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Seriously…3.0

Gears of War 3 Beta

I love Gears of War.

There. I said it. I’m an out-and-proud Gears of War fan.

For me Gears has surpassed Halo as my favourite franchise in this generation of gaming. Gears 1 and 2 sit atop my most played list on my ‘360voice’ (http://360voice.gamerdna.com/) with 137 and 119 days of play respectively

In my ‘career’ as an Xbox player, to date I have unlocked 2941 achievements from the very first “’Cluster Buster’ – 25 Total Combos” on the super-addictive Hexic HD for 5gs to the most recent “’Poisoned Ivy’ – Defeat the giant Titan Ivy plant” on Batman Arkham Asylum for 50gs

In all that time only one achievement stands out as memorable. Popping up on the afternoon of Sunday 22nd April 2007 ‘Seriously…’, the gold standard of bragging rights amongst Gears players

Gears of Warsimply asked for 10,000 total kills in versus ranked matches to unlock the 50gs Seriously… achievement. It took me the best part of five months of pretty solid play to get it. It was probably the first time I had deliberately set out to get an achievement but, fortunately for me, I loved Gears online so I actually enjoyed playing and gaining the achievement. It was a by product of a game I was thoroughly loving rather than a slog for some achievement points. There was a slightly competitive nature to being the first amongst my friends list to get Seriously and be the first to display the shiny new gamer picture that unlocked alongside it on my profile (and it’s still there today), so that added to the fun

Gears of War 2, I think unfortunately, went in a different direction with Seriously 2.0 requiring 100,000 kills. This time not restricted (thankfully) to online play, so your kills in campaign and the new horde mode kills counted towards your total. Even then, the seemingly best way to gain this huge amount of kills was to grind two levels of the campaign repetitively – Act 1, Chapter 4 (Tip of the Spear, The Big Push) or Act 5, Chapter 5 (Aftermath, Closure)
I quickly realised that 2.0 wasn’t a fun achievement and to get it, I wouldn’t be playing for the love of the game; I’d be grinding for an achievement. For me if it’s not fun and within the normal parameters of the game, then it’s not worth getting. (I currently sit on around 20,000 kills)
I know plenty of people managed to grind there way through this but reading about people spending a week replaying the same level over and over again…. No thanks, not for me. I wonder how many people have got to 100,000 kills without grinding?

Today, owners of the Bulletstorm Epic Edition will be able to get their grubby mitts on the Gears of War 3 Beta (on April 18th and then a week later on the 25th for those who get beta codes via pre-ordering Gears 3) – and the team over at the excellent XCN member website http://thisisxbox.com/ may have uncovered the achievement list for Gears of War 3

The full list can be found at the link below – be aware that although this list is not yet confirmed as legitimate, it does contain potential spoilers for the campaign mode

http://thisisxbox.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=934:gears-of-war-3-achievements-leaked&catid=35:news&Itemid=87#

Naturally, my eyes scanned the list and quickly found what I was looking for……’Seriously 3.0’ and the requirements are….

‘… do it all! Level 100, campaign on insane, earn every ribbon/medal, complete Horde/Beast on all 10 maps……’

For me, this looks more like it! Getting back to the making the achievement a by product of playing the game and only asking you to be a dedicated Gear!

Campaign on Insane is a must do for the full Gears experience. The ribbons and medals are yet to be revealed but a quick play of the Beta and you will see some of the ribbons on offer, so hopefully these shouldn’t be too painful

Horde modes returns will the addition of the excellent looking Beast mode and hopefully these will remain as enjoyable as before

In fact probably the most time consuming aspect will be reaching level 100 and assuming Epic continue to support Gears 3 in the way they have previously, will all of the special community events and XP weekend, this should be obtainable for most

To the Beta itself and in the Beta you’ll be able to play Team Deathmatch mode on four new maps (Thrashball, Checkout, Trenches, and Old Town); Capture the Leader and King of the Hill gameplay modes will be added later in the Beta period. Also, be sure to look out for a surprise event weekend that you, apparently, won’t want to miss!

