E3 2010 - Microsoft Press Conference

E3 2010 started with bang, opening with the Microsoft E3 press conference. Some new games were announced and more information was given to already announced titles but the major focus of the event were the Kinect (formerly known as Project Natal) and the reveal of an upgraded and refined Xbox 360 model.

The press conference opened with a live demo of Call of Duty: Black Ops presented by Mark Lamia from Treyarch. The part they showed started out in a subterranean tunnel with dead bodies and rats scurrying along. This section shows that Treyarch is taking a different approach to the Call of Duty franchise but adding these tense and gloomy parts. The demo then skips forward to an outside area in a jungle and turns into the frantic shooter that CoD is known for. Overall here I think that this is an interesting direction that Treyarch is taking and I hope that the finished product will be worth it when it's released November. Oh, and map packs will be released on Xbox 360 first until 2012. That's sort of important too.


Next up Hideo Kojima made an appearance on stage for Metal Gear Solid: Rising. The game's producer Shigenobu Matsuyama presented a trailer for the upcoming title. I can't really say much for the trailer because I'm not an MGS fan and had no idea what was going on but I know enough to say that it's going in a ridiculous and over-the-top direction new to the series. Instead of using stealth, the game focuses on cutting objects and people using Raiden's sword... thing. Again, not a fan, I don't know who Raiden is. The violent cutting of the enemies has also leadme to believe that this might have an extremely tough time getting past Aussie censors. Let's just keep an eye on it.

 

 

After this trailer, Cliff Bleszinski, design director of Epic Games, came out onto the stage with some other co-workers to show off the co-op in the upcoming Gears of War 3. Nothing much to add here. If you played and like the Gears of War series then you should get this because it's mainly just more of that.

 


Peter Molyneux came onto the screen next to show a trailer for Fable 3. Now, I've played through Fable 2 so I can compare it with this trailer. It looks like they haven't changed a lot with the game but I did notice a few new additions. The only one worth noting, however, would be the ability to combine spells but that's hardly ground-breaking.

 

 

A quick trailer of Crytek's newest project, Codename Kingdoms, and appears to involve gladiators. Sadly that's all that was revealed here.

Next up, the creative director of Bungie, Marcus Lito, showed off a gameplay trailer of Halo Reach. This trailer finally convinced me that Halo Reach is different from the previous games in the series. First of all, the gunplay appears to be the same which is fine because it worked in the previous games. Some of the things they added were shown off during the Halo Reach beta a few weeks ago, including mods and assassinations, but one addition really caught my attention. Space combat. I'm not talking about it still being a first-person shooter just with low gravity but actual space combat where you fly ships around and shoot at other ships. Since this a bit ambitious for Bungie I'm a but cynical about how this will control but I hope it's good.

 

 


The Kinect was the next thing that was shown. If you don't know what it is then let me briefly explain. It is an upcoming addition to the Xbox 360 that utilises an upcoming peripheral called the Kinect. This piece of hardware uses a camera and 3D depth sensors to be able to track your movements in front of it and use it instead of a controller for supported games. When it was announced as Project Natal at last year's E3 I was pretty sceptical. I mean, motion tracking is a pretty ambitious thing. Unfortunately I'm still very sceptical about it. I just see how well it performs when it is released in November.

 

 

They showed off some of the new features of the Xbox 360 that will accompany the Kinect. Firstly they showed that the Kinect has speech recognition so you can control your Xbox 360 by just saying various commands, such as 'Xbox pause' if you want to pause a video. Next they introduced 'videoKinect', a video-calling service very similar to Skype. They also said that you will be able to stream video to your Windows Live Messenger contacts so I'm okay with that. The problem is why go through all the trouble of setting this up when I can just use a webcam and the computer that is sitting right next to the Xbox?

Next, they announced a series of games that will utilise the Kinect. The problem here that they appear to be suffering from 'casual syndrome' where all the games are either tech demos or minigame collections. Hopefully a little while after the Kinect is released developers will start making full-length games that will make use of the Kinect. I just hope that when it comes to these game I want to still be able to use a controller if wanted to.

Finally, Microsoft announced the next model of the Xbox 360. It's the same price as the pro bundle right now so it makes sense that they stopped shipping current model 360s. This Xbox has a 250 GB hard drive and has built-in Wi-Fi which is good because it means that you won't have to buy those $100 wireless adapters anymore. Also, as an added twist, this Xbox is shipping at the end of this week in the US which is very soon considering that they just announced it. Hopefully there will be a date for Australia in the near future.

So that's the Microsoft press conference in a rather long blog post. Honestly, this is probably the longest post I've ever written anywhere. Thanks for reading and I hope to be writing more about E3 in the coming days.

