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Preview: Ghost Recon Commander shoots you in the Facebook

May 21 // Ryan Perez
Ghost Recon Commander (PC) Developer: Loot Drop Publisher: Ubisoft Release: TBA (Currently in BETA) Not that I have anything against housewives, but, let's just face the truth here: A blatant distinction exists between the games on Facebook and the ones we play on consoles. Thankfully, Loot Drop recognizes this distinction and aims (no pun intended) to tap into a relatively untouched Facebook market ... people who like to shoot things. And yes, Commander lets you shoot plenty of things, including poor, defenseless chickens -- to my personal gratification. For those who don't know, Loot Drop is headed by one of the founding fathers of shooters, John Romero, and possibly the most articulate and insanely attractive woman I've met in this industry thus far, Brenda Brathwaite, who is best known for her work on the Wizardry series. Let me tell you, I've met plenty of fervent designers, but these two retain an enthusiasm for game development that I originally thought was exclusive only to college students and aspiring creators. So what does this mean for Ghost Recon Commander? Well, a lot of passion has gone into the project. So much that Brenda actually bothered asking for direct feedback from the press while they were present. It's rare enough that the typical game journalist will surrender passivity enough to constructively criticize a game in a preview, but it's nearly unheard of for a developer to actively seek such information. Most developers see previews as a mechanism of marketing; these people saw them as a means of taking notes. This approach is very admirable, honestly speaking, and it shows in the product. Ghost Recon Commander is an isometric shooter that takes place in the sunny, drug-riddled paradise that is Venezuela. Players take control of up to three soldiers, and embark on missions that entail everything from rescuing hostages to securing mounds of good ol' Columbian crop dust (AKA a shit-ton of cocaine). Players are given a choice between six missions, all of which are repayable later on harder difficulties. The premise is simple enough, but customization and upgrades are a key component to the gameplay. Players are given a "camp," a sort of home base that acts as a centralized upgrading hub where every new object or structure purchased translates directly to better, stronger soldiers. Buy medical tents and hammocks to make your freedom fighters more durable on the field. Set up some training targets to ensure that every shot from your boys finds its mark. Basically, camps provide the typical Facebook game appeal of building things, though in this case it's only a minor aspect of the gameplay as a whole. Speaking of gameplay, Commander is actually turn-based, but you wouldn't really notice it if you played it. Facebook has redefined the term "casual" by allowing people to leave their shit running, without anything actually happening in their absence. As "hardcore" as Loot Drop intends Commander to be, they realized that ignoring the game at a whim is something the platform's audience wouldn't want to give up ... and it'd especially piss them off to return to a squad of dead soldiers. So every click is essentially a turn, and enemies will only ever move when you do. Since there's no "end turn" button, though, everything flows quite nicely and gives the illusion of a real-time experience. One thing that really stood out for me was the game's sound, courtesy of Loot Drop Sound Designer Dren McDonald. Facebook titles are typically bogged down by the limits of web media, so sound often suffers as a result. At times, I find online games so fucking obnoxious that I just mute the damned things. Ghost Recon Commander actually kind of shocked me with the quality of its effects. Guns actually sound like real guns; soldiers confirm orders with the intelligibility of actual humans. I recommend paying attention to all of the audible effects the game has to offer, because it's obvious that McDonald knows what he's doing. The one thing most of you are probably wondering is what relation Ghost Recon Commander has to Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. The answer? Not much. Both games are stand-alone titles, featuring their own type of gameplay, story, and characters. However, playing one does unlock new content for the other, which is a neat feature that I enjoy seeing Facebook games provide more of. Acquiring specific guns in Commander will make them available in Future Soldier, which is good news for people who like to expand their gaming experience ... bad news for anal-retentive neurotics who have to unlock every single thing a game features. Nothing a little Prozac can't fix, though. Overall, Ghost Recon Commander is actually starting to look like a decent distraction from office duties. One of Ubisoft's PR reps asked me for some feedback, and one of my responses was, "Well, I kept playing, even when I knew I didn't have to." That's not because of the cheaply addictive Skinner-box qualities that Facebook games tend to have (see here), but because I was actually having fun shooting up the game's drug cartels. Mind you, I do so on my own time, so that perhaps had something to do with it. The great thing is, you don't have to just take my word for it. The Commander BETA is actually playable on Facebook right now, so go check it out for yourself!

Woah, a Facebook game! I don't think I've played one of these for a while. In fact, the last Facebook game I played was over a year ago, coincidentally another one linked to Ubisoft -- something about castles that my girlfrie...

Preview: Kinect rules with Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor

May 11 // Ryan Perez
Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor (Xbox 360) Developer: From Software Publisher: Capcom Release: June 19, 2012 I need to get this out of the way right now: Heavy Armor is the first Kinect game I've ever played where I didn't feel like a complete idiot while doing so. No simple balancing act or acrobatic feat is required during the fun. In fact, the majority of the experience requires you to be comfortably seated. Fat people, rejoice, for we have secured our victory against active gaming. From Software was quick to state that their primary goal was to make a Kinect game for the hardcore audience, and push the add-on away from the regular mini-game titles that plague anything with motion controls. Their first principle: While hardcore gamers might be intrigued by the concept of gestures mimicking actions, the majority of their dedicated gaming lives have been experienced via the controller ... and there's no reason to completely get rid of that. In Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor, you control what is essentially a tank. In the not-so-distant future, silicon-consuming microbes have completely devoured the world's digital technology, reverting us back to the basic combustion tech of yesteryear. Your mech, unlike the peppy, agile ones we're used to seeing come out of Japan, controls more like a big, bulky, powerful machine actually would ... slowly and ungracefully. The developer put a lot of research into how the tanks of today feel and control, and it definitely shows. Your mech consists of several features with their own useful purpose, all accessed by very accurately associated gestures and movements. Reaching up and pulling down activates your periscope, which provides a nice alternative to the measly viewing window to your front. Fires may spark in the cockpit, which require you to reach to your side, open a small panel, and open the vents so you and your crew don't suffocate. Certain moments require a better full-scale view, so standing up will open your top hatch and pop your character out of the cockpit. Putting your hand to your face then activates your binoculars, which are easily controlled by the right thumb stick. Every command makes absolute sense, and never feels out of place or conflicting with the controller in your hand. That's the best thing about this game; while your tank contains a variety of Kinect-controlled features (camera monitor, engine and weapon controls, etc.), the general gameplay is actually manipulated by that thing in your hand that Peter Molyneux deemed a nuisance. Yep, when you're trudging the landscape and blowing away enemies, expect to do so like in any other shooter: with the 360 controller. For me, what stuck out the most when it came to the controls and features is that they're intuitive enough to actually lend themselves quite well to the action of the game. If you suck at console shooters (like yours truly), then chances are your blast window will take enough hits to become completely shot out. At this point, any intense action will often require you to reach forward, shut the viewing hatch, and then reach up for the periscope. Failing to do so will inevitably result in a bullet flying through the port and killing either you or one of your crew. Sometimes, during an intense battle, footsteps will be heard trotting atop your mech. Quick, sound action means standing up, opening the top hatch, pointing and shooting them. Slow action results in them opening your hatch, tossing in a sizzling grenade, and you hopefully grabbing and throwing it out the bottom hatch. The heat of battle provides several natural and scripted instances that make the entire experience feel very immersive, and can be designated as one of the few instances where motion controls actually aide in the immersion. I'm not a fan of Kinect, so every new game I play is like learning how to walk all over again. With Heavy Armor, though, everything quickly became second nature. This is all tied neatly into a bow by the game's World War II aesthetics. A quick look at the box art is a fine enough example, but to delve deeper, fellow soldiers don the iconic green, netted helmets of 1940s American soldiers, as well as the earthy toned attire. Even the mechs resemble beat-up Sherman tanks: faded and scuffed paint, parts falling off, and pure, raw metal. Overall, the game was definitely not what I was expecting. Considering the track record of Kinect games, I had a preconception of Heavy Armor before even seeing it at all. The moment I heard "is played while seated" and "controller," though, I was instantly intrigued. And then when I played it, well, I didn't want to stop. The bastards got me all hot and bothered with a sexy game, and didn't even have the decency to let me finish. If you own a Kinect (and I know some of you do), then there's little doubt it's experienced a bit of neglect. Or perhaps you love it do death and play it regularly, I don't know. If you are one of those people who slightly regrets their purchase, however -- I know plenty of you exist -- then you're definitely going to want to keep an eye on Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor. This time around, it doesn't cost you an arm and a leg, and doesn't come with a peripheral the size of a Shriner mini car.

It's somewhat difficult to deny at this point that the whole motion controls movement has been a bit of a bust. Developers never quite figured out how to properly implement them into already established genres. The traditiona...

Preview: Steam and spirituality in Civ V: Gods & Kings

May 10 // Ryan Perez
Civilization V: Gods & Kings (PC) Developer: Firaxis Games Publisher: 2K Games Release: June 19, 2012 No matter your stance on the subject, religion has played a significant role in the history of mankind, and the formation and growth of the world's cultures. In the Civ series, religion plays a pivotal role in not only the wellbeing of your populace, but also your relations with neighboring cultures. In Gods & Kings, players eventually choose a religious set of beliefs that are unique to their civilization. While we're quite familiar with some of the choices (Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism), players have the ability to rename their chosen faith to whatever they please ... which is great, because people like me can then fantasize about Fatassism actually catching on. Each religion provides its own tree of benefits, from the economical to the martial, and it's up to the player to utilize his or her spiritual guideline in a peaceful, diplomatic way, or as a means of aggressive expansion. Utilizing religious units such as prophets and missionaries will not only help players slowly convert the population of an enemy town, but also provide justification whenever you decide to invade and "liberate" converted followers in that location. An interesting dynamic to the religion system in Gods & Kings is how simply adopting another civilization's beliefs can provide unique and beneficial perks. As a "follower," players are granted their own tree of upgrades that the founder can't access, granting them not only the potential for better relations with the other faction, but better, more-intuitive means of eventually conquering them. The system is quite thorough, and contextually fascinating, if you know anything about religious history. It can still be a bit strange to see a Buddhist Ireland, but how the religion is merely adopted and utilized is incredibly intriguing ... and fun! Espionage has also found its way back into the game. Once the renaissance hits, players can recruit spies to do some dirty work from the shadows. While spies are now a limited unit, their role is as beneficial (or detrimental) as ever. Not only can they provide information on what enemy civilizations are currently doing, but they can also tell players what enemies are planning. Know of an impending attack from one civ on another? Sell the information to the latter for a boost in favor and a little extra dough. Or, do what I normally do and attack the one while its attacking the other; an invading country is a country undefended, after all. Spies can also rig elections, bleed an enemy of resources via the art of sabotage, and even stage a coup d'état, resulting in a territory becoming automatically allied with you. Forcing a new government on a given region tends to have that wonderful effect, after all. Knowing what an enemy is doing and screwing with them beyond their perception has always been an integral part of strategy games, so it's no surprise that spies in Gods & Kings are a valuable asset to prosperity. What's a videogame without a little fabrication, though? Firaxis has decided to have a little fun with the series and add the "Empires of the Smokey Skies" scenario. No, it's not about the American automotive industry, but rather an alternate take on the centuries proceeding the renaissance -- as is the case with most steam punk. This scenario gives players a new look to not only their cities and towns, but also their military units. Be prepared to utilize giant, iron-wheeled tanks that blow the nuts and bolts off of other steam-powered behemoths. My personal favorite is the sky fortress, a giant dirigible that acts as an aircraft carrier, sending a squad a biplanes to wreak havoc on those silly enough to challenge it. Imagine turning a bunch of Wright Brothers planes into weapons ... freakin' sweet. A new technology tree is also open for players to customize. While the majority of it did seem like aesthetic redressing, such cleverly replacing computer advancement with "Difference Engine," some nifty and interesting additions have been made. Like Tesla coils? Well, Gods & Kings lets you have plenty of them. For those who aim to win under technological conditions, the tree all culminates to the "Grand Idea." Overall, fans of cyberpunk should be very happy with the tribute that Firaxis pay with this particular scenario. Civilization V: Gods & Kings has a lot going for it, when it comes to a stand-alone expansion. Sure, plenty of people are likely to complain that the religion aspect should have been in the original version, but what is here is indeed solid. Considering everything else that I didn't get to see, such as the "Fall of Rome" scenario, owners of Civ 5 have a lot to look forward to. In a world ripe with DLC and incremental upgrades, expansion sets like these are a dime a dozen. At least Firaxis provides enough new content to justify the purchase.

