Unfortunately we have been experiencing major issues with the site over the past couple of months as a result of the unexpected loss of our webhost following Hurricane Sandy on the east cost of the USA (where our server was based), and the need to rebuild the site from backups towards the end of last year. Thankfully, things are almost ready to go again. Apologies for the lack of a proper website and regular content since we went down, but we'll back with most of our archive and a whole host of new content very soon.
Temporary Website - Returning Very Soon.
The Wii U may have launched, but with its technology pegged more along the lines of the PS3 and Xbox 360, in some way the next generation of consoles has yet to begin. We are, however, getting closer as last Wednesday Sony took the opportunity to announce the PlayStation 4, throwing off rumours about a new name and setting out its stall for what it believes will be important for next round of hardware upgrades.
The PS4 hardware will be a significant departure from the unique, and sometimes overly challenging, architecture of the PS3 which initially caused many headaches for developers, resulting in delays and sub-standard versions of cross-console releases. While those issues are now in the past, Sony is hoping to get developers going with its new hardware more quickly by moving to a PC-based setup, using x86 architecture processors just like a regular desktop PC. It will also feature 8GB of RAM, pleasing many developers, and marking a significant step up from the 256MB on the PS3, and the 512MB on the 360. In fact, Sony seems to have worked closely with many third-party developers to design a system which should allow them to get what they need out of the PS4 early in the cycle.
It's not just developers who should get an easier ride with the PS4, with Sony emphasising that they wanted to make the experience of using the console much easier, from redesigned interfaces, to avoiding delayed start up times by having the console sit in a low power mode when you turn it 'off', which can include suspending and resuming a game from anywhere. That low power mode will also be used to update games so that they're ready to play when you're ready to play, rather than the long wait that often happens on the PS3. Adding to the instant gratification is the ability to start playing downloaded games before most of the game has downloaded, and the use of the Gaikai streaming technology Sony purchased last year to allow you to play demos without having to download anything at all. It's clear that Sony has taken its cues from the popularity of mobile devices and the instant gratification gaming that has made these platforms so successful.
That Gaikai streaming technology will also have other uses. There is a heavy emphasis on social features, including a dedicated Share button the DualShock 4 which was also shown off. You'll be able to capture screenshots and videos from any games and share them with your friends, while the streaming technology will allow your friends to watch you play, and even take over remotely to help you through difficult bits. There's even built-in support for sharing your gaming stream over UStream, matching the popular activity that takes place on the PC with the likes of StarCraft II and League of Legends. Streaming games will also be the only way of playing PS3 games on the PlayStation 4; due to the changes in the architecture there is no backwards compatibility built-in, with Sony instead choosing to use streaming, but the details of which titles and whether you can use your existing discs in some way hasn't been revealed.
The DualShock 4, meanwhile, is essentially the same as its three predecessors, but it's undergone considerable aesthetic improvements, in addition to gainging the much-requested concave triggers and better analogue sticks. Start and Select are gone, instead replaced with a touchpad similar to the one on the rear of the PS Vita, but there is an Options button instead as well as the aforementioned Share button. Along the front edge there is a PS Move-like glowing LED stream which can be tracked by the new PS4 Eye camera so the console knows where you're located for Kinect-like interaction. In fact, the PS4 Eye includes two cameras so it can provide a high quality image of you with one while using the other to focus on tracking. Other features for the new camera have also been rumoured, such as voice control, but have only been alluded to in interviews since the event.
What was missing was the console itself. When Sony revealed the PS2 it too was missing from display for quite awhile, although that was over a year away from launching. The PS4, however, is due out by the end of this year - at least in some parts of the world - but it seems that Sony isn't quite ready to show off the new design and will likely be saving this for E3 where it also promises to have playable demos on the show floor. Talking of games, we'll be discussing the new reveals in a follow-up post.
We don't usually cover digital versions of retail games on the DLC Digest, but we'll make an exception for Namco Bandai's Tank! Tank! Tank! because it has adopted an interesting digital model. The game was originally released on disc for the Wii U at launch in Europe, but now we get to experience the game as Japanese gamers did back on its launch in that part of the world; for free. The base game, which includes limited players of three of the game's modes, will cost you nothing, but there's a whole variety of DLC options available to make those modes infinitely replayable, as well as to add all the other modes that were available in the full game. The pick and choose options are available on the Wii U's eShop, where you'll also find that free base game, which should act as a rather generous demo you can play with your friends.
Konami's classic NES side-scrolling action-platformer Castlevania returns on the 3DS Virtual Console this past week, coming just ahead of the brand new 3DS Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate. In fact, a free demo of that game is due out next Thursday on the 3DS eShop. For now you can get the game that kicked off the highly acclaimed series for a slightly pricey £4.49.
We thought that Rocketbirds on the PS3 was an interesting but ultimately frustrating game when we gave it 6/10 in our review last year, but since then developer Ratloop has been making various improvements to the game as part of bringing it over to the PS Vita. Now on the PlayStation Store for £6.49 (£5.19 if you own the PS3 edition), the new handheld iteration also has 2 player co-op online, support for touch and motion controls, as well as a brand new end boss.
