Preview – Tom Clancy’s The Division

TD

The Division is one of the «big 3» AAA I’m waiting for eagerly this year. Having missed the boat of the closed beta because I pre-ordered and registered too late, I’m more than happy to give it a try in the public version.

Not much blah-blah in Ubisoft’s beta. The story of the game is barely hinted at and you have to fathom what’s really going on in Tom Clancy’s New York. A highly dangerous virus is decimating the population, and at the same time, armed men calling themselves the rioters started to act violently within the city.

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Despite the scenario being vague, we do contemplate the fabulous atmosphere in this TPS/RPG. It’s Christmas time, it’s snowing, and yet an eerie silence looms on the Big Apple. The city’s last defenders (you) are preparing their counterattack in improvised HQ, there are decontamination facilities everywhere, you can see a memorial to the victims etc. The main musical theme adds the mysticism and your allies scream in the coms when the situation is really bad. The post-apocalyptic setting is fairly convincing.

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Graphically speaking, downgrade or not, it’s absolutely impressive. New York looks as real as you could expect and animations during combat feel very natural. The lightning effects and the changing weather make wonders. It’s tremendously good to look at, but I expected no less after Watchdogs’s magnificent Chicago.

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The command center is in shambles. Up to you to rebuild it by looking for key persons gone missing (medic, engineer), all this in order to reopen the various wings of the base (hospital, security and engineering). Once you’ve brought back the specialist, you’ll have to improve the department via its own exclusive ability points (for example, the hospital wing needs supplies points). Each time you do that, your character receives new abilities to be used on the field. Perfect transition to remind you that The Division is a true RPG, as you get experience points, level up and have to assign combat/support abilities to L and R.

Following the know-how from Watchdogs, The Division seems to already have the basics of a good open-world game. New York seems somewhat busy despite the tragic events, although stray dogs outnumber the panicked passers-by. But the most interesting point is that there’s already a big density of missions to be done. In addition the main story, several side missions are spread at nearly every corner : taking an enemy hideout, getting rid of a murderer, helping in skirmishes, freeing hostages, fixing a sabotaged antenna… Still, those missions feel more or less the same and aren’t as complex or interesting as Watchdogs’s so far. Funny thing : a sewer network has been modeled and you can move under the city.

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Fighting has proved to be quite exhilarating. Everything’s down to your capacity to find the best cover and change it when needed. Every attempt to attack in the open is pure suicide given that your character has little resistance. You therefore have to be clever and move while in cover so as to flank the enemy, or be quick and precise in crossfire. It’s urban warfare like we seldom see in video games. But there’s a snag : X button is for cover, and circle is used for jumping over obstacles, with the result that the player is likely to make unwanted inputs. So I’d say the precision of the controls is not for the best as it is. The weapons physics are astonishingly realistic : the kick of the M4 is monstruous. You do have to learn to adjust your aim and fire small bursts.

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But we are in an RPG and you’ll have to increasingly improve your gear. Like in Destiny, your character’s level needs to match the one of weapons and armor. The higher the level, the better the equipment is. And after that you can customize rifles with various accessories (suppressor, better scope, foregrip for better handling), which allows the player to personalize their loadout. Frankly, money looks hard to come by in this game and you can’t really rely on vendors. The best option is to loot enemies, method that gave me this little one. This is actually the Mosin-Nagant, a very old Russian sniper featured in the Metal Gear Solid series.

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Very quickly, you do realize that the challenge in The Division is no joke. Mission 2 is nearly impossible to complete. You need to empty 1 or 2 magazines to take out one rioter, and those possess a fierce IA : they move constantly, aim extremely well and overuse their stun grenades. And given the tricky shooting due to the realistic weapon physics, it turns out that you’ll need help. And help is here, because you can join a cooperative session like in Call of Duty Black Ops III. That is if you do understand the kafkaesque machtmaking, but once you’re in a party, the game is very hooking and the servers seem solid.

I’m satisfied of this beta because The Division is turning out to be exactly as I had imagined it : a connected, cooperative experience which mixes the pleasure and intensity of gunfight with the incomparable flavor of an RPG progression system.

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Review – Child of Light

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I’ve read that Child of Light was inspired by JRPG. Maybe, I could feel it. But it’s not really important since Ubisoft Montreal’s new title goes far beyond traditional RPGs or gaming in general.

At first sight, Child of Light looks no different from a fairy tale : Princess Aurora, who has been transported in a strange world, seeks to go back to her father. But the comparison stops here because you realize pretty soon that the thing is unique.

