TIME Video Games

Sony Just Made the PlayStation 4 Dramatically Better

Sony Corp. PlayStation 4 As Game Console Goes On Sale In U.S.
Bloomberg—Getty Images A logo sits on the front of a Sony PlayStation 4 (PS4) games console, manufactured by Sony Corp., in this arranged photograph taken in London, U.K., on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013.

You can now pause games as the console enters rest mode

Sony’s upcoming software update for the PlayStation 4 will include a number of “social enhancements” to beef up its online network of gamers, the company revealed on Wednesday.

Software update version 2.50, which Sony has codenamed “Yukimura,” will be out Thursday with a bundle of new features, including a friend finder that enables gamers to search for Facebook friends within the Sony network and connect with a single-step invite. Once invited, gamers can see which friends are online and playing the same games via a new “Friends Who Play This” viewing window.

The update also includes a faster way to jump in and out of gameplay through a new suspend feature, which will pause the action as the PlayStation 4 goes into rest mode. Games will be resumable with one tap of the button.

TIME Video Games

Bloodborne’s 10 Quirkiest Ideas So Far

From Software's PlayStation 4 exclusive does just enough to walk the studio's unique action-roleplaying ideas forward, but it could have done more

That I’m nowhere near finished with Bloodborne says as much about From Software’s PlayStation 4 lycanthrope-mauler as anything. I’ve had the game since late last week and clocked at least 40 hours through Monday night — just shy of what some claim it takes to beat the game. I’m still working through the first few areas. Chalk my sluggishness up to being a slower, more methodical player.

But it’s also because Bloodborne carries forward the Souls’ series back-breaking pedigree: this is a game about pushing the proverbial ball up something more like a mountain, millimeter by grueling millimeter, looking for meaningful perspective on your progress. From Software’s great triumph as a studio — and Bloodborne epitomizes this — is in making that feel like something you want to do, not that you have to.

Here’s what I think of Bloodborne so far, absent the multiplayer angle, which I’m waiting to futz with until the game’s launch tomorrow, March 23.

The new “regain” system changes everything

From Software’s entire developmental oeuvre trades on simplistic sounding gameplay ideas that wind up having monumental depth. To wit, in Bloodborne the studio’s added what it calls a “regain” system to combat.

It sounds trivial: after an enemy damages you, you have a few crucial seconds to strike back and, if you connect without taking further damage, replenish your flagging health bar. They hit, you hit. On paper, it’s as nuanced as a pugilism seminar.

But Bloodborne packs its Grand Guignol zoo with deft, spontaneous enemies who make it incredibly difficult to land reciprocal blows before the regain timer runs out and the damage to your health bar becomes permanent. Regain is thus another dare (in a game about daring), goading you to act recklessly, to make split-second tactical choices that, if you’re not thoroughly versed in an enemy’s attack patterns, often result in your taking even more damage.

Multiply by the barrage of new enemy types, each with unique attacks, and how you dispatch them — the crux of these games, requiring methodical thought — is easily the most nuanced of any of the prior Souls installments.

So does the game’s loot-hunt twist

The Souls games are basically risk-reward abattoirs wrapped around hack-and-slash chutes. You haul around souls (the games’ version of cash), but drop them if you die, after which you have just one shot to bash your way back to the spot you croaked and reclaim your booty. Die before you get there, and those dropped goods vanish forever, forfeiting all your hard work to that point.

Bloodborne continues in the same vein (instead of souls, it calls your cha-chings from enemy kills “blood echoes”), but with a fascinating wrinkle: now, if you die in the vicinity of enemies, they can snatch up your lost treasure and go for a stroll.

Return to the spot of your demise, and you’ll often find it bare. Instead, you have to scan nearby enemies until you identify one with glowing eyes — the telltale sign it’s the creature schlepping your goods. And the only way to retrieve them is to defeat the creature in combat. Suffice to say I’ve lost a lot of hard-earned moola overzealously rushing blood echoes thieves flanked by lethal helpers. (Woe to anyone who loses their trove in battle with a deadly mini-boss, and has to fight it to get their blood echoes back.)

From Software

It’s all about crowd control

The Souls games generally involve engaging enemies one and sometimes two at a time. Bloodborne by contrast opens the battlefield up to whole squadrons of horrors, each creature bristling with different weapons, hit ranges and attack sequencing, making them pretty much phalanxes of anarchic insanity.

