Epoch-olypse

I have often expressed my disinterest in Smartphone and tablet games that try and replicate traditional buttons virtually. Very few have worked and even less have had any kind of lasting appeal for me. Simple finger swipes and taps are what work best and with the App Store crammed with awkward on-screen controllers, it’s always nice when a game comes along that promises something different. Uppercut Games are doing just that with their upcoming shooter, Epoch, which will be available from November 10th.

Epoch has been developed on the ever popular Unreal Engine and if one mechanic is synonymous with that engine it’s a cover system and Epoch is all about taking cover and taking out enemies when it’s tactical to do so. The post-apocalyptic setting may not be the most original and the Gears style combat is often mimicked but from what I’ve seen of Epoch, the fun comes from the aerobatic manoeuvres of the robot you control as it works its way through various arenas battling the hordes of approaching enemies (check out the pre-launch trailer here). I do like a good horde mode in any game so one that is boasting the ability to do this on the go with simple and intuitive controls has got me interested. The story? the press release states Epoch definitely has one but “Uncovering the mystery is part of the fun, so the best way to find out more is to play the game.” Uppercut Games aren’t discussing whether Epoch is to have in-app purchases or multiplayer but the fact they’re not giving an outright ‘no’ would suggest that both will be coming at some point.

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Gears isn’t as good as you remember (apparently…)

What was your first real HD gaming moment? Mine was less triumphant than I would have liked considering for a good year or so I only had a standard SD TV for my Xbox 360. And in that time I played the hell out of Gears of War which looked pretty fantastic in a lower resolution. But for a HD game, Gears, or rather the Unreal Engine certainly raised the bar for console graphics. So much so, executive producer Rod Fergusson told Eurogamer how he felt the start of Microsoft’s stop-and-pop franchise defined high definition gaming: “We were far ahead of a lot of games when Gears 1 came out. Everybody’s been catching up, and a lot of people are fighting for ownership of that title. But we continue to push the box and what HD means. At the time it defined what HD was. It defined what your HD TV could do. People remember that.”

A mate of mine actually bought a HD TV just so he could experience Gears of War in all its glossy glory and we did spend a good amount of time zooming in on textures and dead enemies marvelling at the detail – after it had popped in of course. Even after the beauty and additional colours of Gears of War 2, I still regard the first as being something special. But Fergusson and the Epic team have these rose-tinted memories to contend with for all future titles. They not only have to visually improve the looks on paper but in our minds too: “Your memory is far better than reality,” said Fergusson. “When I was a kid, Gilligan’s Island was the funniest show on television. When you watch Gilligan’s Island now, it’s just plain terrible. With Gears 2 we were competing with the memory of Gears 1 and what people remembered it was like. We got to the point where, at the review event in San Francisco, I suggested we put up a single station of Gears 1 so the press could play it and realise it wasn’t as good as they remember. They were saying, ‘Oh, it kinda looks like Gears 1.'”

I can see where the reviewers were coming from, the style does indeed look similar but there is also a very noticeable upgrade too. The textures for one have greater depth to them and remember the meat cube tech demo? That showed how improved the graphics engine was in Gears 2 by rolling a cube of wobbling flesh towards a COG team member.

That being said, I wonder how well the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta will go down with gamers today as it launches for those who bought Bulletstorm Epic Edition. Will it be met with the same kind of unrealistic expectations as Fergusson explained? Or will people be having too good a time slicing up each other on the battlefield? I hope it’s the latter and can’t wait to have a go myself!

Microsoft kinect with developers

When Microsoft launched their Kinect, they optimistically set a sales figure at the five million mark, hoping to make a dent in the competitors’ market. Come January the platform holder announced the peripheral had sold in excess of eight million units within its first 60 days showing that regardless of price, the consumers were willing to adopt a new playing style. Some of the sales can and should be accredited to the legion of modders who have made all kinds of weird and wonderful experiments with Kinect but as I found over the weekend after buying one myself, the more casual audience love it.

Because of the Kinect’s proven popularity, Microsoft told CVG that developer interest has spiked with them now believing it can be a profitable venutre: “Interest has absolutely spiked [since Christmas]. We were excited about Kinect going into the holidays when we released it but I think we even exceeded our own expectations. It’s great to see developers coming back and saying ‘wow, this is a serious platform’ – the numbers speak for themselves. We’re selling consoles faster than we ever have. We’re selling Kinect in massive numbers… So it creates an opportunity for [developers].”

