Friday, April 30, 2010

We should probably talk about Bulletstorm.

What's Bulletstorm? Why should/do we care about it? Well, let me tell you.

Bulletstorm is an upcoming (PC,PS3,360) first person shooter from a Polish studio called People Can Fly. Who the heck are they? You may be familiar with a title called Painkiller - one of the few legitimate FPS success stories of the past few years that didn't come from ultrastudios like Infinity Ward, Bungie or 2K.

After Painkiller, People Can Fly wanted to make their own proprietary game engine but ran into a couple snags. They decided to license Epic Games' Unreal Engine 2 - and when they showed Epic what they pulled off with their tech, the folks there were so impressed they commissioned People Can Fly to make the PC port of Gears of War.

People Can Fly continued working on a contractual basis for Epic, but of course the small lively studio was eventually bought out by a larger, more powerful entity: Epic Games. At which point, Epic said "you guys are awesome, so make the game you want and we'll support it," and People Can Fly went to work on Bulletstorm.

Isn't that a nice story?

The long and the short of it is Bulletstorm has you stranded on an alien world, pursued by some big bad military jerk you pissed off a lifetime ago - but that's not what makes it an FPS I'm actually interested in.

It seems to play a little more arcadey than most shooters. You score extra points (which are then spent on abilities and gear) for killing enemies in creative ways. Killing an enemy nets you ten points.

Headshot? +50. Or shoot 'em in the throat - Gag Reflex +50. Kick a guy into the air and shoot him while he's up there - Bullet Kick +50. Throwing an enemy into a cactus - Bad Touch +50.

Shoot your enemy in the nuts. While he's on his knees screaming, cap him in the head. Mercy. +100.

There are three basic components to the gameplay, beyond your standard FPS fare - the melee, the whip and the ability to slide. Combining these with the environment and a steadily increasing roster of abilities allows you to wreak ever greater havok.

People Can Fly have said (I'm paraphrasing, of course) they're aiming for a game that repeatedly bludgeons the player with ever higher high adventure and boggling set pieces. They sound incredibly ambitious and positive about what they're doing (moreso than the usual PR blather), and that, combined with the financial faith Epic has in the affair, encourages me to give Bulletstorm the benefit of the doubt.

With greater power comes equal responsibility.

Today, finally, I got myself a new computer. What does this mean for you, faithful reader? Nothing. Nothing at all.

For me it means I no longer have to wait for interminable durations as Firefox keeps me at arms length, taking its sweet time before it actually responds to a mouse click. It means I can actually watch vids on GameTrailers and YouTube without ripping them to a format I can view on my PS3, and it means I'll likely need some time to adjust to this new widescreen monitor.

Honestly, my old PC is a piece of crap. I am not exaggerating here: it took three or four minutes to boot up. And once it did, the antivirus program would kick in and take up 100% of the CPU for the next ten or fifteen minutes, rendering it inoperable. I hate my old PC.

I just wanted to share that. 'Cause I'm real damn happy its days are over. Also in the Things That Brighten My Day Bin are the first three seasons of The Muppet Show for $19.99 each, a cheap copy of The Dark Knight on Blu-ray and the new hardcover volume of Y: The Last Man.

Also, the adorable way mini-humans walk. Toddlers really do toddle - and it's so cute.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Oh, also,

Bungie signed deal with Activision, giving them the exclusive rights to publish their next IP for the next ten years. According to (the parts of) the contract (which were made public), Bungie will retain the rights to the property.

It's said the next thing from them will be multiplatform, which Sony is certainly trumpeting about, and this new enterprise may turn out to be a decidedly good thing, but still...

My first reaction when I heard the news was "Activision? ...fuck."

Precisely what I wanted to hear.

My feelings about inFamous are no secret, so you can imagine how pleased I am to discover SCEA has laid claim to the website name infamous2thegame.com - even if I did have to wade through a miasma of painful puns to find out.

It's no great surprise, really - inFamous was critically and commercially successful enough to warrant a sequel - I guess I'm still a little surprised at my own perspective on the matter. The amount of affection I have for the title, I mean.

I never wanted inFamous to do well. Secretly, I hoped it would kinda' bomb so Sucker Punch would go back to making Sly Cooper games. Turns out it wasn't just the lovely cell-shaded art direction that made me adore those games so much, it was Sucker Punch's liquid-smooth animation and total mastery of platforming gameplay in three dimensions.

At the time I didn't give a shit, of course. It was just another game I didn't care about. For all of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 I was wholly in Prototype's corner. Even the trailers for inFamous failed to inspire to the smallest degree - well, all except for this one - which finally made me sit up and admit that perhaps this inFamous thing could be awesome.

Really, the only reason I preordered and purchased the game last year was because the first copies of it came with vouchers which allowed entry to the Uncharted 2 multiplayer beta. That was it - that's why I bought it.

inFamous was never supposed to be one of my favorite games of all time, but whenever the sequel comes out it will be my most anticipated title of the year. I don't care if The Last Guardian is released on the same day - if I can only afford one, Team ICO's game will have to wait.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

WOO!

So yesterday they released some new screenshots for Vanquish, and I reckoned that'd make a pretty decent blog post and oh my fucking God there's a Dead Space 2 trailer!



Hit the fullscreen button to see, y'know, the whole thing.

