Gaming Doldrums: Pre-Order Pressure & Assassination Exploitation

I was on holiday for some time, and in addition to that, life got crazy (again). But I’ve spent some time catching up on important gaming news and I’m back to ask…what in the actual heck?

You know how the summer is known as a gaming Dead Zone, since there are no major releases and the post-E3 lull has gamers resembling a young child that’s experiencing a severe sugar crash. We replay old games, grind for hours on whatever multiplayer holds our fancy, or put our imagination through its paces by thinking about upcoming titles that we’re just too damned excited about.

*sigh*

I am completely used to being bored out of my skull, gaming-wise, during the summer months. What I never expected to face, though, was a world in which I could potentially be bored out of my skull, gaming-wise, throughout the entire year. I find myself in an enhanced state of “meh” when I think about the titles that are releasing towards the end of 2014 and the start of 2015. Jeez…wasn’t it just yesterday we were getting ready to launch into a new console generation? Crazy. Anyway, lost in the hub-bub of E3 was Assassin’s Creed COMET, which I personally thought meant we would have AC on the MOON, a la Wolfenstein TNO…this would have meant that Ubisoft had utterly lost it, of course.

 

Soon….

However, AC Comet is now Assassin’s Creed Rogue, or, as I like to call it, Ubisoft Open World Game #45, in which you play a Templar named Shay who is given the arduous task of taking out as many assassins as possible. Considering the title is called AC Rogue, I figure somewhere along the way, Shay is going to have an identity crisis wherein he wonders why he follows the Templar order and ends up killing his master/brothers to atone for his sins. Rogue will be released exclusively on XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 and, according to Ubisoft, will be linked to the Kenway Family adventures before the events of Black Flag AND will serve as a lead-in for the events that will occur in AC Unity, which launches for the XBox One and PS4. Say what you will about Ubisoft, but they sure aren’t afraid to hedge their bets. Stuck on previous-gen? We gotcha. Graduated to the big leagues? We gotcha. But aren’t you just exploiting the customer base at this point? I loved Assassin’s Creed right up to the release of Black Flag which, while immensely entertaining when I was on my ship, lacked that extra spice once I hopped off said ship and actually tried to have a story. That Rogue has been snuck into the line-up after a “leak” revealed its trailer and basic story elements does not surprise me; two Assassin’s Creed games in one year? Why not. Ubisoft has been looking more like Activision every year, anyway. What does it tell you that I have yet to finish Watch_Dogs, aka Watch Assassin’s Creed Far Cry of Chicago Dogs?

Perhaps what really irks me is the fact that Rogue has been cobbled together by seven…SEVEN Ubisoft studios around the world, but when asked about female playable assassins for Unity, we were served up a steaming pile of excuses, ranging from delays to the game to the ridiculous “too much work” logic trotted out by creative director Alex Amancio. You know…if you’d reallocated resources from the seven studios working on the useless title that is Rogue, perhaps you could have developed some female assassins for Unity, or at the very least some assassins that reflect the smaller populations within your consumer base. I dunno, I mean, I’m no rocket scientist, but if I want to make a quality product that begins to reflect my corporation’s line of diversity and inclusion, I’d assign additional resources to getting that done. Perhaps it’s just me. At any rate, for the first time in my life, I have no plans to get an AC game. I’ll make do with Unity, since I already planned to get an XBox One for the Master Chief Collection.

Heeee….

 

The last bit of gaming news that made me bristle was the announcement that the original movie cast would be available as pre-order DLC for Alien Isolation. Wait. What?

Yes. You can only play as Ripley and the gang if you pre-order the title. Additionally, you only get access to both “special missions” when you pre-order at GameStop. If you decide not to pre-order because, let’s face it, there are TWO Assassin’s Creed titles coming out this year and you’ve gotta save up so you can do some assassinatin’, then you have to wait until the DLC is offered up as a separate paid download. WHAT?

