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The Dying Light YouTube channel was recently updated with a mysterious trailer telling us to prepare for Feb. 11, 2014.
What exactly it is we're supposed to prepare for isn't clear. The game's Twitter account said that it "will be the day of trial for all humanity," and a post to the game's Facebook page says that it will be "our day of trial." This emphasis on the word "trial" has led some commenters to speculate that this might be a tease for a demo of the game, but it could just as easily be a tease for a longer trailer or an announcement of a release date or new feature.
Dying Light is an open-world first-person survival horror game from Dead Island and Call of Juarez developer Techland. The game is set to release in spring 2014 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, as well as the PC.
Bravely Default (originally titled Bravely Default: Flying Fairy) came out in Japan in 2012, and Europe in 2013. Now, a year and a half after its debut, it's finally available to 3DS owners in North America. During that time, the game underwent a litany of changes, earning a rerelease in Japan under a new subtitle, Bravely Default: For the Sequel. As the name implies, Silicon Studio, the team behind Bravely Default, is already working on the successor: Bravely Second. Interestingly enough, according to producer Tomoya Asano, Bravely Default was originally envisioned as a sequel to a preexisting game from another series: Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light.
Asano said, "As it turns out, we originally, in the early planning stages, were looking at this project as a sequel to Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, and we had spoken to Silicon Studio who had created a demo for that project, and we liked what we saw and decided to work with them."
Though Bravely Default eventually moved away from the Final Fantasy brand, it retains several ties to the series, causing many players to refer to it as the best Final Fantasy game in years.
Bravely Default producer, Tomoya Asano.
"There are certainly some elements, like the turn-based battles or the job system or traveling around the world looking for crystals, that will feel like familiar elements to fans of the classic Final Fantasy series, but the reason that they exist in this game is that we know that these are elements that are going to make for ease of play and a comfortable play experience.
"I think that it's possible that some of the similarity of item names are due to the fact that we originally conceived of this as a sequel to Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light; it might be just an artifact of that process. But there's also some deliberate thinking about it as well in that we know that people that were fans of the Final Fantasy series, and there certainly were a lot of them, enjoy seeing similar elements, and we know that it's fun for them."
Does that mean the game was designed to mimic classic Final Fantasy games, first and foremost? It may seem that way at first but once you dig into the combat and town-building system, you immediately realize there's more to Bravely Default than things lifted from Final Fantasy's playbook, and it begins to form an identity of its own. Asano points out that "we have also incorporated lots of interesting new elements that have not been seen in games in that series up till now."
There's a good chance he's referring to the game's combat system, which lets you borrow or bank turns during battle, but it's not the only deviation from the norm that may surprise players. Bravely Default incorporates numerous social features that allow you to augment various parts of the game. Once you start streetpassing with other Bravely Default players, you'll be able to summon friends into battle, borrow abilities from high-level characters, and gather a crew to open, repair, and upgrade item shops.
"One of our basic concepts for Bravely Default was that it would be a single-player RPG that you could enjoy and play with everyone, and what I mean by that is that you're able to get help from your friends in a lot of different ways. In this case, we're talking about the StreetPass functionality for friend summoning in particular, and this is something that we had to do a lot of balance checking around. But we were able to come up with a solution that we feel is really good for new players and allows for advanced play...and we think that we're going to see some interesting emerging gameplay around this once the game is out for a little while. That will hopefully spur us on to new ways to help these new players, and one thing that we've already been talking about is the ability to update [characters] on the Internet, for example."
Nintendo published Bravely Default in Europe and North America, but Asano and Silicon Studio were committed to developing the game for the 3DS before Nintendo ever got involved.
"As it turns out, one of our very deliberate mottos when working on this game was the phrase 'only on 3DS.' So, we had a lot of ideas about how to use every single feature of the 3DS and incorporate it into gameplay here, and you'll certainly see that with the StreetPass features and the augmented-reality cards. But there's definitely an element of the visual presentation that works especially well on the 3DS also, and we knew this from a very early stage when we were looking at things as simple as illustrations and maps and thinking about how we wanted to represent space within the game."
Asano points out a feature that may slip past most players at first, which is too bad, because it actually makes a big difference in practice.
"One other thing that I think represents a really good point of compatibility with the Nintendo 3DS is the way that we have designed the game so that you can play it only with your left hand, if you so choose, using the direction pad."
The functions of the four inputs on the right side of the 3DS translate perfectly to the four inputs on the D-pad, while the analog stick is used for movement. Thus, you can accomplish everything with a single hand. It's a simple feature, but one that grows on you over time.
It's also a feature that was introduced as part of the upgrade to the For the Sequel version of Bravely Default, which was designed around feedback from fans provided directly to Asano and Silicon Studio. They didn't just read forums and reviews. Rather, Asano and company reached out directly to fans. With the approval for a sequel secured, they wanted to make the best Bravely Default possible.
