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Game Sales Dip – Not the Beginning of the End

Consumer research firm NPD has revealed that annual US video game sales have dropped, despite the strong showing of the latest Call of Duty and Halo sequels.

Call of Duty: Black Ops - massive sales couldn't help the games industry in 2012

According to NPD, the overall drop is due to lower sales on less popular titles.

“Despite an overall retail video game decline of 11%, November had the smallest year-over-year decrease we have seen for dollar and unit sales so far this year,” it said in a statement.

“Overall entertainment software units decreased by 15%, however, when comparing the performance of the top five titles from this year to last, we see a rise in unit sales of 5% – games outside of the top five sold less, leading to overall declines.”

On top of this, November 2012 saw fewer releases than the same period in 2011. However, all is not lost – this isn’t the end of digital gaming, despite what some doom mongers might be claiming. NPD don’t include figures for Steam and mobile gaming, while general belt tightening and high unemployment in the USA could of course be contributing. Add to this the recent release of the Nintendo Wii U potentially holding off potential purchases to gauge reception and even the expected release of the new PlayStation and Xbox consoles in 2013, and you can see that it really is business as usual.

After all, Activision reports Call of Duty Black Ops 2 sold over $1bn (£624m; 773m euros) copies worldwide during its first 15 days of release. And hasn’t the way we play games changed anyway?

Demo Dated for New Capcom RPG Dragon’s Dogma

Awesome new hack and slash RPG Dragon's DogmaAfter unveiling the new RPG/hack & slash title at their annual press event Captivate in Rome a few weeks ago, Capcom have finally announced a release date for the Dragon’s Dogma demo.

Dropping onto Xbox Live and PSN on the 25 April in Europe, the Dragon’s Dogma demo will offer players the chance to take two of the nine classes available in the full game through two unique and exclusive prologue sequences to the main games story.

The title will also introduce the ‘Pawn’ party system where you can create a party made up of characters from the game world and those created by other players via in-game connectivity. Both the melee-based Fighter class and the stealth-savvy Strider class will each offer a unique environment and final boss encounter that will showcase their unique strengths and abilities.

Aiming to mix RPG elements with more traditional hack & slash and horror staples, Dragon’s Dogma will also offer the standard avatar customisation feature but will neatly let players port their customised demo character over to the main game.

The full version of Dragon’s Dogma will be available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on May 25.

I Am Alive

Whether we like to admit it or not, we as human beings do consider the end of the world. It may not be a pleasant topic, but it is a popular one, a fact that many game developers have built, and are continuing to build, upon.

I AM ALIVE is a unique gaming experience, definitely in its own class for game play. But does the uniqueness of this particular game add or take away from its desirability? Let’s take a closer look at I AM ALIVE and see what makes this game tick shall we?

The game starts off with a video camera playing, showing our main character, Adam, making sure the camera works, and immediately you can feel the dread in this game. It’s a story of a man trying desperately trying to get back to his family, who was on the other side of the United States when the shakes began. Even the soundtrack is sad and ominous, creating the atmosphere of desperation, and determination. The little we know about Adam tells us he spent the better part of a year walking across the US, trying to reach his family, and instantly i can feel a kinship with this man, and the story has me within the first five minutes, being a family man myself I know what family does to you, how it can drive you, and the loss of it can drive you as well.

Adam is a climber, a modern day Ezio Auditore, and these skills are invaluable, as many of the walk ways are cut off, or collapsed, forcing Adam to take to the buildings, climbing up rafters, scaling ladders and poles. To make this climbing more realistic, players are given a stamina bar, which slowly empties whenever Adam runs, or climbs, forcing players to pay attention to where they are going, not having all the time in the world to sit there and decide on a path. This aspect keeps players on their toes, and keeps the  game play exciting.

Now this game isn’t without its flaws. The combat of this game is a very simple aspect, but also a very difficult one to master. You will almost always be outnumbered, so taking your enemies by surprise is the one thing that can give you a tactical advantage. Now this wouldn’t be so bad if the AI was made to compliment this. The AI are very ruthless, and when they see you they will come running, or shooting, not giving you very much time to plan your assault.

Later in the game this is fine because you receive more weapons, but early on this can be frustrating as most of the time you need to bluff to get out of situations, and if they call your bluff you are left with nothing but an empty gun and 5 pissed off guys with machetes. Not a very ideal situation to be in. The turn out of most fights are almost always the same, as one approaches swing your machete and kill him instantly, and then everyone else will attack you. Bluff with your gun (unless you have a real bullet), and when they get scared, knock them out. It can get very tiresome when everyone has a gun on them, then you need to time your kills so you can take their weapons and shoot them before they can shoot you. Overall, not a terrible combat system, but definitely one that can frustrate, and at times, cause a good amount of rage to be had with the game.

