PS3 in March: ApocalyPS3, Activision vs Infinity Ward, God of War III, Final Fantasy XIII
Mutinies. Hardware wars. Dying consoles. Tax laws. A month in the games industry can cover a variety of headline-catching topics, but these should never steal the attention away from the true stars of the industry: the games.
So who was the star performer in March? For the ability to dazzle us for over 70 hours, the stylish Final Fantasy XIII would be in with a shout; as would Battlefield: Bad Company 2 for its masterfully executed multi-player content. It would require a true titan match these two – something like God of War III, maybe? You could argue all day which is the best, but the true winners were us gamers.
Yet, on 1st March, thanking our chosen deities for our bountiful supply of games wasn’t at the foremost of our thoughts – we were facing the ApocalyPS3. Owners of the PS3 Phat woke up to find the date on their systems had reverted back to 31.12.1999. Reports claim that the internal clocks got confused over leap years (don’t we all?) and this stopped the console from connecting to the PlayStation Network, causing the whole PS3 edifice to collapse. Yep, there was no Fifa 10 for this PS3 Attitude writer.
Believe it or not, a day without the PlayStation caused a panic, and some feared their PS3s would never work again. That immortal last stanza from T.S Eliot’s The Hollow Men seemed quite apt at the time:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
(Some think Eliot was a visionary, and maybe he really did foresee the ApocalyPS3. Probably not, but any excuse to throw in a little poetry, eh?) The issue was over within 24 hours and the hysteria died pretty quickly, but this event has dented confidence in the PS3’s DRM (digital rights management) technology. To have our consoles rendered utterly useless because of something so simple as a clock misunderstanding a leap year is disappointing. Slim users had a laugh though because they could play their consoles just fine.
Just days after this storm in a teacup, gaming messageboards across the web found a new story to steal their attention; reports surfaced of internal strife between Infinity Ward (the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare developers) and their publisher Activision. The reports state that security was sent down to lock down Infinity Ward’s HQ; thereafter, a six hour meeting took place between Activision and Infinity Ward bosses Vince Zampella and Jason West before both were subsequently removed from their positions. Zampella and West are now suing Activision for breach of contract while Activision defend their actions by accusing the duo of plotting to defect to a rival company such as EA. The issue is further muddied with claims that the duo have been fired before they were about to receive substantial royalties for the success of Modern Warfare 2.
It’s an argument that, while being played out in the public, still remains shrouded by rumour and unsubstantiated stories. Nevertheless, despite the scant evidence, the Infinity Ward bosses have received full support from a gaming public that want to see Zampella and West “stick it to the man”. This says much about the public perception of Activision, a company which is frequently viewed as the corporate bully of the games industry, and the removal of Zampella and West does nothing to discredit this view.
It’s a fascinating case that gives us insight into the politics between a publisher and its developer, but as interesting as this case is, we are saddened at the thought of these two ultra-talented game designers fighting a court case against Activision instead of focusing on what they do best – making brilliant games. Expect this debate to run for a long time with more revelations likely surface that may or may not reaffirm the support that West and Zampella currently have. It remains to be seen how much damage this will do to the Call of Duty franchise. It faces stiff competition from a new Medal of Honour game which is currently shaping up very nicely. Is Call of Duty in a position to challenge this threat without their figureheads present to lead the way?
Medal of Honour isn’t the only familiar FPS making a return. Midway through the month, we were teased about the prospect of a major franchise making a reappearance; many guessed Resistance 3, but they were wrong – although a leading survey did pretty much confirm that Insomniac were working on this project – the mystery game was in fact Socom 4. Yep, Zipper Interactive have moved on from MAG for the time being to get back to Socom. From what we have seen so far, it isn’t returning to its tactical roots. Zipper Interactive have clearly been inspired by the success of Modern Warfare 2, and are going to try and emulate Infinity Ward’s proven formula; that is to fill the game with action and Hollywood-style set-pieces. Check out the trailer below.
