TIME Video Games

PlayStation Plus Price Increase Isn’t in the Offing for North America

Sony's price for a 12-month U.S. PlayStation Plus subscription is currently $50 and looks to remain so for the near future, despite price hikes in other regions around the world.

Sony’s privileges and rewards PlayStation Plus online club for its PlayStation 3 and 4 game consoles won’t see a price hike in North America anytime soon, but its price tag is going up by a significant amount in other regions of the world.

“We slightly increased prices for PlayStation Plus in South Africa, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and India regions due to various market conditions,” said a Sony representative in an email to Joystiq. “Currently, price adjustments are not being planned for PS Plus in the SCEA [Sony Computer Entertainment America] region.”

South African news portal iAfrica wrote yesterday that South African PS Plus members would see a “rather large price increase,” citing emails from Sony that indicated the price of a three-month subscription would rise from R145 (about $13) to R219 (about $20), whereas a 12-month subscription would rise from R489 (about $44) to R749 (about $67). According to iAfrica, Sony calls the increase “slight,” says it was “due to various market conditions,” and gave less than 24 hours notice of the change.

In the U.S., a three-month PS Plus subscription currently runs $18, while a 12-month subscription runs $50. The subscription, which unlocks a variety of discounts and access to free games, is also necessary on PlayStation 4 to play online games, though online play remains free on the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita.

Price increases can feel a bit like tax hikes: nebulously justified and almost impossible to vett, since no one’s allowed behind the scenes or liable to get more than vagaries (like the one above) out of spokespersons. The best you can do is look at comparable services, say Microsoft’s Xbox Live, which started at $50 a year in the U.S. and rose slightly to $60 in November 2010.

But in South Africa, a 12-month Xbox Live subscription currently runs in the vicinity of R600, or about $54. So from that vantage, assuming South Africans are getting nothing new in the bargain and considering the prior prices, Sony’s new fees look as stiff as iAfrica says.

MONEY Television

5 Packages That Will Replace Pay TV as We Know It

cutting the cord
Igor Markov—iStock

The traditional cable plan is dying. Here's what's going to replace it.

If you need proof that cable providers are feeling the heat from cord cutters, look no further than AT&T’s new U-Verse package. Marketed as an online exclusive, the plan includes broadband, a small lineup of channels, HBO (including HBO GO), and a full subscription to Amazon Prime (with both streaming video and free shipping included)—all for $39 a month. The message is clear: “Keep paying for TV, and we’ll throw in some of the web services you were thinking of leaving us for.”

If might seem strange for a cable provider to subsidize its competitor’s products (and you’d be right), but AT&T’s latest offer reflects just how desperate cable companies have become to keep their subscribers. The old pay-TV model is dying, and it’s being replaced by a slew of more consumer-friendly ways to watch the tube. As we edge closer to the end of cable as we know it, it’s time to look at five new packages that are stepping in to fill the void.

The Oh-God-We’ll-Do-Anything Package

That’s essentially what AT&T is now offering. By discounting the same web services most of their cord-cutting customers are likely fleeing toward, the company is trying to keep anyone they can on the cable bandwagon for just a little while longer. It sounds like a good deal, but cable refugees should read the fine print. AT&T is only offering the $39 price for your first year on the service. After that, the plan’s price is likely to skyrocket, making this package a bit of a bait-and-switch.

Re/Code’s Peter Kafka succinctly summarizes the logic behind AT&T’s newest product, writing that cable providers “[would] rather have subscribers paying a small fee than none at all, but they’re also telling themselves that those subscribers will ‘trade up’ ” to a more expensive plan. But as Kafka points out, it’s a gamble, and giving subscribers a sampling of cable competitors might not be the best way to ensure they stick around.

The Discount Cable Package

Having hundreds of channels sounds nice, but which channels does the average watcher actually need? The networks? Local sports? Maybe HBO? If that’s your answer, a growing number of cable companies are offering packages that offer exactly that, and nothing more, at a discount price. Comcast is selling internet, local channels, and HBO for $49.99 a month. (Comcast might be feeling ambivalent about this plan, since, as Re/Code notes, the company apparently stopped promoting it, but interested parties can still find the deal here.) Verizon has an almost identical plan for $50, and AT&T is offering its aforementioned discount plan at an even lower price.

The catch? Verizon’s deal is for one year only, and Comcast promises just 12 months of its “Internet Plus” plan at the introductory price. Once that year runs out, subscribers may find these discount plans are yet another ploy to keep cord-cutters on board and gradually reconvert them to costlier options.

Cable for Cord-Cutters

It might sound like an oxymoron, but that appears to be exactly what Sony is trying to do with its yet-to-be-released Web TV service. The tech giant has already signed a deal with Viacom to carry 22 of the company’s channels, including MTV and Comedy Central, and plans to ultimately stream an even larger selection of networks exclusively over the internet.

However, instead of using this new transmission method to shake up TV offerings, the Wall Street Journal reports Sony is planning to put together a traditional cable-like package with roughly 100 channels and a comparable monthly bill. According to Viacom and others involved with the project, Sony plans to lure would-be cable quitters using a new, more powerful user interface that promises to make media consumption of all kinds more intuitive and enjoyable.

The Un-Cable Provider

If T-Mobile has become the un-carrier for wireless service by rejecting typical industry practices, Dish seems to be doing the same thing for cable. The satellite provider is planning to launch a new Web-TV service as well, and like Sony’s offering, it wouldn’t require any setup or installation fee. But according to the Journal, Dish is going even farther than Sony by building its Web TV package around a leaner selection of most-watched channels—all for a lower price than current pay-TV plans. Dish has already partnered with Disney to build out its content lineup, and is required by that agreement to also carry 10 of the top 30 channels when the service debuts.

A Hodgepodge of Streaming Web Services

For many TV fans, ditching cable for the Netflixes and Hulus of the world is already the status quo. Cable providers may not let customers pick and choose which channels to receive, but through a careful selection of streaming services, including free ones like YouTube and Twitch, TV addicts may have stumbled across the next best thing. This alternative is looking even more attractive ever since HBO announced in September that it was ‘seriously considering’ offering HBO GO to those without cable plans as a standalone product. Combine online HBO with a growing number of cable-less sports options, and the very idea of single package TV service may become increasingly old-fashioned.

