Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Thursday, July 2, 2009
In an age where shooters are all trying to outdo each other’s realism, it’s refreshing to hear Gearbox’s creative director Mikey Neumann tell us that, "realism can eat shit and die." This bolshy mantra is first made apparent in Borderland’s new art style. It’s gone cel-shaded since we last saw it, making for a flashier, comic-book style vibe. This succeeds at streamlining the focus of the game from a gritty, desolate atmosphere to pure, raw fun.
Borderlands is a "Role-Playing Shooter" from Gearbox Interactive, the creators of Half-Life: Opposing Force and the Brothers in Arms series. It aims to combine the open-ended structure and leveling commonly found in role-playing games with first-person shooter combat and a healthy dose of co-op. Borderlands is primarily set in a desert wasteland of the hostile planet Pandora, where your rag-tag crew of treasure hunters is looking for a legendary alien vault containing unspeakable technology. Unfortunately, a lot of others are looking for this vault as well, forcing you to duke it out with them while also surviving the local wildlife. Thus begins your quest of exploration, looting, mission-hunting, and killing things, all of which will take you across miles of open terrain.
Arguably, Borderland’s biggest selling point is that it will contain over a million different weapons. This may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s not. Each gun is comprised of multiple components that are randomly generated and cobbled together. As such, no two weapons will ever be exactly alike. You’ll also have the option to make your own custom weapons out of parts that you find lying around the environment. Creatures disappear and leave ammo and weapon parts behind, which is another wonderfully daft example of Gearbox’s reluctance to conform to the standards of reality. This custom nature also extends to different ammo types, of which there are plenty. The most noteworthy of these are the self-explanatory "healing bullets," which sound like great fun in co-op.
Check out the rest of the preview here, at TGR.
Monday, June 29, 2009
I have a confession to make: I never played any of the previous Alien vs. Predator games. I am as wary of licensed games as many others are, especially when said game combines two properties that really have nothing to do with one another. Despite all of this, Alien Vs Predator ended up being the most interesting first-person shooter that I saw at E3. Imagine my surprise.
AVP is split between three campaigns: that of a human soldier, a Predator, and an Alien. All three will encompass one complete story, but you can experience it from varying points of view through a set of species-specific missions. The first demo that we were shown was from the human side, which was a curious choice considering that it fails to capitalize on the greatest strengths of the brand name and looked like a fairly typical sci-fi/horror FPS at first glance. The level took place in a dark industrial setting, with the player throwing flares to brighten up areas beyond his flashlight. The flare landed underneath a staircase, showing off some really impressive lighting that brings to mind the entirely orange and black aesthetic of Alien3. Since the flares are your only source of light besides the flashlight, you are forced to make their placement a tactical decision. At this point, I was still fairly unimpressed, as everything that I had seen looked a bit generic. "You roam around metal corridors fighting monsters," I thought. "How original."
All that changed once a pitch black Alien silently emerged from the shadows, leaping at the screen. The audience twitched as the PR guy--who had been demoing the game all day--died from this attack. "Where they come from is randomized" he noted, before trying again. This time the alien came from the same basic direction, but a little higher up. The creatures are very hard to see, so even the slightest change in trajectory can throw off your game and force you to squint to make out their shape against the shadows. The marine popped off a few rounds, but the Alien was too close to him when the bullets struck. This caused the creature’s acid blood to explode onto the screen, which would probably hurt like hell and cause you to go blind in real life. Since that wouldn’t be too much fun in a game, the on-screen acid sizzling ends up being one of the best vision-obscuring effects ever rendered.
Check out the rest of the preview here, at TGR.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Mass Effect was truly an epic game, one full of planet-hopping, galaxy saving, and alien shagging. Since the original seemingly had it all, constructing a worthy follow-up would be quite a daunting task. Thankfully, Bioware seems to be up to the challenge, keeping everything that was great about the first game and improving upon all its little problems immensely.
The first change worth mentioning is that Mass Effect’s much maligned combat has been greatly improved. My demo had me raiding a tower on a blue metropolitan planet that looked a bit like Coruscant from Star Wars. Classes have been tweaked from what they were in the first game, opening up new abilities to fit every player type. In this case, I was playing as a Soldier build and the assault rifle was my go-to weapon. The combat is similar to the original, with the time-stopping weapon and ability wheels popping up with the press of a button. Everything is a bit faster paced this time around, with two hot-keys available for different rechargeable abilities. I could also tell individual teammates to lock-on to different enemies at any point. Where an enemy gets shot now seems to make a much bigger difference in how they react, making combat that much more visceral. All of this comes together very smoothly, as I could imbue my bullets temporarily with a special power that would send enemies floating through the air and then tell my squadmate to take them out while they were incapacitated.
