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Until Dawn: The Playable Teen Horror Flick

We’ve heard about this project from Supermassive Games for quite a while now. First it was coming to the PlayStation 3 with PlayStation Move support. but in August 2014 the developer re-announced Until Dawn as a PlayStation 4 exclusive. It’s built using a modified version of the Killzone: Shadow Fall “Umbra3” engine, the game is said to show off what the PlayStation 4 is really capable of. After going hands-on with the game it certainly left an impression.

If I were to sum up what Until Dawn is, I would lean heavily towards a ‘teen horror movie done like any Quantic Dream game’. Following eight teenagers who spend the night in a log cabin on the anniversary of the death of a friend they all have in common, they are unaware initially that they are being hunted by a serial killer with a vendetta. For the purposes of the demo, I was put in the role of Ashley as she explores a desolate basement trying to look for one of their friends alongside her companion Chris.

Firstly, I have to say that the character models are incredibly lifelike; utterly terrified of the predicament they are in. When tears form in Ashley’s eyes, they look insanely good, instead of the typical watery blobs we’re used to in most games. There’s a real sense of fear in their eyes that makes their situation all the more believable. Voice performances use their talent well and spoke naturally; yet fitting for the teen horror flick aesthetic Supermassive Games were going for.

On top of that, the basement is very atmospheric. By moving the PlayStation DualShock controller, you can manipulate where the torch shines. It takes a little getting used to, but the uncertainty of the control scheme brings potential situations where something scuttles in the distance, only for you to shine your light on where the sound is to find nothing. Beyond that however it felt to play like most modern survival horror games – no tank-controls, but not much beyond walking around and inspecting environments.

The demo eventually led me to a room with a bit of a puzzle aspect. There were supernatural elements in psycho analysis clue. This only appeared on screen for a few seconds and before I knew it I was in the next set piece, unable to go back. Perhaps this is intentional, a way to reward those who inspect the clues, with the potential for new scenarios if you inspected all the clues. But I was not so lucky.

If I had one reservation, it would be that akin to Quantic Dream games, the demo felt extremely guided, leading you from one set piece to another. You have some key decisions to make however, such as whether you go with your companion into a locked room or split up temporarily. While I was only allowed to play once through, I’m reasonably sure that the choices presented change the story accordingly.

It also submits you to that infamous creepy dead woman screaming jump scare. Not exactly what I was expecting at 10am and I’m not sure how I feel about that!

Yager On How Dead Island 2 Is A New Beginning

New developer, same publisher. When Dead Island 2 was announced at E3, it came with a trailer of a vastly different tone – one full of humour rather than the heartbreaking original trailer. I sat down with senior game designer Isaac Ashdown to talk about how the series will evolve under their wing.

One Hit Pixel: How did the property of Dead Island move from Techland to Yager?

Isaac Ashdown: At Yager, we were big fans of Dead Island. While we were working on Spec Ops: The Line, we played it a lot in our offices. It was a nice change of pace. When we found out we could pitch to do the sequel, we just jumped at the chance! The pitch was successful, so we got the project.

Spec Ops: The Line had a very serious undertone to it that garnered a lot of attention upon its release. With Dead Island 2, are we about to see a similar change in direction or will it undertake a more bonkers direction?

One of the things we’re doing at Yager with Dead Island is making it our own, but we’re not making it like Spec Ops. We’ve taken a lot of the core visuals and tone of the original where paradise meets hell and putting it in California to set it in a real place. We’ve been seeing what that means from a design perspective. I wouldn’t say we’re going completely bonkers, but certainly a light-hearted, over-the-top side.

That’s certainly something fans of Dead Rising would recognise. I noticed in the multiplayer demo build that the player is able to gather up items to upgrade weapons to have elemental properties. Can you touch a little more on what that will be like in the final game?

In the demo, it works a little differently to the real game, as you only need to complete a side quest to get a modified weapon. In the final game it will work like the first game, where you will need to find blueprints, weapons, and resources.

You will then be able to modify or craft a weapon or item based on what blueprints you have found, choosing what you want to create based on stats. We’ve tried to make it as flexible as possible, where any weapon can be modded and all kinds of recipes can be found. You can now do it on the fly, so you don’t have to find a workbench.

Would you say then that Dead Island 2 is more of the same but in a different setting?

We’re trying to do a real sequel, making what made the first game such a great experience and adding onto that: The melee combat and cooperative parts in particular. One of the things we’re doing is refreshing how cooperative works, so we’ve upped the player count to eight and made the transitions between single and multiplayer seamless.

For example, you can jump into a game, doing your own thing, when you hear some gunfire down the street. You arrive to find it was another player trying to fight a boss, so you help take it down. You can choose whether to tag along or go your own separate ways, it’s up to you. We’re trying to make coop a key feature of the game.

Character in the first game had unique abilities. Is this something that has been retained?

We’ve got four different characters that play slightly differently and unique specialities. You can play as a speeder character who is great with fast weapons and cool executions, a berserker character who is more into slower, heavier weapons to pack punch. They also have unique abilities, so the speedier character performs a cool execution where she runs up and stabs the enemy in the back, while the berserker has a super powered kick to send zombies flying. We do have a levelling system where you can assign skill points to customise characters how you want. When you see eight people online, some may have different variations on the same core character you are building.

There was a lot of enemy variety in the first Dead Island, so is there scope for new enemy types or skins?

Absolutely! In the demo you have regular zombies, some crawling and some that run faster. You also have special enemies too, such as the Thug hanging out in the electronics store and the Suicider at the gas station. We’ve reimagined them a little bit, mainly in the visual design. The Suicider for example looks like a gas station attendant. We also have new enemies as well that we haven’t revealed yet. Zombies should however look unique, wearing clothes fitting to the setting. So in the electronics store, some may be wearing the electronic store uniform.

What will fans of the original have to look forward to with Dead Island 2?

If you enjoy playing games with intense melee combat, but like to mix it up with guns and dual wielding, and you enjoy doing this with a group of friends or random people; then this is what we’ve been focusing on building on with the sequel. We’ve got this brand new setting to offer as well, offering more of the paradise meets hell mantra of the series.

Techland were originally going to make Dead Island 2, though a change of direction resulted in them signing with WB Games to create Dying Light. Aren’t you a little worried that this may steal some of the Dead Island thunder?

Personally, I think Dying Light looks like a really interesting game. I’m looking forward to playing it. They’re doing a lot of cool stuff. I think they’re taking it in a very different direction, especially when it comes to the tone. We’re trying to build on what made Dead Island so iconic, how you have this blood splattered, sun drenched place where you can have a fun experience being the hero. I think Dead Island 2 is going to be a great addition to the series. As for Techland, I certainly wish them all the best!

When is Dead Island 2 being launched?

Spring 2015 for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

Have you been working on optimising the PC version for higher end rigs?

It’s still at an early stage, but we’re aiming to have an equally awesome experience on all platforms.

If you were to sum up Dead Island to try and sell Dead Island 2 to someone who had never heard of the series, would you say this is a good starting point or start with the first one?

The first one is great and if you want to play something right now, you can play the first game! Dead Island 2 builds up so much on what made the first one great. We’ve got four brand new characters, set in the same world though sometime after the events of Dead Island. You could totally jump straight into Dead Island 2.

A Brief Session With Dead Island 2

We were given ten minutes to kill as many zombies as possible in an open environment, with my character wielding a fire axe and a rifle of some sort. Early on it was a bit disorientating to get back into the stamina based combat that Dead Island sported, though I soon got into the swing of things. The gun had probably more ammunition in it than it will ever see in the final product and there was no degradation for the axe, but it’s likely this is for demo purposes.

Also for demo purposes, something the developers were open about, was the fact that the ten minute arena time limit was created specifically for the demo and that the side objectives we had are not representative of the final product. In the demo, completing the side missions of collecting 200 of a fire-based upgrade or electric-based upgrade would automatically apply said upgrade to your arsenal. In the final product, they’re anticipating it to work more like the original Dead Island with the crafting mechanic, though crafting can now be done anywhere for convenience.

While it doesn’t play any differently to previous Dead Island titles, it’s important to point out that it is at this time more visually complex than visually appealing. Certain enemies will have different skins depending on location. Suiciders found next to a gas station for example will look like gas attendants, while Thugs in the hardware store will look like clerks.

Their reason for this ties in with the fact the action now takes place in Los Angeles as opposed to the fictional “paradise” Banoi Island, so they wanted the game to have that immersive feel. It’s a strong addition to the mix, though we hope there are some new and interesting additions to the roster of enemies.

My concerns though are that by playing it somewhat safe, the game will feel like a glorified expansion to many. Having eight players at one time is a nice touch, but it certainly didn’t feel like a visual step up. I would have forgiven it had it sported a higher frame rate to make the first person combat feel fluid, but frankly I didn’t get that impression.

Maybe there’s more to the final version mechanically that they’re not ready to show, which is the case for many games at EGX this year. In the meantime, the foundations are there in full show and are a good indication that the franchise is at least in safe hands.

An In-Depth Chat About Total War: Attila

At EGX 2014, the next Total War game was announced, much to the surprise of many since The Creative Assembly were only just on the cusp of launching Alien Isolation at the time. We speak with Lead Artist Pawel Wojs and Senior Battle Designer Simon Mann, to get some more insight on just what direction the series is taking us.

One Hit Pixel: So Total War: Attila then! A new setting. How long has it been in the works for?

Simon: We started pretty much as soon as we’d finished Total War: Rome II.

What made you decide to pick that era?

Pawel: It’s a wonderful continuation of the story of Rome. Rome II was an epic period of 300 years of crazy empire building. It felt fitting to end that chapter and begin anew with the dawn of the dark age.

Simon: We’re 400 years after the events of Rome II, in a setting that isn’t well known. It’s the beginning of the early dark ages which not a lot of people have background knowledge of.

I have to admit, I haven’t! So could you please set the scene for us?

Simon: It’s the beginning of the dark ages, which sees the world dramatically change in major ways. There’s a lot of natural turmoil, so for example the climate is changing hugely, a feature we’re trying to push. The world is getting colder, the snow is slowly encroaching towards Europe. There’s devolution happening too, where people are moving away from cities to the countryside. The Roman Empire is so watered down by others settling in their lands that it’s almost unrecognisable.

Pawel: Because of the climate change, people from the north are slowly moving south, but you also have forces including the Huns pushing the Roman Empire further and further back. You have the Western Roman Empire, which used to be what we know as the Roman Empire, now crumbling at the edges, unable to maintain its borders and under a lot of pressure. It’s a darker world, not the classical Roman Empire we know, but more medieval-like. Then on the Eastern Roman Empire is a more wealthier, stronger side of the Roman Empire. It’s where the spirit of Roman Empire now resides. Then you have the Sasanid Empire, which is strong force and in its prime.

The only thing I know about the Hun era, was that Atilla got quite far West…

Simon: He made it into Gaul actually! He was a real celebrity of the time, with his empire stretching from the Stepsof Sepia up to the Roman Empire.

Pawel: He was the Alexander the Great of that period.

What drove you to choose Attila as the centrepiece for the game?

Pawel: It was an easy choice. He was the scourge of God. This is where the story of the four horsemen was born. He came to the Romans to bring the end of days. You cannot tackle this period without focusing on Attila.

Simon: He was cited as a catalyst for the things that went wrong for the Roman Empire. The Huns coming down from the East, pushing the Barbarians into Roman territory, like a grindstone. The Roman Empires are too big to deal with this amount of enemies at once, so it collapses down and Attila comes sweeping in. The Eastern Roman Empire basically had to pay him off, having lots of money to bargain with him.

Pawel: They would even hire him to fight some of their battles for them.

You seem to know quite a lot about the time period. How long did it take to research?

