Thursday, November 29, 2012

Preview // DmC: Devil May Cry

If you haven't played the new DmC: Devil May Cry demo yet, you should get on that. I just finished playing it myself and I've got to say, it is one hot slice of pie. The new Dante—who seems like one of the most universally hated redesigns of a character in recent history if Internet message boards are to be believed (and really, when aren't they?)—already appeals to me way more than the old Dante ever did.

Old Dante will always be defined for me by that ridiculous cutscene where he's eating pizza and fighting demons, flipping chairs and striking poses, all the while spouting cheesy lines like, "This party's getting crazy! Let's rock!" and "I can already tell, looks like this is going to be one hell of a party!" It reeked of trying too hard to be cool.

Is new Dante trying a little too hard to be edgy? Sure, but I'll take that over old Dante any day.

The writing is a lot subtler here and Dante has a simple, straightforward charm. He and his companion, Kat, run into danger and split up. They reunite a few minutes later.

"There you are!" Kat exclaims, relieved to see him.

"Here I am," Dante says with easy confidence.

Still, this new Dante is no stranger to cocky flamboyance, but now it's refreshing instead of being cringe-inducing. At least in this demo, it never feels forced.

It helps that the new game seems like it'll actually be fun to play, a quaint little concept that the old games never seemed to care for, preferring to revel in their unrelenting difficulty like Ninja Gaiden with skintight leather pants and a curious aversion to wearing a shirt. By the time I'd gotten through the first fight in Devil May Cry 3, I was ready to put the game down already. It was exhausting.

DmC lets you ramp the difficulty up to sadomasochistic levels if you're into that kind of thing, but it seems more concerned in just making sure you're having a good time. It smartly uses its loading screens to demonstrate the kind of crazy, super long combo you can get yourself into if you can manage to wrap your head around everything Dante can do.

He's got you covered if you're just looking to flip guys into the air and shoot them with two pistols, but the real fun lies in his new angel and devil attacks. Hold L2 for the angel mode and Dante will pull out a scythe great for quick, stylish combos, or R2 for his devil mode for a flaming axe all about big swings and heavy damage. Sometimes enemies will require one or the other, but most of the time, you're free to go with whatever strikes your fancy. And for me, that meant carving enemies with my spinning scythe high above the ground. You know, like an angel.

Dante can also use his angel and devil modes to launch himself toward an enemy or pull it to him, respectively. It's a cool carryover from Devil May Cry 4 that makes it really easy to keep moving through the fight and keep the pace up. Be aggressive enough and you'll be able to activate Devil Trigger mode that brings Dante back to his white-haired, red-jacketed roots and grinds the world around him to a standstill.

But the coolest part of the demo is undoubtedly Limbo City. It's the city itself more than anything that wants Dante dead, reshaping itself at will to break him, bury him, kill him.

As Dante passes through an alleyway, buildings desperate to crush him grate together violently. The word "FALL" scrawls onto a cobblestone road as it breaks apart beneath Dante's feet and stretches impossibly, ripping a bellowing chasm below. The world shifts angrily at Dante's presence, a howling whisper piercing, "KILL DANTE."

It's the kind of reality-bending fantasy I've wanted to see in games for a long time, executed marvelously here.

The old guard Devil May Cry fans can lament the death of their dear Dante all they want. I couldn't be more happy with the change.

DmC: Devil May Cry will be released on January 15, 2013 for PS3, 360, and PC.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Review // Lincoln

As I sat in the theater on Thanksgiving, sandwiched between my brother and a blond woman I didn't know, watching the third of an eventual five warnings either to silence or turn off my phone before the movie—this one featuring a clueless and charming Billy Crystal fretting that an incoming unknown caller might be important and answering to the horror that it's only his dry cleaner informing him that a stain couldn't be removed—I couldn't help but wonder: Who seriously answers their phone during a movie anymore? And when did Billy Crystal get so old?

I was there for Lincoln. Well, no. I was there for Daniel Day-Lewis, and he just happened to be in Lincoln. It's been my opinion for quite some time now that Daniel Day-Lewis is the finest actor alive today, and I was frothing to watch him take on the role of arguably America's finest president.

Though I couldn't help but notice, as the previews began to roll, that the aspect ratio of the screen was off, leaving huge gaps above and below the picture, and for some trailers, to the sides as well. I tried to put it out of my mind. Daniel Day-Lewis. Abraham Lincoln.

