Sunday, February 26, 2012

PlayStation Vita Impressions

I was walking around my local Best Buy today when I noticed they had a PlayStation Vita set up for demo play, and with absolutely no one else around trying it out, I got to spend a good fifteen minutes with Sony's new handheld.

My overall impressions? Very nice.

The PlayStation Vita is about the size of an Xbox 360 Controller, but significantly thinner. It features a beautifully detailed touch screen, a touch pad on the rear (which I sadly didn't try), the basic four face buttons and D-Pad, and at long last, not one but two analogue sticks. There's also a "Select" and "Start" button in the bottom right, the PlayStation "Home" button on the bottom left, and on the top of the device a volume up and down button.

Even at max Volume I was not able to hear anything on the PlayStation Vita very well, however Best Buy was open and noisy so I didn't take that as a negative and more the result of the environment.

During my limited exposure to Sony's new handheld, I tried the built-in demo for Uncharted: Golden Abyss. This is actually my very first experience with the Uncharted franchise and the demo included what I believe to have been the beginning section of Chapter 4, entitled "Why's the Building on Fire." As the title suggests, Nathan Drake finds himself in a building that's burning down, which is generally considered a bad thing, and he naturally wants to get out.

For a hand held title, I couldn't believe how gorgeous this demo looked and I was instantly impressed with the PlayStation Vita's graphical quality. There's no combat in the demo and you essentially need to navigate your environment, climbing pipes and moving along other obstacles until you can exit the building. At one point you pick up a machete and must use it to cut a tarp blocking a doorway by slashing via the touchscreen, and while this worked I personally found it gimmicky and unnecessary. In addition, at one point when walking across a beam the building shook and I needed to move the PlayStation Vita itself, using its motion sensor to keep balance, which also felt tacked on. I actually failed and feel and had to climb up again, and this time I was able to run across without difficulty.

Both the sticks, face buttons, and touch screen responded very smoothly, and my only issue with the overall design is that whenever I went to use the D-Pad, I'd often accidentally hit the Left Stick, moving Nathan a bit to the back and left. Not a huge issue, but one that I was instantly aware of.

After completing the level there was someone else who wanted to try, so I let them have a whirl. Overall though, I was quite impressed with my limited test of the PlayStation Vita, and I'll be keeping my eye on the handheld over the next while to see how well Sony supports the device.

Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection Difficulty Comparison

The original Mortal Kombat arcade games were well known for a few things: Excessive gore, a crazy amount of secrets, and a ridiculously cheap AI. After the first few opponents at best (depending on the setting of the difficulty dip switch at the back of the arcade cabinet), the AI opponent would instantly counter you pretty much no matter what you did, and after spending several quarters and taking several losses, it'd magically become easy for a match or two and then smack you around again.

Of course many gamers today experienced the Mortal Kombat franchise back in the '90's, and while many played the games in the arcades they played them much more on their home consoles, and the home console ports had a reputation for being easier than their arcade counterparts.

So naturally, when the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection launched at the end of last Summer, gamers everywhere were extremely unhappy that being emulated arcade versions and near arcade perfect, the frustrating difficulty level remains, and posts sprung up everywhere raging that the ports should have been easier like the console classics of old.

But really, how much easier were the console versions? Surprisingly this never occurred to me before, but here in this very house I could put that theory to the test, and this weekend I did.

The Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection contains near arcade perfect versions of Mortal Kombat (1992), Mortal Kombat II, and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. Back in the early to mid '90's the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis were the major consoles on the market, and they all received ports of these three games, and with the exception of the original Mortal Kombat, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System versions were considered to be the superior ports.

Here at home I just so happen to have my Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and my copies of Mortal Kombat II and Mortal Kombat 3. Sadly I never purchased Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, so the original game's port would have to do.

For the basis of this test, I decided to use Sub-Zero, as he's my best kombatant in both games, and I decided to use the default settings. First up was Mortal Kombat II on my Super Nintendo Entertainment System and in the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection, and I played on Medium difficulty with no cheats or codes enabled for both versions.

