2: PREVIEW: QUARTER ONE SEQUELS/THREEQUELS
3: A FANTASTIC FIVE – SLIMES
4: BEST. GAME. EVER.
5: AWESOME GAME ENDING OF THE MONTH
Savage Pixels delivers you gaming info in bite-sized chunks. Some months it has reviews. This month it does not. Some months it will attempt to be funny. This month it does not. Some months it has lots of content worth reading. This month it does not. CONTINUE?
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PREVIEW: QUARTER ONE SEQUELS/THREEQUELS
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This is by no means comprehensive (OBVIOUSLY)
This is merely a handful of highlights
Final Fantasy XIII-2
Developer: Square Enix / tri-Ace
Publisher: Square Enix
Expected: February 3, 2012
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
You complained. Square listened. Final Fantasy XIII had a lot of things right about it: the game was beautiful to look at, featured characters that the player could care about, and had a bittersweet ending that sets up this sequel. XIII’s ‘main’ character Lightning (you didn’t need to play as her throughout – and for much of the game the alternating, albeit wholly linear, paths ensured you didn’t – but it’s her picture on the cover art) is transported, seconds after her sister Serah has been freed from her frozen crystal state, to Valhalla. She is assumed dead, but years after her disappearance Serah meets a young chap by the name of Noel (at a houseparty? Possibly…) who informs her that Lightning hasn’t shuffled off the luscious landscapes of Gran Pulse at all. And so a new adventure begins.
Returning from XIII is the now-commonplace Active Battle System, as well as the customisable Paradigm Shift settings. New additions are quick-time events mid-combat, and the ability to capture creatures Pokémon-style, and use their skills in battle. And the battles are, as with earlier Final Fantasy titles, randomly activated; no longer do visible opponents roam the screen. Another quirk to XIII-2 is the Sonic CD-recalling Historia Crux System: this allows the player to visit the same game area at different times in its history. RPG old-timers may recall the Square-published SNES classic Chrono Trigger using a similar mechanic.
Widely criticised for its low level of open-world accessibility, XIII isn’t one of the best games to carry the Final Fantasy branding. But its makers have been keen to stress that they’ve paid attention to complaints, and that XIII-2 will be a very different experience, one that doesn’t hold your hand as you make your way through a series of differently rendered corridors. Reception to XIII-2 in Japan – it’s been available there since December – has been very positive, with several critics awarding it a perfect score. Whether the West is as charmed remains to be seen – but the character of Lightning was strong enough to warrant further exploration in a brand-new game, and such is the reputation of the team behind XIII-2 that it’s unlikely to be quite as confused as Square’s last direct Final Fantasy sequel, the PS2 exclusive X-2.
The Darkness II
Developer: Digital Extremes
Publisher: 2K Games Expected: February 10
Platforms: Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 3
If you didn’t play 2007’s gothy gangster FPS The Darkness, you’re not alone. The game attracted favourable reviews, and sold relatively well, but it wasn’t a comic book adaptation that rang many bells amongst the general gaming public. Shame, as it was a well-told tale, which didn’t exactly end well for the protagonist Jackie Estacado. Nor his girlfriend, for that matter.
The ‘Darkness’ the title alludes to is a supernatural presence which (ultimately) takes control of Jackie, although for a while he is able to harness its powers to combat his adversaries. Voiced in the original game by Mike Patton, the Darkness slithers around Jackie, reaching into the game’s grimy world with chomping jaws and deadly tentacles. The sequel revisits these powers, but places a greater emphasis on the ability to summon Darklings – little gremlin-like creatures who could be put to use in the original to destroy light bulbs, beat up enemies, and generally make nuisances of themselves. Also included is a multiplayer/co-op mode, Vendetta (trailer here).
Faith No More fans will be pleased to hear that Patton is on board for The Darkness II – his growls and squeals were quite something first time around. But he’s got a fight on his hands in this game, as Jackie doesn’t want him hanging around anymore – and what’s more, there are others, collected under the banner of The Brotherhood, who are after The Darkness for themselves. Chances are: heads will roll (the first game wasn’t shy with its graphic content, and was initially banned in Singapore because of its violence). FPS titles are two a penny these days, so ones with a little originality to them – the likes of BioShock and Borderlands spring to mind – deserve to stand out; and, pleasingly, early reports of The Darkness II are highly positive. Fingers crossed… before they’re reduced to bloody stumps.
