Gaming and Narcotics: Opportunity, Fear and Desperate Pleas for Games

Drugs are mostly bad, kids, and you don’t need me to tell you that. Presumably. Hopefully. But as well as being outlawed by parents, politicians and those who allegedly have your continued well-being in mind, narcotics also harbour a fascinating perspective muddled full of truths and mistruths, secreted behind their brain-altering side effects. As Socrates once condemned the man who did not seek the full potential of his body, should we too not seek the full potential of our minds? That’s probably a discussion for a slightly different post, on a slightly different website, written by a slightly different person; what I want to discuss is the happy subject of the place of drugs in video games, their potential as a subject matter and why we’re all so flipping scared of one of the most taboo topics our conversely unhappy medium could ever hope to tackle.

Now, substance use is far from entirely absent in video games. Lord of the Rings Online requires you to smoke Pipeweed to increase your botanical aptitude; Fallout’s Med-X was originally morphine; and I won’t mention the brazen use of drugs in Saint’s Row 3, because what sober gentlemen would ever want to talk about Saint’s Row 3 without a 30,000 foot drop nearby just incase? Not I, kids.

But each of these games includes narcotics on a supplementary level. In general, it’s an unexplored avenue of orbital narrative in video games, presumably for reasons one scarcely needs to be Sherlock Holmes to ascertain. It’s an X-Rated subject of the highest order that stands to cause developers more trouble than it’s worth. Not to mention it’ll increase the chance of them having to ward off tides of incessantly uninformed, whinging mothers who should have jobs or something. Amirite Rockstar? Anyway…

In Phillip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, the movie adaptation used a stark visual hinge wherein the film was shot digitally before being animated using ‘interpolated rotoscope’. And no, I’ve no idea what that means either, but it sure looks pretty. While it of course gave the movie its iconic, instantly recogniseable art style, it also allowed for the Scramble Suit, the sci-fi device that obscured the wearer’s appearance, to work effectively both from a visual and technological standpoint. This kind of thing cries out for a place in modern video games; exploring the aesthetic derailment of the mind as an undercover narcotics agent, jumping from skin to skin, sometimes the even player themselves unsure which character he or she is playing. It lays on a platter the opportunity for a deeply woven, thought-provoking and angular narrative while simultaneously delivering a uniquely interactive, sensory assault that could challenge and captivate in equal measure.

Don’t worry, there is more to this post than ‘I want a Scanner Darkly game’. Supposedly. So, poignantly, are we avoiding the subject of drugs intentionally? After all, they are bad. And with Assassin’s Creed Unity coming under fire simply for not having enough lady parts in it, are we as an industry ready to invite these stern-faced issues, already frequently tackled by literature and cinema, into our medium? The evidence looks negative, but then no press is bad press; and if you’re going to get into trouble, you might as well make headlines while you do. Right? Right??

The answer to that particular dispute lies, unsurprisingly, in the blindingly obvious. Of course we’re avoiding drugs intentionally. Of course gaming as an industry isn’t ‘ready’ to tackle such issues, because we’re busy guffawing haplessly into our copies of Call of Duty before jumping onto YouTube to be violent, misogynistic, racist berks. I say we, I of course mean you. It’s your fault. Albeit, probably not you if you’ve found this particular blog being kicked about in the dregs of the internet. I take it back, well done you.

‘Yes, but other mediums are also busy glorifying and trivialising horrors and they’re okay to put drug-based narratives on the focal mantle without too much backlash’. Good point actually, inner monologue, a very good point indeed. In fact considering the increasingly steepening decline of all humankind, from Boris Johnson to Justin Bieber to Josie Cunningham (peculiar pattern of Js there, isn’t there) as we desperately scrape and scratch our way down this vomit-spattered deteriorating societal sluice, in many ways there’s never been a better time to get this kind of stuff covered. Why? Because it’s only going to get worse, isn’t it.

The world is going to become increasingly slack-jawed, the evidence for which lies solely in the Daily Mail’s sales figures.The infestation of the cinema-goer who has to have stories loudly, monotonically bellowed into his ear has already done away with the concept of thought-provoking film. And since gaming seems these days so eager to keep up with its big half-cousin-once-removed The Film Industry, violently cramming its staple techniques into a medium that doesn’t actually accommodate them very well, doesn’t that mean that we’re just going to descend into brash, unchallenged mediocrity on an even larger scale? If this IS the case, and gaming’s masthead is soon (or continues to be) adorned with titles equivalent in the complete absence of quality as that recent Godzilla film, or Pacific Rim, or anything that Megan Fox was ever considered for, then we need to get a shift on.

The indie scene is, of course, the place to go for gaming that makes you think. But it needn’t be that way, chiefly because we’re running out of time for it to be any other way. And if gaming’s ostensibly crass outer shell is going to become an even greater lomax than the one that currently has Call of Duty Advanced Warfighter nailed to its forehead, then NOW IS THE TIME. Developers. Abandon your hopes and dreams of unadventurous copy/paste jobs. Now is the time to create that controversial, mind-expanding, bending, bolstering masterpiece; the one that poses questions, and asks the player what they think. The one that uses the unique array of interactivity based systems completely individual to gaming to tell a story, instead of just hocking gameplay in between cutscenes because it’s the done thing. The one that holds ethical and moral imbalances up to the viewer, no matter how taboo or contentious they may be in our modern world of dispute and decay, and let’s them see, and experience, and feel these things for themselves. Do it quick. Before someone buys another copy of the Mail.

Getting into GTA Online: An Impossible Task

This week, I have been forcefully coerced into playing Grand Theft Auto 5 Online, by my ‘friends’. I’m not sure why I put friends in inverted commas, because they are actually my friends. My IRL, fleshy, water-based companions; passengers on board the broken rollercoaster that is our collective existence. I just don’t like to admit it. And Christ knows neither do they.

My Gold subscription was, at the time, but a bitter memory; Microsoft’s online top tier had long since expired and my account had been left floating in the purgatory of the much-restricted ‘Silver’ alternative. No defined ending, no standing ovation, just a hopeless fizzing out through incessant disuse. Much like a stale bread roll. Or a relationship I happen to have prospectively considered for longer than about an hour. Fortunately, a handy reminder from aforementioned ‘friends’, and it turns out there was a TWO WEEK Gold subscription, no less, secreted amongst the manual and various superfluous leaflets jammed brazenly into the Halo 4 case. And at that point, I’d run out of excuses not to at least see what GTA Online was really like.

I say ‘really’ like, because I had tried it once. I did the opening race, won, and then got booted out by the other players, thus sending the game trundling back to single player mode, and lighting my already disinterested attention span on fire. Still, it left me a reasonably sized chunk of the GTA experience unexplored up until this point, so in some ways it probably means I got more from the game in the long run. More nonsensical jealousy anyway.

The first thing that happened on my new venture into the world of living a digital life, an alternative from the dribbling, meaningless existence I insist on perpetuating outside of this game, was isolation. Oh good. A loneliness simulator.

Yes, whilst I’d been awarded the gratuitous moniker of Most Hated Player in the Tutorial Race for No Reason the first time round, subsequent booting had meant I’d not completed any of the other listless tutorial levels. And so instead of being able to join my friends for digital debauchery, or house shopping, I had to sit in a world full of strangers and do arbitrary tasks like ‘buy some clothes’, ‘deposit your money in the bank’, ‘sneeze’; the game holding my hand through each stage and speaking to me in a loud monotonal drawl like I was a difficult child, whilst my friends were off having the time of their lives on a different map, their joy echoing through my headset and spitting in my ear.
Eventually, I managed to shake free the oppressive shackles of the tutorial and skip off into the sunset on my own. An act I began to regret when I realised I hadn’t done the bit where you go buy better guns, and was routinely beaten, shot, and carpet bombed by more strangers. My sole response came from the plink plink of my useless pistol moments before I was obliterated.

Still, it wasn’t all bad. Once I’d managed to locate my friends, I was given the grand tour. After inspecting my bank account, and realising Rockstar had stuffed 500,000 big ones in there, in an attempt to apologise for something I didn’t even realise they’d done, I could finally get my spend on.
You can buy a home in GTA Online; and so I was chauffeured from prospective flat to prospective flat, before eventually choosing a place that was so disproportionately unattainable in real life, I began to sob as I wandered round its three storeys, mouth agape in wonder. Incidentally, I’m flat hunting in real life at the moment, and this whole experience was. Well. Slightly unnerving.
Of course, then I had to buy a car. And car insurance. Yep. Car. Insurance. Incidentally, I’m car insurance hunting in real life at the moment, and this whole experience was. Well. Slightly unnerving.

After thrice being slightly unnerved, finally by the necessity of buying clothes, I began to wonder what the hell I was doing. Vacuously mirroring my own life in this bizarrely mundane digital reflection, a world in which I stagger about the place air horning boisterous questions at no one at all, like, ‘how do I buy stuff’ and ‘why can’t I walk through this door’ and ‘where are my shoelaces’. Having not touched the game in several months, and being completely new to the online experience, the whole thing felt foreign. I didn’t understand. But in the same sort of way going out in public feels impossible to understand, as I air horn boisterous questions at strangers like ‘how do I buy stuff’ and ‘why can’t I walk through this door’ and ‘where are my shoelaces’.

Anyway. If this is what GTA Online is winding up like, I think they should drop the pretence. Make a real banality simulator. It could be DLC. I want to queue more. I want to have to fill my car up with petrol, and complain about the service at the Shell Garage. I want to be stuck between buying a pasta ready meal and a chicken ready meal at the Co-Op. I want to get back from a hard day of running fruitless digital errands and digitally boot up a game of GTA Online whilst helplessly drinking myself into a digital oblivion in the vein hope I don’t have to face another digital day; whilst my digital character’s digital character goes off and argues with a car insurance company, eventually spiralling into a drunken pit of embittered frustration, losing the plot and taking to the streets, stealing a car, crashing it through a busy intersection, committing several atrocities resulting in a prolonged shootout with the police, before being finished off by another, incomparably more successful player. GTA Online: The Beige Expansion.

Why the New Crackdown Needs a Number

It’s a funny thing is numeracy isn’t it. Numbers. Calculations. Mathematics. The key to a world of understanding and development and prosperity to some, the bastion of ham-fisted frustration and embarrassing failure to others. Sure, numbers and the way we use them might be the foundation of all human knowledge, the very building blocks with which our meagre understanding of reality is contrived; but Microsoft’s Ken Lobb doesn’t like them. So. Out they go. Bye bye numbers, you’re old hat, you can’t keep up with the modern world. And in the modern world, not keeping up roughly translates to, not being able to sell enough units. And that is why Crackdown 3, or more Crackdown: The Disingenuous Inevitable Subtitle, doesn’t bother with all this senseless number rubbish.

