Category: First Looks

Last year, on October the 28th, a team called Too Kind Studios started a Kickstarter Campaign for the game shown above. As you might have brilliantly deduced, said campaign was successful. What you may have also deduced by the existence of this article is that I was contacted by someone representing their team to do a review upon the games release.

The game will be officially released on the 21st with the full review.

As for the game as it is now, I haven’t played any of it (yet) and in addition to announcing its release date, here’s my impressions on the game based on the information provided by their PR campaign.

For those of you who haven’t checked out the Kickstarter campaign or the GreenLight on Steam , the game is basically about a young boy with sever PTSD who suffers terrible nightmares. His father comforts him each night with a special bedtime story that his folks told him. The story goes like this:

That’s the basic premise of the story; you are a hero named Pankapu, upon which the game is named, and you get to save the dream world from nightmares Action RPG Platformer style. The game itself is told through the eyes of the young boy whose listening to the story being told by his father. It is a living testament to a concept in game design referenced as “Mechanics as Metaphor” and promised to be a fun game with a moving backstory that tells of the struggle through past trauma. The game will be released in the form of “episodes” that resonate the same style as an adventure game from Telltale, in the sense that the game will tell a complete story in fragmented parts that will be sold separately. Only 1 has been completed, and will be sold on steam for $4.99.

My Impressions

The game Pankapu reminds me of another game which also included RPG elements in an Action Platformer. Ever hear of a game called “TOMBA!”? For those of you who haven’t, its basically about a pinked haired Tarzan wannabe who fights evil pigs with magical powers. It was released for the first Playstation console, it was colorful, imaginative, and borrowed themes and tropes from every fantasy story you could think of, and does it in a way that is beautifully animated and colorful. TOMBA! was very well recieved in its day, and was one of my favorite games growing up. Pankapu seems to be going the same direction, but with a slightly more serious tone as it sets up its more fantastic elements as a metaphor for a story that inspires a child in need.

The quality of the narrative will lean heavily on this metaphor, and I can only hope to see the nature of the boys’ trauma revealed as the game progresses. The nightmare creatures that you are inevitably going to be slashing and shooting throughout the game provide ample opportunity to reveal backstory as to what it actually was that gave the child PTSD. Different creatures can represent different people or events that happened in the child’s past that reflect on a rather unfortunate set of circumstances; or worse, be the results of outright abuse. Such a theme remains compelling not only due to the unique way its being told, but in the idea that the story is there to help the child overcome it.

The graphics of the game look polished, the animations are smooth, and the cinemas seem to rely very much on the Max-Payne style “Motion Graphic Novel” approach in which your not so much seeing a cinema as you are a slideshow with word balloons. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and for the low low price of $4.99 and the fact that this is a small game that was just recently kickstarted, you can hardly blame the developers and art team for cutting corner. Plus, none of this seems to compromise the quality of the game. Just don’t expect anyone’s lips to move and to have voiceovers mixed heavily with big and thick dialogue boxes and captions.

The class system seems to be very utilitarian and splits on the classic Warrior/Archer/Mage split that seems to permeate so many action RPGS. They aren’t named that of course, and I can say for sure that the naming conventions of everything in this world is…well… kinda obscure. Heck, even the child’s name is hard to pronounce, and every creature and character’s name seems to be taken out of a forgotten over pronounced back page of the Silmarillion. I get that this is supposed to be a dream world, and I also get the hint that the world the child actually lives in isn’t all that different, but even so, staple characters tend to benefit when the audience can remember and pronounce their names. But I digress.


Regardless, the game itself seems to be a lot of fun. The controls seem straightforward enough to be simple to learn and easy to master, and I look forward to cycling through classes and leveling up to find the perfect combos and earn that shiny new ability. I just hope that the way such abilities are used and rendered take advantage of the action platformer system that doesn’t feel slapped on or too reliant on the ol’ skinner-box mentality. The game itself looks promising, and I will be disclosing just how much of a prophet I am once I play the game through and through. Look forward to mentioning more of it on the 21st. Till next time.

 

I was wondering when this would happen. Seems inevitable; new consoles come out, new games come out for it. Plus, since Call of Duty is considered the game among games by publishers, it’s no surprise that Activision would launch one for next gen. Given the rising emphasis on future tech in the franchise itself, it’s even less surprising that they named it what they did and have it take place in the future. To top off this move by Activision’s PR machine, we have Kevin Spacey as… Some business guy who might wanna become a dictator? Whatever. He’s obviously going to be the “bad guy”. In a game that isn’t particularly good at making memorable¬†bad guys.

Yeah.

Kevin Spacey

Cynicism aside, this does look like it will at least be another festival for the eyes. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare has¬†next generation graphics that shine like diamonds on the surface of every object. The special effects flare up like sparks of nova on the sun. And the animations, even on the face, look not only detailed but are rendered both realistic and expressive. Somewhat. Kevin Spacey seems to be the core of this games star power, and will more then likely get the lions share of the acting. While his body movements are fluid enough, his face seems to be stuck in one place, at least in the trailer above. The E3 trailer that debuted ¬†recently suggests better animations for the face of the soldiers; a good thing, since even with Kevin Spacey as star, we will most likely see a lot more high tech soldiers then him. Speaking of which…

Soldier

One thing that actually does have me at least a little excited is the new weaponry they introduce in the game. They are making it even more high-tech then before, since this takes place in the year 2054. They seem to take a hint from the GI Joe movies nobody loves so much and gives the marines of 2054 mechanical exoskeletons that make them stronger. A little gimmicky, but it serves the purpose of simplifying melee and allows you to manipulate the environment more. They already ripped out car doors to use as a shield and kick open doors that are barred. I’d like to see what that kind of strength can do to a person’s head-or a robot’s arm. Confirmed is a battery powered rifle with infinite ammo; assuming you don’t overheat it. Also confirmed are grenade that can change their function with a push of a button. Such functions include the classic frag grenade, a thermal image device that shows the position of every enemy in bright neon, and a neat concept called a smart grenade, which basically makes the grenade rocket propelled and home in on a nearby target. That could be useful for throwing around corners. You also get boosters, which are like a limited jet pack that soften your fall. This will probably annoy veteran gamers, but my favorite feature showed thus far would probably be the shield drone. Apparently, you can link yourself somehow to ¬†drone, and control it as you move around. The shield drone moves right in front of you, blocking enemy fire, highlighting targets, and even lowers it defenses when you aim your weapon, so you can fire back when you have the shield on. Definitely a better option then the old riot shield of yore.

