Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Reasons to be cheerful again...

So I have written about some of the big anticiated titles that will be coming out later this year.  Here are the last few, slated for a Q4 release... particularly that highly marketable window on 11.11.11.

Mass Effect 3

London is burning...

Previously on Mass Effect… In the first Mass Effect, the game ended with a bitter struggle against the Reapers, an ancient alien race that awoke from millennia of slumber to attack the Citadel, the nexus of all intergalactic affairs within the known universe. In a desperate moment, I was forced to make the choice between saving a human war ship or the ship belonging to the alien elder council. I chose to remain loyal to the humans and the elder council regretfully perished, call it poetic justice for keeping mankind largely out of intergalactic affairs. Last year, with Mass Effect 2, I found myself allied with Cerberus, a shady and secretive organization that sought to protect humanity by any means necessary. Sent on a suicide mission against the Reapers, I miraculously survived the mission with my team of assorted badasses and eccentrics intact. After destroying the weapon of mass destruction, I was riding on a wave of good hope, but when Cerberus moved into retrieve the weapon, I stepped in and nobly destroyed the machine, vowing that no sentient creatures should ever wield such tremendous destructive capabilities. I now regret this decision. Mass Effect 3 is coming, and this time planet Earth is being attacked by the ancient alien menace. Once again, I as Commander Shepherd am Earth’s only hope. And if this paragraph has gone over your head, then it is clear that you need to really get into Mass Effect. What Mass Effect does is allow you to create your own space opera. Everybody’s story is slightly different but it has all been leading up to this point. I waltzed through ME2, but based on my shortsighted decisions I’m not sure how I’ll do in ME3.

Batman: Arkham City

Batman shows those night goggled splinter cell amateurs how to be a real stealthy predator...

First game Batman: Arkham City was a pleasant surprise when it was released in August of 2009. A mix of great story, explorative gameplay, free flowing combat, and predatory stealth scenes in which you picked up hapless henchman one by one. Perhaps the biggest achievement of Arkham Asylum was establishing an alternative depiction of the Batman universe in the wake of The Dark Knight. Taking all the components of the character and founding a tightly knit game upon them, the best video game realization of the caped crusader or any comic book superhero in history. Almost immediately after releasing the first game, developers Rocksteady have been hard at work on the sequel, set within a division of Arkham which is this time located within Gotham City. The joker voiced by Mark Hamil will return, and he will be joined by Two Face, Cat Woman, and Doctor Strange, who serves as the game’s big baddy this time round, supposedly aware of Batman’s secret identity. Perhaps the game will have us in the shoes of Bruce Wayne? There will be no bat mobile unfortunately, but we can expect the Scarecrow and the Riddler.

Tomb Raider 9

So how do you go about reinventing one of gaming's greatest icons?

I’m a sucker for Tomb Raider. I had the first game on the original greystation when I was eleven and it was the one series that was mine. I have diligently played every single tomb raider game, right through one to five on the PSone, to the horrendous PS2 misfire that was the Angel of Darkness. I’ve played the three Prince of Persia clones developed by Crystal Dynamics as well as last year’s isometric Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. I also vaguely remember playing a Gameboy Colour Tomb Raider at some point... I’ve lost count of the times they have tried to reboot Lara Croft., but this time, Crystal Dynamics is aiming to tell an origin story. Tomb Raider Begins. Details are scarce, but supposedly you will play as a 21 year old Lara Croft who is shipwrecked on a mysterious island and is forced into a desperate struggle for survival that will test her physically and mentally. There will be an emphasis on collecting food and water, as well as a learning curve that will unlock more areas of the island as you progress. There is supposed to be an emphasis on violence as well as the return of the kind of devious traps from the original games. Combat has also been stripped down, which is probably a good thing, since it has never been Tomb Raider's strongest element.  So basically we can expect a grittier open world tomb raider with a basis on survival and (hopefully) a chance to define Lara as a character. I mean they have actually agreed to give her a much needed breast reduction...  The sound of progress.  May just be the Tomb Raider everybody has been waiting for. Though last time they tried to implement a learning curve was in Angel of Darkness… “I cannot open this door. I’m not strong enough”. It was like the feminist revolution never happened.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

And the reason as to why cinema is seeing a decline in ticket sales?