Of course, dispensing with the method by which we rudimentarily list the amount of games in the current series, a method used by all civilisation since the dawn of time, commonly known as ‘counting’, is no new fad in the industry. Back in 2010, EA released Need for Speed Hot Pursuit, because chronology evidently stopped existing. In 1998, twelve years beforehand, EA released Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit, before going on to release Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 in 2002. Are you with me? Good, because Christ knows I’m not. Did three come out before two? And one came out a decade later? You see what happens when you mess with numerical consistency EA? Chaos.

In a recent discussion with Gamespot, Microsoft Studio’s head honcho Ken Lobb denounced the ancient practice of defining finite increment, by crooning “I don’t like X game number seven” when probed regarding Crackdown’s numberless third iteration. Presumably the very sight of a Final Fantasy game circa 1997 or thereafter causes him to convulse into a frothing mound of £20 notes on the floor.

“[...]Crackdown is a perfect example [of games that supposedly don’t need numbering]” he continued “is it really 3?” Well, yes Ken, that’s an inarguable fact we can ascertain from the science of aforementioned counting, remember that? “It is the future. This is a different place, long after the original game. But is it 2? Is it a different universe than 2? Yeah, it’s kind of a sequel to 1. It’s Crackdown.” We can only assume at this point his eyes had glazed over as he began to spiel some incomprehensible garble about it being a follow up to the first game and that somehow relieving it of its duties of having a number at all.

“Crackdown is my favorite game of all time,” Lobb beamed, presumably with a rhythmic inability to stay still for just a second, pronouncing a love so violent, he evidently wants all games to share its name, regardless of how little sense that might make to anyone.

Of course, what it boils down to is that Ken Lobb doesn’t not like games with numbers; or if he genuinely does, it’s not a personal, irritating niggle of his, a pet peeve. It’s because he’s worried that a big fat wobbly number 3 constitutes a barrier for entry that may well scare away some of those delicious, succulent walking wallets. Sorry, games buyers.

Instead of just pretending like the game has no heritage though, trying to disguise it as a hat stand in the corner and hoping nobody notices it when they come through the door, why not make those older games readily available to newcomers of the series? If that’s simply too much development time and effort, then at least, at least give it a subtitle that effectively discerns it from the original game.

Then again, if the very idea of it being the third game in the series will be such a colossal, insurmountable wall, and your precious install-base isn’t enough to carry you through, why not just try a new IP altogether. New IPs boys, there’s a thought eh. If you’re not brazenly slapping established names onto new games that don’t need to be part of the series (Battlefield Hardlines, anyone?) then seemingly the next mission is to try and forget the game had predecessors at all. It’s confusing, insufficient and irritating, so stop it.

Crackdown Comment

Gamespot Commenter rolla020980 pitches an astute situational problem caused by not having bloody numbers on games.

When we come to look at our prestigious gaming archive and see a palindromic Crackdown, Crackdown 2 and Crackdown, how’re we supposed to work out which one is first without getting our muddy paws all over the box!? And frankly we don’t want to have to sift through the questionable knowledge sinkholes of Wikipedia every time we want to start playing a new series. You hearing all this Ken? We’re outraged. Or at least I am.

Developers, Mr. Lobb, whoever happens to have been given the esteemed job of naming the latest iteration of your super-popular annual milk-em-up extravaganza; numbers are just fine, and like it or not, they’re here to stay. Sure add subtitles, go utterly butt wild with subtitles if you must, make a spin-off series and treat the follow ups like add-on packs if you like (Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood/Revelations, par exemple) but chronological order isn’t a dirty word. Crevice is a dirty word, but chronological order is not. If you’ll excuse the reference. Now, where’s that copy of Final Fantasy 115 gone.

Microsoft’s Absent E3 2014 Keynote

‘Give us GAMES’ we yelled, with an agitated choral communion often found emanating from any group of people listening to Nigel Farage saying anything, as Microsoft held up a ball and chain, grinning inanely. After much scuffling, they brought us a TV remote and another fatuous pout, which inspired the same warble of dissent. ‘Give. Us. Games’ we replied, a little exasperated, already leering at a nearby Jack Tretton precariously half-clutching a microphone. This was one year ago at E3 2013. Eleven months later and Microsoft claimed they’d been working tirelessly to decode our message and had finally begun to decipher just what it all could mean. ‘GAMES!’ they cried at last! ‘Eureka! We’ve cracked it! We’ll bring GAMES to our E3 2014 Keynote!’.

And so they set about telling us. ‘We’re all about the games this year’, they cooed, with their heads wobbling perilously on their shoulders. ‘Games, games, games; that’s us!’ And we nodded with what we supposed looked like enthusiasm, but with a due sense of confusion and exhaustion secreted delicately amongst its folds. Probably. It’s fun pretending I’m the voice of the collective. Humour me? Go on.

The fact that Microsoft brought games to this E3 is pretty damn inarguable. A cool 90 minutes of nigh-uninterrupted game, followed by game followed by game, and while there’s the omnipresent, niggling fact that, that really shouldn’t be an achievement at a games conference, it certainly seemed to deliver on what they promised. I think. I say I think, because I either fell asleep, or slipped quietly into a coma for a little while. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t 2013, not by any stretch of the imagination. But it also wasn’t good. In fact, it kind of wasn’t anything.

I think the problem here is that when we demanded games, we also wanted the kind of shock-awe-excitement factor that typically comes almost exclusively with hardware, or OS, or fancy extras-based reveals as well. Instead what we got was an ordinary E3 keynote, but less so. There was nothing to throw our arms in there air at, nothing to share an aghast look with a nearby stranger about, but nothing to be elated and excited over either. No edge-of-your-seat moment, no ‘are they really…’ reveals, for neither astonishingly impressive nor for bafflingly catastrophic announcements. Which, in many ways, is something MS probably consider a win in this climate.

And don’t get me wrong, some of those games looked great. Despite opening with the thunderous snore-fest that was Call of Duty, presumably because it’s tradition and it was early in the morning over in LA, what followed was a pretty stellar line up. The sizeable Halo announcement, involving the Master Chief Collection, and the Halo 5 Beta, PlayDead’s gorgeous-looking Inside, the parodically charming and visually chaotic Insomniac sandboxer Sunset Overdrive, and at last the third installment of Crackdown, were all noteworthy additions to the showreel. Forza Horizon 2, Fable Legends, and Project Spark all brought up the rear provoking many a contented pursed bottom lip in the audience. But there was little emotion here. Little to tug on the heart strings and actually get gamers, Xbox owners and potential Xbox owners alike, really excited about owning this £400 piece of kit.

The complete absence of Kinect, even in an exclusively GAME-centric capacity, almost certainly spells the end of the peripheral. If MS wanted to keep anybody interested in the Kinect’s potential, after splicing it out of the picture last month, today was the platform. We think that’s a shame, but that, in itself, is a different story.

Perhaps I’m looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses, but Microsoft are not incapable of these moments, and an emotional presentation of stand-out reveals is not impossible, as EA half-demonstrated immediately after the MS brief finished. I know they’re likely to have wanted to play this E3 safe after last year, but there’s safe and then there’s dull. Come on guys, make us feel. This is your opportunity each and every year to hold your target market’s attention and SQUEEZE until they go, ‘I need this console’. Microsoft’s E3 2014 wasn’t the hilarious calamity last year’s proved to be. It was safe, and steady, it was, in some respects kind of strong, but in many others entirely absent. A dim, distant hum with forgettable written somewhere in the margins that you probably wouldn’t read anyway. I want to love you again Microsoft, so, y’know. Help me out here.

President of SCEA Resigns: An Ode to Jack Tretton

Jack Tretton is a man I once likened to having the presence of an awkward neighbour embarrassingly knocking on your door, scuffing his heels and looking at the floor whilst mumbling the news that he’d just reversed into your Aston Martin.

It was with this precise demeanour that he slunk out onto the stage year after year to monotonously drone on about some disappointing looking games, to tell you all that your bank details had been left by the service door and thus stolen, or to make uncouth jokes about someone’s death.  He was a man like no other. Chiefly because he appeared to be made of some sort of Incompetence Gloup good only for stammering, getting everything wrong and putting entire rooms to sleep while holding £500 worth of kit in his hands. And probably dropping it.

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The fact the man was at the reins of SCEA as the company plunged chin first into a hilarious corkscrew of catastrophic ineptitude is enough for most people to brand him a cloddish old fool and have done. We certainly did. And whilst year after year he stood alongside Don Mattrick, somehow making him look half way palatable to anyone with a head (which, as it turns out, he’s not) and cowering as Reggie Fils Aime dwarved him in both readiness of body, and public speaking ability, it is undeniable that he became part of the E3 furniture. And all those other beige conferences he probably attended.

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Indeed, Tretton’s tactless, boorish manner became something to love and to cherish; and as Sony stumbled with the blind, co-ordination of an intoxicated horse on a hot tin field through the last generation, making an increasingly large outright blunder of everything in its path with each passing moment, so too, did Jack Tretton. That was of course, until last year. When Sony, and ol’ Captain Apology, finally got their shit together.

What we saw at E3 2013 was a different Tretton. A Tretton that knew he had the winning hand. Confidence boosted like never before (though this still left him with the constitution and permanence of a steadily deflating bouncy castle) grins, jokes that weren’t about dead people; the Sony conference had it all. When he walked out on to that stage, coy smile in tow, he knew he was about kill this thing dead, and that performance made all the difference.

And it was the performance element that did it. We mentioned this in our round up, but complain you might that Sony haven’t quite delivered the gaming utopia they promised, and Microsoft’s back pedalling has been ineffably furious, but that show, that revered ‘dropping of the mic’ that Tretton pulled out was one of those classic E3 moments that can never be erased, no matter what happens now or in the future.

And so it is with a surprisingly heavy heart that we bid Jack Tretton his due this evening. The news came through that he would be stepping down from his position as President and Chief of Sony Computer Entertainment America, effective as of 1st April.

“Working at SCEA for the past 19 years has been the most rewarding experience of my career, Although I will deeply miss the talented team at SCEA and the passion demonstrated every day by our fans, I’m very excited about starting the next chapter of my career.”

The Playstation 4 has had a comparatively tremendous early start to this generation, and you Mr. Tretton, leave behind a brilliant, disastrous, unforgettable legacy. We’ll never forget you tearing off your shirt and crowd surfing to the bar at E3 2013, and yes, that definitely did happen. Jack Tretton; we at Respawn salute you.

