The Elder Scrolls Online beta impressions

One of the biggest draws of the upcoming Elder Scrolls Online is the possibility of taking the core and foundation of the beloved series and placing it in a living, breathing, populated world. What if the arena of Cyrodiil allowed you to bet on and watch competitive, dynamic matches between heroes controlled by real people? What if your cohorts in Skyrim’s Mage’s Guild were your real life friends? What if you could siege a bandit camp safe in the knowledge that your buddies-in-arms actually had your back and were holding their own in the fight?

It’s a lofty goal, considering the logistical and balancing issues related to crafting a massively multiplayer online game. Yet as a huge fan of the series and a gamer who doesn’t spend a lot of time playing MMOs, I went into the recent beta hoping to find encouragement that the game I’ve been hoping for is on its way. What I ended up finding was a game with some very familiar (if quite watered down) elements of previous Elder Scrolls games. It certainly looks the part, but in key areas the imposition of a very familiar (and effective) MMO structure comes at the cost of things that make the Elder Scrolls games great.

Continue reading The Elder Scrolls Online beta impressions

Titanfall: impressions for those who aren’t shooter fans

If you’re like me it takes a special kind of first person shooter to hold your attention. So much of what makes many current shooters popular — twitch gameplay, adversarial online multiplayer, crafting loadouts from unlocked items and perks — appeals to me in a way, but really needs something else behind it to keep me motivated. So it was with some trepidation that I began playing the Titanfall beta last week, and I spent quite a lot of time playing it until yesterday when it closed.

So often this game has been compared to and contrasted against Call of Duty. I was never sure whether this meant it out-CoDed CoD, or whether it meant it took the genre and made it something I would actually enjoy. Since I’ve only ever played online Call of Duty in short bursts I won’t insult fans by attempt to make an in-depth comparison, but I can report that I had much more fun in the week of Titanfall beta than I ever did in a CoD game post Modern Warfare. Here’s my impressions on what you might find in Titanfall that isn’t prevalent in many other competitive shooters :

Continue reading Titanfall: impressions for those who aren’t shooter fans

Seven games I’ve loved

This year the editor’s over at IGN editors are celebrating Valentine’s Day with lists of their favourite games. What this has me thinking about (other than ‘I’m going to shamelessly lift that idea’) is how the love we feel for our most fondly-remembered games is more often than not informed by the connection we personally formed with it, rather than any objective aspect of its design or contents.

The concept is as true with games as it is with romantic love. The object of your affection can of course be influenced by popular opinion, by fashion and other superficial factors (as exemplified by the very concept of Valentine’s Day), but much more powerful are the experiences that happen directly between the object and you, or that are given special meaning because of your personal circumstances or where you happen to be in your life at the time. The result in romantic love is that the person eventually takes on a meaning and a beauty that only you can see, and it’s the same with video games.

I’ve attempted here to ignore regular measures of quality or popularity and instead compose a list according to what games hit me right in the feels when I remember them. I’ve ranked them just by impulse (there’s no way I could accurately condense 20 years of gaming memories into an accurate and all encompassing list) and left out some games (like Mario 64) that I don’t feel I have anything unique to say about.

Continue reading Seven games I’ve loved

Third-person adventure game cliches that always suck

As a genre that’s grown and been improved upon since the mid-nineties, the 3D adventure game has more than its fair share of tired tropes and recognisable cliches. Some of these are fine and to this day serve a good purpose.

Being washed down a river or tube and having to steer to avoid obstacles, for example, is common but usually a fun stage transition. Having an unkillable enemy or crumbling floor follow you while you sprint ahead without the luxury of being able to make a single mistake is just as common, and can be done right.