Few games actually require no introduction, and this is certainly one of them. This long-winded, turn-based strategy series has persistently delved deep into the core of human history, and what it takes for a nation to start,...

About the 'art' debate: Please shut the f**k up

May 04 // Ryan Perez
Unsurprisingly, this was in the first page of image results when I Googled "art." Who cares? I don't mean that in the passive teenage sense. I actually want to expose the types of people who so hope for videogames to be universally accepted as "art," and why it's so important to them. And just to be clear, I am not one of those people; so, if you are, then please leave, because I will unapologetically offend you ... most likely. "Art" is mostly important to the individuals who have hijacked the term and turned it into a safety net, a self-reassuring title that provides a spiritual (and unverifiable) sense of worth where there likely is none. I stopped calling myself an "artist" a long time ago, because, as I learned in college, any cunty hipster can (and usually does) pick up a Polaroid camera, snap a few shitty photos of their feet or the old Asian guy who owns the corner store, and then call themselves ... well, you get the idea. The SF Museum of Modern Art has entire canvases painted one goddamned color. One of my art instructors in college presented a photo piece of a "renowned artist" with a bullwhip sticking out of his ass ... I kid you not. This is all because of two important factors: "True art" is completely subjective, and most people will admire the living fuck out of anything with that title. Hence why so many individuals bestow upon themselves the handle of "artist," and hence why I so obnoxiously feature the word in quotes. Gamers, as I've come to learn, are no less immune to developing this douche disease. While I studied plenty of fine art in college, most of my curriculum centered on technical art (I majored in animation). For this reason, a lot of my fellow students were game design and programming majors. With the time I spent around these individuals, I learned the most passionate of students proudly considered their vocation the end all/be all of creative mediums. As my career in journalism progressed, I learned that consumers felt just as passionately about gaming as a hobby. This would be a giant plaster cock. Apparently, it's supposed to mean something profound. So what's that have to do with all this "art" ballyhoo? Well, anyone with such a fervent relationship with games will naturally aspire to legitimize and validate the medium as a job, hobby, competitive outlet, etc. I now refer to my aforementioned point: The most obvious way to add validity to anything you do is by somehow associating it with "art." This is not to assume that gamers can't enjoy the medium without such validity (a point of mine I'm about to make), but, come on ... why on Earth would anyone give a shit when a non-gamer says videogames aren't "art" if gamers somehow didn't feel that the assumption made the hobby seem less significant? Simply put, the word "art" is merely a synonym for "something inexplicably awesome," so telling a diehard gamer that his or her hobby doesn't fit that definition is like telling a person of extreme faith that God is an asshole.   Calling McDonalds "gourmet" wouldn't make it taste better. Let me propose a hypothetical question: If, by some freakish turn of events, the entire world accepted videogames among the admirable essence of Caravaggio paintings or Wilhelm Richard Wagner compositions, would you then enjoy playing them more? Would that designation alone make them more engaging, intriguing and resonating? Obviously some of you will have different reactions than others, so I'll leave you to your own conclusions. Seriously, though, the correct answer is "no." With the exception of technology and application, few things about this medium have changed in the past couple of decades -- especially market trends. In fact, videogames are one of the few mediums that can humbly state that it has made a distinctive image of its own, birthed from the eclectic (and sometimes monotonous and predictable) world of geek culture. Geekery has never been regarded well within the more pretentious world of fine arts (I can confirm this by experience),  yet still -- and we should be proudly claiming this whenever this "art" crap comes up -- we've enjoyed comics, genre fiction, tabletop RPGs, videogames, etc. without the slightest bit of remorse or regret. In fact, I've seen plenty of pen-and-paper RPG players in the heat of a raid; they are quite blissfully shameless. And adorable, to boot. Try calling these "chips." I'm sure that'll help. The reason all of us enjoy such idiosyncratic activities is because of their emphasis on fun. Such personal enjoyment, and believe me when I say this, is not really an aspiration of the "art" world. Art is often a hands-off avenue, and one could argue that an emphasis on artistic integrity would be quite detrimental to that which has caused us to enjoy videogames for these many, many years. Now, that's not to say a more focused and "emotional" approach towards videogames (namely their stories) should be avoided at all. In fact, I advocate the medium as a means of social commentary and evocative narration. Does that have anything to do with videogames being considered art, though? Again, no. Some would make the argument that considering games as such would influence our speech regarding the medium, not to mention our respect for it and how we apply creative decisions towards it. Forewarning: Do not ever make this argument in my presence, because it will require every ounce of my strength not to drive my arthritic "artist" fist into your fucking face. If a sudden, worldwide consensus was reached and games were considered art, I can guarantee you that we'd still be shooting zombies, roping dragons, and gawking at the latest titty physics. This industry isn't waiting for some "games are art" bell to go off, so everyone can finally start wearing berets and asking each other, "So what underlying theme did you feel was present when you learned that Andross was really a brain and a pair of eyes?" Those who have any real impact on this industry and the medium have made up their minds a long time ago when it comes to this "art" debate, so pushing it any further is incredibly pointless. Trust me, nothing would change if everyone else reached the same conclusion. It's supposed to evoke the question: What is art? Something you piss on, I always assumed. Actually, scratch that, one thing would change: You'd play a game that was nothing but a white screen ... and many keen artistic minds would argue that the point all along was for you to get up and blow into your CD feeder. Fuckin' deep, man.   Just shut up and keep doin' what you're doin' Let me make one important thing clear: As cynical as I am by nature, there's absolutely no way I could completely discredit the entire history of the art world. I come from a creative background, so it's impossible for me to deny the significant impact that certain forms of art and specific art pieces have had on world cultures and the human condition. The best of art has brought the most rigid of grown men to tears, and has inspired a lot of us to do either what we do today, or what we aim to do in the future. Still, I would make the argument that such works were significant because they were skillful representations of whatever influenced their creation, not simply because they were ever considered "art." Caravaggio was a pretentious sot with a reputation for sword dueling (yes, dueling), who created The Crucifixion of Saint Peter because he wanted to craft something admirable and make decent money in return, not because he wanted the now-worthless title of "artist." The games industry is full of similar people, and I would be willing to bet my first-born child (that I never plan on having) that the Caravaggios, Kubricks, Schafers, and Levines of this world would have made the exact amazing things they did, with or without the "art" stamp of approval. The point of this article is not to argue whether or not games are art; my point, if you haven't figured it out yet, is that it doesn't matter. Games are what they are, and no mere single-syllable designation is going to change that. Therefore, you can be assured that further debate on the subject in the future is probably just as pointless as the individual who couldn't think of anything better to discuss. I know that's a blatantly hypocritical statement, considering everything I've just written, but please consider this nothing more than a declaration of my hope that this meaningless debate dies a sudden and permanent death. I keep seeing random articles pop up about this stinking subject; enough is enough.  [embed]226826:43578[/embed] Mere "artists" don't make powerful scenes like these. Incredible talents and perceptive minds do. This is where I tell any perpetuators of this debate to refer to the title of this article. In fact, I would absolutely adore it if others tossed that little sentence into the next "10 Reasons Why Games are Art" feature they see. Not that I want to start some silly movement; so no need to attach my name to such a benevolent statement, if you ever do make it. Just a simple "Shut the fuck up" will do nicely. Then perhaps we could move on, onto more important things: such as focusing on making good games. Calling something "art" doesn't make it good, it just makes it a collector's item for some asshole who will never bother to truly appreciate it. Oh, and if you're one of those people who still can't seem to get over the implied significance of videogames (as art or otherwise), Sir Anthony Hopkins once said, "If none of us ever acted again, the world would not come to a stop. If I never acted on stage again, so what? Who cares?" If such a revered talent -- a master and undeniable respecter of his craft -- can so openly admit his chosen profession, as amazing and fun as it can be, is completely irrelevant to the welfare of human life, then you, as a hobbyist, can do the same. So, please, shut the fuck up, smoke a bowl, order some Chinese food, relax, and just play some freakin' games.

The greatest comment I've ever read from a community member anywhere was, "Son of a s**t-eating Christ, not another 'games as art' argument. Excuse me while I alleviate my pain by shooting out my left ball." Nope, I'm not mak...

Preview: Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

Apr 30 // Ryan Perez
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (3DS, PC, PlayStation 3 [previewed], PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360) Developer: Sumo Digital Publisher: Sega Release: TBA 2012 Upon selecting a racer, more than one moment saw me pointing to a character and saying aloud, "Oh yeah, I forgot Sega made that game!" Of course, the expected Sonic cast was present: Tails, Knuckles, Dr. Robotnik (I don't call him "Eggman," because this is America, goddamnit). Joining them, though, were characters whom I had forgotten even belonged to the Sega family: Amigo (Samba de Amigo), Beat (Jet Set Radio), and B.D. Joe (Crazy Taxi). It was at that point that I realized Sega actually had a shit-ton of variety and eclecticism within their body of work, and this little racing game was, in a lot of ways, a testament to that. Now, even though I've had my fair share of Sega consoles (everything except for the Sega CD), I can't call myself a "Sega kid." I got my hands on every piece of hardware I could while growing up, no matter the company. Still, that didn't keep the warm feelings of my childhood from brewing in my gut, especially once I took to the roads of the Panzer Dragoon course. While I did play the game in a relatively early state (alpha, to be exact), it was little snippets of nostalgia like these that made me realize that Sega fans were going to be in for a real treat. Considering how much of the company's history the previous All Stars Racing game encapsulated, I can only imagine this follow­-up will provide more of that iconic imagery. "Shit yes," says my 13-year-old, malnourished inner-self. So the nostalgia is a great hook, but how does it play? Well, the "Transformed" in the subtitle actually has significant meaning. During each race, courses will change their structure after every lap. So, naturally, each character's vehicle morphs into the appropriate form. On the Panzer Dragoon course, the first lap had me clattering over a creaky wooden bridge -- a favorite in professional racing, of course. On the second lap, though, a fuckin' dragon burst out of the water and destroyed it! No worries, because B.D. Joe's cab flipped its wheels and presented a nice set of propellers for the water below. Upon reaching that area for the third time, instead of sloshing into the lake, Joe's Chevy Impala took to the skies like Doc Brown's DeLorean, but with less time traveling and more ... well, craziness, I suppose. The elaborate changes in courses not only provided a fresh pace to the otherwise-bland genre of "kart racers," but they also quelled the boredom that can sometimes present itself after the third lap on the same track. Seeing as how I only got to try out two courses (the other being a downhill Super Monkey Ball-themed one), I'm anxious to see what other creative twists Sumo has added to the track selection. Amidst all of this reverential Sega imagery and the nostalgic glow it emanated, I couldn't help but feel a bit of remorse in the end. Seeing the diversity of Sega's franchises under one roof (or skybox) sort of brought to light the tragic reality that, well, while the company has a quality portfolio, it has continued to face more and more hardship. I mean, Transformed featured a roster of characters from games that had absolutely nothing to do with each other -- all of them great, to boot. It now makes less sense to me than it ever did why Sega has taken such a tumble down the staircase of this industry. Goddamned Nintendo has thrived on the same names and faces we've known since the late 80s, yet they have managed to accumulate an Olympic-sized pool of gold bullion. Mascot-themed games provide a rather decent retrospective of a company's history. Super Smash Bros. showed us Nintendo's backstory, Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale will compile Sony's, and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed does that very thing for Sega. The result is a relatively fun and robust experience that makes you think, "Wait a minute ... if they made that game, then what the hell is the problem?" Oh well, perhaps I don't have the full picture. In fact, I know I don't. For all I know, the Sega execs of old might have blown all the company's money of cocaine and classy hookers. What matters is that, while Sega has taken hit after hit, despite all rules of logic and reality, games like Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed show that they can still make a fun and engaging title ... complimented by a cast from their own great games. Sumo Digital has put a lot of care into making this game its own great experience, even going as far as building the engine from the ground up, as well as implementing their own physics into the gameplay. Transformed plus liquor is a combination that's bound to be worthy of a friendly, split-screen gathering ... err, I mean "fun for the whole family." By the way, this preview taught me one important fact: Max Scoville is rather graceless at competitive racing games. So if you find yourself at a bar with him, and he's downed a few slippery nipples (yes, that's a real drink), the handheld version of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a sure way to win a "wager of the pantsless variety" with him. You didn't hear that from me, though.

