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Dec 26, 2012
Sadly, it's not available to buy—it's a one-off made for a competition—but that only makes it that much more of alluring.
The accuracy is a result of the source material: developers Arkane shared the actual 3D models used for the mask in the game, meaning that, technically, this is no different to Corvo's actual mask.
Except you can actually touch this one.
I've been having a lot of fun with Dunwall City Trials, the first downloadable add-on to October's fantastic stealth game Dishonored. I've beaten the core game almost two times now, and while it's such a brilliant bit of design, I'd found myself hungry for new, different challenges.
It's always felt like the game would benefit from an extra mode in addition to the single-player story, one that let us really put the game's many enjoyable systems to the test. Dunwall City Trials, which costs $5 to download, adds just that.
It's a collection of 10 challenge maps that put players through a gauntlet of stealth, combat, and puzzle challenges, each one designed to stand on its own as a leaderboard-focused trial. Master those, and you'll unlock five more 'expert' maps that make the existing challenges even harder.
The DLC, while perhaps a bit slight, feels like just what Dishonored needed. While the ten challenges are great, I can already tell that I'm going to want more of them.
The stealth challenge "Mystery Foe" puts you into a "Lady Boyle's Last Party"-type scenario, where you'll have to sneak about a party undetected and gather clues about who your target is before taking him or her out. The fewer clues you need to take down your target, the higher you score. The best bit is that the target is randomly selected each time, making the level feel a bit like something out of Hitman: Absolution's smart Contracts Mode.
"Burglar" has you robbing a house (that floats, awesomely, in the same dream-zone in which you meet The Stranger), and remaining undetected. There are wave-based attack challenges, too, as well as one of my favorites, "Kill Cascade," which has you chaining those oh-so-satisfying aerial kills together as quickly as possible.
I've only played an hour or so of Dunwall City Trials, but it already feels like a solid add-on for anyone who liked the core game. It's hard not to wish for a couple more stealth challenges, as those are the best of the bunch, but each challenge offers a welcomely stiff challenge and some good optional objectives, and certainly feels worth five bucks. As with the challenge rooms in Batman: Arkham City, the trials are a fun way to stress-test Dishonored's systems without worrying about your chaos level or which powers you've chosen.
I hope that, as Bethesda releases more DLC for the game, we get to see another slew of challenge rooms in addition to whatever else they may be planning. Dishonored deserves even more of this kind of thing.
Dec 19, 2012
2012 was a banner year for stealth games. From January up through December, we got to play a healthy variety of games involving dozens of different types of sneaking, skulking, lurking, and sklurking. (It's a thing.)
You could say that these games… crept up on us.
We really… didn't see them coming.
Jason and I have already talked at length about why we love stealth games. While many video games set a series of systems in motion and toss you into the middle, stealth games operate a bit differently. They're about staying outside of those systems, creeping about the periphery while poking here, prodding there, and deciding how to engage. You really play with stealth games, and that's what lends them their unique rhythm and makes them so satisfying.
It's also why we come away from stealth games with such great stories. Every stealth game I played this year, I came away with a handful of stories, moments that captured the best (and sometimes, worst) sorts of stealth-game unpredictability.
Rather than just run down all the stealth games that came out this year, I thought it might be fun to share some stories, then open the floor for y'all to share your own tales. Here goes:
Mark of the Ninja
Klei Entertainment's Mark of the Ninja was interesting because it was both a tight, polished stealth game, and something of a treatise on stealth games themselves. Helped along by its two-dimensional design, the game gave clear visual feedback for every aspect of sneaking—footstep audio burst visually outward from the protagonist, while lights illuminated exactly where they were pointing. There was never a question whether you were hidden or visible, and the enemy artificial intelligence clearly signaled its status and intent. My moment from MotN comes from early in the game, when I was tasked with sneaking through a building and freeing several of my captured compatriots. I decided I was going to do the entire bit nonlethal, and that was where I discovered the most rewarding way to play Mark of the Ninja: Without killing anyone at all. As I freed the final captive without being spotted, I felt the kind of satisfaction I rarely feel by playing nonviolent in sneaking games.
