With an awesome story and continuation of the gameplay that made the franchise great, “Gears of War 3” puts a brilliant and bloody bow on a trilogy that had some risks when it started out nearly 7 years ago.
The “Gears of War” franchise has been described by Adam Sessler of G4TV as “the most influential game of this generation,” but “Gears of War 3” executive producer Rod Fergusson said it didn’t get started without some major concerns.
“We had a lot of variables that were in play for our project (7 years ago). It was a new team that was being brought together to work on a new type of game,” Fergusson said. “They were building a game on top of technology that wasn’t finished. And they were building it for a platform that wasn’t really finished in the Xbox 360.”
The latest third-person shooter game from Epic Games and Microsoft wraps up the story arc for the Gears team and answers all the lingering questions that have arisen in the battle against the Locust and Lambent. Players will control Marcus Fenix for most of the game, but there are certain levels that the player switches off to another member of the Delta Squad.
The game starts a couple years after the conclusion of “Gears 2” and finds Marcus in jail. Characters familiar to the franchise are introduced in the opening scenes and the action kicks off in an unrestrained pace.
Combat typically offers four options for weapons; a primary weapon, secondary weapon, pistol and grenade. Three other players are with the team and they can be controlled by the computer AI or by friends for co-op play.
The weapons have weight to them and feel powerful. Cover based shooting, one of the hallmarks of the franchise, is back and needed as enemies appear from nearly every angle so you’ll want to keep your head down.
Teamwork is key. Not only will a mate come to your rescue when you are down, but they also will set up opportunities to flank the opponents and end battles quicker. It all flows naturally (much like the blood from the battles) and paces well with plenty of ammo and weapons to be scavenged and used.
Fergusson said developers really wanted to make “Gears 3” fun for the long time fans of the franchise, but accessible to those who are just playing the series for the first time.
“Even if you’ve never played ‘Gears 1’ or ‘Gears 2,’ ‘Gears 3’ is the one to play,” he said. “We’ve put in a bunch of accessibility features like the casual and normal are easier than the first two games. Casual mode has an aim assistant mode that automatically lines it up for you.”
Even multiplayer additions have been included to appeal to the new “Gears” player.
“People who have never played ‘Gears’ before can play multiplayer with other people who have never played ‘Gears’ before. There is an overhead map in multiplayer that will actually show you where the weapons are, which direction to run. There’s been a lot of things we’ve done to really help foster new players in.”
The story is immersive and gripping. Lingering questions and mysteries finally get answers and there is a sense of finality that runs through the entire campaign.
The interaction between characters never feels forced or fake. Their emotions are believable and their concern for one another is genuine.
Fergusson said they never sat down in the beginning with the idea they were going to design a trilogy. They wanted to make sure they had a story that had vibrant and deep characters while offering gameplay elements (like cover-based shooting) to keep players interested.
“It’s a fine line. We are a gameplay first company. That’s how we design our games,” Fergusson said. “We try to think about the experiences we want the player to go through and then we craft the story with that in mind.”
There were compromises to be made with writer Karen Traviss. Sometimes, Traviss’ story had to be changed to fit the gameplay and other times, gameplay changed to fit a key element in her story.
It all comes off seamless and leaves the player emotionally invested in all of the characters. But be prepared for the unexpected.
Fergusson said the genre of shooters these days puts an emphasis on multiplayer action and his team worked really hard to make theirs unique. Refining the rules and six modes of action gives players many different options to challenge their friends.
Dedicated servers around the world, something fans really wanted, also will be available. Fergusson said this should eliminate the perception that players hosting multiplayer matches had an advantage over other players.
“What else could we do that’s going to be unique to ‘Gears’ and really push that co-op and that’s where Beast came about,” he said. “A lot of the modern shooters are really human on human and they don’t have this ability to play as the other beast, to play as the monster you fight, and getting to destroy the humans so that was a really novel thing we could do.”
Overall, “Gears of War 3” is exciting, emotional and blends competitiveness with teamwork. Whether playing the campaign alone or with friends, the story mixes with the action fluidly and provides a satisfying feeling even if the ending may not be to your liking. In multiplayer, the different modes offer challenges for any type of player and put a premium on strategy to achieve victory.
