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PlayStation Vita | You May Not Marvel at Lego Super Heroes E-mail
Written by Munk   

Why the latest entry in the block-building franchise engenders a serious case of deja vu.

 

"Sand for brain," Abomination mutters angrily under his breath when his partner in crime commits an evildoer's faux pas. The duality of that comment elicits quiet chuckles in the demonstration room. The hulking bad guy insulted Sandman's cognitive abilities and made a factual statement about the makeup of his cerebellum. A delightful pun. Such humor made frequent appearances in the brief demo of the Lego-themed Marvel adventure. Sandman growls, "I've already won, hands down," while trying to smash Spider-Man with his giant, sand-crafted hands. "He threw that car like a toy," Iron Man quips after having a Lego car tossed his way. It's this simple humor that stood out in Lego Marvel Super Heroes, mostly because the action was all too familiar.

The Marvel universe is overflowing with superheroes, evil villains, and innocent bystanders continually scanning the housing markets of cities not overrun with battling bullies. Lego Marvel borrows from comic books (and popular movies) to build its cast of recognizable characters. In the only stage shown thus far, Abomination and Sandman have formed an uneven duo as they hold unfortunate passersby hostage. The police department is obviously no match for the ruffians who rule the roost, which means any disciplinary action falls on the shoulders of those blessed with not only superpowers, but a tendency to stop evil in its tracks.

Hulk and Iron Man team up to smash minifigs, and they make jokes along the way. Later, Spider-Man joins the team, and he is also more than happy to provide some levity while he slings his webbing around. The developers said that combat has been thrust to the forefront in Lego Marvel in an attempt to show what these enhanced people can do, though the focus on bashing doesn't seem radically different from how Lego games are normally structured. Nameless henchmen run toward your powered-up team, and Hulk easily tosses a car or block of pavement their way, or Iron Man unleashes a swarm of homing missiles. Spider-Man likes his criminals sticky, so he wraps them in a tight cocoon before kicking them in their Lego noggins.

Once the good guys' progress is halted, it's time to solve puzzles. In the level shown, sand is everywhere, so you often have to figure out how to pass beach-based barriers. Spray some water toward a wall, and it solidifies, and then you can just bash through it with Hulk. The huge green guy was the focal point of the presentation. He represents a class of giant character called bigfig. These characters are stronger than the average superhero, but lack dexterity. When you need to build a Lego structure, you have to switch to someone with more nimble hands. This could be Spider-Man or Iron Man, or you could just say "Serenity now," become less angry, and turn Hulk into Bruce Banner. What Banner lacks in might he more than makes up for in smarts.

The hands-off demo certainly looked fun, but it also seemed very familiar. The Lego series has existed for eight years (starting with 2005's Lego Star Wars) and hasn't changed much in that time. The action combines platforming, puzzle solving, and combat in colorful worlds. Dozens of characters are available, most of which are squirreled away behind unlock requirements. Building is a side activity: you simply hold a button over dancing pieces that magically form into a predetermined structure. And a lighthearted tone keeps things feeling silly, frequently poking fun at the source material.

Of course, don't forget about the source material. One of the cornerstones of the Lego games is that, aside from Lego City Undercover, they are always based on a popular license. You might be aiding droids in Star Wars, or running from boulders in Indiana Jones. Maybe you're solving the Riddler's puzzles in Batman, or pining for giant eagle rides in Lord of the Rings. Possessing the Boy Who Lived in Harry Potter was fun for a spell, and now you can play around in the Marvel universe. Accessibility meshed with likable portrayals of beloved franchises leads to a winning combination. But how long can that formula be entertaining? Is there a point when bashing enemies and climbing ropes in a familiar world lose their appeal?

Witnessing the single level on display, it appears Lego Marvel doesn't veer from the established formula of its predecessors. However, it does seem to tap into the core appeal that has made the Lego franchise so popular. The humorous take on well-known characters is instantly endearing, and seeing how deep the developers will dive into the expansive cast of heroes and villains is certainly intriguing. The developers said that Wolverine would make an appearance, and would even square off against his (unnamed) nemesis. That Sabertooth might appear in the game created a mild stir in the demo room. And, maybe, those character cameos are just enough to ensure the same formula doesn't get too tiresome.

Read and Post Comments | Get the full article at GameSpot


"PlayStation Vita | You May Not Marvel at Lego Super Heroes" was posted by Tom Mc Shea on Thu, 04 Apr 2013 08:06:29 -0700
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PC | Magicka: Wizard Wars Is a Frenetic Anti-MOBA for Fans of Chaos and Silly Hats E-mail
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Written by Munk   

Paradox North has turned Magicka into a competitive multiplayer game that focuses on action, speed, and setting wizards on fire.

 

It's an easy mistake to make. You've got the isometric camera angle, a dark but cartoonish fantasy landscape, and a map full of players flinging spells at each other until the screen becomes a fireworks show of light and colors. Magicka: Wizard Wars really does look like it should be a MOBA. But spend a bit more time with this upcoming PvP title from Paradox North and you'll discover a frenetic action game with short rounds and a rule set that has more in common with Battlefield than League of Legends. It is, in many ways, a game geared toward players looking to skip the obtuse strategy of a Dota- or LOL-style game and jump straight into the head-to-head combat.

[ Watch Video ]

Wizard Wars looks like it'll retain the silly sense of humor found in its predecessor.

Wizard Wars is a spin-off of 2011's Magicka, an action-adventure game best known for its novel spellcasting system that let you mix and match different elements to solve environmental puzzles or simply troll your teammates with friendly fire. Wizard Wars keeps the spellcasting system, but trades in the co-op exploration of its predecessor for an experience built entirely around competitive multiplayer (unlike the PVP mode that was patched into Magicka well after release). These are quick, 5- to 10-minute matches with two teams of four going at it in a hailstorm of spells and counterspells.

