Monthly Archives: July 2014

Trailer Roundup: BioWare, The Sailor’s Dream, and More

Trailer Roundup: BioWare, The Sailor's Dream, and More

Have you listened to The College Dropout all the way through? It’s Kanye West’s debut album and I just blew through it for the first time. “Last Call” is crazy, right? I mean, it’s nearly 13 minutes of his goddamn life that stands in stark contrast with the person we know today. He portrays himself as a guy who knew he was talented but struggled to find a break and kept getting rejected, but we see him every day as a person completely detached from reality and, quite frankly, a rich ass.

That really has nothing to do with video game trailers. I just thought maybe you guys would want to talk about it. Or maybe something else. Whatever you have on your minds, I’m up for it. It could be about these trailers or maybe the bad day you just had or maybe the wicked salsa you made yesterday. I’m here for you.

Also I want that salsa recipe. You know who you are.

Assassin’s Creed Unity

Do you think they don’t have a colon in Assassin’s Creed Unity as some subtle play into the idea of unity? Just wondering. You already know the deal. We’ve heard these promises before of better control and more fun combat, but whether or not it’s a good or bad Assassin’s Creed game, I’m actually super excited to wander around 1700s France in this crazy quality. A full year to design one of the major landmarks. Crazy!

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege

One of the quotes in the trailer says that Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege was one of the biggest surprises of this year’s E3, and I agree wholeheartedly. The trailer at Ubisoft’s E3 press event was cool but left a lot of questions up in the air. Playing it, however, answered many of them, though still managed to raise more delectable questions. Expected to release 2015 for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.

The Sailor’s Dream

With the hopes that developers Simogo can pull out a quality iOS game once more, I’m rather intrigued by The Sailor’s Dream. It hopefully won’t scare the shit out of me like Year Walk, but the writing alone in the trailer got me good. Save for the last one that it fades out on. That came across as cheesy, but my curiosity certainly is piqued. Look for it late 2014 on iOS.

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth

I wonder why Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 succeeded so hard. It has reached Final Fantasy VII levels of spinoff material. It’s my favorite of the series, but I wonder how word of its quality spread with such a convincing visage. It’s a hard enough sell to make people play an RPG let alone one that averages 70+ hours. Oh well. Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth releases November 25, 2014 for Nintendo 3DS.

Shadowgate

I was never huge on Shadowgate. I’ve certainly played it—just as I’m sure most of you have as well—but it never clicked all that hard with me. Feel free to judge me as this reimagining accrued almost 3,500 backers and roughly $137,000 on Kickstarter, so chances are you remember it more fondly than I do. New puzzles and fancy graphics, though, so it could be worth remember that it comes out August 21, 2014 for PC, Mac, iOS, and Android.

BioWare Teaser

Details are sparse on BioWare’s new project. We don’t even have a title yet. So far it’s just this live action trailer and mostly worthless words from press interviews. World building, contemporary stories (whatever you want that to mean), etc. It’s a cool trailer, but something more tangible needs to be revealed for a meaningful reaction. I do like that there’s some ARG stuff going on, though.

Adventure Time: The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom

Do you think there will ever be a good Adventure Time game? While Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?! was more or less agreeable, Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know! was mostly hot trash. I wonder if it’ll take as many tries as South Park to hit South Park: The Stick of Truth-level. Adventure Time: The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom comes out this fall for Steam, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo 3DS.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hercules Review: A Little Hercu-less

Hercules

Watching Hercules feels an awful lot like being one of the dupes falling victim to the deluge of unbelievable tales surrounding the so-called son of Zeus. It seems like things kept getting packed onto the pile of things this film had to offer just to get some ambiguously agreeable end product. Despite those best/worst efforts, it ends up being a not terrible movie, but only just.

Starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the titular Hercules, we see a version of the hero that feels almost immediately foreign—though it is based on a comic. While visually fulfilling the part (my god, has there ever been a single person in the history of the world that can so capably take up space), we have a Hercules here that is not necessarily the demigod we’ve known through myth. He’s really just an incredibly strong man with a deadly and focused team to aid in bringing the legend to life.

He has accrued a pure warrior more animal than man, an Amazonian warrior, a pugilistic seer, a topnotch merc, and his nephew, a fellow more skilled at words and boasting than fighting. A dark past haunts the mountain-sized warrior-for-hire as he finds himself attempting to help a king in pushing back a potentially mystical and powerful foe named Rhesus.

Superficially, this is an immediately interesting setup. We so rarely see the full consideration of what it means to be a living (mythical) legend, and this plays fully into it. There is a sizable amount of deceit going on in perpetuating the conquests of the fallen son who defied Hera. It’s a bit like The Brothers Grimm and provides the most fascinating facet of the movie. Seeing and hearing how the smoke and mirrors work invite so many more intriguing questions.

The rest of the story, however, falls a little flat. Everything surrounding the circumstances of King Cotys of Thrace and his impending war against Rhesus comes across with such little urgency. Even when Hercules and Cotys discuss the immediacy of the upcoming battles, it feels as if everyone is a bit lackadaisical. Even the handful of twists that should have been remarkable ended up being revealed as No Duh moments.

The question of whether or not Rhesus is a supernatural foe doesn’t even seem important after one of the characters point out what the entire audience is thinking: who cares? We already saw in such vivid detail Hercules battle a hydra. Regardless of its veracity, we saw it. The interest had been lost long ago as the film kept jumping under a bar it set for itself.