After several attempts on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the best I was able to do was seven consecutive wins, and using all five credits the game provides I was able to advance to my ninth opponent before the "Game Over" screen popped up. In the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection, I was able to gain six consecutive wins as my best streak and ultimately advance much further due to it being Free Play (infinite credits).

In both ports the AI was simple on the first opponent and on the second opponent in the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection it started abusing throws while this didn't occur until the third opponent on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. After that, the AI played so similar as to be almost indistinguishable to me.

For my Mortal Kombat 3 and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 test, obviously this one isn't as accurate seeing as how they're different versions of the game and Sub-Zero was toned down in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 (his 6 hit combo deals less damage, he can't use Ice Clone when adjacent to an opponent, etc.), but it's still fun to see what happens and can still provide a general basis.

In Mortal Kombat 3 on my Super Nintendo Entertainment System, again I played on Medium difficulty with no cheats or codes and I chose the Warrior tower. After several attempts, no matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn't get past my second opponent. Using the five credits I was able to get to my fourth opponent before being defeated utterly. In Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 in the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection, even with a nerfed Sub-Zero, I was able to achieve two consecutive wins before having to resort to continues, and was ultimately able to make it farther thanks to it being Free Play.

Unlike Mortal Kombat II the AI in Mortal Kombat 3/Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 didn't abuse throws as much (though of course it still did), but it did heavily abuse chain combos, pulling them off faster and far more accurately than I could again and again and again. However I did notice that in the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection I was able to land uppercuts on my AI opponents for a longer period of time before being insta-countered than on my Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

In addition to the difficulty comparison, just for references sake and for both games, the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection also looks far superior to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System ports, sporting larger, crisper kombatants, greater background details, and more varied and crisp sound and music.

Now, the one major difference in terms of difficulty is that setting the Super Nintendo Entertainment System to Very Easy, either game, has a very noticeable affect on the AI, where the changes in the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection are negligible. In contrast the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection does offer Free Play, whereas the original console ports had only five credits each and limiting your play time per session if you were being outmatched.

So there you have it. At least on Medium Difficulty, the classic ports of old play very similar to the arcade ports of today, and while there's no replacing the fond memories of yesteryear, there's nothing wrong with the versions offered now. In fact today's ports look nicer, feature online play, and feature infinite continues and they also cost far less. So before you go and criticize the cheap AI in the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection, just recognize that things really weren't that much better 15 to 20 years ago after all and we're just a tad bit spoiled by the ease of modern games today.

Mass Effect 3 "Take Earth Back" Trailer and Cinematic Trailer

The full version of Mass Effect 3's "Take Earth Back" trailer can be viewed here or below.

The Cinematic version of the trailer, which is essentially an extended (and in my opinion better) version of the trailer can be viewed here or below.

Just over a week until Mass Effect 3 launches!

Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition Commercial and Behind the Scenes Video

This coming Tuesday, Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition will release to retailers, and in celebration two new videos have been made available.

The first is a simple 15 second TV spot which can be viewed here or below.

The second is a behind the scenes video discussing the product with developers NetherRealm Studios. It can be viewed here or below.

Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition will retail for $59.99 on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, which is a rather hefty price tag if you ask me.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mass Effect 3 (Xbox 360) Demo Impressions

Mass Effect 3 is only a few weeks away, and early last week EA released a fully playable demo on the Xbox 360, PC, and PlayStation 3. The primary difference between the versions is the Xbox 360's demo is fully Kinect enabled, and while that's the version of the demo that I played I don't have Kinect so I won't be able to comment on those extra features.

Thankfully, the demo doesn't need them to be a blast.

Starting right with the retail game's opening and tutorial, players once again assume the role of Commander Shepard, and while they can't import their previous games' Shepards into the demo (though of course this will be supported in the retail release), they can customize gender, appearance, class, etc.

Unlike previous entries in the franchise, players can choose an option that will dictate the style of play right from the start. They can choose "Action," in which the game's conversations play like cinematics and all conversation options are chosen for you leaving the emphasis on combat, they can chose "Role Playing," which is a traditional Mass Effect experience and what I played, or they can choose "Story," where combat is extremely simple allowing players to primarily focus on the narrative.

