Overwatch Beta Impressions

23 11 2015

Over the years, Blizzard has made unexpected but successful forays into various genres outside of their historic areas of expertise starting off with the MMO space with World of Warcraft, then the digital TCG space with Hearthstone. The success of both products speak for themselves cementing the assertion that Blizzard can do a lot more than isometric strategy/adventure games and even do it better than anyone else. Despite their previous successes into new genres their venture into the team FPS game space is still a fairly bold move considering the highly competitive market for such games, dominated by giants like Halo and Call of Duty.

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The immediate comparison one would draw upon seeing Overwatch is to other role-based shooters, primarily Team Fortress 2. 6-person teams go head to head in objective-based maps with each player picking a character that fulfills a role such as a sniper or support class to function and fight effectively as a unit. While there is no mistaking that Overwatch is inspired by such games, it has a lot of fresh approaches and concepts cherry-picked from other genres that make it a refreshingly unique but intuitive experience.

The biggest point of separation from conventional class-based team shooters is that you choose a character rather than a role. While the characters are categorized into different broad categories such as offense, defense, tank, and support, individually they fill niches that can’t be defined so cleanly and offer drastically different approaches and play styles towards being an effective combatant for their team. For example within the “offense” category of characters there is Pharah who is a straightforward character that uses flight in combination with her rocket launcher to pound the enemy in direct confrontations, and then there is Reaper who prefers to avoid head-on fights and uses teleportation and an invulnerable “wraith form” to infiltrate into the midst of enemy teams and ambush high-value targets. The characters have a handful of abilities which all complement each other nicely towards enacting their game plan and can also be used in creative unorthodox ways allowing them flexibility to apply themselves outside of what would appear to be their primary role. Even more intriguing is that the characters’ different abilities can synergize in interesting ways with their comrades that makes you consider the roster of your team and come up with powerful combinations. The slow and powerful Reinhardt becomes suddenly more threatening when paired with Lucio’s speed boost, and Bastion’s turret mode becomes a tremendous threat when paired with Mercy’s damage boosting abilities. As an additional aside, the cast of characters are instantly more interesting than their skill sets; they are a motley crew of actual characters with inspired designs, personalities, and histories, ranging from the intelligent gorilla scientist to the cybernetic ascetic monk. There’s not a single dud amongst the current cast of 21 playable characters with each feeling effective, special, and cool.

Each character also has an ultimate ability that slowly charges over the course of the match. These powerful abilities, such as resurrecting dead teammates or transforming into a literal battle tank, have the potential to shift the momentum of a match and are another point of divergence from traditional team-based shooters. Knowing when and where to utilize your ultimate ability in coordination with the actions of your team give Overwatch a lot of tactical depth, more akin to a MOBA style game such as Heroes Of The Storm.

A final point towards the roster of characters adding a huge element of strategy to the game is that you can switch your character between lives during a match. This introduces an important metagame aspect in which you are able to counter the enemy team’s composition and tactics (sometimes preemptively) by altering your own team’s lineup on the fly. Learning and anticipating the counters to a particular situation will undoubtedly become a huge facet of competitive play as knowledge of the game evolves and expands.

Differences aside, the game is grounded in solid FPS conventions that make it familiar and intuitive as well. The control scheme is simplified and streamlined compared to other modern FPS games which frees up a lot of your thinking to concentrate on your handful of abilities and how best to apply them to the given situation. The maps and arenas are expertly crafted around singular objectives, which funnels the action to particular points and leaves no question as to what you should be trying to do at a given moment while also encouraging team fights which is at the core of the design of the game. One of the subtle things about the game that I recognize and appreciate is its “readability” or transparency. There are a lot of details and clues that give you a greater understanding and awareness of what is happening amidst the chaos of a confrontation including the visual language of the game in terms of characters and their abilities and also the various audio cues such as the sharp gasp that your character emits when they are badly wounded or the distinctive battle cry that they call out when they unleash an ultimate ability. The end result is that everything seems to make sense when things go very right or very wrong rather than you sitting there confused as to what just happened and as a result a player is able to learn the game organically simply from playing matches and encountering new situations.

With a fresh and appealing new IP, Blizzard is poised for another knockout hit. Blizzard has never failed to prove that they can do anything that they want and make it work, and Overwatch is no exception. If you weren’t fortunate enough to make it into the beta period, definitely keep an eye out for this title’s official launch in 2016.





Rising Thunder Technical Alpha Impressions pt. 1

6 08 2015

Rising Thunder is an in-development online fighting game by Radiant Entertainment headed by long time community leader Seth Killian. In Rising Thunder players choose from a cast of giant battle robots to slug it out in what appears to be a fairly conventional fighting game, but where it seeks to set itself apart from the rest is in the simplification of its control scheme where any attack including special moves and super moves can be performed with the press of a single button. While most fighting games are known for their complicated inputs and intricate motions to input moves, Rising Thunder’s approach is to make the controls of the game minimalist and streamlined, stripping out most of the joystick acrobatics necessary to perform basic techniques in a character’s repetoire. The intent is not only to make the game more accessible to a wider range of players of varying skill levels, but also to lower the execution barrier and shift the focus more onto the essence of the play of the game and away from struggling with the controls. Couple this refreshing take on the genre with Radiant’s proprietary GGPO netcode, and you have a potential hit in the making and a reforging of the concept of what makes a fighting game a fighting game.