Hercules

And all of the setups for each subsequent plot twist only served to undermine another one. In the end, what should have been a laser-focused narrative of Hercules mortal reveal or betrayal or morbid past or any number of possibilities is instead muddled into a gestalt of confused intent.

One thing Hercules does have going for it, however, is that its battles are rather fun. The action feels real and has a nice grit to it, shot coherently and grandly. Even when portions of it are clearly computer generated like the numerous throwing knives and arrows and pointed spears and whatnot, it still comes across as believable because it’s all people. Real people being hurled and hit and smashed. It’s one of the benefits of not focusing on the monsters and myths side of Hercules’ legend.

It’s unfortunate, though, that the flow of the scale of each fight was inverted. The literal scale may have increased as the film went on, but the impact of each battle felt lessened as it progressed. The first major conflict was exciting and dynamic with so much collective movement across each of our hero’s teammates, and it felt increasingly funneled and restricted with each scuffle.

Hercules

Perhaps the greatest failing of Hercules, however, was the film’s inability to capitalize on its most valuable asset, which is to say Johnson himself. His best films are where his inherent, nigh mythical charm are on full display. Walking Tall and The Rundown rode that straight to Successville. You could even probably sell a DVD solely containing his parts from Be Cool and Doom despite the quality of the rest of those films.

Instead, we have a brooding Johnson with so little to work with. It might have been different if the story revolved around Hercules’ unspoken, dark past, but it all feels in service of some other twist that happens about three-quarters of the way through. There are glimmers of where we get to see Johnson being the effervescent fellow he is, but it’s not nearly enough.

There’s no single part of Hercules that is broken enough to ruin the entire film, but there conversely is also nothing that works all that well. It’s like a racecar bound together with duct tape that can just barely get across the finish line. It gets the job done so no one is angry about it, but it also doesn’t win the race so everyone feels a little empty at the end anyways.

Hercules

+ Dwayne Johnson fulfills the role of Hercules exceedingly well
+ Tackles an interesting facet of what myths and legends are
– Interwoven stories that twists that clumsily run into each other
– Fails to fully utilize Johnson’s capabilities

Final Score: 5 out of 10

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Bounden and Fun with Strangers

Bounden

Scientists and journalists share a single very importing and wholly defining quality: curiosity. (It’s okay; I have degrees in both fields, so I can say that.) The former want to know how the world works and the latter want to know, well, pretty much everything. It feels like a hair-thin divide that decides where these investigators go in their education and life.

The strange commonality extending from that is that both professions often spend an inordinate amount of time alone with their thoughts. Scientists and engineers have their equations and scratch paper of harried work to keep them company while journalists and writers surround themselves with committed word. Strangely enough, though, half of a journalist’s job is to talk with people—to ask them questions and take a verbal dive into another’s mind.

The reality is that half can (and very often) reduce to a rough 10%. Staring outside your apartment window, sitting at a coffee shop, dabbling an outline in a park. It’s not as if the writing process invites others to join in on it. It usually feels like having a one-sided conversation with yourself. So it’s not surprising that we often jump at any opportunity to mingle, whether with friends or with strangers.

Enter Bounden. Released earlier this year in May, Bounden comes to us from Game Oven, the same studio behind Fingle, one of my other favorite institutionalized invitations to talk to new people. It has the basic premise of building a systemic foundation for getting two people to dance together. You hold between you and your partner a phone and—without letting go—maneuver yourselves and the phone to match positions on a rotating sphere displayed on the screen. (The motion sensor stuff was actually what delayed the Android launch.)

It’s pretty fun, even when you play by yourself. I made it through the first few songs flying solo and had a jolly good time, and I’m sure the people walking into the library had a laugh as well. But obviously, the joy is playing with a friend. However, the problem with a writer’s schedule is that when you need to do work (read: play games) with someone else, mostly everyone else you know that isn’t a writer is in an office from 8 AM to 5 PM.

Luckily, there are tons of people out there that can help. These are the strangers of your life, and they may be ready to jump in and play something like Bounden or Fingle or whatnot with you, but the willing part is somewhat more difficult to bubble up to the surface. Luckily, the trained journalistic tendencies to finding the right questions to ask at any given moment come in really handy here.

Bounden

I went to the local mall since I figured it was summer, maximizing the chances of people on holiday and college kids hanging around. It was a rough go at first. Finding the right kind of person is a challenge in and of itself. The easiest ones to figure out were the ones that gave you the stink eye as you got closer. The harder people to suss out were the ones that were just kind of sitting around. Were they waiting for someone? Were they about to start a shift or just got off of one? Maybe they were tired? Eventually I let the sitting dogs lie. Or sit. Whatever.

This quick education led a quick and rapid succession of rejections. Some were kinder than others. Some were more fear-filled than I would have liked, but I do suppose I’m an odd-looking fellow at 6’3″ with a palm tree-shaped coif, so that might be on me. But then I got my first nibble on the line, my hour of baiting the river finally paying off. A borderline high school/college fellow leaning against a wall, playing with his phone, left there as his girlfriend went into a store.

“Hey there. How’s your day going?”

“Um, pretty good.”

“Interested in playing a new Android game?”

Bounden

Pretty simple and open gamble. The trouble came when I had to explain what the game was. “So this is a game called Bounden. It’s about dancing.” The immediate haze applied to his eyes told me I was losing his interest, but a little follow-up was just enough slack on the line to keep things going. “What were you just playing?”

