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Archive for September, 2012

It was a wild night downtown. The developers from U4ia flew into New York and made their way to the Critics Circle on Monday. Entering a dive in the East Village that we chose, they carried a big Mac monitor, a WiFi card, a Mac laptop and a ton of cables. Six or seven of us checked them out out with suspicion … that turned to glee. That’s because we played a fair amount of their premier game, Offensive Combat, a free-to-play, multiplayer, browser-based shooter that’s influenced by everything from Duke Nukem to Unreal to Counter-Strike.

So here are six reasons you’ll likely want to play Offensive Combat when open beta begins tomorrow, September 27th.

The Crazy-Ass Humor

When Dusty Welch unveiled the obese-to-the-max graphic of William Shatner as a caricature I could play, the vision I saw was a creation that’s happily irreverent in the way Vanity Fair can be irreverent. I definitely want to play as a parody character of someone who sings “Iron Man” like this. What’s next? How about a Nintendo Reggie character?

The Holy-What??? Pedigree

Welch came up with the idea for Call of Duty while at Activision. That’s enough for me to go into the beta to see what’s going on – even if I get my butt kicked (which I will because I’m bad at shooters). Other members of the team have worked on Need for Speed, Command & Conquer and other landmark titles.

The Console-Type Aiming & Shooting

Although I was using just four buttons on the keyboard and two on the mouse, I felt this was a legitimate approximation of an elite console game. It was fast, furious and unforgiving. Gird your loins.

Come Together in Unity

The Unity engine allows Offensive Combat to look very close to a console game – even in the beta stage. I was happy to see that the graphics looked finely detailed in a browser. They need to add some humor to the environments to match the weapons and characters, but once they tweak this thing, tons of folks will be playing.

The Weird Weapons

I’m part Polish. So when I saw the links of kielbasa you can use to whack at your enemies, I just had to add them to my character. There’s a kind of early Duke Nukem satire going on here. Heck, I even heard Pac-Man arcade game audio at one point before I chose the kielbasa. U4ia knows its gaming history and is having fun with it.

The Social Throw-Downs

There’s a fine line to walk here. Is paying for upgrades the right way to go for U4ia? How much isn’t too much? When is the humor spot-on and when is it too offensive? But more importantly, will you mind getting Facebook disses and taunts from your pals posted on your timeline when they kill you? If it’s a close friend, I won’t mind. If it’s someone I know casually, I’ll definitely not like it. But I’ll give it a try in open beta to see what happens.

–Harold Goldberg, Founder and Editor-in-Chief

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Gamasutra’s Leigh Alexander. Polygon’s Chris Plante. Giant Bomb’s Alex Navarro. AOL’s Libe Goad. CNET’s Dan Ackerman. About.com’s Charles Herold.

These smart folks are just six of our 25 lauded Circle members. And they appear in our first New York Videogame Critics Circle Web program, this time about the potential pluses and minuses of the Wii U.

Victor Kalogiannis, our talented, stalwart intern, spent many hours shooting and editing the program, and we think he did a fantastic job.

You’ll witness varied opinions here, from excitement to disappointment, from apathy to empathy.

I hope you enjoy these fine critics’ considered words as much as I enjoyed interviewing them.

We hope to bring you more video programming in the future. So do stay tuned.

-Harold Goldberg, Founder and Editor-in-Chief

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It was exciting to see the Circle out en force at the Wii U event yesterday.

The event featured a more muted Reggie Fils-Aime, certainly moreso than on that fateful day when he made his debut at Nintendo of America’s president at E3.  In May, 2004, he said triumphantly,””My name is Reggie. I’m about kicking ass. I’m about taking names, and WE’RE about making games!”

While the prices and dates of two different units were revealed to start at $299 when they begin selling on November 18, 2012, Fils-Aime chose to hold off on telling journalists precisely when games would be released.

The theory must be: Why give them release dates now when we can get more press out of them later?