Mass Effect 3
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Expected: March 9, 2012
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Mass Effect 2 was the sort of time-sink experience that comes around surprisingly rarely in gaming circles: an action RPG that one simply couldn’t turn away from, a gigantic sci-fi extravaganza that built upon the perfectly wonderful foundations of the first game and created something that will always remain in the memory. So, no pressure, Mass Effect 3.
With over 1,000 variables possible from the importing of saved files from ME and ME2, ME3’s story is highly likely to be different from player to player – the end, certainly, will depend on decisions made in previous games. The outstanding cast of the past two titles is called upon to stock ME3’s action, and its 80-plus minutes of cut-scenes, with favourites likes Garrus and Wrex returning to assist Commander Shepard in his conflict with The Reapers – and, this time around, with Cerberus, the organisation that saved his life (well, restarted it) at the beginning of ME2. A multiplayer mode, Galaxy at War, is included, and events in that mode can impact upon the solo campaign.
Both RPG and combat elements have been refined by BioWare, and what’s promised is not just one of the greatest RPGs ever, but one of the very best games of any genre. IGN ranked ME3 as their most-anticipated title of 2011, before its release date was pushed back to this year; it is, undoubtedly, one of 2012’s most eagerly anticipated releases. BioWare’s marketing director has called ME3 the best game the company has ever produced. Positively salivating over here, guys…
Max Payne 3
Expected: March 2012
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Long time no see, Payne. Back in 2003, MP2: The Fall of Max Payne earned itself a glut of awards, combining a great plot with frantic third-person shoot-and-dodge action liberally peppered with loads of Bullet Time awesomeness. Developed by Finnish company Remedy, who went on to produce the ambitious but flawed Alan Wake in 2010, it’s a classic of the PS2/Xbox era – even if its best version was inarguably for the PC.
MP3 is, again, a third-person title focusing on running and gunning, but this time has been built from the ground up by Rockstar – the name behind such current-generation must-haves as Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption. RDD writer Dan Houser is on script duties, and the story takes our troubled protagonist out of the NYC environments of the first two games and into a whole new urban hell, this time on the streets (and basements, and balconies) of Sao Paulo.
Rockstar hasn’t been rushing MP3, as the eight years between games is clear evidence of. Just as their big title of 2011, LA Noire, took its sweet time, so MP3 is gently brewing rather than dashing straight to the finish line. What’s confirmed is the usual extra of a multiplayer mode (fans of the series will have their likenesses used in this mode, via a Twitter competition), a succession of jaw-dropping set-pieces, and the return of Bullet Time. What’s not: the majority of the puzzle pieces outside of Rockstar HQ. But it’s safe to say that this will be A Big Deal when it lands towards the end of Q1.
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FANTASTIC FIVE – SLIMES
Slimes is Calum Gunn, one-of-two lithe-and-bendy front-people of the fine, but sadly disbanded, Scottish party-rock outfit Dananananaykroyd. In a solo guise, the now London-based Gunn makes enjoyably retro-flavoured electronica comparable in feel to that conjured by the likes of Com Truise and our last Fantastic Five joystick jockey, Polinski, albeit rather more laidback in the main. His new single, ‘Melted’, is released on January 20 on the Mortar & Pestle label (home to Dolby Anol and Polymath), backed by remixes from Baby Diego and Claude Speeed.
Okami (PlayStation 2; Wikipedia)
"Okami is a game that perfects the Zelda formula so wonderfully, so fluidly, that it's a wonder it wasn't created by Nintendo themselves. It's full of incredible touches – using a paintbrush to slice enemies in two, genuinely funny characters, a magnificent score – all wrapped up in a creatively cel-shaded art style, which really brings the game to life. Comparisons with Zelda are obvious, but moot; Okami is near-perfect."
Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s (PlayStation 2; Wikipedia)
"Bit of a weird choice, seeing as a Guitar Hero game is only really as good as its tracklist, but this particular version (released without fanfare, only for PS2) is surely the pinnacle of the series. ‘Seventeen’ by Winger? ‘Hold On Loosely’ by .38 Special? ‘Play With Me’ by Extreme? ‘Holy Diver’ by fuckin' DIO?!? I need to sit down. Some of the best music I've ever heard coupled with the chance to rip them to shreds on a plastic guitar – and the perfect way to start listening to Ratt."
BioShock (Pictured, main; Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC; Wikipedia)
"BioShock is a game that has stayed with me since its release. I probably have a thing for games with singular art direction (Katamari, Rez, the aforementioned Okami…) but within BioShock's art deco dystopia lives an absorbing plot that twists and turns along with the water-logged corridors of Rapture. I'm rubbish at first-person shooters but you get to shoot bees out of your wrists in this one, so fuck everything."