Pawel: A long time. Simon might be able to answer this better than I, as I’m an artist who only needs to worry about the pretty pictures, but we built a library of 70+ books that all the guys read through.

Simon: Indeed and this is something we continue doing to be honest. We’re all part-time historians here, interested in the history, architecture, etc.

Pawel: The architecture was particularly difficult to research. The time period wasn’t called the Dark Ages for nothing! We don’t know much about them, not much survived, and there’s lots of conflicting theories and stories. It’s a bit of a black hole between the Classical era and the Medieval times. It was definitely tricky to research the architecture and settlements – not too medieval but moving away from the classical.

Simon: I like the way we’ve got the ruins of the classic civilisation mixed in with this proto-medieval buildings. Wood buildings mixed with barbarian structure.

Pawel:  Londinium is one of the battles on show and is an example of a Western Roman settlement.

Simon: We did a lot of research that we essentially had a full canvas. You don’t need to make up anything. As long as we can read as many books as we can, we can make more games!

I guess the important question is how will you translate the history from the books and research into the game itself? What processes are you going through in terms of developing the game so it is a true and accurate, historically fun to play.

Simon: They say all the best plans fall apart once they reach the field. Total War is a sandbox game where you can rewrite history, rather than strictly follow. One of the things we’re doing is have objectives for factions that are based on historical context. For example, the Saxons coming over to England and essentially founding the British people, so you could have one that says “conquer London”.

Pawel: So we set the stage and leave it up to you!

Simon: If players want to take the Saxon army and charge it down the Roman Empire, they can do!

So essentially you’re giving them the same situations that the rulers of the time would have faced at the time. That sounds fascinating!

Pawel: We set the start date, try to set the stage as closely as possible, building the missions into that sub-narrative, and then leave the player to decide the future. At this point the Romans were a Christian people, but you can choose to convert them back to the old ways and follow the old gods, or convert to another religion.

So there’s a lot of scope for the civilisation building aspect of the game?

Simon: We’ve also got the flip side of that the Western Roman Empire, we’ve talked about this a lot because we’re excited about their gameplay. It’s not the building aspect, but destroying game of removing settlements, scaling back and recomposing. You have to survive, you can’t just start invading.

Pawel: As Western Rome, your borders are vast but you don’t have the resources to maintain the territory you keep. You have to choose to give up territory, so you may choose to give up on Britain because you can’t maintain Britain and all your other locations held.

Total War is also about the combat, so how would the strategies of warfare at the time play into the combat mechanics in-game?

Pawel: So far we’ve only revealed the two Roman factions and the Saxons.

Simon: Our approach is to give each side its own identity that’s in line with their culture. I’m not sure if you’ve played the demo yet…

The queue for the booth was massive…

Simon: Really? I’ve been trapped up here the entire time!

Pawel: Oh yeah, It’s wrapping around the booth.

Obviously the reception has been phenomenal with many excited to see the new time setting. Sorry, you were saying about the combat?

Simon: Yes so, each faction is unique in their culture and army composition. The Saxons were all about the axe warriors at the time, so they had a lot of heavy infantry with axes running around.

They also have raider units who are cheaper than the discipline counterparts, but the downside is that if they’re in a settlement they will begin to loot and pillage the village. Maybe you didn’t want this, instead to take over the city, so you would need to repair that damage from the campaign map. It’s intertwined in a fascinating way.

With the Romans you have more organised troops that people aren’t used to, civilised barbarians essentially. They rely on technology, so the Ballistarii and crossbows we’ve added into the game.

Pawel: We will be revealing more as the months go on.

Am I right in thinking we may potentially get to play as the Huns?

Pawel: Who knows? The focus is on Attila as a big bad.

A looming threat.

Pawel: Exactly. As much as Total War: Attila is a sandbox game as always, we’ve got this overarching narrative that the end of days are upon us. The omens that come with the migrating tribes and fleeing people. Stories of a rider, winters are getting colder. People felt it was the end of days, so you know they’re coming but you don’t know when.

I now have to address the elephant in the room, which is the AI. Now I played a bit of Total War: Rome II at launch, which had its issues. So what safeguards are in place to ensure that Total War: Attila makes a good first impression?

Pawel: Have you played it recently?

Yes, it’s a lot better!

Pawel: So we’re constantly improving. One of the things in [Total War: Rome II] – Emperor Edition was to address the top issues and also constantly building on the solid foundation for AI. This framework we’re using for Attila. If you look at the battle on show, it isn’t a scripted battle, but a siege battle against real AI.

Simon: We’re always going to be able to continually improve it.

Pawel: It’s an insanely complex system. A lot of people take it for granted because a lot of RTS games are completely scripted. Whereas Total War has an artificial intelligence. We will be constantly working on the AI forever!

Simon: Personally, I’m quite happy with the new AI and where it is at the moment. It sometimes surprises me, doing things you don’t expect it to do. For example in the siege battle, I’ve had the AI come all the way around my settlement and attack from the other side!

Pawel: That happened to me once as well! I was locked in battle once and the enemy sent a task force to capture my capture point and I didn’t even notice it happening. I lost because I was unable to get my army back to tackle the issue!

With regards to hardware, is it running on the Total War: Rome II engine?

Pawel: Yes. Gone are the days where we would scrap the engine as soon as the development begins on a new game in the franchise. We can always build and improve, implementing new things. Essentially it’ a new version of the engine. We’ve got a new effects system to support it – improved reflections for example.

With the new AI behaviour and graphical capability, will we need to upgrade our PCs?

Pawel: We always try to support the widest range of systems as we can. We’re obviously in the high end, but we’re still optimising.

When will the game be out?

Pawel: 2015 for PC.

Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us about this fascinating time period and a fascinating sounding game. Hope to hear more about it soon!

Bloodborne Tests Your Resolve And You’ll Want More

Few games make me as excited as the stuff coming out of From Software. This could be a case of Stockholm Syndrome as they’ve repeatedly tested my sanity with punishing difficulty, but that announcement for Bloodborne genuinely had me excited for a brand new setting and the leap into the latest hardware. As the successor to the lineage of Demon’s Souls and indeed Dark Souls, this aggressive new take shows you can hold out a blood soaked olive branch to the player, before beating their morale into submission with devious yet fair tactics.

The first impression was of awe. Never before has a gothic Victorian inspired setting looked so vast and foreboding. As I began to climb the tower, a blood curdling scream echoed through the air, not at all human and all the more terrifying because of that. While it looks impressive, sporting great visual fidelity, the combat mechanics probably deserved a higher frame rate to really show off what this PS4 exclusive is capable of. This of course won’t be anything new to Dark Souls or indeed Demon’s Souls fans, so they’ll feel right at home with the pacing.

Bloodborne felt like a more aggressive adventure simply because of how easy it is to restore health. When I was hit by the monsters, a huge chunk of my health vanished, replaced by a smaller yellow bar covering a small portion of the health bar. When you subsequently hit or kill the monsters, the blood they lose turns into recovered health; with the maximum able to be recovered being that yellow health bar. This is hardly a new idea as fighting games have utilised a similar idea for years, but it’s the first time we’ve seen this outside the confines of that genre and it works well.

Combat, for the most part, is fluid, with the modular weapons and stances proving useful in terms of crowd control or quickly landing hits on single opponents. Weapons range from the “Clever Axe” that we saw in the trailers, but also more conventional swords and axes. Without a decent block mechanic it was vital to dodge, especially when foes begin to use firearms.

This is something that the player can use as well; in fact, they play an integral part in how combat works. With a blunderbuss and pistol on show, the aim is to stun foes with your firearms before moving in for the kill with your primary weapon. Sadly, whether or not there is a lock-on system was never revealed by the staff, so its usefulness largely depends on if you can still lock onto enemies as it’s wildly inaccurate without one.

After dispatching a few human enemies who claimed that I didn’t belong, I went around an entrance to a gate being slammed on by something large. It turned out to be some kind of giant that was more challenging than its smaller cultist cousins thanks to a shoulder barge. Upon exploring the area for loot, I came across giant crow corpses which suddenly came to life and began to attack, from the ground. It was a bit jarring to see foes that usually swoop in from the skies to instead assault my character from the floor.

My run came to an end just as I saw what looked like an NPC being summoned to fight some werewolves. Thinking that it would be better to try to attack from afar, I fired my weapons a few times, catching one of them in the arm. Sadly this proved to be a fatal mistake as my character was leapt upon and consequently devoured for his troubles. I tried the run again several times, only for the speedy wolves to quickly end all hope of survival. Even though the mechanics are more forgiving when it comes to health recovery, this is still a Souls game through and through.

Definitely a polarising game then from developers From Software and certainly not for the easily frustrated, but Bloodborne is one of few games recently I’ve genuinely enjoyed. It had a great sense of pacing, a brutal challenge, and showed off just how striking a game’s visuals can be on a next-gen console. It may not be a graphical powerhouse compared to certain showcase titles, but it has the gameplay down and that’s the main draw.

Mortal Kombat X: The Fighter To Watch

Mortal Kombat X has seen a lot of attention and it’s not hard to see why. The reboot was favourably received, reviving a franchise that had long lost its way with “Kreate-A-Fatality”, Shujinko’s entire existence, and a convoluted plot that only the dedicated could make sense of. By altering its own timeline in dramatic fashion, the developers at NetherRealm studios now have creative freedom to embark down this new future. But how do the new mechanics fare and just how complex can a game about beating someone to death get?

I recently played the multiplayer-only preview at EGX alongside TheSixthAxis’ Kris Lipscombe and a couple of representatives from WB Games. Both showed me different things when it came to not just the mechanics, but also how it feels to play when you’re opting to make a small competition out of it. What was revealed during both sessions has me excited.

Old mainstays like Scorpion, Sub Zero, Raiden and Kano are still present, each with three different modes to vary fighting styles. All work well and have advantages in certain scenarios. Newcomers include D’vora – a venomous spider lady, Kotal Khan – the sun god, and the daughter of Sonja Blade and Johnny Cage (bet you didn’t see that one coming): Cassie Cage. Indeed Cassie Cage is an interesting blend of her mother’s special ops training with her father’s Hollywood brawler “shenanigans”. With plenty more characters and fighting styles to be revealed, the diversity thus far is impressive.

Fighting itself uses the best from Injustice: Gods Among Us, but further improving their utility. For example, in-stage items that deal damage can occasionally appear more than once in a fight, meaning their use becomes less risky. Brawling is also slightly faster, meaning battles happen at such a brisk pace, reacting to oncoming attacks is a tense affair. Supporting this are mobility based obstacles that can be used to leap across the area, and even areas that are used differently depending on where you and your opponent are. You can also run, but unlike in Mortal Kombat 3, it isn’t mapped to a single button, though the stamina bar limits how much you can spam this.

As if the fighting wasn’t good enough, during the time played I was able to pull off some rather disturbing finishers. Cassie Cage’s in particular made painful viewing, topped off with a rather comedic use of chewing gum. While it’s nothing on the recently revealed Quan Chi’s new finisher, the level of brutal extermination is perhaps more gory than previous titles. More importantly though, it keeps what made Mortal Kombat an excellent reboot with its combos, enhanced attacks, combo breakers, and the X-Ray attacks that brought the series up-to-date.

Where Mortal Kombat X has differentiated itself from its contemporaries thus far has been with the different fighting styles. These provide far more complexity than merely choosing characters as they provide different moves depending on the selection, each granting advantages and disadvantages in fighting styles that need adapting to. What’s more, it adds a level of depth unfound in most fighting games, making mastering a character a far more involved task.