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Because Child of Light is, for starters, artistically unprecedented. Like Journey or The Unfinished Swan, Ubi’s game is immediately charming by its design coming from nowhere. As always, it’s up to each person’s perception, but you the strokes that forms the backgrounds, characters and monsters definitely seem alive. Lighting and shadows are beautiful and cleverly serve gameplay. Nearly every screen is magnificent. Every time I came to a new environment my jaw dropped. It’s very simple : you could open a museum with only Child of Light inside. 

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But the museum would hardly be enough. You really have to see all that MOVE! Not short of ideas, Ubisoft Montreal have created fluent and unique animations. Movements remind classic puppet theater a bit like Pupetteer which suits perfectly to the general picture. How to say it… it’s just 2D, but it feels a lot more immersive than most of «realistic» titles. Kudos to the animation in which Aurora loses her crown, picks it up and puts it back. It is really the must of kawaii.

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Adding to that, the direction is quite above average. Child of Light borrows as much from literature as from fine arts : the Shakespearean lines with faultless rhymes are filled with elegance and intelligence. The devs have included and smartly transformed a few references : the wicked sister Cordelia, Achilles’s Odyssey… The dialogs as well as the story are both funny and moving, which is indeed a major quality in the greatest JRPGs, and efficiently addresses classics themes like courage, honor, kinship, etc.

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What about gameplay, then? I’ll ask me. Well let’s talk about it, because again it’s not borrowed from elsewhere but created from scratch. True, the progression remains fairly linear, but it’s a pleasure to rummage the stages to find hidden objects and secrets. Moreover, a dozen of sidequests will make you search in places you’ve previously visited and you’ll have sometimes to search intensely.

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The battle system is fairly original too. You share with your enemies a timeline divided between “wait” and “cast”. If you hit a opponent that is in the “cast” area, that skips its turns. But careful, this applies to you as well! Thinking ahead the movements in the timeline is key to victory, but you have a trump card : your little fairy Igniculus (controlled with the right stick) can slower foes and allow you to overtake them. Each of the seven characters has a specialty and you can equip Oculi (gems) to boost their parameters (elemental attack/defense, ATK+, XP+, etc.). The fights in themselves are really interesting in the way that they emphasize buffs and debuffs which your opponents won’t refrain from using against you. Up to you to withstand with a defensive strategy or break their assault with a daring offensive.  

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In particular, the bosses have varied behaviors and strengths/weaknesses, forcing you to switch constantly between your characters. Let’s stress that the boss fights have an epic dimension that totally lives up to the best JRPGs. The “bad guys” are horrible and scheming, the monsters are gigantic and the boss battle theme has some grandeur. Oh yeah, THE MUSIC! The orchestration is glorious, the melancholy affects the player deep inside. Ok let’s voice some concerns for the sake of it : I would have liked a larger trophy list, and the game crashed twice. That’s about it…

Child of Light is exactly what gaming needs : something beautiful, like no other, that pleases the senses and the mind while being profoundly emotional. It is an oasis in the middle of sadly generic titles, a masterpiece that stand out in the coldness of the mass market. Child of Light is one of the best titles of this gen and next-gen, and it costs only 15€…

 

1st half 2012 – software sales analysis

Half a year has passed. Time to see what happens on the economic side of the gaming world.

Worldwide top 10 (2012 releases only)

  1. Diablo III (PC)

  2. Mass Effect 3 (X360)

  3. Pokémon B/W2 (DS)

  4. Mario Party 9 (Wii)

  5. Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3)

  6. Ghost Recon Future Soldier (X360)

  7. Max Payne (X360)

  8. Resident Evil Operation Racoon City (PS3)

  9. One Piece Pirate Warriors (PS3)

  10. Mass Effect 3 (PS3)

You can see the full top 100 on Vgchartz. Games released in 2011 remainded praticularely vivid as few 2012 games managed to steal the spotlight : in the top 20 games, only 6 were released in 2012, being Mario Party 9, Mass Effect 3, Final Fantasy XIII-2, Ghost Recon, Pokemon B/W 2 and Diablo 3. The rest of the top 20 is composed of long sellers such as Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3 or evergreen casual games. I can’t deny that Mass Effect significantly overtook Final Fantasy as a leading RPG IP (if Mass Effect is still and RPG, that is). Mass Effect 3 beats Final Fantasy XIII-2 by 2 to 1 in the West and still sells more even if Japan is taken into account. FFXIII-2 nevertheless outpaces ME3 on PS3 and outsells its 360 counterpart by 2.5 to 1, proving that the audiences of the two systems are very different. FFXIII-2 on PS3 is also showing some legs : it has been staying between the 40th and the 60th rank for several weeks now. There are several DS/3DS games, but only one Vita game which is Uncharted. Two Japan-only games cracked into the top 10, showing that the Japanese market is far from dead.

