Friday, 25 June 2010

A good reason to love or hate Steam

I am a sucker for special offers, whether it is buy one get one free on biscuits, suspiciously low priced alcohol at the front counter of my corner shop or games that are pretty much being given away. Steam has provided us with a scarily fast and easy way to buy hundreds of different PC titles, and they have just gone and made me reconsider my carefully thought out budgeting for the month. They’re doing another insane sale through to July 4.

I don’t know how Valve does it, but they always seem to pick just the wrong moment to suddenly hold a sale and convince major publishers to slash the prices of everything. Not that there is ever a right moment, because you look at all of the great deals, which probably save you hundreds of pounds, but you still end up spending an amount that would go a long way to building an orphanage.

For example, the THQ complete pack for £26.49 includes: (deep breath) all of the Red Faction games, Dawn of War 2, its expansion, and two previous titles from the series, Metro 2033, both Full Spectrum Warriors, three Company of Heroes games, Frontlines: Fuel of War, Juiced 2, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Saints Row 2, Titan Quest and World of Zoo. This is such a ridiculous deal that simply writing that sentence was enough to make me sweat blood with excitement. I’m really tempted by it, despite owning over half of those games already.

Not to mention the other gems available including the Valve complete pack (which was already a freakin’ steal) for £35.50. Seriously, if you were looking for an opportunity to flex the muscles of a new computer, or you are just getting into PC gaming, now is the time to strike whilst the iron is hotter than an oven on the highest setting in a volcano directly under the sun.

One thing to note though is that a fresh set of deals appears every 24 hours, so instead of rushing in like a mad man and throwing e-money at just about everything, it might be worth holding on with the off chance that a game you’ve had your eye on becomes a bargain. The amount of comical rage I have already seen online from people buying games the day before the insane discount kicked in is slightly harrowing. Do not become another victim.

This has probably come off sounding like a complete advertorial for the Steam sale, which I’ll be honest, it really is, but I just thought it was worth spreading the word. E3 gave us plenty to look forward to in the future, but instead of cradling yourself in the corner waiting for the 3DS, how about looking back at some of the current greats?

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Sony at E3 - holding the middle ground

Sony had its work cut out for it going last, especially when it took its turn after Nintendo. After the PlayStation focussed conference I must admit I was pleasantly surprised that they did not linger on Move for as long as they could have done. Unfortunately it still didn’t hold the wow factor that I always hype these conferences up to have in my na├»ve and excitable mind.

One of the bigger reveals that I certainly wasn’t expecting probably would have stolen the show for me if it wasn’t for the hype building behind it for the last couple of weeks. I am an absolutely massive Valve fan, and Portal 2 is looking superb, definitely securing a day one purchase from me, but on the PC.

This is the thing though. Valve had been teasing us with an E3 surprise for some time now. The PC community literally burst into flames, lighting up with untold amounts of excitement. Half-life 3 was whispered all over the internet, with some very convincing looking hoaxes getting the better of people’s optimistic hopes. Valve soon stopped this by saying their surprise was Portal 2 related.

The surprise arrived yesterday during the Sony conference, when Gabe Newell strolled out to reveal that Portal 2 would be especially good on PS3. Geeez, thanks. I feel like I have been spat on slightly. Not quite in the face, but possibly just catching my elbow.

We got a Portal 2 trailer (which looks rather fabulous might I add), but I do feel slightly betrayed. I don’t mean to sound elitist here, but the PC crowd is and always has been Valve’s main market. Making the PS3 announcement the big surprise really underplayed the significance of its appearance. At least PS3 owners who have felt let down by the dev can now finally be happier.

What got me excited more than anything was left for the end, with the awesome tease of a new Twisted Metal game. For those not familiar with the series, imagine what would happen if the characters from Mario Kart were placed in a dark room for ten years, routinely beaten and fed dead puppies for the duration of their incarceration. They were then shown a room full of guns, cars and rockets and told to pimp their rides before brutally slaying each other to have their greatest desire fulfilled. Sounds fun doesn’t it!

