L.A. Noire skips a beat

Remember the chortling at Nintendo for adding a feature in its games where you can skip hard segments? It appeared in New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Donkey Kong Country Returns so that younger and more casual players could potentially get through the entire game without feeling like inferior gamers. Though a lot of people saw it that way and in some cases, your ‘hardcore’ status was brought into question if ever you resorted to this digital aid. But what if Rockstar Games were to include such a feature and if one of their most ambitious titles was the first to try it out? Does it still remain a joke?

At the Tribeca Film Festival, attendees were shown a screening of L.A. Noire – the first time said festival has allowed a game to take part – and it was during the Q&A session that art director, Rob Nelson, revealed an in-game option that allows players who failed a certain segment a few times to skip it altogether. “You can skip those action elements and still experience the bulk of the narrative,” he said. Since Rockstar are going after a considerably wider audience for L.A. Noire, it actually makes a lot of sense to let those who wish only to absorb the story to do just that. Depending on whether they actually own a console of course.

What’s strange is how for traditional gamers, it’s usually the other way around and the cut-scenes are the parts that get skipped with action being the main reason why a game is played. But as the industry strives towards being something more than a quick entertainment fix, story is becoming increasingly important to the point where it’s now taking precedence over balls-out action sequences. The majority of L.A. Noire is devoid of action per se and instead has players seek out clues, interrogate suspects and slowly unravel a case to completion. MTV Multiplayer blog who reported the news said that in the demo shown which lasted about an hour, only about five minutes could be considered action-packed with the rest massaging the often neglected grey matter. Despite having a similar look to GTAIV in terms of engine, the gameplay itself is more akin to Heavy Rain they said.

It’s a bold move. Not the inclusion of a skip button, games have had something similar even before the aforementioned New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Devil May Cry 3 had a somewhat patronising but comparable pop up message on failure, suggesting troubled gamers try the easier setting. Rockstar are taking a risk by such a massive departure from their previous titles and fans wanting a cop-based GTA game may be angrily disappointed. But if they succeed and lure a different kind of gamer altogether while delivering an all encompassing experience for everyone clambering for more out of their games, L.A. Noire could be more important to the industry than anything that has come before it. Can games finally be regarded with the same respect as some movies rather than being mocked for cheesy story lines and emotionless characters? Maybe…

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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.

Tesco adds pre-owned games to national stores

The huge pre-owned market for video games has just got a bit bigger with Tesco eventually offering a trade-in service in all their stores (only 60 have it so far). The initiative was tested at the end of last year and proved successful as it did for Argos and Asda who have also begun buying and selling used games. Adverts have been placed in national newspapers showing the trade-in value for popular games like Red Dead Redemption and New Super Mario Bros Wii which Tesco say can be spent on anything in store, not just other games – used or new.

It’s a great addition to the pre-owned scene previously owned by GAME and Gamestation but another annoyance for developers and publishers who are doing all they can to make us buy their games new.

{Thanks MCV}

Silent Hill reaches its climax

We in Europe are still awaiting the arrival of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for the Wii but it’s doing wonders stateside. One such accolade was winning Giant Bomb‘s Best Wii Game of 2009, beating the likes of New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Wii Sports Resort. Naturally UK based developers Climax who worked on the game are chuffed at all the attention and are even considering a sequel. Game director Mark Simmons and lead designer Sam Barlow wagged chins with the Official Nintendo Magazine about the hows and whys of Shattered Memories revealing some tasty nuggets of interest. Part of the reason Climax decided to remake the first Silent Hill instead of pumping out another sequel was down to a feeling of stagnation with the franchise leading to a boredom of “clunky combat, the lumbering zombies.” To reinvent the idea of combat, Climax removed all weapons from the game but didn’t consider their actions being particularly revolutionary;

“There was never a point where we thought ‘We’re doing something really ambitious here by removing the combat.’ We just looked at it and thought ‘This doesn’t make sense in this story.'”

A modest statement for such a bold move. Survival horrors are generally full of weaponry but limited ammo whereas Shattered Memories gives players only the option to escape rather than stay and fight. Critics have praises this aspect of the game as it adds a realistic feeling of tension and fear which is what survival horror games should be all about – or at least they were.

ONM quizzed the pair on their thoughts over Sega and Capcom’s complaining about the poor sales of mature rated games on the Wii. Barlow pointed out how a lot of the titles in question are on-rail shooters which is very niche regardless of the maturity of content and believes Shattered Memories will appeal to those who “really enjoy a good horror story.”

For the full story, head over to the Official Nintendo Magazine site.

TIME’s top 10 video games of 09

TIME magazine have put together their top 10 lists for the year with video games being no exception. There are a few oddities and some serious questionable placements too that will no doubt cause many an arguments to come. Taking the number 1 spot is unsurprisingly Modern Warfare 2 which I can only agree with. It was a fantastic experience that will linger on for many months thanks to all the multiplayer options available. Next up comes Batman: Arkham Asylum. I am yet to see all the brilliance I keep getting told BAA features but don’t deny that it is a good game. I just don’t believe it’s a great game. I think it is a definite top 10 but maybe not so high. More confusion for me comes with DJ Hero. Just why is it at number 3? Why indeed is it in the chart altogether? TIME believe that it offers something new to the genre of rhythm games but neglected to mention its disturbingly poor sales. Each to their own I guess. Borderlands follows at number 4 which I personally would have placed at number 2 due to it’s continuing offerings of fun. New Super Mario Bros. Wii sits right in the middle at 5 which seems a bit harsh to me as it’s not only selling like crazy but a Mario platfomer in its purest form. I’m glad Halo 3: ODST gets a mention because I feel that game has been given some unnecessary criticism but was surprised to see both Assassin’s Creed 2 and Uncharted 2 only place at numbers 9 and 10 respectfully. I suppose not all games can chart at the top but I would have expected them to do so. Read on to see the full chart and have a little think as to what would your top 10 look like…

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Final Fantasy XIII is almost ‘perfect’

Shock horror! Famitsu has only given Final Fantasy XIII a 39/40 score. I say only because FFXIII is a title expected to nestle up with the likes of Bayonetta and New Super Mario Bros. Wii who both received full marks recently. Scans of the leaked review were posted by fan site finalfantasy-xiii.net (via VG247) along with an English translation of the four reviewers comments. Most complimented the “beautiful graphics” and an “extreme sense of satisfaction” but one had a tiny issue with a cluttered screen and reluctance to call FFXIII a “RPG-like RPG”. But c’mon, 39/40 is a fantastic score possibly suggesting it doesn’t ultimately innovate the world of role playing games but is still an almost flawless experience.

Mario almost makes a million

Nintendo must be thrilled and that little bit richer what with the sales of New Super Mario Bros. Wii. According to Enterbrain (via Kotaku) Mario’s latest platform escapades sold 936,734 copies in Japan between December 3rd and 6th, trumping Super Smash Bros. Brawl‘s 816,000 first week sales. It does further the issue Nintendo has with its first party games being the biggest reason why people buy their consoles. If they’re able to sprinkle some of that magic dust into third party titles then Satoru Iwata would have less reason to worry. Considering New Super Mario Bros. Wii is being touted as a true successor to Super Mario World on the SNES, such a sales figure was to be expected and actually makes Reggie Fils-Aime’s claims of outselling Modern Warfare 2 a bit more believable.