Heavy Gunner

It’s not confirmed completely what the main story is, but from viewing the source website, it is strongly implied that it has heavily to do with private military corporations, or PMCs. Call of Duty wouldn’t be the first game to do this, as Metal Gear Solid 4 comments heavily on their usage and was published more then half¬†a decade ago. I would bet good money that the scene with Kevin Spacey is at the headquarters of a major mercenary corporation, and the backstory has something to do with his character’s company becoming a national threat in some way. How remains to be seen exactly, but I bet most of the guys shot up in the E3 demo were mercenaries of a rival corporation.

High Tech

IN closing, this looks to be a fun game for the average adrenaline junkie, mediocre for the narratively inclined, and another staple of the COD franchise to all parties involved. I could get into detail about how it recycles the Michael Bay zeitgeist of american white guys saving the day from something scary and different for the umpteenth time, but that is another article for another time.

If that kind of trailer didn’t make your mouth water, you aren’t a fan of Batman or the Arkham video game series. I happen to be both, and as a word of warning, I am pretty excited about this new game based off of this trailer alone, so don’t expect me to be %100 percent impartial.

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Then again, any nerd worth his word is going to recommend this game based off of Facebook hearsay alone. Memes expressing positive emotions ranging from satisfaction to pure ecstasy are littering their comment boards, and the trailer above was released only recently.

The excitement is not without reason, either. Rocksteady studios, the guys who make the Batman Arkham series¬†the Batman Arkham series is back in the game. Literally. They are the original studio that made the first game Arkham Asylum and the legendary Arkham City. The only Arkham games that haven’t made its mark was its last game Arkham Origins and the Blackgate game for handheld systems, and that was when Rocksteady took a hiatus. Having the team back along with Kevin Conroy as Batman puts most of my misgivings as ease right off the bat. Add an in game Batmobile with amphibious assault capabilities and your golden. I sure as shooting am not the only person who feels this way about it either.

This is, of course, the industry hype machine hard at work. Actual gameplay footage have not even been released yet, and already people are ready to camp outside to wait for their copy. Hundreds of thousands of people. We probably won’t see any actual gameplay until E3 shows it off to the public. I’ll be sure to update when that happens.

What I will say about both the trailer and the screenshots included herin is that they are beautiful. Gorgeous. Trickles of rain practically sparkle on the reflective shield plates of the Bat mobile as the glowing headlights shine through the front wheels. Harley Quinn’s color scheme is as bright¬†and well contrasted as ever, and her smile is practically photogenic. While it is easy to dismiss pretty much the entire trailer as a non interactive cut scene or movie reel, the game is only launching for PC and both the PS4 and Xbox One, both of which have the technology to make this look possible. This is probably going to be the most graphic intensive Arkham game of the series, and if the hype is to be believed, the final one.53152bdca7a36

From a Narrative perspective, it makes sense to make this the last hurrah for the trilogy, although I have a nagging suspicion that if this game does as well as they hope, Warner Bros. is going to make at least five more games in this series with or without Rocksteady. It happens all too often; A game completes its story, goes gold, and to make even more gold the publishers milk it for as many publications as possible, with plot lines that jog in place. They do this to make money, secure the brand, and keep the interest alive long enough for the team to possibly come back to make lighting strike twice. That’s why they¬†made Halo 4.

A bigger concern then the possibility of the Arkham game mill churning long after the series finale is the the villain they made for the game. While the prospect of a super creative team like Rocksteady adding a new villain to a franchise that is famous for having some of the best villains seems promising, the concept they are pitching us seems to be more then a little lack luster.

He is literally called the Arkham Knight.

They are basically just making a Dark Knight Doppelgänger. While the comic book and video game industries are no stranger to having heroes literally face themselves, the fact that they pretty much just redesigned the character slightly seems a bit lazy if not repetitive. Whats more is that if the screenshot below is any indicator, they might have an even simpler premise for the new villain that is even less original then you might think

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That’s right; he’s got a gun in his hand. While being anti-death and anti-gun is almost at the core of Batman’s being as a character and a central part of his moral compass and internal conflict, this scenario has been played out before again and again in comics and animated movies. Ever hear of the Red Hood? If you have, you probably are already seeing a bunch of parallels stack up with him and the Arkham Knight. If you haven’t heard of the Red Hood, all you really need to know is that he is a resurrection of an older version of Robin who rides a motorcycle, wears a leather jacket and Red Hood/Helmet, fights crime, and isn’t afraid to kill criminals with guns. WB even released a straight to DVD animated feature starring him and the Joker as primary antagonists. The center conflict was why didn’t Batman kill the Joker even after the Joker killed Robin. Yeah; that kind of thing actually happened in the comics. The resolution was that once you kill a person, you can’t take it back, and that Batman always finds a way to solve problems and fight crime without killing anyone. If the Arkham Knight turns out to be Robin, and they end up arguing about how to protect the city without killing people, the fans are gonna roll there eyes, and I will be the first in a very long line to do so.

But frankly, even if the game’s storyline is a little hackneyed, it will have shine to spare and plenty of side missions and amusement to more then make up for it. I already am seeing some good design decisions being made, and most of them revolve around the brand new mechanic that much of it’s PR is centered around-the Batmobile.