Other highlights included Dead Space 2, Medal of Honour and Mafia 2 footage as well as another look at Little Big Planet 2. A lot of the show was in 3D, such as a lengthy Killzone 3 video, but I couldn’t really appreciate that as I wasn’t there to witness it.

The biggest cop out was Sony bigging up their Xbox Live esque paid subscription service, PlayStation Plus. Unlike Micro$oft’s version, you don’t have to pay to play online, but I can’t really see the point of the service if that is the case. You do get a range of games that you can play for free, including some of the PS One classics and game trials which might be alright. Possibly not worth £40 a year though.

With all the major platform conferences now done with, Sony left me feeling fairly neutral. Ranking them in order of awesomeness isn’t hard, as most people are agreeing that Nintendo won it, with Microsoft trailing behind and Sony sitting in the middle. Not a bad set of E3 announcements by any means, but it could have been so much better. I wonder if we’ll get many more surprises from the big event before it closes up for another year.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Nintendo at E3 - restorers of faith

For me, Nintendo has been dragging its face through the mud during previous E3s, even though in reality, the company has made more money than I can imagine in the last few years. Judging from the rumours leading up to Ninty’s press conference however, it made me really excited about what could be around the corner.

Nintendo has managed to kick the door off of the excitement centre in my brain and thrown in an awesome grenade with some fantastic sounding products for the future that were kept under wraps. Microsoft take note, E3 is when you spring cool, unknown surprises on the world. Maybe it’s just too hard to keep secrets these days, but that’s for another blog.

Saving their absolutely massive gun of superness ‘til the end, I’ve got to say that the 3DS reveal was the high point in a conference that had so many peaks. Okay, it’s another handheld that the company seems addicted to producing these days, but this one has some drastically different specs, and will specialise in the third dimension, as we already know.

What nobody would have been able to predict however, was the awesome game line up that third party developers have laid out. It seems like a buffet filled with lobster, fillet steak and £50 notes. Some of the prime picks include Metal Gear Solid, Saints Row and a new Resident Evil, not to mention Nintendo’s own Kid Icarus making a comeback, all designed for the handheld, all utilising 3D. How awesome is that?

The device itself has a slightly wider screen on its upper panel and an analogue stick above the D-Pad, but the rest looks familiar. More news on these should be spilling out soon as conference attendees were given a quick fiddle with it.

The other stuff that we were half expecting and hoping for is also a fairly decent display. Nintendo’s conference started with another big gun from the arsenal that made me very happy, but it wasn’t exactly a secret being revealed. Zelda: Skyward Sword was announced and Nintendo gave us a lot more information than that one piece of concept art we have all been clinging onto for a year or so now.

It looks as if the sword play has been reworked to more accurately reflect your movements, with the motion plus letting you choose which direction you swing your sword in. We also get a bow which uses similar archery techniques to those used in Wii Sports Resort and a whip that can be used to pick up items. Neat!

Other highlights from the conference include a new 2D Donkey Kong game that tickles fond SNES memories, as well as Kirby Wii and a look at the super cool remake of GoldenEye. I’m not sure about the swapping of Pierce Brosnan for Daniel Craig but the game itself definitely looks good at the moment.

There were more bits about Nintendogs and Just Dance, but I real feel that this conference had its eyes set on regaining the love from a community that felt slightly abandoned. Nintendo hit the nail on the head with this simply amazing show of force. It made Microsoft’s conference look like a press gathering for the launch of a new cleaning spray that somehow made things dirtier.

Bloody good show Nintendo. I’ve been waiting three years to say that. You have really pulled it back for me. I might even take my Wii back out of its box in celebration. I’ll tell you one thing; Sony has quite the mountain to climb if it wants to out do Nintendo in the platform conference department.

Microsoft at E3 - wasted opportunity

E3 can sometimes be a bit like a visit Father Christmas in a shopping centre. You went in asking the nice man with a beard for an N64 with Goldeneye, but leave his fibre glass grotto with a colouring book and concerns about how he touched you.