TIME Video Games

The 25 Biggest Video Games of Fall 2014

This fall's biggest PC, console and handheld video games are some of the most promising we've seen in years.

Welcome to summer’s end, the season where the air outside seems to sharpen and we’re turning lamps on sooner (the better to game in the evenings without having to draw the curtains or blinds, naturally).

It’s also the start of the busiest time of the year for gamers, the most lucrative annual window during which the industry rolls out its multimillions-marketed newcomers and supergroup sequels.

This season’s shaping up to be about the multi-platform perennials, with exclusives down to a trickle. It’s a little unusual, too, because several of the franchise publishers and studios — pilloried in recent years for sticking to the safe and predictable in their fiscally groomed annual rollouts — are trying harder than we’ve seen in years to do unique things with their respective money-spinners.

Before you dive in, a word on the selections: fall runs from September 22 to December 21, so if you don’t spy a game you’re looking for below, you can find it in one of three places. It could possibly be on a second list that’ll follow this one and focus on the season’s less prominent games. It might be outside the fall window entirely (probably bumped to next year, as were Batman: Arkham Knight, Dying Light, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Battlefield Hardline). Or it could be in unconfirmed limbo-land, meaning it’s listed nebulously as “Q4 2014″ and may or may not arrive before the New Year (I’m looking at you, Super Smash Bros. Wii U and Ori and the Blind Forest).

  • Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes

    Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes represents Disney’s second charge into the toy-game space, this time mashed up with the corporate behemoth’s Marvel property characters as well as comics maven Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-Man, Powers, Alias) working the writer’s box.

    The first-wave characters amount to 16 Marvel superheroes sorted into three play sets with corresponding stories: The Avengers, Spider-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy (weirdly, Nick Fury comes in the Spider-Man and not the Avengers set).

    Disney’s also significantly retooled its Toy Box mode, where players can forge their own mini-worlds, making the tool more granular and interface-friendly, and the company notes all Disney Infinity characters old or new work in the sandbox, though characters are still restricted to their play sets, save for a handful that can cross over if you collect coins found in each set.

    September 23 / iOS, PlayStation 3 & 4, Wii U, Windows, Xbox 360 & One

  • Hyrule Warriors

    If someone built a Zelda game that stripped most of the storytelling and roleplaying and exploration out, then replaced it with stepped-up combat (but included all the protagonist’s signature moves) versus battalions of Hyrulean Soldiers and Bokoblins and Deku Babas, would you play it?

    That’s the question in this team-up between Koei Tecmo (Dynasty Warriors, Ninja Gaiden) supervised by Nintendo Zelda series producer/director Eiji Aonuma. It’s not a proper Zelda game, but that’s by design, and it sounds like it’s more than just a hack-and-slash, in that it rewards thoughtful execution of balletic battle maneuvers over thoughtless button-mashing.

    September 26 / Wii U

  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

    Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a Lord of the Rings-inspired game that delves into Tolkien’s legendarium after the events of The Hobbit, and that may well do for Lord of the Rings games what Batman: Arkham Asylum did not just for Batman games, but gaming in general.

    Imagine the Arkham series’ sophisticated, combo-driven, arena-style combat merged with an emergent simulation of gang hierarchies (here, Tolkien’s Uruk-hai, a.k.a. incredibly badass orcs) and volatile vendettas that culminate in a pliable webwork of escalating threats to you and others (that is, the A.I.) within that network.

    Push Shadow of Mordor‘s A.I. ecology of plebes, captains and warchiefs and it pushes back, though even inaction is a form of action: watch the time march by and your enemies will evolve and strengthen independently to become even tougher foes.

    September 30 / PS4, Windows, Xbox One (November 18 for PS3 and Xbox 360)

  • Forza Horizon 2

    At E3 2014, this southern Europe-located road racer’s creative director sat in front of a display screen that offered astonishing Xbox One views of vehicles that seemed almost hyperreal.

    As we watched someone navigate a gleaming 2015 Lamborghini Huracán through the game’s open world, the director delivered line after line of crisp, immaculately rehearsed bullet-point-ese, talking up the game’s expansive scale (three times bigger than the original Forza Horizon), the improved Drivatar technology (A.I. vehicles you can race against, based on the driving attributes of real players’ in your friends list) and the startling way light now refracts through drops of moisture, the render tech plausibly simulating something as intangible but essential as the earth’s atmosphere.

    September 30 / Xbox 360 & One

  • Super Smash Bros. 3DS

    Super Smash Bros. for 3DS is a big deal, because the 3DS is still a big deal (the 3DS, released in early 2011, has sold over four times Sony’s record-busting PlayStation 4 units-wise). That, and it’s been eight years since we’ve had a new Smash Bros. game. The last one, Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Wii released back in 2006, just passed 12 million units worldwide. The Smash Bros. series as a whole lives in that lofty, rarefied group of game franchises that have sold more than 20 million copies.

    That’s the power of Nintendo. No one else has its first-party allure. And while I can’t claim to be any good at the Smash Bros. games, I probably enjoy them more than anything else in fighter-dom. The series’ modestly reimagined debut on 3DS is still a four-player brawl where you’re trying to knock your opponents off the play field, layered with strategic depth stemming from character abilities, item traits and level design.

    The twist this outing is that you can modify Super Smash Bros. characters (Miis or Nintendo icons), transfer them between the 3DS and Wii U versions of the game, or train characters using Nintendo’s upcoming Amiibo toy-game figurines.

    October 3 / Nintendo 3DS

  • Skylanders Trap Team

    Toy-game pioneer Activision returns with another Skylanders and a narrative hook to justify selling even more plastic geegaws: the series’ big bad, Kaos, has freed the worst of the worst, and it’s up to players to nab them using translucent “traps” that physically connect to an NFC-enabled “Traptanium Portal.”

    Once captured, you can turn the bad guys into good guys (they work for you), but comprehensive do-gooding sounds real-world pricey: Activision says you can collect over 60 Skylander toys, and trap more than 40 villains (you can only have one villain per trap).

