Tag Archives: Bethesda

Bethesda Showcase E3 2015 Recap

Bethesda Showcase E3 2015

Todd Howard is one hell of a guy. That was the big takeaway from Bethesda’s first ever E3 press conference. Or at least I think it was. It’s hard to tell.

Just kidding! There was so much news out of the company’s taut event that’s almost unbelievable. They should do one every year if it wouldn’t grind them into an Activision-type depression situation. But we got some poorly concealed secrets, some inevitabilities, and some honest-to-god surprises, the rarest breed of the video game industry.

Anyways, let’s get to cappin’! (Or you can just watch the entire thing archived over on Bethesda’s Twitch page.)

Doom

We finally have a launch date window for Doom as well as a set of predictable platforms. You can expect the series reboot to land on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC come next spring.

Oh, and for those of you that weren’t at QuakeCon last year (which should be all but 9,000 of you), they showed off the same demo with some slight changes. The differences aren’t especially remarkable unless you care heavily about updated sound effects. There is the nice bonus, however, of a multiplayer demo.

Dishonored 2

Without a doubt the worst kept secret of the show after a rehearsal snafu, Dishonored 2 from Arkane Studios is now official. The sequel to 2012’s Dishonored will also come to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC somewhere around spring of next year. (The release was given a range in the post-show interview with Arkane’s Raphael Colantonio and Harvey Smith.)

The game will feature two playable characters in Corvo Attano and Emily Kaldwin. Corvo returns from the first game where he was the main protagonist while Emily also returns but all grown up from the young princess she was in the original. She will feature a completely different set of skills and animations, highlighting the differences between her and Corvo’s training and tactics.

You won’t be able to switch between the two after you’ve chosen but you will have the same amount of freedom and gameplay latitude as from the first Dishonored. “You can play the entire game without killing anyone,” said Smith, as the characters return to the same world but a different city.

BattleCry

If you forgot about BattleCry, you’re forgiven. Not that it made a bad showing at last year’s E3 (on the contrary, I actually quite liked that demo), but it feels that at times Bethesda also forgot about the online multiplayer free-to-play brawler.

Good thing BattleCry Studios got their time during the event, announcing that they and the game do still exist and that the beta will take place sometime this year. Signups for the beta, in fact, are now open, and if you sign up before June 18, you’ll get priority access and an in-game reward.

Doom Snapmap

This is actually super exciting. Most of the other announcements were pretty exciting, sure, but this was both totally unexpected and immensely impactful. Rather than having a bunch of modders work their tails off to suss out how the pipes run under the foundation, Doom Snapmap will provide them both the tools and the schematics to understand and build on top of it all.

You’ll be able to not only create maps but also futz with the actual game logic, forcing enemies to react to your position and actions and whatnot, creating entire games or game modes. And then you’ll be able to share it and play it instantly with other UGC explorers. We’ve seen Doom in LittleBigPlanet. How long until we see LittleBigPlanet in Doom?

The Elder Scrolls: Legends

This definitely elicited the most snark on Twitter when it was announced. Everyone had the same reaction, falling somewhere along the lines of “I guess Bethesda wants a slice of that big ol’ Hearthstone pie.” While I don’t think that’s a pie up for carving so much as it is Blizzard making a quality game, I also don’t think this is as dumb of an idea as people are making it out to be.

It’s a free-to-play strategy card game that follows in the steps of the aforementioned Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering. It’ll be coming to PC and iPad later this year and, well, that’s kind of all we know about it so far. I guess that and the teaser trailer is, like, super cheesy.

Dishonored Definitive Edition

Dishonored Definitive Edition

Coming this fall to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Dishonored Definitive Edition will be a new-gen rerelease of the original Dishonored packaged up with all the DLC including the trials-based Dunwall City Trials and the story-building The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches.

Fallout Shelter

This was a huge—huge—surprise. Not only did no one expect this announcement but no one really thought it would actually be available right after the event. It’s a great one-two combo that more publishers should consider doing with their press conferences.

Anyways, Fallout Shelter is a Tiny Tower-esque game for iOS that puts you in the shoes of a vault overseer. As overseer, your responsibilities include expanding your vault, defending your vault, and making sure your vault is self-sustaining with power, food, water, and dwellers. It is free-to-play, but from the few hours I’ve put into it, it’s not the in-your-face variety and more of the if-you-want-it kind.

Fallout 4

The Fallout 4 segment was—in a word—massive. With game director Todd Howard on the stage and guiding the expansive set of demos, it felt impressive and not at the all befuddled or meandering. We got a release date, the setting(s), and answers to so many more questions that we didn’t even know we were supposed to ask.

Coming November 10 of this year, Fallout 4 will put you in both pre-explosion and post-fucked time periods. And right off the bat, the demo clarifies the question we’ve all had on our minds regarding character creation: still 100% at the mercy of your imagination with its face sculpting system reminiscent of an Italian plumber.

But there’s more. Oh my god there’s so much more. There will be a full settlement component involved where you can collect scraps to build up forts and bases and entire communities, hooking up lights and defenses to power generators and defending inhabitants from raiders. It’s insanely comprehensive.

Fallout 4

Just as comprehensive, in fact, as the equipment crafting system. All the junk you can pick up like lamps and stuff can be broken down for screws and lenses, materials usable for crafting wholly new weapons off of the 50 base types, or even modify your own power armor.

Howard also exemplified his perfectly succinct self-awareness within the industry when he introduced the collector’s edition of Fallout 4. Called the Pip-Boy Edition, it will come with an actual Pip-Boy that you can wear on your wrist while you play. “As far as stupid gimmicks go, this is the best fucking one I’ve ever seen.”

But bonus: there’s an app you can install on to your phone and put it into the Pip-Boy so you can use it just like you would in the game. That means you can manage your inventory and change your gear and whatnot. Costing $119.99 USD (£99.99 UK / €129.99), it also comes with a display stand and Capsule Case. While not necessary for the app to work, it does seem kind of cool.

