Tuesday, March 27, 2012

My Journey  

*

Games: So, Journey.

My review schedule was quite full when this much-anticipated project from thatgamecompany was released on PSN, and last night was the first chance I had to get to it. I was a huge fan of fl0w, I loved Flower, and I've been looking forward to Journey ever since I knew about it. While I was playing, several people asked what my opinion was, and I knew that there was absolutely no way I could even begin to address the topic over Twitter. Hence, this entry.


My thoughts on the game follow, but please be aware that much of what I am about to say could be considered a spoiler, and I do think that anyone intending to play the game should come to absolutely fresh. If you haven't already been through Journey, do not read this blog post.

Seriously, spoiler warning.  

So, first things first, the game is absolutely beautiful from a visual perspective. The colors, the level of detail, the abstract and stylized characters... just stunning. The soundtrack is equally amazing, and this is coming from someone who usually doesn't pay much attention to music in games. Presentation-wise, this game is absolutely at the top of its class.

As for the rest? Well, I'm a bit mixed.

Prior to starting, everyone on Twitter was telling me that I should make sure that my PS3 was connected in order to take advantage of the online “co-op” feature. That's exactly what I did, although to be honest after going through the game once, I wish I had unplugged my console and gone through it solo first.

Why?


When my first "partner" appeared, they didn't seem at all interested in interacting with me and proceeded to complete all of the objectives in the current area. I was still learning the game and not sure exactly what was going on, so to have this person do everything in the level while I was still taking everything in was disappointing. Effectively, I entered the area, this person did everything while I had no say in the matter, and then I simply walked to the next part of the game.

In the next part, I couldn't tell if my partner was the same or a different (I had a total of five over the course of play) but they forged ahead without me and somehow managed to activate a flock of flying scarf creatures and made a beeline for the end of the area. None of the scarf creatures held back with me, so I was stuck walking across the dunes while I could see this person in the distance floating and jumping, moving swiftly ahead.

To be perfectly frank, I was getting disappointed by this time. Not only was my sense of discovery taken away by this person (or persons) who performed all the activities without me and left me to trudge from point A to point B, there wasn't anything left for me to do


Journey doesn't have many activities to start with, so to have the few that exist taken out of my hands left a bad taste in my mouth. Prior to playing the game, I heard people talking about feelings of camaraderie or making some sort of connection with the partners have appeared, but I didn't find that to be my experience at all. Instead, I think I resented the fact that this beautiful landscape was being shared with people who had no interest in partaking of it with me, and for a game of this sort, I'd say that the first experience is always going to be the strongest impression.

The only time any of the partners in the game meant anything to me was when I reached the snowy area near the end. Brendan Keogh has said that perhaps the forced togetherness in that section is more a result of shared misery rather than genuine companionship, and I'm inclined to agree. However, by the developers giving a reason for the players to stick together, I felt as though that particular implementation of the "partnership" was the most effective in the entire game. (I wish there'd been more of it, really!)

Unfortunately, I felt as though this snowy area went on for far too long. Prior to that, each level has a strong flow and seemed keen on generating a particular emotion or response, but the snow was just an endless slog that felt like it went on for eternity. Perhaps I got lost, or maybe it was simply meant to be that long, but rather than feeling as if I was struggling against something, my attention started to wander and I grew frustrated at the endless white. I can't help but feel that if it was shorter, it would have more properly conveyed a sense of being a final push, rather than coming off as too much walking in too much white.

While I enjoyed much of the tone and visual of Journey, after having finished, I have to say that I left feeling a little hollow and unsatisfied. It was both shorter and less interactive than I had been hoping for, and I didn't have the fortune of teaming up with people who were interested in cultivating a shared experience. 



With no disrespect to the developers, I have to admit that for much of the time I felt as though I was simply pressing up on the control stick without much happening – both fl0w and Flower did more to engage me as a player, whereas in Journey I felt like much more of an observer. I certainly wouldn't have wanted a combat engine or a ton of labyrinthine puzzles included, but when the game asks the player to participate, it comes alive and it's a beautiful thing. Dodging the scary flying monsters in the underworld was tense, and jumping from platform to platform was truly enjoyable. I just craved... more.

In any event, getting back to the multiplayer... I give great respect to thatgamecompany for doing something completely different with it, much like what From did in Demon's Souls. I would love to see more experimentation with integrating players into nonstandard multiplayer modes, but the other side of that is that when it's as open and free form as it is in Journey, it's a gamble. No one can guarantee how other players will participate, and my guess is that I had the misfortune of falling in with a series of Trophy hunters who probably already completed the game several times. Having that type of a partner for my very first experience was a sour one, and like I said earlier, had I known that would've happened, I would have disconnected my PS3 from the Internet and gone ahead solo.

Oh, and that ending? Hated it. I kept waiting for the land to come alive, or something significant to happen, yet the only thing that comes of Journey’s journey is that you get booted back to the starting place? Maybe there was something Zen or meditative meant there, but it didn't click with me and I felt as though nothing happened, nothing changed, nothing was achieved. So these little red nomads are dedicated towards making their way to the mountain over and over and over again? For what? Maybe some are satisfied with this resolution, but it missed the mark for me.

Don't get me wrong -- overall, I love the fact that Journey is even a thing -- that it was made and released on a major console, and that it got tons of press and attention. It's painfully beautiful in many ways and when the nomad is flying and jumping and skating down rivers of sand, I had a smile on my face. Experimentation of this sort is only ever a good thing, and I want to see more and more of it. In terms of my personal experience with Journey, I'm glad that I played it and I was happy to support it, but it left me feeling untouched and unsatisfied. 