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Demo Impresson: Split/Second

What is going on? This is what I asked myself as I was competing in race at an airport and an air traffic control traffic is detonated and collapsed onto the racetrack, right in front of me while I narrowly avoid getting hit by it. Split/Second is an upcoming racing game by Black Rock Studios, the guys previously responsible for Pure. The aim of the game is simple. Finish first. But how you do this is where the game is unique.

The main feature of Split/Second is the ‘Power Play’ meter which is separated into three segments and is filled by performing various stunts, such as drifting, jumping and drafting. The meter is used to perform ‘Power Plays’ which usually consists of some over-the-top explosion that causes your opponents to crash. There are three types of power plays: 1st level, 2nd level and route changes. You can perform 1st level power plays if you only have on segment of the meter filled but the 2nd level and route changes require the entire meter to be filled. 1st level power plays consist of a minor explosion that is only used to target a single opponent. 2nd level power play are more extravagant ways to take out more opponents, for example an entire building exploding or a plane crashing into a runway. Route changing power plays are self explanatory: they change the route. The example I noted at the beginning of this post is a route changing power play. The tower comes down and blocks the previous route and redirects the race onto the nearby runway.

My immediate reaction to the controls were that they were a bit stiff. They were not as responsive as I had expected but I quickly adapted to them. The game plays very similarly to the Burnout series, most notably Burnout Paradise. Crashing is fairly easy so you have to be careful, which is a bit strange in a game that involves driving through an exploding gas station.

Split/Second is a good looking game. It’s vibrant, well detailed and stays at a solid frame rate, a feat that’s difficult to do when there’s so many explosions happening on the screen at once. The explosions are appropriately over-the-top and are presented very well, for example if you are driving near one of the many explosions, you will be thrusted away from it, the camera swerves appropriately and the game slows down time which makes surviving each and every explosion even more satisfying. The music is very fast-paced and adds to the tension of the action.

One concern I had going in was ‘Will this game be good to play over and over again?’ The answer: Yes, to a point. The route changes and the different power plays add some replay value but if you strip all that away, what you’re left with is a fairly mediocre racing game. This demo did grab my attention and I’m looking forward to trying the finished product. I’m just hoping that it won’t get too boring, too quickly which is still my concern with Split/Second.

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Post-Game Summary: Eternal Sonata

Note: 'Post-Game Summary' is a new feature I wanted to try where I write a quick summary of the feelings and the experiences I've had for a game after I've had a bit of time to let it sink in, in this case right now it's the morning after the evening I finished Eternal Sonata. This can be treated as a mini-review but please note that it's still entirely possible that I will make a full length review later on. So with that out of the way I will commence with the post. Also, this post might contain minor spoilers.  




When going into Eternal Sonata, I didn't know what to expect. I didn't have particularly high hopes since it's been mocked repeatedly by other individuals for it's slow pacing and tedious cutscenes, plus it didn't help that I saw it in a bargain bin for $9AUD, which in Australia is a damn good deal for any game worth noting. I had finished my last JRPG, Persona 4, a few months back and I was ready for another. 
 
The first thing I took note of was the art style. It went for '3-Dimensional Anime' that I had previously experienced from the short demo I played of Tales of Vesperia. It was a nice look for a game that had so many similarities to anime. The game is also very beautiful but after about four hours into it I began to mock the vibrancy of it. I even took note that places in real life that are supposed to be dirty would be presented in this game as a colour-filled paradise. For example, the sewers in this game have clean, sparkling water and rainbows. RAINBOWS!
 
I noted in the last paragraph that this game has a lot of similarities to anime. It doesn't stop with the art style. The story is very slow, which is something that anime is also known for, and is constantly filled with slow-paced establishing shots in the cutscenes that bare no significance to the action. The characters also have a tendency to soliloquise every chance they get. Even one of the characters halfway through the game is stabbed and it takes her 6 minutes in actually die because she's too busy blurting out all of her feelings.
 
There are a lot of things in this game that didn't need to be there and the time taken to create those things should have been better used in fleshing out the characters and the story. There's almost no character development in this game. There is a predictable romantic sideplot during the game that isn't established very well but you don't really care about it because at the end, all the characters are unlikeable and forgetable.
 
The story in this game is very unique and interesting at first but soon turns tedious and predictable. The game is centred around Polish pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin in his death bed and takes place within a dream that he is experiencing before he dies. While this is a neat concept at first, this idea is tossed out the window as the game centres around political espionage and rebellion.
 
