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Gaming

Titanfall Beta Gameplay

 

One of the pleasant surprises that came along with my recently-acquired GTX 780 was Shadowplay. I suppose that deserves its own post but suffice to say since they allowed you to nominate a directory for background caching (rather than burn out your main SSD in record time) I’ve let Shadowplay do its thing and never looked back. Hence I have a deep catalogue of gameplay from Titanfall’s recent beta weekend to wade through and (very) slowly upload.

While the beta ran only 2 maps, a single titan and about half the overall range of weaponry and game types I think there’s a decent amount of variety in these vids. Skip to here for a particularly exciting end to a round of Last Titan Standing.

 

 

 

 


Thoughts on Titanfall

Get some.

 

It’s hard to fault Titanfall. All of its ideas are good and well executed, its pacing is great and there’s the a layer of polish that gives the immediate impression of a developer with a deft hand and a lot of experience in its ranks. From the few days I spent playing the closed beta last weekend I’m convinced I’m going to love this game and that it could be my early pick for GOTY.

If I had to explain Titanfall in simple terms I’d say it takes the best things from Call of Duty, Battlefield and, hell, Quake and adds in giant robots. A winning formula, surely? But I have a sinking feeling it’s not going to do that well, let alone ever grow to the size of any of those franchises. If last year’s Pacific Rim taught me anything it’s that audiences aren’t as enamoured with the idea of giant robots as I might have thought. In fact the idea seems to be even offensive to a lot of people. It’s not just the robots either. I don’t feel the progression has as much too it – or at least as many addictive elements – as something like CoD’s. Then there’s the AI NPCs – Grunts, Spectres and so on – that everyone seems to be up in arms about. I never thought having cannon fodder in a game of this scale could be a bad thing but yet again I find myself offside with public opinion.

I guess I feel there’s just writing on the wall for Titanfall and since I loved every second of the beta it makes me a little sad. That everyone’s hyped this up to be the second coming doesn’t help. The aforementioned games have their audiences and while I’m sure curiosity might lure some of them over in the beginning, how long they stay is a question I’m reluctant to try answering. All I can really do is cross my fingers and wait until March 14th.

 


Path of Exile Beta Impressions

 

Last year, when Diablo III was still a dot on the horizon and I was looking for things to tide me over in between, I discovered 2 things. The first is that in the wake of D3′s announcement an entire genre seems to have sprung up around this point-and-click ‘action RPG’ concept. The second was Path of Exile by Grinding Gear Games.

Have a gander at the video above. As I said in my last post this seems to harken to a visual style and skill economy more like the first Diablo than its by-far more successful sequel Diablo II. That is to say the game is suitably dark and aspires to realism while having a system where each class can effectively acquire and use all the spells in the game. (And incidentally, isn’t there someone in particular the last video in this post reminds you of?)

I’ve now had access to the betas of both Path of Exile and its mammoth Blizzard-developed contemporary and if something strikes me more than anything else it is that the difference between the titles (budget aside) falls mostly along those lines I’d previously identified. While D3 is characterised by a strictly controlled experience to the point that it would like you to pick from subsets of skills when mapping buttons (denying the ability to map anything anywhere as its predecessor allowed), PoE seems a lot more free-form and less structured.

One stark design difference is that in PoE you’re not shepherded from area to area by quests. Indeed it’s often the case that you should explore new regions on your own before finding things to trigger new quests or open up new dialogue opportunities with the NPCs in town.

Wanderings in PoE are also less aimless simply for the increasingly interesting loot you can expect to drop. Yellows (rares) and third up the tree from whites and blues (magic) do actually drop occasionally off rare and unique monsters when in D3 they don’t even consistently drop from bosses. Also since skills are itemised and socketable, it’s not unlikely to clear out a group of mobs and find Frost Nova just dropped for you.

Funny thing to say against D3, the quintessential loot-driven game if there is one, and something that might not even be necessary later in the experience, but the loot itself was quite boring. The range of

I didn’t mean to ramble about Diablo in this post as much as I did since I fully intend to writeup that constantly-changing beta in its own article. But really, when comparing this games and others like Torchlight 2 there’s little sense in ignoring the gigantic elephant in the room that will steal players and press attention away from the smaller players however you slice it.

Anyway, next up for PoE will be my opinions of the 5 thus revealed character classes. So far I’ve been playing and liking the Marauder class as well, but to close off here are some more videos of my Witch.

 

 


[Review] Darksiders

I’m sitting here wondering what my counterpoint to the glowing review I’m about to give Darksiders could be. It’s a stretch but maybe the art direction? Might that be a bit too cartoon-y for my taste? Maybe that playing the horseman of the apocalypse who goes most of the game without a horse is illogical in the extreme?

These would all be straws to grasp at since as far as I can tell Darksiders is the perfect game, or at least as close to perfection as can be reasonably expected. Core gameplay is satisfying, there’s solid exploration and replayability, production values are astronomical and it’s just the right length. I honestly can’t think of a place where development misstepped and so if this ‘review’ reads more like a list of things that the guys at Vigil Games got particularly right let me apologise in advance.

Bosses

Sucker for a good boss fight as I am, this game had everything I needed. The Jailor and Tiamat, the first bosses in the first world set the tone for those to follow; big in scope, multi-phase battles that rewarded knowledge of the mechanics you’d been using in the lead up to the encounter with an admirably minimal amount of QTE. Take a look at this and you’ll see.

Combat

One button combat. I thought you couldn’t really cull it down past the two-button ‘light and heavy’ approach every title and its dog uses today but Darksiders found a way. Direction buttons and timing are what dictate the attacks and admittedly there’s a retinue of secondary weapons accompanying the awesome ‘Chaoseater’ but you can mostly forget about them when cutting throught he rank-and-file. And hell if it’s not satisfying.

Exploration

Collectathons and the like that have crept into every other game have never been my favourite ways of padding length. Luckily, although there is a retreading fetch quest in the game’s final act, all the new abilities War has obtained let you see the world in new ways using that great design template Metroid pioneered (not a certain other Nintendo title I won’t deign to mention).

Story

While every new IP goes to some length to establish its world and backstory (gravitas and all that) Darksiders appears to have gone an extra mile. It manages both to establish a deep canon and mythology with a greater looming conflict while also making the self-contained story in the game also feel like the war to end all wars (pun intented?).

Now here’s where I might surprise you. The truth is, despite all its achievements, I wouldn’t pay top dollar for Darksiders even had I known how good it was going to be. I said it wasn’t too short and wasn’t too long – about 10 hours. The perfect length. And yet is that worth an $80 asking price? Not that I intend to quantify games by how many hours it takes to get from end to end but I really think this kind of experience is grossly overpriced as is.

That’s why I feel a new IP like this one is such an odd proposition – clearly no expense was spared in this delightful production and yet, even for perhaps their target audience, there was never any real opportunity for a massive return. Sure they pulled in enough to greenlight a Darksiders II, but  it wasn’t on any top 10 lists for revenue. As I said in my review for Splatterhouse I’m more than happy to pay $20 for these games and indeed I’d reckon Darksiders is worth more than that game was. How much more, I couldn’t say, and that’s the problem.

I’ll close by saying Darksiders is a phenominal breakthrough title that lays foundations for what is no doubt going to be a cracking sequel come June. And for that reason I’m glad someone is buying games like these at release for full RRP even if that person isn’t me.


PlayStation Vita Impressions – Interface

A number of years ago, Sony introduced an at-the-time revolutionary new interface. It was the XrossMediaBar (XMB) and its stated intention was to navigate a breadth of devices cohesively while supporting a wide variety of inputs. Touch, for example, was something the XMB was supposed to do down the road. PS3s, PSPs and Bravia TVs have all come and gone with this interface and it’s come to be a sort of Sony hallmark in vastly different sectors of consumer electronics. I like it.

Fast forward to today and we have the PS Vita and it’s ‘LiveArea’. I’ll say right now that I can’t stand it. It looks too childlike, is far too clunky to use and abandons too much of what Sony’s built in the past. I’m not sure what, if any, device this interface really suits but it’s certainly not a gaming handheld aimed at the hardcore. In fact, from the pull-down-to-unlock lock screen (which is entirely unnecessary) is seems like Sony’s designers have just pulled in whatever touch-based ideas from wherever they felt like with no regard for the product as whole.

