Let me start by saying “Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings” is rated M for Mature for a very good reason. There is more cursing in the game than at a Yankees/Red Sox playoff game and quite a bit of nearly full frontal nudity.
Developers at CD Projekt RED have been very upfront about this title being for very mature audiences and make sure people can’t be surprised by the content. Even the storyline involving monster hunter extraordinaire Geralt of Rivia is more in line with a plot from “Game of Thrones” with political intrigue, backstabbing and power struggles than your typical “kill the monsters” role playing game (RPG).
“Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings” was released last year as a PC-exclusive title, but the game was recently ported to the Xbox 360 to open it up to console audiences. The “Enhanced Edition” for the Xbox 360 also offers new content, about four more hours of gameplay and many updates to the interface.
Using the Xbox 360 controller to narrate the action is quite the agility test. Each button, including the triggers and shoulder buttons, will be used constantly, and sometimes, in a hurry. Preparations for combat, which are almost always necessary, will result in multiple button pushes to cycle through numerous menus for potions, oils and the like.
If hacking-and-slashing your way through a campaign is your style, this is not for you. This is about preparation before battle and making sure to use the right combinations depending upon your opponents. Fortunately, the action slows or stops when trying to access magic (signs), but that also requires a couple of button mashes, some joystick movement, then more mashing to get back to the action.
While the PC version allows for hotkeys to access abilities faster and easier, the console controller doesn’t have that option. It takes some getting used to and becomes second nature as the game progresses.
As with most RPGs, there is a certain amount of gathering that goes on. All different kinds of herbs, trinkets and supplies are lying around, waiting for Geralt to pick them up and convert them into potions, armor or oils. Inventories will fill up fast, but you’ll need every scrap to gain advantages in combat.
Leveling up through experience allows players to augment certain abilities they choose through skill trees. A training skill tree is unlocked at the beginning and enhances basic abilities. The other three trees will help shape how Geralt will play and where his strengths will lie.
A magic skill tree powers up spells and unlocks new mystical abilities. The alchemy skill tree boosts gathering and blending abilities as well as increasing the effects of potions and oils. The swordsmanship tree is all about the combat, boosting defenses and damage through different skills learned.
Players will have to concentrate on one of the three specialty trees to really get the big effects. Each level Geralt gains gives him points to unlock new abilities, and every ability has two levels to unlock for maximum impact.
The environments are fabulously rendered and the lighting is superb. Buildings have their own individualities and subterranean areas don’t feel like recipients of a copy and paste tool job. Different races look and sound unique and the level of immersion is very deep and rich.
The missions and side missions follow along a fairly laid-out path. For all the environmental splendor, there is little reason to go wandering around the countryside unless you just want to see how much work the developers put into the forests (hint: a lot; it is gorgeous).
The story is all about king killing, kingdom making and political intrigue. Some of the dialog would probably play out very well in the halls of Congress (minus all the swearing, I think). Even though Geralt is a renowned monster hunter, there are very few true monsters to be slain. Yet, it is all done within the context of the story and accomplished very well.
A few buggy moments slow down the game. Following other characters during missions can be hit and miss as the leader is stopped or slowed down by every rock, twig and bump in the road. However, it only bogs down the pace and never crashes the game.
Overall, “Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings” does a great job of extending its legacy with a deep storyline, intricate combat and a level of immersion that keeps players interested and involved. The mature plot is handled very well while not getting bogged down in the minutiae of drama for drama’s sake.
Cursing and nudity aside, the mature themes are really aimed at an audience who is interested in living the lifestyle for the era rather than just killing everything in sight.
“Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings” is available now for the Xbox 360. It was previously released for the Windows PC in May 2011. It is rated M for Mature due to blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content, and use of drugs. This review was done with the Enhanced Edition for the Xbox 360.
A teaser trailer was released on the PlayStation blog along with the promise of more information at an April 30 event. The trailer doesn’t show any game footage, but does insinuate that players will be going back in time to when Kratos was first tapped by Ares as his instrument of war.
There is also quite a bit of imagery depicting Kratos apparently in Hades (again) as he is tormented by Cerberus and Medusa, and bound in chains. But the voice over says it will also be “a time when he would no longer be bound in blood.”
