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6:44 PM on 04.25.2011

Discless: Global Agenda

Discless: Global Agenda

Strap on your jetpack and grab a gun, because this week, Discless is reviewing Global Agenda. GA, as it is called for short, is a sci-fi MMORPG available for download on PC through Steam. If you don’t know what that is, then you either don’t play PC games, or you’re WAY out of the loop. GA is set in a future in which the human race is struggling to survive. The world has decayed into a state of utter annihilation. The world’s surface is entirely made up of deserts, and the humans who are left live in what are called Dome Cities. The cities are, obviously, covered in massive domes. This is where the player begins.

Let’s begin with character creation. You begin by selecting your class. There are several classes to choose from. I’ll run down the list after the break.
# Assault: This is the “heavy weapons guy” of GA. They specialize in weapons such as miniguns, rocket launchers, and anti-personnel grenade launchers. The two skill options are guns and bomber.
# Medic: This class speaks for itself… Or does it? With the medic you have two options – Be the classic healer medic, or go on the offensive as a poison medic. When selecting skills, there will be two options – healer and poison.
# Recon: This is the ninja class (my favorite class, too). They specialize in sniper rifles and stealth sabotage. The skill sets are Sniper and Melee for this class, though melee specializes more in sabotage bombs and mines. This class also has the ability to turn invisible for a set time.
# The last is Robotics. This is the engineer of GA. They have a myriad of constructables to choose from, ranging from stationary turrets to mobile drone weapon platforms. The two skill sets are stationary and drone.

After you’ve selected your class, you customize the face, hair style, and hair color. Then you begin the story.

When the player creates his/her character, they begin in the Dome City. They talk to a cybernetic army officer and learn that they are now agents for an organization formed to keep the hostile denizens of the desert wasteland at bay, as well as to combat an evil organization bent on taking control of every human settlement left on the planet.

The story consists of PvE missions, largely fetch quests. Kill this number of this type of enemy, collect this number of this item from this enemy, locate this NPC, the works. The PvE is nicely done, and the desert is actually a quite vast place to explore. Too vast, perhaps. Though it is a large place for the player to roam in, there is no fast travel system. The player can be on one end of the world talking to an NPC about a quest, and the NPC will tell them to go to the OTHER end of the world. It can get rather tiresome. There are two dungeons the player must complete as well. They can choose to complete them alone, or in a party of four. I chose to complete them alone. It took a VERY long time. I would advise anybody who decides to play GA after reading this that they GET. A. PARTY. The dungeons will be MUCH easier on you if you get a party. Get it? Got it? Good. Moving on.

Aside from PvE, GA boasts an excellent PvP system, which is good, since it was PvP only during the beta and the early stages of the game’s life. They’ve had time to perfect it. Anyway, the player brings up a PvP map in which there are several game modes to choose from, one being standard PvP, another being PvE short missions, and the last being guild (or “agencies” as they’re called in this game) conquest. I’ve played PvP and PvE missions. I’ve never played the guild conquests because I never really bother much with guilds in MMOs. Anyway, the PvP is split into several game modes: Standard team battles, Payload, Conquest, CTF, and others. One notable feature about the PvP is that it is by far the FASTEST way to level up your character and earn loads of cash. Which is great, because the upgrades cost a ton. They can range from 10,000 credits all the way up to 100,000 credits and more. I’m talking REALLY expensive. And no, there are no short cuts. GA makes you work for your new weapons and armor.

Let’s move on to gameplay. GA is set up like a 3rd person shooter/MMO hybrid. You control movement with the keyboard and mouse, fire your weapon or use your equipped item with left mouse button, and use the weapon/items secondary ability with the right mouse button. Weapons and items are hot-keyed to the number bar above the WASD keys, and are hot-keyed from 1 – 9. You can also cycle through your weapons using the mouse wheel. However, that ONLY cycles weapons. To use items and abilities, you must press the hot-key to activate it. Combat should speak for itself. It’s a shooter.

So, if you’re looking for a new MMO to play because you got tired of WoW (sorry, I’m majorly anti-WoW), grab Steam for free, Google Global Agenda, and pick it up for… FREE. Well, the Free Agent package anyway. Or you can dish out $20 to get the Elite Agent package, which provides many benefits, such as end of mission XP, credits, and loot. Or, if shooters aren’t your thing, you may want to look into another MMO. But if you like shiny, Tron-y sci-fi and shooting action, you can’t go wrong with Global Agenda.   read

6:25 PM on 04.25.2011

Wii 2?

Wii 2?

The news is out there. Apparently there have been reports that Nintendo is going to unveil a new console this year at E3, with the ultimate goal being to recapture the hardcore gaming market. Now, whether or not these reports turn out to be true, I think that this brings up a big question for the gaming world: should there be a new console?

To quickly answer my tease of a question, the answer is yes, for Nintendo.

I want to clarify my beliefs here; I don’t think that we need an Xbox 720 or a Playstation 4, I’m totally cool with my 360 and the PS3 feels like it’s still just starting to get good. The real thing here is whether or not Nintendo needs a new system, and I think that it is pretty clear that, yes, they do.

