Wednesday, 27 February 2008 Live saves thousands of UK based nerds from wedgies

Video games conventions are great, you get to play hotly anticipated games, watch your favorite video game developers and publishers talk about future products and unleash your inner video game nerd without having your underpants pulled up over your head.

Unfortunately for enthusiasts living in the UK all we can do is enviously watch coverage courtesy of our gaming website of choice and moan about how the UK never has any good conventions. Sure we had ECTS and Playstation Experience for a few years but let’s face it, they could never hold a candle to E3, TGS, GDC, Leipzig, Penny Arcade Expo…oh god why doesn’t the UK have any good conventions…

It seems online retailer has heard our cries of despair and come to our aid with Play.Com Live - a two day event taking place on the 15th and 16th of March 2008 at Wembley Stadium. Gian Luzio, head of games at has recently confirmed to ‘TotalVideoGames’ that publishers attending include Ubisoft, THQ, Apple, Sierra Entertainment, SEGA, Capcom, Konami, Codemasters, Warner Bros, Microsoft, Activision, Oxygen Interactive, EA, Square-Enix, Midway, the Blu-ray Committee, Sony and Dare to be Digital.
Attendees can look forward to playing titles such as Lego: Batman, Rockband, Ghostbusters, Bourne Conspiracy, Condemned 2, Iron Man and Ninja Gaiden 2 at the event.

As well as the plethora of games on show at the event there will also be a number of other events to look forward to, Warner will be showing off The Dark Knight (the latest Batman Movie), Sony will be unveiling upcoming Blu-Ray titles and there will also be a chance to win £50,000. Stars in attendance include former Hollyoaks actress Gemma Atkinson and well known radio presenter Ian Lee who will be hosting the event.

Head over to to buy your tickets, or simply click this magical word (abra-cagamersconvention-dabra) and the power of the internet will take you there. This is an opportunity to show that the UK is just as relevant to gaming as Germany, Japan and America, if the event is a big enough success, maybe the powers that be will take notice and move E3 to London…ok I know that’s not going to happen but that won’t stop me from wishing.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

MGS4 Release date confirmed!

2007 was a big year for gaming, there were so many games that every time a title originally scheduled for 2007 slipped into 2008 gamers around the world breathed a suppressed sigh of relief, with so many games to play and so little time games like Metal Gear Solid 4, Burnout Paradise and Devil May Cry 4 would have certainly cleaned out bank accounts, and probably have caused a number of other games to be relegated into the ‘play later’ pile.
While a number of ‘triple A’ titles from 2007 have been released the details on when Metal Gear Solid will finally be unleashed have remained hidden in a bullet riddled barrel, until now.
According to information released at the ‘Playstation Destination’ conference (a conference for retailers focused specifically on Playstation products) Metal Gear Solid 4 will hit retail shelves on June 12th.The Kojima Productions teams have made it clear through announcements, trailers and their podcasts that MGS4 would receive a simultaneous worldwide release so it’s safe to assume that American and European gamers will be able to get their hands on the game on the 12th.
Many Playstation 2 owners have not as of yet made the leap into the next generation, those not persuaded into investing in Sony’s monstrous third generation Playstation by games like Resistance, Heavenly Sword and Warhawk are probably stubbornly sitting on the fence in anticipation for Metal Gear Solid 4, Sony have welcomed those patient few with open arms and announced that a MGS4 PS3 bundle comprised of an 80GB Playstation 3, a copy of MGS4 and a Dual Shock 3 will be available all for a meager $499, the only remaining question is…is it backwards compatible?
As of yet Sony hasn’t stated whether Europe would be blessed with this package, but it would make sense for the package to show up in Europe, then again, the logical step isn’t common territory in the video games world.
Expectations are high for MGS4 and from what we’ve seen so far it is shaping up to be a great game, unlike the main game which has had extensive coverage (too much in my opinion) the online component of the game has had very little, which makes the announcement of Metal Gear Online beta all the more sweeter, SCEA revealed today that those who pre-order the game will be treated to a beta in April.
Kojima Productions have taken some positive steps forward to make the game the best that it can be, much of the changes can be traced back to the influence of Ryan Payton (host of the Ryan’s Report podcast).
As an avid video game enthusiast who has to pay upwards of £30 for each of my games I’m not too keen on the Idea of paying an additional sum of money for the supplementary online component, especially when it’s Metal Gear, not because I don’t like Metal Gear - on the contrary, it’s my favorite video game series…of all time, but if the online aspects of MGS3 and Portable Ops are any indication of how MGO will turn out I’d rather spend my money on a new Xbox Live subscription. So when MGO was announced as a separate product I was actually quite excited, since it was being sold separately maybe it would be given the appropriate attention in development, instead of being developed as an afterthought all things point to it being developed as a fully fleshed out multiplayer experience, if this turns out to be true, I will gladly pay for it.
One of the biggest barriers that new MGS players have had to overcome is the controls, the muddled and overcomplicated controls reflected the somewhat archaic and uncompromising nature of Japanese development, but when hands-on reports from TGS cited newer streamlined controls as the most impressive part of the demo this indicated a change in the way Konami have been developing the game. During the Demo run-through by Kojima he showed off the first-person combat and it looked much more refined than the previous games, while the previous titles featured a first person perspective it was the weak link in the game, sure it got the job done but it just wasn’t developed enough to depend on in combat, a point made most clear by the online components of Snake Eater and Portable Ops, the cumbersome controls (along with the camera) would often make killing the enemy a far more arduous task than it should have been, needless to say it sucked the fun right out of the online component.

