Kinect Star Wars

Looking Back At Kinect Star Wars

How much of a Star Wars fan are you? In all cases but for its LEGO adaptations, that was the question that needed to be asked to anyone who wondered whether they should buy a game based around George Lucas’ iconic sci-fi saga in the past.

For those gamers who didn’t know their Sarclaccs from their Sandcrawlers, their Ewoks from their Emperor Palpatine or (for shame) their Biggs from their Jar-Jar Binks, it was easy to reply that they wouldn’t ‘get’ the mythos and context of the complex storylines. By doing this, LucasArts could essentially narrow down the audience of these adaptations to a dedicated few hardcore followers. Strangely enough, though, I can’t help but think that entering Kinect Star Wars without expectations taken from some of sci-fi’s greatest adventures will make it much less disappointing as a video game experience than for the long-term fans who will surely already have picked it up.

Looking Back At Kinect Star Wars

The set-up for the game is simple enough: C-3PO and R2-D2 have returned to the Jedi Archives after the events of Return Of The Jedi, to document past Jedi adventures and galactic happenings, allowing the player to step back in time and experience these recorded events in order to aid the hapless droid duo. There’s certainly no risk of a lack of immersion as you boot the title up, the menu interface and the various halls suitably fitting the visual style of the films; if anything, one of the most impressive elements of Kinect Star Wars is Lucas Arts’ dedication to accurately representing the series lore by using a variety of much-loved characters, locales and battles to jog some of our favourite childhood memories. From Starfighter battles above Coruscant to speeder bike chases in crowded forests, there really is enough for every player to recognise and engage with, whether they’ve been with the series since its launch in 1977 or simply have a passing interest in it.

Kinect Star Wars

Ah, Kinect. Microsoft’s motion peripheral had a rough time, attaining the odd few enjoyable releases such as Child of Eden and The Gunstringer but never having them meet such success that they ever topped the charts. Part of the camera’s plight must surely have come from following in the trail of the Wii, a fully-featured motion console which had a head start of almost five years on it, yet on a more basic level, the lag and slow responsiveness which has been increasingly reported by gamers can’t have helped matters either.

No matter how much the marketing team now try to get around it, the fact is that when we as gamers glimpsed a Jedi Knight leaping from a shuttle onto the streets of Naboo, smashing through droids and tanks galore until he headed straight into a thrilling confrontation with Darth Vader himself, we rightfully expected Kinect Star Wars to be the first true ‘hardcore’ Kinect title. What fans did not want to see, then, was a repetitive main campaign full of monotonous corridors where waves of enemies await and the choppy frame rate of the battles threatens to see their characters knocked out within seconds of meeting an adversary holding a saber rather than a blaster. Sadly, we’ve got the latter.

Kinect Star Wars

After a dozen or so odd repeats of the same predictable, tiresome battle in environments which are recycled to the point that we might as well be playing Episode I for the original PlayStation, everything begins to grate. What initially starts as a lighthearted gameplay mode good for some laughs despite its quirks becomes an infuriating challenge in its final stages, rendered close to unplayable by the glitchy final flight sections, all as a result of the restricted functionality of its source controller. Whether we should put the blame on Microsoft for making their hardware so difficult to work with lest the player stand up, or LucasArts for choosing to place such a focus on the Jedi conflicts is up to debate; nonetheless, it is an oversight that cannot be forgiven.

The ‘Jedi Adventure: Dark Side Rising’ storyline that covers the three sets of missions you partake in on two different planets and a battle cruiser is essentially the equivalent of a Star Wars Greatest Hits compilation, for better or for worse. Whereas in Mass Effect 3 the clear inspirations of Lucas’ grand universe were merely foundations for new and innovative adventures, here the screenplay writers become so reliant on the events of the prequel trilogy that they fail to come up with any interesting ideas of their own. What we get here, then, is a narrative beset with all of the dumb CGI gimmicks and over exaggerated dialogue that plagued the much-scorned Episodes I-III, not helped at all by the faulty gameplay pervading every section except the on-rails vehicular battles (which in themselves ask little but for the player to swing arms to point their cannons at enemies which then fire automatically).

