All posts by Sam Machkovech

RiME game review: An unforgettable memorial vacation

Enlarge / RiME is often a peaceful game, but it has a few harrowing moments. (credit: Tequila Works)

I have had one of the most gorgeous Memorial Day weekends that I can recall, replete with beautiful, exotic memories. Some are dotted with endless coastlines and remarkable rock formations. Others are covered by bizarre memorials to an unnamed past, all scorched by the sun and set into contrast by raging thunderstorms. Each has contained its fair share of sky-burning sunsets, foliage-lined cavern glades, and wild animals.

Roughly every 15 minutes, I have stopped, marveled, and taken a photo. Now that my trip is complete, I have a scrapbook of my experiences. It's among my favorites of the past few years.

This has been my experience with the video game RiME, which launched a few days ago on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PCs. I got behind on other work ahead of the Memorial Day weekend and figured I'd play this cute, "narrative puzzle-platformer" in a few hours, then write some impressions before I clocked out for the holiday.

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Say goodbye to the video store, hello to the non-profit foundation

120,000 movies, six minutes. Ars takes the Scarecrow Video tour. (video link)

Despite fond memories running to Blockbuster as a kid, these days you probably have fewer video-store options while away at a cabin or vacation home this Memorial Day. Another one of the formative shops for our staff—Dallas-based Premiere Video—shutter its doors just this month, in fact. So as a tribute, let Ars remind you of our farewell tour at Seattle's Scarecrow Video, whose shift to non-profit status managed to infuse new life into the shop. This resurfaced report first ran in August 2014, but the video store continues to endure three years later.

SEATTLE—On a sunny August weeknight, Matt Lynch, a clerk at longtime Seattle rental store Scarecrow Video, grabbed a cup of ice from the shop’s relatively new coffee counter. Cutely named VHS-presso, the counter was one of the shop’s many efforts in recent years to spur interest, attract more renters, and get people to walk into a video store once again.

There’s also the shop’s screening room, opened just over a year ago to host cult and niche movie nights by way of a giant screen, a smattering of speakers, and some comfy chairs. Lynch, among the shop floor’s elder statesmen at 12 years of experience, pulled one of those chairs out to sit and chew on ice while marveling at the room’s walls. The shelves are full of classic VHS tapes. The store prides itself on its vast VHS collection, totaling over 15,000 tapes at this point. But neither that fact, nor the shop’s recent additions, resulted in more rentals or sales as of late.

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Ars tests out Amazon’s first pick-up grocery store in the world

Enlarge / Amazon's first public grocery store, now open in the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard. But you can't go inside. Pickup only. (credit: Sam Machkovech)

SEATTLE—For years, Amazon's worst-kept secret has been its interest in becoming a brick-and-mortar grocery company. After building permit leaks and employee-only beta tests, the online retailer's first public stab at grab-and-go groceries (grab-and-gro?) launched in its home city of Seattle on Friday.

Amazon Fresh Pickup is now open in two Seattle locations, and its premise is simple: take the concept of Amazon Fresh (which delivers grocery orders to your door), then invite the customer to double as his or her own deliveryman. Since I was keen on seeing exactly how it works and happen to live 10 minutes from one of the locations, I decided to make up a Memorial Day-specific food order.

My first impression was nothing but smooth. For those customers whose grocery shopping matches Amazon's Fresh Pickup vision, they're in for a treat. But for everyone else, don't rev your engines just yet.

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Far Cry 5 takes series to deadliest land of all: Disenfranchised America

Enlarge / Next-to-last supper? (credit: Ubisoft Montreal)

LOS ANGELES—I leaned back in a hotel-suite chair and took in a bonkers video-game pitch from an Ubisoft producer while folding and unfolding the tiny American flag I'd been given moments before. The 13-year-old Far Cry gaming series returns once more in February 2018, and, at least conceptually, this might be its most intense entry yet. While Far Cry games traditionally drop players into exotic, international locales with only a gun and a prayer, this year's entry, Far Cry 5, lands in the U-S-of-A.

Specifically, the open, rural wilds of Montana. Your mission: invade a militarized cult's massive compound and take down its gun-toting, Jesus-invoking leader.

In another time and place, I might have looked at this pitch and thought about the bygone '90s era of David Koresh and Ted Kaczynski—some distant, fuzzy memory that is finally ready for an over-the-top virtual run-and-gun video game. But Ubisoft has picked a heated time to double down on something we rarely see in the gaming world: Americans fighting Americans over the concept of what "America" is. The promotional-swag flag in my hand kept reminding me that this Far Cry, no matter how it plays, certainly won't feel far away this time.

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Universal’s Dark Universe risks being yet another extended universe franchise

Enlarge / Not just any universe... a DARK one. (credit: Universal Studios)

If you can't beat 'em, misunderstand 'em.

That appears to be the logic coming from the programming wizards at Universal Studios. The film production company took the (mummy) wraps off its "Dark Universe" initiative on Monday, and its intent is clear: to "reboot" the company's old monster-movie franchises over the next few years with big-name actors, interconnecting plots, and a rising tide of evil—a tide, of course, that can only be stopped by good guys who don't always follow the rules.