Fallout 4 Pip-Boy Edition

And that’s that! Pretty busy day for E3 when Day Zero hasn’t even started yet. Do you remember when that wasn’t even a thing? How far we’ve come, huh. And by that I mean god dammit I miss at least pretending there was time to sleep and eat during this show.

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

How Fallout 4 Can Win

How Fallout 4 Can Win

“Win what?” That’s probably you asking a strangely rhetorical question to no one in particular as 1) you’re most likely all alone right now and 2) you can safely assume that I’ll be answering that question posthaste. Or as close as possible as I do have a tendency to go on.

As you know, Fallout 4 was made official last week. Over the course of 24 hours and several mini announcements, we got a trailer, a website, and someone who sounds like Troy Baker perhaps offering the first voice protagonist of the series—a rarity for Bethesda in general, actually. And then the Internet went wild.

Turns out that Fallout 4 wouldn’t technically have the first voiced protagonist. And then some savvy sleuths figured out exactly where Vault 111 is located in Boston. Oh yeah, they all took a stab and placed the game in Boston based on the landmarks. But oh wait, does the Troy Baker-esque VO mean we won’t have the robust character creation options we’ve come to expect? Nope, maybe not.

I tended to shove all that aside. There was a bigger question that loomed over the announcement, one posed by another game that was recently released: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Not to say that they’re the same game, but they do have similarities and scratch a lot of the same gaming itches.

They’re both huge, sprawling open-world action RPGs with deep lore and worldbuilding, for instance, something Bethesda has prided itself on for over a decade now. But with Wild Hunt out now to great critical and commercial acclaim while Fallout 4 sits in development for at least another year, how can the storied studio set the story straight that they are indeed still the visionaries of yesteryear?

I’ve had a week to stew on the matter and I do believe I’m done percolating. After putting in considerable time into Wild Hunt (still haven’t beat it) and going back to explore some of Bethesda’s more recent offerings in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 3, there’s really only one conclusion to come to.

Fallout 4

Personal consequence. Not to mean the consequences of playing need to be more directed towards the player such as in moment-to-moment gameplay but rather that the fallout (ha!) of choices and actions need to be more personal and more impactful.

Bethesda does a great job with worldbuilding. There’s not question about that. However, they’re not so great at making it matter after the fact. It all comes across as an immensely static diorama in which more things are set, not that the people and the world react as one to the outcome of your story.

Consider the mission early in Fallout 3 where you find yourself in Megaton with the option to either facilitate its destruction or disarm its decidedly more crumbly fate. And aside from the big explosion that happened after I said, “Fuck this town,” I don’t remember much of anything of what happened.

Fallout 3

Sure, it did make a huge mark on the land in a literal way. That town is, like, super gone. And former Megaton citizens are likely to recognize and attack you. It certainly does change the way you handle that part of the world.

But that’s just it. It’s only that part of the world. For all the negative karma you get for blowing that dingy hole up with a nuke, you can actually come back from it and end up a half decent fellow. And so long as you don’t go wandering around that freshly irradiated crater, you tend to forget you even did it. It feels massively inconsequential despite being massively terrible.

Blow up the city or save it. Kill the quest-giver or save him. Fight with the farmer or fight against him. Those sorts of choices feel exceedingly mechanical in Bethesda games, where you can almost see the boolean bit being set in the memory space saying you did this thing, as if you were directly input hex values like some drastically simplified Super Mario World credits warp.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The problem is that the effect of all your gun-toting and sword-swinging causes are simply too direct and too predictable. Of course everyone hates you for blowing up Megaton. Big whoop. There’s no depth to your choices. You don’t care what’s at the bottom of a puddle because you can see it, but the bottom of the ocean is a lot more mysterious and interesting.

When you play Wild Hunt, though, you feel like there’s a far deeper web than you can possibly predict (maybe even comprehend) as you make choices. The immediacy is very apparent but everything down the road is murky and full of fear and paranoia.

Not even all your choices are purely systemic. If you head over to Vice and read this story about how neglecting Gwent, Wild Hunt‘s in-game card game, cost the life of one of Geralt’s companions, you’ll see what I mean. It’s not just about the binary options you toggle between when choosing what quests to accept but also how you go about being yourself within the shoes of this Witcher.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Of course, Bethesda games can and have achieved the same thing. Their games offer you a myriad of tactics towards accomplishing your goals or shirking your responsibilities, but they all still arrive at the same terminus with just a smattering of complexity and intrigue.

There’s also the problem of combat. While Skyrim skews closer to the setting of The Witcher series, its fighting mechanics are overly simplistic. But that’s retro-fantasty and Fallout games are future-fantasy. But they’re still failing there as well as this Forbes piece points out with the V.A.T.S. feature.

Writing also tends to be an issue, opting for dry info dumps rather than the mature and layered stuff of The Witcher games, but truly the great divider and most inviting space for Bethesda to once again innovate their style is in the worlds they build and how they feel against the coarse actions and choices you do and make. Here’s hoping, fellas.

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 , , , , , , , , , ,

BattleCry – Hands-on at E3 2014

BattleCry

Exiting the rather tepid theatre presentation outlining the character classes and fundamental mechanics of the game, anticipation was rather low as I walked towards the hands-on multiplayer demo of BattleCry, the first and eponymous title from Bethesda’s new Austin-based Battlecry Studios. After going through two rounds, however, I came away optimistic, though not as much as I’d hoped.

The set up is quite interesting and lends itself to creative designer Viktor Antonov’s (of Dishonored fame) particular brand of visual flair. It is the early 20th century and the world is in full-on war mode with itself. However, due to a treaty, the countries fight not with guns and bombs but with swords and fists and arrows. More over, they do so in specially sanctioned “war zones,” setting up the idea of citizenless arenas for players.

