31 December 2012

Five Games to Look for in 2013

5) Bioshock Infinite

Ken Levine's latest work has all the hallmarks of the original entry in the series and in Columbia, the floating city where the game takes place, has the potential to forge an atmosphere every bit as dynamic as that created by gloomy Rapture. 

There's also the potential too for a compelling story created around the relationship between Booker De Witt and AI companion Elizabeth. Recent controversy over Elizabeth's relegation to the back of the box aside Infinite may well be the game that helps define player's connections to NPC's for many years to come. 

Levine has said he wants Elizabeth to be at least as good as his favorite AI companion, Half Life 2's Alyx Vance, lofty goals but if anyone can carry it off it's Irrational. 

4) DMC 

Many fans are, or at least were, outraged when Ninja Theory were revealed as the developers of the new Devil May Cry with a new 'emo' Dante to boot. 

But the game's trailers have done much to allay the fears of series' veterans while Ninja Theory's storytelling flair mixed with Capcom's fluid combat mechanics ought to create something special. While it may not be traditional Devil May Cry that isn't necessarily a bad thing. 

3) Tomb Raider 

Crystal Dynamics' latest foray into Lara Croft's story is, as you no doubt know, an origin story. Lara isn't the heroine female equivalent of Indiana Jones, she's a new Lara and for at least part of the game she wants nothing more than to survive and escape. 

Tomb Raider had to change in light of Uncharted's runaway success in recent years and by the looks of it the series has changed for the better. Combat, always a weakpoint in the franchise, will be key to seeing just how far Lara's come as will exploration. 

The inclusion of multiplayer, while controversial with some fans, need not be a negative factor though that remains to be seen. 

2) The Last of Us

Which isn't to say the developers over at Naughty Dog are going to give Irrational the monopoly on compelling relationship-centric stories. 

Naughty Dog surprised everyone with the announcement of The Last of Us at the VGA's last year and we're promised everything that's made the studio famous. The dynamic exchanges between characters set against beautifully rendered environments ought to provide for a unforgettable experience worthy of the studio that brought us Uncharted. 

And while some might look at The Last of Us and think 'another zombie game!?' they're doing themselves a disservice. Naughty Dog rarely fail to deliver and we might just be looking at the PlayStation 3's magnum opus. 

1) Beyond: Two Souls

Leaked mere hours before Sony's E3 media briefing, a relatively impressive feat in this industry, Beyond still managed to surprise and delight many with it's trailer which focused on Ellen Paige's character being questioned by the police. 

One of the few trailers of E3 without widespread violence (though there were explosions near the end) Quantic Dream demonstrated the improvements they've made to their technology since Heavy Rain which, while a flawed game, set a benchmark for emotive storytelling. 

Perhaps Kara, the tech demo the studio revealed earlier this year, may have been a more interesting project ultimately but Beyond has plenty of things to worth getting excited for. 

Five Top Gaming Moments in 2012

5) Curing the Genophage - Mass Effect 3 

Whatever other criticisms you might have of BioWare's latest entry in their sci-fi opus it delivered some truly spectacular moments. Priority Tuchanka: Cure the Genophage was one of them. 

This missions allowed for players to not only learn more about the krogan - the reptile like species that hale from the planet - such as their artistic expression before nuclear war laid waste to the planet but also introduced Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws. One of the core cutscenes of this mission even has kalros take down a Reaper.

Also standing out is the section where you're tasked with summoning Kalros, a frantic section which sees you dashing through krogan ruins while the reaper's massive legs crash down mere meters away even as brutes rain from the sky. 

And then there's the conclusion to the mission, which has the potential to be very saddening indeed. Mass Effect 3 may have failed to interweave and fulfill Commander Shepard's story but in this at least BioWare's writers where on top form. 

 4) Have I ever told you the definition of insanity? - Far Cry 3  

Ubisoft's media briefing was the highlight of an otherwise dull E3 which saw Assassin's Creed 3 and even, amazingly, something completely unknown beforehand with Watchdogs. But the game that caught many by surprise this year was Far Cry 3. 

Questionable sex scene aside Far Cry 3's trailer delivered on what it set to do, putting the game on many people's radars while also revealing just how extreme life on the island could be. Vaas is an unusual videogame villain in that not only is he unusually well developed as a character he also chillingly manic. 

There are many highlights in Far Cry 3 but Vaas is definitely one of them. Oh, you can also blow up rabid dogs with a rocket launcher, that's cool, right? 

3) Assassin's Creed 3 E3 Trailer

There was always something that told me the Assassin's Creed story would be better suited to the French Revolution that the American but Ubisoft did an excellent job in marketing the game with the E3 trailer driving away my doubts (all of which I think were proven correct by the final product) still it would be completely untrue to say I wasn't blown away by what they showed, so much so that I picked up the Freedom Edition at midnight, the first time I have ever done so. 

In the end I consider Assassin's Creed 3 to be a significant let down on par with Revelations at the bottom of the pile, I even named it the most disappointing game of the year (which is not to say it was the worst by any means). 

Still watching the trailer below I can remember being very excited about this game. 

2) Master Chief and Cortana - Halo 4

343 Industries laid to rest any doubts as to their ability to carry the Halo franchise forward with Halo 4 with a slightly darker story then what's come before in the series and solid gameplay Halo 4 is an excellent choice for shooter fans everywhere.

Part of the appeal though is the tender relationship between Master Chief and his AI companion Cortana. More than a mere friendship it could be argued that Halo 4 is a shooter wrapped around a love story (and no, not that kind of lover story). 

Without wanting to give too much away it shall be interesting to see what Chief does next and whether we'll see his blue partner again. 

1) Restoring Lady Emily to the throne - Dishonoured

Not so much the moment itself but rather the whole of Corvo's tale is worthy of praise. His betrayal and fall from grace - the dishonour of the game's title - to his quest for redemption and second betrayal and eventual rise. Of course, this only happens in one of Dishonoured's possible walkthroughs but there is something satisfying about seeing the young girl you rescue, not once but twice, ascend as Empress Emily. 

Wrapped around sound gameplay and with the unusual novelty so late in a cycle of being a successful new IP - as well as the Pratchett-esque flair and steam-punk aesthetic - there will hopefully much more to see and do in Dunwall or anywhere else in Corvo's world. 

13 December 2012

Mass Effect PS3 Review

Mass Effect was originally released on PC and Xbox 360 in 2007 and to some degree the PlayStation 3 version of the game - released more than five years later - show it. Mass Effect's problems, borne more of outdated game design choices than anything else, ultimately prove to be a minor detractor from the overall experience BioWare created.

