Tuesday, 12 June 2012

E3 2012: Well that was a let down

PhotobucketE3 is over and we’ve had the weekend to reflect on the busy flurry of gaming news and trailers. I’m not alone in thinking that this year’s event was largely an unmemorable one. As I said last week, the show stealers were Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs and Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. Other than that it was a lot of stuff we had seen last year, or largely unimaginative takes on several titles we’ve seen before, just with a 3 or a 4 tagged on the end.

So what was E3 2012 good for? I’m not entirely sure really, but I’m not going to write one of those rants asking about E3’s purpose and if it is necessary. I think it’s a glitzy, overly-expensive mega-venue to announce and showcase the biggest and best titles of the next year. As an attention drawing podium it can’t really get much bigger. It’s great for building hype and passion for new games during an annual spectacle that should be a treasure trove of greatness for anyone with a passing interest in games.

Unfortunately it wasn’t used in this way at all this year. Microsoft waffled on about sports and non-games related games console services and Nintendo went crazy and told us nothing we didn’t know about the Wii U last year. Sony brought more of a games focus to the table, but didn’t really shock or surprise us with anything new. I won’t lie, I’m not a big fan of Quantic Dream’s games and so Beyond: Two Souls didn’t twist my happy glands in the same way it has for a lot of other people. The demo still looked impressive though.

I feel that E3 2012 was just a massive wasted opportunity. I know that the Internet has made the world smaller and can make announcements just as big as those made on a giant show floor, but it still lacks the wow factor that a big event like E3 can convey. If the game giants like Nintendo and Microsoft aren’t going to utilise opportunities such as E3 to drop bombshells of awe and spectacle, should they even bother attending such events? Nintendo did a really bad job this year. They basically said “The Wii U is still a thing that you will see one day and we have changed the controller slightly.” With no hint of even a price or release date, Nintendo can’t be surprised that the reception to their virtual fireworks finale was a limp as a wet crisp.

It’s around this time of year when analysts, bloggers and devs start to wheel out the old ‘do we really need E3?’ arguments. I say that we do need it because it gives us something to look forward to in terms of potentially ground shaking technological reveals in games. I just think we need to review if we actually need to have Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony in attendance if they are just going to waste time.

If Reggie Fils-Aime genuinely thought that he was presenting a strong Nintendo conference this year, I think the company needs a restructuring. It was like watching an uncle retelling Christmas cracker jokes from last year.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Salvaging the positives from E3

PhotobucketDisappointment is a word that goes hand-in-hand with the aftermath of most E3 events, and this year is no exception. With everyone’s cards on the table it was disappointing to see that the winning hand only had a high card, with nothing earth shattering coming to the surface. The big three really left me feeling hollow inside, all seemingly wasting their big opportunity to drive excitement.

Sony’s The Last of Us gameplay was great and really has me pumped for the game, but that was it. Microsoft talked about a lot of things which seem remarkably unmemorable and Nintendo had with their wondrous Nintendo Land finale that went down like a sack of meat at a vegan convention. Even though the big players introduced next to nothing, there are still a few things to be excited about.

Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs was the surprise hit of the show for me, with the gameplay demo completely stealing my interest. The seamless on-the-go hacking gameplay is completely new, incorporated into an original IP that seems to have borrowed elements from some of the best games. I really can’t wait to see more of it.

As I mentioned above, the E3 gameplay demo for The Last of Us impressed the socks and trousers off of me. The dynamic enemy reactions to protagonist Joel were quite amazing, and it also looks like the first adventure game in a while where ammo conservation and a tactical approach are a must. My only concern is that the demo didn’t make it very clear how much was scripted. The action and encounters looked a little too good and natural for it to be completely unscripted gameplay. I would love more than anything to be wrong, but I am slightly sceptical.

I don’t think the E3 CG trailer did Assassin’s Creed 3 much justice, but the gameplay Ubisoft showed off seemed very promising. It looks significantly different from past Assassin’s Creed games, but still keeps the elements that worked in previous titles. Ezio’s accent has also worn the tread off of my brain, so it’s nice to finally have a new central character.

