26 October 2012

What Can We Read Into This Year's Golden Joystick Awards?

Unlike the BAVGA's (British Academy Video Game Awards) where only The One To Watch category is a public all but one of the Golden Joystick categories are open to public vote. Therefore we can perhaps argue that it gives a more accurate - if unreliable - reflection of the state of the average gamer's insights into the biggest titles to hit over the last year.

Most striking was Skyrim's dominance of the awards. Given the well publicised difficulties faced particularly by PS3 gamers it was remarkable achievement for the title to pick up gongs for Ultimate Game of the Year, Best RPG of the Year and Best Gaming Moment (the scaling of The Throat of the World). The problems indeed in the early days were, in some cases, crippling.

Skyrim's PS3 problems continue to this day with neither the Dawnguard or Hearthfire DLC's been released on the system. Indeed, it would have proven somewhat ironic if Dawnguard had taken the top spot in the Best DLC category as that particular award was sponsored by Official PlayStation Magazine UK (Dawnguard came second, behind Portal 2's Perpetual Testing Initiative).

Given this background PS3 gamers were either able to overlook the difficulties faced by the title and vote for it or there is a significant proportion of PC and Xbox 360 to more than make up for the difference. If so, and especially in light of the title's critical and commercial success, publishers will likely take note. Indeed, we've been informed that BioWare's Dragon Age 3 will take inspiration from Skyrim, among other sources.

The fact that FIFA 12 won Best Sport's Title and the FIFA series took the award for Outstanding Contribution to the Games Industry can largely be contributed to the British-centric nature of the vote - although the FIFA titles are actually developed in Canada.

Somewhat more surprising - at least to those in the audience - was that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 came as runner up in the Best Shooter Category. There were, in fact, audible gasps. There are several possibilities here; that Battlefield 3 (which took home the award) players were simply more enthusiastic voters or that Call of Duty gamers were complacent (this is a potential scenario, not an accusation).

There is also the possibility that this is a reflection of the long heralded decline of the series. Modern Warfare 3 sold significantly better than Battlefield 3 but interest in the title may not have been as strong as in previous years - possibly due to over-saturation. Though that is an argument for another article.

Regardless it will be interesting to see if Battlefield 3 beats Modern Warfare 3 at the American Spike TV Video Game Awards.

It was also noteworthy that Uncharted: Golden Abyss took Best Handheld Game, in spite of what has generally been lackluster sales for the PlayStation Vita and against stiff competition from established Nintendo DS and 3DS franchises.

In the RPG of the Year category Mass Effect 3 came second, as you will likely be aware the game was met with significant fan criticism over what many regarded as a poor conclusion to the series. This may mean that the Retake Mass Effect and Hold The Line movements were vocal minorities, or taken with Skyrim's success, may indicate that gamers are willing to overlook such problems when met with an otherwise excellent title.

Notable too is the fact that two of the finalists, including the winner (Civilization V: Gods and Kings), of the Best RPG category, were expansions highlights what seems to be continued difficulties in the genre though Rome 2: Total War and Europa Unverisalis IV may solicit some change in the market upon their release next year.

Finally, it was somewhat surprising that Grand Theft Auto 5 was awarded The One To Watch category by less than 100 votes. Ubisoft have done a superb job in marketing the game and building hype for it and while every indication is that upon the game's release on Tuesday it will be a phenomenal success (it is the most pre-ordered title in the publisher's history) yet there is very little chance that it will match, much less surpass, the sales set by GTA V when it is finally launched.

22 October 2012

Why Halo 4 May Be The Best Yet

Last year's Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary showed that 343 Industries could remake what is still widely regarded as the best in the Xbox's premier franchise to date but the first Halo FPS (RTS Halo Wars was developed by the defunct Ensemble Studios) title fully developed without Bungie's oversight might well go on to eclipse its predecessors. 

A recent survey shows that Halo 4 is gamers' most anticipated title, ahead of Call of Duty Black Ops 2 and Assassin's Creed 3. Granted Halo 4 is only ahead by a mere 0.25% but even so that's a significant achievement for a game that isn't being developed by the studio that created the series and would seem to indicate a buck in the usual trend of suspicion directed at games which are developed in a similar situation. 

But can 343 Industries match these lofty expectations? It seems likely that they can. 

A new ship, the Infinity, home to 17,000 (you can bet there will be a campaign level and there is a multiplayer level as well) and a whole new Forerunner world with an ancient foe. Halo 4 has scale, and that's something 343 has always said it wanted to bring back to Halo, these huge vistas that make you go 'wow'. Combat Evolved had them and these huge expanses were one of the reasons the game is so fondly remembered. 

