Sometimes people just can't decide what you should call them. Take Prince Rogers Nelson. For years, the purple one was happy being called simply 'Prince'. Then it was TAFKAP, The Artist, or at one stage just a ludicrous squiggle. Vivendi Games is another prime example. Down the years it's been Sierra, Cendent, Havas, Vivendi Universal, sometimes VU Games, now Vivendi Games. Except it isn't. Oh the confusion. And then we get whisked off to a US press event in San Francisco and told that in no uncertain terms that this is Sierra Games and that we should refer to it as such. Mercy.
Whatever. The brands and labels might change, but back on British soil, it's easier if we all think of them as cuddly old Vivendi Games. Until the Tippex comes out again and someone fancies a corporate rebrand.
In among all this hand-wringing are some really good games, and we got to see the absolutely fantastic next generation RTS World in Conflict, which we recommend you keep an eye on even if you're bored to death of the genre, while the rejuvenated Timeshift looks capable of being one of the first-person shooters of the year, having been given a firm kick in the next-gen cobblers.
But elsewhere, there's plenty on the radar from Vivendi, with the promise of a "Crash game for gamers" in October, not to mention an enhanced Scarface for Wii this June. And then there's SWAT on PSP and Empire Earth III, which we'll be giving an in-depth preview to soon, and we're told to expect "exciting new announcements" in the near future, so keen 'em peeled, as strange people say.
Crash of the Titans
- Version shown: Wii.
- Other platforms: Wii, Xbox 360, PS2, DS and PSP, but not PlayStation 3.
- Release date: October.
It might sell by the bucket-load to the kiddywinks, but in critical terms, Crash games have been struggling to make an impression ever since Naughty Dog moved on to making Jak games. But Vivendi and Radical Entertainment are desperate to "really ratchet up his popularity" and make amends with this year's effort, Crash of the Titans - a "Crash for gamers", we're assured.
The "hook" of the game, if you will, is jacking your enemy and utilising their move-set and various weapons and abilities to dispatch increasingly challenging foes however you choose. Similar in some senses to Kameo, the rock-paper-scissors combat essentially gives you the tools and lets you get on with deciding how best to 'solve' each area. In other words, you have multiple playable weapons at your disposal, but each begins life as an in-game enemy at some point or other.
The premise is that this year's arch enemy, Mojo, has worked out how to mutate enemies, but Crash's old pal Waku Waku has given the manic Marsupial the same powers, and must stick it to the man. As such, the idea is that you need to "work your way up the food chain" in order to take out progressively bigger enemies, with each level themed on a specific foe that you've got to face.
Although the game is coming out on every format under the sun (including Xbox 360, but sadly not PS3), Radical's representatives were keen to show us the Wii version - arguably the 'lead' version in terms of what it offers. As with many Wii games, there's a gesture system that involves moving the controllers in a way that approximates the actions you want to pull off - such as pounding your fists on your chest to activate a special move. As such, Radical wanted them to be "super intuitive", and from what we saw, they were, with gestures combined with buttons to flesh out the move-set, and light-gun-style shooting controls that enabled you to move and fire with precision and ease.
Granted a short hands-on play of an early level, the game combines traditional double-jumping platform histrionics with tweaked combat. It felt easy enough to get straight into, and the gesture controls took no time at all to learn and feel comfortable with, though any claims of it being a "Crash game for gamers" will have to be taken at face value right now.
Elsewhere, Radical was keen to talk up the comic relief that Crash of the Titans offers, with some 7,000 lines of dialogue ensuring that the game rarely suffers from any repetition as you're roaming the environment. Indeed, renowned voice actors have been pulled in from well-known shows including Futurama and Spongebob to help out in this department, with named talent that some of you might be familiar including Tom Kenny, Debbie Merry, Jess Harnell and others. From what we saw, they've really tried to go for humour that will appeal to adults as much as kids, with little references to adult popular culture (such as a nod to Brokeback Mountain of all things) that would otherwise go over the head of the average nine year-old.
Anything else? Well, co-op fans will appreciate the presence of full drop-in, drop-out single-screen co-op multiplayer, allowing "dads to help out their kids on a tough section", or "if you're super hardcore, play it together without jacking". Apparently the 360 version will get "an extra couple of months development" to make sure the visuals are up to scratch, while Radical was keen to stress that the gesture system worked just as well on normal button mappings, in case you were wondering.