First off the icons are too luminescent, too shiny and the backgrounds too vibrant. This is not just a taste thing- they push the otherwise impressive OLED beyond what it seems to be capable of. Colours side-by-side seem to have too much contrast and the reflections and shadows on the icons show far too much aliasing. Maybe this would have looked better on a higher-definition display, but even the Vita with 4x the effective number of pixels of a PSP (which had no problem showing off a smooth XMB) makes it look amateurish and unfinished. I can’t help but get the feeling this was done on a computer monitor and never tested much on the display that would go into production units.

A lot of interaction design talk of late has gone into visual paradigms and whether it is important to mimic real world gestures and textures for touch or whether that just obscures things. LiveArea, with all it’s page switching and dog-ear pulling combined with buttons and zooms is just horrifically inconsistent. At times, with regular menus and most of the stuff you find in-game, it seems like you’re going to pull out and find a clean, funtional XMB waiting for you. In actual fact you’re just going to be dumped where you started, a bunch of icons and a swathe of screen-wasting pages for active apps that not only takes up more space than it should, but is incredibly labourious to swipe through.

The problem with this really is clutter. Want to multitask? Well you first have to hit the physical home key, then swipe across pages to find what task you wanted to open. Or just go back to the panes on the left and find the icon for what you want to do. Isn’t that one step too many? Do you really have to go all the way out to the main interface to do anything? Couldn’t some sort of overlay be superimposed on the current application instead? An overlay would also solve the problem of showing all open apps on one screen, instead of having to sweep through page after page not really knowing what’s next (they’re ordered by recent activity… most of the time) or how many pages will need to be turned before you get to what you want.

As a real kick in the face none of these pages actually close on their own, even if the task or application is no longer running. It’s on the user to manually pull down each dog-ear to close an app’s page before the sheer number of them becomes unmanageable. What makes this even more ridiculous is that every other app requires closing off of others. Want to open a web page while playing a game? Gotta close the game. Want to reply to a message from a friend while doing something else? You have to come out of that, and flick your finger across any number of dead application pages before you get to the page where you left the messaging app open. Finally, as far as I can tell, there’s no option to skip all the way to the rightmost page, to quickly get back to the starting point or to close everything that’s open with one stroke. The result is inelegant and detracts a lot from the overall impression the PS Vita might give in other areas.

Do I think a touch-enabled and -optimised XMB would have been a smarter, cleaner and more impressive UI to have installed on the Vita? Absolutely and nothing would impress me more than a 2.0 choice which gave a choice between the two. Of course that’s never going to happen – LiveArea is here to stay. But so long as it is, it undermines the Vita’s hardcore, mature market positioning and smacks of a cheap kiddie-friendly interface that abandons generations of visual heritage and sets the Vita on its own, away from the rest of Sony’s CE family. That may well be intentional but I ask this; if you’re going hardcore first and casual later, what real sense is there putting something as Play School as the LiveArea front and centre on day 1?

I call this just the latest example of Sony’s right hand not knowing what the left is doing.


PlayStation Vita Impressions – Hardware

We now stand more or less a week from the international release of the PlayStation Vita via ‘first edition’ programs in the US and other pre-order initiatives in other territories. I’ve had my unit for a few weeks now and feel a few things need to be said before the internet takes a given position on this thing. In this post I’ll be looking at the hardware specifically. For better or worse and despite doing a number of things very exceptionally, I’m disappointed with the Vita overall. As to whether I think it will fail, I’d say no. I am far more convinced though that this will be Sony’s final gaming handheld, at least in a traditional sense.

Everyone who’s been in a position to play with a Vita has been in unanimous agreement that it’s a fantastic piece of technology. A quad-core processor, double the RAM of a PS3, front and rear touch pads, and OLED screen (but not a 720p one) seemed to tick all the boxes while remaining not much larger or any heavier than an original PSP.

In spite of all that it doesn’t strike me with the level of ‘wow’ that Sony consumer products such as the PS2 or PSP did when first releasedw. Maybe the capabilities – not just graphically, mind you – of the smartphones and tablets out there have raised expectations of what can reasonably be delivered. I realise it’s not fair to compare a $250~ Vita with a $500 Galaxy SII, but the fact is the screen on that device is better to look at during any practical application, it’s worlds away smaller and thinner and has a debatable lead in battery life in defiance of it’s small size. This doesn’t take much away from the Vita – the GSII is only a phone with touch controls after all – except to say that it’s ability to impress above and beyond is markedly diminished in light of such competition.

As someone with medium sized hands, not big or small, saying that doing a QCB motion on the d-pad is actually painful is however not a complement. Sure, a lot of people will play things using touch controls or the exceptional (given their size) analogue sticks, but the fact is I bought my Vita with Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 with an intent to not kill myself rocket punching and plasma storming against the left hand side of the screen. Thank goodness there are double fireball motions in the upcoming Street Fighter X Tekken because that would quite frankly be a dealbreaker at this point.

Also overly small are the buttons. They have more in common with the Nintendo DS’  face buttons than those on the PSP or Dual Shock 3. This isn’t a massive issue in most games, but if I’m using the ‘Wipout’ style controls in Wipeout 2048, where X is accelerate, square is use and circle is absorb, all with the right analogue a bit close for comfort, I’m going to have serious problems hitting those things at the right times. The PSP didn’t have these control problems and if I had to pick a major point of regression on the Vita, it’s that it has shrunk everything on the face of the unit to the point of near un-usability.

Something that the mainstream of internet opinion has taken a strong dislike to is the use of yet more proprietary media on the part of Sony. Game cards, unlike the cartridge-based titles of Nintendo’s system, can save game data and DLC onto themselves without the need for additional storage. Not all games opt for this though and many have cried foul at Sony’s refusal to mandate it. It’s all the worse since their second proprietary formal of memory cards are priced into the stratosphere and ultimately necessary to fully using the device as it’s being marketed.

My complaint isn’t so much about these devious decisions so much as their poor implementation. Neither the game nor memory cards can be read by anything but the Vita and so I can’t write anything conclusively about data read & write speeds. Nonetheless I have no problem saying that loading times are pretty garbage across the board. UMVC3 takes at least 10 times longer to load 6 characters and a stage than its Xbox 360 cousin and Wipeout 2048‘s load times are just appalling at 50-60 seconds per event. Both of these anecdotes come from experiences with the game card version, which is, if reports are to be trusted, the faster of the two formats.

It seems even more obvious when you look at the UI and other interfaces of the Vita, but the hardware seems cobbled together from technologies and interests of multiple business units operating largely in silos with little regard for the cohesiveness of the finished product. As far as hardware goes the PS Vita has some serious grunt but is nowhere near as far ahead of the field as the PSP was in its time. And whether that raw horsepower is harnessed by software or not in the long run, the machine is hamstrung by capricious design decisions that let it down at almost every turn. The same is true of the rest of the elements that make up the Vita whole, but I’ll save that for the next few posts.

As a postscript I’d like to disclose that my experience has been with the Wifi only model. For a million reasons and one I don’t consider there to be any reason to buy the 3G version and as far as I know there are no exclusive capabilities unique to that model. Ergo, I didn’t think it was worth the time to say anything at length about it.


[Review] Splatterhouse

Along the same lines as all those articles that suppose that, if TV shows were more accessible down here, there would be less piracy, I got to thinking about the $20 game. No one sells games for $20 games at release. It’s either the full $100 or $1-15 for something downloadable. There’s no in between. And that’s a terrible shame because if games like Splatterhouse came out at that price they’d A) sell a lot more and B) let the the people feel less cheated. The sad truth is this particular title will hardly feel like value to anyone at full price. But is that such a bad thing? Do all releases need to be worth $100? Is it really a case of go AAA+ or go home? And if so what kind of a future does that leave this industry? More Fruit Ninjas and less PS Vitas by the look of things. But enough on this tangent and more about Splatterhouse.

‘Fucking carpentry

That is how your lovable mask, the one who provides the superhuman powers your boy Rick enjoys (and who is apparently an Aztec god of death), refers to beating the shit out of monsters with a 2×4. There are pipes and chainsaws too and it all hearkens back to a time when you walked from left to right, picked up whatever you could find, and bashed legions of enemies over their heads with it. Splatterhouse doesn’t pretend to be any more than that and apart from a few collectibles when you’re done, you’re done. Combat is the standard fare of recent years too with light and heavy attacks and a QTE finishing move that pops up from time to time and a Devil Trigger-esque ‘berserk’ mode is thrown in because why not?

