Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Impressions: Uncharted 3 Beta

First thing you always have to remember when you are playing beta trials is that they are in their beta phase so you got to expect a few bugs. These are from titles that are still in development so you got to have the patience of a zealot monk when dealing with then and it's for this reason why I've laid off popping up a post on the Uncharted 3 beta as the first day or so were far from enjoyable. However, the issues with connecting and staying connected to matches have been resolved and I can dive right into the fray with Naughty Dog's latest entry.

Naughty Dog have claimed that they want to bring the cinematic feel of the single player into the multiplayer and it really shows in the beta. Two maps are currently on offer at the time of righting this, chateau and airstrip, which will be familiar settings for those of us who have been following and watching Uncharted's development, each displaying it's own unique insight into Uncharted's cinematic multiplayer.

Airstrip is by far the most impressive as it covers two seperate settings as whilst chateau is an extremely varied and more interesting map to play on, airstrip offers a higher sense of drama and cinema. You start off travelling at breakneck speed on an airstrip with a huge cargo plane and a number of jeeps. It's amazing to view and the general idea of the level is to get on the plane before it takes off. Jeeps move very intelligently towards one another as you try to leap from vehicle to vehicle and not make a red smear of yourself across the speeding tarmac. After a couple minutes, a cinematic shows the plane taking off and the action moves towards a more traditional enclosed box map and start playing Uncharted's actual multiplayer. The gametypes are the same as those in the previous game although the newer gametypes will probably make an appearance whilst the beta is on so let's focus on how it all plays out in competitively.

The actual gameplay of the multiplayer itself has changed up notably since the first offering from Among Thieves. Taking note of both Call of Duty and Killzone, killstreaks and interchangable match types are on offer, albeit they are referred to as kickbacks and power plays respectively. Kickbacks are little pick me up for players who do well collecting medals through good gameplay. they rarely benefit the team as a unit but are good for giving you an edge on the enemy. Power plays change what the objective of the match is and offer cash incentives to players for completing them. You could be asked to take down a particular player, protect one of your own or even, more interestingly, be cursed with viewing both friend and foe as one in the same , resulting in a mad blood lust as you scamble to build up your cash.

The cash system is back and sticking to the same formula of buying boosters and gun mods that we all know and love although character customisation is not dependant on how much cash you are willing to part with. This aspect is now down what treasure you pick up. By completing sets of treasure, you will be able to unlock various items that will make you version of Nathan Drake/Sully/Genero treasure man/whoever, unique. Uncharted's buddy system kicks in particularly well here where if you and your partner in crime take down a player, a treasure will appear to you both, a system which will no doubt encourage good team play.

So, thus far, the beta is a brief promising glimpse to what we can look forward to in November. Lots to look forward to as it tries to set itself apart from the other big hitters that are coming in the winter, particularly in battle of the multiplayer that Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 are leading the charge on.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Dragon-Blog Update- 19/05/11

Just a quick update, should be bringing you a complete review of inFamous 2 at some point over the next coming weeks, just trying to find the time to fit it as I unfortunately do maintain a life outside of gaming. Would of been done this weekend but I've had the, and excusing the pun here, "infamous" yellow light error and thus needed to get not only a replacement console but also need to sort out somehow having exceeded my console activation limit.

It's a little known fact that, unlike Microsoft, Sony allow you to download content using your PSN only 5 activated machines only, which are activated through your account, a lot like iTunes. Unlike iTunes, you can't remotely deactivate these machines yourself so you therefore need to actually call (you know, with a phone any everything) Sony to get them to sort it. Baffling but there we go.

Other bits of personal news, been back on LA Noire, cleaning up those cases and getting the new download cases, as well as having one final run at Mass Effect 2 before ME3 arrvies. Speaking of that, the idea of rumoured co-op online missions sound exciting but they aren't what Mass Effect is about for me, it's all about creating your own story and relationships with the characters. If they can find a way of incorporating this sense of immersion and maintain the branching dialogue options in the co-op, I'll be happy but just don't see it going that way.

