Thursday, May 31, 2012

Guardians of Middle Earth debut trailer.

So there's a MOBA with Gandalf in it.

That's... actually a pretty a good start.

Dishonored first gameplay trailer.

Strange.  This actually de-hypes me for this game.  I guess the real thing is never as good as our imagination.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance gameplay trailer.

This is the most gameplay we've seen for Rising since... okay, well ever.  People familiar with Platinum's last meleeing action game should see a lot of similarities between this and Bayonetta - and that's nowhere near a bad thing.  Although... that amazing framerate does bring to mind the early vids of Bayonetta running on the 360, which proved to be a horribly inaccurate advertisement for the PS3 version.

We'll see.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 debut trailer.

Ummn.  Yeah, that's hot.

Gabriel goes all vampire-Sauron on an army and he's totally awesome and it's like "I'm sure glad Konami gave Mercury Steam another shot at this."

Tomb Raider E3 2012 gameplay trailer. totally awesome.  I was always curious about - I was always interested in the Tomb Raider reboot.  But after this?  Color me hyped.

Lollipop Chainsaw combat trailer.

Naughty Bear: Panic in Paradise coming to PSN, XBLA.

I don't care about this game.

My brother put a lot of hours into Naughty Bear, but I must admit I never tried it.  I was curious - and developer Artificial Mind & Movement (now Behavior Interactive) bought a lot of credit with me through Wet - but its egregious reviews convinced me it wasn't worth my time.

And now, here's Naughty Bear again.  Instead of Wet 2.  Again.

What the eff, Behavior?  Wet was full of potential - you need to go back to it! 'Course now that Max Payne 3 has happened, you have some pretty stiff competition in the bullet-time-stylish-shooter niche.

Some small Zone of the Enders HD screens.

And it's like, why advertise an HD game with itty bitty screens?  Show us how big and sharp it is!

The original ZoE had CG cutscenes that look ... pretty crappy by modern standards.  They've done up the HD re-release with new animated cutscenes!  Nice.

MOVIE - The Aggression Scale.

So yeah.  Home Alone meets Rambo.  Or maybe Predator.

I tripped over a trailer for The Aggression Scale around five months ago - speaking of that post, Let The Bullets Fly is a fun comedy-action, but I wouldn't call it an action-comedy.  The movie dropped on DVD and Bluray recently, so I gave it a spin last night.

Yeahhh you should probably check it out.  In the same way LTBF doesn't qualify as an action-comedy, The Aggression Scale is more of a thriller than an action-thriller.  It's also very much a B movie.

The plotting, the framing, the outbursts of violence - those are all great, and carry a lot of weight here.  The script, the actors?  Less successful.  Every character here has a handful of terribly clichéd lines, and they're delivered by just-sub-standard actors - but somehow, strangely, the movie's desired effect is undiminished by this.

I found myself very involved in the story and the fate of our heroes, and the movie does a good job of setting up expectations, leaving you tense and coiled, before a satisfying payoff occurs.  I like that some things just aren't explained - why does that lady have her arm in a cast, for example? - and I like that I seem to have stumbled across a B movie that I wouldn't mind having in my library.

Check it out.

[update] Hm.  This looks interesting.  Many shades of Super in there, but I can still dig it.  Plus, since when is Bobcat Goldthwait a director?


First Skyrim DLC drops this summer on 360.

Ahh timed exclusivity.  Nobody does it like Microsoft.

It'll be twenty bucks.

Dark Souls on consoles getting DLC!

The PC version, called Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition, had a wealth of content not available on the PS3 or 360 release of the game.  Specifically, it had new areas, bosses, mobs, NPCs, arnor and weapons.

And I'm like, "aw.  I like new areas, bosses, mobs, NPCs armor and weapons."

Well, I needn't pout any more - the PC content will drop on PS3 and 360 as the Artorias of the Abyss expansion this winter, for an easy fifteen bucks.  I wonder what "this winter" means?

'Cause there's a big difference between November and December.

Where did these Dead Space 3 screens come from?

I dunno, man.  It's E3.  Shit be crazy.

[update] Whups - a couple more! [/update]

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Delta Rae - Bottom of the River.

It's not all games news. Kayla, this is going on the next CD.

Ahh. It's E3 time.

You've likely noticed a small avalanche of posts today detailing no less than six previously unannounced releases.  So yeah, I was off by two days - but E3 2012 won't actually wait until June 5th to start - the explosion of announcements, trailers and rumors is happening right now.

Of course, some pre-E3 happenings are set in stone.  If you're planning on catching any of the major publishers or platform holders' press conferences, you may want to jot this down...

Thursday, May 31st
10:30 PM EST / 1:30 AM PST

Expect to see Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and the newly-announced Castlevania: Lords of Shadow game for the 3DS.  Also, expect to be pleasantly surprised if it's not as incredibly embarrassing as their 2011 presser.

Monday, June 4th
9:30 AM PST / 12:30 PM EST

Expect a good look at Halo 4, at least one bombshell reveal and a shit-ton of new ways for Microsoft to turn the 360 from a video game box into an everything-for-everyone box - likely adding a slew of new partners for streaming content and social media.

Monday, June 4th
1:00 PM PST / 4:00 PM EST

Dead Space 3?  Dead Space 3. And other stuff, too.  EA probably had the classiest presser last year.  Their president just walked up onstage and said "E3 is a very exciting time, with reveals of new tech and new ideas - but we're going to keep things simple.  Here's ten awesome games we think you should know about."

Here's hopin' they do something similar in 2012.

Monday, June 4th
3:00 PM PST / 6:00 PM EST

As bad as Konami's presser was last year, Ubisoft's was almost worst - for the second year running.  Their press conferences - from a ridiculous demonstration of laser tag to the infamous, way-too-excited Mr. Coffee host - are always embarrassments, but at least we'll get some new footage of Assassin's Creed III.

And hey, maybe Beyond Good & Evil 2?