The gameplay and overall enjoyment of MGO hinges on how well the controls are implemented, but from what gaming journalists have said so far Konami have taken the right steps to ensure that the controls won’t have a negative impact on the game anymore.
Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 are the most successful online consoles games and other than their genre the games have one important thing in common, they both had a beta for their multiplayer component, purchasers of Crackdown were able to play the Halo 3 beta before the games launch and Infinity Ward released a beta for Call of Duty 4 for download over Xbox Live. Both Bungie and Infinity Ward used the data gained from the beta and opinions and suggestions from various forums to refine and fine tune the multiplayer and it clearly has paid off, the beta will provide Kojima Productions with the same opportunity to gauge how well the MGO final product will be received and ascertain what they can do to ensure it is the best multiplayer experience it can be. The beta gives credence to the idea that Kojima Productions is taking the multiplayer seriously, which just means that more people will be willing to buy it come release time.
The shift in Japanese game development can be seen most through the inclusion of a multiplayer beta in the development cycle, traditionally Japanese developers have kept their games locked away until the release with only the development team and higher-ups able to provide input on the title, so the plan to have a beta for MGO is a step in the right direction for Kojima Production.
Clearly Ryan’s western influence has had a positive effect on MGS4 and MGO, hopefully other Japanese developers will take notice and let their audience have more of an input on their games, once they start caring about online multiplayer that is.

Update: The PS3 in the MGS4 package will be backwards compatible.

GDC Picks

Despite the fact that GDC is a conference for ‘game developers’ to discuss the ins and outs of development yet again the games taken over causing havoc like a drunk uncle in a china store. As well as the numerous talks and panels GDC was also the stage for a number of announcements and an opportunity for developers to show off their latest projects. To ease my boredom For your entertainment I have compiled my picks of the show;

Puzzle Quest: Galactrix

Puzzle quest was easily the most addictive game of 2007; it combined the simple gameplay of bejeweled with all the character development systems of an RPG. Infinite Interactive announced that they were working on a new Puzzle Quest title. Instead of simply releasing an incremental update and then watching the money roll in Infinite Interactive has taken the ‘cousin’ to the original game in a new direction, they’ve ditched the medieval theme in favor of a sci-fi décor. The most exciting part of Galactrix is the way in which it is trying to differentiate itself from Bejeweled and the original Puzzle Quest. Instead of the played out square board Galaxtrix features a hex board where matches are no longer limited to two axis, the player can now match tiles on six axis. To compliment this the gems now fall from the direction that the match has occurred in, by no longer forcing gems to fall from the top of the board it provides an opportunity for a far more tactical game. Puzzle Quest Galactrix adds depth to the gameplay by placing heavy focus on ships; the player can acquire a variety of ships each with their own classes, abilities and attributes, these ships can then be used in a battles to suit the players own style. It’s good to see Infinite Interactive taking the game in a new direction, and I can’t wait to play it.


APB came out as the most talked about game of GDC, developed by Realtime Worlds (the team that gave us Crackdown) on the surface it looks just like a run of the mill MMORPG but it has the potential to be so much more, David Jones from Realtime Worlds shows the mission statement driving the game through his reference to the game as a ‘Multiplayer Online Game’ as opposed to a MMORPG. From what they’ve shown it’s a refinement of the genre, by taking all that makes MMORPG’s fun to play and weeding out all the level grinding and unfulfilling quests APB is shaping up to be an online RPG that you can have fun in without devoting every waking moment to.
At the event Realtime Worlds showed off the most detailed character editor I’ve ever seen in a game, unlike the usual restriction that character creation mechanics have APB allows the player to tweak every aspect of the character to the point that they can create characters modeled after real people, sure other games have claimed to be able to do this but APB is probably the first game to be able to pull it off properly. David Jones showed of detailed and accurate character models based on well known developers Richard Garriot, Warren Specter, Peter Molyneux and Shigeru Miyamoto.

The gameplay of APB is very much influenced by Crackdown, except without the superhuman abilities, the players take the role of either cops or robbers and can roam the city freely until they commit a crime, when they commit the crime an APB is issued to all local officers, the APB is delivered through a dynamic match making system, when a crime is committed the APB is issued to enforces that are of equal skill level, or a few experienced players against a large group of new players, the dynamic matchmaking always ensures that the matchups are equal. Although I’m not a big fan on the MMO genre (mainly because I don’t want to become addicted, I’ve seen what WoW can do to people) this is a game that I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on.


Hulk: Ultimate Destruction was a great open-world game but unfortunately it was underappreciated, lucky for us Radical Entertainment hasn’t let that stop them, their next project takes the same gameplay improves on it in ‘Prototype’. The game features the same high jumping, building destroying, car throwing mechanics from Ultimate Destruction but adds some new gameplay elements into the mix. As a ‘prototype’ you are able to absorb people and assume their forms as well as gain their abilities.
After throwing a few cars around and shooting up some military property the player can find an every-day Joe Shmo, absorb him, shape shift into him and then walk away right under the enemies nose. Much like Ultimate Destruction the main aim of the game is to break into military strongholds and ‘liberate’ information about your situation, and pick up some upgrades along the way. Although there hasn’t been much revealed on the story of the game, other than ‘you’re an escaped government experiment that’s lost his memory but can kick some serious ass’, the story is intriguing, firstly through the actual plot and secondly through the way that it can progress in a non linear fashion, the game has a number of key people or points that need to be reached but it is up to the player in which order they approach them. There hasn’t been a lot of information given on the game but that doesn’t stop me from getting excited if only for the chance to play what is Hulk: Ultimate Destruction 2.