In that moment, I learned that people still play Angry Birds. But by then, I had fired up the tutorial, had him put his thumb on the screen, and we were well into it. He kept telling me about his love for the furious fowl as we spun and spun, eventually turning into a comparison of his experiences with League of Legends and DotA. It was a surreal experience as eventually people came over to see what we were doing.

With the crowd (can four people make a crowd?), he eased away from playing another song, though I’m sure he weighed that option with dutifully following his girlfriend through another department store pretty heavily. He did, however, admit it was a lot of fun. So I turned to the onlookers and asked if there were any takers.

Bounden

They dispersed, but a woman came up and asked what was going on. Late twenties, maybe early thirties. I described the game to her, and at the mention of the word “dancing,” her eyes lit up. I went on to say that the game was developed in concert with the Dutch National Ballet, and she just said, “Let’s play.”

Even as we went through Grass, the first real song, it was remarkable how smoothly she went through the motions. Myself included, I’ve found that many new Bounden players move with a certain style, which is to say none at all, equivalent to walking up well-lotioned stairs with magnets and rebar for shoes. “Wow, you’re good at this,” I said.

“Oh, well I guess it’s because I have some experience.” Raising my eyebrows, I look at her. (Sometimes silence is the best way to get someone to talk.) “Yeah, I used to do ballet.”

“Used to?” I started up Twirl, a song named rather aptly for all the twirling you’re likely to do. It’s difficulty level even reads “Advanced Twirling.”

“Well, I was part of a small company in Miami, but, you know, I got injured. Now I just teach.” This was said even as we spun and twirled and Twister’d our way around the same 20 square feet of mall tile.

A lovely person with an interesting story. That perhaps describes the majority of the people you see out in the world. A mantra one of my teachers used to tell us (and you’re probably familiar with it) was that everyone knows something you don’t. Whether it’s about their life or some insight into your own, they have something new to say.

It’s vastly more interesting to find out what that new thing is rather than go over the same old thing. Bounden facilitates that discovery. It’s a hard thing to speak personal truth when you’re locked eyes with someone, but holding this game between you, a proxy for social revelations, you might find a bigger truth. Curiosity isn’t the fuel for just scientists and journalists. It’s for everyone.

Tagged , , , , , ,

The Doom Reveal at QuakeCon 2014

Doom Reveal

“This brave new world is going to hell.” Marty Stratton, executive producer on Id Software’s upcoming Doom, apparently has a thing for understatement. Or perhaps literality, given the premise of the game. Either way, the troubled project formerly known as Doom 4 has found new life as a Bethesda-published product and made its big re-debut at this year’s QuakeCon event.

The publicly streamed portion involved a trailer, some PR-infused speech, and concept art showing the transition that the team made from old school to reimagined new school. In fact, you’ve mostly likely already seen the trailer as it was released back during E3. It’s gone unchanged.

But here are the quick facts: Doom takes place in a UAC research facility on Mars right before a demonic invasion begins, it will run on brand new id Tech 6 (dubbed “id Tech 666” by the team, says Stratton) for 1080p and 60 FPS, and will be coming to PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.

Most interesting was perhaps the exact words Stratton used to describe the team’s ambitions with Doom. He says this is a return to the franchise’s roots (hence the rebranding as just Doom) but they will also “evolve the way you play.” It’s an “origin game” with “fast, fast-paced” gameplay, where along the way he dropped the word “relentless” somewhere between five and 67 times. No regenerating health and a full arsenal. Sure sounds like Doom.

Then, watching the two back-to-back live gameplay demos, it’s very obvious that Stratton meant it all as a single gestalt statement. This looks precisely like a Doom game made to be an interpretation of modern sensibilities. The first demo was a slightly more subdued chunk of gameplay. It seemed to serve to mostly highlight the blend of new and old.

The character puts on a helmet and activates a HUD that is very reminiscent of Metroid Prime, giving a diegetic reason to why you can see real time data like objectives, enemies, and the like. One of the first things we then encounter after entering the UAC station is a locked red door, obviously meant to be an HD version of the franchise’s classic keyed obstacle. Then, rather quickly, the enemies start to appear.

Doom

They will literally materialize out of nothing, ostensibly teleporting from Hell itself. Demons and Imps are the order of the day, as are some rather brutal melee finishing moves. Enemies will flash briefly as they taken sufficient damage, telling you that you can close in and rip of their head or rip out their heart or kick off their head or split their head in half. There’s a lot involving the head. In fact, by utilizing the double jump, you can Mario them to death as you leap off of some conveniently located crates.

While not as ridiculously fast as the old games, Doom is still a rather fast-moving experience. There’s a sprint button that hits that nearly ludicrous speed, and dumping ammo into demonic flesh looks as quick and easy as breathing. Mantling and double jumping adds some much-desired verticality to a traditionally and unrelentingly horizontal franchise, though it’s certainly no Uncharted (nor should it be). Also, unconfirmed, but it looked like there might have been a lateral dodge move? I’ll ask for clarification.

There certainly was a lot of dude-shooting, but definitely nothing on par with the likes of Doom II. This was a surprisingly meted demo. Minutes at a time would pass where enemies would not attack, allowing you to even solve a “puzzle” where you ripped the hand off a nearby fallen guard to bypass a biometric scanner. But when the classic double-barreled shotgun made its appearance, the shooting came back with a vengeance.

Doom

The second demo was seemingly more oriented towards combat, as there was an entire segment where we saw all the different ways you could slice up Demons with the chainsaw. It was a one-hit kill, but it looked rather satisfying regardless as you lopped off limbs and heads and entire sides of bodies with a reckless abandon. You also see more clearly how time dilation affects the moment-to-moment action whenever you open up the radial weapon menu.