The first Uncharted was a great mix of tomb raider and gears of wars. Uncharted 2 was even better, building on the cinematic qualities of the first game generating an experience that was far more enjoyable than most Hollywood action movies. Not bad for a game that essentially boils down to highly linear platforming and the slaughter of thousands of armed guards. The pull of Uncharted has always been with the story and the characters and to a lesser degree the sheer quality of its visuals and animations. With the third installment, developers Naughty Dog are choosing a desert location telling a story that focuses upon the relationship between Drake and old friend Sully. This time around, Naughty Dog were supposedly lured towards the prospect of creating realistic sand effects. Whatever floats your boat I guess. Supposedly we can expect several key references to Lawrence of Arabia and Flight of the Phoenix as well as plenty of Nathan Filionisms.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Elder Scrolls V... now with dragons, chanting warror monks and Max Von Sydow...
 Skyrim does sound a bit fruity, but regardless, it has been a long while and two Fallout games since The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. It is easy to forget how good that game was. The hours spent exploring that beautiful game world, picking wild flowers, and running naked through the forests to the nearest cave where I could hide my vampire body from the harmful rays of the sun. Usually being chased by a procession of angry wildlife and an assortment of mythical creatures. So Elder Scrolls V has finally been announced. Hooray! Details are sketchy at the moment but there have been some confirmations, even a few screenshots if you look hard enough. Whilst the landscape of Oblivion was mainly European in look, Skyrim will be based upon the Nordic landscape, expect lots of snow and jagged rock formations then. The game will run on the completely new Creation engine which allows for improved graphics and larger draw distances. Leveling up will be a refined version of what was seen in Oblivion with a perk system similar to that of Fallout 3. NPCs will also react realistically to your actions, knock somebody’s vase over the people will jump etc. Added to this there will be the usual series of side quests which will by automatically tailored to your characters skill and development. There will also be dragons of some kind… Oh and mammoths. You heard, living breathing mammoths in the game world. Finally a game that realizes my fantasy for the hunting of big game prehistoric creatures. Throw in a whaling mini-game and I’ll never leave the house… Sounds epic in every sense of the word. Well met... 

Monday, 17 January 2011

Even More Reasons to be Cheerful!

For your pleasure, here are some more highly anticipated games to be released later this year.  Please be aware that they are all concerned with shooting things...   

FEAR 3 May

You'll see the hand of molestation returns from Bioshock...

FEAR 2 was a really competent FPS offering frenetic fire fights and a bullet time mode that, rather than feeling like a throwaway gimmick, actually seemed to enhance the entire experience. I wasn’t really paying attention to the storyline in Fear 2, but I do seem to remember a bizarre sex scene with the freaky J-horror woman at the end. I’m guessing Fear 3 will have something to do with whatever evil is growing within her womb… The big change for Fear 3 is that the campaign allows for two player co-op, and the devs will be quick to tell you that the entire campaign has been built from the ground up to compensate for this. It seems a logical step forward… I’m sorry, didn’t I already say the combat in Fear 2 was amazing? Whilst the first character, Pointman, plays exactly as you’d imagine a Fear game to be played, the second character of Paxton Fettel (incidentally both characters return from the original FEAR, news to me!) is actually a ghost, requiring the player to utilize supernatural body snatching powers to wage war against the legions of gun toting cloned soldiers. John Carpenter also lends his horror director chops to some of the scenes in the game, whether this will improve the tacked on horror aspects of this brilliant shooter remains to be seen.


Adam Sessler is always watchable. 

Another FPS... I’ll stop you right there, because Rage is the next game from Id software the pioneering grand daddies of the genre, the creators of Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake. Rage has spent a long time in development, to the point that a lot of its ideas have already appeared in other games, remote controlled cars with explosives are of course a staple of COD Blops multiplayer, and the whole concept of Rage, a shooter set in a post apocalyptic Mad Max styled desert world with the chance to do a bit of racing has already been seen in Borderlands. Still, Rage seems to be getting some buzz from the industry insiders. The problem with Doom 3, Quake 4 and Prey was that they were very linear, in contrast Rage is supposed to provide the player with more freedom within a more open world. Which is a first for Id who are usually at home making atmospheric corridor environments. It all sounds good on paper… I just feel sorry for all the fans of 2006s Prey, who will have to wait a bit longer for that promised sequel. Sad face.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

Not just any space marines. They are THE space marines. 

To this day, I am still a massive nerd, but at least I gave up collecting Warhammer back when I was a kid. I jest of course, the massive universe of Warhammer 40K is incredibly deep with its own history, characters and stories and people are quick to write it off out of fear that they may look a little sad, unbeknownst to them following lives of quiet misery and pointless endeavor… I’m ranting! Space Marine is an action adventure game with vague RPG elements made by the talented people at Relic Entertainment. Relic have already proved they can bring games workshop’s rich universe to life with the Dawn of War games. After what seems like a natural progression from Dawn of War 2, which was more character based, Relic are switching genres. Can they revitalise the shooter like they did with the RTS? If so, Space Marine is bound to be worth a look.

Duke Nukem Forever

Try to ignore all the bad language...