While this game doesn’t shine in combat, the overall, the game play and the storyline that goes along with it was enough to hold my attention for the 6+ hours it took to complete. Mind you, that was with finding and helping 15 out of the 20 people in the game. I didn’t spend time searching out people, but the ones I came across I did try to help as much as I could. Overall, the game kept my attention, and while the combat was a bit sluggish and repetitive, I AM ALIVE succeeded in creating an amazing world, a story that drew you in, and characters that are memorable, and to me, that makes the game shine and stand out from all the rest.

Capcom Reveal Lost Planet Threequel

Capcom have managed to let slip that a third outing in the Lost Planet franchise is in the works.

A video was briefly uploaded to YouTube confirming the games existence early last week. Capcom were quick to have the video taken down, but not before the internet was abuzz with surprise and speculation.

Not one to waist an opportunity, Capcom quickly added the new third-person shooter installment to its already crowded announcement list at its annual showcase event, Captivate, in Rome a few days later.

Development duties for Lost Planet 3 have supposedly fallen into the hands of Spark Entertainment, who have previously released the equally disappointing FPS titles Legendary: The Box and Turning Point: Fall of Liberty.  A bold move considering the studio’s previous FPS-focused experience, but Capcom are clearly hoping Spark will find their stride in such a rich and established universe.

Both Lost Planet and its 2010 sequel were developed internally at Capcom, so the decision to outsource the games development to a third party is something of a risk with such an established title. Using Western developers to work on Eastern IPs has had mixed results in the past, from the success of Dead Rising to the reboot car crash of Bionic Commando.

The unexpected reveal came at rather unfortunate time as the gaming world’s attention was focused firmly on the new Resident Evil 6 and Devil May Cry reboot trailers showcased at same event. With further information on both these franchises trickling out of Capcom HQ, you can expect further information on the sci-fi threequel in the coming weeks.

Lost Planet 3 will be released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2013.

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

Bioware Announce Free Extended Cut DLC for Mass Effect 3

Pitchfork waving petitioners can finally rest easy as Bioware and EA confirm a new DLC download that will serve as an epilogue to ‘controversial’ ending of third Mass Effect instalment.

The free DLC will “expand upon the events” of the finale that left many gamers unsatisfied and led others to demand Bioware change the ending entirely. The press release from EA confirmed the DLC content will cater to fans “seeking further clarity” to the ending of Mass Effect 3 and for those seekingdeeper insights into how their personal journey concludes”.

Mass Effect 3 DLC is coming

“We are all incredibly proud of Mass Effect 3 and the work done by Casey Hudson and team,” Comments Ray Muzyka, Co-Founder of BioWare.

“Since launch, we have had time to listen to the feedback from our most passionate fans and we are responding. With the Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut we think we have struck a good balance in delivering the answers players are looking for while maintaining the team’s artistic vision for the end of this story arc in the Mass Effect universe.”

Casey Hudson, Executive Producer of the Mass Effect series added, “We have reprioritized our post-launch development efforts to provide the fans who want more closure with even more context and clarity to the ending of the game.”

As to how this new, unplanned content will affect Bioware’s previous DLC plans remains to be seen. The Extended Cut will be released for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. A release date has yet to be confirmed.

Are Bioware right to respond to the negative reactions of some fans? Let us know in the comments below.

An American Nightmare You Need to Have

On May 18th, 2010, Remedy’s long awaited game, Alan Wake, was released for the Xbox 360, and later was released for Windows as well. Now this game was not just highly anticipated, it was built up for almost 10 years, with little nods toward it here, an interview about it there, and usually when a game is a couple years into development and there still isn’t much news about it, *cough* DMC *cough cough* some fans begin to worry. But needless to say, Remedy delivered with this game, which garnered a 9.0 from IGN, an 8.5 from Game Informer, and an 8 from OXM.

Alan Wake game not only delivered a new and innovative way to play, but also a fresh new story line, one that you could’ve swore came from the Stephen King library. The game left fans hungry for more, and they received it, first with 2 patches of DLC: The Signal, and The Writer, both of which *SPOILER ALERT* explored more into Alan’s experience while trapped in the Dark Place.

But even those two were not enough. Remedy had a winner on their hands, and they knew it. Fans were in love, the forums were ablaze with discussion about this game, about where it would go next, and where Alan would go next. Even with all the discussion, all the waiting, I don’t think anyone was ready when the 2011 VGA’s rolled around.

