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Ian Roberts

GC 10: Inversion will flip your sh . . ooter

Aug 22 // Ian Roberts
The version we saw was in alpha so it wasn't the final build by any measure and yet somehow it was impressive. The central premise of the game is that earth has been invaded by aliens with gravity manipulation technology. However, the aliens presence has also caused portals to open that are having a screwy effect on our world. You are part of a military ops team equipped with the alien gravity tech. The game itself uses a custom version of the Havok engine that takes into account how things would operate in a gravityless environment as well as scenery destruction. The gravity tech works surprisingly well as a gameplay mechanic. For example, you can throw a ball of anti-grav and wherever it lands a force field where gravity doesn't exist is generated within a short radius of the impact zone. The example that the team at Saber Interactive used was to have a group of enemies take cover behind some stone bollards. When the anti-grav orb hit and generated its field, the enemies were lifted from their cover completely exposed to you and your team's gunfire.  When enemies are lifted in to weightlessness they are disoriented for a few seconds before regaining their bearings and returning fire. This will also effect the player in the same way. Any objects or items caught in the anti-grav field can also be dragged from it, manipulated and thrown. Random detritus found in the level can be thrown at enemies and when your powers level up you can pick up heavier items found in the level (for example, a car) and place it somewhere to use as ad-hoc cover. Some gravity based events cannot be controlled, sometimes random shifts in gravity will happen and you’ll end up flipped onto another part of the environment. We were shown a battle that started out on the street as enemies running from the debris of collapsing building caught sight of us and opened fire. Then a gravity wave hits. The action then shifted onto the sides of the buildings instead with shop signs providing impromptu cover. The gravity wave only has a limited area of effect and at the very edge you will encounter enemies who are unaffected. You can still fight these enemies and items like grenades can still be thrown, however their trajectory will change depending on what side of the wave it is on. Not everything is gravity battles as the game will feature some pretty big set piece battles that will put the Havok engine through its paces with everything from pillars to wholesale building fronts falling apart. It feels like this will be a very fun game, with good use of the anti-gravity mechanic. One thing that was very interesting, though we didn’t get to see it in action, was that the game is being built from the ground up as more of a co-op game. There were moments in then demo we were shown that had you interact with an AI partner but I can only imagine what kind of gravity defying shenanigans two players working as a team could get up to. The example I’ve been using to get the idea of this game across to people is to say that it reminded me very much of the PS2 Midway game Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy. A very simple, action-based, third-person shooter with a very fun, gimmicky gameplay mechanic that is a great deal of fun to play around with. It’s too early to call this a must buy game when it sees release, but it really might be worth keeping an eye out for in future.
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This one came out of the blue really. We knew a touch about the plot for Inversion, which sounded vaguely like that of Half Life 2 with an alien invasion causing portals to appear all over the world unleashing chaos but that ...

