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Hands-on: Turtle Beach Ear Force PX5 headset

Feb 24 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Ear Force PX5 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, portable devices)Manufacturer: Turtle BeachRetailers: Best Buy, GameStopMSRP: $249.95 First, let's take a look at the new tech behind the Ear Force PX5 headset. You're still getting Dolby 5.1 and 7.1 virtual surround sound, as usual. The big addition -- and a first for the headset market -- is the inclusion of two radios. One is for uncompressed game audio, and the other is a Bluetooth radio for wireless chat with cell phones and the PlayStation 3. Yup, you'll be able to sync up phones to take calls through the headset or even stream music over Bluetooth, all while playing games. As for the wireless transmitter, it's largely the same as the last model, but it's now on a 2.4 GHz radio frequency for improved sound quality. Here's the real big thing about the Ear Force PX5: you'll be able to store up to 18 audio presets that will give you an edge in competitive games. The example I was given was a Search and Destroy match in Call of Duty. You can play through the round with normal audio, and once it's down to you and someone else, you can simply press a button on the Ear Force to tune out sound that's outside of the footstep audio frequency. Yes, you'll be able to fine-tune the headset to the point that you can only hear someone's footsteps, or whatever critical audio cues you need to hear. Users will be able to download the Preset Manager program from Turtle Beach, which lets you create custom audio settings. Best of all, this program is free. There's also a social website that Turtle Beach will be launching, where users can create, share and rate custom audio settings. Turtle Beach will also have 100 custom presets ready for download at launch. On the headset are two buttons that allow you to change the current audio setting. On the left side, you can toggle between the nine custom channels. The right side of the headset has a main button that lets you hot-swap between your favorite audio setting and the last channel you selected. To create these, Turtle Beach will provide a developer level version of the preset manager called the PX5 Advanced Sound Editor, which allows developers to create not only voices, but also custom presets for their own titles. Just as the consumer PX5 Preset Manager tool will be free, the developer PX5 Advanced Sound Editor will be distributed to developer at no charge. On top of creating these game-changing settings, players can customize other features, such as drowning out people's heavy breathing or create a threshold in case you end up in lobbies with screaming kids. You can create the same settings for yourself, too -- perfect for those of you who can't help but scream in rage or joy. Turtle Beach is working on a series of headsets, and this first entry in the product line will run you $249.95. The other entries will be revealed at E3. Turtle Beach has taken a very interesting approach to the headset field. Obviously, owners of these headsets are going to have a marked advantage when it comes to online multiplayer games thanks to the PX5. I'm curious to see how people will react to this extra advantage players will get. If there is one thing to complain about, however, I want to point out that that the buttons that allow you to switch channels are annoyingly small. You might lose a few seconds searching for the buttons as you try to switch channels, especially as you're getting used to the headset, and sometimes you don't have even a second to spare when it comes to games like Halo: Reach or Call of Duty: Black Ops.. [Some facts about the headset were incorrect. Preview has been updated with corrections.]
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Turtle Beach's next headset -- the Ear Force PX5 -- stands in sharp contrast to their past headsets. The most striking element is that it actually feels like a good headset now. Previous Turtle Beach headsets were clunky and ...

Hands-on: The first mission of Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Feb 24 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [Previewed])Developer: Eidos Montreal Publisher: Square Enix To be released: TBD 2011 Before getting into the actual gameplay, I want to briefly touch on the intro cinematic. It's a beautiful sequence that shows bits and pieces of Adam Jensen's transformation into an augmented soldier and it actually sent a chill down my spine -- if only because it reminded me a lot of the intro to the Ghost in the Shell anime (link NSFW). I've been fascinated with the field of cybernetics ever since I saw Mamoru Oshii's film all those years ago and thought Human Revolution's intro was a lovely nod. It's not easy for companies that specialize in the most important revolution in human society. Not only do they have to worry about rival organizations, but there are also human groups that oppose humanity's perversion against god or nature. One of these "Purists" groups have attacked a manufacturing plant owned by Sarif Industries where they've taken hostages. David Sarif's company has suffered enough already, and asks Adam to go in and resolve the situation. Upon landing at the facility where the crisis is taking place, I'm given the chance to pick what augmentations (augs for short) I can put into Adam. All of the augs you can equip/use are visible from the start, but you have to earn XP in order for Adam to upgrade. Jonathan Jacques-Belletete, art director on the project, explained that not every aug is working from the start since Adam's flesh and brain aren't fully compatible yet. Jonathan likened it to that of a baby where they learn to speak and walk as they develop. As you gain XP, though -- from killing or not killing people, sneaking into places, finishing quests, etc -- you'll unlock Praxis points which go toward unlocking augmentations (Praxis points can also be found in the world.) A new aug requires two Praxis points, while upgrades to unlocked augs will cost only one point. I went ahead and chose the cloaking system, aim stabilizer, and the Typhon Explosive System which launches miniature grenades in a 360 degree ark. Once unlocked, these abilities are attached to the D-pad on controllers (which I i figured out after I triggered the Typhon system on accident) and upgrading the abilities usually makes the feature more efficient in some way (speed, duration, power, etc). Using these special attacks -- which include the special lethal close quarter kills -- requires one full slot of your battery meter. You'll always have one battery slot that will be full (it takes a bit to recharge) and extra batteries will need to be replenished with items. All of the upgrades are based around the four core mechanics of Human Revolution: combat, stealth, hacking, and social. Everything in the game is designed with those four concepts in mind. It's up to the player to decide how they will upgrade Adam. A killing machine, a smooth talker or even a jack-of-all-trades who specializes in a little of everything -- the choice is yours. Once I was set, I went into the building and questioned the police who were standing guard around the perimeter. They weren't happy they were being held back by David Sarif, but they did at least help out by providing intel on the hostages, the Purist group, and the two ways of entering the building. Before arriving at the scene, David Sarif gave me the option of going in lethal or non-lethal. I went with lethal and was given a weapon, but I wanted to go through the level without getting into too many conflicts. As I made my way toward the front entrance, I came across a lone guard patrolling the area. Once his back was turned to me, I went up behind him and was given the option to perform a lethal or non-lethal kill with a simple press of the button. I went with non-lethal and an animated scene took place with Adam knocking the guard out. I dragged his unconscious body to a hiding spot but during this process, another guard came upon me and opened fire, alerting several other guards protecting the front entrance. There was only one path for the guards to get to me, so a few of them slowly came in one-by-one and I was able to take them out with relative ease. For the rest, I made use of the cover mechanics (described in the last preview) and cleared the area. This was a situation I noticed a number of times during my playthrough. If the guards were forced into taking one path toward you, it was somewhat easy to kill them. It's when the bad guys can come at you in any direction that proved to be difficult. Half the time, they used actual tactics against me; other times, they were stupid and simply rushed in. After several attempts of trying to get in through the front entrance of the building, I finally decided to use the roof access instead. I was getting my ass handed to me playing this game "FPS style" so I did my best to sneak around instead. Even then, I still came across situations where I got into firefights and even when they would funnel toward me, I died a lot. The game is very realistic in that only a few bullets will take you or the enemy out. Plus, you're not afforded that many bullets.  As for the weapons system, you're given a few options of managing your inventory. Pressing Back on the Xbox 360 controller will bring up your menu where among other things, you can access your Resident Evil 4-like inventory management screen. You can also hot swap between two guns with a simple button press and there's a quick-select screen which pauses the action and pulls up a radial menu with all the items you can equip. I eventually made my way to the end of the section, where I confront the leader of the Purist group, Sanders. He was holding a hostage at gunpoint and I was given the option to use force, or try to talk him out of killing the hostage. I wasn't having luck with the weapons before so I went with the peaceful route. I used a variety of methods to try and talk Sanders down; eventually, Sanders let the hostage go, but in the process, a deal allowing Sanders to escape was made. I was happy that I managed to save the hostage, but shortly realized I missed a room somewhere along the line that held more hostages ... and they were all killed. Whoops! I may have resolved the crisis, but I still let some innocent bystanders die, which was reflected in the conversation I had before leaving the manufacturing plant. It's been a long time since a first-person shooter has presented me with such a challenge that I die over and over. That's the beauty of the Deus Ex series, as it's a role-playing game hiding in a first-person shell. I had to re-wire my play style in order to adapt to the freeing, open-ended experience. I'm interested in seeing just how different I'll be able to play through this game. I won't necessarily do multiple playthroughs, since it's a good 25 to 35 hours, but I will at least experiment from mission to mission. And I know I won't have the patience to attempt a no-kill run, but it's nice that the option is there. That open-ended nature also applies to the multiple endings, and it won't simply be a matter of good, bad, or neutral; there will be morally "gray" endings as well. After all was said and done, I had to put the controller down. A shame -- the next level is when Human Revolution truly opens up into a non-linear experience. You'll be able to explore the city, get side-quests from NPCs, and really dive in to the Deus Ex universe. I've never played the Deus Ex series proper before, so I'm looking forward to really getting that chance come later this year.
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When we left off, Deus Ex: Human Revolution main protagonist Adam Jensen got his ass royally handed to him while trying to protect Dr. Megan Reed, who had discovered the key to human augmentation. Six months later, Adam is...

Impressions: MLB 11 The Show (3D, HR Derby with PS Move)

Feb 23 // Samit Sarkar
The depth goes “into” the screen, as on the Nintendo 3DS, while the HUD elements -- including the score line at the top of the screen, any statistical or interface overlays, and baserunner windows when you’ve got men on first or third -- stand out because they float “above” the screen. The Show doesn’t shout “THREE-DEE” from the rooftops, and it’s much more enjoyable for it. Even better, the options menu includes a slider that functions similarly to the physical slider on the body of the 3DS, allowing you to customize the subtlety of the 3D effect. Just for kicks, I turned it up all the way, which led to some very unpleasant ghosting for me. I assume that’s because I’m severely nearsighted and I wear fairly thick eyeglasses -- as it is, I have to deal with slight chromatic aberration at the edges of my lenses. As with any 3D effect, your mileage may vary; I found the effect most comfortable when I set the slider at about 30 or 40% full. Home Run Derby is little more than a fun diversion from the meat of MLB 11, and I was alternately impressed and disappointed by the implementation of PlayStation Move in the mode. I should mention at the outset that HR Derby is the only part of MLB 11 that supports Move; you can’t use it for anything else. When playing a Derby with Move, your slugger doesn’t appear in the batter’s box; all you see is a bat floating in mid-air. I found the tracking of the wand to be highly accurate, just as in most Move games I’ve played -- the orientation of the on-screen corresponds to the position in which you’re holding the wand. But that’s about as far as the accuracy goes; as for the actual act of swinging, you might as well be playing Wii Sports. You can stand up and get in a batting stance if you really want to, but it’s by no means necessary (although you do have to swing left-handed, or backhanded, if your hitter is a lefty). I was able to blast a ball over 470 feet just by flicking my wrist gently -- hitting depends only on the timing of the swing and the angle of the bat. (If you swing downward, for instance, you’re just going to drive the ball into the ground.) That is, you can have just as much success with a full home-run hitter’s swing as with a quick motion of your wrist. I was initially expecting the mode to demand a more true-to-life swing, but the PR rep pointed out that the Derby is something you’d generally only play as a party game. And you sure as hell don’t want to be the one guy at a party who’s taking everything way too seriously, pretending to be David Ortiz -- spitting in your hands and all -- while everyone else is just messing around, trying to have a good time.
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When I first checked out MLB 11 The Show a few weeks ago, I spent a portion of the hands-on demo playing the game in 3D. I also tried the Home Run Derby mode, which debuted last year and now supports PlayStation Move. Sony S...