Some have said that it is a darker looking game and in many ways it is. Stages have a desolate feel to them for the most part, with the “Kove” level showcasing a rather hellish landscape full of dead bodies that splash up against the bridge. An Outworld marketplace does a little more to build up the world of Mortal Kombat as all sorts of weird and wondrous things inhabit this stage. It helps that the physics and overall tone of the game are technically impressive, perhaps even rivalling Killer Instinct for artistic finesse.

It’s unknown at this time what else the game may have in terms of features, but given NetherRealm studios’ history with the Mortal Kombat franchise, they won’t skimp on the features. While I’ve always been a sucker for the series since its inception (I even liked Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero!), the improvements should have fighting game fans in general excited. Historically the Capcom fighters have had a more mechanical focus as opposed to just being about guts and gore, but Mortal Kombat X looks to bridge that gap, then uppercut its rivals into a pit full of spikes. Fatality indeed.

Is Metro 2033 Redux The Definitive Remake Of A Cult Classic?

Dmitry Glukhovsky’s dystopian novel has garnered a following since the videogame adaptation. In fact the English translation hit book shops the same year the game was launched. Metro: Last Light had a bit of a shaky development cycle, not least because of the fall of THQ and the franchises’ acquisition by Deep Silver, but it was highly praised on launch despite not running at its full potential on consoles due to hardware limitations.

4A Games could easily have spruced up Metro: Last Light and been on their merry way, but the team decided to revisit their original flagship game and remake it in the new engine. The atmospheric lighting is the biggest indicator of this as light bounces off walls to create foreboding shadows that lurk in the darkness. But this isn’t just a graphical upgrade.

For a start, Metro 2033 Redux opts to allow players to tinker with the game a little more before embarking on the commute. Survival is the game as was originally intended, while Spartan is a faster paced affair where ammunition, filters and other resources are more readily available. You also have access to difficulty settings, including the Ranger mode where the HUD and UI are disabled. There are other subtle changes within the main campaign too. Some sections are far easier than before, while others go on for far longer or ramp up the difficulty a little bit more.

If only they paid a little bit more attention to the character models. They look fine from a distance, but as soon as their mouths move it looks like they’re all badly imitating Pac-Man, all the while using the same dodgy English dub. I seriously recommend playing this one in the original Russian with subtitles. One particularly unfortunate occurrence came when riding down the lift I’d accidentally clipped into the character model of an NPC and could see the inner workings of his mouth. It’s an image I can’t forget.

Another image I can’t forget is that of the horrifying beasties that lurk both above ground and in the tunnels. Again it is the lighting that puts the icing on this ghastly cake as the light may occasionally flicker across the face of something terrible, only for it to be hidden once again in the darkness. It creates immersion so potent that if playing Ranger mode you’d almost think you were there!

On consoles, Metro 2033 Redux is the definitive version with plenty of upgrades and tweaks, but I’d strongly recommend getting both games in the Redux pack as opposed to one or the other. Metro 2033 Redux still has limited replay value while getting Metro: Last Light at least means you can continue your journey into the post-apocalyptic underground of Moscow. As far as remakes go, this is the cream of the crop.

Review copy supplied by Xbox.

Are Pre-Orders Really That Evil?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to One Hit Pixel.

During the summer months, procrastinating on the internet takes more of my time than actually playing games thanks to the summer drought. With a lack of upcoming releases compared to previous years, this lull is particularly painful. Yet summer also brings forth a slew of pre-order incentive announcements for games in the pipeline, something that Polygon’s Ben Kuchera has written a piece urging consumers to keep away from.

His argument against pre-ordering is that it isn’t consumer friendly, instead benefiting publishers with guaranteed income streams (because who cancels their pre-order?) and retailers because it gives them an indication of how many copies they need to order from the publisher to meet demand, thus limiting shelf space.

To quote directly, “You’re fighting a problem of potential scarcity, a problem created by the retailer”. Pre-order incentives are also damaging the market by favouring one retailer over many others. “That’s not marketing, that’s consumer hostility.” This is just a vertical slice of his argument against pre-orders though, so you should have a read before coming to your own thoughts on the matter.

Up until fairly recently, I was of the same thinking. I hadn’t pre-ordered a game for several years, loathed the very idea of it, and honestly had no reason to even consider. Heck, the last thing I pre-ordered was my Nintendo 3DS.

However, as of the past few months, I too am guilty of fuelling this particular flame.

I first pre-ordered Destiny with the intention of getting into the beta. In this case, the beta is the closest I’m ever going to come to play it before release due to the MMO style nature of the game. I see it as an investment in producing content for this website, for giving you a heads up. No doubt many will just play it as a sneak peek of the hottest new IP from a veteran studio. From what I’ve seen so far, I like the ideas being put forward- a fact that is vital to the can of worms that was opened, because I wanted to show support for another innovative gameplay idea.

Evolve was a game I immensely enjoyed during my limited time with it, simply due to the reactions that came from the others present and playing. Strangers and friends alike gathered to take on one stomping brute of a monster that was being controlled by another player. Some took on a leadership role, but everyone was talking to each other. Observing one particular game was deeply intense because of just how close things were getting. My time as the monster provoked the opposing band of journalists to argue about the best course of action after I dispatched their lynchpin.

This is the dawn of the next-generation multiplayer experience and to me that’s why I pre-ordered: to show support for ideas that I like. In my eyes, the only reason you should pre-order any game is to show support for ideas, not necessarily the developers themselves. However, this doesn’t extend to single player only experiences. I agree with Ben Kuchera that pre-ordering particularly single player games like Alien: Isolation is a stupid idea.

When something is multiplayer focused, pre-ordering guarantees you the copy from day one so you’re ahead of the curve. It’s important for those who want to play with friends or those who want to play competitively. Those who pre-order single player only games, no matter what the bonuses are, are succumbing to aggressive marketing. Pre-ordering a new games console is also a case of supply/demand as retailers don’t make a huge profit from new games consoles unless they’re part of a bundle. You know the ones; buy the console, a game, and a branded accessory pack? They make money from those accessories!

But I digress. Single player games tend to depreciate faster than any “profitable” multiplayer offerings, unless you have Mario or Zelda on the box. This is generally due to the fact that people sell finished games back to a retailer who puts them in their profitable pre-owned sections. When this happens, their business practice is to “upsell” pre-owned copies in favour of brand new ones which neither the publisher or developer profits from. Therefore, aggressive pre-order campaigns are a sure-fire way of making a little more money before the need for DLC comes up. It’s an ugly business and generally I don’t want a part of it. Do I still want single player games? Absolutely! Some of the best games out there are single player only. I’m just not wanting throw all the chips down and declaring myself all-in.

However, one factor isn’t taken into consideration in Ben’s article and that is PC pre-ordering, including Early Access. Some may say that Early Access isn’t linked as you’re “helping with the development of the game”, but what difference is there between the Destiny beta and signing up to an Early Access project to the average consumer? It’s another aggressive marketing technique that consumers shouldn’t fall for unless they really want to help with the game. It’s also a double-edged sword as gamers may forget about a developer’s Early Access game by the time it comes releasing the full version, there may not be enough hype for the game to generate sales.

Steam pre-orders generally debunk Ben’s argument about supply/demand as you can’t physically run out of digital copies. However, it reinforces his argument that the aggressive marketing damages consumer’s rights, as there are Steam exclusive pre-order bundles that shut out the likes of Green Man Gaming and GOG. In fact, Steam has an overwhelming monopoly on PC gaming as most online retailers sell Steam keys as well as DRM-free versions. Then of course you have high-street retailers selling Steam currency.

So be wary dear reader. Pre-orders are an ugly business that is slowly becoming more and more unpleasant by the year. After these two pre-orders come through, it is unlikely that I would pre-order again unless a similarly exciting and innovative multiplayer experience appears that is likely to be sold out. Even then I would have reservations.

In Alien: Isolation You’re Never Truly Alone

It seems that The Creative Assembly has been tasked by Sega with the question :”Why have games from the Aliens franchise failed?” With Alien: Isolation, the answer they’ve come up with is simple – drop the ‘S’ and focus on what made the original film a classic. That meant getting rid of the high-tech shooters we’ve seen in the past and instead focus on terrifying the player by making them bait for the sole Xenomorph.

But you’re probably wondering how it all works. So far, Sega have already shown us the interaction between player and Xenomorph. The radar allows players to get a vague idea of where life forms may be, but you will get a better idea should you turn to face the threat indicated. Sounds fairly primitive so far.

We were led to a darkened room where various versions of the game were on show. This was revealed to be the E3 build that introduces some dynamics that on paper may sound like they’re detracting from the original vision. I was given the ability to create tools to distract the alien to another location, or heal myself after an encounter with the newly introduced humanoid hostiles. These are usually to enabled me to lure it away from a particular objective, or alert patrols to a location where they can rendezvous with a grizzly end.

Even with these tools and the inclusion of humans and androids who react hostilely, neither detracts from the main objective – not to get eaten by the Alien. This is compounded by the fact that you can make them paranoid by merely giving yourself away before hiding. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword really because the AI will fire randomly, alerting the Xenomorph to their location. Naturally their demise is at this point inevitable, but was hiding under that table or in that closet enough? That is the constant peril that Alien: Isolation presents and the paranoia that sets in thanks to the gloomy atmosphere of the dilapidated space station is enough to put you on edge.

As I was put on the edge so many times by an Alien that loved to skulk in the ventilation shafts, it wasn’t easy to figure out what I was supposed to be doing by the time I got there. Retention of tasks is a bit more difficult when you are being constantly hunted, so when it came to hacking into a computer to unlock a safe to grab a key to unlock a door, it really became a test of nerves. Some might find that to be a hindrance, but it’s certainly in keeping with the aim of being utterly terrified.

I did get rather lucky not to have to avoid the Android on patrol while hacking terminals, but when fleeing the station it became a rather tense game of cat and mouse. When being pursued by the Xenomorph, the last thing you want is a couple of guys firing at you. I just about made it through that area, but it was certainly touch and go. Anything can set the Xenomorph on your trail, including knocking down an object.

Unbelievably tense and full of paranoia, Alien: Isolation is utterly terrifying and I love what that means! The game launches on PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on October 7.

Be sure to read our interview with senior designer Gary Napper and creative lead Al Hope about the upcoming title.

Talking Alien: Isolation With The Creative Assembly

We recently got the chance to go and take a look at Alien: Isolation – the new game in the popular franchise now under the wings of Total War veterans The Creative Assembly. We’ll have a preview on it up a little later today, we first got the chance to talk with senior designer Gary Napper and creative lead Al Hope about the upcoming title.

For those gamers who were disappointed with Gearbox’s interpretation of the franchise, how are The Creative Assembly doing things differently?

It’s important to note that this game has been in development for over three years and has always had its own vision of recreating the feeling of that single terrifying Alien we love from the first movie. This is not a game about machine guns and mowing down a horde of Aliens. This is about being underpowered and unprepared to deal with a single creature that is deadly and smart. You are being hunted and that is terrifying.

Alien: Isolation seems the closest the game has come to being a homage to the films. Do you feel pressured by this?

I think we put more pressure on ourselves than any outside influence. This is the Alien game we’ve always wanted to play so we are very critical of our work and how we approach constructing the game both mechanically and visually. We are the first to point out if something does not look or feel right as we are honestly huge fans of the film.

What has been the most difficult design challenge in creating Alien: Isolation so far?

Our greatest creative challenge has been the Alien, it’s totally unique. The AI programmers have done an incredible job at creating a creature that feels like it is a smart and capable, deadly hunter that can stalk around under its own behaviour and dynamically use its senses to track you down.

Have you had to drop any key features as it didn’t fit what you were hoping for?