Finally, the combat is something I want to mention. The combat is a mixture of real-time and turn-based with each character in your party taking turn to wail on the enemies. Each character is given a limited amount of time of run around the screen and perform their actions. I really liked this combat system at first but it soon turn into another cheap, repetitive way to do turn-based battles. I like turn-based combat if it's done right, eg Persona 4, but in this game it felt like a boring cluster of combos and quick-time events.
 
Overall, the game, while it looks and is presented beautifully, never lived up to what it was trying to do and ended up being a poor game because of that.
 
(Image © Namco Bandai
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300 Word Review - Condemned: Criminal Origins

Condemned: Criminal Origins is a first-person psychological survival-horror game. The game stars Ethan Thomas, a forensic investigator who is called to investigate a murder victim when he is framed by an unknown serial killer who shoots two police officers. The rest of the game follows Ethan as he tries to apprehend the mysterious serial killer to clear his name.

Melee combat is a major focus of the game. There are a wide variety of weapons you can wield, such as a sledgehammer or a conduit, each with their own individual attributes. There are also some firearms you can find but their ammo is limited and the game somehow discourages the use of them. The melee combat feels realistic and satisfying. Hitting an enemy over the head with a locker door makes them stumble back realistically and blocking and countering feels rewarding.

The AI of the enemies feels like a major selling point the game tried to push there are some flaws when it comes to it. For example, some enemies are programmed to find cover occasionally and sometimes this makes them go from being up close and personal to fleeing in a split second in mid combat. It felt strange when I had to chase after the enemies that were fleeing from me. Plus the enemies follow the same routine of 'attack, block, attack' that you can easily exploit. Occasionally the enemies will unpredictably go for an attack but stop, making you block to early and leaving you vulnerable. This was a nice touch.

The game is very atmospheric, making you feel as though you're actually in a city that's turned to shit and anybody is a threat.

Condemned is a great game and, with it's satisfying combat system and interesting setting, will make to keep playing until the end.

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300 Word Review - Fallout 3

Fallout 3 is a post-apocalyptic role-playing game from the creators of the Elder Scrolls series, Bethesda Softworks. The game is set 200 years after a nuclear war almost completely annihilated the entire human race, if not for the Vaults which are underground bomb shelters set up by the government. You play as the 'Lone Wanderer', a young adult who lived in Vault 101 his/her entire life and escaped into the decimated ruins of Washington DC.
 
The main goal you are given at the start of the game is to find you father who apparently escaped the Vault just before you did. You can follow this goal if you want but the main focus of the game is the seemingly limitless opportunities and exploration and can have in the game world, which may seem a bit strange at first since this is a barren wasteland. There's over fifty hours of enjoyment to be had by just exploring the world and completing quests so this is a large game, definitely one if you want a game to invest a lot of time in.

 
Fallout 3 looks like a real-time first person shooter at first but elements of a turn-based system are pushed in through a mechanic called VATS, a targeting system where you can aim at a particular part of the enemy's body and let numbers decide the outcome of battle. The main idea of this is to give battles a more cinematic appearance to it. A problem with this is that it oversimplifies combat altogether by being able to just run up to enemies and blowing their heads off at short range.
 
Fallout 3 is a great, immersive game which, despite the obvious glitches and bugs, provides the player with hours and hours of entertainment and enjoyment.

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300 Word Review - Left 4 Dead

Originally posted on my new blog here.
 
Left 4 Dead is an online cooperative first-person shooter that pits four survivors against hordes of swarming zombies.

The object of the game is to defend each other as you make your way through a campaign until you reach a rescue vehicle. Teamwork is an important part of the game because there are certain kinds of 'special' infected that can pin you and only your team-mates can save you.

The game is controlled by a system called the 'AI director' which monitors each survivor's stress level and changes the game to work with it, such as spawning health packs if you're nearly dead or a mob of zombies if your proceeding at a nice pace. This system is necessary to game play because it provides nearly infinite re-playability to each of the four hour-long campaigns. No two playthroughs will ever be the same.

There are three modes to play. They are the campaign, versus and survival modes. In campaign mode, you and your three friends will have to simply go through a campaign made up of five maps. Versus mode is similar to the campaign except it is split into two teams, one made up of survivors and the other made up of special infected whose job it is to hinder the survivor's progress. Survival mode place you in a small 'arena' based on locations in the campaign and sends an infinite amount of zombies at you. The object is to survive for as long as possible.

Left 4 Dead is one of the best cooperative games available and is definitely a must-buy. 

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300 Word Review - Indigo Prophecy

Note: This review is for the PC version.
 
