How valuable is “The Red Badge of Courage”? What about “Blue Suede Shoes” or the “Mona Lisa”? “Civilization V: Brand New World” lets players explore their cultural side by increasing the benefits and work into building a civilization that defeats players with ideals rather than bullets and arrows.
While cultural victory has been an option, the new gameplay puts an emphasis on a new resource – tourism – to expand your influence over others. Accumulate more tourism and you win, but it will take a bit of work.
Think of tourism as your offense and your culture as your defense. Tourism influences how other civilizations see you and want to come to your cities. Great works of art, writing and music can be created and housed in special buildings to increase your draw from others.
Great Artists, Writers, and Musicians create great works known throughout history. Each one, when appropriately displayed, raises your tourism level and inches you closer to victory. New conditions and social policies help create these prized units faster – almost too fast.
Several times during my preview play, these units would appear and be ready to help me win. But without the right building to show off their work (i.e. – a museum for art, an opera house for music, or an amphitheater for writing), they merely sat and waited for their “show,” or were expended toward more culture or a Golden Age.
If you are thinking, “Hey, I could already get a Cultural Victory by completing five social policies,” you would be right, but that victory condition no longer exists. Instead of waiting to fill up the social trees in each policy, players can mix and match from all the social policies to better fit their style of play. Also, it appears the restrictions about which policies you could pursue has been dropped – creating the ability to tap into Piety as well as Rationalism.
A new policy, Aesthetics, has been created to boost tourism and culture creation. Some old ones – Freedom, Order, Autocracy – have been grouped together into Ideology. This new area is only triggered by the hitting a certain era or the creation of factories and grants bonuses depending on which ideology your civilization chooses to follow.
There has also been a change to trade with the use of caravans and cargo ship to physically travel to and fro between cities. You can choose (from your limited number of routes) which cities would be most profitable to trade while exposing your trade units to attacks from unfriendly foes. Do you go for the most gold or do you take the safe route?
You can also impact world conditions through resolutions in the World Congress. Each country earns delegates through size, standing and relationships with city-states. The resolutions also can influence your relationships with other civilizations if you propose something that benefits or harms them.
There are also collaborative international projects, like the World’s Fair, where countries can contribute resources to the mutual benefit of all. Once the project is completed, rewards are doled out based on the amount of contribution each county contributed.
Once I thought I understood the nuances of the new cultural victory, it seemed to be an easy path to win. Build the right buildings, create Great units, fill up the buildings, watch the tourists flock in. But nothing is easy in “Civilization V.”
Victory can still be achieved through domination (destroy everyone else), science (launch an Apollo spacecraft), and diplomacy (become the world leader). So not only did I have to do all those things to win culturally, I also had to spend time building up a defensive army, create buildings to boost science, and interact with city-states and other civilizations to keep my opponents at bay.
A religious victory is no longer an option. Religion has become what old culture used to feel like – passive and provides certain bonuses. But you can’t win by overwhelming another civilization with your dogma.
I discovered that cities don’t seem to fall as easily as they used to in the past. Rushing two or three units to an opposing city isn’t as effective, and will force players to plan ahead – thinking more tactically. It can be done, but it feels like it takes more resources than previously.
The adjustments to the cultural victory helped me with what I’ve described as “peacetime boredom.” Late in the game when everyone has built up enough strength to fend off attacks, the action seemed destined for a points victory or a rush to build the Apollo program. With tourism, I felt more active and involved in creating units that would have a direct impact on my success.
Just like creating a new tank to balance out someone else’s bomber, creating tourism lets me flex my cultural strength in an active way rather than the passive path it used to take. I felt more involved in the end game if I decided not to crush all other countries under my heel or commit everything to building my spacecraft.
It opens up options. It creates an interesting way to win without feeling overpowered or tacked on. Like other victory conditions, it takes planning in your building construction, your social policies and your unit creation. The trick, as always, is getting to your end goal before someone taking a different path reaches theirs.
I also have to mention the new expansion comes with a scenario – the American Civil War. It is short – 100 turns – and is all about domination. The end goals are defeat the opposing army and take their capital.