USA top 10 (2012 releases only)

  1. Mass Effect 3 (X360)

  2. Diablo III (PC)

  3. Ghost Recon Future Soldier (X360)

  4. MLB 12 : The Show (PS3)

  5. Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3)

  6. Max Payne (X360)

  7. Kingdom of Alamur Reckoning (X360)

  8. Kinect Star Wars (X360)

  9. Twisted Metal (PS3)

  10. Mario Party 9 (Wii)

You can see the full top 100 on Vgchartz. Here again 2012 games fail to perform well : 6 out of 20 were released this year. JRPGs are struggling as Tales of Graces f only managed 193K so far and the much awaited Xenoblade stalls at 260K. Those are really horrible figures. I hope they still profit so that it doesn’t deter publishers for future localizations. At least, ToGf must have met Namco’s expectations since the translation of Tales of Xillia is already in the works. The casual audience still heavily dominates the Nintendo platforms : there’s no Resident Evil Revelations or Metal Gear 3D in sight.

Europe top 10 (2012 releases only)

  1. Diablo III (PC)

  2. Mass Effect 3 (X360)

  3. FIFA Street (PS3)

  4. FIFA Street (X360)

  5. Mario Party 9 (Wii)

  6. Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3)

  7. Max Payne (PS3)

  8. Max Payne (X360)

  9. Mass Effect 3 (PS3)

  10. Kinect Star Wars (X360)

Again, only 6 out of the top 20 games were released in 2012. There are two funny things in this European chart :

  • Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations is the only figthing game in the 100, neither SoulCalibur V nor Street Fighter X Tekken manged to chart. Those series are declining at breackneck pace, which logically calls for new contenders.

  • PSVita put up quite a fight for it places three games in the top 100 (Uncharted, Rayman Origins and FIFA Soccer). Uncharted shots up at rank 38th, beating all the recent 3DS games.

Japan top 10 (2012 releases only)

  1. Pokémon B/W 2 (DS)

  2. One Piece Pirate Warriors (PS3)

  3. Dragon Quest Monsters : Terry’s Wonderland (3DS)

  4. Mario Party 9 (Wii)

  5. Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)

  6. Resident Evil Operation Racoon City (PS3)

  7. Dai-2-Ji Super Robot Taisen Z Saisei-hen (PSP)

  8. Pokémon Nobunaga’s Ambition (DS)

  9. Kingdom Hearts 3D (3DS)

  10. Kid Icarus Uprising (3DS)

3DS dominated this first half of the year in Japan. It sells to most games despite its developping install base. Generally speaking, handhelds are still big in Japan, where even a slowing PSVita has 6 games in the top. PSP games keep reaching good figures, which in reality are even better since Vgchartz doesn’t track digital sales (and those ones have surged since Vita released). PS3 confirms its position as the top home console : it flattens Wii 3 to 1 and X360 20 to 1. On the software side, PS3 sells nearly 6 million games when Wii barely manages 2 mllion. Xbox software was non existent as usual as no game charted. This time, most of the top games are from 2012 (16 out of 20, most probably 17 or 18 with the digital sales), which suggest both a wider game offer and a more quickly renewed demand than in the West. In short, the Japanese are more active gamers than westerners. Other noticable fact, Modern Warfare 3 outsold Zelda Skyward Sword at home. Japanese gamers seem increasingly interested in western gaming (Skyrim and Battlefield 3 also make it in the top 100), even if it means ditching well-established series like Zelda.

So, what’s next in 2012? Or more precisely WHO’s next? Yes, Nintendo is next to fall. It failed to convince gamers with 3DS outside of Japan (see next post), its Wii business is collapsing like and sandcastle and its WiiU line-up is close to nothingness. WiiU is the first ever system to be released at the end of the generation it indents to compete into, which means it will face cheaper competitors with comparable specs and far richer game libraries. PS3 and X360 have gained the gamers’ faith and respect while Wii only brought frustration, defiance and anger. The former will have countless exclusives such as Hitman Absolution, Tomb raider, Dead or Alive 5, Persona 4 Arena, Medal of Honor Warfighter, Dishonored, Halo 4, The Last of Us, Crysis 3 just to name a few. WiiU will have to battle with super-late ports and TANK! TANK! TANK! If Nintendo cannot prevent casual gamers from shifting to Kinect, web browser games or cheap Iphone games, WiiU will be discontinued as soon as 2013.