While eventually you’ll have access to five different character classes (each one mimicked across the different factions), the demo only afforded us three. The first is the Enforcer, a character focused on using its massive sword and its transformative capabilities as a shield to get in close and do tons of damage. The Duelist rocks two quick and snappy blades while the Tech Archer fires arrows from afar and throws daggers in close quarters.

Each character also has a special ability in addition to their regular class abilities. Cooldowns limit the use of skills like the Enforcer’s dashing and smashing abilities but accumulated adrenaline allows for the specials to be unleashed. Adrenaline can also be used to simply amplify all damage output and reduce damage intake, offering a nice counterbalance between amplitude and frequency of devastation.

The key to the game, however, is mobility. While we played in a setup of six on six, the game actually supports 32 total players. And getting around these accommodating maps is important, with automatic sprinting, quicker dodge-rolls with a double tap of the jump button, and hitting grapnel points on and round buildings. Remaining mobile allows you to avoid overwhelming encounters and engage in tactically advisable ones.

It was, though, that the game actually became much easier once I switched to the Tech Archer, the one ranged class in the demo. So long as I was able to keep my distance, I could contend with two or three melee-bound opponents at a time, and keeping my distance was easy with the aforementioned traversal mechanics. Getting in the mix with the Enforcer and the Duelist was novel compared to the usual online shooter experience, but both were far less effective when it came to actually killing other people.

BattleCry

Not to mention that with the reduced number of players on this map, it was a nuisance trying to find where the action was. I’d say about 80% of my time was actually spent running around, simply poking my head into every building and alley just to see if an enemy was there to fight. I’m sure there will be more appropriately sized maps later, but it’s worth noting anyways.

What’s interesting, though, is that there doesn’t seem to be a direct one-to-one correlation of character classes to each faction. Yes, every Enforcer is basically the same as the other, but the implementation seems to differ slightly. For instance, the Tech Archer of the Royal Marines has a longbow while the Cossack Empire’s Tech Archer has two crossbows. Gender, perhaps, could also alter how a class plays per instance.

It’s worth noting, too, that the game is free-to-play, Bethesda’s first of the sort. Playing the game earns iron, and iron unlocks skills and can be used to craft new items like armor and skins. This obviously lends itself to the F2P model, but given the short time with the game, there wasn’t much to glean as to how treacherous this structure goes in BattleCry.

BattleCry

Most interesting, however, is that the game concludes each match with a post-round bit similar to Team Fortress 2, but instead of being based on the idea of shaming your fallen opponents, it is about respecting your battlefield brethren. You’ll run around and salute those that you wish. Some designated MVPs, others just people you had solid scraps with, each time doling out medals as well. Of course, you could not do it at all and leave respect for another day.

Visually, BattleCry looks great and definitely fits the strange pseudo-history of its setting. Mechanically, it’s sound, moving nimbly and decisively and allowing for intuitive and responsive tracking even up close with swords and fists. However, the imbalance of ranged players is worrying, as is the unaccommodating map for our small demo. Both can be dealt with, but it’s not certain they will be.

Find out for yourself when it comes out in 2015 with a beta coming sometime before that.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Trailer Roundup: Nintendo, Call of Duty, H1Z1, and More

Trailer Roundup: Nintendo, Call of Duty, H1Z1, and More

Yeah, I moved Trailer Roundup from Fridays to Mondays. It just seemed to make sense considering Fridays are actually quite the popular day for new trailers to come out. Also, I’d much rather waste away the beginning of a week watching videos on the Internet than the end. (But honestly I like to spend both and everything in between doing just that.) Anyways, here we go!

Fearless Fantasy

Umm…so I guess there’s, uh. Well, if you look at it this way, it could be—oh who am I kidding. This trailer is a solid 60 seconds of nonsense.

Self-described as “the weirdest RPG you’ll play this year” by the same guys that made the fantastic SpeedRunners, Fearless Fantasy is a turn-based game where combat is determined by gestures with the mouse. From its press kit, the game’s features include “a full-on story” and “RPG stuff.” Count me in. I think.

Nintendo’s E3 Plans

Sometimes I wonder just how much free time Reggie Fils-Aime has. It seems like either he’s got a lot of that or he’s just super self-aware how much people like watching him do things. It’s a toss-up, really. Produced by Mega64, this video actually coincides with one of the bigger pieces of news from last week, albeit not one of the bigger surprises.

Just like last year, Nintendo will not be hosting a traditional E3 press conference like Sony and Nintendo. Instead, they’ll be holding a tournament in the Nokia Theater for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. But they will be bringing back the ability for those not at E3 to play their unreleased games at Best Buys all around America. Also, no new console?

H1Z1

It makes sense. People like playing online with their friends and they like playing around in giant open worlds but they don’t like lots of emptiness in between. So what is relatively easy to implement that can fill those large gaps?

Zombies! Simply directed AI and vast expanses of terrifying openness. Hence State of Decay, DayZ, and now H1Z1. It’s free-to-play and there are zombies and, well, you get it, right?

Watch Dogs Season Pass

The trailer itself isn’t doing much for me, but its contents are, like, really weird. It’s boasting an additional single-player campaign with a character named T-Bone, a character we’re not at all familiar with, let alone the game he resides in. And you can dress Aiden like Eliot Ness and also fight techno zombies? This is some super strange stuff, guys.

Outlast Whistleblower DLC

Nooooope. Nope nope nope nope nope.

Nidhogg

If you haven’t played Nidhogg yet on PC, fear not because now it’s coming to the PlayStation 4. It looks simple, but it’s actually quite an impressively deep game of one-on-one sword dueling that, honestly, I can’t get enough of. If I had more friends with commensurate time to waste, I’d be playing it basically nonstop.

Axiom Verge

Looks essentially like a class 2D Metroid game but with entirely modern sensibilities. I don’t just mean that very obviously has side-scrolling trappings that you would see from today in its gameplay, but that its atmosphere feels very present. Axiom Verge‘s trailer’s ability to create a foreboding sense of narrative impetus and its purposefully electronic tunes makes me want to believe that this game is going to be the real deal.