Monday, June 4th
6:00 PM PST / 9:00 PM EST

Sony likes announcing a ton of stuff prior to E3 (God of War: Ascension, PlayStation All-Stars), but saving the best for last.  There have been very few rumors surrounding what Sony will show us this year - aside from the cloud gaming thing - but at the very least, we're almost definitely going to get a look at some gameplay for The Last of Us.

Tuesday, June 5th
9:00 AM PST / 12:00 PM EST

Hopfully, Nintendo will be showing some decent software for the 3DS - but nobody really cares about the little handheld lately.  No, this E3 all expectations and eyes are on the WiiU - so keep your fingers crossed for a launch date, a price, details on the launch lineup and hey - maybe even gamplay!

* * *

Each platform holder and publisher has deals set up with various media outlets for streaming the conferences - Nintendo, Microsoft and Electronic Arts will all have their press conferences broadcast live on Spike TV, for example.  If you want one place to watch them all, though, memorize two words, then mush 'em together : Game Trailers.

GameTrailers' 2011 coverage of E3 was impeccable, and they easily offered the highest-quality and most-reliable streams for the press conferences themselves.  If you're planning to watch the press conferences, you should probably bookmark their E3 hub page.

If you don't have the free time or the inclination to sift through what will probably be thousands of videos, trailers and news stories over the coming weeks, however, just drop by this humble blog a few times a day.  I'll be doing my best to keep up with it, and I'll tell you all you need to know.

Darksisders II Collector's Edition box art.

What's what empty socket doing, giving you the stinkeye?  It's the cool Death's Mask you get with the collector's edition!

I never did up a post about that, did I?  Well, here's what you get - you can enlarge the image if you want a closer look at the goodies. 

Define "digital platforms."

Looks... cute.  I'll give it that.
"Set in a colorful medieval world, CastleStorm is a new breed of 2D archery projectile warfare and 2D physics-based structure destruction game. Players will experience a challenging mix of real time strategy, resource management, and a variety of different gameplay scenarios. 
CastleStorm features medieval ballista weaponry, allowing players to launch an assortment of explosive weapons including Morningstars, Apple Grenades, Homing Eagles, and even flying sheep to defeat an onslaught of enemies trying to capture your flag and destroy your castle. Deploy a fearsome ground attack of swordsmen, knights, and donkey riders in order to protect your castle games, and if all else fails, call upon powerful spells to help keep the enemy at bay. 
In addition, CastleStorm features a tower construction editor that allows players to construct their own custom castles that will be used in battle. Castles must be constructed wisely, as choices determine which types of troops and resources will be available during battle! 
Look for CastleStorm on digital platforms in 2012!"
So what, Steam?  Android phones?  PSN/XBLA?

You need to let us know who should spend their precious thinkin' time being curious about this - 'cause the answer is never everyone.

CD Projekt RED announces Cyberpunk.

I have mixed feelings.

One the one hand, more western RPGs is a good thing.  On the other, Goddamnit if I couldn't get more than halfway through (CD Projekt's much-ballyhooed) The Witcher 2 before it occurred to me that I was bored as shit and not having any fun.
"Players will experience the world through their own, unique characters chosen from different classes – be they blood-thirsty mercenaries or cunning hackers – that they will equip with vast selection of cybernetic implants and deadly weapons. As in the Witcher series, players will face morally ambiguous choices, their actions influencing events in the world at large and the fate of the individuals they encounter."
We'll see, Cyberpunk.  We'll see.

[update] Ooh!  Here we go - GameTrailers has a video of the entire announcement presentation.  There's a lot of interesting minutae about the inspiration and plans for the game - it's about twelve minutes. [/update]

Narrow your eyes at this Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing teaser.

Look upon it!  Feel momentarily elated at the idea of a stylish game featuring the legendary vampire buttkicker!

Observe the lack of gameplay!  Witness the super-cute bishie Van Helsing!  Lose that feeling of elation as quickly as it came!

Coming to PC and XBLA.

Insomniac is actually making a new R&C game!

Ted Price slapped up a post over at the Official PlayStation Blog today, detailing Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault.
"Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault is a fun-sized Ratchet adventure which will be available for download exclusively on the PlayStation Store. We’ve returned to the series’ classic feel, camera, controls and weapons, while innovating and giving you a whole new way to play. Even better, the addition of online features means you can experience Full Frontal Assault with your friends, so stay tuned! We’re really excited about this game, and we hope even these small tidbits about it get you excited too."

Full Frontal is said to be a somewhere between Quest for Booty and A Crack In Time in price, notes Price.  This is lovely news for folks worrying that All 4 One may be the last we see of the little lombax.

It's "coming soon to a PS3 near you," but Kotaku notes that the game is PSN-only in North America.  If you want a fancy bluray copy, you'll have to import one from the UK - which will see a disc release of Full Frontal Assault under the name Ratchet & ClankQ-Force - similar to how only the UK got a disc release of Quest for Booty.

Quacamelee looks awesome!

Watch this, watch it so hard.

So did anyone else have an "oh my God yes!" moment when the gameplay starts?  Faaaantastic!

It's a 2D gorgeously-animated Metroidvania brawler coming to the Vita and PSN! And how can you not like a game that so plainly celebrates its roots?

Aw yeah.

"Guacamelee is a co-op-multiplayer dimension-swapping Metroid-vania beat-em-up platformer that will be released through the SCEA Pub Fund program! Set in a world inspired by Mexican culture, Guacamelee! features a down-on-his-luck agave farmer named Juan Aguacate, who sets out to save the world when El Presidente's Daughter is kidnapped by an Evil Charro Skeleton. The story takes place in and around a small village in Mexico, and has the player travelling through "The World of the Living" and "The World of the Dead" on his quest to rescue the girl he loves."
Looks smexy!  I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for gameplay impressions on this one.

Doom 3 : BFG Edition coming to PS3, 360, PC!

A few times every E3, you'll hear something that makes you thrust your fists into the air, hold them there, and say "YUSSS!"

Here's one of mine.

