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Completed Games – Mass Effect 2

DeveloperBioware

PublisherElectronic Arts

Release Date – 26 January 2010

I finished Mass Effect 2 earlier this year but for some reason never took the time to do a write up. You don’t need me to tell you that this is a great game, I didn’t like the direction the series has gone but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good game. While I would’ve liked if Bioware kept the RPG aspect intact instead of toning down the amount of weapons and items, the story & conversation systems is still something no other game does just as well.

I do like how Bioware try to forward the RPG genre by increasingly meshing it with a third person shooter, it makes sense to make it all seamless. The real strength of the game to me was the interesting characters which now you have a whole new crew you recruit and take side missions from. The conversations are as important to the experience as the game play and aren’t static since you have the option to make moral choices and choose the tone of direction. Action is fun enough with the variety of powers you have at your disposal but there is still something missing that doesn’t make it as fun as other shooters, maybe the shooting mechanic is just not refined enough than games that solely focus on this.

Bioware are making the best modern day RPG’s right now and with Mass Effect 3 coming up  early next year it’s a good time to play and finish ME2 if you haven’t already done so.

Why I Bought Deus Ex: Human Revolution on Release Day

I rarely buy games the day they are released, in fact I don’t think I’ve bought a game made in 2011 this year (only Portal 2 had me tempted but I haven’t gotten around to buying it yet). But Deus Ex hooked me and after playing it for a couple hours it was well worth it.

In the many times the game was previewed in the past couple years, I was interested mainly due to the near future (2027) cyber punk setting but I didn’t think I would be compelled to pick it up immediately. There were mixed previews of the game, probably down to critics ready to pounce on any minor flaws due to the universal acclaim of the original, but any sort of open world games are hard to preview (which is why Rockstar is so selective with preview coverage of their games). It wasn’t until the critical praise of the game by critics a few days before release that I started to get excited.

What makes this games so great? The combination of a whole bunch of game genres (FPS, RPG, action, adventure, open world) but the main selling point for me was that it is very much a stealth game which rewards you for being creative and patient in the way you tackle the missions. You have freedom in the way you want to play and the levels are designed so well that you can do this without any compromise. It is a stealth game that doesn’t just filter you arbitrarily from room to room, you have an objective and you can approach it anyway you want.

The last game that tried to do something similar was The Darkness but it was no where near as polished or ambitious. Other stealth games like MGS4 and Splinter Cell Conviction where just expected upgrades of a very familiar game play ideas (I still love these games but Deus Ex actually evolves the genre). I’m still fairly early in the game (I haven’t got to any of the much maligned boss battles yet) but look forward to multiple post breaking down different aspects of the game in the coming weeks as I slowly play through it.

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.

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.

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 Microsoft Announcements Round-Up – Halo 4, Ryse and Lots of Kinect Supported Games

Here is a list of notable announcements and details of Xbox 360 games and features announced today at Microsoft’s Press Conference for E3 2011 (plus a couple features revealed later on Major Nelson’s Blog).

  • Already announced games featured Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, Tomb Raider, Mass Effect 3 (Kinect voice support, dialogue and squad commands), Ghost Recon Future Soldier (Kinect support for all future Tom Clancy games), Gears of War 3, Forza 4, Star Wars Kinect
  • EA sports games to get Kinect Support – Tiger Woods PGA Tour, Madden, Fifa and one other.
  • New Game AnnouncementRyse for Crytek, a Kinect game set during the Roman Empire era.
  • New Halo games announcedHalo 1 remake 10 year anniversary and Halo 4.
  • New Game Announcement – Fable: The Journey, on rail magic shooter just for Kinect.
  • Other New Games Announced – Kinect Sports Season 2, Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster, Disneyland Adventures, and Dance Central 2.
  • New Dashboard with graphical and functional improvements. Search support with universal Bing search capability, youtube, live TV (i.e. UFC) capabilities, more Kinect support, Beacon feature (more streamlined game invite system) and the big one cloud support for game saves and profiles.

5 Games We Will Learn More About at E3

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) opens on the 7th June, just over a week away and here’s 5 games I’m looking forward to learning more about. All of them will be released at the end of the year around November and all are the 3rd game in a franchise.

Assassin’s Creed Revelations continues Ubisoft’s tradition of a new AC game every year and this one is the third in the Ezio trilogy starting with AC2 followed by AC Brotherhood. Ezio will be much older in this game and will be climbing around this time in Constantinople. Multiplayer will also return hoping to expand on the innovative experience that debuted in the last game.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 continues the Modern Warfare offshoot, this time going global with recognisable landmarks and cityscapes. Preview impressions of the single player side of the game are already up at many gaming websites, but most people are waiting to hear how multiplayer has changed.

My most anticipated game of the year Uncharted 3 will be shown and will probably show off more of the graphical innovations from their desert setting. I looking forward to hearing more about the story and what historical/mythical legend is being pursued by Nathan Drake and his buddies.

Resistance is back with Resistance 3 after a 3 year development cycle hoping to bring more excitement and polish that was lacking in Resistance 2. The unique 8-player co-op mode from Resistance 2 is dropped, and more focus is put on the competitive multiplayer and the story mode.

Battlefield 3 is the the long awaited sequel to the main Battlefield series instantly garnering attention with its gorgeous visuals. Looking forward to hearing about what new gameplay and multiplayer features are being introduced.

Completed Games – Costume Quest

Developer – Double Fine Productions

Release Date – October 20 2010

A distinctively styled Halloween themed game which started off Double Fine’s foray into downloadable console games. A bit of the appeal of the game is lost to me as the Halloween culture doesn’t resonate with me but the simple adventure/RPG gameplay is fun enough for the 6+ hours of the game.

The premise of the game is that you play as a kid on Halloween night and your sister/brother (depending on who you choose) is kidnapped by candy stealing monsters. If it weren’t for the cute child friendly art style this would be a pretty grave situation. As you go on an adventure to save your sibling you fight by transforming your costume into its fully realised large scale representation such as robots, ninjas, knights or something silly like french fries. The RPG style is turn based and you have pretty much one choice of attack for each of your party members, a button or timing based chance to boost attack power and again for defending. There is very little variation in strategies but it can get tough later on where you will have to utilize your special powers effectively to win a fight. If you lose a fight you just pop back to before the encounter, so it is very user-friendly.

The adventure part of the game is probably the biggest draw as it is open world in the sense that you can do side missions and collect stuff along with the main story missions. The story itself isn’t anything special but there is a certain level of polish to this game that makes it more than tolerable. I like what Double Fine are doing with these downloadable games which explore a single idea that doesn’t need to be full game. It allows them to express their creativity with an original concept and hopefully they are finding an audience with this.