And come on, Sony. “Announce” trailer? I thought we were done with that. Not just as an industry but as a people.

Apotheon

I’m so in love with the art style of this game, not to mention its combat system is all up in my wheelhouse of fighting mechanics: brutal, swift, and deliberate. Not that I’m always particularly good at those types of games, but I appreciate it when their systems are made to be quick and decisive, like it appears to be in Apotheon.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Listen, I’ve played a lot of demos of Wolfenstein: The New Order. I can tell you that the tactile route is totally viable. It’s also totally boring. And when you go in guns blazing, a lot of your time is actually spent trying to find enough ammo to keep the bloodbath raining. Of course, things could have and probably have changed, but that’s just what I know. There’s a reason why it cuts between the “cool” parts.

Call of Duty and VICE

I like a lot of what VICE does. They make some good videos of investigative journalism. This one, no doubt, could be also quite good if it wasn’t a three-minute prologue to another Call of Duty game. But the weird thing about this one is that it’s trying to play that we’ve never gone through this before.

True, Americans and the world at large don’t know much about the actual operations and risks and legality of private military corporations, or PMCs, but gamers are quite familiar with the philosophical intricacies of it all via Metal Gear Solid. And every other modern military FPS, really. A little late to the part, COD.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Granted, I’m pretty much over anything modern military shooters have to offer (I mean, how many times can you be impressed with blowing up a national landmark?), but that doesn’t mean that genre as a whole doesn’t make some damn good trailers. This one especially is worthwhile due to Kevin Spacey being Kevin Spacey and talking politics, filling a void in my life since I finished season 2 of House of Cards.

Super Time Force

In total, I’ve spent about 15 to 20 minutes with Super Time Force, and I love it already. This trailer exemplifies every reason why.

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

QuakeCon 2013 Recap + Photo Gallery

QuakeCon 2013 Recap + Photo Gallery

QuakeCon is such a strange little show. It started out as nothing more than a few dozen people getting together at a Best Western, holing up in meeting rooms and playing Doom and Quake all weekend. I used to work for a man who used to work in the industry (and played Quake professionally under the pseudonym Rooster) and he was there. He showed me a picture of John Carmack, new Chief Technical Officer of Oculus and possibly still head technical dude at Id Software, speaking to the small group in the parking lot.

It still feels a lot like that except there’s Bawls everywhere and they’re in a waaayyyy better hotel. In the Bring Your Own Computer (BYOC) area, it’s nothing more than 3,000 people cramped up on dinged-up wooden tables playing video games for over three days straight. Well, that and miles of ethernet cable and leading networking technology. That’s the benefit of gaining sponsors and getting casually backed by Bethesda and Id.

The weird thing is that this year it feels a lot smaller than recent years. Perhaps it’s because QuakeCon finally didn’t come up against a cheerleading competition or Mary Kay summit like it has in past years, but more likely it’s because few big things came out of the show, or at least was expected at it. Two years ago, everyone clamored to see even a hint of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, especially if director Todd Howard was going to be the one demoing it, not to mention a revamped look at Prey 2. You know, back when that was a game that still existed. Plus people were still hyped on the impending release of Rage and the recent release of Brink, so the night of the tournament finals was unsurprisingly huge.

QuakeCon 2013

Last year, it was smaller for sure, but several huge things happened. For one, people could play the highly anticipated Dishonored and a surprise announcement was made by Interceptor Entertainment that they were bringing back Rise of the Triad, which actually released last week to positive reviews. But there were also a lot of smaller side panels including the stellar Looking Glass Studios retrospective, a live Idle Thumbs podcast [insert obligatory Fuck Nick for leaving Bethesda and thus taking away any reason for them to come back], and a star-studded live episode of Bonus Round.

If anything is indicative of the smaller stature of this year’s QuakeCon, it would be the Bonus Round lineup. Last year there was Geoff Keighley, Michael Pachter, Adam Sessler, and Dishonored‘s Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio. This year was Keighley, Machinegames’ creative director Jens Matthies, Arkane Studios’ lead designer Ricardo Bare, and creative director of ZeniMax Online Studios Paul Sage. Not to say any of them are not highly respected members of the industry (they are all, in fact, incredibly smart and overwhelmingly friendly people), but their names don’t carry the same cachet with people not knee-deep into how the sausage is made.

This was also the first time I can recall seeing massive clumps of empty seats in the BYOC area. It was disturbing seeing entirely empty rows leading up to the NOC (Network Operations Center, a raised bunker of servers, techs, and a desire to not see anything explode). In fact, reigning (and consistent) champion of the case mod competition Derrick Johnson wasn’t even seen this year. And whereas last year, people stood for hours to get their grubby little hands on the Oculus Rift with the people that actually made it, this year, a few meandered barely within eyeshot of the Virtuix Omni treadmill.

QuakeCon 2013

That’s not to say, however, that this QuakeCon was any worse than past ones; it was just smaller and less bombastic, especially since this was the first year in quite some time since former Id president and current ponytail-lover Todd Hollenshead emceed the main stage’s events. You could especially see the reduced size in the press/exhibitor party at the House of Blues on Thursday where it took up until half an hour until closing time for the dancing to get started (normally it gets going pretty quickly). Or, if you knew where to look, you could see a reduction in big name press outlets in attendance.

But we still got brand new hands-on with Wolfenstein: The New Order which showed a great amount of promise in lofty ideas but was generally mired in conflicting results. We got to spend a generous amount of time with The Elder Scrolls Online which bucks many MMO tropes and pushes further into a Skyrim or Oblivion that happens to have other human players around. There was also an extended demo in the press area of the upcoming Dishonored DLC The Brigmore Witches, but that’s coming out so soon, there’s really no point in writing a preview.

