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11:35 AM on 10.02.2015

Burnout rises from the ashes after all!! The original Criterion guys are making a spiritual successor with their at studio!


3:09 PM on 09.26.2015

It would be nice to be able to play a ranked Splatoon match where my team doesn't decide to lag out or just stand around doing nothing for once.


3:37 AM on 09.16.2015

Update on the NFS DRM bullshit. According to their FAQ if you don't have XBL Gold/PS+ you can still play the game, but only single player. Yet the game is still always online. So there's an "offline" mode, but you still need a persistent connection.


4:48 PM on 09.13.2015

So it's been discovered that Forza 6 has on-disc DLC/locked content. Someone has managed to get several cars fully usable in the game which aren't officially supposed to be there. [youtube][/youtube]


3:32 PM on 09.08.2015

So Dragon's Dogma Online is doing well on numbers, Dark Arisen is getting a PC port. Where the hell is Deep Down? Its existence keeps seeming more pointless by the day, but does it even exist any more? More importantly, WHERE'S A REAL DRAGON'S DOGMA 2???


6:43 AM on 02.15.2015

I Love Shadow of the Colossus!

[This is an essay I wrote a while ago for my college work. It wasn't for a formal assignment, but instead just a practice piece that we were allowed to pick any topic for. So I decided to gush about SotC. I've been sitting on it for ages, thinking about posting it as a blog, and this month's "Bloggers Wanted" seemed like the perfect opportunity. Massive spoilers ahead.]


Shadow of the Colossus is an action adventure game originally released on the PS2 in 2006, and re-released for the PS3 in 2011. It was created by Team Ico, who are a first-party Sony game development studio.


Shadow of the Colossus is an action adventure game in which the player's primary task is to defeat a series of gigantic creatures called Colossi. This is done by climbing on their bodies and attacking their glowing weak points with a sword. The game features a grip metre, which slowly runs out the longer you hold on to a Colossus and perform various actions, and is also used as a gauge to show how much strength the player character is putting in to certain actions, such as a sword stab. When the grip metre runs out, the player character loses grip and can no longer hang on to the Colossi or whatever surface they may be holding on to.

The game uses unconventional controls for these systems. In order to hold on to something, the player must hold down the R1 shoulder button. This creates a tactile connection between the player and the game, because the player is required to mimic the player character’s actions to perform them. The player is also forced to make a risk/reward choice with how strong they choose their attack to be, because stronger attacks both take longer to perform, and take away more of the grip metre than weaker attacks. This makes the player have to choose between the apparently safer approach of conserving grip with weaker attacks, or risk losing grip by using stronger attacks. This creates a sense of tension to fights, and gives every action a feeling of consequence.


The game also has an open world structure, which comes in to gameplay before the actual confrontations with the Colossi. Players have to track down the creatures in a large open world, and navigate areas which are not simple to get through, such as twisting canyon floors or cliff faces.

The game world is also incredibly empty, but very deliberately so. The only interactive things in the environment are the player character's horse; the very few examples of small, harmless wildlife; the occasional fruit tree; and the Colossi themselves. This is a large factor in one of the most major the themes of the game: isolation. A topic which will be discussed in more depth later.


Much like the gameplay, the story of the game is very minimalist, with only few elements to it, but in a way that benefits the game. The story begins with a montage of the player character, a young man named Wander, journeying across the land on horseback, carrying the dead body of a girl of a similar age to himself, called Mono. He eventually makes his way to the Forbidden Land, and enters a large shrine where he places the girl's body on an alter. An ethereal, disembodied voice echoes through the tall halls of the shrine, and Wander engages this unseen presence in conversation. This voice reveals that it is Dormin, the mysterious being that Wander has been seeking, as he believes that it has the power to bring the girl back to life. Dormin confirms that it can achieve this, but Wander must pay a heavy price in return, to which he agrees. Dormin then tasks Wander with defeating each Colossi, which are described as beings made of light.

We are never told exactly who or what Dormin is, who Wander or Mono are, why Mono is dead, or why the land the game takes place in is “forbidden”. Little is known about the Colossi either at this point in the game.

As the game progresses, a masked character named Lord Emon is seen to be approaching the Forbidden Land on horseback with several similarly masked characters who appear to be soldiers of some sort. This man appears to have much knowledge about Dormin and the Forbidden Land, and at the end of the story, when he finally arrives, he attempts to foil Wander and Dormin's plan. Again, we are told little of who Lord Emon is and what his motivations are, but he does allege that Wander stole the sacred sword that he uses throughout the game to defeat the Colossi.


It is at this late point in the game, the finale, when the narrative culminate in to a series of events foreshadowed throughout the game. As Wander has been battling the Colossi, with each one he defeats, he has become more pale and sickly-looking, until at the end of the game his skin has lost all colour, his hair has turned black, his eyes look lifeless, and small horns can be seen growing out of his head. At first this seems like the price that Dormin said Wander would have to pay, but it is only the beginning of what Dormin actually spoke of. It is revealed that Lord Emon arrived too late, and that Dormin's plan has come in to fruition. Dormin then possesses Wander, turning him in to a giant, shadowy creature with large horns sprouting out of its head. Although it appears that Emon has failed, he quickly uses the sacred sword to cast a spell that banishes the physical form of Dormin, and then he and the soldiers flee the shrine.

