Month: March 2015

Nevermind Preview 5

Nevermind Preview

You are lost in the woods. The more you panic, the more your vision tunnels inward. You can see less and less far in front of you, until eventually all you can do is grope at the plant life directly in front of you. You have to calm down or else you will never escape. You stumble forward, hoping to find some clue, some object that might stand as a waypoint. But objects keep repeating themselves: are you going round and round in circles? Or are you seeing the same object twice, three times?
nevermindinsert5You are in a dark, dirty kitchen at night. Milk pours from a spilled bottle onto the floor. It pours and it pours, pooling around your feet, eventually flooding the room. The more you worry about the spilt milk, the deeper the pool becomes. The deeper the pool, the more your movements are slowed, as you drag your legs through gallons upon gallons of white fluid. You stop and take a few deep breaths, to find that as you calm down, the milk drains away, and you can walk across the room to open the door at last.

Nevermind, by Flying Mollusk, is a horror game that responds to your heart rate, scheduled for release this fall. The more you panic, the worse the situation becomes. The only way out of Nevermind’s puzzles is to breathe, relax, and try to wrest control of your emotions. It might be the most challenging game you play this year.

Nevermind Preview 1
Nevermind Preview 3

Buying a separate piece of hardware to measure your heart rate just so that you can play one game seems like a high barrier, but it is well worth the effort to experience Nevermind. I’ve never before encountered a game with this close an understanding of the human mind — not just because it measures and responds to your emotional state, but because its environments and stories reflect a deep familiarity with the things about our world that are truly terrifying.

If, like me, you have ever suffered from anxiety, the sensation of playing Nevermind will be familiar. You know that the problem with which you are faced is entirely within your control, but that only makes it more worrisome. “I have to calm down” you say to yourself, “why can’t I calm down? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I regain control?” Compound stress is your worst enemy. You have to learn not to worry about worrying.

Nevermind Preview 2
Nevermind Preview

Although the levels in Nevermind are masterfully designed, the puzzles are not complicated in and of themselves. Most of the time they come down to a hidden object game or a simple maze with arrows telling you which way to turn. If you just look with clear eyes, you can immediately see what you have to do to complete a level. Yet a single problem might take half an hour to resolve, simply because your vision will become more impaired the more your heartrate increases.

This is a game that doesn’t just induce anxiety, but reflects on the nature of anxiety through symbolism. Levels repeat themselves in unsettling, uncanny ways that disorient you and constantly cause you to second-guess yourself. Even in the calmer moments, the environments feel heavy and crushing in a way that very few games achieve.

Nevermind is packed with dramatic moments that I won’t be forgetting in a hurry, as well as some of the most interesting architecture I’ve seen in a long time. Flying Mollusk have created something truly special, and you would be remiss not to experience it for yourself as soon as you get the chance.

Why Can Capcom Do What Telltale Can’t?

Why Can Capcom Do What Telltale Can’t?

A funny thing happened over the last few weeks. Capcom, a company known for making full size, retail games, tried their hand at making an episodic game. Surprisingly, they promised the game would be released on a weekly basis. Even more surprisingly, despite this being their first venture into the world of episodic gaming, they did something that neither Telltale or even Valve has managed; they stuck to their schedule and released every single episode on time, as promised. Obviously arguments can be held about the overall quality of the series, but the one thing that can’t be denied is that from a “promise to the customer perspective,” Capcom has had an amazing debut.

Resident Evil Revelations 2
Resident Evil Revelations 2

One thing that isn’t a mystery here is how Capcom has actually managed to achieve this miracle of release scheduling. Considering the fact that the entire Resident Evil Revelations 2 series was put out every single week, there’s only one logical conclusion; the entire game was done before they even released the first episode. If a product is complete, bug tested, submitted and approved by the publisher, then it’s a simple matter to set the calendar, upload each episode to the online marketplace server, and just sit back waiting for the respective online vendor to “flip the switch” and make each episode available as the weeks pass.

