March 2008 Archives
March 24, 2008
In a move sure to excite those with poor taste in shooters (and Vivendi's stockholders), a sequel to the dreadful 2005 "hit" 50 Cent: Bulletproof.
The cover of next month's EGM confirms that the writers did indeed suffer through what can be assumed to be another blight on games. With the original selling well over 1 million copies, it is not to surprising to see a sequel coming.
Also to be anticipated is the media backlash, with 50 Cent: Bulletproof still able to make the 10 ten most violent video games of 2007 even though it was originally released in 2005. With a game so likely to be so bad, it just doesn't seem worth defending. Maybe one of those laws against violent video games could be of some use after all.
In an excellent satirical piece for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Humorist James Lileks details the failure of Minneapolis's attempt to pass an anti-violent video game law.
James points out both the ridiculousness of a $25 fine for selling to minors, as well as the Judges comparing of the violence in the Bible to the violence in a video game. While it would seem he wouldn't be opposed to a more strict way of keeping violent video games away from children, he points out the most obvious place to start: with the parents.
The exceptional humor however comes from the author's take on the violence hidden in even the most friendly looking games, including Roller Coaster Tycoon (as a drowning simulator) and Wii Bowling (a "simulator for aggression against polished dowels"). How refreshing to finally read someone in the "real media" who actually understands video games.
March 18, 2008
Lost: Via Domus
The highest compliment I can pay Via Domus, is that despite the lack of canonization deemed worthy by the show's creators – meaning none of the game's content should be considered official events that actually take place within the confines of the show – the storyline genuinely feels as if it were concocted by the writers themselves. Playing as one of the un-named 46 survivors of Oceanic flight 815 – complete with his own back-story, secrets and flashback sequences – the pitch alone is positively gripping to the typical LOST nut like myself.
Clearly made by avid watchers of the TV program then, the look, sound and mood is faithfully represented too, through some glorious presentation and superb use of music. Exploring The Hatch for instance – keying in the numbers frantically while that dreaded alarm goes off – provides that irresistibly tense LOST buzz us long-time viewers'll positively mop up.
Before all that though, you'll start the game right where the pilot episode does. Ground zero. Exploding engines and screaming passengers abound, our nameless hero has not only the recent crashing on a (not so) deserted island to contend with, but also his newfound amnesia. This setup proves ripe for a fab LOST yarn, with you slowly uncovering bits and pieces of your memory as the story progresses, forever knowing only as much (or as little) as our new found friend does. The plot's kinda great right up 'til the very end in fact, where it promptly turns ludicrous and takes a humongous dose-dive into incomprehensible LOST nonsense-ville. Oh well.
Unfortunately, this segways into my other complaints with the game; pretty much everything else. I'm afraid as an actual gameplay experience, Domus falls drastically short you see. Five seconds within firing her up, and the lack of official endorsement from the show's creators makes complete sense. While it may be kinda fun to watch – and as mentioned, the atmosphere is incredibly potent – it's a stilted, jerky and simply horrible game to actually play.
It tries to fool you into thinking you have a reasonable chunk of freedom at your disposal in the beginning. Exploring the island, conversing with familiar faces from the show and perusing quests as you so wish hints at mild promise. On further examination however, it turns startlingly linear, and you realize you're forever surrounded by cardboard sets and invisible walls.
These hub-style sections aside, it's almost a poor-man's Indigo Prophecy you could say, in that it's broken up into a similar series of small mini-games and self-contained "moments", rather than a full, cohesive game. Each such moment has its own set of rules and controls, and failing to complete said scenes in the specific manner the game wants you to results in a rewinding of time 'til you get it right. Then it's on to the next.
These can range from Pipe Dream-esque puzzles, to labyrinthine mazes, to the odd shoot-out too ... not much else. Other than the admittedly exciting chase sequences, none really impress I'm sad to say, with some proving flat-out excruciating. One can't help but feel like more of an action slant – perhaps mixed with some Tomb Raider or Uncharted style platforming influences – could have turned this far more enjoyable. Alas, t'was not to be I'm afraid. A pity, to be sure.
While no Crysis, it does at least impress graphically. The amazing visuals Ubisoft have become synonymous with shine through as you'd expect, with a similar hazy, desaturated look found in the likes of GRAW and Assassin's Creed. The lighting effects and real-time shadows come across particularly lovely, really selling that desert island vibe at all times. Meanwhile, spooky interiors and recreated sets from the show appear 100% faithful and packed full o' love. Sadly, it lacks the sheer scope of the aforementioned Ubi titles, with distant mountains and gorgeous views merely that. As mentioned, constant barriers keep you forever confined to what is essentially a very tiny corridor game 100% of the time. Yikes.