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Four Reasons Why Far Cry: The Wild Expedition Should be on Your Buy List

If you don’t know what a Wild Expedition pack is, then don’t worry because neither did we until Ubisoft tapped us on the shoulder and kindly explained, in those dulcet French undertones. Mmm. Apparently, a Wild Expedition is when you slap four corking titles together in one salaciously priced package and jam it onto shelves both physical and digital faster than you can incredulously exclaim ‘Well would you believe it, a Sumarian Tiger is chewing my arm!’ Ahem. Here are four reasons why Ubisoft’s 10-year anniversary celebratory collection, which contains all entries of their bush-hiding, island-invading, malaria-contracting, tiger-fighting, insanity-defining, first person shooter series Far Cry, is worthy of your attention.

Far Cry Classic

If you remember this, you’re right old. I mean. Not THAT old, but you’ve got to be getting on a bit. Far Cry, Crytek’s debut foray into what would become their household domain, broke new ground by allowing the player to leap into the nearest collection of foliage, rendering all your enemies temporarily blind and stupid. It was novel and fun. Innovatively, the game also afforded you the then new-fangled opportunity to approach a given mission in numerous ways; knocking on the front door and asking the bad guys to hold your bullets in their torso just a second, or speed- boating round to the other side of the island and sneaking your way in like Sam Fisher on holiday in Benidorm. The beautiful tropical vistas were stark and striking for its time, and though it’s looking a little ropey nowadays (some 10 years on, of course) I reckon this HD upgrade’ll be a nostalgic blast regardless. Along aside the full retail package, Far Cry will release as a standalone downloadable title on XBLA and PSN for the simple sum of £7.99.

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Far Cry 2

The second Far Cry was a colossal leap for the series, sending the game vaulting raucously into a new generation, and unleashing upon the player a new understanding of the popular phrase ‘Oh Christ I’m lost in an African jungle’. Unfortunately the leap in technicalities didn’t quite filter down to gameplay level, and while it was over-furnished in the neat-touches department, the game turned into a frustrating, muddled chore toward the end. THAT said, the level editor was an incredibly powerful, endlessly life-lengthening addition, if you’re into that, and its newly upgraded core mechanics were still fun too. There’s definitely something about rattling off a few AK47 rounds amidst the dark, dense foliage of that game’s expansive and foreboding jungle playground. For what it’s worth, Far Cry 2 is still worth a bash, even for the uninitiated. Not convinced about how long you’ll stick with it though.

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Far Cry 3

If you haven’t played Far Cry 3 yet, you’re a royal fool. Having my expectations well and truly trodden on by the second game, in true Ubisoft fashion, FC3 righted many of the wrongs, listened to player feedback and ultimately came up with this absolutely killer entry, the crowning jewel in the series. The visually arresting, and inarguably beautiful island map, the driving, the hunting, the emphasis on exploration and discovery, and every other gameplay component is refined and addictive and exciting. Enough so that you can forgive the potentially screaming error that is the mostly awful narrative. Which is generally a deal-breaker, as far as I’m concerned. Enthralling, action-packed, dynamic; it’s all the buzzwords and plenty more besides, I loved every hour I put into what became my Game of the Year 2012.

‘It’s incomparably visceral, making for immensely exciting firefights, car chases and airborne excursions, and it’s the mix of these elements that makes the game feel utterly unrelenting in terms of experience.’

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Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

When the trailer for this first beamed its way onto the internet, nobody believed it was real. Or at least, I didn’t. Blood Dragon takes the chugging and whirring underneath bit of Far Cry 3 and paints an outrageous, neon-soaked 80’s cyber action parody over the top, in what is undoubtedly the most ‘If Only’ moment in video games come to life and realized in the most glorious manner imaginable. With a full single player campaign, in which you play a man called ‘Sergeant Rex Colt: Mark IV Cyber Commando’, inspired writing that might well inhibit your ability to breathe, lasers, robots and enough 80’s references to break a VHS tape in two (I don’t know), Blood Dragon took a leap of self-jest and made it to the other side accompanied by the thumping soundtrack of hard-hitting, lights-down disco retro electronica. Or something.

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Despite a few hiccups, as it were, we’re big fans of the Far Cry series, and this 4 in 1 in basically the be all and end all if you’ve haven’t at least had a go at them all. And to top it all off? The Wild Expedition will hit retail shelves next month, 14th February at the agreeable price of £29.99. The download version of Far Cry Classic will appear on XBLA and PSN two days prior on 12th February.

Going to make Valentine’s Day a cosy night in on every Far Cry game there’s been? Why not eh? Actually don’t answer that.

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2014 in Gaming: Five Reasons Why This Year Will Be Less Bad

It’s 2014! And let’s face it we didn’t so much explode into the year with the unhinged voracity of an insatiable horse, ahem, as we did slink into it with the uninterested enthusiasm of a listlessly dribbling badger. BUT, there are things to look forward to. Supposedly. Yes, it’s ‘one of these’, another unnecessary collection of things we’re obviously looking forward to in 2014. Because who wouldn’t be looking forward to these things in 2014. A blind person, you inspirationally suggest. Be quiet you, I tell the jokes here.

SO, what platitudinal suggestions could we possibly have clawed together in the name of optimism and ‘the year ahead’ this time? We’ve been told, if you put your ear to the monitor, and listen very closely, you can actually hear the sound of the barrel scraping. Lovely.

Titanfall

Yes, it’s on everybody’s face. Or lips. And since we’ve chosen gratuitous platitudes as the theme for this blog post, then Titanfall is a fittingly phallic shaped first item that we can snugly insert into our moist narrative-vehicular reticule to kick things off. Sigh. And also sorry. We played Titanfall at Eurogamer last year, and despite the Xbox One currently being about as interesting as custard, it made us jump up and down in giddy fits of infuriating excitement. The stand reps certainly weren’t impressed anyway. This fella’ arrives in March, and we are positively dripping for it.

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Oculus Rift

This was another fancy piece of tech we managed to incessantly paw the moment someone’s back was turned at an event. Honestly, one scarcely needs to be Sherlock Holmes or even Martin Freeman to ascertain the utter ball-bouncingly exciting prospect of the Oculus Rift’s consumer release. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, find a chiropractor, because living under a rock can’t be good for you, and also Google Oculus Rift immediately; then stand back and BE AMAZED. Though we’re not so sure we’ll see the full release this year, undoubtedly there’s a larger Oculus story to be told over the next 12 months.

Portable

The Consumer Electronics Show, or CES to the initiated, is happening over in Vegas right now. The event had barely opened its mouth to speak before Nvidia burst through the door with their tongues flabbering everywhere, elated at being able to spill the beans on their portable processor that will reportedly tear out your eyeballs and use them to cook dinner. Or something.

Regular readers will know that we’ve always been quite interested in a real portable gaming experience, so much so that we even claimed the Nvidia Shield wasn’t that bad, and have felt a little let down by the Vita’s stubbly, little-toe analogue sticks. Each year we hope for something better in the portable sector, and with the year technically beginning with such a bang, we’re pretty hopeful 2014 will deliver us something tasty.

The Tegra K1, the processor in question, delivers a game-changing leap in portable visual power. The jump is illustrated below, via the usual vessel of a weird bloke’s face. Also they’re going to put it in a Ford Focus. Or something.

Good (console) Games

I know we’ve mentioned it a lot, but there’s something to be said for violently hammering a point home. Like I hear they do at Eton. I’m looking forward to next-gen, or now-gen consoles becoming an attractive buying proposition, and the only way that small miracle will be achieved will be through a flourish of those salacious in-development GAMES. Remember those? Like they had in the good old days. With Dark Souls 2, Witcher 3, The Division and of course Metal Gear Solid: V but a fraction of the collection currently whetting our appetite to the point of severe local flood warnings, 2014 will see the next generation really step it up a gear. Or maybe not, and the whole industry will grind to a hilarious halt. Who knows.

 

Steam Machines

When asked about the Xbox One achieving 3 million sales, Gabe Newell politely informed the questionee that, while yes 3 million is impressive, it’s got a bit of a way to go in catching Steam’s 65 million userbase; something that won’t be at all damaged by the 2014 advent of Xbox-competing STEAM MACHINES. Valve never fail to deliver an interesting year, and with something tangible to go on this time around (as opposed to simply forcibly strangling strangers for the opportunity to yell ‘Half Life 3 confirmed’) watching how they fare squaring off directly against the console giants might just be the match up we’ve all been salivating to see.

steammachines

 

So there you have it kids. Who agrees? Who disagrees? Who thinks I should keep my vague banal and uninteresting opinion to myself? More importantly, what did I miss? Answers on a postcard, or just stick them in the Facebook comments below if that’s quicker. Happy New Year eh.

Turn 10 Aren’t Mad at Themselves, Just Disappointed

You remember E3, right? When Microsoft, instead of unveiling their next console, just wheeled on an enormous sign that read ‘Go Fuck Yourself, Consumer!!’, and were really put out when nobody liked it, bitterly dragging the sign away and haughtily slamming the Xbox One in its place a few months later? Maybe your version of events is different to mine, but that’s definitely how I remember it. You may also remember that while each New-World-Order style policy was slowly, reluctantly reversed, eventually turning Microsoft’s next offering into something that was, at its most generous, a feasible proposition, several erroneous software features clung to the package with the tenacity one would wish upon a tiny January Jones. Erm. This is exemplified, of course, in the beige-a-thon that is Forza 5. Well, don’t worry folks, Turn 10 are taking full responsibility for this hair-brained microtransaction fiasco, and if it makes you feel any better, they’re all very disappointed in themselves too.

The thing is Turn 10, you haven’t just let yourselves down. You’ve let your fans down. You’ve let us down. You’ve let your parents down. Probably. Hurts to hear that, doesn’t it? If you weren’t aware of Forza’s rampant love affair with microtransactions, either because you’ve correctly identified the new-gen consoles to be as appealing as being sneezed on, and thus haven’t bothered, or because money isn’t a concept to you and you frequently screw up £20 notes out of sheer boredom, then allow me to explain.

Forza 5 follows a Free-to-Play-esque business model, in which to progress, players can choose to purchase certain in-game items. This is, of course, all fine and well, except that Forza 5, isn’t free. It’s a purse-rogering £54.99RRP. And those extra bits you can buy? Some of those cars cost upwards of £30. Whilst this isn’t the first time such an option has been included in the series, reportedly the number of hours now required to grind through the game in order to win these expensive cars, borders on 400, ramped up considerably from previous iterations’ 50-60 hours. We’re talking the kind of time it would take to learn a new language; presumably so you could tell Turn 10 to chupar el grande fluently. It’s not exactly unreasonable to say then, that the game has been intentionally geared toward coercing players to open up their wallets and brace for a royal Watkinsing.

