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FREE GAMES!…legally August 9, 2010

Posted by maxfreund in General, PS3.
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The promise of free games, or a free computer, or even free cheese is often met with skepticism by the general public, and for good reason. No one ever wants to come out behind, and if you give away a product with no strings attached, you generally end up bringing up the rear.

But I was recently made aware of a way to obtain essentially “free” games on the Playstation Network, and it is a completely legitimate and legal action. Intrigued? Let me explain.

The three major consoles, the Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360, all have substantial online catalogues. Complete with simple flash games for a few dollars, all the way up to full 40 – 60 dollar games, that could be found at your local Best Buy. These virtual stores are tremendous places for gamers to find niche, indie developed gems, or just get a new game without having to put their pants on and brave the outside world.

But with so much content available for download, questions about ownership have arisen.

With normal, retail games, when you purchase a game, you get something physical. In the old days it was a cartridge, and now it is a Blueray or DVD, but it is something tangible. You can hold it, bring it from house to house or console to console, and resell it at Gamestop or Ebay when you are finished with it. But with downloadable content, it isn’t so black and white.

When you purchase a game via an online store, a file is downloaded to your system. And while you “own” the game, and can play it all you want, you loose that physical aspect.

This is a legitimate concern for game companies, because if a person is expected to purchase all their content digitally, the consumer will need to have that same sense of ownership that they are used to, or the transition to digital distribution shall not go smoothly. These concerns have led to an interesting concession by Playstation, and brings me to your “free games”.

DRM or Digital Rights Management is the ownership of a piece of code, and governs what a person can and cannot do with that code. Every game that is downloaded by a user off the Playstation Network is tied to that person’s profile. This tether allows the user to delete the game file from their consoles’ hard-drive to make space, and then re-download it to their system at a later date, free of charge.

But what if your console kicks the bucket, and you have to go drop 300 bucks on a new PS3. It is a different console. One that has no memory of your prior downloads. You do not have to buy all new disks for your new PS3, could Sony possibly expect you to repay for all your downloadable games?

Well thankfully, no, they don’t.

Sony has granted each person the ability to re-download any game onto 4 other consoles. This covers a person who may own two systems simultaneously, by not making them buy the same game twice, as well as any situation where your system dies and you need to grab another one.

But in my humble estimation, 4 re-downloads on different systems seems excessive. I have owned consoles for the past 3 console cycles, and have never once reached more than 3 systems of the same type (damn you red ring!). So what am I expected to do with these extra downloads?

I am legally alloted them. They are just sitting there, waiting to be used.

Well, the simple answer is to trade with friends! And thus, the free games. If you have a friend who owns a PS3, they undoubtedly have downloaded some PSN titles that you may be interested in playing. Well all you have to do is sign onto their system using your user ID. Go to the PSN store. Click on the downloads history button, and re-download all of your games onto their system.

Doing this will knock off 1 of your 4 allotted re-downloads, so pick the friends you trade with wisely.

When I learned of this, I was excited. Frankly, games are really expensive, and to a starving college student, any little freebee is welcome.

And while this may seem slightly sneaky, or subverting the intended use of not making a person pay for the same game twice on two of their own systems, think of it this way.

Back in the days of the N64, did all your friends own a copy of Super Smash Brothers? Of course not. You brought your copy from house to house, spending hours enjoying it with different people at different times. Think of this as just a way to digitally share the wealth and borrow your friends favorite game.


Would you Like Your Shooter with a Side of First or Third Person? June 11, 2010

Posted by maxfreund in General, PS3, Xbox 360.
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The shooter is the most pervasive genre in gaming today.  Each year’s fall schedule is highlighted by great games like Gears of War, Halo, Call of Duty, and Uncharted.

But within this one genre, there are two competing formats, the first person, and third person shooter. With two distinct styles competing for the spotlight in a crowded field, it is inevitable to ask which style of shooter is better, the first or third person?

I suppose there is no definitive answer to this question. Both have tremendous entries in their libraries. Halo is considered by many to be the greatest shooter of all time, and is a first person shooter. While critically acclaimed titles like Gears of War, and last year’s game of the year Uncharted 2 are third person affairs.