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The way they made the Batmobile seems brilliant. While it is cool that you can basically drive over water, that speaks more of a smart design decision then simply a cool mechanic; it solves the problem of crashing the car into the water and negates the need for invisible walls outside the game’s world border. Plus, it would make sense that a billionaire vigilante who wants the best tactical advantage over the worst of the worst super criminals to invest in a vehicle that can double as both a performance car and a speedboat. Chasing criminals over multiple kinds of terrain should be a breeze. It also seems to incorporate a pretty standard feature in the Batmobile that works both as a game mechanic and a way to avoid design problems. It uses AI to control itself and come back to Batman. This has been done before, with things like Epona’s song in Zelda, so it shouldn’t be hard to execute it. Plus, giving it commands like a Titan in Titanfall makes sense both from a development point and from the story mode. Batman is always controlling his car remotely in all his iterations, often to good dramatic and tactical effect. I look forward to speeding over the water, ejecting from my Batmobile, gliding over the bridge, and letting my trusty vehicle take most of the damage while providing cover fire as I dive down on a sniper. Genius.

Plus, even if the core villain seems a little weak, the central plotline holds some promise. The voiceover at the beginning of the trailer more then likely30e3662ac42f11e3b4b60002c955ec9a_6 belongs to the Arkham Knight, and it may very well be him/her declaring martial law. The villains seem to be taking the city by storm in a way that seems less stilted and preachy then the end of Dark Knight Rises. Plus, having multiple gangs cooperating and arming themselves suggests some kind of truce to their power struggle suggest something big is going on. That, and the mass evacuation over the bridge, plus the armed gunmen chasing down cops rather then vice versa. The Joker is rumored to reappear in this game despite the ending to Arkham City, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see his ugly face under the Arkham Knight’s helmet (Spoiler alert!). Rocksteady made great plot twists and drama in the past, and they might do it again one last time.

The website says it will be released in 2014, but rumors are starting to circulate that there might be a delay in its release to 2015. They are unconfirmed at the time of this post, but in the event they are true, I would actually be thrilled. Yes, I hope they do delay the game another year and so should you. Why? Because good games take time, and great games take a lot of work and a lot of time. The Sistine Chapel wasn’t built in a day, and if it was, it wouldn’t be the Sistine Chapel. Rocksteady would be wise to put their labor, their love, and some TLC into this project, and if they need another nine months to give birth, so be it.1c5bbed8a3f911e3b7650e1e7e7c6e3f_6

I will be reviewing this game as soon as I can.

 

 

Ah, Watch Dogs.

If you’ve been watching video game review sites other then mine, you more then likely saw trailers similar to the one above. If you have, you may also be aware that Watch Dogs was scheduled originally for last Christmas but was delayed up until its current release on May 27th this year. That may be a good thing, since it might mean that Ubisoft is going the extra mile to polish off bugs and nuances in the game before its finished. Then again, it could also be due to the fact that they found something that broke the game and they needed a deadline push to get it sorted out. That would imply the original beta was a horrid abomination and we will get to see the stitches popping out right before summer. Or worse yet, someone with a lot of weight to throw around at Ubisoft wanted to make some “last minute changes” and Watch Dogs was pushed back to accommodate his or her wishes. This is the worst case scenario, since it implies that instead of fixing the game, they needed more time to ruin it. To extend the previous analogy, it would be like taking another six months to let the lead doctor jam in some weird and unworkable contraption after the game’s open heart surgery. Take it from a game dev; stupid ideas that don’t work kill a game faster then anything else. That’s why companies like EA have such a good reputation (word to the wise; they don’t).

Cynicism aside, Watch Dogs does look like an interesting game, despite flaws already popping up. Fun fact; unlike most game journalists who salivate over the upcoming game trailers and fall for their publisher’s PR campaigns like a Halo game on a stick, I tend to try and find flaws first and then save any potential butt kissing that’s left for when the game is already out. That way if a game really is good, it’s a pleasant surprise, and if it’s bad, no one’s disappointed. As much as I want a press past for next years E3, I would be dishonest to say they didn’t cater to this kind of pandering that most game reviewers fall into, and only greats like “Yahtzee” from the Escapist seem to have the guts to go against it. I like to think I provide a more balanced view by putting my Cynicism toward the hype and my praise toward the game. After all, which matters more? The Watch Dogs promo pieces, or the quality of the game itself? I beg to differ.

Instead of bombarding you with excitement, fanboy drool, and biased favoritism, I will instead give you a look at two other trailers straight from the Watch Dogs youtube channel that depict the game itself in action, followed quickly by my analysis.

If you can describe to me where you’ve seen this kind of talk before, kudos to your game rep. If not, be warned that this is the same kind of push trailer released for:

  • Red Dead Redemption
  • LA Noir
  • Assassin’s Creed 3
  • Fallout 3
  • Skyrim
  • and Grand Theft Auto from 3 all the way up to 5 and beyond

The only game on the list actually made by Ubisoft is, at least from that list, the worst. People constantly criticize the poor character quality of its star lead, the gameplay was more then a little stilted, and the “Open World” concept didn’t venture very far AT ALL. These are the guys making Watch Dogs. Yikes. These trailers are harder to find then I first thought, and in the interest of being topical, I will post them in a later Update of this post.

Moving on; While the “Open World” angle has easily become the new cliche’, One thing I will give Ubisoft credit for is approaching the concept differently-at least in a purely mechanical game design capacity. Instead of merely stealing cars and blowing the police away in between network hacks, you actually play in a dynamic environment that has as much people traffic as it does for vehicles. What’s more is that everyone seems to have a computer and/or a smart phone, and you can hack their Wi-Fi space to actively profile them, track them, steal from them, or rescue them. This is really interesting, since it makes the world a lot more detailed, and has the capacity to tell not just one story, but tens of thousands. It tends to oversimplify the actual act of hacking by basically giving you access to CTOS, which is basically the chief surveillance program of “the man”. In short, you become a surrogate big brother every time you tap their systems.

