Month: June 2014

Shovel Knight (PS4) Review 1

How to Win: Shovel Knight

After nearly an extra year since its successful Kickstarter funding drive, Shovel Knight has finally been released. The retro styled adventure platformer has the aesthetic of Super Nintendo games, but brings modern mechanics to create the best of both. Here are a few quick tips and tricks to use when you start playing this indie gem.

 

Move Like McDuck

The Shovel Bounce is the most important technique to master in the entire game. A shovel bounce is performed after jumping by holding down on the control stick. This allows you to bounce off of enemies and bosses and remain in the air. This technique is mostly used for maneuvering through levels, but is arguably a better attack than the default shovel swing. Being able to successfully chain Shovel Bouncing on a single enemy allows you to quickly be able to deal a large amount of damage to them, while not taking any damage.

Be careful, as Shovel Bouncing only works if you make contact with the enemy. Landing on the ground will immediately cancel the move and will leave you vulnerable for a brief moment. There are also some enemies and bosses you cannot continuously shovel bounce on, and some even have specific counter attacks to deal with the move.

 

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Find Everything!

Shovel Knight is filled with many secrets that aren’t necessarily needed to beat the game, but will greatly help you. The lion’s share involve you swinging your shovel blade at walls inside levels. Most breakable walls look slightly different from the regular walls, whether they are a slightly different colour, or have an odd symbol on them.

Tiny walls can be broken for extra health and large gems, but can also sometimes lead to an extra enemy waiting to ambush you. These secret areas usually contain a large amount of gold to collect, which helps when trying to buy upgrades. Some of them contain collectible music sheets that can be taken to the bard in the first village for gold, and to listen to your favorite songs in the game over again. Every once in a while, these secret areas also lead to blue chests, which contain merchants who will sell you sub weapons.

Some levels in the game have areas that can only be accessed by shovel bouncing and platforming over the edge of the screen itself. Always be on the look out for signs that the top of the screen can be reached.

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Like Archeology, but With Weapons 

Relics are Shovel Knight’s version of sub weapons. Instead of getting them after defeating bosses, you need to buy them from a merchant who hides in secret areas in most of the levels in the game. Each Relic has it’s own magic cost that’s indicated in the Relic equip screen.

Some Relics are far more useful than others, and can be used to skip difficult parts in the game. The Phase Locket is a Relic that can be obtained early on and can help in almost any situation. When used, it prevents all damage for a few short seconds, including instant kill stage hazards such as spikes. It can also be used in boss fights to avoid incredibly annoying attacks that you may find hard to dodge. Another great use of it is against larger enemies who are blocking your path. Using the amulet allows you to run right though them and to the next screen.

 

Do Everything Ever

The map screen has eight main levels, with more optional levels that are unlocked after progressing in the game. Although they aren’t necessary to complete the game, they are more than worth it to complete. These extra stages are mostly extra challenges that require a certain Relic to complete. They also provide a large amount of loot, as well as collectibles, which you can then sell for even more loot.

It’s also worthwhile to complete all of the encounters and bonus stages which randomly appear on the map. These range from extra boss fights, to a shorter version of a level that contains an even larger amount of loot, which is makes buying Relics and upgrades that much easier.

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SteelSeries H Headset Review 5

SteelSeries H Headset Review

There are the headsets you get packed in with a game console, or pick up for Skype and other voice communication for $20 or less at your local retailer. Then there are those “other” headsets; the ones some people spend hundreds of dollars on. The SteelSeries H is one those “other” headsets. At an average retail price of $299.99, it’s just $100 less expensive than some of the hardware it can work with. So with that kind of hefty price tag, what are people getting, and, more importantly, is it worth it?

Gaming First

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The thing people need to understand when looking at the SteelSeries H is that this is a purpose built headset. It can function as many other things, but it was built specifically to do one thing better than anything else and in that role, it succeeds. This is probably one of the best wireless gaming headsets available to general consumers today on the PC, PlayStation or Xbox families of consoles.

Like its siblings in the H line, such as the 5HV3 and 9H, the H screams quality physical construction the moment you see and touch it. The retractable, flexible microphone is still present, but now with a red light circling the mouthpiece to indicate when it’s muted. Memory foam padding, leather on the earpieces, a generous around-the-ear design and a strong but flexible frame ensure maximum comfort for average sized heads. You can wear this thing for hours, and in all honesty, you’ll probably want to after trying them.