Preview: MLB 11 The Show

Feb 22 // Samit Sarkar
MLB 11 The Show (PlayStation 3 [previewed], PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 2) Developer: SCE San Diego Studio Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment To be released: March 8, 2011 The analog hitting and fielding in MLB 11 works very similarly to the way it does in MLB 2K. To hit, you pull back on the right stick to bring your hands back, and then flick upward to swing the bat. Timing is critical; you’ll want to pull back to preload your swing during the pitcher’s windup, so the swing ends up being one fluid motion (pulling back too early or too late will greatly reduce your chances of making contact). The option to use a contact swing or power swing still exists with a button press before the pitch. There are two ways to check your swing: pull down on the stick after you’ve started to push it upward, or merely let it go upward to the neutral position. To bunt, just push forward from neutral. I’m not a very good hitter in The Show as it is, since I spend most of my time playing as a pitcher in Road to the Show, so I had difficulty making contact. But the system feels great, and it’s good to see that it doesn’t offer any reduced functionality compared to button hitting. Analog fielding is really going to test your stick accuracy. Imagine the baseball diamond transposed onto the right stick: right is for first base, up is for second base, and so on. You push the stick in the direction of the base you want to throw to, and the longer you hold it there, the harder the throw will be. (For throws to the cutoff man, you hold L1 and flick.) The system asks for a deft touch. If you don’t flick toward cardinal east, north, west, or south, your throw will be off -- and if you hold the stick too long, it’s probably going to sail over your target’s head. On a stolen base opportunity, I had my catcher throw the ball to second base. But I pushed the stick up and slightly left; as a result, the throw ended up on the shortstop side of the second-base bag, and the runner slid safely in. And I saw more than a few instances in which my opponent air-mailed a routine throw, giving me an extra base or two. Analog pitching, too, requires pinpoint control -- especially with hurlers who aren’t aces. The system is both timing- and control-sensitive, just like real pitching. Unlike the gesture-based pitching in MLB 2K, where a four-seam fastball and a two-seam fastball require different movements, the basic analog-stick motion is the same for every pitch. Pulling down on the right stick initiates the windup, and a small baseball icon starts to move downward toward a horizontal yellow line on the vertical pitching meter. The idea is to flick the stick upward at the moment that the ball hits the yellow line. The intensity of the flick determines the amount of effort that your pitcher puts into the delivery, but you’ll quickly tire him out if you try too many throws with extra “oomph.” Of course, it’s only that simple if you want to throw the pitch over the heart of the plate. Once you start moving the ball around the plate, a direction indicator above the vertical pitch meter will correspond to how far your pitch deviates from dead center. With a pitch thrown right down the pipe, you’ll flick straight upward. But if you’re aiming to the right or left, you’ll have to flick the stick upward and to the right or left, respectively; the further away from the middle of the plate you’re aiming, the more your flick will deviate from true north, so to speak. The timing of the delivery will be quicker if you’re pitching out of the stretch instead of the windup, and if you don’t hit the yellow line exactly, your pitch will break less or more (depending on whether you’re early or late, respectively). As you can see, there’s a lot to take in. Analog pitching is also very unforgiving in its challenge; missing either the timing or the positioning may cause your pitch to end up in a place you don’t want it to go. You’ll be throwing many more balls than in years past, and what’s exciting is that the system really differentiates the wheat from the chaff. I created a pitcher in Road to the Show, and I noticed that I had to be very conservative in aiming with the 61-rated minor-leaguer. You simply won’t be painting the corners at will, and that’s the way it should be. I did notice one major issue inherent in the system: the meter in local two-player (or four-player, as the case may be; MLB 11 includes a co-op mode) games doesn’t give you the left/right control display. That makes sense, since you don’t want your opponent to know if you’re throwing inside or outside. But that means that determining location when pitching against a human opponent who’s sitting next to you is purely a “feel” exercise: you have to have an idea of how far left/right you’re aiming, and then you have to flick upward and left/right by yourself -- without the help of the on-screen indicator. It seems like something that’s going to take a long time to learn. If you’re having a lot of trouble, you can switch to Rookie difficulty, where you’ll only have to worry about the release-point timing, not the side-to-side control. [For a more succinct video explanation of analog pitching in MLB 11, go here.] This year, Road to the Show (RTTS) has changed up its player creation setup. You’ll still be allocating attribute points, but at the start, you have to balance your player on a set of sliders. Pitchers, for example, can be stamina guys or power guys, Maddux-like control freaks or hurlers with lots of movement on their pitches, and have a balanced repertoire or feature one dominant pitch. Similarly, you’ll have to put your hitter somewhere on the spectrum between power and contact, and arm strength and accuracy for fielders. These characteristics will determine the initial layout of your player’s attributes, and since you can’t max out any one rating at the start, you’ll have to play through RTTS to improve your skills. Sony San Diego really focused on visual improvements in MLB 11. I selected “rain” as the weather for an exhibition game, and noticed that the skies started out overcast and gradually darkened before a drizzle began. The field also looked wet; the infield dirt filled with darkened splotches, especially in the base paths. Also new is an optional eight-pitch warmup session for starting pitchers. You can turn this off, but if you leave it on and skip the warmup process, your starter will begin the game cold. I’m going to need to spend a lot more time with MLB 11 before I can decide if I prefer its analog controls to the tried-and-true button controls of yore. Everything else seems like a further evolution of a series that’s been great for years, so I’m excited to get my hands on the full game in the next couple of weeks. You can try it out for yourself right now: a four-inning demo went up on the PlayStation Store today.
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Sony’s competitor in the baseball space, 2K Sports’ Major League Baseball 2K franchise, has included analog-stick controls for years. But the folks at Sony San Diego, the studio behind the MLB The Show series, vow...

Hands-on: MotorStorm: Apocalypse

Feb 22 // Max Scoville
MotorStorm: Apocalypse (PlayStation 3)Developer: Evolution StudiosPublisher: Sony Computer EntertainmentTo be released: March 16, 2011 (EU) / April 12, 2011 (NA) The basic premise of MotorStorm: Apocalypse -- for those unfamiliar with the series -- is no-holds-barred racing that almost completely disregards the laws of physics, reality, and motor vehicles in general. You can choose from monster trucks, street racers, dirt bikes, and more. Of course, all of these vehicles have a turbo-boost. Or nitrous, or super-speed. I’m not sure what the official name is, but I really don’t care. It’s the shit that makes you go ridiculously fast, and it’s really fun. One of the things that initially made me fall in love with MotorStorm: Pacific Rift (the most recent entry in the series) was the fact that if you used your boost too much, your car would blow up. This is a game where you literally go so fast, you explode. On certain tracks, you can drive through water to cool down your engine, and use your boost longer. Conversely, on other tracks, there is molten lava and patches of ground that are arbitrarily on fire. Driving through them will make your car blow up faster, just like in real life. MotorStorm: Apocalypse keeps a lot of the fun stuff from Pacific Rift, but there are a number of new additions. You know, aside from being the first title in the series that doesn’t sound like a flavor of Mountain Dew. Arctic Burst, Thin Ice Freeze, Baja Blast, Arctic Edge: Which of these is actually a MotorStorm title? Apocalypse is also the first MotorStorm game that can run in 3D. I got to try that out, and it was okay. As far as 3D gaming goes, I’ve only played around with the 3DS. Last week was the first time I’ve seen a 3DTV in action, so I don’t really have a basis of comparison. It didn’t look terrible, but I didn’t have my mind blown or anything. Honestly, I just don’t care about 3D. It doesn’t do anything to improve the gameplay. And unless you’ve got plenty of extra glasses, any friends you have over will probably get a headache waiting for their turn to play. That being said, I’d prefer to play MotorStorm: Apocalypse in 2D, because as cool as they are, the 3D effects don’t make up for how ridiculous I feel when wearing the required glasses. If it wasn’t readily apparent, MotorStorm: Apocalypse takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The tracks are collapsed buildings, wrecked highways, and demolished suburbs. In addition to the standard hazards like cliffs and obstacles, there are also crazy people on the sides of the road shooting at you with rocket launchers and hurling molotovs. It’s straight out of The Road Warrior.  I’m a huge fan of Mad Max and Fallout, so I was excited about this premise. After playing, though, I was a little disappointed. It’s an ambitious game, really. Driving a rocket-powered monster truck over the rooftop of a half-exploded skyscraper while lunatics are hurling firebombs at you; that’s not something you do every day. The level designs are absolutely beautiful, but they weren't as fun to play as I'd expected. At one point, while playing one of the city tracks, I said, “It sorta feels like a Spider-Man game where Spider-Man’s lost most of his Spider-Powers, and also, he got transformed into a motorcycle.” Again, what sounds awesome in theory isn’t always as fun in practice. Another problem I had was the constant presence of crap all over the tracks. Broken-down cars, oil drums, rubble, crazy people. I get it: it’s the end of the world, and trash collection isn’t happening this week. It all looks really cool, but I felt that this many obstacles just impeded gameplay. Well, you know, with the exception of running people over, which is just hilarious. MotorStorm: Apocalypse features five new vehicle classes: supercar, superbike, muscle car, chopper and the hot hatch. New things are usually fun, but in the case of MotorStorm, the addition of new vehicles makes things really interesting. If you weren’t aware, all thirteen classes of vehicles race at once. Guess what happens when you run over a guy on an ATV with a monster truck: the ATV guy dies. It’s awesome. The monster truck is a lot slower, though, so it’s a toss-up. You like running people over, or going fast? I had a lot of fun with the “hot hatch,” which I kept referring to as “this ridiculous smartcar,” much to the annoyance of the game’s art director. It's one of the new classes, and it’s a souped-up hatchback. You're racing against monster trucks, muscle cars, and guys on choppers... with a tricked-out Geo Metro lookalike. I spoke with Apocalypse’s art director, Simon O’Brien, and asked him about the inspiration for the game’s tracks. A lot of them looked really familiar. This makes sense, because they were loosely based on the West Coast, with specific attention to the Bay Area. As far as specific landmarks go, nobody was trying to recreate any actual locations.  There’s a particular track set on a boardwalk that looked really familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Turns out, the inspiration was a mix of the Santa Monica Pier, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, and Fisherman’s Wharf. Having lived near all these places, I can vouch for its amalgamated authenticity. The online multiplayer for Apocalypse features a neat system for earning experience. Instead of giving players a bunch of boring stats to tweak, like speed or steering, there’s a slew of different perks that can be unlocked. For example, having your vehicle give you a longer “please stop using the turbo-boost!” warning before it explodes, or what about this: when your car does explode, it lets off a sonic boom that’ll knock other racers off-course. In addition to crazy explosion-related perks, you can also unlock new decals and stuff to stick on your car. I didn’t get to see it, but I was assured that all the vehicles could be customized extensively, so everyone on the Internet can know if you have a horrible sense of color coordination. Aside from online multiplayer (which supports up to sixteen players), I was happy to hear that four-player split-screen play is available. As much as I hate actually playing split-screen, it makes video games a social activity, so I'm happy to see it included. One element that I doubt anyone will hype much is the in-game camera. It’s a simple concept: If you do some super-badass shit, and wanna show it off, hit pause. Take some pictures. Seems corny, but with the amount of detail in MotorStorm’s vehicles and tracks, and the speed at which the game gets played, there’s a lot you might miss. The camera offers a great way to take a closer look. While there’s no option to take 3D pictures yet, Simon said it was a feature he’d like to see, possibly as DLC. And he’s the art director, so that’s a good sign. Overall, I think MotorStorm: Apocalypse is a fun game, and that the MotorStorm series is the spiritual successor to games like Road Rash and San Francisco Rush. If I had a copy of Apocalypse, I would probably play the crap out of it, but it didn’t immediately grab me the same way its predecessor did. While I want to applaud the imaginative post-apocalyptic look this new installment is taking, the new tracks looked better than they played, and the amount of rubble on the track hindered the game's fun. Given, it's still fun as hell; it's just not as fun as ultra-mega-turbo-hell.
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When I first saw MotorStorm: Pacific Rift a couple years ago, I rolled my eyes. At a glance, it looked like one of those super-fast racing-inspired games for loud children. While I wasn’t terribly wrong with that assess...

