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Beta’d: All You Need to Know About TGS 2012

by on September 22, 2012

Welcome back for another exciting installment of Beta’d! In case you’ve been living under a rock, or if you’re so relentlessly patriotic that you think E3 is the world’s only video gaming trade show, you may want to sit down and take a deep breath, because what I’m about to tell you may shock you. Gamers descended on Tokyo this week for the Tokyo Game Show, one of the world’s largest gaming expos, and the volume of new trailers and info can only be described as torrential. Fortunately, we’re here to help you separate the wheat from the digital chaff.

Trailers, Trailers Everywhere

Soul Sacrifice (Vita)

Mega Man designer Keiji Inafune is having one hell of a TGS; not only were fans chomping at the bit for Soul Sacrifice‘s heady blend of co-op alt-history action, but they had an unnatural hunger after Team Ninja announced they were working with Inafune on the zombie action game Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. Do we have you all excited now? Well, then, I’m sorry to have to tell you that it’s been delayed until Spring 2013.

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z (PS3, Xbox 360)

Speaking of Yaiba, let’s cut to the chase. It was one of the biggest reveals of the event and for good reason: Inafune is collaborating with Team Ninja on a Ninja Gaiden spin-off that follows a cybernetic ninja cutting a swath of bloody terror through legions of undead as he pursues series stalwart Ryu Hayabusa to exact his revenge. Need more? Didn’t think so.

The Unfinished Swan (PS3)

If you have AAA, you may want to call them for some roadside assistance in picking your jaw up off of the floor. One of the most charming and creative titles of the show – and one Matt told you to watch out for at Gamescom – was The Unfinished Swan. An introspective, artful fairy tale, the game follows a boy who follows the trail of the titular swan when it goes missing from his favorite painting. Your only ability? Throwing black blobs of paint to reveal elements of the otherwise completely blank level. As fans of negative space and innovative video games, we’re unreasonably excited for this one.

Ace Attorney vs. Professor Layton (3DS)

Phoenix Wright has a busy caseload this year; not only is he starring in the newly 3D Ace Attorney 5but he’s also going head to head with the Nintendo 3DS’ other super sleuth, Professor Layton. Co-developed by CAPCOM and Level-5, Ace Attorney vs. Professor Layton should prove highly unobjectionable to fans of smart puzzle games.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (PS3, Xbox 360)

Solid Snake has also been busy at this TGS. He’s starring in GREE’s foray into smartphone stealth, Metal Gear: Social Ops, which has players engaging in a turn-based card game to sneak from point A to point La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo. For those of you who don’t care about activating Revolver Ocelot’s trap card or squaring off against Psycho Mantis’ Dark Magician, then Platinum Games will let you vent your frustrations by cutting everything in half. Seriously, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance lets you rend a preposterous number of things asunder, and it’s damn fun. Having played it back at E3, I had an unexpectedly enjoyable time slicing everything from Roman columns to a watermelon to a helicopter in half. As it turns out, when you’re playing a cybernetic ninja like Raiden, taking a note from Bayonetta‘s action-packed gameplay ain’t such a bad thing.

Resident Evil Vs. (Mobile)

Speaking of GREE, the mobile gaming giant not only had a booth bigger than Square Enix’s, but it had a catalog to back it up. In addition to the aforementioned Metal Gear: Social Ops, it teamed up with the show’s other ubiquitous entity Resident Evil for Resident Evil Vs.a shooter similar to RE: Mercenaries which puts you in Chris Redfield’s shoes as you try to survive wave after wave of baddies and famous faces from previous games. For a mobile game, it looks remarkably sophisticated, but we’re hoping for a co-op mode or death match to really satisfy our appetite for stopping the undead.

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix (PS3)

Square Enix has a tough gig: its back catalog has such an obsessive following that it can’t put out a new title without legions of fans yelling at it to make HD remakes of titles like Final Fantasy VII. Well, it turns out it has been listening… to some of you. Thursday saw the announcement of Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix for PS3, a 3 game collection featuring Kingdom Hearts Final Mix HD, Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories HD, and Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days with cutscenes in HD. While there’s no Kingdom Hearts 2 HD in this collection, there is trophy support for all 3 games. Still not satisfied? Buy 2 copies when it drops and pretend you’re playing Kingdom Hearts 3.

Tech Tidbits

PS3 Does P90X

No, Sony didn’t announce the PlayStation 4, but it is trying to stay competitive with Nintendo’s Wii U this holiday season by shedding some extra pounds and getting down to show weight. Available in charcoal black or classic white, the newly announced PS3 model is 50 percent slimmer than the 2006 tanning bed model (which I still have in my apartment because backwards compatibility is the best) and 25 percent less bulky than the current PS3 Slim. In a concerted effort to look more like a tiny George Foreman Grill, Sony has replaced the slot-loading disc drive for a mechanical cover that slides across. The price point however seems to have gained weight; Sony will charge $270 for the 300 GB model and $300 for the 500 GB model.

Nintendo’s New Pad

Once the initial squealing over the Wii U returned to non-deafening levels, Nintendo revealed new peripherals for the Wii U and the 3DS XL aimed at making the system’s controllers more akin to its competitors. The Circle Pad Pro for the 3DS XL acts as a cradle of sorts for the already oversized handheld, adding an additional analog stick. While con-goers are reporting that it feels comfortable in the hand, you’ll be hard-pressed to fit the handheld in your pocket with the peripheral attached unless you’re wearing Yao Ming’s cargo pants.

