Category Archives: Xbox One

Dead Rising 3 Review: Arisen

Dead Rising 3

Despite the endless hordes that await you in them, the Dead Rising games were never for the masses. They were quirky and charming in such a specific way that you pretty much had to buy into it before you even started playing. It’s nonsense, and kind of broken, obfuscated nonsense at times, requiring you to forgive large portions of what you’re doing and seeing. But Dead Rising 3, while far from perfect, makes enough changes that it’s worth getting into with your whole uneaten brain.

Dead Rising 3 tells the story of Nick Ramos, a young, physically capable mechanic in the fictional city of Los Perdidos, California. It’s 10 years after the events of Dead Rising 2 and the city is absolutely overflowing with the undead to the point where a military airstrike has been called to erase it and its inhabitants off the planet. Nick, obviously, needs to escape.

Los Perdidos is actually the most immediate and noticeable change to the franchise. Previously taking place in closed-off portions of a mall and a casino, this entry into the series puts you in an open world with just about zero load screens, as much a hallmark of past Dead Rising games as were the actual zombies. It’s a massive world, absolutely brimming with shambling corpses and cars and side missions, and it serves the game rather well.

The second biggest and beneficial change is also structural in that there is no longer a strict time limit to each part of the story. The bomb coming for Nick and his crew is arriving in six days, but it’s not nearly as pressing as before. It was almost leisurely the pace at which you can go about completing missions and trials, but the bidaily reminder that you are about to blowed up real good like keeps things tense.

Now, if you find yourself out of time and an explosion beyond imminent, you can simply restart any chapter. This solves one of the biggest problems many people had with the past games. A lot of gamers don’t like being told how quickly they have to go about an entire story; they either don’t enjoy the pressure or they find it monotonous after a while. This loosens it up considerably while still maintaining narrative urgency.

And impressively so, the moment-to-moment urgency is also ramped up. There has never been so many mindless foes crumbling before your ridiculous weaponry. It is a technical achievement the number of zombies they throw onto the screen and still maintain consistent framerates (though a few hitches were still seen every once in a while). And seeing them all fall before you vast arsenal is incredibly fun.

Dead Rising 3

The mind-blowingly dumb weapon combinations are back, dumbfounding and charming as ever. You can pretty much pick up anything off the ground or a wall or the shelves and start hitting zombies, but combine them and you get things like a giant stuffed bear with massive machine guns attached or boxing gloves on a broom. Disappointingly, the sex toy/leaf blower combo was pretty weak.

This time around, though, you can stick together already combo’d weapons to create super combo weapons, one of which pretty much breaks the leveling scheme of the game (to its benefit, in my opinion). In fact, you can also combo together vehicles and sundry to yield incredibly powerful and satisfying whips with which to roam the streets. One in particular has blades that shoot out of the side, right at head level. The benefits of being a mechanic over a photojournalist are very apparent.

The vehicles, though, are somewhat lackluster. They don’t take much damage before they start to smoke and you are forced to abandon them on the roadside. You yourself, however, have been made somewhat more resilient, or at least the enemies weaker seeing as how they go down quicker. (There is a Nightmare Mode that flips the script on that, however, and introduces more stringent time limits, but mowing down hordes seems more interesting than being harassed at every step.)

Dead Rising 3

This tweak includes, thankfully, the psychopath bosses, which are silly and kind of fun in the story but super annoying to fight. Most of them are most easily dispatched with firearms, but the shooting mechanics of the game are just atrocious. They’re sluggish and imprecise and make for boss battles that required double-digit attempts, which wouldn’t really be a problem if A) the load times weren’t so stupefyingly long and B) they weren’t so frustrating. In these moments, it becomes apparent that Nick handles rather clumsily, fine for slow, stupid zombies but terrible for moments of intense action.

Just as clumsy is the writing, which vacillates deftly between juvenile and offensive. All of the bosses fit into dumb but appropriate situations within the story, but their presentation are largely based in disgusting stereotypes. Transphobic, homophobic, racist, and just generally lazy caricatures litter this world. At least there’s Nick’s leader, Rhonda. She’s pretty great. I’d want her leading me in a zombie apocalypse.

Dead Rising 3 basically more of the same Dead Rising: absurd and insanely fun weapons, mindless mass violence, and a strangely Westernized Eastern shellac coating. But critical changes have made it a much easier pill to swallow, turning it from a game of narrow appeal to one of mass intrigue as intended. It still gets more than a few things wrong, but everything on the amenable side of the balance is just gravy.