So the real mystery here is, “Why don’t more studios do this?”

Game Of Thrones
Game Of Thrones

Valve is obviously the most famous case of a game studio NOT doing this. They mangled the notion of an episodic game series so badly that to this day, Half-Life 2 Episode 3 is still waiting in the wings, despite the fact that Episode 2 came out in 2007. Telltale, while not delaying games to anywhere near that degree, has had a lot of trouble sticking to their own release schedule. Earlier games such as the award winning The Walking Dead series were originally announced as monthly releases. That slipped, and the games were set for a bi-monthly release, but even that proved difficult and now Telltale plays it safe, simply announcing that new episodes come out “periodically,” thus ensuring no egg on their face if a promised release date slips. Even newcomer Dontnod, with their fascinating Life Is Strange series, has already slipped somewhat with their monthly release ambitions, narrowly missing their March release date and just managing to squeeze in their second episode on the last full week of the month after announcing a delay.

Valve, despite having enormous resources, found it really didn’t like working to an episodic schedule and has pretty much sworn off the concept entirely since then, preferring to retreat back to the old school “When it’s done,” mantra that is part of the PC gaming legacy. As one of the early pioneers of episodic gaming, they were in the unique position of getting to do it early and then simply deciding it wasn’t for them. Telltale and Dontnod however, are fully committed to the idea of episodic gaming but, even with Telltale’s years of experience, it’s hard to stick to the schedule.

Life is Strange
Life is Strange

One simple reason for this is probably a lack of money. Compared to Capcom and Valve that are large, multinational companies with a fleet of employees on comprehensive benefits packages, both Telltale and Dontnod are smaller, indie studios. They simply don’t have the funds to regularly pay out cheques to their crews on an indefinite basis until a project is done, because they don’t receive a huge cash advance from a publisher the way Capcom might, and they need to rely on actual sales profits to fuel their corporate activity. As a result, they NEED to have games out there and selling. That’s one of the reasons why Telltale tangoes with such an intimidating release schedule. They juggle multiple episodic franchises at any one time, such as Borderlands and Game of Thrones in active release right now, while new Fables, Walking Dead and other IPs are burbling in pre-production. In the case of Dontnod, not only is this an entirely new genre for them, this is the first time they’ve ever done an episodic series AND they committed to a monthly release schedule.

Maybe in the future, with a bit more money safely tucked away in the bank, companies like Telltale and Dontnod can do what Capcom does, and simply plan far, FAR ahead, releasing the games only once the episodes are finished. For now however, the need to make sure there’s a product on the digital shelves, generating income, is always going to put these companies at risk of slipping a release date when plans—inevitably—go awry. Making games is hard. Making games according to a tight, reoccurring schedule you promised your customers is doubly so.

Dragon Ball: Xenoverse (Xbox One) Review 8

Dragon Ball: Xenoverse (Xbox One) Review

Not since George Carlin gave a time travelling phone-booth to Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan, has time travel been so important to the future of the human race. The difference with Dragon Ball Xenoverse is that while Bill and Ted were given time travel to inspire and create the perfect future, you’re trying to stop the future from unraveling into something horrible.
dragonballxenoverseinsert4Dragon Ball Xenoverse sees the original voice cast of the anime (or at least good sound-a-likes) assemble to read some of the lines from this game. The other lines will appear as text only, but that is far from the biggest issue with Xenoverse; more importantly, I am getting ahead of myself. The story starts with Dragon Ball Z character Trunks standing before the dragon that appears whenever the seven dragon balls are brought together. Trunks is working as some sort of Jean-Claude Van Damme style “time cop” and he wishes for a superior warrior to help him fix a timeline that’s being unraveled by unknown forces. After you’re done putting together a protagonist with the game’s character creator, your create-a-character is brought forth as the answer to Trunks’ wish.

