Archives for category: All formats

lismaxmain
Have you ever wanted to turn back time? Sure you have. We all make mistakes after all, wishing at times that the ground would open up and swallow us, embarrassments and all. And during the cautious, nervous years of adolescence, as we’re trying to understand the world and our place in it, these slip-ups seem all the more important.

But what if you could go back, rewind time to find a better outcome, or better yet, make sure you never stuck your foot in your mouth to begin with? This is the situation that Maxine “Max” Caulfield finds herself in at the start of episode one of Life is Strange, the new title from DONTNOD. The Parisian studio seems to have something of an obsession with our perception of time, first allowing us to mess with people’s memories in 2013’s Remember Me, and following that up by empowering us, through Max, to directly affect their actions by learning from them, and then rewinding to exploit them.

Comparisons have been made to Quantic Dream’s output, but in truth Life is Strange is something of an amalgamation of Gone Home and Telltale’s recent output seen through the lens of a lo-fi indie flick. For the most part, we’re on fairly familiar ground in gameplay terms; as Max, you’ll explore her environment, examining everything you see and talking to everyone who will talk to you, all the while moving from one small objective to the next, each a step along the path to a larger goal. You’ll also be making a number of choices as you go, and you’re encouraged to rewind and try again to see what might have happened under different circumstances.

Life is Strange's Max

This means that you can easily see the immediate outcome of each choice and then go with the one that seems to be the ‘best’, but while this sounds like it could have an adverse effect on the consequences of your actions, DONTNOD alleviates this concern by forcing you to accept your choices before moving on. These decisions will no doubt come back to haunt you later in the series, as well; already, there are some that seem right at the time, but by the end of the episode have you wondering whether that’s really true. An early decision offers you a choice between capturing photographic evidence of a friend being harassed, or to just step in and stop it right there and then, and one option certainly seems more valid in that moment. But maybe that photograph could come in handy down the line when you’re trying to prove someone’s wrongdoing?

The tone is quite far removed from the creeping dread and suffocating tension of the likes of The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, too. Max’s adventure is possessed of a more gentle, autumnal feel, as she returns to her bucolic pacific-northwest hometown of Arcadia Bay after five years away to begin her studies at the prestigious Blackwell Academy, and this first episode is infused with a lazy, ‘school days’ vibe, the pacing deliberately and appropriately slow as Max explores her surroundings, her new abilities and herself, making observations about fellow students as she goes. That’s not to say Life is Strange is particularly light-hearted. There’s a dark thread of small-town alienation threaded through the entire episode, and while there are moments of tension, a couple of which are tantalisingly front-loaded and tied into Max’s newly-awakened powers, after these passages are over we’re returned to that languid, measured pace as we venture out onto the school grounds to immerse ourselves in Max’s new surroundings.

Max is something of a socially-awkward, unsure lead. She’s the quiet nerd in all of us, and as she struggles to find her place in the world, and subsequently understand her new gift, we get to experience it through her interactions and her playfully sardonic internal monologue. It’s a great way to anchor the player in the setting, and while we may not all be as shy as Max, we can surely all relate to being new to some thing or some place. She’s not much more settled in this environment than the player, so it makes sense that her inner thoughts are mostly centred around trying to make sense of her world, a design decision that does as much to inform the player as it does to reinforce Max’s character.

Life is Strange, Nerd cred,

Nerd culture references come thick and fast, and can sometimes be a bit overbearing, but they mostly work. The writers clearly know their audience, and it’s in these moments that the game delivers most of its humour.

Max also keeps a diary that gets updated as events pass, but go back a few pages and you’ll find there’s plenty to read that leads up to the start of the game, too. You can (and should) take a few minutes to read these earlier entries right from the off, and they serve as a good foundation for Max’s character, expressing her love of photography, her excitement at being accepted into Blackwell as well as her hesitance at starting a new chapter of her life. Some of the writing in Max’s diary can hew a little close to being obviously written by someone outside of their teenage years trying to think like a teenager, but it mostly holds up. In fact, Max is actually a pretty well-written character in general: while she loves her area of study, she’s also a proponent of the ‘why do today what you can put off ’til tomorrow’ school of thought; she hates the rich-kid cliques that enable and encourage bullying, but she’s not above rifling through a fellow student’s belongings or rearranging a photo wall to resemble an upturned middle finger; she’s somewhat unsure of who she really wants to be, but she’s also hesitant to find out. Basically, she’s a teenager, and her flaws and her contradictions make her all the more believable.

Then there’s Chloe. Max’s old “BFF” is almost unrecognisable to our heroine when their paths finally cross, and she’s very far from the girl Max remembers. Loud, brash, tattooed and blue of hair, she’s a good foil for our introverted, reserved heroine, quick to act where Max is more deliberate, and it’s immediately obvious that she hasn’t had an easy time since Max left. As Max and Chloe begin to rediscover themselves, their friendship and each other, their interactions are at first awkward and strained, and here we’re afforded another big choice: do we step in and help her out, strengthening the bond between the two young women, or do we stand aside and put our own interests first? It should be interesting to see how their relationship develops over the course of the series, and to what extent our decisions affect it, and it’s obvious by this first episode’s end that Max and Chloe’s friendship will form the core that the rest of the narrative revolves around.

Which is quite handy really, as the rest of the cast is filled out by a group of fairly typical high-schoolers; there’s the nerdy guy who’s clearly interested in our lead, the distant, troubled girl, the bitchy rich girl and a whole group of meathead jocks. And of course, every school setting needs at least one unstable psychopath to ratchet up the tension. While they’re clearly drawn from a bunch of archetypes, it’s a little early to label them stereotypes from one episode alone, and already there are a few characters whose arcs should hopefully be interesting to watch unravel as the episodes continue.

But at the heart of all that sits the mystery of Max’s new powers and the reveal at the episode’s climax of a looming threat to the small town, though we are of course none-the-wiser about what it will be that causes this unnatural catastrophe – only that Max, through her powers, is the only one that knows it’s coming. If future episodes of Life is Strange can deliver on the promises teased in this opening chapter, it’s sure to provide an interesting mystery story wrapped up in a poignant coming-of-age tale.

Advertisements

inqgroup
It’s fair to say that in the run-up to release, many have approached Dragon Age: Inquisition with, at best, cautious optimism. Others of course, have been downright pessimistic, lingering memories of Dragon Age 2‘s more reductive ideas and restrictive world still playing on their minds.

Some of us have been less restrained than the rest however, so when the game popped up on Xbox One’s EA Access service I couldn’t help myself. Six hours of pre-release Dragon Age fun? Oh go on then. The only problem I had to contend with was what class/race combo I was going to roll. My Warden in Origins was a Dalish rogue, but my Hawke in Dragon Age 2 was a mage, and I had loved both. So I decided to try both, playing the first hour as an elven archer before restarting and eventually settling on a towering qunari mage (don’t call me saarebas!); I have to admit, witnessing every other character in the game craning their neck to look my Inquisitor in the eye was amusing. With that, it was into the game proper.

The first hour takes the form of a prologue dealing with the immediate aftermath of a magical catastrophe at the Temple of the Sacred Ashes in Haven. What was supposed to be a peace summit to end the conflict between mages and templars that began in Dragon Age 2 ends in the deaths of hundreds, with your player character the only survivor. You awake in chains, confused, and you’re soon heading out with Cassandra to attempt to close the Breach that hangs ominously in the sky, and hopefully save your own life into the bargain. Everyone assumes you’re the cause of the cataclysm, so it might be prudent to do something about that.

The prologue is fairly linear, and sees you travelling up frozen mountain paths, battling demons and closing smaller rifts as you head towards the now-ruined temple and the enormous hole torn in the heavens above it. You’re introduced to dwarven rogue Varric (who has thoughtfully brought Bianca along) and elven apostate Solas, and as we battled our way up the mountain, I was immediately reminded of the Sacred Ashes trailer for the original game. This short prologue feels like it gets closer to achieving what that trailer promised than the relevant quest in Origins ever did (sans dragon, obviously), and you’re travelling through the same part of the world, too. I can’t help but wonder if the call-back is intentional.