Enjoy it while you can. It was up on YouTube for all of six seconds and EA had it yanked down. I was able to rip the .flv file from GameTrailers, but the audio is out of synch. Until it's officially shown, this is the best we got.

Still. Effin' A


Also... is it just me, or is the dude's at the end who says "we're gonna' burn for what we did to you" the same guy who said "the Iceman fucking cometh"?

[update] The trailer's been officially released, so I switched the vid to that source. The HD version is here. [update]

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

FUTURENEWS: Mankind bows to the will of our immortal jellyfish overlords.

So I'm flippin' through the new issue of MacLean's magazine today, and turns out there's this jellyfish with biological immortality. It rolls under the handle Turritopsis Nutricula - immortal jellyfish - because under ideal conditions it will, simply, never die. It only transforms.

Consider a butterfly for example - it wriggles through life as a caterpillar before transforming into a butterfly. It's a little like that, except once Turritopsis Nutricula matures into a butterfly it doesn't just spawn and die - it goes back to caterpillar.

And the cycle can, essentially, last forever. Beginning as one of a thousand tiny polyps, the jellyfish will grow to adulthood. When that form is tired or, perhaps, stressed due to environmental conditions, it essentially splits itself at the cellular level into thousands of little polyps. And those polyps, of course, can mature into full-grown jellyfish and life quite literally springs eternal.

Fortunately when they're immature, these baby jellyfish are a delicious snack to various species of marine life - so as of yet, our world has not been overrun by these monstrous invertebrates. But consider the long arm of evolution!

Eventually, I have to think, these horrible hydrozoas will gain sentient thought, and then we're fucked.

A human lifespan will be as a blink of an eye to these everlasting warmonger oceanidae, and just as inconsequential. Clearly, we should set our sights on exterminating this threat to our species now, before it's too late.

Fortunately, at this stage in their evolution they are relatively weak, and it should be possible to eliminate them simply by raising the pollution levels of our oceans to their lethal limits.

So... someone get on that.

Also, researchers think understanding them may give us unparalleled insight into the nature of cancer, among other things.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Three things...

Joel Emslie, Ryan Lastimosa and Brad Allen have quit Infinity Ward. Shocking, I know. I've lost count, but I think that brings the total so far to well over twenty. Worse yet, every single department head has now left. Every lead artist, lead programmer, lead designer is gone like dust on the wind. Quite a few have gone on to join Vince Zampella and Jason West's newly-formed Respawn Entertainment, whose first game will be published by Activision's greatest rival, Electronic Arts.

"So what?" you may ask. "Activision is saying this will re-invigorate the Call of Duty franchise by allowing them to promote hungry young talent to those abandoned positions." Well - here's the thing - decades of experience have been lost, here. And not just experience alone, but some of the most successful minds in the industry. These are the guys who made Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and then bailed on 2015 to form Infinity Ward - and remember what happened there?


[update] Twenty six. Twenty six have left, as of today. [/update]

* * *

Moving on to some good news...


Here are the quarterly PS3 sales for the past eighteen months. Notice anything awesome? It's April and they've already sold more consoles this year than they did last year.

"Why is this awesome?" you may ask. Because, my friend, the more people who have a console, the more developers will develop for a console, the more games of greater quality there are to choose from. This is win-win, baby.

* * *

I wrapped up my most recent playthrough of Dead Space last night, and now I'm at a bit of a loss as to what I should turn to next. Between the Ishimura, a grayscale Paris and Resonance of Fate, I've spent more than my share of time in beautiful but drab environments. What with battling an undead space plague and the greatest force of evil to ever grip mankind in its icy, racist-ass claws, I've been into some heavy shit lately.


I'm thinking a return to Eternal Sonata may be in order, but what about The Saboteur? I really should finish it up - maybe get a review under my belt, but... eh, I don't need to decide now. I've got Blu-rays that need watching.

Oh, also: Kevin Conroy as Captain Sunshine in season 4 of Venture Bros. is supremely disturbing and hilarious.

[update] My internal proofreader really bailed on this one. I wrote "town" instead of "time". What the hell is that? [update]

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Yet more Dead Space 2 stuff.

Seems like kismet. Not three days after I return to the Ishimura, some new teaser material is released for Dead Space 2. First off, we got an ink blot I'm having trouble dissecting. It's certainly not as clear as the first one they showed - perhaps it's a stylized perspective of The Sprawl - the sequel's new setting. Probably not.


Artistic impression of Isaac's helmet? A new bug-style enemy? Perhaps the best question is what do you see? As for me, I see a bunch of nice flowers. I'm very emotionally healthy.

Also included is this doctor's report - the writing refers to the patient as a she, but there's no way it's happenstance that 1544c is leetspeak for "Isaac." You can enlarge both these images in a new window/tab, by the way.


I had intended to run those alien runes through the rune key I found last year, but some of the symbols - symbols which, I think, stand for two letters instead of one - aren't included on that key. So I'll let some other internet nutcase deal with that one.


Oh! Also, here's the winner of the design-a-kill contest. The winner gets his kill included in the game, along with his name and face.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Yeah, you should see Kick Ass.

I know this is sort of like making the sagacious observation that on a cloudless day the sky appears rather blue, but what makes a good movie is a well-told story - and well-told stories don't always have to fit snugly within the tropes of a genre.

