News 28/01/10

This week: Your console is your childrens’ portal to hell, yet more of that beautiful downloadable content and glorious game releases and the Southern Americans’ iPod.

Governments Flaming Consoles

The latest news brought to you by a stream of somewhat subjective and uniformed thought has seen not only the socialist president of Venezuela condemn video games, but also the UK Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith. Two weeks ago Chavez declared on his weekly TV Show “Alo Presidente” that “Those games they call ‘PlayStation’ are poison, some games teach you to kill. They once put my face on a game, ‘you’ve got to find Chavez to kill him.’” (butthurt much?) and that games “promote the need for cigarettes, drugs and alcohol so they can sell them. That’s capitalism, the road to hell”.

Hugo Chavez

Aside from the fact that we can clearly deduce old Hugo is raging Xbox fanboy, I can’t help but think condemning violence in video games is a little hypocritical considering he himself has attempted military coups. What’s more distressing is the attacks on games much closer to home from Duncan Smith. Speaking to The Times, the UK MP claimed “We are driving children to lose their childhood, and some video games are incredibly violent, like Grand Theft Auto. They are meant to be 18 but nobody cares what it says on the label.” Now I certainly advocate improving the ratings system, but this statement is clearly subjective and grossly misinformed – I suppose blaming video games is an easy way to account for the UK’s crime and anti-social behaviour problems, but one must consider that the real problem lies in those vandalising public property and hanging around, sniffing glue in the park, not indoors indulging in some good old GTA. I could go on on for a few more pages discussing my stance on video games being a cause of violence but I’ll simply remind myself that this is a man talking about loss of innocence, who voted for the Iraq war in which many soldiers were actually killed and countless civilians.

Wii, Xbox Live & PSN

It was recently announced, to the relief of many Nintendo fanboys, that Netflix would indeed be coming to the Wii sometime in the Spring, with the usual subscription of $9 a month – however, it will not offer HD videos because of course, the Wii is not capable…let the flame wars commence.

SCEA director of hardware marketing, John Koller, recently stated that expansion of the PSN is “critical” in 2010, and this comes as no surprise given the tight competition between the  next gen console publisher to expand their products into more than just devices to play games on. He promised more original titles and a resurgence of PS1 games, but had nothing to add when asked if Sony planned anything similar to a Games on Demand service like Xbox Live’s – C’mon Sony, keep up now.

And finally Ben Jones of Zipper Interactive claims Xbox Live is more juvenile than PSN. Nonsense! I was discussing how mature Xbox Live was with a gentleman I met on CoD last night, and by guy I mean 10 year old…and by discussing I mean struggling to translate the high pitched screams and racial slurs. Anywho, he went on to say, that as a result the PSN is a better fit for the 256 player MAG. Probably so, but a game of that magnitude needs teamwork, so we’ll have to wait and see whether the game produces the sort of cooperation necessary.

Japan Isn’t Over

Despite Keiji Inafune’s comments at last December’s Tokyo Game Show, according to Aaron Greenberg, director of product management at Xbox, “the future is bright” for Japan, as he believes Natal will help leverage and inspire creativity. He emphasised that it’s important that the Japanese developers should seek to be original and not attempt to create the next Call of Duty or Halo (we’ve nothing to worry about on that front, as they’ll be a constant stream shoved down our throats – I’m not complaining). The Japanese games market generated ¥542,640 million in 2009, down 6.9 per cent year-over-year, so one can understand the negativity; but even Inafune, on the Project Natal panel, said “I strongly feel that Project Natal will expand the possibilities of gaming”. So, whether you like it or not, Natal is coming and Microsoft are placing a lot behind it, claiming that 80% of 3rd party developers have Natal titles in development currently.

iPod iPad iPuddy cat

Yesterday, Steve Jobs, with the whole of the hip, polo-neck-weaking Apple corporation behind him, announced and showed off the iPad, Apple’s offering to the Tablet computer market. And thus the usual hype, fanboyism and anti-Appleism swept its way over the internet with claims from ‘revolutionary’ to ‘really big iPhone’. You can get the full details virtually everywhere and here, but the point is it will be able to run iPhone games and apps and EA have gotten in with the cool crowd to cash in.