Few developers have a large enough catalog of praised franchises that they can make entire games featuring a variety of their own iconic characters. Nintendo is obviously the leading company that has made a habit of doing th...

Preview: Fun with guns in Max Payne 3 single/multiplayer

Mar 29 // Ryan Perez
Max Payne 3 (PC [previewed], Xbox 360 [previewed], PlayStation 3) Developer: Rockstar Studios Publisher: Rockstar Games Release: May 29th Our old friend with nothing to lose Max Payne made its original debut on the PC, which was also where I was first exposed to the series, personally. Since then, I have continued the tradition, playing its sequel, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, on the same platform the first day it launched. After having seen the series' third installment in action on NVIDIA's new 680 hardware, I can't see this PC trend breaking anytime soon for me. Rockstar stressed that Max Payne 3 was not a PC port. The game has been developed from the ground up with this platform in mind, even incorporating several DX11 features -- which is still oddly uncommon in a lot of games, for some silly reason. So any of you PC elitists who yearn for the days of old when console games were the afterthought, rest assured that MP3 will have plenty more than what the 360 and PS3 versions can offer. As for the actual single-player experience, all I can say is, "boing." The original Max Payne set so many standards with regards to action shooters, and MP3 certainly doesn't skimp on the quality that its predecessors were known for. The action is consistently fast and frantic, with slight interventions of dialogue and exposition. The stage I witnessed had Max and his buddy Passos blazing their way through a large gang-controlled stadium. Tight concession areas saw Max doing his signature slow-mo dive into small groups of enemies, littering the area (and his foes) with bullets. The level even provided a nice sniping diversion, where Max escorted his pal from afar, taking out any enemies in Passos' way. At one point, Passos backed away from an ascending stairway with his hands raised, where a gang member walked down with his gun pointed. As the enemy barked orders, Max lined up the perfect killshot; the bullet, presented in glorious slow-motion (à la the original Max Payne) flew cleanly through the gangster's head. Afterward, Passos could be seen slumping over, exasperated, as if to say, "I'm getting too old for this shit." Even the non-gamers at the event chuckled. It's great moments like these that have made the Max Payne series one of my all-time favorites. Presentation has always been a main focus in Rockstar's titles, and MP3 is no different. The series' familiar graphic novel-style narrative is back, but rather than still panels and voiceovers, cutscenes are edited in real-time into a sort of motion comic, much like you see in a lot of comic-inspired films. The result looked like a great way of keeping things moving. Even important expository information is presented at the bottom of the frame in the game's main typeface. For instance, if a character says something along the lines of, "First, we need to hurry and defuse the bomb," then the words "defuse the bomb" pop up on screen. It's a pretty nice way for the game to give the player their objective while retaining the pace. Max Payne 3 uses Rockstar's familiar RAGE Engine, and though one would expect that it'd be blatantly showing its age at this point, that's not really the case with MP3. Character models look better than they ever have, and some nice effects are produced during heated firefights; my personal favorite was the Matrix-style blurry tracers from bullets after Bullet Time had been activated. PC users can even expect features like Tessellation; I'll admit, I was a bit surprised to hear that the RAGE Engine was still capable of such feats. Like many of Rockstar's other games, MP3 also utilizes Natural Motion's Euphoria Engine. For those who don't know, Euphoria is a character behavior program that accurately calculates the reactions and animations that NPCs have during certain situations. Red Dead Redemption fans will recognize Euphoria from whenever Marston stumbled drunkenly out of a tavern, or by roping bandits and dragging them along while on horseback. In Max Payne 3, enemies react accordingly to gunshots to specific areas. They'll limp around when shot in the foot, or stand dead-armed after taking a round to the shoulder. To me, Euphoria's procedural programming has always felt more fluent and lifelike than predetermined animations or ragdoll physics. I only need to point to games like Max Payne 3 for proof. Overall, MP3's PC rendition looks damned sweet. Rarely has Rockstar ever disappointed us with their single-player experiences. After having seen Max Payne 3 in action, I don't think "disappointment" will be a term any of us will hear when the game launches in two months. I'm leaving to pre-order my copy for PC the moment I'm done with this preview, no bullshit. Brazilian brawls with buddies Even Rockstar agreed with me when I said this: It's almost as if it would make more sense for multiplayer in games like GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption to suck. Both games have such insanely well-made solo experiences, that multiplayer should be some sort of shitty afterthought. Anyone who has played either of the two games online can tell you that that's certainly untrue. Rockstar has developed the habit of tailoring multiplayer almost directly to the single-player. By this, I mean that whatever themes are accentuated in the core solo experience are brought over to multiplayer in the form of unique modes or features. GTA IV is about gangsters and the mafia, so it's multiplayer has a mode where a team of "Crooks" must get their boss to safety, while a team of "Cops" tries to take him down. Red Dead Redemption is influenced heavily by spaghetti westerns, so Rockstar thought, "Fuck it, let's have a Mexican standoff at the start of each multiplayer deathmatch." They followed this same philosophy in Max Payne 3. Sure, the game does have the obligatory free-for-all and team deathmatch modes ... some of us just want to shoot things, after all, right? I even played through a mode called Payne Killer, similar to King of the Hill, where two players take on the rolls of Max and his buddy Passos, giving up those roles once they are killed. The player with the most time alive as either character wins the match. The one mode that Rockstar was proudest to show off was called Gang Wars. Basically, it consists five consecutive rounds, each a different mode than the others, which all change according to the outcome of subsequent rounds. For instance, if one round requires a team to retrieve a particular package (in this case, a bomb), and they win that round, then the following match will see that same team delivering that bomb to a target location. This particular touch makes Gang Wars seem very dynamic, and provides a bit of a narrative aspect to the multiplayer experience. This mode, along with the ability to form personal gangs and have rivals with other groups, will certainly provided a worthwhile experience in its own right. Max Payne 3's multiplayer also features some considerable depth and customization. Players will have the ability to create loadouts, all with their own guns, items, and skills that are unlocked by acquiring cash and XP. The difference between other games with this feature, though, is that your character becomes slower with every new gun or item you equip him with. Believe me, it makes a difference, because I thought I'd go into each match packing heat like Rambo. Instead, I ran around like a fat asshole with knee issues. Now, I imagine a lot of people out there are particularly curious about how Bullet Time works. I myself imagined multiplayer consisting of a constant barrage of slowed time, no matter where you are on the map. Fortunately, Bullet Time is actually based on line of sight. If I can see you, then activate my BT, you slow down. And if you can see anyone else while you're slowed, they too are affected. This not only rids us the annoyance of being slowed every five seconds, but actually creates an interesting dynamic to the multiplayer's strategy. Anyone caught out in the open during Bullet Time is pretty screwed, but, if players are near a corner or doorway, all they have to do is simply break the enemy's view of them. Then, after waiting a few seconds, turn BT back on them. So, simply put, Bullet Time in multiplayer is freakin' awesome. In fact, one of my most cherished memories will always be watching a Rockstar employee dive at me, time slowed to a crawl, only for me to club him in the face with the butt of my gun and kill him ... before he hit the ground. Bullet Time is but one of the many extra abilities that you can take into combat. These abilities are known as "Bursts," and range from granting you and your teammates health boosts to forcing members of the opposing team to see each other as enemies. Can you imagine how pissed certain people are going to be, once they're gunned down by a teammate during a pivotal moment of the round? I certainly can. One particular multiplayer feature that I liked was the ability to create a "vendetta." If a member of the enemy team kills you twice, without you killing them once, you can basically flip them the bird by forming a vendetta, which creates a large, distinguishable marker above their head, and also yields more cash for killing them. Unfortunately, I didn't win a single goddamned vendetta, but I can imagine the enemy players got some joy out of my failure -- and the bonus dough I granted them. I do love brightening up people's already awesome days. I have to give credit where it's due: Max Payne 3 certainly does not feature your run-of-the-mill multiplayer. Its modes are fun and varied, it features more depth and variety than most people will probably anticipate (you can even completely customize your in-game model, hipster glasses included), and its gunplay is fast, frantic, and incredibly fun. I can already tell I'm going to enjoy multiplayer in MP3 just as much as I did in GTA IV and RDR.

I'm going to slip on my flamboyant fanboy hat for a second here and say that I adore the Max Payne series. Ever since the third installment was announced about 63 f*ckin' years ago, every morning has felt like a lie to me; th...

Preview: Darksiders II is inspired by the best there is

Mar 26 // Ryan Perez
Darksiders II (PC, PlayStation 3, Wii U, Xbox 360 [previewed]) Developer: Vigil Games Publisher: THQ Release: June 26, 2012 Players take on the role of the Horseman Death, whose hobbies include ripping monsters to pieces, donning haggard armor, wielding unreasonably large scythes, and long walks on the souls of your ancestors. After his brother, the Horseman War, is accused of conspiring to start the Apocalypse before its due time, Death embarks on a disobedient quest to prove his brother's innocence any way he can. I suppose if you're a fan of the scary part of the Holy Bible, then DSII's narrative will probably appeal to you ... or it'll offend you, depending on how you look at it. I can't say I personally found the first game's story to be all that intriguing, but it does make the lore of the sequel a bit easier to absorb. I'll admit, it is nice to see developers utilizing tapping something other than Greek mythology for once. As for the levels, Darksiders II has a very dungeon-based style of progression. Players will make their way from room to elaborately designed room, defeating waves of monsters, solving slightly challenging puzzles, and attaining keys to unlock other areas. Like I said before, the game feels a lot like Zelda, as backtracking is a common occurrence and treasure chests are numerous. No flamboyant men cavorting around in green unitards, fortunately. I'll admit that some puzzles do throw you for a bit of a loop. Their solutions aren't always obvious (as they shouldn't be), and solving certain head-scratchers provides a real sense of accomplishment. At times, frustration might rear its fat, ugly head, but it's totally worth those moments when you slap your forehead and think, "Ah, of course!" I won't lie, though -- other moments may include your dropping the controller and saying to yourself, "Are you fuckin' serious? That's what I had to do?" Combat is of the fast hack-'n-slash variety, with numerous combos and special moves to clear out several enemies at once. One move I utilized frequently was Death's ability to send a scythe spinning into an area in front of him, stunning and dealing steady damage to enemies in its proximity (bigger monsters didn't budge, though). Death's scythes prove to be very versatile weapons and could easily rival Kratos' Blades of Chaos as some of the most kickass game weapons around. Also, much like during the fights in God of War, a button prompt, which triggers a finishing move, appears above the heads of nearly defeated enemies. Wait until you see him change into his traditional Grim Reaper form as a result -- one of the game's finer "holy shit" moments. For players who enjoy customization, Darksiders II features some pretty decent RPG elements. Monsters and treasure chests provide loot in the form of weapons, armor, and items, all which can be applied to Death for stat boosts. Every set of boots, greaves, or shoulder guards I slapped onto Death provided a different, more menacing look than the last. Even his scythes got a nice visual upgrade each time I found a better pair. By the end of the demo, my Death looked like something off of a heavy metal album cover -- how very appropriate that THQ decided to play Metallica during the event. In regard to how cool Death looks, my favorite aspect of the game is definitely the art. The locales have a very otherworldly feel to them, but not so much that they are completely void of any practicality. Giant wood and steel mechanisms decorate larger areas, providing a sense of age and primitiveness to the setting, as though some ancient, ethereal civilization built everything you see, only to leave it to the ages and let it all rot. At the end of the demo, I encountered one of the game's several bosses. I know I'm not the first to suggest this, but the giant, rock-like creature I battled (known as the "Guardian") reminded me a lot of Shadow of the Colossus. As I rode atop my mighty white steed, I was forced to time my hurdles and sprints in order to dodge its slow, powerful attacks. In order to defeat it, I had to target specific weak spots on its body after certain attacks. While the fight was certainly difficult -- I have horrible timing during these types of battles -- it was also very exhilarating, and a testament to the kind of variety that Darksiders II had. Overall, Darksiders II carries all the elements of a strong sequel to a decent action title. Even with its very blatant inspiration, the game does offer some intriguing and unique creativity, which gives the narrative and its world just enough believability to pull you in. The story and characters are somewhat interesting, the combat is fast and fun, the RPG elements provide some nice depth and variety, and the visuals are pleasurable to gawk at.

