News

Weekly News Round-Up 23/3/10

I’m a tad behind on the latest news since my last full article about GDC ’10, which had a record breaking 18,000 attendees, having had a recent power outage, but fear not! The gaming goodness is now here and fit for consumption!

Heavy Rain's DLC features Madison Paige

On the DL

A number of released and unreleased games are getting the DLC treatment – it seems it’s the only way forward for any half-worthy franchise. Peter Johansson, lead designer on Just Cause 2 announced forthcoming DLC, following the game’s release on March 23rd, yet he insisted the content already existent in the game is, to say the least, extensive, he qualified this, in an interview with Eurogamer, by bragging he’d completed only 60% of the game, but had racked up 55 hours. Modern Warfare 2 is getting it’s first “stimulus package” to cure sufferers of Mapathy on March 30th for Xbox Live, at a whopping 1200MS – unfortunately healthcare insurance doesn’t cover this one. The map pack includes Crash and Overgrown from CoD4 so you can relive the glory days/nights! And to top it off, a double XP system will be put in place the following weekend April 2nd – 5th. Dragon Age: Origins has a new expansion out titled Awakening and Bioware teased, that in theory, they could release infinite DLC packs like this. Finally, Quantic Dream’s interactive depression title, Heavy Rain, is receiving its first DLC, named The Taxidermist. The content revolves around Madison Paige, and acts as a short prequel story for the character.

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Gaming Blues

Unfortunately the recession is still rearing its ugly head and indeed, backhand, as the recent weeks have seen a number of layoffs – our thoughts go out to them. Rebellion, perhaps most famous for its recent Alien Vs Predator, handed pink slips to around 20 of its staff in Oxford, UK and IGN has reportedly also, been forced to let a number of its junior members ago, despite recent financial success for the media company. However there is one man we’re not sorry to see the back of , Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson, famous in the Australian gaming community for his refusal to allow a R18+ game certificate, and vehement battle against video games. Fortunately the over-sensitive Atkinson has stepped down.

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360 Degrees worth of Xbox-ness

Microsoft are always looking for ways to fiddle with Xbox and thereby make more cash and occasionally, genuinely improve our experience, so here are a few rumours/updates. According to a report by Joystiq, the 360 will be receiving a firmware update this spring. The document they claim to have a hold of states “USB Mass Storage Device Support on the Xbox 360” so be sure to check back here for updates on that. In addition, Microsoft are releasing a 250GB standalone 360 HDD, as advertised on the Xbox Dashboard.

Send off your 360 with dignity

A patent, filed by Microsoft back in 2008, for a streamlined DLC system for Xbox Live, has now been approved. The system apparently lets you download available content without having to leave your game lobby, so you can jump in with friends even if you don’t have the content prior to joining the lobby. Presumably this will be pushed out the doors fairly quick now the patent’s approved. Also, the Xbox Live Marketplace release schedule for the next week or so has been revealed and is here.

Finally, Daniel Ek of Spotify, the music service, reportedly told SXSW goers that he’d like to see Spotify on the 360. Granted this is not news, really, or even a rumour – but I signifies that there’s a good chance of this becoming a reality. Ek said that he wants to make music like water, and though personally I’m not keen on it being sole reason the human race and life exists on earth, but you get his meaning.

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DRM Woes

Steam UK is now without the friendly Italian assassin we know and love, as a number of Ubisoft’s main titles that use the much-maligned DRM software, including Assassin’s Creed 2, have been removed. Despite speculations that this decision was taken by Valve due to the controversial DRM, and Gabe Newell’s stance on the subject, Ubisoft told VG247 that it has “nothing to do” with the DRM issues and is simply a business decision, that only applies to the UK.

Command & Conquer 4: Tiberium Wars was released last week, and it was proudly announced it had, in fact, no DRM – fantastic you’re thinking, however it does require an Internet connection to play at all times. It’s a shame to see any franchise follow in the steps of Ubisoft, as this software is damaging to the market; pirating is a problem, but other large companies like Valve manage to get along alright – in fact if every company could be something like Valve we’d live in a better, albeit quirky world.

