13 6 / 2012

16 games to watch in the 2nd half of 2012 – Part Two

The second article in this epic four part series for Xtreme Gaming UK casts an eye over the releases scheduled to arrive in the month of September. A notoriously difficult month to attract huge sales due to the impending ‘blockbuster’ gaming month of October looming over it like a playground bully looking to steal its lunch money, September still promises to put up a decent fight and offer a few titles that will get gamers reaching for their wallets.

 Due to the daunting sales environment posed by this time of the year and knowing full well that their games might be compared unfavourably to the polished sheen of the AAA game releases, some game dev’s chose to push back their release dates until they are completely confident in their finished product. Such is the case with Forza Horizon, with its anticipated release date of mid-September being confirmed by Microsoft Studios at E3 as being pushed back to October 23rd to enable them to add some technical flourishes and a quick spit-shine. As a result, the game no longer qualifies to feature in my September releases feature and instead I’ve had to sub in a legendary Japanese fighting games series to take its place: Tekken Tag Tournament 2. A preview of the new Forza title will instead be pushed back to a later article.

So, without further ado, let’s see what games should be whittling away your wage packet in September:

Far Cry 3

Release Date: September 7th

Genre: Open World First Person Shooter

Mode(s): Single-player/Multiplayer

Age Rating: 18

Possibly the game of E3 to cause the biggest collective spitting of coffee over keyboards was Far Cry 3, due to its depiction of fornication with native tribeswomen (with added jiggling breasts and a watching crowd!) and almost obligatory weapon for a 2012 release,  bow and arrows. Whipping up a Twitter storm from commentators and fans alike due to Ubisoft Montreal’s controversial decision to include the nudity in its E3 promo video, Far Cry 3 has already generated a degree of attention but what of the gameplay?

FC3 looks set to follow in the open-world footsteps of its previous incarnations and will have gamers’ assume the mantle of Jason Brody, a tourist who has been stranded on a tropical island paradise due to the violent conflict raging around him.  Interestingly, Ubisoft Montreal have elected to make the protagonist a regular guy, not a specially trained space-marine with raging testosterone levels or a grizzled war veteran with a penchant for mowing down battalions of enemies.  Brody has a simple task to fulfil in the game and has no more noble motive than finding his girlfriend from who he’s become separated from and hauling ass off of the island. Standing in his way is a jungle environment set across of a chain of islands all teeming with local warlords and unstable characters whose minds have become unhinged by years of atrocity and death. Not just a stroll in the park then, eh?

Brody’s nature as a regular man, trapped by his unfortunate yet dramatically necessary wandering into the heart of conflict, will dictate the nature of the gameplay. Recent interviews with the game’s narrative director, Jason Vandenberghe, have hinted at the fact that Brody is a man out of his depth who will have to learn and adapt over the course of the game to survive. Expect to start the game without any particular skillset then with stealth playing a big role in surviving early encounters and a possible evolution into a mean Arnie-style jungle warrior as the game progresses.

Multiplayer returns for Far Cry 3 and gamers should expect to see key single-player features such as fire propagation, where fire spreads realistically and can be used to set off explosive chain reactions, to return and provide for an engaging and thought-provoking MP experience.  Lobbies will support up to 16 players at a time and gamers will be able to get to grips with six different classes and a plethora of customisation to use across a range of modes. The inventive and original ‘Firestorm’ mode sets an offensive team the objective of lighting two ignition points in the enemy camp but it can only do so through air support dousing them with gasoline, something the defensive team looks to thwart by controlling the radios.  Far Cry 3 looks set to take a leaf out of the Battlefield 3 MP manual and encourage teamwork and co-ordination instead of rewarding selfish gameplay from wannabe heroes; players will be rewarded with Team Support Points in Multiplayer which can be spent on buffing your allies’ stats or affecting the enemies’ abilities. Damaging effects such as Psyche Gas will cause enemies to see every player as a demon silhouette with no idea which team they are on, making for riveting gameplay with team cohesion and communication a must to overcome the opposition.

