It isn't often we see the words "Origin" and "sale" next to each other, but this week is the exception: EA is running a week-long Player Appreciation Sale which discounts some pretty hefty games in the publisher's lineup—titans such as Mass Effect 3, Crysis 3, and Battlefield 3.
Here's the full list of games on sale and their prices:
Battlefield 3 Premium—$25 Battlefield 3—$12 Battlefield 3 Premium Edition—$30 Crysis 3—$30 Crysis 3 Digital Deluxe Edition—$40 Crysis 3 Digital Deluxe Upgrade—$10 The Sims 3 Seasons—$20 The Sims 3 University Life—$28 The Sims 3 Supernatural—$15 Dead Space—$6 Dead Space 2—$6 Dead Space 3—$30 Resident Evil 5—$10 Mass Effect 3—$10 The Walking Dead—$10 Batman: Arkham City GOTY Edition—$12 FIFA Soccer 13—$20 Command & Conquer Ultimate Collection—$15 Hitman: Absolution—$15 Saints Row: The Third Full Package—$25 Assassin's Creed 3—$35 Assassin's Creed 3 Deluxe Edition—$56 Darksiders 2—$18 Dead Island GOTY Edition—$10 Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City—$25
Normal and special editions on sale? And they're big games? I don't want to spoil this rare opportunity to enjoy a good Origin sale with cynicism, but it's hard not to chortle lightly at the convenient devaluing of nearly half the games EA offered SimCity players for free earlier this week.
When EA spoke of a future business strategy where "all of our games" include the dreaded m-word, reactions weren't exactly positive. CFO Blake Jorgensen shared that original statement during the Morgan Stanley Technology conference last week, but he's now used another conference—the Wedbush Transformational Technology conference—to redact that statement. As Gamasutra reports, Jorgensen says he meant microtransactions will figure into all mobile games instead of EA's entire lineup.
"I made a statement in the conference along the lines of, 'We'll have microtransactions in our games,' and the community read that to be 'all games,' and that's really not true," he explains. "All of our mobile games will have microtransactions in them, because almost all of our mobile games are going to a world where its play-for-free."
Jorgensen uses a different term for paid content on the PC and console platforms: extensions. "You're going to see extensions off of products like Battlefield Premium which are simply not microtransactions," he says. "They are premium services, or additional add-on products or downloads that we're doing. It's essentially an extension of the gameplay that allows someone to take a game that they might have played for a thousand hours and play it for two thousand hours. We want to ensure that consumers are getting value."
Though there is some difference between types of paid content, it seems like Jorgensen is mostly just side-stepping the phrase "microtransactions." Whether calling them microtransactions, extensions, or micro-extend-actions, EA (and, arguably, most other big publishers) will continue using whatever works to leverage the popularity of its games and sell additional content.
This preview originally appeared in issue 244 of PC Gamer UK.
Three games in and the Dead Space series has got problems. And I’m not referring to the fact that protagonist Isaac Clarke has cleverly managed to crash-land on an inhospitable ice planet that may hold the horrible secret to the entire Necromorph space-zombie menace.
The problem is the Necromorph menace itself. Or rather, the fact that, after all this exposure in the Dead Space games, it isn’t really that menacing any more. The resurrected space-dead are still pretty ghastly, perhaps, with their spider’s legs, collapsed faces and that nasty ability to sprout tangles of gristle from the least likely of places, but we’ve been looking them straight in their oozing dead eyes for a couple of games now, and over time you can become immune to just about anything.
Example? Early on in the latest Dead Space 3 demo, I was wandering around another abandoned space hulk looking for another way to get past another locked door when a Slasher dropped down from the ceiling in front of me, accompanied by a sudden shriek of sound design. I should have leapt from my chair or watched in horror as my beard turned white and fell out, one hair at a time. Instead, I just took aim at a juddering limb and idly wondered how the thing managed to climb all those ladders with talons in place of hands.
Visceral Games have at least one decent solution to the problem of audience complacency, as it happens, but they waited until a fair proportion of the demo had passed before revealing it. For the first ten minutes, it was business as usual – and business as usual is pretty much the kiss of death when it comes to the production of startles and shocks. I was wandering around an empty ship, collecting ammo and health packs, listening to audio logs left by a deceased crew, and besting the odd toggle puzzle, when I found a door that wouldn’t respond to a smart blast of telekinesis. If the team were building up to a big fright, it had better be a belter.