After fighting your way up the mountain, you reach a forward operating base where you’re afforded your first choice. You need to push onward to the Breach, but do you take a dangerous mountain pass where some of Cassandra’s soldiers have disappeared, hoping to discover their fate along the way, or do you charge through the valley with the bulk of the forces? Ultimately, both sections play out much the same; a small rift battle, and a run-in with an NPC – Cullen, if you storm the valley. Upon reaching your destination, Varric worriedly points out that the Temple is infested with primeval red lyrium, and as you attempt to prise open the rift in order to properly seal it, an enormous pride demon bursts from the Fade to stop you.

Entering tac cam pauses the action at any point. Great for the screenshot junkies.

Entering tac cam pauses the action at any point. Great for the screenshot junkies.

It’s a great first boss battle, an arena-based affair with a huge boss to wear down, a few waves of adds to deal with, and that Fade rift that needs closing. It’s also a good time to get fully to grips with Inquisition’s combat, which neatly blends elements from both of its predecessors. Should you choose to play entirely in real-time, the game plays much like Dragon Age 2, though with auto-attack mapped to a hold of the right trigger rather than requiring constant bashing of the A button. You also have eight quickslots for your talents now instead of six, with the right bumper button added to the previous games’ X, Y and B slots. The left trigger now switches between sets of four talents.

Playing entirely in real-time however means ignoring Inquisition‘s tactical camera, resurrected from Origins‘ PC release and now available on all platforms. Fans of the console titles’ radial menu-based pause-and-play system may mourn its loss (with the radial menu, on left bumper, now offering simple commands like potions and party-hold), but really you’re trading up here. You can enter tac cam at any point during gameplay, which allows you to scan the battlefield before even getting into combat, scoping out enemy positions, strengths, weaknesses and immunities at a glance, and the overhead view makes it possible to inspect the terrain, making it easier to move ranged characters onto higher ground, perhaps, or position a tank in a chokepoint to draw enemies in. And if you’re playing as a mage, the tac cam is invaluable in making the most of your AoE spells.

Much has been made of the fact that mages in Dragon Age: Inquisition have no healing spells, but it’s really not an issue. You have a finite pool of healing potions, but they can be re-stocked at a camp, which you can fast-travel to from anywhere. Moreover, the focus here is on damage mitigation rather than heal-spamming; warriors can generate Guard, a second health bar that protects main health by soaking up some damage, while mages have an area-of-effect spell called Barrier that does much the same, albeit for a period of time. It means that it’s no longer absolutely necessary to have a mage in the party, and should help to encourage more flexible party composition.

After defeating the pride demon and halting the expansion of the breach, you’re hailed as the Herald of Andraste. After a brief 80s TV-style “gettin’-things-done” montage, the Inquisition is reborn and you’re off to the game’s first truly open area, The Hinterlands. A verdant, fertile stretch of land in the heart of Ferelden, the region and its people are under threat thanks to the conflict between mages and templars. The first time you open your map to see a vast expanse of icons littering the Hinterlands, it’s more than a little overwhelming; it can be difficult to figure out where your focus should be, and so you strike out with your party to explore the surroundings. Don’t go too far in one direction though, as you’ll likely get wrecked by a roving group of bandits or maybe even an ill-tempered bear or two.

The best idea seems to be to spiral outward from your starting area, filling in your map as you go and and establishing further camps in the wilderness that you can use to rest, refill your potion stocks and even fast travel between. Doing so also extends the Inquisition’s reach through an in-game currency called ‘Power’ that you will need to accrue in order to further the story and unlock more regions. There are landmarks to claim for your faction and quests to undertake are everywhere. A good few of these seem to take the form of the “kill x of y” template so beloved of MMOs, but if you get bored of monster-culling, there’s always something else to do, like hunting down mysterious magical shards, picking herbs for crafting, or even just exploring to find yet another pretty vista. There’s so much to do – after five hours, I had uncovered what appeared to be less than half of the map of the Hinterlands, and this is just one region out of about ten. This game will eat your life.

Dragon Age Inquisition Hinterlands Map

This was my map of The Hinterlands after five hours.

Dragon Age: Inquisition absolutely nails the sense of exploration that I have always felt the series was lacking; with the exception of the relatively-sprawling Korcari Wilds, Dragon Age: Origins was fairly narrow in its environmental design, and the smaller scale of Dragon Age 2‘s world is now legendary. Inquisition updates Dragon Age for a post-Skyrim world, though you’d be hard-pressed to call it a copy; while you can and will (and, more importantly, should) head off into the great unknown to discover what lurks in that dense forest or over that nearby hill, Inquisition‘s Thedas isn’t one large, contiguous landmass like Skyrim, but rather a number of large zones – again, that impression of an MMO comes to the fore – and though The Hinterlands is the only one I’ve seen so far it is absolutely rammed with all kinds of stuff to find and do, and positively dripping with detail. Just like in Skyrim, you’ll find yourself frequently side-tracked in the middle of a quest by some strange landmark that catches your magpie eye.

And this is to say nothing of the game’s visuals, which are splendid. Inquisition is absolutely drenched in colour, The Hinterlands coming across almost as a bright fairytale countryside, though torn with strife and infighting. Yet the fields and forests still teem with wildlife, some of which you’re going to have to hunt down to fulfil some of those aforementioned quests. In the snow-covered paths of the Frostback Mountains that make up the prologue, the sun glints off of the cracks in frozen-over streams and characters leave footprints in the snow as the powder kicked up by your party’s feet is carried away on the wind. The environment is so dense that after a couple of hours you’re given a search function (mapped to a click of the left stick) that subtly picks out nearby loot that might otherwise blend into the detail-rich scene. Codex entries and misplaced letters can be found all over the place, filling out the history of the region, and even landmarks inform you of their history when you claim them. You’ll stumble across mages and templars engaged in pitched battles, crafting materials will slowly grow back after you’ve passed through to harvest them, and heaven help you if, under-levelled, you wander into a surly bear’s territory. You get a sense of an environment that exists alongside you as much as it does for you, a world that could move on with or without your input.

After five hours, I can already see I’m going to lose weeks to Inquisition. BioWare has always made games that are reactive, but I’ve long wanted their settings to feel more like a real, sprawling world, rather than an interconnected set of places, and here the fantasy series feels like it’s really reaching to grasp its potential.

This is the most expansive Dragon Age has ever been, the most alive Thedas has ever felt.

Well, it’s uh, been a bit barren around here of late, huh? Apologies for that – I’ve been a bit busy and just haven’t been in the mood to write.

Today is different though. Today, I just feel like writing for the sake of writing, so I thought I’d throw together some words about what I’m currently playing. If you’ve read the title, you’ve probably guessed that I’m playing a few too many games at the moment; I tend to play one title until I’m done and then move on, but every now and then I get a sudden urge to play something specific. Like the first game in this list, which I’ve been meaning to play for quite some time, and felt the sudden need to do so after a certain E3 reveal.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
I’m currently using my Wii U to get through a bit of my Wii backlog. I really appreciate that the Wii U is backward compatible, and wish that my XBO and PS4 were, too. Having to switch between these three consoles as well as PS3 and 360 is a bit of a pain, so it’s great that I can tackle my Wii catalogue without having to hook up another console.

I’ve mentioned before that I haven’t played Twilight Princess before – I’d stupidly walked away from the series for years after the Wind Waker reveal – and I’ve always seen the game palmed off as basically being an Ocarina re-imagining. This, I think does Twilight Princess a bit of a disservice. Every Zelda game since Ocarina has of course followed that basic template, but Twilight Princess feels to me like the ultimate evolution of that blueprint. So far, it’s everything I wanted from a follow-up to Ocarina of Time – grand, epic and mysterious, with a bit more of a focus on storytelling, and infused with a melancholy atmosphere that few games manage to achieve.

