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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Saints Row IV: Excuse Me Mr President

You play as the President of the United States.

Right off the bat that is one of the most ridiculous concepts I’ve ever heard. It’s also awesome, mainly because it’s Saints Row, and never has there been a more ridiculous, crazy action adventure franchise.

Well maybe there has, but if so I haven’t found it.

Saints Row IV features Matrix style superpowers, aliens, ridiculous weapons and loud, gaudy locations and vehicles in abundance.

Presidential duties be damned as, in a nutshell, aliens attack the earth and try to imprison everyone in a virtual prison of their own mind. Of course what they didn’t bank on is that the President of the United States is also the leader of the Saints (yeah of course it makes complete sense), and is therefore a complete psychopath.

You must go into other’s virtual nightmares and rescue them, battling additional enemies other than the aliens, some of which are characters from previous games.

I’m sure there will actually be a storyline, and there definitely are missions that require completion, but this crazy open world game was quite honestly so much fun that I didn’t really pay much attention to the narrative at all.

You can drive cool vehicles, including an actual UFO, yes you read correctly, as weoll as weird and whacky weapons such as the Dubstep Gun and Inflate-O-Ray and a White House cannon. Because of course, the President of the United States needs a cannon. 

Saints Row is always over the top, and always chaotic, but in typical Saints Row style it’s bright, loud and most importantly fun.

As is the usual deal with this franchise, you’ll find two player cooperative multiplayer in much the same style as Saints Row III meaning you can share the fun with your friend.

Saints Row IV will be out on the 20th August 2013 for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.

Company of Heroes 2: Behind the scenes with Relic Entertainment

Company of Heroes 2 is the follow up to the successful real time strategy World War 2 game, Company of Heroes, which first hit our PC’s in 2006.

This year at E3 I got the chance to chat to Quinn Duffy, from Relic Entertainment, one of the game’s creators to find out just a little bit more about the title that will hit our shelves in a mere two weeks time.

The most important thing for some of the developers it seems, was a complete love for the franchise and the subject matter, especially considering the disruption to development when their initial publisher THQ, went under. Luckily SEGA picked up the title, and development could continue.

There’s been a fair bit of research into this title too, as the team spent time in Russia and Germany getting to grips with the historical aspects of the game and gaining insight into how the title was to develop. COH2 focuses this time on the Eastern Front of World War 2, and Duffy argues that it was all about authenticity and making sure that not only was the game good, but that it was historically accurate.

The game is narrated by Lev Abramovich Isakovich, through flashbacks as he is interrogated about his war time experiences.

The subject matter especially is considered emotionally sensitive, and not only did the team have to be aware of this, but it was emotionally draining for many of them immersing themselves in it for such a long period of time. This again was also coupled with other challenges like the change in publisher and trying to finish Space Marine at the same time.

Company of Heroes 2 is to be released on PC only, and although Duffy hints at the fact that there might ultimately be an expansion and some DLC, there is nothing confirmed as yet.

There was also some discussion about thoughts around tablet integration, but again nothing that can be confirmed.

Company of Heroes 2 will be out on today, the 25th June 2013 on PC.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolfenstein is one of those classic franchises that brings to mind, certainly for the slightly older gamer, our youth. For the developers, as we were told in a private press screening at E3, it was the reason many of them went into video game development.

Wolfenstein: The New Order harkens back to Wolfenstein 3D, assuming the role of protagonist BJ Blazkowicz, in an alternate history where the Nazi’s won World War 2 using a mysterious technology. BJ is still the action hero originally envisioned by the first Wolfenstein game, but he is recontextualised in a whole new way this time around.

The game is set in Europe, and you and a new character, Anja, must go undercover to infiltrate the Nazi strongholds. While the game is as always, filled with action as you blast your way through Nazi’s left, right and centre, there are also some atypical emotional and romantic moments, making the protagonist just slightly more human at the same time.

The first level we’re shown in this private screening has us engaging a rather psycho (to use the developer’s words!) Frauline and her boy toy Bubi. You’re subjected to a series of racial tests in order to detect if you have “impure” blood, and the tension of this encounter is counteracted only by the emotional response and engagement with Anja following it.

As always this is an FPS game, and the fun, typically aggressive nature of the Wolfenstein series is summed up by the character referring to the “Nazi F****n’ Spacemen”. The humorous narration is balanced by some excellent first person gunplay, with seamless switching between a variety of quite awesome looking and powerful weapons. Visually it also impresses, with gorgeous high resolution textures and suitably cool explosions.