FC3 should definitely interest every serious gamer out there, with unforgiving single-player gameplay providing a challenge for the lone wolf, tactical and thoughtful teamwork providing a thrill for the multiplayer fans and an open-world setting and map editor letting the creative explorers get their kicks.

And, the pervert in all of us, even gets the benefit of the jiggling bosoms of native tribeswomen…high five!

Tekken Tag Tournament 2

Release Date: September 14th

Genre: Fighting

Mode(s): Single-player/Multiplayer

Age Rating: 16

The second pillar of the mighty Japanese fighting game industry (Street Fighter being the other, just in case y’know, you’ve been in kept locked in an attic for the past 25 years or something) Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is the sequel to Namco Bandai’s fighting masterpiece of 1999, at the time a Playstation exclusive. Fortunately for us, this time the Xboxers get to join the party!

Tekken Tag Tournament 2, a console port of 2011’s arcade version of TTT2,  for any newcomer to the fighting genre utilises the gameplay mechanic of being able to tag a partner into gameplay during a round, enabling players to pull off some devastating and visually stunning double-team combo’s and moves to smash their opponent into a pulpy mess of bruised bone and flesh. The original Tekken Tag Tournament boasted a ridiculous roster of 40 playable characters, which TTT2 looks set to emulate with a cast of over 50 characters enabling players to find the right fighting characteristics to match their playstyle.

The game, although at first glance appearing to be daunting to the non-accustomed fighting aficionado, includes some features from Tekken 6 that enable any player taking a complete ass-stomping to quickly find their feet again and turn the battle against their aggressor.  The ‘Rage’ system kicks in during Solo play mode when a players’ health bar drops below a certain amount of vitality and when activated, gives the player a much needed damage increase when they attack. The ‘Netsu Power’ system works as a desperate tag-out ploy to your partner and is triggered when a player is attacked a certain number of times without retaliating against their opponent. The players life bar will flash and at this point if they make the tag to their partner, the freshly introduced colleague will receive a buff to their damage stats. Think of it like one of those matches in WWE, a greased up, muscled freak in lycra is getting an ass-kicking but finally manages to make it to their corner and tags in their partner who goes about demolishing the opposition within moments, kind of like that.

The game, as its predecessor, is considered non-canon and does not feature a typical Tekken storyline for single-players to get to grips with. However, this shouldn’t put off any potential fighting fans as the game’s massive fighting roster should provide plenty of a challenge to master and the new ‘Fight Lab’ will enable players’ to practice their moves against ComBot, a bot who will enable you to hone your skills should you wish to take the fight online against fellow humans. Multiplayer functionality will be a strong part of the game and will allow fighting fans to battle their favourite characters against fellow enthusiasts from around the world.  Tekken has always had a strong community surrounding its’s games and this game shouldn’t prove to be any different, allowing you plenty of hours to kill against friendly, skilled players.

Namco Bandai have a tendency to provide a couple of surprises in their games with the hilarious Tekken Bowling being a feature of the original game, something which would make a welcome reappearance in the latest offering. Gamers’ should expect similar off the wall hi-jinks from the developers and Namco have yet to disappoint, already announcing at E3 a special ‘Snopp Dogg Stage’ which will feature the rapper as a non-playable character. Frivolity aside, the game should provide a fresh challenge for fighting game veterans and, with the ‘Fight Lab’ easing newbies into the series, newcomers should expect to quickly become hooked on the title.

A definite must-buy for those looking to get a bit handy and punch away the tension of everyday life, so grab a partner and get ready for the Tekken tag team action on September 14th

Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth

Release Date: Autumn 2012 (anticipated end of September)

Genre: Fighting – Motion-controlled

Mode(s): Single-player/Multiplayer

Age Rating: TBC

Proving that the Xbox can provide a wealth of variety in its selection of games and even within the same genre, Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth could not play differently to TTT2 above. Making use of the much-maligned Kinect technology, MA: Battle for Earth sets out to prove that motion-control is not just a one-trick pony suited only to dancing games brought out for a gaming session after too units of alcohol have been consumed (Just me then?!)

