Early Eyes on ‘Battleborn’ – Gearbox’s Cosmic-Shooter Mash-up

What do day dreaming samurais on Tatooine, the Pirates of Dark Water, Cybermen, Gambit, Alex Rodriguez, Musashi, Kinopio, woodland elves and Dick Cheney all have in common? Absolutely nothing to the average focus group. But to Gearbox Software, those fun-loving dreamers behind Borderlands, it’s the makings of a new shooter mash-up, entitled Battleborn. We got a chance to get an early view of this game in pre-alpha.

Battleborn is designed as a cooperative and competitive shooter, complete with pirates, swordsmen, elves, steroid freaks, mushroom killers and piss-on-the-poor, upper class assassins. The goal is to take just about every character class and archetype from fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk fiction or otherwise and put them all together in a universe where it makes sense for them to coexist – even if it’s in disharmony with one another.

Of course, under-the-hood of every multiplayer shooter, there’s a little story behind the magic curtain to give you a reason to lay waste to a fresh-new, diabolical villain. In Battleborn several factions take refuge on the last star of the Solus system.

Like any dystopian future, survivors start going at each other’s throats instead of hugging out their problems in an effort to control resources. Unfortunately, somebody’s got to wrangle these heroic miscreants together before the viscous Varlesi destroy the entire universe. Eat your heart out Cobra Commander.

That’s where you and your esteemed crew comes in to play. The game breaks down its characters into different factions. It’s like Dungeons and Dragons, which has its adventurers, alchemist, fighter, thieves and assassins guilds.

In Battleborn, there are imperialists, who are basically the Empire from Star Wars. Then there are the draconian peace keepers, who are like a bunch of over-zealous “do as we say, not as we do” bullies. Next, we have the Eldrid, who preserve the natural order of the universe (aka Pure Bloods from Harry Potter). There’s a rogues group that does whatever it is they feel like, thank you very much. And finally, there’s the aptly named, LLC. These guys have bourgeoisie robotic snipers on their side and speak to the dreaded one percent.

Now, like all cooperative shooters, you’re guessing that this game is built around the standard roster of all-around solider, heavy gunner, medic and possibly some kind of engineer or spell caster character classes.

Yes, those archetypes are all there. However, Gearbox is aiming to add several layers of depth to these classic roles so that no two characters are ever the same. More on that in a bit. Just expect to download new characters and/or faction types for several months following the game’s 2015 (expected) release.

Why should you be excited about this game?

Well, for starters its got the same CG, fantastical visual style of Borderlands. It may be a first-person shooter, but there are several close-quarters, fighting elements inside this bad boy. One character, named Rath, uses swords as his main weapon. Now, any FPS fan who loves melee combat knows that their targets usually hate fighting up close. There are a few moves that we saw that give the melee fighters a chance to engage in pseudo-third person attacks. For instance, Rath has a spinning dash move where he rips through his enemies like a wheel on fire.

Even though the game was in pre-alpha, we saw the kind of carnage that Rath’s attack yielded. Heaps of shredded-robot scraps littered the floor. This is a vital part of carnage that was missing in last gen games, but is now present on the PS4 and Xbox One. We’d like to see more of this damage as the game progresses in development. In this pre-alpha build, several guns seemed to do the same type of damage to the enemy. I’d like the carnage that a gun yields to be as diverse as the guns. The damage from Oscar Mike’s automatic weapons should look different from the damage Montana’s steroid guns delivers. By the same token, Thorn’s elvish arrows should also deliver a visual injury that varies from Marquis’ ever-so distinguished, robotic sniper fire.

The interface for upgrades was also pretty cool. Instead of your those trite row-column setups, that feel like an Excel spreadsheet (yuck), the upgrade window looks like a DNA double helix. Although Gearbox said that this interface could still change, we’re hoping it stays the same. It’s in this upgrade screen where you’ll get the chance to start to blend those traditional team roles. Of course, we all know how upgrading is. If you don’t stick to one path, you end up with several mediocre abilities. I’m still kicking myself for Knights of the Old Republic. Why oh why didn’t I just go dark side one-hundred percent?

The game will utilize shorter scenarios, much like Activision’s recently released shooter, Destiny. So no more worrying about taking two hours to finish a map. And if you do take two-hours to finish a scenario, you really should drop the difficulty.

Battleborn will utilize two leveling systems. At the start of every scenario, everyone will start off on equal footing so that one character isn’t dominating. However, you will also have cumulative levels so that you’re rewarded for playing more.

What are we still waiting on?

Loot. Damn straight. Gearbox President Randy Pitchford promised loot as the game progresses and after scenarios. After building up our addiction to loot in Borderlands, it will be hard to digest anything less – especially since this game totes such a similar visual style.

Team attacks. Remember when Billy Lee and Jimmy Lee did the Cyclone kick in Double Dragon III. I’m still waiting for a shooter that changes the genre with some kind of combo attack. I don’t just want to get a few extra points for an assist. I want to set up the assist like Jason Kidd or John Stockton.

