games: thief, cod ghosts
Just got the console, looking forward to playing with y'all cool duders!
@SexyToad: What? Like, I just made up a conversation with myself? This interview was recorded and is on the Internet for people to hear right here. So no, I didn't do a split personality bit, if that's what you're suggesting. Also, I'm pretty sure that would be illegal, unless I clearly stated that it was a parody.
I’m sure you’ve all seen the Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 trailer by now. It looks like Treyarch is taking the semi-grounded conspiracy theory of the original and dialing it up to 11. It actually reminds me a lot of the transition from CoD4 to Modern Warfare 2. More importantly, this marks the eighth annual Call of Duty game Activision has published since 2005. The money keeps pouring in for good ol’ Bobby Kotick and the boys in Santa Monica, but I think the million-dollar question on everyone’s minds is, “How long can it last?” We’re nearly at the end of this console generation, and there haven’t really been any major innovations recently, unless you really want to count Legends of Pegasus’ “real-time terraforming,” which I’m pretty sure you don’t.
I hear a lot of gamers complaining about a lack of new ideas in an industry dead-set on sequels and yearly dev cycles, and I can’t help but think of how much indie games have risen in popularity the last few years. The iPhone has largely overtaken traditional handhelds in the portable gaming market, and the desire for smaller, more instantly gratifying games has grown larger and larger as this console generation has progressed. The disparity between blockbuster titles and indies games is growing wider, both in content and creation. Recently, I had a chance to sit down with Professor Deborah Solomon, of Montgomery College’s Game Development and Simulation Program (if you listen to NPR, you should be familiar with her) and discuss the future of gaming, more specifically indie games. Here’s an excerpt from that conversation:
Brooks: I was wondering if you had any insight as to whether [indie games are] where the gaming industry is going to go, or is it going to continue in the sort of blockbuster direction of the Call of Dutys and Assassin’s Creeds of the world?
Deborah: I think the industry goes in cycles and also goes in multiple directions at the same time, kind of like a game. The games that are coming out of Thatgamecompany, with Kellee Santiago and Jenova Chen, they’re all very exciting and interesting kind of art games, but you’re never going to not have the Call of Dutys and the massive Halo blockbuster kind of games as well. But I think it’s interesting with indies that they can be created in a much shorter time frame and for much less money, so indies have more of a flexibility to develop more creative ideas and take something that might be too risky for a big developer, a big publisher to work on.
Brooks: What is exactly is the average budget of an independent game?
Deborah: I think it really varies from zero, you know, people who do it for free and don’t pay themselves anything and don’t make any money, to, well I don’t know what the budget for Minecraft was, but I know it’s made like $50 million and counting. It’s definitely a huge force in both the indie marketplace as indies are taking notice of what they can achieve both financially and creatively even with a very small team and a small time frame, and also what the big developers are looking at like, “Wow, this small company made a huge, huge game.”
Another way that indies are getting funding are through bundling their games, so the Humble Indie Bundle and other bundles that are on Steam where people are getting a collection of games that… may include games that they normally wouldn’t play, but maybe it expands their tastes a little bit as they try these different games that come in the bundle.
I think with indies, funding and financing is a particularly interesting part of what they’re doing, with this kind of bundling strategy but also with sites like Kickstarter where even major companies like Double Fine have raised a huge amount of money… where you can go directly to the consumer, say, “Hey, we want to make this game, and will you give us the money to make it?”
Brooks: A lot of indie developers have limited budgets to work on, and you’re very familiar with the game development process. How exactly do economics fit in to that? How many restrictions do you have there, in terms of what you can do?
Deborah: I think it depends on your platform and the audience you’re going for. So if you’re creating a console game that you need a console kit for, that’s going to be an expensive startup cost. On the other hand, you could get on a console without a console kit like through Xbox Live. So I think with indies, if you don’t have a budget… PC games or mobile games are good way to start. Mobile, especially, is exploding, and startup costs are very small for those platforms.
Brooks: Is this a viable long-term strategy, or are these companies going to get bought up by the big publishers eventually?
