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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.

Discrimination

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.

YouTube

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.

Why Nintendo Is Tugging At My Heart-Strings

Oh Wii U. Just when I was prepared to leave you behind for the shiny new next-gen consoles…

If you didn’t catch the Nintendo Direct yesterday, there were some rather surprising announcements. Two games in particular caught my eye:

The first is the one you can actually play right now. NES Remix as it is dubbed is available on the Nintendo eShop, putting you to the test – 8-bit style! Challenges include scoring a hole-in-one in Golf, getting to the goal post in Super Mario Bros. while the level flickers between visible and invisible, or rescuing Paulina from Donkey Kong… as Link from The Legend of Zelda. Okay, the latter isn’t exactly a fresh idea since there is a fan remake of Super Mario Bros. with just about every Nintendo property known to man representing, but it is a sign that Nintendo have a sense of humour. They even make a dig at the infinite 1-up trick.

As a retro gamer at heart, who still thinks some of the most perfect games ever conceived have been in the late 1980′s/early 1990′s, there is something about this that appeals to me. Yes, it is Nintendo resting on their already pressed laurels, but at least they’re not pretending to be up-to-date in this instance. New challenges from old properties are always welcome, heck when Super Mario Bros. DX came out on the Gameboy Color, it had extras which extended the life of that classic game.

But if NES Remix was the appetiser, Hyrule Warriors was the main course.

I mean just look at the trailer. It pretty much says it all. Take Legend of Zelda style combat, mix with Dynasty Warriors‘ sense of scale, and wham! You’ve just been hit with a truck of awesome!

Now I know what you’re thinking: Legend of Zelda isn’t just about the combat, but the world itself and the puzzles. You’re obviously completely right, but then again you only need to look at Link’s Crossbow Training to see that Nintendo aren’t exactly strangers to altering the format of one of their favourite franchises.

So the fact that Tecmo Koei have taken the reigns means that they have a bucket load of trust. After all, just look at what became of the infernal Phillips CD-I games. Of course, Hyrule Warriors isn’t the final name of the Nintendo/Tecmo Koei collaboration, so with any luck the game will also feature the world building and dungeons we’ve come to know and love.

Heck, Omega Force’s music team remixed The Legend of Zelda‘s overworld theme! How is this not awesome!

As for the Wii U’s line-up, it is looking better than it was before Nintendo Direct. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U will most definitely sell consoles, with Bayonetta 2 being a strong third-party property, but I’m not presently sold on the other games that were due out early next year. Now Nintendo fans will have a lot more to look forward to, making the next-gen race a whole bunch more interesting. Today’s announcement, as well as one or two other Wii U exclusives, has actually made me contemplate buying a Wii U!

2014 Most Anticipated – #15 The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Based on the stories by polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, The Witcher saga has seen the biggest success in the West thanks to a stellar adaptation by polish developer CD Projekt RED. While it had some flaws, The Witcher was generally well received when released in 2007. Years passed until we got the sequel – The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings in 2011 on PC and most surprisingly a console version in 2012 for Xbox 360. When Phil looked at the PC version, he hailed it as “one of the best RPGs of the generation” – not exactly a small feat.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt might have a far less intimidating subtitle, but now Geralt of Rivia’s potentially last adventure is set to go out with more than just a bang.

I have to confess that I’ve missed out on that flawed gem The Witcher , while only picking up the sequel on sale for a stupidly low price during a recent Xbox downloadable sale, but even on the outside I can recognise that The Witcher 2 was a phenomenal improvement on the first in the series. To take this series into a more open-world setting is ambitious, especially if it is larger than the world seen in Skyrim. But fans of the franchise will be keen to know whether the tradition of rich RPG gameplay will still be in the third game.

Curiously though, the game is set to launch simultaneously on Xbox One, PC, and for the first time in the series the PS4. Evidently the success of the property for CD Projekt RED has meant they are able to expand, both in terms of the game world and the scope for the games release.

As recently as VGX last weekend, we witnessed new footage on the game that shares more of the narrative, as well as more of the awesome combat and expansive open world. Just when the excitement of E3′s footage was dropping, what was seen over the past week has brought it all back.

This brings us to the inevitable thought though: is this a sign of things to come in Cyberpunk 2077 in 2015? Given that CD Projekt RED’s futuristic effort was revealed long before the third Witcher game, we can only imagine what developments will arise in gameplay/setting before then. The Warsaw developer is making heads turn for all the right reasons, a trend we hope continues with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

2014 Most Anticipated – #22 Velocity 2X

As far as handheld devices go, the PlayStation Vita has gone from technological masterpiece to companion device for the PlayStation 4. Not that there is anything particularly bad with integrating the two devices together, but when you consider that the library pails in comparison with the likes of mobiles and now even the Nintendo 3DS, early adopters are probably wondering what they spent all that money on.

I often joke that my PlayStation Vita should be called the PerSona Vita as over half of the titles purchased for the device were from Atlus’ great RPG franchise. Yet, there are plenty of great indie offerings on the device as well, including the now essential Velocity Ultra - a game that began as PlayStation Mobile game Velocity, but since then got a full-on upgrade. This game alone made Brighton-based developer FuturLab into one of Sony’s newest developer partners. Velocity 2X is therefore the inevitable sequel that aims to surprise by having brand new gameplay styles integrated.

Of course, with the conclusion of the highly addictiveVelocity comes a new narrative hook. The attention of an alien race has now been caught by the arrival of Kai Tana’s ship. This means that the enemy ships now contain aliens as opposed to corrupt AI, so in order to make things different, the developers have opted to include a platforming shooter game style which is fully integrated into levels. The idea is interesting on paper, but to see it in action is just mind-boggling.

Shortly after the announcement of the game, we were treated to some pre-alpha gameplay, before the game was shown to the public at EGX 2013, proclaimed as one of the best games in the show as a result.

While it might look very similar to the rest of Velocity Ultra, the sequel has the blueprints to be the rare iterative sequel – one that changes nothing from what made the original great apart from the level design, but also includes something fresh. The game is also set to come onto PlayStation 4 as well as the expected PlayStation Vita. Even though it is very early days for the title – with it not being due out until the middle of next year, it still makes our most anticipated list this year purely because of the reputation of the first game and a single hands-on session at probably its first expo. Excitement is truly building.

Dead Rising 3 Is Not Your Standard Launch Title

When I last saw Dead Rising 3, the game was beginning to look more like it should. Then again I barely scrapped the surface. Recently, I got the change to test the waters of a zombie apocalypse and speak with the game’s Executive Producer, Josh Bridge.

Dead Rising 3 wasn’t always destined for a next-generation launch admits Bridge, as it was only part way through the game’s development that Microsoft approached them to bring the game to Xbox One – after it was initially on just potentially next-gen specced PCs.

The support [from Microsoft] has been great,” added Bridge, “especially because they’re only three hours away by flight from our studio in Canada.”