It also feels like the largest, most expansive Zelda adventure to date (in terms of landmass, certainly). More than ever, Hyrule feels like a real place; from the bustling Castle Town, full of citizens going about their daily lives, to the Gorons of Death Mountain, enjoying a relaxing hot spring while Link adventures through their territory. It’s a world filled with memorable characters, none more so than Link’s constant companion Midna, who goes from mischievous imp to sincere friend and ally to Link.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that I love Midna. Go home, Navi and Fi.

Oh, and then there’s the music, which I’ll be writing about a bit more in a few days. While it’s a bit of a shame that Nintendo decided not to go for a fully orchestrated score (something they did achieve, with fantastic results, in 2011’s Skyward Sword), this doesn’t detract from the quality of the compositions. And while the game can occasionally look a bit muddy and muted (especially in the starting area of Ordon Village), it frequently looks absolutely beautiful – just witness Faron spirit spring as the sun’s going down – and more often than not, the music and visuals come together in such beautiful ways, like a journey through the strangely familiar Sacred Grove set to a melancholy reimagining of Saria’s Song.

Having just arrived at the Arbiter’s Grounds, I feel as though I’m approaching the halfway mark in the game, and if it continues at its current pace, Twilight Princess might well end up as my favourite Zelda game of all time.

Tales of Xillia
I love Tales of Xillia. Not only do I have the expensive Milla Maxwell edition, but it’s also signed by Hideo Baba. So this isn’t my first time through the world of Rieze Maxia. But with the sequel out next month, it felt like a good time to revisit Xillia and its great cast of characters, and I decided to use the occasion to play through the game as Milla.

For the uninitiated, from the off Tales of Xillia gives you the option to play as either conscientious med student Jude Mathis or all-powerful Lord of Spirits Milla Maxwell. The two split up – briefly – a few times throughout the story, so to see what the other lead is up to during those short periods of absence, you’ll need to play through it twice.

I’ve taken the opportunity to completely ruin the challenge of a game that was already easy by spending my accumulated grade (points earned through battle) to carry 5 x EXP, double damage, the ultimate weapons and a few other perks through into my new game plus. Five hours in, I’m closing in on level 30 and absolutely flying through the game.

But that’s all I wanted – to play through the other side of the story quickly, reacquainting myself with the world and its characters before Tales of Xillia 2 launches in a little over a month. And yes, I have the expensive Ludger Kresnik edition pre-ordered. I can’t help myself.

Dragon Age: Origins
Now here’s one I started a few months back and sort-of abandoned. I started the PC Ultimate Edition a while ago, intending to play both it and its sequel before the promising-looking Dragon Age: Inquisition launches at the end of the year. I got stuck and decided to park it for a while, and I’ve just recently gone back to playing it on my laptop when I can’t get access to the TV.

It’s not the first time I’ve abandoned the game; I bought it just after release on 360, rolled a mage, and then realised how redundant I was once I had both Morrigan and Wynne in my party. This time, I’ve gone for a rogue, and so far I’m enjoying stealthing around enemies to get an idea of the lay of the land before bringing the rest of my party steaming in. You can see my Dalish Rogue, Meadghbh, below.

2014-07-12_00001

I’m only at the Tower of Ishal in Ostagar right now, but hopefully this time I’ll be able to see the game through. Then it’ll be on to Dragon Age 2, which I recently managed to grab for under £4 in the Xbox 360 Ultimate Games Sale. With that sitting on my hard drive and a pre-order down on Inquisition, that should give me ample motivation to finish.

Others
Those three are my ‘main missions’, if you will, but I’ve also got a number of other things on the go at the moment. On Vita, I’ve got both Borderlands 2 and Final Fantasy X on the go. I had actually set FFX aside to get stuck into Borderlands 2, where I’ve been playing as the Mechromancer Gaige and her killer buddy Deathtrap (“love ya, bot!”), but recently I’ve been trying to get a bit of each done here and there, according to my mood. On Borderlands, I’m just about to head to the Wildlife Exploitation Preserve, whereas in Spira I’m currently halfway through the Thunder Plains. Then there’s always Project Diva f when I need five or ten minutes of rhythm action goodness.

On Xbox One, I’m currently playing through July’s free Games with Gold release, Guacamelee (or Super Mextroid, as I’ve taken to calling it). I didn’t really pay it any mind when it hit PS Plus last year, and I’m glad I got another chance to try it out, because it’s really good – a Metroidvania with a luchador aesthetic, absolutely filled to the brim with references and call-outs to classic games.

Speaking of Games with Gold, I’m nearly finished with June’s game, puzzle-platformer Max and the Curse of Brotherhood. I’ve enjoyed playing through it in very short bursts, and while it’s a good looking, inventive game, I’m glad I managed to get it for free. Lastly, on PS4 I’m still playing Ubisoft RGP Child of Light. Well, sort of. I chose to play the game on hard and some battles can be frustratingly unbalanced, leading to me setting the game aside a few times. I think I’ll need to make a conscious effort to push through the rest of it soon, if only to get to the end.

I’ve mentioned abandoning games above, and this is usually how it happens – I start too many things ‘just because’ and then some just never get finished. It’s something I try to avoid these days, as it’s just a waste of money to have so many unfinished games. I’m determined to finish off the ones I’ve talked about here though – hopefully before I have to add the likes of Bayonetta 2, Destiny, Alien Isolation and more to add to my ridiculous backlog!

The annual hype-fest that is E3 is now behind us for another year, and the question that many are asking is of course, “who won?” Obviously, the answer to that question will depend on your own preferences and interests, and as we looked forward to the second E3 for Xbox One and PS4, many were excited to see what the next year would bring for these new consoles.

Yet for me, it was without a doubt Nintendo that impressed the most. And I’m honestly a little surprised to be typing that. I had expected them to simply turn up, show off the same games we’ve seen in the Direct recordings over the last year, announce a new Zelda, and then pack up shop. But they ended up doing a lot more than that, and they did it in some style.

Of course, everyone had interesting things to show off, and I watched it all. I can’t help but get drawn into the excitement during E3, so I decided to get some impressions down on virtual paper about this year’s event.

Microsoft went first, getting us started in the early evening of June 9th. True to Phil Spencer’s promises, the Xbox conference was 90 minutes of games, with a good spread of triple-A third-party blockbusters, first-party projects like Fable Legends and Forza Horizon 2, and a good handful of indie titles, like gorgeous-looking platformer Ori and the Blind Forest.

orixb1

Immediately after Microsoft’s media briefing, I was feeling very positive indeed. I was incredibly pleased to see that Halo: The Master Chief Collection was actually a thing, as I thought remastering four games in two years would be too much work (and I was kind of right, though I’ll touch on that in another post). Fable Legends looks like it’ll scratch my co-operative dungeon crawler itch very nicely, and it was great to see a bit more gameplay footage for the colourful Sunset Overdrive, as well as hear about its eight-player co-operative ‘Chaos Squad’.

What really got me excited on the day, however, was the reveal of three games that had been heavily-rumoured before E3; Scalebound, an Xbox One exclusive from Hideki Kamiya and Platinum Games, and the revival of two of Microsoft’s older properties in Crackdown and Phantom Dust. Along with a brief tease of Halo 5: Guardians in the Master Chief Collection trailer, these were the things that were the highlights of the conference at the time.

Later in the day though, I started to wonder quite why I had gotten so excited; we didn’t actually see anything of any of these titles, after all. Everything we saw was CGI and gave little away about the games in question. Granted, Crackdown and Halo are fairly safe bets (if you’re a fan of the previous games, you’ll probably love the new ones), though that’s probably less true of Phantom Dust, which is seemingly a reboot of a very niche original Xbox game. Scalebound, though? I couldn’t tell you anything about that game. It’s seems safe to assume that, given Platinum’s pedigree, it’ll be an action game, and I guess there are dragons in it. Will we get to play as a dragon? I guess we’ll have to wait to see more of the game.

