Monday, December 31, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: Mass Effect 3

Can a computer make you cry? That was the question posed by an Electronic Arts magazine ad in 1982. It might seem like a misguided metric today, but if a game is capable of making the player cry, it shows how much the game resonated with them on an emotional level, as well as how much of themself they invested in it. Mass Effect 3 was not only the first game to make me cry, it did so twice.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead is a harrowingly beautiful, emotionally intense game. It evokes the spirit of its source material (the comic series, not the television show) through its art style, writing, and characters. Lee Everett is probably the best use-case for a potentially silent protagonist, offering interesting options whether responses are moral, amoral, or non-existent. The cast of characters offer enough variation there is always someone among the group to like. The relationship between Lee and Clementine is one of protection and security, driving players to care enough that they’ll do things they otherwise wouldn’t to defend Clementine and keep her safe.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Despite my roots as a PC gamer, I never played the original X-COM. In fact, I never have been heavy into strategy games at all. Sure, I played them in the past, but never with any focus, or skill. I played Dune 2 and Outpost during the 1990s, with a hint of Warcraft 2. I bought Star Wars: Rebellion, mostly because it was a Star Wars, having never winning. Even on the easiest difficulty, I never beat that game. About a year after I started playing World of Warcaft, I jumped into Warcraft 3, through it was mostly for narrative as this was right before the Wrath of the Lich King expansion and the Culling of Stratholme dungeon. I tried again later with Star Wars: Empire at War, but even on the easiest difficulty, I couldn’t beat the second mission.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: Diablo 3

About a month after its release, I was ready to call Diablo 3 the game I regretted buying most. Having never played either of the previous two Diablo games, I was swept up in the zeitgeist of release, looking forward to playing hours of what I essentially viewed as a single-player MMO.

Release day came, and while Error 37 was frustrating at the time, it was inconsequential to the amount of actual playtime. After a little more than 25 hours, I completed both the normal and nightmare difficulties and had a level 50 Monk. At that point I asked, what else?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: Max Payne 3

It can be tremulous when a developer takes over a game series midway through. Such is the case with Max Payne 3. Originally scheduled to release in 2009, six years after Max Payne 2, the sequel was wrought through development hell until the first trailer hit in 2011. The final product, though, is a terrific example of what happens when Rockstar not only focuses their energy into a tightly knit, linear shooter, but also when a development studio takes the reigns and puts their mark on a franchise.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs is a game about additions. It doesn’t change much of the open-world crime genre made popular by games like Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row. Instead, it adds to the formula with a deep hand-to-hand combat system reminiscent of the Batman Arkham series, grand visuals, and an intriguing story from the opposite perspective of those other games.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: Dishonored

Dishonored sounds like the fantasy mash-up of one too many genres; a steampunk stealth assassin first-person game set in a Victorian London-esque city. While it doesn’t hit all those notes, Dishonored does give players enough agency to make them feel like the outcome they received is the one they chose. Like last year’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dishonored gives players the option to complete objectives either through stealth and non-lethal tactics, or with pure malicious intent leaving a trail of bodies behind them.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: Borderlands 2

Like the first game, Borderlands 2 delivers on all its promises. The art direction is fantastic and unique, the characters and dialogue feel crisp and sharp, and the guns feel powerful and dynamic, each providing a use for different situations. But unlike the first game, Borderlands 2 excels in narrative, giving a reason and motivation for your character other than simply collect more guns.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: Need for Speed Most Wanted

Between Hot Pursuit and The Run, the Need for Speed series always nails down the feeling of high top-speeds while weaving in and out of obstacles. Need for Speed Most Wanted did this taking the police chase model executed in Hot Pursuit and applying it to the open city of Fairhaven, while measuring players up against their friends for nearly every single thing they do.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: Syndicate

Here is my preamble: I’m going to be counting down the 10 best games I played in 2012 over the next 10 weekdays. You might not agree with these choices, or they might not be the best 10 games 2012 had to offer, but they are the ones I played. I encourage you to leave a comment, send an email, or message me on Twitter if you have a different opinion, or want to talk about my choices. For each game, I’ll put the trailer at the end of the text I believe best encapsulates the game and what was exciting about it.

Remember how EA ruined the Syndicate franchise by releasing a first-person shooter instead of making a new isometric strategy game? No, I don’t. I never played the original Syndicate. I was eight years old when it released, and though I can’t remember what games I was playing at the time, I know it wasn’t isometric strategy games involving corporate espionage in a cyberpunk setting.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Diary of an Assassin - Eighth Entry

Note: As I have now moved into the recently released Assassin’s Creed 3, these diary entries will contain spoilers about gameplay and story. Please read cautiously. If you do not want these things spoiled, please read after finishing the game.