Splatterhouse wasn’t developed in a vacuum, clearly, and I was shocked at how self aware it ended up being. I have to plug Jim Cummings’ amazing performance as the nameless mask – that character made the difference between a mundane trek through action gaming’s litany of overused conventions thrown mercilessly at the player one by one and that also wears out its welcome. It’s amazing what a few well-placed quips can do to turn the tide on monotony after entering the umpteenth room you have to clear before being allowed into the next.

Too bad the developers didn’t have the foresight to see that adding 2D sections to the game would turn out to be its greatest downfall. And why would they? Titles like Mega Man Re-loaded and Bionic Commando Rearmed from Capcom have shown that good old 2D platforming can work just as well with a new coat of 3D paint. But this isn’t the good old platforming. This is putting a 2D coat of paint on 3D mechanics and giving your entire QA payroll the week off. Less game and more fanservice, every time the camera moved to setup one of these sections I cursed the dickheads in suits who thought including this on the design document was a great idea. Just the world needs more of – damnable fanservice. They probably thought all the elements extracted from previous Splatterhouses would elicit chuckles when they only really served to grind my shit to a halt.

Self-indulgence is a good thing… sometimes

Normally I’m the first to call something a big wank when it seems to be having too much fun with itself. The mask partner of yours seems to be there only to take the piss out of everything, there’s more blood in Splatterhouse than I think I’ve ever seen in anything, and those pictures of your girlfriend that you have to assemble… oh boy. My criticism here is not that these were poor design choices, but delightfully ballsy ones.

There was one point where it crossed the line though and that was when this became a quasy-Cthulhu mythos extended universe kind of deal. Wait, what? It’s as though Splatterhouse clutched in and shifted from 4th to 1st at some point in its narrative and the result was needlessly jarring.

While there is some semblance of a story going on before this point it was not terribly compelling and relegated itself to the background. Half the problem is that you can’t take the demon-possessed mask seriously at any time and trying to force an overwrought supernatural revenge story into proceedings during the final act and then attempting to ground it in someone else’s universe just adds insult to injury.

Sure, some might see stapling this game to the wall of tenuously Lovecraft-inspired dross would be fittingly playful, or even irreverent, given how little this game aspires to to begin with but I’, not among them. It felt too cheap. Or at least cheap out of step with how cheap everything else was.

I had my fun

I feel like I’ll be retreading a lot of what I said regarding the one-size-fits-all pricing model of games when I come to reviewing Enslaved: Journey to the West because it’s a legitimate problem and pretty much the only thing preventing me from experiencing these two remarkable games when they were still new and relevant. At the end of the day, though, Splatterhouse is a genuinely entertaining 10-or-so-hour trip that I’d heartily recommend to anyone who played the original titles or anyone who can appreciate a game has fun while not aspiring to be the next God of War.

And that person had better have some godly patience too, what with those early 2D sections driving me to the brink of insanity and all.


Is Uncharted A Game For Gamers?

Here’s a loaded question that’s bound to piss off all of the 20 people who read this; is Uncharted a game for gamers? There’s been a lot of controversy I have little interest in revisiting here about Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, it’s merits, its failures and what sort of Metacritic average it deserves. Most of the commentary casually glosses over a point that I take a whole lot of issue with though. That is that Uncharted as a series tries to be some sort of cinematic homage taking influence from everyone from George Lucas to Michael Bay. Know what I think? Games have absolutely no business being movies.

Now as someone who played and loved at least the first 2 Metal Gear Solids maybe I should reign that in a bit. What we have here is a title that does everything to hit the notes of action cinema. There are big set pieces, formulaic writing and that would be all well and good if… it was actually any good. For my 2c the story is abominable, both in structure and sensitivity. It’s also pretty darn flat for a franchise with two prior installments-worth of narrative baggage and a longer-than-average campaign. Metal Gear Solid had a story worth telling. Uncharted 3 does not.

On that note, if I wanted to see big set piece action sequences I’d go and see the new Mission Impossible at IMAX sitting on my arse enjoying it. What I would not like to do is sit upright on full alert with a controller in hand nervously watching out for the next QTE cue lest something come out of nowhere and kill me, all under the pretentious guise of ‘interactivity’ and ‘immersion’. And while you’re at it you could consider the order of magnitude worse special effects. Not that I’m a guy all about visuals. Gameplay comes first and all that.

But if you (hopelessly) set out to crack the knot that is interactive cinema, what kind of game are you left with? And by ‘game’ I’m referring to the $70-or-so of value that separates your AAA+ new release video game from a cinema ticket or a DVD. I’m sure I’ve said this for the likes of Heavy Rain and Alan Wake (which I still mean to review at some point) but I’ll say it again here. There’s little ‘game’ at all. There’s a hodgepodge of different things the game gets you to do but none are any good and it would be a stretch to seriously call much of it ‘gameplay’ with a straight face. Shooting in third person and on a console… kill me now, there are few things I can stomach less. Hand to hand combat in games like this are usually also pretty bad and Uncharted doesn’t disappoint, nor does it miss the dubious opportunity to throw in a painfully broken cover system – the kind that is all the rage these days.

Would it be wrong of me to say that Uncharted 3 is just a vehicle for developers to prance around failing gallantly at achieving that mythical Holy Grail that is the merger between gaming and cinema? And to then expect to be patted on the back for it? Is the general audience for a game like this the new generation of mainstream gamers, weaned on jack-of-all-trades crap like GTA, who take whatever shit they’re given simply because they don’t know any better? In this day and age where 70 million consoles are out there being played by people who probably wouldn’t know a Dreamcast from their own backside, is what people like me think really relevant at all?

I don’t think Uncharted is a game for ‘gamers’. But then ‘gamer’ apparently means something completely different today.


End of Rage

I know a lot of people think Rage just sucked. I didn’t – I loved every second of Rage. Except for the ending. That sucked. I agree with the masses there. There was barely an ending at all and I’m one of those people who can’t consider a game well and truly finished without a gigantic epic boss fight.

Apart from the ending, however, the game was great from start to finish. The gunplay was great, the driving was palatable for what it was and I’m really tempted to say this was the best looking game I’ve ever played. And that’s on top of it running at an astoundingly-consistant 60fps with nary a drop I that can remember in my 12-or-so hour runthrough.

It would probably be only right to mention that I’m not one of the many that ran into technical roadblocks with the title. My PC copy arrived roughly 2 weeks after release, as is the norm for ozgameshop, and so I ended up sidestepping all the post release issues and walked into an entirely playable game 2 patches and one beta driver from Nvidia later. That’s so long as you consider crazy mouse sensitivity in menus ‘entirely playable’…

Look, maybe I’d be a bit more pissed if the thing had been unplayable out of the box. And maybe I’ll still get my change to rage about that ‘$60 beta tester’ crap when Skyrim comes out this Friday. In any case I found Rage a rare gem that spoke to every one of my peculiar tastes in gaming and am entirely ready to drop $$ on whatever DLC id decides to release. They’ve certainly promised it’s coming.


Hard Reset Is Just What I Needed

It’s only in every other article that you see people go on and on about their malign for the conventions of the modern FPS and how much better things were in the good old days. On the one hand I agree, and miss the frenetic, dark and genuinely difficult games like Quake II and Unreal. On the other I quite liked Doom 3 and think titles like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Gears of War have genuinely advanced the genre in ways people all to often dismiss.

Anyway, as if to answer those yearnings for the shooting madness of yore, along comes Hard Reset. The game is PC exclusive, has no limits on the number of guns you can carry and it looks good. How about that? A harkening back to the good old days with all the visual bells and whistles of the HD era.

A short demo was released a few days ago and I’ve included my playthrough below. Suffice to say I approve of both the look and feel of Hard Reset and from what I’ve seen it looks to warrant the asking price on Steam when it’s available later today. Right now looking forward to what the full game has to offer.


Is ‘Mists of Pandaria’ World of Warcraft’s 4th Expansion?

Since the beginning of time we knew World of Warcraft would get heaps of expansions. A leaked blue post a while back, before Cataclysm leaked a ‘Maelstrom Set’ and a ‘Legion Set’ and in December a Blizzard roadmap all but confirmed XP4 and XP5.