The movie began and everyone finally shut up. I was stunned by how easily Day-Lewis seemed to assume the role, how quickly he disappeared into it, how enrapturing his performance was. I was initially impressed with the focus of the movie, homing in specifically on the issue of the 13th Amendment alone, ignoring the greater conflicts at hand until the moments it needed to instill upon the audience just how great those conflicts were and how much pressure they put on the 13th Amendment and on Lincoln himself.

I started mentally taking notes: There are so many recognizable actors in this movie. Tommy Lee Jones is stealing the show. The soundtrack is overbearing, a little too broad and sweeping to really have an impact. It gives too much reverence and not enough reality. My god, Tommy Lee Jones is stealing the show.

Then the yawning began.

All around me, I could hear people yawning and growing restless. They would wake during the more intense scenes—Lincoln arguing with his cabinet, the members of the House of Representatives yelling at and insulting each other, Tommy Lee Jones being anywhere on-screen—but during the less gripping parts of the movie, the yawns began to chorus around the theater. Specifically, the woman beside me, and the woman behind me.

I don't think I've ever hated anyone
more than that man right then.

Now, let me just clarify: These were not the polite, quiet yawns of a normal, considerate person. These were audible yawns, comically loud and impossibly impolite. These were the kind of yawns you'd base an episode of Seinfeld on, the kind that annoys Jerry to the point that he ignores George's warnings and finally turns around to confront the offending yawner. Fast-forward to Jerry being escorted out of the theater. Well, I decided that I didn't want to be escorted out of the theater, so I just sat there instead, plotting how I'd passive aggressively get my revenge by complaining later on the Internet like any self-respecting modern man.

An ominous rumbling shook our theater momentarily. A few people looked around. It rumbled again. The sound was bleeding through from another movie like a half-naked Chinese man sprawled on your dining room table during a dinner party: noticeably. And then, it happened. It finally happened.

A guy actually answered his phone during the movie.

His phone rang. He didn't silence it. After all the melodramatic warnings, he answered it anyway, began talking, then stood up and began to walk out of the theater. "Hey, I'm in a movie," I probably heard him say on his way out. "Yeah, Lincoln. It's shit. Of course I'm still in the theater; so what? Well, fuck them, right? Hahahaha!"

I don't think I've ever hated anyone more than that man right then.

The woman beside me, one of the serial yawners, began to scratch her arm. You wouldn't think that would be a big deal, but it was like someone had just told her that she had a parasite in her arm that would kill her before the credits if she couldn't dig it out in time. It was deafening. And all the while, she had the raw, unfettered audacity to claim the entire armrest for herself.

Listen. I'll admit that Lincoln is not the most exciting film I've ever seen. It's too long, it's often meandering, and it putters across the finish line instead of roars because it didn't have the good sense to know when to end, trying to turn Lincoln into a god to be worshipped by suddenly deciding that it can't resist but needlessly tackle Lincoln's assassination in the most bizarre way imaginable: from the perspective of a different theater receiving the news. But it's certainly not so boring that it deserves to be yawned through. Really, Lincoln the film is a lot like Lincoln the man. It's deliberate. It takes a winding path to its destination, but it gets there eventually.

As we left the theater, my family started talking about what they thought of it:

"I don't think it's the kind of movie I'd watch more than once," my brother started, "but I really liked it."

"Oh, it was a fantastic movie," said my dad. He's the kind of person who falls asleep during movies and needs to be poked awake, so coming from him, that's high praise. "What great acting!"

"Yeah, I really liked that guy who played Lincoln," my mom agreed. "And Sally Fields did such a wonderful job. What'd you think?" They all looked at me. I kept walking.

"I think I need to get as far away from this theater as I possibly can."

Lincoln / 2hr 30min / Released November 9, 2012


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review // Assassin's Creed III

Assassin's Creed III is the most dramatic overhaul in the series. It proudly features a new engine with streamlined controls, revamped combat, and reworked animations, among a host of other changes. It introduces a groundbreaking new setting with unflinching, unromanticized depictions of history. It promises to finally deliver on Desmond's potential and end his part in the overarching storyline.

Assassin's Creed III is also a total disaster from start to finish.

Many of the game's problems are subjective, just matters of personal taste. But many are not, as evidenced by the unbelievable notes for the game's upcoming second patch. Fixes range from "let's try and stop players from falling through the map" to "this mission is unreasonably hard. Let's do something about that." Plain and simple, Ubisoft released an unfinished game, and not even the substantial day-one patch could fix it all.

I encountered floating objects, disappearing civilians, scripting errors, broken AI routines, a grinding frame rate, and total system hard locks as I trudged through the game. Just watch as my Assassin recruit fails to kill two random guards for the fourth time:

It is a broken game, yet surprisingly enough, that's not even its biggest failure.