Still, it was a strong showing from Microsoft in terms of content to look forward to, even if half of it was made up of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it context-free teasers.

Sadly, I had a more negative reaction to Sony’s conference. Perhaps it was having to sit up until 4am to watch it all. Perhaps it was because it felt like they could have cut their show in half without really losing anything. Perhaps it was the 20-or-so minutes that were spent talking about television and film projects, or maybe it was all the talk of timed or exclusive DLC.

Perhaps it was all of those things, combined with the rather self-serving ‘fan letters’ read out through half of the conference, and the fact that the whole thing ran on for almost two hours and sagged horribly in the middle.

Starting out with some footage of Destiny was a nice touch for me, a huge Bungie fan (and I’ll have some Alpha impressions up later this week, complete with plenty of video content), and following that with another short look at The Order: 1886 could have proved a winner had they chosen to show something a bit more involved. I’ve said before that I’m rather unsure of Ready at Dawn’s new IP, as it seems to look like a pretty but incredibly linear Gears of War clone. This demo did nothing to defuse those worries, showcasing a short slice of gameplay featuring one of the Knights tussling with a werewolf.

order

This clip seemed to have more of a survival horror atmosphere compared to the previous footage we’ve seen which is welcome, but gameplay itself seemed even narrower. It was disappointing for me; I had hoped to see something that dispelled my apprehension at the game’s perceived linearity, but instead I’m now more suspicious. I think we could also have done without The Last of Us Remastered at E3 – we know it’s coming, and I would imagine the vast majority of people watching Sony’s conference will have already played it and loved it on PS3 – it’ll be nice to have a higher fidelity version in the PS4’s library, but I feel like the time could have been used for something else (or just cut entirely along with the media stuff to help bring down that bloated running time).

To Sony’s credit, they also had a broad spread of content and managed to pack in a few surprises, such as a live demo of Little Big Planet 3 from Media Molecule (who had previously sworn blind that they wouldn’t be appearing at E3 at all, cheeky scamps), a remake of cult-classic LucasArts adventure Grim Fandango, an exclusive from Suda 51 called Let it Die and a proper trailer for FROM Software’s PS4-exclusive Bloodborne. Again, like Microsoft’s more exciting surprises, we only got CGI trailers that told us very little, but as with those projects, it’s good to know what’s in the pipeline, even if we don’t know exactly what these titles are.

At the very end of Sony’s conference, we got another brief glimpse at Naughty Dog’s latest, Uncharted 4, now subtitled A Thief’s End. It was clearly envisioned to be Sony’s big, crowd-pleasing sign-off, but for me it fell flat. I’ve said before that I was disappointed when Naughty Dog announced another game in the series – not because I dislike Uncharted, but because it worked out so well the last time they did that. No, I like the Uncharted games a lot, but I’ve played four very similar games and didn’t feel that I needed another (incidentally, I’d have said the same about Gears of War had Microsoft decided to show a teaser for that).

With all that said, I was (and still am) really hoping to see The Last of Us leads Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley mix things up a fair bit for the franchise’s debut on PlayStation 4, and I was hoping to see a gameplay teaser to underline this. Instead, what we got was a short teaser that told us nothing except for the game’s subtitle and the fact that Nate has aged a bit. We got the kind of trailer that would have worked well as an announcement trailer, had the game not been announced a year previously.

To say I was underwhelmed would be an understatement. ‘Disappointed’ would be a better word. Sure, it looked great, but then we always knew it would. I wanted a reason to get excited about another Uncharted game, and that reason needs to be more than just ‘because it looks nicer’. As a final moment of an overlong conference, it simply made me crave my bed as 4am crept up and the sun began to rise.

It ties into my biggest disappointment with E3 2014 – the reliance on CGI trailers, concept footage and prototypes. Both Microsoft and Sony had their fair share of these, but really it was EA’s conference that was the biggest offender. Perhaps that’s because I really want to see what shape their new Star Wars, Mass Effect and Mirror’s Edge titles would take, which meant I was doubly disappointed when all we got was some footage of offices populated by talking heads telling us about what they’d like to maybe possibly do, perhaps. It’s great to know these games are coming, but it’s hard to look forward to something so intangible.

But if there was one attendee at E3 that didn’t rely on such scripted thrills, it was Nintendo. Before the event, the Kyoto company’s decision to abstain from the big press conference dynamic in favour of a pre-recorded streamed ‘digital event’ seemed like a pre-emptive admission of defeat. In retrospect, this couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Nintendo proved they were out to have fun right from the off, with NoA President Reggie Fils-Aime and Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata squaring off in a Smash Bros.-style brawl that was very very silly, yet managed to be somehow entertaining, setting the tone for the rest of the stream. Their digital event ran for a little under an hour, meaning it didn’t really have a chance to get boring, and while you could argue that the run-time was indicative of Nintendo having less content to offer than their two rivals, the reality is that it was focused almost entirely on first-party games – strip out the third-party offerings from Microsoft and Sony’s conferences and they may well have been about the same length.

So while we got another look at Smash Bros., another glimpse of Hyrule Warriors, another peek at Bayonetta 2, we also got new software announcements like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Yoshi’s Woolly World and an unveiling of Nintendo’s new Amiibo NFC figurine platform. All of which was bookended with gloriously nutty, self-aware Robot Chicken-style vignettes.

Ok, so maybe Mario spin-offs aren’t what you’d call particularly new. What, then, about Splatoon? A new IP announced during E3 that wasn’t leaked or rumoured beforehand? That’s got to be impressive in itself, never mind that the game looks to be an absolute blast. If Splatoon is Nintendo embracing the online shooter, then it’s clearly doing so on its own terms. In Nintendo EAD’s latest game, you don’t shoot bullets, you shoot brightly-coloured ink; you don’t die when you lose to an opponent, you simply get splatted.

splatoon

For me, Splatoon was the most pleasant surprise of E3. It gave me serious Dreamcast vibes, reminding me quite strongly of Fur Fighters, but shot through with an AM2, ‘blue skies forever’ aesthetic. It’s essentially a third-person team-based shooter, but rather than focusing on kill counts, it’s all about map control; each team has their own colour ink that they need to splatter all over the floors, the winning team being the one that covers the most ground in their colour. The ink also has other properties, allowing players to turn into a cartoon squid and swim through their own ink at speed, while enemy ink will slow you to a crawl. Splattering walls can also allow access to higher vantage points, giving you a better perspective on the colourful chaos unfolding below.

A decent chunk of the stream was given over to showing off Splatoon, with the three development leads also appearing to talk us through the main concepts and strategies of their game. There has been a growing suspicion in recent years that the company’s reliance on development legend Shigeru Miyamoto may be stifling the creativity of young, up-and-coming developers, and this segment seemed tailor-made to dispel such thinking. That’s not to say that the old guard was forgotten however, as Miyamoto himself showed up at the end of the conference to let us know that he was working on a few new things (one of which is a new Star Fox game that we will hopefully see something of soon), but not before Eiji Aonuma, caretaker of the Legend of Zelda series, made his long-rumoured appearance to show us just what he’d been working on.

Aonuma’s segment was my favourite moment of E3. As he began to talk about his desire to shake up the veteran fantasy series, we saw moments of older games in the series. This was intended to draw a parallel between the freeform exploration seen in the original 1986 The Legend of Zelda and what he hoped to inject into the newest title in the franchise. Then, he snapped his fingers.

Behind him materialised an expansive view of a lush, beautiful Hyrule Field, grass dancing in the wind as Link sat atop Epona watching shepherds tend their goats. It was glorious, and I was immediately reminded of the rapturous reception afforded to the unveiling of Twilight Princess back in 2004, wondering briefly what kind of reaction this new title would have received, had it been unveiled before a live audience.