Aside from the non-shows put on by Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony, the biggest let down of E3 was Splinter Cell Blacklist. I loved Conviction and Ubisoft just needed to do more of the same. Instead, they’ve pissed away the last remnants of stealth and made it into a generic shooter clone to please the Call of Duty crowed. I’m really not happy with it. Also, Michael Ironside is gone yet Sam Fisher remains. If you’re going to cut out his voice box you might as well kill the character all together. It would have worked a lot better if they introduced a new protagonist, rather than having the same Fisher with a younger voice.

E3 is drawing to an end now, but it’s left us with a lot to think about. Namely, when does Watch Dogs come out? Will Hitman Absolution actually be good? And does Nintendo care about its fans or investors?

Saturday, 2 June 2012

E3 excitement rising

PhotobucketAs I’ve already written an E3 speculation blog this one will merely serve as my anticipation builder before the inevitable wave of disappointment and talk of wasted opportunities that will likely follow. Despite usually feeling let down by the mammoth gaming megatron E3 sets out to be, I never fail to build up excitement like a dog longing for a meat and biscuit buffet.

Snippets that have leaked so far all look promising. Well, apart from that Hitman: Absolution trailer. It was awesome cool and action pumped; exactly what the Hitman games are not about. Not in my eyes anyway, although we’ve all been guilty of equipping the pimped out assault weapons and gunning down rooms full of anything with eyes and a smile, just to vent the frustration of all the failed ‘perfect hit’ attempts. However, the E3 demo preview over at CVG has slightly restored my faith in the potential sneakiness the game will offer, so I’m really looking forward to some proper gameplay footage next week.

What I don’t understand is the over-analysis of the nuns with guns featured so prominently in the trailer. Many femme-journos and a few of their male kin have been speaking out about the over sexualisation of gunning down ladies clad in sexy leather outfits. Have these people never seen Saints Row, GTA or upcoming zombie slayer Lollipop Chainsaw? The combination of violence, boobs and skimpy attire is nothing new to any media, and this whole uproar just seems like a pointless punch thrown to stir up controversy. I bet the chauvinistic pig men that put that trailer together are laughing at the tremendous publicity hive being shaken.

Other pre E3 leaks that make my trousers rise above my ankles include the mention of Splinter Cell: Black List, Gears of War: Judgement and Star Wars 1313. While they aren’t fresh settings, the tiny information nuggets dropped thus far suggest they might be trying something new. Talking of new things though, I’m hoping for a long look into Naughty Dog’s sans-Drake adventure The Last of Us. In fact, I’d be very happy not to see the much loved Nathan Drake at E3. I’m happy to give him a break.

So with the major platform holder conferences taking place on Monday and Tuesday we’ve got a fun week ahead of us. It’s nice they coincide with the Queen’s 60 year throne shenanigan holiday days. It means a lot of us get to step away from the tangles of bunting and flag memorabilia to indulge in gaming news as it happens. Although I’m sure only the dedicated will be up for Sony’s 2 am Tuesday slot. Happy E3 everyone!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

What I want to see at E3 2012

Photobucket The biggest, sweatiest gaming convention on the planet is just around the corner, and I wouldn’t be worth my extra strong blogging salt if I didn’t spray my opinions about it before it launches on June 5. Yes, E3 will be crashing into the Los Angeles Convention Centre in just under two weeks and it could prove to be a very exciting event.

Being the alleged launch year of the Wii U, Nintendo would be missing the biggest trick in the book by not bringing it up. I imagine we’ll see the close to final designs for the console and tablet-esque pad, as well as getting a glimpse at a few of the Wii U’s launch titles. I would hope for a new F-Zero, Star Fox or Zelda to be announced but would most likely be disappointed, especially if the list of launch titles supposedly leaked by Blockbuster is anywhere near accurate.

