Ace in the hole

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon

In the late 90s I was exposed to the Ace Combat series after playing a demo on a friend’s PlayStation. I loved it. There was something about flying a plane without the multitude of button presses usual flight sims entail that really appealed to me. Not to mention the almost endless self-targeting rockets strapped to my wings. As the years passed, so did the Ace Combat games spanning a number of platforms but in recent years, arcade flying fans could only get their kicks on portable systems. As excited as I am every time a new Ace Combat is announced, I quickly grew tired of the series and since Namco Bandai shied away from home consoles, I figured so did a lot of its followers. Apparently not as the publisher has announced that total sales of the series has surpassed 10 million units worldwide, an impressive feat for any long running franchise.

Ace Combat started life as Air Combat in the arcades over 15 years ago and it was the comically dramatic story lines and increasingly striking graphics that prevented it ever becoming a cliche sim. The next in the series, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, is the first multi-platform release and throughout its development has promised a new approach to an evidently popular but tiring franchise. Dog fights are said to be more exciting, the pace is supposedly faster and helicopters have been included to the flying arsenal. A few weeks ago, a demo appeared on Xbox Live and PSN which proved to be very successful in terms of downloads. Over 1.2 million gamers have had a taste of the game and puts Assault Horizon in a good pre-release position.

But there is a snag. From what I’ve read from commenters online, although so many have downloaded the demo, I’m yet to read a more than a handful of positive comments for it. That’s not to say the neigh sayers won’t pick up the game (we all know how quickly the Internet can dismiss things) but I too found Assault Horizon to be a little lacking. As promised, the adrenaline was heightened and the pace has gone up a couple of notches however it still felt like the same kind of game we’ve had for the past 15 odd years. Maybe the demo wasn’t great at showing how the series has moved on but what I got out of it was a stronger desire to play this kind of game on my 3DS. It’s meant to be coming towards the end of the year and right now I’m holding out for that version as Ace Combat has become the kind of game I want to pick up and play rather then dedicate lengthy amounts of time in front on my TV. Is that a bad thing? Not really although is quite interesting how I’ve wanted the franchise to make a triumphant return to home consoles and Assault Horizon is the closet thing to that yet I’d rather play it on a handheld. I wonder how the rest of the 1.2 million downloaders thought.

Nothing is free, not unless you’re Nintendo

One thing Nintendo needs to focus on the most for this generation and beyond is rallying support from third party developers. They tried and arguably failed to do this right off the bat with the 3DS by withholding the best first party software to allow third party titles a bit of breathing space. A kind and possibly dangerous gesture that makes the recent news all the more odd. According to Nintendo World Report (via My Nintendo News) third party devs aren’t currently able to release free software through the 3DS’s eShop. And no freebies means no demo either or at least not unless you want to pay for them.

At this point in time, anything that appears on the eShop that isn’t by Nintendo must be at least 200 yen which is why Capcom’s demo for Nazo Waku Yakata recently went live on the Japanese store for said price. It was thought that Capcom were just trying to make a quick buck out of the consumer but evidently not.

It’s perplexing why Nintendo aren’t easily allowing demos on the store when they’ve become integral to a lot of smaller games’ success. What better exposure is there than the chance to play a small part of a game for free? It works well for most (i.e good) XBLA titles that must have a demo version and is a method that Nintendo really must accept instead of fighting against on their platforms. Restricting third party content isn’t going to win developers over especially on the 3DS.

The reason again most likely stems from Nintendo president Satoru Iwata’s fear of low budget and free-to-play games devaluing the software and even developers themselves which I tend to agree with. But demos don’t fit into either of these categories and should be viewed differently. Hopefully they will be too what with the eShop being so young and Nintendo showing they are willing to conform, albeit slowly, to current online video game practices.

The force unleashed on Star Wars Kinect

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Praise be! After pondering for many a minute whether what Microsoft showed for Star Wars Kinect was real or another concept demo (my polite way of saying fake), CVG captured real people really playing the game. For real.