It's all intended to feel a bit like the intense but rhythmic back-and-forth found in a fighting game. If you see another player charging up a fire spell, you can rain on his or her parade with a quick spray of water. If you get hit with an ice attack that freezes you solid, you'll need to cast fire on yourself to melt free. If you're on the ropes and need to heal up, you can create some distance between you and your opponent by knocking your foe back with a powerful stream of water or just summoning a wall of stone that pops up from the ground.

Player interactions are made up of all these little give-and-take moments, with an added layer of unpredictability stemming from the fact that friendly fire is very much a factor. The whole thing feels a bit like the end of a MOBA match, once all the prep work of leveling up and buying items is out of the way and you're finally able to go at it unrestrained for the last few minutes.

The development team at Paradox North promises up to 400 different spell combinations, which will hopefully provide plenty of strategic depth in the combat system despite its somewhat chaotic appearance. More straightforward is the actual rule set. You're not trying to destroy the other team's base or navigate a system of lanes to push back your opponents. Rather, it's a sort of spin on Battlefield's conquest match type, where you seek to control all the respawn points on the map. Once you've got all those capture points, it's lights out for the other team. Paradox North is hoping to add in new game modes after release, but for now, this is what it's focusing its energy on.

There's something very appealing about the way Paradox North is taking the swords-and-sorcery combat system typically found in much larger strategy and role-playing games and adapting it with a precise eye toward competitive multiplayer. Will the deep spellcrafting system give it the staying power to keep players coming back for one quick round after another? We'll have to wait and see.

Read and Post Comments | Get the full article at GameSpot


"PC | Magicka: Wizard Wars Is a Frenetic Anti-MOBA for Fans of Chaos and Silly Hats" was posted by Shaun McInnis on Wed, 03 Apr 2013 11:52:37 -0700
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PlayStation 3 | The Fungus Among Us: Facing the Infected of The Last of Us E-mail
Written by Munk   

Our first encounter with the Infected of The Last of Us proves to be tense and challenging.

 

I had the chance to play an early section of The Last of Us at a Sony event last week. I spent most of that time holding my breath.

When you first take control of Joel, the rugged protagonist of The Last of Us, he feels a lot like Nathan Drake. He controls similarly and he moves through the environment with a similar sense of momentum. If you've spent time as that earlier Naughty Dog hero, you might, in these early moments, anticipate combat that delivers the same rush of adrenaline that Uncharted's yippie-ki-yay shootouts could trigger. So many of the other hallmarks of Uncharted are present during your quiet traversal of a bombed-out, post-pandemic Boston--fantastic voice acting and facial expressions, environments so stunningly beautiful that you feel compelled to just move the camera around and take in every detail--that it's easy to expect the game to follow the same tried-and-true template where combat is concerned, too. But as you make your way across the ravaged urban landscape, the calm is interrupted by a piercing wail in the distance; it's an unsettling moment that suggests the dangers lurking in your future are eerily unfamiliar.

The wail comes from one of the Infected, a sufferer of the fungus-based disease that has all but wiped out society. Initially, these poor souls retain some awareness of their humanity, but lack the ability to control their actions. Infected who fit this description are called runners; they still look more or less human, though a pallor to their skin and other details make it clear at a glance that they are not exactly the picture of health. Individually, they don't pose much of a threat, but you don't want to attract the attention of several at once and find yourself swarmed. Because ammo is scarce and weapons like Molotovs--which you can craft from items scavenged from the environment--are so limited, taking a reckless, guns-blazin' approach is a good way to get yourself killed.

You'll spend much of your time crouched, moving silently and trying not to give away your position. Being stealthy and smart is key, but the common stealth game behavior of memorizing enemy movement patterns doesn't work here. These twitchy, miserable wretches behave unpredictably, lurching in this direction or that, so distracting them with a tossed brick or bottle before sneaking past them (or sneaking in for the kill) is a particularly handy tactic. If you can creep up behind a runner, you can strangle it to death or execute it instantly with a shiv (another tool crafted from scavenged items), and if you find yourself face-to-face with one, Joel's brawling skills and his ability to hit really hard with pipes and other heavy objects can usually keep you alive.

But it's not just the runners you need to worry about. Eventually, the infection progresses to a more advanced and more disturbing stage, at which point the fungus visibly grows out from the once-human's eye sockets and covers much of the face. These Infected are known as clickers, and though they are blind, they can still hunt you down. The clicks they make don't just serve to send shivers up your spine; they enable the clickers, through echolocation, to "see," and if one locates you, you're in serious danger. Clickers are far stronger than runners, and in a fight with one, Joel's fists will not save him. Clickers are less numerous than runners, but just one clicker in a group is enough to make you think much more carefully about how to handle the situation. I repeatedly fell into the trap of letting myself get distracted by a runner or two, which enabled a clicker to charge up to me from behind; no sooner did it have its hands on me than its teeth were buried in my neck. In order to survive when clickers are present, staying aware of your surroundings and the locations of those clickers is essential.

Luckily, Joel has a gift for situational awareness; by sitting still and listening carefully, he can sense the locations of nearby Infected, who remain visible (even through walls) until you slip out of "listen mode" and start moving again. But while useful, this is no silver bullet for taking care of the Infected. It's still you--not Joel--who has to keep track of how the Infected respond to your behavior once you stop listening and start acting. One group of Infected, roaming around in the gloom of a disused subway station, repeatedly got the better of me as I tried to use a shotgun to take out a clicker, which gave away my position and led to me being swarmed by runners.

Ultimately, I opted for a sneakier approach, tossing bricks and bottles in an attempt to lure Infected towards each other, hoping that I could then take out several with a single, well-tossed Molotov. As I snuck around the station's hallways and put my plan into motion, I never for a moment felt safe. I was constantly worried that one false move would bring all of the Infected bearing down on me, that I'd once again witness the grisly sight of Joel falling victim to a clicker's attacks. It was only after the Infected had all gone up in flames that I finally felt I could exhale, relaxing for a moment but knowing my safety would not last. Facing the Infected made me tense and uneasy, and I can't wait to do it again.