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I can say without hesitation that Rising Thunder has the makings of an outstanding entry in the genre. The lack of having to do complex motions for moves did not detract from the depth, and I found myself engaging more with the fundamentals of the game–the spacing, footsies, and mindgames–as a result of not having to keep a mental backlog of all of the inputs for the various techniques. I played over 5 consecutive hours in my first sit-down session playing it, spurred onwards by that “one more match” feeling so there’s definitely something compelling here. The game feels great in terms of its responsiveness and pacing of the matches, and the GGPO works about as seamlessly as I could hope for for an online fighting game; very scarcely was I aware of any slowdown or lag in the ranked matches I played, and felt I was engaging the opponent directly without the distractions of latency issues. The game is also quite visually appealing and crisp; the characters are simple but appealing and the effects are stylized and read well. Each of the different robot characters are unique in their playstyle and have a cool sense of personality and nationalism to them; most of their voiceover is even in their native language. There’s only one stage to speak of and 6 characters selectable, but I’m already excited to see what new content will arrive with the release of the full game.


 

The following is a brief breakdown of each of the six characters included in the alpha:

dauntlessDauntless

The “poster bot” for the game favors hard-hitting combo sequences and fishing for opportunities to deal out beefy damage with her fists of steel. To me Dauntless feels similar to Street Fighter’s Dudley. I logged the most time with Dauntless and as a representative of what a core fighter of the game should be, she feels solid and rewarding.

Quick Tips:

-Dauntless’s jumping heavy has lengthy range and the angle of the attack makes it great for jump-ins. If you hold down, it becomes a crossup variation of the attack. Use jumping medium for air-to-air situations.
-Use her medium, heavy attack string as the primary means of threatening the opponent and make them not want to stick their neck out during the neutral game. It outranges most light attacks and rewards you with moderate damage and a knockdown on hit.
-Dust Breaker (special B) is her reversal move when the opponent is bullying you at close range on the ground. It doesn’t work as well as an anti-air.
-Learn some combos with Kinetic Advance; this is where the majority of her damage comes from. All 3 special moves are often used in her combos. She can even land a damaging combo off of her throw using Kinetic Advance. The standard juggle combo finisher seems to be close medium, heavy, special Y, special A (hold down to chase the opponent and release to hit).

chelChel

Every 2D fighter needs its “shoto” character and Chel fills that role; her arsenal will seem immediately familiar with its fireball-uppercut-hurricane kick toolset. Chel’s playstyle revolves around forcing the opponent to respond to her fireballs, then preparing a response.

Quick Tips:

-After hitting (special Y), you can follow up with Crush Breeze(special B) for additional damage. After special B, you can do a crouching heavy for more free damage.
-Chel can also use (special A) while airborne to cut off an aerial approach by the opponent. Mix between the ground and the air to make the opponent wary of jumping excessively.
-Chel has access to some fantastic normal moves to keep the opponent at a distance. Standing medium and standing heavy both have great reach and are excellent footsie tools.

talosTalos

Talos is as close to a traditional grappler-character as any of the robots have come, and his strength is devastating. His magnetic attacks that draw the opponent toward him remind me of BlazBlue’s Iron Tager. Having access to both his special and super grab attacks at the press of a single button is a terrifying prospect.

Quick Tips:

-Many of Talos’s attacks have armored properties that blow through the opponent’s attacks. Holding down (special A) and (special B) will give it an armored property, and forward+heavy also has armor and leads to huge damage.
-After landing forward+heavy, use special B for easy additional damage as they rebound towards you.
-Talos’s stature allows his attacks to hit further up than other characters and have anti-air properties. Using standing heavy as a poke will sometimes catch airborne opponents.

vladVlad

This hulking Russian bot looks unwieldy but has surprising aerial mobility that makes him frightening once he mounts an airborne assault. Coupled with a projectile and a reversal uppercut, he has a well-rounded arsenal that can be utilized on offense or defense.

Quick Tips:

-When jumping in to attack the opponent, use the jetpack to stay airborne longer unexpectedly and open the opponent up as they try to shift their guard in anticipation of low attacks when you would have landed normally. He can also cancel his grounded heavy attacks into a sudden short hop by quickly jumping. Keep in mind that you need jetpack meter to use these techniques, which recharges over time.
-Clobbering Rush(special Y) is a great move. Due to its high vertical reach it functions as an anti-air, and is relatively safe on block. It is also utilized in many of his combos. You can even combo into super off of successfully hitting with this move.
-(special B) is a high-priority uppercut that you can use to beat out many of the opponent’s offensive attempts.

crowCrow

The sleek, futuristic profile of Crow’s design belies his repetoire of stylish ninja-like moves that confuse the opponent and keep them guessing as to where the strikes will land. Crow’s primary strength is in his offensive ability and prowess in defeating the opponent’s guard.

Quick Tips:

-Aim (special A) using either forward, neutral, or back such that it will land on the opponent and then use it to cover yourself as you approach for a mixup sequence. It can also be used defensively to discourage the opponent from jumping towards you.
-Crow is lacking in his defensive options, especially on a knockdown. Try to keep the momentum in your favor as you will invariably prefer to be the one pressuring the opponent rather than the other way around. Crow has excellent aerial moves and cross ups, and will typically go for a high/low mixup that knocks down, resetting the situation.
-Crow has some fantastic normal attacks for keeping the opponent on the defensive and shutting down their attempts at an approach. Jumping heavy and standing medium are fantastic at shutting down an opponent’s approach.
-Using Crow’s cloaking field (special Y) near a cornered opponent makes his attack sequences even more difficult to anticipate and react to.

edgeEdge

Rounding out the cast of characters is the gundam-esque Edge, wielding a plasma sword with reach and speed. As the only character currently rated at “hard” difficulty, Edge requires a bit more effort and thought to fully utilize, but is incredible when used to his potential.