Dead Rising 3

+ Throwing down with dozens of zombies with a hundred more off in the distance is fantastic
+ More ridiculous weapons and new combo’d vehicles
+ An open world with a lax time limit makes it a much more pleasing game to play
– Offensive characters are simply horrible
– Controlling Nick, especially during boss battles, can be severely frustrating

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Game Review: Dead Rising 3
Release: November 22 2013
Genre: Third-person action adventure
Developer: Capcom Vancouver
Available Platforms: Xbox One
Players: single-player offline, online co-op
MSRP: $59.99

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You Should Probably Play Killer Instinct

You Should Probably Play Killer Instinct

Admittedly, the original 1994 Killer Instinct wasn’t a great game. It wasn’t terrible, but that may just be because I refuse to properly analyze my formative years for fear of degrading their substance. Either way, basically no one was asking for a reboot of the franchise, and yet here we are with a free-to-play Killer Instinct for the Xbox One’s launch. And it was a good move.

Yes, it’s free to play, hence this not being a review. All you have to do is find it in the Xbox One’s Games store front (not terribly hard considering your choices can be counted on one hand) and download it. Right now, the free character is Jago, the surrogate Ryu or Liu Kang of the game, though others will get rotated into the fold later. If you want more characters now, though, you have to pay five dollars each for them, which would lead you to believe online matches would be nothing but Jago-on-Jago mirror matches, but it turns out a lot of people have been sinking money into this thing.

And time, as it would seem. People have gotten quite good at the game’s core conceit: combos. How you inflict the most damage in a single go is by getting your opponent into a combo, which always begins with an opener and then is mixed with linkers and autos (and shadow moves and manuals) before being capped off with an ender.

Killer Instinct

This is not a terribly demanding game in terms of technical proficiency; after all, autos are multi-hit additions to your combo that are trigger by a single button press. It’s all about understanding the systems. The overall goal is to get from an opener to a closer to cause damage and then prevent it from recovering, which will happen if you don’t perform an ender. Most of it is tied up in basic moves like dragon punches and fireballs, but the simplicity opens it up to neat twists.

Combo Breakers, as you are familiar with by simply being on the Internet, are vital to being a good fighter and finding pleasure in the game. If you can guess the strength of attack used for normal auto or manual attacks, then you break out of being combo’d and get back to trying to start your own. It’s a great mind game of trying to mix up your own play and trying to second guess your opponent. It’s like high level rock-paper-scissors but with more blood.

It really changes up the usual upfront framework of fighting games where you simply block and then execute. It starts to feel like trying to run multiple mental models of several different games at once and can become quite the brainy workout. This is especially true when you start to game your meters. If you fill the combo meter, it’s basically a wash, but if you trigger special moves, you can reset the meter and keep the combo going. There are several fantastic layers to the fighting here.

Killer Instinct

The problem arises when you are the one being combo’d. If you’re not good at reading attack animations or simply unlucky, you’ll find yourself stuck being a ragdoll for four to five seconds at a time. That’s four to five seconds where you are helpless and at the mercy of either an AI or a person. This is when the game really fails to keep me interested, as in just those few seconds, my desire to play something else grows ever stronger.

But at least you’ll generally always know what you’re doing. In most other fighting games, I always felt like I was simply trying to understand how it worked let alone figuring out high-level tactics, but Killer Instinct has an amazing dojo mode that covers truly everything. You can start out learning how to walk and then advance to learning how to cap off combos. It’s thorough enough that you feel competent going into your first online match but hands-off enough to let you learn on your own.

And the game’s general presentation is rather good. The graphics are exceptionally sharp (those fireballs!) and the music is predictably catchy, but the coolest stuff happens at the end of fights, where rain will really start to come down if you pull of an Ultra Combo, or the music will sync up with your brutal hits and create a violent, staccato rhythm of mayhem and particle effects. It is unbelievably satisfying ruining someone in such a delicious, over-the-top fashion.

Killer Instinct

As a free game amongst mediocre sequels and half-assed ports, grabbing the free Killer instinct is an obvious choice. As a quality fighting game with an absolutely intriguing and fun foundation, Killer Instinct is something you should definitely check out. Just don’t kill your childhood by playing the original Killer Instinct included in the download.

