GTA IV - It's Here

Some initial random thoughts from my first 30 mins on single player…and first three hours on multiplayer. If you want it summed up in one word – unmissable.

  • Very cinematic intro – don’t skip it!
  • Rich environment, great graphics. Lot’s happening around you that you need to spend time looking at and taking in. So big. So much to see. Massive scale.
  • Cars are varied and handle superbly. Different and takes time to get used to and you need to brake. Loving the wheelspin’s and momentum of vehicles.
  • Not done enough single player to say any more. Same old GTA fare by the looks of it which isn’t a bad thing!
  • Multiplayer takes a bit of getting used to. it probably helps to have done some offline missions first and get used to targeting, cover system, changing weapons. I didn’t and i suffered!!
  • Multiplayer offers the whole of Liberty City if you want it. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and a few other modes that I didn’t have time to try. Cops and Crooks is a great game mode though. So much fun! So many ways to kill/die. It can feel overwhelming though.
  • Thankfully there’s an option to respawn nearby where you died. Keeps you close to the action – anything else could lead to boredom crossing the map to get to enemy team.
  • Racing modes are fun. Losing car after death though and getting a scooter can be frustrating but superb for your frineds.
  • Rockets on a small map is frantic. Rockets look superb!
  • No mute. Loud Americans! XBox Live should allow you to default voice communications by region/countries. Mute all yanks!
  • Helicopters! A great way to travel.
  • In just one night so many memorable moments. First time I used the sniper to stop a car was superb. Seeing and driving cars with no tyres. Cheesy in the fire engine. Me not being able to kill anyone. Me not being able to drive. Class
  • It’s a sandbox game so don’t expect the honed multi-player of Halo, CoD, Forza etc. it really is up to you how you want to play.
  • Soundtrack ticking boxes so far. Heard Queens One Vision and some Phil Collins tonight.

So. Some initial thoughts mostly all positive. One also closing note. Glad I picked up 360 version over PS3. Some reviews have mentioned better graphics on the PS3 but this comparison between both shows me that any difference is hard to spot. It’s also been found today that the res of the PS3 version is 640p against the 360’s 720p, that the PS3 multiplayer service has been down and had connection issues today and also that the PS3 version is freezing. Solution – delete your game save and also the game install. Nasty. Xbox Live (for me anyway) performed without a hitch tonight. Great to login and see 15 friends all playing the same game. Can’t wait to really get into the game. More thoughts probably next week on how it plays after a few days.

GT5 Prologue

The title that the PS3 has been waiting for or a glorified demo that is a shameless cash in on a game starved community? Depending on how much time you give the game you could easily walk away with either impression.

Playing GT5 Prologue brings back a lot of memories. Lovely menu’s, soft jazz elevator music playing in the background and some slow cars to get you into the game. It’s always wrong to judge Gran Turismo titles on initial play as it usually has real depth that unveils as you play more. However in single player, playing though the first three classes is fairly dull. I don’t think I played a challenge more than twice to complete it until I hit A class. Even then the only reason was to get money to buy cars to complete challenges. What a grind. This was supposed to be a racing game, not a grind game. It took a long time of repetitive gaming to get enough money to buy cars to complete A class.

GT 5

However completing A class open’s up a far more interesting game. S class is unlocked and also car tuning. Suddenly the tweaking that is the heart of getting fast times and better handling out of cars is available throughout the game. I can’t understand why the dev’s would want to lock this out until now. The earlier modes aren’t that challenging and quite a few people will never even get to see this part of the game due to boredom of having to grind.

S class is excellent though. Fast cars and some great challenges. Also excellent are the car models and the variety. For a cut down game there’s more than enough to keep you occupied including a 2007 F1 Ferrari. It only costs £2,000,000 though so it’s something I’ll never probably see. Graphically the car models are stunning – far more impressive than Forza 2. Not so impressive are the tracks. They range from good (as in almost as good as Forza) to poor. Some graphical glitches and vsync issues mar some tracks. There are also only six tracks so not much variety. Remember though that this is prologue only though.

