Let’s cut to the chase – I like the Wii U. It offers a new way to play games and has a wide variety of launch titles to attract different genres of gamers.
Is it perfect? No. Some features haven’t launched yet and some things still need tweaking. But after spending 24 hours with the new console, none of that impacts what it does right now or affects my enjoyment with the new Wii U.
Much has been made about the initial system update that activates many of the online features. The patch is huge (more than 4 GB) and will take some time to download and install depending on your connection speed and how many people are trying to draw from the same source. The games also get smaller patches out of the box, but I would imagine that would not be the case with later releases.
Amazon video, Hulu Plus, You Tube and Nintendo TVii are not ready for prime time yet. While icons exist on the Wii U GamePad touchscreen, they won’t be activated until December. However, Netflix is ready to go now and offers movies through their service.
So what can Wii U do out of the box?
First- and third-party games are readily available to play and range from platformers like the “New Super Mario Bros. U,” sports games such as “NBA 2K13,” action adventure like “Mass Effect 3 – Special Edition” or classic horror games with “Zombie U.” Each game makes use of the Wii U GamePad in different ways.
For the more casual games, the touchscreen offers a full playing experience without the TV at all. Don’t walk away too far from the Wii U console though. I was able to get to another room before the action started sputtering and cutting out. But this is a feature I really enjoy – allowing me to relax on the couch with the game in my hands instead of leaning forward to make out the action on the TV.
If you have someone who likes to watch, the television mimics what you see on the touchscreen so the player can be concentrating on their gaming in their hands. However, you can also change the channel on the TV so someone can be watching a show while someone else is playing. It really does expand the uses of the family entertainment center.
Not all games are like that though. More intense games like “Batman Arkham City: Armored Edition” or “Zombie U” utilize the touchscreen as an inventory area or mapping tool. It complements the action on the TV screen rather than duplicating it, and achieving the dual screen gaming that Nintendo hopes will become the preferred way of playing.
There is a HDMI cable included and the HDMI output display is clear and sharp. I didn’t notice any difference between the Wii U display and visuals on other consoles even with action intense gaming.
The controller itself is wider than other console controllers are and that slight expansion does take some getting used to in longer gaming scenarios. If you suffer from OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), the Wii U GamePad is going to drive you nuts. Its cover and touchscreen show every fingerprint and smear. In my house, it also attracted cat hair like no other gaming device I have.
Battery life is supposed to run about three to five hours with continual use. That’s a pretty good amount of straight gaming, but you’ll need to plug it into a wall outlet to recharge in between uses.
Nintendo wants to incorporate friends and communities into its games, and let people play games together through the Nintendo Network ID system. Miiverse lets you connect with up to 100 friends and exchanges messages with them or include them in games. The communities are broken down into forum areas for each game. Players can share tips, screenshots or even draw their own pictures in connection with their gaming.
There is some drilling down to connect with your friends, which makes it feel a bit unintuitive, but it’s probably a good idea to do some deep digging on all the features to take advantage of what’s being offered.
Wii U chat allows for video calls between friends. A camera in the top of the GamePad lets them see you and you can see them. All calls are done through the Internet.
The Wii U GamePad also acts as a TV remote, changing channels, controlling volume or directing which input you want displayed on your television screen. A nice and unexpectedly oft-used feature that keeps me from reaching for the other remote to change the volume when gaming.
There is an Internet browser for web surfing and a Nintendo eShop to let you purchase and download games directly. Nintendo has also hinted at a bevy of downloadable content for its games.
A couple of the hiccups.
The Wii U does not have an Ethernet port. If your Internet connection is wired only, you’ll need a USB adapter to connect to online features. And as mentioned before, some of those features aren’t available yet.
Your homescreen is called the WaraWara Plaza, where dozens of Mii (players) gather to share information or tips. According to Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, WaraWara is Japanese and translates to bustling. Your Mii stands in the middle of it all, but doesn’t really interact per se with anyone else. Notes and pictures will pop up from time to time, but doesn’t offer conversation opportunities.
Also, as your Mii appears on the screen, it announces what you’ve been playing. Even though I’ve been switching out games, it still saying I’m on my first one. I’m also trying to figure out who all these people are. None of them are my friends and most appear to be Nintendo people. Will this change as more people join the Miiverse or as I meet new friends while gaming? It would be nice to see someone different here.
There are two different Wii U versions available. The basic model ($300) comes with 8 GB of internal storage (keep in mind the update will take up 4 GB) and the deluxe version ($350) has 32 GB. External hard drives can be connected with both for additional storage space. The deluxe version also comes with the NintendoLand game, a GamePad stand and cradle, and a console stand.
