Magicka 2 – Preview

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Magicka was a surprise hit written by eight university students from Sweden (what is it with that country and break out hits?). Magicka 2 not only promises more of the same but an inspired improvement on our multiplayer wizard blasting fun.

The wizards are gone, all but extinct thanks to the Wizard Wars. This has left co-operation between wizards rather tense and firey to say the least. Evil however is returning to Midgard as the folklore of the Nords is once again tapped to set a very atmospheric environment. You could imagine this kind of crazy situation being more suited to the table top antics of Acquisitions Incorporated (bonus points if you get that reference), but the ridiculous nature of your incredibly trigger happy wizards is more than suited to the top down view of the snow laden world.

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I think maybe a good way to describe the Magicka games, and this one in particular, is as an incredibly fun and easy co-op cast-and-slash (rather than hack). I don’t mean easy as in the difficulty. Oh no, the game is as tricky as it possibly can be when two or more crazed wizards are firing their deathly beams in every direction to beat the oncoming hoards of fantastical creatures. What I mean is the ease of how to play the game, the learning curve if you will. It completely adds to the fun whilst you are accidentally killing everything whilst you are learning and not accidentally killing everything once you have learned.

Friendly fire and casual friendly trolling has never been more fun than it is in Magicka 2. Yes you are kind of supposed to work together, because that’s the entire point of co-operative teamwork. But one snatch at a spell and the repercussive fall out is not only vicious but hilarious. This is a game meant to be played by people in the same room or over a voice chat and, having played it in the former capacity, it excels in creating that amusing, anecdotal gameplay. Especially when you start summoning demons. Having done that, it made for a very crazy 30 minutes of hilarity and constant death until we realised that teamwork actually works.

Speaking of the gameplay, it is very easy pick up and play. I played it using a PS4 controller which felt incredibly natural, something the development team was surprised by given their preference for mouse and keyboard controls. The gamepad support makes the spell selection and movement surprisingly fluid and easy to pick up and master. So now, if you’ve had previous experience of the game and want your friends to get involved, this will be a great way to get in to it. The spells themselves are fun. All based on the elemental system (fire, water, etc), the spells combine excellently with multiple people, especially with the healing and the speed at which everything unfolds, it causes a cacophony of light and a hectic firefight. It’s incredibly fulfilling when you cross the streams to combine these elemental powers, almost rewarding yourself for the several moment of derping around beforehand.

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The game itself has moved on from the previous incarnation with more customisation options for your wizard and many different spell techniques to get the hang of that really gives yourself a bit of a personal style. The newest thing however is the Artifact system. There are special artefacts to find during the game. The best relation I can give to this is Halo’s Skull system. There are things that add to the replay ability of the game like difficulty enhances (extra health for enemies, less for you, etc) and these can be combined. So whatever crazy hardcore self-masochistic difficulty you like to inflict upon yourself and others, it can always be worse. There are more comedic ones too like the sitcom artefact that adds audience laughter, boos, sighs and the like. Certainly makes for some more laughs.

Magicka 2 is coming to PC in 2015 and, as you might have guessed by the controller use, PlayStation 4. Given the strength of the console’s online play and given the amount of units sold AND the more to be sold with the oncoming release of games like Destiny, there could be a lot of demand and take up for this game on the PS4. It ticks the main three boxes I have with co-op based gameplay. 1) Online multiplayer. 2) Easy to pick up and fulfilling.  3) Absolutely hilarious gaming experiences. So there will be lots of interesting and engaging whooping of evil’s hoards by four dysfunctional and explosive wizards, controlled by you, riding from the ruins of Aldreheim in 2015.

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Mortal Kombat X – Preview

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One of the first things I did when I started writing about games was I did a review of Mortal Kombat, the release from 2011. So naturally I was very excited to get my hands on the new Mortal Kombat X and see how exactly the next generation power has managed to add to the already smooth and visually opulent violence.

In truth, it adds quite a bit. The level of detail and the smoothness of the frame rate is making this one of the most fluid fighting games to date. Not just in its own genre but fighting across the board. The solid 60fps (a phrase I am sure to have worn out by the time I’m done covering Gamescom) makes not only the motion of the characters incredibly smooth but also completely unaffected by the particle effects from attacks. Sub Zero freezing will give you no lag.

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Speaking of Sub Zero, the gameplay has changed a little bit. Nothing has changed in a huge way but enough in a freshening way. There are three subclasses to the character you pick. Each one of them has something that adds a buff to some of your moves and attacks, or resistance to the oppositions attacks with defence rebuffs. These variations add another element to the game that makes you think a little differently about how you approach a fight. Scorpion, for example has a demon that he can summon to grab them from the ground in one variation. Another can set himself on fire so that his opponent will also catch fire and the final one will have swords to slice with. These traits are on every character and not only add the tactical element, but also some kick ass new moves.