It also appeared that at least some portion of weapons will have an alternative fire. The double-barreled shotgun had this thing where it seemed to charge up three shots (out of two barrels?) at once and would unload in rapid succession. That served to really highlight how enemies would actively deteriorate as you damaged them more and more, chunks flying off before turning into straight-up gibs.

Then we entered a large arena-type room, which was appropriate given that a bunch of large boss-like enemies proceeded to attack you. This is where it felt most old school, as you were given an open-ish area with a bunch of weapons and a veritable deluge of bad guys would come after you. I’m talking Cyberdemons, Demons, Imps, and even a couple of Mancubuses (Mancubi?). Here we see prolonged usage of the plasma rifle and rocket launcher, two more classic weapons that did not disappoint.

QuakeCon 2014 Stage

This was absolutely a great showing for the revamped Doom. Nothing all that surprising, but it highlighted how Id was blending the classic tenets of the franchise with the lessons learned from modern shooters. And even in these nascent stages, this is already a fantastic-looking and sounding game. Most impressively, blood actually looks like blood.

Of course, there are reservations. Tentative ones given that this was purely eyes-on with a supremely vertical slice, but reservations nonetheless. Melee seems to have greatly affected the cadence of the game’s combat. It’s now more geared towards tireless forward progress, always moving to another stomped head. It feels a lot more like diving into the middle of the fray rather than dodging around and firing shots into the cluster.

We’ll try to find out more. Not sure you’ll be seeing these demos anytime soon; they were diligent about restricting camera usage in the theater. No release date or timeframe announced either, but Doom will be making its way to PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 once it does come out.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review: Baboom

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, despite earning the award for Least Pleasurable Title to Say, is the most Disney non-Disney movie to come out in quite some time. It certainly deals with some darker sentiments and graphic visuals, but it plays to the strengths of telling a visceral, relatable tale through cinematic parallels. It even manages to touch on some surprisingly potent themes, though its predictable nature certainly hinders the narrative’s emergent impact.

Taking place ten years after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the world has been thoroughly ravaged by the Simian Flu, scientifically known as HSN1 or ALZ-113. Aesthetically, it looks an awful lot like the world of The Last of Us, post-apocalyptic as shit with nature reclaiming large portions of major metropolitan areas and breaking down the quarantine checkpoints meant to protect the surviving human populace. It’s certainly a tired milieu, but it’s presented exceptionally well.

Caesar is now the full-on leader of the ape community of San Francisco’s Muir Woods, but no word on what happened to Rise‘s Will Rodman or Caroline Aranha. Instead, we’re shown what is left of humans. Gary Oldman plays the leader of a survivor camp holed up in a reinforced tower in downtown San Francisco. Jason Clarke plays the other leader of the group, far more sympathetic to the desired coexistence of ape and man, while Andy Serkis returns as lead ape Caesar.

I won’t reveal much more about the plot other than Clarke’s Malcolm has to bring a group to Caesar to get dam up and running to keep their community from devolving into a pit of electricity-less barbarians, but the overall plot of the film is disappointingly predictable, which was also a problem of the first movie as well. Even the action that eventually throws everything tumbling to the bottom of Shit Mountain is easily called through basic nomenclature and an understanding of Shakespearean archetypes.

That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s a bad story. Just because you can see where a roller coaster begins and ends doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy the ride. On the contrary, Dawn is hoisted up on the shoulders of an unnecessarily (but not unwelcome) nuanced approach to a cliché filmic topic and exceptional performances.

The obvious foil to society is the idea of xenophobia. It’s a general amalgam of racism, dangerous zealotry, and straight-up xenophobia, but applied to the idea of hating the unknown and unwelcome advances of a primal beast. It successfully stirs up a primal fear on par with the likes of Scar from The Lion King or The Blair Witch Project. The former clearly illustrates a rule and takeover by fear through strength and unknown bestial project and the latter taps into the core terror of the familiar turning unfamiliar.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

But through the actions of Caesar and Malclom up against those of a real dickhead of a human and an absolute asshole of an ape, Dawn invites the deliciously grotesque question of what is human nature. Do we call it that because it derives from humanity or simply because we are a part of nature? Scenes of the movie are unabashedly proud of how well crafted it juices that idea, and it is better for it in those moments of clarity.

A large part of that comes from the capability of the actors in the film. Oldman is no surprise here, though it’s still greatly appreciated that he brings it to the table still. He has this ability—as he’s always had—to visibly be shattered by egregious emotion and then shift into overdrive with anger or fear or determination, but you never lose that spark of vulnerability. Kirk Acevedo as Carter, the aforementioned dickhead, does his jerk role with aplomb, as Clarke takes the other end of the spectrum with great tenderness.

It does, however, come down to Serkis. A master of motion capture, he does more than just supply simian movements and barbarous grunts. He has a knack for tapping into the absolute base foundation of not what makes a character’s motions but why. There was a scene where he did as he’d done all movie: walk upright in the way an ape would. Utterly unbelievable in how believable it is.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

But then he comes across an obstacle just high enough for his stunted ape legs to not be able to clear. And he reverts—seemingly reluctantly—to an ape-like approach, clambering and hopping over. And in another scene, dozens and dozens of apes come pouring forth from a train station. All of them jump over or duck under the turnstiles, but Caesar puts a hand out and pushes it around as he walks through.

