Preview – Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

MEC

After a solid experience with The Division, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is my 2nd AAA rendez-vous of the year. I want to thank @SonicDX12 for delivering the fateful access code for the beta, allowing me to test it ahead of its June 9th release.

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The story background, more or less known by now, features a younger and unruly Faith. Actually the young girl is straightout wild, talking back to her comrades and getting cocky in front of the authorities.

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This prequel shows a tendency to display the characters’ feelings a lot more and bringing them together as a team. Several sequences put a great emphasis on frienship and respect. It’s quite a big difference with Mirror’s Edge PS3 since the latter had cutscenes in first-person view only, so the player, not the heroine, was at the center of the game. This choice of a rough narrative made a lot of sense because the focus was a dense free run experience and nothing else. I’m OK to elaborate a bit on Faith’s personality and stuff, but a big hollywoodish blowout might only water down the experience.

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Mirror’s Edge Catalyst nevertheless embodies its view of today’s society by open criticizing the “all-connected” trend. The judiciary system, which can collect whichever personal information it wants and issue a warrant against somebody for a trifle, suggest an ominous technological future. The first interface Faith is connected to, with its dashboard full a critical personal data, leaves no doubt : it is the extreme edge of the Société du Spectacle as philosopher Guy Debord saw it. DICE pushes a comprehensive logic, without making it the full story focus for now. That could, because the name of “Dogus” that was cited repeatedly in thi beta leaves room for darker development.

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The futuristic atmosphere is remarkably illustrated in this new installment : the near-future is striking by its sprawling and state-of-the-art architecture, flying cars and high speed trains running through the city. It is a magnificent urban view, and light effects live up to expectations. That can’t be said about the environment near you, because rooftops and interiors are roughly as unsophisticated as before.

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The gameplay stayed the same, and a bit too much the same, I’d say. We indeed are in an open world, but the use of which hasn’t been very revolutionary so far. The map is pretty large, you can go wherever you want, but in the end the heart of the gameplay is still about running around in a very closed area. We do see the now famous red objects (but you can deactivate that) to guide the player so he can go as fast as possible from rooftop to rooftop. In brief, nothing new.

Combat has evolved a lot though. Firearms are now out of the picture (what a shame, those rooftops were perfect for sniping) and everything comes down to CQC, which has grown more complex. There is a light combo, and a powerful strike that can be inserted in whatever movement for more impact (after a wall run for example). You also can give a direction to your kick with the analog stick, which is used to throw a guard into another one. But big problem here : as you’re always running, your analog stick is always pushed forward, so that action can only be achieved when halted. There’s alos a strafe system to slip behind your opponent, etc. Sincerely, I don’t think all that karate-like things are a plus. Worse, that might slow the flow of the gameplay and reduce its intensity. Before, there was just a counter button, and it was perfect like that…

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Time attack is of course back, with a very well-made report of the various social results. Still, I had some problem with the delivery missions, in which the direction to take wasn’t displayed. It’s very confusing and you have only 1 or 2 minutes to reach your goal, so I’d really need to know approximately where to head to.

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The only point of open world in the beta was to search for collectibles. You’ll be asked to steal electronic chips everywhere in the city, as well as documents, secrets bags (like in the first one) and strange shiny things. That will ask some searching and there’ll probably be some nice trophies but I do expect more in terms of exploration.

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Interesting idea, we can hack a billboard o display an emblem, which will be your own customizable one in the final game. Once the display completed, your PSN friends will see it in their game too.

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Surprise! Mirror’s Edge is now an RPG! Every action, quest, rewards experience points that can be used to unlock new moves and gear. I was appalled to see there was a grapnel : such a device can only ruin this game if it is widely used… But let’s wait and see if this progression system provides serious steps in the gameplay or if it’s just to make the game a bit longer.

Unsure. That’s my state of mind after playng this beta that hasn’t shown how Mirror’s Edge Catalyst would go beyond the original. The open world seems misused, the intensity feels a bit down and fighting looks tiresome. I hope I will be proven wrong in June.

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Review – Sim City

Neo-Tokyo 3 a

I had been playing Sim City 3000 regularly for 10 years. I am literally hooked every single time I start that game because of my utmost love for economic planning and shiny buildings. This new Sim City thus became one of my most anticipated games and threw myself on it at release.

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Maxis clearly put all they had in their new «GlassBox» 3D engine : it is a BEAUTY! Buildings are quite varied, weather effects are astonishing and there are plenty of small details that make it extremely lively! On the management side, Sim City 2013 goes well beyond everything known so far. This heavy part can be divided in 3 levels.