As I’m sure you will be aware, unlocks are plentiful in the Beta and the known list is as follows:

Flaming Hammerburst – Complete one match by Sunday, April 24 to permanently unlock.
Flaming Lancer – Complete one match during the week of April 25 to permanently unlock.
Flaming Sawed-Off Shotgun – Complete one match during the week of May 2 to permanently unlock.
Flaming Gnasher Shotgun – Complete one match during the week of May 9 to permanently unlock.
Beta Tester Medal – Wear it proudly, Gear. – Complete one match in the Beta to permanently unlock.
Thrashball Cole — Unlock Thrashball Cole to play as Augustus Cole as he was before Emergence Day — a legendary Thrashball athlete known for his ferocious, flamboyant style – Complete 50 matches in any game type to unlock for the Beta period. To permanently unlock, complete 10 matches as Thrashball Cole during the Beta period.
Gold-Plated Retro Lancer — Before the chainsaw bayonet was deployed at the beginning of the Locust-Human War, the original Lancer assault rifle had a large fixed blade – Complete 90 matches in any game type to unlock for the Beta period. To permanently unlock, score 100 kills with the Gold-Plated Retro Lancer during the Beta period.

Full beta details can be found at http://forums.epicgames.com/showthread.php?t=767359

Below is some new Beta footage uploaded by Console Creatures (http://www.consolecreatures.com/) which shows game set up and a match on the Trenches map plus unlockables

The Gears of War Beta runs from 18th April (for Bulletstorm Epic Edition Owners) or 25th April (for pre-order Beta code holders) until May 15th

Gear of War 3 is released in the UK and US on 20th September 2011

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Operation Flashpoint: Red River – Preview

Operation Flashpoint: Red River – Preview, held Wednesday 23rd February 2011
I was lucky enough to be invited along to an event previewing Codemasters upcoming FPS Operation Flashpoint: Red River, the follow-up to 2009’s Dragon Rising

Red River’s action takes place in Tajikistan (a country which sits ominously between Afghanistan and China), moving from the previous fictional Island of Skira, and so what better venue to hold this preview and give a flavour of the culture and flavour of the area than the Samarqand in Central London, a recently opened restaurant which specialises in Central Asian cuisine

My small group was whisked through the main dining area to one of the lavish private dining rooms at the back of the restaurant where 4 Xbox’s and TV’s are hooked up and ready to play

We were greeted by Sion Lenton, the games Creative Director, who gave us a guided tour of what to expect from the evening and were then given the opportunity to play through 3 of the 4 FTE’s (Fire Team Engagements) – the new Co-op game types which replace the player vs player multiplayer mode of Dragon Rising

First up is choosing what type of Marine you want to be (Hoo-rah), with four classes on offer. The Rifleman is your standard all-rounder grunt, the Scout has the sniping options, the Grenadier is your go-loud option and the Automatic Rifleman is the heavy weapons and suppression specialist. You will start out with a fairly standard set of weapons but gain XP through playing which can be used to unlock further weapons, attachments and abilities (one of my team mates also unlocked a related achievement for 5g – Weaponsmith)

Last Stand – is the first game type we get to play and is a kind of ‘horde’ mode with our team holding a position in a village atop a hill while being attacked by waves of enemies that’s sharpshooting skills and hunger to see you in a body bag increases with each wave

CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) – follows, and this is a ‘Black Hawk Down’ inspired mode where your team is tasked with finding and rescuing the Pilot and Co-Pilot, of a downed ‘chopper, destroying it and reaching extraction (the level we were shown was appropriately called ‘No One Gets Left Behind’). The maps are a standard layout but the placement of enemies, pilots and caches are random so no two games will be alike.

Combat Sweep – is next and in a level called ‘Counter Insurgency’ your mission is to clear out all insurgents on the level and destroy the 3 ammo caches hidden throughout the villages.

This final FTE that we, unfortunately didn’t get to play is Rolling Thunder, a fantastic sounding mode, inspired by Generation Kill where you lead a convoy of vehicles from point A to B, fighting off insurgent attacks on the way (the level highlighted was called Hells Highway) and looks set to test your leadership skills to the max

And then my all to brief slice of Red River was over

One thing that becomes clear very quickly is that the realism and tactical game play of Red River will really reward team players and severely punish any budding Rambo’s that dare to cross its path. Call of Duty style running-and-gunning will see you cut down in a hail of bullets in seconds and the enemy AI is smart enough to sit and watch a downed soldier and wait to pick off anyone who tries to come to their rescue, so even a rescue attempt needs to be a coordinated team effort

Weapons also feel realistic and weighty and lining up a shot actually takes some skill (and a little bit of getting used to), and when you get that kill shot – highlighted by your cross-hairs turning red (white for a wounding shot) – you feel like you’ve earned it

Operation Flashpoint: Red River is shaping up brilliantly and is looking very good ahead of its late April release date. Graphically it has improved again (sadly the quality of my pictures doesn’t really reflect that – note to self: buy better camera!) Everything looks very polished with realistic terrain, textures and vistas that seem to go on for miles and yet you have the sense that if you wanted, you could walk all they way to the mountains in the distance. Despite the obviously huge maps the draw distance is exceptional and was especially highlighted in the Last Stand mode where I could see tiny enemy soldiers hot-footing it between houses hundreds of meters away at the bottom of the hill

I really enjoyed all three FTE’s that we got to play, especially CSAR and I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on Rolling Thunder as well. If the single player campaign is equally enjoyable that Operation Flashpoint: Red River is looking like a must purchase

…and of course, no preview event is complete without a few awesome goodies to take away – is there anything more magnificent than a ‘I’m famous in Tajikistan’ t-shirt!!!