The first Mass Effect did a lot to push dialogue trees forward in games, but the conversations were not without their problems. While the voice acting was great and the facial animations were expressive, dialogue sequences still felt stilted and janky as the camera unceremoniously cut between two staid characters. Now, the camera and characters both move around a lot more, proving that the inhabitants of the Mass Effect universe can *gasp* both walk and talk at the same time. Bioware has also made these interactions time-sensitive, so you can’t just stand there awkwardly deciding how to respond. The game forces you to be quick, or the conversation may not go the way you want it to. Furthermore, you’ll have the option to interrupt a chat with the left shoulder button. In one choice example, we were shown Commander Shepard ending a discussion by throwing a guy out of a window, hearkening back to the days when Han Solo could shoot Greedo first and yet still be the hero
Check out the rest of the preview here, at TGR.
Prior to the launch of the Wii, Ubisoft’s Red Steel remained an intriguing proposition due to its unique blend of guns and gesture controlled sword combat. Unfortunately, it was a launch title, and Ubisoft had yet to learn how to develop for the Wii at that point. As such, the controls felt clunky and sometimes broken. However, if the E3 demo is an indication, it looks like Ubisoft has listened to nearly all the criticisms of the first game for this upcoming sequel
The first point worth mentioning is that Red Steel 2 has little in common with its predecessor. The game features an all new story, setting, and art style, going for a Samurai Western theme instead of the original’s Asian setting. The sequel features minimalist cel-shaded graphics and a desolate wasteland location that acts like a crossover between the anime Lone Wolf and Cub and the classic western El Topo. You play as a gunslinger/samurai who literally gets roped in to ridding his hometown of a malevolent gang, with the opening cutscene having him bound at the wrists with rope and dragged behind a motorcycle.
Check out the rest of the preview here, at TGR.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
2D platforming continued its comeback at E3 in a big way, with New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Shadow Complex leading the charge. So it’s easy then to overlook a fairly anonymous downloadable 2D platformer like Trine. That would be a mistake, because Frozenbyte’s upcoming title was easily one of the best games I saw at this year’s E3.
At its core, Trine is a 2D physics-based puzzling platformer. In its single player, you can toggle between its three characters at will, namely the Knight, the Thief, and the Wizard. The Knight can slash enemies with his sword, and use the right analogue stick to block with his shield from any direction. The Thief shoots arrows in any direction, and can grapple Bionic Commando-style under wooden objects like walkways and boxes. The Wizard summons boxes (one at a time) into existence by drawing them, and can move objects like bridges and boxes telekinetically.
What makes this interesting is Trine’s co-op, played by two or three players, in which you cannot assume the same role as another character. This makes the puzzles harder, as you’ll all have to work together to find a solution for getting each player across the game’s chasms. Here’s an example: a path ahead is covered in spikes while there’s a series of platforms high in the air. The Thief can grapple across the platforms from underneath, but the Knight and the Wizard have to jump across them, and reaching them can prove tricky. First off, the Wizard creates a box to stand on, then the Knight throws said box, with Wizard perched on it, up towards the platforms. Then the Wizard summons a box for the Knight to stand on, and then the Wizard telekinetically drags the Knight on the box using his wizardry. If it sounds complicated, don’t worry, because it’s actually easier said than done or thought out. The game is all physics-based, so where the Wizard grabs the box with the pointer will actually effect how it will move, as does where the Knight is standing. Working in tandem to keep one player perched on a box is just one example of how teamwork in Trine will really pay off.
Check out the rest of the article here, at TGR.
While I hate to blithely sum up a game as game X meets game Y, there’s really no better way to sum up Shadow Complex than as Metroid meets Uncharted. Chair Entertainment (the studio responsible for XBLA title Undertow) and Epic Games’s Shadow Complex is a 3D-rendered, 2D side-scrolling action-adventure game with a heavy focus on shooting and exploration, not unlike Samus’s early adventures. The aesthetic and modern-day jungle setting, however, has far more in common with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, not to mention the hero who looks and sounds an awful lot like Nathan Drake – always a possibility when he’s voiced by the same guy, Nolan North.