Figuring out how to break down a crowd, maybe by luring away one or two enemies at a time (you can toss pebbles, Shadow of Mordor-like), is thus as crucial as leveraging the game’s new arsenal of crowd control weapons. If you’re into observation-related strategizing, and I am, Bloodborne forces you to pause and study groups of enemies before engaging them far more than in From Software’s prior games.

You can scan enemies from a distance — and you’ll need to

Demon’s Souls and both of the Dark Souls games opened on vast panoramas, but blurred their beautifully bleak far-off scenery for technical reasons. Bloodborne makes no such compromises, spotlighting ever exquisite distant detail of its Boschian nightmare-scapes, allowing you to eyeball enemy mobs (and their shambling trajectories) from several stories up, so you can plot your approach vectors accordingly.

It’s the apotheosis of From Software’s ultra-creepy visual aesthetic

I’ve loved the bleak, convoluted, almost Peake-ian feel of the Souls games for years, but Bloodborne ratchets that up another order of magnitude. In the starter areas, you’ll prowl gorgeously macabre coffin-choked cobblestone streets, observing flamboyant gothic tableaus framed by cathedral structures with coruscating stained glass windows and knuckled spires, while a fat, apocalyptic star baptizes the landscape like something out of a Jack Vance yarn.

I imagine you’re going to see the adjective “Lovecraftian” slung around a lot here, and fair enough, since he’s clearly an influence. But after reading Jeff Vandermeer’s hypnotically weird Southern Reach trilogy last year (if you’ve read it, I’m thinking specifically of the tunnel/Crawler sequences), I have a new word to describe how these games work on me: Vandermeerian.

From Software

Access points are just access points (again)

Dispensing with Dark Souls’ “campfires-make-it-all-better” approach to vitality replenishment, where you could heal by tagging the nearest bonfire, Bloodborne’s lantern-lit checkpoints are simply I/O ports to and from the game’s safe hub (that is, they’re more like Demon’s Souls’ bonfires). If you want to heal, you instead have to quaff blood flasks swiped from defeated enemies.

The only problem: so far, those blood flasks are pretty easy to come by. You can carry up to 20 on your person off the bat, and store another 100 in the safe hub (they’re a lucrative business, too: I’ve probably sold half as many as I’ve gulped). I have yet to run short of flasks during the toughest boss battles, where when I’ve died, it’s because I didn’t drink them fast enough.

And the levels cross-connect in fascinating ways

I’m not sure we’ll ever see an open-world From Software game (or that we’d even want to), nor is Bloodborne in so much as the same hemisphere as those sorts of games. But the levels I’ve plumbed are far more intertwined, and in cleverly concealed ways, offering, among other things, the option to take on certain bosses out of sequence. If you enjoy hunting for secret avenues or byways, some that lead to secret items, others that open up shortcuts or ways of cutting ahead, Bloodborne is flush with them.

But some of the boss fights are too pattern-enslaved

Maybe this changes further along, but all the end-area creatures I’ve battled have been tediously bipolar: you’re either destroyed quickly for lack of pattern recognition, or winning almost effortlessly once you’ve sussed the latter.

The most interesting thing about Bloodborne (so far, for me) is the crowd-control dynamic that coalesces spontaneously in the midst of a level, defying rote approaches. The boss fights, by contrast, come off too much like the same old static puzzles: once you’ve solved for X, you’re just going through the motions.

From Software

It really is Dark Souls with shotguns (but they’re not the main attraction)

That’s what a Sony community manager called it. It sounds glib, but only because it misses Bloodborne’s real star: its transformable arsenal of melee weapons. Brandish the game’s cane, for instance, and you’ll execute a series of fast, nominally damaging hits at short range. But pull one of the gamepad’s triggers and, after rapping the cane on the cobblestones (transformations aren’t instantaneous), it’ll change into something Castlevania’s Simon Belmont would appreciate: a jangling whip that, while slower to strike, deals pain at much greater range and lets you tag entire swathes of enemies.

Projectile weapons, by contrast, are more adjuncts to your melee armory, used offhand to stun or drive back enemies before you launch the coup de grace from your main hand. They’re helpful, in other words, but only as blowback tools. There’s no ballistic finesse involved, and since the main action’s happening in your other hand, that’s as it should be.

