Friday, March 26, 2010

Man on Fire - Splinter Cell Conviction Demo Impressions

A mission briefing from Third Echelon kicks off moments after I hit start. It introduces Sam Fisher, a man we're well acquainted with, however, something's changed. The brief isn't as much for him as it is against him. It comments on his remarkable ability to eliminate targets. It speaks of how he was affiliated with our government, but has since gone rogue. It tells me that he is dangerous, tactical, resourceful, and most importantly, that I need to fear his presence whether I can or cannot see him.

As a fan of Splinter Cell since the series' inception in 2002, I am unsurprised to hear any of this. This is the Sam Fisher I know.

Then the scene changes to a dingy, filthy bathroom, and I see a man's face collide with a mirror, and subsequently into the sink beneath it. He's begging for mercy, but it seems to fall on deaf ears. It isn't until I'm given control that I realize who his assailant is. Truth be told, I'm a bit shocked.

This is not the Sam Fisher I know.

This brutal interrogation immediately lets me know two things about Splinter Cell: Conviction: That Sam Fisher will literally do anything in pursuit of who was responsible for his daughter's death, and that developer Ubisoft has spent a fair amount of time watching the Bourne and Craig David 007 movies. Far removed from the reluctant, yet patriotic espionage agent from previous games, Sam is not only taking full advantage of the fact that he no longer has to operate within anyone's guidelines, but he is clearly not enjoying it. This isn't a revenge tale where casualties happen for the delight of the protagonist, but because he has no other choice.

It starts with the interrogation. Context sensitive actions near anything in the room allow you to use nearly everything in the room in order to beat information out of the guy, and full motion scenes projected on a nearby wall in real time, no less highlight the points that his disoriented, stuttering delivery can't accomplish. It's a dynamic, innovative way to present things, and it never once takes away from the intensity of the encounter, which climaxes with him snapping the poor guy's neck after he got the info he was looking for.

When things return to a more traditional style of gameplay, it's surprising to find out again, that things have changed. Even though the focus is still on stealth, there's much more emphasis on lethal takedowns. A cover system that resembles last year's Wanted game sees you quickly from point to point, and it's here that the game's new execution system comes into play. Taking enemies down in the classic Splinter Cell way with your bare hands gives you access to executions, which basically give you the ability to take out multiple people at the same time before any of them know what's going on. It throws things into a very satisfying rhythm of finding an enemy to disable, highlighting the next batch you'd like to take out, then with the press of a button, watching Sam shoot all three of them in the head within seconds. There's also a very clever "bait-and-switch" mechanic that activates when Sam is noticed, where a silouhette of him appears where an enemy has seen him last, and it's something you can use to your advantage to flank or even bottleneck enemies into an area of your choosing.

This isn't to say that the experience is filled with insta-kills and relentless action, his usual suite of gadgets and weapons return (thankfuly with the ability to retrieve arms from dead enemies), and the second half of the demo sees a return to form, with me using all manner of flashbangs, sticky cameras, and a new pair of sonar goggles to replace his iconic night vision ones to round out the package. Any concerns I'd had about not being able to sneak my way around ended when I saw myself shooting out lights to lower visibility, setting up small cameras, and (literally) getting the drop on enemies from above. Gently nudging things along through all this is again, the presentation, which is always providing subtle visual feedback to inform the player. It's incredibly immersive, with tricks like color bleeding from the screen in order to indicate that you're undetectable, or displaying your next objective on objects in the environment, keeping the HUD from being obtrusive by overloading you with info. Call me crazy, but there's something very cool about seeing your objective dynamically appear in fron of your eyes, as if you're remembering something important, rather than checking a menu screen.

Overall, I had fun. The demo itself was a bit short, and (literally) ends with a bang, but one thing is certain-- Sam Fisher is indeed back, and it's clear the chip on his shoulder has taken on a life of it's own, and wants to make itself heard.

Pleased to meet you, Sam.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Kevin Butler is..

Awesome. No really. Far from the inexplicable mess that was Sony's ad campaign for the past three years, this guy comes out of nowhere, is genuine, hilarious, and his tongue is exactly where it needs to be when you're promoting a company who was practically flailing to gain relevance with it's userbase for quite some time; in-cheek.

