Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

Note: Portions of this review have been republished from our review of Batman: Arkham City played on Xbox 360.

It's not every day that a game can see a revision that trumps the "Game of the Year Edition." But Arkham City manages to do exactly that with the Wii U-exclusive "Armored Edition." Not only does it include all the content featured in the definitive GOTY collection, it adds a few new features that take advantage of the Wii U GamePad. These additions do a terrific job of making you feel that much more like the Batman--although the port's technical shortcomings hinder the experience quite a bit.

Not much content has been added to the Armored Edition of the game. Sure, there's the titular armored suits that both Batman and Catwoman can don. Enhanced with "Battle Armored Tech," the suits build up kinetic energy that can be unleashed for harder-hitting punches and kicks. It looks cool, but the added power probably isn't worth the reduced combo count you'll get as a result.

Instead, what's unique to the Wii U version of Arkham City is how you interact with the game's overabundance of content. WB Montreal has done an impressive job of taking advantage of the GamePad whenever possible, shoehorning the tablet into nearly every aspect of the game. While some will find the experience entirely gimmicky, I've found these moments to play into my love of Batman gadgetry.

The GamePad is essentially the Batcomputer, accessible at any time. In addition to the map and radar, the tablet displays relevant database information in real-time. Not having to press "Start" to see the Penguin's bio, for example, is a nice touch. When scanning for radio signals, you use a touch-based interface to find the frequency. When investigating a crime scene, you raise the GamePad and move it around, looking for clues to scan.

My favorite addition to the game is a subtle one. All the chatter you pick up on Batman's radio is transmitted via the GamePad's speakers, not the TV. It's a silly thing to note, but having the chatter come from an audio source closer to you only adds to the immersion.

While Arkham Asylum veterans will have no problem jumping in, Arkham City will undoubtedly be a bit intimidating for Nintendo fans that are only just entering the HD generation. As in the original game, there's little direction on how to master the game's rather unique "FreeFlow" combat system. (ProTip: Don't button mash!) Even the "AR tutorials" aren't much help, as the game gives you scant instruction on how to actually play these sequences. There are the occasional prompts that highlight which gadget you're supposed to use, but expect a lot of trial-and-error guesswork as you stumble through the open world. Interestingly, the game does offer some new guidance on the new Wii U-specific features, with new voiceovers for Alfred.

Arkham City would have been one of the most visually impressive games on Wii U at launch, rendering not only an open world, but dozens of enemies at once. You will be fighting entire mobs of enemies--an impressive feat, to say the least. However, whether it's sloppy optimization or underpowered hardware, the Wii U is not able to maintain a steady framerate. During the more crowded fights, the game chugs along with a framerate that looks like its in the teens. Even worse, when gliding around the open world, it's not uncommon for the game to simply freeze and stutter momentarily. In comparison to last year's Xbox 360 and PS3 release, the Wii U clearly suffers.

Another oddity of the Wii U version of the game. Harley Quinn's DLC is accessible at the very beginning of the game, and the associated character trophies are unlocked right from the get-go. If you want to avoid potential spoilers, we recommend not looking at this rather carelessly unlocked part of the menu.

It's a bit disappointing to have such a unique version of the game marred by such significant technical shortcomings. WB Montreal's approach to GamePad integration is novel to say the least, and having every DLC add-on included in the game makes it that much better of a deal. Rocksteady's original game remains a terrific Batman simulator, one that should be experienced on any platform. Gliding off a building, cape outstretched, kicking a goon off a ledge is still exhilarating. The numerous face-offs (and partnerships!) with iconic rogues will get any Bat-fan excited. Also, you still get to punch a shark in the face--albeit at a lower framerate.


This Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition review was based on a retail Wii U version of the game provided by the publisher. Portions of this review are based on a retail Xbox 360 version of the game also provided by the publisher.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

Hitman: Absolution is nearly everything I want from a video game. It's beautiful, big, and an absolute blast to play. While far from perfect, the addictive stealth gameplay of Hitman kept me coming back for more. IO Interactive has crafted a game filled with so many interesting sandboxes to play in, that it's hard not to come back over and over again, long after the credits have rolled.

