EGX 2015 – PlayStation VR, Kitchen Demo

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The Morning after the Fright Before

Picture the scene. You groggily come to, bleary-eyed, and find yourself in a dark, grimy kitchen. You try to get up and move, only to discover that your hands and legs are bound with rope to the chair you’re slumped in. The unblinking glassy eye of a camcorder stares back at you from atop a creaking tripod, recording your every wince and struggle against your restraints. A dishevelled man in a dirty suit lies sprawled out across the greasy tiles, and you can’t tell if he’s unconscious, dead or somewhere in-between the two sorry states. A typical morning after the night before in Huddersfield, you might say.

But no, this isn’t the morning after a particularly sordid night of bacchanal northern excess, or the opening to a new SAW film, but rather the opening to Kitchen, Capcom’s virtual reality horror demo for Sony’s PlayStation VR. While in Birmingham for EGX 2015, I got the chance to try out this sleek blue-tinged helmet to see what Sony is bringing to the virtual reality table…and find out what horrors were waiting for me in Capcom’s scary scullery.

Though I’m still yet to be truly swayed about VR gaming in general, from my hands-on with Kitchen I can safely say that there are some very cool things to be excited about if you’re even just the slightest bit interested in the marriage of horror and virtual reality. Particularly so if, like me, you’re also a cheery masochist who happens to enjoy having virtual sharp pointy objects thrust close to your virtual eyeballs from time to time, Dead Space style. Oh yes.

Before we get to the juicy bits though (quite literally in this instance) it’s time for a quick recap on Sony’s VR device itself. Initially revealed to the world at the 2014 Game Developers Conference as Project Morpheus (named after the Grecian God of dreams, and sadly not Lawrence Fishburne’s pill-popping pugilist), PlayStation VR is an in-development virtual reality visor designed for use in conjunction with the PS4 and due out in the first half of 2016. With a 1920×1080 display capable of running at speeds of 120fps, it’s a beefy piece of kit, and one that many of Sony’s first and second party studios are busy creating games and experiences for. There’s already a fair few decently fleshed out VR demos that are currently available to play on the device, many of which have been doing the rounds at previous events such as E3 and Gamescom. Sony followed suit with EGX in the UK, and so the usual suspects such as The London Heist and Battlezone were among the titles available for people to try out over the course of the event.

Sadly, due to the way the public appointments were scheduled, you couldn’t actually choose which demo you’d like to try in your PlayStation VR demo slot. Instead, it was simply down to the potluck of getting whatever demo just so happened to be free at the moment you strolled up for your allotted time. Luckily for me however, finding out that I’d be sampling Kitchen was pretty much the ideal personal scenario; after hearing Lucy O’Brien positively detailing her experience with the demo on the IGN AU Pubcast, I was keen to strap on a mental apron of bravery and check out this kinky kitchenette simulator for myself.

There’s an Onryo in My Kitchen, What am I Gonna Do?

Kitchen

Okay, so here’s how things played out. After an extensive wait in a Sony holding pen (seriously), I’m eventually collected, stripped, sheared, hosed down and deloused (not seriously) before finally being seated for my demo session. As my demo assistant carefully adjusted the PSVR unit for my noggin, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the PSVR headset is way less bulky and heavy than I expected. Although the only other hands-on experience I’ve had with VR tech was with the Oculus Rift earlier in the year at March’s Rezzed event, I can’t exactly remember an awful lot of how the Rift physically felt on my head, but that’s most likely because I was having a lot of fun running for my virtual life in the fantastic Monstrum at the time, but I digress. Having said that, the PSVR felt both lighter and comfier than the Rift from what I can remember. Of particular note is the fact that Sony’s headset has an adjustable slider to set the position of the internal cushioning around your nose and eyes, which is great if you’ve got a bit of a wonky ol’ konk like mine.

With eyes, ears and proboscis all sealed in my virtual sarcophagus of headset and headphones, it’s finally time for the fun to begin. A brief title screen appears, which is quickly replaced with the decrepit kitchen of my first paragraph. I’m told to hold my hands out, and shortly after I feel the warm clammy contours of a DualShock 4 placed in my palms – nice. I’m then instructed to keep hold of the controller with my hands loosely held together in my lap (to simulate being kinkily tied up), and to gesture forwards with it to begin the demo. I thrust my hands forward, clattering the camera tripod to the floor, and an unfortunate set of events are slowly set in motion.

So yeah, you’re sat in this grungy kitchen (think something along the aesthetic lines of The Evil Within‘s environments and you’re on the right track), and for a while, nothing happens – which is good, as this gives you ample time to have a good look around. Looking down at my virtual body, I see that yes, my hands (and also presumably my virtual feet) are trussed up, hence my current immobility.

However, unlike my virtual body, my physical one is under no such restrictions, so I can actually turn round in my seat and get a 360-degree view of the room. It’s hard to overstate just how impressive this basic motion is, even though it’s an extremely basic tenet of pretty much any VR experience, but it really is quite something. Even though it is sort of immersion breaking in this instance – surely if these bonds are loose enough for me to fully rotate around in my chair, I could wriggle out of them in no time right?

Another small point on the visuals was that while the overall fluidity of motion of PlayStation VR was very slick, the picture quality of the display did seem a tad grainy and fuzzier than what I had previously experienced in Oculus. This may well have just been a visual filter added for a gritty horror aesthetic in just the Kitchen demo itself, but it was hard to say for sure.

Anyway, I’m just nit picking here – time to go back to the demo. Eventually, the man on the floor slowly starts to get to his feet, looking dazed, confused and, perhaps most importantly, not hostile. In fact, he looks scared. No idea why though, as nothing has clearly gone wrong already, and surely nothing could continue to go wrong in a kitchen in such fine upkeep as this. Nonetheless, he picks up a rusty knife off the floor and gestures for me to hold out my hands – AKA the controller – that he can cut my bonds. Gulp.

As someone who gets a bit queasy thinking about things like wrists being in close proximity to rusty knives, this next section is a tad uncomfortable to say the least. Holding up the DualShock 4 doesn’t really feel like holding one’s bound hands together at all, yet somehow the sensation of holding the controller out in front of you whilst your eyes are simultaneously seeing your virtual hands held aloft in the visor is surprisingly immersive.

This immersion becomes even more effective when this dude starts hacking away at the messy tangle of rope lashed between your wrists. Seeing the blunt knife slip and slide through the thick ropey cords in quick jerky motions suddenly makes what you’re seeing feel all the more tangible and distressing. It’s easily one of the more uncomfortable bits of the demo, and it still makes me feel a bit queasy just thinking about it now as I write this. To make matters worse, with no warning at all, suddenly a ghostly Onryo woman raises up out of the floor behind your rescuer and shanks him up pretty badly before cutting off his head. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

From here on out, the final minutes of the demo involve this Hisako lookalike fiendishly toying with you in a number of dastardly ways, the most memorable of which happens in another uncomfortable section where this ghastly ghoul slowly points the business end of the knife closer and closer towards your eye. Even though it’s an ancient 3D film cliché at this point, it’s still effective and really unsettling to see something come within inches of your face. There’s a few more moments of her scuttling around the room while you rapidly try to locate her position, but eventually, a cold grey hand covers your eyes from behind, and it’s game over man. Game over.

Ghosts Versus Cockneys

VR Dude

The PlayStation VR unit in use by a bearded Zelda-loving chap (AKA not me), wielding a pair of PlayStation Move controllers, probably for The London Heist. Cockney rhyming slang not included.

So, what did I think to PlayStation VR and Kitchen? Overall, they’re both pretty neat. The PlayStation VR unit itself is an impressive (and surprisingly comfortable) piece of tech, and though it’s just a basic demo at this point, Kitchen certainly does make a compelling case for full-on VR horror experiences very nicely indeed. But…

Okay, so I’ve got a couple of issues here. First, there’s the classic problem of VR motion sickness. Just like with the Oculus, PlayStation VR it’s a device that seems to quite frequently make a significant number of its users feel sick, including yours truly. I started to feel pretty queasy only a few moments into the Kitchen experience – definitely from motion sickness I might add, and not the grimy aesthetic of the demo – and I continued to feel pretty grim for some time afterwards. Although Sony claim that the fast refresh rate (120Hz) of the PlayStation VR greatly reduces motion sickness in comparison to other VR headsets, I personally didn’t feel any noticeable difference on a user level and quickly found my stomach roiling with waves of nausea in no time at all. But hey, this technical wizardry is beyond my tiny little pea brain, and I’m sure this is the sort of the thing that will eventually be solved given the inevitable march of progress, technology and time.

Secondly on a software level, although Kitchen was a lot of daft fun, it wasn’t really what I’d consider an interactive experience by any stretch of the imagination. The only sort of interaction the game required of me as a player was to roughly gesture forwards with the controller on two occasions – that’s it. It’s immersive and visually impressive certainly, but Kitchen is basically just a short VR horror film. Not exactly the killer app you’re looking for in a new piece of gaming-specific hardware, right?

Perhaps if I’d got to try out Sony London’s The London Heist for example, my opinions here might be slightly different. In that game, I’d have needed to duck and crouch on the spot in reality in order to pop in and out of virtual cover in the game, and use PlayStation Move controllers to point and shoot weapons at incoming enemies. That’s while I’m also Benny Hill slapping burly Statham-like skinheads on their shiny domes, slurping down great salty bowlfuls of jellied eels and yelling “Cor blimey mate, get down them apples ‘n’ pears, faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaackin’ ‘ell!” between each briny mouthful of moray. Typical video game stuff, in other words.

Yeah, I know, it’s pretty standard faire to want to shoot endless hordes of goons in a video game, but at least The London Heist‘s gameplay actually requires a significant level of interaction from me as a player, as opposed having me sit still as a passive observer like in Kitchen. A VR experience like that with a few basic mechanics and gameplay elements in play might have sold me on the use of PlayStation VR as a serious gaming platform, and not just a fancy supplementary VR cinema contraption. The small vignette demos and experiences on the PlayStation VR right now are very cool and exciting, but personally I need to see something more involved, more interesting and way more interactive to seriously consider buying a finished retail unit in the future (I’m looking at you, No Man’s Sky).

Speaking of which, there’s the cost issue. PlayStation VR is certainly a flash and exciting device for the PlayStation 4, and going forward we’re probably going to see Sony put a much greater emphasis on its VR headset as a premium way of enjoying its burgeoning catalogue of games. But damn, what a premium it’s going to be. The latest news on the pricing is that PlayStation VR will retail at somewhere around the $300-$400 mark, after Andrew House (President of Sony Computer Entertainment International) suggested to the press that the headset would have a price point comparative to the cost of a new next-gen console, and would be marketed as such. That’s one hell of a lot of money to spend on what’s essentially still just a console accessory, no matter how revolutionary it may be.

Obviously, developing this VR stuff is expensive – I’m an idiot (that’s a given) but I do understand that developing tech like this costs a lot of money. Hell, you could even say that the headset being priced at the equivalent of a new console is actually cheap considering how advanced this VR visor actually is. But the fact remains that $300-$400 for a secondary PS4 device is still a hefty price tag for the average consumer, no matter which way you cut it.

However, even with all those whiney concerns of mine, there’s still an awful lot to be excited about with PlayStation VR and the whole VR industry in general. If you’ve read this far (you poor misguided sod), you’ll have no doubt realised by this point that one of the inherent problems with trying to explain all this VR stuff lexically is that it’s a massive injustice to the whole concept. Particularly when it’s an idiot like me who’s the one typing all these lexemes out for you to read. VR is an experience which you really have to see for yourself in order to grasp it’s full potential – you have to get your head inside a VR unit and nearly have your eyes poked out by a knife-wielding wraith to see why it’s such an exciting concept. It’s way more fun than it actually sounds, trust me.

While I personally think a great game will draw in and immerse a player in its world regardless of whether they’re experiencing it with a VR headset on their cranium or not, I’m sure that one day VR will probably be the way most people experience and play video games. It’s a cool and exciting future, definitely, but I think for most of us, that future is still a way off from being a practical and affordable reality any time soon. In the meantime, I’m happy to be stabbed by ghosts and shot at by Cockneys in the place where I’ve always enjoyed those activities – on the TV. Now where did I put those jellied eels…

EGX 2015 – Halo 5: Guardians, Warzone Multiplayer

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Hands-on with Halo 5‘s Massive New Multiplayer Mode

Going to EGX is both an exciting and daunting proposition. On one hand, it’s a great opportunity for a regular punter like myself to be able to get hands-on access to the brand new shiny games shown off earlier at E3 and Gamescom. On the other, because you’re attending as Joe Public, what sounds like a fun-filled day of non-stop gaming action on paper is actually more like an eternity of queuing, pocketed by evanescent moments of virtual escapism. Don’t get me wrong; it’s an exciting place to be, but boy is it exhausting on the pins.