There was also supposed to be a new hands-off demo of The Evil Within, but after a couple rescheduled theater times, we just ended up with the same E3 demo at the public showing. Tough life, I know, being press.

QuakeCon 2013

And we also got to listen to Id’s new art director Hugo Martin talk about pretty much everything. He talked about what made working on movies different from games (“games are a marathon, but movies are a sprint” and “every day you need to perform or you’re gone”) and he talked extensively about what it was like to work on Pacific Rim with Guillermo del Toro, where he spent the first few months of pre-production working out of del Toro’s garage. He was, actually, the inspiration for this week’s Concept Art Roundup. Plus there was emergent art out of the BYOC where a man endured Post-it notes of love, nonsense, and plenty of dicks.

Regardless of the size of the show, you can always expect parties at video game gatherings. Bethesda’s House of Blues party is always pretty fun. The Rise of the Triad launch party was weird because it took place at Community Beer Company. It’s just a mile down 35 from the Hilton where QuakeCon was being held, but it was on the complete opposite side of the area where its sign was located. It made it hard to find, but the beer was really good. (I recommend the Vienna Lager.) Julia Marchak, official photographer of the night for Interceptor Entertainment, managed to start a microcosmic meme of imitating marketing director Dave Oshry’s default position of beer-in-mouth-phone-in-hand. Pretty fun. A tamale dealer was also just outside. God those were tasty.

The night of the finals was predictably insane. At some point, it turned into a Daft Punk dance party following the conclusion of the 1 vs. 1 Doom II tournament where Jkist3 defeated DevastatioN in a real nail-biter. The VIP area in the back, though, was also a lot of fun. They still have that amazing cheese-stuffed tortellini, if anyone was wondering, and it’s still being made by a rather angry-looking woman.

QuakeCon 2013

Also, at some point, I was party to a 4 AM shouting circle with Id Software’s creative director Tim Willits. And yes, he still vehemently refuses to talk about Doom 4.

All in all, QuakeCon was once again an amazingly fun show. This year was definitely smaller, but it was just as important as past years. As press, to come to an event so small size-wise but large impact-wise, it’s a big deal. Working with Tracey Thompson, Erin Losi, and Angela Ramsey of Bethesda and Hiro Ito of fortyseven (usually it’s Jeremy Long, but he’s since moved on) in such close quarters where you are one of maybe 20 journalists that show up is neat, and you get an inordinate amount of time to spend with games and interviewees.

Not to mention I live in Dallas, so at the end of the day, I get to still fall asleep on my own bed. Booya. See you all next year.

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

QuakeCon 2013 Hands-on with Wolfenstein: The New Order

Hands-on with Wolfenstein: The New Order

B.J. Blazkowicz is confused. Recently suffering some rather traumatic injuries involving his brain, some shrapnel, and falling something like 20 stories off a cliffside stronghold and into the ocean to float around for who knows how long, our favorite Nazi-killing hero of games with the word “Wolfenstein” in them is now in an asylum, trying to physically and mentally recover. It’s understandable given the things he’s been through.

The problem is that I’m confused, too. Or rather, I’m confused about what the game wants to be. After spending an hour with a new demo build of Wolfenstein: The New Order at this year’s QuakeCon in Dallas, Texas, I definitely have a better idea of what sort of game this sequel is going to be, but I’m not entirely convinced that it knows what it wants to be. Allow me to explain.

It opens with a cutscene of Blazkowicz and his squad preparing to storm the massive expanse between them and the wall of an enemy base. This is where we get a glimpse that our protagonist is not what we remember from days of old. There’s another soldier kind of freaking, so Blazkowicz walks over and helps him calm down with a little trick. “Inhale. Count to four. Exhale. Count to four.” And then they’re off, running the gauntlet of bullets and space where bullets soon shall be.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Once they get to the wall, the gruff leader of the squad spits some knowledge: some of them will go headlong into the fray while the others will climb this wall with their grappling hook guns and find a way to open the gate in front of them. As they hook up to the ropes they’ve just fired up, we get playing control and begin to ascend. At a dying snail stuck in molasses’ pace, we climb the wall, moving forward and side to side and shooting dudes as they pop out of the windows. It reminds me of Whac-a-Mole, except with a lot more blood.

Our other two wall-bound comrades die before we reach the top (a plane also crashes at some point, forcing you to dodge a large piece of debris), but I never even really caught their names. I pop up into the top window, pick a direction, and start running. At first I discover a Secret Area which doesn’t really do much except show me different-looking doors, but back on the main path I find a lever. I pull it and drop into the holes created by the gate weights.

And then we progress through some standard fare shooting stuff. There is some stealth in the game, but it wasn’t really working for me, nor did it seem like a consistent option. It wasn’t like you could sneak past an entire encounter (or at least from what I saw and tried), but you could at least get behind a couple of dudes and slice their throats. At least in theory, anyways, because I always ended up slashing him in the back first before trying again and then finally kicking off the stealth kill animation. It was weird and after several attempts at the matter, I don’t think I was entirely to blame for not succeeding at it.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Two wrinkles came up, though, that were pretty interesting. You can hold down the left bumper on the controller and use the left stick to lean around corners. And if you tap RB, you switch between dual and single wield of whatever weapon you have out. Those two controls help facilitate two things that will keep you alive. Blazkowicz, for as space marine-ish as he looks, is rather frail, so leaning in and out of cover is vital, and when you really get in a jam, quickly and easily busting out two machine guns is clutch (not to mention super fun).

Eventually we come across a strange room full of people(?) strung up by the skin of their backs. The squad tries to escape but only succeeds in setting off an incinerator process, so instead of becoming charred-up soldiers, they try to escape, which culminates in me going over to a stand, pressing X to grab a key, then pressing X to insert the key into a lock. We make it out and enter the next room, but this mechanized, humanoid brute explodes out of a chamber in the ground in this small, cramped, square room and starts attacking us. It kills a squad member, but I unlock everything I’ve got and he goes down.