Conversely, there are tropes that have stuck around in adventure games for decades, which we all know and recognise and that almost always suck. I present a small selection of them here, in order of least to most common and sucky:

Continue reading Third-person adventure game cliches that always suck

Giana Sisters: pretenders to the Mushroom Kingdom crown

In 1987 a humble little game with a difficult-to-pronounce title and cover art that makes me grin every time I see it was loosed on various consoles including the Atari ST and Commodore 64. The Great Giana Sisters is only one of many games of the era that took its cues from the near-inimitable Super Mario Bros, but this game did such a good and successful knock-off job that Nintendo mobilized the lawyers and Giana was eventually withdrawn from sale.

gianacoverThe 26 years that followed held some interesting turns for the Giana brand. Creator Armin Gessert founded Spellbound Entertainment in 1994, which developed mid-tier games for 15 years before releasing a brand new Giana Sisters game for the Nintendo DS. Unfortunately Gessert died of a heart attack that same year, and in 2012 Spellbound went into administration.

From the ashes of that company though came Black Forest Games, a group whose first order of business was to hit up Kickstarter and fund a brand new Giana Sisters game for the modern age.

See while side-scrolling arcade platformers with an emphasis on precision, tight control and interesting character abilities was plagiarism in 1987, and a drop in the ocean on DS in 2009, today it’s something many players are dying to return to after the inflation of Hollywood AAA games and the perceived dumbing-down of Nintendo’s own 2D platformers.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign and a release last year, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams — billed by Black Forest as the spiritual ‘grandchild’ to the original Great Giana Sisters — is now arriving on Nintendo’s Wii U.

Continue reading Giana Sisters: pretenders to the Mushroom Kingdom crown

What Sony didn’t say at E3

More than a week after the close of E3 the ripples of its events still reverberate through most of the games media and its output. As a frequent lurker of games article comments sections I’ve extracted some talking points for each platform holder that web denizens still all seem to have an opinion on. Be sure to also check out why the loss of our first always-online console sucks and why Retro’s Metroid and other expected Wii U games are missing for a reason.

In the days following E3 the sense that Sony had cleanly and decisively won was almost unanimous. Memes were drafted, fanboy mutinies were promised, Wikipedia pages were comically if hyperbolically altered. Yet that sense was predicated almost entirely on the last portion of Sony’s press conference, where Sony America CEO Jack Tretton invoked his inner rock star and worked his way down a list of all the concerns core gamers had about Xbox One and how PlayStation 4 would avoid them.

The glow that surrounds Sony and the mire that chokes Microsoft remain despite the fact that the dust has now settled, Microsoft has brought its policies back in line with current systems and we can view the proposals of the consoles with an objective eye.

So if we looked back at the E3 press conferences without that rock star moment, and without the specter of DRM and no-used-games hanging over Xbox One’s head, would Sony still have won?

Continue reading What Sony didn’t say at E3

Nintendo, E3, and ‘missing’ Wii U games

More than a week after the close of E3 the ripples of its events still reverberate through most of the games media and its output. As a frequent lurker of games article comments sections I’ve extracted some talking points for each platform holder that web denizens still all seem to have an opinion on. Be sure to also check out what Sony didn’t say at their press conference and why Microsoft’s reversal on DRM is fine but our loss of an always online console sucks.

Nintendo showed off plenty of fun-looking new Wii U games at E3, including a new Mario Kart, Smash Brothers, Super Mario and Donkey Kong. Ignoring the fan reactions at either end of what I like to call the Nintendogma spectrum (with “That new Wii Party looks awesome” at one end and “Nintendo’s only ever put out 6 games” at the other), the overwhelming response seems to be a welcoming of the games but a disappointment at the lack of killer apps or new properties.

A vocal minority of outliers do have some loud complaints though, and of the ones I’ve seen the most numerous are variations on either “Retro is too good a studio to be on 2D Donkey Kong AGAIN. They made METROID PRIME!!!” or “This is the wrong direction for a console 3D Mario. Mario needs to be a system seller and I want a new Mario Galaxy”.

It pains me to say it but at this point I can’t really get behind these calls for a Retro Metroid game. I would love to see it, but for me their assignment to a Donkey Kong follow-up indicates that the colossal talent the studio once had might just not be there anymore.

Continue reading Nintendo, E3, and ‘missing’ Wii U games