Tag Archives: Hitman

PlayStation E3 2015 Recap

PlayStation E3 2015

Sony this year came out with some heat. We all thought most of it would just be rumors because—let’s face it—a lot of it sounded absurd. A comeback? A remake? Oh come on. We should know better by now. Go back to your village and take your pipe dreams with you.

But wham, bam, holy shit. We really shouldn’t be calling out “winners” for this sort of thing, but this press conference did actually bring down the Internet. Feel free to read on or rewatch the entire thing.

The Last Guardian

Ummm, what? I guess sometimes vaporware comes back from the dead. After being in and out of development and existence for the past 2007, it was pretty safe to assume the long awaited project was simply dead and buried. After the trauma of numerous rumors, the latest rumblings that we’d see The Last Guardian at this E3 seemed to only freshen up old wounds.

But it’s all true. Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida confirmed it would release for PlayStation 4 in 2016. Coming from Team Ico and director Fumito Ueda, the same combo that brought you Shadow of the Colossus and Ico, its expectations were high. After all these delays, are they just as lofty?

Horizon: Zero Dawn

Guerrilla Games, developer of the Killzone series, is throwing quite the delicious curveball here. Going from a stock FPS to this is rather incredible. Perhaps filling the PlayStation 4’s required space marine quota earned them some laterality.

But Horizon: Zero Dawn has a fascinating premise. Something along the course of humanity’s development caused them to plunge back into a pre-civilization structure except machines are still rampant and necessary. So instead of hunting for food, they hunt for parts. Sure, the gameplay looks fun enough, but that setup is incredible.

Hitman

Even if you don’t care for the Hitman games, this is a well put together trailer. It finely composes the idea that he’s a killer of tactics, brutality, and skill. Also, the backing track that surreptitiously features ragged breathing slowly sinks in and is reinforced by the kill shot.

The trailer itself, however, doesn’t reveal much except that the series still animates people a bit too cartoonishly. I guess Square Enix assumes we already know what to expect from the game, which is kind of a sad notion anyway. Hitman lands on PlayStation 4 and PC on December 8. (Franchise reboots that simply start off with the same name is an organizational nightmare, by the way.)

Dreams

Media Molecule is still very much about games in which you create, if you were wondering. The latest is Dreams, and while the trailer is very obtuse about what you’ll actually be doing, you’ll definitely be creating…something.

It looks like you’ll be using your controller to sculpt out characters inside of scenes. The “dreams” motif comes in where everything is fast and impressionistic rather than details and builds upon a previously known (read: made) lexicon of items. You can then grab your creations and puppeteer them to life. (The short demo preceding the trailer shows more than anyone could ever say with words.)

Destiny: The Taken King

While I found Destiny to be somewhat lacking in its original release, the more that Bungie puts out for the game, the more I want to go back and play it. It seems like they’re solving the two biggest problems simultaneously with each DLC, being the lack of content for a massive world and a refinement of how to use that world in interesting ways.

Coming September 15, The Taken King will cost $39.99 for the regular edition and $79.99 for the collector’s edition, both of which will also include Destiny itself. The expansion will include new Guardian subclasses and super moves.

Final Fantasy VII

Part of the crazy heat Sony threw around yesterday. Even more dubious than The Last Guardian comeback rumors, we heard voices on the wind talk of a Final Fantasy VII remake, something fans have been clamoring for since dinosaurs walked the Earth.

And now it’s happening. This isn’t a tech demo or a PC version or an upgraded PC version for PlayStation 4, but this is a remake. At this point, it’s unclear as to what that means. This could end up just an HD remaster for all we know, but hopefully they’re not just misleading us with the word “remake.”

The bigger question, however, is if anyone still cares. Tetsuya Nomura is coming on as director after guiding the Kingdom Hearts series (and directing Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children) while Yoshinori Kitase, original director of Final Fantasy VII, will be returning to produce. Is that enough to garner interest beyond the 18-year-old fan base?

No Man’s Sky

This is the first lengthy gameplay demo anyone outside of the press has seen from No Man’s Sky. Hello Games co-founder Sean Murray hopefully imparted upon the audience the sheer size of what they’re attempting with this procedurally generated universe simulator. (If you still don’t get it, read this piece over at The New Yorker.)

Still no release date, but we do learn that every world is fully destructible. Plus there are fish!