So now is ‘Mists of Pandaria’ that new expansion? Blizzard has made a copyright application reportedly similar to those of previous XPs according to MMO-Champion who felt confident enough to plaster it across their front page. The image above was taken of a piece of concept art at Blizz HQ back in April- could it give us an idea of what to expect with Pandaria? Asian scenery and Chinese dragons?

On the one hand I think that an Asian influence is one of the few currently absent in WoW. So I’m all for that. On the other hand, I sure as hell hope they include some of the missing old world areas, like Kul Tiras and the Broken Isles along with this new continent. And I hope that recent events haven’t ruled out future includions of Azshara and the Emerald Dream either. Who knows though- Karazhan, a Burning Crusade feature, was located in the old world so there’s hope yet.

I always thought of pandas as the perennial Warcraft April Fools’ joke, but I’ve missed those kung fu panda antics since The Frozen Throne and will look forward to saying hi to Chen Stormstout in any case. Let’s see how this all pans out at Blizzcon.


The King of Fighters i Impressions… wait, what?

Maybe it was only my radar that this curveball flew under but either way the late SNK Playmore has graced us with an unexpected but totally appreciated version of its famed fighting franchise in The King of Fighters i. That’s i for iPhone and it’s up on the App Store today.

The fact that it’s for iOS isn’t the only odd thing about this KOFXIII port- it includes Billy Kane, who will be a console exclusive character come the game’s October release. Currently, he isn’t in the arcade version or anywhere else for that matter. The game is also strangely-fully-featured. It has wireless multiplayer, unlockable galleries and social network integration all for less than $10. Oh and it beat Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition to the punch with on-screen mini challenges (perform 3 3-hit combos, etc.). Granted they were in the arcade version of The King of Fighters XIII first, but who here has actually had a chance to play that?

As for the game itself, it’s better than Street Fighter IV Volt, its only real iOS competition. I’m an SF4-devout so I think that says it all. The controls are better, the graphics are better and the framerate is smoother. This is the only iPhone fighter you need to play. If I had to find something odd about it it would be that Iori Yagami isn’t part of the game’s 14-character lineup. But if I had to guess, I’d say that he, along with Vice and Mature, and Kyo, Robert and Takuma will likely be the 6 free DLC characters promised us between now and October.

I’m scratching my head as to why The King of Fighters i wasn’t better publicised. Sure a game so adept deserved more press pre-release. Or, if treated solely as a marketing experiment, why wasn’t it released closer to the console release of KOFXIII later this year? I’m not complaining, however. If nothing else, this will be most folks’ foray into the world of KOFXIII, failing a nearby arcade with it or less reputable means. And before you mention that The King of Fighters XII has been widely available for a couple of years already, don’t go there. You don’t want to make me cry over how that game turned out all over again, do you?

To close, go and get The King of Fighters i- I couldn’t recommend it more.


The Corpse-grinder that is Team Bondi

Here’s a funny story: when I was fresh out of university wondering what the hell I was going to do with my life oh, maybe 5 years ago, I happened upon a game developer in Sydney. It was Team Bondi and they were making, as they described it, ‘GTA set in the middle of last century’. I can’t remember who I saw or even exactly what the role was (no doubt ‘Junior-[insert alternative for shitkicker]‘) but the fact is I didn’t get the job. Thank heavens I didn’t.

Now that L.A. Noire has shipped, and is in fact nothing at all like GTA, IGN Australia has published a riveting expose on what is quit possibly the most exploitative studio in the world. If they’re to be believed, the man above is not only a collosally poor manager, but also a colosal prick. To summarise the article, 100 hour weeks were common throughout the troubled 7-year cycle, the boss was dictatorial despite lacking a clear vision or good management at any level and now 100s of people who worked on the game have not been credited anywhere for the project.

Brendan McNamara takes the cake though when he comments that his only regret is doing it in Sydney. I find it funny that some cocky Brit with one hit under his belt can relocate here, act an atrocious boss, devoid of any talent if the accounts are true, and then claim that the real problem is the Sydneysider work ethic. Fuck him. He rode Sony’s cock to success with The Getaway and even they dumped him for failing to deliver with L.A. Noire. No surprise- between platform shifts, rapid technology changes and the gall for someone in HR to tell me the game was effectively a GTA out of time it’s apparent that vision was clearly lacking throughout.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: L.A. Noire is a bloated, overstuffed monstrosity that wouldn’t have received half its notice had it not coasted on Rockstar’s coattails. Despite that I feel sympathy for the 100s of artists, coders and designers who were mercilessly burnt through by the travesty of management at Team Bondi. According to IGN, many of them will never work in games again solely because of how they badly were ill-treated on this project. McNamara thinks he’d have had it easier had he opened up shop in Canada or the US. Go ahead and do so you talentless tyrant and leave what’s left of Australia’s already-struggling game industry alone.


Duke Nukem Forever Demo Impressions

It turns out that, despite all the bombast and PR that went into the Duke Nukem Forever ‘First Access Club’, it only delivered an underwhelming demo a mere 7 days out from retail release. I guess I’ve already summed up the tone of my impressions right there.

My understanding is that this game uses a version of the ‘Doom 3′ engine Unreal Engine 3 (so disregard my next few comments), retconned to be id Tech 4. The tech is old but none of the games using it, from Quake 4 to the more recent  Brink have been ugly. My thoughts, sitting here in mid-2011 playing a AAA FPS release is that Duke Nukem Forever is plain ugly. Textures even on ‘ultra’ are muddy and nothing from animations to shaders had me very impressed either. In fact the running and strafing animations are so bad, especially on the gun you’re holding, that this looks like it was mo-capped on a shoestring budget 10 years ago. And even while I can hit 100s of frames it still chugged to mid-40s ever little while.

None of the guns had any impact either, really, even though you can still shrink pigs and put the boot in. Everything is hip fired, like the good old days, but even the shotgun lacked a punch. Bluntly, I didn’t get the fun vibe from the shooting and wasn’t amused by the ‘execution’ animations the second time I saw them, let alone the 100th or the 1000th time.

If I were to anticipate the general feelings amongst reviewers next week, I think the common line would be something like ‘who needs Duke in 2011?’ or ‘Duke should have stayed dead’. A game premised solely by bravado and one-liners isn’t enough today and honestly, given how much I adore Gearboxs, I expected more than an antiquated shooter released solely as if to prove something to everyone who said it would never go gold. Duke Nukem Forever seems like a bad joke that’s taken a decade to play out and I ultimately wish it hadn’t bothered.


GTA and my silly, casual gamer friend

L.A. Noire that protracted, overstuffed and meandering game (I’m predicting what the reviewers will say about it) from the guys up the street at Team Bondi is due to come out on the 20th of May after, oh, 5 years in development? 6? I wonder at how a studio – Rockstar is behind Team Bondi and, marketing would have you believe, made the game themselves – so bereft of talent or focus has the seemingly endless coffers to payroll such a long and fraught dev cycle. But I have that friend and he had something to say about it.

You know that friend? The one who will always chime in with popular opinion – the politically correct one – no matter what the topic is and no matter how ill-educated to the task they are? Well I have that friend and he thinks he knows a thing or two about games. What games? Just GTA. Wow, that’s quite a breadth of experience right there but it gets even better. I get a lecture about ‘interactive storytelling’. And then he used the word ‘sandbox’. At this point I had to put on the breaks and get a few things straight.

To get it out of the road, I hate Grand Theft Auto. Absolutely hate it. Can’t think of a single thing about any of the games, except for maybe some of the snappy writing, that is redeemable. And yet without fail each instalment has sold hundreds of thousands and its all because of ride-the-wave fuckers like the guy across the counter from me.

Answering the charge of ‘interactive storytelling’, a term so pretentiously vague it makes me want to burn down an arts faculty somewhere, I say what is interactive storytelling? And more importantly how to you qualify good ‘interactive storytelling’? Let me tell you how don’t: 1) Have a million plots that go nowhere. 2) Populate the story with stereotypes. 3) Forget to introduce any meaningful character connections or conflict at any point. GTA, and we’re talking Vice City and afterward here, is guilty of all these things. And why does everyone think moving closer to a cinematic experience is good thing, for that matter, either? The fact that a game has fully-voiced people talking doesn’t by virtue make the story any good, and I’d like to stamp that onto the forehead of everyone who says Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots had ‘a mad story’. I’d dump them into the trash heap of morons who confuse convoluted with complicated and add points for their lack of comprehension – The Dark Knight school of hivemind thinking and opinion, I’d call it. Not that I’m coining that phrase or anything.