2011, a year in games sales

That’s it guys, 2011 is finally over with the publication today of the final figures. Which games were on top? Which system won? Find out below.

/!\WARNING/!\ These charts are based on games released in 2011 ONLY, and due to changes on Vgchartz I had to browse through the entire software database so mistakes are possible. Tell me in the comments if you see one!

Japan (in millions)

  1. Mario Kart 7 (3DS) – 1.08
  2. Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) – 1.04
  3. Monster Hunter 3G (3DS) – 1.02
  4. Final Fantasy Type-0 (PSP) – 0.75
  5. Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3) – 0.72
  6. Rhythm Heaven Fever (Wii) – 0.63
  7. Tales of Xilia (PS3) – 0.62
  8. Final Fantasy Dissidia Duodecim (PSP) – 0.46
  9. Zelda Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS) – 0.45
  10. Monster Hunter Freedom 3rd HD (PS3) – 0.43
  1. 3DS – 4.13
  2. PSP – 1.96
  3. PS3 – 1.47
  4. Wii – 0.94
  5. DS – 0.71
  6. PSVita – 0.4
  7. X360 – 0.11

Highlights :

  • 3DS flattened the competition

  • PS3 tops Wii for the first time

  • RPGs were dominant over others genres
  • No Western game charted
  • Ni no Kuni PS3 failed to sell
Despite falling quickly after launch, 3DS ruled the Japanese market this year thanks to its price cut, Monster Hunter and Mario games. However, Nintendo already dominant position on its new system leaves little room for 3rd party games. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues in 2012, which would sadly make 3DS as irrelevant as Wii by 2013. PS3 was the top home system and outsold a collapsing Wii by 50%. PSVita sales plummeted in 2nd and 3rd week, leaving an uncertain future looming ahead for Sony’s new handheld. Of course, Xbox360 was non-existent.

United States (in millions)

  1. Modern Warfare 3 (X360) – 7.37
  2. Modern Warfare 3 (PS3) – 4.26
  3. Pokemon Black&White (DS) – 3.83
  4. Just Dance 3 (Wii) – 3.81
  5. Gears of Wars 3 (X360) – 3.3
  6. Battlefield 3 (X360) – 2.89
  7. Elder Scrolls V Skyrim (X360) – 2.6
  8. Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) – 2.44
  9. Battlefield 3 (PS3) – 1.67
  10. Mario Kart 7 (3DS) – 1.63

No hardware figures yet :(

Highlights :

  • Modern Warfare 3 flattened the competition

  • HD systems were dominant

  • Shooters were dominant over others genres

Crushing victory for X360 in the US this year : already strong among gamers in its home market, Microsoft’s system is also starting to crunch aggressively in the casual market. X360 knew its biggest month ever last November and Kinect Adventures is the best-selling title of the system. Wii was almost invisible in its last year and surfaced only thanks to Just Dance 3 and Skyward Sword.

Europe (in millions)

  1. Modern Warfare 3 (PS3) – 3.41
  2. Modern Warfare 3 (X360) – 3.21
  3. Pokemon Black&White (DS) – 2.5
  4. Just Dance 3 (Wii) – 2.36
  5. Elder Scrolls V Skyrim (X360) – 1.48
  6. Battlefield 3 (PS3) – 1.45
  7. Battlefield 3 (X360) – 1.32
  8. Gears of Wars 3 (X360) – 1.26
  9. Uncharted 3 (PS3) – 1.24
  10. Professor Layton and the Last Specter (DS) – 1.16

No hardware figures yet :(

Highlights :

  • Modern Warfare 3 flattened the competition

  • HD systems were dominant

  • Shooters were dominant over others genres

  • No Mario game charted :)

Roughly the same as in the US, save that PS3 mattered more. 3DS was strong but had less success than elsewhere and, more than anywhere else, relied on Mario games to sell. With a low proportion of core gamers buying the system, 3DS may be weak until the next holiday season kicks off. Xenoblade was acclaimed by the critics and made the news, but failed to move important volumes (160K, which is nevertheless outstanding for a JRPG in Europe).