Doom 3's PC version was, for me, similar to Doom: Knee Deep In The Dead (the shareware first-third of the original Doom) and Max Payne 2 - it was a PC shooter I played again and again and again, loving to the very depths of my soul.

I have been dying for a version of Doom 3 for a current-gen platform since... well, since I got into the current gen.  It was like "Doom 3 is awesome (and totally underrated), it's entirely feasible to get it running on current-gen hardware, and id could probably use the hype for Doom 4, yeah?"

Awww yeah!

It's said to be coming out this fall - instant day-one - features a bunch of addition content, a "silky-smooth frame rate" and (gasp!) "the new armor-mounted flashlight, allowing players to illuminate dark corners and blast enemies at the same time."

Scandal and blasphemy!

It'll also support some crazy head-mounted displays that supposedly exist.

Let's celebrate with that kickass opening song from the game!

Daaa na da na naaa na da na naww naww...

[update] Eee! It also comes with Doom and Doom 2! [/update]

We should get our first real look at Dead Space 3 in six days.

So yesterday, this animated graphic-novel short appeared at

Code crunchers examining the site have said that there is a counter in it, which is set to end in tandem with Electronic Arts' E3 2012 press conference (which begins Monday June 4th at 1pm Pacific).  They also (apparently) pulled this image from it.

The the animated short introduces the character in an upcoming Dead Space graphic novel, Earthgov Sergeant John Carver.  Many are also seeing it as reinforcement to the rumor that Dead Space 3 will take place on an ice world, and that it will feature drop-in, drop-out co-op with Carver and Clarke working their way through the campaign together.

I dunno, EA.  I mean, sure RE5 was fun - but the co-op thing ensured it was never scary.

Another E3, another Hitman: Absolution CG trailer.

I enjoyed this much more than the movie Sucker Punch, which features a similar premise.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Far Cry 3 E3 teaser.

A trailer for a trailer?  It's a good thing I like you, Far Cry 3.

Snapshot - coming to PS3 & Vita.

Was anyone else bored with this until he caught the box out of the air, turned the picture and its forward momentum tossed it from the pit?

See! A truck crashin' real good! Witness! What we're probably not going to get for years!

Rig of Rods.  It's a "soft-body physics" mod for Unreal Engine 3 CryEngine 3.

Pretty as these look, I doubt we'll be seeing it in GTA VI.

Among the Sleep teaser gameplay.

I'll regularly tell you that - a few precious examples aside - the survival horror genre is dead.  That is, I should clarify, only true on consoles.  The PC scene regularly sees interesting and otherworldly horror titles - Amnesia: The Dark Descent is the first that comes to mind - and here we have a horror title played from the perspective of a two-year-old child.

"In Among the Sleep you take on the role of a young child. You have yet to develop a full sense of reality, making you weak and susceptible to the horrifying creatures inhabiting your nightmares. One particular night a dramatic event occurs, forcing you to flee from your home and enter a surreal world. Only accompanied by Teddy, you must overcome many hardships to stay alive and find a way home."
I can totally dig it.  Too bad I can't play it - coming to PC and Mac in 2013.

Persona 4: Golden opening movie.

Since Persona 3, the series has always had pretty frickin' awesome opening movies.  This one for Persona 4's upcoming Vita up-port is... stylish - but not cool.  While I love the games' colorful palettes and cheerful characters, one aspect of the series I'm quite fond of is its intentional, thoughtful darkness, and examination of human flaws and fears.

This one paints a much brighter picture.

So what do I mean when I say "not cool"?  I suppose I mean, specifically, not this -

- the intro to the PS2 release of Persona 3: FES.

Do you have a Vita?

Did you know the demo for Gravity Rush is available right now?

Go!  Go, for the good of the city!

...I wonder if this thing will actually draw my attention from Max 3 for more than five minutes?

Monday, May 28, 2012

I am shocked. Shocked!

I was telling Blue at work that I fully expected to come home and discover trailers of a half-dozen newly announced titles today - for lo, thus it has been in E3s past.  But here I am, at home, on my trusty desktop, and nothing!  Nada!

Unless you count the rumor that Quantic Dream is unveiling their next year at Sony's presser on Monday - which I don't.

Well, fine.  All I want to do is talk about Max Payne and play more Max Payne, so that's what I'll do - in that order.

If you've been paying attention to the blog lately, you've no doubt come to appreciate how much I appreciate Max Payne 3 - and I laid it out pretty plainly in the review, but there's multiple things I didn't touch on that I feel are a valuable part of the Max Payne discussion.

I barely mentioned the Last Man Standing mechanic, I didn't dedicate a paragraph or so to all the lens distortion and cool drunkie effects that saturate the game and I didn't bother telling you how well it transitions from cutscenes to gameplay - 'cause, man...

Every single review I've read for MP3 lays down those bullet points.  It's so pervasive that I'm convinced if a media site is of a high enough profile, Rockstar has been telling them "here's a free review copy of our game - now make sure you mention the cool filter effects and how smoothly the game transitions from cutscene to gameplay!"

It's like, seriously - does everyone need to hear the effects in this game look just like those in Man On Fire with Denzel Washington?  Is that really what MP3 reminds you of?  Not of Hard Boiled or Desperado or Die Hard?

I know it's not nice to accuse people of things (even gigantic collections of people, like Rockstar), but it kinda' got on my nerves that I felt I was reading the same review for Max Payne 3 everywhere I went.  And it's not like I intentionally tried to not mention those things - but if I'm trying to explain to you the important points of Max Payne 3, cool filters effects and cutscene transitions aren't even in the top twenty.

Neither is the facial animation - which everyone's lauding as spectacular, and I will only acknowledge as "pleasantly subtle and very capable."  Rockstar's facial animation rig - the amount of movement a face in MP3 is capable of - isn't nearly as impressive as Naughty Dog's and certainly nowhere near that crazy L.A. Noire tech.  That said, it's still well above-par, well in line with the triple-A standard, and let's face it - pleasantly subtle and very capable animation is a far cry better than we see elsewhere, as a general rule.