What pushes the H into the premium levels are all the extras built on top of an already strong foundation. Most importantly, the headset is wireless, with a claimed effective radius of 40 feet, though actual usage with walls and other electronics seems to be less than this. It’s certainly possible, however, to walk into another room and still receive audio clearly. The H also comes with a base that acts not just as a transmitter, but an equalizer that can save profiles for personal taste, as well as a charger for one of the two lithium-ion batteries that power the headset. This makes long-term use of the headset extremely easy, as there’s always a fully charged battery ready to go when the one in use is nearly drained, and is a surprisingly useful feature. When not used at home some analog audio jacks plugged into the H let it double as a portable headset for the Vita, 3DS or even tablets and smartphones. As an added extra, the headset itself comes built with a “share” audio jack so that another person can plug in headphones to listen to whatever is coming through the H headset. Not many people will use this feature, but it’s nice extra for those with a partner or close friend to listen to a game together. All of these little features combined earn the SteelSeries H its premium pricing, but what puts this headset over the edge is the actual performance.

Surround Yourself

Using the optical cable provided with the headset enables the H to go into full “virtual” 7.1 Dolby surround sound. When using directional audio, the H has some of the clearest, distinct, cleanly separated audio you’ll hear through headphones. There are other headphones out there that have better bass, and clearly, any headphones dedicated to music will shine in that regard, but the mid and high ranges of sound are rich, distinctive and easy to pick out with no distortion. What’s most impressive is how well the positional audio works. When playing a first person shooter, horror game, or even any open world game where the player walks through a crowded environment, such as Infamous: Second Son or Assassin’s Creed IV, it’s easy to pick out the sounds and exactly where they are coming from. Games like Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition have crisp, sparkling audio that is startling in its detail, with dripping water in caves cleanly moving through the soundscape as the control and camera are rotated. For the gamer, competitive or otherwise, that wants the cleanest, most accurate, sound separation and positional audio, this is probably one of the best headphones on the market.

If, however, you’re not in that category, then this headset isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The quality of the microphone is, as with other headsets in the SteelSeries line, very good, but not top of the line. There is no noise canceling, and while people can hear you, it won’t be the cleanest sound. The bass, as mentioned before, is focused more on natural balance, not artificially boosted as some headsets like Sony’s own Pulse Elite with its “bass impact” that simulates the vibration of a subwoofer. There’s really no substitute for a true 7.1 speaker system with a full functional, floor-shaking subwoofer, and if that’s the kind of experience you’re looking for, headsets are probably not an option at all. The SteelSeries H does manage to represent bass decently—it doesn’t crackle—though it does distort somewhat, unlike other gaming headsets like the mighty Astro A50 which is in the same price range.

This is also a decent—but not masterful—headset for other functions. You can use the H to watch movies in surround sound, and they’ll be very good, with a broad sound stage, but again, the audiophiles and other sound aficionados won’t be finding a miracle solution here in terms of headset sound. And if there’s one area where the H is not at its best, it’s for pure music listening. Again, most average users will probably find the H more than acceptable, but the comparatively subdued bass is going to shine through most clearly here, with some distortion that serious music fans will rightfully take issue with.

The final question then is, “Is the SteelSeries H worth $300?” The answer is, “Yes, if you want the best overall surround sound wireless gaming headset.” Other headsets beat out the H in some areas, such as bass, or quality of microphone communication. However, a combination of quality build, with very impressive sound and some useful conveniences—like the batteries and its flexibility as headphones for portable devices—all make the SteelSeries H a versatile, powerful headset with impressive positional audio. If you want to play late at night without kicking in the home theatre—or even just don’t want to buy a home theatre set up, but still want surround sound—this is one of the best solutions on the market.

CGM Sound Off - A Salute To Ubisoft

CGM Sound Off – A Salute To Ubisoft

Wayne gives some praise to Ubisoft’s Ubiart Framework Engine for giving games a fresh, unique, artistic look.

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Bungie Developer: Building the Universe of Destiny - 2014-06-30 12:47:19

Bungie Developer: Building the Universe of Destiny

One of the most surprising games for me at E3 was Destiny. Going into the demo I expected another Halo like experience in a larger universe, butt what I got was a complex multiplayer experience with stunning visuals and fantastic art. Lucky for me I was given the chance to talk to Tom Sanocki, Character and Cinematic tech lead at Bungie. He was kind enough to inform us what goes into Destiny and how the full concept for the games style came to be

Comics Gaming Magazine: Where did the design ideas come from for Destiny?