Shenmue III

And here’s the real surprise of the event. No one was even expecting this, but Yu Suzuki, creator of an immense number of classics like Space Harrier, Out Run, After Burner, and Virtua Fighter, came out on stage to announce that he’d like to revitalize the Shenmue franchise through Kickstarter.

And then everyone lost their god damn minds. Which is the appropriate response, I might add. It brought down Kickstarter itself for a brief time as it rocketed up hundreds of thousands of dollars in a matter of minutes. It’s already hit its $2 million goal in its first day. If you’re not jacked for this, then you’re a fool. Or you were too young to have played the first two.

Call of Duty

Now we know why Call of Duty was mysteriously absent during Microsoft press conference. PlayStation CEO Andrew House announced that Sony will get all of the military shooter’s map packs first. The deal will start up with Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, coming to PlayStation 4, PC, and Xbox One November 6.

Map packs have traditionally gone to Xbox platforms first since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare back in 2007. While not necessarily everyone’s thing, this is a huge move for PlayStation.

Firewatch

Firewatch is pretty much exactly the kind of game I love playing. Or at least it’s the kind of game I love thinking that I would love playing based on the trailer because the trailer sells a very particular kind of game.

The adventure game from Campo Santo and director Jake Rodkin (co-host of the Idle Thumbs podcast) tells the story of a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness in 1989. Numerous mysteries begin to unfold as he goes about his patrols.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

While the return of the Uncharted series still doesn’t seem like the best creative decision, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End still looks pretty incredible. Like, visually, I mean. It seems like it’ll play like the other games, so you probably already know if you’ll be into that or not, but there’s certainly something to be said for a masterful refinement of a craft.

After a little technical hiccup where protagonist Nathan Drake froze in front of a still animating crowd, we go on a classic Uncharted whirlwind ride of shooting bad guys, running from overwhelming odds, shooting more guys, and (as a franchise first) driving a vehicle. Oh, and crackin’ some wise. Don’t forget that.

There are some other odds and ends that came out of the conference (like a new Street Fighter V trailer), but that’s the gist of it. There were several genuine surprises, capping off a rather momentous start to this year’s E3. Look for more coverage as the show continues the rest of the week.

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Hitman Go Review: Sliding Scale

Hitman Go

Hitman Go appears to be the answer to the question of what happens when you through Agent 47 into a pot and let him boil. All of the marketable stuff like explosions and gunfights start to evaporate and simmer off into the air. It reduces down further and further until you’re left with this strange little experiment. But in the weirdness, it manages to capture the essence of what makes the Hitman series so good and, unfortunately, what makes it wearisome.

The trailer does an adequate job of conveying the tone of the game in its sleek and stylish shell, but here’s the gist of its mechanics. The game presents to you a series of boards in which you have to complete a main objective alongside some optional ones. You are still our ever present and bald Agent 47 intent on killing and collecting. But instead of a third-person view with guns and the occasional running, you’ll be moving along set paths.

Dotted along the boards (which are really diorama-esque facades of offices, backyard decks, and rooftops) are spots for you and your enemies to stand and move between. Each piece only moves when you move, effectively making you the gear that turns this clock. If you catch an enemy from behind or the side, you’ll eliminate him. If he moves onto your spot after your turn, you’ll be eliminated instead.

It’s an incredibly interesting distillation of the core concept of the Hitman games, which is poking and prodding until you find the most desirable/most attainable solution to a problem. Every enemy has his own behavior. Some only move in the direction they’re facing until they can’t go anymore and then they turn around. Others stand vigilant watch and smash you like a freight train if you cross their paths.

The entire ordeal of watching how patrols and movements line up as you shift around the board is very much identical to playing the full console versions, hiding in dumpsters and observing from a building over how guards and cops live in their environments. It’s a much more fascinating—and successful—translation of a Square Enix property than they’ve cooked up before. (I’m looking at you, Deus Ex: The Fall.)

The problem is that it also has the same issues that are inherent with the wait-and-observe strategy, which is when you miss your opportunity, you have to sit around twice as long as the stars align once more. Especially once you start trying to accomplish the secondary objectives like no kills and whatnot, missing your chance is one of the most frustrating things you can do given that there is no undo button. In the main series, you can just say fuck it and start shooting stuff, but with Hitman Go, you’re locked into the noble stoicism of hiding in a bush.