As Nuts As You Like

The series is centres around the frantic and crazy gameplay and that’s not going anywhere with the threequel as I asked Bridge just how nuts it could be?

“As nuts as you want it to be! It’s completely up to the player. You could play it as straight as any tense survival horror or combine weapons and vehicles together to make insane new tools.”

What about if you want something a bit more substantial though? Were the team just looking to cater towards those just looking to batter a lot of zombies around, or is there more than meets the eye?

“There are two modes in the game this time around, one where you’re not pressured by time and the other where you can opt to play it like any other Dead Rising game in the past. Since you’re not pressured by time, you need enemies – or zombies in this case, so we’re trying to push the deadliness of them by making the game feel darker and scarier. But by having the freedom to move at your own pace, you can do what you want. You might want to grind levels or explore our massive world to find all possible combinations.”

There’s plenty about Dead Rising 3 that makes it a worthy sequel as well.

“The biggest evolution actually is in the game world versus the past,” explained Bridge. “Dead Rising and Dead Rising 2 can fit in Dead Rising 3′s world multiple times over. You will find that all the systems all go deeper and are more customisable than ever before.

“You also have more things to in the world, such as challenges and side missions. You’ll find that other survivors aren’t babysitting escorts, but your fighting posse, since you’re able to use Kinect to point and order survivors to go somewhere or warn them about dangers.”

“You can still use the d-pad,” clarified Bridge when I asked him about Kinectaphobes, “but Kinect may be easier to use as you merely just need to point and talk rather than cycle through menus. When a zombie grabs your feet, you can also shake the pad rather than waggle the stick to shake them off, which also uses the Kinect.”

Go Bonkers Or Go Home

After speaking with Josh, it was time to have another go with the zombie title. The current build had a few new traits that were previously unknown, such as how Kinect comes into play and how the game is trying to put on a much darker tone. The demo began by witnessing the main protagonist get bitten by a zombie. His mission is to find the Zombrex (a form of antidote) on his own since his friends desert him soon after.

Right from the get go, I was advised to combine the Steam Roller with a motorcycle to make the Steam Hog. After a few minutes gallivanting, crushing and burning zombies and psychopaths in our wake, I went to find one of the new challenge objectives. These act in a similar fashion to Rampage modes in Grand Theft Auto, only you need to possess the item and kill that many zombies with said item to win.

Afterwards, having been led through to the objective marker, it was time for the first instance of Kinect. When a zombie grabs you, you shake the controller to get them to let go, and the Kinect registers this. It was explained that in the final game, you will be able to point and talk to the AI to tell them where to go as well, though direct input for these actions is available for those who don’t want to use Kinect. It certainly is a time saver, making it so that you can batter a zombie’s brains in while leading your people to safety.

The game definitely uses a far darker tone, feeling creepier than the series has ever been before, but it is nice to see that the weapons on show and costumes you can find are as bonkers as ever. A nice time saving detail is that any weapon you find or combine will be obtainable from the safe house locker from that point onwards. Expanding on Dead Rising lore is a nice touch too, with the whole Queen wasp method of killing nearby zombies still being a thing. There is even a homage to Frank West – because he’s covered wars you know.

Some have been concerned that Dead Rising 3 was becoming either too serious or too silly. Neither is really the case at this point, with the gameplay featuring a looser system that respects the players time. The game map can fit in the original and it’s sequel, still having plenty of room to spare, so you’re never short on things to do.

“If you don’t try to complete everything, but go through the campaign while tackling some side stuff along the way we’re at the 20-24 hour mark,” Bridge said in regards to the volume of content in the campaign. “But you’ll always have something to do, like taking your levelled up dude into Nightmare Mode, getting him to rank 50 and putting points into attribute slots, so that when you punch a zombie it instantly dies and goes flying.”

You are free to play the game as you see fit, but when you have this many toys of destruction at your disposal, it seems like such a waste to not exploit everything the game has to offer. Almost certainly not your standard launch title indeed.

Providing Innovation With Forza Motorsport 5

At a recent Xbox One event, I got the chance to talk with Dan Greenawalt, Creative Director and Co-Founder of Turn 10, about their upcoming Xbox One launch title, Forza Motorsport 5.

One Hit Pixel – In most new generation launches, we’ve seen a car racing sim that shows off what the next-generation can do. Project Gotham Racing 3 for Xbox 360 for example. What is it about the genre that makes it prime launch material?

Dan Greenawalt – “If I could take a step back, I think what we’re doing with Forza Motorsport 5 hasn’t really been done before. Usually when racing titles are developed for launch day, they’re designed to be sided to showcase at launch, not necessarily be the flagship racing simulator. I was on the team who worked with Project Gotham Racing 3, so have seen that side of it. What we’re trying to do with Forza Motorsport 5 is is provide innovation with cloud-powered opponents to make an uncompromised game at launch.

“But you’re absolutely right that the genre is great for launch for showcasing the platform, because cars are a great medium. They shine up well, so you’re able to show great reflection technology, high resolutions, just like games like Project Gotham Racing and Project Gotham Racing 3 did for the Xbox and Xbox 360. With Forza Motorsport 5 we’re trying something different to show the power of the Xbox One with the AI and the physics used. That isn’t what you’d usually bring at launch.

So you’re essentially stepping up the game when it comes to launch day racers.

“We prefer to think of it as stepping up our own game! This is a series we’ve worked on for a long time and we can afford to branch out, such as making the playground games for Forza Horizon last year. We started this game a year before Forza 4 even shipped! We’ve been making this game for almost three years. So the goal was to do something big at launch, not what every other game on the market was doing, but proving to ourselves that we have something that can showcase the Xbox One’s power at launch.

“This is probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my career and the most ambitious title we’ve ever created, but it is great to see people play the game and experience the 1080p native resolution at a consistent 60fps. The things that the AI have been doing have shocked people who have played it, because it changes how racing games are played.”

I must admit, I totally suck at the more realistic racers, not because they’re bad but because I can’t get the hang of them. Is Forza 5 still accessible to those who maybe aren’t as experienced?

“Here’s the funny thing. When play testing Forza 5, we found that too many people have the misconception of realistic racing games in terms of easy and hard, which is a sign of poor design. Interestingly, Forza 4 play tested a lot easier than arcade racers, so it isn’t about easy versus hard, but more about the level of precision. People are turned off by precision and I totally understand that.

“To me, elegant design should fit like a glove. So what we have is an uncompromised physics engine that is doing things that just weren’t possible in the last generation. We actually want the cars to be drivable by a five year old! So we have a system where you can turn up or down driver difficulty and turning on or off the assists, so that by doing so you get more rewards.

“We’re not expecting players to just turn them all off, we expect people to be smarter than that, but find their own way to play the game. Sometimes, coming in first might not be as rewarding as coming in third, depending on the options selected, so that you can earn more cash to buy more cars.

“So you can find your own difficulty setting, in that you can have the car brake for you, have the green line to follow, or you can have rewind on. Some people misidentify it as being too hard for them. My five year old twins can play this game.”

