Ratchet and Clank – Into The Nexus Review

Ratchet & Clank Into The Nexus

Ratchet and Clank: Into The Nexus is the latest in the PlayStation exclusive Ratchet and Clank series, released in November 2013. The best thing about the game is it’s

Singple Player

After two years of Insomniac trying their luck with multi-player styled games, Ratchet and Clank finally comes back in the classic style we all loved it for. 2001, Insomniac released the first ever game in the series, All 4 One,  that features co-op mode. And not only that, but they pushed it up to four players and four different characters. Ratchet, Clank, Captian Quark, and dr. Nafarious. This have resulted in a completely different experience and different camera angle than we’re used to. Players smaller, screen too crowded, weapons changed to cope with the game style, game play heavily depends on multi-player. Also, different characters brought very little difference in terms of game play, while weapon upgrades were tied to each character separately. And since Ratchet game difficulty increases with time, it depends heavily on your weapons upgrade. So once you move little far in the game, choosing a different character, or bringing in a new player won’t be able to enjoy it, and would be very useless. The story also was twisted to adjust for the desired game play. And while it was fun for the kid, and got us to play together, the game overall was a flop in my opinion.

Then came Ratchet and Clank Full Frontal Assault. Another go at co-op mode, only this time with a gameplay similar to the classic one, but with split screen for two-player mode, and it’s turned into tower defense mode. Game is a very short one. Weapons are much more limited. And this time, story suffers even more as you mostly do nothing but keep building defense and then attacking base after base.

So it was really a relief and joy to finally get back the original Ratchet & Clank style of game. The game however is not a full fledged game like Crack in Time for instance. Rather it’s a much shorter one that doesn’t add much of new experience, but rather just takes you through a new adventure. That’s obvious from the price tag on the game. Also perhaps that’s why they added a free digital copy of Quest for Booty.

Gameplay

Gameplay is more or less the same as ones before. It’s mostly using the same engine. It is a fun game to play. I played it with Legendary difficulty (is that what it’s called?) and still didn’t face much difficulty. I did feel checkpoints were at times a bit annoying. I’m not certain. but I feel previous games had more current checkpoint locations and don’t push you back as much. Still, it’s a typical Ratchet & Clank fun experience to play.

Weapons

You won’t find any new weapons in there, only new upgrades for old weapons and how they behave. Weapon upgrades are capped at Level 3 only here. More upgrades can be purchased however using raritanium that you collect throughout the game either by collecting it, or killing enemies. Some of these upgrades will enhance weapon damage, some increase ammo, while some will give you more bolts and raritarium. I did like this new style. However the amount of bolts and raritarium is short compared to the game length, that I finished the game without maxing half my weapons, and not having enough money to buy the last weapon either. This is the first game I face this issue. I always get all weapons, and have time to upgrade most of them. Mind you I was taking care in finishing all arena challenges, and trying to maximize my earnings by using weapons with more bolts and raritarium rewards. Reason why I think is because this game is mostly using what was available off the shelf from older games, with some refinement. Game had limited budget and length, so weapons weren’t really designed and tested properly for this specific game.

Ryno VII

While this is technically a weapon, it’s a different kind that you normally unlock at the very end of the game. This time, task was to collect nine hidden Ryno cards. I did manage to collect them all, and I wanted to make sure I do before it’s too late so I can enjoy Ryno. When I got the last piece, I was told to see the Plumber who will assemble it. But where is he? Apparently he’s inside a vault, and to open it you need six keys. Collecting these keys means searching the planet, as well as collecting all 100 Gargathan horns. Why I ask you would you add such trivial repetitive boring and time consuming task just for the sake of obtaining the Ryno? Answer seems to be to stretch the game total playtime. Regardless of reason, this is an absolute time waste, and ruins the gameplay experience, I decided to ignore it. Beside all the work and commitments I have, playing a new game would surely be more fun than running after 100 dead skeletons and smashing them. Ratchet games didn’t use to be like this. There were some tasks to collect all items, but they were usually more fun and challenging, and never 100!

Graphics and Cinematography 

Unlike Tools of Destruction and Crack In Time, I felt the graphics in this game is of less quality. Also, previous games would have some special scenes where you’d be amazed by the environment, like sliding across the rail while buildings in the back tumble to the ground. You don’t get that in Into The Nexus.