And then there's Gears of War 2, since the only thing they showed was Marcus having a chainsaw battle with a Locust there isn't much to say on the game other than, yeah, Gears Of War 2...we all knew it was going to happen.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Alone In The Dark Preview

If you haven’t played any of the previous Alone in the Dark games chances are that your only exposure to the series has been the god awful Uwe Boll movie of the same name.
Alone in the Dark was originally released for PC in 1992 and is widely considered as the original survival horror game, it paved the way for games such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill.
Atari are now attempting to resurrect the classic with a next-generation title currently scheduled for a May release on the Xbox 360 and PC with a PS2, PS3 and Wii version showing up some time after.

"Since the beginning we anticipated it would be the higher tier of the next gen games so we’ve built the engine to handle the highest quality of rendering and physics"

Alone in the Dark will see players taking the role of Edward Carnby, fans of the series will recognise him as the protagonist of the previous games, while the previous installment were set in the 1920’s this game will bring Edward to modern day New York, specifically Central Park and for some reason, he hasn’t aged a bit.
The game starts off with Edward awaking in a room with two armed strangers, he has no memory of how he got there or who he is, the two men proceed to insult him for a while and then lead him to the roof to meet his maker but things become a little supernatural when something begins destroying the building, it is from this point that the player is taken on a roller coaster ride filled with self-discovery, the supernatural and a chilling conspiracies.
As Edward Carnby the player is tasked with figuring out who he is and why he is in the modern day, as well as this Edward must discover the secrets of Central Park.
The game takes place over the course of a single night, however the structure of the game is modeled on a TV show, the chapters are split up into episodes which are in turn broken down into checkpoints, each section was written to reflect conventions of a traditional TV Show and will usually end on a twist or a major event. Casual players can opt to play a single episode and then continue the game at their own pace, the danger in this approach would be forgetting what has been done and what hasn’t but this has also been also been addressed through an introductory sequence at the beginning of each play session, the game remembers what the player does and saves the data to the hard drive, when the save data is loaded up it shows a ‘previously on Alone in the Dark’ segment which shows the player what he or she did during the last play session.
In order to make the game an enjoyable experience Alone in the Dark will also contain a skip feature; should a player come to a point where, for some reason, they would rather not play the area they can opt to skip to the next checkpoint, when I asked producer Nora Paloni why they decided to put this feature in she said;

"We want to avoid situations where the player feels frustrated; Alone in the Dark is an experience and we want the player to enjoy the experience as much as possible so this allows the player to pass over anything that is causing frustration"

There are however penalties for skipping this, as well as losing out on some gamer points and important plot points there will also be an effect on how the ending plays out.

"Half-Life 2 was the first time we could reall
y interact with the environment but there was still a barrier because of the gravity gun, we wanted the player to feel as though he or she is controlling and interacting with the environment, we’re pushing interaction in games further"

I was shown a number of different areas that will be featured in the final game these included; the sewers underneath New York, a museum reception hall area and a car park.
The game is very reminiscent of Resident Evil 4, this is mainly due to the over the shoulder camera view the game uses, although it is a third person game Atari have said that it is fully playable through the first person perspective and although the controls do require some fine tuning the first person perspective at this point doesn't seem out of place or gimmicky.
All the levels I was shown held up very well, graphically the game is very impressive, it is built using Atari’s Twilight Engine which is an improved version of the engine used in Test Drive Unlimited. Although it would be easy to talk at length about the textures the real star of the show is the lighting, Alone in the Dark is an extremely atmospheric game, in large part to the lighting effects the game has, in one single area there can be a number of different light sources all which cast shadows that accurately move in relation to the source.
One of the most impressive aspects of the game is the behaviour of fire, Atari have clearly taken the time to painstakingly render the fire, it looks amazing and behaves just like fire should. In the demo I grabbed hold of a chair and exposed it to an open flame, the fire eventually spread onto the chair which I then used as a torch, after a while the wood was reduced to ember and then eventually ash, in the final game if the burning item is held for too long the fire will burn Edwards hand, and since all the injuries Edward receives are realistically rendered onto his body you will have to get out the old first aid spray and take care of it.If Edward takes too much damage his performance will become significantly affected, he moves slower, his reaction times are cut and his vision becomes blurred, this is where the blink mechanic comes into play, yes you heard correctly – blink mechanic. To restore Edwards vision the player must press the right bumper button to make him close his eyes for a second or two, this clears up Edwards vision and lets you carry on unhindered, the more damage you have taken the more times you are required to blink, while it sounds a little strange it has a profound effect on the gameplay. In order to immerse the player into the game it never steps out of real time events, this means that while you have your eyes closed an enemy could creep up and have his way with you, this adds an immense amount of dramatic effect and will probably have players jumping from their seats.
Atari have given the game what they call ‘Real World Rules’, in the context of the game this means that everything in the world behaves just like it should, the subtle physics certainly help this goal.