Aside from the expected physical aches and pains, operating as an individual blogger at an enormous expo like this can also be quite a mental strain as well. From the second you set foot inside, it’s easy to quickly feel way out of your depth; everywhere you look there are these big professional teams of hip, young trendy YouTube personalities going about with their own personal harem of cameramen, boom-wielding sound engineers and lighting technicians that document every second of their time there. It’s a bit intimidating to say the least, particularly when all you’ve got for company during your hours of queuing are a notebook, camera and a half-eaten tuna sandwich – oh joy.

EGX 2015

However, such is the life of a solitary blogger, and despite this whingey and pessimistic pre-amble, I actually had a very enjoyable few days of checking out all that’s new and exciting in the gaming realm. EGX 2015 was held at Birmingham’s NEC as opposed to last year’s venue London’s Earls Court (which sadly is due to be demolished like a set piece in a Call of Duty campaign), and although the NEC itself felt like a rather bland backdrop for a video game convention, the important thing is that a lot of the games on show were well worth the long queues to play.

One such game that is very worthy of your attention if you like sci-fi first-person shooters is 343 Industries’ Halo 5: Guardians. My verdict? To paraphrase the all-consuming Gravemind, “There is much talk, and I have listened, through rock and metal and time. Now I shall talk, and you shall listen”. In other words, get a cup of tea, get comfortable, and I shall regale ye rotten with my thoughts on Halo 5‘s multiplayer.

Or to cut a long story short, yeah it’s pretty good (does the Ocelot gun gesture).

The Art of War…Zone

Halo 5 Xbox One

Like many other Xbox owners around the world, my fetish for seeing men and women in bulky combat armour clank into each other on virtual battlefields only intensifies with each new release in the Halo series. So, to indulge my insatiable desire for steamy power armour on flesh action, I headed straight to the big green Microsoft stand after getting my entry wristband to join the already massive queue for their marquee title.

Three hours of queuing (and heavy excited breathing) later (all the while enduring the dopey antics of some of the most punchable dudebros I’ve ever come across), I was finally able to pick up a controller and get stuck in to a 20-25 minute Warzone match on the ‘Escape from A.R.C.’ map. Before we get into the nitty-gritty details however, let’s back up for a second and go over the basics.

As already indicated by the title of this post, the mode 343 had on offer for the Halo-hungry hordes attending EGX was Warzone. This is the new large-scale competitive multiplayer mode debuting with Halo 5 which pits two teams of twelve players in a head to head (or more appropriately, helmet to helmet) battle of attrition, but with the added twist of also fighting off malicious mobs of AI attackers. 343 have playfully dubbed the mode as ‘Player Vs. Player Vs. Everything’.

Warzone is basically a riff on the familiar Big Team Battle mode from the previous Halos mixed with the point capturing of Halo 4’s Dominion and some choice MOBA elements that put an interesting new spin on the series’ traditional multiplayer formula. If the use of the word MOBA makes your stomach churn in panic, don’t worry – Warzone’s objectives are simple. The first team to 1000 points wins; points are earned for killing enemy players, killing enemy AI characters and capturing and holding target zones on the map.

See, nice and easy right? Having said that, there is a very cool twist to Warzone, and it’s here that the MOBA influence comes into play (Don’t panic, this is straightforward too, I promise). If one team simultaneously controls all the zones on a map, then the opposing team’s power core will be exposed back at their base, leaving it wide open for an attack. If the power core is destroyed with, say, a cheeky proton torpedo or two (read: plasma grenades), then that counts as an instant win for the attacking team, irrelevant of the current points total – yippie-ki-yay motherfucker indeed. It takes a lot of hard work and close co-ordination with your teammates to pull off a successful core detonation, but the sweet reward of a decisive on-the-spot victory makes all those gallons of blood, sweat and tears worth it.

Laptop

The culmination of all these different gameplay ideas working together results in a multiplayer mode that feels consistently exhilarating, regardless of whether you’re trouncing the opposition, or being completely dominated. There’s always hope of a last-minute comeback victory for the losers, but also the ever-present danger of defeat for the winners at any moment, which serves to keep both teams on their toes right to the very last second of the match.

Okay, so that’s the theory of Warzone out of the way – let’s crack on with the practical.

Spring Cleaning

Big Halo Sign 1

At the start of a Warzone match, both teams have to first clear out the pesky AI Forerunner squatters that have taken up residence in their respective bases. With the stern yet dulcet tones of Jennifer Hale’s Sarah Palmer in my headphones, my Red team chums and I drop into our base via Pelican dropship and prepare to fuck up some ferrous Forerunner ass.

These starting enemies mainly comprise the canine-like Forerunner Crawlers first introduced in Halo 4, but there were a few of the new Armiger enemy types amongst their number too. Sadly I completely missed this early engagement with the Armigers as I had to readjust my settings to invert my aiming and look controls, so I can’t really say much about how these new enemies operate as they were all wiped out by the time I properly joined the fray. From what I could see though, the Armigers appear to operate as a sort of much-needed intermediary enemy in the Forerunner ranks – stronger than the Crawlers, but weaker than the Knights.

With our base secured and free from enslaved human robots, the next few minutes see our team slowly wander out into the map to butt heads with Blue team and try to capture zones along the way. It’s all pretty low-key stuff at this early stage in the game; snipers volley short-range pistol shots at each other across the glinting metal rooftops, run-and-gun attackers clutch assault rifles and zig-zag across the dusty open ground from cover to cover, and explosive indoor corridor jousts flare up wherever the two sides meet.

It’s at this point that Halo 5‘s Spartan abilities really come into play and give you some interesting new map traversal options to experiment with. In particular, the new Spartan Boost ability that transforms what previously would otherwise be a rather dull and tired part of the Halo multiplayer experience – commuting across the large distances on foot to get to the action – into a high-speed adrenaline rush. Take a running leap off a platform and hit your thrusters mid-air and your Spartan is temporarily soaring through the air round the map like a bird. An ungraceful man-sized metallic bird with an assault rifle in its hands (or should that be talons?), but a bird nonetheless. Used in conjunction with the also new wall-clambering ability and the capability to indefinitely sprint (finally), it’s easy to achieve moments of kinetic (no, not that kinetic) grace as you swoop and soar your way across the map’s sandy orange dunes.

Aisle Shot

As both teams settle into the to-and-fro rhythm of capturing and defending zones, the interior spaces of these structures inexorably play host to the most intense firefights of the match. It’s here where the true benefits of the Spartan abilities come to the fore, as players clash in a crackling blur of extinguished shields and smoky thruster trails, a lightning-fast ballet of quick fingers and even quicker wits. The ability to hover mid-air, clamber up ledges and deal out deadly ground pounds give players access to a whole new vertical library of punishment, transforming a basic indoor scrap into a ridiculously exciting pressure cooker of claustrophobic indoor chaos.

In particular, mastering the nuances of the Boost ability in a close-quarters combat situation proves essential to survival. Learning when to rocket forwards to rapidly close distances and deal out crunching melee hits, or backdash with a reverse boost to escape a hail of bullets or the thundering blast of a grenade are vital manoeuvres to commit to muscle memory. With regard to the latter point, it’s hard to get an accurate feel of just how Halo 5‘s pineapples are balanced in this current pre-release build of the game, but they seem to pack a bigger wallop compared to the frag grenades of old, presumably as a means to compensate for players’ increased manoeuvrability.

Interestingly, as a final point on the zone capturing, whenever you move in to capture an enemy-controlled structure, a small readout on the HUD appears to let you know how many enemies are still occupying the building. This small detail is fantastic, as it helps you to quickly make important snap decisions; is it better to fall back and get reinforcements, or keep pressing on and find where that last dirty little cloaked camper is and rip out his thro…ahem, sorry about that, got a bit carried away there (deep breaths).

 Where the Wild Things Aren’t

Big Halo Sign 1

One of the slight disappointments with Warzone is that despite the mode’s inclusion of AI enemies, the truth is that there really aren’t an awful lot of them to go around. In addition to the handful of standard enemies occupying the bases at the start of the match, there’s a few straggling outliers huddled near each of the zones, and…that’s about it. Whether the AI population is an ongoing balance issue that’s still being tweaked, or whether it’s simply the case that the Escape from A.R.C. map simply doesn’t have many standard AI enemies to hunt, I’m not sure. Perhaps I just went in with my expectations set too high, expecting to see swarms of enemies rushing both teams in numbers comparable to Halo: ODST‘s excellent Firefight mode, but thankfully it’s not a big deal. The exciting part of Warzone is, of course, taking the fight to the enemy human players à la Big Team Battle.

However, what the AI troops lack in number, they more than makes up for in might. As both teams are racking up kills and holding down zones, Palmer occasionally pipes up to announce that Covenant and Forerunner boss enemies have spawned into the map. Simply put, these things are fucking beasts. These bosses are essentially souped-up versions of the standard Covenant Elites and Forerunner Knights found in the campaign, but don’t let their appearances fool you. Though they might look like the typical enemies you’d encounter in a Halo campaign, they have significantly better shielding and health to draw on, and can pack a much heftier wallop compared to their story-based counterparts. I repeatedly tried to take down a big Elite commander lurking in an out of the way construction tunnel by myself, but after being melted one too many times by its plasma rifle, I quickly decided to focus my efforts on helping my team hold down zones instead. Teamwork is essential to taking these big baddies down, but for those who enjoy a bit of bounty hunting, there’s a hefty jackpot of bonus points to bag for felling these fierce foes.

Check Yourself Before You REQ Yourself

REQ Station

To even think about tackling the enemy AI bosses, you’re going to need some serious firepower, and this is where 343 have decided to mix things up a little. Warzone differs from the rest of Halo 5‘s multiplayer in that it utilises the new REQ system as the primary means for players to get their hands on better gear.

Unfamiliar with it? Let me bring you up to speed. REQ is a vehicle and weapon requisition (get it?) system that 343 have designed specially for Warzone as a sort of middle ground between traditional first-come first-served weapon and vehicle distribution of the older titles, and Halo 4‘s controversial loadout system. Players earn energy points in Warzone by killing enemy players, AI troopers, capturing and holding bases etc. which they can then cash in at REQ terminals in their base to get a shiny new weapon or vehicle to kick ass with. Each item you can order belongs to a specific tier, and these tiers gradually unlock over time according to their energy requirement; basic items with a low energy requirement (such as pistols and rifles) will unlock sooner, while the power weapons and big vehicles will unlock later on in the match. It’s a clever and elegant way of allowing the player to pick the weapons they want, whilst still keeping the competitive playing field fair for everyone else.

Come to think of it, why am I trying to explain the ins and outs of the REQ system, when I could have the sage-like Mister Chief do a much better job of it for me:

It’s a difficult equilibrium to achieve, but I think on the whole 343 have got the balance between player choice and competitive fairness pretty spot on (though I still have some major concerns, but I’ll get to these later). A lot of Halo traditionalists disliked 343’s first foray into personalised weapon distribution in Halo 4, as they felt it negatively impacted the classic map and power weapon struggles they adored in the older games. Others disagreed, and enjoyed the more flexible approach to basic weapon acquisition, seeing it (alongside the inclusion of a standardised sprint function) as a progressive and considerate step in contemporising the Halo franchise to its industry peers and bringing it up to speed with the expectations of the modern FPS player.

As one of the minority of players of Halo 4 who actually appreciated the ability to spawn in with your preferred low-tier weapon of choice ready to go in your hexagon-riddled gauntlets, I think the REQ system will satisfy both schools of Halo thought. The timed unlock tiers of the arsenal mean that players can’t just instantly spawn in with top-tier armaments and wipe the floor with everyone else, and the energy requirements encourage players to think wisely about their purchases. Should you cash out on a Covenant Carbine, or save your energy and splash out on a Spartan Laser a few spawns later on? Go for a Gungoose early on, or splurge on a Scorpion tank further down the line? The choice is up to you (and the contents of your sizzling green energy wallet).

 Unfortunately though, as my Warzone match progressed and piles of dead Spartans started to pile up in crumpled heaps around the map, it gradually became apparent that hardly any players were making use of the REQ system. This was probably due to the clownish oafs Microsoft employed to man the Halo booth being more interested in dancing to the tunes thumping out of the nearby Rockband 4 stand than, you know, actually telling people how to play their fucking game, but hey, that’s just my guess. For whatever reason, a lot of the players I encountered didn’t seem to know how to get hold of a new gun or vehicle – either that or they were perfectly content to just go running out into the map with nothing but the standard issue assault rifle and pistol combo. This was a shame, and as a result the match I played didn’t really have the same level of intensity and pandemonium that the pre-release trailers have hyped up to the max. I’m sure when the final game comes out and people are familiar with the new systems that things will quickly start to feel more jam-packed and manic, but my first Warzone match definitely felt weirdly quiet at times.

