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Gaming Daily: 2nd July 2012

Welcome back to another Monday on Gaming Daily, and today’s main story sees a huge new development for Sony, one which could shape the direction they take in the next generation of consoles.

Sony Acquires Gaikai for $380 million

In a major announcement this morning, Sony revealed that it had struck a deal to purchase cloud gaming service Gaikai. Heavily rumoured around the time of E3, the move sees Sony aim to create “a new cloud service” based on the acquisition, allowing them to shortcut the research and development portion of any future services. In a press release, SCE President and Group CEO Andrew House said of the deal: “By combining Gaikai’s resources including its technological strength and engineering talent with SCE’s extensive game platform knowledge and experience, SCE will provide users with unparalleled cloud entertainment experiences. SCE will deliver a world-class cloud-streaming service that allows users to instantly enjoy a broad array of content ranging from immersive core games with rich graphics to casual content anytime, anywhere on a variety of internet-connected devices.”

Whilst the deal still hinges on competition commission approval and various other legal hoops, what it represents is a monumental leap into the cloud space for Sony. Speculating, it could possibly allow Sony to leverage their entire back catalog without the need for their consoles to require additional hardware. It could also extends their audience to anyone with a variety of internet connected deviced, including iPads, smartphones and the like, as custom hardware wouldn’t be a necessity for a cloud gaming service. Gaikai themselves recently signed a deal with Samsung enabling games to be streamed to any compatible TV’s (a deal that may come into question given Sony’s interest in the television market). While some remain skeptical of cloud based gaming due to the infancy of broadband and bandwidth and speed requirements, today’s announcement still marks an exciting time for video games, and a vision into what the future could hold for the medium. While Sony haven’t announced whether they intend to implement this on the PS3 or PS Vita, we’ll keep you up to date on any developments/announcements as they become known.

Seth Killian joins Sony Santa Monica

It seems we’ve had many stories recently of developers leaving their respective companies for pastures new. Add another story into the mix: Seth Killian, known in fighting circles as “S-Kill”, and who recently left his position as special advisor at Capcom, was today unveiled as a lead game developer in Sony’s Santa Monica studio. Killian, founder of the EVO gaming championships and pro fighting game competitor, will oversee development of the upcoming Sony All-Stars Battle Royale. Killian spoke on the US Playstation blog about the title:

“Fighting games are very close to my heart, and as someone that’s spent much of my life with traditional fighters, All-Stars has been a great opportunity to take a step back and rethink fighting fundamentals from the ground up. The entire team was put together from scratch to create this game, and they are loaded with fighting game superstars (including some impressive tournament credentials–I’m not even the first EVO finalist to join the team!) who love great combat just as much as I do… we’ll be taking All-Stars on the road and making sure you guys have plenty of opportunities to go hands-on, starting with PlayStation’s first official presence at EVO this weekend”

THQ stock reverse sees them maintain NASDAQ listing

It’s no secret that developer THQ has been in dire straits recently. Facing a delisting from the NASDAQ stock exchange, THQ took the drastic step of a reverse stock split, in essence consolidating approximately 70 million shares into around 7 million, and increasing the value of the shares from 61 cents to $6.20, retaining their stock listing for now. In order to maintain their listing, the stock will have to remain above $1 per share (NASDAQ’s minimum share price) for 10 consecutive days. It’s another in a long series of  developments in THQ’s ongoing troubles, which has seen them close studios and shed licences, including the valuable UFC licence to EA, in a bid to remain afloat.

Battlefield 3 Double XP week underway

Those with a penchant for shooters will be pleasantly surprised when they turn on Battlefield 3 this week. Developers DICE are running a week long double XP event, making all those kills, revives and repairs even more valuable. Those who subscribe to the premium service will have the event available all week, whilst everyone else will only earn double XP until July 4th.