I have worked on many games in my career and I have to say that this is the first game that has pretty much stuck to its core feature set and not had to drop any major features. We have made tweaks and evolved systems and sometimes things have not fitted as well as we would have planned but all the key components have come together really well

We’ve previously seen how vital the radar is in staying alive and how hiding can make the difference between a fatal end and living another few moments, but just how intelligent is the AI for the Xenomorph?

The AI for the Alien is the thing we have focussed on more than anything else. He is the star of the show and needs to appear as if he is, to use Ash’s words, “the perfect organism”. He is based on a sense system that gathers information in the environment and then uses that info to make decisions and close in on its prey. After that we have a set of behaviours that adapt to the kinds of things he sees in the world and also the actions of the player. He is a pretty hefty piece of work!

What will it notice and how difficult has it been to balance its AI?

It has certainly been tricky to balance but it is easy to see when we have got it right. The first few iterations were far too hard as we made him too good! He became great at finding the player and killing them quickly. As it turns out, that wasn’t much fun. But it was a starting point that we were able to build from and up to the complex creature with all its gameplay depth that we have today.

One thing I noticed when playing is that it is easy to forget what your objective is due to the constant threat. I take it this is intentional?

This is a side effect of the incredible threat of the Alien. We wanted to create something that would always be in the back of your mind. Something each player would learn to fear and project into every space. What is that noise? Is it the Alien? That is something we wanted players to feel. That is what the crew of the Nostromo felt in the original film.

Is Alien: Isolation designed to be hard as nails?

I would say it is a different type of game than some people are used to. We have seen action fans come to this game and sprint around, fire what limited ammo they have and then die as the Alien found them easily. But they quickly adapt and start to gain a healthy fear for the Alien. When this happens, the true scale of the game’s threat starts to be felt and then we see a change in moving and weapon use to something that is more survivable. A huge part of the game is learning what the Alien is capable of and how to deal with it so I would say it is certainly challenging, but no, not hard as nails or impenetrable.

Now the version of the game we saw has a crafting system. Can you briefly explain how things lying around can help?

We wanted to make a system that was believable and grounded in the situation. If we were trapped in a location with an Alien, what would we construct to help ourselves survive? We figured we could make rudimentary explosives and things that made fire or lots of noise. It is these sort of items that you can create when you find the pieces that allow it.

Also introduced in this new version are other characters that react hostilely to you. How do they change-up the dynamic?[/aside]

This is one of my favourite things about the game and also the most dynamic. When you come across a group of humans for example, there are several thoughts the player will have. First off, they could be aggressive or they could be friendly. Next is the fear that whatever their disposition, they might make noise and if they do, that will attract the Alien. I think we have made something special when the player is worrying about a group of potential enemies, not due to the threat they pose, but the fact that they could attract a greater threat!

Is it as scary to design it as it is to play it?

I think we have all been scared by the game we are making at one point or another. We have had large build reviews where the lead level designer and lead artists jumped and held each other when something sudden happened on-screen. Working with the Alien has been a really interesting experience as no matter how well you know him, occasionally he will do something unexpected and catch you out.

Do you reckon Alien: Isolation will live up to the original movie tag-line “In space, nobody can hear you scream?”

We hope so. It would be an honour to be counted as living up to the original film. What we have tried to create is a similar setting, feeling and fear to that original film so to be considered alongside it would prove we had succeeded.

Do Celebrities Spell The Death Of A Franchise?

So Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was revealed the other week, featuring strangely similar gameplay elements found in the likes of Titanfall and Battlefield. However, this is not what has me as puzzled. It’s clear that big bucks are to be made in starring roles for videogames, but more and more they’re being used as a selling point. Kevin Spacey’s role within the game is currently of an antagonist nature but have Sledgehammer and Activision shot themselves in the foot by bringing his starring role to our attention?

Let’s face it; nobody particularly cares about the single player campaigns for Call of Duty games anymore [Ed – except me]. The past few have been forgettable romps that you would complete in a few hours before sinking the rest of the time into the multiplayer mode. It’s gotten so bad that the likes of Titanfall veered away from a proper campaign, instead opting for multiplayer matches with a narrative flavour. Not even this held out as the community just leapt into standard multiplayer maps post-campaign. The mantle is either being carried by Halo or the single player FPS games that refuse to include multiplayer – the next of which being Wolfenstein: The New Order.

But I digress. The point is: can Kevin Spacey save the campaign? The short answer is perhaps, but it all depends on how the campaign is, which in the history of Activision is mixed at best. In their effort to revive the Spyro the Dragon franchise, the voice was cast to Elijah Wood who probably took a fair chunk of the overall budget as payment for his services at the time due to his fame gained from being Frodo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Those games did have Gary Oldman as Ignatius and the irritating David Spade as Sparxx, which didn’t help things, but this probably let the developers short of funds to create a compelling game. The sequel replaced Spade with Wayne Brady (the musical guy from the American version of Whose Line is it Anyway?) and added Christina Ricci. They both bombed spectacularly, nigh-on killing the franchise before that whole Skylanders thing kicked off for Activision.

Bethesda have also fallen into the trap of parading the celebrities they got on board for The Elder Scrolls: Online like some weird circus freak show. ‘We’ve got Dumbledore himself Michael Gambon in a major role and Bill Nighy as a king! Not good enough? Have a look at Kate Beckinsale as that saucy elf queen. Is that still not good enough? How about we throw in John Cleese being a crazy man and Malcolm McDowell doing his best evil tyrant act? Are you not entertained?!’ Even videogame voice acting celebrity Jennifer Hale was name-bombed. We’re not blaming the celebrity involvement for that game not being as good as the other Elder Scrolls games, but it obviously hasn’t boosted the sales as they may have hoped.

This isn’t to say that all celebrity involvement translates to a death knell. While it wasn’t a major success for the studio financially, Ninja Theory’s Enslaved: Journey to the West had a stellar motion-capture performance from Andy Serkis as main protagonist Monkey. It met critical acclaim, particularly for its believable dynamic between characters, praise that the man behind Gollum should certainly take to heart. It’s since gained a cult following, with more and more people discovering just how good the game was.

More recently, the likes of Ellen Page and Willem Defoe have graced our screens in Beyond: Two Souls. While the game itself may have divided critics, in the words of our editor-in-chief, the “quality of the acting is exceptional and a testament to hiring award-winning actors to play the roles of Jodie and Dr. Nathan Dawkins. Succinct facial motion capture helps in their elocution”. The rest of the game might not have been up to scratch, but the performances were top notch, truly showing the world the capabilities of capturing actor likeness.

Bethesda has gotten celebrity voices right in the past. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion featured a cameo from Patrick Stewart, while Sean Bean took another role. Fallout 3 had Liam Neeson as the protagonist’s father. Yet Bethesda didn’t highlight their appearance in the game, making it all the more surprising to the player. Fallout: New Vegas had Matthew Perry and lesser known celebrities such as Danny Trejo, Michael Dorn (Worf from Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Kris Kristofferson; yet the only real celebrity to gain attention was internet darling and champion of geek culture Felicia Day – hot off the success of her web series The Guild. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim didn’t have much beyond Christopher Plummer, though digging into the cast list will unearth the surprise that is Charles Martinet, the voice of Mario, in a rare non-Mario related role as a major character.

Then there is the last Call of Duty game to involve real celebrity talent: Probably my favourite of the franchise! Call of Duty: Black Ops had Gary Oldman as Reznov, who incidentally starred in Call of Duty: World at War together Kiefer Sutherland, though the characters never met. They buck the trend slightly by being announced as part of the cast, but the focus was more on the multiplayer for the advertising campaign. This was the last Call of Duty campaign to really grab my attention and do something different narratively speaking and despite being typical modern FPS gameplay, it had a plot worth paying attention to. Treyarch have a knack for this kind of thing after all, despite Black Ops II being comparatively a damp squib.

So do I have faith in Kevin Spacey? Of course I do, after all he is what made The Usual Suspects and Netflix darling House of Cards as good as they are. But the fact they’ve said he’s in the game has now put a level of expectation that is almost unobtainable. Sledgehammer games are also relatively untested, their only credit being co-developers of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. We shall see in November how it all turns out and it’s safe to say it will sell a bucket-load of copies, the jury is out on whether Spacey will make a difference for the campaign.

Notorious Flops In Videogames

In the past few weeks, an urban myth was proven to the world.

Atari did in fact bury copies of the Atari 2600 game E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial in a landfill in New Mexico. The company made millions of copies available, but due to critical panning and poor sales, the game was eventually dumped in a landfill.

This rumour, together with the blame the game received for “causing the North American videogame crash of 1983” has made an otherwise unremarkable game infamous. People sought it out in deserts. Others are making movies based on it. Microsoft even endorsed a documentary team to film the excavation.

But there are plenty of terrible games out there, most notably in the vintage era of gaming, however only a few ever make it to that level of infamy. These games aren’t going to be exhumed any time soon, but they’re all notable for their own reasons.

Pac-Man (Atari 2600) – 1982

If E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial was one of the lynchpins of the fall of Atari, the other is the shameful conversion of Namco’s classic franchise Pac-Man. The arcade original is regarded by many as a classic, with its characters being among the most recognisable outside of Mario. The Atari 2600 version sold 7 million copies, but was considered a vastly inferior port by critics and fans. 12 million cartridges were produced in the lead up to the Christmas season, meaning that 5 million went unsold. This meant a huge quarterly loss and the sale of the division by owner Warner Communications in 1984.

It is a crude imitation of the Namco classic, featuring no real sense of colour and oddly flickering ghosts that take it in turns to chase Pac-Man. Part of the appeal of the original was that the ghosts had distinct personalities linked to their colour, so the feel of the conversion was way off. Expectation was high, possibly naively due to the vast contrast in power between the Atari 2600 and the Midway arcade machines that housed Pac-man, so the fact this flopped so badly makes this game almost as infamous as E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial.

Duke Nukem Forever (PC/Xbox 360/PlayStation 3) – 2011

No game can bring down an entire industry in modern-day eras, but we can still have hugely anticipated games bomb so badly that not even nostalgia can save them. Duke Nukem Forever was in development for a long time, often considered vapourware before release. The game would surprisingly make a profit for Gearbox, though this is likely due to gamers wanting to see just how much of a train wreck it was.

I still remember renting this one out just to see how muddled it could get. Some people categorise this as “so bad it’s good”, but after persevering one play-through I dismissed this as utter trash and sent it packing. The outdated mechanics and “jokes” were a far cry from what made Duke Nukem 3D a classic. Sure that game was chauvinistic at times, but it was peppered with classic movie references. Not even original voice actor Jon St. John could salvage a poorly conceived, disgusting script. Then there were the laborious driving sections, poor AI and the tediously long loading times. We were universal in declaring this game was bad, but some in our staff felt this was worse than others. Duke Nukem Forever didn’t kill off 3D Realms, but they were bought by Interceptor Entertainment in March 2014.

Daikatana (PC, Nintendo 64, Gameboy Color) – 2000

“John Romero’s about to make you his bitch”. That was the advertisement that game to symbolise this disaster-piece.

Developed by Ion Storm and published eventually in May, 2000 by Eidos Interactive, the game was originally to be released towards the end of 1997 but saw numerous delays thanks to outdated source engines and internal drama. The game is often seen as the downfall of John Romero, one of the co-founders of id Software and designer of first person shooter classics Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. Romero soon parted ways with Ion Storm and hasn’t done much since except express regret over both the development and advertising campaign for Daikatana.

Where do I start with this one? The sidekicks were a huge sticking point as their deaths resulted in mission failure, while their poorly implemented AI meant they were lemmings destined to perish. Heck, even the enemy AI was as dumb as bricks! On top of that the game looked outdated, especially ironic since the original delay was due to the fact that Quake 2’s engine wasn’t compatible with the original source code developed using Quake’s engine. The Nintendo 64 version was somehow worse, with greater reduction of graphical fidelity and added fog in levels for performance improvement.

