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The Death of the Kin – On Film

Remember the Kin? Of course you do! No, really, you should – it was the original Windows Phone, Microsoft’s first attempt to redefine mobile phones after Windows Mobile was pushed face down in the dust by Android and iOS.

However, the platform died a death very early (making webOS look positively ancient) and Microsoft quietly swept it away, under a big carpet. Visually it was an interesting device, but the real problem was that it just didn’t work, for one reason or another.

Wired have recently released these videos of the Kin being tested. It’s not pleasant.

It seems that even dialling – that most basic of phone functions – was difficult:

The lag wasn’t limited to fialling, either….

Somehow the Kin was launched, despite the evidence seen here – to pretty poor reviews. The evolution of the Kin is a little convoluted – it’s inspired-yet-flawed social networking integration would be removed, downgrading the phone to a feature phone – but essentially it didn’t live long past the summer of 2010, existing in the wild in its original form for about two months.

Of course, there is a happy takeaway from all this – without the very patient testing group, Kin wouldn’t have been dropped, and I wouldn’t be sat here with a nice new Windows Phone 8 😀

(Via the wonderful WPCentral)

Does iOSification Stand in the Way of Mountain Lion Take Up?

News that just 25% of Mac users have upgraded to the latest release of OS X has lead to a variety of theories as to why this might be the case. Top of the list is the operating system’s march towards looking and feeling like it’s “little brother”, iOS.

Why have only 25% of Mac users upgraded to Mountain Lion?

Given that Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion features some considerable performance boosts, the fact that take up isn’t higher (I mean, it’s only $19.95 to upgrade!) has lead some to question if the main player, Snow Leopard, might become Apple’s equivalent of Windows XP.

There are, of course, various advantages to using Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. To begin with, there is the compatibility with PowerPC applications which later versions of the operating system don’t support. There’s also the Hackintosh phenomenon – sadly it is becoming trickier to install Mac OS on newer non-Mac hardware, but Snow Leopard can be configured to run on a large selection of systems and even as a virtual machine on computers with AMD processors.

Financial constraints on users might also be to blame, although the low cost of the software upgrade (as opposed to the hardware) suggests otherwise. The real problem might simply be Apple’s growing popularity as the “friendly” and “usable” platform is reaching a new audience that has already been through enough transferring from Windows and doesn’t want the perceived hassle of yet another “upgrade”.

But what of the iOSification of the platform? Seen by some as inevitable, you only need to glance at Launchpad, Mail, iPhoto and many other Apple and third party apps to see that the whole look, style and ethos of iOS is being adapted wholesale for what is a desktop computing platform. This isn’t to everyone’s tastes.

What is most interesting about this is that it puts Apple into a situation similar to that experienced by Microsoft since Windows XP’s initial end of life date. Now extended to 2014 (although with a share of 41% earlier this year, that date seems extremely optimistic) Windows XP support is a major bugbear for Microsoft, particularly as it isn’t Metro friendly and can’t even run Office 2013. Yet it persists in popularity among users and games publishers.

Apple were forced to issue a patch for Snow Leopard in September 2012, something that isn’t usually done for the last-but-one release. Usually at this stage support is dropped, so it will be interesting going forward to see how Cupertino deals with this particular problem.

In the meantime, they’ll be hoping that the low price and the coming holiday season leads to an increase in the uptake of upgrades…

Eternal Darkness Comes To Light

Have you ever played a so-called horror game and felt like it was lacking something? Like it just wasn’t…oh, I don’t know, scary?

I mean you can tell they tried. There were lots of dark corners and limited amounts of ammunition and/or health pick ups, but it just felt difficult and clunky. Maybe it was more of a “survival frustration game” that kept killing you with a tank-like character that acted defenseless and frail even when it came to simple tasks like turning on a flashlight and running down a corridor. The finished product is a game that is traumatizing to the protagonists, but boring and redundant to the player. These games are irritating, especially when you shell out a thick wad of hard-earned cash expecting to be thrilled and terrified.