"We didn’t want to be primarily one game, not just a driving or shooting game, we wanted the player to assume they could do everything a normal person in that situation could, there’s a lot of variety in the gameplay"

Instead of pitting the player against hordes of the undead the game adopts more of a situational approach, this means that while there are a number of gruesome monsters to go up against, more often than not you will find yourself trying to figure out how you can use the environment to help you proceed.
The items that Edward picks up in the game are all controlled using the right analogue stick, the movements of the analogue stick are accurately reciprocated by Edward in his movement of the item he is holding, it is therefore possible to subtly manipulate the environment using this control scheme. In the demo I found myself faced with a large pool of water which had been electrified thanks to a hanging cable, instead of doing the obvious and turning off the power you can grab hold of a large broom and use it to gently lift the exposed wire out of the water and hook it onto some nearby pipes.
As well as the puzzle solving applications, the analogue stick movements can also be used in combat, a quick movement of the analogue stick will result in an attack based motion, so a quick movement from left to right will make Edward swing his axe, chair or any other item from left to right.
In addition to all the potential weapons available in the environment Edward is also equipped with a standard pistol, from what I’ve seen this is as far as Edwards choice of firearms goes, the player is expected to create makeshift weapons using the items available in the environment which is appropriate since the enemies in the game require more than a bullet to kill, while a simple headshot would usually render a zombie useless in any other survival horror game in this game they will eventually recover and come after you, this means that supplementary actions must be taken to insure the dead stay that way, after killing some enemies the play you can douse them in a flammable substance, create a trail, and set them alight from a safe distance.
Careful attention has been paid to the enemy AI in the game, these monsters are far more formidable than you would expect since they can do almost everything Edward can, they are able to destroy wooden doors, break through windows and even smell you, if Edward is hurt he will bleed, the enemies can then smell the blood and will track you down using the scent.

Alone in the Dark has also given the ‘inventory screen’ a much needed facelift, in the interest of immersion the inventory is integrated into the gameplay, when you need something from the inventory Edward simply looks on the inside of his jacket, the camera transitions into a top down view of the inside of the jacket and you are free to select an items for both hands. In other survival horror games like Resident Evil the inventory screen can give you a short moment to catch your breath, if things are becoming a little overwhelming just bring up the inventory and take a breather; however in this game the inventory is accessed in real time, this means that Edward is vulnerable while he is admiring his impressive loot organizational skills. Edward is just a man and as such can only carry a certain amount of items; large and heavy items cannot be stored on the inside of his jacket so they cannot be carried about.This constant real-time aspect of the game even extends into the puzzle areas, the action will not pause while you attempt a puzzle, if the enemies in the area have not been taken care of before you initiate a puzzle they will attack you if they come across you.

The final part of the demo that I was shown took place in a crumbling new York, it felt a lot like the latest stuntman game, you have to navigate New York while it is being absolutely decimated by something, although it was entirely scripted it was still a spectacle, cars were frantically trying to escape, people were mindlessly (and somewhat futilely) running for cover, towering skyscrapers were crumbling, it was impressive. The aim of the area is to navigate the terrain as fast as possible and escape from the area before the ground crumbles beneath you, spend to long marveling at the scenery and you’ll plunge into the abyss.

Atari have decided to restrict the Xbox 360 ability to play music over the game, since the game is dependent on atmosphere allowing players to play their own music would somewhat compromise the experience of the game. The music in the game is extremely dynamic, it changes and adapts depending on the environment and the actions of the player, it was portrayed to us as an orchestra watching the events and playing their instruments to suit the mood, and actions of the game, the music changes when Edward picks up a weapon and then subtly changes again when he swings it, I asked Nora Paloni about the music and she had this to say;

"We don’t want the music in the game to just be in the background, we want it to play a larger part, we never want the player to leave a room and come back into that room with the same music playing"

Alone in the Dark is currently scheduled for a May release on Xbox 360 and PC, with a PS3, PS2 and Wii version also in the works. It is shaping up to be a great game and I can’t wait to get my grubby hands on the full game.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Gears of War 2

Back in 2006 when Gears of War came out I was completely and utterly blown away, It was everything a stereotypical man could want in a game; blood, guts, aliens, guns, chainsawing aliens rendering them a fountain of blood and guts, and of course the large steroid dependent space marines.
Gears was extremely gritty, it conveyed the 'shit hit the fan' atmosphere amazingly through the use of excessive amounts of blood, extremely detailed textures and the trademark roadie run.
While the game was an undeniable success it did have its fair share of problems, the most apparent of which were the bad team-mate AI in the single player, texture popping, and underdeveloped online multiplayer.
The multiplayer was my biggest disappointment in Gears, while people will proclaim the multiplayer as the greatest thing since Counter-Strike I just couldn't overcome the issues it had.
I found the weapons to be extremely unbalanced, the shotgun was usually the weapons of choice for everyone since it was so ridiculously powerful, but then you had to take into account the somewhat random hit detection.
The maps were buggy and it just completely sucked the fun out of the game when people figured out how to jump out of the map and take out people from a distance.
The other main problem with the game was the storyline, or lack thereof, although Gears had a great premise it didn't actually develop on it, in the end it basically boiled down to 'armed marines go get bomb, put in hole, kill big monster', pretty disappointing since they hired a professional writer for the game.
So Gears 2 has finally been announced, we all knew it was going to happen but the question on every gamers mind was, when?
Microsoft revealed at GDC that emergence day is currently scheduled for some time in November of this year.
While I'm looking forward to the game I do have some requests;

1. Place more of a focus on the story telling in Gears 2, sure its a testosterone fueled shooter and we love it for that, but we loved the first one for that, Gears 2 needs to actually deliver in terms of story.

2. Take some time to iron out the kinks, that means the buggy maps, the texture popping, and suicidal artificial intelligence (give Dom some common sense).

3. Develop the multiplayer, the groundwork has been laid out, refine the gameplay so that luck becomes less of a factor and skill is what sets a player apart, let us play with more than 8 people in one match and get rid of that god awful host advantage.