Though I never brought myself to complete the first Darksiders, I did enjoy it for the length that I played. It was nothing phenomenal in its own right, but it was still a fun experience, due to retaining enough good ins...


Correction: 1C's Men of War and King's Bounty not F2P

Mar 24
// Ryan Perez
A recent preview I wrote (published earlier this week) regarding 1C Company titles contained misinformation on two of the three games featured, Men of War: Condemned Heroes and King's Bounty: Warriors of the North. In this pi...

Review: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680

Mar 22 // Ryan Perez
[embed]224337:43139[/embed] NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680Manufacturer: NVIDIARelease: March 22, 2012MSRP: $499 Important GeForce GTX 680 specs: CUDA Cores: 1,536 (Three times more than the 580) Base Clock: 1006 MHz Boost Clock: 1058 MHz Memory Clock: 6008 MHz Interface: 256-bit Total Memory: 2048MB GDDR5 Total Memory Bandwidth: 192.26 GB/s Texture Filtering Rate (Bilinear): 128.8 Giga Texels/sec Connectors: 2 x Dual-Link DVI, 1 x HDMI, 1 x DisplayPort Recommended Power Supply: 550 Watts Thermal Design Power: 195 Watts (244 Watts for 580) Power Connectors: 2 x 6-pin (One 6-pin and one 8-pin for 580)  My general PC specs: Windows 7 x64 (cards are already compatible with Windows 8) Intel i7 2.80 GHz 8GB DDR3 SDRAM I'm just going to get straight to what most of you want to know: How it handles games. The reason I posted my rig's not-so-uber specs above is actually a way of pointing out that my 680 has been taking a lot of the stress with all of the graphically heavy games I've thrown at it. It's all for the card. Believe me, I would have gladly neglect mentioning my specs, as mentioning your lackluster PC to techies is like showing your four-incher to a porn star. The first game I tested -- and the most obvious -- was Battlefield 3. An important note about its Frostbite 2 engine is that it's very efficiently built to run on an adequately powered rig. My old 560 Ti (always overclocked) could handle ultra settings at around 40 to 50 FPS, minus VSync or anti-aliasing. So it's obvious that a 680 would make short work of this game's demands. However, even on powerful rigs, framerate drops are common during heated battles with an abundance of particle effects (smoke and explosions) and game models crowding the screen. To test this out the best I could, I played through several "Conquest Large" matches on BF3's biggest maps available, all on completely maxed-out settings. Even when a team had only one point captured, and the player focus was centered on that entire area, I didn't witness a single drop in smoothness. I mean I literally kept my eyes on the framrate as the sh*t was hitting the fan, and noticed no fluctuation at all. I then tested the 680 on an engine that isn't very efficiently built. The Witcher 2's RED Engine has turned quite a few heads due to its looks, though it's no secret that maxed-out settings require an overall top-end PC. More specifically, the "Uber Sampling" feature is typically what kills the game's performance, as it renders each scene several times over to provide a smoother image quality. Most people turn this feature off, as the slight visual improvement doesn't justify the hardware demands. On my 560 Ti, you could swear I was playing some game I received from ten years into the future; a whopping 15 FPS was the best I got out of it. With the 680, though, it ran at a very stable 40 to 50 FPS, with almost no drops below that 40 (even during combat). Mainly due to the RED Engine's cumbersome features, The Witcher 2 was one of the most technically demanding games I could test on it. A close equal was Crysis 2 with its DX11 upgrades, which ran surprisingly better than Witcher. Out of all the games I tested on the 680 (others include Skyrim, Rage and Just Cause 2), the most rewarding was undoubtedly Crysis 2. The Frostbite 2 engine looks beautiful because of it versatility, but the CryEngine 3 looks incredible because of its cutting-edge features, and the 680 handles them all brilliantly. Displacement maps, high-quality HDR, real-time reflections, and particle motion blur all look absolutely fantastic. My 560 Ti could barely handle Crysis 2 on max settings at around 30 FPS. My 680 laughs at it, with a strong 60 FPS, only dropping to near 50 during moments of extreme action (lots of explosions and particle effects). After all of this, I can't say I'm surprised that the 680 performed the way it did. Many people may remember the Unreal Engine 3 Samaritan Demo from last year's GDC. Well, that demo, mind-bogglingly beautiful as it was, originally required three GTX 580s and a power supply the size of a small child. When I was first presented the 680 at NVIDIA's Editor's Day event during GDC 2012, the same tech demo was shown ... running on a single 680 and nothing else. NVIDIA wants this card to really mean something to the gaming community, not only by being ultra powerful and providing us with longevity, but also via the cutting-edge features that are idiosyncratic to NVIDIA cards alone. A lot of you might have been wondering how I got such close framerate fluctuation with VSync presumably on (it was). Without getting too technical, a big issue people have with VSync is that it forces the framerate to drop by positive integers, based on your monitor's refresh rate (i.e. a 60Hz monitor dropping by 60FPS, 30, 20, 15, etc.) all for the sake of preventing "screen tearing." We gamers can see the obvious problem with this, as the drastic drop in framerate results in "jittering." To combat this, NVIDIA has developed what's known as "Adaptive VSync," which automatically turns off global VSync whenever the framerate needs to fall to anything below your monitor's max refresh rate. No more jitter and no more screen tearing. As another means of providing a smoother gaming experience, NIVIDA is aspiring to do away with MSAA (Multisample anti-aliasing) by providing their own FXAA, which can be activated within the card alone and be applied to any game. They're also providing the upcoming TXAA, a new film-style AA that is at least 4X more effective than MSAA. The result is a welcome addition, as we've been long overdue for an upgrade in this area. Another great feature that we're all becoming acquainted with is PhysX, NVIDIA's proprietary physics engine. PhysX has been steadily appearing in a lot of high-quality titles, providing great rigid and soft body dynamics, as well as fluid and cloth simulations. At NVIDIA's Editor's Day, Gearbox Software CEO Randy Pitchford showed off Borderlands 2 and how it implemented PhysX. Fluids pooled and flowed in complete real-time, and even reacted to explosions -- splashing about into numerous smaller puddles. Cloth materials reacted accordingly to foreign objects, and could even be torn and shredded when fired at. It was quite incredible how these effects could be handled with such relative ease in real-time, when just five years ago it took me several hours to render them for 3D animations on a high-end PC. The last upgrade I'm going to mention is, in a lot of ways, more of a downgrade, but sold me on the card merely due to my living situation. As stated before, the 680 is a very efficient card, and that applies more than anything to its power consumption. The 680 is so streamlined that it actually draws less power than its predecessor, the 580 (see the specs above). What does this mean for me? Well, as a city that desperately tries to retain some sort of bullsh*t identity, San Francisco is adamant about holding on to their Victorian architecture of the 1920s. This includes the f*cked up power distribution systems that came with them. With that said, I can only have about two appliances on at any one time, before I cause a power surge and my place goes completely dark. When it comes to PC gaming, this presents a problem. I actually used to SLI two 560s, but had to get rid of one if I wanted to game with my heater on -- enduring cold San Francisco nights is definitely not worth an extra 560 Ti. So you can imagine that a card like the 680 fairs well for someone with my situation, if not also for people who dig the environment or like saving money on bills. Not only does it consume less power than the best of last generation, but its TDP is only 25 more than my freakin' 560 Ti. After seeing the Samaritan demo and what it took to run it last year, I don't know how they accomplished what they have with the 680. It's like someone sold their ass to the Devil to make this thing. To really explain every notable change and addition with the GeForce GTX 680 would take so much more time. This new line of graphics cards is leaps and bounds beyond the 500 series. This review alone is obviously not going to convince you to throw down $499 on a new card, but I do hope it drives you to do a little more digging into the fine details of the 680 ... especially if you plan on upgrading. PC gaming is slowly but surely making a comeback, and the GeForce 680 is the card to welcome it with open arms. Several games are in development right now with this very card in mind (others shown at the NVIDIA event were Max Payne 3 and The Secret World). If you yearn for the time when you filled your PC with the best of the best tech in preparation for the hottest-looking games to come, then the time is certain now, and the tech is certainly this card. Oh, and before I go, all of you hardcore NVIDIA fans are probably going to want to watch this: [embed]224337:43138[/embed]

For some of us, upgrading our PCs with the best hardware and enjoying the most jaw-dropping games in all their glory is a not-so-distant memory. Even though I've consistently owned beefy rigs my whole life, I've spent less an...

Preview: Three 1C Company games worthy of a gander

Mar 19 // Ryan Perez
Men of War: Condemned Heroes, King's Bounty: Warriors of the North, Royal Quest (PC)Developer: 1C-SoftClub, Katauri InteractivePublisher: 1C CompanyRelease: TBA 2012 Men of War: Condemned Heroes It seems like everyone with a gun is "of" something these days. The interesting thing about this particular WW2 strategy game is that your troops are members of what were known as "penal battalions." Apparently, whenever Russian soldiers faced a court-martial, they were aften relocated into these particular battalions and sent on some of the most hazardous missions that our Russian allies had ever seen. Admirably enough, even members of these arguably punishing squads were deemed heroes within the war. So Men of War surprisingly features a controversial subject from Russian WW2 history. I've read about strapping bombs to dogs and training them to "find food" beneath tanks, but this one certainly tops my list of intriguing WW2 trivia. All of the missions players embark on are based on historical reference, which should make some of these soldiers' no-win scenarios even more interesting and inspirational. Too few games feature this sort of attention to non-fiction, so titles like Men of War: Condemned Heroes have their own appeal over the competition, from my point of view. As for the gameplay: It's what you'd expect from a tactical strategy game. Players are given a set amount of troops, and are tasked with accomplishing particular goals and objectives.  The graphics are on par with most other games in the genre, and the combat has some admirable depth to it (even giving players the choice between context-specific squad formations). The Men of War series is a pretty successful franchise for 1C, so check out Condemned Heroes if you dig strategy and are curious about the Russian side of the Great Patriotic War. King's Bounty: Warriors of the North I can't say I've had many chances in my life to play strategy-based RPGs. The genre doesn't exactly top the charts, after all. That hasn't stopped companies like 1C from trying to grasp a bit of that audience with the King's Bounty series, which is actually one of their top-selling franchises. Warriors of the North takes the genre into a European direction, featuring Nordic and Saxon-based armies -- everything from Vikings to, well, more Vikings. Players build armies that move around the continent (map) independently and engage in turn-based battles with other armies. Each battle consists of a grid where combatants move their units around to destroy each other. It's that simple. Those who are fans of strategic RPGs will feel right at home with King's Bounty. You build bases, upgrade troops, maintain morale, and basically wipe the other player off the map. Considering the raping and pillaging that Vikings often did, some might consider this a "game for the whole family." One thing grandma would definitely like is how you can summon a valykrie to destroy your enemies. A f*ckin' valkyrie! Royal Quest If there's one genre that the free-to-play market has plenty of, it's MMOs. They are easy to monetize and last about as long as people are willing to play them. For companies that are anxious to make some decent profit, never-ending games with microtransactions are like foreclosed homes to a Wall Street banker. I present to you: Royal Quest. To be fair, Royal Quest may look a bit on the cheap side, but it features plenty of variety that often make these F2P games worth trying out. Players choose one of three class types (melee, ranged gunman, or magic user) and embark on a journey of leveling, looting and lollygagging with other players. If you're at all familiar with MMOs and point-and-click RPGs -- I'm assuming most of you are -- then Royal Quest will be familiar territory. The game is simple, but it does have a decent emount of content that keeps it interesting. Players can expect no shortage of items and gear to add to their characters. Even gameplay has some nifty elements to it, such as certain enemies requiring specific element-based attacks to be defeated (i.e. fire monsters requiring water). Overall, Royal Quest seems like a decent diversion, wrapped up in a friendly, free-to-play package. 1C games might not be the topic of most conversations among gamers, but they do retain enough fun to generate an audience worth noting. 1C is technically the largest publishing company in the world (by product volume), and the company even has its own retail chain in Russia. So if you're curious about how these games have retained such a substancial constituency, try them out for yourself when they release later this year.