Daily Trailer: Halo 4 – Forward Unto Dawn

Each day, we end the piece with the latest trailers. Today’s teaser is from the upcoming “Forward Unto Dawn”, a live action web series coming this autumn. The series will focus on the beginning of the human/Covenant war, and will be shown on Microsoft’s Halo Waypoint service as a five episode series, as well as on Machinima.

That’s another Monday in the bag, as usual any comments are extremely welcome, either below or on twitter @michael_ormonde.

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Gaming Daily: June 29th 2012

Welcome to the Friday edition of Gaming Daily, your look at the biggest stories breaking around the games industry.

Vivendi looking to sell shares in Activision Blizzard

Some industry news first, and market website Bloomberg reports that Activision Blizzard parent company Vivendi could be looking to offload it’s $8.1 billion, 61% stake in the gaming giant. Activision Blizzard are arguably the biggest developer and publisher in the industry, and are responsible for some of the biggest titles in gaming including the Call of Duty and World of Warcraft franchises. If no overall buyer is found, it’s possible that Vivendi could sell a stake in the company on the open market. It marks a turbulent time for Vivendi, which has seen their stock hit a nine year low, and who have recently ousted their CEO.

Premium type offers coming to more EA titles?

With reports that take up of Battlefield 3’s Premium subscription model has surpassed the 800,000 mark in a little over 2 weeks, EA has raised the possibility that similar models could come to their other titles. Patrick Soderlund, EA Games Executive Vice President was bullish on the service’s performance. “We are very pleased with the performance so far. We’re actually only two weeks into it, so it’s a little early to tell how this is going to pay off. It certainly it looks very promising right now.”, with another executive, Frank Gibeau, stating “longer term we think that we can bring more properties into that offering and that’ll be great for the business”. He also responded to criticism of the service’s similarity to Call of Duty’s Elite offering: “We had EA Sports subscription before Elite came out, so adding that component to the design is not a reaction. It’s something we’d always been considering and we had been looking at… We actually think our Premium service exceeds what Elite does – from a value standpoint [and] from a content standpoint”.

Clint Hocking quits LucasArts

In another story of a developer leaving a major studio for pastures new, LucasArts’ Clint Hocking, has announced his departure from the company:

Yup, that’s right, you heard it here first. Unless you heard it somewhere else first. I recently left my job at LucasArts and am moving on to something new. Unlike last time, (and mercifully less wordy) I already have something lined up and I am currently in the process of dealing with the living hell of relocation. I will let the world know where I am going once I get there. Unless you already know.

Expendables 2 getting a game tie in

If over-the-top, balls to the wall, out and out action movies are your thing, you’ll no doubt have heard that The Expendables 2 is in production. What you may not have heard is that Ubisoft is developing a tie in game that will be available on PC, PSN and XBox Live. From the official blurb: “Building on the universe created in the high-octane, star-studded movies, The Expendables 2 Videogame invites gamers on an adventure to rescue an extremely valuable, kidnapped billionaire. It’s business as usual, until all hell breaks loose and the explosive mix of testosterone and kerosene detonates in a massive fireball that never lets up. The adventure concludes right where the new movie begins, creating a continuous story experience for fans of the Expendables’ hard-boiled brand of action.”. From screens released, the game looks to be a side scrolling shooter, and features Barney Ross, Yin Yang, Gunner Jensen and Hale Caesar (who are Sylvester Stallone, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren and Terry Crews respectively).

That wraps up the week, Gaming Daily will be back next week. Any and all feedback, either here or through twitter @michael_ormonde, is appreciated.

Gaming Daily: June 27th 2012

Welcome again to Gaming Daily, a journey through the daily happenings in your favourite industry. Let’s just jump straight in.

Halo 4: New Details Emerge

Given the E3 was only 3 weeks ago, it’s funny that there should be anything major revealed about Microsoft’s flagship franchise that wasn’t revealed at the industry’s main get together, but details are spreading on the new entry into the Halo universe from the Microsoft ExpertZone, their online guide for retail employees to brush up on their knowledge. Highlights on the new information revealed include:

  • For the first time, Master Chief will have a true nemesis.
  • The game includes 10 new weapons as well as 2 new vehicle types
  • 10 multiplayer maps to play in multiplayer, with confirmation of more via DLC
  • Spartan Ops mode will feature 5 new missions a week, spread over 10 weeks for season 1, lasting up to 12 hours, and is completely free

There’s a fair amount to digest, so to see full screen captures, visit the Little English Blog which broke the story.