Duke Nukem Forever needs no introduction. It is the gaming world’s equivalent to Chinese Democracy, a game which has been in development for thirteen years. Those who have followed this tortured process throughout the years will have seen the game running on a variety of different engines. In Spring 2010, the game looked dead in the water after a fallout between developers 3D Realms and publishers Take-Two Interactive. Luckily, Gearbox studios picked up the project in secret and unleashed a playable demo to an unsuspecting audience at PAX. Now, unbelievably, the game is being polished and set for a springtime release. All the hype and anticipation would be nothing if it wasn’t for the quality of Duke Nukem 3D. Going back to play that game is still a joy, from the tight level design and of course the humour. Little has been revealed about Duke Nukem Forever, save for the demo and the basic storyline: 12 years after Duke saved the world from the aliens, the aliens come back and Duke is called to save the world again! The game also promises a heightened level of interactivity with the game world, which is why in Duke Nukem Forever you will be able to draw on a white board… Supposedly, the game also allows you to pick up a turd out of a toilet bowl and throw it at people. I’m being serious. I’m just hoping that this is implemented into the multiplayer mode because that will be an apt metaphor for online deathmatches in general. A bunch of reprobates throwing shit at each other.

Gears of War 3

See how these people TALK to each other whilst playing?  Notice how there is a GIRL also playing?  Games are certainly moving up in the world.  Not just for closet sociopaths, now where is my chainsaw bayonet?

Gears of War 2 was certainly epic, but there was a lot lacking in contrast to the finely paced original game. There were too many moving platform segments for my liking, you never had that strategic freedom of the first game, you always felt as if you were confined, mere spectators of the things going on around you rather than actual players. Hopefully Gears of War 3 will be an improvement over the bigger is better mentality of number two. The story of the game, supposedly the final chapter of the trilogy, is focused on the ongoing war with humanity and the locust.  This time around, both species are under threat from a new race, the Lambent, that were briefly introduced in the last game.  In what sounds an interesting development to the usual combat, the Lambent will mutate and develop as you fight them.  There is also jungle environments, since delapidated urban warzones, derelict industrial settings and snow levels have been largerly exhausted by the last two games.  The biggest draw, in Gears 3 is that it will support 4 player co-op during the campaign. The series has always played better with friends, and it may get people to appreciate Baird some more... In addition, there will be the usual multiplayer modes including a new ‘beast’ mode, which turns the classic horde mode on its head, having you play as the locust. Other additions include a new type of enemy, the Lambent, which mutate and evolve as you fight them, new weapons, new finishing moves and lady Cog soldiers!  Perhaps this will change the whole uber masculinity feeling the game has been criticised for in the past.  Here’s hoping Cliffy-B and his merry men at Epic games can do female video characters some justice for a change and not just badasses with guns and tits, who will snap an enemy's neck with their thighs. Speaking of women, the Bezerker is back too… Another thing that was missing from the second game. Tread softly now…

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

More reasons to be cheerful (and dirty rich)!

In continuation from my last piece, here are some more highly anticipated games coming out this year.

Mortal Kombat - 25th March

People say that video games have desensitised me to violence...

Street Fighter’s arch nemesis is getting a next gen update, that aims to go back to basics, offering old school thrills with a HD sheen. Mortal Kombat is synonymous for its gratuitous finishing moves of course, and is the original media scape goat that was feared to turn impressionable young players into sociopathic murderers. In the wake of games such as God of War, (buy MK on the PS3 and you will be able to play as Kratos incidentally) I’m skeptical as to whether the series can still live up to its reputation. There has also been some controversy, since the publishers are holding back on some of the more famous finishing moves. Instead, eager players will have to pay extra to unlock these moves as DLC. Talk about being ripped off right? Honestly the cheek of this move is sickening, quite frankly. It’s as if they view gamers as heroin addicts who will pay for this content up front without question. But whatever, everyone will probably be playing Marvel vs Capcom 3 right?

Crysis 2 – March 25th

Man, do these game devs know how to sell their product or what?

The next FPS to be released this year is the anticipated sequel to Cryteck’s 2007 Crysis, a game which acted as a sort of spiritual successor to Farcry, which you'll remember had its own sequel in Farcry 2 which was a crushing disappointment...  Don't remind me... Crysis 2, should be better, and thankfully, this time round you won’t need a super computer to play the game since it is being released for consoles. Ditching the tropical island paradise of the first game where you engaged war against the Korean army, Crysis 2 is set in Manhatten which is under seige from extra terrestrial forces.  Crysis was a very accomplished shooter, even if you looked passed the phenomenal graphics. The game allowed a degree of flexibility when it came to mission objectives and the level design on the alien space ship was simply awe inspiring. Crysis 2 has you play as new character Alcatraz, replacing Nomad from the first game. Who is, wait for it… a member of a special forces unit, equipped with the performance enhancing nanosuit which has been updated and refined since the last game. Probably incorporating light RPG elements so that the player can customize their skills based on how he/she wants to play. The game looks to have a slew of epic ‘holy crap the aliens are attacking New York’ kind of moments and hopefully it won’t be a dumbed down version of the original. That would be a CRYing shame… See what I did there?

