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REVIEW: The Brink of a Genre, Worth Exploring

Stretching The Edges of a Genre

Brink was developed by Splash Damage and published by Bethesda Softworks for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows PC. It was directed by Paul Wedgewood, Richard Ham, Olivier Leonardi, Chris Sweetman, Arnout van Meer, Richard Jolly and Stephen Gaffney. The Xbox360 copy was played for the purpose of this review following the day one patch released from developer Splash Damage.

Innovation rarely produces perfection, but it always brings something new to the table. Something on the brink of existing standards, stretching old rules with the new ideas it brings forward. Flipping on Brink for the first time, and watching it’s lengthy tutorial videos (10-30 minutes), you get the immediate sense that you are playing an ambitious shooter. Four classes, directly interdependent with one another, three distinct body types, and a plethora of weapons and abilities help shape the battlefield of Brink in a way that is rarely seen in this generation’s “run ‘n’ gun, lone-wolf” brand of first-person shooters. Brink’s team centric, objective-based battles are laden with a variety of fun opportunities, but they are also fraught with technical issues that will leave those with slow internet connections as well as eye-candy junkies disappointed. Visual issues frequently result in constant texture pop-in and online lag often interrupts the fast-paced flow of combat. Problems with the bot’s artificial intelligence in Brink can also be downright infuriating. There, is without a doubt, mountains of lasting fun to be had with Brink, however with all it’s innovation aside, it falls short of perfection.

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RED DEAD REDEMPTION – Review

RED DEAD REDEMPTION is a videogame developed by Rockstar San Diego and Rockstar North, published by Rockstar Games for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The Xbox 360 version was played for the purpose of this review. It was directed by JOSH BASS, DAREN BADER and TED CARSTON.

Before I begin, there are 3 things you should know.

The first one is that I find the GTA games to be a painful experience, consisting of controlling characters I don’t care about, doing stuff I don’t want for people I hate. The second thing is that I’m a big fan of Westerns, which must have been very annoying for my roommates as I discoursed about every single tiny movie influence I could spot in Red Dead Redemption, from John Marston’s duster outfit, straight out of Once Upon a Time in the West, to the plot itself, lifted from The Proposition. The third one is that I really like how most Rockstar games come with an actual map enclosed with the game box. Not only is it a testament for the amount of polish Rockstar adds to its games, but also helps the game be more immersive– as it begins to “embrace” my real life when, for instance, I use that map to plan my next moves instead of eating my dinner.

Moving on. Red Dead Redemption is a good game. It contains some moments that are pretty close to greatness and the amount of care put into this game is almost palpable (Well, actually, it IS palpable! There is that map after all!). Unfortunately, however, it still suffers from issues like pacing, ludonarrative dissonance, flat characters, lack of focus, clutter and noise. There are also some control issues (e.g.: occasionally, turning your horse will feel like you are back to Resident Evil‘s “tank controls” days), but who cares about those, right? However, one thing is for certain: Red Dead Redemption is certainly the best western game out there right now – though I am certain it will be later passed by better western games. Read the rest of this entry

MASS EFFECT 2 – Review

MASS EFFECT 2 is a videogame developed by BioWare, published by Electronic Arts for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. The Xbox 360 version was played for the purpose of this review. It was directed by CASEY HUDSON.

Isn’t it weird? We have written 28 (TWENTY EIGHT!) articles about Mass Effect 2, but not a single tiny review? It’s time we corrected that.

So! Although I knew it from the start that liked Mass Effect 2 a lot, it took me some time to figure out exactly why I liked it. I knew what I disliked in it, though. I also knew it was a near great game; basically, for the same reasons ActRaiser was a near great game: the game’s main mechanism had to be diluted in order to hide its flaws.

I’ve only became aware of where the greatness of Mass Effect 2 laid after examining Mass Effect 1. The original Mass Effect tried to play it as much as a new IP could possibly do, for it was, at the end of the day, essentially Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (or KotOR – also developed by BioWare) sans the “Star Wars” part. The plot structure, the moral choices, the items, allies and quest mechanisms surrounding the adventure of the newest Jedi of A Galaxy Far Far Away were all basically the same stuff we would relive during the tale of the first human “Spectre” agent of Mass Effect’s Citadel Council. Stuff like these usually leave me raging mad – after all, if I wanted to play that same game again I would… play the same game again! (Coming up next… our merry review for Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood!)