Kaz Hirai Steps Down from SCE Board

Kaz Hirai, the man who helped rebuild the Playstation brand after taking over as chairman of Sony Computer Entertainment, moved further away from the video game division today as he stepped down as chairman of the SCE Board. Hirai was appointed CEO of Sony in April, and this is seen as allowing him to focus more on reviving the fortunes of Sony’s TV and Mobile Phone divisions. Hirai will continue on as a part time board member of SCE.

Sony: No “Definitive Plans” on Resistance future

Following on from the lukewarmly received Resistance: Burning Skies on the Playstation Vita, Sony was remaining coy on the future of it’s first person shooter franchise. Danier Brooke, producer at sony is quoted as saying “The Resistance franchise has been exciting to work on, but as for the future we have no definitive plans”. That’s not to say that there won’t be another game in the series. Insomniac Games may not be working on the franchise any more, as development duties for the latest Vita incarnation fell to Nihilistic, but Sony still owns the rights to the universe, and after spending so long developing the lore, they probably aren’t ready to throw it away just yet.

Mass Effect 3 Future DLC contained in “Extended Cut” files?

We reported yesterday that Bioware finally released its much anticipated “Extended Cut” Mass Effect 3 ending DLC to the masses, and it looks like some eagle eyed gamers spotted some hints at possible upcoming DLC within its contents. Tentatively referred to as “Leviathan”, the story is said to focus on a Reaper of the same name. Bioware executives even got in on the act, taking to social networks to tease fans about the possibility of upcoming DLC. Mike Gamble is quoted on twitter as saying “As I’ve said before, we do this for you! EC was our gift to the fans. Hope you enjoyed. Also… keep your ears open over the next little while”.

Camilla Luddington is the new Lara Croft

Finally today, Square Enix revealed the actress set to take on the role of Lara Croft in the upcoming reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise. Camilla Luddington is most well known for roles in True Blood and Californication as well as decidedly dodgy Will and Kate TV movie. Darrell Gallagher, head of studio at Crystal Dynamics spoke of the appointment: This has been one of the most important jobs for us to get right. This Tomb Raider game is very different to any other and we are demanding far more from the voice and performance acting than ever before as we take the franchise in a new direction.’

Which brings us to the end of another Gaming Daily. Remember, any and all feedback is appreciated, either via the comments below, or on twitter @michael_ormonde.

Gaming Daily: June 26th 2012

Welcome to today’s edition of Gaming Daily, in what is a very DLC oriented edition. Without further ado, let’s continue to today’s biggest stories.

Mass Effect “Extended Cut” released, PS3 version not yet available in Europe

For those living under a rock, a little game called Mass Effect was released this past March to somewhat universal critical praise. However, some gamers were not happy with what they deemed an unsatisfactory narrative end to the trilogy, and were not shy about voicing those complaints online. In answer to this, Bioware today released the “Extended Cut” expansion pack.

Via the Mass Effect website, the developer explains. “The Extended Cut expands on the endings of Mass Effect 3 through additional scenes and epilogue sequences. It provides more of the answers and closure that players have been asking for. It gives a sense of what the future holds as a result of the decisions made throughout the series. And it shows greater detail in the successes or failures based on how players achieved their endings. The Extended Cut is an expansion of the original endings to Mass Effect 3. It does not fundamentally change the endings, but rather it expands on the meaning of the original endings, and reveals greater detail on the impact of player decisions.”

However, the content is yet to be made available to European PS3 players, with a one week delay penciling the release in on July 4th. No reason was given for the delay.