Nintendo also revealed the Wii U Pro Controller (a.k.a. the Wii U GamePad), an alternate controller for the upcoming system, which looks like someone dipped an Xbox controller in a molten vat of the Apple Store. Much lighter than its Microsoft counterpart, the Pro controller seems to be taking a cue from Sony’s SixAxis by omitting force feedback capability. So, if you’re hoping to rumble while you play Bayonetta 2, might we recommend consulting a seismologist to find the nearest active fault line?

What are you most excited about from TGS? Quemment below and let us know!

Beta’d: Please Welcome The Wii U

by on September 15, 2012

On November 18, you can finally wait in line to buy the Wii U. This week, Nintendo announced the release date and pricing of its next home console. There are two boxes offered this time around: For $299, you get the Basic Set, a white Wii U with 8GB of memory, a white GamePad, power cables, a sensor bar, a stylus, and an HDMI cable. For $349, you get the Deluxe Set: a black Wii U with 32GB of memory, a black GamePad, power cables and cradles, a sensor bar, a stylus, an HDMI cable, and exclusively to the Deluxe Set, the theme park inspired mini-game game Nintendo Land. The more expensive set also gives you access to the Deluxe Digital Promotion: You earn points when you download games that you can spend on who knows what.

I’d like to thank Nintendo for putting an HDMI cable in the box: Dear Nintendo, thanks for putting an HDMI cable in the box. Love, everyone who purchased a 360 and/or PS3.

Graphically, the Wii U is very powerful. For now, It’s better than the competition. I’m sure it will be overpowered by the jocks of console gaming shortly, but who cares? What matters is the quality of the games. Graphics are great and all, but the Wii U has some real potential thanks to the GamePad.

On day 1, we’ve got access to some truly great titles including New Super Mario Bros. U (the new flying squirrel suit is neat!), ZombiU (my personal favorite that I’ve played), and Assassin’s Creed III. Not long after that, we should see about 50 titles available. That’s pretty huge. We’ll see the next Pikmin by the Big N themselves, as well as Black Ops 2, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Wii Fit U, and many, many more. It’s comforting to see such great support from third party developers right out of the gate. Nintendo even picked up the hyper-sexualized, hack and slash Bayonetta 2 after Sega dropped it, making it exclusive to the Wii U. This will surely tick off some of the fans of the original, but if Nintendo didn’t pick it up, we’d probably never get it.

The game that has me pumped up more than an old pair of Reeboks is LEGO City: Undercover. It’s basically Die Hard meets GTA, but for kids. The GamePad will act as a forensic scanner and a scope that you use to fight plastic foes. I think something that is hard to accomplish is a particularly funny game, and this looks to deliver. That classic LEGO action saturated with 80’s action movie tropes is quite charming.

I think the Wii was a huge let down. I gave mine away years ago. I’m selfish. I don’t give things away, but the Wii just sat there mocking me. I’ve had the chance to sit down with the Wii U a few times and I have no problem saying that I love it. There is a ton of potential. Nintendo appears to have learned from its mistakes and has figured out a way to balance a customer base of both casual family players and hardcore gamers. The GamePad is comfortable and inventive. Its screen really does add to the HD picture on your television. I’ve always thought the DS was an inventive way to interact with games that you can’t port to any other machine. Of course Nintendo would adapt those ideas for the living room.

There is one feature that I’m not so sure about: You can use the Wii U to aggregate all your streaming services, Tivo, and live TV into one interface. Nintendo is not too great at developing applications that are intuitive and efficient. Not much is known about the service, so hopefully I’m wrong. I’d like to be wrong.

Overall, I’m excited for the Wii U and the oncoming wave of new gaming tech. How about you?

Beta’d: Bethesda’s Dishonored

by on September 8, 2012

Welcome back to Beta’d: Recently, we got a hands on demo of Dishonored, the hotly anticipated first-person shooter/stealth game from Arcane Studios and Bethesda Softworks.

Story: You’ve been framed for murder, given unbelievable supernatural abilities (did someone say “Swarm of Rats?”) and tasked with seeking revenge against those that killed your beloved empress. From a very simple setup comes an elaborate game in which you have complete control over how you achieve your objectives. You play as an assassin, fighting the oppression of an Orwellian militaristic government that is suppressing the people and letting disease ravage the population. Set in a neo-steampunk city that is one part technology and one part alchemy, you must take down the corrupt leaders of this dark world.

Graphics: The game’s graphics are quite striking. Every building, alley, rat, and character is detailed and rendered gorgeously. The use of your powers looks great, making everything from teleporting to possessing guards visually engaging. The dark and gritty dystopian/steampunk palette is thoroughly engaging to look at and interact with.

