Uncharted – The Nathan Drake Collection Review (PS4 Pro)

If I were to explain to someone how Uncharted plays, I would say that it is like Tomb Raider, only with more shooting, more linear, and a lot more character-building and interaction.

I guess I’m done here. See ya next time. Thank you for reading.

Yeah, no. I am incapable of being that brief. It is 2022, and I am enjoying a game franchise developed initially for the PlayStation 3. The first entry in the series was released fifteen (15!) years ago by Naughty Dog, nowadays of The Last of Us fame. Uncharted 1 Drake’s Fortune debuted in 2007, was followed up in 2009 with Among Thieves, and the trilogy (yes, I am aware there is a part four) was completed in 2011 with Drake’s Deception. I am not really one for nostalgic trips, so I picked up the remastered version instead of the originals (and I do not have a PS3). Bluepoint, now a part of PlayStation Studios, enhanced these three games for the PlayStation 4 and splashed out 60 fps gameplay. Note, though, that the remaster itself is also already seven years old. It was released in 2015.

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Kena Bridge of Spirits Review (PC)

I do not recall when I first became aware of Kena Bridge of Spirits. According to this announcement trailer, it must have been sometime in 2020. I was immediately hooked, but I did not jump in right away when it launched in 2021. I do not even remember why. It was a tough year for me personally, so maybe that was one of the reasons. Whatever it was, I am rarely on time with game releases, so why would Kena Bridge of Spirits be any different?

It is a different game, though (horrible segue *cough*), and one that I think stands out among all the others I have played in the past decade. Kena Bridge of Spirits is a PlayStation and PC exclusive, and it is the first title I played after building a gaming PC after just one year of abstinence. I haven’t heard much of this game after its release. Still, it apparently did well enough for Ember Lab to warrant a free anniversary upgrade at the end of September 2022.

Close combat games aren’t usually my jam. That is not because I do not like them. It has more to do with my inability to master the combat for an enjoyable experience. I must often resort to the Easy difficulty to complete challenging sections or bosses, and in the majority of times, the Easy mode is so accessible that it is borderline boring. Despite that, I went into the game with an open mind, and I am glad I did. I still had trouble with some of the bosses, but for the most part, I fought my way through the game on the normal difficulty. Let me tell you about it.

As always, I begin by discussing the game’s technology.

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I Bestow Upon Thee “HotkeyAutoExecute”, My Game Screenshot Automator

HotkeyAutoExecute is a simple single-window tool that lets you manage a list of frequently used hotkeys, of which one is repeatedly executed in configurable intervals.

That was the TLDR blurp, and now let’s get into the details. This tool scratches an itch I had in 2020 when I wanted to simplify the process of taking game screenshots for my reviews. During intense gameplay moments, it is difficult to focus on the game and press a keyboard shortcut to take an image of on-screen action. Therefore, I hacked something that would do the job but was not quite baked to be open-sourced as an application. I have changed that now, and boy, was it more complicated than I would have liked.

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Convert QKeySequence of QKeySequenceEdit to Native Windows Virtual Key Codes VK_*

In a blog post in 2020, I described how to utilize the WinAPI SendInput() function to emulate hotkey presses to automatically take game screenshots for my video game reviews. While I intended to create a simple GUI application to do the task, I ended up with only a hack because of a massive boulder that Windows threw in my way. Or after me, chasing me down a narrow path.

Forget the boulder.

(Although it would be a fitting metaphor to describe Windows: tall, fat, and destructive to user privacy.)

I wanted a simple input field where the user can press a key sequence that will be executed repeatedly at an interval. Qt conveniently provides QKeySequenceEdit for this purpose, and when I tried to insert the Xbox Game Bar hotkey, it did not register. Well, it did, in that Windows took a screenshot. But it was not recorded by the widget. Windows seems to intercept and eat the key presses. That was when I decided to just hard-code my needs and call it a day.