Luckily, it was. It was a new kind of Necromorph called the Swarm Infector, and while it’s a piddling thing on its own, scrabbling across the floor with tiny tendrils flying, it’s capable of pulling an extremely unpleasant trick. Like the much larger Infector from the previous games, it can reanimate any nearby corpses, sending them spasming into epileptic life. They judder around for a few horrible seconds, then the gristle starts to warp outwards and – presto – you’ve got another Slasher on your hands.
It’s standard Dead Space stuff, perhaps, but combining the Infector with the series’ diminutive Swarmers has resulted in a genuinely unnerving combination. Once again, corpses can no longer be treated as mere set dressing, and there’s something new to squash underfoot.
Elsewhere, if the team has to struggle a little harder in order to scare you, the consolation prize is that Dead Space 3 still looks like an atmospheric and fiercely competent action game. Isaac has clearly been having the futuristic equivalent of Hot Yoga sessions, as he’s generally a little quicker on his feet this time around and can now combat-roll away from danger when things get bad. He’s also joined by a brand new co-op partner, in the form of Sergeant John Carver, an EarthGov super-soldier and all-round grumpy hard nut whose family has been wiped out by the Necromorphs.
Co-op play is of the drop-in, drop-out variety, and although it will open new paths through the levels and even unlock the odd additional side mission, it’s entirely optional. Inevitably, it makes the whole thing even less scary than it already is at this point in the series. Down on the frozen surface of the ice planet Tau Volantis, however, there are suggestions that the developers haven’t completely given up on creating an air of prickly tension. Snowstorms reduce visibility, while nearby science installations are covered with flapping cables and guide wires, encouraging us to waste precious ammo shooting at shadows.
Carver’s presence has also enabled the design team to scale up the enemies, chucking the duo against a vast hairy spider known as the Snow Beast, and a huge out-of-control drill. The latter has a glowing core that has to be shot out using well-timed blasts of stasis while your partner keeps you safe from the crowd of Necromorph monsters and Unitologist soldiers now gunning after you as well. The developers have yet to reveal all of the game’s new weapons and enemies, but with the head count steadily increasing in most battles, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if the firepower starts to escalate too.
If Dead Space 3 can’t always keep you quaking in your spaceboots, it should at least keep you busy. That’s not the ideal path for a survival horror franchise to take, but it’s better than the alternative – which is generally an accidental lunge towards painful self‑parody.
EA have released about fifteen minutes of in-game footage for Dead Space 3 showing a bit of single player, a bit of co-op, a giant angry drill and an even bigger monster. Dead Space 3 has moved out of the tight corridors of the first two games onto the white wastes of an ice planet. But with no close corners or closets for creatures to use as ambush points, where will the scares come from?
Low visibility storms, apparently, but Isaac isn't too fussed. He's a careful man, the kind of man that shields his face from a snowstorm even when he's wearing a full mask, the kind of man who doesn't instantly hurl up is guts right into his own helmet upon being swallowed whole by a disgusting creature. Watch all that drama in the video below.
If you fancy having your mind somewhat blown, try playing the Mass Effect 2 demo in your browser. Unlike most graphically impressive browser games, this isn't a huge download running via a special plugin: all you need is Flash and Java, which you likely already do, and you'll be playing in a few seconds. The only catch is you need a good connection - about 10Mb/s - and the demo won't appear if you don't.
The service is called Gaikai, and it's live in 12 countries right now. The focus is on letting you into the game with no fuss or sign-up process, so it's perfect for demos. At the end of the Mass Effect 2 or Dead Space 2 demos available now, you get a link to buy the full game.
If the Mass Effect 2 demo link doesn't pop up when you visit the Gaikai site, try the Spore one - it has the same requirements but it'll tell you what's wrong if it doesn't work.
The service has actually been running in a low-profile way for a couple of months. There's a slight lag on interactions when playing on our office connection, but performance is generally very good. Since it's web based, it means you can now play these PC games on a Mac or Linux system. It's set to be demonstrated in full at the Games Developer Conference this week.
Unlike the similar game-streaming service, OnLive, Gaikai doesn't charge for its services and allows users to play in their browser right away. At the moment it only offers some choice selections from EA, but is hoping to move onto including a larger catalogue of blockbuster hits from them and other publishers.