There was no time to think too deeply on it however, as Aonuma began to talk of a series convention he wanted to keep – that of a seemingly peaceful world that could be turned upside down in an instant thanks to the appearance of a powerful threat. A large enemy, looking like a mix between a peahat and an octorok – only armed with exploding lasers – entered the scene, scattering the farmers and livestock to the winds as it barrelled down on our hero. The scene cut to a narrow forest path hemmed in by ancient ruins as Epona galloped toward a bridge. The monster flew ahead, smashing the bridge and trapping Link. As he reached back to remove his cape, he took the opportunity to draw and fire two bomb arrows, stunning the monster.

Standing on his steed, Link launched himself from Epona’s back, drawing a strange, futuristic-looking arrow which lit up like the enemy’s lasers, and the trailer faded to white. “2015” was all that remained on the screen. If Sony’s Uncharted 4 mic-drop left me cold, this brief glimpse at a new Zelda definitely had the desired effect. It was glorious.

The fun didn’t end with Nintendo’s digital conference however, as they started up their live-streaming service, ‘Nintendo Treehouse Live’. This was an absolute masterstroke, and probably the best thing about E3. Treehouse ran for three days on both Youtube and Twitch, showing hours of live content presided over by a handful of young Nintendo developers and staffers. We got plenty of interesting interviews with developers as they came on-stage to both discuss and play their latest projects, and thanks to this simple, effective format we got to see far more of those games than we’d ever usually be treated to. All of this without any media personalities or corporate suits – just developers talking to other developers about the games they had made, all for the benefit of the gamers watching live.

That the most forward-thinking, fan-friendly take on E3 came from typically the most conservative of the big three – and, let’s not forget, the one that not so long ago took action against let’s players – is a bewildering thought. Yet, without even showing up to the main stage, Nintendo deftly made both Sony and Microsoft’s approaches look a bit old-hat. The good news is that Treehouse is something that they could replicate fairly easily, so hopefully E3 will become more fan-centric going forward. Even if we only have Nintendo doing something like this again, it’s still something to be championed.

While Nintendo personally impressed me more than any other attendee at E3, perhaps the right answer is to say that gamers won. A little bit of a lame response for those seeking drama, perhaps, but there’s tons of great games on the horizon no matter what your tastes. Granted, that horizon seems to be sitting deep in 2015 at the moment, with only a handful of things coming for the end of this year (though Destiny, the Halo collection, Bayonetta 2 and Hyrule Warriors sit high on my to-buy list), but 2015 may just be a marquee year for this hobby of ours.

It’s that time of year: E3 is upon us, and after the blitzkrieg of last year’s dual console showcases out of the way it’s time for some games! Hopefully we’ll be getting announcements by the truck-load over the next few days – Microsoft and Sony hold their conferences tomorrow, Monday June 9th, while Nintendo will be broadcasting a Direct presentation the following day – and I thought I’d provide a quick run-down of the big things we can expect the major players at E3 to show us over the next few days. I say a quick run-down – I wasn’t expecting this to run to two-and-a-half thousand words when I started writing this afternoon…

Anyway! Let’s get started.

Microsoft
Phil Spencer, the new head of Xbox, has been talking up his company’s E3 plans quite a lot on Twitter of late, and he seems to be promising the world. We’ve been told that we can expect 90 minutes of games, games and more games – a mix of third party titles, first party exclusives and smaller games (presumably indies and downloadables). Microsoft has also been on a bit of a roll recently, announcing and showing off big projects pre-E3, with titles like Sunset Overdrive, Halo 5: Guardians and, most recently, Forza Horizon 2 making headlines. We’ve also had another short look at Remedy’s Quantum Break, which is skipping E3 in favour of Gamescom in August. So the question is: just what the hell are Microsoft going to show at E3?

Hopefully, it’ll be stuff we don’t even know about yet. We’ll no doubt see more of the games that have recently been shown off, but Microsoft must have some pretty big stuff up their sleeves if they’re willing to show off their big guns beforehand. Granted, Sunset Overdrive and Halo 5 were announced last year (albeit both with CG trailers) and Forza Horizon 2 has long been rumoured, but these are still massive titles that would have been expected to be fully unveiled at E3.

Spencer has also said that he is looking into bringing back older IP, encouraging followers to share their favourite original Xbox games to gauge interest and also letting us know that his favourite game is Voodoo Vince. Hmm… a hint, perhaps? There has also been talk recently of a reboot of original Xbox game Phantom Dust, a title from Panzer Dragoon mastermind Yukio Futatsugi that never saw release in Europe.

Speaking of older IP, one of the biggest rumours I’ve seen recently is the supposed re-imagining of Perfect Dark as a third-person action-adventure in the vein of Uncharted. The IP has been sitting dormant since the distinctly average Perfect Dark Zero helped launched the Xbox 360 back in 2005, and it’d be nice to see it re-emerge as a premier Xbox One game. Switching the game from an FPS would likely upset some, but the genre is fairly saturated at the moment and the Xbox doesn’t really have an Uncharted analogue, so an acrobatic third-person adventure could easily fill a gap in the lineup.

I have to admit I have no idea where this rumour came from – I’ve just read discussions about it on a couple of forums – but I’d absolutely love it to be true. Rare are still a talented studio, and they should be able to focus on other projects now they’re seemingly free from the albatross of Kinect. A few interviews recently have touched on the fact that Rare have a couple of unannounced things in the works, and I really hope this is one of them. If it is, I hope Microsoft give them all the creative and financial support they need to make Perfect Dark a top-drawer franchise once again.

Elsewhere, we can expect a large Halo presence at Microsoft’s conference. Hopefully we’ll see the Master Chief collection unveiled, the rumoured remaster boxset of Halos 14, and possibly something on Halo 5: Guardians. I imagine we’ll get another teaser for the latter, as it’s at least a year away at this point, and hopefully we’ll get a bit of story detail so that we can kick the speculation up a notch. Personally, I’d also be totally fine with Microsoft devoting a few minutes to the Halo television series, even if it might draw some ire from the usual suspects on forums.

I’m also hoping to see some gameplay of Fable Legends. I want to see if it will scratch my co-operative, class-based dungeon crawler itch. I think we might see a CG teaser for the new Gears of War game; it’s a bit too soon to expect gameplay, but Microsoft and new developer Black Tusk will surely want to remind us all that it exists. There has also been talk of a Japanese third-party exclusive for the Xbox One, with many expecting either a Vanquish 2 from Platinum or a Lost Odyssey 2 from Mistwalker. I’d greedily take either, but I’d hope to see something new.

Sony
Though I own all six of Sony’s consoles, none of them have ever been my ‘main’ platform for a generation. As such, most of their first-party franchises don’t have that strong a pull on me. The thing that could get me the most excited about my PS4 tomorrow night is a new WipEout game. Studio Liverpool was closed back in 2012 (and at the time a new WipEout was said to be in development), so I don’t know who could make it; perhaps Evolution, once they’re done with Driveclub? Either way, a new title in this venerable franchise would get me very excited indeed – WipEout 2097 is one of my favourite games of all time, after all.

It’s pretty much a nailed-on certainty that we’ll see Naughty Dog’s newest Uncharted adventure tomorrow night, and though I like the Uncharted games, after playing through 4 of them over the last few years, the franchise’s PS4 outing is going to have to be a bit different to get me really excited. Hopefully the studio can mix things up a bit, rather than give us the same thing, just shinier. I must admit to having been rather disappointed when it was announced last year; I wanted Naughty Dog to announce a new IP, since that worked out so very well the last time they did so.

Speaking of which, I imagine we’ll also get a gameplay demo of The Last of Us on PS4. I’m interested to see how nice it looks on the new hardware, though I doubt I’ll be buying it at launch. The Last of Us was one of my favourite games of last year (if not of its entire generation), but I feel it’s a bit too soon for me to play through it again. That game is one hell of an emotional journey, and I’m not quite ready to feel it all over again.