MA: Battle for Earth has a chequered developer history, the game was originally being developed by THQ Studio Australia as a first-person shooter/brawler that would tie in with the 2012 Avengers: Assemble blockbuster movie. THQ was an unfortunate casualty of the global recession that has caused a number of high-profile development studios to go out of business in recent times and so the original premise for the game was cancelled. Marvel took back the rights to an Avengers game and in May 2012 announced that they would be teaming up with Ubisoft Quebec to develop the title and the game would instead make significant use of Kinect in its gameplay.

The game is no movie tie-in however and instead opts to follow the Secret Invasion storyline, a Marvel Comics storyline that sees a hostile group of shape-shifting aliens called The Skrulls replacing many of the Marvel heroes with imposters and attempting to seize control of Earth. So far, so good for the Marvel geeks amongst us.

The game will look to cast off the shadow of previous Kinect fighter failures such as Fighters Uncaged and PowerUp Heroes and develop a fighting system that feels natural and not a bolted-on attempt at finally making the Kinect feel more worthwhile than just an expensive paperweight. Players will get to play as their favourite Marvel characters such as Wolverine, Hulk, Spider-Man and Iron Man and will utilise real-life movements to mimic the special skills of their chosen character. Hulk, for instance, can see a player reach down and mime ripping a great big hunk of concrete from the floor to either then hurl at their opponent or use as a makeshift shield to fend off damaging attacks from the enemy. The game will also feature a tag system similar to that of TTT2 and will also enable you to create devastating combos as a result, although attempting this in two player mode with someone who you aren’t already intimate might result in court proceedings as you end up crumpled in a explicit heap in the middle of the floor.

The game also features the meter system that seem synonymous with modern fighting games, a meter that fills as a player takes damage, this will unleash a defensive ‘breaker’ move when it is half full to break their combo. When the meter is full, it will unleash an Ultra, a powerful airborne move that will require a player to pump their fists as fast as possible to get the biggest possible combo and dependent on their age, possible cardiac arrest. The game might frustrate some dedicated fighting fans due to the fact you can only control the defensive and offensive actions of your character, movement and positioning is automatically determined by your actions and some may find this alien to them.

The game should definitely be one that gamers’ give a go at least once, as the ideas behind it are definitely interesting enough to warrant getting together a group of friends and giving it a bash, even if it is just to laugh at your friends’ frantic attempts to emulate Wolverine. Modes such as Arcade, challenges and tournaments should also ensure that the game has extended playability far beyond its novelty value and with multiplayer support as well, you could soon be throwing windmills at fellow Marvel fanatics from around the globe.

Borderlands 2

Release Date: September 21st

Genre: First-Person Shooter/Role-Playing

Mode(s): Single-player/Multiplayer

Age Rating: TBC

The original Borderlands game, released in October 2009, took the gaming world by surprise when it seemingly came out of nowhere and proved to be a smash hit for 2K Games, selling 2 million copies within its few months and gaining a positive critical reception upon release. The game continued to sell as gamers’ slowly had their interest piqued by its combination of elements of role-playing games and traditional FPS elements. As of February 2012 had sold a total of 4.5 million copies, a feat that very few would have predicted before the game’s release.

The game, gloriously described as a space western by fans, is set 5 years into the future on the dystopia that is the world of Pandora and gives the player the choice of four fresh new faces to choose to embark on the game’s primary quest: eliminating the despotic Handsome Jack before he gains control of an ancient evil called ‘The Warrior’. Handsome Jack is the overlord of Pandora who controls the Hyperion Corporation forces and who, alongside the various hostile crazies that make up the population of Pandora, make up the game’s main antagonists.

The sequel will build upon the previous RPG elements of the original game by forcing the player to choose one of four characters with specific skillsets with gamers’ choosing a particular branch of the skillset in which to specialise. The characters that gamers’ will be spending more time with than their families in future months are a varied and interesting bunch. Salvador, a gunsmith, will have the ability to dual-wield any combination of guns to devastating effect and will be the main choice of gamers’ wanting to focus on the FPS elements of the game. Maya, one of the last remaining 6 sirens, a being with superhuman power who can manipulate dimensional portals with which players’ can confound enemies. Axton, utilises mechanical turrets to damage enemies remotely and from afar and lastly Zer0, a rogue-style character who creates decoys of himself to trick enemies into letting him close to administer critical stealth strikes. Each character will be able to buff their abilities as they gain experience throughout the game, allowing them to tackle the toughest of Pandora’s wildlife and bandits with increasing ease.

