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Archive for May 2012

E3 2012: Microsoft, Sony & Nintendo Press Conference Preview

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It’s that time of year again – where game journos everywhere somehow manage to write these huge, in-depth articles with their one free hand.


With E3 2012 due to start next week and with a number of publishers kicking off their own pre-E3 showings beforehand (yes Konami, I’m looking in your direction), I figured that now was as good a time as any to lay out on the table my expectations of the ‘big three’ for the show.

I’ll be taking a look at what you can expect from their E3 press conferences and playing a bit of devils advocate when it comes to predicting what might happen with each of them.

And likely getting all it horribly wrong.

So! Let’s get this shizz on the road then shall we?

This year’s E3 effectively marks the lull before the storm.

That storm is the next-generation of consoles from the ‘big two’ which are due to arrive from late 2013 onwards and it’ll be at next year’s E3 that Sony and Microsoft respectively, start firing their inital salvo of next-gen bliss at the public at large.

Until that happens, expect more denials and ‘we don’t comment on speculation’ than you can shake a hairy stick at; since until each of those platform holders announce their next-gen plans, they’ll look to keep the focus on the hardware that they have out in the market right now.

That also means, don’t expect any next-gen hardware announcements at E3 from either Microsoft or Sony as was previously rumoured. So for the love of Cthulu; temper your expectations accordingly and don’t start whining when the inevitable lack of an Xbox 720 or a PS4 unveiling causes you to cry into your beer – it simply isn’t gonna happen this year.

Right, we done with that? Brilliant.

The only company really that is going to be unveiling anything remotely resembling new hardware will be Nintendo, who, being the very fortunate sods that they are, will be getting a second bite at the console unveiling apple that they so cackhandedly fluffed last year.

So in addition to being the (hopefully proper) coming out party for the WiiU; the focus on new software and services for the here and now will likely form the crux of any showing that both Sony and Microsoft put on at E3 this year.

With that in mind, let’s cast our eye over first what potentially the Redmond based software giant will come up with this year.

Microsoft Press Conference Monday, June 4th – 5:30PM BST

A relatively muted performance from Microsoft seems likely this year, given that most of their eggs currently reside in the 2013 next-gen basket.

Make no mistake about it, if you didn’t know what the centerpiece of their showing was going to be this year then you are blind, ignorant or stupid. Or a fruity combination of the three.

It will be of course, the 343 Industries developed Halo 4.

Halo 4 – Start the fight.  Again.

Halo 4 is interesting because it really is the first major Halo title (Anniversary not be counted for obvious reasons) not developed by previous long-term custodians of the series Bungie, but instead by 343 Industries; a mish-mash of ex-Bungie staff and other folk from MIcrosoft Studios. The effect that the change in codeshop will have is already quite evident.

Whereas with previous Bungie developed games in the series, like Halo 3 which introduced the innovative ‘Forge’ mode, this newest 343 developed title appears to instead prefer to take pages out of others playbooks instead of looking to itself for new innovations.

Indeed, the first in the brand new ‘Reclaimer Trilogy ‘, is to have new single and multiplayer features that sound, familiar, for lack of a better word. Features such as a perk system, a progressional player system (where you can accrue XP), armour and weapon modifications and the uninspired named ‘Spartan Ops’, have been seen before in another game that i’m sure isn’t a million miles from your thoughts right now,

Still, despite the apparent lack of creative vigour in what otherwise remains a solid feature-set, the game is apparently set to a deliver a sandbox FPS experience much more in line with what was seen in the original Halo. It falls therefore, to Microsoft to ensure that their Halo 4 demonstration knocks it out of the fucking park; leaving people with a very real contender in their minds to Black Ops 2 almost inevitable Q4 domination.

Halo still has a ton of consumer pull as an IP and Microsoft know it and so going on that logic, I really hope that they make the biggest noise about this game that they possibly can.

I would certainly like to see a great deal of in-game footage from the single-player campaign as well as a few multiplayer levels on the showfloor, so that at this stage (just five months away from release), folks can get the measure of the Halo 4 experience and just why they need in their life and in their 360 come November.

It’ll probably also give the BBC News a couple of new logos to use in their reports too.

Expect to see this guy a lot at the Microsoft E3 presser. A whole fucking lot.

New Gears Of War – Didn’t we say goodbye?

Fulfilling the wet, testosterone dreams of Gears fiends everywhere, comes the news that there will be one more Gears of War title released this generation. Quite literally leaked just a few moments ago at the time of writing, this is the one game that Microsoft could nominate to share some of the top billing spotlight with Halo 4.

Apart from the fact that we can expect a ‘new Gears of War at E3’, we know practically nothing about what this new entry in entry in the ever-popular series will bring outside of the mysterious cover shown by Game Informer as seen below:

Cuffs? Yeah, that’ll be Marcus Fenix doing his prison rounds then.


The current rumour is that while Epic are beavering away on a new Gears of War trilogy for the next Xbox, using the Unreal Engine 4 no less, Bulletstorm developers People Can Fly have been given the reigns to develop a series of prequels for the franchise.  This is not a bad thing; not a bad thing at all considering how well Bulletstorm turned out.  Nevertheless, I expect that we’ll see a trailer of the game, which may even be entirely CG just to set the scene, but I doubt we’ll see much more than that due to Microsoft wanting Halo 4 to have it’s time in the sun and not worry about cannabilsing the sales of a fellow first-party IP. 

Despite the lack of any real visual stimulus outside of the aforementioned trailer however, I would expect the first real gameplay details of the game to be unveiled.

Black Ops II DLC timed exclusivity – keeping the sheep at home

Expect Microsoft to once again be in full ‘grabbing bastard’ mode when it comes to securing timed exclusivity for DLC for this latest entry in the Call of Duty franchise.


Call of Duty titles on the PS3 have, to Microsoft’s advantage, been largely shoddy when compared to their 360 counterparts; hampered by bugs and poor online performance and just on that alone, it’s easy to see why people mostly plump for the 360 version each and every year (the 360 pad certainly lends itself better to the FPS as well, but I digress). Being the shrewd and largely sly individuals that they are, it makes sense that for this year, Microsoft once again clamber back upon the DLC timed exclusivity wagon and stick it to Sony.