Absolution is one of those rare games where you'll want to play just to experience the graphics. IO's new Glacier 2 engine pulls off some incredible visuals, among the best this generation has to offer. Particularly impressive are the scenes where the engine renders hundreds of NPCs for Agent 47 to walk through. Whether you're playing in a train station, a bar, or a strip club, the game manages to always throw some eye candy.

Each environment you play in feels thoroughly realized. In fact, the world can seem intimidating at times. The first time you're dropped into Chinatown, you must come to grips with the hustle and bustle of hundreds of people moving around. Then, you'll have to grasp how large the environment is, with tons of side alleys and restricted areas to access. And then you'll start realizing how many toys there are: whether it's a cup of coffee, a glass bottle, or a piece of sushi--there's so much you can interact with in your quest to take down your target.

IO clearly revels in how much they've jammed into each level in the game. At the end of a mission, you'll see a summary of what you've achieved, and what you've missed. A catalog of every interactive object in the environment is revealed, letting you ponder questions like "I wonder how I can use a bong to kill someone?" Each mission also includes a number of challenges that give you potential recipes for death. For example, if you really want to, you could dress up as a samurai and kill someone silently with a katana. And that's just one way to off your target.

Because there are so many ways to complete a level, achieving a perfect kill becomes all the more satisfying. It's one thing to kill your target and everything else in the way; it's another thing entirely to kill only your target--and make it look like an accident. By trying to make these "happy accidents" happen, Hitman: Absolution is, in many ways, like playing your own Home Alone--albeit a lot deadlier.

I personally attempted to do a "perfect" run for every level, resetting the level every time something went awry. However, Absolution offers enough flexibility where you don't have to play like that. With five difficulty levels, the game certainly tries its best trying to cater to a broad audience. Longtime fans will probably want to play the more hardcore modes, which introduces smarter enemies and gets rid of many of Agent 47's supernatural "Instinct" abilities. However, on the easier side of things, you'll be able to shoot your way out of most tight spots. (This video from Conan O'Brien is pretty representative of how a "bad" player on Easy difficulty might play.)

The game is littered with so many "did I do that?" moments that it becomes easy to ignore some of the game's more problematic aspects. In one level, I was able to steal a judge's outfit and walk into a courtroom and dismiss it. Moments like that help me forget the sometimes frustrating (and unbelievable) AI and glitchy checkpoint system.

Perhaps the game's biggest flaw is its tone. The story takes itself very seriously, in spite of it being focused on some absurd sci-fi nonsense. It's difficult to tell what IO was trying to do with the characters: were they meant to be intentionally funny, or are they simply poorly designed? Given the story features sexy ninja assassin nuns and a villain with a robotic hand, I wonder why the game takes itself so seriously.

In spite of the terrible story, the occasional glitch, and AI snafus, Absolution's gameplay has me coming back. And so long as there's still new exciting challenges for me to try and unlock I don't see myself quitting for quite some time.


This Hitman: Absolution review was based on a debug Xbox 360 version of the game provided by the publisher. The game will be available on November 20th on Xbox 360, PC, and PlayStation 3.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

Nintendo is never happy with maintaining the status quo. Like Wii before it, Nintendo's latest home console pivots away from what gamers would expect out of a traditional system. Yeah, Wii U can do motion controls like Nintendo's last-gen system--but the GamePad tablet introduces a whole new way to play.

I've been lucky enough to have the Wii U for over a week now. Here's what's thrilled me about the system and what's surprised me.

GamePad

With a six-inch screen and weighing just a pound, the Wii U GamePad is a surprisingly comfortable device to use. While it lacks the high-tech sheen of say, an iPad, the controller is clearly designed to be played for hours on end. With terrific analog sticks (that click in) and a full suite of buttons, the GamePad perfectly accommodates the "core" games that comprise much of the Wii U launch lineup. While the tablet may look more like a 3DS or Vita, I found it far more comfortable to use over hours of gameplay.

There's been some hubbub over the GamePad's use of a resistive screen instead of a capacitive one. What that essentially means is that you won't be able to perform multi-touch gestures on the touch screen. However, there hasn't been a single moment where I've lamented the antiquated touch screen tech. The GamePad does a remarkable job responding to touch, whether you're navigating the OS or having to swipe through a game page. Being able to use the stylus for certain games is also a nice touch--a feature that many capacitive screens don't allow.

Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the GamePad is its battery life. Nintendo estimates a 3- to 5-hour battery life for the tablet, and that's simply not enough for hardcore gamers that like to binge-game. From my experience, it appears battery life is closer to 3 hours than 5, but do note that the screen brightness is set to near-maximum by default. (You can change the brightness by hitting the Home button during a game and selecting Controller Settings.)

It's happened to me countless times, where I'll be in the middle of a game and the flashing red indicator will pop up on the bottom of my GamePad. You will be able to plug the system into an AC adapter and continue playing, but the lackluster battery life is definitely a nuisance.

The short battery life also interfered with one of my favorite features of playing with the GamePad: being able to play away from the television. While you won't be able to take the GamePad more than one room away from the base unit, there's something truly remarkable about playing PS3-quality games on a handheld. The fact that there's no latency whatsoever, even when 20 feet away from the device, is nothing short of a technical marvel. Being able to lie down in bed and play Mass Effect 3 is something that even the Vita can't do. While not every game supports this feature, it's an added convenience that I'm sure everyone will take advantage of--even if they don't plan to.

TV Remote

Another feature that I didn't expect to love was the GamePad's TV remote functionality. However, I use this feature every time I play Wii U. When you first start the console, you'll be able to register your TV in the easiest process I have ever seen for a universal remote. You simply type in your TV manufacturer's name, and you'll be done, pretty much. Then, when you hit the TV button on the bottom of the GamePad, you'll bring up a very rudimentary menu. Oddly, while it may not have many bells and whistles, I find myself using it all the time. Why bother reaching for the remote when I can change my TV's volume directly from the GamePad?

Smartly, Nintendo has made it so that you can use the TV remote features without turning on the Wii U console. By hitting TV, you'll be able to just use the GamePad as a remote. When you're ready to play Wii U, turn on the power and switch to the correct TV input--all from one device. Thanks to the rather unique nature of the GamePad, I doubt this is a feature that Microsoft or Sony will be able to match ever. Here's hoping that Nintendo continues expanding this functionality in future system updates.

This is a surprisingly useful feature

Wii U OS

Speaking of updates, you'll need to endure quite a large day-one patch in order to access most of the system's functionality. Out of the box, the Wii U can create Miis and play Wii U games... and that's it. Online features, such as Nintendo Network, access to video apps, and even the ability to play original Wii games are all locked out without the update. Oddly, all of these icons will appear on the menu--you just won't be able to access any of this content.

It took me over two hours to download the update. According to Geoff Keighley, the patch comes in at around 5GB. Do keep that in mind if you have bandwidth limits, or if you planned on enjoying your system right away.

With the update downloaded, I found myself enjoying how well Wii U handles multitasking. When you hit the Home button during a game, you'll be able to access your Friends List, Miiverse, and even the excellent Internet Browser while having the game paused. Apparently, you'll also be able to use Nintendo TVii while the game is suspended. That's extraordinary.

This is probably more important than the launch of new hardware

Nintendo Network

Perhaps more meaningful than the launch of Nintendo's new hardware is the fact that Wii U ships with Nintendo Network, the platform holder's first attempt at a comprehensive online experience. That means you'll be able to have a persistent user ID to connect with online friends. Being able to throw away Friend Codes is incredibly liberating. And adding friends is so incredibly easy now. You'll be able to find players you've recently played with in online games, and you'll be able to manually enter friend requests. Nintendo may be playing catch-up here, but Nintendo Network is living proof that it truly is better late than never.

Miiverse is an interesting part of Nintendo Network, letting you post status updates to your connected friends. It's essentially Facebook or Twitter of just your Nintendo friends. Intriguingly, Nintendo has promised to open up Miiverse to other platforms, including smartphones and the web.