The definitive characteristics of the original Borderlands game return with the beautiful cel-shaded graphics that paints everything in a slightly surreal and nightmarish light and the often black humour that the player encounters as they traverse the world of Pandora. Enemies will often fling insults at your character during battle and conversations with quest-givers can often leave you chuckling at their stupidity or outright rudeness.

The post-apocalyptic Pandora built by 2K Games feels like a living, breathing ecosystem that the player is moving through and the developers have taken pains to ensure that the game retains an element of realism despite its’ often crazy characters and missions. Allowing a NPC companion to die during a mission may not immediately fail a mission but will instead force a player to deal with the repercussions throughout the rest of the game, changing the game experience and ensuring that Borderlands 2 has heaps of replayability. 2K Games have also worked hard on improving the often derided AI of the original game with the result that gamers’ will encounter packs of enemies who will work together to heal and revive their injured companions, employ tactics to flank you and even use a fellow grunt as a fleshy shield to block your incoming bullets (at great expense to the well-being of their colleague!).

The RPG elements of the original game will still play a fundamental part, it is unconfirmed at present whether the sequel will be able to rival the original Borderlands claim of almost 1 million different weapon variations for gamers’ to sink their teeth into but will surely have more loot than even Diablo III stalwarts know what to do with. Vehicles have been also confirmed as also returning to the game and the Borderlands joyriders out there will be happy to hear that changes have been made to ensure that the ‘drifting’ ability of the vehicles is as realistic and smooth as possible.

Multiplayer co-operative play, a big part of the appeal of the original game, will again be a massive part of the game for many and will enable up to 4 players to join forces and take on the varied missions and goals that Pandora asks of them. As with the previous title, the more players that join the fight, the more difficult the enemies become but with the added bonus of increasingly valuable loot as reward. 2K Games look to have kept with the tried and tested formula that made Borderlands such a huge hit and have instead looked to tweak the world of Pandora to increase the immersive experience for the player, a fact that should see Borderlands 2 certain to further establish the series as heavyweight gaming titles that every self-respecting gamer should invest in.

Gamers’ yet to experience the Borderlands phenomenon should look to be first in the queue when the game is released on September 21st.

And so concludes the second part of this series of articles.  The end of Summer doesn’t seem so depressing with the September releases looking to brighten the doom and gloom of Autumn, and it’s only going to get better. How does this next feature sound? Previews of the first round of the October blockbuster titles Resident Evil 6, Dishonored, XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Assassins Creed III all previewed for your pleasure?  That’s four of the years’ biggest games all in one article!

That got you interested? No?  Well there’s no hope for you then. For those that answered correctly, I look forward to trying to express the awesomeness of those games in something other than guttural grunts and groans of pleasure for you next time. Wish me luck.

Lastly, if you still haven’t had enough of my blinkered view of the world of Xbox gaming and you can’t wait for more nonsense ‘til the next article then please feel free to add me on Twitter - twitter.com/#!/iamPartisan

29 5 / 2012

Written for Xtreme Gaming UK (www.xtremegaminguk.com).

May 29th 2012

As my first article for Xtreme Gaming UK, I’ve decided to write a preview of the upcoming releases in 2012 that will no doubt persuade us to part with our hard-earned cash, test the strongest of relationships and keep energy drink suppliers profits looking very healthy indeed.

Due to the sheer abundance of titles that look set to mark 2012 as the year to smash all sales records for the video game industry, I’ve had to divide the article into four separate sections.

This first part details the releases scheduled to land in shops during the Summer months and as a result of being outside the generally accepted ‘blockbuster’ game release period towards the end of the year, boasts three titles that range from the quirky and innovative through to the downright insane. The fourth title… well, the fourth title happens to be Counter Strike: Global Offensive.

Possibly one of the most eagerly anticipated games ever by casual and competitive gamers alike; CS: GO seeks to regain its crown as king of the FPS games in 2012.