Fortunately for me then, the noticeable lack of other vehicles and power weapons on the field meant that when I took to the skies in a Forerunner Phaeton I met very little anti-air resistance (cue Kenny Loggins’ ‘Danger Zone’, and pull on a pair of tinted aviators).

Phaenting the Town Orange

Player Close-up

Being a long-time Halo wheelman, I knew instantly from the second I picked up the greasy display controller that I wanted to get behind the controls of Halo 5‘s coolest new vehicle ASAP. I made sure to frugally hold back enough energy points for one so I could deploy this new toy as soon as the time-restriction passed, and it was certainly well worth the wait.

Allow me to indulge in my obsession for this beauty. The Forerunner Phaeton is a beastly aircraft, and the first vehicle we’ve seen from the Didact’s Forerunner faction; it’s an angular gunmetal grey aircraft that combines the shape of a Harrier Jump Jet with the sleek contours of stealth bomber. It also has a lot of orange paint on it, because you know…Forerunners and stuff.

Mechanically speaking, it’s an interesting vehicle to get to grips with. Unlike its Human and Covenant peers, the Phaeton feels designed first and foremost for defence over offence. It manoeuvres and hovers in a similar fashion to the Hornet, though it’s increased size means that it handles more like a floating gun platform than nippy attack chopper, swapping speed for increased durability. It comes equipped with a beefy futuristic chaingun, which spits out a hail of hard light bullets at your target, which quickly turn enemy Spartans into fizzing puddles of Tango. These bullets are powerful, yes, but they’re also quite slow moving (compared to the fire rate of a Banshee’s primary projectiles for example), so learning to lead your shots just slightly in front of your target is essential to land hits.

The most unique feature of this flying Forerunner craft though has to be its ability to phase in and out of the air, meaning you can essentially juke out of the way of incoming projectiles. While I couldn’t figure out how to activate the dodge ability myself in this match, it’s definitely going to be a vital thing to be able to pull off in the heat of combat.

I spent the entirety of my time in the craft punching sizzling orange holes in ground-based infantry targets, so I didn’t get to see how the Phaeton holds up in an aerial dog fight, but I imagine the trick to taking on airborne vehicles will be to stand your ground and let your attacker come to you rather than give pursuit. While the Banshee and Hornet can probably outrun the Phaeton in terms of raw speed, the Phaeton’s phase ability gives it an unparalleled flexibility at short-distances; continually warping out of range of your attacker’s guns will be highly irritating, and also give you extra time to rake nasty orange bullet scars across their hull.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and ultimately my airborne killing spree was cut short when I was rudely blown out of the sky by a particularly determined rooftop defender. It was time to get back to the fray on foot for the final few minutes of the match, but my next thought was, to quote the mighty 117 himself, “I need a weapon”. Again. Although I’d been regularly plucking out basic ranged weapons throughout the course of the match, I didn’t really have a full perusal of all the goodies on offer until I’d had my fun with the Phaeton.

Warzone’s arsenal consists largely of Halo 4‘s returning armoury (sadly minus the sticky detonator) along with a few new additions such as the Hydra, a homing RPG weapon that debuted in the previous Arena multiplayer Beta. Though my natural tendency was to stick to familiar favourites when ordering weapons (nothing comes close to speed, accuracy and satisfying thunk-thunk-thunks of the Covenant Carbine at mid-range sniping in my opinion), I did make an effort to sample some of the new tools on offer. One such newbie is the Covenant Plasma Caster; this is a purple crossbow-like contraption first showcased in the Gamescom campaign demo which has both rapid fire and charge-shot capabilities. It basically functions as a sort of hybrid between the Concussion Rifle of and Reach‘s Plasma Launcher – I’m sure it’s a lot of fun to use, but sadly, due to a deadly mixture of impatience and unfamiliarity on my part, I couldn’t really get it to work for me in the short time the weapon was in my grasp.

Indoor Ghost

The final few minutes of the game were a busy blur of running between bases, capping fools and dodging those fearsome AI bosses. Though we had a solid lead points-wise, our team still had a bit of a shock when all of the zones bases were suddenly under blue control, and we had to quickly scramble to capture at least one back to shut them out of our core. We managed it by the skin of our teeth, and before long we had all three zones under our control – touché Blue team. I’d just leapt into the bulky cockpit of a Mantis and was thudding my way across the map to launch everything I had at their exposed core when Red team won with a 1000 point total anyway. Sighing with contented relief, I turned my Mantis towards the sun and thudded into the distance as the monitors faded to black. Mission complete.

Oh, Just One More Thing…

Yes I’m doing a Columbo here, and yes I know this piece is really dragging on by this point now, but this last bit is important, trust me. Remember how I alluded to some concerns about the REQ a few paragraphs ago? Despite the delightfully daft attempts of Frank O’Connor’s scribbled Spartan to harbour goodwill towards this new system, having tried REQ out first-hand, I’m still uneasy about how the system will work in the final game. Specifically, I’m apprehensive about how it’ll impact on one of the key aspects of Halo multiplayer – vehicle and power weapon acquisition.

You see unlike the build of the game I got to try, when the finished thing hits store shelves and the Xbone marketplace later this month, the REQ system will have an secondary layer of virtual currency added to it – REQ cards (Mister Chief outlines how they work in the video I posted earlier, but for the benefit of doubt I’ll explain them again here). REQ cards are digital trading cards that players will use as a secondary payment system (on top of the energy level costs) to acquire power weapons and vehicles in Warzone matches. In other words, in order to call in a specific power weapon/vehicle in the retail version of Halo 5‘s Warzone mode, three conditions have to be met:

  • The player has the sufficient level of energy required to spawn in their chosen power weapon/vehicle.
  • The REQ system has time-unlocked the tier that the player’s chosen power weapon/vehicle belongs to.
  • The player owns the corresponding REQ card for that power weapon/vehicle.

Upon first glance, these conditions seem pretty fair and straightforward. However, there’s a catch. A couple of catches actually. As an old-school Halo wheelman, the initial worry I have with this system is that unlike the game’s basic weapon cards (which I believe are classed as permanent, unlimited unlocks once earned), Halo 5‘s power weapon and vehicle cards are categorised in the REQ system as single use cards. This means that whenever you order up your chosen vehicle/power weapon of choice, it costs you a card each and every time you want to spawn that item into a match. To put it another way, no card = no vehicle/power weapon. Out of Warthog cards? Sorry Spartan, you’ll have to hoof it on foot. The much bigger worry I have is the fact that packs of REQ cards will be available for players to buy with real world money as microtransactions. Want that Rocket Launcher soldier? Drop and give me twenty…pence.

Yup, we’re finally at the point ladies and gents – the mighty triple-A Halo series is soliciting microtransactions in addition to asking for your £60 upfront. Before you roll your eyes, no, I don’t think microtransactions are an inherently evil concept. Like additional DLC content, microtransactions can be well designed and fairly implemented in a game, usually offering purely cosmetic items for sale, or they are implemented in such a way that they don’t negatively impact the core gameplay experience of you or other players. Free-to-play games like Killer Instinct and Planetside 2 are excellent examples of games that positively use microtransactions in non-invasive ways, and most importantly, they don’t reward the players that do spend their money with unfair advantages over those who don’t.

Microtransactions absolutely have no place in a boxed £60 retail game like Halo though, and their inclusion is just unacceptable in my opinion. We’ll have to see exactly how these REQ cards work in the finished product of course, but from everything 343 has told us so far, it looks like the microtransactions are purely there to act as a tertiary barrier to encourage players to open their digital wallets.

To momentarily play devil’s advocate on 343’s behalf, players are said to be able to earn REQ cards for doing pretty much anything in Halo 5‘s multiplayer modes. Although we haven’t been given any solid info on frequency and drop rates for these cards, for all intents and purposes it sounds like players will be earning them at a steady rate, so I’m pretty confident that they won’t be given out quite as randomly and inconsistently as the engram rewards that the infamously tight-fisted Cryptarch in Destiny doles out (the smug blue-faced cunt). But the fact remains that although 343 have said that players will be continually earning plenty of cards for everything they do in Halo 5, these cards are an intrinsically unreliable resource by design. You won’t be able to 100% guarantee that you’ll have the capability to spawn in a Mongoose for that vital last minute rush on the enemy’s core unless you’ve paid cold hard cash for it.

Not getting the sniper rifle or Wraith you wanted exactly when you wanted it in the previous Halos wasn’t a big deal, as all the weapons and vehicles spawned into the map at once and were available on a first-come first-served basis. Missed out on getting a Banshee? No worries, just keep playing and it’ll respawn back in later. Conversely, Halo 5‘s REQ cards turn the process of getting into vehicles and getting power weapons into a random lucky-dip bag, unless you spend extra money. Why make a system that’s deliberately built to be unreliable in one area otherwise? If players can order up basic weapons at any point without requiring additional consumable cards (providing they meet the energy and time requirements) why can’t we do the same with the vehicles and power weapons?

It just feels completely unnecessary and tacky. In the Warzone match I played, vehicles and power weapons were already rationed out fairly to players with the energy cost and staggered time-based unlock requirements of the REQ system. These are more than adequate safeguards already in place to stop people abusing the system, and it simply looks like the REQ cards have simply been introduced to add another level of unnecessary complexity to the system, and a means of nickel-and-diming desperate players for extra cash. I’ll happily have my concerns proven overly-cynical, ill-founded and wrong – nay, fuck it, I’ll go one further and say I desperately hope I’m proven wrong – but until we get the finished thing in our hands, I’m definitely more than a bit worried.

Anyway, I’m just chuntering at this point, so I’ll climb off my soapbox for now and call it a day. Warzone is very cool, I had a lot fun with it, and I’m looking forward to vegging out playing more when Halo 5 drops at the end of the month. See you on the battlefield Spartan…or something like that, yeah? Oh, you’ve gone. Sadface.

Solarix – Preview

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(Played on PC)

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem

A question I find myself frequently mulling over is whether I’m more on edge when playing as an armed or unarmed protagonist in horror games. Whilst my personal preference is generally for the unarmed variety, there’s certainly a strong case to be made on both sides of the argument. If you’re playing a title like Resident Evil or Dead Space, then there’s definitely something intensely panicky and stressful about having to make every last shot from your weapon count in order to survive; hearing the chilling empty click of its chamber when in combat can really make your blood run cold. Likewise, when sneaking around in a game like Amnesia: the Dark Descent, Alien: Isolation or Outlast, where discovery is practically synonymous with death, the constant dread and terror of being found with no way to defend yourself can feel like a nightmarish game of cat and (terrified) mouse.

Pulsetense Games’ Solarix is a stealthy sci-fi horror first-person shooter which has clearly been influenced by both stealth and weapon-based horror games. Described as “a science-fiction horror game featuring open-ended levels for both combative and stealth-focused playstyles”, Pulsetense’s goal was to “combine old-school sci-fi horror with next-gen style and graphics”. A hybrid of these two broad approaches then, Solarix has moments where you must hide from enemies, and moments where you must use your limited arsenal of weapons and tools against them. Unfortunately though, whilst the game has some interesting ideas and story themes going for it, the game’s clumsy presentation, awkward stealth mechanics and its overall lack of horror and tension left me in the dark.

Hallway

Let’s start out with the basics. There’s not much of a narrative setup included in the game itself to immerse you into the world of Solarix, but what you do get does the job; you play as Walter, a survivor who’s stationed on a military/research base on an alien planet who wakes up to discover that the base’s inhabitants are slowly becoming infected by some mysterious virus. Contacted by A.M.I., the base’s AI, you’re instructed to go about the steps required to synthesise a vaccine, whilst dodging both infected humans and hostile guards. Along the way though, you’re also contacted by other characters, such as the mysterious Betty; a rather neurotic survivor who alongside telling you that she’s erased parts of your memory also grants you access to weapons and items whilst offering her own warped advice along the way. Not exactly the ideal person you want on your side in a dangerous space quarantine scenario, but hey, you take what you’re given I guess. You pull on your hazard suit and start to explore, twitching with apprehension as you venture out into the darkness.

Bloody Hallway

Unfortunately, one of the first significant issues that I encountered when playing Solarix was that for a horror game, it very quickly loses what little horror and tension it manages to build up in the game’s opening moments. The opening level easily felt the most suspenseful, featuring a suitably tense evasion section against one of the many infected humans who roam the facility’s corridors. While it’s perhaps not set in the most original of environs to be creeping around in – a dark abandoned industrial warehouse – nonetheless it’s familiar horror game territory; you’re unarmed and with no way of fighting back, you absolutely have to play stealthily and stay out of sight.