[UPDATE: It has been brought to our attention that factual errors have been made with regards to this preview, and that only one of 1C's titles, Royal Quest, will be free to play, whereas the other two mentioned titles will b...

GDC: Conquering worlds for free in PlanetSide 2

Mar 07 // Ryan Perez
PlanetSide 2 (PC) Developer: Sony Online Entertainment Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment Release: TBA I got your disease. The only way I could get my hands on Mass Effect 3 today was by trading in four other games. Honestly, since I've been living the vagrant lifestyle of a college student (though I graduated f*ckin' years ago), the idea of playing a game at no cost has been getting sweeter and sweeter. In fact, free-to-play MOBA games took up more of my time in 2011 than any other genre. So you can imagine my ecstasy when I learned that PlanetSide 2, a game I actually anticipate, won't take a single dime from me (unless I want it to). The only things that will require cash are the usual experience boosts and custom skins -- that's it. Like a lot of other developers out there, SOE doesn't believe in "pay to win," so any of us poor sods won't be at a disadvantage against the other responsible people with real jobs and a steady income. If you've ever been curious to experience first-person shooters on a grander scale, or if you're a fan of MMOs and would like to try something a little more persistently chaotic, at least now you know that you won't have to sell your other kidney to do so. It's tough to say whether or not there's a market for MMOFPS games, because ... well, there technically isn't one. The original PlanetSide didn't do terribly well, so the genre never went anywhere subsequently. What followed was missed opportunity for companies to capitalize on a fairly obvious and brilliant idea. Thankfully, SOE is taking another shot at it (pun intended), and cult fans will be pleased to know that plenty of what made the original game great will be in this follow-up. Players will pick from one of the original three factions: the authoritative and tyrannical Terran Republic, the rebellious and crafty New Conglomerate, or the tech-savvy and cult-like Vanu Sovereignty (mine). All three groups not only feature their own visual identities, but the hardware they sport provide distinguishable gameplay elements; Conglomerate weapons pack a punch but suffer from bullet drag, whereas the Vanu utilize energy rounds that travel straight to their target, however don't do as much damage as traditional ammo. Speaking of hardware, vehicles play just as large of a role in PS2 as they did in the original game, if not larger. While infantry are required for the inner-workings of a base or capture point, an entire fleet of tanks can make short work of outer defenses. Believe me when I say "fleet," because players can freely creep up to enemy strongholds with squads of gunships -- dozens of them. Queue "Ride of the Valkyries." What makes such epic possibilities even more appealing is the fact that PlansetSide 2 features a completely persistent world map. Each continent provides several marked, resource-laden areas for enemy factions to invade, capture and control -- distinguished by the color of the faction that owns them. Attack and defend as you please; nothing is planned or scripted. This made the conflicts in the original game much more personal than most other shooters around today, and I can imagine the same will be said about this upcoming sequel. I can't completely ignore what other, more confined shooters did right that the original PlanetSide did wrong. Games like the Modern Warfare series ushered in a new standard for online shooters with customization and RPG elements. It added a new degree of depth to online play, and was the main reason so many people kept going back for more. Likewise, such elements have made their way into PlanetSide 2, where they feel even more welcome. Over the course of the game, you acquire both experience and in-game currency that go towards new weapons, vehicles and upgrades. While the typical additions can be expected (red dot sights, different ammo types), infantry can benefit from varying armor classes, stat-boosting implants, special abilities, and a variety of large and small firearms. I'm anxious to see if roles play as large of a part in PS2's gameplay as they do in other MMOs (i.e. tanks, healers, straight DPS). Customization also extends to vehicles, as well. Airships can either be outfitted with missiles to make short work of ground targets, or use fast-firing rail guns to help keep the skies clear. Tanks can be equipped with better armor, heavier-hitting shells, or better innards for speed sake. Before you know it, SOE might give players the ability to name their beasts of destruction. I imagine "Bertha" would be a popular pick. PlanetSide 2 is definitely a game for people who have wanted to take the fast, action-packed gamelpay of first-person shooters onto an even more vast battlefield. As someone who enjoyed the first game, I can say that fighting a war without barriers is something that really can't be replicated in any other genre. While my thirst for open-world warfare was nary sated over these past several years, it's good to know that SOE decided to provide fans like myself with a tall drink of water. Anyone else with a dry mouth and a desire for something new and refreshing should definitely keep an eye on PlanetSide 2.

First-person shooters lend themselves incredibly well to vast, open environments, so it's almost criminal that we don't have more games taking that to the level the original PlanetSide did. A normal session of gameplay involv...

Preview: Fighting an evil U.N. in End of Nations

Mar 01 // Ryan Perez
End of Nations (PC) Developer: Petroglyph Games Publisher: Trion Worlds Release: Fall 2012 Freedom is indeed free I'm just going to get this out of the way, because plenty of people still think that "free" is synonymous with "cheap," especially with regards to game design. However, anyone who has played games like League of Legends or Heroes of Newerth can tell you that that's completely untrue. Also, anyone who has played Trion Worlds' previous MMO, Rift, can testify that this company certainly makes quality games. End of Nations is completely free. Yes, you read that correctly; you don't have to pay a single cent to experience all of the game's content. That's a pretty sweet deal. So if you're on the fence about whether or not to give this one a try, at least you aren't risking anything by doing so. I know you're probably thinking, "How do they plan on making any money?" Simply by providing anyone with time constraints (i.e. actual adults) the choice to buy experience boosts and other types of handicaps so they can enjoy the later content of the game a bit sooner than us leeches. That's all ... no pay-to-win crap that people usually complain about when it comes to F2P games. So freakin' relax. War has changed From what I played, I didn't manage resources or build bases of any kind. Matches were won by meeting a set of pre-existing conditions, or simply by outlasting the other player. Players start off by choosing one of two factions -- the Liberation Front or the Shadow Revolution -- before entering matches with their "squads," customizable sets of units that each player controls. As they progress through the game, players earn points that go towards upgrades, new units, and better super weapons ... pretty self-explanatory stuff. The first mode I played was creatively named "Last Man Standing," where I and another press member battled against waves of enemy forces -- both of us at separate ends of the map. Before the match, we picked a squad of units, and were tasked with defending our capture point for as long as we could; whoever lasted the longest won the match. The best part about this mode (and what led to my victory) was that I could send "gifts" over to the other player's blockade. In this case, "gifts" translates to clusters of mines that I dropped directly into his units. Other modes were a bit more directly competitive. At the event, the opposing side of the table consisted of Liberation Front players, whereas my side (designated as "Team Stinkeye" by yours truly) was nothing but Shadow Revolution. After starting at opposite ends of the map, both teams fought for control over different points on the battlefield; some points granted a bigger cash flow to repair units and buy super weapons, whereas others depleted enemy reinforcements at a faster rate. We lost, unfortunately, though Team Stinkeye shall never be forgotten I must say, having each member of the team control their own set amount of units is a rather interesting approach to RTS multiplayer. While most players at the event controlled their squads as a single entity, rather than splitting them up, I'm curious to see what strategies are formed with this different style of gameplay. The smell of napalm in the morning For those who don't know, the developer of End of Nations, Petroglyph Games, was founded by ex-employees of Westood Studios. Anyone familiar with Westwood surely knows of their flagship franchise, Command & Conquer, which is now seeing decent success under the guidance of Electronic Arts. So with End of Nations being developed by key minds behind one of the most influential strategy games ever, you can bet your war bonds that I'm enthusiastic. Also, it should come as no surprise that End of Nations features a similarly epic, baroque style that Command & Conquer had. Global conflict, evil military organizations and odd technologies are but a few of the features that'll make you Brotherhood of Nod fans feel right at home. The conflict itself is particularly familiar. Basically, some jerk decided that the United Nations wasn't living up to its intended purpose, so he decided to form the Order of Nations. Their goal: to wipe out all of the world's individual governments and replace them with a singular one. Unfortunately for all fascist regimes, people don't take too kindly to control these days, so, as a result, the two aforementioned factions were formed to combat this evil empire. To make things more interesting, both factions happen to dislike each other a bit ... hence FedExing landmines to my opponent. The overall conflict is a bit crude and cartoonish, but it does fit well with the game's number of modes and locales. These types of games never really lend themselves to plausibility, anyhow. Just fun. ...Only who is left End of Nations is an idea that I've always been interested in. Social titles like Empires and Allies have shown that strategy games work nicely with open and seamless communities, so I'm anxious to see how crazy the clashes in EoN will get. I won't lie, it is a different kind of RTS. If you're some sort of RTS god (or if you're Korean), then End of Nations is going to be unfamiliar territory for you. Still, that's no excuse to not give this game a shot when it launches this fall. Your wallet will remain untouched. Your pride, however, is another story. Later in the event, every member of the press teamed up against the Trion Worlds QA department. To say we were massacred and humiliated is a gross understatement. Jerks.

I've never had much of a knack for strategy or warfare. I'm not relentlessly evil enough to be a dictator, and I'm not selfless and stalwart enough to be some sort of freedom fighter. So when the big WWIII hits, I'm probably ...

Preview: Getting in deep with the Triads in Sleeping Dogs

Feb 17 // Ryan Perez
Sleeping Dogs (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [previewed]) Developer: United Front Games Publisher: Square Enix Release: August 2012 A police story with a super cop It pleases me greatly when I play a game from a developer that openly places narrative high within their development process. I had a chance to speak with Lead Producer Jeff O'Connell, who stated they put a lot of effort into featuring an intriguing and gripping story. "I think as far as a real, gritty -- whatever other adjectives you want to throw on top of it -- mature cop story; we've achieved that," he told me. "You can do the sort of Charles Bronson 'I'm a cop and I kill everybody' story, but we wanted to be more respectful of our source material than that." I like the sound of that. Not only does the subject of triads fascinate me immensely, but I'm even more intrigued if some degree of realism is incorporated within the portrayal. While this is a game, and action is very abundant within the gameplay, at least certain elements of the experience were subdued for the sake of the subject matter. What's even more gratifying to hear is that actual research was done from real Triad members. "We sent our writer to Hong Kong and he met with a guy who used to be in the Triads," O'Connell said, "and he hooked our writer up with some friends of his who are still members. They took him to different clubs and restaurants, and answered basically every question our writer had." Jeff informed me of some interesting misconceptions people have towards Chinese organized crime, so I can't wait to see how they incorporate all of this into the game. From what little I saw of the story, I can tell that people into Chinese crime and action films will be drawn in. Hard boiled and heavy hitting Speaking of Chinese action, Sleeping Dogs certainly has taken a lot of inspiration from the mordern-day martial arts films of Hong Kong cinema. The gameplay emphasizes a lot on hand-to-hand combat and utilizing the environment to subdue enemies ... because, from what Jeff told me, Triads are more keen on beating or cutting people to "send a message", rather than just killing them. Punches connect with such brutal audibility, that mere blood splatter sounds like a small cup of juice being poured onto the floor. Counter moves result in either a kick to the face or a broken arm, followed by a gut-wrenching squeal from the opponent. The environments, though, are where the real payoffs lie. Enemies' heads can be slammed onto table edges or in between car doors. They can be thrown and impaled on sharp objects jutting from the ground. My personal favorite, though, has to be shoving someone's face into the fan of an air conditioner, resulting in a crimson mist of meat and flesh. It's the little things in life that you treasure, really. Some may ask, "What's authentic about that?" Well, anyone who enjoys Hong Kong cinema can tell you that exaggeration is a key component to the composition. If protagonists aren't throwing enemies into things, smacking them in the head with random objects, or kicking them hard enough to let the power powder fly (the dust you see whenever people land blows), then you're probably not watching a Chinese action film. What's Hong Kong action without some automotive escapades, though? As expected, Wei utilizes several different vehicles to make his way through the open world streets of the city. Also, he can have a little law-bending fun with some street racing. One of the levels I played involved that very thing, against one of Wei's criminal cronies. It was fast and very arcade-like, and reminded me greatly of the Need for Speed Underground series. Though most people seemed to fail once or twice, the racing was fairly well done for a side feature. Hopefully they loosen up the vehicle handling a bit before the game launches. In short, though, the gameplay was fun and satisfying. End of story. Internal affairs of United Front Games Sleeping Dogs has had a bit of a rocky development. It first started off as an original IP, however Activision (the owner at the time) decided that the True Crime name would help the game sell, so it then became True Crime: Hong Kong. Unfortunately, that project was eventually canceled, though it was adopted soon after by Square Enix during their spell of swooping up western companies and franchises. I got to sit down with Lee Singleton, General Manager for Square Enix London, as well as Stephen Van Der Mescht, Executive Producer at United Front Games, and ask them about the relationship between both of their companies. "[Square Enix] is basically a dedicated team of designers and producers," said Singleton, "and we have a little acquisition group who knew a couple of people at UFG. We heard about what had happened -- how they were left with no game coming out -- so we spoke to Activision, we spoke to the guys at UFG, and we did a deal to make it work." It's never a bad story to hear whenever a company gets to continue with all of their hard work, and Van Der Mescht assured me that the relationship between the two companies couldn't be any more coalescent. "There was an immediate shared vision," Van Der Mescht stated. "[Square Enix] had experience with open-world games with Just Cause 2, so what we were doing became quite clear to them, as did our goals. So there was a perfect match." Both men were very confident about their work together and the project itself. As they should be, because I'm definitely interested in what else Sleeping Dogs has to offer. It's a shame that certain titles face the grave before they're even born, but at least Sleeping Dogs is now happily in development and seeing its eventual release. Singleton concluded with, "I can't really tell you why Activision let [Sleeping Dogs] go, but I can tell you why we signed it; it's an awesome game." A  better tomorrow So it seems that Sleeping Dogs will see the light of day, and I can't wait. While I'm not allowed to unveil all of the details of the demo just yet, I can assure you that the game looks great. Hong Kong is realized with vivid detail and life, the game's soundtrack is a beautiful mixture of ancient Chinese wind and stringed instruments, and it features a subject that I'm sure most of you would love to experience. If you love modern Hong Kong action flicks, intense cop stories, and the seedy underworld of organized crime, then be on the lookout for Sleeping Dogs.