There is no date for release of this prequel, but as always, it will be a PlayStation exclusive for the PS3. Click the thumbnails below for trailer images.
Borderlands 2 wants to raise the stakes and improve upon its signature art style and outlandish weapons while broadening the story on the planet of Pandora.
At a hands-on demo, a pre-alpha build of the new title showed off two classes of characters – one new and one familiar. It also demonstrated how the development team at Gearbox Software learned and applied lessons from their first title and subsequent downloadable content (DLC) releases.
The Gunzerker class is all about the weapons – the more the merrier. This tank of a character can wield two weapons at once, bringing more firepower to fights and dishing out the pain. The best combinations featured one weapon that could bring high fire, but low damage and another weapon that brought serious hurt, but took its time to fire. Working together, the two different types of weapons created a consistent killzone for creatures – no matter how strong or numerous they were.
The other class available for play was the Siren. This class was featured in Borderlands and offered phasewalking (turning intangible) as their special talent. This time, Maya the Siren has the ability to trap foes in a force field hovering in mid-air, making them easy targets for damage.
The art style remains the same with the familiar hand-painted look and dark outlines. Gearbox producer Randy Varnell said they wanted to improve what they had done to make the characters look great and extend it to the surrounding environment.
“It’s warmer. It’s almost water colored with those really harsh, dark edges. Just like you would see in a comic book,” Varnell said. “A lot of it is drawn right on to the texture models themselves. We have a very distinct art style and art guide that all of our artists adhere to.”
The action takes place five years after the conclusion of Borderlands and introduces a villain to the mix, Handsome Jack. Varnell said bringing an antagonist to the plot gave the team more options to make the story personal for the players.
“Why is he mining? What is he mining in the planet? Why is that so much more important than finding a Vault (the final object in the first game)?” he said. “Having a villain puts a personal face on it. Are you racing him for the treasure? Are you trying to keep it from him?”
Varnell said giving the players a focus also helps flesh out the characters and what motivates them. The whole idea was to make the story richer and more fulfilling without changing too much of the gameplay that fans enjoyed.
Senior producer Sean Reardon echoed those sentiments and said community involvement from the first title and the three DLCs was important in figuring out what gamers liked and what worked best. Invoking Einstein and Venn diagrams during the interview, Reardon acknowledged there were problems they hadn’t foreseen until after the games were made, but they were things that could be corrected for Borderlands 2.
“Some of the things we thought before were facts, just truism? Turns out to be problems,” he said. “In Borderlands, it was just a fact that as a four-player (co-op) game, the vehicle had two seats. You don’t see it as a problem. You think they can use two vehicles and everyone like to drive. Turns out, it is an elephant (a problem) and you’ve got to fix that.”
Little refinements, he hopes, will make the gameplay and the experience even more enjoyable for fans of the franchise as well as new players who are seeing Pandora for the first time. Reardon built his development team from people who had worked on the series as well as new talent that he felt were the best at what they do.
He said it was about having the confidence of the people who were putting the game together to trust them and believe that they were smarter than he was about their areas of expertise.
“Get the right people, give them the right mission, get enough resources to do the job, make sure they’re inspired and get out of the way,” he said.
More than 200 unique creature types will be in the way of players as they go through quests, side quests and missions. There are also named creatures who will offer additional challenges and loot for those who defeat them. Also, there are mechanical enemies who are prominent in the game in addition to all the natural wildlife you can battle on Pandora.
The player characters from Borderlands will also show up in the new game as non-player characters, providing backstory and missions for the gamers to complete. Varnell said Borderlands 2 is significantly larger, broader and deeper than its predecessor.
Gamers will have to wait until September 18 to find out if this game is more enjoyable than the first.
Whenever anything involves the Star Wars franchise, there are certain expectations that need to be met to satisfy die-hard and casual fans. So when a new video game wants to bring Star Wars to life like never before, that’s setting the bar really high.