Preview: Top Spin 4 (Player Creator, Career, more)

Feb 21 // Samit Sarkar
Top Spin 4 (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [previewed], Wii) Developer: 2K Czech Publisher: 2K Sports To be released: March 15, 2011 (NA) / March 18, 2011 (EU) In Top Spin 4, 2K Czech has intertwined the game modes like never before. The Career mode still entails creating a player and taking him/her from “Newcomer” to “Legend” status. But the game’s currency, experience points (XP), is now doled out in every mode. “We really tried to break the barriers down, so that you create your player, and then you do whatever you want with him,” said executive producer François Giuntini. So if you’re at a stage in your career where you’re losing a lot, you can build up your skills by playing Exhibition matches or defeating online opponents, and then return to the Career. It wasn’t only the gameplay in Top Spin 3 that suffered from a difficult-to-penetrate nature; according to Giuntini, the developers “received some similar comments on accessibility regarding the Player Creator.” So the team streamlined the interface but didn’t do away with the complex depth that TS3 offered. Here, the Player Creator includes a bunch of presets so you can jump in and quickly create a decent-looking character. Sliders to change body features allow for deeper customization, and the “expert” layer is the system for editing facial points that was in TS3. Differentiating created players was a major focus for the development team. The easiest way to dominate in TS3 -- even online -- was simply to max out your player’s Power rating. And player progression could feel intimidating or unclear to novices: Giuntini explained that some players didn’t understand why they should put points into one attribute over another. So 2K Czech simplified that system while giving players the tools to determine their own unique traits; you won’t be assigning XP to individual attributes anymore. TS4 contains three core play styles: serve and volley (blast the ball and then approach the net), offensive baseline (return the ball hard from the line), and defensive baseline (generally weaker players with the speed/agility to reach more balls). When you accrue enough XP to reach the next level, you merely choose which of those three areas you’d like to gain a level in. This way, you can easily create someone whose strengths are in line with the play style you have in mind. And if you don’t have a particular style in mind, you’ll at least have an idea -- depending on how you’re faring against your opponents -- of the areas in which you’d like to improve. Let’s say you’ve got a decent serve, but you can see that you’re losing points that you shouldn’t lose because you’re not fast enough to run down balls that aren’t coming right at you. You might then put your XP into a defensive baseline level. Your levels in each field add up to your overall level: the level-10 player that 2K showed me had two levels in serve and volley, and four each in offensive and defensive baseline. The level cap is 20 overall, not in each of the three areas. But that setup alone is rather limited -- thousands of players will share a particular combination of levels. So 2K Czech deepened the system with coaches. As you level up, you’ll unlock access to a pool of coaches (out of about 100 in total) that depends on your particular talents (i.e., the way in which you’ve allocated your levels). For example, you might need to have a few baseline defense levels before you can hire a coach who focuses on your baseline defense, since that’s his specialty. Coaches serve a similar purpose in TS4 as in real life: they help you improve your skills and prepare for individual opponents. The coaches are split into bronze, silver, and gold tiers. Early on, bronze coaches give you XP bonuses to help you rank up more quickly. Silver coaches will start giving you stronger attribute bonuses (e.g., +10 power) and gameplay skills. The latter are context-sensitive buffs that trigger automatically during gameplay. For example, I saw a “wrong-foot bonus,” which provides enhanced precision on ball placement when you wrong-foot your opponent (catch him off balance). Coaches also give you objectives for working on your skills, like successfully completing ten slice shots. (Remember, all of this can be accomplished in any game mode -- not just Career.) You can swap coaches at any time, so if you’re having trouble beating a particular opponent in your career, or if you notice that you’re losing to a specific type of player online, you can switch coaches to someone who will perhaps further improve your strong attributes or compensate for your weaker ones. Thankfully, you only have to play through Career mode and reach level 20 once. After you do that, you’ll be able to distribute 20 levels from the start to any future created player, and then you’ll have a particular list of coaches with which to further specialize that player. 2K Czech has also restructured the Career mode itself. The interface has been revamped; the home screen displays rankings, in-game news, and your next objectives. You’ll still be playing through amateur and pro tournaments, but there’s now more variety thanks to unranked preparation events (such as training exercises, special events, and exhibition matches with alternate rules). In addition, you can go for objectives like the series rankings. Each offers a selection of related tournaments (hardcourt, grass, Europe, etc.), and you get XP for doing well. World Tour, which is the Top Spin franchise’s online career mode, will now refresh with a new “season” each week. The tournament rankings are reset every seven days, but overall rankings will persist. Online tourneys are single-elimination affairs, and 2K has promised improved matchmaking in general to keep you playing against foes who are at a similar skill level. The demo concluded with some hands-on time in a doubles match; I played with three other developers. Four players can play locally, while online games are limited to two players on one console versus two on another. The doubles game brought out the competitive streak within us; we were all ooh-ing and ahh-ing on every volley. I soon realized that the crowd was as into it as we were -- the fans were gasping along with the players in the room. Pretty cool, eh?
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When I last sat in on a Top Spin 4 demo, I didn’t notice a whole lot that differentiated the game from its predecessor. I recently had the chance to take a deeper look at it in a longer session, and now I’m ready ...

Jurassic Park is like Heavy Rain, but with dinosaurs

Feb 18 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Jurassic Park: The Game (PC, Mac, )Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesTo be released: April 2011MSRP: $34.99 or $29.99 with pre-orders In the Jurassic Park movie, Dennis Nedry attempted to smuggle dinosaur embryos to a rival organization. Dennis was killed by a Dilophosaurus, and the can of embryos was seemingly lost. There were people waiting for Dennis to deliver on the goods and Jurassic Park: The Game tells a new story that attempts to tie this loose end. For my hands-on portion of the game, I was introduced to Jurassic Park chief veterinarian Gerry Harding and his daughter Jess Harding. Along for the ride is a girl named Nina and unbeknown to the Hardings, Nina is on the island looking for the Barbasol can full of dino embryos. Nina is passed out in the backseat of the Harding's jeep due to some injuries that were in all likelihood inflicted by some kind of dinosaur. The Hardings are trying to get Nina help when they come across a baby triceratops blocking the road. The gate to the triceratops enclosure was somehow opened up, so the player -- as Gerry -- needs to figure out how to move the triceratops back into the pen. Your options at first are to push the triceratops or pull the food that it's happily munching away on. Neither of those work; the only thing left was to figure out the gate situation. The gate was locked in place, so I had to go to the nearby control room in order to get it open. The control room required a key code to get access to, and the code happened to be in the glove box of the jeep. As Jess, you find the key code and help her dad open the control room. The triceratops, gate room and the car are all presented as their own "scenes," and moving between each area is a simple matter of pressing the D-pad. With the car now interactable, I used the combination of the car's horn and high beams to annoy the triceratops long enough for Gerry to grab the triceratops food and lure it back into its pen. Things are looking good until the horn malfunctions and won't stop making noise. This pisses off the alpha male triceratops, who is also in the pen, and it busts the gate's doors off before Gerry can fully close the gate. The triceratops charges into the jeep a few times before the player, now controlling Jess, can pull the wires out to stop the horn. All of this commotion happens to grab the attention of a T-Rex and the two big dinosaurs have at it. While the dinosaurs are fighting, Jess and Gerry, carrying a passed out Nina, are trying to get to the control room for safety. The demo ended once the trio make it to safety. Everything I've just described all requires correct button presses as they pop up on the screen to complete. Tapping the buttons, rotating the joystick -- all the usual stuff you see in QTE sequences are present. Messing up the QTE moments will result in some pretty damn brutal deaths. The T-Rex notices Jess whiles she's making a run for the control room and if you mess up at all, the T-Rex will chomp right down on Jess. It's a rough scene, especially considering that Jess is a pre-teen little girl and the last thing you see of her is her arm and legs sticking out of the T-Rex's mouth as it shakes its head, trying to consume the girl. Other violent deaths I saw where characters getting stepped on, flung into the air by tails and getting crushed inside of the vehicle.  While getting killed doesn't have a serious consequence (you're put right back into sequence), Kevin Boyle, the executive producer on the game, told me that he hopes you'll get invested in the characters so that seeing them die will get to you on an emotional level. Since I only played a brief section of the game, I can't say I was sad seeing my characters die. In fact, it was kind of funny, and I know I'm going to be purposely screwing up the QTE moments just too see all the ways you can die. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by how Telltale is tackling Jurassic Park. It's about using your wits rather than shooting velociraptors in the face. As for the dinosaurs, expect to see all of those mentioned so far plus some others, including a species that has never been in a Jurassic Park movie. After careful consideration, I've decided to endorse this park. Okay, so I lied about the Jurassic Park quotes, kind of. 
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Hold on to your butts! It's a Jurassic Park: The Game preview! Okay, that's the first and only Jurassic Park quote you'll have to deal with. Yes, I got to go hands-on with the first of five episodes of Jurassic Park and I was...

Impressions: Your first look at Dead Island

Feb 17 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Dead Island (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Steam, PC [Previewed]) Developer: Techland Publisher: Deep Silver To be released: Late 2011 The first thing that needs to be stated about Dead Island is that it is just visually gorgeous. The Chrome Engine shows off the huge tropical island paradise called Banoi Island in such vivid detail, and every inch of the island -- from little villages to a large city -- can be explored. While the game isn't linear, there are some sections that need to be opened up within the main storyline in order to get to other parts of the island. As for the story, you play as one of four playable characters who recently checked into the Royal Palms Resort hotel. While on this vacation, the player wakes up after a night of heavy partying to discover that some kind of zombie outbreak has been unleashed on the island. From here, I was shown the first mission, which serves as a sort of tutorial to the player.  Your character has found himself holed up in a beach hut surrounded by zombies with other survivors fearing for their lives. One of the survivors begs you to go assist a lone person fending off the horde outside. The player then picks up a pipe and goes out to bash in some heads.  Aside from the fact that the main four characters are immune to the zombie infection for some reason, they're all just normal people. So swinging the pipe will come off sloppy and wild at the start of the game. As you progress, though, your character will learn how to handle weapons better. Part of that comes from the skill tree system where you'll be able to learn new skills and upgrade abilities, such as learning the dash attack. The skill tree system wasn't shown off during this preview, but we'll have more info on how it works soon. While there are guns, the main focus of Dead Island's combat mechanics are the melee weapons. You'll be getting your hands on pipes, machetes, shovels, bats -- even a freaking tree branch can be used as a weapon. The weapons do degrade over time and will eventually bust, so you'll have to find another weapon, or you can get it repaired at various locations on the island. Additionally, you can't simply go around swinging constantly at enemies. After a few swings, your character will be out of stamina and must catch their breath before attacking again. Of all the features Deep Silver showed off, they seemed the most excited about how we'll be able to kill zombies. The main thing they want people to take away from Dead Island is all the gory ways you'll be able to kill the walking dead. You can chop a zombie's legs and arms off and just watch him as he flops around trying to gnaw at your ankles. As for the zombies themselves, you'll have the standard slow zombies and the annoying running class. On top of that, there will be the special class zombies which will remind you a lot of the special infected from Left 4 Dead. Similar to the zombies, the four playable characters each have a different play style, too. The cool thing with all of this is that friends will be easily able to jump in or out for four-player (online only) co-op fun times. Don't worry, you'll have the option of being whatever character you want so it's totally possible, for example, for four assassin characters to work together in co-op.  While there's still a lot of work going on with Dead Island, we can expect the experience to similar to Fallout thanks to all of the sidequests you can take on. Techland really wants players to get absorbed into the story and if the trailer is any indication, we're in for a treat. What I got to see was a really early alpha build of Dead Island. While it was pretty and the way you can chop zombies up was cool, I still need to see a lot more. More importantly, I want to get real hands on with the game and see first-hand how satisfying it'll be slicing up zombies. The entire concept sounds great and it's really refreshing to see a different type of zombie game out there. I know many of you are sick of the zombie genre, but I think there's room for one more when it comes to Dead Island.
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Hey, remember Dead Island?! No? That's okay, since the last time we saw some real info on this project was back in 2009. Developer Techland and publisher Deep Silver have been quietly working on their zombie title for the pas...