Assassin’s Creed 3 may weave a story of the end of the world and its, although shaky, resolution with the history and founding of America, but it actually wields an intriguing and familiar tale about fatherhood. That may sound like a reference to the time and place of Assassin’s Creed 3 during the American Revolution and the interaction with America’s forefathers, but it actually has more to do with Williams Miles and Haythem Kenway, the fathers of the protagonists.

Set nearly 250 years apart, Williams and Haythem share similar qualities and attitudes as a farther. Both figuratively sacrificed their children for their own beliefs and goals. Haythem may well be Connor’s father, but he is more concerned about furthering the Templar cause in the colonies than taking an interest in his son. The writing doesn’t explain it well enough, but Haythem does know Connor is his son. He just doesn’t seem to care, at least until later in the game. In Williams’s case, he focused so much on following the order and protecting his family from Templars he lost sight of what was important to him, driving his son Desmond to run away and establish his own life in New York City as a bartender.

Besides their struggles balancing their goals and families, both men spent time away from their children, through either their own choices, or the choices they forced onto their children, before reuniting with them under uncertain circumstances. Haythem assumingly abandoned Connor, leaving him in the hands of his mother where he grew up in the Mohawk tribe. When he became an assassin, Connor did he meet with his father again, if only briefly, as part of his goal to eliminate the Templar influence in the colonies. Desmond, on the other hand, willingly left his father and family. After waking up from his coma in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, he reunited with his father along with Rebecca and Shaun, spending time in the modern day reconciling with Williams on much happier terms than Connor did with Haythem.

I call the themes of fatherhood in Assassin’s Creed 3 familiar because the back half of the narrative oddly follows the steps of Return of the Jedi nearly exact. Connor, after encountering his father, tells Achilles, whom Connor refers to as the old man, he thinks he can convince his father to agree to a truce between the assassin order and the Templars. Achilles warns Connor despite his feelings of misplaced sentiment, he must find and kills his father. Connor eventually does kill his father, only to chase down and kill Charles Lee, the last threat behind the Templar’s influence in America.

In Return of the Jedi, Luke, after encountering his father Darth Vader, tells Yoda he thinks he can redeem his father back to the Light side and end the fight between the Jedi and the Sith. Yoda warns Luke he must find and defeat Vader regardless. Luke eventually does defeat his father, who in turn kills the Emperor, the last threat behind the Sith in the galaxy.

There are obvious comparisons to draw between the two. Connor is Luke, Haythem is Darth Vader, Achilles is Yoda, and Charles Lee is the Emperor. There are slight differences, but it’s astonishing how close they come. I’m not sure if it was intentional or just a coincidence by the Assassin’s Creed writing staff, but it’s interesting to see the parallels between the two. Regardless, the similarities between Williams and Haythem seem conscious and redeeming, even if the end of Assassin’s Creed 3 is a bit rocky and hokey.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Diary of an Assassin – Seventh Entry

Note: As I have now moved into the recently released Assassin’s Creed 3, these diary entries will contain spoilers about gameplay and story. Please read cautiously. If you do not want these things spoiled, please read after finishing the game.

The Assassin’s Creed series has always had two main protagonists: Desmond Miles, the kidnapped bartender who escaped under the wing of the modern-day assassins, and the character from which he relives memories through the animus. In the first Assassin’s Creed, this was Altair. In Assassin’s Creed 2, Brotherhood, and Revelations, it was Ezio.

With few exceptions has there been a third playable character. Assassin’s Creed 2 had a short sequence where Altair was playable. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations had specific missions tied into the story where the player took the role of Altair instead of Ezio.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Diary of an Assassin – Sixth Entry

There tends to be one question many people ask upon completing Assassin’s Creed: Revelations: What was the revelation?

The premise that Assassin’s Creed: Revelations would not only end the Ezio storyline of the series, but also simultaneously reveal the franchise’s secrets to the player, was a lofty goal. To a certain point of view, Ubisoft achieved that goal. It all just depends on which secrets you’re talking about.

The main narrative Revelations, Ezio traveling to Constantinople in search of a way to gain access to Altair’s library, gives good closure to the character, setting up for a big reveal of what secrets the library holds. However, after finding all the Masyaf keys and opening the library only to discover it’s not a library, but a vault holding the body of Altair and another apple of Eden, Ezio turns back saying he’s “seen enough for one life.” The fact the vault holds another piece of Eden isn’t much of a revelation as we saw at least 28 pieces of Eden spread across the world at the end of the first Assassin’s Creed.

Maybe it’s the reveal of who Desmond Miles actually is. Through the collection of animus data fragments and the animus island, I was able to dig deeper into the past of Desmond in what seemed to be an animus data construct. Sadly, this section of gameplay was probably the worst part of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, combining a first-person perspective with platforming to complete what felt like test chambers from Portal. It doles out bite-sized pieces of backstory, most being what one could extrapolate from the first few conversations Desmond has with Lucy and Warren at the beginning of Assassin’s Creed when he says things like, “I’m a bartender, for Christ’s sake! What do you want me to do, teach you how to mix a Martini?” and, “I'm not an Assassin... not anymore.” It’s ancillary information, but nothing too shocking or surprising.

