Completed Games – Halo 3: ODST

Developer – Bungie

Publisher – Microsoft Game Studios

Release Date – September 22 2009

Halo 3: ODST was originally conceived as an expansion to Halo 3 before being expanded to a full retail release and comes with a separate disk including Halo 3 multiplayer and a new multiplayer mode, Firefight. I was surprised by this game as it now my favourite Halo game so far in terms of a single player experience. It changes up the standard Halo formula by making you play not as Master Chief or even a Spartan, you play as an ODST (Orbital Drop Shock Trooper).With this you have to play the game differently from past Halo games, you have to play more strategically and keep a closer eye on health, and in general be more stealthy because of you deficiencies when compared to the single army of Master Chief.

What I like most about the game is the desolate open city environment that you can roam around looking for weapons and encountering the occasional covenant patrol. Your drop on New Mombasa goes wrong and your team is spread out all over the city, but when you wake up most of the fight has been done and you piece back the events through flashbacks. It’s not just the same mission after mission, you are given time to explore.

The story for me was also more interesting, it isn’t a grand universe spanning tale but instead focuses on one mission from different perspectives. There is also a side story which is told through terminals which play back pieces of an audio recording of the plight of Sadie in the midst of the covenant invasion of New Mombasa. It is relatively short experience (around 5-6 hours) but I like how self contained it is. Music is also a change in pace with a more jazzy sound instead of the usual orchestral fare. It fits with the graphics which is filtered differently because the game is mostly played at night and you have to turn on a filter which makes the game look very cyber punk.

I’m playing Halo Reach now and I don’t think I’m going to change my position of ODST being my favourite Halo game. Definitely pick it up even if you don’t like Halo games, perfect for anyone who is discouraged by the standard Halo games.

Completed Games – Bioshock 2

Developer – 2K Marin/Australia and Digital Extremes

Publisher – 2K Games

Release Date – February 9 2010

The first Bioshock was one of those classics that help defined the current generation of games. The fascinating story and design of the game made it unique and its open ended FPS gameplay got a lot of people interested. The original developers of Bioshock (Irrational Games) instead of making a direct sequel are now making the highly anticipated Bioshock Infinite which garnered plenty of positive buzz at this year’s E3. So instead 2K Games decided to get the project done with the help of a couple of different game studios. 2K Marin was the lead with help from 2K Australia and China while the multiplayer was developed by Digital Extremes (Unreal Tournament, Ps3 port of Bioshock and the upcoming Darkness 2).

Going into it I was expecting it too be more of the same with some minor improvements and that’s what Bioshock 2 turned out to be. I really enjoyed some aspects of the games, in particular the later levels, but there is a lot of repetition here that gets old quickly. It lacks the same sense of mystery that the first had which was expected but is does a decent job setting the story up even though it unfolds in a fairly predictable way. You play as the original Big Daddy, Delta, who awakens to the out of control world of Rapture and is out to find his daughter who is being held by Sofia Lamb.

Playing as a Big Daddy changes up the game a bit but doesn’t change up the core Bioshock gameplay as much as you would expect. Instead of a wrench you have your drill and your other offensive options are the usual weapons and plasmid powers. The big change in the game is the addition of trap weaponry such as deployable turrets and trap sensors which are there to help you deal with defending a position which you will need to do a lot in this game. Every time you pickup a little sister you escort them around to collect Adam (what you spend to upgrade and buy plasmids and gene tonics) and this causes splicers to attack you in waves. The game is still fun and unlike most FPS out there as the choices you have are varied with plasmids still enjoyable to use and the shooting still solid (although a tad dated now). Although the graphics of the game is unimpressive and doesn’t make much of a leap from the original.

The most interesting part of the game was learning more about the history of Rapture and how everything started. The best level of the game for me was Fontaine Futuristics, the company that created all this steam punk tech and the creator of it all Gil Alexander. Alexander created the Big Daddies and when we meet him he has been overload with too much Adam and through videos he instructs you to take him down. Up to this point in the game I wasn’t excited about anything story wise but this level was great. I also look forward to playing the DLC level Minerva’s Den which people have told me to be another great standalone level.