The game starts off with protagonist Jason Fleming’s girlfriend Clare being kidnapped, bringing Jason to the heart of the jungle where he must infiltrate a mysterious military base – a shadowy complex, even – and rescue her. The demo I played began with my landing in said jungle, where I was to find my climbing gear that would allow me to grab hard to reach ledges. The climbing gear is the first of 18 upgrades you’ll unlock over the course of the game, including a full suit of armor and in pure Metroid form an ice-beam-esque “foam gun” that can create temporary staircases and makeshift cover. This was all set against lush, detailed 3D jungle environments, shown off by Jason’s ability to explore his surroundings with a flashlight aimed in any direction with the right analogue stick.
Check out the rest of the article here, at TGR.
If Brutal Legend knows one thing, then it’s how to rock. It’s got babes, hot rods, demons, gore, face-melting guitars, head-banging entourages, and of course a heavy emphasis on Norse mythology. This is not rock as we now know it, but its genesis. Rock and Roll was always about rebelling against the status quo and trying to make the world a better, more awesome place. What better way to do that than rid the world of demon through the power of heavy metal?
Check out the rest of the article here, at TGR.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Demon’s Soul’s--From Software’s upcoming action-RPG that is being published by Atlus--is a game about death. You will die in this game. A lot. Because of that, only the most masochistic need apply.
The phrase, "You cannot kill me, for I am already dead" does not apply here. When you die in Demon’s Souls, you must start the level all over again as a ghost, this time with half of your original health. If you make it back to the bloodstain that marks where you died, you will regain all of the souls (i.e. experience) that you lost at your time of death. Die as a ghost however, and your bloodstain will be overwritten and all of the souls that you had on your previous playthrough will be gone for good. You are tasked with continually making your way back to your bloodstain, eventually hoping to regain your body by defeating that level’s boss. It’s brutally punishing, and there’s no telling if this will start to grate over the game’s 60 hour runtime or somehow manage to keep things tense throughout.
Demon’s Souls is primarily a dungeon crawler, two words that would usually send me running for the hills. But in Demon’s Souls’ case, it is a dungeon crawler for people who typically don’t like dungeon crawlers. The world is separated into five sections, each comprised of four interconnected stages. After the first level, you’ll be able to tackle the rest in any order, so no two playthroughs will be alike. Each level will be full of enemies of varying difficulties as well as a number of secrets. Early level will have some sections cut off by high level demons, so you’ll be urged to go back to those areas once you are more powerful. You can choose between ten classes at the offset, each with their own unique strengths and weakness. What you choose at the beginning only effects the earlier stages of the game, as you’ll be able to customize your character or class at any time later on.
Read the rest of the preview here, at TGR.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
It’s strange, but no one ever seems to create a game set within WWII-era Europe unless it’s some kind of battlefield shooter. Pandemic Studios--creators of the Mercenaries and Star Wars: Battlefront series--aims to fix that with their upcoming release, The Saboteur.
Set in the early 1940s, The Saboteur sees its protagonist Shawn ridding the world of Nazis throughout the greater part of Eastern Europe. The interesting thing about this character is that he’s not in it for the greater good of mankind, per se. Shawn is on a personal quest for revenge, though Pandemic has remained tight-lipped about what the impetus for this is. This makes the story rather compelling, as Shawn is inadvertently making the world a better place and doing good for the wrong reasons. He likes fast guns, fast women, and has a history as a macho race car driver prior to getting caught up in the world of war. Furthermore, Shawn is not an action hero, instead preferring to complete his objectives the stealthy way.
The most instantly noticeable thing about The Saboteur is its unique sense of style. In a bold move, a majority of the game is portrayed in glorious black and white. This indicates that an area is currently under Nazi occupation. There are still bits of color around--which can be seen in the red Nazi flags and armbands that make enemies much easier to see, as well as the faint yellow lights in windows that illuminate the glorious, climbable architecture--but most of what you see is monochromatic. If you complete a Nazi-clearing mission in said area, things will go back to being in full color.
