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Shacknews - Steve Watts

While the Xbox One turning on with the sound of your voice made for an impressive stage presentation, it didn't take long for the Internet to notice: doesn't that mean it's listening all the time? Today, in a bevy of new information that also included online checks and game licensing, Microsoft attempted to put fears at ease with more detail about the new Kinect's privacy settings.

In a detailed announcement, Microsoft stated that you'll personalize your Kinect during start-up. That will let you pick which settings are on from the start, and you can turn the sensor on, off, or pause it. When the Kinect is off, Microsoft says, it's only listening for the command "Xbox on," but you can disable that feature as well. When the Xbox One is in use, Microsoft is careful to note that it's not recording or uploading any conversation. Finally, you can use other inputs if you just want to turn off or pause the Kinect.

Concerning personal data, Microsoft claims that nothing will leave your Xbox One without explicit, expressed permission. It uses examples like a fitness game measuring heart data or a card game that views your face to determine the strength of a bluff.

This is all much more specific than the information we heard late last month, which simply promised privacy settings without going into detail.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Almost as soon as the Xbox One announcement ended, we started hearing contradictory tales from Microsoft regarding the system's connectivity requirements. The last two weeks have apparently given the company a chance to get its messaging straight, as it finally clarified today just how often the system needs to check in.

As confirmed on the official site the system will require an online check-in every 24 hours on your primary console. If you're accessing your game library on someone else's system, that window gets narrowed to every hour. The page warns: "Offline gaming is not possible after these prescribed times until you re-establish a connection, but you can still watch live TV and enjoy Blu-ray and DVD movies."

This is similar to what Phil Harrison told Kotaku, which apparently let the cat out of the bag early. Microsoft quickly told Polygon he was merely describing "potential scenarios."

More mundane details include the recommended connection speed (1.5Mbps), and the ability to sign in and install games from your friend's house to play them there. That's certainly convenient, but the one-hour check-in time might make it less welcoming.

Shacknews - Steve Watts
Steam announced a new "Family Sharing" feature today, and is accepting beta applications to test it. When it launches fully, close friends and family will be able to play one another's games, while still earning their own achievements and saving their individual progress through the cloud.
Shacknews - Steve Watts

Watch Dogs has sold more than eight million units, according to Ubisoft. 


In a first-quarter financial report today, Ubisoft announced the impressive number and credited it in part for the sales exceeding its stated targets. The announcement states those are sell-in figures. 


The number isn't entirely surprising, given that Watch Dogs broke Ubisoft's own internal records for new IP pre-orders and first-day sales, and first-week sales. 


"The success of Watch Dogs and the quality of our games portfolio presented at this year's E3 highlight our strategic positioning as well as our continuous drive for innovation, and affirm our long-term approach," CEO Yves Guillemot said in the announcement. "Watch Dogs is now well positioned as a major franchise and we will be able to replicate and build on its success in the coming years."


Shacknews - Steve Watts

Lots of games have Easter eggs, but rarely does one stay undiscovered for seven years. That's the case for a particularly well-hidden Halo 3 secret, which was just recently outed by some intrepid fans. 


The Easter egg was discovered by Team Beyond (via IGN). By holding down both thumbsticks during the loading screen on December 25, the screen pans out to give a wider view of the Halo ring. In very light print on the ring, you can read the words "Happy Birthday Lauren!" You can see it for yourself in the video below.



Bungie itself has slyly acknowledged this Easter egg in the past in its Mail Sack features. One employee said it only happened on a specific day, while in another entry employee Adrian Perez said he was proud of having shown his wife the Easter egg he inserted for her. In both cases, the employees noted that no one had found the secret yet, but now we know. Presumably Lauren had a nice birthday surprise, back in 2007.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

The original leak of Assassin's Creed Unity came alongside word of a last-gen (PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360) game, which so far hasn't materialized. Even after E3, the so-called "Assassin's Creed Comet" is still purely in rumor territory, but that could be changing soon.


IGN reports that during an investor call today, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot responded to a question about an Assassin's Creed game for the older platforms. "More info on that soon," he said. "It will come soon."


Tony key added that Ubisoft hasn't "forgotten about [their] loyal Assassin’s Creed fans on those systems.”