You can also get your gangsta on by looking out from behind the weapons from multiple directions, giving the distinct impression of badassness.

Maybe it’s just me, but my only criticism would be that the AI didn’t seem particularly bright, however having seen such a limited amount of gameplay, I can’t attest to whether or not this is just a first impression or an actual flaw in the gameplay itself.

On the whole Wolfenstein: The New Order looks pretty darn awesome. It’s out on PS4, PS3, PC, Xbox 360 and Xbox One by the end of 2013.

The Evil Within - behind the scenes of Bethesda's newest franchise

I join the queue of video game journalists eager to catch a glimpse of what, up until now, has been a tantalizing and terrifying blood filled trailer.

Shinji Mikami walks out to an attentive audience, explaining the concept briefly in broken English before allowing his translator to take over a more in depth discussion of the gameplay levels we’re about to see.

Mikami describes The Evil Within as a “terrifying game taking survival horror back to it’s roots”. “Pure” survival horror he calls its, jokingly adding that it has no “boring QTE’s”.

You play as Detective Sebastian Castellanos, called to the scene of a crime at a mental hospital, and drawn into a dark and evil world unlike anything you have ever experienced before. With limited resources and ammunition, you must use other skills, including sneaking and your wits, to destroy your enemies.

The lights go dark, the anticipation heightens, and before we even see any visuals, eerie music fills the room.

Visually this game is gorgeous, even at this early stage, with realistic looking lighting and water effects, beautifully modeled and textured characters, and already there is a sense of the dramatic in the storytelling.

The music and sound effects are also superbly designed, really adding to the sense of ambience permeating this demo. In fact, already I am getting chills watching the opening sequence, and the tension in the room is palpable.

The voice acting isn’t misplaced in the slightest. In so many games you get a sense that it’s scripted (which of course it is, but it shouldn’t seem that way), but The Evil Within hits the mark at every turn.

You begin by walking through a mental asylum, where dead bodies greet you at every turn. You and your colleagues don’t know what to expect, but you know right away there’s some weird s**t going down. It only gets weirder of course when a semi-invisible guy is caught slaughtering guards on camera, and then looks right into the camera and sees you watching him. He promptly disappears and reappears right behind you.

The actual gameplay starts with you hanging upside down among a host of other bodies as a guy is being decapitated next to you. Of course you manage to escape, there wouldn’t be much of a game otherwise, but as you try and sneak out there is a sense of urgency as you are acutely aware your gaoler might turn and see you at any moment. The drone of flies and the tinny classical music playing over a loudspeaker is so provocative that you can almost smell the blood and decomposition.

What follows in this, the opening level, is a headlong flight from your captor, that is reminiscent in part of Silent Hill’s Pyramid Head chases, combines with the maniac from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You need to be constantly cognisant of the position of your attacker as you sneak through the shadows to avoid him.

So much of this game is about quick reactions, if you turn the wrong way, if you hesitate for a moment too long, you’re not getting out of it alive. There are continuous surprises thrown at you along the way, constantly keeping you on your toes.

Later we’re shown another level demonstrating combat, where headshots must be used to take out the deformed creatures attacking you, or if you manage to bring them down, be sure to set them alight with the matches you’re carrying if you don’t want them to rise again.

This is a third person perspective game, with the camera positioned just behind the protagonist, and this coupled with the music, the character design and the monsters, seems to draw obvious comparisons to Silent Hill. This is by no means a bad thing, as it brings together all the best elements of “pure” survival horror as Mikami calls it.

The Evil Within is weird, creepy, gory but in so many ways it looks like the game that might just spark my interest in the survival horror genre once again. Of course there’s no current release date attached to it yet, so in the meantime we wait, in the hope that this is the survival horror game you’ve been looking for.

Credits: Bethesda Softworks YouTube channel
PS4 daily

Puppeteer - a dark and twisted fairytale

I have an innate love for fairytales, especially those of the slightly darker variety. I was therefore delighted to hear the developers of Puppeteer refer to this game as inspired by Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton, as these might be some of my favourite animators and filmmakers of all time.

Puppeteer is a side scrolling platformer currently in development by Sony Computer Entertainment. Not only does it feature a talented development team, but it also features superb musical compositions by Patrick Doyle, composer of blockbuster films such as Carlito’s Way, Thor and Pixar’s Brave.