Kinect Star Wars tries to use the power of the Kinect controller for the Xbox 360 to put players into the action, using full body motions to wield lightsabers, drive podracers, and, unfortunately, dance for Jabba the Hutt. The game has a few high points, but more disappointments than a bad motivator on a defective R2 unit.
There are five sections to the game, offering different styles of gameplay and a complete campaign for each. One section, Duels of Fate, is locked at the very beginning, but quickly unlocks after completing the first mission in the Jedi Destiny section.
Jedi Destiny is where players learn how to use their body movements to control the Force and use their lightsaber. Players start out as training padewans (those who are just learning how to use the Force) and are quickly thrust into a conflict with the Sith.
When the Kinect controller works, the actions are seamless and fluid. The animations look somewhat similar to what you’d see in a Star Wars: Clone Wars cartoon, which means they are easy on the eyes and familiar.
Force actions are fun to use. Grabbing a battle droid with the Force and flinging him into a group of his mates is quite enjoyable.
However, when the Kinect controller fails to read my actions properly, no amount of flailing in front of my screen will alleviate my frustration. More often than not, I couldn’t control the action as well as I would have liked and ended up many times just wading into groups of enemies and waving my lightsaber around.
There are times during Jedi Destiny when you control a speeder, gun turret or X-wing fighter for battles, but the controls seems sluggish and difficult to accurately pinpoint shots.
Rancor Rampage was probably the most fun out of all the segments. Players act as a freed rancor (remember him? The monster in the pit at Jabba’s lair?) and get to smash people, droids and buildings with abandon.
Here is where flailing about actually works to your advantage. The rancor smashes the ground to level opponents, charges through buildings with abandon and yes, eats people to gain health. The controls felt responsive to the appropriate moves and it was the best 1:1 movement experience out of all the game segments.
The podracing section is pretty straightforward. Players act as the driver and use their motion to control speed, direction and ramming abilities. The storyline occurs years after Anakin Skywalker won his race in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, but many of the characters are still around and add some great dialog in between races.
The feel of being in a podracer is well animated and would be fun.. except holding your arms out continually to control your racer gets tiring and painful. The races are rather long and you’ll need to take breaks often just so you can rest your shoulders.
Galactic Dance Off is the least Star Wars-like segment of the entire game. It is pretty much any Kinect dancing game and given a Star Wars coating. Modern dance songs are slightly tweaked to include Star Wars characters or action. Some of the dance moves are named after Force moves and even iconic characters are dragged onto the dance floor.
From a straight gameplay perspective, the dancing works and will be enjoyable to those who like that particular game. For someone hoping to have a Star Wars experience, the Dance Off is something best avoided and seems more like padding to the game than offering anything of substance to the title.
Duels of Fate puts you in one-on-one lightsaber battles with different foes from Star Wars lore, advancing your way through the ranks to face off against the Dark Lord himself, Darth Vader. If any part of the game was going to appeal to fans, it was going to be this one.
However, this segment is plagued by the same problems found in Jedi Destiny. The motions appear off at times, it is hard to string together actions for a successful hit, and the feel of the action is less than enjoyable.
Overall, Kinect Star Wars is likely to appeal to some gamers with the different styles of play in the segments. It is unfortunate that the two areas where the gameplay actually works best are two segments (Rancor Rampage and Galactic Dance Off) that are not part of the Star Wars canon.
Maybe we expect too much from a Star Wars title when we want it to reflect exactly what we’ve seen in the movies and television. Maybe our imagination of putting ourselves in the place of Luke Skywalker or Darth Maul can’t successfully be translated into a video game.
The right ideas are in the game for what could be a fulfilling experience. However, the Kinect controller, for all the good that it does in other titles, lets the player down and doesn’t see through with the promise of a new hope for the gamer/fan experience.
Kinect Star Wars is available now exclusively for the Xbox 360 and can only be played using the Kinect controller. It is rated T for Teens due to mild language, mild suggestive themes, and violence. This review was done playing on the Xbox 360 with the Kinect controller.
Mashing together two popular video game franchises runs the risk of alienating fans of both. When those games are fighting games, it can raise the stakes even higher.
Street Fighter X Tekken blends the best of those franchises and all it took was the collaboration of two producers who just started out teasing one another. Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada and Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono got together two years ago to decide how they would merge the lore and history of the storied fighting games.