The game stumbles right from the start with a video that summarizes all the previous games and makes a strong case for why there's no reason for us to play as any more of Desmond's ancestors... just moments before Desmond literally says, "ah, not again," faints, and enters the memories of yet another ancestor. At best, it's just one more cheap speed bump on a road littered with cheap speed bumps that prevent the main plot from moving forward, and weak justification for the game's very existence at worst.

More frustrating than that, though, is how none of the characters in the present ever address how Desmond murdered Lucy at the end of Brotherhood until a couple of easily skippable, throwaway lines many hours into the game. Apparently, nothing you learned in Revelations was relevant at all to the main plot except its $10 "Lost Archive" downloadable content, which is pretty vital stuff if you played through Brotherhood and wanted to know how Lucy's death would be handled.

Similarly, the game barely introduces Desmond's father, the current leader of the Assassins, or Daniel Cross, a Templar sleeper agent who murdered the previous Assassin leader and is responsible for the near-complete destruction of the Assassin Order, neither of whom have been in previous games. Put it this way: if you don't know what "The Great Purge" is, you might want to do some homework before jumping into Assassin's Creed III to really get the most out of it. For all the game does to prepare players new to the series, it does a terrible job preparing veteran players.

From there, it's about six hours before you don the familiar Assassin hood and you're playing the game you probably assumed you'd be playing right from the start. There's an interesting twist early on that almost completely justifies how boring the introductory hours of the game are, but it's also an unearned twist that the game achieves by outright lying to the player during one mission.

I beat Assassin's Creed III in a little over 12 hours, and for the first six hours, I was being tossed from one tutorial to the next. Imagine that: six hours of tutorials. That's half the game. That's an entire Call of Duty campaign. That's The Dark Knight, twice.

This is a series in desperate need of focus. There's padding everywhere. It's an incredibly bloated experience full of all sorts of story beats and gameplay mechanics and mundane missions that simply aren't needed, would be laughed at in any other medium, and add nothing to the core concept of assassinating people.

For instance, you can build up your "homestead" by hiring different kinds of artisans, like a farmer, a lumberer, and a blacksmith, and level up each by doing favors for them. You can craft recipes for items that you trade through caravans to get more materials for crafting. You can engage in naval warfare to unlock new trade routes to make trading more profitable. You can hunt animals and collect their pelts to use for crafting and trading. These are whole systems that I avoided completely (with the exception of naval warfare, but only because those missions were marked by Templar icons, so I thought I was advancing the plot in some way instead of just wasting my time) because they have nothing to do with assassinating people.

I guess that's to be expected when you consider that the protagonist, Ratonhnhaké:ton, isn't even an Assassin. Sure, he'll eventually put on the hood and look the part, but he is not an Assassin. He doesn't believe in the cause or care about the Order. He barely cares about fighting Templars. Really, all he wants is to protect his village from all the encroaching white people.

And that's where the game gets really bad: with its haphazard, factually inaccurate, extremely judgmental depiction of history. When Ubisoft Montreal said that Assassin's Creed III is not a pro-America game, they weren't kidding. On a surface level, it absolutely is. You'll predominantly be killing British soldiers, working with colonists, and replacing British flags with American ones. But actually, there's a much deeper undercurrent of thinly veiled hatred toward America lurking just below the surface that's almost impossible to avoid.

Ratonhnhaké:ton is a fiercely self-righteous idealist through and through, but ultimately nothing more than a conduit meant to channel Ubisoft Montreal's disgust at America's history with slavery. The game comes back again and again to the hypocrisy of the colonists fighting for freedom while simultaneously engaging in slave trading. The game pathetically trots out historical figures like Samuel Adams to try to defend it half-heartedly with weak rationalizations, but eventually drops all pretense with a lengthy conversation between Desmond and his British ally, Shaun, where Shaun lambasts America's founding fathers and follows it up with an in-game email subtly titled "American Politics." I'm sure you can guess the content of that email.

Did you know that the Mohawk tribe to which Ratonhnhaké:ton belongs to in the game also engaged in slavery? You probably wouldn't if you trusted Assassin's Creed III's skewed version of history where all white people were bad and all Native American people were good. Then again, I don't know why anyone would trust a game that literally renames its protagonist "Connor" because his actual name is too hard to pronounce to not be racist itself.