Being a fan of “Sid Meier’s Gettysburg” and Civil War history, I was excited about this scenario when it was announced. Playing it, however, left me feeling empty. As the Union, I marshaled my forces from surrounding cities and plowed my way to Richmond (ala Sherman’s march through the South).
Confederate cities and troops were no match for my massive army, constantly being resupplied with fresh troops from cities in the North. There were some minor skirmishes to the west, but playing those as a zero-sum game allowed me to keep the bulk of my forces focused on the Confederate capital.
While it did take several turns to take Richmond, the scenario felt incomplete somehow. Strategy doesn’t really play into it very much when there is only one goal – capital domination.
A second scenario, Scramble for Africa, is also planned, but was not available during this preview.
“Civilization V: Brave New World” expansion will be available on July 9 in North America and July 12 for the rest of the world. The ESRB rating for this expansion is pending. This preview was done playing an advanced preview only copy of the game on a Windows PC and using a Steam download.
Gearbox Studios harnesses that game rage and uses it to your advantage with their latest player character addition to “Borderlands 2.” Krieg the Psycho, a psycho raised to the power of crazy, is an insane destructive force to wield, causing harm to everyone around him and even himself.
Developers want to take players out of their comfort zone and play a character they are familiar with as an enemy, but also make them do things they wouldn’t normally do with their avatar. The Psycho skill tree is loaded with abilities that enemy psychos use in the game individually and designed to create maximum carnage in nearly every situation.
For example, there are suicide psychos that will rush your position and explode themselves in an effort to create damage. For Krieg, there is the Hellborn skill tree that is all about intentionally setting YOURSELF on fire, creating bonuses to weapon and melee damage as well as actually reducing the damage Krieg suffers.
There are other abilities which help you set enemies on fire, which in turn can set you on fire, which in turn increases all your buffs again. It is actually a survivability tree because the more you are on fire, the more you are likely to grow stronger and destroy your enemies. Totally backward thinking.
The Bloodlust tree maximizes the damage you do to enemies and creates even more damage to subsequent enemies. Damage increases the amount of bloodlust Krieg has and improves weapons magazine sizes, melee speed and skill abilities.
A trio of abilities in the tree work to improve each other. If you kill something with a bullet, your melee gets better; kill with melee and your grenade gets better; blow someone up with a grenade, your guns get better. If you can get the rhythm right (shoot, melee, explode), your damage continues to increase with each successful kill.
The Mania tree is probably the most counter-intuitive thinking skill tree out of the bunch. You want your shields to be down and you want to take damage as much as possible because when you do, your offensive abilities improve dramatically and your kill rate soars.
There is an ability called “Light the Fuse,” that replaces “Fight For Your Life” and turning you into a suicide psycho when you are about to die. You can run after enemies, blow them up, and then regain all your health back.
Using the main ability – the Buzz Axe Rampage – allows you to regain all your health back while you are in rampage mode. It deals incredible damage, but also has a long cooldown period. However, if you take damage during the cooldown, it reduces the time before you can rampage again. Handy if you are about to die and enemies are swarming you.
All the skills are designed to get players doing things they wouldn’t normally do. Usually, players will run away when close to death and focus on health regeneration. With Krieg, you actually want to wade into the battle to do, and receive, more damage so you become even more powerful and get your health back by blowing other people to pieces.
It’s all about being crazy. Do the thing your enemies least expect for the maximum impact and success. While Krieg is just as good with all weapons, players will find him most effective with close and melee weapons to maximize all his abilities.
If there is one drawback to the character, it is his lack of empathy in the storyline. He doesn’t evoke any connection to the narrative. His dialog, while humorous, doesn’t feel like he belongs with the rest of the world. Krieg doesn’t feel like a Vault Hunter so using him in the main story feels forced.
But if you’ve already completed the main mission and are looking to play outside your comfort zone, Krieg is definitely out of the ordinary. It might take a few missions to wire your brain to run TO trouble instead of away from it, but the “whoa” factor when Krieg attacks is well worth it.
Krieg the Psycho is available now as downloadable add-on content for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows PC.