There is no denying that the Wii was a HUGE success, so much of one that in order to get across just how big of a success it was I had to go to all of the trouble of hitting the caps lock for a word. But the Wii’s future is undeniably limited at this point; both of the major system competitors have motion control now, hell they have better motion control, and that’s in addition to their more powerful systems, better graphics, and better games. Whether you like the Wii or not you can’t deny that this generation of consoles, while successful fiscally, was not necessarily a renaissance for Nintendo software. There are great games on the system, some of the best games of all time are on the system (Mario Galaxy, Galaxy 2), but the truth of the matter is that I haven’t played my Wii for a very long time.

So now with the competition matching Nintendo in the motion control department it would only make sense that they are going to create a new console to try and get back some of that competitive edge.

With that in mind I would like to point out a few things that I think Nintendo should know.

Also less this...

1. Don’t just boost up the graphics of the console. The graphics war is a war that Nintendo will never win; they tried to do that with the Gamecube, and I believe we all remember how that turned out. We’ve had HD consoles for the last six years, and we are still figuring out new ways to boost the graphics and use the technology. I’d rather we all weren’t forced to update for all of our systems. That’s why I said that Nintendo AND ONLY Nintendo should create a new system– the 360 and PS3 are good. So, with that in mind, Nintendo has to try to stand out from the pack. That’s what makes the company successful: when they’re pushing the foundations of gaming, like introducing a 3D world or motion control. What they don’t do well is play the system graphics pissing contest; it’s what made the Gamecube such a failure.

2. Bring the software. One of the things that’s most frustrating about Nintendo is that what they do, they do so freaking well, and what they do is make kick-ass games. That’s why people are willing to buy a whole other console just so they can play Mario or Zelda. I’m not the first to admit that I own a Wii pretty much for the Nintendo games, to the exclusion of pretty much everything else (if I want a shooter I’ll buy it for the 360). So if they are indeed releasing a new console they better bring it. I’m talking Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Pikmin, Super Smash Bros., make the system worth buying, because God knows I won’t buy a console if there’s no software.

3.Go digital. This has been a long time coming, but really, Nintendo, it’s time you learned to use the Internet. Everyone else does, it’s the most annoying part of your console, and to be entirely honest it’s just really annoying that I can’t play Super Smash Bros. online without a friend code or a three-hour wait for a shitty connection.

4. Finally have a real controller. If I have to no choice but waggle control I am going to hunt you down Nintendo, and I will throw my Wiimote in your face.

-Quinn Anderson

So what do you guys think? Want a new system? Don’t want one? How hard does… suck? Post below.   read

7:34 PM on 04.14.2011

Crysis 2 Review

Crysis 2 Review

The first Crysis had, and still has, a bit of a reputation associated with it. When it was released in 2007, it brought most modern computers to their respective knees with its high level of graphical fidelity, still impressive by today’s standards. To boot, it also boasted first-person shooting that was not only fun and satisfying, but surprisingly complex. Running around a tropical island in your body-augmenting nanosuit using speed, strength, armor and camouflage and take out enemies as you saw fit. Crysis the first, was a blast to play and a dream to look at with its only blemishes showing in a underwhelming story and a lackluster endgame.

Crysis 2 takes all of those aspects and tries to improve upon them. And the results are almost unanimously positive.

Taking place some three years after the events of the first game, Crysis finds you in the shoes, visor, and nanosuit of Alcatraz, a Marine Special Forces operative who unwittingly ended up in the suit due to the intervention of Prophet, the only surviving character from the first game. New York City is under attack from a lovely combination of a flesh-melting virus, a Private Military Organization known as CELL, and the Ceph squid-like aliens with jellyfish insides wrapped inside of metallic casings. The story is paced well with a couple of twists and turns. It’s standard sci-fi fare, but it’s enjoyable none the less.

The nanosuit from the first game returns with some major tweaks. Most notably is the condensing of suit abilities. Where there were several different modes in the first game, here there are only two toggle able modes: Cloak and Armor. While this may seem like the sequel is gutting the suit from the first, nothing could be further from the truth. Tapping E on my keyboard sends me into invisible stalker mode, ala Predator, while Q turns me into a walking juggernaut, shrugging off bullets as long as my rapidly depleting energy meter is going. Cars can be kicked by holding the melee button next to them. High jumps can be used by holding the jump button for an extra moment. Same with a devastating melee attack in the form of a mean power-punch. Running, jumping, sliding, cloaking. Not only are these options well implemented, they’re fun to use.

Combat for the most part is a joy. When presented with wide open spaces and tons of nooks and crannies to duck into, the game is at its peak. Popping into stealth, taking out a Ceph solider with a well placed headshot, going back into cloak, and running for cover to recharge, all the while watching the other patrols trying to find you, is cackle-worthy. One of my favorites of these moments occurs fairly early on and involved me snuffing out a search team, solider by solider as they attempted to track me down in the middle of a dust cloud from a recently collapsed bridge. Ducking behind freeway dividers, popping off a couple of shots with my silenced SMG, cloaking, flanking, and finally finishing off the last grunt with a stealthy 180 degree neck-snap. And that’s just one way I could have gone about that bit as well. The game is absolutely jam-packed with tactical options that range from sneaking to sniping to guns blazing. Crysis 2 gives you the tools to make you feel like an absolute badass, most of the time. Other instances have you running down corridors ala Call of Duty, leaving your tactical options severely limited. It seems like something that Crysis would try to avoid given all of toys you get to mess around with, but it does manage to break up the pacing a bit. Aside from the standard run-and-gun bits, there are a couple of driving sections that put you in an APC and send you cruising down a shattered expressway but these parts never last long enough to overstay their welcome.
Speaking of toys, another new feature added is the upgrade system. Killing Ceph gives you “Nano Catalyst” which acts as a sort of currency you can use to purchase upgrades that fit in one of four slots. It adds a bit of depth, and all of the abilities have a good impact on your combat. One of my favorites painted a trail of green arrows behind enemy patrols allowing me to sneak by them more easily or plan out a good sniping spot.

