Epic Mickey 2: Press Day Coverage

April 1, 2012 by  
Filed under Features, Playstation 3, Spotlight, Wii, Xbox 360

I slink along the winding lanes of London and slip into the uber-chic Hospital Club. I barely have to time to admire the décor before I’m greeted and whisked away to the second floor, where are small group of journalists are waiting patiently in front of closed doors. As if on cue, the doors swing open and we step into the screening room for a presentation on Disney’s latest adventure, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two.

I’m no stranger to Disney games, having recently bashed my way through Disney Universe on my Xbox 360. But Epic Mickey 2 holds something different for gamers, and anyone lucky enough to play the original game will understand the very unique feel that this game has.

First up on stage is Andrea Tartaglia, Vice President, Franchise Marketing of Disney Europe who talks us through some of the 80+ history of Disney and it’s many characters. The company’s iconic character is of course Mickey Mouse, who enjoys attention from both youngsters and adults alike.

Tartaglia then introduced Warren Spector, Vice President and Founder, Junction Point, to the stage. Spector’s contributions to the gaming world have been many over the years, so it was going to be interesting to see what this genius was going to unveil to us. After a brief greeting, he outlined the success of the original Epic Mickey videogame, which debuted exclusively on the Wii console. The game set a record for being the best selling Disney platform game to date, with over 90% of people polled over the US, UK, Germany and France regions stating that they would love to play through a sequel. So Epic Mickey 2 in many ways was a no-brainer decision for the company; the challenge was of course how they were going to make this an even better game to enjoy.

Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two focuses on two main characters; Mickey Mouse and his new partner in crime, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, seen in the original Epic Mickey. While I won’t go into the story details in this article, Oswald and Mickey have to join forces once again to defeat an approaching threat. While Mickey retains the power of the magic paintbrush from the first game, Oswald wields a remote control which allows him to harness the power of electricity and pull off some pretty cool tricks in the game. This unlikely partnership is most of what makes Epic Mickey 2 actually tick. From the snippets of gameplay video we were shown there doesn’t seem to be any limit to what the duo can pull off in the game.

While the original Epic Mickey was only available on the Wii, Spector revealed that Epic Mickey 2 would be available on the Wii, Xbox 360, and the PS3. He also announced that at a later stage there would be a 3DS game available, which would be based in the same world as Epic Mickey 2, as well as plans to potentially bring a PC and Mac version to light. Apart from the multi-platform availability, Epic Mickey 2 aims to bring some considerable improvements to the game based on feedback gathered from the first game. The first point that Spector made was about the camera in Epic Mickey, and how they had a dedicated team working on the camera for Epic Mickey 2. He said that the camera controls and angles have been improved so much, that you will almost never have to touch the manual camera controls. The other dramatic change in Epic Mickey 2 is that all characters will now have spoken dialogue, which really breathes new life into the game. The game will feature the real Disney voice talent, so that any Disney character you encounter in the game will sound just like they’re supposed to. The other bonus is that the game will have localized content in some regions (including Arabic), so that the text and dialogue will both be translated. The game will also be the first to showcase songs in some of the cutscenes (which you can skip through), because it’s nearly impossible to name a Disney film that doesn’t have a song in it.

Apart from obvious graphical improvements, Epic Mickey 2 will present players with different choices to make in the game, with the results of those choices carrying through to the rest of the game. This is something Spector felt had to be present in Epic Mickey 2, so that players weren’t just running around trying to solve puzzles or defeat enemies – they had to have a reason for doing every single thing. The game also introduces some gorgeous new levels including the Wizard’s workshop from Fantasia, which acts as a sort of tutorial level in the game. New enemies and characters have also been added to the mix, so there’s a suitable level of challenge in Epic Mickey 2. Probably the biggest bonus in this game is the inclusion of 2-player local co-op gameplay. What makes this so great is there are different scenarios that come about when you have two players playing together as apposed to one player and an AI character (not to mention how competitive it can get with a second player).