Multiplayer in this game is alright and would be better if the underlying shooting mechanics was better. But you can use plasmids which makes it interesting and the levels are pretty well adapted for multiplayer. It is neat but I don’t think I’m going to regularly play it. I picked this game up for cheap just a few months after release and now it must be around $20, a good price it you want more Bioshock.

Free iOS App Alert – Death Rally

iTunes Link

Death Rally is a game that I already have and can recommend without doubt, it must have done very well since it was released earlier this year for them to offer it free for the day. It is a top down action racing game that originally came out on the PC in 1996 developed by Remedy Entertainment, a Finnish game development company who are known for creating Max Payne and Alan Wake, and Mountain Sheep who made the popular iOS game Minigore.

Death Rally for iOS is a modern remake that retains the classic action and tension of the original game while controlling pretty well given that it is controlled by virtual joysticks. The weapons are the most enjoyable part of the game with vehicle destruction tools such as bumpers, mines, missiles, sniper shots, machines guns and my favourite a burst of homing missiles. I’ve completed the game, maxed out everything and have even played it through some more on the iPad since it is a universal app. The developers have done a good job of continuously updating the game to add new vehicles and maps which keeps you coming back. If you miss the free download window pick it up anyway for 99c, it’s worth it.

Indignant Gamers and a Sense of Entitlement – The Cost Argument

One of the number one complaints from gamers that I read and hear about is cost. Gamers or at least critics and commenters get riled up and even in some cases indignant about the cost of games and devices. While this sort of entitlement is not just restricted to just video games, it seems that gamers are less rational in this aspect. For me I rarely have an issue about the cost of devices or games because in my mind, if I’m buying something new or cutting edge I am paying a premium to play it as soon as it comes out. I know what my budget is and if I can’t afford it right now I know it will be discounted at least 6 months down the line, or for consoles around the two year mark.

Recently with the announcement of two new consoles (PS Vita and Wii U) it was clearly evident that this issue was still at the top of gamers mind’s. Knowing the sensitivity gamers have to price I shouldn’t have been surprised when some people criticised the announced price of the PSP Vita at $250 or $300 for 3G version. For a high quality handheld entertainment device, to me and to most people it looked to be a very reasonable price but a small subset of people still complained that it was overpriced.

Item number 2, people that are angry that publishers and developers have implemented an “online pass” feature making people who buy used copies of games to pay around $10 to access online multiplayer modes or some additional content. This is another bewildering reaction to something that I feel is completely reasonable. Companies such as EA and THQ have been getting flak for trying to get some revenue from used game sales. As we continue to move to digital distribution where there is no concept of used games, I find it hard to get angry that if I buy a used game I may have to pay an additional fee to play online. If anyone should get angry it should be companies like Gamestop not regular gamers.

Item number 3, people criticising Nintendo for not announcing the price of the Nintendo Wii U and complaining about the potential cost of extra controller (which is a non-issue since the standard is games requiring just the one tablet controller included with the system). E3 for Nintendo was the first time they have shown the system which is at least a year away, they don’t need to reveal the price and why should they if they are still tweaking the system.

Last point DLC, people complaining about paid DLC and the fact that developers plan and develop it while the game is in development. Gamers feel entitled that it should be included in the price of the game or the game itself should be priced cheaper in the first place. The price of a game has been static at $60USD for a long time now and I would say we even have it better today with pre-order bonuses from places like Amazon that give you USD$20 gift certificates for pre-ordering a new game. Developers need additional streams of income if they are to survive with the growing costs of development. DLC is a way for gamers to get more out of a game they like, it’s optional and entirely up to you. If you don’t think the core game justifies the price than don’t buy it, don’t complain about the DLC. Same goes for additional services like COD Elite that Activision is implementing to give players additional features that only the truly dedicated players would consider or benefit from.