Brink 25th March

Brink. Miles better than Enemy Territory: Quake Wars...

Hey look! If it isn’t another FPS. Well Charles, they must have exhausted the genre now right? Nope, hear me out, this one sounds good as well, with a neat little mechanic that borrows from the first person acrobatic platforming shenanigans of Mirror’s Edge. In what the developers at Splash Damage are proudly calling the SMART system (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain), players will be able to move fluidly around environments, leaping, vaulting and sliding into cover to their hearts content, whilst slaughtering one another with your weapons of modern warfare. Set in the future, with humanity on the brink of exhausting the planet’s finite energy resources, a battleground is made out of a floating city, that is supposed to contain the key to mankind’s future. I’m looking forward to this one, it also seems to have a nice art style that reminds me of Timesplitters and the SMART system may evolve the shooter into a more fast paced affair. Brink has a lot going for it. Just forget the fact that the game developers were also responsible for making Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. Oh dear… Well, Id software seem to like them…

Deus Ex: Human Revolution – April sometime…

Games.  Games never change.  Hapless guards on patrol and ventilation shafts.

Deus Ex needs no introduction. The original game was released way back at the turn of the century depicting a frightening vision of the future, where humans enhance the limits of their mortal bodies with cybernetic augmentations. It told a great story, which forced the player to make heavy decisions on matters, and questioned the nature of humanity. The real draw of the series has been giving the player choice on how he wants to play. Do you want to shoot your way in, with the GEP gun? Perhaps you will opt for a more stealthy approach? Using a lockpick to gain access to the air vent, meticulously picking off each guard one by one and hiding their bodies in a cupboard. Alternatively, maybe you’ll talk your way in, cracking wise and bribing people with money and chocolate bars. Human Revolution, the third game in the series promises to reinstate the quality after the questionable Deus Ex 2: Invisible War, which granted, still had more ideas than most games produced nowadays but wasn’t a patch on the original. Human Revolution boasts a tech noir look, with brown and yellow hues, drawing heavy inspiration from Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell. It also plays from a third person viewpoint, though also snapping into first person should you want to make that all important head shot. There hasn’t been much in the way of in game footage, but industry insiders say there are many reasons to be excited. To me it looks like a cyberpunk version of Splinter Cell. No bad thing, I guess.

Portal 2 - April 22nd


The less I know about this game, the better...

Even if this game is more of the same, it will still be excellent. Portal was the proverbial icing on the cake that was the Orange Box. A small slice of first person puzzle goodness, with a delicious sense of humour, as you worked your way like a test rat through a labyrinth maze whilst being taunted by GLADOS the malevolent AI. Valve are not the kind of studio to rest on their laurels, which is why Portal 2 is one of the most highly anticipated games of the year. Little is known about the story, other than after escaping the Aperture test labs at the end of the first game you are knocked out cold and dragged off to another mysterious location, where GLADOS is building a new laboratory for you to run around. Stephen Merchant lends his vocal support to the game, supposedly as a friendly robot who aids you through the maze. Whether he will live up to the companion cube from the firstgame remains to be seen. Aside from the single player, there is also a co-op campaign which will probably test even the most oldest and longstanding friendships to the absolute limits.

LA Noire – April

The possibilities of this tech blows my mind.  Brace your self other forms of storytelling, this is going to hurt...

Fresh from the sublime Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar returns with its latest GTA period piece LA Noire. Set in Los Angeles in 1943, you play a detective played by Mad Men’s Aaron Staton tasked with investigating a series of murders. You can probably expect a heavy dose of Raymond Chandler, Rockstar’s games always wear their cinematic influences on their sleeves, so expect plenty of parallels with film noir of the 30s and 40s. What should really get you excited about LA Noire, however, is the efforts the developers have gone in recreating facial animations. Take a look of the video and you’ll see how good it is, easily bettering the current industry stalwarts, Mass Effect and Heavy Rain. These are emotive facial expressions! More than this, however, this will have important repercussions on the gameplay and narrative. Since you are a detective, you will be tasked with interrogating witnesses, and based on YOUR impressions of the interviewee’s behavior you will have to decide whether or not they are lying or not, drawing your own conclusions and pushing new lines of questioning. Should you be right or wrong, the game’s story will compensate, this is 40s LA, so expect lots of corruption and deceit. LA Noire already sounds like a breakthrough in interactivity and the development of more fully realized characters in games. It will probably be a masterpiece… Just saying…

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Reasons to be Cheerful (and Rich)

2010 is history! Never mind your top five lists of that dead year (Minecraft, Mass Effect 2, Just Cause 2, Demon’s Souls, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood since you asked…), 2011 promises to throw up a gaming freak storm, and it begins almost straight away. This is what we have to look forward to in the next couple of months... To a happy and prosperous New Year!!!