GC 10: Blood Stone has a license to kill

Aug 22 // Ian Roberts
This outing in the current Daniel Craig Bond continuity comes to us from Bizarre Creations, the maker of the Project Gotham Racing series, Blur, Geometry Wars, and The Club, so we know that it has a pedigree for making solid gaming experiences. We were shown a two-part demo -- a hands-off section set in Istanbul that demonstrated how the action sequences work and the aforementioned driving section that we were allowed to have a play of. In Istanbul, Bond is searching for a missing British scientist. The trail leads him to a construction site where he wanders into a trap at the hands of the not-so-innocent construction workers. Upon escaping certain death, you are required to make your way past the armed guards on the site and into the underground area. Two ways of playing through the level, one stealthy and the other more aggressive, showed just how the mechanics of the game will support any style of play. The first thing that we are introduced to is Bond's one and only gadget, a smartphone. Its function in the game is exactly the same as that of the X-Ray mode in Batman: Arkham Asylum -- turn it on and it creates an augmented reality view of the level that shows points of interest around you. The key difference between Bond and Batman is that the mode has been gimped in Blood Stone -- if you attempt to walk around with it on, the view will go glitchy as your phone loses signal, preventing people from playing this game with an interlaced light blue tint. To be honest, the action sections of Blood Stone do crib ideas from a bunch of games, mostly Batman: Arkham Asylum, Splinter Cell, and Uncharted 2, but it takes those elements and combines them so effectively that it's forgivable. Sneaking around the construction site is a slower but much more satisfying affair. Use of context-sensitive takedowns, like leaping out from behind corners or pulling guards through open windows, will be your main method of getting rid of guards, though a successful melee takedown will award you with a token to use the "Focus Aim." Focus Aim quickly targets and kills one enemy per token, but you have a limit of three so that you can't just run around essentially pressing the "win" button. The more action-oriented approach will see you getting through the level quicker while running more of a risk of getting shot. You can still perform melee takedowns, but instead of taking cover and quietly dispensing the target, you'll charge up to them and punch them silly or smash them face first into a nearby piece of scenery. The no-stealth melee takedowns also reward you with Focus Aim tokens, so you could clear out an area fairly quickly with a little good timing. Be under no illusion, however, that it will be easy, for one little slip-up can cost you dearly. With the armed guards dispensed, Bond makes his way into the underground, a huge dark cavern with wooden rafters to walk across. There are no enemies to kill here, so it's frankly too quiet. All of a sudden, a blinding flash of light illuminates the area, and there, dominating the rear of the cavern, is a gigantic drill. The drill starts moving towards you, grinding up everything in its path including the wooden platforms. As it gives chase, you'll be leaping from platform to platform and shimmying along wooden beams to stay ahead. The Istanbul level ends with a brief look at a car chase through the streets in the classic Aston Martin DB5, perfectly setting up our viewing of the next section of the demo. The action shifts to Siberia where Bond (now in his DB9) speeds off into an industrial area, giving chase to a train, with Bond's girl Joss Stone in the passenger seat. As you race through the factories, swerving between trucks and vans, a helicopter gunship is raining bullets and bombs onto the road ahead. You escape from here onto the Siberian ice floe as the helicopter pelts the fragile ice, causing it crack and break apart as you try to drive across it. It's exciting, damned exciting. The driving feels like a slightly more arcade-like Project Gotham Racing -- you're not expected to be proficient in hand break turns and racing lines, but if you are expecting to beat the level by simply holding down the accelerator, you'll only end up spinning out or crashing. You already know my feelings about Blood Stone, as I stated clear as day in the opening paragraph. The game uses popular mechanics that have appeared in other series, but they are integrated so well that it really isn't objectionable. If anything, it helps to give the game the same sense of excitement that its cinematic counterparts do. James Bond 007: Blood Stone is due early next year, and until then, I'm going to put on my tux and start drinking vodka martinis.
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The second helping of Bond from Activision at gamescom nearly caused me to shatter my teeth. During a tense hands-on with the game's driving section, I had to put my pen in my mouth so I could hold the controller, a poor ...

GC 10: Guild Wars 2 to rise to the challenge

Aug 22 // Ian Roberts
Upon creation of your in-game avatar you will be asked to fill in then blanks of your character's background. Rich or poor, noble or devious, strong or smart; these things will shape not only your outward appearance but also the ways in which the world treats you and the way in which your personal history comes into play. In one of the persistent cities to be found in Tyria, a section called Home, which will reflect your choices as a character from the start, a noble character will arrive there to find close friends who own a local pub getting grief from some thugs whereas a rich character will be greeted by a well to do friend who will throw a fancy party in the local square in your honour. These however are trivial things compared to the impact that you can have on the greater world in Guild Wars 2. A new Dynamic Event system along with a sped up day/night cycle and weather system that affects any number of variables like enemy numbers, events, NPC character placement and items, creates a game world where an event can take place somewhere without you being there and if you are made aware of it you can choose to go and help or ignore it. Every event however will have varying levels of consequences for the failure of a mission. In the example I got shown a farm just happened to be under attack from bandits as we passed by, if you let the bandits destroy all of the hay on the farm then the cows on the farm won’t get fed and they’ll die which will affect local merchants. It wasn’t a particularly dramatic example but it demonstrated perfectly the kind of ripple effect you have on the game world. Not all of the things that happen as a result of you failing to succeed in a quest will be as permanent -- a building taken over by enemies in a mission where you are supposed to defend it can be taken back again and lost again over and over. It hasn’t been made totally clear yet as to how this will effect PvP but after seeing the passion they have for making Guild Wars 2 the best it can be I have every faith it will be well thought out. Fans of the original will be interested to hear that as a result of the game's plot, where a race of Elder Dragons has awoken and brought chaos to the land of Tyria, the villains of the original Guild Wars, the Charr, have been forced to join forces with the other races in an effort to defeat this new threat and, as a result, they will be a playable race in this game. Rather than the more traditional method of combat found in most MMO’s -- that of simply pressing hotkeys until your enemy dies -- Guild Wars 2 will have you fighting in real time against your foes in a way that is much more in the vain of RPG fare like Fable. Your character will be able to evade attacks whilst in combat, which gives the whole thing a greater energy than most normal MMO’s and is something that will catch the eye of those so far uninterested in the genre. The UI is very smart and simple looking taking a small amount of space at the bottom of the screen and looking less cumbersome than most standard UIs found in the genre, however the folks at AreanaNet stated that players would be able to customise their UIs should they feel the need to. The sense that this is as much a single player game and also a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game gives the me the feeling that ArenaNet are well on target to achieve their goal of making an MMO for people who don’t like MMO’s. The more immediate and engaging gameplay mechanics combined with an eye-catching beautiful art style will turn the heads of those who have yet to spend any amount of time in a persistent online world before. Best MMO ever? That is not for me to say, but for the people who may or may not buy this game it could be a very serious contender for World of Warcraft's crown as the popular MMO on the market -- absolutely.  
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“We are going to make the greatest MMO ever made.” Big words from ArenaNet considering the competition it has. None the less, they are confident of success against MMORPG’s that already have an established b...