If a developer wants to endear people to their titles, they should cater to the fan base. I am a huge Alien fan. I am a massive Sigourney Weaver fan. Those are not entities that are able to be logically separated when speaking about a game based on the movie that encompasses both. How do you have an Alien game without Ripley? I dunno. How do you have a Mario game without Mario? What’s a hedgehog if he’s not Sonic? I dunno. These are the questions that haunt me as we continue to spiral into this nickle ‘n dime world where, surprisingly, EA is still the largest offender. I’ve hardly seen any official backlash to the Alien Isolation pre-order pressure, save for an excellent video from Escapist’s Jim Sterling. There are the usual comments under posts discussing the title on IGN etc, but for the most part, Jim and GamingAnarchist are the only two I’ve really seen go nuts about it. Go check that rant out and you’ll see why you should be more pissed off about this game. I am exhausted with the level of lip-service we keep being served by developers and then while waiting for release day, those lips are replaced by giant pythons that wrap around us and try to squeeze every possible cent for every possible bit of content that SHOULD just be part of the actual title at launch. Are we going to be a happy player base when we’re forced to hop from retailer to digital retailer to wherever to get ALL the content that really makes our game? What is the European solution for those who want to play Alien Isolation’s DLC and can only get one Ripley mission because well, we don’t have GameStop on this side of the pond? Did anyone at SEGA have a meeting before they made this decision? Again. These are the questions that haunt me.

Are you planning to throw your chips in and get Alien Isolation or Assassin’s Creed Rogue? Sound off.

XBox One Announced, Rejoice!

My people…the next generation XBox has come forth, and tomorrow shall dawn a brighter day, for it is grand and it is…black! Behold: XBox One.

Better Than A Little Black Dress.

Better Than A Little Black Dress.

For anyone raising an eyebrow at the enthusiastic announcement of the pretty basic name, the logic behind the simplistic moniker became glaringly clear as the fast-paced presentation went on. And fast-paced it was. We literally blitzed through this event, which had a significantly more upbeat tempo than Sony’s early-2013 event announcing the PlayStation 4. XBox One is aiming to be just that: your one-stop shop for gaming, social connectivity, and audio-visual entertainment. I could hardly live-tweet as fast as they kept throwing stuff at us, and I know that this is due to the fact that Microsoft is holding back the bulk of its “OMG WOW” factors for E3. And since that’s going to be a tweetin’ bloggin’ extravaganza, I’ll try to keep this post short, focusing on the points that both excited and depressed me:

THRILLS

The Future Is Now: Voice Control

When Yusef Mehdi, Senior VP of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business line, said “XBox On” and the screen behind him came to life, I could but utter one word: Finally. Sometimes I stare at my Kinect in disgust because I can’t just turn on my XBox with a simple voice command. I know it’s not Kinect’s fault, but I have issues with misplaced frustration. XBox One aims to alleviate the stress I direct at Kinect by making it possible to turn the console on with just an utterance of “XBox On.” Laziness Level: Expert.

Fifteen Exclusives, Eight New IPs

I don’t even have to go into how great this is, especially with the promise of eight new franchises delivered for XBox One. I’m particularly excited about Remedy’s preview of Quantum Break. Fresh new content is the injection the industry needs, and after the usual suspects being rolled out at Sony’s press-con, I’m happy XBox has locked up some original product for their next-gen offering.

A scene from Remedy's Quantum Break.

A scene from Remedy’s Quantum Break.

Live-Action Halo Series With Steven Spielberg

The only two words that matter in that headline are Steven and Spielberg. I was kind of confused as to Nancy Tellum’s presence, but started to piece it together when she introduced 343 Industries’ Bonnie Ross. Anyone who followed the Halo 4 hype juggernaut watched at least one episode of the web series ‘Forward Unto Dawn.’ I appreciated the way that the story of FUD wove into the actual Halo 4 plot, and so I thought they might be announcing another web series to prep us for an upcoming Halo title. I did not even contemplate the possibility of a live-action series, much less think about the involvement of someone like Steven Spielberg. Needless to say, I’m excited to see what they can create. Forward Unto Dawn was really the best marketing tool I’d seen a game employ in a long time, and the Halo universe stretches beyond just the games, as Ross correctly stated at the beginning of her presentation. Now if only BioWare and EA would take note for Mass Effect…

EA: FIFA, NBA, Madden and…UFC

Far be it for me to say that UFC has no place among the likes of FIFA, Madden and the NBA, but I say, bravo to EA for diversifying their offering. To even be marketed alongside those three heavy-hitters is an accomplishment, and I’m looking forward to seeing the real star of those games, the new EA Sports Ignite engine, shine through on the new XBox One hardware.

Better Hardware, Better Kinect…Better You

One of my gripes, and that of many others, regarding Sony’s PlayStation 4 announcement was the complete and utter lack of hardware present. The only tangible item available was the controller, which was nicely innovative in its own right, but not enough to really sate the blood-thirsty masses. Then yesterday, Sony does what any good marketing department would do, and “blindsides” Microsoft’s event today with a sneak peek of their console…which really just amounted to a strobe-light effect while various bits of it flashed across the screen. I put blindsides in quotation marks because it seemed as though Microsoft (and anyone with a brain, really) had anticipated Sony’s sucker punch, as all through their event today, every presenter seemed to walk with an added spring in their step, as if to say “We got this, ya’ll.”

