Archives for posts with tag: Screenshots

Kait and JD
It’s more than two years since Microsoft acquired the Gears of War IP from Epic, and a good nine months since The Coalition unveiled their newest title in the third-person shooter franchise at E3 last year. But for all the familiar elements – the chunky armour, the chainsaw bayonets, the destroyed beauty and the waist-high walls – that reveal didn’t really tell us much. Who were these new characters? Where were they, and what were they doing? Were we even on Sera anymore?

Now, new details have emerged in a Game Informer cover feature. Set 25 years after the climactic events of Gears of War 3, Sera is a very different place. Though it is a time of unprecedented peace, the remnants of humanity now live in walled cities, while violent windstorms batter the planet, an effect of the Imulsion bomb set off at the end of Gears 3. A community of Outsiders – think Stranded, but not nearly so downtrodden – live apart from the COG in their own villages, preferring a freer existence. Into this strange new world come our three protagonists, JD Fenix, Delmont ‘Del’ Walker, and Kait Diaz. The son of the original trilogy’s Marcus Fenix, JD has gone AWOL at the start of the game for reasons unknown, followed by his fiercely loyal childhood friend Del. Taking refuge in an Outsider community, they meet Kait, daughter of the village’s leader Reyna, and described as a capable survivalist who offers a different perspective on the world. When all of Kait’s people are kidnapped, dragged off into the night, the trio set out into the deep, dark woods to look for them, and uncover the mystery behind the Outsiders’ disappearance and the arrival of a grave new threat to the people of Sera.

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Rod Fergusson tells Game Informer that the goal for Gears 4 is to return to that darker, more intimate feeling the first game had, which often felt like four soldiers standing against the night. “It felt like, as the series progressed, we lost some of the intimacy,” said Fergusson. “The first Gears was a little bit darker and spookier, a little bit more bogeyman under the bed. But as you went through two and three, especially three, Gears became more of a World War II game where the Locust essentially became Nazis in a way. Because the scale had grown, you had gone from this sort of incursion behind enemy lines to a war at a planetary level. Even though we were trying to make the stakes greater, on a personal level, it actually felt like the stakes were lessened.” To get back some of that feel, The Coalition settled on a story featuring three protagonists that stretched over a single span of 24 hours. Getting closer to their characters has allowed the studio more time to focus on their development, as well as the theme of lineage, something that will no doubt be an important thread in the narrative of Gears of War 4.

But that’s not to say that Gears 4 is looking to be a retread of the 2006 original. While The Coalition don’t want to reinvent the wheel, there will be plenty of new stuff to look forward to. First off, the eradication of the Locust Horde means our heroes need an all-new threat to combat, and we now know they’ll be called The Swarm. We’ve already seen one example of this mysterious new force, the agile Pouncer from the E3 gameplay demo, and there’ll also be at least two new creatures to go along with them. The first are Juvies, fast, agile pale humanoids that rush you down to force you out of cover, and are capable of evolving into another new enemy type, the Drone. Named for their counterpart in the Locust army, these hulking monsters are capable of using guns and will likely make up the bulk of The Swarm’s forces. Hopefully they won’t be too similar to the old Drones we all know so well.

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Our protagonists have a few new moves up their sleeves as well, mostly focussed around close-quarters combat. “One of the problems we’ve always had was with close cover,” Fergusson told Game Informer. ” Occasionally you’ll get into that situation where two people come onto the same piece of cover and it looks kind of silly. It’s kind of The Naked Gun moment where the two people are throwing their pistols at each other. One of our big things in Gears was never make the avatar look stupid, so we started to talk about how we could improve players’ ability to move over cover.” To achieve this, The Coalition reworked the mantle kick system from the third game, making it easier to clear obstacles in one smooth motion. If an enemy happens to be hunkered down on the other side, they’ll be staggered briefly, allowing the player to use another new feature – the combat knife. This can be used in close-quarters situations to quickly execute stunned enemies, and to that end, you’ll even be able to drag your prey out of cover to finish them quickly or, if you’re out in the open, use a new short-range shoulder charge (which can be seen in the E3 demo) to knock your foes off balance.