Really, I’d be mortally surprised if they didn’t do this, especially in the light of Black Ops 2 being the ‘cuts and pastes from MW3 article’, ‘most pre-ordered Call of Duty title of all time’. So yeah, count on timed exclusivity and count on Microsoft making a big deal about it by positioning Black Ops 2 themed 360 hardware bundles come Yuletide.

Kinecting with the masses 

*Insert Harry Potter Kinect, Fable the Journey, Kung-fu Super star and London 2012 logos*

As has been traditional for the last three conferences, you should fully expect a solid focus (for better or worse) on Kinect games in development. Principally, titles which echo popular culture such as Harry Potter Kinect and London 2012 will be given top billing and inevitably, some utterly cringe-worthy on-stage demonstrations too.

As well as the popular stuff though, I would also expect a spotlight on some of the more quietly promising stuff too, such as Lionhead’s Fable spin-off, Fable: The Journey and the recently announced Kung-fu Superstar.

One game I wouldn’t expect to see as part of the Kinect lineup is the Crytek developed Roman battler ‘Ryze’, since by all accounts that would appear to be shifted into the realm of the next-gen Xbox and will likely be positioned as a launch title for that machine; likely serving to highlight the improvements of potentially more advanced Kinect hardware over the current iteration.

I would expect a much greater focus on core and non-toddler Kinect titles (we probably won’t see the likes of Pixar Rush or Disneyland Adventures this year) this year, along with a surprise or two from Microsoft’s internal studios (Rare) and maybe from a third party such as Ubisoft.

Ultimately However, if you’re not fan of Kinect, expect to be bored shitless – the device remains central to Microsoft’s plan to elongating the life of their seven year console and as such, will be given a great deal of showtime to further realise that objective and increase sales (19m and counting apparently).

Oh and Milo is still as dead as a doornail, so don’t even bring that up (though the technology does live on in part, within other games such as Fable: The Journey).

Expect a more varied offering of Kinect games at this year’s show.

A Light Smattering Of Non-Kinect Focused First Party Exclusives – We need more!

Remember the famous “Ten games that you can only get on 360” part of their E3 2009 conference? I do, and many other 360 owners do too, but since their obsession with Kinect began back in 2009, Microsoft’s E3 line-up has consisted of progressively less and less non-Kinect, first and even third party offerings.

The whole approach, quite frankly, is a bit batshit given the fact that Microsoft are looking to anchor themselves as a true bastion of core gaming. They really need to realise that a LARGE proportion of core gamers who own their console, just aren’t sold on Kinect right now – they want a solid line-up of both first party and third party offerings across full retail and XBLA formats.

However, I just don’t think Microsoft are going to deliver on either front in the volume that we’d like.

I expect to see the likes of Forza spin-off Forza Horizon to be present and accounted for, alongside the admittedly middling to slim possibility of a Halo 2 HD remastering being unveiled. Apart from that… i’m not really sure what to expect. Both Fable IV and a true Forza sequel will likely receive their showing as part of Microsoft’s E3 2013 next-gen presser. That’s effectively two of their primary first party franchises out of action for this year – three if you include the recently leaked Gears of War title which, and let’s be realsitic here, doesn’t have a hope in hell of making a 2012 release.

On the XBLA side of things, I expect the usual Summer of Arcade sizzle reel, with Tequila Games’ tremendous looking Deadlight being the undoubted highlight. If I had to guess, other standouts would include competitive FPS Counter Strike: Global Offensive, the wonderful Retro City Rampage, novel FPS Hybrid and maybe one surprise.

Which may, or may not be Killer Instinct HD. Or Shadow Complex 2. Or Infinity Blade Kinect.

Seriously though, I think Summer of Arcade will be pretty decent this year, i’m just not counting on a great many surprises; if any at all.

Xbox Live: More entertainment and social apps that nobody outside of Uncle Sam’s realm gives two shits about

Expect to see some more of this stuff. You’re probably not going to be able to use it.  Great eh?

One thing that has continued to crop up with alarming regularity at Microsoft’s E3 pressers of late, is the inclusion of more and more social and entertainment apps into the 360 dashboard such as Facebook, Twitter, UFCTV and HBO:GO. Again, I would expect more apps of a similar ilk to also be announced at the presser, further reinforcing the Redmond giant’s desire to make the Xbox 360 the center of living room.

And just like before, I wouldn’t imagine that many of these apps would make it over to the EU/UK either, given Microsoft’s propensity for thinking that only North American folk attend their presser and own their console.

So it’ll be at this point in their conference that you should feel compelled to make yourself a snack, grab yourself a drink or take an extra-long dump; whatever passes the time for you best really.

One thing that won’t be part of their presser this year in regards to Xbox Live, will be the long rumoured third-tier of access. Xbox Live ‘Platinum’, or whatever they deign to call it will, like most of the stuff that won’t be there this year, form a key piece of the puzzle for next year’s next generation Xbox unveiling.

After all, a brand new tier would likely infer some sort of new change to the online experience that would likely be a crucial selling point for the new hardware; rather than being utilised for a console that is about to enter it’s eighth year on the market. So then, if a third tier of Xbox Live even exists, it won’t be at this year’s presser.

Conclusion

Of the three platform holders, I fully expect Microsoft to be the most muted in terms of new and unique core game experiences. This would be due in no small part to them saving the next iterations of some of their best first party franchises not called Halo, for the next generation Xbox unveiling next year.

Halo 4 will get a lot of love both in the conference and on the showfloor. I’m hoping for a flood (if you excuse the pun) of single player details; aided by an on-stage demonstration (no CG cut scene bollocks here please) and a further fleshing out of the multiplayer side of things. Halo 4, to all intents and purposes, is one of their main primary hardware sellers this year alongside the benefits that timed DLC exclusivity on Black Ops II will bring. Therefore I expect them to make a big fucking noise about it to ensure that it stays in the public’s conscious long after the show has ended.

As always, expect a lot of Kinect love but with a more mature/core focus this year – there are 65 million 360 owners out there and less than one third of them own a Kinect; so Microsoft would be silly not to try and broaden the demographic that the hardware appeals to.

There will be surprises, as there are in every presser, but I wouldn’t expect them to be as numerous (or as potentially exciting) as seen in previous years.

Sony Press Conference – Tuesday, June 5th – 2 AM BST

Sony will be packing a well-rounded conference this year says I.

Just like rival Microsoft, Sony will also be clutching a number of cards tightly to their chest in regards to their *BIG* software announcements – since the majority of them will be used in unison with the inevitable Playstation 4 announcement NEXT YEAR, and not this year.