Even watching him promote what is essentially a PS3 Wiimote is a thing of beauty. I laughed, I cried, most importantly, I kinda want one now.

Keep this guy around, seriously.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Greased up def....oh hell.

So the 10th new character was revealed the other day..

There are no words. Only oil. Lots of it.

I love Street Fighter IV.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mobile Brawl - Street Fighter IV iPhone Review

"While it isn't likely that we'll see a fighting game on the iPhone at any point (they simply demand too much precision and timing for something like a touch screen), the fact that it handles every other genre reasonably well, even sports titles, is quite a feat."

--ExpertPenguin - October 2009

Well. Didn't see that coming.

While I am not sure exactly WHY this exists, Street Fighter IV is indeed on the iPhone/iPod Touch, and for the low price of $9.99, everyone can get their portable fix of what is in my opinion, one of the best fighters around. But was Capcom able to shrink down their deep, gorgeous fighter into a portable form (without buttons no less!), or was I right after all?


By all accounts, this game should not work. It's on a cellphone. The game and controller share the same screen. There are only 8 of the original 25 characters. The controls are cut down and simplified.

Why then, is Street Fighter IV enjoyable on the iPhone despite this?

Capcom knew their boundaries. The iPhone version doesn't attempt to be the arcade, or even the console version. Instead, it stands out on its own as a unique experience, one that fighting fans will undeniably scoff at, but one that those new to the genre or curious about fighters can enjoy.

The visuals were faithfully carried over with 2D sprites that mimic the look of the original, the catchy stage music made it in as well, and the voices? They are crystal clear, albeit a bit repetitive. There's a Tournament (arcade) mode, one on one fighting, practice, wireless fighting over bluetooth, and even a Saikyo Dojo where you can go through an entire suite of tutorials, trials, and battle tactics with the man himself, Dan Hibiki.

This is all well and good of course, but the burning question is, how are the controls, and how do they hold up? Answer: Surprisingly well!

The game uses a simplified four button setup very similar to the recent Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, with Punch, Kick, Special (EX), and Focus respectively mapped out on screen. The virtual analog is very responsive when it comes to pulling off moves, but does have a tendency to stick and be finicky when it comes to performing some of the more complex motions. Thankfully, not only did Capcom simplify some of the more complex motions, but there's even an assist option to make the "special" button handle all special moves with a single press, so the virtual stick's shortcomings are minimized. It's an excellent design choice ensures that veterans will be able to pull off their usual combos with some practice, and newcomers won't have to drill themselves endlessly in order to pull off some of the cooler maneuvers.

Yes, this also means that if it worked in the arcade, it works here as well. Quite a feat for a mobile game.

The funny thing about this version of SFIV is that even though the game isn't arcade perfect, it's every bit as playable, every bit as enjoyable as its big brother. The atmosphere scales over to the iPhone's sharp, colorful display very well, the characters, though few, are fully realized and uncompromised, and the controls, even though finicky, even though my expectations were admittedly low, managed to impress me and hopefully, sets a bar other developers should aspire to for their virtual pads. Somehow, Capcom did it. They said they were bringing Street Fighter to the iPhone, that they would make it work, and they did. I'll hold off on eating crow until they fine tune the controls a bit more, but damn if this isn't a good start.

It's almost funny to mention. Street Fighter on the iPhone. Who would've guessed?

Well done.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

God of Visuals.

God of War III is nearly among us, friends. One week. Of course with it comes the ubiquitous pre-release hyperbole, but in this case, it's definitely deserved. All the buzz, reviews I'm struggling to avoid are saying it's amazing.

Especially its visual presentation. While God of War is certainly no stranger to setting a visual bar every time one is released, 3 is exceptionally well done. Never mind the demo everyone's been salivating over this past year, the actual game is so many leaps and bounds beyond it, it's almost unbelievable. The guys over at Digital Foundry threw up a small blog on the improvements made since the demo, and even though dev terminology is being flung left and right, it's still an interesting read if you're even slightly curious about the refinements that can come about during the last year of a game's development.

Or, if you just want the visual payoff you can just click that header pic from the demo, and see what it looks like now.

Either way, it's stunning. Uncharted 3 now has a visual bar to overcome. Who would've thought?

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Monday, March 8, 2010

Someone's got to clean up the mess.

/hiatus end.

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