Worldwide (in millions)

  1. Modern Warfare 3 (X360) – 11.95
  2. Modern Warfare 3 (PS3) – 9.72
  3. Just Dance 3 (Wii) – 6.76
  4. Gears of Wars 3 (X360) – 5.16
  5. Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) – 5.14
  6. Battlefield 3 (X360) – 5.0
  7. Elder Scrolls V Skyrim (X360) – 4.95
  8. Mario Kart 7 (3DS) – 4.46
  9. Battlefield 3 (PS3) – 4.1
  10. Uncharted 3 (PS3) – 3.29

No hardware figures yet :(

Highlights :

  • Modern Warfare 3 flattened the competition

  • HD systems were dominant

  • Shooters were dominant over others genres

Nintendo showed that they can achieve nothing without their licenses : they rushed the development of 3DS Mario games to make them ready for Xmas and lift the alarming sales of their new handheld. There dependency on casual gaming lead to a software drought on Wii. Meanwhile, innovation, variety and new IPs have been almost exclusively delivered by PS3 and X360, which logically lead throughout the year. However, Sony is also recycling games on Vita, so they share a part of the blame. 2011 also shows casual gamers starting to shift from Wii to Kinect (at least in the US).

2012 should see the release of WiiU, but Nintendo’s eerie silence on their new system doesn’t bode well : the manufacturer is probably having a hard time convincing 3rd parties to develop for it. With no significant evolution from Wii and a higher price, casual gamers might also ignore it to turn themselves towards a cheaper X360+Kinect or an already (too) much casualised 3DS. WiiU is the only question mark this year : Vita will fail in the West and X360/PS3 should continue to be the leading systems in pretty much every aspect.

Xenoblade gaminglive and first impressions

This one is kind of late, because I recorded in early september and just finished editing. The thruth is that I went to Japan a few days after recording and came back with Hyperdimension Neptune Mk2. So Xenoblade had to wait. 

I know it’s a little rude, given how famous Xenoblade has become thanks to top marks and wide coverage of Operation Rainfall, but I personnally. The new RPG from Monolith has lot of qualities : graphically speaking, the overall design and the wonderful environments makes you forget the awful feeling of playing in SD. Day and night, as well as weather chage in real time, the characters’ animations are extremely detailed, music and sound are near perfect, making Xenoblade a truly immersive experience. 

However imho, gameplay lacks depth : whatever the character, you input the same skills ever and ever, with sometimes Shulk seeing a comrade’s death in the future, making it possible to prevent it. Excellent at first, I find this system a little vague as you progress in the game. Add to this a difficulty set too low (I hardly had any problems against bosses), and you have why imho Xenoblade won’t set new standards or become the new reference for JRPGs. 

Xenoblade still has a classic but powerful scenario, the most immense world of any JRPG in game history and a flurry of sidequests which makes it a lot of unrivaled pleasure for dozens of hours.

 

Atelier Totori gaminglive and first impressions

/!\UPDATE/!\ The final review is up here and you can see how much I love this game there.

I picked Atelier Rorona in Akihabara back in 2009, I couldn’t imagine it would come to our shores. While being extremely pleasant and innovative, sales remained low in Japan (around 80K). We are therefore really lucky to have a publisher like NIS America, ready to take risks to please the fans, bringing us Atelier Totori this year.

oAtelier Totori inherits the game system from its predecessor while changing it slightly. You’re still taking different types of orders (item creation, pick material or monster hunting) to be achieved within a certain number of days. Besides travelling and alchemy, battles and item gathering takes a certain amount of time. Deadlines are less tight than in Rorona, I just hope it doesn’t make the game too easy. Alchemy now takes MP and not HP, which is much better since you don’t have to waste too much time resting.

The most striking improvement is the 3D modelling of the characters. Character design being the immense strength of the game, it makes Totori even more enjoyable than Rorona, which unfortunately had poor character modeling. Backgrounds sadly remain a bit empty and don’t really change from Rorona. Music and character design are still top class, like only NIS America can deliver. Totori is awesomely cute and strong-minded, and the title doesn’t lack this particular sense of humor that makes Atelier Rorona so charming.

After playing only 2 hours, I can say that I love this game at least as much as Iliked Rorona. Some clearly don’t : French reviewers were particularly brutal towards Totori just because they prefer Dark Souls. Their heart is as dark as NamcoBandai’s title and their close-mindedness is pitiful. Fortunately, anglo-saxon site are here to do the game a little justice. Because if people start bashing Japanese games that barely makes it to the west, publishers will be quick to withdraw and JRPG fans won’t have anything to play. Don’t trust them, don’t even trust me : make your own opinion, follow your your curiosity and your heart.