The chalice dungeons are kind of boring

The idea with chalice dungeons is that you stumble on goblets in the main game, then perform a “chalice ritual” in the game’s safe zone to spawn mini-dungeons from random seeds, which you can then visit at leisure to practice or level up. Each time you perform the ritual, the layout of the dungeons — including creature placement, trap arrangements and boss finales — gets rejiggered.

Random generated dungeons are already dull by design, but here they feel doubly so. After slogging through Bloodborne’s handcrafted main levels hundreds (and eventually thousands) of times, who wants to plow through haphazardly computer-built ones?

As an alternative to grinding out the same choreographed battle maneuvers in the primary areas to level up, introducing optional mini-dungeons isn’t a terrible idea. And the way the game mashes up enemy types and difficulty levels makes for a curiously asymmetric (and in that sense, unique) experience. But so far, they’re too arbitrary to hold my interest, though perhaps that’ll change once I’ve had a chance to try them in cooperative or player-vs.-player modes.

TIME Media

Sony’s New TV Streaming Service Is Way Easier to Use Than Your Cable Box

PlayStation Vue is out Wednesday in three major cities

Sony’s slick new cable competitor is finally here.

PlayStation Vue, which launches Wednesday in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, is Sony’s attempt to bring the traditional cable bundle online. It boasts a streamlined, personalized interface and an emphasis on recording shows automatically so users can binge-watch at their leisure. The service brings a much-needed overhaul to the clunky cable box interfaces to which we’ve all grown accustomed, but the price tag of $50 per month to start and lack of key channels may keep cord-cutters from hopping on board.

Vue, which will be available initially for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, attempts to marry cable’s wide selection of live content with the ease-of-use of online platforms like Netflix and Hulu. The service boasts more than 50 live channels, including CBS, Fox, NBC, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, with AMC on the way next month. A cloud-based DVR-system automatically records at least three days of content for most of the channels. Users can also record 28 days’ worth of programming for up to 500 shows. Couple these features with Vue’s on-demand movie and TV show libraries — which Sony says are comparable to what you’d get with a typical cable subscription — and Vue comes packed with an absolutely massive trove of content.

Sony simplified navigating its humongous offering by focusing on content rather than channel numbers and showtimes. In the midst of a live show, users can bring up a menu that will show the current program, upcoming shows on the same channel, recently watched shows across all of PlayStation Vue, and Netflix-like recommendations based on the show currently airing. Users can also select individual channels to view their lineups and most popular shows, or select “Live TV” to see all the shows on air at a given moment. “Live TV” can be sorted by real-time popularity, making it easier to quickly flip to a March Madness basketball game or the latest episode of Empire. Dwayne Benefield, head of the PlayStation Vue service, says pretty much any show can be accessed within three or four clicks.

“We wanted to take out the frustration of finding what you want,” Benefield says.

Vue also sports a more traditional TV Guide-like schedule listing and a search option. There’s an “Explore” tab that lets users filter shows by genre, channel and age-appropriateness (an option we’d love to see on Netflix’s apps). Sony is clearly trying to serve users who want to quickly find a specific program as well as those who want to lean back and channel surf, and it appears as if Vue’s speedy interface may be flexible enough to do both (Sony demoed Vue for TIME on a PlayStation 4, the most powerful platform that runs the service; Benefield says menus will be similarly snappy on PS3).

While Sony has developed a user interface that puts most traditional cable operators’ to shame, Vue comes with big caveats. Sony has yet to work out a carriage deal with Disney, meaning ABC, Disney Channel and ESPN are nowhere to be seen. ESPN is the most valuable television property by a huge margin, and a staple of nearly every cable package. It’s a glaring omission in a service aimed at young, male gamers.

“We do recognize that there are other channels our user group wants,” Benefield says, though he won’t directly mention ESPN. “We’re in discussions with networks.”

Another issue may be price. The basic-tier version of Vue costs $50 per month. A version that includes additional sports channels is $60 per month and an expanded cable equivalent that includes dozens more niche channels is $70 per month. In New York, Time Warner Cable offers a cable package that costs $40 per month for the first year and includes ESPN. But adding in the cost of renting a cable box that includes On-Demand shows and DVR functionality boosts the cost to $64 per month, to say nothing of installation fees. By avoiding these fees and their associated headaches (you don’t have to wait for a cable guy to come install Sony’s service), Vue can undercut its most direct competitors on price slightly. But it’s still more expensive than services like Netflix and Hulu, or even Dish Network’s live-TV streaming service Sling TV, which includes ESPN but not broadcast networks.