Gearbox Software decided to throw in a wrinkle with their upcoming DLC for “Borderlands 2” by tapping into another genre filled with killing. “Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep” is the fourth and final full content being offered for the game in the style of a table-top RPG adventure.
The premise is Tiny Tina, a teenage girl obsessed with explosives, is your glorious dungeon master… er, Bunker Master as she weaves a tale for some familiar faces while they play a game called Bunkers & Badasses. The DLC is included in the Season Pass or can be purchased alone for just under $10 starting on June 25.
I was able to get a sneak peek at the content and setting during a demo earlier this month. I’ll be sharing more info when permitted. But for now, just imagine “Borderlands 2” in a … well, you know … setting.
“Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt” offers “Borderlands 2” players another jolt in the wacky, sarcastic and frankly twisted world of Pandora.
The third DLC for the science fiction shooter focuses on its namesake, Sir Hammerlock. You remember him. Cyborg big game hunter who was trying to write a book in the original title? He always reminded me of Van Pelt from “Jumanji” with the big hat and even bigger moustache.
The action takes place on a separate continent called Aegrus, a mix of mountain, swamp land, and a few caves. Upon arrival, you get the immediate idea that this is the land that Pandora forgot. Giant globes hover in the sky; creatures on spindly legs tower over the terrain – these unique creatures are powerful and will test your skills.
In fact, if you haven’t hit level 40 or higher, you may want to hold off venturing here. Oh, and if you haven’t completed the main mission in “Borderlands 2,” don’t go here yet. There are spoilers all over the place.
Hammerlock has invited you here for a chance to hunt these new creatures and possibly bag a trophy or two. Unbeknownst to either of you, a Handsome Jack fanboy, Professor Nakayama, is also here and cooking up a scheme that could shake Pandora to its core.
In great “Borderlands” fashion, Nakayama has some of the best lines in the franchise. Wanting desperately to be treated as an archenemy, he goes through many clichéd lines and actions before realizing he’s only helping you out, which leads to his wonderful freak out moments. He provides some well-placed and well-written humor in this episode.
Nakayama has enlisted the aid of savages from the land to challenge you. These are not your normal bandits or psychos. They usually have a witch doctor in their group who will buff all other savages on the field of combat, increasing their difficulty level, their attack strength and changing their form. This all occurs while instantaneously healing everyone (except you).
So while you are whittling down the bad guys, the witch doctor will bring them back to full health AND also give them more power. Needless to say, kill the witch doctor first. It also appears that the empowerment process occurs more frequently if there is more than one witch doctor in the area.
The battles with the savages are some of the toughest you’ll ever face on Pandora. They actually act like they understand tactics with flanking maneuvers and rush moves. And the witch doctors don’t go down easy, which means NOBODY goes down easy.
Of course, there are some unique weapons available as well and a new vehicle – an air boat – which I felt was difficult to use and barely necessary. You could walk to any location where you could use the air boat.
The quests are what you’d expect from a big game hunt – kill rare creatures, find lairs of creatures, etc. The main mission of battling Nakayama takes you all over the continent and some of those missions are difficult to find. The continent is a rather large place, but much of it isn’t utilized other than window dressing.
Overall, “Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt” is worth playing if you (a) have completed the main mission from “Borderlands 2”, (b) think the enemies in other missions have gotten too easy, and (c) like laughing at well-written dialog.
Prepare to die as you learn new tactics to take on the myriad of new enemies and creatures. And have lots of money for resurrections and ammo. But it is very enjoyable and is a nice addition to Pandora and a good place to get new loot.
“Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt” is available now for purchase as a DLC for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Players who have the Season Pass can get it automatically without making another purchase. It does require “Borderlands 2” to play.
The action begins after a devastating sandstorm nearly wipes Dubai, United Arab Emirates, off the map. A U.S. military battalion, the “Dammed” 33rd, is sent in to help evacuate the city and lead survivors away from the windswept city.
The storm cuts off communications, and you, as Captain Martin Walker, now lead a small Delta Force into the remnants of the city, find anyone you can, and ultimately discover the fate of the 33rd‘s leader, Colonel John Konrad.
