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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April Fools is Stupid

Dear Fellow 2Op Readership,

It’s April Fools. World of Warcraft is not coming to the consoles. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo are deciding on a single API across every platform. The ESRB did not rate Grand Theft Auto IV E for Everyone. The fanboys did not magically start treating each other respectfully. No, master chief is not a secret unlockable character in GTA IV.

So please, do not fall for something far fetched today. If it seems that way, it probably is. But here is some real news:

Nintendo is releasing a HD capable Wii of 720p as costs of console production have now come down to the point where the new SKU can do HD graphics without the need for a change in price.

Price Drop Only Option for Microsoft

Analysts also agree with us in that Microsoft should stop sitting on their hands and making excuses if they want to hinder the freight train like momentum Sony has gained. A price drop at this point only makes sense around the time of GTA4 but we shall see.

In the wake of Microsoft’s announcement at the beginning of this week that it was cutting the price of the Xbox 360 across Europe, The simExchange analyst Jesse Divnich believes a similar move in the US is the company’s “only feasible and economic option” to combat Sony’s PlayStation 3 momentum.

“Whether there is an Xbox 360 shortage or not, it is clear that the PS3 has gained considerable ground on its rival,” he said, as the impact of last year’s PS3 price cut and Sony’s Blu-ray victory become clear.

“Given these past two months and the momentum that the PS3 has gained, Microsoft must react quickly as the PS3’s momentum will only get stronger until Microsoft reacts.”

The Xbox 360 Arcade SKU is now cheaper in Europe than the Nintendo Wii, and half the price of the PS3, and Divnich believes that a similar move in the US is needed.

“In the short-term, Microsoft’s only feasible and economical option is to look at reducing its hardware price in North America to at least slow down the PS3’s momentum until it can implement more long-term solutions to winning the next-generation console war,” he said.

Chris Lewis, Microsoft’s newly-promoted VP of Interactive and Entertainment in Europe, yesterday told GamesIndustry.biz that the price cut would “open up the mass-market floodgates.”

“We enjoy 42 per cent of that revenue share right now in this generation,” he detailed. “That’s a key milestone for us to have met and surpassed. We’re also attaching just a little bit over seven games for every console – considerably ahead of where we stand with our competition.”

Source GI.biz

Xbox 360 Price Drop in Europe, US To Follow Soon?

So today I got this in my email box from MS: “With Estimated Retail Price Starting At €199.99/£159.99, Even More European Consumers Can Enjoy The Definitive High-Definition Gaming and Entertainment Experience”

Needless to say with the price drop in Europe I would be very surprised to not see something along the same lines here in the United States  soon given the stiff competition of titles coming out from Microsoft’s competitors such Super Smash Brothers Brawl and Metal Gear Solid 4.

The 360 has been at its current price point for long enough don’t ya think?

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.   

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