Vue is also limited in reach by being tied to PlayStation consoles. There’s a version in the works for Apple’s iPad, and Benefield says Vue will eventually spread to other streaming devices as well. For now, the app is aimed at a narrow base of consumers. To lure a big fish like ESPN, Vue may need to build up a subscriber base so large it can’t be ignored. But with Sony only vaguely committing to expanding Vue to more cities at some point later in the year, 2015 seems like an experimental year for the service.

Despite the question marks, Sony’s new TV service seems robust and well-implemented. It’s an important early step ushering in an era where consumers where have considerably more choice in how they pay for TV. However, those choices will be much more convoluted than the old cable bundle. In addition to Vue and Sling TV, Apple is reportedly prepping a similar cable-like service, while networks like HBO, CBS and Nickelodeon are planning to offer their content on a stand-alone basis.

“What we’re beginning to see is a continuum of offers,” says Dan Cryan, a broadband media analyst at IHS. “I dont think we know yet what the sweet spots are along that spectrum.”

Read next: 5 Things Apple’s TV Streaming Service Will Need to Kill Cable

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME movies

Watch Classic Video Games Attack Earth in the New Pixels Trailer

"Pac-Man is a bad guy?"

A giant glowing Pac-Man goes on a rampage through New York City in Sony’s first trailer for its upcoming action-comedy Pixels.

Adam Sandler, Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage are called into action when enormous pixelated characters from old-school video games try to destroy the earth.

This is because aliens misinterpret the feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, and so send all the old 8-bit favorites, including Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, Frogger, Centipede and Pac-Man, to wreak havoc on our world.

Also starring is Kevin James as the U.S. President, Jane Krakowski as the First Lady, plus Michelle Monaghan, Brian Cox, Ashley Benson and Sean Bean.

Directed by Chris Columbus, Pixels is based on a short 2010 film by Patrick Jean.

Watch it in theaters July 24.

TIME Media

Sony’s Cable TV Killer Is Launching Very Soon

Sony Corp. PlayStation 4 As Game Console Goes On Sale In U.S.
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images A logo sits on the front of a Sony PlayStation 4 (PS4) games console, manufactured by Sony Corp., in this arranged photograph taken in London, U.K., on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013.

New service will let PlayStation owners stream live TV via the Internet

Sony’s new, cable-like service for TV lovers is almost here.

The company plans to launch PlayStation Vue, an online pay-TV service that will stream live programming, within the next two weeks in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, according to the Wall Street Journal. A national rollout is expected by the end of the year.

Vue is simultaneously a play to lure in “cord cutters,” people who have ditched their cable subscriptions in recent years, while also expanding the appeal of the PlayStation brand beyond video games. Sony has signed up several big-name media companies to offer their channels on the service, including NBCUniversal, 21st Century Fox and Comcast. Notably absent is Disney, which owns ABC, ESPN and several other popular cable networks.

Vue will be available on the PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation 3, as well as Apple’s iPad.

Pricing hasn’t been announced, but early impressions indicate that the Vue bundle of channels is extremely large and features many niche networks, just like cable. If that’s the case, Sony may end up trying to compete based on ease of use and Vue’s built-in DVR service rather than on price.

That would put it in contrast with Sling TV, the streaming TV offering from Dish Network that offers a fairly modest selection of channels for $20 per month and allows users to pay $5 extra for genre-specific bundles.

TIME Video Games

The 5 Biggest Video Game Announcements You Missed This Week

Sony Project Morpheus
Sony Sony Project Morpheus

New game-streaming hardware, virtual reality headsets and more

The Game Developers Conference currently transpiring in San Francisco wraps up Friday, meaning all the major announcements have already dropped. If you missed the show or didn’t catch all the news, here’s a recap of the highlights.

Valve showed Steam Link, a $50 box that’ll stream your PC gaming library to any TV

Steam Link, due in November, was arguably the show’s biggest tech revelation — especially if you’re a PC gamer, because it means that for a trifling $50, you can pipe games from Valve’s Steam library to any screen in your house essentially lag-free.