*

Monday, March 26, 2012

The New Podcast, Raccoon City, Review Links and More  

*

Podcast: The first "real" episode of the new GameCritics podcast is now up and ready for your listening pleasure. Featuring new host Dylan Collins (@VhDylan) the crew takes on Mass Effect 3, best & worst sequels, trailers full of spiders, and I go into great detail on I Am Alive. There’s something here to offend everybody! 

Give a listen, won't you?  You can find it RIGHT HERE.

*

Games: Speaking of I Am Alive, I completed the game a few days ago and my review has been submitted to GC. Look for full coverage on that soon, but in the meantime, do yourself a favor and check it out... it may not be to everyone's taste, but I think it's got a lot to say and it manages to say it in very interesting fashion.

In other reviews news, my full writeup of Mass Effect 3 is now live, and you can see what my final verdict was RIGHT HERE.

Also, Eric Bowman (@Ercoman) gives his evaluation of Binary Domain, and it's a favorable one. In case you haven't added this sleeper hit to your to-play list, you can read more on it RIGHT HERE.

*

Games: As to what else I've been playing, I completed Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City in co-op with fellow GC’er Dan Weissenberger, aka @GC_Danny.


It's a pretty strange title in that development was handled by Slant Six, the developer responsible for the PSP SOCOM titles. I'm not entirely sure why Capcom didn't handle the reins themselves, nor am I sure why it seems as though Slant Six isn’t aware of how rough and unpolished their game is.

Although Raccoon City is getting hammered all over the Internet, I have to say that I did enjoy certain parts of it. The idea of playing as an Umbrella strike team member is pretty cool to me, and shifting the dynamic of power from being a solo hero to being part of a full assault squad struck me as quite interesting and full of promise. Unfortunately, the title's problems far outweigh the good bits.


To start with, the difficulty is way out of control. Dan and I played on the easiest setting (casual) and it was anything but a cakewalk. The enemies are ludicrous bullet-sponges, we were constantly running out of ammo, and holding off the hordes of enemies (even as part of a four-person squad) was pretty overwhelming. The maps are difficult to read, dodging requires multiple simultaneous button presses instead of simply being mapped to ‘A’ like it would be in any normal game, the cover system is questionable and the upgrades and perks for each character aren’t very exciting or special.

Something else that struck me is that anyone who hasn't already played Resident Evil 2 (originally released fourteen years ago, mind you) won't have a clue as to what's going on, and there is very little effort made towards making the strike team themselves memorable in any way apart from appearance. I also took special offense at the final level, when players are given a choice whether to protect or kill a certain NPC. Everything happened incredibly fast, and before I knew it, Dan and I were on opposite teams and he killed me before I even realized that our allegiances had changed. That particular twist left a very bitter taste in my mouth, and ended a game with serious problems on an even worse note.


It's not the worst thing I've ever played and I still think the idea of being an Umbrella agent is a good one, but Raccoon City should have been a far, far better title than it is. 

Disappointing!

*

Misc: Here’s a funny and apparently true infographic showing why online gaming is better than online dating… Single gamers, rejoice!


******************************************************************************

NEWS/PR/INFO

***

Xseed is proud to announce that the action platformer Sumioni: Demon Arts has released exclusively on the PlayStation®Vita handheld entertainment system as a PlayStation Store download for $19.99!
Sumioni: Demon Arts takes full advantage of the PS Vita system touchscreen and rear touch pad to create an engaging and visceral 2D platforming experience. Boasting 30 stages and multiple endings, the game offers gamers plenty of challenge to look forward to, with online leaderboards and other DLC slated for addition post-launch.
Presented in a classical "sumi-e" ink painting style, Sumioni sees players guiding a lone Inkdemon named Agura through a fictionaltake on ancient Japan. The apathetic and once exiled Inkdemon has been given a chance to redeem himself by ridding the world ofa sinister dictator who's taken over the capital cityand threatens to resurrect an ancient evil. On his journey, Agura will see first-hand just how resilient humans can be...and may even come to like them a bit.
For more information, visit  www.sumioni.com.

***

Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) would like to send out a quick reminder that they are now accepting submissions for the 5th annual Gamers in Real Life (G.I.R.L.) Game Design Competition, the publisher's yearly initiative to promote higher education among women and encourage their involvement within the male dominated gaming industry.

The winning submission will receive a $10,000 scholarship to be applied towards tuition and other educational expenses, along with the opportunity for a paid internship of up to 10 weeks at SOE. The application deadline is March 29, 2012, after which SOE will determine the scholarship winner. More details can be found here: https://www.scholarshipamerica.org/gamersinreallife/.
***


Today, Ubisoft® announced its diverse lineup for PAX East, including Assassin’s Creed® III, Far Cry® 3, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Future Soldier™ and a number of acclaimed digital and iOS titles. Attendees can check out Ubisoft’s lineup at booths 824 and 836 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on April 6–8, 2012.

An exclusive first look at Assassin’s Creed III gameplay footage will be shown in a fully-enclosed theater at the booth. The game’s new hero Connor will head up the thrilling new installment of the beloved Assassin’s Creed franchise that is set in Colonial America during the American Revolution. Session attendees will also receive a special-edition Assassin’s Creed III-branded item.

During the show, PAX East attendees will also have the chance to truly immerse themselves in the Far Cry® 3 universe and identify with one of Far Cry 3’s most insane characters, Vaas. On Friday, acclaimed tattoo artist Suze, from The Hourglass Tattoo Parlor in Boston, will be offering Far Cry fans a unique opportunity to obtain real tattoos from a selection of tribal designs inspired by the game. For those that aren’t ready to commit to a tattoo, there will also be two Far Cry 3 mohawk stations on Saturday and Sunday where visitors can get mohawk haircuts in the same style of the game’s feature villain, Vaas. People who obtain a tattoo or mohawk at Ubisoft’s booth will receive a Far Cry 3 tank top, modeled after the very one Vaas sports in-game.