Courtyard

So far, so good – but the problem is that when you shortly get hold of a gun in the next section, the horror elements are pretty much gone. You walk outside into a rainy courtyard, and the game becomes just a mediocre stealth shooter – but unfortunately one that doesn’t particularly work very well. From this point on, you’re mainly dispatching the rather bland human guards (who rapidly spout their repeating lines of dialogue over and over) as they routinely patrol their posts. Gone is the dread of being discovered; now your aim is to just sneak further into this nondescript base and dispatch the rather dim guards that are in your way. To be fair, being found by a guard does usually means a quick death, but it’s nothing particularly scary or horrific – you just catch a facefull of bullets, and one checkpoint reset later and you’re back in. It’s about as frightening as Perfect Dark or Metal Gear Solid (bad example, the Metal Gear series has some really fucking weird stuff going on in it actually, but you get the point).

Solarix‘s stealth mechanics feel dull and frustrating, and there’s a variety of reasons why – a rather annoying one being that it’s incredibly easy when sneaking through a level to get caught in the environment’s walls and floor textures. You’re encouraged to play stealthily and avoid making direct confrontation (i.e. shooting people), so you’ll find yourself spending a lot of time slowly crouching your way around the edges of the maps, sticking close to the shadows to slink past guards and space zombies alike. However, whilst slinking around, I’d far too frequently end up getting stuck in the ground, walls, objects, practically everything and anything in close proximity to my character over and over again. At one specific checkpoint, I would have to consistently untangle myself from the floor by repeatedly moving, jumping and crouching before I could move on, every single time I respawned. Annoying to say the least, but hopefully these glitchy moments will be fixed by the time the game properly launches at the end of April.

Zombies

When you’re not busy getting trapped in the environment, there’s further frustrations to be had when trying to play like a sci-fi Solid Snake. The taser-like tool the game provides you with for performing stealthy non-lethal takedowns has an interesting design (it only works when fired at the back of your opponent’s head) but more often than not it just feels fiddly and awkward to use. It has an undiscernibly vague range, and there’s no visual feedback to the player with the targeting reticule to let you know if the jolt is going to hit. You have to get right up behind your wandering guard/space zombie of choice, but not too close or they will whip round and start blasting/mauling you. Fair enough, this does add some mild tension back into the experience a tad, but using the taser still felt like a consistently awkward and arbitrary process to me even after several hours of playing.

Strangely though, you’re actually better off ditching the stealthy tactics altogether. It’s actually significantly easier and a far more enjoyable experience to simply forget about the taser and go in all guns blazing. You see, this is one of the more fundamental issues with Solarix; you have no real incentive to play stealthily whatsoever. Rather than bothering to spend time carefully distracting guards with thrown objects or shooting out lights to sneak by, it’s far easier and way more enjoyable to charge through each level whilst gleefully headshotting your enemies like a maniacal madman.

Contrary to the information the game tells you, you actually have plenty of ammunition to take on all threats in the demo, and spare clips can often be acquired from the various storage boxes littered around the levels. It’s a shame, as tighter ammo restrictions would have easily made the stealth mechanics feel much more relevant and tense to the playing experience. Making sure that the player has to carefully keep track of a dwindling supply of bullets would naturally encourage them to opt for using stealthier playstyles…but as the stealth mechanics are so frustrating in their own right, I’m actually quite thankful that Walter is packing plenty of heat in this case.

So, without a serious threat of running out of bullets, you can save yourself the rigmarole of going through the game’s awkward stealthy shenanigans. Even when you re-encounter the space zombies in the third level, it’s easier to just take the opportunity to practice your sharpshooting skills and pick them off from a distance than to bother trying to sneak up on them. Unfortunately though, even shooting your way through Solarix is not exactly a glitch-free walk in the park either. Just like the non-lethal taser, the pistol is plagued with its own particular set of frustrating and obtuse quirks as well. Sporting a vague and inconsistent range, and wildly fluctuating damage output, every time you virtually squeeze the trigger you’ll never be quite sure whether your bullet will hit its target, and if it does, kill or just alert your opponent to where you are. For example, killing an unaware opponent takes a single bullet to the head, whereas an aware one can take upwards of four. Again, there might well be some narrative explanation for this in the finished game, but in this demo without any external context, it just ends up feeling inconsistent and cheap.

Computer

Actually, speaking of hypothetical story explanations, let’s hold up just for a second here; while you don’t get many narrative threads to cling onto in this demo, what little story elements you do get are actually pretty good. While I found most of the in-game world and its inhabitants itself to be largely uninteresting, there’s a handful of crew logs scattered about which help to liven things up quite considerably. One in particular had a chilling written account about a group of technicians unearthing and observing an ancient alien machine, and the threat of a sentient AI interfacing and infecting the crew of the base. It’s in these moments that Solarix manages to claw back some of the horror and unsettling atmosphere that it regrettably jettisoned out of the airlock so early on. The piecemeal delivery of the story information here reminded me of the effective way in which the horror is slowly drip-fed to the player through written artefacts in games such as The Chinese Room’s Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs; even though you’re not told exactly what’s going on, your mind can’t help but uneasily churn the few disturbing details you do have around in your brain as you blast your way through the game.

Loading Screen

Additionally, there’s some cool Silent Hill-style implications that what you’re seeing and experiencing might not be real, which might be an issue that the final game explores as part of the narrative – is it right to be gunning down the clean-up squad mercilessly? Are these infected humans I’m pumping full of intergalactic lead actually innocents? In this demo though, there’s no such moral restraints to hold you back, and the combination of the frustrating stealth mechanics and the ever so fiddly taser mean that you’d probably not care all that much if such in-game ethical concerns actually were an issue.

Crashsite

Regretfully, there’s still another problematic aspect of the game that I’ve yet to address, and get ready, it’s a pretty big one. The game is just too damn dark. It sounds like an utterly ridiculous complaint to level at a horror game, but trust me, in this case it’s entirely appropriate.

Things are fine to start off with in the indoor corridor sections, but it’s once you get to the great alien outdoors and you’re mainly wandering around in wide-open valleys in murky darkness that the lack of light starts to really grate on you. You have an unlimited flashlight attached to your suit, which you think would solve this problem, but for whatever reason it’s ineffectual after the first indoor level, throwing out just a watery crescent moon of pale yellow light at your feet and nothing else. It barely illuminates anything, rendering it practically useless. The game’s Steam blurb boasts about its next gen-graphics, but you’ll have a hard time appreciating them without whacking the gamma settings up to max.

Gloom

At first, I didn’t mind the gloominess all that much. As I trekked my way in practically pitch-black darkness across through these strange alien hillsides and picked my way through various burnt out spaceships in order to find supplies, things initially felt nice and eerie. After about five or ten minutes of uneventfully wandering around however, I soon found myself getting bored of looking at nothing but the same dark dull environments, empty save for a few dopey infected milling about in specific spots. There’s just so little contrast in terms of the in-game lighting that the ubiquitous darkness quickly stops feeling sinister and just becomes plain boring. While it’s nice to not be in the typical claustrophobic tunnels of practically every other horror game, by the time I got to the crashsite in the third level, I was just tired of seeing nothing but empty, perpetual darkness.

Trees

This unfortunately means that in these low-light conditions, it’s incredibly easy to repeatedly miss items and areas that are necessary to make progress. As the majority of Solarix is a featureless black landscape, it can be painfully dull to try and navigate your way around successfully, and just one glance at the fuzzy, undynamic in-game map let’s you know that it’s going to be completely unhelpful in your attempts to orient yourself.

Map

On top of that, there’s these invisible walls that prominently protrude into several paths you have to take throughout the levels, and others that block off empty areas that otherwise look perfectly accessible, making your fumblings about in the dark even more confusing. To make matters worse, there’s also places where there aren’t any barriers in place where you do want them – i.e. solid rock walls, meaning that it’s actually incredibly easy to end up accidentally clipping out of the map entirely. It ends up creating this no-win, no-fun situation; you have to search every nook and cranny of the maps to find what you need, yet if you do go poking into the nooks and crannies of Solarix then you also risk getting stuck out in the great dark beyond with no obvious means of getting back in. Once again, I appreciate that this is a pre-release demo that I’m playing here so hopefully these are things that will also hopefully be patched out for the final release, but the fact that it’s so easy to get trapped outside of the level without explicitly trying to force your way out doesn’t exactly encourage you to go off and explore the game’s world.

Outside Map

Obviously, horror games are loved for the very reason that they don’t offer the player as much help as other genres, that they are designed to make you stressed and anxious and that more often than not they can be more punishing than other genres. Yet while I admire Pulsetense’s choice to not hold the player’s hand as they explore, or to not broadcast giant distracting navigation markers to herd the player towards the next objective, I felt that Solarix ought to have done a lot more to clearly communicate important information to the player about just what exactly they’re supposed to be doing at times, or what specific item they’re currently after.

For example, in my first playthrough of the demo, there was a point where I just got completely and utterly stuck. Perhaps I’m just a complete fucking idiot, but after finding a door locked with a handprint scanner in the second level, and later a conveniently-placed hacksaw nearby, I felt pretty confident that I knew exactly what to do next – namely go back to one of the still-warm guard bodies I’d only seconds ago riddled with bullets, roll up my sleeves and start to slice ‘n’ dice.

I then proceeded to spend what felt like an eternity trying fruitlessly to chop hands off the fallen guards, and getting increasingly baffled as to why I couldn’t. As I wandered from corpse to corpse, desperately trying to detach a hand (and even in a moment of grim determination resorting to hurling a dead body at the scanner to see if that worked, sadly to no avail) a string of ever-more puzzling questions were starting to race through my head. What am I doing wrong? Do I need to equip the hacksaw as a tool? Why can’t I equip the hacksaw as a tool? Is it space bar or left mouse button to cut off their hands? I keep clicking on their hands but I can’t chop them off? WHY OH WHY ARE THEIR BLOODY HANDS NOT COMING OFF ALREADY!?

It was only after spending the best part of an hour fruitlessly clicking and aimlessly wandering back and forth in the level over and over again like a complete chump that I just happened to stumble across a pitch-black cave hidden round a corner and completely off the beaten track which contained the very specific corpse and the very specific hand that I needed to sever to use on the door panel. Nowhere had the game bothered to inform me that only a specific hand would work, and thanks to the vague in-game map, it was just pure luck that I’d stumbled across the actual solution. The reason that I’d missed the cave every single time as I roamed the area was – yup, you guessed it, the entrance was pitch-black. I could have still been there in that section to this day, furiously clicking on corpses and mashing the space bar to no avail if I hadn’t stumbled across the solution by accident. By this point, I was just so annoyed that I desperately wanted to start hacking Walter’s own hands off just to make it all end right then and there.

Corpse

Anyway, look, I know I’m just textually ranting by this point so I’ll draw things to a close. Overall, there’s also just this sort of rough, unpolished feel to Solarix which makes it really hard to get into and properly enjoy. There’s some cool ideas in the game, wrapped up in what looks to be an interesting narrative, but there’s just a such a litany of various annoying problems cluttering up the experience which repeatedly get in the way of the player’s immersion. The stealth mechanics don’t really work that well, and there’s practically no horror elements whatsoever, and the interesting narrative ideas buckle under the weight of boring and dull level designs. Whether you play stealthily or aggressively, combat in Solarix is vague and murky at best; you’ll be crossing your fingers each time you line up a headshot or prepare to jolt the back of somebody’s head, never quite sure of whether things are going to work predictably. In short, you’re left with an underwhelming and fiddly shooter experience in a dull world that’s shrouded in darkness.

Pit

Again, just to be totally clear about this, I’ve been playing a pre-release demo of Solarix, so hopefully Pulsetens can get the smaller glitchier problems with the weapons, invisible walls etc. fixed before the proper release. I’m just concerned that the bigger problems the game has with the stealth and combat systems are fundamental design issues that unfortunately can’t just be fixed with a quick patch. Personally, the game feels undercooked; Solarix needs to get out of the shadows and back into the developmental oven – ASAP.

MCM London Comic Con – October 2014 – Hands-On Game Impressions

Evolve - Big Alpha
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You’ve seen my daft pictures in the last post, now it’s time for some daft game impressions to go with them. Like a strong odorous cheese to complement a fine wine, here’s the savoury and slightly nutty fromage to go with all those pictures.

Abandoning that clumsy metaphor right there, MCM’s London October 2014 Comic Con  brought with it an impressive variety of games, catering for mobile and handheld gamers right up to those with top of the line spec’d out PCs. I spent most of my time this last weekend – in between snapping pics of creative cosplayers – getting stuck into whatever gaming based nuggets I could get my hands on.