I felt I should have spent more time detailing how pleasantly surprised I was with how much Max's relocation to Brazil pays off.  The detail and variety of locations is sublime, with multiple set pieces directly referencing the designs and atmospheres of Max Payne 2.

Even when it's not doing that, it's constantly shuttling you from one very-different environment to the next - all of which are very cool places to engage in a gun-fu shootout.  Max Payne 3 seriously lets you shoot your way through the stratospheric highs of ultimate glamour to the most desperate slums, and I love the fact that - for ninety per cent of the game - Max is a very strange man in a strange land.

I wish I had spent more time detailing the effectiveness of the writing and story.  I've loved Max since 2001, but even after standing in the room where his family died, even after watching his chance at redemption die in his arms, I never felt more connected with the fellow than I did, here.

Rockstar's handling of story is excellent.  Verbose though he may be, I never wished Max would shut his gob - he was so damned charming.  His seething, acid-tongued internal monologues give way to an almost-shy, ever-so-tactful handling of powerful personalities when he actually opens his mouth, and the supporting cast do great things with potentially hammy dialogue and powerful melodrama.

"Max Payyyyyyne!  You killed my boy!  My only son!  I'm comin' after you, you fuck!"

I have no idea who played that guy, but he was awesome.

And that's how I feel about Max Payne 3.  Similar to how I felt about (2010 GotY) Red Dead Redemption, it is just strength upon strength upon strength.

Art direction - 9/10
Soundtrack - 9/10
Graphics - 9/10
Writing - 9/10
Cast - 9/10
Level design - 9/10
Pacing - 9/10
Design - 9/10
Gameplay - 10/10

I like MP3 more than Red Dead Redemption.  RDR was all nines.  MP3 is all nines and a ten.  Oh - except for like two things...

Load times - 5/10
Lack of bugs (audio) - 7/10 - for one cutscene that always screws up on my PS3.

...which I am more than prepared to accept, in the name of such a uniformly excellent product.  So, I'm gonna' go get back to my Old School playthrough.  G'night!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

REVIEW - Max Payne 3.

"If you're still alive in an hour, let's speak again,"
says the plain, bookish-looking cop as he hands a gun to Max Payne.  Max is an old, heavy, strong-and-silent type, but he takes the gift all the same.  He doesn't ask why and the cop doesn't offer to explain - but we get it.  Detective Wilson da Silva - perhaps the only un-bent cop in São Paulo - is also the only person in Max's world who understands what it really means to place a pistol in those very special hands.

Sure, Max is old - but he knows the score.  A soft-spoken, often very polite and empathetic man who's internalized so much.  Sure, Max Payne is an absolute psychopath - numbed by five hundred gallons of whiskey, a thousand bottles of painkillers and the infinite corpses of those who crossed his path - but he is uniquely perfect at doing one thing.

Max Payne suicidally jumps from rooftops and kills every mother fucker within fifty yards before he hits the ground.  Max Payne will bust through the doors of a room full of body-armor-wearing, machinegun-toting paramilitaries with nothing but eight rounds and a casual suit - and he'll be the only one walking out, popping the cap on a bottle of Tylenols as he does.

You can't throw a grenade at him - he shoots them out of the air as a matter of course.  You can't overwhelm him with force of numbers.  Your high-end equipment does you no service, here.  Your military tactics won't win the day.

You can't kill him.  You can't survive him - because once those very special hands find their way to the grip of a firearm, Max Payne makes the impossible possible.

Max Payne 3 brings a great deal of new mechanics and abilities to the table, at odds with the (comparatively) spartan and analog gameplay of his last outing (2003).  Back then, there were only three things you needed to know about Max : he can slow time with a limited resource called Bullet Time, he can leap into the air for a slow-motion Shoot Dodge (aiming and firing as he flies), and if he is exposed to his enemies for any longer than a half-second while not doing either of those things, he will die.

This is how it's always been - and Max 3 adheres to these principles - which puts it in a precarious position.

In the nine years since Max Payne 2, a lot has happened.  Resident Evil 4 happened.  Gears of War and Uncharted happened.  Dead Space and Vanquish happened. The third-person shooter genre has evolved.  It's picked up a few new toys and a few neat tricks - the most pronounced being the ubiquity of cover systems.  Born of the last gen - then an under-ripe, mewling babe of a mechanic - cover-based third-person shooting is now the standard of the form, featured in everything from the open-world Grand Theft Auto 4 to the upcoming Resident Evil 6.  It represented a massive shift in gameplay pacing for all third-person shooters save those that specifically subjected the player to meleeing enemies (Dead Space, Resident Evil 6, Shadows of the Damned.)

Max never had cover.  He didn't need it back in 2003 - but if Max had shown up in 2012, ignoring how far gaming has come in the past nine years, he would have been no better than the egregious Duke Nukem Forever.  If, on the other hand, he had been entirely based in the new mechanics and language of shooters, he would not have been Max.

He had to be both.  At first the cover, the weapons wheel and the occasional rail shooting sequence feel totally at odds with those ten-year-old sensibilities, but over time and given experience, they reveal themselves to be the foundation of a title that is more Max than Max has ever been - if that makes sense.

What those three simple mechanics allowed in 2001 and 2003 - shooting, Bullet Time and Shoot Dodge - was the opportunity for the player to express themselves.  To take a run-of-the-mill parking garage and turn it into a spectacular set piece action sequence that would make John Woo weep with pride.

Max's language was once very simple, and Rockstar has added a great deal to his vocabulary.

As it turns out, a larger vocabulary - well-executed, as it is here - allows the player to be much more expressive, while harder and smarter enemy types make the game a more involving and reactive affair than it was at the dawn of the century.

Here, the old and the new meet, compliment and dovetail into each other beautifully, and join to form something glorious.  Once you've mastered the feel of it, there's nothing like raining blind fire with an LMG from behind cover, building up a precious bit of bullet time, emerging from your shield in slow motion, rattling off three headshots as you break into a run, watching the bullets cut through the environment towards you, tossing the big gun to draw two pistols from your holsters as you launch into a Shoot Dive which sends you crashing through a window (bangbangbangbangbang!), landing behind some cover and snapping on to it as you reload.