Skyrim – “Dawnguard” DLC released

For many people, Skyrim was last year’s game of the year. The expansive world and deep narrative allowed them to overlook what was a patchy launch across all platforms, with many players putting literally hundreds of hours into Bethesda’s open world RPG. Their wishes were granted today when the game’s first major expansion pack arrived in the form of Dawnguard on the XBox 360. A one month timed exclusive, Dawnguard retails for 1600 Microsoft Points, and introduces a new quest line, featuring the return of a Volkihar vampire lord named Harkon, who plans to use the power of the Eldar Scrolls to block out the sun. Players have the option of enlisting with the Dawnguard in protection of the realm, or choosing to instead join forces with the Volkihar vampires to help them in their quest. To begin the new quest line, players should listen out for whispering NPCs, or ask Hold Guards about enlistment into a band of vampire hunters.

Journey Collector’s Edition won’t see the light in Europe

Following up on yesterday’s Gaming Daily, Journey developers thatgamecompany have revealed via twitter that the much lauded Collector’s Edition most likely won’t see a release in Europe. “We wish Europeans could get it, but there’s nothing we can do” reads the tweet from the official company account, saying the best thing people could do would be to “bug @PlayStationEU“. I’ve left the link in there as I highly advocate bugging the official Playstation EU account, as titles such as these should be experienced by as many people as possible. Thankfully, with the PS3 being region free, if the title isn’t released, it should still be possible to import via any number of online retailers.

Dust 514 “Mercenary Pack” offers unlimited Beta Access now

One of the possible sleepers of this year could be CCP’s Dust 514. The free-to-play expansion of the Eve Online universe is shaping up nicely (there’s way too much detail cover here, but to hear how nicely, I’d recommend listening to this in depth interview from PSNation.org). Today, CCP revealed the availability of the “Mercenary Pack”, a way for those of us not in the currently closed beta to gain access. Whilst it might sound cheeky to offer paid access to the beta of a game that will eventually be free-to-play, the list of content on offer is enticing:

4,000 Aurum ($20 USD value) – the in-game currency for DUST 514 that you can buy in the PS Store
30-dat Active Skill Booster – increases earned Skill Points (SP) by 50%
‘Dragonfly’ Scout Dropuit – a uniquely designed armor with unlimited use
‘Toxin” ICD-9 Submachine Gun with unlimited use and a custom skin
HK4M Shotgun X 50
Hacked Drop Uplink x 50 – allows players to create on-the-spot spawn points for their teammates
Fused Locus Grenade x 50
1.5dn Myofibril Stimulant x 50 – offers players a temporary melee damage boost against opponents
All Access Beta Pass – allows players to participate in every Beta Event, as well as additional play sessions during off weekends

The pack releases tomorrow on the PSN in preparation for a 2012 release.

Katsuhiro Harada – “Stop Whining About Everything”

Finally today, in what looks like a case of someone finally losing his cool with constant fanboy requests and demands, famed Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada took to twitter today to (ironically) whine about the constant whiny requests he has to deal with on a day to day basis. Rather than try to paraphrase, I’ve reproduced the entire post below (via twitlonger):

I have something I want to say to the people who spam me with requests to “switch back(or Bring back) to the voice actors used previously”. I believe that, before whining and complaining about everything, you need practice at taking a step back and analyzing things objectively. And also at being an adult.

First, the voice you were listening to was 16 years ago, during the PlayStation period. The current generation of consoles are totally different in how they play back sound; both software-wise, and the internal circuitry. The playback program is different, as well as the sound effects added; reverb and 5.1 are examples of this. The comrpression rate, as well as the sound rate, is different today. Are you playing games on the same TV you used 16 years ago? What about your speakers? Headphones? They are all the same as 16 years ago? I wonder if it will sound like the same voice as 16 years ago, even with that data..

Also, you are assuming the voice actors themselves can reproduce the voice the recorded 16 years ago? Many voice actors decline work because their voice has changed since the original role, some have even retired. Sometimes they won’t accept, even if we ask. The recording studio and the equipment they use is also different. With all of this in mind, you still thing it is possible to recreate these voices?