GC 10: Serious deja vu in GoldenEye 007

Aug 21 // Ian Roberts
There is a serious sense of deja vu about GoldenEye 2010, despite Eurocom saying that it couldn’t simply remake Rare's original for legal reasons. The level that we were shown was the Jungle level which, just like it's 1997 counterpart, sits around 75% of the way through the game (and apparently features a battle with Xenia Onatopp, although we didn't get to see that) and sees Bond being shot down by a heat-seeking rocket and crashing into the dense green jungle below. The whole section is designed to be played in a stealthy manner with your using takedowns and gadgets to work your way through the level. Approaching an unaware enemy from behind will give you an on-screen prompt to press a button and execute a choke out or neck snap. It is nothing new but works perfectly well and is something more elaborate than simply melee attacking the back of the enemy's head. Enemies further away will need to be taken down using you silenced PPK, but screw this up and you'll make your target aware of your presence. In those circumstances, you will have a brief window of a few seconds in order to take him out before he alerts other guards in the area or starts shooting you. Not everything that is out to kill you is so easily disposed of -- the Jungle is lined with automated machine guns that sweep the area with blue lasers that will rip you apart if you stumble into them. Bond, being the super spy that he is, comes fully prepared with gadgets such as, in this case, a mobile phone that can be used to hack the turrets and turn them against enemy soldiers. If you wish, you can also simply attack the laptops that are running the turrets to disable them.  To be honest, I'm sure by now you have realized that I'm writing about the section of the single player that I got to see without any enthusiasm, and I do apologize for this. It just feels wrong, like Eurocom is afraid that if it moves too far away from everything that GoldenEye 1997 was then people's enthusiasm for the game will get hurt. So what we have is a deja vu-inducing experience containing many elements of the original with some added gameplay mechanics that feel a bit weak and almost detached from the main game. It's like coming home from work and finding someone else wearing your wife's clothes, pretending to be her. And it's a man. My reservations, however, do not extend to the multiplayer that, for all of the additions like iron sights, recharging health, and the ability to jump and run, feels as much fun as its original counterpart. We played a session of four-player, split-screen deathmatch, and the relatively small design of the levels, along with a radar in the corner that displays the whereabouts of your opponents at all times, makes for a fun, frantic multiplayer experience. Regenerative health doesn't leave as much of a mark as you'd imagine, given that you really only have a small amount of health to begin with so that any prolonged attack will result in death. The game has also been designed to be played with the Classic controller, Wiimote and Nunchuck, Zapper, and GameCube controller, ensuring that however you feel most comfortable, you'll be catered for. We played with the Classic controller and it seemed nice and responsive. So the multiplayer is a great deal of fun, and I have no doubt in my mind that people will have an absolute blast with it. However, my issues with the single-player campaign still remain troubling. It doesn't seem different enough from 1997 original to be anything worth paying attention to, and what little it does that is new isn't really that exceptional. There is still time until the game is released, so it is possible that improvements can be and hopefully are being made. Also, Oddjob is still a cheating bastard.
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It's been thirteen years since one of the most celebrated console shooters, GoldenEye 007, was released on the Nintendo 64. Since then, we have had a sub-par, sort-of sequel in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent and people arguing about ...