While the trilogy ends, don’t be surprised if there is more “Gears” action down the road. But Fergusson said he’s proud of what he and his team accomplished with this story arc.
“It seems to touch people at a really deeper level and I’m really proud of that. The fact that it resonates so much with players. It is a game of character. A game that meant something.”
“Gears of War 3” is available now in North America and Europe and will be available Thursday, September 22 in Japan. It is a Xbox360 exclusive title and rated M for mature due to blood and gore, intense violence, and strong language. This review was done playing the single player campaign and trying out the multiplayer modes on the Xbox 360.
Have you ever wanted to be able to see through barriers or punch through walls? How about hacking a computer to allow you to walk unimpeded through secure areas?
Probably not, but the technology to allow you to do those things is much closer than you might realize.
A recently released video game, “Deus Ex: Human Revolution” (Eidos Montreal, Square Enix), features the main character as Adam Jensen, a cop who was forced to undergo electronic augmentations after a massive attack. Some of his augmentations allow him to do things that normal people can’t, but how realistic are those abilities?
Developers worked with a company called MicroTransponder, a medical device research company that is working on implant to actually control nerve impulses in the human body. Their CEO, Will Rosellini, was a fan of the first “Deus Ex” game and wanted to help make the game believable.
Rosellini, a retired professional pitcher, got interested in neuroprosthetics after hanging up his cleats in 2001 and went back to school with the idea of becoming an expert in neurotechnology.
Neuroprosthetics are mechanical or electrical software devices that enhance the nervous system or can take a damaged or diseased neurosystem and make it better. Devices like cardiac pacemakers or spinal cord stimulates are some real world examples.
Six graduate degrees later, he started his company with the idea of making devices that can ultimately control robotic, prosthetic limbs.
The devices his company currently makes can treat chronic pain, urinary incontinence or help repair motor skills to alleviate upper and lower limb deficits after a stroke. The type of treatment depends on which nerves the devices stimulate.
Rosellini and Eidos wanted to predict what neurotechnology would be like in the year 2027, the setting for “Deus Ex: Human Revolution.” Designers presented him with about 25 features and player abilities they wanted to use and he extrapolated out current day technology to make the abilities believable.
For example, with his new augmented arms, Jensen can punch through walls. Rosellini said currently there is a $100 million program with the U.S. Department of Defense that produces prosthetic limbs, which can withstand that kind of force when development is projected into the future.
“If the military decided that it was important for soldiers to have that kind of strength, it’s not too far to imagine they could enhance the energy requirements in that arm and you could easily punch through a wall,” Rosellini explained.
“The government has also been looking at ways to deliver payload in a much more cost efficient manner so they’ve developed what they call exo-skeletons. Soldiers are attached to these mechanical augmentations and they can lift 10 to 100 times their body weight.”
Developers didn’t want to ruin the feel of the game by making Jensen able to do outlandish things with his augmentations. Some of the technology that seems out of reach does have some basis in today’s devices.
“The game needed a way to have the player have an automatically regenerating health bar so you’re not dying every two minutes,” Rosellini said. “The way we explain that is there is a company called SetPoint Medical that is stimulating a nerve to control the immune system, healing and inflammation. So conceivably, that technology in its infancy could be developed to a point where health regeneration could be controlled using electronics.”
Rosellini admitted there are some augmentation abilities, like invisibility or floating to the ground using an energy buffer, that may be possible 20 years down the road, but don’t have any current basis.
“Social enhancers, where you can manipulate the brain to be better socially, is pretty far away. A lot of the cognitive enhancements in the game are pretty far away.”
“Deus Ex: Human Revolution” also explores the schism between people who embrace augmentations as the future of humanity versus those who believe electronic implants are an abomination. Indeed, the ending ultimately revolves around the conflict between the haves and the have-nots.
Rosellini said this is also based in current times.
“That is the biggest debate in our country today, which is how is healthcare delivered?,” he said. “Companies like us have shown that (neurotechnology) therapy works in the clinic, but unfortunately, Medicare has said we’re not going to pay for that technology.”
“This is an argument that is going to be happening over the next 20 years for sure.”