Those violent windstorms mentioned earlier – called windflares – will also play a part in changing up how you use cover. More than just ominous background elements, the wind can affect projectile trajectory, hinder your movement through the environment, and even tear pieces of it away. Game Informer describes a scenario where you could shoot out support struts during an intense windflare, sending a piece of heavy machinery barrelling across the battlefield, killing everything in its path, and The Coalition intends for the weather to heavily alter a play space, so much so that after you’ve moved through it’s almost a different environment. Additionally, these windflares are separated into four categories, with a category 4 also bringing with it lightning strikes. Thankfully, you won’t have to fight off The Swarm while you struggle to survive these intense moments: “Our original idea was that categories one through four would always involve enemies,” said Fergusson. “But when we started playing around with the wind, we realized that just trying to survive in a category four – just trying to do that rock-climbing-like movement to get from cover to cover – was exciting. I was like, ‘I don’t think we need enemies in a four, but we need something else.’ That’s where the ideas for those lightning flurries came up. I wanted to feel like we were swimming through jellyfish, like we were surrounded by danger on all sides and it was beautiful.”

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With Gears vet Rod Fergusson heading the studio, and with The Coalition’s sterling work on Gears of War: Ultimate Edition under their belts, it feels like Gears of War 4 is in the right hands. “We have to do it right before we do it different,” said Fergusson. “That’s the message I came to The Coalition with. We were new stewards to the franchise, and we had to show that we respected the franchise and that we knew the franchise before we went off and did something crazy.” From what we know of Gears of War 4 so far, it’s sounding like it’ll be an exciting mix of the familiar and the crazy – exactly what we need for the return of one of the last generation’s classics.

Gravity Rush's Kat
A quick (mildly passive-aggressive) heads-up for the PS4 owners among you: Gravity Rush Remastered hits UK shop shelves today, and you should absolutely go and buy a copy.

Originally released on PlayStation Vita back in 2012, Gravity Rush has since become a cult favourite for fans of the under-appreciated handheld, and now it’s coming to a wider audience, fans are hoping it can attract a whole new fanbase on home console. Honestly, it’s a miracle we’re getting a sequel, which is coming to PS4 sometime this year, so if you never had access to a Vita, now’s the time to play this unique, wonderful game from Sony’s Japan Studio.

The Vita game had a wonderful effect where the horizon became a sort of abstract sketch to mask the draw distance. Thankfully, Bluepoint have retained the effect on PS4. I loved it then and I love it now.

The Vita game had a wonderful effect where the horizon became a sort of abstract sketch to mask the draw distance. Thankfully, Bluepoint have retained the effect on PS4. I loved it then and I love it now.

So what is Gravity Rush, exactly? I’m glad you asked. It’s a mission-based open world game, though it’s different from any you’ve played before. Well, maybe Crackdown is the closest thing to it – certainly in the way that collecting gems to power up Kat is just as addictive as hunting down Crackdown‘s agility orbs – but even then the two games aren’t particularly alike. It’s effectively a superhero origin story, starring a teenage amnesiac, and you’re already beginning to roll your eyes and groan, imagining lots of attitude and a dark backstory. Well, it’s the opposite of that. Gravity Rush‘s protagonist, Kat, has no backstory. And she doesn’t have much of an attitude, either. She wakes up one day in the city of Hekseville with no memory of who or where she is, finds she has the power to manipulate gravity through a mysterious cat she names Dusty, and then she promptly sets out to cheerfully help the people of the city as they find themselves under attack from strange monsters called Nevi.