Ono-san explained the vision and the hope in a recent interview.
Q: Dozens of characters and fantasy match-ups. This title is a fighting game player’s dream. How did the collaboration begin and how intense was it trying to get the characters right?
Ono-san: I’ve always thought “Isn’t there something interesting we can do with Street Fighter and Tekken?” When I brought up the idea with Harada, he responded, “Actually I’ve been thinking the same thing.” Before he could change his mind, we started on the Street Fighter X Tekken project [laugh]. We had to create a brand new stage where both properties could stand together head to head as equals. In this way, we were able to merge the two franchises into a final product we are very proud of.
Q: Where did the idea of the Gem system (a game mechanic that allows players to customize characters) come from?
Ono-san: We wanted to create differences between the characters in the game that could be controlled by the players to a whole new degree. Now even if players are using the same characters, they can customize them based on their own personal fighting style preferences. Beginners can focus on using Assist Gems to help cover weaknesses in their game, while more experienced players can use Boost Gems to modify the parameters of their character and create very personalized results. Hopefully this enhances the experience for advanced players and opens up the game to a whole new audience
Q: Was this title built with the fans of the two classics in mind? What about someone who has only heard about Tekken or Street Fighter and wants to try it out?
Ono-san: This game was made for fans of the two franchises, but for beginners as well. We want as many people as possible to come and enjoy this game, which is why we like to refer to it as a “festival.” We added a number of battle mechanics, which are easy to execute and help ease beginners into the game. The Cross Rush, for example, is a universal simple tag combo that automatically tags in your partner. It’s easy enough to learn, but is also useful in high level play, so things like this open up the game to everyone who plays.
Q: There have been other mash-up games lately (Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, for example). What makes this one different?
Ono-san: This game is unique because it is a cross over between two of the biggest fighting game franchises out there. There has never been a fighting game cross over on this scale before, so it is definitely an event not to be missed!
Q: Did any of the character’s powers require changing to keep gameplay balanced? Did any get new powers we’ve never seen before?
Ono-san: We did a lot of tweaking to keep the characters in line with the new battle engine. Since we were working with Tekken characters for the first time, it took a lot of testing and time to get the gameplay balance just right. I think we did a great job of integrating the Tekken characters into a brand new environment, and you will find they handle nothing like the Street Fighter characters. Some characters, such as Abel, also got new moves, so please check them out.
Q: Is the fan of Tekken different from the fan of Street Fighter?
Ono-san: Tekken fans aren’t as rowdy as Street Fighter fans, that’s for sure! [laugh] They also tend to like characters that are high on the tier list, based on character popularity ranking polls. But fans of both series love their games a lot, so we hope that they will both enjoy Street Fighter X Tekken as well.
Q: Last question: Tekken or Street Fighter?
Ono-san: Hmm. This is a really tough question, but I would say… BOTH!
Ono was recently hospitalized for undisclosed reasons. He tweeted that he was taking some time off for a while. Capcom released a statement regarding Ono’s future: “Ono-san is a vital component of the Street Fighter franchise and he continues to play an important role on the R&D team at Capcom. More information regarding his involvement with future Street Fighter products will be revealed at Capcom’s annual ‘Captivate’ event next week.”
“Street Fighter X Tekken” is available now for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in Japan, North America, and Europe. It will be available for the Windows PC on May 11 in North America and May 14 in Europe. It is also expected to be released for the PlayStation Vita in Fall 2012. It is rated T for Teen due to alcohol reference, crude humor, language, suggestive themes, and violence.
A follow-up to the original Kid Icarus title that came out 25 years ago, this new version offers updated graphics, classic boss battles and humorous dialog that quickly becomes cheesy and trite.
The story harkens back to the original as the forces of Light battle the forces of Darkness with the player acting as the champion for Light. The angel hero, Pit, must set out once again with the help of the goddess of Light, Palutena, to defeat Medusa and end the threat to the human race.
Players control Pit with the circle pad and use the stylus to aim and turn him. Firing his weapon is done with the left shoulder button on the 3DS. Fortunately, the game comes packed with a nifty stand because trying to hold and maneuver gameplay was quite the contortion.