Writing on his blog CEO David Perry explains that he hopes to eventually end up with servers in every major city in the world to stream data from, saying that "if engineers work really hard, they can maybe squeeze out another thousandth of a second from our compression but if we set up in a data center two states closer to your house, we dramatically improve the performance".
The creator of Earthworm Jim hopes to eventually expand the service to allow YouTube-style embedding of demos on websites, and the service will eventually work with Facebook. The aim is to have the embedded demos appear on Facebook, and at the end of reviews, so players can hop straight in and play.
Other demos currently available include Spore, The Sims 3 and, after completing a short survey, Dead Space 2.
Let us know if they work on your connection and, if so, how the performance feels to you.
Gareth Garratt is curled up in his wheelchair, his body secured in a bucket seat while his hands clutch at the side of a desktop. His chin is pressed down onto a Toshiba mouse and he's using that to control a virtual Marty McFly, clambering around the back of a police van. Gareth's chin is the only part of his body that seems to have fine motor control, due to the cerebral palsy he was born with.
Gareth sprang to prominence earlier in the week after a frustrated series of posts on the Overclockers UK forum, as he struggled with EA's Dead Space 2; through this, he's managed to raise the profile of disabled gamers and persuade EA to patch in support to Dead Space 2. We've come to his family home in Leicester, UK to talk to him about the campaign, the difficulties he has with gaming, and the wide variety of support he's received. Due to his palsy it’s very hard for Gareth to talk, so his answers are short and sometimes his mother and full-time carer, Jacqueline Garratt, has to interpret for me.
PC Gamer: The set-up you have here is amazing. There are two huge screens, more DVDs, CDs and hard drives than I’ve ever seen, a good surround sound system, and a top-end custom PC; have you installed this all yourself?
Gareth: “Yes.” Jacqueline: "I'm his hands. He tells me what to do, and it goes in one ear... he knows what he’s doing though.”
PC Gamer: What games do you play?
Gareth: “I mainly play FPSes and racing games; I’ve been trying to play Dead Space; Dirt 2 was great, and I’ve been trying F1 2010 recently as well. I like Fallout 3 - New Vegas as well. I can play most genres, but it all depends on what options it gives. It's hard. I like to play multiplayer games with friends from Overclockers.”
PC Gamer: You play these with the mouse, and you use your chin to control the mouse. Using custom configurations, you assign walk forward to the right-mouse button, is that correct?
Gareth: Yes, and the fire button on the middle button. I play racing games on the Xbox controller, over there.
PC Gamer: How do you play reaction based games like that?
Gareth: I can use the sticks one at a time. On most driving games there are some buttons that you can’t customise. The Codemasters games are okay. Grand Theft Auto; I can’t change the controls, so it’s impossible to play because you have to use two keys at the same time.
PC Gamer: How did you get into PC Gaming?
Jacqueline: “When he was small, dad started him off on them. Gareth: “I’ve grown with them; at school, I used a lot of computers there, that's how it started off really.
PC Gamer: What was the first one you played?
Gareth: I think it could have been Sega Rally or something like that. Or perhaps Golden Axe
PC Gamer: That had multiple simultaneous inputs though; is there anything else you’d say, apart from single inputs and key configuration options, that would make it easier for you to play?
Jacqueline: “Add more buttons on the mouse, on the top, not the side” Gareth: “It's very hard to find a mouse with buttons on the top. All the customisable mice focus on the sides. Jacqueline: “They’re really for people who can use their hands.”
PC Gamer: Do you have any specialised bits of kit that help you game?
Gareth: Nothing: Everything's off the shelf. We have to fight for it at we get. Nobody helps, or advises us. Since I posted this on Overclockers UKforum, the OCUK community have been giving me good advice and some have offered to help.
PC Gamer: Have you ever tried contacting Special Effect (the UK’s disabled gaming charity)?
Jacqueline: “No, I’ve never phoned Special Effect. Gareth: “The things are so expensive; the head-tracking hardware is so expensive. It's hard to afford that kind of money?”
PC Gamer: What do developers do that makes it easier for you to play games?
Gareth: Not much. What annoys me is that they should have it on the back of the box.
PC Gamer: Do you feel that this is something government should be legislating about? A bit like the Age ratings?
Jacqueline: Yes. You pay out for the game, but when you get it back home you can't play it; it's not on the back saying whether it's got customised controls options. Gareth: And then you can't take it back, because of the no-returns policy. It should be on the back, and it should state if it can be customised or not.
