Joseph Kony is an evil bastard.
In the pantheon of movies that no one sane or with even a moderately functioning brain ever wanted to see, Snow White And The Huntsman ranks pretty high. It’s a movie clearly created to be a profitable pitch rather than anything resembling a story someone wanted to tell. A cynically produced combination of spare parts from previously profitable movies mashed up into something that should in theory appeal to all audiences, but will ultimately appeal to no one. While watching the awkward mess it’s all to easy for your mind to drift off and visualize the pitch meeting between a desperate writer and a cigar chomping executive that goes something like this:
Tim Ashdown gives us a video run down of LucasArts and Terminal Reality’s Kinect: Star Wars, he even shows off a few of his dance moves.
For a visibly chunky plumber, Mario is one hell of an athlete. Between bouts of rescuing princesses from giant lizard kings, the guy has been known to play in the Olympics, baseball, and virtually ever other pro sport (often involving the princess and lizard king, who seem to get along surprisingly well when they are playing sports). Weirdly, the sport that Mario and his buddies keep coming back to again and again is tennis. Pretty well every system has gotten a version of the game since the Gameboy days, with copies even coming free with The Virtual Boy if you were unlucky enough to invest in that system. Mario Tennis has quietly and oddly become the most consistently produced Mario side project outside of Mario Kart. Yet, it’s not a series with the same intense fanbase as those who love shell-slinging racing. Truthfully, I can’t think of anyone who is a particular fan of the series even though the games keep getting cranked out so consistently. Surely, some people must be buying them, at least enough to justify producing another chapter in the Mario Tennis saga for my beloved 3DS.
Mario Tennis Open is a pretty decent Nintendo Sports title. It’s nothing special, but the good folks at Camelot offer up a cartridge that does exactly what the box promises. They’ve also come up with a few surprises and twists in the formula, if not quite enough to rejuvenate the series. The game features just enough clever ideas to show the limits of the series and plant the seeds for what could be a pretty damn good sequel. The core of the game is still tennis (shocking, I know). The circle pad moves the character while each button offers a slightly different style of hit that affects the ball’s trajectory. There are actually far more control variations here than in previous outings, even more so when using the touch screen to decide which tactic to take, offering more possibilities for strategy and less button smashing. A nice new addition are the power up moves in regular or tournament matches. When you’re on the receiving end of a shot, a circle will appear on the court with a color connected to a specific command. Hit the right button on that spot and you’ll get a super-powered shot that’s difficult for the opponent to hit. I really liked this new feature, but wish it had been pushed even further. The problem with most Mario sports games is that they are fairly straightforward despite the Nintendo all-star cast. Given that these games all take place in Nintendoland rather than the real world, they should be an exaggerated NBA Jam styles twist on their sport. These power up moves are a nice start, but I’d like to see even more adventurous gameplay options in future installments and maybe even some more interactive levels to complicated things.
The exhibition and tournament modes are exactly what you’d expect. Unfortunately, I was never able to connect with anyone for an online match to test out that mode. But I was also playing pre-launch and I’m sure that won’t be an issue soon enough, especially given how fan-damn-tastic the Mario Kart online matches played. The presentation is quite nice, with smooth animations in the 3DS Nintendo house style that’s been established in previous Mario titles (and Wii games for that matter). I found the use of gyro controls to move the camera during gameplay to be a bit irritating, but thankfully it’s not crucial. Camelot filled their game with achievements including extra characters, levels, items, and costumes. The only bummer is that the item and costume customization can only be done on Mii characters and the menu is so difficult to access and understand that it’s impossible to tell if you’re improving your character or not. If that’s all that Mario Tennis offered it would be a pretty slight and forgettable title, but thankfully a few mini games were snuck in that really increase the value of the package.
