“I think you may be ahead of yourself on Halo 5. I wouldn’t expect anything until 2015. What you can look forward to this year is an anniversary edition of Halo 2.”
With November this year being the tenth anniversary of Halo 2, and the fact that several Microsoft senior staffers mooting that the series would debut on Xbox One in 2014, many fans and people in the games industry feel that a Halo 2 remake is looking like a pretty firm bet for release later this year. Of course, Halo 2 is a very popular title, and would no doubt enjoy a strong release on Xbox One – but people want a new entry into the Halo series to really test out their new consoles.]]>
Other than a name and a single screenshot we don’t know anything about Act of Agression. Fortunately Focus Home Interactive, the games publisher, has promised a full reveal during GDC, which runs between 19th-21st March. They also said that Act of Aggression is a game that will “bring the players back in the 90’s Golden Age of strategy games.”
Focus Home Interactive will have a large presence at GDC, as they are showing off Bound by Flame, Blood Bowl 2, Act of Aggression and a unannounced tactical game set in the Warhammer universe among other things.
And you know what, as crazy as it sounds, they may not be entirely wrong – at least in some respects.
What makes Titanfall so good is how it’s balanced. I’ve played First Person Shooters for longer than some gamers have been alive, but I’ve never been good at them. Both Call of Duty and Battlefield feel impenetrable to me, because I don’t have the time or inclination to make either the only game I play, in order to get good enough to compete and have a good time. Titanfall must have some kind of voodoo magic under the hood, because it makes you feel like a supreme badass, and even the most average shooter player can top the leaderboard on their day. There’s pedigree here, and it doesn’t take long to reveal itself.
Although there’s no real pretence that this is anything other than a multiplayer-only shooter, every match includes AI grunts to kill and earn points from. This means that even if you’re not killing other human players, you are still contributing to your score, and thus levelling up doesn’t require you to only compete with the very best out there, which gives the less skilled players a chance to still enjoy every match.
It’s also worth saying that you should never underestimate what a good jump mechanic can do for a game. The smooth frame-rate combined with the double jump means that you can zip around the maps outside of your Titan; the speed is breakneck compared to the other shooters out there. Wall-running means that you can get around the map really well, and verticality makes for a great time, too. Without even thinking about it, you’ll double jump into a wall, run along it and then spring back to a rooftop, before pulling out your anti-Titan weapon and destroying a huge enemy mech. Satisfaction guaranteed – and you’ll hardly believe that you were the one doing it. There are even zip-lines you can grab hold of to extend your motion – it feels brilliant.
Performing a rodeo never stops being immensely satisfying, either. Put simply, this involves either jumping on a friendly Titan for a ride-along, or mounting an enemy Titan and ripping them open, before firing directly at the “brain”, to destroy it. Of course you can be spotted by enemies and put down, and it’s even more satisfying when roles are reversed and you realise someone is on you, so you jump out and destroy them before hopping back into your Titan and raining bullets on your opponents.
The Titans feel good, too. The tutorial tells you that they are designed to feel like a natural extension of the Pilot, and they really do. You can charge around in your mech if you want to, but you can also get out and engage auto-Titan mode. This causes your metal behemoth to follow you around engaging enemies while you do the same. You can jump back into it whenever you fancy it, but they aren’t invincible, and if you lose one you’ll desperately want to kill more enemies to shorten your cooldown for the next drop.
In a nutshell, Titanfall is full of these moments that you’ll talk about with friends, and that’s a good thing too, because in places it is rather bare bones. Currently there is no option for any kind of private match – in fact, you simply pick a mode (there are five: Attrition, Last Titan Standing, Capture the Flag, Pilot Hunter and Hardpoint – though there’s a sixth option called “Variety” that cycles the modes) and it’ll automatically match you into two teams of six players. Playing pre-release meant that the servers were empty until just before launch, though this did give the opportunity to see the matchmaking in progress. I’ve ended up in a 3v6 and 4v6 match, which is odd, to say the least. It’s worth noting, however, our review process was conducted entirely on retail servers, and we tested before and after (USA) release and noticed no hiccups.