Meanwhile, Sony Santa Monica are set to make an appearance at the platform holder’s presser, and they’ve seemingly been teasing a new God of War title on Twitter. I can’t get even remotely excited about this, as God of War is another Sony series that just doesn’t really appeal to me. I’ve tried, many times, to get into the games as they look like something I should love, but I’ve just found myself bored every time. I guess they’re just not for me, which is a little sad as they’re clearly very well-crafted games. Perhaps a PS4 outing will change things up significantly? Fans have been suggesting changes in character, setting and even mythology for a while now – perhaps a Viking mythology-based God of War could catch my interest?

Hopefully we’ll also get a good long look at The Order: 1886. I’m a little unsure of it at the moment, as what little we’ve seen looks like a Gears of War clone, and honestly, if I want to play Gears, I’ll just play Gears. The setting has potential for sure, but I hope it’s not just wallpaper for another third-person cover shooter. The game has recently been delayed into early 2015, so hopefully the extra development time will allow Ready at Dawn to really go to town and build something genuinely new.

The most excitement surrounding Sony’s conference seems to be around FROM Software’s ‘Project Beast‘, which many are assuming is a sequel-of-sorts to 2010’s Demon’s Souls. Though I’ve not played Demon’s Souls (it’s sitting on my PS3 hard drive…), and I’ve only played a small amount of Dark Souls, I can see why people are getting excited for this. The two related franchises have a very dedicated, hardcore fanbase, many of whom hold that Demon’s is the better title, so a new instalment is going to be an instant E3 win button for them.

Guerilla Games are also reported to be appearing, bringing their next project with them. I’ve never been a fan of the Killzone series; the franchise’s PS3 debut was the game that convinced me to buy that console, and I ended up disappointed. I wanted a sci-fi shooter, but to me it felt more like one of the grey-brown trench shooters we were drowned in until a few years ago, just with a sheen of sci-fi futurism draped over the top that made no real difference at all. Having recently played through Killzone: Shadow Fall though, which fully embraces its science-fiction backdrop, I’m prepared to give Guerilla the benefit of the doubt and see what they bring to E3. Rumours say it’s an action-RPG, which will be something of a departure for the Dutch studio. Colour me interested.

Sadly, I think the Vita will be all but ignored again. It made sense last year when the PS4 was the focus, but Sony seem to be happy to let their handheld trundle along gaining a bit of a cult following as ‘that indie machine’. We’ll likely get a trailer showcasing a number of games we already know about, and that’ll probably be about it. I absolutely adore my Vita though, so I want to see more – I’m hoping for a proper reveal for Gravity Rush 2, sequel to one of my favourite new games of recent years, and maybe a bit of Freedom Wars, too.

On the hardware side, I think we can expect to see Project Morpheus taking a decent chunk of Sony’s conference, as well as the PlayStation Now streaming service. Perhaps we’ll get release windows and pricing for both.

Nintendo
One of the things I’m most excited about this E3 is the prospect of a new Zelda for Wii U. Nintendo supposedly considered showing it off last year, but decided it was too early in development at the time. It seems almost inevitable that we’ll see Link’s new adventure on Tuesday, and I’m really looking forward to it. The only downside is that, as Nintendo aren’t holding a live press conference, it won’t get the reaction it so sorely deserves. A new Zelda is a big deal, and it deserves a proper unveiling, rather than a reactionless showing on a live-stream.

There’s also hope for a new Metroid, another series I adore. Retro Studios are done with Donkey Kong (for the time being at least…), so hopefully they’re a few months into development on their next project. Of course, it could be anything at all (maybe they’d like to try their hand at Star Fox next?), but I really want to see a new Metroid for Wii U. Perhaps we could also get a 2.5D game for 3DS at the same time, but if a choice needs to be made, I’d love to see what Retro can do with the Wii U hardware – imagine a Prime title with the scale pushed right out.

Excitingly, Nintendo’s main man, Shigeru Miyamoto, is said to be working on an entirely new IP for the Wii U, something that justifies the gamepad’s inclusion with the console. Nothing is known about it at the moment, but the fact that the creator of Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong and many others is creating something new is a pretty big deal. Hopefully it’ll be something that can stand alongside the company’s perennial pillar franchises.

Less surprisingly, I think we’ll also see more on Monolith Soft’s X, the spiritual successor to Wii RPG Xenoblade Chronicles. What little we’ve seen so far has looked impressive, but I’m hoping for a more in-depth exploration. Likewise Bayonetta 2, which we’ll hopefully finally get a date for. It is, after all, one of a handful of games that convinced me I needed a Wii U, so it’ll be nice to know when it’s coming.

On the handheld side, we’ll no doubt get another look at Smash Bros. before it releases this summer, as well as the Pokémon Alpha and Omega remakes. Perhaps we’ll also see a new title from Luigi’s Mansion 2 developers Next Level Games.

Others
A few of the big publishers will also be having their own conferences as usual. EA have said that they’ll be unveiling six new titles at this year’s E3, but whether these will be brand new games or known quantities remain to be seen. The publisher is expected to go big on Star Wars this year, with DICE expected to show off Battlefront 3, and maybe we’ll even get a glimpse at Visceral’s in-development Star Wars title. That game is supposedly being headed up by Amy Hennig, formerly of Naughty Dog – could it be something along the lines of the sadly-cancelled Star Wars 1313?

We can certainly expect to see more of Visceral’s other project, the recently-revealed Battlefield: Hardline, and the new Mirror’s Edge seems an absolute certainty now – the Facebook page has just been updated today with an image of Faith and the hashtag ‘#E32014’. Great news for me, as I’m a massive fan of the original game.

Square-Enix have recently announced that both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts 3 will miss E3, which is surprising, given that they used Sony’s conference last year to announce both titles. It’s likely we’ll see more of both at Tokyo Game Show in September, however.

What will they be showing? My money is on a sequel to Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider reboot, and I’ll be very happy to see it. I’ve recently finished playing through it on Xbox One, having already loved it on 360 at its original launch, and I absolutely adore it. I’d like to see a little less combat and a little more exploration and environmental puzzling in the sequel, but they have an excellent foundation on which to build, so I’m expecting great things. It’s possible we’ll also see the next entry in the Deus Ex series, too. I should really get back to Human Revolution

From Activision, we can expect to see more of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare from Sledgehammer games. As an aside, I think it’ll be interesting to see a studio born from Visceral taking on Visceral itself, with one studio making a Battlefield offshoot and the other a CoD offshoot. Acti will also likely show a bit of Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition for PS4 and Xbox One.

From Ubisoft, I think we can expect to get full gameplay unveilings for both Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Far Cry 4. I’ll be interested enough to take a look, but I think I’m a bit burnt out on Ubisoft games at the moment. I’m sure both will demo well though.

So those are the major things I’m hoping and/or expecting to see tomorrow. If I had to pick a few things I’m most excited about, I’d say a new Zelda, the possibilities of new titles for both Metroid and Perfect Dark, and discovering what form Halo‘s 2014 release will take are right at the very top. I’m also hoping to see a fair bit of new IP on show, but it’s obviously harder to be excited for stuff that, as yet, doesn’t exist. Perhaps Guerilla’s new game will wow me.

What are you most excited to see? Leave a comment below (if you managed to read this far).

It’s November 1st. Later this month, Microsoft and Sony’s next generation consoles will be hitting the shelves and we’ll all be neglecting our previous gen workhorses as we get pulled in by the new shiny ones. I have been planning a Games of the Generation article for a while, and the original idea was for it to have a similar structure to my Games of the Year piece from last year, listing a number of games and writing a couple of paragraphs about each. The more I thought about it, the more obvious it became that that concept wouldn’t work; there’s just so many more games to choose from that I’d probably end up writing tens of thousands of words, and that’s just too much for a single article. No one would read it, and I wouldn’t blame them.