Those otherwise unremarkable moments highlight that Caesar doesn’t know what he is. He, superficially and genetically, owes fealty to the community of apes he has cultivated and liberated. But he was raised to love and trust a family of humans. He knows it’s possible for the two to coexist, but he doesn’t hope for it. He only knows it’s there, and that leaves him stuck in the middle. It’s a delectably brilliant nuance from Serkis.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention how impressive the movie looks as well. Gamers are probably familiar, perhaps numb, to well and overly produced computer-generated visuals in an era when Blizzard and BioWare cutscenes rival that of Pixar. But there’s a humanity in the eyes of these apes that is startling. It’s the spark that, when absent, throws you into the bottom of that Uncanny Valley. The ending shot, instead of being laughable and awkward, was genuinely paralyzing. You’ll understand when you see it.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes doesn’t just achieve at being what so many sequels aspire to be (which is to say better than their predecessor) but it is actually just a good movie. It combines several noteworthy feats into a single film whereas so many others struggle to nail just one of them. It is far from a breathtaking or fantastic movie and its predictable nature oddly enough makes the more action-oriented scenes the slowest parts, but my god if it isn’t wholly worth your time.

+ Invokes a surprisingly philosophical rumination of human nature and deception
+ Andy Serkis’ nuanced performance as Caesar is simply stellar
+ Undeniably impressive in the visual effects department
+ Succeeds at emotional resonance without being overly sappy
– Exceedingly predictable in perhaps the most egregious ways

Final Score: 9 out 10

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Trailer Roundup: Tekken 7, Battleborn, and More

Trailer Roundup: Tekken 7, Battleborn, and More

Okay, we can all admit it: I’m terrible at keeping a schedule. I mean, you don’t have to admit it, but it really makes me feel better not doing it alone. I missed a week and now I’m doing this on a Tuesday. I know you all normally set your clocks to when a Trailer Roundup goes up, but let’s just go with it this week, huh? Can’t we all just get along?

Besides, there are some, like, big announcements that happened. Let’s get to it!

Tekken 7

Here’s another confession: I lost the thread to the Tekken story so god damn long ago. I only have the faintest idea of what is going on in this trailer, but I do know that based on the reaction from when it was announced at Evo 2014, people are excited for Tekken 7. Also, major props for sticking with the straight numerical naming scheme for all these years. No timeframe specified, but it will be coming to next-gen consoles.

Battleborn

I am, like, 90% sure that Mikey Neumann had 100% to do with the song in this trailer for Battleborn, the upcoming game from Gearbox Software. While you can’t really tell from the video, Battleborn is an FPS with co-op, loot, and RPG-style growth mechanics. It sounds an awful lot like Borderlands, especially when Gearbox President Randy Pitchford describes it.

However, it really sounds more like a MOBA that happens to be from a first-person perspective, but don’t tell them that. Creative director Randy Varnell sounded weirdly defensive about being called a MOBA in this Polygon piece. Doesn’t matter, though. Gearbox seems to have a pretty good handle on the co-op shooter thing. It will launch on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in 2015.

The Wolf Among Us

If you haven’t been keeping up with this first season of The Wolf Among Us, you’ve been missing out. It’s not quite the groundbreaking or genre-redefining experience as The Walking Dead, but it’s still quite the harrowing collection of episodic content. The last episode came out last week, and seems appropriately titled as Cry Wolf. Hopefully I’ll blow through it tomorrow and then we can talk about it!

Back to Bed

Here’s what I know about Back to Bed by Bedtime Digital Games: it looks…unnerving. I mean, just look at that weird cat thing. Would you trust it to exist? I’m just kidding, though; I know a bit more about the game. It started as a student project in 2011 and then went to Kickstarter last March and is now about to see the light of day this August as a 3D surrealist puzzle game. But seriously, fuck that cat thing.

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair

I feel like I need to apologize. But I won’t. I never got around to playing this when it came out back in 2012 for the PSP, but now it’ll be making its way to the PS Vita on September 2, and I actually know where I put my Vita, so chances are good I’ll finally be able to play this weird visual novel murder mystery thing.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

I really don’t know why Troy Baker isn’t a movie star yet. Perhaps he doesn’t really want to be one, but he’s got both the chops and the looks, and he’s good at giving PR-fueled answers in interviews. Either way, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is really quite the interesting game from what I’ve played, and I really can’t wait for the full release on October 7.

VizionEck

I mean, it’s possible that VizionEck is a competitive first-person shooter. Hell, it might even be a game, but just don’t tell this inscrutable trailer that. The website does a slightly better job of describing what the hell it is you’re seeing, but it doesn’t really matter. I’m already intrigued. It’s headed to the PlayStation 4 sometime this year.

Assassin’s Creed Unity

Gosh does Ubisoft know how to make gorgeous cutscenes. And now that technology is catching up with their visual aspirations, their games are becoming equally beautiful. If only they could make a mechanically fun game, too. At this point, I feel like any sufficiently large production will garner a bevy of E3 awards, which of course isn’t anyone’s fault in particular. More money means a more polished and idealized vertical slice, and that’s how you win those awards. Find out if Assassin’s Creed Unity deserved them on October 28.