If you've played Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 or you're simply looking for an excellent RPG than the original entry in the series is unmissable and is the best version of the game released on console to date. Motion blur is all but eliminated as is visual tear while the frame rate is less likely to drop below 30 FPS, although this does occur often when driving.

Similarly frame rates within cutscenes are much improved while texture pop-in is all but eliminated due to the requirement to install the game, which takes quite some time. Regrettably the implementation of shadows within the game is far from perfect, particularly with regard to people's faces and Shepard's hairstyle is far from smooth (though it never was), with sharp lines and edges as if the barber's hand slipped and the Commander let it be, though of course, that's a minor issue if it is one at all.

The Mass Effect saga's opening entry also benefits from Jack Wall's excellent synth sci-fi score which, while unaltered from the original release, is aided by certain added sound effects. Somewhat annoyingly however NPCs, particularly enemies, have only a small number of lines which they repeat time and again. Cries of 'hold the line!' and 'enemy is everywhere!' are far too common.

The Mako, a tank like vehicle used for side quest exploration as well as throughout the main story, was always one of Mass Effect's less popular features and handles identically to the Xbox 360 version. One feels that in porting the game to PS3 the developers could have made minor tweaks. The Mako, and the opportunities it offered to get off the beaten track, were removed after Mass Effect because handling it could prove difficult (especially in mountainous terrain) which is somewhat regrettable as the large maps offered a sense of scale arguably missing, at least to some degree, within the confines of the narrow corridors and close quarters popular in the title's sequels.

Yet it is the combat that represents the biggest snag, poor and unwieldy - particularly when using a sniper rifle - it is here you feel the developers missed the biggest opportunity to improve the title, if only to make it easier to aim weapons. Fighting in the first Mass Effect was always the game's biggest flaw and doesn't represent a particular issue with the PS3 version.

Mass Effect's problems are largely a result of its age but in the context of the period in which it was released (before Modern Warfare and Gears of War) it remains an excellent game even now as well as the purest RPG in the franchise to date. The game tells a sweeping yarn which, despite its faults, represents one of the finest examples of videogame storytelling this generation.

Having created a unique Commander Shepard, or chosen the male or female default, players are immersed in a broad universe with literally dozens of worlds to visit and hundreds of characters to encounter. What Mass Effect also excelled at, more so than it's successors, was giving gamers a formidable enemy that is easy to hate and yet remains admirable, to some degree, nonetheless. Saren is in many ways a more immediate and more charismatic foe than the Reapers who stay shrouded in relative mystery until the Leviathan and Extended Cut DLCs for Mass Effect 3.

Mass Effect is also the title that arguably provides the greatest diversity in player choice. Your selections when creating Commander Shepard; whether, for instance, you were born and raised on Earth or in the colonies, have a greater degree of impact than in subsequent titles with certain quests only becoming available based on those initial decisions.

The best example of a stark choice comes late in the game Shepard visits the planet Virmire and will, without wishing to give too much away, be forced to make a choice. The Commander must sacrifice one of his/her crew in order to save another, the gravity and diverse implications of that decision are rarely replicated at other points in the series. It is also notable that this choice comes not long after a confrontation in which Shepard may decide to kill another squad member.

The diversity of the choice offers significant replay value and will take at least two playthroughs to fully appreciate the extent of the differences.

If you've never played Mass Effect 2 or 3 now is the perfect time to enter the fray. Even if you have but are curious to see how Commander Shepard's journey began than you really should consider it. Series newcomers - as well as those who have not yet experienced the game - may find some of the design choices archaic and while the opportunity for major overhaul for the PS3 port was regrettably passed by players should recall that pre-production on the game likely began in late 2004.

Mass Effect remains one of the finest games of the current generation and quite possibly the greatest RPG. The fact that the game comes with The Bring Down the Sky add-on contributes to the value of an already impressive package though the fact that Pinnacle Station is not, and will likely never see a release Sony's console, is unfortunate.

Mass Effect is available now for €14.99 from the PlayStation Store or as part of the Mass Effect Trilogy for €69.99 digitally or €59.99 at retail.

Mass Effect PS3 9/10

07 December 2012

2012: The Year Sexism Came to the Forefront in the Games Industry

Earlier this week Square Enix was forced to pull a controversial Facebook marketing campaign for Hitman: Absolution after less than an hour.

The promotion urged users to place a 'hit' on their friends. What potential value the campaign's creators saw in encouraging potential customers to threaten their friends, even jokingly (if that is possible), proves questionable at best yet the reason for the removal of the promotion was not the virtue of this Facebook app, rather, it was the reasons you were asked to give as reason (certainly not justification) for the faux assassination attempt. 

Firstly participants were asked to select how the target would be identified by the assassin. Attributes included: "her ginger hair" and "her small tits" and "his small penis". 

After which users were asked to give the reason for the elimination, with options such as "she cheated on her partner."

There has been some speculation that this was perpetrated as a publicity stunt. Yet the expense of hiring an outside agency to produce the campaign and release it before shelving the app within 60 minutes would not overcome whatever sales might be generated by the promotion, if any were to be generated at all (which seems unlikely). If this was a stunt if was a very poor one indeed and if it was not then it was gross oversight by both the marketeers (you can read Leigh Alexander's excellent piece on the direction and focus of marketing in the games industry here) and Square Enix, both of whom green-lit the promotion before releasing it.  

Taken on its own the crudely sexual nature of the campaign is in quite poor taste yet the unfortunate reality is that there have been several incidents this year which have exposed shocking attitudes, sexual discrimination, and even outright abuse - some of it directed at colleagues from those within the industry. This is not to mention the vitriol with which women who aim to enter the games industry are often met. 

IO Interactive apologised, yet that is thoroughly besides the point, there should never have been a need for an apology, this promotion should simply never have happened.  

Within gaming there is also the ever present concept of the 'girl gamer'. There are no 'boy gamers', or at least no males who are called boy gamers, as such, the very act of placing a gender before the word 'gamer' creates an unnecessary and frankly archaic differentiation. In a world where political correctness has arguably gone too far it is remarkable that such a distinction exists in the world's largest entertainment industry. 

Of course the majority, 53%, of gamers are male and the percentage is likely significantly higher in the 'core' market. Yet regardless of whether someone is a core Call of Duty player or a casual Angry Birds player (and there are plenty who fit into both categories) they are still gamers (yes, believe it or not, they are) - this is equally true regardless of gender. In effect, if the term girl gamer were to die it would be no bad thing. 