More game info can be found at: http://www.flashpointgame.com/

Finally, I’d like to give a big thanks to Xbox UK’s AceyBongos and the whole team at Codemasters, who were fantastically generous with their time, for the event

Homefront (Xbox 360) – Preview

Homefront was played on Xbox 360, in single player mode at the SFX Weekender, on Friday 4th and Saturday 5th February 2011

I had a little bit of hands on time with the single player mode of Homefront last weekend and thought I’d share some thoughts and pictures of my experience and some of the set pieces that I came across (the picture quality isn’t great unfortunately as I was gaming with one hand and taking pictures with the other)

The level in the demo see’s your character fighting, alongside allies Conner and Rianna, through a battle devastated town, with wrecked cars and boarded up houses and stores

In the first area I came to, you are told to take cover as a small patrol and a tank passes by (in a genius move on my first try, I threw a grenade in amongst the patrol, killing at least 4 of them instantly – unfortunately, this really annoyed the tank and it took swift revenge for its fallen comrades) Once it passes you can sneak across the road behind it

After a quick skirmish around the wing and body of a crashed airliner you come to the first set piece, where you are pinned down by an APC but you can quickly flank it and in the building above (where you will have taken out a machine gun post in the preceding battle) you find a small stash of C4 which can be tossed from the window onto the APC below

One thing I noted was that ammunition seemed to be in shorter supply than similar genre games and I found myself looting weapons from corpses frequently and having to use my pistol on a good few occasions

After this you fight through some your way through some more houses and shops on your way to meet up with police officer Boone and at this point I unlocked an achievement ‘Chronicler’ for 10gs, for picking up a newspaper clipping, which you could read and gave you a bit more insight into some of the events around the game

Towards the end of my time with the Homefront demo, after meeting up with Boone, the town comes under heavy attack and it’s here that you are given control of the ‘Goliath Assault Vehicle’ – a machine gun and missile laden remotely targeted armoured assault vehicle – which you control with the use of targeting binoculars, designating enemy vehicles and troops for the Goliath to go after

First thoughts..

Homefront is a looking to be a very solid, if not unique, game and although there was still the vibe of Kaos Studios’ previous game, Frontlines: Fuel of War, Homefront really does feel like Kaos have taken a big step forward and are really trying to push Homefront as a serious challenger to the juggernaut that is Call of Duty – certainly, the demo level was reminiscent of COD in many ways.

Sadly there was no multiplayer available on the day, as this is the jewel in COD crown that keeps it at the number 1 spot and to which all fps developers must aspire, but early indications are that Kaos are trying to both improve on some of the current crop of games such as Battlefield, with larger scale vehicle combat, but to also innovate with the new AI ‘Battle Commander’ which is hoped will help bring emergent gameplay by tracking every player in the game, In one example, if one player on the opposing team is playing exceptionally well, the AI commander will make him a priority target for your team to hunt down and kill

Homefront is due for release on 18th March 2011 on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

Epic Edition Fail?

During late December 2010, Epic Games and EA announced that there would be two special editions of the upcoming first person shooter, Bulletstorm. A ‘Limited Edition’ for Playstation 3 and PC owners and an ‘Epic Edition’ for Xbox 360 owners which would come with the added bonus of an invite to the Gears of War 3 Beta

The best news – If you pre-ordered Bulletstorm, you would automatically be upgraded to Epic Edition for 360 and Limited Edition for PS3 and PC. In an even more shocking move for European gamers, who have become accustom to missing out on the best offers, it was revealed that “this program is worldwide”

As posted here: http://forums.epicgames.com/showthread.php?t=754904

As a huge fan of the Gears of War series, this was great news and reminded me of when Crackdown launched in early 2007 with the Halo 3 Beta. If I’m being honest, Crackdown sounded good but I really bought the game for the Halo 3 Beta. It turned out that Crackdown was an utterly brilliant game in its own right and one I still play over three years later (I will find those last 2 green orbs dammit!). If Bulletstorm turned out to be half as good as Crackdown then it would be a bargain purchase and, fortunately, the hugely fun Bulletstorm demo has already put any concerns to rest on that front