One of the big claims from Polyphony is around the online modes. In fact there have been claims that this is the best online console racer. Ever. With races of up to 16 players it sounded good on paper but in practice it’s pretty ugly. Firstly there are no private rooms, no friends lists and a real lack of community. This will be fixed in a patch. Allegedly. Online works by offering events that you can take part in. Early events use slower cars. People taking shortcuts or barging into others aren’t penalised. There’s also the issue of no car damage and also the fact that on many courses, not slowing into corners and using the barriers to keep you on the track is the fastest route. Cue online gaming at it’s worst. If there is a collision the two cars go invisible to limit damage. I was amazed as someone raced into the back of me, us going transparent and him keeping most of his speed (don’t think he touched his brakes at all) and continuing to drive through me. Unbelievable. Damage is also promised later in the year.

S class events offered some hope in that people taking to grass and barriers are punished by slowing their car for 4-5 seconds. Except that people shunted off track by idiots are the ones punished…not the real cheaters. Hopefully Polyphony will fix this before the proper game. They’ve allegedly got a year.

Something they don’t need to address though is the car handling which is superb. Each car handles and feels differently but feels…right. However it doesn’t feel any better than Forza 2. Computer AI is abysmal though. Awful in fact. AI cars will continue on their path no matter what’s in there way. Polyphony also added events like AI cars spinning out during a race. This is spoiled though when you realise that offline events are scripted. Every race is the same. A car putting a wheel on the dirt and kicking up dirt does it on the same track at the same corner at the same time each and every race. Really takes away from the atmosphere.

So it’s really a mixed bag. Give up before S class and your left with a pretty bad taste. Grind out some money though and there’s a really enjoyable racer hidden away. Just don’t expect much online. Also, don’t buy via download which costs £24.99 while the Blu-Ray disk costs around £18 online. So much for digital distribution reducing costs. More like increasing profits. One final thought. This isn’t a console seller. If you’ve already got a 360 then Forza 2 is a far better game. Next year when the full GT5 is launched could be a different story.

Misc.

Some quick updates, all misc.

  • Unlucky St Johnstone. Watching the game as a whole you couldn’t tell who was the first division team. In fact Rangers were shocking and it was St Johnstone who showed more ingenuity and had good spells of possession. I fear that tiredness and injuries are finally catching up with Rangers and i have the genuine ‘The Fear’ for the remainder of the season. Thank goodness we’ve at least won something this season already.
  • Tempted to buy a Wii. The urge to play Mario Kart is strong despite some of the iffy reviews. However, I’ve put it off this long and I’m still expecting (really desperately hoping) that a 3G iPhone will drop in June which will need funds. And GTA IV is next week. So I really shouldn’t. If only I didn’t have that urge.
  • While on the topic, how good does GTA IV look? Bloody amazing! Watched all the trailers again and I just can’t wait. Spent the weekend listening to Vice City and San Andreas soundtracks – class.
  • Not class is Konami. Metal Gear online beta was due to launch today. Firstly the download took a few hours on Thursday. Then as soon as you launch t it requires another 400Meg download which took a very long time and couldn’t be downloaded in the background. Now you need a Konami ID and a Game ID to play the game….which doesn’t work. And their website is virtually unusable. WTF? Why they wanted to use their own ID’s to play the game baffles me and also shows the lack of cohesion throughout the PS3. Shame. Hopefully when the beta finally gets moving later this week the game actually plays well…although Pro Evo online is hardly a good advert of what they can achieve online.
  • Alex Salmond. Honestly. Why are you such a smug git?
  • Fuel shortage? Panic buying? Doesn’t really take much to get people into a frenzy these days. It’s time we relied less on petrol, cars etc. I’ll fill up tomorrow though, just because I really don’t have any fuel left. The price at the moment is shocking too.
  • New BBC idents – very nice but how long has it taken to get to this point and how much money did it cost?
  • Job still going well. Time still flies, it all still feels new.
  • Radiohead tickets arrived. Just over two months until the concert at Glasgow Green. Cannot wait for that one.
  • Weight loss still progressing although rate of weight loss has slowed. Still, can’t complain really although clothes are starting to look baggy so shopping trip required soon.
  • Speaking of job there is one downside. There’s a right old moany bastard that sits close by three days a week. Tue-Thurs. Thank goodness for iPod and also being busy as it keeps me focussed. That guy just sucks the life out of anything in the vicinity. Annoys me even as I write this.
  • I’ve got a week off soon – first holidays of the year. Lot’s of jobs around the house so hopefully the weather gets a bit better.
  • The back lawn we put down last year looks pooh at the moment. Lot’s of moss and what looks like lots of weeds. Sigh. It’s at times like these concrete and chuckies sound like a great idea.
  • Still got some old drafts to post here. Onkyo 705 thoughts and also how GT5 plays. Don’t know if I’ll finish them off or not.
  • Mum’s birthday at the weekend and I’ve got no clue what to buy her. Wonder if she’d like a Wii?