Remedy could’ve taken the series anywhere, but the fact that they chose an arcade title instead of a full-fledged game not only shocked gamers and editors alike, it left murmurs  in its wake (no pun intended) that Remedy might’ve dropped the ball. I will admit that I was a bit skeptical about it, with the developers stating that “If the first Alan Wake was 70% story and 30% action, American Nightmare will be 70% action and 30% story”.  This worried me, because when I play games, I play them for the story, whether it’s an FPS like Halo, or an RPG like Skyrim or Fallout. I do agree that gameplay is an essential part to games, but I also am a firm believer that story is the bread and butter.

Even with all these rumors and speculation, I still stocked up on Microsoft points, and eagerly awaited the arrival of February 22nd. Now, the burning question is, was it worth the wait? Well, the short answer is yes. For the slightly longer and in depth answer, you’ll just have to keep reading!

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare was indeed a big step out on the ledge, but if we have learned anything from Indiana Jones, sometimes you just gotta take a leap from the lions jaw and hope you make a solid landing. Remedy, on both accounts, did just that. When this game touched down in the marketplace, I will admit, I was refreshing the game marketplace as quick as I could, and I stayed up all night once the download was done (work in the morning? Who has time for that? I’m the warrior of light!) I sat and played that game for 4 straight hours. Diving head first into the story and not coming up for breath until I was choking on the epicness that I found myself engulfed in.

I will say this, the gameplay hadn’t changed much from the original game, and that was good! The movement was still fast and fluid. Wake still moved like a human, getting tired after running too far, or not being able to run much after being hacked and slashed by The Taken. It felt real enough to keep me on the edge of my bed, blanket thrown around me, and my trusty mini flashlight close by just in case.

The addition of the heavy fire power was a welcome sight after learning of the new enemies that I would be facing. (More on that later) When Wake pulled a combat shotgun out of a case, I honestly couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The hunting rifle and shotgun in the first were believable, because Bright Falls was a known hunting area, but this just made no sense to me. But after I wallowed in this disbelief for a minute or so, I picked up my shotty, and proceeded to open up all kinds of hell upon any unlucky taken who happened upon me.

One thing that I had a problem with in the first one, which seemed to carry over to this one, was the fact that this everyday writer had the ability to go full out Rambo with any gun he came across. Now this could be because he “wrote” himself with the ability to do this, but it was never really touched upon. But small flaws like this are easily over looked when you see the Mona Lisa that is the big picture that Remedy managed to paint.

Now, like every new game, there has to be new aspects to it or fans can, and will, get bored. For an arcade title, American Nightmare delivered with the new “Fight til Dawn” feature. Basically a horde mode, you start with a set time, and as the timer winds down, your enemies become more and more numerous, forcing you to be quick and evasive. I can’t count the number of times I found myself running for my life, reloading my magnum, and turning just in time to have to dodge out of the way of a behemoth. This feature has kept me entertained to this day, and will continue to do so until I defeat all the nightmare levels!

No doubt, The Taken in the original Alan Wake was a pretty scary concept. Being alone in a forest, with nothing but you, a flashlight, and a seemingly endless horde of people engulfed in darkness would be enough to send most people howling to nut house. Add to this the ability for the darkness to go full on “poltergeist” made for one hairy situation.

Jumping into American Nightmare, I was pumped. I had been watching videos on YouTube and IGN about this game, and was eager to fight these new enemies. But when I started playing, I was a bit disappointed in how underwhelming they were. The bird men could’ve been done a lot better, instead of having the two splits land in front of you, I thought it would’ve been terrifying to have one land behind you and grab you as the other flock of birds flew right at you. Again, just things like this don’t really affect the big picture of the game, but at the time, it was a bit of a letdown. Now the Behemoth was everything I expected! A hulking, blubbering mass of 99% muscle, 1% brain. This thing wasn’t the fastest enemy, but if it got anywhere near you, and you weren’t aware, you can guarantee a quick KO for Mr. Wake.

My favorite out of all of the enemies though had to be the spiders. Personally, spiders scare the crap out of me, thanks to my dad showing me Arachnophobia at the age of 6, I haven’t been able to be in a room with a spider since (knowingly anyway). When I found the page describing the scurrying legs of the spiders, I felt my skin crawl and a shiver shoot up my back like lightning, instantly getting those phantom itches you get when you think there is something crawling on you. Remedy may have dropped a lot of the story aspect for this game, but the narration and storytelling, when it is around, is still by far the best of its time, uncontested by any other game.