As if this didn't sound Marvel-y or Avengers-y enough, get a load of this official synopsis of what's to come:

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Bludgeoned by orcs: What it’s like to die repeatedly in Shadow of War

Enlarge / Like my father always said, it's always easier to climb a tower while riding a fire-breathing beast. (credit: WB Interactive / Monolith)

LOS ANGELES—Having played a fair amount of Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, I thought I knew what I was in for with its upcoming sequel, Shadow of War. The badass, "slay orcs all around" hero of the first game, Talion, returns with some supernatural twists. You'll use his new slate of dark superpowers against an even tougher crowd of Tolkien-inspired monsters.

At recent Shadow of War preview events, the series' developers at Monolith have loudly hinted at one of the game's major new concepts: leadership. Now that your ranger hero is infused with former rival Celebrimbor's dark-elf powers, he can dominate orcs and conscript them to his own army. You'll need the monsters' help to invade and overthrow evil war chiefs at various fortresses and camps. These battlegrounds are packed full of powerful orc foes who remember you, and this idea builds upon SoM's "nemesis" system of persistent enemies.

But only last week did Monolith let a particular cat (or orc?) out of the bag: how bleedin' hard this Lord of the Rings adventure game's sequel will be.

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Destiny 2 PC premiere impressions: Strike harder at 4K/60 FPS

Enlarge / Hot tip: Don't get as close to the new Gladiator enemy as I did. (credit: Bungie)

LOS ANGELES—Bungie knows how to deliver a first-person shooter that immediately looks and feels solid. The game developer's prowess with accessible, sexy blasting has never been in doubt. But two big questions remain as the company's highly anticipated sequel, Destiny 2, nears its September 9 launch: How much better will the sequel feel over a long span of time as it tries to hook fans for multiple years? And what should we expect from the series' Windows PC premiere?

A few hours with the game was too brief to answer the first question, though a fantastic "Strike" mission got my hopes up. My hours of play were certainly long enough to wholeheartedly sell me on Destiny 2's PC build. Sadly, Bungie and Activision have saddled this superior PC version—one that enjoys tight mouse-and-keyboard controls and higher frame rates—with quite the asterisk: a PC-specific delay.

A terrible wait for the good stuff

Ars Technica plays Destiny 2's Inverted Spire co-op Strike mission. NOTE: This was played and captured on a PlayStation 4 Pro. PC game capture was not allowed at the event. Also, NOTE: Sorry for my so-so performance. I played way better on keyboard-and-mouse, I swear. (video link)

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Alien Covenant drips with blood and plot resolutions—but you better be a fan

Enlarge / Hard to shoot these xenos when they can just JUMP ON YOUR GUN. (credit: 20th Century Fox)

It took Ridley Scott 35 years, but the sci-fi filmmaking legend finally got to make his version of Aliens. All it took to get there was a decades-long dwindling of the series, a kind-of-but-not-exactly reboot in the form of 2012's Prometheus, and a five-year cloud of confusion for series fans. Maybe that was Scott's game plan all along!

At any rate, now we have Alien Covenant, and it's probably as much of a James Cameron-styled film as we may ever get out of Scott. But that makes Covenant sound more accessible than it really is. If you're a longtime series fan and have grown into either an apologist or a hater, you're going to love this sequel's adherence to Alien film lore, its zillions of answers, and its return to terror sequences chock full of gooey, murderous xenomorphs.

If you're just looking for some solid sci-fi, on the other hand, you may find yourself adrift. This movie is only going to work if you at least have a clue about what happened in Prometheus—even though Alien Covenant is a completely different kind of film.

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Destiny 2 gameplay debuts, brings sci-fi co-op combat directly to Earth

Enlarge (credit: Sam Machkovech)

LOS ANGELES—After more than a year of teasesDestiny 2 finally received a gameplay reveal on Thursday. In news that will probably shock no one, the online-shooter sequel sure looks a lot like the original Destiny, only with serious polish applied.

The original game's three distinct classes of Titan, Hunter, and Warlock return with the kind of sequel start-over twist that explains why returning Destiny players would start over: their home of the Citadel has been overtaken. The game's opening mission, which Bungie revealed at the event, sees players jump in with high-level weapons and powers, only to die at the hands of Red Legion boss Dominus Gall.

Destiny 2 gameplay reveal.

"In one fell swoop, [players] lose their powers, their homes, and what may be saddest of all, their vaults," game director Luke Smith told the Los Angeles crowd.

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Sony’s Farpoint falls just short of being VR’s best FPS yet

Could we ever get a bonafide Call of Duty, Battlefield, or Halo game in virtual reality? Sony's latest PlayStation VR game Farpoint is at its most compelling when it teases us with a resounding "yes" to that question.

I mean, by golly, we have it now: a VR gun game where you use a joystick to run, aim a gun with your hands, blast bad guys, and feel like a not-sick-at-all badass. Nausea, comfort, and immersion all work in Farpoint's favor when the game fires on all cylinders. PlayStation VR owners may feel moved to buy it just to see this long-awaited promise come to fruition. (Farpoint can be purchased with a brand-new PlayStation VR Aim Controller; we'll also explore just how unnecessary the controller turns out to be—and how good that is for the future of PSVR games.)

But that purchase won't be met with a full game that merits "legendary" or even "damned good" status. The design team at Impulse Gear Studios clearly devoted a lot of resources to nailing the feel of sit-down VR combat, and that focus has apparently left some basic gameplay and plot issues unresolved.

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