Two years later, I figured that it was about damn time to fix this, and this is where I ran into issues with the translation of key codes from QKeySequenceEdit and QKeySequence to native Windows virtual key codes.

This is where our adventure begins.

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Cyberpunk 2077 Ending Review

When I published my Cyberpunk 2077 review last month, I had not yet finished the game. Based on what I had played until that point, I still felt confident in my opinion – hence the review. I beat the game a couple of weeks later and have watched all possible endings on YouTube (no, I did not play them all myself). My general stance on the game has not changed, but I am even more convinced that Cyberpunk is a character and narrative-driven game, first and foremost.

Before I go on, beware that I use this blog post to talk freely, something I avoid in my usual reviews. I will drop a few spoilers, and although I try to stay as vague as possible, there will be a few hints here and there. With a little more knowledge and research under my belt, I will also briefly return to gameplay and the technical aspects of CD Projekt Red’s ambitious creation.

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Cyberpunk 2077 Review (Xbox Series X Next-Gen Update)

To continue, press “B”.

To continue, press ”=”.

I hate when games do this, and Cyberpunk 2077 does it twice when starting for the first time. It greets you with two screens that you must dismiss with the push of a button before you get into the menu. Why, CD Projekt Red? Why? That is not the kind of a first impression you want. It makes for good variety in the introduction segment of my reviews, though 🤷.

(I later discovered that the first “screen” is an intro video. It just does not appear to be one in the first seconds. I am so used to games starting with a pointless screen to dismiss that I immediately canceled the video without knowing and landed on the actual screen to click away.)

Cyberpunk 2077 is coming to its second birthday, and the hype surrounding it and CD Projekt Red came crashing down hard on last generation’s Xbox One and PS4 consoles.

(Like the meteor wiping out all dinosaurs about 66 million years ago.)

CDPR has been very busy since then, and in February 2022, they finally released the next-gen update for current-gen (🙄) consoles. This finally incentivized me to purchase a copy for myself and see if this game is as good as it could have been without its many issues at launch. According to recent reports, I am not the only one doing so.

Unlike the Witcher games, CDPR decided to go with a first-person experience for a deeper immersion into the colorful yet dark and gritty world of Night City. The game’s art style is reminiscent of The Ascent, a twin-stick shooter I played last year. In contrast, Night City is a vast Open-World metropolis with a few rural places surrounding it. Geralt’s companion Roach has morphed into a car, and dirt roads and farm tracks have been paved over and are now asphalt. You can walk, drive, or use fast-travel stations spread across town to get around.

In its simplest form, you can reduce the combat system to be just a Shooter. Cyberpunk 2077 adds a couple more mechanics on top of that for more variety if you choose so. You can go the stealthy and non-lethal route or become a proficient hacker (aka Net-Runner). I am a simpleton, so my character is a tank that sh*ts bullets (although I also like to sneak when I can). Despite the options, from what I have seen, there is no way to play the game without ever firing a gun. Hacking is more than manipulating computers. It seems like everybody is somehow connected over an unprotected Wi-Fi, and you can utilize a person’s cyber implants against them. Ever heard of 2FA 😉?

CDPR has shown in The Witcher games that they are masters in storytelling. You can find the same mastery in Cyberpunk, which I was most interested in. You will meet many different characters with their own traits and agenda. There is a lot of action RPG stuff to do, a skill tree, an inventory – the typical Open-World role-playing experience, if you will.

Let’s get into the details, shall we?

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Why are Some Console Game Controls so Terrible?

One of the “PC Master Race” issues with console gaming is the controls. I certainly was among them, and the more I play on a console, the more I keep coming back to this topic. 2021 was the first year where I spent the majority of my time playing on an Xbox Series console. Everything I tried during that year was okay, or it was still new enough to me that I could not differentiate between good and bad controls. On the PlayStation, I only played Horizon Zero Dawn, and I found it to be one of the best controller input implementations out there. In 2022, I have played fewer games in total in about the same period. Still, a higher percentage of them frustrated me with their implementation of analog-stick movement to the point where I was about to give up or actually gave up playing the game.