The first mission that we were shown had Shawn trying to take down an anti-air cannon in Paris. Anything that looks climbable is, so Shawn took to the clustered rooftops of the city to slowly stalk his way to the target. If you go in real slow, your character can get all the way to the cannon by just hiding in the shadows and snapping necks. Sadly, the PR rep who demoed it for us was spotted fairly early on, so he had to resort to the game’s polished third-person shooting mechanics. There wasn’t anything particularly innovative about this aspect of the game, but the controls looked tight and intuitive (with the now standard duck-and-cover system firmly in tow). Since most stealth games turn into broken shooters once you have been spotted, The Saboteur’s competence in this area is a good thing. Of course, there’s no telling how balanced the game will be between stealth and combat, so it’s yet to be proven whether or not it falls victim to Hitman syndrome--where it’s way easier to run-and-gun your way through levels that it is to go in stealthily.Check out the rest of the preview here, at TGR.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Beauty comes in many forms. Ico is beautiful in its subtlety, like a fairy tale. Bayonetta, however, is beautiful in its excessiveness. Like Las Vegas or Monte Carlo, the game is garish, over-the-top, and borderline sleazy, yet it dazzles and delights like no other.
Bayonetta is also a game about killing things. Instead of being a tried-and-true demon slayer, Bayonetta is an ass-kicking, witch-slaughtering renegade angel. Not much is known about the plot at this point, but we do know that Bayonetta has been asleep for over 200 years and has now been awakened with no memory. While further details of the storyline remain a mystery, the real draw of the game lies in its unique blend of upbeat slaughterhouse fantasy fun.
The core mechanics of Bayonetta are a bit like Hideki Kamiya’s previous outing, Devil May Cry, on crack. Dante had his sword and guns, while Bayonetta has guns and--in a wonderfully sadomasochistic bent--her high heels, which are comprised of revolvers. Dead sexy. The triangle and circle buttons are used for her punches and kicks respectively, while the square button swings her weapon. Enemies leave weapons behind as you fight them, such as a musket, a spear, and a giant mace. You can only hold one at a time, and they all come with their own unique strengths and weaknesses, such as speed, damage, and range. As you destroy things, you collect gold rings which--as far as I can tell--are on loan from the Sonic division of Sega. Rings are the game’s currency, and can be used to buy new moves and items for more ass-kicking greatness. Adding to the insanity of it all, Bayonetta can also run up walls in certain areas, making for some wonderfully dizzifying combat scenarios.Check out the rest here, at TGR.
Monday, June 8, 2009
I'm sorry I haven't updated this blog much lately, as I've been planning for E3, got side-tracked with even more work once there, then was away visiting friends in LA (but that's a whole 'nother story). At any rate, I would still like to write about inFamous a great deal (my review is coming soon to TGR), and perhaps write about the experience of going to E3, but there are only so many hours in the day. In the meantime, here's a list of the best games I saw at E3 2009 (in no particular order):
Tim Schaefer's wonderful humor is in top form here in this story of a roadie going back in time to an age when the Gods of Rock ruled all. The combat system, the one element I was skeptical about, turns out to be fast, fluid, and a whole lot of fun. It's basically Zelda, but with a guitar instead of an ocarina and rocks all the more because of it. Easily the funniest game I've had the pleasure of playing since Schaefer's previous outing, Psychonauts.
My biggest surprise of the show. Solve puzzles by willing object into existence merely by typing them. Reportedly has tens of thousands of words in it. Objects I was able to summon include (but are not limited to): a jetpack, a hot-air balloon, shark repellent, a shotgun, a chainsaw, a sawed-off shotgun, a wall, a T-rex, land mines, and almost every other noun I know. The only time I managed to come up with something that wasn't in the game was when zombies were attacking me, in order to make myself less desirable to them I tried to see if I could conjure AIDS. Didn't work.
The Lost Vikings meets LittleBigPlanet meets Bionic Commando. Trine is a 2D side-scrolling action/puzzler with a twist; you can play as three characters and toggle between them. The wizard can summon boxes, the thief can grapple, and the knight can fight. The thing that makes Trine really unique is that you can play up to three players co-op, but you cannot inhabit a character if another player is already playing as them. As a result, playing with three players can be even more puzzling as playing with just the one as you'll all have to work together to find a way to get the bulky knight across some gaps and over platforms. If you play as one character, however, you'll have all the abilities available to you, but can only use one at a time. As a result, the physics based puzzles take on a life of their own with multiple solutions based on how many players are involved, making it feel like a whole new game.
