Monday, February 28, 2011

Killzone 3 impressions

My impressions on the single-player campaign.
First of all I have to emphasize one thing: This game is freakin' gorgeous!  It has retaken the crown of "best looking game this generation", which Killzone 2 lost to Uncharted 2.  The visuals are so impressive in fact, that they are distracting.  They were actually taking me out of the game to the point where instead of playing the game as I normally would, I was actually stopping to just look around, taking in the insane detail that could be found in the environments.  Sure I had squad mates screaming and dying around me, gunfire and explosions were everywhere, but I was standing still, staring in awe at the beautiful scenery.  One level in particular, a weird insect-like alien forest, is the most surreally beautiful thing I have seen in a videogame.  Several times while playing this game I actually made comments aloud to myself like, "No f'ing way", or, "Are you kidding me?", all in relation to me not believing what these programmers had managed to do.  One tip to players: look up often.  You can easily miss some pretty amazing vistas but just not looking up at the sky, or to see the top or roofs of structures.  So, look up folks!  Take in the sights.  Guerilla needs to license this game engine to other developers, because I want more PS3 games to look this good.  Seriously, Guerilla, once again I tip my hat to you.  You guys know how to squeeze every ounce of power from the PS3.
Visuals aside, the single-player game is enjoyable, but also flawed in execution.  Not sure if Guerilla felt they received too much criticism the last time about the story, but it looks like they really wanted to emphasize the story this time around and they decided to take a page out of the Metal Gear handbook and just toss in many, many cut scenes.  The game's flow is constantly being interrupted to show you a cut scene to the point where it becomes annoying.  Many times it was not needed, as what was occurring could have been relayed through in-game actions, or left out all together. 
Much like the Metal Gear games the cinematics themselves are done in-engine and look phenomenal from a technical standpoint.  But this is a game, I'd much rather be playing instead of watching whenever possible.  This one aspect is my biggest negative, since the game can get very intense at times and having it abruptly cut to a needless cut-scene is jarring and totally kills the flow of the game.
Another negative I found is that the game feels too scripted and linear.  Some of the battlefields are open enough to offer some good flanking options and to make the firefight feel a bit open, but there are many other sections that don't feel organic and feel like they were designed for very specific reasons.  One example which I felt was so obvious that it took me out of the moment was a stealth section in the previously mentioned alien forest level, in which you are supposed to be advancing quietly and moving between the shadows or hiding in the tall grass.  The scene tasks you with sneaking past many Helghast guards and it could be tense and nerve-raking, except your path is clearly and comically defined by one long strip of tall grass very conveniently leading the way.  It just seemed so obvious and out of place and kinda silly, that is killed the moment for me.
Controls have definitely been tightened and feel far more responsive than the last game.  As a result the weapons do lose some of the "heavy feel" they had in the previous title, but I'll take playability first.
Guerilla does try to mix up the gameplay as much as possible.  You have your standard levels, a stealth level, plenty of on-the-rail shooting segments, you pilot the mech from KZ2 again in one section, and you have the new jetpack (although if memory serves me correctly, only for one section).  All play styles are fun and exciting and keep things from getting stale.
One difference I noticed is that this time around you have many more ammo caches to restock on ammo.  In fact, I think there are too many of them.  They offer a limitless amount of re-supplying and they replenish ammo and grenades for all weapons.  Throw in the fact that you can now carry a third heavy weapon, and it actually takes away from the experience in my opinion.  In the last game since you only had one large weapon and your pistol, I was constantly having to scavenge weapons from fallen enemies.  In fact, I barely used the standard ISA Rifle in KZ2 since I would run out of ammo fairly early on and be forced to use Helghast weapons found in the battlefield.  It was annoying at first (I kinda liked the ISA Rifle), but overall it added to my enjoyment of the game since it made my situation feel more desperate (was kinda realistic too since you are fighting on the Helghan homeworld, there's not going to be ISA ammo just laying around).  It also almost forced me to try all the weapons since I couldn't stick with a favorite as ammo for it would eventually run out.  Maybe many people complained about that and Guerilla overcompensated in this area as well, like they did with the story, because it is impossible to run out of ammo and have to pick up a different weapon out of necessity.
I also have one final complaint about a new enemy type, those cool new Helghast soldiers seen in the trailers with a mounted blade on their arms.  They look bad-ass, are some sort of elite guards or something, yet all they do in the battlefield is run right at you.  No attempting to dodge attacks, no taking cover, no jumping around like you see in the cinematics, they just run right at you and let you unload an entire clip into them.  That's just stupid.  These guys could be a pretty cool enemy is they had half a brain.  Wasted opportunity.
All that being said, Killzone 3 was fun, if not particularly revolutionary.  I hope to dive a bit into the multiplayer and see how that goes.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Two days ago I heard about Undead Labs for the first time, a developer working on a project which is right up my alley. So right up my alley that I've semi-created a similar game in my head for a while now.