According to the original rumor, Unity was to be the new-generation Assassin's Creed game set in Paris, while Comet was to be last-gen only and set in North America. This would allow Ubisoft to take full advantage of both systems rather than forcing it to develop cross-platform. We had expected Comet to show up at Ubisoft's presentation at E3, but only Unity appeared. That means half of the original rumor panned out, and waiting for the rest has most likely just been a matter of time. 

Shacknews - Ozzie Mejia

Ubisoft's recent mobile venture into the Assassin's Creed world, Assassin's Creed Pirates, may not have quite resonated with us when it first released in December. But it's hard to argue with free stuff, so it should be noted that the publisher is currently offering the mobile pirate adventure for free on iOS for the rest of the week.


AC Pirates is currently being featured as a featured free app in the App Store and will come with the game's fourth update. According to Game Informer, the new update contains all-new missions set in La Isla de la Juventud, ship customization options, and a daily reward system.


Those looking to take advantage of this free offer can find Assassin's Creed Pirates on the App Store. Sorry, Android users, but it'll still be $5 on the Google Play store.


Shacknews - Aaron Linde

Fans of the God of War-esque PlayStation 3 action game Heavenly Sword will be happy to hear that Nariko is making her comeback... well, in movie form anyway. Sony's digital film Heavenly Sword is making its way to Blu-Ray and DVD on September 2nd, and features an all-star voice cast that includes Anna Torv (Fringe), Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2) and Thomas Jane (The Punisher)


IGN debuted a new trailer for the film, along with the news of its home release, yesterday. It's very similar to the game that was released a few years back, focusing on a beautiful warrior named Nariko (Torv) who possesses a much-sought after weapon known as the Heavenly Sword. As expected, various forces are trying to retrieve the sword from her to wield the power for their own, including the villainous King Bohan (Molina), who will stop at nothing to obtain it.



Featuring sharp visuals along the same lines as the game's cinemas, the Blu-Ray and DVD releases will also feature behind-the-scenes interviews with the cast and filmmakers. For those who prefer downloading it digitally to buying a physical release, don't worry, as you'll be able to get it on PlayStation Network on the same day.


Hey, if the movie's popular enough, we might just get that game sequel that we want on PlayStation 4. Well, maybe. For now, enjoy Nariko's return for what it is.

Shacknews - Robert Workman

As Dawn of the Planet of the Apes prepares to hit theaters tomorrow, we've decided to take a look at some of Caesar's counterparts in the video game realm. He's not the only one who can lead a revolution, after all. Sometimes it's obvious that some apes can't really handle the job (like the ones from Ape Escape, they can't even manage an effective slip from their captors), but these apes simians nevertheless earn our respect in games, mainly because of how much they're capable of. You don't need James Franco to teach them that.


Without further ado, bring on the damn dirty apes! (Well, OK, some showered.)


Donkey Kong



Leadership capability: moderate to high


Donkey Kong has been creating video game havoc for over 30 years, which means he's got seniority nailed down right alongside his superiority. He started out strong, capturing a poor girl and climbing a tower like the big bully he is. Since then, however, he's been fighting more on the side of good, keeping his beloved islands safe from intruders while protecting what's left of his precious banana hoard. He's proven to be a dependable character throughout the years, even though he isn't the smartest. Thus, he deserves a place in the ape ranks. And if you don't like it, well, he's sure to throw a barrel at you.


Honorable mention: Cranky Kong


Cranky Kong would be a definitive leader if he wasn't so busy complaining all the time. Yes, Cranky Kong, we remember how great the "old days" of gaming used to be. Most of us were there. Now shut up and help look for bananas.


Andross



Leadership capability: high (but evil)


We're not sure why Andross the ape would feel the need to take over the universe. But, hey, if Rise of the Planet of the Apes' Koba can be irritated with everyone, then so can a monkey who specializes in using virtual technology to turn into a giant head and set of hands, which he uses at the end of pretty much every Starfox game to try and crush Fox McCloud. Andross' technical know-how and confidence would make him an ideal leader for the apes. However, his unspeakable evil makes him rather untrustworthy, and questionable when it comes to deciding what's best for his clan. Plus, building that giant head and pair of hands takes a whole lot of time and resources, and last time we checked, apes aren't exactly overflowing with cash.