You’re quickly inducted into the order of the Dragon Ball time cops, and sent off to participate in a highlight reel of the Dragon Ball Z anime. Think of Xenoverse as a clips show or a “best of” album from a band. The time travel is just a loose narrative that barely holds together the idea that you’re going to start by fighting Raditz, continue onto the Ginyu Force, Vegeta is in there some place, and eventually you’ll take on heavyweights like Cell and Boo. While the game doesn’t follow the exact narrative as the Dragonball Z universe takes in the anime, the basic idea is that you’ll be given a procession of situations from the anime that have been changed somehow for the worst. You’re goal for every situation is to fix it by punching things as hard as possible.

Dragon Ball: Xenoverse (Xbox One) Review
Dragon Ball: Xenoverse (Xbox One) Review 4

Unfortunately it is not as exciting as it sounds. It’s true that one of the greatest pleasures in Xenoverse is the ability to pull off fighting moves that look like they’re ripped from the anime. It’s even better when those moves result in NPCs tumbling head over heels in the air for the length of multiple football fields. It’s even great that it all happens in front of a backdrop of large semi-destructible environments that look like they’re part of the TV show. Unfortunately, while the game does a really good job of getting you into the greatest fights of the franchise, the fighting itself is rather boring. The game’s biggest issue is game-play design that feels lazy since many of the fights boil down to beating up wave after wave of “extras” if I can borrow movie parlance. The fight that broke me was inside the Ginyu Force’s spaceship. After taking on and beating roughly half of the Ginyu Force, I was tasked with defeating 20 enemies; however, the game only tossed the same three forgettable sidekicks at me until they went down a combined 20 times. It was far more like busy work then exciting game design. To make matters worse that’s far from the only time that fights devolve into round after round of beat up the nameless sidekick.
dragonballxenoverseinsert3The parallel quest mode is a bit more interesting since it mixes up the characters and situations even more, and it’s also not tied to the Dragon Ball Z storyline in any way.  It’s basically a separate battle arena populated by the major characters of the franchise that you (and friends if you play online) can use to earn items in the game and increase your experience level. It’s very important to grind XP in Xenoverse because another smaller issue with this game is that difficulty level goes up and down like a rollercoaster. No matter who you are there will be a point in this game when you’ll have to go into the parallel quest mode in order to grind as much XP as possible. If you don’t, the sudden difficulty spike will take you by surprise and without mercy. Luckily these parallel quests are far easier since you can hire NPC characters from the game’s town, or arrange to play these missions online with other people.

Since it is the eighth generation of console gaming, there is a multiplayer mode that can be played with the person sharing your couch or online against people who’ve purchased Xenoverse. I could get more descriptive but it is kind of just there. It comes down to a 1 on 1, 2 on 2, or 3 on 3 ranked or unranked battles between you and the person(s) you picked a fight with. That said, the good news is that you’ll still find more than enough people playing co-operative and competitive modes online in Xenoverse.

Dragon Ball: Xenoverse (Xbox One) Review 5
Dragon Ball: Xenoverse (Xbox One) Review 1

Also, as I wrap this up, I should mention that the automatic lock-on feature is not that great. I found it hard to lock-on and maintain a lock on the guy I wanted to fight if more than three people were fighting at any time. On top of that, while it obviously doesn’t affect my review score I am still convinced that the lobby music for this game is stolen from one of the Mario Party games. If it really is an original work than my next theory is that it borrowed an illegal amount of inspiration from the Mario Party games.

In the end, Dragon Ball Xenoverse is the very definition of a 7 out of 10 game according to the review policies of CGM. People unfamiliar with games themed around Dragon Ball Z will not find much here to latch onto, but fans of the Dragon Ball Z franchise will not know what to expect from a twist and turned filled time travel story that will rearrange all of their favorite characters until those fans can put them back in order again.