No, seriously: There were so many stealth games in 2012 that even Journey had a stealth segment. This marks what I think of as the "low point" of the protagonist, the darkest, tensest hour. As the robed wanderer fights its way across a snowy field, it is hunted by those terrifying flying fish-golem monsters. I've rarely felt such unexpected dread, and even replaying the game, I fear this section.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
I don't think I felt more uneasy about stealth than I did in Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. As I mentioned in my review, the game is at its best when you're pulling off carefully orchestrated stealth-kills with your entire team, slipping through an area undetected. But no game has made me feel as uncomfortable. Particularly during the early Africa levels, as my stealth-cloak enabled cybersoldier squad wiped out wave after wave of ill-equipped third-world junta soldiers, it became clearer and clearer that this battle was horribly uneven. So, it's not so much an emergent stealth moment that I remember, more a feeling of how totally overpowered my team and I were.
It is very difficult to pick a single stealth moment from Dishonored, a game in which I've forgotten more classic moments than I experience in most games. But one comes to mind: In the mission in the Golden Cat brothel, you're tasked with taking down a couple of n'er do-wells located at various points throughout the building. One of them is holed up behind closed doors near to a body of water, and there are a number of ways I could sneak in to get him. But the way I chose was a doozy: I possessed a fish, swam through a small passage and into the room, then slowed down time and burst from the water in slow-mo before stabbing the dude in the neck. It was one of those moments that you see in movies, and yet I got to do it myself. In real time. Pretty much my Ultimate Dishonored Moment.
Here's a game I liked more than some, but I'm still playing it to this day, and still enjoying it quite a bit. If there's one thing I retrospectively could have talked about more in my review, it's how Absolution does feel different from Blood Money in many of its levels—it's much more of a traditional stealth game than its most recent predecessor. That said, there were still so many times when I felt that old Hitman groove—particularly during the mission "Shaving Lenny." Outside of Lenny's BBQ, I snuck over to a storage shed and took out the guard inside, before slowly but surely taking down guard after guard, and returning to the shed to stash them all. Over the course of the next twenty or so minutes, that shed became my macabre base of operations, the place NPCs went to decompose.
Assassin's Creed III
This game is the one to get a mention due to bad stealth. Perhaps chief among the many ways Assassin's Creed III disappointed me was the fact that the game's stealth was, for lack of a better word, busted. Two memories stick with me, and both involve bushes. The first involved failing the George Washington eavesdropping mission for the umpteenth time, entirely because for some unknown reason, Connor stood up for a moment while prowling in the bushes. The second involved taking out Pitcairn during the Battle of Bunker Hill. The infuriating thing about bushes in the game is that the moment you've been spotted, you simply can't crouch down again. The game ejects you from cover, and you have to find another way. This works okay in some sequences, but is a disaster in others, particularly if detection means failing the mission. The sneaking bits were tense, but for the wrong reasons. I wasn't worried I'd get spotted, I was worried Connor would do something dumb of his own accord and fail the mission for me.
Far Cry 3
More than perhaps every other game on this list, Far Cry 3 is a game that inspires stealth stories. I have a bunch: The time I lurked outside an outpost, luring dudes away one by one using pebbles, in an attempt to get my second no-alert outpost clearing, only to fuck it up at the last minute and get spotted by a roving patrol, have them trigger the alarm, and get killed. Or another time, when I shot the lock off of a tiger cage and had it immediately charge straight for me (and shortly afterward, managed to get a bear to clear out an entire outpost for me). Or the time, as I shared at the start of my review, when I hang-glided in behind enemies and snuck in to take them down, only to have everything go wonderfully wrong. Far Cry 3 was, as much if not more than Dishonored, a stealth game that was at its best when things went awry.
Those were my most memorable moments of sneaking in 2012. What were yours?
That impeccable taste is on full display in this guest essay he wrote for Penny Arcade Report about why he thinks Far Cry 2 is brilliant.
Smith shares some smart musings on the nature of embedded ("We have written this story for you") and emergent ("Woah, this story randomly happened to me!") narrative in video games, and how Dishonored was his and his co-creative director Raphael Colantonio's attempt at blending the two playstyles. (I'd say they did a pretty good job.)