With that out of the way we have gameplay of Grand Theft Auto that tries to be everything to everyone. And none of its good. That’s the real crime. In a world where there are AAA+ shooters and AAA+ driving games coming out the wazoo, why would you stoop to doing any of these things in the half-arsed manner presented by GTA? Because the dickhead singing its praises hasn’t played much else to know that. I’m not advocating people devote every second of free time to their Xbox but if your diet consists solely of Big Macs you can’t call yourself a food critic, can you?

If I really wanted to be dismissive – and believe me, I do - I would say that the market for Rockstar’s games has the equivalent gaming illiteracy of the cinema-goer that thinks Michael Bay’s latest is the best thing ever. Not that I’d put myself in the snotty film snob elite camp (been there, didn’t like it), but there is something to be said for the appreciation of more mature forms of media. Sure I’m irked that the big GTA budgets go to titles pandering to the lowest common denominator, but what really pisses me off is when the legions of those low-brow know-nothings call such games the second coming and think their opinion means anything.

I realise I’m skirting dangerously close to a much larger debate about casual gaming and the mainstream-ifying influence of Wiis, iPhones and 99c games. So I’ll close by saying that if you cut your gaming teeth pulling people out of cars in Liberty City, maybe keep your shortsighted and uninformed opinons about what makes good gaming, and what doesn’t, to yourself. You just come off sounding like a twat otherwise.

But don’t worry, I don’t blame you ignorant hipsters for not knowing any better… oh who am I kidding? Of course I do. And not only that; I’d lay the simplifying of design, skyrocketing prices, and the consolification of the market at your feet as well. And after all that don’t be surprised if I spit on you on the street, or fail to break at the zebra crossing you smarmy self-righteous fucks.

Oh and as for the friend I was writing about, I promptly slapped him with the back of my glove and bid him good day.


Here we are again…

…it’s always such a pleasure. And now I feel dirty. For lack of anything more insightful I’ve stooped to rolling out the most cliche of internet / gaming tropes – the Portal reference. The truth is while trying – in vain apparently – to recall what has happened since the last two weeks or so since my last post nothing terribly important comes to mind. Sure I dallied with Crysis 2 and endured to varying degrees of unpleasantness Fast Five and Thor. But all I really did that still bears any meaning was labouring through Portal 2. How lame is that? This is why these catch-up posts after periods of inactivity are so hard for me.

Twitter’s general sentiment has led me to believe that I’m not alone in shying away from Portal 2‘s co-op. For me, most my friends are on XBL and none of the friends on Steam I’d want to have such a confrontational 1-on-1 with have the game. Then there are those poor souls cutoff from the world on PSN. Shortly after release I was feeling a bit silly buying the full-priced Steam version instead of picking up the PS3 disc and redeeming a PC copy for free. Not anymore. So anyway like so many other solely single players, I’ve finished Portal 2 and just bought an iPad. Guess what happens next?

I picked up Geoff Keighley’s $2 iPad app ‘The Final Hours of Portal 2′ of course. Really I could go on and on about how those traditional publishers crying bloody murder over the declines in circulation and digitising of media could learn more than a little from this brilliant piece of digital journalism. But I won’t. Suffice to say that I think it was worth the cost – like the game itself – and while short did manage to leave me with a smile on my face afterward. The takeout I’d like to pull out form this is that Portal 2 had a surprisingly fraught development process. Gameplay / puzzle mechanics (there were no portals at one point…), sure, but mostly on the story front. The game went through a few iterations and the more I think about it that really shows in the finished product.

Spoiler alert, but the revelation that GLaDOS was once an ironically stupid human was novel enough. Novel, but not organic. Or believable. The whole thing was rushed and unbelievable. The exposition is laid out on a platter and with no subtlety at all, there’s an ‘oh no!’ moment when she – at that point in potato form – figures it out. Hours after we have, mind you. For a super-intelligent AI whose character is premised on being smart, that slow reaction wasn’t thought out properly, the fact that she was in a potato notwithstanding.

Not to turn this into a review either, but I will say the game was short, but brilliant. Just how I like them. There were moments where I was flabbergasted with the quality of storytelling and often at the same time as being blown away by what Valve still manages to squeeze out of its almost-decades old Source engine. While the telling was exceptional, the story itself was just good. Stephan Merchant’s Wheatley outshined everyone’s favourite homicidal AI and that came from behind for me.

What now for me then? Crysis 2 has failed quite miserably in keeping my interest, despite the praises I continue to sing for its predecessor. Shogun 2: Total War and Civilization V both arrived but between lapsing back into Call of Duty: Black Ops and attempting my 5th expedition into Half-Life 2 I didn’t have much time for then. And my biggest grievance after all that would be the fact that my copy of Mortal Kombat did not arrive before the very long Easter weekend (and still hasn’t arrived). Until it does turn up I’ll just drift along in this zombie-like state. Probably stopping to give Brink a go if it gets here first and maybe even accord some attention to my PSP or iPad. Too bad none of them sound terribly exciting for a mid-Friday morning with a weekend coming up.


[Review] Bulletstorm

With a title like Bulletstorm you know what you’re in for. Lots of shooting, a heap of violence and probably a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. On this basic premise Bulletstorm delivers in spades but beyond that seems to have an identity crisis. There’s no one area in which it really excels and it even commits the cardinal sin of shooters (there’s no competitive multiplayer). Between juggling an innovative campaign, an unique scoring system and a co-op multiplayer mode thrown in just for good measure Bulletstorm seems to have taken on too much and failed to really deliver on anything.

There’s no mistaking the point that Bulletstorm is primarily a single-player affair and the cornerstone of any single-player game is its single-player campaign. Emphasis on the ‘single’ part. While I can praise the campaign for its length (about 10 hours – above average these days), it is curiously missing any form of co-op, which is particularly odd given how similar it is to Gears of War (but more on that later). Even in the game’s ‘Echoes’ mode, which seems purpose built for multiplayer, the option is mysteriously absent. That aside, the campaign comes and goes without much of note actually happening. There’s no dramatic build up, no noticeable climax and a set of protagonists who you really have to struggle to care about. There were also boss fights, and yet no final boss and that’s something that always annoys me. It’s sad to say, but by the end I was just thankful that the experience wasn’t nearly as crass and juvenile as People Can Fly PR might have had me believe. Small graces.

For a game from the makers of Painkiller, Bulletstorm isn’t all that frenetic either. You’re never swamped by legions of enemies and combat plods along at a deliberate pace. It could even be played in 3rd person and not much would change. I’m left wondering if the clunkiness it shares with Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 poster franchise isn’t more than just coincidence. The one difference is the ‘leash’, a lasoo-like arm-mounted contraption that lets you yank objects and enemies across the field in slow motion. Given every second object in Bulletstorm explodes, this sets up a lot of cool scenarios and in some cases allows for genuine creativity in demolishing a group of foes. The downside is that killing people more often involves environmental hazards than bullets, which is odd given the game’s namesake. You certainly don’t have the rounds to take everyone down the old fashioned way and some of the more intriguing weapons (Bouncer, I’m looking at you) can’t hold enough ammo to make much of a difference on the battlefield. While I’m all for encouraging the player to be creative, I don’t like being denied the option to go at the game Doom-style should I so choose. Surely there could have been a happy medium?

Speaking of Doom, where is the rocket launcher? Ammo issues notwithstanding, Bulletstorm has some damned cool weapons. The mounted chaingun is suitably devastating and the Flail Gun and Bouncer are interesting new toys for jaded FPS’ers. Hell, Bulletstorm even manages to make the sniper rifle useful. So why then is the quintessential Quake weapon missing? Even the enemies get their hands on them over the course of the campaign. As for how this oversight managed to get through development I have no idea. Maybe it wouldn’t have gelled with the game’s Skillshot-oriented design. But seeing how much fun Bulletstorm has with the other FPS mainstays I’d love to see its take on the good ol’ rocket launcher in a sequel. Fingers crossed for that one.