For what is does now, the Wii U is a welcome and forward looking addition to the console market. The second screen gaming with the GamePad touchpad is right in line with what Microsoft hopes to do with their SmartGlass technology. The inclusion of popular third-party franchises (Batman, NBA 2K) as well as new entries (Zombie U) and first-party titles from Nintendo offer a wide selection of gaming for all members of the family.
I think the Miiverse will turn out to be a good way to connect with friends and other players once we all get used to using it. The eventual inclusion of other video streams (Hulu, Nintendo TVii, etc.) is an attempt by Nintendo to make the Wii U the hub of family entertainment.
Am I ready to toss aside my other consoles? No. But I now see the Wii U as more of a gaming alternative with the touchscreen controller and variety of games than I did with the Wii.
There are still some bugs to be ironed out and new features to be unveiled. However, the Wii U shows the promise of what gaming in the future may be like. And I’m ready.
No, wait. It isn’t. However, it is just as exciting due to a strong lead character.
“Darksiders II” is a wonderful (but a bit buggy) action-adventure, role-playing game putting you in the starring role of Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Death is upset with how his brother, War, is being treated at the hands of the Creators for War’s role in the demise of humanity (as seen in “Darksiders”). So Death comes up with a plan to resurrect humans on Earth and prove his brother was tricked.
To do this, Death must travel to various realms, engage in quests for creatures that should be able to do these things for themselves, and struggle against physical and psychological attacks by those who want revenge.
Death looks like a mix between a heavy metal guitarist and a modernized version of Skeletor from the Masters of the Universe cartoon, but Michael Wincott is superb as his voice. He gives the Grim Reaper the right amount of attitude and gravitas while still portraying humor when needed. This blend gives Death a splendid personality that players should be able to identify with easily and enjoy throughout the game.
Combat is straightforward hack and slash with twin scythes acting as his main weapons. A single button activates the scythes while secondary weapons (axes, maces, specialty weapons) use to a second button. Fighting is a button mashing frenzy of combos and whirling weapons.
Non-player characters will offer training in the form of special attacks. Some of the attacks are simple enough to use with repeated button pushing. Others are more complicated, requiring a shoulder button push while moving the directional joystick in a certain direction and pressing another button. The effects in combat can be devastating and visceral.
Death can also unleash different types of damage depending on his weapon choices. Different damage (cold, for example) can have a greater impact on particular types of enemies (fire enemies). There are also possessed weapons that grow stronger when other gear is “sacrificed” to increase its power.
He also gains Reaper energy during combat, allowing him to transform into true form of the Grim Reaper, complete with hooded cape and huge scythe. During this mode, his damage is increased, but the transformation only lasts a few moments before he reverts to his normal self.
Because it is also a role-playing game, Death can level up by earning experience points for completing quests and slaying foes. Spending skill points for leveling up in one of two talent trees offers protection from harm or the ability to call forth allies to harm your opponents. Summoning ghouls and sending them at my foes turned out to be a very nice buy with my skill points, especially when I added fire damage, which caused them to explode when killed.
Wrath energy fuels those talents, much like mana in other RPGs for magic. This resource can be gathered from fallen foes or discovered inside bottles stored in chests. Some weapon abilities can also increase the rate of Wrath gathered from dead enemies, so pay particular attention to those bonuses if you plan to utilize your skills during combat.
Death also has two companions available during his travels, a death horse and a crow. Despair, his horse, allows him to truly become one of the Four Horsemen and cover vast distances with ease. Despair does have a “charge” ability, dealing damage to anyone in his path. Dust, his crow, helps players stay on their quest paths. By showing Death the way, Dust flies to the quest points, perches on nearby areas of interest or leads the Grim Reaper to easier ways around obstacles. The bird has no combat abilities and stays high above any fighting.
To prove his brother’s innocence, Death must traverse through different realms between heaven and hell. The different worlds offer many quests and opportunities to increase levels and loot. Despair will help you get around the landscape, but Fast Travel allows you to leave a marker in a dungeon so you can easily return when you want. Be warned: only one Fast Travel marker can be used at a time, which means traveling from dungeon to dungeon and back again is not easy.
Each realm is beautifully rendered and unique to a specific theme for that world. Character movements are fluid and natural while some facial animations can be a bit jumpy at times. The personalities of the inhabitants come through on occasion, but it is hard to empathize with them as you jump from quest to quest. Although, one character in particular earned my distain very nicely and I was glad to see Death vocalize that emotion as well.
The dungeons are concentrated battles broken up by puzzle scenarios to progress to the end boss fight. There is a lot of wall walking, rail shimmying and growth climbing to get over obstacles. Some areas require some back tracking to accomplish your mission, so find a dungeon map in one of the many chests to help you out.