Deborah: I think they’re just different parts of the marketplace, and I think when Facebook games came out people really scorned them as being very trivial and boring, and honestly, many of them are mind-numbingly boring and horrible. But there are some interesting games that are coming out of there, there’s games that are affecting not just the marketplace, but the world socially. People can raise funds for children in Uganda, for example; a game called – I think it’s Raise the Village.
(Note: This preview can also be found at Front Towards Gamer)
If there’s one thing that’s synonymous with PC gaming, it’s strategy. If you have a halfway decent rig and an appetite for conquering lands or casting magic, you’re platter is likely full to bursting. One of those games you’ve likely come across in your travels is Elemental: War of Magic (2010). Developed by Stardock Entertainment, Elemental is a turn-based strategy game with an emphasis on magic and mythos. While War of Magic received mixed reviews for a lack of polish, the backbone for a genuinely fun strategy game was there. And so with two more years under its belt, Stardock is taking another crack at the ever-expanding PC market with Elemental: Fallen Enchantress.
Set in a fantasy world called (oddly enough) Elemental, Fallen Enchantress casts you in the role of one of small number beings capable of channeling magic in the aftermath of a war between humanity and the Titans. As a member of the magical one percent, people naturally look to you for guidance and leadership. It may not be the most original concept, but Fallen Enchantress’ dark storybook art style really sells the world of Elemental as one of strife and wonder.
Stardock’s pedigree as a 4x (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) developer comes to bear in Elemental: Fallen Enchantress, as experienced gamers should have little trouble adapting to the conquer-by-any-means-necessary style of the genre. With 10 factions to choose from, it’s your job as a sovereign to lead your faction to glory through copious amounts of mouse clicks and hotkeys. The premise is simple enough: begin with a single capital city and, through battle, resource and technology management, diplomacy, or guile, be the last man standing.
Elemental’s hook is that, rather than have predetermined outcomes for battles based on unit stats, you have the option of getting into the nitty gritty and mixing it up with your foes. From what we’ve seen, the combat plays similarly to that of Might and Magic, which definitely isn’t a bad thing. You can keep your hands clean and play armchair general, or get into the fray yourself and let loose a wide variety of spells. Speaking of which, there are several flavors of magic at your disposal, most of which is standard fare for the genre. You have the basics like Fire and Water along with Death and Life which add buffs, all of which have five levels of mastery.
With such franchises as Galactic Civilizations and Sins of a Solar Empire under their belt, Stardock provides plenty of reason for optimism with Elemental: Fallen Enchantress. War of Magic may have lacked polish, but the base for a solid 4x strategy game was most certainly there. Currently in beta, Fallen Enchantress looks to be a legitimate competitor in the ever-growing PC strategy market. If you already own a copy of War of Magic, you may be eligible to receive Fallen Enchantress for free or at a discounted price, but for the rest of us, Fallen Enchantress is available for pre-order now at $40. With no hard release date, it looks as though Fallen Enchantress will see a late 2012 or early 2013 release, but if the early footage is any indication, we can’t wait to start conquering the lands of Elemental. For more information on Stardock and Elemental, check out www.stardock.com/games/.
(Note: You can also check out my preview at Front Towards Gamer)
The Rodney Dangerfield of Fighters.
I have to admit, I’ve never been a huge fan of fighting games. The idea of waiting in line at the arcade to play Street Fighter II never really appealed to me. To be honest, I had more fun watching the ridiculous moves other people would come up with than getting in on the action, myself. I suppose the same logic could be applied to something like Counter Strike, but I never felt the same barrier of entry with shooters as I did with 2D fighters. One of the few fighting franchises that I have always enjoyed is Dead or Alive. Though it has the unfortunate distinction of being better known for its liberal female physics than anything else, Tecmo’s longtime fighting franchise has always struck a good balance between skill and button mashing.
A Fresh Start.
With the recent release of Ninja Gaiden 3, those who pre-ordered or bought the collector’s edition received an exclusive alpha demo for Dead or Alive 5, which is set to release later this September. Though it only features four characters – Ryu, Hayate, Ayane, and Hitomi – and one stage – a Tokyo rooftop, this early build of Team Ninja’s first real Dead or Alive since Tomonobu Itagaki’s departure shows a lot of promise.