In fact what seems to underline every aspect of Bulletstorm is the focus on score and Skillshots and it’s something I think the game got very wrong. Scores are great and trying to perform every Skillshot on the list is fun, but otherwise the system just serves to undermine everything else in the game. Rather than providing a currency for performance, Skillshots ensure that the most contrived ways of taking out an enemy - not necessarily the most creative or most skillful – are the ones used. If simply kicking someone into a fan nets more points than, say, leashing them into the air and shooting them in the ass, which do you think you’ll end up doing more often? The score attributed to each Skillshot is seemingly arbitrary and in any of the modes based on points things get very boring, very fast. Overall the system comes off as being slapped on top of near-finished gameplay in a shortsighted attempt to add depth and cohesion to the disparate elements of an otherwise generic shooter.

The next such element, Echoes, lets you run through short segments of the game in hope of achieving the highest score and highest star-grade possible. The key to success in this mode is pretty much summed up with ‘if you see anything red, make sure it blows up’. That co-op is not allowed in this tailor-made game mode is just bizarre and it also renders Echoes a bit redundant. Why run through these cut-down segments instead of replaying the campaign chapter they were pulled from? By now you’ve likely summised there’s no Deathmatch, Capture the Flag or the like. That leaves us with Anarchy as the only other non-campaign mode and the only one which involves other players. The mode itself is flawed – groups of four players survive against waves of enemies trying to reach point-base targets each wave (although ‘survive’ is used loosely as its almost impossible to die) – and so is its implementation. It uses Games for Windows Live P2P matchmaking so expect wildly variable pings. And while there is an unlock system calling it inconsequential is an understatement. Anarchy has no weapon unlocks or any meaningful character customisation. You can change your skin (not your model) and that’s about it. Perhaps the most differentiating aspect for players – different leash colours – has been relegated to pre-order unlocks. Even at max level you’ll just have just have blue and white to play with, while the average Joe who pre-ordered with EB will have every colour of the rainbow ready to go on day one. I really have to question what sort of longevity this one-dimensional mode will have with no worthwhile rewards for playing.

Of course there are also things Bulletstorm gets very right. It is absolutely gorgeous and, for all that has been said about Unreal Engine 3 over the years, the visuals stand at least should to shoulder with anything else out there right now. Further to that, Bulletstorm boasts some of the largest areas and biggest baddies you’ve ever seen in UE3. Character models are plain but outside of those hamfisted story segments it never really matters. And even though the story sucks, writing off the campaign completely would be doing the game a disservice. Although uneven and ultimately unsatisfying, there more than a couple of moments during the single player game that will make you sit back and think ‘oh shit’. Being chased by the giant wheel, remote-controlling a giant robot and shooting a giant lizard off a building are just some of the campaign highlights. Emphasis, definitely, on the ‘giant’ part.

These spots of momentary brilliance sadly do little to conceal what Bulletstorm really is; an unfocussed shooter promoted solely by the smokescreen of Skillshots and ‘dicktits’ PR marketspeak. It has no particular strength and no real staying power once the curtain has closed on the campaign. The FPS genre is cluttered today moreso than any other genre in the history of gaming and so I begrudgingly regurgitate the overused argument that, today, being an average shooter is not good enough. And with all its deficiencies Bulletstorm is just that; average.

 

Grade: B-


DLC it is for SSF4AE

Was there any doubt? I posted a while back that leaked shots of achievements for a supposed Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition on the 360 suggested the update was coming. The only questions at that time were 1) will it be a disc or DLC update and 2) were any features outside of 4 new characters coming? Captivate has brought about answers to both those questions.

The trailer below leaked out ahead of Captivate’s media embargo until the 12th. Basically, yes, we are getting Oni, Evil Ryu, Yun and Yang and yes there will be new features in terms of online and replays.

What we’re not getting is any further addition to the roster (Alex and Urien fans, like myself, are crying their eyes out now) and there are strangely enough no new stages. To top off the oddity, SSF4AE players will be able to match up against regular SSF4 players so no idea how they’ll manage the rebalancing issues there. 2 versions of the game coexisting perhaps?

My gut feeling is just that this is too little too late. Simply because, like with the original release of Super Street Fighter IV, the community has been aware of these additions for way, way too long. Even now we still don’t know when this will actually hit the XBLA or PSN. I’d written about Capcom’s PR strategy on this topic before. I didn’t agree with the approach then and I don’t now. This had obviously been in the works since at least November. Stringing us along all this time comes off seeming callous at best, downright malicious at worst.

It’s a shame since a release which would have wildly excited me not too long ago has instead left me a tad too indifferent for my liking.

Anyway, check out the SSF4AE DLC Trailer at Metacafe. Most other media outlets seem to have pulled it already, probably at the Capcops’ behest.


What to make of Prey 2

There was a lot on the internets recently about Dragon Age 2 being rubbish. I wrote some of it. The point most conceded to, however, was that it would not have copped the flak had it not been the sequel to Dragon Age: Origins and that point opens up a messy debate. Do game makers and content creators at large owe us anything? More specifically, can players / viewers / end users rightly expect something specific from a brand or a franchise if it puts out a direct sequel? Should new ideas and new ‘innovations’ relegated to side-stories and new IPs altogether?

Bioware doesn’t think so. To hell with epic storytelling, hours of gameplay and actual narrative choice says Mr. David Gaider. I would like to tell a greatly concatenated ‘frame-story’ and quickly shuttle players through time (certainly not though space- the whole game takes place in one fucking city) to a contrived and meaningless conclusion. Oh we were pressured by those lovely chaps at EA, and this approach was both foolhardly and blatantly indulgent from the beginning, but fuck it. Dragon Age is ours and we can do what we want with it. Right?

It’s no secret that id Software and Bethesda are close to my heart. I recall circa 2003, in the lead-up to the hotly anticipated release of Doom 3, id’s Todd Hollenshead appearing on Icons to discuss how the IP was close to their hearts too and how players have some level of ownership over the new product. Given they’d been the ones sinking hundreds of thousands of hours into it.That comment earned a bunch of my respect. Of course Doom 3 turned out to be different from its predecessor in every way imagineable, but at least they acknowledged they had a duty to the fans. And I loved Doom 3 so who knows.

It’s funny then that my main beef of the day is with a franchise that has more in common with Doom than Dragon Age. Prey, that title in dev hell for the best part of a decade at 3D Realms, and that can be summed up as ‘red indians vs. aliens’, is now getting a sequel that openly flaunts its departure from what made the first so great. Namely, portals, puzzles involving portals and geometry / gravity tricks of all kinds. It was otherwise a pretty bland shooter but those things made it unique, if not great.

Prey 2 basically shits all over Prey. No portals? No gravity tricks? And what are these stupid looking aliens? Did they even watch this trailer? There’d been rumblings about this sequel for a few years now but nothing concrete until recently. Having seen what I’ve seen written about it so far I’m left wondering what’s the point. Does this world really need another mediocre run ‘n gun with tacked on multiplayer, ageing technology under the hood and one-dimensional gimmick? What’s that? Prey 2 doesn’t even have a gimmick? Oh.. well in that case..

So who’s at fault here? The developers, Human Head, for stripping out the more ‘puzzly’ aspects and making a straight up shooter? Or the players for having expectations that set them up to be disappointed? Given the ‘Prey franchise’ (I never thought I’d come to that, honestly) is built on a single trick, if you’re going to throw out the gimmick then you might as well ditch the name too. Because players are naturally going to expect things from a brand and this approach is tantamount to outright deception. People reading the interviews and keeping on top of the news will know this but the vast majority of gamerdom will not.

In a world where reviews below 80% break games, and, if anything, Dragon Age 2 has taught us this kind of bait and switch whips the Metacritic hordes into a frenzy, I’d say they’re making a losing bet doing this with Prey 2. But hey, what do I know.


Mortal Kombat’s missing Motaro

The new Mortal Kombat game, now unambiguously banned in Australia, could have been forgiven in Goro were the only superhuman boss character included. Shao Kahn is integral to the story and playable (?) so there was really no way to excise him. Shang Tsung is presumably in and in his youthful, toned-down form. This leaves Goro as the sole four-armed boss character who the player can’t pick up and use. It’s what all PR to date would have had us believe and that would have been cool, if not ideal.