Despite that, Mass Effect did manage to deviate from the mold, and during those times it shone – even if such deviations were eventually unpolished. Most importantly, instead of the tired old Light vs. Dark Side bickering involving lightsabers, furries and that same old desert planet that appears to be omnipresent despite being “the planet that it’s farthest the bright center to the universe”, we have a whole new – and incredibly fleshed-out – galactic lore involving xenophobia, the revolt of technology, the frustrating shackles of official regulations versus the abuse and the calamities caused by unregulated environments, all tied up in a neat bundle rich with background details.

It’s from this new, fresh universe that the greatness of the Mass Effect franchise emanates. It’s that mythos that elevated what would otherwise be a trite conflict involving Commander Shepard, the new sheriff in town, and Saren Arterius, a veteran Spectre agent from an alien race whose role is pretty much to serve as proxy Klingons, into something whose meaning and consequences we cared about. Read the rest of this entry

Kinect Makes Super Cool Guy Eat His Own Hat

Mr. Wrong

Image via Wikipedia

So, do you remember this?

Well, according to VGChartz, Microsoft’s Kinect did in fact eventually reach the milestone of 4 million units sold worldwide (2.6 million units in the Americas) in the week that ended on Dec. 11. Of units sold, 40% of them bundled with a Xbox 360 console, which indicates that there actually was an expansion of the console’s user base. The PlayStation Move, which didn’t get all the marketing support the Kinect did, has sold just over 900 thousand units so far.

So yeah, I was wrong. Colin Sebastian was right.

Shit. I hate being wrong.

However, I still don’t believe Kinect’s success has enough legs for the long run, since the arguments presented in that article (you know, the 5 reasons why once up, you can’t come back down) are all still valid.

Now leave me alone while I enjoy my grudge for not having my MBA funded by Lazard Capital Markets.

But hey! On the other hand, I’m not unemployed anymore. I got an actual paid job! But what a beautiful coincidence!

BIONIC COMMANDO (2009) – Review

BIONIC COMMANDO is a videogame developed by GRIN, published by Capcom for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. The Xbox 360 version was played for the purpose of this review. It was directed by ULF ANDERSSON.

I really don’t get the logic behind remakes. Usually, when a remake is made, it is for a game that was already a success and almost hasn’t aged. In other words, remakes are made for games that simply do not need to be remade! Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t we only remake games that could use a second chance? Games with a cool concept and a terrible execution, like Geist, or games that were good back then but aged badly, like Metroid II: Return of Samus and Final Fantasy VII? These are the types of games that deserved to be remade.

Bionic Commando (2009) is one of such games. Between remakes and adaptations, the original Bionic Commando, published in 1987 for the Arcades and 1988 for the NES, was already released at least 3 times, the latest one being Bionic Commando Rearmed, which is, incidentally, not only very good but also the prequel to the 2009 game. Therefore, it is with some irony that I ask for the remake of the only direct sequel this game ever got in 21 years.

This is because if there is a game that deserves a second chance, this is it. Bionic Commando is schlock, and shouldn’t be. Beyond all its layers of mediocrity and straight up stupidity, there is a solid, fun and engaging concept of swinging-slash-combat. It’s like a muffin with a huge stump and a tiny, tiny top. Read the rest of this entry

BLUE DRAGON – Review

BLUE DRAGON is a videogame developed by Mistwalker and Artoon, published by Microsoft Game Studios for the Xbox 360. It was directed by HIRONOBU SAKAGUSHI.

Well… this game sucks.

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BIOSHOCK 2 – Review

BIOSHOCK 2 is a videogame developed by 2K Marin and published by 2K Games for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC. The Xbox 360 version was played for the purpose of this review. It was directed by JORDAN THOMAS.

If a singular aspect, alone, can propel a game to greatness, than perhaps the original Bioshock was that game. The game’s opening piece, with an airplane crashing near a towering lighthouse in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and its now famous plot twist are still some of my favorite gaming moments of all times. Games like that don’t need sequels. Especially when their creative director declares they had already fulfilled their vision and moved on to other projects. However, it is not some director’s vision that moves the world of games around. It’s money; and it’s naïve to assume otherwise. So Bioshock 2 was born. An unnecessary sequel. But an unnecessary sequel isn’t a bad thing by itself, mind you – as proved Godfather Part II.

Still, I was skeptical about Bioshock 2 even though the new creative director was the guy in charge of everyone’s (but Tom) favorite area of the original: Fort Frolic. In the end, I was right to be skeptical for Bioshock 2 is schlock whose main achievement is to ease our nostalgia of the underwater city of Rapture.