Even using the stylus after a while became painful in the wrist area. The game does remind you from time to time to take a break so obviously the developers knew it could have been a problem.
Combat is broken down into three different sections for each chapter: flight battle, ground battle and boss battle. In the air, Pit attempts to shoot enemies while continuously flying forward. He is able to dodge around the screen but his motion is always moving ahead.
On the ground (because apparently this angel has a limit on how much he can fly), Pit navigates through a series of rooms and pathways, defeating enemies and collecting hearts. Hearts are the currency by which players can obtain new weapons and skills.
The boss battles close each chapter, involving classic characters and a combination of nimble dodging and intense firepower. The bosses are returning enemies from the original title, but offer new challenges for fans of the franchise.
The intensity of each chapter can change as well, ramping up the enemies and the loot. A device called the Fiend’s Caldron, allows players to spend hearts to adjust the difficulty. Want to make it easier? That’ll cost you. If you want more, you bet hearts that you can complete the chapter, winning you more hearts.
Pit has nine different weapon types at his disposal and can equip one before each chapter. Ranging from rifles to clubs, each offers special advantages to ranged or melee combat. One nice feature is that some weapons can be fused with other weapons to create even more powerful attacks. Plus, some of the names are really quite charming.
If there is a downside to the game, it is the dialog. It starts off being funny and cute, but I get the feeling the writers were trying too hard in the later stages of the game. There are plenty of pop culture references that don’t quite work in this mythological setting.
“Happy meal of pain”? Really?
The talk also clashes with the action. Many times, the dialog ran on so long that I completed the fight before they were done trash talking each other. It ended up bringing down the entire experience and while some of it was needed for background, the dialog just ended up being silly.
Overall, Kid Icarus: Uprising does fly high with solid combat and some great visuals and soundtrack. The gameplay of solid overall and the story does move along at a brisk pace to keep things active.
However, the wings burn off quickly with extremely weak and cheesy dialog, and an uncomfortable playing configuration that would have been better suited for a second circle pad (Circle Pad Pro, anyone) than the stylus pointer. Keep the wrist brace handy.
“Kid Icarus: Uprising” is available now and only for the Nintendo 3DS. It is rated E 10+ for everyone 10 years old and older due to comic mischief, fantasy violence, and mild suggestive themes. This review was done using the Nintendo 3DS with no extra hardware attachments.
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City fails to add to the rich franchise history with ordinary squad based gameplay and limited actual zombie threats in the story.
The latest venture into the zombie filled world by Capcom is supposed to fall in 14 years in the past between two other games, Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil: Nemesis. In this one, you play as a member of the Wolfpack squad for the Umbrella Corporation and are tasked with retrieving a virus that turns people into the undead creatures before the U.S. military can get it.
Raccoon City is the location where the zombie phenomena first occurred and has been the setting in many of the Resident Evil games. But working for the bad guys in this title was supposed to be a refreshing change from others in the series.
The action is strongly based off shooter games and feels more like a poorly lit Call of Duty than something expected from the Resident Evil franchise. Each member of the squad is specialized in a different field (stealth, explosives, recon, etc.) and you play as one of four fighting their way through Raccoon City.
Your friends can fill in the roles of the other three squad members or the game will control the others. There are ability and weapon choices at the beginning of each mission, but these are all locked down when the game starts and can be unlocked with experience points.
The weapons are typical for a shooter and your character can carry one sidearm and one long barreled weapon. Ammo and other weapons are sprinkled throughout the battleground and very rarely will you be left without bullets.
There are a couple of high powered, single-use weapons (grenade launchers, flamethrower) that can’t be replenished with additional ammo. If you use one of these, make sure you can pick up another weapon as soon as you run out of fuel or grenades.
One of the most frustrating aspects of combat is what I call magnetic cover, where you get plastered to the wall in a cover mode if you even get close. Forget about going from cover to cover. If you want to move along, you’ll have to stand up and then move to the next cover, exposing yourself to enemy fire.