We do have one partial victory though – in Battlefield: Bad Company 2’s most recent patch, all DRM was dropped from Steam-purchased copies, in DICE’s ever increasing effort to impress the cool kids (and it’s working).

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Bad Company Fights Back

So speaking of Bad Company 2, although it’s nothing like Modern Warfare 2, it seems to have pitted itself against it. The first person shooter, having sold 2.3 million units, and topped March sales records in Europe and North America, released a public service announcement video the other day:

In case you missed it, the video pokes fun at Modern Warfare 2’s original video F.A.G.S. PSA, which was pulled after complaints over the obvious. On top of this, DICE plan to release a playlist update for all original owners of the game free of charge (part of Project Ten Dollar) on March 30th in direct (and fierce) competition with Modern Warfare 2’s exorbitant map pack, and plan to release paid DLC in the near future. I thought DICE’s decision to release Bad Company 2 in March when MW2 was beginning to become a tad samey, was a savvy decision, but you’ve got to respect them for going up against the behemoth this month – courage or stupidity? Either way it’ll be interesting to see how the two battle it out.

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BioWare

My beloved BioWare are now busy at work extending Mass Effect 2’s universe and experiences with DLC and after having seen what Greg Zeschuk had to say at GDC, that, as he put it, “It’s [DLC] not like a piece of lunch meat”, but rather part of a long term vision, to extend the lifetime of the game for consumers and publisher alike, after having put so much work into the original game – I’m fairly confident we’ve got some galactic delights in store. First up is Firewalker hitting tomorrow, March 23rd, on the Cerberus Network with the new Hammerhead Tank and 5 accompanying missions, then there’s a character appearance package for Thane, Jack and Garrus on the same day but (unfortunately) for $2 and finally Kasumi’s Stolen Memory on April 6th, for a modest 560MS. Additionally, if you’re interested in some input from BioWare about how Mass Effect 3 will shape up, there are a couple of articles here and here, thanks to VG247, explaining the company’s development and teasing their approach to the final instalment.

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For Your Consideration

There are a number of high profile games in development due for release this year or early next year, and GDC brought the chance to get a better idea of how each developer is tackling their game, so here’s some updates and articles, mainly thanks to VG247, again.

–> Medal of Honor

Medal of Honor, EA’s answer to Call of Duty, despite lacking a much-needed “u” in it’s title, is under full-swing development at the moment and apparently has “cool toys” and aims to portray a number of different viewpoints in the Afghanistan war.

–> Killzone 3

Guerrilla Games, creators of Killzone, are convinced they haven’t pushed the PS3 to its limits yet, in terms of graphics, and presumably mean to implement said visuals in Killzone 3 which has been promised by Jack Tretton, though release date rumours range from April to 2011.

–> Halo: Reach

Bungie recently released some details on Halo’s swan song, Halo: Reach, in regards to matchmaking – undoubtedly fans will be obsessing over each scrap of information as we speak, such are that strange breed.

–> Fable 3

Peter Molyneux, aside from other daily activities such as proclaiming the rise of the PC again, praising Quantic Dream and promising the first thing that enters his mind, has recently tweeted that he’s worried about the first 30 minutes of Fable 3 due to a lack of combat. In other Fable 3 news there will be twitter support, episodic content and one last “big” reveal at E3 (I ask to readers, for sanity’s sake to take “big” with a large handful of salt, due to source material).

–> Rockstar

Rockstar co-president Dan Houser, in the most recent issue of GamesTM, stated that developing Red Dead: Redemption has been “challenging”, despite the company’s vast experience. Additionally, speaking to Edge, Rockstar has said that LA Noire is taking a different approach to the usual Rockstar open-world game, relying less on action and more on interaction other subtleties. It’s fantastic to see Rockstar pushing itself, to be original but also build off of it’s unique and unquestionably brilliant sandbox-gaming heritage.