Why is it so hard for some developers to figure out an enjoyable controller feeling? Am I the only one noticing this, or are long-time console players just used to it? Let me take a step back and explain.

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Horizon Forbidden West Review (PS4 Pro)

After a bit of “Bla Bla”, I opened my Horizon Zero Dawn review with the following statement.

Best. End-of-the-World Story. Ever.

In the later parts of the review, I summarized the overall experience like this.

Horizon Zero Dawn feels excellent. It is one of those games that makes you feel empty once you beat it and put down the controller.

Both quotes express an extremely high bar of quality that Forbidden West is going up against. I am delighted that Guerrilla Games did not disappoint and delivered an incredible sequel that improves the experience in almost every aspect. Aloy’s second adventure has a couple of downsides resulting from modern Open World side activity design. However, compared to the exceptional setpieces you encounter during the main missions and the core gameplay, these are minor gripes you might choose just to ignore.

Forbidden West ups the ante further regarding the elements that matter to me in a modern (action) adventure game. It will be a benchmark in storytelling, character, and mission design. Zero Dawn was already excellent when it came to cutscenes. Lacking were only the dialogue sequences with other characters. Forbidden West changes this dramatically, and it looks and feels so much more organic now. Other key gameplay elements have also improved, like overriding Tallnecks or exploring Cauldrons. But more on that later.

Lucky me, I did not have to wait five years to enjoy this game as I did with Zero Dawn. However, were I inclined to get the absolute best experience, I probably would still have to hold out that long. A PlayStation 5 continues to be unbelievably hard to come by in Germany. But not to worry, there was no need for me to get into a crouching position again and hide in the shadows while I watched somebody play on YouTube. Horizon Forbidden West still looks and plays great on the PS4 Pro.

Keeping in tradition with my first Horizon review, I wrote the first words on April 23, 2022. I might actually get this review done before the year ends 😅.

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Horizon Zero Dawn Review (PS4 Pro)

Let me start this review with a big fat spoiler: Horizon Zero Dawn has one of the most beautiful worlds and world-lore ever conceived. The period that the authors cover is mind-blowing. Never has an apocalypse, the events that lead up to it, and what happened afterward been stretched so far apart as in Horizon Zero Dawn. It is called a post-post-apocalypse scenario for a reason.

Best. End-of-the-World Story. Ever.

There, I said it. Feels good. I had this one on my chest for a very long time while I was procrastinating instead of crafting this review as promised in My Year in Video Gaming 2021 story.

(Takes a deep breath <inhales> … <exhales> and starts from the beginning.)

As I start writing this review, February the 6th, 2022, Horizon Forbidden West is just around the corner. Five years earlier, also in February, Guerilla Games released a completely new franchise that became an immediate success. It was one of those games that are said to exist only on PlayStation – a narrative-driven single-player adventure with an incredible focus on detail, quality, and polish. My kind of jam. But there was a slight wrinkle, though. As a PC player that had no intention of purchasing any type of console, and Sony not yet being in the business of also releasing their flagship titles on PC meant there was no point in waiting for a port. What does a ravenous gamer do in such a situation? He carefully presses CTRL and sneaks into a dark corner, hiding and unable to be seen by other PC players. He then shamefully turns to a trusted YouTuber and watches the spectacle in absolute awe and with envious contempt for himself.

About five years later, the former greedy PC gamer has now turned to consoles for his fix. Consequently, it was about time to experience Horizon Zero Dawn for myself. I have raved about this masterpiece to my sister, and she ended up buying it but then sat on the PlayStation while it gathered dust. To satiate my hunger, one day, I grabbed my PS4 Pro in one hand, my sister in the other, tossed both in the trunk of my car, drove home, and we ended up enjoying the game together. Good things come to those who wait, and I have waited long.