Valve’s Steam is the de facto way to play games on a PC, with a digital library of nearly 4,000 titles and membership topping 100 million. The company—otherwise known for first-person blockbusters like Portal, Half-Life 2 and Counter-Strike—has been making a protracted bid to capture a more substantial share of a pie traditionally dominated by console-makers like Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. And for another $50, you can add the company’s forthcoming PC-Steam Controller (also due in November) to the party.

Nvidia unveiled its first set-top media box, the Shield

Not to be confused with the $250 Shield Portable, a gamepad with a flip-screen that Nvidia launched mid-2013, Nvidia’s Shield hopes to fill a gap somewhere between a Roku or Apple TV and a high-end games console or PC.

It’ll output 4K video content (when/where available), play last-gen console games like Crysis 3 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel natively, stream upcoming triple-A games from Nvidia’s GRID service and let you stream games locally from your PC just like Valve’s Steam Link.

The only catch: it’ll cost $200, which means Nvidia has to lure a demographic that may or may not exist or materialize once the Shield arrives this May.

 

HTC and Valve announced a virtual reality headset

I know, “Not another one.” But that’s where we are with virtual reality in 2015: everyone’s jockeying for air time. HTC and Valve’s take is called the HTC Vive (HTC leading, Valve consulting), and pairs wand-like, handheld controllers with a fairly standard-looking, fully wraparound headset that plugs into your PC and outputs 1080p visuals to each eye.

The wrinkle: the headset tracks where you are in a much larger space, so you can move around instead of standing in place, assuming they figure out how to make the headset wireless (and, you know, put you in a room without trip hazards). Will the Vive include a little speaker that goes “Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!” like the warning system in a vehicle when you get too close to a wall?

Sony’s Project Morpheus is coming…by mid-2016

Sony’s take on virtual reality was kind-of-sort-of supposed to arrive in 2015 (chalk that up more to wishful thinking on the part of the press). Thus there was some predictable sighing and hand-wringing when the company announced Project Morpheus, a VR headset for the PlayStation 4 and PS Vita, will now arrive in the first half of 2016.

Hey, at least Morpheus has a release timeframe. That’s more than Facebook/Oculus (Oculus VR), HTC/Valve (HTC Vive) and Razer (OSVR) can say (to be fair, the Oculus-powered Samsung Gear VR is reportedly coming by the end of 2015).

Sony’s PlayStation 4 has sold over 20 million units

At last check (in early January), Sony said it sold 18.5 million units through December 2014. At GDC this week, it bumped that figure to 20 million units sold through February 2015, still shy of the PlayStation 4’s one-and-a-half year anniversary. Rebutting gloomy analyst predictions about this generation of console gaming, the PS4 is the fastest selling video games console in history.

TIME Video Games

The Surprising Reasons People Buy the PlayStation 4, Xbox One or Wii U

Sony Launches PlayStation 4 In Japan As Console Retakes U.S. Retail Lead Over Microsoft's Xbox One
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images The first customer to purchase the PlayStation 4 (PS4) video game console holds the box at the launch of the PS4 console at the Sony showroom in Tokyo, Japan, on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014.

New data offers a few head-scratching reasons why consumers buy

Infometrics guru Nielsen just published the results of an inquiry into why people are buying the latest game systems from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. The results are surprising in part.

Consider the following chart, which breaks the decision-making variables impacting each system into “factors” ranked by survey respondents:

Nielsen

The chart’s results are weirder than they appear at first. Take resolution, the number of horizontal by vertical lines output as video signal, and constitutive of the number of pixels onscreen. Several first-wave, multi-platform games ran at higher resolution on the PlayStation 4 than the Xbox One, owing, everyone in the media’s assumed based on anecdotal developer chitchat, to disparity between the two systems’ processing power.

The presumption is that slight visual differences shouldn’t matter, that you’re just being slavish to detail if you’re obsessed with subtle pixel differentiation. Yet there it is, the topmost reason for buyers of Sony’s console.

And what’s “Blu-ray Player” doing as PS4 factor number two? The Xbox One’s just as capable a Blu-ray system. Is this telling us something about a Microsoft messaging failure? Or wait—isn’t packaged media all but dead? Whether people are really watching scads of Blu-rays on their PS4s or this is just the psychological “want the option” factor is unclear.