Consumer Booths

PAX East attendees who visit Ubisoft’s booth can play some of this year’s most highly anticipated multiplayer titles like Far Cry 3, Mad Riders™, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Future Soldier™, and the free-to-play PC game Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon® Online.

Additionally, I Am Alive™ will be playable at the booth, along with iOS games Babel Rising, Monster Burner, MotoHeroz® and Prince of Persia® Classic HD.

Pre-Order Incentives

Not only are attendees able to play many of Ubisoft’s upcoming releases, but they can also take advantage of pre-order incentives for a few of Ubisoft’s biggest games at the show. Pre-order offers include:

* Assassin’s Creed III – Official T-shirt or SteelBook™ designed by award-winning comic artist Alex Ross
* Far Cry 3 – Bloodied pint glass
* Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Future Soldier – Free limited-edition bandanna designed by Penny Arcade and a personalized lenticular photo print-out from Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Future Soldier

For exclusive updates and behind-the-scenes photos from PAX East throughout the event, please visit Ubisoft’s Facebook page (facebook.com/ubisoft) or follow Ubisoft’s Twitter account (twitter.com/Ubisoft).

***

Funcom is excited to announce that the company is heading to PAX EAST on April 6th and will be bringing the upcoming, modern-day, massively multiplayer online game ‘The Secret World’ to the show floor for public hands-on. For first time, fans of ‘The Secret World’outside of the press and the closed beta get to play the game, and those heading to PAX can experience the full Templar starter experience in addition to the haunted town of Kingsmouth.

Funcom will be located at Booth 260 on the show floor. With ‘The Secret World’ playable on over 25 computers, Funcom will also be doing regular stage presentations of the game and giving away 10,000 Illuminati, Templar and Dragon dog tags. Along with each dog tag will be an exclusive key code that grants guaranteed access to the first of several upcoming public beta weekends. Details on the upcoming public beta will be announced later.

During the show, which runs from April 6th to April 8th, Funcom will be engaging with the online community surrounding ‘The Secret World’ through the official TwitterFacebook and YouTube channels, and will be releasing daily video podcasts giving a glimpse into ‘The Secret World’ and life at the Funcom booth.
Recently Funcom announced that over 750,000 gamers are now registered for the ongoing beta testing. ‘The Secret World’ is published by Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ: EA) and will ship on June 19th, 2012.
Those looking to join the beta test can sign up via the official site at www.thesecretworld.com.

***

Gelid Games’ upcoming vehicular combat title Wheels of Destruction has been invited to participate in PlayStation®Network’s Spring Fever by Sony – as a result, Gelid is thrilled to announce that a new release date is set for April 3rd, 2012. Coming exclusively to PSN, Wheels of Destructionwill also be bringing PlayStation Plus members an opportunity to purchase the game at 20% off. The game is already a steal at $9.99, but at $7.99, it’s foolish to pass up this amazing class-based, online deathmatch gem of a game.

***

Starting on March 27, the demo will give players a taste of the platforms, combat and adventure Zack Zero has to offer. It contains a sneak peak at two levels of the game: the enemy base, where Zack will face the army of Nahirgs, and the magic caverns, a mysterious and dangerous place with an ancient inhabitant.
Zack Zero was launched wordwide on PSN on January and is rated E by ESRB. Here you can watch the launch trailer.

The game was updated recently, taking into account both users and reviewers opinions. You can have a look to some of the general fixes, polishing and improvements here: Zack Zero 1.01 update.

***

Sony Online Entertainment LLC (SOE) today announced that its annual fan event will now be called SOE LIVE and will take place at Bally's in Las Vegas, October 18-21, 2012. An annual SOE-sponsored event, SOE Live is set to be the ultimate gathering for the SOE community, and provides players an opportunity to celebrate their favorite games across SOE's portfolio of titles, including: DC Universe™ Online, EverQuest®, EverQuest II, Free Realms®,Magic: The Gathering - Tactics®, PlanetSide® 2, Star Wars®: Clone Wars Adventures™ andVanguard: Saga of Heroes®.

SOE Live reflects the belief that all SOE players are part of one extended family and presents an opportunity for fans of all ages to meet the talented people behind some of the online world's most successful games. In addition to a slew of social events, SOE will host developer panel discussions and game-themed live events, giving attendees a chance to voice their opinions of current and upcoming game content. SOE Live will also feature exclusive access to new announcements and beta programs, tournaments, premium swag and more.

For more information, visit http://www.SOE.com/SOELive.

***

Videogames publisher Iceberg Interactive today announces that the action and exploration game  "Adam’s Venture Episode 1: The Search for the Lost Garden” is now available on the Steam online gaming platform as a direct download for PCs worldwide.

Adam’s Venture’s introduction to the Steam community comes with a 20% discount, rendering it temporarily available for a sheer €/$ 3,99!  Do not miss out on this adventurous deal:http://store.steampowered.com/app/108100/

Set during the 1920’s, Adam’s Venture delivers a unique combination of action oriented gameplay with classic puzzle solving, that takes you on an epic journey to the middle East to discover the legendary Lost Garden of Eden – but an ancient evil tries to prevent you from succeeding...

The Search for the Lost Garden is the first episode in the Adam's Venture series and introduces you to young explorer Adam Venture. Join Adam and his girlfriend Evelyn as the team embarks on an epic adventure fraught with mystery, intrigue and danger in their quest to find the legendary birth place of humanity.

***

It's alive! ...maybe its dead? *edges closer and pokes it with a stick* It's...UNdead!

The pre-order offer for the PC and Mac versions of our game based on Robert Kirkman's award-winning comic books has come to life! You'll save money ($22.49 for the 5 part season instead of $24.99) and get access to our developer forum; you'll also be able to buy our "Almost Everything Pack" for a ludicrously discounted price (more on that in a bit). However, for fans of The Walking Dead, there's no higher goal in life than becoming a shambling, hungry walker. And by pre-ordering, you have a chance to do that!