Tom Sanocki: It came from multiple people thinking of ideas from a long time. It’s the primary direction from all of the games Bungie’s made. We want to build a living, breathing universe and when we talked about the art style, Christopher Barrett, our art director described it best as mythic science fiction. We want to take the science fiction that we know and love and all the inspiration we’ve gathered from Star Wars, and the sci-fi from the 60s and 70s,  taking that, and merging that with fantasy elements to humanize it or to soften the characters and some of the environments. That allows us to expand it to space magic. You’ll see some of those elements in things like the cloth of the characters, which is an important element of the fantasy, and while also feeling more human and not as sterile. So you’ll have cloth on the Rogue, on the Warlock, the Hunter has a long cape, even the Titan which is the closest to an armoured knight still has a little piece of cloth on their heads. So mythic science fiction is what we want to do to make something new for this new universe.

CGM: What would you say were your influences for the designs?

TS: You know, there are so many. We have a great team of concept artists, which are our biggest concept art team ever, and our lead concept artists pulled inspirations from all sorts of areas. One of our inspirations is because we’re building clothing that isn’t metal armor; we draw a lot of inspirations from fashion. We ask ourselves things like “What do soldiers wear now and across the ages?” We use that and we build their uniforms.

Our alien races have distinct styles based on their aesthetic. The Fallen were once a proud a noble race but now they’ve been corrupted, they’re now pirates or scavengers so their animations are more spider-like. You’ll see that they’re in their rich-royal robes that have been tattered over time.

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CGM: I’m noticing that a lot of the concept art seems similar to early Star Wars concept art, by Ralph McQuarrie, such as Luke and Darth Vader’s battle, did that have any part in some of the designs in Destiny?

TS: Star Wars is a huge influence for us and the thing we really love about Star Wars is that they’re able to create a universe that’s both rich and living and is bigger than the stories that are told. So we love Star Wars, which is one of our influences, as well as science fiction from all sorts of places.

CGM: Do you think that the storyline design kind of dictated the art style, or did you do the art style and work from there?

TS: At Bungie, we believe very deeply in iteration. We believe in taking ideas, trying them out, looking at the results, testing the results and trying them out again. So when we did the early design exploration we wanted to make sure there were people from all these different disciplines thinking about these things, and iterating together so that the answers that they all came up with all at the same time and because they both fed on each other.

CGM: Will players be surprised with the way the story goes, or will it pretty much be a standard science fiction narrative?

TS: Well, we’re excited for folks to discover the story for themselves and to get their input in it. In Destiny, humanity had a golden age. In that golden age, man wanted to populate the planets in the solar system, then something happened. There was a collapse and man was driven back to Earth. The only thing that saved humanity was a mysterious thing called the Traveler. It sacrificed itself to save the one last city on Earth.

CGM: Will there be more about the Traveller as the game goes on?

TS: When you play the game, we’re excited for players to uncover the mysteries of Destiny. We’re going to let players discover the system and learn it for themselves. At the beginning of the game, you’re a Guardian who is now taking the fight back to the stars.  Humanity is going back to space again to push back the darkness and reclaim these planets for humanity.
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CGM: Will the storyline be as pervasive as you go though it, or can you experience if you choose to?

TS: We want people to be able to play the game the way they want. Folks who want to experience the story can go in and play the story missions by themselves or cooperatively. Even when they do that, they’ll be seeing players elsewhere in the game and crossing their paths. We want this to be a living, breathing universe. You can play the whole storyline at your own pace, you can also play more casually if you just want to explore. At any point a public event might happen, and you can pause what you’re doing and participate in the event with other people and then go back to what you were doing before, or join them and play competitively.

CGM: What were some of the challenges like making a multiplayer game that’s also story driven?

TS: We definitely wanted to have competitive multiplayer to feel like part of the game, and not a separate sidecar. We talked and designed and went through many iterations. The thing that we love about competitive multiplayer is in it you will have fun.  We will let you have fun. You’ll be match-made with other players in the same skill level as you. Any advantage you can get because you’re a much higher level will be equalized so that the damage you’ll get and take will be equal and fair. As you increase in level and find better gear, you will get perks and abilities and advantages from that, but they’ll be connected to your play style. They won’t give you an overwhelming advantage.  You’ll then be able to take the rewards that you earn in competitive multiplayer to improve your character.

CGM: Is there a narrative reason for multiplayer or will it be separate?

TS: It’s a series of gameplay modes that are designed for people who like competitive multiplayer. We want to make sure that the competitive multiplayer can be played by people who want to just play competitive multiplayer, and for people who want to jump back and forth.

CGM: Is there anything you want to tell me about that game that might not be well known that you have released? There’s been a bit of deluge of information about this game, is there anything that’s kind been lost in the media that you really want to get out there?

TS: The thing that’s really exciting is that we can finally show this game by letting people play it. We’re super excited about that. It’s hard for people to really understand the game until they play it.