Thus the choice comes down to personal preference, and for me, the choice is clear.

It is third person all the way.

Now before I dive into my analysis, I must absolve myself on any bias. I have played and loved, Halo 1, 2, 3, Gears 1, 2, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 1, 2, Uncharted 1, 2, Borderlands, and many more. Games on the PS3 and Xbox 360, both first person and third person games alike. One of my favorite genres in all of gaming is the shooter, and I feel I am able to make a rather informed decision on this matter.

So what makes the third person shooter the clear choice in my eyes?

Well there are three reasons why I prefer third person shooter to the first person.

First, third person shooters provide the player with a better sense of self. This might sound strange, but let me explain. The third person view is a view that is used in multiple genres of games. Most platformers, adventure games, sports game, and even racing games use the third person view. This means that gamers are comfortable with this angle, and intrinsically know how to move within the space of a level.

When a game is in the first person view, seeing your surroundings and moving is a much more difficult task. Mirror’s Edge, a platforming game released in 2008 was set in the first person view. While this game was met with relatively mixed reviews, it was universally agreed upon that it was a tremendous undertaking to create a functioning platformer in the first person. Simple actions like seeing a ladder to the left of you, or gauging a jump were extremely difficult in the first person view.

The better sense of self leads into the second reason why the third person view is better for shooters. The third person view allows for more creative level design.

I love the Halo and Modern Warfare series, but often times the level design can be a bit too linear or flat. The perfect counterpoint to this is the third person shooter Uncharted 2. Uncharted 2 has maps that are three, sometimes four levels tall, and since the game is in the third person view, it allows for complex platforming. You are capable of scaling the sides of walls, shimming along ledges, and jump from platform to platform, allowing players to find creative paths to escape a gunfight or sneak up on an unsuspecting opponent.

First person shooter levels are handcuffed by the player’s ability to move in space. Most multi-tiered levels use stairwells or ramps to let players move, and while this is perfectly functional, it does not promote the creativity in movement that a third person shooter like Uncharted 2 does.

The third, and final reason why I prefer third person shooters is the cover system.

Gears revolutionized the cover system. By allowing the player to attach to walls, they made it possible to covertly move through levels, as well as hole up and play defensively. (image courtesy of IGN)

Gears of War revolutionized the way third person shooters use cover, and this change has made them significantly more enjoyable than their first person counterparts. When a player is in a third person view, they can easily attach their character to cover, keeping their character and their surroundings in view.

First person shooters cannot use this cover system efficiently. If a player was allowed to attach their character to cover, their view would be whipped around 180 degrees; this would obstruct the player’s view as well be disorienting. So to combat this difficulty, the majority of first person shooters have decided to forgo any form of cover system. Players can stand behind walls, but there is no guarantee that their leg or shoulder isn’t sticking out in the open, welcoming enemy bullets.

With most first person shooters, you have no cover system. So you might as well lay down and pray you don't get shot. (image courtesy of IGN)

The lack of a comprehensive cover system in first person shooters causes many matches to deteriorate into giant mosh-pits of bullets and melee attacks. Too many Halo 3 games resulted with everyone running into the middle of the arena, wildly spraying bullets at the nearest person, just to be shot in the back of the head by the next guy to enter.

Without a way for players to hide effectively, a shooter looses an important layer of strategy. In fact, Rainbow Six Vegas, which is a first person shooter in the popular Rainbow Six series, actually allowed for a Gears of War style cover system, taking the player from a first to third person view when they went into cover.

While I have made my case for the third person view, there are definitely points in favor of the first person perspective.

Seeing the world directly through your character’s eyes, if done properly, can lead to a more immersive experience. Also, since the aiming ridicule is more zoomed in with the first person view, it can make for a more responsive and accurate shooting experience.

Modern Warfare 2 sold roughly 300 million in sales in its first week, so it is rather safe to guess that shooters are here to stay. And whether you enjoy the immersive, tunnel vision of first person shooters, or the more fluid and complex qualities of a third person shooter, it all boils down to personal preference.

But for me, give me the third person view.