Somewhere, a New Jersey mob goon cries "what the fuck are you?!"

It's wonderful.

With (Max 1 and 2 developer) Remedy turning their attention to Alan Wake, it's heartening to know that the stylish, liquid-smooth, expressive feel of Max's gameplay is retained, but a dazzling veneer of Rockstar-quality polish pulls the entire experience to another level.

Here, Rockstar shows they understand well that - noire-y sensibilities aside - Max Payne is an action hero, first and foremost.  He is video gaming's El Mariachi - launching himself backwards off a rooftop, firing two pistols into foes as he falls.  He is our John McClean, morphing from a clean cut fellow into a bruised, battered, bloody wreck over the course of his story.

As such, Max Payne 3 wisely and skillfully transitions through a wonderful variety of gorgeously-realized set pieces, with many recalling the best of Max Payne 2's design and nostalgia while exploiting 3's scale and destructibility. It ping-pongs back and forth in time, revealing our hero at various stages of hitting bottom - which turns out to be an action-packed place - and allows him to beautifully evolve (or devolve) before our eyes.

Clearly, gameplay wasn't the only place Rockstar felt Max needed an update. has been glammed up across the board to reflect modern gaming sensibilities beyond the mechanical. This is a welcome change - particularly in the writing department.

The writing team of Houser, Unsworth and Humphries breathe new, authentic-feeling life into Max's world, maintaining the hero's bleak world view while avoiding the self-indulgent pitfalls of Remedy fame. It's fun - from the dry and very endearing wit of Max himself to the deliciously subtle tells of friends who will be enemies to the casual banter between Max and his partner in death, Raul Passos, making fun of gameplay tropes.

(Max taps a button to call an elevator.)

MAX: "What am I, your button pusher?"

RAUL: "Well, you're so good at it."

(They enter the lift, and Max hits the button for the next floor.)

RAUL: "Good job."

It's sharp, detailed, human and often very funny.

The only place it feels a bit tripped-up is when 3 leans on the gameplay exposition of modern action titles.  James McCaffrey - returning again as Max - delivers a performance that stands comfortably with the best in the business, but even he can't do much with limp, extraneous information like announcing "this is the only way through!"

The game is linear.  I know.  You don't have to remind me that there ain't no goin' back.

Rare hiccups aside, Max 3 presents a very strong story with excellent presentation. Good thing, too - 'cause this game needed one.

Here, the RAGE engine (Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto IV) is re-purposed in the name of a linear action funhouse.  Levels still feel as huge as they did in 2, though now suffer from the one major flaw the lovely RAGE engine is heir to - absolutely massive load times.

In RDR or GTA, one gargantuan load when you first boot up the game is fine.  Here, every change in chapter is accompanied by a five minute (or longer) load, glossed over by well-written, beautifully-shot and superbly-acted cutscenes.

This is a standard trick in modern linear action games, but most will have a three-minute cutscene hiding a sixty-second load, and after sixty seconds you're free to proceed.  Here, after three minutes, you'll tap X to discover the game is still loading - and thus, it fails the Cooking Network test.

On an initial playthrough, one is so absorbed and entertained by Max's cruel and beautiful story that this is only a blessing and never a curse.  On subsequent playthroughs, I found myself getting to the end of a chapter and switching the TV to the Cooking Network, or just walking away for five or ten minutes.  I'd go phone a friend, have a cigarette, make something to eat, and when I get back I'll find a restart screen waiting for me - each cutscene ends with you in harm's way.

Happily, once you're there the game takes all of five seconds to reload the last checkpoint, but the flaw remains - between chapters, you spend a great deal of time waiting to play Max Payne 3 again.

But I will wait.  As one peels back the layers and comes to a muscle-memory understanding of Max 3's systems, it is a glorious exercise.  I'm on my third playthrough, and as I ramble my way back through each beautifully-rendered set piece I discover that it is - for a moment - my favorite.

I love when the lights come up on the graveyard scene and I instantly toss myself sideways to rattle off two headshots as I fly, popping the final thug in the head as I gather myself to my feet.

I love launching myself from the catwalk overlooking the bus in the process of being detailed, twisting sideways to take out the two armored U.F.E. thugs beneath me before raining fire through the windshield of the bus and crashing to the ground in a hail of glass shards.

I love it, I love it, I love it.  Here we have an instant and wholly modern classic.

Max Payne 3 is currently one of - and perhaps the - best game of 2012, in competition only with the polarizing Mass Effect 3.  Production values are excellent across the board, with strong performances from the entire cast. It boasts sharp, detailed environments, vicious enemy AI and a fun, affecting, involving story which deeply endears you to the protagonist.

Max Payne the man - drug addict, problem drinker, psychopath, killer - is lovably far from perfect, but Max Payne 3 is incredibly close.  Yes, there are audio bugs here and there and yes, the game's load times are epic - but like Max Payne the man, it is uniquely perfect at one thing.

Any fan of action gaming should look to the example of Detective Wilson da Silva.  Take the time to really understand what it means when you put a gun in those very special hands.

You won't regret it.