“Game Library” is another head-scratcher. The Xbox One’s library is just as big and just as critically acclaimed as the PlayStation 4’s, while neither system offers native backward compatibility. Is this indication of a preference for the kinds of exclusives Sony’s system offers? And looking across the way at Nintendo, what’s the difference between “Game Library” (PS4) and “Exclusive Games/Content” (Wii U)?

I’m also a little confused about “Brand,” which tops the Xbox One’s factor column. Sony’s PlayStation-as-brand is, judging by platform sales across all systems, far better known than Microsoft’s Xbox—unless it’s more a Microsoft versus Sony (than PlayStation versus Xbox) thing.

And what does “Innovative Features” refer to? Xbox One Kinect, a peripheral the company yanked from the system before its first anniversary? SmartGlass integration? The bifurcated operating system (and Metro-styled interface)? Or the list of features the company wound up retracting in the wake of controversy over player privacy and digital rights management?

What this more likely confirms is that perception remains nine-tenths ownership.

TIME Video Games

The Order 1886 Review: Sony’s Exclusive Blockbuster

Ready at Dawn

Ready at Dawn's latest revisits the "interactive movie" concept with mostly positive results

“When you play a game, one moment you’re just controlling it and then suddenly you feel you’re in its world,” said Nintendo luminary Shigeru Miyamoto in a recent interview, adding that playing a game is thus “something you cannot experience through film or literature.”

What to make of developer Ready at Dawn’s gloomy, Victorian, supernatural pastiche The Order: 1886 then, a game that frequently takes player control away?

On the one hand, The Order: 1886 is an interactive drama (or what we might have called an “interactive movie” back when Under a Killing Moon and Phantasmagoria were in vogue) that spends Hideo Kojima quantities of time in the driver’s seat. It’s a kind of participatory film with occasional bursts of third-person action, in other words. But are games only games when we’re manipulating the action? Is player agency the be-all, end-all? Or is there something potentially fascinating when simply watching what happens is a large part—or most—of the experience?

All I can tell you is that I generally enjoyed The Order: 1886‘s hybrid approach to whatever it is we want to call what we’re doing these days when we play/receive/experience/watch a game. In fact the more I delved into Ready at Dawn’s Arthurian legend retelling, the more I appreciated the way the studio seemed to know just the right moments to step forward and tell its story, then back away to let you maneuver through its James Bond-meets-Nikola Tesla ballistic scenarios for yourself.

Ready at Dawn

If there’s one thing The Order: 1886 does very well, it’s providing that sense of continuously inhabiting a detailed world. Call it a PlayStation 4 tech demo if you like, it’s still an achievement: the render complexity of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within finally realized in realtime, any lingering benefits of pre-rendered cutscenes extinguished in one gorgeously shaded and illuminated swoop.

Sometimes that leads to overindulgence. You can pick up items and glean vague plot-related details, for instance, but they’re window dressing (and at best worth a few PlayStation 4 trophies). The Order: 1886 isn’t an adventure game where you sleuth for clues to solve puzzles, but hefting objects for admiration’s sake alone feels like a missed opportunity. I spent a fair lot of time perusing doohickeys, papers and photographs, finding nothing gameplay-related, and wondering if I’d missed the point (or joke).

But there’s undeniably something more intimate about this sort of carefully controlled, story-emphatic, single-player approach that’s absent from freeform games: the shifting abilities (sometimes you can walk, run, climb, shoot, sometimes one at a time, sometimes all together) that ironically increased my involvement with my surroundings, and the way the studio uses the game’s slower pace to unpack the characters and plot.

Ready at Dawn

Not that Ready at Dawn’s design choices are unimpeachable. The story, however well told, feels a bit too Underworld in an era of hackneyed monster mashups. The quicktime events are as derivative and lifeless as quicktime events have ever been, and the only minor innovation–having to swing the camera around to unmask which button to push–feels like a pointless tack on.

That goes double for all the repetitive input. Game studios still haven’t figured out that asking players to jam on a button to make whatever mechanism work (like moving an elevator) is a cliched and frankly impoverished substitute for actual interactivity. If, for instance, you’re going to make sending Morse Code integral to the game, great, but if you’re just asking me to tap out a few letters on a control surface once and for novelty’s sake, then as Hume said, to the flames.