Hitman Go

Luckily, you don’t run into that problem very often. It’s really only a thing once you get into the later (but not super late) levels and try to do more than what is needed. The game has a great ability of layering things on rather quickly without overwhelming you. You’ll deal with guards with knives and you’ll get disguises and use trapdoors and throw rocks but it all works within unflinchingly consistent rules and a static framework, so the game manages to get you into more interesting predicaments with less handholding quickly.

Once you get to the later levels, you often find that every move counts, forcing you to think four or five moves ahead. Personally, it’s something that I don’t find as endearing so much as a chore, but that’s just a personal thing. I really like the trial and error process that allows me to continue after an error, not one that dumps me at a brick wall.

The aesthetic, though, is a great joy. The entire game is made to look and feel like a board game with a hyper-minimalist look and a slight tilt-shift effect on the entire viewport. Whenever you’re taken out, you just topple over and gently roll to a stop. When you eliminate an enemy, you’ll often find them placed to the side of the board, waiting with other discarded pieces. Even your movement input of swiping up and down, left and right mimics the feel of moving pieces along a board. It’s just great.

Hitman Go

As a mobile game, though, the payment scheme doesn’t seem too great. None of it is at all necessary (especially since we have the Internet and this is a puzzle game), but the things to be bought feed directly into progression. You can buy hints to replenish the five you originally start with and instead of earning goal cards to unlock new box sets, you can just buy your way in. It feels like buying a car and then the dealer still asking for money as you drive off the lot.

But that and the terrible test of patience infused in the practice of systemic observation aside, Hitman Go is a good game. It does so well what many other mobile counterparts of traditionally console and PC-based franchises fail to do, which is capture the essence of its lineage. Instead of knowingly failing to recreate a controller or mouse and keyboard experience, Hitman Go tried to find the foundation of the series, and it does so with aplomb. It’s just that it already—and always did—has a few cracks in it.

+ Looks fantastic and really pulls of the board game aesthetic
+ Truly captures the base experience of playing a Hitman game
+ Lays out its rules very clearly and expertly, allowing quick learning
– Inherently causes a lot of waiting and toe tapping
– Payment structure is really annoying and doesn’t feel great

Hitman Go

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Game Review: Hitman Go
Release: April 17, 2014
Genre: Puzzle
Developer: Square Enix
Available Platforms: iOS, Android (soon)
Players: Single-player
MSRP: $4.99
Website: http://hitman.com/

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Some Sort of Stigma

Some Sort of Stigma

As video games continue to exist and be an openly available consumer-based industry, stigmas begin to form. Some already exist and apply to the world outside of the game, such as gender and age markets, platform price points, and the sobering hiring-firing cycle of traditional development, but the ones that pertain to the products themselves are just as multifaceted and interesting. They can begin as one thing and slowly change and morph into new predilections as standards and practices evolve.

With a shooter, you come to expect certain things because that’s just the way they are. You expect some sort of indicator to come up around the reticle when you’re damaging something, you expect a variety of weapons that cover a set array of utilities, and you expect some sort of shooting/meleeing interplay. That’s what we’ve been trained to believe a shooter will provide, even though that wasn’t always the case. Save for the plethora of firearms and their distributed use, these are modern conventions brought about by relatively recent titles.

These stigmas can go on and on for most every other genre, too. Fighting games have metered super moves, racing games have driving lines, and mobile games have in-app purchases. They may not be categorically true, but the fact that the majority (or majority of significant releases, anyways) hove close to this stricture makes it certainly seem that way.

Take stealth games, for example. When you think of sneaking around in a video game, you think of waiting in the shadows, not getting spotted, and accomplishing some task unseen. You get in, get out, and don’t get caught. A perfect run in any stealth game is obviously the one where you accomplish it like a ghost: invisible. We know that because Splinter Cell taught us that a good sneak-fest ends with zero alerted guards and zero trigger alarms. Metal Gear Solid taught us that the punishment of fighting enemies in some strange combat framework was reason enough to warrant us channeling our inner 90s Swayze.

Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine, though, begs to differ. Andy Schatz’s stealth co-op game is all about being sneaky little thieves and accomplishing furtive goals under some searching gaze. The difference, however, between Monaco and the Dishonoreds and Mark of the Ninjas of the world is that there’s a timer.

I guess, really, it’s not the timer itself since many stealth games have timers either as a scoring mechanism or individual event-type situations, but it’s what the timer does to you as a player. Whereas other stealth games follow within the general confines of the genre in that all of the non-sneaking mechanics such as shooting and stabbing and whatnot all primarily exist to get you out of a jam and back into a state of calm (or maintain that state of calm depending on how your skill level).

