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.


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.

Top 5 moments of E3 2009

The Electronic Entertainment Expo, known to gaming fans everywhere as the mighty E3 has always been renowned as the Mecca of game announcements. With Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and many other third party publishers all in attendance, you can always expect to see some outstanding presentations and show reels. Significantly reducing the size of the expo in 2007 and reducing the number to between 3,000 – 5,000 was disheartening, but this year certainly felt like a return to form. With 41,000 journalists and gamers packed in it easily retained the title of the world’s largest video game convention.

E3 2009; a larger and grander return to form

E3 2009; a larger and grander return to form

I could list about thirty games I was impressed with at E3, but that would be as boring as watching a Playstation 3 update (or Xbox 360, for all you brand loyal psychos). So instead, these are the top five announcements that shocked or impressed me.

5) Project Natal/ Milo
If you asked me about a year ago what Microsoft had planned for future, I wouldn’t have been able to guess this. Project Natal is an add-on sensory peripheral, sitting below or on top of your TV like the senor for your Nintendo Wii. Apparently you won’t need a controller at all for the games that use Natal, relying on speech and gestures instead. This might sound like an eye toy with a microphone attachment, but when Lionhead Studios unveiled Milo nearly everyone was taken aback.

Peter Molyneux introduced the boy on screen named Milo, capable of recognising our face, speech and emotions. Walking along a riverside in the tech demo, he can react to the user with his own choices and emotions. At one point he threw a pair of goggles to the player and wouldn’t proceed until she had pretended to put them on properly. Project Natal was analysing her movements here to make sure that she was acting properly for the next step of the game. Milo then invites her to touch the water, showing her reflection and allowing her to cause accurate ripples with her hands. It was fascinating to me, an experience similar to Flower rather than a ‘true’ video game. At another point she drew a picture of a fish, held it up to the peripheral and allowed it to be scanned. Milo then understood what the drawing was and gave an opinion on it.

Of course, the entire presentation could have been faked with pre-scripted questions and reactions. However, there would have been no advantage for Lionhead Studios to do this – as Molyneux explained, this isn’t a game coming out any time soon. How could character interactions change in other titles with this technology? Interrogating suspects in Call of Duty? Drawing out plans for a Real Time Strategy? Motion and voice control may have been science fiction a few years ago, but suddenly it feels very real…

4) PSP Go
This revelation should have been the talk of E3, but it lost any sense of shock thanks to some leak-age on the internet a week before hand. It may be another upgrade of the trusty Sony handheld, but how often do we really get to see a console being announced!? Even though I’ve bought a PSP Slim & Lite recently, I was still intrigued and impressed by what this had to offer.

Another piece of gadget-ry tech to go nuts for

Another piece of gadget-ry tech to go nuts for

Firstly, being half the size and weight of the original console makes this a sleek bit of tech. Unlike the Nintendo DS and PSP which will just about fit in your pockets, this rendition should be much less cumbersome. With 16GB of flash memory, you can forget about having to purchase yet another memory stick for your save files. Though nothing like the Apple iPod, this kind of space should comfortably store thousands of music tracks, movies and photographs. The slide out control pad will be a love or hate feature, but I personally like this ‘Sidekick’ mobile look. There should be another slot here for further external memory too,  giving you more space than you’ll ever need. A second analogue stick would have been nice (especially as fans have been crying out for it’s inclusion for years) but I presume the current controls will work just as well.

Intergrated Bluetooth and Wi-Fi will allow users to download games and movies from the Playstation Store this time (in a similar style to the DSi ware). Apparently though, the PSP Go will ship without the UMD slot. This is a bold move, potentially making an entire generation of games obsolete. Whether you will have to download all of your games, or if a new disc format will be used is anyone’s guess. This isn’t the move I expected Sony to take, but it’s certainly an interesting one. Perhaps this could be the device to take on both DSi for games and the Apple iPod Touch for multimedia?

3) Super Mario Galaxy 2
Nintendo didn’t really have a lot to prove this year and so I don’t blame them for playing it safe. Most of their big name franchises have been released on the Nintendo Wii now (Brawl, Mario Kart, Metroid, etc) and yet they’re still shipping more units than they can count. No More Heroes 2 and Fragile looked like strong third party titles, but it was the announcement of a new Mario platformer this year that got everyone talking.

A sequel to Super Mario Galaxy doesn’t sound very exciting on paper. Yet think about it, this is the first time two 3D Mario adventures have appeared on the same platform. That’s pretty special, because Nintendo are renowned for putting an absurdly long amount of development time into their key brands. Critics scored the first outing high and  from the looks of the trailer Galaxy 2 will be just as inventive and enjoyable. I’m not surprised that they’ve kept it in space either, because not only were the planets incredibly fun to explore… but you can’t really do better than space, can you? With Yoshi tagging on for the ride this time, it looks like our favourite plumber is still on form.

2) Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
I will admit that I have never played the first Uncharted, nor do I know anything about the franchise. However, the demo that Sony took us through this year was incredible. Presumably everyone else thought so too, as it won the awards for ‘Best of Show’, ‘Best Console Game’ and ‘Best Action/Adventure game’.

Already my prediction for game of the year

Already my prediction for game of the year

Firstly, this game looks simply beautiful. The scenery is rich with detail, even down to clothes flapping individually on a washing line. The draw distance is also astounding; you look into the mountains beyond the city and truly believe that you could go there. Nathan Drake’s animations are realistic and fluid, scaling the sides of buildings and jumping over rooftops as helicopter bullets shatter the windows to your side. This is everything that games like Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia wish they could be. Exciting combat, platforming and exploration all rolled into one.  None of this was pre rendered or CG footage either, it was all being played first hand to the public. Boasting the most technical showcase on any platform is a big claim, but Naughty Dog sure weren’t lying.

1) The Last Guardian
Team Ico is something rather special to me. This developer has only previously released two titles (Ico and Shadow of the Colossus) but each one was so powerful, so emotional that they now have something of a cult following. Formerly known as Project Trico, the trailer for The Last Guardian at E3 showed a boy befriending a giant feathered creature. Part griffin, part sea eagle, part whatever you think it is, this is one cute companion that you’ll be using to progress through the game.

There was no play test, but the trailer itself showed all the right signs to me. Desolate environments, lonely and artistic to explore? Check. Tear jerking, emotional bond between characters? Check. Thought provoking puzzles? Not sure, but most likely check. If you’ve never played a game by Team Ico, I can’t recommend their work on the Playstation 2 enough. Always thinking outside the box, it’s great to see this developer still churning out triple A titles.

Utterly strange, but utterly cute ^_^

Utterly strange, but utterly cute ^_^

My words don’t really say enough for these E3 announcements. If you’re interested in some of these, check out the videos and let the footage do the talking.