Monthly Archives: December 2013

2013 Year In Review – PlayStation

Danny takes a look back at the launch of the PS4, and what was a pretty great year for PlayStation 3 and VITA owners.

Halo for Xbox One is Halo 5, Xbox Australia says [UPDATE]

[UPDATE] A Microsoft representative told GameSpot, “This post was made in error, and we will be updating it shortly. We have made no announcements regarding the name of Halo on Xbox One. As we have stated previously, the award-winning franchise continues on Xbox One, beginning in 2014. We have no further details to share at this time.”

The original story is below.

The all-new Halo game Microsoft announced for Xbox One at E3 2013 in June is Halo 5, not a spinoff, according to a Facebook post today from Xbox Australia.

As part of an ongoing series of reasons to buy an Xbox One in 2014, Microsoft said, “Reason #14 – The Prometheans and Covenant just won’t give John-117 a break! Master Chief returns for the thrilling continuation of the Reclaimer Saga in Halo 5.”

In June, former Xbox boss Don Mattrick referred to the new Halo game as Halo 5.

However, Microsoft Game Studios corporate vice president Phil Spencer declined to say if this game was Halo 5 when approached by GameSpot earlier this year. He only described the game as “legitimate.”

We’ve reached out to Microsoft for comment on today’s report, but were unable to reach a company representative at press time.

Microsoft has released only one trailer for the next Halo game, showing off Master Chief in the desert. The all-new Halo game launches in 2014 on Xbox One, following Halo: Spartan Assault, which launched for the new system just this week.

Violett Review

In ways both fantastical and familiar, Violett weaves a yarn that snakes around you and pulls you in. This point-and-click adventure shoves its surreality and challenge to the forefront, announcing its intention to lure you into its twisted world and twist your brain into knots from the get-go. As the story grows, the game’s mechanics wane, touching on possibilities Violett never fully exploits. Yet where the lead character’s magical abilities never wholly blossom, the journey casts its own kind of spells on you. Push past the frustrating initial moments and prepare for a lovely and unusual tale.

The basic setup is one we’ve all heard before. A young, rebellious teen moves away from her school and her life in the city to an old haunted house in the middle of nowhere. It’s a bit hackneyed, but it works as a solid foundation for the game’s real draw: a mind-bending nightmare world filled with tough puzzles and inventive visuals.

Channeling some unholy fusion between all of the great surrealist artists as well as a healthy dose of Lewis Carroll, Violett opens with the eponymous teen looking around her room for something–anything–to do. She spots a glint through a hole in the baseboard and reaches in to find herself quickly transported to a visually stunning alternate world. The story is pretty bare-bones and is almost exclusively without words, instead relying on pictures, symbols, and facial expressions to communicate. Unfortunately, while that approach helps the already stellar visual presentation, Violett’s first few moments are marred by a dedication to that minimalism.

After her transportation to this alternate dimension, Violett finds herself trapped inside a cage, and you, as the player, have some small degree of control over her surroundings. At first, she can’t do much besides rock her cage back and forth, by means of you clicking and dragging the mouse to and fro. Unfortunately that requires some strange timing, and it took me about 10 minutes to get the hang of it. On the flip side, that awkward motion shows up only once more at the very end of the game. Coarse first impressions aside, this first scene is fantastic as a vertical slice of everything you need to learn to progress.

This pond is more representative of the late-game stages and lacks the strangeness of earlier stages, instead looking very grounded, albeit quite somber.

Once you’ve rattled your cage sufficiently, you briefly grab the hands of a fairy, also imprisoned, which grants you some basic telekinetic powers. From there, you can manipulate objects throughout the room, either by simply clicking on them or by clicking and dragging them in a specific direction to achieve a specific effect. If you’re trying to manipulate an object in the wrong way or at the wrong time, Violett shakes her head and mumbles disapprovingly.