    The most interesting development this round may be Activision’s support for mobile devices, whose specially-tailored Traptanium Portal includes a tablet holder (it works like a kickstand) as well as a wireless gamepad, letting you play the full game just as you would on consoles, but on the go.

    October 5 / Android, Fire OS, iOS, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 3 & 4, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360 & One

  • Driveclub

    Sony’s Driveclub was originally supposed to ship around the PlayStation 4’s launch last November, but wound up delayed until early 2014, then delayed again, which is one of these flip-a-coin, good-or-bad signs.

    This is developer Evolution Studios’ maiden voyage with a road racer, but the studio’s banking from years of experience developing the gonzo off-road Motorstorm series. And while it’s hard to get a sense for what makes Driveclub drastically different from other road racers–the trailers are the usual gleaming vehicles prowling high-octane catwalks–the novelty here seems to be cooperative play: that you can form clubs of up to six players, each working to advance your club by completing challenges.

    October 7 / PlayStation 4

  • Project Spark

    Project Spark is Microsoft’s game about making games for Windows, the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Think of it as a creative gamepad, mouse/keyboard, tablet (SmartGlass) or Kinect manipulated canvas, touted in videos as a kind 3D fantasy play-scape you can reshape from macro to micro, retooling the way objects behave down to the smallest levels, all of them shareable with other players.

    Topping the list of cool, unexpected features: you don’t need a $60 a year Xbox Live membership to play, and the game stars Conker, the slightly obscene, alcoholic squirrel last seen in a 2005 Conker’s Bad Fur Day remake for the original Xbox.

    October 7 / Windows, Xbox 360 & One

  • Alien: Isolation

    It’s been decades since I’ve found anything to like about an Alien movie or video game (granted, I seem to recall enjoying 1997’s Alien Resurrection a bit more than its screenwriter, Joss Whedon, but then it only had to be better than Event Horizon, The Postman, The Lost World and Starship Troopers). And sadly typical of iconic ideas every moneymaker wants to draft off of, no one’s yet managed to craft another experience that translates the sense of existential, almost nihilistic dread we felt seeing Ridley Scott’s Alien for the first time.

    “I guess it all started because no one had made the game that we wanted to play, a game that really captured the spirit of the original movie,” says studio The Creative Assembly’s Al Hope, the game’s creative lead. That’s Alien: Isolation‘s promise, a game set between the events of the films Alien and Aliens that’s explicitly not another rambunctious, alien-killing, glorified shoot-em-up, but rather a thoughtful horror-stealth game starring you as Amanda, daughter of Ellen Ripley (the gender stereotype toppling protagonist played by Sigourney Weaver in the films), sleuthing for information about your missing mother on a derelict space station.

    October 7 / PlayStation 3 & 4, Windows, Xbox 360 & One

  • The Evil Within

    A new survival-horror game directed by the creator of the Resident Evil series (Shinji Mikami) that deliberately walks the genre’s increasingly action-focused gameplay backwards to reinvent it? What could go wrong?

    We’ll know soon enough. The game’s plot sounds awfully cliched: an unwitting detective, a ghastly murder, a phantasmagoric asylum and an unstoppable supernatural force. But the idea, according to Mikami, was to subvert survival-horror conventions by slowing the pace, fractionalizing access to weapon ammo and revisiting the land of ridiculously cramped confines.

    My hands-on time with the game at E3 didn’t bowl me over (muddy controls, not very scary enemies, difficulty seeing anything), but I’m hopeful the full experience and that area in context justify whatever chances the studio took.

    October 14 / PlayStation 3 & 4, Windows, Xbox 360 & One

  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

    If you’re rocking a computer or last-gen console, you’re in for a very Borderlands 2-like experience (plus new items and weapons) in 2K Australia’s prequel-sequel to one of publisher 2K Games’ most successful games yet. The story this time, to the extent anyone cares, follows the last game’s villain, Handsome Jack, and his turn to criminality.

    The twist: low or no gravity motion mechanics that’ll force you to rethink how you get around, since the game transpires both on the Moon and in space.

    October 14 / Linux, OS X, PlayStation 3, Windows, Xbox 360

  • Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth

    If you’re not put off by the notion of a game that unfurls at the pace of paint drying (and in plenty of cases, paint dries faster) and you count yourself a fan of hard-sci-fi-informed interstellar strategy games, this is quite possibly the most important PC game to come along in years.

    Some of us have been waiting exactly 15, in fact, for a spiritual successor to Firaxis’ Alpha Centari. And now that game’s finally here, building on the turn-based strengths of Civilization V‘s resplendent new engine and shift to hex-based play, and hopefully–fingers triple-crossed after all the trouble with Civilization V in this regard–sporting computer opponents that can actually play the game competently here.

    October 24 / Linux, OS X, Windows

  • Bayonetta 2

    It’s hard to know what to make of Bayonetta 2 amidst escalating concerns about gender representation in gaming: is its unsubtly sexualized imagery–the protagonist throwing back her head and sighing as a lance slow-mo slides along her body, for instance (watch from 0:26 above)–a celebration of feminine sexuality? Or gratuitous, stereotype-riddled, male demographic targeted exploitation?

    Series fans are probably going to shrug off that question and fuss instead over the game’s hack-and-slash particulars. Are the controls and combat maneuvers and time slowing mechanics up to the original game’s acclaimed standards? Are the angelic and demonic enemies versatile and unique enough to sustain interest? And above all else, is the game (and remastered inclusion of the original Bayonetta) compelling enough to warrant buying a Wii U?

    October 24 / Wii U

     

  • Sunset Overdrive

    Sunset Overdrive, developer Insomniac’s first try at an open world game, is Microsoft’s only major Xbox One exclusive this fall (not counting Halo: The Master Chief Collection).

    At first blush, it sounds eerily similar to Sucker Punch’s Infamous games: irreverent dude with super powers who can grind on rails and scale walls has to save his dystopian city from nefarious forces. But on closer inspection, the differences pop out: a hyperrealistic, punk-informed, quasi-parkour game by way of a zany skateboarding simulation by way of what looks almost like a metropolis-sized circus playground.