I'm so glad this game has shaped into what it is now, because when I first heard that Sleeping Dogs was originally titled True Crime: Hong Kong, I thought to myself, "Damn it, hopefully this will be a short demo." Once I saw ...

Surviving the haste and chaos of Resident Evil: ORC

Feb 16 // Ryan Perez
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [previewed]) Developer: Slant Six Games Publisher: Capcom Release: March 20, 2012 The action It's all over the place. From the start of each mode, you're thrust into the middle of zombie-infested locales -- streets, labs, random complexes. Of the three modes I played, the brainless baddies were never the main focus, but more of an obstacle in between main objectives. I won't lie, gunning down an enemy opponent while he's occupied with a group of flesh-eaters is very, very satisfying ... not to mention incredibly messed up. The zombies were insignificant compared to the real threats during each round, dropped from the sky via Umbrella Inc. helicopters. Deathly fast Hunters and even the infamous Tyrant (Type T-103) make their way into the fray. Let me tell you, the moment that big overcoat-wearing brute appeared, it didn't matter what team you were on; everyone laid every last round they had into him until he went down like a sack of potatoes...then they started shooting each other again. Not only did seeing these gigantic B.O.W.s bring back some fond memories, they also changed the gameplay dynamic significantly. Once this game is released, I can tell that plenty of people are going to take advantage of others during such moments. The modes themselves were a mix of stuff you can find in any shooter these days, just with a dash of Resident Evil flavor. A capture-the-flag variant known as "Biohazard" (creative, I know) has players collecting different samples of the G-Virus and transporting them to designated points. In "Survivors," you have to ... survive, fighting off hordes of zombies and B.O.W.s until a rescue helicopter arrives. "Heroes Mode" is basically the expected team deathmatch, however with iconic Resident Evil characters (Leon, Claire, Jill, etc.). Nothing about the multiplayer features that I saw really stood out to me, but the gameplay is indeed fun and engaging. Anyone who has enjoyed the over-the-shoulder shooting introduced in Resident Evil 4 will certainly enjoy Operation Raccoon City. Also, if you've dreamed about playing as S.T.A.R.S. or Umbrella forces, then this really is your game. The reaction Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is indeed fun. Then again, a lot of games are "fun" these days. It's difficult to pick up one of these action-packed games of the series and then put it back down, but for the sake of pure adrenaline-inducing fun, we've sacrificed the one thing that made the series a gem: horror. These games just aren't scary anymore, and while one can find tension aplenty in Operation Raccoon City, a large distinction can be made between "What's around that corner?" and "Holy sh*t, lots of things are running at me from around that corner!" Within the small room where Operation Raccoon City was presented, I had the chance to mingle and chat with fellow press members about their impressions of the game. A fellow Destructoid lackey (who shall remain Max Scoville) said to me, "The game has become so convoluted over the years. I lost track of what's going on a long time ago." I couldn't agree more. Since Umbrella was eighty-sixed from the series' canon, I don't really know or care about what's happening. I asked others at the demo if they knew who the new "evil company" was in the series now, and they just shrugged. I looked it up; they're called Tricell. Yeah, f*ck if I know who they are too. An associate of mine, Vincent Ingenito from, mentioned that he was never too thrilled about the series' changes. "It was one of the few games that really had its own identity," he said. "Not many games really took from it directly. Now we have a plethora of over-the-shoulder action shooters, so [Resident Evil] has become just another game in the pile." These were pretty profound words coming from someone who actually liked the game. Pretty much everyone I spoke with at the demo made similar comments. People's feelings towards this franchise are an odd case; they enjoy the games and find them fun, however they can't get over the fact that they just aren't the same ... sort of like the Star Wars prequels, but less zombies on screen. Dawn of the dying genre? Really, it's tough to argue that survival horror has lost the popularity it once had. Oh, the appeal is still there, as plenty of horror titles make their way into homes, but the genre has definitely lost some steam. If anything, the life of horror titles is a bipolar one -- full of ups and downs, highs and lows. Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is a prime example of some of the lengths that a publisher will go to keep a sinking franchise afloat. This isn't a really a full Resident Evil game, to be honest, but rather a half of one. If you feel like taking a trip down memory lane, then you really can't go wrong with this game. It's got Umbrella, S.T.A.R.S. members, Raccoon City, Tyrants, the G-virus, and numerous other pieces of Resident Evil flare. If you feel like being terrified, then look elsewhere. Games like these that allow you to karate chop zombies just don't have that. Still, if you don't give a damn and crave more non-stop action, then be sure to keep tabs on this one.

The name Resident Evil conjures up a lot of fond memories for most of us gamers. For me, it was my very first experience with the original PlayStation -- as it was for many other people. This slowly paced and macabre series s...

Preview: Street Fighter X Tekken through a noob's eyes

Feb 11 // Ryan Perez
Street Fighter X Tekken (PC, PlayStation 3 [previewed], PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360)Developer: CapcomPublisher: CapcomRelease: March 6, 2012 Something about competition and skill After a few whiskey sours, my overwhelming anxiety amidst the crowd of warm, odorous bodies began to die down (yeah, I'm a freakin' mess at public events). I eventually snuck away from my fellow Dtoid peons and proceeded to watch people play the game then interview the losers as they gave up their spots. After one particularly close game -- close enough to evoke a roar from onlookers -- I asked the loser, Daniel, about those moments after a defeat. "Sometimes you get a rush that, win or lose, you walk away from feeling pretty pumped," he told me. "Sometimes, though, it feels like your five-year girlfriend has just broken up with you ... leaving you with a broken heart." Although I haven't dedicated much time to this genre, I could see where Dan was coming from. These guys aren't button mashers. They've studied these games to the point where certain characters are like extensions of themselves. "You basically pick your pony and roll with it," Daniel added. "After enough practice, everything becomes second nature, and you focus more on the other player than yourself." I've never really had anyone explain this genre's gameplay in that way before. Any gamer can understand what it's like to know a game so well that you don't even notice your own actions -- you just do things impulsively. I've gotten great at games that require a lot of time to attain that sort of intuition, which includes those "hell yes" moments upon victory. The appeal of Street Fighter X Tekken was starting to dawn on me. A one-of-a-kind clash At the same station, Daniel's victor had lost the subsequent match. As the woman, Jessica, walked away with a bit of a satisfied grin, I asked her something I had asked Dan: What's the most attractive thing about these games? "Are you kidding?" she exclaimed. "Where else do I get the chance to beat the crap out of other guys?" After I took a step back, I asked her to elaborate on her statement. "Fighting games don't have much in common with others," she continued. "I mean, other games sometimes have fighting gameplay, but they don't have the kind of depth or all-out aggression that games like Tekken have. I can't really find other games like these." What Jessica said made perfect sense to me. Once you look at the medium as a whole, fighting games really are a standalone genre. It's easy to find minute similarities between other types of games, but ones like Street Fighter X Tekken are about as pure as they come. Fighting games haven't changed much and that's exactly their appeal -- no extra baggage that others have accumulated over the years. This, to me, seems like a big a reason why these games have held on for so long. While other genres have slowly melded together into a lineup of little distinction, series like Street Fighter and Tekken have retained what made them appealing from the start. Because such an undiluted experience can't really be found elsewhere, fighting games have managed to retain a substantial following. Another point goes to Street Fighter X Tekken for appeal. Eye gouging me with good looks Street Fighter X Tekken's aesthetics are basically a throwback to the old sprite-based graphics of the genre's earlier years. Whenever other franchises try this approach, though, the results are usually either overly simple toon shading that looks boring or the exact same visual style from that genre's inception. Thankfully, this is not the case with Street Fighter X Tekken. Sweet cinnamon-swirled Christ, this game is gorgeous. The textures on character models and backgrounds have a very painterly feel to them, breathing new life into a medium that's overloaded with technical trickery. Most other titles use straight power to cover up their shitty art, but this game lets the talent of its visual designers shine through. It's especially interesting to see the Tekken characters with such colorful personality -- at times, Heihachi looks like a cute, huggable elder. The slick art direction is greatly complimented by smooth animation as well as vibrant and striking particle effects. Fighters' moves connect with a sort of fluidity and flare that makes them actually seem like they're doing some damage. Ultra combos are presented in the type of exaggerated style only found in Japanese animation; some of them even got me laughing at how insane they were. In this age, it's getting more difficult to dazzle people with visuals. Fortunately, Street Fighter X Tekken doesn't try to make the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 sweat via shaders and maps. It knows exactly what it's trying to be -- an insane roller coaster of dropkicks and haymakers -- and doesn't pull any punches whatsoever, no pun intended. You are definitely going to anticipate every character's different moves, because each one is pure sex for the eyes. Can someone lend me $60? As a previewer, my job is to remain objective about each gaming experience and only deliver the facts. I'm not here to sell a game; I just state what I found interesting and worthy of keeping tabs on. But, son of a bitch, I've sort of already made up my mind about Street Fighter X Tekken. After speaking with two more gamers following Jessica, it was my turn to play. I looked around to make sure no coworker or associates were watching, and then proceeded to have my own digital testicles handed to me. While losing is never a great feeling, I had a blast playing a genre that I haven't been into since the 90s. I found it particularly nice that certain moves from Ryu and Guile were just as I remembered from older days. So I kind of want this game now. I'm flat broke, but I'm definitely going to try to pick it up some time after it hits the shelves. I have no doubt that most fighting fans out there have already decided to pre-order Street Fighter X Tekken, but those undecided folks who like fast gameplay, beautiful visuals, and crave an untainted old-school experience should definitely be on the lookout for this title.

A friend once told me he thought fighting games had cool characters. After he wiped the blood from his head, he quickly apologized to me and said, "Perhaps I should rethink that statement." Then miraculously, out of a nearby ...

