January 2006

I don’t know how that is even possible given the long development cycle for Halo 2 so treat this as a rumor for now.

[quote]We’ve received news today from an industry insider who claims that Halo 3 is finished and sitting at the mastering plant, awaiting the word to go.

According to the source, the final artwork has been finished for disk, booklets and box art.

Our source has stated that one of Europe’s largest CD replicators is on standby, they’ve signed NDA’s and are awaiting the green light from Bungie. According to our source the CD replicators have been given an approximate date to ensure that their pressing schedule is clear for the amount of units they’ll need to produce.[/quote]

Source: [url=http://gaming.hexus.net/content/item.php?item=4549]Hexus.net[/url]

Sony Live?

January 31, 2006

Not too long ago I believe that Sony was planning to still let 3rd party developers manage their own online components of games. Joystiq is reporting that Sony is preparing a service to meet or exceed Xbox Live. Given the amount of time that Microsoft spent preparing the Live service and Sony’s reputation for overhyping everything I won’t hold my breath.

The post on Slashdot said things could look bad for Microsoft. *yawn* Whatever. When Sony starts delivering on their hype then I will be worried for Microsoft. Until then…

Sources: [url=http://games.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/01/31/2035222&from=rss]Slashdot[/url], [url=http://www.joystiq.com/2006/01/31/sony-declares-full-on-assault-on-xbox-live/]Joystiq[/url]

Are you ready to take on the galaxy? Publisher Lighthouse Interactive is set to publish the latest 4X space strategy title with Sword of the Stars, currently in development at Vancouver-based developer Kerberos Productions. And if you are not in the know, this is the same team that brought us Homeworld: Cataclysm. They know their stuff. Playing as one of 4 unique races, gamers will explore planets, research new technologies and create empires in a hostile universe where weakness means extinction and only the strongest will survive. Today we took the opportunity to speak with Sword of the Stars lead designer and CEO of Kerberos Productions, Martin Cirulis regarding this exciting strategy title for the PC.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today regarding Sword of the Stars. Developing a space strategy game seems like such a natural fit for the team at Kerberos, given their development past with Barking Dog Studios on titles such as Treasure Planet and Homeworld: Cataclysm. However, Sword of the Stars is taking on the 4X sub-genre, a class of game that doesn’t get much attention these days. Why go this route?

Hi, Jason. We are always happy to answer questions and this first one has an easy answer. Basically, at Kerberos we work on the games we love. Period. Not only what is A

Minor Difficulites

January 30, 2006

Mike and I had a small botch with the lifestyles podcast this past week. Rest assured it will be online Wednesday. Also wanted to remind everyone to email us if you have any questions or comments about the gaming industry or your gaming lifestyle. You can also send us audio files of your questions or comments. Please remember to keep them short and clean, no longer than ten seconds. You can email us at [email protected]

kill.switch

January 29, 2006

Take Cover. Take Aim. Take Over. This is the slogan for [i]Kill Switch[/i]. It’s amazing how six simple words can pretty much tell you the basis of the game. The only problem is, you need more than six words to really describe all the good and bad in this game. In [i]Kill Switch[/i] you are a soldier named Nick Bishop. Inside your head you have some amazing technology that keeps you in contact with your superiors a la Splinter Cell, but it also appears to be one of the big reasons you are such a good soldier. While not clear in the game, it apparently gives you an edge on the competition. From a storyline perspective, it probably gives you better aiming ability and such. The only problem with sticking technology in your head though is that it can be corrupted. This is exactly what happens, and that’s how you start out in the game.

Little do you know that you are working for your enemy. They have tapped into your tech and taken control of you. One of the men is basically controlling you as if he was playing a video game. The other is simply intent on creating chaos and wants to use you for it. The reason he wants to use you is more of a personal thing that I will leave out. I don’t want to spoil too much of the story.