Now the most important enemy in the game was one you never actually fought. Mr. Scratch. A shadowy, mirror image of Wake, all Mr. Scratch wants is to get into the real world, and continue to do what he does best: cause havoc in Alan’s life. Looking at the trailers of this game I had wondered how he would be portrayed. If he would stay on the TV’s found throughout the world, or eventually show himself in the gameplay. The answer was both, but never actually became a figure you would fight, more of a mocking voice in your head….who occasionally through trucks at you. Overall, the new enemies, bolstered by the new weapons, made the gameplay in this title a familiar, but oddly new experience, and that being a good thing in a sequel is a rare sight indeed.

While new enemies and new weapons are fine and dandy, Remedy once again shined the brightest in its story. While not as in depth as the original, American Nightmare still manages to take hold of you with its immersive dialogue and intriguing take on the story. Instead of just continuing on from chapter to chapter, Wake is forced to live out the same three scenarios over and over. This may sound dull and dumb, but trust me, it never loses interest.

With every new run through, new enemies are present, new dialogue becomes available because Wake now remembers more and more. As you watch the story slowly come together, you begin to understand what is happening, and by the final climatic run through, it gives you a unique sense of satisfaction to watch the last cutscene take place, and for the first time, enjoy the most beautiful sunrise you have ever laid eyes upon.

In conclusion, one has to ask themselves, is American Nightmare the game we were waiting for to continue the story of Mr. Wake? Or was it just another DLC postponing the real sequel and trying to buy Remedy some time? I would have to say a little bit of both. Yes this game was amazing, it continued the story, and had great gameplay, but it did lack the engulfing feeling you got from the story in the original. I feel that this game is a great stepping stone toward Alan Wake’s future, and despite the darkness that continues to circle him, Wake’s future looks quite bright indeed.

BBC iPlayer Hits Xbox 360 (At Last)

 

BBC iPlayer is now on every major gaming device in the UK

Finally! For owners of Xbox 360 devices in the UK, the journey has been slow but finally the BBC iPlayer is available, allowing users of the popular games console to enjoy catch up TV and live radio.

Frustratingly, the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 3 have had BBC iPlayer for some time, allowing on-demand and some live broadcasts. However, the BBC is now the only UK content provider to make its programmes available for free to all Xbox 360 users in the UK. Users will be able to catch up on all the BBC programmes they know and love in a familiar, easy to use BBC iPlayer experience.

As you can see from the screenshot above, the iPlayer has been integrated with the Xbox implementation of the Metro user interface, and Xbox 360 users with Kinect will benefit from enhanced functionality, with users able to discover and play programmes using hand gestures and voice recognition.

BBC iPlayer is set to launch on Sky later this year, the result of which will bring the service to millions of new users. BBC iPlayer is currently available on over 450 platforms and devices including Virgin Media, BT Vision, FreeSat, Freeview, Sony PlayStation, Nintendo Wii, and hundreds of mobile phones, tablets, and internet-connected TVs.

Daniel Danker is BBC General Manager, Programmes & On-Demand:

“Xbox is hugely successful in the UK. Given the BBC’s goal to reach its entire audience, I’m particularly excited that the BBC will be bringing iPlayer to all Xbox users at no extra cost as part of Xbox LIVE’s free membership.”

“As we continue our work to make BBC iPlayer as simple as possible, we’re also excited to experiment with natural user interfaces made possible with Kinect, including voice and gesture control. We believe it’s early days for these experiences, but see a great future working with partners such as Microsoft on innovations like these.”

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Stephen McGill, Director of Xbox and Entertainment, said:

“We are delighted that BBC iPlayer is now available on Xbox LIVE. Xbox 360 was the best-selling console in the UK and globally last year, while Xbox LIVE is one of the UK’s leading comprehensive VOD entertainment services on TVs. The addition of BBC iPlayer takes the service to the next level. We offer a formidable line-up of the best TV and entertainment – both live and on-demand – from providers such as Sky, Channel 4, Channel 5, Netflix, LOVEFiLM, Blinkbox, MSN, YouTube and many others.

“The way people interact with entertainment content is changing. Xbox LIVE is the only service in the world where you can search, discover and control TV, movies, video and music using voice and gesture via the power and magic of Kinect.”

So what will it be tonight – Skyrim, Doctor Who or EastEnders…?

Windows Phone 7 Streaming Netflix

Netflix Windows Mobile

Windows 7 news is all over the internet lately. It seems like it’s going to make a huge splash when it finally touches down. But one of the awesomest things to come out of the headlines in the past couple of days is its streaming Netflix app. Unveiled at MIX10, the app features the Watch Instantly functionality that it currently has available on its website and various other devices that connect to your TV (such as, say… oh, I dunno, Xbox 360?) The more information that comes out about the Windows Phone 7, the better I feel about it. Being a movie geek myself, this app adds a thousand points to its win points.

There’s a video from Engadget that shows the app in action.