When it comes to new, there will be new characters. Without spoiling any story, and the lore of the Mortal Kombat universe is being expanded quite nicely with this, 25 years has passed since the last instalment. This means that some familiar faces may be gone but legacies remain. Such as Cassie Cage, the daughter of Johnny Cage and Sonya, and Kotal Kahn, a man who has profited from the conflicts by taking over the Outworld. Don’t fear though as roster DLC will be coming.

The environments where you play the game have also expanded too with the brand new Jungle area (thanks to Kotal Kahn) but the expansion is not just in the choice. The environments are all very smooth with excellent depth in the animations. But it also is immersive and has breakable areas and places that can be used for attacks and defence. Not just the branches of trees or rocks, but the style of the environment can also aid certain players attacks. I got some great freezing action in with Sub Zero in these areas.

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Of course you haven’t heard me say anything about the violence and the excellent X-Ray system from the last game. Well it’s here, it’s back and it’s expanded. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it and it certainly wets the appetite for the old ‘ultra violence’, as A Clockwork Orange’s Alex would call it. The three tier power bar mechanic is back and it is smooth and deliciously gory. Some new X-Ray animations have been added, no small part in thanks to the new characters. But the animations are bone crunchingly, spine crackingly vile, repulsive, bloody and impossibly painful… Excellent.

This also means the fatalities are given the next generation treatment too and live up to the face slicing promise that you’d expect (there’s a hint there). The game is coming out on all consoles, so you don’t need to upgrade to enjoy the continuation of the new Mortal Kombat lore. However I would certainly say you are missing out on the smoothest 2.5D fighting game I’ve ever laid my hands on and until later in the week, it was definitely the best looking fighting game regardless of style (more on that in WWE2K15).

The release date is, predictably, 2015 and will definitely be worth waiting for. It has the potential to go unchallenged in its genre for quite a while as well in the next generation market so if you’re a die hard fan waiting for Tekken or a next generation Street Fighter, then you might want to explore this first.

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Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor – Preview

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So not a lot was really known to us about the new Lord of The Rings RPG, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Thanks to GamesCom, we now know a lot more and does it look deep, stunning and exciting. Who knew that Sauron could be this cool?

Set before the famous book in three parts by J.J.R. Tolkein that we all know and love, but after the last stand of the evil Lord Sauron against the alliance of elves and men. You take the reins of Talion, a Ranger of Gondor who, despite being dead, seems pretty animated to find things out. He also shares his dead body with Celebrimbor, a wraith who is currently experiencing a bout of amnesia over who he is, what his past is and what role he had to play in a bigger plot.

The duo travel around Mordor from mount doom to the newer previously unknown places further south, to uncover the secrets of the wraith and the world around them. Especially when they come upon a strange creature who speaks simply and has recently lost possession of a shiny gold ring to an adventurous thieving Hobbit. Along the way you will find artefacts that trigger memories as well as give an ‘eye’ on Sauron and his descent into the darkness.

The face of it, which is a good looking third person RPG is actually hiding beneath it a deep word that is continuously evolving and, by using Mordor, is completely open to creating new areas outside of the Middle-earth we are so used to playing in. It plays very easily, much like a good hack and slash in places but that would be insulting to its rich and intriguing enemy mechanics.

shadowofmordor2Each enemy, from the Uruk grunt you hit to the to the commander of the troop, has a levelling system that remembers your battles. If you die, you are not reset to a point but placed further down the line in time so those individual soldiers gain more skill points and move up the pecking order of rank. They’ll also remember what you did that they didn’t like, especially if they have fears. Some are scared of fire and they will flee if that comes near them, or some might hate wild animals and do the same.
This chain of command structure, evolution and AI memory is indeed very clever and puts a nice spin into the gameplay of smashing as many orcs as you can. You feel you know these guys, that they have a place or character in the fiction of this world, without having any kind of impact on the games main plot. It’s this detail, despite how graphically impressive it is, that really immerses you in the the game. Each commander has a place in the world, whether they work the slaves, are the executioner or just have a reputation for death. Even down to each commanders bodyguard who will give you a quick pep talk before trying to kill you.

There’s quite a few cool things your duo can do. As a wraith you can possess people to stun them or make them fight for your side. Or explode their head. Your weapons can create an awesome combo barrage of slicing and dicing, especially the slow motion kill cams that appear. Firing arrows gives you the chance to slow down time so you can really hit six or seven Uruk in the face, Legolas style, before you need to start slashing away. The artefacts and weapons in game also contain vast amounts of lore so as with a lot of modern games, there’s good reason to go out and find all the things you can and learn more about the history of this time.

shadowofmordor3You will level up and develop as well of course and your characters have traits, such as Talion’s ranger skills allowing him to climb up big walls and our wraith being able to control others. There is a puzzle element to it too, when presented with the wild landscape of Mordor and how animals and monsters can be manipulated to let you pass whilst avoiding costly combat.