Wave of Titles Added to PS Greatest Hits April 6, 2010

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So the Play Station Greatest Hits has gotten a recent face lift. The Greatest Hits catalog has been around since the Play Station 1, and has just been a way to re-issue great titles at a lower price. I have frequented the list when somehow a great title has slipped through the cracks, and I get the chance to play it for a discounted price.

That has happened once again.

Killzone 2, Infamous, and Resistance 2 have all been added to the list, and will be available for somewhere between 20 and 30 dollars each. All three are PS3 exclusives, and were released before I got my PS3. I was planning on getting Infamous soon, regardless of it’s price, but this recent price reduction will entice me to buy it sooner rather than later.

I guess what is surprising about this is Killzone 2 and Infamous were both released just about a year ago, and Resistance 2, not much more earlier. These are rather new games, and for them to be getting their veritable “curtain call”, with a last run at a boost in sales seems rather soon. I guess that just speaks to how many great titles are being pumped out each month.

Take just the first three months this year. Play Station has gotten: Bayonetta, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Dante’s Inferno, God of War III, Final Fantasy XIII, Heavy Rain, Bioshock 2, and I am sure I missed a few.

With this flux in great games, it is no wonder publishers are trying to do anything to make sure gamers don’t forget about last year’s hit titles as well. If this means that come 2011 all the above titles will be only $30 bucks, count me in. There is no way I can spend 500 – 600 bucks every few months on games, and because of that I miss out on many games I want to play.

The Greatest Hits list is a wonderful way to help gamers out, and I hope the increased support continues in the near future.

Borderlands Has Over 200,000 Guns, and I Want to See Them All. March 16, 2010

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So Borderlands is last year’s darling. A game that most people didn’t expect much from since it was sandwiched between Halo 3: ODST and Uncharted 2. I hadn’t tried it out until a few weeks ago when my buddy Jeff let me borrow his copy. But I have poured about 15 hours into the game so far, and love it. For anyone who doesn’t know what the game is, watch the video below. Actually, everyone, watch the video below. IGN is a great site, and this video is just one example of the hilarity that spews from their San Fransisco office.

As Dave Claym, *cough*, excuse me, Randy Pitchford explained, Borderland is a shooter through and through. It does one thing and does it well. Drop gamers into an open world, give them thousands and thousands of pretty toys, and make things go boom when they get shot. It is simple, but addictive.

Modern day shooters can sometimes get bogged down in story, morality, and extra additions. When its done well, it can lead to a more well rounded game. But all too often it leads the game away from the central component that makes a shooter great, the combat.

Borderlands strips it all down, and built a shooter that just feels right. Each gun class, and believe me there are many, has its place. Snipers are crisp and clean, allowing for precise headshots from across a level. While shotguns provide players with a satisfyingly indiscriminate spray that wreaks havoc on surrounding enemies.

Your character is also customizable down to the color of their clothing. My level 20 Soldier, Black Thunder, is currently wielding a shotgun with incendiary rounds, while wearing a fashionable yellow chest plate and blue hat. The level of depth here is a wonderful break from the usual brown and gray linear shooters we are all used to.

While the shooting is the key focus, don’t get tricked into thinking there is no story at all. The central focus is around some place called The Vault, a supposed cache of alien technology on your planet. And while this may sound like a tired and cliche central point, the sarcastic, dry, gritty humor of the supporting cast makes the game an enjoyable romp.

I’m going to be honest, the story is just something used to string you from one firefight to another, but I am okay with that. If I wanted a great story, I’d read a book…or play Bioshock 1. I play Borderlands to shoot things.

Julius Caesar Killed Your Play Station 3 March 6, 2010

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The year was 45 BC, and the Roman calendar of 355 days just wasn’t cutting it. It was an awkward system of adding days every other year in order to keep all the festivals occurring at the same point each year, and Julius Caesar

2000 years after his death, Caesar's insatiable lust to conquer has led him to the digital world, and your Play Station 3.

wanted a change. And so, he assigned his astronomer, Sosigenes, with the task of creating a new calendar. A calendar that was simple, and required minimal finagling from year to year.