The Way you do tap into their systems is obviously inaccurate, and the dev team missed an opportunity to put a great character from real life into their story, but to get into that is an article in and of itself. To see what I mean directly, here is an extend gameplay trailer that might illustrate a few of my points.

To be clear, the idea of government surveillance and loss of privacy to digital distribution is an awesome high concept. It is the zeitgeist of our times, the thing that is most controversial today in the decades following 9/11. Watch Dogs seems to be grasping feverishly at this concept, making you both a vigilante taking on the system, and a hacker who can be a surrogate big brother unto himself. The stories that come from simply peering into other peoples lives is staggering, and no doubt players will spend just as much time exploring the inside of peoples homes as they will the streets of near-future Chicago.

Thing that worries me thought is that not only would you need a high number of writers to make the narrative of all the NPCs work, but a high number of¬†good¬†writers. Writers who know their craft almost as much as the medium they are writing for. Unless you work for a great company like 2K games or Naughty Dog, both of which have games that are legends in Video Game Narration, you are likely to see a very limited number of writing talent in your studio, and most of them will be hired from¬†outside mediums. While Ubisoft has a fairly good history of making interesting backstories and decent enough writing, as far as character writing goes, I will remind you again that they invented Connor. People hate Conner, mostly because he’s as bland and as boring as you can get. If you watched the trailer I started this article with, you’ll see what amounts to a less moral, much more trigger happy Batman. Batman is a good character, but they seem to be cutting out most of his redeeming qualities and to be frank, his character archetype has been done TO DEATH! If you think I’m wrong, name ten video games that have a vigilante as a main character. Now name ten movie characters that are also vigilantes, and also dark and brooding. Case closed. The fact that they already stuck with such an overused and increasingly unredeemable character makes it hard to care about him. Plus, if they botched the¬†center piece of their story that badly, I shutter to think what would happen when they need to write voice acting or text messages for the 10,000+ minor characters whose privacy we will be invading. If I see more then 100 lols and ttyls with little to no context in between, I wouldn’t be surprised.

To end this first look with a silver lining, I will merely list a number of things it did right. Very right. I look forward to reviewing this game intensely, and will either skewer it for what it’s worth, or be pleasantly surprised. I hope you are too.

List of Good things

  • Excellent Cinematography. That scene with the shopkeep sounding the alarm over you had the perfect camera angle. Lets hope they keep up the good work
  • Awesome Graphics-Not surprising, since it has such a high budget and powerful platforms.
  • Cool reactionary ¬†karma system- having the consequences affect your actions as directly as they did was something that could only be carefully planned.
  • Again, awesome high concept-If indie devs don’t follow the same rabbit hole these guys did, I will be dissappointed.
  • Intuitive hacking system-this is almost a flaw, since it might not challenge some gamers enough, but its perfect for the casual market
  • Good exploration of choice-I can be a gung ho shooter or an unseen hacker. Awesome
  • Interesting upgrade possibilities-I think this will appeal to me more then anyone, since I’m a sucker for RPG stats. Might seem too “skinner box” for some.
  • And Finally, the idea of “tapping” into someone elses game online to hack them is a stroke of genius. That system alone is worth the 70 bucks you will have to drop for this game. I guess online multiplayer is the new playground for AAA games

That’t it for now. I will be updating this post yet again when the Active Critique, review, and adjoining articles are done. Look for the links below during the next two months.

If you are not somebody I know, ignore this; I KNOW WHERE YOU WORK TYLER!

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Okay, I’m back. To be clear, this is the VERY first Iphone game review. It is the app of someone I know, but I do not work for him and I plainly do not care about offending him in any way, so this is as objective as its going to get.

Queen of space is a basic tap and move game where you touch the screen and slide your finger across to move a colored triangle in a position to catch circles of the same color with the same symbol. Easy to pick up, not so easy to master. Like geometric wars and the like, you are navigating through a rejected Pink Floyd concert version of space complete with weird geometic shapes, odd symbols, and pop rock music in the background. You can turn the music off if you like, and if the premise seems too simple, you can switch it to hard mode. Plus it keeps track of high scores. I dare you to beat the dev team.

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I could easily end the review then and there, but to give you an idea of weather or not you want to download it (I’d say buy it, but its free as dirt) I will give this game a proper seven word synopsis. If nothing else, I do belive that the new medium on our smartphones is just as good a platform for gaming as your nintendo DS, minus the hefty price of a DS cartridge.

As always, we start with the good.

Simple, Relaxing

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Few games on any system can claim to the description above. Some can be simple, but very few manage to actually relax players into a state of trance. Those that do can barely even be called games. Queen of space, through its bright colors, strangely soothing rock melodies, and progressive flow of gameplay elements, playing Queen of Space is right up there with laying in bed with a pair of head phones listening to the rock group Queen. Even on hard, the game does little to punish you at all, and its easy to restart without problem and having a high score you can compare to the developers put this in place for both the most and least competitive gamer out there. For the low low price of free.

There are some drawbacks.

Shallow, Repetitive

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If you get bored easily, or need something that engages you in more then one way, you might wanna spend some money on something else. One thing that Iphone apps lack that mainstream games do not is depth and complexity of gameplay. This is due mostly to the simple touch screen. This game has the same problem for the same reasons, and can easily become the kind of thing you clear off your Iphone desktop when you need storage space. Unless you want something you can waste time with when you are burnt out past the point of intellectual reasoning, you might wanna play something else. IF you don’t care, play this game and remember why its free.