There are plenty of other factual inaccuracies, like uniforms and flags being used before they would have been created or grossly modified versions of well-documented historical events. It all culminates in a mission that is both ridiculous and annoying where Ratonhnhaké:ton is literally on the horse with Paul Revere as he makes his famous Midnight Ride, tasking you with steering the horse in whichever direction Revere yells in your ear to go. Again, subtlety is not this game's strong suit.

Imagine that: six hours of tutorials. That's half the game. That's The Dark Knight, twice.

So yeah, on top of everything else, the game's not much fun, either. The controls have been simplified to the point that it feels like you have no real control over the character, which is the opposite direction the series has needed to go for a long time. It tries so hard to let you hold one button and go anywhere that it inevitably ends up being extremely clunky and constantly misinterprets your inputs. You'll scramble up the side of a tree or cling to the wall of a tight alleyway in the middle of a chase and lose your target. The game needed to segregate the running and climbing commands to different buttons, but instead, it interlocked them tighter than ever.

Combat is the same way. Ratonhnhaké:ton is a vicious fighter, and he doesn't really need your help to do it. There are tons of really cool, really brutal animations that want nothing more than for you to sit back, stop pressing buttons, and appreciate them like a museum piece. This is a game that resents player input.

But I can't think of a much better example to demonstrate how backward some of the game's systems are than to just show off how the fast travel works:

Assassin's Creed III is absolutely baffling in how poor the fundamental design can be.

After recently coming off of Dishonored, a game that encourages players to have a unique approach to each mission and gives them the tools and space to do so, Assassin's Creed III felt claustrophobic. There's nothing inherently wrong with taking a linear approach to mission design, but the missions here just aren't fun. Very few of them even involve assassinating a high-profile target, more often opting to have you eavesdrop on moving targets, perform busywork for other characters, or directly intervene in a historical event in whatever way makes the least amount of sense, like having Ratonhnhaké:ton command colonial troops in battle.

Ratonhnhaké:ton's story is rarely exciting, so I jumped at any opportunity to play as Desmond instead and advance the main plot. But even Desmond is a bust in this game.

Since the first Assassin's Creed, there's been an implied promise that, at some point, you'll play as Desmond in modern times, roaming a modern city, and assassinating modern Templars. And given that Ubisoft explicitly said that "you're going to see a lot of Desmond. More so than in any past game," I had assumed that meant that they were finally making good on that promise. Not so. Desmond gets a few missions, but only one of them is the least bit interesting, all of them are poorly executed, and his story wraps up in such a rushed, unsatisfying way that I could barely believe that the credits were already rolling.

If you do make it that far in the game, though, make sure to stick around for the heavy-handed epilogue after the credits so Ubisoft Montreal can bash you over the head one last time with its political agenda.

Assassin's Creed III is the weakest game in the series yet and a clear sign that it's time to give the franchise a break and refocus before it becomes completely irrelevant. There will be an Assassin's Creed game next year, but there shouldn't be.

Assassin's Creed III / $59.99 / PS3 [reviewed], 360, PC


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Review // Calvin Harris - 18 Months

It's a weird feeling, realizing that one of your favorite artists has sold out. It's weirder realizing that you don't mind.

The first thing that struck me while listening to Calvin Harris's new album, 18 Months, is how many of the songs I'd already heard before at clubs and parties and just never knew they were Calvin Harris because they sound nothing like him. In fact, as far as I can tell, Calvin himself only sings on two songs, and one of them only as a fairly minor role.

It's pretty obvious listening to 18 Months what Calvin was up to: He's chasing club hits, and he's doing it from an incredibly academic perspective. He's definitely successful at it, but there's a hint of cynicism behind the whole album that doesn't come as much of a surprise when you consider that Calvin freely admits to being really awkward and shy, passing on the drinking and partying that defines the DJ lifestyle. He doesn't even like dancing. So he naturally approaches designing a club hit from an unnatural perspective, from the outside fringes of that world like an uprooted wallflower withering at a party.

And it shows. Almost every song on the album follows the exact same build-and-release structure and has the same three ingredients: a short, repeating synth riff; metronomic, driving bass; and a guest vocalist.

Calvin used to embrace his awkwardness in his music with a faux-egotistical wink; now it feels like he's trying to fly under the radar and pass for one of the cool kids. He doesn't sing about all the different types of girls he likes (but isn't getting) anymore. Instead he has guest vocalists come on to tackle such club-friendly themes as "tonight" and "drinking" to be more palatable to the general public.

One of the songs, a sophisticated little ditty cleverly titled "Drinking From The Bottle," decides to drop all pretense and just cuts to the chase: "Forget about tomorrow / Tonight, we're drinking from the bottle." Another song, "Let's Go," follows suit with lines so generic they sound like a parody: "Tomorrow's good, tonight is better / Let’s make it happen / Let’s make it happen tonight."