  • Liquid, tactical, incredibly fast-paced gameplay for a title that sells itself on time slowing down.  If you're playing, and the game seems too hard?  Be more aggressive.  Every other game with cover mechanics has conditioned us to play very conservatively - and while you always have to be mindful of your placement, I found whenever I was having a problem with any section, this little voice in my head would whisper "you're not being aggressive enough." The answer was to do something awesome/crazy/suicidal - which ends up being the most gorgeous, cinematic way to do it and leaves you without a scratch. 
  • really, the gameplay gets two - for this one I'll say 'expressive' 
  • James McCaffrey as Max is excellent, and he leads a cast of uniformly high quality
  • sharp, fun, funny, moving writing
  • a metric ton of varied and beautiful set pieces
  • I enjoyed the story much more than Payne 1 or 2 
  • bald Max is awesome Max.  Never thought I'd feel that way
  • the soundtrack by Health is amazing
  • intensely detailed environments
  • it's like playing a John Woo movie
  • the South American setting pays huge dividends, from the ever-pleasing variety in environments to Max's language barriers with the locals
  • Very well-designed.  Take the rail-shooting sequence on a boat, for example.  At first it's like "Goddamnit, I hate rail shooting!" but later it's like "ohhh by forcing me to not use cover or the Shoot Dodge, you've made me focus on Bullet Time all on its own, and I've emerged from this with a deeper understanding of the mechanic."  Nice.
  • ultrastylish
  • I love the very cinematic final kill cams - particularly the ones that fire during a Shoot Dodge - and the amount of control the player has during them
  • rock, rock hard - in the good way
  • excellent presentation across the board; the lighting engine is very impressive
  • there's multiplayer, I hear.  Folks are saying good things about it. 
  • loved the ending
  • the single-player portion has tons of replayability - lots of collectibles to find and alternate game modes
  • I really appreciate all the little touches - and there are too many to list
  • I put one or two hundred hours into Max Payne 2's single-player, and I expect I'll do the same here

  • those load times are epic, but it was nice of them to cover them up with such entertaining cutscenes
  • there's this one cutscene where the audio always screws up 
  • I shouldn't have to play a game on Hard mode to understand how excellent it is.  Rockstar, you should have made Normal mode harder!
Max Payne 3 is uniquely perfect at one all-important thing, and excellent at pretty much everything else.  Buy it.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Personal note.

Workin' on the review.  I'm sure you can guess which one I'm talkin' about.

I have social obligations this evening, so I don't know if I'm going to be able to finish it tonight, but a word of warning ; this one is going to be huge.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A few precious new seconds of Tomb Raider gameplay.


We'll get the whole thing on the 31st.

E3 2012 doesn't technically begin until June 5th, but if you've been paying attention to the show - and the announcements surround it - you'll know that, honestly, it begins right now.

The next week will be chock full of announcements, first-look trailers and so forth, as publishers and devs try to get their news out ahead of the tsunami of information that accompanies the trade show. After all, when Sony or Microsoft debut the next-gen console, or when Nintendo puts a price on the WiiU, nobody's going to be talking about Tomb Raider any more.

Another Game Diary - Max Payne 3.

It's not uncommon - and it's not, I feel, unfair - for me to review a game upon merely completing its campaign on normal difficulty.  I rarely bother with things like multiplayer (they feel so impermanent), and if a game can't tell you everything you need to know about it in the length of a campaign, perhaps you don't need to hear what else it has to say.

But there are some games...

Upon defeating normal difficulty, I felt assured that Max 3 was the Max Payne game I wanted - it scratched the unusual, elegant itch that only Max has ever provided - but with all the little changes to its mechanics, I couldn't put my finger on how it accomplished it.  So I went back in on hard mode.

Hard mode, for the record, is pretty fucking hard - but still deeply enjoyable, and once I emerged from the other end of that playthrough, I immediately started up a new game on Old School difficulty.  I picked up the dualshock with a minor sense of intimidation - what would this hardest of difficulty levels subject me to?

It turns out, Old School difficulty removes the Last Man Standing mechanic from the game (wherein, if you have a painkiller left in your inventory and an enemy delivers a killing blow, you have a chance to shoot him before you die to consume the painkiller and stay alive, at the cost of your bullet time).

Still - I expected it to be harder.  The longer I play Max 3, the more it reveals itself to be a much sharper iteration of Max's formula - and so, possesses a greater capacity to be mastered.

There's a sequence towards the end of the game that takes place in a very open environment, for example.  A long, long, long room with strips of waist-high cover at the center (conveyor belts!) and columns on the left side.

On normal difficulty, this room kicked the shit out of me.  I was still loving it, as I restarted a dozen or so times - but when I finally defeated it (set to this awesome track by Health)... was the most pleasure I've had with any video game in 2012.  It was hard as hell, but it was fabulous - and the idea of returning to it on hard difficulty scared the crap out of me.

Well, I walked into that room last night.  Armed with ten hours of hard-mode-difficulty under my belt, I kicked the holy hell out of those heavily-armored machine-gun toting special ops assholes - and did it with maximum style.

The more I play Max Payne 3, the more elegant its systems reveal themselves to be. Moving into Old School difficulty, I find I'm playing with an incredible amount of aggression - enemies are rarely onscreen for three seconds before - tap tap - two bullets go in 'em.

My point is, I have no idea how much time I'm going to feel I need to put into it before a review gets writ.  It would be reasonable to do one up tonight - but we'll see.

It'll end up a mood thing.

Vita gets Jet Set Radio too.

SEGA told TheSixthAxis today that cult-classic Jet Set Radio will also drop on Sony's new handheld, features added touch functionality (for the spray mechanic) and will be playable at E3.
"The fan reaction to our recent reveal of Jet Set Radio has been incredible!” said Haruki Satomi, Senior Vice President of Digital Business at SEGA. “As Jet Set Radio is focused on creativity, the touch capabilities of the PlayStation VITA are proving to be a perfect fit."

Nice. Demon's Souls servers aren't shutting down.

When Atlus USA announced a few months ago that the Demon's Souls servers were shutting down, there wasn't much of an uproar.  Much of the community has, no doubt, moved on to last year's Dark Souls - and it seemed a reasonable time to let the game's online component go.

Ah, but this is Atlus.  Learn Atlus.  Know Atlus.  Love Atlus.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

If Sleeping Dogs wasn't on your radar, it will be now.

Watch this thing.  This entire thing.  Thank me later.

To think, I was wholly uninterested in this game when it was called True Crime: Hong Kong.  That said,when it comes to the Fall Rush of Games, I do tend to ignore some promising titles in favor of other, awesomer-looking games - and guess what else drops on August 14th?

Yeahhh sorry Sleeping Dogs, you just got pushed to the When-I-Have-Time pile.