The following part of the article will look at those games released in the difficult month of September such as Far Cry 3 and Borderlands 2 and whether they can make a dent on the big-hitters released a month later. Parts 3 and 4 will focus on the heavyweight titles from the likes of Treyarch, Ubisoft and Capcom and provide some insight into which games should be snapped up on release day and which games can wait for the fat man in the red suit to leave under the tree.

So, if everyone is sitting comfortably, I’ll begin…

Lollipop Chainsaw

Release Date: June 12th 2012

Genre: Action - Hack & Slash

Mode(s): Single-player only

Age Rating: 18

 Most gamers have quickly become tired and jaded by the game developers’ overuse of the mindless, shambling zombie archetype as the primary aggressor in games. The relentless drudgery of mowing down wave upon wave of the undead has obviously been noted by Grasshopper Manufacture, the developer braaaaaains (couldn’t help myself) behind Lollipop Chainsaw. Taking its comic inspiration from fellow zombie-bashing series, Dead Rising, the game boasts a plot, gameplay and visuals lifted straight from the mind of a sleazy B-movie director.

 The game’s protagonist, Juliet Starling, is a zombie hunter and cheerleader and sports the sort of outfit that is likely to quickly become imitated at every future cosplay event. Juliet is tasked with ridding her former school of the zombie menace, led by a group of former students turned zombie rock and roll lords (I’m not making this up). She also carries with her the severed head of her former boyfriend, having decapitated him when he received a zombie bite. For reasons unclear, the head is still alive and forms an integral part of the comedy dialogue, conversing and arguing with his former beau mid-fight. Interestingly, the head can even being used as a weapon in several ways, as a ranged weapon by being thrown at enemies or placed on top of a headless zombie to control it and cause devastation.

 The rest of the gameplay appears to be the only thing that is traditional with this release, with typical hack ‘n’ slash fare utilising light and heavy attacks to cut through the zombie multitude. As the title of the game suggests, an upgradeable chainsaw wielded by Juliet will also feature prominently and should provide plenty of features for gamers to get excited about.

 With a range of gigantic and bizarre epic boss fights also apparently part of the game, Lollipop Chainsaw has the potential to be a refreshingly novel game that will provide both laughs and a challenge for wannabe slayers of the undead.

Lego Batman 2: DC Heroes

Release Date: June 22nd 2012

Genre: Action – Open World Platformer

Mode(s): Single-player/Multiplayer

Age Rating: U

The vastly successful Lego series returns with a title likely to get DC Universe fans hot under the collar. The sequel to 2008’s Lego Batman: The Videogame widens its portrayal of the world of DC Comics further by featuring a cast of over 70 playable characters including Superman, The Green Lantern, Nightwing and Wonder Woman.

The plot is rumoured to revolve around the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin having to team up with the Justice League of America when their arch-nemesis, the Joker, forms a deadly alliance with Lex Luthor and tries to force Gotham City to make him President. One of the main selling points of the Lego series is its’ comedic interpretation of the world which it seeks to portray. A fact very much evident in missions in the game such as an annoyed Batman hunting down The Joker in search of his stolen and very much prized Man of the Year award.

Gameplay is as expected from a Lego offering, allowing players to choose their favourite character and team up to tackle missions. Some hidden extras require teamwork and the particular skillsets of a character and will ensure that the game has significant replayability, both solo and with friends.

Interestingly, the game will be the first in the Lego series to feature dialogue and will feature the vocal talents of Clancy Brown (DC Animated Universe) reprising his role as Lex Luthor and Troy Baker (Batman: Arkham City) returning once more to voice Two-Face.

 As a fan of DC Comics, the opportunity to see some of my favourite characters immortalised in Lego form is almost irresistible and should provide fellow comic geeks with a sense of thrill at getting to play as some of their most beloved and cherished characters.

Darksiders II

Release Date: August 14th 2012

Genre: Action – Hack & Slash

Mode(s): Single-player

Age Rating: 18

The second hack ‘n’ slash title to feature on this list, Darksiders II features a more dark, foreboding style and lets everybody’s inner Goth squeal for joy (or whatever a Goth does when they’re happy) as they take on the mantle of Death.