    October 28 / Xbox One

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

    The annual Call of Duty rollouts have become some of the grandest run-of-the-mill events in gaming: mechanically predictable, fictively clumsy and dramatically overwrought, but selling in the gazillions anyway–even as the users generating those record-selling figures weirdly storm review score aggregators to gripe and bring the average numbers down.

    Advanced Warfare wants to capsize those assumptions by bringing in heavy guns like: Kevin Spacey, lending both his visage and voice to the game’s ostensible villain (as well, perhaps, as more credibility to the story about a private military corporation gone rogue); studio Sledgehammer, whose co-founders previously worked at Visceral Games on the Dead Space series; and near future warfare tech in the way of exoskeletal suits that give players superhuman abilities, lending the game a sci-fi feel, though one grounded (so we’re told) in meticulously researched extrapolation from existing military concepts.

    November 4 / PlayStation 3 & 4, Windows, Xbox 360 & One

  • Assassin’s Creed Unity

    2014 could go down as the year annual franchise games caught a glimpse of their spiraling sameness in the mirror and opted for more than superficial change. To that end, Assassin’s Creed Unity is Ubisoft’s–and specifically sub-studio Ubisoft Montreal’s–stab at reworking its popular action-stealth series from the ground up, as groundbreaking a shift, according to the design team, as the first game was when it appeared in 2007.

    Tackling the hugely complex period leading up to and through the French Revolution (an inexorable historical destination for this France-based publisher), Unity changes the way you parkour through its Parisian urban-scapes (you can speed down the sides of towering structures as well as up, however improbably), reinvents the way it handles combat (counter- and chain-killing are both gone), lets you move into and out of buildings without separate load areas or scripted animations, and lets you play the game’s story cooperatively, optionally, with up to three other assassins.

    November 11 / PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One

  • Halo: The Master Chief Collection

    The indefatigable Halo series is back in a kind of glorious, seam-splitting, mongo-deluxe collection that crams all of the numbered games from 1 through 4, including multiplayer maps and game mode extras, onto a single Blu-ray disc. Think of it as nigh ecclesiastic fan service conveniently intersecting with 2014’s calm before next holiday’s Halo 5: Guardians tempest.

    Each version’s been fully remastered here (better lighting, shadows, reflections, other little details, including tweaks to the already-remastered Halo: Combat Evolved) and runs at 60 frames per second and 1080p resolution, though Halo 2 gets the lion’s share of improvements, as this November marks that original Xbox sequel’s 10-year anniversary.

    You’ll also get two interesting additives on the disc: playlists, meaning roll-your-own lineups of levels (or Microsoft-curated ones), so that for instance, you can opt to play the Master Chief and Arbiter levels in Halo 2 sequentially instead of intermittently; and access to Halo: Nightfall, a live action digital feature produced by director Ridley Scott that ties into next year’s Halo 5: Guardians.

    November 11 / Xbox One

  • LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham

    Picking up the threads where LEGO Batman 2 left off, Traveller’s Tales’ three-quel pits Batman and pals against Brainiac, the alien android better known for harassing Superman. Not to worry, Supes is here, along with some 150 other heroes and villains from DC’s storied universe.

    If that sounds pretty much like the last game with the numbers jacked up, it’s because it is. And that’s the most worrisome thing about what Warner Bros. has been doing with the LEGO series of late, tributing its own iconic IP in these charming rehashes of earlier ideas without meaningfully driving the gameplay anywhere.

    November 11 / Nintendo 3DS, iOS, OS X, PlayStation 3 & 4, PS Vita, Wii U, Windows, Xbox 360 & One

  • Assassin’s Creed: Rogue

    I’d be shocked if Ubisoft didn’t give Assassin’s Creed: Rogue the PlayStation 4, Windows and Xbox One treatment at some point down the road (perhaps standalone, perhaps as part of an eventual remastered collection–imagine that).

    In the meantime, you’ll have to dust off those last-gen boxes to play Ubisoft’s late-breaking narrative sequel to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag unveiled just last month (its story bridges Black Flag and Assassin’s Creed III). As in Black Flag, Rogue‘s naval game will predominate, only here you’re sailing through ice-riddled boreal seas as an Irishman and former member of the eponymous Assassins, who’s mysteriously switched sides and joined the rival Templars.

    November 11 / PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

  • World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

    They’re still making World of Warcraft expansions? They are indeed. We’re still looking at nearly 7 million people playing the game, in fact, which–whether anyone wants to criticize the game for overstaying its welcome or no–makes the quibble pretty much economically irrelevant.

    Warlords of Draenor, which follows Mists of Pandaria‘s release two years ago, is Blizzard’s fifth expansion to its MMO-to-rule-all-MMOs. The new features probably won’t barrel you over: The level cap, which topped out at 60 when the game launched 10 years ago in 2004, finally hits three figures (from 90 to 100). The game’s getting its customary graphical uptick (in this case, its the older races being improved) and a smattering of new dungeons and raids. And Blizzard’s adding user-created garrisons that let players recruit in-game characters to handle loot-gathering busywork.

    November 13 / OS X, Windows

  • Dragon Age: Inquisition

    The first Dragon Age game, Origins, was a decent enough romp, so long as you parleyed Dungeons & Dragons and didn’t mind the way the game mistook expletives, implied sex and blood spatter for narrative gravitas. But the second installment was a mess of half-measures designed to appeal both to button-mashing action fans and stat wonks, excelling at neither.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition revamps BioWare’s dark fantasy series by opening up the game world (it’s not Skyrim-sized, but far bigger and spread out than the last two games) and delivering a combat system that, while still action-oriented, allows for deeply strategic, tactically-nuanced and preplanning-driven battles.

    Some of those battles–I can confirm this firsthand, after watching a demonstrator tango with a dragon–may take upwards of 15 minutes to half an hour and involve multiple stages to complete; you sense the MMO genre’s fingerprints here, perhaps in a good way.

    November 18 / PlayStation 3 & 4, Windows, Xbox 360 & One

  • Far Cry 4

    The last time we got to ramble around the Himalayas in a big ticket game was Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 2, and what a gorgeous glimpse that was. Far Cry 4 looks to be far prettier, but unlike Uncharted 2, it’s a sprawling open-world shooter that models the mountainous microcosm of a play-box you get to tramp around (snared by the horrors of a regional civil war) with incredible verisimilitude.

