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E3 2011

Wii U Controller
Image by ze_bear via Flickr

I think this year’s E3 has been a strong one from all three companies. Certainly a lot better than in past years, especially Nintendo who have not always brought their best in the last several years. This is a quick overview of how I think each of the three big companies conferences went.

Microsoft

Microsoft seemed to be a bit ordinary and predictable in their approach this year, and it does make me wonder who’s running things over there when you see casual games taking the centre stage at a show where hardly anyone is interested in the majority of those titles. Yes, Dance Central 2 should be a great dance game just like the first one was, but I just think they could have mentioned the game with a quick trailer and then moved on to the next game. It just didn’t seem necessary to demo it to the audience they have in attendance.

In terms of the rest of the show, no real surprises. I suppose 2 Halo games are better than one for fans of the series, but anyone could have predicted Halo 4 and that Microsoft would want to jump on Sony‘s HD remake bandwagon for some quick cash.

Sony

I don’t think Sony had the strongest of shows but it was certainly similar to last year’s in being very consistent and safe in a way while still exciting fans with great gameplay demos of titles like Uncharted 3.

The Vita name for the NGP is starting to grow on me slowly. If I had written this on the day the name was confirmed, then I would have not been in such a great mood about it, but now I can see how it may work. In terms of Vita games, I think they’re doing well for a launch lineup, with Uncharted leading the charge with many other strong titles such as LBP, Killzone, Call of Duty and more all in the pipeline as well as the traditional Sony launch games like WipEout and Everybody’s Golf. I’m pretty confident that they’ll be something for practically everyone when the system ships, unlike the 3DS on launch.

Nintendo

We knew pretty much everything about the Wii U before it was announced. Practically nothing was a surprise except the name. Which I suppose looking at it now isn’t really surprising. It makes sense for Nintendo to keep such a successful brand name going rather than risking a whole new identity for their new system.

The most exciting aspects for me to come out of the conference were the slew of game announcements. Not counting all of the games we already knew about, Super Mario 3D and Luigi’s Mansion 2 were the big stand-outs on 3DS. There wasn’t really anything on Wii that we didn’t already know about but the Kirby game looks to be the pick of the bunch alongside Zelda Skyward Sword.

Mario Kart 3D got a new trailer and now we know what the gimmick will be in this latest version, flying and underwater aspects. I quite like the idea of turning into a big glider and actually being able to control your flight rather than following an automatic path when you fly off a big jump, so I’m looking forward to this. I’ll be a little disappointed if they don’t feature bikes as they were so much fun in Mario Kart Wii but it’s not something that will ruin the game if it’s not included, likewise stunts.

Star Fox disappointed me a bit because I first thought this was a new version rather than the previously announced remake, but it seems like they just re-announced the same old game which isn’t ideal really.

A quick note on the Wii U controller. I hope they change a couple of aspects of the buttons. An analogue trigger is a must for realistic driving games and currently they’re not showing this so I hope they add those. I also was disappointed to see that they use the same design of analogue circle pads from the 3DS on the Wii U which to me doesn’t make much sense. The whole reason you would use those on the 3DS is because a traditional stick wouldn’t fit with the clamshell design of the system. Here, you’re not bound by height restrictions and as the controller is already so big, I would have expected full size analogue sticks just like the Nunchuk and Classic Controller. Not having those I believe will negatively affect precision control.

Conclusion

Overall, I think you would have to say that Nintendo had the best conference. A new system is practically guaranteed to overshadow anything else that’s shown, and it proved to be the case here.

The Vita price point of $250 was a bit of a relief but it’s still going to be expensive here. Then again, even if it comes out at the ridiculous £225 price tag the 3DS launched at, then I’ll be a lot more accepting of paying that much for this device over Nintendo’s one.

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Miscellaneous

WRC 2010 Game Review

The first thing to say about this game, is that it is a very long way from perfect. When I first played the demo for the game, I was astounded by how terrible the graphics, voice acting and engine sounds among other things were. In my first play through one of the stages in the demo I couldn’t believe I was witnessing a game that was so far short of the likes of Dirt 2, Gran Turismo 5 and F1 2010 in so many key areas.

