.