Hyrule Warriors

I’m still not wholly convinced about the idea of Hyrule Warriors, but I will say that with each trailer that comes out, my interested is piqued just a little more. I appreciate the layers that the fantastical seems to add the Dynasty Warriors formula, but I don’t know if it’ll carry my interest for longer than an hour or two, and it doesn’t seem like Nintendo is very much invested in it (the website is a freaking product page, and Nintendo’s official channel is super behind on its trailers). Releases September 26 for Wii U.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Early Edition: Action Henk

Action Henk

While I’m not entirely sure about action figures sporting exposed beer bellies, I am quite positive that RageSquid’s Action Henk is shaping up to be a rather fun time. Having entered Early Access just under a week ago, Action Henk actually made its initial debut as a two-month experiment for an event back in 2012. Its gestation has been well spent, as it is a game to keep your eye on.

Action Henk actually gins up a fair amount of nostalgic gaming sensations, mostly because of its simplicity, though its aesthetic certainly helps. You play as an action figure named Henk and you are to traverse obstacle courses comprised of toy car tracks, wooden blocks, and an imaginary lava floor turned all too real in what appears to be a kid’s room. And for all the challenges to overcome, you are only equipped with the ability to run, jump, and slide on your butt. (You gain gadgets, too, but we’ll get to that later.)

The game’s framework is structured very similarly to something like a Trials game. You pick your figure (variations of the standard Henk or Betsy, the only other playable character in this version), pick your course, and set out to get a bronze, silver, or gold medal. As you earn medals, you unlock more levels as well as the ability to challenge the aforementioned Betsy to unlock her.

Along the way, there are checkpoints, though they’re really only useful when you’re learning a particular level. When you actually get going, the game is wholly about momentum. If you can, you’re better off jumping entirely over small inclines. Sliding down hills on your tush is the best way to build up speed, but sliding otherwise will slow you to a stop.

In the beginning, it’s all about maximizing technique. Instead of holding the jump button, you just tap it so you can catch the top of the decline for even more sliding surface. It’s a mostly addictive exercise, restarting eventually becoming easier than quitting, settling you down for just a few (dozen) more attempts.

The fun (and frustration) really builds when you start racing medal ghosts, learning tricks for shaving off fractions of a second and trying them out yourself. It’s incredibly satisfying when you cognitively understand a somewhat advanced move and then finally pull it off somehow better than the ghost, pushing you to try one more and really tinker with the mechanics of the game.

Action Henk

It all really opens up, however, in the second block of levels when the hookshot gets introduced. It always points forward and towards the ceiling at a 45-degree angle, and with the press of a button, it fires off and sticks until you let go or you hit another surface. It’s quite the interesting tool because instead of you min-maxing the surfaces laid out for you, you now control a device that effectively generates momentum for you.

It really trades height for speed if you use it right, slinging straight with rapid hook releases instead of taking a single, massive swing over an unjumpable chasm. It turns the lax portions of the early stages where you simply run into exciting segments of interaction and engagement. Combining the technical precision offered by its initial simplicity with the freedom of the hookshot is a brilliant move.

But the really crazy thing happens towards the end of the second block of courses (and the completely incomplete WIP chunk where medals and the like haven’t even been implemented): the game gets tricky. Difficult, even. Instead of just figuring out how to get the most speed out of an obstacle, you are figuring out how to just get past it. It’s nice to see a game not afraid to be frank with its deviousness.

Action Henk

In fact, at the end of the WIP levels, there’s an Ultimate Test that is supremely punishing. The first jump, for instance, took me well over a dozen attempts to clear, and that was after the previous few dozen trying to figure out how to even do it. It not only requires incredible precision but a deep understanding of how the game works (and what feels like the teensiest bit of imagination). Someday.

Action Henk, however, is very much an Early Access game. It might even better be called an Earliest Access game. In addition to the entirely experimental block of levels, it also only features those other two tiers. In all, it probably takes about half an hour to run through all of them. Perhaps not master or even do well on all (or any) of them, but you can see everything the game has to offer in under an hour.

For $9.99, that may seem a bit of an absurd offer. And it totally is, but the potential here is significant. After I spent an afternoon running train on its diminutive offerings, I woke up the next day and played it again. It’s a setup that hard to resist, putting the opportunity to master something so close but forcing you to work for it.

Action Henk

Action Henk is set to be in Early Access for six or so months, during which it’ll add more levels, characters, and gadgets. If that intrigues you, then go for it. Personally, I’m interested in seeing where this ends up.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Open Order

Open Order

When you go to a restaurant, it’s generally assumed that you aren’t there to engage in Greco-Roman wrestling. But imagine that you walk through the door, starving and hoping to satiate your growling tummy, only to have the staff constantly trying to get you on the mat. They give you the menu, ask you what you’d like to eat, and then try to get you into a headlock. Sounds pretty frustrating, right?

A friend of mine just finished Watch Dogs, which is mostly a decent game. It certainly isn’t the runaway success that Ubisoft was hoping for, but it also isn’t an abysmal showing for a franchise’s maiden voyage. It doesn’t necessarily do anything terribly wrong. In fact, nearly every major component of the game is remarkably mature, though perhaps unremarkably so if this was any later iteration.

Its shooting mechanics are perfectly acceptable and even sometimes fun. The driving can be oddly stiff but never gets in the way. And the hacking actually adds to the world, all of which is on top of a story that surprisingly eschews more than a handful of clichés. It’s a game that deserves a smattering of applause but not much else.

However, there is a pitfall that the game lands in so deftly that you’d think it was trying to hit the bottom. It was actually the first thing that my friend wanted to talk about upon completion. If you didn’t know, Watch Dogs actually has a reservoir of minigames for you to dive into when you aren’t trying to solve the game’s overarching narrative mystery. This involves chess, poker, and the classic street hustle shell game.