Preview: MLB 2K11 (Franchise, My Player, more)

Feb 16 // Samit Sarkar
Major League Baseball 2K11 (PS3, 360 [previewed], Wii, PC, PSP, PS2) Developer: Visual Concepts Publisher: 2K Sports To be released: March 8, 2011 Last time, I spoke about the improved fielding in MLB 2K11. A great deal of the responsibility for the upgrades rests with the reworked and expanded animation library. In 2K10, any fielding animation could play for any fielder; a second baseman could have the same catch animation as an outfielder, and a player’s abilities had nothing to do with it. “2K9 was such a disaster that we wanted full coverage [in 2K10] to avoid any goofiness,” Bailey confessed. This time around, animations are broken down into tiers based on positions and player ratings. So if you have Manny Ramirez in the field, he simply won’t have access to the same wall-scaling or diving-catch animations that Carl Crawford can trigger. Visual Concepts didn’t only add fielding animations, either. Speedsters like Ichiro will now scamper out of the box to try and beat out choppers. That’s one of a few entirely new hit types: a mistimed contact swing might result in a chopper, whereas a failed power swing could lead to an infield fly. The hitting camera hearkens back to the zoomed-out view from two years ago -- Bailey told me that “if people liked the 2K9 camera more than 2K10’s, they’ll love 2K11’s.” It’s now situation-specific, and it follows the ball from afar where appropriate. In many sports games, Bailey noted, the presentation gives away the outcome. I thought of Madden’s first-down chain-gang measurements: after playing the game for a while, you know instantly whether or not you got a first down, because only one of two chain-gang cutscenes (a “success” and a “failure”) can play. When you hit (or gave up) a home run in MLB 2K10 or MLB 10, you’d know at the crack of the bat that the ball was leaving the yard, thanks to a particular camera angle. “We removed all tells,” said Bailey, which keeps you guessing on a long drive -- will it die on the warning track, or make it into the seats? Baseball is a sport dominated by streaks -- someone who finishes the season with a .340 batting average might have been hitting .400 for a few weeks, and .250 for a spell. MLB 2K11’s all-new Dynamic Player Ratings feature takes that into account. With DPR enabled, players’ ratings will fluctuate based on their performance over the past 30 days. The adjustments are themselves ratings-dependent: if Robinson Cano hits .280 for a month, his attributes might drop a bit, but a .280 month for a guy like Lance Berkman means he’s on a hot streak, and he’ll get a ratings bump. (Contact rating changes reflect a player’s batting average, while Power attribute changes depend on slugging percentage.) Your favorite power hitter’s real-life performance figures to play a significant role in your ability to hit homers in MLB Today. If A-Rod has another historic April this year, like he did in 2007, he’s going to be a beast in the game. “MLB Today feels more like a ‘today’ feature than ever,” said Bailey proudly. And DPR will force you to act more like a manager than ever before in Franchise -- will you sit a cold hitter to see if the benching snaps him out of his funk? Visual Concepts set out to make surface upgrades and under-the-hood improvements to Franchise in 2K11. Interface-wise, Bailey explained, the team wanted to bring information to the forefront. Every player in your organization now has a potential rating up to five stars, and you’ll be able to see who has already peaked as well as who’s still growing. Nick Swisher has no fifth star, which signifies that he won’t be anything more than a four-star player. The five-star potential system entails statistics-based player progression, since the Franchise stats in 2K10 tended to be wonky -- Bailey admitted that ERAs, WHIPs, and homers were too high, while IP were low. Player ratings don’t just depend on recent performance. Bailey told me that Visual Concepts “really wanted to capture the whole player health concept this year,” so injuries -- and injury management -- are now a big part of Franchise (if you want them to be). If a player gets injured, he might be down on the field for a bit, and you’ll see the trainer come out to help him. When simulating games, a pop-up will ask you how to proceed: you can have the guy play hurt (with lowered ratings), give him a few days off, put him on the 15- or 60-day DL, or have the CPU manage the injury for you. Older guys might come down with nagging injuries like a chronic ankle issue that simply won’t go away, and in general, veterans will need off-days more often if they’re going to maintain their energy (fatigue causes ratings to drop). What does all this mean for the My Player mode, which debuted last year? Thanks to the tiered animation system, your created player will get visibly better as you add points to his attributes. A 55-rated third baseman might bobble a sharp grounder long enough for a runner to safely make it to first, but when his rating rises a bit, he’ll field the ball more cleanly. Visual Concepts also realized that you could blow through the minors in 2K10, so it’s going to take more time and effort on your part to reach the bigs in 2K11. Your player won’t be called up before he’s ready, since the major-league team wants you to be able to contribute instead of stink it up with a 60-rated scrub. And you’ll have to be more well-rounded; being great in one area and nothing else won’t be good enough to get the call. In addition, My Player goals are more oriented toward helping the team as opposed to individual achievement -- you might be called upon for a sacrifice bunt instead of a base hit. I brought up 2K10’s messed-up manager AI for pitchers, and Bailey freely acknowledged that it was awful; he told me I was being too nice about a system where a manager left my starter in for twelve innings. But 2K11 doesn’t go by pitcher stamina or energy, concepts that are “too videogamey,” according to Bailey. “If it says ‘52 energy,’ what does that mean to me? Can I pitch three more innings? One more inning?” Instead, in-game managers will focus on your pitch count, just like real MLB coaches. On the pause screen, you’ll see your current and expected pitch count, and when you reach the upper limits of the expected range for the day, you’ll probably get pulled. Of course, an awful start might force a manager to yank you, too; don’t think you’ll be able to hang around for long after a four-run first. This makes it more challenging to earn upgrade points, since you have to pitch well and stay within your pitch count in order to avoid being sent to the showers. You’ll also have to be mindful of pitch counts in Franchise -- if you abuse your pitchers like Joe Torre would overwork Yankee relievers, they’ll wear down. Finally, Bailey assured me that 2K11 has been tuned to create more realistic pitch counts; you won’t be able to work your way through nine innings on only 50 pitches. MLB 2K might finally be able to challenge Sony’s MLB The Show series. Bailey and the team at Visual Concepts aren’t even particularly worried that MLB 11 includes analog-stick controls. That may sound arrogant, but with MLB 2K11, 2K Sports may actually have a contender on their hands. We’ll find out in a few short weeks.
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In my first preview of 2K Sports’ Major League Baseball 2K11, I wrote that developer Visual Concepts is working on fixing “underlying issues” to refine what was a solid foundation in MLB 2K10. I saw the game...

MLB 2K11 devs flattered but not impressed by MLB 11 adopting analog controls

Feb 15 // Samit Sarkar
But Bailey pointed out that analog controls aren't inherently good or bad; "it's how it's done, not what you do." From what he's heard of MLB 11, he doesn't think too much of its analog pitching: Every single one of their pitches is going to be down-up. Well, you know, as a 2K player, that's going to get boring to me, because that's a four-seam fastball -- that's the easiest pitch in our game. [Editor's note: The analog pitching in MLB 2K requires right-stick gestures that are specific to each pitch type. I recently had a hands-on demo of MLB 11, and I'll post a full preview -- including my thoughts on its new analog-stick controls -- after I spend some more time with it today. In my time with MLB 11, I didn't find its analog pitching to be quite as cut-and-dry as the way Bailey put it, but he's correct in that you pull the stick down and then push it upward to throw every pitch in the game. In a nutshell: if you're throwing to the left side of the strike zone, you'll have to push up and left, and vice versa; it's challenging in its own way.] The battle for baseball supremacy between the two franchises is really heating up now that both series will offer analog controls. Bailey understandably prefers his own game; which one will you favor come March 8th, when both MLB 11 The Show and MLB 2K11 launch? (In addition to an MLB 11 preview, I'll soon have more details on the improvements that Visual Concepts is making to the game modes in MLB 2K11.)
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For a few years now, 2K Sports' MLB 2K games have featured analog-stick controls for pitching, hitting, and fielding. But Sony's MLB The Show franchise has stuck with simple button presses until this year; MLB 11 The Show wil...

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Zipper Interactive is modernizing the tactical shooter with SOCOM 4. Designer Ben Jones summed up the accessibility-oriented changes -- which include regenerating health and a cover system -- as "the evolution of the SOCOM fr...

Zipper talks SOCOM 4: Lessons learned from MAG

Feb 10 // Samit Sarkar
But MAG wasn't the only source of inspiration and paradigms to follow for SOCOM 4. According to Jones, Zipper not only looked at its own previous titles, but also at other games within Sony. Thank God for MAG. Because we know what SOCOM is, and we've done it for a long time, and I think we've done it really well. But in adding a lot of the new elements that we did, I think we looked to titles that we've developed internally ... and said, "What are they doing that players have really latched on to, that has made the game better for them?" And [we] looked to incorporate some of those elements as well. One of those elements is an increased focus on making the tactical gameplay of SOCOM accessible to modern shooter fans. For more details, hit up my preview. SOCOM 4 launches for PS3 on April 19th.
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Between the development of the 2006 PSP title SOCOM: Fireteam Bravo 2 and the upcoming SOCOM 4, Zipper Interactive released one game: MAG, which launched just over one year ago to critical acclaim. That ambitious shooter set ...

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Last week, I had some hands-on time with Zipper Interactive's SOCOM 4, the studio's first SOCOM game in four and a half years (the last entry in the franchise that the developer worked on was the 2006 PSP game SOCOM: Fireteam...

Preview: SOCOM 4 in 3D with the Move Sharp Shooter

Feb 10 // Samit Sarkar
SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs (PlayStation 3) Developer: Zipper Interactive Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment To be released: April 19, 2011 I’ll begin with some notes on the 3D presentation and Sharp Shooter. To my surprise, I enjoyed both aspects of the demo. I’m not a fan of flamboyant, in-your-face 3D -- you know, the kind where a game makes excuses to send things literally flying in your face -- because most of the time, it quickly induces a headache. Thankfully, the 3D implementation in SOCOM 4 is much more subtle; you, your teammates, and enemies stand out on the screen thanks to an outlining effect, and as you’re wading through thick vegetation, you can see it bending as you brush past it. It’s easy on the eyes, and after a few minutes, I almost forgot that it was there, which is exactly the kind of unobtrusive 3D experience I desire. Most notably, the game looks great in 3D -- according to Jones, 3D runs at the same resolution as 2D, and both modes are locked to 30 frames per second. As a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to newfangled control schemes, I was initially skeptical of the Sharp Shooter attachment. But Jones asserted that it was the best way to play the game, so I gave it a shot (sorry, I couldn’t resist). It definitely takes some getting used to -- for one thing, there’s no dead zone when you have to keep the gun pointed at the screen, lest your character aim at his feet -- and having played only for a short while, I can’t attest to whether arm fatigue will arise after long play sessions. Those concerns aside, it’s clear that Zipper has gone all-out in making SOCOM 4 work with the Sharp Shooter, and it’s a completely viable control method. Everything is within reach of your fingertips, except for a few rarely-used options like the switch that controls single-shot/burst/fully automatic fire. One of the keys to SOCOM 4’s Sharp Shooter compatibility is its variety of turning options. The standard configuration is the bounding-box turning that’s typical of light-gun games: you can aim within an invisible box centered on the screen without turning, but as you approach the edges of the screen, you begin to turn. But with “modal” turning, you can aim at an edge and then tap the L2 button on the Navigation Controller to look in that direction (and hold to keep turning). There’s also a “quick turn” option, which will be particularly useful for advanced players in the game’s multiplayer modes -- it essentially functions like mouselook on a computer, offering one-to-one aiming with the Sharp Shooter.As the opening cinematic to the second mission played, Jones explained that Zipper has put a lot of effort into the story of SOCOM 4. Past games in the series didn’t really have narrative-driven campaigns, but this time around, there’s an impetus for you to play through the missions. Along with the focus on story comes an increased production value to the cutscenes: the camera shifted constantly, which lent something of a cinéma vérité feel to the proceedings -- almost as if Zipper meant to evoke war films. In SOCOM 4, you head up a five-person international task force that has been brought in to quell insurgent uprisings in a unnamed Southeast Asian nation (Jones called it a “Malaysia-like country”). Of course, you get more than you bargained for -- the guerrillas are unexpectedly competent, wiping out your headquarters, leaders, and half of your support fleet. You start off the second mission with two teammates, and your objective is to locate the crash site of a Korean ally plane.The first clearing you come across is crawling with enemies, and immediately, the franchise’s tactical gameplay makes itself apparent. You can go in guns blazing if you want to, but a much more sensible strategy is to use the cover afforded by waist-high foliage around the perimeter of the area, in order to sneak past the insurgents. While the campaign is linear in that you follow a predetermined path, the game constantly tasks you with making decisions as to how you want to proceed down that path.Using your teammates is one of the chief ways in which Zipper opens up your options. The D-pad on the Navigation Controller offers full control of your squad, which swells to five members once two Korean soldiers -- the only survivors of the crash -- join you. From here, left on the D-pad controls your initial teammates (the “blue” team, good for close-quarters and mid-range combat with its machine guns and shotguns), and the right button directs the Korean recon squad (the “gold” team, which can utilize its sniper rifles and suppressed weapons to quietly take out targets from afar). Unlike in previous SOCOM games, which came with headsets, you can’t issue voice commands to your squad. The D-pad squad controls allow you queue up long sequences of instructions -- wait here, take out those guys, move up and set that charge, then hold -- and the later stages of the campaign require complex directions that voice controls can’t provide. In the name of making the franchise more palatable to newcomers, Zipper has also done away with health packs; instead, SOCOM 4 features the now-standard regenerative health system. In order to recover your health, you can take a breather by taking cover with the circle button, another feature that’s new to the series.SOCOM 4 strongly encourages you to use your squad, since it’s much tougher (and nigh-impossible later on) to go it alone. “We really want players to feel challenged to the point that they’re compelled to use their teammates,” said Jones. And really, it’s silly not to, since they’re so effective. It’s a lot of fun to give your squadmates a series of directions and then merely sit back and watch them do their thing. Once you get familiar with the commands, it becomes simple to engage in military tactics -- you might send your teammates down a road while you go behind some houses to flank any unsuspecting enemies. If your team members fall in a firefight, you can revive them yourself, or just send over the other squad to do the job.The game’s second mission serves as a squad tutorial, giving you a good amount of assistance in setting up ambushes -- set the gold team here; this is where they'll be the most effective, it tells you. After a few battles, I had familiarized myself with the D-pad controls. You can select a squad, move them anywhere or tell them to wait, paint targets for them to eliminate, and then have them regroup on you (although they’ll eventually do that automatically). As far as I could tell, the squad AI is sharp: your teammates acquit themselves well in battle, and I didn’t see them get stuck on level geometry or anything like that. As someone who tried playing the PS2 SOCOM games but found them somewhat difficult to grasp, I appreciate Zipper’s concessions to today’s most popular shooters. It seems like the studio has managed to update SOCOM without stripping it of its trademarks, and I think the game is better off for it. I can’t yet say if I would play through the entire campaign with the Sharp Shooter, but I also can’t deny that the implementation is very well done. You’ll have to try it for yourself this April.
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The tactical shooter is a sub-genre that has existed for many years as a more “hardcore” alternative to mainstream first- and third-person shooters. Often marked by squad-based, stealthy combat, and a more deliber...

