Saturday, October 29, 2011

November Gaming Releases - A Feast of Franchises

Highlighted Release

Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: November 20th

This month is going to be a huge one for gaming. Sifting through the gems of titles that will be released, it was hard to pick just one to highlight. However, with the flood of sequels the one franchise that never disappoints is Legend of Zelda. The new look and feel of the game looks promising, as Wii Motion Plus will enhance the experience enough to differentiate it from Twilight Princess. Complete with a new crafting system, new dungeons, and the same great Zelda elements we have come to love, this will be a title that no fan should pass up.

*** If you wish to watch a trailer for the game, simply the click on the game cover art. Enjoy!***

Additional Titles

November 1st

November 8th

November 11th

November 15th

Friday, October 28, 2011

Dance Central 2 Review - Pump Up the Jams

Score:  8.25 / 10

Dance Central 2
Xbox 360 Kinect
Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: Harmonix
Release Date: October 25th, 2011

  • New options in Break it Down mode help in perfecting moves
  • Choreography is both challenging and welcoming to newcomers
  • Ability to jump in or out of a song at any time for two players
  • Voice recognition makes navigation much easier
  • Online still very much absent besides leaderboards
  • Slight cost to transfer DC1 songs over
  • Campaign mode seems tacked on
Dance Central is one of those guilty pleasure games. The one you swear you only play with your little nephews, when in actuality you five starred every song on Hard....alright well that's more centered toward my experience. Love it or hate it, Dance Central is the best running franchise on the Kinect, and possibly the best use of the hardware. With the influx of dance games on the market, the first installment stood above the rest with its stellar choreography, set list, and simplicity to get even the most rhythmically challenged individual on their feet. The second installment is a slight improvement, providing the familiar "one more song" feel.

Dance, Sucka!

Dance Central is easy to understand, and simpler to get into. You simply mimic the avatar on screen, using flashcards that highlight key parts of the body involved with a move. These are strung together to form a routine, which you are evaluated on by your body placement. Red highlights over certain areas allow the game to give active feedback and for you to adjust accordingly. It's the same system the first game used, and it still holds up fairly well. Though the Kinect hardware reads the moves well enough, the game is a little too lenient on awarding some moves. There were times when the avatar would go crazy, and I would move an arm or leg two inches and still have it count. Mind you, these are seldom occurrences, and the routines are much more enjoyable to perform this time around, even on Easy mode.

For the single player mode, there is a "crew challenge". Essentially it is you trying to prove yourself to local crews, but in reality it is simply the same play list you can go through if you just hop into dance mode. There is no real story, no character customization, no real incentive at all. This seems like a disappointment, considering this is the same company that provided the enjoyable single player for Rock Band.
The set list this time around contains various artists that range from Nikki Minaj, to Rihanna, to Daft Punk. There is something for everyone on the list, and the variety insures you will find a favorite track among the ones presented. While the diversity of tracks is a little more modern this time around, it's enough to satisfy. Luckily, all of them come unlocked if you wish to hop right into the routine of your favorite on the list.

It Takes Two

The focus of two players is very obviously shoved in your face as each avatar crew consists of two people, but it is an area that is greatly improved. Two people can now do the same routine at the same time, whether competitive or co-operative. A new interesting feature is the ability of the second person to hop in or out at any time, so if one person suffers a hernia they can leave and not affect your performance further.

While the cooperative just allows two to dance at once, it is the competitive mode that truly shines. Battle mode pits player against player, tallying scores and moves. The infamous "freestyle" breaks have been replaced with a lottery wheel of moves plucked from the song. The first to perform the shuffle of moves on screen will get additional points. This makes it any one's game, as some are worth more points than others and its first come, first serve. There are also breaks in the song where the game focuses on one person's performance for a certain section. It is a refined mode that promises hours of comebacks and spotlight steals.

Break it Down for Me

Practicing for a routine is key on the later songs as Hard mode has some more complicated choreography, granting the purpose of Break it Down mode. This allows you to take the routine move by move and perfect the look. You have the ability to slow the move down to really make sure you are hitting it correctly, and the game will actually test you three times to make sure you have it down.

The new features to Break it Down are incredibly helpful. You have the ability to record yourself performing the move and compare it to the avatar on screen, possibly the best use ever to compare leg and arm placement. There is also voice integration that makes it easy to replay, speed up, or slow down a move to practice. Before you even begin, you can concentrate on a certain set of moves and create a playlist of the ones giving you trouble to practice.