RIVE Preview 4

RIVE Preview

RIVE is a new 2D scrolling shooter/platformer hybrid developed by Two Tribes, the team behind platform puzzler Toki Tori. You’re blasted straight into the action – hurtling from the left to the right of the screen whilst dodging clusters of asteroids and missile salvos. The action might be hyper paced, but it’s easy to pick up. You’ll be moving and dodging projectiles with the left analogue stick while directing your own bullet storm in a 360 degree arc with the right. It’s an instant, explosive spectacle, with rocks breaking up into smaller fragments and rockets careering all over the place.
rivepreinsert1While the shooter segment made up about a quarter of the snippet I played through, the rest was all platforming. Your flying orb transforms into a multi-legged bot that moves along at a more controlled, although still relatively frenetic, pace. Like Wall-E after a few too many shots of engine oil, your little robot will be double jumping and letting off hails of bullets as they’re chased by hovering drones. You’ll also be sucked through pipes and smashed to pieces by speeding trains that cut across the screen!

The pipes rapidly transfer you to different areas of the futuristic looking battleground. RIVE definitely stands out visually. On top of the cutesy robot design there are backgrounds awash with colours. One minute you’re shooting in space, a purple nebulae lighting the scene, next you’re fighting under the orange glow of an industrial refinery. As soon as your eyes have adjusted to one colour, you’re transported to a new space with its own hue – what remains is the carnage.

RIVE Preview 3
RIVE Preview 1

The heaps of scrap metal and general destruction eventually build up to a larger confrontation with a hulking boss automaton. One boss is shielded by smaller flying drones that buzz around him like flies. A similar amount of thought has gone into some of the set-pieces, most notably an underwater section where projectiles fizzle out, forcing you to pop up out of the water to fry things in short controlled bursts.

Along with more conventional power-ups, RIVE introduces a number of hacking abilities to collect. The hacks certainly spice things up a bit: you can hi-jack healing bots to keep you topped up on life, and more interestingly, hack attack drones to hitch a ride higher up in the level. So far RIVE has shown off a great deal of variety, but it’s difficult to know from just a short taste how much the hacking mechanics will add. Two Tribes will definitely need to build upon the variety they’ve got in order to produce something sustainably exciting.
rivepreinsert3So far, there are a lot of tricks on show. If these can be combined and expanded upon, then all these neat ideas could produce something mechanically complex. RIVE seems keen on being the kind of game you’ll play repeatedly. Not only can you rack up multipliers and compare scores with your friends, but it’s a platformer that begs to be sped through. To be successful in this, it will need to foster pixel-precise manoeuvres amongst all the raw heat and speed. Considering Two Tribe’s puzzle background, I’m hopeful RIVE will move beyond being just a breezy metal-wrecking romp and end up something worth perfecting.

Spotify Now Live On PlayStation Network - 2015-03-31 09:12:05

Spotify Now Live On PlayStation Network

Sony’s Music Unlimited service wasn’t very popular. It wasn’t very popular to the point that Sony shut it down, but as of today, users of Sony devices can now access the music streaming service known as Spotify. While Pandora is the most popular streaming service in the USA, Spotify has taken the rest of the world by storm, and now it’s available on Sony platform in two flavors; free and premium.

The free service is what you’d expect; you can select songs from the available lists and create your own playlists and of course, there are ads. The premium service, which charges $9.99 per month, is available on a free two month trial right now. As to be expected, there are no ads on the premium service, audio quality is higher, there are exclusive early releases, and you can actually download songs and listen to them offline. And, on the PS4, there is once again the ability to use the service as your substitute soundtrack and stream those songs into your games while you play, so if, for some reason, you feel like playing Call of Duty while listening to Enya’s “Orinoco Flow,” you are free to do so. The file size for the app is tiny, a mere 9.8 MB, so there’s really no reason to not download it and give it a try unless music’s just not your thing.

Life Is Strange Episode 2: Out of Time (PS4) Review 2

Life Is Strange Episode 2: Out of Time (PS4) Review

Life Is Strange made a strong first impression with its debut episode. Developer Dontnod Entertainment’s take on a teenage girl trying her best to navigate both a tumultuous social life and her suddenly apparent time-rewinding power may have been unevenly written and acted, but it still managed to capture a time and place extremely well. Now, with the game’s premise and primary cast of characters introduced, Life Is Strange’s second episode, Out of Time, is able to devote itself more fully to progressing its plot and thematic goals. This extra breathing room is used to full advantage in the second chapter of the game.