Now, the first Crysis was a game that set the standard for what modern PC games should look like, so it’s no surprise when I say Crysis 2 is pretty. Ok, here I go: Crysis 2 is so incredibly pretty. Screenshots don’t do this game an ounce of justice. The city of New York is rendered in an almost scary amount of detail. The cracks in the road to the sparks off of a power line, to the Ceph grunts and friendly Helicopters. Everything about Crysis 2‘s graphical presentation is spot on. Explosions practically erupt off the screen, the dust dancing through your laser sight. Crysis 2 is a game that needs to be seen in motion. The game runs at a pretty good clip as well, even on my budget-conscious machine. (I haven’t had a chance to try the console version of the game yet, but I’ve heard there are some slight graphical differences and some noticeable FPS dips.) This does come at a cost however, as the PC version is missing previously promised DirectX 11 support and has graphics options that have been lobotomized to three different presets: High, Very High, and Extreme. There has been word a DirectX 11 patch is in the works and the game is still oh-so-very pretty, but it’s still a rather glaring omission.

Another slight disappointment was the multiplayer component. Opting to join the Modern Warfare bandwagon, Crysis 2‘s multiplayer is a rank and unlock based system, where kills and tasks are assigned XP which gives more and more abilities, nanosuit upgrades, weapons, and dog tags . It’s a widely used model and while the nanosuit abilities do add some uniqueness, it comes off feeling a bit stale. That, and the PC version has some rather serious issues with configuration file tampering that has guilty players running around with thermal vision and permanent spring like some sort of Predator on crystal meth. It’s perfectly serviceable, but I’m not sure it’s going to have any staying power.

Overall, Crysis 2 is a hell of a lot fun to play. Shooting is fun. New York is beautiful. And kicking cars at people seldom gets old. With its singleplayer lasting a good thirteen hours with a New Game + mode, and the multiplayer okay for a quick diversion, Crysis 2 is a fine FPS and is a couple steps ahead, while not breaking any new ground, except in looking damn good, Crysis 2 is well worth your attention if not your money. Crysis 2 well earns my Seal of Approval.   read

7:32 PM on 04.14.2011

Stem Stumper Review

Stem Stumper Review

How many times have you played a game with sound as your only guide? Never you say? Well then here’s a new challenge for you from Ananse Productions. If that challenge seems a bit too complex, you can switch the sonar mode off. When I played Stem Stumper for the first time I’ll admit it was far easier to understand with the visuals turned on. Then I went stealth and switched to sonar mode, navigating Mimea the vine through the various cognition evoking levels. Not only is this game one-of-a-kind, it also helps render a creative thought processes in a way that other games pay little attention to or simply don’t address at all. That’s what really makes this game unique and enjoyable for everyone. The Ananse team is truly breaking new ground for the industry with Stem Stumper.

Kwasi Mensah and the Ananse Productions team saw a problem and asked themselves two simple questions, “If not now, then when?” and, “If not us, then who?” Then they set out to begin breaking down the Berlin Wall that has held up the gaming industry for far too long. Indeed you may see this as just a simple game someone made for the iPhone and iPod Touch, but I’m asking you to look at it as much more because Ananse has done something profound. They saw an industry focusing on one thing, the majority of the demographic. Then they realized, consciously or not, that we are in a world where cognitive surplus is at an all-time high. The more accessibility is offered to everyone the more connectedness, understanding, and creativity will begin to spawn. This has been common knowledge for a long time, so it’s time to stop focusing on the extrinsic motivations of the societal ladder and see that the world is round and that we all matter.

Okay, so by now you might be wondering what the heck I’m talking about exactly. Stem Stumper allows the game to be played by not just the normal person, but also the visually impaired. There are currently only two other games in the iTunes store that address this demographic at all. I downloaded and played Papa Sangre so I had something to compare with Stem Stumper. Papa Sangre is an audio only game with a vivid three-dimensional audio environment that can scare the sh*% out of you! It is a great game, but does have a flaw that Stem Stumper stomps out. When I was testing Papa Sangre I was in the meeting room at GameZombie and had to max out the volume to try and hear everything in the game. That totally sucked when I woke up some type of beast and was scrambling to turn the volume down and run my character at the same time. What resulted was an iPod on my lap and ears ringing from the blood curdling feeding sounds of what I think was a pig-beast. With Stem Stumper the volume is set at a much more consistent level so this isn’t an issue. You can also play Stem Stumper anywhere and not have to worry about looking like a fool by making awkward, fearful facial expressions. Plus it doesn’t make you cry yourself to sleep at night. Instead, it rewards the player by exercising the brain’s problem solving skills, and without you even noticing because the games objectives are so addicting and fun!