Smith wraps it up thusly:
If games focused on embedded narrative are more polished, why do many of us prefer games that focus on the dynamics of emergent narrative? Is it some intuitive sense that ferrets out what is most meaningful in games? Is this a situation akin to independent film, where an audience steeped in the critical aspects of the medium wants a bare experience, uncluttered by bombast, filler or special effects, delivered in an understated or experimental way? On initial contact, Far Cry 2 was somewhat unwelcoming in that it did not invite players in; the subject matter was brutal and the game's advancement curve and difficulty tuning required patience.
The reward for those who stayed with the game was potent. Some of the most interesting game design commentary of the year orbited the game, including the Permadeath experiments conducted by Ben Abraham and others, which I take as an indication of how thought-provoking and challenging (to video game conventions) Far Cry 2 was. The game stands as the shooter title that has given me the most compelling, player-driven moments to date.
See? It's not just me and everyone else with good taste in video games who thinks Far Cry 2 is great. HARVEY SMITH AGREES, YOU GUYS. I think we can finally close the book on this once and for all.
In all seriousness, give the whole article a read, it's good.
Dishonored's Harvey Smith explains the genius of Far Cry 2 [Penny Arcade Report]
Dec 14, 2012
Video games are more than lasers and explosions, rules and design, music and graphics. They require input, and so they require controls. But human interface can be a dicy thing—so tough to get right, so easy to screw up.
The games of 2012 have given us some fantastic new control schemes, interesting and satisfying ways to push and pull our way around their digital worlds. Here, we'll take a look back at the best of them.
This list isn't complete—we're hoping to hear from you guys about controls you liked (or disliked) this year. But here are some standouts:
Sleeping Dogs may have mostly been a Grand Theft Auto clone, but it brought a number of cool twists to Rockstar's formula, particularly in how it controlled. Chase sequences played out in a neat quasi-parkour style that kept things moving while forcing players to react to the constantly changing environment. Fighting was an enjoyable take on the Arkham City formula, slower-paced and more strategic, and a great deal of fun once you mastered it. And while the driving didn't quite feel as good as some other open-world games, a number of control options made welcome changes. You could easily lean out of the window and hijack other vehicles in motion, and the ability to press a button to veer into your pursuers was one of those things I didn't know I wanted until I had it.
Sometimes, all you have to do to do things right is keep things the same. 343 Industries had a tough row to hoe with Halo 4, and yet the best thing that can be said of the game's controls is that it still feels like Halo. But that's not faint praise: Halo has a wonderful, smooth feel on a console controller, and the new game matches the fluidity and bounce of its predecessors.
Evan Narcisse: The first thing you'll notice about Might & Delight's platformer is how pretty it looks. But it's also got one of the most fun traversal options in any game this year. Early on in the game, Pid's hero Kurt gets bonded with an elemental energy called the Beam, which pushes him along certain vectors in the world. It's the kind of mechanic that recalls the teleporting of Portal or the grappling of Bionic Commando but updated in a sharp, modern way. Players can use the Beam on objects or enemies, too, and Pid's design throw lots of wicked physics-puzzle challenges that will force you to use the special ability creatively. It's a fresh idea that will stay in your brain long after the game is finished.
Not only did Dishonored feel very good to play, it featured what might be the best single new mechanic of 2012: Blink. With the press of a button, players could warp all over the map, making the game's first-person stealth and platforming seriously fun. Crucially, Blink didn't cost you blue energy unless you used it too quickly, so you could blink around the levels to your heart's content. Warping from a roof to a street-level hidey hole, then up behind a guard, then back to the roof, was one of 2012's great gaming maneuvers. And blinking from combat to appear behind your assailant was the sort of advanced maneuver that held up time and again. Blink, we salute you.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13
Owen Good: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 remade its analog stick swing this year, incorporating draw and fade (i.e. stick direction) into the swing. Working around the green takes some getting used to but it introduced some overdue determinism and challenge in your tee shots and irons.