"Well, we were very fortunate that the first title was so well received in Japan. It was at that time that we confirmed that we would be working on a sequel to that game and we wanted to collect as much feedback as possible from players to see what we could do to improve on some of the systems for the next game, and we got so much good information that we decided to use that to create something like a 1.5 version, which was called 'For the Sequel' in Japan, and this is the version that we used for the base for localization to create the US version of Bravely Default, the one that includes all these improved elements based on player feedback.
"I think it has become a game that is much easier to play for new players, which I think is an excellent improvement. But it still retains a lot of challenge for expert players, and the content still stacks up against Bravely Default: Flying Fairy, in my mind."
Strike Vector is a terrible name. It's an ugly, meaningless pairing of words, vaguely aggressive and speciously technical. What does it tell about the experience in this multiplayer sci-fi dogfighter? Presumably, things will be struck. Usually walls, as it turns out. Other things will be set into motion and given a direction. Usually you, and usually into walls.
That's part of the Strike Vector equation,and for the first few hours, the unwieldiness of the interface and controls seems well in step with the asperity of the game's title. You furrow your brow at the shoddy tutorial, and at the misspellings in the menus. In your first matches, you hurtle from your spawn headlong into nearby obstacles like Wile E. Coyote shot from an Acme cannon. As you're puzzling over what the Kebs column next to your increasingly negative kill-to-death ratio might mean, a dubious name like Strike Vector is emblematic.
Dogfighting combat is turned on its head by the ability to hover.
Perhaps 1995's WipEout could have served as a precedent for a title with embedded significance. The old sci-fi racing stalwart used to run advertisements featuring two vacuous youths with nosebleeds. Below a stylized Designers Republic logo that oozed counterculture cred read the caption "A dangerous game." They used to say that the capitalized "E" stood for the drug ecstasy. Strike Vector has something of that uniquely '90s sensibility, perhaps owing to the members of WipEout's now-defunct Studio Liverpool within its ranks. It's got the same disaffinity for limitations on speed and gravity and the same aficionado appeal. It bears the same muddy industrial patina of the WipEout prototype from the movie Hackers. The old teenage angst even bubbles to the surface here and there; the new development team's name, Ragequit, sits in the spot reserved for the "Leave Match" button in more...let's say, "businesslike" shooters.
WYSIWYG: it's refreshing to not have equipment locked behind an experience system.
Strike Vector's old-school sensibilities run deeper than a bit of branding. Though it's a dogfighting game fought between futuristic jets, it's structured in a manner that should be instantly familiar to Quake veterans. Absent are the unlocks and the tiered bonuses so endemic to the modern shooter scene. Eight weapons greet you when you first visit the game's armory, and the count remains eight a few hundred games later. The only unlocks earned through play are cosmetic. The arena shooter comparisons gain further credibility when your jet's Macross-esque hover mode is toggled, and the game becomes a first-person shooter (or a third-person shooter) in a purer sense. Hovering can make you an easier target, but it also inverts the traditional pursuer-chaser dynamic of flight games. Find a bogey on your six, and the options avail themselves. Hit the brakes and have him fly right by? Or maybe dive into a nearby structure and wait in ambush around a corner? It's a fitting evolution--the trench warfare that preceded the rise of the modern FPS gives way to the trench run from Star Wars.
Strike Vector has no qualms about taking its speedy vector ships and forcing them into cramped quarters. Open air cedes space to massive works of industrial architecture: slums, fortresses, and foundries that tend to come crashing into view when you're in the throes of desperate evasive maneuvers. It's a relatively small sampling of maps, but there's good variety to be had in their aesthetics and layouts, and each is tuned to pitch-perfect gameplay possibility.
Considering the "tutorial" is what new players see first, this ain't a great way to lead off.
I'm enamored of these stages, more layered and detailed than any flight game fan has a right to expect. They feel like rare artifacts that survived the journey from concept art to execution, chock-full of little protrusions and crannies that make escape both viable and precarious in turn. I find myself getting caught up in my eagerness to explore their depths, taking in the neon signage and the bright paint jobs, becoming inattentive to teammates and enemies as I loaf about. The finer details are hard to appreciate in the heat of combat, you see--the flips and loops that combat necessitates make these environments disorienting, even if it's in the best possible way. It's a savvy combination of form and function, a design that shifts from artwork to obstacle to pathway with nary a seam in between.
Strike Vector's combat is a delightfully grungy spectacle in its own right. It's most reminiscent of Warhawk's aerial combat, all floating power-ups and high contrast. There's a metal-on-metal crunchiness to the sight of ships coming apart under fire. A splatter of oil and flaming detritus makes for gratification that's often tantalizingly delayed, the reward for a dogged chase or a crafty bit of strafing during a head-to-head shootout between hovering vectors. In a rather mischievous touch, if you're shot down, you're granted a few seconds to direct your flaming ship into an enemy for a spiteful kill. It's all eminently .gif-able.
The vectors are also worth a look when they're not exploding. They're bulky mechs, more Transformer than Gundam. The whole of their backsides are given to engines, an overkill of thrusters that do a wonderful job of conveying...well, conveyance. Their forms can be nominally customized, though Armored Core fans should look elsewhere for their gearhead fix; Strike Vector's garage feels incomplete. That's the other side of the coin, the roughness that oxidizes Strike Vector's machined finish. There are little impurities, like the aforementioned menu misspellings, or the odd game crash, and there are larger oversights that give the impression of a game put under live loads before it had time to harden. There's no real tutorial to speak of, for example, just a few vague slides to click through and a solo flight mode to learn the ropes. I'd recommend spending a fair bit of time with the latter.
Perhaps the ability to suspend flight necessitated these finely detailed environments.
What else is missing? A tactile sense, really--a feeling of connection between player and game that bypasses all the little mechanical and electrical intermediaries. There are a lot of barriers: the dubious ability of mouse and keyboard to simulate acrobatic flight, for one. The inputs have never struck me as an ideal control system for aircraft simulation, but Strike Vector's half-baked controller support makes them the only practical option. The crosshairs used for targeting also initiate turns--they need to be moved to the edges of the screen to do so--meaning that during pursuit, you're stuck juggling your ability to attack or steer. If you manage to draw a bead on your enemy, you might find it tough to gauge your weapon's efficacy. There's no leading crosshair, and it's difficult to tell what effect--if any--your shots are having when you score that elusive hit marker. Absent the ability to tell whether you're using the weapons properly, fitting your vector becomes a matter of sticking to the one or two that have proven remotely viable.
Then again, I might be willing to take to the skies without any weapons fastened to my unwieldy ship, to jet around Strike Vector's impressive environments and let the chips fall where they may. There's a substantive quality to the game's core combat and visuals, even if the rest remains somewhat clumsy. Each time you quit the game, an exit splash screen reminds you that future content is free, and the first such drop is promised for February 28. I'll fill the time until then learning how to stop crashing into the very pretty walls.
When you return to a beloved classic and discover how awkward and painfully frustrating it truly was, it's difficult to accept the truth. Multiple stages of grief follow, though many of us never escape the "denial" phase, declaring undying love while sobbing our way through clunky gameplay that has no hope of living up to our childhood remembrances.
Thankfully, Fable Anniversary has no desire to ruin your decade-old memories. The original Fable holds up rather well, and this remastered, visually buffed version of it retains the proper charm and rollicking spirit that made the game so delightful. Fable projects a certain effervescence, which you hear in its soundtrack's tinkling bell tones and see in the squat, goblinesque hobbes that shriek and yammer as you fight them. Villagers speak to you in thick Cockney accents, inviting you to drown in pleasures of the flesh, or drearily enthusing about their favorite hallucinogenic mushrooms. (You'll go find them another, won't you?) Fable is the Hugh Grant of video games: cheery, affable, and periodically inelegant.
As a remaster, Fable Anniversary is one of the better ones. Should you compare the original and the new release side by side, you immediately see the differences. Low-polygon character models and flap-jaw facial animations have been replaced by smoothly drawn villagers and reasonably expressive lip synching. This isn't a case of the resolution being cranked up, but entire assets being re-created, including architecture and foliage. The lighting, too, has been adjusted to reflect real-time sun rays and other more natural elements, though this change comes at the cost of ambience. The original Fable burst with bright light and color, though not always in the most natural ways, while the new lighting gives the game a more organic look, but at the cost of the shimmering glow that made Albion so warm and inviting in the original Fable and its sequel. Certain areas are too dim to make exploring them fun.
Allow me to step back a moment, however. If you never played the original, you'll be less concerned with Fable Anniversary's improvements, and more concerned with its own unique merits. And there are many. As the unnamed hero of Albion, you gallivant about its charming towns and meadows in third-person perspective, performing quests that have you protecting citizens from bandits, infiltrating prisons, and solving a ghostly spirit's riddles. But childhood precedes heroism, and the first hour or so of the game chronicles the terrible events that scarred you in your youth while simultaneously serving as an extended tutorial.
I have the power!
Fable Anniversary sings a fine rendition of the original's victories. Your interactions with the populace aren't limited to the kind involving a bow or a sword. You express your innermost self not with what you say (as you might in many a modern role-playing game, like Mass Effect) but with what you do. You can disgust your admirers by farting in their faces, or impress potential love interests by offering them gemstones, or boxes of chocolates. Prove your strength by flexing your muscles; prove your cruelty by murdering an old friend in front of hundreds of onlookers.
How you act is reflected in how others perceive you, and in how you look. I admit that I find little amusement in attacking random villagers, and so my list of moral successes grew longer and longer until a halo appeared above my head and onlookers clapped enthusiastically as I passed. Devil's horns and crimson eyes are your rewards for dirty deeds, though your status as a "hero" remains perpetually intact. Fable II greatly expanded on this system, but even so, Fable Anniversary still seems authentically alive, whereas other games often feel as though they are merely responding to on/off switches when alluding to your past actions. It's Fable's focus on action over words that makes the difference. A passerby mentioning that he heard you killed a werewolf is clearly contrived; applause and cries of admiration as you enter a tavern, on the other hand, feel more organic, because the game doesn't assume everyone in town has heard of the specific actions you performed just moments before.
Everyone's so mean to me. Even when I sport a beautiful handlebar mustache!
Other actions are also reflected in your physical form; eating too much food to regain health, for instance, makes you fat. It's a shame the world design doesn't reflect the openness of Fable Anniversary's social possibilities. Even in 2004, Fable's segmented kingdom was confining; now, it is absurdly so. Smallish regions are separated by loading screens, and even those areas limit you to specific paths. Albion is a series of connected nodes that relies on its gently bawdy atmosphere to convey its history rather than on scale and environmental detail.
When you aren't busy voguing in front of impressed onlookers, you're traveling down Albion's narrow pathways, beating up on balverines (that is, werewolves) and trolls using a combination of melee weapons, bows, and magic spells. The magical possibilities are the most intriguing, given how they allow you to summon a ring of flames from the heavens above, or to call forth a trio of sentient swords to get up close and personal with your enemies while you shower arrows on them. There's no reason to stick with any particular technique, though, and cultivating a diverse combat style is more gratifying than choosing one over another. Depending on the circumstance, ranged attacks might be more effective than hammer swings, and you earn enough experience orbs when completing quests and offing bandits that there's no reason not to spread the wealth among the three core disciplines.
Putting those disciplines into practice can be frustrating, however. The original's targeting system wasn't great, and while Fable Anniversary represents some improvement, it's not much of one. You have to be relatively close to your target for the targeting to even work, so pulling the trigger to lock onto an attacking hobbe may instead reposition the camera, or worse yet, lock onto a nearby comrade, causing you to accidentally launch an arrow into a merchant's skull when you had a zombie in your sights. You can even lock onto your summoned helpers that way; I can't count the number of times I wanted to focus on a nymph and the camera centered on a summoned sword. The game's thoughtless manner of how it chooses targets is puzzling. Even more puzzling is how your arrows may go off in some random direction even when you've homed in on a target.
Melee combat, too, has its problems, most of which stem from Fable Anniversary's animation-first design philosophy, in which most attacks knock you back or down in some manner, wrenching control away from you in the heat of combat. This is typically only a minor nuisance, though some combat encounters seem designed to cause maximum frustration. You can find yourself in irritating loops of interrupting attacks in which you don't have the time to stand before you're summarily knocked on your derriere again. The combat arena--an inescapable gaming cliche in Fable--is the most embarrassing example of this flawed approach. Dealing with several trolls tossing boulders at you with no regard for timing is the most tiresome sequence in the game.
You can hire bodyguards if you like having company, but Fable Anniversary is so easy, you probably won't need help.
The saving grace that makes these foibles more irritating than rage inducing is Fable Anniversary's low level of difficulty. You usually have more than enough potions and resurrection vials on you to avoid game-ending death, and in fact, I only once saw a game-over screen in Fable Anniversary, when I had failed to finish a quest during its time limit. This is a game about atmosphere and attitude, not about overcoming grueling obstacles by mastering your tactics. It's also a game about discovery, more so than you might imagine for a game that confines you to such constricted passages. Inspecting various nooks reveals treasure chests, and if you don't mind the morbid business of digging up graves, you might find buried valuables. Talking demon doors scattered about the land have secrets locked behind them, but they require you to pay strict cover fees if you want to join their clubs. One forces you to raise your combat multiplier before it opens; another asks for a fancy gift. My favorite one encourages you to get fat. "Get some meat on you," it says. "I want beefy! Blubbery! Plump! Porcine! Stop being a slave to public perception, and treat yourself."
How could I refuse such an invitation? I gorged on delicious red meat until my hero was as Rubenesque as my own frame, and the door opened after it laid eyes on my jolly ol' self. These are the kinds of moments that make Fable Anniversary delightful. Its combat and world design have undoubtedly aged, but the game is so ripe with charisma, so upbeat that even its most somber moments don't suppress your soaring spirits for long. Fable isn't quite timeless, but its genial mood is infectious, and I'm happy that Fable Anniversary kept my fond memories intact.