This is an excellent innovation by BioWare as it allows players of all kinds to enjoy Mass Effect 3 in the way that best suites their style. In terms of actual game difficulty, "Veteran" is now gone however a new kind of very easy has been added. I forget what it's called, exactly, as I didn't use it, but it's meant for players who are uninterested in combat and only want to experience the game's story.

Shepard is back with the Alliance somehow and is in detention on Earth, though he/she is not actually arrested or in any kind of serious trouble. He/she is being held to advise the Alliance Council on what to do regarding the pending Reaper invasion, an invasion that begins right away.

Escorted by new Squad Mate James Vega and meeting up with Admiral Anderson (who's also back with the Alliance it seems) and either Kaidan or Ashley, depending, Shepard is brought before the Alliance Council to advise them on how to proceed. During this quasi-trial, the Reapers quickly penetrate Earth's defences and invade, laying waste to the planet in some very impressive and spectacular visual sequences. Narrowly surviving the initial landing, Anderson and Shepard need to escape to the Normandy so they can head to the Citadel and request aid.

The storytelling, atmosphere, and presentation of the narrative feels significantly more like Mass Effect than its sequel, which I see as a good thing as I feel the first game had the stronger overall story. The combat, however, is almost pure Mass Effect 2, which is also a good thing since the sequel had far more refined combat over the original. I say "almost" because finally, at long last you can dodge as Commander Shepard. I've been screaming for a dodge feature in this franchise for almost five years now, and this wonderful innovation will help you survive many encounters that would have killed Shepard in past games.

A few other combat-related items have also been adjusted, somewhat recalling the original game but with a twist. You once again need to use Medi-Gel to manage your Health, as well as to Revive downed Squad Mates. This is a mix of the first two titles, and you now have several Health bars. If a bar is partially depleted and you take cover, it'll regenerate, if it's fully depleted it won't and Medi-Gel will be required to restore it. I love this as it brings about a little more tactical thinking into play.

Grenades also make a return in a unique fashion. There are now several types of Grenades and they're all Talents to be Unlocked and Upgraded, however even though you still access them via the Power Wheel you carry around a limited quantity like in the original game (Three for the demo). You don't have infinite Grenades and you need to pick them up, just like ammo (the Heat Syncs from the sequel return). Another twist and a first for the franchise, enemies will also throw Grenades to try and flush you out of cover. That nifty new roll feature that should have been there five years ago comes in very, very handy for avoiding those.

Upgrading Talents also sees a little more choice than in Mass Effect 2, where there's about three or four options per Talent that let's you choose between two options, and in addition to a Class-based passive talent, there's also now a Fitness Talent which improves things like Health, Melee Damage, etc.

Speaking of Melee, if you hold "Melee" Shepard will now do a "Heavy Melee" and stab an enemy with the new Omni Blade after a brief charge up; very powerful and it appears that assassinations are possible if hitting an enemy from behind. If you're playing as a Biotic class instead of an Omni Blade you have some kind of Biotic generated blade.

Shepard also has a new mid-range rifle to play with. Better at long range than an SMG and more accurate and slower to fire than an Assault Rifle, this new gun was my go-to firearm of choice in most situations and proved its worth over and over again. Heavy Pistols and Shotguns were also available regardless of the classes I played as, and one of your Squad Mates has a Sniper Rifle but as Shepard I never got to handle one.

Simply but, the demo plays great and when the Tutorial section is done, you jump to a mission later in the game where you're trying to prevent Cerberus from taking a Krogan female, one that's very important to the Krogan and Salarians alike. This section of the demo not only reacquaints you with some old friends (whom I won't ruin for you here), but also puts you into some real combat and a cool boss battle that was loads of fun to play through and presented some interesting tactical challenges amongst some great scripted sequences.