Panasonic TZ5

My old Sony P200 (only 2 1/2 years old so not much) was a good camera for me but had developed some dead pixel issues that meant every picture needed cleaning up before publishing. Not that I need an excuse to upgrade gadgets but that was good enough for me to try the Panasonic TZ5. I’ve had it for over a week now so thought it was time to publish some thoughts so far.

Panasonic TZ5The camera is a pretty typical point and shoot but has a couple of key features that really appealed to me. It has a 10x optical zoom which for a camera this size is very nice to have. It also shoots 720p video which while I don’t intend doing a lot of is still a plus point compared to other camera’s at this price point. It also allows you to shoot pictures in 16:9 format which is also a useful feature.

Build Quality
The camera feels good in the hand. One handed use is very comfortable and there’s a nice grip strip at the front of the camera. The zoom controls surround the shutter which makes it really quick to zoom, focus and take a picture. However there a couple of things I don’t like. Firstly the main control dial feels a bit cheap compared to the rest of the camera. It’s like a bit of plastic stuck on to the camera and doesn’t give much feedback when used. Worse is the lens cover. While it looks quite substantial if you give it a poke you realise its very flimsy indeed. A camera case or a secondary lens cover is essential which is a shame as the camera doesn’t come with one as standard. The rest of the controls are well positioned and I really like the large screen. Clarity is excellent even in daylight. One other negative – the microphone quality is shocking. I’d go as far to say useless. Thankfully thats the main negatives out of the way.
Continue reading “Panasonic TZ5”

GTA IV OXM Review

Shamelessly stolen from elsewhere but copied below for, well, Roberts benefit mostly (I should really be sending an e-mail at this point but others might find it interesting). GTA IV launches two weeks tomorrow in the UK and the first reviews are starting to surface. Below are links to a scanned copy of this months OXN review.

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Two weeks feels a long time away. I can’t wait to play this online.

Virgin Nonsense

So more bad press from Virgin. Their new CEO has said that net neutrality is a load of bollocks. Nice. He then threatens the BBC, not directly, by saying that public sector broadcasters should pay for faster access to Virgin customers or find their content delivered at a lower speed.

He also indicates that discussions are underway with content providers to deliver their content at better speeds than others. So those with bigger pockets will get a pretty big advantage on Virgin. They’ll be on the fast lane while others are in a normal or slow lane. So what’s to stop people paying to have better speeds and throttle others? How can this be fair? How can startup’s hope to compete if an ISP has the power to kill their service overnight.

I’d love to see the BBC block all their content to Virgin customers if this starts to heat up. That would really show who has control in this situation. It won’t happen but it would be an interesting step. Or is it just posturing by Virgin as they are soon to launch iPlayer on their Cable boxes?

Evernote

I’ve been trying out Evernote for the last couple of weeks and thought it was time to share an opinion or two. Since moving to Mac I’ve relied on Yojimbo for my note taking needs. It doesn’t just take notes but also store images, pdf’s, secure passwords and links. It also sync’s across mac’s. So what does Evernote offer?