Scattered around the room are a few colored orbs that you can collect by clicking on them. They are hidden, though, and very carefully disguised by the environment. These are orbs of elemental power, and they act as a constant sort of Easter-egg hunt. Often there are four or five on any given screen, but figuring out exactly where they sit is a running puzzle that helps guide you to look around the room for clues as to your next objective. With this knowledge in hand, you have all you need to move on.

Not everything in Violett’s world looks like it comes from the land of nightmares…sometimes there are colorful party balloons!

From there, things start to get really strange. The first room you come to after the introductory area features a demonic-looking teapot that never takes its one eye off of you. It’s distinctly unnerving, but works well to set the creepy, absurdist tone. This room also tests the lessons you learned in the first room to make sure that you’ve got the hang of them. From there, you find an M.C. Escher-inspired hub of sorts that leads off to several other places, and the game proper begins. This is also the toughest part of the game, since you have several rooms that you must tackle with relatively little to guide you. The strangeness of the world and the obtuse rules it follows highlight Violett’s nature as an outsider to this world. You don’t understand it, because she doesn’t, at least not yet. Regardless, this first hub and its connected rooms amount to the first few hours of gameplay, and they are stunningly hard. While some of that difficulty continues, after you start to get a decent grasp on the world, it isn’t quite as alien or as hostile.

There’s an overarching theme of escapism that steadily transitions to homesickness, much in the way that Alice’s trip through the rabbit hole first seems like a fun romp before becoming more and more hostile. Here, though, the first few environments are remarkably unfriendly, whereas the later ones are wistful and lonely. Because there are no words or real cutscenes to help communicate the game’s message, and there’s a strong implication that this is Violett’s escapist fantasy, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this trip through the rabbit hole is reflective of Violett’s own emotional state. Helping that interpretation along is the absolutely fantastic musical score. The music changes from room to room, helping to contextualize each major location in the game. Some rooms rely on pizzicato strings to imply that Violett is in danger; others shift into G minor chords to imply sadness and loneliness.

A few orb locations are obvious, but some aren’t so easy. There are quite a few in this shot alone. Can you find them all?

While the meat and potatoes of such simple games are the environments and the puzzles, Violett does have a few odd problems. First, while the colored orbs I mentioned earlier are useful in that they help encourage you to look around and closely examine the rooms, they don’t have much utility beyond that. Later, Violett gains some other powers in addition to her telekinesis. It’s sort of implied that the strength of those powers is related to how many orbs you’ve collected, but they don’t change at all over time. Even if they did, those other powers are rarely used. Violett’s ability to float, make plants grow, and finally encapsulate herself in a shield all seem like they’d be fantastically useful for navigating such a strange land, but they never come up in a story-critical context until the last few seconds of the game. Instead, they’re used only to help collect pages of a diary left by an unknown stranger. These pages aren’t critical, nor do they provide any hints to help the game along. They are entirely optional, though you often have to go to rather extreme lengths to collect them. I was left feeling that the game is unfinished, because these skills aren’t used for anything interesting or vital.

Despite the oddly incomplete utilization of otherworldly psychic powers, and an insane difficulty curve, the emotional context goes a long way to helping Violett along. The steep curve is representative of Violett’s own confusion, and the powers are her growing determination to escape this alternate world and return home. Violett is quiet and unassuming, but it steadily weaves a tale about childhood fears and desires with which we are all too familiar. Despite its surreal setting, it has a very personal touch that grounds it.

Report: China bans Battlefield 4, calls it threat to national security

The Chinese government has banned Electronic Arts’ military FPS Battlefield 4 because it contains content that threatens national security, the country’s Ministry of Culture has said.

The Wall Street Journal points out that this decision is not likely to negatively impact EA’s business because the publisher doesn’t sell Battlefield 4 in China.

The ban comes after the release of downloadable expansion China Rising, which features four multiplayer maps on the Chinese mainland.

An official copy of the Ministry’s announcement is not yet available and an EA representative declined to comment on the story.