By the same token, movies which strictly adhere to the standards of their genre (see: those Transformers movies) without being well-told, interesting stories tend to, well, suck.

This is what separates Kick Ass from the last few super hero/comic book movies. Unlike The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Wolverine and - perhaps the most guilty of this, Wanted (also based on a comic by Kick Ass writer Mark Millar) - Kick Ass doesn't often look to conform to mass-market appeal. It is a very different story with much more admirable strengths - a story about a kid who, ninety per cent of the time, gets his ass kicked. A comic book / super hero movie where violence actually feels violent.

Perhaps even more refreshing, it is a character-driven story which takes place entirely within the grounded, sensible reality you and I stroll through.
  • There are no super powers, so every character is achingly human.
  • Picking fights with bad guys will get you fucked right up.
  • Seeing a ten-year old swear like a sailor is delightfully shocking.

Which brings us to Hit Girl.

Played by Chloƫ Moretz, Hit Girl steals the show. They really might as well have called the movie Hit Girl, because she's the best thing in it. Watching a preteen brutally butcher a dozen mafia goons is far more enjoyable than one would expect it to be.

Speaking of Moretz and violent little girls, a quick Wiki-ing reveals her to be the star of the upcoming western adaptation of Let The Right One In. That Swedish horror/drama was based on the novel of the same name, which was released over here as Let Me In - a title the localized movie will also sport.

I'm getting off topic, so let me sum up: see Kick Ass, Let The Right One In is brilliant, and a Hollywood studio intends to fuck it up with an English remake.

Yeah, that's it.

Oh, also: see the movie before you read the comics, if you're so inclined. Even if the film adaptation maintains 90% of what made the books remarkable, they do wimp out a teensy bit, surely in favor of a better test-audience reaction - but the flick is still very enjoyable and refreshing.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Hey Chance, whatcha' playin'?

As a general rule, The Saboteur.


What's great about The Saboteur are the ways in which it separates itself from the open-world pack. The setting is unique, romantic and a little inspiring. The voice work is above-par and the lovely mostly-black and white palette really hammers home how different the experience is.

I'm also pretty fond of the non-story mission activities, which is simply an intimidating number of little white marks on your map which gently request your attention. Each mark is a Nazi sniper tower, a propaganda speaker, an armored vehicle station, a general - and once you take them out, they're gone for good. The next time you're speeding through Paris in an ultra-stylish 1940s coupe, you won't have to worry about them giving you trouble during a desperate escape.

Which is cool. What's also very cool is the price - twenty bones for a relatively unique, better-than-average-quality open world title is quite pleasant. But even the most streamlined sandbox has its share of busy work (even if said work is a bit of a novelty), and over the past two days I've craved an experience of purer pleasure.


So I threw in inFamous, which immediately satisfied. One part gaming bliss, one part reassurance that I'm not crazy when I say it's my single favorite game of the current gen. I ran through a few missions, felt re-energized and decided to direct this sensation to something more directly ambitious,

Bayonetta.

I knew what I was getting myself into - Bayonetta practically defines the hardcore brawler experience of the current gen - but even so, I'm four months out of practice. It kicked the hell out of me (in hindsight, maybe it was a mistake to start up where I'd left off, on Nonstop Climax difficulty), and I resolved to return to it later, when I was prepared to make the commitment the title demands.

So I threw in Dead Space. Mmm.

I said the other day that what really elevates Dead Space is the setting - which is why I so often choose the image of Hammond, Kendra and Isaac getting their first glimpse of the Ishimura - during the game's opening, the ship is all eerie silence and seductive mystery.

It holds such potential, and once you begin to explore that world the promise held by the opening sequence is kept by the excellent pacing of the narrative, fresh variation on the standard shooter combat and a steady sense of progression and power on the part of the player - all held together by that fantastic, beautiful, remarkably well-realized setting.

It's lovely. It's also a little too easy, once you run through it on Hard difficulty and have kept all your weapons, so I started up a new save file on Hard - which seems the perfect degree of challenge. Never too easy, but neither too intimidating.

I'm very likely preaching to the choir, here, but if you haven't played Dead Space, for goodness' sake, secure yourself a copy. It's like twenty bucks in Canada for a brand new copy, so it's gotta' be even cheaper in the States.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Awww.

Siliconera reports that Okamiden, upcoming DS-exclusive sequel to the super-awesome Zelda-like Okami, originally had a different star.

Pictured at left is Chibiterasu, child of the original title's regal Amaterasu. Originally, though, Okamiden starred Ammy. It was also (originally) an internal fan project at Capcom that only got the go-ahead once the team put together a demo to show the higher-ups.

Like the project itself, Chibiterasu was never part of the plan. The lead character artist drew a cute little "chibi" Amaterasu as a joke, and Kuniomi Matsushita - the game's director - ran with the idea.

And now we've got Okami with the cute factor cranked to 11.

As an older fella, quarters and dimes scare the bejeezus outta' me. I fear change, and honestly I think I would've preferred the original protagonist. Still, this sequel is being made by a different team, with a different director - it may not even be a title I need to concern myself with.

If, however, it lives up to the original... well heck, I may need to buy a DS.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

So sleepy...

So enjoy this awesome Mario art. Right-click, open in new window to enlarge.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hmm, a sequel you say?