Looking at it from an unlikely approach, could the explanation of subject 16 in the Lost Archives DLC be the big revelation? Before Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, players only knew him as subject 16, the person who explored the animus before Desmond. But this is the first time we have a name and face to connect to subject, let alone an entire backstory for him. It might be a nice chunk of story for Assassin’s Creed fans, but I hardly think Ubisoft would relegate the subtitle of a game to part of its downloadable content.

When the credits finally rolled on Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, I realized exactly what the revelation was. It wasn’t the reveal of a second apple of Eden, or that the library was actually a vault. It was the discovery of the vault of the first civilization. That may not seem like much to the player, but for the characters of the series, this is what the assassin’s order was looking for since the first game. The ones who came before worked on projects to stop to incoming solar flare, but they proved fruitless. The result of those projects where transmitted to a central vault underground somewhere in America, where the series picks up for Assassin’s Creed 3.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Diary of an Assassin – Fifth Entry

At the end of Assassin’s Creed, Altair is a strong, stoic, idealist. He is the type of person who would make a great teacher. He was born into the assassin’s guild, and it’s surrounded him his entire life.

Ezio, on the other hand, is a charming, funny, and energetic person. Loyal to the core, he’s someone who you’d want to have as a childhood friend. If you were in trouble, he’d always have your back.

As I trek through Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, and having just recently finished the first Altair memory, I finally agree with the consensus that Ezio is the better character of series. That’s not to say Altair isn’t an interesting character, but Ezio is more relatable, likeable, and shows more emotion, giving players a reason to care.

I say finally agree because, having an outside perspective from not playing the series at the time, it seemed like Altair was swept under the rug. To me, it was odd Ubisoft would drop Altair as a character so quickly after only one game. Through some misguided and unfounded loyalty, it felt like a betrayal to a character they established and then left out to dry. However, writing these diary entries and playing through the series back to back shows how wrong I was not only in character development, but also in narrative.

While he may not have been the main playable character, Altair didn’t leave the series at all. In fact, since the first game Altair has become almost legend in games’ narrative. In Assassin’s Creed 2, Mario, Ezio’s uncle, tells him of Altair’s armor, and how only someone more powerful than he could claim it. The entire plot of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations revolves the secrets inside Altair’s vault.

Returning to play and learn more as Altair feels a bit like coming full circle. I started the series with him, and now I finally get to see the conclusion of both his and Ezio’s story.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Diary of an Assassin – Fourth Entry

I finished Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood last week and have spent the time since thinking about how I wanted to discuss it. On the surface, Brotherhood is better than it deserves to be. It’s a game that epitomes the phrase, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Many look at Brotherhood as the best game in the Assassin’s Creed series. I may not agree with them fully, but the important aspects are worth pointing out.

In that time I’ve spent thinking about Brotherhood, I looked at it from both a narrative and gameplay perspective.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The charm of Rayman Origins

Rayman Origins is a fantastic game. The art and animations are smooth and fluid, and the music is fun with its integration of the often seldom-used digierdoo. But what makes Rayman Origins enjoyable to play the most is its sense of charm by rewarding for using the path of least resistance.

The path of least resistance in platformers tends to be the bottom lane, to borrow a term from MOBAs. This path is easier, faster, and usually more fun, but gives less rewards in the form of coins, rings, or whatever thing you’re trying to collect. The more rewarding path tends to be the upper lane, where you have to jump from floating platform to platform. You’ll find more power-ups on this path, but also run into more enemies and movement won’t be as fluid.

Looking at what I consider the two biggest platformers in history, the Super Mario Bros. series and the Sonic the Hedgehog series, these paths fit near perfectly.

cashshopIn Super Mario Bros., the bottom path moves quickly and, while filled with goombas and turtles, your ability to jump makes the obstacles trivial. As long as you can get a running start, most jumps are easy to maneuver. The upper path often takes the form of clouds or small platforms that don’t allow for distance jumping, and flying turtles can easily block your way requiring the timing of jumps to be more precise.

Sonic the Hedgehog had the same approach. With its loops and fast-paced gameplay, racing to the end of a stage using the lower path was usually a lot more fun than taking the higher ground and bouncing off enemies to make the long-gap jumps.

shoppinglistRayman Origins takes both of those lanes and puts them on the same path. The same route that moves you quickly through the level or stage is the same one that puts the least amount of obstacles in your with the fewer amount of enemies. The video above shows how the lums are placed specifically where you will be running. At 20 seconds, in any other platformer the lums would line up in a straight line up the wall. Rayman Origins recognizes how the player will move up the wall and arranges the Lums in a vector in line with the player’s movements, making sure each one is collected.