All the while, however, Blazkowicz and some of his teammates are spouting off one-liners, but they’re somewhat extended one-liners and some of them kind of delve into some deep shi—err, stuff. It’s more distracting than anything; it feels like they used to be really cheesy Duke Nukem catchphrases but replaced with the writing of someone having a dark, emotional day.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Anyways, with the brute down, we try to escape this room, too, since they’d rather deal with dead, mutilated bodies instead of live, angry, well-armed ones, but the door is shut and there’s a guy standing in the little door window doing his best Slender Man/G-Man/asshole impression. He triggers something and causes the walls to close and slowly Star Wars-style crush us, but instead we fade to black and wake up to us on the floor of the incinerator room.

Slender G Hole is talking to us. Apparently he likes to collect eyes, which is bad news for the one of the other three surviving members of the team because he was already one eye down. The other two, however, lay in front of you and the doctor general dude asks us to make a choice: look at the one you want to die, or everyone gets their throats slit. It’s an empty threat, however, as nothing happened as I lingered on the screen for a while. Eventually I picked the guy on the left because they both were basically facing the floor and I couldn’t tell who was who (nor could I remember any of them. I think I had a captain?).

As it turns out, I saved the captain. We zoom in on a well-rendered, super emotional Blazkowicz, telling himself to inhale, count to four, exhale, count to four. It’s a nice callback, albeit borderline overwrought. But anyways, everyone else except us and one brute leave, so the captain kicks over a pipe and begins to attack our warden. I once again press X to pick up the pipe and press it again to stab it into the oversized guard’s side. We then smash all of the incinerator outlets with the pipe, free ourselves, and hotwire a window open. It involves controlling the left wire with the left stick and the right wire with the right stick and slowly moving them together and holding them so they spark for a few moments. We then take a running leap out of the window into the ocean below, but not before our head gets really intimate with shrapnel flying towards the back of Blazkowicz’s head.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

We float around a bit while late credits come in and out until we wake up in some mental hospital. Everything is a bit hazy and we go into an extended cutscene of Blazkowicz watching the world pass him by as he is basically brain damaged to the point of being a vegetable. This part of the game goes really dramatic and, for the most part, succeeds. We are introduced to a family running the asylum, the entirety of which is upstanding. The father is the doctor and regularly fights back from the Reich abducting patients and genuinely tries to help people. The mother is a pharmacist of sorts and the daughter, Anya, just helps with everyone’s recovery. She feeds Blazkowicz, talks to him, and passes time with him. Time speeds up and slows down as the family celebrates birthdays and mourns losses. And all our square-jawed, ultra masculine soldier can do is think, trapped in his own head and in this ward. It’s dark and really interesting.

But then some soldiers come in, saying the doctor’s work is concluded. Some unsanctioned shooting goes on (namely the father and mother), so they take Anya to determine her fate with the captain while the remaining soldier’s execute the patients. When the guy gets to us, though, Blazkowicz slices his throat with a steak knife and picks up his gun. We show him stumbling (“legs like jelly…fingers numb”), but then he’s pretty much back to full strength save for the occasional fuzzy vision.

We blast our way through the hospital and out into the courtyard where we see them trying to take Anya away. We stop them the only way we know how (read: bullets) and trundle over to her. She’s still breathing, so we pick her up, put her in a nearby car, and start to drive away, which was kind of nice. I thought the entire game was going to be a whole “damsel in distress” thing—which could have been cool if a bit too trope-ish but still would have made another war story into something much more personal—but based on the E3 demo, it seems like we’ll be escorting her to various locations throughout the game instead.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

I just really have no idea what kind of game Wolfenstein: The New Order wants to be, and I don’t think it really knows either. The shooting is very decisive, forcing you to move deliberately but also quickly lest you get surrounded and pinned. But then moments like when a robot dog inexplicably pops up out of a wall in a very Resident Evil-y moment and when you are gently coerced into sneaking around, it feels like it at some point wanted to be a horror game. And when you fight the brute, it becomes much more old school Wolfenstein where you just dump ammo and overcharge your health and go “fuck yeah.” And the timing and phrasing of some of the things Blazkowicz and your crew say feels like vestiges of a much more lighthearted game, but then it was replaced with a super self-serious title, one that deals with loss of identity in the asylum and friends and family in the war.

A lot of those disparate pieces, however, do have merit, but when they’re all stuck together, it kind of stops making sense. Taken alone, they all individually kind of excite me, but a more cohesive vision would really tie all those neat starts up into a nice finish. Maybe that’s why it got delayed until 2014. Maybe by then they’ll take all these different, cool ideas and turn them into a single great idea.

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

Eyes-On with The Evil Within

Eyes-on with The Evil Within

The lights go down, and the room visibly changes. Granted, flipping off the light switch will do that, but it’s also probably because it’s the Bethesda E3 demo theatre and the entire thing is full of journalists trying to write things down on a notepad. The point, however, remains. Shinji Mikami had just finished introducing his latest game, The Evil Within.

Mikami, perhaps best known for the head honcho behind Resident Evil 4, describes The Evil Within thusly: “it is a return to the roots of horror.” From what I saw in our half-hour hands-off, eyes-on demo that seems to be mostly true. Horror games, for the most part, are about anticipation and scarcity. It could be the anticipation of darkness, demons, or imminent death, and it could be scarcity of ammo or safety, but those two things seem to be the grandest of the horror game tent-poles.

The demo opens with our protagonist Detective Sebastian Castellanos and his partner driving to the Beacon Mental Hospital. Given the use of the sirens and some yelling, they appear to be in a hurry. When they show up, they’re led into the asylum by a third detective, though the entire building appears to be abandoned, the front driveway littered with empty police cars and blinking lights. It’s a dreary scene with a bleak, grey sky letting loose a solid, horror-infused drizzle that looks, quite frankly, pretty neat. Aurally, there is a palpable anxiety building with an incessant heartbeat-like thumping, just soft enough to not be heard but loud enough to certainly be felt. I guess all the dead bodies on the ground add to it, too.