Preview: Play with yourself in Blades of Time

Feb 09 // Ryan Perez
Blades of Time (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)Developer: Gaijin EntertainmentPublisher: KonamiRelease: March 6, 2012 Sorry, no science here I hate to burst this bubble early on, but Blades of Time's narrative doesn't seem to be much about actual time travel. Any geeks who are expecting the obligatory pulp sci-fi to accompany this tale will be a bit disappointed. As time travel is just a gameplay mechanic, its role in the overall story is nothing more than a wizard's wand or a Jedi's Force -- a useful tool but not the main focus. Gamers will take on the role of Ayumi, a loathingly attractive woman who finds herself conveniently trapped on an island riddled with conflict and turmoil. While in the middle of a clash between the island's inhabitants and some ambiguous evil, Ayumi begins to uncover and harness the secret powers that the island holds in order to escape. It's a bit of a bummer that Gaijin Entertainment (yes, that's their name) decided to go with a fantasy approach, rather than feature the expected sci-fi themes, but ... well, if you're not necessarily interested in the fine details of time travel, perhaps the narrative could grow on you. To be real, it's got a hot woman with minimal clothing and large cutlery; nobody's expecting H.G. Wells here, obviously. Two heads are better than one This is the interesting part: the time-travel mechanic. While Ayumi hacks away at her enemies in the oh-so-popular God of War fashion, she can rewind the action to give herself a nice advantage. This isn't Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time logic, though, where the player is forced backwards with the flow of time. Instead, time rewinds around the player, and they witness an alternate version of themselves being affected by it. Think of it as The Time Machine versus Back to the Future. In the former, the "Time Traveler" himself moves within a single dimension of time and space, whereas in the latter, Marty McFly finds himself in alternate universes where different versions of himself exist. What does this mean in terms of Blades of Time's gameplay? Once you've turned the clock back a bit, players get to fight alongside that alternate version of themselves until that moment they decided to go back. This means using that older version of Ayumi as a second pair of blades, or even a nifty distraction at times. Some enemies are so swift that circling around them to hit the weak spot on their back is impossible. Reversing everything a few seconds gives "Ayumi A" the opportunity to circle around the enemy, all while it's hacking away at the front by "Ayumi B." I was quite surprised by how well this mechanic worked. From a design perspective, I couldn't imagine how much of a pain it must have been to program and implement it into the game. When I asked Gaijin Entertainment co-founder Anton Yudintsev about it, he merely answered, "It's actually more difficult to design a concept than it is to make it." Well I'll be damned; I learn something new every day in this industry. A multi-dimensional ... MOBA? Yep, Blades of Time features a mode much like League of Legends or Defense of the Ancients, known as "Outbreak Mode." Basically, players can face off against each other or computer opponents; both sides are given a few lines of turrets and a steady supply of spawning minions. The goal: destroy the enemy's main tower. I was a little perplexed when I was first told about this mode. Once I played it, though, I actually enjoyed it. Any fans of MOBA games (I myself am addicted to League of Legends) will feel right at home, as the same rules apply in Outbreak Mode. For example: turrets will attack you unless you let minions rush in first, and players are even given their pick of two special abilities with their own cooldown times. Part of me wonders what fans of this genre will quit their actual MOBA games for Blades. The mode is pretty fun, and the third-person perspective is an interesting twist on the genre, but it still is a bit too simple. Then again, MOBA games aren't exactly rocket science, themselves. Perhaps some people will love the shit out of Outbreak Mode. I certainly enjoyed it. Time is on our side I won't lie, Blades was nothing like what I expecting; the fighting mechanics are deep and fairly intuitive; the weapon selection is considerable; and taking advantage of time is a fun addition to the gameplay. All that's left is for me to have more than an hour with the game, then I can make some real judgments. If you dig straight fantasy, fast combat and amusing gameplay features, then you should keep an eye on Blades on Time. Doubling the attractive protagonist is an enticing concept, after all.

Geeks seem to love screwing with natural order. Whether it's by creating biological weapons that breed a form of undead human, or by using ugly '80s cars to go back in time and narrowly escape sex with a younger version of th...

Preview: Shank 2 makes killing joyful

Jan 25 // Ryan Perez
Shank 2 (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) Developer: Klei Entertainment Publisher: Electronic Arts Release: Q1 2012  While the world of digital downloads may be fairly crowded with hack 'n' slash games of the 2D variety, it's not difficult to spot the talent and effort that has been put into games like Shank 2. Drawing first blood The first thing I have to point out is that this game looks great. The color scheme lends itself wonderfully to what looks like its Southeast Asia-inspired setting. Enemies pop out from the background well, and even elemental effects like fire and smoke are graphically pleasing. One thing that really stood out to me was the animation. In this age of 3D realism and motion capture, the idiosyncratic qualities of 2D animation have been lost with the times; even sprite animation, while still used to this day, is seen as somewhat novel. Shank 2 features countless examples of well-done animation fundamentals with exaggerated poses, squashing and stretching, and great secondary and tertiary actions within run cycles and attack animations. I have an animation degree -- however, I'm terrible at 2D animation -- so I can better appreciate the skill involved to produce a game that looks like Shank 2. Nonetheless, any gamer that can step outside the perspective of his/her own limitations should be able to admire how fluid this game's art is. The thrill of the kill As stated before: Shank 2 is humorously violent. The carnage isn't presented in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way, but rather with such unapologetic brutality that it ironically gains a bit of class in the process. It's just humbling to shove a baseball bat into someone's mouth and then stomp on it ... like watching the birth of a baby giraffe. Every weapon provided in Shank 2 features its own blood-laden counter attack, which influences the desire to try them all. When an enemy swung his machete at me only to have his neck slashed open by Shank's crude blades, the result was a crimson mess that forced a smirk across my face. As if that wasn't gratifying enough, once I got the chainsaw ... holy sh*t. Shank proceeded to jam it into attacker's mouths, and I proceeded to laugh out loud. Am I a messed up person, or is there something to shoving weapons into people's mouths? It's like some ultimate insult. Next stop: a nuclear bomb. I didn't get to try out every weapon, unfortunately, but Shank 2 presented a variety of savage kills to satiate the sick f*ck inside of me. Certain stages even provided trap doors, which dropped enemies into some sort of grinder apparatus -- and then carried the bloody mess through its compilation of cogs and gears. All I could think was, "Yes, I agree with that result." A natural selection It seems like it's becoming standard to have a mode in action games where waves of enemies come at you. I usually skip over these modes because they've always seemed like filler to me, but Shank 2's Survival Mode was actually somewhat enjoyable. Players start off by choosing a variety of Shank skins, each with its own unique set of attributes and weapons. Those who prefer brute force can choose the Shank skin that's high in strength, and comes equipped with a sledge hammer and sawed-off shotgun. I'm a gun person, myself, so I chose the model with high ranged skill and dual pistols. This particular skin was also black and had an afro, which I found peculiar. I can sense a great and inappropriate racist joke in here, somewhere. The gameplay -- which can be enjoyed with a friend -- consists of timed waves of enemies that attack players, as they move between two different levels of platforms. The catch, though, is that enemy bombers will arrive at times to plant explosives on stockpiles of munitions, which players must protect at all costs. The combination of fighting for your life and protecting objectives adds a nice degree of tension to the experience; this is especially true when large bosses make appearances. Thankfully, the game provides a currency system for you to buy health, finite specialty weapons, turrets, and even war boars (yes, you read that correctly). Another handy tool is the familiar trap door at the center of the stage. Just be wary of your partner before using it. I fell into the damned thing on more than one occasion. You don't just turn it off Shank 2 is shaping up to be a pretty addictive game. Once I witnessed the satisfying effect of a counter attack, I wanted to see more. Unfortunately, my time with the game was limited, so now I must wait for its release like everyone else. Here's hoping the whole experience is just as fun as the short amount of time I spent playing it.

Shank 2 is a lot nastier than I was expecting. That's the good kind of nasty ... the kind that makes you think, "I am so freaking glad I did that move." Anyone who has an odd attraction to exaggerated cartoon violence should ...

Preview: UFC Undisputed 3 turns me into a bro

Jan 19 // Ryan Perez
UFC Undisputed 3 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)Developer: Yuke'sPublisher: THQRelease: February 14, 2012 (North America) / February 17, 2012 (Europe) Practice makes perfect: Like many other career modes in individualistic sports games, players will start their journey at the bottom of the barrel. After creating their own fighter, they'll train in the game's basic controls (and basic strategy of the sport) and partake in several local bouts before entering a professional league and facing off against known fighters. Players' professional careers won't just span one organization, but several -- from WFA to Pride -- as they lay claim to the championship title of each league. Before attaining complete fame and glory, though, players will hone their skills via training regiments and drills (unless you're already good at this sort of thing). UFC Undisputed 3 features several new exercises to help refine those martial arts skills; fighters can jump into the practice ring for a traditional sparring match, touch up on specific jabs, punches, and combinations with a personal coach, or develop their reflexes through a number of simple mini-games . All of these training features not only provide gameplay instructions, but also teach newcomers the fundamentals of the sport, which makes for an enthralling experience, overall. Speaking of which, another welcome addition to the game is the ability for players to attend six actual training camps, such as Greg Jackson's, and even join one of their choosing. While I didn't have much time to explore this, personally, I'm aware that these camps play a large role in the careers of professional  fighters, and UFC fan will undoubtedly get a kick out of having Greg Jackson rooting for them in their corner. Satisfying those manly instincts At times, I find myself surfing through YouTube videos of drunken bar fights and one-hit knockouts (don't judge). I fancy myself an educated and "enlightened" man, but something about traditional fighting turns me into a barking ape and makes me think, "Fuck yes!" It's as basic of a male emotion as I can muster, and UFC Undisputed 3 is yet another of those things that brings out my suppressed but oh-so-enjoyable primitive side. As THQ presented the game in front of the press, two of the company's community managers faced each other in an exhibition match. When one fighter got the other in a headlock and began to ferociously knee him in the face, I emitted a slight chuckle of amusement -- loud enough to draw the attention of the game's director standing close to me. Every punch, kick, and slam is presented with the right sound and animation; brutal is a word that only barely describes how some fights turn out. The right blow to the face can even send fighters into a daze, encouraging a spell of panic as players struggle to block incoming attacks until the dizziness wears off. Continuous body shots will bruise and discolor ribs. Blood will splatter from one fighter onto the other. The whole experience can be pretty nasty, and I enjoyed every minute of it. It's arguable that the majority of videogames are masculine in nature and ripe with cheap machismo, but not many games indulge fighting for the sake of fighting. As THQ's employees duked it out, and the observing press audibly stated their displeasure with each perfectly landed haymaker and high kick, it became abundantly clear that cage fighting (both real and in game form) appealed to some raw form of the average guy. I don't think I've been this intrigued by something new in a long, long time. No more number crunching: I've always found it somewhat surprising that sports games have become so quantified; such a large aspect of the experience is about stats and averages. While such features are expected and commonplace in certain genres, I personally don't want to play an RPG while I'm living out my athletic fantasies -- especially if they involve turning my opponents into potatoes. Thankfully, UFC Undisputed 3 has toned down the numerical management. Undisputed 3 gives players the choice to let the game automatically distribute skill points to their fighters, which means less time spent juggling numbers and more time spent redecorating opponents' faces. If players do want to get deep into their fighter's stats, the option is there, of course. But I myself am one of those people who often failed math in school, so I'm going to do myself a favor and avoid rekindling those memories of shame and disappointment. This automatic management option, on top of the removal of Stat Decay (which I'm assuming was meant to simulate a fighter's aging process) creates a faster, more arcade-style pace that will surely be preferred by people who want to get right into the action. Getting stronger UFC Undisputed 3 is shaping up to be the strongest in the series. With its tight controls, robust career mode, attractive graphics, and emphasis on action, fans of the series have a lot to look forward to, and newcomers will undoubtedly find something worth their attention.

I'm not an athletic person. To me, exercise if the farthest thing from fun, and exhausting myself half to death is akin to self flagellation. Even the never-changing world of sports is something that I find quite uninterestin...