The absence of developer names is a little concerning but not unexpected. They’ll announce projects when the time is right for them to do so. But it would have been reassuring if a few first party titles were named, however. All sorts of rumours are swirling around the net about a Gears of War Kinect game with Kotaku allegedly bagging themselves photographic evidence and that was enough to get people talking. Some more hints to that effect would suffice.

There are a couple of things on the horizon for Kinect which have piqued gamers’ interest in varying ways. Double Fine recently revealed their Once Upon a Monster, a game aimed at kids in the world of Sesame Street. A company like Double Fine is sure to add a few hooks for the older player though or at least I’m hoping they are to give me an excuse to try it out! Twisted Pixel will releasing Gunstringer sometime this year and from early footage, it’s being dubbed as the first hardcore game for the peripheral. Its success will be eagerly monitored as to whether traditionally controller-based experiences can be achieved just by waving your hands. I think they just may be able to crack it you know…

Best of the best

Despite Super Mario Galaxy 2 being beaten in 2010 sales by New Super Mario Bros. Wii, the chubby plumber’s second trip into outer space has earned him five BAFTA nominations including Best Game and Best Gameplay. And if that wasn’t enough to celebrate a handyman who hasn’t actually done his job in 25 years, Mario has been voted the number one video game character of all time by readers of the Guinness World Records (via Official Nintendo Magazine). But the competition was tough featuring the likes of Link, Solid Snake and even Pac-Man.

The debate for the greatest character is always a tricky one due to a number of variables like age, gaming experience and genre preferences. In the past, the hirsute Italian lost out to Gordon Freeman in Gamespot’s search for the best character but in the Guinness World Record list, he came in a number 8. Though one could argue that Mr Freeman isn’t a character per se but a shell for gamers to climb into, seeing the world through his eyes with any form of personality driven by the players themselves. Mario is only marginally more fleshed out but is certainly more adaptable to situations and genres.

How about Link? Should he have been first? At number 2 Link shares Gordon Freeman’s attributes of being a silent protagonist and part of a greatly influential series. The pioneering mechanic of locking onto an enemy in Ocarina of Time has aided a vast number of games and gamers alike. But Mario staring appearance in Super Mario Bros. was one of the factors that saved the video game industry in the 80s when all seemed doomed.

Another name that often springs to mind is Lara Croft. If the questionnaire was asked in the mid nineties, maybe I’d agree with Ms Croft as a suitable opponent. But after too many attempts at reinvention that never quite managed to be what we all hoped they would plus how, as a character, she’s quite shallow, I think her place at number 7 is appropriate.

The list of 50 names also includes some newer personalities like Marcus Phoenix from Gears of War. As much as I love that franchise, Phoenix is more of a poster boy for testosterone than what can be considered number one material. He should definitely be on the list but probably as much as Soap MacTavish of CoD4 fame who was number 12 and equally not a top spot contender. Master Chief is slightly older and came third which to me is a little generous but understandable. Halo is huge and the honoured Spartan is one of the reasons why it grew so rapidly. However, Bungie deliberately kept Master Chief vague and mysterious, again allowing the player to feel more immersed in the role like Gordon Freeman.

My fanaticism with games began with Mario and his games be it platformer, racer, puzzler or party and looks to only continue into the future too. The fondness I have for Solid Snake and the impact his journey has had on my time as a gamer makes me want to argue a case for him being closer to or even number one but for what Mario has given the industry, I think being called the greatest video game character is a fitting accolade. Check out the full list over at the Official Nintendo Magazine site.

Test your might in April with Mortal Kombat

Warner Bros. has announced today (via Joystiq) that the rebooted Mortal Kombat game will be spearing fools and freezing foes in April 2011 and comes in three different forms. Aside from the bonus playable Kratos in every PS3 version of the game, the standard edition is pretty self explanatory but the collector’s, sorry, Kollector’s Edition is where it starts to get interesting. A Sub-Zero and Scorpion figurine to play with and pretend they’re only on your shelf because they look cool, art book and DLC featuring ‘klassic’ costumes and skins for in-game fighters and ones for your avatar too. The limited Tournament Edition will comes with all that plus a portable fight stick, whatever that is. As is the norm with most games, retailer-specific pre-order goodies are another incentive for you to part with your cash early and while any information regarding UK-based stores is yet to be announced, GameStop in the US gets a classic Scorpion skin and his original fatality, Best Buy snags Sub-Zero and his death move and Amazon customers have the pleasure of Reptile’s traditional garb and fatality. It’s not clear whether these are the same as in the Kollector’s Edition or not though I do hope so. Retro clothing and finishers may not add anything to the gameplay but since the whole idea of this reboot is to feed gamers’ hunger for a nostalgic Mortal Kombat experience, so their inclusion is part of the fun. I’m sure they’d come out eventually via DLC though and I perhaps I’m just being greedy.