You don't wanna' be there.  Resistance 3 and Neir ended up there, and I don't think I've ever written a single post about them,

The Cave announcement trailer.

Ron Gilbert and Double Fine.  Coming to PS3?  That's all I needed to know.

If you're curious on the details, Kotaku's got an in-depth article up.  The short version; it's a platform-puzzler with different protagonists who have unique abilities, each of whom will be able to explore (almost) the entire cave, each of whom have one particular area which represents the darkness they must confront within it.

Dark teaser trailer.

Remember those screens we saw about a modern stealth action-RPG with vampires?

Apparently this has something to do with it.

KickBeat trailer.

Bleugh. Why do all of Sony's Move-specific or otherwise casual games feature characters who look the same?

The trailer gives me absolutely no sense of what playing the game would actually be like - which is a shame, 'cause rhythm games are often fun, and I'm rather fond of kung fu in all its forms.  Aside from the unique premise, the most interesting bit of info about KickBeat is that you can import your own playlist - everyone always wants that.

On Vita, by the way.

Metal Gear Rising : Revengeance E3 demo title screen.

Yes, seriously.  Have you ever seen a vid that's just a demo title screen before?  I sure haven't.

"Revengeance."  What the hell, Kojima?  You need to stop making up words.  No one will ever use the word "transfarring" without being ironic.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chamberlain and Chance on Max Payne 3.

Fellow blogger Chamberlain of Infinite Backlog approaches gaming very differently.  Whereas I limit myself to games that I think I will or may enjoy, Chamberlain will intentionally play really shitty games.  

He played Clash of the Titans and Mindjack and Knights Contract on purpose.  This is probably a very good thing to do - a broader understanding is never a bad thing - and Chamberlain possesses a perspective quite unique from my own.  

This difference in perspectives came to a head recently over Max Payne 3, which I insist you purchase instantly and he denounces as an experience too far removed from its predecessors.  

The first game review I ever wrote was twenty-eight paragraphs of spooge over Max Payne 2 on GameFAQs.  Chamberlain and I both played and loved the first two Paynes - but we entirely disagree on the threequel.  

This puts us in an interesting position.  I therefor present to you a feature I hope we've not seen the last of.  

CHAMBERLAIN : It's time to pull my slacks up over my navel, hitch up my suspenders and tell the damn kids to get off my lawn.

1. The cover system - I made light of the cover system on Friday by saying that it doesn't mesh well with the main character as he has been portrayed in his past two games. This is a silly, but valid, argument. A less pithy reason to hate the cover system is that is completely changes what kind of game Max Payne 3 is. The first two games were fast paced shooters. There was cover there in the form of doors and walls to hide behind but the games lacked the conveniently placed, chest high bullet proof obstructions that are a current genre staple because no one had done it yet. Cover based shooting is not a bad thing; I really like Gears of War, but Gears was designed around cover based shooting and I expect to sit behind a wall and wait for just the right moment to stick my head out. In Max Payne 3 I want to run into the fray, guns blazing, then throw myself into the air and kill five men before I the ground. I can't, and here's why.

What is the best way to force the player to use all the chest high obstructions? Make the enemies do too much damage, have better aim than the player and begin their attack from so far away that by the time Max gets into the more intimate fighting space he is familiar with he is missing both his arms and all his legs. The game forces you to hide or die. It doesn't feel like Max Payne, it feels like another third person shooter, albeit a very good looking one. Unfortunately, when judged as just a third person shooter there are still problems.

CHANCE : (Cracks knuckles.) Alright. Let's do this.

Max's enemies have always done a ton of damage from a long way away. Reading reviews of Payne 3 which complain the game is too hard seemed terribly uneducated to me; if you (by which, I don't mean you) thought 3 was hard, you obviously never played 1 or 2.

I too was disgusted when I saw an image of Max sitting behind cover, but let's be honest - cover has become part of the third-person-shooter language in recent years. It's the difference between the action-simulator feel of Uncharted 3 and the weightless sense of, say, Starhawk.

Dead Space 2 doesn't use or need it because all but one of the enemy types are melee-centric; they rush you. Nowadays, a third person shooter without a cover system (that isn't melee-centric) is like a leg without a foot - and just as there was something very cool and cinematic about blind-firing around cover in The Getaway back in 2002, it's an involving and visually appealing mechanic in third-person shooters.

CHAMBERLAIN : 2. The slow motion dive doesn't work - Think back to Max Payne 2. Pick out one specific moment of game play that you remember, and I guarantee it has Max diving around a corner in slow motion, hand guns wielded akimbo, shooting people in the face. Max Payne 3's dive gets you killed far mare often then it creates memorable moments. The dive animation is animated much better now, allowing Max to interact with objects in the world as he falls, but bumping into these objects pulls him out of the dive and ends bullet time. There are also a lot more things to bump into the cover system that shouldn't be there in the first place. Diving from cover to cover also doesn't work, as Max take forever to stand from a dive and if he didn't happen to land behind something then he will be dead before he gets back to his feet, and if you do manage to land behind cover Max wont go from laying on the ground to in cover, he has to stand up and get shot first.

CHANCE : I agree that the change is jarring. I too would prefer for Max to be able to dive across a table, slide across it while staying in bullet time and slap onto the ground at the end of the jump's natural forward momentum - but I do feel there is a tradeoff in its new form.

It forces the player to be very aware of their surroundings and when they can or can't get the full use of a shootdodge. It adds another layer of strategy and thought to using it; and the fact that shootdodge can be used in full with an empty bullet-time meter shows that Rockstar were aware of the change in balance, and wanted the move to be relied upon as an awesome hail-Mary (which it is).

Also, when you've ended a shoot-dive near cover, you can hit the cover button and he will gather himself up and get into cover. He is exposed for a good 1/3 of a second as he adjusts himself - but it's reasonable to me.