I actually stopped for a while before deeming the game as schlock. Was I being too harsh? Especially saying that New Super Mario Bros. Wii (NSMBW) was good game despite adding nothing to the Mario canon? Here I realized my own bias of rating sequels: I demand more from sequels of games I loved than from games I disliked. After all, you rate things based on your expectation, which are determined by the original game. Looking back, this thought is consistent to my actions: I absolutely loved Super Mario Sunshine (sorry, Tom) and despised its sequel (sorry again, Tom), Super Mario Galaxy (to which NSMBW is also a sequel). So, for all intents and purposes, that’s why I believe I’m being just with Bioshock 2 in my evaluation.

The biggest problem of Bioshock 2 is that it never justified its existence. It has no raison d’être. In an interview with Jordan Thomas, the man stated he wanted to use the sequel to provide contrast to the schools of thought presented in the first game, “a new way of thinking and hopefully take it to a similar extreme”. By playing the game, I could see that he tried, but his vision never came close to being fulfilled. In the end, Bioshock 2 improves its shooting mechanics and little else. It learned nothing from the original game’s mistakes, its narrative themes are never fully realized (or even consistent with the ones from the previous game for that matter) and the missions demanded from the gamer are never satisfactorily justified, thus breaking the immersion.

Despite all that, Bioshock 2 is usually able to conserve the same atmosphere of the first game (but not always). Combat mechanisms are also better and new types of enemies helped making this game perceptibly harder. So, considering it improved the gameplay and keeps the atmosphere of the first game intact, shouldn’t I be more forgiving with the game then? Read the rest of this entry

What Goes Up, Can’t Go Down

Or: Why the Microsoft Kinect and the Playstation Move are doomed to fail*

Update 1:

I’ve realized I needed to make the definition of what ‘fail’ meant more explicit. In this case, ‘fail’ refers to catering to the non-gamer market. Considering the article is called “What Goes Up, Can’t Go Down”, I thought that was pretty obvious. If it wasn’t, I hope it is now. Monocle smile! 😉

Update 2 (12/18/2010):

Well, according to VGChartz, Microsoft’s Kinect did in fact eventually reach the milestone of 4 million units sold worldwide (2.6 million units in the Americas) in the week that ended on Dec. 11. Of units sold, 40% of them bundled with a Xbox 360 console, which indicates that there actually was an expansion of the console’s user base. The PlayStation Move, which didn’t get all the marketing support the Kinect did, has sold just over 900 thousand units so far.

So yeah, I was wrong. Colin Sebastian was right.

Shit. I hate being wrong.

However, I still don’t believe Kinect’s success has enough legs for the long run, since the arguments presented in that article below are all still valid.

Now leave me alone while I enjoy my grudge for not having my MBA funded by Lazard Capital Markets.

But hey! On the other hand, I’m not unemployed anymore. I got an actual paid job! But what a beautiful coincidence!

 

 

And now, our featured presentation:

After a good while without writing any kind of analysis on the game industry, I felt the bug bite my neck. Now I can’t stop itching. The only cure is to fetch the Nostradamus hat.

Created by Michel de Nostredame, the N-hat never went out of style

My Nostradamus hat is very competitive toward other analysts’ hats. It runs on jealously alright, but since what ultimately matters is its arguments and logic rather than its drive, I listen to it. That’s why the moment it heard Lazard Capital Markets analyst Colin Sebastian saying we’ll see 4 million Kinect devices sold in the fourth quarter of 2010 alone, it rang its bullshit alarm.

BeeeeepBeeeeepBeeeeep! BeeeeepBeeeeepBeeeeep! BeeeeepBeeeeepBeeeeep !

No, Colin. That won’t happen. Let me tell you why.

In order to see why the Microsoft Kinect and the Playstation Move are doomed to fail, we have to understand why the Nintendo Wii was a success. In order to do this, I’m using the framework provided by Clayton M. Christensen in is book The Innovator’s Dilemma.

The Nintendo Wii was a disruptive type of innovation. There are two kinds of innovation: sustaining and disruptive. A disruptive innovation is an innovation that offers a different set of values, while a sustaining innovation merely improves on the values already established. Whether or not the innovation is radical or incremental in nature is irrelevant. What matters is their value proposition.

Sustaining technologies is about improving product performance. You hear what your customer wants and give it to them. That improvement can be incremental (slightly better graphics) or radical (3D games instead of 2D), easy or difficult to achieve – but the values used to measure the product remain the same. Most technological improvements are like that – that’s also what companies are trying to do all the time: listening to their clients and improving performance to reach higher markets. Examples of sustaining innovations are the PS2, the Gamecube, the PS3 and both the original Xbox and the 360. All these products improved what their predecessor set out to do, delivering better graphics and more processing power.

