Gears of War - where's the depth?

The post title is pretty negative so let’s get the good stuff out of the way…

  • Gears of War (GOW from now on) is a fantastic looking game – not seen anything on the 360 that gets close. Some of the textures and effects are very realistic. Loving the rain in act 3!
  • The single player mode has got me gripped more than I expected and certainly more than Halo 2.
  • Online co-op adds so much to this game. Playing through chapters with friends over the last few nights has been great – hopefully more games in future will allow you to play any level via co-op.
  • The look and feel of the levels so far (half way though the game) has been varied with some stunning cityscapes and architecture on display. You can easily see the influence that cities and in particular London have had on the game.
  • Lack of story. Yep – thats a positive for me. I’d rather a company focused on gameplay and good content throughout the whole game than a good story, great cinematics towards the start and then a rehash of old content and textures towards the end of the game as publishing deadlines start to bite.
  • Weapons! The chainsaw on the gun is inspired – I’ve still to tire from killing and covering my screen in blood. The active reload of ammo is also far better than I expected. As you reload you need to time a button press to get a faster reload and increased ammo power. Miss it and your gun will jam – get it right and you do more damage. On paper it sounded really tacky. In practice it makes for a great feature that adds to the pressure in the heat of the battle.
  • Online has been fun. Loving the destructible furniture and the encouragement of good team play. Been some great finishing moves to the matches too.

Sounding good so far but now my moans…

  • Biggest and loudest is multiplayer. Three measly options which are all derivatives of team deathmatch. Through play we tend to end up only playing warzone which really is team deathmatch.
  • Online Maps – although there is a fair number there isn’t much variation, probably due to the style of gameplay. Hide, shoot. Hide, shoot. Hide/Camp, chainsaw.
  • Best way to play the game is with friends. Can really take advantage of people’s strengths and weaknesses and employ some tactics. Think a slightly dumbed down Ghost Recon or Rainbow Six. So it’s good to know that I can’t play ranked games with friends. Only with randoms. Thats very poor, especially when ranked games with friends is rumored to be a feature being worked on while another story said you couldn’t do ranked games with the True Skill features in Xbox Live. Thats just bull.
  • Ultimately a lack of depth. Although I’m enjoying the single player mode and co-op, and online has been fun, I’ve been finding it a bit tiring after an hour or so. Very samey gameplay with not much variation. It’s got some teamwork depth but thats about it. Halo was is far more satisfying.
  • Forward rolls are the new jump. I remember when Perfect Dark Zero came out. rejoice – people can’t jump. True but they can forward roll all over the place. Has lead to some quite bizarre fights with 3 or 4 players rolling, shooting, rolling away, taking stock, rolling, shooting etc etc etc. What a pain in the arse. Far more annoying than jumping.
  • Downloadable content is inevitable. How much?

Should you buy the game? Absolutely. Fun will be had, the single player mode rocks and the online side is fun but limited. Just don’t expect to be playing this in two years time. A recent interview with Bungie shows why I think Halo 3 will still be the game to beat on the 360. Can’t wait.

Anniversaries

5 years since the Xbox, and hence Halo was launched…

4 years since Xbox Live was launched…

Just over 2 years since Halo 2 was launched…

I guess it’s not a big stretch to expect Halo 3 to launch around this time next year but there was some news today of upcoming developments. Firstly there’s a multiplayer Halo 3 demo coming next spring and to wet the appetite a new screenshot was shown.

Halo 3

More of a surprise is that there are new maps for Halo 2 coming next spring. I still regularly play and enjoy Halo 2 so it’s great to see a more than two year old game get extra content, even if it is paid content and a final chance to extract some money from Halo 2 players. The only restriction is that you need a 360 to enjoy the new content.

Reading about the Xbox Live anniversary brought back memories of my first time on Live. I was beta testing the UK service and it was a Friday afternoon when I first plugged in the headset and booted up the beta Moto GP. I had no idea what to expect so picked a random game (there were only a few available) and joined. Only three people in the room, one of which was a Climax developer. This was amazing. Silky smooth, no lag although it felt a bit odd talking to other gamers. The next Moto GP session had around eight players. Still great although the voice chat was brought to a crashing, jarring stop. ‘Who’s that fanny thats in front’ could be heard…from the mouth of a wee Glaswegian ned. Unmistakable. ‘Oot the way ya prick’. Ouch.