The game plays as a third-person shooter, with a wide variety of weapons and tactics typical to this genre. There is some squad-based action allowing the player to direct the other two members of Delta Force into position, fire on enemies, or heal an injured squadmate. Some weapons do have secondary modes, which come in handy for silent action (silencer) or taking out groups of enemies (grenade launcher).
But it is the story that drives this title. Walker (you) is presented with a series of choices throughout the game, some more obvious than others. The action twists and turns as your choices reveal new paths.
What makes this choice system unique is there is not necessarily a paragon/renegade decision to be made. Lead writer Walt Williams told CNN.com, “Sometimes there isn’t a right choice to be made, but you have to make one.”
Indeed, the options are less clear cut than in other games. Williams wanted players to experience the true feelings of helplessness that war presents soldiers in the field. Do you save the civilians from the firing squad or do you save the CIA agent who can possibly lead you to safety?
The tale is dark, foreboding and full of internal conflict. There were situations where I made a choice, saved the game, then reloaded before the choice to make a different selection because I didn’t know which one was “the right one.” But that’s what this is all about – it is the choice between lesser evils.
However, it was a situation where I wasn’t given a choice that affected me the most. While that speaks to the deep immersion of the game, it also flies in the face of what the game designers hoped players would feel by being in control.
Trying not to give away spoilers here, the ending left me frustrated and betrayed at the climax of the game. Many of the choices I made seemed to be irrelevant and the entire premise lead me to the story’s pinnacle whether I wanted to go there or not.
Also, the story also seemed to “rub my nose” in the choices I made, outright mocking them or showing me what could have been. I get this was done in an effort to break Walker’s will for story purposes, but as a player, this could have been handled differently without making me (the player) feel like an idiot.
The only choice that made any difference to me as a player was the last one – even though it was a very big one.
“Spec Ops: The Line” is a Hitchcock-like story, with twist, turns and double takes leaving your head spinning and questioning your own value system. Williams and his team should rightfully be praised for putting together a tale that does show the horrors and futility of war.
“Some people might not get it,” he said. “Even we might not get it right, but at least people will be thinking about making games this way. Someone might even do it better than we do in the future.”
The bar is high. While the action is solid, if unspectacular, the storyline will drive the player forward and keep them engaged throughout. How the game ultimately feels at the end will certainly vary from player to player.
It does succeed in showing the futility and helplessness soldiers are forced to deal with in combat situations. For that, it deserves high marks.
“Spec Ops: The Line” is available now in North America and Europe for Windows PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It is rated M for Mature due to blood and gore, intense violence, and strong language. This review was done with a provided copy for the Xbox 360. No multiplayer action was available at the time of writing.
Religion and espionage have long been influential in the development of nations since man first started gathering together. “Civilization V: Gods & Kings” reintroduces those two elements to their successful turn-based strategy franchise in their new expansion pack.
Spies and religion have returned, and raised the level of strategic, long-term planning for players. Both elements impact the game, but at different times in history – faith and religion early in the game and spies later on.
Losing (And Regaining) My Religion
Religion was included in “Civilization IV,” still one of the most popular games in the franchise, but was left out when “Civ V” was released. Faith is a resource that is grown much like gold or science. Players can gather faith by building shrines, temples or mosques. Accumulate enough faith and you can start your own pantheon.
The pantheon will be the basis for creating a religion later and gives players bonuses mainly based on your surrounding terrain. Choose wisely, because you may need to clear-cut some of that terrain later in the game and lose some of your pantheon benefits.
Gain enough faith and you will get a Great Prophet, who will help you found a new religion. This opens up more benefits through founder and follower beliefs. You can also customize your religion with its own name and icon.
The beliefs offer additional resources when your religion expands, or benefits to cities who follow your faith. There are also benefits if you decide to go to war or maintain peace on the homefront.
Spreading your religion happens naturally within friendly cities. Players can also “force” religious change through the use of missionaries (to spread the good word) or inquisitors (to eliminate other religions in cities).
Religion also helps dealings with city-states, and can make other civilizations that follow your religion look at you more favorably. There is also a social policy branch called Piety offering faith bonuses.