Quick Tips:

-Hitting with Gathering Storm(special A) will charge up the power of (special B), up to three times. You can tell how much special B is powered up by looking at the indicator on Edge’s sword.
-special B is fast and functions as a reversal for defeating obvious attack attempts by the opponent. When special B is charged up, pressing the button twice will unleash additional hits. When fully charged, the move will cause the opponent to bounce off the wall back towards you, allowing potential follow up attacks, including his super move.
-Edge has a hard time beating a defensive opponent, but has a few tools for a high/low mixup. Forward+medium and (special Y), medium are fast overheads that will tag an opponent that is crouch-blocking. You can combo into (special A) after hitting with (special Y), medium.


Overall I am enjoying the Rising Thunder Alpha a lot and it shows great promise as a newcomer into the legacy of the fighting game library. However as much as I commend the push to innovate and expand the appeal to a wider audience via the simplification of the controls, I feel that there are several aspects of the game that contend with the desire to make the game approachable for beginners; on the contrary as a someone with a fair deal of fighting game experience I found the game unexpectedly challenging due to the following points:

Eight-button game

There are 3 normal attack buttons, and 3 special attack buttons. Additionally there is a dedicated button for throws, and a dedicated button just for overdrives (super moves). Currently there are no shortcut alternates or button combinations that emulate other functions (such as pressing 2 attack buttons to throw), meaning that you are unavoidably expected to use all 8 buttons. No other conventional fighting game has ever utilized every single one of the available buttons and it is actually daunting to have to do so. As much as Rising Thunder attempts to make the controls manageable, there is a definite disconnect in having to parse which of the 8 buttons your finger needs to hit in a particular situation and I still have numerous mistakes in pressing the wrong thing, especially when I’m not used to having to think about and stretch my pinky over to hit two additional buttons (on an arcade joystick) up from the usual 4 to 6 buttons.

Low jumps, ambiguous crossups

Another thing that I noticed in this game is that jumping has a fairly low arc and therefore a faster path of travel. This means that you have less time to react to an opponent going airborne until the time they are descending on you with an attack, and you must react much more quickly. While this is mitigated somewhat by the fact that many characters have only one input to press to defeat the jump attempt, characters without such tools will find themselves struggling to react to aggressive jump ins. There have been times when I had anticipated an opponent’s jump with a mentally prepared response to it and still got hit due to the small frame of time between the enemy leaving the ground and coming crashing down on you. Further exascerbating this issue is the ambiguity of crossups from the opponent’s jumping attack. Many characters have attacks that can hit in such a way that they can jump to the other side of the opponent’s facing thus forcing them to change their blocking direction, but it is especially hard to visually confirm in this game compounded by the fact that it happens so quickly.

Tight timing and combo utilization

Even though the vast majority of moves are performed with a single button press, stringing these various attacks together in a functional attack sequence or combo requires fairly strict timing and a lengthy sequence of inputs that parallels the demands of most mainstream fighting games. Coupled with the specificity of the commands spread out among 8 buttons, the ease of inputting the individual commands is offset by having those commands more compartmentalized and distributed among more buttons. Additionally, there are a few characters that require timing with holding and releasing a button to utilize in their combos properly which is another layer of execution complexity.
As an example, in Street Fighter IV and other iterations, Ryu has a simple damaging combo into super:
jumping MK, (land), crouching MK, Hadouken, Shinkuu Hadouken.
Ignoring joystick inputs, this combo can be performed with only 2 buttons: MK and any one punch button. An equivalent combo for Dauntless would be:
jumping H, (land), M, H, special Y, special A (delay), Overdrive.
This combo utilizes no less than 5 separate buttons, including a button hold-and-release, for comparable damage.

Meter management

Meter management is the presence of mind to be aware of your expendable resources in a match and make informed decisions with that information, such as when to use a super move or save it for a later round, or when you should or shouldn’t break out of an opponent’s combo. Rising Thunder features 5 different gauges to watch given that each of your 3 special moves function on a cooldown timer, with characters like Vlad and Edge having subsystems that are essentially more meters. Being cognizant of all of these different resources in the often split-second moment-to-moment decisions in a given match takes a lot of attention that beginner to intermediate players may find overwhelming, or have no concept of.


Despite the lower execution barrier, given the above factors, there are many barriers that seem to still exist or even have been created that will still separate the players that will perform well or poorly by the same margin. I’ve also voiced concern previously that making execution easier in general may raise the bar instead of lowering it, because it will lift certain aspects of the game which were previously considered “advanced” or “high-level” into the “vital to be competent” territory, which may leave more people out in the cold than bring into the fold.

Concerns aside from the intent of the game versus the hypothetical effect, Rising Thunder looks to be an amazing project even in these early stages and I am invested in its success and think myself a dedicated follower. I look forward to seeing what new things the game will bring to the table, and what its presence ultimately brings into effect in the fighting game scene.





Street Fighter V Beta Impressions Pt. 1

27 07 2015

It’s been everything but smooth sailing for the turbulent opening days of the Street Fighter V Beta, but I was able to log enough time to make a few observations and make a few impressions as I familiarize myself with the game. Keep in mind that as this is an ongoing beta, anything I mention could change, even between beta events.

I’ll start with a few general/system notes and then move on to the characters I studied.

Higher damage/Lower health

One very noticeable difference is the much lower health compared to previous Street Fighter installments that makes the field of play much more lethal. It’s not unusual for meterless bread-and-butter combos to take off 25% health or more, and landing a combo with full super meter can easily lop off 50% or more of the victim’s life bar. Risky plays have a much higher payoff but are equally more punishing for a failed attempt. This obviously makes the rounds go by more quickly but also makes each moment-to-moment decision during play more meaningful; each gamble and opening becomes a much bigger investment for the combatants and I found myself more intensely focused as a result to find those opportunities. Another factor of this change means that there is greater comeback potential, and the matches are more tense and exciting as a result.

