Oct 2010; MoH, Castlevania, Vanquish, Fallout, Enslaved, FIFA 11, PES 2011
Medal of Honor, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Vanquish, Fallout: New Vegas, Sonic the Hedgehog: Episode 1, FIFA 2011, PES 2011 and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West: these are just some of the games that have stormed the charts in October.
If July will be remembered for its summer shutdown, then October will be known for its abundance of games. What’s more: they were mostly quality. Yes, some underachieved, and others were predictable, but all were worth a play, and play we did…
Medal of Honor
Of all the new releases, Medal of Honor received the most hype. EA’s reboot (of one of the most revered console first-person shooters ever) had been tipped to go head-to-head with Activision’s Modern Warfare franchise. This is something that’s easier said than done, as EA will no doubt testify.
In what sounded like the perfect set up: Danger Close developed the singleplayer and DICE worked on the multiplayer. This allowed each studio to focus on their specialist areas. Yet, however great this sounded in principle, it didn’t work out as expected.
The story is very disappointing: it’s far too generic for a game set in Afghanistan. Despite all the controversy (of having the Taliban in the game), Danger Close never make full use of their context rich setting. That the game is set there appears to be enough for them; there is no willingness to tackle, or even acknowledge, any of the political or social issues.
Sure, we were never promised a politically charged game, and you could perfectly argue against games being used in this way: it’s hard to focus on world-affairs when you’re having so much fun killing hundreds of people. Yet, you have to wonder why they picked Afghanistan in the first place. It might as well be any generic gaming warzone.
The soldiers and their remarkable day-to-day lives, and how Medal of Honor tells their story: this is what EA focussed on the most when promoting game. They heavily researched the Tier 1 operatives (read: badass special agent soldiers), and they also got them involved during development. With all that, we were hoping for something quite deep, even if it wasn’t to be the gaming equivalent of Platoon or Full Metal Jacket, but what we got was something closer to Hollywood, at its silliest best.
Medal of Honor is full of macho army clichés and over the top set pieces. Sure, we’re not privy to the classified documents explaining all the crazy stuff the Tier 1 operatives get up to (although they may be on WikiLeaks) – and their day-to-day activities may well resemble a Hollywood film – but it never feels right.
One minute we were flying through mountain valleys on ATVs, and the next, we were blowing up a Taliban village with apache choppers, and the next, we were taking out mortars with a long range sniper rifle. It felt like a game (funnily enough).
Nevertheless, the high action sequences are the best bits (they remind us of Modern Warfare, in parts), but having them juxtaposed with the more serious sections just leaves the game feeling disjointed, and confused: does it want to be something different or does it want to be the next Modern Warfare?
Being the latter is fine, but they don’t appear to be fully committed to creating a full-on action game. Danger Close or EA appear to have been worried that Modern Warfare fans, in all their numbers, would get bored, if they were to put a proper character driven experience in front of them.
The multiplayer suffers from similar problems. DICE held back from recreating the large-scale, tactical gameplay that we’ve come to love from them, when playing Battlefield. Instead it seems to sit halfway towards Modern Warfare’s instinct-heavy approach. The result is something that’s neither epic like Bad Company 2 or as wonderfully twitchy and addictive as Modern Warfare. It’s still a lot of fun.
Unremarkable is probably the best adjective to give to Medal of Honor. It’s certainly not a bad game, by any stretch of the word, but it lacks its own identity. A thoughtful, character-driven story should have set it apart from the rest, but that’s undermined by the attempts to replicate Modern Warfare’s successful formula.
Still, it’s great to have Medal of Honor back, even if it’s still someway off reclaiming its crown as the best first-person shooter to be found on a console. To find out more, read Echo307’s review.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is another reboot of a treasured series; however, this game didn’t arrive with the hype that Medal of Honor had; in fact, for most people, it came in from under the radar.
Castlevania is a series that appeared destined to be consigned to history due to its apparent inability to translate from 2D to 3D; so it’s a good thing then that MercurySteam had begged to differ. They have made the transition look effortless. It doesn’t look or play like the 2D Castlevania games (although fans will pick up on references); instead it has many similarities to other PlayStation 3 AAA titles, such as God of War III or Uncharted 2.
Its visuals are one of its main strengths. The vistas are awe-inducing, and it’s hard not to marvel at the medieval European architecture. Because the game runs on a fixed camera, MercurySteam have full control of how you view the landscapes, and they do so perfectly. It’s clear every angle has been perfectly chosen to heighten the sense of scale, whether it’s when you approach a castle up a jagged mountain, or readying for a fight with a gargantuan titan. Importantly: the fixed camera rarely causes serious navigation issues.