It is the most useful mode to improve your performance, and the best upgrade the game has gotten.
I Got a Fever

Besides the basics of Break it Down, there are other additional options at your disposal. Playlists allow you to conjure together your favorite songs of the bunch to play in succession. Capping out at 20, you no longer need to navigate the menus as often to search for the ones you enjoy dancing to the most. Voice recognition even allows everything to be hands free if you simply want to jump right in, by saying the song title, difficulty, and play mode instantly.

There is even the return of Fitness mode. This healthy-minded option will count how many calories you burn while playing the game. This way, you can push yourself to pass out on "Baby Got Back" and feel good about yourself afterword.
With the improvements also come the disappointments. Once you play through the Crew Challenge, that is the extent of unlockable crews. The possibility of dance crew creation and an in-game economy could have extended single player immensely. You can transfer your songs from the first game to the second game, though the small five buck fee is a slight irritation. Though the flash cards describe the movements decent enough for the lower difficulties, Hard mode still requires frequent visits to Break it Down mode.


While the overall game is a blast, there was not enough new content to truly blow me away. Sure the new improvements make it superior to the first, but that's where it stops. There are plenty of songs to perfect and with DLC on the way, the library can only get bigger. In the never ending line of dance games that are flooding the market, Dance Central 2 still stands out among the rest as the most enjoyable experience.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Batman: Arkham City Review - City of Chaos

Score : 9.75 / 10

Batman: Arkham City
PS3 - Xbox 360 - PC - Wii U (Soon)
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive
Release Date: October 18th, 2011

  • Combat is as fluid, and satisfying as ever
  • Open world gives new freedom to the game
  • Sharp visuals and animation
  • Loads of side content worth investing time to explore
  • Voice cast that amplifies the story
  • Characters like Robin and Catwoman are stuck as DLC
  • Slew of gadgets can become cumbersome

Superhero games have always led to disappointment in the past, with the main issue being the inability to capture what makes the comic book heroes so great. Batman: Arkham Asylum changed all of that, when Rocksteady Studios took the license and completely changed the game. Blending together everything that makes Batman the hero that he is, Askham Asylum came as a huge surprise to the gaming community when its incredibly satisfying gameplay and story combined to make an unforgettable experience. After being teased over and over with stills and thirty second trailers, the next installment is finally here. Batman: Arkham City perfects the previous formula, creating an incredible experience that is a love letter to fans and gamers alike.

City of Confinement

Arkham Asylum's darker take on the Batman license is alive and well, and that much is obvious from the first five minutes of the game. Bruce Wayne is kidnapped and thrown into Arkham City, an enclosed prison of miscreants and criminals. Donning his cowl and arming himself, Batman must dig into the heart of the city to uncover the truth behind its purpose. It is a story of intrigue, and one that holds your attention throughout. Sure the game depicts the struggle with your usual cast of Batman bad guys, but the heavy toll of handling all the anarchy is much more apparent compared to the calm, collective hero we saw in the previous game. It's a much darker, more interesting story this time around.

The second you grapple to a rooftop and fly around the city skies the change from the original game becomes obvious. Gone are the confining hallways, and in its place stand towering skyscrapers, shimmering bays, and open skies. It has the same effect that an open world Spider-Man game possesses in giving freedom to simply zoom around the city. The detailed textures of the world and characters alike are a joy to behold. Subtle features such as Batman's cape physics and the looming bat signal guiding you to your next objective make the game veritable eye candy.

The return of classic Batman villains with their respective voice talent are a welcome treat. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are incredible in their performances as usual, and further supported by Troy Baker (Two-Face), Grey DeLisle (Catwoman), and Nolan North (The Penguin). Even the soundtrack exemplifies the early Batman films from the Tim Burton era. The game is a true love letter for any fan of Batman media; be it the films or the comic books, there is something here to tug at your nerdy heartstrings.

Bat Brawl

Much like the previous installment, the game shuffles between exploration, combat, and stealth. The healthy balance keeps things interesting, and just when you think you have the hang of things a new gadget or enemy is thrown in to keep the game from becoming stale.