Little Big Planet 2 – 21st January

Games don't have to be all shooters y'know...

If the hype for the first Little Big Planet is to be believed, then there is absolutely no need for anyone to play Little Big Planet 2, since that game offered infinite creativity... Whilst the first game allowed you to create your own platformer levels within the limitations of the game’s own engine, Little Big Planet 2 allows you to make your own games! Again within the limitations of the game’s own engine. But still, Little Big Planet had a certain charm, and I’m sure LBA2 will maintain the look. It also exudes a certain British charm, a handmade quaintness if you will, but that’s probably because of Stephen Fry, who once again turns up to narrate the game.

Dead Space 2 – 25th January

Looks like another bad day for Isaac Clarke.  Sad face.

Resident Evil 5 was a big disappointment, but luckily Dead Space was there to carry the survival horror genre straight into the cold bleak immensity of deep space. Naturally, Dead Space 2 continues the story of Isaac Clarke, the hapless engineering mute from the last game and locates him within a space station located in orbit around Saturn where the necromorph threat is set for a reappearance. The core gameplay looks to have remained intact, with tactical dismemberment, improved zero-G sections as well as all the violence and jump out scares of the original. Since the game is set within a city, the game also seeks to depict the way in which society crumbles into a state of decline, rather than making another haunted house as in the last game. An interesting idea, to be sure. It looks as if Dead Space 2 is going to be one of those bigger is better kind of sequels, more scope, more story, more weapons, more monsters, more moments that make you go ‘woah, holy sheit, I can’t believe what is unfolding before my very eyes’… Hopefully this won’t infringe upon the horror that worked so well in the first game.

Marvel Vs Capcom 3 – 18th February

I don't get it, looks like its straight out of a comic book.

The beat ‘em up genre has seen better days, since the glory days of Tekken 3 and Soul Calibur, but Street Fighter 4 has done something to rejuvenate the genre as of late and now we have the sequel to the mother of all fighters coming back, with Marvel Vs Capcom 3. If you ever were nerdy enough to question who would win in a fight between Wolverine and Ryu, or Dante and Magneto then here you go. Knock yourself out.

Homefront – 18th February

"Not like Modern Warfare, but..."

And so we come to the first in a long line of shooters set for release this year. Homefront is a new FPS set in modern times, but before you write it off as another modern warfare clone, take a step back, because the developers are convinced that it isn’t. And they should know. Homefront is set in the near future where America (shock horror!) is invaded by the forces of North Korea. The game supposedly places an emphasis on the civilians rather than the military, who rise up against their invaders wolverines style. I just hope developers have done plenty of reading into the reality of armed occupation and not just chosen to skip on the beats of Red Dawn, which Modern Warfare 2 certainly did. I also hope that the Korean forces are not voiced by the same people from Just Cause 2, because I don’t think I have the capacity to endure that ever again...

Bullet Storm – 25th February

Cliffy-B explains it all:"colon cleansing with lead"...

And lo behold, another FPS. What can possibly be the quirk behind this one? Well you might be surprised actually. Even slightly aroused… Made by the people behind the brilliant Painkiller and produced by Epic Games, Bulletstorm is a new uber violent sci-fi shooter involving drunken space pirates, a boot melee attack, an alien world inhabited by carnivorous plants and a light whip thing nicked straight out of Metroid Prime 3. Rather than focusing in upon the all important headshot, Bulletstorm requires you to get creative when administering death. Taking the ‘points are crack’ mentality from Call of Duty, the game requires you to pull off various skill shots, which have been outlined in the game’s recently released ESRB report. Moves like 'Drilldo','gag reflex', 'rear entry' and a shot that requires you to shoot an enemy in the exposed buttocks. Need I say more? The only problem I have with the game thus far is that it looks just a tad bit overly sweary and violent. Not that that is inherently a problem, but sometimes when games go in this direction they just feel juvenile or they’re trying too hard to make an impact. Remember, Duke Nukem Forever is coming out in April. 