–> Star Wars: The Old Republic

BioWare, regardless of its other strong franchises, are taking on what is clearly it’s biggest undertaking, (its first MMO) Star Wars: The Old Republic. EA aim to secure 2 million subscriptions for the game due to be release in a year’s time, though I suspect, if VG247’s early preview is anything to go by, it’ll be a lot more than that and may rival World of Warcraft. CEO Ray Muzyka, teased that TOR will have some “twists” regarding payments, but added that it will mostly follow the traditional business model of MMORPGs, and the twists will be well integrated into the story and mechanics. With things like micro-payments being a contentious issue for many hardcore MMO players, who makeup a large percentage of the market, BioWare will have to be careful about how they handle this – lets hope their passion for story and great gameplay will makeup for lack of experience in this particular genre.

–> Sega

The once great Sega are apparently announcing a Natal Project at E3. Its unkown with it will be a new IP or whether they will bring back a much-loved story from the many in the depths of their games history. And Lastly, creators of the upcoming third-person shooter, Vanquish, Platinum Games of Sega, are to make a PS3 version first, before the 360, because the Playstation 3 is untrodden territory for Sega, and thus they want to avoid a “shoddy” port.

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Odds & Sods

Every week there are a number of odd bits of news I can’t justify a whole section on nor think of a brilliantly unfunny title for. Try to read the following as TV news headlines with epic music in the background.

  • According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Microsoft is already developing a Natal 2. [This probably isn’t as surprising as it sounds, if it is true, as it’s most likely internal development that’s taking place all the time at the company’s headquarters – it’s unlikely to stay stagnant just because the Natal’s almost ready.]
  • Game Informer have yet more scoops on the Portal 2 world, now with new characters, including new loveable sentry bots.
  • The movie adaptation of Kane & Lynch is to star none other than Bruce Willis (that sounds about right) and Jamie Foxx (wait, what?), respectively.
  • GameStop will reportedly have shortages of Wiis and PS3s until the summer, according to the company’s Executive VP of merchandising, Tony Bartel.
  • Nintendo have are due to release the 3DS in March next year, to support 3D gaming, with a sharp screen and analogue sticks.
  • Vice President of Epic Games, has confirmed there will be no Gears of War this year, in order to stay out of the way of blockbuster titles and the Natal. [When questioned on the April 2011 rumour he answered, “you’re kidding right?” – take what you will from that]
  • The Playstation 3 is the heaviest console of all time.
March 23rd, 2010
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News

Christmas Update

Best wrapping paper ever.

Best wrapping paper ever.

Well its knee-deep in leftover turkey that I bring you this update, so I thought it only appropriate to do a short round up of gaming news, good gaming gifts and things to look forward to. So in the spirit of the everlasting and eternal with which Christmas is now loosely asscociated with, I bring you something else just as everlasting – Duke Nukem Forever …and ever. That’s right, the unfortunate title is not actually dead, at least according to Scott Miller, CEO of 3D Realms, despite the various lawsuits and speculated release dates. He claims that in the next few years there will be a “resurgence” of the Duke Nukem IP. More info here – just let it die!

Adding to the already comprehensive evidence of the importance of the games industry within the entertainment sector is a new report from the Daily Telegraph showing that Britons spent more on games in the past year than movies (that’s DVDs and cinema visits together) totalling up to a wopping £1.73bn compared to just over £1bn at the box office. Mainstream media is slowing pulling itself out of its own ignorance, and the more this continues, the better acknowledgement games will get. It took the global event of Modern warfare 2’s release to even alert some newspapers that men over the ages of 21 actually played video games and they subsequently published whole articles on how astounding it was – lets hope for a brighter future. In news from the US various studios are reporting layoffs such as Futuremark, but on the positive side,  a recent developer census chowed that there has infact been a slight rise in employment over the pond – glass half full eh?

I mentioned the importance of DLC a couple weeks ago, and the avalanche of downloadable delights is proudly rolling forth right now. All the Fallout 3 DLC is now available for half price on Xbox Live should you need to get your post apocalyptic fill, and you should; Also up for the picking is all the CoD:WaW DLC for just 2000MS points, though im still yet to figure out why you’d be playing that, what with god’s Infinity Ward’s gift to gamers being out there on the shelves. We also have brand new content for our pleasure including Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot for Borderlands which is out now for Xbox gamers, and January 7th for the PSN. Finally we have some Dragon Age: Origins DLC to look forward to, coming out next week – dig deep folks – afterall, its Christmas.