VoiceOver: YES! Okay, so this won’t pertain to most people, but for those of you that it does, you’ll appreciate this factor a ton! I tested it out, and it works flawlessly.

Stem Stumper is Ananse’s inaugural production. I’d like to challenge everyone to try it out and support Ananse Productions as they begin paving the way for a vitally important change in the gaming industry! Plus you get to help out someone who is helping others by having fun. Is there really a greater reward in life then having fun with this wisdom that you’re spreading compassion also?   read

7:23 PM on 04.14.2011

The Changelution of Pokémon

The Changelution of Pokémon

So I’ve finally managed to crawl out of my self-induced Pokémon coma after beating Black (White? Which version did you have?) a few times and finally playing with a grass starter that is actually worth the effort for the first time since Bulbasaur. Realizing that I had to write an article at some point in my lifetime, I decided that my weeks of isolation up in my wilderness retreat in Colorado huddled over my DS and having Bulbapedia opened up on my iPad should actually go towards something (other than contributing to my obvious sex appeal). Realizing that writing an article on Pokémon MUST at some point contain a pun utilizing or implying the word “evolution,” I have decided to take a look back on the oh…(searching Wikipedia) 15 years of Pokémon (look it up) and talk about how the series has… changed over the course of what is essentially my entire lifetime.

Pokémon Red and Blue-

These two didn’t change S$%# about Pokémon.

Pokémon Silver and Gold-

Ahh finally, changes. These two games added a lot to the Pokémon plot structure and gameplay mechanics that are included in pretty much every Pokémon game this day and age.

Changes include time system, day/night Pokémon, baby Pokémon, Pokémon eggs, Pokémon gender, pokégear, berries, held items, berries, dark Pokémon, steel Pokémon, move deleter, more stupid HM’s, shiny Pokémon, different types of pokeballs and the cell phone. Jebus you guys!

And that’s not even counting all of the plot stuff that they added to the games, like the game-specific legendary Pokémon (though you could still catch the other at a later time), the wandering legendaries, the removal of your rival as the final league champion (though I don’t know if that’s so great), and the addition of the entire map from the first game (which they have sadly not repeated).

And that’s not even counting Silver and Gold’s greatest contribution to Pokémon: Cyndaquil (link in ranking Pokémon article).

Pokémon Crystal

The continuation of the Pokemon Yellow strategy towards money making, but actually including something vital to like half of the worlds population (and creepy members of the other half!), the ability to play as a girl, and the creation of the starter animation that we now have in front of every battle.

Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire

There are a lot that these two games did wrong, like removing the day and night system (why?), but we must still speak of what they did add.

The two contributions that these games added were the inclusion of natural abilities for Pokémon and double battles, which have both become staples for the series. Other than that we also got some contest thing, but I don’t really think anyone important actually does those, so…

Pokémon Emerald

Two things here, Gym leader rematches and Battle Tower.

Pokémon Leaf Green and Fire Red

This game is special for allowing us to replay the first games, but did also include a very much notable feature in that it is the first game to allow wireless connectivity in a Pokémon game and included a VS seeker which I think we can all agree was great.

Pokémon Diamond and Pearl

Diamond and Pearl instigated a new method of battle where attacks could be physical or special, based on the attack itself rather than on the type of attack it was; in the past, for example, all fire attacks were special and all ground attacks were physical. This game is also the first game on the DS system, which allowed for a slight improvement to the graphics and a bit more bulge in the scenery.

Pokémon Platinum

It did the distortion world thingy.

Pokémon Soul Silver, Heart Gold

This game gave us the pleasure of finally being able to have Cyndaquil be your starter Pokémon again! On top of that, we were able to replay Gym leaders, the cell phone system is so great that I am actively angry it was removed from the next games , the touch screen interface was awesome and quite frankly it was great to just get to play Silver and Gold again.

Pokémon Black and White

The first Pokémon game based on America, it’s fitting that this is also the first game to make everyone (by which I mean white people) feel a little awkward whenever they talk about this game (it’s cool I’m friends with a guy who owns Black version). In addition to underlying racial tension this is also the first Pokémon game that’s ever had an interesting and compelling plot line too it, Nintendo has also really pushed the Wi-Fi connectivity for the game and I hear that there are new battle types called triple and rotation battles (you only have like two of them in the entire game and which one that you can do is based on the game that you get which actually really irritates me). There’s also a mythical addition to the game called Dream World, but fuck America, so we don’t get it .

It’s also important to note the greatest contribution that this new generation has accomplished, giving us a grass starter that rocks for the first time since Bulbasaur.

There we are, my totally awesome list of all the Pokémon games that mattered (yellow kicked ass at the time, but let’s be honest, it didn’t matter

-Quinn Anderson

What was your favorite Pokémon game? What do you think of the article? How much do you hate this jackass who wrote the article? Post below.   read

6:55 PM on 04.07.2011

PAX East 2011: The Old Republic Preview

PAX East 2011: The Old Republic Preview

The line to demo Star Wars: The Old Republic at PAX East reached six hours plus. I heard nightmare stories about eager gamers waiting in line all day, completely passing up any opportunity to play other demos. Lucky for me, I only waited for thirty minutes before I got the chance to test out the most anticipated new MMO of the year. Bioware gave those fortunate enough to reach the end of the line a good thirty minutes to test the game. There were two demos featured: a run through a newbie zone or a group play event. Although I did see others play the group experience, I tookthe chance to check out the newbie zone.