Turn 10, of course, faced an uproar of sorts, from their legions of dedicated fans, used to being gifted the kind of matchless digital racing experience worthy of Nigel Mansell’s moustache and outraged at suddenly being treated like little more than cash-dribbling, coin-coughing, pocket liner dispensers. Chiefly because on top of all this, Forza 5 comes with a downright flaccid TWELVE tracks. It certainly seems, at this point, Microsoft rolled up their ‘Fuck You Consumer!!’ sign and mailed it on to the Turn 10 offices.

Creative Director Dan Greenawalt, recently spoke to Eurogamer, heroically proclaiming “It’s been disappointing [] I’m more disappointed in myself that I’ve elicited this reaction in people.” Well, you should be disappointed Dan. Presumably this was all murmured while looking at his shoes, scuffing one against the floor and swinging his shoulders. Of course, that little glimmer of remorse was more than our fair share, as Greenawalt added “I think people are looking out for being short-sheeted, and they’re seeing conspiracy where there isn’t one.”

‘Honestly. It wasn’t like that it… it just, it just happened. I don’t know how… Honestlyyy’

He went on to insist that Microsoft themselves had no hand in this decision to turn the smacker-squeezing up to 11, saying “Honestly I think, unfortunately, people attribute too much communication to this organisation,[] We were definitely not mandated to include these.” That’s right Dan, we all give this industry FAR too much credit; ‘Competency!? Ha, there’s none of that round here. H’oh no.’ You don’t need to tell us buddy, we’ve seen.

And thus, like Microsoft’s half-arsed, hesitant, drivelly excuse for a back-pedalling apology, Turn 10 may well be disappointed in themselves; but I feel they’re probably more disappointed we didn’t all just start euphorically ejaculating money all over them.

So why is it that this generation has so far been a whole lot of ballsing up, and very little to actually enjoy. Sure the games are slow on the uptake, but then again, they often are at launch. The problem is, it feels like, as consumers, we’re quite openly being prayed upon, and attempts to slip passed us are coming thick and fast. I feel like someone trying to protect a home comprised entirely of entrances from a horde of hungry robbers, desperately batting one away from one door, only to have one sneak in the other whilst I’m looking away. How long is it till one of these right-removing, wallet-crunching, industry-changing ‘business models’ somehow slips through, isn’t met by the correct amount of uproar and all of a sudden gaming becomes that much less enjoyable?

Turn 10 had previously been one of the few big developers with, what appeared to be, a bit of grounding. A commitment to quality. But apparently; they don’t even realize when they’re about to screw us. That’s if we’re gullible enough to lap up any old excuse anyway.

Free-to-Play isn’t all bad; and since so many people have proved its worth on other platforms, perhaps there’s some future in it. This though, certainly isn’t the future we want. Are you for or against F2P? Did Forza 5 upset you to the core of your being, or weren’t you all that bothered? Stick a comment below and let us know you lot; more on Respawn when we get it.

Nvidia Think You Should Buy a PC: Cataclysmic Revelation Shocks Nation

I sometimes wonder if Nvidia do any planning at all before they take to the pedestal to speak to the press. I know it’s a common trait for public-speaker types to try and turn a slight breeze in Dorset into something we should all be dropping our trousers and flapping around like Cameron in a pancake factory about, but it really seems like these guys are actively seeking out huge landscape-devouring platitudes; which I can only presume invoke a desert-like silent response among attendees. That’s if it’s a press conference at all, and not just an Nvidia employee stood outside their offices monotonally reeling off a bulleted list of things EVERYBODY ALREADY KNOWS.

The last time I wrote about ‘something Nvidia said’, the site I was writing for, and the article in question, had a huge spike in hits. Not because what I’d written was good. Good Lord no, it was awful. The kind of outright drivel a goat wouldn’t chew. No, the post gained so much interest because Nvidia managed to make essentially saying nothing whatsoever, other than a feeble dribbling of vaguely coherent buzzwords, into a royal parade in which ‘Feeding the Internet’ was the chief goal. Nobody cares what you have to say Nvidia, because you are an uninvolved GPU manufacturer. At least nobody SHOULD have cared. And of course, they were involved really, if tentatively.

In this instance, they are unquestionably involved, but have still managed to be about as interesting as gravel, when someone finally decides to put a microphone in front of them.

“The PC platform is far superior to any console when it comes to gaming, plus you get all the extra functionality that a computer brings.”

These immortal words by which we can all live and learn, come from the phrase generator unit, or mouth, if you will, of one Matt Wright, Nvidia’s consumer sales manager. Cheers Matt, we’ll give you a shout next time we need to go over the alphabet or fancy having Mr Grumpy read to us again (that’s nightly, by the way). Honestly, the opportunity to have your words heard globally is now apparently such a frequent occurrence that you can gladly piddle it away by copy and pasting YouTube comments that even the adolescents who wrote them originally would find dull.

“We are proposing small form-factor PCs to be a viable alternative to the next-gen consoles. Enthusiast players want the ultimate games system and that is the PC,” Wright crooned in an interview with MCV. Small PCs = next gen consoles. Apparently. Another world-beater boys and girls, and that’s lunch is it? I wonder when winging it at these interviews will reveal itself as a less than complimentary PR strategy. Or maybe they could just think of something partially notable to say.

Of course, after making a total arse of himself and his company, Wright went on to make a pretty good point. “Steam now has more users than Xbox Live. There is a whole new generation who grew up playing on PC with titles like Minecraft orWorld of Tanks. There’s a huge community who love playing their games on PC.” That’s true, and at the crux of things, he’s sort of right. Both next-generation consoles are currently operating on a level of appeal that’s roughly on par with that tongue thing Miley Cyrus does, offering users the inviting opportunity to have their wallet well and truly back-tickled in return for a condescending sneer and a used hanky; whilst Steam is currently filling you fill of AAAs for four quid a pop, and opening your mind to indie games you’ve never even heard of.

So boys and girls, what have we learnt? That even when we make points that are, somewhere, deep down, quite valid, it’s still very easy to bury them in the kind of nonsensical playground tongue swaddling that Justin Bieber’s Mum wouldn’t stand for. And she’ll stand for pretty much anything. ZING. (Yes that’s Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber’s Mum in one post. I’m not even that sorry.) Nvidia, you make some quality hardware, and we even thought the Shield was a killer little machine; let’s just stay away from ‘Ours is better than yours, nuuurrrr’, eh? More on Respawn soon. You all.

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The Stanley Parable | Gone Playing

Every so often a game comes along that is so good, it changes the way you think. I hate The Stanley Parable, and I hate it, because I think it’s my favourite game. Ever.

It may have been a good month since I’ve even managed to consider slaughtering a concept or opinion with my inability to articulate before flaunting it around in the digital space for nobody to bawk at disgustedly, but that hasn’t stopped me moping around like the loose-lipped irritant I really am. With the next generation landing like a small ball of innards and hair from the mouth of an aging cat, and finding the idea of diving into that about as appealing as being dribbled on, you could say, I’ve not had a lot to say. Not that would be fresh and interesting and relevant, anyway.

And then I remembered at no point have I been fresh and interesting and relevant; though I continued not to write anything. Anyway, that time is well and truly over, and whilst there are one or two matters pertaining to all these new consoles that really need a good seeing to, the first order of business is to gush wildly over why I’m giving up hope. Giving up hope!? I hear you call with an indifferent, verging on bored sort of drone. But why!? Because The Stanley Parable already did it.

If you’ve not heard of The Stanley Parable, you’ve probably closed the browser in anger since I’ve used it three times already. It started life as a Half Life 2 mod that has now, with the kind of audacious self-gratification often reserved for the Jimmy Kimmel show, glided onto Steam in the shape of a full release, at some point the last two months and changed everything. Again. Like Apple, but good.

As many other more competent games writers have already said, to truly explain this game would be to commit a crime unto the game itself. Even the demo doesn’t let you into the same world you’re shoehorned into in the full affair. Allegedly. I didn’t try it I just bought it with the kind of haphazard, talentless blind clicking that would make Terry Richardson erect.

That said, for any of this to make a lick of sense (and let’s face it there’s not much hope for that anyway) you’ll need to know a bit. TSP puts you in the first-person shoes of Stanley, a purportedly cubical-dwelling nobody, and throws you into an endlessly repeating, almost lucid scenario in which you must discover why all your colleagues have mysteriously disappeared. Sounds interesting, correct? It’s the tip of a finely tuned, ball bouncingly funny, grin-slapping, 4th wall demolishing iceberg that does everything, everything, right.

In fact, fourth-wall demolishing doesn’t quite do that particular element justice. At every glinting opportunity, the game obliterates any shred that may have remained of that wall, raucously tearing it up into a million pieces and then forcing you to eat them, as you voraciously obey.

The narrator, a fully realized, living, breathing person residing inside your computer watching your every movement, calls you out on every attempt you make to deviate from the storyline. He guides you, goads you, begs, pleads, instigates laughter, falls to bits, and delivers lines with  the kind of dynamic rhythm that almost outdoes Basil Fawlty administering a damn good thrashing.

The game’s seemingly endless layers cavort and curl as you snake a different path through the same office, with a knowing smirk so wide, Mark Cerny would have to move his tall standing lamps out of the way. References galore, you need only take a look at the achievements list to realize what kind of game The Stanley Parable is. Masterful.

StanleyParableAchievements

The ENTIRE duration of a Tuesday.

With each new play-through, you start the game and immediately begin darting about the room like an inebriated gazelle, desperately leaping toward computer screens and desks and windows to see if something different has appeared; pathologically rattling doors to see if one has been mysteriously unlocked, and generally traipsing around like an unhinged maniac. When the level began again for the hundredth time and the phone turned out to be ringing in the adjacent office I euphorically poured tea all over myself in excitement.

There was one moment involving a broom closet that went on for so long, I momentarily lost the ability to breathe. It is many years since I have laughed at a game in a manner by which the developers actually intended. The story, which at first seems so impossibly tiny you question what all the fuss could have been about, unravels into something increasingly, absurdly majestic. And at each occasion wherein a choice is laid before you, another story strand is born; you realize you can start again once you’re finished with that particular plotline, and make the opposite choices, all of which seem to yield entirely different results. It is wonderfully written, a matchless example of the craft which must have been nightmarish to tackle, but has been executed so cleanly, you might never even consider it.

So. A few hundred words ago I said I hated The Stanley Parable. And I stand by it. I hate it because it’s better than me, it knows everything I want to do, it knows exactly how to make me laugh, it knows that if I were ever to write a game (God forbid) it would go exactly like the one I just played. I hate it for creating something I  love absolutely conditionally, and then fulfilling all those conditions. This is a true achievement and you need to go and pay the trite ten pound charge and get involved. Immediately. If not. Sooner.

 

P.s. I was kidding about the hating it thing.