Gameplay: Arcane was one of many studios that took a pass at BioShock 2 for 2K Games; the gameplay feels like it was based on similar mechanics to the BioShock series. One hand controls your weapon, while the other controls your supernatural abilities, but that is where the similarities between the two franchises ends. Dishonored‘s maps provide the player with innumerable routes into and out of objectives. Between combinations of powers and routes, there are more than enough ways to skin this cat. To demonstrate Dan Casey and I are both going to explain how we worked our way though the demo. In the demo, we were tasked with the kidnapping of Anton Sokolov, a high-ranking chemist, to help bolster the rebellion you’ve been swept into. Plenty of Tallboys (think an AT-ST with a convertible top) and guards lie in the way as you have to both infiltrate a complex and then escape the area with everyone now on high alert.

Brian: Right off the bat, I was obsessed with the stealth options the game had. Sticking to the shadows and creeping by enemies is very natural. You’re defaulted with a cutlass as your weapon, but as my goal was to never have to use it, I don’t know how effective it is. Being spotted causes a kerfuffle with pretty bad odds, and you learn quickly that a full-on assault is going to cost you a lot of time and pistol shots to the knee. Blink, the game’s teleportation ability, was quite addictive as I bounced from ledge to ledge and snuck in. Timing on this game is super important, and while the guards have patterns, they’re repeated in random timing. Once I reached the scientist, all hell broke loose getting out of there. Tallboys flooded the level and took shots at me, but my Kurt Wagner reflexes took hold and I blinked my way out of there. So there, the coward’s approach to Dishonored.

Dan: You guys, I don’t know if you were reading what Brian wrote earlier, but YOU CAN SHOOT RATS AT PEOPLE! My eyebrow literally cannot be raised any higher; that’s how surprised (and delighted) I was by this power. Like Brian, I adopted a stealthy approach after I realized that simply walking up to one of the Tallboys would not only lead to my American History X-style curbside murder, but that my rat cannons were wildly ineffective. I have not felt this betrayed by a Tallboy since I accidentally left a Pabst Blue Ribbon in the freezer overnight.

Forced to put aside my considerable hubris, I remembered that I had the ability to teleport, so I Blink’d up to a large pipe running along the side of the building where my Russian Rapunzel was waiting. Seeing two guards on the balcony, I assessed the situation, scurried over to a conveniently placed shed (with an electronics panel that I lacked the competence to hack), then leaned out from my hiding spot and used my Possession power to take control of one of the guards. Finally, I know what Lindsay Lohan felt like when she was trapped in Jamie Lee Curtis’ Activia-filled body! Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that there is a time limit when you violently inhabit someone’s body like a steampunk Pazuzu, so my erstwhile host collapsed to the ground, alerting his friend to the fact that I was trespassing in more ways than one. Thankfully, I did what anyone in my position would do: violently murdered him with a cutlass before anyone could figure out what happened. Thanks, cutlass!

After some more sneaking, teleporting and avoiding guards like the plague, which is slowly devastating the people of this Orwellian nightmare world, I made my way up to Sokolov’s rooftop laboratory. Having murdered his two guards and choked Sokolov into a sweet slumber, I slung his limp science-filled body over my shoulder and then made my way out to the balcony to figure out how the hell I was going to get him down to the docks where my human trafficker/partner-in-revolution was waiting. My initial instinct was to throw his body down into the water, then dive in after him, but DON’T DO THIS because he apparently drowns with a quickness. Having reloaded from a checkpoint, I slowly hopped from ledge to ledge until I’d made my way down to the street level. From there, all it took was alternating between carrying that heavy sonofabitch and dropping him like a sack of bricks to blast rats at any interlopers before I conveyed my person-turned-parcel to my scruffy boatman/co-kidnapper. And that, my friends, is how you extradite a Russian scientist. Your move, Solid Snake.

Impressions: The game is fluid, gorgeous and confoundingly addictive. If you’re a fan of dark tales where no matter what you do you’re going to have to be a bad guy, then this game is for you. More importantly, if you’re a fan of having some agency over how you make your way from point A to point B, then you’re in luck. Pure Paragons need not apply.

Beta’d: PAX Prime Round Up

by on September 3, 2012

Here’s a roundup of news coming out of PAX Prime in Seattle this weekend:

Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes Announced

Hideo Kojima made his first appearance at PAX Prime this year and brought along a trailer for his new open world Metal Gear Solid game, Ground Zeroes. Not only is Hideo Kojima back, he’s bringing a new toy with him, the Fox Engine. Ground Zeroes is being built on the in-house developed game engine that Kojima say can be used to make anything from and FPS to a Silent Hill. While hesitant to call the game Metal Gear Solid 5, the game will act as a “prologue” of sorts. If that means we’re playing Snake in his FOXHOUND days, then bring it on.

[Source: The Verge]

Dead Island: Riptide Announced

The sequel to Dead Island is on its way. The first images from Dead Island: Riptide were unveiled this weekend and the developer confirmed that the follow-up would be more of the same, but in a good way. The game will pick up exactly where Dead Island left off and you will be able to transfer all of your characters’ skills to the sequel.

[Source: IGN]

Borderlands 2 Mechromancer Details and a New Trailer

The Mechromancer skill class was revealed back in April, when it was also announced the tree wouldn’t be available until at least 60-90 days after the games initial release. At PAX, Gearbox president Randy Pitchford announced the new character would beat the estimated timetable and be released on October 16th, less than a month after the game streets. Pitchford also confirmed 4 DLC expansions were in the works.