Then when it seems that everything is over, and the shrine empty of all the chaos that filled it only a few moments ago, we see Mono wake up, and stand up from the alter. She hears a baby crying, and moves towards a pool of water where Dormin met its demise. She sees a newborn human lying in the pool, with small horns sprouting out of its head. The credits then roll as we see Mono carry the child up to the top of the shrine in to a secret, idyllic garden and caring for it.

Aesthetic and Theming

Shadow of the Colossus is often praised as a notable example of what games can achieve as an artistic medium, because of how all its elements work together to create an extremely strong tone, and themes of isolation, uncertainty and powerlessness.

For example, the game world itself is incredibly barren. As was mentioned earlier, there is little actually in the world, but it has a strikingly stark beauty to it. Colours are washed out, and the landscape is full of majestic, wide open spaces, and tall structures that make the player feel minuscule and alone in a vast, eerie, and long-forgotten land.

The Colossi mirror this feeling as well. Most of them are titanic, making Wander look insignificant next to them. Their visual design also makes them look like they are as old as time, as if they are a part of the landscape they inhabit. They usually appear to be made out of stone, cut with patterns similar to the architecture seen on the few crumbling buildings scattered throughout the land. They also have some areas covered in fur, which seem more like grass or moss, adding more to the feeling that they have existed for aeons.

The gameplay controls also emphasise this feeling of being overwhelmed by forces far beyond comprehension. The aforementioned grip metre adds a real sense of desperation to the fights, especially when you are close to losing grip while a Colossus is shaking violently to throw you off. The control scheme and animations add in to this too. Controls are relatively complex, with you needing to hold down a button to grasp on to things, and requiring you to charge up jumps and stabs. But it is not so complex as to be overly so. It manages to give you an intimate connection to the feeling of battling against such impossible odds, without making it feel clunky or unfair on the player. It also helps the player identify with Wander as a character. It makes you understand that even though he is not a skilled warrior, he feels unrelentingly driven in his cause.


The music of the game is another large contributing factor to the strength of the tone. Most of the experience of playing has no soundtrack at all, emphasising the sense of isolation and uncertainty, by prominently not giving you any kind of context to what you should be feeling as you journey across the Forbidden Land. But this absence of music also makes it all the more impactful when it does accompany the events of the game. For example it creates an extremely atmospheric feeling in the intro cutscene, setting the tone of the game to follow. It has a mysterious and almost otherworldly sound to it, using an echoing choir and unusual, exotic instruments. It also has a mournful, and almost tentative and delicate tone to it in some places. On the other hand, the music which accompanies the battles against the Colossi are large and dramatic, with an intensity of desperation, but also sweeping overtones emphasising the majesty of these enormous and timeless creatures.

The way the Colossi themselves act, and how the battles against them play out also contribute a lot towards the themes of uncertainty in the game. Although the battles are intense, feeling much like a “David and Goliath” struggle, set to stirring music, they are also very sad in a way. As you approach each Colossus, they always appear very peaceful. They almost never attack you until you provoke them, and when they do, it could be assumed that it is because you are invading their territory. Some of these creatures don't even fight back at all. And when you do defeat them, the music takes an unexpected turn in tone.

Normally the player would expect a triumphant fanfare at their victory, but in this game, it instead plays very mournful song, as a short cutscene shows the once majestic beast in its death throes. But then in the last few bars, the tone lightens. But still not to what you would expect. It evokes a sense of relief, as you defeat what seemed like an insurmountable foe, and take one step closer towards bringing Mono back to life, but at the same time leaving you questioning whether what you did was the right thing.

And although the Colossi are described as beings of light, in these last few bars something odd happens to the just fallen corpses of the creatures. Their bodies become enveloped in an inky blackness, and then tendrils of the darkness shoot out from the corpse, which inevitably strike towards Wander, making him fall momentarily unconscious. It makes it appear that perhaps these Colossi were harbouring some kind of evil power after all, and that darkness is now harboured within Wander, causing his physical changed through the game.


All of these elements come together to perfectly compliment each other in a way that only games can do. It's not just the exceptionally strong visual design and soundtrack, but also the environment of the game, and the interactions you have within it, that work as one to create a phenomenally powerful experience, which immerses the player in itself. It envelops you in a world which makes you feel small and insignificant, and lost figuratively and emotionally. It's disarming in its beauty and its genius, and was rightfully praised as a watershed moment in the maturation of the medium.



10:15 AM on 12.07.2014

Game Developer Opinion Survey

Hello Destructoid. I apologise for this being such a short post, but I require your assitance with something.