First up is Ring Shot, which is fairly self explanatory (you play a tennis match and get extra points for knocking your shots through rings, yay!). Next is Galaxy Mode, which adapts the Mario Galaxy word for a gorgeously designed space setting with moving platforms that will send your characters or balls in to a black hole if you aren’t careful. Then there’s Ink Showdown which features the ink-spitting piranha plants from Super Mario 3D Land that will cover your screen in black goo mid-match if you don’t batter those as well as the ball. Finally, by far the most entertaining mini-game is Super Mario Tennis. You play against a wall like squash, except projected on that wall is a simplified version of levels from the original 8-bit NES Super Mario Bros. with points and time awarded for hitting enemies, coins, blocks, power-ups, and pipes. It’s incredibly inventive, addictive, and a shit-ton of fun. All these mini-games are fairly brief add-ons, but they have a more goofy and creative spirit that the regular gameplay modes could have used.
Mario Tennis Open is a perfectly decent timewaster and possibly even the best title ever produced in the franchise. However, it’s not really something that you desperately need to own if you’ve got a 3DS. The major issue is that Mario Tennis came from time when simply getting a credible tennis simulator onto a system was enough to impress gamers. These days, that’s nothing special and merely playing a decent tennis game with Mario characters isn’t very exciting. Camelot has added a few innovations to spice things up a bit, but not nearly enough. Mario sports games should take more advantage of their cartoon setting for a super-charged variation on the sport of choice and while this title does nudge things in that direction, it doesn’t do enough. If developers start using games like NBA Jam as a model, these titles could become exciting. As it stands, they feel more like new release fillers to keep a constant supply of fresh Mario games on shelves. Mario Tennis Open takes great strides for the series and is worth a look, it just feels a bit disposable. I suppose if you’re one of those secret Mario Tennis fans who have inexplicably been keeping this franchise a success system after system, you’ll want to rush out and pick this up. However, if you’re one of those people you really should start looking into investing in other Nintendo games. You’d be surprised how good they can be.
It was both a sad and surprising week as the industry watched 38 Studios go from bad, to worse, to catastrophic in the space of a few days. What started as a missed loan payment turned into 11th hour talks with the governor of Rhode Island to prevent full closure and, when that failed, the layoff of the staff that had worked for years on both Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and the unseen MMO codenamed “Copernicus” that was supposed to take place in the same fictional world. Instead, what we’re left with is a lot of promise and some pretty high budget promotion and marketing that amounted to too much money spent in the wrong places, and not enough profit to show for it when the final accounting came in sales.
The Diablo mouse is a great example of an aggressively licensed product that is still a must own gadget. Much like the Diablo Headset, SteelSeries has constructed a mouse that looks like it was wrenched straight from the world of Diablo. It is dark, with a glow that gives the feeling that something evil lives within the mouse. The mouse itself is light yet feels good in the hand, it has a great build quality and the braided nylon cord ensures it not only does not get tangled but that it will not suffer from many cord related issues. It has an easy DPI button that allows quick toggling to a max of 5000 counts per inch. The DPI switch is smartly placed, since it is hard to accidently hit during avid gaming sessions.
The scroll wheel is another nice touch. It looks like it was forged from rock, still glowing from the heat. It is easy to use and the fact it looks stunning is an example of the care that went into the design of the mouse. This mouse is made for Diablo III making all the buttons on it perfectly placed and easy to assign to different aspects of the game. Depending on what way the mouse is held some buttons may be harder to reach. But since these are easily adjusted that makes them ideal for secondary spells or abilities with the easy to reach ones perfect for primary functions.
The mouse is supposed to allow for 10 million clicks per switch making it much higher than other comparable mice. When playing Diablo this feels like it makes a difference. The game responded very quickly to the input given by the mouse allowing for actions to be performed quickly with little lag or issue. Games such as
StarCraft would also benefit from a mouse with this level of ability so it is an investment that is not restricted to one particular game.