Combat remains the fast-paced one-button brawler that makes even the simplest move evolve into a fury of fists. Split-second decision making about which gadget to use, when to counter, and how to react are easy to pick up and difficult to master. Fighting twenty foes at one time can be intimidating, but as the freeflow combat has you dispose of each with a few taps of the controller you begin to realize what makes Arkham City so great. Simplicity evolves into a satisfying reward, as anyone can look and feel like Batman with a simple tap of the X button.

With faster and more intimidating baddies, comes new gadgets and moves to quell the masses. Freeze bombs, batarangs, and explosive gels are incorporated from exploration into combat with button shortcuts. Mixing the variety of these into your combat boosts your damage and experience reward to level up. However, twice the gadgets and moves also means twice the thought process on what to use next. There are times the combat can be overwhelming with so many odds and gadgets at your disposal, you tend to forget the shortcuts or leave some moves unused. For the most part it is an improved and enjoyable experience.

The stealth gameplay has also been fine-tuned. Still giving the feeling of being a predator instead of prey, you pick armed thugs off one by one as you hop to different vantage points. Enemies are much more equipped this time around with thermal visors, proximity mines, and jammers on your detective vision. This makes the stealth much more interesting, and keeps you from repeating the same strategy of hopping to a vantage point and taking your time.

Off the Beaten Path

Arkham City does one thing few other games have the capacity to do; make side content worth your time. The generic recycled side mission is instead a side campaign all its own. Missions will vary from simple brawls, to puzzles, to detective work of tracking down an enemy. Each yield a unique and enjoyable reward, mostly being the chance to view more of the cast of villains that make their debut in this game or returning characters.

The high point yet again lies with The Riddler trophies, now featuring over 400 different collectibles or objectives. You will stumble upon these trophies continuously through the campaign, and it is hard not to stray from the path to figure out a way to retrieve them. What makes these collectibles so great is that the majority of them are not simply lying hidden behind a corner, but baited in front of you, beckoning for you to figure them out. Coupled with the ability to interrogate certain enemies to gain locations of all the collectibles, it is one of the best times I have had scouring for hidden items.

A Worthy Challenge

When you finish the campaign, there are a slew of additional modes that will keep you busy. Besides the side content, you can start a New Game+ mode. This makes the baddies much more difficult, stealth missions more challenging, and removes the notifications on when an enemy attacks. Though you keep all items and upgrades, it is still a tough fight to the end and a great way to get a second play through in.

Upgrading Batman comes easy and naturally. With each room or brawl completion you are rewarded experience to upgrade as you see fit. You will be able to increase damage you can take, unlock new gadgets, and even upgrade existing moves. Experience is plentiful and you will find yourself upgrading rather quickly.

The reappearance of the challenge rooms further encourages you to subject yourself to more brawling and stealth. The significant difference are the inclusion of medals, where you soon become set on trying to get all three medals for each event. It adds replay value, but could have been a bit more varied. Tack on the fact that you must collect riddler trophies to unlock most of them, and the mode feels like it didn't get the attention it deserved.

Acting as launch DLC for new owners, the addition of Catwoman as a playable character is also available. Complete with four side missions that tie into the main game, the switch of characters acts as a nice reprieve. Catwoman's acrobatic style of fighting and travel are quite different from Batman. With Robin DLC slated for future releases, it leaves the question on why such characters are reserved for DLC when they add so much to the story and world.


Arkham City is not only an improvement on the first installment, but a great use of a license. It is hard to capture the feeling of being a classic comic book superhero, but as you dive bomb down to enemies or silently take out two guards at once you see that Rocksteady has gathered what was necessary to make you feel like Batman. It is an experience not soon forgotten, and not only one of the best Batman games to be released, but one of the best games to be released this year.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Look Back at Gaming 2011 - Part 1

The year is coming to a close, which means the onslaught of gaming releases will be accompanied by many a "Top 10 of 2011" list. Favorites will be chosen and lists will be compared, but one thing will remain true - this has been a great year in gaming. For this reason, it is interesting to look back at all the great titles that were released this year to remember the big moments, surprises, and tears of joy that they brought to us. This is part one of a look back at gaming for the year of 2011.



The year began with gamers still in a gaming stupor from the fall releases.Call of Duty: Black Ops, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, and other big name titles remained glued to consoles as players scrounged for achievements and a higher kill/death ratio. What usually begins as a lull soon became anything but, as a handful of titles were released to get the year started right.