So I pre-ordered from Shopto.net. Not the cheapest, for once, but the most reliable supplier that I’ve used for getting games on release day

However, over the past few days news has started to appear on various forums that UK retailers including Amazon, The Hut and Blockbusters have had to remove the Epic Edition from their websites because it is now exclusive to 1 retailer – Game

Even worse news is that Game appear to be charging a premium for the Epic Edition, charging £44.99 (and £39.99 for the standard edition which, according to Gamestracker, is the 21st most expensive price currently – http://www.gamestracker.com/buy-bulletstorm-compare-prices-xbox-360.htm)

It appears that the contents of the PS3 and PC ‘Limited Edition’ and Xbox 360 ‘Epic Edition’ are, with the exception of the Gears of War 3 beta, exactly the same containing:

25,000 Experience Points
Visual Upgrades for the Iconic Leash
Deadly Peace Maker Carbine
Additional Boots and Armor

So, are Game seriously trying to charge an extra £5 for access to the Gears of War 3 Beta – for what is, for all intents and purposes, a demo?

What’s concerning is how completely this goes against the announcement from EPIC and EA

(Click to Enlarge)

In that in the original announcement, they stated that:
“Both the Standard and Limited/Epic Editions are available at the same MSRP/RRP (Recommended Retail Price)” – If this is the case why are Game charging more for the Epic Edition?
“All Bulletstorm pre-orders, no matter where you order(ed) from, will be the Epic Edition (Xbox 360) or Limited Edition (PC and PS3)!” – so, why are major retailers like Amazon removing their listings?

The big question is “are UK gamers going to get shafted again after all?”

I understand that EPIC are looking onto this now. Hopefully this is all some down to some very poor communication and not some underhanded profiteering on Game’s behalf and, as originally promised, all Xbox 360 orders will be fulfilled as the Epic Edition.

Crysis 2 Demo

In a crowded few days for shooters with the over-the-top fun of the Bulletstorm Demo (XBL and PSN), Modern Combat: Domination (PSN) and Breach (XBL) here are my first impressions the Crysis 2 demo that hit Xbox Live (exclusively) on Tuesday

Let me start off by saying that I havent played the original Crysis – my home PC wheezes in the face of fancy high-end graphics and once took a 3 day nap when I dared trying to launch a browser-based game – so this mini review is treating Crysis 2 with fresh eyes

The demo contains one multi-leveled map ‘Skyline’, which is set across the rooftops of a small cluster of New York buildings with a helipad, green houses a roof garden and large indoor gym facilities. You also get 2 game types – the first is ‘Instant Action’ which is your standard first-to-50 kills 6v6 team deathmatch and the second ‘Crash Site’ is a time based zone defence match which is only unlocked once you reach level 6

You start with 4 the fairly standard class options (Assault, Scout, Sniper and Gunner) and a further 5th Custom Class is unlockable as you level up

You go straight into your first game with no tutorial so you may spend the first few games getting to grips with the control layout but probably the two most important buttons are the Left and Right Bumpers which enable your Nanosuits special abilities, Armour Mode and Stealth Mode respectively

Armour mode is essentially a shield which will offer you a few extra seconds of protection against enemy fire while Stealth mode turns the wearer mostly invisible, except for a Predator like distortion effect, giving you the ability to hide in plain sight and sneak up on unsuspecting enemies but your invisibility drops immediately if you open fire. Both modes are limited by an energy bar which rapidly depletes when either mode is engaged (and is also depleted by sprinting and power jumping), so careful use is required unless you want to be left vulnerable at the worst possible moment

Crysis 2 appears to have learned a few things from the Call of Duty series with the addition of Kill Streak rewards. There are 3 rewards available in the demo. 3 Kills gives you ‘Maximum Radar’ which makes enemies visible on your mini-map, 5 Kills give you the Hammer of Dawn style ‘Orbital Strike’ and 7 Kills gives you a ‘Ceph Airstrike’ which summons an A.I controlled hovering gunship.

The good thing about the kill streaks in Crysis 2 is that you can’t just earn them by getting the kill, instead downed enemies drop their dog tags which only you can collect and only when you do collect them does the kill count toward your kill streak. This seems to work really well as it encourages a more run-and-gun open play style rather than reward camping.