The idea of electrical manipulation has been around since ancient Greece, where Greeks were stepping on electric eels to alleviate leg pain. As technology got smaller and smaller over the years, doctors and researchers began to realize that microtechnology could be small enough and powerful enough to put in the body.
Could people begin to seek electronic augmentation to enhance their abilities rather than just treat an illness? Rosellini said the increased use of steroids and the demand for Viagra are just the tip of the iceberg.
“The appetite for self-improvement is there. We want to be prettier, faster, stronger, bigger, younger,” he said. “Can a medical device deliver that? Today, not really.”
But in the year 2037? The world will be a much different place.
“Deus Ex: Human Revolution” is available now for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It is rated M for mature due to blood, drug references, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language, and use of alcohol.
“Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine” (Relic Entertainment, THQ) deftly takes its popular tabletop miniatures game and puts it into a video game with gun-blazing, sword-swinging action and a story that flows very well.
Players control Titus, a captain of the Ultramarines, as you and your comrades attempt to battle orks, demons and the forces of Chaos. There are plenty of weapons to satisfy your melee or missile tendencies in battle.
All the action takes place in the third-person point of view, so the field of battle is easily kept in sight at all times. Minor enemies attack en masse and in waves, while tougher enemies usually follow up and rarely have accompaniment.
Boss battles are demanding and chaining together attacks is almost required to conquer the last foe. Players often are accompanied by two other space marines who do contribute to the wholesale slaughter of lesser opponents, but seem to have little effect on boss battles.
Melee weapons can be knives, swords, axes and hammers while ranged weapons start with pistols and go all the way to cannons. Ammunition and grenades can be found strewn around the battlefield to supply whatever weapons you have in your possession.
Combat is interchangeable and offers plenty of advantages to wipe out enemies. Trigger buttons control the ranged weapons while controller buttons activate melee abilities like stun and execution. Performing an execution on a stunned enemy also rewards the player with health.
The hack-and-slash blend makes for an enjoyable fight and really enhances the game. But it is more than just blood and gore (which, incidentally, gets splashed all over your character during the battles then magically disappears after it is all done) that makes “Space Marine” worthy.
The characters sound like they are ripped right from the British Navy, with “left-tenant” instead of lieutenant and the accent of someone hailing from London. Each character has their own feel and motivations, giving personality to even the lowliest speaking characters.
The three main space marines all have their own quirks and idiosyncrasies that makes each distinctly different. They are outfitted in colorful armor that probably would feel right at home in a “World of Warcraft” setting, but with nods to symbols and icons of ancient civilizations.
I found myself listening a little more intently than normal as characters spoke about their trials and tribulations. Small bits of soldier’s lives were revealed and help make the entire experience more immersive.
The story, one of honor, courage and sacrifice, could have readily been ignored or glossed over in an effort to focus more on the combat. However, developers were able to knit together a tale that also includes loss, betrayal and the feeling of omnipotence that make it unique for shooters.
But the single player campaign game felt short and the maps, while beautiful, were very linear and didn’t allow for exploration. The panoramic views and immense weaponry teased at a wide world to be explored and liberated, only to be stifled by rubble and downed machinery at every turn.
The ending, a cliffhanger of sorts, really was a jaw dropper for me. That is a testament to the writers for crafting an interesting (but short) story as well as the developers for making me feel so invested in my characters.
I have never played “Warhammer 40,000” on the tabletop (mainly because I didn’t have the funds to lay out for miniatures), but “Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine” on the console is well worth the investment.
“Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine” is available now for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It is rated M for mature due to blood and gore, and intense violence. This review was done playing the single player campaign on the Xbox 360.
Taking a classic video game designed for a two-dimensional, small screen and converting it for display on a larger, 3D screen takes a little bit of fearlessness, a dash of persuasion, and a healthy dose of hard work and dedication to make it look great.
Sony Entertainment is releasing a two game compellation, called “God of War: Origins Collection,” exclusively for the PlayStation 3. The pack contains “God of War: Chains of Olympus” and “God of War: Ghost of Sparta,” games that were originally released on the PlayStation Portable (PSP), but have been remastered in high-definition and 3D for the PS3.