General management and planning doesn’t change much from older Sim City games. Old timers will be immediately familiar with the various economic and social settings to monitor. Is your population fully employed? Are businesses making enough profit? Can your inhabitants move efficiently within the city? Are they educated? Can the police cope with crime? Le list is pretty long and hours go by quickly when taking on the stack of files. The AI is pretty solid despite recurring conflicts between the surface of residential zone (even with the ¾ of the map covered in green the game still says it’s not enough), unemployment and consumer spending.

This new Sim City introduces a micro-management system in which each administrative building can be customized with additional elements to boost its efficiency : the police station can have more patrol cars, the bus terminal will have to receive more garages, the university can be extended with a business school or an engineer school, etc. This system provides you further leverage to reach prosperity, and keeps you even busier than before.

But Maxis has more and offer you to choose a specialization to personalize your city. Gambling, Hi-Tech, Tourism, Oil, … a nice array of possibilities that add further value. Let’s stress that you can choose several of those in the same city : feel free to erect the Tokyo Tower next to an exhibition center, while you pump oil not far from there! Those ones are no gimmick : the warehouse exports, derricks provide barrels for your oil plant, the stadium welcomes tourists… more parameters again for the delight of virtual managers. And if you excel in one of those, you’ll have the privilege to build prestigious social headquarters to reward your talent.

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The fourth layer of awesome is that your management actually has an impact on other Sim City players. The game is organized in regions of 4 to 16 cities which are communicating permanently. Goods will come from neighbours if your industry isn’t doing enough, students form other cities will come if you have the best university, stations allow tourists to visit. Economic parameters are very detailed : there are 3 levels of wealth, 3 levels of quality for merchandises and 3 levels of qualification for workers. If the middle class can’t find goods of their liking at home, they’ll be shopping elsewhere. If you’re few to produce high-quality goods, the rich from everywhere will rush to buy. Positioning yourself within your region is a game in the game.

Beyond this competitive side, cities can cooperate by sending ambulances, patrol cars or garbage trucks. Player can also sign contracts to provide electricity or water. That’s where the whole systems finds its limits. Let’s face it, you need every possible asset you have for your city, because there’s never enough. Your neighbour isn’t always monitoring his power supply, so you can being cut by mistake. To play cooperatively, players need to know each other beforehand.

I lament that the laderboards and the world market are still to be implemented. The dev. team is still working to stabilize servers. A quick word on that : apart from the launch day, I’ve never had any problem to play.

But there’s one big problem : cities are incrdibly tiny! I don’t have any problem on the principle because I used to choose the smallest scale in Sim City 3000, but here that just isn’t working and here’s why.

The standard size of the city is about one fourth of a small city in Sim City 3000. When I constructed my 2nd city (having drawn a map before), it took me… 3 hours. In Sim City, you must constantly invest to improve the standards of living. But you very quickly reach the point at which you can’t have further residential surfaces, which means you cannot your population and your fiscal revenues. And if, like in my first city, you choose the seaside, you’re fairly limited… the other issue lies in the expansions you can make to buildings : it can necessitate far more surface than you expected at first. If you haven’t made room in advance, you have to flatten entire blocks, lose inhabitants and revenues, which makes your budget worsen dramatically. The University fully developed is about the size of 6 residential blocks of high density! You need to make several cities to exhaust the game. I wish I had a big metropolis with everything in it, but sadly it’s not an option.

Sim City is an amazing game, so rich and complex that it seems infinite in theory. But in actual gameplay, it ends up being limited by a clear lack of polish. The dreams of ambitious managers might well be crushed by the ridiculous size of the cities.

Most anticipated games in 2013

Lightning Returns (PS3)

Lightning Returns (PS3)

I’ve been soooooo excited since the reveal trailer of the last adventures of Lightning, whom I revere. Yet the trailer is lame overall, because it doesn’t show one bit of what is gonna change for the better in Lightning Returns : constant and changing world, various interactions depending on the moment of the day, deeper customization… Those who had already buried the FFXIII saga could well be surprised.

Atelier Ayesha (PS3)

It’s going to be hard for Ayesha to dethrone princess Meruru. But if those newest Alchemy centric adventures are even remotely close to its predecessor, we no doubt have another fantastic and addictive title incoming.

Shining Ark (PSP)

Shining Blade was one of those games that look disappointing when you play, but that let you precious memories. Ace illustrator Tony Taka’s art is one of the main reasons for that and has decided me to put on call option on this series again. Coming with again great music and enriched with a new crafting/agricultural system, Shining Ark now just needs to be a little more difficult than its predecessor to enter the legend, given it features no less than Sephiroth’s long lost daughter.

God Eater 2 (PSVita)

Supposed to have been released last spring, God Eater 2 is one year late! But for greater good, since it comes in a full-fledged PSVita version! This is excellent for PSVita in Japan, and for our eyes, perfect occasion to hunt invaders in this post apocalyptic action/RPG.

Senran Kagura – Shinobi Versus (PSVita)

Excellent surprise of this beginning of portable generation, Senran Kagura leaves the hostile and region-locked environment of the 3DS to come to the Japanese PSVitas and therefore… yours! It will be interesting to see to what extend the popularity of the series can expand around the blog once it is freed form these shackles. This newest episode welcomes back all the previous characters and adds equally more. The leap in graphics is astonishing, the stages are open and the physics of the outfits is more… precise than ever.

Sim City (PC)

My brand-new PC is now running and eagerly awaits March. Never management in video games will have been so meticulous, and online possibilities should introduce competition and live markets. All my appointments for March are canceled.

Ace Attorney 5 (3DS)

Phoenix Wright must have been tired of his retirement, and so were we. After his medieval return along with Professor Layton, he’s again ready to barge in Japanese courts for hilarious new trials with graphics never seen on 3DS.

Legend of Heroes – Trails of the Flash (PSVita)

I know this series by reputation only, but I’ve got a hunch I shouldn’t overlook this newest episode inserting itself in an increasingly busy Vita schedule in Japan. Curiosity makes me explore new frontiers. The attractive design of Legend of Heroes, along with top-notch tech, could make this a real gem.

Medal of Honor Warfighter vs Call of Duty Black Ops II – comparative review

For the 3rd year now, Activsion and EA ask the patronage of millions of FPS fans with clear intention to get the biggest part of the cake. So, which one deserves your money in 2012? /!\ this review is based on the PS3 version of both games only /!\

Solo campaign

Coefficient : 1

Black Ops II

The campaign in Medal of Honor Warfighter (MoHW) was far from bad. Well paced, lots of suspense, varied gameplay, etc. The sequences in vehicles were particularity thrilling as you had to pursue, advance discretely or flee in hostile environment. But when MoH has cars, Call of Duty has horses! On-horse sniping has been a quite funny experience (but it’s really hard) and the Afghan chapter in a whole was really something. The depiction of the near-future in Black Ops II (BO2) is also impressive with all the strange weapons and mechas. BO2 have definitely more charisma than the ones in MoH : Mason and Woods are making history. The scenario in BO2 is disappointing, the historical context is very good, but the threat by a rich megalomaniac has been seen a million times. MoH is slightly better in that department. But where BO2 nails it is in the surprising RTS missions, in which you order units from above like a general, but you can also jump into the fight any time to save the day.

Graphics

Coefficient : 3

Black Ops II

MoHW benefits from the Frostbite 2 engine, but at its fullest only during single player. Multiplayer looks like it is running on Frostbite 0.5 as poor modeling and ugly textures hurt the BF3-conditioned eye. Equally fine in single player, BO2 maintains a satisfying quality in multiplayer, though far from BF3 standards. Weapons look really nice, but maps suffer from aliasing.

Sound

Coefficient : 2

Black Ops II

Firing sounds, explosions and voices are correct either side (English voices are available in the French version for both, which is cool), but the OST of BO2 was more memorable, espacially the background music that makes it especially immersive.

Multiplayer

Coefficient : 5

Black Ops II

Adding to the poor graphics I was telling you about, the multiplayer in MoHW has other issues. The maps are extremely dark, and scoping in makes them even darker… There were frequent bugs in which you respawn in the netheruniverse, and weapon balance feels strange at best. On the contrary, BO2 is a big step forward since for the series which had seen a sharp drop in quality for two years. Respawn has been fixed, weapon balance and level design (see under) welcome every playstyle, and there are plenty of game modes. Also, the menu layout in MoHW is heavy and uncomfortable, unlike BO2 fresh Pick 10 and its renewed Elite.

Sniper gameplay

Coefficient : 9999

Black Ops II

MoHW is a HUGE letdown. Maps are FLAT. There is something like one window in the entire multiplayer and obstacles to block your firing line everywhere. Bolt-actions doesn’t even one-shot kill, which is unaceptable after the complaints on BF3 forums. BO2 makes it easier for snipers than MW3 or BO1, getting close its great elder MW2 (see under for details).

Winner : Black Ops II

No problem for Call of Duty this year as Medal of Honor sinks in every aspect. Still, it’s not a victory by forfeit, because Treyarch revived the CoD franchise to new heights, especially in single player. Multiplayer fixes many of the flaws that had crippled the franchise lately, and sniping feels great again. This well deserves an early sniper montage with all four guns!