It’s really up to you to decide if there’re enough modes on offer, though. Personal preference means that I’ll spend most of my time in Last Titan Standing (you all start in Titans, but you only get one life) and Attrition (a team-based in which you need to reach a set score), with objective based Capture the Flag and Hardpoint not really being my thing, though the Titans themselves do make these modes more entertaining than in other titles that offer them. Pilot Hunter mode sounds more interesting than it is, as it’s just a case of the primary objective being to kill pilots, with less emphasis on killing grunts.
On top of that, while the map selection is more than adequate and offers plenty of visual variety, there seems to be no way to choose a map, nor even vote on a choice of maps – it’s just a cycle. Nexus stood out to me as an excellent arena, and Boneyard is another one full of verticality, as weird alien creatures fly around the centrepiece of a huge dead beast you can clamber atop of. Maps like Corporate offer a more industrial feel, with action taking place inside and out, though the inside seems a little busy and too easy to get distracted. In fact, some battlegrounds feel as though they were designed for more than twelve players, so vast are their designs. Most importantly, the action is so frenetic that you never feel constrained by the maps in any way; they are very cleverly designed.
Levelling up seems friendlier than a lot of online shooters, too. Within your first hour you should be comfortably close to level ten (depending on skill, obviously) and will have unlocked custom pilot and Titan loadouts, as well as challenges and the wonderful burn cards. With up to three of these equipped, after a death you can choose to activate a burn card. They are awarded after every match and you can add them to your custom loadout, but they add yet more support for all kinds of player. From simply reducing your Titanfall cooldown by thirty seconds, to offering you an improved version of your weapon, these last as long as a round, or until you die. It’s a superb idea, executed incredibly well.
There are only three Titans on offer (as well as three base-Pilots), but you can customise them if you wish. Whether you want to have a longer shield upon dropping, or want to auto-eject when doomed, there’s plenty of ways to build a Titan. Weapons play a large part (and I’m a Tank guy, for the record) but there are tactical elements revolving around special abilities that effect the way you build your custom classes.
Starting with a Vortex Shield that can capture bullets and throw them back, and a Rocket Salvo attack, there are further unlocks if you fancy something different, such as Electric Smoke (perfect for getting Pilots off your back) or a Cluster Missile. Likewise, Pilots start with a cloaking device, but can change out to a Stim (health regeneration and quicker movement) or the Active Radar Pulse perk that lets you see through walls for a period, among many other options. These Tactical Abilities add something genuinely strategic to the gameplay, and aren’t merely new weapons or skins. As if that weren’t enough, there are Tier Kits that offer even further customisation, and for the high level players, things like the Quick Reload Kit (guess what that does), or the Guardian Chip (makes your Auto-Titan more accurate) are going to be real game-changers.
The usual unlock patterns apply elsewhere: weapons, sights, you name it. Some weapons are more powerful, sacrificing other aspects such as range or clip size, and this definitely manifests in-game – although it’s hard to know if that’s player skill coming into question, or a dodgy kill-cam upsetting me. What I’m really saying here is that there are already some bloody good players out there.
Challenges round out the hooks designed to keep you returning, and they include a handful of fun ideas that could only work in Titanfall. Fancy getting 500XP for wall-running for a certain amount of time? Check. What about riding on the back of a Titan for a certain distance? Check. Of course, there are more standard ones for kills and so on, but the core design means it’s more than just another shooter, even with the challenges.
The weapons themselves are mostly similar to what we’ve seen before, but genuine innovation comes in the form of the Smart Pistol. Held at a jaunty relaxed angle, this automatically locks onto the nearest enemy, and with one hit of the trigger, can kill them. In the right hands, the Smart Pistol is utterly deadly, and is rewarded as such by being a primary weapon choice. You can’t have an automatic weapon and a Smart Pistol, it’s one or the other. Every player can select an anti-Titan weapon, be it a homing missile, multi-rockets, or a huge machine gun – but if you lock on, the pilot will be warned. While some weapons have been seen before in other games, the differences here are what makes Titanfall so interesting and unique.
On Xbox One, Titanfall looks gorgeous except for one thing: tearing. It’s not horrendous, nor is it as prevalent as in other games, but it is there. I don’t want to be that guy, but it just shouldn’t be there. The game runs so smoothly elsewhere, with no slowdown and no other visual hiccups, that it’s perhaps more noticeable. There are sixty seconds (sometimes more) to wait after each map, and the load times after that are fairly lengthy, too. It’s not a big deal, but it’s worth mentioning. The audio design is spectacular, if understated at times. Music will come and go, but it’s secondary to the action. You’ll constantly be updated on how long you have to wait for your Titan to drop, and you’ll even be updated on how your team is doing overall. It really feels like you’re in a war zone.