Last week, a Chinese newspaper accused Battlefield 4 of “discrediting China’s image” and “distorting the truth in an effort to mislead young people.”

China lifted its 13-year console ban in September with the creation of a new free-trade zone in Shanghai.

Nintendo eShop will be taken offline temporarily for Wii U and 3DS

Following reports on Nintendo’s digital storefront being unavailable for some users and the delay of Pokemon Bank, the company posted the following update on their official Facebook page:

We sincerely apologize for the connection problems in the Nintendo eShop. We understand this is taking longer than expected, but we can assure you that providing a solution is our top priority. We are determined to make sure everyone can enjoy all that Wii U and Nintendo 3DS have to offer. In an effort to manage the high volume of traffic and ultimately improve your experience, we are temporarily taking the Nintendo eShop services offline between the hours of 4 p.m. – 4 a.m. ET. Thank you so much for your continued patience. We will keep you updated.

The issues are mostly likely related to the significant influx of new 3DS and Wii U owners following the holiday. Nintendo in an earlier statement wrote, “Due to the high traffic, players are having trouble setting up Nintendo Network IDs and downloading content in the Nintendo eShop on both Wii U and Nintendo 3DS.”

Nintendo also recently announced that the eShop accounts for Wii U and 3DS can be connected by creating and linking the system network ID.

The Point – Christmas Console Memories

Danny gets all nostalgic about a all those times unwrapping video game goodies on Christmas Day.

Xbox One and PS4 revealed: The start of the next-gen "war"

In this, the first of four articles, we look back at highs and lows of 2013, beginning with the unveiling of Sony and Microsofts’ consoles and our collective reactions prior to E3.

2013 has been on the most hectic, exciting years in gaming in a long time. The launch of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One may have taken the spotlight, but we also had a portable offering from Ouya, a redesigned portable from Nintendo (the 2DS), plus the unveiling of Valve’s Steam Machine. Gaming itself may not have changed all too much in 2013, but the ways available to experience games were constantly evolving.

But although the industry is looking up now, the start of the year still felt uncertain and tumulutuous. The fate of any of these consoles was (and in some ways is still) uncertain, and there was far too regular news of layoffs and studio closures. One of the larger developers to leave the industry in 2013 was LucasArts. Disney acquired the developer along with LucasFilm, and early in the year Disney shifted the game studio to a licensing model, thus canceling (or at least putting on hold) anticipated games such as Star Wars 1313 and the Battlfefront sequel First Assault .

Given the state of the industry, it was easy to imagine an imminent collapse or some other disaster just around the corner. But all that just made it even harder to predict the circular route that Microsoft and Sony would take in their console reveals. We knew that the announcements would come soon in 2013, and that the new consoles would bear more in common with the PC than the 360 and PS3, but anything beyond that was pure conjecture. Both Sony and Microsoft were able to keep the design of their consoles tightly under wraps.

At the beginning of 2013, Gamespot made a number of predictions about what the future might hold. Some were right: Sony going with the simple PlayStation 4 title for their new console, the exploding popularity of MOBAs and League of Legends, and the rise of eSports to greater prominence in the gaming world.

However, some predictions were completely wrong. The reveal of Half-Life 3 and Source 2 from Valve, the Xbox tablet, and anything new with Final Fantasy VII were guesses that never materialized.

Early in the year, Microsoft suffered from a multitude of problems communicating the virtues of what was then still widely referred to as the Xbox 720. Gamers were outraged when it leaked that the system would require either a constant connection to the Internet (or at the least would need to check-in every 24 hours). And matters weren’t helped when a creative director at one of Microsoft’s studios responded to the outcry with the hashtag #dealwithit.

In addition, rumors were circulating that the next Xbox would be unable to play used games, and that users would be unable to unplug the Kinect. Microsoft said the Kinect would be able to be turned off at least (in an attempt to allay concerns of constant in-home monitoring), but by then it seemed too little too late.

