XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a near-future turn based strategy game which features a global force of elite military banded together to face an alien invasion. Published by 2K Games and developed by Firaxis, the eighteen year old franchise has been dormant for awhile but is now making its triumphant return.
The game tells the tale of panic-stricken populations who have made first contact in a very negative way. Facing abductions and a visually bizarre extraterrestrial force, the world’s population pools all of its resources and places them in your hands. Throughout the course of the loosely guided plot you’ll have the opportunity to address missions as they arise and face enemies on their own turf – though just how quickly all of that happens is up to the player’s dogged pursuit.
As you assume command of a collective planetary defense force, your actions and spending decisions determine the course of the game. With limited resources you will be tasked with defending every country comprising the council of nations, where you are beholden to protect each and every one of them in order to loosen purse strings. The difficulty comes in managing a global level of panic in deciding where and when to respond to requests, as the aliens’ coordinated attacks often force you to choose saving one ally’s population while neglecting another.
Outside the ant-farm styled base of operations, your troops spend quite a bit of time with their boots on the ground, facing the unwelcome guests in cover-based combat. Taking turns moving, attacking, reloading or utilizing special abilities unique to troop classes, the aliens clearly have a technological advantage which can only be overcome with cunning and strategy. Though capturing creatures and technology to research and build upgrades gives you the fleeting hope that you can theoretically level the playing field, the game’s difficulty curves steeply and you frequently feel one step behind.
Graphically the game suffers a bit from limitations on the Xbox 360, where action cameras panning on slow motion kill shots are more likely to look implausible than cool when parts of your character or weapon clip through the environment. (And don’t ever try firing at anything from point blank range unless you want to lose any remaining shred of the “action shooter” illusion.) The fact that such negative things can be said about a game’s appearance while still maintaining that it is hugely addicting to play means that all the basics are in the right place though.
Owing to the fact that all your decisions are so dynamic, generating countless permutations across randomly generated battle maps (even dying and starting a mission over doesn’t mean you’ll see the same battlefield twice), XCOM has a huge amount of replayability. Where the game most conveys the direst circumstances of humanity’s near demise, it does so by effectively forcing you into the realization that you cannot see, do, or save everything. So while a session of XCOM may be composed of a bitter series of compromises, of giving ground to an invading force with total reluctancy, for fans of the strategy genre this outstanding title never leaves you with real-world regret.
Today we get a new official trailer for NBA 2K13. With a new NBA season just around the corner, there’s no better way to get pumped up by checking out some highlights of virtual Kobe and virtual Lebron. I think there is even a shot of virtual Kobe passing to an open teammate which leads me to wonder if 2K Games is dropping the simulation appeal of the franchise. I mean that never really happens, right?
Today we got a new trailer for XCOM: Enemy Unknown called the Casualty of War Trailer.
What was the main thing I took away from it? That guy sure sounds a lot like Optimus Prime. But I’m a simple mind. Check it out for yourself and let us know what you think.
In today’s new Borderlands 2 trailer, Handsome Jack has a little message for you and all your little co-op buddies.
I’m always amazed whenever I hear someone say that video games need to improve their graphics in order to be better. It’s a sentiment I’ve heard a lot in regards to the “Sony Vs. Microsoft” competition over which games could and couldn’t run on either system. Even my co-host on Talking About Gamers, Jason, often says that in order for Call of Duty to be more interesting, they need to improve their graphics.
This week, we heard similar sentiments from 2K Games’ Christoph Hartmann. Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz, he said, “Recreating a Mission Impossible experience in gaming is easy; recreating emotions in Brokeback Mountain is going to be tough, or at least very sensitive in this country… it will be very hard to create very deep emotions like sadness or love, things that drive the movies…Until games are photorealistic, it’ll be very hard to open up to new genres. We can really only focus on action and shooter titles; those are suitable for consoles now.”
He went on to say, “To dramatically change the industry to where we can insert a whole range of emotions, I feel it will only happen when we reach the point that games are photorealistic; then we will have reached an endpoint and that might be the final console.”
To me, this statement seems incredibly short sighted and narrow minded, especially coming from the head of a major game publisher. Here are the five reasons why.