Spector wrapped up his presentation with a brief background on Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Originally dreamt up by Walt Disney back in 1927, Oswald made a brief television debut before Disney lost the rights to the character and no further Oswald clips were made. The company did manage to win the rights to the Oswald character back in 2008, for production on the Epic Mickey videogame. Spector then surprised us by screening one of Oswald’s ‘lost’ cartoons – a quaint masterpiece I might add. While we weren’t allowed to film it, the silent cartoon did send a few audible giggles through the room.

With the presentation wrapped up, we headed out for our interviews and gameplay time with Epic Mickey 2. A quick 3-level demo was setup across Wii, Xbox 360, and PS3 stations, with the Xbox and PS3 units really doing wonders for the game in terms of graphics and presentation.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for our hands-on preview of Epic Mickey 2, as well as our interview with the man himself, Warren Spector.

Diablo III Beta Key Giveaway – Week VI

March 27, 2012 by  
Filed under Competitions, Spotlight

May 15th seems like an eternity away for the release of Diablo III, so why not quench your hunger for destruction with a run around the Diablo III Beta?

We are giving away 20 keys this week as well, so if you missed a chance previously, here’s one more try. You can also score a key by following our Facebook and Twitter pages, so make sure you do.

Guild Wars 2 Beta Hands-On

March 26, 2012 by  
Filed under Features, PC, Spotlight

Note: This article is based on a Guild Wars 2 beta test session on March 23rd and may contain possible plot spoilers. Video recorded demonstrate an erratic frame rate due to the heavy player population in the beta and ongoing testing. Further patches were deployed to greatly improve the game’s performance after the videos were recorded, and the developers have posted that this version of the beta has not been optimized graphically.

There’s always so much pressure when you’re under an NDA. For the uninitiated, that’s a Non-Disclosure Agreement, which is usually something you have to sign or agree to before starting on a project that needs to remain top secret. In the gaming world we come across these all the time, and while they are in place to protect the integrity of the game and its details, most of the time you’re just bursting to tell someone something, even just the tiniest detail. That’s exactly how I felt as I played through the beta of Guild Wars 2 this weekend – there’s been so much of buzz around this game already that the Interwebz is full of people scouring for even the smallest bit of information on the game. So I certainly hope that I can do this game justice and answer whatever burning questions you may have.

The original Guild Wars was released way back in 2005, and quickly picked up an almost cult-like following. Playing through the beta of Guild Wars 2 made me remember why I enjoyed playing the original so much; the vast environments, the structured yet reactive storyline, the countless abilities you could wield – it was a game that could easily capture your imagination for hours on end.

I logged in to the client and started creating my first character, one of five character slots allowed in the game. The beta allowed me to choose between the Human, Norn, and Charr races (with the other two races locked) and select one of eight classes that encompass stealth, brute force, cunning, and the arcane. I chose to play as a Charr Necromancer, and after answering a few questions to establish my character’s back story, the introductory cinematic plunged me in to the welcoming world. Here’s a quick video of the character creation process:

The user interface hasn’t changed much from the original game, but even new players will appreciate the clutter-free interface and straightforward controls. You’re given a number of slots at the bottom of the screen which act as hotkeys for your swappable abilities, and depending on you class you also have access to hotkeys bound to your Function keys. So as a Necromancer I could tap F1 to shift into another mode that dealt more damage, whilst playing as a Elementalist I could tap F1 or F2 to cycle between using Fire or Water spells to attack.

Attacking foes is a simple matter of highlighting them and tapping a hotkey – when playing as a spellcaster I discovered that I could freely run around or away from enemies and still cast spells at them, unlike some games where moving around will interrupt the action. The other beauty is that should you unfortunately fall in battle, you have a precious few seconds to use several special skills as a last attempt to overwhelm your enemy and regain consciousness. It’s a thankful tactic that saved my butt several times when I was overpowered by enemies, so I didn’t have to respawn at a checkpoint in the end. Here’s a quick video demonstrating how new skills are unlocked while in combat:

What strikes me the most about Guild Wars 2 is the pace of finishing quests and leveling your character. Though the beta is capped at level 25, I’m just touching level 8, and I’ve been playing this game for two days straight. Rather than rushing through enemies and grinding until you hit the level cap, you’re compelled to actually take an interest in the quests you pick up and speak to the NPCs on your journey. Not only that, but the game offers plenty of ‘dynamic events’ as you progress through sections of the map, and can be anything from retrieving items to defending an encampment. The story progression is very well done, and no matter which race you start with you’ll really enjoy the starter quests and storyline.