And just like that you’ve made the gamer in me feel woefully inadequate.

“But you will be able to win. The thing is that if you turn it up all the way, you’re bound to run into trouble. When I’m playing the game, I don’t turn it up all the way, but rather turn options on so that when I’m in the grove, I can start turning assists off. So the joy is being able to learn and adapt, get used to the precision gradually.

“There is the option for more depth, but you aren’t obliged to experience it all in one go. If you want to tune the cars, you can do, but if you don’t, that’s up to you. You aren’t penalised for it. The game offers curated content, depending on what the player wants out of it. We got rid of the store front and auction house, so you no longer need to worry about the economy. All you do is buy cars and get the upgrades you want.”

How has it been developing on Xbox One? We’re there any issues?

“There weren’t any issues with developing for the Xbox One, the issue was developing for launch. So we’ve been looking at the triggers, dedicated servers and cloud computing. Has that been challenging? Yes, but not unduly challenging. The nice thing is that because the Xbox One is made to take advantage of cloud computing, we’re able to set up things like Driveatar much easier, which for someone with a team to manage is great because we can create servers and keep them online. That’s the secret for developing for the Xbox One – we can work more on the creative side rather than develops infrastructure.”

You mentioned Driveatar a few times. Would you say that is the most exciting thing for you about the new Forza?

“There’s a couple of positive reinforced cycles in the design aspect that are very subtle when you are looking at them but are powerful when playing. So I get people to play for themselves in order to understand it, rather than talk about it. When we play tested Forza 4, people were getting to first place and getting bored, just wanting the race to end. The race would go on four three to four and a half minutes and people would feel it went on too long. When we play tested Forza 5, we’ve already had people play longer races and report them as feeling shorter due to the options they have turned on. All the way to the finishing line, they were racing and fighting. It’s not able having some AI to pass, but AI playing like a real person. Gamers should demand better and that is what we’re trying to do with Driveatar.”

What is multiplayer going to be like for the player? Will they notice any differences from single player?

“There will be sixteen player multiplayer and you get everything this time around, such as the environments which look gorgeous. The big thing is having dedicated servers and SmartMatch. So dedicated servers give fast and reliable multiplayer for gamers to race on. SmartMatch pairs you with people who are like you when playing the game. Your Driveatar also shows up in other peoples single player races, so you get money rewarded for every time this happens. It’s a highly social system, not like having ghosts or multiplayer on the conventional sense, but having everyone connected to each other.”

Forza Motorsport 5 is due for release alongside the Xbox One launch on November 22.

Taking Up Arms: Hands-On With Ryse: Son Of Rome

Ryse: Son of Rome seems to be the underdog of the Xbox One launch line-up and for good reason. With a disastrous showing at E3 and with an overwhelming “meh” at EGX this year, Microsoft and Crytek had one last chance to really sell it to us before release. They were finally going to show the big guns – the single player campaign. Just what the heck is Ryse all about and did what we see impress us as it did various others?

Kinect No More & A Focus On Timing

At a recent Microsoft event I got the chance to go hands-on with the game and speak to the Design Director for Ryse, PJ Estevez. Son of Rome has had somewhat of a polarised life to date having originally been a Kinect game for the Xbox 360, but what changed?

“We originally billed this as a Kinect game before Microsoft asked us about bringing it to the Xbox One,” admitted Estevez. “We wanted to take it into this other direction and the stars just aligned really! We got the hardware early so were able to work on graphical fidelity and we wanted to tell a story through this action adventure.”

Such a transition from the gesture-based nature of Kinect to having a controller in your hand was something that was both easy and difficult for Crytek.

“We had made a lot of headway with Kinect, but the thing is that the devil is in the details. To make a solid third-person melee combat game is actually really difficult, so I think we said that we wanted to tell a really good story and to bring a new dynamic to our games. Crytek has been known for pretty first-person shooters, so now we want to show them a pretty third-person melee combat game. I think that it is a big step forward for Crytek as a company.”

Having seen many trailers and had a go with multiplayer before, what about the single player portion of Ryse – what is the plot of Son of Rome?

“It is a classic Roman revenge tale with a really nice plot twist at the end. The main thing is that you’re playing as Marius Titus as his family are brutally murdered. So he leaves Rome to get revenge, but he also grows a bit along the way. He goes from a Legionnaire to a General by the end. So essentially it is about his quest for vengeance and where it takes him along the way. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but he finds himself along the way as a leader and as a Roman.”

Moving through the ranks up to General also has an impact on gameplay. You can shout orders like firing a barrage of arrows on the enemy by saying ‘Archers, cover me’ or ‘Archers, fire!’.

“How often you use your voice to command is how much you feel like a general,” Estevez explained. “There is even a leader vision where you place units in position, but as you play the game we give you more options.”

Mapped to the d-pad are an ability called Quick Kills which is the game’s perk system.

“How it works is that you select what perk you want on the fly, and get rewarded in that way after every execution. Let’s say I’m being attacked by two guys and my health is low. I can select the heal perk so that after I kill one of those guys, depending on how well I timed the button presses, I gain more or less life back. If I don’t press anything, I get a basic reward back, but if I hit legendary timing, I gain a lot of health back.”

Legendary timing? What is that? How fast you press the button?

“It is more about the apex of the action,” clarified Estevez. “So when [the protagonist] Marius pulls his sword back, we wanted the player to feel that when they are pressing the button, Marius does the stabbing. Once you get good at the game, by hearing the sounds and looking at the animations in order to get perfect timing. Also, it is not always the same execution twice, so you really have to stay engaged. We want the player to feel involved.”

“If you’re near a ledge and you’ve positioned yourself at the right point, you’ll see a different skull icon appear. If you see a Red skull rather than a white one appear, you’ve performed a special combo that gives this guy an execution window. If you’re really good, you can get these kills in early, which is helpful for when dealing with say six guys at once. I personally like getting my hit counters up and lining up six guys to execute them all at once.”

Taking Care Of All Gamers

“I really like a good story campaign,” said Estevez when pressed about the best things about Ryse, “and were definitely geared up for that type of gamer. On top of that, we have a combat system that you can continually get better and better at. Then we have Gladiator mode, which feels like such a bonus on top of all that because when I’m tired of playing a level, I can just hop on to play with a buddy. So if you like all that stuff, there is no better game at launch.”

Even this close to launch there’s surprises in store with a lot of multiplayer having never been showcased according to Estenez.

“We haven’t shown off a lot of what the game has to offer for multiplayer. The best way to look at it is that there are modes that are objective based where you have to work together to complete goals, so for example you might have to take down a wicker man that is burning. Then there is the other kind which have a dynamic tile set, which are more pick up and play. My favourite thing is that the playlists can change, so it doesn’t feel like you’re going through the same map rotations, meaning that you can have totally different experiences from one minute to the next.”

Multiplayer is something that Crytek intend to update, especially over the next few months, and the recent announcement of a season pass highlights this.