These subtle placements of collectables, power-ups, and extra lives makes Rayman Origins not only a fun game because of its presentation, but a charming game because it caters to the player, doing everything it can to help the player along the way.

My hope is that its sequel Rayman Legends, which is due March 5 for the Nintendo Wii U, doesn’t lose this charm in its implementation of the all-controlling gamepad player.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Diary of an Assassin – Third Entry

I can see why people often recommend starting with Assassin’s Creed 2.

First off, Ezio is a much more likable character than Altair. He’s charming, humorous, less dogmatic, and unafraid to show the spectrum of emotions. The cities feel more vibrant and colorful thanks to the renaissance backdrop, and the narrative is more expansive with less repetition. Lastly, and I believe this may be appreciated more now than when it first released, the music is amazing. While Jesper Kyd has a resume of composing music for games starting back in 1989, I don’t think his talent was as highly regarded as it is until his work on Assassin’s Creed 2. Like the themes from other game themes including Battlefield, Mass Effect, and Uncharted, the Assassin’s Creed theme will be one I remember for years.

However, I believe starting with Assassin’s Creed 2 depreciates its value. The Twitter pitch is everything is better; combat is smoother and gives more control, climbing up buildings is faster and traversal on rooftops is even more fluid, and the story is interesting enough to make you actually want to learn more about the characters. Skipping the first game and jumping directly into Assassin’s Creed 2 doesn’t give the player a position to see the leaps and bounds of change, both literally and figuratively. Assassin’s Creed may be a repetitive game, but it will give you a much bigger appreciation of the things added and changed in Assassin’s Creed 2.

And without rehashing what’s already been said about the ending, it is indeed spine-chilling when Minerva looks directly at the camera and utters the name Desmond.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Medal of Honor: Warfighter – missing the mark

Medal of Honor: Warfighter, as a game, plays fine. The movement and shooting feels responsive, the textures look crisp and smooth, and there are some great standout moments like breaching doors and the driving sequences. However, Warfighter in it’s entirely feels uninspired and suffers from a lack of direction of where it wants to go.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Playlist – 10/28/2012

The great thing about the playlist is it’s open and free. I can write about my goals in a game, why I like a particular genre over another, the lifespan of a release, or certain mechanics that do and don’t work in a game. Like most people last week, I played Medal of Honor: Warfighter. I’ll have a more substantial article about it in general soon, but this week I wanted to talk about one of the best parts of Medal of Honor: Warfighter, breaching.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Diary of an Assassin – Second Entry

Oops, I already completed Assassin’s Creed. It only took me 15 hours, though I suspect further sequels will take substantially more time. The visuals and mechanics still hold up five years later, though it is not without faults, Assassin’s Creed is still a spectacular first dive into an open world setting.

The introduction and tutorial seemed exceptionally long, however. After the 17-part tutorial introduces nearly every weapon and technique, only to become available after you complete certain key missions, making me wonder why the tutorial is overly long in the first place. When each new weapon or technique unlocks, the option to practice them in training becomes available to get a feel of how they work in combat, making the first tutorial unnecessary.

I’m a bit sad after finishing Assassin’s Creed I won’t see Altair until Revelations. His character arc felt redeeming. When first introduced in Solomon’s temple, I didn’t like Altair. He’s a jerk playing by his own rules and didn’t seem to deserve the title of assassin as he strolled up in plain sight, not even trying to hide in the shadows unseen. Those first few moments took me longer than it should because I was looking around the room, thinking to myself, I shouldn’t just walk up to him, right? But when he’s stripped of his rank and title, his build up back to master assassin is earnest and not without effort.

Once I get out into one of the three cities, though, exploration shines. Free running through the streets of Jerusalem, galloping from rooftop to rooftop, and jumping into piles of hay is so satisfying. Comparing the difference between the old Tomb Raider games where most platforms were based on a grid cube system to seeing Altair run and jump off a building at angle, land on a platform hovering above the street, keep his momentum as he jumps off again, only to land in a roll on another rooftop is simply amazing.

I can plainly see how people describe Assassin’s Creed as repetitive. Effectively, each mission breaks down into a monotonous process: head into town, find the informant, climb towers until you can find and complete any three combination of pickpocket, interrogate, or eavesdrop, return to informant, assassinate target. While the PC version has a dash of variety for side missions with informant missions, they are often more difficult than your run-of-the-mill pickpocket or eavesdrop. Tearing down merchant stands while being chased by guards, losing line of sight with the guards, then making it back to the informant in time can be harrowing.

Besides the repetitiveness, pacing felt fine right up until the end. Making my way through the funeral was tense enough, but once I discovered my target had already fled I head off into the hills to find him, going through wave after wave of soldiers. Combat certainly isn’t the lowest point of Assassin’s Creed, but it still feels a bit clunky when taking on crowds of guards and soldiers. Then I still had to head back to my town to take out my master. It feels like a case of, and then, where each final objective delivers another final objective.