One aspect of Miiverse that clearly trumps Xbox Live and PlayStation Network is the "Communities" feature. Each game can have a dedicated wall, letting users share tips and tricks. Being able to so easily engage in a community directly from your console is quite extraordinary, and makes competing networks seem insular in comparison. Miiverse shows huge potential, especially as it becomes deeply integrated into later Wii U titles.

While Nintendo's social approach to Nintendo Network is a winner, their eShop is a total disaster. It is pretty much impossible to navigate. Want to know what retail games are available to download? Sorry, you can't do that. Want to know what indie games are available to download? You can't do that either. The eShop does do one thing right, however. When you launch it while playing the game, you'll go to a page specifically designed for that title. Theoretically, all DLC will be viewable from here.

Perhaps most distressingly, the eShop doesn't even offer you file sizes of downloads. For example, Assassin's Creed 3 is downloadable. But instead of telling you how large the file is, there's only a warning: "Wii U Basic Set owners must have an external hard drive to download this software." (The PlayStation Store marks the downloadable version of the game at 11GB.)

Media

One of the biggest shortcomings of Nintendo's system is how poorly it handles media. While there's promise in the upcoming TVii feature, and the system will eventually support video apps from Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon, it's still quite lacking compared to what PS3 and Xbox 360 offer. Like Wii before it, Wii U does not support DVD or Blu-ray playback. And once again, the system does not support playback of locally stored media.

Don't throw these away, you'll need them

Backwards Compatibility

You'll be able to play most of your original Wii games on Wii U. In fact, you'll be able to transfer content from your old console to your new, provided you follow these rather cumbersome steps. To play original Wii discs, you'll have to launch an emulated Wii menu. It's odd, especially as you'll need to "quit" using the Wii in order to return to the Wii U.

Disappointingly, Wii U offers no upscaling of last-gen Wii games. While backwards-compatible PS3 systems offer scaling options for PS2 and PSone games, Wii U offers nothing of the sort. Those hoping to have a Dolphin experience on Wii U will have to dash those hopes.

Thankfully, Wii U does support every peripheral from the Wii era. That means you won't have to throw out your Wii Remotes, Nunchucks, MotionPlus attachments, etc. In fact, many multiplayer games require these accessories, meaning your investment in the Wii ecosystem will carry over into the new generation. Given titles like Nintendo Land require Wii MotionPlus and Nunchucks for multiplayer, you could be saving hundreds of dollars over new purchasers of the Wii U.

Read our guide on how to transfer Wii games to Wii U!

Game Reviews (last updated 11/19)

This list will be constantly updated with more launch window games.

Conclusion

Although many will read this looking for the answer to the question "should I buy this?," it's a bit too early to answer that right now. (And given the system's short supply, something we don't have to answer quite yet.) Wii U makes good on the promise of offering a very different experience than that of its competitors. However, the games will ultimately determine if Nintendo's GamePad experiment pays off.

It's clear the tech works. The seamless integration of TV and second screen must be commended. Nintendo Network, specifically Miiverse, must be applauded. And Wii U's multitasking capabilities put other consoles to shame. However, many should be (rightfully) worried about the system's graphical prowess. Being able to play Nintendo first-party games in HD for the first time is wonderful--but one wonders if only being able to slightly best current-gen specs will be enough on the precipice of a new console generation. But given the runaway success of the original Wii, perhaps there's no need to worry about that.


This Wii U review was based on a 32GB Pro system provided by the publisher. Nintendo also provided Shacknews a Wii U Pro Controller.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

Mobile achievements provider OpenFeint will be shutting down its service on December 14th, the company has announced. The cross-platform service was available in a number of iOS and Android games, including Fruit Ninja, Tiny Wings, The Moron Test, Robot Unicorn Attack, and more.

The service is being discontinued in favor of GREE, the service of OpenFeint's new parent company.

