If you’re remaining loyal to your Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 for a while longer yet, you may be looking for something “new” to play. If that’s not the case now, then it may be in the not too distant future – a quick look at April’s release schedule reveals that there’s very little out.
We’ve taken this fleeting chance to round-up six games you may have missed. And if you have played all of these, then you sir have very fine taste.
Confession time: we played both Blur and Split/Second before they were released and early impressions lead us to believe that Split/Second was going to be the better of the two. Both were due out in the same month, if your memory needs jogging. The ability to remotely detonate parts of the track – turning the opposition into scrap and opening up new routes in the process – appeared to be more than what Blur was offering. To wit: Project Gotham Racing with WipEout-style weapons.
Activision clearly felt that Mario Kart was a better comparison, releasing a TV commercial featuring embarrassingly cute characters. While not the worst advert to ever air on TV, we would have liked of it more if it didn’t end with the cringe inducing line “Race like a big boy”.
Even though the now defunct Black Rock Studio had worked on racing games before – including the often forgotten ATV racer Pure – their expertise was no match for Bizarre Creations’ racing knowhow. Blur rarely puts foot wrong; an incredibly competent package of excellent track design, finely tuned vehicle handling and balanced weaponry. Online functions too were a highlight – the game has such a sizeable cult following that it’s easy even now to get into a multiplayer game.
In hindsight, I think Blur appeared to be the poorer of the two initially on the grounds that the weapons looked out of place in a reasonably realistic looking racer. With time though my eyes soon become accustomed to the contrasting neon hues.
Curiously, Blur features a track set on Brighton seafront, which is where rival racing studio Black Rock was based. You can pretty much drive right past their window.
Raven Software were one of our favourite studios. We used the word ‘were’ there as although the studio still exists, Activision nowadays has them working on Call of Duty map packs and nothing more. You can pin this on the poor performances of both Wolfenstien and Singularity, with the former said to have set back Activision an absolute fortune. Word has it that it had no chance whatsoever at turning a profit.
Singularity was their last shot at redemption. A slow-paced and intelligent shooter with a rich Cold War-era backstory, it’s essentially Activision’s very own Bioshock. With Bioshock 2 just a few months old at the time, had they marketed it in a similar manner as to how Irrational’s games are promoted, it would have no doubt performed slightly better at retail.
One thing Singularity does rather well is provide lots of gadgets and gizmos to play around with, including the TMD – a time manipulation device. This gadget not only rebuilds fallen bridges and repairs rusted control panels but it can also turn enemies into piles of dust by sucking the life out of them.
The game’s highlight, at least for us, occurs during a mission in which you’re ordered to retrieve a bomb from a ship known as The Pearl. There’s only one problem – the ship sunk many years ago. By this point the TMD has been upgraded a few times, and so with some extra power behind it, you’re able to raise the ship from the bottom of the ocean to a good-as-new state. Once on board it becomes evident that the ship isn’t going to stay shiny and new for long, and as you make your way to the cargo hold the walls and floors become coated in rust right before your very eyes. A new weapon becomes available on this mission too – a grenade launcher. The timing is genius – the grenades that it fires are spherical, so quite often they roll back towards you due to the ship rocking back and forth. In fact, dull moments are seldom come by, as there are plenty of unexpected, nay genius, moments such as this.
In an ideal world Activison would have put Raven to work on their movie and TV licensed games. Their X-Men Origins tie-in turned out incredibly well, and the studio could have no doubt worked their magic on the likes of Men in Black, The Walking Dead and other the licenses Activison has acquired since Singularity’s release.
The phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ rings true here. Or to be more exact, ‘don’t just a game by its trailer’. When SEGA first unveiled Binary Domain we felt that it looked considerably drab – a predominately grey shooter, featuring generic gung-ho heroes and a plot formed of typical sci-fi schlock.
More fool us. It ended up being surprisingly innovate due an unexpected focus on teamwork. Not only do you get to pick which characters to take into battle, but during the quieter sections they’ll stop and ask questions that can be answered using a headset. Voice recognition works well, which is fortunate as the strength of the squad depends on the answers you give. Bond with the team and they’ll be quicker to follow your commands in battle; rattle their cages and they’ll be less willing to put themselves in danger.
The plot wasn’t quite as clichéd as we expected either. It’s not so much about robots rebelling against their creators, but rather about robots secreting living among us. The metal menaces also proved hugely entertaining to destroy. Take off their head and they’ll short-circuit, firing randomly and killing their fellow scrapheads in the process. Target the arm carrying their weapon and it’ll fall to the floor, giving a few valuable seconds to strike while they attempt to pick it back up. Entirely relentless in their pursuit, they even crawl along the floor if their legs are destroyed.