As a walker, you can hang out with like-minded folks, taking leisurely walks through cities and across farmland, stopping to snack when the opportunity presents him/herself. You don't even have to dress nicely...come in whatever rags you have on! Sadly, ladders and climbing seem to be issues, but you can't have everything.

We'll select one lucky person who will join the cast as a human character in episode four. He or she will be modeled by our artists as a human survivor, before they are killed in a manner even Robert Kirkman would shudder at. The former survivor will then be reanimated as a member of the zombie horde. If you aren't selected as the human cast member, don't worry - we'll choose up to five more people to skip human and go straight to zombie. 

Pre-order customers who are hungry for more Telltale brains can add the "Almost Everything Pack" to their collection for only $20 in addition to the cost of pre-ordering The Walking Dead. Normally $89.99 (you're saving $69.99!), The Almost Everything Pack includes the full digital seasons of Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, Hector, Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, Sam & Max Seasons 1-3 and Puzzle Agent 1 and 2! The contents of The Almost Everything Pack can be downloaded from the Telltale Store and played immediately.

For more details, head over to our The Walking Dead pre-order page. 

***

Deep Silver will release Risen 2: Dark Waters for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft and PlayStation®3system on May 22, 2012 in the USA and Canada and April 27 for Windows PC.

Official website: http://www.risen2.com
Twitter: @risenofficial

***

NinjaBee and IndieRoyale.com are proud to announce the release of the IndieRoyale Ninja Lightning Pack! The Ninja Lightning Pack includes all five of NinjaBee's PC games bundled together for a 'shockingly' cheap price! 

Titles included in the bundle are A Kingdom for Keflings (city-building simulation), Cloning Clyde (action platformer), Outpost Kaloki (space station tycoon game), Band of Bugs (tactics-style strategy), and Ancients of Ooga (action platformer).

All five titles are available as standalone DRM-free or Desura downloads, with Steam keys included for the two games available on that service, Cloning Clyde and Ancients of Ooga. The Ninja Lightning Pack will run for just 100 hours, under the same pricing model as before: the price will automatically increase as more people buy the pack. Those generous purchasers who pay more than the current minimum can keep the price low or even decrease it.

Indie Royale was co-created by Gamasutra sister site IndieGames.com and independent game download service Desura. More information on Ninja Lightning Pack, including real-time statistics and its current price, is available at its official website or via its Facebook and Twitter pages.

Further details about games included in the bundle can be found at NinjaBee.com. 

***

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hands-On With... Darksiders 2  

*

Earlier this week, I was invited to a special Darksiders 2 hands-on press event hosted by THQ taking place in San Francisco. Being a huge fan of the first game, I was glad to accept (here's my review in case you missed it) and in the interest of full disclosure, it should be known that airfare and hotel were provided.


The day started with a brief talk from one of the developers giving an overview of the sequel, and what to expect. The attendees were then allowed about two hours to play through a large chunk of the game’s first area.

Apparently, the starting zone is about the same size as the entire world of the first Darksiders, so players can expect a significantly bigger realm to explore. It was also said that although the critical path will be slightly longer than the first game, there are several areas (many of them quite significant in size) which are entirely optional. Although there weren’t many specifics, it was suggested that Darksiders 2 will have substantial RPG elements not present in the first game such as sidequests and leveling up.


The section of the game I had access to was set about six or seven hours into the campaign. As a way of compensating for missing out on the beginning tutorials and introduction of gameplay mechanics, THQ had small strategy guides available to leaf through. There were also a number of staff on-hand to answer questions and help with any sticking points.

Immediately after starting, it was easy to see several differences between Death (the protagonist of Darksiders 2) and War, the hero of the first game. 

Death is far more nimble and acrobatic, and quite reminiscent of Prince of Persia in some ways. The level design of the dungeon I was in incorporated a number of climbing and vertical elements, and it felt as though I was skittering across walls and up ledges just as often as I was walking on the ground. It's a big shift, and marks a clear foundational difference between the two Darksiders titles.


Another big change is that enemies drop loot such as new weapons and various pieces of armor. Soon after starting, I had several cowls, boots, gloves and other things to equip, each visually changing death's appearance during gameplay. In addition to the scythe that one would expect the Grim Reaper to wield, I also had claws, a hammer, and tonfas, and each of those had several variations with different stats and attributes. Although I did not find one myself, several people playing the demo found “possessed weapons” which are capable of devouring other loot-type weapons and powering up over the course of the adventure.

In terms of level designs, the developers said they were shooting for more variety and unpredictability in the world. For example, the dungeons are all of varying size, and some are more linear while others are labyrinthine. Certain areas will have the traditional boss encounter at the end, whereas some will have a boss in the beginning or middle, or not at all. In the section I played (reportedly, one of the biggest dungeons in the game) Death had to travel back and forth between several rooms in an effort to find energy crystals for a giant robot. Besides the vertical traversal of walls and swinging from ceilings, there were large golem-type vehicles used to destroy certain barriers and enable access to far-away ledges. There was also an NPC character along for the ride who could toss Death across long chasms, and who helped out during combat.


Speaking of combat, the fights seems just as solid and engaging as they were in Darksiders.  Death can switch back and forth between main and sub weapons seamlessly, and a new method of mapping attacks to the controller means that there are eight different abilities that can be accessed without having to go into a menu. After assigning some points to Death’s two skill trees (there may be more than two, but those were all I personally saw) I was able to summon a zombie from the ground, or call down a flock of crows to attack enemies. Death could also do a teleport slash and modify some of his other abilities with extra perks. Similar to War, Death has a “rage form” attack where he transforms into the traditional hooded angel of death and becomes invincible while reaping across the battlefield.