Though you can get through the game in PvE mode (Player vs Environment), you can ramp up the challenge considerably by switching to PvP mode. In PvP mode you have to work together to capture strategic points on the map, and the action can get really intense. You can also participate in traditional dungeon runs with other players for some incredible loot and rewards. While I wasn’t able to get to the dungeons during the beta because I hadn’t leveled my character enough, the forum feedback shows some really promising gameplay if you’re a fan of dungeon runs.

Guild Wars 2 also focuses on the microtransactions system of trading gems for items and bonuses, and there’s an official post here on how the system will actually work out. While I can’t go into too much detail about the content available in the Gem Store, I was able to nab two items to test out the transaction process, which was very straightforward.

Since this is just a beta, I found that while most of it was playable, there were still plenty of bugs in the game. And on that note I have to say that the Guild Wars 2 beta has been the most awesome beta experience I’ve ever taken part in, simply because the team was firstly playing in the actual game alongside other players, and secondly was so quick to respond to player queries on the forums and deploying new patches that on the second day of beta testing the experience was so much better. Granted, the frame rates in my videos aren’t fantastic, but I’m really not too worried at the moment as there’s still work to be done to make the game more stable. In areas where there were a lot of players present, I found the game slowing down a bit (akin to standing in Stormwind in World of Warcraft), but in other less populated areas the game ran without any hiccups. I tried running the graphics at max settings and then at lowest but the framerates were still erratic, echoing the developer’s comment that this beta did not have optimized graphics and was more to test the server loads and story branches.

Spell effects are well animated, and the voice acting is also really well done, as are the cutscenes that use in-game sprites rather than pre-rendered CGI clips. At the moment it’s unsure when the game will launch as it wholly depends on how quickly the beta community can continue testing and how soon bugs can be fixed. Bear in mind that there will probably be another beta session in the coming months to more thoroughly test dungeons and other content, so I’m sure there are still plenty of changes and tweaks to come. It’s also too early to tell if there will be a server located in our region to reduce latency, but there’s always hope.

As it currently stands, Guild Wars 2 is definitely on my watchlist and I had a lot of fun playing through the beta test. A release date is hard to pinpoint just going off this beta, but if this kind of quality testing continues I’m no doubt sure that a release date will be announced soon enough. I know there are more things you’ll probably want to know about the game, so leave your questions in the comments below and we’ll provide as much information as we can.

Diablo III Beta Key Giveaway – Week V

March 20, 2012 by  
Filed under Competitions, Spotlight

More and more gamers are gearing up the release of Diablo III in a few months, but there’s still time to sneak in an early look with the Diablo III Beta.

We are giving away 20 keys this week as well, so if you missed a chance previously, here’s one more try. You can also score a key by following our Facebook and Twitter pages, so make sure you do.

Michael Jackson: The Experience HD Review

March 20, 2012 by  
Filed under PSV, Reviews, Spotlight

Since getting my mitts on a brand new PS Vita, I’ve been playing through as many games as I possibly can to see which ones are truly worth my time. The latest game to find its way to me is Michael Jackson The Experience HD, which although bares the name of the king of pop turned out to be a mediocre experience at best.

Michael Jackson The Experience HD is at heart a rhythm game, which challenges players to tap in time to some of his best hits. Unfortunately while this may have seemed like a good idea to Ubisoft, the execution is not as smooth as it could have been. The concept is very simple – as the song plays you have to either tap or swipe the screen in time to build up your combo and score points. The more points you get the better your end score and the more items you can unlock in the game. There are in total about four different symbols that can appear on screen – a pink circle indicates a tap (with one or two fingers), a blue arrow means swipe in the direction of the arrow, a yellow arrow indicates a ‘U’ shape, and a green arrow indicates a full circle. While initially the songs are very easy to complete with just a few changes in the symbols, the later difficulties prove to be much more challenging as multiple icons fill the screen.