Read and Post Comments | Get the full article at GameSpot


"PlayStation 3 | The Fungus Among Us: Facing the Infected of The Last of Us" was posted by Carolyn Petit on Mon, 04 Feb 2013 00:00:11 -0800
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PC | The Surprising Splinter Cell: Blacklist E-mail
Written by Munk   

Why Sam Fisher's latest adventure is a far more interesting game than early demos might suggest.

 

I thought I had Splinter Cell: Blacklist pegged. Watching last year's E3 demo, I saw a new-look Sam Fisher who appeared far more agile and bloodthirsty than ever before. Dashing up buildings, planting knives in people's throats without hesitation--it was as though Ubisoft had dropped Sam Fisher into an Assassin's Creed game and forgot to change the title.

OK, so maybe I was wrong.

Having spent a couple of hours playing the game at a Ubisoft event last week, it's clear that last year's E3 demo might not have painted the most accurate picture of what this Splinter Cell reboot is all about. Blacklist is a much broader game, one that draws influences from Assassin's Creed and doesn't stop there. At various points during the demo, I was reminded of Mass Effect, Metal Gear Solid, and--bear with me here--XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

The story is that Sam Fisher has become the leader of Fourth Echelon, a newly formed government organization with a focus on clandestine operations. It's a nice little promotion, but one that comes with some serious responsibility.

In taking the reins of Fourth Echelon, Sam has assembled his own small intelligence team. It's a unit that operates not in an office park in Langley, Virginia, but in a flying spy plane. Said spy plane is called the Paladin, and it essentially functions as the mission hub. On a basic level, it's where you peruse intel reports before launching the next ground operation. You can see which missions are available, what they entail, and what sort of threat to your existence they pose. That sort of thing.

But there's more to the Paladin than simply launching the next mission. For one, you can walk around the plane and start up conversations with your team. There's Grim, the redhead who shares a complicated history with Sam; Briggs, the guy who tags along with Sam on missions to act as ground support; and Charlie, the tech whiz who doubles as comic relief. What's impressive about the game's presentation is that you really get the sense that this is a team, complete with all the tension and occasional attempts at lightening the mood that you'd expect from such a high-stakes operation.

Taking the time to talk with your crew presents a few different options for Sam. Each member of your team will occasionally suggest a side mission that you're free to accept or turn down at your leisure. Beyond that, you can also talk to your teammates to upgrade your operation with all the cash you've earned from your latest mission.

Talking to Grim allows you to upgrade various parts of your plane, from radar technology that will improve the information displayed on your HUD during missions, to cushy holding cells that will induce your captives to inform you of black-market weapons dealers. Then there's Charlie, who will upgrade the gear you bring on your mission, such as new weapons and gadgets, as well as various outfits tailor-made for stealthy or aggressive approaches.

That whole economy of upgrades and enhancements is heavily influenced by your play style. The game tracks your style according to three classifications: ghost, panther, and assault. Ghost is the quiet, nonlethal approach that favors knocking people unconscious if a fight must occur; panther is similarly silent, but in a lethal, silenced-handgun kind of way; and the assault approach has you going in with guns blazing, setting off every alarm in the mission. Simply completing a mission in a sloppy, haphazard way will get you some cash (see: assault), but sticking to the ghost or panther play style will net you far more extra rewards and cash.

Curious to see how far I could distance myself from last year's blood-soaked E3 demo, I spent my time taking the ghost approach. It's a far more challenging route to take than the other two, but Sam has plenty of equipment to tilt the odds in his favor, from sleeping-gas grenades to a silent crossbow equipped with several different types of bolts. The latter was especially fun to use, whether I was firing an electrically charged bolt that zapped enemies to sleep or luring enemies out of my path by firing a noise-making bolt into some distant corner.

In my attempts to no-kill my way through the demo, I was a little disappointed to see that there was at least one story-driven sequence that forced me to kill people when a rescue operation went sideways. Though, to be fair, in the two missions I played (one in daytime Benghazi and the other in dark, rainy London), those moments of forced lethality made up a very tiny portion of the demo. Overall, it was reassuring to see that the stealth system in Blacklist remains open to different play styles--and being rewarded in cash to upgrade my flying spy bird for focusing on one of the more challenging approaches is a nice touch.

Perhaps I was a bit quick to write off Splinter Cell: Blacklist as another example of Ubisoft blurring the lines between its major franchises. Sure, there's something initially jarring about just how easily Sam Fisher can dash up walls and scurry along ledges. But this isn't simply Splinter Cell meets Assassin's Creed. It's a bigger, far more interesting game than that.

Read and Post Comments | Get the full article at GameSpot


"PC | The Surprising Splinter Cell: Blacklist" was posted by Shaun McInnis on Wed, 30 Jan 2013 09:00:00 -0800
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3DS | Fire Emblem: Awakening Aims to Keep the Series' Flames Burning E-mail
Written by Munk   

Despite a few new options and features, Awakening strives to remain true to the Fire Emblem formula.

 

It begins in the midst of a heated and crucial battle. Snippets of dialogue make it clear that your character and your ally Chrom have fought alongside each other for quite some time to reach this point. A maniacal laugh from the imposing Validar leaves no doubt that he is an evil figure who must be stopped.

By letting you create your own character--a Fire Emblem first--and then immediately tossing you into this high-stakes situation, Fire Emblem: Awakening grabs you right away. Who are these people? What are they fighting for? How did they reach this point? The answers to such questions will have to wait. After a brief skirmish with Validar, a shocking turn of events occurs that you may wish to experience for yourself. At this point, the game flashes back to your character's first meeting with Chrom, the proper beginning of Awakening's tale. It's an intriguing start that makes you eager to experience the journey that brought the heroes into that fateful encounter with the villainous Validar.

