For the first of our ‘sequels to recently released games’ theme, Fallout: New Vegas was on show this year at Eurogamer just weeks before it comes out in the shops. Although not a direct sequel to last year’s smash hit Fallout 3, as the game takes place in an entirely new location and with new characters, fans will recognise the familiar Bethesda engine and game interface.
The plot begins in the ‘Mojave Wasteland’, similar in size to the ‘Capitol Wasteland’ only now located in Nevada, with a courier for the Mojave Express. Whilst delivering a package the faceless, nameless protagonist is shot in the head and left to die in a hole, only to be rescued by a robot and taken to a doctor to be patched up. From here we arrive at the usual character creation screen and are shortly booted out into the world to unravel the mystery of the attempted assassination.
First impressions of the game come with a big wash of déjà vu as the core gameplay and style remain very similar to Fallout 3. V.A.T.S. is still very much present, karma is still a part of gameplay and the inventory, perks and stats system all still work the same way. The similarities don’t stop there either, because although the Wasteland has been given a bit more brightness and colour and a bit of visual makeup, the style is pretty much the same stuff we’ve seen before. Same blasted concrete and same murky skies, and in fact it’s all running on the same engine. Fundamentally, in the time we spent walking around the wasteland shooting bandits and raiders, Fallout: New Vegas did little to convince us that it was anything more than a new story for a game we’ve played before.
There have been some changes and improvements in the form of a new “infamy” system, that tracks the players notoriety with different factions. In a similar way to karma, this factor affects how different factions within the world will respond to you. Players also have the opportunity to permanently modify weapons with scopes, silencers and other nice things. A new ‘companion wheel’ also features, making it much easier to control companions without having to go through endless dialog, and all weapons can now be aimed with a physical crosshair.
‘Hardcore mode’ is also the title of a new gameplay mode that aims to bring a fresh challenge to players. Although we didn’t get to play it ourselves, a Bethesda minion filled us in on the details: hardcore mode does exactly what it says on the tin, making the game harder by giving stimpaks a time lag, adding sleep and water deprivation effects and causing ammo to have weight. It certainly does sound like it provides a new way of thinking for experienced gamers, but although the Bethesda minion insisted that “it’s an entirely new way of playing the game,” we remain unconvinced that the core Fallout gameplay will be changed drastically.
If you played through Fallout 3 and still can’t get enough, or have never played anything like it at all, you should get New Vegas. It’s the standard Fallout gameplay we saw last year with a few tweaks and improvements, and if that’s what you like then that’s fine. If, like us, you were a little bit bored by the end of the last game and were hoping for something new and different, then New Vegas might not be the best choice.
You could be forgiven for feeling a peculiar twitch of déjà vu upon hearing that the next title to come at us from Ubisoft Montreal is yet another Assassin’s Creed title, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. It hasn’t even been a full year since its predecessor Assassin’s Creed 2 was released to the masses but already this next installment will be gracing our supermarket shelves in just under a month. “It’s been in production for a while, in parallel with AC2,” says the Ubisoft minion we cornered, which explains how the next installment is ready so quickly.
The game is a direct sequel with the single player campaign featuring the familiar face of Ezio Auditore as the primary protagonist. Several years have passed since the events of the last game and Ezio is now in Rome recruiting citizens for places in his assassin brotherhood. This is an element that players have direct control over with the recruiting happening during the story and on side quests. “You’ll be able to spend points on them, upgrading them and their abilities,” chirps an employee manning the stall.
There have been some minor changes to gameplay, such as the ability to ride horses through the city and the option to upgrade the city in a similar way to Monteriggioni in the previous game, but the main focus for gamers is the new, long-awaited multiplayer mode, one feature famously missing from AC2. Only two game-types have been announced so far: ‘Wanted’, an every-man-for-himself game where players pursue a target whilst being chased themselves, and ‘Alliance’, a similar game with three teams of two where players must work co-operatively. We were told this would be the closest thing Brotherhood would have to co-op gameplay, which seems a shame considering the obvious fun to be had in the campaign with friends replacing AI brotherhood members. Multiplayer will support system link as well as the usual online capability.
At Eurogamer we got the opportunity to play a few rounds of a ‘Wanted’ match, which lasted about five minutes each. With the familiar Assassin’s Creed control scheme it was easy to get straight into a game and it wasn’t long before we were running across rooftops and leaping into haystacks just like in single player. The primary challenge is finding your target in the city, as every player blends in and looks just like the ordinary civilians around them. The game gives you a few hints in the form of a general direction and whether they’re in sight or not, but after that it’s up to you, and trying to work out who your target is was both fun and a real challenge. Psychology comes into play here as your target is notified whenever they come into your view and it’s their choice (and, indeed, yours) whether or not they choose to run and expose themselves or to hide in the crowd. All too often an enemy gave themselves away by bolting as soon as they came into view.
As we killed more and more players and (naturally) moved our way up the scoreboard, the game compensated by setting more players on us to make it harder to pursue our own targets. At certain points both assassin and victim are presented with a countdown timer of about ten seconds. If the target is in view it remains full and red, but as soon as we escaped the timer went yellow (like in single player) and started to countdown to zero. During this time hiding in hay carts or rooftop shacks sent the bar blue and if the countdown reached zero the pursuer had ‘lost the contract’ and we were safe. This was a great way to bring the hiding mechanic into multiplayer and use hiding skills that are wasted on the single player guards, and it was a real adrenaline-filled moment of tension as we lay wondering whether our pursuer had seen us. All in all the multiplayer was an intense, enjoyable experience and there’s plenty of room for some serious strategy and tactics in amongst the running and knifing. The tension is kept high by the knowledge that you could be struck down at any moment by a pursuer. Our only concern is whether or not the multiplayer will remain popular once the novelty wears off, so the challenge for Ubisoft will be to keep the game fresh. Otherwise though, the multiplayer seems to be the perfect extension for those who have mastered single player and need a new challenge.