Kinect Star Wars

The gameplay experience does not end with the brief five-hour story quest. There are four further modes that await, too – ‘Podracing’, an effective take on the hovercraft competitions from the Phantom Menace; ‘Rancor Rampage’, a fun if basic chance for players to vent their rage on famous planets like Felucia as the monstrous giants from Return of the Jedi; ‘Duels of Fate’, an expanded version of the drawn-out lightsaber battles that does little to ease the pain of the lag problems from the campaign; and ‘Galactic Dance-Off’, the much-vaunted Dance Central rip-off that actually does the job of providing fun music numbers pretty well, even if the shreds of dignity left within you after buying this are sapped away as you dance to ‘We No Speak Huttese’. As party diversions go, there are certainly many worse places to head than here, but the problem is that the supposed target audience for Kinect Star Wars really wasn’t looking for a new party game when they saw it announced.

As ironic as it might seem, LucasArts appears to have almost completely isolated themselves from any major demographic of players with their choice of format for Kinect Star Wars. Those who have been living in a galaxy far, far away from the realms of Lucas fandom are unlikely to be won over by this as a family title due to the admittedly geeky nature of its premise. If they do try it out, then they’ll find a barely enjoyable bunch of add-on modes sure to liven up a gig only if all else fails.

On the other hand, those fans like me who have been searching the skies for battle stations disguised as moons and awaiting the chance to tell friends that “those are not the droids they’re looking for” will probably be too shocked at the abysmal graphics, the cheap-budget set of identikit voice actors and the lacklustre storyline to even attempt to forgive the blatant shortcomings of the lightsaber duels and the downright insulting riffs of much-loved moments from the saga.

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Alien FPS

In space, everyone can hear you shoot – Alien returns with new FPS outing

Fox’s video game division – FoxNet – evidently plans to follow in Creative Assembly’s wake after 2014’s smash-hit horror FPS Alien: Isolation – yes, the one where the bad guy couldn’t be killed by just shooting it – delivering new virtual escapades for the franchise’s eponymous Xenomorphs:

Takeaways:

  • FoxNext’s plan of action? Introduce Cold Iron Studios into the fold, a development team hosting talent from renowned past productions such as BioShock Infinite, Metroid Prime 3 and City of Heroes.
  • The studio in question will take the reins on an FPS title based within the Alien cinematic universe, set to launch on both PC and consoles in – one would hope – the not-too-distant future.
  • Aaron Loeb, FoxNext Games’ President, says the acquisition and commission come as part of his company’s efforts to “build a multi-platform, multi-genre portfolio of great games” going forward.
  • As for his goals with this portfolio’s freshman contribution, Loeb adds that Cold Iron is striving to “create an action-packed persistent world, steeped in the mysteries of this beloved Alien universe”.

Authentic, Riveting?

Now, as enticing as those latter comments sound and as much hope as Alien: Isolation delivered for the series’ video gaming prospects with all its chilling, claustrophobic set-pieces four years ago, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

For every authentic, riveting narrative experience like Isolation, after all, there’s been an authentic but mechanically generic cash grab like Gearbox’s uncharacteristically hollow Aliens: Colonial Marines. Indeed, given the brand’s hugely inconsistent silver screen instalments, its fandom knows better than most the importance of levelled expectations.

At the same time, however, Creative Assembly’s Game of the Year-courting tour de force in cinematic gameplay proved that the franchise still holds rich potential to thrive outside of space auditoriums; that FoxNext has taken a bold gamble on a relatively unknown quantity like Cold Irons to tap into this promise only sweetens the deal, then.

Stay tuned to Nitchi Gamer in the coming weeks for more details on the Alien saga’s latest – and, if we’re lucky, greatest – foray into the crowded but still celebrated FPS market, and be sure to let us know what you want to see from the project below.

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery

Harry Potter and the Trailer of Secrets – elusive “Hogwarts Mystery” teaser debuts

It goes without saying that when you run as watertight a marketing ship as Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment does with their various licenced IPs, from Monolith’s Lord of the Rings-expanding Middle-Earth saga to Rocksteady’s beloved Batman: Arkham trilogy, teasing your next major release without giving too much away should be child’s play.

In fact, our first look at the publisher’s upcoming mobile RPG set in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, stands as the epitome of this enigmatic promotional approach with its details-thin (to say the least) teaser trailer. We’re never willing to be beaten, though, so let’s see what precious secrets we can glean…

Takeaways:

  • We’re promised the opportunity to live our own “Hogwarts story” this year, which entails honing our wizarding spells and skills, attending classes with Hogwarts professors as well as choosing friends and rivals to keep close or distant en route.
  • The School of Witchcraft and Wizardry which we’re introduced to here, however, won’t directly align with that which we’ve seen on the page or big-screen; instead, Hogwarts Mystery takes place in a 1980s incarnation of its titular setting.
  • Luckily the more things change, the more they stay the same. What scarce in-game footage we’re afforded in the one-minute sizzle reel does confirm that Professor McGonagall, Rubeus Hagrid and Severus Snape were employed as staff at this dangerous magical institution long before the Boy Who Lived’s arrival.
  • Better yet, before we even reach the mobile RPG’s obvious central locale, Diagon Alley looks set to ease us back into the Wizarding World, with Ollivander’s Wandmarkers presumably serving as the setting for Mystery’s spell-casting tutorial.