Day One

The real question though, is Ryse a new exclusive IP that will gamers have been hoping for as a launch title for the Xbox One?

“I think the gamers will be the judge of that. We just do our best to make the game you want to play. When you look at all the passion expressed during the development, we were getting beaten up for a while about what Ryse: Son of Rome is, but we bided our time and just kept working on polishing the game. I believe we have a gem on our hands and I’m not just saying that as someone who worked on the game, as here at Crytek we’re very critical of our work. Ryse will establish itself in the third-person action adventure genre, because of the amount of detail that has gone into the game, both visually and in terms of gameplay.”

“One of the beauties of being a launch title is that you can’t do everything, so we boiled down the game to its bare essentials. From Microsoft’s perspective, they are stoked to get such a pretty launch title. Whatever you might have heard about next -en not having beautiful graphics is untrue as you can see with Ryse. The visuals are so good that it isn’t just about videogame art any more, but rather art itself on the screen.”

Worthy Of The Fight

Prior to my chat with Estevez, I went hands-on with Son of Rome to finally see if it’s been unfairly mocked or if it’s the real deal.

Marius as it turns out is quite the badass, dishing out about as much pain as that famous Spartan in the God of War franchise. But while Kratos’ carnage is barbaric and gory, Marius uses a bit more finesse when dispatching his foes. While Kratos would have the same QTE sequence for each foe, Marius’ action sequences aren’t reliant on what button you press, but when you press it for the most skilful kill. You also choose what reward you get for each kill, whether it is replenishing your health, gaining a damage boost filling the focus bar up further or just grabbing extra XP.

While several levels of the campaign were available, I only had time to look at a couple. My experience began with a sparring session, before barbarians invade the city. What struck me was that the sheer spectacle of what is happening around Marius was just stunning to watch. Every little detail is marvellous to see in action, fully sucking me in. For a moment I felt as though I was actually in Rome, fighting for survival. There are even occasions where Kinect asked me to shout something to order your legion to do something, which also helped me to feel like an armchair General.

If the odd resolution and subsequent upscaling sounds scary, don’t be too alarmed. The game runs well in its 900p resolution upscaled to a more palatable 1080p, keeping a consistent framerate all the time. While it does fall into the trap of “British” sounding Romans that most Roman epics seem to, it comes across as a polished experience all the same. Levels are big, full of spice, and there is not a dull moment from that early point in the game.

It is with a happy heart that I can report that Ryse: Son of Rome has finally taken up arms and is ready to fight alongside the Xbox One on launch day. It should be an interesting match!

OlliOlli Made Me Forget Everything I Knew About Skateboarding

Games at EGX this year came in the from of both the triple-A’s and the indies, but some indies have more budget than others. In the case of OlliOlli, this was a surprisingly addictive game from an even more surprising source. This little PS Vita game was hidden away so well that I had heard about it but struggled to actually find it. Eventually I was guided to the developer who was busy explaining to a pundit that the game didn’t need Q/A testing as they were planning on submitting it within weeks. He then turns to me and asks if I’d like to play a game called OlliOlli.

OlliOlli is built on the premise of skateboarding to the end of the level, performing tricks aplenty and not bailing at all. The catch is how you control your skateboard. Much like Skate, you wiggle the analogue stick in various directions to perform tricks; but unlike Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, you use the X button to land your jump instead of initiate it.

OlliOlli Made Me Forget Everything I Knew About Skateboarding

Naturally, when faced with a control scheme that differs from conventions, I sucked horribly. Time and time again my face would meet staircases, forcing me to restart the level. Eventually though I skated my way past the first level or so. Grinds act in a similar fashion, with precise control input granting my skater a little boost to assist with massive trick chains. Given that each level has a bunch of objectives in a similar vein to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater‘s S-K-A-T-E or score attack based tasks, every little boost is greatly appreciated.

As I play the game, I strike up conversation about the company Roll7 with a chap who just so happens to be Thomas Hegerty, the director of said company. As it turns out, their previous game was the delightful iOS game Gets To The Exit – which I had reviewed in the middle of last year. Once I let him know that I was the one who reviewed the game, we got talking a little bit about their previous game, before I asked about how they transitioned to skateboarding.

According to Thomas, when they had initially planned the game, it was to be an endless runner; but upon reflection from the team, they decided to make it so that there were a ton of levels instead – a decision I can certainly agree with to be a positive one. He then said that the version of the game on show had levels from later in the game, signified by setting. My curious side agreed that seeing what else the game had to offer was a great idea.

Of course what ensued next among the multiple layers of grinding opportunities and obstacles was a never-ending streak of bails and face-plants. But as I played, I found myself wanting just one more turn. No sooner had I picked up the PlayStation Vita to play, I had become hooked. Quick restarts enable that “just one more go” mentality that addictive games possess. Once I realised this, I had to pry myself away, much to the amusement of Thomas. Everyone who had played it said it was the most surprising game on the show floor. My PlayStation Vita won’t know what hit it when it is released in November.

Velocity 2X – Changing The Game, One Genre At A Time

Even to this day, I stand by the notion that Velocity Ultra is perhaps one of the best download only experiences on the PlayStation Vita. Such a compelling retro game that has the will to change the game in an elegant way that still provides ample challenge is no mean feat. Its direct sequel therefore had a lot of things to prove over at EGX this year and it sure didn’t disappoint.

Developers usually show a snapshot of the things to come in their new games, but each one of Velocity 2X‘s levels were catered to specific skill levels. Now considering that I played and proudly mastered the concepts of the game when I played through Velocity Ultra last year, the developers on hand said that the first level was pretty insignificant. They were more keen on showing me what was new with their game, getting to the meat of why Velocity 2X exists.

Gameplay and style in the top-down shooter stages was nigh-on identical to the brilliance of Velocity Ultra. While the demo had no touch implementation for teleportation, I didn’t miss it one bit as I warped through walls to save the straggler pods and shoot the enemies. Mazes occur just as frequently, meaning quick thinking and reflexes are key to getting through unscathed. You can still shoot bombs with the right analogue stick – one of the more useful implementations from Velocity Ultra – and these act just as you’d expect.

So the first level I played ran eventually into a dead end, where I had not seen the first target in a sequence to unlock. Initially baffled, I was then told to run into what looked like a broken tube. These turn out to be access points for the brand new platforming sections. Each zone is self contained, consisting of bomb points to activate, enemies to kill, and walls to teleport through. Teleporting is just like it is in the ship, so once the surprise has worn off you can get used to warping on the fly. To compare how the protagonist Kai controls to both Samus from Metroid to the Zero Suit Samus section found in Metroid: Zero Mission would sum up the bulk of these sections; but it’s a little more nuanced, it deliberately engages, and ultimately is a captivating ride.