When playing online there is often no way to know the sex of your fellow players unless their online ID informs you or they communicate through their headsets - at which point women are often ridiculed simply for their sex, regardless of their ability. Like it or not simply being a gamer is important, not the sex of the gamer, no more than their sexual orientation or religion. 

Hitman: Absolution was also the subject of negative attention over the infamous Attack of the Saints trailer which featured latex wearing assassin-nuns. At the time IO issued another apology, one would have imagined they would have learnt their lesson.   

Compounding this problem Forbes decided to interview a stripper for her take on the Saints. The interview drew forth such quotes as "you never see male assassins in a thong with dollar bills hanging out."

This is almost screaming as a cry for page-views: "successful new game featuring strippers + interview with a stripper about game = page-view bonanza." 

The post has been viewed over 16,000 times. Would a similar interview be conducted in the film industry? I'm not so sure, though I will happily correct this post if anyone can find an interview with a stripper concerning the accuracy of, say, Sin City

Crystal Dynamics, another Square Enix studio, has also been the focus of a hostile backlash this year after a Kotaku interview with Tomb Raider's executive producer, Ron Rosenberg, discussed Lara Croft being sexually assaulted. 

Rosenberg said: "and then what happens is her best friend gets kidnapped, she gets taken prisoner by scavengers on the island. They try to rape her, and-."

This was followed by a clarification from studio president Darrell Gallagher that "sexual assault is categorically not a theme that we cover in this game." 

There is sexual assault and even rape in other forms of popular entertainment, George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire for instance, yet the witnessing of an act on TV or the reading of it in a book, is not quite the same as pressing buttons on a controller - if only for your character to escape their horrific fate. Perhaps in time, storytelling and gaming generally will advance to the point where such - though never acceptable - will at least be contextually permissible within the confines of the story.

The games industry simply, and regrettably, isn't there yet, certainly not when there is rampant discrimination and often abuse fielded towards female members of the industry and the gaming community.  Of course, if these situations are never represented in videogames or other mediums so much the better (I am no prude but I do not wish to see someone sexually assaulted even if it is 'acting'). 

Gearbox Software was also met with hostile publicity over Borderland 2's so called 'Girlfriend mode', this version of the game; actually known as Mechromancer mode, was referred to as a Girlfriend mode with a Girlfriend skill tree, on more than one occasion by the development staff. Essentially an ultra-easy mode for newcomers the implication was obvious, girls are not good at games. 

Mechromancer mode is a good idea, and one I've argued should be brought to more games in future. Yet to suggest women are worse gamers is disingenuous especially, coming as it did, from developers themselves.

GameRanx recently ran a story on Halo 4 having to be scaled down, in the piece the author quoted 343 Industries' Kiki Wolfkill and followed by saying "yes, that is his name." Wolfkill is a woman, not being intended as any form of brag by any means and certainly not with the purpose of being an annoyance, I pointed this out to the site's editor who promptly corrected the mistake.

It should be noted that the editor in question, Ian Miles Cheong, is a staunch feminist and didn't write the original post. Even so such slips are unfortunate.

This was either an honest accident, the result of poor research, or a flawed assumption. Either way these little mistakes are hardly encouraging when they are continually compounded by the game industry's often disturbing attitude towards women.

In late November Twitter was overwhelmed - it is too generic a term to say 'taken by storm' given the significance of what happened - by the trend #1ReasonWhy.

The trend related to the discrimination faced by women in the industry and why it is so important to fight for equality in gaming, both in the games themselves and in development studios, publishing houses as well as in the game media.

There are far too many examples to go through yet here are some of the worst:

"None of my women developer friends will read comments on interviews they do, because the comments are so nasty" - Charles Randall; staffer, Capybara Games.

"Once heard an art manager say 'we don't need anymore women, they're more trouble than they're worth' as he viewed applicants" - Gabrielle Kent, games lecturer.

"Because I'm sexually harassed as a games journalist, and getting it as a games designer compounds the misery" - Lillian Cohen-Moore; journalist, games designer.

"Because conventions, where designers are celebrated, are unsafe places for me. Really. I've been groped" -  @filamena; designer, freelance writer.

You can read more here and here. Though far less obviously malicious in intent than any of examples listed above perhaps one of the most illuminating points during the #1ReasonWhy campaign - if it can so be called - was Gamasutra's decision to associate a picture of high heeled shoes with their piece on the story. The image was not particularly sexual or suggestive in nature yet it was regrettably stereotypical and in the majority of cases utterly non-representative of the people who work in the industry - game studios are simply not formal enough for such attire to be necessary.

Gamasutra subsequently changed the image to that of Wendy the Welder, presumably after the inappropriateness of the original picture, given the context, was highlighted.

(The original image can be seen here, not terribly bad by any means but unfortunate given the circumstances.)

Google 'booth babe controversy' and there will be an article on almost any major industry event from any of the past ten years. They aren't going anywhere yet nor are they in anyway necessary either, again an indictment of the industry. This year saw a furor over a misogynistic Asus Tweet which admired the rear of one of the technology company's booth babes.

Similarly booth babes stirred a negative reaction at CES in January and then there's this:

There's little that needs to be said here except that any story on booth babes will, in most circumstances, feature plenty of pictures of booth babes (sorry, here you'll have to settle for the image above). And that's often regardless of whether the piece comes from within the game's media or the media generally so yes, the game industry does not have a monopoly on the fault here.

Ben Kuchera, Penny Arcade's editor, recently wrote an editorial 'Games with exclusively female protagonists don't sell (because publishers don't support them)'. 

In it he explored the publishing operations and marketing budgets behind dozens of games and concluded that publishers simply don't volunteer the necessary resources to make female-centric games major hits. Think about Portal and Tomb Raider are perhaps the only two games in that category which have enjoyed continued substantive success. It's even posited that such games are sent out to die. 

Perhaps they are, look through your game shelf, how many titles feature a female protagonist? Chances are not many.

Even Mass Effect 3, which has been used by university courses as a positive example of women in games, is not entirely balanced - the trilogy uses the default male Shepard for all of it's marketing (reasonable enough given that more people would be familiar with the male version - itself a result of male Shepard being more heavily marketed) but within the game itself there are seven straight relationships for male Shepard's and two for female. While there are two gay relationships male Shepard can pursue as opposed to four lesbian relationships. 

Technically there are four straight female relationships yet [Spoiler alert] Thane dies while Jacob leaves Commander Shepard for another woman [Spoiler ends]. In fairness to BioWare they've done more than almost anyone to even the odds and EA, despite any other criticisms that may be leveled against them, have done more much to foster the LGBT gaming and developer community.