Safe, defensive play is more difficult

One of the resounding criticisms of Street Fighter IV was there were numerous ways to neutralize risk and get out of dangerous situations which became a cornerstone of high level play. In Street Fighter V many of these factors have been removed. For one, there is no mechanic that allows fighters to cancel their moves to remove the commitment to those attacks, for example using Focus Attack Dash-Cancel to cancel a shoryuken in SFIV, which means that each and every time you use such a move you commit to the potential consequence of the move missing its mark. Backdashing has no invulnerability (although you still count as being airborne and therefore cannot be thrown) so it is no longer a constant get-out-of-jail-free card that can be used to escape situations over and over. “Option select” defensive techniques such as crouch-throw-teching has similarly been removed purposely to further trim out go-to defensive techniques that cover a wide variety of things the opponent might try when they have you cornered. Finally, even simply blocking has the disadvantage of taking chip damage from normal attacks, although the damage taken in this way is recoverable over time as long as your opponent doesn’t land a successful hit.

Meter management is more important

The super meter is now only divided into 3 subdivisions down from 4 in the previous iteration. As a result you have less resources to throw out EX moves generously and you have to make important decisions quickly as to whether it’s worth burning some bar to use such a move, especially given the huge damage potential of landing a Critical Art and also being mindful of the opponent’s comeback potential if you don’t tack on that little bit of extra damage to close out a round.

Easier execution raises the bar instead of lowering it

One of the most notable differences is that in general the inputs for performing damaging combos and some special moves have been made more lenient in an effort to make the game more accessible. In SFIV there were important combos that required 1/60th of a second timing in order to perform, while in SFV these “link” combos have been made more lenient on their input timing. While at first glance this would appear to be a move to cater to beginners and make the game more approachable to the novice, it also sets a certain precedent that mastery of these techniques is a basic demand of the competent player. Dropping your combo or flubbing your special move is now a much more fatal mistake, since you have to assume that the opponent is less likely to make the same error when the opportunity arises.

Ryu

-MP one of his best buttons

Ryu players will find themselves using his MP button much more than in any other iteration. The reach of this move is noticably further, and it can link into itself for hit-confirms and is the starter for his target combo MP HP HK, as well as being cancelable making this one of his most useful poking and footsie tools. Similar to previous games if you land an air-to-air MP, you can follow up with an EX special move or even a Critical Art upon landing.

-Denjin mode incredibly threatening

Ryu’s V-trigger makes him tremendously dangerous by giving him access to the Raidou Hadouken. When in Denjin mode, fireballs can be charged up by holding down the button to give them guard-breaking properties at maximum charge, making his fireball gameplay a huge threat. While the opponent is unlikely to let you land a full-charged fireball from the neutral game, the EX fireball charges up significantly faster, try canceling into it when the opponent is scared for a possible setup. Upon a successful guard-break, use forward HP to lunge in and follow up with MP into his target combo or anything else for staggering damage.

-Fireball zoning less effective

Hadoukens are still an integral part of Ryu’s gameplan but you must be much more mindful about tossing them out. The characters have various tools spread amongst them such as Bison and Nash’s V-skills specifically to counter fireballs, and the higher damage of the game also makes a good read by the opponent hurt a lot more if they catch you throwing a hadouken when you shouldn’t have. Furthermore, even the time-old crouching MK, hadouken string is punishable on block at certain ranges by certain characters.

-Hit confirms important to see if opponent is crouching

Many of Ryu’s combos that use the target combo string will whiff on the final HK if the opponent was crouching when they were hit. If you know the opponent is crouching, try throwing in a crouching HP which will force them to stand, then cancel into a special move/critical art.

-Don’t try to abuse parry

Ryu’s V-skill Mind’s Eye closely emulates the Third Strike parry system, but don’t be tempted to overuse it. The main fatal flaw is that there is a whiff animation if the parry doesn’t catch anything, potentially causing you to eat a counter-hit. Also note that you can’t parry while airborne.

-MP shoryuken invincibility

A very key thing to know is that currently the MP version of Ryu’s shoryuken sports the most invulnerable frames. Outside of combos, the MP shoryuken should be your default when fishing for reversals or to stuff an obvious attack attempt.

Birdie

-Not really a grapple character, well rounded toolset

Birdie is currently the only character with a command grab, but landing his command grab is not the centerpiece of his gameplan like it is with more traditional grapplers like Zangief. Instead, Birdie has a well rounded selection of moves to make him threatening in a variety of situations. Most of his reliable damage comes from landing simple heavy-hitting attack strings rather than his special grab.

-MP HCF+MP is your go-to punish

Birdie’s standing MP is an incredible move. It has lengthy reach and is special cancelable. Cancel into the MP Bull Head for easy 20% damage when the opponent does something unsafe.

-Jumping MP crossup, MK air to ground, HP for jump-in

Birdie has several aerial moves that are useful in different situations. MP is the closest thing he has to a body splash type attack which is crossup-capable but the hitbox doesn’t last long. You must hit with the jumping MP close to the ground in order to go into a combo. Jumping MK has a steep angle and good range making it a great air-to-ground attack. If you know the opponent is open, jumping HP is your best bet for a combo starter due to its good damage and big hit-stun.

-Armored moves

Notable in Birdie’s arsenal are some moves that have hit-absorbing properties to discourage incessant attackers. Forward HP seems to have armor when holding down the button. His variations of Bull Head also gain armor when in V-trigger.