    Plus: see 4:25 in the gameplay video above (warning, language), and among the many side-activities and forms of travel Far Cry 4 supports, you’re looking at the world’s first game-based wingsuit simulator.

    November 18 / PlayStation 3 & 4, Windows, Xbox 360 & One

  • LittleBigPlanet 3

    LittleBigPlanet 3‘s two biggest changes are as follows: One, instead of the series’ lovable, burlap-adorned, but ultimately singular protagonist, the game will have four, each with unique abilities design to complement the others’ and help solve the new game planet’s multifaceted puzzles. And two, the series’ original developer and creator, Media Molecule, is on to other things, replaced by series newcomer Sumo Digital.

    If you’ve already invested in either of the last two games, Sony says their content (in particular, all the user-generated levels) is transferrable to LittleBigPlanet 3, turning this third installment into something of a LittleBigPlanet emporium. And if you’re a hard-nosed level tinkerer, the level creator now supports a whopping 16 (versus just three) layers of depth, and the levels themselves are only limited in scale by the size of your hard drive.

    November 18 / PlayStation 3 & 4

  • Grand Theft Auto V

    Grand Theft Auto V‘s been around for nearly a year, but it’s on this list because Rockstar’s remastered version may well outsell everything else this fall when it lands on both of the new consoles. (It’s the sixth-bestselling video game of all time, courtesy the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and the bestselling game of the past half-decade).

    It’s also far more rhetorically nuanced and thoughtful than its critics give it credit, a sort of misanthropist’s revelry glossing subtler, darker points about American consumer culture. Calling it misogynist, for instance, misses its point, but then that’s also part of its point.

    November 18 / PlayStation 4, Xbox One

  • Pok√©mon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire

    Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are the latest in publisher Nintendo and developer Game Freak’s remakes of older, ridiculously popular Pokémon games. Here, they’ve added Greek letters to their original names, Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire.

    The originals for Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance are over a decade old, so the most obvious change is going to be from primitive 2D to the reimagined 3D graphics and the 3DS’s dual-screen interface split. The rest of the changes amount to the sort of arcane minutia only Pokémon devotees will understand, but that’s sure to have them lining up in droves to buy both versions when they ship in late November.

    November 21 / Nintendo 3DS

TIME Video Games

With Infamous: First Light, Sucker Punch Aims for a ‘Relatable’ Female Lead

Sucker Punch cofounder Chris Zimmerman talks about how his design team approached its first female lead in the studio's DLC prequel to Infamous: Second Son.

Infamous First Light is hardly the first game to foreground a female superhero.

Think about Final Fantasy‘s Lightning, Metroid‘s Samus Aran, the Tomb Raider reboot’s rendition of Lara Croft, Beyond Good & Evil‘s Jade, Perfect Dark‘s Joanna Dark, The Longest Journey‘s April Ryan or Mirror’s Edge‘s Faith Connors. Strong female leads to a one, whatever you want to say about their quality or psychological depth contrasted with female characters in other longer-lived mediums like film or literature.

But those games are also outliers, a handful of titles in an ocean of shackling tropes and stereotypes, despite video gaming’s meteoric transition over the past several decades from niche past time to one of the highest grossing entertainment mediums in the world by revenue.

And so Sucker Punch’s standalone DLC prequel to its PlayStation 4 action-adventure Infamous: Second Son, debuting today amidst increased scrutiny of gender representation (sexualization, objectification, stereotyping) in video games, is noteworthy simply because it’s part of a still-all-too-small club: games with formidable female leads.

Even then, it looks a little like a compromise on paper: Delsin, the male protagonist of Second Son, got his own 15- to 20-hour-long game, whereas First Light‘s female protagonist, Abigail “Fetch” Walker, stars in a fractionally priced ($15 vs. the original’s $60) downloadable followup that lasts just four to five hours. That’s a crude, reductive way to think about anything, of course, but a way some will, nonetheless, given how gender-skewed gaming remains in 2014.

“In general, there are correlations between gender and genre–they’re not many letters off each other after all,” says Sucker Punch cofounder Chris Zimmerman during a phone interview on the eve of First Light‘s release. “Our games tend to skew a little bit more towards women than most games do, but we’re not wildly out of band with other third-person action titles.”

I ask Zimmerman whether he knew the demographic breakdown for Infamous: Second Son: how many women versus men played the original game. He doesn’t have specifics, but says “it kind of depends.”

“The fact that Sucker Punch, like all video game companies unfortunately, has a relatively male-skewed gender balance probably does influence our outlook on things, but we don’t make an explicit point of that,” he tells me. “When we started work on First Light, we didn’t think of it in terms of a male or female lead. When we were deciding whether the protagonist should be Fetch or not; gender didn’t even come into the conversation.”

Zimmerman says Fetch was just a character the company saw as appealing to people in general, regardless of gender. “It didn’t seem like an issue when we were talking to people, so we really didn’t consider it,” he says. “On the other hand, all of the characters in our games are very explicitly designed not to be objectified or gender-distorted.”

Zimmerman brings up Delsin, the male protagonist of Second Son and proverbial every-geek, a middle-of-the-road, rumpled-looking, quip-slinging dude. The stereotypical gamer, in other words.

“Delsin as a character is a regular-looking guy. He does not look like a superhero. He looks like a dude,” says Zimmerman. He then launches into an anecdote about randomly running into someone while walking in downtown London, however improbably dressed like Delsin, and how that drove home the utter ordinariness of the character the studio had designed.

“This is like the world’s easiest cosplay,” he says. “Just get a denim jacket, some buttons, do some painting on the back, you’re done. You don’t have to fabricate a giant sword, you just have to wrap a chain around your wrist. That’s all very intentional on our part. The Infamous games are about relatability. It’s about setting a world up where you can’t help but say ‘What would I do?'”