I am currently doing a game design course at college. As part of my coursework, I am conducting survey on people's opinions about certain game developers. I would be very grateful if anyone who has a spare ten minutes or so would complete it. It's completely anonymous too. Your answers to some questions may mean you can't answer others, but it would be appreciated if you could fill out as much as possible. The link to the survey is here:

Thanks in advance.

And as an aside, I have been thinking about posting a new proper length blog recently. Yet another one about the racing game genre. But because of my college work I've been a bit busy lately. I'm not sure if I will get around to it though, since it's rather ranty in nature, and I might decide it's not worth it in the end. I've also been thinking about posting something unrelated that I wrote several months ago which was never intended to be a blog, so I'm not sure it's really suited to be one.


1:58 PM on 10.01.2014

Thoughts on Hyrule Warriors and the "Warriors" Formula

I've been playing Hyrule Warriors recently, and I've been having a blast with it. I've actually found it much more enjoyable than I was expecting I would, especially given that I've never played any entry in the Warriors franchise before. The only game of the same genre I've played was the original Ninety Nine Nights back in the early days of the Xbox 360. Although I was always pretty confident that I would find Hyrule Warriors fun, I found it to be a significantly different experience from what I was lead to believe based on the usual spiel you hear about these games.

It's the cliché you always hear when it comes to games like this. The idea that there's nothing to them, and it's just pressing the same button over and over for hours on end against weak enemies who just stand there. I was expecting that to a certain extent, yet also hopeful from the pre-release footage shown. I can enjoy a good dumb action game if it does what it does with enough polish, even if it can't really measure up to the deepest and most comprehensive examples of the genre.


[i][center]Impa kicks arse.[/center][/i]


What I found was actually quite a different experience from that, and while that commonly painted image of these games was true to a certain extent, to boil the game down to that is completely missing the whole point of the experience. For one thing, the fundamental combat mechanics are more than just mashing a single button against defenceless foes. Each weapon has about a dozen combos, which each have a reasonably different effect to them, and two types of special attack. While none of this is particularly deep or hard to pull off, it does give the combat enough variety to make it feel like different situations do call for you to use different types of moves. It also helps that almost every single one is very fun to execute.

And when it comes to enemies, it's quite inaccurate to say that the only ones come up against simply stand there and pose no threat. While about 95% of the enemies you come across are like that, it doesn't matter at all. The real challenge in the combat comes from the higher level enemies. Mostly these are bosses and more powerful enemies from other Zelda games. These guys have more devastating attacks, and require you to be smarter about how you approach them. If you just blindly mash at them, then you'll probably be met with constant blocks, or leave yourself open to punishing attacks. You have to wait for openings to use the familiar Zelda items to defeat them, such as using the bow to stun Gohma at the right moment, or using the hookshot to pull aeralfos out of the sky. Going up against other major story characters also require you to keep on your toes too. These are the characters who you can unlock and play as through the game, so they behave like you do, and are similarly powerful. If you don't pick your moments and make sure to avoid attacks, you can die pretty quickly to them. These more challenging enemies come up several times in each mission, so they are hardly a rare sight.


[i][center]You can also do this with the hookshot.[/center][/i]


But even that is far from the whole story about how the gameplay pans out. For one thing, there's the reason why the abundance of weak enemies doesn't matter. They aren't there to pose a challenge. They're there to make you feel powerful. To create this sense that you are an unstoppable force in battle, able to tear through thousands of opponents with no problem, because that's exactly what you are. It's catharsis. A power trip. It also makes the enemies that do pose a threat to you feel more significant as a result.

Battles are far more than simply combat as well, especially once you play some of the harder missions in the game. You can't just tear through everything in your path, making a beeline for your objective. There's quite a lot of managing the battlefield too. You have to make sure your home base, or sometimes certain comrades, don't fall to the enemy. This can sometimes be a lot harder than it sounds. You need to be tactful about how you move across the level, and what you choose to do. You need to capture keeps around your home base, to create a barrier to raid parties, and to have more control over the battlefield as a whole. In some missions capturing more keeps means an enemy boss will be weakened too. Sometimes even the time that you capture a keep can be crucial. If you're stuck in a long boss fight while your base is getting taken over, you can fail a mission right at the last moment. It creates a quasi-metagame of controlling the level and judging what threats to deal with, and when.


[i][center]Zelda has become one of my favourites too.[/center][/i]


That's not to say the reputation of this type of game is completely false though. Most of the time, combat is fairly mindless. While it's far from “press A until you win”, it's got nothing on something like Bayonetta. Although it's got enough going on to be engaging, and bosses add a decent amount of variation, it's still what I like to think of as a “podcast game”. Something ideal to play while listening to something else in the background. I find that it's still just as fun without that, but the game doesn't require particularly intense focus most of the time.

But even so, I've been kind of shocked at how undersold the game was by some. I know it has some differences from the usual Warriors formula, and I've even heard some fans of the series say that this is the best it's ever been. But I've also heard fans openly admit that these games are everything that their reputation would have us believe, and that there's no defending them. In the case of Hyrule Warriors at least, that is completely untrue.