MMO fans got the first treat of the year with DC Universe Online for the PS3 and PC. Players chose a mentor such as Batman or The Flash and began their journey into becoming a superhero or villain. A slew of customization and ability to shape your hero with whatever power you could imagine had many clamoring to create their superhero persona. With the game recently announced going free to play, this exclusive license to the DC universe gave fans of the comics a tool to drop themselves into their favorite DC universe.

The PS3 got a big exclusive start with Little Big Planet 2. The user-friendly side scroller was a nice break from the more serious titles of the previous year, and offered a simplistic and brilliant platforming experience. Expanding the community features, LBP2 allowed for easier level creation along with some of the best variety a platformer could contain. Featuring everything from jetpacks to mobile bunnies, the game was a blast to play with three other friends at your side.

Two Worlds II gave a taste of the RPG market for the year. Along with the typical leveling and action oriented RPG elements, Two Worlds II offered one of the best crafting systems in a game. Everything was worth looting and the layout was simple enough to grasp and complicated enough to repurpose every item you stumbled upon.

The month belonged to survival horror however, as the highly awaited Dead Space 2 was released on January 25th. Continuing the horrors of the Ishimura, Isaac Clark once again battled through mutilated creatures to discover the truth behind The Marker. Sporting a new multiplayer along with new weapons and abilities, the game was favorably reviewed and EA reported that Dead Space 2 sold nearly 2 million units in the first week of its release.


Bulletstorm brought a new IP to the market. Offering what can only be described as a puzzle shooter, the team at People Can Fly and Epic Games rewarded variety in a standard FPS. With an arsenal of unique weaponry and humorous play on word rewards, the game sold over 1 million copies and gave owners early access to the Gears of War 3 beta.

PS3 fans put another notch to their trilogy belt with Killzone 3. Taking place in various locations, from Arctic landscapes to lethal jungles, the classic feel of KZ2 returned complete with a new jetpack feature to take the shooting skyward. Revamped melee combat (known as Brutal melee) allowed you to string together multiple combos, but never strayed far from its shooting mechanics. As expected the feel and look of the game continued in classic KZ fashion, and went on to sell over 1.8 million copies worldwide.

Fighting fans were finally at ease with the release of the ever speculated Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds. Continuing the fast-paced action of the previous installment, the third title in the series offered a unique look and feel as Capcom and Marvel's biggest stars fought it out on various stages. The cel shaded look and sleeker roster provided an online fighting experience like no other, as playes quickly assembled their personal favorite team of all stars. As of March, the game has sold over 2 million copies worldwide.


Kicking the month off with an MMO, Rift became a strong contender against the juggernaut that is WoW. Choosing one of four classes with branching paths, the player had the ability to customize their character down numerous sub-class trees and switch roles at their choosing; going from warrior to healer in no time at all. The game proved that MMOs could still grow from the traditional formula, as server wide invasions brought noobs and pros alike together to stem the incoming baddies.

Pokemon continued its legacy in releasing Pokemon: Black and White. Showing that the series is very much alive and well, the game offered seasonal change to affect when certain Pokemon appeared in addition to the day and night feature. The all new triple battles offered a 3v3 pokemon fight. In the US, Black and White sold more than 1.08 million copies on day one, but in Japan it became the fastest selling DS game to sell five million copies.

The first game to showcase the CryEngine 3, Crysis 2, also debuted this month. Similar to Crysis, the player customized their weapon loadouts and character traits how they saw fit; be it the guns blazing method or stealthy approach. Multiple suit modes could be used simultaneously, emphasizing the maneuverability of the character and showing how you could be as stylish in movement as you were with guns. As of June over 3 million copies of the game have been sold across all platforms.

The highly anticipated sequel to Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age II, was released later in the month. Taking place after the events of the first game, a new cast of characters continued the fight against the remaining Darkspawn and Quin threat. Putting in a new combat system as well as Mass Effect inspired dialogue trees, the game was more streamlined for console appeal. One million copies of Dragon Age II were sold within two weeks of the launch, faster than Dragon Age: Origins. Yet, the repeating environments and quests drew little praise from critics.