But I don’t think the rumoured final roster, ripped from the recent PSN demo, has escaped anyone’s notice. Assuming that the text files contained therein were not an elaborate hoax – and the MK Team doesn’t have the combined IQ to pull something like that off, I’m pretty sure – it seems like Kahn has been bumped up to proper final boss and Goro demoted. Seeing as the Shokan prince has a bio and an ending while Kahn only the former. Surprising me though was the inclusion of Kintaro.

History lesson; Kintaro was the savage lower-class, tiger-striped Kuatan fiend and successor to Goro who served as the second last challenge (mini-boss although not quite apt) in Mortal Kombat II. That was by far my favourite MK game and Kintaro my favourite MK boss. However the years have neglected him a bit. He hasn’t made a subsequent series appearance outside Shaolin Monks and Armageddon, but those games included everyone. All key characters, before and after MKII, have been seen a lot more frequently. I guess not many people apart from me actually liked the guy.

But now it seems that, like Goro, Kintaro has a bio and an ending in ‘Mortal Kombat (2011)’ which would seem to strongly suggest he’s a playable character. I’m of course tickled pink but there are two design oversights, I think, in this inclusion. First off, he was a badass in MKII. He was more of a badass than Kahn. I’d even go to the length of saying he was the most difficult fighting game boss ever. No, seriously. But now if he’s a playable character, and if Mortal Kombat: Armageddon has taught us anything, he will be a pale shadow of his former self in the name of ‘balance’, a concept which Mortal Kombat has none of to begin with.

However it also shines a very bright light on the only remaining significant roster omission in next month’s MK reboot: Motaro. If we’re assuming this game is a retelling of sorts of the original MK trilogy, why, or more pressingly how, can you go and include the boss of MK2 but exclude the boss of MK3? Goro was an iconic feature of the first MK game and is well known across gaming at large. His spot on the list was assured. Kintaro’s was not, but they’ve gone and included him anyway. As much as I’d hate to admit it, Motaro, a centaur of all things, probably has a bigger role in the MK mythos, and is so more deserved of a spot than the tiger-man. And yet he’s apparently ruled out. If it was just Goro then the list would have seemed less than ideal, but palatable. With only Motaro out it now seems like it has a single curious and bizarre omission.

That’s from an overall design perspective. It’s pretty obvious that if Motaro’s not in, it’s that there was a technical issue with him having four legs. But really come on? Is that any kind of excuse? They peddled it for Armageddon, and it didn’t make any more sense back then. Now, using Unreal Engine 3, there shouldn’t be any physics and or collision problems with a poorly-coded engine written in-house as there were in 2007. Still once it becomes known to the masses that the centaur general is sitting the game out, I bet that’s the line Netherrealm PR will trot out.

This is all assuming that those leaked factoids were genuine, of course. The demo build was supposedly quite old but I never believe that. Why would you wait till a month out from release and publish demo code that’s a year old? I think devs consider it carte blanche for framerate hiccups, muddy textures as well as anything more serious – they can just say it’s all fixed in the final shipped version. In any case there won’t be long to ponder this. I really just hope that if a game dev claims, in 2011, that they cannot manage a character with the lower body of a horse the community hangs them out to dry. Because they’d deserve it.

Closing off the demo looks fine – definitely not a solid game but that will be a different rant. I think I’ll have fun with this game either way, pending incidents with customs, but it doesn’t hold a competitive candle to Super Street Fighter IV. Between all the infinite combos and arbitrary nature of what’s safe and what isn’t I don’t get why more people haven’t declared it’s broken-ness already. *sigh* See you in April, boys.


[Review] Dragon Age II

Dragon Age II is an average game. Let’s get that out of the way first. Normally I wouldn’t go out of my way to rag on an average game, but DA2 systematically strips out all the promise, mystery and depth that Dragon Age: Origins went to great lengths to establish. In every way but one this is an inferior title to its predecessor and it’s just baffling. Clearly there were budget and timing issues at work but the drop in quality and quantity in this sequel is so brazen and so staggering it leaves me little choice but to chalk up this mess as possibly the biggest disappointment of 2011. And it’s only March.

Looking at the large scale of the game, the overarching narrative blows. Is 15 hours enough time to make a fair judgement of something like this? If not, it should be. There is nothing driving the momentum of DA2′s plot and characters are shifted up so often that it’s hard to establish any real camaraderie. There were many significant plot threads and narrative cliffhangers that Origins and Awakening left us with, and, while I may be wrong, this game has no apparent desire to address them in any meaningful way. Thedas was positioned as an epic world with a rich history and the bulk of its mysteries yet to be discovered. It’s probably less charitable than the game deserves to say this, but DA2 essentially pisses all over the mythology that was built up for all those years that DAO was incubating in development.

The much talked-up ‘frame narrative’ is also a concession on the writers’ part. As far in as I am I feel confident in saying it doesn’t add anything except the ability for the developer to jump around a timeline recklessly and relieve themselves of a lot of expositional and continuity concerns. It also offers a get-out-of-jail-free card in the sense that any detail in DA2 can be written off as exaggeration or discarded Usual Suspects-style as an en masse fabrication and pave the way for future retcons that might be necessary. Also a talking player character and shift in visual style? Gives me the feeling that this may have been originally intended as a further expansion or spinoff, rather than a full sequel, but more on that later.

On the small scale of things the dialogue and witty banter between teammates that I loved so much in Origins is gone. Well, not gone, but certainly stripped down to a bare minimum. And even then it’s never as witty as the lines written for Alistair or Anders. They were gold. Nothing approaches that quality in DA2 and while it’s never an overt shortcoming, it does detract something that series veterans are in their rights to expect.

Although it’s not all bad. For those decrying DA2′s new take on RPG combat, I rather like it. I found the implementation in DA:O mired in its supposed reverence to Baldur’s Gate and not nearly fluid enough for the year in which it was released. That said, I would never have wanted them to take out all the tactics and actual thought that went into surviving one of the chaotic brawls in Origins, but that’s exactly what happened. Skill trees are stripped bare and outfitting and AI behaviour has been taken down a notch in complexity. Surely between the two approaches there’s a happy medium, but DA2 just goes too far.

The worrying thing about DA2 is that it seemed crafted in a such a way that it could cut corners from the beginning, not as a last-minute ditch effort to get the game out on time. Being centred around a single city? Being told through its ‘frame narrative’? These are all conscious core design choices made with the apparent intention of getting a sequel to DAO out the door as soon as possible. Promises of 2 years’ DLC support for that game be damned! Or could this all be a hint? Could the game now known as Dragon Age II originally been a DLC release for DAO? Although the hackneyed new combat system suggests otherwise, the production’s deliberately narrow scope suggests so. Otherwise could it have been some manner of spinoff? The new combat supports this theory and its decidedly console-esque stylings suggest this could have been a console-only affair at one point. Both disc size and the subsequent hi-res download for PC both point in this direction…

But this is all idle speculation. The harsh reality is that we have an RPG that’s not bad but is an utter letdown considering what came before it. I just gave up on the appalling Infinite Undiscovery – which was magnitudes worse than DA2 – but it was a new franchise and the dirth of shocking titles Square-Enix likes to publish didn’t exactly temper expectations for much more. I wouldn’t waste the time condemning that garbage. DA2′s difference is that its predecessor setup a game and a world with so much potential that 2 years ago there were few things I was anticipating more than a sequel. Now that sequel is here and it doesn’t even maintain the set standard; it falls short. It’s unacceptable for a great game’s sequel to be anything less than greater, and to be categorically worse is unconscionable.

I’ve tried not to let this be a knee-jerk reaction to all the changes and really don’t want to jump on the Dragon Age 2 hate bandwagon but I have no motivation to pick up the game at this point and press forward. Comparing this to the all night DAO marathons from 2009 it’s just sad. I don’t know what was happening at Bioware when this was being made but they have a lot of work to do if they hope to kindle any interest for a Dragon Age III.

Grade: C


My Return to Xbox Live

Things were simpler a year ago. My original launch 360, bless its soul, had RROD’d on me, I had a decently powerful C2D GTX 260 combo in good working order and I’d recently picked up a cheap Slim PS3 from Japan. My PC had become my primarily platform, thanks mostly to Steam, and the PS3 served as backup for those pesky console-only titles. I thought I had the best possible setup. I was wrong.