As if that wasn’t a nail in the coffin for the PC/N64 versions, the Gameboy Color version was developed by Kemco and opted for a Legend of Zelda style gameplay. This one was mildly favoured critically as it shared none of the assets beyond characters that the PC/N64 versions had. Ion Storm went on to make Deus Ex, albeit in a different office, one of the best PC games ever made and the brainchild of Warren Spector.

Sonic the Hedgehog (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) – 2006

More commonly known as “Sonic ’06”, it was intended to be the celebration of Sonic the Hedgehog’s 15th anniversary, was announced at E3 2005 as the next generation of Sonic. Things got off on a bad note when long-term Sonic creator Yuji Naka resigned from Sonic Team. When development kits arrived for the Nintendo Wii, the development team was split into two, with the second half developing Sonic and the Secret Rings. On top of this, the QA Tester reports were apparently ignored by the development team.

The result was an unadulterated mess. Glitchy controls aside, the game had numerous loading screens that took an eternity to render just one section of dialogue before another loading screen kicked in. The plot is also of note due to its cringe-worthy “fan fiction” moments including that human-hedgehog moment we all want to forget. One boss battle was so badly glitched that to pass it you need to be extremely lucky.

Sonic’s reputation was on a downward spiral before this game was conceived, but Sonic ’06 was the lowest point in his now nearly 25 year history. He’s bounced back since, with his 20th Anniversary outing in Sonic Generations doing significantly better. He probably won’t be back to his Mega Drive/Genesis heyday anytime soon, but this particular game will be looming over his entire history for all the wrong reasons.

Earthbound (SNES) – 1994/1995 (Re-released in 2013)

A videogame flop doesn’t have to be a bad game. Take into consideration Earthbound – Shigesato Itoi’s SNES masterpiece. This JRPG takes place in a world not too dissimilar to our own, with bizarre alien invasions that separate it from traditionally Fantasy themed RPGs of the time.

I was lucky enough at university to be near an imported SNES console with this game, sans the guide, and it just blew me away. The writing is top-notch and the mechanics hold up incredibly well with the rolling HP meter being a significant factor in making it feel unique. It also dealt with some dark themes despite its cheerful look.

So what went wrong?

The reason for this failure was more to do with Nintendo of America’s advertising and packaging strategy and the general presence of JRPGs at the time of release. Firstly, the game got $70 at retail because it was bundled with its own strategy guide and some scratch-and-sniff stickers along with the slogan “This game stinks!” There is also general apathy at the time for JRPGs which didn’t really garner mainstream attention until the launch of Final Fantasy VII on the PlayStation. It sold half of the copies sold in Japan as a result and for a long time was considered a commercial failure in the US despite its future cult status thanks to Super Smash Bros and general word of mouth that followed since.

There is a silver lining however to this dark cloud that looms over the game, as due to popular demand the game was re-launched on the Wii U Virtual Console, even making it to the UK and Australia for the first time in July 18, 2013. Upon release it received universal acclaim from critics and fans alike and still to this day is a viable reason to own a Wii U!

Fans have been clamouring for Nintendo to officially translate Mother for the NES and Mother 3 for the GBA for release on Virtual Console. Given that the series has finally found popularity, with unofficial translations lurking on the internet for both games, I wouldn’t be surprised if Nintendo finally cave in and just get on with it!

High profile flops are hard to come by, especially given that the triple-A industry has gotten better at controlling their IPs, but every few years or so there is one hotly anticipated game that gets botched so badly that the aftermath is a perilous time for all involved. It’s hard to tell where the next big flop will come from, but my current fear is that if Prey 2 or The Last Guardian follow the Duke Nukem Forever vapourware trail too closely before eventual release, one of them will be the next one. Fewer games achieve infamy than fame. Long may they be remembered, so history can’t repeat itself. Who knows, it might be another Earthbound story, though I hope it doesn’t come to that!

Why Titanfall Is Blowing Me Away

Hitting number eight on our Most Anticipated Game of 2014, Titanfall is shaping up to be the first true reason to take the plunge and grab an Xbox One. Yes, there are PC and Xbox 360 versions of the title to come, but it has rapidly become the poster child for Microsoft’s new console. We were lucky enough to test it out on the Xbox One – thanks to a code provided by Xbox.

As many of you will have seen, the beta currently in progress on all three platforms was having a few technical issues, but when things were fixed we were all treated to one of the freshest takes on the genre.

For a start, every game features six player controlled pilots on each side and a plethora of AI controlled grunts. Hackable spectres which you can turn on your foes are just the tip of the iceburg, as it is as much fun to play as a Pilot than one of the Titans, thanks to slick weapon balancing and wonderful controls. Wall running was as much fun in the beta as it was playing at EGX 2013, allowing for incredible feats of dexterity. Even the new map Fracture manages to be just as polished as the previously revealed Angel City map.

The three game types on offer include Attrition – the main deathmatch mode that we’ve seen before, Hardpoint Domination – which plays similarly to other Domination variants, and Last Man Standing – which puts everyone in a Titan in a duel to the death. All are team modes and all have a great amount of synergy. My only concern is that Last Man Standing isn’t as fun as the others, but that is more a personal preference.

If I have one major criticism with the game thus far, I’d say that the weapon progression system doesn’t innovate as much as the gameplay. It’s the same load-out based spiel we have seen in both Call of Duty or Battlefield. Even down to getting certain challenges complete to obtain new parts for your weapon. Newly revealed Burn Cards (an obvious homage to Magic the Gathering) do spice up gameplay more with risk vs. reward elements, but having to invest a lot of time to unlock a load-out I was comfortable with was slightly tedious.

Given that Titanfall is multiplayer only from what we’ve heard thus far, it all comes down to how much it will be offered for. Having seen it for almost full price, they might have a hard time justifying its cost. I like how they’ve concentrated on making multiplayer feel like a campaign, especially with the grunts running around as walking targets, but there is a risk that this triple-A budget game might be selling for far more than consumers are prepared to invest. DLC map packs seem like an inevitability, meaning that this game could cost an arm and a leg in the end.

Titanfall is still looking to be incredible fun. Provided that Microsoft and EA manage to iron out the few bugs that were highlighted in the beta, this could be a game that gamers will be playing for months after release.

Into The Perilous Depths Of Dark Souls II

Dark Souls proudly issued the death knell “Prepare to Die”; it was ominous and foreboding enough to entice the challenge starved and curious action-RPG veteran. It unsurprisingly got a cult following of gamers with some even developing their own support groups, trying to find the best way to slay the Hydra or the optimal route through Blight Town. With the chosen tagline being “Go Beyond Death”, Dark Souls II repeats enticing those of a quizzical disposition, but perhaps in a different way. How does one “Go Beyond Death”?

Starting the game in the middle of a forest called Things Betwixt. I came across red robed old hags in a wooden hut, who condemned my chances as my character was cursed. Character creation this time around is story focused. I went with the bandit, axes and bows, but there are plenty of other character types to play as including spell casters and Knights.

The rest of the area had a few enemies to kill, which are easy to slay thanks to their beginner orientated AI. They posed little challenge, but the beast down the bottom looked far more menacing than I was prepared to deal with. I left him alone and ventured out to the ruined town of Majula.

Despite its run down aesthetic, this bright scenic location on the coast provided me with a bonfire to replenish lost health. Bonfires also allow for teleportation between areas, item storage, attuning spells and burning things. I soon discovered a blacksmith looking for his key to the workshop where his tools are. I never did find the key, but was glad he was around as he brightened up the sparsely populated area. The zombie pigs hidden behind a church did not. While trying to knock one of these hogs down a well, I followed it down accidentally, thus causing preventable death.

I also met Maughlin – a shopkeeper by trade who uses souls as currency. He looked so downtrodden when I declined his offer to buy some of his wares. I met a young hooded girl known as the Emerald Herald. She gave me the Estus Flask for healing and upgraded it with a shard I found. Levelling up is also possible via this maiden. Saulden on the other hand was a depressing fellow who never brightened up as I talked to him.

Soon I got the urge to explore further and came upon a tower. A kindly Scottish gent mentioned that there was a statue blocking my way and that there was no way past. Slightly lost, I eventually came across a cave leading to the Forest of Fallen Giants.

Things ramp up in this forest area, with the AI suddenly remembered which game it came from and began to relentlessly attack. One on one confrontations weren’t a problem, but groups were a different matter entirely! Using every trick in the book from bows and arrows, to fire bombs, they’d throw everything and the kitchen sink at me just to try and slay me. What surprised me the most was how fair it all seemed. When I was hastily trying to avoid enemies, I would take more and more damage until I perished. When I carefully planned my way forward, I made progress each and every time.

I then came across Pate, a fellow who sounded a lot like Peter Serafinowicz, who told me a man rushed on ahead but without the proper equipment. After being led to my next demise, I decided to try my luck at fighting the armoured guard. Surprisingly, despite the barrage of fire bombs, I was able to slay the beast, get to the next area, and eventually open up a shortcut. Thankfully shortcuts are still around in Dark Souls gameplay canon and are essential to progress as they don’t reset after death.

My final two deaths came while fighting The Last Giant, the boss of the area. During this fight, the boss would chase me down, swinging his arms and stamping its feet. It all came down to timing for the most part, but he does have a nasty habit of falling on you. Avoiding it opened up opportunities to wail on him with my rapier and axe, but diving between his legs was key to fighting him. Eventually he will rip his arm off, using it as a makeshift club, which may seem counterproductive. This phase is where I’d fail however as when it does hit, it hits like a truck!

There were other optional diversions available, such as trying to kill the armoured knight standing guard of an arena or the spiritual knight that is dropped in via a flying monster, but one look at either of these two left me questioning whether I was indeed prepared to take on these foes. The giant was doable, but these guys were just impossible to even attempt at such a low level.

Dark Souls II is indeed as tough as the first, a no brainer really considering the uproar that would arise if things were easier, but it marks a significant upgrade on the first. The physics don’t look quite as clunky and the graphical fidelity has improved somewhat. Each death did feel like it was something I could learn from, rather than cheap and unfair. I just hope there are some more surprises down the road as it did feel just like the first game to play. Coming away from a session lasting a few hours with deaths in the single figures did make me feel godlike, but did leave me questioning whether Dark Souls II had already dealt its hand. Dark Souls II releases on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on March 14, with a PC version due a little later.

How Evolve Is A Sign Of Change For Your Average Co-op Shooter

With Turtle Rock’s previous titles, the Valve published Left 4 Dead, there was a great emphasis on teamwork not common elsewhere. Since their split from the people behind Steam, they first tried to bring their new game to THQ, which sadly went under last year and the assets sold off. 2K picked up what was revealed to be Evolve – a game that certainly, in its alpha state, wears some Left 4 Dead influences on its sleeve, but is a drastically different beast.

Your objective as both hunters and the monster is to kill each other, much like most shooters, but there are certainly stages to how things proceed. The 15-second head start is vital for the monster to try to confuse the hunters by shaking off the scent as they try to track him down. As the monster you are initially weak with only a couple of abilities open to you, but as you eat and evolve (which takes a few vulnerable seconds once initiated), you gain more abilities to use against your foes.

As the hunters, working as a team is the best way forward, trying to contain the beast while impeding his movement with various abilities and keeping each other healthy. As the monster reaches its third evolution, the hunters become defenders; the hulking beast will now try to destroy a generator to release civilians for him to devour. Normally the game is over by this stage, as the monster can just kill the other players to win the match, but each session is a hugely tense affair no matter which side you take.