Monaco really bucks that trend because your primary sneaking mechanic is the same as your primary get-out-of-trouble mechanic: movement. Each character has a special ability, but that usually lends itself to cooperative teamwork instead of individual tiptoeing. Instead, your primary action is to simply move, either in a whisper-quiet walk or an all-out run. The difference in input simple and plays into that timer.

It’s human nature to desire to be the best, or at least the best you can be. Getting your personal completion time down to mere minutes is utterly intoxicating, so when it’s so simple to shave entire seconds off, you often act upon that impulse. So you run. You’ll run and charge headfirst into situations you probably should have surreptitiously entered, but that’s because it’s so easy to get in and out of your sneaking and escape modes. If you don’t get caught, great! If you’re seen, then you’re already running, and if you keep running, you get a lower time. Fantastic!

This is counter to the single most monolithic stigma of stealth games: getting caught is a failure. In Monaco, getting caught means nothing except get your ass out of there. All that contributes to your time is how long it takes you to get your job done (steal stuff) and how well you did it (amount of stuff stolen). It’s simple in its ways of pushing you to break every preconceived notion of stealth you have and just go for it, a sentiment usually reserved for platformers and shooters.

It provides a moment of reconsideration in what stealth really is. Look at Pac-Man. That old school arcade chase-around might be the first instance of a stealth game; it perfectly mimics mostly every other title in the genre’s post-alert state. You are on the run and being chased by, ostensibly, guards as you try to steal all of the dots and fruit. The only difference is that there is not sneaking mode (unless you count gaming the enemy AI) and there’s no real true escape; you are always running.

So maybe Monaco isn’t really breaking any stereotypes of the stealth genre. Maybe it’s simply a return to form for what they really are. It’s the thrill of the escape. Even games where the focus is on not getting caught like Splinter Cell and Hitman, they are all really just about getting away. It just so happens that in those cases, the best way to haul ass is to be deliberate and calculated. Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine strips out the cautious methodologies and goes back to the first stealth stigma: all you have to do is run.

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Internalizing The Different States Of Halo 4

Internalizing The Different States Of Halo 4

Open-world games generally have a very specific save system in that you can save anywhere and anytime. On PC, they usually facilitate this with quicksave and quickload keys so that you can you don’t even have to go through a menu to use and abuse these two functions. In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, for instance, you just have to press F5 to save and then press F9 whenever you want to return to that point in time.

The purpose of this for developers is to offer players with so many extra keys the ability to utilize them and not be burdened by unnecessary menu navigation (ostensibly, anyways). For players, it works on a different level: experimentation. When I come across a situation that looks to be game-changing or know I’m headed for a conversation in which I’ll have to make a heady decision, I quicksave before I proceed. This way, I can tinker around with the game and see how I can immediately affect the world and my progress. And, sorry to say, I kind of use it as a cheat in Bethesda games like Skyrim and Fallout 3 so that I can get by locks and conversations that are way beyond my skills.

But that’s kind of the point: to cheat the system a little. I remember my first abuse of quicksave/quickload was Max Payne 2 on PC. After every encounter, I would quicksave just in case another one would surprise me and leave me wanting for ammo and health. On a certain level, it’s expected and opens games to a completely different type of gameplay, one where the player treats the world as a sandbox ripe for poking and prodding. Just look at Dishonored of this year. With its quicksave and quickload capabilities, it invites quick and rapid iterative testing. You can easily test the limits of guard patrols and sight distances and reload with no consequence. While the saves and loads may be quick, it slows down the game to a very deliberate pace and greatly expands the experimentation theme of the game without directly affecting how the game plays

It’s different, though, when those reload points land out of your control. When the game operates on checkpoints instead of offering the user the ability to choose when he or she wants to roll back to, it kind of homogenizes the experience. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just makes for a different kind of game. In Hitman: Absolution, for instance, every person playing the game will always start out from a predefined set of locations and circumstances. There is absolutely zero variability here (especially since everything and everyone respawns upon reloading a checkpoint, but that’s a gripe for another time).