Complications even arose in the second level I played when a new enemy type was introduced that looked remarkably similar to Space Pirates found in Metroid games. The only difference here is they can instantly kill you unless you time your teleportations correctly to appear behind them when they charge, exposing their weak point. They mentioned that they felt they might tone down their speed to make these foes more manageable, but really it’s a case of player timing. When you face them, it’s tense; you aren’t sure if you’ll survive. When you kill them, it’s rewarding. You learn how to deal with more in the future; nothing can beat that.

Velocity 2X   Changing The Game, One Genre At A Time

One thing I felt didn’t work so well was with another mechanic they introduced. Certain sections a normal teleport won’t stretch far enough beyond the dangerous red sections that kill you upon touching, so you’re given a device that you can “pull back” on the touch screen to aim a trajectory that the pod is thrown. This felt somewhat forced, making you take a break from having classic 2D platforming fun to swipe at the screen to get past an area. Rebinding it to say a shoulder button and the analogue stick would have made more sense, eliminating what may be perceived as redundant control input. They also need to tweak some instances where only being on a specific pixel will allow this to work as you intend it to work, but generally this is less of a problem.

The fact gamers attending EGX played this on the PS Vita and it looked incredible is one thing, but the prospect of this on the PlayStation 4 excites me even more. It already, after just six months in development, boasts high-fidelity gameplay that genuinely has more exciting twists on the conventions of retro games to whet the appetite of any who love classic titles from yesteryear. It has a long way to go and there are some fine tweaks that need to be implemented to make this as compelling as both Velocity was for PlayStation Mobile and Velocity Ultra was for PlayStation Vita. I’m hopeful for even more surprises to come, but I already love what I see.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 – Mankind Ill Needs A Saviour Such As This

Given that the newest direction for Konami’s legendary franchise was seemingly forced upon us, it’s understandable that some people just don’t want to let go of the Metroidvania era. But when those people include the developers at MercurySteam, that is the sign of a troubled game in the making.

You see, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2‘s demo on show at EGX had dialogue that really wants to ape Castlevania: Symphony of the Night‘s unforgettable introduction sequence. Lines such as, “What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets!” and, “Die you monster, you don’t belong in this world!” are notorious for the terrible English translation of the classic game, yet for some inexplicable reason they are found here. Not even the talented Robert Carlyle can make Dracula’s infamous lines sound anything beyond ridiculous.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2   Mankind Ill Needs A Saviour Such As This

This supposed conclusion to the new Castlevania saga has things to be excited for, no matter how derivative from action games in the past they might be. The demo begins with Gabriel Belmont – now of course Dracula – being challenged by a group of knights from The Order. Combat is the focus for this tutorial, which plays like the previous game almost to a tee. Dracula can use a whip in both hard-hitting attacks that hit one foe and attacks with a wide radius to hit multiple enemies. He can also parry and dodge, as well as have access to the Void Sword that heals him with every blow dealt to adversaries and the Chaos Claws which breaks shields. It feels responsive, with the vampirism method of replenishing magic very much fitting the theme, but these weapons run the risk of sharing similarities with DmC: Devil May Cry‘s weapon system. Still, if there was one thing I could say to be kind about this game at the moment, it would be that the combat is really fun. While fighting against those aligned with holy beings is a nice twist, given that Bayonetta did this several years ago it hardly feels fresh.

Of course, being a Castlevania game, platforming is indeed mandatory, so it’s disheartening to say that this needs work to limit the amount of bugs. In the demo alone I died three times, not because I didn’t know where to jump (the game creates shining bread trails to prevent this, which takes the fun out of it), but because of some bad clipping. Not even the supposedly tense Titan battle that took half the demo to complete was all that engaging, as it cycled through platforming sections, quick time events and arena battles against foes until you achieve the right thing. The variety is worth mentioning though as you are kept on your toes constantly, but it’s impact isn’t all that great.

To top it off, the visuals are all over the place at the time of writing, though this is something they can most definitely fix before releasing the game. On the one hand, the atmosphere of Dracula’s dark and gloomy castle sets the right gothic tone that the series is known for, but the demo showcased fights against knights and beings blessed by a holy being. Castlevania has always been about taking on creatures that go bump in the night, so the fact the demo didn’t showcase enemy variety beyond humans and enchanted flying armoured humans is a real shame.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2   Mankind Ill Needs A Saviour Such As This

On the other hand, the demo fails on a technical standpoint as some textures look really awful. Take for example the cutscenes: On some shots, everything looks crisp and clear; while in others there are pixellated textures on Dracula’s hair or various auras. As a result, the visuals are all over the place, though I am fully aware is common for games in development. Maybe it’s the desire to show so much in a short space of time. Whatever it is though, the game makes a dreadful first impression.

Also on the show floor is the HD version of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. If you’re looking for a preview for this game, there’s no real point. Let’s just says it didn’t feel like much of a step above the 3DS version – which was a disappointment.

I want to be excited for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. I wasn’t initially thrilled by the direction MercurySteam went and I was unhappy that Igarashi’s Metroidvania style was cast aside; but despite copying popular games of the era, I really liked Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. It is still the best 3D game of the franchise, but combining the disappointing 3DS game with this demo that borrows more from recent spectacle fighters, it’s hard for me to want to play it in Feburary 2014 when it releases for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Part of me wants this to surpass my current expectations and end MercurySteam’s time with the franchise with a bang rather than a sizzle. The rest just wants Igarashi’s Metroidvania to make a comeback.

Hands-On: Xbox One Looking Strong, But Still Has Some Issues

When the Xbox One debuted at E3 in June this year, nearly everyone was up in arms about a host of controversial decisions. Most of these have been addressed, especially the important DRM issue, but up until EGX 2013 we hadn’t had any time to grab one of the controllers and start experiencing the next generation for ourselves.

My primary console this past generation was the Xbox 360, more out of necessity than anything else considering the wave of quality PlayStation 3 titles of late, so I was keen to see for my own eyes whether or not I’d like this expensive piece of machinery.

Hands On: Xbox One Looking Strong, But Still Has Some Issues

Console Size

With the photos we’ve seen from Microsoft of their new console, it’s difficult to get a scale of just how big it is compared to the Xbox 360. My first encounter with it was in a demo where the console itself was sealed away in a windowed closet. Even through the little glass window I could see that the Xbox One is pretty large.

If I was to compare its size to anything, it would be the Phillips CD-I, but that was generations ago with not much going for it besides having a CD player. It wasn’t until I entered one of Microsoft’s big shacks they had set up that I was able to get a closer look at the hardware itself. They’ve obviously learned lessons from the debut of the Xbox 360 as the console looks well ventilated, and yet there was barely a sound coming from the console unit. Sure, it is more box-like than anything released in the last generation, but it looks tough enough to last. I’m quietly optimistic that there won’t be a repeat of the Red Ring Of Death fiasco, but we won’t know until launch…

Controller

Possibly the part of the Xbox One that I got the most contact with, and the part owners will be getting to know a lot more about post launch is the controller. The build quality of this control pad is deeply impressive, with possibly Microsoft’s most ergonomic design to date. The Gamecube controller for me is still the best controller there has ever been since the dawn of analogue sticks, but this comes narrowly close to topping it.