Lastly, Paradox and Cyanide's take on Peter Molyneux's classic Dungeon Keeper is now available on Steam. Last Summer at Gamescom Richard Pilot got a good look at the game and came away hopeful that we would get to return to a classic genre, although early online impressions have been mixed. Sadly there's no demo, but if you are interested in the full game you can pick it up for £14.99.
Wii U owners are desperate for new games, but luckily one of the big hitters, one of the exclusives that was promised before launch, is on its way by the end of month. Except, that's no longer true. Ubisoft's previously Wii U-only 2D platformer, Rayman Legends, the follow-up to the acclaimed Rayman Origins, is now coming to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as well. As if news that the game no longer required the purchase of their expensive new device wasn't hitting Wii U fans hard enough, then came the news that multi-platform expansion means a delay in the release from the end of February until September, an extra 7 months. This is despite the fact that the development team at Ubisoft Montpellier in France had already finished the Wii U version ready for its impending release, which had also been foreshadowed by a demo on the Wii U eShop.
Ubisoft seem to have decided that Nintendo's struggling new home console wouldn't provide a large enough audience for their high-profile, and potentially big-bucks-earning, game, and that if they were going to launch on the other current consoles then they might as well have one marketing push when all three are ready. From a business perspective, that makes sense, but it doesn't stop fans from getting rather angry about something that was so near to completion being pushed back considerably. Especially when it was originally meant to be a Wii U launch game. Ubisoft's only effort to placate fans so far is to promise a second Wii U-exclusive demo for the game at some point in the future before release.
It is said that not only are fans unhappy, but the staff at the Montpellier studio who were working on the game are also less than pleased about the decision, especially when they have been working hard to make the previous deadline. While they don't officially comment outside of the channels controlled by the Ubisoft central office, Rayman creator Michel Ancel and some of his staff at Montpellier have appeared alongside French fan Joffrey Babilotte who brought a banner he made pleading for the release of Rayman Legends to the studio. While it's unlikely to make a difference to the release timing, it is good to know that at lease some people in Ubisoft realise that the decision has been rather unpopular.
DLC Triple Digest: The Cave, Skulls of the Shogun, Antichamber, Dokuro, Strike Suit Zero, Dungeonland, a few demos and more
We're still slowly putting the site back together on a new server, so our postings are a little sparse at the moment, but right now we're going to catch up with some downloadable highlights from the past three weeks.
We start with Double Fine's The Cave, which sees Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert again working with Tim Schafer on an adventure game. But this side-scrolling puzzler is not the "Double Fine Adventure" game that got kick-started last year, but one that was actually in production before that, and one that looks to doing a new approach to the genre. For one thing it's a game that works very well on the consoles, so it's not surprising to see it get a simultaneous launch on the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii U, alongside a PC and Mac release on Steam (and a few other PC services), with a Linux version on the way very soon. The console versions also all have a demo version available so you can give it a go before paying the £9.99 asking price (1200 MSP/£10.20 on 360).
We first saw Skulls of the Shogun in August 2011 at Gamescom, and it looked ready for release, then - and indeed it was supposed to be out before the end of the year. But delays and a commercial tie-up with Microsoft and Windows 8, mean the turn-based strategy game has only just seen the light of day a few days ago. It's receive a simultaneous release on the Xbox Live Arcade for the Xbox 360, the Microsoft Store for Windows 8 PCs and Windows RT tablets, and the Windows Phone Marketplace for Windows Phone 7 and 8. The combined launch means you not only can you play the same game with progress synchronised across multiple devices, but they can all play multiplayer together, including asychronously. This is similar to Sony's Cross-Play and Cross-Save initiatives, but Microsoft is missing that extra piece in the puzzle that usually comes with PS3/PS Vita cross-overs; Cross-Buy, that is, the ability to buy the game on one platform and get it on all the others. Sadly they have decided that you must buy each one separately. So while you can get a £6.99 version for a Windows 8 PC that also works on Windows 8 or Windows RT tablets (such as the Microsoft Surface), you'll also need to pay 1200 MSP to play the game on your 360, or an additional £3.99 to play it on your Windows Phone 7/8 phone.
Another title we saw at 2011's Gamescom show, and then subsequently at Rezzed and the 2012 Cologne event, was Born Ready Games' space fighter Strike Suit Zero. The indie developer has brought back a genre which has sadly been left aside in recent years. It's currently available only on Windows PCs, although it should be coming to Mac and Linux later this year following the successful Kickstarter campaign late last year. It's available on Steam and GamersGate for £14.99 and we'll have a review on the site soon. We're also soon going to be covering Paradox Interactive and Critical Studio's Dungeonland, a co-op hack and slash game set in a medieval theme park. It's available on Steam for Windows for £7.99.
The indie darling on Steam at the moment, however, is Antichamber, a first-person puzzle game which could be best thing in the genre since Portal 2. In fact, it's more in the vain of the original Portal with various rooms offering a range of different and sometimes quite fiendish puzzles, which can be completed in a non-linear manner. It primarily deals with black and white with splodges of colour for quite a striking looking, but it's the gameplay which has led to rather positive reviews. It's £14.99, also only on Steam for Windows. Hopefully there will be a demo in the future, as it's a game that doesn't always come across well through screenshots or even videos alone.