I can empathize, my friends, but I wouldn’t be a very likable person if I just dwelt on the negative all the time, so I’m wasting a bit of your time today to talk about this little gem called Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem released for the Nintendo Gamecube. Give it a shot. You’ll be impressed by the brilliant methods they use to startle the player out of their comfort zone and with any luck you’ll be so scared you’ll forget about all that money lost on lackluster horror games.

Why You Should Care

Anyone who has ever played this game will likely tell you the same thing I’m about to: the most memorable facet of this game is the effect your sanity gauge has on the presentation. In this game you have a green sanity gauge positioned next to your health and mana. Certain events will cause your character to lose some of that sanity gauge, and that’s when the awesome stuff starts. At first you’ll see little things like the walls bleeding. It’s cool to look at, but nothing spectacular.

As your character loses more of its grip on reality, however, they may just encounter a group of invincible enemies and drop over dead. You see the game over screen and that’s that. Or is it? A sudden flash of white and the room reloads to where you were before the hallucination. This will likely freak you out enough that you’ll want to go save your game. You reach the save point and press the necessary buttons. The screen asks if you’re sure you want to delete your game. What!? No! You move the cursor to select no, but it switches at the last moment and you select yes.

Your game is deleted. The title screen appears.

You weep over the hours of gameplay lost.

A sudden flash of white and the room reloads. These are the occurrences that really make this game stand out. It doesn’t want to mess with the characters. It wants to mess with you. Such an ingenious mechanic really creates memorable fear, and I can still feel the adrenaline flowing through me as I recall my first time playing.

Another reason you may want to play this game is if you have any affection for the Cthulhu mythos created by H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). While the game doesn’t officially have anything to do with “The Call of Cthulhu” story, there are many parallels, and a great deal of inspiration is obviously drawn from it.

While it may seem like commonplace today, Eternal Darkness offered players the ability to target specific areas of an enemy’s body. In the year 2002 this was a pretty novel concept, and I feel that it’s still underutilized today. For humanoid enemies this boiled down to removing their arms and eventually targeting their heads, but more complex enemies offered more diverse strategic options. Finally, when you throw the magic system into the combat mix, it makes for a lot of options that create the impression that your character isn’t pathetic while still never allowing you to feel fully comfortable with your combat prowess.

Why You Might Not Care

Even for its time, Eternal Darkness was not a pretty game. It wasn’t ugly enough to disturb the gameplay or immersion in the plot, but the modern gamer might blush at the dated graphics.

The combat system, while engaging, is kind of slow. You won’t be piling up combo multipliers nor will you be strafing or dodging. Simple aim-and-strike mechanic might bore some adrenaline junkies out there.

Is It Worth It?

This game is a classic in my opinion, and a Gamecube is cheap to buy from a retro gaming store. If you can forgive dated graphics and you love to see developers “breaking the fourth wall” this is a game that’s worth the money. Already own a Gamecube? Well, what are you waiting for? Go buy it!

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem from Silicon Knights was released on June 24, 2002. What are your memories of the game? Let us know!

Interactive Storytelling: The Strength of a Medium

Electronic games are the soaring phoenix above all other mediums. Sure, some over-zealous film student might squawk to his disinterested pals that no medium will ever beat the visceral immediacy of cinema, but videogames, being a visual medium as well, have all of the elements needed to be just as engaging, if not more so.

As for their nerdy cousin, the aging and boring book, who really reads anymore? Books have their own strength regarding introspection, but the average media consumer doesn’t want to spend 30 minutes reading a scene that takes two minutes to plow through in a visual medium. In addition, videogames have had an era of text-based games that could effortlessly compete with the various novels out there, so who really needs a bulky tome cluttering up their domicile? To put it clearly and simply, videogames are the most attractive and challenging medium to write for and are, in my opinion, the most rewarding to the consumer. If you need any convincing, look no further than the mind-boggling possibilities that accompany the ace-up-the-sleeve of all videogames: interactive storytelling.