Also presented at Pax was this nifty new trailer giving you a tour of the updated Borderlands of Pandora by Sir Hammerlock. You can get more details on Dan’s thoughts on the game in our Borderlands 2 Co-Op Beta’d.



[Source: Kotaku]

More Aliens: Colonial Marines Details Announced

Gearbox also had lots of details to announce around the co-op of their new Aliens: Colonial Marines. First off, a new game mode called Escape was debuted. You and your team must work together to get through the Xenomorphs and back to base. The gameplay trailer shows a Left 4 Dead aesthetic to the mode, and that’s totally fine by us. With all the different variations on the aliens, we’re hoping for a Xeno Tank find its way into the mix.

Also revealed at PAX were the co-op characters that would be available to players proving that the developer was indeed including something that the Alien franchise is known for, female characters. Meet Jennifer Redding, the female Colonial Marine you can use to kick alien ass. There aren’t a lot of details to go with the unveiling, except that in addition to the pre-made co-op characters, there will be plenty of options to customize your own Marine, male or female.

[Source: Forbes & Kotaku]

The Unfinished Swan Trailer Premieres

This just looks whimsical and we’re always ready to try something new. Keep an eye out for The Unfinished Swan soon.

For even more PAX goodness, check out the latest Indoor Kids with Kumail and Emily.

 

Beta’d: Borderlands 2; Or The Best Birthday Ever

by on August 25, 2012

Usually my birthday, September 18th, connotes sadness. On that day in 1931, the Mukden Incident gave Japan the pretext to invande Manchuria; in 1970, Jimi Hendrix choked to death on his own vomit; and in 2001, the first of the anthrax letters from Trenton, NJ was sent. This year, though, things are different, because the fine folks at Gearbox are ensuring that my birthday is going to kick major ass by releasing the hotly-anticipated Borderlands 2 for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. If you haven’t played the first game, then what’s wrong with you you still have plenty of time to introduce yourself to its frenetic blend of first-person shooter and RPG-style character building before its launch next month. Nerdist News’ Brian Walton and I had a chance to play a co-op demo recently and, I’ve got to say, I’m really looking forward to my birthday now.

Story: Set five years after the events of Borderlands, in which our intrepid Vault Hunters exposed the secrets of the Eridian Vault, the Vault Hunters have disappeared, and a man named Handsome Jack has not only claimed credit for their deeds, but assumed control of the riches the Vault contained. The newfound wealth allowed Jack (or we can call him “HJ” – your choice) to take control of friendly local mega-conglomerate Hyperion Corporation and, consequently, the entire planet of Pandora (don’t worry, there are no blue-skinned James Cameron furries). The game puts you in the shoes of one of four new characters who win their bodyweight in loot after competing in Ol’ HJ’s gladiatorial combat arena. One thing leads to another, and you are tasked with killing Handsome Jack, rescuing the four original Vault Hunters and stopping an ancient evil that’s about to be awoken on Pandora. All in a day’s work, right?

Graphics: The game looks gorgeous. Like Stephanie-who-sat-in-front-of-you-in-seventh-grade-algebra-on-the-one-day-you-happened-to-wear-sweat-pants-to-school-and-oh-my-God-why-is-my-body-changing gorgeous. The cel-shaded graphics combined with the series’ immediately iconic visual design makes you feel like you’re playing out pages from a seriously rad comic book. Crisp graphics, no visible slowdown and a vibrant color palette means that the post-apocalypse has never looked prettier. Sorry, Tina Turner in Beyond Thunderdome, but it had to be said.

Gameplay: The demo which we played is apparently an optional side mission that players gain access to near the middle of the campaign. Like the first game, there are four players from which to choose, each with their own unique traits, abilities and play styles. Brian opted for the stealthy, sword and gun-wielding assassin Zer0, so I went for someone who’d pack a little more firepower, the turret-deploying commando Axton. For our play-through, Gearbox set it up so we were at level 20, which gave us quite a few points to distribute as we saw fit. Naturally, I increased the strength of my turret and gave it abilities to heal us and replenish our ammo, provided we stayed within a certain radius. Armed with an assault rifle and a pistol, I was ready to kick some ass and chew some bubblegum. Brian, having not played the first game at all, auto-assigned his skill points in the interest of saving time and sanity. I’ll be honest, guys, he was pretty lost at first until he found a gun that he really liked, an automatic revolver which shot acid-covered bullets. Then he went apeshit (in a good way) and there was acid-covered blood everywhere (also in a good way). And when he went a little too apeshit, the handy revival system from the first game is still in place. If your partner doesn’t reach you in time, you can still spray hot, lead-flavored death at your enemies, and, if you manage to kill one of them, you can get a “Second Wind,” regaining your health in the process. But be careful – the game’s built-in saving throw has been counteracted a bit by enemies who can be rebuilt and/or healed. Just like in a zombie apocalypse, you’re better off sticking together.