Unfortunately, the story requires you to embark upon playing a few of these minigames. And this is exactly what my friend and I discussed, half in a fair light and the other half in a hateful dark. About two-thirds of the way through the game, you begin searching for a man to help you decrypt a piece of data. There’s actually only one man who can help you, but lucky for you, he happens to be in the same town as you.

To convince him to help, though, you have to take part of the drinking minigame, institutionalized to be the crux of this particular mission. The minigame itself is a fun distraction, trying to guide a semi-uncontrollable cursor over button prompts that can move, change buttons, and hide all before the timer runs out. But in the context of the narrative curve, it brings everything to a grinding halt.

Watch Dogs

It definitely doesn’t help that the previous mission capping off Act II involved a gunfight, a car chase, and a few explosions. And then things slow down with this starter to Act III with some environmental puzzles involving finding how to unlock doors, and whammy. Drinking game.

You came to this game to drive, hack, shoot, and hack some more. The game put a menu down, asked what you’d like to do in this open world, and then said, “But real quick, do you mind playing this minigame that has nothing to do with the rest of me?” (That’s not to mention it’s a terrible message. Aiden gets blasted and then gets behind the wheel of a car with little to no repercussions aside from slightly blurry vision.)

Of course, that’s part of the charm of open world games, having a bevy of side activities. And Watch Dogs certainly is not the only sandbox to force its minigames on the player during its campaign. Grand Theft Auto IV made you bowl, and my god was that bowling a painful excursion. Red Dead Redemption had you play liar’s dice to goddamn completion, giving your free time a giant middle finger. But that’s precisely why they should stay side activities and remain off the beaten path.

Red Dead Redemption

I’m sure somewhere along the milestone planning of development, any of these could be excised quite easily, and there’s a reason for that: they’re nonessential. More than that, they are not integral to the game, which means their design was not top priority. Chances are, they are not as fully fleshed out as they need to be to hold your attention beyond the initial five minutes of curiosity. But through hubris or foolishness, open world games have a terrible tendency to shoehorn them into a mission or two.

The most frustrating part is that Watch Dogs was aware enough of this awful habit of the genre and bit a thumb or two at it. In an earlier mission, you have show up at an underground poker game with the hopes of finding a black market peddler. There are a few other dudes at the table by the time Aiden gets dealt in, and it seemed my worst fear was realized: a poker video game slapping me in the face when I’d rather be shooting bad guys.

But imagine my surprise when after the first bid (I raised), Aiden straight-up calls out the man you’re looking for and shit gets going again. It was a delicious stiff-arm to the open world staple. I loved that moment so much as I had just moments prior resigned myself to trying to guess how this poker AI was programmed. I chuckled at both the situation and the meta jollies I derived from it.

Watch Dogs

That’s why it’s so frustrating. Clearly Ubisoft knows better as it did better just a dozen or so missions earlier. They knew why we sat down at the table: to eat. And they knew better than to bother you when you’re so hungry for a fat juicy cheeseburger. But less than two hours later, they came back around and slapped it out of your hands and stuffed a pace-killing minigame into your mouth.

It’s a problem with many open world games even though there’s an obvious solution. That is to say, just don’t fucking do it. Maybe it’s the developers showing off or maybe it’s them not understanding the appeal of their own game, but it’s pervasive enough to be a checkbox on the list of What Makes An Open World Game. Really, just let the player eat in peace. This is a restaurant, after all.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Trailer Roundup: Gods Will Be Watching, Dreamfall Chapters, and More

Trailer Roundup: Gods Will Be Watching, Dreamfall Chapters, and More

It sure has been a while since we’ve done one of these. E3 happened, which is safe to assume you kept up with by streaming the press conferences or checking out our highlight reels. And then those previews just kept pumping out. And then, well, I kind of forgot. Sorry!

But here we are again. Dear friends once more and ready to watch some clips of video games you can’t quite play yet but can discuss endlessly online with strangers, nemeses, and potted plants. This will stretch a bit beyond the last week, but hey, who’s to say when these trailers actually came out?

Oh yeah, the timestamp on YouTube. Well, let’s do this!

Gods Will Be Watching

If this trailer doesn’t intrigue you, then you’re probably dead. Or you had your eyes closed. Either way, try again, you heathen. You can actually try a bit of this game right now. Gods Will Be Watching was the result of Ludum Dare 28 where the theme was minimalism. And then it got crowdfunded on Indiegogo and is becoming a full-fledged product, coming out July 24.

Escape Dead Island

While not being the biggest fan of the Dead Island games—or at least not a fan of what they ended up being, but certainly appreciative of what they almost were—this looks to be a far enough departure that I consider its potential a blank slate. Escape Dead Island focuses more on stealth and the mystery surrounding the circumstances of the zombie outbreak than trying to keep limb slicing interesting for upwards of 30 hours. Find out more when it comes out this fall.

Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey

Fact about me: I loved The Longest Journey. I have no idea if it holds up or if it even really was as good as I remember it (boy is the past a tricky thing), but I’m fairly excited for the Kickstarted Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey. Talking with people who have gotten hands-on with it, it sounds like its writing is wicked sharp and its poignancy pointed like a dagger to the heart. The first chapter of five comes out this fall.

Alien: Isolation

Boy does this trailer bring back awful, sweaty, vivid, terrifying flashbacks to a darker time in my life. Namely when I was playing the hands-on demo at E3 this year, quite literally in the dark save for the monitor’s glow in front of me. If we did that sort of thing, you could add our name to the Best Of nominations list. Get ready to flop sweat October 7.