I’d tried to live without it for the longest time but now I realise that this last year or so I’ve really been missing Xbox Live. Missing my friends, one button invites, achievements with APIs that can follow me around the net. There was a measure of substitute with Steamworks, although only some games used it, and barely anything cohesive on PSN. In fact my year of Super Street Fighter IV on the PlayStation was one of the most frustrating experiences ever. Getting people into a game and accepting invitations from others… could it have been any more convoluted? Even though the PS3 version of the now-banned Mortal Kombat is getting fighting games favourite cameo with the inclusion of Kratos, my gut would feel yucky buying a multiplayer fighter for Sony’s mess of a machine.

And on a completely unrelated note, Forza Motorsport 3 is absolutely a better game than Gran Turismo 5 although I fear that argument warrents its own article.

So starting to think that the Xbox 360, as a platform, offers a better overall experience is an interesting conclusion. I’d previously considered PC to hold that accolade, and comparing Dead Space 2 on console to PC there really is no discussion about technical proficiency. Textures and resolution are paltry by comparison. However if you take matchmaking and DLC into consideration, I wonder how much weight that extra visual fidelity actually caries?

Against the sheer fragmentation of platforms and standards on PC – EA friends list, I’m looking at you – I’m beginning to see the graphics as less and less of a consideration. Not that its mode was worthwhile to begin with, I never once played DS2 online on the PC. And, by pure arrogance on the publisher’s part, I’ll never play the ‘Severed’ DLC. Thanks a lot guys. Even Steam seems to now show contempt for its customers – again most likely by publishers’ edict – by charging ludicrous prices for games. Ozgameshop.com can now match day-and-date better prices for 360 versions of new releases than Steam can despite being exempt from printing and licensing overheads.

Half the fact that the cohesive nature of the Xbox platform feels so good is undoubtedly that the situation on the PC is so broken. Nevertheless I’m switching over to the 360 as my primary, despite it costing me a new console, some visual bells & whistles and despite costing me a yearly subscription to boot. Certainly wouldn’t have anticipated declaring this a year ago, but for the bunch of reasons I’ve mentioned – and no doubt a bunch more – I’m not regretting a thing.

So come on friends, add my Gamertag Ichorid4.


Mortal Kombat OFLC submission confirms Quan Chi, Kabal and Baraka?

So surprise, surprise, Mortal Kombat just got banned by the Australian Office of Film and Literature classification. However, based on the below except from the submission’s comments, doesn’t it seem like Quan Chi, Kabal and Baraka are now all confirmed as playable characters? Double-edged win if you ask me.

  • Kung Lao throws his metal hat into the ground and it spins like a buzz saw. He grabs his prone opponent by the ankles and drags their body through the saw, explicitly slicing them vertically in half. Copious bloodspray is noted. Kung Lao then holds up both halves of the corpse as blood pours out.
  • Jade explicitly kicks an opponent into the air and plants her fighting stick into the ground. The opponent falls backwards onto the stick and is explicitly impaled, with the stick protruding from their chest. Jade then explicitly tears her opponent’s head off, with bloodspray noted, and explicitly plants it on the stick.
  • Stryker tasers his opponent and then explicitly shoots their head off with his gun. Blood and gore is noted.
  • Quan Chi explicitly rips his opponent’s leg off, accompanied by copious bloodspray. As they lie on the ground, he explicitly beats them with the severed leg for a prolonged period of time.
  • Scorpion explicitly slashes an opponent horizontally in two at the waist, with blood and wound detail noted. He then explicitly decapitates them and kicks their body over. As the severed head falls through the air, he explicitly slices it vertically in two.
  • Mileena throws two blades at an opponent, which explicitly lodge in their chest. She slowly approaches and explicitly rips their head off, causing their severed neck to spray blood as their body topples. She then explicitly bites into the severed head before throwing it to the ground.
  • Kabal uses long hooks to explicitly pull out an opponent’s Intestines before explicitly impaling the opponent on two spikes.
  • Shao Kahn uses his hands to explicitly rip an opponent’s body vertically in two.
  • Baraka explicitly lodges a blade (attached to his wrist) in an opponent’s stomach and hoists them above his head. He spins them round and explicitly decapitates and dismembers them, accompanied by copious bloodspray.
  • Kitana uses her ‘folding fan’ weapon to explicitly dismember then decapitate her opponent, with copious blood flow noted.

Emphasis mine. Thanks to Ausgamers for the info and wiigotaproblem for the mad fanart.


Sony’s Broken Promises

I was thinking today about how little I actually feel I can trust Sony. Although their marketing pales in comparison to another consumer electronics giant’s (*cough* Apple), Sony actually puts on a good show when announcing new products. Thing is, I can’t remember a single thing they’ve announced in the last 10 years that lived up to their vaunted promises. Don’t believe me? Let’s work backwards.

The PSN, I suppose, would be the most recent full-fledged thing we’ve had from Sony (I’m not even touching Move here). As it stands, we here in PAL land and our fellows in the US are utterly buggered regarding releases online. The problems are plenty. If we’re talking PSP Go, what a discgrace that is. The system is going for budget prices here. Problem no.1 is its unshakable tether to PSN. Games don’t come out, or are overpriced. You’d think that games would at least be released day and date with UMD version – it’s easy enough for pirates to do it – but that’s never the case either. There was even a big fracas about Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep being brought to the troubled portable by hackers before Sony or Square. Further to that price gouging is so rife you’d think the PSN admins have an active and deliberate contempt for their customers.

Worst though is the availability of titles. As our friends at Destructoid pointed out this week the downloadable game count in the ‘Game Archive’ section numbers 6 times in Japan what it does over here. Licensing issues with publishers is obviously biting Sony in the ass, but not only did they fail to acknowledge these issues with the PSP Go, they went and courted the idea of a UMD redemption program. Hmmm. Realistically there was no intention to ever deliver a plan so asinine, and yet they did it anyway. If ever a legal department held its tongue and let marketing go crazy, it was certainly the one at SCEJ.

Speaking of overselling a system, let’s count the number of things cut from the PS3 from concept to release, shall we? PS2 backwards compatibility hardware was cut after the initial NTSC region runs which meant that nowhere in the world could I get a first edition PS3 to play my extensive PAL PS2 library of games. Well done, guys. This was followed by the missing bunch of ports including a second HDMI, and the 7/8 SPU die yield nonsense started about this time too. All while the price remained stable as far as I recall. Next to go was the card reader, I think? And then most recently the Other OS. Cast your mind back to the ‘you will work more hours to buy one’ rhetoric that Ken Kutaragi was throwing out at every press conference 5 or so years ago and you’ll start to feel how I feel about all this.

The PS2 was possibly my favourite console of all time and objectively one of the bestselling, but let’s point out its shortfalls too. Network connectivity and social networking? One overstuffed title; Final Fantasy XI. Not released in PAL, mind you. Connectivity with phones, cameras et al? Nonexistant. At least the thing played games, but it certainly wasn’t all Sony promised- those things I mentioned, I mean.

And predictions of things to come- the NGP. If the development cycles of the PSP and PS3 are anything to go buy, I think we’ll see libraries heavily fragmented by region and language. We may or may not have multiple SKUs tipping different featuresets (the exact thing Sony railroaded Microsoft about regarding the 360′s optional HDD), but we will likely have a bias toward this new propriety flash media (did they learn nothing from the UMD?) over PSN access and a skew toward ports of some kind for the first few years of the machine’s life. Certainly, the easy code path from PS3 to NGP has been held up as a bonus while I and several others are not so sure.

If coherence isn’t the best thing about this article, let’s sum it up with some impact. Sony was once an innovator in consumer electronics and portable devices and while it has always had its finger in too many things, it’s only over the last decade or so that its left hand doesn’t seem to know what its right is doing. It’s playing catchup and that fact is nowhere more evident than in the Xperia Play, a desperate confusing move in a seeming attempt to fight off both Nintendo and Apple with one stroke. And despite this mammoth task its taken on, Sony still can’t integrate internal business units well enough to let your existing PSN purchases carry over – you need to buy them again. Way to go leveraging your own properties and not alienating the consumer like that.

Heated vitriol this is, but off the mark? I think not. Sony had better lift it’s game else see this coming generation turn out to be their last in the console business.


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