Clank Levels

Almost every Ratchet game would have some different styled levels. Sometimes playing Captain Quark arcade game. Others Clank would be controlling giant robot defending model city in movie shooting against giant monster. Sometimes even making copies of yourself to unlock shut doors. They are always fun to play. This time you control Clank in a 2D side view level where you can control gravity to work in all four directions to avoid obstacles and reach certain goal point. I really enjoyed playing these levels.

Humor

The humor, while present, is less in this game than before. Curscenes aren’t as funny. Missing on Dr. Nafarious’s outrages, and the minimal role of Captain Quark also means less jokes from him. These two are always nice to have. Still the game doesn’t lack in jokes, just not like the ones before.

In A Nutshell

Fun Ratchet & Clank game, part of the series. It’s not expensive. If you’re a fan, get it, play it, you won’t regret it. Insomniac on the other hand, please bring back the full fledged games with the whole nine yards!

Google Adsense just hit a new low

I was browsing my site Tathkarti today when I was horrified by this ugly floating giant ad.

Google hover ad on tathkarti

 

What’s this? Where did my site go? Oh it’s there in the back. But where did this ad come from? Have my site been compromised? Or is it my browser? I closed the ad, and saw it shrink into the small box on the top right. Guess who it was?

google adsense troll

Turns out this is the new hover ad being tested by Google. Move, or more likely leave, your cursor above the ad unknowingly for 3 seconds, and it immediately assumes you want to see the ad full fledged all across the screen! In fact, trying it again, it triggers without even that. I just clicked the Hootsuite Chrome extension button, and Google mistakenly assumed I’m hovering over, and launched the large size ad. This is coming from Google. The company that refused to stick general banner ads. The company that limits number of ads per page. The company that enforced strict guidelines around ads, to make it a useful rather than an annoying experience. When it comes to ads, history tributes Google for setting the standards of best practices, rather than swim with the masses. Over the years those standards have started to become more of a guideline, and now, I feel like they’re not even there. I don’t want my users to have this experience. And if this continues, I’m gonna remove Google ads altogether. This is becoming the perfect opportunity for a new ad company to come and position itself with the  ”Don’t Be Evil” motto. Speaking of which, has that been once Google’s motto? I’m confused.

Inferno by Dan Brown Infuriated Me

Inferno (Robert Langdon, #4)

DISCLAIMER: This post is mostly spoiler free, and some might say it is. But in reviewing this book I have to state what I found bad with it, and that might give some hints away for you. Read at your own risk. But if you want my advise, read this article or not, just ignore the book and save your time.

It was Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons that started my novels listening addiction through Audible few years back. A story that got my attention from the start, kept up the pace, and then dazzled me in the end with an excellent wrapped up ending. I also loved the extra historical and symbology knowledge, even though at points twisted, that I got from the book. I went on to get the rest of his books. Deception Point, which did not feature Robert Langdon, became my favourite then. A mix of science and politics, very well written, depicting from some true life events. Then came Da Vinci Code which brought on huge amount of controversy and dispute, touching on core christian beliefs. I admit at the time I had the short sight and refused to read the book or see the movie. I didn’t know who Dan Brown was back then. When I got hooked on the series, I got the book on Audible, and I loved the story. Until the end, where things ended up with half closures, unless you think the ending really did make sense. While he enticed you on a journey throughout the book, he left the ending with big disappointment and puzzle about whether was all this really worth it. It took him six years to come up with the next sequel in the series, The Lost Symbol. A book I wasn’t enjoying as much from the beginning, and while admit it had some nice twists and tricks, the ending and conclusion was times worse and more meaningless than the Da Vinci Code I could not stand it.

Was that a pattern, or just a set back? 2013 came Inferno. The novel inspires from and builds on Dante’s Inferno, a series of mystical puzzles that once again Professor Langdon must solve, only this time to save the world from global catastrophe. The dark theme of the book suits me quite well. However the book was overfilled with unnecessary historical and architectural details, that one Amazon reviewer demanded it gets added to “Tourism” section. It didn’t bother me much, but I could tell the author was trying to fill up pages here and there with so many details that will make you drift from the main story. There was also a lot of repetition in the book. Perhaps it had a purpose, but it was repetitive nonetheless. All that aside, I was still enjoying the story overall, and I was thinking that will all the fillers, this could be the only book that can fit nicely into a 140 minutes movie without ruining it like they did with Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. When the fog started to dissipate however, and as the whole mystery and evil plot goals became clear, the aftermath of the whole story, the wrapping, and conclusions were totally random, and have no sense in them whatsoever. Who ever the author likes he kept and praised. Whoever he didn’t like ended up as criminal and got his punishment. Screw the entire population. A handful of people can simply decide and all agree on that.

