Tag Archives: Microsoft

E3 2014 Press Conference Impressions

Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo all held press conferences in LA…well ok Nintendo held a digital event, but whatever.  The point is that tons of new games were revealed, and we now have a much better idea what to expect from the next 12 months for each of the big three console manufacturers.  Here are my reactions to the press events.

Microsoft Press Conference:

Sony Press Conference:

Nintendo Digital Event:

What are your thoughts on the big three?

Killer Instinct Review

Killer InstinctKiller Instinct (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Double Helix Games
Release Date: November 22nd, 2013

Parent Talk: Killer Instinct is rated T for teen because of violence, blood, mild suggestive themes, and mild language.  This 2D/3D brawler offers fast frantic fighting, without being too graphic like Mortal Kombat.  The mild suggestive themes are mainly Orchid’s clothing and stances, and the language isn’t too bad, featuring no f-bombs or anything like that.  The original Killer Instinct was actually far more mature than this version, and believe it or not, but that one was directly aimed at children.

Plays Like: If you’ve played Street Fighter IV on the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 you know pretty much what to expect here.  Characters are made up- of 3D polygons, but gameplay is strictly 2D.  Special moves all require a combination of movements with the analog stick/d-pad and the face buttons.  This is a combo-centric fighter, meaning players look for openings to attack their opponents and then link together a wide array of attacks to form some truly spectacular looking combos.  While it might seem extremely overwhelming at first, after a short period of time even novices will be able to string together incredible looking displays of martial arts.

Review Basis: I purchased the Ultra Edition for $40 and played through the first 16 Dojo trials, and then headed online and battled through several ranked matches, as well as played many different solo fights against the gaming CPUs. I plan to return to unlock the remaining 16 advanced trials, and continue to make my way through the online ranks.

Killer Instinct was a truly flashy fighter when it hit the arcade scene back in 1994.  It combined elements from Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat and was an overnight hit.  While the series as a whole only had two entries, it lived on through various home ports, and the cult status it achieved.  Fans begged for a sequel to Killer Instinct 2, but that was never to be.  In the time between 1996’s Killer Instinct 2 and this year’s franchise reboot, Rare, the company who created the series, disappeared altogether.  No one expected the series to ever be brought back, and yet here we are in 2013 and Double Helix Games has stepped in for Rare, and has utterly stunned fighting fans by creating a perfectly balanced, and all around excellent fighter for the Xbox One.

Killer Instinct1The Great:

Killer Instinct has always lived and died by its combo system, and the same can be said here.  Combos are extremely simple to start, but become quite complex as you dig deeper into the balanced fighting system.  Here’s how the progression works.  You begin by using an opener, which is one of several special moves, you then use a single attack to perform an auto-double, and from there you input another special move which acts as a linker.  After that you can perform yet another basic attack to form another auto, and then close the entire thing out with an ender, which is yet another special move.  If that all seems overly complex, fear not as it really isn’t too bad once you get the hang of things.  Throw in ultra-finishers which allow you to execute awesome looking finishing moves, shadow moves and linkers, which are more powerful special moves, and the Instinct mode which grants you a buff for a short period of time, and you have yourself a very deep combat system.  Oh and did I mention the combo breakers?  At any point in the combo string you can break the opponent’s attack by pressing two like-powered punch and kick buttons together.  If your opponent is attacking you with a heavy combo string, and you press both heavy kick and punch buttons together at the correct time, you can break the combo and begin a new string yourself.  Watch out though as if you guess incorrectly you’re penalized and are unable to attempt another breaker for a few seconds.  There’s also a counter-breaker, which allows the attacker to fake out a combo breaker from the defender.  This adds an entirely new dimension of strategy to each fight.

The system is the perfect balance of give and take.  At no point are you ever just watching your opponent beat the living snot out of you.  Combos also utilize an interesting tactic called potential damage.  As you begin your combo string a meter is displayed onscreen informing you of how many hits you’ve successfully landed and a gauge appears.  Once it hits 100% the combo is broken and whatever potential damage you could have scored is completely lost.  It’s entirely possible to go from a 45% health bar depletion to only 5% because you failed to properly end your combo.  That’s how the system works, once the combo meter is filled, you need to ensure you use an ender on the next attack or lose all the potential damage you gained.  There are a few additional tweaks to this system though.  If you happen to have Instinct saved up, it’s the yellow meter under your character’s name, you can actually reset the combo meter, therefore granting you further combo opportunities.  The danger with this is that the longer a combo string is, the chances your opponent will successfully break your combo increase.  This juggling act is what makes the game so damn fun to play.

Killer Instinct3The Good:

  • The Dojo is a single player mode which shows players how to successfully use Jago through 32 trials.  It goes way beyond that though and actually teaches players the fundamentals of any fighting game.  Beyond just jumping, moving, and blocking, it explains how basic combo structure works, what frame data is all about, and then jumps into the specifics of this game talking about how to use all the different combo moves and systems.  If you practice enough in this mode you will become a better fighter, there’s no question about it.  Remember though, like with any fighting game, the more you practice, the better you get.  About the downside to the Dojo mode is that it doesn’t allow you to switch to other characters, nor is there a video demonstration for each and every trial, although there is for many of the highly complex ones.
  • Lots of unlockables to keep you busy.  Regardless of which gameplay modes you play you earn points which can then be used to unlock a wide assortment of goodies from the KI Store.  These items include new weapons for the fighters, or new costume customizations like new masks, or pieces of armor.

  • Everything you do whether it be online or off is recorded.  This means you can always go back, turn on frame-data, and see exactly where you went wrong with a combo string.  It’s a brilliantly easy to use setup that veterans will surely love.

  • The audio is surprisingly much better than I thought it would be.  It features a dynamic soundtrack that increases in pitch and tone as players fight.  If one player begins a long combo the music will slowly change, and when a combo breaker is scored it changes yet again.  It’s very impressive.

Killer Instinct 2The So-So:

+/- Pricing is both a blessing and a curse.  On the plus side everyone who purchases an Xbox One can download the game for free.  Included is Jago as the only playable character, as well as all the various gameplay modes.  The $20 Combo Breaker Pack includes all six launch characters (Jago, Orchid, Glacius, Sabrewolf, Thunder, and Sadira), plus two post-launch characters (Fulgore, and Spinal).  Finally there’s the Ultra Edition which costs $40, and includes all the characters from the Combo Breaker Pack, but also includes a digital copy of the original arcade version of Killer Instinct and an accessory and costume pack for the new version.  What this boils down to is that this game is actually a platform in and of itself.  At any point players who download the game can purchase individual characters for $5 a pop, or purchase additional costumes or accessories for additional real-world money.  The downside to this strategy is that there sure are a heck of a lot of Jagos running around all over the place.

+/- Online modes are extremely basic.  There are the leaderboards, ranked and exhibition matches, and that’s it.  While these all run smoothly, there’s no spectator mode, which is extremely useful for trying to improve your game.  It’s a glaring omission considering how excellent the Dojo is.  This would have been a perfect way to continue your lessons outside the Dojo, by downloading other players’ replays or ghost data.  Hopefully Double Helix Games updates the game to allow this functionality in a future patch.

+/- Having six unique and balanced characters is great, but in this day and age having only six to choose from, with another two coming early 2014, still feels a tad chintzy.

+/- Graphically Killer Instinct can be a mixed bag at time.  While I don’t really mind the new character designs too much, I do find them far less inspired than the originals.  On the other end of the spectrum are the glorious particle effects, the fantastic looking backgrounds and that rock-solid 60 frames-per-second frame rate.

The Bad:

  • While I love the fact the game is free, the lack of single-player gameplay modes dampens the experience.  All that’s available is the Dojo, a practice mode, and a very basic player-versus-CPU mode.  There’s no actual story mode of any kind.  This game was designed with tournament and versus play in mind.  The main objective is to use the Dojo to learn the basis, then practice to see which combo strings work together, and finally head online and put everything you’ve learned to the ultimate test.

The Ugly:

Jago everywhere.  The biggest downside to having a free version of the game is that virtually everyone you play against online will be playing as Jago, because they haven’t purchased any other version of the game.  That makes fights far less interesting than they should be.  I played ten ranked matches in a row, and only one of them featured a non-Jago combatant.

Killer Instinct4The Lowdown:    

Killer Instinct really surprised me.  From the fantastic Dojo to the excellent combat system, this is a game that was created with nothing but respect for the source material.  While I’m sure there will be some fans upset about the pricing structure, the fact remains that even for free you have full access to everything the game has to offer.  The biggest downside is that by only having one character available by default, you can expect to see said character all over the place, and that’s a bit of a shame because all of the characters deserve some time to shine.  If you own an Xbox One, give this one a download as it might just surprise you how much fun it is.

Final Score: 8/10

 

Ryse: Son of Rome Review

RyseRyse: Son of Rome (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Crytek
Release Date: November 22nd, 2013

Parent Talk: I can tell you right now this isn’t a game for anyone under 17 years of age.  It’s rated M for mature because of partial nudity, blood and gore, intense violence, sexual content, and strong language.  As you attack enemies the action slows down and zooms in on brutal executions which feature dismemberments, decapitations, and much more.  This is an adult game through and through.

Plays Like: Most people will say it plays like God of War and leave it at that, but that’s actually not very accurate.  God of War features a wealth of puzzles, and the combat system is always a mixture of melee combat and magical attacks.  There’s no magic to be found here.  While the combat system is based around close quarters combat, there are a variety of other gameplay options like taking control of a small group of Centurions, commanding your army to attack key spots and more.

Review Basis: Played through the single player campaign on what equates to the normal difficulty setting, and played a few Gladiator arena battles online.

When media outlets started releasing their early reviews for Xbox One launch titles, Ryse was one of the games I was most excited to hear about, and after reading all the reviews, it was the title I was the most shocked by.  Everyone said the game was extremely repetitive, environments were too similar, and overall it was simply an ok experience at best.  Well after having completed the game, I don’t know what everyone was talking about, or if I’m just insane, but this is a standout title for the platform and one, in my personal opinion, that shouldn’t be missed.  It’s the type of launch title you crave for, an original IP with balanced gameplay and absolutely stunning visuals.  What’s not to love about that?

Ryse1The Great:

This will come as a shock to absolutely no one who has played the game, but the graphics are incredible.  They clearly show the early technical prowess of Microsoft’s new system.  Characters animate realistically, facial animations are some of the best I’ve ever seen, and the environments are both varied and ridiculously detailed.  From a crumbling Rome cityscape to a fleet of Roman warships, the action zips back and forth to many different locations, each completely different than the last.  Bushes and trees slowly sway to and fro in the wind, water causes ripples in puddles during the rain, and the particle effects from a smoldering boulder are wonderful.  There’s one scene where you’re making your way through a fog-filled forest that’s just spectacular.

Ryse2The Good:

+ The combat system is very easy to learn, and can prove rather challenging to master.  During any enemy encounter you have a basic strike attack, a strong attack, a shield slam used for blocking incoming attacks, and an evading roll for unblockable attacks.  You can also use a focus power, which stuns all enemies around you for a short period of time.  Each of these attacks can be used in combination to deliver some truly outstanding combos.  It’s not uncommon to see the combo counter hitting the high 60s.  Once enemies have taken enough damage, a skull icon appears over their head, at which point you press the right trigger to activate a quick-time execution.  The enemy will then flash blue or yellow and if you press the corresponding button fast enough, you will cut off one of their arms, slice off a leg, or impale them.  It all looks wonderfully brutal.

+ The purpose of executions are to help you replenish health, focus energy, increase your experience gained, or cause more damage to your enemies.  You can cycle between these options by using the d-pad, but can only have one bonus active at a time.  Once a character is in execution mode, it’s essentially an instant kill, and while hitting the correct button might not be super important on the normal difficulty setting, it becomes a must on the higher settings.  Failure to hit the right button doesn’t actually negate the execution, it simply lowers your bonus.

+ As you murder thousands of enemies you earn special points which can be spent on a wide variety of unlockables.  These include extending your health bar, making your focus attacks last longer, etc.  There are quite a few to unlock, but by the end of the game odds are good you’ll have virtually everything you need unlocked, but if you’re really anal you could use real-world money to buy gold, which can also be used to unlock  these skills.

+ Buying gold via micro-transactions doesn’t unbalance the game because skills are all locked to your rank.  For example if you’re only level two you can’t use real-world money to purchase a level five skill.  This is great because it doesn’t allow players to bypass the whole game, become godly, and finish everything in 45 minutes.  When I hit the end of the game I actually questioned why there were micro-transactions here to begin with given how pointless they are so long as you play the game.

+ Outside the sword combat Marius partakes in a wide variety of other duties.  From shootouts with archers, to my personal favorite, taking control of a small group of Centurions, the action stays fresh throughout the game.  When with your Centurion allies, you can march toward a group of enemies, using your shields to block arrows and lob lances back at them.  It’s also possible to tell your troops where to attack next, giving you some freedom to decide exactly how you want to tackle some of the larger combat sections.

+ Excellent use of Kinect.  You have the option of holding down the left bumper to tell your troops to launch their volley of arrows, or you could just say “Fire Volley!”  It works the first time, every time and makes it much easier than holding down a button, which takes a few seconds to register.

+ The narrative might be a little clichéd, but ultimately I enjoyed every minute of it.  At the beginning of the game players are introduced to Marius, the game’s protagonist, as he makes his way to the Emperor of Rome, with the city apparently besieged by barbarians.  When Marius meets up with Emperor Nero, he begins to tell the tale of how he came to be.  The story remains interesting throughout, and as I progressed I always wanted to learn more about the different struggles Marius went through to get to where he was at that point.

+ The game lasts for anywhere between four and six hours, depending on if you look for secrets or just hightail it for the next checkpoint.  This might sound a little short, but it actually works in the game’s favor as any longer and the combat would start to feel repetitive.  As it is now it smoothly flows from one combat sequence to the next perfectly.

+ The online co-op mode pits two players together in the famous Coliseum.  Before each fight the players select their gods for which they’ll represent, which grant them a special power.  This might be renewed health after every execution, or perhaps a focus recharge.  Each round the Coliseum changes its landscape so the action doesn’t become too repetitive, and the objectives also alter after a short period of time.  In all, this mode acts as a nice diversion from the single player campaign.

Ryse3The So-So:

+/- Boss fights can prove to be challenging and fun, but one of the oldest gimmicks in gaming history is featured here, replenishing boss health just to extend the battle.  The bosses don’t gain any additional moves, you simply fight them all over again, which artificially makes the boss fights last far longer than they need too.

The Ugly:

As seems to be the case with all these new next-gen games, there are a couple of bugs present.  Steven and I played a Gladiator online game together, only to have to quit out during the very last round because the enemies glitched and became stuck in time, impervious to our attacks.  I also experienced a bizarre glitch where the colors wouldn’t appear during execution scenes, meaning I had no clue which button to press.  Thankfully the bugs appear to be kept at a minimum, but they’re present nonetheless.

Ryse4The Lowdown:

Ryse: Son of Rome is the perfect showpiece for the Xbox One, and it also happens to be a fantastic game.  If you’re ok with an action game lasting around a half dozen hours, featuring a fun and easy to learn combat system, and some of the best visuals out there, Ryse is for you.  This is easily the best single player game on the Xbox One right now, and a true AAA action game.  Don’t let the other critics fool you, this is one excellent game.

For Sparta….err…For Rome!

Final Score: 9/10    

Mad Catz Killer Instinct Arcade FightStick Tournament Edition 2 Review

Here we have the Mad Catz Killer Instinct Arcade FightStick Tournament Edition 2 for the Xbox One.  At the time of this review, the arcade stick only works with Killer Instinct and costs $199.99 USD, making it a very hard stick to recommend unless you’ve got lots of money, or really love Killer Instinct.  Over time the stick will certainly be worth it as more fighters get released, but for now I can only recommend this to a select few.

Dead Rising 3 Review

Dead Rising 3Dead Rising 3 (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Capcom Vancouver
Release Date: November 22nd, 2013

Parent Talk: Dead Rising 3 is rated M for mature because of blood and gore, strong language, intense violence, sexual content, and the use of alcohol.  You can take a sword and chop a person in half…vertically.  It’s completely over the top, and often unrealistic, but it’s certainly not a game for children of any maturity level.  This is one for adults to get giddy over.

Plays Like: Having played the original Dead Rising many years ago on the 360, I’d like to say this one plays a lot like it.  You can customize weapons, and battle thousands of undead enemies.  The big difference here is that an entire city is your playpen.  On top of that, there are an endless amount of zombies everywhere.  It’s a bigger, badder, and meaner Dead Rising than either of the previous two games.

Review Basis: I played through the entire campaign with Steven via online co-op.  We focused primarily on the main story without worrying too much about the side missions.  In fact we completed maybe five during our entire run.

Dead Rising 3 is simply insane.  It’s over the top, ridiculous, and just crazy.  If you want to have a fantastic time with your new Xbox One, I can’t recommend this game enough.  It has a couple of issues that prevent it from being a modern day classic, but what it lacks in refinement it more than makes up for in fun factor.  If you’re a gamer that likes to play fun games, grab a buddy, put on your headset and prepare to laugh out loud.

Dead Rising 31The Great:

Co-op, nuff said.  This is the type of game that is amazing to play with a friend.  If you decide to play it by yourself, I’m sure it would be fun, but in the end it would get highly repetitive over a short period of time.  Co-op changes all of that.  Instead you’re left with a game that will have you laughing out loud for a solid eight to twelve hours.  Steven and I would always laugh as we hit each other with the ridiculous weapons, or whenever we would put on new costumes.  The laughs didn’t stop until the very end of the game, and looking back, this was easily the most fun I’ve had all season long, because I got to share the wackiness with someone else.

Dead Rising 32The Good:

+ Imagine a smaller Grand Theft Auto-like city where you can explore every inch and cranny, but instead of it being filled with citizens, it’s filled with zombies.  As the game progresses and the infection spreads the streets are literally filled with zombies, we’re talking hundreds of them at any given spot.  Not only is it a sight to behold, but zombies allow all manner of craziness to ensue.

+ Weapon customization has never been as wild as it is here.  During your adventures you stumble across blueprints which allow you to not only customize weapons such as a rake and a battery to make an electrified rake, but also different vehicles.  One of my favorite being the motorcycle and steamroller combo.  It’s wicked fun, and can plow through thousands of zombies with little to no effort.  Just about everything you can see can be interacted with and used as a weapon.  It’s amazing fun, but never feels unbalanced.   Crafted weapons last longer than those you find elsewhere, but eventually they too break, forcing you to find replacements or craft others.  It’s even possible to craft together two previously crafted weapons for ridiculously powerful results.

+ Player freedom is something else I highly enjoyed.  After every few missions the game forces you to mess around for a few in-game hours.  This might be 15 minutes real-time or longer, depending on the mission.  I really like how the game essentially forces you to go explore, take on some side-quests, or do what Steven and I did, find the nearest shop and get down to our skivvies and mow down zombies.  We used every opportunity we had to locate new items because the amount of wacky outfits you can find is just nuts, and battling thousands of zombies never gets old, especially when you’re wearing nothing but a corset …as a 200 pound hairy man.

+ Simple but effective combat system.  For the most part the weapons you craft act as a sort of crowd control.  You can use projectile weapons as you’d imagine, zoomed in on a specific target, but the most fun weapons take out a series of zombies at once.  Melee combat is broken down into a strong and a weak attack, but I found if you just mashed on the Y button (strong attack) that usually was enough to take out even bosses.

+ The leveling system is also rather simple.  By completing missions, killing zombies, or going out of your way to tackle side missions and take out key psychos you earn Prestige Points, which allow you to level once you’ve gained enough of them.  Reach a new level and you’re awarded ability points, which you can then allocate to several different areas, but all increase your abilities in some way or another such as being able to carry an additional item, hold more ammo in your firearms, etc.

+ It certainly feels next-gen, even though it often doesn’t look it necessarily.  Individual characters are made up of enough polygons to look like they belong in a polished Xbox 360 game, however you can clearly tell this isn’t a 360 game the minute you step outside and see 500 zombies coming at you, with virtually no frame-rate drop at all.  When there are hundreds of zombies on the screen, your car on fire, and police shooting at you, the game can start to slow down, but overall it’s extremely impressive how massive the game’s scope is and how well everything holds up most of the time.

+ Accessible to all.  Capcom was smart when it came to balancing how to treat players in Dead Rising 3.  The Normal mode allows players to save anywhere they want, and the time constraints are far less restrictive than if players play on Nightmare mode, which plays much more like the first two Dead Rising games in that time slowly but surely becomes a concern and saving isn’t as open ended either.

Dead Rising 33The So-So:

+/- For the most part the main missions are very similar.  You drive to a certain location, pick someone up and drive back to another location, or defeat all zombies, or locate a certain item.  They never get much more interesting than that.  Side missions spice things up a bit, but overall you’re here for the guilty pleasures and having fun killing zombies more so than anything else.

The Ugly:

Expect a lot of bugs and technical issues as you make your way through the game.  As Steven and I played we both experienced a wide assortment of bizarre bugs, from partial game freezes, to certain cutscenes where a character would simply vanish, to one of the most bizarre of all, a bug that prevented my character from getting hurt, or attacking enemies.  It felt like I was in some sort of debug mode.  We even had a strange bug affect the final boss of the game whereby we had to redo the entire last section of the game instead of just the boss fight upon dying.  There’s also pop-in, texture clipping and more.  These issues don’t happen all the time, but they’re very noticeable when they do.

Dead Rising 34The Lowdown:

Sure there are bugs and other technical issues, and yes the missions do get repetitive, but if you’re going to play the game like I did, with a buddy, you’ll be amazed at just how much fun you’ll have.  We played every chance we had, and did a nice big push towards the end because we were both enjoying the ridiculous story, humor, and gameplay.  If you’re only going to play the game by yourself, I’m not sure how I’d score this because it really wouldn’t be the same experience whatsoever.  So you know what that means, this is a game you really need to play with someone else, either a friend or someone online, but just make sure you do check it out as it’s a ridiculously good time.

Final Score: 8.5/10 (7 if you’re playing alone)

Microsoft Announces Xbox One Release Date

This is it folks, the Xbox One will be released on November 22nd, exactly one week after the PlayStation 4.  It will be available in Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, UK, and the USA. This also happens to be the exact same day Microsoft released the Xbox 360 back in 2005.The cost is said to be around five hundred dollars depending on the country. This hefty price for your gaming might incite you to deal with direct lender loans to finance your passion for the Xbox! I personally cannot wait for the release! That’s pretty much all I’ve got to say about that.

Charlie Murder Review

Charlie MuderCharlie Murder (Available exclusively on Xbox 360)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1 to 4
Genre: Beat ’em Up
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Ska Studios
Release Date: August 14th, 2013

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Charlie Murder M for mature because of violence, blood and gore, and the use of drugs and alcohol. You take on the role of one of five punk rockers who fight everything in their path. You can rip off someone’s arm and beat them to death with it. There’s even a scene where someone’s face is ripped off. Sure the game’s cartoony graphics may make you think this one would be suitable for all ages, but don’t make the mistake. This is a game clearly aimed at adults.

Plays Like: If you grew up playing games like Double Dragon or Streets of Rage, Charlie Murder will feel like second nature. You can perform simple combos, pick up weapons and use them against your foes, but the game goes further than that by introducing a leveling system where you can increase your stats, and unlock new combos. There are shops where you can purchase better gear and weapons, and there are even a wide assortment of mini-games thrown in for good measure.

Review Basis: Microsoft sent us a review code, and I played all the way to the very last stage, and played both online and offline.

Beat ’em ups used to be one of my favorite genres growing up. In the arcades I used to spend what little money I had either going to town on the the latest spaceship shooter, beat ’em up, or eventually on fighters. Charlie Murder takes the new-age anarchist punk movement and mashes it with a classic beat ’em up. The results are mostly delightful, although a few sour notes do bring the package down somewhat.

Charlie Muder2The Great:

Charlie Murder is far deeper than you might think. Defeating enemies nets you cash, which can be used to purchase upgraded gear, and power-ups. You can find ingredients scattered around the environment and dropped from defeated enemies, which allow you to create your own beer. Beer grants all sorts of wicked enhancements. Your cellphone also has unique abilities. Emails progress the storyline a bit, and teach new combos. There’s a Twitter-like app which adds humor and a way to show your level progression. There’s even a camera app which allows you to scan the environment for QR codes, which unlock new items.

Charlie Murder1The Good:

+ Story is so ridiculous it works. You play as one of five band mates whose sole purpose is to stop Paul, the sixth and disgruntled member who was ejected from the group right before they made it big. Paul made a deal with the devil and now leads a demoniac heavy metal band, which has had the small side effect of unleashing all hell on the Earth. As any good rock star would do, you aim to fix this mess.

+ Graphical presentation does a great job of helping to break up the monotonous feeling of beating the crap out of endless wave of ninjas, zombies, and whatever else you can think of. Each new location is distinctly different than the last. One moment you might be fighting off hordes of zombies in a snowed in graveyard, and the next you”re taking on hallucinations from someone in a mental hospital.

+ Art style is rough and gritty, which fits perfectly in-tune with the anarchist feeling the developer was going for.

+ Each band member has a distinct class, and therefore their own unique move set. Charlie, the band’s vocalist can learn magical screaming attacks, while Lester, the band’s guitarist acts more like a mage, and can cast spells. Special power-ups are unlocks by getting new tattoos, which was a really nice touch. Having each band member feel different was an excellent decision on the part of Ska Studios, because it encourages players to try all the different playable characters, and also differentiates each character from one another.

+ Co-op is a blast. Grab three friends and enjoy, as there’s nothing like playing with buddies.

Charlie Murder3The So-So:

+/- Even with all the cool special moves, co-op moves, and weapon pick-ups, in time I found myself using the same generic X and Y attacks over and over again because those were the moves I could count on. There are more robust combos players can pull off, but the reward is seldom worth the effort.

+/- There are a wide assortment of mini-games thrown in for good measure, like quick time events, and DDR-inspired music mini-games, but ultimately each one feels tacked on. They help break up the non-stop button mashing of the rest of the game, but occasionally feel uninspired.

Charlie Muder5The Bad:

– At the end of the day, no matter how much variety or added mini-games there are, the core gameplay gets repetitive over time.

– If you play the solo campaign you might have to do some grinding as checkpoints are often very far from where you died. Mid-bosses can also prove quite challenging, but future attempts make you stronger, so either you learn to beat your opponents or you’ll eventually overpower them.

The Ugly:

Some of the animations can be downright nasty, but they’re always humorous in the context of the story. One scene in particular was truly gruesome. An innocent bystander gets grabbed by some pumpkin-head muscle bound freak, has his face ripped off, and thrown at Charlie. The face hits the ice with a splat and then proceeds to slide across the ice. Yummy!

Charlie Muder4

The Lowdown:

Charlie Murder is a far deeper beat ’em up than I thought it would be. It tries a lot of different things, with most coming together surprisingly well. Even with these fresh new ideas it can’t completely remove the monotonous nature of the genre, but if you’re into these types of games you could do far worse. This is a great one to spend an afternoon on with a group of friends, either online or off.

Final Score: 8/10

It’s Official – Microsoft Removes ALL DRM From Xbox One

Well ladies and gentlemen you did it.  Microsoft can say whatever they want about why they changed their minds on the Xbox One’s DRM, but the truth is the platform was getting completely crushed by Sony’s PlayStation 4.  Sony was riding a ridiculous wave of success when they announced the PS4 would be completely DRM-free.  Now Microsoft has done the biggest reversal in gaming history and released the following announcement.

Last week at E3, the excitement, creativity and future of our industry was on display for a global audience.

For us, the future comes in the form of Xbox One, a system designed to be the best place to play games this year and for many years to come. As is our heritage with Xbox, we designed a system that could take full advantage of advances in technology in order to deliver a breakthrough in game play and entertainment. We imagined a new set of benefits such as easier roaming, family sharing, and new ways to try and buy games. We believe in the benefits of a connected, digital future.

Since unveiling our plans for Xbox One, my team and I have heard directly from many of you, read your comments and listened to your feedback. I would like to take the opportunity today to thank you for your assistance in helping us to reshape the future of Xbox One.

You told us how much you loved the flexibility you have today with games delivered on disc. The ability to lend, share, and resell these games at your discretion is of incredible importance to you. Also important to you is the freedom to play offline, for any length of time, anywhere in the world.

So, today I am announcing the following changes to Xbox One and how you can play, share, lend, and resell your games exactly as you do today on Xbox 360. Here is what that means:

An internet connection will not be required to play offline Xbox One games – After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One, you can play any disc based game without ever connecting online again. There is no 24 hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360.

Trade-in, lend, resell, gift, and rent disc based games just like you do today – There will be no limitations to using and sharing games, it will work just as it does today on Xbox 360.

In addition to buying a disc from a retailer, you can also download games from Xbox Live on day of release. If you choose to download your games, you will be able to play them offline just like you do today. Xbox One games will be playable on any Xbox One console — there will be no regional restrictions.

These changes will impact some of the scenarios we previously announced for Xbox One. The sharing of games will work as it does today, you will simply share the disc. Downloaded titles cannot be shared or resold. Also, similar to today, playing disc based games will require that the disc be in the tray.

We appreciate your passion, support and willingness to challenge the assumptions of digital licensing and connectivity. While we believe that the majority of people will play games online and access the cloud for both games and entertainment, we will give consumers the choice of both physical and digital content. We have listened and we have heard loud and clear from your feedback that you want the best of both worlds.

Thank you again for your candid feedback. Our team remains committed to listening, taking feedback and delivering a great product for you later this year.

That’s quite a mouthful.  Basically Microsoft had no idea players all over the world would be so against all the policy changes they were putting into affect.  So now comes a very important question for all of you.  With the system just as free as the PS4 in terms of DRM, region-free, etc, are you changing tunes and plan to pre-order yourself an Xbox One, or has the damage been done?

Sony’s PS4 Taking a Commanding Pre-Order Lead

Amazon set up a versus page on Facebook to get an idea of what hardcore gamers think of the next-gen consoles.  You can see the results in real-time here.  As of writing this article there are 35,177 people who voted for the PlayStation 4, and 1,953 who voted for the Xbox One.  That’s over 18 times as many people voted for the PS4 as the Xbox One.  Amazon.ca has currently sold out of its pre-order allotment of PS4s, while their Xbox Ones are still available.  Amazon.com has non-guaranteed launch day PS4s in the top spot of highest selling items on the site, Xbox One in number two, and launch day PS4s in number three, but five other PS4 items make the top twenty, whereas only two items make the list from the Xbox One.  While one retailer hardly makes a difference, Amazon is not alone.

Pre-war winner?
Pre-war winner?

Here in Canada both Best Buy and Futureshop are completely pre-sold out of the PlayStation 4, but you can still place an order for the Xbox One.  There have also been reports that Gamespot is nearing their pre-sell out, but their Xbox One pre-orders are still far from filled.  We’ll have to wait for confirmation on other outlets, but all of this points to the obvious, as of right now the PlayStation 4 is outperforming the Xbox One.

While the generation hasn’t even begun yet, gamers the world over have felt tremendously burned by the restrictions placed on the Xbox One, and consumers are speaking with their wallets.  So I pose a question to all you COE readers out there.  Have any of you pre-ordered a next-gen system, and if so which one, and why.  I’m curious to see what our own fanbase has to say about this.

E3 2013 – Microsoft Press Conference Live Blog & Stream

It’s that time of the year again. As usual, we’re going to be liveblogging the Microsoft Press Conference. Come and join in the fun! You can watch the livestream of the conference here! There’s also a twitch stream which I embedded below the live blog.

Watch live video from TwitchTV's Official Channel on www.twitch.tv

Where Do We Go From Here?

Given all the hoopla over the Xbox One news I reported on yesterday I wanted to touch base on an important fact, one that many people don’t seem to realize. If all of these restrictions do indeed make their way to the PlayStation 4, then I’ve got to ask, where the heck do we go from here? In essence our shiny new consoles will be nothing more than simplified PCs.

Is this nothing more than....
Is this nothing more than….

That’s something people tend to forget. Virtually all of these restrictions have been on computers for years and years. If I buy a game on Steam, it’s almost exactly the same. I can’t sell it off to anyone else. I can still play said game on another computer though, via logging into my account and re-downloading the game. That’s exactly what the Xbox One will be like, which begs the question. If the new Xbox is just a Steam-like system, what’s the point of having consoles anymore?

Ever since this news broke I’ve been thinking about this. If the home console market becomes too PC-like, then ultimately why will we even need consoles anymore. They’re inferior to PCs in almost every way possible, except they’re connected to our glorious HDTVs. That can easily be fixed with modern day PCs though. Almost all new computers come with HDMI-out ports, so just buy a super long cable from a cheap cable company for $20 and presto, problem solved. I know it’s a little more complicated than that for some people given the way they have their home setup, but seriously, if consoles blur the line between console and PC too much I don’t see how they’ll be able to survive.

...this?
…this?

PCs may seem like scary boxes, but they’re actually the most convenient way to play games. I can log-in to Steam and download a game in no time, I can even pre-install said game so at mid-night I can start playing right away without any need to download it like you have to do on consoles right now. Don’t even get me started on the Steam sales either, where brand new games can go on sale for 40% off in no time. Couple that with the fact that PCs can be easily upgraded so games actually look better over time, and you have yourself a very odd situation. The whole point of consoles was to offer something PCs couldn’t, a unified platform that was easily connected to your TV. In recent years that device has also become our hub for our entertainment, but the power and flexibility offered by PCs far outweigh those perks. Those perks may not even exist in a few more months if consoles become exactly like PCs, except that they easily connect to the TV.

In the end it’s all about exclusive games, and that’s always been consoles’ strongest asset. Where else can you play Zelda, Uncharted, Halo, etc. The thing is that if these machines become too PC-like in design, the first party content will have to be absolutely killer in order to convince the masses this is the right direction to take. It’s funny but the Wii U might just be the most accessible of all the next-gen platforms. Who saw that coming?

Will the Wii U be hardcore gamers' only choice come next gen?
Will the Wii U be hardcore gamers’ only choice come next gen?

So where do we go from here? Do these console manufacturers believe this new strategy will work, and won’t cause many gamers to move to the PC? Will people just sit down and take it in because they have no other choice? How exactly will this play out moving forward? Is this the future of the home console business and if it is, why do we really need consoles if they’re just simplified PCs?

Latest Xbox One Info – Updated

There are still quite a few things about Microsoft’s next-gen console that we don’t know about. Yesterday we learned a few extra pieces of information that I thought I’d share with you today. So let’s jump on in.

To begin with, let’s talk about this always online business. The latest scoop we have is that the Xbox One does indeed require an internet connection. While it might not have to be always online, it will look for an internet connection at least once a day, if not more. So bottom line, if you’re in the Navy and are looking to relax with your Xbox One while off duty, odds are you’re shafted.

The next piece of info is clarification on used games. Games will be directly tied to your Xbox Live account so if you bring a game over to a friend’s place, all you need to do is sign-in with your profile and you can play the game. What this means is you can’t sell the game to someone else and expect them to simply play it. In that situation they would have to pay a fee to activate the game on their console, which just so happens to be the full retail price. This should effectively kill the second-hand market.

Next up is confirmation on backwards compatibility and the lack thereof. The Xbox One does not work with any Xbox 360 hardware, or software. I mentioned this yesterday, but wanted to make sure it was clear.

One piece of brand new information we have is that the Xbox One cannot be upgraded with a new internal hard drive like the PS3. That said, users will be able to use external drives in order to save any/all media stored on the local drive including game installs, movies, and music. The Xbox One has three USB 3.0 ports, so this shouldn’t be an issue. For those curious, the hard drive included in the Xbox One is 500GB, so if you plan to download all your games, which may actually be required (still looking into that), you’ll need an external storage solution before you know it.

The Xbox One TV features that were showcased so heavily during the reveal will only be available in the US at launch. Some features will be made available to Canada, but for those in Europe and the rest of the world, these features will launch “later.” This shouldn’t be too surprising as there’s a lot of red tape to cut through when dealing with multimedia features, just ask Apple.

Crytek has also confirmed that their gladiator game Ryse has been reworked as an Xbox One title, and is in fact gearing up to become one of the big launch titles for the console. Microsoft said they have 15 games they plan to release during the course of system’s first year of availability, with eight of those being brand new properties. Now we know two of them, Ryse and Quantum Break.

The Last bit of info we have for you is potential box art for both the PS4 and the Xbox One. EA posted the following image last night.

xboxonebox-1369216258

There you have it everyone. We’ll likely get even more information today and in the coming weeks leading up to E3. Discuss below!

 

Update:

Tech sites have no chimed in on a hardware analysis of the Xbox One with the tech specs Sony released and the results may surprise you.  Both system have the exact same architecture.   What this means is that games will be easier than ever to port over from one machine to the next.  It also means that any hardware features that are better on one platform or the other will be much easier to make use of.  Before things were far more complex, and led to all kinds of weird textures, clipping and more.  That should be a thing of the past.  Now players can simply expect games to run smoother or look better based on the pure performance of the machines.

Microsoft was faced with a dilemma here.  They could pump out all kinds of incredible specs, such as the latest RAM, a beefier GPU, etc.  Instead they decided to go after the living room with their all-in-one Xbox.  This means the company has to ship the console, Kinect, and a controller all together.  Odds are there will be a microphone in there as well.  That can’t possibly be cheap, so they clearly had to draw the line on power or else the system would cost far too much.

Based purely on the system specs Sony is the clear winner here, however it might come at a cost.  We still don’t know the price of these machines.  Right now in terms of performance, let’s take shaders as an example, here’s the breakdown: 768 SPs @ 800MHz vs. 1152 SPs & 800MHz.  That’s a simple stat and require no additional programming, the developer can easily adjust the PS4 version of their game to a higher level and that’s it.  We know the system memory is as such 8GB 2133MHz DDR3 on the Xbox One and 8GB 5500MHz GDDR5 on the PS4, which means games should be smoother on the PS4.  Finally we know the system memory bandwidth which is 68.3 GB/s on the Xbox One compared to 176.0 GB/s on the PS4.  Again, these numbers might not seem like much, but this is the first time where two console have the exact same insides, meaning these numbers will be visibly apparent in the games.

So what does this mean, simply that Microsoft’s gamble is clearly on bringing in people who are extremely interested in having a one-stop shop for their gaming, TV, music and movies.  Sony’s goal appears to be to deliver the most powerful gaming console.  Which will prove to be the smarter investment remains to be seen.

What Can You Expect To See During Tomorrow’s Xbox Reveal

Tomorrow, at 10AM PST, Microsoft will officially unveil the next-generation Xbox. While there have been countless rumors surrounding the new platform, I’m here to chime in on a few of the most popular rumors and let you know what I think of them, and what I believe you can expect to hear/see from tomorrow’s big reveal.

Will we see the box?

The short answer is yes, you will indeed see what the next Xbox looks like. Microsoft said they thought Sony’s PS4 reveal was odd, in that the company didn’t actually show us what the system itself looked like. This could have been done purposely to hide a few features the system itself may have. Which leads me to…

HDMI-in port?

One of the biggest reasons why the PS4 wasn’t shown, according to rumors, is that it will feature an HDMI-in port, even though that wasn’t mentioned in the tech specs. Otherwise why not show the hardware? Seems silly, no? What I can tell you is that Microsoft’s new Xbox will have an HDMI-in port. The idea is that you never have to turn your system off. It’ll control your PVR, have access to your cable guide and much more. Expect it!

Tech Specs?

Count on it. I expect tech specs to be similar, if not identical to those of the PlayStation 4. This time around the differentiating factors between the two consoles will be more about multimedia functions and social features.

Games?

Yes, you can expect some major videogame announcements including Call of Duty: Ghosts. Activision has already confirmed it will be there, and I fully expect Microsoft to highlight other key exclusives. I think most of the reveal will be on the hardware and multimedia, but much like Sony did with the PS4 reveal, expect to see a lot of games as well.

Dashboard update?

I expect the Xbox 360’s dashboard to see a major overhaul, although I don’t really think we’ll hear about this tomorrow. I believe this will happen as E3. I think this will be the last major UI overhaul the system will have, and it will tie directly in to the next Xbox’s look and feel. You can also expect everything to carry over to the new platform from your current one including achievements, your friend list, etc. What will the UI look like, I’m leaning more and more towards the Live Tiles from the Windows 8 and Mobile platforms.

xbox-infinity-2

Name?

Right now all the big money is on Xbox Infinity, and I really think that’s what it’ll be called. There are so many marketing advantages to having a name like this. Infinite also works well. “Infinite Possibilities, Infinite Entertainment” and things like that. So my money is on one of the two names. Sure Fusion sounds cool, but from a marketing perspective it doesn’t quite have the impact as Infinity or Infinite. Heck they could even tie it into Windows 8, and an 8 turned on its side is ∞.

Price?

I don’t expect us to hear the pricing details tomorrow, but I do expect them at E3 so I might as well say what I think right now. Based on the rumored tech specs, the PS4 and the next Xbox are looking to cost consumers somewhere in the $399.99 to $499.99 range. Naturally there will a variety of SKUs available, so don’t be surprised if you hear about a $599.99 SKU with tons of bells and whistles.

Surprises?

There are always huge surprises at events like this. During Sony’s event we had no idea they would focus so much attention on games, but they did. With Microsoft’s event I think we’re all expecting to see the console, the controller, games, and multimedia features. I don’t think Microsoft will disappoint either. The question is, just how big are these surprises going to be.

What Are You Excited About For The Upcoming Generation?

With the Wii U already out, and the PS4 and Xbox Infinity (?) coming later this year, it’s clear a lot of us are starting to get excited about what all these new machines have to offer, and the games we’ll be playing in just a few short months. So the question is simple, what are you all looking forward to from these next-gen consoles?

Personally this is likely the very first time where I’m not overly excited about the visuals. Normally I get a little tingle in my stomach about how stunning all the games will look compared to before, but we know that we’ve hit the ceiling on visuals. Sure games will be clearer, run smoother, and feature far greater textures and objects in the environment, but we won’t be seeing a huge visual jump like we did from the PS2-era to this one. So I’m excited about different aspects the next-gen machines have to offer.

May not look like much, but this is actually a great community.
May not look like much, but this is actually a great community.

For starters the Wii U has shown how important a community can be. I know it seems silly since the PSN and Xbox Live are far more advanced, but there’s something magical about posting comments about whatever game you’re playing, or asking for help via a Twitter-like feed. We know Sony has something similar in the works what with the company’s stance on “Sharing” content from one member to another, or to the entire PSN community. The company has remained hush on exactly how all of these share features will work, if there will be one unified community, or if we’re simply going to upload these videos to a third party service and be done with it. Based on everything we’ve seen though, we know Sony’s going the social media route, albeit zeroed in on the hardcore gamer.

It's time to share!
It’s time to share!

Where that leaves Microsoft is anyone’s guess. We should start to have a clearer picture later this week as the unveiling of the next-gen Xbox happens on May 21st. My guess is that Microsoft is going to go much further with their integration of Xbox Live. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a feature similar to Sony’s share button showing up. I can imagine it’ll all be done in-house though. Microsoft has the strongest community of gamers right now, and if they’re able to somehow enhance that with video capture, screenshots sharing, etc. it could go a long way in helping Microsoft retain their #1 spot in this field.

Naturally there are the games as well. I’m very excited to see new properties like Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs, but I want to see much more than that. Sure I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to see sequels to some of my favorite series, but I have a soft spot for new IPs. Just look at this generation. We got Assassin’s Creed, Uncharted, inFamous, and so many others. Couple new IPs with these unique community features, and I think we’re all in for a wild ride.

So that’s just a little taste of some of the things I’m really excited about as we transition into a new generation. What about all of you out there? What are you excited about?