If this were 2007 I would talk more about the ending and the writing on the walls, but seeing as the series goes on and more of it is - hopefully - explained in later games, I’ll save that discussion until I have more information. Now that I’m done with Altair for a while, time to dive into the dark middle chapter of the series, Assassin’s Creed 2.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dragon Age 3 and the case of the missing platform

More than a month after their initial announcement, BioWare revealed some more details about Dragon Age 3: Inquisition over the weekend at Edmonton Comic and Entertainment Expo. David Gaider will return as lead writer for the game as players take control of a human character once again. Whether that human character will be Hawke, the grey warden, or someone new is unknown.

BioWare wants this to be the biggest Dragon Age yet, with a deeper focus on customization than Origins had for both your character and your followers. Players will be able to take control of a castle as seen in the concept art above. When BioWare talked about scope, they pointed out one dungeon in Dragon Age 3 is bigger than all of the dugneons in Dragon Age 2. They are also exploring technology to allow players to import their saves from previous games without actually transferring the save data.

Despite all this, BioWare was quiet on which platforms the game will appear. Dragon Age 3: Inquisition will be the first BioWare game to run on Frostbite 2, the same engine that’s powered Battlefield 3, Need for Speed The Run, and the recently released Medal of Honor: Warfighter. With a tentative release date of fall 2013, it’s almost a forgone conclusion we’ll see Inquisition on the PC and next-generation consoles, especially to take advantage of the Frostbite 2 engine that stumbles on current gen systems. However, with more than 130 million consoles in total, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t an Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 version as well.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Diary of an Assassin - First Entry

I never played an Assassin’s Creed game. Well, that’s partly true. I played about the first hour of the first game when it released in 2007 on my, at the time, single-core CPU and AGP graphics card. I only played the first hour because the game chugged along in what seemed like slow motion, effectively killing any exciting moments the game had to offer. The system I was playing it on was built before the transition to dual-core and quad-core chips, and before PCI-e cards were a thing.

Fast forward five years later, we’re barreling towards the release of Assassin’s Creed 3. In both an effort to catch up before the release of the newest game, as well as see if the games in the series still hold up, I’m going to be playing through the entire series leading up to the release of Assassin’s Creed 3 for the PC on November 20. That means Assassin’s Creed, Assassin’s Creed 2, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. Four weeks, four games.

Going through previous entries in a series before the new one comes out isn’t a new thing for me. When The Dark Knight Rises released, I watched Batman Begins and The Dark Knight the weekend before. However, I’ve never done this with games. There’s a very real possibility I could totally burn out on the series before Assassin’s Creed 3 releases. I’m willing to take that risk.

I’ll be updating my progress through these entries pointing out what still works in each game, how the series changes from release to release, and how the meta-narrative connects. But first, it’s time to step into the shoes of Altair Ibn-La'Ahad.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Journey into Tyria: Two steps forward, one step back

It’s been more than enough time since Guild Wars 2 released to poke and prod at the way it handles genre conventions. Having played every weekend beta event up until release, and my time with it after, it’s evident to me this was not the second coming of MMOs fans were expecting. That’s not to say Guild Wars 2 isn’t a fun game. It is, but the design foundation seems to ask why certain genre-defining standards are the way they are with changes where ArenaNet saw fit. This works in some instances, but when all the game systems come together it feels like taking two steps forward and one step back.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Playlist – 9/29/2012

If you weren’t excited about any of the previous fall releases, be prepared because the holiday release schedule has officially started. With few exceptions, the next few weeks are back to back releases with NBA 2K13, Dishonored, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Need for Speed Most Wanted, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Assassin’s Creed 3, and Hitman: Absolution.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Playlist – 9/1/2012

The last time I sat down and talked about what I was playing was about a month ago. Instead of listing the reasons why I haven’t been able to write a Playlist since, I’d rather just dive into what I played over the last month. There is a lot to talk about.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

New Darksiders 2 weapons for players of the original

Vigil Games announced a reward for loyal players who played and completed the first Darksiders game. Players will receive two pieces of gear in Darksiders II; the Pauldrons of the Horsemen a level 5 armor piece that increases Death’s stats and critical damage, for playing Darksiders, as well as the Chaos Fang, a level 1 scythe that boosts Death’s regular and critical damage, for completing the first game on any difficulty.

These items are will be awarded for all players regardless of platform, and are based on achievements through Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, or Steam. Darksiders II releases on August 14 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bethesda missed the window on Dawnguard for PC and PS3 players

The summer drought of games is ending soon. Both Darksiders II and Sleeping Dogs release in nearly two weeks, followed up by Transformers: Fall of Cybertron the week after. After that, it’s a cascade of games flowing all the way into December. So when will PC and PlayStation 3 players have the time to play Dawnguard? They won’t.