The month belonged to the handheld teased at E3 2010; the Nintendo 3DS. Set at a launch price of $250 the 3DS was lighter, sleeker, and faster than the previous DS handhelds with 3D capability that was glasses free. The downside came with news of a 3-5 hour battery life. Without many launch titles to back the handheld, initial sales were lower than expected. As a result, Nintendo would later cut the price by a third, giving existing owners ten free Nintendo games for their faithful purchase. As of today, only about a million in sales account for 3DS owners in the US, with 4.3 million worldwide.


Mortal Kombat made its return with a ninth installment. Even after years of churning out titles, Mortal Kombat brought the classic brutal fighting we have come to know and raised it to the next level. A new combo bar allows the use of bone-crunching "X-ray" blows and Fatalities were as gruesome as ever. New features like a Fatality training mode, ability to switch characters during the single player story mode, and Challenge Tower rounded out a fighting game worth the price. NetherRealm Studios reported that Mortal Kombat has shipped close to three million units, which actually covered the cost for the entire Midway asset acquisition.

Not to be forgotten, the Xbox Live Arcade/PSN released Outland. Combining platforming with a polarity system similar to Ikaruga, Outland was a stylish game that was as fun to play as it was to watch. The constant switch between light and dark powers made for enjoyable combat and memorable boss encounters. Complete with an Arcade mode and co-op capabilities, the game made its mark as a must play arcade title that offered a refreshing platforming challenge.

One game overshadowed this month, and that was the highly anticipated release of Portal 2. Players once again hit the test chambers with new puzzles, new obstacles, and a new favorite character. With brilliant voice work and a co-op experience to share the fun, Portal 2 was a sequel that did not disappoint. Stephen Merchant and J.K. Simmons gave brilliant performances to boost the series, providing just as much character as GLaDoS. The new gels added some additional thinking to the typical portal puzzles, and level design made you think before acting. In June, Newell announced that Portal 2 had sold 3 million copies, with more sales on the PC than consoles.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Dark Souls Review - Glutton for Punishment

Score: 8.25 / 10
Dark Souls
PS3 - Xbox 360
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Release Date: October 4th, 2011

  • Each checkpoint gives a feeling of accomplishment
  • Gorgeous vistas and backdrops
  • Variety of tactical approaches and classes to fit your play style
  • Hours of content and a huge world to explore
  • Lack of true "tutorial" leaves much unexplained
  • Difficulty will turn off many players
  • Terrible Lock-On system
  • The Online is a step back from the previous installment

Demons Souls was the underdog title that nobody saw coming, taking many by surprise. The refreshing challenge and fantastic presentation of a dreary fantasy world were unmatched. With a unique take on multiplayer integration into a single player campaign, the game became a cult hit and fans were ready for more punishment. Enter Dark Souls, a more difficult and expansive game that continues the punishing difficulty and sense of accomplishment.

Left in the Dark

The first thing everyone wants to know about Dark Souls is if the game is as difficult as everyone makes it out to be. The answer is a very clear yes. Dark Souls is in fact more difficult than Demons Souls, and dying is an actual part of this game. Much like a grumpy step parent in a feel-good comedy film, your continually sought after approval will be met with death, disappointment, and frustration; which makes the slight nod in your favor that much more meaningful.

The difficulty of the game lies in ignorance, rather than actual skill. Dark Souls does the exact same thing Demons Souls did; it throws you into the game without any real explanation of how it works. While I could look past this in Demons Souls, the system has become more complex for Dark Souls. The bonfire checkpoint system, humanity status, and a series of RPG elements are just thrown at you with no personal explanation of what you can or should do with them. Not even the instruction manual with the game explains the various symbols and glyphs showcased on an item's stat sheet.

Then there is the new, more open world feature of the game. Demons Souls had a linear progression from start to finish, allowing you to branch off every now and then but basically laying out your challenge for you. In Dark Souls there is no real sense of direction save for a few NPCs' subtle hints, and with a game promising difficulty it is too much to determine whether the player should continue attempting a difficult enemy in their path or try another route. Eventually you find the group you were fighting is way beyond your level, and you were suppose to go up the stairs, not down.

In the end it is the player's lack of knowledge that makes the game so tough, and while I do not mind a lack of in-depth tutorials for the basics, the second you fire up the game you feel like you have no idea what you are doing or where you are going. While some argue this is the point of the "lost and lonely ambiance" of the game, I find that having to hit the Internet in order to decipher a stat screen or gain a sense of direction puts a halt to the experience.