However, the status of LGBT's in gaming is an argument to be debated in another post.

I have touched on this subject before and as a result of something I have not mentioned here. Sexism and misogamy did not force its way into the game's industry this year nor are they by any means exclusive to gaming yet the scale of these problems in this industry is staggering and the fact that so many of these blunders are perpetrated by industry 'professionals' is mystifying and mortifying in equal measure. 

Videogames are a young medium, and they are an artform (regardless of what The Guardian has to say on the matter), but it remains an emerging industry and one with growing pains. We owe it to ourselves to remember that regardless of what games we play we are all gamers. Equally we need to recall that Halo 4 had women developers, as did Assassin's Creed, so too has Tomb Raider (including the game's lead writer Rihanna Pratchett). 

We owe it to these women to reflect on what they go through to provide us with our entertainment and try to make the sexism and misogamy as insignificant a part of work - and game - life as possible. 

03 December 2012

Win One of Four Copies of Crashed Ice for Kinect!

Crashed Ice, the Kinect title from Red Bull Media Ice, is out now on Xbox Live Arcade for Kinect.

Red Bull Crashed Ice is a worldwide tour of the extreme winter sport ice cross downhill. You can see the trailer below.

If you'd like to be with a chance to win all you have to do is:

1) Follow @TheVGDynamic (it also wouldn't hurt your chances to follow my personal account @StephenDaly17).


2) Retweet the post about this competition.

Winners will be contacted by Direct Message. There are four codes up for grabs so spread the word but you can only enter once! Entries must be in before 00:00 GMT Saturday 8/12/12.

23 November 2012

2012 Videogame Dynamic Awards

       Best Press Release:

Winner: EA 

Sims Are Kinky (Yes this was an actual press release)

Top Places to “WooHoo”
Whether in a mystery box, tree house or even a time machine, Sims sure know how to have a good time in a variety of locations.

We count down the best places to “WooHoo” in The Sims games to see where the horny little simulated beings are getting crazy and kinky lately. From hot tubs to haystacks, your Sim baby-making locations have only gotten more exciting. What locations are your favorites?

1.       Hot Tub Summer in the city has never been hotter than when Sims moved into the sprawling urban landscape of The Sims 3 Late Night. Hot tubs were a staple of The Sims 2 and returned to The Sims 3 by popular demand. With the addition of roof-top decks complete with steamy hot tubs, voyeurism reached new heights.
The Sims 3 Late Night
The Sims 2

2.       Haystacks Hay is not just for horses! The Sims 3 Pets gave players a new reason to raise a barn. Itch cream unfortunately not included.
The Sims 3 Pets

3.       Dog houses For the first time in The Sims, players saw through the eyes of their furry friends in The Sims 3 Pets. What better way to get in on the action than with some playful WooHooing? Remember, when the dog house is a-rockin, don’t come a knockin’….
The Sims 3 Pets

4.       Photo Booth A picture says a thousand words…. Do you dare WooHoo with the lights on? The Sims 3 Showtime brought this WooHoo spot back from The Sims 2 Nightlife, reminding us that there are few spaces too small to get it on.
The Sims 3 Showtime
The Sims 2 Nightlife

5.       Box of Mystery Magicians shouldn’t be the only ones allowed to unlock life’s mysteries. Asking for volunteers took on a whole new meaning in The Sims 3 Showtime.
The Sims 3 Showtime

6.       Tree house The Sims 3 Generations lets you live life to the fullest and maybe even create a new life or two. Get frisky in a backyard tree house, but cross your fingers that it was built with a sturdy foundation… and watch out for nosy neighbors!
The Sims 3 Generations

7.       Time Machine Who wants to time-travel without their boo? The time machine in The Sims 3 Ambitions allows love to cross the bounds of centuries while WooHooing through time.
The Sims 3 Ambitions

8.       Actor’s Trailer The Sims 3 Late Night brought back another fan favorite from The Sims Superstar with the actor’s trailer, bringing new meaning to the term “working lunch.”
The Sims 3 Late Night
The Sims Superstar

Best Score:

Winner: Mass Effect 3
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: BioWare
Composer: Sam Hullick, Christopher Lennertz and others
Platforms: PC (Origin), PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U (€30-40)

Though Mass Effect 3 did not have the services of series veteran composer Jack Wall Mass Effect 3 nevertheless had an astounding soundtrack with tracks such as A Future for the Krogan offering a more than satisfactory reflection of the game it was based around. 

Assassin's Creed 3 also provided an excellent soundtrack (arguably the best thing about that particular game. NB: I love the series consider the last two installments to have been disappointments). The game's main theme is a particular standout. 

Another notable mention is Halo 4 which, like all titles in the series, has a superb OST. Blue and Green as well as Awakening being just two of the tracks to stand out here.

Best New IP:

Winner: Dishonored
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda 
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC (€45-55)

In Dishonored Arkane produced a game with a world that made sense, stood out amid it's competitors and enticed you to experiment with different forms of gameplay. Corvo's quest for retribution or redemption proved to be one of the most original of the year with the diverse, often gloomy, setting of the game becoming the empress' bodyguard's playground.

Characters with ulterior motives and a story-line perhaps more closely resembling Game of Thrones than anything in the videogame world (including the actual Game of Thrones games) made the title stand out as few have in recent years.

Best Indie Game:

Winner: Papo & Yo
Developer: Minority
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation Network (PS3) (€15)

There aren't many games that can make you truly care but Papo & Yo does. Making this all the more remarkable was that there was barely any speech in the game and what little there was came in what the developers call "Latin gibberish", a language they invented to convey the Brazilian favela-esque game space.

I won't spoil it for you but if you're looking for a relatively short game that more than rewards your investment than Papo & Yo is it.

Best Graphics:

Winner: Halo 4
Developer: 343 Industries, Certain Affinity
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Platform: Xbox 360 (€50-60)

Halo: Combat Evolved set a visual threshold when it was released in 2001. Eleven years later Halo 4, 343's first entirely new entry in the series, has done it again.

Halo 4 is arguably the best looking game on the Xbox 360, a remarkable feat given the now nearly seven year old nature of the technology within the system. While Halo may not match the trumpeted 60 frames per second of Call of Duty it ultimately didn't matter. Halo 4 has set a benchmark in graphical integrity and is, in that regard, the Xbox 360's Uncharted.