Awakening aims to be a good entry point into the series for those who have found it intimidating in the past. This is evident in the casual option, which disables the series' famous system of permanent death for characters who fall in battle; with this option enabled, characters defeated in one battle return in subsequent ones. But of course, this is just an option; anyone who wishes to fight battles in which the threat of death hangs over their troops can do so. Decisions are sure to feel far more meaningful when you know that the wrong one could cost you a character whose skills you've built up and whose personality you've grown attached to.

You might worry that a game that lets you disable permadeath wouldn't be a true Fire Emblem game, but Awakening's early moments exhibit all the hallmarks of the series. The quality of the writingis immediately apparent, and characters speak with the alluring formality that is typical of noble warriors in Fire Emblem games. (They rarely use an insult any more crude than "dastard," for instance.)

But despite their highborn sense of propriety, the characters' use of language is anything but stiff or off-putting. Your created character is suffering from the all-too-common video game ailment of amnesia when he or she first meets Chrom and his companions, but refreshingly, Awakening demonstrates a sense of humor about this predicament. Frederick, Chrom's rational, skeptical right-hand man, doubts the veracity of your claims of memory loss, advising Chrom that your amnesia is "a load of pegasus dung!" In quick, sharp strokes, Awakening gives its characters distinctive personalities that immediately make you want to get to know them better, and to keep them alive throughout the battles ahead.

Those battles seem poised to maintain the delicious balance between accessibility and tactical depth that has given Fire Emblem its reputation as an excellent series of strategy games. The weapon triangle is still in effect here (swords are good against axes, axes are good against lances, and lances are good against swords), and positioning your troops in these turn-based conflicts is more important than ever. When allied characters are near each other, they can provide each other with stat bonuses, and can pair up to perform coordinated attacks on enemies. As in earlier Fire Emblem games, the relationships between characters can strengthen over time, and in Awakening, it's even possible for your created character to marry certain other characters. Of course, seeing characters level up and learn new skills is rewarding, but it may be just as interesting to learn more about them as people and see their connections with each other evolve.

In most ways, Awakening appears to stay true to the Fire Emblem legacy, but there are a few new elements here that have the potential to enhance the experience without compromising what the series has always been. Random opportunities for battle appear on Awakening's world map; these give you a chance to earn some experience, but you're always free to avoid them if you choose. At a certain point in the story, you gain access to the Outrealm Gate, from which you can access downloadable maps that offer various rewards, if you can win the challenges they face you with. The first such map will be available for free and rewards you for your victory with the hero Marth as a member of your team. Other well-known characters from the series will be available rewards from future DLC. (Those interested in Fire Emblem's fiction may be glad to know that these characters don't naturally exist in Awakening's world; the Outrealm Gate functions as a gateway of sorts to alternate universes.)

For inveterate StreetPassers, the most exciting new feature Awakening brings to the series will likely be StreetPass functionality. This allows you to put together a team of 10 characters who appear in the worlds of other players you StreetPass with. Their teams also appear in your world, and if you can defeat them in battle, or afford their price in gold, you can add their members to your own forces. Provided that anyone you encounter in your travels actually plays Awakening, this could keep the game's world feeling spontaneous and alive.

Awakening's first 30 minutes exhibit a good deal of promise. The question of whether or not the game delivers on that promise will be answered soon; it's scheduled for release here in the US on February 4th. If you'd like to get a taste of Awakening yourself and do battle with some brigands and dastards, a demo will be made available on the 3DS eShop on January 17.

Read and Post Comments | Get the full article at GameSpot


"3DS | Fire Emblem: Awakening Aims to Keep the Series' Flames Burning" was posted by Carolyn Petit on Fri, 11 Jan 2013 17:59:12 -0800
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3DS | Absent a Movie License, Lego City Undercover Still Has Charm to Spare E-mail
Written by Munk   

Why TT Games doesn't need an official movie tie-in to have fun with Hollywood.

 

When it comes to modern games, the appearance of anything Lego has become synonymous with pop culture silliness thanks to the creative efforts of TT Games. Since releasing Lego Star Wars in 2005, the England-based developer has unleashed a torrent of whimsical Lego adventures set in every fictional universe from Batman to Harry Potter to Pirates of the Caribbean. So what happens, then, when a developer so known for working with official movie licenses creates an original Lego story?

The answer to that question is Lego City Undercover, a Wii U and 3DS exclusive due out early next year. If there's one thing that can be said about Lego City Undercover, it's that TT Games doesn't need an official movie license to have fun with Hollywood. Lego City Undercover is one great, big homage to '60s and '70s crime movies, from a San Francisco-inspired setting ripe for car chases to a main character who bears the most police-y of all police officer names: Chase McCain.

McCain is an exiled detective sent away after he successfully locked up the city's most notorious criminal mastermind. Why would that be cause for exile? Well, when your slimy superior officer decides to steal the credit for your arrest, you can see why he wouldn't want word getting out that it wasn't, in fact, his own handiwork. But now that criminal mastermind is back on the streets, and McCain has been called back to Lego City to see if he can't work his magic for a second time.

McCain's journey plays out in an open-world setting not unlike a family-friendly version of Grand Theft Auto. You can run around and "commandeer" vehicles from hapless citizens, explore the city to perform optional side quests, and generally take your time between story missions.

But it's in those story missions where you can see the way that TT Games is casting an especially broad net of pop culture references and irreverent humor. At one point McCain must infiltrate Albatross Prison (an island compound with more than a passing resemblance to Alcatraz) and speak with a character named Blue. When you meet this guy, you can't help but notice a striking similarity to a certain esteemed actor from The Shawshank Redemption. Eventually you finish your conversation, and another character walks up to Blue and asks something to the effect of, "I need some help! Are you free, man?" To which Blue responds, "No! I am not Freeman! His lawyers might be watching!"