The game also, in a title update, incorporated the option of swinging into the screen when using Kinect. Before, you had to stand parallel to the screen (so that you were looking at something other than the screen when you completed your swing.)
Ubisoft's Wii U launch title ZombiU wasn't easy to play—it was claustrophobic and disempowering. But that was the point—the game was a punishing, tense crawl through horribly dangerous, zombie-strewn city streets and claustrophobic interiors. Not only was it a smart, interesting horror game on its own, it integrated the Wii U's second-screen gamepad in smart ways, forcing the player to look down to pick locks and root through their backpack, often at the worst times. Via the gamepad, ZombiU conjured the panic of a zombie attack better than perhaps any game before it, and showed that in the right hands, the Wii U's big new idea can feel very big and very new, indeed.
Mark of the Ninja
Rare is the 2D platformer that feels as fleet and empowering as Mark of the Ninja. Your black-clad protagonist flitted and leapt about with the grace of a cat, sticking to walls and dropping into the shadows like a deadly arrow. While some of the prompts could get tangled in close quarters, Mark of the Ninja's predatory sense of movement made it a joy to play.
Need For Speed: Most Wanted
It's no easy feat, making a driving game work well on a game controller. But Need For Speed: Most Wanted nails it, giving players enough control to feel in charge but keeping things simple enough that the game was always approachable. Criteron has mastered the "arcade racing" sweet spot, and their game is a blast as a result.
Far Cry 3
The first thing I asked the developers of Far Cry 3 when I saw them at E3 was, "Did you guys keep the slide?" The slide in Far Cry 2 is one of my all-time favorite video game moves, and with good reason—it just feels good to sprint across a field and slide into cover. What they didn't mention, and what I found when I eventually played the game, was that they'd added all manner of other ingenious moves to make Far Cry 3 a remarkably responsive, satisfying first-person shooter. In particular, the "soft cover" mechanic is brilliant and works well—slide up to cover and Jason will automatically pull up against it; aim your weapon and he'll pop out. The unlockable takedowns are a great deal of fun, too, particularly the knife-throwing one. Far Cry 3 is a wonderfully empowering game, and the well-implemented controls are a big part of why.
Those are some control schemes and mechanics that we really liked in 2012. How about you? Tell us about the controls you really liked (or if you like, the ones you really hated) in the comments.
Following up on last month's trailer, here's a look at some pre-alpha multiplayer gameplay from Dirty Bomb. The trailer takes us to a smoldering, half-destroyed version of London, presumably one of the levels of Brink developer Splash Damage's new free-to-play title. We get to see mostly scenes of infantry action, though a few moments of sniping and vehicular combat make it in as well.
Dirty Bomb: London Bridge Gameplay [Youtube]
If the Video Game Awards are actually an awards show, and not just a keynote for promoting upcoming games, then the big news from last night was The Walking Dead: The Game. Eminently quotable analyst Michael Pachter said before the show that if this title, a downloadable self-published game, took home Game of the Year, he'd eat his hat. To his credit, Pachter later tweeted out a request for one, presumably to consume.
But the surprises don't just stop there. The Walking Dead won Game of the Year coming out of the Best Adapted Game category. Except for 2003, the first year of the VGAs, when things were very different from today, only two adapted games have even been nominated for GOTY: Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City, and neither won. This is a different time in games development, with publishers looking for games whose characters and stories they fully own.
Some might look to a licensed or adapted work and consider that the game derives its significance, or at least the attention given to it, because it draws on some other franchise in popular entertainment. So it's strange that a licensed, adapted work reminds us that story, and characters, and choices, and the memorable experiences they create, matters most.
Here's another surprise nugget: The Walking Dead: The Game earned its makers five Video Game Awards. The next big winner? Journey, with three (including a nomination for Game of the Year.) Borderlands 2 also took home three awards, the best haul for a traditional boxed console game.
So if you're thinking this might have been a different Video Game Awards, in its 10th year, you're probably right. Had the show given more attention to that purpose—only a handful of these awards were actually presented in the broadcast—we might be pondering it as a landmark year. The VGAs are often accused of being an industry popularity contest, but maybe this year they acquired recognizable critical heft. We'll have to see what happens next year, and the year after.