Video game companies are out to make great products and make the most money they can while balancing the fine line between price and purchase rate. It is not in a company’s best interest to give products away at cheaper prices even though the model of the video game industry is to make the console the loss leader while making money from software licenses and royalties. Nintendo really changed the game by releasing a cheaper system with the Wii and still make money on each console. For the next generation of video game consoles my prediction is that they won’t be as state of the art in order to keep costs low and try to break even as soon as possible. I think this makes sense because the next step in gaming isn’t processing power and graphics, it’s how we interacting and control games.

Enslaved Odyssey To The West Review (PS3)

Developer – Ninja Theory

Publisher – Namco Bandai

Release Date – October 5 2010

Ninja Theory’s follow-up to 2007’s Heavenly Sword is a loose adaptation of the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West where instead of being set in ancient China the game is set in a post apocalyptic future. People no longer inhabit the big cities which are now overgrown with vegetation, and robots are roaming the land enslaving any human they encounter. The game itself is like Ninja Theory’s past game, an action adventure game with a heavy combat focus but still fairly shallow when compared to Japanese developed action games.

The big draw of the game is the story which was written by film screenwriter Alex Garland (Sunshine, 28 Days Later) with motion capture by Andy Serkis. The game has great production values but doesn’t reach the heights of video game story telling that you would expect from such talent. Not much really goes on throughout the game and although there is an interesting ending I felt there was a lack of scope. The story succeeds more on a broader level in terms of the contrast between tech and nature.

The voice acting and motion capture however is top notch with some smart audio design decisions. The art direction is also consistently appealing giving a perfect sense of an overgrown post apocalyptic world devoid of human activity. The game starts off on a slaver ship which the two lead characters (Trip and Monkey) barely escape from. Trip was abducted from a self sufficient wind powered colony while the origins of Monkey are unknown. When they crash land Trip puts a control device on Monkey compelling him to obey Trip’s orders. When Trip dies, Monkey dies so Monkey is forced to help her return to her colony. The game play hook here is that Trip is capable of distracting enemies but is out of the way when combat occurs. Trip serves as a guide for the most part moving you along on a linear path.

The combat of the game starts of pretty basic and while it does get better there isn’t much variety and depth I have come to expect from character action games. As Monkey you have a staff which you can use for physical combat or shoot projectiles from. There are counters, charge attacks and evading but even playing on hard I just relied on blocking while waiting for an opening to attack. The platforming of the game is similar to Uncharted in that there is a lot of climbing with the same sort of cinematic style. And for a twist Monkey has a hover board (which Monkey calls a cloud in reference to the source material) which he uses later in the game to change up the platforming game play.

While this game was lamented as one of the most overlooked game releases of last year, I could see why there wasn’t much momentum behind the release. It isn’t a blockbuster game and the lack of depth in the combat let it down. It did however deserve to sell better and not fall to deep discounts a couple months after release. I still have good confidence in Ninja Theory and hope they will truly make a critical and commercial hit with their next game, a reboot of the Devil May Cry series for Capcom.

Completed Games – Ninja Gaiden Sigma (PS3)

Developer – Team Ninja

Publisher – Tecmo

This is a game I should have gotten around to playing much earlier as it is 100% what I enjoy about action games. It is challenging requiring quick thinking and fighting game level button combinations and timing. There are definitely some unnecessarily tough enemies but most of them are fair and it is up to you to adapt and learn how to approach enemies differently. I actually didn’t finish the game, I got to the last battle but can’t beat the final boss (unless you’re an expert you need to stock up on healing items which I failed to do).

From the start I can see how this game has built up a reputation of being extremely challenging. There is no combat handholding and you are instantly thrown into a fight which you could easily die from. It took me some time to get a handle of combat system as it requires precise timing, patience and combo learning but it was very satisfying once I got it. The enemies can be unpredictable at first but you learn how to best defeat them after dying multiple time and playing sections over and over again. The bosses are crazy and I got through them by relying on items to heal.

There are some antiquated game aspects that make it identifiable as an Xbox game published in 2004 which make it more frustrating than it should be. You can’t really press start quit to the menu and load a save point, you have work around this by purposefully dying. You also can’t change the difficulty and I got myself locked into a lower difficulty (ninja dog) around 3/4 of the way through the game.