Before I begin to list what each class can do, it should be stressed that the abilities are character specific rather than class specific with PR representatives mentioning to me that as of yet unrevealed characters. Each will have their own way of fulfilling their role as Assault, Support, Medic, and Trapper. All characters have jet packs as standard, which serve a dual purpose of gaining height and avoiding attacks; they’re also great for traversing the beautiful, yet perilous jungle that is full of hazards that can incapacitate you if you’re not careful. As for the map itself, the dense jungle made it feel larger than it probably was, but the more I played, the more I discovered that key areas like the complex near the generator were focal points to certain stages of the game.

The Assault Class on show had two rifles, one for long-range damage and another for short-range bursts of heavy damage before needing to recharge. He can also lay mines as traps and has his own personal shield. As the one dealing the bulk of the damage, this will be the one that everyone needs to keep around, but he will be serving as a major distraction.

The Medic is the class keeping everyone healthy with her Medigun, but she also has an Anti-Material Rifle used to create weak points for others to shoot at, a healing beacon for quick healing, and a Dart Gun for highlighting the enemy. While keeping back might not be for everyone, being the Medic is tense because should the beast’s attention turn to you, you need to run sharpish.

Support is also vital to teammates as he not only produces a shield for allies, but has a laser cannon to strip down the monster’s shield, a cloak to keep hidden from hulking monstrosities, and an orbital strike he can call in for major damage. Thanks to various useful abilities, he’s usually the primary target, so keeping out-of-the-way while the others help out usually makes for decent engagements.

Finally, perhaps the most bizarre class is the Trapper (in this particular case armed with a dashing moustache and awesome hat!). His role is to make sure that when you have found the monster, that it doesn’t get away. He does this by using harpoon guns which he needs to lock in by holding down the trigger once it impales the monster and drag it back. This also restricts the monster’s movement and abilities.

He can also deploy the mobile arena to contain the beast to a small area, allowing the others to fight it without risk of it escaping. He can engage with his sub-machine gun, but this is largely ineffective compared to the Assault class weapons. Finally, he can deploy sound beacons which alert you on the HUD whether the monster has passed through that area.

The sole monster on show today was the Goliath, a huge beastie that a lot of the Left 4 Dead references come from. It can swat animals and humans alike – eating animals to raise its evolve bar. His leap is also long-range, that alongside the ability to climb is essential for quick getaways. Among his arsenal are three Left 4 Dead staples – the hunter’s leaping bound, the Charger’s ability (minus subsequent slamming), and the Tank’s rock throw. It can also breathe fire, which is very handy.

Aside from the one game where all of us got horribly split up, each game was incredibly tense. Even some of the games where I wasn’t playing got very heated. Everyone was on the edge of their seats as the action unfolded. It’s rare for a game to have everyone as invested in ensuring the survival of each other, which is what the Hunter side excels at. As the beast, the initial game of hide and seek turns drastically into a Predator-like experience. As I took down each player, my health was dwindling fast, so there was a mad dash to kill off the remaining few before the Hunters would get me.

I have never found myself getting as engrossed in a multiplayer game as I have today with Evolve, so naturally I will most likely be eagerly awaiting its autumn 2014 release on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. Until then, there is plenty of time for further announcements regarding classes and monster types to whet my appetite. It might have had a difficult birth, but Evolve is showing signs of being the one to watch this year.

Why The Candy Crush Saga vs Banner Saga Dispute Is Important

In 2012, a popular title called Candy Crush Saga went live, generating a massive following among casual gamers and hefty profits. To say publisher King is the successor to Zynga’s Ville franchise is a bit of a no brainer.

Then on December 27 2013, King filed a notice of opposition with the US Patent and Trademark Office, attempting to prevent indie Stoic Studios from trademarking the name of the Kickstarted Viking strategy game, The Banner Saga. Within the notice of opposition, King claims that Stoic’s use of the word “saga” is “confusingly and deceptively similar” to its own range of “Saga” titles.

Naturally, when the internet learned of this controversy, everyone was up in arms against King for taking issue with Stoic’s Kickstarted title’s name. A statement was issued shortly after the claim was initiated that explained the position of the Candy Crush Saga developer/publisher.

“King has not and is not trying to stop Banner Saga from using its name. We do not have any concerns that Banner Saga is trying build on our brand or our content. However, like any prudent company, we need to take all appropriate steps to protect our IP, both now and in the future.

“In this case, that means preserving our ability to enforce our rights in cases where other developers may try to use the ‘Saga’ mark in a way which infringes our IP rights and causes player confusion. If we had not opposed Banner Saga‘s trade mark application, it would be much easier for real copy cats to argue that their use of ‘Saga’ was legitimate.”

There’s a fantastic article on The Guardian’s website that outlines not only the dispute, but also the legal implications from lawyers representing media companies. In the Guardian article, one lawyer weighing in on the issue is Alex Tutty of Sheridans – a media specialist law firm. He represents a number of game companies and is listed (according to his profile page on the Sheridans Website) as a specialist in “…advising clients on work across computer games, technology and commercial intellectual property issues.”

He explains that, “A trademark can be anything that identifies the goods and services of a business or distinguishes them from those of another – so you can trade mark a single word of common usage.” He continues, “However, when a trademark application is made you must specify the type of goods and services that you are using it for (or intend to use it for). You cannot trademark a word that is descriptive or devoid of distinctive character. For example you could not trademark ‘soap’ for cleaning products, but if you made a successful game called ‘Soap’ then you could apply for a trademark for that in relation to games.”

To put simply, it is a matter of context. If King were a confectionary company trying to trademark the word ‘Candy’, they wouldn’t get very far, but in this context of videogames, trademarking the word ‘Candy’ is viable in order to protect intellectual property.

Another lawyer for the same firm has his own take on the trademark though which points out a few key points. Alex Chapman goes at length in the article (which is worth a read), but one key point stands out:

“Of course, we don’t know what advice King received or even what its longer term plans are and effective IP management involves anticipating your future needs. However what we do know that King’s brand is ‘Candy Crush Saga’ or ‘Candy Crush’ not ‘Candy’ or ‘Saga’ in isolation.

Of course, it’s possible that they will follow up ‘Candy Crush’ with other ‘Candy’ games and ‘Candy’ will become a brand in its own right. Certainly that is something that King may need to argue otherwise they risk having their registration cancelled as being made in bad faith (a mark needs to be used as it is registered and there must be a bona fide intention to use the mark as registered at the time of registration). However, even if that is King’s intention it should also realise that there are many companies using the word ‘Candy’ in their games already and so it now feels inappropriate to now assert a quasi-monopoly over the use of that word.”

The same can be said for the word ‘Saga’ as that has been used in several occasions prior to this case.  If they’re going for Stoic Studios for merely using that one word, they might as well go after a bunch of other developers. Square Enix even have a franchise based around the word ‘SaGa’, though it has been dormant since Unlimited SaGa on the PlayStation 2. Also on PlayStation 2 is Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga and on the Sega Saturn there was Panzer Dragoon Saga. There’s even an MMORPG simply entitled Saga. Heck, why not try to take on Nintendo for Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga?!

So yes, it is completely ridiculous to try to get an indie developer, whose project was Kickstarted a long time ago, to change their games’ name, especially post-release. Perhaps most telling is that Candy Crush Saga’s dominantly recognisable aspects of their name are the words ‘Candy Crush’, not ‘Saga’! This particular move to try to trademark one word used in common practice around the videogame development scene is an embarrassing misstep, one that could cost them in the long run in terms of popularity and subsequently revenue.

Why? Because they’ve targeted an indie developer for doing nothing wrong. King’s actions against the copycats on iOS are understandable, as their work is derivative of Candy Crush Saga, but to target an indie developer’s trademark, even though they accept their names are different but wish to dispute that one word in case people get confused, is unacceptable!

If somehow this did come to pass and they got Stoic to change the name of their game, it sets a bad precedent where it all boils down to flag placement. It’s like the Eddie Izzard joke about Britain claiming India for the colony by placing a flag, despite India being a civilised nation of their own independence. It’s morally wrong, ethically wrong, and open to abuse from even bigger companies. Imagine if the likes of Activision or EA tried something similar.

The Three Big Controversies of 2013

Dave Irwin’s views do not necessarily represent the views of One Hit Pixel.

So the New Year has come and gone, meaning that 2013 is finally over. On a personal level, it was a rather difficult year that I’d like to put behind me, but there have been highlights. For one, the next generation finally began during the latter stages. I also moved house, meaning I couldn’t grab either at launch, so there’s that!

But as with any year, there have also been some rather controversial happenings, some of which spilled over from last years’ list.


Guys… I know you’ve been trying a little harder this year. 2013 got started on a sour note when Deep Silver decided it would be a good idea to have a mutilated torso of a bikinied babe as a pre-order bonus. Thankfully that never came to pass thanks to the backlash on social media. On the whole, it was better last year, with more people calling out sexism than ever before, but there have been some examples.

In 2012, there were some morbid comments against a Kickstarter video series called Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. When it came out, this continued to a horrid degree. Death threats, rape threats, you get the drill. Admittedly, the video series itself seemed to have a particular agenda as later video footage from 2010 reveals that Anita Sarkeesian isn’t a gamer at all, so rather than being the impartial look at tropes featured in videogames that it advertised, it came across as a bit narrowly focused. It didn’t help that she “borrowed” without permission some of the footage.

It did do some good however, as Super Mario 3D World featured not only Princess Peach as a playable character, but also another female character as an unlockable. No longer the damsel in distress! Around the same time, some people modified classic games where the roles were reversed, such as Donkey Kong where Jumpman is captive and Pauline is the heroine, or The Legend of Zelda playing as Zelda herself!

The Three Big Controversies of 2013

Some other nasty things did crop up like a bad smell though, painting a bigger picture of prejudice in the gaming community. Expo season, as I like to call it, brought probably the worst corporate mistake of the year. Microsoft’s E3 Press Conference this year had Killer Instinct revealed in all its gameplay glory, but evidently someone either didn’t proof read the script or the improvisation went horribly wrong. It was bad enough that the match was clearly one-sided, but by rubbing urine soaked salt into the female colleague’s wounds by saying “It’ll all be over soon, just let it happen” had many raging. The fighting game community have a bad reputation for sexist comments courtesy of a small minority, not helped by remarks from 2012, but that conference only fuelled the fire.

Microsoft’s troubles don’t really end there, as a recent US-based interactive ad where viewers could replace text on a letter explaining the benefits of the Xbox One to a shrewd partner, were blatantly targeting the stereotype that women disapprove of their partners playing videogames. There is evidence to suggest that women play games just as much as men do, so the very notion of perceiving women’s attitudes towards games as “old-fashioned” is ironically old fashioned!

The Three Big Controversies of 2013

But the most disgusting, deplorable, and utterly sickening example of the year came when some people in the Gamespot community discovered that the reviewer who gave Grand Theft Auto V a less than perfect score was Carolyn Petit. Her comments that riled those community members were that the games depiction of women in the game was misogynistic. Her review states that “It’s deeply frustrating that, while its central and supporting male characters are flawed and complex characters, GTA V has little room for women except to portray them as strippers, prostitutes, long-suffering wives, humourless girlfriends and goofy new-age feminists we’re meant to laugh at.” She goes on to point out that “Characters constantly spout lines that glorify male sexuality, while demeaning women”.

The reaction: a petition calling for her dismissal and a flood of disgusting comments. You only need to look at that week’s episode of Gamespot’s Feedbackula to get a clearer picture of just how bad it got (NSFW). It got even worse when the commenters were reminded that Carolyn is transgender, resulting in probably the most sickening display I’ve ever seen. Some of the community had her back, while journalists around the globe showed their support, but in terms of the controversy it created this takes the proverbial piss!