Mac Client

At it’s heart Evernote allows for the storage and searching of text and image based notes. Most impressive is that image searching isn’t just based on image title or tags but on the image content. Images are scanned by Evernote for text and not just of the typed kind. It can pick up hand written text and if you search for a word that it’s found the image will be returned with the search term highlighted. Very impressive and it scans the content quickly too. Notes can be typed in, copied in via cut and paste, snapped in via the helper app allowing you to capture a screen or by using the web browser plugin capture a web page. Every note can be tagged and created in different notebooks within Evernote. Each notebook has privacy options. The default is private but if you want to make a notebook available you can set it to pubic – this content will also be picked up by search engines. Another Evernote feature is that you can get at your content on any platform. Mac, PC, Web, iPhone and Windows Mobile. Searching on the web client produces the same result as desktop which is really nice.

Web Client

Synchronising between desktops and web has worked well so far and getting access on Mac and PC t same content is very nice. The windows client is more stable than the mac version and has a couple of extra features but nothing that get’s in the way of syncing and the same content everywhere.

So overall a very nice set of clients and a useful service. Adding ability to store pdf’s and making them searchable would be a very nice addition. I’d also like to see what the final cost of the service is going to be as it’s only free during beta. At the moment I’m using Evernote for mostly work related content and sticking with Yojimbo. It does more for me at the moment and it’s software I already own. However the ability to see notes on web, PC and iPhone could outweigh Yojimbo’s extra functionality. If anyone else want’s to try Evernote I’ve got some invites. Leave a comment or drop me a mail and I’ll sort you out.

What a Result!

Great result tonight for Rangers. Nobody could say they were lucky over the two legs this time. So many accuse Rangers this season of being the luckiest team out there. I didn’t know playing to your strengths and actually having some tactical nous meant that you were lucky! Certainly they have rode their luck at times as all teams on a good run have to, but I do believe that you make your own luck.

So still competing in three competitions and a packed end of season. What can they achieve? What will they sacrifice if anything? Will the players have the energy to keep competing? I believe they will. Surely it’s nights like this that will spur them on over the coming weeks? Surely they would take the volume of games over sitting out a competition? Can’t wait for the next couple of weeks – big games and not just domestically. Come on!!

I Need Data

So with Google App Engine announced, iPhone SDK’s and me hacking more and more at work my thoughts have been turning to projects in my own time. Totally daft as I have little time, but that seems to be the way. The more I need to do, the more I want to take on. Flawed.

Anyway, a lot of these projects need data which can be difficult to find. Thinking back to Forza Leagues last year, finding stock icons, flags of the world and some other bits and pieces wasn’t always easy. So when I read this post on why we need a Wikipedia for Data it just struck a chord. How great it would be if there was a general site for free to use data. ReadWriteWeb also have a great resource for Open Data sources. I know someone who would love to get hands on easy to use TV listings and movie times.

Rumble

So only a day after picking up GT5 Prologue I decided that the PS3 pad really had to go…and that meant ordering an import Dual Shock 3 from Hong Kong. A couple of days later and the pad was delivered. It certainly doesn’t address many of the flaws of the PS3 pad but it did do at least two vital things – add weight and provide rumble support.

Dual Shock 3

The rumble feedback makes all the difference and add’s to the realism in GT5 (thoughts on this soon). It also makes gaming on the PS3 feel more familiar. When rumble was first added to the PS1 pad’s it all felt a bit odd at first but it then became default for all consoles and it’s taken as a given. Gaming on the initial PS3 pad just felt…empty. This has now been resolved and it’s also good to get back to a pad with weight which also feels more rebust than the creaky original.

It’s a real shame though that Sony didn’t think to redesign the appalling triggers, fix the dead zones on the sticks and tweak the design so that they are less cramp inducing. Many can debate on which console is the best. Little will argue that the 360 pad is one of the best ever which smacks the PS3 pad silly.