You’ll want to develop your religion early to take advantage of its benefits. As the game moved toward the later eras, the value began to wane as new science advancements make some beliefs useless. Also, not every country gets to found a religion so don’t be late and get left out.
Secret Agent Man
Spies were also conspicuously missing when “Civilization V” was released, but have been re-imagined and included in the expansion pack.
Instead of an actual unit on the map, spies are stealth units that you can place using a menu in cities and city-states to see what’s going on. Players recruit their first spy when any civilization hits the Renaissance era. Actually, all civilizations get a spy at that time, so be prepared for sneaky stuff from that point on.
New spies are recruited as each player crosses over into a new era. One new spy also becomes available with the construction of the National Intelligence Agency wonder.
Utilized well, spies are great for evening up the technology race. Place them in a foreign city and they can steal new tech for your nation. While in that city, they can also listen to intrigue and find out what the other country is planning.
Are they plotting an attack on a neighboring country? You can rat them out and gain favor with their opposition. Spies will also let you know if you may be the target of a troop build-up near the borders.
Be sure to keep a spy or two in your own cities to thwart opposing espionage. Moving spies around also lets you keep an eye on all your opposition and also find out who might be ready for an invasion of your forces.
Your spies can also influence city-states by rigging their elections, winning your favor (and resources) while reducing the influence of other religions.
Is It Enough?
There are nine new leaders and nine new civilizations to conquer in ”Gods & Kings.” Each has their own special units and abilities that will need to be accounted for and exploited whenever possible.
The reintroduction of religion and spies will help fill the gaps many fans of the franchise felt existed in “Civilization V.” The use of religion early and spies later in the game adds another level of thought and planning that long-time players will enjoy.
Will the additions bring back those players who lost faith in the franchise after the fifth title’s release? Maybe, but, as some have said on forum pages, faith and espionage should have been there all along.
“Civilization V: Gods & Kings” is an expansion pack for “Civilization V.” It will be released on June 19 for Windows PC and Mac OS X. It is rated E 10+ for everyone 10 years of age and older due to drug reference, mild language, suggestive themes, and violence. This review was done with a provided digital download through Steam.
Creating your own religion could result in weird looks, unusual friends and sometimes, visits from law enforcement officials. Creating your own religion in the soon-to-be released expansion for “Civilization V” results in bonuses and benefits on your way to world domination.
The new “Civilization V: Gods and Kings” expansion pack offers players two “new” elements to the very popular and successful real-time strategy game – faith and spies. Both are not new to the franchise, but each has been redone to make it more interesting and rewarding to use them.
Faith is a new resource, like gold or science. Civilizations can accumulate faith by building shrines, temples and mosques. Acquire enough faith and your fledging country can discover its first pantheon. Pantheons reward players with bonuses based on terrain, aggressiveness or other abilities, and players get to select the belief their pantheon will represent.
Get more followers to your cause and eventually you can form a religion, complete with your own unique name and icon (I called mine “The Force”). You will also get additional bonuses to your civilization as a whole, and specific additions to city abilities. Later, you can enhance your religion and gain more benefits.
There are a limited number of religions that can be created and not every country will get to create their own. This puts a premium on developing faith early in the game so you can acquire the bonuses best suited to your playing style.
Faith can also be used to purchase specific units and buildings, such as temples and mosques. Terrain within your civilization can also play an important role in gaining more faith resource. Bonuses can be to overall growth, additional healing, increased attack and defense in certain circumstances.
Religion was introduced in “Civilization IV,” but this expansion to “Civ V” tones down the overall drive for religion while boosting its abilities to offer benefits to the entire civilization. For instance, there was no condition for a religious victory in the preview build of the game. Religion passively crosses borders and spreads to neighboring civilizations, but active missionary work can only occur in friendly cities and city-states.
The developers at Firaxis really tried to make religion something unique for each player and playing style. There are plenty of choices for beliefs and some new leaders offer additional faith benefits.
The preview build of “Civ V” ended in the year 1290 (189 turns) so it will be interesting to find out how religion plays out in the later stages of the game with more technology based units and goals.
The second “new” unit is the Spy, but unlike its predecessor in other versions in the franchise, it isn’t a specific unit to move around on the battlefield.