StanleyParable1

Handy

StanleyParable2

It’s really key to draw a line in the sand and get the guys all fired up.

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GTA V: 5 Obscure Reasons | Gone Playing

(This is an introduction to our new section, if you just want to read my incoherent rambling about GTAV, skip the first four paragraphs. You lazy git.)

 

Regular readers of Respawn (hi both) will be well aware of our tendency to keep trying new things. That might sound like a fatuous nod toward some sort of self-perceived level of innovation, but there’s a better analogy already scrawled by better journalists than I. Real ones, in fact.

My band were once described as ‘monkey’s throwing shit at walls trying to see what sticks’ by rock music magazine Rocksound. If nought else, I am but a creature of stubborn consistency, and thus I have taken their thinly veiled advice on board and long endeavoured to carry this idea into these very pages, as well as all other aspects of my life, as you may very well already know.

And so I give to you our latest attempt at mild frivolity. Reviews, per say, sometimes seem a little stringent to us here at Respawn, and what with our inability to eloquently state an opinion, we know you’ll go elsewhere for your scores on the doors, your raw figures, your number talk. For the bigger titles, anyway. So instead, this brand new section offers an absent-minded stream of unconsciousness, directed subserviently at the game we have most recently been playing.  It’s a means by which we can scribble down our unhinged thoughts on a release; brand new, or verging on antiquated, without being confined to the Nazi-esque margins regimentally demarcated by the term ‘REVIEW’. Or something. Anyway, enough of me trying to get you to go away; welcome friends, to Gone Playing.

And what better way, I ask, to start a brand new section than with Grand Theft Auto V? There isn’t a better way. Chiefly because I desperately need to write something about GTA V sometime soon, but also because I’ve dreamt up Gone Playing solely on the back of this need. Little curtain pulling for you there.

Here then, are five relatively obscure reasons I’ve been playing GTA V for longer than most ordinary folk, with heads, deem necessary.

 

Motorways

Prohibited from playing on motorways in real life, ‘if I want to keep all my limbs’, the idea of a stream of NPC vehicles tearing round a highway, ready to canter through my soft collection of digital bones if I put a leg wrong has always been somewhat appealing. I loved the highway in San Andreas, not only because it was the first instance where the other cars were really, dangerously fast, but also because it offered so much opportunity for carnage, it’s difficult not to start lobbing grenades about like you’re a terrorist Francis Brunn. The motorways in GTAV are fast, ludicrously hazardous and a great way to cause all sorts of vehicular mayhem.

 

Crashing Using the Cinematic Camera

Since GTAIII I’ve spent disturbingly lengthy periods of time driving with the cinematic camera on, most often in a large truck, trying to crash into as many innocent bystanders as possible. With GTAIV they jammed that saucy little number to the B button making its appearance instantaneous. And frequent. Sure I’ve been a long way in on an important mission, and became more concerned with the camera looking cool, thus careering blindly through traffic and off the edge of a cliff to a fiery demise, having to start the whole thing again; but it always looked AWESOME. Probably.

 

Crashing After Running Over Thieves

It’s difficult to ignore ‘dynamic events’, you know. I spent most of my time in Los Santos carrying out a dizzying display of severe ADHD, slamming on the brakes one moment and turning around to go upend some dastardly thief who’d stolen someone’s wallet, or something. Red Dead first introduced us to the idea of a town of hapless citizens unable to do anything for themselves, and so John Marston, full-time Other-People’s-Shit-Doer, had to step in; if he could tear himself away from picking flowers. At least there were three of them to split the work load this time. Anyway.  Undoubtedly the very best moments were the ones that occurred as you approached, at speed. Allowing you to take a quick detour onto the pavement, or sidewalk, and paint your windscreen a striking Shade of Thief. Before exuberantly careering into a nearby wall of course. For the record, I always, ALWAYS gave the money back. /selfrighteousness.

 

Crashing at Intersections

Much like the motorways, the sheer dull-witted, vision-impairing glee NPCs cross intersections with in GTAV makes them impossibly dangerous, and since the game forces you on several occasions to fly through them with the white knuckled nonchalance of an aroused Evel Kenevil, they’re hot beds for some pretty horrific collisions. Each time I was chasing, or being chased, and saw the crossroads ahead, I’d approach with an increasingly screwed up face, bracing for impact and wondering how my bonnet was going to taste. It is utterly brilliant that you’ll frequently take off another car’s wheel if you hit them right. Or wrong, as it were. That doesn’t make me sound sadistic does it? I like crashes. So what. Get off my back.

 

I Got Hit by a Bus

And lastly, of course, I got hit by a bus. In one of the missions toward the end of the game, you’re tasked with escaping a trigger happy helicopter in a fast car. After tearing around the city, and smashing seven shades of Shinola out of my lovely knock-off supercar, I finally managed to shake it. Screeching to a halt on a bridge, I got out with the intention of finding a vehicle a little less likely to suddenly become a ball of flames to go finish the mission with. Instinctively I twirled the camera round to see what was coming, just in time to see the front of a bus, to hear the sound of its horn as the terrified driver’s life flashed tediously before his eyes, and to receive a steamrolling that would make Miley Cyrus’ PR team proud. And yes I had to start it all again. But it happened so brilliantly, I didn’t even mind.

There’s no need for us to harp on about the majesty of GTAV. It is a brilliant game; a flourishing, technical achievement that delivers that endless gameplay playground the series is known for like never before; administering satirical laughs, a killer plot and a hyperbolically believable, enrapturing and entertaining, angular perspective of the world. If you’ve not played it, go and get hit by a bus. In game, of course.

 

 

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Parkour for the Course? | Feature

We’re calling it. Don’t say we didn’t when the internet is awash with doomsday-esque placards, or memes or whatever, about it in six month’s time. Yes, based on a layer of evidence spread so thin the producers of the X Factor gave us an impressed nod; our keen-eyed team of imaginary reporters have concluded that ‘parkour’, will be the next gaming element rampantly shoehorned every which way into any release deemed half-way appropriate. And if one should slip out the back door without it, it’ll be called self-destructive, and YouTube commenters will lead an aggressive campaign against its distribution, by claiming ‘someone else even did it before just like that anyway so what’s the point and where’s the parkour’. Or, you know, something nonsensical like that.

Why, we hear you gasp in terror, fingers poised over the indignation button built into your keyboard, autolocked to the comments section. Why and indeed how could you make such an outlandish claim!? Well first off we’ve had little to say for a few weeks so you know, the barrel’s just been sat here, but also it came from our pleasant trip to this year’s irrefutable, undeniable, implausible Eurogamer Expo.

Now, if you’re a regular Respawn reader, you’ll know we gushed rather fervently at our recent blast on Titanfall, a game in which the on-foot ‘Pilot’ mechanics make getting around the world a veritable canister of fun; it’s fresh and exciting and one of the best elements that we got to get to grips with. It’s a game that takes the idea of fluid, ‘parkour’-esque movement, and slides it provocatively into the game without so much as a kilojoule of friction.

And ultimately, this free-running has been a chief success of many recent series’ we’ve come to dribble over. Mirror’s Edge, of course leaps to mind, and perhaps even more poignantly Assassin’s Creed; both managed to forge a gameplay hinge that made just moving around the world a lot of fun. That was of course until Ezio mistook your intended ‘grab that ledge’ command to mean ‘bafflingly leap at nothing at all before plummeting 200 feet to your untimely demise.’ When you got it right though, and you began expertly careering your way from rooftop to balcony to walkway to convenient wooden beam, it felt wonderful, awesome, powerful.

So with so much gallantry and virtue and holding the door open for a lady surrounding the idea of parkour, why would we bother raising such a seemingly negative forecast? Well. You can basically blame Dying Light.

If there’s one way to create a largely disproportionate upheaval about your game, it’s to create a trailer that’s both brilliant, and highly irrelevant as Techland, developer of Dead Island (and Dying Light) know very well. If you’re at Eurogamer Expo, and you sort of already did the trailer thing, free tshirts are the way to go.

When we finally got onto Dying Light, after a considerable wait, we found ourselves playing; you guessed it, Dead Island with parkour. Whilst in some instances the game was well paced and good fun, and of course taking into account the code was pre-release, we definitely found ourselves running into Dead Island’s old trick of shoddy collision detection, ropey controls and a bizarre input recognition delay. We’d be less judgemental of early gameplay had we not seen this sort of thing make it to the final release before.

So, the parkour element. Whilst being able to impressively leap on top of things and off of other things during a zombie apocalypse should be considered quite necessary to your survival, the emphasis on this mechanic in the sprint of Dying Light we got to see certainly came across as a little misplaced, technically at the very least. Not that we’re against the idea of a zombie game in which you must use your agility and the environment as both a means of survival and your weapon; that very concept gets us all flustered and handsy in fact, but when it works against the flow of a game all too similar to its already choppy predecessor, the link begins to look a little tentative.

All of a sudden, it seems like it’s sort of been shoehorned in, doesn’t it? And what with our journey into the excellent Rezzed zone incurring an encounter with a game called Cloud Built (incidentally a strikingly beautiful, hand drawn affair that we had tremendous fun with and that you should most certainly find out more about) also focusing on a parkour ethos, it suddenly seems to be everywhere. Again.

And so with the nigh-on guaranteed success of Titanfall, and the little doubt with which we say that Dying Light will make some sort of sizeable splash when it shuffles onto shelves, not to mention the palpable air of expectation humming around Mirror’s Edge 2; will parkour be the next thing everybody wants to include in everything? The sandbox of yesteryear, the WWII of the year before that?

It actually seems like we’re passed all that these days, and despite Titanfall’s emphasis, parkour is hardly the Miley Cyrus of game mechanics. Still, our beloved industry is as fickle as they come. More on all things runny-jumpy here on Respawn, when we get ‘em kids.

 

Nvidia Shield | Eurogamer Expo Hands-On

We sure got our HANDS ON a lot of hardware whilst we were at Eurogamer this year, which almost makes us think we should have washed them or something first. Our hands that is. Not the hardware. It’s too late now though, and if some sort of hideous virus breaks out that causes everyone’s skin to suddenly evacuate through their nostrils in a haze of nonsensical, blood-spattered claustrophobia, remember; you haven’t seen me, roight? Right.

Anyway, onwards and upwards and next in line for a royal handsing, following the lunges we made for the PS4 and XB1, was none other than the Nvidia Shield. That’s right; the pug-ugly portable gaming hether who barged his way into the limelight a few months ago, only to not be allowed on the plane to the UK, presumably due to chronic obesity. Perhaps. To be honest we didn’t think it was that big until we properly clasped it in our hands.