A New Coat of Paint.
The most apparent difference between Dead or Alive 5 and its predecessors is in the game’s art style. In the past, characters had a pseudo-anime look, with exaggerated eyes and plastic-looking skin. No longer is that the case, however, as characters are now portrayed far more realistically. In addition, fighters will now degrade over the course of a battle, sweating and gathering dirt as they mix it up. It’s not on the scale of Mortal Kombat, but Team Ninja did an absolutely phenomenal of updating the look of a franchise begging for a stylistic overhaul.
The actual fighting remains largely intact from previous iterations, though there are some pretty big additions this time around. Other than the usual assortment of move list refinements, character interactions with the environment are a lot more prevalent in Dead or Alive 5, with several opportunities for the ever-polarizing quick time sequence. The AI starts out stupidly easy, but gets tougher the more you play, though even when I did lose, I never felt cheated like in DOA 4.
Even with only one stage available at this point, Team Ninja’s emphasis on “fighting entertainment” this time around could not be more obvious. “RB” (or “R1” on PS3) now enacts a heavy-hitting slow motion attack, the final blow of which allows you to choose which direction the poor soul on the other end of your fist goes flying in. If that direction happens to be one of a stage’s many danger zones, then prepare for absolute chaos.
If DOA 5 is any indication, the Japanese government should really look into the stability of its building construction, because one hit to a generator is apparently all it takes to completely level the top story of a Tokyo skyscraper. And while the ensuing pandemonium may suck for all the hapless Joe Shmoes below you, it sure makes for one hell of a fight.
Show me what you’ve got!
At this point, Dead or Alive’s M.O. should be no secret. If you’re looking for the deepest, most technical fighting game ever, you’re barking up the wrong tree. But if you enjoy the thrill of watching an EVO tourney, but lack the time or patience of competing in one, or you just want to beat up your friends, Dead or Alive 5 looks to be right up your alley. It speaks to how much fun DOA 5 is that I’ve put in well over five hours in a demo that features a scant four characters and one stage, and I still can’t get enough. Going into the demo with absolutely no expectations, Dead or Alive 5 is now my most anticipated game of the fall, without question. Whether Team Ninja can translate that anticipation into success remains to be seen. Either way, be sure to look for a full review later this year.
I admit, when the original Mass Effect was first released with the promise of carrying over all of your decisions in one expansive trilogy, I was just as skeptical as I was excited. Five years and two critically acclaimed games later, we’re on the eve of the epic conclusion to Bioware’s massive space adventure, and I’m (more than happily) eating my words of skepticism.
Let’s not kid ourselves, Mass Effect 3 is going to sell like gangbusters. And, unless Director Casey Hudson decides to make some serious last-minute changes, the overall experience will likely remain intact. Of course, for any game, particularly a franchise like Mass Effect with such a fervent fan base, the Devil is in the details.
In Mass Effect’s case, the combat has always been the one area Bioware couldn’t quite nail down. With ME3, however, the Edmonton, Alberta-based developer is taking more cues from big-name contemporaries, like Gears of War, without sacrificing their RPG roots.
ME3’s all too brief demo, which was released via Xbox Live and Playstation Network on Valentine’s Day, takes you through a chunk of the Reaper invasion of Earth, and then skips ahead to an extended battle with the human-supremest group, Cerberus on Sur'Kesh, the Salarian homeworld.
It’s clear that, even in an unfinished build, the combat is far and away the smoothest it’s ever been. The fluidity of aiming and moving from cover to cover is spot on, though sprinting feels a tad too swimmy. Heavy bass and kick give ME3’s firearms an extremely satisfying report, and combining biotic and tech powers with squad-mates never gets old.
From the outset, the demo has you choose from three specific gameplay presets. Though not entirely surprising, given the direction the franchise has taken, “Combat” automates character and dialogue decisions, allowing action-minded gamers to get straight into the trenches. “Role-Playing” offers a more traditional Mass Effect experience, balancing combat, strategy and narrative, while “Story” allows gamers to focus on dialogue and characterization, rather than shooting.
