Thursday, April 29, 2010


I had a bit of room left in my cap for the month (okay, those of you in first world countries can stop laughing now), and I saw that a demo for Split/Second had been released onto Xbox Live. I mentioned Split/Second in my entry on how I was pretty unexcited about most of the releases due for the rest of the year, but I thought it was worth checking out.

Developed by Blackrock Studios, the company behind quad-bike racer Pure, the premise of Split/Second is that you compete in a futuristic television show, where contestants race around a track rigged with explosives. Filling your power bar by drifting, jumping or slipstreaming other cars allows you to trigger explosive power-plays, which can be range from small explosions to take out opponents to massive events which reshape an entire portion of the track.

The HUD is attached to the back of the car, so you can still see it when the speed blur gives you tunnel vision

One of the things which got me interested in the game in the first place was that it seemed to capture some of the spirit of the early Burnout games, and that spirit is very evident in the demo. It has the same manic energy to it, the screen almost constantly in speed-blur, bits of debris flying at the camera as you hurtle around the track. Most importantly, the "holy crap" factor is very high, as you dodge explosions and wreckage, and some of the power plays are enough to make you duck or lean on the couch to try and avoid them (notable ones on the demo's airport terminal track involve an air-traffic control tower falling into the track, and a plane crash-landing onto a runway which you are racing down at the time).

With only one car, one track and three laps, the demo seems quite light, and without upgrades or even needing to brake for corners, the full game might lack depth compared to, say, the heavyweight auto fetishism of Forza 3, but I don't really mind. In some ways it is not-unwelcome throwback to the days when games were just about the thrill of the action, before RPG progression wormed its way into every genre. Besides, longevity is hardly the top of my list of attributes I want a game to have nowadays.

So I'm definitely going to buy the game... when I can import it for £20. That seems quite harsh on a game which I think looks pretty good, but it seems like it will discount fairly quickly, and I'm currently not seeing the point of paying full price for a game I probably won't even get to play before the price drops anyway. Split/Second is out on the 21st of May.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Attitude for Gains: Now with added spam

I'm trying something new here, I'm going to set blogger to email people when a new entry goes up, as I now update so infrequently that it isn't worth most people's time to check it with any regularity. If you don't want this, please let me know and I will happily take you off the list, and I won't be offended at all. Similarly, if you weren't emailed with this update and you would like to be, just leave a comment or send me an email and I will add you.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Everything Old is New Again

A lot of times it seems like people would rather dig up the past then try and do something new. Bands release covers of well known songs to guarantee themselves a hit, and movie makers seem hell-bent on remaking every old film and TV show in the hopes that people who loved the original will feel compelled to watch the new version, regardless of its quality. Usually, I'm against this sort of thing, even in the games industry, I'd rather see developers take a chance with new IP. However, two items of news which caught my eye this week made me feel differently.

First up was news of EA and Starbreeze registering "Syndicate" trademarks. It had been rumoured for a while that EA (who own the Syndicate IP since they bought and destroyed Bullfrog) and The Darkness / Chronicles of Riddick developer Starbreeze were working on a new Syndicate game, but I feared when reports surfaced that a game they were developing was cancelled that it was going to be stillborn. Now it appears that they actually canned a Bourne Identity game (which nobody cares about), in another case of EA making good now that ActiBlizz has replaced them as the evil empire of the gaming industry. For those of you too young to remember, Syndicate was one of Bullfrog's many groundbreaking games, an isometric action-strategy game set in a surprisingly fully realised (for 1993) cyberpunk environment. Looking at the screenshots does provide a bit of a reminder as to how long ago 1993 was, though.

The other item of news involved 2K Games announcing that Bioshock 2 developers 2K Marin were making a new X-Com game (it has now been explained that it is actually 2K Australia developing the game, but this doesn't mean much to me. 2K Games really needs to let its studios have more interesting names). Released 1994, the first X-Com game (you'd probably be more familiar with the European title of UFO: Enemy Unknown) was a landmark title of the late DOS gaming era, combining base building, research and resource management, a real-time global map and a turn based, tactical combat system for individual battles. It wasn't much to look at (even by 1994 standards), and the individual mechanics weren't always that well resolved (the tactical elements of the turn based combat, for example, were notably inferior to the first Jagged Alliance game), but it had such breadth of ambition, and so many good ideas that it felt massively ahead of its time.

While I'm excited to see these classic names return to gaming, I am a little concerned that the rebirths (they're doubtlessly going to be too different to be called remakes) of these series might not retain much of the spirit of the old games, the things which made them so great when they were first released. Chief amongst these worries is the fact that both games, where both original versions were viewed from an isometric third person perspective, are likely to be remade as first person shooters. This is merely speculation for the new Syndicate game, based on the nature of Starbreeze's recent releases, but has been confirmed for the new X-Com game. Hopefully the game will still include the macro-level strategy of the original, but I think that putting the player in charge of an individual soldier, even with some tactical controls, will change the feel of the game quite a lot, as will the shift to real-time from turn-based combat. Similarly, I think making the new Syndicate game a first person shooter will also lose something, and make it feel far more generic. Still, at least it doesn't sound like they're going to make it a team-based online FPS, like how Microsoft squandered the Shadowrun IP.

It's far too early for anything but conjecture on these games, neither of which have even had a release window announced, but hearing that these two classics were coming back certainly gave me a brief flash of nostalgic joy.