 

Shield Your Eyes

And big it is; this thing won’t be fitting in your average trouser pocket and even if it did you’d shortly be saying goodbye to those trousers as gravity combines with the Shield to strip you of them. Dirty gravity. So then, this is bag fodder, which means it’s going to have to be pretty good considering you could pair it up against a laptop if we’re strictly talking mobility via shoulder-mounted fashion accessories.

Firstly though, despite what you’ve just read, we actually really like the Shield. Sure it’s weighty, but the thing feels solid to hold; it whispers ‘build quality’ into the bewildered palms of your hands. And most importantly of all, although the thing looks like an ergonomic mess that you could only operate properly after letting your hands simmer in a working blender for 12 minutes, it’s actually pretty comfortable. It could instantly be made twenty times better if the sticks were offset, but hey if Sony can still get away with it, anyone can.

Unfortunately, the only game we got to try was The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, which was hooked up to a nearby PC. It ran beautifully, but of course, we were essentially using the Shield as a pad and a screen. We snuck nervously into the UI when the rep wasn’t looking and it seemed to function nicely. There’s a base Android menu, and then the Shield app over the top that looks razor sharp on the 5-inch touchscreen, providing what appeared to be easy and confluent access to your library of games.

 

Shield I Stay or Shield I Go

Ultimately, the reason we’re excited about the Shield lies chiefly in its potential. Running on Android a whole world of opportunities are open in terms of homebrew emulation, and with that muscle-bound Tegra 4 chip under the bonnet, coupled with a real, console-grade pad and hi-res screen, it seems perfectly capable of delivering a modern home gaming experience on the go. We like the idea of carrying a bunch of old emulation-based games on the drive, before instantly switching out to play a full-blown FPS. Borderlands or something. You get the picture.

When I’m away with the band, it’s the kind of device that would deliver the gaming experience I’m actually after; something that the Playstation Vita would have solved had it not been for its sub-par sticks. The Shield’s pricetag is too high, the ‘official’ support is too low and with no confirmed UK release date the odds are undoubtedly against it. That said, getting our hands on one reassured us the machine is every bit capable of succeeding. Good luck, and Godspeed Nvidia.

Wolfenstein: The New Order | Eurogamer Expo Hands-On

Wolfenstein? I offered as we meandered in awe past the seemingly perpetually increasing queue for Titanfall. Rob, Guesty replied, I stopped caring about Wolfenstein a long time ago. And he had a good point, namely because they brought it back once and it was less fun than microwaved lettuce. Which is awful, seriously, never try to heat up your lettuce-encumbered Subway in the microwave. Still, desperate for more queuing, without a further word, we perched on the edge of the line and waited patiently to see what the unqualified drunks in the Third Reich had in store for us this time. Secretly hoping it was a giant robotic dog of some description.

In spite of Guesty’s inherent scepticism, The New Order did a good job of looking all shiny in the E3 previews, and as we’re all aware, previews are representative of their final product on all occasions unanimously. That’s the general consensus isn’t it? Either way, we were entirely ready for a short sharp blast through a Nazi-killing steam-punk world of extravagance and Germans, certainly after being promised a ‘return to form’ for the series. Whatever that is.

Not only that, we were told by the enthusiastic Bethesda rep that the demo was a narrative-focused affair; that the single player element of the game had been carefully crafted to be an eminent story-telling bastion of immersion written to the highest of standards. Though the people in front returned blank looks of benign apprehension, we smiled cordially; not daring to expect the Wolfenstein we were about to play to be a real Hemingway wearing a robot Nazi disguise.

Visually The New Order is brilliant; there’s a satisfying gloss that manages to outdo the perpetually dim, gritty environments. It has a distinctive sheen, the sort of final coat that makes it stand out against its million me-too colleagues.

Regrettably though, Wolfenstein, at the moment, quite notably lacks the kind of carefully engineered core engine that gives many first person shooters a decisive lease of life, a kind of playability that stands out above any other element in the game. We’ve spoken before about largely bland shooters that sail to the peak of their genre  on a finely tuned shooting mechanic alone, the sort of playability that makes just firing a gun good fun. Killzone and the CoDs are prime examples.

Certainly, we’re no stranger to dying repeatedly in just about every type of game, but the bizarrely jacked up difficulty on the Medium setting, plus the absence of that enigmatic core shooting mechanic that would normally make going back and trying different tactics and dispatching enemies over and over a joy instead of a trial, and we really didn’t have a lot of fun with this demo. In fact I’m pretty sure I caught Guesty crying at around the ten minute mark. We couldn’t even find a redeeming quality in the snapshot glimpse of that prioritised storyline.

With the game’s release date unable to conjur anything more accurate than the barn-door figure of ‘2014’, there’s still, potentially, plenty of time to get that extra level of polish on; though whether the id Tech 5 game engine will be capable of transforming the source-based hiccups we experienced into something less disappointing, remains to be seen. Still, ever the blind, evangelical optimists, we’re ardently hopeful. Keep those light receptors on Respawn for more folks!

Xbox One | Eurogamer Expo Round Up

Helpfully marked by its fancy sign and incessant green glow, we managed to lithely sidestep the lepers section at EGX. When it came time to get our Xbox One on, there was no single giant queue threatening to make us curl up into a ball in terror, ardently screaming about not being able to handle another one, to point us in the right direction. Nope, Microsoft were perfectly happy to let us frolic about their designated Green Zone as we saw fit; though once we’d shuffled past a giant statue of a Roman and awkwardly excused ourselves round the IRL sports car, and finally elbowed our way through the crowd of rowdy football fans violently wanting their picture taken, it turned out there were less actual XB1 games there than we first thought. Which was almost a surprise.

Fortunately, though, we got to try a couple of the bigger batters, and most importantly of all, we got to spend a good while delicately running our fingers along the edges of the new controller, before accidentally pressing the Guide button and being pounced upon by angry stand attendees. ‘Get off that screen!’ one of them said as we tossed the controller in the air in a panic, setting fire to a nearby cosplayer, before leaping into the supercar taking up space on the Forza stand, and speeding off through the wall in a blaze of nonchalance.

Back in the muggy mundanity of reality, we meekly said sorry and left the stand. We weren’t really sorry though; not entirely. Anyway.

 

Crowd Control

Undoubtedly the biggest moment of our Xbox One playtest was finally getting to violate the new controller. Could Microsoft improve the nigh-on bout of perfection they splattered all over the 360 pad design? Turns out they could, although only very slightly. Fortunately, the pad is, of course, instantly familiar, and we daresay blindfolded, we may not even have told the difference between the new and the old straight away. The face buttons are less comparable to jelly bean shaped bubbles, which makes a significant yet subtle difference that will be forgotten about once the controllers become standard issue. The d-pad is noticeably improved, though let’s face it they’d have done well to make it any worse, and it’s still a little way off being completely faultless. Lastly, the left and right bumpers were a little underwhelming, carrying the stodginess that sometimes plagued the 360 pads over to this generation albeit in smaller quantities.

We sort of miss the Guide button’s shiny, mirrored prominence as well, but with the classic offset twin sticks, the new rumble triggers and the kind of comfortable ergonomics that’d put one of those fancy office chairs to shame, we were more than happy with Microsoft’s next generation pad. Score one.

The box itself is a hulk of a thing; nothing in comparison to its Grandad sure, but you’d definitely do some damage if you dropped one on someone’s head. It’s about as boxy as they come, with the only real definition a slight angle on the front most plane, underneath the disk drive. The ‘media centre’ ambitions of Microsoft evidently involve the XB1 literally elbowing every other device you own off the shelf under the telly. Like when someone who’s spent too much time at the gym tries to use public transport. Sort of.

 

Dead Good

Onto the games then, and if Dead Rising 3’s live zombified actors were anything to go by, the new title will offer a whole new world of personal space invasion. Our ten minute blast saw us let loose on the streets of a nondescript city square, populated by, you guessed it, hundreds of Jeremy Beadle impersonators. Improving on DR2’s rather flimsy core mechanics, but retaining enough of that classic Dead Rising feel to keep it appropriately familiar, everything has been expectedly ramped up for the series’ next gen debut. The visuals are better, though nothing you’ll be tearing your eyeballs out over, and the number of Jeremy Beadle impersonators on the screen at one time is, of course, boosted significantly by the new hardware as well. Interestingly, you can now tape together your ragtag improvised Homebase-sourced weaponry on the fly, dispensing with the need to lock yourself in an airing cupboard for 20 minutes before getting to see exactly what the DrillChair does. And sort of wishing you hadn’t bothered. Similarly, and quite inexplicably, vehicles can now be combined as well as DIY products and furniture. We were told to stand next to a digger and an ambulance, hit the corresponding button and TA DA, a shiny new armoured truck type affair appeared, complete with weaponry. Peculiar.

When it comes to mindless zombie-killing action, Dead Rising has no competitors, and it certainly looks like three will make a fun and fitting addition to the XB1 launch line up that’s unlikely to shock you, but will undoubtedly entertain.

 

Tour De Forza

As a fan of the Jeremy Clarkson Simulator, it seemed only right that we loudly edge our way onto a Forza 5 pod. We only spent one short lap with the latest iteration of the racing masterclass, but undoubtedly, all the critical components of the Forza series will be making the next gen leap. Of course, it’s a salacious, eyeball caressing, visual party and whilst the glimpse of the presentation we got to see didn’t seem to offer anything worth cooing over, the sun-soaked tarmac, the gorgeously sprawling scenery and the heavenly detail that stretched to every inch of the carefully crafted cockpit most certainly did. The revered physics engine looks to make a welcome return to glory, though our playtest didn’t seem to highlight any noticeable improvements. It’s barely speculation to say the thing will have been at the very least tweaked and sharpened to work as hard as possible on the XB1.

Forza has long been at the very peak of the racing simulation genre, looking down on former champions with a smug sense of youthful satisfaction. It’s getting older, but like a fine wine or the adeptness for moral outrage, it seems only to be getting better with age, and our money’s definitely on this ol’ girl as we greet the next wave of consoles.

With Ryse and Killer Instinct both bringing up the rear, we’re really looking once again to the multiplatform chart squatters to make launch day purchases worthwhile. The younger sister of the 360’s unequivocal pad will be a big win for Microsoft, as will the familiarity of Xbox Live. As far as Eurogamer Expo 2013 goes though, Sony seemed to play the stronger hand, delivering a touch more variety in the exclusives on offer. That said, the Xbox One has gone from being the exclusive choice of an insatiable madman with more money than cognitive function, to a genuinely feasible choice, what with Microsoft’s backtracking and policy switching, and with the ineffable Titanfall heading to the console next year; without a doubt, we’re far from counting the Bone out. More on Respawn as we get it kids.