With that said though, and like the previous two years, they will certainly come out with a much more rounded software offering – especially where first party exclusives are concerned. This leads us quite neatly to…

Vita is dead, long live Vita

The Playstation Vita. The most powerful dedicated handheld gaming platform on the market right now, the machine should be every core gamer’s veritable wet dream. It can produce home console visuals on the move, can cross-play with the PS3 and is generally a very sexy piece of kit. Yet, despite all of this, the machine continues to track below expectations across the globe; with the machine repeatedly doing worse than its predecessor the PSP in Japan, much less the all-domineering Nintendo 3DS.

Sony, despite all of their PR bluster and spin-laden bullshit are very aware that the Vita isn’t performing up to an acceptable standard at retail. With that in mind, I fully expect their presser to be the most Vita focused one yet. Expect a strong ‘Vita is alive and well’ message, starting with the announcement of a small, but significant price drop (the French are enjoying an ‘experimental’ price drop which started on June 1st for two weeks), succeeded by numerous game announcements.

In terms of new software for the handheld, I would expect a proverbial flood of third and first party announcements. Rumoured third-party AAA games such as Assassins Creed 3 and Call of Duty look set to make a splash alongside the usual versions of Q3/Q4 releases such as FIFA, Need for Speed: Most Wanted and many others. I would also wager on the likes of Final Fantasy Type Zero showing up alongside Killzone Vita, a new God of War and a Gran Turismo title; to really bolster the system’s software line-up. And really, it’s going to be the software that’ll be the tipping point for many folks who may have entertained the possibility of picking up a Vita. Sure, the price point helps, but if the games are excellent and numerous, they will come all the same.

In addition to a solid software showing and a possible price cut across both SKU’s (£30 I would reckon, in each case), it wouldn’t surprise me to see Sony pimping new Vita bundles; likely leveraging the first-party stuff that they’ll have coming out later in the year such as Killzone or Playstation All-Stars for instance.

Put simply, if Sony are unable to sell you on Playstation Vita after their presser, you’ll likely never buy one at any other time.

Sony will be doing everything they can to remind us that the Vita isn’t on the way out. Expect a shitload of new software announcements for the beleaguered system.

What about big brother? The PS3 software line-up

As well as a strong line-up for the Vita, Sony will be keen to ensure that the PS3 isn’t passed over too heavily in favour of its portable counterpart.

One game which will certainly form an integral part of their presser will be Playstation All-Stars; Sony’s poorly veiled attempt at a Super Smash Bros-alike using the somewhat weaker mascots of the Playstation brand. The game itself will likely be demonstrated on stage at length and it wouldn’t surprise me at all for the demonstration to involve cross-play between the PS3 and Vita versions.

Also, expect Scheduled Maintenance to be announced as a secret character. Probably.

Next up will likely be the cracking looking God of War: Ascension. Few words can stir-up the whiners and complainers more than ‘multiplayer’ being used in association with a game which has traditionally prided itself on an excellent single-player campaign. It happened with Mass Effect and it happened when God of War: Ascension was announced.

The problem, y’see, with multiplayer modes being announced for games like this is that they very often come across as an afterthought and lack the same amount of effort and vim that was put into the single-player side of things – hence all the moaning and crying into rivers. God of War: Ascension though, stands on its own in so far as the multiplayer actually looks extremely robust and worthwhile if early impressions are anything to go by. If not demonstrated on stage, I would at least expect a new trailer for the game, which sadly won’t make the 2012 release window – instead making its highly anticipated bow mid-2013.

Another game that will likely get a share of the spotlight, but again, won’t come out this year, will be Naughty Dog’s impressive looking The Last Of Us. Positioned as some sort of post-apocalyptic adventure with a father and daughter pairing, the game appears to want to put real emotional weight behind the characters with some seriously jaw-dropping character motion-capture and intense situations. Apart from the basic premise however, we actually know precious little about this hugely promising title from the codeshop that spawned the multi-million selling Uncharted franchise. It’ll be at the E3 presser then, that the game should hopefully be given some time to shine and show the world what sort of gameplay we can expect to get stuck into come 2013. An on-stage demonstration would be nice, but if that doesn’t happen, I’ll take a gameplay trailer thanks.

Expect to see these three feature quite prominently in the Sony E3 presser. I’m sorry did someone say something about The Last Guardian?

Sony’s E3 presser will also mark the likely debut of the next title from Heavy Rain developer Quantic Dream. Little is known about the title and rumours are that it will resurrect the previously canned ‘Infraworld’ moniker, but gameplay wise we can make some educated guesses as to what to expect – lots of QTE’s, lots of cinematics and a plot that starts off being cool and then grows more and more nonsensical as the game goes on. Still, despite my own reservations regarding the title, I’m sure it will remain a big hit for them, but like the last two titles that I’ve mentioned it too won’t make it to release this year either.

The problem is as I’m sure you can guess by now, is that a lot of the big hitting exclusive titles that Sony are prepping; The Last of Us, God of War: Ascension, new Quantic Dream title etc.. are all due out next year, leaving slightly slim pickings for this year such as Sly Raccoon 4, Ratchet and Clank: Full Frontal Assault (I prefer that title for the record) and, um, that’s probably about it at this point.

So hopefully on that score at least, Sony will have some surprises in store to tide us over for this year.

Speaking of surprises…

On cloud nine; Sony’s Cloud Gaming Collaboration

One of these companies will form a partnership with Sony to allow cloud gaming on the Playstation platform. But which one?


The current darling on the E3 rumour mill as far as the Japanese consumer electronics giant is concerned, is the potential buyout of a cloud-gaming company to coincide with an upcoming service announcement at E3. Currently, there are only really just two players in the cloud gaming field – OnLive and competing service Gaikai.

Of the two, if recent reports are to believed, it is in fact Gaikai which are current front-runners, as echoed perhaps by their enthusiastic invitation to E3 journos everywhere stating: “Gaikai has some major announcements in store for E3 that have the potential to change the future of video games, game consoles and how we play,”.

The real question of course is why Sony would be pursuing cloud gaming in the first place and how they would seek to integrate it into their current spread of products and services. As far as the ‘why’, the only thing that makes sense is choice. Basically, I could imagine Sony utilising the cloud gaming service to allow people to stream the newest PS3/PSN titles in lieu of downloading it or acquiring a physical product. Essentially, it would just exist to allow customers that extra avenue of freedom when it comes to choosing how to play the newest PS3 and PSN games. In terms of the ‘how’, presumably the cloud gaming side of things would be used through an app from the XMB, much like how you would load up Netflix or LoveFilm for example.