-HP and cr. MK for footsie bullying

Birdie has exceptional range on his normal moves and he can stay at a position where he can threaten with his long reach while being out of range of the opponent’s normals. Try using standing HP and both standing and crouching MK to tag the opponent just out of the reach of their normals.

-V-skill necessary to reliably get V-trigger

Birdie has a 3-stock V-gauge meaning it takes longer to fill than other characters. Look for opporunities to use his V-skill to build the gauge in order to unleash his overpowering V-trigger mode.





E3 2013

23 06 2013

I was able to attend the show on Wednesday the 12th to get a preview of some of the exciting things on the horizon of the gamesphere. This is a particularly important E3 since it is the first look at the newly revealed 8th generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft, in the form of the PS4 and Xbox One respectively. Here are some of the things I had the opportunity to look at during the show:

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U): A new generation of Nintendo consoles brings with it many guarantees: one of those things is a new Mario Kart game. The biggest addition and gimmick of this new entry is karts that morph to different terrain to take advantage of a greater variety of terrain. For example, racers might speed down a long and narrow canyon straightaway but at certain junctures, be able to transition to driving on the wall while others continue down the traditional route, then morph into hang-gliders to descend from an air. The utilization of different terrain in the courses and also divergent paths is an interesting idea. Optional motion control makes a return along with different vehicle types, but there was a noticeable lack of crazy items and power weapons flying around compared to the previous console entry, even with 12 drivers per race. Throughout 3 race courses I never saw a blue shell or lightning bolt, so this aspect of the game may have been toned down which is both good and bad; on one hand the game is much less random and frustrating without the constant barrage of “kill the leader” items but at the same time some of the personality and wackiness of the game is lost.

Bayonetta 2 (Wii U): One of my floor-playable favorites of the year, Bayonetta 2 feels and plays nearly identical to its predecessor which is an all-around good thing. The ante has been upped in terms of the ridiculous spectacle of the game, featuring new features such as “Umbran Climax” that temporarily powers-up every normal attack to a massively destructive weave-enhanced move as well as even crazier action sequences and set-pieces, such as a fight that takes place on top of a fighter jet soaring through an urban cityscape. I remain mystified on why this title became a Wii U console exclusive but I can’t deny that it is a tempting draw.

The Wonderful 101 (Wii U): A 5-player party brawler where players control superheroes that rally hordes of civilians to fight heroically, reminiscent of Pikmin. The main mechanic of the game is that the player is able to form various weapons from his mass of followers such as a gigantic fist, hand cannon, or hammer by drawing its corresponding shape. It had a quaint aesthetic but the gameplay itself seems like it would thrive with a full complement of players but would be somewhat underwhelming as a solo experience.

2012 Wii U Pro controller: I made a point of getting some hands-on time with the Wii U Pro controller since it will likely be many players’ go-to for the upcoming Smash Bros. title on the Wii U. Aesthetically and ergonomically, the Pro controller emulates the 360 controller, but the baffling positioning of the face buttons–where the right analog stick would be on a 360 controller–makes for an awkward configuration. Hopefully it will be a simple matter of acclimation to get over this difference but right now it has me worried about the usability.

Dragon’s Crown (PS3): I was only marginally interested in this downloadable title until I was actually able to try it and see it up close. It retains Vanillaware’s visual pedigree; every screen is stunning and mesmerizing to look at, even the world map/level select has more effort put into it than some games have in a full level of the game. Aside from the gorgeous art direction, the gameplay itself is also a satisfying dungeon-brawler derivative with a few interesting twists on the conventional character classes and side-scrolling beat-em-up gameplay. The game became a buy when we encountered a black sabretooth tiger and a velociraptor in one dungeon and made both into rideable player mounts.

Ray’s the Dead (PS4): One of the featured indie games that will be coming to the PS4 as an incentive for the PS+ subscription, in this game you play as Ray, a bumbling zombie with the ability to resurrect and control a swarm of followers as you roam about the outskirts of a dim suburban town. The gameplay takes ques from Pikmin and Katamari Damacy, in that you have certain specialized zombies that you can control and direct, and that the main goal of each section is to uncover and recruit as many zombies as possible to meet a certain threshold to continue past a barrier. The build I played had a few bugs here and there but looks to be a quirky and fun experience when it is available along with various other indie games on the PS4 this fall.

PS4 Dualshock 4 controller: One of the important things for me at the show that I made a point of was to be able to try the controllers of the next-generation consoles. The PS4 felt different from a simple perspective of shape, the handles are thinner and the palm of the hand wraps around them more fully, and the weight of the controller is comparable to that of the current-gen Dualshock 3. The face buttons are about where you would expect them to be. The one thing that threw me off the most was the shoulder buttons: the L1/R1 buttons are more ellipse shaped and have less give, felt like clicking a mouse instead of depressing a button. The triggers are also of an unusual recurve shape that will prevent fingers from slipping off and have about the same springiness and depression depth as the Dualshock 3. I can see myself getting used to the new design after some time but after 3 long generations of predecessor controllers sharing the same basic design, holding this new shape just somehow felt “wrong.”

Beyond: Two Souls (PS3): Quantic Dream’s greatly anticipated new offering looks and plays much like its acclaimed predecessor Heavy Rain. For the demo players assumed control of Ellen Page’s character, who’s name I can’t remember. We are dropped in to the middle of the action in an urban warzone in Africa with Page’s character assuming the role of some special forces badass, that she unfortunately isn’t entirely convincing in. The gameplay consists mostly of QTEs and “think fast” button presses with some embellishments from what we have seen in previous entries. The most prevalent addition are action sequences which have no prompt but feature a time-dilation effect indicating the player must press the right analog stick in the correct direction following the character’s path of movement in order to execute the dodge/attack/lunge successfully. Alas these interactions can be very ambiguous, as sometimes the character is moving their body away, other times they are moving one of their limbs for a parry/intercept, and sometimes they appear to be doing both and it is very difficult to read. I don’t believe this demo did much of a service for this upcoming title, but then again I do not think Quantic Dreams games in general owe themselves to demo playthroughs since they are driven by the intrigue of the story rather than segments of action gameplay.