I still remember the first time I had someone pass me and walk through my path. It was a really amazing experience, I felt that emotional connection even though that person just walk though, pause for a second, and then kept going. I knew right there that showing a video of that would not convey same kind of feeling to people watching it. I’m excited for people to really be able to feel that social connection in the game and to be able to find activities that match their mood and to see how they play.
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CGM: In the demo they were taking about different people in the world and how you might cross their paths. Why the choice to do that rather than to have just the three-player-only co-op experience?

TS: That’s one of the key features we wanted to make in this game because we wanted it to be a living, breathing universe that was social. If I go to a coffee shop by myself to read a book, I will see all sorts of people. I will see strangers, maybe acquaintances, maybe someone will come by and say hello. That’s what makes it feel real, and that’s what makes you feel connected with people. That’s the feeling we want in Destiny, to feel connected to other people.

CGM: I have on last question, the concept of “the one” or the great warrior is prevalent in every game. How do you get by the fact that this is a multiplayer game and there’s hundreds of “the one?”

TS: Here, there are many Guardians in the universe. All of them need to work together to save humanity. We are all together working together and participating in this public event to save somewhere.

That still makes you your own hero, and you’re still your own legend. You can make choices that will let you play the game the way that you want. But making the connection between you and the rest of the Guardians makes it stronger, it feels like you’re with everybody else, and its more fun to do it with your friends.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War (PS4) Review 6

Valiant Hearts: The Great War (PS4) Review

100 Years Of Trench Warfare

Adventure games come in a lot of different shapes and sizes. Some, like the upcoming Grim Fandango re-release, are classic point n’ click games. Others, like Another World, are puzzlers thinly disguised as action games. Valiant Hearts is a little bit of both, but manages to stand apart from many of its peers by virtue of its distinct art, and unconventional ambitions. Not many games choose the First World War as a setting, let alone as a subject of thematic exploration. But once again, a small team at Ubisoft has broken away from big, AAA productions to work on something small, quirky and personal. The result, Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a little treasure of adventure gaming that also celebrates the 100-year anniversary of WWI.

 

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Valiant Hearts: The Great War (PS4) Review 1

No War Is A Great One

Valiant Hearts puts the player in charge of a cast of characters through the first three years of WWI. These characters come from all walks of life; a grandfather, a husband, a medical student, and an American expatriate. The only thing they have in common during the war is… the war. As with any major conflict, WWI threw people together under the oddest—and often most tragic—of circumstances, making enemies of friends and even friends of enemies. The story, though fictional, is based on meticulous research—and even letters—from the era, and is coupled with historical files and photos that can be pulled up and read further to educate players on circumstances the characters find themselves in. There’s not going to be any discussion of the story, since it’s paramount to the emotional effectiveness of the game, but know that there is a very moving, occasionally funny, occasionally tragic tale being told here that does the exact opposite of Call of Duty; it condemns war rather than celebrates it.

The presentation side of things is a real treat for fans of the unique. As to be expected, the Ubi-Art Framework Engine makes it possible for a small team of artists to maintain a distinct, handmade, 2D look. In Valiant Hearts’ case, this means a gritty, cartoony look not unlike early 20th century political cartoons in newspapers, or even magazines like the New Yorker. The music is similarly distinct, with a lot of low key—some might say manipulative—piano compositions, along with some classical music thrown in at the most unexpected moments… like a zeppelin attack. It’s one of the odd things about Valiant Hearts that despite the dark, sometimes depressing nature of the material, there are still moments of humor scattered about in unexpected places that feel playful, not disrespectful to the subject matter.

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As for the game itself, it’s half point and click, half environmental puzzle adventure game, in 2D, side-scrolling fashion. Despite the fact that this is a game about WWI, the characters under player control never kill anyone, although they are frequently surrounded by death. Ubisoft Montpellier made a decision to not make the player feel powerful, to make them afraid of the war, rather than wanting to be a participant, and it worked beautifully. A hint system is in place to slowly aid those less experienced with adventure games (and, to be fair, the game occasionally suffers from “adventure game logic,” where the solution to a given problem seems only to make sense to the game designers), but the real attraction here is “experiencing” WWI. Even though the aesthetic is cartoony, the military situations are all based on actual history. Anyone that’s ever complained about a difficulty spike in a FPS will have to redefine “unfair” when they see how soldiers were ordered by their superiors to run into the middle of a heavy artillery barrage armed with only a rifle and bayonet. The most impressive trick that Valiant Hearts manages to accomplish is that it educates players in an engaging, emotional way. Rather than reading a dry textbook entry about the battle of Vimy Ridge, players can charge along with a Canadian regiment and “see” the chaos of aerial bombardment, heavy artillery and trench warfare that was unlike any other conflict in military history.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a very good adventure game, but perhaps more importantly, it is an affective, engaging way to remember and experience the horror of WWI. This is not a game that condemns one side or the other. Rather, it encourages players to think about those that lost their lives in war, and the moving—frequently tragic—circumstances behind their deaths. In some ways, teachers are probably better off throwing their WWI history books out the window and simply having students play this game. It’ll make more of an impact than an essay or homework ever would.