However, while there are no loading screens per se, the scene will freeze while the next scene loads, causing a weird pause in the normally flowing action. This doesn’t happen for long, but it does happen more often than I’d like in an RPG game.
There is also an arena called The Crucible, which offers wave after wave of enemies. It plays out like a game show. Beat levels of foes and win a prize. You can keep it or risk it to battle more foes for potentially a bigger prize. Risk versus reward. How confident are you in your fighting skills?
For all its button-mashy fun, the game was surprisingly buggy during play. Boss battles with enemies as large as mountains would sometimes result in Death being inside the enemy before “teleporting” out, leaving me confused about which direction I was facing and what I needed to hit. Audio glitches would wipe out entire scenes of dialog. There was more than one instance when my controls ceased working and access to my skills went away. The game also completely seized up three different times on the Xbox 360 version.
“Darksiders II” tells a great story with a strong lead character and visually appealing combat. The game is expansive with some side missions and collectables to drive you beyond the main story. Puzzles will challenge your brain as much as the plethora of foes will task your button dexterity.
While your thoughts may wander to that other character with the chained swords at times, Death plays a strong role in driving the action and engaging the player to find new ways to slaughter enemies. He never tries to be a sympathetic anti-hero, but he is worth diving into – despite his resemblance to that other guy.
“Darksiders II” is available now in North America and on August 21 in Europe. It is rated M for mature due to blood and gore, suggestive themes, and violence. It is available for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows PC. This review was done using a provided final copy for the Xbox 360.
It was the year of hacking, the year of breaking records and the year of flinging birds at pigs. The year of gaming in 2011 had plenty of ups and down and that doesn’t even include all the video game titles that were released. While the explosion of social and mobile gaming continues to affect all games, it was a hacking incident that focused attention on the dark side of online gaming.
Gaming Network Hacked
In April, Sony confirmed that its PlayStation Network, the online service that has more than 77 million users and allows online play for it PS3 consoles, was hacked and taken offline.
It was more than just a denial of service ploy. Sony said that personal data, including credit cards information, was accessed and compromised. While they stopped short of saying “stolen,” the company recommended that its customers keep an eye on their credit card accounts and watch out for identity theft.
An outside security agency was hired to find out what happened and the network service stayed offline for several days while changes were made to prevent more intrusions. Sony also offered special incentives to bring back gamers after they fixed the issues.
But in October, the PlayStation Network was hacked again – this time affecting “only” 93,000 accounts. This intrusion affected thousands of user IDs and passwords.
Sony said the lessons they learned from the April hack prevented more information from being illegally accessed. A teenager inLondonwas quickly arrested in connection with the crime.
And before you think this was just a PlayStation problem, Microsoft announced that its Xbox Live customers were the targets of a malicious phishing attempts to scam personal user information. Microsoft was quick to point out that their online gaming service was not hacked and there was no breach of security.
Earlier in the year, the hacker group LulzSec released a data file with names, email addresses and passwords they said could be used to get into Xbox Live accounts as well as other accounts.
Breaking Entertainment Records
You know gaming is big when the release of a game smashes entertainment records for sales.
For the third consecutive year, the “Call of Duty” franchise raised the bar with the release of “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” by earning more than $400 million and selling more than 6.5 million units in North America and the United Kingdom in the first 24 hours.
If that wasn’t enough, the game had more than $775 million in sales during the first five days. “Modern Warfare 3” also broke the record for peak concurrent players on Microsoft’s Xbox Live online gaming service.
According to Activision Blizzard, the all-time sales for the “Call of Duty” franchise exceeds worldwide box office sales for “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings.” There were more than 13,000 midnight openings at retail stores worldwide for the release of the new title.
Last year, “Call of Duty: Black Ops” sold $360 million on its first day while “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” sold $310 million on its first day in 2009.
Mobile/Social Gaming Explosion
Gaming has transformed from being played on computers to home consoles to mobile phones. With it, game developers recognized they have a new audience to appeal to with games designed to be played quickly and with others electronically.
Zynga, a social network game developer responsible for “CityVille,” “FarmVille” and “Words With Friends,” recently filed an initial public offering with the SEC and began trading on NASDAQ. While the stock failed to rocket as previous dotcom stock did in the heyday of the tech bubble, the market for social and mobile is still very much a battleground.
Companies are developing games for smart phones and tablets and incorporating chat or other social features to allow players around the world enjoy games together. Atari recently announced they were changing their mission to work exclusively on social and mobile gaming while publishers like Electronic Arts continue to push big names (“Madden”) to the small screen. EA also bought Popcap Games for a whopping $750 million.
Facebook made it even easier for game play on their social network while Apple’s inclusion of the Game Center on their iPhones reflect the growing interest by the public toward gaming with others while on the move.
