Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Finish Him?

Eurogamer reports that some THQ exec has stated that a new game has been signed to their fighting division (which currently houses only WWE Smackdown and UFC Undisputed, as far as I'm aware), which will be announced at E3 in June. Judging from his words ("it's a major developer" and "when we announce it you'll go, 'oh they're going with THQ, cool") it's clearly an established name, rather than a new startup. As they're currently covering wrestling and MMA, they could be adding a boxing game to compete with EA's Fight Night series, but the wording doesn't suggest that a certain amount of melee combat in it" So what could it be?

There are four major players left in the fighting game genre, being Sega, Namco, Capcom and Tecmo, none of which would need THQ to publish any of their games, as all are either big players in their own right, or have links with other publishers in Western markets. Minor players in the fighting genre like Arc Systems and SNK-Playmore wouldn't be worth announcing, as their appeal is very niche.

So what does that leave? In my mind, there is only one option: Mortal Kombat. With Midway having disintegrated after declaring bankruptcy, the MK team would need a new publisher, and Ed Boon and co had said that they had salvaged their IP from the wreckage of Midway. By my count, a new game would be Mortal Kombat 9 (that's assuming you don't count things like Ultimate MK3, Mortal Kombat Trilogy or Mortal Kombat Gold as titles in their own right), although it is unlikely to be called that, since the games haven't used numbers in their titles since Mortal Kombat 4.

So, does Mortal Kombat still matter? In the larger scheme of things, no: even with the slight resurgence in fighting games brought on by the huge success of Street Fighter IV, another Mortal Kombat game is unlikely to get people too excited. On a personal level, I had played every Mortal Kombat game up to Deception (MK6, technically), but when Armageddon (MK7) came out Mortal Kombat apathy had set in too deep for me to get it, even when it became really cheap. I didn't even consider MK vs DC Universe (MK8) because the idea seemed so awful.

However, critical reception of MK vs DC Universe wasn't too bad, and even though all the footage I saw of the game seemed to suggest it was as stilted and awkward as the Mortal Kombat games had always been since moving to three dimensions, maybe the work they were supposedly doing on the fighting engine did actually pay some dividends. I still do have a slightly irrational fondness for the series from my youth, and an all-new, proper Mortal Kombat game (not another wretched cross-over) does still pique my interest.

I could be way off the mark about the announcement, though. Roll on E3, then.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hazard Time

Those of you who looked at my gamercard at the side of this blog may have noticed the appearance of Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard. You may be wondering why, with so many excellent games in my backlog, I bothered to play something with a metascore of 53. Well, you may recall my mentioning the game in my post about metagaming, how despite the poor reviews the idea still appealed to me, and that if it got cheap enough I might still be willing to give it a try. About a month or so ago, it got reduced to £4.99 at certain UK online stores, which made it about the same as a mid-priced XBLA game, so I thought I'd go for it. After completing Assassin's Creed II I really wasn't in the mood to start anything epic (or Mass Effect II would have been the next on the list), so I thought I'd give Eat Lead a go. And you know what? I quite enjoyed it.

Blind Fire!

Eat Lead tells the story of made-up 80's action game hero Matt Hazard's return to "next-generation" gaming, a set-up designed to allow Vicious Cycle to parody various elements of game design. At its core is a mediocre cover-based shooter in the style of Gears of War, as Matt fights his way through such gaming constants as warehouses, docks, trainyards, cruise ships and mansions, battling, amongst others, gangsters, cowboys, Russian soldiers, zombies, 2D Nazi sprites and scantily clad, sub-machine gun wielding women with hilariously overdone American, British and Russian accents.


It's not the most impressive game technologically, although the character animation is fine and the ragdoll mechanics quite satisfying. Some of the ropey environments actually worked quite well by reminding me of early Rainbow Six games and even Duke Nukem 3D at times. However, the game can be punishingly difficult at times, and being caught in the open can mean almost instant death, which is something that you are far more willing to accept from a more polished title. With a game like this you are often inclined to blame the sometimes inaccurate cover mechanics, poor set-piece design (there is a level where you get one-shot killed by a sniper if you leave cover for more than two seconds, which just wasn't fun to play) and perhaps a lack of play-testing.

Two dimensional Nazi sprites!

Judged solely on game mechanics the game was always going to struggle, but I don't think it is as bad as some reviewers made it out to be, and I really enjoyed the humour in the game. I noted down quite a number of things that made me chuckle during the game, but I'm not going to just list them here, as jokes are never as funny when you explain them, and I want to avoid a "I guess you had to be there" situation. Some of the humour works better than others; there is a power-armoured cook called the Master Chef who serves no purpose but as a weak name gag, but there is also an orbital laser weapon in one of the boss fights called the Maul of Mourning, which I thought was quite clever, and there is a brilliant encounter with a JRPG boss who speaks in text boxes (forcing Matt to push an on-screen button before he will say any more, even though Matt is trying to talk to him with a normal voice-over), and has the damage done to him shown numerically whenever you shoot him in typical JRPG style. Matt Hazard is voiced by Will Arnett (who played Gob in Arrested Development), who is well-suited to the role; there were a couple of dead-pan inside jokes which were so unexpected that they caused me to laugh out loud when I heard them.