May main concern with this whole scenario though, is that the technical infrastructure simply isn’t strong enough to support this ambition. Internet speeds pretty much the world over simply aren’t up to the task (especially here in the UK), and right now a free trial of either OnLive or GaiKai on what would typically be termed a ‘good’ internet connection (I’m thinking 20mbps plus here) shows a noticeable amount of latency and much lower level of visual detail than what would be deemed acceptable by the masses. To be fair, the fact that such tech even exists is a minor miracle, but we just aren’t at the point yet where the technology which underpins these grandiose ideas is sufficient enough. Regardless, if this is going to be a real thing at E3 (which I suspect it is), it’ll be very interesting to see how Sony and their cloud gaming partner attempt to mitigate these seemingly insurmountable technical issues.

The fall and fall of the Playstation Move

Seemingly unconcerned with trying to match the larger selling Kinect motion control system, Sony have appeared to largely given up on their motion control accessory as any sort of competitor to the Microsoft device. Indeed, Move support for titles is sparse when compared to the Microsoft strategy of quite literally shoving it down everybody’s throats (every first-party MS game has some sort of Kinect functionality by mandate).

With the exception of the very recently announced Sports Champions 2 and the forthcoming Resident Evil Chronicles HD (a Wii port no less), there really isn’t much on the horizon for fans of Sony’s motion control accessory. Really, this will be the last chance for them to make any significant impact with Move this generation since the PS4 will either have the tech in some sort of advanced form or simply not at all, if the device continues to flounder with such little software support.

Conclusion

Of the two companies not named Nintendo, Sony certainly seems better equipped to put on a more compelling and varied conference in regards to games and original content; on paper anyway. For one thing, they have two formats at their disposal and in the case of one (the Vita), they’re desperate to reinvigorate it in the public eye and showcasing lots of lovely new games seems like the best way that they’re going to achieve that.

The PS3 will likely receive a surprise or two too, but in a similar situation to Microsoft, the bulk of the gaming bliss will arrive next year – leaving just the usual multiplats and odd first-party title to hold up the fort for Sony before the year closes out.

The cloud gaming partnership which has pretty much characterised Sony in the rumour mill as of late, will make a debut I believe but really won’t be the game changer that a lot of people suspect it will be. The significant technical hurdles facing this tech at present, coupled with the lack of exposure that it has had versus common distribution methods for gaming content, mean that it’s announcement will likely be met with a whimper, rather than the bang that Sony would like.

At the end of the day, I expect Sony to deliver a strong conference; eminently focused on Vita with PS3 owners being thrown a first party bone or two to keep them happy. Make no mistake, before the focus shifts to the PS4 at next year’s show, Sony will do everything in their power to make the Vita a much more compelling offering to Joe Public and I believe that their conference will fully reflect this through.

Nintendo Press Conference – Tuesday, June 5th, 5:00AM

Nintendo really have a singular goal and purpose this year – get the WiiU showcased (again) and get it on people’s shopping list. Everything else can go to hell and stay there. Truly. The 3DS continues to generate impressive software and hardware numbers globally, so I expect a couple of title announcements for that; if only in a half-hearted attempt to steal some of the thunder Sony will be attempting to generate with the resurging Vita, but other than that it should be all WiiU and nothing else.

As far as they’re concerned, their ‘next-gen’ will start before this year that we’re already halfway through is out with Wii U and they should conduct their business at this year’s E3 accordingly.

Wii U give Nintendo another chance?

Nintendo are tremendously lucky bastards indeed. Rewind to last year’s E3, where they unveiled their Wii successor to the eager audience of captivated journos and retail partners; the reception?

Elated and confused amongst the Nintendo faithful; mixed and confused amongst everybody else.

Nintendo largely failed to solidify any sort of identity with the Wii U; okay great, the machine can produce HD visuals and has a tablet controller that can use wirelessly streamed content but what can it actually do? Sure we saw the usual cheesy proof of concept sizzle reels, but where were the on-stage demonstrations, the first-party support, actual in-game footage from WIP titles? Where was any of that stuff?

It just screamed of a product being unveiled too early – Nintendo themselves didn’t know what to do with it or how to market it and whoever planned their E3 presser strategy needs to be shot in the face for booking one hour for the ENTIRE presser and taking the first TWENTY minutes of that up with a fucking ZELDA CONCERT.

That’s just FORTY minutes, give or take, to unveil and showcase a brand new home console and all the bits and pieces that go along with it.

Shot in the bloody face I tell you. 

Nintendo absolutely cannot afford to make the same mistake again this year and are lucky to have another chance to correct all of last year’s wrongs. By all accounts the machine is due to go on sale worldwide in just over six months’ time; so the machine, what it can do and the software support that it’s going to have should be clearly solidified and defined in people’s minds.

This is their second (and last) bite at the apple to sell the WiiU and tell us everything we need to know about it and on that score, I think Nintendo aren’t going to disappoint.

Games – It’s all about the games

Expect the second coming of the WiiU at this year’s E3 to be accompanied by a great deal of on-stage demonstrations, bolstered by a myriad of first-party and third-party titles. Leading the charge will be a new Zelda title (likely due out next year), New Super Mario Bros 2 and the long-in-development Pikmin 3. Nintendo have never been (well, since 1995 anyway) about shock and awe tactics with visuals, so while the Zelda title will be the prettiest of the lot (not to mention illustrative of the Wii U’s graphical capability), I expect that it will best personify the new innovations that the new console is capable of; once again illustrating the mildly troubling knowledge gap between Ninty and their third parties when it comes to the creative use of their hardware.

Speaking of third parties, like their ringing endorsement of Kinect a couple of years earlier, it would be reasonable to expect that Ubisoft would be at the front of any third-party charge. This would seem like a sure bet given the way that they’ve been talking about the console recently; they would essentially be on-stage evangelising the new platform with a variety of software which utilise the Wii U’s unique feature set. They’ll be keen to point out the unique features of Assassins Creed 3 WiiU and Rayman Legends over their multiplatform equivilents and will likely be given a fair bit of on-stage time to do so, as well as shilling their own casual brands such as Raving Rabbids and Your Shape Fitness Evolved.