Funnily enough those two sessions sum up all thats been good and bad about Xbox Live. Great online gaming with real and virtual friends with the occasional (slightly more than occasional on Halo) annoyance of some wee turd running his mouth off. Americans in particular. Still, it was a revelation and revolution that is now being copied by Sony and to a certain extent Nintendo. Console gaming just wouldn’t be the same without it. For all the abuse that Microsoft received (and still gets) it should be applauded for bringing out Xbox Live. Roll on the next four years.

This is Living?

Thats the official PS3 slogan for Europe but I’m sure there’s something missing. This is living on the breadline? This is living in a world where the 360 does not exist? This is living in a world of crap fonts and 3d renders? (check out the launch video for Spiderman and clothes label fonts – quality). Firstly the price of the PS3 looks expensive at £425 and the launch games are looking average with no exclusive OS3 title standing out as a must have. Launch titles are never the best judge of a platform but with the 360 titles coming along over the next 6 months the PS3 looks weak in comparison.

Now there’s news that there will be no HDMI cable included in the box and also confirmation that the lower end PS3 will not play copy protected Blu-ray discs at 1080p due to lack of HDMI port. Add in the lack of 1080p screens, the dismal launch of Blu-ray and HD-DVD outperforming the Blu-Ray movies so far and thats a far from appetising console. Add in a non-rumbling pad that isn’t a patch on the 360 design and an internet service that in my experience hasn’t been a patch on Xbox Live and I’m struggling to find reason to part with the cash. Where is the next gen Wipeout? That game alone sold me on the PS1 and truly differentiated the PS1 from other consoles of that period. There seems to be nothing of that ilk on the PS3. Maybe the Tokyo Game Show will tell a different story later this month.

In fact the only reason I can see me buying one is that there will be a shortage at launch which usually means a profit on Ebay. Oh, there is another. My ‘habit’ of needing the latest and greatest which after all these years I’ve not managed to break. Yet. Maybe the PS3 will be my cold turkey.

360 Dashboard Update

Finally the update has been released. The full list of what has changed can be seen in this MS article. Notable features for me are:

  • Can now boot to dashboard rather than auto launch game
  • Background downloading. Download up to six files in the background. Playing online game switches off downloads smoothly with them resuming as soon as the game is finished. Playing video during download caused some slight stutter though. Game playing was smooth though (Table Tennis and Geometry Wars tested).
  • Music you select to play now works from dhas to game and vice versa.
  • Forward and reverse in video’s. At last!!!
  • Marketplace now easier to navigate

Also good was how quick the update was to install. The blades are also quicker to animate. Negatives – DVD playback still poor but maybe I’m expecting too much and/or comparing to far superior source so looking for more.

360 News

So…..Microsoft’s announcements. Again the Jostick write-up contains all the details but my thoughts are…

Good

  • Halo 3….but no release date. Trailer on Marketplace and it does look very good especially as all the content is in game and rendered on the 360 although there is a bit of Sony style ‘should’ make it to final game in the Bungie announcement.
  • Forza 2 for Christmas, Gears of War this year, Pro Evo next gen debut is the 360
  • Grand Theft Auto releases same day for PS3 & 360 so good in that there is no wait…whether the 360 is the best platform for it (Xbox GTA was far better than PS2 GTA) remains to be seen
  • New hardware – Wireless headset, wheel and the camera – all in the run up to Christmas. HD-DVD too but not much said. IGN have some great shots of the hardware. The headset will be a purchase.
  • Live Arcade getting lot’s of new content but a lot of it is in the shape of arcade classics
  • Live Anywhere – voice chat between Vista and 360. Play game on 360 and/or PC or Windows Mobile. Smart. Use same gamertag on ANY (MS) platform

Bad

  • Marketplace can’t cope with the demand – downloads are verrrrry slow
  • Need background download update – pity this wasn’t available for this week
  • Lot’s of talk about Xbox Arcade but little or no additional content for the last few months
  • There’s a hungry market out there looking for games – how do I know? See image below – never have I seen the friends list busier with no one playing games.
  • No killer blow, no shock announcement, nothing to dent the Sony hype.