The open world itself is very immersive, from the slave driven farms of Nurn to the ashen landscape of Mount Doom, Tolkein’s fantasy environment has been brought to live vividly and imaginatively. And being Mordor and not being limited to the canon of what is established, it is also quite big. You could probably make a small comparison to Dark Souls in the way that it looks but for once we can truly say that it certainly is its own game.

Not long for this one in the big wait. The game comes out on September 30th on every platform, including PC. Of course that means it has quite the release schedule to go up against but keep your eye on it as it will definitely be worth your time, Lord of the Rings fan or otherwise.

 

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In defence of Games Journalism

A response to this petition

Games journalism, and forgive the irony of this metaphor, seems to have received a lot of bad press lately. If you know why then that’s fine, we don’t need to mention it. If you don’t know why, I’m not going to gratify the situation by embellishing it further. Just read this piece from Forbes writer Paul Tassi.

There appears to be in America some kind of positive assertion of the public versus the oppressive and corrupt video games journalists and that the media has to be held to account. This coming from the home of Fox News means that apparently the perceived corruption of video games reporting is the biggest journalistic crime (not hating on America, just Fox news). Ethical standards are apparently in question, which is a nice idea given the hilarious bias of the American press (and most political press in general).

Far be it for me to point out that there are several more important issues in the country in question going on this very second as well as our own, let alone the rest of the world being slowly drawn in to what looks like an inevitable escalation of conflict in the middle east, that there is enough time to not only protest against games journalism but also specifically targeting Kotaku. And whilst I have been following this story there comes a point where you just need to back out of it because it isn’t your business and the rhetoric has become mind numbingly vindictive and malicious.

The following is a comedic sarcastic retort, it is meant as humour in a poor situation and should be taken as such.

Firstly, let me have my slightly sarcastic and comedic approach to this. The suggested protest appears to be late on Friday and at noon for the rest of the weekend during PAX in Seattle. This is mentioned so that it does not spoil your enjoyment of the convention, where people really care about games. Although the timing seems more focused around when people are going to eat rather than enjoy PAX.

You will also find that “yellow journalism,” which I’m assuming to be a move to call the particular parties cowardly, seems to be the most awkwardly arranged Pac Man cosplay flash mob ever. Using the aforementioned phrase as an ice breaker… Well I’m not sure what ice you are breaking but if you’re going to go up to someone dressed in yellow and are trying to spread awareness with a half concocted pick up line, then you might want to think about yellow. Seeing as the amount of Pikachu cosplay with young children, or their parents, who neither know nor care about these things probably want strangers coming up to them barking random phrases at them.

The comedic retort has ended now. I feel sad that the situation needs me to clarify such a section of this post.

Here’s the truth, speaking purely for the UK and the games journalism press here which, in my own way, I am immensely proud to be a part of and I love and enjoy every day I’m a part of it. As a job to have it is an incredible realisation of something I’ve loved for a large part of my life and of the skills I possess marrying together.

So it is hard for me to accept that this incredible industry and section of the media is being attacked so virulently due to recent events. Far be it for me to point out the past six years worth of independent reviews and court cases revolving around journalism and the UK press being a far more important and horrifying problem than the actions of a few people.

I have been a video games journalist for around four years. I have written for two very different and very excellent websites, as well as produced video, conducted interviews, performed voiceovers and hosted podcasts. I have networked my way around events that are put on by games publishers to promote their products in order to progress my career, as well as report on the showcases presented for us. Networking or “mingling closely” as it has been inferred, is essential in getting anywhere in any media career. Games, television, radio, print, publishing, marketing, PR… If people don’t know who you are then you will have a practically impossible task getting in to the industries I’ve mentioned. That is the reality of the modern world of job acquisition.

Speaking of jobs, it has been recently reported that there are only 40 full time jobs in UK games journalism. Now I’m sure you’ve seen how many different blogs, sites, articles, YouTube videos, etc, that are around the internet. I am part of one of those. I am not part of the magic 40, to coin a phrase. So yes that means that for the past four years I have earned a grand total of £0 by doing this job. If you’re having trouble with currency conversion that is $0. I do this job because I love games. We all do. We are all gamers, we always have been and we’ve worked tirelessly to try and get a foot in a door of a small industry that has close personal relations because we are all like a gaming clan where everyone looks after each other and has each others backs. It is like any small workforce in the same industry. You make friends, you make enemies, you make an impression and you network and make relationships. It is the nature of the metaphorical beast.

Do I do this for money? Well no, obviously not. My recent trip to Cologne to report on GamesCom was completely paid for by me. I was not subsidised or paid in any way to report on games by a site, by games publishers or by media outlets. Do I want to do it for money? Of course I do. I love the games industry because first and foremost I am a gamer and I want to share my experiences and I feel I can write well enough to cover the new games that you want to see as well as giving my opinion on games from my past, the industry or games criticism.