I said Kat can control gravity, remember? Well, the whole game is built around that. With the tap of a button, you can untether her from gravity altogether, and then decide at will which direction you want to ‘fall’. The city is one huge playground for your to fling yourself around – through, over and under, as Hekseville rather strangely just floats in a void. The ability to realign gravity means Kat can walk on walls, drop horizontally to travel at speed, or simply just fall into the sky. You can see what I mean in the video below, which shows ten minutes of early-game play, as our heroine sets up a home for herself.

I love games that make it a joy just simply getting around the world and exploring, and in that respect, Gravity Rush is one of the best. Add to that beautiful art, a soundtrack with serious earworm potential and a likeable, engaging lead and you’ve got something really special. The conversion has been masterfully handled by remaster specialists Bluepoint, who have done a wonderful job bringing the game up to PS4 standards while respecting the art and aesthetic of the Vita original, and at just half the price of a standard new game, how can you say no?

Well, don’t. Go and grab a copy and maybe we can all make sure that Gravity Rush 2 is a smashing success. Sony may have sent this game out to die with no marketing, but we can show them that unique games like this have a place in the market.

Hyrule Warriors treasure chest
Tomorrow, Nintendo’s first big title since Mario Kart 8 hits the Wii U, and this one’s a little different. For the first time in four years, Nintendo has given an outside studio the keys to one of its biggest franchises, and the result is a curious mash-up of two separate worlds.

When Hyrule Warriors was first revealed, I thought it looked pretty bad. I had no interest in it at all, despite (or perhaps because of) my deep love for the Zelda series. However, as more of the game has been shown in the months since its unveiling, the more interested I’ve become. I’ve noted this before, but Hyrule Warriors strikes me as a massive Zelda fanservice project in the guise of a Musou game, and it’s certainly a great way to draw those unfamiliar with the Dynasty Warriors series, like me, into the franchise.

Taking characters and settings from the much-revered The Legend of Zelda series and matching it to the tactical action of the Dynasty Warriors franchise might seem like an odd fit, but it works quite well in practice. As a total Musou noob, I’m enjoying Hyrule Warriors a great deal – it’s huge fun to storm through the massed ranks of bokoblins and stalchilds (stalchildren?), sending dozens of them flying into the air with a single sweep of Link’s spin attack or Impa’s enormous Giant’s Knife.

Of course, these are just the foot soldiers of the enemy forces, and there are hardier foes to tackle on the battlefield. The tactical side of the game comes in the form of a number of keeps on the map, which can be both captured for and lost by you and your allies. To take a fort, you’ll have to lay the smackdown on a large number of foot soldiers before the keep boss, a larger, sturdier variant, comes out to see what’s going on. Defeating these foes wins the keep. And then there are special enemies out there to grapple with, foes like the nimble, fire-breathing Lizalfos or the shrieking Gibdo.

Hyrule Warriors Dodongo

But it wouldn’t be a Zelda title without some memorable bosses, and so there are of course some huge screen-filling monsters to contend with. When King Dodongo gets dropped into the middle of Hyrule Field surrounded by hundreds of Bokoblins, it seems like utter chaos. By this point though, you’ve unlocked bombs, and we all know what happens when you combine bombs with King Dodongo’s gaping maw. Later on, you’ll fend off Gohma as it launches a massive assault on the Great Deku Tree, and by then you’ve found a bow and arrows (in a chest, of course). And again, you know how you need to take the boss down.

This might sound like a negative, but it’s really not. Here you are battling through familiar places, against familiar foes in familiar ways, and it’s this huge dose of nostalgia that makes the game feel that it’s as much a Zelda game as it is a Warriors one. These battles are freshened up by a heightened sense of urgency that’s never really seen in the Zelda series; during that battle with Gohma, the armoured arachnid was occupying my home base, and if I hadn’t taken him down in time, it would have been an instant game over. It was a close run thing, and defeating it in time to save the Great Deku Tree was an early highpoint.