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Xbox One: A Menagerie Of Unknowns

Xbox One: A Menagerie of Unknowns

Phil Harrison doesn’t know the answer. He has answers, sure, but he doesn’t know which one is right. From the media—and public—perspective, it feels an awful lot like we’re getting a multiple choice question in response to our queries, but each answer is accompanied by mean mugs and shoulder shrugs. (Shimmy shimmy cocoa what.)

Stephen Totilo over at Kotaku wrote up a great piece called “The Xbox One Uncertainty Principle” wherein he brings up the flurry of conflicting reports and interviews and PR responses that they and others have been getting over the past week, starting with the next-gen Microsoft event in Redmond and culminating in the confusing As we all got to our Qs. There’s a great quote in the middle of it from Totilo:

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle tells us that the more we try to observe a particle’s position, the less precise we can be about its momentum. Heisenberg, have we got a game console for you.

The uncertainty principle is a little more broad than that (it applies to any set of complementary variables), but we get the gist: the more we try to find out about the Xbox One, we discover just how little we actually know about it.

In the opening bit, Totilo relates to us an anecdote about Aaron Greenberg, chief of staff for Microsoft’s interactive division, saying that response to their new console was mostly positive. In fact, he says it was about 40% positive, 40% neutral, and 20% negative (though maybe some fact-checking is in order?). Unfortunately, we find those numbers to be less than accurate.

If we take a look at the Brandwatch blog, the musings of a company that specializes in monitoring social media reactions, we find that the online reaction isn’t as positive as Greenberg thinks it is. Brandwatch puts positive at 52% and negative at 48% (neutral isn’t tracked in this). AT Forbes, Fizziology puts the numbers in a different light as well: 32% positive, 10% negative, and a whopping 56% neutral.

Of course, these numbers only account for people able to interact with social media at the time, so those working, traveling, sleeping, or any other number of things preventing them from updating their Facebook or tweeting are not accounted for. And these analyses are never quite as accurate as you would like (intent is harder to derive from content without context), but media, by and large, also take themselves out of the immediate conversation and often opt for video recaps and written summaries to express their views. Same go for industry analysts. But there is archived evidence for my Twitter feed (and many others) being primarily negative the following day when thoughts were put into long-form articles.

Perhaps the most problematic of the cluster of misinformation disseminating among Microsoft (if Greenberg is an indication) is that always-online and used games are still up in the air. We’re likely to get answers in the coming weeks at E3, but it’s still distressing that something so fundamental to the console’s operation and the industry’s functionality is undecided. First Phil Harrison, corporate vice president of Microsoft, says that you can sell back used games at retail stores. Then he says you’ll sell them back online. Which is it? Or is it both?

And then when asked about what happens if Microsoft stops running servers for the Xbox One. Will the always-online requirement simply render all the consoles they’ve sold useless? Harrison, as Totilo puts it, “smiled and said something about not thinking that would happen.” Which should frighten you. It’s a thought we’ve been putting off for years as digital distribution channels like Steam and Origin and PSN and XBLA become more prominent. When—not if—those servers shut off, we will have nothing to show for all the money and time we put into that ecosystem.

While probably not totally unique among those that make those sorts of decisions, Harrison’s reaction should tell you a lot about priorities. There is no exit strategy for gamers like there is for the business itself. Microsoft can sell assets and patents and rights to stay afloat. Keeping around servers that do nothing but tell consoles it’s okay to play a game long after the device is relevant is basically a hole to throw money into. Microsoft—and its competitors—is a business, after all.

If it sounds ridiculous that Microsoft could ever not exist, consider Palm. Look at where Sega used to be and where it is now. Look at Nintendo’s current trajectory. There is a graveyard of dead companies that used to rule the roost, businesses that people would treat like the Titanic, like they were unsinkable. So when Microsoft goes under, which could be in five years or 20 years or 400 years, all of this…stuff, these video games of not insignificant cultural importance, will be lost. Games are archived on retails discs and carts. How do we archive encrypted servers that feed directly into proprietary technology?

Two and a half weeks and we might get some answers. We hope we’ll have answers, but Microsoft had better be ready with them. Fizziology put 24% of all negative reactions pertaining to always-online. Personally, I say that’s 90% of my concern right now. Another 2% is wondering when will Microsoft get their act together and give some straight answers. What’s left is for J Allard. Godspeed, Allard. Godspeed.

UPDATE: retail sources have told MCV that they can charge whatever they want for pre-owned Xbox One games, but Microsoft and publishers will get a cut. Sure, I guess, but why couldn’t Microsoft have told us this straight up?

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