Most opted to play the Empire, so I decided to play the role of a young Jedi of the Republic. Also to note, I wasn’t allowed to create my own character but instead had to play a premade newbie. Despite the lack of creation I still enjoyed the upward, yellow scrolling text explaining my situation. So when I showed up for my training, of course things were going wrong, and I was chosen to fix the problems.

One of my first tasks was to go save captured Padawan trainees. Even though I was still a trainee myself, I still liked feeling like I was higher ranking and, well, better trained than the other Jedis. It made me feel, as an MMO should, that I was important to this world. During these quests I was grouped with another PAX attendee and was happy to know that whenever he did something for a quest, I also got credit. Although I should mention (and yes I know, the game is still in construction) when I opened empty cages I somehow managed to get credit for saving Padawans. And yet, other times, I wasn’t even allowed to open cages with Padawans in them; still a little glitchy.

I also noticed that several of the Bioware staff were eagerly watching gamers play, absorbing constant feedback. At one point I had to have one of them point out my communicator interface in order to pick up a quest, commenting that, “Lots of people seem to be missing that. Don’t worry.” It’s good to know the people making the game are not shy about their errors and learning how players experience the game.

But the Bioware dialogue tree is everywhere and not glitchy. Even though I do love Bioware dialogue trees (complete with the nice answer, the jackass answer, and the joker answer), I’m torn whether or not such conversations will get annoying when all I want to do is accept a quest and go. From what I understand, even during group missions there will be dialogue trees. The player will get light and dark side points depending on their answer, and the group as a whole will get light and dark side options. So, the Jedi player can be nice while still playing with a bunch of smuggler jerks.

As for the combat, I did love ‘force leap’. Whoosh-whoosh went the light saber and zoom I went flying over to a monster. It was pretty awesome. However, when I was attacking it felt weird not to have an auto attack. It hurt the experience of combat; one moment, my Jedi would swing wildly at the creature and then, moments later, I was standing stupidly still getting attacked while waiting for cooldowns.

I would like to comment on the audio, but even with headphones, it was difficult to hear anything over the roar of PAX. Overall though, The Old Republic was fun to test out. It’s hard to judge an MMO with only thirty minutes of playing with no sound. It reminds me of WoW but with Jedi Knights, which isn’t a grievance by any means. Considering there is no release date, I have high hopes that Bioware is trying to make Star Wars: The Old Republic an excellent MMO.   read

6:29 PM on 04.04.2011

PAX East 2011: The Darkness II Hands-on

PAX East 2011: The Darkness II Hands-on

2007’s The Darkness was a textbook example of an overlooked gem. With a dark, violent story, slick graphics, tight shooting controls, and a inky-black personification of evil (voiced by Mike Patton of ’90s band, Faith No More), the first Darkness just didn’t seem to breakthrough. Now, with a new graphic novel-inspired art style and new developer, Digital Extremes, The Darkness 2 seems poised and ready to finally make its mark on the video game world.

Set two years after the happenings of the first game, we find the protagonist Jackie Estacado, mob don and wielder of The Darkness, in a pretty bad position. Crucified-to-a-wall bad. Waking up during the middle of his own torture, a crippled man demands that Jackie give him the Darkness. Jackie, of course, refuses. From there, we’re brought into a flashback of Jackie being lead into a rather upscale Italian restaurant, part of the special treatment he gets as the new Don of the Franzchetti Crime Family. Here the new art style is shown in full force. The game has been given a total graphical face lift, moving from the dark, realistic style of the first game, to a high-contrast, graphic novel look, fitting more in line with the game’s comic book roots. And even in this early stage, the game looks great. Everything has an almost hand-painted look.

Jackie is lead through the aisles by his man, Vinny. He makes small talk at the other restaurant guests while leading Jackie to his table where he’s greeted by two rather attractive ladies. This rather calm scene is rudely interrupted with a combination of a gunshot through the eye of one of the ladies at his table, and a van crashing through the window onto Jackie. It’s at this point that the demo really started.

With his legs crippled and burned from the van explosion, Jackie is given a pistol and pulled along by Vinny through the now burning war zone of the restaurant. In rail-shooter fashion, Jackie is pulled through the wreckage of the once-posh restaurant dispatching foes, is eventually given a second pistol, and is dragged to the kitchen. Fortune decides once again not to smile on Jackie Estacado as a gas leak is ignited, and he is once again engulfed in flames. He awakes to an all too familiar voice.

The Darkness once again beckons to Jackie. The growls and otherworldly performance of Mike Patton gives chills as two of the Darkness’ arms sprout from Jackie’s shoulders and dispatch some of the armed goons that are quickly closing in on Jackie. Back on his feet once again, Jackie and the Darkness make their way through alley ways on out onto the city streets.