Snappy dialogue like that pervades Lego City Undercover's in-game storytelling. There's a mile-a-minute pace of pop culture in-jokes and references that seems capable of pleasing adults with their cleverness and children with their silliness. You really get the sense that TT Games is taking advantage of this game's lack of any official movie connection to forge decidedly unofficial connections to lots of different movies.

Where Lego City Undercover feels more like classic Lego fare is in the way the game plays. Missions tend to be a combination of platforming, puzzle-solving, and very light combat. It's the sort of low-barrier gameplay where challenge doesn't come so much from the missions themselves, but from how much of the huge amount of side content you want to tackle. The open-world format looks like it will add a bit more freedom to the way you take on that content, but the gameplay itself seems like standard Lego stuff.

There are some novelties that come with the Wii U hardware, however. You can use the screen on your GamePad as a sort of mini-map/GPS, dropping a waypoint on the touch screen that will create a trail of green Lego studs on your TV so that you can more easily drive to a particular destination. You can also use the GamePad as a sort of augmented-reality scanner to look around the environment and easily distinguish criminals from ordinary citizens. (Yes, cute little Lego police officers aren't afraid to use Big Brother technology.)

Whether or not TT Games is playing it safe with the way Lego City Undercover plays, it's clear that the developer doesn't need an official movie license to make a game that's every bit as charming and humorous with its pop culture sensibilities as those other Lego titles. Wii U owners will want to keep an eye out for this one when it's released in early 2013.

Read and Post Comments | Get the full article at GameSpot


"3DS | Absent a Movie License, Lego City Undercover Still Has Charm to Spare" was posted by Shaun McInnis on Fri, 14 Dec 2012 10:00:00 -0800
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Xbox 360 | Gears of War: Judgment Fights Redundancy Through Innovation E-mail
Written by Munk   

Epic retools the series' familiar structure with a slew of features that extend the life of the game and potentially the series as well.

 

With some thoughtful changes to the traditional formula, and a dash of inspiration from their peers, People Can Fly and Epic's Gears of War: Judgment could be the most progressive entry in the series to date. Its narrative is communicated in an entirely new way, and surprisingly, this inventive approach also affects the flow of gameplay. These modifications to the Gears formula may even extend the series' endgame beyond Judgment.

The plot centers around Kilo Squad, which is composed of familiar faces Damon Baird and Augustus Cole, and two newcomers, Sofia Hendrik and Garron Paduk. All four stand trial for treasonous actions taken during the battle at Halvo Bay--specifically, their procurement of secret technology belonging to the Coalition of Ordered Government. Their fate lies in the hands of the staunch COG Colonel Ezra Loomis. He proclaims, "The charges will be defined as I hear your testimony," and one by one, each Gear delivers his or her own account of the events that took place that fateful day at Halvo Bay.

As the Gears testify, you relive the events of that day from their perspectives. Your individual reenactment of the testimony plays a pivotal role in the outcome of the trial and the fate of the Kilo Squad--potentially. There's no way to definitively say how the conclusion of Judgment can be influenced at this point, but it's confirmed that the testimonies themselves may be altered by your actions in-game. Trials, especially this military tribunal, live and die by testimony, so it's not a stretch to imagine this one will impact the progression of Judgment's story.

Each map contains COG tags in the environment that, when approached, give you the opportunity to hear declassified testimonies relating to the events at hand. Generally, opting to hear declassified information will alter environmental variables that in turn will complicate your current mission. They may reveal, for example, that Kilo Squad had to fight in the midst of dense fog, or that it came equipped with a severely limited arsenal. Masochists will appreciate the added challenge, but beyond that, the revelation of these extended testimonials could also influence Loomis' verdict at the end of the trial. If that's true, it introduces the possibility of multiple endings--a first for the series.

Choosing to hear declassified testimonies also rewards you a score multiplier. Gears of War: Judgment introduces a ranking system that gauges your performance in each mission using stars. Epic sees this as a way to fuel the obsessive desires of completionists, but it also noted that consistently acquiring perfect star ratings will unlock "significant" content, though what that may entail remains a mystery.

Declassified testimonies and multiple outcomes definitely bolster replayability, and in that regard, Judgment has one more trick up its sleeve. A new dynamic system varies spawn points and enemy types based on weapon loadouts and unit positions on the battlefield. It's the perfect analog to The Director, the AI responsible for dynamically summoning the undead based on an array of conditions in the Left 4 Dead games.

The ruins of Sera's fallen civilizations work quite well in this regard, featuring elements that can be manipulated by specific enemy types. Certain hulking locusts may, for example, hurl dilapidated cars aside as they charge headlong into the Kilo Squad's ranks. The same scenario approached with a different arsenal may spawn smaller enemies that snake around said cars, or perhaps use them as cover. With such rampant unpredictability, you'll never know what to expect while waging war among Sera's ruins.

Despite the reliable success of the first three Gears of War games, Epic has decided to veer slightly off the beaten path for Judgment. By adding to, rather than replacing, elements that made the series a success in the first place, it may have found the best way to extend the series' life span. Judgment is neither stale nor a departure from the now-classic cover-based gameplay, and though our experience barely touched the bulk of the game's narrative, the testimonial-based delivery is a sound fit for a prequel that is itself a testimony to the events leading up to the original Gears of War. Epic currently plans to release Gears of War: Judgment on March 19, 2013.

Read and Post Comments | Get the full article at GameSpot


"Xbox 360 | Gears of War: Judgment Fights Redundancy Through Innovation" was posted by Peter Brown on Wed, 12 Dec 2012 15:41:58 -0800
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Xbox 360 | Bioshock Infinite Proves There's More to the Series Than Just Rapture E-mail
Written by Munk   

It retains series' trademark combat and emphasis on theme, but Bioshock Infinite handles world design and storytelling in an entirely new way,

 

Say goodbye to the confined, melancholy remnants of Rapture, and hello to the unbounded beauty of Columbia. The “heavenly,“ strictly American society, sequestered from the unworthy foreigners below, exists thanks to Father Comstock, the prophet who, amidst the darkness of uncertainty and external pressure, lit the path towards a brighter future for Americans. In his vision of the future, they are the chosen, and they are the deserved.