My only gripe with the Single Player portion of the demo was that you could not save at any point (though the option is there but greyed out, so expect it in the retail version) and instead needed to rely on Checkpoints. There was one section towards the end of the demo's second mission where if you died, and on Insanity I died a few times, you were sent back two battles past. This was extremely frustrating as there was no logical purpose for the Checkpoint system to take you this far back as there was a breather between battles.

On Friday, the Multiplayer portion of the demo unlocked for all to enjoy and I've given it a quick sampling. To be perfectly honest, it didn't feel tacked on and I can honestly see myself enjoying it. I say "see myself" because I know I wouldn't enjoy playing it with randoms, but it'd be a blast with a group of friends.

In the Multiplayer portion of the demo, you get to select your class and race (and more can be unlocked) and you team up with other players cooperatively to hold off waves of AI opponents or to complete various objectives. An example would be that in a wave there are a few high value targets and you must neutralize them before time runs out.

You can customize your armour colours, select the weapons you want to use, and as you Level Up you can unlock additional Talents and earn cash to purchase various upgrade packs.

I didn't spend too much time with the Multiplayer portion of the demo and in truth it's the Single Player portion that I'm excited for, but I am happy to report that it didn't feel like a cop-out in the slightest.

For the Single Player experience though, I played through it three times, from Normal to Insanity, and with male and female Shepards of different classes. Each time was an overall great experience and let me tackle the demo's various challenges a bit differently. Note that anything you achieve in the demo will _not_ carry over to the retail title, so play and enjoy without thinking too far ahead.

Mass Effect 3 launches on March 6th, and if this demo is any indication, we're in for one amazing treat.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mass Effect 3 "Take Earth Back" Trailer Preview

A new cinematic trailer for Mass Effect 3, entitled "Take Earth Back," will debut tomorrow during AMC's The Walking Dead.

EA has released a preview of the trailer which you can view here or below.

I'll be watching The Walking Dead so I'll get to see the trailer when it airs. For those of you who won't be watching the show, rest assured it'll be all over the internet soon enough.

I'll post the full length trailer either on Monday or the following weekend, depending.

Halo Avatar Collection - February

Looks like Microsoft Studios and 343 Industries are adding additional Halo-themed Avatar items for Xbox 360 Avatars, and once again their Avatar weapon policy is wishy-washy.

Now available for purchase is a Needler and a Brute Stalker helmet. The Needler also fires sticky "suction darts" instead of Needle Shards.

Thanks, but at a premium cost, no thanks.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Halo: Primordium Review

The second novel in Greg Bear's Forerunner Saga, Halo: Primordium takes a different perspective from Halo: Cryptum. While Halo: Cryptum was a tale told by the Didact and ended with Bornstellar assuming that role and title during the events of the Forerunner Civil War, Halo: Primordium has a far more human angle.

Beginning after the events of Halo 3, a Forerunner Monitor is being interrogated by the Office of Naval Intelligence, a Monitor that claims to once have been the human, Chakas. Chakas was a companion to Bornstellar and the original Didact, but was captured by the Forerunner Master Builder during the Forerunner Civil War and taken away 100,000 years ago. ONI is quite concerned and curious about the Didact (furthering my suspicion that he'll appear in some form in Halo 4) and to further enlighten them, this Monitor continues his tale, Chakas' tale.

Awakening among the wreckage of a crashed pod on an unknown planet, Chakas is injured and under the care of a young human named Vinnevra, only to discover that this planet is actually a Halo, one in which many humans have been stranded and are being experimented on for unknown purposes.

Together Chakas and Vinnevra, along with her grandfather Gamelpar, venture out through the surface of Halo in search of both answers and of Chakas' friend Riser whom was also captured by the Master Builder. What, and whom they discover, however, is far more terrifying than anything they could possible imagine.

Like Halo: Cryptum before it, Halo: Primordium is an extremely unHalo-like story that's definitely set within the Halo universe. There are Monitors, Forerunners, Flood, etc., however things were far different 100,000 years ago than they are in the current 2553 time frame. The games and other fiction have always grounded the Forerunner-Flood conflict in more plausible, scientific concepts, whereas Halo: Primordium continues Bear's far more fantastical approach.