Killzone 3 –25th February

Killzone 3 now with Ray Winstone and more DRAMA.
 Killzone 2 was a competent shooter in its own right with some of the best graphics ever seen on a console. Unfortunately, its colour palette was overly grey, set within the kind of industrial warzones you had seen in hundreds of other games that had gone before. On top of this, the game tried too hard in telling a rubbish story containing a cast of characters that nobody in the right mind could ever be forced into actually caring for. I mean remember your squad leader Rico? The sweary gun toting frat boy, who never helped you in firefights and always impatiently demanded you pick him ‘the fuck’ up every time he lay incapacitated on the floor. If Killzone 3 kills him horrifically within the first act, we could be on to a winner here folks. The controls are rumoured to be less sluggish than Killzone 2, plus there is a snow level and jetpacks… It is also supposed to look great on a 50 inch Sony HD flat screen in 3D, and play even better through a Playstation move sharp shooter peripheral. You ain't a PS3 fanboy until you've played Killzone 3 in this way. 

Ghost Recon: Future Soldier – 28th February

I think this game looks awesome.

So Ghost Recon comes back after all these years to find the video game market swamped with all these modern warfare shooters. What direction can you possibly go? Well future warfare of course. Forget your ACOG scopes, your shotgun keys, your UAVs and all of that stuff. Bring in the Predator styled shoulder mounted tank busting rocket launchers, guns that can shoot around corners and Harry Potter style invisibility cloaks. The future is clearly where it is at. And of course Ubisoft are on something of a roll with their best titles, so long as you forget Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands... (don’t remind me). Fact is, Splinter Cell: Conviction was ace and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood finally nailed the Assassin’s Creed formula and need I remind you how good the Rainbow Six: Vegas games were? The tactical shooter is making a come back and we should all be grateful.

Dragon Age 2 – 11th March

Well thats enough Dickens for one day...

This reminds me, I still haven’t completed Dragon Age 1 yet… Hmm… should get back to it I guess. Especially if I want to play the sequel, which Bioware (darlings of the RPG genre) have churned out quite quickly. I guess you can expect the typical Bioware plot - you play a young mute of some kind of fantasy world extraction who must assemble a team of ultimate badasses to save the world from an ancient and dormant evil whilst engaging in the odd sex scene. Dragon Age 2 is supposedly implementing the dialogue tree as seen in Mass Effect, which will go to great lengths in improving the dialogue choices, I guess… Just remember when placed in one of the game’s many moral dilemmas, the first option will always be the saintly thing to do. The last option is the most dastardly thing to do, but you’ll probably get more reward, so happy days. Y'know, I know this will be a good game, but it honestly doesn't appeal to me. 

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Rental Review Roundup 3

With the passing of the seasons and the turning of the trees into brash wooden skeletons, I have fought my way through another list of disposable games.

Transformers: War for Cybertron
More than meets the eye? Not really, blast enemies until dead, then repeat.
The trick with transformers is not to ask too many questions. Questions like - why would an advanced largely robotic alien race feel the need to transform into vehicles? Why would they even speak English? Why would one side of a civil war call themselves the Decepticons? All these questions are ultimately void, because any child of the Eighties will remember the original transformers cartoon. How we wept when Optimus Prime sacrificed himself and became one with the matrix… On cynical reflection, you can see how the cartoons were just a narrative designed to churn out a new line of toys each year, but for purely nostalgic reasons, you just cannot write off the original Transformers. They were just cool. Personally, I was always a fan of the dinobots, Grimlock for obvious reasons.

The same cannot be said for the dire Michael Bay movies and their awful video game adaptations, luckily War for Cybertron re-imagines and revitalizes the origin story of the transformers, the civil war between the Autobots and Decepticons. A war, which will eventually lead to the destruction of their home world and cast the transformers across the gulf of space, where they will eventually take residence upon planet earth. With the original vocal cast from the cartoon returning, Transformers: WFC instantly provides the warm glow of nostalgia. Everything is just how your remember it. Megatron and Starscream bicker at each other, the latter always seeking to usurp the former. Bumblebee is the loyal hyperactive gun toting boy robot and Optimus Prime is always an icon of nobility, voiced by Peter Cullen. The planet of Cybertron is visually stunning, with its speedways and metallic skyscrapers, even if the environments do get a little repetitive over the course of the game it is still different from anything you have seen before in another video game.

Gameplay wise, War for Cybertron, is an old school third person shooter. There is no ducking behind cover, because transformers don’t do that. They don’t need to. Apart from blasting each other into scrap metal, they also have the ability to snap into their vehicular form. Which adds a manic fast paced dynamic to the whole experience. There is a real sense of glee when you transform. At one point, when playing as Bumblebee I was in my car state boosting along, then from out of nowhere comes a decepitcon flying machine and in one beautifully choreographed arc I jump up, transform in mid air, melee the sucker before transforming once again and landing on four wheels. Speeding merrily on my way. Gears of War may have the sadistic satisfaction of the chainsaw bayonets but the mirth of transformation is just as good.