Biggest Disappointment:

Winner (loser?): Assassin's Creed 3
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360, WiiU

Assassin's Creed 3, set in the American War of Independence promised - if you'll the phrase - a revolution akin to the jump from Assassin's Creed to Assassin's Creed 2. Instead it delivered a game which ranks with Revelations at the bottom of the pile.

I am an Assassin's Creed fan, massively so, yet the newest installment failed to deliver. It was not due to tiredness, as was the case with Revelations, but rather to a combination of ideas which simply didn't work.

The Assassin's Creed template was never designed for more modern styles of warfare, particularly the open battles that Connor was forced to run through. Similarly the loading and firing of muskets - whilst historically accurate - were to slow for any practical gameplay use.

Similarly the game suffered from a protracted tutorial and a core character who simply wasn't especially likable.

It had it's moments of course and the score was excellent but one indication of the game's problems is that Ubisoft have had to issue a patch to make some of the chases easier. That says a lot about how this game plays.

In addition to which a host of bugs spoiled many gamer's playthroughs and the engine, including the graphics, appeared to suffer on current gen systems.

I differ from most people on two points however, I have no love - at all - for the naval battles and I, for one, rather liked the ending.

There were far worse games this year and as much as I may complained about Mass Effect 3 I consider Assassin's Creed 3 to be the most disappointing game of 2012.

Biggest Entirely Avoidable Controversy: 

Winner: Borderland 2's 'Girlfriend Mode'

When Eurogamer posted a piece on Borderlands 2 they no doubt thought both parties would mutually benefit. Eurogamer because it would drive hits to the site and Gearbox would have the added publicity. In the end both of these happened though not for the reasons they anticipated.

Borderlands 2 Mechromancer mode, essentially an ultra-easy version of the game for newcomers, was referred to as a Girlfriend Mode - which suggested that women are poorer gamers than men. Certainly there are more male gamers (in the core market at least) than women gamers (as as aside most of my friends on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network are actually female) but that certainly doesn't make them better.

The problem may not have been so big, were it not for the fact that this was a one-off slip of the tongue. Apparently this was the in-studio phrase regularly used to describe the option. Studio president Randy Pitchford was forced into collateral damage mode on twitter.

The controversy was picked up widely and might marked one of the main points of the year in which sexism in the industry was thoroughly placed under the spotlight.

The Bad Year in the Game Industry Award:

Winner: BioWare (and, by extension, EA)

Much of what happened to BioWare in 2012 was arguably beyond their control. Having spent $150-200 on Star Wars: The Old Republic the game eventually became free-to-play until level 15 (the announcement coming at E3) only a few months later the studio announced the game would go free-to-play until level 50.

This wasn't totally a failure on BioWare's part EA sent Star Wars out with an outdated subscription model that, in theory, only World of Warcraft can continue to utilise (subscriptions for WoW actually increased according to Activision-Blizzard's latest quarterly earnings report). The studio possibly also over estimated the power of the Star Wars brand when developing the game. SWTOR is, according to reports, the most expensive game of all time, this should allay any fears that the next Mass Effect will be an MMO, EA are not going to stump up the credit for another BioWare title of that nature anytime soon.

But of course BioWare had more problems than SWTOR this year.

First came the novel Mass Effect Deception, penned by William C. Dietz. The previous books had been written by Mass Effect 1 & 2 lead writer Drew Karpyshyn. It was clear not far into the book that Dietz was not familiar with the material. A cacophony of errors plagued the text so much so that the resulting furor caused BioWare to announce the book would be rewritten.

In fact some fans were so annoyed they burnt their copies of Deception. The full list of errors can be found here.

Then came the eagerly anticipated Mass Effect 3. No doubt you're well aware of the uproar over the ending and subsequent Extended Cut BioWare released to 'fix' it.

And finally studio founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuck retired from the company.

Hopefully, with Dragon Age 3 coming from Edmonton and the next Mass Effect on the way from Montreal - both using DICE's frostbite engine - BioWare will have a better 2013 (and beyond) than 2012.

The Very Bad Year in the Game Industry Award:

Winner: Zynga and THQ (honorable mention: Sony)

There's simply no flattering way to describe Zynga's or THQ's year. Resignations racked both companies, as did lawsuits. Both fell have posted horrible financial results and it looks as if THQ may not survive (though their IPs will undoubtedly be snapped up by EA, Activision or possibly Ubisoft after the publisher's president expressed an interest).

Meanwhile Sony was also met with a very poor 2012. Poor financials ultimately causing credit rating agency Fitch to downgrade the firm to 'junk' status.

Sony's game division - one of the company's best performing divisions over recent years - also suffered as an effect of lagging retail sales and a lack of major AAA exclusives. The PlayStation Vita meanwhile suffered from poor hardware sales despite strong software.

Nevertheless Sony has made some acquisitions during the year acquiring online streaming service Gaikai for €294 million and buying a stake in troubled Japanese camera maker Olympus for €471 million.

Sony may yet have a chance to turn themselves around under Kazuo Hirai's leadership but for now at least they're not a good position.

THQ may yet be able to pull off a last minute credit deal to save themselves though the prospect is tenuous at best. Many of the firm's licenses will likely be snapped up by other publishers should the company collapse but there's no guarantee that THQ's studios will also be saved.

Zynga may yet save itself if it can diversify to other platforms and expand in the mobile space.

Game of the Year:

Winner: Halo 4
Developer: 343 Industries, Certain Affinity
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Platform: Xbox 360 (€50-60)

It can, and has, been argued that 343's first entirely new entry in the Halo series is a love story of sorts wrapped around a first person shooter. And certainly it says something videogame relationships that the Chief connection to Cortana - a largely Aristotelian affair due to the fact that Cortana is, well, an AI - proves to be one of the most endearing in recent titles. This is not least because of Jennifer Taylor's superb voice acting (for which she has been nominated for a VGA).

But of course the focus of Halo is the combat, and the evolution (apologies), of the series under 343's stewardship.

Despite the initial reservations of many series fans Halo 4 is classic Halo, which is a very good thing indeed and probably the finest the FPS in quite some time. As I've already discussed the game benefits from excellent graphics and a near flawless soundtrack yet most importantly it looks and it feels like a Bungie game.

While new enemies, the Prometheans, offer the Chief access to new weapons, these tools can, in the right hands, prove just as deadly as the Covenant's or the UNSC's but feel far more alien, made all the more appropriate perhaps as a method of signifying the Prometheans origins - and their transformation.

Halo 4 isn't a perfect game, arguably the customisation options were better in Halo: Reach, and while the general pacing of the game is to be commended the ending can perhaps be considered a little awkward (at least I found it so) to play, yet it comes very close.