The mouse not only looks great, the feel of the mouse is equally well suited to longer play sessions. It has a smooth feel that is easy on the hands and the design allows for use with right or left handed gamers. It felt comfortable for use in everyday situations (Windows, word, etc.) making it an ideal replacement for the aging mouse that may be at your desk.
The Diablo Mouse from SteelSeries is a high quality mouse that is built for the hardcore Diablo player, but it fits comfortably at the side of any gamer looking to upgrade. It is fast, fluid and great to look at. From the build quality to the design, this is a mouse that is guaranteed to satisfy even the most critical of gamers.
SteelSeries, with the Diablo III line of products, have crafted a series of high quality accessories that are not only molded after the game but are also superb products for any serious fan. The Diablo Headset is a prime example of this. It’s built with a 50mm driver, leather ear cups, a braided nylon cord and a retractable microphone, all features you would expect on a premium headset.
The first impressive aspect of the headset is the overall build quality. It looks like it is right from the fiction of Diablo, with dark molded plastic, configurable red glowing lights the signature “III” for Diablo and a red and black braided Nylon cord. It also feels sturdy. All the parts of the headset feel like they are built to last. Much like all SteelSeries lines of products, time was spent not only ensuing they look good but are comfortable to wear. Despite the size, they are easy to wear for long play sessions. This critic spent the entire review process of Diablo III using the headset and there was little to no discomfort. It feels better than many high end headphones that are out there, due to the lightness, and proper head support. It makes for a snug comfortable fit that ensures sound comes though clear.
The sound is where the headset truly shines. The 50mm driver can pump sound out loud and clear as required. With games like Diablo, the sound immerses the player in the game world and allows the entire story to come through with dialog and music. A bad set of headphones or speakers can diminish this play experience. These headsets happily work as advertised. From the dark sounds of demons, to the dialog of the characters and the haunting musical score they all came though clear and rich. There was no distortion even on higher volumes and only a slight sense that the left ear was slightly more dominant over the right on lower volumes.
The microphone is another nice addition. It is not as obtrusive as other comparable products, discreetly resting in the left side and extending when required. The sound quality on this microphone was also of surprising. It sounded clear in all chat programs tested, including Skype, and little loss was heard on the receiving end even when talking at lower volumes. These could easily be used as great setup for chatting in addition to game sessions – that is if the gamer friendly look can be disregarded.
The headset relies on a USB connection so which might be a sticking point for some. If the USB ports on your gaming rig demand a premium due to the number of devices plugged in – this could pose a concern, but this does allow for clear sound and the illumination that is present on the headsets. This illumination is controlled by the companion software; this software allows you to change the equalizer in addition to changing the way the illumination works. It can go from a constant pulse, to glow, to a sound based oscillation that is rather fun to watch. The software is Diablo themed so everything appears as if it could be from the game world. This is a nice touch although feels a little silly when being used on a work computer. It would have been nice to allow for a simple skin but this is a minor gripe.
The Diablo Headset from SteelSeries is a truly premium product that is well worth the $119 it goes for. The sound is clear and the microphone works very well. It has a great weight and overall feel. If you are in the market for a new headset or just looking for something to go along with your Diablo obsession this is a great product that’s hard to pass up.
Diablo III (D3) is here. After a 12 year slumber the spawn of hell are once again clawing their way up from the pit to rain destruction on humanity. A select group of warriors fight the menace and bring peace to the land once again. Diablo defined a genre, indoctrinating a generation in the hack, slash, loot mentality. Many games have taken up this style (Torchlight, Titan’s Quest, etc) each one making slight modifications to the overall formula – yet at the core they all followed a simple idea. The player clicks on things and watches them die, and picks up items. This is true for D3; yet they have made many changes to the core systems of Diablo that make the game not only the best of the Diablo series – it is also the best of the Diablo-style games to date.
The story of Diablo has always been standard gothic fiction. The forces of evil are on the rise and it is up to mankind to try and push them back. Diablo III is no different, yet with Blizzard’s work on the Warcraft series and the deep fiction they created there, the hope was that Diablo III would surpass the previous titles in depth. Sadly this is not the case.