Godzilla

I just have so many questions, though most of them can be summed up with just this one: why? This game seems to, like, barely exist. The video itself isn’t on either the US or UK Namco Bandai YouTube channels but the last 20(!) seconds are dedicated to pimping subscriptions. It’s also odd that bumper is in the video distributed to outlets as well. And it’s only for the PS3. Most of all, though, I’d love to know how they plan to make a good Godzilla game, because it sure as hell isn’t by making a self-serious 3D Rampage. I guess we’ll find out what happens.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

It’s interesting that one of the studios responsible for the Call of Duty franchise is named after a heavy blunt instrument. It feels an awful lot like they just bang out these games now, slamming the slate down and printing it out when the clock strikes November. But strangely enough, it also seems like Sledgehammer Games is trying some new things with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. I thought I was done caring about the series, but if they keep trying to inject fresh blood into the games, I might be willing to pay attention once more. I just hope it’s not more scripted nonsense. Comes out November 4.

Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark

Ha, Linkin Park. Who knew they still made music? Who knew they still made music and for Transformers? This game is currently out and apparently isn’t all that great, but I just wanted you to know that Linkin Park is always there. Watching. Waiting.

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

Okay, this actually is from E3 and somehow manages to reveal less than its original announcement trailer, but I like what this game has going for it and I want to remind you that it exists.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

High(er) Fidelity

High(er) Fidelity

<massgeneralization>

When the word “fidelity” is laid bare, it has a strange connotation. When you speak of fidelity, it almost always refers to the singular concept of a love, whether a marriage or fresh relationship, and the marred face of it when a physical connection breaks the emotional one. It’s no wonder we hold it in lofty realms of implied meaning and consequences.

The word really refers to nothing more than the faithfulness to a thing, or a loyalty to an ideal. Speaking of high fidelity and the contrasted low fidelity—or hi-fi and lo-fi, respectively—is actually speaking about the faithfulness of a reproduction of sound through a stereo system. (It could also be talking about the Nick Hornby novel/John Cusack film of the same name, but we won’t go there for now.) Is it a fuzzy approximation of the once live performance of a song or is it as close to being there without building a time traveling DeLorean?

What generally concerns us as gamers in this area, though, is the idea of fidelity in graphics. For so long, we chased the rabbit’s tail of photorealism, the belief that when games are impossible to discern from our everyday lives that we’ll have reached the endgame of the art form. We fantasized about the seeing the drool drip out of Donkey Kong’s mouth as he hauled a frightened Pauline from the individual hairs of Mario’s mustachioed upper lip. We wanted to see the mug glisten and shimmer as it slid in Tapper.

Luigi Death Stare

Surely you’ve all seen this GIF by now. You’ve at least seen the Ridin’ video, right? (Side note: consider that at over 5.6 million views with ads turned on, YouTuber CZbwoi has earned enough scratch to buy a new car.) If you haven’t, here’s the quick summary in case Know Your Meme isn’t sufficient: Luigi, when he overtakes you with an offensive move in Mario Kart 8, gives you a glaring death stare, highlighted by the fact that the game has a cinematic replay mode.

It is perhaps one of the best, most nonsensical, and organic things to emerge from the already absurd world of video games. Kotaku, the best cataloguer of industry pop culture, even has a roundup of the fad’s superlative output. However, once the glitz and glam of making a silly game sillier wears off, it does bring to light a startling realization.

The chase—the hunt of high fidelity—has led us here. When Luigi first started hurling shells out of the side of a go-kart in hops of clambering to the top of a podium, we didn’t get much beyond an aural blip of recognition and the self-satisfaction of a job well done. Even if Super Mario Kart had the theatrical presentation of a replay mode, the system itself hardly had the capabilities to show the emerald brother’s sinister pleasure of sadism.

Super Mario Kart

It all largely occurred in our minds, or if someone was playing with and against us, face to face. For the moment, Luigi’s giant eyes and bulbous nose were our decidedly more human eyes and nose. We cackled as we snatched a win away from our once closest friend. But this increase of graphical fidelity in Mario Kart 8 has moved us beyond the empathetic projection to a reproduction of it.

A reproduction of our emotions, thrown onto the digital face of a character we’ve actually only recently gotten used to seeing in so many polygons amidst karts and shells. Every character, as it turns out, has his or her own reaction to making the same racing takeover. It just happens to be that Luigi’s is the funniest of them all, fiery yet dead in an otherwise lighthearted game.

This contrast of imagining and mimicking this reaction—or rather its intent, since you hopefully are not as grave—to seeing it performed for you on the screen brings to the forefront an intriguing question of when is enough actually enough. Especially as Nintendo’s reputation for having art design overcome its hardware’s processing shortcomings, where does fidelity go when its necessity runs dry?

Pong

I truly and honestly have no idea. Granted, some games benefit from an increase in fidelity to reality and are even designed around it mechanically and graphically, but it does invite the consideration that for any game, there exists a point on the spectrum between Pong and a hologram impossible to distinguish from reality where gains in the fidelity are worthless. Once all the returns are diminished, there is nothing left.

As these new consoles mature and developers figure out to optimize and cheat its discrete systems, the answer will hopefully become clearer. We will collectively inch along said spectrum, marching diligently towards the end, and we will discover together if that point exists, or if the endgame is merely the start to another.

</massgeneralization>

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,