Our members seemed most enthusiastic about a forthcoming Bayonetta game and Wii U TVii, software embedded within the Wii U that may be as full of features as the Xbox Live service.

Videographer Victor Kalogiannis and I shot a fair amount of interviews with our members and we will bring that to you in the coming days. It’s smart, thoughtful stuff.

The takeaway for you right now:  divergent opinions that range from apathy to ecstasy.

–Harold Goldberg, Founder

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I come back to it every morning. This brilliantly edited snippet for Borderlands 2, a post-apocalyptic satire set for release in mid-September, is the best video game trailer of the year and one of the finest ever made. At its core, it is a superior music video, a magical mashup of the sweet, melliflous do-wop in The Tokens’s “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” with the unrelenting chaos and haunting violence within a gritty game somewhat influenced by “Mad Max” and perhaps “Apocalypse Now.”

The infectious ditty, first recorded in 1939 by South Africa’s Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds, is heard in unexpected juxtaposition to the bloodshed and explosions within the game. Near the outset, a brownish lizard slithers to the precipice of a waterfall, foam spraying around it. Nearby, the Rakk, a graceful flying dragon, is shot from the sky by Maya, one of the game’s four protagonists. As the word “Wimoweh” is sung over and over again, odder creatures are introduced. There’s the Bullymong, a kind of space gorilla clad in steel. But what sets the toes tapping is the vacant-lookinglittle undead characters whose heads bob from side to side in rhythm with the music. These psycho midget zombies steal the show.

When propeller-driven planes rush toward your face, the sung “Wimoweh” morphs and becomes an electrified, high tech warning. Momentarily, the screen goes to black and you hear something scream “Rock and Roll!” as if you were near a crazed fan at a heavy metal concert. As “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” hits its crescendo and singer Jay Siegel begins to improvise, a montage of the game’s features come to the fore. The lithe Maya wields magic and holds an enemy in a blue, glowing orb. A mischievous girl named Tiny Tina dances in rhythm to the music as she moves to a dynamite plunger to blow up an enemy. And finally, Claptrap, a charming, determined robot that was one of the stars of the first game, grunts “Wimoweh. Wimoweh, Wimoweh” as he proudly marches forward.

The overall effect is so thrilling that it trumps the best music-oriented trailer to date, the creepy BioShock trailerfrom 2005, which was shot underwater with Bobby Darrin’s evocative “Beyond The Sea” in the background. In that trailer, however, the overpowering sounds of violence temporarily distract you, interfering with both Bobby Darin’s cool detachment and the overall theme of terror. equally effective though far less ironic was Sun Kil Moon’s dark, brooding “blue heron” which played over the debut trailer for the bromance war epic, Gears of War 3. That video was so grimly affecting, Jimmy Fallon, a game fan himself, chose to debut it on his show. And the pounding, crashing drums from Health’s gloomy “Tears” sounded like harsh bullet fire from the gun of the morose anti-hero in Max Payne 3.

However, The Borderlands 2 trailer, bolstered by that catchiest of pop songs, creates a visceral desire in a way that most preview videos cannot. In fact, many of these trailers bludgeon the viewer with a constant barrage of chaotic footage from the game and metal music, this medium’s version of the hard sell from marketers who perhaps suffer from arrested development. But with quirky, cute animation made especially for the trailer, these game makers are signaling that Borderlands 2 will be something special, something closer to popular art.

When a thoughtful creation like “Wimoweh” hits the web, fans go happily battery, parsing every second while rhapsodizing on message boards and via social media. The old song itself might even see a spoke in sales on iTunes. So the “Wimoweh” tidbit can build a kind of grass roots credibility that no expensive Hollywood-produced movie trailer can match. But releasing a piece like this can also be a gamble. Borderlands 2 has been so expensive to make that Take-Two, the game’s publishers, are seeking to lure a more general audience. But they also can’t afford to alienate the four million gamers who bought the first edition with what might be considered a stodgy song. Yet the marketers need not worry. The “Wimoweh” trailer is all things to all nerds of all ages.

–Harold Goldberg

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