So while in general things did get better in 2013, there were enough isolated cases, which now include insulting the LBGT Community; where the ignorant, trolls, or people who genuinely think degrading people is okay, have target vulnerable individuals. People shouldn’t be discriminated for their gender, sexuality, race, or any other reason in real life, so what makes it okay on the internet? It doesn’t.


The Three Big Controversies of 2013

Oh boy… This is the one that most people would probably agree is the big one this year. YouTube has seen a popularity surge so high that its very existence is making a lot of money for Google. But this is the year that two things in particular happened.

The first is the source of worry for most gaming media outlets. Companies whose products have been featured on YouTube videos from third-party YouTube contributors have always had the option to put a copyright claim in place. This is mostly aimed at Let’s Play videos, but can extend to any video with games featured, including video reviews/previews. The first signs that things were going wrong were when Nintendo took the decision to try to nab ad-revenue from other users’ videos that featured their games. It is still unclear whether or not they’re still doing this, but more Nintendo games have been featured in YouTube videos, so it is unlikely. Things were returning to the status quo…

Then Day One: Garry’s Incident happened: A game that was so awful that videos genuinely criticising the game were being targeted by the developers for copyright strikes. It was blatantly obvious that those being targeted were saying unfavourable things about the game, as those who weren’t commenting on the video didn’t have copyright strikes put against them. As a critic, this suppression of opinion in order to make it impossible for consumers to make an informed decision is disturbing. By silencing critics, they highlighted flaws with YouTube’s copyright claims and indeed pointed out just how outdated the law is on transformative media.

So what did YouTube do? Well aside from messing up the comments section to the level where high-profile YouTubers are taking to Reddit for their comment sections and locking comments on their videos entirely, they also introduced a new copyright claim system that sends blanket notifications that in some cases were completely wrong. Big names such as Blizzard and Capcom have even commented on the subject, saying that if anyone finds their videos being the subject of copyright notifications, a counter-claim should be submitted which they will uphold.

With next-gen consoles supporting game capture in the box and with external devices hopefully being allowed on the PlayStation 4 in an upcoming patch, it’s becoming increasingly worrying that YouTube hasn’t caught up with the times. This needs fixing and fast.

Xbox 180

The Three Big Controversies of 2013

A series of decisions that created so much animosity toward a console design that Microsoft redesigned their console’s infrastructure to meet demands; the introduction of the Xbox One was as awkward as watching that Doctor Who 50th Anniversary after-show party the BBC pushed out after the main episode!

When it was first introduced, the Xbox One was an always online box, riddled with DRM measures, not indie friendly, and hooking up Kinect was mandatory. The uproar was so loud, that when Sony came to E3, they were more than prepared to deliver blow-after-blow to Microsoft’s debutant console, culminating in a video about how the PlayStation 4 shares games.

Shortly after E3, it was clear that Microsoft had failed big time. Microsoft’s head of Xbox Don Mattrick fled to the arms of Zynga, leaving the Xbox One with a mighty hurdle to overcome, which in all fairness they mostly did. By scrapping the always online and DRM measures, most were more satisfied but disappointed that family sharing was no longer available. By introducing ID@Xbox during GamesCom 2013, they inadvertently caused a Twitter spat which culminated in Fez creator Phil Fish announcing he was “done” with videogame development and cancelled the sequel to Fez. Even Kinect saw backlash after it was revealed that Microsoft were asked for information by the US Government, so they scrapped the mandatory connection for the peripheral that still came with the Xbox One.

So while their epic U-turn was controversial in itself, a sign that Microsoft were admitting to mistakes they’ve made, it has made the decision for next-gen consoles far less one-sided and ultimately more exciting. Some exclusives from Microsoft, including the console exclusivity of Titanfall make being an owner a truly exciting prospect. They still have an indie image problem, with far more indie titles being PlayStation exclusive, but there’s scope for change as Phil Harrison sincerely told me when I briefly chatted with him at EGX 2013 that he was genuinely hard at work on improving the indie selection. Just as long as I don’t ever have to hear Yusef Mehdi say the word “TV” ever again, Microsoft should have a brighter looking future… Should being the imperative word!

Alternative Game of the Year Awards 2013

Dave Irwin’s views do not necessarily represent the views of One Hit Pixel.

So it is that time of year again, the one where people are more than likely praising those typical categories: Best PlayStation Game of the Year, Best RPG, Best Visuals; you get the drill…

I of course don’t do that on a personal level because you’ve probably read it many times in many other publications. If you read the Alternative Game of the Year awards 2012 , you probably know where this is going.
This year’s list of categories has grown slightly, so let’s begin with…

Head-banging Music of the Year

Alternative Game of the Year Awards 2013

Last year, the head-banging award went to One Piece: Pirate Warriors. The sequel that followed this year not only had the same award-winning music track, but also some nice new pieces. Last year’s biggest surprise came in the form of The Walking Dead: Season 1, which recently began its second season. Unfortunately, Telltale’s series now has a reputation, so can’t be called a surprise.

Our winner this year is Killer Instinct for Xbox One. To answer the two questions, it is a surprise because when it was announced Double Helix was actually developing it rather than Rare, my heart sank. A fighting game close to my childhood was being handled by the people who brought us Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters, Front Mission: Evolved, and worst of all Silent Hill Homecoming. Not exactly the greatest pedigree. All the more surprising then that the game that got booed at a showcase at EVO 2013 turned out to be so good!

As for which track managed to scrape the Head-banging Award for 2013? Why look no further than boot up the game and just hang on the title screen!

To be fair, it was close between all of the tracks so far. Heck, even the dub-step/electronic inspired tone of Orchid’s theme was incredibly appealing. I would also like to point out that the dynamic music technology is incredible beyond anything we’ve heard in music composition, as it quietens down after the action slows and speeds up when the combatants fight. Just another detail on an already great looking exclusive for Microsoft’s underdog console.

Biggest Tear Jerker

Alternative Game of the Year Awards 2013

While last year the award went to Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season 1 for the entire grim duration, this year goes to a game for its first few minutes. Compared to say Pixar’s Up, where the first few minutes show you the life of a happy couple, this year’s winner of the Biggest Tear Jerker sets up a relationship between two characters before cruelly ripping the two apart.

Yes, Level 5 and Studio Ghibli’s Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch takes it by making you think that the protagonist’s mother died tragically saving her son’s life, only to say “Nope, she survived that”. An overwhelming sense of relief is then shattered when suddenly she begins clutching her chest. With one of the bystanders proclaiming the death knell of “Oh, she always had a weak heart!”, the single mother dies of a heart attack. Sure Oliver’s voice acting is that of a whinny brat, but you do feel bad that something as real as heart failure could rip the two apart.

This of course becomes the basis for the game – Oliver saving another world in order to save his mother in the real world, but you never quite forget those first few minutes. It creates a drive that while seemingly futile, the player eventually wants to believe it works!

Best of British – Tearaway

Alternative Game of the Year Awards 2013

When awarding this particular category, I did think back to Velocity Ultra, but felt that its status as a remake of Velocity disqualified it from the running. Luckily for Sony’s PS Vita, the winner of this category for me is also a British developed PS Vita game.

Tearaway is by far the most charming thing I’ve played all year, but then what do you expect from Guildford based Media Molecule – developers of the insanely popular LittleBigPlanet franchise? If anything, that should have been a great indicator that this PS Vita exclusive would use all the functionality of the device in clever and game-changing ways. Seeing fingers rise from beneath the PS Vita creates the illusion that you are putting your hand into the game. Perhaps it was a bit on the short side, but this adorable little game is the best reason to own a PS Vita if you don’t like remakes of epic JRPGs!

It represents the ingenuity of British game design, but 2014 looks to be an even bigger year. The likes of Volume from Mike Bithell of Thomas Was Alone fame and Velocity 2X from Brighton basedFuturLab just go to prove that the early days of the ZX Spectrum’s indie developer scene (which originated in the UK) are still here, able to compete with the biggest AAA budget games.

On an unrelated note, Guildford was pretty hard hit by flooding caused by recent storms. Several high-profile developers had their studios flooded. Hello Games (Joe Danger and the upcoming No Man’s Sky) are apparently struggling with cleaning and salvaging what is working from their studio after their insurance company declared that as they were in a flood risk zone, the insurance policy they took out didn’t cover it. Microsoft’s Phil Harrison has already publicly stated that he will “look into it”, so we’ll keep an eye on what comes out of it. We hope that this doesn’t hamper the developer too much and that work can continue on No Man’s Sky. We also extend our thoughts to those developers who were also affected by the floods.

Best Kickstarter Game – Shadowrun Returns

Alternative Game of the Year Awards 2013

Based on a game from 1993 for consoles, which was also based on a table-top RPG, Shadowrun Returns is a celebration of how world building should be.

It may have had a relatively short campaign and not really had much beyond the basic elements of its tactical combat system, but it outshone the competition when it came to making its neon dystopia a believable world. Dialogue is by far the most enjoyable thing as it mimics the PC RPG games like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights to a tee.

But by far the most important inclusion is the Steamworks integration with the development kit packaged with the game. People are already hard at work making their own campaigns, which may or may not eclipse the main campaign, but given that the main campaign was built using the same engine, it is entirely possible that user-generated content might be the reason to pick this game up in the future! With any luck, the authors of these campaigns will get recognised for their work!

The only real problem with the game is the unforgiving auto-save, which the developers are now patching for an upcoming update.

Most Pointless Investment of the Year – Ouya

Alternative Game of the Year Awards 2013Ouya? Oh No!

When the Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman wasn’t apologising through her pearl white shiny fangs, her company was making mistake after mistake. First the delivery of prototype consoles to backers was delayed, then the prototype consoles looked horrible, then the retail versions came out looking significantly better than the ones the backers got, before culminating in the “Free the Games” flop of dodgy deals where Kickstarter projects were “funded” with cash from suspect sources.Oh no! Even I can’t believe this thing exists! Marketed around the idea that the Android based console would usher in a new generation of games for the budget conscious, it probably would have been a good investment had savvy gamers not noticed the many flaws with its design and goals, or the fact that both Microsoft and Nintendo had the next generation of consoles on the way!

But isn’t this about the console solely? No. If you invested in the Kickstarter for Ouya, which also promised highly suspect emulation capabilities, you were investing in the company itself. Their console only has one IP not found elsewhere worth having – Towerfall which is seeing a PC port this year. Sorry Ouya, but as you didn’t offer your backers a stake in the company and only had a sub-par console to show for it, if you were in Dragon’s Den, the dragons would have been laughing the words “I’m out!”

Biggest Surprise – The Stanley Parable

Alternative Game of the Year Awards 2013

While I was contemplating giving this to Shadow Warrior for its gameplay being better than the trailers could ever show, I had to give this one to The Stanley Parable. I’d heard about this social experiment before, but only ever as a mod for Half-Life 2. Years had gone into making The Stanley Parable into a fully fledged retail release, but it came out of the blue.

When I reviewed Dear Esther last year, I mentioned that it wasn’t a game but an experience. The problem with that style of development is that it isn’t very interactive. A very similar game came out this year to critical acclaim called Gone Home, in which you are a university student who is returning to her family home during the holidays to find nobody is home. The Chinese Room also took on Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, making a game that would have been okay if it hadn’t been the follow-up to cult classic Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

The Stanley Parable seems to be of similar ilk at first, leading you by the hand through a mostly non-interactive narrative, until you decide to go off-piste. It is here that the true nature of this indie darling is unveiled. By breaking the fourth wall in such a way, it mocks the very foundations it is built from, not just the genre it masquerades as from time to time.