Further afield, Ninty may also bring Randy Pitchford in from Gearbox Software on stage to demonstrate the Wii U version of Aliens: Colonial Marines which the software developer has been gushing over for months saying that it ‘could be the best version available’. Don’t expect the third party support to end there though, I am expecting Ninty to showcase a long sizzle reel of all the third-party games in development for the console to really hammer home the idea that Nintendo have gotten the third-party core support issue nicely squared away.

In regards to surprise game announcements, I could quite easily see F-Zero making a triumphant return to the console in blistering sixty frames per second, 1080p form.

Another first-party title that’s within the realms of feasibility would be a Wii U version of Metroid. Not to mention a new Donkey Kong title. Or a new Kirby title. Ninty really are in priviledged position in that they have a hugely deep pool of first-party bliss from which to draw surprise software announcements from.

So really, look for Nintendo to go completely mental with game announcements to bolster the arrive of their new shiny bit of plastic this year; they’ll have a lot to talk about.

Online – Friend codes need to die

A key and very crucial part in enrapturing the core audience that they so desperately want to reclaim will be their online offering. Therefore, expect them to unveil a much more comprehensive online strategy – one that encompasses a much more user friendly online multi-player UI, coupled with a Wii U ‘eShop’, which would allow day one downloads of new releases; not to mention an exhaustive virtual console offering and unique ‘WiiU Ware’ games.

This will be the one area which I think they might stumble given their past transgressions with friend codes and the hideously outdated online capabilities of the Wii. That said they have made some really positive strides in this area with the 3DS, some i’m hoping that they improve on what they’ve done there and give us an online offering that is at least in the same ballpark as Xbox Live and the Playstation Network.

First step though – the whole friend code thing needs to be put in a shit-filled metal box and shot into the sun. It’s shit, embarassing and has just been pointlessly counter-intuitive since day one.

No more of this please. It’s not the 80’s anymore; people actually have internet handles now Nintendo.

Under the Hood

Before we start flapping our gums about resolutions, frame-rates, CPU’s and GPU’s, the one, most important thing in my view that the console MUST do, is retain its backwards compatibility to the Wii software library and accessories. For all of the well-trodden talk that people don’t buy new consoles to play old games remains the horrible, underlying truth that if it wasn’t there, people would complain that much more loudly about it -especially if such a feature existed in a competing product. It’s a crucial goodwill advantage over both Sony and Microsoft who have almost completely shunned the practice in recent years and a great way to ease the migration of the 100 million plus existing Wii owners around the world to the WiiU.

With that promise hopefully fulfilled, we’ll next get an overview of what the machine can do from a graphical perspective along with plenty of examples to back that up. Now, again, Nintendo has never been one to (recently at least) extol graphical prowess in market where they are a disruptive force – typically perferring to talk with input innovation rather than on-screen asethetics.

This time however, Nintendo must surely realise that having a console with HD visual capabilities, is now a bare neccisity to remain relevant in the eyes of Joe Consumer.

Without getting into all the acronyms and technical jargon, all you need to know is that the console is in the same ‘ballpark’ as the 360 and PS3, with developers giving varying accounts of how powerful it is; likely based upon their coding accumen with the machine coupled with how advanced their dev kits were at the time.

Regardless, we should get a much clearer idea of how powerful the console is at E3 and if I were a betting man, I would say that the console will easily be comparable to the 360/PS3 with some games even looking better than their peers on those consoles.

Additionally, I imagine that the majority of Nintendo fans will be giddly with glee to see the likes of Zelda and Mario finally strut about in gorgeous HD, and if they they’re not; they’re clearly lying. And quite possibly blind.

As far as the tablet controller goes, Nintendo have been making a number of changes to the original design which will finally get it’s fifteen minutes of fame at E3; along with a number of revisions to it’s capability (expect a much shorter wireless transmission range).



More of this please. Really, let’s have more of it.


Conclusion

This E3 really is Nintendo’s to lose. Sony is tied up trying to keep the Vita alive and Microsoft is doing just enough to keep the 360 ticking over until next year’s next-gen Xbox unveiling at E3 2013, where Sony will also unveil their the PS3 successor. That means, Ninty has the distinction of having some new (sort of) hardware to show and software to pimp which always gets people excited and goes down well. Make no mistake though, they have to succeed here because if they do not, they might not fare so well against the next-generation cascade which will crash down upon them next year.

Written by bitsnark

May 31, 2012 at 9:12 pm

It’s baaaack – Bethesda announces DOOM 3 BFG Edition for 360, PS3 & PC release this year

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Not feeling moist looking at the sight of this logo? Check your pulse.

Following on from their rather bizzare and somewhat unwarranted decision to re-release Quake IV for the 360 and PC (well, it was a bit shit wasn’t it), comes the much more welcome idea that Bethesda are going to lump everything DOOM-like into one fragging huge package for re-release this year on 360, PS3 and PC platforms.

For your hard-earned cash you get DOOM, DOOM 2, DOOM 3, DOOM 3: Resurrection of Evil and the ‘Lost Mission’.  That’s a whole lot of traditional FPS love right there.

Those lovely chaps over at BethSoft have also confirmed that DOOM 3 and it’s expansion pack, Resurrection of Evil, will be remastered for the console platforms and will be playable in stereoscopic 3D.  BOOM.

The debut trailer for this collection of id Sofware’s genre defining franchise can be seen below.  Expect to hear more on this around E3.

DOOM 3: BFG Edition releases sometime this year for 360, PS3 and PC platforms. 

Written by bitsnark

May 30, 2012 at 2:14 pm

You now have another reason to go to indie show Rezzed; the next Total War title will be shown there

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With developers The Creative Assembly lapping up much critical praise and commerical success for their last title Shogun 2: Total War, fans were desperate for their next fix of Creative Assembly coded historical conflict.  Lo and behold then, that the developers themselves will be holding a little chinwag on the ‘future of the Total War franchise’ and it’s a chat that will apparently involve the next Total War title being showcased for the first time on July 6th at 1PM, within the hallowed halls of the Eurogamer Network’s ‘Rezzed’ indie show.

Really, this is just one extra reason to go what will be a superb show.

Now, if you’re already going to the show then brilliant; you’re officially not on my shit list.  If you have yet to purchase a ticket to a showcase of some of the finest indie content on God’s green earth, then we’re going to have problem aren’t we?