(No PlayStations have been hurt in this depiction of events.)

Let me dive into the details in my usual manner and tell you what I liked about Horizon Zero Dawn and what elements were not so optimal.

Enter the review
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My Year in Video Gaming 2021

2021 has been a challenging year, for obvious reasons, but also in other personal aspects that are not part of this little essay. Despite all the trials and tribulations, I have probably never played so many games in just one year – some of them in Coop and others all on my lonesome. Many of them I finished, others I, or we, aborted. But not only that, I have also managed to transition from PC gaming to console gaming – a long-held goal of mine.

As always, I am pretty late to the party because I have trouble motivating myself to write stuff, despite having the ideas and mentally developing concepts for them. Much thinking, few doing. One of my 2021 issues.

(I am surprised I managed to get this huge Halo Infinite review out the door.)Here is how this will go. I am starting with a story about why I replaced my gaming PC with consoles and a laptop. Then I transition into my experience with said consoles, and I conclude this gaming year review with the list of games I have played in lonely-mode or Coop. Don’t worry. I didn’t go Halo Infinite on every game. I kept it short-ish because the list is astonishingly long.

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Halo Infinite Review

When you look back at the history of video-based media, how many games or movies come to your mind with such an iconic theme song that it always evokes a particular feeling whenever you hear it? A theme that you immediately recognize and that conjures specific scenes or gameplay moments you are so fond of? Off the top of my head, I can think of two: The Imperial March from Star Wars and Halo’s invigorating battle soundtrack. Halo is back, infinitely better than Halo 5, and along with it, its recognizable music. I suggest you set the perfect mood and open the link above, and then come back and read my review of Halo Infinite. Start from the beginning because I linked directly to the battle music part (but that is also a good choice).

Now, is it even worth getting in the mood? If you ask yourself, I hope you do not mean my writing 😉. I hope you ask that question because you are anxious for a good game but afraid you might get disappointed. When I read and watched many reviews from known media outlets, I found very different opinions and wasn’t sure what to think. IGN mainly had positive things to say and was very upbeat in their Halo Infinite podcast episode. In contrast, the Germany-based Golem.de website found rather harsh words for some parts, mainly storytelling and the new AI (more on that later). The most common denominator among all of them was the excellent feeling combat. Looking at the complete experience, I think I land somewhere in the middle between Great and Mediocre, and if you are still curious, I will tell you why.

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The Ascent Coop Review Xbox Series X

Do you know the feeling that you occasionally get when watching a gameplay trailer, and you immediately want to get your hands on the game? Like, right now? This sensation does not come around too often for me, and two games managed to do just that last year. One was Outriders and the other one The Ascent, which I am discussing today. I am not sure what exactly did it for me, but probably because it reminded me of something I played in my youth. In 1999, a game named Expendable made the rounds, primarily due to its stunning visuals at the time. Back then, it demonstrated the power of a graphics feature called Environment Mapped Bump Mapping to enamor the game’s textures with depth information and more perceived detail. The core visuals will not excite anyone in 2021, but that game was full of effects and did not hold them back. Expandable still puts on quite a show. 

Games like this are a rare breed and seem to catch my eye whenever one pops up. A more recent example of this type of game that I am aware of is Halo Spartan Assault and Halo Spartan Strike – of which I played the first one. Combine this with stunning visuals in a futuristic, gritty, cyberpunk-themed world, and you get The Ascent. Because it is 2021, no game can make do without some RPG elements. Thus, you get to create your character, level up, and collect loot along the way, making shooting stuff more enjoyable.

And enjoyable it is. Once you get to the point where your brain can cope with the twin-stick-shooting mechanics, and you start to both move and aim in the right direction, The Ascent begins to make a lot of fun – especially in Coop. I discovered how the game works with another player, which is always more motivating than figuring out weird concepts alone. After a while, it started to feel right, and I wanted to continue playing weekend after weekend until we had beaten the game – and that is a good sign.