Indigo Prophecy is a paranormal thriller presented as an interactive movie. Released in 2005, Indigo Prophecy follows Lucas Kane, man whose life is turned upside down when he unwittingly murders a stranger in a New York diner, and two detectives, Carla Valenti and Tyler Miles, who are investigating the murder.

The game progresses using cutscenes with some quick-time events thrown in to keep the player's interest. This isn't so much a game as it is just a five hour long machinima. When you do actually control a character it turns into a kind of adventure game where you have to interact with your surroundings using gestures, such as dragging down the mouse to pull open a door. While these gestures provide a small amount of immersion, they come off as tedious when you're put under the pressure of a time limit, which happens often during the game. The quick-time events are performed with eight lights that are shown and you have to keep up by pressing the corresponding keys. This degrades the game's quality because not only do they come off as misplaced and awkward, they distract you from some of the game's best action moments and since this is a 'movie' that's not a good thing.

The story starts off as your average murder mystery but a couple of hours in the story will turn towards an ancient Mayan cult and a mysterious power called the 'Chroma' which is just the smart man's way of saying the 'Force' without getting sued. In short, the plot progresses fairly well but be prepared for insanity that only anime can rival.

Indigo Prophecy was a good original concept but it would have been better if it were just an hour long cutscene with no interactivity what-so-ever. You should at least try it.

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Shadow Complex Review

The Xbox Live Arcade is renowned for having cheap, short indie games that are produced and played by people to tide them over until the next major gaming release. It is also known for containing innovative and creative concepts. When something like Shadow Complex comes around, boasting that it's taken the ' metroidvania' style of gameplay and reworked it to suit today's gaming industry, it might raise a few eyebrows. This isn't the most original game on the Xbox Live Arcade but it certainly goes about it by pretending it is.


In Shadow Complex you play as Jason, an average twenty-something guy who is dragged along to go explore some cave with Claire, a girl who he just met in a bar. Jason soon discovers that the cave is actually home to the 'Restoration', a fairly large and technologically advanced terrorist group who are planning an attack on San Francisco in a matter of hours. When Claire is kidnapped by them, Jason must ultimately save her and prevent these guys from attacking the country. To do this he will need to use every bit of technology he passes by, even though I'm a bit perplexed as to why he doesn't just pick up the assault rifles dropped by early enemies, against the Restoration including grenades, missiles and a battlesuit.


If there is one aspect of the game that it wants to boast the most about then it would be exploration. Everything you do in the game is about exploration. Hidden items, secret doors, power-ups, it's all to do with exploring every part of the game world. This may sound like a hassle at first but the possible frustration is quickly eased by the flashlight, an item you get right from the start that lights up secret doors where hidden items may be and which item has to be used to open it. Since this game boasts so much about exploration and secrets it comes across as a bit strange to have an item that you can use almost all the time that tells you exactly where all the secrets are.


Another thing the game wants to boast about is replayability. The short single-player adventure helps this by not making it tedious to play the entire game again the moment after finishing it once. A leveling system is also used here to help make the game feel less repetitive. Every level brings a slight upgrade to your character, usually through increased firing precision and every ten levels bring a major upgrade like infinite foam or the entire map being unlocked. If you do eventually get bored of the main game then there is a challenge mode, called Proving Grounds, where you are pulled into a series of challenges where you are only permitted certain items and weapons from the game.


Combat in the game isn't something to get excited about. Shooting is performed by aiming with the right stick and firing with the right trigger. A laser pointer is used as your aiming guide but it feels as though it makes the game far too simple. With this laser you can easily pop headshots with almost every enemy in the game making combat quick, easy and boring. These encounters are broken off with the occasional boss fight where it has a specific weakpoint but if you're not really in the mood to carefully observe the boss and it's surroundings then you can just unload all your items onto it and defeat it without much trouble.


This game is most reminiscent of Super Metroid which boasted exploration and replayability but Shadow Complex lacks the functionality of Super Metroid. The jumping feels awkward, some items are overpowered or difficult to use, such as the hyperspeed, and, overall, the game just doesn't have the same charm and atmosphere that Super Metroid had.


Shadow Complex is a nice attempt to bring the 'metroidvania' genre to the current generation but it lacks the depth that most of those games had. Maybe if Shadow Complex was larger, more complicated and challenging then it might have stood up as a spiritual successor to Super Metroid. Get it if you liked those games but don't get your hopes up too high.

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Orange Haze Outside

 



This is the view from outside my house right now. This orange haze is blanketing most of NSW in Australia. I thought it was just sunrise at first but then I saw the haze. What are your thoughts? I think it's quite cool! Before you reply, I did think of Persona 4 first. :P
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