Speaking of Dragon Age, its one of the many delectable gifts I received this festive season and im thoroughly enjoying it – but its very much an RPG fan’s wet dream, so hardcore FPS’ers should stay clear for fear of pointy ears and swords. I also received WW2 sandbox game The Saboteur and I’ll be posting a review up in a week or so with my thoughts.

If you happily received Modern Warfare 2 this Christmas or any other time, you will, apparently be going straight to hell, at least according to a Maine Christian group who are saying all decent people should denounce MW2. Ironically, all those loonies are doing is giving the game with all the publicity in the world, just a tad bit more; Morons. And while we’re on the subject of Infinity Ward’s Shooter, I feel its worth mentioning that its topped out the illegal download charts this year unsurprisingly, being downloaded 5 million times – bit of a shame really; TV shows and music are one thing – but don’t bother illegally acquiring such a damn fine game.

Christmas is also a time for sharing, so I’ll underwhelm you by sharing the videos and links ive been looking at recently that you may also enjoy. Firstly, spoiler warning, as Mass Effect 2’s Achievement list has been leaked, you can find that here, Then we have a couple of videos on YouTube which apply the mythbusting method of the popular TV series Mythbusters to Modern Warfare 2 – a match made in heaven; and you might just find out some interesting stuff or at least some new methods to torture noobs. Lastly I’m a huge fan of the Inside Gaming series, so what could be better than a games-related comedy web series featuring the host of Inside Gaming, Adam Kovic, AKA The Dead Pixel? …..not much, so here it is.

Finally, its time to do as Noddy of the 1970s band Slade did and look to the future because we’re in for one hell of  year this time round, especially in the opening months. Not only are we getting some fine DLC for Assassin’s Creed II for only a shiny nickel or two, but we’re in for some blockbusters as well. Topping my list is the space epic, Mass Effect 2 – Bioware know what they’re doing, and as an added bonus, have apparently made this sequel much seedier and adult – fun times. Also looking bloody fantastic is Rockstar’s Wild West offering Red Dead Redemption; the gameplay trailer looks bedwettingly-good I’ll have you know. Then of course we have some great potential in the FPS area with MAG, Battlefield Bad Company 2 and Bioshock 2, not to mention Splinter Cell Conviction and other big titles coming later on such as Brink. So thats it for now, not much actual news for this week – I hope to update much more regularly in the coming year and wish anyone who has stumbled across this blog a merry Christmas and belated new year!

December 30th, 2009
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Reviews

Assassin’s Creed 2

Well it’s long overdue that I review a game so I figured I’d get down to it. Anyone who played the original Assassin’s Creed will know the very blatant flaws that Ubisoft presented us with. On one hand you had a stunning game, especially for 2007, that beautifully recreated the holy land of the Middle Ages, along with the irritating beggars and templars; albeit be it slightly condensed, with Damascus being a short country stroll from Acre – but we could forgive that. However, on the other hand, and what many found it hard to forgive, was the hideously repetitive and unoriginal gameplay. It felt as though they’d finished the graphics and gameplay mechanics but got a little bored and fancied a cup of tea and a biscuit instead of wasting anytime on combat or content. Big mistake. Because of this, and because of the hype that had surrounded it, prior to its release, it received a pretty bad wrap from a large percentage of its potential community. However Ubisoft have admirably, taken the feedback.

In ACII you play as Ezio Auditore da Firenze, an Italian, born to a wealthy family in Florence, and yes, you are literally born in the game, gooey fluids and all. From there on the hilarious Italian accents roll forth, but it comes off as charming and a little quirky to anyone who understands it’s a game and not BBC costume drama. Within the first couple of minutes the narrative is already clearly more comprehensive, coherent and interesting than AC1. You start developing connections with your family and actually care for them – even your “Its me, MARIO!” uncle.

This time round our assassin doesnt have inexplicable aversion to water.

This time round our assassin doesn't have an inexplicable aversion to water.