Along the way, I was introduced to the concept of “Quad Wielding” using both of my guns and both of my Demon Arms, I was able to slash at my attackers with my right arm, pick-up and toss saw blades and using car doors as shields with my left, and blast away with both my guns. It’s a great concept and, despite being a little hard to pickup at first, I found myself maiming bad guys and eating hearts in no time flat.

One combat move in particular really caught my eye. The developers called it “The Wishbone.” I used my slashing arm combined with the right analog stick to split a gun wielding thug completely in half. Lengthwise. He fell apart like a piece of string-cheese. It was grotesque, satisfying, and completely hilarious.

After another explosion I found myself once again helpless as one particularly cocky thug started to get read to execute me. It was then that a Darkling (a small gremlin creature returning from the first game) with a lovely cockney accent, a union-jack shirt and a coonskin cap came to my rescue by snapping the thug’s neck. After leading me to a subway and amidst a small crowd of fleeing civilians, I found more goons who I quickly took care of. Flashing back to the interrogation room, the crippled man once again asked me for the Darkness. If I didn’t give him what he wanted, he threatened to kill my Aunt Sarah. I responded to this by ripping my hands off the stakes and killing one of his guards.

The demo seemed over all too quickly and while a bad thing at the time, it made me realize how much I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product. The new art style has to been seen in motion to be appreciated and the combat has never felt better. I can’t wait to give it a full play-through when it comes out for the PS3, PC, and 360 this fall.   read

6:24 PM on 04.04.2011

MLB The Show ’11 Review

MLB The Show ’11 Review

The smell of barbecues is filling the air as the chilling winter begins to leave the air. It is baseball season again, when every team with a halfway decent budget can find its way into the playoffs. Yeah, Tampa Bay could be an exception along with a few other teams, but the high payroll teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels are going to have a chance. But aside from beer-battered brats and high hopes for your club, gamers are given another competitive sports franchise. MLB: The Show ‘11 showed off its Joe Mauer cover again this year when it hit shelves March 8th. The Show has made its way to the top of the food chain as far as baseball franchises go. This year hasn’t just been a glorified roster update either, The Show has worked in a few more pitches to their repertoire this off-season.

The art of the analog stick is redefined in this year’s installment. Fielding has taken a step in the right direction this year. It wasn’t The Show’s fault that fielding has been pretty much nonexistent; fielding has never been an important facet in a baseball franchise before. However, the difference between having Michael Bourn in center is much different than using Adam Dunn in the outfield. The ratings greatly influence the fielder’s reaction time, momentum, and accuracy. This has been a rare and much needed improvement from prior years. The analog control also has found its way into pitching. The user must now move the analog stick down during the delivery and move the analog stick upwards on the release. This isn’t any simple down and up motion either; release the stick too early and you’ll leave a meatball right down the center of the plate. If you release the stick to late, you could throw the ball to the back stop and move runners into scoring position. The player will sorely find much difference while taking the mound with the likes of Halladay or C.C. versus taking the mound with Jeff Suppan. The difference between an ace and an end of the rotation pitcher is a bit steep. Even the worst pitchers can throw a few innings without giving up five or six runs every time. When the player takes the mound outside of the top tier level of players they are virtually calling in the game. The AI also seems to have terminator-like vision. Even some of the .220 batters would lay off some nasty sliders and curves just outside of the zone, making precision pitching virtually useless.

Batting takes on the analog motions as well. The player needs to push backwards and upwards to mimic the step and swing motion of a batter. I found this the most enjoyable aspect of the game. The batter may have perfect timing on a pitch but if the ball isn’t placed where the batter is looking, don’t expect to square up on it. If the player guesses the location and type of pitch the majority of the time, you should find the gap or even the bleachers. Choosing a contact swing at 0-2 makes all the difference in the world when the batter tries to stay alive in the count, only adding to the realism. Although the performance and gameplay has taken a large step forward, The Show still needs some tweaking.

The crowd cheers before the last out and often sneers at a poor call, but the announcers are below average. Matt Vasgersian and Dave Campbell return along with a new voice, Eric Karros. Their chemistry is just not there and they leave out a much needed voice to heighten the experience. It’s also quite disappointing when an infield single and a 430-foot home run sound exactly the same coming off the bat.
The franchise and Road to the Show modes are solid but a bit stale as well, as they don’t seem to offer a whole lot that is different.

Overall, The Show has taken a tremendous stride in improving the gameplay and realism to the MLB experience. The player needs to feel and react like a major league player in the most clutch moments of the game. Although the game falls a bit short in adding to the experience as a whole, The Show is still the ace to beat this year.   read

6:21 PM on 04.04.2011

PAX East 2011: Gunstringer Preview

PAX East 2011: Gunstringer Preview

While I was at PAX East , I got to take a look at Twisted Pixel’s newest title, Gunstringer for the Kinect, which has a lot of unique gameplay mechanics. I interviewed Jay Stuckwisch, one of producers showcasing the game.