The Evil Within

This third fellow and Sebastian head into the security surveillance room and discover an addled doctor, rambling on about some sort of terror or monster or something. Who knows? Let’s go to the monitors! The live feed shows three guards shooting at something off-screen, each one being taken down by some sort of specter. Before Sebastian can react, the ghostly figure disappears only to reappear behind him and stab him in the face with some sort of syringe.

Now we wake up in some sort of topsy-turvy world. Err, correction: we are topsy-turvy as we appear to be hanging upside down and bleeding, given by the slow crimson drip coming from our fingertips. A fleshy, grunting brute trundles in and chops up another nearby hanging body (there are dozens in this dimly lit, presumably smelly basement), hauling its detached torso over to a table where he begins to further cut up the meaty mass to the tune of some grainy vinyl classical music. Our hero’s goal appears to be to swing over to another body that has a glowing video game objective knife stuck in its side, using it to cut himself free. Unfettered, he approaches a locked door, realizing he has to snag a key ring from right next to the brute, who promptly and conveniently leaves. Armed with a set of keys, Sebastian opens the door and runs up a flight of stairs before triggering some sort of alarm.

At this point, I remember I kind of need to breathe.

The Evil Within

The brute apparently hates loud noises because he then proceeds to chase after you with a chainsaw, which he uses to cut a rather severe-looking wound into our protagonist’s leg. Hobbled, he starts to flee with a horribly awkward and painfully stilted gait, eventually making his way through a room of spinning blades.

The next bit reminds me an awful lot of the parts of Deadly Premonition where FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan has to hide from the Raincoat Killer except pulled off much more adeptly. Sebastian has to hide behind walls and crates and inside of a locker to evade the brute’s search (though at some point the demo pretty much breaks when Sebastian limps by directly in front of his pursuer with no consequence, a byproduct, I assume, of this being a live demo). He then barely escapes by scrambling and crawling through to brightly lit door.

Then we fade out to a third section of the demo that is, unsurprisingly, very similar to Resident Evil 4, though it’s introduced as a segment that will show that “nothing is what it seems.” It’s some over-the-shoulder combat in a house that you are to defend from an invading horde of supernatural baddies. Ammo appears to be rather scarce, though some proximity-sensitive explosives (they appear to be homemade bombs) help out as Sebastian places them under all the windows. As the evil undead begin to break in and the headshots start to roll in, he scampers about and eventually makes his way down into the basement.

The Evil Within

And whoosh, the hallway flashes and we’re no longer in the house. It flashes again and we’re in what looks like the white-tiled interior of a hospital. Then a wall of blood rushes towards you à la The Shining and bam, it’s an empty hallway again. Sebastian enters the room at the end of the hallway and is greeted by a whirling dervish of limbs and blood and scary noises.

Based on this demo, The Evil Within appears to be a dichotomy of horror. On one hand, the opening non-paranormal bit where you come across an eerily abandoned, still active crime scene and the initial escape of the sloppy butcher feel fresh and exciting in the world of video game dread. On the other, the combat feels like it wants to be the star of the show while appearing to be rather refined and reined in, but it also feels well-worn. Both halves appear to be well within the grasp of Mikami’s skillful hands, but the question now is how he will balance the two. The potential is already very apparent, as a roomful of tensed-up journalists can attest. Thank god they turned on the lights.

Look for The Evil Within sometime next year on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.

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

The Year In Review: Stealth

The Year In Review: Stealth

Most games with even the slightest hint of action also include bits of stealth. Sometimes it’s 100% perfunctory and just a side effect of being a video game, such as when you try to get up real close and steal away at least one easy kill in Gears of War before things start going totally sideways. You’ll try to keep cover between you and the enemy, utilizing the third-person camera to your advantage so you can see who (or what) is just around the corner. This is just an ancillary notion to when games necessarily give you a shooting reprieve. Take a breather and then take advantage of having the drop on the baddies.

Other games more overtly include sneaking and hiding. We call them “stealth games.” Don’t worry, I’ll give you a second to collect your brain off the wall after I just blow’d it with that little bit of knowledge. Surprisingly, though, the biggest pure stealth game this year didn’t come from a huge publisher or developer (Both Tom Clancy releases this year were from the Ghost Recon series, a traditionally more action-oriented tale of international intrigue). No, instead it came from Klei Entertainment, developers of the bloody, frenetic, and overall terrific Shank and Shank 2.

Mark of the Ninja manages to accomplish what most other stealth games (or even games that simply incorporate stealth elements) wish they could do: not make it frustrating. Sure, there are times where you feel like things got out of hand a bit too quickly, but you always have a way out. With a little dash of Shank-style hack ‘n slash, you are more than capable of dispensing of alerted foes with your blade. Or you can simply escape up into the rafters à la Batman: Arkham City. Or you can pause time, knock out the lights, and hide in a darkened recess of a wall. Any given sticky situation has a multitude of ways to get unsticky.

All of which is elevated by the way Mark of the Ninja surfaces its stealth information, which is to say it visualizes it all for you. You can see the sound waves you create as you sprint versus the nigh imperceptible ripples you make when you walk. Enemy sight is shown via light cones and their alert states are discretely shown by Metal Gear Solid-esque icons overhead. And while there is a gradient to your active state, its categorical nature is also discrete and revealed to you, so you never have to worry “can he see me? I think he can see me. OH SHIT HE SEES ME.”

Better yet, certain maneuvers like taking out lights and the like will show you the consequences of that action before you do it, so you know prior to even throwing your shuriken that it will alert the guard below. It’s genius and totally makes the inherent trial-and-error nature of stealth games way less frustrating.