The single player campaign has you play as both the Decepticons and the Autobots. You choose your character at the beginning of each level, usually a leader such as Optimus or Megatron or their accompanying classes scout, soldier, medic and heavy. Each having their obvious strengths, weaknesses and weapon loadouts. The two campaigns essentially mirror one another, both telling their own story behind the fall of Cybertron, though never backtracking through the same levels but always building to the big boss fight that occurs at the end. A single level from each campaign is dedicated to the transformers who have the ability to flight, which often feels to brief since the feeling of flight is empowering and works well compared to the on foot/wheels section. The campaign does begin to feel a little samey as you play through, the environments as good as they are do begin to get repetitive and listening to the Decepticons talk to one another did grate on me. Especially Megatron, I mean what an incomprehensible dick he is.

The game also includes a plentiful multiplayer experience, ranging from your selection of death match and team variant games to your obligatory co-op horde mode, all which extends your time with the game beyond the single player experience. On the whole Transformers:WFC is a decent package, the campaign is as long as it needs to be, the environments though visually impressive do become a tad repetitive the combat whilst satisfying also grows a bit stale as you fight off the usual waves of robots and slightly bigger robots with hammers. The multiplayer however, is really good, to the point I was reluctant to send it back to LoveFilm. Get a bunch of your mates round and you’ll get off on the nostalgia of old school transformers as well as the sheer brilliance that comes with transforming. Wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel. This time, bring back the Dinobots. Me Grimlock!

James Cameron’s Avatar The Game

Hey this looks alright! I assure you its not...

Going back in time, to the Ubisoft press conference at the 2009 E3 conference, James Cameron surprised the gaming industry by walking on stage to talk about his latest soon to be released movie, Avatar and to a lesser degree its accompanying game. For most sci-fi nerds like myself, it was amazing to see Cameron back on the stage again after the decade long hiatus that occurred after Titanic. Unfortunately, Cameron soon outstayed his welcome by boring the audience to tears by discussing how he was creating a world unlike anything people had seen before and how Ubisoft was giving him a chance to extend his world in a way that would appeal to people, or nerds… Whilst Cameron is undoubtedly a cinematic auteur it was obvious from his speech that he did not truly get the potential of gaming. In my opinion, Avatar was a decent enough movie. I am slightly amazed by how popular it has become, Aliens is still my favourite James Cameron movie, and whilst assault rifle wielding space marines sent on a bug hunt have been commonplace in the world of gaming since Halo, I am still eagerly awaiting Gearbox to release Colonial Marines, which rivals Duke Nukem Forever in the stakes of prolonged time in development.

I’m ranting. The Avatar game, or as it is appropriately titled James Cameron’s Avatar The Game is a formulaic third person shooter that is flawed in the classic tradition of lazy cinematic adaptations. After War for Cybertron, which successfully reinvented Transformers for the gaming platform, Avatar was dullness of the blandest form and it was difficult to find the motivation to plough through. You play as both the human forces and the indigenous Na’vi and both play exactly the same as one another. There could have been the potential to do a Halo clone here, but the environments as brilliantly realized as they are ‘from the mind of James Cameron’ are brought to life by mediocre graphics and boring gameplay. Fans of the movie will undoubtedly find some joy in exploring the world and learning more about Pandora, scanning creatures (a handful of six legged space goats) and foliage (the pink internet tree) Metroid Prime style for information but the game essentially boils down to moving around and shooting things, which granted, is the premise of most games, but Avatar’s problem is it doesn’t even try to make this feel engaging.

Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts.
See not all games are about killing eastern european PMCs...

Back in the days of the Nintendo 64, I missed out on Super Mario, apparently it was a milestone in gaming but I never fully got into it. Created by Rare, Banjo Kazooie on the other hand, with its near identical blend of platforming, collecting, and imaginative worlds was a game I have many fond memories of. The Rare logo was always a stamp of quality, and something this greystation owner was most envious about. Since the N64’s heyday, Microsoft brought the legendary Rare studios, with the hopes that it would replicate the kind of magic for the Xbox. The results have been questionable, whilst Kameo and Viva Pinata are both underrated gems, Perfect Dark Zero and Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts have been widely regarded as misfires.