They want to create a zombie game. Yes, who hasn't created a zombie game these days? But theirs is a little different. They want to create a zombie game about surviving the zombie apocalypse. Not a zombie shooting gallery, but one that focuses on the survival aspects of an outbreak. And not the just at-the-moment survival (not getting bitten!), but long-term survival (finding shelter, fortifying it, having a steady food source, etc.)

Hell. Yes.

Undead Labs is actually working on two games, both around the same concept. The first game, Class 3, will be an Xbox Live Arcade 3rd-person open world game that will serve almost as a test of the technology and to lay the ground work for the real game, Class 4, which will basically be a post-zombie apocalypse MMO.

I'm definitely going to be following Undead Labs' progress very carefully. They seem pretty passionate about the material and have a great relationship with the community through their website.

And then, as if that wasn't good enough zombie news for me, yesterday a trailer is released for yet another zombie game I have never heard: Dead Island. This game will be a 1st-person game, but will put a heavier emphasis on melee combat. It is supposed to also be fairly open-world and take place on an island.

Whatever it is, the trailer that was released yesterday is just phenomenal. Please check it out.

I'm a very happy zombie fan right now. Don't know how I lasted so long without hearing about these titles. Now the agonizing wait begins.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


I'm a bit late with this news, but Sony finally made an official announcement on the PSP's successor, after countless leaks and rumors.  The NGP (Next Generation Portable).  I'm guessing the name will change.
Here are the highlights:
- 5" OLED capacitive touch screen (with 4x the resolution of the PSP's screen)
- Dual analog sticks
- Rear touchpad
- Front and rear cameras
- Sixaxis motion sensor (same as the Move)
- Three-axis electronic compass
- Built-in GPS
- Wifi
- Blutooth
- 3G
- Games now run off a proprietary flash storage format, instead of UMDs.
Oh, and thing is practically as powerful as a PS3.  Supposedly.  Developers have been able to port over PS3 titles fairly quickly, making only some graphical sacrifices in the process.
My inner tech-geek sees those stats and passes out.  That is one sexy package Sony is putting out.  Seems to have all the bases covered.  Way more powerful than a 3DS.  More connectivity options.  A little more of everything.
Of course, the PSP had more of everything too and it got crushed by Nintendo.
After my giddiness over the tech specs passed, my first thought was: This thing is going to cost a million dollars!
I'm real curious to see what the retail price is going to be, because anything over $299 will be too high, but even at $299, Sony has got to be taking a huge loss per unit.
Another thing, the NGP is huge!!  At least, it is in relation to other mobile gaming devices.  It definitely isn't portable in the sense that you can't put it in your pocket and go.
I have several concerns with this hand-held.  Size.  Cost.  Battery life and heat output (like I said, it is pretty damn powerful).  Cost of games is a concern too.  Thanks to the app store, the mobile gaming market has exploded, but with that boom, price expectations have also changed.  .99 cent iPhone games are the norm, with "premium" games costing no more than $9.99.  And those are looked at as pretty damn expensive.  Given the power of the NGP, the cost of game development has got to be pretty huge, so the games themselves have got to cost quite a bit as well.  Granted, there is still a definite market out there for this type of portable gaming, but it is much smaller than the market for $.99 iPhone games.
My other concern is that I see this thing going the same route the PSP took.  Basically, trying to emulate the console experience on a console.  But that is not what I am looking for in a portable game.  I want something accessible, fairly easy to pick up and play, and most importantly, a experience that I am able to jump into quickly, play for a short amount of time if needed, and get out of just as quickly.  If I want a deep RPG, or action shooter, or a game with an elaborate story line, then I actually prefer to experience that on my couch, on my console.  I am not one of those gamers (at least anymore) that will play a portable gaming machine while sitting at home.  My consoles offer that experience in a much better package.
We'll see how it goes for Sony.  Like I said, I absolutely love the technology, I just don't see me using this device on a daily or even weekly basis.  I'm definitely not going to be carrying it around with me wherever I go.  So if reserved for road trips and vacations, then I don't think I can justify the cost.
I'm not that interested in the 3DS either, so it looks like I'll continue to get my mobile gaming fix from my iPhone.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Beyond Good and Evil HD

Beyond Good and Evil is getting the HD treatment with an upcoming re-release on March 2nd (on Xbox Live Arcade and PSN).  If you never purchased this gem back when it was originally released on the PS2, Xbox and Gamecude, shame on you.  Now is your chance to make things right.
Buy.  This.  Game.
I still own my PS2 copy and I was actually going to re-play it on my PS3 just prior to this announcement.  Good thing I waited, because it looks like it is not just getting a simple resolution bumps.  A few of the highlights:
- The game now runs at a rock solid 60 fps (if I recall, the original was 30 fps)
- 80% of the game's textures have been redone
- All music is now uncompressed
- Character models have been improved
- Achievements, leader boards and all that jazz
I would have been happy with just a resolution boost, so all this love and care is icing on the cake.  BGaE is a great game, with a lot of heart, excellent story and characters, fantastic design and an overall unique experience that everyone should try.  It did awful in sales when originally released so I really hope that gamers embrace it this time, because it truly is a great fun title.
And the best part?  It will only cost you 800 MS points ($10).  That my friends, is a steal!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Killzone 3 Beta

The Killzone 3 open Beta has been available for a few days now.  And it is a total mess.  I've only been able to play about 2 trouble free matches.  The very first two I tried after downloading the Beta when it came out.  I then went about 3 days without being able to connect to any game and getting kicked out of the network.  Yesterday I was finally able to connect to two matches, but both were glicthy and not working properly.  10 seconds after the matches would start, we'd get a message saying we lost and the words "You Lost" would show up in the middle of screen.  Except the match just started, so we didn't really "lose".  So the match would continue, but the words would not leave the screen, obstruction your view, your targeting reticle would not show up, and there were no player names over the other players, making it hard to distinguish who was friend or foe.  Oh and your couldn't see the score. In other words, it was unplayable.
Because of the Beta and Killzone 3's upcoming release, I did get the urge to play Killzone 2 again, so over the past few days I played through it and beat it one more time.  I think I may have enjoyed it this time even more than my initial playthrough.  Lookinging forward to the third game, even though reviews have been average.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Dead Space 2 . . .

I beat Dead Space 2 over the weekend and I am ½ way through my second play through (I love New Game + modes!  All games should have it as an option!).
Overall, very solid game, although I don't see it as a GotY candidate.  I did enjoy it, I just wasn't playing it with the same awe as I did the first one.  I'm probably just desensitized to the "experience" the first one provided.  The super-slick interface and HUDless gameplay of the original is no longer new and unique (although still totally awesome).  The visuals are fantastic and better than the first one for sure, yet I'm not as "wowed" this time.  The Necromorphs are still ferocious and scary, but not as terrifying and alien.  The heavier reliance on combat (and improved combat mechanics) actually make your frequent encounters with enemies not as intense, since they seem more frequent and dispatching enemies is easier now (aside from the super cheap "scorpion" necromorphs, which are just bastards).  The game also resorts to kinda cheap tactics (enemies spawning behind you 80% of the time) and predictable sections of you getting bombarded by waves of enemies while you wait for something to happen (a door to unlock, an elevator to arrive, etc.).  All these factors do dilute some of the great atmosphere the visuals and sound do such a good job of setting up.
The gameplay itself is pretty similar to the original and while they did eliminate backtracking, to me that actually gives the game a more linear feel.  I did not mind the backtracking in the first game, as it made the Ishimura feel like a real ship and not just "levels".  They also removed the cool 3D map from the first game and I am not sure why, because I used that map quite a bit before and I found myself wishing I had it back.
The one gameplay area that did receive a major upgrade (aside from combat) is in the zero-gravity sections.  Isaac can now freely move around these and they really are a lot of fun to navigate and experience.  And like in the first game, I absolutely love the way Visceral Games gets across the feeling of being in the vacuum of space.  The sound design in these sections is awesome and the free-flying gameplay only adds to the experience.
My one hope for any possible sequels is to change the formula a bit to make the game world feel more organic and not as scripted.  I'd say about 95% of the enemies you encounter in the game are scripted to jump out and "scare" you after you trigger some kind of event.  Whether it is just crossing an invisible line on the floor, pressing a switch, picking up an object, or some hidden timer while you wait for something to happen.  There are rarely just enemies roaming around the levels.  Maybe there is some story-related reason for this.  Maybe necromorphs by nature only hunt with the element of surprise and by hiding in vents.  That's cool, I don't mind that.  It wouldn't be very scary if every time you entered a room there were a few necromorphs just standing around.  If they like hiding in vents and walls, then by all means, let them be in the walls, but let them actually be in there when you enter a room, watching you, waiting.  Maybe you can hear them if you are an acute listener.  Maybe you can even pin-point their location and get the upper-hand with a pre-emptive attack.  Let them freely move around the ceiling and walls while they stalk you and wait for the best moment to attack, but that attack should not be scripted and the same each time.  Absolutely keep some of those scripted moments as they can be highly effective, I just think that removing the majority of the totally scripted attacks will do wonders not only to the general gameplay by making everything feel much more organic and random (which in turn will increase the game's replay value), but will make the actual scripted sections much more exciting.
Also, more sections that take place in the vacuum of space.  That is all.  Thanks.