If it’s not clear yet, the game is utterly drenched in a deep love for the Zelda series. It’s not just seen in the locations, characters, bosses and iconic items like Link’s bombs and bow. It’s seen in the mix of musical themes from across the series that plays over the title screen. It’s seen in the mix of art-styles throughout, with storyboard sequences taking on a Wind Waker aesthetic, while the in-game graphics are reminiscent of both Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. It’s even seen in the loading screens, with an 8-bit Link running around avoiding NES octoroks. The development team’s love for the source material is visible everywhere throughout the production, and it makes it a real treat for fans of the venerable series.

Hyrule Warrios Impa special attack

There’s plenty of stuff I haven’t had a chance to look too deeply into just yet, like the crafting mechanics that allow you to create buff-conferring badges, or the Smithy, who can transfer skills from one weapon to another. Then there are multiple characters and weapons to unlock, and other modes to play through, like the bite-sized missions of Adventure Mode – this genuinely feels like a game that could last me for a good few months. I have, however, had a chance to play as Impa, and I think she’s set to become a fan favourite here. Her play style is massively satisfying, with every swing of her massive Giant’s Knife conveying the weapon’s full heft. She starts off with a great, heavy-hitting combo that ends with her summoning a massive ball of water to take out foes at a distance, and not only is it useful against enemies in the lava-drenched Eldin Caves, but it looks absolutely spectacular.

And the game does occasionally look a bit special. It’s not a graphical showcase by any means, but when there’s a sea of enemies on-screen and various graphical effects going off as your character spins, pirouettes and poses, it often manages to look rather beautiful. If I have one complaint though, it’s the map. It can often be rather difficult to read in the heat of the moment, making it quite easy to lose your way as you rush off on another time-sensitive errand, but I’m hopeful that it’s something I’ll adjust to after a while of play. Surprisingly, you can’t use the GamePad screen to display a larger, more detailed map – as it stands, it just lists your objectives and there seems to be no way to change that. Given that the map is an essential part of your strategy, this is quite the oversight. At least in the opening stages, you’ll likely find yourself pausing the game to properly scrutinise the map and see where you need to go.

It remains to be seen whether the constant combat of Hyrule Warriors will prove wearying in the long run, though it’s certainly far less one-note than I had expected. There also seems to be plenty to unlock, including a large number of Zelda universe characters to get to grips with, each of which seems to handle very differently. At the very least, I’ll be playing through the entirety of the story before jumping into Adventure Mode to see how that helps to extend the experience.

I’ve never really managed to get my head around Limsa Lominsa. I know my way around my forest hometown of Gridania and I’m sure of my surroundings in the desert city of Ul’Dah. But every time I find myself in the whitewashed, watery environs of Limsa, I’m constantly checking my map. Sure, it’s a bit of a tangle of elevated walkways strung between towers that jut proudly from the sea, but I shouldn’t find it as confusing as I do. I don’t know why I can’t seem to learn it’s layout, but I never feel at home.

It sure is pretty, though.

limsa

I’ve always loved the way Limsa looks. In fact, I think it’s the most beautiful of the three city-states in the game, which makes it all the more bizarre that I just can’t seem to get used to it. However, much of my time since getting back into the game has been spent travelling around the more familiar locations, seeing how shiny they now look on PS4, so perhaps I’ll get used to it sooner rather than later.

After all, I can’t continue the game until a certain friend gets back in game and we can run Haukke Manor together. Miqo’tes eh? They come and go as they please.

Feel free to share your own postcards from Eorzea, and let me know in the comments what you think of Naoki Yoshida and his team’s world. I’ll share another of my shots next week. To browse through this and previous editions of Postcards from Eorzea, click here.

Wow, it’s been some time since my last Eorzean postcard! My last entry in the series was back in November! Unfortunately I drifted away from the game for some time a few months back, just after finally advancing to the bard job class – I’d just bought both an Xbox One and Wii U, and so they were claiming all of my gaming time.