Having now played Nuts and Bolts, I can quite safely say that it is the first rental I would actually consider buying. Most people have been put off by the game, since it does away with much of the platforming antics that made the original N64 games a success. Instead, the game has a new look, a colourful patchwork aesthetic, and a new gameplay mechanic which centres on the construction of vehicles for challenges ranging from races to fetch quests, which begins to feel a bit like Spore. Spiritually, I would argue that the game does stay close to its N64 roots, the whole game is permeated by a sense of humour, the worlds are imaginative and colourful, if a little wasted on the vehicular challenges. One world is set within the innards of a computer, another is a museum containing remnants from the old games. Including Clankers, the mechanical shark. The fanatical pursuit of the collection of things is still there, though this time, you will be searching for crates to unlock new components for the building of your magnificent machines. The actual construction of vehicles is a bit daunting at first and feels as if its real purpose is to introduce key mechanical rules to children, but whatever, as you start to build gather new parts, powerful engines and weapons, you start to get into the whole Frankenstein mentality. For one race, I created a boat with two engines and spikes. Enough said. The physics can be a bit loose at points but it is clear Rare have put a lot of work into making this mechanic deep as well as accessible.

Though it isn’t a next gen version of the N64 masterpieces that people were expecting, Banjo Kazooie represents new Rare taking a risk and driving the much loved series in a different direction. The environments and characters are all a joy to behold, and the construction mechanic quickly becomes addictive. Would recommend it. Rare have still got it, despite what the naysayers think.

Quake 4

Going to need a bigger gun... Tip: When playing Quake 4 never under any circumstances use the blaster... You will hemorrhage man points.

Quake 4 has long been a game that has eluded me. First released on the PC and then ported to the Xbox 360 for the console’s launch in 2005, I did actually own a copy a couple of years ago. Unfortunately the game was prone to glitches and frequent times when it just froze mid loading screen, which meant that I never completed it. I put this all down to a faulty disc and traded it in, passing it on to some other hapless schmuck. This was a shame because, for the most part I enjoyed Quake 4 immensely, in contrast to the survival horror of Doom 3, Quake 4 felt more in line with the fast paced fragging of Id software’s original games. So here I am a couple of years later in need of a couple of rentals and thought I’d give Quake 4 another whirl. Take that Call of Duty…

Quake 4 is a relic of an older more simpler time, before your Halos and Call of Duties. Where a one man army space marine could carry ten weapons at any one time. Where injuries were treated by health packs and further bullet protection came from collecting armour shards that levitated upon the floor. Your enemies couldn’t be taken out with mere head shots, the bigger the enemy the bigger the gun required to put it down. The main change, as with Doom 3, is Id software’s lengths in providing a richly detailed and atmospheric world. At one point you negotiate the hallways of your space craft, where you can eavesdrop on conversations from crew members who all provide insight on the ongoing war against the cybernetic menace of the Strogg on Mars. After the multiplayer diversion of Quake 3 Arena, Quake 4 picks up the story from the end of Quake 2, where a lone marine defeats the big bad, the Makorov. Well... sort of... he returns in this game regardless. What makes the story special, is that your character is captured by the enemy and effectively turned into a strogg via a particularly gory sequence when you have your legs chopped off and are effectively disemboweled along a production line. In opposite worlds, there was an opportunity to perhaps explore the war from the enemy perspective, but no... you still retain your humanity and fight for the marines, though now with super strength and the ability to patch yourself up at... wait for it... health dispensers... I know.  Inspired stuff. 

Quake 4 plays best, when you’re running fast through corridors blasting indiscriminately at the Strogg. Doom 3 had a fairly slow burn to it, creating tension, particularly in the absence of light and scaring the player with things that went bump in the night. Whilst Quake 4 still has this in places, the pacing is more concerned with high action and the prospect of fighting a futuristic space war complete with vehicle sections. It is all very linear, you’ll never come across a secret early on in the game that grants you premature access to the Railgun as in Quake 2. The creature design is strong but not as good as Doom 3, the enemies are all robotic machinery, with the odd bit of human skin stretched over gears. Stuff of nightmares.   

Unfortunately, the game was still plagued by glitches. As before, the game crashed mid loading screen at the exact same places it had with me a couple of years ago. When you first come across the Makarov for example… Clearly, I did not have a faulty disc the first time; rather Quake 4 for xbox was a buggy lazy PC to console port. Again, such a shame, because I wanted to see this one to the end. Id software used to be the kings of the first person shooters. The pioneers if you will, and though they did make 2006’s Prey, it was largely written off by critics despite having some interesting ideas and gravity defying level design, it also introduced the concept of portals before well... Portal. Since Prey, Id software have seemingly gone dark... like Willy Wonka at the start of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Of course, it is only a matter of time, it looks like they have pooled all their resources in to this year’s hotly anticipated Rage, a post apocalyptic shooter that is in no way similar to Fallout 3 or Borderlands. As for Quake 4, well... don't play it on xbox.