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (SNES; Wikipedia)
"I got this for my birthday in 1996 (along with some serious Star Wars VHS) and freaked out in a full-on snot bubble. Remember when games magazines mattered and there were truly huge releases that weren't just talked about for a month then abandoned for the next big bitch? Yoshi's Island was (and still is) the high-watermark for platformers, crammed with stupid bits (I'M IN A FROG'S STOMACH, MUM) and delightfully infuriating challenges. It plays like a dream, even in 2012, the year of the Pringle."
Space Giraffe (Xbox Live Arcade; Wikipedia)
"Space Giraffe is made by the same guy who made the psychedelic visualizer thing for when you play music on the Xbox 360. He pretty much just ramped up the psychedelia and stuck an incredibly deep, Tempest-esque old school shooter on the top of it. A multitude of enemies, almost synesthetic combat and pulsating music all come together for a bit of a disarming experience. Playing Space Giraffe is like trotting around on tiny pig's legs, and I love it. At one point, I was 13th in the world at this game, and grew an arm made of Refreshers."
BEST. GAME. EVER.
First-person shooters (FPS) are so ubiquitous amongst today’s top-grossing titles that the chances are that you’re playing one right now. But which one of the several thousand (?) You Have A Gun And It’s Down At The Bottom Of The Screen What Do You Want To Shoot At First games is the best of the best? It’s this one, clearly.
(PC, 1998; PlayStation 2, 2001)
So Wolfenstein 3D started the trend for FPS gaming on the PC back in 1992, Doom refined the format and gave it a sci-fi/horror twist a year later, and Quake (and, away from PC platforms, GoldenEye 007 on the N64) turned multi-player into a must-have option for any following FPS worth a damn. But once id Software’s domination of the genre began to diminish, other developers started to take the pointy-gunny-at-thingys set-up into whole new territories. And Half-Life is, inarguably, the most important, most influential title of this new breed of FPS.
Based on the Quake engine, Valve Corporation’s now-seen-as-seminal effort was hard to get off the ground to begin with. An action game with a brain as impressive as its ballistics, where the player remains in FPS ‘mode’ throughout without any cut-scenes to advance the narrative, Half-Life was considered too ambitious to be a success by many publishers. Eventually Sierra Entertainment signed on, and the rest is gaming history.
Puzzles have to be overcome, as do waves of enemies – in Half-Life, the cannon-fodder comprises beings from an alternate dimension known as Xen, as well as US marines sent in to combat the invaders – as the game’s protagonist Gordon Freeman makes his way through the game. Valve designed Freeman not as a muscle-bound soldier type, but as a physicist caught in the wrong place, at the wrong time. This out-of-sorts lead character can be found in games bearing Half-Life’s influence, such as the above-profiled BioShock and Alan Wake, where the player assumes the role of a slowly-going-slightly-mad author. Freeman’s impact on the gaming industry was powerful: in 2011, the Guinness World Records Gamers’ Edition ranked him as the eighth greatest video game character of all time. A year earlier, film magazine Empire called him a gaming icon, “synonymous with the apotheosis of first-person action”.
With more than 50 game of the year gongs to its name, Half-Life might seem like a no-brainer for Best. Game. Ever. in the FPS category. But it’s because it’s not big but clever, rather than overly showy with set-piece quick-time events or melodramatic with its plot like some Hollywood Blockbuster-style FPS, that it triumphs above so many efforts to have appeared in its wake. The game’s sequel, and its two expansion extras, have fleshed the Half-Life world into dazzling detail. Add to these must-play titles Portal and Portal 2, set within the same fictional reality of the Black Mesa Facility and its associated concerns, and you’ve a set of games that are amongst the most rewarding, immersive and downright amazing ever developed. But this is where it started, and where FPS gaming grew some. Grey matter, that is.
Oh, and you don’t even start with a gun. Neat.
You Are Facing North. You Are At A Junction. There Is A Road Going East And Another West
You Go East. A Dragon Descends From The Clouds And Toasts You Where You Stand, Facing East. Never Look Into The Rising Sun, Traveller. Your Quest Ends Here
I Do Not Understand
AWESOME GAME ENDING OF THE MONTH
Contains spoilers! Since I mentioned, just up ^ there ^, my love for the first Darkness game, here’s its ending. His girlfriend’s dead, by the way. And yes, that is Tomahawk’s Captain Midnight over the credits. Classy.
BUT OUR PRINCESS IS IN ANOTHER CASTLE