While it's likely developers of the service's most popular games will make the transition quite easily, other games that utilize OpenFeint may not have the resources to update the game to the new service. OpenFeint warns that certain games will feature a "poor player experience" after December 14th, should games not be updated.

Users that currently use OpenFeint will have their user information, including achievement points and friends, transition to GREE if they choose to create a new account on their service.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Everyone loves bursting a few zombie skulls, but true zombie connoisseurs (ew) prefer to take in the rich flesh-eating fiction. By the time ZombiU starts, the apocalypse has taken place and walking corpses have a run of the place. But what about two weeks before that?

Ubisoft has released a new web comic that details the 14 days just before the game starts. A new "day" of the comic is set to roll out every day for the next two weeks, showing what the world was like just after zombies began their brain-dead assault on humanity.

The game will be available this Sunday, as a launch title for Nintendo's new Wii U system. It uses the Wii U's signature GamePad peripheral as a backpack, flashlight, and corpse scanner. Check out our preview for more details.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

Given the countless singing games that have come out over the years, from Karaoke Revolution to SingStar to Rock Band, it's surprising that Wii U launch game SiNG Party can miss the mark so much. Developed by DJ Hero's FreeStyle Games and published by Nintendo, SiNG Party does its best of making a karaoke experience that takes advantage of the GamePad--but fails to make a singing engine worth playing.

SiNG Party is, at the very least, a decent value. Included with the standard $60 price tag is a USB microphone that plugs into the front of the Wii U console, and a track list of 50 songs. The variety represented by the game is baffling, ranging from modern favorites like Call Me Maybe to classic tunes like Go Your Own Way. The rather eclectic mix means there will be tons of duds in this collection--but it also guarantees you'll find something that suits your taste.

While the song selection should be commended, playing the game isn't all that much fun. The singing engine isn't particularly great. In fact, it feels like a step backwards from other games, as it offers no feedback on rap and spoken word segments. Songs that have particularly long instrumental breaks are especially tedious to sit through. Whereas Rock Band solved that problem by having singers clap along with the mic, and Lips had its silly gyroscopic microphone, SiNG Party makes no attempt at engaging the player during these segments.

The presentation is also lacking. Whereas the decades-old SingStar games offer official music videos to accompany the track, Party offers bland, generic scrolling wallpapers. It feels cheap, especially as SingStar is now available as an entirely customizable free-to-play experience on the PlayStation Network. Rock Band at least offers avatar tools and a story mode that gives you a sense of progression; SiNG Party's medal system is a poor attempt at giving the experience a sense of cohesion.

Of course, few play karaoke games alone. The titular "Party" mode of the game is clearly where FreeStyle Games focused the most. Unfortunately, I can't determine if this mode was a good idea executed poorly, or just a bad idea altogether. In the Party mode, one player takes the GamePad and microphone and performs in front of the television, facing the audience. The GamePad not only displays lyrics, but directions on how to engage your audience. While well-meaning, there's something terribly awkward about a game telling you to tell others to clap along. The forced directives make this feel less like a Party, and more like an exercise video. And the game's total lack of feedback on the singer's or audience's participation makes following these instructions rather moot.

If there is one thing to like about the Party mode, it is very attractive. The audience gets to see dynamic text appear on the screen, highlighting parts of the song where they should sing along. It looks very fresh--although it's still not an adequate replacement for having music videos.

Casual Wii U owners looking for a karaoke experience will still get a lot of mileage out of SiNG Party--if only because there's no alternative on the platform. It gets the job done, and likely will for as long as Nintendo releases DLC for the game. However, singing enthusiasts have much better options on other platforms, and won't need an invitation to this otherwise disappointing party.


This SiNG Party review was based on a retail Wii U version of the game provided by the publisher. The game will be available on November 18th. Online functionality could not be tested, as Nintendo Network was unavailable before publishing.

Shacknews - Tyler J. Smith

Happy weekend, Shackers. Late Night Computing for November 16, 2012 lands in celebration.