What was really great was that a lot of the games on offer here were ones that I didn’t get chance to play at last month’s EGX event at Earls Court, so this gave me the chance to effectively plug a few of the gaps in my gaming knowledge so to speak. So without further ado, let’s read on…or perhaps that should be “Fight on!” in the case of the first game I got to try, Mortal Combat X.

Mortal Combat X

CC14 - MK Booth

The first game I was able to have a go at during Comic Con was Mortal Combat X, the latest in the infamously bloody fighting game series from developer Midway Games, due to come out in April next year.

After a relatively short queue, I found myself towards the front of the Mortal Combat area, eager to play. It just so happened that upon getting this far in the queue, I spied that the PS4 game booths set up all had two controllers attached. This was also when I felt a deep churn of fear in my gut. Anxious that I’d potentially made a huge mistake, I nervously asked the guy in front of me (who’d boasted of having queued up three times today for the game already) “We’re fighting against the CPU…right? RIGHT?” Almost perfectly timed with my question, one of the booth attendants yelled out to see who wasn’t already matched up with a partner – thereby confirming that the demo was a fight to the death with another human player. Exactly (and very naively in retrospect) what I didn’t want.

As you can imagine, when I realised that I was going to be paired up with this guy pictured below, I almost lost control of my bladder, Otacon style. I’m sure you can understand.

CC14 - Ninja

Thankfully, I managed to retain control of my bodily functions, and not scuttle out in fear or shame, and instead allowed myself to be ushered to my virtual guillotine of sorts. Actually, despite my opponent’s intimidating attire, he was actually quite the gentlemanly fighter. I picked my favourite character Sub-Zero, he picked Scorpion; in other words, we could almost perfectly recreate the game’s teaser cinematic:

In other words, I lost, but I had an awful lot of fun losing – exactly what I look for in a fighting game.

Enough of my whinging, let’s talk about the game itself. The gameplay in Mortal Combat X is fast, brutal and gorgeous looking…even when you’re getting your virtual head kicked in. The game feels very satisfying and very fun to play, even though the 60fps framerate can feel eyeball-meltingly fast; for example, there were times, particularly when my opponent was using Scorpion’s teleport moves, that my mind couldn’t process what was happening onscreen fast enough for me to respond. It felt deliciously exciting, similar to how my brain functions felt too slow to comprehend what was going on when I first started playing Killer Instinct back in November 2013.

I couldn’t really get the hang of the controls in the short five to ten-minute session we had, but that’s probably largely because, as you might remember from my thoughts on Killer Instinct, I’m a real fighting games noob. I did play Mortal Combat: Deadly Alliance for the Gamecube, but it was only ever in a button-mashing capacity against very easy CPU opponents, but I never really got to a stage where I could pull off strings of elegant combos. As a result, I struggled to pull off any decent combo chains; I found that Killer Instinct muscle memory led me to keep trying to pull off quarter-circle moves, rather than the two-directional inputs (usually down-left/right and one of the PS4 face buttons) Mortal Combat seems to go for.

Nevertheless I managed to turn the tide of my beatdown somewhat towards the end of the match; once I’d managed to get a few moves under my rudimentary belt, I was able to dish out a few tasty ice sword anti-airs here and there and occasionally punish my opponent’s over-reliance on mix-up teleport moves, but it was too little too late. I still got pulped. However, it didn’t really matter, as just watching my newfound ninja friend’s Scorpion batter my stoic and ever-suffering Sub-Zero senseless was, nonetheless, very entertaining.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

CC14 - Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

Next up was Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. The hands-on here was pretty generous, allowing me and a fellow gamer to blast our way through several small missions on Pandora’s moon. I got to play as Athena, the badass shield-wielding NPC from The Secret Armory of General Knoxx DLC of the original Borderlands, whilst my queue partner got to play as everyone’s favourite robot and the Borderlands series mascot, Claptrap.

I don’t really have an awful lot to say on this one – it’s essentially just more Borderlands for the last-generation consoles. Don’t get me wrong though, despite the fact that it’s solely last-gen for now, it’s still very good fun . It’s that familiar lootin’ tootin’ shootin’ Borderlands gameplay that you know and love, only with a few lunar-based tweaks to freshen up the gameplay.

The oxygen mechanic in this game is an interesting gameplay resource to play around with, allowing you to pull off some damaging ground stomp moves because…REASONS! Mr. Torgue jokes aside, jumping, running or doing the new ground stomp move uses up some of your oxygen meter; it’s essentially another gameplay element that you need to keep an eye on, alongside your usual health and shields. However, the oxygen meter does bring with it some concerns that I feel could potentially have some slightly counter-productive side effects on the usual Borderlands shenanigans that I love.

As a great deal of the fun I had with Borderlands and Borderlands 2 was being able to just go wandering off into the lovely cel-shaded environments of Pandora in search of hidden treasure, I could see that, in my case, having a rapidly decreasing oxygen meter to watch could somewhat hamper and curb that desire to explore.

I think a large part of the reason I’m so sensitive to the whole running out of oxygen thing is that it’s something that I’ve had drilled into me as a primal fear from my youth – namely playing the Sonic the Hedgehog games back on the Mega Drive in the ’90s. Hearing that increasingly louder and faster drowning music pumping through the speakers whilst you were desperately trying to navigate your spiny blue protagonist through an underwater labyrinth was the stressful stuff of nightmares back then, and as a result, any game that features the possibility of running out of oxygen can often still get me right on edge. There’s points in the Dead Space series where I’m  worried about the very unlikely possibility of asphyxiating due to lack of oxygen, rather than the very likely and much more gruesome death of being torn apart by the bloodthirsty Necromorphs scuttling after me.

Even just playing a short section of gameplay at an event like this, it triggered off in me a mini panic, complete with sweaty palms (lovely). Having said that, you do pick up blue oxygen canisters from killing enemies, and I’m sure that as you level up, you’ll be able to carry larger and larger oxygen reserves for your character. Me and my co-op buddy were playing with level 4/5 characters, so I suppose it’s reasonable that I couldn’t go for all that long without air at such an early point in the game. Having said that, if you’re as anxious about oxygen supplies as me, then Claptrap, everyone’s favourite annoying little robot, might be the ideal character to play as, because he doesn’t need to watch his 02 levels as…well, he doesn’t have lungs.

From a character perspective, Athena felt like a fun character to use; she has an awesome Captain America style shield that she can use to soak up enemy damage and projectiles before being able to fling the shield as a deadly whizzing disc. Everything else, from the guns, action and, of course, the gags, is still intact, and still very much Borderlands. Wub Wub indeed.

Evolve

CC14 - Evolve

Okay, here we go, the big kahuna. It was over a two hour-long queue I had to wait just to be able to play this game, but it was worth every minute of queueing. Evolve felt absolutely fantastic. I got to play a full match, lasting a generous twenty five minutes or so, and really dig into the game’s mechanics from the perspective of Val, the team Medic.

Even with just a single match under my belt, the game feels like everything I was hoping for; it’s tense, tactical, exciting and, at times, there’s an electrifying jolt of horror to the proceedings as well. It’s pretty much everything I hoped the game would be; a mix between Turtle Rock Studio’s previous Left 4 Dead games mixed with Godzilla, Predator, Aliens and a big smattering of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos to top things off.

Upon entering the booth, we were shown a quick tutorial video – the same video that had been playing constantly outside the booth for the last two hours in the queue, but hey, nevermind – before being split into two teams of five; four hunters, one monster per game. Our human team quickly picked our roles – I volunteered for Medic out of choice, contrary to what you might think, as I like to play the support characters in class-based multiplayer games. I’ll get into the details in a minute, but Val absolutely did not disappoint, and I’ll likely be spending a lot of time as the Medic class in the final game.

Once our team had picked our classes, there was a nervous pause at our booth as we waited for our monster player to pick his desired Kaiju of choice. Obviously, both the Goliath and the Kraken look horribly formidable in their own unique ways – The Goliath being your muscle-bound meleé based, fire-breathing Godzilla-esuqe brute, whilst the Kraken is essentially a giant flying tentacled Cthulhu monster with long-range lightning powers. For me personally, despite the immediacy and earth-shattering bulk of the Goliath, I find that the Kraken (probably entirely due to its Cthulhu appearance) looks far more frightening a creature to face off against, so I was slightly relieved when our monster went with the Goliath. I say only slightly, as the Goliath is still an overwhelmingly unpleasant thing to have to face off against.

Once all the players were ready, the match loaded up. The opening pre-game moments of a match are suitably moody and tense. As one of the human players, the starting scene shows our intrepid team of monster hunters loading up inside a dropship of sorts, before waiting poised and alert to drop into the dark and dense jungle canopy below.

Dropping into the level from the ship feels suitably cinematic. Imagine the start of the film Predator, only with no ’80s boombox blaring loud music and fewer sexual tyrannosaurus references, and with much more grim tension and ominous atmosphere in their place. There’s a keen sense of dread at all times when playing Evolve as a human hunter, and that mood starts right from your dropship entry onto the map.

The dark jungle level environment that we got to play in was absolutely stunning. I’m pretty certain that the game was running at 60fps, but even if it’s less than this holy grail of a figure, everything feels very smooth and elegant; even when the action all kicks off and it’s all guns-a-blazing from the humans and the Goliath is flambéing players and other animals left right and centre. Everything is consistently fast and snappy.

One of the first things you learn pretty early on is that teamwork between the hunters is absolutely essential – if you’re playing as a human character, then using your mic to communicate effectively is of utmost importance. It’s hard to imagine playing this game passively when it launches in February of next year; there’s no room for chit chat here, it’s all hands on deck. You need to be calling out updates to your teammates and constantly scanning the sky, the jungle canopy and the ground for your big scaly friend, and noting anything that you catch out of the corner of your eye  from the moment you hit the ground. The player using the Tracker class is of utmost importance here, as they are the best equipped to find the monster’s footprints and spot where it’s most likely to have gone faster than the other team members. Thankfully, we had a good Tracker, so we were usually hot on the monster’s heels for the majority of the game.

Good clear voice communication between our team members had the additional benefit of making the onscreen action feel that much more exciting and cool. Whether the people you’re playing with in the final game speak in as productive and concise a manner come release, we’ll have to see, but from this session, our team was quickly calling out targets, rallying around each other in combat, and barking out updates to specific team members when necessary.

You’ll also learn that it’s very easy as a human player to get distracted with the other native wildlife that’s trying to eat you in the area. This can give the monster some precious moments with which to evade capture and briefly put a bit of distance between themselves and the hunters. This happened to us early on and cost us dearly, when one of our team sighted and started shooting at a large beast which, to be fair, looked an awful lot like the Goliath from afar. Naturally, we all came to help out our free-firing compadre, only to discover what we were shooting at wasn’t the Goliath. Whoops. Back to the hunt.

By this point, the monster had managed to evolve to stage 2, so we really needed to find him and cause some damage fast, or we’d be in trouble. Sure enough, after finding some burning animal corpses, we had our first encounter with our monstrous Moby Dick. A brief scuffle ensued, but unfortunately, despite the best efforts of our Tracker to trap the Goliath in a temporary arena forcefield, the beast escaped – a little worse for wear thanks to our combined sharpshooting, but still very much a deadly threat.

Playing as Val, the Medic, was incredibly good fun. I found myself filling out the role as a good mix of traditional healer/support character, plus a long-range sniper/specialist class. What’s great is that they’ve made the Medic class a serious part of the team’s firepower output, and you’re not just relegated to some passive healer role in the background. Your participation is very much needed to help bring the monster down as well as patching up your stronger teammates.

When your team finds the monster, one of the first things you’ll want to do as the Medic (providing that your team hasn’t been brutally ambushed and are now lying motionless and bleeding out in a pool of their own entrails) is to hit the monster with your tranquilliser gun. A successful hit slows the monster’s movement speed, making it much easier for the Trapper to get a solid harpoon shot off and hopefully trap your gargantuan opponent for a small window of time.

Additionally, when taking a more offensive approach to proceedings, I believe that when I scored a direct hit with my sniper rifle on the Goliath, it subsequently highlighted targets on the rest of its body for my teammates to shoot at and temporarily cause more damage than normal. That’s what’s great about the Medic; one minute you might be desperately trying to heal a battered teammate with your medgun, the next you might be laying down some long-range punishment with your brutally satisfying sniper rifle – your immediate responsibilities can change in a flash, perhaps making the Medic one of the more flexible classes to play as, depending on the current scenario and pace of the match.

A series of brief battles followed, where we managed to slowly whittle down the beast’s health a tad. However, despite our efforts and some diligent work from our Tracker and her cute pet alien dog/thing, Daisy, the monster ultimately managed to evade us long enough to evolve to it’s final stage 3 form. At this point, the Goliath is an absolute powerhouse – it’s essentially a fully-armoured Godzilla at this point, exactly what you don’t want. The balance of power shifts dramatically into the monster’s favour as a result, and instead of hunting the beast, our team now needs to fall back and defend a power generator. As a human player, this is what you dread, and this is where a great deal of the horror aspect of the game gets laid on thick.