There’s been commendable effort made to create a story for a purely multiplayer-based shooter, but it falls slightly flat. It basically amounts to sending the player through the game modes in teams, with a bit of story thrown in. Truth be told, very few will care about it, and splitting the campaign off from classic mode (that’s what Respawn call Multiplayer) is smart. I’d imagine few will bother with it after an initial play to see what it’s about.
VERDICT: When you’re in the thick of the action, Titanfall is like no other shooter. It succeeds in making you feel like a superhero, piloting a giant mech to destroy your enemies with ferocious aggression. The fact there’s no option for private matches is an odd one, and there’s not a huge amount of guns on offer, really, but it’s arguably unfair to come down too hard on a developer choosing to focus on gameplay innovation over peripheral issues. If you own an Xbox One, you already know you’re getting this. If you don’t have one, well, you might be missing out on the most fun I’ve had with a shooter in years if you don’t grab it somehow.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.
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Review code provided by publisher and tested on retail servers only.]]>
Now, I’m not the best Dark Souls player – I know that. But I tried, and I enjoy it, so hopefully that’s enough. That said, I’d welcome any tips and tricks that long-time fans can give. Every day I’ll update this article with my progress. Though it’s worth saying that these videos were compiled a few weeks ago (at time of publish), thus I’m probably a lot further in (well, a lot? maybe not…) by now.
For day one, we’ve got a video showing the opening twenty minutes of the game, but also day one proper of the diaries. The first video shows a random class I picked, and played the opening of Dark Souls II (without the opening cut-scene), whereas the second video shows the start of my playthrough in earnest.
You can check out this new advert below (Thanks, AllGamesBeta). Yoshi has never been so destructive.]]>
The now removed listing on the Xbox Games Store didn’t give away much information, bar that it will see up to 8 players on Live, with the possibility of a singleplayer test, and that it’ll weigh in at 23GB.
The description on the listing read:
“You are Aiden Pearce, a brilliant hacker but also a former thug, who’s criminal past lead to a violent family tragedy. In a world led by technology, you will be able to hack and manipulate the city’s systems to stop traffic lights, detonate gas lines, turn off the electrical grid and more.
The city of Chicago has become the ultimate weapon for a man bent on revenge.”
No date was given for the beta, or how to register interest.
Watch_Dogs launches on 27th May on PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 and PC, with a Wii U version to follow later.
As you may have noticed from our recent Dark Souls II review, we quite liked the game.
Check out the dark trailer in all its fantasy glory below.]]>
The first and most apparent change is that for the first time in the franchise, there’s a coherent story. It may still be bare bones and mostly informed by the individual’s imagination, but there’s a solid framework to give what you’re doing some context. It begins with your nameless and faceless (for now) protagonist on a journey through a dark, gloom-entrenched forest. You are a Cursed Undead, bearer of the Dark Sign and destined to die over and over until the lest vestiges of your humanity are finally gone and you become “Hollow”. To stave this off, you make the pilgrimage across world to a land where the souls of the slain can preserve your sanity. The decrepit kingdom of Drangleic is beset by darkness, and freeing it might just be enough to change the fate of the Cursed.
To facilitate the more involved story, Dark Souls II presents a more populated world – which is not to say it’s any more friendly. The biggest difference is that, from the outset, you feel a part of something; you don’t feel like an interloper. People talk to you with some level of respect. They are relying on you, though exactly why and what for is not always apparent. Fans will spot connections between this game and the last, most notably the mentions of Fire Keepers and recurring items, enemies and lore (One particular boss around ten hours in gave me shudders with his resemblance to one half of Dark Soul’s most villainous duo).
There are eight classes to choose from, representing the usual spectrum of RPG mainstays from the melee-heavy Swordsman or Knight through to the Miracle-slinging Cleric and the Sorcerer (who now gathers both spells and pyromancies under a single pointy hat). The reduced number of classes allows a greater focus, with less generalisation and a better opportunity to create a specialist. You could always opt for the Deprived if you’re brave enough, who starts with nothing but is easier to customise.