Obviously the game needs to evolve but i really hope that they also address the problems that plagued the first game, come on Cliffy...don't let us down.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Arrow point down is still alive

If you've glanced at a video game website in the past few months you'll have probably heard about the G-man, no not that freaky bureaucrat from Half-Life, I'm talking about Jeff Gerstmann, or Gert-s-mn depending on what podcasts you listen to, Ryan Davis and Alex Navarro's departure from I hate to say it but those guys made the Hotspot podcast worth listening to and their departure has left a gaping hole in the show........and many people's hearts. Well now your prayers have been answered, Ryan and Jeff have got together (probably under the influence of Alcohol) and recorded a new podcast, head over to Ryan's blog, Arrow pointing down and give it a download.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Devil May Cry 4 Review

Originally developed as Resident Evil 4, Devil May Cry exploded onto the scene in 2001 brandishing a giant flash filled syringe which it proceeded to jam into the unsuspecting action game genre. Devil May Cry was a hack and slash game overflowing with style and substance; it was a game with so much impact that it resulted in countless pretenders springing up in an attempt to emulate what it had achieved, while some gained just as much notoriety the majority found their way the local video game bargain in no time.

Capcom continued the series by taking ‘style’ too literally in the underwhelming Devil May Cry 2 and followed this up with the stellar but infuriatingly difficult Devil May Cry 3.

Devil May Cry 4 is the first in the series to appear on the current generation of consoles but does it make the leap into the next-generation guns-a-blazing or does it trip on its leather coattails and fall flat on its face?

There has clearly been an effort to make the story interesting in Devil May Cry 4 and it pays off despite the fact that it ultimately takes a back seat to the gameplay. While the story isn’t pushing narrative in games forward it does remain interesting enough to keep your thumb from hammering the skip button every time a cut-scene starts, but then again that may be down to the breathtaking choreography and the occasional appearance of a sexually charged femme fatal.

Devil May Cry 4 takes a risk from the outset by benching the series’ charismatic demon slayer Dante in favor of Nero, now while this may seem like a bad idea it doesn’t have much of an impact on the game since you are given control of Dante for a number of missions towards the end of the game, that and the fact that they are essentially the same person both in terms of their looks and their personality. Nero is blessed with the smart mouth and corny one-liners that Dante incessantly puts to use in the series.

The story is simple; Nero is part of the Order of the Sword, a religious group who worship Sparda, the demonic father of Dante. Halfway through a heartfelt religious sermon Dante crashes through the ceiling and impales ‘his holiness’ on the sharp end of his blade. Nero is sent off to bring down Dante but things start getting complicated when Nero’s girlfriend is kidnapped for the Orders nefarious purposes.

Although DMC4 is far more serious in tone than its predecessors it retains the crazy sense of humor found in all of the previous games. DMC4 is over-flowing with personality, this is usually felt through the eccentric supporting characters, be it the incredibly risqué Gloria and her open policy on clothing, the mad scientist Agnus and his cinderblock of a chin or the lesbian fairies (seriously, you can’t make this stuff up), needless to say that there is never a dull moment.

Devil May Cry 4 is developed by Capcom so it won’t come as a surprise to hear that it’s one of the prettiest next-generation titles on the market. Throughout the course of the game you’ll trek through a variety of different environments ranging from rustic cathedrals and sinister metallic underground labs to beautifully lush forests. The great textures and beautiful lighting help create environments bursting with life and personality. Unfortunately the visuals are let down by the horrible shadows, many of the environments contain moving light sources such as flickering candles or swaying chandeliers, this means that the shadows cast are usually in motion which transforms them into jagged eyesores which are impossible to escape, indoor environments are filled with tables, chairs, lamps and an array of other furnishings, outdoor environments have dynamic architecture and an abundance of trees and other foliage, all of which cast these hideous shadows.

The character models on the other hand bear no such faults, every character and enemy is extremely detailed, some disturbingly so. It’s a joy to see the gothic aesthetic of Devil May Cry in gloriously high-resolution.

Along with the detailed models the bosses in DMC4 are given a huge sense of scale, Nero and Dante are often pit against foes that make them look like very tiny fish in a barrel. The grandeur of these minions of hell is sullied by the repeat performances they are forced to endure, you’ll fight most of the bosses at least twice, they just aren’t as breathtaking after you’ve already handed their asses to them multiple times.

One of the lesser talked about features of the Devil May Cry series is the great sound, sound effects aside the series has some strangely atmospheric music, the gothic rock soundtrack from DMC3 returns alongside some welcome remixes of tracks featured in DMC1. By and large the music is great to listen to, with the exception of the track that plays during Nero’s battles, after a certain point the vocals become mind numbingly annoying so it’s a welcome change when Dante’s DMC1 remixes kick in.

The previous Devil May Cry games suffered from a severe case of ‘more of the same’ and DMC4 is no different, if you’ve ever played any of the previous games you’ll feel right at home, unfortunately even the linearity rears its ugly head once again.

There are two major changes to the gameplay both of which are courtesy of Nero’s Devil arm, this demonic arm has the ability to reach out and grab enemies from afar which provides a simple and approachable way to link combo’s, with a few well timed presses of a button even casual players will be able to chain combo’s together like a pro.

The second gameplay change is Nero’s ability to rev his sword like a motorcycle, while not as significant as the Devil arm it does provide the opportunity for dedicated players to take combat deeper, rev your sword at just the right time and you could change a run-of-the-mill sword swipe in to a devastating fuel-injected slash. Other than this the immensely deep combat gameplay remains fully intact.