The “Gods and Kings” expansion pack comes with a steampunk scenario called “Empires of the Smokey Skies” and offered a good opportunity to use the spies. The scenario starts out in the Steam Age and offers new abilities and units, like the Land Leviathan and the Sky Fortress.
The civilization leaders are decked out in top hats, wielding goggles and other trinkets you’d expect in a steampunk adventure. The goals of the scenario are also different from the traditional game. Be the leader in five different categories and you win.
Spies play a big role here and help players keep up with and keep an eye on their rivals. Each spy is recruited and used in a dropdown menu. The unit is given an assignment in a city and allowed to steal technology, find out information or kill enemy spies. They also will slant local voting in your favor to garner a better reputation with independent city-states.
In past iterations, spies in “Civlization” would have to sneak their way to an enemy city, do one mission and hopefully escape with their lives. In “Gods and Kings,” spies stick around in the cities they are assigned for as long as they want (provided they aren’t discovered).
This allows players to concentrate on other aspects of the game while still getting intelligence reports on their neighbors. Spies can be reassigned, but do you take the chance on that information black hole?
The scenario was short, but offered the best chance to see the spies in action. I only recruited one spy in normal game play in turn 187 and that happened spontaneously. Will there be something in the later stages that helps me recruit more agents or train them better?
“Civilization V: Gods and Kings” will offer more units, building, Wonders of the World, and new civilizations to try out. Revamping the religious and spy elements will make the game even more thoughtful (if that’s possible) and challenging for new and experienced players.
“One more turn” just got a whole lot harder to avoid.
The most anticipated game for 2012 just became the most anticipated game for 2013.
Irrational Games and Take Two announced “BioShock Infinite” will now be released on February 23, 2013 instead of October 2012. Creative director Ken Levine made the announcement on the Irrational website:
A MESSAGE FROM KEN LEVINE
When we announced the release date of “BioShock Infinite” in March, we felt pretty good about the timing.
Since then, we’ve come to realize that some specific tweaks and improvements will make “Infinite” into something even more extraordinary. Therefore, to give our talented team the time they need, we’ve decided to move the game’s release to February 26, 2013. We wanted to let our loyal (and very patient!) fans know this as soon as possible.
I won’t kid you: “BioShock Infinite” is a very big game, and we’re doing things that no one has ever done in a first-person shooter. We had a similar experience with the original “BioShock,” which was delayed several months as our original ship date drew near. Why? Because the Big Daddies weren’t the Big Daddies you’ve since come to know and love. Because Andrew Ryan’s golf club didn’t have exactly the right swing. Because Rapture needed one more coat of grimy Art Deco.
The same principle now applies to “BioShock Infinite.”
What does this mean for you? It means a bit more waiting, but more importantly, it means an even better “BioShock Infinite.” The great can be made greater, and we owe it to both ourselves and to you, our fans, to take this opportunity. Irrational Games is one of those rare developers lucky enough to ask the people who sign the checks: “Hey, can we have a few more of those checks?”
We are also going to hold off on showing “BioShock Infinite” at the big events of the summer, like E3 and Gamescom. That way, the next time you see our game, it will be essentially the product we intend to put in the box. Preparing for these events takes time away from development, time we’re going to use instead to get the best version of Infinite into your hands in February.
Fans have been waiting for the next creation in the “BioShock” universe since “BioShock 2” was released in 2010. The new title will take players out of the underwater adventures as in the previous titles and put them in Columbia, a city in the sky, during a very tumultuous time of anarchy, strife and technological advancements.
In a December 2012 interview, Levine described how excited he was to work on this new setting.
“In all these stories, you have these incredible themes. One of great optimism and excitement for the future and one of this ominous feeling at the same time,” Levine said. “This yin and this yang that was present in all of this research really made me excited to work on this game.”
It is his attention to detail that helps him create his successful games and win over players. It now appears that he wants to refine the details on his latest creation as well.
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.
It is a writ of passage that when spring arrives, it is time for baseball season. In the video game world, “MLB12 The Show” (Sony) and “Major League Baseball 2K12” (2K Games) both arrive and ready to crack the starting line-ups of gaming consoles everywhere. Each franchise has been around for a while – 8 years for “2K12” and 6 years for “The Show” – but one is starting it age.