 

Mystery, Vague Notions, and Grenade Launching Kettles This Screenshot Saturday

Mystery, Vague Notions, and Grenade Launching Kettles This Screenshot Saturday

Sometimes we don’t get what we want. I wanted full, detailed descriptions of every game I came across regardless of whether or not the developers were ready to release that information. They wanted to work on their projects and post some images to the indie in-dev media collection known as Screenshot Saturday without me harassing them for more. But I have some self control, so at least one of us had their way.

Anyhoo, have a look at some of the samples I managed to scrape together.

 

Three Fourths Home by Bracket Games

Little information is publicly available about this game. The developer’s focus is on story-driven experiences and non-linearity, so this monochromatic image is likely from something of the sort. For context, they’re currently working on another narrative surrounding a couple’s post-epidemic relationship and the strain that survival places upon it. Your choices will shape their fates.

Somewhere by Oleomingus

A mystery wrapped in a riddle. Even developers’ page seems intentionally cryptic, conveying their theme with a long series of excerpts from the protagonist’s journal and screenshots with minimal descriptions. Their TIGSource crew call defines it as a “stealth and exploration game”, but whatever it is, it looks fascinating.

 

Novus by Vergeous

Those are some gorgeous trees. Novus is a sandbox role playing game about planet exploration and colonization. Players will create and manage populated settlements, reap resources from the environment, and further their ultimate end through multiple routes. The veracity of claims to excellent gameplay remains to be seen, but there’s no mistaking some beautiful foliage.

 

OTTTD by SMG Studio

That’s Over The Top Tower Defense. It’s a popular mobile defense game that prides itself on ridiculous enemies, art, and items like the Victrola cannon the heavy fellow above is sporting (his other gun is a teapot). Now it’s receiving a desktop treatment that squeezes modern highfalutin’ graphical trimmings like shadows out of its new hardware home.

 

Jenny LeClue by Mografi

Jenny LeClue

“One of the author’s many hobbies.” I hope that’s stuffed. Otherwise, the mystery of the author’s death could be an astoundingly easy case for Jenny. This endearing young kid’s gumshoe story is a choose your own adventure with an emphasis on exploration, a lovely art style, and a dry sense of humor. A crowdfunding effort is apprently imminent!

E3 2014: Battlefield: Hardline Preview  - 2014-06-27 14:39:31

E3 2014: Battlefield: Hardline Preview

In an industry full of people trying to pull at your nostalgic heart strings, Electronics Arts is going very deep with their next attempt. They’re going all the way back to your school yard days, when kids would gather after school to play a game of cops and robbers; however, to avoid copy right laws, EA is simply calling it Battlefield: Hardline.

I don’t know why they’re calling it Battlefield: Hardline. I had 40 minutes to play two rounds after the EA press conference this year and there is no military involvement. It’s true that after a few minutes the game-space starts to look like a battlefield due to the bodies littered about, but EA could have attached any title they wanted to this game and it would still make as much sense.

Calling it Battlefield: Hardline only draws more attention to the fact that Visceral Games (best known for making the Deadspace franchise) has made a game that plays exactly like Battlefield 4, but this time is set it (at least partially) in North America. Given the issues that EA has experienced launching Battlefield 4, I am not sure that’s the name EA should be invoking right now.

That said, anyone who’s played Battlefield 3 or 4 recently will pick up the controller and feel right at home with Hardline. Actually, Battlefield 4 and Hardline have the exact same lumbering feeling of character movement, the same kit selection (assaults, supports, medics, etc.), the same squad based organizational system (I didn’t see a commander mode but the option was never given), the vehicles drive exactly the same (and by that I mean poorly), etc.