Darksiders II plot revolves around the idea of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, with the player taking on the character of the Horseman, Death. Following the events of the first game, Death begins a personal crusade to absolve his brother and fellow Horseman, War, of the crime of beginning the Apocalypse early. Fighting through sprawling dungeons and the Nether Realm, the region between Heaven and Hell, Death searches for the evidence to prove his brother’s innocence.

The game looks set to continue the theme of the action of a hack ‘n’ slash action game coupled with puzzle elements and the added RPG staple classic of  seemingly simple side quests handed out by annoyingly persistent NPCs. With the ability to mix button-pounding, elaborate physical attacks with magic-based moves the first Darksiders allowed players to take out all their frustrations on the demons they encounter whilst laughing manically and Darksiders II looks set to play very much the same way.  Huge bosses also look set to return with players being forced to think fast and move faster, QTE battles were a common feature of the original and should be expected in the sequel.

Although the gameplay might not set the world alight in terms of its originality, the temptation to wield the power of Death in your mortal hands should prove too difficult to resist and Darksiders II should be of definite interest upon its release in August.

Counter Strike: Global Offensive

Release Date: Summer 2012

Genre: First-person Shooter

Mode(s): Multiplayer

Rating: TBC

Wow, where to begin?!

Although the game has not strictly received an official release date from Valve Corporation so far, the hope is that the game will see a release on XBLA towards the end of the summer. Although I enjoy the sunny days, drinking in pub gardens and skimpy female attire that Summer brings, CS:GO  is causing me to quickly count down the days ‘til it ends and the days just aren’t going quickly enough!

Counter Strike, for the uninitiated, was originally a mod for the game Half-Life but due to its popularity was released as a standalone game in November 2000; quickly establishing itself as a gaming classic. Its simplicity and balance as a FPS game meant it became one of the most popular games to ever be released on the PC and created a whole new culture of competitive gaming that has influenced and shaped the world of gaming as we see it today. The sales figures for the game are able to deliver a more fitting demonstration of how iconic the series has now become; as of August 2011 the franchise had sold an incredible 27 million copies and was still rising. Not bad for a game that is over a decade old!

The game focuses on two teams, the Terrorists and Counter-Terrorists, attempting to either complete their objective or eliminate all of the opposing team. In the game if you are killed, you have to wait until the beginning of the next round to respawn and so players are forced to abandon gung-ho tactics, play intelligently and utilise teamwork to win the game. In-game currency is earned upon completing objectives or killing opponents which can then be spent at the beginning of each round on weaponry or armour, adding another layer of strategy for gamers to get to grips with.

Without the ability to aim down sights and with punishing levels of recoil for the trigger-happy gamer, CS:GO will come as a refreshing change to the typical FPS game mechanics of recent years, giving newcomers a variety of factors to master and will be welcomed with open arms by the Counter Strike faithful.

The XBLA port looks set to follow the classic Counter-Strike formula whilst adding a number of completely new weapons and equipment such as the Molotov Cocktail, a projectile that covers an area with flames forcing the enemy to find an alternative route. The game should appeal to new converts and hardened CS stalwarts alike and should challenge Modern Warfare 3’s dominance of the Xbox Live charts for a number of months upon its release.

After watching a friend play the Closed Beta for CS:GO on PC at the beginning of this month, I have extremely high hopes that the XBLA port will cause a new generation of gamers to take an interest in the Counter Strike phenomenon and keep the franchise going strong for at least another decade.

And that, dear reader, wraps up this opening gambit in my games to watch in the 2nd half of 2012. The summer months look set to provide us with some entertaining releases that should keep us pounding away at our control pads ‘til our friends tease us for our pasty complexion.

I hope you enjoyed this first piece of writing for Xtreme Gaming UK and look forward to releasing the 2nd part for your amusement/derision which will tackle Borderlands 2, Far Cry 3, Forza Horizon and the potentially genius Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth.

Lastly, if my garbled chattering of gaming-related nonsense entertained you then please feel free to add me on Twitter where I can bombard you with snippets of joy throughout the day - twitter.com/#!/iamPartisan