So here are the 25 winners of the 2012 Video Game Awards, plus the Game of the Decade. Two fan-voted awards gave Character of the Year to Claptrap from Borderlands 2, and Most Anticipated Game to Grand Theft Auto V.
Game of the Year
The Walking Dead: The Game
Also nominated: Assassin's Creed III, Dishonored, Journey, Mass Effect 3
Studio of the Year
Also nominated: 343 Industries, Arkane Studios, Gearbox Software
Best Xbox 360 Game
Microsoft Studios/343 Industries
Also nominated: Assassin's Creed III, Borderlands 2, Dishonored
Best PS3 Game
Sony Computer Entertainment/thatgamecompany
Also nominated: Assassin's Creed III, Borderlands 2, Dishonored
Best Wii/Wii U Game
New Super Mario Bros. U
Also nominated: The Last Story, Xenoblade Chronicles, ZombiU
Best PC Game
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
2K Games/Firaxis Games
Also nominated: Diablo III, Guild Wars 2, Torchlight II
2K Games/Gearbox Software
Also nominated: Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Halo 4, Max Payne 3
Best Action-Adventure Game
Bethesda Softworks/Arkane Studios
Also nominated: Assassin's Creed III, Darksiders II, Sleeping Dogs
Best Role-Playing Game
Mass Effect 3
Also nominated: Diablo III, Torchlight II, Xenoblade Chronicles
Best Multiplayer Game
2K Games/Gearbox Software
Also nominated: Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Guild Wars 2, Halo 4
Best Individual Sports Game
Electronic Arts/EA Canada
Also nominated: Hot Shots Golf World Invitational, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13, WWE '13
Best Team Sports Game
2K Sports/Visual Concepts
Also nominated: FIFA 13, Madden NFL 13, NHL 13
Best Driving Game
Need For Speed: Most Wanted
Electronic Arts/Criterion Games
Also nominated: Dirt: Showdown, F1 2012, Forza Horizon
Best Song in a Game
"Cities" (Beck) for Sound Shapes
Also nominated: "Castle of Glass" (Linkin Park for Medal of Honor: Warfighter); "I Was Born for This" (Austin Wintory for Journey); "Tears" (Health for Max Payne 3)
Best Original Score
Sony Computer Entertainment/thatgamecompany
Also nominated: Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Halo 4, Max Payne 3.
Microsoft Studios/343 Industries
Also nominated: Assassin's Creed III, Dishonored, Journey
Best Independent Game
Also nominated: Dust: An Elysian Tail, Fez, Mark of the Ninja
Best Fighting Game
Persona 4 Arena
Atlus/Arc System Works/Atlus
Also nominated: Dead or Alive 5, Street Fighter X Tekken, Tekken Tag Tournament 2
Best Handheld/Mobile Game
Sony Computer Entertainment/Queasy Games
Also nominated: Gravity Rush, LittleBigPlanet (PS Vita), New Super Mario Bros 2
Best Performance by a Human Female
Melissa Hutchison for The Walking Dead: The Game
Also nominated: Emma Stone for Sleeping Dogs; Jen Taylor for Halo 4; Jennifer Hale for Mass Effect 3
Best Performance by a Human Male
Dameon Clark for Borderlands 2
Also nominated: Dave Fennoy for The Walking Dead: The Game; James McCaffrey for Max Payne 3; Nolan North for Spec Ops: The Line
Best Adapted Video Game
The Walking Dead: The Game
Also nominated: Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron
Best Downloadable Content
Dawnguard for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Bethesda Softworks/Bethesda Game Studios
Also nominated: Leviathan for Mass Effect 3; Mechromancer Pack for Borderlands 2; Perpetual Testing Initiative for Portal 2
Best Downloadable Game
The Walking Dead: The Game
Also nominated: Fez, Journey, Sound Shapes
Best Social Game
You Don't Know Jack
Also nominated: Draw Something, Marvel: Avengers Alliance, SimCity Social
Game of the Decade
Half Life 2
Also nominated: Batman: Arkham City, BioShock, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Mass Effect 2, Portal, Red Dead Redemption, Shadow of the Colossus, Wii Sports, World of Warcraft
Revenge may solve everything, according to Dishonored's marketing spiel. But it doesn't fill the burning need to teleport, slow down time or possess enemies once you've finished Arkane's masterpiece. Thankfully, DLC that lets you craft more gloriously choreographed kills hits next week. Get your glimpse of the Dunwall City Trials in the video above.