Hands On: Xbox One Looking Strong, But Still Has Some Issues

One part surrounded in mystery is what the replacement buttons for the Start and Back buttons do. I’d assume that one brings up open apps like your average tablet device – represented with the two squares, while the other acts like the pause button, bringing up various options – represented by the three lines. Each of the face buttons is exactly like the Xbox 360 pad in terms of position and functionality, while the Home button is now located at the top of the pad – though I was told at all booths not to push that button [Ed - Something I did my accident... Oops].

As for the control sticks, they feel like they aren’t going to wear down to a slippery surface any time soon. The d-pad makes fighting games playable with precision for the first time on an Xbox console, with certain games on show taking great advantage of the redesign. Each one feels responsive, direct, and even pushing them in gives a rather satisfactory click. Triggers vibrating when firing a gun or driving vehicles are a nice touch that may provide a little immersion when playing games.

If I have one minor complaint though, it is the bumper buttons. They feel a lot stiffer, possibly as a workaround for the fact that gamers complained when the shoulder buttons on the Xbox 360 pad came loose. As a result, it was hard to tell whether or not I had thrown a grenade in frantic multiplayer shooters like Battlefield 4.

Weight is normally an issue with control pads, such as the fervour surrounding Sony’s decision to change the classic DualShock design into the Sixaxis. Displeasure then came mostly from the fact it was too light. With the Xbox One controller, there are no such issues about it being as bulky/heavy as the original Xbox pad or as peculiar as the Sixaxis. For me, the PlayStation 4′s controller is nice, but the clever additions to the Xbox One pad make it the better gaming device.

Our Editor-in-Chief, David Howard agreed with me with regards to the controller.

“My foray with the Xbox One ceased at the playing of FIFA 14 due to time restraints,” he said, “but it was enough time to get to grips with the new controller for the first time. It feels startlingly similar to the current Xbox 360 controller with regards to form factor which means that it remains effortlessly comfortable and a satisfying weight. The buttons felt familiar whilst the d-pad was noticeably improved.”

“The rumbles on the triggers were certainly something new but a nice touch, although the analogue sticks weren’t anything to shout home about. Unfortunately, the placement of both the Xbox button and the two shoulder buttons felt just out of comfortable reach for me. It made changing player on FIFA 14 actually challenging, and although this may change with prolonged use it put a dampener on an otherwise delightful controller.”

Hands On: Xbox One Looking Strong, But Still Has Some Issues

Kinect

Expos demonstrate why Kinect just hasn’t become popular. Despite it being bundled with the Xbox One from the start, meaning that there is a guaranteed installed user-base, the new Kinect still doesn’t register gestures properly. While the only game that uses Kinect on show was Rare’s Kinect Sports Rivals, it alone demonstrated that Microsoft’s device had a few issues that needed ironing out. As for how it looks, it emulates the hard edges that its daddy unit (the console itself) has. The statistics about how it can capture specific joints in your fingers, how it can work in low-lit conditions, being able to use it a short distance from your TV, they didn’t really demonstrate any of this on the show floor. Not even voice communication was used in any of the other demos to demonstrate the voice feature – perhaps the one thing gamers might be able to use it for when sitting comfortably on their sofa/beanbag with a controller in hand.

Games

Hands On: Xbox One Looking Strong, But Still Has Some Issues

Forza Motorsport 5

It’s funny to realise that Project Gotham Racing 3 was the automobile poster-child for the Xbox 360, a series now usurped by Forza Motorsport. For the longest time, Sony dominated this market with Gran Turismo, whose long legacy dates back to the original PlayStation. In complete contrast, Forza is the new kid on the block by comparison spawning both the Forza Motorsport series and the less realistic but more accessible Forza Horizon.

Cars make such a great basis for seeing how far technology has come. I still remember being amazed by how the cars in Gran Turismo 3 looked on the PlayStation 2. Forza Motorsport 5 doesn’t buck this trend as not only are the cars themselves gorgeous, but the interiors look really amazing too. Driving around the track is a boy racer’s dream come true, as the vehicle being driven was responsive for quick manoeuvres and had enough grip through tight bends.

One thing was clear though – this was an early build. Even though we were driving around one track, it showed a remarkable downgrade in quality when compared to the cars driving along them. As such, it does make me wonder about just how far the Xbox One can be pushed. Was it just because it’s an early build and the developers wanted to prioritise the quality of the car models, or is it a sign of things to come? Who knows at this point, but I’m sincerely hoping that it’s only a momentary setback.

Hands On: Xbox One Looking Strong, But Still Has Some Issues

Battlefield 4

The demo was a multiplayer one, meaning that undoubtedly I got creamed by veterans of the previous titles. The battlefield was huge, taking place at an abandoned factory surrounded by dilapidated vehicles and two bases. Our objective was to take and hold as many of the four capture points as possible in order to preserve tickets – a pretty standard Battlefield affair. Running on the Xbox One, it really did showcase the fact the brand new console can comfortably match PC gaming, with high-res environments and a constantly high/smooth FPS count. Four classes include the Assault, Engineer, Recon and Support, each acting the same as their Battlefield 3 counterpart.

Two things struck me about this game. It was incredibly tricky to shoot as the recoil felt insanely off. Even short bursts of fire had ridiculous recoil, raising your gun to the point where you need to refocus to fire. Fine tuning is most certainly required before release for all the guns. Battlefield 4 also doesn’t seem to be doing anything that Battlefield 3 isn’t doing already. Now this could be because of the choice of map, a rather bland contrast to the one we all saw in EA’s E3 conference, but we hope this isn’t a sign of things to come. What was shown at E3 was what we want, not “Battlefield 3 with better textures!”

Hands On: Xbox One Looking Strong, But Still Has Some Issues

FIFA 14

Written by Editor-in-Chief David Howard.

This year’s footballing sim is something I’ve already regarded as “the best FIFA to date”, but I was fully aware that it felt as though the series had gone as far as it could on the current crop of hardware. New, more powerful machines were needed in order to process more physics, create a better atmosphere and provide a smoother looking game. Nothing on the current-generation FIFA 14, be that on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, told me that it looked poor or substandard but after playing just a solitary game on Microsoft’s new console has made it very difficult to go back.

There’s a hugely noticeable jump in the graphical smoothness, to a degree that, upon returning to the Xbox 360 version, my good friend and Editor of TheSixthAxis, Blair Inglis, exclaimed “oh wow! It looks like a PS2 game”. Although his reaction was hyperbolic he had a point. Many aren’t expecting the graphical leap to be as big as before and whilst it may not be, it is startling at the difference in quality between generations already.

Beyond the visual improvements – which included a stunning use of camera work, 3D crowds, aerial views of stadia, and advancements in animation – it’s difficult to gauge the overall improvement that EA Sports’ next-gen Ignite engine brings. It’s safe to say though that the versions of FIFA 14 that will release come the end of next month will be well worth your time.