Immediately upon entering the small tutorial area, you’re reminded that this is the same universe, if not the same exact setting, of the first Dark Souls. The sepulchral murk is oppressive, and even the lowly hollows who set upon you here are initially tough to put down. As is now expected, Dark Souls II explains next to nothing about its world or what you’re supposed to be doing. You can light a torch at bonfires, which can then be used to ignite sconces and braziers throughout the game – but the ultimate purpose of this isn’t revealed. Maybe it’s just because fire is innately comforting. It’s a theme throughout, as you’ll often find items that have no apparent use, or hear cryptic warnings from NPCs that may pertain to things you won’t see for hours.
It doesn’t take long to realise that nearly everything in the world wants to kill you, and the combat is balanced in such a way that even the vanilla nasties must be approached with caution. If you attempt to button mash, you will fail in Dark Souls II and, considering how fervently the game tries to make you fail, it really seems to hate failure. Every mistake is punished severely, and the only way to survive Drangleic is to get good. It’s rare to see a game with such a focus and reliance on player skill.
The combat has been tweaked in several areas. For a start, the quick-kill backstab has been removed, which won’t please many fans. You can still execute a powerful attack from the back, but it’s harder to pull off and leaves you more vulnerable to reprisals from behind. No matter your choice of weapon (though sword & shield still seems the most effective), you can give or weather damage, but dual wielding or ranged combat feel more balanced and efficient now, while magic is less overpowered. Piling on the armour is still not recommended without a high enough “Equip Load” rating, and the best way to mitigate damage is to not take it in the first place. Get used to evading, blocking and counter-attacking, or you won’t last very long. The worst moments in Dark Souls II come when you inadvertently stumble off a cliff because of imprecise foot placement, or you walk into a mist-shrouded door and get one-shotted by the boss you simply weren’t prepared for – though both can be avoided by the patient gamer.
Similarly to Demon’s Souls, repeated deaths will see your life bar drained permanently until you use a Human Effigy to restore your humanity. Reading between the lines, this means it’s very possible to reach a point where you’re stuck at fifty percent health. The difference this makes to gameplay is exponential, especially when you consider that you begin with no Estus Flasks and must contend with consumable Lifegems to restore your health. Resource management becomes essential, and you’ll find yourself pushing on without healing after a fight just to preserve what little curatives remain to you. Spell uses, should you opt for that path, are similarly finite, and doomed is the spellcaster who finds himself (or herself) a long way from the bonfire and out of herbs.
This design decision is intentional, and ties in with the biggest major change From Software have introduced: repeated deaths or trips to the bonfire will gradually stop some enemies from respawning. The effect of this is double-edged: on one side, it clears the way for runs back to a tough boss and removes obstacles from your path; on the other side, it severely hamstrings the possibility of grinding levels and farming souls. Consider that for a moment: you’re stuck on a boss who is impassable at your current level. Not only are you out of Effigies and Lifegems, but you’ve died eight or nine times and some of the enemies have stopped respawning – now how the hell do you proceed? At this point, if not before, you will know despair. There is an item that can be burned at a bonfire to reset the spawning cycle – but it will increase the challenge of every returning monster. Essentially, this is like activating a New Game+ mode mid-playthrough. Enemies will drop more souls, meaning it becomes potentially easier to level up, but they’ll be much harder to kill and the effect is irreversible.
My first attempt lasted eight hours, within which time I foolishly squandered all my Lifegems and Effigies and found myself stuck on a particularly nasty boss named The Pursuer. I was, I believed, absolutely mired – to the point where frustration overcame me and I burned the character by ruthlessly murdering NPCs in my hate-rage, just in case they dropped anything worth using. It was only when talking to someone else playing the game, whose adventures had taken different turns to my own, that I realised there were other ways available from the very beginning. As we traded stories and experiences, advice and guidance, we began to realise that Dark Souls II wants you to feel that all hope is lost – but it also wants you to grit your teeth and keep going. I learned a valuable lesson through that experience, and started again with a new character. Through the exchange of information with other gamers, Dark Souls II becomes a co-op experience even when you’re offline, and water cooler moments are common as each player’s experience is unique.