Some might say “just pay them to reuse the voice data”. But, often the voice actors decline this, or their agency declines.

For example, Brian’s laugh is the actual data from Tekken 3. As fans have requested, we’ve kept using the original, adapting the data recorded 16 years ago to be used on the PS2, and then PS3. Even so, some people said it is a different voice in Tekken 6 than the original. It can’t be helped they might think that. As explained above, even though the master data is the same, all of the equipment used in adapting it has completely changed. That said, it isn’t a good idea to try to reccreate the older recording environment because then the data sounds heavily compressed, with noise. More than that, it would sound out of place next to the voice data of the newer characters.

WHAT? You say some of the voices sound like they haven’t changed at all? I guess you didn’t notice that the development team has re-recorded them, but made efforts for it to sound as close as possible to the original. And you probably didn’t even notice.

Do you know that all of the voice work for a character is not always done by just one voice actor? Using Brian as an example, the laugh you guys love so much uses the original data from Tekken 3, but the short kiai voice uses a different voice actor, and the “come on!” voice also uses a different voice actor. A lot of other characters also use different voice actors for the spoken lines and for the shouts.

I did the voice work for Marshal and Forest for 15 years. However, I can no longer produce that voice after Tekken 5, so we had a different voice actor for Tekken 6.

The Tekken series has continued for 17 years. The development environment, as well as the environment in which you all play games, has changed. There are so many characters, and we can’t keep using he same voice actors every time, for a variety of reasons. I have even complied to the requests of you all spamming me to “bring back characters” from previous installments. You often say, “let’s show the dev team how sincere we are by buying 2 copies if they bring back character X”, but did you really go through with it? Expecting you to at least pre-order the game, I was met with more spam, after you apparently didn’t notice that Jun and Michelle actually return.

I still have some characters left to be revealed that comply with some of your requests, even “bringing back” several others. Even so, none of them are paid DLC. I will continue to sincerely comply with fan requests. However, I can’t continue to engage the negative ones that, without knowing what you are talking about, or even thinking about what you are saying, blindly repeat “bring back, bring back, bring back…”. After this lengthy explanation, I will be quite surprised if there are still people who still don’t get it.

Thanks for understanding or not understanding. Whatever.

That’s it for today, keep an eye on the site for much more in the coming days and weeks, including a look ahead to the remaining months of 2012. As usual, any and all feedback is appreciated, either via the comments below, or on twitter @michael_ormonde.

Gaming Daily: June 25th 2012

Just to preface this slightly, the idea behind “Gaming Daily” will be to bring you the top stories from around the industry in bite-sized chunks, making for easy reading.

Guilty Plea for Lulzsec pair

We start the week off with another chapter in the hacking saga involving the PSN last year. Two British teenagers, Ryan Cleary and Jake Davis, 19 and 18 respectively, have plead guilty to two separate counts of conspiracy related to the attack on the PSN, as well as a whole host of other websites such as News International and 20th Century Fox. They, along with two other suspects, Ryan Ackroyd (25) and an unnamed 17 year old, each deny charges of publishing confidential information and will face trial next year.

The attacks on the PSN occurred in April last year, and were the responsibility of the hacking collective Lulzsec, a splinter group of Anonymous. The accounts of approximately 77 million PSN users were accessed, which lead to the network being taken offline for a period of  24 days. The attack was estimated to have cost Sony in the region of $171 million.

Journey Collectors Edition

On a happier note, proponents of the games-as-art argument and well renound development studio Thatgamecompany officially unveiled the Journey Collector’s Edition. While only confirmed for a US release at the moment, the bundle features all three of their critically acclaimed PSN exclusive titles – Journey, flOw and Flower, as well as three exclusive mini games and a whole host of other content including soundtracks, commentaries and avatars. The trailer can be seen below:

James Mielke trades in Q Entertainment for Q-Games

James Meilke, one-time 1Up journalist turned games producer (with titles such as Child of Eden and Lumines Electronic Symphony under his belt), revealed today that he’s set to leave development studio Q Entertainment for the similarly named but completely unrelated Q-Games, developers of the excellent PixelJunk games. Talking to CVG, Meilke said that he’s leaving Q Entertainment “on the best of terms” adding that “for a lot of reasons I won’t bore you with the time felt right to shift gears and move forward”. If his output is anything like that at Q Entertainment, it’s an exciting development and we wish him the best at Q-Games.