During each song there is a ‘freestyle’ mode, where you can swipe or tap the screen to make Michael pull off various moves – the game penalizes you if you swipe the same move two times in a row, so mixing things up is the key to racking up the combos. You can also slide your finger along the rear touchpad to move Michael around the scene to add a bit of flair.

There are only 15 tracks to dance along to, which is a sheer disappointment given the vast catalogue of tracks MJ released. So your MJ experience is technically over after about half an hour of playing, unless you keep chugging through to level up and unlock the harder difficulties. You can also unlock different dance effects as well as gloves, which you can equip later on to earn bonuses. It’s a reward system that doesn’t feel very rewarding, as you have to go back and replay the songs on harder difficulties to unlock anything worthwhile.

What makes the game frustrating is that it often gets very finicky when you draw the correct symbol. I found myself building up a 126 move combo only to have it destroyed because I was off by a few degrees when swiping a symbol diagonally. This crops up again and again, so you have to often be quite accurate when playing if you want to keep your combos going.

Graphically the Vita does a fairly decent job of rending the on-screen King of Pop as he glides across the screen, and for most part the various levels are faithful renditions of his various music videos. The only place where things go downhill is in the mediocre CGI sequences. Rather than use clips from the music videos, the scene has been re-rendered in CGI that looks like a claymation spot from 1992. This really jars with the general look of the game and will ruin the gaming experience for most MJ fans.

Apart from unlocking the various rewards and difficulty settings, there’s nothing else to do in this game. apart from trying to get onto the leaderboards. The music is of course timeless, but the limited choice is a real let-down. I doubt that there’ll be future songs as DLC, so if you’re happy repeating fifteen songs over and over again then this is the game for you.

Michael Jackson The Experience HD would only appeal to hardcore fans of his music, and even then the short lifespan of the game won’t guarantee a memorable experience anyway.

Play Skyrim in Virtual Reality

March 18, 2012 by  
Filed under News

A while back I posted up a review for the Sony HMZ-T1 Personal 3D Viewer, a gadget from Sony that allowed you to have your own personal 3D cinema experience from the comfort of your living room. While the experience was interesting, I felt that it could be just a little bit better.

Well my prayers have been answered – techie nut Chris Zaharia decided that the HMZ-T1 could reach a whole new level of awesomeness if it could be tweaked to act as a virtual reality headset with games, specifically Skyrim.

The video you are about to say may cause heart palpitations, so you have been warned. If you want to find out how he set everything up, just head here.

Tbreak Young Developers Challenge announced

March 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

The Tbreak Young Developers Challenge is an opportunity for University students to showcase their mobile, gaming or web applications to a panel of experts from Tbreak, Blackberry, Nokia and Qualcomm.

Six apps will be chosen to be presented on 15th March 2012 at the Tbreak Developer Conference in Knowledge Village, Dubai. Each presentation will last for 10 minutes followed by a short Q&A session.

One application will be chosen as the winner of the Tbreak Young Developers Challenge and the winners will receive prizes from Blackberry and Nokia.

All apps will be based on the following criteria:

1. Design
2. Functionality
3. Technical Expertise
4. Overall appeal

To register, email editor@tbreak.com with your name, university, and a brief description of your app.

Apps can be developed on any platform. This competition is open to University students only.

Diablo III Beta Key Giveaway – Week IV

March 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Competitions, Spotlight

It seems that there’s still plenty of foolish adventurers out there who dare face the tides of evil. Our Week III Diablo III Beta Key give away is done and there are still more keys to give out.

We are giving away 20 keys this week as well, so if you missed a chance previously, here’s one more try. You can also score a key by following our Facebook and Twitter pages, so make sure you do.

Street Fighter X Tekken Review

March 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Playstation 3, Reviews, Spotlight, Xbox 360

There are very few games that pull off crossovers successfully. Capcom seems to have a natural talent for them, having pitted their Street Fighter franchise against Marvel already and established a loyal fan following. The latest franchise to get the crossover treatment is the much loved Tekken, and as weird as that pairing may be, it’s resulted in a game that features much of the loved elements of Street Fighter and much more.