Those lyrics from the guy who calls himself "the anti-party," likes going to bed early, doesn't drink, and said he was "really awkward" when Rihanna invited him to hang out in her dressing room with her. It seems just a tad disingenuous in that context.

So yeah, as a huge fan of Calvin Harris's last two records, it's tough to look at 18 Months or his new Ryan Gosling in Drive-inspired makeover without two spoonfuls of skepticism. But it's too easy to get pulled into the songs here to care all that much, even when he's transparently sticking to the club song formula, and that's where he succeeds most. Yes, I could tell that Calvin was trying to draw me into "We'll Be Coming Back" in the cheapest possible ways he could, but that didn't stop me from chanting "we'll be coming back for you one day" and hitting my steering wheel to the beat the whole drive to work.

Of course, that's the interesting thing about releasing an album of dance songs: What is that experience like away from the dance floor? Well, let me tell you, there's something kind of sad about listening to a club banger like "We Found Love" in your room by yourself. 18 Months doesn't even feel like an album, really; it's just a collection of disconnected singles. But I guess that's just what happens when practically every song features a new guest vocalist.

They aren't bad songs. It just sounds like listening to the radio or something. They aren't bad.

Actually, okay, wait. That's not entirely true. "Awooga" might just be the most annoying song I've heard in my entire life, like Calvin left the room and a five-year-old jumped onto his synth.

I still like the album though. "Green Valley" and "School" are both low-key tracks with a lot of style and just a dollop of the funk that made Calvin's last album, Ready For The Weekend, so great. Two early songs, "Bounce" and "Feel So Close," feel like Calvin trying to brace long-time fans like myself for his transition into mainstream obscurity with "We Found Love" and the rest of the album.

Like I said before, I really don't mind. If his goal was to become a household name, he achieved that, and I'm glad he did. I realized that I'd never actually heard Calvin Harris being played in public until 18 Months. Now I can't get away from him. I mean, honestly, the first place I heard "Let's Go" was in a Zumba class (shut up) and had no idea I was listening to Calvin Harris until I heard it again on the album.

And that's kind of what defines 18 Months for me. It doesn't sound anything like his old stuff. It's a pretty obvious grab at generating an album's worth of club hits that all sound generic enough to drift dangerously close to "all these songs sound the same" territory. It's catchy, mindless fun. And sometimes, that's enough.

Calvin Harris — 18 Months / $9.99 / Released October 30, 2012


Sunday, November 11, 2012

In The Shadow Of Giants: The PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale Multiplayer Beta - Part IV

This is the fourth and final installment in a series of articles about PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and its now-finished multiplayer beta. This part will focus on two of the characters, Parappa the Rapper and Sly Cooper.

Last up are the mid-tier characters from the beta, Parappa the Rapper and Sly Cooper. They don't quite pack the punch of Kratos or Colonel Radec, let's say, but at least they make up for it by being nowhere near as slow and lumbering as Sweet Tooth and Fat Princess. They're both really unique characters that play significantly differently from everyone else.

What's interesting about both of these guys is how small they are in comparison to everyone else. In fact, these are the only two characters in the beta that aren't even human. Given how poorly balanced the rest of the beta is, it's not hard to imagine that Parappa and Sly's size could be a killing blow for them as viable characters. Surprisingly enough though, SuperBot Entertainment has done a fine job giving both fighters fair ways of closing the distance and dealing real damage.

I'd even be willing to say that Parappa and Sly are the only two characters in the beta that feel balanced at all.

Parappa the Rapper is a pretty basic character, which is probably why the beta's quick tutorial has you use him. His punches and kicks are all pretty standard stuff and mapped to the square button, making him one of the most quickly accessible characters in the beta. Just mash square and that's one combo you've learned, right there. Mash square while in the air above another player and that's another combo. Very easy stuff.

His square combos are especially useful because they're extremely fast to execute, giving you the upper hand on other players using slower characters. As well, those are the ones that lock other players up in them, so if you want to set your teammate up for a more powerful attack, Parappa can hold those other players in place to buy valuable time.

Parappa can also smack other players around with his skateboard. It's good for slamming enemies into the ground to give yourself a second to think, but I personally haven't found much benefit to knocking enemies over in All-Stars. You can't attack them while they're on the ground, and they have a short period of invulnerability when they get up, so I almost always found it preferable to try to keep opponents standing or knock them up in the air so I can keep attacking and earning super. I really didn't find much use for Parappa's skateboard, especially given the long windup and recovery time that can be easily punished if you miss.