In some ways, Bayonetta may not represent the most innovative game at the show, as it falls firmly into the conventional mechanics of what a hack-and-slash game entails: Learn combos, fight demons (or renegade angels, rather), earn points for power-ups, collect stuff, fight bosses, etc, etc... But sometimes originality is overrated. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I'm tempted to use the analogy Bayonetta is to the hack-and-slash game what Mario Galaxy is to the 3D platformer i.e. it doesn't innovate in its mechanics, but takes everything that was great about the genre and polishes it to a science, then fills it with a healthy dose style. If it lives up to the demo, it could well be the most fun, stylish, addicting third-person hack-and-slash game ever made. This honestly wouldn't surprise me as I feel like the first DMC hold up tremendously well today and Kamiya-san has had 8 years to hone his craft and do for the genre what DMC did for it nearly a decade ago.
2D Uncharted meets Metroid. The mechanics are quite similar to Samus Aran's glory years where you explore a staggering maze in a 2D side-scrolling plane, though the aesthetic shares are more in common with Uncharted (right down to the same voice-actor for the lead). You play as a guy trying to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend from a hidden military complex in the jungle. The vent-crawling and platforming is like Metroid to a T, but it also has glorious hand to hand combat with finishing moves shown in full 3D that look straight out of Uncharted. It's a bit of an unlikely mix of inspiration, but the result is truly wonderful.
-Mass Effect 2:
Looks a lot like its predecessor in many ways, but when its predecessor is one of the finest action-RPGs ever made, that's not such a bad thing. The thing that has me really intrigued is that you can reportedly go to the final mission rather early in the game, but you won't stand a chance. Instead, you'll have to travel the galaxies searching for soldiers to go on this supposed suicide mission with you. Depending on who you get to join you and how you treat them, this final mission can play out in a multitude of different ways. This has me very, very intrigued.
Sly Cooper meets Okami meets Hitman in WWII. Playing as a hedonistic, womanizing, race-car driving rebel, you're on a quest for revenge that happens to have you killing lots and lots of Nazis. The game looks to be an even mix of stealth and action as you climb buildings, get the drop on enemies, place explosives, and make fast getaways. It's also one of the most stylish games at the show where occupied territory is portrayed in glorious black and white with some of the best rain effects I've ever seen. Once you clear the missions in an area, it goes back to being in color, not unlike rejuvenating the plants in Okami. It's about time we have a game about killing Nazis that really takes advantage of the beauty of that era.
-Sin & Punishment 2:
I never played the first one, but this was one of the most fun demos I had the pleasure to play at this year's E3. It's basically an on-rails third-person shooter, ala Star Fox, but better. At first the art style turned me off, but after playing it, I learned to really not care. Much like Bayonetta, this isn't innovative, but it takes what was great about oldschool arcade gaming and makes it even better.
-Silent Hill: Shattered Memories:
See here why Silent Hill never managed to really gel with me before. Shattered Memories seems to fix a lot of those issues with fluid controls, markers to show what items you can interact with, and nixes the dodgy combat in favor of some truly intense chases. Crashing through doors in this game reminds me of my very favorite bit of Mirror's Edge. I'm also intrigued by the psychological profile you take at the beginning and how it alters the experience. The only concrete piece of info I got was that it changes enemy appearance, so I'm hoping my arachnophobia makes the enemies spider-like. At any rate, it proved that a game can still be conventionally fun and still be scary as all hell.
-Alien Vs Predator:
A remake of a game I never played, but heard good things about. The behind closed doors demo I saw had you playing as a human, which should have been bland and like every other FPS horror in space shooter, but thanks to the aliens being a fantastic foe coupled with terrific lighting, poking around dark corridors using only your flare and flashlight to spot them sent chills down my spine. The bits I saw as Predator were even more interesting as you'd go from fighting the humans, picking them of stealthily one by one, to fast and furious combat with the aliens. The premise is silly and turned me off initially, but the concept of playing from hunter to hunted, to a neat little mixture of both looks to be a heckuva lot of fun.
Oh, and Uncharted 2 and God of War 3 looked fantastic, but I didn't bother to play them as they look like more of the first with better graphics. I liked their predecessors, so I'm sure I'll like them, just didn't feel compelled to try them, as I feel I know how they'll play already. But who knows? Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised and they'll be even better than I'd thought.
Also, and I didn't include The Last Guardian only because it wasn't playable nor was any gameplay demo shown. When the trailer started running at the Sony Press Conference I got so giddy with excitement that I side-hugged my colleague next to me (poor Eddie). If more was known about this mysterious project, you could expect it near the top of my list. Same goes for Kojima's new Metal Gear and Castlevania projects.