Taking up positions round the generator inside a remote warehouse deep in the alien jungle, we nervously wait it out and plan our next move. The rain is chucking it down, it’s dark, and we can just hear the loud thudding footsteps of the Goliath as it stalks us inside the building. This felt absolutely terrifying, and all we could do was risk the occasional very brief peep outside to try and catch a glimpse of it. Hearing the Goliath rumbling and stomping around in the environment and not being able to see it was agonisingly tense and scary, calling to mind the T-Rex scenes from Jurassic Park.

Suddenly, Daisy started clambering the walls. Daisy will automatically move towards the monster to give you a sense of it’s direction, so with dread, we collectively look up, only to see our giant nemesis grinning down at us from one of the upper walkways. It slams down , scattering our team, and we enter a last desperate fight for survival.

Unfortunately, our monster player was pretty smart at singling out me as it’s favourite plaything. As the name implies, the Medic is the only character that has the ability to heal the other players – meaning that once I’d been wiped out, the Goliath could then just rip apart everyone else without having to worry about them being healed up and continuing to blast him.

As a result, in the final minutes of the match, I spent a great deal of it just waiting to respawn back in, and then once finally back in the action, I was promptly pummelled back to an early death by the astute Goliath to prevent me from healing my battered, bruised and broken teammates.

The match was a very close-run thing. Although we had a really good Support player on our team, who managed to buy us precious time in the last desperate minutes by stealthing around the rampaging Goliath, and generally being the star of the show, but ultimately, victory went to the monster in the end. However, our merry band of hunters put up a valiant effort, and I believe we lasted longer than the other groups in our session. Not bad for our first go I think.

The one niggle that I picked up on whilst playing Evolve was that I found it to be very easy as a human player to quickly run out of jetpack juice. When navigating the environment as a team to track your massive quarry, you’ll be constantly firing up your jetpack to boost up cliffsides and to cross gaping chasms. The frequency with which I needed to jump, glide and zip about the large, vertically-layered environments meant that I would often find myself sat at the bottom of a tall cliff, backed up into a corner and nervously scanning the surrounding dark jungle foliage for the slightest movement. Whilst these moments were satisfyingly tense, the frequency with which I basically found myself at the base of an unclimbable wall just waiting around for my jetpack meter to refill with nothing else to do felt a bit tedious after the first few times this happened.

Overall, the Evolve demo was incredibly enjoyable and has reinforced in my mind exactly why I was originally interested in the game in the first place. If the other creatures prove to be as entertaining to fight as the Goliath, and the other unrevealed team members bring more unique traits to the table, then I can potentially see myself playing this game for a long, long time once it’s finally released into the wild.

In fact, at the time of writing, the Evolve Big Alpha should be live on Xbox Live, and will be rolling out for PS4 and PC over the Halloween weekend, so if you’re a lucky Alpha code owner, I highly recommend you get online and get playing. Hunter or hunted, predator or prey,  if you’re a fan of asymetrical team-based co-op with a big helping of horror, then I’m almost certain you’ll have as much fun as I did.

 Assassin’s Creed Unity

CC14 - Assassins Guillotine

I kicked off day 2 of Comic Con by trying out Assassin’s Creed Unity. Whilst waiting in line and talking to the Ubisoft booth staff and fellow gamers, it was great to just watch the game in motion in the hands of other players. Graphically, the game looks great – I know there’s been a lot of controversy (and I think rightly so in this case given the ‘excuse’) about the PS4/Xbox One graphics comparison – it’s running at 900p on both consoles – but the game looks particularly beautiful, however many ps are rattling around in there. The lighting effects in particular come across really well, and gives the game a painting-like aesthetic. There’s the strange decision to give all the characters English accents, which feels slightly weird, but not unusual I suppose for period drama (plus I’d be struggling without decent subtitling otherwise, being an ignorant monolinguist), but it definitely feels a bit jarring when you first hear it. It’s a small thing however, and watching the opening little cinematic to the mission I’m about to do has got me suitably fired up and ready to go.

Arno is shown on a rooftop, scanning out over a crowd of Parisians, and talking to a serious-looking head assassin guy. Using his eagle vision (essentially detective mode from the Batman Arkham Asylum series) to scan various people and the environment, we learn that my mission is to sneak into Notre Dame cathedral, like a limber and hoody-clad Quasimodo and take out a rather nasty and gruff looking bearded chap who’s no doubt been causing a bit of a ruckus on France’s streets. No problemo, consider it done. Unlike Quasimodo however, I’ve got all my usual Assassin’s accoutrements to help me bump off my mark, along with any other swashbuckling guards who care to get in my way. Excited and eager to get stalking my victim, I place my hands on the Xbox One controller.

I’ve not played any of the Assassin’s Creed series to date, so I’m not in a position to compare or contrast how Unity holds up to previous entries with regard to mission structure I’m afraid. However, I also can’t really give you a decent impression on the controls either, but that’s due to an entirely different reason – there was no invert look setting.

I’ve had this problem before with a Ubisoft game actually – namely Beyond Good and Evil – and it’s without a doubt one of the most annoying things that can influence your time with a game. It was so annoying in fact, that like a painful repressed memory, it leapt straight to mind when I saw that there was no invert look control in Assassin’s Creed Unity‘s options screen.

When the remastered HD version of Beyond Good and Evil was on sale earlier this year on the Xbox 360, I eagerly slapped my virtual money down for it the first chance I got. I’d heard so many good things about this quirky game with a photographer and her anthropomorphic pig friend that I thought it was right up my street, and well worth a try at a bargain price.

However, my feeling of excitement quickly turned to one of extreme horror when I realised that the camera controls were beyond sense and reason (ba-dum-tish!). You could only either have entirely normal or inverted camera controls; unlike most games, which treat vertical camera control independently from horizontal camera control, Beyond Good and Evil‘s camera system was designed in such a way that it meant that you either had to suffer with a camera you could control horizontally, but not vertically, or likewise vertically, but not horizontally. In short, it was a fucking nightmare, something so horrific and unplayable that I’ve never come across before or (thankfully) since. After about twenty minutes of trying to navigate out of the basic tutorial mission, I just gave up and haven’t gone back to the game since. Which is a real shame, as it’s supposed to be an incredibly underrated gem.

Anyway, frustrated rant about Beyond Good and Evil over, like I say, I couldn’t help but be reminded of that prior frustration within seconds of getting my hands on the controller here. Whilst my current predicament with the lack of an invert look in Unity was no way near as bad as that experience I’d had with Beyond Good and Evil‘s unintuitive control scheme, it still managed to really prevent me from getting into the gameplay, especially as a total newcomer to the softly-softly-stabby-monkey series.

I’m guessing that this is just a feature cut from this particular demo for time/money reasons, and I’m also guessing that the ability to invert your look controls will SURELY be in the final game. Having to fight the camera controls every laboured step of the way actually made the experience rather amusing. Instead of feeling like the master assassin that Arno Dorian is clearly meant to be, my hooded protagonist stumbled about the beautiful Parisian streets like a drunken fool. Instead of slipping through dense crowds like a stealthy serpentine revolutionary, my Arno careened and shambled about like a clumsy spinning top, bashing into bystanders, wooden carts, doorways, scenery and enemy guards with alarming frequency; I like to imagine each collision was complete with a dopey Frank Spencer-like smile of embarrassment from my character as way of an apology.

I was told whilst in line that enemies (presumably ones that you attack and manage to escape from you in more or less one piece) will remember you in future. Well, they might not remember me for being a lethal assassin, but the guards in my playthrough will undoubtedly remember me for the buffeting fool I was whilst banging into them time and time again in my desperate struggle to fight the camera controls.

Annoyingly, just when I was getting up to the juicy assassination, I’d unfortunately reached the end of my allotted time, and it was time to move on. From what I did get to play, the game does feel fun and smooth once you get into the motion of it. Sneaking around and clambering up the ancient Parisian buildings felt very satisfying and cool once I’d learnt to fight my muscle memory, and small graphical touches like powdery clouds of dust rising into the air as you adjust your handholds on buildings lend intricate and nicely detailed touches to the overall beautifully lit atmosphere.

The demo did a good job of highlighting the various different ways of tackling the overall mission objective. I ultimately proceeded to infiltrate the cathedral through a wide open window high up in between the flying buttresses and ornate stained glass windows, but various other ways were presented to me via the opening cinematic. Watching others playing the demo, I saw that one such method was to steal an already stolen set of Priest’s keys (two wrongs making a right perhaps?) from a room full of enemy soldiers, allowing you to enter a secret underground passageway underneath Notre Damme which probably might have been a better and sneakier option to have gone for in retrospect.

Ideally, I would have liked to have been able to have sampled the multiplayer element in some capacity in the demo, as to me, that’s the hook I could see pulling me into the franchise, but nonetheless, the game looks set to be another great pleasure for fans of the series.

Far Cry 4

CC14 - Elephant Head

I didn’t have to go far to get to the next game from Assassin’s Creed Unity, as Far Cry 4 was handily just next door to it’s Ubisoft brother in arms so to speak. The latest game in the series takes the much loved outdoor survival first person shooter experience to the fictional Himalayan region of Kryat. Expect plenty of gunfights, rampaging elephants and buzzing gyrocopters, but sadly no sharks this time, unless there’s some kind of freak mountainous sharknado that magically happens in these alpine mountains (well, we live in hope).

Upon getting my hands on the controller, you’re given an option to pick from three different variations on storming one of the game’s enemy forts . These operations were a stealth approach, an aerial attack from above using the nifty gyrocopter I believe, and an all out assault with atop an Elephant. Guess which one I picked – don’t worry I’ll wait (pauses). Correct – an all out guns blazing bareback Dumbo assault it was.

Climbing aboard my loyal pachyderm, I rammed through the fort’s gates, wielding what looked to be a .50 calibre heavy machine gun in my lap. Needless to say, this was an incredibly fun combination of tools to have at your disposal. The elephant could be manually ‘driven’ into footsoldiers, picking them up and hilariously bashing them about with its trunk when they got within range, and likewise, you can dismount your elephant and it will automatically charge at enemies for you, creating a useful distraction for you to attack from another angle. Naturally, your big grey friend can’t take too many bullets, so you’ll have to keep an eye out for it in the heat of battle, or risk it being felled, and then presumably turned into piano keys. Sad face.

Disappointingly, there were no headphones provided at the Far Cry 4 booth, so instead I had to provide all the gunshots, explosions and the loud trumpeting sounds I imagined my elephantine companion was making myself. This drew plenty of what I’m certain were very approving looks from the other players.

Looking around at others playing the game around me, it looked like the three different approaches to capturing the fort were all significantly different, which is great. The stealthy approach requires some patient sniping for example, and far more patience, cunning and self-restraint than I currently was feeling.

There looks to be some interesting vehicle interactions you could perform as well – approaching a vehicle from different angles will give you different options; you can get in the drivers side to get behind the wheel, climb onto the mounted gun position to attack, or alternatively, you can (when approaching directly from the front I believe) cut the brake cables to send the vehicle slowly rolling back down a hill. In a game that’s set in a fictional region in the Himalayas, the ability to send enemy cars hurtling uncontrollably down hills and slopes will only give you more freeform and hideously creative ways of entertainingly dispatching your enemies.

Personally, I find it hard to get excited for a new Far Cry game these days – I burnt myself out playing the original PC game and the early original Xbox ports over and over again.  Although these early entries in the series were very fun games to play, I’ve not really had the desire to go back and try that brand of action/adventure FPS since those early Xbox days, and as a result I’ve subsequently bailed on playing Far Cry 2 and Far Cry 3, which I hear are supposed to be particular highlights of the series and very strong games in their own right.

Having said that, Far Cry 4 was a great deal of fun from what I’ve played so far, and I can only imagine that  if the rest of the game is as open and flexible to a variety of approaches and playstyles as this demo was, then it will surely be a delight for fans of the series. Again, like with Assassin’s Creed Unity, it would have been nice to sample the co-op mode, as that’s a first for the series, and the sort of thing that might prove to be a tempting way back into the series for me. However, if the singleplayer is anything to go by, I’m sure that when the final game and the multiplayer modes are available, it’ll be extremely good fun to go stomping around the mountainous landscape of Kryat with a buddy and their own personal pachyderm in tow.

As a finishing note, I don’t want to jump the gun here, but I absolutely loved the non-canonical and nonsensical standalone DLC/game Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. The second a follow-up to that game starring Rex Colt gets announced as part of Far Cry 4, then you can be sure that I’ll be totally onboard to cause some cybernetic Michael Biehn-flavoured havoc in the Himalayas.