Although beautiful to look at, the cut scenes Blizzard have crafted are shallow. They tell the basic story but it all feels more like a means to get the player from location to location then a real narrative we should care about. There are far too many clichés to take the dialog seriously and, due to the nature of the game, your character never seems to play a role in the cut scenes. It creates a strange disconnect where the player is the savior of humanity yet never present during critical scenes.
Even though the overall story may be lacking the same cannot be said for the gameplay. Blizzard have refined what made Diablo so engaging and worked on ensuring it would be easy to pick up for new players but it retains the depth veteran players demand. Loot is still one of the key elements that fill the players need for instant gratification. The addition of automatic gold pickup take some of the tedium out of the classic formula allows the flow of action to continue with fewer interruptions. The constant lottery feeling at every drop is still present; every possible drop could be the rare item that boosts the character to a new tier of the elite, but could also be a collection of useless items that are only useful to sell. This can often be an exercise in frustration when the majority of drops are useless but the surprising moments when that ‘yellow’ (rare) item drops it makes up for all the frustration.
The weapons in D3 do act a little differently than in previous titles in the series, because of the new way skills work in D3. The weapon the character holds may not necessarily translate to the attack they perform. For example, a Demon Hunter may be holding a crossbow yet be firing bombs. The damage bonuses the weapon endows to players is still active despite differing skills being used. It’s convenient mechanically, but can occasionally break with the “realism” in the game, what little there is.
Blizzard wasn’t content to just generate near endless supplies of loot, and have opted for the ability to craft new and powerful gear. The blacksmith you meet early on in the campaign can take magical items you find in the world or salvage components from gear to craft new items. These pieces of gear are given randomized magical properties, so sometimes the money will be spent and something that is basically useless to your character may come out. It’s all part of the risk versus reward system Blizzard is known for, with the elusive promise of the next crafting session yielding, potentially, a powerful weapon of demon destruction.
Patch Notes v0.9: Revenge Never Looked So Good.
Hello and welcome once again to Patch Notes C&G Magazine’s bi-weekly column that focuses on post release patches and DLC. This week I’ll be talking about Batman: Arkham City. It’s been quite a few months since Arkham City took the gaming world by storm and so far things have been pretty quite in Gotham’s super-prison, at least until now. Recently Rocksteady, the developers behind the Bat have begun to tease some new content for one of last years biggest and best games. This content will be taking the form of what is being billed as the “Final Chapter” of Arkham City and it stars none other than everyone’s favorite villainous sidekick Miss Harleen Quinzel better know as the Joker’s mischievous right hand Harley Quinn. This new DLC titled Harley Quinn’s Revenge will be released on May 29
2012 for the Xbox 360, PS3 and Windows PCs. May 29
is also the same day that Rocksteady and WBIE will be releasing Batman: Arkham City Game of the Year Edition. There’s a lot going on in Arkham so just leave it to me to get you up to speed.
It’s been years since we’ve seen the grizzled sharpshooting detective Max Payne. In his long awaited return in, glorious HD much has changed, but much has stayed the same. The series was one of the first to incorporate cinematic storytelling into video games and that is a continued focus here, now taking influence from a wider array of movies to reflect a new era. In previous generations, the game came out with obvious John Woo and The Matrix-influenced slow motion bullet slinging ballet, with film noir underpinnings and graphic novel cut scenes. Diving bullet time remains the bedrock of the gameplay this time out, but the visual style and world is a little different. Delving deeper into alcoholism, pain, and failure, our buddy Max is no longer a cop, but a gun for hire. He’s off the rain-drenched seedy streets of New York and killing legions of bad guys in the sun-burned, poverty-scarred, and war-torn world of South America.