Our mission, should we have chosen to accept it, was to infiltrate an industrial city to destroy golden statues in Handsome Jack’s likeness in order to incite rebellion and generally dampen the spirits of some poor sculptor. After getting the lay of the land, trying to get Brian to use his mini-map and follow me, and laying waste to waves of robotic soldiers, we came across our first sculpture. One problem: the statues, we discovered, are indestructible. In the paraphrased words of Radioactive Man, “Our guns! They do nothing!” Fortunately, we found a disused Statue Cutter robot (big statue problem in this town, I guess), hacked its core programming and repurposed it to follow us around. Newly armed with our giant public art-hating robot friend, we systematically made plazas worse for the wear, defending our cybernetic vandal as endless soldiers and mechs attempted to stop us while Handsome Jack attempted to dissuade us with increasingly annoyed, desperate pleas over the intercom.

After three statues and some lapses in attention on our parts, our Statue Cutter bot was in rough shape. His health had been depleted to approximately 25%, so we were understandably tense when it began slicing through the last golden Jack statue. But these are precisely the situations that make Borderlands 2 so exciting, particularly if you’re playing co-op with friends. Deploying my turret, Brian and I circle-strafed like our lives depended on it, riddling our enemies with bullets that lit them on fire or melted their skin with acid, and punching them in their stupid robot faces if they came too close. At long last, exhausted and caked with virtual blood, we emerged victorious. I’m still not sure Brian knows how to use the minimap, but I’ll be damned if he isn’t handy with an automatic revolver.

Impressions: Sweet buttery Moses, I cannot wait for this game. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of co-op campaign-style gameplay, and the beautiful minds over at Gearbox look like they’re ready to deliver another dosage of the clever FPS/RPG action that I’ve been craving. It also helps that the game has a wicked sense of humor; I almost felt bad about cutting Handsome Jack down to size because his quips over the P.A. system were so entertaining. And when it comes to customization and replay value, Borderlands 2 has it in spades. The original game holds a Guinness World Record for having the most guns of any videogame (17,750,000 to be precise), but in an interview with G4, Gearbox head honcho Randy Pitchford said this game would have even more. Can’t wait a month to get your fix? Chase the dragon with The Border Lands, a free de-make from Gearbox of a non-existent prequel that you won’t be able to put down. Looks like this year I’m going to have my cake and play it too.

Beta’d: “Darksiders II” Brings Death Back to Life

by on August 14, 2012

Beta’d breaks new ground this week by taking a break from our preview coverage to present our inaugural review of Vigil Games’ and THQ’s Darksiders II, the much-anticipated sequel to 2010′s Darksiders. Unlike your favorite band’s second album, Vigil Games’ doesn’t suffer from a sophomore slump. While not without its issues, it delivers one hell (no pun intended) of a gameplay experience.

Story: For those who did not play the first game, you may find yourself wondering just what the hell is going on, especially at the game’s outset, but, like Death, if you just kind of nod your head and begrudgingly go with it, you’ll be okay. Where Darksiders put you in the revenge-hungry shoes of Horseman of the Apocalypse War, Darksiders II puts you in the slightly dingier, seemingly annoyed-to-be-there shoes of his brother Death, who may or may not be taking his fashion advice from Legacy of Kain‘s Raziel (and his workout advice from Tom Hardy’s Bane). Whereas War suffered from time to time from his unrelenting grimness, Death shines as the equally gravelly-voiced successor to the tale. Death knows who he is – he’s a goddamn Horseman of the Apocalypse – and thinks everyone else better recognize too.

Hearing Death’s palpable annoyance at a menial task like having to gather materials to make an amulet was a refreshing change of pace. He’s trying to clear his brother’s name and save the world from certain destruction, for crying out loud! Can’t you send an intern to gather 6 demon gourd seeds or whatever you misplaced inside the temple? It’s a nice to have the hero actually call the quest-givers on some of their shenanigans for once.

While only-children like myself may not understand the brotherly bond shared by Death and his apocalyptic brethren, we can certainly sink our emotional teeth into the plight of a put-upon golden child with the expectations of the world (or your immediate family) heaped upon you. The story hits the ground running, dropping you off on the Frozen Mountain of Doom™, where you confront an old foe and find out exactly what misfortune has befallen your brother War. Basically, he’s on trial for causing the end of the world, and you need to clear his name to prevent his execution (and prevent a second, more world-ending end of the world). Thanks to the expansiveness of the game world, plenty of side quests, and the size of certain dungeons, the plot can feel almost secondary to the gameplay. It’s hard to feel a sense of urgency about things, when you’re crawling around every nook and cranny, searching for pages from the Book of the Dead or scouring for hidden treasure chests.

That being said, the story is pretty decent: the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, Death is annoyed that his vacation was interrupted, and there’s enough momentum and hooks to keep you compelled to see Death’s story through to the bitter end.

Gameplay: Darksiders II doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, nor did it necessarily need to do so. At its core, the game plays like a less intense cocktail of Devil May Cry, God of War, and Ocarina of Time, with a dash of Skyrim bitters for good measure. I say “less intense” because its combat doesn’t require the complex inputs of a game like DMC, but that’s not a bad thing. What it means is that anyone can pick up the controller and start kicking ass right out of the box. It’s a heady blend of action-adventure gaming with RPG-style character progression and quest structure.

With two primary skill trees – Harbinger and Necromancer – from which to choose, you can customize your abilities to reflect your preferred gameplay style. In layman’s terms, Harbinger is for warriors, featuring more melee combat-oriented skills, whereas Necromancer is for spellcasters, giving you hordes of undead minions to distract your foes while you rain hell down upon them. Thankfully, the two tracks aren’t exclusive; you can mix and match to your heart’s content, giving you the tools needed to destroy the minions of Corruption in any manner you see fit.