The 3D upgrade was particularly challenging to the Ready At Dawn team, who designed the original PSP games and were given the task of updating their work.
Moving a video game from a small screen in 2D (480×272 resolution and 30 frames per second) to a large screen in 3D (1920x1080p at 60 frames per second) is more than just making things bigger and viewing it from two different angles. Their art team had to go through every single character by hand and increase the resolution by double or triple as well as repainting every texture on characters and environments.
Ready at Dawn worked with the Sony Santa Monica Studio, who had experience moving “God of War” and “God of War 2” from the PlayStation 2 to PS3. Producer Marc Turndorf said the Santa Monica team really pushed 3D, because, at the time, there were a lot of 3D skeptics at Ready at Dawn.
“I never expected it to be really compelling gameplay, but the end result (in 3D) is just amazing,” Turndorf said. “There were a lot of people here who felt like I felt, but we are all converts now.”
Jeremy Nikolai, senior programmer at Ready at Dawn, said the 3D work on gameplay turned out great and other people would stop by to admire how well the game looked. However, Turndorf said there was a drawback.
“We weren’t planning on re-rendering all the cinematics, but the game looked so good and then you plop back to the blocky PSP cinematics and it would take you out of the experience,” Turndorf explained. “It was worth it. Every time you jumped into a cinematic, it would have reminded you that it was originally a PSP game, but now they look fantastic.”
Nikolai said fans that have played the titles on the PSP are going to be wowed when they see it on the PS3.
“It is just a completely different experience in surround sound,” Nikolai said. “3D looks really, really good. We’ve got one of the best 3D experiences with this game.”
The remastered games’ look and feel as if they were originally made for the PS3. Players who want to play the entire series in order (“Chains of Olympus,” “God of War,” “Ghost of Sparta,” “God of War 2,” “God of War 3”) will be hard pressed to distinguish between the remakes and the original versions for the PS3.
Turndorf said when they put a game together, they concentrate on making a great game first and don’t worry about the console the game will be played.
“We were making the best ‘God of War’ game we could make (in 2008) and it happened to be for the PSP,” Turndorf said. “We weren’t thinking PSP-centric in the development, but obviously we were in certain areas technologically speaking.”
Developing the best game they could originally helped when they found out they were going to remaster the titles for the PS3. The roots of a great story were already in place. The team just needed to improve the look and feel of the game.
Turndorf said the focus of their work was to make sure players got as great an experience on the PS3 as those who did on the PSP. While time restrictions limited what they could change story wise (both PSP titles were remastered in 10 months), they did add one important element to the controls.
“(Controller rumble) was something when we were designing the game on the PSP, obviously there is no rumble support. We tried to simulate that with a lot of camera shakes,” Turndorf said. “It was really great to actually add controller rumble and we had to do a little bit of work to make the shakes more subtle.”
It is the first time PSP titles have ever been made available for the PS3 in the US. Chip Blundell, director of marketing at Sony, said the goal was to take fan favorites from the PSP and present them in HD and 3D for gamers to enjoy.
“If you’ve played a game in 3D or watched a movie in 3D, that’s when you truly appreciate how immersive the experience is,” Blundell said. “Content for 3D is really what’s going to drive adoption for 3D. We have great content in gaming that takes advantage of 3D technology and really immerses (the player) in their entertainment experience.”
When the games first were released on the PSP in 2008, some fans were also expecting them to be released on the PS2, even though it was never announced that it would be anywhere other than the Sony handheld console. Now, those fans will get their wish to play all the games on the home console.
“The fans are the ones who told us that. They responded in great numbers in bringing ‘God of War’ to the PS3. That was direct fan and consumer feedback,” Blundell said. “We’ve had nothing but positive in the forums and the blog about these (games).”
“God of War: Origins Collection” will be released as a PS3 exclusive on September 13. It is rated M for mature due to blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, and sexual content.
If there was a truth in game titling law, “Bodycount” would be in total compliance.
The first person shooter game from Guildford Studio and Codemasters is all about racking up the kills while not giving much thought to the overall gameplay. If you aren’t shooting someone, you are pretty much just wasting your time.