With the Wii U on the horizon it is very likely that eyes and ears will also drift towards Microsoft and Sony for new console news with equal measures of anticipation and trepidation. Anticidation sounds like a good made-up word to describe the feeling. There have been numerous rumblings about the new consoles, what specs they might have and even the form of media they will use to play games. If either company is to draw and show a new console at this year’s E3, I’d put my new hat on Microsoft being the company to shoot first. The majority of the speculation and inaccurate closed door mumbling regarding new consoles has focussed around the next Xbox, so I imagine it is closer to the surface than another PlayStation.

My gut gets warm and fuzzy when I start to think about the possible game reveals at E3 2012. The new Splinter Cell is at the top of my list as I really loved Conviction and just want more of the same, maybe with a touch more stealth siphoned in. As for other games a really want, I think I would actually send Rare a thank you note and muffins if they announced a platform-focussed sequel to Banjo Kazooie. If not that then another Perfect Dark title will make me equally as happy. I strongly imagine this won't happen though. It’s a shame to see two great game series just left to rot.

Lastly, there’s the long list of games that have already been revealed but could do with a lot more fleshing out in terms of what we know about them. I’d like a bit more evidence that Hitman Absolution can be played with a level of sneakiness that will satisfy long term fans. Heart of the Swarm is also well overdue for a little more light to be shed on it. As an expansion pack to 2010’s StarCraft II, Blizzard sure are taking their time with it. I would love to see more of Borderlands 2 as well because it might just be my game of the year if it is anywhere near as good as the original.

Whatever happens, 2012 and 2013 look to be very excellent years for gaming. I just hope the teasers and tasters we are served in June live up to the hype bubble currently growing in my brain. I’d hate to have it popped.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

BioShock Infinite delay is probably a good thing

Photobucket Whilst it’s beyond rubbish when a game gets delayed it’s usually done with good reason to ensure the most polished product possible is let out the door, rather than a rushed mishmash that will attract hate on forums like wasps to a puddle of syrup. BioShock Infinite has been pushed back to February 2013 to be buffed into something better.

"I won't kid you: BioShock Infinite is a very big game, and we're doing things that no one has ever done in a first-person shooter” explains Irrational Games creative director Ken Levine. “We had a similar experience with the original BioShock, which was delayed several months as our original ship date drew near. Why? Because the Big Daddies weren't the Big Daddies you've since come to know and love. Because Andrew Ryan's golf club didn't have exactly the right swing. Because Rapture needed one more coat of grimy Art Deco.”

This sounds reassuring because the love, care and awesomely twisted thought that went into the original BioShock truly made it the tremendous game it was. The first few Big Daddy encounters stick in my mind like a pulsating drill arm extracting fond memories and other important wet bits. If it’s this extra time that Irrational Games need to recreate that feeling in BioShock Infinite, then I’m all for being a little more patient.

My only concern would be if the BioShock Infinite delay is to implement multiplayer, as the rumours currently circulating are saying. I know it had nothing to do with Irrational Games, but the multiplayer portion of BioShock 2 developed by Digital Extremes has really put me off the idea. I feel that the unique feel to BioShock games suits a single player experience well, but does nothing for multiplayer. The one genuinely brilliant thing introduced in BioShock 2’s multiplayer was the fully interactive hotel room that replaced a menu screen.

Maybe a multiplayer mode could work in BioShock Infinite, as zipping around on skylines chasing friends has lots of potential for roller coaster-like gun fun, but I’d want to see something more unique than the fairly standard deathmatch formula used in BioShock 2. Whatever the case, I’m sure the delay will only bring good things. It will also make the pre-Christmas games gauntlet that little bit cheaper, which is always welcome.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Black Ops 2 trailer raises the rusty bar

Photobucket Well, shortly after writing this I’ll be rummaging through my cupboards looking for a hat I don’t need so I can sprinkle it with pepper and eat it. After seeing the Black Ops 2 debut trailer, I’d be lying if I said I still stand by the sentiments made in my last Call of Duty related post where I said Black Ops 2 would probably be a rubbish rehash with nothing original. Treyarch have really gone up in my estimations and it almost seems like they secretly share my feelings about Call of Duty needing a shake-up.