Next Thursday is Thanksgiving, obviously. We're busy preparing in my household, but I can't help not have any interest. Usually I make a giant pig of myself. This year, on the other hand, I'm bored of our usual recipes. Do me a huge favor, Shack, and post links to your favorite Turkey day recipes. My family really needs to get out of the stale menu we have every year.

News bits.

  • Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battlestation as Disney is rumored to want two to three new Star Wars movies per year. [via Blastr]

  • Intrigued after seeing the new screenshots for The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and it's Dragonborn downloadable pack? Spend 10-minutes with samyoulonline and examine the lore of the upcoming content. [via Youtube]

  • Watch rookie Viper jock William Adama take on the tin-face Cylons in the third and fourth episodes of Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome [via Youtube]

  • Is Google aiming to become a wireless carrier of its very own? Interesting given their extremely competitive Nexus 4 pricing. [via BGR]

  • Stock up on Twinkie supplies this weekend, since it might be awhile before you see them again. [via Newser]

  • The Seattle Mariners add an enormous video display measuring 201.5 feet by 56.7 feet at their Safeco Park with full 1080p resolution. [via Seattle Times]

Chatty posts of the moment.

Make sure you log-in and check your filters if you can't see the following:

  • "[Grand Theft Auto: Vice City] has been removed from steam for purchase due to a music licensing copyright claim from Sony Music. That's a bummer. Got it in a holiday package deal a year ago. Still a fun game." [by silent prophet]

  • "So, SW: ToR went free to play today. My favorite part so far, besides only having 2 action bars, is this. You also only get 3 loot rolls per week (for instances), and the 'hide helm' ability has to be purchased. EA: How not to do F2P." [by LoioshDwaggie]

Nightly file.

  • Into the Dark demo 1.0. "Developed by Indie Austrian studio HomeGrown Games, Into The Dark follows Pete O’Brannon, a jaded private investigator who uses dubious methods to obtain information for the largest insurance company on America’s East Coast. His latest case leads him to an isolated New England cabin where he encounters much more than he bargained for. Now Pete must find a way to escape the madness. Into The Dark combines puzzle, adventure, first person shooter and RPG elements with a visible “basement” development approach for an exciting gaming experience." Download the free demo for Windows.

Media.

Sword of the Stars II: Enhanced Edition debut trailer:

Paradox Interactive and Kerberos Productions announce the new Enhanced Edition of Sword of the Stars II, contents of which are free for original purchasers of the game.

Playground Games takes a look at Forza Horizon's community events in a new developer diary, the 666th Devil Dogs show off their combat prowess for Planetside 2, FIFA Soccer 13 details its features for the WiiU, and RaiderZ launches with an accolades trailer.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Torchlight 2 has been outfitted with a new patch that, among its various bug fixes and tweaks to current game systems, adds a couple more pets. Now you can have an owl or a badger following you around and doing your busywork for you.

Other additions from the patch notes include Russian and Polish language options, balance adjustments and fixes to the Engineer, Berserker, and Embermage, and pathing and collision fixes. Zombies also only strike once per explosion, and the game won't crash when wearing gear that requires a requirement reduction spell.

Probably most importantly to affected players, the game was apparently keeping some of them stuck without being able to advance their quests. That should be fixed now. But hey, owls!

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

Wii U will launch with a YouTube app built into the system, but don't fret if you're sticking with Nintendo's original motion controlling console. Google has launched a dedicated YouTube app for the SD Wii.

Go to the Wii Shop Channel to download the free app. Although you can still use the Internet Browser to access YouTube, the app will offer a lot more functionality, such as the ability to log into your YouTube account, watch your subscriptions, and see official music videos.

Shacknews - Ryan Calavano

Activision has gone over the launch-day figures for the latest Call of Duty game and once again declared the latest instalment the biggest-selling yet. Then, we knew Mr. Torgue was coming as DLC for Borderlands 2, but now we know that his Campaign of Carnage will hit on November 20 and will cost $10. Finally, Hitman: Absolution is just around the corner, and Square Enix is drawing its promotional blitz to a close with the final launch trailer.

You can also watch this episode on YouTube. And, don't forget to subscribe to get the latest episodes as they go up.

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