Stu Strock has been gaming since his parents sat him in their laps while playing games on an Amiga. Raised mostly on RPGs, he has since developed a keen interest in the narrative potential and immersive qualities of games. As games progressed and evolved over the years, that interest grew and Stu decided to keep games and their culture close by. During high school and college, he worked part-time for Gamestop and became exposed to a wider range of thought concerning what the word game means to players. Now a recent graduate, Stu is currently living in Atlanta, GA and maintains his blog, Experience Points, which seeks to encourage the open discourse of the creation, enjoyment and potential of modern games.
Stu's favorites: Metal Gear Solid (series), Chrono Trigger/Cross, Breath of Fire (series), Grandia, Suikoden (I and II), Final Fantasy (VIII, X and XII), Mirror's Edge, Demon's Souls, Silent Hill (series), Eternal Sonata, Fallout: New Vegas, Batman Arkham Asylum, Legend of Zelda (series), Okami, Ys (series), Valyrie Profile, Kingdom Hearts (series), Tales of Symphonia, Twisted Metal (series), Legacy of Kain (series), Gex (series), Heavy Rain, Wing Commander IV, Ace Combat (series), Zone of the Enders (series), Atelier Iris (I and II), Ico, Shadow of the Colossus
As I sat on my couch during the wee hours of the morning on this fine May day, watching old episodes of Scrubs, I found my mind wandering to a handful of promising titles coming out this year. These projects each carry a unique appeal, and I am looking forward to indulging myself in each of them over the course of the year. L.A. Noire is due out early summer, Deus Ex: Human Revolution in August. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are slated for November, while Dark Souls and Silent Hill 8 continue to maintain ambiguous "sometime in 2011" release dates. Let's take a look at each, and I'll explain why you should care.
L.A. Noire - Circumventing the Uncanny Valley
At first glance L.A. Noire might resemble another Grand Theft Auto clone, but Rockstar has really broken from tradition with this interactive circa 1940's police drama. The design team has worked meticulously to produce a living, breathing recreation of post WWII Los Angeles and the result is truly impressive to behold. The gameplay strays from the traditional back-and-forth mission based formula in lieu of a more player-dependent participatory approach. Players will be given cases, which are solved through step-by-step police work. Crime scenes need to be diligently searched for evidence, witnesses are questioned through dynamic interrogation sequences, and suspects are arrested based on the player's discretion. Interactions with the 100+ characters are complimented beautifully by the game's unprecedented use of facial motion capture. The effect affords interactive characters an expressiveness unseen in any game before now.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution - A Swiss Army Knife of Playability
The Canadian development branch at Eidos Montreal have been hard at work finishing this versatile game in time for its August release date. Set in the not-too-distant future, this Blade Runner-inspired world is host to the controversy of "human augmentation," the practice of replacing body parts with cybernetic enhancements. This dark, cold and wonderfully stylized world is only a framework, however. The real magic comes from the developers' determination to eliminate any feeling that the game is holding the player's hand. As the above trailer shows, Deus Ex: Human Revolution allows the player to approach any situation in the manner they deem appropriate.
Want to go in like Rambo and make a mess of the place? By all means, go ahead. Maybe instead you (like me) feel a little bad for that poor security guard who's only doing his job and want to sneak past him, sparing him a grisly beat-down. Add to that the option to take down any human opponent non-lethally and your potentially overactive conscience can rest easy knowing that the security guard need not die even if you're discovered and backed into a corner. All the Metal Gear Solid fans out there know that it's no easy feat to get through an entire game without killing a single person, and is likely worth a nice little achievement or two.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception - An Interactive Blockbuster
In an industry where innovation and originality is king, Naughty Dog has remarkably formed a successful round table of borrowed mechanics and ideas with its Uncharted series. Seamlessly blending the duck-and-cover shooting style of Gears of War and the run-jump-and-climb level navigation of Tomb Raider, in a gorgeously rendered world full of rich characters and brilliant writing, Uncharted has proven itself to be a brilliant example of how games can be more about the experience than the button pressing. The series sports some
of the best graphics in the industry, and the level designers wield them to great effect in a series beloved for its hectic and imaginative action sequences. If ever you wanted to step into the shoes of an action movie hero, look no further. Uncharted 3 promises to up the ante, leaving us with pounding pulses and astonished expressions on our faces once again.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - A Brave New World Map
I have never been a fan of the Elder Scrolls games, and I'll be honest when I say I initially avoided reading any of the news concerning Bethesda's latest foray into the world of The Elder Scrolls. Then I read an article on Rock, Paper Shotgun outlining the many reasons why I should give it a closer look. I highly recommend that you give it a look, as I will be summarizing.
Elder Scrolls has been known for, among other things, having large open worlds to explore and manipulate. This time, the developers are using their resources to build a more immersive world, not a bigger one. You won't be the only one interacting with the world; it will be interacting with itself. You might come across a pack of wolves attempting to bring down a wooly mammoth, or you might be passed by a giant who ignores you to conduct whatever his own business might be.
What's more, the game randomly presents quests and objectives according to what's contextually relevant. This means that many quests will occur at randomized locations throughout the world and involve completely different circumstances for each different player. For example, someone asks you to find out who's been stealing his or her livestock at night. Depending on where the player encounters that person, the thieves may be raiders from a nearby encampment, werewolves from the forest, or even that giant you came across earlier. No two players will play the same game.
Dark Souls - A Virtual Gauntlet
The spiritual successor to 2009's Demon's Souls, developed by From Software, Dark Souls continues along a tradition of brutal difficulty combined with inexplicable addictiveness. Truly a game for the purists, Dark Souls features minimal plot and enough hack 'n' slash action to make Diablo jealous. Once again, players will be placed in the shoes of a stoic male or female adventurer and release them into a land of...what else? Demons. Lots of them. Unlike the separate levels of its predecessor, the world of Dark Souls is open and unified. You're going to appreciate all that added space, it opens up more places to run away screaming.