I don't know about you, but I absolutely adored Bionic Commando Rearmed. The tweaked weapons and HD overhaul were nice touches, but the product's greatest value to me was how little it changed. When push comes to shove, I love Bionic Commando Rearmed because I loved the NES version of Bionic Commando, and it's essentially the same game. Same enemies, same enemies, same (remixed) music.

But a sequel to that remake..?

I don't know... I think the original (heh) Rearmed worked because of how little it changed the classic NES title. Developer GRIN would've had to have worked pretty hard to screw it up - specifically, they would've had to throw away the original and make a whole new game - which is what we're getting with Rearmed 2.

Not by GRIN, though. GRIN shut down after the colossal failure of their full-release reboot of the Bionic Commando franchise last year, and key members have gone on to form a new studio called Might&Delight. Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 is being developed by another Swedish dev - Fatshark.

What's a Fatshark, you may ask? The only info I can find suggests that "the company has been involved as subcontractors for a number of AAA titles for consoles as well as for PC. " They're currently working on Rearmed 2 and Lead And Gold - Gangs of the Wild West.

So... yeah... much as I loved Rearmed, and I'll look to like Rearmed 2, my expectations aren't exactly high on this one.

From the press release:

Key features:

• Sequel to the popular downloadable title on PSN and Xbox LIVE, Bionic Commando Rearmed

• New Weapons, attacks and enhancements for the the all-purpose Bionic Arm

• New platforming mechanics provides more freedom and challenges. Now the impossible is within your “leap!” (I.E, you can jump now.)

• New physics-based puzzles will take the platforming experience to another level

• 2-player co-op is back and better than ever.

• Enhanced graphics and better camera functionality.

• All new musical score inspired by NES-era sound effects, produced by the same creative mind behind the original Bionic Commando Rearmed soundtrack

• Cut-scene art designed by cutting-edge art studio Massive Black, whose previously worked on Infamous, Bioshock 2 and,God of War III

Monday, April 19, 2010

Playstation 3: The Ten Best Games. Period. Exclamation Point.

Let us celebrate the bestest games on the PS3. I'd been considering such a list since halfway through last year, but it seemed to me I should wait until after the first quarter of 2010 - I figured Bayonetta, God of War III and Heavy Rain may require placement. Turns out they don't.

These ten titles, to me, define this generation (so far). If I had to pick a single game on all consoles that actually defines this generation to everyone, I'd have to go with Wii Sports. Thankfully, I don't have to - so I won't.

They're listed in No Particular Order. Well no, that's not true. They're listed in the order of where I ended up putting their header images. Is there a hidden message in that?

No. Let's get to it.



Mirror's Edge
Mirror's Edge is a great game for two reasons (once one accepts that the gameplay is wonderful). One - it is the first significant evolution of the platforming genre since Super Mario 64, and I adore platformers. Two - it is one of the rare truly hardcore triple-A titles on the current generation.

The fact that it's wholly unique is just icing on the cake.



Grand Theft Auto IV
If there is a single title that first kept the promise of the current generation, it is Grand Theft Auto IV. Now, it's easy to disagree with that position, and it's rather fashionable for the hardcore gamer crowd to turn up their noses at GTAIV - after all, it's essentially the same game we've been playing since 2001.

As always, the Grand Theft Auto experience is at its best when you're not doing as you're told. When you're getting into scraps with the police outside of story missions, casually jacking cars, turning peds into roadkill and occasionally - for an incredible second or six - it forms something amazing. When the physics-driven driving, comfortable shooting, procedural animation and the phenomenal attention to detail all come together and deliver.



Siren: Blood Curse
You may already be familiar with my position on the subject, but if not I'll try to lay it down as efficiently as possible:

Siren: Blood Curse is an incredible game and experience. It's scarier, more tense than and just as smart as Silent Hill 2 (oh yeah, I went there), with fantastic atmosphere and my favorite original score on the current gen. It also (in a stroke of sheer genius) combines the already white-knuckle survival horror genre with the tense gameplay of a stealth title, to amazing effect.


Demon's Souls
Unlike many titles on this list, Demon's Souls greatest strength is how un-modern it is. While other developers are bending over backwards to make games accessible to everyone (which isn't, precisely, a bad thing), From Software focused on making a game that practically defines hardcore, and exclusionary.

Many would argue it's about kicking the bloody hell out of the player. Efficient, unceremonious death stalks you around every turn, and should you succumb to the devils that hunt you, the game gets harder.

This demands the player wise up, learn the rules of the game and tread forward slowly, with their shield raised. And once the player begins to dominate what once terrified, Demon's Souls is no longer a game about mercilessly punishing the player - it is, more than anything, about overcoming what once seemed impossible. It's about the sweetest victories an action RPG has ever delivered.



Dead Space
You could say that un-learning the deeply ingrained impulse to shoot for the head is a measure of originality, but let's face it - it's pretty much Resident Evil 4 in space. Of course, that's doing Dead Space a bit of a disservice.

The production values are top-notch, but what separates Dead Space from the pack is the world it takes place in. Like the best science fiction settings, the USG Ishimura is a cohesive, believable environment that begs to be explored. It feels real - and once the player buys into that, a singular experience awaits.



Valkyria Chronicles
Above-par writing, exceedingly endearing characters and a fantastic soundtrack are only the beginning, here. What makes Valkyria Chronicles a modern classic is its hybrid gameplay and the wonderful, unique art style. I've said it before and I'll say it again: try the demo.



Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
From the mini-review:
"Have you ever had sex that was so good, so happy that you found yourself laughing, in spite of the intimate circumstances? I'm not talking just physical pleasure here, I'm talking joy.

That's Uncharted 2. I'm not kidding. During my first playthrough, I was so giddily thrilled with the experience I found myself laughing out loud. Not at a joke, or a clever reference - simply because my Cup of Happy was bubbling over, and had to be released through exultation."


BioShock 2
At first I was looking forward to BioShock 2 only as a means to explore Rapture for the first time, again. Turns out it is in nearly all ways a better game, a better experience than its progenitor.

Sure, the levels aren't as varied and there isn't a second-act shocker to compete with The Golf Club Scene, but the game is so much more cohesive than the original. Rapture feels more real, the narrative is rendered with much more elegance, the gameplay is a massive improvement and the ending is perfect. In 2010 I've liked a lot of games, but I love BioShock 2.



Fallout 3
I will bitch about the horrible bugs Bethesda comfortably shipped Fallout 3 with (and refuses to patch) until the ends of time. I will also say without reservation that it's the single best western RPG I've ever played, and an incredible experience.

Concept alone will only get you so far, and while Fallout 3 isn't perfect, it gets way, way too much right to be considered anything but an extraordinary, must-own title.




inFamous
More than anything, inFamous is an easygoing, liquid-smooth platformer. That alone secures my allegiance, but it's the great mission designs and perfect marriage of the platforming to classic third-person shooting that makes inFamous not just a favorite of the current gen, but probably of all time.

Consider that. Let it roll around on your brain. I've been playing video games since 1985.

That's right. Deal with that.


It should be noted that I am not you, nor am I everyone (unless one is being very Zen about things) - and I sport my own personal tastes. That said, my opinions are obviously correct, and if you disagree with this list, your opinions are bad and you should feel bad.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Early Impressions - The Saboteur.

Expectations are so biased.

It was probably my belief that Force Unleashed was an above-par game that made me so disgusted with the discovery that is is an entirely middling experience. Likewise, my expectation that The Saboteur would probably be pretty mediocre has led me to be pleasantly surprised by how good it is - even if it's also pretty mediocre.

I cannot recall the last third-person WWII game I played - it seems the exclusive den of first person shooters - but exploring mid-twentieth century Paris in start black and white, cut with the bright red Nazi armbands and banners is lovely. Equally enjoyable is the flavor the game injects into the proceedings - full of decently rounded characters and coquettish personality.

It's still pretty mediocre. The driving is okay, the shooting is okay, the method for climbing buildings is somewhat inefficient, but at least it highlights character - that is, Irish resistance fighter Sean Devlin is not Altair or Cole McGrath - it reminds us that he's not a superhero - he's just a rough-and-tumble guy getting in to some extraordinary shit.

Earlier today I received a mission from a French legionnaire - known only by the nickname he's earned for sporting a single hand; a metal claw protrudes from where his right wrist should be. Seems the appendage was cut off by a Nazi general and fed to the dogs before I sprung him from a POW camp, and he would appreciate some payback.

On my first few attempts of the mission, I tried to crash a bomb-laden car through the front gate of the Nazi compound to eliminate most of the resistance. Too noisy. Success favors a more subtle approach.

And so, deep in a Nazi-infested area of Paris, I start to climb. Once I've reached a good vantage, I wait, and watch. The general is on the prowl for prostitutes - his tastes veer towards the perverse - and as he strolls out of a heavily guarded area I scamper across the rooftops, leaping between alleys and waiting for the perfect moment.

He and his bodyguard are out of site of the other Nazis. It's now or never.

I drop from the rooftops and smack into the pavement behind his escort. A quick snap of the neck removes the obstacle, and now it's just the general, cowering and begging for his life. Of course, Sean Devlin ain't one for forgiveness.

"The Claw sends his regards," he growls in his Irish brogue, and finishes the job. Someone has seen me! The alarms wail to life, the mini-map flashes red and krauts begin to descent on my position.

I dash through the alleys, rip around a tight corner and find myself staring at a green safety spot. It's a prostitute's house, and Sean slips inside - fortunately, the denizens of Paris are sympathetic to the resistance.

Time passes, the sirens fade, and the door opens. Devlin steps outside, but the friendly woman emerges, smiles at him and places a cigarette between her lips. Clearly, she appreciated the game of Parcheesi they must have played to pass the time.

Ever the chivalrous gent, Devlin lights her cigarette.

The Saboteur.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Finally beat Resonance of Fate!


Man RPGs are a trip, after submerging myself in action fare for the better part of a year. Eighty-five hours, man! And I skipped the Super Ultra Secret Hardcore dungeon.

I went down there to check it out, of course, but the enemies three times my level one-shotted my crew and I decided to save it for a New Game(+). After all, I've been playing Resonance of Fate since March 19th (wow... it took me almost a month?!), and I seriously needed to get that review writ.

Suffice it to say, great game, very refreshing riff on your standard JRPG fare. Loved my time with it, will happily return, but for now I'm itchin' to throw down with some action fare.

I may treat myself to some inFamous, but it's more than likely I'll spend some time in Episodes From Liberty City (yes, I bought it. It was cheaper than Bad Company 2, right?). ...or perhaps The Saboteur.

What? It was only twenty bucks, brand new. I couldn't afford not to buy it. [update] Hmmm and it ain't half bad...[/update]

REVIEW - Resonance of Fate.


A thirty-foot behemoth towers above the battlefield, the barrel of its gargantuan firearm lowered at the girl's head - and time is still. In its gun is a three-foot shell containing a noxious poison that will cripple her; the deadliest weapon in their world.

Time begins to roll, and the shell is launched. It detonates where she stood a half-second before, but she is dashing across the battlefield, unloading her own weapons into the monster's belly. The hail of lead lifts the creature off its feet, and as it descends she lines up another mighty attack which (bambambambambambambam!) sends it skyward. Glittering gold showers the field. It slams into the earth and bounces, but she springs into the sky. In a spinning upside-down pirouette she sprays the monster from above, driving it back to the earth. (Wham!) Another shining explosion of gold.

The girl survives. The monster is weakened, and vulnerable to a killing blow.

This is not an action game. This is a turn-based RPG from Japan.

I'm sorry, but I couldn't find any really good shots of the combat - which is a shame, 'cause it's incredible to watch.

It is the combat system which most ably separates Resonance of Fate from its peers. Wide-open from the first moment of the game, it is deceptively simple, satisfyingly deep and absolutely impenetrable to the unfamiliar observer - who will have absolutely no idea what the hell is going on.

Put simply, there are two types of damage you can inflict on an enemy: scratch damage (sub-machine guns) and direct damage (grenades, pistols). Scratch damage racks up huge numbers, but heals over time and does not directly damage the enemy. Direct damage only hits for a few points, but also instantly converts scratch damage into direct. In a nutshell, you have to shoot enemies with a machinegun, then shoot them with a pistol to deal any large amount of damage.

Which sounds simple. You'd be surprised.

There are Hero Actions in which you plot a straight line across the battlefield and send your character blitzing down it, charging attacks and spraying enemies with bullets. During such actions the character is invincible, but each attack costs one Bezel.


It's turn-based, but the enemy's turns occur when you move and/or charge attacks. Enemies can only deal scratch damage, but once scratch damage reaches a hundred per cent on one of your characters, some or all of your remaining Bezels will be shattered - sacrificed - to keep them alive. If you run out of Bezels, you enter Panic Mode, where your attacks do much, much less damage and you will probably just die.

You regain Bezels by killing enemies or breaking off pieces of their armor. Most armor can only be shot at from a specific angle, so attacks must be planned accordingly - but breaking armor is important, as it yields items for weapon component crafting - and, of course, a direct-damage weapon can break an enemy's life bar into multiple segments, each segment of which yields an addition Bezel when destroyed, and...

I haven't lost you, have I? I hope not, because I haven't even touched on resonance attacks, bonus shots, smackdowns, stuns, status effects, specialty ammunition and grenades. But let's forget all that.


You have to approach it with a vicious, predatory, measured aggression - and when you mess up it will punish you with equal viciousness. The combat is wonderful.

It had better be, since you spend most of the game in combat. Many reviewers have complained about the mostly-samey dungeons and battlefield designs - and while it's true it wouldn't have taken much effort to spruce them up, it has the added effects of reinforcing the decaying, industrial setting and focusing the player's attention on the fight - and the fight always looks incredible.

Not graphically impressive, to be sure, but this is a turn-based RPG as inspired by John Woo, and watching it simply doesn't get old. After eighty-plus hours of seeing the three protagonists dashing, sliding, flipping and cartwheeling their wonderful dances of death (supported by excellent camera work), I still exult at the beauty of it - which isn't only found in the eye-popping combat animation.

First off, I love the design of the world and its characters. The costume designer in particular needs to be singled out for outfits which exhibit modern Japanese ultra-style informed by Victorian flourishes. All the bare chests and buckles in the world can't hold a candle to the thoughtful, often elegant style on display here - the fact that you can find and buy hundreds of items and customize your characters to be as stylish or ridiculous as you see fit is just an added bonus.

The setting is also lovely, despite its (very consciously chosen) palette of gray and brown. Resonance of Fate takes place in a hundred-mile tower - a massive construct built on cogs the size of cities, and the last refuge of mankind in a dying world. It's equal parts steampunk, late-1800s European architecture and gothic religious symbolism. A very unique world to explore, the act of which is presented here as a bit of a puzzle game - every single "hex" of the world map must be unlocked via pieces dropped by enemies - and I'm not even going to begin to explain the status effects system driven by rare colored hex pieces. It's nice, let's go with that.

Of course, the most-oft professed reason to invest countless hours in RPGs is story and character - aspects other genres often shirk in favor of eye-popping graphics and white-knuckle action. It is here that Resonance of Fate may split its audience.

Personally, I'm none too fond of JRPGs that bang you over the head with the plot every time a cutscene happens, and all the characters gasp at a shocking revelation the player deduced ten hours ago. Worst yet are two-dimensional antagonists - cartoonish super-villains who are clearly evil for the sake of evil alone. Resonance of Fate takes the other rout - a better rout.