Imagine this: you’re a scruffy, pimply, self-conscious teenager taking a girl out on a date for the first time. You have no idea what to do that you’d both enjoy so you end up falling back on the stereotypical movie date. You grab some soda for you and your date and you get seated. The dark of the theater and the booming bass of the speakers get you stoked for the film. The woman on the screen is navigating a dark hallway. You know that she has two little children back home who rely on her.

She’s human to you, and for some reason you feel responsible for her. You WANT to make sure she’s ok. Then, out of the shadows, a robed man with a knife appears and brings an immediate threat into the picture. Your date screams out “turn around!” The girl on screen responds, sees the robed man, and starts running! She finds two doorways. Your life is in her hands. What now? Two hours later you step out of the dim theater after safely guiding your heroine to safety and your date asks what would have happened if you chose the other doorway. You say you don’t know, but you’re curious to find out.

With videogames telling such rich stories, which way now for cinema?This scenario is a basic look at how videogames are superior to film: a sense of ownership over the characters and the need to constantly be paying attention in order to guide them safely through their challenges. If this film were a normal movie, you’d just be vacantly staring and watching the action unfold, but having control adds a layer of enjoyment.

Now imagine comparing the outcome of your viewing with a friend who also saw the movie. You both ended up with different endings and different relationships to secondary characters. This concept builds curiosity and inspires folks to go back and see what they could have done differently. What if Al the plumber lived through act 4? Would the heroine have married him instead of Steve the used car salesman?

It doesn’t have to stop there though. Downloadable content has made episodic storytelling possible for the gaming scene. We can see this in action in the recently released The Walking Dead game by Telltale Games, where the player guides the protagonist through the zombie apocalypse and his actions have reaching effects in the following episodes. The popular Mass Effect series by Bioware has the same appeal, although each installment is a full length game. Even the recently announced Black Ops 2 is rumored to have a branching storyline. Developers are just now catching on to this wonderful tool and I think it’s going to catch on like wildfire soon.

#As videogames have challenged our hand/eye coordination and strategic skills in the past, they are now poised to challenge our morality and worldviews, forcing us to make difficult choices outside the realm of good or bad or black or white. In the wake of the conclusions we earn for our characters we reflect and wonder “what if”.

Your move, film.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Yes, I’m well aware of how old this game is, but hey, I make use of the games I enjoy and have at my disposal, money was a bit tight this month so instead of buying a new game, I picked up a couple oldies that I have heard are a blast/makes you want to rage quit so hard, you’ll be begging for a red-ring to happen just so you have an excuse to not play anymore!

That mystery game’s review will come later, mostly because I haven’t worked up the courage to pop it into my console yet, but for now lets take a look at Deus Ex, and see how Square Enix did with this seemingly amazing looking game.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a prequel to a game that was released back in 2000, and while the original game was welcomed with open arms, many speculated at the announcement of a console release for this prequel, but me, being the optimist I am, was pumped, because the original was amazing. So I dug down deep, and I held onto the faith that this game might just turn out alright. Well, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that my faith was not misplaced, because DE:HR never failed to deliver in game play, story, and “holy crap! Am I watching a movie?” graphics.

You play as ex-cop, and head of security at Sarif Industries, Adam Jensen. All around bad ass, complete with the leather trench coat and gruff voice. To say that the game starts off with a bang would be an understatement. You are instantly thrown into the fray after a few brief cut scenes, and your mission is to find out what the security breach is. As you roam around the building, you run into a few enemies, nothing to shake a stick at, and all seems to be going well, until BOOM! Attack of the crazy augmented man! You’re thrown through a window, forced to watch your girlfriend die, and get shot in the head, all in the span of 5 minutes. I’ll give the game credit, it wasn’t pulling any punches with this introduction.

Fast forward 6 months. You’ve been outfitted with the latest and greatest augments, in order to save your life, although your character never wanted to be augmented in the first place. This may not be the beginning of the story, but this sure as hell is where the game began to take my attention. The RPG style game play of it was flawless, with the very first mission giving you the chance to choose how you want to play the game, slow and sneaky, or fast and gun-blazing! Not many games could handle being a FPS and an RPG, but Deus Ex does it flawlessly.