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Creative Director Ken Levine discusses Bioshock Infinite's new direction and the difficulties involved creating a companion as complex as Elizabeth.

Bioshock Infinite opens with you, Booker DeWitt, en route to Columbia on a mission to either rescue or kidnap a girl in exchange for the forgiveness of past debts. A chest of your personal belongings is revealed: a pistol, a key featuring an etched birdcage, and a note containing symbols. When your boat arrives at a lighthouse in the middle of an angry, stormy sea, your porters depart.

Inside the lighthouse, Booker sits down in a conspicuously lonely chair. The floor opens beneath your feet, and whirring, powerful machines begins to stir. The lighthouse comes alive, bellowing and flashing an ominous red light. Gyrations cause your gun to slip away into the chaos below. Without further warning, the lighthouse skyrockets. The ocean disappears from view and turbulence increases as the lighthouse passes through the rain and clouds. The cocky Booker is shaken, and uncertainty overcomes any remaining shreds of confidence until suddenly, a serene blue light washes over the lighthouse interior. Columbia“s fabled airships and monuments come into view. Despite its idyllic appearance, Booker knows there“s more beneath its glossy veneer. If his mission is worth the forgiveness of his debt, and requires a pistol, there“s a fair chance Columbia isn“t as peaceful as it appears to be.

The lighthouse docks, and the door opens. Booker find himself in what appears to be a flooded chapel. Robed men with blank stares and clasped hands line the halls. After a set of stairs leads you past religious iconography and architecture, you enter the chapel hall. More men in robes tread through knee deep water towards a congregation lead by a priest. You work your way to the front of the line, and he sees that you are burdened under the weight of past sins; sins which must be cleansed prior to your acceptance into Columbia. Once, twice, are you baptized in the holy waters of Columbia“s chapel. Initiation complete, your entrance to the city is finally granted.

The opening to Bioshock Infinite is heavy, foreboding, and a clever introduction to Booker and his past. You“re given just enough of his backstory to understand his motivation and personality. Columbia, too, is presented in such a way that paints a picture rife with hints and clues of its origins. You see that it“s a utopia, you“re told that it“s lead by the prophet Comstock, and you observe that his sheep are utterly devoted to his vision for America. Citizens figuratively refer to it as a heavenly place, or simply, as heaven. As the player, it“s easy to want to connect the dots that are given, but inferences only tell so much of the story.

Upon arrival into the heart of Columbia, Booker finds himself wandering into the middle of a carnival. Men, women, and children are enjoying attractions, games litter the boardwalk, and the city is bustling with anticipation for the upcoming raffle drawing. Your first objective is to obtain a ticket, but the vending machine refuses your request. After exploring the area, you happen upon a woman selling Vigors, tonics crafted from technology that grant the consumer with new abilities. She offers you the Possession Vigor, giving Booker the ability to control machines and robotic contraptions. After a quick zap with your newfound possession power, the raffle machine dispenses a ticket, and it“s off to the drawing. Before you arrive, you notice a billboard warning people of the beast that bears the mark, “A.D.“, the same mark that appears on the top of Booker“s right hand.

Up until this point, Columbia“s darker tendencies have yet to reveal themselves. Once you arrive at the drawing however, it becomes clear that Columbia is built on a foundation of exclusion, religious persecution, xenophobia, and racism. While it“s immediately shocking to hear a character utter lines such as “Have you ever seen such a pretty white girl?“ as she presents the basket of raffle drawings, it's even more unsettling to learn that the winner earns the ticket holder the “privilege“ of publically stoning an African American. This spectacle definitely drives home the notion that Columbia is unwelcome to anyone who defies their ideals. That is, anyone like Booker.

Of course, Booker wins the raffle. The host of the drawing offers you a basket of baseballs intended to be thrown at the bound, mixed race couple who are pleading for your mercy. As you wind up, prepared to lodge the ball into the hateful mouth of the host, a policeman notices the mark on your hand and grabs your wrist. In that moment, your cover is shattered, and the game truly begins. You wrench a hook from the hand of an officer and gouge the face of his partner in order to make your getaway.

Leaving with the hook, your search for an escape route and come upon the skyline: a series of tracks in the sky connecting the numerous islands that make up Columbia. An in-game prompt encourages you to leap toward a coupling on the line, and a magnetic force draws your hook to the tracks. Booker is whisked along as he circles around his pursuers below. The track stops above a platform, and a new prompt instructs to dismount the skyline. An unwitting enemy patrols nearby, and a swift blow to the head renders him a non-threat. Booker acquires the man“s pistol and continues his escape.

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Some debts can only be repaid through bloodshed.

At this point, Bioshock Infinite has introduced its setting, theme, and gameplay mechanics, and it“s up to you to avoid capture while searching for your target. The girl in question is held captive atop the statue of Columbia, America“s “goddess,“ in the middle of Monument Island. At first, Columbia looks like a completely open world, but it“s fairly linear at this point in the game. In true Bioshock fashion, there are plenty of alternate paths to explore, but they never take Booker far off the beaten path. Ultimately, your curiosity is rewarded with missing links to the story and occasional coinage or health pickups.

Eventually, you find your way to the tower, and gain access by entering the symbols from the note found inside your chest of belongings. Along the way, Booker is introduced to Elizabeth by way of two-way mirrors. When you finally meet in person, she“s startled by your unfamiliar presence and tries to fend you off. Even after you reveal that you“re there to free her, she doubts you and your intentions, until you show her the key with the bird cage etching. Only then does she accept that the time to flee has finally come, but no sooner than you unlatch the door to freedom, the tower shakes, and a harrowing shriek resonates through its steel walls. Elizabeth knows this is her keeper, the giant mechanized Song Bird, and as you two sprint for the ground floor, it begins to tear away at the tower in a desperate attempt to prevent her escape.