I was surprised about how open some sections of the game is, allowing you to move around finding hidden items or weapons. I was also surprised with the platforming sections which mostly utilising your wall running ability which was a nice change of pace. It is also a pretty long game irregardless of having to play sections over again. If you like challenging action games this is a must play.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma is the PS3 version of Ninja Gaiden Black (Xbox 360) which itself was a re-release of Ninja Gaiden on the original Xbox. This version adds higher res graphics along with a new playable character (Rachel) and levels.

Traditionally Controlled Games Are Becoming a Thing of The Past

One thing that I have notice from all the games shown at E3 this year is that the traditional control method (twin sticks, 4 face buttons, d-pad and triggers) is being replaced or augmented by a range of new control paradigms. Last year’s E3 saw the introduction of the MS Kinect and PS Move, and this year both companies reaffirmed their commitment to the future of how we will control games.

Now I’m not saying traditional controlled games will be obsolete (they will still be ever present), but I do think developers are thinking of ways to allow people to more easily interact with games in new ways. Seeing the way voice commands are being used in Mass Effect 3 utilizing Kinect, or hearing Bioshock lead developer Ken Levine talk about the ways he will use PS Move in Bioshock Infinite, I see a definite trend of developers taking up the challenge of advancing the way we control games. It is no longer just a gimmick, it is the future of video games.

And I haven’t even mentioned Nintendo yet, with their next console they will continue the path of motion controlled games and will add the next big thing, tablet touch pad controls. They are taking the success of their portable systems and mobiles devices like the iPad/iPhone to create a system that will encourage developers to think of new innovative ways to design games. These new methods of control allow a wider range of people to pick up and instantly understand how to play certain games. It also makes gaming a more involved and fun looking endeavor which is necessary to continue growing the industry.

Nintendo had a true hit with the Wii by innovating the way games are played but their approach had it’s flaws. Nintendo looks like they have learned not to abandon the core gamers by creating a system that developers are excited to work on with powerful processing and graphics capabilities. Hopefully this would lead to more games being released on the Wii U than the Wii and I’m excited to see how games like Assassin’s Creed play on the Wii U.

Also I hope more developers take advantage of the capabilities of the Kinect and PS Move as we are at a point where the technology is there but we just need the games. The key is finding the right mix and making control decisions that make sense, enhancing the gaming experience rather than making it seem gimmicky. From what I’ve seen at E3 this year I feel confident that the industry is moving in the right direction.

P.S. 3D gaming is also here to stay and video games are the perfect medium to get the most out of it. The technology is improving each year and developers are doing a better job of implementing it in their games. It’s time to stop grousing about 3D in video games, if you don’t like it you can still play your games in regular 2D.

E3 2011 Video Roundup

Nintendo Official Videos

Electronic Arts Official Videos

Ubisoft Official Videos

Playstation Blog

 Other Videos

E3 2011 Nintendo – 3DS Games Galore and Wii Successor Revealed (Wii U)

 

 

 

At Nintendo’s E3 2011 press conference today Nintendo made a number of surprising announcements, much of which we already knew due to rumours over the last few weeks. But no one predicted the full scope and innovation of Nintendo’s approach to their next console. Appealing to core and casual consumers while maintaining the Wii brand they seem to have satisfied the skeptics doubting Nintendo’s future.

The biggest surprise to me is the use of the current Wii Remotes, it seems multiplayer games will be designed with one person holding the tablet while others use Wii Remotes. People who have had time to demo the system commented on the surprising comfort (light and easy to hold) of the tablet controller and fun while playing the various tech demos showing off new game play ideas and possibilities. Disappointments are the lack of other Wii game announcements (or English ports of Japanese games such as Last Story) or more  third-party games on the 3DS but the conference isn’t over yet and often more information trickles out over the week. Third party game developer support is not a problem for the Wii U with plenty of developers on board intially bringing out ports of 360/PS3 games such as Batman Arkham City and Assassin’s Creed Revelations.