After playing the demo a couple of times on the two available stages, I was about ready to write a blog post blasting the game completely. I didn’t, and I came back to it a week or so later after my passion for rallying had been firmly reignited. The second time through the handling of the cars really started to click with me and I started enjoying myself. I looked online to see if I could find the game for as much less than the usual £40 as possible, as I didn’t feel the game was worth even half that. Luckily, and perhaps not surprisingly, I found Amazon were selling it for £15 and I decided it was worth the gamble on for that price.

It was one of my best game purchasing decisions. Despite all of it’s problems, WRC 2010 is an incredibly fun game to play and is equally rewarding if you put the time in to really perfect the handling of the cars. I should mention that only huge rally fans with a big interest in WRC need apply as there are so many other better options out there. Dirt 3 is right around the corner and will be far and away the better game in all areas where this game fails. Gran Turismo 5 also has a rally aspect in it, but the handling in that game is far less fun and takes a long time to get into. This is much more approachable and has a greater sense of speed.

Going back to this game though, there is a wide variety of modes in single player. Chief among these is the Road to the WRC. This is the main career mode in which you create your own team from scratch. You must progress through all of the lower divisions of world rallying in order to impress WRC teams in order to get a drive with them. While I like the idea of it, and I like how they haven’t excluded J-WRC, S-WRC and P-WRC cars from the game, the mode drags on forever and it takes many hours of play before you can actually drive a WRC car other than the odd one-off wildcard event. However, even these only become available after you get to level 4 or 5 of the events.

What makes this delay worse is the fact that the lesser cars in the game are just not as fun to drive. The 4WD cars are serviceable, but the front wheel drive J-WRC cars are just not fun to control as they don’t drift easily and the gearing on them doesn’t feel right. Most people who buy this game are going to be itching to drive Loeb’s C4 or Hirvonen’s Focus, and even though you can do it in the single player championship mode, most will probably want to do it in the main career mode first, and that’s a problem.

You could say that the delay prolongs the length of the game, but after a while it just becomes cheap and repetitive. Once you do get to the WRC cars, you will enjoy it even more as you finally get to ditch the front wheel drive cars in favour of ones which are always on the edge of control and put you on the edge of your seat.

Going back to the negative points quickly though, it seems that some car engine sounds are better than others. For example, the Ford Focus sounds quite good and won’t get on your nerves too much. The Citroen C4 on the other hand will drive you insane if you don’t turn the sounds down in the audio settings. Likewise, the co-driver voices are unbelievably bad. They only have a few things to say in each situation and after a while of hearing “you drive like a champion” after winning a stage, you’ll be very sick of it. However, the most annoying call has to be when you make a considerable impact with a barrier or something else solid. The male co-drive will yell “aaaahhhh”. The first few times you’ll laugh at it but after that you’ll be cringing just before you hit a wall when you know it’s coming. Obviously, as you get better at the game you’ll hear it less, but I found the female voice to be far less irritating so I’ve stuck with her regardless.

The other final problem with the game is that despite there being 6 stages per rally, in reality, there are only 2 or 3 truly unique stages. The others are either reverse runs of the others or are created by copy and pasting different elements of stages together to create the illusion of uniqueness. This is lazy game development but it’s not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. Even if you halve the number of stages in the game, there is still a considerable number of stages which differ enough to keep the experience fresh for quite a while. It would of course be great to have a game with exact replications of every stage run in the entire championship, but whether that’s actually realistic is unknown. I suppose when you look at how many tracks and cars are in GT5, you could see how it could well be possible with this generation’s hardware, but we just have to hope this happens at some point.

Overall though, if you can get past the abysmal voice acting, comparatively terrible graphics and engine sounds that remind you more of the drone of a go-kart than a roaring rally car, then you’ll really enjoy the fun handling and the full list of drivers, cars and rallys that the WRC license provides. It’s the first official WRC game for several years and while it’s by no means a great game technically, it does the job until hopefully WRC hire Codemasters to make a truly great official WRC game. Either that, or this developer produces something of far higher quality. I really hope we see one of those this year.