5:30 PM on 09.26.2014

I Went To Eurogamer! I Played Some Games! Here's What I Thought!

Today I went to the first game convention I've ever been to. I went to Eurogamer, and it was really fun. And I played a bunch of games! Here's what I thought of them!

First thing I played was Bayonetta 2. As was the case with pretty much every game I played, I only got a short time with it and it wasn't in the best environment, given the loud, chaotic show floor. I played the section commonly seen in previews where you fight off enemies while on the back of a fighter plane flying through a city. It's definitely Bayonetta all right. Played nice and smooth, with great feeling, dazzling combat, as expected. It's a lot brighter and more colourful than the first game. It did look kind of pixelated though, in terms of resolution, but I think that was probably just because I had to stand really close to a big TV.


After that I had a go on Monster Hunter 4. First I jumped in to an already ongoing fight against some weird armoured crab thing, using a sword and shield. I'm not really familiar with that weapon's move set, so I wasn't really sure what I was doing. I also just kept bouncing off the shell of this crab monster anyway, even at full weapon sharpness, so I don't know what was going on there. But before I finished that, I was ushered on to a new hunt with some other people, where I got to pick my own weapon. Went for the longsword, and we went up against this odd shark/inflating frog thing. Very strange creature. It was a land creature, living in the desert, but looked like a shark with legs and it fired really powerful water jets. Occasionally it did a move where it would inflate its whole body and then bounce up in the air and land on people, and sometimes roll around too. The people at the booth were talking about how you could jump on enemies and hold on to them and attack, SotC style. But as with everything in Monster Hunter, it sounded really complex, and I was trying to focus on not dying.

Next I played Bloodborne. It's Dark Souls, but faster. It feels very similar, but movement is faster, control response is faster (Although still not as immediately responsive as say, Bayonetta. It still has that kind of deliberate, committed feel to it that the Souls games have), dodging is way faster, and fighting in general is faster. Looks great too, and I like how more aggressive it makes you with the lack of shield and the health regeneration mechanic. The enemies also have rather entertaining voice overs. I kept hearing very silly cockney accents telling me "I'm gonna smash you brain!" And the game still has no problem brutally blind-siding you when you're not careful too. I was doing relatively well, until I came to a group of enemies standing around a burning tree. I was doing all right taking them all on, until I got a bit too greedy and walked forward too far, and was one-shot killed by some enemy using a gun I didn't see.


Then after that I played The Crew. Honestly, that was a pretty big let-down. Well, I want to give it the benefit of the doubt, but it did not come across well in the demo I played. Controls were terribly laggy. It took way too long for cars to respond to steering input, and they continued on turning well after I has stopped pushing the stick too. Really disappointing. But I think that might have just been a problem with the build I played. I've seen a lot of footage of the game, and heard people talk about it, and I've never heard of this problem before. Also, I did notice the game was hitching up sometimes when I was waiting in line watching other people play. But regardless, I feel like my decision not to pre-order this game that I made a while ago was probably a good decision after that experience. I did it for other reasons before, but now I have one from actually playing the game.

Also, before I had a go on The Crew, I took a look over some people's shoulders who were playing Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition. I never really liked the original game as much as I wanted to, so I was interested to see how this new one has been improved. Since I didn't actually play it, I can't say anything on gameplay, but it terms of graphics, I couldn't really tell any difference. Maybe it was a bit sharper and generally running better, but the game looked more or less exactly the same as the original. Definitely not comparable to what was done to spruce up Tomb Raider, and even that was only a marginal change. It didn't look like an 8th gen. game.


Later on I went back to Nintendo and played Splatoon. That was pretty fun, but controlled in quite an odd way. Shooting ink feels really good, with the rapid fire pops of the ink guns. The visuals are nice and bright too, although on a technical level they didn't seem like anything particularly noteworthy. But the strange thing was how you look around in the game. You can look right and left with the right stick, but you can't look up or down. For that, you have to tilt the gamepad. You can also look left and right with that too, but I preferred to stick with the, err, stick until I needed to actually look up or down. But that wasn't common, given how accuracy doesn't really matter in the game. Mechanics were really super simple too. All you have are your machine gun, a grenade-type throwable, and a bazooka power-up you get every so often. And there's the squid stuff too of course. So it seems the depth of this game isn't to be found in the actual combat between players, or variety of weapons, because there is none. It'll be down more to movement and control of space. It's quite deceptive in that sense. You jump in, you splat all the walls, and that kind of feels like that's all there is, but I'm sure there's way more to it if you come at it with a different mindset to the usual team-based shooter.

Then not long before the end of the day I had a go on Project Cars. Honestly, I was really surprised with how impressed I was with that game from the tiny bit I played. I've been wanting to like this game ever since it was first announced, but never really found anything to find appealing in it. But after actually playing it, I have to say the driving feel felt really good. Very intuitive with a good sense of visual feedback, etc., but I also felt like I had a really good sense of fine control over the game, even with all the driver aids turned on as I was forced to do in the demo. Feathering the throttle on the Dualshock 4 felt great, and the real-time telemetry readout the game gives you was a really nice visual cue as well. Very stylish looking HUD too, but still very functional. With all the aids turned on, the game felt surprisingly arcadey too. I was expecting it to feel quite a bit more hardcore, even in that state. It might have had something to do with the car I was driving, but I think this is a sim which people who don't usually play them will still be able to get on with well and find fun in. It's worth looking at if you like to play Forza casually, or maybe you like Project Gotham or the Grid games.


But talking about the Dualshock 4, after playing Bloodborne and Project Cars with it, I might even say that it's a superior controller to the Xbox One's pad. Those triggers are really seriously good. All the buttons are great actually, and the sticks feel so much better weighted.

Also, as I was lining up for Bayonetta, something pretty cool happened. I wore a Mega64 shirt to the show, and just as I got in line, Eric Baudour from Mega64 walked past and complimented my shirt! That certainly was a surprise.


9:53 AM on 06.25.2014

On Finishing Games and Why Backlogs Aren't Evil

Although it may not be something that's been in game news particularly recently, the issue of backlogs and finishing games is still a point of contention that a lot of people seem to place a significant amount of value on. It's almost universally seen as a bad thing, but I don't think it necessarily is. Having unfinished games can even be a good thing from a certain perspective.

There are a lot of points to support the idea that leaving a game unfinished is a bad thing that I agree with though. It is a waste of money to keep buying new games when they all end up only being played a little before being tossed aside for the next game to be played and dismissed just as swiftly. I can see where developers are coming from when they fear that their work has gone to waste if no one bothers to reach the latter parts of a game too.

A Bulletstorm developer most recently voiced concern on the topic.

But I think we get carried away with this attitude. It's almost as if we players have a work-like attitude to games. As if they are assignments that need to be completed before a deadline. But games aren't supposed to be that, and treating them as such can ultimately suck the fun out of playing them. They are an entertainment medium. Something that we fill our free time with by our own choice. Not something we should feel obligated to. Playing a game with the mental state that you need to get through it or else means that you're not giving the game a proper chance to show you its true potential either. You'll be more focused on getting to the end instead of stopping to smell the roses, and really let the experience sink in and to go at your own pace.

Focusing on completing every game you have can lead to another problem too. That problem of looking at your shelf full of all the games you've spent so much hard earned money on and feeling like you have nothing to play. It limits the variety of what you can be playing at one time massively, and in a sense makes most of your game library nothing more than a waste of shelf space. While it's fun to go back and replay older games you've finished years ago (something I've actually been doing a lot of lately), it makes for a much more refreshing feeling if you have a wide range of games you can pick up and have a totally new experience with, even if it's a game that has already been out for years and whose hype train ground to a halt long ago. That can even give you a valuable perspective on a game too. To be able to assess it as a first time experience, without being caught up in the hype machine that could cloud your judgement.

Even a great game can suffer from being over-hyped.

Some games even benefit from being perpetually unfinished by giving them a kind of evergreen quality. It turns games in to less of a piece of entertainment to be consumed and shelved, and more in to another world in their own right. It becomes a place you visit when the mood takes you, giving it a sense of reality all of its own. This is suited to much larger games, like open-world titles and RPGs for example. But even with smaller games with a more linear narrative, they can take on a quality of being a window in to a strange separate universe for you to peer through.

And my message to the developers who just want to share their creative work to the world in its entirety: don't worry about it. Just because a game is never finished, that doesn't mean your effort has gone to waste. It doesn't mean that the player doesn't appreciate your work. Not everyone needs to see everything to have a good time and to get what they want from a game. And as has been explained, there are situations where unplayed content can actually make a game a more valuable experience than a game that's the same length as the player ends up playing it for. And just because a player may not have finished a game now doesn't mean they won't do so in the future. And when they eventually do, you can be sure they really do appreciate your achievements, because they felt compelled to reach the end on the game's own merit, instead of racing to the credits just for the sake of it.

I've had Burnout Paradise since launch, and only got the Elite License a few days ago.

To put things simply, everyone just needs to relax and do things the way it suits them. People should play games as much as they want, at the pace they want, and developers should create the games the way they want, for the length they want. The destination isn't what matters. It's how good the journey is along the way, no matter what form that takes. In a perfect world, that's how things things should be.   read

12:23 PM on 05.15.2014

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Review

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is the final chapter in the quasi-trilogy of the Lords of Shadow games. In this entry you play as Dracula himself. Much like the other games in the series, it is flawed, but is overall a satisfying experience despite its problems. In many ways it is actually the best of the three.

The game starts off with a brief recap of the story of the two previous games, which it rushes through with little detail, as if to assume the player is already familiar with the story it is telling. This is the beginning of the biggest problem with the game. The story is a mess. It feels rushed and shallow, full of many characters who do not get explored in much depth, and many plot points and concepts that aren't explained well at all. Although some of these unanswered questions can be worked out with a little thought, none really have a clear answer. Many leave glaring holes in the plot. Although there actually are some moments between characters that are well executed, they are fleeting and few, and only leave you with the feeling that they missed their potential drastically. The ending is also particularly underwhelming, as it completely disregards one of the two most important plot points of the entire game with no explanation at all.