Graphical powerhouses don’t always equal quality
I’ll admit that I am one of the few people who still defends Heavy Rain. Sure, David Cage is a bit of an ass and the game itself has some glaring continuity issues, but on the whole I still enjoyed it. That said, the game was a technical powerhouse that a lot of people simply didn’t enjoy for one reason or another. The game tried to pull on emotional strings and, in all honesty, often failed outright to make you care about the characters.
This wouldn’t have been improved simply by having better character models or more interesting backgrounds. Emotional resonance isn’t created simply by having the best looking character models. It’s done by having better writing and voice acting, two things that have nothing to do with graphics.
Action games can have emotional resonance
Today, I was reminded of one of my favorite moments in any game ever: the nuclear blast sequence from Call of Duty 4. This sequence is absolutely brilliant and creates a real emotional moment in video game form. Your character is struggling to pull himself through the wreckage of a nuclear blast. It’s clear that your character won’t survive, but you still hope he will pull himself through it. He collapses to the ground as the mushroom cloud looms in the distance.
A more recent example of emotional storytelling in an action game is the recent release, Spec Ops: The Line. While I haven’t played the game, from what I’ve heard the game asks some very serious and deep questions about the nature of war and of the human psyche. It also happens to be a game produced by…2K Games.
Art Style is more important that graphical quality
Limbo is an amazing game because it evokes some real emotion from the player. There’s tension, suspense and a general fear that comes from playing. Similarly, Bastion proves that you can make a very emotional story with 2D art.
These are games that have a unique art style that make them stand out. If Braid was photorealistic instead of having gorgeous hand drawn art, would it still stand out? Would Limbo be as interesting to many if it didn’t deal, almost solely, in shades of grey? They are compelling, even without having the most advanced graphics.
Making more photorealistic games isn’t sustainable for smaller companies
I would absolutely love it if every game that strives to be “realistic” looked like the real thing. It would be a massive technological leap forward and I actually would love to see how gaming could evolve with this new technology. However, as the cost of triple-A games increases it will be harder and harder for smaller companies to keep up.
We already know that, despite having millions of dollars, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning would have had to sell millions of copies just to break even. That wasn’t a game that was striving to be realistic. If a company has to invest more and more money into realistic graphics, this will force more and more companies to lose revenue. Which, of course, leads right into…
This investment would actually stifle innovation
If you have to invest an absurd amount of money into making graphics look amazing, you’ll have fewer and fewer new companies popping up. As it stands, we’ve seen many companies go out of business simply because they don’t have enough cash flow from selling enough copies of their games to justify the cost of development. If you increase that cost, you’ll likely see fewer and fewer companies enter at all. You’ll see less people enter the business and some awesome developers may never get the chance to develop their dream project. Even more likely, you’ll find more and more games that are “clones” of other games, since it’s an easy way to gain cash.
The industry is tough as it is. While I would love to see SOME games with photorealism, it doesn’t serve this industry to try to make every game as photorealistic as possible. Moreover, emotional resonance doesn’t come from graphics. It comes from quality writing and design. Those are things that you don’t need the most powerful console to create.
This week on Talking About Gamers join Jason, Samantha, Addam and Kyle as we talk about things that bring out emotion in us. Jason is regretful of his purchase of XBLA’s Deadlight, Addam is freaked out by some recent indie horror games, Kyle is excited for The Old Republic to go free to play and Samantha is disappointed in the games available on the PlayStation Vita.
Staying on the topic of emotions we discuss the idea that graphics need to be photorealistic in order to convey them properly. Other topics for this week include our interest in a standalone Day Z game, the gaming industry’s fixation on Metacritic and the success of season passes and premium game services.
Thank you for listening and please enjoy Episode 143 of Talking About Gamers!
The Talking About Gamers podcast can be found in iTunes and the Zune Marketplace. You can listen to Talking About Gamers through Stitcher Radio. We appreciate any reviews or to provide direct feedback feel free to send an email to email@example.com. You can hit us up on Twitter at @talkaboutgamers and find us on Facebook as well.
The summer gaming drought continues for most of us but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a great show for you this week. Join Jason, Kyle, Addam and special guest Gus as we cover various bits of news and talking points. Our main topic stems from Dead Space 3 and the idea of EA dumbing down the horror factor to expand to a broader audience. Some say it makes sense for EA to do it while others feel that there is an audience out there for a good survival horror game.