The XBox One is sleek and, for lack of  a better word, sexy. I really hate using that word and I dislike when marketing professionals use it, but there really is no other word I could use to describe the console, the new controller and the new Kinect unit. The improvements made to the Kinect, which were necessary considering the level of multitasking the XBox One boasts, are a blessing. Also: Skype group calling. Thank you.

CHILLS

Live TV, ESPN Sports connectivity

Of course, any launch event has one or two moments where you cringe a bit and shake your head, as if to say “why would you wear that to a cocktail reception?” I only had two of these moments with the XBox One launch; this is one of them. The industry had already speculated that this console, much like Sony’s PS4, would focus on the entertainment factor as being more integral to the device’s abilities than the gaming factor. I wasn’t surprised to see Microsoft bust out the live TV functionality, and the ESPN Sports connectivity possibilities. The integration of fantasy play had my US friends chomping at the bit.

But for myself, and those gamers who do not live in North America, all that you heard from us was a collective groan. While my brother-from-another-mother in Brooklyn is enjoying switching between a Skype call with me and a live NFL match on his XBox One, I’ll be once again lamenting the fact that European XBox Live subscribers pay the same amount of money as North American subscribers for maybe 30% of the functionality that our American and Canadian counterparts receive. I understand completely the reasoning behind the lack of TV content, and truthfully, Pathe Thuis (movie-streaming service from the theater chain here) is now available on XBox 360, but there is still plenty that we do not have access to, while still paying the same price.

No Price Point

Okay, so I’m nitpicking. But I was really hoping to have a ballpark figure around which to build my plan to give up food, social interaction and possibly electricity. Twitter blew up when they didn’t mention a release date and I really have to say, this argument is getting old. We should all know by now how “the game” is played. I don’t think we’ve ever gotten a release date before E3, unless of course your name is Nintendo. So let’s stop that little bit of nitpicking. A price point, however, is something I think you should be able to hint at…simply to give everyone a chance to prepare their wallets for the Special Victims Unit case its about to become.

THE BOTTOM LINE

XBox One’s spec-sheet reads like this:

– an 8-core CPU.

– 8 GB of RAM.

– 500 GB hard drive.

– USB 3.0.

– Blu-ray drive (Finally! Am I right?).

– Integrated 802.11n Wi-Fi (also finally).

– Thousands more servers to handle online play, and dedicated DVR capabilities for game-capture.

– A new 1080p Kinect camera that detects the slightest movement of your wrist, as well as your heartbeat. Hopefully if you overdo it on Nike Training With Kinect, it will also call 911 for you.

– After the event, Microsoft confirmed that XBox One was NOT going to feature always-online DRM, and everywhere, gamers and retailers sighed in collective relief.

Throughout the entire event, a die-hard PlayStation fan friend of mine kept freaking out as they threw out feature after feature. We followed it live with other gamer friends on Facebook; my notifications are now broken. People didn’t even care that the only games really shown were Forza Motorsport, Quantum Break and the world premiere of Call of Duty: Ghosts. The sheer power of the machine outshone whatever actual gameplay may have debuted. It’s safe to say that this event succeeded where Sony’s faltered: the previously non-XBox fans are frothing at the mouth.

E3 is going to be a hell of a lot more interesting this year, my friends.

First Look: Bungie’s ‘Destiny’

On Monday, XBox Live’s dashboard fed us a link to a vidoc about Bungie’s  new project, Destiny. The originators of the Halo universe have long been silent about what’s been brewing in their creative cauldrons, so I was excited to learn what Destiny was all about.

What, no PC?

What, no PC?