The footage shows two people playing through the live demo from Microsoft’s press conference on Monday proving the competence of the game, even if it is a little laggy in places. But that’s to be expected from a game still in development that uses motion controls. The bigger question is not how well it will work as it’s bound to be tighter before it ships this Christmas but who the game is aimed at. It was pegged as one of the hardcore experiences for Kinect yet from the graphics and what we can understand from the gameplay, it’s quite a casual kind of game. That’s not bad and I even think someone referred to Star Wars Kinect as the peripheral’s Infinity Blade which may not be a bad thing either. Taking away the running around and leaving just lightsabre battling and force powers as if some kind of semi on-rails brawler sounds like a lot of fun to me.

Dragon Age II demo confirmed

The ‘will they, won’t they’ saga of BioWare releasing the rumoured Dragon Age II demo to consoles has come to an end with the developer announcing that it will indeed and in a matter of weeks too. February 22nd is the date for Xbox 360 and PS3 owners to circle in their diaries (if you keep a diary and not rely on scraps of paper as I do!), introducing us to Hawke, DA2‘s protagonist as well as three different classes. The demo gives us the chance to play through the game’s prologue where on completion, a brand new location, Kirkwall, becomes available. There, Isabela, a romantic interest and smuggler will be waiting. Once all the schmoozing is out the way and the demo wraps up, anyone who goes on to play the full game of Dragon Age II unlocks Hayder’s Razor, an dwarven blade with the ability to increase health, mana and combat abilities.

So what will the world make of Hawke and the new console-focused control scheme? The original Dragon Age didn’t have a pre-release demo, nor did a lot of BioWare properties, suggesting that maybe the team feel they have something to prove, that DA2 will be as good a game as the first if not better. A large number of media outlets have positive previews about the game and being a developer with such a brilliant track record, I don’t think there’ll be much to worry about.

Bulletstorm demo in Crysis on XBL

A couple of demos have showed up on Xbox Live, one of them expected, the other I had no idea about. So imagine the gleeful surprise when I checked Xbox.com a few minutes ago and found not only the Bulletstorm demo but an 360-exclusive Crysis 2 multiplayer beta. Expect to a bit of a wait and almost 3GB of space disappear off your HDD however but neither games run on engines that scrimp on graphics. But hey, I can live with that for gorgeous visuals. The write up for Crysis 2 states “The next big leap in multiplayer gives you nearly unlimited ways to approach the dynamic combat environment,” or in other words, “bye bye social life, hello frag-fest.”

For Bulletstorm, you’ll play through the Collapsed Building level in Echo mode, comparing your scores and skillshots to those on your friends list. In order to nab those all important rights to brag among friends, kill the enemy as creatively as you can. I’m up for that! Though it’ll sadly not be for a good few hours yet. The demo comes to the PlayStation 3 tomorrow.

Add the Bulletstorm demo to your download queue from here or the Crysis 2 beta here.

Duke Nukem isn’t forever after all

Write the date in your diaries but do it with a pencil; Duke Nukem Forever has been given a release date of May 3rd in North America and 6th in Europe (via Gamespot). Gearbox obviously believes this is an achievable timescale as they must be aware of how DNF has become somewhat of a joke amongst gamers. Not because of the content but for 13 years, vague and sometimes solid release dates for the game have come and gone so the developer wouldn’t want to add their date to that list. Duke Nukem Forever has to have a flawless release in order to silence the critics and the promised pre-release demo should help towards that – a demo that was playable at PAX last year receiving a decent amount of favourable previews.

There you go, Duke Nukem Forever has had one hell of a development cycle but the recent changing of hands from 3D Realms to Gearbox appears to have given the game the boost it needs for completion. Well, we hope anyway, like I say, I’ll be pencilling in May 6th rather than committing to ink.

Try before they die

Hey jerk face, get a load of my piece of meat… ahem… sorry, just getting ready for People Can Fly’s Bulletstorm which comes out at the end of next month but is to be teased to gamers in a week or so. EA has today announced a demo of the gritty, foul-mouthed shooter available via PSN and XBL on January 25th featuring unlockable upgrades for the full game. The demo offers a taste of the Echo mode that constantly compares your kill scores with those of players on your friends list making an already competitive action game all the more sporting. Lionhead’s Fable III had a similar system that tallied your in-game achievements with friends’ and fast became a crafty way at keeping me playing for longer than originally intended. In Bulletstorm, there’s the skillshot system with increasingly creative ways of killing enemies to discover so expect plenty of group discussions and forum posts about how to pull off that ultimate kill. Ah, nothing like the artful demise of a grotesque mutant to bring people together eh?