GC 10: Enemies explode into little bits in Dragon Age 2

Aug 19 // Ian Roberts
The flexible reality afforded by this notion has allowed Bioware to deal with a few complaints that were aimed towards Dragon Age: Origins. Firstly, they have taken the opportunity to improve the combat, making it much more immediate and visceral. Gone is the queuing of attacks while you wonder off to make a cup of tea. You can take control of any of the members of your party whilst still issuing commands to the others but you cannot simply relinquish control of the combat to the AI just to play out. Bioware are also keen to give the world of Dragon Age a more unique visual style, something they are achieving by making everything seem that much more exaggerated. Swords clash in an amazingly loud clang of metal and enemies gush blood when attacked, even being reduced to nothing more than a pair of feet when they are hit with a fireball from a mage. The conversation wheel is undergoing its first major overhaul since its inception. It's now the Emotion wheel and with every conversation choice that you have there is a small icon in the wheel to let you know whether it will be good, bad, sarcastic or any number of other variables.  Bioware acknowledged that people had found the occasionally ambiguous nature of some of the options to be confusing, causing people to agonize over an option or make the wrong choice all together. The addition of this little visual clue they feel will make things easier on the player. The PC version is getting a more streamlined UI with Potions having a slot in the bottom right of the screen, characters getting the bottom left and a hot key bar running along the bottom. It is a clean, uncluttered look that leaves players with a much more clearer view of the action. A lot of this change Bioware puts to listening to the fans on forums. A place where few would dare to tread, Bioware sought out the problems that gamers had with the original and it’s expansion and took note. The result of this is a tighter looking game that will allow the Dragon Age series strengths to flourish. Prepare to unsheathe your sword in March 2011 when Dragon Age 2 is released for the Xbox 360, PC and PS3.
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On a wind swept plain stand a brother and a sister. Swords drawn ready to fight off the creatures that are heading towards them waving swords of their own. A swift blow from the brothers axe takes out one and fireball from th...

GC 10: Assassins Creed: Brotherhood single-player preview

Aug 19 // Ian Roberts
The beautiful city of Rome is your hunting ground, and at roughly three times the size of any city found in Assassins Creed 2, you can be sure that there are plenty of opportunities to stealthily tail your prey from the rooftops with deadly intent in mind. By freeing the people from their oppressive rulers who hide in twelve towers dotted across the city, you will be a catalyst for the beginning of the Renaissance. Eliminating the powerful residents of these towers and burning the structures to the ground causes art and commerce to blossom with your encouragement. This system, called "Rome upgrade," replaces the Villa upgrade system of Assassins Creed 2 with you investing in the local economy -- albeit in a way that will benefit you. In the playthrough we were shown, Ezio approached a boarded up storefront and was asked if he wished to invest in it. This has benefits for the player above just the aesthetic change to the environment. For example, newly opened-up tailors can provide you with new outfits. All of this improvement, however, has to be fought for. And only a mad man would try to free a whole city on his own, which is why in this Assassins Creed, you’ll be able recruit local rebels to your cause in order to form the titular Brotherhood, a group of skilled killers with a similar taste in white robes. Your brothers, on the other hand, won't start out with such incredible skill. As such, bringing them on missions will grant you points that can be used to level up weapons and armor. In the missions you undertake yourself, these improvements won’t be quite so apparent thanks to your posse eliminating designated targets and providing distractions at your behest.   The improvements you make to members of your Guild of Assassins will be of great benefit to both you and them when you send them out on missions. You can contact your guild using carrier pigeons, which are found in pigeon coups scattered throughout the game world. Additionally, you can send one of up to twelve possible recruits out into continental Europe in order to perform tasks that will earn them more skill points and impact your mission in Rome. The assassin you send out into the field won’t stand much of a chance unless you level up his armor and weapons, which is why it is important to take them out on missions with you. Death when your assassins are away from your side is possible and, most importantly, permanent. Your team can be as individual as you want to make it. You choose what weapons and tools they take with them -- even what sort color and style of robe they wear. Getting anything out of your brotherhood will be entirely dependent on just how much you want to put in. To prevent you from simply ordering your men to kill everyone so you don’t have to do the legwork or face certain death in battle, the Brotherhood assists operate on a cooldown that gradually builds itself back up over time. However, you can grab yourself an extra assist that won’t affect your cooldown timer if you get any of the Brotherhood tokens found in the streets and rooftops of Rome. With only limited use of your brothers in a mission, the skills that you have are key to your survival. The combat has been overhauled and now operates much like Batman: Arkham Asylum's flow system. If you keep your flow of attacks going without being hit, the damage you do becomes greater. It’s a system that worked well in the Dark Knight's outing last year, so the inclusion of a similar system in the equally stealthy Assassins Creed series makes a lot of sense and looks solid. With the newly tuned-up combat system and the series' familiar, elegant stealth elements, you will have to sneak into one of the twelve towers and dispose with the most-powerful person within. The way in which you do this is open to how creative and sneaky you wish to be. Straight up knocking on the front door and killing anything that moves is possible, if a little foolish; especially since there are a myriad of secret passages and back doors that you could take instead. Upon eliminating a tower leader, the guards' moral will drop; some will still try and fight you, but most will flee in terror. The tower is now yours and it’s time to bring it down. Outside the tower, Ezio scales the building, leaping between window ledges en route to the tower's roof. A few guards who have yet to abandon their stations stand a couple of feet below, unaware of his presence. Brotherhood assassins are summoned to dispose them quickly and the ascent continues. At the top, a cutscene kicks in showing Ezio stalking about with a flaming torch in hand. The building already beginning to burn quite heavily, he turns, runs and leaps from the rooftop into the safety of a bale of hay. Ubisoft is promising that the single-player will have up to 15 hours of gameplay for you to discretely kill your way around Rome, including developments with Desmond Miles that the Ubisoft representatives didn't wish to elaborate on. The single-player looks very strong, if not the best in the series so far. When combined with the new multiplayer mode, Assassins Creed: Brotherhood looks like a tempting prospect indeed. Keep a stealthy eye on this one due out November on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
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The renaissance was a time of great invention and inspiration. However, it might never have come to the city of Rome had it not been for a guild of assassins stalking the shadows, eliminating the repressive elements of s...