CHAMBERLAIN : 3. Aiming through the scope of sniper rifles reverses the thumb sticks - Let's assume that I can forgive the cover system and broken dive and just play the game like I would any other pretty looking but otherwise mediocre shooter. Since enemies appear at the very edge of where I can see them so often using a weapon that I can hit them with at that distance sounds like a good idea. And it would, but for some reason when aiming through a scope the stick that used to move Max now moves the aiming reticle. Years of gaming have programmed my thumbs: left thumb = move player, right thumb = aim. Changing this is just pointless. Changing it for just two weapons is asinine. I had better luck with my handgun at long range that the sniper rifle.

CHANCE : I have no idea what you're talking about - my analog sticks didn't change when I was holding either of the game's sniper rifles. Maybe it's a 360 thing?

CHAMBERLAIN : 4. Cut scenes change which weapon you are wielding - Max can only old three weapons: two one handed and one two handed. In a very nice touch switching from the two handed to one handed load out does not make your shotgun or rifle disappear: Max continues to hold it in his off hand. I prefer the two handed weapons and almost always have that selected, but every time there is a cut scene he switches back to a hand gun. I think I know why they did it: to force the cut scenes to be consistent with what weapons Max has at the time, but at the very least they should put it back the way it was when the cut scene is done. Changing weapons takes time, time that I then have to spend hiding behind cover or getting killed.Cut scenes will also pull you out of cover and put you in harms way. With the wrong weapon.

CHANCE : The first one or three times it happens - yes, annoying as fuck. After that, I understood that the game would do it, and adjusted my expectations.

In the same way the "last man standing" mechanic is a crutch for less-experienced players (it punishes you by draining your bullet time to zero when used), switching Max's weapon from whatever rifle, machinegun or shotgun he's holding to a sidearm before putting him in those situations shows Rockstar's expectations of the player.

They're not handing the player another crutch. If they need one, they can play on easy difficulty. They're saying "there's six men in front of Max, and he's holding a 9mm Beretta. What does he do?"

CHAMBERLAIN : 5. Enemies take an obnoxious amount of damage to kill - A head shot should kill. Not two or three. Not five. Unless of course you are in a rail shooting segment. Then they die from grazes to the arm.

A harsh and petty list? Of course, but I went in expecting one thing and got something else entirely. The name on the box make a difference. Taking an established, well liked game and character and slapping a large number on the end is a big responsibility. Rockstar has not pulled it off.

CHANCE :  Dudes in body armor with helmets soak up a lot of bullets, sure. Dudes in T-shirts will fall from two body shots - I like the variety in enemies, and that I need to be mindful of how much protection the goons in this room are wearing. It makes sense to me that if a dude is wearing a tactical helmet, it will take more than one shot to kill him - and if a dude is wearing a full SWAT-style facemask, I'm gonna' have to deluge his face in lead to put him down.

Much better to have that than simply keep on adding more and more enemies to increase the difficulty as the game progresses.

CHANCE : I think the fundamental difference in our opinions is that Max Payne 3 didn't feel like a proper Max game to you, while - somehow - it does to me. It's not perfect - some changes are jarring, and discovering on a second playthrough that most cutscenes are unskippable and hide supernaturally long load times is a let-down - but it still feels like Max to me in the very best way.

I can still break from behind a wall in bullet time, hailing dual-wielding uzi fire at a pair of thugs hiding behind columns, blood and splinters of concrete showering the air, launch myself into a shoot-dive and unload a pair of clips at a dude behind me as a grenade explodes in the background in slow motion.

Fuck. Yes.

CHAMBERLAIN : Max Payne 3 feels like the odd bastard child of Max Payne 2 and Call of Duty: Black Ops (or was that Bad Company 2? they all blend together), right down to the cluttered levels filled with enemies that you cannot see but can see you just fine.

I will highlight a specific encounter that sticks out, and spoilers beware, of course.

The Panama flash back sequence. It starts out well enough, Max wakes up hungover as shit and has to fight his way out of the ship. He eventually ends up on the outside as a larger boat pulls along side, covered with soldiers. You have to sit behind what little cover there is or you die. If you were to shoot dodge you would not have an angle to hit them, and would die. The guys on the other ship are so far away that the little red dot you need to aim with is half the size of the target, but you really need to get head shots to take them out quickly, or you die.

spoilers end

CHAMBERLAIN : After enough deaths the game took pity on me and started me with more ammo and painkillers, but the whole thing felt out of place. I was waiting for Soap to rappel in and tell me to follow him. Oh wait, that does happen, his name is Passos now.

Max Payne 3 has aped, both stylistically and game play wise, other big budget shooters when it didn't need to. So much here is unnecessary and unwanted; Max Payne 2 didn't need over-long scripted sequences in buses and boats and zip lines to keep things exciting, it did it with five mooks and a room full of pillars.

To put it in movie terms: I wanted a follow up to Reservoir Dogs and got Wanted instead.

CHANCE : I agree that the bus, the boat, the zip lines don't feel necessary. These are, for lack of a better term, rail shooting segments (which I abhor) that disconnect the player from Max's fundamental strength - allowing the player to express themselves through its mechanics. Those, I agree, are unnecessary and a misguided attempt to achieve set piece moments when an actual set piece would do.

CHANCE : At the same time - while 3 does pick up more than a bit of the modern language of blockbuster action games (Passos as an AI companion, the rail segments, the shit-ton of story), none of it ever felt - to me - that it wasn't in keeping with how Max's narrative should feel.

So many of the set pieces from the game (the garage, the docks, the bus depot) felt like beautiful current-gen mirrors of the best sequences from 2. I really feel it did its heritage justice.

And, honestly, I wanna' post this entire conversation on the Blog. I'll call it Chamberlain Vs. Chance - Max Payne 3. I'm aware that I often... look on the sunny side of any given game and gloss over its flaws, and it's valuable to have a different perspective.

CHAMBERLAIN : Go for it, I just didn't want to clutter up your comments sections with a friendly disagreement.

* * *

And lo, it came to pass.  A chat this juicy shouldn't be confined to comments.  Thanks, Chamberlain!