The ending was horrible and wrong, I got so angry I wasted my time listening to the book. After that I decided this is it. No more Dan Brown for me.

How far have Google gone from what they used to be with Ads

When Google started back in 1998, they surprised people by their simplistic design. Their page was clean and fast. They didn’t even have a footer, that people thought page is still loading! Their paid ads were all plain text, clearly visible and distinguishable. They were ahead of everybody else settings standards about user experience, and always always putting the customer first. That’s one reason it took Google so long to start making money. Larry and Sergey did not want to ruin the user experience with ads, and before they came to know the relevant text ads, advertisement was basically bunch of banners you throw on your page here and there.  Now however, things are being done very differently. Let’s take YouTube for example. They bought it when it was running at a cost, started putting ads on the site. No big deal. Then small short clips 10 seconds or so before you watch few minutes video. Even though that’s not the best experience, I understand the service has to pay up eventually, so I wasn’t opposed to it. Now however, with embedded video ads becoming mainstream,  I’ve seen 3 whole minute ads showing before a 30 seconds clip I want to watch! 3 minutes is not even a tv ad normal length when you’re sitting on your couch too lazy to reach for the remote, let alone online when you have 30+ tabs open, and skipping the clip is just one click away. Yes I know you can skip it, but if you think about it, why show such length ads in the first place? 30 seconds clip is too short to show more than probably 7 seconds ad, if you really must! I could not find a snapshot of that 3 minute video ad, but here is a similar example.

YouTube Ad Longer than clip itself

 

As you can see, the advertisement itself is more than 150% of the clip you want to watch! Has this even been thought over? Ad length? Ad to clip ratio? Those basics Google used to lead and show the world how to best do them? Apparently not. They decided to completely ignore it and see how much they can milk the cow before it goes dry. A simple thinking on their side should’ve made them realized, watching 10 seconds ad might be ok for many, but 3 minutes… I’d say never!

Google isn’t stopping there however, and wants to ruin every other web page you visit. As Google AdSense is the most common traffic monetization technique, you are expected to see it over many web pages, and very often in the form of an image or video ad. And that’s fine if you ask me. Site provides free content, displays ad on the site in case you like it, every body wins. But now that they’re allowing everybody to post video ads, they need to make sure those ads are making them money. But really, how likely are you to visit a news or game reviews page, and decide to click and watch a 30 seconds car ad? Very unlikely. People are becoming less and less engaged with ads. That’s why AdBlock is there right? So what did Google do after they realized no one is playing those ads? They reverted to one old trick played by cheap ad sites. Hover-to-Play! I’m just moving my mouse cursor over the page, unknowing of the consequences, move my cursor over the video ad, and all of a sudden it starts playing! Damn that’s annoying! I’ll hit the pause button. Ooops!

google annoying video adsTrollface problem

That Google+ button everybody seems to hate is there to make sure you don’t hit the pause button until it’s too late! You know what that reminds me of?

 

 

Thank you Audible for Return Item Feature

There are already so many reasons to like Audible, the most popular audiobook shopping site out there. Beside the large collection, their easy to use monthly subscription service, and ability to keep your purchases and redownload them forever, today I was amazed to find another feature just by mere luck. As I haven’t been driving a lot lately, I ended up with unused credits which translated into long to-listen to purchased audiobooks. Last one I listened to was Inferno by Dan Brown. I had activated my subscription just for that. And boy was I disappointed? Anyways, I went through my list of books, only to find an option to return books I didn’t like! What the hell was that all about? It’s a digital book. How can I return it? I clicked the link, and found Inferno, which I had rated very low, eligible for return. Two clicks and BAM!

audible book return option

 

Seriously! Does it get much better? I already listened to the whole book. I did not complain or anything, and they had no reason to even offer the return in the first place. I don’t think I know a bookstore that would allow a return after so many months because I finished and hated the story! But I guess they can afford it, and most importantly, they want to, because they want to keep customers happy. There is no real competitor for Audible out there right now, and unlike the conventional way of thinking, they’re making sure they keep a big distance between them and number two. Surprisingly I could not find any details even in the help section about what makes a book eligible for return. Perhaps Inferno was just that bad? Or perhaps they’re keeping the rules a secret to protect against fraud.