George



Leadership capability: moderate, until he changes back into a human


The arcade classic Rampage introduced us to three unlikely monsters that could trash a city in a matter of seconds. Amongst the angry creatures is George, a gorilla who means serious business when it comes to eating pesky humans (like soldiers and poor saps hanging outside of windows) and destroying structures in a matter of seconds. He would make an ideal leader, except for the fact that he's susceptible to damage. An electric shock, a tank blast, gunfire and even an explosion would leave him down for the count way too long, and once he runs out completely, he transforms back into a completely vulnerable and naked human being. Still, because of his massive size and strength, George earns a recommendation into the apes club... temporarily.


Specter



Leadership capability: strong in decisions, poor in effort


When it comes to smart leaders in the ape community, no one can beat Specter. This super-simian from the Ape Escape series earned a great deal of smarts by stealing a helmet made by the Professor, which he uses to commence other stupid apes to do his bidding. As a leader, he's well-guided, and knows a thing or two when it comes to guiding his apes to freedom. However, he does very little himself, and he shows very little regard for putting his fellow apes into peril. That makes him a less-than-fitting leader for the apes, although he'd make a great tactician.


Infernape



Leadership capability: strong, but, ahem, too hot-headed


Infernape, the evolution of the Pokemon character Chimchar, can definitely hold his own in battle, as his flaming body enables him to do massive damage to his enemies. However, he has very little to say in the long run, and his fiery nature may make him less than appreciated with the community, as he can easily spark a fire to a village and leave some poor chimps without a home to call their own. As an isolated assassin, however, he deserves a call, and that's why he earns a spot in the ape club.


Wiki



Leadership capability: little to none, although transformations help


When it comes to monkeys that are too damn cut for their own good, Wiki is at the top of the heap. While this character from Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbados' Treasure serves his purpose of transforming animals into helpful items over the course of the side-scrolling puzzle game, he does very little else but look incredibly (and in some ways, sickeningly) adorable. Plus, he requires commands to get anything done, and considering what he did with the Barbados legacy to begin with, he's not all that trustworthy. He might be good to call upon if you need an ape jester, but otherwise, he's just not that useful.


Aiai



Leadership capability: little, but at least he's good for demolition


AiAi from the Super Monkey Ball series is way too young and inexperienced to sit in the high throne of all apes, and plus he couldn't do it anyway because, well, he's trapped in a ball. That said, if the apes wanted to plan some sort of assault on the humans, he'd be the first one to call, as he can head speeding towards an entrance and bust right through it with little to no problem, judging by the strength of his ball. Of course, you'd probably have to line a series of bananas to the door just to get him to do it, but it's a small price to pay for strength in mobility.


Amigo



Leadership capability: none, but call him for the victory party


Finally, there's Amigo, the dancing, maraca-shaking party machine from the Samba de Amigo games. Sadly, he has very little offensive strength to his credit, even though he can fire off weapons with ease in Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed. However, when the battle's over, he's the first simian you'll want to call, mainly because he's such a party machine. He can bring his dancing friends with him and crank a soundtrack that ranges from Ricky Martin's "Livin' la Vida Loca" to a remix of Chumbawumba's "Tubthumping." For some monkey looking to kick back, that's more than enough.

Shacknews - Ozzie Mejia

It's hard to follow-up on an emotionally evocative roller coaster ride as The Walking Dead. But while Telltale does bring the same elements to the table with The Wolf Among Us, the developer isn't content to hit the exact same notes this time around. This time, they're looking to tell a hard-hitting detective story, but it does more than succeed in that sense. It also provides an equally introspective glimpse into a player's own morality, albeit from a slightly different angle.


Based on Bill Willingham's long-running and critically-acclaimed Fables comic book series, The Wolf Among Us centers around a mystery that's engulfed the fantasy-filled city of Fabletown. A murder has been committed and it's up to Sheriff Bigby Wolf (a.k.a. The Big Bad Wolf) to solve it. However, the farther down the rabbit hole he goes, the farther across the town he sees the mystery spread, offering twists that even long-time followers of the source material will likely find surprising.