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Rather than dive immediately back into Max’s preoccupation with her new power, Out of Time begins with a quieter type of storytelling. Max wakes up to another day at the prestigious north-western art school she attends and the player is given the mundane goal of guiding her through a morning routine of getting showered, dressed, and ready to head out for breakfast. During this time, the player can check e-mails and texts and chat with dorm-mates as new plot threads are organically introduced. Characters in the hallways gossip about a scandalous video being shared across campus that shows their deeply religious classmate acting wild at a party and Max has to decide whether or not to try to quell these same rumours—the player does her/his best to guide their protagonist through the difficult choices that govern her reputation as a teenager.

Since it’s the realistic, everyday drama of Max’s life that makes the greatest impression, it’s a good thing that Out of Time devotes so much of itself to this kind of material. As interesting as exploring the ramifications of her time-manipulation abilities are here, the richest moments are those centred on less fantastic issues. It seems much easier to care about the trials of the well drawn characters that make up Max’s group of friends or the adults who, as principals, school security guards, and teachers, exert so much control over her life. It helps, too, that Dontnod Entertainment is skilled at portraying the sights and sounds of everyday life.

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The atmosphere of Max’s small, West coast town is exceptionally realized not just through the game’s excellent, water-coloured visual style, but because its soundtrack is used to great effect. Plaintive songs from Jose Gonzales, Local Natives, and Alt J make it easy for players to feel like Max is a real person as she rides the bus with her headphones on or listens to a song while reading her emails in the morning. She comes across as an actual teenager because the music she listens to is the same that the game’s audience might recognize, or even listen to while doing the same everyday tasks as Max. Like the first episode, though, the presentation has to do a lot of heavy lifting to make up for continuously awkward dialogue (my personal favourites here were a sailor unironically adding “by Neptune’s beard” to a conversation and the middle-aged woman who repeatedly uses the term “smoking out” in inappropriate ways). Still, also as before, the clumsy, often unintentionally funny writing isn’t bad enough to take away from what’s done right in this episode.

While this chapter’s deepening of the plot’s central mysteries is interesting, Out of Time’s most poignant sequence comes from a subversion of the game’s time-rewinding ability. At the climax of the episode, with a character’s life in danger, Max loses control over the power she’s come to rely upon and the player, like her, feels utterly helpless trying to diffuse the kind of crisis that would be far more manageable if that mechanic was still available. My own failure to talk Max and the other character into a happy outcome was heartbreaking. And as honestly sad as this scene is, the manner by which Dontnod combine mechanics and storytelling in its construction speaks to serious potential for future episodes. Clumsy dialogue aside, Life Is Strange is quickly showing itself to be one of the best dramatic videogame stories in some time.

Report: Fable is Coming Back

How Lionhead Studios Enraged Twitter

Yikes, Lionhead Studios got themselves into some trouble on twitter today. Earlier in the day, the maker of Fable sent out a lovely tweet in celebration of National Cleavage Day, and was met with a ton of backlash.

It’s essentially a picture of a bar waitress with really visible cleavage, holding two frothing beers with the caption “The Foaming Jugs” a reference to the game franchise. In the game, this is a pretty acceptable joke. But online, it might not be the smartest tweet a game company could send out especially with all the discussion about gender equality in gaming lately.

LIONHEAD-CLEAVAGE-DAY

 

While it was good for a bit of a laugh, it did offend many people, so it’s hard to justify. However, when the company apologized for it, there was even more backlash for them bending over to please everyone. It’s just a messy situation, and it probably would have been best if Lionhead just didn’t tweet at all. Props should go out for their apology, but it was too little too late.

What do you guys think? Was this insensitive, or funny?



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