Pretty much every major character from the show makes an appearance at some point – looking pleasingly similar to their real-life counter-parts at that – yet they're animated truly dreadfully, and are rockin' that "uncanny valley" look in full-force. After bathing in beautiful digital acting in the likes of Heavenly Sword and Mass Effect, LOST's love doll-esque mannequins simply don't convince as a result. If you ever wanted to watch the show reenacted by waxwork dummies, now's your chance.
While one or two of the actors proper show up to collect voice acting paychecks– Desmond and Ben for example – the majority unsurprisingly don't. The result is a severely mixed bag of good and bad on the dialogue tip, with some – like Locke – doing a reasonable impersonation, and others – like Charlie – making you cry.
Thankfully, you won't be doing a whole lot o' that though, as Domus is over before it's even started. As in, I finished the darn thing in three measly hours. For a full-priced game, that's somewhat reprehensible, and worthy of chopped off hands if you ask me, particularly amidst these here days of cheap downloadable titles and top quality budget-ware. With just a handful of concept art paintings to unlock, there's precious little to call back even the most die-hard LOST fan beyond that initial play-through too.
All in all then? Rubbish.
PLUSES: Lovely visuals and cool presentation brings the LOST universe to life pretty darn well at times. Interesting storyline keeps you wading on through hardships.
MINUSES: General roughness invades every facet of the gameplay. Monotonous fetch quests and repetitive puzzles bore quickly. Hilariously short with zero replayability.
FINAL VERDICT: 4.0 AVOID IT!
March 17, 2008
The Official February NPD numbers have been released, and they make for highly interested reading. It was a great month for everyone, but there was an unexpected high inflation of PS2 sales, even though hardly anything was released for it in February. Here is the complete list:
These numbers are massive for this time of year, increasing on the sales of this time last year. The DS and Wii are having a wonderful time at retail, and Nintendo must be delighted that the DS sold over half a million units in a fairly quiet month for the handheld.
However, it is the PS2 that is the big news this time, as it emerged from nowhere to sell over 350,000 units. Some attribute this to Best Buy's $99 PS2 deal, and it will be intriguing to see where it ends up next month. If Sony reduced the price of the aging little machine to $99 itself, it will definitely sell more than these large numbers. The PS3 has beaten the 360 again this month, but Microsoft has continuously stated that the system is supply constrained. However, if it performs this poorly again next month, they're going to have to invent a new excuse.
Looking at the figures, hardware unit sales were up 19% from this time last year, to over 2.1 million systems sold combined, and the software total was $668.7M, which is an increase of 47% over this time last year. Not to bad for a non-November/December month.
Here is the software top-ten:
Call of Duty 4 continues it's dominance at the top of the list on 360, but the PS3 version has dropped out of the top 10. The thing I find most bizarre in this list is that Devil May Cry 4 sold more on the 360 than on the PS3, even though the brand has a rich heritage on the PS2, and it's fair to say that the game is orientated more towards the hardcore PlayStation audience. The other surprise hits are Lost Odyssey and Turok, which both did really well given their low-key launches. Furthermore, it's nice to see Rock Band holding on, but EA and Harmonix need to work on getting the game out in Europe.
Never thought you lived to see the day Otacon explains Donkey Kong to Snake tries to wrap his head around a 2D Mr. Game-and-Watch? In what I'm now labeling the most hilarious video game crossover ever (though Star Wars characters in Soul Caliber is pretty ridiculous) Solid Snake has a special, classic "codec" conversation about every single character in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
Voiced by none other than David Hayter himself, Solid Snake is given the histories or tactical tips about all of fighters in the game. Full of fantastic in jokes, especially for fans of the Metal Gear Solid series, this shouldn't be missed even if you don't partake in the game.
There's a gorilla with a tie here! He's Huge!
Ton of taunt videos after the jump.
March 11, 2008
Last week the demo for the M.C. Escher-like Echochrome was released over the Japanese PlayStation Network. Always a fan of unique games, we downloaded the PSP version to see what all the fuss was about. After the very small download (approximately 4MB) and a few screens covered in Kanji, the main menu had some simple English alongside the Japanese text, so it was extremely easy to play.