Dragons Dogma rolls past the One Million Mark

dragons dogmaStaying in Japan, Capcom told outlets today that it has shipped one million units of its new role playing game Dragon’s Dogma. While that doesn’t mean they’ve sold one million units (the number sold is more than likely significantly less than this), it’s good news for the developer following a string of bad publicity, including the outrage at DLC for Street Fighter X Tekken being included on the disc.

Black Ops 2: Declassified Developer Mystery

Black Ops: DeclassifiedFinally today, when asked about the developer of upcoming Playstation Vita title Black Ops: Declassified, Treyarch’s Director of Communications John Rafecz seemed as in the dark as the rest of us. “I don’t know… With regards to the Vita, all I can tell you is that it’s quite literally declassified.” We’re sure he meant classified. Speculation abounds that ex Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero developers Neversoft have taken the reigns, while the exact nature of other CoD studio Sledgehammer’s work also remains a mystery. The signs aren’t good for Call of Duty fans on the Vita, although it could just be the developers toying with us…

That’s it for Monday’s headlines. If you’ve any comments on the format, or about any of the news items, make sure to let me know in the comments below, or I can be reached on twitter @michael_ormonde

Playstation Vita Review: The Hardware

Image of Playstation Vita SystemSince its official announcement in January 2011, gamers everywhere have been salivating at each tidbit of news Sony have unveiled about the Playstation Vita. Originally codenamed the NGP (Next Generation Portable), the handheld boasted specs that were unheard of from a portable gaming device. Now that we have the Vita in our hands, does it live up to the lofty expectations that Sony have set for it, or is it just another piece of tech in an already crowded market. Read on to find out.

 

Aesthetic

There’s no doubting the Playstation Vita is a sexy piece of hardware. Sporting a similar look to the original PSP, the Vita won’t look out of place amongst any of your other gadgets. One of the first things you’ll notice is how light the device is. Despite cramming in a plethora of input options and other features, the system is not exceptionally heavy, making sure that longer gaming sessions won’t put a strain on your arms and hands. Its rounded edges allow the unit to be held comfortably, and grooves in the back give you purchase, and make sure you’re not accidentally hitting off the rear touchpad. The buttons are all where you would expect them to be, and everything is within reach without too much dexterity of the fingers necessary. In saying that, the buttons don’t offer as much resistance as a traditional PS3 pad, and the dual analog sticks will take some getting used to for seasoned gamers.

Display

The Vita boasts the best display of any handheld gaming device. The 5 inch OLED screen is crystal clear, and has a depth of colour and clarity benefiting the raw power available to it. It doubles as a touchscreen, which is used for the majority of navigation around the device’s user interface, as well as for some game inputs. It’s responsive, though as with any touchscreen device , smudges and fingerprints can pose somewhat of an issue, but it is easy to clean and seems somewhat resistant to damage. The visuals of the system are on par with home consoles, which is very impressive from a mobile device; if you squint, you’d almost think you’re playing your PS3.