And from this, the current 365-day calendar was born. But since the Earth takes 365.242 days to orbit the Sun, an extra day was added every fourth year to the end of Februarius (February).  This 366 day-long year we commonly refer to as the leap year. And while the next one is not due until 2012, many PS3s didn’t get the memo.

On Sunday, February 28th in the late afternoon, millions of PS3s decided to brick themselves.  The culprit? a pesky bug within the hardware’s internal clock. The clock was set to Greenwich Mean Time, and so when midnight hit for the 28th (roughly late afternoon for us here in the states) all the PS3s attempted to access February 29th.  Why the PS3 thought it was a leap year? No one knows, probably was a simple calculation error in one line of code, but as a result, the systems went bananas.

When you attempted to connect to the Internet, the times didn’t match up, and as a result the system shut itself down. This error resulted in the internal clock being set to 12/31/1999, a date that is long before the release of the PS3, and a host of other problems including: games not loading, downloaded content not loading, and non-synched trophy data corrupting.

While the error seems to have passed when March 1st rolled around, this recent episode has raised many questions about the current state of videogame hardware.

The push to all-digital is a steady one. More and more content is becoming available on the PSN and XboxLive, and we have even seen the release of the first all digital system (PSP Go). And while the digitalization of all content may be an inevitability, we must make sure those creating the system are held accountable.

When you buy a game disk, you own it, its tangible, not a string of 1s and 0s sitting on a server. But when I download a game, do I own it? Is it really substantively on my hard drive away from any outside influences? This recent episode makes me think not.

Why did an internal clock error manifest itself in such rampant and strange ways? The interconnectivity of the online components and offline components of a system has been rudely pushed to the forefront of our consciences. And this has made me question if I really want to lose that tangible disk any time soon. If seemingly simple bugs like the leap year error can cause widespread damage, then how safe are all my digital purchases?

Before I entrust Sony or Microsoft with all of my media, I need to know measures of security are in place. I need to know that they are holed off somewhere that I can see and understand, even if they are just in principle just a string of 1s and 0s.

I guess we actually should be thanking Julius Caesar, for without this error, we may not have realized just how vulnerable our whole web of interconnectivity is. When it is all boiled down, everything is running on code written by imperfect humans. And as a result, some of the code will have imperfections. And while this is understandable, and in no way should result in scrapping the all-digital model, I hope this error makes everyone think twice about the digital shift our industry is making.

Bioshock 2 Falls Short February 20, 2010

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Before I begin, I want to warn people there will be a few spoilers in this post, so if you want to enter Bioshock 2 without any knowledge, be warned that this post may ruin some things for you.

So I grabbed my new, shiny copy of Bioshock 2 on launch day, with hopes that it would build upon my favorite game of this generation, Bioshock. And while I thoroughly enjoyed returning to Rapture, and seeing the world through Subject Delta’s eyes, I couldn’t help but feel that the game was missing something.

While the chance to play as a Big Daddy may entice some, the return to Rapture simply lacks the thrill of the first game.

For those who do not know, Bioshock 2 is set roughly 10 years after the first game ended, and Rapture is under the rule of Sophia Lamb, a community oriented ruler who was a fierce rival of Andrew Ryan. The story circulates around Eleanor Lamb, Sophia’s daughter who was once your little sister (you play as the first Big Daddy). The game takes you on a wild goose chase through many environments, and culminates with you finding Eleanor and Dr. Lamb. I will leave the gritty details out for those who have not gotten that far.

As I sit here, I find it hard to write more, because I am conflicted. Bioshock 2 is by no means a bad game. The combat is very similar to the first game, but improves upon it by provides you with the ability to duel wield plasmids and weapons. The world is as beautifully creepy as ever, but is just stale.

Bioshock 1 was a complete story. It ended with the death of the two major villains, and with the rescuing of the little sisters. There was no opening for a direct sequel, and yet Bioshock 2 found a way to weasel in. They leaned heavily upon Augustus Sinclair, the one character mentioned in the first game but not shown, and that felt forced. I also kept asking myself through Bioshock 2, why wasn’t Lamb ever talked about in the first game if she was such an important figure during the fall of Rapture. The true answer is she was not conceived during the first game’s production, but when playing Bioshock 2, it just felt illogical that someone of her importance in the world would be completely missing from the first game.