As the Song Bird rips a staircase, you tumble from the height of the tower only to catch your hook on a skyline momentarily before plummeting into the waters below. The Song Bird dives headlong after you, but seems to give up as Booker loses consciousness. Everything fades to black.

You comes to in a dreamlike state. You“re in an office, and someone is banging at the door, demanding you repay your debt. Answering the door brings you back to life as you see Elizabeth trying to resuscitate you. You“ve washed ashore, and though you“re worse for the wear, you“ve escaped for the time being.

For the first time in her life, Elizabeth experiences freedom. A ragtime cover of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun“ plays in the background as she dances around the beach, taking in the sights and sounds of a world she“s only experienced from a distance. She“ll generally follow Booker, but she“s always up to something, usually out of frame. Sometimes, she“s captivated by an unusual sight in the environment, swaying to the sound of music coming for a nearby radio, or perhaps she“s searching for loose change under an armoire. She“s every bit a living, breathing part of the world, and not a typical video game companion tucked away in a robotic NPC with minimal AI.

As the rest of the demo plays out, Booker and Elizabeth continue their journey, all the while confronted by Comstock and his hordes as they try to recapture Elizabeth and do away with Booker. Elizabeth doesn“t possess offensive capabilities, but she can control tears, rifts in time space that allow her to access alternate realities and dimensions. Through these tears, she“ll reveal secrets and items to aid your mission. Sometimes, she can open rifts that alter the world of Columbia, influencing battle sequences and environmental puzzles.

Though you can occasionally direct her use of tears, she usually has an agenda all her own. When she discovers items in the environment, she“ll call out for you attention. A quick button press will turn your focus to her so she can flick a coin or underhand toss a health item your way. As much as you are her protector, she“s your trusty sidekick.

Our demo concluded shortly after this extended, multi-hour introduction. Like the first Bioshock, the opening draws you into the game“s world, revealing just enough to captivate your curiosity and send you on your mission“s path. The heart of the gameplay is again focused on finding creative solutions through the use of varying super powers, but the open environments of Columbia and implementation of skylines in Infinite dwarf the relatively restrictive confines of Rapture from Bioshock and Bioshock 2.

What“s most intriguing about Infinite's evolution is the introduction of Booker and Elizabeth as conduits for the narrative. As you learn about Elizabeth and Columbia, you also learn about Booker. Infinite feels like a Bioshock game, yet it expands upon the elements that made the first game so successful years ago, rather than simply adding to them. Columbia still conceals many mysteries, and uncovering them should make for a truly engaging experience. After another brief delay, Bioshock Infinite“s newly scheduled release is now set for March 26, 2013.

Read and Post Comments | Get the full article at GameSpot


"Xbox 360 | Bioshock Infinite Proves There's More to the Series Than Just Rapture" was posted by Peter Brown on Fri, 07 Dec 2012 18:10:10 -0800
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Xbox 360 | It's Hard to Believe in the New Lara Croft E-mail
Written by Munk   

With all the talk of a more vulnerable, realistic Lara Croft, we delve into the first 2.5 hours of the game to find out just how human this heroine is.

 

Video games often struggle to produce believable characters. Striking the right balance between fiction and reality is hard for any medium, let alone one whose drive to entertain frequently overrides its capacity to comment on the human condition. This is why we generally commend video games that succeed in creating convincing virtual worlds, but abstain from criticizing the ones that don't.

Of course, any game that explicitly promises players a glimpse of this elusive verisimilitude is exempt from the rule.

The upcoming Tomb Raider reboot from Crystal Dynamics has made a point of emphasizing the believability of its protagonist Lara Croft. We are led to believe the much-loved gaming heroine has been reworked into a younger, more vulnerable creature without her trademark impishness and overt sex appeal. We are told the game will pay more attention to Lara as a person, giving her a more complex set of feelings and capturing the not-so-glamorous side of a human being coming to terms with her own mortality; a necessary reminder that heroes are made, not born.

But if the first 2.5 hours of the game are any indication of what's to come, then Tomb Raider might not live up to these promises.

Your introduction to Lara Croft is a taste of what to expect in this first part of the game: a series of injuries and narrow escapes so incredulous that they could almost be mistaken as a deliberate comment on the absurd damage that befalls video game protagonists of this genre. Not even the somber context of the opening act--the underground labyrinth of some kind of psychopathic island-dweller--is enough to lift it towards an honest representation of a vulnerable woman left to fend for herself in an inhospitable environment.

Much the same can be said for Lara's first human kill. Crystal Dynamics has invested a lot of time and energy in reiterating the importance of this moment: how you would feel a connection to Lara, how the moment would define her character, how it would feel genuinely shocking, disturbing, and exhilarating. Instead, you are presented with a quick-time event much like any other quick-time event before it. It's hard to believe it was this scene which caused so much controversy earlier this year. Had sexual assault actually been a theme here, you might have been forced to question the very nature of human behavior, or at least to think about why humans act the way they do; that would have at least been something.

Instead, the scene shows us Lara, captured by a group of armed men, forced to defend herself and pull the trigger on one of her captors. She looks distressed, sure. But from this point on until the end of the 2.5-hour playable demo, Lara shows no signs of fighting with herself over the moral consequences of killing another human being. She adapts to her new role with what appears to be the mindset of an experienced killer, leaving a trail of dead bodies in her wake.

While past glimpses of the game hinted heavily at survival--something that could undoubtedly help set this new Tomb Raider apart from previous entries in the franchise--the first few hours of the game are mostly free of survival elements. The one exception is Lara hunting and skinning a deer after remarking that she's hungry. (But at no other point in the first 2.5 hours of the game after this moment does Lara mention food again, despite the impression that a lot of time has elapsed since that first meal.)

