Saturday, July 25, 2009

The End of the World

It seems you cannot swing a cat (or for those in the southern US, a possum) these days without running into a post-apocalyptic game being touted as the Next Big Thing, so this is a short run-down of recent and upcoming p-a games together with their potential of success.

First off we have everyone's favourite, Fallout 3. 2008's "Game of the Year" by almost anyone who matters, Bethesda's revival of the old Interplay favourite produced an immersive, open world where you could do almost anything. I picked it up myself during the recent sale on Steam and while enjoyable, it hasn't had the lasting appeal I had hoped for. If anything it's a little too "open-worldy" for me. I enjoy a bit of linearity here and there and Fallout 3 just plonks you down and leaves you to fend for yourself. I'm clearly in the minority though as everyone else and their dogs seem to absolutely love it, although one consistent gripe from many sources is that the main storyline is too short.

Bethesda have also {continued to support the game post-release / milked the game dry for all it's worth} (delete as you believe is appropriate) by releasing regular installments of downloadable content. So far we've had Operation: Anchorage, The Pitt, Broken Steel and Point Lookout with the final DLC offering Mothership Zeta due in a matter of weeks. All are (unfortunately) available on Games For Windows Live for a price of 800 Microsoft Points or, for people who live in the real world and don't use pretend Monopoly money, 10 of your hard-earned United States Dollars. Of these the most successful and well-received has been Broken Steel, which upped the level cap from 20 to 30 and did a bunch of other nice things. Both O: A and The Pitt received middle of the road/poor reviews with Point Lookout falling somewhere in-between.

Chance of greatness: 100% (all those Game of the Year awards make this a no-brainer)

Next up we've got Earthrise from Belgian developer Masthead Studios. A post-apoc MMO that has chosen the classless route, you instead define your character by the skills you have him choose and gain proficiency by using them. There is also said to be an offline component to the game, perhaps similar to Eve Online where learning (or forgetting) certain skills takes amounts of real time that passes whether you are logged in or not.

Some of the screenshots are impressive, and give the feeling that Fallout got drunk and had a baby with Guild Wars. This will be Masthead's first project though, so it remains to be seen what the finished product will look like. For now you can sign up for the beta and hope to see Earthrise's retail release sometime before the end of 2009.

Chance of greatness: 50% (this one could go either way)

Rage is my next selection, from the good old Texans down at id Software. This will be id's first new IP in almost 14 years, since there are only so many sequels to Quake and Doom that you can make before people start to yearn for something different, although this hasn't stopped id from quietly starting work on Doom 4.

We won't be seeing Rage until Spring 2010, but id have recently been doing a few interviews and releasing more information about the project. It seems to be heavily influenced by Fallout but with a dash of vehicular combat and racing on the side. id also started a viral website for the game, titled After the Impact, that is gradually revealing more and more tidbits about the title. Initially there were just a couple of objects to click on in the background scenery, but after being updated over several weeks there are now some NPCs you can interact with who will give you a little backstory. It's an interesting way to do things, typical of id, and should help to further interest in the game over the coming weeks and months.

Rage is also one of two FPS games slated to use id's next-generation graphics engine id tech 5 (the other game being Doom 4), which among other things is able to run on almost any hardware. This means not only will you be seeing Rage on the PC (id's traditional home) but also on the 360 and PS3, and running almost identically on all of them. Whether this is just marketing truthiness or has some basis in fact remains to be seen.

Chance of greatness: 80% (it's hard to bet against id)

Coming in at number three on my list (and these are in no particular order) we have a little game called Borderlands. This is a game I have been heavily interested in for about 3 years now, since I first saw the trailer for it during the 2006 Spike TV Video Game Awards. Borderlands is also the first of these games I have mentioned to be set on a planet other than Earth. In this case the game is set on a distant planet known as Pandora, which while initially was gobbled up many corporations trying to find its secrets, has now been left in ruins after most of these people turned around and left empty-handed. There is rumoured to be a massive cache of alien weapons though, and it's up to you to find it...

Borderlands is famous in part for its claim that there are well over 500,000 weapons able to be found in the game, as loot is generated dynamically. I for one don't have 500,000 pockets and typically when you've seen one badass gun you've seen them all, but I'm certainly willing to give the developers, Gearbox Software (another company out of Texas) a break on this one. 4-player online co-op and what is being described as the world's first "role-playing shooter" make this a title that is either going to be amazing or the flop of the year.

The game has a very unique look, almost cel-shaded. This style was only recently implemented in its development cycle. Previously it had a much less stylized, more realistic visual appearance. I for one think the new style looks amazing and some of the recent gameplay videos really do make this game look good:

Borderlands now has a solid release date of 20th October in North America and the 23rd October in Europe, so we don't have much longer to wait.

Chance of greatness: 70% (Gearbox have a good track record, since they produced the well-received Half-Life expansion packs Blue Shift and Opposing Force as well as the Brothers in Arms series of games, but it remains to be seen whether gamers will go for the new art style)

That's your lot for today, I'll be making a second post tomorrow with the final picks for my post-apocalyptic run-down.

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