So I’m going to pick a game every couple of days (or so) and write about that. I’ll then link to previous entries in all of the following articles so that you can keep track of them all. Some ground rules: I’m counting games on 360, PS3, Wii, 3DS and Vita as well as any PC games that have been released since the 360 launched (I know the PC doesn’t have ‘generations’, but I want to include a couple of games from that platform). I’m not counting Wii U for two reasons: firstly, it’s Nintendo’s challenger to PS4 and Xbox One, and secondly, I don’t even own one yet. If the mood takes me, I might even throw in a PSP or DS game (provided it saw release after the Xbox 360 – that’s my cut off point).

One last point: I’m not putting these in any kind of numerical order. I’m listing the games I’ve loved throughout this generation of gaming, not ranking them. It’s often hard enough to rank the best games in a given year, let alone an entire generation.

So, without further ado, here’s my first entry. And considering what day it was yesterday, it’s a very apt pick.

Dead Space 2
ds2banI loved Dead Space when it launched in late 2008. Loved it. A stunning-looking new IP that melded the best bits of Alien, The Thing, Event Horizon and Resident Evil 4? Count me the hell in! It ended up being my second favourite game of 2008 and I immediately began pining for a sequel.

Dead Space 2 launched at the start of 2011, and unfortunately I couldn’t afford it at the time. Releasing it right after Christmas possibly wasn’t the best idea, and I had to resign myself to waiting a few weeks until I could get my hands on it (on the plus side, waiting three weeks meant I only paid £24!). In the weeks that followed release, I got to read a lot of other people’s impressions and it seemed that EA and Visceral had stuffed up. Apparently they’d taken out the horror and turned Dead Space into an action shooter! Dead Space 2 was Resi 5 in space!

Except it wasn’t. When I eventually got my hands on the game, I found these claims to be massively overblown; Dead Space 2 is largely more of the same, and that’s ok by me. The game begins with Isaac regaining consciousness and finding himself straitjacketed in the midst of another Necromorph outbreak, a horrifically gruesome scene playing out before him. Unable to defend himself, Isaac is forced to run, and we’re immediately back into familiar Dead Space territory; dark futuristic corridors, ambient lighting and sheer bloody horror. The first game’s excellent, immersive in-game HUD is back, as are the static-y, hurried radio communications we remember, and it’s not too long before we’ve recovered the now-iconic plasma cutter.

Sure, there may be a few more necromorphs here and there trying to tear your face off, and sure, there are some impressively huge Uncharted-style set-pieces such as that train ride or Isaac’s frankly insane space jump through a debris field, but they fit in with the tone of the game. Dead Space 2 is all about escalation; we’re not on a derelict ship in orbit around a distant world this time, we’re on The Sprawl, an enormous space station built on the remains of Saturn’s moon Titan, meaning that the threat in this sequel is right on Earth’s doorstep (relatively speaking). The Sprawl is a civilian structure, so it presents a number of different environments from the moody mining installations of the previous game, taking in shopping malls, hospitals, an elaborate gothic, almost Giger-esque church and even an elementary school. God, that school… For anyone thinking that Dead Space had given up it’s twisted horror roots for the second game, that school will quickly set them straight. And then promptly live in the space at the back of their minds where nightmares come from.

The atmosphere is there, too. That thick, cloying, suffocating mood backed up with excellent audio design and that maddening quiet-loud mechanic that spends as long as it needs to to get every hair on your body standing on end, your skin prickling in anticipation. Just like Dead Space, this is a game that you will play constantly on edge (especially if, like me, you play it in the dark with surround sound…). Like anything in the horror genre, familiarity can lessen the fear, and that does hold true for Dead Space 2 to a certain degree; you’ll never relive the first time you saw a Necromorph tear an NPC limb from limb, or disappear from sight only to emerge, slavering from an air duct behind you. But this is where the atmosphere and audio design come into their own, backed up this time by a greater focus on psychological horror; Isaac spent much of the first game searching for his missing girlfriend Nicole, only to learn she had died before he had even arrived. In Dead Space 2 he is haunted by crazed visions of her, and it is apparent that he is mentally suffering, visions seemingly seeping into the real world and making both player and protagonist sometimes question what’s real.

So Dead Space 2 isn’t the full-on horror-free action game I had been led to believe, and now, post-Dead Space 3, these claims do look rather overblown. I’ve since seen a parallel drawn between the Dead Space and Alien franchises; people claim that as Aliens was to Alien, Dead Space 2 is to Dead Space. I don’t entirely agree with that either; while both Alien and the first DS were claustrophobic sci-fi horror experiences, Aliens took that template and made a suspenseful, dark action movie out of it. Sure, there are more monsters and bigger set pieces in Dead Space 2, but it’s still a claustrophobic sci-fi horror experience.

There are a couple more things worth pointing out. Firstly, the original game’s zero-gravity sections return, but here they’re much more playable. Zero-gravity in Dead Space meant jumping from point to point and was handled almost entirely by the game; you aim where you want to go, press a button and zoom straight there. In Dead Space 2, you are completely free to roam around in 3D space thanks to the small boosters on Isaac’s suit, and it makes moving around the game’s zero-g spaces not only much more enjoyable, but more creative too. Secondly, though Dead Space was already a very good looking game, the sequel is an utterly spectacular visual feast for console players – it’s easily one of the best looking titles of the current generation, and I’m very interested to see what Visceral can manage in the coming generation.

Oh, and one final thing: Ellie Langford is a friggin’ badass.

WP_20130927_015Now in its sixth year, this weekend’s Eurogamer Expo is currently playing host to Sony and Microsoft’s next-gen consoles. With this in mind, myself and a couple of friends decided to book tickets for Friday 27th September, in an attempt to avoid the worst of the crowds. And then all four days sold out.

I guess it was to be expected: The Xbox One and PS4 may only be a couple of months from release, but many are desperate to get their hands on the new machines and their respective controllers . It’s an exciting time to be a gamer. Unfortunately, with the queues being what they were, we didn’t really get a chance to check out much next-gen stuff, but the focus on the incoming consoles did mean that other titles were relatively ignored. So what did I play? Read on to find out.

Upon entering the exhibition hall, the first thing we did was walk the perimeter and try to get a feel for where things were. We spotted a Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII demo section and decided to head over. This was on the other side:
WP_20130927_001

Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD! I hadn’t expected to see this on the show floor, so it was a nice surprise. I didn’t play it myself, but I did watch as my two friends both sat down to play. There was, sadly, no sign of a Playstation Vita build so we were served up a PS3 version of a short demo beginning, funnily enough, in Zanarkand at the beginning of the game. The short teaser ended just after Tidus’ arrival in Spira, as he evades that weird ribcage sea-monster thing that you can see in the image below.

WP_20130927_003

I suppose it’s difficult to tell from an off-screen photo, but the game looked glorious; beautifully sharp, clean and colourful. The cutscenes have also been treated to a nice HD clean-up, and though they could look a little sharper, they are now far cleaner than the blocky, low-res videos that were in the original release over a decade ago. My one niggle was that the motion blur used in the original game (that left streaks behind some moving objects) has unfortunately survived into this remaster. I guess we can’t have everything, and it is a minor issue. More worrying, perhaps, is the continued absence of a Vita version of the game. The handheld would be my preferred format for Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD, so I hope it doesn’t get quietly canned.

Now, I may not have played FFX, but I did sit down to enjoy the Lightning Returns demo. The section that these demos were in was fairly light on people thanks to the new platorms, so it was very easy to simply walk up, sit down, and start playing. But first, I decided to video a friend playing the demo. That video is currently uploading to Youtube, so I’ll write a bit more about Lightning Returns in a separate post and embed the video along with it. The short version? I really enjoyed it.

I did manage to get hands-on with one next-gen game, and that game was Xbox One exclusive launch title Killer Instinct. I loved it.

