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Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate should, in theory, be amazing. The recent pair of Batman games from Rocksteady Studios are the best featuring the caped crusader in years, if not decades, and mixing the constants of the Arkham games with a bit of Metroid-inspired design sounds like a winning formula. The prequel to Arkham Asylum, set after the console version of Arkham Origins, pits Batman against three familiar faces: Joker, the Penguin, and Black Mask. Each villain has taken control of a section of the Blackgate prison, amassing small armies along the way. Of course, only Batman can quell the uprising, but not without a little help from Catwoman, whose inside info is the key to identifying important locations within Blackgate. After the two penetrate the front lines, you're off to the races, free to tackle the three sections of the prison in any order you wish.
Blackgate does have a lot in common with its older siblings, but everything is presented in 2.5D rather than full 3D. Despite the change in perspective, close-quarters combat remains fluid and simple; relentlessly attack enemies, and press the counter button when a warning icon flashes above their heads. It's a straightforward dance that's effortlessly strung together in a simple but satisfying way. You aren't controlling every facet of the action, but you are performing complex combo attacks and acrobatic takedowns with ease. Occasionally, advanced enemies with weapons or increased defenses appear, and you may have to stun them with your cape or leap over them to attack from behind, but overt button prompts make it easy to keep things moving right along.
Solomon Grundy wants love, too!
Unfortunately, it's not all good news. One of the few problems with combat occurs when you're dealing with a variety of enemy types. Quite often, fights take place on two planes, but you don't have control over which plane you're fighting on. Instead, Batman attacks the closest enemy regardless of whether the opponent is in the foreground or background. Following the simple attack and counter formula works well enough when against common enemies, but that which makes multi-plane combat easy, however, breaks any attempt at strategy when fighting complex enemies. Stunning one enemy, only to attack a different enemy on another plane by accident, for example, is an all-too-common occurrence.
As you might expect, you eventually encounter well-known villains from the Batman series, and these boss fights come in two flavors. Mid-boss encounters, such as Bronze Tiger and Solomon Grundy, largely stick to the pattern of counter and attack found in typical fights, but the three big bosses are puzzle oriented in nature. These somewhat complex scenarios typically have strict conditions for success and extreme punishments for failure. A single misstep against Black Mask or the Penguin leads to near-instant death. Tackling these puzzles requires a trial-and-error approach, which doesn't work well with near-instant deathblows. Worst of all, you have to wait through an extended loading screen and start over a room or two before the boss fight. Until you know exactly what to do, it takes longer to get back into a boss fight than it does to .
When you aren't fending off clowns and thugs, you spend the majority of your time exploring the prison depths in search of the villainous trio. A sprawling map, filled with hidden passages, dangerous obstacles, and encrypted security panels, represents each of the game's three sections. Catwoman points you in the right direction, but once you're inside, you have to rely on the map and Batman's detective vision to find your way around. Entering detective mode by tapping the Vita's touchscreen reveals an X-ray-like representation of your surroundings. Perches, enemies, and other common elements are highlighted to stand out, and you can analyze each object's properties by touching them for a few seconds. It's important to search the screen for hidden objects that weren't immediately recognized in detective mode, and it's the most common way to not only discover solutions to environmental puzzles, but also the locations of secret rooms and items.
I don't know about you, but I prefer maps that don't keep track of where I've been.
With mostly enjoyable combat and the discovery-driven model of exploration, Blackgate looks great on paper. However, the implementation of the latter feels rushed and chaotic, often leading to frustration with the level design, and most critically, the map. This is, for the most part, a side-scrolling experience, but you're often driven into an air duct in the background, around a corner, or onto an elevator, deviating away from the typical side-on perspective. This shouldn't be a problem, but thanks to the top-down map, and a constantly-shifting relationship with your surroundings, it is.
The map is, by far, the most frustrating element of Blackgate, because it fails to provide the kind helpful information you'd expect to find. In a multistory environment with complex webs of air ducts, grapnel points, and hidden rooms, a map that fails to indicate what floor you're on is next to useless. Quite often, you're told to go to a specific room, but even if it appears that you're within the boundary of said room according to the map, you may in fact be floors and a complicated journey away. You may even need to come from an entirely different entrance to the building, but you won't figure any of this out until you spend lots of time analyzing every inch of your environment, chasing trails that lead to dead ends, and eventually stumble upon a hidden path that doubles back to the goal, albeit a floor above where you started. Then, nine times out of 10, when you finally make it to the goal, you have to head to yet another far-away location to briefly interact with an object to restore power to a generator, disable a security device, or something similar.
Essentially, your journey is as follows: make your way from point A to point B, fight some enemies, head to point C to interact with an object, then return to point B to fight a boss. This pattern is common, and it's also frustrating, due in no small part to weak pathfinding and an utterly confusing map.
Prepare to analyze everything in sight, constantly.
When you've grown tired of the typical mission, you have plenty of opportunities to seek out hidden objects, represented by a question mark on the map. Most of these are out of reach until you've acquired the proper tools: the batarang, line launcher, gel launcher, and batclaw. All of these tools are used to interact with objects and, with the exception of the line launcher, act as variations on the same principle: impact another object and apply some kind of force upon it. With the line launcher, you can create zip lines that allow you to fly across the environment, and even use it as a tightrope to reach areas overhead. Since Batman can't jump, the line launcher and the starting grapnel gun are your only means of vertical movement.
The Metroid-inspired world design, where tools are the key to reaching certain areas, is a welcome element, but the rewards for your explorative efforts are deflating. Most of the time, the items you find are one component of a four- or five-part object. It's a disappointing experience after struggling with the inadequate map and the need to endlessly analyze your environment. If you could analyze your environment while on the move, maybe the process wouldn't feel like such a chore, but as it is, you have to stand still to scrutinize your surroundings. In all, you spend far too much time stopping and starting, when all you want to do is solve puzzles, fight, and grapnel your way through the world.
And this is the major conflict within Blackgate's design. When you're making forward progress, interacting with your environment, and occasionally fighting, it's a simple but enjoyable gameplay experience, but once you're forced to wrestle with the map while backtracking, and attempt to collect enough pieces to assemble a new batsuit, things start to fall apart, and Blackgate becomes a slow and frustrating slog. There is a New Game Plus option to explore after beating the game, in case you want to tackle the main villains in a different order, but there are too many frustrating elements to make that an attractive option. The first few hours of Blackgate provide an exciting glimpse of what might have been a great game, but it slowly falls apart, hour by hour, villain by villain.
Today during the Brazil Game Show, Sony announced a special Gran Turismo 6 PlayStation 3 bundle, to be released in Brazil and the rest of Latin America later this year.
The bundle features Brazilian Formula One driver Ayrton Senna on its packaging. Sony will also roll out various online updates after launch focused around the driver.
The announcement of the PS3 bundle is part of a broader relationship between PlayStation and the Ayrton Senna Institute, a charitable organization founded after Senna's death in 1994.
Gran Turismo 6 will be released exclusively for PS3 on December 6. The special bundle has not been announced for regions outside of Latin America.
For more on Gran Turismo 6, check out GameSpot's previous coverage.
Xbox Live transactional revenue was up >25 percent during the quarter ended September 30, Microsoft announced today as part of its latest earnings report. Specific sales numbers were not provided.
Xbox Live transactional revenue continues to grow this year. By comparison, for the quarter ended June 30, this revenue rose by 20 percent.
Microsoft also announced today that it sold 1.2 million Xbox 360 consoles during quarter, down from 1.7 million systems a year ago.
Overall, Microsoft's Devices & Consumer Hardware sector posted revenue of $1.48 billion, compared to $1.08 billion last year. This growth was attributed not to Xbox, but Surface, which added $400 million to the sector. Xbox figures are also counted in Microsoft's Devices & Consumer Hardware Other business unit, which recorded revenue of $1.64 billion, compared to $1.4 billion last year.
Total Microsoft revenue for the quarter was $18.53 billion, compared to $16 billion last year. Microsoft posted a profit of $5.24 billion during the quarter. The Xbox One launches on November 22.
Picture a Killzone that almost entirely breaks from the earlier entries in the series in its storytelling. Shadow Fall, which is set 30 years after the events of Killzone 3, adopts a Cold War tone. The Intergalactic Strategic Alliance has allowed Helghast refugees to resettle, and the Vektan and Helghast factions live on opposite sides of an enormous security wall with tensions running high between the two sides. In one cutscene, refugees are slowly walked through a security line; those who security screenings are pulled aside by armed guards and detained while their friends and spouses scream that a mistake has been made. The scene carries an emotional tension similar to the "fugee-culling" scene from Children of Men as well as the opening City 17 scenes from Half-Life 2. There's an idea of a threat of terrorism as opposed to the ongoing "hot" war of the previous Killzone games that adds something new, and Guerrilla Games has strongly hinted that you will be able to directly play a Helghan storyline (as opposed to disguising yourself as a Helghan soldier for purposes of infiltration in one specific level Killzone 3), allowing you to see the ongoing conflict between the ISA and the Helghans from a different perspective.
This type of storytelling is rare in a video game, but masterful if pulled off correctly. The prisoner line scene works on nothing less than a gut, instinctive level, the members of the line muttering their distrust of the security forces in barely audible tones, a sense of fear marking the scene. These are the moments, as conveyed perfectly here as well as in Half-Life 2 and Spec Ops: The Line where the presence of a police state has gone too far, you can sympathize with anyone living under these conditions, especially in the face of seeing family members segregated and pulled away at the militarized checkpoint you might have to pass through on a daily bais. This is where you'd be willing to fight for the side that's long been considered the bad guys, even if only to reach a stalemate, a sense of equality and a home to call your own.
It's this variation in perspective that could make for the most interesting storytelling of the game. After several entries, continuous conflict between the ISA and the Helghans, invasion, and nuclear fallout, the war between the two sides has dragged on for too long; the two cultures have pounded on each other for years and now share two sides of the same city, albeit in a state of inequality, the security wall marking a clear distinction between what seems to be a Vektan paradise and a Helghast slum. Now, in the midst of resettlement, there come the same questions that come with any long term occupation--a la the 70's/80's Belfast or Israel/Palestine scenario--and the actions both sides might take given these circumstances.
The new PlayStation 4 hardware is also in place to deliver an incredible new story both in terms of appearance and performance. After 90 minutes of gameplay, I was impressed by how the new game flexes its muscles with the PlayStation 4's powerful hardware. The textures, lighting, and shadows were far more impressive than anything current consoles are capable of, new portions of the level loaded without delay and in a sequence where my character was walking through a prisoner line, I could count the threads of the jacket worn by the character in front of me. Impressive, too, was how well the game uses the new PlayStation 4 controller, which feels a little lighter in your hand than the current PlayStation 3 DualShock controller while still feeling solid. The PlayStation 4 controller's built in touch screen allows you to quickly assign offensive, defensive or hacking-oriented tasks to your OWL.
What Guerrilla Games is doing with Killzone: Shadow Fall is adding both variety and a larger scale. The game, which the developers claim features 1,500 in-game challenges as well as unlockable weapons and items, will also offer new roles and classes to vary the gameplay: a support class for medic-types, a scout class for those that prefer to snipe from a distance, and an assault class for when you wish to wade into the fray. In addition to new central characters and a new shadow marshal role (essentially a black-ops assassin), a deployable flying OWL drone also helps differentiate Shadow Fall from the franchise's previous entries. The OWL creates shields, brings your character back to life provided an adrenaline injection is available to it, acts as a decoy, creates zip lines for travel, and hacks consoles found throughout the game.
Killzone has always prided itself on its weapons, and with 22 weapons available to play with at launch, there's generally something for everyone to play with. The M82 assault rifle, stA-52 assault rifle, and stA-18 pistol return from the previous games, and Shadow Fall's standard rifle can switch between a conventional machine gun and what feels like a hybrid of a sniper rifle and a rail gun.
Guerrilla Games has an arresting new approach to missions in Shadow Fall. Where the previous games had you implanted in the middle of a "hot war," going in loud and with little focus on stealth or subtlety, Shadow Fall lets you choose your approach before initiating a mission; the game suggests routes to enter silently or routes to go loud and charge in with guns blazing. For those wishing to keep a low profile, an in-game ventilation system gives you the opportunity to easily get behind opponents without...drawing attention. Finally, a Tactical Echo mode will allow you to partially see infrared signatures through walls and inform you as to what's around the next corner before you charge in. It's been done before, but it could add a new element to the franchise.
hadow Fall's multiplayer game mode isn't the most original, but there's room for it to grow. The game will ship with 10 multiplayer maps and will offer additional free content over the coming months. Multiplayer is centered around the creation of warzones, which allow you to choose the game's rules, equipment and objectives, customizing the match as you see fit. Beyond the standard team deathmatch style demoed on-site, the series' signature Warzone game type returns, in which objectives change every few minutes, keeping you on your toes. Shadow Fall's multiplayer mode throws in the assorted unlockable weapons, challenges, and goodies, but also strips down your character before beginning the round. Remember the exoskeleton and jetpacks you loved to use in the previous games, and the single player mode's OWL? They're gone in this mode, leaving you to fight with fewer gadgets and more gut, relying on your skill for survival. In addition to rewarding players for long kill streaks and impressive kill methods, Shadow Fall's 1,500 challenges also reward cooperative multiplayer gameplay, so there's an incentive to use your character's abilities to heal a wounded teammate or attempt a stealthier set of kills.
There were still a few bugs left to iron out. The artificial intelligence on the NPCs in single player mode was about where it needed to be, but there were still occasions when characters would run into each other or get in the way of the player's movement. This was accompanied by a multiplayer bug in which your character would die, then respawn between two of your opponents who are more than happy to shoot you. Finally, the OWL, while a great tool for the single player campaign, seems to be limited in its offensive capacity. It's empowering to deploy the OWL to help attack your enemies, there's the feeling that not that many of its rounds are hitting or doing that much damage.
Killzone: Shadow Fall looks ready to offer interesting new elements to the Killzone franchise if executed well. Strong voice acting, incredibly detailed graphics, and a larger map to explore help create a great new world, the OWL drone could make single player gameplay that much more fun, and the chance to play as the Helghans could add an entirely new perspective to the game. This won't be an entirely radical change to the franchise, but it could be what's needed to convey a new kind of story and relaunch the Killzone franchise.