Beacon of Light

Now to state the obvious; Dark Souls is one pretty game. The glint of light off of a suit of armor from a torch, the wave of fur as the wind blows on a boss's hide, and other subtle touches in the game give a hint of beauty in an utterly hopeless world. Backdrops look as if they were taken from a painting and are worth the risk of falling off of a cliff to your death to behold. The character models for each enemy are more imposing than the last, and the sheer scale of the some of the bosses is enticing and frightening all at once. Though your personal character up close is no looker and the occasional texture can be a bit jagged, the overall look of the game is more impressive than the first.

Story for the game makes as much sense as you could imagine. The previous game at least involved a fog that fell over the world and your attempt to lift it. This game opens with a narrative of how the world came to this state of madness and sets you off to escape it. Needless to say if you are looking for a tale of a gallant hero riding his white steed to save a princess...look elsewhere. Random NPCs will detail their exploits which you will quickly forget as you were pining after their armor instead of listening. While the difficulty and challenge drive you forward, the story is easily forgotten.

It is the scenic vistas and impressive lighting in the game that really bring the world to life. Dreary forests, dark caverns, and ruined castles are just a taste of what you will traverse in the game. The world gives off this ever present sense of danger, and at the same time entices you to explore further.

Clever Girl

The first lesson you learn is that patience is everything, and careful progression is the only way to get from point to point. Enemies are ruthless and every mistake made is costly. Different approaches and tactics are encouraged with each death, as you search for areas you might have missed or locales to assist you. Tactics like leading enemies to fight on your terms and always keeping your shield up become adapted norms, and eventually the game shapes you to play like your chosen class.

Enemies are fairly intelligent. They will soon catch on to patterns and mix up their fighting styles to adapt. Switching up tactics and waiting for an opening soon become a big focus, and the game is fairly good at offering variety. Death in the game is usually the fault of the player, and each time I had to retry it was usually remedied with a more careful approach.

There is a huge sense of achievement when a boss is toppled and a sigh of relief at the sight of the nearest checkpoint. The satisfaction of reward after the incredible punishment the game dishes out is a relaxing feeling and one unique to this game. The refreshing challenge the first game offered has indeed returned.

Bonfire Bash

At the bonfire you will have the opportunity to repair, rest, and mentally prepare yourself for the task ahead. It is also where your actions have trade offs. The bonfires act as checkpoints, but once triggered will also respawn every enemy you killed. Using "Humanity" will bring you back to your human state and allow more health potions and better item drop rate, but leave you prone to online invasion from another player. Staying in Undead form will keep you safe from invasion, but limit your amount of potions you can carry. This dilemma of using the bonfire or continuing onward keeps the game interesting and is a welcome addition tot he gameplay.

Equipment requires repair and upkeeps, which you use souls to gain. Killing enemies grants souls, which can purchase items or level your character's abilities, etc. However dying causes you to return with no souls, and you begin the long trek back to your corpse to recover them.

Welcome to My World

Much like the last game, the unique multiplayer remains. Ominous messages may be left to warn of upcoming traps or call out tactics for battles. Co-op "spirits" can inhabit the game to help out or invade your game to kill you. It is such a unique and interesting way of bringing multiple players together for a single player game, and has not lost its impact since the last installment.

It has, however, taken a step back from the previous title. Dark Souls does not run on dedicated servers, and you are thrown into peer to peer servers. This means you will not always be seeing the big group that purchased this game running around, you will be playing with only a handful. It also means any hope of co-op or invasion of a friend's game is impossible without manipulation and constant retries to get to the same area.

The amount of ghosts, bloodstains, and messages in the previous installment were countless. In this installment the amount of other players seen and their specific messages has decreased. Finding a co-op partner can prove time consuming, responding or writing a message requires you to look through your inventory; it is just a mess of what it used to be. Though it still works for the most part, the multiplayer integration seems to have taken a backseat in this game.


Dark Souls at its core is a dark-fantasy, hardcore RPG. With a complex inventory system and world to explore, it is a dangerous game full of challenge, reward, and satisfaction. If you can suffer the deaths and are willing to take time to learn, the game is a rewarding experience unmatched by any other. Just be sure that if you are new to the series, you pick up a few extra controllers...

Monday, October 3, 2011

Does Matchmaking Work?