Such vague marketing materials as these will hardly dis-spell (see what we did there?) any skepticism among fans, many of whom doubtless wonder whether WB’s newly-formed Harry Potter gaming branch, Portkey Games, and developer Jam City simply want to – allegedly – riff on Pokémon GO’s world-trotting formula for a quick buck.

US-based Potterites will get the rare opportunity to try Jam’s first big-budget production at Universal Studios Orlando’s A Celebration of Harry Potter event on January 26th-28th, while the rest of us can pre-register here ahead of Journey’s full-scale release on mobile devices later this year.

In the meantime, watch the trailer for yourselves below and give us a shout if we’ve missed any crucial details regarding Hogwarts Mystery’s, well, mysterious plotline.

Mobile PvP shooter Star Wars: Rivals announced with not a loot crate in sight (just kidding!)

Even Star Wars’ most optimistic followers would seem hard-pressed to say that the reputation of Disney and Lucasfilm’s four-decade-strong science-fiction universe within the video gaming industry hasn’t been tarnished somewhat of late.

No matter how many past wrongs EA righted in crafting their ambitious online FPS follow-up Star Wars: Battlefront II, not least by ditching Season Passes and introducing a single-player campaign, it’s safe to say that their controversial-at-best Loot Crate system fared about as favourably as the Empire’s myriad Death Stars upon its debut.

The show must go on, however, and Disney evidently plans to waste no time whatsoever in directing fans’ attention away from Battlefront II while EA continues to perform damage control on said debacle, focusing instead on their next licensed project set in a galaxy far, far away.

Takeaways:

  • The project in question? Star Wars: Rivals, a self-proclaimed competitive action shooter which pits both the heroes whom fans love and the villains whom they love to hate against one another on cover-based, semi-destructible PvP battlefields.
  • As with most entries in its genre, players progress through Rivals by completing Arena Leagues, collecting both common and rare characters to recruit on their team, utilising each contender’s unique weapons and abilities, and striving to earn Bonuses by teaming up heroes from the Rebellion, Underworld and other factions.
  • If our usage of the phrase “common and rare characters” set off any alarm bells in your mind, then it’s not entirely without reason. Disney’s press release does openly admit that Reward Crates will make their not-so-long-awaited comeback in some form here, though with no further details on pricing provided as of yet.
  • On the plus side, one aspect of the revived Battlefront franchise which Rivals won’t borrow is its 2015 freshman outing’s refusal to look beyond the Original Trilogy for inspiration. Expect to see settings including Empire’s Bespin, Rogue One’s Scarif and The Force Awakens’ Jakku amongst the shooter’s initial Arena roster.
  • As for the scoundrels, Jedi Knights and nerf herders duking it out on these maps, we already know that Han Solo, Boba Fett, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Finn, Captain Phasma, Chewbacca, Admiral “it’s a trap!” Ackbar, Orson Krennic, R2-D2 and (brace yourselves) Salacious Crumb will appear, with more heroes still to be announced.

Will Rivals defy as many expectations as Rian Johnson did with The Last Jedi, throwing in legions of Porgs, “yo mama” jokes and outrage-inducing mythology subversions en route?

Time will tell, but so long as Disney can manage expectations as to how their Reward Crate system – the likes of which usually better befit free-to-play mobile games anyway – will operate, then chances are that the Force could still prove strong with this one.

We’re still waiting on Rivals’ official release date for the time being, but those wanting to pre-register on Google Play can do so now right here and scoop themselves some bonus Death Trooper support units fresh from Rogue One in the process.

Assassin's Creed Rogue: Remastered

Assassin’s Creed Rogue: Remastered throws fans a post-Origins curveball

Inevitably after the release of any critically lauded franchise instalment like Assassin’s Creed: Origins, which sent fans and critics alike into something of an ecstatic frenzy last year with its rich open-world and much-needed gameplay mechanics overhaul, the question which immediately eagle dives onto everyone’s lips is this – what next?