So let me be totally clear about my relationships. I have none other than professional interests in the industry. Yes we become friendly like in any industry and yes this familiarity helps us to get a look in behind the scenes. Without that, you wouldn’t have games journalism or anything other than reviews so if you have a problem with this then you have a problem with the system of journalism and media in general. There are outlets that are sponsored by consoles to be specific to their market and therefore get those scoops. There are news sites that get the interviews that you want to hear. There are YouTubers who get access to these games and help show these to you because YOU want them. That is all down to the relationships that everyone has worked hard to build.

As far as a ‘code of conduct’ goes, we have one. Everyone who is a journalist has one. The NUJ will no doubt be able to furnish you with them but thankfully our work as games journalists or staff writers does not require us to be as worried to the finer points of this code as we rarely would ever have a situation that say a political correspondent would where the particulars of it apply. By the way if you want relationships disclosed, you should ask the political correspondents what their relationships are and how they got them. They certainly didn’t get them being fresh faced out of college with an internship at their local paper giving them weight.

What I’m trying to say, whilst fully exposing myself and I’m sure many others who are in similar situations in the industry, is that this situation is getting really out of hand and being overblown due to the personal action of one aggrieved person really destroying the trust of privacy. This isn’t corruption or games journalism vs. the public, it’s just the actions of a vengeful individual who felt wronged. So please think of this if you are mounting a protest or if you feel personally let down by the games reporting media, remember that it is made up of people who love video games just the same as you. We encourage feedback and participation because we love to talk about games. We love to be honest with you about our adventures in this crazy industry and we love to share them with you.

If you get the impression that we are anything but that then I’m saddened that something that so many of us dedicate our own unpaid time to, and even those who are paid who work and have worked so hard to get where they are, has become jaded for you over something that isn’t even any of our business. I hope some common sense appears in this and we can get back to doing what we do best, talking about video games.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel – Preview

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If there is any game that’s going to blur the line between a tie-in/sequel between two incredibly wacky and successful games, it is going to be Borderlands.

The Pre-Sequel sets itself between Borderlands 1 & 2 and tells the story of how Handsome Jack became Handsome Jack and captures once again the craziness that the first two games provide. You negotiate the many bad guys around the moon of Pandora, Elpis, which adds a nice new dynamic of low gravity and oxygen starved environments. Firstly, fire. Fire will not work in space. There is no oxygen. So unless there is an oxygen zone you’ve set up or that you’ve entered then there will be no fire, explosions, etc. But you can still fire guns and that will give you the added option of shooting off oxygen helmets and giving the bad guys something else to think about.

The story itself adds a few new characters that you may have seen dotted around the Borderlands universe before in DLC’s, etc. But the main thing you guys all want to know about is Claptrap. Yes he is playable, yes he is funny. But there are now reasons for that. At this point, Jack is busy reprogramming Claptrap and isn’t getting it quite right. So this makes for a crazy cacophony of mixed up thought processes and hilarious speech whilst your playing. Unstable and zany, Claptrap will really steal this game.

2K_Borderlands_ThePre-Sequel_InGameArt_moonBanditsWhen playing co-op, he is so much fun with random buffs that sometimes work. If he gives you a thumbs up and you return it, buffs for all. If not, he’ll get selfish and give more buffs for himself. There’s lots of these random events with funny animations around them to show the horrible clash of poor programming that prevents him from doing some things and allows for hilarious mistakes. All of these are available on the three skill tress that every character has. Claptraps though really are much funnier than everyone else’s.

Of course the game itself has other playable characters such as Wilhelm who later becomes Handsome Jack’s bodyguard in Borderlands 2 and Nisha the Lawbringer who is the Sherrif of Lynchwood and later girlfriend of Handsome jack. You’ll also have Athena the Gladiator from the Borderlands 1 DLC ‘The Secret Armory of General Knoxx.’ The effort in Pre-Sequel to establish a lot of more the story canon to fans of the franchise and to really make this  a big arc that resolves any queries and links between the first two games.

There are lots of cool new enemies as well and the environment in the levels also gives a PvE trickiness at times, especially with the low gravity jumping. But you cannot help but realise you are playing a last generation game. Sure, we understand that the development in this game is something that Gearbox want to do, not to just cash in on Borderlands. They do care about the franchise and want to add this nice tie-in between the games. And I suppose that there is an element of that it isn’t broken then you don’t fix it with this game. The graphics and the smoothness of the cel shading has really been perfected in the engine and in the consoles that they are currently making the game for (along with the PC port).

However when we played the hands-on at Gamescom, it felt a little bit weird given how many next generation titles are coming out soon that this wasn’t one of them. It does show as a testament that the game really does stand up to those new games though given how much Gearbox have perfected this game after years of developing it. Yes we were all disappointed that we aren’t getting a PS4/Xbox One instalment anytime soon. But given that we aren’t ready to trade in our other consoles yet, then this will do nicely. Unless you are playing on a PC and are annoyed that you’re getting a last gen port again. Sorry about that.