Free Abnegation App

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I might have mentioned this before, but to reiterate Abnegation means that you basically need to spend time on something relaxing, simple, and unobtrusive. There are two ways to do this with electronic games; one is to grind levels in an RPG like Diablo 3. The other is to move a spaceship past obstacles. If you don’t mind replacing a spaceship with a color changing triangle, this app is worth downloading. Island Officials makes money off the adds here, so its free as Evernote. I will list your name in this review if you can get the hight score. Not kidding

Queen of Space App Review

Queen of Space App Review

Queen of Space

 

Simple Relaxing

 

Shallow Repetitive

 

Free Abnegation App

Next Item will be

Rust Image

Promise this time ūüôā

 

 

Okay. Before any of you call me out on this; I know. I am basically using first look articles to go down the list of things already covered at E3. I am climbing slowly but steadily the ladder of the video game blogosphere, ¬†I was not able to attend this year, and its high time I caught up with the rest of the world. On that same note, I will be turning most of the “video projects” that are currently holding me back into written articles. I need to make a habit of streamlining my work by making a tight schedule with a solid backup plan should anything bog down. I am shooting, filming, acting out, scripting, editing, and adding special effects to all my videos by my lonesome. Unless someone out there wants to help me for cheap, it’s going to take a while for me to catch up. I will still try to crank out videos every weekend, but until I can make my own deadline with one, you’ll have to settle for my finely printed words. You guys come first, not the videos.

Don’t worry; I will have everything in full swing by the time Christmas rolls out, and I got a big surprise planned for all of you to reward your kindness and patience. It’ll be worth it. You’ll see.

 

In the meantime, lets continue the first look streak I have going on here, and take a look at the opening trailer sponsoring the upcoming 3D shooter by PopCap games,

 

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

Cool, huh? For those of you not familiar with the Plants vs. Zombies game, it was basically a tower defense game made by PopCap games, the same company responsible for Bejeweled and other web arcade classics. To put it bluntly, the game goes like this; your house is on the left of the screen, and the zombies are coming in from the right. The majority of the game takes place on your lawn and the lawn is separated by squares. By gathering “sun” from the sky and from your sunflowers, you can grow plants on each square that can combat the zombies. Pea shooters shoot peas, potatoes act like land mines, chili peppers are like bombs, and like I said earlier, sunflowers produce sun. This is, of course, just a few examples of a continually expanding universe flooded with different plants and zombies that go from disco zombies to flaming stumps that light shooting peas on fire. Really.

The game started out as a web-only computer game on PopCap’s website, then expanded to both a Facebook adventure game and a direct sequel for the smartphone. Come February 18th, Garden Warfare will debut for the Xbox One, followed closely by it’s release on the Xbox 360. The results look promising, as always, but that’s never an excuse to let your guard down. Here’s what I see so far.

The roster so far. Image from PopCap.com

The roster so far. Image from PopCap.com

So far it looks like something that the dev team wanted to do, as opposed to need. With all the speculation surrounding how consoles are becoming the new arcade machines (in the sense that they are becoming outdated and might be replaced), bringing their game from mobile digital distribution to console almost seems like a step backwards. That being said, the characters look just as good in 3 dimensions as they did animated in two, and it looks like almost everything you see in the first game is making their appearance here.

I was a little worried when I first saw this that PopCap was simply making another cheap Call of Duty clone, but from what I read and see in the gameplay trailer, it takes important elements from both their own game and more innovative shooting games like Team Fortress 2. The roster seems set up neatly; you got the classic Pea shoot as a kind of machine gunner/grenade launcher combo. Classic for most shooters in general. We have the Chomper, who is mentioned as a melee fighter, but seems to play almost like a stealth character since it can burrow underground untouched and kill enemies with one bite(much like they did with the game). The Sunflower is a healer with abilities akin to the Medic from again TF2. We have what I think is a new plant called the Cactus that shoots powerful spines over long distances. Can someone say…sniper?

The plants don’t just serve as characters, however. You saw the chili bean bomb, the potato mine by the cactus, and even a “garlic drone” that flys in the air and releases a “corn strike” that works like a missile strike in Call of Duty. Plus you have plants that can be potted to act as “turrets” that give you fire support in addition to your arsenal. Some shoot peas, others throw punches, all are good for covering a choke point in which zombies invade.

Also from PopCap.com. Zombie Engineer!

Also from PopCap.com. Zombie Engineer!

Zombies get similar treatment, but mostly as enemies in this example; we got the regulars, the cone head, the bucket heads, which both seem tougher. Since this is a more traditional-style game, we also got bosses like the Disco Zombie you saw and/or the giant celebrating “bring your imp to work day”. Such a tone is reminiscent of the cartoonish flavor all too familiar with fans of the series.

It’s hard to notice, but if you listen carefully at the beginning, you can hear the team start off by placing a “home garden” before playing. I have no idea what this is, but if my prior experience playing video games amounts to anything, I have a few educated guesses.

First guess is that it is the home base; a vulnerable home base that needs to be protected. Like the briefcase in Team Fortress’ “Capture the Flag” mode, this is something your team needs to protect and the other team needs to destroy. There is already evidence of possible zombie playable characters sporting their own firearms, plus the recent introduction of a “Boss mode” where you can manipulate zombies RTS style on your tablet or console device. Both suggest team based competition, and destroying the enemies garden will probably be on the zombie teams agenda, while destroying the cemetery or mansion will be the plant teams goal. It’s pure speculation, of course, but follows the formula for multi-player modes to the tee.

Second guess is that the garden will serve more as a safe house. Not unlike the other FPS zombie title, Left 4 Dead, the garden will be a place where you can stock up on ammo and gadgets, which probably include extra peas, spikes for the cactus, more chili bombs and potato mines and other good stuff. I didn’t see any ammo gauges for that, though, so its even more likely a place to stock up on health and-or a spawn point when you lose a life. Either way, while it will be seen primarily as a place to “Stock Up”, I doubt it will be safe unless you do the same thing in this game you did in every other Plants vs Zombies game; work hard to defend it.