For old-school Bioware fans, you’ll be happy to know that skill trees have been expanded back to ME1 sizes, though each ability now has a branching path to choose from. “Throw,” for instance, has options to either increase the power’s force or impact radius, with the highest level allowing you to have two projectiles at once or an accelerated recharge speed.
One thing to note is that the frame rate during cutscenes and dialogue was noticeably choppy. Though this is likely due to the demo being an incomplete build, the PS3 version of Mass Effect 2 had a similar problem.
Mass Effect 3 is set to release for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC on March 6.
Quick show of hands, how many of you out there remember a time in which the vehicular combat genre was all the rage? It kinda seems odd to think that, at one point in time, Call of Duty wasn’t the omnipresent entertainment Goliath that it is today. Not to bring back some really, really painful memories, but you know you’ve struck gold when even George Lucas gets in on the action (yes, I’m talking about you, Star Wars: Demolition).
Set to release on Valentine's Day, Twisted Metal (Feb. 14, 2012) is more of an amalgamation of the series’ high points, rather than a continuation of the established canon. “It’s kind of a new universe that takes what we think is the best of the Twisted [Metal] series,” said series co-creator, David Jaffe.
A demo of the upcoming release, which hit the Playstation Network on January 31, gives players the chance to play both Deathmatch and Nuke, TM’s take on capture the flag, in the suburban-themed, “Sunsprings, California.”
While Deathmatch has been a series staple since its creation, Nuke is brand new mode for the Twisted franchise. Set up in a series of baseball-esque innings, the team-based mode has each side attempting to destroy each other’s base, and by base I mean a giant statue of each faction’s leader (e.g. Sweet Tooth for the Clown faction). Each team takes turns attempting to launch missiles at the enemy statue by capturing faction leaders, and feeding them into meat grinders attached to several missile launchers scattered throughout the level. In true Twisted Metal fashion, Nuke is nothing short of bedlam, and it’s an absolute blast to play.
In addition to increased mode variety, Twisted Metal now features playable helicopters. While it allows for greater mobility (and a wicked Gatling gun), “Talon” is one of the most fragile vehicles available, providing an interesting trade-off.
Whether this “rethinking” of the Twisted Metal franchise pans out for the tight-knit developers at Eat, Sleep, Play! is still largely a mystery. “Honestly, we’re a small team... and we really don’t know,” said Jaffe. “We don’t know if it’s going to sell huge or sell small. We have no clue where it’s gonna go.”
Eat, Sleep, Play! hasn’t ruled out the idea of releasing downloadable content, but the decision largely hinges on Twisted’s success. “If it’s a success, it would be a blast to do DLC, whether it’s levels or modes or vehicles,” said Jaffe. “Right now it’s up in the air.”
And while the recent announcement that series Director, David Jaffe will be leaving Eat, Sleep, Play! following the game’s release has brought increased speculation to the franchise’s long-term success, Jaffe was quick to reassure fans that he isn’t abandoning the house he helped build. “I am still WITH ESP and have not left and will not leave until we got TM launched and stick around2balance&bug fix&tune (probably another 1.5-3 months). Still being paid with ESP paycheck, etc. But I WILL be leaving2start new game studio.” said Jaffe, on Twitter (@davidscottjaffe). “Talking2peeps about some big, huge next gen game ideas I’d love for us2make, as well as cool stuff in the browser space.”
For more information on Twisted Metal, check out twistedmetal.com.
At this point, Call of Duty has become its own genre. Never mind calling Activision’s seemingly limitless cash cow a military shooter, much less a plain Jane action/adventure game. CoD has reached such a critical mass that to call it anything less would be a gross understatement. With over $1 billion of combined sales between Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops, Call of Duty has become a entertainment behemoth. But with that success comes the pressure to continue producing a quality product.
Make no mistake, people will buy Modern Warfare 3. The question is: does MW3 settle for the status quo, or do Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games forsake the security of the established formula in favor or something new and, possibly, better?
The short answer is: no. This is Call of Duty. It took years for Infinity Ward to move the franchise into the modern era with Call of Duty 4, and CEO Bobby Kotick would sooner eat a bucket of leeches than relinquish his stranglehold on the golden goose.