The story this time round is infinitely more engrossing, but builds on the plans that AC1 set out, and while some parts feel a little far-fetched, given the story, it generally works pretty well and many reviewers report that they played the last quarter solely for the narrative, not because of bad gameplay, but rather because of the fantastic story. Along with the painstakingly  recreated historical architecture, the game attempts to throw a few historical personalities in the mix. But it makes no claims that it’s a true representation, and simply entwines them in the story for fun, the most noteworthy being Leonardo Da Vinci who acts your Q-esque gadget man and sidekick, and I personally very much enjoyed the cute and somewhat awkward bromance that occurs between Ezio and the renaissance inventor!

One of the most marked improvements is the variation in gameplay and missions. Each main task has its own unique twist and element in the story, from use of Da Vinci’s (apparently workable) flying machine to a spaghetti western horse and cart chase. There’s even some sections underground that feel very Prince of Persia-ish, but its done in such a way, and only for a short section, that it feels like a little tribute to the earlier free-running platformer games, while adding yet more variety. The length of the story is not overly generous but certainly isn’t cut short like the recent Modern Warfare 2 and there’s plenty of side quests and places to explore for extended gameplay. This blockbuster actually manages to reconcile all its ideas exceedingly well and everything is tied in with the narrative very well, even the random collectibles spread over the cities and countryside which is a welcome improvement on the glowy flags in AC1, whose inexplicable existence in a game so set on being realistic on many levels, irritated me a great deal.

Ubisoft, in their effort to add heaps more content into this sequel, which is of course not a bad thing, instituted Ezio’s villa and town, and have tried to travel down the RPG route, however it hasn’t worked spectacularly, because really, they got tired out and gave up halfway along that route: To do up the villa and town, you must spend money and invest in it; this in turn either raises the villa’s income, or lowers the cost of weapons, armour and medicine in the shops. It doesn’t take a genius to workout that after a while, with no upkeep costs and no threats, that you’ve got the perfect investment – no pyramid scheme here. Except, you end up rolling in money with diddley-squat to spend it on, as the consumables, such as medicine and knives, cost pocket change. Additionally, in this villa of yours, there’s no choice, and no decision, its just invest in everything once you have the money, which you can simply wait for, piling up every 20 minutes in your chest. And thus this feature seems fairly hollow when you look at it. Infact within the game as a whole there’s not much choice at all, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is when there is the pretence. For example, you can customize the colour of your robes, but the choice rangers all the way from grey with mustard spilt on it, to grey with ink spilt on it.

Having said all this, the town, villa and clothing features are all fairly well presented features, and one has to take the attitude that its better they’re there than not, although they don’t reach their full potential. One area where there is a fair amount of choice and personalisation is weaponry; there’s are quite a wide variety of swords and daggers, and you can use certain other weapons by disarming guards. Nabbing a pike, then proceeding to impale your foes and then scraping their limp body off it again, entrails and all, I assure you, is quite delightful.

The game features a number of stunning Italian locations, but not Rome in its entirety, unfortunately.

The game features a number of stunning Italian locations, but not Rome in its entirety, unfortunately.

Mutilations aside, controls can be a little ropey and unforgiving especially with the targeting system, but for a game that tries to accomplish so much, it is understandable. Mirror’s Edge did a far superior job in terms of free running but its still fun to roam the rooftops like a maniac and throw yourself into piles of hay with safety mats hidden underneath. Combat feels fairly similar to the original, just with many more differing ways to humiliatingly slaughter guards, arguably just doing their job – but this time round it feels a lot more fluid. The countryside has been opened up so that all the cities aren’t connected by a convenient series of gorges through the rocks, and should you want to forego the scenic route, there’s a quick travel system that was much needed.

Assassin’s Creed 2 is the perfect example of a sequel that’s improved upon the original according to customer feedback. Every aspect of the original game is in there, except with more variety and fluidity. Not only this, but it also offers up a great story and fascinating historical links and information. Being a great advocate of both interactive story telling and games as art, this certainly ticks many of the boxes, and what’s more arty than the architecture and paintings from the Italian Renaissance? After Modern Warfare 2, this is a must buy – there’s a great deal I’ve missed out on account of spoilers, as this is definitely a game which your going to be and going to want to be surprised at, at every turn, whether it’s the final twist or simply your mother beautifully saying the words “Besides Vaginas!” in that lovely accent.

December 6th, 2009
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