Parappa becomes really interesting with his circle attacks though. Tapping circle without a direction will actually reel other players in (think Scorpion from Mortal Kombat: "Get over here!") next to Parappa so he can start attacking them. It's a fantastic way for Parappa to deal with characters like Kratos who just inherently have a longer reach than him. I will say, though, that it took me a long time to figure out how to even pull off this move due to the game's simplified control scheme. It's still too easy to be always pressing a direction on the left analog stick and forget that there's a whole separate move waiting for you when you stop moving for a second.

He also has a basic dash attack mapped to circle that's similarly good for closing the distance. Parappa can use his boombox to blast other players away, which is a great anti-air attack, or he'll drop it on the ground to continually generate orbs to fill up the super meter. It's particularly risky because anyone can pick up those orbs, so if you've put one down, you might want to stick near it and defend it. It's also another excellent tool when in a team — if you're on a team with a Radec, let's say, who will probably be more or less stationary and holding his ground anyway, dropping a boombox to generate super meter by him will help both of you tremendously and give you an edge over the competition. In free-for-all play, though, there's no one to defend it but yourself.

Parappa and Sly end up being the only two characters
in the beta that actually feel balanced.

Parappa's fortunate in that he has a pretty good lineup of supers, too. His level one is a pretty simple move where Parappa flips forward and kicks in mid-air, killing anyone he comes in contact with. It's good for quickly getting one kill, but not especially great for landing multiple kills at once. It's also very low-cost, so if you have just below a level two super, you can perform it a couple times without having to generate more super meter.

His level two is probably his best. Parappa will hop on his skateboard and ride around the stage, killing anyone he touches. It's like Fat Princess's level two chicken super, but fast enough to actually make it worthwhile. You can often kill the same player again after he respawns if you're quick enough, so for a level two super, it's pretty great.

Parappa's level three super takes over the battle with a short cutscene of him rapping "I Gotta Believe!" and kills all other players on the field. It's good in a pinch since it's guaranteed to kill everyone else, but for my money, I vastly preferred to just use his level two super and try to get three (or more) kills for less super cost. It's especially useless in 2v2 team battles where saving up for a level three super that will only get two kills makes no sense.

The biggest difference between Sly Cooper and the other characters in the beta is that he can't block. Instead, hold the block button turns Sly invisible. It's a pretty fascinating trade-off that makes Sly the most interesting character to play, easily. It radically changed how I approached fights.

Rather than hopping right into the middle of a group fight, I'd turn invisible and pick my moment to strike, then get out again. Rather than dealing with Radec's annoying sniper rifle head-on, I'd sneak up behind him over and over and throw him to steal his super meter. Rather than trying to avoid some of the most dangerous super attacks, like Radec's shooting gallery or Kratos's divine wrath, I'd hide in a corner, unseen, and laugh as they wasted half their super attack looking for me.

Of course, it also means that Sly needs to be extra careful when he finally does fight other characters. His primary attack is his hooked cane, and like Parappa, they're all very basic attacks to understand. He can swipe, dive forward, uppercut, and do a downward smash, all depending on which direction you're pointing with the left analog stick.

Sly has a suite of useful tools that make him a really dynamic character. He has a few moves that stun enemies in place, like an alarm clock and a forward slide that leaves the ground behind him electrified. He can leave a decoy, a mine, or an explosive barrel. He can use a smoke bomb to escape and he has a parachute to slow his fall. But my favorite tool of his though is a little gas bomb that will change the controls around for whichever player it hits, making them easy prey as they panic to figure out what their new button layout is.

Sly's a bit of a mixed bag in terms of supers. His level one super has his pal Murray show up and body slam anyone in front of him. It feels a little more short range than other characters' level one supers, and weaker as a result. His level two super is worse though. He straps on Carmelita Fox's jetpack and flies around the level, dropping bombs on other players. It's a pretty useless super since the jetpack just isn't fast enough to make it a real threat, and I've seen many players come away with zero kills.

His level three is probably the best of any character in the beta. Sly's friend Bentley uses his "binocucom" to take pictures of other players, wiping them from the stage. It's similar to Radec's but can kill multiple players at once, so it can be even more dangerous. The only difference is that Radec's zooms out to the whole stage and gives him a reticle to move around while Sly's zooms in a bit and he moves the camera. It's harder to find players that way, but it's still so easy to kill people that it doesn't matter.