Game play is what you would expect from an FPS. AI’s duck into cover, flank, and retreat all according to how you play, which means nothing is ever scripted, and you can always play the game differently no matter how many times you play through.  If you want to snipe from a distance, expect enemies to try to flank, or if you prefer the close range combat, expect enemy snipers to begin to chip away at your health.

The mix of cover and gun play is phenomenal here, with both you and the AI making use of any cover available. Cover is not only for combat, however, it can be used to hide your presence from enemies, cameras, sentry guns, and any other nosey annoyances that happen your way. There are implants that can assist in your stealthing abilities, but it will almost always come down to the players’ ability to time their movements, and read the enemies’ movements as well, and on the hardest difficulty, even being in cover isn’t enough sometimes. If even a speck of you is showing, enemies will become instantly alerted, its a challenge, but a fun one at that!

Let me touch on the ending just a bit before I finish up, so hopefully it goes without saying, but

*SPOILER ALERT IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH!*

With a game so wrapped up into conspiracy, it wasn’t a surprise when a name as big as the Illuminati was dropped. I’ve read other peoples opinion on this, and some frown upon it but I personally believe it takes a pair to bring up something as controversial as The Illuminati in a video game, and more developers should take notes from Square Enix because they nailed an amazing story here, and although it was meant to be fictional, I’m sure I’m not the only person who was thinking about the ending for a couple days after I beat it. You know its a good ending when it sticks with you, and this one most certainly does!

If this game wasn’t a prequel, I would be in the streets demanding a sequel to it. Deus Ex: Human Revolution plays flawlessly, looks beautiful, and has characters that are not only memorable, but iconic. The “One man against the system” story may have been done before on numerous occasions, but Deus Ex does it right here, and does it uniquely enough that it won’t soon be forgotten.

The Second Chance Club: Dark Void

Welcome to The Second Chance Club, a new regular retro reviews column with a bit of twist. With TSCC I’ll be revisiting or trying out for the first time a game that’s received poor reviews or sold particularly badly in the last few years. Maybe it’s a game that’s failed to meet expectations or a title that’s generally received a mediocre reception all round. Whatever the first reception, every ‘bad’ game gets another shot at glory with The Second Chance Club. Or have a second nail nailed firmly into its coffin…

This week, we’ll be kicking off the inaugural edition with Capcom’s sci-fi flight combat-cum-third person shooter Dark Void.

On paper, Dark Void should have been a colossal success. Developed by Airtight Games, a studio made up the core staff that gave us the addictive dogfighter Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge on the original Xbox, it also had a score composed by Bear ‘Battlestar Galactica’ McCreary and the might of goliath publisher Capcom to boot. It even had the repetitive but normally dependable Nolan ‘Nathan Drake’ North voicing the main character. But somehow all these elements managed the quite impressive feat of cancelling each other out into a broken mess that received an overall metacritic score of 59 out of 100. Even sales of the game mirrored the savage mauling it took from the gaming press, essentially condemning it to the crowded ‘flop’ pile.

Does Dark Void deserve a second chance?

Dark Void follows Will, a pre-WW2 cargo pilot who flies into the Bermuda Triangle and is sucked into another world called ‘The Void’. Will finds himself stranded with his ex-girlfriend, like you do, in a conflict between a band of surviving humans (known rather originally as the ‘Survivors’) and a race of cybernetic aliens known as the Watchers (think of a cross between Mass Effect’s Geth and General Grevious from Star Wars). Throw in the presence of real-life scientist Nikola Tesla as the token-scientist who-happens-to-be-there-to-build-all-your-gear and you’ve essentially got Dark Void. No, that’s really it. It seems the idea of a coherent, emotionally investable narrative was jettisoned long ago.