About half-way through the game you are given control of Dante, series vets will feel right at home with him, even more so since his different styles are mapped to the D-pad allowing you to switch between them on the fly, although it is possible to pull of crazy combo’s using his various styles it isn’t nearly as easy as with Nero, this is probably something the hardcore DMC players will invest some time in.

Dante packs some serious power, so much so that playing through the same areas and bosses is a breeze, it’s unfortunate that he’s buried so deep in the game, it does however give the game replayability.

Dante has one of the greatest weapons in video game history, a briefcase called ‘Pandora’, this briefcase has the ability to change into a variety of totally over the top weapons, with a few inputs it can be transformed from a mini-gun to a rocket launcher and if you stick with it, eventually an insane flying rocket ship…thing, it has to be seen to be appreciated.

The combat areas are separated by some platforming and the occasional puzzle, the puzzle elements and platforming usually take advantage of Nero’s arm, the grab ability is used to swing from point to point, while this might stir some feelings of Capcom nostalgia it isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds, Nero doesn’t actually swing from one point to another, it’s more a guided leap from point A to point B.

The biggest problem this game faces is the same problem that every other game in the series has faced; the stubborn camera angles.

Capcom seems to be a fan of the fixed camera and while it does create some dramatic angles it usually ends up making platforming frustrating and combat unnecessarily difficult.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself battling enemies behind some protruding architecture with the camera making no effort to give you a better view.

The camera also sucks what little fun the platforming has left in it right out, during Nero’s swinging areas the camera has trouble keeping up with the movement of the character, this means that you can’t target the next grappling point and instead Nero will end up latching back onto a previous grappling point and throwing you right to the bottom again. While the archaic camera does detract from the overall experience it isn’t to a large degree.

Overall Devil May Cry’s transition to the newer generation of console is an undeniable success. The most surprising aspect of Devil May Cry 4 is the fact that Nero is just as much fun to play as Dante, ditching the star of the show in favor of a new character usually goes wrong but In this case Capcom have pulled it off. The high production values, great storyline and an array of eccentric characters make for the best action game experience yet.
While it does have some minor flaws these are more than made up for by the stylish and extremely deep combat.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Grading System = 9.5 (EXCELLENT)

2007 was undoubtedly one of the greatest years in video gaming history, in the eyes of many a game enthusiast it even surpasses 1998, the year that gave us Metal Gear Solid, Half-Life, Starcraft and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of time, games which have and will continue to be held up as the ‘greatest game of all time’. Gamers were blessed with titles that not only provided endless hours of entertainment but served a greater purpose, these games pushed the boundaries of what made a high-quality game and many of them were instrumental in taking video games as an industry and a form of entertainment a step further. Bioshock and Portal instigated an evolution in story-telling, Assassin’s Creed closed the gap on realism by means of the frighteningly life like movements of Altair and Halo 3 showed that a first-person shooter can be so much more than a mindless shooter.

It’s obvious that 2007 won’t be forgotten anytime soon and its effects will be felt for years to come, but the biggest change to the industry didn’t stem from games, but from the Journalistic aspect of the industry. One particular event has taken the fundamentals of video game journalism and thrown it into a blender, only time will tell if what comes out is a deliciously nutritious smoothie or a disgusting carrot based vegetable shake that we’ll be told is good for us but tastes like a rancid treat.
The first widespread industry changing effects of Gerstmann-gate are being felt courtesy of Ziff Davis Media, no I’m not talking about James Mielke’s bump up to Editor in Chief, I’m talking about the welcome change to how games are rated. In a recent press Ziff Davis Media said;

‘1UP Network is making changes with its game scoring system on, in EGM and in GFW. Games will be graded on a letter scale, A+ to F, rather than a numerical scale. All previously scored games on will also be converted to the new letter scale. Look out for these changes in March on, in the April issue of EGM and in the April/May issue of GFW."

Up until now the majority of websites and magazines have utilised a numerical rating system often with increments of .5, this has resulted in the emergence of a review bashing culture and fanboy campaigns to smear the good name of a writer simply doing his or her job. Gamers have proven themselves as the most temperamental, demanding and picky group of enthusiasts, we make the rabid anime fans look humble and accommodating. You only have to look as far as the forum posts found on the Gamespot boards after Jeff Gerstmann’s review of Twilight Princess to understand what the existing form of scoring has done to us, gamers have become blinded by the glistening 9.0’s and 9.5’s and reject anything below this as an insult, we’ve lost sight of the bigger picture and focus all of our attention on the numbers, not what they represent, if any of the uncompromising Zelda fanatics took the time out to truly think about what an 8.8 represents they would have arrived at the same conclusion that Jeff Gerstmann and many other rational fans did, an 8.8 is a great score.
The broad number based scoring system leaves too much open for debate, while in actuality there isn’t world of a difference between an 8.0 and an 8.5 in this day and age a potential buyer is more likely to buy the game that is rated an 8.5 even though both would be categorized as ‘great’ or ‘excellent’. The aforementioned grade based system being implemented by Ziff is a positive step forward, it places less focus on the specific nature of review scores which fans have become so anal about and instead aims to project the opinions of the reviewer, the system can be universally understood and doesn’t require any additional explanation or tacked on words like ‘gggrrreat’ or ‘AWESOME!’, everyone knows what a grade B encompasses.
In an ideal world other popular websites and magazines would follow suite, there needs to be less of a spotlight placed on the actual number a game is assigned and more on how the content of the game comes across, solving this problem opens doors to fixing a number of other problems the games industry is currently facing, advertiser pressure could finally be a thing of the past…again.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