Corvo, the star of Dishonored, is a deft man with a blade. He can leap, and sneak, like a cat. Dude even has magic powers. You'd think, then, he could do anything and everything, but no.
This clip, showing him trying to pour a pint, is heart-breaking. Won't someone just pour it for him?
Corvo wants a nice, cold beer [YouTube]
When Skyrim first came out, Bethesda had lofty promises for the game's downloadable content. Skyrim's DLC will feel like expansion packs, the developers assured us.
Reality has told a different story. Skyrim's first DLC, Dawnguard, was a disappointing add-on filled with boring, samey quests. The second DLC, Hearthfire, was basically Barbie's Playhouse with dragons.
Third time's a charm. I've spent a few hours with Skyrim's latest piece of DLC, Dragonborn, and what I've played so far certainly feels like an expansion pack. It could also turn out to be Skyrim's best DLC yet.
Skyrim's newest DLC—out today for Xbox 360, and early next year for PC and PS3 (yes, PS3!)—takes you to the island of Solstheim, which you may remember from one of Morrowind's expansion packs, Bloodmoon. Solstheim is full of problems, quests, cities, dungeons, and all sorts of other things to explore and fight your way through. It's also rather unusual.
See, the first thing you'll notice, once you take a boat to Raven's Rock and start poking your way through Solstheim, is that it actually feels like a new experience. There's a new map. There are strange new areas and enemies—a city of nature-worshiping Skaal is protected by a powerful wind barrier; an underground tomb's dark elf corpses turn into hideous (and deadly) Ash Spawn; little goblins called Rieklings infest watchtowers and castles all across the land. It's all very bizarre and interesting.
Entering Solstheim, for me, was sort of like starting up Skyrim from the beginning, with no knowledge of what was in store. Even though I haven't even seen everything that the original game's massive world has to offer, there's still something really exciting about dropping into a new map that's full of potential. In other words, it feels like an expansion pack.
The second thing you'll notice about Dragonborn, if you're like me and recently spent a ton of time with Dishonored, is that you will miss the Blink spell a great deal. That shit should be in everything.
But I digress. Perhaps the most common complaint about Skyrim, generally considered an excellent game, is that its world was not as magical, not as creative, not as unique as the world of Morrowind before it. Solstheim has some solutions to that problem. Yes, you'll still be battling through some dark dungeons filled with the same old traps and levers—hope you like fighting Draugr!—but there's more to see and explore. There are giant mushroom homes furnished with magical air elevators, sickening demon squid Lurkers that shoot blasts of shadowy ink at your face, strange gems that command you to bring them to nearby mountains. You know, the usual.
The main quest is fascinating, too. I won't spoil the details, but it revolves around a dude named Miraak—who may or may not be the first ever Dragonborn—and the spell he's cast upon the people of Solstheim to subconsciously turn them into his slaves. Your goal is to stop him.
"But wait," you might be saying. "It wouldn't be Skyrim without countless bugs and glitches everywhere you turn. Does Dragonborn have any of those?"
Of course! When you first load up your copy of Skyrim with Dragonborn installed, you'll be accosted by a group of cult members who want to kill you. This happened to me in Windhelm. Except they weren't very good at showing that they wanted to kill me: once our dialogue had ended, they walked around in a circle for a few seconds before finally going hostile and pulling out their fireballs.
And of course there are the goblins floating in mid-air in the middle of fights, the janky animation during one particular moment when you're switched to a third-person point of view, and all of the other little bugs that make Skyrim Skyrim.
But still, so far I'm very pleased with this piece of DLC. It might have taken a year for Skyrim to get its first real expansion pack, but this seems to be the one we've all been waiting for.
I'll have more on Dragonborn here on Kotaku as I continue to play the game today. Expect a full review soon.