However, keep an open mind and you’ll rarely reach a dead end. As in Demon’s Souls, you strike out from a central hub – this time the coastal settlement of Majula – to which you can return to level up at the Emerald Herald, or visit the Blacksmith to upgrade your gear. Interestingly, you can now fast travel between any two lit bonfires from the off, so returning to previously barred areas when you’re strong enough or equipped with the right gear or key is easier. It doesn’t greatly alleviate difficulty, but does reduce the tedium of backtracking. There are several routes to take from Majula, and unlike Dark Souls it seems that enemies level alongside you, so you can potentially survive regardless of which route you take, though one path in particular seems to be easier in terms of the first boss you meet. The level design is incredible, so intuitive that even with no map of any kind, you don’t get lost. You don’t even realise you know your way around until you start thinking about the next place you need to return to. This game is even bigger than the last, and your quest to collect four Great Souls will take a massive investment of time and patience.
The inherent loneliness of the campaign is offset by the multiplayer element. Taking cues from both previous games, Dark Souls II’s online component is deeper than either. Covenants now link players in a kind of leaderboard system, where the turning-in of awestones earned in PvP grants kudos. There are Covenants that encourage the invasion of other worlds, and Covenants that have you swear to protect or aid other gamers wherever possible. Repeatedly assaulting other worlds will see you marked as a sinner, and players of certain Covenants will be charged with (and rewarded for) hunting you down. The PvP element is much improved, while the cooperative side remains mostly unchanged: you still leave summon signs so you can be called upon to help other players, whereupon you will share the spoils.
And there are times when you will need help. You must be human to summon AI phantoms to aid you, but it seems other players can be summoned no matter your condition – and some of the bosses make teaming up essential. Dark Souls II will come at you sideways, dropping bosses on you in frightening succession. In just your first twelve to fifteen hours you can meet upwards of six progress-impeding behemoths that will test your skill and resolve to the limit, and the weak-willed or casual player is unlikely to keep going back. Yes, Dark Souls II wants you to fail, and yet its punishing allure is hard to resist for those who crave a challenge. The trade-off between soul-destroying frustration and the unbridled elation when you finally put a tough boss down or even just reach the next bonfire is something that most games just aren’t capable of delivering.
Exploration is encouraged at all times, as is experimentation. Despite the messages left by other players and the ghosts that reveal their grisly ends, the only way to know what lies around the next corner is to go there, shield up and have your senses on high alert. Item use is treated the same way, as some things don’t reveal their effects at all. The forums will come alive with theory crafters as players attempt to make sense of From Software’s shadowy, enigmatic world.
The new engine handles the action very well, and the frame-rate is noticeably smoother. The environments are highly detailed and dripping with atmosphere, whether you’re basking in the majestic Majula sunset or picking your way across the corpse-strewn battlements of some crumbling redoubt. Shadows play tricks on your eyes, and the amazing audio is designed to unsettle you with sudden footsteps, distant groans, and scraping flagstones. Played in the dark with headphones on, Dark Souls II is one of the most immersive experiences available on console.
Criticising Dark Souls II for being hard is like criticising Need for Speed for asking you to put your foot down, and the design is such that every challenge can be overcome. Every boss can be beaten, every area can be traversed, but some of the changes can make achieving either incredibly taxing. There are times when Dark Souls II feels unfair, and there will be moments when you find yourself cursing it for being cheap, but ultimately the balance is close to perfect, and the better you get at reading enemies and controlling your character’s movements, the more you’ll enjoy the game. The first time you die on a new boss and your immediate reaction is “Enjoy that victory, I’ll be right back!”, you’ll know that you’re finally getting it.
VERDICT: A certain amount of Dark Souls II is reliant on trial and error – it’s simply unavoidable. This is a quest into the unknown, and you won’t know how to deal with what comes at you out of the shadows until its blasting its fetid breath down your neck and sliding its claws right into your soul – but it’s intentional. The very premise of the Cursed Undead lends the template not only context but also a degree of gravitas: your character is fated to die, again and again, until they either succeed in their quest or go insane trying – a doom shared by every gamer who resolves to tackle From Software’s gargantuan RPG. Dark Souls II is a true hardcore challenge, and the weak of will and spine have no place in its cruel and unusual world.
INCREDIBLE. This is the pinnacle of our scoring spectrum, reserved for games that truly affect us, that capture our imagination so completely that they affect the standard by which we measure future games. 10/10 is not a declaration of perfection, but an assurance that the game in question is of amazingly high quality and has exceeded our expectations.
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