Parappa and Sly end up being the only two characters in the beta that actually feel balanced. They both have really unique abilities that take time to learn and have fair limitations to keep them in check. There's not really much I'd change about Parappa to balance him, but Sly could probably use a little tweaking to make his level one and level two supers better so his winning strategy doesn't always completely revolve around working up to his overpowered level three.

The only other big criticism I have of the beta is that it's way too easy to lose your character in the shuffle, either because if other people are using the same character, the alternate costumes often aren't distinctive enough, or because the game doesn't have an option to have a player indicator over your character only.

Beyond that, I was really impressed with how fun it was. I wasn't sure going in whether the supers concept could be nearly as fun as the damage percentiles in Super Smash Bros., but the beta did wonders to convince me. It's got some issues, but the beta was based on a months-old version of the game, so hopefully they'll be ironed out by the time the game releases.

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale will be released on November 20 for PlayStation 3.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

In The Shadows Of Giants: The PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale Multiplayer Beta - Part III

This is the third installment in a series of articles about PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and its ongoing multiplayer beta. This part will focus on two of the characters, Sweet Tooth and Fat Princess.

If Kratos and Colonel Radec represent the overpowered end of the character balance spectrum of available fighters in the PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale multiplayer beta, then Sweet Tooth and Fat Princess are definitely on the underpowered end. The biggest problem with both of these characters is that they're just slow with nothing to make up for it.

Kratos's Blades of Athena alone have excellent reach, but he also has a number of other tools to keep him formidable even to the quicker characters like Parappa the Rapper and Sly Cooper; and while Radec is a pretty slow character himself, since his main strategy is to be on the other side of the stage as everybody else, it kind of doesn't matter all that much.

But Sweet Tooth and Fat Princess are both close-range heavy hitters without a whole lot of options for outpacing their opponents, who are either faster or can attack them from a distance. Or both, in Kratos's case.

And that's before you consider how terrible their supers are.

I probably had the least luck using Sweet Tooth out of any character. He has some interesting tools at his disposal, like the ability to breath fire, throw molotov cocktails, and a really powerful shotgun, but they're all so limited that I just never got the hang of any of it and never had much fun playing as him.

Take his shotgun as an example. It's a really devastating weapon when it connects, able to send a player flying to the other side of the stage or knock them flat on the ground, but you have to be so close to use it that it's almost worthless. To put it in practical terms, the range of Sweet Tooth's shotgun is shorter than the range of Kratos's Blades of Athena, meaning that Sweet Tooth is always going to lose that matchup. That said, I've definitely gotten caught by other Sweet Tooth players in a loop where they'll knock me down and keep jumping over me from side to side, shooting me down again every time I get up. It was pretty easy to get out of once I realized what was going on, but it definitely caught me off-guard.

He also has a machete that's decent for doing a little up close damage, and he can throw it forward in a high upward arc that's good in theory for hitting players on platforms above you, but I found that my targets were never quite in the right position. Mind you, even if they were, it's really not that powerful of an attack anyway, and you'd be better off throwing his molotov cocktail. It goes out in the same arc, but even if you miss, it'll leave fire on the ground for a few seconds that can still damage other players.

Really, it seemed like Sweet Tooth was better suited as a support character in 2v2 team matches. I'd play as Kratos and take most of the heat while my housemate, playing as Sweet Tooth, would use the breathing room to start up his attacks that have a bit of a windup, like the fire breath, or to plant proximity mines while other players were distracted.

In fact, proximity mines are probably Sweet Tooth's most useful tool. He can throw them down while he's jumping to get players below him, plant them when other players aren't looking then lure those players over them, use them to launch other players up in the air then attack them while they're helpless, or protect a teammate like Radec that needs space to work.

But All-Stars is all about supers. And in that respect, Sweet Tooth comes up short.

Sweet Tooth's level one super has him rush forward, grab an enemy, strap a bomb to him, then kick him away to explode in mid-air. If you time it just right though, you can kick that player into a group of other players and take them all out. It's rare, but satisfying. Given the low cost, it's probably his best super.

His level two is his worst, easily. Sweet Tooth will plant himself on the ground and fire a slow-moving nuke that he controls. You can take out multiple players with it, but given how slow it is, it's way too easy for other players to see it coming and move out of the ridiculously small blast radius.

All-Stars is all about supers. And in that respect,
Sweet Tooth comes up short.

It's another example of why Sweet Tooth is better on a team than on his own. While I played as Parappa the Rapper, I locked up both members of the other team in a long combo just as my housemate fired off Sweet Tooth's nuke and took them both out. The nuke would be way better if there was some visual indication of how big the blast radius actually is, but there isn't, so I generally just saved up for his level three super.