The story itself isn’t amazing, but it’s wonderfully told through the narration of Zobek (voiced by Patrick Stewart). As you progress through the game, Zobek describes Gabriel’s torments, and, as he journeys further into darkness, you become absorbed in Gabriel’s plight. Gabriel, it has to be said, is a very likeable, stoic character, and much of this is down to the excellent voice performance of Robert Carlyle.
Castlevania doesn’t just rely on its story and locations to make it great; it’s simply a great game to play. Its combat is skill-based and very deep, and very tactical. At first you may lazily compare it to God of War’s hack ‘n’ slash all day style, but that’s not a fair reflection. The focus is on counter-attacks, dodging and knowing your enemy’s weaknesses, and choosing the right approach (whether it’s through selecting the right move, magic or item).
It’s also a challenging game, even on normal difficulty. This could be off-putting for some, but the hardcore gamer will love it. When you finish the game’s epic story, you will want to replay it again to do the challenges, but this time on a harder difficulty.
It’s not important that Lords of Shadow arrived without much hype, what is, is that the game is now appreciated, because it’s a genuine game of the year contender. If you’re still on the fence make sure you read read our review.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
Enslaved shares many similarities to Lords of Shadow: it’s also a big third-person adventure that tries to mix platforming and combat sections, and it also has a strong focus on story and setting.
The story and setting are definitely Enslaved’s strongest qualities. We’ve seen a few post-apocalyptic worlds in our time, but what Ninja Theory has created here is by far the most appealing. Your typical post-apocalyptic world shares a common theme of there being 89 shades of grey; Enslaved is different: nature has reclaimed the city, trees are riding up buildings and it’s very green. Everything is colourful and very appealing.
The plot, voice acting and motion capture are all spot on. We have Andy Serkis (Gollum from Lord of the Rings) to credit for much of this. As well as providing the voice for Monkey (a lead characters in Enslaved), he provided the motion capture; so the voice and movement always feel in tandem together.
During the few parts of the game where things started to lull a little, the story was always there to keep us plugging away. We always wanted to know what would happen next, and with every turn we became more intrigued.
A lack of depth to the combat, and some fairly standard puzzles, are the only things stopping this game from hitting the dizzying heights that Castlevania reaches.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1
The Sonic franchise has been grossly mismanaged for years, and consequently we stopped getting excited about the blue hedgehog a long time ago; that is until now. “What’s so different this time?” We hear you ask. Well, SEGA has ditched their ambitions to turn Sonic into a 3D hero (all previous attempts were disastrous) and instead SEGA has tried to recapture the experience of the original games – when Sonic was last cool.
There’s no rotten dialogue, dull cutscenes, and it’s not in 3D. It’s 2D, as it should be. SEGA have put all their effort into making Sonic feel right and creating well designed levels. These levels are well paced, allowing for more considered platforming and for times when you just feel like letting Sonic go fast.
Fans of the original game will find it quite strange at first, because the controls have been tweaked. You have a lot of control over Sonic in the air, and the movement may feel slow at first. It’s not bad – it’s different – but once you understand the differences you can start to appreciate the new gameplay mechanics.
It’s not the perfect Sonic experience, admittedly. You’re rewarded too often with lives and coins, and the boss fights are underwhelming, but SEGA have definitely taken a step in the right direction. Welcome back spiky.
Fallout: New Vegas
What’s to say about this game? If you’ve played Fallout 3 you will know exactly what it’s like, because it runs on the same engine and plays in the same way as Fallout 3. This isn’t necessarily a problem because Fallout 3 is one of the most popular RPGs of this generation.
It does have a new flavour about it though. That’s because Obsidian has developed it, and not Bethesda Game Studios. They’ve made it slightly less grey and brown by adding the glitzy Las Vegas strip. Plus, Obsidian’s superior penmanship means we get a more enjoyable story and better dialogue than before.
While it does feel like an expansion rather than a sequel, it’s a very generous expansion, and one which you can easily sink over a 100 hours into.
Reports of bugs and glitches have blighted the release of the game, and our man Echo307 found himself having to delete his save game after nine hours, because the game broke in a way that he couldn’t continue – he still likes it and wants to return to it. We’ve also heard plenty of other reports from gamers suffering a torrid time. A patch has been released, which fixes many of the problems, and more should be on the way. Is it too late?