Well, now we have our answer courtesy of Ubisoft, though if the above headline didn’t offer a clear enough hint on the matter, they’re taking a rather unexpected detour from the beaten track. Or to put it another way – introducing Assassin’s Creed: Rogue Remastered…

Takeaways:

  • This long-rumoured remake of what UbiBlog justifiably calls the action-adventure RPG series’ “lost game” will bring renegade Irish Assassin Shay McCormack’s journey from pirate to heretic to Templar in the United States’ 1700s French-Indian War onto PS4 and Xbox One.
  • Bringing a “wider audience” – which Ubi willingly admit the original PS3 / Xbox 360 version never amassed – to Rogue takes more than a straight port, though, and indeed Remastered will sport a number of technical upgrades including “higher resolution textures, improved shadows and lighting, and many other visual improvements” come release day.
  • Speaking of which, there’s not long to wait until Assassin’s Creed next makes port in the vicinity of a retailer near you; Rogue Remastered, rather than fitting into place as the series’ annual autumn outing, will ship (no pun intended, really!) on March 20th worldwide.

Where fans will stand on Assassin’s Creed: Rogue Remastered most likely depends on whether they thought the franchise’s Renaissance escapades warranted a full-scale remaster in 2016’s Assassin’s Creed: The Ezio Collection; are Ubisoft needlessly diverting resources away from core entries to make a quick buck on past glories?

We can’t provide all the answers to such complex industry debates on nostalgia vs. innovation, but no doubt fans aplenty will relish the opportunity to revisit the then-ice-capped plains of New York with a sea shanty-warbling crew behind them, especially since Rogue packed easily one of Creed’s most emotionally investing storylines to date.

Be sure to let us know whether you’re planning to pick up Assassin’s Creed: Rogue Remastered this March 20th, and what you’d like to see when Ubisoft almost certainly announces the true next instalment for their hit stealth saga later this year.

The Last of Us - Ellie

Stakes, justice and “awesome ideas” teased for The Last of Us: Part II

When the sequel to one of your most recent projects scores itself a dedicated panel at the PlayStation Experience (PSX), it’s a surefire sign that you’ve done something right as a developer.

Just look at Naughty Dog, whose 2013 third-person horror epic The Last of Us earned itself such massive applause from critics and mass audiences alike that its follow-up’s much-anticipated status and resultant PSX presentation come as no surprise.

Here’s what we learned from writer-director Neil Druckmann and co-writer Halley Gross as they teased what terrors and thrills await us in The Last of Us: Part II

Takeaways:

  • Much of Part II‘s top-secret narrative takes place in the city of Seattle, where the increasingly world-wearied Joel and Ellie will pursue some form of justice (probably against the Fireflies, if the sequel’s haunting teaser trail was any indication), only to find the lines of morality becoming evermore blurred en route.
  • Druckmann warns that “no-one is safe” in the franchise’s plague-ridden, undead-infested world, so even Joel and Ellie – undoubtedly one of gaming’s most beloved modern pairings – mightn’t make it to Part II‘s credits alive, regardless of how much trauma they’ve endured up to this point.
  • Indeed, one of Druckmann and Gross’ key goals here involved raising the personal and physical stakes for their already battered protagonists, in a similar vein to how Uncharted 4 took Nathan Drake to his very limits, but – according to IGN – with even less in the way of that series finale’s lighthearted hi-jinks. Don’t go in hoping for Joel and Ellie to masquerade as Italian waiters, in other words.
  • That’s not to say we can’t expect any glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel, however. Despite their storyline’s undoubtedly grim tone, the writers were equally adamant at Part II‘s PSX panel that players would find “hope” and “lighthearted moments” peppered throughout the script alongside its more harrowing sequences.
  • Speaking of harrowing experiences, apparently nailing down the plot’s second act proved tougher than expected for Druckmann and Gross alike, with the former worrying about a “big giant middle part” – his words, not ours – until the latter suggested some “awesome ideas” to keep players invested throughout.

Much as hearing all these intriguing comments surrounding Part II doesn’t make the undefined wait time any easier, Druckmann did also reveal that “50-60%” of the sequel’s levels have been completed as of this weekend and that we can expect more footage – presumably in the form of a full gameplay demo this time – at E3 2018 next June.

Until then, be sure to let us know your predictions for Part II in the comments section and watch voice actors Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson’s stirring rendition of the teaser trail’s haunting melody, “Wayfaring Stranger”, at the PSX panel below.

Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus PS4 gameplay showcases foliage and foes

Barring Soul Calibur VI‘s full-fledged reveal trailer, our latest look at Detroit: Become Human and smatterings of new details on projects like God of War and The Last of Us: Part II, it’s safe to say that this year’s PlayStation Experience (PSX) event hasn’t exactly been one for the history books.

All the same, Bluepoint Games have ensured that Shadow of the Colossus‘ raptorous fanbase isn’t coming away from the weekend empty-handed; enter a full gameplay demo showcasing the technical updates which the studio’s most beloved production to date has undergone since 2005 in preparation for its PS4 revival…

Takeaways:

  • Speaking to Bluepoint’s president Marco Thrush and technical director Peter Dalton, PlayStation Blog’s Justin Massongill joins the rest of us in watching in awe as Colossus‘ steeled warrior protagonist Wander explores the mysterious “forbidden land” atop his trusted steed, Agro.
  • Thrush and Dalton are justifiably keen to point out the upcoming PS4 remake’s myriad aesthetic upgrades, from a wind particle system sweeping leaves realistically across their mysterious setting’s barren forest landscape, to water simulation effects evoking an eerily similar sense of the uncanny.
  • Naturally Wander can’t spend all his time, well, wandering. Quite to the contrary, only a few minutes of the video pass by before he’s brought face-to-pincer with a centipede-like Colossus boss whom he’ll need to employ a combination of covert archery and savage sword strikes in order to thwart.
  • If tales of the original’s convoluted control scheme threaten to deter you from attempting to scale such a beast, however, then fret not. Alongside Classic Mode, which retains the 2005 PS2 action RPG’s control layout for veterans, Dalton promises a revised scheme built to minimise potential grief for “new players”.

As with many of the AAA titles teased at PSX this weekend, we’re still no closer to learning a precise release date for Shadow of the Colossus‘ PS4 edition, but with Massongill remarking upon how quickly development has proceeded since E3 2017, don’t expect to wait too much longer before the truth comes to light.

Let us know your thoughts on Bluepoint’s latest Colossus showcase in the comments section below.

Meet the Ghost of Consoles Past – Jak and Daxter sequels join PS2 Classics range

Which do you want first – the good news or the bad news?

The good news is that Sony has opted to provide devotees with another opportunity to indulge in some hearty festive nostalgia this Christmas, namely by rehashing three of their past greatest hits as part of their PS2 Classics range. The bad news is that if you’re tired of callbacks to console generations gone by, then you’d best stop reading now.

Takeaways:

  • Following Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy‘s three-month lead, the eponymous platforming franchise’s second, third and fourth instalments – Jak II, Jak 3 and Jak X Combat Racing – are all set to become PS2 Classics on December 6th.
  • In case you didn’t play them the first time around in 2003-2005, each member of this eclectic trio of follow-ups brought fresh new dynamics to the semi-open-world adventure saga, from Jak II‘s gunplay to Jak 3‘s weapon modifications to Combat Racing‘s visceral riffs on the Mario Kart formula (no, really!).
  • Don’t hold your breath for a full remaster, however, since all PS2 Classics re-releases are merely up-rezzed 1080p facsimiles of their former selves, albeit with recent PS4 online features like Remote Play, Share Play and Trophies thrown in for good measure.

Naturally, your mileage with each of these revived Jak titles will vary considerably depending on a) whether you’ve played them before and b) whether or not the ongoing industry trend of retreading well-trodden ground with such remakes has gotten old for you at this stage.

But Sony wouldn’t have pursued their Classics range if its offerings to date – as well as their recent Uncharted, The Last of Us and Crash Bandicoot remakes – hadn’t sold enough copies to make this a feasible business strategy. The appetite’s clearly there, then, even if the wider implications for video game innovation need further discussion down the line.

As for the two PSP-exclusive entries in Jak‘s platforming pantheon, 2006’s Daxter and 2009’s Jak and Daxter: The Last Frontier, whether they end up follow suiting most likely depends on how the latter three instalments in his original quadrilogy fare on the PlayStation Store.

Let us know below whether you’re planning to pick Jak II-X up, or want to see original storylines concocted for everyone’s favourite elf-ottsel pairing in future.

Sekhmet is coming to town in Assassin’s Creed: Origins December update

Most gamers might plan to deck the halls with boughs of holly this month in preparation for a certain festive event, but Assassin’s Creed: Origins developer Ubisoft Montreal lives to defy expectations.

Instead, they’re plundering the Halls of the Dead for their action-adventure RPG’s latest update, introducing a wealth of seemingly omnipotent deities for Egyptian warrior Bayek to overcome and new modes set to up the ante further.