In the game you control a boy named Kutaro, who has been turned into a puppet and had his head torn off. Yes, it sounds suitably dark and weird already, but of course it gets even better. Kutaro is sent on a quest to find a pair of magic scissors, which he then uses not only to attack enemies, but also to cut up the environment around him to advance through the game and reveal hidden secrets.

The entire environment is a constantly evolving and indeed revolving magical theatre set run by the narrator of the story. The sets change constantly, meaning you’ll never have the same experience twice. The game is inspired very much by the theatre, including things like audience reaction and the way the stage and set is lit.

Puppeteer draws inspiration from shows like Monty Python in more than just style however, as the characters also interact with the player, breaking the fourth wall as they talk directly to them.

The character and environmental design definitely carry through the elements of the dark fairytale. The Moon Bear King captures the souls of children to serve as puppet guards in his castle and the protagonist Kutaro is one such unlucky soul. He displeases the King, and his head is ripped off and eaten while the rest of his body is thrown away.

On his journey he finds a replacement head, as well as allies that help him steal the Moon Bear King’s magical scissors in order to escape and find his way home.

Kutaro can pick up different heads on his journey, each of which acts as a life, as well as special hero heads, which bestow a variety of powers on him. Each of those heads is used a different tool, sometimes in conjunction with others, in order to navigate your way through levels and solve puzzles as you go. You also have a couple of different sidekicks that will help you along the way.

According to the developers there are over one hundred different heads that will you can find and collect as you go.

The background in this game is completely interactive, and you must use the scissors to cut it up, find secrets, and navigate your way around the landscape. The scissors can also be powered up in different ways, so they really are a multi purpose tool.

It’s not all tricks and puzzles however. There are enemies to fight, including thirteen different bosses, which consist of the Moon Bear King’s generals as well as the King himself.

Puppeteer is a platformer, so there will definitely be a two player element to this game.

Its an outrageous, sometimes silly, amusingly dark, but ultimately very fun concept and one I greatly look forward to playing more of.

Puppeteer will be out on the 10th September 2013 on PS3.

Credits: Playstation UK
US Playstation Blog

A Perspective on Sony's E3 Press Conference

I have to put it out there right from the start that I am not a fan girl. I’ve never held any particular preference to a console – I play games according to title and platform, but maybe, just maybe, that might be about to change.

Sony couldn’t have started E3 2013 on a better note. The last press conference of a long day that began with Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft and finally Sony, was left on a high note as Playstation knocked it out of the park.

The event kicked off with a spectacular stage show, typical of all the big budget events today, and an announcement that Sony would still be supporting the PS3 and the Vita.

Considering the Vita hasn’t sold well in general, this is a valiant attempt by Sony to revitalize their handheld console, and indeed they even stated that this would be the ultimate companion device to the PS4. If the rest of the announcements are any indication, then they might just, in fact, succeed.

After a quick round up of still impressive titles for the PS3, including Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, which incidentally is one of the best games I've played in ages and has received rave reviews, Sony leapt right into their reveal of the PS4, with the announcement that the PS4 was still focused on the gamer.

Yes, it also engages with Cloud based technology, and it was described by its makers as “sleek and visually impactful”. The look and feel of both new next gen consoles this year seems to be tending towards the boxy, although I do prefer the design of the PS4 overall. That said, design means nothing if the machine and the content it offers don’t deliver.

Luckily for Sony, that doesn’t appear to be the case. They described their new machine, and indeed the Playstation family, as “defined by breakthrough content” that was “relevant and meaningful”.

It might sound like all talk, and indeed there was definitely a great deal of PR jargon being bandied about there. I noticed in particular the careful avoidance by the speakers of the word “television”, speaking instead about “entertainment” on this new platform, when referring to Video and Music Unlimited services. Sony certainly weren’t going to make the same mistake as Microsoft and were diligent in their attempts to emphasise that all the entertainment on the PS4 would be tailored specifically to meet the needs of the gamers, although how they can identify what types of entertainment all gamers like is beyond me.

That said, they definitely concentrated more on the gaming aspects of this platform than anything else, which speaks a lot in their favour.

With an impressive gaming line up in store, they showcased an entirely new exclusive PS4 title, The Order 1886 by Ready At Dawn Studios, plus titles we’ve already heard of such as Killzone Shadow Fall and Driveclub, both of which will be available at launch, as well as Infamous Second Son and Knack.