The demo only had a handful of levels, but this was the perfect amount to show off the game's capabilities and basic premise. The game is basically a puzzle-based title, putting you in control of rotating and moving a wire-model of a level in 3D-space to guide a small puppet to his goal or to collect small dark characters. In essence, what the camera view shows is used as the perceived truth within the world itself, so when you move the wire-model level, you have to block gaps in the world by rotating the camera to put a pillar in the way, for example. Also, you have to move them to make a hole in the ground lead to a platform so your little puppet has somewhere to land.
The graphics are fairly basic, but they are clean and clear. However, a lot of jaggies were present in this demo, which is not good considering it's barely pushing the PSP's technical grunt. On the plus side though, the violin-based soundtrack suits the game and is extremely enjoyable. The sound effects were also pretty unique and worked well in the game's bizarre universe.
Overall, this demo was a perfect little taster into the world of Echochrome and was a great way to introduce the concept in a playable form to gamers. If the anti-aliasing can be sorted out before release, then we are looking at something very special here that introduces a certain freshness to the puzzle genre of old.
Echochrome is set for release on March 19, 2008 within Japan. No release date has been set for North America or Europe (although the game appears to be extremely import friendly). To download the demo and give the game a try on your own simple follow these instructions.
March 10, 2008
The new Mass Effect downloadable content was released onto Xbox Live today for 400 Microsoft Points, which translates to $5/£3.40/€4.65 in real money. This DLC pack comes with 50 Gamerscore Points to achieve, along with a decent sidequest, as opposed to the mostly disappointing ones that were in the full game.
Major Nelson has all the download details:
Content: Bring Down the Sky
This is all well and good, but if you're in the unfortunate position of having a save at the end of the game like myself, you will not be able to play this sidequest, and you would have to play through a new game (continuing with your old character if you so choose) to get to the part where you gain full control of the Normandy, where the new side-quest will appear on the star map. Initial reports of the content have been fairly promising, and for 400MP, it's not going to break the bank, so it should be worthwhile.
The last race to be detailed in the sequel to Blizzard's competitive sport, the Zerg, have been released upon the world in the form of a shakey-cam video from a presentation in Korea.
As much as I don't trust Blizzard to make a release date, this game looks great, and could actually be in our hands this summer. Depending on whether they get a beta out or not, it looks like endless amounts of balancing are all thats needed.
It would appear that the Zerg have retained their penchant for swarm tactics as well as the use of bio weapons. It would also appear that the Queen of Blades herself, Kerrigan, is still going to be at the head of Zerg. Blizzplanet appears to also have a details on some new Zerg units, like the Overseer, Roach, and Corrupter. Can I get a We are Swarm?
Video of the Zerg after the jump.
Microsoft today confirmed that they are dropping the price of the Xbox 360 in Europe. Starting Friday 14th March, price drops for all the current SKUs will take place, taking the Arcade SKU to £159.99/€199.99, the Premium SKU to £199.99/€269.99, and the Elite SKU to £259.99/€369.99.
These price drops are quite aggressive for Europe, as now the Arcade version of the console is cheaper than a Nintendo Wii, and retailers here in this swing territory will entice customers with special deals, often going below these new RRPs. No price drops for other territories have been announced yet, but it is probably on the cards, with rumours stating that Microsoft wants to knock money off their systems in North America before the release of the hotly anticipated GTAIV.
Furthermore, the consoles are now cheap enough for people to basically trade in their older models that are more prone to the red ring of death and other issues, without losing too much money. The new models have improved motherboards and power consumption, as well as 65nm CPUs that help to make the system run cooler. This was probably not in Microsoft's plan, but us gamers are a clever bunch, and being able to run on improved hardware for little loss of money works for everyone.
March 6, 2008
In retrospect it's not a surprising announcement (Spore will be on everything in few years) but at a press conference where Apple detailed it's iPhone software development platform, EA was happy to announce a specially made version of Spore for the uber-popular iPhone (and iPod Touch).
Details are scant right now, but we know the game will use the special technologies in the iPhone, including it's Accelerometer and multi touch screen. The game will include some kind of creature creator, but the only images of the game in the flOw like stage. The game won't be released before September (presumably right along with the PC game).
So long as the price is right and the game is of the same quality of the PC game, I'll definitely be interested. The iPhone and iPod Touch have some really interesting technology in them, so hopefully we'll see some more creative games for the "platform" (such as this one).
