Early E3 2012 Impressions

I should actually make this post about my impressions about Sony’s pre-E3 conference this year, but I want to talk about at least one game that had nothing to do with Sony’s conference so I decided to just make this about E3 showings in general… Although I own an Xbox 360, it rarely gets turned on, I just use my PS3 a lot more than the 360 and enjoy it more as well. I’m a PlayStation man, what can I say? Needless to say, I didn’t watch the Microsoft pre-expo conference.

Nonetheless, the game I want to mention that wasn’t covered in Sony’s conference is Dead or Alive 5… I had absolutely no idea until today that it was in the works and I have to confess I’m really excited that it’ll be one the PlayStation after the franchise’s long absence from the platform. I’m even more excited that Team Ninja is responsible for bringing it; although I haven’t had the opportunity to play too many of their games in recent years, I always remember the fun I had with my buddies playing the original Dead or Alive on the original PlayStation! Now, I’ll confess there was the legendary breast physics that drew me to the game at that time and has left a huge impact on me since, but the characters were fun to use, and I’m amazed by the interactive fighting stages in this latest installment! While I’ve mainly been a Street Fighter kind of guy for the last few years, I think DoA 5 will fill that gaping hole that Soul Blade/Edge/Calibur left in me with it’s previous installment: when Soul Calibur V was announced, I found I just had no interest in the series any more. IV let me down that much despite not doing a thing wrong… But, I digress… DoA 5 appears to be the pseudo-3D fighter I’ve been waiting for on PS3, and I’m eagerly awaiting the chance to play it!

Being a Sony guy, I have to confess I was let down by Sony’s conference. The Wonderbook for PS Move is interesting and all, but I wouldn’t have made a fuss about it in today’s conference. Even the audience at the auditorium was less than thrilled by it. Now, I know they were excited because they get to have a tie in with J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore and Harry Potter universe, possibly as an exclusive, via Wonderbook, but frankly, that’s not the sort of announcement that I, as a 40 year old gamer, was looking for. I have the Move, and I’d consider getting the Wonderbook and Book of Spells as something to do with my five year old, but that did not get my heart pumping… Especially when the captions, purposefully or accidentally, indicated that the gameplay was not live and the speaker specifically stated moments later that it was. For me, the demo players looked like they were having difficulty getting the game to do what they wanted, when they wanted, which could very well mean that it was pre-recorded footage that was out of sync with the players demonstrating it on stage. If it was indeed live, then the application (because I wouldn’t really call it a game) was laggy, and it’s still not something that should have been demoed prior to the official start of E3.

There were some games demoed that did get me excited and interested, however. The first is Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls, which, simply put, looks amazing. That alone is nothing out of the ordinary for that studio… I never played Heavy Rain, but every little bit I saw of the game looked amazing, and I regret never having had the money to spare for it. The Kara technology demo was also amazing and I suspect heavily laid the groundwork for Beyond. It’s still way too early to see what Beyond is going to be, but I’ll tell you now that I’m excited about it! I love a game with a great story line, and this is going to be one that has so much to reveal! 15 years in a character’s life?!?! Holy shit! Even more remarkable is that the lovely Ellen Page will be voicing the game’s main character, Jodi Holmes.

I love role playing games as much as I love air, but when I want to truly unwind, I like to kill things in first person shooters. I won’t even begin to cover the FPS games I’ve played, loved, and mastered over the last 20 years, but today’s press conference had me eager to play Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3. This is a franchise I never played beyond a beta or demo, so I don’t know anything about the story line, characters, or quirks that make it any different from any of the others. But the 4 player co-op caught my eye… In some ways, this game’s co-op mode reminds me of Valve’s Left 4 Dead series (the primary reason I bought my 360), and in others it reminds me of Insomniac’s Resistance 2‘s co-op mode. Considering I love both of those games, I got pretty interested in the game play on Far Cry 3 and I could see myself buying the game simply for that if three of my PS3 owning friends also get it… I did a bit of reading on IGN’s web site about what they thought of FC3‘s co-op mode, and it was hardly favorable, but I think it’s something that I’ll keep my eye on. According to IGN, the game is 3 months away from release and they were pessimistic about the chances of it improving before then, but I’ve seen a lot change in a final release in shorter time. Not to mention that the game as it exists at E3 today may very well be weeks or months old code.