Where do I begin after seeing the trailer that has rekindled my interest in the series that has fallen into a mould riddled stale formula? I think the future setting and robot dog tanks would be a good place. Leaping into 2025, Black Ops 2 looks like it will feature plenty of robot based warfare, with quadrotor drones and equally nasty ground based counterparts roaming the battlefield. It already looks more Metal Gear than Modern Warfare. I like it.

Okay, the setting isn’t super original, with Ghost Recon Future Soldier also due for release this year, but it's new to Call of Duty and does give Treyarch more creative license over equipment design. And it looks like they’ve fed that license through the original ideas machine two or three times, with the trailer featuring conventional looking weapons given a slight twist of future in their looks.

Black Ops 2 will feature a similar interrogation storyline mechanic as was used in the first Black Ops, which gives them the handy ability to jump entire continents and time periods without heavy strains on the narrative. Apparently it will revisit time periods as early as the 1980s, showcased by the horse bound sections of the trailer, which again, look to be something different.

From reading the previews this morning, it doesn’t just seem to be the setting or inclusion of horseback riding that Black Ops 2 will use to separate itself from prior entries. Treyarch look to be derailing the non-stop linear action train and introducing branching storylines that depend on whether you accomplish or fail mission objectives. If they can make these consequences big and unique enough to encourage multiple run-throughs, then I might even be happy to award Black Ops 2 and (urgh) Activision the first-person shooter crown of awesomeness this year. There’s even talk of small sandboxed areas within the campaign, something that will change-up the pacing nicely.

EA have a lot of impressing to do with Medal of Honor: Warfighter if it is to compete with Black Ops 2. From what I’ve seen of so far, Warfighter just looks to be another copy and paste job of the Modern Warfare setting, exactly what I feared Black Ops 2 would be. If Treyarch can keep mission structure as off the rails as possible, then this new setting could be enough to entice me back and bring in a new age for Call of Duty. I’d like to hope it would also encourage Infinite Ward to try something new with their next inevitable Call of Duty game. If Black Ops 2 can pull off what’s been promised, a 2013 Modern Warfare 4 would go down like a lead balloon with a basket full of elephants.

Monday, 30 April 2012

What happened to space battles?

Photobucket Something that I’m really missing in my current gen games collection is a mass scale space combat game. I mean proper large scale space battles with hundreds of combatants, whizzing around large flag ships like laser spewing flies drawn to a bloody carcass with yesterday’s dinner spilled on it. With Space Invaders being a fairly iconic ‘first game’ for lots of people, and the universal fond memories held for titles like X-Wing Vs TIE Fighter, you’d have thought a modern equivalent would have seeped out of somewhere.

Before anyone says EVE Online, I played it for five years and finally got sick of spinning my ship around on the spot. Yes, the huge battles are intense and fairly amazing, but controlling the ship feels so unsatisfying compared to something like Freelancer of Rogue Squadron. It also relies on you finding a competent group of players, and then usually waiting within that group for three hours until it can organise itself into any kind of large scale battle that lasts more than 20 seconds.

I want to be in the middle of large space battles like those seen at the end of Return of the Jedi or even the start of Revenge of the Sith. Being in control of a nippy ship dog fighting within chaos and running a gauntlet between large ships sounds like the best space flight game ever. Instead, most space games pit you against a handful of ships in a fairly sparse environment with nothing else going on. There’s hardly ever any infighting or other form of interaction between the ships that otherwise just seem to drift toward you.

The closest I’ve got to this was Star Wars Battlefront II, in which two opposing teams spawn on their faction’s capital ship and then jump into fighters to attack each other and the enemy mothership. It was so much fun and a completely different experience to any other game. The leaked footage of the canned Star Wars Battlefront III showed similar battles between surface bases and orbiting ships, which I believe could have been exactly the kind of game to fill this gap.

There must be someone out there working on such a thing. Space combat was made for portrayal in video games. I can’t help but think Mass Effect missed a trick by not letting us participate more with ship navigation and combat, especially as you spend of the game on board a ship or station. Maybe another Rogue Squadron would scratch my itch, but the Nintendo console exclusive series seemed to have missed this generation, along with so many other great games. Ah well. A man can dream.