Then there’s that plot twist. And the huge bosses. Oh my!
Actually, the phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is partly accurate for Binary Domain as the box-art is pretty unappealing. A very grey cover for a game which isn’t drab in the slightest. Don’t let that put you off.
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
Just like Binary Domain, Dragon’s Dogma is another which didn’t fill us with confidence when it was first announced. We thought it looked incredibly hackneyed and with no online play, the social features sounded weak at best. Then when Capcom announced that an exclusive Resident Evil 6 demo was being bundled with it, we instantly jumped to the conclusion that it was going to be a forgettable experience.
To cut a long story short, we went on to spend over 60 hours with Dragon’s Dogma and enjoyed it massively. Did we end up wishing there was online play? Perhaps, but there’s no denying that the ability to summon and swap AI-controlled Pawns is unique. This also gives combat a slight tactical feel. During battle they grow knowledgeable of the enemies they’re facing, all the while providing helpful tips and strategies. Another thing that makes combat incredibly entertaining is the inclusion of a grab button. Such a simple idea, but one that quite literally takes combat to whole new level. The larger enemies can be scaled to access their weak spots or to remove armour. It’s also possible to grab hold of enemies and pin them to the ground for your fellow followers to strike. The ability to throw things adds further nuances still, such as the ability to douse enemies in oil before using a fire spell. Many of these little touches are left to be discovered by your own devices.
Although the original Dragon’s Dogma can be had for not much more than £5 now, it’s worth spending another £5 or so to “upgrade” to Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen. It contains the original game, a HD texture patch, the original voice-overs and the Dark Arisen expansion. It’s worth noting though that Dark Arisen isn’t aimed at newcomers – this expansion is for those well versed with the game. By which, we mean players with level 80+ characters. The dark and hostile isle of Bitterblack is home to colossal creatures that show no mercy, able to turn your party to stone without warning or drain your health bar in a heartbeat. We dare say it even gives Dark Souls a run for its money.
Spec Ops: The Line
If Spec Ops’ unique setting doesn’t turn your head, then chances are the fact that it has a grizzly story to tell surely will. It’s a tale about the horrors of war, and one that doesn’t hold back. It even dares to delve into the murky depths of the psychological effects some soldiers experience after active duty. Indeed, such compassion is rarely heard of.
That aforementioned setting? A storm struck Dubai. Sandstorms, no less. The places you fight the enemy were luxurious locations just a few months ago, including hotels, shopping malls and more. Now they lay ruined, if not unrecognisable. Looters have already taken anything and everything of value, leaving graffiti and wanton destruction in their wake. The influx of sand which coats the environments can however occasionally be used to your advantage, such as the ability to shoot out windows so that sand pours heavily onto the hapless foes below. We also approve of the clever use of licensed music, often heard bellowing out of discarded radios and such.
Sadly, we can’t be quite so positive about the incredibly bland multiplayer mode. Even the developers have confessed that it was ‘bolted on’ against their will, in order to keep the marketing men happy.
Namco-Bandai’s hack and slasher has more than its fair share of faults, which is why it’s the last on this list. Combat, although flashy, isn’t particularly nuanced and the difficulty of the bosses battles is somewhat erratic. The huge fire demon which appears around halfway through took us a good hour’s worth of attempts to beat, while the penultimate boss is tougher than the final. Now that shouldn’t be.
Nevertheless, and patience permitting, fans of the genre should give this one a go. Armour coated protagonist Heinrich is joined by a witch who’s out to seek and stop her fellow witches who have decided to turn against mankind. As well as several heavy-hitting scythe attacks at his disposal, Heinrich can also summon Gretchen’s witch magic attacks at will. These upgradable attacks fill the screen and can be used in very quick succession, causing the screen to melt into an array of pretty colours, guts and grizzle. Level design also impresses due to being surprisingly non-linear – the medieval European setting offers castles, towns and more to explore. Later settings aren’t quite as interesting, but the addition of a second AI-controller character – a clumsy alchemist, who brings some comedy value – makes up for the shortcomings here.
The Xbox 360 and PS3 aren’t short on hack and slashers, but Knights Contract is by far the least renown. It gets more than just the basics right, and that’s good enough for us. It also hands out achievements/trophies like they’re going out of fashion, with the majority easily obtainable in the first playthrough. For some, that’s bound to be a boon.