PS3 in May: Red Dead Redemption skins the competition but future titles dominate the news
This month, we’ve been skinning everything in sight in Red Dead Redemption, demonstrating our construction skills in ModNation Racer and making our boards do the work in Skate 3. But as much as we enjoyed these titles, our thoughts kept drifting to the future as we got excited about news of sequels to massive PlayStation exclusives. Here’s the rundown of May’s highlights…
There’s no question that the biggest title to be released in May was Rockstar’s sandbox title, Red Dead Redemption. It’s set at the turn of the century, covering the latter years of the Wild West. You follow the story of an outlaw named John Marston, a Clint Eastwood look-a-like on the warpath against federal agents who have taken his wife and son.
As you would expect from an open world game from the guys behind Grand Theft Auto, the process of saving your family won’t be straightforward as you’re guaranteed to get sidetracked along the way by the numerous side quests. These include taking out a local gunslingers, finding gold and even herding cattle. You may just feel the need to stop and admire those rolling prairies.
Anyone familiar with Sergio Leone’s film will know that the Wild West has a very atmospheric setting; those large open spaces of rugged red land are unique, and Rockstar clearly appreciate this as the game is full of atmosphere. Sitting on your horse and looking over the horizon at the low scorching sun blanketing the landscape is a fine sight.
Rockstar have to be admired for their attention to detail, they have even included a complete ecosystem with over thirty different species of animals, from rattlesnakes, cougars to grizzly bears, all of which behave intelligently and react to their surroundings. You hunt the animals for food and clothing – you need to skin them for the latter. PETA probably won’t approve; not that Rockstar have never worried about upsetting people as anyone familiar with Grand Theft Auto will testify.
Having Red Dead Redemption escaping from the shadow of Grand Theft Auto was the biggest challenge for Rockstar, but it’s safe to say that Red Dead is a completely different beast altogether – and not simply due to it having a rural setting. The mood, ambience and attitude is all very different, as is the music.
Rockstar appear to get a lot of their inspiration from films, so it’s no surprise that Red Dead Redemption has turned out differently to Grand Theft Auto when its source material is the likes of Once Upon a Time in the West and not Scarface.
It has already proven to be a massive sales and critical success, but there have been supply issues in the UK. Hopefully those issues are now resolved.
The next biggest game of the month was family friendly title. Yes, ModNation Racer was relesaed and rest assured it has no animal skinning in it. It’s a kart racer, not unlike Mario Kart or other kart racing games, but the main selling point for ModNation Racer is its huge customisable options.
You can create your own tracks, characters and karts. It’s the LittleBigPlanet of the karting genre, but where it differs from LittleBigPlanet is that it’s actually very easy to create tracks. The main outline of your track is done by you driving a large vehicle that lays the track as you drive along. All the hard work, such as making bridges, is done for you so it’s a stress free experiences.
Once you complete the track, you then make the surroundings by laying trees and houses etc. You can adjust the ground level to make hills and canyons. Then you can lay down features on the track such as boost points. A very respectable and fun track can be done very quickly so we’re looking forward to seeing what the community can come up with.
These customisation tools add flavour and character to the game, but they would mean nothing if ModNation Racer wasn’t much fun to play, but thankfully that isn’t the case. But like all kart racers, this is best played with friends.
DIY options appear to be cropping up in games with increasing regularity, but we’re not complaining because we’ve been mostly impressed by the user generated content in games in the past. Skate 3 is another new release that allows you to be the architect. It has a handy skatepark editor where you can make your own parts or re-create famous parks like Burnside or the X-Games street course. It’s remarkably easy to use and full of features.
Skate 3 may be the third game in three years – which does concern us – but the series is still going strong. The guys at EA have once again reaffirmed their position as the best developers in this genre. They don’t rely on gimmicks, breakable plastic peripherals or 100,000,000 point flat-trick combos to win you over. Instead, they focus on solid gameplay and excellent community features. Check out DolphGB’s review for more on this title.
Sadly, not all the big releases managed to perform, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands was a big let down. We guarded ourselves with pessimism as we approached it, but we still couldn’t help but feel disappointed when we realised it was a distinctly average title. Our man Folken24 described The Forgotten Sands as a game that “barely evokes any emotional response bar annoyance.” We can’t help but wonder, where does the Prince of Persia series go from here?
But there is no time to worry about that for now because E3 is coming soon and we’re about to get bombarded by a barrage of sizzling hot new titles that will get us salivating. However, the fact that the biggest games event in the world is right around the corner hasn’t stopped May from being a month of big announcements.
First up was the news that LittleBigPlanet will be getting a sequel. The rumours have been rumbling for a while and we’ve felt uncomfortable about the proposal because we feared a sequel would break up the strong community, but our thoughts changed instantly as soon as we were briefed on the massive list of new features. The debut trailer also done a sweet propaganda job on us. They said:
“Together we’ve made over two million levels. You took a disc of 50 levels & did more than we could ever imagine. So we can’t wait to see what you can do with this!”