Other topics for discussion this week include the possibility of 2K returning to the football market, Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford comparing Duke Nukem Forever to Half-Life and how both Polytron and Microsoft are throwing each other under the bus over patch issues with Fez. We even try to figure out why God of War Ascension is trying to avoid violence against women when we can’t think of a single female enemy in the entire series (unless the snake=like Medusa counts).
Thank you for listening and please enjoy Episode 142 of Talking About Gamers!
The Talking About Gamers podcast can be found in iTunes and the Zune Marketplace. We’re also happy to announce that for the first time you can listen to Talking About Gamers through Stitcher Radio. We appreciate any reviews or to provide direct feedback feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can hit us up on Twitter at @talkaboutgamers and find us on Facebook as well.
2k Games has announced that there will be two special editions of Borderlands 2 available when the game launches on September 18.
First up we have the Deluxe Vault Hunter’s Collector’s Edition for $99. This will include the game, a Marcus Kincaid bobblehead, an art book, stickers, a digital comic and some bonus DLC. For $149 you can purchase the The Ultimate Loot Chest Limited Edition. This will include everything previously mentioned plus a collectible scaled replica of the red loot chests found throughout Pandora in Borderlands 2, a steel book case, Creatures of Pandora wide-format ID chart, a lithograph postcard set, field notes from Sir Hammerlock, a cloth map of Pandora and a numbered certificate of authenticity. Sadly, no bobblehead of Claptrap which is pretty much what everyone really wanted.
Anybody who pre-orders either one of these special editions, as well as the standard copy of the game, from participating retailers will also gain access to the Borderlands 2 Premiere Club. This will allow them to download the Gearbox Gun Pack, a Golden Key, the Vault Hunter’s Relic and an all-new fifth character class – the Mechromancer upon launch.
Bad news to report today.
Anybody who was salivating at the thought of getting their hands on Bioshock Infinite will now have to wait a little longer for that to happen. According to 2k Games, Bioshock Infinite is now set to launch worldwide on February 26, 2013.
Ken Levine, Creative Director of Irrational Games, stated, “When we announced the release date of BioShock Infinite in March, we felt pretty good about the timing. Since then, we’ve uncovered opportunities to make Infinite into something even more extraordinary. Therefore, to give our talented team the time they need to deliver the best Infinite possible, we’ve decided to move the game’s release to February.”
Maybe this will turn out to be good news of sort. The holiday season is getting pretty full of AAA games to play through. Maybe having Infinite release in February is a blessing of sorts. Right?!? Right?!? I’ll keep telling myself that for now.
The first expansion pack for Civilization V received a North American and international release date today. The expansion is set to release on June 19 in North America and on June 22 for the rest of the world.
This is the first expansion pack for the critically acclaimed game after it released in September 2010. With nine new playable civilizations, nine new wonders and even more additional content, fans will no doubt be happy that the game is still receiving support.
Check out the boxart and the full press release below.
2K Games Announces Sid Meier’s Civilization® V: Gods & Kings to be Available Starting June 19, 2012
Massive expansion for award-winning game to include many new features and return of religion and espionage
New York, NY – April 5, 2012 – 2K Games announced today that Sid Meier’s Civilization® V: Gods & Kings, the expansion pack for the critically acclaimed and award-winning Sid Meier’s Civilization® V, will be available for Windows-based PC in North America on June 19, 2012 and internationally on June 22, 2012. Developed by Firaxis Games, Sid Meier’s Civilization V: Gods & Kings enhances the Civilization V experience by adding new civilizations, leaders, units, technologies and more, as well as the return of religion and espionage. Spanning the breadth of human civilization, the Gods & Kings expansion pack allows players to found the first Pantheon of the Gods and spread religion across the world as well as deploy spies in enemy cities to form allies and steal technology.
Sid Meier’s Civilization V: God & Kings takes players through time as they engage in new quests and global competitions, interact with new types of city-states, and master exciting new systems for land and naval combat. Nine new civilizations, each ruled by a new leader; nine new wonders; three original scenarios; and dozens of new units, buildings, technologies and resources have also been added, offering even more ways for players to expand their empire on their quest to rule the world.
Sid Meier’s Civilization V: Gods & Kings is not yet rated by the ESRB. For more information please visit www.civilization.com.