If there’s one thing people know id Software for, it’s shooters. With such huge titles as Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake under their belts some might argue that id Software practically invented the first-person shooter genre and it would be hard to argue against them. Why then, with such big names with such established fan bases, would they opt to create a whole new game with a whole new feel?
We attended a developer session at Eurogamer for an exclusive working preview of their upcoming title, RAGE. “We wanted to blow up the experience,” says creative director Tim Willits, who explained that the studio wanted to build a game with “more vehicles, more characters and more story,” – three elements not particularly prevalent in previous games. Tim assured us, however, that “there are no fears for fans of id Software,” meaning that players can look forward to RAGE being just as violent as ever.
The story is certainly no revolution: following an asteroid apocalypse a secret government program called the ‘Eden Project’ is initiated, placing citizens into secret underground bunkers called “arks” while those left on the surface become mutants and bandits. With the majority of the arks going wrong for some reason, the unnamed player is booted out into the wilderness to face a mysterious new government known only as “The Authority”. Sound familiar? It should, as it’s pretty much the exact same story from the Fallout series of games.
Any similarities come to a pretty quick end though once the game has started. With executive producer Jason Kim on the controller, he slowly picks his way through some wreckage in a way the Fallout engine would simply not allow. Soon we are out in the wasteland but here it’s bright and characterful and not bland or monotonous. Very quickly we jump into a vehicle and are zooming our way through canyons and across plains, stopping to show off the vehicle mounted rocket launcher and machine guns in an energetic skirmish with some scavengers.
When we enter one of the main settlements, Wellspring, the visuals change style yet again and we are met with a colourful, vibrant and detailed town that brims over with character. It’s also obvious that id Software is putting quite a focus on vehicular gameplay with races, shops and even special side quests for upgrading your vehicles. Being in a town also highlights another interesting design choice in the fact that your weapons are simply not usable whilst inside. “It’s not an RPG,” explains Tim. There’s no morality system, no encumbrance and hardly any focus on keeping the game open plan. Although there’s less options and less space for playing your own game than in Fallout, some of the more boring elements such as endless wasteland trudging have been stripped away to leave a much quicker-paced game underneath, and there still seems to be enough going on to take a break from story missions if you get bored.
There’s also clearly been a lot of thought put into combat. Different enemies inhabit each area you visit and will move around from time to time, and each has their own strengths and weaknesses – we saw both acrobatic enemies that were particularly good at dodging bullets and more classic thugs who charged at you with pipes and bricks (who, interestingly, were dressed in Union Flags and spoke with cockney accents). The weapons are also classic id Software, with the standard shotguns and rocket launchers making an appearance along with electric crossbows and robot spiders. However, in our preview the enemies did seem to be dispatched with rather quickly which makes us worry that they would be slightly underpowered and easy to defeat in the final game. Tension also takes a hit in this instance, as without fear driving the experience there’s not much adrenaline to keep the game going.
Obviously there will always be some that miss the classic RPG experience that is somewhat missing from RAGE, but we think that by removing some of the more tedious elements and forcing the player into first-person shooting RAGE brings a fresh experience to the table that many will enjoy and it comes with pretty and colourful visuals to boot. Certainly, RAGE is going to be one of the big hits of 2011 and proof that even a company with such a familiar formula as id Software can still innovate and produce a truly new gaming experience.
With such critical acclaim for it’s predecessor, it’s hard to think what Media Molecule could do with LittleBigPlanet 2. Whatever it was, it was going to need to big and it was going to need to be innovative. We got the chance to play a late build of the game at Eurogamer and see what had changed for ourselves.
The short answer: not much. Not to say that’s a bad thing, as the gameplay remains largely unchanged from the winning LittleBigPlanet formula and is as good as ever. During our short demo we encountered some new gameplay elements in the form of ‘Sackbots’; cute little robots that follow you around when you rescue them. These little guys do provide a new edge as the player is encouraged to rescue as many of them as possible. It’s unclear though yet whether there will be any score bonus or prizes up for grabs for getting them all to safety. We also spotted some new ‘launchpads’ that can fire players in certain directions and between layers.
The real innovation comes in improvements to the level creation mode, which we unfortunately did not get to preview. As well as standard 2.5D platforming levels, creators can now create races, puzzles and role-playing style levels, essentially opening the experience up and allowing whole new games to be created. There are also options for creating entire linked series of levels, where players follow sequentially from one level to the next. Sackbots will also be available in creator levels with customisable AI and appearance, and the creator now also includes a music sequencer and sound effect recorder. Owners of the old game will be pleased to know that any levels made for the original will also work in LittleBigPlanet 2.
In addition to all that, the visuals and the graphics engine have had a significant polish and are much improved over the original. Smoke effects and much more vibrant lighting populate the new levels, and the backgrounds that were previously relatively simple have had a touch-up as well. With the game looking as pretty as ever and the same winning gameplay formula, it looks like LittleBigPlanet 2 is shaping up to be another smash hit from Media Molecule.