EGX 2014 – Hands-On Game Impressions

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Two weeks ago, Earls Court was home to EGX, also known as the Eurogamer Expo; a four-day gaming extravaganza of game booths, lights, merch stands and devs strutting their stuff on the show floor in all their glory.

I was there for a single action-packed day, so I tried to cram in as much as humanly possible within the limited time I had. Note to self, must buy a four-day ticket next year…

In between making my way round the huge event, taking pictures, queuing up to play games, and of course, buying plenty of Bowser-related merch, I managed to get decent hands-on impressions with four upcoming games – Halo: the Master Chief Collection, The Evil Within, Dying Light, and Alien: Isolation.

These were four of the key titles that I’ve had my eye on for a good long while, so I thought I’d share my initial impressions with y’all as they’re no doubt going to be popular choices amongst those with a taste for sci-fi and horror, like myself.

Next year, however, I’m making a beeline straight for that Oculus Rift tent! In the meantime, here are my personal thoughts on what I managed to get my greasy mitts on at this year’s event.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

#HaloNation.

Almost as soon as I got my wristband and infiltrated the EGX perimeter so to speak, I found myself in the queue for one of the biggest guns in the Microsoft arsenal; Halo: the Master Chief Collection.

Time for a bit of a background; I’m the only Xbox One/Halo fan I know who isn’t excited for this game, or planning to get it come November…which probably makes me some kind of freak. Nonetheless, I was keen to get my hands-on an Xbone controller and get a firsthand taste of this year’s Halo offering to see whether I’m just being a cynical old fool, or whether I’ve just totally missed the point of this collection.

It’s not that I think the game’s bad or naff – far from it, it looks fantastic. The Master Chief Collection looks like an exceptional package for those new to the Halo series to jump straight into the action with, and a must-buy for those who need that sugary Halo multiplayer fix to keep them going until the release of Halo 5 next year.

Unfortunately, I don’t fall into either of those two groups. I’ve played, dearly loved, and in fact, still own all the Xbox entries in the Halo series to date, along with their respective Xboxes (not to mention a whole pile of the lore-filled books and comics – but hey, that’s for another post). It’s just that, as someone who’s always been more a singleplayer gamer by nature, I’m finding it hard to justify coughing up another £50-£60 in order to play the same campaign missions that I’ve spent a staggering number of hours of the last decade shooting my way through time and time again…when I already have these old games and consoles sitting right there on my shelf. First world problems, I know.

Developer 343’s #HaloNation booths at EGX weren’t there to extoll the virtues of Halo‘s Master Chief campaigns today though; no, today was all about the multiplayer, specifically multiplayer on the fan-favourite Halo 2 map, Lockout.

Upon getting in the queue for The Master Chief Collection however, I almost changed my mind from naysayer to absolute belieber…I mean, believer, instantly; the game looks really good graphically. I’m not much of a polygon-counting aficionado, but I was really impressed by how the game looks in its shiny new 1080p and 60fps presentation. It’s fast, smooth and gorgeous; everything you’d want a seven-foot tall, alien-fighting, bio-mechanically enhanced super soldier to be.

Getting my hands-on with the controller…was another matter though. Things just felt clunky and awkward right from the off. Before you go thinking I’m just sulking because I got destroyed by the other players, I managed to come in a respectable 3rd place in the free-for-all Rumble Pit game I’ll have you know. But never mind scores and jovial teabagging, overall, the gameplay just didn’t really do it for me. That’s not to say it’s bad – it’s Halo, but it’s vintage Halo, warts and all.

Again, that’s not to knock the game itself; what I mean by vintage is that the controls are designed to work exactly how they functioned back when Halo 2 was live back in the good ol’ days of the original Xbox. It’s just that for me, personally, the gameplay felt very old-hat and sluggish.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved playing Halo 2 multiplayer back in the day, but ten years on, I’m eager to get something new. Having sunk an awful lot of time away from precious sunlight playing all the Halo multiplayers over the years, my vitamin D deprived body is looking forwards, not backwards, for my next Halo hit.

Despite The Master Chief Collection shipping with every Halo multiplayer map in existence, I can’t shake the feeling that when fans fire up their copies come November, where they’ll have this vast smorgasbord of maps to choose from, it’ll be nothing but votes for some variation of Blood Gulch/Valhalla over and over again. Even though lots of Titanfall players (probably Halo players come to mention it) bemoaned the lack of map voting systems in that game, I for one really welcomed the lack of user voting. Having the matchmaking system pick the maps and systematically cycle through all the choices felt incredibly refreshing – it meant that you actually got to regularly play on all the game’s maps, including the DLC maps you’d bought. Try firing up Halo 4 today and see how many times you get anything other than Valhalla. It’s a great map, but seriously, way too much of a good thing you know? Variety really is the spice of life, be it real or virtual.

The main thing that stuck with me from my hands-on was not being able to sprint. Since the introduction of the Sprint armour ability in Halo Reach, later becoming a separate universal Spartan function in Halo 4, not having the ability to quickly run across the map made the gameplay feel unnaturally slow. It feels strange, and something I couldn’t get my muscle memory to accept. It felt like the equivalent of having learnt to walk as a toddler, and then being forced to go back to crawling; in other words, questionable…not to mention cruel.

In addition, having sunk a lot of time into games like Titanfall and Destiny between playing Halo 4 and The Master Chief Collection, this made the game’s movement feel even more laboured and pedestrian. Specifically when it comes to Titanfall, an intrinsic part of what makes that game enjoyable is the effortless grace and skill you have as a Pilot to navigate and parkour around your environment to your heart’s content. I know that I’m comparing apples to oranges here with Titanfall and The Master Chief Collection (to see Master Chief parkour would be amazing, but wrong), but my taste of next-gen FPS experiences have all brought some nice movement tweaks to the standard gameplay shenanigans. Having to devolve back to a time ten years ago when we casually walked around our virtual battlefields like true gentlemen and women, (much like the poor soldiers of World War 1, only with plenty more power armour and much less trench foot) doesn’t feel quite so exciting and engaging to this old Halo nut anymore.

But hey, that’s not the point – The Master Chief Collection meant to be the most accurate HD next-gen port of the main Halo multiplayers, and so for the majority of them, sprinting didn’t exist. It’s just not a game for me that’s all, so if old-school Halo multiplayer is your thing, I highly recommend playing it. For me though, I think for the time being I’m going to sit this one out, and finish/resume the fight once we’re in Master Chief/Agent Locke’s bulky MJOLNIR shoes in 2015.

The Evil Within

A very Resident Evil 4-esque piece of booth art for The Evil Within…

If you weren’t aware of The Evil Within before turning up at EGX, you absolutely were by the time you left, due to the abundance of Evil Within cardboard boxes being carted around by the excited attendees; me myself eventually also becoming one of the gleeful cardboard-carrying zombie masses as the day progressed.

By the end of the day, every man woman and child at EGX had one of these Evil Within ‘Boxhead’ boxes to ferry around their loot with – me included.

If you didn’t know, the box is the rather nasty helmet/container/all-round receptacle of whatever makes up one of the game’s antagonists, Boxhead’s…well, head. Luckily for me, the formidable Boxhead didn’t appear in my demo, but nonetheless, there were some intense scary moments to be had in The Evil Within.

After some light playground trash talk directed at the other major survival horror game at the event (clue: it rhymes with Bailen Bisolation) from one of the booth attendants, me and the other queue-ees in my group had a controller and a set of painfully loud headphones thrust upon us.

The demo for Tango Gameworks’ horror game started off with protagonist and Leon Kennedy doppelgänger extraordinaire, Sebastian Castellanos, making his way towards a very familiar looking George Spencer-esque mansion in the middle of a creepy wood. Upon entering the mansion, you see a dubious-looking doctor and a rather frail-looking ‘patient’ heading down a corridor, before a giant safe door slams shut in front of you, blocking you off from them.

You’re totally on your own, which makes a nice change from the co-op trend the more recent entries in the Resident Evil series have gone for. The demo was very hands-off as well; from here, you can explore the mansion as you please. It feels, you guessed it, very Resident Evil-like, which is fantastic. The gameplay definitely feels like it’s positioned at the deep-end of the gaming difficulty pool – in other words, it’s pretty difficult. Enemies can quickly dispatch you with ease if you’re surrounded, and you only need to take a few hits from them to be snuffed out. I couldn’t make much progress with the ten minutes of gameplay I had (I was cocky and went for ‘standard’ difficulty – I can only imagine what ‘hard’ is like), but what I managed to play was great.

Items and resources were in very short supply, even in this demo, so I’m presuming this will be the case in the main game as well. Bodies of enemies need to be burnt with your ever-dwindling pack of matches to prevent them from getting back up – again, another great Resident Evil throwback, which will make for some stressful resource management tactics. I unfortunately couldn’t get my inner pyromaniac on in the demo because I was absolutely destroyed by the zombies I came across, rather than the other way around.

I struggled a bit with the 3rd person camera during my hands-on. Sometimes I couldn’t get it to swing around my environment fast enough during general combat (probably just a sensitivity issue) and at others I couldn’t get it in close enough when needing to aim in extremely close-combat, as in when things are biting great big chunks out of your neck (probably not just a sensitivity issue). Overall though, with the exception of Sebastian having a really visually annoying ‘running’ animation, things felt good, controller and gameplay wise.

The sound design, as you might imagine, is spot on – headshots make that perfect Resident Evil popping noise, things are thudding and creaking all around you, and when the music kicks in, it really ratchets up the tension.

As well as whatever foul horrors are lurking around in The Evil Within‘s dark nooks and crannies, you’ll also have to keep your eyes peeled (hopefully not literally) for environmental and rigged-up traps. These bring a tense SAW-like vibe to the proceedings, emphasising a very present and uncomfortable ‘body horror’ motif. Disarming them is nerve-wracking, and if unsuccessful, very costly. Expect to get caught out by plenty of these fiendish traps along the way…I know I did.

One of the best things about the game was that the enemies will appear in different places each time you die. I encountered two shuffling zombie-like creatures that were ever so keen to make my acquaintance; the first time they were skulking around in the dark recesses of a dank bedroom, and then after being promptly killed by the two mouldy miscreants, I found them nonchalantly eating a corpse lying around in a hallway. Whether the enemies had been randomly reset in a different location upon my death, or whether this was intended to be part of some psychological Eternal Darkness style mind-games (the munched-on corpse was already there on my first playthrough, although funnily enough, I did die pretty close to it), I couldn’t quite tell. Either way, it really sent a shiver up my hunched up spine, which is great. Definitely worth keeping a dismembered finger on the pulse of this game I reckon.

Dying Light

Dying Light.

Speaking of dismembered fingers, that brings us gruesomely to the next game I got to try – Dying Light; one of the big upcoming games to come from developer Techland (alongside its other major zombie game counterpart, Dead Island 2, of course).

Unfortunately, after my time in the demo, I left feeling rather disappointed by Dying Light. I’d been keeping my eye on it for quite some time as a big zombie fan as a potential buy for next year, but I’m a little worried about it from the stuff I got to play. The game just felt too much like Dead Island to me, with not enough meaningful differentiating features to distinguish it from its predecessor.

The first niggle I had was that the jump button is mapped to the right bumper on the Xbox One/DualShock 4. It just feels unnatural, although I can see exactly why it has been positioned there. Parkour is the key feature of the game of course; the whole game is designed to be like Mirror’s Edge with zombies, so as the jump/parkour button is going to be used a hell of a lot, it’s moved up to your other highly frequently pressed button, the right trigger of course. In practice though, it felt ungainly and uncomfortable, although there will most likely be a way of configuring your controls in the final game.

The parkour elements are cool, but perhaps due to my brief time in the demo and my lack of skill, I struggled to pull off anything significantly cool or athletically impressive; the best thing I managed to pull off was to hoist myself over a waist high wall…something that, with months and months of physical training and cardio, I could probably do myself in real life…maybe.

Graphically, the game really didn’t do much for me either. There seemed to be a really grainy filter to everything; I wasn’t sure if that was just due to the demo screen I was playing on or whether that was part of the engine. Either way, it didn’t exactly look great, nor did it look particularly next-gen – again, I’m not a tech person, but I could imagine with a bit of luck and gentle encouragement that my 360 could probably push out those graphics. Combine those grainy graphics with 30fps framerate, and it really doesn’t look too good in the visuals department.

To top it off, the combat gameplay feels exactly like Dead Island. It’s not bad, but just more of the same from that game. The melee weapons felt really clunky and underwhelming, making it easier to just dodge past the most withered and weak looking of zombies, rather than bothering to fight them. The bigger special zombies just take forever to wear down and kill. They don’t feel particularly scary, just frustrating bullet/knife sponges that need to be tediously picked away at to clear out an area or complete an objective.