PC Gamer: You’ve paid for all this yourself? If it’s not rude to ask, how much did it cost?
Gareth: Yes. £1,800; no help from government. Jacqueline: He’s got two monitors. Sky and Freeview. It’s taken a lot of time to get up to this standard. It used to be his dad helped him, but he passed away two years ago and I’m still learning.
PC Gamer: This Dead Space 2 campaign has taken up a lot of your time; were you expecting a response?
Gareth: No. (laughs) I had an email from the Dead Space developers saying they are working on a patch to enable customised controls in the game and they will send me out some goodies. About a year go, I sent an email to Rockstar about GTA IV again; I didn't get any reply back.
PC Gamer: Will you be carrying on your campaign?
Gareth: I’ve only contacted those two before, just those two for now. Yeah, I'll be contacting a lot more people. I’m getting fed up of wasting money every time.
PC Gamer: Do you go to the shops to buy them together? What do you do if you want to return a game?
Jacqueline: Yes, we do, but if you can't play it, you can't take it back. You've wasted the money. Four times we’ve had unplayable games we can do nothing with. It makes you angry, really angry.
PC Gamer: That’s British trading law; who do you blame for this?
Jacqueline: “It's the got to be down to the developer; it's not the shops fault; they're only sellling it. You've got to go to the source of it.
PC Gamer: Do you try before you buy?
Gareth: “A lot of games are not on demos. It's like FIFA 11; I can't play that, but FIFA 10 I can. They removed mouse controls on FIFA 11; I can't understand why they removed it. If it's already in FIFA 10, why take it out? I don't know. It happens frequently. Codemasters is very good at customised controls. EA is reasonably good but just lately they've gone downhill. Rockstar; the second GTA was okay, San Andreas, but GTA IV was bad. Rockstar: Get your arse into gear. (laughs).
PC Gamer: Do you use remapping programs?
Gareth: People say to you remapping programs and all that, but I shouldn't need to; it should be in the game itself. It would benefit everyone. With remapping programs I can get three buttons working, but I can't get the other buttons working. This Toshiba mouse has two mouse buttons, three extras on the top, and two buttons on the side but I can't use them.
PC Gamer: What would you do without games?
Gareth: I'd be bored out of my head. (laughs)
PC Gamer: Do you get any therapeutic benefits from games?
Gareth: No. It’s purely entertainment.
PC Gamer: Do you think it would be difficult for smaller companies to implement all the different supports needed for all the different types of disabilities?
Gareth: They could include options in the game menu to make it easier for all kinds of disabilities. If the small companies start doing that, then more people will buy their product and then they will grow into bigger companies!
PC Gamer: Have you received any messages of support for the campaign?
Gareth: We’ve been overwhelmed by the support; we’ve had messages from Thailand, Poland, America, and Russia... Lots of people have signed the petition. Another guy (AskACapper - quadraplegic Comedian Chuck Bittner) started the campaign - he did the petition first and then I joined in later. I helped him to get to 40,000 signatures - he’s going to see someone important about it, and now he's got something to take. I think he’s going to meet all of the developers for consoles and PC. At first he was focusing on consoles, at first, now he sees the PC side of it.
PC Gamer: What will you focus on next?
Gareth: I just want all the new releases that are coming out to include the option for customised controls; I'm not asking much. I'm not asking to change the whole game or anything; it's something simple to do, if you do it at an early stage. Everyone will benefit from it instead of using the mapping software.
Turns out the Dead Space 2 DLC, that was supposedly console specific, is available to unlock in the PC build. EA had previously told The Escapist that the DLC would not make it to the PC version, but users are reporting a save file is all that's required to unlock the extra suits and weapons.
There's a lively discussion, and instructions on how to access the content on the official Steam forum for the game.
Dead Space 2 developer, Visceral, recently announced they had started work on the ability to change key bindings in the game, one day after a disabled gamer created a petition for the cause. Fair play. Dan recently reviewed Dead Space 2. Read his opinions here.
Yesterday we mentioned the problems of a disabled gamer with Cerebral Palsy, who couldn't play Dead Space 2 because of a lack of key mapping features. A petition was launched asking Visceral to add key mapping to the game. It got more than 20,000 signatures. Visceral have responded today to say that a PC patch is on the way to fix the problem.