While at this hands-on, I also had a few minutes to talk to a developer one-on-one and I asked him questions posed by some of my followers on Twitter.

*

>Will there be any reason to go back and revisit areas after earning new abilities?

It's never necessary to go back and revisit an area, but there will be plenty of items to find in areas that you previously couldn't access, so people interested in getting the most from the game will be rewarded for doing so.


> How good is the loot that's dropped by enemies as compared to what is earned through the storyline?

The best loot can be found in hidden chests, but it's only slightly better than some of the loot that is awarded through the storyline. The loot dropped from enemies is of a lesser quality, but possessed weapons (which are random drops) can become quite strong if cultivated by the player.


> Will there be any appearances from War, or the other two Horsemen?

No comment.


> It’s been reported that Darksiders did not have much planning time before the game started being built. How much time for planning did the team allot for Darksiders 2?

We basically had no time at all for planning with the first game, so now that we actually had a planning period for this sequel, you could say that we had "infinitely more" planning time.


> The playtime for Darksiders was just right (or even a little too long) for an action game of that sort. With Darksiders 2 being so much larger, are you afraid of overkill, or burning players out with a campaign that's too long?

The critical path will be very similar to the first game, so it's up to the player to experience as much or as little of the optional content as they like. Of course, every player is different, so it's hard to say exactly how long the campaign will be for most people.

*

Overall, I came away from Darksiders 2 with a lot of things to chew on. While this sequel will be familiar enough to fans of the first game to make them feel at home, there are enough changes, tweaks, new ideas and new content to clearly differentiate this adventure from its predecessor.


Darksiders 2 is currently set to release on June 26, 2012 and will be available on PC, Xbox 360, Sony PS3. A Nintendo Wii U version is still planned for release at an undetermined point in the future. For more information on Death’s adventures in Darksiders 2, click on over to the official webpage HERE, and tell ‘em I sent you.

Also, special thanks to @KayinAmoh, @RyanOlson75, @Linedrag, @GameDesignDan and @ReidFeed for the questions.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Clarification, A ME3 Map, I Am Alive, Misfits & Dr Who  

 *
Clarification: Last night on Twitter, I made a comment about shopping in the app store and apparently it wasn't nearly as clear as I thought it was. I had several replies chastising me afterwards, and I wanted to clarify what I meant to say. If you still want to chastise me after that then that's totally cool, but it seemed pretty obvious that I was not able to make my point in 140 characters.

MY BAD!

So, I'm not really an Apple person but I finally switched to an iPhone last week and I've been spending a lot of time checking out the games and seeing what I've been missing out on. I knew that there were a ridiculous amount of titles to choose from, but finally witnessing it firsthand was overwhelming, and it didn't take long before I started formulating my own plan of attack. That, combined with my knowledge of sales, marketing and consumer habits is what led me to make the comment that I did.


Here is the actual tweet: Checking out the app store. If your game is over .99 and there's no Lite/Free version to try? PASS.

Afterwards, I understood how easily it could be interpreted in a different way (and I apologize for that) so let me clear it up right now.

What I meant (and failed to get across) is that when I'm browsing the app store, there are literally thousands of titles to look at and it's a ton of work to try and research each one if the information given in the description isn't enough. My own personal preference is that I'm happy to risk $1 on something that looks promising even if I don't know any other information about it, and I'm even happier if a developer gives me a ‘lite’ or free version as a way of trying before I buy -- that's awesome, and it's really smart marketing.

Personally, I'm far less likely to spend anything over .99 if I don't know any information about a particular title, if none of my friends or fellow critics have recommended it, and if there is no trial or free version. With all of the competition on the app store, my feeling is that any developer putting out an unknown game at any price point more than .99 is cutting their own throat if they don't throw consumers a bone.


I'd also like to clarify that I have no problem paying more than .99 for a game as long as it's got a good reputation or strong word-of-mouth from people that I trust. I wasn't trying to say that every game should be .99 or free, it was more meant to comment on what I see (consumer-wise) as the optimal way to appeal towards potential customers.

I hope that clarifies my position and I again apologize for being murkier than I should have been. I guess there are certain statements that just can't be made in the length of one tweet.

*

Games: My good friends over at Spikysnail wanted to let people know that The Splatters is still coming, and that they've got a new video to show off. I played the game at last year's PAX and I had a blast with it, so although it may not be on everyone's radar at the moment, it's definitely one to watch for. It hits XBLA on April 11, and you can see that video RIGHT HERE.

*

Games: I'm not going to say a damn thing about Mass Effect 3’s ending right for several reasons, but one of my Twitter followers sent along this chart showing the different locations of Assets to collect in the galaxy, and I thought it was a totally awesome timesaver. If you're still playing the game and working towards winning your war, you may find THIS MAP quite useful. WARNING: very mild spoilers, so look at your own risk.
*

Games: Just a quick word on I Am Alive, the post-apocalyptic survival/platformer that was released on XBLA and immediately overshadowed by GDC and ME3. It's a real shame since the game has a lot of really, really interesting stuff going on and the content is so stark and mature that it's like the world’s most serious boot kicking you in the gut. 


I haven't had as much time to play it as I would have liked (currently, I'm guessing I'm about halfway or so) but I certainly think anyone interested in games criticism owes it to themselves to check it out and see what it has to say. More to come on this later.

*

TV: The wife and I have been watching Misfits, and we're currently in the middle of Season three. I've mentioned the show here at the blog and on Twitter before, but it's such a fantastic program that I think it's worth mentioning again. If you haven't seen it, you are genuinely missing out.