The artificial intelligence is fair, but incredibly difficult to discern at times. Your squadmates will rush into a room with guns blazing when the team could have easily sneaked by. At other times, they will arbitrarily fling themselves to the ground for no apparent reason.
They are good in a fight and are very effective at taking the heat off your character. Be sure to have a medic in your squad to help heal injured party members.
Most of the opponents are not zombies. You’ll spend a lot of time battling the U.S. military in firefights that aren’t necessarily very smart either. Character models for the soldiers and the zombies are reused often. You’ll see the same zombie police officer, zombie large guy and zombie girl in short shorts over and over again.
You will kill a lot of living and non living enemies in this game. The experience points you gain can be used at the beginning of each mission to upgrade weapons or personal abilities. However, even if you don’t use any upgrades at all, you will still be able to succeed. The passive abilities that help you find items and enemies on your mini-map are probably the most useful. None of the weapon upgrades felt like they were necessary.
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City ultimately comes off as a mundane, average shooter that abandons its heritage in the zombie/horror genre. There aren’t enough zombies, too many open-ended plot lines and way more people actually breathing than should be expected for a game from this franchise.
The ending flies in the face of the franchise’s history and leaves more questions unanswered. It feels half done with no real finale. There is the obvious promise of another sequel in the ending, but it doesn’t really deserve one.
“Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City” is currently available now in North America, Australia and Europe. It will be available in Japan on April 26. It is available for Windows PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It is M for mature due to blood and gore, intense violence, and strong language. This review was done playing the Xbox 360 version.
Kellee Santiago, Ken Levine, Paul Barrett and Mark DeLoura were part of a panel discussion at the opening of a new Smithsonian exhibit, The Art of Video Games. Each has been successful in the gaming business and has great hope for what’s to come.
Barrett, the senior creative director for BioWare-Mythic, people who are going to make games in the future are playing them right now. He describes this time in those people’s gaming lives as their Golden Age.
“What’s interesting about my Golden Age is it is where I learned my prejudices about what games I liked and I don’t like,” Barrett said. “That period defined my understanding of games so that when I had the chance to make games, those are the kinds of game I wanted to make.”
For the gamers of today, he said, “The current Golden Age is pretty bloody good.”
Others on the panel said they were also driven to create games that reflected or expressed something they wanted to share with others. For Levine, the creative director of the BioShock franchise, it is about creating worlds and telling stories that mean something in those worlds.
He related a story about the creation of BioShock where players can save or sacrifice young girls, known as Little Sisters, to gain power. In the beginning of the creative process, the little girls started out as sea slugs.
“In order for the story to be meaningful, we had to create empathy between the player and the thing they were making a decision about,” Levine said. “That took a while for that to come about. The actual choice became simple – what do you want to do with this little girl?”
Santiago and DeLoura hope future game designers go beyond what games are about today and challenge themselves and the industry about what gaming could be.
DeLoura, the vice president of technology at THQ, wants the constraints of today’s design to seem archaic to those who are just getting started and hopes for more diversity.
“The games that break down (the conventional) mentality is what does it for me,” he said. “For us pioneers up here, one of the things I would like to challenge us to do is to reach out into communities you don’t expect games to come from and really pull those out and get them shared with the broader community.”
Santiago, co-founder and president of thatgamecompany, echoed that sentiment of opening up new ideas for games of the future. She is also a partner in IndieFund, which helps independent game developers reach and maintain financial independence.
“My biggest hope is that the people who will be making games, what those people look like, completely changes,” she said. “We’re going to see new types of stories and new types of experiences. With greater technology and distribution channels, it has flipped a switch for people and they say, ‘Oh, I could do that too!’”
Levine added that with additional venues for gaming like App stores and Kickstarter, future game designers don’t have to be driven for funding to produce games anymore. He said that without that financial pressure, creativity goes up.
“Games were my companion as a kid,” Levine said. “It didn’t shut my world down. It opened my world up.”
Barrett said there is a whole new wave of people who want to make games that are fearless, expect success and have wide ranging views. He said those future designers have one goal in mind.
“They don’t want to make games that are art. They want to make games that are awesome.”
The future for gaming looks bright.