E3 2014: Battlefield: Hardline Preview  - 2014-06-27 14:41:41
E3 2014: Battlefield: Hardline Preview  - 2014-06-27 14:42:08
E3 2014: Battlefield: Hardline Preview  - 2014-06-27 14:42:41
E3 2014: Battlefield: Hardline Preview  - 2014-06-27 14:43:08

The biggest deviation from the contemporary Battlefield formula is that Hardline seemed to lack the same dynamically destructive environments that 3 and 4 had; you can knock down a tall construction crane in Hardline, but I didn’t see any major changes to the level after that. Part of the reason is that there are not tanks in this game, so no one had much of a chance to cause damage on that scale. Everyone is given one grenade, but I did not see anything big enough to take out something as unforgiving as a wall. There is a possibility that C4 can be unlocked later, since this game will offer you a basic bag of equipment each time you spawn, and you have the option to purchase better equipment after you’ve collected some undetermined amount of cash.

The mission types are also similar to standard Battlefield games, but they’re never identical. One mission I played was called Blood Money, and it starts off with a signal point in the middle of the map that is full of cash. The winner of the Blood Money modes is the side (cops or criminals) that steals the most money; although, I don’t know why the cops would be compelled to steal cash. Half way through the mission I realized I was just playing multi-flag capture the flag, since the other team could run me down and take my money-flag for themselves. What’s even worst is that they could run to your base and steal your entire collection of money-flags while you’re not there.

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The game-mode that people saw during the EA press conference is simply called Heist, and it starts off as mix between capture the point/king of the hill. It’s a very standard multiplayer mode used in many first person shooters. Hardline puts a small twist on the game-play and allows the robbers side to steal cash from the capture point (played in this scene by an armored car full of money) and then run for one of two end-zones that are placed across the map. This is where the game becomes capture the flag again. The side with the cops then has to chase down the robbers side and shoot the two players carrying the cash-flags. If the cops are successful they’ll hang around the cash-flags for about 30 seconds as a big circle builds itself over the cash. This circle indicates the time until the cash-flags ”despawns,” and if the cops can defend the cash-flag long enough all the money will go back to the armored trucks causing the robbers will need to start all over again.

While I had an extremely long session of hands on time, at least by E3 standards, there was still a lot I did not see because EA did not have it there. The E3 demo that EA brought only had a couple of game modes, and only a single map, meant to look something like Los Angeles, to play on. That said, EA is claiming that the game will have a single player campaign that is action packed. Wikipedia is also saying things about Battlefield Hardline, and in this case the online encyclopedia says that the game will have two more multiplayer modes. The first is called Hotwire and it involves police chasing down criminals across big maps at high speeds. The final mode, Rescue, sounds like it will be very similar to Rainbow Six: Siege. In that mode police officers will try and save hostages from criminals.

I can’t confirm any of this from personal experience but we will all know the truth soon. Battlefield: Hardline is one of the few games shown at E3 2014 that will come out in 2014, and this particular product will be coming out for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 and Windows PCs this October 21

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2014.

CGMPodcast Episode 113: Transformers Fails Again - 2014-06-27 10:28:19

CGMPodcast Episode 113: Transformers Fails Again

On this week’s CGM podcast, Crytek might be in trouble, but that’s no real surprise considering how things have been going for them the last few months. Phil has watched the latest Transformers movie and the verdict is not good, think everything bad about Michael Bay movies x 4. Finally, Valiant Hearts is Ubisoft’s latest small art game, and it’s actually a charming, moving adventure game about… World War I.

Transformers: Age Of Extinction Movie Review 3

Transformers: Age Of Extinction (2014) Review

Transformers: Age Of Extinction isn’t a movie, it’s an endurance test. You could argue that Michael Bay’s entire career has been a never ending quest to discover “how much is too much,” but this one really takes the cake. You know all those jokes made about how Bad Boys 2 ended and then tossed in a trip to Cuba for overkill? Well, Transformers 4 pushes that style of blockbuster excess even further. The movie builds up to a 40-minute robot brawl climax, delivers it, and then tosses in a 50-minute trip to China with even more action for no apparent reason. Though that sequence in and of itself is not without its dumbbell Michael Bay charms, sitting through Age Of Extinction is like seeing the latest Transformers movie and then its sequel. That’s just too much to ask and even the most forgiving fan of this four-movies-and-counting precursor to the inevitable Gobots franchise has to admit that it’s just too much. This is a sequel too far that’s an hour too long with too many characters, too many Transformers, too many settings, too many action scenes, and just much too much in every conceivable way. I suppose that’s just the Michael Bay way, but even that guy needs cut back eventually. We’re in a recession, people!

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION

So, the movie opens with Mark Wahlberg driving a pick-up truck through Texas while listening to country music. There isn’t a title card that says “AMERICA!!!!!” but that point is made and then underlined by including American flags in the background of almost every shot for the next hour of screen time (sometimes there are multiple American flags just in case you didn’t notice the first one). So, with Bay’s usual sledgehammer approach to subtlety, we’re introduced to Mark Wahlberg, American. He’s just your usual American guy who likes drinking American beer on an American farm while bringing up an American daughter (Nicola Peltz) in the American way and trying to live the American dream as an inventor/entrepreneur. Of course, he’s not very good at inventing. He just makes crappy robots and does repairs for neighbors while barely getting by. He does have a goofy assistant played by TJ Miller though (who is somehow a surfer in farmland, Texas) and they often buy goofy things like a giant truck hidden in an old movie theater. Shocker! Turns out that truck is Optimus Prime, who has been damaged in battle. So Wahlberg decides to fix him up like any good American, because as I said, he is an American.

[pullquote align=”right” class=”blue”]“Possibly the most tediously excessive action movie that Michael Bay has ever made and given that he specializes in that particular brand of expensively fast-paced tedium, that’s really saying something”[/pullquote]

Now, his daughter and comic relief assistant aren’t too thrilled with that idea because people are supposed to report any Transformer sighting to the government these days for a cash reward. Under the guiding eye of Kelsey Grammer (the film’s villain, no joke), the US government has been rounding up and destroying Transformers following the Chicago-stomping battle from the last movie. So, just as Wahlberg gets Optimus Prime working again and becomes his buddy, a group of evil government types (dressed in black, so you know they’re evil) show up to try and take the OG O.P. away. That leads to a big shoot out and chase with Wahlberg, Peltz, and her secret Irish boyfriend (honestly, who cares who plays him?) barely escaping with Optimus Prime. They discover that the Grammer has been partnering with a new and super evil Transformer to round up all the old transformers and give them to Stanley Tucci’s tech billionaire. You see, Tucci has secretly been analyzing Transformers to figure out to make his own Transformers out of the special alien metal that they are made from (it’s called and I swear to god I’m not joking: Transformium). So Tucci’s got his own secret army of new Transformers with updated tech and wouldn’t you know it? One of them is Megatron. Oh no! So, Wahlberg and his new Transformer buddies attack Tucci’s techno palace for another massive Transformer battle in the middle of Chicago. Sounds like that’s the climax of the movie, right? Wrong, what I’ve just described is actually two hours of set up for an even bigger Transformer battle in China that involves some sort of Transformer bomb that Grammer and Tucci got from that super evil new Transformer. Plus the Dinobots show up in the last 20 minutes to make the movie even longer. Why? Who cares? The important thing is that Bay got to make even more things go boom and Paramount got to film publicity-courting sequences in the massive Chinese movie-going republic.

Now, criticizing a Transformers movie for being loud, stupid, meaningless, and gratingly commercial is pointless. Of course it is. That’s the franchise. Expecting anything else is the mistake. The movie is filled with idiotic dialogue, padded plotting, endless explosions, and confusingly staged action scenes amongst the indistinguishable Transformers (Bay even tosses in duplicates of the hero Transformers this time just to make it even harder to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad). All the same problems that you had with previous Transformers movies are here again, only this time there’s more. But all the good qualities of the Transformers movies are here too. There’s some genuinely funny comedic relief from actors like Tucci, Miller, and Thomas Lennon. Many of the action sequences are thrilling and undeniably impressive (especially an intense sequence in which Wahlberg and some bad guy chase each other down the side of massive and ungainly apartment complex in China). And there’s also no denying that Mark Wahlberg is a better action lead than Shia Labeof or that Bay’s filmmaking is often screamingly unintentionally funny. In fact, if this movie were an hour shorter, it might even qualify as a campy guilty pleasure.

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However, Transformers: Age Of Extinction is not an hour shorter. Nope, it’s possibly the most tediously excessive action movie that Michael Bay has ever made and given that he specializes in that particular brand of expensively fast-paced tedium, that’s really saying something. It’s as if Michael Bay read the reviews of the last Transformers movie said, “Pffffft! They think that movie is too much?! I’ll show them too much!” and then went out of his way to do more of everything that bothered critics last time. It would be nice to live in a world where audiences could walk out of Transformers:  Age Of Extinction so confused and exhausted that they’d convince everyone they know not to see it and this blockbuster could bomb, ending the franchise. Unfortunately, that’s never going to happen. The movie will make a bazillion dollars worldwide based on the brand name alone and there will be another one of these stupid movies in three stupid years. Ah well, at least this turkey is still better than Transformers 2 and has robot dinosaurs. That’s something, right? Sigh…what a waste of time.