Killer Instinct (XOne): One of the surprises of the show was the resurrection of the Killer Instinct franchise as an Xbox One exclusive. The build playable at the show featured only two classic characters, Jago and Sabrewulf, with updated looks and gameplay. I personally didn’t particularly like either character’s next-gen makeover but the game itself looks quite gorgeous with a crisp frame rate and absolutely absurd particle effects and cascading sparkstorms when the combatants strike each other. The fighting system itself has received an overhaul but retains some of the recognizable flavors of the games of old, namely extensive multi-hit combos and combo breakers. In the new combo system, the normal attacks chain from light to heavy as one might expect from a conventional fighting system, however at the end of the normal string a character can perform a “linker” special move to reset the string of normal attacks and continue the combo repeatedly. The opponent receiving the pummeling can try to utilize the new combo breaker system to stop the assault by pressing both light, medium, or heavy attack buttons at the same time in anticipation of the offender’s move that is hitting you at the time, but if you guess wrong, your breakers are disabled for about 2 seconds while the opponent shreds you with their attacks. Several other conventional fighting game mechanics have surfaced in KI including meter management, EX moves, and an “Ultra” comeback mechanic. But what may be the most interesting is KI’s pursuit of a free-to-play model in which players can use Jago online for free but additional characters can be purchased individually.

Lost Planet 3 (PS3): It’s unfortunate but every show has it’s stinker and this year it was Capcom’s latest entry into their Lost Planet shooter series. Almost everything that could be wrong was wrong with the demo I played on the Playstation 3, from clunky controls, blocky graphics, uninspired run-and-gun, encounters that last a tad too long, and mediocre sound design. It was the only game that I walked away from before I finished, and there was no line behind me. Disappointing.

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z (PS3): An unexpected new entry into the Ninja Gaiden series was revealed in the form of Yaiba. The twist is that this time you play as a resurrected half-cyborg ninja on a quest for vengeance against Ryu Hayabusa, the protagonist of the main line of games. Although the game takes place in the Ninja Gaiden world, there are some obvious differences to the casual observer. The game features a vibrant cel-shaded visual style with a more comic-booky feel to it. The game also adheres to a much more unapologetically raunchy and juvenile tone, with fuckwords, not-so-subtle innuendos and violent dismemberments spread throughout. Despite all this Yaiba manages to be appealing and likable in his over-the-top crudeness, and the overall aesthetic and spirit of the game is reminiscent of Madworld. The gameplay itself is similar to conventional current-gen Ninja Gaiden games, featuring oversized bosses, and hordes of swarming zombie mooks that Yaiba flattens by the dozen. Yaiba has most of the basic ninja moves but also has some surpises like a rocket-powered punching arm, a detachable chain hand for grappling, and the ability to use the severed limbs of his victims as improvised weapons to wreak carnage and destruction on those that remain. This game has some kinks but has potential to be a cult-classic or sleeper hit which I think is precisely the territory that it is trying to carve for itself.

Batman: Arkham Origins (PS3): I endured a two-hour line to get a glimpse of this upcoming entry into the Arkham series. I was apprehensive about this game because for this entry the esteemed Rocksteady Studios was ditched in favor of Warner Bros.’ 1st party Montreal studio. Fortunately, after seeing this 10-minute gameplay walkthrough, my fears were dissuaded; the game looks great. At it’s core Arkham Origins looks mostly to be Arkham City 2. The demo began featuring Batman grappling and gliding his way through a snowy Gotham cityscape, notably less distressed and dystopian as the one we saw in Arkham City; Arkham Origins is a prequel to the first two games featuring a slightly younger Batman encountering some of his most dangerous adversaries for the first time, the main contenders this time around being the likes of Bane, Black Mask, Deadshot, and Deathstroke. The parts of the game shown were very reminiscent of the gameplay of Arkham City which is not at all a bad thing, but with expansions on certain features and concepts. For instance, there are a few new enemy types such as the “martial artist” that figure into a little more back-and-forth flow of combat pertaining to Batman’s combat counter system. But perhaps the most interesting feature they showcased was Batman’s enhancements to his detective mode. The new system features a virtual re-enactment of the scene of investigation interpolated from the various pieces of evidence that Batman scans in through his cowl sensor that is projected onto the scene of the crime and can be played forwards and backwards in real time to piece together what actually occurred at the site. Overall Arkham Origins was one of the most exciting new games showcased at the show and the best part is that it will be out in just about 4 months.

These were the titles that I was able to look at up close during the show. I only had but a single day, so I couldn’t cover everything, but some other highlights of the show were Bungie’s Destiny, Respawn Entertainment’s Titanfall, and Nintendo’s new Super Smash Bros. entry.





E3 2012 Impressions

6 06 2012

Dead or Alive 5 (PS3): Plays like Dead or Alive. Not sure what else to say. Pretty ladies that get sweaty and dirty.