Screenshot of Wipeout 2048

If you want to show off how good your Playstation Vita looks, you can do worse than Wipeout 2048

Inputs

The Playstation Vita has the capability to cater for any game type imaginable. First and foremost for “hardcore” gamers, the system features the traditional button configuration you will be used to from the Playstation 3. Key to this is the inclusion of dual analogue sticks, a component sorely missing from the PSP and PSPGo, and only catered for on the rival 3DS by way of a clunky attachment. The standard X, O, square and triangle setup that has become synonymous with the Playstation brand will be the primary control method for most games released on the system. That’s not to say that will be the only way, and some of the more niche titles have already used the other inputs in various ways. As mentioned previously, and as anyone with a smartphone can attest to, the front touchscreen is now a viable input for gaming, and the Vita’s OLED screen performs this task admirably. The Vita also features a rear touchpad and front and back cameras, as well as gyroscopic mechanisms to detect tilt and movement. All of these seem functional, although the camera is of a very low quality, with most modern phones outperforming it easily.However, until more software begins to utilise the different control schemes, it is difficult to judge how useful they will be in the long run. From my time with the system, I’m excited by the potential the Vita has to cater for a vast array of games that were, until now, realistically only possible on home systems.

User Interface

The entire interface of the Playstation Vita is touchscreen based. Again, anybody who owns an iPhone or other smart device will instantly be comfortable with the application based menus on offer. Apps can be divided into up onto numerous screens, so those of us (myself included) who like to keep things organised can have one screen for our retail games, one for downloadable titles et cetera. Upon launching an application, you’re taken to that application’s “LiveScreen”. This acts as a central hub for that particular app; it provides links to the user manual, shows any updates the title has received, as well as your most recent actions on that title among other things. Most functionality is walled up inside applications, but the Playstation Vita features multitasking which allows users to instantly switch between applications. Switching is as easy as pressing the PS button (which instantly takes you back to that application’s LiveScreen), peeling away the dog eared corner, and touching the application you want to launch. It’s really that simple. It helps that the Vita is a powerhouse, as there is virtually no slowdown when you do this. The time between closing your game and launching another is minimal, which is perfect for when you’re on the go. Another great feature of the system is the ability to take screenshots at any point, simply by hitting the PS and Start buttons simultaneously. It’s a small bullet point, but allows you to capture anything on the system and show it off you your friends (all the images from this review were taken using the Vita’s screenshot utility).

Image of Vita UI

The interface will be familar to anybody with a smartphone

The Vita comes preloaded with numerous apps and utilities, some of which deserve mention here. Firstly, there is an in built content manager, allowing you to transfer data and perform system backups between your Vita and PS3, or your Vita and PC (once you’ve installed the necessary software). There is also “Near”, which is the Vita’s answer to the Nintendo 3DS’s “StreetPass” system, showing you any Vita activity nearby, and caters for the sharing of in game items. Also available are the standard fare for any portable system, applications to handle your twitter and facebook (although currently inactive due to technical issues), as well as other social networking sites.

Launch Lineup

It’s all well and good releasing a killer system, but unless you have the software to back it up, it won’t mean much as no one will want to buy a new handheld if there’s nothing to play on it. Thankfully, Sony have produced one of the most stellar launch line-ups in recent memory. There’s definitely something to cater for everyone, whether you’re a massive Uncharted fan looking forward to playing Drake’s next adventure, you much prefer racing around at insanely fast speeds in Wipeout 2048, or prefer bite-sized gaming with any number of the downloadable games available from the PSN.

Conclusion

The Playstation Vita isn’t perfect. The decision to use proprietary memory cards, and the cost of said memory cards, while understandable given the rampant piracy evident on the Vita’s predecessor, is definitely a barrier for entry given their high cost compared to standard memory cards, and considering that one is required for almost all of the titles on offer as there is no on board memory available. The 4-5 hour battery life is another negative, although considering how much technology it is powering, it’s surprising it even lasts that. Finally, the battery is built in to the system, meaning a faulty battery cannot be easily replaced. That being said, the Playstation Vita is a tremendous piece of kit which represents, in my opinion, a leap forward in on-the-go gaming. Its ease of use and multitude of control options provide it with the ability to offer a home console like experience wherever you may be, and its strong line up of games means you are spoiled for choice when it comes to what games to play. All in all, this system is a must own for both casual and hardcore gamers alike.

Keep an eye here over the coming days as I’ll review some of the Playstation Vita’s launch line up, starting with Studio Liverpool’s Wipeout 2048.