A lot has been said post-E3 about whether this year was any good or not. From what I saw, a lot of the stuff that was discussed was stuff that we already knew about, Wii U being the obvious exception. I would not say it was disappointing, just predictable. Uncharted 3, Gears 3, Bioshock Infinite and Elder Scrolls: Skyrim were predictably the best on show as they were the games we expected to be good going in. I just wish that there was more unexpected annoucements. The most unexpected thing I could say about that week is that Duke Nukem Forver was released at long last, 14 years and I had nearly given up hope.

Next year will be different, I sense there will be some new hardware from MS discussed, they can't keep plugging Kinect as hard as they do, it just isn't a viable method of core game playing and I resent the tag line they plaster on the box saying "better with Kinect". No sir, no it is not. Sony might annouce something in this area too but hard to tell, depends on how much they have re-couped from developing and marketing the PS3 in the first place.

Finally, last piece to tlak about in, predictably, Uncharted 3 and the upcoming beta. Hopefully, there will be a lot to talk about as I loved Uncharted 2's multiplayer modes but I felt they still a few more game types unique to it as a game to the multiplayer truely stand head and shoulders above all else. I imagine we will see this and, with any luck, I will be able to download it. Please let me download it Sony :(

~ Naz Dragonheart

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Nintendo E3 Conference Wrap Up

  • For Wii and U: Wii U
Nobody saw that coming, typical Nintendo. Just when you think it's all been leaked and figured out, Nintendo spin it on it's head. Ok, taking the ridiculous name aside, the idea behing the new console, which is a new console and not just a controller as the briefing confused some to think, is that it's a HD Wii for the family.
Essentially, what that means, is that you have your powerful high definition console but if the parents want to watch The X Factor or whatever non-gamers watch these days, little Billy (or big Billy if your a 37 year old still living with your parents) can press a button on the new controller and switch the action on the lovely 6 inch display and keep on trucking.
Technologically, it's astounding although it's sort of been tried by the Dreamcast and indeed the PS3 but if anyone can pull it off with today's tech, Nintendo can.
  • Link to the Past: 25th Anniversary of Zelda
A few very early points scored by Nintendo early with a celebration of everything Zelda. In addition to the two big titles, Skyward Sword on the Wii and Ocarina of Time 3D for the 3DS, Nintendo have also put up Four Swords on the DSi for free and Link's Awakening onto the eShop.
They also have a huge bunch of stuff planned such as concerts, soundtracks and special preorder bonuses for the two incoming games for anyone who wants them. In short, this year is going to be a great celebration of a great franchise.
  • 1st Party: 3DS
A plethora of first party titles for the 3DS were discussed in brief this year. Although all but one were annouced last year, it was great to see them out on the stage strutting their stuff. Mario 3DS and Mario Kart 3D obviously solid choices when launching any Nintendo system but having Star Fox there, flying and all, was a real treat.
Same with Kid Icarus: Uprising, seeing Pit flying around was great and he came with Nintendo patent-pending trademark annoying voice. Luigi's Mansion has gotten a second wind on 3DS, which is great for fans of the first but that might be all to be fair to the first brother of gaming.
The best part about all these titles though? They will all be out by the end of the year. Big props Nintendo, big props.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Sony E3 Conference Wrap Up

  • Re-Vita-Lising: PlayStation Vita
So, the new handheld has been officially unveiled as PS Vita or PSV if you will. They didn't go over all the technological facts about the device because frankly, its all been covered before. In terms of graphics, it looks very swish, they had Uncharted: Golden Abyss running on it, Modnation Racers and LittleBigPlanet. A bit weird that they are using games that defined PS3 as launch titles but you got to sell units I guess.
Ah yes, price. It's roughly hitting the 250 range in dollars and euros so expecting the same for sterling. Not entirely fair perhaps given the exchange rate but if you don't want it, don't buy it. Vita needs to be both affordable and accessible to all, making sure that there is a control system and a game to suit everyone.
  • Support: Move and 3D
Another big plugging year on these from Sony, who have invested a lot in these technologies. 3D is of course a notoriously expensive technology so for Sony to come out, recognise and be pro active about the situtation, is a statement about the market.
Much as in the same way, early PS3 adopters pushed the sales of blu ray, so will they again with 3D with a new affordable 24inch 3D monitor, cheaper multi-functional glasses and game (looks like Resistance 3 but not nailed down) for the low, low price of $500, which will probably translate into like for euros and pounds. Still not cheap but certainly cheaper.
Onto Move now and Sony made it a point to say that move was in both hardcore and casual games, showing off NBA 2K12 with basketball man, Kobe Bryant as well as the new Medieval Moves: Dead Man's Quest. Also, big Bioshock man Ken Levine popped up on stage and said they were supporting both Vita and Move so more on that later no doubt.