Few shooters have a sense of a massive world these days, confined as they largely are to darkened hallways and narrow alleyways. If 343 can bring that sense of wonder back they'll be off to a good start. Part of Combat Evolved's legendary status is likely down to nostalgia, at least in this regard (Anniversary highlighted the extent to which the gameplay had aged) but 343 appear to have truly harnessed every drop of power from the 360. That scale will be well serviced by a graphics engine that can do justice to the vision the team are trying to implement. 

But of course gameplay is more important than the size of the areas on offer. We know the Covenant are back, we know Didact returns. So to some degree we know what to expect but you can expect new enemies too - as highlighted in the E3 gameplay trailer below: 

Indeed it appears there will be Spartans infected by the Flood for you to fight off and while they appear to be multiplayer antagonists it wouldn't be terribly surprising if they make an appearance in single-player at some point. 

This variety of enemies coupled with the broad scale and emotional climax to Cortana's story (as a program she has already exceeded the usual life-span of  an artificial intelligence or AI) could take Halo back to the top of the FPS pile. Many complain about the over-saturation of the shooter market and excessive sequels but 343 may just be sitting on one of the most exciting games in years and possibly a game with the most lasting influence since... well Combat Evolved.  

05 October 2012

This Video Shows Everything That's Wrong With Attitudes In Gaming

Update: KSIOlajidebt has been banned from all future Eurogamer shows and the video has been made private.

There are some embarrassing attitudes in the gaming community towards the LGBT community, women and people who simply choose a different platform to play on.

This video displays this aspect of gaming in spades. It reveals an atrocious immaturity by the person who made it. It is sickening and frankly I'm not sure if I want to call myself a gamer if it means being associated with the person who made this video. Or, for that matter, the almost 21,000 people who liked it. Or the 600,000 people who subscribe to this guy's YouTube account.

This video is crass, immature sexism at it's very worst and it's definitely not a parody. Have a look:

Eurogamer Expo, where the video was made, has banned booth babes from next year's show. It's a step in the right direction. Sexism in videogames is finally a mainstream issue and it's the part of the gaming community like this who make it all the more necessary to try to 'fix' attitudes towards others in gaming either in reality or a virtual world. 

There will always be trolls and people with racist, sexist or otherwise offensive views but that's no reason for people to let it go.

And for anyone who says all this post does is draw attention to KSIOlajidebt, who made the video, just look at the numbers of likes and subscribers. Attention isn't an issue here, he has that in spades. There are many sensible mature gamers out there and it needs to be made it clear that this behaviour is never acceptable, in games or in real life. 

02 October 2012

Remembering Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy

Naughty Dog's first game on the PlayStation 2 was an impressive technical affair. It was a continuous world without a single loading screen. That would pose most developers a significant challenge today never-mind ten years ago when it was it released.

And yes even with the HD upscaled graphics of the PS3 Trilogy pack the game can look crude by today's standards and with it's bright colourful tones childish too. But for me The Precursor Legacy is the best game in the series and one of the greatest platformers ever to hit any PlayStation console.

There are two core reasons for this. The first is simple nostalgia. I didn't grow up with Mario or Link, I grew up with another of Naughty Dogs' creations, Crash Bandicoot. Yet in those days I was too young to really know or care who developed what (though I recognised the paw print logo the studio uses to this day). Indeed the first I knew of Jak & Daxter was when a friend brought it around.

I bought it the next day and while I fondly remember both Jak 2: Renegade and Jak 3 the original adventure has the most enduring appeal.

This is due to the second reason the game remains such a fantastic platformer: it was one game in the series that focused on that above all else, that was a platformer above all else.

Yes Jak 2 & 3 developed much more complex stories (aided in part by Jak acquiring the ability to speak), but they added elements which went some way to distracting from the core platforming mechanics. There were shooting elements in The Precursor Legacy - with yellow eco - but it was a bit part, as was the racing sections.

Both became primary factors in the later games.

The Precursor Legacy was the purest game and, I think, it was the best. From the Forbidden Jungle to the Lost Precursor City Naughty Dog created a dynamic world.

Uncharted may be the franchise most associated with Naughty Dog today but the team now working on The Last of Us did consider continuing the series. I hope Sony do, and not even necessarily with Naughty Dog at the helm, but if and when they do I hope it's a platformer worthy of the first.