More Than a Gaming Device
Kinect for the Xbox was introduced with the idea of making motion gaming easy and fun for users. But creative people began “hacking” the device and make use of its cameras and sensors for more than just play.
Some people have used the Kinect to create very life-like movies using CG rendered figures. Other use it to manipulate video playback so that multiple screens can be created or erased as the user needs.
Kinect is also a watchdog for your home. A program turns on the Kinect when it senses motion and takes pictures of the “intruder’s” face, which can be stored or even sent online.
While hacking the Kinect wasn’t new this year, the ingenuity at which people were including the motion sensing device rose to new and exciting levels.
“Angry Birds” vs. The World
“Angry Birds” moved out of the gaming arena and into the pop culture spotlight with their inclusion in commercials, being released as stuffed toys and the very real possibility of a full length movie in the near future.
It is also notable for the people who play – U.S. Senator Chris Coons, basketball star Kevin Durant and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who plays the iPad version of the game.
There is also a yoga philosophy that uses the characters and gameplay mechanics to explain its teachings. Rovio, the company that created the game, opened its first official retail story in Helsinki and plans another somewhere in China.
3D Game Console Released
With much fanfare and hype, Nintendo released a new handheld console – the 3DS – that would let players experience 3D visuals without the use of special glasses. It was supposed to revolutionize what the gaming experience was going to be.
The console was released inJapanin February and inNorth Americain March. But by August, Nintendo dropped the price on the device by $80 after demand for it was softer than expected.
As of March, Nintendo had only sold 3.61 million units – far short of the 4 million the company was expecting to sell. To appease early adapters who bought the 3DS at the early price, Nintendo offered 20 free downloadable games – ten free NES Virtual Console games and ten Game Boy Advance Virtual Console games.
The device also suffered from a perception problem as the company stated publically that the 3D mode should not be used by players 6 years old and younger. While there has been no scientific data to show any harm to the development of eye sight in children, some players did report experiencing headaches after continuous playing.
New Gaming Hardware
This year, two major gaming hardware companies announced they were going to come out with new gaming consoles.
At the Electronic Entertainment Expo inLos Angeles, Sony showed off its new handheld game console, the PlayStation Vita, while Nintendo introduced its newest home console, theWiiU.
The Wii U announcement has been described as the next generation of gaming consoles and is expected to be fully backwards compatible with the Wii. The controller will have an embedded single-touch screen and the console will be able to produce high-definition graphics.
There were worries that the console will be too expensive to compete with the PS3 and Xbox 360. Nintendo has said the Wii U will be released after March 2012.
In contrast, the PlayStation Vita, Sony’s new handheld console and the successor to the PSP, was released inJapanin December and is expected to hit North American andUnited Kingdomshores in February. It boasts touch screens on the front and back as well as dual analog joysticks.
Vita will also be available in two versions: one with 3G support and one without. The 3G service will be provided by AT&T in theUSand Vodafone inEurope.
Moving from subscription to free-to-play
“World of Warcraft” wasn’t the first, but it has been the most successful subscription based game for massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) with 10.3 million subscribers as of November.
So it stands to reason that others would try to take a slice of that very large pie. “DC Universe Online” wanted to capitalize on the power of DC Comics and online gaming in a big way.
The game allowed players the opportunity to act out their comic hero/villain fantasies in the DC Universe and interact with iconic characters like Superman, Joker or Wonder Woman. Initially, players paid a monthly fee (around $15 in the U.S.), but by September, there were reports that the game was not doing as well as Sony, Warner Bros., and DC Comics would have liked.
In November, it was announced that the game would be free to play for anyone who wanted to play, but offered optional in-game microtransactions in place of the subscription fee. Two other paying levels were offered with different levels of in-game abilities being released as the price increased.
The strategy worked as “DC Universe Online” experienced a 2,500% increase in total playtime per day and a 1,000% increase in their user base.
More Affordable PS3
Perhaps feeling the heat from their hacking incidents or maybe just an attempt to chip away at Microsoft’s lead in the console market, Sony announced a price drop for their flagship console, the PlayStation 3.
The price drop put the cost on par with the Xbox 360, but didn’t include any bundling with the Move controller (that came later in the year). Some analysts wondered if Microsoft would respond with a price drop of their own – something that did not occur.
The Xbox 360 has traditionally been the top selling gaming console in the U.S.
The Season of 3
Finally, you can’t talk about the year in gaming without talking about games. This year, many of the popular franchises produced sequels with many of the shooter titles sporting the number three in their titles.
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3,” “Battlefield 3” and “Gears of War 3” all brought back familiar gameplay and characters while putting them in new situations and scenarios.