There really aren’t many positive things to talk about when it comes to Dark Void, because the game manages to throw together a handful of different genres yet somehow create something instantly forgettable. The opening few hours are some of the most frustrating I’ve ever sat through. I say ‘sat’, on quite a few occasions I almost threw my controller through the TV thanks to the abrupt opening dog-fight with no narrative explanation, twitchy controls and meagre spattering of hints. What followed was a good hour or two of cover-based shoot out with no aerial shenanigans whatsover. If the first and years older Gears of War provides more dynamic and rewarding gun-play – even with all those original bugs – then Capcom should have thought twice about unleashing this game on the world.

Capcom's Dark Void - lost gem or genuine guff?

Even when the game finally gives you the chance to hover and flit from nook to cranny with the first version of the jet pack, Dark Void manages to strip it of all the possible fun it could be. Being able to use ledges in vertical cover shoot-outs up the side of structures should be a fast, dynamic and genre redefining experience. Instead, it’s a slow and boring as the gun-fights back on the ground. Even, the weapons are near useless until you collect enough ‘tech points’ (which are Crackdown-style orbs scattered aimlessly around levels) which allow you to upgrade the piss-poor things into something approaching useful. Which help with the shocking aiming, inevitable deaths and mercilessly sparse check-points.

The thing is, there’s a part of me that desperately wants to love Dark Void. A self-confessed Rocketeer fan-boy, I haven’t properly enjoyed a good old dogfighting game since I played Crimson Skies to death all those years ago. Dark Void should be like Gears on War on four-dimensional acid, effortlessly combining aerial combat with cover-reliant shoot-outs. But it sadly misses that opportunity entirely. The power of current gen consoles means there’s no excuse to not fully realise a concepts full potential, only the limits of the design team or time given to make it. Airtight Games strength is clearly show in the flight controls, but these are sluggish at best. Even the mediocre Blazing Angels games feel more responsive than this painful genre pile-up.

Dark Void, as you’ve probably gathered by now, isn’t some misunderstood gem. Usually the omission of multiplayer would have me scoring off points for such a title, but in this case it’s more a blessing than anything else. Dark Void feels a lot like Peter Jackson’s King Kong tie-in, a game with all the potential in the world, executed with all the grace of plane crash.

Avoid, like the plague. You’ll thank me one day.

TSCC Score: 4/10

 

Year of Release: 2010

Version Reviewed: Xbox 360

Alternative Formats: PS3, PC

The Truth Behind the GAME Closures

While there are some good tidings in the news that 3100 jobs will be saved thanks to the investment group Opcapita buying a chunk of the GAME Group, the recent turn of events is only the tip of the iceberg in a series of developments that bear a startling resemblance the Hollywood crash of the 1970s.

This news means that 333 stores will remain open, but what it means to the ethos of the chain and its pricing strategy remains to be seen. A victim of digital downloading and high prices (not to mention annoying 19 year old staff who assume that just because you shave you know nothing about games) GAME should have seen it coming.

As we’ve seen already, SEGA is restructuring in advance of what is expected to be a horrifying loss announcement and there is a big feeling within the industry (both by those directly involved and those on the outside) that the current trend towards blockbuster games is set to come to an abrupt end.

Following Hollywood’s heyday of the 1950s during which time such vast epics as Ben Hur and Spartacus vyed for space with impressive sprawling musicals, the 1960s saw a slight decline during which time the big studios found their attempts at success severely reduced as the traditional cinema-going public on both sides of the Atlantic preferred to stay home and enjoy television. So highly was the threat considered that studios refused to allow their films to be broadcast on TV for some years.

We can see a similar shift in habits with the current state of gaming. Whereas a few years ago games were found on consoles (via disc or cartridge) and PCs, the regular business takes place on the mobile market with digital downloading. There are fewer supply chain overheads with digital downloads – the iPhone App Store has made mobile gaming highly popular with aggressive pricing, something repeated on the PC with Steam.

The result of this is many independent gaming studios – often small teams of programmers and graphic designers reminiscent of the pioneering 1980s – biting an ever-growing chunk into the gaming market at one end of the spectrum and huge monolithic entities adopting Hollywood-esque production qualities at the other.

