Gears of War 2 Impressions

Gears of War is the first exclusive that really stuck the Xbox 360 on the map post launch. At the time the game’s visuals were so jaw dropping that everyone was enthralled. The game deservingly received numerous awards and remained at the top of Xbox live’s most played list. Now will the sequel deliver?

Yesterday in San Fransisco, Design Director for Epic Games Cliff Bleszinski demoed Gears of War 2 for approximately 30 minutes. He came into the demo with one simple theme: Gears of War 2 is going to be bigger, bloodier, and more bad ass. The two minute trailer that was released was the tip of the iceberg. That trailer came from an entire level that was demonstrated to us. Needless to say, when the demo finished the room had the sense that Gears 2 was going to deliver on his promises.

Gears 2 starts out 6 months after the original game and opens on the last day of Fall. The locust have come back in full force not just using emergence holes, but by creating holes that are devouring entire cities. Humanity is backed into its last bastion of hope which is above ground believed to be too thick to penetrate by the locusts. In this desperate hour, humanity has decided it is now time to take the fight back to the locusts. To do that they must take a grind lift that can carry 2 cog soldiers into enemy territory underground. The only problem is that they’re so big you need a special truck called a derek to transfer them to the proper coordinates. The demo took us through an entire convoy of dereks attempting to deliver grind lifts. Your favorite Gears characters are back such as Baird and Epic is introducing some new ones. There is an unforced conscription occurring for humanity. Families who are desperate for food and protection can agree to send their father to war so that their family may be fed and sheltered. This is how you come to meet a new character named Dizzy. Dizzy sounds like your typical country boy from the south and he is piloting one of the dereks throughout the mission. I think we’ll be seeing and hearing a lot from him in the coming months toward release.

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GDC 2008 Final Thoughts: Microsoft

The whirlwind of GDC having now passed I just had some random thoughts I wanted to share about what I observed and thought about each console. I’ll start in a Gears of War 2 surprise level esque fashion with Microsoft.

Microsoft - Setting the table for bigger fireworks in a few months

No Xbox-Blu ray connection. With all the hoopla surrounding factors beyond gaming (see Blu ray) on the Xbox 360 I think one thing that surprised a lot of people was the fact that no comment or announcement was made regarding where Microsoft goes from here in terms of offering physical HD video on their console. I mentioned this in my GDC preview and I will mention this again here cause I’m right. It’s just what I think but this past week really did nothing more in my mind than reaffirm this: If, and I mean IF there is a Blu Ray drive for the Xbox 360 you won’t see it announced until at least E3 for holiday release. Don’t bother e-mailing me with links to Joystiq, Kotaku, and 8bitJS cause frankly I am sticking to my guns on this until officially proven otherwise. Prototypes sitting on someone’s desk at Redmond and commercial release is like the distance between the Earth and Mars, especially with what we’re talking about here. Even I think the first bolded line is wishful thinking at best. About 15 minutes ago, Microsoft finally announced what they should have announced about 4 weeks ago. Production on the HD-DVD add on is over. That’s all I am saying about HD movies for now, on to the next point for me…

Peter Molyneux is a genius. A God developer amongst men. An innovator other companies and consoles only wish they could have. Fable 2 will knock yours, your neighbor’s, your mom’s, your wife’s/girlfriend’s, and your pet’s socks off. Fable 2 is the game that will make my holiday. Lionhead studios has gone out and is doing some things we could dream of in an epic RPG. Tired of clunky interfaces and 500 menus and maps on your screen? How about a virtual companion in the form of a dog that will guide you everywhere and point certain things out. And that feature is just child’s play. Seamless co-op. Yes, seamless co-op where a friend can hop into your game and fully interact and even alter outcomes in your character’s life. Come on, who didn’t think seeing the evil character kill the good character’s husband was cool? The child will even be sent to an orphanage now that it has no father. Not only that, the kid gets sent off to an orphanage. The limits of every possible scenario that can happen in real life are being tested by this game and I can only hope the suits and ESRB allow all of the content remain in the game without giving it an AO rating. There’s pregnancy in the game! PREG-NAN-CY. Sort of like Juno, except playable. The final piece of badass in this package is the way in which money is had through a completely separate game in the Xbox live arcade. It’s about time somebody brings this level of integration onto the console and uses the marketplace and arcade for more than the boring 2D shooter and various puzzle games we’ve seen on the machine. Sure, I am biased when it comes to this game without a doubt. But I can’t and you can’t help but think this game is cool and the vision of Fable that unfortunately had so many great features cut prior to release last gen, are finally making it in for what will without a doubt be a memorable experience.

