Dork Shelf was at the Xbox Canada spring showcase to preview a selection of upcoming titles. From Tiger Woods to Tomb Raider, there was much on display – but here are some triple-A highlights.
BioShock Infinite starts in very familiar territory: water. After being dropped off by rowboat on a creaky wooden dock, beside a strangely nostalgic lighthouse, I ascend into the clouds and enter the floating city of Columbia. Through these opening moments, water pours around me and trickles past my feet, until it disappears altogether.
It wasn’t just the original BioShock’s ingenious mixture of magical powers and guns, horror and adventure that set the game apart as a video game classic: the omnipresence of water gave the title its thematic grounding (so to speak) in the nebulous, alien territory of the unknown. Thus, we also have Infinite’s biggest departure from the first two games: we’re in the skies now.
The skies of Infinite, much like the waters of the original game, are absolutely teeming with life — or at least an over-constructed version of it. Attention to detail was a hallmark of the original BioShock; but Infinite makes the first game look like a wind-up camera compared to the multi-faceted, artistic wonder on display in Columbia. The sky city is thick and clamoring with activity and distractions — from fairground attractions to megaphone announcements to floating buildings.
I could go on about how playing Infinite got me excited for the series’ return — it’s one of the most artistically ambitious games I’ve seen from a triple-A developer in some time and its decidedly adult themes of religious fanaticism, hyper-patriotism and racism make it look like it’ll have the brains to match its visual brawn. I could also shout out excited expletives at how the combat pacing of the game’s gunplay and drug-induced wizardry improves on the original… but leave the questions to be answered on release day (March 26), would you kindly?
Gears of War: Judgment
Taking a chainsaw to the face of a charging alien monster full of explosive bodily fluids, I feel safe. That’s how Judgment feels, after three solid but predictable action-adventure hybrid shooters: safe.
The Gears games have always been a comfortable, beers-in-the-basement, slouching-on-the-couch series of co-op shooters, and damn do they ever know it by now.
As such, from my half hour of playing time, it feels like Judgment does little to stray from the successful Gears formula. That doesn’t mean it makes for bad gaming — far from it. But anyone buying this game on day one should already know exactly what to expect: a fun, visceral action game centered on rockets, gore, chainsaws and manly screaming.
Throwing in a few new multiplayer modes — including a class-based system reminiscent of the ever-popular Team Fortress 2 and COG vs. COG death matches — in addition to a scoring system in single-player mode buffered by optional challenge missions, Judgment isn’t lacking in new content.
It’s a game lovingly built for the many long-term Gears fans and as such, the action begins hot, heavy and more challenging from the game’s opening. We’ll find out on March 19 if the rest of the game keeps that pace going.
The new Lara Croft has a bow. It’s rugged, beautiful, and back-to-basics — which is exactly what the latest Tomb Raider is all about, as a game looking to pack more drama, blood and dirt into the fatigued adventure series.
The hunter’s best friend plays a central role in Tomb Raider, with the series bringing in animal hunting mechanics like those found in Assassin’s Creed 3 before looking elsewhere for influences — the wild parkour of Uncharted, the zero-to-hero character transformation of Far Cry 3. Thankfully, the game does a good job of pulling these disparate elements together into a cohesive whole – but here’s hoping the faux-interactive quick-time events that dominate the beginning of the game recede as Lara’s ass-kicking abilities grow.
Speaking of abilities, most impressive were the physics puzzles that challenge Lara’s physical strength and the player’s own mental skills – the beginning of the game features a water physics puzzle reminiscent of Half-Life 2 — of which Tomb Raider, I’m promised, will contain many more.
I’m told that there’s the hope that players put more investment in Lara’s character this time around — instead of gleefully jumping off cliffs to enjoy her grisly demise, as has apparently been a problem in previous titles.
I can’t say I felt much emotional connection to Lara after a half-hour demo, but there’s certainly something there. We’ll see how they handle this biggest promise — real character development in a vulnerable, but powerful female protagonist — when the arrow hits on March 5.