Third guess is a roster base; i.e. a place where you can switch weapons and characters without pausing the game. You basically play your plant as best you can, and when you need a new weapon or plant altogether, you go back to the garden and switch things up. In this case, you might not even need to protect it, since you can plant another one and you only haver to make sure you don’t run out of lives.

Garden Warfare seems like the type of game that is unnecessary but inevitable. With the rise of online and mobile games, and Plants vs Zombies being one of the crown jewels in both now, it seems only natural that the game franchise expands to one of the few platforms left. Let’s just hope they put the same passion in this game that they did in their previous games, and cross our fingers come 2/18.

Update:

For those of you who are also reviewing video games, take heed; check the source before assuming you know it all. Apparently zombie classes are official in this game and have already been showcased on video at Popcap.com . Check it out!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OydbE1Mb7pg

Today we are going to have another first look at a game that isn’t out yet. I had several games on the backburner for this, so lets start with something that’s been out a while on the news circuit but isn’t out on GameStop shelves just yet. ¬† As you might have guessed, the title of this game is

 

logo property of Bethesda Software, image borrowed from http://raidwarning.com/

logo property of Bethesda Software, image borrowed from http://raidwarning.com/

 

Made and Directed by Shinji Mikami, the man who first made the Biohazard series (known as Resident Evil in the USA) and credited with inventing survival horror, this game is what Resident Evil 6 should have been.

In case you haven’t been paying attention to the news in gaming lately, a lot of so called “horror” games have been sold in the last year, and not a lot of them truly earned the name “survival horror” game. Between games like Dead Space 3 and Resident Evil 6, it seems like most AAA companies are content to make an action shoot-em-up game using existing horror franchises and call them horror by having you fight monsters. This complaint is quite valid, as these games and others destroy the user’s experience when it comes to experiencing “horror”.

If your not familiar with the survival horror genre of video games, think of it this way; people who buy shooters want to experience something like a shooting gallery. An action packed, thrilling, war-simulating shooting gallery that forces you to strategize, to be more specific. They want to shoot things, blow things up, and hit the dirt before something explodes in their face. They want to feel like action heroes in a war movie. They want an adrenaline rush. When someone buys a game with the “survival horror” genre on its label, they expect something more akin to a haunted house. A real one, populated with things besides ghosts that can actually kill your character. They want to explore desolate and horrifying surroundings all by their lonesome and feel stark terror as they dare to peak around the next dark corner; and scream when something pops out with a chainsaw and a hockey mask! They want to feel their heart pounding and their hair stand on end. Games like Resident Evil 5 and 6 promised the latter…but delivered the former.

This isn’t surprising. Shinji Mikami was the genius who first made Resident Evil (called Biohazard in Japan) and with it single handedly invented survival horror as we know it. Never before have people actually been afraid of something while playing a game. He created the first Resident Evil by himself in the first half of development, and has always been the driving creative force behind every game up to Resident Evil 4. That is why games 5 and 6 feel more like your traditional action game then a real Resident Evil title; Mikami San wasn’t behind it. At all. And it showed.

These days, Mikami is the director of a company called Tango Gameworks, a small development studio that has recently teamed up with Bethesda to re-enter the survival horror genre. The Evil Within is the game they are making, and so far it looks VERY promising.

Check out this gameplay trailer they have on their website.

 

This is the first extended game play footage that has been shown on the internet, and from what I can tell they are taking all of the thing we love best in a survival horror game, and taking out the things that made most games from that genre suck eggs.

The chase scene with Mr. chainsaw reminds me of an old game called Clocktower. Does anybody remember that game? I heard that the first one was really good, and from what I can tell, all three games of the franchise followed the themes of slasher flicks more then your traditional adventure game. The game I played was Clocktower 3, and it…wasn’t a good experience. While it was neat to play a woman running for her life from one vicious psychopath after another, finding new ways to hide and evade terrifying madmen who tried to bash me with a hammer or boil me with acid (not kidding). Unfortunately, the gameplay were bogged down by cheesy “fear” effects that made it hard if not impossible to control the character. The idea was that the more “panicked” the main character got, the more she lost control. Sound in theory, but in practice I found myself running in the wrong directing and being completely unable to move when I needed to the most. Not a fun way to play a game.

From what I can glean, this game seems to start you off with this type of scenario, with you as an unarmed detective Sebastian playing hide and go seek with a silent but deadly psychopath that has the nickname of “The Butcher”. The situation is as terrifying as it gets, and its clear that our ill-fated hero is no match for the Butcher, especially when he gets his chainsaw out. So you have to duck down, take cover, hide where you can and head for the hills when you have to. To make matters worse, you accidentally trip the alarm as you try to slip out, and the Butcher manages to slice your hamstring while you try to escape. Even after he survives the spiraling death spikes, he still has to escape the madman up to the point where he is literally hobbling for his life. He’s scared, he’s helpless, and the player is still in complete control. Nicely done, Mikami-san.

Fast forward to part 2; perth house. Here we see the good detective making his way through a creepy manor in the dead of night. His only light is a lantern by his belt, but he is better armed this time. He has a six shooter with about 20 bullets, and has to load it by hand. This looks more like Mikami’s earlier work; in particular, the groundbreaking game Resident Evil 4, which drastically improved the camera and movement controls for the franchise as a whole. I see the same over-the-shoulder view, similar weapon selection as Resident Evil 5 & 6, plus multiple weapons of various capabilities. He’s got his handgun, some matches to light up corpses (where did we see¬†that before?) and, surprising enough, mine traps. In other trailers, we even see him with a shotgun in his hand as he faces miss spider demon with long hair.

