The Video Game Awards 2011

On Saturday night, all eyes were on Spike TV as it hosted it’s annual Video Game Awards. Less of an actual award show and more of a huge marketing stunt for multiple publishers, the 2011 VGAs was heavy on the random celebrity appearances and world exclusives but light on awarding achievement. Nevertheless, take the show for what it is – a good place to see new video game content – and this year’s VGAs did promise some exciting new stories. Prior to the show, companies were hyping their fans by claiming new IPs and titles were to be revealed, making us almost forget that Charlie Sheen was handing out an award (yeah, I don’t know either). And with only minutes to go, one of the big stories of the night, that being the future of Metal Gear Solid: Rising was spoilt online with news outlets managing to get early scoops thanks to the trailer leaking. It then became a matter of whether or not the newly born rumours were true.

But kicking things off were Sony and Naughty Dog whose world exclusive trailer for brand new IP, The Last of Us, sent people into a frenzy. The graphics, as you expect from such a praised developer, were stunning and later claimed to be running in real time from the PS3 for which this game is destined for. Joel and Ellie, one a middle-aged man and the other a teenage girl, are scavenging what they can from an abandoned house when they’re attacked by humans ravaged with some kind of disease. They look mutated and it’s unknown as to whether they’re zombies in the traditional sense but it sure looks like The Last of Us will fall in the zombie/survival horror genre. The end of video sees the two burst out into the street which over looks a city that has been reclaimed by nature. Think I Am Legend. But if you do, prepare to be flamed in forums because this game is proving quite divisive despite so little details. The optimists are quick to say how it’ll be the greatest thing ever with pessimists firing back with sighs of how it’s just another zombie game, ripping off Will Smith’s 2007 hit. And while I am one of those bored with zombie games who did notice similarities with I Am Legend, the important factor is that it’s being developed by Naughty Dog, a studio proven themselves to be more than capable at delivering a fantastic narrative experience. Despite a promotional campaign suggesting otherwise, Dead Island wound up being just another zombie game so it’s understandable for gamers to be concerned but Naughty Dog certainly are a studio who seriously could change the way we play these types of games.

Next up was BioWare who first showed off some more footage from Mass Effect 3 with Shepard and his crew fighting a reaper. It looked very much in-game and a great mix of action and short story sequences that is making the wait between now and March 2012 so much harder. Then came BioWare’s big new game, the next thing to come out of the studio after all this sci-fi shenanigans. And it was a sequel to an existing IP. Command and Conquer Generals 2 is the next instalment of PC real-time strategy warfare coming 2013 (unless the Mayans are right) and the trailer didn’t offer a great deal of info other than it’ll be using the Frostbite 2 engine which currently powers Battlefield 3. So at least we know it’ll look gorgeous. I’m sure RTS fans were delighted but I was a bit disappointed, not being a fan of the genre. I wasn’t expecting any particular title from BioWare but am a little surprised that they’re taking on an RTS. I presume EA are hoping the Canadian developers can sprinkle a bit of their magic onto a once forgotten off shoot of a franchise, bringing it back to profitable status. I do worry that EA are relying on BioWare a bit too much and wonder what other types of games will we be seeing in the years to come from a company whose strengths lie elsewhere. But who knows, the RTS genre could be a perfect fit for them.

The next game that caught my eye was Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, a downloadable action adventure game first mentioned back in May. Then it had no name but was definitely not Alan Wake 2 and from the looks of it, this isn’t. In AWAN, Wake is fighting against his evil double, Mr. Scratch, who is after his wife. Naturally, Wake isn’t too pleased at the idea so must stop him using the same combat mechanics as the first game where you shine light onto enemies to burn off the evil, then blow them away with a firearm. Mechanics that I really enjoyed and am really pleased are making a come back. It looks as if Remedy are taking things less seriously with this game and adding in easier to follow storyline too. The other thing about this game is how its an Arcade title instead of store release and so hopefully will be less of a financial risk for Microsoft who could of easily buried any chance of extending the franchise after the original game didn’t sell as well as it should have. Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is coming early next year.

Epic announced their new game and did prefix the reveal with how it’ll be something entirely new and different from the studio. And it sure did look it. With Epic and its Unreal Engine, a certain art-style is expected but Cliff Bleszinski took to the stage of the VGAs and showed Fortnite, a cartoonish, tower defence shooter where the key is to survive. From the video showing teenage-looking kids rooting around old buildings for scrap, there’ll be a day and night cycle with the day dedicate to strengthening and building your fortress and the night spent fighting off zombies (yep, zombies). Could be interesting but tower defence and/or fortress management never quite appealed to me as it has for many others. It’s good to see Epic expanding on the fortress mechanic from Gears of War 3 however and even better that the art-style is so dramatically different for them.