I guess what I am saying is the second Bioshock tries to occupy a space that isn’t there. It is like when a child tries to fit his square peg into the circle hole. Bioshock 2, if it must be created, was a prequel peg, yet was forced into the sequel slot. The fall of Rapture would have made a compelling story. Getting to see the city before it crumbled, and experience the civil war from within, and not through left over audio logs would have been exhilarating, but instead 2K took the safe route of “more of the same”.

And alas that is what Bioshock 2 is. It is the same scrumptious birthday cake, just after it has sat out on the counter for a few days. It still tastes good, brings back good memories, but is a bit crusty around the edges. You keep eating it, but you know you have had better. If you played Bioshock 1 and loved it and thought it was the greatest piece of gaming in this console generation and want to keep that taste in your mouth, then I cannot blame you for skipping Bioshock 2. But if you want to return to the world of Rapture and get a little bit more, experience a few exciting encounters, and see more of the world you love, then by all means grab Bioshock 2.

Its not bad. I in fact would go as far as saying its a good shooter, it just isn’t the Bioshock 2 I wanted.

Total Digital Distribution Can Wait January 27, 2010

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I recently played through the delightful Pixle Junk Shooter, a downloadable title on PlayStation Network, and it got me thinking about digital distribution.

Most people agree that eventually all our digital content, be it movies, music, television, or video games, will be streamed via the internet to whatever device we are using. We already see this in some forms such as Netflix Instant Watch, Xbox Live, Play Station Network, Itunes, and many more. And I no qualms about downloading the latest blockbuster title rather than walking to a store and buying a disk, as long as the small games do not suffer.

Currently, the PSN and Xbox Live Arcade are filled with great small games. Quirky sidescrollers like Castle Crashers, deep and vibrant puzzle adventures like Braid, and enjoyable old-school-style shooters like Pixle Junk Shooter are given a place of prominence, and I fear if they were going up against the God of War IIIs of the world, they would be overshadowed.

Sure, the smaller price tag would allow them to get some traffic, but I fear it would be hard for the average consumer to sign onto Xbox Live, go searching for a game, and not help but overlook the smaller titles in favor of the latest blockbuster release.

This is why I enjoy the current setup of having major releases relegated to disk form, and the downloadable scene reserved for the indie titles. It gives both types of games a space of their own to shine, and I hope it remains that way for at least alittle while longer.

Trophies and Achievements are Pointless…but I like Trophies. January 17, 2010

Posted by maxfreund in General, PS3, Xbox 360.
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As a person who has owned both a 360 and a PS3, I have had plenty of experience with both the trophy and achievement rewards system.

For anyone who does not know what they are, they are a rewards system that developers can implement in their games. Any task in a game from beating the final boss on a certain difficulty, to collecting 100 doodads can net you any number of achievement points (if you are playing the 360) or a gold/silver/bronze trophy (for those who game on the PS3). This small measure of reward has no actual function beyond displaying your personal escapades within a game, but most people I have talked to agree that they are a useful way to entice multiple play throughs of games.

Recently, Greg Miller of the IGN Playstation Team, and Charles Onyett of the IGN Xbox Team posted dueling editorials outlining the positives and negatives of each system, and for those who are interested in learning about their full opinions, you can find them here and here.

While Mr. Miller is a self-proclaimed PS3 fanboy, you can expect that his preference lies with the Play Station system. While Mr. Onyett focused more on problems with achievements/trophies that required obnoxious replays, level grinding, or possibly sabotaging a multiplayer game for personal benefit.

I agree with much of what Charles says, their is nothing more frustrating then sitting down to complete a game, and realizing there is some small bronze trophy, or 5 point achievement that is going to take hours and hours of pointless grinding to obtain. That is obnoxious, and is discouraging to players who love a game and wish to complete it.

But for the main point of this piece, let us consider that all things being equal, every achievement or trophy is obtainable in a reasonable manner, and you set off on your quest to complete the game.

Look Ma! I got a Platinum Trophy! I truly belong now!