Much like Ocarina of Time‘s Link, Death acquires a slew of different tools to help him lay waste to his enemies and solve various puzzles in the dungeons of the world. And much like Skyrim, you can carry more bracers, scythes, shrouds and helms then you’ll know what to do with, which should keep min/maxing-obsessed RPG buffs plenty busy. Unfortunately for Skyrim diehards, there is a distressing lack of cabbage in this world for you to take with you; you’ll have to settle for Health and Wrath (mana) potions to keep you fighting fit.

Enemies have plenty of variety and increase in difficulty as you travel to different zones, but the creature design really shines when you plop several different enemy types in an encounter together with Death. It gives Death a chance to show off the full array of his combat skills. Boss battles often feature screen-filling monsters, which sounds good in theory, but due to a sometimes finicky camera, they can quickly become annoying. On more than one occasion, I lost track of Death when I was fighting a monster five times my size or plummeted to my fiery, lava-filled death due to a wonky camera mechanic while hanging from a ledge.

The game’s many dungeons have enough puzzles and challenges to keep you guessing and they’re diverse enough to feel familiar without growing stale. The other main offender in Vigil Games’ epic quest is the camera. Like I mentioned before, like it or not, you will accidentally jump off the wrong cliff to a fiery doom or you will get pummeled by an oversized boss because he takes up the entire aspect ratio of your television. It’s not a big enough issue to ruin the experience, but it occurred frequently enough to be a source of annoyance. Fortunately, the rest of the game is fun enough that it’s a forgivable offense. However, the game’s non-combat control scheme is almost too complex for its own good. Rather than taking a page from the free-running book of Assassin’s Creed, Darksiders II makes you input nearly twice as many commands to accomplish the same tasks. After you conquer the initial learning curve, you’ll be fine, but it still seems like an annoying oversight that should have been improved from the first game.

Despite its apparent ease of use, Darksiders II‘s combat is fun and fluid, with a surprising breadth of moves that you can chain together to rack up obscene combos, which the game kindly (and addictively) tracks for you on-screen. There’s something quite satisfying about sending a group of enemies flying with a well-timed swing of your scythe, grappling on to them mid-air with your Deathgrip (a grappling hook you get on your journey), slashing them again in the air, then slamming an oversized hammer into them from fifteen feet up.

While the game doesn’t have multiplayer, it does have The Crucible, a hundred-level coliseum of increasing difficulty, where you can earn rare equipment to serve as a badge of honor for your badassery. If the thrill of the accomplishment wasn’t enough for you, there are also online leaderboards through which to measure your relative awesomeness. Statistics buffs will also be happy to see that the game tracks nearly every conceivable metric, a la Grand Theft Auto. Want to congratulate a friend or help a pal who’s struggling on the leader boards? You can send equipment, items and messages across games through the Serpent Tome, the in-game mail service. Or you can just be a dick and send crappy loot to friends to free up more space in your own bags. Why you wouldn’t just sell it is beyond me, but remember, you’re trying to be a dick, so logic is right out the window.

Graphics: The game looks terrific, especially when you take in its sweeping, apocalyptic vistas and cut a swath of carnage through hordes of enemies. The game’s highly stylized world gives it both a sense of dark realism and gritty fantasy. It’s not the photorealistic world of Skyrim, nor does it try to be; Darksiders II is its own universe and proud of it. While the graphics haven’t been significantly overhauled since the first game, it does look much more polished than its predecessor. It’s not going to push the PS3 or Xbox 360′s hardware to their limits, but when you’re cleaving an enemy in two while spectral Reaper wings emerge from your back and blood flies across the screen, we’re not sure you’re going to care.

Impressions: Darksiders II is a blood-soaked, fantasy-filled blast. Apart from minor control scheme, camera and pacing quibbles, the game is a must-have for fans of brutal, fast-paced action-RPGs. It provides hours of gameplay both through the main storyline and myriad side quests, as well as plenty of replay value through robust character customization. For a game about Death, it’s surprisingly full of life.

Final Score:  

4 out of 5 burritos (Excellent)

Will you be picking up Darksiders II? Quemment below and let us know!

Beta’d: Transformers – The Fall of Cybertron

by on August 4, 2012

Transformers may be one of the greatest franchises of all time, but it has a knack for coming up short as far as movies and games are concerned. For some reason the Robots in Disguise always manage to fare better in their animated outings than they do on celluloid and in digital bits we can control. Fans of the Transformers were finally given cause to celebrate in High Moon’s Transformers – War for Cybertron. The third person action game seemed to finally understand what was great about the giant robots: not just looking cool, but character and story. Building off of the characters that had been developed, honed, and refined for over 30 years, High Moon finally struck a balance between fun gameplay and great story. The results of their efforts were a hit game and a greenlight on a sequel. But first, two more movie adaptations would come out, reminding us how bad a Transformers game could be.

The latest installment of the Cybertron series of games is set to release on August 21st and we got the chance to sit down with a couple of levels of the game.