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Madden Bowl XVII: A hot ticket in frozen Dallas


Feb 09
// Samit Sarkar
Before last Thursday, the last time I saw Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in person was at the unveiling of the Madden NFL 10 cover, which took place in April 2009 in New York City’s Times Square. &ldqu...

Hands-on: The first couple hours of Bulletstorm

Feb 08 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Bulletstorm (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [Previewed])Developer: People Can Fly / Epic GamesPublisher: Electronic ArtsTo be released: February 22, 2011 Bulletstorm begins with a tutorial section that sees main character Grayson Hunt terrorizing a prisoner while drunk off his ass. During Grayson's violent interrogation, the player learns how to aim and shoot by targeting a bottle taped to an assassin's head, and finishes with the guy getting kicked into an airlock and launched into space. After the tutorial, Grayson's spaceship comes across the Confederation's ultimate spaceship, the Ulysses. Grayson and his team used to work for the Confederation until he discovered they were being used to kill innocents. Grayson has had it out for the Confederation ever since, and sees this chance encounter as the perfect opportunity to get his revenge. The two ships attack one another, causing them to crash onto a nearby planet. Once Grayson recovers, it's on to the real game of killing your enemies in the most creative way possible. At first, the story feels forced; it's trying to shove a lot at you all at once. But the longer I played, the more I was getting sucked into the Bulletstorm fiction. I found myself actually caring about the characters, and a large part of that has to do with the brilliant voice work by Steve Blum (Grayson Hunt) and Jennifer Hale (Thrishka Novak.) This is some of Steve's best work (up there with Cowboy Bebop), and hearing Jennifer Hale perform her role with a cocky, badass attitude was a real pleasure.  Bulletstorm is also extremely hilarious; there were plenty of times that it actually had me laughing out loud. It helps that my humor is immature as fuck, so the game aligns perfectly with the type of comedy I enjoy. As for the core gameplay, it's fun to a point. The mechanic of scoring points by doing over-the-top crazy stuff with your weapons is entertaining, but by hour three I was getting bored with the concept. If it wasn't for the fact that you can only buy new weapons and ammo by gaining skillshot points, then I would have gladly just played through Bulletstorm killing enemies the standard way in order to progress through the story. The whole killing-for-points thing is better suited to "Echoes" mode, the score-attack version of single-player, and "Anarchy" mode, the four-player co-op "horde" mode. I also feel that for a game that's about being super over-the-top, there just aren't enough guns. The weapons that are there are awesome; I just feel that they don't match how over-the-top the game is trying to be. Of the guns I used, the only one really worth mentioning is the Flail Gun, as it's just an absurd concept. Grayson can also kick enemies and uses an energy leash, both of which put enemies into slow motion. The energy leash, by the way, is an easy contender for best new weapon in a videogame. The game does break up the monotony, however, with some awesome large-scale set pieces and boss fights. There's a chase segment early on that's pretty entertaining, where Grayson and his ally, Ishi, are on a train and being chased down by a gigantic grind wheel. Enemies are chasing you in trucks and airships, all while the giant wheel is threatening to crush you. I'm really torn on Bulletstorm. I like the game and will at least recommend it as a rental, based on what I played. But I worry that players will quickly move on to the next shiny thing that catches their attention.
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Bulletstorm has been on my radar since it was revealed way back in May. People Can Fly's over-the-top shooter was promising to be an epic experience, and a breath of fresh air in a market full of super-serious shooters. The "...

You begin Deus Ex: Human Revolution as a simple human

Feb 03 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [previewed])Developer: Eidos Montreal Publisher: Square Enix To be released: April 2011 Human Revolution takes place in 2027, 25 years prior to the original Deus Ex. The world hasn't yet been thrown into total chaos like in that game; humanity is still prospering. As the game's slogan states, though, "It's not the end of the world... but you can see it from here." It's a golden era: the world has adopted transhumanism, and humanity has taken control of evolution out of the hands of nature or God. The big money is with bio-corporations specializing in the field of human augmentations, so it's not uncommon that rival companies will do whatever it takes to put themselves ahead of the competition. Spies are planted into other companies, research is stolen, and scientists are kidnapped. So these bio-corporations hire security firms, and Jensen happens to head up the security force for the nation's largest bio-corp, Sarif Industries. One of the doctors for Sarif, Dr. Megan Reed, has just stumbled upon a breakthrough in human augmentation that has the entire biomedical field buzzing. A rival group of shadowy figures hears of this advance, and takes action to obtain Dr. Reed and her research for their own purposes. From here, the game takes you to Sarif, where Jensen and Reed are discussing the breakthrough everyone is clamoring about. Jensen is trying to reassure Reed about her work, and you pick up immediately that the two have had some sort of relationship in the past. Reed lets slip that there's something shady about how she's achieved her discovery. Before Jensen can find out more, the two are called away by the David Sarif, president of the company, and the game takes you around the laboratory to introduce the player to some of the people you'll be dealing with through the campaign. After you're familiarized with the key figures, an unknown group of soldiers and bio-augmented assassins attacks the building. These soldiers are trying to capture Reed, and Jensen must rush to protect the doctor. You are now in control, and this first section of the game is more or less a tutorial level where you're taught some very basic controls as you rush through the different laboratories. You're still just a regular human at this point, so you'll be able to pick up on the controls pretty quickly -- it's all pretty straightforward. The major thing that you're really introduced to is the cover system. Simply holding down the cover button will throw Adam behind cover, and the camera pulls out into a third-person view to give a better angle of the room. You can move in their cover pretty freely until you reach a corner, where you'll have to double-tap A to maneuver around the corner for a different cover position. You can easily pop up or pop out to the side of cover to fire. You can also fire blindly, which obviously isn't as effective, but keeps you safe from enemy fire. I found it a tad cumbersome to maneuver behind cover. It wasn't a big deal in this section, but it was a little annoying later in the game, where enemies aren't afraid of just charging in on your position. Third-person shooting was also difficult -- I couldn't tell if my sights were on the target until I started shooting. I noticed that I was correcting my aim after I'd already pulled the trigger in most cases. I don't want to comment on the weapon system yet, as it becomes completely different after this section. Imagine your standard first person-shooter if you need a basic idea; the game also has a regenerative health system. This entire section lasts about ten minutes, and once you've reached the area where Dr. Reed is, a cutscene takes place. In it, a super-augmented assassin beats the crap out of Jensen, and throws him through a wall for good measure. Broken and battered, he can only watch as the assassins kidnap Dr. Reed before he passes out. From here, the intro credits roll and the game picks up six months later, when Adam is sent on his first real mission as a newly augmented soldier. I'll have more on this first mission and tons to talk about in regards to control -- about what it's like to play as an augmented human -- come February 24.
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Eidos Montreal has been at work on Deus Ex: Human Revolution for the last four years. A long time coming, the game is finally set to come out this April and it looks Eidos is happy with the state of the game, as members of th...

Hands-on: Shift 2: Unleashed

Jan 31 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
[embed]192818:35800[/embed] Shift 2: Unleashed (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [Previewed])Developer: Slightly Mad StudiosPublisher: EATo be released: March 24, 2011 (EU) / March 25, 2011 (UK) / March 29, 2011 (US) New to Shift 2 is the ability to see a live graphical display of all the important things going on in your car in real time. You're able to see how your car is handling the pressures you're putting it through, and based on those real-time stats, you can fine-tune your car to whatever best suits you or what works best on the particular track you're testing. Slightly Mad Studios wants Shift 2 to be a deep simulation experience that should please any sim racers out there, more so than the first Shift. At the same time, the developers still want this to be accessible game for any type of racing fan out there, so casual racers need not worry. Career mode is split up into a series of different sections, ranging from Modern D class -- which makes use of tier-four cars -- up to Modern A class, where some of the fastest cars in the game can be driven. Each mode also has different events such as Endurance, Head-to-Head, retro races, Time Attack and Drifting. Like the customization feature mentioned before, you don't have to do everything and excel at it all in order to progress. Simply finishing a race in any position will get you the experience points needed to progress in your career. Slightly Mad wants you to play the game however you want. Cars have a better damage modeling system this time around, to the point that you won't be able to finish a race if your car gets too beat up. You can even lose your headlights, which makes driving at night a whole hell of a lot harder. You will be able to change the setting so that car damage can just be a visual effect, if you're not into the whole realistic approach of the feature. I tend to stay away from the simulation racers and prefer the Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit style of racing. The one thing that I enjoyed about the original Shift, though, was how the game aided newbies with the green, yellow and red colored racing line the race track. Shift aided players by indicating where they should floor it (green), slow down (yellow) and hit the brakes (red). Shift 2 continues that player assist and it's just as useful as ever. I gave the drifting aspect of the game a whirl and I was doing miserably. It didn't take long for me to get the concept of drifting down thanks to that multi-colored feedback. One feature that I think racing fans will really dig is the "Old vs New" mode, where you can pit the cars of yesteryear against modern-day vehicles. Have you ever wondered how a '67 Camaro would do against a 2010 Camaro? Now you can find out for yourself. Over 121 cars, 50 locations, 100 real and fictional tracks, the ability to adjust your car however you want, multiple modes, post-launch DLC expansions and more await fans of the NFS franchise come March.
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Last time we checked out Shift 2: Unleashed, we found out about the new helmet cam perspective that mimics the feel of a real-life racing experience. We also got some details on Autolog, a feature that is now a staple of the ...

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Guinness World Records and the LittleBigPlanet 2 launch


Jan 28
// Samit Sarkar
To celebrate the release of Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet 2, Sony held a three-day launch event at the Sony Style Store in New York City last week. The main goal of the LBP extravaganza was to set Guinness World Records fo...

RTS and FPS come together in Natural Selection 2

Jan 24 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Natural Selection 2 (PC)Developer: Unknown Worlds EntertainmentPublisher: Unknown Worlds EntertainmentTo be released: Early 2011 The original Natural Selection was released in 2002 as a free mod based on Half-Life that mixed together the first-person shooter and real-time strategy genres. To give you a sense of how passionate Charlie is, he worked on the mod by himself for 18 months before it was finally released. The original was really popular with the mod crowd back then, up there with the likes of Counter-Strike. The success of the first game led Charlie Cleveland to start work on a commercial sequel and form Unknown Worlds Entertainment. Shortly after the studio was created, Charlie hired his first employee, Max McGuire, the studios Technical Director. Since then the team has steadily increased in size during the development of Natural Selection 2. NS2 started life on the Source engine, but after about a year of development, the company threw it all out. The Source engine wasn't capable of doing what the team needed it to do for their vision so Unknown Worlds went ahead and created their own engine called Spark. The team also created Decoda, a commercial debugger for the Lua programming language which has been sold to companies such as Electronic Arts and Lucas Arts. As this company started as a mod, the Spark engine is completely open source and fans can "mod the crap out of the game" as Charlie told me. The community is important to the dev team and they have big plans for featuring their audience's work. On to the game itself: Natural Selection 2 is a 32-player multiplayer-only game that continues the FPS meets RTS mashup from the first game. Everyone starts off from the first-person shooter perspective and at any point, one or more players can take on the role of the Commander, either on the human or alien side. Once a player becomes the Commander, the view changes to a top-down perspective and it's the leaders job to create structures and research upgrades and weapons in order to help their team survive. The most important thing a Commander can do is place down an Extractor (Marine) or Harvester (Aliens) at special locations in the map in order to pump resources into the economy. Every 12 seconds, the Extractor pumps out one point for the Commander and one point for each member of the team. The Commander will use the money to create structures and the team will use the points to purchase weapons and upgrades. On the Marine side, the Commander needs to place down structures such as the Armory. Once this is placed, the Commander then needs to research different weapons and upgrades so the rest of the team can utilize better weapons. Commanders can also place down sentry turrets, create a little robot that will help build and repair structures and throw down ammo and health for players as they engage the aliens. On the alien side, the Commander's role is more about putting various defensive structures such as tentacles that act as defensive whips and other structures around their base for protection. The Aliens also need to use Harvesters to gain resources in order to build structures and to unlock different alien breeds that players can evolve into. It's important for both sides to expand their bases into other areas of the map in order to unlock better weapons and abilities. For instance, once the Marines have built a second base on the map, they'll be able to make use of a new weapon such as the grenade launcher. Unknown is still toying with the idea, but there is a chance that players will lose access to upgraded weapons if the base that unlocked it in the first place is destroyed. One way for the aliens to really mess up the Marine side is by destroying the various Power Nodes scattered across the levels. These Power Nodes power the Marine structures and if they're destroyed, the Marine structures tied to that specific grid will shut down. Now let's focus on the FPS side of things. Marines are pretty much what you would expect in any FPS. They start off with the standard pistol, assault rifle and an axe. Later on, they will be able to make use of a Grenade Launcher attachment for their ARs, flamethrowers and shotguns. Marines will also be able to make use of an exoskeleton suit mech that can be equipped with either a mini-gun, plasma rifle or a claw. [embed]192292:35623[/embed] The aliens are easily my favorite race to play as as each one is completely different from the other. Players begin as the Skulk, a speedy little wall-running dog-like monster thing. The Skulk has a bite attack, a leap attack, and the ability to mark Marines with a projectile. Wall-running is very fluid in that the world doesn't change perspective based on where your Skulk is so that dizzying effect you get from something like Aliens Vs Predators doesn't occur. Also, players view the world from within the Skulk's throat so every time the Skulk bites you see his mouth close down on your screen. At any point, and so long as the resources permit, players can evolve into a different alien. Evolving reverts the player into an egg, so you'll want to be careful where you decide to evolve at on the map. Players can evolve into a cute pig-like creature called the Gorge which acts as a healer/builder, the Lerk which can fly and has a sniping attack, the Onos, a giant behemoth creature that can smash through doors or my personal favorite, the Fade. The Fade is basically the most badass thing I've ever played as in a FPS. The Fade's main ability is that he can teleport around like Nighcrawler from the X-Men. Players will see a projection of the Fade ahead of themselves indicating where the Fade will reappear after he teleports. A team of two really coordinated Fade players can really shred a team apart. They can teleport into a room, attack with their scythe-like arms, and then vanish all in a blink of an eye. Aliens also all have an ability called "Hive Sight" where they can see any other alien player through the walls. If an alien has an enemy in their sights then all of the other aliens will see the human target too, no matter where on the map they're at. During my actual playtime with the game, I found myself leaning towards the first-person shooter stuff more than the RTS elements. I'm not really a RTS player, but that's the beauty of this game. Someone else that loves strategy stuff can take care of that while I go around destroying people as the Fade. If it really comes down to it, I can see myself messing with the RTS elements until a player appears that would want to takeover. The transition between the two play styles is seamless. I only played a couple of matches, but what I got to experience was a lot of fun. I need to play more, especially with the RTS aspect, but I definitely left the Unknown World offices impressed. Natural Selection 2 should be out through Steam sometime early this year and is going for $35. Purchasing the game now will let you into the closed beta with the over 19,000 players currently active in it. Once the game is released, don't expect Unknown Worlds to just take a hike either. The team plans to continue work on the game and release free updates and patches in the same style Valve does it with Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2. Unknown is also looking into releasing a Mac and Xbox 360 version of Natural Selection 2 down the line.
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Of all my time doing previews for Destructoid, I've never actually had the privilege of visiting an indie studio. I'm so used to walking into the giant offices of Electronic Arts or Activision that when I stepped foot into U...

Crysis 2 may be your new multiplayer obsession of 2011

Jan 24 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Crysis 2 (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [Previewed])Developer: CrytekPublisher: Electronic ArtsTo be released: March 22, 2011 (US), March 25, 2011 (EU) The multiplayer for the original Crysis felt more like an afterthought when I played it long, long ago. It was fun, but I quickly moved on to a better shooter experience shortly after. The same could be said for most shooters, that was until Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare arrived with its loadout and perk system. Such mechanics may not have originated with that particular game, but you can't deny that it popularized them to be featured in many FPS thereafter. And this is why I think Crysis 2 will be one of the most played multiplayer games of this year. CryTek took the elements that made the other FPS games worth playing long after release and it's all backed by the powerhouse CryTek 3 Engine. Here you have something with longevity, both in the gameplay and in the graphics. Speaking of graphics, New York shines in high def visuals across the 12 maps that are on offer. Some maps will see you running on rooftops, others at street level and some will be a mix that offers some awesome vertical gameplay. I was impressed with how little wasted space there seemed to be as most of the buildings on the map could be entered. Even though there's a lot of areas that can be explored, you'll be moving through them pretty fast thanks to the Nanosuit. Expect deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, a regular soldiers versus Nanosuit soldiers mode called Assault and a couple of variations of capture the territories gametypes to be played out on these maps. Nanosuit controls are mapped to specific buttons now so the interface is a lot less clunky now compared to the first game. You'll be making use of the power armor with Left Bumper, stealth with Right Bumper and sprinting with a click of the left stick. Some of the special abilities can be combined together too, such as stealth and sprint. Using any of the Nanosuit abilities puts a drain on your suits power meter so you have to strategize when using your powers. Other abilities include a slide attack and melee or stealth attacks (think Halo: Reach special animated kills from behind). The d-pad is mapped for different visors and support bonuses while double-tapping Y equips your grenades. Additionally, players can perform a high jump and follow-up with a power smash attack that stuns anyone caught in the radius of the attack. Like Call of Duty, players will have standard and custom loadout options and different classes to choose from before a match such as a sniper, scout and assault. The more you play, the more experience points you'll gain to improve your tech and gain unlocks for your weapons. Additionally, there are over 20 Nanosuit modules that aid players. One such example is the Tracker Perk, which lets you see invisible players if they're within a certain distance. We started out at the bottom of the ranks, so I didn't get to really explore the various weapons and extras. I didn't even get to check out the Support Bonuses (a.k.a. perks.) A shame as there looked like some cool things you could summon to give you some extra kills. While I did love what I was playing, I am slightly concerned about the controls, for the console side anyway. The controls for the weapons felt looser than I would have preferred for a console FPS. PC gamers will in all likelihood be fine, console players though might take some getting used to things. Since I didn't get to play with the good tech and upgrades, I can't say for sure if this will be an issue when I get items that would potentially make wielding the guns better. At the very least, I did talk to Nathan Camarillo, Executive Producer for Crysis 2, and he did reassure me they will be changing and balancing the game as needed after release. My only other issue with the game is that multiplayer is just for 12 players. 16 players is always the sweet spot for me, but there was rarely a dull moment with 12 players so it's not all bad. I am curious as to how console gamers will receive Crysis 2. PC players will latch on, no doubt. Console gamers probably never even imagined they would ever get a Crysis, so I wonder how they'll take, especially the millions glued to Black Ops for some inconceivable reason. Maybe the exclusive demo coming out tomorrow will help? What platform are you going to get Crysis 2 for?
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Crysis 2 wasn't on my radar at all this year. I mean, I know I was going to play it eventually, but it wasn't a "OMG I HAVE TO IT IMMEDIATELY" kind of a thing. That is until I played some Crysis 2 multiplayer at a recent pre...

Preview: Homefront (multiplayer)