The King of Guitar Hero Kong

I don't watch a lot of films these days, the last film that I subjected myself to was Spider-man 3, it was an unimpressive movie that made my inner Peter Parker cry, Spider-man 3 along with a number of other films that have been relegated to a cobweb filled corner of my mind contributed to killing my faith in movies, but once in a while I will be enticed into watching something, my latest leap of faith has led me to 'The King of Kong', an extremely entertaining documentary about Steve Wiebe's quest to beat the highest recorded score in King Kong, set by Billy Mitchell at an amazing 957,300 the score has never been beaten despite numerous attempts by other full-time retro-gamers. Although the film is a documentary the personalities of Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell fit neatly into the typical film character archetypes, Billy's arrogant self-serving nature places him firmly in the 'bad-guy' character slot. Steve Wiebe is shown as someone with limitless potential hindered by a string of bad luck, after about fifteen minutes you'll find yourself rooting for the guy. The film is very entertaining, even if you don't like video games, the most intriguing aspect of the movie is the whole culture of professional (if you can call it that) retro-gaming, the different allegiances and deceptive nature of a number of the characters creates great tension between the characters, its great to watch.
After watching the movie I headed off to an event being held in Zaavi (formerly Virgin Megastores) by Guiness Book of World Records, the main events of the day were a Guitar
Hero relay marathon, the event involved 50 p
airs playing one song each in a co-op mode on a variety of different difficulty levels, a world record attempt at the highest score set by 6 people on one guitar, each person would be assigned one button with one player strumming, and lastly Luke Albiges would attempt to beat his own record (in case you're wondering, he failed).
The event was attended by a number of well kn
own people in both the gaming and music world including the 'Fragdolls UK', the cast of 'We will rock you' and rock band 'Towers of London'.
The excellent turnout begs the question of why there isn't a more professional competitive gaming league in the UK.

The King of Kong showed how a small time record tracking company 'Twin Galaxies' went from a couple of guys tracking scores on a website to an institution that is seen as the premier competitive gaming source. Maybe Xbox live should take leader boards more seriously, here are some pictures for your enjoyment and you can head over to the HoboGamer youtube space to check out videos from the event. Kitt and Jam of Fragdolls UK fame rock out on some Guitar Hero 2.

The cast of 'We will rock you' and 'Towers of London' pose for pictures.

Imran, London's very own Guitar Hero does what he does best, plays Guitar Hero, Imran later went on to set a record as one part of the 6-man team, he strummed till his fingers bled leading the makeshift team to victory.

The joys of February

So far February has been a pretty good to gamers, sure January gave us Burnout and we love it for that but February is shaping up to be a great month, now by this point you're probably saying "what the hell is this fool talking about?", well along with the European release of Devil May Cry 4 on the 8th, Capcom have announced that they will be unveiling another character for Street Fighter 4, so far Ryu and Ken have been strutting their stuff (mainly crotch stuffing skills and the 'O' face) and a Famitsu scan showed off Japanese high-school slasher movie reject Crimson Viper. In interviews with 1up Yoshinori Ono alluded to Dhalsim and Chun-li.
If it was up to me, I would go with Skullomania, purely for comedic value.

Update: Korean website 'Ruliweb' has leaked images originally intended for the Friday issue of Famitsu, the inky new screens show off a number of returning Street Fighter staples in the flashy Japanese art brush style. Guile, Blanka, Zangief, Dhalsim, E. Honda and Chun-Li will join Ken and Ryu in the latest iteration of the legendary fighting series. Click the link and check out the images.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Grappling with mechanics

Video games are a media format limited only by the imagination; the creative possibilities are endless, new and exciting gameplay mechanics are always being developed within each genre to keep it fresh. Be it the power meter in sports games, the parry in fighting games or the timeless genre transcending headshot, games are always reinventing the ‘mechanical wheel’ to provide a fresh new angle on a dated gameplay element. One of the most famous game mechanics is undergoing somewhat of a renaissance, the much loved ‘grappling hook’ mechanic is making a comeback, in large-part thanks to the revival of a Capcom classic. To ease my boredom and for nostalgia’s sake I have compiled the five most prominent users of the grappling hook mechanic, although they use it in a variety of forms each retain the same underlying mechanics, so here they are in no particular order.

The grappling hook mechanic was originally made most famous by Rad Spencer in Capcom’s timeless classic, Bionic Commando. Equipped with a bionic arm and awesome red hair Rad Spencer is sent to rescue a man named ‘Super Joe’, with only his arm Rad took on futuristic Nazi’s who had resurrected Adolf Hitler (or Master-D in the American release), using their evil-genius scientists. The mechanic involved Rad using his extendable arm to latch onto various surfaces, the grappling arm could then be extended fourty-five degrees to allow Rad to leap from platform to platform as well as pull himself up to the area his arm is latched onto. In addition to the arm’s navigational perks it could also be used to reel in distant items and on some occasions unwary enemy Nazi soldiers. The mechanic added a new twist to the platforming genre; the game replaced jumping with the swinging mechanic which could also be applied to combat, although the idea of replacing a jump with a swing sounds awkward the mechanic allowed for fluid and swift platforming which provided endless fun. Capcom has recently announced a new Bionic Commando game, developed for the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360 the game and takes place after the NES game, the player will take control of ‘Nathan Spencer’ and will traverse Ascension city using the iconic Bionic Arm. As well as the sequel Capcom have also announced a remake of the NES Bionic Commando, entitled ‘Bionic Commando: Rearmed’, the game will be released on Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network and on the PC.

