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.


Xbox truly here to stay

If you’d like to be part of the next Microsoft product, then you’re in luck because the company are looking for testers for an Xbox 360 system update (via 1up). But this isn’t an ordinary update which tinkers around with the dashboard or adds avatars, the thousands of people picked will be helping Microsoft “prepare for an updated Xbox 360 disc format.” Initial thoughts skip to the now defunct HD-DVD discs but the likelihood of that is slim considering Toshiba, the main manufacturer, dropped the format swiftly back in 2008 plus it would mean all Xbox 360 owners would need a player, which they don’t have and part of the reason HD DVDs died out.

Nothing more was said other than those who partake in the testing will receive a copy of Halo: Reach, presumably in this new disc format and possibly more rewards in the future. While it’s all a little bit cryptic, it does suggest the Xbox 360 isn’t going anywhere soon with Microsoft instead choosing to upgrade the existing hardware. It’s sensible really, over 10 million people have bought Kinect with a good number of Xbox 360 bundles as part of that figure so releasing the next piece of hardware anytime soon would sour this new audience.

Other than having to be a resident of the US with an Xbox Live Gold account, testing is open to anyone by simply clicking here.

My brand is better than your brand

EA boss John Riccitiello has always been an outspoken chap with his views covering all manner of video game subjects. Today is the turn of the HD console war with Riccitiello claiming the PlayStation brand is still vastly superior to the Xbox. Them fighting words right?! Well, no. Despite Microsoft leaping head first into this generation of consoles and producing a system that has somewhat stolen the thunder from Sony, in terms of brand awareness and popularity outside of the US, PlayStation wins. Sony has managed to keep a healthy flow of brand loyalty from players upgrading from their PS2s. And the iconography that goes with PlayStation, namely its controller’s face buttons, goes beyond the gaming public.

Speaking with Industry Gamers, Riccitiello was asked whether Microsoft has blown its impressive lead or has Sony just been too strong. His response was: “I don’t think it’s either of those things. Honestly, I think that Microsoft has done great work the last couple of years, and they’ve made a lot of smart moves: hitting pricing when they needed to, the right combination of hitting price points and disk drive sizes that allow them to hit price points that matter, and they’ve done a great job with Xbox Live. At the same time, the Xbox brand, the Microsoft brand, doesn’t carry anywhere near as much sway as the Sony and PlayStation brand do outside the United States, and so I think the reality is the international marketplace is just so important and it’s a natural advantage that no matter how good Microsoft is at growing their business, Sony has an almost-impossible-to-supersede head start.” He adds that Sony’s marketing message has greatly improved – not a hard task after the terrible ‘this is living’ campaign – and that Home is helping their online presence though Xbox Live still beats them on features and support.

Quick to not burn any bridges with Microsoft who have still sold more consoles worldwide than Sony, Riccitiello said he wasn’t taking sides and that both have done “a pretty good job,” adding: “The big disadvantage Sony carries is they have an expensive platform because of Blu-ray, so they have a harder time hitting price points. Microsoft has taken advantage of that and their online service, which really is the gold standard. Sony has [leveraged] their limited amount of unique content really well. They’ve done a nice job promoting the Blu-ray, their advertising and marketing campaigns have been stronger, and they’ve done a nice job of supporting some EA content to their own advantage.”

Out of the two, especially this year in terms of XBLA titles, I prefer the Xbox 360 and all that comes with the name but can’t argue with the strength of the PS brand. However I do think that that brand has taken a few knocks over the years allowing MS to close the gap. Most cross-platform games still use the Xbox 360 as their lead SKU meaning ports to the PS3 don’t often make full use of the hardware resulting in a weaker performance. On top of that, Sony seem reluctant to secure exclusive downloadable content so gamers can arguably get a fuller experience quicker on the Xbox 360. And while Microsoft has fought with the RROD persona, the PS3 has been nicknamed the PlayStation Update due to the constant patches and bizarre process of downloading content then waiting to have it installed. Without chickening out and taking the diplomatic route, I own consoles to play games and everything else is secondary to that. As long as those games are of a quality and deliver an experience worthy of my money, I couldn’t care less which system I play it on.

Get your ninja skills on with new Dead Rising 2 DLC trailer

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Before zombies were the characters du jour in video games, ninjas reigned supreme. Capcom feel it only right to combine the two in the third DLC for splatter-fest, Dead Rising 2. The Ninja Skills pack is out now on Xbox Live and PSN for 160 MS Points and £1.59 respectively, allowing Chuck to take on the persona of a silent assassin. So much so that he’ll be able to creep up on zombies and become difficult to grab with increased damage dealt by swords. Items such as plates can be thrown faster and harder too so everything you’d expect from a ninja then. Well, ones with an aversion to tableware anyway.

Sonic 4 out in two weeks

A rather excited Microsoft PR rep has blurted the release Sonic 4, much to the delight of all those following his Twitter feed. Dominic Carey tweeted (via Eurogamer): “ZOMG! Sonic 4: Episode 1 dates for October 13th on Xbox LIVE. Bring it on Robotnik (*sigh* Eggman)”. I guess a ZOMG is warranted. Sega’s return to the roots of the franchise is proving to be fairly divicive amongst gamers. There are those who believe it can’t possibly live up to the originals – mainly because we view them now with rose tinted glasses – and others who think this is exactly what the franchise needs. Even though the announcement was made by a Microsoft rep, Sega have confirmed that the PS3 will also be getting the retro-inspired platformer on October 13th but no mention of the WiiWare or iPhone version. The price initially seems a bit steep too; 1200 MS Points (£10.20) or £9.99 on PSN. If Sega are hoping to win over those cynics and really please the fans, a price closer to the compulsive-buy territory of £7 would have helped. But instead of jumping to conclusions, lets all sit patiently for the return of the hedgehog.

Reach for the stars

Not even a day old and Halo: Reach was already breaking records. Bungie proudly announced on twitter last night (via Video Gamer) that Reach already surpassed the all-time highest record for Halo 3 concurrent unique users on LIVE. Woot!” Woot indeed and with good reason. I’ve only played a small amount of Reach and so far it’s proving to be the Halo game that we’ve always wanted, perfecting the gargantuan franchise. Please Bungie, don’t go!…

Halo: Reach leaked onto Torrent sites

Bungie’s highly anticipated Halo: Reach has found itself in the hands of some cheeky modders who were able to hack their way into a secure part of Xbox Live Marketplace and download the game. Microsoft uploaded the full game for the benefit of reviewers before the September 14th release date but these crafty so and sos found a way in: “So after alot of .xex cracking etc.. Me and my team finally did it, we got Halo: Reach! This is not released for public, and we are not really planning on releasing either.

Microsoft told IGN, who reported the leak, that they are “aggressively” looking into such claims and have no further comment. Despite the ‘kindness’ of the modding team’s spokesperson to not release the game, clearly one of the hackers disagreed. After a quick google search, Halo: Reach can be found on various BitTorren sites, making the situation far worse than Microsoft could have originally imagined. Of course, anyone caught playing the game early will be severely banned from Xbox Live but the story could still be ruined for fans awaiting to see the downfall of Reach. Bungie forum moderators issued a warning saying “The moderation team is doing their best, but if you want to stay 100% spoiler free, our best advice is to ‘go dark’ by staying off all internet gaming forums until you have played through the game!”