Friendly fire on or off? The Gearbox team is still considering whether to go with friendly fire on or off. We’re pulling for off, or at least a setting that can be toggled off.

We’d like to see more with the Rogue faction. How does lock picking or thievery factor into an attack? How can that be shown visually and not just with a few extra loot drops displayed on the HUD.

Since Battleborn is cooperative multiplayer like Destiny, we hope it isn’t designed like Destiny. We DO NOT want it to require a always-online connection to the internet. That would suck for those who just want to play the campaign. Nuff said.

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Dreadnought hands-on preview

Dreadnought is an aerial armada action game coming to PC and if you don’t understand what that means: it’s a game where you control air crafts and battle other ships in space. It’s epic, good-looking and is arriving for PC free, too. I’ve gotten a chance to play an early build and as long as the game takes balancing and competitiveness seriously, it’s looking to be a solid game. The only mode I experienced was a deathmatch style battle to the bitter end between two teams of five.

Dreadnought takes all of your favorite Sci-Fi movie ships and brings the spiritual embodiment of them into an all out war. Whether you’re a Voyager fan or Millennium Falcon guy, you’ll find something that suits your taste. The five different ships available include Dreadnought, Corvette, Artillery Cruiser, Destroyer and Tactical Cruiser. Each ship brings 4 different skills to the battle and, although no solid number has been confirmed yet, there should be more to pick and choose from when the title is fully realized. After each death during a game, you can choose another ship or “loadout” similar to your popular shooters.

Balancing will be key in Dreadnought if the plan is to keep all the diverse ships and varying skills. Some ships can teleport/blink away from danger and it’s important that the start-up animation or cooldown times are just right in order for the game to not be broken. Other ships have skills such as being able to make 180 turns on the fly and those give a huge advantage in the heat of battle.

Teamwork is also key and the winner of a game is usually determined by which team communicates best. The simple game plan is to team up on one ship at a time and focus fire, but there are also other strategies that come into play such as taking out the ship that’s healing the others first. Eventually, my team lost focus and lost the game after a breakdown of communication (and my overall terribleness). It was fun and I’m sure with more time and understanding of the game, it just gets better.

So far so good and the development team behind Dreadnought, YAGER is seemingly treating this game like a triple A title as opposed to a free-to-play, quick buck. We look forward to seeing more and learning more soon.

PAC-MAN and the Ghostly Adventures 2 impressions: New camera and boss fight

Based on the TV show of the same name, PAC-MAN and the Ghostly Adventures 2 is a sequel to last year’s PAC-MAN platformer. This title doesn’t follow any particular episode in the series, but is an all-new story based in the same world set on the show. Two characters, Spiral and Cylindria, are also playable for the first time and bring to the table new playstyles (which will be addressed later). Overall, part 2 improves on much that the original title was lacking.

After playing a few minutes of the new PAC-MAN and the Ghostly Adventures 2, one big noticeable change is the inclusion of a fixed camera. Adopting the style of recent 3D Mario titles like Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario 3D World, no longer is the player required to control the camera and the character. This change allows for much more straightforward play and avoids all the camera issues that plagued the first title. It also allows for less confusion for where PAC-MAN should be headed on any given stage. I’m a big fan of not being confused.

Also experienced was one of the boss battles with the videogame debut of PAC-Zilla, which is essentially playing as a giant PAC-MAN. You feel his weight in giant form as you jump and dodge attacks. Towards the end, Cylindria jumped into the mix and a first-person plane shooting sequence engaged. The mosh-up of gameplay kept me on my toes and I found some challenge to what I found to be an otherwise easy to win game.

PAC-MAN and the Ghostly Adventures 2 is set for October 14, 2014 release and all signs point to it being a better game than its predecessor.

Shape Up: body-on impressions

Finally something decent to play that will fully utilize my Xbox One’s Kinect. My Kinect has remained largely a mysterious black box facing the back of my room, but I may have to turn it around and clear some space in my living room when Ubisoft’s Shape Up arrives this holiday season. Shape Up is angled to be a game first and a work-out second, which makes getting into shape a lot more approachable when the goal is to win a game.

My experience with Shape Up was a rude awakening to how out of shape I am. Playing 1 of the 10 mini-games, Squat Me to the Moon was focused on squats to race to a finish. The premise is you are squatting to reach different tiers and it also shifts focus from squats to leaning left and right in order to shoot UFO’s — it’s a clever way to disguise rest periods. When the time finishes, your score is recorded and if you’re versing someone, the winner is whomever went the highest. It sounds ridiculous and it absolutely is, but it’s fun, competitive and actually works very well. I noticed how when I consciously decided to squat lower and up faster to gain some momentum, it actually worked.

Shape Up also includes 9 other mini-games, including work outs for abs, arms and some cardio stuff, too. A quest mode is also available that serves as a means to tie everything together and create a legit work-out program. The game also records ghosts of yourself and your friends in order to help you get better and better. With that said, I can’t wait to see the first YouTube documentary on how someone lost weight using this program.