Tentacled sea monsters and holographic female assistants!

I did appreciate that the game was fairly short, I managed to finish it in five playing sessions (it still took me nearly three weeks to get those in, though). This sounds like a very backhanded compliment, but with my gaming time fairly constrained I don't always want to play a 40+ hour epic, I am perfectly happy if a game is over quickly as long as I enjoy the experience while it lasts.

So would I recommend the game? While I certainly enjoyed it, I'm not sure I would. It's a game that you probably have to be favourably disposed towards to enjoy fully, and might be something of an acquired taste.

Effeminate, badly dressed, white-haired guys with improbably large swords!

Despite the poor sales of the game (evidenced by the incredibly low price it is now available for), Vicious Cycle did manage to develop a sequel, albeit a lower budget one. Matt Hazard: Blood Bath & Beyond, a 2D side-scrolling shooter in the vein of Contra, is currently available on XBLA and PSN, and has been slightly better received. I'm actually keen to give it a try, although maybe only sometime in the next few months.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Merciful Indifference

It seemed a while back like games I was really keen to play were coming out in rapid succession, certainly far quicker than my tardy play-rate would ever let me get through them. However, as of late, since Mass Effect 2 came out (which I bought on release day but haven't been able to play yet), there seems to be nothing on the horizon, or in fact for the rest of the year that I feel the need to buy on launch (okay, I have a pre-order in for Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising, but that was placed back in early January).

Final Fantasy XIII? Don't really care

When I took time to consider it, there are actually some really big titles coming out soon, or in the later parts of the year. There's a new Final Fantasy game out now, something which is a huge event in the lives of many gamers. I'm not one of them, however, there are four or five other RPGs I'd want to play first, and even after that I'm not sure I'm that keen on the bizarre Japanese combat scenarios or the fact that the cast seems like it was designed by a cosplay focus group at an Anime convention.

There's also a new Splinter Cell coming out, which many people are pretty excited about, but I probably won't play it because of this bizarre OCD I have which doesn't let me start playing a series with any sort of story on the fifth game when I haven't played the earlier games. I finished the first Splinter Cell, own copies of Pandora Tomorrow (2) and Chaos Theory (3), and could get hold of Double Agent (4) easily enough, but there's no way I'd have time to play through all of them. I'm weird, I know.

Starcraft II? Will probably buy it, but am not really excited

Later in the year, Starcraft 2 will come out, no doubt destroying productivity in South Korea for at least a week. In the Western world, too, there are legions of PC gamers foaming at the mouth at the prospect of their 12 year wait for a sequel to one of the best RTS games ever being nearly at an end. Despite this, I'm not that excited about it. I will probably buy the game, and I'm sure it will be polished and enjoyable as Blizzard games always are, but from what I've seen of it (admittedly not that much, as I haven't been following the betas that closely) it looks like a throwback to the old style of RTS games when the genre has moved on, like Blizzard knew they could not risk alienating the South Korean pro-gamers by messing with the formula. For some, a high-res Starcraft will be all they ever wanted, but I'm also a little concerned that the Blizzard of old is gone, the key staff having moved to different companies over the years as Blizzard became World of Warcraft Inc. It's probably worth remembering that the last RTS Blizzard released was the relatively underwhelming Warcraft III. I have over 800 ranked games of Dawn of War II to my name - I highly doubt I will get anywhere near that on

God of War III? Do want, but not buying a PS3 right now

There are a couple of PS3 games I'm interested in: Heavy Rain, while derided by some as a giant set of quick time events masquerading as a game, sounds like a fascinating new direction for the graphic adventure to me, and is something I'd like to try. God of War III comes out in the next few weeks, too, and there is pretty much no way that it could not be awesome. However, my enthusiasm for these games is damped somewhat by the fact that I don't own a PS3, and I'm not actually in a hurry to buy one so I can have more games I might not get around to playing.

Split/Second? Cars and explosions are some of my favourite things, but not always together

That's not to say that there aren't any Xbox games I'm looking forward to, but none to the extent of counting the days until their release. Black Rock Studio's upcoming racer Split/Second looks very promising, capturing the spirit of the earlier Burnout games, and its blend of breakneck speeds and track-altering pyrotechnics would make it a good foil to the more technical, realistic challenge of Forza 3. Later in the year Halo: Reach is coming out, Bungie's swan-song for the Halo universe. The launch of a new Halo game isn't as big a deal as it was before, I didn't even pick up a copy of ODST, but I am actually more intrigued by something being the last in a series, rather than just another sequel.

I may sound like I'm complaining about the lack of excitement I have over upcoming releases, but that's not the case, I'm actually quite content to be indifferent, as my backlog has built up to the point that I probably don't really need to buy another game for the rest of the year anyway, and a little time to chip away at it will be greatly appreciated.