“Uncharted 3,” featuring the treasure-seeking ways of Nathan Drake, closed out that franchise. “Resistance 3” also brought an end to the alien invasion of Earth. And “F.E.A.R 3” finally stopped making us dread little girls in darkened hallways.
X-Play host Morgan Webb said all these sequels and finale installments are happening for a reason – new consoles on the near future.
“We’re nearly the end of a console cycle so series that have begun at the beginning of the console cycle, they’re starting to finish up the series,” she said. “People have made the investment in the franchise and they’ve got the art together and they don’t want to create something completely new when new consoles are starting to be on the horizon.”
The PlayStation Vita and the Nintendo Wii U are both arriving in the world markets with the Vita hitting North American and European shores in February after a Japanese launch in mid-December. The PS Vita is a handheld console and successor to the PlayStation Portable (PSP) that offers beefier graphics, interactive touchscreens on the front and back, and dual analog sticks much like the PlayStation 3 controllers.
Sony is banking on familiar characters in games like “Uncharted: Golden Abyss” and “Little Big Planet” to help draw in customers as well as creating unique and immersive games to appeal to the hard core gamer. The company is going after the dedicated portable gaming market, but challenging tablets and smartphones for the same gamers.
There were more than 320,000 units sold in Japan after its December 16 release, putting it on nearly even footing with the Nintendo 3DS. Those numbers dropped dramatically in the second week to just over 70,000 and analysts are watching to see how the device will be received in the U.S. and Europe.
Later in 2012, Nintendo will be releasing their next generation console called Wii U. It is the first Nintendo console to feature 1080p high-definition graphics and will have a touchscreen embedded in the controller to allow for gaming even when the TV is off.
A prototype was shown during the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2011 to demonstrate its single touch screen that supplements or replicates gameplay on the monitor. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said the final version will be revealed at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2012 in Los Angeles and released to the public after March 2012.
Critics are concerned about the potential consumer costs, but Nintendo is confident the Wii U will open up a new style of gameplay for the home gamer.
There has also been speculation that a PlayStation 4 or new Xbox console could be released in 2012. In an interview with CNN Geek Out, Xplay host Morgan Webb said many developers are working on new franchises for a new console generation.
“We’re nearly at the end of a console cycle, so series that have begun at the beginning of the console cycle, they’re starting to finish up the series,” Webb said. “People have made the investment in the franchise and they’ve got the art together and they don’t want to create something completely new when new consoles are starting to be on the horizon.”
Some developers have spoken openly about learning about technology for a new Sony console. And while there have been hints about a new Xbox console for a couple of years, Microsoft has been mum about any new console hardware and focusing their efforts on the Kinect controller.
Of course, all these new hardware devices won’t mean a thing unless gamers have great games to play. There is a powerhouse line-up of major franchises and popular characters in store for 2012.
“Halo 4” is the next blockbuster installment in the iconic franchise that has likely defined a generation of gaming. Set in the aftermath of “Halo 3,” Master Chief returns to face an ancient evil that (of course) threatens the entire universe.
Speaking of saving the universe, “Mass Effect 3” brings back Commander Shepard as his battles against the Reapers pit the galaxy against the advanced machine race. The story is expected to flow directly from the ending of “Mass Effect 2” and will also offer a female version of Commander Shepard for the first time.
Some old friends will be returning in “Diablo III” and “Twisted Metal.” More than ten years after “Diablo II,” players will get to battle the forces of evil with new destructible environments and classes to play. “Twisted Metal” returns from a 17 year hiatus for more combat on wheels action and over-the-top explosions.
“Bioshock: Infinite” has been wowing audiences since its announcement in 2010 and has already won numerous awards before its official release next year. Taking the action from underwater to the skies, creator Ken Levine is hoping fans will embrace the new direction and explore the setting and culture.
“Final Fantasy XIII-2” returns players to Cocoon in search of Lightning, the hero from “Final Fantasy XIII.” The game was released in mid-December in Japan to perfect scores and selling more than 524,000 copies for the PlayStation 3 version alone. Square Enix, developer of the game, is expecting a great launch for the rest of the world in 2012.
Other titles like “Resident Evil Revelations,” “Max Payne 3,” “Borderlands 2,” and “Grand Theft Auto V” will also be must-see games for the upcoming year.
As we’ve learned, gaming is not just for consoles and consoles are not just for gaming. Smartphones and tablets are continuing their march into the gaming genre with more choices from Atari, Zynga, Electronic Arts and other well-known gaming developers.
As mobile devices become more powerful, social and casual gaming is expected to increase to new heights and draw in more people to becoming “gamers.” Some research shows that the demographic of a gamer is changing to nearly an even split of male/female and the audience is getting older and more affluent.