Overall a good amount of announcements of hardware and software but I can’t wait to see how big a lead the 360 has with regards user base this November…and what it will be like on Nov 2007.

Live list - who's gaming?

Curse of the Online Gamer

Stumbled upon a blog where the owner did a bit of stat taking. Not the normal number of kills, number of head shots. No – this was the number of times he heard someone cursing or being sexist/racist while playing Halo 2 (the worst game for this type of thing). Stats make for interesting reading and certainly ties up with what I hear on line. I wouldn’t be comfortable with juniors hearing some of this stuff. Bitch talking is not something I normally get involved in – Roy still holds the title for most abusive in a Halo session.

That’s where The Lickers kick in. It’s a league for folk that aren’t obsessed about being number 1 and where cheating and glitching isn’t tolerated. Certainly friendlier than random Live games although looking at the forums sometimes you wouldn’t think so. It’s also full of folk that are over 20 so you don’t feel like an old duffer when posting at the forums or playing online with them. If interested pop over to the forums and sign up.

XBMC How-To

A great guide has been created on ProductWikiHow to mod your Xbox and install XBMC. The media playing capabilities of XBMC have to be seen to be believed – I really struggle to think of a better media playing device (at this moment in time). Well worth doing if your thinking of buying some sort of media playing device that would sit near your TV. Further info can be found at the XBMC Homepage or on the forums at Xbox-Scene.

Not convinced by PGR3?

Have a look at this gaming forum – http://www.xbox360-forums.com/viewtopic.php?t=593 – one of the guys was visiting Japan and took some shots of the places he recognised from PGR3. He then set up the same shots in the game. It’s amazing how accurate the game is – it’s a shame it all moves so fast as you rarely get chance to see the detail unless you watch a replay. Stunning.

360 - The Games

The most important aspect of any console is the games themselves. Launch titles are notorious for being short on gameplay while focusing on visuals knowing that second generation titles on the same platform should look a lot better. I picked up three games for the 360 that returned mixed results.

Project Gotham Racing 3Project Gotham Racing 3 (PGR3) is the follow up to PGR & PGR2 which in turn were the follow up to Metropolis Street Racing on the Dreamcast. You know what to expect from this – fast city based arcade/sim racing with exotic cars. I loved the last three versions and this is no exception.

Graphics are lovely and show what to expect from the 360 in the future. Special mention to the actual cities themselves as the detail they contain is amazing. The cars themselves look great especially when you switch to in-car view – the level of detail is amazing but I find the game feels a bit sluggish in this view so I always race from the bumper view. The sound of the engines also gets special mention as it’s a real step up from previous games.

Importantly, handling feels just right with a great solid feel. You really can feel your way around the track and know after a few turns exactly how the car behaves. Like previous versions PGR3 concentrates on Kudos points – not just winning, but winning with style. I would have also liked to have seen lap times and other time based stats as well but they are missing unless you specifically race time trials.

Online works really well – little to no lag and most cars and all tracks are available from the outset meaning you don’t have to spend ours offline to unlock the fast cars. Niggles – no anti-aliasing for starters means the graphics can look ‘jaggy’ from time to time. Also the game is true hi-def but to be honest it’s hardly noticeable. There was a lot of fuss pre-release that the game ran at 30 frames per second and that this was an outrageous decision. Since release I’ve not heard one person complain.

Couple of gameplay flaws. There’s an online career mode that is enjoyable except for the cheats that ram into your car at every corner. Learn to brake people. At the same time learn to use manual gears as it makes for a far more enjoyable game. There is also a track build mode which allows you to design your own tracks within the 4 cities rendered in the game. Nice idea except the barriers placed by the game are transparent unlike the ones used in the real tracks – a fatal flaw which makes custom track racing difficult – patch please!

For a first day release this is an astounding game and well worth a purchase for any 360 owner.
Continue reading “360 – The Games”