The show was full of other games with the awards bunched together in montages and respectable heads of studios being T-bagged on stage by a dude in an army costume but the game that closed the show is what I’ll end this piece with. No one was sure what had happened to Metal Gear Solid: Rising after its E3 2010 showing. Konami and Kojima hadn’t said a great deal about it with many suspecting it had been canceled. Which was true, according to Andriasang but that clearly didn’t last long because the game has now been given a different title of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Gone is the Solid and storyline set between MGS2 and 4 with Revengeance now taking place after the fourth game. Platinum Games are in charge of development and Hideo Kojima will produce so expect the absurdity of Kojima’s stories and frantic action from a team who gave us Bayonetta and Vanquish. Cosmetically, Revengeance looks more like a Platinum title and moves in much the same way. Stealth is to be replaced with balls to the wall action too making the game the kind of thing fans joked about after MGS4 was released. Back in 2008, we saw Raiden change from the dorky pretty-boy of Metal Gear Solid 2 to the ultimate badass that everyone wanted to play. And soon, I heard more and more people say how cool it would be play an action game featuring the cyborg ninja. Bizarrely, in order to get that, an MGS game had to be canceled and reborn as something else. Still, I cannot wait.

Frogger makes yet another come back.

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Frogger is undeniably a classic video game, relevant for its generation and fun the first few times around. But publishers seem to think that just because a game is dubbed a classic, it can be churned out again and again on everything that houses a microchip. Why, just the other day I was manoeuvring a reptile through a busy street via a microwave. So here we are again at the dawn of yet another Frogger game, Frogger 3D for the 3DS. Konami announced the game last night at their pre-E3 conference and Destructoid bagged themselves a trailer which I have to say, does look interesting. Traditional Frogger modes will be accompanied by new stages and puzzles to navigate plus new enemies and allies too. Still, I don’t think this by any means will spark a resurgence in Frogger popularity but may be a tad entertaining in the short run. Then again…

13 games ready for 3DS launch

The official launch line up for the 3DS has been revealed and misses the target of 25 titles by about 12 (via MCV). But the remaining 13 games aren’t anything to scoff over with a strong third party support from the start. EA are offering The Sims 3, Konami have what could become the early adopters game of choice in England; PES 2011 3D and Ubisoft is releasing two Tom Clancy titles, Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars and Splinter Cell 3D. The list has been rumoured for some time with a lot of retailers already allowing preorders with a launch date of March 25th but the absence of more first party Nintendo games hasn’t gone down too well with some fans. Nintendo themselves know that their games have always been the best on their systems and have deliberately refrained from releasing the likes of Zelda and Kid Icarus choosing to sell Pilotwings Resort and three versions of Nintendogs + Cats. Those two will surely get the approval of a more casual audience, especially Nintendogs + Cats, leaving the rest of us to lap up the third party games. Clever eh? If the titles prove popular it won’t only instil confidence to release and develop more of these kinds of experiences but hopefully help consumers to associate the 3DS with ‘real games’ as well as being another Nintendo player. Lets face it, there is at least two or three on the list that will satisfy most gamers and with the 3DS selling for around £200, anymore would grossly exceed the realms of affordability!

The next generation in portables

Big news! Sony have announced the PSP2 is in development! But then we already knew that since for months, information has leaked about its existence and features. Today, or last night in America, Sony held a press conference in Tokyo to officially reveal their successor to the ill-fated PSP and the rumours where right; Wifi and 3G connectivity, dual analog stick, OLED touchscreen, tilt controls, touch sensitive back, flash memory for games and two cameras – one on the front and the other on the back of a machine larger than its competition. For now, Sony are calling it the NGP or Next Generation Portable which fits amply with their marketing techniques of latter years. Remember when the PS3 was launching and they said the next generation doesn’t start until they say so? It’s a similar deal with the PSP2 whose specs are sounding like a considerable leap into the next generation. Sony are claiming it’s capable of producing PS3 quality games and before attendees at the conference could scoff at such claims, they showed it doing just that. Hideo Kojima proudly displayed Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots which used direct art assets from the PS3 game and looked almost as good. Backwards compatibility is included so original PSP and PS1 games are via download (probably have to buy them again then) and a whole host of Sony franchises will also be headed to the portable. Such as:

Uncharted
LittleBigPlanet
Resistance
Killzone
WipeOut
Hustle Kings
Hot Shot Golf

With third party support from the likes of Konami, Activision and Capcom including:

Metal Gear Solid 4
Lost Planet
Yakuza 4
Call Of Duty

The next generation in portables? Where have we heard that before? The Nintendo 3DS. So who will win, who’ll be the next king of portables? Nintendo, Sony? From the type of games shown by both parties it looks like they’re again going after different audiences with some overlap to keep things interesting. Nintendo still have the family gamer in their sights with more hardcore titles backing up those aimed at a wider market. With the Street Fighter IV and Resident Evil there remains Nintendogs + Cats and Pilotwings Resort. Deals with movie studios have so far been focused on family film though of course, other 3D-centric flicks will no doubt be coming.