A big, bad detective


The heart of The Wolf Among Us is arguably its main character. Just as with other Telltale efforts, the player is welcome to shape Bigby however they see fit, whether they make him into a heartless pursuer of vengeance or someone with a heart of gold underneath his gruff exterior.


This doesn't just reflect with the game's dialogue system, in which Bigby can often approach situations aggressively, patiently, or even compassionately. It also reflects in the shamus' interaction with other characters and potential suspects.


Interrogations in The Wolf Among Us are particularly satisfying. Bigby can either patiently piece together clues and goad information out of his suspects, like a sharp-toothed Sherlock Holmes or he can use aggression, intimidation, and violence to his advantage, like a whacked-out Batman. It's one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game and one that engaged me anytime it popped up. But beyond that, the manner in which players approach these sections of the game has real consequences that will affect the story and how Bigby is seen later down the line.


More than the way Bigby approaches people, the order in which he approaches them matters, too. The Wolf Among Us will often present multiple destinations, requiring Bigby to make a choice on where to proceed. Like any other aspect of the game, this has consequences, since areas that are explored later are affected in the time that Bigby spends looking through his first target. Not only does this add to the sense that this is a living world, but it also makes the case that the story is worth running through a second time. After I finished these sequences, I got the sense that I was missing pivotal narrative pieces and character moments that I wouldn't get the chance to see, unless I opted to replay the whole story. The neon-colored world of Fabletown felt far more alive than previous Telltale set pieces and it's a refreshing addition to their formula.


The heat of the night


Bigby's investigation isn't all questions and intimidation. Sometimes, action needs to be taken and The Wolf Among Us admirably attempts to mix up action sequences in-between the dialogue trees. However, this may also be one of the weaker parts of the game, due to some performance issues.


There were several framerate hitches over the course of my game, as I played on Xbox 360, which could have easily been overlooked, but those hiccups would often come right before a quick-time event, reducing my response time significantly. It was a source of frustration, but one that gradually started to improve as more episodes released. The stutters in Episode 5 were far less than Episode 1, which was a relief given that the final episode contained far more of these button prompts than its predecessors.


Performance issues aside, however, the action sequences got progressively better as each episode went along. These instances felt somewhat like filler material in the first few episodes, used as a mere distraction or as a way to kill time. However, the action moments felt more appropriate as the story began to hit its climax.



The word of law


Just as Telltale's The Walking Dead made players question their morals in regards to how they would approach a hopeless apocalypse and neverending despair, The Wolf Among Us questions morals in a different way. In this case, it calls into question how a player approaches the idea of justice, while also brilliantly highlighting the consequences of that approach.


Yes, Bigby can approach his investigation in any way the user sees fit. The freedom Telltale offers is a refreshing one on its face, but the cleverness of these five episodes is seen in the way those chickens can easily come back to roost near the end of the story. The final episode, in particular, will call into question just what the player's idea of justice is. Is it truly justice or has vengeance seeped in? Is "justice" necessarily what's best for the public welfare? Is it within your right to make that call? And even when the smoke finally clears and the last decision was made, was justice really served or is it just a bandage placed on top of a larger problem? They're heavy questions and ones that I didn't expect to encounter until they finally hit near the end of the story. For me, it made the experience I had gone through a much richer one.


The Wolf Among Us also managed to address a major criticism of this entire genre through this approach: that these types of games aren't necessarily games, because they don't offer a clear win/lose condition. That idea definitely does not apply, especially in the latter half of the game in which a player's series of on-the-spot dialogue choices can directly influence the main plot's outcome. It's as compelling as an interactive story of this type can get.


Happily ever after


Telltale revels in the complexity of its stories and they've managed to do so marvelously within the context of this adaptation. They not only told a compelling detective story, but they also captured the spirit of the original source material. It's one thing to play as Bigby Wolf, but it's another thing to vividly illustrate what makes him an interesting, multi-dimensional character.


The Wolf Among Us is a winner for its pacing, its character work, its story, and the manner in which it makes the player think without being overly heavy-handed about it. Like any good mystery, there's more to this game than what's on the surface and it's one worth experiencing.


Final Score9 out of 10




This review is based on a digital Xbox 360 copy purchased by the reviewer. The Wolf Among Us is available now for PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and iOS as a five-episode Season Pass for $24.99. The game is rated M.

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