The game engine appears to be the main source of the problems: it is several years old and it never worked particularly well on this generation’s consoles (especially the PlayStation 3) in the first place. Let’s hope that Fallout 4 – when it no doubt arrives – will come with a brand new and more reliable engine that suits the game.
Due to technical issues (as described above), we haven’t been able to get a review up onto the site; however there will be one ready next week. Check back regularly.
Vanquish, developed by Platinum Games, is an in-your-face action rollercoaster. Sam Gideon – your spacesuit wearing hero – throws himself into a sea of bullets while slowing down time, and he doesn’t even bat an eyelid. It shares a lot of stylistic and gameplay similarities to a previous Shinji Mikami space shooter, P.N.03
It’s pretty short, and it’s received criticisms for this, but we’re glad to see that Platinum Games don’t do padding. It would only slow down the tempo, and that would ruin the game. Anyway, we’re banking on people wanting to replay the game, just because they had so much fun playing through it the first time.
This after Bayonetta; Platinum Games are on fire.
FIFA 11 and PES 2011
FIFA or PES? That’s the question we hear every year, and it’s always guaranteed to fire up a debate. We’re not going to give an answer to that question, but we’ve had some time to play through this year’s iterations, so here are some brief thoughts on how they compare.
Even though it’s only been a few months since the release of 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, EA Sports have still managed make enough improvements to the gameplay and graphics to make FIFA 11 a worthwhile purchase. Some big improvements can be found in the way that players are differentiated by their stats, so no longer can a player from East Fife pass like Xavi.
FIFA is the more forgiving game of the two. You can easily pick it up, get stuck in and instantly feel like Wayne Rooney (without the hookers). Ultimately there are no radical changes. It’s still the same compulsive, addictive Fifa experience that Fifa fans love. Fans won’t be let down.
PES 2011’s changes feel more radical. Konami’s big push is 360 manual passing. Your average player will give this a miss, but more dedicated PES fans will revel in the new opportunities it creates. Passing in general is a lot crisper than previous years.
Dribbling feels much more fluid and enjoyable this time round as well, especially when controlling a top player like Messi, who has a low centre of gravity. Konami has also made some big changes to the way you defend, you now have three options: go in, stand-off, or fall back and wait for support.
PES 11, unlike FIFA, is not forgiving at all. It’s a game that really makes you work for your money that makes you regret every lazy pass. We found ourselves being able to stop the opposition from scoring without much difficulty, but getting the ball in the other net was the hard part. It took a long time to learn the demands of the game. You feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall sometimes, but you do eventually learn what PES 2011 expects from you. It just means that every goal you score is sweeter because you feel you’ve earned it.
What all this amounts to is that we’ve got two fantastic football games to choose from this year. FIFA will appeal to more people: it’s instantly accessible; it has the English Premier League licence; more polish and some gameplay features which PES really needs (such as: L1 to send a player on a run). However, its gameplay can feel a little arcadey after playing PES 2011, where everything feels perfectly paced. We also like the fact that PES 2011 is a hard nut to crack, and we can’t imagine its games getting predictable, at least not before FIFA. Either way, it’s your choice.
To aid you in your decision; read DolphGB’s review of FIFA 11.
In other news
We had to sideline a lot of stories this month because of the number of quality games released. However, we can’t completely neglect the news. Here are a few of the bigger stories:
The biggest surprise of the month was that Gran Turismo 5 has been delayed, again. It feels like a cruel joke. The game has been in development for over five years, and it was once confirmed for a 2009 release. The new date hasn’t been confirmed either.
However, there’s no need to get too upset about this, because the news is just in that the game is currently getting pressed onto Blu-Rays, at this minute, so it should be out before Christmas. What’s a few weeks when you’ve waited years, eh? It’s a good thing it’s worth the wait. We got some hands-on time earlier in the month. It was an older build, but it was still playing and looking splendid. Keep the faith; it will arrive.
We’ve also had lots of reasons to discuss Killzone 3. We’ve been learning more about the game’s improved matchmaking, some of its online modes and how it works with PlayStation Move. If you’re one of the few lucky thousand to get a BETA invite, you may be enjoying Killzone 3 right now.
And finally, Sony revealed (unintentionally) that LoveFilm is coming to the PlayStation 3, and soon after they confirmed the news. The video streaming service will arrive in November, and it will be available to all existing LoveFilm subscribers, on packages of £5.99 or above, and to anyone who wants to sign up to those packages. It’s another welcome feature to the PlayStation 3 that will enhance the console’s multi-media capabilities. We also have MUBI to look forward to in the near future.
Do you remember how empty our XMBs used to look? It’s come a long way since then.