Seriously, if you have even a passing interest in innovative and creative gaming experiences that extend beyond the norm, grab a ticket and get your ass over to this show.  It’s also being run by the chaps who ran the Eurogamer Expo, which if the last three events are any sort of indication, will mean that Rezzed will be slickly produced show and a great time for all and sundry.

Oh and Aliens: Colonial Marines will be there too.  Just saying.

Tickets can be bought at www.rezzed.com. £12 gets you a one day ticket, £20 gets you a two day ticket.

Get a ticket. You know it makes sense.

Rezzed takes place on Friday 6thSaturday 7th July at the Brighton Centre, Brighton.

Written by bitsnark

May 30, 2012 at 10:44 am

Classic Sega Megadrive/Genesis brawlers Streets of Rage and Golden Axe get ‘collection’ re-releases tomorrow on XBLA for 800 MSP

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Behold! Streets of Rage & Golden Axe – No finer expression of 16-bit testosterone.

Ah, the wistful memories of 16-bit side-scrolling pugilism – the battering of multiple enemies, the pressing on the ends of the screen to progress to the next section as soon as possible, the desperate reaching for a weapon to level the playing field…  In my adolescence, it was gaming satisfaction at it’s best and having a mate sat next to me, frothing at the mouth as I was to beat that final, seemingly indestructable boss, only added to the enjoyment.

Sadly however, the old side-scrolling brawler appears to be the genre that time forgot.

That is, until tomorrow when Sega will release the Streets of Rage collection, including all three original Sega Megadrive/Genesis titles on Xbox Live Arcade tomorrow for 800MSP.

They’re also doing the same thing with Golden Axe; releasing all three of the 16-bit console games as a collection on the service tomorrow for 800 of your Microsoft Points.

I think i’ll be plonking down the points for the Streets of Rage collection for sure, but the Golden Axe collection is not something that appeals to me much; given that the only decent one (the original) is available on XBLA already and the two sequels that followed it were lame ducks indeed.

Any of you lot up for some old-school scrolling brawling action?

Streets of Rage Collection and Golden Axe Collection both release tomorrow on XBLA at 800 Microsoft Points each.

Written by bitsnark

May 29, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Carmageddon: Reincarnation Kickstarter is now fully funded with 10 days to go.

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For those of you missing your fix of gore splattered, pedestrian running down fun, Stainless Games has announced that their Carmageddon: Reincarnation Kickstarter has managed to meet its target of $400,000 with ten days left on the clock.

As of right now, the Kickstarter currently stands at $422,298, with additional funds going towards additional game features or a really swanky office party for the devs.

Carmageddon: Reincarnation is a remake of the original Carmageddon title which came out nearly fifteen years ago on June 30th, 1997.

Obviously elated (and sounding a little bit drunk) at reaching their Kickstarter target, an update on the official Carmageddon Kickstarter page said the following:

“We MADE IT! Thanks to ALL OF YOU for the support and backing so far! As you’ll see, I don’t have the power of speech or typing completely down at the moment (some would say, most of the time…) as I’m STUNNED at the speed it’s happened this weekend!  FANTASTIC job everyone… AMAZING! We got there with 10 days still to go! Have a BEER and a GREAT DAY! I’ll be adding a message from the whole Stainless gang later, as we’re getting together to CELEBRATE what YOU’VE DONE! :D”.

Since then the developer has released two milestone and ‘Thank You’ videos that you can see below:

Carmageddon: Reincarnation is due to arrive on the PC in February 2013 and XBLA/PSN later on that year.

Written by bitsnark

May 28, 2012 at 9:34 am

Summer XBLA standout title Deadlight gets another trailer. Still looks fucking brilliant.

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Perhaps the jewel of Microsoft’s forthcoming ‘Summer of Arcade’ promotion this year, Tequila Studio’s Deadlight is a triumphant mixture of 28 Days Later, Limbo and Shadow Complex.

Simply on the potential merits of such marriage of awesome ideas the game seems fucking brilliant.  See that trailer below?  Yeah, it doesn’t do much to dissuade the notion.

Have a look:

Deadlight is due to arrive on XBLA for the Xbox 360 sometime this Summer.

Written by bitsnark

May 26, 2012 at 1:47 pm

A forthcoming guilty pleasure: Sleeping Dogs

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Sleeping Dogs never used to be known as such.  No, instead the game that we now know by it’s slumbering canine monkier was actually going to be True Crime: Hong Kong and was going to be published by Activision Blizzard.

The reason for the name-change and the change in corporate overlords (from Acti to Square-Enix) was due to the fact that well, Activision thought the game ‘wouldn’t meet their high quality standards’, which was roundabout suit talk for saying that they thought the game was shit and as a result, the game was canned.

For the uninitated, True Crime: Hong Kong was to be an open-world, GTA-esque title set in Hong Kong mixing in free-roaming and martial arts combat elements to create something a little more brutal than what the genre typically sees.

United Front Games, the developers behind the game, kept the idea alive though and one thing lead to another and before they knew it, Square-Enix were poking their noses in and said to them – “You know what? You have something decent here, let’s take that ball and run with it”.

And so here we are – Sleeping Dogs.  A game that while perhaps lacking that top-tier spit and polish of Rockstar’s open world opus at this stage, certainly appears to have it’s sights set on satisfying the player with a heady cocktail of deep hand-to-hand combat (inspired by Batman: Arkham City no less – not a bad thing), free-roaming vehicle travel and combat and a twisty-turny story of undercover police work in the Triad gangs played out against the backdrop of China’s brightest city.

Below is the ‘Sleeping Dogs 101’ trailer, a nice little video which gives a fairly comprehensive overview of what to expect from the game:

As you can clearly see, the game certainly doesn’t skip on the brutality of visceral hand-to-hand combat with a myriad of disarmings, counters and environmental kills showcasing a the sort of depth in fighting system that open world games rarely enjoy.

Some of those environmental kills are downright nasty too; with folks getting their faces set on fire, their heads slammed in car doors and some poor chap getting split in two by heavy machinery.  Ouch.

It’s not just the combat either.  The driving and exploring facets of the game appear to be robust also; mixing up acrobatics (jumping from car to car and hanging off the side of lorries for dear life) with drive-by shootings and vehicle to vehicle combat – the game looks to carry the satisfying brutality wherever the action goes with due aplomb.