Funnily enough, it’s another console purchase that brought me back to the game today, as my PS4 arrived this afternoon – just in time for the start of the platform’s early access period for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. After transferring my PS3 license (for free, I might add!) to the PS4, all I had to do was install the client… which took almost three hours. But anyway, once that was all done, I spent a few hours getting reacquainted with the world; at first, I thought I’d completely forgotten how to play the game, but it all came back to me as I spent a couple of hours touring Eorzea, revisiting my favourite haunts and seeing how they looked on PS4.

With that in mind, here’s a call-back to one of my previous postcards – a nice view of the Shroud’s Little Solace, temporary home of the Sylphs, only this time in shiny PS4-o-vision.

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(you’ll have to excuse the renegade mouse cursor – I need to get used to that Dualshock 4 touchpad and stop accidentally brushing it with my finger).

BONUS ROUND!!

Seeing as it’s been months since my last series entry, let’s celebrate the impending launch of the PlayStation 4 version with a couple more screenshots. First up, here’s a nice colourful pic of Nophica’s Altar in Gridania. Notice the easter eggs scattered around on the ground – it’s Easter in Eorzea, and that means it’s time for the Hatching-tide festival!

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As part of the Hatching-tide quests, adventurers are given fetching egg-themed headwear. Here’s my Elezen bard modelling one of these handsome adornments.

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And last, but certainly by no means least, here’s a pic of the game on my Vita, running via remote play.

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I was in a room directly below the room where the PS4 was, and while the remote play connection wasn’t as stable as my Wii U, it was generally very responsive and playable. Controls are somewhat compromised, given the lack of buttons relative to a controller, and while I certainly won’t be running dungeons on my Vita it was a perfectly good way to spend a couple of hours in front of the TV doing some crafting. I’ll certainly get some use out of it for the slower-paced, more considered side of the game.

That’s it for this edition of Postcards from Eorzea. I promise not to leave it so long next time.

Feel free to share your own postcards from Eorzea, and let me know in the comments what you think of Naoki Yoshida and his team’s world. I’ll share another of my shots next week. To browse through this and previous editions of Postcards from Eorzea, click here.

2014-03-23-015933Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster is finally (finally) with us. After a wait of almost two-and-a-half years, I finally have one of the games that convinced me to pre-order a Vita in my hands. Actually, I have two copies (erm…), as I also grabbed a copy of the PS3 limited edition, which comes with a gorgeous little hardback artbook, complete with notations for much of the included full-colour art.

But it’s the Vita version which has most impressed me, despite the reduction in resolution from its big screen brother. It looks every bit as sharp and clean as the PS3 version (bar some artifacting in some FMV scenes – disappointingly, one of my favourite scenes in the entire game is quite macroblocked), and those lovely bright colours that drench the beaches and jungles of Besaid really pop out of the handheld’s OLED screen.

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I’m constantly stopping in-game to pick out detail that you could barely identify in the original PS2 release, like the Besaid ruins in the shot above, or the ornate flooring of the island’s Temple of the Fayth. It’s far from the best-looking title on the system (you can probably look to Killzone: Mercenary for that), but it’s been impressing me at every turn; I know the game very well, so it’s almost like seeing a long-held favourite in a new light.

What I’m less sure of so far is the remastered music. Some of it is unquestionably better in my opinion (like Besaid’s theme), while others I’m less sure about, such as ‘Calm Before the Storm’. It’s only subtly different, but for the worse in my opinion. The original always had a somewhat otherworldly feel that the new arrangement doesn’t quite manage to elicit.

The gameplay though? It’s as good as it ever was, and it’s actually surprised me just how good. Final Fantasy X is a game I’ve played twice. Well, almost twice; I never quite finished it the first time (at launch – I had a lot going on, okay?), so I went back about three-or-so years ago (yep, just before they announced this remaster…) and played it from start to end. By the time I reached the climactic hours of Tidus and Yuna’s adventure, I was massively overpowered. Not because I’d purposely set out to be so, but I just had so much fun battling with the game’s enemies and exploiting its systems.