Jan 21 // Samit Sarkar
Homefront (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [previewed], PC) Developer: Kaos Studios Publisher: THQ To be released: March 8, 2011 (NA) / March 10, 2011 (AUS) / March 11, 2011 (EU) / April 29, 2011 (JP) Hamza saw an early build of Homefront’s multiplayer mode in October, and even back then, it looked promising. The key to this game is that you earn two different kinds of rewards for accomplishing tasks: experience, which goes toward your overall rank, and Battle Points (BP), an in-game currency system of sorts that allows you to customize your play experience and make on-the-fly adjustments. Each time you do something like score a kill or capture a control point, you’ll receive some BP, and it will add up over the course of a match (BP don’t carry over from round to round). Battle Points are used to “purchase” special items and services during a match. While you’re waiting between games in the lobby, you can enter the Armory, where you can assign the stuff you’ve unlocked so far (by ranking up) to the D-pad. Equipment that can be bought with BP includes weapons (like an RPG), vehicles (such as drones, tanks, and helicopters), services (like a UAV sweep for personal mini-map radar), and gear (such as flak jackets). Each item has a BP cost associated with it. Say you’ve filled up your two D-pad slots (you unlock the full four as you rank up) with an RPG (500 BP) and an Apache assault helicopter (1100 BP), and you’ve racked up 750 BP in a round of team deathmatch. You’re saving up for the Apache so you can tear it up in the air, but what if you see an enemy tank going on a rampage? Here’s where personal play styles come in: do you whip out your RPG, which allows you to blow up the tank but sets you back to 250 BP, or ignore the tank until you’ve accrued enough BP to take it out with your Apache? The BP system brings an important strategic element to Homefront. These kinds of decisions happen within games as well as between them -- if your team is being decimated by an enemy drone, you’re going to want to go into the Armory and outfit yourself with EMP grenades or proximity launchers to disable them in the next game. The drones are particularly powerful for players who figure out how to keep moving while firing. If you can stay out of harm’s way, it’s possible to go on long killstreaks in a drone -- especially with the Battle Commander feature. Kaos introduced Battle Commander at last week’s event, and in Daly’s words, it adds “strategic depth and emergent gameplay” to Homefront. Battle Commander is a CPU “general” who keeps track of everybody in the game. If one player (or group of players) is doing particularly well and tipping the balance in favor of his team, they will receive a one-star Battle Commandership. This comprises a personal sub-mission -- often, it’s simply “get more kills to reach the next level.” As your star level increases, the game gives you buffs to help sustain your streak -- increased speed, a flak jacket for extra health, a personal UAV sweep -- and at the same time, the other team’s Battle Commander is making its members aware of your deeds. That is, enemy players are assigned their own sub-mission: to take you out and end your rampage. The higher your star level, the more players on the opposing team are alerted to your presence (a yellow circle appears on their mini-map to indicate your general area). At the highest level -- five stars -- the entire enemy team is told to hunt you down, and only skilled players will be able to stay alive for long with up to 16 players gunning for them. “It makes large-scale warfare personal” because it “supports basic revenge instincts,” explained, senior designer Brian Holinka, and Battle Commander isn’t only a way for pros to rule the battlefield. Sure, hardcore players will be the ones achieving five-star Battle Commanderships, but novices are encouraged to get in on the action -- there’s a huge BP incentive to take out wanted players. The smartest way to attain stars is to use a vehicle, and all of them support Battle Commander in different ways. The Recon Drone is a mini-helicopter that’s used only to mark enemy targets, but as the drone pilot, you get killstreak credits when your teammates take out marked opponents. The Attack Drone’s two rockets deal a good amount of damage, but since it’s vulnerable to enemy gunfire, you’re going to want to quickly get that star level up so you get recharging “health.” Tanks might have an easier time of it, but they’re not invulnerable. Battle Commander impressed me because, like BP, it allows you to play Homefront your way. You can go lone wolf and try to get to five stars, but Rex Dickson, the game’s lead level designer, noted that it also promotes team play. He recounted a match in which one of his teammates achieved a five-star level and was marked as the enemy nemesis. At that point, he had the option of continuing to do his own thing, or helping to keep his ass-kicking comrade alive. Since none of the objectives that Battle Commander poses are required, it’s all up to you. We checked out four maps (the game will ship with seven on PS3, but the 360 version will have eight maps -- Suburb is a timed exclusive) and two gametypes. Cul-de-Sac, a smaller, infantry-only map, was similar to Suburb in that both featured American suburbia in the unnerving context of a military occupation. Houses were boarded up and falling apart, offering lots of hiding places. We played 24-player team deathmatch on those maps, and then switched to 32-player Ground Control on Farm and Crossroad. In Ground Control, a mode that seemed like a combination of the Rush and Conquest gametypes in Battlefield: Bad Company 2, we fought over three control points that had to be taken and held. After holding the points for a certain amount of time, our team would “win” that area and push forward while the enemy would fall back to a different section of the map with three more control points. The first team to two “wins” would win the round. Farm was a wide-open, uh, farm, with wooden buildings and a bridge over a stream. In Crossroad, a collapsed freeway overpass offered great sniping spots to watch the control points. I preferred Ground Control to team deathmatch not just because of the objectives it features, but because I liked the expansive maps better, too. Homefront is shaping up to be a legitimate contender for your shooter playtime this March. The speed of the game is somewhere between the quick, almost twitch gameplay of Call of Duty and the slow strategy of Halo, and I think it does a great job of setting itself apart from those popular games. The campaign might attract attention for its story, but the multiplayer component is not to be overlooked.
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THQ’s Homefront is aiming to be the “definitive large-scale warfare experience on console and PC,” explained the game’s lead multiplayer designer, Erin Daly, at a recent press event focusing on the mul...

Preview: Major League Baseball 2K11

Jan 21 // Samit Sarkar
Major League Baseball 2K11 (PS3, 360 [previewed], Wii, PC, PSP, PS2) Developer: Visual Concepts Publisher: 2K Sports To be released: March 8, 2011 The fielding in MLB 2K10 was often frustrating. So the studio focused on defense for MLB 2K11, making important changes in a few areas that go a long way toward improving the feel of fielding. Ratings now play a more significant role in the game, thanks to a tweaked throwing meter and a new method for catching fly balls. On a ground ball to an infielder, the throw meter will have a green zone and a red zone; the size of each depends on the fielder’s throw accuracy. For Robinson Cano, as you might imagine, most of the bar is green. And even if you overshoot all the way into the small red zone, his throw might only pull Mark Teixeira off the first-base bag. But someone like Luis Castillo will not only have a sizable red zone -- if you end up in it, his throw is likely to sail into the stands. Fielding balls in the air is similarly ratings-dependent. On a fly ball or pop-up, you’ll see a large white circle; the ball will end up somewhere within it. A small yellow circle will come up as the ball is falling to Earth, and it gradually shrinks to let you know exactly where the ball will land. For a good fielder, the yellow circle will come up quickly after the white one. So with a defender like Carl Crawford, you’ll be able to get into position to make the catch well before the ball comes down. But if you have, say, Adam Dunn in the outfield, pulling down a fly ball is going to be an adventure. Another change that looks to help fielding is the introduction of new animations. The increased variety, especially for bobbled balls, makes the game more fluid and realistic. It’s not 100% there yet -- I saw inconsistencies like a big step and a laser-like throw from a fielder who was maybe ten feet from his first baseman, which really pulled me out of the action -- but I’m hoping that such nagging issues can be ironed out between now and the release date. I found the game’s visuals to be alternately impressive and off-putting. Many of the player faces are accurate, while others are off -- this remains an issue across most sports games -- and all of them suffer from dead eyes and stiff mouths, irregularities that scream “uncanny valley.” Numbers on the backs of jerseys are textured to stand out from the shirts themselves, but there’s a strange upward distortion of text on players’ chests. Stadium-specific camera angles for the behind-the-pitcher view are a nice touch, and the revamped player models look great. C.C. Sabathia is a hulking brute on the mound, just as he should be. On the pitching front, subtle changes seem like they’ll provide a ramped-up challenge. In MLB 2K10, it was way too easy to pitch with pinpoint accuracy -- even with sub-par hurlers -- once you got good enough. Visual Concepts has introduced variance for missed analog-stick gestures, so even if your gesture is off in a particular manner each time, you won’t be able to easily predict the behavior of the pitch: it might break more or less. Real pitchers can’t simply aim a pitch at a particular spot and get it there every time, and even MLB 2K pros won’t have that luxury anymore. There’s now a variable strike zone, too, which brings in the time-honored “human element” of umpires. At my demo, 2K wasn’t yet talking about any changes to the game’s modes, except for one: a feature they’re calling Dynamic Player Ratings. In MLB Today, My Player, and Franchise, players’ real-life performances will alter their in-game ratings. Derek Jeter might have a good contact attribute, but if he’s mired in a two-week slump, that rating will slip somewhat. I can’t yet tell what kind of effect that will have in those modes, since I didn’t get to play them, but like the rest of the changes that Visual Concepts is implementing, it certainly sounds promising. In their position, it seems prudent to focus on improving the existing game instead of trying to grab gamers’ attention with flashy new features. We’ll have to see if that approach pays off.
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2K Sports’ exclusive third-party development contract with Major League Baseball hasn’t really paid off for the publisher’s parent company, Take-Two, due to a series of baseball releases that have ranged in ...

Preview: Top Spin 4

Jan 20 // Samit Sarkar
Top Spin 4 (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [previewed], Wii) Developer: 2K Czech Publisher: 2K Sports To be released: March 15, 2011 (NA) / March 18, 2011 (EU) Most sports games want to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, and for sports sims, offering a varying amount of depth is one of the best ways to do that. Top Spin 3 allowed you to take risks with power and accuracy on shots, but the mechanic was so unforgiving -- you couldn’t execute risk shots without absolutely perfect timing -- that I never even bothered with it.In Top Spin 4, 2K Czech is aiming to give gamers just the amount of depth that they want. Casual players can have fun merely by running around the court with the left analog stick and pressing A to hit the ball, but if you take the time to learn the game, you’ll be rewarded for it. The face buttons correspond to different types of shots, like topspin (B) or slice (X), and pressing LT will flip your position to allow you to hit backhand where your opponent might be expecting a forehand, for example. If you want to follow up a drop shot (RT + X) by rushing the net, press RB. This ties into the implementation of 2K Sports' Signature Style in TS4. Each of the 25 athletes in the game's roster will play like their real-life counterparts. Guys like Andy Roddick and Pete Sampras will blow you away with a powerful serve and attack the net, whereas someone like Michael Chang will stay on the baseline and play defensively. If you want to up your game, it's in your best interest to study players' attributes to figure out their strengths and weaknesses so you can use that information to your advantage when you play. Just like a high-level Street Fighter player understands the roster well enough to adjust his tactics to suit both his character and his opponent, the best TS4 players will want to learn the skill sets of the game's tennis stars.Newer players might not care enough to bother with that, though, and that's okay. 2K Czech has included better visual feedback to let you know how well you're doing, and to help you out. TS4 utilizes the same hold-and-release mechanic for shots -- tap for a control shot, hold for a power shot -- that TS3 had, so generally, you should release a face button when the ball bounces on your side of the court. Of course, the timing will differ based on a variety of conditions (such as ball speed and your position), and in TS3, it wasn't always clear why your timing was off. This time around, a small yellow target will let you know where the ball will land on the court, and when you hit it, a timing indicator will pop up to tell you how you did ("too soon," "too late," "good," "perfect," etc.). Thankfully, pros can turn that stuff off. One of the complaints I had with TS3 was its lackluster presentation. The crowd never really got into it, and there was no commentary. Plus, while the game looked beautiful, its no-frills statistical overlays gave the impression of a less polished product. 2K Czech has really amped up the crowd interaction in TS4: expect the crowd's excitement to build during a long volley before exploding in loud cheers at the conclusion of a point. Sadly, there's still no commentary. That's disappointing, especially since commentary isn't difficult to implement in a tennis game -- there are only 25 athletes on the roster (as opposed to thousands of players in a football game), and in tennis, commentators only speak between points. The commentary aspect of a television broadcast is missing, but 2K Czech has included pre-match cutscenes (for example, you'll see players walking out onto the court through a tunnel) to add some TV-style flair. So far, though, there don't seem to be a great deal of major improvements or additions to distinguish TS4 from TS3. I was expecting something more drastic from a game that will be launching nearly three years after its predecessor. Don't get me wrong: it's looking great so far, since the tweaks that I noticed improve on what was already a very good game in TS3. I was told that 2K Sports will be showing off more in the near future -- including Move support for the PS3 version -- so I remain hopeful that TS4 will offer more than what I saw this week.
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By the time 2K Sports releases Top Spin 4 on March 15, 2011, it will have been almost three full years since the launch of its predecessor, 2008’s Top Spin 3. That game was well-received, but drew criticism for being so...

Impressions: Dawn of War II: Retribution

Jan 20 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II: Retribution (PC)Developer: Relic EntertainmentPublisher: THQTo be released: March 1, 2011 (NA) / March 4, 2011 (Everywhere else) Retribution is the second stand-alone expansion for Dawn of War and this will be the first time that all six races will be playable. So you've got the Space Marines, Eldar, Chaos Space Marines, Orks, Tyranids and the new Imperial Guard race. There's a unique campaign centered around every race too, each averaging about 10 hours. That's a good 60 hours of single-player right there alone. Each campaign is made up of 16 missions and for the most part, they're similar except for the different stories and bosses. On the mulitplayer front, there are three new heroes. The Inquisitor hero is an offensive unit that has all kinds of unique abilities. The Commissar Lord is a support hero who ... supports his troops by murdering them. Nothing like motivating your team by making an example! Finally, you have the Lord General, a defensive support hero who has a posse of guys that go around with him. Of course you can expect new units for all the races too. Chaos Space Marines are getting a Noise Marine that shoots noise, Space Marines are getting a Land Raider, Orks get a new Battle Wagon and Tyrnaids are getting a Swarm Lord, which is a large Tyranid with swords. In terms of new online features, Retribution will have a new chat lobby where players can create their own unique chat channel or join general chat channels. The company has also switched over to Steamworks -- versus the previous Games for Windows Live functionality -- so there are new leaderboards and a new matchmaking system based on the ELO system used in games like StarCraft II. My demo was with the Imperial Guard, who like to use a lot of vehicles, such as the Manticore. This artillery vehicle has a huge attack radius and makes use of a new multi-targeting feature in Dawn of War. You can target four different areas, and the Manticore will launch four separate missile strikes. What I really liked in Retribution is its resource system. You just need to secure specific points that give you the funds needed for building your troops. This is what separates the series from other RTS games as it's more about getting into the fight. I didn't actually get hands-on time with Retribution since I didn't have the time needed to really learn the controls. So I can't say anything about how the controls are, but visually Retribution looks very pretty and detailed. Granted, this is a Warhammer 40,000 game and fans of this series are obsessive die-hards. You'd like this game if there were just a race made of cute little puppies.  A race made of puppies would be awesome, actually.
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Real-time strategy games to me are like crack. I get addicted to them, in a bad way, and I haven't really touched one since the original StarCraft. So seeing Relic Entertainment's latest in the Dawn of War series was difficu...