The mine traps alone sound a bit over-powered, and he seems to have plenty for the zombie-like monsters that crash through the windows by the dozen. I half-expected them to blow up almost instantly, like the claymore or bouncy mine in Call of Duty. But apparently they are not perfect; Sebastian actually has to pump a few rounds in the monsters to hold them back, as the mine takes a few seconds to blow up after its been triggered. If that mine is what I think it is, this is actually a brilliant design decision. The Evil Within wiki hints at the possibility of using traps like the tripwire alarm and anything else against your enemies. If that trip mine is one of them, that means two things. One, the mine as a trap is easy to avoid if your paying attention and running in the right direction. That’s a relief, since it’s not something that will frustrate you while playing. But on the flip side, if you manage to disarm it and use it against guys like the pitchfork brigade or the Butcher, you might need to strategize a bit, since they take a while to detonate. I imagine it will be fun sneaking through tight corners to avoid being seen, trying as quickly as possible to place traps on both sides of a dangerous enemy. Or maybe two in a row, and let him chase me to his doom…

Also, the scripted events in between gameplay suggest that not all things are as they seem. Between the seemingly post apocalyptic scenery in one level, the typhoon of blood that magically changes the background in another, plus the sick looking logo of a human brain being wrapped in bloody barb wire, I’m beginning to wonder if the game world is even real to the protagonist. Or if that protagonist is sane to begin with. Such sanity bending plot twists and world altering horrors falls in line with the antics of that¬†other¬†genre defining game franchise that rose and fell in the land of the rising sun.

Silent_Hill_video_game_cover

Yes. That game.

Silent Hill games have literally wrote the book on putting tension and psychological horror in a video back before we had half the processing power in our games. Simple tricks like obscuring the background with fog and painting the town blood red after nightfall boosted the creep factor up to 11 in the days when games couldn’t even animate faces. I expect to see more tricks like this coming from a seasoned vet who is used to working with half the technology at his disposal. Go minimalism!

Unfortunately, the weird psychobabble isn’t the only thing this franchise is taking from the Silent Hill cannon. Remember Pyramid head? For those of you unfamiliar with Silent Hill, this is arguably the most iconic character from the game. Basically just a man with a toga skirt, a steel pyramid over his head (hence the name, a body part in one hand and a REALLY big sword ¬†in the other, covered in fresh blood. This thing pioneered the concept of a big guy who could kill you with one hit. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it Mr. Butcher?

But hold up, it gets even better. No only do they reuse the “One hit wonder” mechanic, but they got their own iconic psychopath that plagues their public image. He’s already on their Facebook account, and once I describe him, you might start to notice similar trends.

Ready? He’s a big, beefy guy in a butcher’s apron.

He has a bag of body parts in one hand.

He has a huge hammer in the other.

And over his head? A steel…vault box with a dial lock and barbed wire.

Every time him and Sebastian are in the same room, Sebastian’s hiding and he’s not. ¬†Seems like our detective friend might get killed if he’s caught.

Hang on; we just got to the best part; his name.

Wait for it…

This was a runner up on their Wikia art contest

This was a runner up on their Wikia art contest. Boxhead on the left, Pyramid head on the right.

Boxhead! Pure genius, amirite?

As original as their official unofficial mascot might be, that is not the main thing that concerns me.

My main concern is the simple fact that it is an open-ended mystery horror game being directed by a man who hasn’t changed his design habits since the 90s. Why is this a concern?

Well, lets think about this for a second; What other director is famous for making scary, horrifying, open-ended mystery trailers that don’t reveal what is really going on?

Anyone? If you answered the movie director M. Night Shama-lama-ding-dong, director of Sixth Sense and other plot-twisted-movie-tales, you win the grand prize!

The grand prize is…possible disappointment!

You should know just as well as I do that after making smash hits like the after mentioned Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, M. Night Shyamalan’s movie career took somewhat of a downward turn. He clinged to his trademark “plot twist” formula so hard that many of his movies were made of cheap suspense that lead nowhere until the very end, which revealed the answer in a disappointing way. Remember “The Happening”? If you haven’t seen it, don’t bother; lamest ending ever. All that mysterious suicidal circumstance was rationed away as some “mystrious spore”. What a twist!

The problem with mystery stories is that you can’t just tell one good story; you need to tell two. The mystery tells two stories; one of what actually happened and the other of the character’s investigating what’s going on. Biggest problem with M. Night and other mystery stories that blow is that they get one story down pat (the investigation) while completely ignoring or slapping together the other (usually the thing being investigated). The Evil Within seems to have a similar setup; mysterious circumstances, a weird plot to unravel, and a possible twist at the end. The investigation is pretty interesting so far, but will it lead to something worthwhile?

This does not bode well, unfortunately. Remember; big budget video games do NOT have a good track records when it comes to good acting or good endings. Mass Effect ¬†started out with an amazing concept that fizzled out at the ending of 3. Halo 2 started with some amazing twists that ended with a 2-year cliffhanger. Even indie games, like Amnesia:Machine for Pigs left a lot to be desired with the ending of their tale. It’s official; we game devs usually suck when it comes to the big finale.

True, there are plenty of games that do not fall into this trap; Bioshock:Infinite, The Last of Us, Uncharted 2 and 3. Problem is, they are manned by studios that invest heavily in the filming,scripting, and acting within their game. Naughty Dog and 2K Games are both good at that, and neither of them are working on The Evil Within. Only reputable person on this game made Resident Evil; a game notorious for bad scripting and worse acting and repetitive endings. It’s a new age and market, Makami-san, and you got your work cut out for you. God Speed.

I hope my doubts and despair are nought but hot air in the wind of an unmarked grave, and that The Evil Within brings to the survival-horror genre what it’s needed for a long time; Horror, wonder, and a need for survival.

I’ll be keeping you all posted as the news comes up, and you can expect a full review come its release in 2014. See ya!