But why, despite this praise, have I categorised it as a ‘guilty pleasure’?  Well its due to a nagging feeling that despite the compelling nature of all of these parts, the final product might not quite equal the sum of its parts.

Firstly, the visuals.  The game looks good, but not spectacular.  A lot of the character models appear fairly generic and their animations immediately go into ‘spread your arms and legs ragdoll-style’ as soon as they die – appearing much less natural than the likes of GTA IV where the animations appear to be a lot more believeable, thanks to the Euphoria animation system that the game possesses.  The frame-rate also appears to vary quite wildly.  On-foot sections appear to shift along at a decent enough pace, but when the cars start speeding and the explosions start happening, things seemingly start entering jerk-o-vision, resulting in a choppy and less than smooth screen update.

Next up is the storyline.  Everything that we have seen so far, seems to lend credence to the idea that Sleeping Dogs is merely content to be a competent homage to Chinese action cinema, rather than trying to weave a tale with any sort of verve or surprises.

Finally, the other aspect of the game that could disappoint is the missions themselves.  How much variety can they possibly have beyond ‘kill this guy’ or ‘chase this guy’ or ‘pick this up for me’?  Again, this will likely tie directly into how sophisticated the narrative is, so if the plot falls flat than it wouldn’t be unreasonable to infer that the missions attached to them might as well.

Despite these reservations, the game still has a place reserved on my shelf for the simple reason that i’ve been a fan of roaming fighters like Streets of Rage and Final Fight for a long time now, and that, on face value at least, it appears to have a unique way with violence that very few games have.

Sure, Sleeping Dogs certainly attempts to join the clique of Saints Row and GTA but the Square-Enix published title has something unique to offer which it’s established rivals really don’t; a solid focus on melee combat and the cinematic elements of Hong Kong action cinema – which despite their signicant contributions to kinetic-action cinema at large, appear to be all but forgotten by videogames thus far.

Sleeping Dogs is due on 360, PS3 and PC in both standard and limited edition formats on August 17th, 2012.

Capcom celebrates 25 years of Street Fighter with $149.99 of collectable tat

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Are you a Street Fighter fan? Do you want buy everything you already own again in unique collectors box thing? Then this $149.99 collectors edition, celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the franchise is for you!

Oooh, pretty.

The Street Fighter 25th Anniversary collectors edition contains the following goodies in both 360 & PS3 editions:

Games

-Street Fighter X Tekken (including all character and Swap Costume DLC)

-Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition (with all costume DLC)

-Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix

-Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition

Video

-New documentary Blu-ray that highlights the lifelong love affair fans have had with Street Fighter, and how their dedication has affected the game.

-Street Fighter IV, Super SFIV anime movies

-All episodes of the Street Fighter animated series

-Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie

Light-up Ryu statue

-Brand new statue with light up base. Eight inches tall and frozen in mid Shoryuken.

11 disc soundtrack

-Game music from the past 25 years, including remixes and fan-created music.

64 page hardcover art book

-Containing pieces from fans all over the world.

Ryu’s belt

-Full size martial arts black belt for the aspiring World Warrior. Includes Ryu’s “Furinkazan” in kanji.

Certificate of Authenticity

-Like any good collector’s set, this comes with a lovely piece of paper telling you how limited and special it is. They’re all individually numbered, so get one before they disappear and you have to spend your money on such trivial things like food, bills and rent.

Right.  I couldn’t help but notice that the set comes with ‘all episodes of the Street Fighter animated series’.  There is something very important that needs to be distinguished here; is it the decent Street Fighter II Victory anime TV series, or is it the gut-wrenchingly cretinous US cartoon show that looks like it was designed by Hanna-Babara (Ken Masters looks like Prince Adam from He-Man for fuck’s sake)?  Since if it’s the former than the great, but if it’s the latter, than this set can fuck off and die on the principle of that slight alone.  For the uninitated, here are videos from each so you can see for yourself.  It’s also worth noting that the Street Fighter II Victory series was directed by Gisaburo Sugii, who was also in charge of the fucking excellent Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie.

Also, one other thing that bugs me about this uber-collectors set is that it isn’t really complete.  Would it really have hurt them so much to put ALL of previously released Street Fighter games in one place? Even the shit ones too, like Street Fighter: The Movie and Street Fighter EX3  would have been nice for completist sakes.

As a collectable curio for the ardent Street Fighter afficianado, the notable omissions of other Street Fighter titles is notable and prevents the set from being a ‘must-have’ in any real shape or form and much of the content on show here would likely be duplicated in the collection of any fan worth his or her salt.  Still, for those who have perhaps fallen out of touch with Capcom’s premier fighting franchise, this represents a luxurious if not terribly comprehensive manner with which to reimmerse themselves in the delights of Capcom’s long running fistic dynasty.

Capcom has also released a trailer for the set which you can see below:

The Street Fighter 25th Anniversary set is currently due to arrive in North America on September 18th, 2012 on 360 and PS3 platforms.  An EU/UK date has yet to be confirmed by Capcom.

Driver: San Francisco Review (360)

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Like its comatose protagonist in this newest game, the Driver franchise has been on the sidelines for far too long; idly vegetating whilst the world went on and progressed without it with their open world sandboxes and super-serious, po-faced narratives.  It is with some sense of relief then, that Driver: San Francisco is a veritable shot in the arm for the series; awakening it from it’s long slumber to reinsert itself triumphantly into today’s racing scene; doing so by returning to its roots whilst embracing a new, off-the-wall innovation that elevates it to it’s own echelon within the genre.

In Driver: San Francisco, you are once again cast in the cooler than cool boots and swagger jacket of series favourite Tanner; this time in pursuit of dangerous career criminal Jericho, whom as you might reasonably infer, isn’t cool at all and instead aims to cause the city a lot of trouble.  Really the story takes an appropriate back seat here (a good thing considering it’s all kinds of cheddar and has such a vibrant 70’s vibe that it’s impossible to take seriously) as the defining attribute of the game this time around is that our hero can actually shift his spirit out of his car and possess other people and their vehicles.

As the resultant labour of love from what is quite clearly an LSD overdose, the whole idea is like some sort of batshit marriage between Starsky & Hutch and Quantum Leap and yet, despite the conceptual absurdity of it, it works.  It really, fucking, works.  Better yet, the gameplay possibilities that it opens up are both substantial and significant; all the while the traditional Driver gameplay which made the PSOne titles such a joy to play returns in robust form here – rumbling strongly under the hood of this shiny new, eccentric chassis.

