Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Diablo 3 On Console - Taste Tester Event hosted by IGN and Blizzard

I’ll be honest; I tend not to leave the house too often. Why would I? I have everything I need at my disposal. Within the comfy confines of my apartment I am truly at peace. Consoles and PC’s with worlds to explore. An assortment of books to mentally devour. Food; when the realisation hits that I haven’t shopped for over a week and I probably shouldn’t order Thai again. However despite my love for being indoors, occasionally an opportune event arises that presents oneself with far too many advantages to allow it to pass by without attendance. The promise of merriment (Beer), sustenance (Pizza) and GLORY! That event happened to be the Diablo 3 Taste Test event held at IGN AU Headquarters. I assure you, all 3 promises were met.

Diablo 3 on console incorporates everything you loved from the PC version, and slaps in a few extras for good measure. We enter into the familiar world of Sanctuary; See also “Unluckiest world ever”. It is up to you to once again restore peace to Sanctuary by banishing the living dead and demonic monsters who roam its planes. I immediately took a fondness on how the game utilized the territory of console controls. Simple functions such as a flick of the analogue stick to dodge and the use of the left/right triggers for potions and buffs feels natural to the game. Whilst some might miss the almost rhythmic sounds of staccato mouse clicking, it feels as if the game mechanics were made to be ported to the world of consoles. The inventory management has seen a complete overhaul to accommodate this new environment. We see the removal of the mouse-friendly grid in favour of a wheel-select rotation. Whilst the wheel-select can at times be sluggish, the inclusion of trigger-buttons to swap between your menus adds fluid accessibility to your options. 

Inventory Menu - Image credit:

What about the auction house I hear you say? It has been confirmed that the auction house (love it or hate it) has been removed from the console version. Whilst this means you can no longer grind your way to buying the top gear you want, you are compensated by the knowledge that rare loot is dropped at regular intervals and will more often than not be tailored to suit the needs of the class you are playing.

After taking in these tweaks and turns, we come to perhaps the more heavily marketed point of the port; The Multiplayer experience. In the PC version we had the drop-in-and-play options to join our friends’ quests. The mechanic wasn’t perfect, but overall it worked. Here we are encouraged to invite our friends into battle whilst in the comfort of each other’s presence. Throughout the taste tester event the phrase I heard recanted often was “One Couch to Rule Them All”. Whilst I was indifferent to the bastardized LOTR motto, I heartily enjoyed the co-op experience. There is a certain appeal that comes with engaging your friends in a social gaming setting than just yelling at them over a microphone and Blizzard have now captured this perfectly. The inclusion of colour coded indicators on your character was a decidedly smart move, as at times the combat could feel a little frantic. These colour codes are also evident as arrows above an enemy’s head, allowing a clear visible indicator to see what beasts you are directing your wrath towards at any given time.

Playstation multiplayer - Image credit: 
The HUD occupies the corners of the screen and for the most part is completely non-intrusive. The display is organised and user friendly, allowing clear visibility of what skills you have assigned to the available hot-bar slots. Reality is as long as you can remember what number control you are using or alternatively the colour of your circle, you will never lose your place or mistake yourself for a friends character. Unless they happen to choose the same class as you. Then by all means a fight to the death is warranted.  With the inclusion of an In-Game battle arena, you can fight in the safe knowledge that no clean-up will be required afterwards. Save for the tears of the losing opponent.

As always IGN put on another fantastic event, and the Blizzard crew were wonderful enough to withstand our prying question and occasional scrutiny. The upgraded mechanics and well-rounded co-op functions have piqued a new interest in this game for those already familiar with the Diablo games and those new to the series alike. As a long-time lover of the Diablo universe, Diablo 3 on console will definitely be on my list of release date purchases. Luring friends to the confines of my home will have never been easier.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Ouya backlash from Kickstarter backers

Hot off the heels of its official launch last week and guerrilla style appearance during the E3 expo, it seems there is an ever growing controversy surrounding the highly anticipated android based console OUYA. Kickstarter backers have taken to the official Facebook page to voice their anger after numerous email attempts have so far failed to invoke a response.

The problems surrounding Ouya have been no secret since its highly successful Kickstarter was completed on August 9, 2012 exceeding the original pledge goal of $950,000. Gamers over the world rejoiced at the idea of an open sourced and fully modifiable console, supported by a total of 63,416 backers sending $8,596,474 to the Ouya developers way.

Backers were promised exclusives such as reserved usernames, extra controllers and early access to the first production run of the console. While it seems a large number of consumers are happily picking up their consoles from retailers after the official June 25th launch or receiving express shipping from orders; many Kickstarter backers are still left waiting for the delivery of their promised devices. 'Incorrect tracking numbers' and 'excessive international custom charges' are appearing as some of the most referred to complaints posted on the companies Facebook wall at this time.

Whilst there are many happy consumers jumping forward to defend the Ouya, we are still yet to see any official apology from the Ouya team themselves. The only acknowledgement of these oversights to be found on their official blog is a mere footnote stating "...It's been a long road for all of us, and we are still navigating some of the bumps in the road..."