As well as reawakening the legendary gameplay vs graphics debate (and Angry Birds can claim considerable victory over many PC and console titles of recent years) the whole situation is mirroring the studio system’s 1970s decline, a state of affairs that saw entire lots and sound stages sold off so that the likes of MGM and Paramount could focus on distribution, rather than movie making.

While there was the odd big movie in the 1970s that could be compared to those of the 1950s, these were the tip of the iceberg, rare events that the studios put a lot of faith in. Beyond Jaws there were few surprise hits in the 1970s, but the arrival of Star Wars enabled a new business model for movie making – that of cross-media synergy – that enabled an apparent recovery in Hollywood.

But the fact still remains that the big old studios haven’t been studios for 35 years or so. Instead, they manage distribution of movies made by smaller companies, dedicated film studios. This specialization enables those businesses to focus on what they do, from special effects and costume to providing the food for the actors. 70 years ago this would all have been managed under one roof, with immense waste and inefficiency. Since the 1970s, this is more closely managed and budgeted.

So where does this leave the games industry?

Like the big hitting movies of the 1970s, we’re reaching the point of a handful of big games being released each year on the high end platforms. It’s surely an unusual coincidence that one of the most expensive games of recent years was based on the 1970s movie The Godfather, and its sequel.

As FPS games take the high bar set by Half Life 2 and take it firmly into Hollywood territory and with MMORPGs become ever more multi-layered while striving to keep to the largely linear storylines that are available (a discussion for another time) the budgets on video games have become increasingly obscene over the past few years. While the sale price of these titles is set in order to clear these costs, the question has to be asked – are mobile and tablet games any less enjoyable or less playable than Halo or COD?

Hardcore gamers might say yes. Sales say no.

A revolution is due in the gaming industry. We’ve seen the birth pangs of a new dynamic in the last few weeks, and change continues to proceed apace…

(With thanks to James McLean)

Mozy Reveals Britain’s Reluctance to Backup Data

We live in a world where technology has advanced so much most people own a digital camera or camera phone and as a result their photos exist purely as 1s and 0s.

The convenience of this is obvious – images can be easily shared – but the dangers are clear too. Without a backup solution, your memories can be lost when the storage medium or device crashes, is stolen or lost. As

Claire Galbois-Alcaix of online backup company Mozy, says:

“Imagine losing all your honeymoon photos, emails from that special someone or the diary you’ve been building up for months! In most cases, modern gadgets and gizmos work brilliantly but, when they do go wrong, it can have dire consequences – including the loss of valuable and sentimental material.”

Mozy recently carried our a survey of 3,000 consumers across the UK, which revealed that the average Brit possesses more than four computing devices in their home – double the number owned ten years ago.

Meanwhile over 75% of responders “rely heavily” on technology every day and one in five are rarely away from an internet-enabled device. Habits such as using a dictionary in book form, learning multiplication, making mix tapes or paying bills at the local post office all seem to be dying out as they are replaced with digital and online alternatives. When did you last check a map before starting your car journey?

Online shopping for fashion and holidays are also overtaking their high street rivals, while the existence of text messaging and online instant messaging and social networks has seen a decrease in using the telephone to speak to friends and family.

As everything has changed so much, therefore, let’s remember what is important to us. Those vital documents, video clips and photos need attention, and if 9 out of 10 of us in the UK don’t bother, that’s a lot of data that is at risk…

Find out more at www.mozy.co.uk

Great Games for the End of Days

Ah 2012, the year of our supposed demise as a human race, and the destruction of Earth itself. Well, if this is going to be our last year on Earth, at least we can go out with some great games to keep us company, cause let’s face it, with the raising of gas prices, mixed with the lower employment rate, no one is gonna want to leave the house.

What better time for the gaming industry to pump out some blockbusters! Yeah you could spend that money for games on food, but hey, if the world is ending, I’m going to go out playing Halo 4 in my sweats, surrounded by empty Cheetos bags and Dr. Pepper bottles! So let’s take a glimpse at what games are going to keep us company as the apocalypse drops in, and hell rides in with it!