That’s what makes Halo games so special. It kind of mixes the two into a dynamic auto-checkpointing system. People have hypothesized and pondered how it works, attempting to divine what qualifies as a good time to checkpoint in Halo games, but it all seems rather moot. The game chooses and you live and die—sometimes repeatedly—by that autonomous decision. Sometimes it very overtly is based on when you kill enough enemies while other times it’s obviously checkpointing at certain locations on the map, but almost as frequently, Halo saves a checkpoint just because. It might be in the middle of a firefight, you in the middle of retreating behind cover, or it might be as you flip a Warthog over a barrier. Much like life, Halo checkpoints just sort of happen.

More than previous games, Halo 4 made me conscious of this. Maybe it was sheer happenstance or maybe it was a tweaked checkpoint system from past games, but it seemed like Halo 4 would save at the most inopportune moments. A second away from death, out of ammo, or after walking in the completely wrong direction for what feels like far too many minutes, I would see that checkpoint hit and just kind of wonder why. Other times, I would scream aloud WWWHYYYYYYYY, but my point remains: it was all nigh inscrutable.

Until it kind of landed on me—heavy in the chest with a thick and solid thud—that it was opening up the game to a similar sensation to the Skyrims and Fallouts and Dishonoreds of the gaming world; it was opening me up to rapid experimentation. However, my mental model worked in a fundamentally different way. In the discrete save/loading methodology, it was easy to empty my mind of each past and future and just focus on my present (likely dire) situation. I would usually refamiliarize myself with the current state of the world just to make sure nothing had miraculously changed in a world I’d thought static all Pleasantville-like.

In Halo 4, though, I began to notice that I was doing a mental quicksave myself whenever I saw that checkpoint hit. I would quickly internalize the state of the world for future reference. It was more than remembering; it was like a pure data set, an infallible visual representation of the entire world of the game, was stored in my brain. I could see and recall in an instant the exact location of the three Grunts to my left by that pillar. I instinctively know there is a firing Needler coming in from my 5 o’clock. It might as well be a fact of everyday life that an Elite has position (x,y,z) and current vector of (u,v,w). The entire quicksave function had relocated to my brain.

This opens the game up to an entirely different method of experimentation that plays into the puzzle-like mechanics of Halo so well. Since the control of the checkpoints is completely out of my hands, progress soon becomes the only worthwhile milestone of the game, but the necessary elegance soon becomes all encompassing. As I’m sure is the same with most of you, when you begin any encounter, you have some idea of what an optimal flow would be. Head left, throw grenade right, clear out hallway, cut across the center, and choke up on the middle as the Covenant try to overwhelm you.

But that fails. Luckily, you hit a checkpoint right after you threw the grenade and the world at that moment is imprinted on your brain. That frag is flying out over two barriers and a mildly empty expanse. A Jackal is over there, unfortunately pushing you towards the hallway you just died in. More importantly, you know that every part of your plan before that grenade worked. Everything after that? Not so much.

So now, instead, you push forward. Bad idea. There’s a Hunter, and he’s going to need to be taken care of one-on-one. Your mental imprint is updated. You fire right and push the Jackal into your grenade (silly Jackal). You retreat backwards that way and dump into the hallway, clearing it out, so now you can take care of the Hunter, the same one that just smashed the ground not two inches in front of you.

All of this happens in an instant. This all happens without thought so much as instinct because that checkpoint is internalized and made to be a very specific part of you. Emotive associations begin to form with good and bad parts of the surround area, where there will be trouble and where there will be aid. Rather than sit and ruminate on your predicament, you act. The dynamism of Halo 4‘s checkpoint system forces you to not think as much as you do simply react. Saves happen in the moment, so your actions happen accordingly. You don’t have time to stop and think so you don’t. You adapt and the game changes with you.

I’m not entirely sure it started out purposeful or not with Halo: Combat Evolved, but this in-the-moment, mystical checkpoint system that Halo 4 still uses absolutely works. More than that, it’s elegant. Deliberate or not, it a relatively small, front-facing change from the usual checkpoint systems that manages to fundamentally changes how the game works. Later Call of Duty games worked similarly, though it was more a matter of where you were and what you were doing at the time an objective completed, so you could be anywhere doing just about anything when you kill the last guy. It makes for trudging through on Veteran a unique experience, but I digress. Neither Call of Duty nor any other game makes the same instant flash imprint on my brain like Halo 4 does. An entire digital world is stored and recreated and analyzed within a single moment and recalled just as quickly.

There’s still a little part of my brain that remembers where I left off two weeks ago. And I still know there’s an Elite hiding behind that rock.

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