DmC (PS3): I was pretty curious about giving this a spin to see if it was up to snuff and I think Ninja Theory is beginning to mold this game into something worth paying attention to. The combat controls were a jarring adjustment for me because of some key differences that we’ve come to expect from the standard Devil May Cry series: There is no lock-on button and evasive rolls are scripted to L1 and R1, which took a lot of getting used to. Dante defaults to his good ol’ handguns on square and sword on triangle but some of the conventions have changed, like using the circle button for launcher attacks. The most intriguing part of the new combat system is Angel and Demon mode, which are essentially modifiers that transmogrify Dante’s moveset on the fly by holding down L2 or R2 respectively. Angel and Demon mode cause Dante’s weapon to physically change from the normal sword to either an oversized sickle or a heavy battleaxe. Additionally, it changes the square button as well from standard gunfire to a vertebrae-esque grappling weapon which strongly reminds me of Nero’s devil bringer. These facets require a fair amount of finger acrobatics but there seems like depth and complexity buried beneath. There are combat elements and puzzle elements that are color coded to clue the player in as to which moveset will be effective in certain situations. The visuals were surreal and a departure from what one would expect of typical DMC style…but DmC is carving its own niche and is beginning to grow more comfortable in its own skin it seems. Dante himself seems to have more of the attitude and swagger that one would expect in this showing, as though he himself is settling in to his own shoes.

God of War Ascension multiplayer (PS3): Yeah, I’m going to talk about my own game, wanna fight about it? We had a really good showing today and I think the reception was overwhelmingly positive. As a quick overview you enter the battlefield as either a Spartan or Trojan warrior, champions of the gods all and on a blood quest to gain favor with their aligned deity. There is a small taste of the character customization system, where players can choose different armor, weapons, and magic abilities which grant unique attributes or techniques. The match itself is set in a forsaken desert temple in the shadow of the cyclopean titan Polyphemus straining against his bindings like a mad animal. Scattered across the level are various subweapons, power ups, capture points and sinister traps all of which the cunning opportunist can use to his advantage. The basic combat itself has a healthy depth while being true to GoW gameplay, players must mix light attacks, heavy attacks, grapples, blocks, parries and evasive dodges to counter opponents’ tactics and prevail over the enemy. The gore that one would expect is duly delivered; one can scarcely throw a stone without hitting someone being disemboweled, dismembered, bisected, or getting their skull shattered. At the very end of the match, if you are true champion of the gods, you slice the face of a titan in half with a spear infused with the very might of Olympus. It’s good stuff if I say so myself.

Persona 4 Arena (PS3): It’s a purdy 4 button fighter from Arc System Works. In true Arc System Works fashion, you must internalize and master various eclectic button combinations for moves and system mechanics that you’ve never heard of or seen in any other fighting game and the screen is smothered with icons, gauges, and symbology that must be deciphered like a foreign language. All I know about this game is the grab character fights with a folding chair and his instakill move is called “Brofist.” Tempting.

NintendoLand (Wii U): Being an exhibitor at a trade show has its perks, like not having to beat the crowd to stand in a 2-hour-long line. So I figured it would be a good time to scrutinize Nintendo’s new piece of bastard tech the Wii U. Their centerpiece for the show as a compilation game called NintendoLand which will likely be a launch window offering for the system, featuring 12 minigames drawn from various IP that will showcase some of the potential for the new system’s unique control offerings, 5 of which were on display. First let’s look at the controller:

Controller: I wanted to hate this thing for being fat, unweildy, and grotesque, but it ended up impressing me. The unit is surprisingly light for its size, and the screen is actually very very nice. The motion control capabilities on the device were also fairly impressive, I’d say a notch above the sensitivity and fidelity of the Wii MotionPlus. What is perhaps a concern is that the thing has no wriststrap or other safety device to speak of…one couldn’t help but notice how gingerly the apparatus was handed over by the booth workers. This seems like you could make some expensive mistakes with this thing, especially after playing with buttered snails and astroglide.

Console: Looks like it has a small, compact footprint and the graphics are up to snuff…which is to say it is now simply comparable to the other competing systems. Saw Ninja Gaiden 3 running on it and it looked pretty damn good.

Animal Crossing Sweet Day: Sounds emasculating, looks emasculating, is hilariously fun. This little gem handily demonstrates the Wii U’s potential for asymmetric play and diverse player experiences. In this game, 4 players use sideways Wii remotes on a team while the 5th mans the tablet and uses his own screen. The 4 players have to work together and navigate a small maze area and gather 50 candy pieces in total while trying to outmaneuver the two guard pawns used by the tablet player, who controls both simultaneously with both analog sticks. Obscenely simple fun, but I can see good things in store for this game especially if they bundle the system with a handle of Johnnie Walker Black Label (you can have that one on me, Nintendo).

Takamaru’s Ninja Castle: Showcases the motion control and sensitivity of the tablet well. Plays like an arcade gun game, except you hold the tablet ipad style using motion control to aim and use flicking motions on the touch screen to jettison shuriken into a posse of incompetent ninjas who allow themselves to be seen. I also really dig the aesthetic in this and other NintendoLand entries, kind of a papercraft/origami look that is quaint yet servicable.

Legend of Zelda Battle Quest: Basically a coop rail shooter where some players control swords to hack through the front lines and one player uses the motion control tablet to snipe with arrows. Pretty cool but looks like it would be exhausted quickly.

Donkey Kong Crash Course: The only solo game of the bunch and a real tough mother. In this game you control the most fragile rolling cart on earth and use tilt controls to (very) carefully navigate through a multitiered roller coaster fun house of fiendish design. Compellingly challenging and relentlessly demanding; you go too fast you die, you go too slow you die, you go too hard you die, you go too soft you die, you die, you die, you die. Not recommended for people with Parkinsons or ADHD.