E3 2014: Project Morpheus Preview  - 2014-06-26 14:23:28

E3 2014: Project Morpheus Preview

Most of the time it feels like jumping the gun if you decide to preview hardware, but in the case of virtual reality, exceptions have to be made. It’s been the holy grail of science fiction geeks since the 80s thanks to William Gibson’s seminal Neuromancer trilogy, and people have been trying to make his concept of cyberspace a reality in the decades since. Oculus Rift dipped their toe into the VR pool first, but Sony is not far behind with “Project Morpheus,” a codename with allusions to the Greek god of dreams. Sony first trotted out their prototype VR headset earlier this year at the Game Developer’s Conference, and it had another coming out party at this year’s E3. So what does it feel like to strap one of the pioneers in retail VR experiences?

Designed For People, Not Geeks

[pullquote align=”right” class=”blue”]”..the Project Morpheus headset is still a prototype and in no way is guaranteed to release to the public in its current form. ”[/pullquote]

Like Oculus Rift’s VR unit, the Project Morpheus headset is still a prototype and in no way is guaranteed to release to the public in its current form. Having said that, the actual physical design of the Morpheus headset is already in surprisingly good, comfortable shape. It’s probably Sony’s own legacy of designing consumer electronics for the last few decades that have benefited Morpheus, as the ergonomic engineering is very impressive. The Rift unit still uses simple bands to attach to the user’s head, creating a noticeable, heavy weight on the front of the user’s head that encourages gravity to drag the entire headset down. Sony’s solution to this was to create an entire rigid but adjustable headband that distributes the weight of the Morpheus unit evenly on the user’s head, negating the sensation of front loaded heaviness.

As with Rift, the Morpheus headset has also been designed for all users in mind, including those that need to wear glasses. However, at the E3 demonstration, users were herded into booths where experienced assistants put on the headsets, so it’s unclear exactly how easy or difficult the gear is to wear in normal home circumstances with no one to help. It’s also obvious that for people wearing glasses, just slapping the headset on and tightening it up is not going to work as well. While others were able to get up and running in 30 seconds or less, I—wearing glasses—often found that it would take a bit longer to hit the sweet spot not feeling abnormal pressure on any one part of my face, while still keeping things in focus. For example, the very first time I tried the Morpheus headset, there was minor, persistent pressure on the left bridge of my nose. My second time using the headset, there was no physical discomfort at all, but the image was slightly blurrier. People need to keep in mind that for those that wear glasses, a few extra minutes will probably be required to make sure that a VR headset is a good fit. Once it’s on, however, head movement is both natural and easy.

The Latency Issue

Project Morpheus and Oculus Rift both have a problem that regular videogames rarely deal with; nausea. While some gamers have experienced nausea when playing FPS games for extended periods of time, that nausea is much more pronounced with a VR headset. It’s a complicated mix of conflicting sensory input, as the eye tells the brain one thing about movement, while the inner ear reports another thing, and any delay in image transmission to the display with actual physical movement merely worsens this. Both Sony and Oculus have spent a lot of time tackling this problem, and it looks like both of them have overcome the biggest hurdle, latency. My time with the Morpheus headset allowed me to move my head and look around myself, and the movement felt natural. Not perfect, mind, you, but functional enough that there was no queasiness or inner ear conflict. Past attempts at VR had a head movement followed by the same movement on the actual VR unit a millisecond later or more. Morpheus, however, kept feedback between actual head movement and displayed movement on the headset synchronized to acceptable levels.

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This latency factor is particularly important for gaming needs, as those milliseconds can make the difference between a win and a loss, in addition to issues of nausea. Morpheus has been built with a first focus on games, and it was obvious in the demos Sony had on display. The previous GDC demos were available at E3, including the Shark, medieval dummy and Eve: Valkyrie space fighter simulation with multiplayer enabled. However, there were also new demos, such as “street luge,” which tasked players with racing down a highway on a luge, dodging traffic, as well as a Jurassic Park-style demo that let players feed leaves to herbivorous dinosaurs.

In all of these instances, movement felt natural, doubtless because of the combination of different controllers and the PS4 camera all being used as part of a “combined arms” interface, rather than trying to get headset to handle all the functionality by itself. There are still very important questions about how design games for VR, and, more importantly, how long a VR session is considered safe before nausea or eye issues become a factor. However, Project Morpheus is already showing a lot of promise in its innovative, ergonomic design. We still need to see how pricing—and more importantly, games—will factor into this technology, but virtual reality is of the few truly new and interesting frontiers in gaming. Hopefully, the combined might of Sony with Morpheus and Facebook with Oculus will make it work this time.



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