From the list of games revealed by Sony, the PSP2 looks to be, like its predecessor, all about the traditional gamer with experiences potentially found on home consoles. That may not have worked too well for the original PSP but then the PSP2 has something gamers have been begging for; a second analog stick. With it, titles won’t only look like those on the PS3 but play like them too. I can’t see the touchscreen being used for a great deal of things when the way you hold the PSP2 seems designed for two hands either side of it but its inclusion means nothing gets left out of the second PSP and all options are open to developers.

What is a little troubling is the way games appear to be distributed. It sounds like they’ll be download only with Sony saying “NGP adopts a new game medium, a small flash memory based card, dedicated for NGP software titles. Taking advantage of the flash memory feature, this innovative card can store the full software titles plus add-on game content or the game save data directly on to the card.” The concern is what kind of marketplace this would create. Less deals and no preowned games is good news for publishers but not so much for the consumer. Who knows, we could be surprised yet and nothing has been confirmed on that side so no need to worry. Early reports are suggesting a battery life of around five hours max (as they are with the 3DS) but no price or date has been mentioned other than Winter in Japan. It’s great to see a handheld like this with such promise and one that looks to offer something different and complimentary to the others. Colour me interested!

UPDATE: More reports are coming in about the ‘new memory card’ feature of the NGP which suggests it’ll be more like the DS with cards sold in stores. The PlayStation Store will of course be present but hopefully won’t be the only way to obtain titles.

I’m you, I’m your (HD) shadow

Call it rumours, speculation or Chinese whispers but according to the Official PlayStation Magazine, a HD remake of the PS1 and 2 Metal Gear Solid games are on the way. Insiders are alleged to have discovered the news and that the superb trilogy is “in the facelift queue.” But that’s all the information given at this time, no mention of how it would be distributed or price though a remake isn’t out of the realms of possibility. An ‘essential collection’ is already available in the US featuring all three latter-gen versions with MGS 2 and 3 being the director’s cut. Buffing these all up to HD quality would cost Konami time and money but doubtfully less than what it bring in. The early Snake trilogy has always been a highly coveted franchise and one that is on the growing list of ‘must play video games’. Recently I went back to MGS 2 and even with the upscaling of the PS3 it still looked fantastic so a full HD version would be something I’d definitely pick up. Am I part of the problem? Maybe. Do I care? Nope!

The best games of 2010: Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

Konami’s survival horror franchise had begun to lose its way after numerous releases until very late last year in the US when the Wii received its first truly mature game. The maturity didn’t stem from violence and gore though but instead relied on completely screwing with the players mind, dropping the player into an increasingly disturbing environment. And because the game came out this year in the UK, it felt wrong to leave it out of my top games of 2010. At the very beginning, before anything is played or seen, a message is displayed warning of how you aren’t actually playing the game but rather the game is playing with you. Then a video is played with copious amounts of filtering showing a father enjoying a novelty photo stand with his daughter. She tells him she loves him. The whole thing feels really quite uncomfortable and that the viewer is deeply hurting, setting up the game perfectly. You play as Harry Mason desperately looking for his daughter after a car crash. Inter-spliced between these segments are scenes of Harry meeting with his psychiatrist. This balancing act between panicking for the loss of a child and being calmed by a creepy authoritative figure pulls the story along wonderfully and keeps interest at an all time high. Motion control and the use of the Wii remote’s speaker is exactly how it should be; considered and relevant for the situation it portrays. For example, Harry may get a call on his mobile phone so lifting the speaker to your ear seems only natural and his torch used for investigating areas with its fantastic lighting physics works eerily well. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories may not be the longest of games but then that does mean you’ll get to whiteness its awesome ending even sooner. A great start to my top games of the year – even if its inclusion is based on a technicality!

No More Heroes Paradise to be PS3 exclusive

Konami have announced that No More Heroes Paradise is to be a PS3 exclusive when it’s released in the US and Europe in 2011. Travis Touchdown’s leap in to HD has already been out in Japan on both Xbox 360 and PS3 since February this year but the West will only see the it on a Sony platform.

On top of new high definition graphics, No More Heroes Paradise will feature Move support, new levels, added bosses, a reboot mode letting you take on bosses again for kicks and a viewer mode that plays your choice of cut scene in HD.

But here’s where it get a bit confusing. If the Western No More Heroes Paradise is a translated version of the Japanese PS3 game, then it’ll be censored as only the Xbox 360 iteration had the infamous lashings of blood in Japan. And the Xbox exclusive ‘Very Sweet’ mode where all female characters trade their clothes for more skimpy attire will also be missing.

Hopefully the full uncensored version will appear on our shores when No More Heroes Paradise is out, some point in 2011.