GC 10: An early look at Stronghold 3

Aug 18 // Ian Roberts
The first thing that impressed me was that the focus was on the core gameplay. Stronghold 3 will run on tech developed by outside sources as opposed to the internal development favoured for its predecessor. This, along with a streamline of in-game mechanics, will leave the development team free to strengthen the original's gameplay. With that established we were launched into the game and it soon became apparent the level of flexibility that will be available to players. With a castle constructed, players can fortify their possession by constructing battlements. It's the way in which they can be placed that is unique in that you can almost paint a labyrinthine construction to keep your foes at bay, with twisting snaking walls of solid stone should you so wish to do so. Stairs can be added that will allow your soldiers access to the battlements so that they can rain medieval death from above on those foolish to try and attack you. Gone is the grid based system of old as you are now free to position things with utter freedom. This can have consequences for your kingdom though. The amount of people present in your villages hovels is based on the distance to your castle. For example, a hovel some distance away will be a rotten shack capable of housing only one person. However, a hovel in close proximity to your castle will be a three floored structure that can hold up to ten people. Your actions as a lord will affect how you kingdom works on many different levels. The example that we were told was that a cruel and evil Lord will have a barbaric but unruly military compared to a benevolent Lord whose army will be noble and take less damage. Firefly are keen to use the Havok engine to create a battlefield strewn with debris and bodies. A castle we were shown was destroyed using catapults, causing it to crumble into pieces and roll down the hillside into the valley below. One catapult was shattered when it was too close to its target. The resulting detritus bounces off nearby buildings and landscape in a dramatic way that is sure to make any victory feel great and defeat feel crushing. The team at Firefly has listened to fan concerns and are promising a true Stronghold experience. It’s been a long time coming -- it looks as though Stronghold 3 will deliver a fun strategy game come April 2011.
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I had the pleasure of being shown a pre-alpha build of Stronghold 3 by the Director of Firefly studios, Simon Bradbury, this afternoon. He opened the demo by stating that he didn't feel Stronghold 2 was a bad game, rather that it tried to do too many things and lost focus of what made the first Stronghold game so popular. With Stronghold 3, however, the game is set to return to its roots.

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GC 10: Impressions of id Software's Rage


Aug 18
// Ian Roberts
A kind word of advice to you, gentle reader: if a doomsday scenario threatens all of human civilization, and they pick your name out of a hat to enter a secluded place of safety, politely decline the offer. Otherwise, when th...
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GC 10: Red Faction: Armageddon hands-off preview


Aug 18
// Ian Roberts
Many years have passed on the planet Mars since the events of Red Faction: Guerilla, and things are not well for colonists of the red planet.   Attempts to terraform the planet for human habitation have created an ecolog...

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