I recently did this for the first time on the PS3, as evident by my little portable ID on the right hand column of this site. I got a platinum trophy for completing Uncharted 2. And this, my friends, is the whole reason why the trophy system is better.

I had an Xbox 360 for 2 years, and reached 1000/1000 achievement points on both Bioshock and Gears of War. But when I reached that pinnacle of success within each game, i was rewarded with nothing, no extra point boost or emblem of success.

But when I got the last of the bronze/silver/ and gold trophies in Uncharted 2, I got the platinum trophy. Which not only provided me with a hefty point boost in the PS3 trophy leveling system, which is thoroughly detailed in Greg Miller’s piece, but gave me a nice shiny platinum emblem which shows my accomplishment to the gaming world.

It may be a small thing, but can make a big difference to someone who just spent hours and hours trying to complete a game. The Platinum trophy provides a cap to the game, a virtual pat on the back that says, “good job, you did something special here,” and to some gamers that can make all the difference.

Ezio Gets His Chance January 14, 2010

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I recently wrote about my love of Assassin’s Creed 2, and the main character, Ezio, but how I was so frustrated that the AC series had been planned around the annoying Mr. Miles.

Well it seems as if Ubisoft has heard mine and other gamer’s cries.

Although details are scarce at this point, they have released a statement that a new Assassin’s Creed game, staring Ezio will come out this fiscal year, but will not necessarily be the Assassin’s Creed 3 game, which will more than likely be made about Desmond Miles. This new game will pick up the Ezio story line where it ended at a gut-renchingly annoying cliffhanger at  the end of AC 2. Also there will be some form of multiplayer, but that is much less important to me than the fact that my favorite assassin appears to be getting the love and respect he deserves.

AC 2 was great because of Ezio, not Desmond Miles, and it appears that Ubisoft understands that.

God of War Rewind a Welcome Addition January 10, 2010

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As my winter break winds down, I find myself scrambling to get through the games i amassed for Christmas, and surprisingly I keep returning to a 5 year old game. The God of War Collection was released this fall in anticipation of the new God of War III which is slated for release in March.

The collection is an attractive bundle. For $40 bucks, you get God of War I and God of War II, with HD visuals, and fully integrated trophy support. They also threw in a download code for the E3 God of War III demo, to wet your pallet.

While the games do show their age slightly, GOW I more so than II, they are still a tremendous experience. I personally had played GOW I before but not II, and I still found it to be worth my money.

But the release of the God of War Collection got me thinking about storytelling in video games.

Video games are a uniquely difficult meduim for telling stories that span one release. With books, you can take years in between sequels and those who want to follow the story through to the end can do so, because books are independent entities that do not rely on anything to “play” them.

Movies are a little bit more restrictive than books, because the devices used to play them shift occasionally (VCR to DVD and now BlueRay), but most movies are released in theatres, so they do not require an initial investment in a piece of technology.

But video games are different. Systems switch much more frequently than movie viewing technology, and as a result a long running story can be drawn out over two, maybe three consoles. This requires an initial investment of hundreds of dollars in different hardware, and does not even take into account the fact that from generation to generation, people may choose hardware from different manufactures. This can lead to exclusivity problems, and prevents gamers from following a story to completion.

For instance, say a person got into gaming with the original Xbox, and so they were unable to play GOW I or II, since they where exclusive to the Play Station 2. But that person has recently purchased a PS3. They would be unable to be caught up with the GOW series, if it was not for the GOW Collection, and as a result playing GOW III would more than likely be a less compelling experience.

This is exactly why more collections are needed. There is a big difference between a quality collection of a beloved franchise and a cash grab. The Nintendo Wii ports of Gamecube games, where they adjust absolutely nothing visually, and simply slap on clunky waggle controls is a cash grab. The original Gamecube game is not only playable on the Wii, but also in most cases controls smoother.

But a true collection like GOW Collection is a welcome sight. By polishing the visuals and providing trophy support, it is a newer, and more inviting experience for gamers who maybe were too young to play when the games were originally released, but the heart and soul of a great franchise remained intact, and this collection allows anyone who was unable to follow the exploits of Kratos in the past console generation to do so.