Takeaways:

  • It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the physical reincarnations of Anubis and Sobek already await those Creed veterans willing to put in the hours to find them amidst the deserts and jungles of Ancient Egypt. But as of this month, Sekhmet will join the fray, enabling – or daring – you to duel up to three gods at once.
  • Fans of Gears of War‘s Horde Mode or its countless derivative counterparts in other franchises can rejoice too. Origins will also introduce “Here Comes a New Challenger”, an endless survival mission pitting Bayek against hordes of increasingly resilient foes within a Cyrene arena.
  • Speaking of challenges, anyone who grinded through Origins‘ main campaign with ease should keep an eagle eye out for the open world odyssey’s incoming Nightmare difficulty setting. Combined with enemies now scaling to match your level across all difficulties, the mode promises to test even the most skilled players to their limits.

No official launch date has been set in stone – or marble, as might befit the Ancient epoch – for Origins‘ latest update yet, but expect to see a “new world of gods and monsters” make its way to consoles and PC before the New Year. In the meantime, look out for the Gladiator Items Pack this December 12th and the Wacky Items Pack on Boxing Day.

If you’ve yet to pick up Origins, though, whether due to series fatigue or other reservations, be sure to check out Chris Wheatley’s review for D-pad Joy and find out why now is “the perfect time to step back inside the Animus”.

Looking Back at Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning

Do you remember the good old days, when video games put fast hack-and-slashing combat sequences and extensive levelling systems first and a deep narrative with memorable characters second? BigHuge Games certainly banked on gamers holding some kind of nostalgia for those titles of yore with their fantasy RPG Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning. However, depending on your preferences, their ambitious open-world title may appear to have backfired in its retro homage.

You need only sense the feeling of lacking innovation that pervades Reckoning’s storyline to see just how much emphasis it places on its gameplay- you’ll find your character resurrected from the dead into an ancient war between the mortal races and their immortal tyrants, and thanks to your selective amnesia, in essence, you’re given the chance to choose your destiny, branching off into any skill set and reputation that suits your play style. Various fantasy stereotypes like the intimidating wise councils, the ancient royal families and their descendants are employed constantly and regularly, to the point that you’ll find yourself almost completely devoid of empathy or emotive connection to any of the identikit races that you come across.

This sounds like an exciting premise at first, but it’ll quickly become apparent that the supposedly limitless choices at your disposal are markedly more finite than they are in Skyrim. Far from being able to forge your fate and have your name become either one that instils fear or pleasure across the kingdom that lies before you, all of the separate towns and villages just feel like isolated mission areas whose population only have an inclination to you based on the pre-determined actions you perform throughout the entirety of the forty-hour campaign and the various (repetitive) side missions.

The moment that it becomes obvious that your actions are having very little major change on the game world around you is precisely the point at which you’ll realise that Reckoning is far less immersive and compelling to blitz through than any recent RPG legends.

That the game’s graphics are sub-par at best- unlikely to have looked out of place on the PS2 or the original Xbox in a similar vein to Fable– doesn’t help, either. Electronic Arts didn’t place much faith in the Kingdoms franchise based on the underwhelming locales and character models that must surely be the result of a restrained budget.

The game’s one saving grace is undoubtedly its fine combat- harkening back to classics like God of War, it’s fast-paced and dynamic (even more so than Skyrim at times), boasting a genuinely arcadey style that is easy to pick up and develop on as you progress your character’s skills and abilities. If BigHuge could have worked on making every element of the game experience as refined and unique as this, we might have ended up with a more satisfactory overall product than we got with Reckoning.

Everything about Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning feels a little dated, its woefully recycled plot suffering the worst in a period where video gaming narratives had evolved to become such deep and engaging experiences. Although if I’m being nice, you still may be able to get some fun out of this.

Looking Back at The Amazing Spider-Man [Xbox 360]

Hello, true believers! I’ll be presenting this Past Blast in a slightly different format than usual, so without further ado:

Was The Amazing Spider-Man a good movie game?

The short answer? Heck yes. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this was the best movie licensed video game that gamers will have seen in a long time, packing a very compelling narrative, solid game-play and plenty of incentives to explore its deep and rich world. This kind of effort from developer Beenox puts previous identikit effortless movie instalments including Monsters Vs Aliens and Green Lantern to utter shame.

Does it match up to Spider-Man 2, Beenox’s other efforts and/or Arkham City?