March 5, 2008
An official EA website has gone live to hype the upcoming, official announcement of what is presumably the next game in the line of the highest selling video game of all time: The Sims 3.
While a sequel to what is arguably EA's biggest cash cow was a no brainier, the fact that its announcement is coming along before the release of Spore is somewhat surprising to me. I expected EA to be trying to make Spore into the next Sims in terms of wide adoption by all manners of gamers, but an announcement like seems a little premature to me.
Either way, I can't wait to see what they have added. I got hooked on the original and the sequel to a lesser extent. I loved building houses (I had dreams of being an architect as a kid, so in a lot of ways it was my dream game), but the addictive, deep, and oddly random gameplay kept me coming back.
The publisher in charge of such well known gaming magazines as Electronic Gaming Monthly and website 1up.com, has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in an attempt to lower the companies debt. Ziff Davis has reportedly had money problems for a while now, with nearly 400 million dollars worth of debt.
Ziff Davis hopes to restructure the company in order to lighten the debt and hopefully not create any more. It is expected that the gaming websites/magazines won't be affected during the transition, though it's well known that Ziff Davis is perhaps still looking to sell its gaming division.
I really enjoy listening to both the 1up Yours and GFW Radio podcasts, and can tell some really passionate gamers work for these companies. Hopefully everything works out for as far as their concerned.
March 3, 2008
Dr. Cheryl Olson of the Massachusetts General Hospital hopes to give parents a real world understanding of the violent video game studies seen so highly sensationalized in the media.
Olson's book, Grand Theft Childhood, is intended for the "parents, teachers, and policy makers" as a way to understand the real pros and cons of violent video games and cut through the "myths and hysteria" so often portrayed in the media. From Gamecouch's interview:
Until now, the most-publicized studies came from a small group of experimental psychologists, studying college students playing nonviolent or violent games for 15 minutes. It's debatable whether those studies are relevant to real children, playing self-selected games for their own reasons (not for cash or extra credit!), in social settings, over many years. But media reports and political rhetoric often ignore that distinction.
Olson gathered many things from the research we gamers consider common knowledge: children know games aren't reality, games are great for expelling anger (not creating it), and that both boys and girls play these games.
While many of us gamers know about these things, a book like this a great thing to give to the parents of a gamer. I'd also recommend Steven Johnson's excellent Everything Bad is Good for You for more understand of the effects of video games and modern popular culture.
Grand Theft Childhood is scheduled to be released on April 15, 2008.
Datel has recently unveiled their hotly anticipated Freeloader for the Wii, allowing you to run games on your Wii from any world region.
Nintendo hasn't released an official comment on the device yet, but one can imagine they will not be too pleased about it, especially as they blocked the GameCube version of the Freeloader from running on the Wii. Datel has the ability to prod and poke the big N enough to make them focus on blocking their software, something Nintendo hasn't even done with DS flash cartridges yet.
Those lucky enough to be living in Japan and North America haven't had to face the huge delay Nintendo-published games generally have before they reach their shores, but Europe has suffered from this greatly. For example, Metroid Prime 3 was released in August 2007 in North America, but didn't arrive in Europe until two months later. This substantial delay was enough to convince some fans to import US Wii's so they could play further Nintendo-published Wii games at the same time as the rest of the world.
So who's to blame for the Freeloader? Is it Nintendo for not allowing the system to be open to different regions like the PS3 or DS? (The 360's region coding is decided on a game-per-game basis, controlled by publishers.) Or is Datel simply cashing in on a subset of gamers who wish to play the same things as people in other parts of the world at the same time? Well the truth is a blend between the two.
Nintendo is giving their consumers mixed messages. They allowed the DS to be region free, and haven't tried to clamp down on importing (like Sony and the infamous Lik-Sang lawsuit), but must've seen this as a big issue for the Wii to clamp down on it so tenaciously.
Datel is charging £9.99 for the Freeloader disk, which is not much for what it is, but given the low-cost materials involved and development time, it would be fair to say that they are turning a nice profit from the device.
Personally, I am waiting to see the Freeloader disc thoroughly tested by early adopters before pouncing on it, but this kind of technology is invaluable to gamers, especially when Europeans are forced to wait a long while for an anticipated game to come out. Smash Bros. Brawl is rumored to be released in Autumn in Europe, but will see US shores just next week. Datel couldn't have timed the release of the Freeloader any sweeter, as people in Europe will just import the US version now and circumvent the long wait, and I have no shame in admitting I will be one of them.