Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bioshock DLC Blitz: Minerva's Den and Burial at Sea

I recently played the Minerva's den DLC for Bioshock 2 and greatly enjoyed it which prompted me to get the Season pass for Bioshock Infinite which included Burial at Sea parts 1 and 2.

Minerva's Den is a very fun stand alone adventure set in the Bioshock 2 Universe. It is has a self contained story about a scientist who invented the computing machine which controls much of Rapture's infrastructure (the Thinker) but who was double crossed by his partner. The story is well developed and engaging and the gameplay is fun too. It is intended for people who have already played Bioshock 2 so the difficulty level is reasonably challenging but you get a few new weapons and plasmids to play with which gives it a bit of variety.

Burial at sea episode 1 is an add on for Bioshock Infinite which brings Elizabeth and Booker DeWitt from Columbia into the world of Rapture. I found the gameplay very challenging but a lot of the blame for this is down to my stubborn insistence on sticking with Hard level. However the high difficulty highlighted the game's frustrating lack of the ability to save anywhere and the checkpoint spacing is generally terrible. There is a storyline but it is quite forgettable and all in all I would rate this one of my least enjoyable Bioshock experiences. The only real function it serves is to establish the link between Rapture and Columbia.

Burial at Sea episode 2 is the follow on to episode 1 but is surprisingly a much better experience all round. You play as Elizabeth and the game introduces a new stealth based playstyle which is a fun new way to experience Rapture and later in the game Columbia. I enjoyed this a lot and actually found it easier in many ways than the normal kill everything approach, particularly later in the game after I got upgrades which allowed me free instant invisibilty. Episode 2 is also overflowing with story snippets although much of these don't make sense unless you have played through previous Bioshock games. This is definitely a wrapper up for the entire series which endeavours to tie up all loose ends.  There are plenty of opportunities to wander off the direct path and explore stuff often gaining insights into previous elements of Bioshock. The opening scene deserves a particular mention because for the first time ever it gives you the ability to wander through pre-cataclysm Rapture. It is really only a snippet and a tantalising one at that but it makes me sad that Irrational never set an entire game during this period.

Burial at sea ties up all the loose ends from the Bioshock storyline but sadly it also appears to have been a final swan song from developer Irrational games. How sad it is that such a group of talented game developers was wound up and dispersed earlier this year. Look at the following list of games taken from theWikipedia article on Irrational. Every single one of them is a triumph of gaming:
YearTitlePlatform(s)
MacPS3WinX360
1999System Shock 2YesN/AYesN/A
2002Freedom ForceYesN/AYesN/A
2004Tribes: VengeanceNoN/AYesN/A
2005Freedom Force vs the 3rd ReichNoN/AYesN/A
2005SWAT 4YesN/AYesN/A
2007BioShockYesYesYesYes
2013BioShock InfiniteYesYesYesYes
Source: Wikipedia,  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irrational_Games, accessed 31/07/2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

Google Now comes into its own while on vacation.

I and my family have just returned from a multi week vacation around the USA during which Google Now proved invaluable time and time again:

1. It became an essential navigation tool whether travelling by car, by public transport or on foot. Its accurate prediction of bus and train times was particularly impressive and it generally offered a choice of routes.

2. It proved invaluable for its ability to locate nearby services:  "OK Google where is the nearest Post Office" etc.

3. It magically extracted details of flights, car hire and hotel reservations from my email and provided updates and useful reminders such as "You should leave at such and such a time to get to this flight".

4. It provided weather information about our current location as well as our home.

5. It provided up to date currency exchange rates

6. It provided us with tourist information about popular sites near our current location the clicking of which would provide further information including reviews and navigation details.

7. It also provided regular updates on topics that I was interested in such as the World Cup well as updates on some of the blogs I follow.

Without a doubt the most surprising thing about Google Now is that it does all this stuff without any specific instructions. It just seems to know what information is useful to you at any given time. This is either very impressive or very creepy I cannot quite decide which but I will admit the first few times Google popped up flight reminders it had read from my emails was spooky.

Before this holiday I had been using Google Now at home for several months but it never really became an essential part of my life. I don't really need directions to the places I go every day of the week and Now's helpful suggestions cannot compete with years of local knowledge. When travelling however all this stuff becomes invaluable.

I use Google Now on an Android device so I got the full experience but there is a pretty good app for the Iphone which gives you most of the benefits. It helps a lot if you also use gmail and google calendar.  The Iphone implementation is not as slick as a native app but I would be surprised if Apple isn't working on their own equivalent. Whether Apple has data processing cleverness to pull it remains to be seen.

One minor niggle is that you really need to use the local name for services in order to get the best search results. In America you need to search for a "drug store" instead of a "Chemist" for example. This type of thing crops up surprisingly often but we have watched enough Holywood movies to generally know the correct American phrase and we got a few chuckles out of it. I imagine this would be a bigger deal in a country that speaks a different language entirely so it would make sense for google to include some form of local translation option for search terms.