Right from the off, many of you will no doubt have wondered whether this movie tie-in could possibly live up to what are perceived as the best Spider-Man games, recent Spidey efforts from Beenox and indeed the legendary Batman: Arkham City. What I’ll do first is provide a brief list of the scores I would have given to the past aforementioned games:

  • Spider-Man 2 (2004): 4/5
  • Ultimate Spider-Man (2005): 4/5
  • Spider-Man: Web Of Shadows (2008): 3/5
  • Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions (2010): 3/5
  • Spider-Man: Edge Of Time (2011): 2/5
  • Batman: Arkham City (2011): 5/5

This is right up there with the best entries in the Spider-Man games roster so far. This almost does for Stan Lee’s Webbed Wonder what Arkham Asylum kicked off for the Dark Knight, yet there is a little too much crawling in repetitive sewers, Oscorp facilities, factories and sewers (oops, did I already mention that?) for this to be dubbed truly as ‘amazing’ a development as the Arkham series.

It’s probably fair to say that this may be the best Spider-Man game of all time, but all the same that doesn’t mean that it’s up on the same level as Batman’s best just yet.

How strong is the game’s storyline? Does it feel like a pointless epilogue?

There was a confidence here, thanks to Marvel’s allowance of creative vision on the part of the writing team, that can’t help but wow the player – even today.

After the events of the film, Peter Parker’s alter-ego is forced to live with the consequences of his actions as his attempts to stop the Lizard have put someone in power at Oscorp who poses perhaps an even greater threat. Surprisingly enough, this man is not Norman Osborn, yet the hints we get at his overarching role in this rebooted universe and the shocking plot twists that occur throughout the game are incredibly effective, doing to the film franchise what the Arkham games did to their self-contained version of the DC Comics universe.

While this game isn’t intended to connect The Amazing Spider-Man to its 2014 sequel, the narrative is a sublime adventure for players to blitz through, really upping the stakes in a way that other movie games could only aspire to.

Will the visuals impress me as much as Arkham City’s did?

Sadly, no. One of the only major faults I can pick out in Amazing are the graphics of the game. Much as Beenox have clearly put a lot of effort into creating a living and breathing replica of a modern-day Manhattan in their engine, the majority of the buildings, characters and environments on offer here are bland to say the very least.

It was never likely going to be possible for a movie game whose budget was sparse, to say the least, to match up to Rocksteady’s sublime, beautiful epic. Nevertheless, it is a shame that we’ve got graphics here that are more reminiscent of 2008’s Web Of Shadows than they are of Arkham.

Does the free-roaming Manhattan work well as an open-world?

Thankfully, this one is most definitely a positive. Although it perhaps doesn’t sport as wide a variety of (divisive) mini-games as the Spider-Man 2 tie-in’s incarnation of the Big Apple, this version of Manhattan is the most believable and realistic rendition of the city yet. Indeed, it truly fits in with the vision of the Marc Webb film reboot.

The new Web Rush mechanic allows for great, fluid navigation of the skyscrapers and roads in a way that no other game based around everyone’s favourite Webbed Wonder has before. Just swinging through Manhattan will feel pretty exhilarating to the vast majority of fans, and the action-packed battles you’ll partake in on the city’s various layers simply enhances the sheer immersion that this open-world exudes every time you boot it up.

Is the combat and stealth gameplay engine just a rehash of the Batman games?

There’s no doubting that Beenox has taken inspiration from the popularity of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City’s gameplay style in their road of development for Amazing. Anyone who’s played either of the aforementioned Dark Knight greats will smell their scent here from a mile off, and as such, there’s no way this licensed title could ever hope to fully top its superhero predecessor in terms of basic innovation.

Again, the Web Rush feature factors strongly into the way that Spider-Man faces his enemies, and for the most part this works marvel-lously (see what I did there?). However, the actual combat-counter system a la Arkham feels somewhat more static than its inspiration – there will be times where you’ll take hits that seemed unfair and the ‘Spider Sense’ alert mechanic doesn’t appear to give you nearly enough leeway. It’s nothing game-breaking by any means, but it does certainly highlight the learning gap between this and the near-perfect mechanics employed over in Gotham City in the past.

What kind of replay value (if any) is there in the title?

As I mentioned earlier, Beenox’s dedication to providing us with a Spider-Man title worthy of the universe’s fanbase has resulted in some brilliant extras being included on top of the campaign. In addition to the obligatory heaping of side missions and character upgrades, there are literally hundreds of comic-book pages scattered throughout the city for Spidey to grab on his travels.