The thing is with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is that this is totally for the fans. There isn’t going to be anything incredibly new and breath taking. Yes there are little things and new bits shoehorned in but the idea is that the story of these characters is told. If you are coming in to Borderlands fresh with this game then don’t. Go to Steam and get the first two (normally discounted) or even in the sales on the consoles. Otherwise you will be completely lost as to what’s happening whilst still admiring a nice smooth exciting shooter with cel shading graphics. But you’ve got time to get the other games done before this comes out on October 17th. Then you may well appreciate Claptrap’s eccentricities.

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Batman Arkham Knight – Preview

The latest of the Rocksteady produced saga of open world vigilante crime fighting is soon to be upon us with Batman Arkham Knight, and the Batmobile is ready to ride us into a butt-kicking frenzy.

To start with you will be presented with familiar and comforting sight of gritty gothic visuals amidst a sweeping sprinkle of rain and enough wind to unfurl your cape pleasingly. You ride in to the game in the Batmobile with a load of violent gusto and start looking for the new villain of this piece, the Arkham Knight.

The crazy combo super fighting still feels as effortless and as pleasing as ever along with a few new things thrown in to the mix. Using the environment to incapacitate enemies is fun but the best is the new and easy button combination to make the Batmobile get involved in the fun by gunning down a guy you throw in the air to receive bullets.

Batman Arkham Knight preview 2The Batmobile itself is very easy to drive. Although it does feel as if the brake/reverse controls aren’t where they naturally should be. Once you use the new click wheel selection to get to it, you have two options: drive it like a car complete with afterburner, or into a warthog-esque bumper car with guns and missiles, which require charging up. You also have a very cool tow cable which adds a brand new element to the game. Pulling down walls and doors to make way for your incoming pain arrival which also allows for some cool driving and, my favourite, being able to exit the Batmobile and mid-flight start unleashing fury and then jump back in as the car is moving away. It makes for some excellent cinematic crazy set pieces like jumping a ramp as you’re re entering the car and hitting the after burner. You can even dodge the incoming volley of attacks with a quick retro thruster burst.

The demo we played started with the Batmobile arriving outside the ACE Chemicals Plant and after a short reconnaissance and a few rounds with a couple of human punchbags, you get attacked by a big helicopter destroying the only bridge to the plant. A helicopter piloted by none other than the Arkham Night. A guy who bears more than a passing resemblance to Batman if he wore Mass Effect colours. A guy who takes orders from a very static fuzzed up telecommunication from Scarecrow. So begins your journey to rescue hostages, stop Scarecrow from releasing his crazy toxin across the East Coast of America and find out who this guy is brightening up your suit, but not your day.

Of course a lot of the focus on this game is how the next generation of consoles handle it. The answer is of course very well indeed. The frame rate works very well at bringing the smooth cinematic presentation to the screen whilst getting those all important kick ass moments that you make yourself. In fact when we played it, we hit a combination of jumping down, calling the Batmobile, slipping in nicely whilst in motion, hitting the afterburner and moving forward without even stopping and almost making a jump. The team around us squealed with excitement and the smoothness of it was thanks to the frames.

Batman Arkham Knight preview 1Graphically the Arkham series has always nailed lighting and this edition to the franchise is no exception. The shine of water both on the the ground and on the characters reflects beautifully in the light in stark contrast the the dour gothic colours of Gotham and the neon lights of the factories. The water reflects the lights in office buildings as well surrounding the further playable three islands. It might be the first game where, thanks to the Batmobile, you might just want to cruise around and soak it up, rather than fly around.

We have to wait until 2015 for the game to grace our consoles and it will be worth the wait, after some final polishing. But one thing is for sure, the franchise is nearly six years old and the one thing it still is is fun. There are a lot of AAA games franchises that can’t say that and the way the games have developed, got bigger but kept the games, the characters, the story and the visuals both entertaining, gorgeous and fun says a lot to the promise of Arkham Knight come next year.

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Dead Island 2 – Preview

The first Dead Island was a very good game, despite what the game was compared to the marketing. You’ll be pleased to know that this time around Yager who are making Dead Island 2 know that maybe the message was a bit off.

But the internet spoke and videos of comedic deaths and hilariously overpowered DIY weapons were cleaving their way into our decapitating hands. That’s exactly what we’re getting with Dead Island 2.

Firstly, the promises: Open world with three distinct large areas. California will become alive from the Hollywood sign all the way to the Santa Monica pier. We got to play a small section of that area known as the LA suburbs. San Francisco will also be joining the open world zombie California party and the third will remain a secret for now but there is a lot of California.

dead island 2 preview 1It also promises a seamless 8 person multiplayer and developers like to describe this as the “worlds smallest MMO.” We got to play with the four-player version which does indeed work very seamlessly even though the game is in pre-alpha state. The idea is, although it isn’t ready yet, that you can co-op with anyone on your server… If you want to that is. You can compete with each other (whether that means PvP or not was unclear) or you can just choose to co-exist.