SSX Review: Insane Tricks and Deadly Descents

Carving down a snowy white mountain, the sun glistening off the tops of the many peaks in the distance, you line up for your next leap. Taking to the air, you grab your board and perform an insane trick before landing perfectly on a grind rail and busting out a handstand on your board. That’s right, SSX is back, and apart from one or two minor missteps, delivers the fun fans will remember.

 

It’s Tr-Tr-Tricky!

For those who don’t know, SSX began life on the PS2, when console gaming was at the peak of its fascination with extreme sports. Its raison d’etre was over the top tricking, with ludicrous jumps and even more ludicrous signature tricks being the highlight of each iteration. The series proper hasn’t been seen since 2003’s SSX 3, and fans have been clamouring for another installment ever since. The game drops you (literally) straight into a tutorial to show newcomers the ropes. Players can choose from multiple different control schemes, from the all new analog trick control to classic button controls which SSX veterans will be instantly comfortable with. The series’ core gameplay remains intact, and in no time at all you’ll be busting serious air, performing mid-air cartwheels on your board and making grinds the length of several football fields. In World Tour mode, you’re tasked to tackle the nine “deadly descents”, representing the nine different mountain ranges available. There is some story about Team SSX taking on former member Griff to be the first to conquer all nine, but this really is tacked on and serves no real purpose. Each range introduces you to the specific gear necessary to tackle that particular deadly descent, and after a few warm up runs, you tackle the main challenge.

It’s here where SSX almost falls apart. The deadly descents range from the fun (leaping over large gaps with a specially made wingsuit), to the mundane (extra rocks, ice and trees) all the way to infuriating (whoever thought the darkness or 02 tank descents were fun need to have their head examined). Thankfully, after several attempts, these can be bypassed, so if you get stuck you’ll have the option to skip these quite quickly. It seems to me that after the initial fan backlash when the game was subtitled “Deadly Descents”, EA may have made the decision to change up the focus, but didn’t want to remove what was already in place.

The Chase Is On

World Tour mode serves as the entree, to the main course that is Explore Mode. One for completionists, it features over 150 different runs with gold, silver and bronze scores to beat. Each run begs to be replayed multiple times to find the quickest run, or the run with the best opportunities to trick and keep your combo multiplier increasing. Central to the entire experience is RiderNet, the SSX take on Need for Speed’s Autolog system. Every action, as well as those of your friends, is recorded by RiderNet and posted to your wall, instantly creating a sense of competition amongst your comrades. Taking on your friends time is as easy as clicking on the post in RiderNet, which takes you directly to the exact run you were challenged on. It’s difficult to convey the sense of how addictive this system is, but with a group of friends consistently overtaking each other’s scores, a ten minute play session can quickly turn into a five hour marathon. Global Events are as close to traditional multiplayer that SSX offers, allowing players to set up worldwide customisable events, or smaller events amongst their own friends. While some might bemoan the lack of a true online multiplayer, RiderNet is a perfect fit for SSX, and complements the score chase nature of the game to a t.

The game is visually stunning (well, as stunning as snow can be), with each of the nine ranges displaying its own distinct visual style. Africa is full of underground slopes, Siberia is a maze of pipes turning the slopes into your own veritable rollercoaster, and my personal favourite, the Himalayas, have sections of the Great Wall that just need to be grinded. The soundtrack too, is a perfect compliment to the action, featuring on the fly remixes of various dance numbers interspersed with Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky” once you build up your trick meter, in a nod to the series’ heritage.

Conclusion

While there are a few things which stop SSX from being truly great, with a group of friends and a healthy amount of competitive spirit, SSX has the potential to give you months of enjoyment. It easily blends together instant gratification with a depth and subtlety that many will still be discovering many hours after they first pop the disc in. Add to that the near endless replayability derived from RiderNet, and you have a title that 1080 back-flips the competition.

Final Score: 8/10

Note that the version reviewed was for XBox 360

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