Full cut scenes connect the levels rather than animated comic book panels, with a jittery, blown out visual style filled with split screens and abrupt edits to mimic both the visual aesthetic of directors like Tony Scott and the Crank team of Neveldine/Taylor and Payne’s deteriorating booze n’ pain killer fueled mental state. At first this visual approach seems excessive, but gradually things calm down and it settles into an eyeball pleasing groove. Despite the change in locale and color palate, the threequel is still rooted in the endless gunfights and hard boiled crime fiction of its predecessors. Longtime fans should be pleased, but newcomers can still appreciate it as the next hard R genre movie flavored outing from Rockstar. It continues the company’s ever-evolving skill with mind-boggling graphics, long-form storytelling, and lovingly graphic violence. Simply put, it’s 12+ hours of the finest violent video-gaming on the market that should get mouths watering over how Rockstar has plans to top themselves with GTA V.
We meet up with our buddy Max at the bottom of his latest bottle, working as a bodyguard in Sao Paulo, Brazil. His job is to protect the absurdly rich Rodrigo Branco and his spoiled siblings as they have coke parties on skyscrapers and yachts while counting their riches. Payne was never a happy camper, but feels particularly burned out by this gig, self-medicating with gallons of scotch and handfuls of pills. Of course, a quick kidnapping has him back in action and soon the guy is traveling the country in search of his missing clients. Payne dangles out of helicopters, stumbles through urban war zones, blows up decrepit buildings, kicks off a prison riot, and murders hundreds of people on his quest for redemption. You know, just like the old days only bigger and dirtier. There was clearly an attempt to reinvent the character/franchise in this new outing, if only to create a little distance from the vomit inducing Mark Wahlberg movie. As a fan, that seemed worrying at first, but those concerns quickly vanished. Max Payne is still the same guy in a new world. His personality is just a little deeper and harsher while the game’s sense of humor has become more dark n’ twisted rather than campy. There are flashback levels to the old trench-coat New York days, yet the new world with a bearded Max sporting a shaved head (looking very much like Walter White’s alter ego Heisenberg on Breaking Bad, probably a direct influence on this new approach) proves to be far more compelling.
It was definitely a risk to change the style of the series this much and it pays off. The cut scenes are beautifully rendered with facial animation that must have borrowed a little tech from LA Noire and flow into gameplay beautifully with no load times (the cinematics cleverly mask the loading screens). The tale is so ambitious and features such massive set pieces that at times the game feels like Rockstar’s R-rated answer to the PG-13 action movie shenanigans of the Uncharted series. Story, action, and gameplay mix for a potent and delicious cocktail filled some spectacular hard edged dialogue (a few of my favorite lines include: “It was only the afternoon and I’d already been kicked out of a bar and visited a cat house. This latest midlife crisis was right on track” and “I killed more cops than cholesterol.”).
With no open world element, this is Rockstar’s most streamlined plot this console generation, and represents one hell of a writing job that loses points only for cramming most of the action packed highlights into the first half than the second. It’s one of those rare games where you’ll actually be playing to see what happens next in the story and not just to see how many drones you’ll get to machine gun in the next room. The only thing that puts the experience slightly lower than Uncharted on the cinematic gaming spectrum is that Payne’s controls are limited entirely to running, ducking, and shooting, meaning that some of the more ambitious action sequences have to be played entirely in a cut scene rather than constantly cutting between animation and gameplay. It’s a slight letdown given some of the insane things that Payne does over the course of the story. But at least that leaves room for improvement for Max Payne 4, a game that hopefully won’t require another 9-year wait.