Replaying the Vita version these last few days, I’ve been reminded of just how inviting and engaging the game is. In conversation with a friend, a fellow Final Fantasy X fan, the word that kept coming up was ‘frictionless’. The game doesn’t put many obstacles between the player and their enjoyment, and when it does, it’s actually fun to overcome them. Take grinding for instance, that constant jRPG companion that so many have come to loathe (and I say this as someone who’s been stuck on a single boss in Tales of Eternia for weeks). For me, battling in Final Fantasy X is not only enjoyable, but compelling. I want to do it, and I want to do it because the battle system puts everything in your hands and just says ‘have fun!’

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The game is probably one of the easier instalments in the series, but it’s kept engaging by making everyone useful in some way: Tidus is fast, so his turns come around often enough to use him as a backup healer; Yuna has her white magic and summons; Rikku can steal and combine items, and one-shot mechanical enemies; Kimahri can learn abilities from his enemies; and so on. So you’ve got a relatively straight-forward take on the traditional Final Fantasy job system, but what keeps X engaging is the ability to switch any party member in or out of battle at will to meet your needs. Up against an enemy with high physical resistance but weak to magic? Switch in Lulu and deal some massive damage. His buddy’s armoured, you say? Auron, you’re up!

This immediacy is further reinforced by such design decisions as giving your white mage Esuna right off the bat. Generally, you’d have to work for such a useful spell, spending your initial hours throwing away precious items to cure your party of status effects. Here, you just sub someone else out for Yuna, cure the afflicted, and then get back to your gameplan. Save points in the world will replenish your health and magic, making level grinding more appealing as you no longer need to travel to an inn each time you reach your lowest ebb, and levelling and skill acquisition also benefit, offering to make the process as simple or involved as you like; I’m using the expert sphere grid for the first time, and enjoying the initially-overwhelming scope to develop my party as I see fit, but players that just want to follow a straight path can do just that with the normal grid, letting the game shape their characters’ growth for them.

If this all sounds like it makes the game easy, well… it can do. But in adding an extra layer of both strategy and, crucially, possibility, what it ends up doing is replacing a system that often boils down to using the same three characters and mashing ‘X’ to spam physical attacks in an effort to speed through encounters, with one that not only encourages you to experience more of what the game offers, but makes it enjoyable to do so. In Final Fantasy X you’ll use everybody. Not just once in a while, but often in every fight. It gives you the tools to do what you need and want to do, and it’s eminently satisfying when you do it.

Final Fantasy X is looked at as the point where the series began to streamline somewhat, the logical conclusion thereof being 2010’s Final Fantasy XIII (indeed, there are many parallels you could draw between the two games, not least their linearity). But when I talk of the frictionless nature of Final Fantasy X, I don’t mean streamlining. I mean the ways in which the developers have taken fairly complex systems and made them easy to understand and manipulate; the way they’ve taken often-frustrating game mechanics like grinding and made them enjoyable and compelling. I mean the ways in which they’ve sanded down the barriers between what the player wants to do and what the game allows you to do, making it possible to have fun no matter what you’re doing in the world of Spira.

Except Blitzball. No one likes Blitzball.

This week has seen the release of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII in Japan, but the game’s pink-haired heroine has been pulling double-duty, turning up in Eorzea to fight strange, bio-mechanical beasts. Of course, the realm’s adventurers aren’t about to let her fight alone.

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Lightning’s appearances form a four-part series of quests and FATEs that take place across the land. I’ve only managed to complete the first two parts, as the latter pair are out of my level range (I’m currently Lv31), and I doubt I’ll be able to finish them by the time the series wraps up on December 9th. Luckily, the quests will be making a return to celebrate the February release of Lightning Returns in Europe and North America, so I’d better get to work!

Feel free to share your own postcards from Eorzea, and let me know in the comments what you think of Naoki Yoshida and his team’s world. I’ll share another of my shots next week. To browse through this and previous editions of Postcards from Eorzea, click here.