The opening gameplay also sets a trend for the rest of the game, but a much more positive one. It begins with an impressive battle scene of a large army laying siege to Dracula's castle. As you fight through enemies and climb atop the enormous mechanical Titan that is aiding the army, it is immediately clear how much of an improvement in gameplay it is over its predecessors.

Combat feels tight and responsive, with a satisfying kinaesthetic design. Your three different weapons have a nice feeling of impact, and are all very colourful and well animated. Each weapon also has different properties, and are easy to switch between on the fly, giving the fights a dynamic feel as you fluidly change tactics as the situation demands. Your main weapon is the Shadow Whip, which has long reach and allows you to build up your Focus meter, which in turn allows you to absorb blood from your enemies, giving you energy for your other weapons. You also have the Void Sword, which can allow you to regain health by landing hits as well as use of freezing projectiles, and the Chaos Claws, that do extra damage as well as allowing you to use fire-imbued attacks and projectiles. If you time blocks correctly, you can also do a Synchronised Block, which stuns an enemy and allows you to build up you Focus much faster than most other attacks. Although it certainly isn't the deepest combat in any game, it gives fights a very enjoyable rhythm to them, as you balance different strategies throughout encounters. Playing through the game, I found this system to be so enthralling that I welcomed every single fight that came my way, and never grew tired of it through the whole experience.

The boss fights in particular are a highlight among the many fights of the game, as they play out in such a way that makes each encounter a fantastic experience. They are done in such a way that you can very consciously feel yourself learning through the process of the battle. At first boss fights start off with you being hit quite a lot, but not too much as to make it seem unfair and overly punishing. It makes it feel as if you are on the back foot, and up against a strong and worthy opponent. But you can quickly pick up on patterns of movement, and have enough of an opportunity to try out different approaches. So the game feels like it's teaching you at the same time as giving you a compelling challenge. By the end of the fight, you will have learned what you need to do and the tables will have turned. It makes for a great sense of accomplishment as at that point you are able to master something that shortly before was dangerous and formidable.

There are a few parts of the wider mechanics that feel rather superfluous though. You have a number of secondary abilities which are unlocked as you go through the game that are of little use, and are somewhat cumbersome. You have the ability to send out a Bat Swarm to distract an enemy, a Mist Form which allows you to travel through certain barriers such as metal gates, as well as making you invisible to certain enemies, and Shadow Daggers. The daggers are the only of these abilities that have any real use in combat, since they are what allow you to use the projectile attacks. You also have a number of Relics, which act as consumable items. These are even less useful for most situations in the game, and are even more inconvenient to use. Some of them can be useful as a last resort though, if needed, to heal you or give you some extra energy for you sword and claws. Other than that, they aren't really worth using in the the vast majority of situations in the game.

Some of these abilities do have some use in the stealth sections of the game though, which you will be required to do at certain points. These sections are easily the worst parts of the gameplay, but are thankfully mostly forgettable, with the exception of only a few frustrating instances. There are only really a handful of them through the game, and most require you to do little more than get to the other side of a room by distracting or possessing a guard. They usually only take a few minutes each, but they do feel like a misguided addition to the game. In these sections enemies use guns which can kill you in one or two hits, while you are restricted from using any of your offensive weapons at all, for no reason. As obtuse and unwarranted as these sections are, they are generally very easy, and very few and far between, so they don't really do much to damage the overall experience. Also, once you have beaten each of them once, you never have to do them again if you choose to go back to the same area later, which leads us on to the world design of the game.

The game is laid out in a way that is pretty unique for the genre. Instead of being separated in to relatively short and linear levels that only really exist to give a sense of progression and narrative framing to a series of combat encounters, here levels are interconnected in to two separate, but reasonably large web-like layouts. One set in a modern day city, and the other set in Dracula's castle, in pseudo-flashback sequences. Although this may seem like a pretension towards creating a more traditional Castlevania-style world design at first, it doesn't really create the same experience. This game's layout is far more that of an action game with elements of older Castlevania games, rather than the other way around. You travel through levels much in the same way as you would expect to in most other action games, with the interconnectedness of the world only really adding to the experience later on. Once you get further in to the game and gain more abilities, you start finding that levels you have been at before merge and break off from what you find later. You can also find small areas hidden away in earlier levels that reveal secrets and upgrades that you wouldn't have been able to reach before. You can move between all these areas without loading screens too, apart from when you switch between the different settings. But it helps give a sense that you are in a seamless world that is an actual location, instead of just a string of sets for you to fight your way through.

Traversal through the world is also enjoyable from a gameplay perspective. The game features an Uncharted-style climbing mechanic, much like the first game in this series did, but far improved. Controls are very easy and intuitive, and movement is fluid and fast. All you need to do is point the stick in the way you want to go, or jump if you reach a larger gap, and you'll climb there quickly and without any fuss of fiddly controls. There are also occasional minor puzzles to work out to get around. For example in certain places you have to use your ice projectiles to freeze a waterfall, and climb up it before it thaws. It makes for scaling the stunning architecture of the game a real joy, and does a good job of making travelling around the game world more entertaining than simply walking from place to place.