Perhaps most importantly what we can take away from this game is that the future of Microsoft's most important franchise is secure even if Bungie have moved on to new pastures.

The One to Watch: 

Winner: Beyond: Two Souls (honorable mentions: The Last of Us, Tomb Raider)
Developer: Quantic Dream
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment 
Platform: PlayStation 3 
Estimated launch: 2013

There are a lot of games coming out next year and with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox Next likely to be released during 2013 there are undoubtedly some we aren't aware of. There are of course the major releases such as Grand Theft Auto V and Modern Warfare IV (for which rumours have already surfaced) as well as The Last of Us, Bioshock: Infinite and Tomb Raider. There are also smaller titles like Tearaway and Puppeteer.

But the one I'm most interested in, for now at least, is Quantic Dream's Beyond: Two Souls. The French studio's next titles was one of the biggest announcements of an otherwise staid E3 and though rumours emerged about the title in the hours before launch the stunning trailer - using entirely in-game footage - helped edge Sony past the competition (The Last of Us also contributed to what I believe was a third consecutive E3 'win' for Sony), at least among the big three - Ubisoft, most agree, had the best overall media briefing even if the host was rather annoying.

Quantic Dream illustrated their commitment to emotional storytelling in Heavy Rain which, whilst a flawed titled, was highly effective in what it set out to do. They demonstrated this capacity to affect players again with the tech demo Kara (which will sadly never be released as a full product). Yes the E3 trailer showed off explosions and car chases but much of it revolved around the characters within it and how they interacted.

Beyond concerns our understanding of death and promises to be an incredible journey. It may not be to everyone's taste when it launches but David Cage's next game builds on a strong tradition and if it can lift the level of videogame narratives than there's certainly no harm in that.

Best New Videogame Blog:

Winner: The Videogame Dynamic. ;)

18 November 2012

As The WiiU Launches What Are Its Prospects?

Last night, at midnight, the WiiU launched in North America. The reviews were soon to follow yet the system's online operations are not fully functional and frankly to review a console at this stage is simply disingenuous.

However, we can garner some impressions and offer some expectations even before the console launches in Europe on November 30th.

Nintendo intends to proposition the WiiU as a console for everyone, from the most casual of players to the most dedicated segments of the core market. If Sony can take credit for opening gaming to the mainstream with the first PlayStation - and to a greater extent - with the PlayStation 2 than Nintendo can surely be praised for expanding the market to demographics which would never before have purchased videogames.

Undoubtedly the Wii reached family audiences in a way gaming never had but to carry that audience forward is an entirely different proposition. The WiiU has enormous potential in the social space with MiiVerse and there are the staples of Nintendo's formidable first-party lineup to encourage casual gamers to part with their cash however the market is radically different than it was when the Wii first launched, in more ways than one.

While many families purchased the Wii for the novelty factor of motion control in all probability those the consoles have been left to gather dust. Even those casual gamers which continue to use the Wii for titles like Wii Fit and Wii Sports will likely be unaware of the WiiU. There are a number of reasons for this, firstly by their very definition casual gamers cannot, and should not, be expected to keep themselves appraised of the latest trends and technologies in the gaming world.

The second reason is that the Wii offered something intrinsically new and was a distinct departure from the GameCube. It had a new name, new marketing, new logo and of course motion control. The WiiU keeps all of these aspects none of which are new today. Of course Sony and Microsoft kept the name for their consoles the same with each generation (there is even some speculation that Microsoft will simply call the next Xbox Xbox).

What differentiates Sony and Microsoft however is that they not primarily game companies. Sony is a consumer electronics maker (though under Kaz Hirai gaming is set to form a pillar of Sony's business) while Microsoft is principally a computer software giant.

Nintendo only makes games, though organically they produced cards and toys, and so with Nintendo the name of the console matters less than the company behind it. The Wii illustrated that nicely. Each time Sony launches a new PlayStation or Microsoft reveals a new Xbox there is a concerted marketing campaign to clarify to the gaming, as well as the general, public that here is a shiny new system for you to spend your money on.

When the WiiU was originally revealed at E3 2010 many in the audience were unaware whether Nintendo was showing them a new console or simply a new controller. While I gathered quickly that was in fact the Wii's successor (not intended as a boast by any means) some of the journalists and industry insiders present at the event were confounded. Even by E3 2011 CNN's technology correspondent at the event thought the WiiU controller was simply an update for the Wii.

And while that journalist was not specifically a game reporter one would expect him keep on top of such things. If Nintendo has that kind of trouble with the initial reaction of the E3 press and industry figures it is surely not a stretch to say they'll have significantly greater trouble with the casual market. This is hampered, in Europe at least, by the seeming absence of any concerted marketing campaign. The WiiU launches on the continent in just 12 days.

It would be interesting to know what percentage of the Wii's ownership are even aware of the WiiU's existence. At a guess I would hazard about a third and certainly less than half.

For the other sector of the market, the core gamer demographic, Nintendo has other methods to try and illicit interest in their new system.

First and foremost of course are the games. Nintendo, as stated previously, has a formidable first party collection to choose from and while making titles such as Bayonetta 2 an exclusive was in theory a good idea  as it essentially says "we're taking core gaming seriously again."

In practice Bayonetta was not a particularly successful title commercially and while it has an avid fan-base it's difficult to determine how may players will fork over €300 to play the followup. Other titles such as Batman: Arkham City, Mass Effect 3 and Assassin's Creed 3 - while great for Nintendo gamers - are unlikely to sway anyone either. All of these titles have of course already been released on other platforms.

Of course there are new IPs for the system as well. Ubisoft's ZombiU for instance is a launch title, initial reviews have been somewhat mediocre however while Nintendo Land is a mixed bag by all accounts. In effect there are no must buy titles for the system announced to date. A console's launch lineup does not, by any means, reflect the eventual success of the system.

The 3DS is widely considered to have had Nintendo's weakest ever array of launch window titles while the PlayStation Vita had the strongest in Sony's history. The 3DS has since had a remarkable change in fortunes while the Vita has undeservedly sunk.

Yet for the moment at least, Nintendo has failed to offer a compelling reason to buy a Wii U beyond the early adapters. As with the 3DS this might in time change and certainly given supply problems, which seems likely, there will be a high sell through which is likely to last for some months although this period of extremely high sales will almost certainly be shorter than it was for the Wii.

