Rez HD

In case you didn’t know, Rez HD is out on Xbox Live Arcade now for 800 points. It’s basically the same game as the Dreamcast and PS2 versions, but with HD graphics, 5.1 sound and all the expected online leaderboards gubbins. Buy it if you haven’t already.

Yesterday’s download was the first time I’ve played the game in a couple of years – pretty much since I bought a bargain copy in Japan in 2005 – and it’s even more of a trippy assault on the senses than it was then. If you have an HDTV and a 5.1 system I consider it to be a must-buy, in a similar way to how Geometry Wars became an unlikely early poster child for HD gaming. I’m so glad that stuff like this is getting a new lease of life in downloadable form, without the limited print runs that marred its retail performance on release.

Ignoring the inexplicable oversight to make the game default to stereo sound (go into the settings and set it to 5.1 if you haven’t), essentially turning off one of the game’s main selling points, I spent a couple of hours playing the first couple of stages. It’s the ultimate chillout game – even against similar ideas like flOw or Electroplankton – that you can just sit back with and only worry about a stick and a couple of buttons while it plays some great music for you. I love it, and consequently was listening to the Rez soundtrack at work for most of the day today.

Given that Rez HD also supports using controllers as up to three trance vibrators, much to the presumable delight of Jane Pinckard, unless you’re desperate to have the game on your shelf as part of the collection there’s no reason to bother with the disc-based editions. This one costs £6.80 – that’s SIX POUNDS EIGHTY PENCE, or roughly 1/7th of the recent going price for a Dreamcast copy on eBay – and even has the original 4:3 standard definition version in there for the luddites. Just try to make an excuse not to buy it.

Devil May Cry, but I certainly will…

Devil May Cry 4

Despite my (correct) assertions that Ninja Gaiden is the best of the current big three 3D actioners, I’ve remained something of a Devil May Cry virgin. I’ve gotten to first base with the series, having owned the godawful PAL version of the original, but when I got frustrated with that and saw the bad reviews for DMC2 I just stopped caring about the series, so I never went all the way.

Naturally, with Devil May Cry 4 available in demo form and shortly to be released in all its glory, now is the time for me to get cosy with Dante. And that’s the last love analogy, I promise.

I nabbed myself a copy of the Devil May Cry 5th Anniversary Collection, which contains the three PS2 instalments in all their NTSC full-screen full-speed glory. A good deal at their original retail price, but thanks to some credit they only set me back £20. If you need proof that now is a good chance to go back and get the last generation’s classics for ridiculously low prices – assuming you don’t have a 40GB PS3 ;) – there you go.

I haven’t even had the chance to touch the second two games, being that I’ve found the first one obscenely hard. For all the flak that Ninja Gaiden gets for being difficult, when I revisited that last year I can honestly say that I didn’t hit a sticking point like I did with THE FIRST BOSS in Devil May Cry; the same point at which I got stuck when I first bought the game. I was getting my arse kicked, to the point that I restarted the game from scratch and spent a while fighting the enemies of the second mission, getting enough red orbs to buy more powerful attacks. Essentially I was being forced to grind in an action game. And when I did finally beat him I immediately suffered a kicking at the hands (paws?) of some shadowy big cat thing.

But yet I’m still thoroughly enjoying the game, even despite the awkward button layout. I’m finding that it has the same well-pitched learning curve to the combat that I enjoyed in Ninja Gaiden. You can feel yourself getting better at it and although death can be frequent, it’s usually something that you did wrong. It’s the thing that both series do right and that the fireworks of God of War have no answer to. And of course NG makes you feel like a ninja, DMC a badass demon hunter, while both have far deeper combat and combo systems. It’s no contest, really.

The Devil May Cry 4 demo is fantastic, by the way. I’ve played both versions and you can’t go wrong with either (depending on how much £10 is to you), and it’s looking like a phenomenal game – Nero is a great character and playing the original at the same time really shows how much more polished the series has become. And then with any luck by the time I finish it off we’ll be mere weeks away from Ryu’s next appearance. Can’t wait.

2008: The PS3’s Year?

Momentum is an important thing in gaming. It’s undoubtedly with Nintendo – they’re not going to be caught by anyone this year – but the battle for second place is where the interesting things are going down, and the buzz seems to be that while one has run out of steam, the other is picking it up.

Microsoft took the 360’s extra year and used it to spring into a superb 2007, culminating in some spectacular Halo sales and a host of other great games. But Halo is Microsoft’s only guaranteed AAA property, and with a possible Halo 4 as nothing more than a rumour at this point, maybe they’ve shot their load early. While they’ll certainly have big exclusives this year, their E3 ploy of only showing 2007 titles is biting them, now that they’re perceived as having nothing to counter Sony’s current media darlings like Metal Gear Solid 4, LittleBigPlanet, Killzone 2 (everyone apparently forgetting how rubbish the first one was), and maybe Resistance 2.

2008’s first big multiplatform titles, Burnout Paradise and Devil May Cry 4, are also a far cry from the shoddy ports that plagued the PS3 last year, with differences between the platforms ranging from negligible to heavily in Sony’s favour, depending on who you ask. Either way it’s a big improvement, and unless the 360 gets something to counter the graphical prowess of games like Killzone it’s going to help the perception that the PS3 is dramatically more powerful. Not to mention that they don’t break down with monotonous regularity and don’t charge you to play online. Sony should be shouting those facts from the rooftops.

PS3 is pulling ahead in sales throughout most of Europe (the 360 has a small lead in the UK – Europe’s biggest market – but is irrelevant in many countries), and is now pulling respectable numbers in Japan, something that one could never accuse the 360 of doing. While the 360 should maintain a small sales lead each month in the States, depending on how big it stays it might not be enough to ensure that it’s the global sales leader. The recent Blu-ray announcement will only help PS3 sales, and it’s how much it helps that will be telling.

Of course, it’s not true to say that the 360 has no games this year. After Unreal Tournament III has apparently flopped it wouldn’t surprise me to see Epic bounce back with Gears of War 2; Ninja Gaiden II is probably my most anticipated game of the next few months; Too Human finally has some positive buzz; Alan Wake and Fable 2 remain enigmatic but stubbornly omnipresent on release lists; Rare must be doing something more than an XBLA game about furries (camera support will be proof that there is no god); Banjo Threeie is around somewhere, of course; and Halo Wars, despite belonging to a genre that never really works on consoles, has potential. Still, there’s no totemic exclusive to get excited about like a proper Halo or a Metal Gear.

This will be the deciding year for this generation, at least in as much as it could decide who comes second to Nintendo. With E3 not coming around until July, hopefully Microsoft realises this before it’s too late. Or maybe nothing has changed and it’s just the persistent Sony Defence Force on NeoGAF getting to me. Who knows…


Blu-ray wins?

So CES hasn’t officially started yet, but the first megaton of 2008 has been dropped as Warner, currently the biggest studio for HD releases, confirmed that in May they’re dropping support for the HD DVD format. With only two major studios now supporting HD DVD, and one of them on a time-limited contract, it looks like the end of the HD format war is in sight.

The writing has been on the wall for a while now. Despite occasional better versions and, for me at least, a number of compelling exclusive titles, that was probably the death blow for HD DVD. It’s being reported as such, and even the comments from Toshiba have an air of resignition to them. There’s none of the bullishness that was usually found in press releases from both sides, and the cancellation of the HD DVD conference speaks volumes. They were blindsided and need a miracle, frankly.

Ultimately it’s good for HD movies. It will bring stability to the market that it hasn’t had and has probably been a contributor to the tiny size of the market for HD movies so far. I still don’t think Blu-ray will ever come close to the popularity of DVD, but now those who have been sitting on the fence can grow the market. Paramount certainly won’t stay exclusive when their contract period is up, and that will leave Universal as the last ones at the party.

I’m keeping my HD DVD player and keeping my collection, but now I’m only buying the biggest exclusive titles on HD DVD. That means Sweeney Todd and…uhh…hmm…

*goes to watch Serenity on HD DVD again*

The DMC4 Question Made Easy?

I’m sure I’m not alone as a multiconsole gamer currently deliberating which version of Devil May Cry 4 to buy next month. Although it’s apparently been developed for the PC and ported to the consoles, one would expect the PS3 to offer the definitive version in terms of graphics and controls. It also has the benefit of almost zero load times, besides a 45-minute install the first time it’s run.

In any case, I had a nasty shock earlier today when I looked to get my preorder in. I first visited Gameplay, and then had a look around the others and noticed something strange:

  360 Standard PS3 Standard 360 Limited PS3 Limited
Amazon £29.98 (-£10.01) £39.99 £32.99 (-£7.00) £39.99
Game £32.99 (-£7.00) £39.99 £34.99 (-£10.00) £44.99
Gameplay £29.99 (-£10.00) £39.99 £32.99 (-£12.00) £44.99
Play £29.99 (-£10.00) £39.99 £29.99 (-£10.00) £39.99

All prices were correct at the time of writing, and though Gamestation, HMV, and Shopto were also checked they all had only one edition listed.

Why exactly is this? The supposed price increase that Blu-ray would bring for PS3 games never materialised and every previous multiplatform title has had price parity across both systems. Game owns Gameplay which could explain the difference there, but both Amazon and Play are independent which suggests that there’s a uniform difference in RRP. Indeed, the sites all list the PS3 RRP as being higher.

I wouldn’t expect this to become a regular thing, and indeed a quick recce of the same sites revealed the same price (± a few pennies) across the consoles for big multiplatform releases like Burnout Paradise and GTA4, but it’s still a bit of a mystery. The conspiracy theorist in me is looking for signs of a moneyhat…

GOTY Honourable Mentions

Naturally, this year had more great games than anyone could possibly whittle down to just ten. So, as I did last year, here are a few that I liked but didn’t quite make the list. All are worth a try.

  • Jeanne d’Arc (PSP) – Level-5’s strategy RPG arrived with almost no hype and, therefore unsurprisingly, didn’t exactly set the world alight. What was the last PSP game that did? Nonetheless, it’s as gorgeous as Dragon Quest VIII with even better production values – check out the fully animated and voiced anime scenes – and is portable, which for me makes an RPG infinitely more playable. It’s also not as hardcore as many SRPGs tend to be, so virgins to the genre shouldn’t be afraid of trying it out.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS) – As the game in this list that came closest to making the top ten, I shouldn’t need to tell you what’s good about Phantom Hourglass. It’s Zelda. You’ve played it. This one just gets extra credit for mapping workable touch screen controls to a traditional game style. As with Twilight Princess, I found myself enjoying the unique controls rather than simply tolerating them.
  • Mass Effect (360) – Despite suffering from many of the issues of Knights of the Old Republic minus such an immediately appealing world (though this one is certainly far better than most sci-fi RPGs), Mass Effect is an enthralling game that will become a huge time sink if you let it. Both technically stunning (the facial animation) and disappointing (the frame rate), it’s still a lesson in how to do a sci-fi adventure. Let’s hope that it doesn’t mark Bioware’s descent into the same hole that swallowed Westwood and Bullfrog.
  • Ninja Gaiden Sigma (PS3) – I’m cheating somewhat here, given that I’ve played Sigma for little more than a couple of hours. This is really a chance to honour Ninja Gaiden in general, a game that I played to a meaningful extent for the first time this year and thought was absolutely fantastic. Sigma looks better and has more content, and is therefore just as easy to recommend. Play any version (the original and Black both work perfectly on a 360) in time for the sequel later in 2008.
  • Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (360/DS/PSP) – If Viva Piñata was 2006’s best game that nobody played, surely Puzzle Quest is 2007’s. Yes, at its heart it’s yet another Bejeweled clone, and yes, the AI can be frustratingly prescient, chaining massive combos using off-screen gems that no-one could know about without cheating. But even so, Bejeweled is an addictive and fun game without a well-developed RPG component. Since its appearance on XBLA there can be few people without access to this gem. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
  • Resistance: Fall of Man (PS3) – While it’s consistently overrated in certain camps, Resistance was a solid shooter with an excellent suite of multiplayer modes, and deserves mention for the extensive support post-release. Insomniac’s feature-laden patches have brought everything from balance tweaks to a screenshot function and Dual Shock 3 support, even while they’ve brought another game to market and have undoubtedly started work on the sequel. Other developers could learn from the example.
  • Super Stardust HD (PS3) – In the flood of twin-stick shooters that have followed Geometry Wars, this is arguably the best. While I felt it slightly overcomplicated, it gave the genre a modern sheen that Geometry Wars had lacked, coupling mightily impressive graphics with a superb soundtrack. With more content to come and the recent patch bringing more features to the table, this is an overlooked gem.