Graphically it looks wonderful with some excellent lighting and frantic blurs as you move quickly, something that the new generation of 60fps consoles eat up for breakfast. It is a tiny bit glitchy at the moment in places but the feeling is there, the feeling that you got playing Dead Island 1 of crazy modified weapon carnage.

There are four classes in the game. Hunter, Speeder, Berserker and Bishop. Bishop looks like Terry Crews with priests garb reigning down violent divinity. We only got to play with the Hunter and the Speeder. Each have their own traits in movement and their own weapon set. We started with the Speeder and got a kick ass machete that we very quickly electrified by robbing the electrical store of batteries and kicking in a few Thugs. We also got a 6-shooter pistol with an added flame kick after draining a gas pump after dodging oncoming suiciders. For the other class, the Hunter, we went in reverse getting an electrified shotgun and a flaming sledgehammer. The latter was slightly unwieldy but was certainly fun to kick ass with. The electrified machete was my favourite, allowing us to execute people with terrific style.

dead island 2 preview 2The game itself hasn’t actually changed too much in its modus operandum. You traverse the open world, guided to objectives whilst scrounging supplies, upgrading your tools and surviving your zombie dodging butt off. After upgrading our tools, we went to defend the fortifications of the ‘Movie Bar’ after they decided to kick out some loud zombie attracting jams including a Peter Fonda quote of “We wanna get wasted…etc” over a radio or PA system. Maybe a ‘Worlds End’ homage or just an homage to California, who knows? At this point, the game being in pre alpha showed a little but was very impressive despite this. If you’re worried about this scrimping on the graphics, it isn’t. The visuals never lose any resolution and the only thing that scares you is the oncoming onslaught hidden by motion blur.

What you can get from this, given it was just a play of the game engine, is that the comedy element is there. The same fun crazy weapon upgrading, limb hacking, zombie zapping weapons that cause much fun, entertainment and cool visuals. The focus on this direction is apparent and it works very well given the slightly larger than life nature of its California setting. There doesn’t appear to be any kind of emotional game attachment or a large effort to build big sprawling narrative relationships. Just kick the hell out of things, stay alive and explore the mad world of Zombie California.

We’re currently looking at a Spring 2015 release and, this is why it isn’t scrimping on the graphics, it will be next gen and PC only. PS4 and Xbox One users won’t have to compete with the engine and resolution having to compatible with past games so hopefully it will keep its looks for the zombie apocalypse.


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Escape Dead Island – Preview

Compared to the next generation offering of Dead Island 2, the current generation offering of Escape Dead Island is completely different.

Dead Island is now seen as a franchise and developers Fatshark have created a very enjoyable single player experience. The story is that you are Cliff. A son of a wealthy media mogul who’s a bit of a socialite douchebag and wanted to make his impact on the world having been in daddy’s shadow for too long. You hear of the first infection from Dead Island and make the gargantuan stupid move that only rich-searching for relevance-brats can make: You get a boat and go to the island with a few friends to make a difference.

escape dead island preview 1Except it doesn’t go to plan, you crash on another island in the archipelago and so you begin your slow descent into the fictional world of zombie bashing insanity. Insanity is actually very key here as the game is incredibly surreal. The descent in to madness is both a physical journey and a mental one here in Escape Dead Island. Stretching the boundaries of what your character is perceiving and leaving you to question his sanity and the reality of the world around him.

The big aid in achieving this element is the comic book art styling of the game. You might know it as cel shaded or as Borderlands style (if you’re that young). But it creates a world of 60s comic book action campness with splat’s, kapow’s and bokko’s coming from every hit. Well everything except the bokko… That was from the Young Ones, but you get the picture. It blends it well with a more modern visual styling of the world and the characters. You may think The Walking Dead both in comic book and Telltale Games feeling but I would go a step further, given the insanity aspect of it and say that it reminded me of the Keanu Reeves movie of the Philip K. Dick book “A Scanner Darkly.”

The game itself plays third person as a big semi open world arena of stealth attack and world manipulation. In fact the whole effort to keep it simple aids the game environment a lot. There’s no HUD, no inventory and simple controls. The weapons you have change and upgrade as you find things throughout the world in the staggered narrative order you’re supposed to. Narrative, especially compared to Dead Island 2 is the key thing here. It is an adventure game, not an RPG. You do get to visit places in the world you’ve already explored so that you can get things that you need or collectables.

escape dead island preview 2The world environment is a wonderful, almost semi cartoonish place. It blends the more realistic elements of some things like the big cargo ship containers and the beach huts of the island, with the more surreal action that unfurls around it. The idea of the franchise of ‘Paradise Meets Hell’ is in full effect both visually and in the narrative.

The decision to go with the previous generation may seem a bit stuck in the past but actually makes good sense as most Dead Island fans will still be on the previous generation of consoles or at least own them. This will be out towards the end of this year for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. It may come to next gen in future but for right now it is sticking with the old. The game does have some replay value despite being very linear and single player with a new game plus mode but there are no difficulty settings.