Players start out as an operative for a group called The Network, a shadow group that goes into world hotspots and tries to do good. Ultimately, The Network comes in conflict with its opposite, The Target, and it is up to you to track them down and punish them.
Once the bullets start flying, players will find that nearly all the surrounding environment is destructible. That cover you were hoping to hide behind will shortly be whittled down to nothing as opponents rain shells on your location.
Wood, stone and cement go flying and it is satisfying to crush an enemy who thinks he can just snipe at you from behind a wooden barrier.
The idea of blowing holes in walls to get to enemies is a fun idea and adds a bit of strategy to a straight forward shoot ‘em up game. And the supply of enemies to mow down never seems to lessen from mission to mission.
However, most of the enemies are not the brightest bulbs in the box and could almost be called suicidal. In several missions, I was able to sit in one location and kill bad guy after bad guy who keep running through the same gap in the buildings when there were other options to take.
The guns are powerful, but can’t be upgraded. Zooming in on a target doesn’t put the gun sights on the enemy, but positions the targeting reticule just off to the left – almost like sighting down the gun with the wrong eye.
Dead enemies can drop items like ammunition or grenades, but they also drop “intelligence,” which can be collected and used for powers like temporary invulnerability, more potent bullets or to call in a deadly airstrike. The intelligence can be maxed out and isn’t spent between missions so go ahead and use it up as you go.
Missions are quite linear despite an open-looking environment that is very detailed. The maps are often reused so there isn’t much variety.
There is only one way in and one way out for each mission, and you better be killing everyone along the way because you are graded based on the number of kills you have at the end. If you are player who likes stealth, forget it. That skill isn’t useful or needed in this game.
“Bodycount” is definitely a game for players who just want to shred through opponents and aren’t concerned with strategy or story. The play quickly becomes flat after traversing around the same maps with the same endless supply of enemies.
And in a market flooded with first person shooters, racking up a high body count by itself isn’t enough to break through.
“Bodycount” is available now for the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. It is rated M for mature due to blood and violence. This review was done playing the Xbox 360 version.
While the NBA lockout continues to drag on, it looks like the only good game of basketball you are going to get will be on your gaming console. “NBA 2K12” will be releasing soon, and while there might not be a new season, there are plenty of new features to get your balling action rolling.
A lot has already been said about the new “NBA Greatest” mode that features 15 of the NBA’s greatest stars and their iconic teams. But what you may not know is winning with those 15 stars unlocks other great players and teams.
Play and win as Michael Jordan’s Bulls against the Charlotte Hornets and you will get the opportunity to play as Larry Johnson or Alonzo Mourning later. Want to play Clyde Drexler? Win as Magic Johnson’s Lakers and you can do that.
Unlocking the Greatest teams allows you to match them up against current stars as well. How would Jerry West fair against Kobe Bryant? Historical questions may not be fully answered, but the debate and gameplay will be entertaining.
The “My Player” mode, where you create your own player and guide him through the league, has also been upgraded. Designing what your player looks like can take as little or as long as you like by using preset characteristics or getting into the details and fine tuning the design of your face and body.
Your player is entered in a rookie showcase game with other rookies (not real ones though) and you are given specific goals to achieve in the game to impress the scouts. The goals vary depending on what position you play and what type of player you are.
How you perform helps determine where you will go in the next draft. There is also an interview segment where three or four teams talk with you about your goals and aspirations for your career. These answers also play into what teams will be interested in you when Draft Day arrives.
After you are selected by a team, the development of your player really starts.
Skill points, which can be earned or purchased with your paycheck, will help improve your attributes and abilities. New drills will also increase your playing characteristics and increase your chances at becoming a superstar.
You can also curry favor with the league, your team or your fans by doing things off the court that reflect positively on you. This adds a bit of a role-playing element to the game.
Suppose you don’t want to start out as a raw rookie, but want to see how far you could go as an established player. You can do that as well using the same criteria in the “Create A Legend” mode.
Step into the sneakers of a current player and help guide them through their career. The mode is similar to the “My Player” mode, but you don’t have the pressure of being new to the league.
Can you turn a sixth man on the bench into a perennial All-Star? Or make yourself as one of the NBA’s greats? “NBA2K12” is prepared to let you find out – when the game is released on October 4.