Some particularly interesting games of Gamescom 2012

Remember Me (PS3/X360)

Developed by the French studio Dontnod but published by Capcom, Remember Me is what Japan responds to Watchdogs, because the near-future setting is particularly similar. You play as Nilin, a young woman who has the ability (or a smart device) to change the memory of others. The games features puzzle phases that will have you alter the life of your targets. With open world that seems to look like Deux Ex’s, Remember Me will surely be major news when it comes out in May 2013.

Tokyo Jungle (PS3)

I really don’t know how this one made it out of Japan, but we might as well take it. Imagine Tokyo has been destroyed by some catastrophe, mankind is gone and only animals survived. The fauna now has to keep surviving and it’s up to you to lead the way.

Tales of Xillia 2 (PS3)

Tales of Xillia 2 didn’t make it to Germany since we poor Europeans don’t even have Tales of Graces f yet. Still, this video being posted during Gamescom is no coincidence. Old characters like Reia, Alvin, Rowen and Elise are back with in like Victorian clothing, and Ludger seems to have a some huge debt to pay pack. Did the crisis strike again?

Ni no Kuni – Warth of the White Witch (PS3)

No comment on that superb trailer of Ni no Kuni, because the art of Studio Ghibli speaks for itself.

Sim City (PC)

But THE game I’m looking out for the most in 2013 is the new Sim City. Sim City 3000, a 1999 game, is still today a fantastic title that I can play for hours. Twelve year of non-stop computing evolution multiplies the attractiveness of Sim City. Multiplayer looks awesome : common objectives, infinite exchange and competitive possibilities and a fully globalized economy that fluctuates in real time, making decisions more crucial than ever.

Some really exciting videos from E3 2012

Medal of Honor Warfighter (PS3/X360/PC)

This video of the New Medal of Honor is a huge slap in the face! Kicking ass like never, you see several of the elite units features in the game such as the US Seals, the Russian Spetznaz, etc. The non-stop action is reinforced by the world’s best game engine : Frosbite2. Snipers won’t fail to notice that the first ever kill shown of MoH Warfighter multiplayer is a neat quickscope done with a MacMillan Tac-338 in the right part of the torso. The good guys of Danger Close, unlike DICE, care a little about what the community says and listened to the pledges of dispirited recon players. Medal of Honor Warfighter actually looks like Modern Warfare 2 running on Frostbite2.

Assassin’s Creed III (PS3/X360/WiiU/PC)

I stopped playing Assassin’s Creed after the second episode. I found that Brotherhood and Revelations weren’t innovating enough. No complain though with AC3, which brings a new hero with a new gameplay, as well as a more open and lively world. In the wilderness or at sea, Assassin’s Creed 3 will make you experience the American Revolution like you’ve never seen it!

Watchdogs (PS3/X360/PC)

Another game from Ubisoft, Watchdogs has been unanimously declared the best game of E3 2012. Partly because it hadn’t been leaked and appeared as a real surprise, a rare thing in today’s connected world. Connected, the main character certainly is : he can hack almost any electronic device within range (tablets, traffic lights), promising a innovative gameplay. But it’s in graphics where Watchdogs strikes the most.The first day when it was revealed, it looked so realistic that many observers thought it would be running on Xbox3 and PS4. It was later revealed that the game would release for PS3, X360 and PC in 2013, so it won’t be long before we can throw ourselves in this dark near-future atmosphere.  

Agni’s Philosophy (PS4?)

I know it’s just a tech demo, but Agni’s Philosophy made the buzz so loud that the rest of the SquareEnix line-up went right under the radar (pretty bad line-up by the way, so serves them right). Build on an architecture supposed to be used by next-gen consoles, this real time cutscene was realized by the Japanese division of SquareEnix (which at least proves they work on something) and depicts the misfortune of a young lady called Agni, who could very well become the heroine of the first Final Fantasy on PS4 (provided the series still exists by then. If not, sha can always be a James Bond girl in a later Hitman game…). 1080p strongly recommended.

Sim City (PC)

This title may let you think that Sim City fell into the “reboot” hype, but the video tells different. What we can see a Sim City in which management features have been detailed to the extreme : the roads are no longer straight, the zoom allows you to observe the Sims in a most precise way, etc. But the biggest change in the series is the add of multiplayer features, which will connects the players’ cities and turning them into a real “Sim Country”.

Crysis 3 (PS3/X360/PC)

3rd iteration of the famous science-fiction shooter series, Crysis 3 impresses by its fierce gameplay and the classy design of its weapons. Even though I’m not a big fan of non-military shooters, the futurisc bow alone makes me want to play…