What we think it makes it so great is that despite being a show about people who have special abilities, it's such a character-driven piece, and the writers are doing extremely solid work with each face on the show. Everyone has depth, personality and motivation, and even more oppressive, not writers have managed to avoid many of the traps and pitfalls that kill other fantasy/scifi shows like this one. The biggest example I can think of is how Heroes started so incredibly strong and then exploded into a giant fireball of stupidity and terrible writing. It would have been very easy for Misfits to follow that path, yet it never has.


For example, the subject of time travel came up early on, but the writers moved on after exploring it and didn't use it as a crutch. Although super powers and special abilities come into play often, the scripts aren't based on them -- more often, the shows are about some trouble that results from a misuse of power, and how the characters respond as people. I also admire the restraint shown by not fiddling with powers too often. There was one major shakeup, but the show stayed strong afterwards and kept building on the characters rather than obsessing about the powers themselves. I also love that the show doesn't need a giant ‘big bad’ each season, and that the characters don't spend any time at all wondering about where their powers came from. They have them, they accept them, and the show moves on.

I'm trying not to spoil anything for those who haven't seen the show yet, but take it from me -- if you're a fan of character-driven superhero/fantasy/scifi then you need to locate these episodes, make some popcorn, and dedicate an evening or two. You won't be sorry.

Speaking of character-driven...

The other night the wife and I were talking about how bad Doctor Who has gotten over the last two years, and how much we had enjoyed it previously. One thing that keeps popping up is that we both think the show would have been stronger if Amy Pond hadn't been turned into its focus the entire time… honestly, we are both bigger fans of Rory and were disappointed that he never played a bigger role in the show.

We could've been SO GOOD together!!
We often talk about how the show could have been better, and the idea of Amy getting killed over the course of their adventures keeps popping up. Not to be grim or anything, but I mean, think about it -- how interesting would it have been if Amy had died at some point, and the Doctor and Rory had been left in the aftermath? It would have provided so much opportunity to explore sorrow and loss on a human scale, as well as how it would relate to being a Time Lord. The Doctor could have changed the current formula by having a male companion for a fresh dynamic, and how many situations could have emerged to cause reflection on their new relationship?

Just a thought as to what might have been… in any event, I do sincerely hope that Pond leaves the show as soon as possible, and that the writers get back to doing the kind of stuff that they did for the Eccleston and Tennant seasons. Smith is a great Doctor in my opinion, but the material he's been given just isn't up to snuff.


******************************************************************************
PR/NEWS/INFO
***

Today, Ubisoft® announced that Shoot Many Robots™, a 2.5D side-scrolling shooter game, is now available on Xbox LIVE® Arcade for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft at a cost of 800 Microsoft Points and on PlayStation®Network for $9.99.

Developed by Demiurge Studios and published by Ubisoft, Shoot Many Robots stars P. Walter Tugnut, a hillbilly who stockpiles guns, ammo and beer in his dilapidated RV, awaiting the inevitable robot apocalypse. When the abandoned factory in the distance begins producing robots on its own, Walter sets off in his RV on a robot-killing rampage, hoping to save humanity from an onslaught of robot hordes.

For those who don’t want to play alone, Shoot Many Robots features online four-player as well as two-player local co-op, which throws players into a tidal wave of degenerated robots with an array of weaponry that would make any shooter enthusiast proud. Plus, gamers can tailor their gaming style by equipping Walter with countless combinations of items.

For more information on Shoot Many Robots, please visit: shootmanyrobots.com

***

SOE today announced that the third downloadable content (DLC) pack for DC Universe™ Online (DCUO), The Battle for Earth, is now available for download on the PC and PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system. Featuring an all-new Earth Powers set, and new multiplayer and open-world content, The Battle for Earth delivers legendary adventures as players prepare for the ultimate showdown with Brainiac.
 The Battle for Earth thickens the DCUO plot, offering players more action, epic battles, and a ninth power set, and sets the stage for a new chapter featuring the future versions of two of the most legendary DC Universe figures ever. DCUO's third DLC pack brings new open world content, an Alert, Duos, and two Raids:

Themyscira - Experience a new Raid on Wonder Woman's home island that pits players against Chimeric Brainiacs and ultimately, the deadly Avatar of Magic. Players will fight alongside mythical creatures such as Cyclops, Hydra and Colossus, while simultaneously protecting key units of Amazons and Beastimorphs.
South Gotham Brainiac Invasion - Super-charged action continues as players battle Brainiac's invasion force in the streets of South Gotham, the Courthouse Alert and new Duos. Working to stop Brainiac's Union -- formed by the people trapped inside the bottled buildings -- who are constructing Proto-Avatars to assault Gotham, players will be challenged to rise up and defend Earth against Brainiac's final assault.

The Prime Battleground - The Battle for Earth storyline leads players into an epic battle in which they must fight all three of Brainiac's newly completed Prime Avatars, and then Brainiac himself. Heroes will fight for the safety of the Earth and its inhabitants, while Villains will want to defeat Brainiac and expand the influence of evil across the planet.

Earth Powers - Rumble on to the scene and shake things up with DCUO's ninth power set. Earth Powers can be used for both Tanking and Damage, and features an exciting new Tanking mechanic that defers damage to a player's constructs and automatons. Geokinesis abilities give players the ability to shape Earthen constructs to crush enemies and reinforce allies while Seismic abilities allow players to call mighty, Earth-shaking forces to rattle and daze opponents.

DC Universe Online's The Battle for Earth DLC pack is now accessible for free for the game's Legendary members and available for $14.99 USD for Free and Premium players from the PlayStation®Network, through the in-game Marketplace, and on the PC from the DCUniverseOnline.com website.

***

XSEED Games, an independent-minded publisher, is proud to announce that they will be bringing Ys: The Oath in Felghana and Ys Origin, both from acclaimed Japanese developer Nihon Falcom, to PC on Steam.  Ys: The Oath in Felghanawill launch on 3/19 at a price of $14.99. More details on the launch of Ys Origin will be provided at a later time.