On a more important note, who, if at all, will be the Xbox 360 exclusive character? Sony and the PS3 has the epitome of teenage angst, God of War‘s Kratos so a retaliatory inclusion of a Microsoft specific character is surely on the cards. But who? Master Chief is the obvious but also awkward choice. Purely because he isn’t a fighter in the traditional sense but favours guns and grenades over fists and feet. How about Marcus Phoenix from Gears of War? Again, more of a gun-toting kinda guy but a better fit with the atypical characters of Mortal Kombat. And his chest-slapping persona would work quite well after a curb-stomping fatality. The other option is to have a third-party character who may not be 360 specific but becomes the platforms representative for one game. Like Spawn in Soul Caliber II on the original Xbox. That or have Alan Wake appear as a result of his dream-world become reality in another realm. I’d quite like to see him use a torch against Scorpion.

iDevices feel the RAGE!

The future is now with the release of Rage: Mutant Bash TV for iOS devices. The handheld variant of id Software’s dirty shooter has found its way onto the App Store today and is only 59p/$.099 or £1.19/$1.99 is you opt for the higher resolution iPhone 4 and iPad versions.

Built specifically for all manner of things with ‘i’ at the start if their names, Rage: Mutant Bash TV is an on-rails shooter based in the post-apocalyptic universe of next year’s console. That makes Apple gamers the first to experience the world of Rage, something of a first for western mobile gaming. Usually iDevices get a watered down port of a game that already had its moment on consoles but things maybe slowly starting to change. When the beautiful Infinity Blade was renamed from Project Sword, Epic Games hypothesised that within only a few years time, we could see something like Gears of War appearing on iOS systems and lets not forget (though it may be better if we did) the Mass Effect game which linked into the story of ME2 that was exclusive to the iPhone last year.

But the issue that is always brought up and difficult to truly argue with is the lack of responsive buttons or control scheme that plagues many great console-centric iDevice games. It would only take one developer to really crack that problem and for the rest to follow for the critics to be finally silenced.

And until we get there, an on-rails solution seems a great fit for a vision like Rage to start its life on a handheld over its console and PC brethren.

Project Sword becomes Infinity Blade and maybe Gears of War iPhone?

Epic’s drool-inducing Project Sword announced at the start of September has been officially renamed Infinity Blade with a release date still lingering around the end of the year. The publisher has ChAIR Entertainment busily coding away at the game whose early demo wowed audiences at an Apple press conference because of its gorgeous visuals. The tech behind it all became Epic Citadel, released onto the App Store for the very reason to show off how beautiful and effortlessly, the Unreal Engine runs on iDevices.

All that’s known so far about the story of Infinity Blade is that you’re a sword-wielding, armoured hero who must defeat a God-King. As the name suggests, melee weapons are the focus that are supposedly controlled by simple swipes on the touchscreen. A role-play aspect will be included but how exactly is yet to be revealed. Players will be awarded with experience points to upgrade their knight but how superficial these upgrades will be is unknown.

Early screenshots (found after the break) show the type of enemies encountered and again underline just how impressive the tech is. Donald Mustard of ChAIR told Eurogamer: “We’ve just been blown away by the amount of graphical power that we can be pushing through these tiny little devices that are in all our pockets. That’s one of the reasons why Epic are so interested in getting their engine onto these devices. Projecting out three or four years into the future, if the current trends stay true, these devices are going to be just as powerful as the Xbox 360.” Mustard also claimed that within two to five years, he believes that games like Gears of War could be possible on the iPhone. A little ambitious maybe but exciting nonetheless. The iPad is probably a better fit for such a game because of its larger, eye-friendly screen but the idea that a pocket device could be as powerful as a home console is certainly interesting.

Statements like Mustard’s make me think that the future of gaming is less likely about a singular console and more about powerful portable systems leading the way. The success of the 3DS or rather its 3D capabilities will be a good indication as to whether such a feature will be another standard of handheld gaming.

{Thanks Pocketgamer}

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