From the moment your boots touch soil, your goal will be to slay demons and harness their souls, adding to your own abilities. You will find, purchase and create wickedly cool new equipement, then use it to kill more demons. The game's elegance comes from its simplicity, and from the moments when you deftly outmaneuver your opponents to deliver a swift killing blow with your trusted weapon or a well-placed spell. Add to this the ability to better utilize your environment against your foes and you will be dropping down from castle walls onto your enemies, impaling them against walls, and triggering falling boulder traps until your fingers bleed. That is, unless they do it to you first. Welcome to Hell, you're gonna like it here.
Silent Hill "Downpour" - Cloudy With a Chance of Mental Anguish
What did I say about Hell? Scratch that; Hell is too rainy this time of year. At least it will be when Silent Hill Downpour comes out at the end of this year. This latest iteration of the macabre series, developed by newcomer company Vatra, plans to expand the small town and take us places we have never been before. Scrapping the familiar school and hospital locations, the navigable area will be large enough to warrant traveling on the town's never-before-seen subway system and is rumored to be open for exploration.
In terms of gameplay, side-quests will be making their first appearance in the series' tenure. The developers have expressed their desire to bring the series back to its gnarled and terrifying roots by disempowering the player as much as possible. You will only be able to hold one weapon at a time, and that weapon can break if abused. This time, when faced with a hideous demon resembling an armless burn victim, you're probably better off running. Once again, you will be faced with frequent puzzles and the ability to ramp up their difficulty will be returning.
More good news, presentation will be at its best. The game boasts the skewed, creepy camera angles and hellish landscape transformations that made the series stand out in its infancy, now rendered more stylishly than ever before. Expect to see water running upward along fleshy walls, peeling away to reveal those iconic metal skeletons characteristic of Silent Hill's deranged dark side. Unfortunately, the score will not be arranged by series veteran Akira Yamaoka. All is not lost, though; the game's soundtrack sounds promising, composed by Daniel Licht of TV's Dexter fame.
Overall, it looks like 2011 is going to be a good year for gamers. I, for one, have a full year ahead of me. Expect full reviews for each of these titles in the coming year. In the meantime, drop us a comment below. What are you most looking forward to?
There just isn't anything quite like pulling an old game out from your collection and loading it up for the first time in years. The familiar sights and sounds from yesteryear tickle your senses and half-forgotten logos flash on the screen, reigniting memories of firing up the game for the first time. The intro movie comes on, bringing the nostalgia up to full speed. It hints at events throughout the game, moments you now remember vividly. Most of all, though, you remember how they made you feel. Remnants of the excitement, dread and awe float to the surface and they only make you more eager to experience them all over again. Finally, the main menu shows itself and beckons you.
New Game <
The wardrobe has reappeared. Open the doors and step back into Narnia...
It’s been a while since a game has engaged me on a level beyond that of its mechanics and managed to challenge me emotionally. My hours spent with Fallout: New Vegas were filled with mixed emotions, not the least of which were due to the constant need for a hard reset of the console after the game had frozen or a glitch had made progress impossible. Despite the frustration over these bugs, it was the moments in between, when I noticed that I genuinely cared about the world I was in and the consequences of my actions, that made the experience an unforgettable one.
I felt so immersed in the game that I’ve since written a lengthy narrative recounting my play-through from my character’s perspective. Using an excerpt from the narrative, I’ll illustrate the conflict I consistently faced while playing F:NV:
“One notable quandary I faced concerned the ‘Boomers,’ a xenophobic group of refugees formerly from one of the many secure fallout shelters, or vaults. They had taken up residence at an abandoned Air Force base, using howitzers to fend off any and all outsiders, whom they referred to as savages. The Boomers believed that, during their time spent living in the underground vault, the world had been overrun by savages devoid of any humanity and that it was their destiny to one day salvage a B-25 bomber resting at the bottom of Lake Mead, then use it to bomb all of the wasteland’s savages into oblivion. According to them, I was the prophetic savage who would one day successfully cross their defenses and lead them to their destiny. This presented a problem to me, as it implied that I was to be an accessory to genocide.
For a moment, I considered the possibility that I shouldn’t help these dangerous people, worse still that perhaps I should eliminate them and the threat that they posed. My mind raced to justify this course of action; it was safer this way, easier. As I drew my rifle and prepared to become the monster, I was approached by the only thing that could have stayed my hand... a small child. She approached me with the unabashed innocence that only a little girl can manifest...”
...and time stopped. Not because of some magical moment, but because the game had frozen. Suddenly I wasn’t Stella, Guardian of the Wastes, anymore; I was in my living room, my sense of immersion evaporated.
My experience with F:NV was riddled with moments like this. In fact, the more I played and accomplished, the more often the game would lock up. It got so bad one day that the game froze and needed restarting three times in ten minutes. If not for the autosave feature, I probably would have ended up throwing my PS3 out the window. I got tired of watching the game load back up every hour or so (the load times were often painfully long), so I eventually decided to do sets of pushups, sit-ups and pullups every time the game froze. Let me tell you, I felt the burn the day after I decided to start that.
That I actually continued to play F:NV until the very end is a testament to its narrative and immersive quality. I wanted to keep getting lost in those engaging situations; so I pushed on and saw my quest through to the end. I won’t be playing F:NV again anytime soon (my patience for glitches has been thoroughly exhausted), but I’m glad I stuck with it. It truly was a fun game and a great story to be a part of for a while, but Bethesda, please don’t release another product if you know it’s going to have that many issues. Do it for me?