How the Forerunner's build the Halo rings, how their armour and ships behave, it is more akin to "magic" as ancient humans believed as opposed to more realistic science. Structures and ships assemble from the ground, base materials and hard light, holograms are tangible things that can physically interact with others, and the Forerunners have limited control over time itself. Extremely powerful, very fantastical.

Suffice it to say if you're looking for a traditional, hard military Halo tale you won't find it here, but what you will find is a wonderfully woven story with strong character development and many simple, human qualities. Bear does write a compelling story and he's certainly thought his plot points through. Yes, there is retcon to be found in this saga, however the Forerunner-Flood conflict was always presented with the barest of facts and much assumption, so it's easier to justify or expand upon what was revealed before. This is in stark contrast to Traviss' work in Halo: Glasslands, for example, which retcons things in the current timeline and has really made a mess of key established canon. In Halo: Primordium the Terminals found in Halo 3 are called into suspect, allowing for the saga's retcon to more easily become the proper canon, however several variances in the core narrative are reconciled with the traditional fiction by novel's end.

One key fact that I find quite surprising with the Forerunner saga though is the implementation of the Flood. Seeing as how the Forerunner-Flood War was always the key background point regarding the entire Halo fiction, you would think the Flood would factor largely into this saga. And yes, while the Flood are certainly present, they remain more of a background element and a driving force for the actions of various factions and individuals in the story.

Instead of the Flood that we know from the games, infesting bodies and turning them into Combat Forms to pit the player against, 100,000 years ago the Flood truly did behave more like a truly lethal virus. Hosts would be infected by spores or "dust," and as the sickness progressed the body slowly mutates and then becomes a lump of simple flesh, adding to the overall Flood biomass. Heroic and desperate battles of the Forerunners fending off the Flood are quite lacking from this saga, and the focus is truly on Forerunner politics and philosophy and how it's all being twisted and perverted in the face of the greater theory of the Flood-threat. In the case of Halo: Primordium, humanity's budding re-emergence as an important species on the galactic scale in the face of Forerunner opposition also comes to the forefront, giving readers something a bit more familiar to identify with.

So while Halo: Primordium, like Halo: Cryptum before it, delivers a tale most would find different than expected for a Halo story, it is remarkably well done science fiction woven with a touch of fantasy, and it's a novel that any science fiction fan can pick up and enjoy; no knowledge of the Halo franchise or games required. Some may see this as a weakness but I personally see this as a strength, as it broadens the appeal of the overall franchise while providing solid entertainment and back story to all.

Halo: Primordium ends leaving the reader with more questions, and I anxiously await the next novel in the series and will enjoy rereading Greg Bear's tale to see what other juicy details I missed.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Several New Mass Effect 3 Trailers Released

EA and BioWare have released several new trailers for your viewing pleasure which show of various features from the game, as well as some cool little cameos of former squad mates.

First up, we have the "Reinstated (FemShep)" trailer which you can view here or below.

Next is the "Interactive Storytelling" trailer which you can view here or below.

The third trailer is "Integrated Co-Op Multiplayer" and that can be viewed here or below.

Next is the "Build a Customizable Arsenal" trailer which can be viewed here or below.

The fifth trailer we have is "Ruthless and Intelligent Enemies," which can be viewed here or below.

The final trailer is entitled "Adrenaline-Pumping Gameplay," and it can be viewed here or below.

Now that's a _lot_ of trailers!

The demo releases this coming Tues. Feb. 14th and will include single player content for all to try. A few days later, the multiplayer component of the demo will unlock for everyone.

The Amazing Spider-Man Official Trailer

The official trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man has now been released, and you can check it out here or below.

It doesn't look too bad at all, and I'll certainly check the film out. Overall though I still don't think they needed to reboot the entire franchise, as Sam Raimi did a solid job with his Spider-Man trilogy.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim 1.4 Update Now Live on All Platforms

The 1.4 update for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is now live for all platforms.