Categories
Miscellaneous

Bizarre Creations closed by Activision

Bizarre Creations Logo
Image via Wikipedia

This is a pretty sad story for the videogame industry. Bizarre Creations used to be an independent company which has developed a number of great and popular games, especially in the racing genre over many years. Their first major game was the Formula 1 game in 1996. Psygnosis put great faith in a very small and unproven team by giving them a huge license to deal with. It was a great success and was the highest selling game in Europe in 1996.

Since then, they’ve been known for the Metropolis Street Racer game and the unofficial follow ups called Project Gotham Racing, which were all for Xbox consoles. All were popular and did well commercially. There were 4 titles in that series.

One series that is still a fan favourite, especially with early Xbox 360 adopters is Geometry Wars. It first appeared on the 360 at or near after launch and due to the lack of great retail launch games, it was played extensively during that launch period. It spawned a sequal which was also well received as well as multiple spin-offs for Nintendo consoles Wii and DS as well as iOS devices.

After their buyout by Activision, which severed their ties to the PGR series and Microsoft Game Studios, things went downhill. Although Geometry Wars was still popular, it didn’t do as well on other platforms as it had on Xbox live arcade and Blur wasn’t a great success. The game looked great and was unique in that it took elements of PGR, Mario Kart and WipeOut style weapons systems and brought them all together. Unfortunately it didn’t sell as well as hoped and presumably this is what has led to Activision wanting to close the studio.

Obviously it’s easy to look back now and say that they should have stayed independent and taken less risks, but I suppose staying independant of a huge publisher such as Activision could also be seen as a risk in itself. I wish the guys from the studio the best of luck whatever happens and I hope they reform under a new name to continue to innovate in the industry. They have a pretty terrible name and logo anyway so it’s a nice chance for a new start.

Categories
Miscellaneous

3DS Launch Information Announced

Nintendo 3DS
Image via Wikipedia

The 3DS was shown off at a special event held by Nintendo Europe in Amsterdam today, with Jonathan Ross hosting. Essentially they didn’t talk about anything very exciting during the majority of the show. Some 3D content providers and wi-fi hotspot partners were talked about and a rather large selection of games shown.

Most of the developers who came out on stage were train wrecks and would have been better off staying back home in Japan, seeing as most of them were from there.

The launch date of the system is the 25th of Mark in Europe which is a week earlier than the US launch. What they didn’t mention during the event is the price, which now that I know what it will be, am not surprised they didn’t mention. I didn’t think they would go above the £179.99 launch price of the Wii, especially because the US price of the 3DS, also announced today was for $250, which happens to be the Wii launch price in that country. Contrary to seemingly strong logic, it appears that the price will be somewhere between £220 and £230, which to me is a joke. Yes, VAT was increased, and yes, we always get ripped off anyway so we should be used to it by now. It just feels like the ripping off is getting worse and worse with each now generation of system. I don’t know what the reason is, I would very much appreciate someone to help me understand this.

While the selection of games on offer does interest me, especially Mario Kart and Animal Crossing, I just don’t know if I can pay this much money for the system at this time. The issue is that I want to play those games so much based on being addicted to the DS and console versions of them in the past, and I do always buy new Nintendo systems and games. I know that the price is unlikely to lower for at least a year after launch and I don’t think I’ll be able to resist that long either. It’s frustrating to know that even if I hold out for a few months it’s unlikely to save me any money at all.

I also am not a fan of the colours they selected. I just want a white version, but all they have is aqua blue and black. It’s more disappointing to know that they’ll probably release a lite version for half the price in black and white in a year or so.

Overall, a very disappointing announcement, even if Jonathan Ross was typically tricky to handle for the Nintendo Europe executives at times, which was entertaining to see. And to think, they had actually convinced me to pre-order one until I heard the price later on in the day.

If I’m honest, I don’t want to be writing this kind of post every single time Nintendo or Sony announces a new system. I just want to be able to talk about cool something is, and once again, they’ve overshadowed that possibility.