Have you ever fired up the latest competitive multiplayer game and been stuck in "that" game? You know the one with the team of players barely starting their online career against the party of elite tier seven juggernauts that only live and breathe this single title and ponder the reason for putting campaign in a game.

These games always end in disappointment as one team destroys the other, and always leave me asking: Is this really matchmaking?

We rarely think about the process once we hit the button to join a game, but there are numbers crunching behind that spinning wheel you stare at so obsessively. Much like a dating site, there are criteria that you are compared with to find your perfect gaming match...which usually ends up in tears and frustration...again, much like a dating site.

The System

Besides choosing from a playlist to fit your desired play style, the majority of the time you will be matched based on the biggest factor of them all: Your connection. Your latency is key in providing an enjoyable and fluid online experience, and as such becomes the biggest item that is looked at first for criteria. It is a factor that is first to be cried "wolf" if everything goes south in a match, and as such becomes top priority with little complaint. Coupled with your existing level on the system used and the playlist chosen (casual vs ranked), you are tossed into a game and ready to go.

So what about the matchmaking systems designed to keep it interesting? In most Xbox Live games these days, Microsoft Research has established the TrueSkill system to even things out.  Gears of War 2 and Halo 3 are perfect examples of games utilizing this technology. Your True Skill ranking remains hidden under that lovely experience number you grind for in various modes, and becomes the deciding factor in how you progress.

Let's use this handy chart to get specific, shall we? Trueskill is characterized by two numbers
  • Your actual skill (μ in the picture).
  • Your uncertainty value (σ ).
Uncertainty is how the game accounts for luck, like the time you killed four people with a random rocket. Playing consistently will lower this, but playing inconsistently will raise it. Your actual skill is measured by wins and losses. Trueskill DOES NOT take evaluation performances inside the game into account. The only statistics that Trueskill takes from a game are the Mu and Sigma values of all the players, and how you placed. This means your kill/death ratio, your headshot count, or your ability to teabag a player have no say in matchmaking.

Your team is set up against an opposing team with roughly the same skill level. The game predicts the winner and loser of each match. If you are projected to lose and you win, you get experience. If you are projected to win and you lose, you lose experience. If you are projected to win and win or lose and lose you loose/win a small amount of experience.

This is simply a basic overview and there are many technical items at work here. For the big scheme of it all, you can head here.

As for PC, well that is where dedicated servers come into play. Sifting through the lists of available venues, there are subtly named "noob servers" and a general community on each server. Finding the right fit is what remains key here, and having a sort of "hove" that you can return to with people that take the game in the manner you approve of; be it running around like children or playing more professionally. In the days of Counterstrike and Unreal Tournament, favorite servers were quickly chosen and players returned to those that provided the most enjoyable experience.

The Problem

In a perfect world, every match would be an edge of your seat experience in which both teams felt the game was just. Unfortunately, this is just not possible. There are far too many variables to weigh in determining a perfect match. When matchmaking offers filters such as language barriers or mic behavior, this is when you bottleneck your options and limit getting into a match at all.

Trueskill does a decent job in at least providing some favorable match ups, but could be tweaked. The system matches wins and losses, but not by how much that win was achieved. Complete blowouts are simply factored as a mark in the win column, ignoring the fact that the winner killed you and tied you to his gun to act as a bulletshield.

Trueskill has the ability to be "manipulated". Rage quitting can ensure your win/loss ratio remains untarnished. Players can only play with their fellow professional team members and end up wiping the floor with their communication and team play, but when out on their own become mismatched.

Matching by latency is great, but matching a group of lone sharks with a pack of wolves is hardly very enjoyable (especially if this scenario is on land). Packs of tightly linked players will stick together on most squad based games, performing well due to communication and existing knowledge. Some developers have split this option up and shuffle teams accordingly, but the "party grouping" feature is heavily used and rarely kept separate from the desired playlists.

The Solution

The biggest and best solution lies with the developer. TrueSkill is a step in the right direction, but nothing beats what a developer can put in place. Steps have already been taken in a number of games to help with matchmaking's faults. Punishing early quitters, rewarding those who fight through it, and other various incentives that keep gamers going through the motions are present in a number of titles. There are a number of other games that have showcased some interesting ways to tackle matchmaking dilemmas.