This is going to be a special kind of article. The first of many, as the game industry has a VERY high turnout rate. As the title implies, this is going to be our first look at a video game that has yet to be released. If you are new to gaming, understand that is the norm, as development for video games is very time consuming and costly, even for smaller and simpler indie titles. As such, developments teams and game publishers alike need to make sure that the time spent building the game is time spent guaranteeing return value for their thousands, if not millions of dollars in investment. If you’ve played video games even for a short while, the title “First Look” might not even make sense to you, only because so much of game journalism in general is about covering big title games and their PR campaigns.

A first look does a little more then this; I basically do my homework, look into what this game has to offer and compare it to my experience both making and designing games. In other words, give you a good idea as what to expect rather then just reporting what was officially announced. Given the relative limited information on this game, and the way features and deadlines are always in flux during the development of games, I might have also a second, third, and maybe even a Release Report, where I detail the results of the release. Today we’ll be taking a first look at

 

Darkest Dungeon-Terror and Madness

 

Pretty cool trailer, huh? As the name, video, and concept suggests, this game is your basic dungeon crawling turn-based RPG; with a twist. Judging from their trailer, mechanics mentioned on their website, it seemed that the whole idea might have actually come from a pretty profound question asked by someone on the Dev team. That question is;

“What would fighting monsters in dark dungeons during the medieval age really be like?”Wallpaper_LosingItBigTime

At least that’s my first impression. The game is made by a small team of very experienced professionals from Vancouver called Red Hook Studios. There are only five of them working on the game and its production, so not surprisingly they addressed themselves much like the adventuring parties within their game. Complete with what looks like a pretty good glimse at how one of the game’s main features would be like; mainly, what they have dubbed the Affliction system. To be blunt, this system seems to be a more detailed and RPG adventure version of the “Sanity” system that has become of many lovecraftian horror games like Amnesia:the Dark Descent and Eternal Darkness. Huh. Come to think of it, a lot of games that have the word “Darkness” in it have a loss to the player character’s sanitkeep-calm-and-play-dark-souls-on-hardy. Except for Alone in the Dark; only the player itself was horrified. Not because it was scary, either. Anyway, the affliction system seems to work like a statistical version of Post Trauma, in which the more unpleasantness a party member experiences, the more emotional and psychological problems they develop in the game. This of course ranges from things like “It stinks in here” to more extreme events like “Holy S#!* that thing just ate our cleric!” kind of deal. If it becomes too much, you get problems like alcoholism, nihilistic rants, and phobias of whatever it was that distresses them. So yeah; this isn’t Final Fantasy.

If I had to compare the game to anything, it would be a low budget and turn based version of the game Dark Souls. Another game titled “Dark”. Go figure. I say that because the game looks like it intends to clamor to an adult audience and challenge them by raising the stakes of combat with things like permanent death of party members, increasing complications to combat, and the added threats of things like plague and discord between characters. If the team can do it just right, it will be the kind of game that is difficult but rewarding to master, not unlike Super Meat Boy or Dark Souls as mentioned above. If they screw it up, people will spend more time breaking their keyboards then experiencing its depth

Scarfed

The Highway Man

I’m still not sure if this is part of the game yet, but apparently your party members speak out their fears with dialogue bubbles that float over their head along with whatever affliction penalty they¬†receive based on circumstances. This runs the risk of become rather repetitive, as it can seem like more of a gimmicky push notice then a feature you would want. Nobody wants another Navii. But at the same time, this shows the promise of providing character development, as not all dialogues are directed as complaints; they seem to communicate to one another as well. Its way too early to make any assumptions, but if they can make these kinds of dialogues infrequent and dynamic enough, this can actually become the cornerstone of the game. Because its one thing to hear someone shout “The Darkness is overwhelming” 15 times every minute you play the game, but a whole different ball game to hear your party members engage in conversation. The results can be real interesting, so long as they exist in moderation.

Another thing that caught my eye was the fact that they weren’t conforming to the standard fighter/wizard/cleric/rouge formula to party classes. They didn’t post all of their classes yet, but the websites hints and points to classes that include:

The Highwayman, who brandishes a Dagger and Flintlock Pistol

The Plague Doctor; which suggests a class for curing diseases.

The Vestal, which I’m guessing is some kind of nun.

And the Barber-Surgeon, which can stitch up wounds while the party camps.

Which brings me to another feature that is both fascinating and somewhat familiar; the game lets you make tactical decisions while camping. This is a pretty innovative feature, as it promises both clever and non-combat ways to deal with challenges, and makes it possible to experience very engaging non-combat encounters. Especially since they are constantly pointing to choices you can make outside of combat to deal with their “Afflictions”. What really strikes a chord is the idea that some of these quirks bring bonuses as well as drawbacks, which promises profound decision making moments for the player.

The art is basically 2D marionettes, albeit very atmospheric and well drawn ones. I have no idea what the complete interface is going to look like, but from the trailer it seems like it will be split between what the party is doing, where on the map you are, and a meter measuring how much torchlight you got. Apparently making sure your torchlight is lit and burning is just one more issue your party needs to deal with besides murderous horrors and PTSD. Sometimes I’m glad I’m not a video game character.

The music is certainly atmospheric, and the sounds are superb. But unfortunately, I am only basing this analysis off of the trailer they made, so there is no guarantee that any of those sounds, music files, or effects will even carry over. If it does, it will make for both an epic and chilling time.

If this sounds like your cup of tea, again, check out their website and be sure to sign up for their mailing list. Apparently they are getting ready for a big debut on Kickstarter, and the trailer and site is just to get us excited. It must be working, because I’m not the only gaming journalist who is watching their moves.

UPDATE: The Kickstarter has come and gone, but you can still buy the game at their website. Game is scheduled to come out in October, and you can expect a full review when it comes out.