As a result, Modern Warfare 3 is the most polarizing game in the the series. After five straight years of UAVs, perks and shooting dudes, you likely either can’t get enough, or you’re sick of Call of Duty. That’s not to say Modern Warfare is bad, it’s just more of the same. More UAVs, more Soap and Price, more crazy set pieces and more explosions on said crazy set pieces. The bright side is that, if you’re into shooting virtual dudes, Modern Warfare 3 is about as safe of a purchase as you can make.
Modern Warfare 3’s single player is undoubtedly its weakest asset. Soap and Price’s battle against Makarov was never meant to be the next Iliad, but MW3 feels devoid of any genuine emotion or suspense, particularly after Treyarch’s Cold War conspiracy in Black Ops.
The level design is uninspired, the pacing is rushed and the set pieces feel like trailer bait, rather than awe-inspiring spectacles. The developers continue to include psuedo-stealth missions in which you creep behind enemy lines with either Price or Soap, but they never come close to the intensity of “All Ghillied Up” in the original Modern Warfare.
It all boils down to following the guy with the word “follow” above is head, and shooting the bad guys.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
Sometimes you need to plant explosives, other times you’ll shoot more bad guys on a stationary turret. The formula isn’t complicated.
After the credits are done rolling, the game chauffeurs you over to Spec Ops, the cooperative, mission-based mode that first appeared in MW2. This time around, however, Spec Ops also includes a horde-esque survival mode in which you hold off waves of increasingly difficult enemies. The catch is that you can purchase various defenses, such as a squad of AI friendlies or a missile strike. While fun, Spec Ops is limited to two players. In an age where every game under the sun features four-player co-op, MW3’s Spec Ops feels out of date.
Of course, multiplayer is why CoD is where it is today, and, unsurprisingly, it’s the area of Modern Warfare 3 that has received the most attention. You have your usual assortment of new guns, but the big ticket item in MW3 is a complete revamp of the killstreak system. In an attempt to lure those who would otherwise be turned off by CoD’s steep learning curve, the developers have included a Support streak which carries your kills over deaths instead of resetting after dying. In addition, actions like capturing control points and shooting down UAVs also contribute to your streak.
All the standard modes, such as deathmatch and headquarters, are included, though, for some odd reason, gun game and one in the chamber - two popular modes from Black Ops - are only playable in private sessions with no matchmaking.
Also gone from Black Ops is the currency system, in which you could purchase attachments (scopes, grenade launches, etc.) for your favorite weapons. Now, each weapon levels up individually as you use it. While this requires a bit more of an investment into a weapon before unlocking the coolest add-ons, completing the small milestones of the overall goal is highly satisfying.
Modern Warfare 3 features 16 maps, and there isn’t a dud in the bunch. While some mimic the campaign locales, each has it’s own look and feel. Rural towns that have fallen into disrepair, suburban communities ravaged by war and abandoned military bases are the order of the day, and while they aren’t a huge departure from previous titles in the series, MW3’s maps have that “lived in” feel, rather than just being playgrounds for destruction.
The bottom line is: this is more Call of Duty. The shooting is solid and the game runs at a smooth 60 frames per second, regardless of the onscreen action. If you weren’t a fan of any of the previous titles, Modern Warfare 3 will do little to change your mind.
The killstreak changes are nice, but nothing groundbreaking. No amount of ballistic vests is going to stop level ten prestige players from dominating, but the ability to contribute in some small may lessen the sting some. The campaign is almost as nonsensical as a Michael Bay movie, but the multiplayer and Spec Ops are more than adequate enough to make up for any short comings.
If you still haven’t tired of blowing crap up and making dudes sleepy, Modern Warfare 3 is right up your alley, but if you’re looking for something new and different, MW3 might not be for you.
At about this time last year, Electronic Arts took its first real stab at the ever-increasing Call of Duty market with the revitalization of Medal of Honor. The plan was solid: make a shooter that incorporated elements from Modern Warfare and E.A.’s long-running Battlefield franchise. In execution, however, Medal of Honor was less than spectacular. Game mechanics from Battlefield, such as environmental destruction and class-based multiplayer were dumbed down, and elements taken from Modern Warfare felt shoehorned in. So now, one year older and (presumably) wiser, Electronic Arts is firing the opening salvo against Activision with Battlefield 3. Does the newest installment in the Battlefield franchise live up to the massive hype that surrounds it, or should it be court marshaled for treason?