Jay Stuckwisch (JS): So, we’ve got Gunstringer here.
Tyler Thomas (TT): And that’s a Kinect title, correct?
JS: That’s right.
TT: So, what’s the backstory behind this marionette here?
JS: So, you control an undead marionette cowboy–you’re actually the puppeteer controlling him–in a play. We set up the beginning to show you everybody coming to see you. We actually added a lot of live-action sequences–people responding to how you do as you play the game. You run around the game–it’s a shooter-on-rails, and basically you paint over the enemies with your right hand, and with a recoil gesture over your solider, you hit all of the targets. With your left hand you control his left-to-right movement and move your hand up to jump. It takes a bit of coordination but…you pick it up really quick.
TT: So, is the humor in this game similar to Splosion Man/Ms. Splosion Man?
JS: Yeah, it’s kinda Twisted Pixel’s thing; we like to bring a lot of humor into each of our games. While this game looks a bit more serious, there’s still a lot of humor in this game.
TT: Like the human hands and feet that I just saw?
JS: (Laughs) Yeah, yeah, we’re always trying to break that fourth wall; it’s the developers, they’re in there . They can help you or hinder you–you can’t really tell; you have to feel it out. But yeah, we have a lot of fun with all of that full-motion stuff.
TT: I’ve gotta say, this is very cool. I love the marionette character.
JS: Yeah, we designed him after a real marionette we made for modeling when we shot our live action stuff that we had help from Jim Henson’s [Studio].
TT: Oh, wow! So you’ve got a Muppet, basically, who’s shooting bad guys.
JS: Yeah, they’re dolls and puppets; the whole game is set to have that homemade look: cardboard trees, backdrops, characters made out of straw, out of yarn, and some Henson-looking faces, even. It’s got a unique look and feel to it.
TT: Now, I just saw this ‘Texas Fisherman’ pop-up. What’s that all about?
JS: Well, when an enemy like that appears, there’s a slo-mo pan that shows a little blurb about them, about who you’re shooting at.
TT: And now I see that taco there.
JS: Yeah, that’s one of the power-ups you can get. the taco fires him up and makes him run faster and doubles your points as long as you keep hitting targets.
TT: When is this game coming out?
JS: It’s still a work in progress yet, but we’re going to have a release date this spring.

I then got to play a round. Like Jay said, it was tricky to start playing, but I got used to the controls quickly. Another part I liked was that there was a narrator that actually announced your actions–painting six (the maximum) targets would make the narrator say something like, “He lined up all six of his targets,” in an old, Western style of talking. It was a good touch of humor and personality; I’m really excited for this game, and I hope to play it again soon!   read

6:17 PM on 04.04.2011

PAX East 2011: Stem Stumper Interview

PAX East 2011: Stem Stumper Interview

While I was at PAX, I was approached by a rather tall man carrying an iPhone and large, sound-canceling headphones who pointed out my media badge and asked me if I’d like to try out his game. I said sure and set my pile of swag on the floor to check out Kwasi Mensah’s indie, blind-accessible iPhone title, Stem Stumper. After a few minutes with the game, I was impressed, and we exchanged contact information. I caught up with Kwasi via e-mail after the convention to ask him some follow-up questions about the game and his company, Ananse Productions.

Jes Richards: Why did you decide to do a blind-accessible game?

Kwasi Mensah: I started Ananse Productions to make games for people outside of the normal gamer demographic (18-35 able-bodied straight white male). I knew I wanted the game to be accessible but I was planning to also make a game with a multicultural aspect.. The more research I did into accessibility I realized that accessiblity was going to be big enough to focus on for our first project and it would give us a strong basis for making our other projects. We settled on blind accessibility to give us a focus but we tried to make the game as accessible as possible across all impairments.

JR: How does the VoiceOver integration add to the gameplay?

KM: We’ve made sure our game gives VoiceOver all the information it needs so that you can play the game with it on. But VoiceOver’s just the icing on the cake in terms of accessibility. We’ve made sure the game is as inherently as accessible as possible. We haven’t thought too deeply about adding voice commands to the game. Although it could make it interesting to play on buses and subways!

JR: How long has this game been in production?

KM: Since November. We weren’t an actual company until January.

JR: How big is Ananse Productions’ team?

KM: I work full time and we have three contractors working on Art, Audio and Level Design respectively.

JR: Is there any other information you’d like to share about the game?

KM: The game is meant for everyone to play (not just the blind). All the design choices we’ve made help Stem Stumper’s general usability and people’s ability to pick up and play it right off the bat. You can actually play the game without the sound on. The difficulty of the game is in deciding the order to use our powerups in. While it does take longer to navigate the level when you can’t see, we’ve been focusing on making that as easy as possible.

Stem Stumper will hit the App Store April 12th.   read

6:45 PM on 03.28.2011

PAX East 2011: Guild Wars 2 Preview

PAX East 2011: Guild Wars 2 Preview

Guild Wars 2 was showcased at the Alienware booth at PAX for the ultimate PC gaming experience; let me tell you, it wasn’t the computer that made me fall in love with the game. Guild Wars 2 is the MMO I, and many, many others, have been waiting for and more. It combines single-player RPG elements, like personal character story, with basic MMO elements, like an open persistent world, and puts them in a beautifully crafted new Tyria for millions of players to enjoy.