Maybe the biggest surprise about Socom 4 was the revelation that you didn’t need to use a DualShock, you could use a Move instead if you wanted. Yes, that’s right – Move. That’s the name of Sony’s motion control device. It was finally named at the Games Developers Conference in San Francisco. What’s more, we didn’t just get the name, we also got plenty of footage of the games that Sony’s studios have been working on.
How did the Wii-beater perform? The technology was spot-on: precise, lag-free and completely functional. Sony were pushing the “it only does everything” tagline, and to prove it, they demonstrated a host of games that catered for both the casual (TV Superstars, Move Party) and hardcore (LittleBigPlanet, Socom 4) markets. While we were slightly underwhelmed by the new IPs on show, we certainly saw a lot of promise. The technology is clearly ready – it just needs that killer game to truly sell it to us, but with over 40 third party devs throwing their support behind it, we suspect we won’t have to wait long.
New technology always gets us excited, but we will never neglect our trusted DualShocks, and they’ve been getting plenty of action this month. Final Fantasy XIII has taken up most of the time with the team putting in around 70 hours plus into this epic RPG. The only thing coming close to matching that is the 50 hours Majiesto has put into Star Ocean: The Last Hope. Final Fantasy XIII is everything that it’s said to be; it’s linear, excessively long, and there are so many cut-scenes you may as well watch a film – but it’s also brilliant. It’s been taking a bit of a kicking from some critics, but we’re siding with the masses on this one; we think it fully deserves its position as the fastest selling game of the year so far. Read our review to find out why.
One game that hasn’t required any debate is God of War III: it’s been drawing platitudes from everyone. You may suspect that it’s just a prettier, larger scale version of previous iterations, but its new features, pacing, sound, incredible graphics and sublime gameplay – not to mention outstanding level design – ensure that Kratos truly reaches new heights. The engine is apparently running at only 50%; frightening. Read the review, and if you still don’t want to play it, we’ll consider it an act of hubris and tell Zeus; expect a lightning bolt coming your way soon.
God of War III and Final Fantasy XIII have given us some outstanding single-player experiences this month, but multi-player fans have also been in for a treat with battlefield: Bad Company 2. This was the fastest selling game of the year for a week before Final Fantasy XIII’s release. It was clearly not its (mediocre at best) single player campaign that sold it to the public; this game must be played online. It’s actually a more fun, unpredictable, intelligent and varied online FPS than Modern Warfare 2. Plus, it has kick-ass vehicles.
Lost Planet 2 was also on our radar this month: our man Folken24 was invited by Capcom to London to play copious amounts of the game. Following a five hour drive, a one hour tube journey, a one mile walk in the wrong direction, followed by a two mile walk in the right direction, followed by a quarter mile backtrack, Folken24 eventually found the random carpark that Capcom were using to host the preview session. This epic journey was worth it, he says – he was pumped up ready to shoot a man in the face, but found to his delight that taking down a giant Akrid as part of a team was actually more fun. Check out Folken24’s preview for the full briefing on what he saw.
On a final note, we’d like to congratulate TIGA, the trade association representing the UK games industry, which has been successful in their campaign to introduce tax relief for the UK games industry. In the words of a TIGA spokesperson, it’s “good for the UK games industry, good for UK consumers and good for the wider UK economy”. TIGA believe this will protect 3,550 graduate-level jobs, increase or safeguard £457 million in development expenditure and encourage developers to adopt new business models and create new intellectual property. A recent report ranking the world’s top 100 most successful studios, showed nearly a quarter were in the UK (Develop 100 report, May 2009). Despite its pedigree, the UK games industry has been struggling to compete with other nations who can develop games at a lower cost. With tax relief, the nation stands a chance to continue its illustrious history of bringing you great games such as Grand Theft Auto and LittleBigPlanet.
It’s been another winning month of gaming, in what is turning out to be a brilliant year. Don’t expect things to slow down next month either with Red Dead Redemption, Fifa 10 and Super Street Fighter IV all on the way. Can our pockets possibly keep up with all this quality? Probably not, but we can always remortgage our houses. So keep up the fine work devs.
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What else happened in March: