I have spotted a trend: Victorian brothels that conveniently epitomise the squiffy morals and gratuitous self-indulgence of society’s elite while you hide behind a chaise longue and watch are “in" right now. Thief’s House of Blossoms is populated by The City’s reprehensible, opiate-huffing upper classes as well as a slew of subservient, fully clothed women who sit on men's laps, pawing at fully clothed chests and giggling. Some of them are strolling around swooshing their technically impressive silk blouses, some are shovelling opium into a big ventilation system, some are huddled together in small groups joking about penises that they have seen. Overall, I must say that it is an excellent videogame brothel.
Metro: Last Light demo session proves it’s all about location, location, location
Life in Metro: Last Light is no roadside picnic. Its harsh setting acutely reflects a world gone to hell, with the remnants of society not far behind. In Metro’s version of a post-nuclear Moscow, the locals deal not in cash but in bullets: either to barter or to deliver at high velocity into the face of the enemy. It’s not a place you’d take a family holiday. Even so, despite the toxic air and irradiated indigenous species, I kinda like it.
SimCity will have the most depressingly accurate homelessness algorithms the series has yet seen. Fail to provide enough employment in your city and your impoverished residential zones will begin spawning dishevelled vagrants who’ll then take up occupancy in your nicest parks. This drags down the desirability of the area, which in turn creates more slums and abandoned quarters, which engenders yet more homelessness. It’s a disastrous circle of societal collapse, but not nearly as exciting as a proper disaster. Sure, poverty is tragic and all, but have you ever seen a tornado? You’d sooner have a homelessness problem than a tornados problem.
Vaas is the most convincing psychopath in games. There’s something about his motion-captured acting in Far Cry 3’s opening scene that makes him feel eerily present and uncomfortably close. In other games his pseudo-intellectual bad guy twaddle about freedom and spirit and the nature of reality might sound like hackneyed script, but here it sounds like the genuine brain-nonsense of an unpredictable, twitchy idiot. A madman with a thesaurus.
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Games have been riffing on the Alien films for almost as long as the medium has existed, but Aliens: Colonial Marines aims rise above its imitators by offering the authentic Aliens experience. Gearbox are treating it with the care for lore and attention to detail of a full blooded Alien movie, only with all the added fun of being able to hunt down your friends and lay your eggs in their throats.
My first prison ran out of money before I bought any guards, leaving my first prisoners milling about in the parking lot shackled and alone. Second try ended when I forgot to build any walls and five of them ran away before I locked all the doors. The third attempt was a little more successful until my cooks couldn’t cook bacon fast enough and a riot broke out in the canteen, ending with three prisoners dead and a pair of guards spluttering their last over some overcooked eggs. I’ve come to realise I should never be put in charge of anyone, let alone an entire prison of violent angry inmates. Prison Architect is now in alpha, and I’m terrible at it.
There comes a moment in every generational cycle where developers and publishers get it. When they understand what the technology they’re building for is capable of, what the audience wants, and how to pull together the real design innovations of the past few years. Dishonored, a brilliant magical shooter in which you play a vicious assassin in a weird steampunk alternate reality is that moment.
Since Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard have always made great starting areas for their World of Warcraft expansions; with fulfilling storylines, great characters and a brisk introduction to the game mechanics. The Wandering Isles is the new Pandaren starting area; it’s available in the beta to play right through. Guess what: it’s wonderful introduction to being a panda: full of life, culture and humour - probably one of the best zones Blizzard have ever produced. Here’s why.
First off: if you’re still furious that WoW, a game about talking cows and gnomes, is way to serious for sentient pandas, you’re best not playing as one. Ever. Even a few moments in The Wandering Isles, where Pandamania is raised to a near exponential level, will drive you to tears. It has angry monkeys, a ridiculous subplot about overgrown rabbits, and a bit where you turn into a skunk. Seriously - it’s better for your blood pressure if you walk on by.
For the rest of us: OH GOD IT’S FULL OF PANDA.
All night long my computer has buzzed at me. It’s partially disabled by malfunctioning software, so can’t hibernate. But the crew of the good spaceship Chronicle have been sitting for a good six hours, in the gaps between the stars, while I rocked and rolled in panic that Windows would download, install another effing update and auto-reset. For FTL is a roguelike spaceship management game. There’s no saves, no continues. Quit and your game is over, your crew dead.
If any class comes charging at you in Guild Wars 2, you’ve got a pretty good chance of knowing what you’re up against. There’s only so many ways to play them, and only so many ways you need to keep in mind to counter what's coming at you. Keep your distance from the melee guys, and close the distance between you and the ranged. Simple. And then the Elementalist comes along and completely ruins all of your preconceptions, because it’s all things to all classes, all the time. It’s overwhelming. Which, coincidentally, is pretty much how it feels to be playing one.
Guild Wars 2 is a game without the Holy Trinity of Tank, Healer and DPS. Which is why when I say that the Guardian feels like a support class, you shouldn’t instantly try and slot it into one of those roles. They’re not the healer. They’re not the tank. They’re not the DPS. They’re just more about helping the team directly than the other classes. They’re the ones who keep everyone else fighting and fighting hard.
You can read all you like about Guild Wars 2’s World vs World vs World, the player vs player punching matches between three different server shards over the course of two weeks, but it’s not going to properly prepare you for the chaos of stepping out of the gate and into the fray. A few hundred people on each side, each trying to seize towers, survive sieges and disrupt anything and everything that might give their opponents an edge. It’s overwhelming, that first half an hour. Nothing makes sense. No one, either. Just random words burped into chat like an afterthought. “Greenvale!" “Darius!" “Ogre Village!" Then, little by little, it starts to form into something intelligible.
Wargaming.net are expanding on the phenomenal success of World of Tanks by throwing their lumbering World War II machines into the air and hoping everything isn’t going to come crashing down. Adopting the same model as its predecessor, World of Warplanes has you accruing credits to buy new, faster, flashier planes with which to dominate the airspace with. But nailing the slow, ponderous pace of tanks where terrain and positioning are just as important as skill and teamwork isn’t quite the same as achieving success once the theatre of war is dogfighting and bombing runs.
There’s always been something of the saviour about Guild Wars 2. False prophets have come and gone, and each time the thronging masses of the gaming public has held their collective breaths, wondering if perhaps this would be the one to free them of the tyrannical, all encompassing rule of World of Warcraft. Whether this would be the one to break past the first few million subscribers and cast them free of those heavy shackles that they must bear. The thronging masses of the gaming public always were prone to melodrama.
There are major flaws of most MMOs, related to their fundamental elements. Levelling produces level-separation, so you can't play with your friends. Specialisation, necessary to fill the tank-healer-dps roles, fixes players into repetitive gameplay. The fantasy genre demands certain over-familiar storylines. The Secret World, thankfully, attempts to fix all of those problems.
By the time you're reading this, you'll have seen that trailer. We can't hide our opinion; we think it's crass, sexist and just not very 47. The actual game we played, however, was parochial to the other extreme. Square Enix has been demoing two surprisingly similar views of an Asian food market over the past few months. The chattering marketplace of Sleeping Dogs’s Hong Kong, which we got to run through at GDC; and the chattering marketplace of Hitman's US Chinatown, which we played last week. They may be set on other sides of the world, but it's a tribute to the lack of local adaptation of Chinese culture that the two scenes are so strikingly similar. Or to the desperation action developers are experiencing, as they run out of interesting-yet-familiar settings for their whitebread audiences.
Guild Wars 2’s Thief feels obvious. He’s the rogue, the assassin, the guy who has a pair of daggers and sticks to the shadows before backstabbing his enemies for massive damage. You figure you know how he works, because you’ve played this class before in a dozen other MMOs, and countless RPGs. And, for the first five levels or so, Guild Wars 2 doesn’t do a lot to shake you of that feeling, provided you /did/ go the dual daggers route. You start with one anyway, so it feels natural enough. The dagger set is all about dealing massive damage up close, and staying mobile enough that you don’t get bogged down and slaughtered like the thieving scoundrel you are.
Ah, actually that thieving part is different. Let me explain.
Even though they were set up as rivals, both by marketing and the press, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 couldn’t have been more different while still occupying the same genre. Where Battlefield was wide open spaces that lent itself to moments of drama and action amid a sea of tension, Modern Warfare 3 was always about the moment to moment, frantic gunfights of close quarters. Collection 2, the second major DLC for MW3, understands this at its core, and presents you with a way to get up close and personal with the minimum of fuss.