 

Mass Effect 3

This game has been a long awaited conclusion for the series, in the first 24 hours alone its sales hit over 90,000 units, with a breath taking 70% being on the Xbox 360 (score one for Microsoft!) I can say that I have personally been enjoying taking it to the Reapers and Cerebus, and I don’t see this game dying down anytime soon. With its intense multiplayer, and amazing (as always) storyline of Commander Shepard, fans will be playing this game for months to come, not only because of the numerous classes available, but also the DLC that is almost guaranteed to follow-up.

Mass Effect has made its impact on the gaming industry, one that is a unique enough imprint to guarantee its memory be kept with us forever. Even as we move on to bigger and better games, we’ll always look back and remember how we saved the universe as Commander Shepard.

 

Devil May Cry HD Remake

Speaking of memorable characters, I think it’s safe to say that whenever the name “Dante” comes up in gaming conversation, the flash of a beautiful red coat, followed by the white hair we’ve all come to associate with our favorite devil hunter pops into our heads. I’m sure I’m not the only one who got really excited when this remake was announced, and even more pumped for the price! 40 dollars for two amazing (and one decent) games is almost unheard of in this economy, and the fact that I get to flash my sword skills and gun toting abilities in full HD just makes this year that much more exciting.

April 3rd can’t come soon enough, and when it does, I’ll be getting busy with my girls Ebony and Ivory once more.

 

Max Payne 3

“Pain to the max!” Ah how I remember that line being delivered by the Punchineli Brothers right before they opened fire on our dark hero. It seems like only yesterday that I was dodging through the air in slow motion, shooting at a crowd of people in hopes that the horde of bullets flying at me wouldn’t take off that last bit of health the pain killers couldn’t manage to heal. With the third one on the way, fans are eager to get their hands on it, and with good reason!

With an innovative new multiplayer, something never seen in any other May Payne game, along with more fluid game mechanics for Max, and the attention to detail that is so well known to the franchise, this game is going to have hordes coming for it, and I plan to be at the front if the line when it comes time to release the pain on my enemies. So load your Berettas and hit up your pharmacy for your desired pain killers, Max Payne 3 arrives May 15th, and it’s going be one hell of a ride.

 

Halo 4

We may have finished the fight in Halo 3, but it seems like the war has just begun for our armored Spartan II. With Bungie giving its rights for the Halo franchise over to Microsoft, and then Microsoft giving the project over to 343 Industries, it was only a matter of time before we donned our Mjolnir Armor once more. This game looks beautiful to say the least. The Chief’s armor has been upgraded, and he has never looked more menacing.

From the Vidoc’s that have come out so far, the game looks to be more fluid with the characters’ movement, and the graphics and lighting are out of this world. When September rolls around, you can guarantee I (along with millions of other fans) will be lined up outside the game retailers awaiting to start up the fight once more.

 

Resident Evil 6

Resident Evil has been around for a very long time. With spin-offs of the actual series finding their way onto the Wii, and the 3DS, this franchise has expanded itself, and, very much like the viruses it is known for, infected fans with the need to continue playing these games. Resident Evil 6 is no exception. With new game mechanics and new protagonists, along with a couple returning favorites, fans are excited, and they have a right to be. This will be the first game to feature returning stars and fan favorites, Chris Redfield, and Leon S. Kennedy.

If that’s not enough to get you up and running to pre-order, then take into consideration the new cover mechanics, the new melee abilities showcased by an unknown protagonist, (my guess is a relative of Wesker, but that’s just a hope of mine) and the ability to dodge and slide into cover, all while being able to move AND shoot! This game is going to be great, and as the final game I’ll be mentioning, I think it will do 2012 a service by sending it out in style.

 

Well, there you have it, your list of games for 2012. So stock up on chips, make sure you have plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, and lets send this year out with a BANG! And if you’re worried about the end of the world actually happening, look on the bright side! If 2012 does mark the end of the world, atleast we won’t have to deal the new upcoming “Devil May Cry” and that in itself is almost worth a nuclear apocalypse!