Kicking off the major E3 festivities this year was Microsoft with the Xbox conference that happened mere hours ago (or perhaps a day, depending on how proficient I have been). What can I say other than ‘aflibber mubba mimma’ as I try to hold back the tears of rage that have bubbled up to the surface. Maybe rage is a bit harsh, how about, super unhappiness.

After teasing us about major news that will appeal to the self labelled hardcore amongst us, we get a few video snippets of games that we have known about for months and a tide of Natal, sorry, Kinect games that all seem to bear a surprising similarity to Wii party games. There was also the announcement of the 360 Slim, but if you were interested in Microsoft’s conference, you probably already owned one of their chunkier brethren.

It’s not that I am ungrateful for the fantastic Halo Reach, Metal Gear Solid Rising or Gears of War 3 videos, they were spot on. I just can’t help but feel that Microsoft was pretending to have an ace up its sleeve, but instead produced on old, slightly snotty hanky.

Honestly, to say that I am disappointed would be a bit like saying I slightly disapprove of Joseph Fritzl.

Maybe I am just getting caught up in the moment, and really need to sleep on the results to let it sink in. I’m just not feeling the sense of awe and amazement that I have hyped up in my head.

[Some hours later]

After a relatively peaceful sleep and a good mulling over two or three cups of coffee my thoughts are unchanged. Poor show Microsoft. Anything new, like perhaps the first glimpse of Mass Effect 3 might have left a better taste in my mouth. I just feel that this conference was a slightly wasted platform that leaned a bit too close to Kinect for a lot of people’s liking. Still, controlling Forza through mime might be good, if the thing actually works and isn’t just a gimmick.

Nintendo and Sony platform conferences are today. I’m really hoping we see them top the MS conference or this year’s E3 might be another filled with empty promises and pointless late nights.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Roaming in Redemption

Rockstar are very good at creating big, sprawling worlds, often filled with whores, violent types and fast modes of transport. We are very accustomed to spotting these around huge cityscapes that the game dev has made itself famous for with the ever popular Grand Theft Auto series.

I must admit though, I was starting to get bored of their tricks and cities, with GTA IV thrilling me considerably less than the other games in the series before it. It had all been done before, just with a new lick of paint and a shooting mechanic that wasn’t designed by a chair leg. What I wanted from them was something new and more original, and oh boy did they deliver with Red Dead Redemption.

Putting aside the fact that cowboys and six shooters are undeniably cool, the game environment has been the biggest thrill for me. Gone are the never ending copy and pasted skyscrapers and paved streets, instead being replaced by desolate nothingness. There really are huge areas of hardly anything, which makes exploration infinitely more fun. It means that when you do come across something, it immediately sticks out a lot more than any one of the generic locations GTA had to offer.

It’s when you are riding through a desert and you come across a lone man beckoning you over. What does he want? Is he the victim of a crime? Does he need a favour from you? Would he like to share an interesting story? Oh, no, he actually wants to slay and eat you, like he has done to others before this encounter if the piles of tasty man remnants are anything to go by. Thankfully, the solution is only two pulls of the trigger away.

Red Dead Redemption really is the perfect example of ‘less is more’. It makes each encounter with a human an event in its own right, and shows that everyone has an agenda, rather than the seemingly pointless bumbling about that everyone in Liberty City partakes in. Not only this, but the game even has a huge supply of different animals, letting you hunt, skin and fend off the likes of snakes, horses, boars and even bears. You can look a bit silly mind, running around the desert chasing an armadillo whilst fruitlessly trying to shoot it with a revolver.

I have genuinely found Redemption a lot more satisfying to play than GTA, and it’s all down to the original setting. Maybe if we were flooded with westerns and a city roamer came up as a rarity I would have felt the opposite way, as the novelty factor is still very high. Other western games have come close to greatness, such as Red Dead Revolver and Gun, but Redemption has perfected the atmosphere.

Then again, anything that lets me throw a rope over an innocent bystander, drag them to a train track and then let Mr Chuffy decide their fate is always going to get a thumbs up in my book.

Sorry if this observation has come slightly late, but I still thought it was blog worthy. Now then, who’s excited about E3 eh?