Playstation 4 | Eurogamer Expo Round Up

Sometimes I feel like ruffling the PS4’s hair and telling Jack Tretton he should be proud. I feel like I’m stood next to him watching a five-a-side football game for kids with poor decision making skills, and last season’s undefeated champion Xbox has fallen from grace and is currently tasting the paint they use to draw the goal line, as little Jimmy scores one for Sony. I also feel like I should probably give up making analogies of any description.

In my defence, I’ve not had enough sleep, and Eurogamer has damaged my legs to the point where I’ve considered chopping them off and using them for firewood. Or an unnervingly artsy hat stand. See? I need some sleep.

Anyway, one of the FIRST THINGS we inexplicably decided to do at EGX 2013 was join the biggest fucking queue in the fucking world. Honestly it was massive, though a cough in a jet engine in comparison to the Titanfall line. Still; we were waiting to finally touch a PS4, so it was worth it. Here’re the handful of games we got to try, and what we think of the console, or moreover the controller itself.

 

Control Freak

Of course, we weren’t allowed to go traipsing through the console’s menus or the UI, nor were we allowed to fiddle with the self loading disk drive or pick the thing up and put it in our bag, so we have little to say about the PS4 itself. It looks nice; geometrically precise, a slanting black box of sharp, purposeful corners and layered archeological efficiency. It’s small, and sort of sleek, and will look fine completely obscured from view in your cabinet. It’s certainly trimmer and sharper than the comparatively bulky XBO.

The console itself locked away then, we made sure we aggressively smeared our grubby mitts all over that controller until the nearby reps got tetchy and asked us to leave. Understandably. Frankly we wouldn’t have even let us in the building. So, what’s it like. Well, if you’ve been staring longingly at pictures and imagining a dexterous improvement over the largely atrocious DualShock3; a new lease of lightweight ergonomicity (which is totally a word) then you’d be pretty on the money. We found the PS4 controller to be almost exactly as we’d imagined it. The sticks are slightly better positioned (though still no match for the offset stylings of its competitor), the baffling convex shape a welcomed addition to the archives of the past, and button R2 and L2 alternatives to the flappy panels of yesteryear. Ticks all round.

We did find the R2 and L2 shoulder buttons a little small, though to no real detrimental effect. The touch pad was interesting enough, though we didn’t need to use it in any form other than a Start button replacement. The handles are longer and give a little more palm based support. All together, it’s great. Good job Sony.

 

Kiss Me Dadly

So, onto the games. We were curled through the PS4 area with Olympic haste so, priorities in mind, we b-lined straight to Octodad: Dadliest Catch. Undoubtedly a game you’d describe as a rip-roaring barrell of untimely hilarity, without ever knowing what ‘rip-roaring’ is or does. A PSN title, the game is an ideal example of the kind of support Sony are touting in regards to its online service and to the indies this time around. As you flailingly qwop your way through the levels, smashing furniture and incurring several phonecalls to public liability insurance providers along the way, our moment with Octodad lived up to all our expectations. You should definitely find out more about this one HERE.

 

Thunder Flies

Next we moved onto War Thunder, a game currently available Free-to-Play on Steam that makes our meek and frail computers mew with fear because they’re a load of rubbish. We jumped at the chance to try out the WWII combat flight simulator on a next gen console, and weren’t disappointed. Or at least, we wouldn’t have been had Rob not forgotten ‘flight simulators’ ARE on the list of Games He’s Awful At. He plummeted into the scenery a few times, but looking beautiful, and with the prospect of cross platform battles, over 300 historically accurate planes and the F2P model intact on the game’s journey to the living room, we were suitably impressed with this launch-day PS4 offering.

 

Knackered

Between Crash Bandicoot, Ratchet and Clank and Jak and Daxter it’s difficult to make a 3D platformer stand out; especially as many take visual cues from these big three anyway, and unless you’re Rayman and have a gorgeous 2D, hand-drawn alternative art style going for you, there’s every chance you’ll fall in line. All the same, Knack was familiar but friendly fun, the kind of game that a Playstation launch simply wouldn’t be the same without. Your character grows and shrinks depending on the amount of BITS you pick up or hits you take before you die, and this neat little element was really the only sign of distinction we could uncover in our short time with the game. Ultimately, it looks like a delightful romp that’s nothing to write home about, but there could well be plenty of depth hidden away that we didn’t get a chance to see.

 

Pirate Simulator

Finally, we had a bit of a tussle with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Tasked, rather appropriately, with assassinating some bloke aboard his own ship, like the home invaders the Conway family have always been, we made our way through a linear jungle, to a sun-drenched dock, and finally high into the offending ship’s mast before neatly placing our hidden blade through old Captain Rum’s lovely black locks in a dive that would have made Tom Daley say YO HO HO. Probably. Black Flag was the identical Assassin’s Creed we were expecting, again looking great but offering little in the way of something new for the series. We sort of think Ubi should have taken ACIII’s pirating ideal and stuck it in a new, seven-seas-exploring, pillaging, plundering, pirate-simulating IP. Might not have sold as many though eh, and how else would anybody eat? To sum up, Black Flag will be great and it won’t be new.

So there we have it folks. The Playstation 4 launch line up we got to get up close and personal with didn’t include the big hitters, but with Killzone, Battlefield 4, FIFA 14 and Watch Dogs making the list of headliners, there’s pots of potential for roaring success, and plenty of diversity to keep you occupied if those simply aren’t enough to satisfy your insatiable gaming hunger. Stick a comment below and let us know if you’re getting a November 29th launch day PS4, and what you’ll be playing on the day! More on Respawn as we GET IT.

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Titanfall | Eurogamer Expo Hands-On

So in a haze of misty eyed trepidation, we put ourselves right in the iron sights of the kindly folks that stole our bloody name. Which is entirely debatable, but no we won’t stop mentioning it. Yes, Respawn Entertainment’s first foray finally elbowing its way into existence was always going to be a magical moment; given the uphill struggle it’s taken to get here, but we never expected it to be quite as enchanting as this. We’re kicking off our Eurogamer coverage right at the end, with the Game of the Show.

And why are we doing that? Well firstly, it’s our website and we’ll do as we damn well please. Secondly, though it’d be a lie to say we managed to get to grips with every last game on offer at this year’s EGX, as it appears to now be known, we’ll be putting a good deal of money that we don’t have down on Titanfall cleaning up on the Game of the Show awards. So we’re copying? Nope, we’re dropping to our knees in the light of Respawn’s eminently blaring reverence. Or. Something similarly over-stated. You get the picture. Probably.

During our short time with the game, we died many, many times in the title’s unique (ish) Attrition mode, a gameplay variant that focuses on genially smushing together a campaign style narrative and directional, mission-based objectives, with multiplayer team deathmatch. If the second part of that phrase made you groan then we suggest you crack out the Respawn staffers’ portfolios.

There were two lingering concerns we had with Titanfall prior to playing the game. Firstly; it’s not entirely inappropriate to be concerned about Call of Duty cloning. Considering we’re talking about the minds behind the last CoD that was truly great (the first Modern Warfare), some will consider that very idea sacrilege. Still, we couldn’t help but worry where they would be taking their FPS mastery and how they’d get there with Titanfall. Our next uncertainty regarded those big, clumsy old, tall-standing-lamp obliterating mechs. The heavy-machinery operating elephant in the room. Let’s face it; the giant robots versus tiny people scenario is a breeding ground for cathartic imbalance, and with the Titans woven so palpably into the core of the game, implementing these correctly is make or break.

Fortunately, you’ll be pleased to hear Titanfall is an absolute joy to play. Or at least, the version flaunted about at Eurogamer was. The lithe, gymnastic parkour of the pilots, the timed release of your Titan (as opposed to awarding the mechs based on how good you are at dishing out the bullets) the carefully developed level design and that beautiful, solid, familiar core mechanic that makes just rattling off a few rounds fun, all contribute to what appears to be a masterfully balanced gameplay mode.

The closed urban environment we got to die in somehow handled both gameplay ideals soundly; allowing pilots to leap from rooftop to skyscraper, wall running and boosting about without ever touching the floor, whilst simultaneously giving Titans room to join the fray. Wandering down a seemingly abandoned street to see a Titan stomp into view, ablaze and under heavy fire just a few feet away, before sprinting up a wall and adding your two cents to the piece brings an unforgettable dynamicity to the proceedings of what could have been a rudimentary shooting game. Though it was never going to be that. Really.

In a move of beautiful, simplistic yet ingenious innovation, when a game finishes, the match gives everyone a last ditch attempt at scoring some points. The losing side must all make a mad dash to the extraction point within the time limit, whilst the winning team is tasked with taking out the fleeing opposition. It’s a brilliant example of the kind of in-tune creativity that we have forgotten to expect in a genre so dry and catatonically deprived of fresh ideas. It’s also roaringly good fun, even for the defeated team.

On a number of occasions the button layout, and more specifically the switching between anti-Titan and anti-human weapons (something we needed to do pretty often) lacked an intuitiveness that caused us to fumble awkwardly and then get shot; though with several months of development left, there’s time for such minor, and largely preferential creases to be ironed out.

Lastly, we were playing this latest build on PCs with 360 pads. It looked and ran beautifully, without hinting at frame rate drop, even in some of the more intense, charging-giant-robot-on-fire based moments. That said, with the game heading out for Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC, it’s difficult to say how this early impression will translate in terms of performance. All we know is, the word ‘system-seller’ is being enunciated with increasing clarity everytime we hear from the Respawn boys and girls. Stay tuned to this Respawn for more kids.

It's a jetpack Michael, what could possibly go wrong?

Hey it’s The Iron Giant. But. With more guns.

 

Sayonara Senorita: A Life Changing Generation

It’s SUM UP time ladies and gentlemen, and it’s not even the end of the year is it. Which is nice. And novel. Or horrific if you’re on the other side of this Word document (which you are, you know). Yes it’s time again to throw ourselves bodily through the stained-glass window of nostalgia, plummeting 50 ft through the air with the dreamy look of self-gratification and general indifference smeared all over our faces, before we hit the floor with a thunderous crash and walk off leaving you all soaked in a thin film of disappointment. Or something. You must know the drill by now.

So what are we SUMMING UP then? We’re totalling up an entire generation, no less; we’re taking a Jim Davidson style ‘cuddly-bear-travelator’ jaunt of crudity through the jagged streets of the last EIGHT years of gaming! Except we’re not doing that at all are we, because as you may or may not know I have neither the patience nor a memory competent enough to do that ideal any justice. So instead, you’re going to hear how this generation changed my life. Because it did. Lucky you.