Story: Picking up where War for Cybertron left off, the Autobots are in retreat. The Decepticons are winning the war. The Autobots have begun plans for leaving the Cybertron behind and trying to start anew elsewhere. The final days of the war see the Autobots calling in every heavy hitter they can find, from the Dinobots to Metroplex (as seen in the above trailer.) The Autobots aren’t the only ones calling in backup, as you’ll be able to play from the Decepticon perspective as well. The demo we played opens with the Arc making a run for a portal that Generation 1 fans will easily recognize. Megatron is hot on our heels and begins an assault on the ship. You take control of Bumblebee and defend the bridge.

Graphics: Building off of the graphics that made War for Cybertron so stellar, the new game has refined the character models to allow for even more granularity and detail. The game is really pushing the limits on what we’ve seen the Unreal Engine do, giving it just as fine a look as the latest Gears of War. A little bit of the sheen is lost when the game is throwing a wall of baddies and support characters on the screen, but, in those instances, so much is going on, you hardly notice the dumbed-down appearance of the enemy drones and trooper bots. The game moves seamlessly between cutscenes and gameplay, so much so it took me a moment to realize I was not controlling my character when I thought I was. The scale of some of the bots in the game make for some truly jaw-dropping scenes, and we look forward to the epic battles the trailers have promised.

Gameplay: The control scheme is essentially the same as War for Cybertron. While in robot form, you have a standard assault weapon and overshields, and your health is replenished through random energon dumps throughout the levels. The controls when in vehicle mode are pretty loose and take a little getting used to, but the amount of time you’ll actually need to be in that mode almost makes fine tuning your approach pointless. In the multiplayer, however, switching in and out of vehicle mode can make all the difference in the world for sneaking in and out of skirmishes. While a little clunkier than we’re used to for a third person shooter, the controls are adequate.

Impressions: If you’re a fan of Transformers in any incarnation, Fall of Cybertron is going to be a must own. Playing through the last days of Cybertron and really connecting the story of the game to the beginning of the show we all hold dear is really the most worthwhile aspect of this game. In the demo alone we were having some holy-crap-we’re-on-the-Arc moments, just imagine how great it’s going to be when we get to take Grimlock out to terrorize some poor Decepticon who didn’t know better than to mess with a Tyrannosaurus.

Transformers – Fall of Cybertron is available on August 21st and can be pre-ordered now. The demo is available on X-Box Live and PSN.

Beta’d: Guild Wars 2

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by on July 28, 2012

This past weekend, Guild Wars 2 held its third and final Beta Weekend. Heck, you might’ve even been in there playing it for yourself if you were lucky enough to grab one of the 1,000 beta keys Nerdist News gave away. But before the masses got a crack at it, we were given a special private tour of the fantasy MMORPG’s enormous world by the game’s developers, ArenaNet.

STORY
250 years after the events of the original Guild Wars, humankind has been crowded out of the spotlight by the ascension of new races. The feline, war-loving Charr are back, as well as the shape-shifting, barbarian Norn, the diminutive, egg-headed Asura, and the mysterious, tree-birthed Sylvari. Also, to make matters worse, there be Dragons. Elder Dragons, in fact. Something has awoken five of these ancient monsters, and their minions have been causing chaos in Tyria, the game’s homeworld. No single race holds the strength and knowledge to defeat these death-loving Dragons alone, so it’s up to everyone to make nice long enough to deal with the greater threat. And to make sure it gets done right, you, the player ,will need to reunite the Destiny’s Edge, an guild of multi-ethnic adventurers with the best chance at success.

GRAPHICS
Built on a heavily modified version of the original Guild Wars engine, Guild Wars 2’s graphics have “progress” written all over them. But rather than packing on polygons and calling it a day, the team at ArenaNet have dug deep into a stylized, hand-painted aesthetic that will be a pleasure to explore for the dozens of hours it’ll take to play through the story quests alone. The game’s development team take a lot of pride in the volumes of beautiful concept art that have gone into the creation of Tyria and its people, and that’s directly represented through both in-game content, which feels organic and handmade, as well as cut-scenes, which appear as 3d models acting in front of watercolor backdrops. The game delivers on the exaggerated proportions and wide color palettes you’ve come to expect from a fantasy game with wide appeal, without going overboard into cartoon gimmickry or childishness. In terms of scale, Guild Wars 2 isn’t afraid to go big. We encountered screen-filling monsters and immense architecture, as well as vistas that stretch out for miles of in-game travel distance.

GAMEPLAY
Being an MMORPG, there’s no one way to play through Guild Wars 2, though the main storyline will always share the common thread of Elder Dragon destruction. At the game’s start, you’ll be taken through a character creation process that includes choosing one of the five races, as well as choosing one of eight professions, such as Ranger, Thief, or Necromancer. You’ll also get to tweak umpteen-thousand aspects of your character’s physical appearance, from body type to hair and facial features, and you’ll even be able to designate your own preferred color scheme which will be mapped onto items you find throughout your journey.

Then you’ll drop into a homeworld based on your race and get right to the questing, though that’s not what it’s called in this MMO. Rather than meeting people who assign you lists of things to do (or so often, fetch), Guild Wars 2 shifts the content in the game world in front of you and compels you to deal with these changes, or to live with the results; these are called “dynamic events.” You’ll encounter tons of NPCs who ask you for help and progress the story, but it feels more like they’re commenting on the current state of the gameworld than just trying to keep you busy grinding out another hour of errands.

