Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Wanted: Weapons of Fate Hands On

the following was posted on systemic.gamehelper.com after a recent demo of "Wanted: Weapons of Fate" in San Francisco.

Any fan of the "Wanted" comic book knows that there's still a whole lot of story to tell after the movie. The film version of "Wanted" set a basic foundation that was loosely based on the comic's narrative and used explosive special effects to tell the story of young Wesley Gibson, a life-long loser turned professional killer. Now that Wesley has discovered his real purpose in life and taken control, he's left wondering what's next and if he'll be pursued by secret group of super-assassins known as The Fraternity.

"Wanted: Weapons of Fate" is an extension, a game that incorporates more of the signature comic elements like the Skull suit and other family heirlooms that Wesley inherits from his father, and blends them into a framework that picks up one hour after the events of the film.

"Step Back, I Have a Gun Sir!"

If there was one thing that the 2008 movie "Wanted" absolutely nailed, it was establishing a signature visual style for the film's gun-play. By natural extension, that same focus has shifted over to the game's developers at Grin/ Vivendi Universal, as well. Control over curved bullets, focusing on enemies in and out of cover, and slowing down the on-screen action are all extended to the players' hands with a smart control scheme.

In our demo of the PS3 version, we could fire with the R2 trigger, peek out of cover with the L2, and curve bullets with a combination of L1 and the right analog stick. The controls were both tight and responsive with only a few awkward camera moments springing up as we popped out of cover. Clear on-screen feedback is also easy to read. Whenever we lined up a shot around cover, enemies would be highlighted in white, and would only die depending on where they were hit. This is a relief after a prior build we saw in December, where enemies would fall dead immediately after being hit by a curved bullet regardless of where the bullet struck them (I'll admit that its kind of funny to watch an enemy keel over after being shot in the toe).

Blind-firing over corners turns the edges of the screen white, and enables a fast cover switching mechanic. It's a focused moment where players can jump to another section of cover quickly. So quickly in fact that enemies will lose track of your position when you do it. This sets them up, opening up a moment for a quick melee knife strike using the circle button.

Of course, the natural rules of gun-play apply here: Head shots are the most important, all others are secondary. But the payoff on curved head shots is much cooler here; a slow-motion camera closeup will follow the trail of the bullet as it travels toward the enemy's skull. You can only enable slow-motion or curved bullets when you have adrenaline, represented by a small meter of bullets at the top right of the screen. Killing enemies replenishes your adrenaline, which in turns enables you to use curved bullets. Possible upgrades to the system include Assassin Time (think slow-motion ala "Max Panye", and several arsenal upgrades). One particularly cool bullet effect was done by firing multiple bullets that crisscrossed and later collided, causing a small explosion to take out enemies.

It's All About Showpiece Moments
For the developers of "Wanted", matching certain art elements from the movie is a given, but mirroring the pacing from the film was considered just as beneficial to the project. As an homage of sorts to the train sequence from the film, they've inserted their own signature moment on a passenger filled airplane. Filed with enemies and pitfalls, we maneuvered our hero deftly in and out of cover with great ease, admiring all the little graphical touches. Each section of the plane represents a new kill-box that was both satisfying and visually distinct enough to fit in any part of the film universe.

Clearly "Wanted: Weapons of Fate" is not some art house game/cinema project. It's all about brutality, violence, and thinking fast in crazy situations. To the developer's credit, those characteristics are easily distinguishable in the game, and it all fits quite well as an extension to the film. Even the same the same dark humor of the movie is here and it's still funny (the easy difficulty setting is clearly labeled: Pussy. I know, we were just as shocked as you).

We know that gamers are always openly skeptical of any film licensed game property, but both Grin and Vivendi Universal are hip to your argument, and want to change the negative aura that surrounds licensed IP. They clearly understand that and "Wanted", too. That it isn't meant to be filtered or family friendly, but be quite visceral instead. A sort of no-holds-barred sequence of events, if you will. The build we saw showed vast improvements and polish, but for a game like this pacing is everything, and it's the thing that will separate Wanted from being too much like "Max Panye", "Stranglehold", or "Dark Sector".

Look for "Wanted: Weapons of Fate" at retail in late March 2009 on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Resistance Retribution Demo Impressions

Welcome back to Europe, soldier
The Resistance Retribution demo kicks things off back in Europe 1951, shortly after the fall of local forces to the parasitic Chimeran invaders. After the initial invasion, the Chimerans are low on necessary raw materials needed to replenish their forces, namely more human bodies. A small team of soldiers are sent in to investigate the conversion facility in Bonn, Germany, and find out where the Chimerans are getting their supplies. As, Pvt. James Grayson, an angry, bullish type who's lost his brother to a Chimeran forces earlier in the war, players will explore more of the Resistance universe. Grayson knows the enemy conversion facilities well, and is brought in for his extensive field experience detonating alien facilities. Unfortunately, plans fall apart and a member of his squad, Raine Boushard, is captured at the outset of the demo. Time is running out to locate for Boushard before she is converted into a Chimeran Menial by enemy forces.