Uncharted 3 has a great system in place to prevent total blowouts. Simply dubbed "Power Plays", events will occur that hinder the winning team and give a boost to the losing team. These range from marking the best player for all to see and doubling his worth per kill, to causing all players to appear as skeletons and turning on friendly fire for the winning team. Whatever the occurrence, this actually made each game I played during the beta a close one.

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood's multiplayer is even tailored to punish the victor. Each assassin has a contract to hunt one person, and the person in the lead can have up to three contracts on them at a single time. In turn, the person with the least score can have only one or no contracts on them, giving them a chance to catch up. It's an interesting system that prevents any one person from blowing way ahead of the pack without consequence.

The prime example of them all? Starcraft 2. No other game developer has truly attempted to provide an even and exact match of players than Blizzard Entertainment did with Each player goes through a series of qualifying matches before being placed in a league ranging from Bronze to Platinum. When a player gains points, they increase their rank and can shift leagues. A player that loses points will, in turn, lose rank and can fall to a lower league. The more games played, the better your matchups. It is a system that keeps you in your element without putting you into games that are too simplistic or too difficult for your liking.


Matchmaking will take some time to refine for making those games we all walk away from ultimately satisfied at the results.With so many variables in the air, it will be in the hands of the developers to truly even out the online gaming experience. Until that time, we must suffer through the unfortunate match ups and hope the next round shuffles the odds in a more desirable favor. Or there is always one item we could implement that makes even the best players shudder in fear...

Battlefield 3 Beta Impressions

The Battlefield 3 beta is live and breathing as we speak. The most highly anticipated game of the year is nearly upon us and the beta is serving not only as a technical analysis of the game, but a sneak peek at the action we will experience at the end of October.

Let us start with the obvious; the look of the game. If your PC can take it, Battlefield 3 is the most gorgeous looking game I have ever seen on a platform. Period. The high resolution textures, lighting, and shadows really throw you into a world unlike any other. Topped off with subtle touches in animation and movement, and war has never looked so good.

The sound design, typical of EA produced games lately, is top notch. The sound of gunfire and rockets whizzing past your head never get old, as each sound seems original and unrecycled. The boom of an explosion and echo of gunfire down hallways keeps you aware of the location of the battles taking place. Even the nonchalant attitude of the aircraft support flying over is a nice touch that adds to the authentic nature of the game.

The general atmosphere of Battlefield feels much more like a war, and much less like a skirmish. You duck behind a rock to take cover from enemy fire while tanks trade blows and jets are dogfighting above. The gleam of a sniper's scope or ability to see your legs as you jump over cover are anything but stale and add to the feel. The authenticity of the experience has really come full circle, and provided a war game unlike anything seen before.

Getting a hang on how to approach battle takes a little time, but once you get the idea of how to tackle each situation it becomes a blast. Not much in terms of game play has changed for the series, with the typical run and gun aspect still alive and well. Acting gung-ho is a sure road to death, while teamwork and careful movement are key to victory. Squads working and spawning together really add to the encouragement of teamwork.

Like previous shooters, a level progression system is in place that unlocks additional equipment and attachments to make you all the more deadly. These range from the usual ACOG scopes to new tactical lights that you can use to obscure your target's vision. My only issue being the complete lack of equipment you start with, as attachments and perks must be unlocked after some fighting. Though they unlock eventually, starting off feels like a disadvantage.

Only one map was available for the beta, but being a beta you can't really complain. The Operation Metro map provides an on-foot capture point battle, changing venues upon each base's destruction. Starting in a park you move to the subway and finally in the city streets. The map is not so large to get lost in, but has some paths you will have to learn to cover. For being a preview of what on-foot combat is all about, it was a great start.

The Caspian Border map is the 64 player map featuring vehicles and mayhem. Though locked out early on by password, it eventually leaked and had players scrambling to join. From what was seen, this huge terrain gives plenty of space between opposing sides and offers great vehicle conflict with point control.

Unlike most games, launching the game takes your default Internet browser to a menu instead of an in-game application. It takes some getting used to, but is fast and manageable. The only issue is its inability to update on the fly, requiring you to hit "refresh" to see the stats from your last game added in.  You also must enter the game before altering any options like video or controls, but I imagine this will be fixed come retail release.

All in all, Battlefield 3 is shaping up to be quite the online experience. The refined combat, intricate detail, and overall atmosphere of the game is unlike any other. We will have to see if the Single Player and Co-op stack up to the hype when Battlefield 3 drops October 25th.