Hands On: Xbox One Looking Strong, But Still Has Some Issues

Ryse: Son of Rome

One of the few non-third party titles for the Xbox One, the first impressions from E3 were that this was one giant quick time event. Thankfully, the QTE sections that plagued the game were nowhere to be seen. Showcasing the fact Ryse: Son of Rome can be played cooperatively, two platers become gladiators in a gauntlet challenge, taking on captured barbarians for the entertainment of the ancient Roman populace. Objectives changed on the fly, including such tasks as “kill X enemies” or “burn these two encampments”. While you couldn’t actually see the crowds in gameplay, the opening FMV showed both combatants arriving in the arena.

Combat was a combination of God of War and Dark Souls, combining the best of these two very different franchises. Both gladiators assisted each other in real-time combat that relied heavily on deflecting attacks to counter with your own to devastating effect. A skull would appear above enemies when vulnerable, resulting in reasonably gruesome butchery that is thrilling to watch.

The graphical fidelity has been a big talking point in recent days, with Crytek themselves saying that the game we saw at E3 is not the game we saw at EGX this year. This shows, as visually the game seems to have taken a drastic hit. I didn’t mind the resolution up-scaling that has been recognised, but I had a huge issue with framerate getting no higher than 30FPS and going down to around mid-20s when the action got heated.

Hands On: Xbox One Looking Strong, But Still Has Some Issues

Killer Instinct

If Double Helix carry on like this, add a few new game modes, etc., they might have one of the more exciting mainstream games shown at EGX. Given that I was a huge fan of Killer Instinct back in the day, reviving the series was bound to be a difficult undertaking, especially for a studio with not the greatest pedigree.

Being let in two at a time meant that this was intended to be a multiplayer demo and with four characters playable on the show floor, it was clear that each one had their own tricks. Jago and Sabrewulf were very similar to their old school counterparts, capable of massive combinations. It did seem like Jago controls perhaps a little too familiar to Ryu from Street Fighter, but this was the case back in the arcade version of the original. Thunder and Glacius are also capable of spectacular juggles, with Glacius’ ice armour proving to be quite devastating in the right hands.

The amount of detail in the character models and backgrounds are highly impressive; keeping a consistently high framerate essential for fighting games these days. It certainly looks like it wouldn’t run on an Xbox 360 as a result. While the freemium nature of this game is a worry for many seeking just to buy everything for a discounted price, this ambitious remake is certainly looking like it is on the right track so far. Hopefully it will come with plenty more additions to game modes and the revealed roster, but this is currently signalling a true return to form for the long-dormant fighting franchise.

Hands On: Xbox One Looking Strong, But Still Has Some Issues

Dead Rising 3

If you were to look at the E3 presentation of the now Xbox One exclusive Dead Rising 3, you’d be forgiven for thinking that a lot of what made the series shine had been removed for a more serious tone. To be fair, some games work using this method, focusing on survival at all costs rather than the comical mindless slaughter of zombies. But to erase that sub-genre of games would be rather sad.

Thankfully Dead Rising 3 is not only as crazy as ever, it’s perhaps gone even further into its state of insanity. Combining weapons and items to make even crazier tools of destruction has always been silly fun, but you can now do the same with vehicles. Combining a steamroller with a motorbike creates the Roller Hawg with flamethrowers for example. There is also the Junk Car that fires green flares and can be turned into a suicide bomb, and the Shock Dozer which is a little self-explanatory.

However, while the playground we were presented with had a lot of toys to play with, it didn’t present us with a heck of a lot else to do other than kill hordes of zombies. I mean, the town itself has a lot of places to explore, with a wide variety of objects, but even Dead Rising 2‘s prologue chapter indicate at least why this is happening. Perhaps there isn’t really a reason, since the people who play Dead Rising games don’t really need one – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Hands On: Xbox One Looking Strong, But Still Has Some Issues

Kinect Sports Rivals

Kinect Sports Rivals was not registering turns quite as nicely as one would like, while stamping your feet to activate your boosts didn’t work half the time. It does know when you want to pull off tricks when going over ramps, so that already makes it better than it has been before. It’s certainly improved from the other Kinect Sports games, but the problem is that we will not truly know how it works until the console launch when you can customise it to register your body movements. If you took the Kinect out of it and replaced functionality with a standard controller, this would have been a fantastic effort with a crisp clean style and hugely competitive multiplayer mode that rewards you for beating your rivals. Sadly, Rare have too much in Kinect for any of this to matter.


It all however came down to this: the dominance of the PlayStation 4 both in terms of games on show at EGX for the console and the PC games at the show that are coming to the console at some point far outnumber the ones coming to the Xbox One. Indie developers have flocked to Sony’s new console, while only a few have climbed into Microsoft’s newly opened indie friendly cradle. In turn, this has harmed the number of games coming to Xbox One versus the number of games coming to PlayStation 4.

Major publisher support however is pretty strong, with both in-house and third-party games providing a strong showing overall. Until someone guts the two consoles and deciphers who is actually the winner in terms of performance, we won’t know who has the better hardware really, but if the games list is anything to go by, Microsoft have some ground to cover. As a long-standing Xbox Live Gold subscriber, I sincerely hope so.

Volume – How I Fell Back In Love With Tactical Espionage Action

As you could probably tell from my interview with Mike Bithell last week, I was a huge fan of Thomas Was Alone. In a sea of puzzle platformers from indie developers, here was one that had the balls to do something unique – include celebrity voice acting to tell a story that made us care about squares and rectangles of differing shapes and sizes. Each one was unique and not just because of their abilities.

So naturally going to that difficult second game is a truly terrifying prospect. Many indie developers succumb to the intense pressure that surrounds it. Will it be another game that shows off more of the same or will it be something completely different? Mike Bithell knows this all too well, as does Volume‘s concept artist Daz Watford who said himself that fans expected Mike’s next game to be about circles.

Volume   How I Fell Back In Love With Tactical Espionage Action

As I noted in my interview, Volume is what happens when the Tactical Espionage Action from PlayStation classic Metal Gear Solid uses Tron for its visual style. Compared to Thomas Was Alone, this is a huge leap beyond what could be typically seen as the indie comfort-zone. In fact, the whole idea is not to go in and kill every enemy on the screen, a feat impossible in this game. Instead the idea is not to be seen at all, using misdirection and stuns to distract the guards.

Playing at the first day of EGX meant I got to experience the game before the demo was cut. Two tutorial levels introduced me to the idea of hugging walls to avoid being seen, using the Bugle to emit sounds from specific points to lure guards, and manipulating the action to best suit my plans. Ignore the text at your peril, advice one particular player should have taken heed.