Surfacing stealth information seems to be becoming commonplace, though, even among non-stealth games. Far Cry 3, for instance, is primarily an open-world action game where you can go anywhere (so long you’re not in a mission) and shoot anything, and it’s fantastic. It shoots great, it drives crazy, and has one hell of an opening. In a startling move of competence for a first-person shooter, though, Far Cry 3 actually has some good stealth.

It works because it surfaces your current status very well. Crouch and you’re instantly quieter and less visible, but you’ll also know when enemies see you due to an onscreen indicator. It’s an arrow that points much like a grenade indicator would in Call of Duty games, except this one points to people that see you instead of things that explode you. It’ll grow in size as these people see you more clearly—or at least begin to suspect they see you. If you can dash away in time, you will avoid being spotted.

But Far Cry 3 is also a very systems-driven game, so if you manage to dispatch this sneak-ruining scourge in a silent manner with no one else seeing your dirty deed, you fall back into a non-alert stage. It works because it discretely informs you of your current state and, like Mark of the Ninja, gives you a brief chance to fix small errors without going full-on Rambo to fix it.

It also helps that there are simply chunks of the world that are specifically for pure stealth, namely areas with tall grass. If you crouch in any sort of foliage, you will break line-of-sight with tracking enemies (or potentially tracking). It’s something that’s explored more fully in Assassin’s Creed III. While you would think a game about an assassin would naturally be more about stealth, ACIII actually allows for a great deal of action, and it’s action that—for the most part—works. Connor moves capably and eliminates enemies quickly. It feels appropriately brutal and efficient.

But hiding is also cordoned off into discrete elements. Hay bales and wells and hanging off of ledges all keep you out of the sight of enemies, keeping you incognito. Not only that, but much like in Far Cry 3, you can keep low profile in tall grass to instigate instant stealth, hiding you in pretty much plain sight much as you would be blending in with a crowd or sitting on a bench. The massive opportunities and natural feel to those chances to hide are what make the stealth in ACIII work. Well, that and the fact that you can easily see what enemy in which location currently suspects you, ignores you, or is about to become a major problem for you. It makes sneaking around much more manageable.

It’s just that there are two problems with that: 1) purposefully, it’s all contextual, as stated by the developers, since they aim for “social stealth,” so you won’t find a crouch button, and 2) it punishes you for failing to sneak around undetected. I don’t mean that it punishes you with a quick fight or the need to run and hide, but that it raises your Notoriety, a mechanic that I’ve hated since 2009’s Assassin’s Creed II. With anything above incognito, enemies will spot you regardless of what you’re doing. So no longer can you case a building or stalk your prey in a new way according to your warped scientific method. No, instead you must first run around whilst avoiding any enemy patrols so you can bribe town criers or check every tree and wall for wanted posters. It’s not a lot of fun and totally kills the momentum of the game.

It’s a similar problem that Dishonored has. I mean, if you’re spotted and have a pretty quick reaction, you can take care of the issue before it becomes a full blown problem. However, the moment one guy in the area screams “GUARDS!” or something, you’ve got a whole bunch of killing ahead of you. Or running and taking a shit load of damage. Or reloading a checkpoint. The killing wouldn’t be such a problem since Corvo is quite handy with a blade (and grenades and pistols and spring traps and crossbows and supernatural powers) so fighting a roomful of dudes is actually kind of fun, but if you are going for stealth or a good ending, fighting immediately means you’ve failed your goal. Whether meta and a point of pride that you never got spotted or tangible in that you can’t kill people for fear of rising Chaos, you are punished for being spotted and forced to fly or fight.

The actual sneaking, however, is very well done. There is no “social stealth” as there is in ACIII, but instead you are given a set of statuses and you can do certain things in those statuses. Either you’re spotted or you’re not; either an enemy is oblivious or suspicious or alerted; either you’re in hostile or you’re in neutral territory. Your actions will move you and enemies along these rails, so it’s all a test of poking and prodding at moving parts as you sneak around in attics and sewers.

Poking and prodding, however, is probably more in the Hitman: Absolution wheelhouse since the Hitman series has become famous for being testbeds of Mousetrap-like gears and cogs turning. Hitman, perhaps more than ACIII, is all about social stealth. In fact, let’s go ahead and assume Ubisoft lead game designer Steven Masters meant “contextual stealth” rather than “social stealth.” Hitman is all about hiding in plain sight with costumes and figuring out what piece goes where so when you push over the right domino, everything tumbles just the way you want.

And just like Far Cry 3, you get the grenade indicator-style arrow that grows and grows until you elevate your status. It’s helpful because you don’t have totally binary states of seen/unseen like some past Hitman games. Now you can go into a room, realize you shouldn’t be there, and walk out before you get into serious shit. Better yet, you have this Instinct meter that you can burn to casually go “oops! My bad!” to smooth over an otherwise “oh fuck” situation.

It all falls apart, though, when you encounter areas that are chock-full of the same enemy type. You see, enemies of the same type can all see through your costume if you’re trying to front as one of them. In fact, they can see through you from like 50 yards away, so when you have no other choice but to try to be a cop amidst a sea of cops, the game kind of breaks the one way it works and it soon becomes a half-assed Splinter Cell game.

But the important thing, I guess, is that it’s there. This has been a big year for stealth. Last year there was Batman: Arkham City and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations for the big titles and Sniper: Ghost Warrior for the smaller guys. But more than anything (even quantity), this year was probably the most about surfacing stealth to the player, bringing all the pertinent information that would otherwise be going on in the background to the forefront and putting it right in front of your eyes. Developers may have realized this year (or rather, several years ago due to development time and such) that stealth should not be frustrating; it should be exciting and nerve-racking, not arbitrary and fruitless.

Sure, there were games like I Am Alive and Deadlight that incorporated stealth in a more opaque way, but those were aesthetic, tonal choices that fit those titles. And Stealth Bastard Deluxe is more like a puzzle game than a stealth game. So for this year of 2012, stealth was all about informing the player, and for that I’m grateful.

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