One Platform Too Far?

Terrafin leaps into action in Skylanders: Spyro's AdventureIn 2011, developer Toys for Bob released a game that, at least for two obvious reasons,  was destined to the fail in the eyes of the gaming press.

Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure was a last ditch attempt to revive the fortunes of a character that had once shifted millions of units on a name alone but had since disappeared into mediocrity. Secondly, as the title featured a playable cast of almost 30 characters alongside Spyro, Activision brought out its trump card: collectible action figures that, when placed on a special ‘portal’ stand would generate the same character in the game. But has Skylander’s unexpected popularity juxtaposed with it’s unit shifting gimmick put paid to core innovation in cartoon-like ‘cutsie’ 3D platformers? And have the fundamentals of genre been lost forever?

Once upon a time, in a gaming industry long ago, platform-based games stood amongst their peers like gods. Back when developers were exploring the possibilities and limits of a 16-bit universe, the behemoths of Nintendo and SEGA battled for our hard-earned 90s cash with their chosen champions. Suddenly you either had a fetish for a moustached-Italian plumber with a hero complex or a penchant for a blue be-spiked mammal. These safe, nonthreatening characters were created to appeal to the the most lucrative audience out there, children and their parents bank balances. Mass marketing to this younger audience turned games from a niche adored by bearded, bespectacled 40 somethings to a mainstream must-have.

Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure allows the use of figures such as TerrafinThe advent of moving into the 3rd dimension opened up incredible possibilities for developers, especially those creating platformers. Sony put it’s faith behind both safe and more mature titles such as the suggestive gymnastics of Tomb Raider.  The success of the titular Lady Croft spawned a new, almost cinematic take on platforming.

The craft of storytelling became as important as the game play mechanics.  And these elements have been felt as far forward as the 3D GTA incarnations, Assassin’s Creed and the Batman Arkham series.  The embrace of adult themes such as horror, violence and sex gave this off-shoot notoriety but further widened the gap between itself and the family friendly tones of traditional platformers.

Much of what many critics view as a ‘deterioration’ of the genre could in fact be taken as the inevitable need to expand and evolve. If the first Sonic or Spyro games were re-branded and repackaged for today’s market they’d be low-scored out of the building. The tastes and appetites of the modern gamer have expanded, and so has the pressure for developers to stand out in a saturated market. However, to innovate in itself is a troublesome factor for platformers. Take Insomniac Game’s likable PS2 series Ratchet and Clank for example.

Being the only main platforming franchise on the PS3, it was once hailed as a beautiful and dynamic game. But the series has struggled to do anything more since than increase the size of environments or attempt to create a co-op-centric experience with the latest release All 4 One. As a result, sales figures for the latest title compared to it’s first, Tools of Destruction have been weak at best.  Even the once dominant LEGO franchise has seen its star fall from ascendancy as the number of remaining, un-LEGO’d film franchises grows thin, along with the patience of its fan base.  As fickle a mistress as innovation may be, some developers have taken risks and reaped the benefits.

The awesome Little Big PlanetMedia Molecules’ LittleBigPlanet and its sequel chose to combine puzzle elements with the classic side-scrolling perspective. But LBP had its own trump card to play, offering gamers to ability to take the core physics of the game and create something they they themselves would want to play. “When we were designing LBP 2’s features, we were asking ourselves what makes really good game play, as opposed to what makes an ‘interesting hack’, comments Alex Evans, co-founder of Media Molecule “and it came down to character, control and story. So the idea was that we would help people tell stories”.

As much as the peripheral gimmick has had the gaming press up in arms, Skylanders at least seems to be trying to present a cute platformer in a different light, appealing to the collectorphiles in us all. But it, LBP2 and other upcoming titles like Trapdoor’s ‘Warp’ should all be viewed as a step forward for a genre that needs to naturally expand and redefine itself. It’s easy to assume the principles of the platformers of days gone by have been lost, but in reality they’ve simply evolved to exist in a modern gaming world.