The "villains" of the game are, as all the best villains are, moral people doing terrible things in the name of (what they believe to be) the common good. The player is able to see their points, and even empathize with them - just not enough to feel bad about it when they thrown down with the protagonists - because the protagonists are wholly endearing.

I have to give mad props, at this point, to the voice actors. They're all experienced professionals, but their impact on the experience of Resonance of Fate cannot be understated. Nolan North as Vashyron, finally, plays a character beyond the prototypical Uncharted smart-aleck he's been tasked with since 2007, while Scott Menville is a pressure cooker of darkness and violence as the mysterious, angsty Zephyr. I've become very familiar with how good those two are, so perhaps that's why I feel Jessica DiCicco as Leanne is a bit of a revelation.


With a perfect balance of tsundere violence (look it up, it's okay), fathomless strength of spirit and charming innocence, it's very hard to dislike Leanne. Jessica DiCicco can sit comfortably with the great voice actors of this generation. Sure, the characters are all subtle spins on familiar archetypes, but that doesn't make them any harder to like this time around.

Very much like a manga or anime serial, the over-arching plot develops mysteriously in the background as the game proceeds in firmly defined chapters - ninety per cent of which have little or nothing to do with the "main" story, but instead serve to gently explore the central trio and their relationships to each other. This is fine. This is nice and refreshing, if one is indeed sick of being bludgeoned with obvious plot points every few hours, but the tradeoff is that one may see the credits roll on Resonance of Fate with only the faintest concept of what the hell just happened.

Indeed, I certainly had a "what the fuck?" moment at the end. It took a little online research to discover that, should you take the time to talk to everyone and piece the mystery of the over-arching narrative together, there is much, much more going on in the story than the casual observer could possibly discern - and that much more to discover on repeat visits to the title.

And, I must admit, the prospect of another visit to the tower, to the lives of Leanne, Zephyr and Vashyron is rather appealing.

I may now have a black belt in turn-based acrobatic gunplay, but I know for certain there are new strategies and techniques to uncover. I may have beaten the game, but even with eight-five hours spent, I don't feel I've completed it.

Resonance of Fate is a bit of a freak, among Japanese RPGs. Its creation clearly wasn't filtered through the endless deliberations of focus groups - it's not trying to please everyone - instead, it enjoys a bit of vision and inspiration. It is, joyously, unique - and a very good game. Not for everyone, mind you.

Not for those who dislike a challenge, and not for anyone who needs things spelled out for them - but for those in search of a change? Absolutely a worthy investment of your gaming dollar, and time.

THE GOOD
-the combat. Oh, God, the combat
-art direction and character design
-the costume design deserves its own point
-the voice work, particularly among the leads, is excellent
-even the little girl who runs the local shop has a character arc
-interesting world
-the banter among the protagonists
-funny!
-you can lose hours to the wicked gun customization. Twenty barrels? Yes please
-subtle, mysterious, inviting story presentation

THE BAD
-subtle story presentation may leave one scratching their head
-graphically unimpressive
-why can't I convert silver coins into copper at the Arena? That sucks
-challenge may be intimidating to some


THE VERDICT
A great title that fans of the genre will enjoy - particularly those hungry for something new.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Artist outs Little Big Planet 2.

Note the tags - #sellout and #corporatewhore. I guess he's only kinda' pleased.

Anyway, this is moderately interesting. Media Molecule have said there will never be a sequel to Little Big Planet on the PS3, because such a game would require splitting the LBP community into those with the sequel and those without.

Was it the recent purchase of the studio by Sony that changed their minds? I'm willing to bet yes - but that doesn't make this a bad thing. If done right, a sequel to LBP could be what the first didn't quite become - a defining title of this generation. It probably won't be, but its pleasant to hope.

Of course, when asked for comment Sony responded with the whole "we don't comment on rumor and speculation" mantra. If you're curious, here's the five minute and thirty-eight second song. It does sound very LBP.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Okay, that's a pretty good April Fool's joke.

The kind nobody knows about until the perp reveals it.

Gamestation, a UK game retailer (much like EB Games - a smaller chain bought up by a much larger one - in this case, Game) revealed today that they legally own the souls of over 7500 customers.

On April 1st, they tweaked their online terms and conditions to include the "Immortal Soul Clause," which stated that, should the customer not click a nearby box, Gamestation gains "the right to claim their soul." Apparently it was done to demonstrate how few people actually read EULAs and terms and conditions statements - only 12% of customers opted out of giving Gamestation their immortal souls - and those observant few were rewarded with a gift certificate worth five euros.

Fortunately, the soulless damned can rest easy - reps for Gamestation say "they will not be enforcing their rights and will now email customers nullifying any claim on their soul."

Ha!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Yay Atlus! (And From Software.)


As I'm sure you're aware, I heart Atlus - so I'm always pleased to hear of their success. Until today, however, I had no idea how low they usually shoot and how significant Demon's Souls sales in North America were for the publisher - most publishers and devs never discuss sales numbers unless they've broken a million, and Atlus never seems to come close.

Demon's Souls is, if you're unaware, one of the best games - if not the best - of 2009. Its crushing atmosphere, weighty combat and towering challenge made it a critical darling - and that, combined with word of mouth, made it a sleeper hit. How much of a hit? Now we know.