Sony

But Fetch is an altogether different persona in Sucker Punch’s X-Men-like world, a psychologically fractured, super-powered killer in the midst of a mental fugue. When we meet her in Second Son, she’s euphemistically described as a vigilante, when she’s in fact a homicidal maniac, assassinating drug dealers willy-nilly and leaving behind creepy neon tableaus. Where Delsin’s led an uneventful life up to the point he’s handed superpowers, Fetch is grappling with a borderline schizophrenic crackup: parental rejection, years of substance abuse and addiction and paranoia, long-term incarceration, a spree of violent murders, and topping it all, her unspeakable role in the death of her brother. Second Son was in part her redemption story, whereas First Light chronicles her descent into madness.

Still, says Zimmerman, the team’s goal with Fetch was to make her just as relatable as Delsin.

“It was important to us that Fetch looked like a normal person,” he says. “She’s like someone you’d see on the streets of Seattle. She’s not wearing bikini armor, she’s just wearing clothes. She has her own sense of style. They’re not clothes I would wear, but I’ve absolutely seen people wearing clothes like that. And it’s not just the female characters we’re thinking about like this, it’s the male characters, too. We want to make sure that our characters are real, that they look like real people.”

There’s a flip side to relentless political scrutiny, where quashing stereotypes can unintentionally become witch hunting, a game’s accomplishment reductively discarded along with its shortcomings. I put the question to Zimmerman: How do artists or creators go about creating games in a gender-skewed industry without it feeling like a quota-fulfillment exercise?

“It’s a super question, and as a content creator, I can say it’s a hard thing to do,” says Zimmerman. “I love my job. It’s a great job. I love being able to come to work everyday and be excited about what I’m doing. But it’s not easy.”

“There are lots of constraints on what we do,” he says. “I think at the end of the day, our primary role is to build entertainment that people want to consume. We want to create experiences that are meaningful to people, but at the same time, we want to tell our own stories. I think the best commercial art happens when those two elements come together. When we make a game with a strong female protagonist, it’s not because we’re trying to change the world, it’s because we’re trying to remain true to the character. And hopefully the story we’re trying to tell is a story people want to play.”

TIME Security

Sony’s PlayStation Network Attacked: 9 Questions Answered

A breakdown of what happened, why it happened and who's claimed responsibility to date.

Sony’s PlayStation Network had a rough ride this weekend, collapsing under the brunt of a cyber attack by forces as yet unknown. While the PSN is now back, here’s a breakdown of what happened, with answers to questions.

What brought the PlayStation Network down?

Something called a Distributed Denial of Service, or DDoS attack (confirmed by Sony here). A DDoS attack occurs when someone attempts to make a server’s resources unavailable by inundating the server with traffic. In short, Sony’s servers couldn’t keep up with the incoming traffic, culminating in a logjam for all incoming requests, legitimate or otherwise.

When did the PSN go down?

Sunday, August 24, in the early morning.

What’s this I’m hearing about Sony and a bomb scare?

Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley, traveling on August 24 by commercial plane from Dallas-Fort Worth to San Diego, had taken to Twitter to let people know Sony was battling the DDoS avalanche Sunday morning.

But someone, though at this point no one knows who precisely, claimed the American Airlines Boeing 757 Smedley was on contained explosives, prompting its diversion to Phoenix.

The plane landed uneventfully in Phoenix on Sunday and as far as anyone knows, no explosives were found on the plane.

Was Sony the only company affected by the DDoS attack?

No. While the lion’s share of media attention has been on Sony, probably due to the simultaneous bomb scare, several other gaming-related services, including Microsoft’s Xbox Live and Blizzard’s Battle.net, were reportedly disrupted over the weekend.

Microsoft, for instance, reports that access to its “Social and Gaming” services are “limited” (and were still as this list went live, though the reasons why are unclear; according to Reuters, Xbox spokesperson David Dennis said, “We don’t comment on the root cause of a specific issue, but as you can see on Xbox.com/status, the core Xbox LIVE services are up and running”).

Blizzard posted the following note: “Battle.net game services have recently been subject to DDoS attacks. We worked diligently along with our ISPs to improve the situation and currently are seeing more stability. We appreciate your patience.”

Gamasutra notes that both Riot’s League of Legends and Grinding Gear’s Path of Exile were also targeted, resulting in those services going down.

Who did it?

No one knows, but an anonymous group calling itself @LizardSquad on Twitter posted the following early Sunday morning:

And the same group tweeted this at American Airlines, as SOE’s John Smedley was manning Sony’s Twitter cannon Sunday morning:

https://twitter.com/LizardSquad/status/503595025301635073

The LizardSquad account also made several references to ISIS, one of various names ascribed to the jihadist group currently attempting to establish an Islamic state in Iraq and Syria:

But as the BBC notes, a person associated with the hacktivist group Anonymous has said the DDoS attacks were in fact initiated by Anonymous to demonstrate weaknesses in Sony’s system. The BBC says this hacker has denounced LizardSquad’s attempts to take credit for the attack, and has posted screenshots designed to prop up Anonymous’ claims to responsibility.

In other words, we’re still not sure at this point who was actually responsible, or what their goals were beyond the mundanely obvious: service disruption.

Did whoever brought the PSN down manage to steal anything?

A DDoS attack isn’t a hack in the strictest sense of the word: It’s a brute assault on a server’s ability to service requests. Sony social media manager Sid Shuman says, “We have seen no evidence of any intrusion to the network and no evidence of any unauthorized access to users’ personal information.”

In other words, as far as we know (and Sony says), no sensitive information was accessed or compromised.

Is the PSN still down?

As of this morning, it appears to be back, and Sony indicated it was functional already late yesterday (though at the time Sony’s note went live, the PSN was still nonfunctional for me and hadn’t come back by the time I went to bed).

The PSN was supposed to go down (in part or whole) for planned maintenance Monday for much of the day, so certain features weren’t supposed to be working on Monday by design. But Sony now says that scheduled maintenance update is no longer happening today, writing, “In light of today’s issue, the networks will not undergo the regularly scheduled maintenance, which was planned for Monday, August 25. We will provide an update shortly for when the maintenance will be rescheduled.”

Didn’t this happen to Sony once before?

Not exactly. Sony’s PlayStation Network was hacked back in 2011, at which point the perpetrators absconded with some 77 million user accounts, prompting Sony to shutter the service for over three weeks.