Another indie puzzler of note is PS Vita-exclusive action-puzzler Dokuro. Also a game with a rather distinctive look, the 2D side-scrolling title's art direction comes from director Noriaki Kazama, who previously worked on Ninja Gaiden Sigma for Team Ninja. Here he's working for Game Arts, the developer known for the Grandia series of RPGs, although a download-only puzzler is a different direction for them. It has been well received and is available for £11.99 from the PlayStation Store.
Fans of Mega Man 2 probably own the game on the variety of consoles it has appeared over the years, including the Wii's Virtual Console, but they might be interested to buy it again as it's now on a handheld, thanks to the 3DS Virtual Console. Capcom's classic platformer can be picked up for £4.49 from the 3DS eShop. While you're there you might also be interested in Picross e2, the follow up to the well-received puzzler Picross E which arrived on the eShop last year. Both, of course, are a take on the popular Japanese pen and paper game, and now there's new puzzle and a new Micross mode. It's the same cost of £4.49.
From one eShop to another, the Wii U has gained a version of Zen Pinball 2, which has been popping up on most platforms these days, including the PS3, Vita, Xbox 360, and the 3DS. Now it's on the Wii U, and follows the same pricing model of giving you the base game with a few trial versions of tables for free, and then letting you pick tables ala carte for between £2.39 and £7.99 for individual tables or bundle packs. Sadly, versions bought elsewhere, including from the 3DS eShop, can't be used here, so it may not be of interest to you if you already own the game on, say, the Xbox 360, but if you don't, then it is a very good version that allows features the ability to play solely on the GamePad.
Across the last 3 weeks a bunch of demos have popped up across the download stores. Cross-platform we have the Crysis 3 multiplayer demo on the Xbox Live Marketplace, PlayStation Store, and Origin for 360, PS3 and Windows PCs respectively, while the first two also gain samples of Dead Space 3 and Metal Gear Rising Revengerence. All free, of course. A demo of Sonic All Stars Racing Transformed came out on the PS3 and 360 last year, but now PS Vita and Wii U owners can sample the game on their platform too. SEGA's arcade racer also came out on the PC and 3DS, but neither of those platforms have demos at this time.
And lastly we end with a bit of actual downloadable content, the "Deathmatch Made In Heaven" pack for Rockstar's third-person shooter Max Payne 3. It's available on the Xbox Live Marketplace, PlayStation Store and Steam for 800 MSP (£6.80), £7.29 and £7.49 respectively (don't ask us why the prices are so varied). The pack, delayed from the end of last year, contains the "Dead Man Walking" two-player co-op mode that has been eagerly awaited by fans of the game, a run and stun mode, a marked man mode, and a time attack mode. Which makes the pricing seem fair, although we're unsure how big the multiplayer audience for Max Payne 3 still is 9 months on from release.
Last month, publisher THQ went bankrupt. The publisher has long been struggling, but seemed to be refocusing on fewer titles, and Naughty Dog co-founder Jason Rubin took the helm. Last summer's Darksiders 2 seemed to be a bit of a success (and we rather liked it as well), and then there was the Humble THQ Bundle which raised a few million for the company. But it wasn't enough, so the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December, an American procedure that allows a company to continue operating while it finds a buyer and resolves its debt. Clearlake Capital Group came along and offered up $60 million for the company, include $10 million for the company's creditors. THQ and its studios would continue operating as normal, and despite the bad notions of going into bankruptcy, all would be fine.
Except, that wasn't the case. THQ's creditors weren't happy, as they decided the company was worth more than that, and took the issue to court. This resulted in a closed auction taking place earlier this week, where if the sum of the sold assets was greater than the $60 million offered by Clearlake, then the company would be split up and shut down. Well, that happened, and now THQ is essentially no more. The bids were revealed on Wednesday, showing a range of companies involved in the bidding process, which is done without the bidders knowing how much each one has bid. Koch Media, the people behind the Deep Silver brand, were one of the biggest spenders, while the likes of EA and Warner Bros., which were apparently interested in either the brands or the studios, were not top bidders or runners up - if they did indeed even put in any bids (only the top two were revealed). The list is as follows:
That wasn't quite the whole company. Sadly Darksiders developer Vigil Games was not picked up, and thus neither was the Darksiders franchise itself, although the remains of THQ will still be looking to sell these on. However, it looks likely that the staff at Vigil will lose their jobs. Staff at other studios should hopefully generally make a smooth transition, but some jobs will likely go to avoid overlaps with their new owners. What remains of THQ will continue functioning in order to wind up the company, before it eventually disappears. We wish all staff the best of luck to the future, and watch with keen interest where some of them will end up. That includes what Jason Rubin will be doing next. With games such as Company of Heros, Saint's Row, Red Faction, Dawn of War, Full Spectrum Warrior, Metro 2033, and many more in the last decade, it will certainly be sad to see the company go. RIP THQ, 1989-2013.
Thanks to VentureBeat for the auction details.