As with everyone else, Sweet Tooth's level three is his most devastating. He'll transform into the giant Mecha Tooth from this year's Twisted Metal and lay waste to everyone around him using his machine guns. It's pretty cool, but he's really slow in it and it can be hard to maneuver if you need to get in a different position to take out a hiding player. He can also stomp and crush players that try to stay by Mecha Tooth's feet and avoid his guns.

It's a pretty good level three, but the lack of maneuverability and the total ineffectiveness of his level two super are pretty big marks against him as a character — if you realize that you just don't have enough time to get a level three before the match ends, you'll have to fire off his level two, and it's just not worth it. It's all-or-nothing.

Fat Princess isn't much better. She's slow, which makes sense, but she doesn't really make up for it elsewhere.

Her square attacks all revolve around using a wand to smack other players around. They're light attacks that are pretty good for combos, but as was the problem with Kratos, it's too easy to be holding a direction when pressing the square button, which has her dash forward as she smacks with the wand. It's a great way to miss your opponent completely and get punished for it.

I found her triangle attacks to be a little more useful in general. She can pirouette, hitting nearby opponents a few times as she spins, then transition immediately into a butt stomp to send them flying. Her butt stomp has pretty good splash damage, letting you attack a cluster of players from above, and her belly bump attack is especially great in the air as she thrusts forward and knocks into her opponents.

But her circle attacks are her absolute worst. Each calls out one of her minions to either dash forward and slice with his sword, shoot fireballs, or plant a bomb. The slice move almost never worked for me, or if it did, it didn't have much of an effect; the fireballs were similarly ineffective since most players are fast enough to dodge around them easily; and the bomb just seemed like a less useful version of Sweet Tooth's proximity mine.

I felt like I was always struggling to build my super meter as Fat Princess because I was constantly getting bullied by other players. I saw a couple players having more luck than me, but by and large, Fat Princess was consistently one of the lowest scoring characters in my time with the beta. I'd blame part of that on her supers.

By and large, Fat Princess was consistently one of the lowest scoring characters in my time with the beta.

In theory, Fat Princess has a pretty great lineup of supers. With her level one, she throws out a piece of cake in front of her and rushes forward to devour it, killing anyone in her way. It should work the same way as Kratos's, which I could use to pretty reliably get two or three kills with, but for whatever reason, I could only ever seem to get one or two with Fat Princess's cake throw. Maybe it's because she's slower or doesn't have the range of his level one super, but whatever the reason, I just couldn't seem to connect as easily.

Her level two super spawns a big chicken that Fat Princess rides around, dashing and killing, dashing and killing. It's a lot like Parappa the Rapper's level two super where he rides a skateboard and kills players with it, only it's slower and therefore, a lot less useful. I rarely got more than two kills with it because other players could easily just get around me to the other side of the stage, and I just never seemed to have enough time to follow them before the super would wear off.

Unlike most characters' level three supers in the beta, Fat Princess's doesn't require any player input at all. Her minions fill the screen, throwing fireballs and bombs everywhere. You can die multiple times during it, making it pretty good at racking up kills, but it's not impossible to dodge, either. It certainly doesn't compare to Radec or Sly's, but it's a fun super on either side.

All of Fat Princess's supers have the potential to be pretty great with a few tweaks and make her a much more dangerous character, but right now, it's hard enough even to build up to her supers that it almost doesn't even matter that they all could use a couple tweaks to make them better.

What struck me most about Sweet Tooth and Fat Princess is how awkward they both felt to use. Kratos has a fantastic set of moves that feel organic and make him a really fun character to play. Even Radec's moves feel like they work together well (when he isn't spamming the sniper rifle over and over). But Sweet Tooth and Fat Princess, on the other hand, feel like they just have a random smattering of moves that don't particularly lead into each other easily and make playing as them clumsy and stilted.

Going up against overpowered characters like Kratos and Radec highlighted for me just how underpowered Sweet Tooth and Fat Princess really are. Neither is well-equipped to deal with either Kratos's speed and reach or Radec's range and power. There's not a whole lot a Sweet Tooth or Fat Princess player can do to move in on a sniping Radec, and it'll waste far too much time trying to chase him around.

Neither character has good enough supers to make up for their weaknesses elsewhere. With a little tweaking though, both characters' supers could be great and keep them competitive, but as they are in the beta, they're the two weakest characters for me and the ones I had the least fun playing as.

For the next installment, I'll examine Parappa the Rapper and Sly Cooper.

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale will be released on November 20 for PlayStation 3.