Where other licensed titles might stop there and simply offer a few Achievements or Trophies at certain percentages of collection, the developers take things one step further. Once you’ve collected the required numbers of pages, you’ll actually have the chance to read the stories you’ve pieced together. Yep, from the classic issue of Amazing Fantasy that introduced us to the arachnid wonder to his own title’s first renditions of in-game baddies such as Rhino, Scorpion and Alistair Smythe, there really are some fantastic adventures to learn about or relive here, and it stands testament to Beenox’s attention to detail and nostalgia that they would include such a worthy source of replay value into a movie licensed game.

Conclusion

I think it’s fair to say that no-one would ever have expected The Amazing Spider-Man to be up there with the best games ever. What was a hugely pleasant surprise, though, is that were it not for the stolen gimmicks and lacklustre visuals, I think this entry really came closer than any other Spidey game to being considered for that accolade.

Now, we await next year’s Spider-Man on PS4. How will that turn out? Time will tell. Until then, Excelsior!

Looking Back at Rayman Origins [PS3]

In a world where popcorn-shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield reign largely dominant over their industry despite their tiresome linearity and woeful storylines, it’s refreshing every once in a while to find a game that doesn’t rely on a formulaic template set down by the past legends of its genre. Those of us who aren’t waiting for the midnight launch for the next COD look to a select group of prized developers who will offer us consistently innovative and thought-provoking experiences: developers like Valve, Rocksteady, CryTech and Capcom, all masters of their respective trades rarely given enough attention by the wider gaming community, but treasured by those with a keen eye for talent. We added Ubisoft Montpellier to the list with the release of Rayman Origins…

Origins tells a simple tale – Rayman and his buddies are fast asleep, and their snoring awakens a menacing granny and her army of Darktoons, who then precede to capture a handful of Glade Kings and run off into the distance, just begging to be chased. Sound familiar? Yep, there’s more than a hint of the Mario franchise about this one; from the whimsical soundtrack to the fast-paced, rhythmic gameplay, countless elements that have made the iconic plumber’s recent escapades such captivating romps are present here, and as you might expect the whole experience plays out all the better for it.

However, what might come as more of a surprise is just how much Origins has to offer of its own accord. For starters, there’s a great variety in the styles and themes of each of the levels on offer, ensuring that the player won’t ever be stuck with the same repetitive gameplay mechanic for too long, but equally that they’ll get enough time with the thrilling flight sections, the incredibly addictive bonus chase sequences and the oft-hilarious boss battles that they won’t ever be left feeling short-changed either.

Take that generic shooters!

Perhaps even greater an achievement than that, though, comes in the simply sublime animation. The in-house UbiArt Framework engine made specifically for this project works wonders, giving a distinct visual flair to characters, locales and objects throughout every level, and is rendered stunningly in high-definition. You need only watch a trailer or gameplay demo of Origins to get a glimpse at the sheer level of attention and detail that’s gone into each aspect of its graphical style. This was undoubtedly a trend-setter for any development teams who dare to take a new approach to their animations and artwork.

I would offer a word of warning: Rayman Origins is not for the faint of heart. Like the Mario Bros and Prince of Persias of old, this game is not afraid to have you throwing your controller across the room as you fall down that same pit you’ve been trying to conquer for the past hour for a hundredth time. Ubisoft made the opening half of the game deceptively accessible, providing players with a fairly simple bunch of levels that can be breezed through in the best part of five hours, but once you’ve reached the midway point (and believe me, you’ll know when you’re there), the difficulty ramps up dramatically, as you’re forced to scour back through past levels to desperately search for more Electroons that can open up the path to new worlds.

Such an unprecedented shift in challenge is likely to alienate a significant proportion of the game’s younger audience, simply because there are so many titles out there right now which don’t pose so much of a struggle or require as much time to be invested in order to complete them. Personally, I would say that the team at Montpellier should really have balanced out the learning curve of Rayman Origins’s later levels a little better to make the idea of putting the disc back into our consoles for one more go seem a little less daunting.

That said, I commend the studio for sticking to their guns and giving us a ‘hardcore’ platformer that gloriously harkens back to the days of the Mega Drive and the SNES, packing all of the challenge and innovation that made the classics such a joy to play in their heyday. Whether you’re able to beat it or not, there’s absolutely no denying that Rayman Origins is a stunning pinnacle of modern platforming and visual design. Above all, it’s a cracking showcase of what consoles can offer (besides first-person shooters).