Index Holdings, Atlus's parent company, posted some figures today that paint the picture. They had planned on selling 35,000 copies of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona's remake for PSP, but surpassed that with over 49,000 sold. Demon's Souls' performance is more significant.

They were shooting for 75,000 copies. As of February 28, 2010 they'd sold 280,000. That's approaching four times their original target, and clearly must have been a large part of the reason they did so well in fiscal 2009.

Demon's Souls was developed by From Software , who also had a hand in the Armored Core series, King's Field and (dear to my heart) Tenchu. Fans of the devs should be looking forward to 3D Dot Game Heroes, a shameless Zelda clone/spoof due out next month.

* * *

Oh! Also, the development team behind BioShock 2 (which I loved) is turning classic tactical RPG X-Com into an FPS. Fans of the original game seem none too pleased at the thought of their beloved franchise turning into another Killing Machine Vs. Hordes of Enemies game, but as someone who has no attachment to the original and a great affection for the developer's latest work, I don't mind the idea.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Three things...

1. I can't decide what to do with the extra bit of my paycheck tomorrow. Sure I'd like to play Episodes from Liberty City, but Bad Company 2 just looks so awesome. On the one hand, I tend to spend more time in single-player experiences, so I'd probably get more pleasure out of GTA. On the other, Bad Company 2 looks so awesome.

I might just remind myself that I haven't finished Resonance of Fate yet (or Eternal Sonata, or even started on Silent Hill 3), and should probably just put that extra bit towards the new computer I so desperately need.

I probably won't.

2. The rumors of Insomniac going multiplatform got muffled a bit today, thanks to a job posting at Gamasutra. They're looking for an animator for their new studio up in North Carolina, and it's PS3-specific. It's hardly rock-solid proof one way or the other - but then again, neither were the rumors.

3. Ever wonder what the most pricy, sought-after PS2 titles are? After paying fifty bucks for Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner, I know well the lengths lunatic gamer enthusiasts are prepared to go - so I found this list pretty interesting. Three things were a bit of a surprise, to me:
  • that most of the most valuable games are Japanese. Maybe that makes me racist. Or... country-ist. Or something, to just forget about Japan.
  • that I own a good half-dozen of the North American titles on the list. That seems unusually prescient for me.
  • paying fifty bucks for The Second Runner wasn't such a bad deal after all.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Let's talk God of War III's ending.

SPOILERS,
obviously.

"What do you mean, 'I got the wrong ending'?"

God of War III is awesome - no one's contesting that - but what did you think of the ending? Fighting in Gaia's chest is cool, killing Zeus in first-person is cool, but that walk through the darkness? Kratos needs to forgive himself - hope hopey hoperson - he got hope out of Pandora's box in the first game, and that's what allowed him to kill Ares?

Eugh!

Hope? It musta' been some kinda' savage, mutant super-hope. The kind that makes you grow a thousand feet tall and stays out of the spotlight until you need to find a way to fuck up the ending to a legendary trilogy of action games. And it does fuck it up. Where's that line from the review...
"The pacing is strong up until the climax, when an ill-devised sequence which attempts to rationalize itself with needless (shallow, pop psychology) emotional depth crushes any momentum that had been built"
God of War III needed an ending that was on par with what had come before - and ending as incredible as the Poseiden battle - as epic as the Chronos execution. Which is, as it turns out, what they'd intended all along.


Meet Stig Asmussen, director of God of War III. He took over directorial duties after Cory Barlog (GoWII) who took over from David Jaffee (GoW, Twisted Metal). In an interview with Destructoid, he explains that he had a different ending in mind - what sounds to be a much more satisfying ending - but they couldn't get it done, due to time constraints.
"We had a big Titan scene at the end, which we had to remove, which was a really tough thing to do. We had this actual whole kind of gameplay on Gaia while you're fighting Zeus, [and you're] on top of Gaia. Gaia's involved in the battle and everything. We had it all working, it was just getting it to the final stage was gonna be impossible, and we ended up having to remove it so we could make the other Titan scenes really good."
...ferseriously? Okay, alright, that makes sense. Sort of. Time management is a huge part of game development, and if one thing is going to stall the rest of the project the best idea may just be to cut it, but...
"Well we removed that, and we added the part where you go into Kratos' head. And I think that, for me anyways, it gave much more of an emotional impact at the end. If I had to choose between the two, I think the head thing was kind of more clever, and had kind of an impact to how the game ended and the story, and kind of what it feels like. I think it got better since we removed that."
Okay, Stig, now you're just wrong. You are flat-out wrong. You could've had the same emotional impact with a ninety-second cutscene that didn't try to pull a Hannibal on Kratos, and given God of War III the ending it needed.

But you needed to cut it to get the other titan gameplay down?

Okay, here's two possible solutions: give yourselves another six (or twelve) months of development time. If that's impossible, cut Chronos.

Here is where a pic of Chronos in III would go, if I could find one.

But the Chronos fight was awesome, you say? Yes it was. Cut Chronos, make the ending you actually wanted to make and the game, as a whole, would've been remembered better - instead of as an incredible, jaw-dropping, phenomenal game with a bit of a let-down for the ending.
"We had to cut some things out, just to make sure that we got the quality across the board."
I buy that.
"And also, those cuts, I think made the product better, because it just streamlined it a little bit more. Made it more focused."
Y'know what, Stig? I can't even pretend to talk to you any more.