There’s no doubt that developer D.I.C.E. (Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment) knows what side their bread is buttered on. Multiplayer is clearly the main attraction here, and rightly so, if you asked series veterans.
True, Battlefield has never been known for a rich and engaging single player experience, but after surprisingly enjoyable campaigns in the Bad Company series, it’s discouraging to see D.I.C.E. take a step backward. Particularly when it’s so evident that more time and effort was put into emulating Modern Warfare’s set pieces, than catering to Battlefield’s strengths.
Battlefield 3’s story feels like that of a direct-to-DVD action movie. Lackluster characterisation, incoherent narrative and unnecessary plot twists that can be seen from a mile away make the scant five or six hour-long campaign a mercifully brief endeavor. There are flashes of brilliance mixed in, such as a roller coaster-esque fighter jet sequence, and chasing a suicide bomber through the streets of Paris.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the campaign’s inability to familiarize players with the ins and outs of Battlefield’s multiplayer. Crucial game mechanics like being a combat medic or flying a helicopter fall by the wayside in single player, leaving users to learn through failure in multiplayer.
Such is the way of things in hardcore PC gaming, but for those unaccustomed to the hazing process of more tactically-minded games like Battlefield, the barrier of entry may prove too great. That said, for those willing to put their pride aside and adjust to the more team-oriented gameplay of Battlefield, the multiplayer is an absolute joy.
Make no mistake, this is not Call of Duty. High kill-to-death ratios don’t mean squat, and lone wolves are seen as a liability to the overall success of a team. There’s nothing stopping you from playing how you want to, but you won’t be getting the most out of Battlefield by confining yourself to the so-so team deathmatch mode.
The true fun in Battlefield is embracing the roles of the class system. Running through a hail of gunfire to heal a downed squadmate, repairing a tank as it lays waste to everything in its path, laying down suppressive fire so teammates can safely capture an objective, these are the moments that make Battlefield great.
They’re also crucial to success in Battlefield 3, and the developers have done everything they can to encourage selfless play. Experience is rewarded for acts ranging from healing allies to keeping opponents’ heads down. It’s entirely possible to play an entire round without pulling the trigger, and still contribute. With tons of awards and class-specific incentives, in addition to an overarching carrot-on-a-stick system, Battlefield has no shortage of reasons to keep you fighting the good fight.
The multiplayer isn’t perfect, however. Glitches, latency, connection drops and audio cut-outs are too frequent to ignore, and the classes and vehicles could with for a little more balancing.
The cooperative mode is decent enough, though it feels tacked on for an extra bullet point on the back of the box. Limited to only two players, coop has you playing through various scenarios, either inspired by, or directly taken from Modern Warfare 2’s Spec Ops mode.
First debuting in 2008, D.I.C.E.’s Frostbite engine set the standard for sound design and dynamic destruction in games. With Battlefield 3 comes Frostbite 2, and while environmental destruction may be toned down, Battlefield’s audio is absolutely stellar.
Weapon reports are phenomenal, with every shot sending an authoritative boom through the subwoofer, and bullets hissing and cracking with each near miss. Soldiers scream and curse, jets whoosh overhead and the low rumble of an incoming tank is unmistakable. Combined together, it all creates a chaotic and believable atmosphere of war. Add in Frostbite’s fantastic graphics, and you have the most convincing reproduction of an actual battlefield available, short of joining the Army.
For as good as the multiplayer portion is, Battlefield 3 ultimately suffers from trying to be what it’s not. The unnecessary Modern Warfare mimicking only serves to spoil Battlefield’s established strengths. However, it is a testament to those strengths that Battlefield 3 still stands as one of the best games of 2011, despite its flaws. It may not be the game of the century, nor a Call of Duty killer, but D.I.C.E. can be proud of the latest entry in its Battlefield franchise.
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