I’m also a little conflicted about the game’s gunplay. A few of the weapons are halfway interesting (in particular a monstrous thing that lets you fire combustible powder, then ignite it with a followup flare). The enemies are more than competent, and the difficulty spikes satisfyingly brutal. But there’s something a little formulaic about the way enemies appear during these sequences—like pop-ups in a carnival game, the deadlier heavies arriving only after you’ve passed a threshold, making battles less about learning to react shrewdly than pattern recognition.

Ready at Dawn

But then I also love the way low cover obscures your view during shootouts, encouraging you to seek taller cover (you can see more, standing and shooting around corners), or to find cover that’s a mix of both so you can alternate fluidly. I love that snipers won’t shoot until you pop up, that if you’re not using cover judiciously bullets can hit and knock you into the open, that shotgunners flank at close range and that you can dodge grenades.

A word about the ending, which didn’t work for me. As spoiler-free as possible, I can say it comes down to a choice, or the lack of one, and at the only point I wanted the freedom to choose. I get that Ready at Dawn needs to tell its story, that as far as its concerned the choice made is the only one possible, but boy oh boy that ending…it’s the one place where auteurism and agency feel most like matter touching antimatter, and not in an artsy or revelatory way.

Some players are going to buck Ready at Dawn’s approach no matter what I say, and by all means steer clear if “interactive drama” isn’t your thing, but I submit that’s the wrong place to raise bulwarks. The Order: 1886 has flaws enough without conflating personal taste and flawed presumptions about game design—though it’s also a promise, assuming Ready at Dawn gets the go-ahead to make a sequel, of what this sort of author-player partnership could yield, better tempered, down the road.

3.5 out of 5

Review using the PlayStation 4 version of the game.

Read next: This Museum Is Building a Video Game Hall of Fame

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TIME Gadgets

Sony’s Google Glass Killer Now Available for Preorder

New device boasts augmented reality feature

Sony is seizing on the withdrawal of Google Glass from the consumer market with a pair of smart glasses all its own.

The Japanese firm announced Tuesday that a developer version of its SmartEyeglass will go on sale March 10 for $840 and is now available for pre-order in select countries.

SmartEyeglass, which Sony showed off at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, allows people to snap pictures, follow GPS directions and view text messages. The device can also create an augmented-reality overlay over the real world, so that users can see interesting factoids as they look over a tourist destination, for example, or receive assembly instructions as they’re building a product. Users have to pair the glasses with their smartphones to achieve full functionality.

At $840, Sony’s product is considerably cheaper than the $1,500 Google was sharing for the beta version of Glass. The new SmartEyeglass will be available initially in Japan, the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom. A commercial release for the smart glasses is slated for 2016.

TIME Companies

These Are America’s Most Disliked Companies

These companies, unfortunately, managed to antagonize more than just one group and have become widely disliked

This post is in partnership with 24/7 Wall Street. The article below was originally published on 247WallSt.com.

To be truly hated, a company must alienate a large number of people. It may irritate consumers with bad customer service, upset employees by paying low wages, and disappoint Wall Street with underwhelming returns. For a small number of companies, such failures are intertwined. These companies managed to antagonize more than just one group and have become widely disliked.

The most hated companies have millions of customers. With such a large customer base, it is critical to keep employees happy in order to promote high-quality customer service. Poor job satisfaction among employees can lead to unsatisfied customers. McDonald’s and Walmart have risked alienating workers, and therefore also customers, by not adequately addressing protests against their employees’ low wages. While pay may be low enough to put some workers below the poverty line, executives at these companies often make millions. The total compensation of McDonald’s CEO Donald Thompson, for example, was nearly $9.5 million in 2013 and nearly $13.8 million in 2012.

Layoffs, or even the prospect of layoffs, can also contribute to low employee morale. Sprint announced it would cut 2,000 jobs late last year. Workers at Comcast can reasonably expect layoffs should its planned merger with Time Warner Cable receives government approval.

Many of the most hated companies angered the public because of quality issues with their products.. Comcast has long been one of the worst companies in America in terms of customer service and satisfaction. Another example is the General Motors recall scandal. GM announced a recall in early 2014 due to faulty ignition switches in a number of its cars, now believed to have cost 42 people their lives. The company’s problems were compounded by the realization that it had known about the defect for over a decade.