Volume   How I Fell Back In Love With Tactical Espionage Action

The first proper level provided me with a poser. Three guards not only near the item needed to open the gate to the next level, but also the two access points. If you just ran in with careless abandon, the switch would trigger, causing the closest guard to turn and open fire because he heard the switch go off. This particular level tests your ability to lean against walls. By doing so, guards won’t see you if there is a wall in the way. As Metal Gear Solid did a similar thing, this level wasn’t too tricky.

A second level took full advantage of the Bugle – a weapon that can be used to emit sounds from far away – if used right. The way it works is you push and hold the left mouse button to release a shot. It is only when you let go that a sound is emitted. If a guard is in range, they will go to the point where the shot sounded. If you just left clicked like a normal shooter, the enemy will come to the position the sound emitted – which is where you’re standing. It’s a rather tense mechanic, but also one that grants an unparalleled sense of accomplishment when done right. Hiding in lockers was also demonstrated.

Volume   How I Fell Back In Love With Tactical Espionage Action

The last one initially felt a little too easy though as the Blackjack stuns foes for a short time. What isn’t initially apparent is that when they recover, they not only run around actively looking for you, but they alert fellow guards. Since these guards come in both moving and stationary modes, it’s pretty interesting to see how they interact with new gadgets.

Volume is a love letter to the PlayStation era of Hideo Kojima’s ground-breaking game, but that doesn’t mean it’s not without a few of its own tricks up its sleeve [Ed - hope you got your head around that triple negative]. It’s worth noting that what we saw was the bare bones of the content Volume has to offer, with more being revealed in the coming weeks and months. Certainly one of my favourites at EGX this year, which considering the amount of talent shown in the indie scene at the moment is quite the triumph.

Mike Bithell On Why The Success Of Thomas Was Alone Speaks Volumes

A world where the indie developers can make it in a big way is an awesome place to live. Big dreams start small, but over the course of the past few years there have been more and more unique choices for gamers than the triple-A standard. More interesting games have resulted, with perhaps one of my favourites being Thomas Was Alone – a game made by Mike Bithell. Since its launch, the game has seen ports to consoles, numerous nominations, and many fans. I recently caught up with Mike as he was showing off his newest creation: Volume – to the masses at Eurogamer Expo 2013.

1HP: How did you get started in the games industry?

Mike Bithell: I first did a game design degree before going  to Blitz Games who unfortunately shut down last week. I then went to Bossa Studios and it was whilst I was at Bossa that in my own time I made Thomas Was Alone.

Where did the idea for Thomas Was Alone come from?

I have always liked platformers and liked the idea to make one about working with a small team – forming a pile to get something. I also liked the idea of using different abilities together to solve puzzles, so it all flowed quite nicely together!

Mike Bithell On Why The Success Of Thomas Was Alone Speaks Volumes

Were there any difficulties in the games’ creation?

The only difficult thing really was that I had a job at the same time, making Thomas Was Alone in the evenings and weekends, finding the time to get that done. But it’s been so successful that I can now do my own thing and have the time to do it – having gone fully independent in February 2012.

How do you feel about the reception that Thomas Was Alone got after its reveal and launch?

It was surprising because it was just a hobby game! For some people it hit a nerve, so the fact it’s been so successful means that I can now make something a lot more advanced.

How did Danny Wallace get on board?

I was writing the script and was also researching actors’ writing and ways of talking that I liked, which included Danny Wallace’s audio books. As I was listening to his audio books, I began writing in his kind of style, yet knew that I wouldn’t do it. So I tried to find a voice actor who could deliver those lines in the way I wanted.

But then I got drunk one day and emailed Danny Wallace’s email address or some weird fan site. So I emailed him and said “Hey dude!”, told him about the game and sent him some of the script, telling him he’d be perfect for this. He said yes, so after contracts and agents had been sorted out he was on board.

Mike Bithell On Why The Success Of Thomas Was Alone Speaks Volumes

Do you think Danny Wallace’s involvement pretty much sealed the deal and made the game the success that it was?

I think he made the script feel funnier, adding warmth and humanity which really pushed the story and yeah – was a big part of why Thomas Was Alone was successful.

It’s also fair to say that the writing was also spectacular, giving each shape their own individual persona. The narrative was one of the highlights of the game, but the platforming stood out as well. How did you come up with so many different variations on platforming?

With pain and difficulty! It’s just a process of elimination, constantly trying to teach the player through the learning process, and see what happens.

Okay, so that’s probably enough on Thomas Was Alone, as your newest game Volume is playable on the show floor. For those who don’t know, what is it about?

It is about a man in a warehouse who uses a virtual reality environment called Volume to simulate crime. I’m not going to say any more about the story because I’m keeping it secret. We’ve got a big announcement at Game City in October about what that is, who the cast are, that kind of stuff.

Mike Bithell On Why The Success Of Thomas Was Alone Speaks Volumes

What would you say your goals are for this game?

Really to capture the style of stealth game I loved as a kid. It’s very much about quick arcadiness, understanding what’s going on really quickly and reacting to that environment, and also try to push it beyond room clearing.

The way I usually play stealth games is by going into a room with say five guys, breaking all their necks, leave the room and move on. That doesn’t feel like stealth because I feel powerful in that situation, in charge and control.

So by making it so you can’t kill anyone, the balance is shifted so you rely more on survival and escaping danger, making it seem more interesting.

Would you say it’s fair to say that it closely resembles the original Metal Gear Solid, mixed with Tron?

I like that actually! It certainly has those traits. It was the game I started designing the day I finished Metal Gear Solid, but I’ve been changing it in my head ever since. It totally has those roots. You see a lot of indie developers though creating game based on their own nostalgia, but I’m a bit younger – so the games I grew up on were the likes of Metal Gear Solid. So really it’s a nostalgic nod to what I liked as a kid!

Thomas Was Alone made us care about the shapes, due to the excellent writing and narration, as well as the solid platforming experience. Does Volume bring something as ambitious to the table?

Yes.

Could you tell us?

I think the biggest part is the user generated aspect, how it brings the players into the storytelling. I can’t say anything more than that, but that’s what I’m aiming for – allowing players to tell their own stories.

Mike Bithell On Why The Success Of Thomas Was Alone Speaks Volumes

What platforms is Volume coming to?

It’s actually launching on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita first and then about a month later it will come out on PC, Mac, SteamOS.

How has it been developing for the PlayStation 4?

So far so good, but in fairness it is built in the Unity Game Engine I’m using, so I’m not directly interacting with the console. But it is a very powerful machine!

So Volume is coming out next year I take it?

Mid to late 2014 yeah.

It was an absolute pleasure speaking to Mike Bithell, so I’d like to thank him for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk to us. I’d also like to thank Daz Watford – Concept Art designer for Volume – for his insight on why there are no circles/rounded objects aside from eyes. Apparently it’s because the fans of Thomas Was Alone thought Mike’s next game would predominantly feature circles, so he’s made everything angled – much to the annoyance of the 3D modelling team!

Five levels were on show for the first day, two tutorial levels and three rather challenging levels. This was apparently shortened the following days, so we will be bringing you full coverage soon!