WP_20130927_007The queue for the Double Helix-developed fighter was mercifully short and we only waited about ten minutes or so. Thankfully, the demo took place in a small enclosed area, meaning we didn’t have a queue of people watching us and scrutinising our every combo. After taking a few seconds to get acquainted with the new Xbox One pad (arcade sticks were also available), we got down to the business of kicking the crap out of each other. We had ten minutes with the game, and as there were three of us we decided on a winner stays on system.

I must say I’d been very intrigued by the game since it was announced at E3, having been a massive fan of the arcade original and its SNES port, and I came away from my quick hands-on very impressed indeed. Killer Instinct is fast, incredibly fluid and solidly impactful. It’s been close to twenty years since I last played a Killer Instinct game, so I was effectively going in blind with this demo, but once I got in control of Jago it took only a handful of seconds to get a handle on his specials and start stringing combos together. When you link a few hits together, the camera closes in (almost imperceptibly; I only noticed the effect when watching my two friends fight) and it really showcases the action, nicely framing the bone-crunching hits.

I mentioned that I’ve been following the game on Youtube since its announcement, and thanks to this I knew how to break a combo; getting that first breaker in brought a massive grin to my face and took me right back to my childhood, an instant hit of nostalgia that helped to make this my favourite game of the day. I wanted to play it again, but unfortunately the queue had grown quite considerably since our initial play. Likewise Dead Rising 3, which was in a similar enclosed space right next door. Unfortunately I didn’t get to play that.

A few words about the new XBO controller: I really quite liked it. It just felt right in the hands; the handles seemed a little more rounded than those of the 360 pad, helping it to sit very comfortably in the palms, and I liked the new sculpted triggers – my index fingers just rested perfectly on them. The shoulder buttons seemed like they might be a bit more of a stretch away from the triggers than they are on the 360 pad, but I don’t remember actually touching them much; once I got comfortable with the pad (which was literally a couple of seconds), I was too focussed on the action in Killer Instinct to think any harder about the controller. This is probably a good sign; if you don’t notice the controller, that’s likely a good thing – it didn’t get in my way during gameplay.

I think the analogue sticks will take a little more getting used to, as they feel quite a bit smaller than the sticks on the 360 controller. I think this is mainly because the ridge of the convex top part of the stick protrudes a little, meaning you don’t generally feel the textured outer edge of the stick. They also felt a bit looser, but they were very accurate for inputting specials in KI – I switched to d-pad at one point, which felt massively improved from the current implementation, and actually preferred the sticks. That is very unlike me. Overall, the Xbox One controller feels like a refinement. Whether I’ll prefer it to the 360 pad in the long run? That remains to be seen, and it’s not something I can say with confidence after ten minutes of use. But the signs are good.

Next, we headed to check out Quantic Dream’s latest, Beyond: Two Souls. I have yet to play Heavy Rain, put off as I was by Fahrenheit‘s final third, but Beyond has grabbed my interest because of its supernatural bent. And though there was effectively no queue (you just waited for a spot and sat down to play), the demo was overly long; we stood waiting for a seat for at least forty minutes, and there were also three demos to choose from. You could easily sit and play the game for over an hour if you so wished, and I’m sure some must have.

When a station opened up, my friend jumped at it. I was happy to watch (the game is out in a couple of weeks, after all), and he only played for about fifteen minutes – enough to get a feel for the controls, which were very similar to Heavy Rain, save for when the player is in control of Jodie’s counterpart Aiden. When controlling the spectral companion, you can glide around almost as if you’re in noclip mode, slipping through walls and interacting with objects to freak out NPCs or, as we saw in another part of the demo, throttle special forces soldiers to help Jodie escape their grasp.

Graphically, Beyond seems a bit of a mixed bag: character models looked uniformly excellent, with convincing facial expressions and eyes that just seemed alive. Certain parts of the environment however, such as the room in which Jodie starts out, were very basic looking. Another demo, with Jodie attempting to escape police officers on a train, did look far better, though that section was blanketed in a heavy rainfall that could help to mask other deficiencies. At the very least, I was intrigued enough to keep my pre-order in place, and we’ll see how it fares in the coming weeks.

WP_20130927_12_50_36_Pro

Our next port of call was the over-18 area, which this year was upstairs. Our main reason for this was to experience Titanfall, but the queue stretched from the demo station all the way back to the escalator and it was an expected two-and-a-half to three-hour wait. We decided to check out other things and come back later. Also in the over-18 section was a Watch_Dogs theatre (the game was not playable at the show, unfortunately), Battlefield 4 (which was also burdened with large queues), the latest Wolfenstein game, and a bunch of smaller titles like Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z which didn’t require queuing. So we gave Yaiba a bash. It’s certainly got a style of it’s own (though my first thought was ‘cel-shaded Lollipop Chainsaw‘), but it seemed very button-mashy – not what you’d expect from a Ninja Gaiden game, even if it is a spin-off.

After a brief break for beer, food and a look around the stalls, we decided to head back up and join the Titanfall queue again. It was about 5:45 at this point, an hour and a quarter before the end of the show, and we were initially quite positive; the queue was only about half the length it had been earlier. Unfortunately, an EA rep sidled up next to us and told us that, while we were welcome to queue, there was no guarantee we’d get a game as the queue was currently expected to be – you guessed it – an hour and a quarter. Dejected, we decided to stay in the queue long enough to watch a round and it did look fantastically fluid and smooth, and it was great to watch players getting to grips with wall-running, double-jumping and frantically trying to eject from their Titans before they exploded. If only I could have played it for myself.

Any other disappointments? Well, a couple. Firstly, I would have liked to get on Forza 5 (especially as I’ve already pre-paid for it), but it was pretty busy all day. Secondly, Destiny. When we first entered the Expo in the morning, we were all happy to see that Destiny‘s logo was printed on the wristbands. Sadly, the game’s only presence was a model of a Fallen captain flanked by a couple of video screens showing an old demo of the game.
WP_20130927_012

People were being invited by a couple of staffers to come and have their picture taken with the captain, so I waited until everyone had cleared out before taking my own pics. It’s disappointing that Destiny wasn’t playable, but then I guess it would’ve been another game with a two- or three-hour queue. As much as I’d like to play these games, I’m not willing to spend half a day to get ten minutes on one thing when I could play a handful of other titles in that time. Likewise, I would have loved to get my hands on Bayonetta 2 in the Wii U section, but there looked to be only two demo stations for that game, and the Wii U area was surprisingly busy all day.

I mentioned we abandoned the Titanfall queue after about twenty minutes. So what did we do with our last hour? We hit up the retro section of course! In this area were Gameboys, Game Gears, old Ataris, Super Nintendos, Saturns, PS2s… every machine you could imagine. We made a beeline for a SNES running Street Fighter II Turbo and had a few rounds between us. I of course was undefeated (just like in Killer Instinct earlier in the day), though one fight was incredibly close. Next up, two of us played a 100 CC GP on Super Mario Kart. Neither of us had played the game in close to two decades, so the first race was a comedy of errors, with me coming in sixth place. I managed to get my bearings however and finished the next four races in first, taking the cup in the process. Ok, that’s enough boasting from me! We also grabbed a couple of Dualshock 2’s and jumped into an abandoned Timesplitters MP game, though the Expo came to an end before we could finish the round. I’d forgotten how much fun that series was.

With that, our time at Eurogamer Expo 2013 came to a close. It wasn’t quite the day I had expected before we arrived, but with the benefit of hindsight it was always going to be difficult to get a look at the new consoles. We didn’t even make it into the cordoned-off Playstation area – you had to join a queue just to get in, and then queue for a game separately, which just seemed like a horrible use of time. I still had a lot of fun though, and it certainly got one thing straight in my mind: I’m definitely buying Killer Instinct on launch day.

Until next year, EGX.

WP_20130927_19_04_53_Pro

Enjoy a few more shots from the show floor: