Month: July 2012

Forgotten Franchises: Legacy of Kain

Creating a long running gaming franchise is no easy task, for every Zelda, Final Fantasy and Metroid there are franchises that faded into obscurity or never really got off the ground, sometimes it’s just a case of really bad luck, as we’ve seen recently with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning even crafting a well-rounded story in a gorgeous world doesn’t necessarily equal success.

With this in mind, here at Zero1Gaming we started talking about franchises from our past that we loved, enjoyed, missed and hope we get to see again.

Legacy of Kain:

Given the choice, whether to rule a corrupt and failing empire; or to challenge the fates for another throw – a better throw – against one’s destiny… what was a king to do? But does one even truly have a choice? One can only match, move by move, the machinations of fate… and thus defy the tyrannous stars.”

The Legacy of Kain franchise first appeared in 1996 and ran for seven years up till 2003. There are five games in the series, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2, Blood Omen 2: Legacy of Kain and Legacy of Kain: Defiance.

The series centres on two main characters, the vampire Kain and the soul devouring wraith Raziel.with the games essentially split into two, the Blood Omen games focussing primarily on Kain and the Soul Reaver games on Raziel, in Legacy of Kain: Defiance the two characters and stories converge.

I first came across the series when I got a copy of Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver and within a few hours I was hooked. The best way to describe the game is like a gothic soap opera. This is a game made by adults to be played and enjoyed by adults. There is no dumbing down, there is no hand holding, there is only action, intrigue, duplicity, betrayal, and deceit.

The series was first imagined by Denis Dyack at Silicon Knights who wanted a game with a strong story, something that demanded your focus and concentration. Denis agreed a deal with Crystal Dynamics to publish Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. The first chapter in the series tells the story of Kain, a noble in the fictional land of Nosgoth who is attacked and killed after a brawl in a bar. Mortanius the Necromancer appears to Kain and offers to resurrect him so he can exact his vengance on those that murdered him. Kain, in his lust for revenge, agrees and is brought back as a vampire. What follows is a near 50+ hour adventure into Nosgoth and its inhabitants, its mythology and its history.

Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain was a success for both Crystal Dynamics and Silicon Knights, however the relationship between the companies deteriorated over the future of the series, the disputes ended when Silicon Knights passed the IP for the franchise over to Crystal Dynamics and stepped back.

Crystal Dynamics were now free to continue with their vision for the series and with the help of Eidos Interactive, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was born.

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver takes place 1500 years after Blood Omen and the opening cinematic tells of a world that is decaying. Kain resides over this doomed land and vampires have now risen to become the dominant species. Players take control of Raziel, one of Kain’s lieutenants who after evolving before Kain is cast down into the eternal abyss. As in the previous game Raziel is rescued and saved from death by the Elder God, a being who lives under the land and controls the Wheel of Fate. The Wheel is spun by the movement of souls through it but as Vampires are immortal their souls do not spin the wheel. Raziel makes a pact with the Elder God to exact his revenge on Kain, clear the Vampire disease from Nosgoth and restore order. Raziel is returned as a wraith and becomes the Elder God’s “soul reaver”

Due to the issues between Crystal Dynamics and Silicon Knights the game was delayed and inevitably cuts had to be made. Amy Henning, the series director, said the team realised they had ‘over designed’ the game and that things that were meant to be included had to be dropped. Luckily, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was yet another triumph which allowed the team to move ahead with Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2.

Soul Reaver 2 is an immediate continuation of the events in the first game. The game was allowed the additional time to be refined and contains the elements from Soul Reaver that had to be cut due to time constraints. You continue to play as Raziel as you delve further into the world of Nosgoth, this time you met Moebius the Timestreamer. Moebius’ arrival allows time travel to become part of the gameplay so now the story becomes even more complicated when paradoxes and time travel start appearing.

Soul Reaver 2 was a hit with many critics stating that it was the game that the first Soul Reaver should have been, the fact that the game was released onto the PlayStation 2 instead of the PlayStation 1 was probably also an aesthetically pleasing factor in the positive reviews. Soul Reaver 2, as with all the other games, ends with a cliff hanger, fans would have to wait another two years before they would find out what happened next. Yet another adventure to Nosgoth would appear much sooner than expected.

The events at the end of Soul Reaver 2 created an alternate timeline; this version of events was explored in Blood Omen 2: Legacy of Kain. Following defeat at the hands of the Sarafan Lord, Kain falls into a sleep and wakes up 400 years later. During his time asleep the Sarafan have nearly wiped the vampires out of existence. They have invented Glyph magic and some vampires have even defected to ensure their survival. Kain’s mission is to defeat the Sarafan and continue his rise to power. Although the game had gone into development around the same time as the original Soul Reaver it wasn’t the success Crystal Dynamics had hoped for.

Every long running franchise has a ‘black sheep’, the game that sits outside the usual perception of the series. Blood Omen 2 is Legacy of Kain’s. It’s not a bad game per se but it is a noticeable departure from the rest of the series. The gameplay is more action focussed and the game’s place in the chronology of the series is never really fully explained.

The final game in the series is Legacy of Kain: Defiance. Continuing on from the events of Soul Reaver 2, Defiance allows players to play as Raziel and Kain. The story takes place in different times with both Raziel & Kain beginning to understand the game they have been involved in.. Playing from Kain’s point of view allows you to see that despite the fact he has been shown to be knowledgeable in the previous games, he is in fact as much a pawn as Raziel at the hands of Moebius and the Elder God.

While I don’t believe the game was intended to be the end to the series, the lack of sales mixed with departures from within the team (Amy Henning may be familiar to fans of the Uncharted series) as well as the sad death of Tony Jay who voiced the Elder God, meant that the game does stand as the finale even if it’s not perfect.

Over the past few years games have tended to pander to the crowd. They have become simpler, stories have been watered down, game play has reduced to point and shoot, and even the latest iterations of franchises that once stood for puzzle solving and exploration have been changed to make them more accessible for wider audiences. I have no problem with more people getting involved in gaming but not at the detriment to games I have invested heavily in. The Legacy of Kain series never pandered. If anything it got more complicated as the games went on, from a simple top down adventure to a full on literary epic in five moves is pretty impressive.

Towards the end, the series may have become bogged down in its own mythology and the amount of paradoxes it started creating was baffling but at the centre were two fantastically written characters. Kain & Raziel are the ‘heart’ of the series, but they are not your typical heroes, both have done terrible things and will do whatever it takes to accomplish their goals. This only helps make them more realistic than a selfless carbon copy hero, the good guys might be the ones we have to root for but the bad guys are more interesting.

The series has been praised heavily for the in-depth story, the art direction and the voice acting. Michael Bell is perfect as Raziel and is able to portray the continued frustration and bewilderment as the story evolves yet the true star is Simon Templeman’s Kain. His pitch, tone and pacing are all perfect, his soliloquies are highlights and now anytime time I hear Templeman’s dulcet tones in any other game (and he is in quite a few!!) I am reminded of Kain.

The series ended in 2003 but lately there have been signs that it’s not been forgotten. In 2010’s Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, also created by Crystal Dynamics, Kain & Raziel are available as DLC with their own story to tell, Eidos US CEO Bill Gardner has also expressed an interest in reviving the franchise and in March 2012 a source told VG247 that a full on reboot of Soul Reaver was in the works yet Crystal Dynamics and Eidos have remained tight lipped. I would love to see a reboot, a remake or even a HD upgrade collection of the Soul Reaver games, but for now the franchise is dead and until anyone official says otherwise all I have are my memories of one of the most interesting, complicated, exciting, series I’ve ever played!

Vae Victis!

Weekly Wrap Up: Week 4 of July

Welcome back gamers to the end of another week, and the end of another month.  A lot of news regarding releases made it out this week, and other news rumbling a whole gaming platform.  Let’s go look what has happened.

Earlier this week, Blizzard Entertainment announced the release date for the fourth expansion for World of Warcraft.    On September 25 Mists of Pandaria launches, which will allow players to embark on the adventure to Pandaria.  Presales for Mists of Pandaria are now currently available.  As part of the release, there is a standard edition which will be retailed at $39.99 and a Collector’s Edition for $79.99/£59.99. A Digital Deluxe version will also be available for the first time which will include all the digital items of the Collector’s Edition for a lower cost.  “Mists of Pandaria contains the biggest variety of new content we’ve ever created for a World of Warcraft expansion, with features that will appeal to new players, veterans, and everyone in between,” said Mike Morhaime, CEO and cofounder of Blizzard Entertainment. “We’ve received a lot of great feedback from players during our most extensive beta test yet, and we hope they enjoy exploring everything Pandaria has to offer when the expansion comes out in September.”  Players can start their level grind in under two months.

Word from Kotaku is, Ubisoft has sent a letter to congratulate Gamestop Stores for their large amounts of preorders for the upcoming Assassin’s Creed III.  In the memo, it was revealed that a development team is being put together to create DLC content post launch.  To further sweeten the pot, individuals who subscribe to the season pass will get a significant value over individuals who pass on that offer.  For those who remember the Assassin’s Creed II DLC, it was used to mainly fill out the content that the developers didn’t have time to include in the main game.  This shows that a little more focus went into the single-player game, versus the predicted multiplayer content which is to come.

 This week also had a sneak peak at the multiplayer trailer for Assassin’s Creed III.  This peak was short lived as the trailer was removed from most sites that hosted the video.  In the video, the voice that guided players in the Revelations’ multiplayer reveals that the multiplayer story for AC3 as being a training exercise within Abstergo.  What the trailer revealed was a new artic map,  and two new modes – Wolfpack and Domination.  In addition to what was added, the popular Manhunt, Wanted, Team Deathmatch and more will make their way back to multiplayer.  Players can backstab Templars in October.

 

This week, a couple major players in the PC gaming world voiced their concerns about Microsoft’s new operating system.  First stabs came from Valve’s co-founder, Gabe Newell, whom said that Windows 8 would be “a catastrophe” for PC game makers. “I think that Windows 8 is kind of a catastrophe for everybody in the PC space. I think that we’re going to lose some of the top-tier PC [original equipment manufacturers]. They’ll exit the market. I think margins are going to be destroyed for a bunch of people. If that’s true, it’s going to be a good idea to have alternatives to hedge against that eventuality,” said Newell.  Afterwards, Blizzard’s Executive Vice President of Game Design, Rob Pardo, tweeted that Microsoft’s new OS is “not awesome for Blizzard either”.  This concern arises from the controlled environment that Windows 8 presents in program distribution and lack of open source that is currently available on Windows operating systems.  Because of the issue presented, the option to make future games available on Linux, another open source  operating system.

 That’s all for this week, check to Zero1Gaming for  gaming news, reviews, and more!

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD

The feeling of being 15 again really is a joyous one. Back before the Skate series came along with its fancy twin stick controls, the Tony Hawk’s series were the games of choice for skater boys and girls alike. After a couple of mediocre games in the main series and a dip in sales thanks to the success of the aforementioned Skate series, Activision has attempted to recapture its past glory with the release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD.

 

The game attempts to fuse the old and new school by offering a number of classic tracks, characters and songs from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater one and two along with a few of the newer school skaters and some more modern tunes. The graphical update looks nice but never spectacular. The skaters all look great but some of the levels still look very angular and boxy, rather than having smooth edges. However, on balance it is still a good looking game overall for an Xbox Live Arcade release. The mix of songs from the older games with newer tracks works very well, and none of the songs feel out of place in the game.

 

As for playing the game itself, anyone who has ever played one of the main games in the Tony Hawk’s series will feel right at home, with the face buttons each performing different actions; ollies, flip tricks, grinds and so on. As soon as I loaded up the first level, I found myself reeling off long combos as if I had never left the series in the first place. In order to keep the game as authentic to the originals as possible the revert feature, initially introduced in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, that allowed you to combo straight into a manual after landing from a quarter pipe is not included as all the levels are from Tony Hawk’s one and two. I understand Activision’s logic in doing this, but at the same time it would have been nice to see it included as series stalwarts will see it as a step backwards having been accustomed to the feature for so long. It would also have been interesting to see what new lines and combo’s players could come up with if the feature had been included. Activision have said that reverts will be included with the upcoming DLC, which makes sense seeing as the levels will be from Tony Hawk’s 3, however they have stated that reverts will only be available on the new levels, it is my personal hope they go back on this and make reverts available across all levels.

 

”Hang on, which way does this thing go again….”

The career maintains the old school feel of the game, giving you a number of goals on each of the seven fan favourite levels included and imposes a two minute time limit. The objectives vary from simple score challenges to collecting skate letters, finding secret DVDs and other, more oddball tasks and it all feels suitably nostalgic. If you are good enough to complete all the tasks on a level with one character, you unlock PROjectives for that level, which are the same sort of tasks but more difficult, challenging experienced players. After that there are a few other modes but none that hold the same sort of interest as the career.

 

Once you are done with single player, you can head online in head to head matches. This is a significant inclusion as it is the first time these maps have ever been available for play. However, a somewhat surprising inclusion is that to make way for online multiplayer, local multiplayer has been sacrificed. This is a big blow to the game as one of the main addictive features of the old Tony Hawk’s games was getting a few friends round and having round of local, split-screen multiplayer.

 

Online but sadly no local multiplayer.

The games main issue is with its longevity. Any semi-experienced Tony Hawk’s player will blast through the career in a few hours and even amateur players will not take much longer. After that the games only real hook is the online multiplayer which really depends on your mindset as to how much you get out of it. Extra DLC is promised, bringing new levels, features and challenges but until they get released this is a fairly small package. There are other, more minor, issues too. More than once I found myself glitching out the map or bailing for no reason. Also, having been used to the features introduced in later games such as the aforementioned revert or the ability to get off of your board, it is occasionally frustrating not to have these features at your fingertips.

 

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD’s biggest draw is the feeling of nostalgia one gets when loading up old levels from days gone by. Any old Tony Hawk’s fan will feel elated for the first few runs on any of the levels and the controls hold true to form, meaning it really does make you feel like you are playing the originals again. I would instantly recommend this game to any fans of the original games and regard it as a must buy for their collections. However, it is hard to look past the brevity of the game and any player who does not share the same sense of nostalgia will probably be left frustrated by how little the game offers.

 

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is available on the Xbox Live Marketplace for 1200ms.

Mass Effect 3 Earth DLC

Never let it be said that BioWare doesn’t make you earn your happy ending. With the release of the Earth DLC for Mass Effect 3‘s multiplayer mode, BioWare has given players three new maps — Rio, an oil-drilling storage platform; Vancouver, and London, both reminiscent of the single-player locations — and a new difficulty level in Platinum mode. Not only are enemies more vicious and unrelenting, but each round starts to feel like a literal wave of enemies when Reapers appear alongside Cerberus troopers. If a team gets far enough, they’ll be facing all three kinds of enemies, Cerberus, Geth, and Reaper, and all the troubles that come with them. Picture if you will, the tactical precision of a Cerberus assault squad, aided and abetted by the heavy weapons of Geth Primes and Pyros as well as the mobile tanks and one-hit kills of Reaper Ravagers and Banshees.

To combat this combined threat, BioWare has also given three new weapons and six new characters, one for each class and all of N7 designation, so you know they’re the highest quality. The Piranha assault shotgun offers arguably the largest clip of all available while maintaining decent power. With the proper mods, bosses will drop before they’ve taken two steps. The Typhoon mini-machine gun pumps out an amazing amount of lead and ends low-level mooks very quickly. And the Acolyte pistol, with its charged shot, specializes in stripping shields, which makes it perfect for N7 Shadows and Furies, who rely on biotics, not ballistics, for damage.

And speaking of the new classes, if they look familiar, they are. N7 Furies are a reskinned Kasumi, Paladins are essentially Cerberus Guardians, and Shadows, Cerberus Phantoms. Their skill lists, however, make for creative kills, despite being filled mostly with known powers. The N7 Devastator Soldier’s self-named Devastator Mode increases accuracy, clip size, and rate-of-fire, making him a powerhouse on the field. He’s also the only class that has a missile launcher as a separate ability, as well as multi-frag grenade launcher.

N7 Fury Adepts have no need for weapons, as they are living weapons themselves.  Not only do they have Throw and Dark Channel abilities but the Annihilation Field, a new ability that primes any enemy in range for a biotic explosion, making the Fury a truly fearsome foe.

N7 Shadow Infiltrators have the Tactical Cloak, of course, but what players are interested in are the two new abilities: Shadow Strike and Electric Slash. ME2 veterans will remember the former as one of Kasumi Goto’s abilities and best used against single enemies, especially in high-profile-target rounds. The Electric Slash is the new wrinkle that looks like a Phantom’s dodge but with a new Shockwave-looking mechanic, best used against groups. Theoretically, a player could start a Shadow Strike on a single target at the back of a group and follow up into an Electric Slash to cripple the rest before disappearing behind Tactical Cloak. Gives whole new meaning to the term “hit-and-run tactics.”

N7 Demolisher Engineers live up to their name with their Supply Pylon ability, which grants for its duration extra shields and full reloads of ammo and grenades for nearby allies, a useful feature considering the Demolisher’s other abilities are both grenades. The Arc Grenade, like the Arc Pistol, creates a localized EMP burst that depowers all shields and barriers, while the Homing Grenade does exactly what it says on the tin, causing massive damage for its unlucky recipient.

N7 Paladin Sentinels were given, in addition to the usual fire and ice attacks, a full-body omni-shield, which initially reminded me of the former Shadow Broker’s shield during his boss fight, a shield that you can mod to spit ice or incendiary effects upon opponents. The shield itself is very handy against frontal assaults. Properly modded, it could conceivably stand against heavy troopers like the Ravager or Geth Rocket Launcher. But as it is just a frontal shield, players can still be flanked, so pay attention to your sides. And with the shield as the Paladin’s heavy melee, their Energy Drain ability is a more viable choice. Draining an enemy’s shields and then smacking them with your shield makes quite the devastating one-two punch.

Finally, N7 Slayer Vanguards have, besides their Charge skill, an ability called Phase Disruptor, which takes half their barrier and fires it as a tight-beam laser blast, devastating anyone in its path and looking extremely cool while doing so. Their other new ability, the Biotic Slice, actually looks similar to the Shadow’s Electric Slice with more power behind it. It’s the same Shockwave ability, just on a different character with the power cranked up. All in all, the Slayer looks to be dangerous at any range.

 

So, what are your thoughts on the new DLC? Do you have a favorite character, weapon combo, or map? Maybe you have a build you want to share. Let us know in the comments section down below, and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @zero1gaming, and Like us on Facebook.

Lone Survivor

Impulse buys. We’ve all experienced them. You picked up a game and after looking at the cover you’re instantly drawn into the game and throwing your money at the seller. Those pesky people at Steam had advertised Lone Survivor as I was aimlessly searching through for some cheap games. I had heard nothing about it, seen nothing of it apart from the image that was on the page above the ‘Purchase’ button.

Lone Survivor is a survival horror game by Jasper Bryne. A comic book/pixelated game, graphically; it reminded me something that could perhaps be a contender against the Scott Pilgrim comics. The character you play as, referred to as ‘You’ but who I swiftly named Steve, has been trapped within the city as an outbreak of monsters has happened. The basic core of a story involving a character being trapped within their city during an outbreak or some form of disease is not exactly a new one to the gaming world and one that’s been told more times than Cinderella losing her shoe. Still, I started the game with a neutral opinion on it and jumped into the horror that it was no doubt about to deliver.

I really liked the character ‘You’ (aka Steve) – the comments on things as they explored the city were amusing and I slowly got more interested into their mental state. There are several times throughout the game where Steve has a blackout and enters a dream where you can encounter other people who will play tricks on what you (the player) believes is true.  It’s a thin twisting layer that sits nicely on top of the basic story that I was previously talking about but it wasn’t something that pulled me right into the game and kept me hooked. I constantly found myself getting distracted and/or fed up with playing Lone Survivor after a few hours but yet I found myself returning to it later on in the day to play some more, but what had a hold of my mind that I had to carry on playing it?

Two things struck out to me as being executed and put together really well for the game, much like Irn Bru and a Scottish person, was the sound and visuals.  I enjoyed playing on the pixelated graphics of the game and I was surprised that even with the constraint of chance for cinematic cut scenes, the hallucinations and the blackouts were done really well. With a black screen, I was instantly unsettled and wondered what monsters was going to pop up in front of me or where I would be.  With eerie music being played while you were walking coming to a sudden halt to have vicious outbreaks of sound as your character blackouts – you can’t put in a bad word on how well they’ve brought these two elements together to provide a starting point to a decent horror experience to the player. Unfortunately, I felt the monsters let the game down due to them not exactly adding to the suspense that was starting to be set up with the visuals and sound of the game. The monsters didn’t pose much of a threat to me as I could easily sneak past them or kill them with a few bullets and nor did they jump out at you like any other horror game would have thought to have been second nature. There was a lack of diversity with the monsters as well. With all due respect, each respective type of monsters got progressively harder to kill off but with only two main types of monsters and the same number of bosses – the challenge of this game didn’t really lie with the monsters coming to attack you in the middle of the night but relied more on your survival.

With limited supplies on food and ammo at hand, it’s a difficult time to try and get going with your weekly shopping when you have to remember about the monsters patrolling the hallways and streets. As with any post-apocalyptic game, the supplies are scarce.  Surviving on cheese and crackers isn’t exactly agreeing with your stomach, batteries are running low on your flashlight, ammo is almost gone – where do you go?! Lone Survivor has the answer that perhaps isn’t something that you should rely on whenever this does inevitably happen in real life – popping pills. Three types pills are at your disposal in Lone Survivor – red, green and blue – each with their own perks, so to speak. One will provide you with an instant lift and keep you on your feet and no side effects from it. The other two could potentially land Steve with some extra ammo or batteries being delivered out of thing air but they cause drowsiness and give Steve some really messed up nightmares. This is where Lone Survivor starts to play tricks and gets your mind working overdrive. What is real? Is this person really there and if so, am I actually speaking to them. What is that person trying to tell me?!  Progressing through the story some more, when you do cross someone that becomes your friend, I was sitting there asking myself “are they real, is this happening?” for a good while.  Known as The Director, you can go to his apartment and visit him to get those precious supplies, sometimes free although he does like to trade for those Sleepy Cat comics he so desires.

Although you have a person helping you on the supply side of things, Lone Survivor doesn’t directly hold your hand through the game. Without checking the radio and diary situated in your room on a regular basis, it’s easy to become lost and confused on where you’re meant to go. Thankfully, with a bit of an annoying save system, you will be visiting your room often enough to be kept in the know. I saw the small matter of saving my game a bit of an arduous task. Having to sleep in your own bed to save your progess, I often found myself making minimal progress with the game in between saves. It felt like I was taking a few baby steps before taking a bit of a leap back when I thought I best go save the game. Whenever I tried to go that little bit extra before returning to the apartment, I would be killed off and have to start from my previous save – somewhat of a pain in my butt when I had just found the place I needed to go. With Lone Survivor being a 2D side scrolling game, it can be a bit of a difficult task to try and navigate your way through the environment. Thankfully, they’ve met you halfway and provided you with a map but, the constant checking of the map to ensure you’re on the right path or in the right room is a hassle in itself.  As I have already touched upon, I was often finding myself wanting to turn off the game and do something else and I reckon these played a factor towards that.

In saying that, even though I have identified some negatives about the game, Lone Survivor is an enjoyable game to complete over the course of a weekend, especially if you’ve picked it up cheap in the Steam Summer Sale. With various endings to the game depending on what pills you’ve been taking more of (yes you will become a drug user throughout this game just don’t do it in real life kids!), it has the potential sitting there for some replay value for those who wish to go back through it again but after my first play through, I didn’t feel like the game had left any impact on me to make me want to back through it again. Perhaps this could be a different story in a couple of months but we shall see.

Lone Survivor stands well as a survival game however it does lack some of the horror aspects that I was hoping to get from playing it. Where the visuals and sounds do the game justice, the elements of enemies and a bland and predictable story didn’t deliver for me and accumulate to what could have been a real gem of a game. Because of that, I give Lone Survivor a 6.5 out of 10 – definitely a buy at a cheap price for an fun game but not one that I would be pouring my money at.