The atmospheric approach to this game as a spin off of the main franchise storyline is interesting and it’s certainly worth a play, especially if that is your kind of thing. The focus on hyper-reality and narrative background in the canon of the Dead Island story will make itself clear in the full game. But it isn’t going to scare you. In fact this is much more of a survival thriller and more psychological than horror. With a hint of mystery thrown in to the mix. When the game arrives later this year, hopefully we’ll understand a lot more. Or will we?


 

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EA Report – GamesCom 2014

BattleFieldHardline

Back in to the big belly of the noisy beast that is GamesCom, we got a chance to see the EA briefing. And, if we’re honest, we were expecting bigger, right?

To start with, we were given some gameplay footage of Dragon Age: Inquisition (not the last offering from Bioware yet). It certainly looks good and the tactical view element of the game takes it out of the standard RPG gameplay a bit, almost in to turn based strategy. The idea is that you go around and kill things in order to build your army to save the world and if you kill those big things, smaller things will join you as you just made them redundant to their now deceased employer. The thing is, even with the Tom Hiddleston-sounding hero (I have no idea if it is him but it definitely sounded like him or at least channeled his Loki), it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot on offer that hasn’t already been offered by the series. Apart from the hours. The game looks set to be a big one with lots of dialogue and a story that at their last play through took 150 hours. Speed runners everywhere are going to enjoy nailing that down. Hopefully there is enough with the next generation platform and the story to really make the game different from its previous franchise siblings.

fifa15HOCKEY! Strangely NHL and FIFA were the only sports games on display, but NHL looks very, very good. It’s been good for a while but the next generation in consoles is allowing for a lot deeper resolution and authenticity in the arenas, much better physics for both the players and the pucks, fighting, and on screen presentation. Covered by American network NBC, we have two actual commentators giving to-camera links for the game, as in real life. But these aren’t computer generated guys, no they’ve superimposed these people from high def video recordings made for the game, which is looking so good now that it is apparently seamless integration. FIFA World had a game engine update and the biggest news to come out of FIFA 15 is that the goalkeepers have had an overhaul. New animations by World Cup hero Tim Howard and new AI should help the games get that little bit more juicy in the goal mouth… I’m never saying that again. The annoying thing is that America gets the game before the EU. Sorry Americans, I know you like it but it isn’t your sport as much as it is here and I don’t see why you have to get it early.

THE SIMS 4! Complete with Death coming to take dead people away. Death who looks like he came dressed from an Assassins Creed cosplay. Of course the game looks great and we were treated to a very long partially ad-libbed demo (Angela Merkel selfie anyone?) but it is The Sims. We know exactly what we’re getting. Cool social mechanics for the characters and the building options now can drag and drop whole rooms which is cool. Lots of fun customisation tools and no doubt a ream of DLC to last for the next five years. Fun, but lets move along please.

If 2013 was the year of too many Candy Crush-a likes then 2014 will be known for the abundance of MOBA. Dawngate is the new offering for the top down tactical destruction category that is taking the internet and competitive gaming by storm. I’d argue with how many we have that are also free to play, and now with Smite coming to console, if we really need this. I certainly saw a lot of people playing it after so maybe it will have more legs than I’m giving it right now.

Bioware not only gave us Dragon Age, but some new expanded content for Star Wars: The Old Republic (is the community still that jazzed for it after 4 years?) and finally their new IP. Console owners, go home. It’s PC time with Shadow Realms, a title seemingly made up of cool sounding Dungeons and Dragons areas. The comparisons don’t stop there as the game is a modern fantasy MMORPG where it’s four players verses one player as the bad guy. Think D&D (Think Evolve?). It looks like it could be cool and will be going in to a closed beta next month so sign up now.

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After the disappointment of Battlefield Hardline post-E3, this reveal could not be more different. In fact it is worlds apart from the beta we all played both in style and visuals. I heard a lot of Far Cry comparisons and the game is certainly trying to take itself away from the CoD competing big open battlefield stuff that it is used to. Very much walking down tight corridor stuff at times to be precise. But it looked very good and the focus on non-lethal adds a new dimension to the game. You can see its inspiration from modern television in the setting (big desert like Breaking Bad-esque areas) and the story whilst a bit hammy certainly goes in with the rebirth of the action hero. Lots to get excited about for next year and another beta will happen.

Do you have any thoughts on EA’s showcase at GamesCom 2014? Why not leave a comment on Facebook or tweet us @thegamejar and let us know.

[author]

Xbox Report – GamesCom 2014

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It’s that time of year again where the post-E3 glow has faded and another mid-summer pep up is needed to remind you to spend your Autumn cash. However before we go in to anything, I feel that, given the fallout from earlier, a glossary is needed for your understanding. So here we go:

Exclusive: A game or DLC that is only available on one console.

Timed Exclusive: A game or DLC that is available on one console for a period of time before being released to other consoles/platforms.

First on Console: A game that may already be out on other platforms but will appear on this console first, before others, with a time not determined.