But will it be any good? We won't have to wait long to find out.
Scarface: The World Is Yours
- Version shown: Wii.
- Other platforms: Already out on PC, PS2 and Xbox.
- Release date: 20th June.
Every time someone mentions Scarface, three things happen. First out of the traps is an incalculably bad Al Pacino impersonation, followed by the proclamation that the videogame is typical movie-licensed trash, and then the safe-as-houses assumption that it's just a rubbish GTA clone. Happily, Vivendi and Radical proved everyone wrong in the Autumn of last year with arguably the best out-and-out Grand Theft Also around.
Not only that, the non-stop raging carnage of the Xbox and PS2 game managed to capture the ludicrous ego of Tony 'flippin' Montana in a way that won't have movie buffs beating up the sofa cushions in disgust.
Even so, it's hardly the most obvious game to port to the cuddly Wii, although its new gesture-based control system should work nicely alongside Manhunt 2 for budding psychopaths. Rather like Resident Evil 4's new 'point and shoot' control system, movement is assigned to the Nunchuk stick, and the targeting reticule and firing is given over to the remote.
It all feels perfectly intuitive and natural when you're going about the basics, and is aided by the inclusion of Z-targeting to lock-on when you need it. However, manual aiming bags you more 'balls' points, so you'll build up your 'blind rage' mode quicker that way.
When you're on foot, you don't have to always point the Wiimote at the screen. It soon realises and goes into a sort of 'chase' mode, which makes it easy for players to navigate the world. When you're driving, it's similarly intuitive: the camera is on permanent chase cam, so you steer with the nunchuk, with A for gas and B for brake. Handily, you can always point and shoot when in car, and look behind without getting in a complete tangle.
The gesture system, though, seems like a bit of a tacked-on novelty, and involves merely shaking the Wii remote (in the style of your favourite offensive hand gesture) to send Tony into an arm waving, Tourette-inspired fit. If you shake repeatedly, it sends Tony into a blind rage, where he is, of course, impervious to bullets, recharges his health and auto-locks-on to everyone in range. Handy that.
But Radical is most proud of the chainsaw, where using it involves swishing the Wii remote around accordingly. For example, players can target specific limbs depending on where they swing, so a high swing will aim for the head, a low one takes their legs off, while a quick slice might pull off a "full body dismemberment". Lovely.
Apparently you can buy this desirable implement of death from a weapons dealer ("call in your car, and it's in the trunk"), and use your mobile armoury to switch out weapons during missions for MAXIMUM DAMAGE.
In terms of other new stuff, you're out of luck. The Vivendi (sorry, Sierra) rep confirms that the content is the same. "We did not go to the lengths of adding secret missions or weapons. With the Wii, the gesturing is important," he confirms. It does look quite slick, though, being a port of the PC version ("so the graphics were good to start with"), and will support 480p and widescreen.
If you missed out on Scarface (maybe it wasn't next-gen enough for you), this might be time to take a look.
SWAT: Target Liberty
- Version shown: PSP.
- Other platforms: Nope - exclusive to Sony's little gameslab.
- Release date: Fourth quarter.
No, it's not what you think.
There have been more than a few ill-advised ports on the PlayStation Portable, but developer 3G has decided to design a game from the ground up in the hopes that it will make for a better handheld gaming experience. With an isometric viewpoint that apes the successful graphical style used recently in Killzone Liberation, we were given a brief hands-on demo of an early work-in-progress version of the game and came away quite impressed with the results.
Set in and around New York City, you apparently pick a team based around whatever the mission requires, and aim to "get to the truth of the plot" via a series of stealthy anti-terrorist sorties.
If you're a fan of the long-running Sierra series, or familiar with the Rainbow Six games, then you should feel right at home with the slow-burn pacing, control set-up and careful manoeuvring of your team. Via a simple menu system you can position and command your men in the usual fashion, setting them up either side of a door, with various options to open and clear, breach and clear and so on, with simple targeting and intuitive gun combat the order of the day.
So far it looks like it could be an interesting proposition, and we'll be sure to bring you more information on this isometric third-person shooter in the near future. In the meantime, you can also check out the launch announcement.