NHL 15 taking new steps to realism and authenticity

As a kid, my take on the ultimate goal for gaming graphics is to finally have people as they are seen like in movies and TV shows and be able to control them. Even though that may never happen, nor would I want that to happen, NHL 15 is taking a few steps closer to that and blurring the lines between real and animated. Before a game begins in NHL 15, Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick and Eddie Olczyk are seen in their real-life form in the broadcast booth breaking down the game before it begins.

The inclusion of their commentary with the game-world backdrop is a bit bizarre at first, but it certainly adds to the presentation value and authentic feel of this next NHL title. There are also the NBC graphics and logo and the themes heard during games on the network.

NHL 15 will be available on September 9, 2014 for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3.

FIFA 15 to have Xbox One and PlayStation 4 specific features

Confirmed by EA, console specific features for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions of FIFA 15 are coming and that comes as no surprise. Other sports titles like NBA 2K14 have Xbox One’s Kinect voice features integrated into the game, which could make its way into FIFA 15, too. Details on what these features are will come on a later date, but what is coming for sure is touchpad use on the DualShock 4 where players can change the player they’re controlling on the fly. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions of the game will also have new cosmetic features including visible wear and tear on the field and a more dynamic crowd, such as more animations and clothing worn by fans.

FIFA 15 is coming this September 23 and all signs point to a big year for the franchise. The last time a FIFA title released after a World Cup, it sold in record numbers and if that’s any indication, then this World Cup that broke social media records will certainly help once again.

Hands-on Preview: Sniper Elite 3 aims to be a thinking man’s shooter

In shooters there is usually a class that everyone wants to be, but more often than not is too hard to live up to. That class is the sniper class, and it takes patience and skill to actually play as one effectively. Sniper Elite 3 takes that aspect of your everyday shooter and fleshes it out as a fully realized game. After an hour or so of getting hands-on time, I’ve realized I’m not a very good sniper, but I had a blast trying and getting better.

Typical of most shooters is that you can bring up the scope, hold your breath to steady your shot and fire your gun whenever you please. Atypical of other shooters are a slew of factors snipers should and could worry about – One being sound. When firing your sniper rifle, you will give your position away by going trigger happy and firing round after round. There are real consequences when giving your position away by making too much noise and they usually result in death. So what the game encourages is for you to fire within a loud area to mask your gunshots, such as standing next to a noisy piece of machinery. A signal will appear on your screen when your shot is safe to make and your AI enemies will have no clue where your shot came from.

Another factor that is to be taken into consideration is how often you sprint. Sprinting will get you out of breath and your heart rate will also go up. Since your accuracy is greatly affected by these two biological factors, you have to pace yourself, which I had a hard time doing since I LOVE moving quickly in my FPS games. I tried to run up to an enemy and shoot him point blank with my sniper and failed miserably.

Visually, Sniper Elite 3 looks great and the kill shots are a sight to see — It’s quite a spectacle each time. Once you fire the deadly sniper shot, the game will go into bullet time and the camera follows the bullet until it reaches its target. Once the bullet penetrates the enemy’s body, you get to see the bone crunching, organ collapsing damage it does frame by frame. This kind of showcasing of death is comparable to the X-Ray Moves from 2011’s Mortal Kombat.

Playing alone was enjoyable through the game’s methodical style, but playing with a partner is an entirely different experience. Cooperatively, the campaign is completely playable with a friend and there are also extra 2-player modes to boot. While playing with a friend, one player can tag enemies and the other can snipe them out. It is a much more frantic experience, because there’s the urgency to help your partner out while also watching your own back. During Survival mode where enemies come wave after wave, swift shooting and quick reaction to any given situation is required, which detracts from the smart gameplay Sniper Elite 3 encourages all throughout single player mode. Still, it’s a fun experience and nice change of pace.

Sniper Elite 3 arrives on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PC on July 1 in North America. I was playing the PlayStation 4 version on this day.

Latest entry in the Skylanders franchise, introduces new ‘Trap’ concept

One of coolest features in the original Mega Man titles or Kirby games was the fact that you can defeat an enemy and take their powers as your own. Newly announced, Skylanders Trap Team uses that same idea and takes it a step further. After defeating a most wanted villain, you can capture them by placing a new Traptanium Trap onto the new Traptanium Portal. From there, you now have them at your disposal on a little weapon-shaped plastic toy and they can be used at any time; they will now fight alongside you and the forces of good. It takes the whole Skylanders concept of getting something physical into the game and reverses it where you’re pulling an in-game character into the physical world.

You can switch from Skylander to trapped villian by the push of a button and it is absolutely seamless. You can combo abilities from both characters and they may complement each other if used wisely, such as freezing enemies with one and meleeing for heavy damage with the other. What’s also really neat is that while you have an enemy trapped, you can hear them complain or make comments on a little speaker located on the dock to make the whole capturing feature feel more “real.” Sorry, Moms and Dads — Don’t be surprised if kids get absolutely hooked for more Skylanders this holiday season.

Skylanders Trap Team will arrive on October 5th for all current and last gen consoles and Nintendo 3DS.