For a full list of changes as well as additional details for PlayStation 3 players of the game, check out this official post at Bethesda's Blog.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

The History of Mortal Kombat - Episode 04

Mortal Kombat Secrets has released the fourth episode in their series, "The History of Mortal Kombat." Entitled "The Year of Mortal Kombat and Beyond," this video looks at 1996 when Mortal Kombat was everywhere; on the silver screen, stage, TV, etc. Mortal Kombat Trilogy is also shown.

You can check the video out here or below.

This was actually the year that I really got out of the franchise. I saw the film and enjoyed it, would have checked out the stage performance if I had the chance but never did (I do recall the ads for it), and I had no interest in Mortal Kombat Trilogy at all since it was nothing more than (what I considered) a cash-in update to Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. The franchise just couldn't hold my interest compared to the PC games I had started playing, and shortly afterwards Mortal Kombat 4 was released to arcades which turned me off of the franchise completely.

This series is a great watch though, and I look forward to the next episode.

Mass Effect 3: Voice Cast Revealed Trailer

BioWare has released a new trailer which officially unveils the voice cast for Mass Effect 3, and includes some cool new gameplay video.

You can check it out here or below.

Not bad. Hopefully they all come together well just like in Mass Effect 2.

Mortal Kombat (PlayStation Vita) Details and Footage Revealed

With the PlayStation Vita releasing soon in North America, details are emerging regarding Mortal Kombat (2011), which will be available this Spring for the new handheld.

First up, you can watch Destructoid's gameplay impressions here or below.

Next up, GameSpot has a longer video with Hector Sanchez, producer at NetherRealm Studios, showcasing many features from the game. You can view it here or below.

Finally, GamesRadar has an even longer video with Sanchez, showcasing the game in even more detail. You can check this out here or below.

While I have no interest in picking up a PlayStation Vita myself, if I were this would be a game I'd be getting. For a handheld title, it looks gorgeous! Now of course Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment wants you to buy this version of the game regardless of what you already own, so they've tossed in some exclusive goodies not available on the console versions:

- Bonus Challenge Tower. A new 150 Challenge Challenge Tower with Challenge's customized around the PlayStation Vita's hardware as well as Challenges for the DLC kombatants.
- 16 exclusive alternate costumes for various kombatants, which are unlocked as you progress through the Bonus Tower. Mortal Kombat II Mileena and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 Classic Sub-Zero are seen in the videos above, and alternate costumes for the DLC kombatants are also confirmed. That means there are presently ten new costumes which are unknown, but I'd strongly suspect five of those are Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 versions of the other male ninjas.
- Test Your Balance mini-games.
- Touch Screen functionality for inputting Fatalities and executing X-Ray moves.

All of these features are cool, but of course not essential, so don't let them influence your decision on picking it up or not.

Update: Oh, and Shao Khan's playable in the Bonus Challenge Tower.

You can also view another short video from the PlayStation Blog showing off various gameplay footage here or below, and also read their Hands-On experience with a few screenshots here.

Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection Now Available via Steam

Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection has finally been released for PC, and is now available on Steam here.

I find it odd that it's a Games for Windows title and yet is still not available on their service (it should be available for download here), so how Steam secured the ability to distribute it first is a mystery but hey, at least it's finally available. It's also interesting to note that this is the first Mortal Kombat title released to the PC since Mortal Kombat 4 back in 1998.

Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection is a re-release of Mortal Kombat (1992), Mortal Kombat II, and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 all in one package, emulated from their original arcade ROMs of yester-year and updated with online play, Achievements, and a few other graphical options. It's a complete nostalgia trip and I recommend it.

You can check out my review of the Xbox 360 version here, which was finally patched a little over a month ago and is greatly improved for it.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim 1.4 Update Available on Steam

PC gamers who've purchased The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim via Steam will now have their game updated to version 1.4 the next time they log on.

For full patch details, you can check out Bethesda's Blog here.

The patch has been submitted for certification to Microsoft and Sony for the Xbox 360, Games for Windows, and PlayStation 3 versions of the game and should be available on those platforms in the next week or so.