The Gears of War 2 announcement was a REAL major surprise (Note sarcasm). Hey I know! We’ll show off the next iteration of the Unreal Engine with Marcus Fenix as the example for the improvements then wait 30 minutes to officially announce Gears 2 just to screw with everyone. The #2 most popular Xbox franchise behind the Chief coming out this holiday. Everyone saw it from a mile away, but it does make the holiday line up that much more impressive. They didn’t show us much if anything at all, but you know Epic will bring it for Gears 2 and millions of copies will fly off shelves. My big picture question becomes this: Is Microsoft really going to juggle a Halo and Gears game every holiday? (Even more running with the string) If so, Gears of War 3 as a Xbox 360 2, 720, shappadobado launch title?

Ninja Gaiden 2 guarantees more controller throwing moments. The first Ninja Gaiden was a visual and gameplay masterpiece. But, only the hardest core of gamers could handle it. I openly admit to beating it using cheats and unless I am able to do so again I really doubt I am going to be beating this one. Maybe I’ll play the entire thing on Ninja dog. The visuals still looked great but the leap from the Xbox to Xbox 360 doesn’t seem as great as it did last generation for this title.  The gameplay and blood lust however in this one is undeniable. It will be a hit and people will be picking up many copies of this game in June.

The jury is unquestionably still way out on Too Human. Although everyone who played it seem to agree it was much improved and will deliver depth and innovation to the genre and platform, it was all apprehensive. Silicon Knights’ Dennis Dyack at least assured us the release is coming soon but would not give a solid date. I won’t give a yay or nay to this game until I get to play it for a few hours myself. Even more interesting, he still thinks the game will complete the series’ trilogy this generation.

Xbox live is finally starting to allow for the delivery of XNA games over live. Ever since the 360 was announced we’ve been hearing plans of greater community content and how you can be the star and release games. Two years in it’s been no such luck. However at GDC (an appropriate venue for this one) XNA games were announced and released onto the Xbox live arcade. I recommend everyone sign onto live and check it out. There are some very sweet indie titles on there already.  

In the next installment, a piece about a console I’d never think I would write.   

GDC: 2008 Microsoft Reveals 2008 Blockbuster Lineup

Microsoft Provides Thrilling First Look at Xbox 360 Blockbuster Portfolio for 2008, Announces “Gears of War 2” Ships This November

The world’s hottest developers pave the way for a banner year with a blockbuster lineup that includes “Gears of War 2,” “Fable 2,” “Ninja Gaiden II” and a rich mix of indie Xbox LIVE Arcade titles.

SAN FRANCISCO — Feb. 20, 2008 — Today at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) 2008, Microsoft Corp. provided an exciting glimpse at what promises to be another landmark year for games and online entertainment on the Xbox 360 platform and officially announced the launch of “Gears of War 2,” exclusively for Xbox 360 this November.

Providing a dramatic close to Microsoft’s GDC keynote address, Epic Games Inc.’s lead designer Cliff Bleszinski announced that the epic saga of Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad continues exclusively on the Xbox 360 this fall with “Gears of War 2.” This highly anticipated sequel to the 4.5 million-selling blockbuster “Gears of War” delves deeper into humanity’s struggle for survival against the nightmarish Locust Horde, and promises to take high-definition visuals to a whole new level.

In addition, acclaimed developer Peter Molyneux of Lionhead Studios took the stage to showcase exciting new multiplayer features for “Fable 2,” introducing dynamic cooperative play, a first to the franchise. Molyneux also announced that later this year, and before the launch of “Fable 2,” gamers can get a sneak peek at the game’s world when the “Fable 2” pub games debut as a stand-alone download on Xbox LIVE Arcade. When “Fable 2” launches, gamers will have the ability to transfer currency earned in the pub games directly to their character in “Fable 2.” This unique and first-of-its-kind experience, which can be found only on Xbox LIVE Arcade, will give the millions of “Fable” fans and gamers all around the globe the opportunity to jump into the “Fable 2” world with money already in the bank.

Tomonobu Itagaki also revealed new “Ninja Gaiden II” game-sharing features, including Ninja Cinema, which is enabled solely through Xbox LIVE, providing exciting and innovative entertainment experiences for the more than 10 million Xbox LIVE members worldwide by allowing players to record and upload their best ninja moves to Xbox LIVE.

“To our team the original game was just a tease, the appetizer to the ‘Gears of War’ characters and new style of gameplay. We were so amped to get to the next chapter, and dig deeper into the universe of this franchise,” said Cliff Bleszinski, lead designer for Epic Games. “‘Gears of War 2’ is an even bigger, better, and more badass experience than the first game, and we can’t wait to get it in the hands of eager gamers this November.”

This year, the most anticipated games will be found exclusively on Xbox 360, including the next chapters of top franchises such as “Gears of War,” “Fable” and “Ninja Gaiden,” as well as new titles such as “Too Human.”

· “Gears of War 2” (Epic Games). “Gears of War 2” is the sequel to the 4.5 million-selling blockbuster that redefined the third-person tactical action game genre. “Gears of War 2” continues the story of Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad in an epic saga of survival, loss and retribution. Developed by Epic Games exclusively for Xbox 360, “Gears of War 2” launches this November.

· “Fable 2” (Lionhead Studios). In addition to the dynamic co-op mode unveiled onstage, Peter Molyneux also announced that Carbonated Games is bringing the “Fable 2” experience to Xbox LIVE Arcade. Before the game’s launch, gamers will be able to get an early taste of the “Fable 2” experience and gain a head start on earning currency for use in “Fable 2” by playing “Fable 2”-themed pub games that will be downloadable via Xbox LIVE Arcade. The currency earned in these Xbox LIVE Arcade titles will enable players to purchase items in “Fable 2” when the game launches later this year.

· “Ninja Gaiden II” (TECMO/Team NINJA). Tomonobu Itagaki debuted several tantalizing new Xbox LIVE features of “Ninja Gaiden II,” including the ability to capture and share videos of a player’s glorious battles via the Ninja Cinema feature and upload them to Xbox LIVE. “Ninja Gaiden II” launches worldwide this June.

· “Too Human” (Silicon Knights). Microsoft also showcased the epic action game from renowned Canadian developer Silicon Knights, “Too Human,” at a media event before today’s keynote address. In “Too Human,” players are treated to a nonstop barrage of action powered by the seamless integration of melee and firearms combat, plus deep role-playing elements fueled by breathtaking visuals enabled by the power of Xbox 360.

With online multiplayer gameplay, downloadable content and ways to stay in contact with a global community, these forthcoming blockbusters harness the power of Xbox LIVE to create truly innovative and exciting entertainment experiences. Each game also comes packed with Achievements, so Xbox LIVE members can help add to the more than 1 billion Achievements already unlocked on the service to date. And, as with the “Fable 2” pub games, downloadable content in Xbox LIVE Marketplace allows gamers the opportunity to customize and enhance their gameplay experiences. Since the service launched, Microsoft has seen more than $250 million in digital revenue from Xbox LIVE Marketplace through the purchase of more than 20 billion Microsoft Points.

Xbox LIVE members have been using a large portion of those Microsoft Points in Xbox LIVE Arcade, which is the premier destination for digitally distributed, high-definition original and classic games. With over 116 games to choose from on Xbox LIVE Arcade, everyone’s invited to get instantly immersed in the fun. Xbox LIVE Arcade is also home to the world’s most innovative independent developers, with more than 25 independent studios serving as the creative fuel behind the original games that represent more than a quarter of the Xbox LIVE Arcade library. The following titles represent a sample of games launching on Xbox LIVE Arcade in the near future from the world’s leading independent developers:

· “Braid” (Number None Inc.). Developed by Independent Games Festival Winner and experimental game designer Jonathan Blow, “Braid” is a platform experience that bends all the rules with the manipulation of time. “Braid” will launch this spring.

· “Castle Crashers” (The Behemoth). “Castle Crashers” is the second title currently in development by award-winning independent developer The Behemoth, creator of “Alien Hominid HD.” The role-playing game (RPG) adventure will let up to four players hack, slash and smash their way together through a visually stunning hand-drawn landscape. “Castle Crashes” launches this summer.

· “Defense Grid: The Awakening” (Hidden Path Entertainment LLC). “Defense Grid: The Awakening” is the definitive tower defense game experience designed specifically for Xbox LIVE Arcade and launches this summer.

· “Go! Go! Break Steady” (Little Boy Games). An Xbox LIVE Arcade exclusive, “Go! Go! Break Steady” is the debut title from independent developer Little Boy Games. The combination music and puzzle game combines break dancing with novel gameplay and launches this summer.

· “Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness” (Hothead Games). The first video game collaboration between Penny Arcade creators Mike “Gabe” Krahulik and Jerry “Tycho” Holkins and legendary game designer Ron Gilbert, “Penny Arcade Adventures” is an RPG-adventure game set in a highly stylized 1920s universe filled with bizarre characters, outrageous combat and adult humor. The first episode of the game launches this summer.

Xbox 360 Shortages, Or Preparation for New SKU(s)?

While everyone anticipates the announcement of Gears of War 2 along with a ton of info including a possible demo on Xbox live next week of Too Human at GDC there’s one thing Microsoft may announce that most people didn’t expect. It’s been well documented (You can check it out for yourself if you walk into your local brick and mortar stores) that finding an Xbox 360 in 2008 has been fairly difficult. In response, last week Microsoft PR came out and said “It’s just a cause of better than expected sales during the holiday period”. That statement may have served more than the one purpose of spinning Sony’s first monthly NPD victory since the release of the PS3. Maybe this whole shortage has been buying Microsoft a lot of time over the course of the last few months to develop and introduce new SKUs.

I took what Microsoft had to say at face value that supplies were coming, but they never did specify of which flavor. I know taking information from a retailer is pretty skeptical at best but this was brought to my attention this morning and make of it what you will but it appears extremely odd that online retailer Amazon is now showing that EVERY Xbox 360 SKU as “Discontinued by manufacturer: YES”.