How can they afford it you ask? Sure there are those of few who would jump at the chance, leave this page right now to down vote their last book, in hope of getting mere $15 back! But here is the good part:

  1. Not everyone is a scumbag.
  2. With time, they will be able to tell scumbags from honest customers.

What is the cost?

Not sure how the deal works. They could be paying from their own deep pocket. I doubt a publisher would approve such return.

What are the gains?

  1. Customer trust: Customer will have more faith in the service, and will be more willing to try new books (i.e. spend money).
  2. Happy customers: Not only do customers trust Audible now, but they’re also very happy to stay with them. (Guess who’s keeping his account active despite like of time?)
  3. Filter bad books?: If my hypothesis is correct, this might be related to you giving a book bad rating. I surely don’t think they would return a book you gave five star to, unless you claim it was by mistake purchased and you already have it. So that way, they’re encouraging users to review the book, and let others know they didn’t like it. They can also personalize the experience for that specific customer in the future. For example, I never want to hear about a Dan Brown book again.

So thank you Audible for this great feature.

Twitter testing push notification ads?

I got this weird Twitter App notification on my iPhone today.

 

Twitter weird push notification message on iPhone

Twitter weird push notification message on iPhone

At the age of information overflow, I have absolutely no interest in knowing who followed whom. Let alone get a push notification on my iPhone for that. So why did I get it? By mistake? Very unlikely. The message is formed to tell me about who followed whom. Only thing I can think of is the ridiculous idea that this is some sort of new Twitter Ad being tested. I searched and found reports of what seems to be a new kind of Twitter notification Ad being tested. However even these reports seem different in context. They’re promoting tweets or users. Not simply telling me a user has been followed! Either way, I hope none of these notification ads ever make it. At least not without opting in for them. We are fighting hard to keep our phones spam free from SMS. Who would want to receive ad notifications for things he didn’t opt-in for in the first place? I can understand push notification about iPhone sales if I like iPhones. But push notifications for tweets and follows as a form of ad is absurd. I don’t even get notifications for my own followers. Let alone someone I don’t know or care about.

Did anyone get something similar recently?

Beware of using your credit card with FlyDubai.com

flydubai warning

 

Last week I made a booking online through FlyDubai.com for a relative using my credit card, which has been safe and secure till then. Next morning I got a call from my bank NBK telling me there has been a declined attempt using my card at Dubai eGovernment website. Ofcourse I hadn’t. And thanks to NBK for having such fraud detection system in place. Luckily the attempt didn’t go through. But now they had to cancel my card, and start issuing another one. Ofcourse I can’t tell you about the fun time I’ll have updating all these sites with automatic billing with my new credit card. Best of which should be PayPal and Google Wallet.

But how did this happen? I haven’t used my card with anything relating to UAE for a while, except this FlyDubai. So the only logical explanation is that, this fraudulent attempt was related to my online booking through their site. Now I’m not accusing Flydubai of running this scam in anyway. But it does seem however that they run a low kind of security on customer credential info, with no proper auditing nor control over who has access to these credentials. This is what most likely is happening.

  1. FlyDubai are storing credit card numbers in clear somewhere, rather than just last four digits. Perhaps with the good intention of verifying real card holder upon ticket issuing, though not justifiable.
  2. No proper auditing is kept over who access what information.
  3. Insider with proper access rights is picking random credit cards and trying them online.
  4. CVV is not stored with the credit card, as they don’t need it to verify the card holder. Hence the insider has to guess the CVV, thus transaction was declined.

To that, I hope FlyDubai will look into this deeply, and take strong action to avoid more damage, as I for one won’t be using my credit card with them anytime soon. Other travelers might less-alert banks, and might be less aware of potential threats. This could go unnoticed for a while on them.

Anyone else booked through FlyDubai.com? Did you have similar incidents?