Likewise, consoles are broadening their entertainment choices beyond just gaming into live sporting events, movies and music. Hulu, Netflix and ESPN have already made inroads that other providers will be exploring in the coming year.
Look for that trend to continue as content producers look to capture audiences at every opportunity and gaming seen as a potential growth market.
While 2011 was a big year in gaming, 2012 is projected to be even larger. Communications market researcher TMNG expects the global gaming business to reach $40 billion in revenues by 2012 with high growth in the mobile game sector.
There are likely to be twists and unexpected developments along the way for the gaming industry in 2012. But at the heart of it all, the gamer consumer will be the one who decides which technology or title goes on to glory and which goes in the discount bin.
As 2011 comes to a close and the holiday video gaming releases are in full swing, I took some time to talk with Morgan Webb, host of “XPlay” on G4TV about this year in gaming, what’s next and what does it really mean to be a gamer.
Webb said she is an avowed fanatic when it comes to the “Centipede” arcade game. She also said her first console was an Atari 2600, where she played “Combat” and “Plaque Attack” for hours on end.
GN: This was a year for sequels. Every major title that came out had a number after it. Why is that?
Webb: “We’re nearly the end of a console cycle so series that have begun at the beginning of the console cycle, they’re starting to finish up the series. People have made the investment in the franchise and they’ve got the art together and they don’t want to create something completely new when new consoles are starting to be on the horizon.”
GN: Were there any games that surprised you this year?
Webb: “’LA Noire’ from Rockstar. Rockstar traditionally makes very good games, but we were surprised and delighted that the game had a very different perspective on the traditional ‘GTA’ (‘Grand Theft Auto’) style open world game. That was a great surprise and a great game.”
GN: What’s going to be different in the next generation of consoles?
I think they are going to have a lot of cloud functionality. You’ll be able to play games on the cloud. You’ll definitely be able to have saves on the cloud. They’re going to start transitioning people off of discs. That doesn’t mean they aren’t going to have disc drives because they are. But we’re going to start having consoles with big hard drives that you can gather those games because you’re going to have much better bandwidth. You’re going to be able to download those games more often. They’re going to want to start that transition and start cutting out the actual game stores just like how book stores have been cut out from books. On the gaming side, we going to see very powerful graphics cards and we’re going to see very powerful processors. They’re going to be very powerful computers that are going to sit next to your television and they’re going to be very good prices for what you are going to get.
GN: With the Wii U and the PlayStation Vita coming out next year, is this where we are headed with more motion controls and less button pushing in gaming?
Webb: “I think there is room for both. Core games, the hard core gamers who play games like ‘Gears of War,’ ‘Call of Duty,’ ‘Assassin’s Creed’ and ‘Skyrim,’ that gamer is definitely more interested in using a controller for a lot of their experiences. The problem is that the (PlayStation) Move, these motion experiences, aren’t nuanced enough to actually give the player as much control as they would have with a (regular) controller. For example, if you are swinging a sword on a Wii game, you slash to the right and it does a right slash or slash to the left and it does a left slash, but it doesn’t really track or there is no skill involved. Now you are just standing up there making slashing motions for three hours.”
GN: Are the console wars still alive or has the battle moved to specific game titles?
Webb: “I think there are people on the Internet who sit there and decide that everything on the PlayStation is awesome and everything on the Xbox is awful and people who think that everything on the Xbox is great and everything on the PS3 is terrible. We call those people trolls. People become emotionally invested in the console they purchase so that’s the reason they get so attached to it. I think in general most people are ‘hey, I have an Xbox and I like it and lots of good games come out for both consoles.’ Each console has their exclusives and they are great exclusives on each. The Wii tends to have fewer rabid proponents because it tends to aim for a more casual audience.
GN: Does the title ‘gamer’ carry more weight than it did in the past?
Webb: “Unfortunately, it is a more confusing word now because there are so many different types of games and so many people playing games from on their cell phone to Facebook to many other things. The word encompasses so many different groups so it doesn’t really mean as much as it used to. I call myself a gamer but someone’s mom who plays ‘Farmville’ all the time, maybe she calls herself a gamer too and she should because she is. I think we need words to start differentiating the subgroups.”
While Webb would not name her 2011 Game of the Year, she did have some recommendations that players should pick up if they can.
- “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” – “You have adventures in this world that is very living and you have hundreds and thousands of choices you make and it all seamlessly works together.”
- “Uncharted 3” – “This is what we want the ‘Indiana Jones’ movies to be. You are living and playing that ‘Indiana Jones’ treasure hunting experience.”
- “Resistance 3” – “A little of the beaten path. It has funky, over-the-top weapons, but funny weapons, weird crazy weapons that you aren’t going to see anywhere else.”
- “Saints Row The Third” – “A GTA style game that is hilarious and over-the-top and crazy. Not for kids!”