The first several levels you will be playing will involve you doing things for your enemies because you simply can’t control yourself. The problem with this though is that as a player of the game, you don’t realize this is going on(well, I guess after reading this review you do). It’s far from clear as to what is happening. While it’s nice in the sense that it gives the game a bit of mystery by leaving you out of the loop, it feels like it leaves you so far out of the loop that you have no idea what’s going on.

At first I thought this problem was just me, but my brother played the game and also had no idea what was going on. It really doesn’t become even remotely clear until you get to the end of the game. The only good about this is that the game makes you feel like you need to play it again to really ‘get it.’ I think this is a weak attempt, however, at making the game feel like it has more replay value than it really does.

[i]Kill Switch[/i] has a lot of strong points though. Unlike most shooters, this game actually has pretty good voice acting. At first it threw me off that when I thought Bishop was talking his lips weren’t moving. I immediately thought to myself “How could Namco screw up so bad that his lips don’t move?” A few levels later I realized why once I uncovered a bit more of the story. He wasn’t the one talking. The guy controlling him was.

Along with the voice acting comes the cutscenes. This sort of thing tends to go hand in hand in most games. I loved the cutscenes though. Overall they were all of good quality, and there are a handful of them that are just freaking sweet! Seeing the battle go down in Bishop’s apartment via cutscene is just amazing. I felt like I was watching a great action movie for about a half minute or so. It was quite impressive.

The best part about this game is also the focus of the game… cover fire. This game really does force you to use your surroundings as cover to accomplish your goals. Overall the game is realistic in that if you get shot a few times, you will die. Even though you have typical body armor on, it doesn’t take a lot to kill you. This brings me to the health meter. I think it was very well done. As you get hit, your meter goes down for “permanent damange” for lack of a better term. Initially though the meter gets lighter partway down to signify temporary damage. This means that if you get shot too much too quickly you will die even though you may have nearly full health. If however you take the occasional potshot here or there, you will likely be fine.

Because it is so easy to die on this game, you really can’t go running in like a typical shooter and just blasting the hell out of everything and figuring you will survive. This won’t happen. You have to really take advantage of using cover, and also make use of the variety of weapons available to you. Most weapons are your typical guns you would see with the military, and then of course you have a variety of grenades and such. My favorite of which being the sticky grenade. Hit a person with that and they start running around about to explode, and they tend to take out others with them. There’s also flash grenades which debilitate your enemies for a short while, but don’t set one off too close to yourself or your screen will go white and you won’t be able to see a thing.

In [i]Kill Switch[/i], it doesn’t take too long to learn how to use the cover provided to you. You can shoot around it on the sides, over the top, throw grenades, or what have you. It’s all very well done in that respect. Being able to blindfire is nice as well. You just put your gun around the corner without looking. It’s clearly not as accurate as poking your head out and looking, but if the enemy is directly around the corner, there’s no sense of risking being shot if you probably won’t be able to even miss him.

The problem with blind firing though is you could easily come to rely on it. Since targets at a distance are hard to hit if you don’t aim, you will waste a lot of ammo trying, but even so, it’s not like you will run out. Enemies drop ammo all the time, and you start with plenty as it is, so you really can’t run out. I once ran out of ammo in one gun, so I put it away and grabbed one of the four or so others that I had with me. My other gun was full of ammo again after killing a few guys and I was on my way. Ammo is plentiful, but that still doesn’t make the game easy.

Because it is so easy to die in this game if you’re not taking cover, it can make for some pretty difficult times. While it helps that if you can’t see your enemy who is offscreen the game will put an arrow on your screen telling you where you are being shot from, it still is not easy. There are plenty of areas where there isn’t a lot of cover to work with and you just have to shoot accurately and dive a lot. The problem with shooting accurately is the recoil. While realistic, it prevents you from really just running around and shooting. Thankfully though, your diving will help a lot in not getting shot. You are harder to shoot while you are diving, and on top of that, if a grenade lands at your feet, it is a great way to get away from it.