The market has changed since 2006, Nintendo is selling for €50 more than the Wii and while the €300 pricetag is far from the highest launch price it will certainly be a deterrent for the casual market and, given the limited advances over existing systems, will likely prove a difficult buy for core gamers conscious that the next Xbox and PlayStation are likely 12 - 18 months away at most.

Casual gamers are likely satisfied with their Androids and iPads and propositioning a €50 game compared to €0.99 apps is almost certainly a non-starter. The bulk of the casual market is lost to the console business and this will be reflected in the sales of all three next generation systems. Nintendo, which so carefully cultivated this segment, will bear the brunt of this decline.

This is not to say consoles are doomed, not by any means, they will likely continue to play an important role in gaming for many years to come but it will be a significantly reduced one.

This generation of home consoles has, to date, seen combined sales of around 230 million (made up of about 95 million Wiis, 70 millions Xbox 360s and 67 million PS3s). It would be astounding if the fourth generation replicated those numbers given the proliferation of smartphones and tables as alternative game playing devices. The overwhelming majority of iPad owners use the system for gaming after all.

Similarly the economy will have eaten away at the spending power of all sectors of the market. €300 may be half the cost of the PlayStation 3 when it launched but the Wii U is being sent into an economy racked by years of redundancies and austerity. €300 is a significant investment in those circumstances for a luxury product which Nintendo have failed to compellingly sell up to this point.

There are other matters to consider. The WiiU's online capabilities will not likely be known fully until there are title's available to take advantage of the Nintendo Network. However we can make some guesses as to how Nintendo's position has evolved. Firstly the fact that games will be available in retail and digitally at the same time is to welcomed, it is the inevitable progression of the industry.

Yet the 8GB WiiU model has a mere 3GB of space for downloads after mandatory system installs. This coupled with fact that the console does not support system wide achievements, a staple on virtually all rival platforms and not just consoles, indicates that though Nintendo has made some progress it has not yet fully grasped online gaming. The absence of achievements are unlikely to deter those interested in the consoles yet early games with the accolades on both Xbox 360 and PS3 boasted enhanced sales for certain titles for some time.

Initial reports also say that players can do nothing during firmware downloads and in that regard it seems Nintendo have not learnt from Sony's mistake with the PlayStation Network either.

Then there is the GamePad controller. This is the WiiU's unique selling point and yet, for that, it is not all that unique. Apple to some degree provide that capability iPad and Apple TV whill Sony have for years offered remote play for both the PSP and the PS Vita and even Nintendo has offered a similar experience with the GameBoy and GameCube in the past.

And personally the best use of the 'WiiU's technology' I've seen was at Sony's gamescom media briefing where they demoed LittleBigPlanet 2 using the Vita as the controller.

I have not personally used a WiiU though I remain doubtful as to the ease with which gamers will determine which screen they're supposed to look at. While the Pro Controller, once again Nintendo's way of demonstrating their commitment to the core market has a serious flaw. The sticks are in the 'wrong' place.

By moving the sticks above the buttons on the Pro Controller Nintendo have replicated the layout of the GamePad disrupted years of accepted controller layout and done so unnecessarily at that. A second can be enough to see you die in some games and if you've been playing Call of Duty on Xbox all these years a misstep like that won't encourage you to play on WiiU instead. Perseverance would no doubt lead to familiarity but Nintendo's efforts to fix something that wasn't broken is somewhat questionable.

Ultimately it is too early to determine what success the WiiU might have however I submit for the record my belief that the WiiU will not share the Wii's success, in the long term, at least and shall shift around half of its predecessors numbers. That's still a very respectable 35-50 million and certainly better than the GameCube performed.

I also stand by my assessment - which I have held since the console was first revealed - that the WiiU is a gimmick, attempting to be all things to all people, and one again purporting to revolutionise gaming. The WiiU cannot do these things though Nintendo should never be discounted and they might pull off another winner in this new generation though I do not think this is likely.

I'd like to be surprised by Nintendo. I really would.

14 November 2012

The Power Of The Atom: Fallout 3's Megaton

Upon exiting Vault 101 Fallout 3 players are temporarily blinded by a searing white light, it's a symbolic moment. After living underground for your entire life you feel the natural light of the sun for the very first time.

It's one of many such moments. The majority of players will find themselves in the nearby town of Megaton, named, you soon discover, for the un-detonated nuclear bomb around which the town was built and resolving The Power of the Atom, the quest which revolves around this weapon, is perhaps the most potent reflection of Fallout 3's world.

The seeming absurdity of this scenario - who on Earth would choose to live in the crater on an atomic bomb?  - serves two purposes. The first is to explain, principally to series' newcomers, the importance of nuclear energy to the Fallout universe.

Before the apocalyptic war of 2077 there was Nuka Cola (radioactive soda) which people willingly drank, well aware of the isotopes within. There was Vault-Tech, a company predicated on the basis of selling slots in secure underground Vaults in order to allow some to survive the inevitability of a nuclear war. There was, in essence, a fascination with the terrible finality of nuclear power.

After the war is almost makes sense for some at least to worship the bomb. Nuclear fire cleansed the world in fire, could the atom not do so again? The ridiculousness of their belief is somewhat excusable given the harshness of the world the people of Megaton find themselves in. It's also notable that the principal reason for Megaton's location was the aspiration of one day being granted access to Vault 101.

In other words, the prospect of permanent resident in an ancient confined vault proved more alluring than the threat of potential nuclear annihilation. That shows the horrifically brutal world of Fallout to players, in most cases, very early on in the game.

The second purpose of Megaton being constructed in this most unlikely of places is in order to introduce the game's morality system: karma. At no other point in the game is the decision quite so stark, detonate the bomb - killing perhaps two dozen people, the equivalent in this depopulated world of tens of thousands - or ensuring its permanent deactivation.

Indeed, the reasoning for leveling Megaton is to create a better view for eccentric British expat Alistair Tenpenny. Such a trivial and base reason for destroying a town, one of the Capitol Wasteland's few successful settlements, proved illuminating and a valuable introduction to karma which few games with similar moral compasses provide, at least not so early on and not with such distinctly different outcomes to your choice.

The choice offered players the dual perspective of seeing Tenpenny's childish glee at the destruction of the city and the cool contrast with Mister Burke, who expresses a restrained form of awe when the bomb lights up the horizon. In this manner the Bethesda revealed the nature of the game and the player.

If you saved the town or hurl it into oblivion you likely remember it and played the rest of the game in reflection of your decision. You may not remember much of Fallout 3 but chances are you remember The Power of the Atom or as I've dubbed it: How I learned to stop caring and love the bomb.