Disruptive innovations, on the other hand, are usually very straightforward and use off-the-shelf components in a way that’s usually simpler than other approaches. The result is that they obviously cannot offer what the mainstream market wanted. That’s why they must target at other niches, which different values, that desire what the disruptive innovation offers.

In its efforts to stay ahead by developing competitively superior products, sustaining innovations make the companies move upmarket, eventually over-satisfying the needs of their original consumers. When the PS3 was first launched with a $600 price tag, that ended up created a vacuum at lower price point into which a company like Nintendo, employing disruptive technology was able to enter. Another good example of disruptive innovation is the Playstation One. It had graphics that were worse than the Nintendo 64 and it was cheaper too. The disruptive element? The media. CDs allowed cheaper development costs, which attracted developers. The Playstation One also targeted a niche: teens and young male adults who played games casually instead of the mainstream market of the time (children, geeks, etc). Eventually, these types of gamers became the new mainstream.

A neat visual example of how a disruptive innovation operates

So, here was the Nintendo Wii. It targeted the lowest part of the market, the non-gamer. Down and upmarket are simply points of reference. The downmarket is usually a smaller market with smaller typical gross margins. The upmarket is a bigger market with better gross margins. The lower you get to the market, the more price sensitive your clients are going to be. Sony and Microsoft are targeting the upmarket – hardcore gamers – with the better margins. Point in case: their games usually cost 50-60 dollars and more than ever they are relying on service revenues such as online subscriptions and DLC. Meanwhile the Wii has a 30-50 price range and very little focus on online gaming.

While it is natural for a potential Wii2 (or Wiii) to move upmarket, delivering better graphics, other gimmicks and whatnot in order to achieve the more profitable gamer (us), I believe that Nintendo will choose to stay where they are simply because they are in a very cozy position and virtually not being threatened by competition.

On the other hand, enhanced by this new market of non-gamers and casual opportunities, we see an effort from Sony and Microsoft to move downmarket. This is new. Until this E3, Microsoft’s strategy was completely different: to make its presence larger in the higher end markets of countries outside the AEJ belt (US, Western Europe and Japan). That strategy was apparently abandoned though. Microsoft may have realized that there is not much room to go upmarket anymore – and the option to reach that same segment in other regions might contain too many obstacles (taxes, piracy, government biases). Their current markets may offer the better margins now, but the emergent market of non-gamers grows faster and their tastes also evolve.

But here is the bump in my neck I can’t stop scratching: history has proven that while there is considerable upward mobility into the value networks of other markets; the mobility downwards into markets enabled by disrupting technologies is restrained.

In other words, what goes up can’t go down. Nintendo has better chances of going upmarket and targeting hardcore games than Sony and MS’ chances of reaching casual and non-gamers.

There are 5 reasons for this: Read the rest of this entry

Aphelion: Graves of Earth Review


Games on Microsoft’s Xbox Live Indie service are incredibly difficult to review. Reviews are all about comparisons, in the end; I could tell you I had fun, but what does that mean to you? You want to know if game A is better than game B.

Microsoft’s XNA games are difficult because we don’t know what to compare them to. Because yes, they are monetized DLC, so they are naturally compared to other DLC releases, but in terms of general quality are more easily compared to flash games and mods for larger works. To true indie games As in, there’s some strong quality here, but a lot of it is buried under inexperience and low production values.

Aphelion is both different and the same. There are fascinating ideas here, many of which are executed with great focus and effect. On the other hand, these successes are occasionally mired in problems, in amateur mistakes and in the fact that the game itself is only an episodic release.

If you’re looking for a bullet point score, the thing I could say is when I finished it, I wanted to play it again.
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THE DARKNESS – Review

THE DARKNESS is a videogame developed by Starbreeze Studios and published by 2K Games for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The Xbox 360 version was played for the purpose of this review. It was directed by JENS ANDERSSON.

This article contains the following types of spoilers:

  • The game’s major plot points
  • A bunch of other stuff, I’m sure

The Darkness is a good game. You should play it if you find it cheap, because you won’t regret it. It counter-balances moments of near greatness with gameplay hiccups (you will get over them though). Its biggest shortcoming is an annoying moat that just stands there, attracting flies and mosquitoes, between the story and everything else.

It is also a game in which you can press a button to devour human hearts. What other justification for playing it do you need, really? Read the rest of this entry