Dawnguard, the expansion for last year’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, adds additional content and quests along with an entirely new set of vampire-centric powers. Xbox 360 players have enjoyed the new content since June 26 thanks to Bethesda’s deal with Microsoft for a 30-day exclusive on the platform. But 30 days came and west last week, and there still hasn’t been an announcement or reveal of when this expansion will come for the other platforms. To put this in perspective, the last official number of Skyrim copies sold was 10 million, 59% of those the Xbox 360 version, while 27% of copies sold for the PlayStation 3, and 14% for the PC. That leaves 4.1 million potential players waiting for the expansion, during a time when games are slow and the addition to a one of last year’s hits would be welcome.

Will Dawnguard come to the PC and PlayStation 3 at all? It’s up in the air right now. Vice president of PR and marketing at Bethesda Softworks Pete Hines said in a recent twitter post, “We have not announced Dawnguard for any other platform, nor given a timeline for any such news. If we have news, I promise I'd tell you.” So it’s possible it might not something we see anytime soon, but then Bethesda updated the PC version of Skyrim on Steam with patch 1.7, adding a few bug fixes and stability issues. Could this patch be in preparation of Dawnguard? Road signs point to yes as Hines responded to an inquiry on twitter, saying, “Nothing has been said/announced about it. We should have info later this week.”

Even if Bethesda does confirm Dawnguard for PC and PlayStation 3 and gives a release date, it will have missed its mark. Take for example the last Bethesda published title that had an Xbox 360 timed exclusive addon, Fallout: New Vegas. Dead Money released for the Xbox 360 on December 21, 2010 and didn’t show up on the PC or PlayStation 3 until February 22, two months later. If the same rings true for Dawnguard, we’ll already be knee-deep in games vying for our attention.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Secret World review: the truth is out there, somewhere

Massively multiplayer online role-playing games are going through a bit of a renaissance right now. Recent releases show developers are searching for new ways for their game to stand out, focusing on a single aspect that bucks the trend. EnMasse did it with TERA, introducing a true action-based combat system that relied on the movement of the player and their position relative to the enemy. BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic brought story back to the RPG by, literally and figuratively, giving players a voice in the game, deciding how they approach each quest, and what the consequences of those choices will be. When looking at The Secret World, it doesn’t do any one thing drastically different from games before. Instead, it does many things just different enough you can’t quite compare it to any other game out there.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Playlist - 6/30/2012

I’ve been traveling all over the world this week, from Russia, to New York, to Dubai. I’m looking forward to even more globe-trotting next week as I head to New Vegas and spend my time there.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The summer of RPGs

The temperature reached 98 degrees yesterday, giving way to the start of the summer season. This means two things: Game releases will quickly slow down, as evidenced by this week’s release of Quantum Conundrum and Spec Ops: The Line next week, until they pick back up in late August, and I have a ton of games to write about from E3.

E3 could leave LA next year

The Electronic Entertainment Expo, organized by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), called Los Angeles its home for 16 of the 18 years it’s been running, but that might change next year.

The annual videogame trade show sees over 45,000 attendees who fill over 30,000 hotel rooms and generates approximately $40 million in spending on restaurants, taxis, construction work, and booth attendants according to the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The ESA noted last year that the trade show might not return to Los Angeles after 2012 due to conflicts when renewing its contract with the Los Angeles Convention Center. The main argument is a proposed remodel of the convention center to make room for Farmers Field.

However, president of the ESA, Michael Gallagher, mentioned in an interview with the LA Times that, “we have a number of issues that still need to be resolved. If we can't resolve them, we are preparing to go elsewhere.” Other locations where the trade show might call home include San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and New Orleans. The ESA cited the ease of access to the convention center during construction and sufficient show floor space as their top issues. The remodel would tear down West Hall, where Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo usually set up their booth, to make room for a stadium with a new hall built above Pico Boulevard next to South Hall.

“We need assurances on things like square footage, the quality of the space, the ease of loading and unloading equipment, signage throughout the convention center for marketing and sponsorships," Gallagher said. "We love being in Los Angeles, but we also have a show to put on.”

As someone who can almost say E3 is in my backyard, I’d hate to see it move to a different city. I’ll probably have my first experience this year attending a convention out of state for PAX in September, but I hope that the LACC and ESA can find a way to come to a compromise on these issues and keep E3 in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Playlist – 6/16/2012

The Playlist is a feature I wanted to do for some time now, and with the summer drought of games starting soon (the last big release until August is Spec Ops: The Line which comes out on June 26), you’ll see on Monday why this is the perfect time to introduce this. The Playlist is a new weekend feature that will run every Saturday (or as often as I can) and cover the games I played over the last week. It won’t be a review of the games, but just a quick summary of what I’m doing, or small thoughts or nuances of the games. It will also highlight any sales for the coming week. Between the Steam summer sale and the holiday release schedule coming up, deals on games will be popping up faster than you think. With that, here is what I played this week.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Things I am (and am not) excited about for E3