- “Portal 2” – “There are some great puzzles in there.”
“Batman: Arkham City” takes everything that was great about the first Arkham title and makes it bigger, bolder and better. The Dark Knight goes up against his most murderous foes with new weapons and allies in a story that expands the Batman universe.
Spinning off the ending of “Batman: Arkham Asylum,” Gotham City decides that the best way to house all of its criminals is to wall off a large section of the city and dump them all together. So now, Joker, Penguin, Two-Face and others are free to do whatever they want inside those walls. Out of sight, out of mind.
The 18-month backstory of the game was presented in a limited series by DC Comics in the months leading up to the game’s release. If you didn’t read the series, there may be some confusion about what’s going on when the gameplay begins.
The city is beautifully rendered with plenty of locations that are unique to Batman’s enemies. While the regular prisoners tend to repeat themselves, each villain looks and feels very unique and true to their comic book counterparts.
It also helps that Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy reprise their voice roles as The Joker and Batman respectively. Those trademark voices have become as necessary as the Joker’s laugh or Batman’s scowl.
Combat is similar to “Arkham Asylum” as rhythmic button pushing sends Batman from foe to foe in a fluid and almost dance-like movement with devastating effects. The more times you can string together attacks will open up new power moves that can daze or level multiple opponents.
Batman’s utility belt is full with some of the same “toys” as before, but with new abilities and functions. Batarangs, batclaws and explosive gels are back with additional weapons like smoke pellets and a new Cryptographic Sequencer to help the Caped Crusader escape from trouble or solve puzzles.
Tutorials and the Batcomputer will help you master the skills needed to succeed as well as help point you in the direction of the next objective. Arkham City is five times the size that Arkham Asylum was so it is easy to get lost or misplace a mission.
Batman spends most of his time traveling this new territory by grapnel gun and gliding. There is an opportunity to get a grapnel boost, so use it and it will cut down the time it takes to get around.
In all, there are more than 250 upgrades and collectibles that help increase Batman’s skills, armor and weaponry. Take advantage of each when you can.
All that real estate needs to be occupied and developers filled it up with some of Batman’s most famous and deadly foes. Each of them wants to rule over the prisoners in Arkham City, but are willing to take their shots at the Dark Knight when they can.
Mr. Freeze, the Riddler, Two-Face, Harley Quinn and, of course, the Joker are ready to battle Batman in their own ways. Each has a unique agenda and part of the gameplay is figuring out what they are up to and how best to stop it.
The main storyline is filled with intrigue and drama. Fighting skills alone will not win the day and Batman is again equipped with a Detective mode that lets him spot clues normal eyes can’t see.
In “Arkham Asylum,” this mode could be turned on and pretty much left on at all times. In “Arkham City,” the mode stays on until Batman takes a hit. Players will not want to leave it on the entire time because they’ll miss other things that are needed to complete other missions.
Twelve complete side mission, which could be regular missions in their own right, help to deepen the game’s experience and introduce even more new villains and weapons to use. Players also are assisted by allies and other heroes as they make their way through the City.
The Riddler once again plays a big part again in hiding riddles and puzzles all over the City. This time, however, he’s taken hostages and only releasing clues to their whereabouts when Batman solves a certain number of riddles. Be warned – there are 400 secrets to be discovered so don’t pass up an opportunity to find them when you can.
Catwoman is a playable character in the game with her own adventures and missions. There is some crossover between her and Batman during cutscenes, but fighting and puzzle solving are all things she does on her own.
She has some special abilities like being able to climb on ceilings and use her whip and bolas to take down enemies. She also has more than 50 trophies and upgrades that can only be collected by her.
The mastermind behind all the action? Well, you don’t read comic books from the back to the front to you?
Suffice to say, the game story takes plenty of twists and turns, revealing more about the Dark Knight and his rogues. The action is well balanced between fighting objectives and detective work and has a nice flow and pace throughout the game.
It is a very deep game with a lengthy storyline, plenty of side missions and hundreds of collectibles. The playable Catwoman sections are a nice addition that weaves in and out of the main story, but never feels out of place.
Through it all, players will become enmeshed in the Batman universe and experience it all as if they were looking through the eye slits of the Dark Knight’s cowl and into his mind. It is a wonderful mix of classic characters, enhanced combat and new highlights that makes “Batman: Arkham City” worthy to wear the Bat-logo.
“Batman: Arkham City” will be available October 18 in North America, October 19 in Australia, October 21 in Europe and November 23 in Japan for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. A PC version is expected to be released in November and a Wii U version is planned for sometime in 2012. The game is rated T for Teen due to alcohol reference, blood, mild language, suggestive themes, use of tobacco, and violence. This review was done playing a review copy on the Xbox 360.