I didn’t get hold of a gun in my own playthrough, but from looking at other players using them, they seemed really solid, and a massive step up from how the firearms handled in Dead Island. Perhaps sharp shooting is the way to go if you too find that the melee weapons and bladed weapons aren’t really cutting it.

I’m keen to see how the night time PVP scavengers vs. über zombie gameplay works (sadly this wasn’t playable at the event), as that genuinely does look unique and different compared to other zombie games of its ilk. I’m still very interested in Dying Light, but I’ll be looking at it with eyes of cautious optimism rather than unbridled excitement from now on.

Alien: Isolation

Alien Isolation – very scary!

Okay, so I’ve got a bit of a confession to make with this one. By the time I managed to get into the Alien: Isolation booth, a funny…competitive streak in me took hold. Perhaps it was because it was getting towards the end of the day, or perhaps there were some sinister mood-altering pheromones being pumped into the Isolation booth via the fancy smoke machines; whatever the reason, I wasn’t quite myself when I got to the front of the queue.

During an excitedly moody (is that even possible?) pre-game pep-talk from the Isolation team, in which they told the gathered crowd eager scare-junkies about how to best survive our brief tenure on the Sevastopol station, my ears pricked up at the words ‘leaderboard’, ‘competition’, and most importantly, ‘prize’.

It turns out that a competition had been running all day at the booth, to see who could survive longest in the brief demo. Whoever could survive longest would receive goodies…precious, ambiguous goodies. That was all I needed to hear. Suddenly that stimulus triggered off in the dark recesses of my brain a fierce and highly unusual desire to win.

I may be pretty average when it comes to shooters, hopeless at fighting games and shockingly bad at stealth games (sorry Kojima), but when it comes to survival horror games, I think I’m pretty good at screaming and panicking. They’re my virtual bread and butter so to speak.

The gauntlet had been thrown down by the booth team, and I was fool enough to stoop down and retrieve it. I was going to throw away my hands-on at the chance of winning…well, let’s face it, probably not much.

I’m pleased to say that I lasted about eight and a half minutes, which was above the current leaderboard score. However, I spent a great deal of my time just hiding in the lockers, scarpering about in the opening area, trying to set a high score time, and not really playing the game. I’ve been intending to buy Isolation from almost the minute it was announced, and it was the one game that I knew I just had to try above all else that day, but despite that excitement, I somehow let myself wastefully play extremely over-cautiously to get a stupid number on a whiteboard. Rather than actually just, you know, enjoy and experience the demo I’d just spent the best part of half an hour queuing up for. Like any normal person would.

Perhaps due to my cowardliness (read: almost certainly due to my cowardliness), my score wasn’t even remarked upon. Dejectedly, me and the rest of the gaming herd were ushered out of the dark booth and back out into the crowded EGX halls with nary a glance at our times. No prize for my excellent internal locker observations for me then.

From what I did get to play however, I can say that the game is incredibly tense and scary. The atmosphere is both deathly quiet and electrifying; every overhead clunk, metallic rattle or hissing vent opening sets you on edge. You’re never quite sure if what you’re hearing is indeed the Alien creeping up on you, or just some dying mechanical detritus rasping its last breath. The Alien is incredibly smart and sensitive too; although I didn’t get to say hello to it face to perpetually grinning double jaws so to speak, every slight movement I made would cue the Alien in to my position, and the motion tracker would ping like crazy as I swapped from locker to locker.

Oh well, even though my out of character competitiveness cost me the chance to write a decent hands-on piece for Isolation, I’ve actually got the final game in my hands (literally) as I tap this out (yes, really) with one hand. In other words expect plenty more from me on Isolation in the near future; only with more exploration and less – no, actually there probably will still be plenty of hiding and whimpering to come as well.

Destiny Diary – Day 8

Destiny Moon Level Cutscene
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Beta Day 8 – 26/07/2014 – Dark Side of the Moon

Ok, here we go, I’m logged on, it’s 9:00pm here in the UK, and I’m ready to see what the reward Bungie has promised its loyal Beta players is. Bungie has revealed that the reward for logging on at the right time tonight is a personalised nameplate, or player banner if you will. Although it’s perhaps not the most spectacular thing that might come to mind as a reward in the context of a game with the size and scope of Destiny, it still feels like a nice touch. You will be able to display your gamertag prominently on your player banner in matchmaking menus, so that friend and foe alike can tell that you were part of the Beta.

In addition, Bungie are also opening up a mission on Earth’s Moon for Guardians to play through for a limited two-hour window. This mission has been there in the world(s) map screen from day one of the Beta, so it’s nice to finally get to go there, albeit very briefly, and see what’s going on up there. So, without further ado, let’s extend our lunar landing gear and make a small step for man…yeah, all that jazz basically.

However, due to whatever problems are going on in internet land, I actually get access to the level an hour later at 10:00pm. After milling about in the Tower for a while and killing time passively aggressively dancing at passers by, I return to orbit and finally I’m on my way to the Moon.

The level starts out with a flashy introduction sequence which sees your ship swoop down low over the moon’s dusty grey surface and deposit your Guardian, ready to fight plenty of Hive. The Hive, as the Dink-meister tells you in the ship loading screens, have taken over the Moon since the dark ages of the game’s story, and it’s where they’ve set up their base of operations. Naturally then, we’re sent in to disrupt things, and to attempt to track down a missing Guardian chum.

Strangely, games tend to leap upon the ability to mess around with lower gravity when you go to an outer space/Moon like level, so it’s somewhat strange and a tad disappointing that movement and jumping in Moon gravity is exactly the same as in Earth’s gravity. Hmm. Unless there’s a story reason for this (maybe all the gear you wear counteracts normal gravity? In-built artificial gravity perhaps?), this does seem like a bit of an odd thing to miss out.

The mission structure isn’t anything particularly spectacular, and you’re fighting the same Fallen and Hive enemies we’ve already faced in Old Russia. The change of scenery is nice though, and these Moon areas feel different enough with their large grey open spaces as opposed to the more claustrophobic areas of Old Russia.

There’s a bit more focus on vehicle to vehicle and vehicle/infantry combat on this level too thanks to a generous number of Fallen pike bikes (sorry, had to go for the rhyme). Functionally, these floating attack bikes feel very similar to the fast purple Ghost vehicles in the Halo series – they’re quick, they have infinite ammo, and they’re great at engaging small numbers of enemies while keeping at a safe distance.

There’s a few more story threads teased in this level as well. An unknown Hunter figure appears to be stalking you; it appears to be the same one that watches you leave Old Russia at the end of the tutorial level. My gut instinct is that as your Ghost mentions that you’ve been dead for some time at the start of the game, my guess is that this hooded figure that watches you from afar might just have something to do with your earlier demise perhaps. Either that, or she/he is just a bit shy, and would actually like to join your quest and help you out if only you’d ask. Probably the former option though I’m guessing.

Although the Beta continues for another day, I think I’m going to leave these entries here for now, as this Moon level presents itself as a nice conclusion. Overall, the Beta has done everything that I’ve wanted it to do. I’ve had a good taste of the core gameplay – Halo meets Borderlands with a healthy dash of Diablo III thrown in for good measure. I’ve experienced a tease of what’s to come in the story department, and what narrative threads the game looks likely to pursue. I’ve marvelled at and felt repulsed by the various alien races that players are tasked with defeating, and I’ve certainly had my arse handed to me in the competitive crucible mode.

The things that have really stuck with me though have been the really small things so far. The friendly attitude other players appear to conduct to strangers whilst out completing missions. The simplicity and ease with which you can find your friends in the game, and near seamlessly join them in action with a few button presses. The variety of gameplay on offer, and how it is all linked back to the main social structure of the Tower. Perhaps most strongly of all though, my fondest memory of playing Destiny so far has been arriving in the Tower for the first time and getting that first exciting glimpse of the MMO experience Bungie is trying to build here. Seeing everybody going to and from the merchants, hanging out in the centre area and kicking about giant purple footballs gave me the early tantalising perspective of just how fun and social Destiny is shaping up to be. From the minute I stepped out of my arrival ship at the Tower, to be greeted by a bunch of body-popping robots, dancing humans and breakdancing Avatar-like Na’vi people, only too happy for me to join them in the gleeful exuberant displays of daftness, I knew then that Destiny has the potential to be a particularly special game.

Destiny Diary – Day 7

Destiny Chest Opening
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Beta Day 7 – 25/07/2014 – Digital Magpies: All That Glimmers Is Not Gold…It Could Be A Hoverbike

It’s going to be a bit of a shorter entry today guys, as by this point I feel like I’m really scraping the barrel with things to do in the Beta by now! That’s not to say that there isn’t much to do here; in fact, quite the opposite, the Beta period has felt very generous in its scope, and it is only because I’ve been sinking an awful lot of time into it that I’m starting to find that I’ve done pretty much all I can do. So, to change things up a bit, as the Beta enters into its last few days, I thought I’d wax lyrical (yes, I’ve always wanted to write that) about what we can expect to persist over into the final retail version of the game.

Today was mostly another solo adventure, so I decided to start off by hunting down the five golden loot chests that are hidden throughout Old Russia. I’d been previously unaware of these elusive boxes of wonder in all my previous Beta playtime, and I only happened to stumble across their existence after a PlayStation tweet pointed followers to a video walkthrough of how to find them. Watching the video, I marvelled at how well hidden some of these devious little chests are; some are placed along obvious points in the path of the story missions, whilst others are cunningly hidden in places that only the most diligent of explorers will find. Luckily for me then, the internet exists, and its wondrous power allows slobs like me to instantly reap the rewards of others’ long and arduous searching. High-ho, high-ho, it’s off to farm loot we go…

Despite their shiny golden exterior, the contents of these splendorous loot chests don’t appear to massively differ from their standard silvery counterparts. Four out of the five gold chests just offered a handful of Glimmer, and occasionally a nice gun as a reward for finding them, which of course were welcome gifts, but these contents nonetheless felt a tad disappointing considering the implied exclusivity and shiny nature of their containers. However, the last one I found, sneakily hidden round a rocky beach trail, contained an upgraded and appropriately golden Sparrow, the likes of which you would have to pay a fair bit of Glimmer for to get your hands on in the Tower.

On the topic of loot and shiny gold chests, as I turn into a greedy digital magpie in games like this, eager to hoover up every last little bit of loot that I can find, a big question that looms large for me now is this; will any of this Beta progress carry over to the final game? My head says no, but my heart desperately wants the answer to be a yes. Having sunk a good chunk of time into the Beta, it would be very cool if I could just pick up right where I’ve left off when Destiny properly launches in under two months time. On the other hand though, I can totally understand why we probably won’t be able to carry on with the same characters – after all, from what little scant knowledge on the programming side of things I’ve gleaned from listening to various podcasts and reading the odd Destiny press releases here and there, the Beta is old code, and it may well be incompatible with the final finished code of the main game.

However, there are a couple of points which make me think stuff might carry over. First of all, the Destiny Beta has gone, in the space of a few days, from private exclusive event for those who had pre-ordered the game, to an all-out open Beta to everyone who owns any of the consoles the game is due out for. This means that everybody has had a chance to get in and play some Destiny, and plenty of players, like me, will have spent time to level up to the Beta level cap of eight, and collected a fair amount of loot and goodies along the way. True, we aren’t that far into the game at all, and if we do have to start from scratch come September it won’t be the end of the world as it won’t take long to get back up to where we left off. But if that’s the case, why then has it been possible to acquire gear and items that are far higher than the current level cap? I myself have picked up numerous helmets and guns that require you to be level nine or ten in order to use them, so why are these in the Beta if they’re only going to be taken away again? Along these same lines, players who have taken part in the ‘Iron Banner’ crucible events stand to lose even more despite their hard work earning exclusive capes and guns…the lucky sods…

In all honestly though, as much as I’d like our characters to persist and carry over, I do think we will have to start over with fresh ones in September when the game is launched. Like I say it’s not a major pain, its just a little annoying. I didn’t get into the Destiny Alpha, but I’ve heard people who had created characters in that previous testing period couldn’t use them when starting the Beta, so it seems to make sense that Beta players will also have to start again from scratch on day one of release.

Bungie is known for liking to tease its players though, so at this point it’s quite hard to tell whether all of this is some kind of elaborate ruse to keep players anxious yet excited, or…well…not. We’ll have to wait and see.

Tomorrow should be a little different though, as Bungie have promised a reward for all players who are logged on at a certain time (9:00pm for me in the UK), which will definitely carry across into the final build of the game launching in September. I’ll report back with my findings and shiny metal items magpie-style tomorrow.