Destiny journeys forth from the pre-established reality that humanity has colonized other planets besides Mother Earth, enjoying a sort of second ‘Golden Age’ where the civilization’s progress is suddenly halted by an unknown force. Another mysterious entity, “The Traveler,” is the only reason any humans continue to breathe. Spherical in shape, the Traveler hovers over a struggling human city on Earth, apparently dead after having given itself to save us. Once the space program gets set up again, humanity attempts to check out the situation on their off-world colonies and find that other races have moved in and claimed space…and they’re not keen on sharing. There are guns, aliens, strategic decision-making and of course, the social tie-in with your friends. The vidoc discusses Bungie’s challenge to developing a universe where the player would want to play with his or her friends, preferably for 50+ hours at a time. Bungie has partnered with Activision for Destiny and heralds it as a ‘bold new action game set in a living world’ that will probably redefine the way we play games. There were nice shots of the Bungie office and the orchestra scoring the game, as well as some brief glimpses of gameplay, which seems to progress from an FPS point of view. At the end of the vidoc, an employee says that they never thought Halo was going to be as big as it was,and so now they’ve had to ask themselves ‘What could be bigger than Halo?’ Amazingly, this minute glace at game-play and graphics seems to be enough reason for Bungie to urge you to pre-order Destiny for the XBox 360 or PlayStation 3, with a footnote that it will be coming to next-gen platforms…just not in 2013. So you’d be pre-ordering now and getting it by maybe Spring 2014? Sounds legit…I guess?

Anyway, right as the vidoc started, I had a moment like “that music sounds like Halo, but I’ll bite and see what’s up.” And I won’t lie to you…my first thoughts about the story and first images were “This looks like what the Mass Effect universe would look like, post-Reaper war.” There’s even a piece of concept art available for gawking entitled “Citadel,” which pictures enemies and the human heroes (named Guardians) duking it out on the ground while a large structure hovers above them, its infrastructure obviously compromised.  I lol’ed hard at that.

Lol.

Lol.

And really, doesn’t it sound like a slightly AU Mass Effect? Check it out: Humanity lands among the stars and colonizes other worlds with little to no interference until alien races notice their advancement and administer the proverbial pimp slap, thus sending humanity tumbling down the ladder…once the surviving few claw their way out of the rubble and PTSD, they learn more about these races, one of which, the time-traveling robotic Vex, looks suspiciously like the Prometheans of Halo 4, just minus the orange cybernetic-like glow emanating from their bodies. No? Just me? Okay. You’ve got the ability to customize your Guardian character based on class (Titans, Warlocks, and Hunters) and you’re also able to harness the Traveler’s mysterious power as you take the fight right to the enemy, and do your duty to protect Earth and humanity. Anyway, once I got over that initial feeling of “I’ve played this before” and focused on the remaining bits of the vidoc, I found that I was cautiously optimistic about this title after all.

The concept art is pretty, and it too generates that same familiar feeling in me, with an image of what looks like a female Hunter class Guardian smacking of the Mass Effect Quarian design. You can see IGN’s complete run-through of the concept art for the visual, and also Forbes’ piece on the announcement. You will be able to play with your friends, coordinating with them via a companion app on the iOS platform about in-game activities such as content drops and new missions, which begs the question of whether or not Android users are also allowed to coordinate with friends (no, really…I’m not buying an iPhone  just to experience this game at its full social potential). Destiny, as Bungie has said, is not to be considered an MMO; rather, they’d prefer you use their newly coined terminology of “shared world shooter,” which I have to admit sounds pretty cool.  I mean, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s an MMO but whatever, it’s their project so they can call it what they wish. Bungie’s stated that they will aim to implement distributed servers to help with all that global player traffic; you know, so events don’t unfold a la the Halo: Reach multiplayer experience, which will be a welcome fix for everyone. Bungie’s goal is that players add to the story as Destiny unfolds, teaming up with buddies to reclaim humanity’s lost worlds and uncover the mystery of the Traveler and just why the other races hate us so much. They’ve promised a high level of customization, for both armor and weapons, all of which can be done at The Last City (really, that’s what they’ve called it), which you return to throughout the game for some good old R&R. There is no word on specific character names or voice actors, but they did confirm that the score is co-authored by Paul McCartney…PAUL MCCARTNEY, you guys. That’s about the most exciting thing I’ve read so far. I just need to say again though….I just can’t help feeling as though I’ve played this already:

*cough*Ghost*cough*

*cough*Ghost*cough*

So, what are your thoughts? Will you be getting Halo: Commander Shepard Meets Master Chief Who Was Transformed Into A Guardian After The Reaper/First Contact War aka Destiny? I might…as additional details unfold. I just think it’s crazy to ask players to pre-order it without something as compelling as a release date attached. Then again, this is a part-Activision production here, so maybe once E3 is out of the way, we’ll see some indication of a date dropped.

And with that in mind, if you’re unable to watch Sony’s press conference today for what is assumed to be the next-gen PlayStation announcement, feel free to follow me on Twitter, where I’ll be live-tweeting it as it unfolds. I’m staying up way beyond my bedtime for this, so humour me and follow. 🙂

Until next time.