It seems every hour or so a new comment appears with a disgruntled backer asking for their 'x' numbered email to be responded to or for their long awaited refund to be actioned. Are the delays due to overworked Ouya employees tending to the backlog of unanticipated and subsequently overflowing complaints?  Or just the result of poor customer service and a refusal to acknowledge the bigger issue here? Regardless there is some poor management decisions going on here and not enough power to fix them efficiently.

Be that as it may, its not all bad news; with every complaint comes a juxtaposing compliment praising the devices functionality and modification abilities. Even so will the praise of those who have not been perturbed by the persisting problems be enough to save the company from the ever increasing army of unsatisfied customers? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

State Of Decay Resubmitted - Vitamin sales to Soar

So it looks like the Undead Labs crew jumped back onto the bandwagon and have resubmitted open-world zombie game 'State of Decay' to the Australian Classification Board. 

Stating on their official Facebook "Australians, I can officially tell you that the special Edition of the game is now in the hands of your review board".

What could possibly change those minds so deeply concerned about the impressionable people of Australia you ask? 

"Stimulants out! "Supplements" in! Who could possibly not like vitamins? They're good for you. Anyway, we're feeling pretty optimistic about our chances." 

Undead Labs have taken a similar road to Fallout 3 developers. When faced with refused classification Bethesda opted to change the games morphine references to the fictional substance "Med-X". This small tweak was enough to allow Fallout 3 to be released without further problems and we can only hope State of Decay follows the same fate. 

If the Australian Classification Board were concerned about the public taking State of Decays methadone and amphetamine references seriously, wait until they see the sales increase on Vitamin C purchases. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Hotline Miami - Addictive 8 Bit Slashing Fest

Every so often an indie game will rise with three qualities that make a welcome investment to ones gaming collection, regardless if it be for casual play or hard-core consumption - a simple design, a clear concept and addictive game play. Throw in blood, betrayal and animal masks and you have Hotline Miami in your hot little hands.

Top-down action games were given a special place in my heart after I received a large CD case containing the first three of the Grand Theft Auto Series (GTA, GTA2, GTA: London) with my first Playstation and I was instantaneously hooked. Hotline Miami takes the aesthetics of the original series and throws you into a dance of wits, forcing to you slaughter your way out of tight situations and escape the clutches of brutal 8-bit foes. You are given the freedom to use a variety of weapon drops and work your way through the maze-like levels, taking advantage of stealthy back attacks when available or charging in with your guns blazing, using human body shields as you please.

Your silent protagonist is provided with a choice of masks at each mission kickoff with each including their own unique boosts. The additional traits include abilities such as One hit punch, Faster Movement and for the masochistic gamer in us, Reverse controls. You are summoned by an ominous guide who leaves cryptic messages detailing your next hit. Our Anti-hero is thrown into a neon soaked crime frenzy with each dialogue scene encountered promoting a growing sense of paranoia. The impending danger and sense of urgency is continuously heightened with each narration we receive. With 3 separate endings available, secrets to be found and a wider range of masks to be unlocked the replay ability factor is a god send, considering how addictive this game can get.

Despite its 8 bit design, at times the game can get quite graphic and gory. With hallucinations of mutilated faces plaguing the protagonist and no shortage of blood during combat, it is a wonder the game was able to be released in Australia at all, and whilst I'm thankful that it is, I still wouldn't recommend providing the game to any children in need of entertainment. Best start them off with crushing universes in Katamari Forever first.

Hotline Miami is currently available on PC through Steam and on Playstation 3/PS Vita through the PSN Store. Its more than worth the purchase and of course throwing our money to developers like this ensures we continue to receive this amazing gaming content in the future.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Phallic objects, Substances and Australian Ratings - Oh My!

For my first post I wanted to touch on something I feel particularly passionate about - How Adults in Australia are still seen as incapable of making their own decisions when it comes to entertainment and content. 

Lets start from the beginning shall we?

For years Australian gamers have been subjected to inflated retail prices and delayed releases. In more recent years we have been fighting tooth and nail for an R18+ classification on Video Games, giving us our right to purchase any release deemed “Inappropriate” by the Australian Classification Board. 

On the 1st January 2013 our calls were heeded and legislation was passed to allow R18+ classification on video games, allowing Adult gamers nation wide to rejoice and purchase their long awaited copies of Mortal Kombat vs DC and God of War: Ascension. However with the recent banning of not 1, but 2 as yet to be released games, we can't help being left with a sour taste in our mouths when asking what was it really all for?

The first game to receive the ban in 24 hours was 'Saints Row IV'. Reasons stated are "due to interactive, visual depictions of implied sexual violence which are not justified by context and illicit drug use related to incentives or rewards. Such depictions are prohibited under the guidelines". Undead Labs latest open-world zombie survival release 'State of Decay' saw a similar fate with 'the game enables the player’s character to self-administer proscribed drugs which aid in game play progression. This game therefore contains drug use related to incentives or rewards ".

With both games receiving Pegi 18+ ratings in Europe and ESRB M (17+) in the US, one can't help wonder if the Australian classification board considers Australian Adults incapable of making the distinction between Video Game Shenanigans and real life consequences or if its a means of Protecting Unsuspecting parents from purchasing the games for their young impressionable children. Either way, we have to wonder if at this rate has the Legislation infact changed anything at all.