MediaMolecule won’t be simply giving you more skins, assets and a slightly spruced up level creator, they will actually be giving you a game creator. Yes, you won’t be restricted to creating platforming levels, you can, if you’re savvy enough create a Command & Conquer style RTS or a fighting game. The generally reaction to this announcement seemed to be one of complete surprise; no one appeared to expect such ambitious plans for the sequel. Check out this comprehensive lists of the new features here.
Personally, I found the process of creating levels in LittleBigPlanet to be a completely daunting experience. I wanted to make my own levels but I had neither the time or patience to get my head round the complex level creator. I did, however, enjoy playing the many marvellous community levels/ So, like MediaMolecule, I can’t wait to see what you can do with all these features.
Killzone 3 was also announced this month. We had known of its existence for a while but it was great to finally see the cat come out the bag – and it looks great. Guerilla Games don’t appear to be ripping apart the rule book for this sequel unlike MediaMolecule, instead they have been focussing on refining the game and improving on the few flaws the first game had.
Levels promise to be ten times bigger and will be more varied than those in Killzone 2. You will fight on toxic nuclear wastelands, get lost in a lethal alien jungles, and take on the Helghast in bitter Arctic conditions. The second game looked stunning and crisp but Guerilla did deserve the criticism they got for the excessive use of that dreary dark grey palette for most of the levels. Fair play to them, they’ve been listening as it’s clearly something they’ve tried to rectify with the third game.
The game will also feature 3D, jetpacks, and more responsive controls. Guerilla will also be receiving support from Uncharted 2 developers Naughty Dog. Nice. The Helghast are said to be even more viscous this time round, and we’ve been told to expect to find ourselves hopelessly outnumbered by them. To cap off a good month for Guerilla, Joris de Man, Killzone 2’s composer, received the first ever ‘best original video game score’ award at the Ivor Novello awards. It was a fantastic score, so congratulations to him.
Us PlayStations owners should be delighted to have these two console exclusives on the way, but we can’t help but wonder what else Sony will have to show at E3. They claim to have plenty more up their sleeves so watch this space.
Gran Turismo 5 is expected to appear at some point at E3. During the month we were told that it’s 90% complete by its creator Kazunori Yamauch, so the wait must surely be coming to an end soon. Yamauch is determined to make it the perfect game hence why it’s taking so long. Sure, perfection is unattainable, but we’re confident that the great efforts from Yamauch and his team will result in an unmissable game.
But while Polyphony Digital struggle hit deadlines, it’s certainly not an issue for Activision who have no difficulty releasing multiple Call of Duty games. You would think we’d be bored of them by now – the mood across internet messageboards seemed to suggest that this time may have been soon – but this didn’t stop there being a flurry of excitement when Activision released the trailer for Call of Duty: Black Ops on the first of the month.
The trailer didn’t reveal much of what Treyarch have planned for the game, but it got everyone excited anyway. It must have been all those explosions. Either way, it’s clear that Call of Duty is still an attractive franchise even if Infinity Ward – the developers of the hugely successful Modern Warfare games – aren’t working on it.
Activision face stiff competition from EA, who have a strong line-up for the coming year. They should certainly be concerned about the return of Medal of Honour. We managed to make it along to EA’s Spring Showcase and we liked what we saw of the game, it definitely looks to be a worthy rival to Modern Warfare. EA also had Crysis 2, Bulletstorm and Dead Space 2 on show. EA’s influence had wavered a little a few years back but it’s clear that they are once again re-establishing themselves as a powerhouse in gaming publishers.
It’s not just games we have to look forward to. There is also lots to look forward to on the PSN front. The biggest announcement was of MUBI, a film streaming service that focuses on art house and independent releases.
With over 300 films expected to be available at launch, with the focus on quality, critically acclaimed films as opposed to overblown Hollywood trash, this could be a service which PS3 owners will want to go back to time and time again. A subscription package will be available to suit regular customers.
We also saw premium programming from HBO come to the Video Store in May. This means popular TV shows such as True Blood, The Wire, Entourage and The Sopranos are now available for American PlayStation owners. That’s right, it’s only available in America sadly, but we’re happy for our American friends. Really. Not jealous at all.
The PlayStation grown in content over the last year or so with the likes of the Video Store and Vidzone, but you should expect to see many more features become available in the near future. There is growing talk of a premium subscription service for the PSN, and it’s widely expected that Sony will release the full details of at E3.
Premium PSN content is an exciting proposition for Sony and us consumers. Rest assured, everything you have right now will remain free, but a subscription model could give you many more features such as free access to PSOne games, PSP Minis, Premium Themes and first-hour trials of games. There are many other features tipped to be included as well such as the much called for cross-game chat feature.
Microsoft make a lot of money from its Xbox Live model so we can sympathise with Sony for wanting to make money as well from their online services. Especially as the Sony’s PlayStation division posted a massive $889m loss last year. They have to recoup these losses somehow.
How this premium content will play out is not clear at the moment, but we expect to find out much more throughout the month. June 15 -17 are the dates for E3. We can’t wait.