And if you choose not to complete the quest than you illustrated the nature of Bethesda's games and the prominence of player freedom within.

Now all that's needed is a Dr. Strangelove cameo.

11 November 2012

One Year On: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, released one year ago today proved to be a phenomenal success both commercially and critically for Bethesda. It was likely always going to be, launched even as it was within days of titles such as Modern Warfare 3 and Assassin's Creed Revelations, following the stunning reveal of the title at 2010's Video Game Awards.

Though the fifth installment in the series it would not be until Skyrim's release that the The Elder Scrolls brand truly made waves, selling ten times as well at launch as Oblivion, the previous entry in the franchise.  

Skyrim also marked the first game in the series to be released simultaneously on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC. The Gamebryo engine had had it's fair share of glitches and bugs - some where hilarious and harmless, others irritating and even game breaking. 

So Skyrim, with an all new engine should have put those issues to rest, of course that didn't happen. As with Gamebyro the Creation Engine's problems were most acutely felt on the PS3 where extreme lag hampered the launch on the console. 

Also notable is that months after both Dawnguard and Hearthfire's release those expansions still have not arrived on the system. 

Bethesda recently tweeted "we're also close on new Skyrim content for PS3 and PC."

Not much of an update at all, really. Yet that is what PS3 gamers have had to suffice with - it should be noted that neither Dawnguard or Hearthfire are particularly outstanding or necessary additions to the game but that is utterly besides the point, particularly with Dragonborn already announced and on the way for the Xbox 360.

Being unfamiliar with the PS3's architecture was a reasonable argument in 2007. In 2012 it simply isn't.

However, the game is more than just the difficulties it has faced. As an RPG it is difficult to find one more expansive (though if you're looking for a large fantasy RPG this year's Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning is certainly worth a look). 

Skyrim may not be able to compete with the characterisation of BioWare's Dragon Age or with the plot of a more narrowly focused RPG - strong narratives are inherently difficult to marry to open world titles - indeed the Civil War quests proved particularly weak in that regard however the core plot was significant improvement on Oblivion. 

I can't comment on Morrowind, Daggerfall, or Arena having never played them.

The Elder Scrolls can never quite make you love your character the same way a BioWare title can, as a blank state and with your character's background is largely (in terms of the plot) irrelevant this would be very difficult feat to pull off for any developer. It is also the Elder Scrolls' greatest asset. 

The Elder Scrolls is ultimately about freedom. Few games have enough diversity that, theoretically, having completed the opening level you need never return to the main quest-line. There are the side and miscellaneous quests as well the guild missions each the length of many other entire games. 

Skryim creates a world and if you want you can save the world from dragons or simply chase the butterflies. This is, and always will be, The Elder Scrolls' greatest asset.     

07 November 2012

Reflections On Five Years Of Mass Effect

When - in the August of 2009 and almost two years after Mass Effect was originally released - I walked into GAME branch in the Ilac Centre which, like all GAME stores in Ireland, is now gone I saw the Classics' Edition of Mass Effect sitting on the shelf. I had never heard of it yet I bought it nonetheless.

And I am eternally grateful that I did.

Mass Effect was a not a perfect title by any means. At its core however was what remains the strongest RPG in the series to date as well as one of the best games of all time. To some extent both the graphics and gameplay were gimmicky and both control of the Mako and combat were largely viewed negatively by the community.

Indeed such was the hostility to the Mako that driving, and by extension planetary exploration, were all but cut from the subsequent titles. This was an opportunity for refinement, not elimination even so the combat and Mako were sufficiently small aspects of the massive entity that was Mass Effect as to make their overall impact negligible - or at least inconsequential when compared to the overall experience.

The game's true strength lay in the complexity and believable nature of the world BioWare had created. With massive areas to discover such as the Citadel's central area, the Presidium and characters that players would learn not simply to endure but to actively love and if possible, pursue as a romantic interest in the game.

The naivety of Liara which some considered over-stated felt to be alluring by others. While Garrus and Wrex were the very essence of powerful, substantive NPC's who didn't need your help, something many games still cannot properly balance and Tali, at once innocent and yet also decidedly deathly. Of course there were the human squadmates as well. Ashley, who had a complicated history with aliens and Kaidan, who won many hearts - on and off the battlefield.

At the opposing end of the spectrum was most notably Saren who remains to this day one of the most powerful antagonists in videogames.

And then there was the music, if Halo showed the world how important music could be to a game experience Mass Effect cemented the score of a game as one of its potentially defining features. The synth-style soundtrack complimented the game in a way which few titles, with the exception of Mass Effect 2 & 3, have been able to replicate.

Mass Effect 2 came with high expectations and delivered beyond most of them. Criticised by some for the removal of RPG elements in an attempt to reach a broader audience and by others for essentially distracting away from the main goal of the trilogy's story arc - defeating the Reapers - by instead concentrating on the Collectors, a race in thrall to the Reapers.

Some also argued that their Commander Shepard would never cooperate with Cerberus, a terrorist organisation and one the first human spectre had often battled against in Mass Effect though in hindsight it's clear that BioWare were not aware of the transformation Cerberus would undergo from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2 when they began.

This sequel was a game about people. It was a game wherein the majority of the missions involved either hiring squadmates and then earning their loyalty. Over this course of this game you found characters to love (or to hate) - I have previously written of my affection for Miranda but there were a host of memorable NPCs returning to the game or newly added.

The salarian doctor Mordin, the thief Kasumi, the justicar Samara. They were personalities with depth something rare in so many titles. And yet again the score for the games was superb. The Illusive Man, the End Run, Suicide Mission to name but a few remain some of the finest tracks to be committed to a videogame or indeed any piece of entertainment.

No post on the Mass Effect trilogy can justifiably ignore the controversy surrounding the ending of the series. Mass Effect 3 was wonderful game, make no mistake, yet the ending ruined both it and the trilogy for some. Others merely felt that BioWare could, and should, have done significantly better. Regardless BioWare listened and implemented the Extended Cut DLC. No not everyone was satisfied, the developer admitted before releasing the additional content that that would be the case.

Regardless of how the ending was originally handled or whether the Extended Cut was enough BioWare listened and distributed the content for free. They should be regarded most highly for trying, even if they haven't met everyone's expectations - an impossible feat.

Without Mass Effect 1 & 2's main writer and score composer Mass Effect 3 still provides for an epic experience and an excellent game. Even if things fell apart at the end.

There will be more Mass Effect and though that will be without Commander Shepard and I'm once again grateful for walking into that shop and buying a game I had never heard of. I always will be.

Happy N7 Day everyone.