The Guild Wars 2 demo began with a similar character creation screen to the one at PAX Prime last year: the player chooses male or female, then is asked a series of questions that creates their overall personality; this personality contributes to how NPCs will react to the player character. At PAX East, the Norn was now playable, and two new classes, the Guardian and Thief, were available also. I played the thief, a class similar to rogues that I thought was going to be a lot of “backstab this” and “smokescreen that.” I was pleasantly surprised to find out the thief in Guild Wars 2 plays just like the rogue in Dragon Age 2. I dodged, did backflips, sliced enemies with my twin blades, all with the fluidity of a forty-hour RPG and none of the sit-and-wait grind of a traditional MMO. I actually felt like I was doing something, rather than just pressing keys in the same combination over and over and over and o–you get the idea.

Another huge diversion from the traditional MMO in Guild Wars 2 is the dynamic event system. ArenaNet has been hyping up this aspect of the game for months and months, and the hype, so far, is definitely lived up to. At the GW2 panel, many players expressed concern that the dynamic events system would get old, would just reset the event after all the players had left the area, and wouldn’t provide the experience the GW2 team has been trying to create. All these fears were assuaged by Colin Johanson, lead content designer of GW2, who described the dynamic events as “cycling.” He went on to say the events will only be affected by the players, so, in the example used by the team over the course of the panel, if a village is being attacked by centaurs and players save it, it will stay saved until those centaurs come back; if no players save the village the second time, it will be destroyed, and the centaurs will take over, slowly building defenses and making it harder to take back the town. The village will stay this way until players assault it and take it back from the centaurs. In the meantime, any NPCs that once lived in the village will be unavailable until the players restore the town to its original, peaceful state. Players could even go to the centaur camp and destroy it, making it harder for the centaurs to attack that specific town again. The events are truly dynamic and player-controlled, but I still had my reservations about certain aspects of the game.

The concepts of exploration and creating your own story were pushed pretty heavily at PAX, but there was no discussion of the overlying story that would drive player characters in the world. I’m worried there won’t be any motivation for me to play with other players if we have no common ties, like an overarching storyline. Why would I care about saving the world from dragons if there’s no motivation for me to do so? While the personal character story is a new and interesting aspect of MMO play, what if I want to play a character that is horribly selfish and hates people? What will make me help other characters when I could be off killing monsters on my own and looting their corpses all on my own? I suppose nothing is stopping me from doing that, but what I loved about the first Guild Wars was its story and the NPCs that brought all the players together. I don’t want that to be sacrificed in favor of a completely open, unmotivated dynamic world.

My reservations aside, Guild Wars 2 is shaping up to be the most revolutionary MMO of the decade. I’ll be keeping watch on the GW2 blog for the latest news. Also, there’s still no release date, so sit tight, Guild Wars fans. It’ll be a while before you can get your hands on this magnificent specimen of an MMO.   read

6:42 PM on 03.28.2011

Firefall: I Have Jetboots, Your Argument is Irrelevant

Firefall: I Have Jetboots, Your Argument is Irrelevant

I would be a liar if I said that Red 5 Studio’s new venture into the free-to-play MMO market, Firefall, wasn’t one of my most anticipated games of 2011, attempting to blend first and third-person shooting with a persistent online world and with a gorgeous cell-shaded art style. Did I mention the bit about it being free-to-play? To say Firefall is ambitious would be a tad of an understatement. And, it’s all wasted if the game doesn’t play well. Does Firefall play well? Based on my time with the PVP portion of the game at PAX East, I feel I can answer that question. (Spoiler alert: it’s good.)

After settling in at one of Red 5′s PAX booth PC’s, I found myself right at home. The game was setup in an arena mode on a map that appeared to be ripped right out of a Caribbean coast, complete with crashing surf and shipwreck.

Here, Firefall was demonstrating one of its instanced PVP modes, a Deathmatch. Two teams set against each other, each player on a team able to use one of the three available Battleframes, the class-archetypes that Firefall uses to define roles, that were being shown at PAX East. Recon, Assault, and Medic, all playing as you might expect. The Recon snipes, the Assault has a particularly satisfying plasma cannon/launcher, and the medic has a healing-beam that heals teammates. In addition to the main weapons, each Battleframe had a handy-dandy submachine gun as a backup that could be switched to with a quick tap of the Q key.

Topping off each “frame” was a set of abilities that could be accessed with the number keys. Of all of these, my most memorable was the Crater skill, which sends your Assault Battleframe up into the air for a brief instant, before you execute a particularly satisfying ground-stomp on all those underneath. Death from above indeed.

Gameplay-wise, I immediately felt right at home with Firefall‘s controls. It handles much like any modern day PC shooter. The aforementioned skills are well placed and easily accessed. Oh and there are jetpacks, too. A simple jump in the air and holding of the spacebar activates your jets and sends you skyward.

After dropping a few of my fellow convention goers, I was told by a Red 5 staffer that I wasn’t actually killing them. Which was surprising because I was under the assumption that bullets and plasma did a fair bit of damage/maiming. But no, I had merely downed my opponents putting them into a state awaiting a revival from a friendly medic. I was told I could finish them off for good by giving them a coup de grace in the form of jetboot to the head. All of this combined ends up to being a great shooting experience and after about three rounds, I was pretty hooked.

From my short amount of time with it at PAX East, I am incredibly excited for Firefall, as even in its current pre-alpha form it’s a complete blast to play and incredibly easy to pick up. Here’s hoping that the game’s massive world and RPG aspects hold up just as well.   read

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