There will be those that are extremely excited over God of War: Ascension but I saw it, more or less, as desperation. The God of War series has been an amazing seller for Sony, and it has done some pretty amazing things over all, especially with #3 which included combat on the back of a titan climbing mount Olympus, but this new one really didn’t seem to do anything particularly groundbreaking. Maybe I’m just not that into Kratos and his adventures — as a matter of fact, I’m not, I’d much rather see a follow-up to Heavenly Sword than another God of War entry — but it really looked like Sony decided to make another GoW game to keep money flowing into the coffers while they prep for the next generation. By this point, I was fairly disappointed in Sony for only having one strong, original title in the line up prior to the official start of E3, but then they reminded me of exactly what I needed to be reminded of…

Naughty Dog has been impressing me since the day I bought my PS3. Before then, actually, because I saw video and screenshots of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune long before I had the money to buy my PS3. One of the first games I bought was Uncharted, and I still play it and its sequels on a regular basis! I still haven’t found all of the treasures in any of the three games, and I’m not about to stop looking! (I refuse to use a guide for most games, and especially these.) Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, sadly, felt like a goodbye to me, that Naughty Dog was ready to move on to bigger and better things. If that’s the case, then I can think of nothing more suitable as a follow-up than The Last of Us. There’s no need for me to describe The Last of Us because I’m sure there are a thousand blogs out there doing just that, and a couple hundred game magazines doing the same in print and electronically, but it looks to be just the kind of game I’ve been waiting for. As I watched the demo for the game tonight, I was reminded of playing the original Resident Evil game on my PlayStation back in 96 when I would get creeped out to the point that I couldn’t play the game at night. While Last of Us may or may not involve zombies, genetic engineering gone bad, and betrayal like RE did, it frankly looks like another amazing work of art weaving extreme attention to detail, an engaging and thoughtful storyline, and brutal realism from one of the premiere PlayStation developers. In my humble opinion, this is a game worth buying a PlayStation 3 to play!

Between Beyond and Last of Us, I think Sony could have let a team of monkeys throw poop at the audience and still pulled off a positive conference this evening. The other games didn’t hurt [much at least], but those were the two stars. The PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale looked interesting, and got even better when it was revealed that Nathan Drake (from the aforementioned Uncharted series) and the Big Daddy (from BioShock) were going to be gracing the game as playable characters, but I was unusually uninterested for most of the conference.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

Whether you’ve heard of this game or not, it comes out Tuesday and the demo has been available for a week or more. If you’re a gamer or a geek, chances are you’ve heard of it and have been anxious to get your grubby little hands on it for quite some time. I am such a geek, though I’ll confess I’ve only had a wait and see attitude regarding Kingdoms of Amalur for quite some time.

The reason is kind of simple. Despite the creative genius behind 38 Studios, I’ve usually found that people that are good at one thing are seldom good at anything else. I’ve been a fan of R. A. Salvatore for the last 20 years, and I’ve respected
Todd MacFarlane as a comic and toy genius for almost as long. Add in a baseball player (sorry! I can’t recall his name and I’m too focused to look it up right now) and I figure that they might make great figureheads for a company seeking investors. But what do they know about video games?

Before I give you my answer, I’ll tell you that in principle, Kingdoms sounded intriguing from the very beginning. It’s a completely new property, unburdened with intellectual property rights of any of the past works of the company’s top name talent. Launching a new world is risky business even for the top talent and established developers. That’s why Activision keeps going back to the Modern Warfare cash cow, and even Blizzard takes a long time to launch new products within their proven franchises and is slowly, almost reluctantly prepping this new one, project Titan. So three guys famous for doing other stuff getting together to first form a new video game company and launch it with a completely original title is pretty fucking ballsy if you ask me.

That said, Kingdoms isn’t perfect. I played the demo all the way through twice last night on my PC, and most of the way through on both Xbox 360 and PS3 today, and I found a few rough edges that need to be polished, especially on the PS3 version. (Most notably the load times are longer and the particle glow effects seem to be toned down on the Sony system.) The PC version ran well on my nearly uber modern PC (AMD FX-8150, 16 GB RAM, and, wait for it, Radeon HD 4870!) but the control scheme felt like it was adapted from the console version and only recently someone said “Wait a minute guys! We have a fucking keyboard!” I never did get comfortable with the Xbox controller so I have to say that the PS3 seems to have the most precise and comfortable control scheme. Of course, it might also have to do with the fact that I played that version last… But there was something missing with that version… As I played the other two versions, there was a sense of smoothness to the animation that I just didn’t get on the PS3, though the animations and artwork were virtually identical to my untrained eyes. It took me trying to describe it to one of my best friends to figure out a possible suspect as to what it was; my video card, the Radon HD 4870 is about 4 years old, and the 360 is at least 6 years old… I think the gpu in those beasts were straining at some points giving the game a feel of smoothness that wasn’t really there. The PS3, though no youngster itself, seemed to just power through the graphically intense game as if it were walking through air instead of a river. At least I think that is it…

In any event, I have to say that I like the game very much. I love that it’s an original fantasy story that’s displacing, at least for now, some of the old familiar faces in the fantasy genre. Though there’s a race called the Fae that is probably akin to the various interpretations of the elf, in the demo, at least, elves are no where to be found. Neither are dwarves. Humans are present as are gnomes, but I’m not entirely sure what the species the player characters are. In some ways they appear to be elves t with their pointed ears, but that’s about where the resemblance ends. I personally kept getting drawn to select a female character of the bottom most subspecies because I found them gorgeous. And I love how the actual customized character model, utilizing the correct equipped equipment, is used in the cut scenes instead of being either left out or made generic.

The magic system is different from the traditional implementations in fantasy, and I love the idea that the character can alter the path of the world’s destiny [in theory]. The game’s mythology is also unique and engaging to the point that, despite intending to stop playing as the night grew long, I kept finding myself wanting to play for just another few minutes. Even now, without touching the game in 12 hours, I want to play it. The more I think about Kingdoms the more convinced I am that it’s what I’ve been seeking in an RPG for a long time.

I never got into Fallout 3. I’ve played Oblivion and I got lost rather quickly, and fear the same from Skyrim. I do play World of Warcraft but sometimes I feel like I’m just grinding away with little or no fulfillment; I sometimes play merely for some social interaction with people that I’ve known in-game for years. Star Trek Online has improved considerably in the last two years, but I still hate anything that has to do with an away mission, and I wouldn’t call any of it a role playing game. I haven’t played a Final Fantasy in 10 years and Fable, while amazing, is more of a technology demonstrator than a game to me. Kingdoms of Amalur brings me back to the old school computer role playing games that are long gone and yet manages to satisfy my hardcore gamer itch.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty great game in my opinion.

My Take on KillZone 3

Although I’m not going to go into any detail, I’ll confess that I’m biased in favor of my PS3 rather than m Xbox 360. It feels better put together, seems to have more power, and I don’t have to pay to play online with my friends. So, yes, once again I am biased. In the interests of full disclosure, this isn’t exactly a professional, journalism oriented site. Strictly speaking, it’s a blog, though I’m trying to be honest, objective, and fair in most cases. Except for when it comes to my feelings towards Siffie.

Now, I could tell you the basic storyline of KillZone 3, but I don’t even know most of it. I can tell you what I know based on the ending of KZ2 and what I’ve seen in the promos for KZ3, but you can find that on just about any site. Not being a real journalist does hinder a good preview/review because I haven’t seen any more than what the average person has: I didn’t exactly receive a review copy from Guerrilla Games. Still, from what I’ve seen in the open beta, the maps are incredibly detailed, huge, and flat out beautiful. The Frozen Dam map is quite nice, and I love the fact that it’s not even remotely symmetrical. Symmetry is fair, and is often present in multiplayer games, especially in first person shooters, but it makes learning a map entirely too easy. The lack of symmetry makes them interesting and gives players spending time to learn them a huge advantage. I love that.

One of the biggest improvements in the game over KZ2 is the frame rate. In the previous game, the frame rate was usually pretty good but it often would get bogged down if there were a lot of players in the same area, dropping grenades, etc.. From what I’ve seen in KZ3, aside from two occurrences a few seconds apart, there was no noticeable slow down in the 6+ hours that I’ve played in multiplayer. This is good. This is really good.

Guerrilla has tweaked the multiplayer classes a bit from KZ2, and it’s obvious that they learned a lot from the prior game. For starters, they’ve eliminated the Assault class, with the rocket launcher as its default weapon. The Saboteur has migrated into the Infiltrator and the Scout has been renamed the Marksman. The Engineer and Tactician are still there, and still provide similar roles to what they did in the prior game, but there are some things you’ll need to know.

First, the primary and secondary abilities of each class now have three levels each, offering increased functionality and abilities with increasing skill level. For instance, the Marksman primary ability, cloaking, only works for a limited time. Unlocking the next level allows you to remain cloaked until you kill an opponent. Unlocking the top level allows you to remain cloaked even when killing an opponent if you use a silenced weapon. The secondary ability, which works automatically, keeps the sniper off the enemy radar to an extent. Maxing it out, and it completely disables the enemy radar and the Tactician’s marking ability within 15 meters.

This is great. But the drawback, versus KZ2, is that you no longer have the ability to mix and match secondary abilities from other classes. So, my KillZone 2 Combat Engineer (an engineer using the Tactician’s secondary ability to summon air support drones combined with the primary turret building ability) is history.  I understand why it’s gone: it could severely hamper teamwork, and often had results unforeseen when Guerrilla released KZ2. For instance, my Combat Engineer could hold down an area by himself by building two automated turrets, adding air support, and getting behind cover with a shotgun. So far, in KZ3, the only time I’ve been able to have two turrets simultaneously is after I’ve gotten killed, and came back to build another one. A slight irritation I have with the new version of the Engineer is that he no longer comes with the shotgun, but now is equipped by default with a light machine gun that isn’t nearly as effective. On the other hand, one of the maxed out abilities of the Engineer is the ability to hack enemy turrets, and take control of them. I haven’t done that yet, but frankly I’m drooling over unlocking it.

Another change is that the C4 explosives are no longer a secondary ability of the Saboteur/Infiltrator. It is now available to all classes, once unlocked, and can replace grenades. Personally, I prefer grenades over the C4, but I like having the option to use it and still have my normal secondary abilities.

Perhaps the biggest game changer is what has happened to the Tactician. No longer does he wield spawn grenades to give his allies a tactical advantage at any point on the map. Now, like Capture & Hold objectives, there are several specific spawn points on the maps that the Tactician must capture in order to utilize. And just like Capture & Hold objectives, they can be captured by the enemy by simply being within a certain radius of the spawn point. The more Tacticians in the area, the faster it gets captured. This change prevents a common occurrence from KZ2: a Tactician would run into an objective and drop a spawn grenade right there, which would cause extremely chaotic battles and cause objectives to be lost or won entirely too easily. Guerrilla to fix this early in KZ2 by eliminating the temporary invulnerability when spawning in at locations other than the base, but ultimately it still caused a tremendous amount of chaos, and grinding through lives. The new system works better, I think, though it makes camping them entirely too easy. Once you know where the spawn points on a map are located, it’s just a matter of finding a good position to be the spawn camping bastard that everyone hates.

Another minor gripe is that the Marksman’s tier 3 primary skill allows them to remain cloaked after making a kill with a silenced weapon, but the only silenced weapon the Marksmen has regular access to is a silenced pistol. There is no option for a silenced rifle, assault or sniper, in his arsenal. Besides the silenced pistol, I think there’s a silenced submachine gun that the Tactician has access to, but, needless to say, the game’s sniper class should have normal access to a silenced sniper rifle, even if it’s not as powerful as the mid or top end rifle.

All in all, I’m very impressed with the game, and I’m really looking forward to seeing everything else that it has to offer. Though I’m currently unemployed and short on funds, I’ve already pre-ordered my Helghast edition, primarily for the cloaking sniper figurine. I’m even weighing the cost of getting the PS Move and Sharpshooter accessories to try to take the experience to another level, but I’m not yet convinced to do that… For those of you interested in a rating, I’d have to give KZ3 something in excess of 9.0 but not quite a 10. It’s really, really good, but then I’ve only seen a single level.

THE Kiss a.k.a. Castle “Knockdown”

Before I go any further, I want to make this epically clear: I am highly biased in favor and support of Nathan Fillion. I love the guy. There, I said it, and I’m not ashamed. I loved his character and acting in Firefly and Serenity. He was awesome as Captain Hammer in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. I would’ve paid to see him playing Nathan Drake in the upcoming film adaptation of the PS3 game Uncharted. Multiple times even. I follow him (@NathanFillion) on Twitter. If I weren’t heterosexual, I’d probably be stalking him right now. So obviously, I watch Castle. There, that’s out of the way.

Being a [wannabe] writer myself, I connected with Castle, character and television series, right off the bat. Although I can’t write dialogue any better than George Lucas can (sorry Mr. Lucas!!), I’ve always loved witty repartee in movies and television, and there’s loads to be found in every single episode of Castle. Furthermore, I’m also a fan of good police/crime dramas. Add a little humor, romance, and top it off with strong familial connections, and I’m a sucker for a show. Castle has delivered all of this since day one, and I’m incredibly addicted to it. Hell, I even got one of my best friends hooked on it, then got her hooked on Firefly…!

This being the third season of the show, we the audience, and I in particular, have been waiting for the romantic & sexual tension to break between Richard Castle and Kate Beckett, played by the gorgeous Stana Katic. (If you’re reading this Stana, and you have a position open for a stalker, please let me know!:-) ) I think we all knew it was going to happen eventually. We’ve seen the missed opportunities and the longing from both Castle and Beckett. We even know the supporting characters are all pulling for it as well! Until now, things just haven’t worked out… As a writer, especially one being trained to be a screenwriter, I know this couldn’t be dragged out for another season without this sweet release, and tonight we finally got it!

I’ll admit, I haven’t seen the whole episode yet, so I don’t know what leads up to it, but the kiss was amazing! I’m not one for romance movies, but I was cheering nonstop when Castle and Beckett finally kissed! Hell, I’m burning that episode to DVD from my computer (where I recorded it) right now so I can watch that over and over for the next 10 years…! I have never enjoyed watching on-screen kisses before now because they always looked so fake to me, but Nathan and Stana — excuse my French — just fucking went for it! Maybe I was seeing it through rose colored glasses, but that was the best kiss I’ve ever seen in any television show or movie! Hell, I don’t think my ex-wife and I ever kissed that passionately!

In MY book, this kiss should be immortalized forever simply as “THE Kiss”! There’s a line in The Princess Bride that talks about a kiss to which all others are compared, well, the ante just got raised!

This is probably my first and last post ever raving about a kiss or even romance, but THAT is how it’s done, people! Bravo to Nathan, Stana, the cast and crew of Castle!

Review: Super Street Fighter IV

I’m not entirely sure why he wants me to review a video game, but as he says, I’m not the evil genius, he is. So, I’m going to be telling you a bit about my personal experience with Capcom’s Super Street Fighter IV on the PlayStation 3 console. Once upon a time, I was reasonably good playing Street Fighter II and its derivative titles, but until last year I hadn’t played any of the titles in more than ten years. Suddenly, there was Street Fighter IV, and a fellow associate convinced me to get it. The Evil One apparently hadn’t figured out how to incorporate games into his grand scheme at that time, so this was purely a fun oriented mission.

I enjoyed playing SFIV, though being an old school player, I never could get the hang of the ultra combos or the EX special moves. Nonetheless, my associate and I had a lot of fun beating the hell out of one another. Among our favorite competitions where Dan vs Dan (damn blonde Dan to hell!), Ken vs Abel, and Chun-li vs Sakura. A quick explanation about Dan vs Dan: we felt that Dan was such a pathetic character that if we managed to master him and be able to defeat anyone with him, then we’d truly be masters of the game. Needless to say, we feel that we’ve achieved this goal.

All that said, there were some things in SFIV that got dropped from SSFIV that I miss. They’re insignificant, mind you, but I miss them anyway.  In the new Endless Battle mode, which grew out of the ability to create custom matches, you no longer see the character your opponent has selected until after both of you have chosen. Again, not significant, but it was that touch that lead to the Dan-Dan matches more than anything else. I also miss the win-loss statistics that were given after each match so you knew readily when you were on the losing side for the night. Most of all, I miss some of the alternate outfits and colors that I either unlocked or bought in SFIV, now to be replaced by others in SSFIV. Maybe they’re still there, waiting to be unlocked again, but I think some went away. (Blonde Dan, if you’re gone, may you rot in hell!)

The new features are quite nice, however. I do like the fact that all characters are unlocked right from the start; I never did unlock Seth, Akuma, or Gouken on SFIV despite beating the game with all the other characters. I also love the replay feature; especially after performing two ultra combo finishes for the first time ever against a stranger last night. (I’m sure he’s wanting my head as much as the boss probably does…) Most of all, I love the fact that all the characters now have two ultra combos that you can choose from when you select your character.

Ultimately, the things I miss from SFIV aren’t enough to get me to even put that disc in my PS3, but I still miss them. Maybe they’ll return in an update… I hear the Evil One has contacts at Capcom… But I’m not going to hold my breath. If I had to rate the game, I’d give it 9.0 out of 10.0 somethingerothers as a game in general, and a perfect 10 in the fighting game category.