A Slightly Smaller Resistance Experience

If you've had a PSP, one thing is very clear: Shooters and PSP rarely play nice together. This is mainly because the system is missing a second analog stick (an integral part of the genre for the past 7 years), and that's sure to make anyone nervous about a new shooter on the system. Sure, it's a clear hardware restraint, but the team at Bend Studios seem to have figured it out. First, there is an auto-targeting system in the game. It's useful because the face buttons of triangle, square, circle and x control your view point, and the analog nub controls movement. Any target directly in your sights is highlighted with a single red reticule.

Pulling the R button fires the equipped weapon (or throws a grenade) while the L button is used as an alternate fire; a great part of all the weapons in the Resistance franchise is they dole out different damage or enhancements depending on which button you push. There are eight weapons featured in the demo, including the Auger-WS (my personal favorite), a weapon that fires through solid objects and generates a shield to protect players during tense firefights. Serious fans will have no problem finding their favorite weapons from Resistance and the demo showcases enough situations to put each of them to use.

Inventory control is pushed over to the PSP's directional pad. The right button cycles through the inventory and the left button reloads the current weapon. Pushing up enters a free-aim system that makes Grayson stationary, making it ideal only for certain situations (Note: This is only a description of the default controller layout and it can be altered in the options menu).

The smaller screen of the PSP means less real estate to showcase the large-scale vistas typical of the Resistance series. Naturally, everything has been scaled down for portable viewing, but there's still enough depth here to clearly interpret the Resistance art style, even down to the weapon models. The demo level of the Chimeran conversion center is pretty large visually and there is even an enemy encounter against two titans, gigantic two-story enemies that fire huge plasma cannons. The visual tone is set pretty well despite everything being a little too dark.

Since this is a third-person shooter, Grayson's player model is on-screen at all times and is slightly offset to the left from the center of the screen to make spotting enemies easier. This means you'll never really see anything below your torso and that's just fine since there isn't any platforming that we could see in the demo, so far.

NOTE: Don’t forget you can connect your Second or Third gen PSP to a television via the available connector! - ED

Calculated Retribution

From a technical standpoint, it seems that Bend Studios has figured out how to make third-person shooters work on the PSP. This is the studio that worked on the last few portable Syphon Filter games, so everything in the Resistance Retribution Demo seems to be carefully crafted to take advantage of the handheld tapping into their experience developing these previous titles. If that experience is any justification, Resistance Retribution looks like a solid effort that can only get better. Look for Resistance Retribution at retailers this March 2009.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Should I Really Play A Cooperative Game Alone?

This a cross-post from my blog over at systemic.gamehelper.com

So, I've been repeatedly playing the Resident Evil 5 demo, for the better part of last week, with a number of friends on Xbox Live (PS3 owners sit tight, this is your week). Like any critical thinker, I've got plenty of things to criticize point out (both good and bad) from the experience. But this post isn't about that at all.

I've set out to ask one question here: Should I play the retail copy of RE5 alone or with a bro' on coop?

See, here's my dilemma: Whenever I think of my typical Resident Evil experience, its usually hunched over over in front of the TV, alone. That's always been the constant thing that makes sense to me about the series, and its the hardest thing to disassociate from it as well. It's you against the terrifying (or at least creepy looking) world, that and the incessant urge to keep your eyes alert for the nearest zombie/ dog/ spider creature, so you can get a quick shot at it with your pistol. Maybe its an exaggeration to call the Resident Evil universe scary, but the sense of tension (or terror) was always palpable, and the results were fun. You know, kind of like Dead Space.

You can run, but you can't hide from ugly monsters like this

That leads me to the crux of my dilemma: this Resident Evil is a cooperative adventure, with the emphasis specifically placed on gameplay being balanced for two. I love the idea in theory (an that's why I've played so much of the demo, lately) and I love coop experiences in games. I do. That's why Left 4 Dead is among my favorite games, alongside Gears of War 2, Crackdown, and Halo 3. I recognize the impact of a cooperative experience. They're fantastic because of the nature of working together to achieve a goal. Its a combined effort that demands teamwork. But for story driven games like RE 5, I can't help but want to play it alone. I want to absorb every bit of the game. The sights, the sounds, every line of dialogue ( a tad obsessive, I know). And the thought of relying on a partner driven A.I. makes my stomach crawl because as much as we want to believe they can, we know they cannot (Full disclosure: I haven't tried the demo with an A.I. partner yet, either).

The thought of idle chatter from my teammate slightly ruins RE 5 for me because it would pull me out the experience completely when all I want to do is absorb myself in that world. It's the same reason I'm more likely to play a game cooperatively online on my second play-through of a game (the obvious exception being "Left4Dead", a game completely devoid of any story elements whatsoever). Yet, I haven't heard enough anecdotal evidence to suggest if the partner A.I. here is up to snuff.

So, dear readers, how are you planning to play RE 5?