As with most recent shooters, as you play, you gain XP from getting kills and completing certain objectives and this contributes to both your overall rank and to your abilities with the XP spread between your armour, stealth and power, depending on how they are used (capped at level 3 in the demo) and give you access to unlock further weapon and ability enhancements

Obviously it would be hard to talk about this game and not mention the graphics which are, as expected, very nice but a 5-year-old console isn’t going to match up with the previously groundbreaking visuals that you could expect on a state of the art gaming PC. Don’t get me wrong, Crysis 2 is still one of the best looking games on the Xbox 360 so far but there wasn’t the ‘wow’ factor I had hoped for

The game itself is fun, especially exploring the limitations of your armour ability, like seeing if you can make that long jump between buildings and there is pure satisfaction to be had in landing a knee drop multikill or using the stealth suit to sneak up on an enemy and snapping their neck. Unfortunately, there are a few problems that are currently diminishing some of the excellent work that has gone into making the game.

Spawn points are a definite issue here especially around the greenhouse area where there seem to be three main spawn points which can all to easily be camped on by a player with good use of stealth. There also seems to be a slight problem of players spawning directly behind an enemy which I’m sure is hard to control on maps of this size, but can be very frustrating when a potential kill streak is ended due to the AI picking a bad spawn point and again this seems most common around the greenhouses.

Weapons in general can appear to be very hit or miss on occasions with some questionable hit detection and one odd design choice, which I assume was dictated by the limitations of a control pad, is having grenades mapped to the right side of the d-pad which can be cumbersome in the heat of battle and although it potentially removes some of the grenade spamming issues that plague the likes of COD, here it makes grenades a much less effective weapon.

Summary

Crysis 2 is an enjoyable game but the demo doesn’t offer anything that we haven’t seen elsewhere before, expect maybe slightly prettier, and unfortunately being released on the same day as the Bulletstorm demo has made this feel slightly stuffy against Bulletstorms’ more vibrant and innovate approach to first person shooters

Despite some minor disappointments with the Crysis 2 Demo, the full game is still two months away from release and I am quietly confident that, if some of the key niggles can be ironed out, there is a very impressive game waiting to unleashed that we just haven’t seen the best of yet

EA have announced a ‘Game with Developers’ event this Saturday, 29th January with full details here: http://www.ea.com/crysis-2/blog/game-with-devs

Bulletstorm Demo


With the Bulletstorm demo hitting Xbox Live today (and available tomorrow on PSN) here are my quick first impressions

The demo allows you access to a short skill shot ladder level (your target completion time is 6 minutes), here know as ‘echo’s, called Collapsed Building. Our host, Grayson Hunt walks us through a brief introduction video showing you the 3 main weapons available to you in the demo, the PMC (Peacemaker Carbine), the Flail Gun and of course your trusty pistol – each of which has a more deadly but limited secondary fire option. You are also shown the leash and kicking moves. The leash is an energy whip which can be used to grab an enemy and pull them towards you or in its thumper mode, bounce them off the ground and into the air for all new skill kills opportunities.

As you race into the first room, you are greeted by two enemies and you don’t just want to pump them full of lead like you would to the dead eyes drones in any other shooter, suddenly there are options – do I use the leash and drag that guy over here and headshot him at close range, do I use the thumper to launch him into the air, do I use the secondary fire on the PMC to burn to a crisp and what about that panel in the ceiling over by the other enemy, what happens if I grab that with the leash?

..and that’s the beauty of this demo – on your first run through, you’ll be testing out the weapons and seeing what crazy skill kills you can get, but then at the end of the first run through you have a 1 or maybe 2 star score – how can you do better? So you go again, this time trying new weapon combos and instead of shooting that guy by the ledge, maybe you’ll kick him off this time to see what happens. Ohh better score, but still only 2 stars and 7000th on the leaderboard! What the hell! How did he get that score! No way!!! and you go again…..

Bulletstorm looks to be a game that wears its Gears of War influences proudly on its sleeve, with the demo level hugely reminiscent of a later level in Gears of War 2 and even your main character could be Wolverine in Marcus Fenix’s armour, but it’s gaming influences are broader than that with enemies seemingly imported from Borderlands and (in the full game) Killzone, the high score replayability of The Club and the uber-gun-porn-for-laughs sillyness of Serious Sam.

Summary

The demo only shows off the Echos competitive mode but if the same level of good old-fashioned fun and inventiveness can be sustained right through the single player game and the co-operative Anarchy mode (and throw in access to the Gears of War 3 beta on the Xbox 360 version) then this looks like an essential purchase for me

Moreish like a chocolate coated crack bar – Daddy like!