E3Maybe it’s because I haven’t been doing this as long as others, but I’ve yet to become jaded or cynical about E3. I still look forward to it each year, whether it’s the multitude announcements that come beforehand, or the surprises we still haven’t heard about. Going over the current list of confirmed games going to be at the show, it's clear the rest of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 looks to be amazing.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Harley Quinn’s Revenge Review: More of the same

Harley Quinn’s Revenge picks up two days after the end of Batman: Arkham City. Batman has been missing for two days since investigating the kidnapping of several cops by Harley Quinn and her goons. This sets up for Robin to come in with the help of Oracle to find Batman and find out what went wrong. It’s an interesting premise that allows you to take control of Robin, who we only get a glimpse of in the main storyline of the game.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

TellTale defines a new genre with The Walking Dead

There’s a lot of praise for Telltale’s recently released The Walking Dead game. Some call it Telltale’s best effort yet. After playing through multiple times to see how the game can diverge, I’m confident enough to agree with others and add my own claim that The Walking Dead is the first in a new hybrid genre, the Role-Playing Adventure Game.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Call of Duty: Black Ops II official for November 13 release

Activision unsurprisingly revealed the newest Call of Duty to come later this year. The UK version of the Call of Duty website unveiled Call of Duty: Black Ops II this morning before the full reveal coming later tonight during the NBA Playoffs on TNT. A few screenshots were found on the site’s backend along with the description, “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 propels players into a near future, 21st Century Cold War, where technology and weapons have converged to create a new generation of warfare.” The screenshots depict a near future setting in Los Angeles with advanced weapons and drones similar to those seen in Homefront or Battlefield 2142. Call of Duty: Black Ops II will be available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on the official release date of November 13, 2012. Activision has yet to give any information about how Call of Duty Elite will integrate with Black Ops II.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Getting Personal with Battlefield 3: Close Quarters

EA released the second trailer for the upcoming expansion for Battlefield 3, Close Quarters. This trailer highlights an intense firefight on the Donya Fortress map with seemingly enhanced destruction. In contrast to the map packs for Call of Duty, expansions for the Battlefield series tend to centralize around a theme, Close Quarters focusing on tight maps for short-range combat. In addition to the new maps, the expansion will include new weapons and vehicles. Battlefield 3: Close Quarters will release sometime in June for the all three platforms (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC) with PlayStation 3 players accessing the content a week earlier than the others.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Taking my time with Diablo III

As many as 300,000 people played Diablo III simultaneously this weekend during the open beta event Blizzard held. For many of those players, it was the first opportunity they’ve had with the game. I’ve played it in small chunks at past BlizzCons, but sitting down and playing a genre that I had no familiarity with for a short amount of time hardly feels like a hands-on experience. Despite that, I too felt like I was sitting down to play it for the first time this past weekend.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

First Crysis 3 Gameplay Trailer

Despite its reveal earlier this month, EA released the first trailer for Crysis 3 today, showing off some of the literal concrete jungle that is New York City. The trailer shows a quarantine dome placed over the city with remnants of the Ceph still inside and it’s up to Prophet to take back the city. A new addition to the Crysis series is a compound bow, which assumingly can execute stealth kills from afar.

Crytek told Joystiq that DirectX 11 support would be available at launch, in 2013, for PC users. “Yeah, I'm pretty sure we're going to have that,” said Rasmus Hojengaard, Director of Creative Development. “I don't know if we've announced that yet, but obviously we're going to have DirectX 11 support since we already did it for Crysis 2. We basically started from a Crysis 2 DX11 patch, as starting point, and then we developed our technology from there on. We'd be pretty stupid not to capitalize on the technology we did for that and utilizing that from the get-go.” Crysis 3 will be available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC sometime in spring 2013.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Dear Esther fosters and hinders exploration in the same chord

Dear Esther is not a game. I don’t say that to sound elitist or demeaning, but it doesn’t share the same qualities that you might think of in a game. The narrative is scarce, there are no puzzles to solve, movement feels rigid, there is little interaction from the player, and no clear goal of what you must do. Instead, it presents a landscape that looks beautiful and illustrates the thoughts of a man as he reflects and accepts the troubles of his past.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Choosing your fate and the non-consequences of Amalur

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a game all about fate. Having died once and being the first person resurrected by a device known as the Well of Souls, you fulfilled your destiny and are no longer bound to it. This means you can change the fate of the world and those around you, except you don’t.

Monday, February 13, 2012

All those Vita advertisements

With the February 22 launch of Sony’s brand new handheld, the PlayStation Vita, you’d think there would be more advertisements for it. With less than two weeks, I’ve yet to see a single TV, radio, magazine, or internet ad for it. In fact, the only advertisement I have seen is the Taco Bell promotion that gives away a free PlayStation Vita every 15 minutes (they aren’t).