Any period of time that obtusely blankets eight years of your life like a coma or a rerun of Lost is going to involve a lot of changes, so perhaps this needn’t be said; but gaming has been augmented and twisted and distorted to such a brilliantly questionable extent, in some guises, it’s barely recognizable.  Certainly if you consider something like the in-progress beta for World of Tanks on the 360. Nuts.

So. I caught up to this generation of gaming a little bit late. Why? Because I was too busy pretending to be a musician; a pretence I’ve kept up to, with an impressive total lack of development, to this day. What this meant in terms of barrel-scraping relevancy to this post though, is that my first real, tangible connection with this generation of gaming came late on in 2007, when Halo 3 was released.

I was not a Halo fan. When Halo came out, people tried to feed me the box in some sort of hazy-eyed euphoric madness; but regrettably, I only had eyes for Half Life. When I turned up at a friend’s place, quite by accident, on the day of Halo 3’s release, I witnessed something that would usher in the TOMORROW of gaming for me; dusk. And the one thing that made me think; Christ what have I been missing.

As the main campaign was booted up, my other friends, all in their separate homes joined the game. They talked as the cutscenes played out, and eventually spawned in-game and began playing something that had previously been a truly solitary experience, with each other. The very same single player campaign, but with other, less likeable, non-AI players. Cor. To me, this is still an impossibility I can barely believe has been imagined.

As such, that whole idea was and kind of still is, utterly skin tearingly exciting. A real, connected environment that allowed a seamless transition online, and didn’t require me to kill off the creaky old desktop computer again trying to make CS 1.6 work was all I wanted. Deep down. And so I became raucously involved in, what is somehow still, the current generation of console gaming. I banished the PS2 from its former pedestal and replaced it with an Xbox 360.

Of course what followed was the digital revolution. An unthinkable catalogue of free online demos to try (bearing in mind these previously needed to be bought for a fiver off the front of Official Playstation Magazine) the majesty of life-lengthening downloadable content, and the fact that I could easily speak to people that I may well have lost contact with otherwise. Before party chat, our ‘Live’ group used to use Halo 3 lobbies to talk, regardless of whether we were playing the game or not. We’d have a few rounds of Knives Only on the Shipment map from Call of Duty 4, dip into a game of Hide and Seek on Halo before finishing off the evening with a chaser of Uno whilst everyone fell asleep. These times are long since past due to jobs and life, but it was a inspired couple of years simmering with joy, brought on entirely by this generation of gaming. The glory days of this eight-year extravaganza.

Whilst I began the generation smashing cars up in FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage, a game I still stand by as being a great (insert reciprocal jeers here boys and girls) and building hilarious monstrosities in Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts and testing them online, not to mention shooting endless amounts of giant ants in the madness that is Earth Defence Force; these were the traditional gaming experiences that seemed to have slowly ebbed and bowed as we’ve inched toward the finale. And just as I write that, I think of the fun I’ve literally just had with Rayman Legends, and have to wonder if the landscape has really changed all that much. Sure a few impressive skyscrapers have sprung valiantly, and in some cases despicably, up from the ground, but the foundation they’re all built on is still visible between them, if you look closely. It’s all a matter of perspective.

With The Last of Us probably one of the generation’s most notable single player, narrative driven games (and I’m likely speaking out of turn there) the recent explosion of indie games into the limelight and the truly unrivalled offerings that success has brought to the attention of those that would otherwise have missed it completely, and experiences that still deliver more depth, replayability, consistent excitement and innovation than any other medium; it’s been an undeniably riotous few years and an even more unhinged last few months.

And so with Grand Theft Auto V out in a matter of hours, the game that will undoubtedly be the swan song, of sorts, of this generation, a donned hat making way for new consoles, new levels of connectivity and Christ knows what else, I want to say thanks. Thanks Current Gen, for being dreadful, brilliant, awe-inspiring, futuristic, social, surprising, political, disappointing, infuriating, overwhelming, moving, emotional, typical, gimmicky, and all the rest of the good, the bad and the ugly that’s been dragged along the ride. I’ve barely scratched the surface here, so share a story of your own from this generation of gaming below, and lets give a moment of thanks before we all get lost in Rockstar’s creative flex.

Sayonara senorita.

 

 

The Stuff of Legends: Rayman Legends Review

Before we get our hands dirty in this, our latest review, let’s just get something stated loud and clear. Rayman isn’t for everyone. Most animals, for example, will struggle with the dexterity and cognitive procedures required to successfully navigate even the game’s lovingly presented menus, never mind the levels themselves. Inanimate objects, plant life and crustaceans will all find a similar impenetrability getting to grips with Ubisoft’s latest platformer and frankly, our advice is that you give up and save your energy for photosynthesis. Or whatever. That in mind then, if you don’t count yourself among these groups, have got eyes and aren’t some sort of outright fun Nazi, then really you have no excuse to not raucously enjoy every last drop of Rayman Legends. Here’s why.

If you’re familiar with Rayman Origins, the series’ previous entry, you know what to expect from the off. That’s not to say there’s nothing new however, and in any case, changing the formula too drastically would have been largely unnecessary. Origins was a joy to play and those core mechanics all remain stubbornly in place. That said, Legends appears to be paced slightly slower than its predecessor, though it’s by such small amounts, that may well be something to do with the two years’ worth of alcohol-sodden brain cell steam rolling I’ve been at since the last game’s release.

And so, Legends, like Origins, is an indisputably adorable affair. Those beautiful hand drawn graphics make a triumphant return and immediately have you taking your most painfully yearned for loved one by the hand and proclaiming dramatically ‘my darling, of all the beauty I see in the world, you are second to this game.’ Probably. It’s pretty lovely, anyway.  The full cast of characters, both playable and NPC, the enemies that belong to each individual world, and every aspect of the luscious and involved dynamic environments have been amorously crafted to elicit a genuine smile when you get a moment to look closely.

Of course, those moments are few and far between if you’re raring to get into the action. The more challenging sections see you commanding your tiny green partner in crime to affect the environment by ceremoniously pressing B. He’ll move platforms, cut ropes and tickle (yep) your enemies at your beckoned call. Which is nice. This becomes not entirely dissimilar to patting the dog, rubbing your belly, making cheese and bacon on toast and balancing an upside down fedora on your nose all at once. The trickier parts pit you against the clock (or against a scrolling wall of fiery death) and have you timing Rayman’s jumps, ducks and running whilst simultaneously making these environmental changes. It’s not uncommon to attempt a jump, move a platform in a blind panic, land on the wrong section and plummet to your untimely death, inadvertently spilling cheese everywhere and losing your fedora down the back of the sofa. Somehow.

The last level of the first world ‘Teensies in Trouble’ is a majesty of platforming fun. With an outrageously captured rendition of Ram Jam’s Black Betty playing in the background, you smash scenery and baddies in time with the cymbals and race through to the finale. It’s a congratulatory break for finishing the world’s previous levels; something that will leave you grinning from ear to ear, if you’re made of cardboard and aren’t already doing so, that is.

After you finish your first level, you’ll realize just how jam-packed with content Legends is, as the game immediately takes to voraciously loading you up as many trinkets as you can carry, all whizzing and making disorienting noises at once. With playable characters, daily currency dispensers and even levels from Origins to unlock, we really only scratched the surface in our playthrough. (Though that’s also because we’re not good enough to find all the BITS, of which there are many). There’re daily and weekly challenges if you’re still not full after all that, and of course there’s a multiplayer component too. There’s a fun Vs footy game that works surprisingly well but might not hold your attention much farther than the five minute mark, and of course, co-op. Though, disappointingly, there’s no online co-op, which’ll put a few of you off, no doubt.

Sadly, the game still only dishes out achievements to the ‘Primary Player’, which, for a game with its heart so desperately set on you playing with your friends on the couch next to you, is a shame. Legends would be the perfect platform for local co-op achievement hunting. That said, Origins had the same restrictions, so you might well be good and used to all this by now.

Ultimately, Legends is a fine title; delivering all its predecessor promised and followed through on, and piling on the reasons to keep coming back for more. We had an absolute riot with it, and if you’re after some wholesome, side-scrolling platform fun, we don’t understand why you’d think of going anywhere else.

89%

Rayman Legends is out the 30th August for WiiU, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC and Playstation Vita!

Hayley Games: They Call it the Easy Life

Contrary to popular belief, diamonds are not, in fact, a girl’s best friend. Not this girl anyway. I wouldn’t say no to a diamond or three, of course, but since precious and extortionately priced gems are entirely absent from my life, I’d say that diamonds are a pretty terrible best friend. They never answer my calls, we never meet up for drinks. Diamonds won’t even follow me back on Twitter. No, this girl’s best friend is a little something called easy mode. And easy mode can be every gamer’s best friend – boy or girl, and however skilled you think you might be with a controller.

The beauty of easy mode (from the perspective of a not-very-adept girl gamer) is that you cannot give up. In theory. You cannot give up in theory. Because if you can’t complete the game on easy mode, I hate to break it to you, but you’re never going to complete the game. You are as low as you can go. Last chance saloon. There is no level easier than easy mode – hence its name. Clever, that. As such, easy mode insists that you persist; nigh-on forces you to continue struggling through if you want to complete the game, save the world, get the girl etc. However long it takes, however many times the screen fades ominously to darkness, however many times your life bar empties itself in a puddle on the floor, easy mode makes certain that you keep on coming back for more. (Unless you’re playing Portal 2, which even on easy mode made my brain feel like it was back to front, forcing me to stop playing it for my own sanity.)

Some games have gone even further than simply allowing lame gamers like me to select easy mode. I seem to remember moments in the Uncharted games when I would be prompted to skip a section of action which I was clearly having great difficulty with. Granted, I needed to fail the mission miserably a good ten times before this happened, but it became increasingly harder to resist the lure of pressing skip and pretending I’d done it all myself like a big girl.

Of course, it’s not just the moments when you despairingly shout at the screen or the dog “I’M STUUUUUCK!!!” when easy mode comes into its own. Just as it can sometimes be a treat to watch a completely mindless movie (I’m talking straight to DVD, don’t tell anyone I ever watched this kind of mindless), sometimes it can feel quite nice to breeze through a game with ease. Of course gaming should be challenging, and of course it should be infuriating, but sometimes – just sometimes (although more frequently when I am behind the controller) – it is more fun to take it easy.

If you’re feeling a bit insecure, easy mode can also make you feel a bit more of a badass – especially if you pretend that you’re actually playing on titanium mode instead. I know that choice of playing mode is an important factor for the more serious gamers among you, and that completing a game on super-tricky-almost-impossibly-hellish-four-week-no-sleep-gaming-session mode can be a bit of a badge of honour. I simply encourage you to frolic once in a while in the warm embrace of the easier modes. And remember, there’s always easy mode’s hot sister, normal mode. I’ve heard she’s not as easy, though…

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