A beautiful demo of The Dark Sorcerer by Heavy Rain developers Quantic Dream had us marveling at the PS4’s capabilities as we saw some amazing real time rendering demonstrations including cloth, particles and hair, displaying smoothly without a moments lag all at the same time.

Sony confirmed that not only would they continue to support Indie developers, but that in fact they were offering developers the opportunity to self publish their own content. They then showcased a number of titles that would be available via the PSN in the coming months.

Final Fantasy Versus XIII and Final Fantasy XV made an appearance, both of which have been confirmed for PS3 and PS4.

Assassins Creed Black Flag, wowed us with a gameplay demo, right up until the point that it froze and they hurriedly switched to a different feed, that of one of the most anticipated next gen titles, Watch Dogs.

This was the game most of the assembled journos had been waiting to see at the Ubisoft conference, and were sorely disappointed by the absence of gameplay. It therefore came as a pleasant surprise to all when it made an appearance at the Sony conference. It certainly left most incredibly impressed, heightening anticipation for this game even further.

After a quick sports round up by 2K Sports where Lebron James spoke to his digital self, it was revealed that The Elder Scrolls Online by Bethesda Softworks would be coming to PS4 next year. A rather unexpected Mad Max trailer also made a brief debut.

Sony revealed that there are over 140 games in development worldwide at the moment for the PS4, with 40 of those titles carrying exclusive experiences for the console.

Then came the bombshell.

The Playstation 4 will support used games.

And the Playstation 4 will not require a constant Internet connection.

The assembled crowd broke into cheers that continued with each fresh announcement.

The fact that you’ll now likely have to pay to play online by buying a Playstation Plus membership was almost forgotten by most, and completely overshadowed by the “no DRM” announcement.

In fact, most people seem to feel that as compromises go, it’s a fair one compared to Sony’s competitor and their distinct lack of comment regarding the DRM issue.

After a last demonstration of some Destiny co-op gameplay, which while beautiful, was mostly forgotten in light of the discussion about the console, Sony put the cherry on the top.

The Playstation 4 will be priced at $399.

That’s a full $100 cheaper than the Xbox One, which was confirmed by Microsoft at $499.

While Microsoft has indeed now made a significant turnaround with regards to their DRM policies etc, at this point my money is on the PS4.

+1 to Sony.

Credits: Image from Official Playstation Magazine UK

Monday, June 10, 2013

Big Budgets, Big Names, Big Impact

You might think you've experienced big game releases, until you've been to E3.

Nothing comes close to the experience of sitting in a packed auditorium, your seat vibrating from the reverberation of the speakers, your remaining senses being assaulted by the audio visual extravaganza on show before you.

Who would have expected Hollywood actors and musicians such as Drake on stage, not talking about a product but merely introducing the real stars of these shows, the developers.

And then there are the games, new titles, developed specifically for XBox One and PS4, aiming to impress.

And impress they did. In EA's conference alone cheers went up from the audience of game journos at various intervals, punctuated by claps and appreciative mutterings.

The game on everyone's lips for EA? Mirrors Edge 2, the closing announcement of a spectacular gaming lineup from EA. Coupled with Battlefield 4, demonstrated in all it's glorious 64 player multiplayer, and Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, meant that EA are definitely on the hot list this year.

Ubisoft's showcase was unfortunately significantly less impressive, although they did still have some good titles on show. They suffered more from a lack of momentum however, and the overwhelming response was a mixed bag of, "Wow [insert title] was cool" to "Meh, I was falling asleep".

What certainly did impress however was their showing of The Division, a new IP based on modern day biological warfare.

I'm not going to go into detail here, suffice it to say that it's immediately evident that no one knows the business of show business like the Americans. E3 might be considered by some to be ostentatious and loud, but it dresses to impress.

Mission Complete.

Image via Kotaku.com

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

E3 2013

Quick and short post - I've been a bit lax in the past weeks, mainly because I've been preparing to attend E3. Yup, this will be my first time at the world's most well known gaming trade show.

I'm off tomorrow evening for a week in LA, most of which will be spent finding out what the gaming world has on offer for 2013/2014.

And E3 2013 promises to be an absolute kicker of a year, with announcements on the cards left, right and centre.

Be sure to watch this space, I'll be updating whenever I'm not having too much fun!