As noted above, yesterday’s DDoS attack was a brute force attempt to take Sony’s servers offline, not an intrusion hack, and according to Sony, no sensitive information was taken.

What now?

On the DDoS front, the companies involved are doubtless bolstering their defenses, but bulwarking for brute force denial of service attacks is an ongoing process, and there’s no panacea.

On the bomb-scare front, USA Today notes that American Airlines spokesperson Michelle Mohr said the FBI is investigating the matter (as does the BBC, which cites Sony as saying the same).

TIME Video Games

Sony Says User Information Safe After Hackers Targeted PlayStation Network

Inside The 2014 E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo
Attendees walk past the Sony Corp. PlayStation booth during the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, California, U.S. on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The tech company just had a really rough weekend

Hackers hit the Sony Corp.’s huge Playstation network this weekend, before a bomb threat was made against a flight carrying a top Sony executive in the U.S.

The tech company said on its Playstation blog Monday that the network was taken down by a denial of service attack, but added that none of the personal data of its 53 million users was compromised.

“We have seen no evidence of any intrusion to the network and no evidence of any unauthorized access to users’ personal information,” said the blog post by Sid Shuman, senior manager of social media.

Somebody with the Twitter handle @LizardSquad claimed responsibility for the data breach on Sunday, Reuters said. The purported hacker said the attack was carried out to warn the Japan-based firm that more profits needed to be spent on data security.

“Sony, yet another large company, but they aren’t spending the waves of cash they obtain on their customers’ [PlayStation Network] service. End the greed,” said one @LizardSquad post on Sunday.

In other unsubstantiated claims, the user said that Blizzard Entertainment, the maker of World of Warcraft, had been targeted and also threatened Microsoft’s Xbox Live network.

The posts took an alarming turn when @LizardSquad tweeted at American Airlines on Sunday, claiming to know that explosives were aboard a flight being taken by Sony Online Entertainment President John Smedley.

https://twitter.com/LizardSquad/status/503595025301635073

The San Diego-bound flight from Dallas was later diverted to Phoenix, and its passengers have since made their way to San Diego.

Reuters reports that American Airlines said in a tweet that it was “aware of threats” made over Twitter and had alerted security.

American Airlines spokeswoman Michelle Mohr told AP that she couldn’t discuss security matters and referred questions to the FBI. The FBI declined Reuters’ request for comment.

[Reuters]

TIME Video Games

You Shouldn’t Play Diablo 3 Ultimate Evil Edition on Your PS Vita

Blizzard Entertainment

Blizzard's action-roleplaying opus looks and plays great on the PS4 and Xbox One, but it's an inscrutable mess on the PS Vita.

Diablo 3: Ultimate Evil Edition exemplifies everything I don’t like about knocking through certain games on Sony’s PlayStation Vita using Remote Play.

That’s supposed to be the thing you buy a Vita for these days: its wireless PS4 screen-sharing feature, since the handheld’s future as a place to go for new content is gradually closing up, board by board. Instead, the Vita is now the PS4’s $200 second screen, Sony’s unplanned answer to Nintendo’s Wii U GamePad.

But as a second screen employed to judiciously whack away at fields of Fallen Overseers and Flesh Gorgers or Bone Reavers and Boggits in a game like Diablo 3, it leaves a lot to be desired. I say this not to slag Diablo 3 itself, which is at least as terrific on the PS4 and Xbox One as it is on the PS3 and Xbox 360 (I now prefer the consoles versions to the PC original).

I mention it only to warn Vita owners who may be eyeing Remote Play as a selling point for the PS4 version of the game, out Tuesday, August 19. It’s not.

Fire up Diablo 3 on the Vita courtesy the PS4 and you’re transported to a world that’ll give you some sense of what yours is going to feel like when you’re finally trundling through middle age with a pair of reading glasses dangling from shirt pocket or lapel. Words that correspond to face button selections in the game and that look just right on a TV screen per Blizzard’s PC-to-console redesign are practically Lilliputian on the Vita’s minuscule display. The text in my copy of The Compact Oxford English Dictionary — which reduces the entire 20-volume to a single grimoire-sized tome resized by a third of its original dimensions — is roughly on par. Of course, this dictionary comes with one of those slide-over magnifying lenses; the Vita has no such feature.

Text-schmext. Who cares, you’re probably saying. It’s a Blizzard game! Granted, no one plays Diablo 3 for the sculpted prose or imaginative plotting, but let’s say you ignore the writing team’s potboiler blather — there’s a lot of gameplay-specific stuff that’s lost in the shrunken muddle, even if you hold the Vita close and squint.

You’ll need to memorize face-button ability assignments, for instance, because the icons at screen bottom identifying what’s what are lookalike blobs of light smaller than eraser heads. Secondary feedback panels are equally obscure: you can tell you’re benefitting from some sort of power-up, but only that, the icon-of-whatever in its nanoscale square rendered inscrutable.

Just keeping your bearings turns into a needle-hunt: the automap at maximum zoom becomes a faint overlay that’ll let you keep track of the edges of things or pinpoint simplistic map icons like red hearts (healing nodes), but where points of interest lie clustered together, you might as well be sorting specks of sand in an anthill. And the game’s informational nexus, where you fiddle your inventory and skills or check your paragon level and quest objectives, is…actually not too bad, except when you’re looking at colored text. Deep blue (normal magical) items, which look deep purple to me, are almost illegible against the screen’s black background.

As usual, the Vita’s rear touchpad stands in for the missing DualShock secondary triggers, but it’s about as reliable as Microsoft’s Kinect, failing to trigger at first tap about a third of the time. If you’re standing back a ways from a cluster of enemies, no problem, but get yourself blocked up by a squad of Wallers, say, and that lack of one-to-one hair-trigger dependability leads to wasted potion quaffing at best, and at worst, sudden (and unwarranted) death.