It mocks the way The Chinese Room developed Dear Esther and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs to be more about narrative, by constantly complaining when the player derails the plot. It mocks the way that games lead you through a plot in general. It mocks the player by creating the illusion of choice. It even mocks the very foundations of how videogames are made. As such, I’d highly suggest that if you want to become a game developer, you need to play this game and study what it does. You will need to find all the endings, including the “game breaking” glitch and fool around in the broom closet for a great deal of time. If you don’t, still play it, then put a family member in front of it and watch them play it. It’s a phenomenal social experiment and the biggest surprise of 2013, but not the best indie game…

Best Indie – Gunpoint/Risk of Rain

Alternative Game of the Year Awards 2013

There had to be two indie game winners for me this year, both very different, both well worth your time.

Created by Tom Francis, a former games journalist who made the game in his spare time in GameMaker over the course of a few years, Gunpoint was the freshest take on a seemingly tired indie staple. Presented with the 2D pixels as a pseudo-platformer, you wouldn’t expect there to be innovation, until you look at the two core gameplay mechanics in this stealth-based action title.

The first is the upgradeable Bullfrog that catapults your unarmed Private Investigator into the air with great velocity, allowing you to literally get the jump on unsuspecting guards in this tale of corporate corruption. But it is the CrossLink that proves the most interesting, adding a hacking-based puzzle element that not only allows you to rewire door controls to other technology, but also cause guards guns to either not shoot or fire when triggered by switches.

Even the narrative sections branch out to other missions, giving the player room to be the personality they want to be – either an honourable gent or a gutless swine. A lot of the charm comes from its relatively low-fi nature, but the added touch of creating your own epilogue to share with friends is the icing on this particularly delicious cake. Of course, the narrative of Gunpoint isn’t the only place where lies have been found.

Alternative Game of the Year Awards 2013

The second game was a bit of a late entry, releasing about as far back as November 8th on Steam, but it is another bite-size development house called Hopoo Games which consists of not one person, but two people working with the same development tool (GameMaker). They did bring someone in to do the music, but we digress…

What makes Risk of Rain so endearing is that it is relentlessly difficult, but somehow a rewarding rogue-like. You have a class that takes a while to master to begin with, rolling and gunning to avoid the nasty aliens on the planet you have crashed on. You must then collect enough cash to get power-ups. Most are static buffs, which range from an electrifying ukulele to a fluffy teddy bear that reduces damage taken; but others are able to be activated to fire a bazillion rockets that home in on foes or a mirror which creates a duplicate of yourself. But you must be careful as the difficulty goes up as time passes. As with all rogue-likes, one life, one death. No second chances!

Each time I have played, I have gotten a little further thanks to some sweet buffs that periodically unlock. The score is also just wonderful, harnessing the danger of loneliness on a barren hostile world! The pixel style works well, despite it being on the small side, and while I did struggle with the keyboard controls at first, the control pad option works just fine. I just wish I could optimise the graphics a little more to my screen! The best thing though is the inclusion of local and online co-operative, meaning you and some buddies can explore the world.

So yes, this is a cop-out, but I have genuinely had the same amount of fun with each! Both are different, despite being built-in the same program, but both are equally excellent. Thank you GameMaker, for being around to be the tool that made these two great indie games!

Biggest Lie – Aliens: Colonial Marines

Alternative Game of the Year Awards 2013

To think we put this as number 16 on our Most Anticipated Game of the Year List for 2013… I wrote my blurb, pointing out that some of us were “understandably cynical”. After all, this was the studio that brought us Duke Nukem Forever, the game had been delayed constantly, and that the franchise hasn’t had a genuinely decent FPS since Aliens vs Predator 2. As the year properly began, the seams began to unravel. First the Wii U version that had so much potential was cancelled. Then the media campaigns began to ramp up, before finally the revelation that no game reviewing outlet got to play the game before release date, not even the big ones!

It turns out Aliens: Colonial Marines was an unfinished mess of a game that had an awful multiplayer and mindless enemy AI in the campaign. On top of that, the textures looked off. It wasn’t until Jim Sterling of Destructoid even put out a PSA saying that the game he saw in preview builds was not in the finished product that it dawned on everyone what had happened. Heck, merely grabbing an image representative of the final product was difficult as the internet has been plastered with the promotional material that left such a sour taste in people’s mouths!

Gearbox had pulled a fast one, bringing out a rushed FPS experience at full price that was not represented by any preview build sent to the media. What initially looked brilliant on screenshots and gameplay footage turned out to be designed for the press to promote the game.

So how come this didn’t isn’t the most disappointing game of 2013? Well…

Most Disappointing Game of the Year – SimCity

Alternative Game of the Year Awards 2013

Oh EA… You promised so much when you announced SimCity. When it was announced that the game would require an internet connection to run, you told us that you weren’t going to make the same mistakes Blizzard did with Diablo III.

Then it launched.

It must be tough for EA to realise that those “measures” they put in place didn’t work. Not only did it break, but it also pointed to some of the flaws in EA’s Origin service. But there was worse to come. You see, they had made the multiplayer nature of the game mandatory, meaning that players built neighbouring cities in order to cooperate. Yet somehow you weren’t able to lock them down to friends, meaning anyone could come and build a city that drags the others down. On top of that, the space you were given was woeful compared to past SimCity games.

There were also bugs galore, but it was the constant disconnections at launch that sealed its fate. EA tried to appease the masses by giving away free swag, but for many this wasn’t going to make it up to them. They’d already been betrayed.

But was this the worst game of the year? Not even close!

Worst Game of the Year 2013 – Ride to Hell: Retribution

Alternative Game of the Year Awards 2013

Apparently this game had been in development limbo for quite some time, 2013 was the year this turd rolled in on its faeces covered hog. Ride to Hell: Retribution is a game where you were a biker in the 1950s with a questionable past, attempting to avenge the biker’s brother after he is brutally (hilariously) murdered. Eyebrows are raised when the first thing you do is a short turret section that is disconnected from the rest of the game. Lack of sound effects in odd places, combined with horrendously bad voice acting in cut scenes was also worth a sigh of disappointment. Gameplay is so bland and uninteresting that it has no sense of challenge. So how does this get bottom honours?

Well if all the above wasn’t bad enough, it is also one of those games. You know, the ones where they put in badly rendered characters rutting against each other fully clothed! Saving a prostitute from a man trying to have sex with her, then being repaid by grinding each other fully clothed was bad enough; but when the very next woman asks you to get something from her deadbeat husband, then proceeds to hump you while still wearing her jumpsuit, you know this is a terrible game.

I’d also say that Day One: Garry’s Incident also qualifies, but that is just a terrible game with controversy surrounding its release. Ride to Hell: Retribution not only offends in terms of the intentionally controversial content, but offends me more by being existing. The funniest and perhaps also most tragic thing is that the company behind it wanted this to become a franchise. How sorely were they mistaken!

PlayStation Now: Potentially A Game Changer

At CES 2014, Sony decided they were going to unveil PlayStation Now – their new cloud gaming service they have been toying with since the PlayStation 4 announcement. The scope has since expanded to not only PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, but also tablets, TV’s and smartphones that are not necessarily Sony branded.

Potentially this is a game changer. After all, the lack of backwards compatibility with PlayStation 3 games on PlayStation 4 irked some who just want to play the latest and greatest. There are still many who have yet to experience The Last of Us, or the wonderful Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. Some of us are haunted with games they haven’t completed, such as Dragon Quest: Journey of the Cursed King, that still won’t go away. Maybe nostalgia for the PlayStation era Final Fantasy games that heralded in a new age of JRPGs whet your appetite.

With the combined muscle of Sony and the tech from Gaikai, we’re sure that they’ll make something more robust than say OnLive did with their set-top streaming box or PC based UI. Cloud gaming is possible with a half decent Internet connection, but Sony are set to emulate the course that OnLive did by debuting the service in the US – with a closed beta this month ahead of a full roll-out this summer. It took years for OnLive to make it to the UK, by which time the seams were already unravelling.

If you look back at the reports of what OnLive were going to do next after their UK launch was done, they were planning to bring their Cloud Gaming to tablets. So Sony and Gaikai’s idea isn’t a new one, but there is hope that their infrastructure will be better designed. Rumours that they may integrate new challenges and trophy support within PlayStation Now is fascinating a prospect.

But if all of this is to succeed then broadband needs to improve. High-latency is something that still plagues a vast majority of America, let alone Europe and the rest of the world, with a large population living in rural areas. On top of that, they need to make sure that their TV side doesn’t interfere too much with the gaming side, though chances of that are slim given the success of media streaming on the last generation of consoles.

We’re also intrigued about the business model behind it, what kind of pay-wall pricing one would expect – though you can expect both one-off payments for games or a subscription for many, if not all. If they adopt a fair method that rewards consumers who own the physical versions, while having low price of entry, then this could be a huge development that potentially could wipe out the used game market for past-gen consoles. It could also make those hard-to-find classics tons easier to source.

PlayStation Now has potential, but it’s a service that relies hugely on both the streaming technology in place and the bandwidth available to users. With, for now, only PlayStation 3 and before games being on offer the size of data needing to be sent and received will begin to seem rather small in comparison with next-gen titles; however, this is so hugely reliant on “try it and see” tech that it could be a huge risk.

Thankfully though, the lack of needing to purchase a device to use it (unlike OnLive) could be the feature that swings the favour. Providing Sony offer a trial period, even one as short as 24 hours, then you’d be able to test it for yourself and see if it works on your Internet connection.

With the ability to play such hits like The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls, as well as classics from both the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 1 era it could be a huge service for Sony – one that far exceeds to realms of the console.

2014 Most Anticipated – #7: Metal Gear Solid V

So this may be confusing, but we’re counting Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain as the same game. This is because the former was announced before the rather secretive trailer surfaced for The Phantom Pain. – which some worked out by examining the logo very closely to see that the edges of the letters spelt out Metal Gear Solid V.

Even more promising is that since the action takes place in the 1980s, it would be guaranteed that the protagonist would more than likely be Big Boss – the Snake featured in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. This arc was infinitely more interesting considering I’d played the original Metal Gear courtesy of a collection released for the PS2.

Xbox owners will be particularly keen for Ground Zeroes‘ exclusive mission. Dubbed “Jamais Vu”, the mission will be set in Cuba with the player taking on the role of a familiar face from the future – Raiden, in full Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance attire. If we didn’t know any better, this could be what was originally envisioned by Kojima Productions for Metal Gear Rising back when it was first announced.

Given that it has been no secret that Kojima Productions were hard at work on the FOX Engine since the completion of MGS4, it should come as no surprise that both games will use the Konami owned developer’s engine. What is surprising is that while the franchise has been toying with the open world format since its 3D inception, the two new games will take place in sandbox conditions. Real world weather will both help and hinder you, forcing you to adapt to your surroundings. Sandstorms for example make it harder for enemies to see you, but also restrict your field of vision too.

This game also sparked a little controversy when the sole female character Quiet was first revealed. Debate has sprung up about her character, whether or not it is deemed as sexist fantasy or as Kojima would like us to think – there being more that meets the eye. Quiet is certainly disappointing when looking at her from face value, but I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt if when playing the game itself there is a particular reason for her skimpy, impractical attire.

There is also the controversy surrounding the replacement of long-term Snake voice actor David Hayter for a touch of Hollywood in the form of 24 star Kiefer Sutherland. I will miss Hayter’s husky voice, especially as whenever I lose my voice I can do a pitch-perfect Snake impression in his style, but I have hopes for Sutherland doing the role justice.

But whatever the case, we’re probably going to be in for yet another awesome yet convoluted instalment in the ever-expanding Metal Gear Solid franchise. Should it all come together, we should be in for an open world experience that grants us the ability to scope out the environment, be unseen as we methodically take out the guards, and get out via the extraction point before anyone realises what is going on. Konami has a lot riding on this particular game, so fingers crossed that it is revolutionary as promised.