The integration of story and gameplay is also problematic in the first few hours of the game. You discover much of the game's story through scripted cutscenes presented as home-made videos made by Lara and her fellow crew members prior to the shipwreck that brought them to the island. It's not quite as obvious as flashback sequences, but not much more original either. However, there are also diary entries and documents scattered throughout the island for you to discover, which provide insight into Lara and her crew, the details of their expedition, and the island's secrets, and give you an incentive to explore.

This leads to one of the most promising things about this game so far, a stark contrast to the otherwise lacking survival elements and linear platforming-to-combat sequences. The ability to upgrade Lara's abilities through experience points is presented in a neat RPG-like upgrade system that rewards you for taking the time to explore the environment, collecting bits and pieces that translate into more points.

This feature helps match Lara's personal growth as a character to what is actually happening in the game--her combat skills, weapons, tools, and survival skills can all be upgraded to make her a stronger, more confident warrior--while allowing you an element of freedom in dictating what kind of person Lara will be when she emerges from her ordeal.

That, at least, gives us something to hope for.

Read and Post Comments | Get the full article at GameSpot


"Xbox 360 | It's Hard to Believe in the New Lara Croft" was posted by Laura Parker on Wed, 05 Dec 2012 13:14:49 -0800
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3DS | Bravely Default: Flying Fairy Does A Better Job At Being Final Fantasy Than Current FFs E-mail
Written by Munk   

We check out the first few hours of this not-very-subtle nod to Final Fantasy's golden years.

 

It's apparent from the few hours poured onto Bravely Default that the Flying Fairy subtitle isn't fooling wary gamers. The recent JRPG with the rather silly name is the spiritual successor to Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light in tone, spirit, and gameplay mechanic. And believe us when we say that it's a sight for sore eyes, especially when creator Square Enix is bending over backward to make its mothership RPG series relevant again.

Players control four heroes who are on a quest to purify the game world's elemental crystals, while also shaking off an elite group called the Eternian Air Force Jobmasters. The heroes you control aren't blank slates in the personality department. You've got the straight man do-gooder, Tiz; the amnesiac casanova, Ringabell, the demure Wind Crystal keeper, Agnes; and tomboy, Edea. While not the most original of all typecasts, they're still endearing to listen to and watch as they play off each other during the main story quest.

Then again, BD:FF's story isn't the main draw. To get the leg up in turn-based combat, players can switch each party member's classes at any time--except during combat. These classes, or jobs as the game calls them, range from melee specializations like the Knight and Monk, to ranged and magic-using roles such as the Summoner and Time Mage. Abilities you learn from one particular class can be used on a different class as long as you fill up the required job points from the previous class.

In essence, the game takes the best portions of the job class system from Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy V, and has amped it up further so that there's plenty of room for customization. For example, you can use a White Mage's self auto-healing ability (you recover from ailments after a fight) while you're using a pirate class.

The list of combinations go on: you can use a ninja's dual-wielding ability on a Dark Knight, making them even more dangerous up-close, or even take a Summoner's mana point-siphoning ability on a magic swordsman class where the majority of your attacks take up a lot of mana. To say that you'll be taking a few hours building up the perfect party of four is underselling its simple-yet-complex nature.

The other feature that sets this one apart from its predecessors is the Brave and Default modes. Players can choose to either use up Brave points to take extra turns performing actions, or go into default mode to defend and gain more Brave points. If you just start off using Brave points until your character's points drop to the negatives, you'll be inactive and vulnerable as your enemies receive extra turns in a row; they'll most likely use it to punish you or buff themselves up tenfold.

The trick to the combat here is to save up as many points as possible so that you can unleash the most damage within a single span before your opponent can react. Conversely, you can just go all-out and spend Brave points until you're in the negative zone, if you think you can take down your encounters in one fell swoop.

We had to learn this through the very first major battle against a rogue White Mage and Monk. As the former can heal both herself, and the monk pretty quick, we had no choice but to play defensively until we unleashed hell upon them with enough Brave points. The system introduces a risk/reward system for players: they can either play it safe and defensively or throw caution in the wind and hope for the best with an all-out assault. We suspect that future boss battles will require us to exploit the system if they have abilities that can wipe out a party with just two attacks.

Just like any 3DS game, BD:FF uses the Streetpass functions of the system it's on; specifically for the "friend summon" system and the Nolende village-rebuilding minigame. For the former, getting Streetpass data from friends and strangers allow you to summon their avatars for a special attack not unlike FF VII's Cloud summoning a giant fat yellow bird to kill his foes.

As for the minigame, players can use Streetpass to recruit people to help rebuild Tiz's village that was totally wrecked from the events of the game's intro. The big incentive for players to invest time in this is that they can buy items and weapons not found anywhere else in the game, provided that the village population is huge. So if you want an uber-weapon for your ninjas and hunters, or if you want to customize a party member's deathblow move (the game's limit break that's weapon-dependant), you'll want to start mingling with civilization and collecting Streetpass data.

BD:FF is not only a throwback to the old days of Final Fantasy, but it also keeps up with the times by adding in nuances from modern game design. These include the options to skip cutscenes, as well as fast-forwarding battle actions. During our playthrough, we got fair challenges, though the game showed that ample party preparation (items, job setups) is key in taking down the multitude of dungeons in the main story mode.

While there is currently no official word from Square Enix on having it localized for the Western market, we feel that it would be a missed opportunity if it wasn't on the company's mind to do so. We strongly feel that BD: FF could be the RPG to bring the company back to good graces with former fans who may be feeling betrayed by the recent changes its Final Fantasy brand has been through.

Read and Post Comments | Get the full article at GameSpot


"3DS | Bravely Default: Flying Fairy Does A Better Job At Being Final Fantasy Than Current FFs" was posted by Jonathan Toyad on Wed, 21 Nov 2012 23:17:08 -0800
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