 

So here is the big news of the day:

Rise of the Tomb Raider, the sequel to the incredibly well received Tomb Raider reboot of 2012 and the definitive Next-Gen editions, will be an Xbox exclusive. You might well have already seen the meltdown that this has caused on social networks and a fairly glib press release from Crystal Dynamics as to their reasons why. The facts are this: Sony’s twenty year relationship with heroine Lara Croft is at an end. The numbers we are assured add up, despite 10 million PS4’s being sold and supposedly outselling the Xbox One 3:1 along with the previous game outselling on PS4 2:1. I’m sure more will come over the coming months to explain what is seen as a very corporate and business based move.

Xbox One - WhiteSecondly is the big news on console packages that are being released. FIFA 15 will come with a console package as will, curiously, Sunset Overdrive with an exclusive white console. These are the standard Xbox One’s compared to the package shipping with Call of Duty Advanced Warfare.

So far, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the new Call of Duty was an Xbox One exclusive. It’s not but the communications certainly feel that way both in magazines and in the press. The timed exclusivity of DLC for Xbox is the only thing about the game that is completely Xbox for the time being. However the new package of a custom skinned Xbox and a digital version of the Day Zero edition along with a custom pad and (this is the big unit shifter) a 1TB (read that TERRABYTE) hard drive. That is actually a pretty sweet package and the single player gameplay footage looked very good. You may have many comparisons already but none of your games have Jason Statham sound-a-likes saying “bastards” after the Golden Gate Bridge is reduced to rubble.

In fact that swear made me note how the trailer for Sunset Overdrive was censored for saying ass. The console package is a strange one for this exclusive as there is an uncertainty about the game, if it is as good as it promises to be and if Xbox are putting way too many eggs in their basket. It looks very colourful, crazy and anarchic. But so did Brink… Remember Brink?

Of course you want to know about Halo and what we learned. Well, not much that we didn’t already know. We got to see some excellent footage running at a slightly weird 60 fps (weird as I’m so used to not seeing that in a Halo game) and that the new Netflix-esque Halo Channel (a newer sibling of Halo Waypoint) will give us exclusive game reward based content, social experiences and a whole lot more, including of course Halo Guardians.

The best news though is that the silence has broken over Quantum Break. Ever the coolest dude on planet earth, Sam Lake graced the stage and presented a time-bending third person action adventure where you can manipulate your world to your advantage in an effort to fix time, which has been broken by a big mean corporate baddy. Think the bullet time mechanics of Max Payne, or the Lucasarts game Fracture or Sierra’s Timeshift, with a story kind of like The Philadelphia Experiement (younger readers may need to search that one) that meets Quantum Leap/Sliders. But it looks pretty cool, even if we aren’t entirely sure why.

Fable Legends gave us a peek into the eye of evil, allowing us to play as THE bad guy, as opposed to playing a guy making evil choices. Forza Horizon 2 looked and played like a glossy Need for Speed Rivals cum Burnout with a bigger car set. Infact they also released the first ever Rolls Royce for a racing game and the new Formula E Renault Spark car for Forza 5 for free download, the latter of which is actually sitting in front of me in reality.

The casual mentions of Grand Theft Auto 5 were there along with a load of exclusive footballers for FIFA 15’s legends in Ultimate Team. Presented by Peter Schmeichel who effortlessly picked himself and his countrymen, the Laudrup brothers. The new mode has the England legends of Sir Bobby Moore and Alan Shearer along with Irish man mountain Roy Keane and Jay-Jay Okocha… Yes, you read that right.

The big kudos has to go to ID@Xbox, the indie game division. Because the line up for that is outstanding. All of these will be first on console (see your glossary) and include such big hitters as Plague Inc. Goat Simulator, Smite, Speed Runners (that should be excellent on consoles) and the fantastic Space Engineers. All of which have lit up steam and YouTube for the past year. There’s also Fruit Ninja Kinect 2, Frontier’s exclusive SteamRide (a Rollercoaster Tycoon/PAIN hybrid) which is an interesting development given the big IP that Frontier currently have that has been touted to grace consoles in future, and the very very quaint and exciting prison RPG The Escapists from Team 17, who will also be giving their back catalogue to the Xbox. Another indie exclusive is the beautiful art platformer Ori and the Blind Forest for which will also come to PC with its Trine/Child of Light-esque visuals and reality warping puzzles. Very pretty.

Down on the floor I got to get a hands on with Call of Duty, Halo 2, Forza Horizon 2, Minecraft Xbox One edition and Dying light along with some lovely demonstration gameplay of everything else. Keep your eyes peeled to TheGameJar and our twitter feeds throughout the week.

We got to see some videos of other games which were certainly interesting but not exclusive. The big story here though is the massive coup, if you want to call it that of snagging Tomb Raider away from what’s seen as its rightful home, new consoles and a great batch of indie games. The console maybe be statistically falling in sales to the PS4 but don’t count out the Xbox One yet. There is life and that life does indeed look very exciting.

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