Very slow week this week but never fear…May is shaping up to perhaps be the biggest month for new, top game releases since last November. Next week we’ve got Starhawk; The week of May 14th will see the release of Diablo III, Max Payne 3, Battleship and the next game in the Test Drive series; the week of the 21st brings Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Sony’s “Sorcery”, and Men in Black Alien Crisis. That’s quite a number of high profile releases so it will be a very busy month.
Couple of big news stories this week including the trailer for Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Nintendo posting its first yearly financial loss in its history.
IN THE NEWS THIS WEEK
Nintendo suffers its losing fiscal year
I just checked…Hell doesn’t seem to be freezing over but I doubt you could convince people over at Nintendo of that fact. For the first time in its history as a publicly traded company, the game maker has reported an annual net loss, today posting figures that were $533 million in the red. That follows a $960 million profit for the previous fiscal year. There were plenty of reasons for the fall. Top of the list was the 3DS price cut, which has forced Nintendo to do something it had always avoided previously: Sell its hardware at a loss. The sharp drop off of the Wii in popularity also took its toll on the numbers, as did the strong yen. Now more than ever, Nintendo needs the new Wii U to be a major hit.
Calvin Johnson wins Madden 13 cover vote
Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson has been named the official cover athlete for Madden NFL 13. Johnson narrowly edged out Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton in the finals of the Madden Cover tournament, earning 52% of the vote to take home the honor. Over 19 million fan votes were cast over the course of the tournament, which began back in March.
Those of us who are Lions fans are not too happy about this. Sure we love to see one of our guys on the cover but we also don’t want Johnson to become the next victim of the Madden Curse. Nearly every player who has ever appeared on the cover of Madden has gone on to suffer the worst season of his career or have a season or (in the case of Garrison Hearst) a career ending injury.
Konami announces Ash II, Chapter 2 for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch
Konami announced Ash II: Shadows Chapter 2, an all-new chapter of the Ash II adventure for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch is now available. Developed by SRRN Games, Ash II: Shadows Chapter 2 includes the playable character of Nicholas for the very first time, all-new dungeons to explore and loot to acquire, and a special thank you gift to the fans. Technical improvements have also been made to Ash II: Shadows with the second chapter and include improved D-Pad controls, faster load times across all devices, reduced size of the application, and lengthier gameplay.
In Ash II: Shadows Chapter 2, the world of Aghaus is once again in peril, and the heroes of old must heed the call to embark on another dangerous adventure. Players join characters Nicholas and Damien as they pursue new quests, discover ancient mysteries, and find unexpected allies. With a brilliantly original tale and stunning HD hand-drawn graphics, Ash II: Shadows features heart pounding classic RPG gameplay with innovative touch-based controls. Ash II: Shadows is available now for a new, low price of $2.99 for the gold edition and $.99 for the silver edition
Trailer revealed for Call of Duty: Black Ops II
In case you missed it, the first reveal trailer for a ctivision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops III premiered Tuesday during an NBA Playoff game. The game will release in November. Here’s some info and the trailer:
Call of Duty: Black Ops II delivers the most groundbreaking and visceral Call of Duty® experience ever. Set in the year 2025, Call of Duty: Black Ops II propels players into global conflict featuring advanced weaponry, robotics, and drone warfare in a new Cold War scenario whose seeds are being sown in today's headlines. New graphics technology drives the stunning cinematic action of the single-player campaign's branching storylines and non-linear missions.
"Hands down, this is the most ambitious Call of Duty ever," said Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing. "We are bringing disruptive innovation to the franchise and we are doing it on several fronts. We're pushing the boundaries technologically, graphically, and from a narrative and gameplay perspective. At the same time, we need to stay true to the epic realism, authenticity, heart pumping adrenaline, and cinematic action that so many people love and expect from a Call of Duty game. Treyarch's vision for Call of Duty: Black Ops II will redefine the Call of Duty franchise for the future--both literally and figuratively."
"With Call of Duty: Black Ops II, the team is crafting an experience that Call of Duty fans have never seen before," said Mark Lamia, Studio Head for Treyarch. "We are challenging assumptions on every front, with the single player campaign, Zombies and multiplayer. In the campaign, we are creating a thought-provoking story that introduces branching storylines and meaningful choices that impact the narrative. Running in the multiplayer engine for the first time, Zombies gives players a bigger and more diverse set of gameplay experiences, as well as entirely new ways to wage war with the undead. And in multiplayer, we're embracing all skill levels and play styles to give players more ways to engage. With Call of Duty: Black Ops II, we're all in and we won't rest until we've launched nothing less than the best Call of Duty we've ever made."