Pitching styles is a big difference between the two titles. “2K12” continues to use their gesture mechanic with the joystick controllers that relies on timing one circle to fit within another. The artificial intelligence has been fine-tuned so that batters will remember pitches and adjust accordingly, thus ramping up the realism level a bit.
“The Show” has added a pulse pitching mechanism that determines how accurate your pitches are within your target area. It’s all about timing, but only utilizes one button as opposed to moving the joystick in a particular way. Saves a lot of wear and tear on the thumbs.
Defense is straightforward. There are animation differences that I’ll get into later, but fielders move and throw with good precision. Both title use a scale to determine how accurate the throws get – “The Show” uses a circle; “2K12” uses a bar. Push a button to the corresponding base and fire the ball. Holding down the button longer makes for a stronger, but possibly inaccurate throw.
Zone batting is new for “The Show,” where the right stick determines your stride and swing while the left allows you to move your “sweet spot” to the area where you think the ball will cross the plate. “2K12” already uses a similar style to determine how hard you are swinging and where. It also will give pitch type hints as the ball is heading for the plate, much as a batter would be able to recognize a curveball from a slider. “The Show” also has a simple button swing mechanic if that is more your speed.
The animations and look of “The Show” really make it shine above “2K12”. Each player has a unique look and fluid movements in everything they do. Pitching, hitting, throwing and catching the ball all appear very realistic and natural. It is a visually appealing game and looks like you are watching an Orioles vs. Yankees matchup on television.
“2K12” looks less like a TV broadcast and more like … well, a video game. There are hiccups and stutters in some of the animation. Most of the players don’t look much different from each other. Balls hit near fielders will make sudden leaps into the glove or outfielders will jump slightly to one side before catching a fly ball. It isn’t as well polished as its counterpart and looks old.
And speaking of TV broadcasts, a tip of the cap to the announcing team of Gary Thorne, Steve Philips and John Kruk on “2K12.” Their banter seemed fresh and timely, referencing the right things and never sounding boring. Matt Vasgersian, Dave Campbell and Eric Karros for “The Show” sounded stale and repetitive. Some of their phrases sounded exactly the same as last year, and there were a couple of games when I wondered if Karros had gone out for a pretzel and just never came back because he was heard so infrequently.
Franchise mode is back for each as well as allowing you to create your own player and work him through the ranks. “2K12” offers a “MLB Today” mode that lets player play games at the same pace as their favorite MLB team. But that means you can only play one game a day in that mode and doesn’t allow you to play past or future games.
The new “Diamond Dynasty” mode for “The Show” seems geared more for a fantasy franchise baseball fan than someone who wants to play a game. There are baseball cards, budgets, and customizable team logos and colors. If you are a stats nut or someone who likes to micromanage, this might be right for you.
The “Perfect Game Challenge” is back for “2K12” with a twist. In previous years, whoever got the first perfect game of the season using the title won $1 million. This year, the first eight perfect games will get the chance to head to New York City and compete in a live tournament for that top prize.
“The Show” is Move ready, bringing motion controls to every aspect of the games. They have also tied the PlayStation 3 game with the new PS Vita handheld console. Games can be saved to the Cloud on one console and downloaded to another for continued playing. For die-hard video baseball games, this mean never having to stop even when you are away from home (provided you have a Vita).
The biggest drawback to “The Show” is that it is a PlayStation exclusive title. If you own anything other than a PS3 or Vita, you can only play “Major League Baseball 2K12.” Fundamentally, it is a solid, but visually underwhelming, title that will be enjoyable.
But if you have a choice, “The Show” brings together realistic mechanics with outstanding animation to create an “at the ballpark” feel that outshines its competitor. All I need now is a hot dog and a frosty beverage to make the experience complete.
“MLB12 The Show” is available now only on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. “Major League Baseball 2K12” is available now for the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PS2, Nintendo DS, PSP and Microsoft Windows. Both games are rated E for Everybody. This review was done playing both titles on the PS3 as well as playing “MLB12 The Show” on the Vita.