Hands-on: Red Faction: Armageddon

Jan 20 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Red Faction: Armageddon (Xbox 360 [Previewed], PS3, PC)Developer: VolitionPublisher: THQTo be released: May 2011 So let's start with what I loved the most: the Magnet Gun. Think the Portal gun, except here you're using the gun to pull shit into other shit. The first shot is the "Anchor" that holds the object that gets thrown into whatever you target with the second shot from the Magnet Gun. Buildings, enemies -- whatever that can be moved normally can be targeted and sent away. Next you have the Plasma Beam, which disintegrates whatever it hits. It's a slow process, but somewhat satisfying as you systematically destroy a building shot after shot. For something that packs a bigger punch, you'll want to use the Singularity Cannon. This gun shoots out a mini-black hole which sucks up everything in the target radius. The tool you'll probably end up using the most is the Nano-Forge. Anything that is destructible in Armageddon can be magically repaired with this weapon as it somehow rebuilds everything. Destroyed a wall? Point your Nano-Forge at it and it'll come back every time. Very useful when you find yourself needing cover or if you need to repair an objective. The Nano-Forge will also have other attacks, inlcuding one where you can basically do a Force Push and knock enemies back.  There were plenty of more weapons to mess around with, but none really compared to the ones I just described. Note that you will be able to upgrade weapons, the Nano-Forge and your own abilities throughout the game as well I got to mess around with all these new toys in a test level and once I was done with them, it was on to the first mission of Armageddon. You play as Darius Mason, grandson to Alec Mason from Red Faction: Guerrilla and in this level, you're trying to stop the enemy from destroying a terraformer machine that gives Mars Earth-like atmosphere. Unfortunately for Mason and his team, the terraformer is destroyed and the Mars people find themselves looking for shelter in the mines created by their ancestors. This leaves a very obvious question in my mind: Why can't Mason just use his Nano-Forge to repair the terrraformer? Anyway, the next two levels I saw had Mason going up against the various aliens that were destroying everything they came in contact with. The aliens come in all shapes and sizes, and each type have some unique attack style. Think the special zombies from Left 4 Dead but they all look like variations of the annoying bug creatures from Resident Evil 4. After a little while, I made my way to a giant mech that featured a machine gun, target locating missiles and a dash attack. While I love mechs as much as the next guy, I didn't really get that sense of power one would expect from piloting it. If the area I was in wasn't overrun with bad guys, I would have just preferred to use my guns. As a big fan of the first Red Faction, it was kind of a bummer that you couldn't dig around in the tunnels like the original game. You're playing through a majority of the game in mines so it would have been a pretty cool throwback. Volition wanted the focus be more on the story though and felt players would get constantly lost if they included the tunneling system. THQ was only showing off the single-player and I'm still on the fence of whether I'm going to like Armageddon. I love the weapons, but everything else just wasn't really grabbing my interest. I don't want to make a final call on the game just yet as I still want to see what's up with multiplayer, co-op and the "Horde-like" mode. 
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One week later and I still can't stop thinking about Red Faction: Armageddon. Specifically, the new weapons are just awesome. The weapons like the Magnet gun are just perfect when combined with Red Faction's destruction engi...

Hands-on: WWE All Stars

Jan 19 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
WWE All Stars (Xbox 360 [Previewed] / PlayStation 3 / Wii / PlayStation Portable / PlayStation 2Developer: THQ San DiegoPublisher: THQTo be released: March 29, 2011 There are around 31 wrestlers that will be in WWE All Stars, and so far, THQ has shown off Ricky Steamboat, Bret Hart, The Rock, Triple H, John Cena, Andre the Giant, The Big Show, Kofi Kingston, Rey Mysterio, John Morrison, Sheamus and Randy "The Macho Man" Savage. Two additional characters -- Million-Dollar Man and Ted Dibiase Jr. -- will be available exclusively through GameStop pre-orders. All of the fighters are split up into four categories: acrobat, big man, brawler and grappler. Don't expect the wrestlers to have the same moves just because they're in the same category, either. Someone like Shamus will have a completely different play style in comparison to someone like Bret Hart. Only one game mode was shown off -- a simple one-vs-one gametype. There will be up to four-player support that we'll hear more about at a later date. We were at least told to expect a wrestler creator system, downloadable content and multiple modes including one called "Fantasy Warfare" where players pick between WWE Legends or WWE Superstars to see who the greatest (virtual) fighter of all time is. Controls were pretty simple from what I tried out on the Xbox 360. Y is assigned to your strong strike, X is for a quick strike, B is a strong grapple and A is for a quick grapple. Combos can be performed and a different move will happen depending on which direction the joystick is pushed with the button presses. Players have an energy meter that allows them to use four different signature moves for each wrestler (The Rock's "Rock Bottom," for example.) These meters fill up faster the more a player uses different techniques. Performing these signature moves is done with a combo of either the X + A or Y + B buttons. These special moves also cause all of the action to go into very cheesy slow-motion. Along with the energy meter is the Finishing Meter which is activated by pressing the left and right bumper together at the same time. A player can activate the Finishing Meter once it's filled up and if they connect, it's over; the opponent is knocked out. On the defense side, players will be able to counter grapples/reversals with the left bumper and block/counter strikes with the right trigger. It's kind of a guessing game as you're not sure if the player is going for a strike or attempting to grapple. Everything can be reversed, so it's up to you to be quick enough to prevent an attack. You'll of course be able to do things like climbing the turnbuckle, whipping players into the ropes -- you can even use objects like steal chairs, although you have a limit to how many times you can use a weapon before getting disqualified. The other meter you'll be worrying about is your health meter, naturally. You're in trouble when it's flashing red and it'll be harder to get out of pins. One thing I liked about All Stars is that even a pinned player will have a second chance as a meter pop-ups for both players. The player that's pinning the opponent will need to try and fill the meter while the pinned player will be trying to increase the capacity of the meter, making it harder to get filled up. Overall, I felt that the controls were very easy to pick up and play. I managed to win a couple of matches; granted, I used Andre The Giant against an AI-controlled Rey Mysterio. It'll be interesting to see if players use the Mad Catz Fight Sticks or Fight Pad for All Stars. I think the regular controller is a better fit, but I can see why THQ would want pro controllers. The one thing I couldn't stomach with All Stars is the over-the-top look for the wrestlers. I mean, I get why they did it, I just think caricature designs of ANYTHING are always gross looking. After the WWE All Stars presentation, THQ had The Big Show, Ricky Steamboat, Kofi and Shamus talk about the game. It was kind of cool hearing how the current wrestlers are honored they are able to go up against old-school wrestlers like Bret Hart, Macho Man and more. It's just as much of a dream match for the wrestlers as it will be for wrestling fans that get WWE All Stars. *Images in the gallery are a mix of PS3/Xbox 360 and Wii screens. See if you can tell the difference!
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Before we get another Smackdown vs Raw, THQ is going to be delivering an over-the-top, arcade-style wrestling game in the way of WWE All Stars. This WWE game is about getting into the action fast with twitch-like controls and...

MX vs ATV Alive going for $40, lots of DLC planned

Jan 19 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
For the first time in the series, THQ is putting a real athlete on the cover of the game with multi-time champion James Stewart. James won't just be a pretty face hidden behind a helmet on the boxart. He's actually involved in Alive and is giving input on the development of the game. Another first for the series is the new role-playing element revolving around your riders. Basically, the more you play against the AI, multiplayer or even constantly suck and get last place, the better stuff you'll be able to unlock. All your playtime will actually account for something. As for the improved stuff, the terrain deformation -- where the ground changes every time you race -- is back and better than before. The "Reflex" controls of the last game have been improved to be more accessible. The fighting system where you can beat on other riders has been upgraded and plays a bigger part in the races too. Back to the pricing of the game, the developers on Alive wanted to stress again that it will be a fully $60 product for $40. The developers don't want to just shove content in that not everyone would want or use. For those of you that do though, you can expect new content every week for months on end revolving around gear, new tracks, new events, modes and more. I'm really looking forward to seeing if THQ's experiment works here. I don't see this strategy applicable for every type of game out there, but it's a good start with something like MX vs ATV Alive. Using this strategy, they're able to put out the game sooner than later and people that want more will have that option.
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THQ's latest MX vs ATV is looking to shake things up with the next entry in the series set to come out this May for just $40 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The smaller price point brings with it a big downloadable conte...

Hands-on: NASCAR The Game: 2011

Nov 22 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
[embed]188171:34253[/embed] NASCAR The Game: 2011 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii)Developer: EutechnyxPublisher: Activision To be released: February 15, 2011 The first thing I have to talk about is the amazing damage system. I’m not a NASCAR fan; never will be. It’s an interesting sport for sure, but I just can’t get into it. So, of course, the first thing I did was do a 180 with my car and barrel down the track going 200 miles per hour into the 42 oncoming cars. My car (along with the other vehicles unlucky enough to get caught in my deranged behavior) were as torn up as they would in real life. Even better, the parts that flew off cars and landed on the race track damaged other cars as they ran debris over. So with that out of the way, let’s talk about what will get NASCAR fans really excited. Activision brought us out to Phoenix, Arizona to see a real NASCAR race and we got to see the behind-the-scenes stuff that comprises a race. Seeing this stuff in person was a real eye opener, as I had no idea so much work and effort goes into every race. All that work that takes place before a race is translated into the new game. A pound of pressure in one of the tires in a car can make or break the racer, and that level of realism is featured in NASCAR 2011. Basically, whatever the crew can do to a car in real life, you can do in the game. Extras are thrown into the game as well, such as steering assist, brake assist and more. These features -- which can be turned off -- are thrown in to help new players learn the ropes. While I didn’t see this first hand as my time was short with NASCAR 2011, the AI will adapt to the player’s skill levels. This way, it’ll never seem like you’re always trailing in a race, so that you’re kept in the action with the 42 other drivers, part of what makes NASCAR so thrilling. You’ll also find yourself developing rivalries within the races. Simply get too aggressive with another driver and they won’t harass you right back in future races. The main mode is obviously the campaign, where you’ll be racing to earn money, prizes and more. The more races you win, the more things you’ll be able to unlock to modify your cars with. There are a few other race modes too, such as track testing and the Eliminator, where the last place racer is taken out each lap. There will also be two-player split-screen support and online multiplayer for up to 16-players on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. NASCAR: The Game 2011 is going to be the first simulation NASCAR game to hit the Wii, too. Expect motion control steering and online play too. The PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game won’t offer any motion controls this time around, but the sequel may very well include it, according to the developers. The game will ship with the 2010 tracks, cars and race schedule, but fans can expect a free patch which will update everything to the 2011 scheme and plans. Fans will also get the new Kentucky raceway which debuts next year in NASCAR, bringing the total tracks to 23 in the game. Expect some Twitter and Facebook integration that will allow you to share photos plus a feature to record your replays, edit them and then send it off to YouTube. Eutechnyx put a ton of work into bringing NASCAR to life on the consoles. The game definitely has that feel of putting you into the real experience and is absolutely gorgeous. It's like a night and day difference comparing this new NASCAR to NASCAR 2009. The only thing I had issue with was the sense of speed. I got to see a real NASCAR race as part of this Activision event and never really knew how fast the cars are blazing the tracks. That same sense of speed didn't translate to the game experience. Like I said earlier, I'm not a NASCAR fan and racing simulators in general. I much prefer the arcade feel of something like Burnout. But I recognize the appeal of these types of games and can say that fans are in for a real treat when NASCAR 2011 is released next year. *Full disclosure: Activision flew us out to Las Vegas to play the new game and race in a real stock car around the Las Vegas race track. We then drove down to Phoenix to see an actual NASCAR race.
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It's been two years since a proper NASCAR game has been released for consoles. Electronic Arts was pumping out yearly iterations of the sport since the PlayStation 1 era, but then the series came to an abrupt stop after NASCA...







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