I’m not going to tell you the reason why Tanner can suddenly possess the shit out of other folks and their transport for fear of spoilers, but i’ll just say that the explanation behind it is as far-fetched as the idea itself.  Expect narrative cheese.

Lots of it.

After the hand-holding of the initial story mission, you’re introduced to a map of the city and more crucially, the first of your new powers; the ability to ‘shift’ from one vehicle to another.  Engaging the shift ability pulls Tanner’s spirit out of the car and from a first person view, you can move as this disembodied soul, surveying the city whilst on the lookout for a new lump of flesh and pair of wheels to dive into.

Every vehicle on the road has acceleration, top-speed and handling stats so you’re eminently aware of whether you’re going to be jumping into a lumbering heap of shit or not before you take the leap.  When a vehicle takes your fancy, dive into it, take over and drive away.

Aside from the sensation of driving a totally different vehicle, developer Reflections have also had some fun with the bodies that you shift into and the situations that they find themselves in.  One time you shift into a new vehicle, you might find yourself in the body of a driving instructor giving a driving lesson or inside a wife who is driving after her cheating husband.  Most of it is pretty entertaining stuff and certainly doesn’t hurt the proceedings, serving instead to highlight the humorous side of having such an ability.

This really is the crux of the shifting mechanic – taking over another vehicle and utilising it in whatever fashion the current situation demands.  As you plough through the story missions and become more powerful, your range of abilities increases and the developer is quick to test you as a result.  One such entertaining example of how well they do this is when you are forced to compete in a race and ensure that two specific cars within that race finish in first and second place respectively.  Doing so requires judicious use of the later acquired ‘quick-shift’ ability which allows you to quickly jump into the car ahead of you and take over; allowing you to catch up with the other car in front as you frantically attempt to keep both cars in their required positions.

Another example of this mechanic working in full effect is a mission which tasks you to stop a band of rogue street racers by possessing oncoming traffic and sending them, Kamikaze style, front-on into the pack to turn them into smouldering wrecks.  Its complete lunacy and you’ll love every high-octane moment of it.

The feeling of satisfaction is further compounded by just how smoothly everything moves.  Driver: SF might not be the prettiest driving game around, but the frame-rate rarely dips below a liquid smooth sixty frames per second, a hugely impressive feat given the sheer amount of vehicles and real estate on screen at any one time.  The silky smooth screen update does more than just serve the player visually; the increased framerate results in a more responsive drive than many racers which hover around the thirty frames per second mark have been able to achieve and you’ll feel it in every vehicle you’ll hop into – from the slow and wide fire truck to the screamingly fast McClaren F1.

Going back to the city map, you’ll see the area dotted with various icons and symbols which point to garages, story missions, side missions, dares and collectables.  The side-missions in Driver: SF are actually worth setting some time aside for since they come up with some creative challenges for utilising the shift mechanic to its fullest; a crazy scenario involving you controlling two cars at once being a particular highlight.  The ‘dares’ on the other hand are much more in tune with the traditional challenges seen in the original Driver games back when, y’know, they used to be good.  Jumps, drifts, speed racing, time attack and other challenges await you to test your skill and just like other side and story missions, dares will reward you in ‘Willpower Points’ – the currency of the game, allowing you to buy new vehicles and upgrade your powers at the local garage.

There are also optional police chases and criminal getaway activities that you can do, but outside of offering you extra cash they serve little other purpose than serving up a quick round of old-school, Bullitt-esque bombast.  Finally, the collectables which are dotted around the map are worth grabbing since for every ten you collect you unlock a ‘movie challenge’, each of which are an ode to the Driver missions of old with all powers disabled and only the powerful grunt of the trusty 1968 Camaro SS underneath your heel.  It’s just as well that there is a relative wealth of extracurricular activity to do in the game besides the story missions, since the campaign itself is positively diminished; only lasting for between three and four hours if you were to not touch any of the side missions, dares or collectibles.

Really though, at its core, Driver: San Francisco is as good as Driver has ever been.  All of the series hallmarks are here; the striped Camaro SS 1968, the cinematic jumps, the superlative vehicle handling, the blazing speed, the chases; it’s all here – present and accounted for with spectacular aplomb.

Driver San Francisco is the best sort of return to form a fan could hope for; not only does it refine the traditional elements of the series that have anchored fans to it for years, but it also represents a shot in the arm for the driving genre at large with the bold shift mechanic – an ace in the hole which ensures that Driver San Francisco stands out and remains unique against its contemporary peers.

Aside from the cheesy plot and anorexic campaign there are no real reasons I can think of for not recommending Driver: San Francisco.  If you’re still not convinced and you believe yourself to be a fan of the series or you have a hankering for decent racers in general, perhaps like Tanner himself, you need to do some soul searching of your own.

Driver: San Francisco is available to buy now for 360, PS3, Wii and PC.  You should be able to find it for somewhere south of a tenner.

Written by bitsnark

May 24, 2012 at 2:44 pm

SHUT UP AND READ. Ron Gilbert has a new game coming out. It’s called The Cave and it’s being published by Sega for PC, XBLA and PSN release in 2013.

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Double Fine, the devs behind Brutal Legend and cult favourite Psychonauts, have today unveiled a brand new title by Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert called The Cave.

Coming from the equal parts twisted and brilliant mind of Rob Gilbert, you would expect The Cave to completely and brilliantly off it’s tits.  And you would be right.

The premise of The Cave, is that you assemble a team of adventurers, explore a subterranean amusement park which has long since been buried and in doing so you just so happen to come across inter-continental ballistic missiles.  Also, as you might imagine, rappeling and spelunking in deep, dark rocky caverns also features fairly prominently.  The game itself appears to be platform and physics based puzzler, but one that naturally bears Double Fine and Rob Gilbert’s unique flair and penache for the unconventional.

According to Gilbert: “The concept of The Cave has been bouncing around in my head for many, many years, and then the little voices that tell me to do things said it was time to make the game.”

Quite.  You mad, mad sod you.  Can’t wait to play your game.

Oh and there is a trailer too.  Cast your peepers below:

The Cave is being published by SEGA and will release on PC, XBLA and PSN sometime in 2013.

Written by bitsnark

May 24, 2012 at 1:36 pm

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