Prior to E3, Microsoft revealed their console, but only managed to upset their fan base more by focusing on the system’s social and media capabilities rather than on gaming. Some developers argued that getting the mainstream and television-focused information out of the way early would free up more time for games at E3.

Sony’s press conference reveal took place before Microsoft’s media briefing and did not include a hardware reveal, but Sony was willing to directly address some of their competition’s biggest criticisms. The PS4, for example, would definitely be able to play used games. However, Sony remained suspiciously silent on whether or not their system would require the same 24-hour online check-in.

Still, Sony received praise for showing off their system’s share features (which lets you record game footage or stream online at any time) and a first look at the PS4’s games well ahead of E3. We got to see Sony exclusives like Infamous: Second Son, Killzone: Shadow Fall, and Knack, as well as confirmation that several highly anticipated games, such as Destiny (from Halo studio Bungie) and The Witness would be coming to next-gen. More game details and pricing would have to wait until E3, but Sony was already capitalizing on Microsoft’s perceived problems…a trend that would continue in E3.

The problems around “always online” were especially prominent in the months before E3 because of a pair of games from Blizzard and EA that had non-negotiable internet requirements in order to play. A game-breaking bug in Blizzard’s Diablo III was booting players from their servers. Meanwhile EA’s reboot of SimCity hit serious launch problems in supporting the player base and just providing online server stability. The problems persisted for months and they were only exacerbated by the fact that the online component was not actually necessary to play the game.

Announcing a console that would potentially include those same problems with few obvious benefits was causing serious perception problems for Microsoft. Especially once Sony revealed that, due to the relative lack of high-speed Internet worldwide, their console would not have that prerequisite. But for better or worse, Microsoft stayed the course.

And in the background was the growing dominance of one of gaming’s biggest phenomenons: League of Legends and the MOBA. It was a genre that was already wildly popular with a devotedly dedicated fanbase, but 2013 is when the MOBA came into its own in an even more mainstream way. League of Legends players were breaking audience records on their Twitch streams. And even in beta, Dota 2 from Valve was playing host to major league gaming tournaments.

There was a lot of excitement building up in the gaming world prior to E3, and fortunately, the rest of the year did not disappoint.

Why Dark Souls isn’t on mobiles

Many popular franchises have mobile versions, but From Software’s Dark Souls series is going to stick with consoles for the foreseeable future. Namco Bandai director of global strategy for mobile Alex Adjaj told Digital Spy that the publisher is interested in bringing the franchise to smartphones and tablets, but getting From Software on board is proving challenging.

“We’d like to bring Dark Souls to mobile, but it’s very difficult because the guys at From Software are very much console-oriented,” Adjaj said. “To change their mind about it, it takes quite a while.”

“The leads on Dark Souls are saying we don’t want to do mobile because the controls would have to be changed, and therefore it won’t be Dark Souls anymore,” he added.

Still, Adjaj would not rule out the possibility that the Dark Souls franchise could make the leap to mobiles some day.

“At the same time, you have a growth in controllers for mobile. I think it’s not an impossible case scenario to see a Dark Souls game coming to mobile at some point,” he said.

“But the truth is that the conversations we have with device manufacturers are saying the first control they want is glass, obviously, it’s not controller or joystick,” he added. “They want people to use glass to control the game, so it’s a bit difficult, but we’re getting there.”

Dark Souls II launches for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on March 11, 2014. For more, check out GameSpot’s previous coverage of Dark Souls II.


Titanfall – Atlas Titan Reveal Trailer

Meet the Atlas Titan, the workhouse amongst the titan classes. The Atlas excels where all other models fall short.

New Releases: Max: Curse of the Brotherhood, Cubit The Hardcore Platformer Robot and Edge

This week on New Releases, we find out that Max: Curse of the Brotherhood is now available! Edge and Cubit The Hardcore Platformer Robot arrive for the 3DS.