Have you ever held a DualShock controller next to the Vita? Try it, paying attention to the length of the thumb controllers. You could stack at least two of the Vita’s nubs to meet one of DualShock 4’s, and that’s being conservative when you factor in the subsurface rotary base and joint. There’s significantly less play, in other words, which when you factor in the Vita’s inherent screen lag, makes for fussy results. Where I have yet to misfire an Entangling Shot wielding the DualShock 4 playing on TV, when playing on the Vita, my Demon Hunter’s missile-fire will careen wide of the mark at least once per scrum, and on occasion fire in the opposite direction. There’s just not enough control space to stretch out and fine-tune your tactics in a game that’s chiefly about tactical fine-tuning.

I’ll give Blizzard this: At least the battle numbers that rise over your or your enemies’ heads are magnified, crit counts or damage amounts looming large for a microsecond, like when you type on an iOS device’s onscreen keyboard. If you just want to wade into a level and farm a bit without tactical nuance, keeping tabs on the mathematical results, it’s doable. But I wouldn’t call it enjoyable.

Like I said, I love Diablo 3 on the PS4, I’m just pointing out that the Vita as a second-screen device for a game like this — and for others with similar problems, like Assassin’s Creed 4 or Need for Speed: Rivals – is an afterthought, something no one’s really designing to. Who can blame them? You’re essentially taking a sledgehammer to an exterior wall and trying to convince someone the hole you get is a window.

Diablo 3 is one of these games that might have worked as a native Vita port, assuming you could get the camera down close enough without breaking design elements specially tailored for the target resolutions (say precisely how far such-and-such spell travels across the screen). It’ll never get one, of course, because no one’s buying the Vita as a destination platform these days, so we’re left with Remote Play’s interpolated half-measures.

This is not, to be fair to the Vita (and Sony, and Blizzard), the Vita’s fault. It wasn’t designed to play games like Diablo 3 on its otherwise gorgeous five-inch OLED screen, or with its tiny thumb nubs in lieu of a full-sized gamepad with full-fledged thumb sticks. Studios will sometimes admit that porting an older game to a newer system and giving it the HD trimmings isn’t a horsepower or even recompilation conundrum so much as an interface or asset scalability one. That’s the trouble with so many Remote Play games, and the reason why games like Final Fantasy X and X-2 HD take years instead of a few brief months to come together.

TIME Video Games

Microsoft Silent On Xbox One Sales as PlayStation 4 Wins July

Sony says the PlayStation 4 is the fastest selling PlayStation in history, as July retail game sales turn up another net-positive month.

Sony’s PlayStation 4 continues to defy what were once, you may recall, rather tepid expectations for this round of console sales.

Who needs consoles when they have tablets and computerized phones? Who wants to pay $60 or more for games when they can have dozens for a fraction of the price on a mobile device? Who wants to sit in their living room tethered to a TV, or play games that can take 15 or 30 hours or even longer to complete?

Ten million buyers to date worldwide, that’s who, a record in the time that’s passed–nine months, counting November when the console launched–for any PlayStation platform in Sony history, says Sony.

And with July’s NPD retail numbers out, Sony’s saying the PS4 was the number one console for the seventh straight month in a row, and that it led in retail software sales as well. The Last of Us: Remastered held the number one retail sales spot in July (confirmed by NPD), which is that much more impressive when you consider it’s not a new game and that it launched on July 29, so it had just three days to chart.

NPD says video game hardware sales were up dramatically year-on-year, from $99.8 million to $198.8 million, or a full 100%, offsetting declines in older console and current handheld sales. Add up Xbox One and PS4 sales to date and NPD says that compared to Xbox 360 and PS3 sales for the same period, the new consoles are trumping their predecessors by “close to 80 percent.”

Retail software sales were unchanged from July 2013, though as usual, the comparison ignores digital content sales, which could put the actual figure anywhere (and almost surely higher). NPD notes that EA’s annual NCAA Football installment usually launches in July, but that since the series is on indefinite hiatus due to legal squabbles about the use of player likenesses in the games, July 2014 was extra-sleepy on the retail software side.

Overall, NPD says new physical video game sales (hardware, software, accessories) grew 16% compared to July 2013.

Turning back to Sony’s PlayStation 4, we’re now looking at 10 million units sold through worldwide (revealed by Sony August 12) versus 5 million Xbox One units shipped to stores worldwide (revealed by Microsoft back in April). Of course, that doesn’t mean Sony’s outselling Microsoft 2:1, given the four month lag in official Microsoft figures, but then that’s all we know publicly, so on some level, that’s going to be the perception. You could argue Microsoft’s reluctance to get specific is just another way of being very specific, and not knowing where the Xbox One stands on a simple units-sold-through basis is probably as bad or worse than knowing when the apparent gulf starts to look this sizable.

Is Microsoft waiting to say more until it’s launched the Xbox One in more markets? Perhaps. At last count, Sony was selling the PS4 in 72 markets versus Microsoft’s 13 (not as big a deal as the numbers make it sound given population distributions, but far from dismissible).

Microsoft’s supposed to make up some of that shortfall this fall, and it has the Halo Master Chief Collection to help it along, but 2014 is first and foremost third-party-ville: Destiny, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Far Cry 4, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Grand Theft Auto V remastered and so forth. This is not the year of grand and daring first party exclusives, so short of overwhelming fealty to a series like Halo or LittleBigPlanet, or interest in racing games like Forza Horizon 2 or Driveclub, fence-sitters looking to dive in by year’s end are probably going to buy the system that plays those games based on their perception of where the momentum is.

TIME Video Games

Sony Says 10 Million PlayStation 4 Game Consoles Have Been Sold Worldwide

Sony confirmed the PlayStation 4's latest sales figures during its Gamescom 2014 press conference in Cologne, Germany.

At Gamescom 2014, Sony announced that it’s sold more than 10 million PlayStation game consoles worldwide since the system launched in November 2013. And that would be 10 million plucked off shelves by consumers, not just shipped to stores.

The last time the console majors rolled out unit sales specifics (around the end of March), Sony said it had sold through some 7 million PS4s, Nintendo that it had sold through just over 6 million Wii Us, with Microsoft bringing up the rear at around 5 million Xbox Ones shipped to stores. Microsoft said in July that with the Xbox One’s price drop from $499 to $399 and removal of Kinect in early June, Xbox One sales had more than doubled, but it was unclear then (as now) what the actual figures were.

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