He looks so proud

Apparently at least 150 titles are in due to be released  for the iPad, and although the titles shown off at the press event, NOVA and Need for Speed: Shift were simply scaled up versions of the iPhone games, they had very little time to produce the titles to demonstrate. Hopefully game developers with a little more time on there hands might be able to offer up something more substantial for the iPad, which clearly has better gaming prospects given its size and power, as Apple would want you to know.

Game & DLC Releases

Mass Effect 2 is out in the US and arrives tomorrow for the UK with all its galactic shenanigans and I hope to have a review up soonish, depending on how long it takes me to savour its’ delights. You can check out the orgasmic, I mean fantastic, trailer here and if that isn’t enough, Greg Zeschuk, co-founder of Bioware has stated that although this Mass Effect series is limited to a trilogy, other incarnations and forms are possible and definitely on the table – lovely jubbly. In slightly smaller, but equally awesome news, Jack Wall, I hear, is returning or rather, has returned as composer for the soundtrack of Mass Effect 2 – happy face.

Assassin’s Creed II: Battle of Forli DLC is out today for just 320MS points – so get stabbing and leaping through it and enjoy the fact that it will be followed up by Bonfire of the Vanities next month! We’re clearly spoiled. Go and check out the trailer here if you should need convincing.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 developer DICE has dropped a whole bunch of crap on the PC community recently, announcing the sequel would neither have a dev console nor private dedicated server support, only officially rented – meaning no mods or custom maps, which is a real shame; Infinity Ward might have suffered a great many less illegal downloads of MW2 had this been announced earlier. Nevertheless, the game looks promising and there’s a new multiplayer mode trailer out, so check it out.

Dragon Age: Origins is receiving yet more DLC next week called Return to Ostagar and Bioware have also announced the expansion, Awakening, will be hitting March 16th, so no shortage of pointy ears and potions. Finally, I’ll leave you with a refreshingly depressing thought – a Tony Hawk’s Ride sequel is already in development. God help us all; see this for reference.

January 28th, 2010
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New Years Update

I sat down with myself the other day and decided that one of my few, and ultimately doomed new years resolutions, would be to update this blog at least once a week if not more, and I will do my best to hold to that, as there’s a lot of industry developments as of late, and a long-winded article every couple of weeks just doesn’t really cut it, so here’s to hoping that works out.

To begin with I told myself that MyTwoSenses shouldn’t too be formulaic, as there’s enough cookie-cutter stuff out there already, but I’ve realised that a few weekly sections/articles wouldn’t go amiss, and might be an easier way to convey my drivel to you fine sirs. With that say, starting from today I’m going to a “weekly picks” article, with links to sites and vidoes worth wasting your time on and a little bit of info, whether it be useful game guides, kick-ass headshots or simply stupid viral-y sort of stuff. So…

Weekly Picks 13/01/10

  • First thing to check out, if you don’t already follow it, is Zero Punctuation, and it’s awesome games video reviews done by the hilarious and frankly psychotic Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw
  • Next up is YouTube channel from a gentleman who goes by the name of SeaNanners. This guy posts up video commentary on his games of Call of Duty, as well as giving tips on how to make that special sort of pwnage ensue and additionally does some light-hearted video commentary for a few other games. Comical, useful and generally good clean fun – do it.
  • Another YouTube Channel now, College Humour – Besides a shitload of funny and well produced spoofs and parodies of movies and pop culture (I highly recommend the “I gotta feeling” Parody) they run a gaming series called Bleep Bloop and I found their recent review of Tony Hawk’s Skateboard Controller to be particularly poignant and thought-provoking to me…well not really, but just watch it, you’ll see.
  • And finally something completely un-games related, but awesome nonetheless is Zach Galifianakis’ (star of The Hangover) Between Two Ferns. If you’re partial to a bit of extremely awkward humour, this is definitely your cup of tea and has to be seen to be believed.

And that’s it for this week, lookout for a Games News Update in the next day or two. As always let me know your thoughts about anything on the blog , even hate mail is fun!

January 13th, 2010
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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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