  • Take to the skies: Starhawk and Bioshock Infinite
 Bioshock Infinite looks doubtably phenomenal and it's a great coup for Sony to not only have a trailer shown at their presser but to also get the big man behind the Bioshock games, Ken Levine on the stage. Not as impactful as last year with Gabe Newell but still nice to see another developer who had critised the platform being positive about it.
To have Starhawk finally annouced and teaser-fied is a relief as it has been rumoured for a couple of years now. So long as they stick to the same formula that made Warhawk great but make it in space, they can't go wrong.
  • Exploring the familiar: Uncharted
We have not one but two slices of Nathan Drake action this year and as everyone can see, the Uncharted franchise is going from strength to strength. Two years ago, Among Thieves was one of the hottest games coming out of E3 and went on to become Game of the Year. This year, Drake's Deception is the same.
A nice chunky demo of Uncharted: Drake's Deception was shown of Drake on a pleasure cruise ship, obviously looking for something but it's never stated. Every looked naturally fantastic, even the way the whole ship rocked back and forth in the storm. Obviosuly nothing goes to plan and Drake is left fighting for his life against the sinking ship. This was followed up by a lovely campaign trailer and to take Jack Tretton's words, "We're going to sell a few copies of that bad boy."
The Vita version of Uncharted, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, looked really good and seemed to play well too. Hopefully, Vita offers controls for all players, whether they want to use touch screen or not.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Microsoft E3 Conference Wrap Up

  • Halo, Halo: Anniversary and 4
Yes, we knew these games were coming but it was nice to see them get some air time at the show. Anniversary looks great and has a good shot at dethroning Reach as multiplayer king of 360. Halo 4 will be great, no doubts there, we just got to wait a while for the gameplay footage of it. Hopefully it'll have fancy new graphics and take note of Reach's multiplayer for inspiration in that department. Halo 4 is also heralded the dawn of a new triology so god speed to it.

  • Encore: Dance Central
Not a core game, or even a particularly important one perhaps but certainly a key Kinect game, the sequel to the popular original will keep those non gamers invested in the platform and hopefully bring more people in, particularly now with the local multiplayer element. Add in the trademark Harmonix good will of importing previous games songs is also a plus point for repeat players and you've got yourself a triple A seller.

  • Power of 3: Mass Effect and Gears of War
 Two big games from two big companies, EA and Epic. Not much time was spent on them although rarely any time in the conference was left for standing still.
The voice recognition functions in ME3 seems solid and will add to the immersion. Surprised that Microsoft didn't showcase any exclusive 360 content for this title but the draw of playing as the same Shepard as in the previous two games will keep this one in the family.
Gears 3 is going to be unremarkably different but doesn't matter as Gears is a lot of fun regardless. The beta has shown that they have upped the multiplayer so fingers crossed for the finished product.

  • Kinect to the hardcore: Star Wars and Fable
Two games that have appealed to the hardcore on 360 are Star Wars and Fable and now both are going to make an appearance on Kinect. Which is a good thing by the way. Star Wars looked much better this time out compared to the dodgy footage of last year. Fable also looked really good with some pretty engaging controls. Hopefully, this will sate the promises that Microsoft have made about Kinect being for the hardcore.

The Importance of Seeing E3

So, E3 kicks off officially tomorrow and, with any luck, this year will be a good one, particularly for hardware, with Nintendo and Sony looking to show off some of their new funky hardware not to mention Microsoft no doubt having some good things for the core gamers on Kinect. Many gamers hard at work where ever they may be will be following along to the events that will unfold over the next couple days.

And they honestly should because as an event, it is as important to gamers as the G8 is to the planet Earth and The X Factor is to Simon Cowell. Sound like too much? Not so, as the future of games will be displayed to the world here and, as long as most of use are paying attention, we get to "vote" on that future with our cash.