XSEED Games delighted RPG fans in 2010 and 2011 when the company published several Ys titles from legendary RPG developer Nihon Falcom to the PSP® (PlayStation®Portable) system, and now Ys fans can celebrate once more as two of the series’ most revered titles,Ys: The Oath in Felghana and Ys Origin, are heading to PC as digital downloads via Steam.

Ys: The Oath in Felghana is an action RPG driven by fast-paced combat and paired with an intricate puzzle-filled world, and an enhanced port for the PSP system garnered many accolades when published by XSEED in 2010. This Steam release is true to the original Japanese PC release from 2005, but with added Steamworks features such as Steam Achievements and Steam Cloud support. The game follows the ongoing adventures of series hero Adol Christin and his trusty companion Dogi.

Conversely, Ys Origin serves as a prequel to the original Ys, and is the first Ys title not to feature Adol Christin or Dogi. This will mark the first time that the game, originally released in Japan for PC in 2006, will be officially released in English. Set 700 years before the first title in the Ys series, the game’s story focuses on the twin Goddesses and the mysterious Black Pearl made famous in Ys I & II, and follows the adventures of several playable characters as they ascend the menacing Darm Tower.

For more information on XSEED Games products, visit www.xseedgames.com. Fans can also follow XSEED Games on Facebook atwww.facebook.com/XSEEDGames and Twitter at www.twitter.com/XSEEDGames.

***

The first ever Mass Effect “N7 Challenge Weekend” is on RIGHT NOW. 

Join your friends online on Xbox 360 and PC between Friday, 3/16 at 5PM PST and Monday, 3/18 at 5AM PST and take the fight to the Reapers in Mass Effect 3 like never before. Participants will have an opportunity to attain awesome rewards to be used in Commander Shepard’s battle to take Earth back with the following challenges:

Operation Goliath - Any player who is part of a squad that beats the Reaper faction on Silver difficulty or better will unlock one Commendation Pack. This means that at least one member of the squad must be extracted at the end of the mission – this will earn all squad members the reward. Each player can earn a maximum of one pack and each pack contains a random N7 Arsenal Weapon. Originally only available as single-player weapons via the N7 Collector’s Edition, these multiplayer variants will be exceptionally rare and are NOT obtainable through regular purchasable Reinforcement Packs. The Commendation Packs will contain one of the following guns at random: (1) N7 Crusader Shotgun, (2) N7 Eagle Pistol, (3) N7 Hurricane SMG and (4) N7 Valiant Sniper Rifle.

Destroy as many brutes as possible – if the multiplayer community kills a combined 1 MILLION brutes within the hours of the challenge, ALLplayers will receive a Victory Pack as a reward. 

 **Please Note: All rewards will unlock on Tuesday, 3/20 at 5PM PST. You must redeem (open) your packs in the multiplayer store menu within 7-days of receiving. If you do not redeem these packs within the allotted 7-days, the packs will expire and cannot be restored. To participate, all players must enable the data tracking option in the game (optionsà onlineà upload gameplay feedbackà make sure it’s “ON”).  If this is set to “OFF” your completion and/or contribution to the challenges will not be tracked and you will not receive any unlocks.

***

345 Games announced today that “Deadliest Warrior: Ancient Combat” is coming to North American retailers everywhere on April 17.  The disc-based game/TV show hybrid - based on the successful multi-platform Spike TV series “Deadliest Warrior,” which pits two of the most feared warriors civilization has ever known against each other in a battle to the death - will be available for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft and PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system. Also, gamers who preorder “Deadliest Warrior: Ancient Combat” at GameStop before April 17 will receive an exclusive DVD featuring never-before-released episodes of the hit show.

“Deadliest Warrior: Ancient Combat” combines the wildly popular downloadable console games, “Deadliest Warrior: The Game” and “Deadliest Warrior: Legends,” in addition to all downloadable content packs, an exclusive new level, 30 new weapons and exclusive TV show content.  Fans of the show will be treated to never-before-released episodes from all three seasons.

Both digital titles and all DLC included for only $29.99

Cross-play with consumers of the original digitally-distributed titles

***

Showcasing in-game footage from MechWarrior Online, this hotnew video is full of lasers (pew-pew!), rockets, GIANT ROBOTS and some sweet, sweet metal carnage. In this video you’ll see an Atlas, a Jenner and a Hunchback battling it out in a remote wilderness location, one of many environments that will launch with MechWarrior Online later this summer.

Set in the year 3049 during the early stages of a massive interstellar war, MechWarrior Online puts you in command of the most powerful war machine to ever walk the field of battle, the mighty BattleMech™.  Command your Mech™ and customize it to suit your battlefield role; upgrade systems, replace weapons, and tweak armor with endless options. 

MechWarrior Online lets players command at will: go head-to-head online alone or with friends in high-octane Conquest and VS modes. Band together and form your own Mercenary Corp, invite friends and battle other player-made Merc Corps for prestige and power.  Pledge your allegiance to one of the five great houses and fight for control of precious Inner Sphere planets. 

For more information please hit up www.mwomercs.com!

*

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Brief Hiatus  

Hey all.

Just a quick note to say that my posts here will be on hold for about a week. My oldest son's spending time with me for his Spring Break, so every free minute is with him. I've given up trying to keep on top of everything, so look for my regular posting to resume in a bit.

In the meantime...



Mass Effect 3! Dat ending!

*



Skylanders! Dose toys!

*


I Am Alive! De Pression!

*

See y'all in a few days.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Broken Glass & Mass Effect 3's Mysterious Green Bar  

*

Life: A bit of good news/bad news this week.