Nothing harms the long-term reputation of a company in the eyes of investors more than a steep drop in its share price. In the past 12 months, shares of Sprint have fallen by more than 50%, as hopes for a tie-up with rival T-Mobile were dashed while the company had little success in retaining customers.

It is worth noting that some of the companies on the list may have performed very poorly by some measures but relatively well by others. A few of the most hated companies have had good stock performances. Others have relatively satisfied customers. All of these factors were taken into account in compiling the final list.

Several companies from last year list have improved their public perceptions enough to be removed from this year’s list. For example, J.C. Penney is in the midst of a modest turnaround. Abercrombie & Fitch’s controversial long-time CEO Michael Jeffries resigned last December. However, the retailer still has problems attracting teenage customers.

To identify the most hated companies in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a variety of metrics on customer service, employee satisfaction, and share price performance. We considered consumer surveys from a number of sources, including the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) and Zogby Analytics. We also included employee satisfaction based on worker opinion scores recorded by Glassdoor.com. Finally, we reviewed management decisions and company policies that hurt a company’s public perception.

These are America’s most hated companies.

1. General Motors Company

General Motors spent much of 2014 on the defensive, as it had to deal with a number of serious recalls. In the most serious incident, the company disclosed an ignition switch defect that could cause a vehicle’s engine to stall and its airbags to fail while it was in motion. The defect triggered the recall of 2.6 million cars and has been linked to 42 deaths. The company reported it had recalled a total of 34 million cars for a number of defects and incurred more than $2.7 billion in recall-related costs in the first nine months of 2014.

The public fallout from this recall was enormous. GM set aside $400 million to cover damage claims for victims of the faulty ignition switches, while the U.S. Department of Transportation fined the company $35 million — the most it legally could. Even worse, GM employees had known about the defect as early as 2001. Reuters uncovered last April that the company avoided fixing the problem in 2005, despite the fact that replacement switches would have cost just 90 cents each. During the fallout, CEO Mary Barra told Congress, “I never want anyone associated with GM to forget what happened. I want this terrible experience permanently etched in our collective memories. This isn’t just another business challenge.”

2. Sony Corp

Sony had perhaps the most difficult holiday season of any company. News broke in November that the company’s film division, Sony Pictures Entertainment, had been hacked in response to one of its upcoming films, “The Interview.” The hackers, reportedly from North Korea, were offended by the movie’s portrayal of North Korea and its dictator Kim Jong-un. Among other information, the hackers leaked unreleased Sony movies, executive salary data, and personal email correspondence between major Hollywood figures. A number of these emails revealed petty disputes and derogatory comments about race from top figures at the company.

After being hacked — and after a number of major theaters said they would not show the movie — Sony initially decided not to release the film. However, it later reversed course, prodded by criticism from, among others, President Barack Obama. In addition to the debacle surrounding “The Interview,” Sony’s PlayStation Network was also hacked during the holiday season.

Sony’s problems have not been limited to hacking attacks. Sony has regularly reported annual losses for years, and restructuring announcements have become an almost annual event. So far, however, years of expensive restructuring initiatives have been unfruitful. The company’s smartphone division has also taken a hit, with Sony’s smartphones losing market share while failing to sell profitably. Sony shares trading on the New York Stock Exchange have declined more than 30% in the past five years, even as American and Japanese stocks have rallied significantly, with the S&P 500 up approximately 80% in that time.

3. DISH Network Corp

More than 20% of respondents on the Zogby Analytics survey rated DISH Network poorly, one of the highest percentages of any company reviewed. Also, DISH Network has fared worse than most companies on the ACSI in recent years, albeit in an industry that largely received extremely low ratings.

In the wake of heated and ongoing contract negotiations between DISH Network and Fox, DISH customers can no longer watch Fox News or business channels. The blackout has likely had a negative impact on DISH’s customer satisfaction, at least among Fox News viewers who subscribe to DISH. This is hardly the first carriage dispute for DISH in recent years. Other such disputes resulted in long blackouts of AMC Networks and Turner Networks, as well as a brief outage of CBS-owned channels.

Customers are not the company’s only critics. Past and present DISH employees gave the company an average score of just 2.7 out of 5 on Glassdoor.com, with employees frequently disapproving of upper management.

For the rest of the list, please go to 24/7WallStreet.com.

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