The Old Republic shows that narrative matters

Jan 07 // Ryan Perez
Let me just get this out of the way: The Old Republic isn't going to win a Pulitzer Prize anytime soon. It's structured in the familiar Star Wars fashion -- the "hero's journey" that inspired the original films. Still, while not many risks were taken, the writing is strong and each class's story is presented well, which can be considered pure gold in this genre that was originally quite devoid of any real narrative. Playing TOR reminds me just how important storytelling is, especially when I used to consider MMOs to be some of the most boring and repetitive games on the market. I can understand the appeal of MMOs to some people: They have deep gameplay mechanics, feature a seemingly limitless community, and place you in the middle of a nearly unrestricted world. But from the standpoint of a sane human, the genre has always seemed like the equivalent of continuously flicking your right testicle to receive a piece of candy from time to time. To me, MMOs seem to retain a lot of the most basic no-nos of game design: They're repetitive from the start, their progression and difficulty curve are painfully slow, and their control scheme becomes ludicrously complex and unintuitive. Yet gamers still suck these games up like *insert SFW porn star joke here*. The typical MMO experience to me. Interestingly enough, The Old Republic features a lot of these broken rules. I stepped away from the game for about an hour, and I had already forgotten how to play the damned thing. But I keep coming back because the narrative experience not only adds to the cheaply addictive qualities of the genre, but it also provides a steady flow of new content. Few people realize that story is quite easy (enough for The Old Republic to get away with repeat dialogue), so it's not much of a hassle to provide fresh content in the form of character development, conflicts, and plot twists. When you compare such an approach to other titles that emphasize nothing but gameplay (e.g. the other ball-numbing MMOs out there), it's easy to see how narrative can be an equally valuable asset to the development process. The Old Republic features the typical fetch and kill quests that MMOs are known for, but the real meat of the experience lies with its class quests. Each one is different from the next, and they all retain a cohesive story that can draw you in and make you feel pretty invested. The Jedi Consular embarks on an adventure to discover the origins of the Force. The Sith Agent is deployed to thwart a sinister terrorist plot to destroy the Empire's leadership. As a Sith Warrior, I learned that the Sith are an "opportunistic culture," and will take every chance they get to gain an advantage -- even if it means murder. I've learned that the Empire suffers from a lot of the same problems that any totalitarian culture would: corruption, greed, abuse of power, and the inequality of a caste society. I've been given context in a seamless world that other MMOs would have simply dropped me into, indirectly saying, "Figure it out if you want." The Old Republic understands that making me a part of the story causes me to feel like I'm actually a part of the setting and the game itself. I don't know why, but I can even be a douche to Darth Malgus. Essentially, this game is eight sequels to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic ... all because of an emphasis on story. And like its spiritual predecessor, TOR throws you a few moral curveballs. An officer hired me to "punish" his wife, who was having an affair with a known Republic spy. Considering my loyalty to the Sith, of course I went through with it ... even after she claimed ignorance, begged for leniency and bribed me with more than my original reward. An undercover informant managed to help me get in good with the leader of a terrorist cell on Balmorra. Following the opportunistic tendencies of the Sith, I killed him to better prove my "legitimacy" to the leader -- despite the fact that he was actually a nice guy and did his job admirably. The narrative and the decisions it offered have given my saga some real substance, and while I've mainly chosen the more entertaining approach of cartoon villainy, I've reached moments where I felt like kind of an asshole for murdering or betraying people ... and I'm not the only one. All of those experiences, while nothing we haven't already seen elsewhere, equal something a little deeper and richer than what we'd get if we merely acquired ... well, experience points. Playing a game is only part of the fun; a big reason we enjoy games is because of the resonating adventures we have in them. Knights of the Old Republic left a pretty big impact on the industry and the people who have played it, all due to its immersive take on video game narrative, its thought-provoking writing, interesting supporting characters, and one of the most "holy shit" moments in gaming history. Games like these are so memorable because they're not so much about what you're doing, but more about why you're doing it. [embed]219042:42287[/embed] Remember this? Of course you do... For some odd reason, most developers still haven't learned by example. Either they leave out story entirely, or they shoehorn in some messy, incoherent one that exposes it as an afterthought. A lot of times, even the "best" stories are ripe with elementary problems. Solid Snake never seems to know what the fuck is going on around him, yet he's some ultimate soldier that everyone turns to. Some of the most recognizable faces in this industry are also the ones who say little to nothing at all (Link, Gordon Freeman, Master Chief). While I worked at GamePro, I remember walking into the middle of an Assassin's Creed presentation, seeing Desmond trudging through the Abstergo laboratory and thinking, "Did they really have to put science fiction in this?" Developers seem to be focusing on areas that don't need much attention anymore (graphics, gameplay), and leaving areas like narrative on the backburner. It's as if they think storytelling is some ancient, obsolete device that happens to be in their product, like those faux cigarette lighters you find in newer cars. Yet, here we are in the 21st century, roughly 1,000 years after the first legitimate novel was created, and we're still witnessing epic tales that blow us away. Unfortunately, such hackneyed storytelling in games can't only be blamed on developers. The majority of gamers have considerably lax standards when it comes to story (considering the cluster fuck of clichés and meaningless exposition that is the Final Fantasy series). It's almost as if we pretend to not really care about storytelling at all ... when we really do. I see franchises with sequels that go into double-digits, and that tells me we really, really do care. Whenever I tell geeks that I don't read comic books, they look at me as if I have a dick drawn on my forehead. So then why does this market keep settling for average, tepid narratives? We basically care enough to buy sequels, but we don't bother addressing the fallacies of those sequels. It's like we become numb to the mediocrity. When Assassin's Creed was first released, many media outlets were open about issues they had with the story -- its complexity and inconsistency. But as sequels were released, and the game continued to become more obscure, they suddenly got used to it. They pretty much said, "Eh, fuck it. Good enough." If we don't somehow demand better narratives, then developers are going to continue half-assing them, duh. More fluff than a cotton candy factory. Consider BioWare: they get it. They understand the value that story can have in a game. So much that they bring on New York Times bestselling authors like Drew Karpyshyn -- the literary mind behind Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect. They even have regular full-time writers, such David Gaider (Dragon Age). Thanks to the talents of men like these, I'm fairly sure that most of you have fond feelings for these games. Let me just be clear, I do think that games are great the way they are now. They're an engaging form of entertainment that is sometimes impossible to put down. But you can't deny that they could be much better ... in specific areas, at least. One of those areas, again, got me interested in a genre that, at one time, I would have gladly substituted with a Prince Albert. The minds behind Star Wars: The Old Republic realized the value of story, and while it remains to be seen whether or not my interest will last, I can say right now that I fidget impatiently to finish this article ... so I can get back to uncovering a terrorist plot that threatens my beloved Empire.

Games are fun, and you can't really deny that they've got "fun" pretty streamlined and perfected at this point. They're so fun that people have been hooked enough to forget the basic necessities of life -- food, water, women ...

A little something about EA Origin's prices

Jul 12 // Ryan Perez
I’m not a businessman, but I always figured one of the advantages to distributing digitally (and straight from the manufacturer, in EA’s case) was to cut costs and pass those savings onto the consumer. Perhaps I’m missing something here, but shouldn’t cutting out the middleman cause a game like Battlefield 3 to release for LESS than the original markup price? The reason this raises a red flag with me is mainly because of Steam. Forget the fact that Steam has such a staggering selection of old and new titles, but rather consider how their prices are really, really low. Not only do they feature daily sales that could make obsessive shoppers crap themselves, but they also have a habit of releasing new titles at low cost. And while those discounts may not be much, they make complete sense and mean repeat business in the form of customer loyalty. While I was at the EA Summer Showcase last week, I asked a few people about these concerns of mine. To my disappointment, I never really got a straight answer; either the question was ignored altogether, or I would receive replies like, “Sometimes it costs more to distribute digitally.” And when I asked how that was possible, the best answer I got was, “In most cases, retailers buy in bulk and receive huge discounts for doing so. When a company distributes over a digital platform, they have to worry about bandwidth and other digital variables.” So, EA is kind of like Costco then? None of this really made any sense. With the labor that goes behind the manufacture and shipping of tangible mediums, along with the profit percentage that retailers make, the price of server space should be pennies in comparison. Bandwidth is dirt cheap, especially to billion-dollar companies like EA. See if you can distinguish the Digital Deluxe Edition from the Collector's Edition. This all seems like nothing more than stingy penny-pinching to me. I can't think of a single reason why games like Battlefield 3 or Mass Effect 3 shouldn't be released at $54.99 or even $44.99 if you consider the fact that PC games typically release ten dollars cheaper than console titles. I’m not going to pretend like EA is a bad company; it’s not. And I’m not going to act like I know more about the business aspect of this industry; I don’t. But something does seem a bit peculiar here and EA representatives tap dancing around my questions only magnifies that. So I leave you with a question: What's your incentive to buy a game through Origin if you’re given the choice to buy a game at a retail store for the same price? Perhaps enough negative answers will convince EA to give us the benefit of economizing.

For those of you who still don’t know, Origin is a new digital distribution service from Electronic Arts. All of you hardcore EA fans out there (all eight of you) now have a centralized hub to satiate that unending thir...

Preview: Besiege your neighbor in Stronghold 3

Jul 07 // Ryan Perez
Stronghold 3 (PC)Developer: Firefly StudiosPublisher: Southpeak GamesTo be released: Fall 2011 For those of you who aren't familiar with the series, Stronghold 3 is a real-time strategy game where your goal is to build up a strong keep, raise a powerful army, and crush anyone that you might perceive as a threat. The game is also part simulation, which keeps things pretty interesting. Growing resources, upgrading fortifications, managing taxes, and keeping your subjects happy are but a few of the tasks you'll have to do to ensure a strong monarchy. I didn't get to play the game, but observing it reminded me a lot of games like Tropico and Black & White 2 (minus the giant creature.) You take on the role of a leader and are in charge of everything that goes on inside the high, protective walls of your base. Want to be a noble lord? Lower taxes and make life easier for your subjects, at the expense of income. Tired of workers dragging their feet around the lumber mill? Then display one of them in a bloody, iron torture cage. That will put a spring in their steps! The strategy elements seem pretty basic, but deep enough to keep real-time strategy gluttons somewhat satiated. The game emphasizes defense more than offense, so don’t expect to be building armies 10,000 men strong. With that said, there is considerable depth in terms of how you protect your keep. Several structures, traps and wall types are at your disposal and provide a lot of potential for intricate defenses. As a fan of the film Braveheart, knowing that you can pour hot oil on attacking troops put a smile on my face. I’m evil like that. Stronghold 3 has received a nice visual overhaul thanks to the German-designed Vision Engine. The previous two games in the franchise were 2D, but Stronghold 3 has decided to join the modern age and venture into full 3D. It's not the best looking strategy game on the market, but the graphics do affect the gameplay in a variety of ways in part thanks to Havok engine For instance, crumbling walls look pretty nice as they fall apart, bad weather can actually cause the morale of your troops to sink considerably and lightning storms can even be the difference between victory and defeat. Other cool effects include the fog of war kicking in during the night and making it more difficult to spot enemy attacks. Buildings are no longer built on a grid either and are instead free to be constructed anywhere without obstructions. Firefly’s goal is to embrace the qualities that made the original Stronghold popular, scrapping the ones that made its sequel a bust, and adding a few new touches to keep things fresh. One feature that made my brow rise was their leaderboard: While Stronghold 3 has a typical scoring system that ranks you accordingly, you can narrow down your results based on location. Say you live next door to some guy you really, really hate, who also plays Stronghold 3. Not only can you both set up camp based on your actual location (i.e. 5555 Asshole Neighbor St.), but you can also compete against each other directly. Mind you, a feature like this depends completely on the popularity of the game, but that doesn’t keep the idea from being intriguing. One can only imagine what types of feuds (or brutal murders) could result of such an intimate leaderboard system. Come Fall of this year, perhaps we’ll find out. And if there’s actually an Asshole Neighbor St., and you live on it, then maybe you should keep an eye on this game. This preview is a sign!

Do you think castles are awesome? Of course you do; everybody does. How about torturing naughty peasants in order to keep the rest of the population in line? Me too! Stronghold 3 is for those of us who miss the days when stra...

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