Overall, [i]Kill Switch[/i] plays quite well, and I really loved the focus on cover fire. This wasn’t just another shooter where you run around and kill people. This game felt like it had actual strategy and skill involved. While the game was an enjoyable experience overall, it doesn’t mean the game is perfect… no… not by any means. This game has a handful of flaws that are just too hard to overlook.

First thing’s first. This camera needs a lot of work. When you are outdoors it is all well and good, but much like a lot of third person shooters, this camera isn’t very good indoors at all. I found that frequently when I was going down hallways I couldn’t see because the camera would pull closer to Bishop so as not to go in the wall. While that is good, an over the shoulder view would be preferred to the ‘Hair Club for Men’ view. I don’t need to be inspecting Bishop to make sure he’s got a full lush head of hair. I need to see past him so I can actually aim. Thankfully there are only a couple of levels where this is an issue, but it certainly didn’t make playing any easier.

As I’ve already talked about, it is quite easy to die in this game. This is both good and bad. It adds to the realism and certainly makes you use some strategy, but the problem is that there are some levels that force you to go about in a run and gun method of gameplay to get past that area, and when it’s so easy to die, this is not good. When a game’s focus is on cover fire, they shouldn’t put in levels that offer very little cover and a lot of enemy fire. Not a good combination.

A big complaint that I have with [i]Kill Switch[/i] is that the story is simply difficult to follow. In the beginning it seems to make no sense at all. You don’t know who is who, who you are fighting, why you are fighting them, what the purposes behind your missions are, etc. None of the story is remotely clear until you start getting towards the end of the game. Then it starts making sense, but we shouldn’t have been left so in the dark early on that it is confusing. Like I said, I thought it was just me, but I wasn’t the only one that had trouble following the story. It’s a great story. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just that the execution of it could have been a little bit better.

My biggest problem with this game, which is probably worse than all those I’ve already listed is that it is way too short. I played through this game on normal, and from start to finish, it took me approximately six hours to beat the game. I died dozens of times and yet I still managed to beat the game in six hours. Now come on… six hours for a shooter is pretty bad. You guys couldn’t have at least thrown in a few more levels or something? Anything would have been nice. I don’t see $50 for a six hour game being worth it. In fact, I actually felt ripped off once I beat the game. This is not a good feeling to have if Namco wants me to be a repeat customer.

What could have saved this though would have been a multiplayer option. Namco should have hooked up with Microsoft to at least get this game put up on Live for the Xbox version. The other ones would be nice too, but at least with Live, there’s not much to do. Create a few levels, throw in some added content, perhaps have teams or something. The hard stuff is already done thanks to Microsoft. You have the headset, the connection to Live, the hardware(noone has to buy a broadband adapter for the Xbox), and you have a multiplayer gaming experience. I can’t imagine that it would have taken a lot of time to slap together a dozen multiplayer maps for this game. Considering that multiplayer could have really saved this game, they should have made the effort.

[i]Kill Switch[/i] really is a good game, and I hate to give it such a bad score, but it has a handful of flaws, and the total gameplay time is far too short. When a game like this is a multiplayer game calling out to you from a single player game disc, then you know you have failed. Namco, you really should have included multiplayer. I’m sure with that this game would easily be worth a much higher rating. Anyone can look past a short single player experience if there is some multiplayer action thrown it, but without this, the short single player game just stands out too much. [i]Kill Switch[/i] begs to be played on Live, but since it is not, the only thing I can do is say this. Rent this game. It really isn’t bad. It’s just that with the flaws it has, it’s barely above average and not worth buying. I would certainly give this game a “Rental of the Year” award if we had one, but beyond that, I’m sorry to say I can’t do much.

Namco, if you are planning on a sequel to this game, please include multiplayer, or even better, base it around multiplayer. Make the original [i]Kill Switch[/i] a Platinum Hits title, make the new one for playing on Live, and you will have a much better game on your hands as well as increased sales. Seriously…this game needs multiplayer like an anorexic needs food. It desperately needs it.