And speaking of architecture, that is part of another highlight of the game. It has a fantastic aesthetic. It has a wonderful art direction, full of dark and dramatic vistas full of intricate looming Gothic towers. Character design is also impressive, following the same style. Although sometimes shadows on them can look a little ugly, and some of the enemy character models can look a bit low-detail if you look at them closely. Getting that close rarely happens in actual gameplay though, so it's easily ignored for the most part, and doesn't diminish the overall aesthetic of the game. Some areas in the modern portions of the game are a little less impressive, since they sometimes feature a rather dingy industrial setting. The castle areas though, are unbridled Gothic goodness, well complimented with many varied styles. Like a snowy, windswept mountainside, or a colourful and intricate wooden puppet theatre, or a vast fiery cavern full of lava and towering metal machinery connected with gigantic chains.

The soundtrack is also a great part of the art direction of the game. It keeps a similar theme to the previous Lords of Shadow games, but has a slightly more balanced quality, for better or worse. While the best tracks from the predecessors were mostly found in the more calm, non-combat sections, here stand-out tracks can be found in both combat and non-combat sections. But at its best, it still has a wonderful, stirring, and swelling feel to it, which retains its unique personality too. It really adds a lot to the atmosphere and tone of the game, and perfectly compliments the visuals.

So while this game can't really hope to compete with the greatest in the action genre, and has some huge narrative flaws, it still has a lot going for it. For what it's trying to do, the combat is thoroughly engaging, and with a very admirable art direction, it draws you in to its world very effectively.   read

12:44 PM on 04.14.2014

The Sorry State of the Racing Genre

If you've read my posts in these blogs before, you'll probably know I'm a big fan of racing games. Outside of gaming I'm a bit of a car guy too, so I love being able to indulge in both of these hobbies in one place. But as I've been looking at the state of the racing game genre recently, things have been looking pretty grim, and not very encouraging for the future either.

Although things have only been looking bad for the past year or so, this downturn in the genre actually first started quite a while ago, at the start of the 7th generation of consoles. At that time the Need for Speed series was at its peak. It had exploded in popularity several years earlier when it reinvented itself with Underground. With the sequel to that game it cemented its position as among the greatest in the genre. Then they did it again with the next iteration in the series, the original Most Wanted, which stands as just as much of a classic now. This was also the first NFS games on the 7th gen. machines.

Then after that things started to go sour very fast. The next game in the series after Most Wanted, Carbon, was still a good game, but one that had obvious flaws. Tell-tale signs of the stress the series was under and an omen of the direction it was heading. After that the series saw its worst iterations, and the developer was changed several times to try and bring back the quality of the series. Yet each new entry still felt rushed and half-baked, often hampered by poor controls. Since then there hasn't been a single entry anywhere near the quality of those which made NFS a series to pay attention to. Even though some entries do seem to show potential, none of them have been able to fulfil it, and the series is pretty much dead at this point in terms of quality.

Not a terrible game, but a harbinger of things to come.

The death of another of the best franchises in the genre, and one of the best developers in the industry, could arguably be attributed to this too. That being the death of Burnout and Criterion. Things seemed to start off well in the last generation for the series. Although it took a while to arrive, Burnout Paradise still stands as one of the best games of the generation, regardless of genre. But then EA put Criterion on NFS after the previous developer, Black Box, was taken off. They also failed to bring the series back to its former glory, and  in the process were completely gutted. They were cut down to a skeleton crew, and the founders of the studio left at the start of this year. With that I think it's fair to say that we probably won't be getting another Burnout again for a long time, if at all. And if we do get one, it will probably only be “Burnout” in name.

There have been a number of notable disappointing releases in the genre more recently too. Both of the latest entries in the big console exclusive simulation franchises have been less than encouraging. Now, I'm a big Forza fan. I adore the series, and it was hugely influential in how I played games in general over the past generation. Both Forza 3 and 4 were towering achievements, and Horizon, which saw out the 360, was a very successful blending of the unparalleled driving mechanics of the series with an open world structure and generally more casual tone.

Forza 5 though, was a big misstep for the series, and one I'm not particularly confident it will be able to recover from. While the physics engine and driving mechanics became much more sophisticated, and the graphics saw a leap, the game lacked an enormous amount of content and features from previous games in the series, and contained incredibly aggressive microtransactions and DLC implementation as an insult to add to the injury. While overall the game isn't exactly bad per se, it feels like a massive step down in terms of scope, while at the same time feeling like it's trying to antagonise the player.

This is from a game released in 2013.