Combat is largely guided by how you choose to level and equip your character, with options galore for an extremely wide variety of play styles. You can bash it out up close, deliver magical punishment from afar, confuse enemies with trickery, summon machines and beasts to fight for you, or choose from a wide variety of other skills. And because variety is the spice of life, you can assign different sets of skills to your character that are dependent on which weapon you’re holding, for on the fly switching. Damage is modified based on where your hits connect, so you’ll want to take advantage of the dodge mechanic to evade incoming attacks and move behind your enemy to teach them a lesson.

All of this plays out in a world teeming with other players, who you’ll want to group up with for the best chance at survival. Attacks often change when given strategic consideration and used in concert with one another, and every enemy encounter in the game has the ability to scale in difficulty and accommodate parties of all sizes. Plus, the massive battles and sieges are quite a sight to behold, with dozens of players from the five unique races joining forces to hold back an incoming army or knock down a skyscraper-tall baddie.

IMPRESSIONS
Just when I thought my life was all full up on fantasy, Guild Wars 2 has pushed its way onto my radar in a big way. If you’re a sucker for spec’ing out roleplaying characters, the huge variety of race/profession/skill/gear combinations in this game is worth a look. And if you’re just in it for the action and exploration… it’s also still worth a look. The first letter in MMORPG is “Massively,” after all, and Guild Wars 2 seems to have earned that. Considering there aren’t any monthly fees after you’ve bought the game, it’s looking like a bargain.

Beta’d: Halo 4′s Spartan Ops – It’s Better with Friends!

by on July 21, 2012

Welcome back to Beta’d, dear reader! Now that the dust has settled from SDCC and I have been convalescing thanks to a nasty bout of San Diego Nerd Flu (a con exclusive!), I’ve had plenty of time to think and fever-dream about my hands-on time with a little game called Halo 4.

Under the sleek green lights of the Hard Rock Hotel’s Xbox Lounge, which looked like a nerdier version of the Men in Black offices, several colleagues and I got to sink our proverbial teeth into Halo 4‘s Spartan Ops, a new episodic four-player co-op campaign, and our actual teeth into Halo-themed cake pops, which I cannot rave about enough. For those concerned about the transition of power from series veterans Bungie to 343 Industries, you can sleep easy. This ain’t your slightly older brother’s Halo; it’s sleeker, smoother and has a shiny new coat of graphical paint.

Story: Rather than get into the specifics of the story line, let’s focus on the most intriguing part of the Spartan Ops mode: the promise of free, weekly episodic DLC updates. Did we mention that it’s free? Because it’s free. For the first season of DLC anyway, that is. As Microsoft announced at E3, each season will run for ten weeks, and each episode will have five new levels, meaning a grand total of fifty new levels of multiplayer content per season. This is an interesting move on 343′s part, and, if they deploy it well, it could make Spartan Ops one of the most compelling new additions to the game. While online co-op campaigns aren’t new per se, the promise of being able to tackle new story-based content each week with three of your Xbox Live buddies is a tantalizing one. You can only play the same missions over and over so many times before you lose interest and head over to Slayer to practice your “victory squats” on fallen enemies.

Gameplay: Speaking of victory squats, one of the first things you’ll notice about the game is that Master Chief’s workout routine seems to be working; he feels weightier – in a good way. You feel more like you’re wearing a suit of combat-ready armor and less like a Cirque du Soleil performer. It isn’t a huge impact on how you play, but it feels good nonetheless. Not only is this Master Chief less agile, but aiming is less forgiving; you’ll need to line up your shots more carefully because the hit boxes and recoil have been adjusted accordingly. Series veterans may complain at first, but as with any shooter, adjustment comes quickly and naturally.

During our play-through, our team of four went up against wave after wave of familiar Covenant enemies and a few of the more aggressive Prometheans, who, much like the Engineers in Prometheus, will rip your head off if you’re not paying attention. The A.I. seem to have improved since Reach, flanking our squad and swarming those of us foolish enough to charge in headlong with nothing but an Energy Sword (but what a charge it was!). This is definitely a mode that rewards smart, team-oriented play rather than lone-wolfing your way to the objective. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but you’ll quickly find yourself waiting on a respawn timer if you’re not careful with your movements.

Graphics: If you took off your headphones, the constant refrain of “this looks great!” could be heard every so often around the room. From a visual standpoint, 343 Industries has done anything but dropped the ball; this game looks gorgeous and the huge, menacing Promethean enemies are similarly spectacular with their terrifying lava lamp-like glow. We don’t know how they managed to overhaul the graphics so wonderfully yet again, but this game looks mighty fine.

Impressions: I may be a bit biased since I’m a huge fan of co-op multiplayer campaigns, but Halo 4‘s Spartan Ops mode looks like the real deal. From what we played, it seems like 343 Industries is living up to the Bungie’s frustratingly high standard. It may not handle exactly like you’re used to, but there’s a lot of horsepower under this game’s hood. Throw in free, weekly DLC and we’re sold (or at least pre-ordered). This November, we’re voting for Master Chief.

Are you excited for Halo 4? Quemment below and let us know what you are (or aren’t) looking forward to from 343 Industries’ latest offering.