Nintendo is expected to announce its hardware follow-up to the Wii at its E3 2011 press conference in Los Angeles as well as some new games for its handheld 3DS device.
A live orchestra performs game theme music as clips from different “Zelda” titles play on the big screen. It is part of the 25th anniversary celebration for “The Legend of Zelda.”
The orchestra is asked to play different sounds from the game as well as melodies from different scenes. Shigeru Miyamoto is excited to act out the game actions as the music plays.
“Links Awakening” will be available for the Game Boy Color as a download later today. Next weekend, “Ocarina of Time 3D” will launch around the world.
“Four Swords” will be made available as a download as a 4-player co-op game. Wii Motion Plus is used for swinging the sword using a special gold Wii remote.
“Skyward Sword” for the Wii is expected to be out in time for the holiday.
There are also going to be official music CDs as part of the Zelda celebration – soundtrack from “Ocarina.” Plus more surprises as the celebration continues.
Satoru Iwata comes out now and talks about expanding who plays, where they play, and how we play. He talks about which consoles that appeal to uniquely satisfying to a particular audience.
He said Nintendo’s new platform will provide deeper experiences that the most passionate gamers has ever felt and a wider feel that ever before. It is all just a tease because the big announcement will be later.
But he wants everyone to understand that Nintendo wants to serve all gamers.
Several Nintendo titles are moving into 3-D. Different classic titles are getting the three dimension treatment very soon.
Reggie Fils-Aime steps out and says players want comfortable and surprise. He wants to know if it is possible to deliver something for everyone.
Five new, created from scratch titles for the Nintendo 3DS are announced – “MarioKart” (Holiday 2011), “Starfox 3D,” “Super Mario” for 3DS, “Kid Icarus Uprising” (with 3 on 3 multiplayer action and augmented reality cards), and “Luigi’s Mansion 2.”
“Luigi’s Mansion 2” looks like a Nintendo version of Ghostbusters, but it is cute.
Titles from SEGA, NAMCO, Capcom, Ubisoft and others will be making new games for the 3DS.
The system updates to the 3DS will enhance finding new games, unlock game trailers and demos, and provide a virtual console service for classic games.
For a limited time, “3D Classics: Excitebike” will be available for download.
Pokemon is now going to be 3D. An enhanced Pokedex for the 3DS will come with some Pokemon loaded, but you have to play to really catch them all. They will also have AR markers so players can assemble a scene using a Pokemon in the real world, then show it off to friends.
Excitebike and the Pokedex are free now in the Nintendo eShop.
Here comes the new console announcement.
Wii U is the new console that is designed to be enjoyed with others, but tailor made for the individual player.
The demo shows game action moving seamlessly from the TV to the controller screen. Artists can draw on the small screen and it show up on a TV.
Multiplayer games can be played on the small touchscreen (this sounds familiar). An aiming attachment shows a different viewpoint.
Throwing stars on the touch screen are tossed and affect action on the big screen.
Video calls can also be made on the new controller. What won’t this thing do?
It acts as an inventory screen to RPG action happening on the big screen.
Specs – a 6.2” touch screen, dual analog circle pads, motion controls, speakers, microphone and a camera. It is compatible for all Nintendo Wii attachments.
Iwata says Wii U was created so the widest variety of games can be enjoyed – from hardcore gamers to casual gamers. However, it was not designed to be a portable game machine – it is for home entertainment.
It is a new way to let everyone see games the way they want to see them. It will be available in 2012.
They expect game makers to come up with new, innovative ways to use the new Wii U controller. Just announced “Super Smash Brothers” for Wii U and 3DS, and the crowd goes wild. The two versions will work together in some way.
A video demo of new graphic capabilities looks fantastic. The quality is stellar and very realistic.
Reggie is talking about how the new controller will affect prototype games.
He announces LEGO City Stories, a new title in the series, to be available exclusively for the Wii U and 3DS as the first new third party title.
A video clip of different developers are now talking about their first reaction to the Wii U controller. Hardcore titles like “Darksiders II,” “Batman: Arkham City,” “Assassin’s Creed” and “Tekken” will be available at launch.
Nintendo has just thrown off the “kids’ console” label off the Wii platform. If these heavy duty titles play like they look, this is going to open up the Wii system to a lot more players.
Electronic Arts comes out on stage now. EA is looking forward to new content for their sports games and showing how the controller could be used in “Madden,” and “Battlefield” franchises.
DS, Wii, 3DS, and Wii U are unique but share the common pedigree of innovation. Reggie talks about how each built upon the successes of the others.
There has been no mention of price. Some of those features are not going to be cheap.
But the gauntlet has been thrown down. Let’s wait to see how well they can deliver.