Retail downloads coming to 3DS and Wii
Nintendo has announced plans to begin selling digital versions of retail games for 3DS starting with New Super Mario Bros. 2 this August. To date, the only games available through the system's eShop are smaller experiences specifically designed for release through it; larger titles like Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 are only found on game cards at retail. In addition to selling games at retail as it always has, Nintendo will begin offering downloadable versions of its games at retail. Consumers will be able to purchase a 16-digit code than can be redeemed on the eShop for a digital version of the game.
DUE OUT NEXT WEEK
Starhawk (Sony) Rated T PS3
From the creators of Warhawk comes a bold new 3rd Person shooter adventure where you can change the battlefield instantly in the heat of combat. In the future, humanity's last hope lies in the lawless frontier of space where factions battle over the universe's most precious resource, Rift Energy. Caught in the middle is Emmett Graves, an outcast gunslinger who is drawn back to the planet that abandoned him, to face a fierce outlaw and his warband of followers. Experience intense frenetic combat on foot, in vehicles, or in the air and discover a new type of shooter gameplay with the new “Build & Battle” system. Gain the tactical advantage by calling upon an arsenal of weapons, vehicles, and fortifications, violently delivered from an orbiting drop ship to help turn the tide of battle. Engage in epic 32 player online battles and see maps dynamically change depending completely on each player's strategy or team up with friends and protect your claim against waves of AI opponents in online and offline Co-op modes.
Silent Hill Downpour is the 8th and latest entry in the long-running survival horror series and the one that truly commands the top spot in the genre, particularly considering that Resident Evil has long ago moved away from its survival horror roots in exchange for more action-oriented gameplay. The latest entry has been developed by the relative newcomer, Vatra Games. The game also features a new protagonist, Murphy Pendleton, a convict being transported to a new prison. Before he gets there, the bus crashes, killing most of those onboard. After several encounters with nearby residents Murphy enters into the eerie town known as Silent Hill.
Throughout the game Murphy will have a series of moral choices to make, such as saving a corrections officer from falling into a deep ravine after the bus crashes or letting her fall and die. The player's decisions will have an impact on how the game unfolds, and the ending the player receives. There are also optional side quests that the player can do. Vatra’s vision of Silent Hill maintains the creepy atmosphere of the previous games but also offers a fresh take on the haunted city. Some of these are cosmetic but still have an impact. As the name “Downpour” implies, rain is the prevalent weather condition compared to the oppressive fog of previous games. And when it is raining, enemies become more numerous and hostile.
Vatra has a good sense of what worked in the game. Downpour exudes atmosphere and tension. Gloomy hallways, figures that move out of the corner of your eye, the feeling that you are being stalked (and sometimes you are) create a lot of edge of your seat…and jump out of your seat moments. My wife and son loved watching me play as it was like watching a horror film play out that you’re an interactive part of and that’s one of the best things you can expect from a survival horror game.
Combat is emphasized more in Downpour than in previous Silent Hill games but unfortunately its probably the game’s biggest weakness. Silent Hill has never been a game about fighting first. It was a game about surviving and fighting only when you were backed into a corner. Here fights are all too frequent. You utilize a combat system similar to Dead Island that allows you to pickup just about anything to use as a weapon, from garden implements to hammers, rocks, chairs, lamps, etc…These degrade with repeated use and eventually break although finding an available weapon is usally pretty easy. You can only carry one melee weapon and one fire arm. While guns are powerful weapons, ammo is few and far between so guns should be used in only the direst situations.
Combat doesn’t feel very fluid. There’s a clumsy feel to fighting that is underscored by a jerky camera. The system is simple but you can leave yourself off balance and vulnerable to counter attacks too easily. Combat is also extremely repetitive and thus it doesn’t create any true sense of realism. Repetitive combat just isn’t what you want in a survival horror game. Silent Hill Downpour does do a good job with its puzzle-solving elements, another one of the franchise’s traditions. And these puzzles also unlock some of Murphy’s own shrouded background which adds an additional layer of plot complexity to the game. There’s a good deal to do and it really helps bring this dead town to life, so to speak.
The game features fantastic sounds and effects, the perfect ingredients to a true horror story. Crashing lightning, booming thunder, distant screams…and it’s all wrapped up with a soundtrack that generally hits all the right notes. On the downside though, the game suffers from an erratic frame rate that stutters far too often to ignore. On the whole Silent Hill Downpour is a welcome addition to the series but a clumsy combat system and lag issues keep it from true greatness. Grade B-
Tim Janson is a columnist and reviewer for Mania Entertainment. He writes Level Up, the weekly look at videogames and the horror dedicated column, Tuesday Terrors. Tim has written for Fangoria, Newsarama, City Slab Magazine, Twitch Film, and Cinefantastique. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA). Be sure to follow him on Facebook and Twitter.