Luigi’s Ghost Mansion: A fairly simple little party game with a brilliant concept: 4 players control ghost hunters in a labyrinthine top-down view and the 5th player with the tablet and his own screen stalks them relentlessly looking for openings to murder them. Of course, the ghost is invisible to the 4 main players. The humans have flashlights which reveal the ghost and deplete his hit points, and also can be used to revive fallen players. However, the flashlights have diminishing power and require battery pickups that drop randomly. The game is on a timer which gives incentive for the humans to split up which the ghost can then exploit.

Batman Arkham City Armored Edition: Same game but with gimmicky new cool stuff intergrated with the tablet controller: Motion control batarangs, real-time map screen that’s always open, and bat computer all at the fingertips…might be cool but according to the Rocksteady guy there it’s basically the same game…May be well worth it for Wiii U adopters who haven’t yet played Arkham City (btw, you should be slapped if this is the case).

Aliens Colonial Marines: Floor playable, but I didn’t get a chance to try…dammit. What I did see was that there is a team deatmatch type mode where one side controls the swarming xenomorphs. Saw that there was a merciful 3rd-person camera for the bugs which will hopefully help mitigate the throwing-up-between-matches dizziness problem of previous games. I am just really really hoping this doesn’t turn out to be Aliens vs. Predator -Predator.

Street Fighter x Tekken (Vita): Exactly what you’d expect. Tried it out, didn’t make me want to buy a Vita. I got too spoiled on having 2 shoulder buttons on one side and the dpad/analog still don’t feel right for a fighting game.

Playstation All Stars Battle Royale (PS3): Didn’t play, but noticed the inclusion of Big Daddy of Bioshock fame which has very interesting implications…namely that this game is not at all limited to PS exclusive franchises and now the door has been blown wide open and literally anyone could show up in this game. The imagination wanders far when considering what exactly the roster will look like when the game rolls out in Q4. Could be legendary.

Last of Us, Assassin’s Creed III, Beyond, Black Ops 2, Tomb Raider, Ni no Kuni: Trailers look hot.

That’s all I had time for and I’ll likely be working for the rest of the show…let me know caught your guys’ fancy





Resident Evil 6: Preview Trailer Impressions

26 01 2012

Just within this week Capcom has rolled out a trailer for the next numbered entry in the Resident Evil franchise, RE6. After some of the problematic and more criticized aspects of RE5, it seems like a golden opportunity to renew the faith in this enduring franchise. Could a return to Leon, hero of RE4 – the best game in the series to date – be a return to form?

As covered in my video of some of the criticisms of RE5, there were several elements of the previous title that seemed to be out of step with the expectations and traditions of the franchise. The following are my biggest points of contention and how I hope RE6 will address these issues:

Genre Identity Crisis
What put me off about RE5 the most was that it didn’t seem to know what game it was trying to be. It was clear that Capcom was trying to take the game in a much more action-adventure oriented direction but seemed to only go halfway on some aspects and overcompensating in others. Gameplay conventions were adjusted to make the game more akin to an action-saturated first person shooter type experience but were not up to snuff compared to other entries of that genre. There were welcome improvements to the formula of the immensely successful RE4, but nothing seemed to mesh together in RE5. RE4 did certainly have a noticable diversion from the series into more action-based gameplay, but at it’s core it was still firmly based as a survival horror game.
The trailer for RE6 has me very hopeful that there will be a return to form in this entry. The trailer was very atmospheric and from the onset sold the entire package as a decisively “horror” game. The foes were suitably grotesque and unsettling, and there was an overarching sense of panic and dread. And yet at the same time, there was a showcase of breakneck action and John Woo-esque maneuvers that the heros can unleash on the shambling hordes. I think that it is possible for these elements to coexist, as RE4 demonstrated, but having all elements of the game mesh together will be what makes or breaks the experience. Altogether, what I’m hoping for is Capcom to cook up the authentically “Resident Evil” experience I’ve been craving and let the actiony spicyness complement the dish rather than overwhelm it.

Underdeveloped Co-op Gameplay
There were whisperings that the co-operative gameplay of RE5 was shoehorned into development to be in keeping with the then-current trends of action games, which RE5 seemed to so badly want to imitate. The result was a somewhat awkward hybrid of current gaming fads and enduring franchise tropes that did neither a great service. However, after the “experiment” of RE5, the franchise has a chance to step up to the plate once again, older and wiser, to take a swing with the experience of the past beneath it’s belt. Indeed, there have been rumors flying around that RE6 will support not two, but SIX PLAYER cooperative play (I see what you did there Capcom). Whether that represents the entire story mode of the game or a separate game mode remains to be seen, but either way RE6 has a better chance of integrating such elements in a more thoughtful way.

Novelty Setting and Exoticism
Speculation on racism aside, the previous two Resident Evils seemed to want to cash in on the horror derived from the unknown, the unfamiliar; to evoke the mystery of the “other” and the feeling of isolation in a place far away from home. It was also probably no mistake since various action games demand faraway locales for their backdrop of wonder and adventure. However, there were a few pitfalls to the approach that was taken, sometimes it felt forced or arbitrary, other times it seemed accessory to the actual events taking place, and other times it became just a tad bit topical. RE6 seems to break away from that direction and bring things back closer to home. The game appears to take place stateside in the town of Tall Oaks, which is a stand in for urban America. Indeed, some of the most effective tropes of horror are derived from the familiar, but twisted and dehumanized, made into something terrible yet recognizable. To echo Leon in the trailer, “it’s Raccoon City all over again,” and this choice may be just what was needed for the direction of the series seeing that the first 3 games, which set the groundwork for the most enduring tropes of the franchise and survival horror in general, all took place there.

After watching the trailer I am very excited for this new game and I have high hopes that it will vault over the bar set by the prodigious RE4 and be a new standard in survival horror and for Resident Evil as a whole.