Bioshock Infinite demo looks very impressive

Bioshock Infinite is going to be phenomenal. Don’t believe me? Watch the 20 minutes of gameplay footage put up by GameTrailers right here.

The location of Columbia looks stunning. I wasn’t sure that Irrational Games could top the artistic marvel that was Rapture, but this new floating dystopia has proven me wrong. Each island is filled with a scale that is almost breath taking to look at. American patriotism is everywhere, tarnished by greed and corrupt ideals. Every street has a dark edge to it; giant posters quickly go up in flames and horses are found dying on the streets. Skylines litter the world like one giant suspended roller-coaster ride, weaving in and out of skyscrapers, streets and recreational parks. Columbia feels much more organic than Rapture, free from the restrictions of glass corridors and one way trams.

There is also the possibility of other settings. Through Elizabeth’s ability to create ‘tears’, the demo revealed a glimpse of down town New York. Who knows, perhaps the player will be able to explore this at greater length, alongside any other areas that Elizabeth can summon with this potentially limitless ability.

Elizabeth’s ability to manipulate tears also applies to combat. Throughout the demo it was obvious that Booker could call upon her powers to summon a variety of objects, such as carriages for cover or doorways for alternate routes. She acts as a simple support character that players control directly, eliminating the need for sublime A.I or complex commands. The demo showed a tendency to rely on traditional weaponry rather than ‘vigors’, the equivalent of plasmids that have been designed specifically for Bioshock Infinite. This might be due to the location of the demo in the overall campaign, or a desire to hide some of the more extravagant ‘vigors’ for a later date.

Elizabeth has an interesting personality and relationship with both Booker and the Songbird. At times she appears naive, believing plastic gold to be real and trying on a novelty Lincoln headpiece. At others she seems incredibly serious and determined, asking Booker to swear that he will never let the Songbird take her back. The dynamic between these characters looks to be at the core of the plot, offering a personal and believable take on the Bioshock Infinite world.

Although the Songbird looks pretty menacing, in my eyes it doesn’t quite have the same edge or iconic appeal as the Big Daddy. Perhaps this particular enemy will warm to me over time, but it still has a long way to go before it’s scaring me half to death with a pneumatic drill.

I came away from the Bioshock Infinite demo feeling very impressed. The scope and artistic direction of the game is like nothing else on the market, offering frantic combat and an original plot line. I can hardly wait for when this is released next year.


Catherine demo available from next week

Atlus fans rejoice. On July 12 a demo for Catherine will be dropping on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live – or rather, at least in the United States. There’s no confirmation yet that the gameplay glimpse will be available in Europe, adding further speculation to when (or if) the title will be released there. The erotic horror puzzle-platformer came out in Japan back in February, with the aforementioned demo being available since January.

To get an idea of what the demo will showcase, below is a walkthrough of the Japanese demo by Kotowari. He’s been kind enough to translate the dialogue and control scheme, so that you’ll be able to understand some of the insane plot.

Are you excited for the English demo? Or have you already played the Japanese version? Let me know in the comments below, especially if you’re concerned about the speculative Europe release.

Race, trick and survival modes demoed for new SSX

The development team behind the new SSX presented their latest build at a community event yesterday. The presentation showed fans all three gameplay modes and announced that Psymon Stark would be a returning character.

SSX is still in early stages. Creative Director Todd Batty describes the title as being in a ‘pre-alpha’ stage, which means that some of the content and gameplay mechanics are yet to be put into the game. It’s refreshing to see the game’s continuous progression, but I worry that the fan criticism will disrupt the development and direction of the final product.

First up was a sneak peak at the Psymon Stark. It was only concept art at this point, but to be honest I was a little bit disappointed by the chosen styling and gear. Psymon has always been the insane maniac of the franchise, cackling wildly with spiked hair and aggressive one liners such as “Gimme Air Or Gimme Death!”. This version has seen his eccentric personality curbed significantly, with a tame tuft of brown hair and combat trousers. Hopefully some of his unlockable outfits will give players the chance to kit him out with some more of his more famous garments, such as the straitjacket from SSX 3 or the white vest in Tricky.

Todd Batty started out with the hub menu, which was sparsely populated by a rotating globe and selections for ‘campaign’, ‘explore’ and ‘global events’. It looked a little bare to be honest, although I imagine that it’ll feel more impressive once all of the online features and feeds have been put in.

It’s been known for a while now that the SSX team are using data from NASA to recreate some of the mountain ranges and snow conditions. However, this presentation was the first time that I recognised the scale of the data and just how influential it will be on the level design. It won’t mean that each level is a boring, real life depiction though. The developers used this technology to construct the core of each mountain, later sculpting and changing them into the surreal, over the top courses that we have come to love in the SSX franchise. Todd Batty promised that each mountain range would be extremely open and have specific themes that make them unique.

The race event was set on Kilimanjaro, pitting Kaori against Mac and Elise in a quick descent. The starting gates are gone this time around, replaced by various drop points that bring each rider together. What ensued was classic SSX gameplay, encouraging players to earn boost by tricking along the way. A section through an underground cavern felt particularly impressive, offering multiple paths and jumps. Todd Batty stressed that he wanted the speed to feel like ‘Burnout on snow’, edging players to a point where they would always feel slightly uncomfortable. For the most part it seemed to work, although I would stress that the race felt very short – nothing like the all peak rides found in SSX 3.

Unrealistic and mind blowing stunts are a staple of the SSX franchise. The trick segment of the game took place on a mountain with the great wall of China, allowing Mac to take each obstacle at his own pace. The character animations and flow of the game looked particularly impressive, although a minimalistic HUD seemed to play down the role of uber tricks. Todd Batty later explained that there would be a series of signature tricks that could be unlocked after ubers, taking influence from past iterations. Fingers crossed for guillotine, eh?

