Vegas 2, Army of Two, Lost, Blacksite, Conflict, Lost Planet, DW6.
Welcome to the latest in Eurogamer's on-going coverage of cross-format games development, our chance to go back and supplement existing reviews with additional console-specific coverage.
As is the norm, there's roundup commentary on the gameplay of each title, combined with technical analysis for both PS3 and Xbox 360 releases. Backing that up is the usual range of 720p and 1080p (where PS3 supports it) full precision, full-range 24-bit RGB dumps of every game, courtesy of the Digital Foundry HD capture unit. With Eurogamer you get the full, uncompressed picture of what the respective consoles are pumping out, with no recourse to murky, jerky streaming video.
Onto the games then. There's quite an intriguing line-up of the best and the very, very worst in cross-platform development in this round, with an unintended emphasis on co-op gameplay and Epic's Unreal Engine 3 technology.
Midway has confirmed the departure of Harvey Smith, the creative director of BlackSite: Area 51, who recently criticised the project before it had even been released in Europe, GamesIndustry.biz reports.
Maybe it's just creative fatigue. Maybe it's just an attempt to go with what sells. Maybe it's just another US government conspiracy to train us to be elite super soldiers against an impending alien invasion. Maybe aliens have already landed and have sucked out the creativity of modern game developers. Whatever it is, the absolute deluge of shooters appearing these days can't be a good thing. Not for the reviewers such as I playing their 15th inside of four months. Not for Joe Public stuck wondering which ones to buy, and certainly not for the publishers who end up releasing less-than-brilliant offerings that are pushed to one side as the genre juggernauts roll over everything else.
Blacksite is, like it or not, just another shooter. It's not a turkey, but nor is it even close to providing the kind of thrills that its heavyweight contemporaries have managed so forcefully during the latter part of this incredible year for games. Quite simply, what probably looked like an exciting, cinematic prospect in the early part of development now finds itself completely out of its depth, unable to bring anything new to the table both in terms of gameplay, nor technically - where it arguably struggles most. It is, also, criminally short, with its six episodes all clocking in at well under an hour each. It you stuck on Blacksite after dinner, chances are you'd finish it before bedtime, with ample time for a toilet break, a quick check of the footy scores and a drink break between episodes.
Undoubtedly designed primarily to appeal to a US audience, Blacksite is nevertheless a thinly veiled attack on the Bush administration, and the climate of military dissatisfaction of recent years. But enough about politics. The game kicks off with a fairly humdrum episode set in Iraq, where you, Aeran Pierce, lead a band of generic military beefcakes on a forgettable mission that culminates with the discovery of some kind of alien infestation. A few years later, it transpires that this same threat has found its way to Nevada, and you find yourself seeking out the source of the disturbances, set against a backdrop of moral dilemmas and often baffling military orders.
Harvey Smith: "My government is full of monsters."
Harvey Smith's resume probably emits an actual glow. It has Wing Commander, Ultima, System Shock, Deus Ex, Deus Ex: Invisible War and Thief: Deadly Shadows on it. Goodness me. Here he talks to Eurogamer about Blacksite - the sequel to PS2/Xbox shooter Area 51, but without any real connection - and some of the issues that face developers today, including a potentially uncomfortable parallel with Sony's current troubles with the Church of England.
Spot the difference. Gameplay: riding along in a chopper using a minigun to shoot at giant worms, hybrid human soldiers and an octopus monster on a bridge, and then running around in a squad with a tough-talking black guy and a cynical Middle-Eastern woman who tuts when the boys kick down doors. Description: an attempt to present a variety of perspectives on US foreign policy, the role of the military-industrial complex, the concept of special forces fighting an insurgency on American soil, and the belief that America "creates its own enemies", drawing on the lessons learned developing Deus Ex, with a writing team whose credits also include Thief 3 and BioShock.
Midway Austin's Harvey Smith believes videogames are capable of the sort of sophisticated expression that would put them on the same footing as Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel "Maus", which told stories of life in Poland before and during the Second World War.
Work has yet to be completed on Midway Austin's promising first-person shooter Blacksite: Area 51, but already creative director Harvey Smith is thinking about ways to improve things for the (by the sound of it inevitable) sequel.
"It's really nice to be working on a pure shooter just once. With the next game, we might expand the world-exploration a little bit," Smith told Eurogamer today, before admitting that he wanted to cut his teeth a little on Blacksite, having arrived after the original Area 51 had been completed. He didn't say "cut my teeth" though, obviously - only an idiot like me would write that.
Blacksite is itself a sequel, but Smith confirmed that Midway's focus is on re-establishing it: the desire is to move away from the quirky, almost comedic interludes of the first Area 51, get outside the famed military base and deal with weightier concepts like American foreign policy and the atmosphere of "open lies" (my phrase - aren't I clever?) that pervades politics on that side of the Atlantic. One of the ways Smith summed up the premise was that you and your unit are, in effect, fighting against an insurgency within the mainland United States - one that happens to be made up of aliens. Hence the "Blacksite" badge moving up front, and little reference to Area 51 in the game itself.