Here is my report on The Ascent in Coop mode: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

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Xbox Series S – Is It Any Good Or Do You Need a Series X?

In a recent blog post (that I somehow accidentally deleted; thank you to WordPress for having a Trashed section from which you can restore), I already summarized my first impressions of the smaller variant of the new Xbox consoles, the Series S. Now that I have had the Xbox Series S for a couple of months, it is about time that I go into more detail.

There are a few reasons why I bought the Series S:

  • Overall hardware shortage, especially GPUs because I wanted a PC upgrade
  • The Series X was available nowhere or only overpriced (even worse for PlayStation)
  • It was the only console of the new generation available in Germany for MSRP

Before I took the plunge, I was very conscious about what to expect. I watch Digital Foundry videos regularly where their team investigates the performance and target resolutions of many console games, old and new, among other things. From my experience with connecting my PC to my 4K TV, I was confident that a resolution of 1080p is actually good enough for me to enjoy a game. Sure, I can see the difference to 4K. But my TV does an excellent job of upscaling, and the picture does not wash out and become a blurry mess. Therefore, the Series S should not disappoint. And it didn’t. There is a caveat, though, and I will address it in a later section of this probably pretty long wall of text that is going to come.

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Titanfall 2 Review

It has been a long time since I have played a first-person shooter in single-player mode. The last playthrough was probably the original Half-Life as a Let’s Play on YouTube about three years ago (I expected it to be longer, though). Since then, it has mainly been 3rd person shooters or action adventures. The majority of 1st person shooting games I have played are the Borderlands franchise and Counter-Strike until version 1.6. There have been a couple of others, of course; big names like Half-Life 2, Doom, Unreal (Tournament), Serious Sam, and so on. But that was at a time I would now call my youth. I like the skill aspect of shooters, but other than that, I have not found many that got me interested in a way that made me want to continue to play them. I have barely played through any of the previous games (Half-Life 2 being the exception 😉). In the here and now, I am looking for a well-told story and character development. And by that, I mean the main character’s personality and the relations the character has with others, not a role-playing system.

I have heard many praises about the quality of Titanfall 2, despite it not being a huge hit. When I discovered this game for a whopping 2.99€ in the Xbox game store, I figured why not try it out. Since I usually try to write reviews for games I find noteworthy in a specific way, be it good or bad, there must be something about Titanfall 2 that made me mash some keys on my keyboard and publish it on the Internet. Is it a Witcher 3 or a Battlefield 4? Curious?

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Xbox Game Pass, Play Anywhere, I Think I Get It

The start of Q4 2020 was supposed to be an incredible time for PC gamers – or gamers in general. Firstly, Microsoft and Sony released their latest Next-Gen consoles, the Xbox Series X and S and the PlayStation 5. Secondly, AMD and NVIDIA battled it out in the GPU market, and AMD unleashed the Ryzen 5000 CPU family that ate Intel’s 10th generation for breakfast. And lunch. And supper, and dinner, and as a snack in between. Unfortunately for Intel, the only thing the 11th generation of Core Processors can do is hold AMD’s beer. In theory.

Excellent Hardware, No Stock, High Prices

I think by now, about six months later, we all know how things played out. It is not about having the best performance anymore. Instead, it is about who can get products on the shelves or into retailers’ warehouses so people can buy them. It seems like the price does not even matter. Some affluent enthusiast gamers may be more willing to overpay for their hobby, and first-time builders might not know any better. I am neither in the first nor in the last category. I could afford new PC hardware, but I am not willing to overpay a single Oren for any of it. The reasons for these prices are manifold, and many YouTubers discussed this very topic in many a video.

The story I want to tell you today is how all of that brought me into Microsoft’s console hardware and gaming service arms. Well, I guess I kind of already spoiled the reason: PC hardware is ridiculously overpriced, let alone readily available to buy. But there is more to it than that.

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