Arguably the most famous user of the grappling hook in video games is Link, protagonist of Nintendo’s flagship game ‘The Legend of Zelda’. The games usually see Link tasked with rescuing Princess Zelda, the princess come damsel in distress of Hyrule, typically from Gannon, an evil tyrant intent on enslaving Hyrule. Although Link’s main tools in his quests are generally his trusty sword and shield, he is regularly required to use his ‘hookshot’. The games place heavy focus on exploration; the various Zelda titles are by and large comprised of a number of dungeons to explore, at the end of which the player is rewarded with a new tool to aid them in the remaining dungeons. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was released in 1998 and served as one of the earliest uses of the grappling hook mechanic in a 3D adventure game; the hookshot is given to Link by the Ghost of Dampe after beating him in a race. In a similar fashion to Bionic Commando, although primarily used to negotiate large gaps, the hookshot can also be used to ‘drag distant items towards you, or you can use it to pull yourself towards something’. While the hookshot has appeared in previous Zelda games they have done so on a 2D plain, the grappling hook mechanic in the subsequent 3D Zelda games have typically been extremely limited in terms of movement, nevertheless they have become synonymous with the Zelda games and its green tunic wearing hero.

Another of Nintendo’s iconic characters also has a grappling hook in her arsenal of weaponry. Samus Aran was first introduced to gamers in the 1986 classic, Metroid. Samus is a galactic bounty hunter equipped with a power suit; the power suit provides Samus with a plethora of weapons and other tools to support her in her hunt for the Space Pirates and parasitic Metroid. Created by Gunpei Yokoi Metroid is another trademark Nintendo exploration game, however whereas the early Zelda games used an overhead view the Metroid games were side-scrolling action exploration games. The Metroid games have come to be known for all having the same structure, the games usually start with Samus exploring a small planet or space station which proceeds to blow up, narrowly escaping the explosion Samus crash lands on an uncharted planet, coincidently Samus’ suit malfunctions which leads to her abilities being restricted. The player then takes control of the legendary bounty hunter and proceeds to explore the planet while restoring function to her suit and collecting upgrades. The grappling hook in the Metroid games were used almost exclusively on getting Samus through hostile terrain and to unreachable areas, the grapple hook remained purely for navigational purposes up until Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. Corruption was the first iteration of Nintendo’s long running franchise to appear on the Wii console, the consoles motion sensitive controls and the interactivity between Samus and the player allowed Retro studios to utilise the grappling hook in ways the series hadn’t before. In addition to helping Samus reach energy tanks unreachable by the usual abnormally high jumps the grapple beam could now be used to rip amour away from well insulated opponents, easily the best fit for the grappling hook mechanic the Wii’s motion sensitive controls has given a welcomed new twist on the mechanic, Samus has never been so deadly.

The grappling hook mechanic is almost always seen in adventure or exploration games, which makes sense since it’s clearly most-suited for these purposes, however, it has been used in a fighting games (with good effect), the character using this technique is one of the most deadly fighters in any video game, no I’m not talking about D.Dark from Street Fighter EX, I’m talking about Scorpion from Mortal Kombat. Former member of the Shirai Ryu ninja clan Scorpion is resurrected and seeks vengeance on those who brutally slaughtered his clan. Scorpions trademark move is the ability to throw out a roped-spear into his opponents, he follows this up by dragging them over to him then opening a can of hellish whoop-ass on them. While it is not strictly a grappling hook it does have almost all of the same characteristics, Scorpion just decides not to use it to climb mountains, instead he likes to throw it at people and decimate their internal organs. Scorpion is without a doubt the most prominent fighter to use the grappling hook mechanic.

Spider-man, I don’t think there’s a need to say anymore…but I’m going to, while Spider-man’s grappling hook mechanic is not powered by a mechanical arm, gun or cybernetic suit it is probably the most useful and deadly. After being bitten by a radioactive spider Peter Parker is transformed into Spider-man, a man with spider powers including the ability to produce extremely strong strings of web which he then uses to swing from building to building, tie up misbehaving perps and generally harass the cast of regularly appearing foes. Spider-man has appeared in a number of videogames including three movie based tie-ins, a number of Marvel fighting games and dungeon crawlers and a comic adaptation.

The last user of this timeless mechanic is video games’ greatest anti-hero, Kratos. Kratos was a brutal and fearless Spartan warrior, after years of relentless conquering, Kratos finally met his match against the Barbarian army, in a last desperate attempt to crush his enemy he offers his life in servitude to Ares, the God of War, Ares accepts his offer and binds the blades of chaos to his arms, these blades serves as grappling hooks throughout Kratos’ journey to bring down Ares (oh yes, there is a lot of betrayal). Kratos uses this mechanic in both combat and exploration. The mechanic is used in combat primarily to chain attack combinations, after launching an enemy in to the air he can then use the blades to wrench them back down and continue to rip through the poor sucker. The navigational applications of the blades are fairly limited, at designated points in the game Kratos is able to latch onto certain points and swing from one area to another, this is given some depth through the inclusion of momentum, building up momentum lets Kratos travel further, while this is fun the most satisfying use of the mechanic is in the combat.

Honorable Mentions:

Wayne Holden - Lost Planet

Nero – Devil May Cry 4

Lara Croft - Tomb Raider

Rikimaru/ Ayame : Tenchu