Executive Producer Steve Papoutsis sent confirmation to Joystiq that a fix is incoming. "The Dead Space 2 team is aware of the issue that disabled players are having with Dead Space 2 PC. In fact a number of folks on our team are so passionate about getting this fix done that they are currently working hard to allow players to re-map key bindings to the mouse which should help disabled players enjoy the game." He adds that "in addition to the key binding fix, the patch will include other fixes for PC players."
Hooray! A happy ending for everyone. We don't know exactly when the patch will hit, but it sounds like it's not too far away. For more on Dead Space 2, check out our review, and the official Dead Space 2 site for more information.
A disabled gamer has explained that he's unable to play Dead Space 2 thanks to a lack of button mapping features in the game. Gareth Garratt has cerebral palsy, and uses his head to control a mouse or controller when playing games. The inability to map any movement controls to his mouse means that he can't play Dead Space 2. A petition has been launched asking EA to add key mapping functionality to the game. It's already received more than 22,000 signatures.
Gareth posted about his situation when looking for a solution on the Overclockers forums, and has had hundreds of responses. "i can't use my hands, so i game using my chin. for disabled people like myself need fully customisable controls in all games, it can't be that hard to do surely?? If they can have the fire assigned to a mouse button, surely they could of assigned walk forward to a mouse button... so now I can't play this game and i wasted £25."
Gareth also posted a video demonstrating the way he uses the mouse to play Fallout: New Vegas, and has highlighted a petition started by disabled gamer and comedian, Chuck Bittner, also known as AskACapper. The petition asks developers for full button customisation in all games. Button customisation would help many disabled gamers, and it's a feature that, like dedicated servers and mod support, gives us all more control over the way we want to play our games. The petition already has more than 22,000 signatures. You can sign it here.
The “Previously, on Dead Space” video is a nice touch, though it reminds me how similar Dead Space 2’s premise and gameplay are to the last one. This time Isaac Clarke awakens on a facility on Saturn’s moon Titan, three years after the rescue-mission-gone-awry on the mining ship Ishimura, and finds a very familiar situation: Titan is overrun with space zombies called Necromorphs that have set about the meticulous dismemberment of everyone in sight—and he’s still having hallucinations of his dead girlfriend.
It also highlights that DS2 is a better sci-fi horror game, in a lot of subtle but important ways. While the plot is similar, the storytelling technique has changed for the better—Isaac has recovered from a bout of Gordon Freeman Syndrome (inexplicable muteness), and the voice performances are excellent. But the real star is the environment: for the entirety of the eight-hour campaign, Visceral does an expert job of making you feel in constant peril, alternating between tingling your spine with unsettling scenery and audio and trying to rip it out of your body by way of horrific monsters.
Fighting a Necro is different from other videogame enemies, in that shooting its head is like shooting a grizzly in the foot—it barely slows it down, and just makes it angrier. Picking off limbs takes them down quicker, requiring multiple accurate shots per target—which makes the smooth controls greatly appreciated.
DS2 has a zoo’s worth of different varieties of spitting, charging, wall-crawling nasties (including evil space-babies), and each puts up a hell of a fight. The first time I was hunted by the new Stalkers was one of the most frightening moments of the game—I caught a shadowy movement behind some crates out of the corner of my eye, but I found nothing there. I heard a chirping noise, and spun around to see a velociraptor-like creature charging toward me. With a scream it smashed me to the floor, then nimbly darted away, intelligently using cover to escape before I could hit its legs. Then, more chirping—and I realized I was surrounded. Clever girl.
Most of the 15 stages have a unique look to them (as unique as possible given that they’re mostly metal corridors), from the wrecked residential areas to the Necro-worshiping Unitologist temple to the EarthGov zone, and they’re punctuated by floaty zero-G areas. You have all the same tools as before—the upgradable Rig suit is equipped with time-slowing and telekinesis powers—but the levels are designed well and don’t overuse any one gimmick. That includes enemies that must be defeated by blasting their glowing yellow bits.
The new multiplayer owes a lot to Left 4 Dead’s example: four human players fight their way through a gauntlet of objectives while four class-based Necro players and AI-controlled backup zombies assail them from all sides. It’s fun, and produces some nail-biting finishes, but aside from making you unlock equipment with experience (which I don’t personally care for), it doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen before.
Overall, besides retaining the irritation of having to seek out a save station to avoid losing progress when I want to quit, DS2 is a smartly improved version of the original. It’s not a new experience, but it’s a hair-raiser nonetheless.