In an interview with the New York Times, John Koller, senior director for Sony’s handheld consoles, said the company is spending $50 million on commercials, billboard, retail details, online banners, and social media including a Twitter campaign themed, “Never Stop Playing,” with the hashtag #gamechanger. Koller says the campaign is focused on brining “the largest platform launch in terms of marketing investment we’ve ever hand.

That would sound great, if their demographic wasn’t so niche. According to Koller, the target audience for the Vita is men in their 20s who play video games eight hours a week for more and own a PlayStation 3 console. The challenge that lies ahead for Sony is to overlap that market with those who already own other mobile or handheld devices, such as the iPhone or Nintendo 3DS, and pull them towards the PlayStation brand.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mass Effect 3 Featuring Jessica Chobot

BioWare released a new trailer for Mass Effect 3 this morning highlighting the new and returning voice actors of the game. Jennifer Hale returns as female Commander Shepard, Martin Sheen as the Illusive Man, Keith David as Admiral Anderson, Seth Green as Joker, Tricia Helfer as EDI, and newcomer Freddie Prinze Jr. as James Vega.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

No BlizzCon for 2012

Blizzard announced today that its annual convention for all things Blizzard will not occur this year at the Anaheim Convention Center like it normally does, nor anywhere else. In a post on their BlizzCon site, Blizzard noted that due to its numerous current development, including Diablo III, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, and World of WarCraft: Mists of Panderia, BlizzCon would be held off until next year in 2013.

BlizzCon has been an annual event since 2007, with each year announcing a new product or feature. It could be with all of their current projects, they have nothing new to announce. It could also be a financial decision, with Blizzard stating several times that BlizzCon is a loss for them in terms of profit, and held purely as a gesture of goodwill for the fans.

It’s interesting to note that 2012 was the year that Blizzard co-founder Mike Morhaime mentioned would be the first news of their upcoming next-gen MMO project, Titan. With BlizzCon 2012 off the plate, it’s doubtful that we’ll hear anything about this project until next year.

In the same post, Blizzard announced the 2012 World Championship, bringing in the world’s best StarCraft II and World of WarCraft arena teams to compete in Asia at the end of this year.

Monday, January 23, 2012

I’m ready to step into the Kingdoms of Amalur

Last week the demo for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning released for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. This game wasn’t on my radar until I sat down for a presentation of it at E3 2011. I have a feeling this is the RPG many non-RPG fans have been waiting for.

Reckoning is the first game to be released from the developer 38 Studios founded by pitcher Curt Schilling. However, Schilling isn’t the only big name behind the game. Famed fantasy writer R.A. Salvatore wrote a 10,000-year history for the game as well as the upcoming MMO project codenamed Copernicus. Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn, worked as art director on the game, and the lead designer of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Ken Rolston, served as executive director for Reckoning.

Looking at the game, it could be labeled it as a derivative fantasy RPG. It’s based in a fantasy setting with elves, gnomes, magic, and swords. But the feature that stands out above the rest is its combat. It’s been described as someone putting the God of War combat system in an Elder Scrolls game. After playing the demo, it plays more like Darksiders meets a hybrid of Fable and the Elder Scrolls. Combat is fast, fluid, and dynamic. I can’t think of another RPG that allows you to sneak attack an enemy, juggle him up in the air, fire several arrows at him while still in the air, and slam him down to the ground with a giant two-handed mace.

Reckoning also takes a cue from Skyrim, as there are no classes in the game. Instead, it uses a destiny system that effectively lets you choose your class at the end of the game, rather than the beginning. During the game, you can freely switch weapons on the fly to create hybrid combos. Feel like mixing the sneak attack of daggers with the burst damage of magic? The destiny system allows you to shape your character to how you want to play, whether it’s with a two-handed sword or with a bow. The fun part comes from experimenting with these different combinations and unlocking different destinies to see which playstyle fits you best.

I have to commend EA, 38 Studios, and Big Huge Games for putting out an exceptional demo, especially on PC. It’s refreshing to play a demo again; the last quality demo I can remember was the Bulletstorm demo released in 2010. Even after finishing the tutorial, and outside areas of the demo, you’re given an extra 45 minutes to explore and experiment, whether that’s following up on the quests or stalking and killing NPCs in town.

The demo is free and available on both Origin and Steam for PC, as well as the Xbox Marketplace and PlayStation Store. You’ll also unlock items for Mass Effect 3 when you play the demo as part of a cross-promotion. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning will be available on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on February 7.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Welcome to the Future (Present?)

You may have wondered where I’ve been lately. Maybe you haven’t. In either case, I can tell you it’s been enjoying the hell out of Star Wars: The Old Republic (as evidenced by my Ratpr page). But before that, during beta, it was a different story.

After receiving my beta key in late October and downloading the client, I fired up the game to see how well it would work on my system. The game promptly greeted me with a critical error. It confirmed my fears; the computer I built in 2005 would not run this game I planned on playing for the next several years.