‘Survive it’ is the new mode for SSX this time around. It represents the trend toward big mountain riding and peak descents in modern snowboarding, acting as ‘boss stages’ throughout the campaign. Players are pitted against extreme environmental conditions, such as cold, darkness, thin air, gravity, snow, rocks, trees and white out. The demonstration showed off snow, launching the rider in front of an avalanche in North America. A reverse camera angle was used to show off the scale and atmosphere of the disaster, which was undeniably impressive and over the top. The viewing angle meant that it looked quite hard to control the direction of the character, although I’m sure this will be addressed before shipment.

The feedback section brought up a whole host of smaller announcements such as custom soundtracks, new riders and organic snow models. Although none of these would make headlines, I recommend checking out the Ustream above if you’re interested in the game. I came away from the presentation happy, but not blown away by the how the game is developing. The development team has a lot of great ideas, but I’m sceptical that they’ll be able to execute them all in the final product. The colourful personality of SSX (or lack of) was what concerned me the most, with characters and levels looking subdued and reserved. There’s still plenty of time for development though, so hopefully these issues will be addressed in the coming months.

Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 Demo

The demo for this fall’s release of Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is out now on Xbox Live and PSN. It’s the first time that the Ultimate Ninja series will be released on the Xbox 360, so I was interested to see how it ran in comparison to Ubisoft’s rival franchise Naruto: The Broken Bond.

The demo takes players through Kakashi’s bell test, an event situated near the start of the anime’s Shippuuden arc. Naruto and Sakura need to capture two bells from their teacher in a two versus one brawl. It’s a memorable moment from the anime and does a good job of showcasing how the fighting engine looks and feels.

The visuals are fantastic. The cel-shaded character models easily outstrip Naruto: The Broken Bond and occasionally look even better than the show’s original source material. The environments are full of colour and detail, making them a joy to play through. If the rest of Konoha looks this good, I can see myself easily losing hours and hours in the village.

The fighting takes place on a three dimensional plane, allowing players to dodge and move with full control. Most of the attacks are very simple to perform, automatically homing in towards the opponent. Naruto’s melee attacks can be strung together with just a few mashes of the B/circle button, with more complex ‘chakra’ techniques being used with Y/triangle and an additional face button. It’s easy to get into and quickly allows you to look like an experienced ninja. It’s hard to tell just how deep the combat can go at this stage.

There are some fantastic cinematic moments which show off the CG team at CyberConnect2. They boil down to simple quick time events, varying the amount of damage depending on how quick you are to press the appropriate buttons. It adds a larger sense of scale to the battles and often finishes the fight on a high.

Once you’ve defeated Kakashi once, the fight opens up into a boss arena. Here you’ll need to regularly dodge his more powerful attacks, waiting for the moment to summon Sakura (who acts as a support character) and then follow up with your own attacks. It requires a surprising amount of tactics and forces you to memorise boss patterns in a style similar to The Legend Of Zelda.

CyberConnect2’s take on the world of Naruto looks very impressive. Everything feels fast paced, beautiful and most importantly – fun. With a strong story mode and online play confirmed this time around, I’m confident this will manage to please all fans of the animé and manga.

Resident Evil 5: Demo

Capcom’s latest horror offering took a long time to hit my radar, primarily because I’ve only played a few of the previous Resident Evil titles. I also wanted to make sure that I had a friend with a copy of the demo, because I had heard that to do it justice Resident Evil 5 really needed to be played in co-op. If you’re interested, you can always check out the demo for free on Xbox Live at the moment.

Resident Evil 4 was heralded as a gaming masterpiece, gaining substantial success on Gamecube, PS2, PC and Wii. Not surprisingly, fan expectation is high for this ‘next gen’ sequel. You’re given two levels to test out; a survival setup and an exploration play through. The visuals will hit you straight away, the detail, texture and draw distance are all very impressive and easily live up to the franchise’s pedigree. Watching the zombies bubble and boil away after defeat is particularly satisfying to watch.

For me, some of the game mechanics were very old school and clunky. You have to hold down the Left Trigger to aim before shooting, so you still can’t fire and move at the same time. Weaponry doesn’t always automatically reload either, so you’re often left in a poor inventory screen trying to ‘combine’ the two together. This wouldn’t be a problem normally, but in the survival level I found myself being regularly torn to pieces as I desperately tried to reload. You could argue that the added time gives a sense of realism, but for me it just made the experience more fragmented.

The big addition this time is the inclusion of an A.I partner. On paper this sounds like a great idea, throwing each other over buildings to reach new areas or splitting up in order to open a new gate. However, if you’re playing solo this kind of mechanic only works if the A.I is perfect. In the demo for Resident Evil 5, it is not. You’re going to be relying on her a lot and it’s frustrating when she picks up the ammo you need (rendering your weaponry useless) or dies because she can’t seem to move past a slightly obtrusive shrub. This is why I’ll come back to the reason I played it in co-op. By adding a partner, Resident Evil 5 has become similar to Left 4 Dead. You really need another human playing to make it shine. When you’re both using headsets to communicate, a great sense of comradeship is born and I began to thoroughly enjoy playing it.

The game’s presentation is certainly worthy of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The sound, visuals and immersion are all spot on. Underneath the candy coating though, tweaking the Resident Evil 4 engine has caused some problems. The partner A.I and real time inventory simply need a lot of work. If you’re going to have lots of friends with the game, willing to regularly play online it shouldn’t be a problem. Otherwise, approach with a little caution.