Zelda Games

  • Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Celebration – Orchestra Worldwide Tour
  • Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures – Free for DSi owners
  • Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening – Out on the Nintendo eShop
  • Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – Out at the end of this year

3DS Games Announced

  • Luigi’s Mansion 2 – Developed by Next Level Games.
  • Super Mario 3D – 3D mario platformer but with 2D gameplay elements.
  • Mario Kart – Underwater and air sequences, Retro Studios helping with development.
  • Kid Icarus Uprising – 3 on 3 multiplayer announced.
  • Star Fox 64 3D
  • Tekken 3D, Animal Crossing 3DS, Super Smash Bros, Lego City Stories.
  • Potential – Kirby, Rhythm Heaven, Paper Mario, Mario Party sequels.

Wii Successor Announced – Wii U

  • SPECS – Touchpad controller 6.2 inch in addition to traditional controls, camera, accelerometer, microphone, speakers, 1080P, HDMI, IBM designed CPU (same architecture as Watson), SD and USB HDD support.
  • Features – Backwards compatible with Wii games and all controllers (Wii Remote, balance board), full HD graphics, video calls, web surfing, stream content to and from tablet controller.
  • Wii U Games Teased – Super Mario Bros Mii, New HD Zelda, Super Smash Brothers, and various tech demos.
  • Third Party Wii U Games – Lego City Stories, Darksiders 2, Batman Arkham City, Tekken, Assassin’s Creed Revelations, Ghost Recon Online, DIRT, Alien Colonial Marines, Metro Last Light and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. Various EA Sports games and potentially Battlefield and Army of Two.
  • Onboard Third Party Developers – EA, Ubisoft, Warner Bros Interactive, THQ, Irrational Games, Namco Bandai, Sega and Tecmo Koei.

E3 2011 Sony Press Conference – PS Vita, Bioshock Infinite Move Support and PS Branded TV

Here is a list PS3 games and features announced today at Sony’s Press Conference for E3 2011. After a montage of games and Playstation properties, the event started with Jack Trenton CEO of SCEA first apologizing about the recent PSN outage. 3D, Playstation Move and the PS Vita are all heavily showcased with the big news that the PS Vita will be USD$249/299 for Wi-Fi/3G model.

  • Already announced games featured – Uncharted 3 (release date 1st November 2011), Resistance 3, NBA 2K12 (Move Support), Infamous 2, Starhawk, Bioshock Infinite and Star Trek.
  • 3D Game Remasterings – God of War Origins Collections and Ico and Shadow of Colossus Collection.
  • Playstation Branded 3D Monitor announced – 24 Inch screen with unique feature of allowing split screen co-op games to display a full screen for each player. USD $499 for monitor, 3D glasses, HDMI cable and Resistance 3.
  • Bioshock Infinite – Move support and Bioshock 1 pack-in. Also a Bioshock on NGP teased.
  • More Core Games Move Support – Bioshock Infinite, Saint’s Row The Third, Star Trek and better move support for LBP 2.
  • EA’s PS3 Exclusive Game Content – SSX (Mount Fuji exclusive level), Need for Speed on the Run exclusive cars and Battlefield 3 comes with Battlefield 1943 pack-in.
  • New Games Announced – Sly Cooper Thieves in Time, Medieval Moves: Deadman’s Quest from the developer of Sports Champions and  Dust 514 (Playstation exclusive MMO FPS from Eve Online developer CCP Games).
  • NGP Name Announced Playstation Vita – Rumours are true the official name of the NGP is the Playstation Vita. AT&T announced as exclusive 3G partner in the US. More than 80 titles in development. Out this year, wifi model $249 and 3G model for $299.
  • PS Vita Games Shown – Uncharted Golden Abyss, Ruin (action RPG, loot based, social features, PS3 compatibility and cloud saving), ModNation Racers (easy track creation, access to user generated content), Little Big Planet (game changer, easy to create levels or game types utilising all the features of the PS Vita), and Street Fighter X Tekken (Cole from infamous is a playable character).