The bad news was that my car was broken into not once, but twice over the last few days.
The first time, I had apparently forgotten to lock the door and someone (I guess) had been combing the block looking for unlocked cars. There was nothing to take of any value, so they tried to boost the cheap-ass stereo we had put in. Based on the marks they left on the dashboard and the damage that was done, they must have used a crowbar to try and pry it out, but the faceplate is detachable. All they ended up doing was popping the plate off, cracking it, and leaving the unit still embedded in the dash.

After reminding ourselves to keep the doors locked, someone came by a few days later and busted in one of the passenger windows. Glass splintered into a million pieces and went all over the interior of the car and the lawn next to where the car was parked. The only thing they took was a diaper bag (yes, they really took it) but now it's going to cost me a ton of money to get the window fixed and I had to rent a special vacuum unit to try and get the glass out of the lawn -- my kids play in the grass all the time, and the last thing I want is for them to get shards embedded in the soles of their feet while they're running around in the sprinkler this summer.
THIEVES SUCK.

The good news? My oldest son arrives for his spring break tonight and he'll be staying here for a week! So. Damned. Excited.

Can’t wait.

*

Games: It's been nothing but Mass Effect 3 since the last update, and boy, am I exhausted… I rarely take on RPGs of any sort due to the time commitment, and getting in enough hours to review one in a speedy manner has been “challenging” to say the least. Glad I did, though… It’s been great. Not as great as the first game, perhaps, but still great and a damn sight better than Mass Effect 2.

Anyway, I completed the game this morning at around 32 hours or so (not including multiplayer) and I got an ending I was very satisfied with despite all the nonsense associated with the percentages, War Assets and ‘Readiness’ that the game throws at you.
GET OUT OF MY GAME!!!
If you're a mostly single-player person (like I am) and you're not interested in grinding through the multiplayer, the only thing you need to know to get the best ending in the campaign is to fill up the green bar in the War Room on the Normandy.
Just ignore everything else and focus on that green bar. You fill it by doing the super-boring sidequests that ask you to fly to a certain spot and scan a planet for some doodad. Yawn, right? Anyway, do enough of those (and really, just do every mission that you get) and you will end up with more than enough stuff to fill that green bar all the way up. As long as it's maxed out (and you haven't made catastrophic choices along the way) you'll get the best ending you possibly can.

More to come.

*

Podcast: It’s UP! It’s HERE! The GameCritics Podcast has a new host!

After a long and arduous search process, we’ve selected a new captain to lead our team into the next phase of our pod. If you haven’t already, CLICK HERE and check out the ‘audition’ episode for our new chief, Dylan Collins!

Let us know what you think, and remember… This was his audition -- not a real show -- and he's got some big shoes to fill! Be gentle! 
*

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mass Effect 3... and Five Others You Shouldn't Miss  

*

Games: So, as pretty much everyone in the game-o-sphere knows, Mass Effect 3 is released to the public tonight at midnight. In fact, you may even be reading this as you're standing in line outside your local Gamestop.

Without a doubt, Mass Effect 3 going to be one of the biggest, most important releases of 2012. In some ways, it's also a test for BioWare -- after developing legions of loyal fans thanks to their high-quality Western-styled RPGs, their future was called into question due to lackluster titles released after being acquired by Electronic Arts.

Despite multiple assurances that nothing in their studios would change after EA made the purchase, there was no question that the games just weren't the same. Although many critics did not call them on the carpet for it, there were strong waves of negativity from the fanbase. Mass Effect 3 is the first major title they've crafted since getting this feedback, and no one has been more curious than I to see what the result would be.

I was fortunate enough to get an early review copy of the game and at this point, I would estimate I'm about halfway through the campaign. Although I haven't seen enough of the game to give a final verdict (and this blog is not in any way a review) I will say this:

Mass Effect 1 is my second-favorite game of all time. I gave it a perfect score. The GOTY version even has my quote on the back of the box. Mass Effect 2 was misguided and disappointing. I gave it the lowest score on Metacritic. As for Mass Effect 3?  Based on what I've seen so far, it's not perfect… but it's an electric, exhilarating ride, and in many ways can be seen as a redemptive return to form for BioWare.

More to come.

*

Games: I have little doubt that Mass Effect 3 is going to do gangbusters at retail, but I would like to take this moment to give a little bit of spotlight to other releases that deserve some attention. I've always seen myself as a bit of a champion for the underdogs or the little guys, so if you've got room in your budget for one more thing at the moment, you might want to consider...
*
Containment: the Zombie Puzzler – PC/iPad

I'm nearly done with the campaign and a review should be up very soon, but it's a totally fresh, highly original take on the puzzle genre. Absolutely recommended.
*
Vessel – PC


A physics-based puzzle-platformer, I've only played through the demo (and maybe a little more) but I loved what I saw, and my gut is telling me that this is definitely going to be one to watch.
*
Journey – PSN


I hardly think I need to explain this one since it's been met with nearly universal acclaim in the critical sphere, but this moody, emotive tale of a traveler in the desert comes from ThatGameCompany -- and they don't make bad games.
*

I Am Alive – PSN/XBLA

I haven't had any time with this one at all, but I am quite excited about it. It’s a post-apocalyptic survival-themed platformer, and I can't wait to get my hands on it. Keep your eyes peeled.
*
Binary Domain – PS3/360


This one is a third-person shooter with squad-management elements and an awful lot of robots to dismantle. I played the demo and loved it, and nearly everyone I've spoken to has had nothing but good things to say about it.
 *

…So there you have it, five other things to check out in addition to that giant AAA blockbuster I mentioned at the beginning. The little guys need love too, so like I said... if you've got a few extra bucks  keep them in mind. Or hey, if for some reason you're not going to be on the Mass Effect train, maybe get all of them instead?
*