The gameplay itself is true to the tracks laid by the previous Max Payne outings. Basically, you’re required to shoot bad guys, but you have the heightened ability to go into slow motion “bullet time” and fire your gun at several foes while diving through the air to ensure they are all good and dead by the time you hit the ground. You can choose various levels of aiming assistance from a tap button auto-aim to fully manual aiming for show-offs. No matter what mode you choose, bullet time works so well that diving down a flight of stairs while shooting some hood in the face with an uzi is just as fun on your 12th hour of shooting as it is the first time around. Improved in-game physics mean that now if you time your jump improperly and dive into a wall, bullet time stops and the falls looks realistic and painful. This makes things either challenging or hilarious depending on how many guns are firing on you while it’s happening. There are a couple of new bullet time additions as well such as levels that kick off while flying through the air in slow motion while trying to kill everyone in the room or a great new feature that automatically enters bullet time if you are about to be killed and gives you one last opportunity to shoot your enemy before he knocks you off. Get a good kill in that mode and you’ll get to see your enemy explode with bullets from multiple angles that you can slow down with the push of a button to create your own Sam Peckinpah climax. The cover-shooting dynamic of GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption is also an option and a life saver in busy rooms. You can still use bullet time to aim from the crouch and it helps, but let’s face it if you’re not diving through the air while you’re firing two handguns in slow motion, what’s the point of bullet time?
The single player story mode in Max Payne 3 is the main draw and it’s a doozy. A deep n’ dozen hour headfirst dive into corruption involving involuntary organ donors, the sex trade industry, drug wars, corrupt prison breaks and just about every other situation that you’d want to take Max Payne into with a gun. Given the care and craft that went into the visuals that will make your eyes explode and a story that will require you to find a new edge to your seat, it is by far the most satisfying element on the disc. However, Rockstar has provided some extras to keep you comin’ back for more. First up, there’s Arcade Mode that allows you to replay every chapter striving for time or points records that are ranked online. It’s a fun enough way to replay the game, but nothing particularly spectacular.
Next up, Rockstar has provided some online multiplayer. It’s essentially a third person death-match situation and fairly fun for what it is. The only issue is that like Red Dead Redemption, you can use bullet time in multiplayer, but it’s rarely useful. If you’re facing off against someone in real time, aiming and shooting is far less time consuming that diving, aiming, and shooting and often you’ll find your head blown off in the middle of some fancy move by an opponent who skipped the acrobatics and pulled the trigger. A couple of original multiplayer modes were also thrown in like “Payne Killer” where one member of the group plays as Max Payne against everyone one else and then whoever kills him takes over as Payne. The other new mode is the lengthy Gang Wars option, which weaves together story elements with a multi-level team battles involving tasks like territorial skirmishes, bomb planting, and palm-sweat inducing single life death matches. It’s an interesting and original multiplayer option, but ultimately if you want story, you’ll play single player. Multiplayer is all about glorious killings and the plot stuff just gets in the way of totally beating that 12-year old from France who thinks he’s so hot. The multiplayer options are certainly nice, I just don’t see the community lasting for very long and I’d imagine more than anything else these new modes are a trial run for what will inevitably be a huge multiplayer component in GTA 5.
Max Payne 3 is a gloriously gritty, hard-edged, shoot em’ up. A worthy new chapter to the blood-soaked series as well as an impressive addition to the incomparable Rockstar catalogue. Sure, the designers should have saved some of their best ideas for the second half of the story and the multiplayer mode is more of a pleasant bonus than vital addition, but that doesn’t really matter. The title combines simple, smooth, and endlessly enjoyable gameplay with a surprisingly complex story and a fascinatingly flawed anti-hero (the voiceover performance by series regular James McCaffrey is a work of growling, cigarette scarred beauty). This time out, Rockstar sacrificed their staple open-world freedom for controlled storytelling and created a tale that might not require much brain power, but offers further proof that videogames can be a writer’s medium. This is about as good as action gaming gets and in terms of visceral entertainment, offering impressive console-based competition on the blockbusters currently raking in dump trucks of cash in the multiplexes. If you feel like killing bad guys this summer, there’s really only one option. As drunk, lonely, suicidal, and downright insane as he may be, Max Payne is the man for that job. Bring him back soon Rockstar. This guy has been missed and clearly needs to get out more.