Gran Turismo 6 is in a similar position, but for reasons that are opposite of Forza 5 in many ways. Again, it's not exactly a bad game, it has much improved physics too, but it feels like the result of a broken development process. Most of the car models look like PS2 models (a criticism I do not make lightly), shadows are often hideous, and the audio of the game is equally poor. Many of the features of the game feel like they were thrown in for the sake of it, without a plan for how it would all fit together or proper quality control. Like they were added in because they had all the assets lying around and felt they were obligated to include them, but there's so much of it that there just wasn't enough time or resources to make sure any of it was really up to proper standards.

The events that lead to both of these games becoming what they are are reminiscent of what the NFS series went through, which is why I'm worried that these series may not be able to reclaim their past greatness either. It's all the result of a series failing to make the transition to a new generation and the increase in effort needed to bring them up to the level expected from the new hardware. That being the 7th gen. for GT, and the 8th for Forza, both with their 5th iterations. This forced both Forza and GT to make compromises. To choose between quality and quantity, while before they could afford both. Forza went for quality, and GT went for quantity. Putting these series on tight development schedules exacerbates the problem too. It becomes a cycle of always having to play catch-up to make up for what was lacking last time.

Another notable disappointment from recent times has been GRID 2. The first game is another of my favourites of the generation, but the sequel fell flat. Again, it's not exactly a bad game, but it felt very uninspired and soulless. It also seemed confused in what it wanted to be. It presented itself as being a somewhat realistic depiction of professional racing, yet most of the vehicles in the game are road cars.

The VW Golf just screams "global level motorsport".

So that brings us up to now. A time where all of the biggest and best names in the racing genre are dead, or are in serious danger of following their fallen comrades. And when we look to the future, there doesn't seem to be much there waiting to take their place.

Because of the misgivings I've had about Forza 5, I've been looking for another game that could potentially scratch my simulation itch in the future, and I'm not seeing anything that fits the bill. Most upcoming games in the genre are PC only, something which isn't really an option for me, or much more limited in scope than Forza, as games in this genre usually are.

Right now the best candidate seems to be Project Cars, from Slightly Mad Studios, the creators of the Shift games from the NFS franchise. Those games are examples from the series that could have been good if they had more time in development to realise their potential. They were attempting to be simulators, like Forza, but they had an interesting character to them. They took on the more modern style of performance-focused tuning that you might be familiar with if you are aware of the car culture blog Speedhunters. In fact, there was quite a lot of cross-promotion between the blog and the games at the time.

Could have been so much more than it was.

From what we've seen of Project Cars, it seems that the DNA of the Shift games have bled over in to it. The driving model looks similar, but far more evolved. The graphics look to also be a refinement of that style. But it seems to be lacking that modern tuner aesthetic to it, being a very strict simulation, that at this point seems to lack scope. It's apparently going to change and grow as time goes on, even post-release, but at this point I'm not expecting it to be able to even come close to what I'm looking for. It's a shame in a way. I would be really excited to play a version of Shift 2 that was fully fleshed out and much more polished in terms of controls.

If we turn away from the simulation focus, and look at what the future hold for more arcade style games, things seem worrying to me there as well. Right now the two big games in this space are DriveClub and The Crew.

When DriveClub was first announced, it looked pretty interesting to me. A next gen. open world racer with a lot of social/multiplayer features. But as time went on I began getting more and more deflated about the idea of the game. Gameplay looked very dull and uninteresting, and then the game got delayed several times. My interest in the game was completely killed from what they showed, and now the game seems like it may be stuck in development hell. Although I suppose there is a chance that when they show the game next it might reinvigorate my interest, seeing as how they said the reason for the delay was that they wanted to “go back to the drawing board”. Only time can tell though, and at this point, I'm not too keen on the idea of the game.

"Coming... eventually... maybe."

The Crew on the other hand, has been continuing to impress me since the initial reveal. It seems like it'll take a lot of what I loved about the old NFS games when they were still good, but taking it to a whole new level. And then on top of that they're putting it in a Test Drive Unlimited style open world that'll dwarf anything that's come before. It sounded like I had found a new obsession.

But then a few days ago we started seeing the first previews of the game since the début at E3 last year, and there were some things that really worried me. Firstly, it turns out the game will require a constant online connection, even when you're playing single player. Any time your connection cuts out, you'll be instantly booted to the start screen, no matter what you were doing. But what offended me more was the revelation that the game will feature microtransactions. Not even just to buy cars and accelerate your progression like in Forza 5, but for the ability to unlock performance parts. Basically paying to unlock better stuff in the game instead of actually progressing like everyone else. Buying power, in other words. I don't think I need to tell you how disgusting that is, especially in a full priced game.

"Zynga and EA have the right idea!"

I'm still interested and optimistic about the game, but this is such an exasperating and infuriating turn of events. Ubisoft must have known that those would be some very unpopular decisions, yet they did them anyway.

It just leaves me feeling hopeless for the future of the genre. Is this what we have to look forward to now? Sims that can't afford to be anything other than the most specialised thing for small, niche audiences, or games which are nothing more than a farce designed to get you to cough up more cash? Things are looking really grim, and I don't see anything on the horizon that can save the genre.   read

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