E3 is so important to the industry globally, as is the Tokyo Games Show although that lacks the pizzaz and global prominence that only the LA show can provide. It's not just an event to gamers but something to hang their hats on and unite around.

So much of the industry is deeply involved with in fighting, with publishers, developers and console manufacturers alike always looking for the various "killers" in their field and although that sense of warfare is magnified at E3, it's perhaps a rare chance for loyalists to take but a passing glance of how the other half are going to be enjoying their hobby in the future.

More to the point, E3 acts an icon to all gamers. We have so few "superstar" developers in the industry and those names that we do have are strongly affliated with one side as opposed to another. Nintendo have Miyamoto, Microsoft have Peter Molyenux and Sony, well, I guess they have Kevin Butler. Point being, it's hard to unite gamers all under one banner and that's what having the big show is: uniting all gamers and celebrating the future of the industry.

So, in those immortal words of Kevin Butler himself at last years show, we say, "Gaming, forever may he reign."

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The LA Noire Verdict

Another day in LA, another grizzly murder. Called on to the scene with my partner, we step over the tape and talk to the corener to get his opinion. Leaning over the poor victim's body and examine it for any distinguishing marks and important clues as to motive. After searching the area for anything else that could provide me with additonal clues, I get to the business of interviewing the witnesses. With all this in hand, we head off to crack the case.

This is LA Noire and how every case starts off. And why shouldn't it, you would expect my local bobbies to kick off a case by covering all this details. You'll repeat this same start point about 20 times and for some reason, each crime scene still feels as fresh as the first one.

This is all because of LA Noire's greatest trick- detail. So, let's get the much lauded facial motion capture technology out of the way. To sum it up very quickly, it's beautifully detailed, you can . If an interviewee is holding something back, so long as you pay attention to their movements and quirks before and after you ask your questions, you'll root out the wrong 'uns . Perhaps if more games use this tech, it could be a defining feature of this generation, as is the case with third person cover mechanics.

But it's not just the faces that have detail. LA itself has been meticiously crafted, assembled and put together ala '40s style, as we often now expect with games these days, but it is always good to appreciate and admire the level of work and attention to detail the blocks and buildings have. Internal locations also have significant levels of details, particularly with the clues that you find in them

The story itself is pretty standard. You play with the role of Cole Phelps, former lieutant in the US Army and LAPD beat officer who becomes a detective for the force after showing great potential and promise. You go around solving cases and stopping crime quicker than Scooby Doo. Phelps usually has a partner with him who accompanies him on cases. They all have their own personalities and can be fun to talk to but never so much that you miss them when they are replaced by your next partner. Same situation with Phelps unfortunately, he's not particularly well developed as a character and some of the plot points involving him aren't conveyed well, particularly in the game's final third.

It's a good thing then that the cases themselves remain the focal point of the game as they are incredibly interesting and highly addictive. Picking from one of the four desks; Traffic, Homicide, Vice and Arson, you got across LA picking up clues and interviewing suspects. There's no QTE rubbish here, if you pick up a ledger to search for a name, your damn sure going to have to find it yourself.

Each desk has it's own micro-plot that spans across all the cases, linking them together. Homicide is by far the most involved as it deals with LA's infamous Black Dahlia murder but Traffic has some of the more interesting cases, tackling some of the tough issues of the time, everything from anti-semitism and communism to paedophilia and fame.

However, herein lies the main problem that LA Noire has in that you don't ever feel that you're driving the story forward, that anything that you do actually creates a change in the direction of the story. After completing one case where I have to pick between two suspects: a neglected husband and a creepy paedophile. Either one could of done it so I send the creep to the gas chamber. Fast forward two cases later, the topic of the case comes up and it's made out that the husband was sent down and, for those keeping score, that wasn't my choice.

It feels more like your a back seat passenger in a car, yeah you can fiddle about in the back, wind the windows down and get told off for smearing chocolate all over the back seat, but it's not as though it affects the journey.

This quibble aside, definetly a worthwhile purchase, a throughly enjoyable ride from start to finish with plenty twists and turns to keep you guessing as to where it's all going. More downloadable cases please Rockstar.