With a roster of more than 40 characters to choose from there’s plenty here to whet your appetite, with more characters being unlocked as you play through the game. For the first time though, the game packs a very intuitive 20-chapter tutorial, that goes through every single aspect of the game – from basic attacks to deadly combos, everything is explained in great detail. It’s a great addition to the game given that it’s easy to get lost in the different type of combos and moves that can be pulled off. You’ve also got access to two modes called Trial and Mission – Trial mode includes a number of different challenges to finish, while Mission mode pits you against other AI players with certain battle conditions.

After you’ve got your bearings in the game, you can instantly jump into the arcade or versus modes for some two-on-two fighting action. The two characters you choose can be swapped around at any time during combat, and can even pull off devastating combos together. You can even have all four players on the screen on the same time for some utter fighting chaos, but should one of your players be knocked out, the round is over.

Winning in Street Fighter X Tekken is all about managing the energy bar at the bottom of your screen, which is divided into three blocks. You can consume parts of the bar to pull off more advanced special moves, or summon your partner for a devastating combo attack. You also have a new feature called Pandora, which is sort of a last-minute attempt to win a match when you’re being beaten. This mode will kill your main character and provide a large energy boost to your second character. You then have roughly eight seconds to beat the living crap out of your opponent and win the match – if the timer expires then you instantly lose the round. It’s a mechanic that you might not always use, but it’s great for when you’re being smacked into oblivion in a corner. Also in this version of the game is the inclusion of gems. Gems can be equipped to your characters to dramatically alter your match, giving you either an attack or defense boost. The implementation is quite simple, but if you want to turn gems off in online play you can’t which is a bit of a downer. Gems aren’t easy to come by, as you’re only awarded them as you improve your fighting skills.

After you’ve honed your skills on some offline play, you can take the battle online and pit your skills against other players. You can team up with a friend to take on online players, as well as check out match replays to pick up tips and skills from other expert players. Unfortunately, the online play does tend to get a bit erratic at times so it’s less enjoyable than the offline modes. There’s also a Fight Request mode thrown in which lets other players jump into the game and challenge your fighters.

Graphically the game looks very slick and smooth on the PS3, retaining the 2D animation style seen in previous Street Fighter games. The audio is also great, with the characters and background music staying true to the Street Fighter and Tekken universe respectively. Overall the game does deliver some fast-paced and often brutal action, and the well-laid out tutorial is a very welcome addition. Street Fighter X Tekken is a great game that despite the lack of a story mode manages to win you over with its no-nonsense gameplay and staggering roster of characters (including special characters on the PS3 version). If you’ve not played a crossover game yet, then this is the one to pick up without a doubt.

FIFA Interactive World Cup Finals coverage

March 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Features, News, Playstation 3, Spotlight

Tensions were high this weekend over at Playnation at Mirdiff City Centre in Dubai, where FIFA enthusiasts had gathered to witness the finals of the FIFA Interactive World Cup being held by Sony Playstation. Six finalists from the region had assembled to show their football prowess, and were ready to showcase their skills to their fans.

After a few friendly warm-up matches, we were treated to some amazing football free-styling by Bilal Bairakdar, who whipped a football around like it was beyond the control of gravity. But after his dazzling performance the real games began, and the contestants were pitted against each other in short matches. One by one the challengers racked up the points on the scoreboards until only two finalists remained – Majid Salim from KSA and Abdulrahman Almannay from Bahrain had the crowd reeling in excitement as each goal was scored.

But in the end there can be only one winner, and Majid Salim emerged victorious to much jubilation from his friends and the assembled crowd. We caught up with Majid for a quick interview before he was whisked away for his celebrations:

Can you please tell us your name and age?
My name is Majed Salem, and I am 24 years old

Is this your first FIFA tournament? Why did you decide to take part in the FIWC?
This is not the first time I participated in a FIFA tournament. I participated in more than one competition, including the Saudi Arabia championship which I won twice. I have also received the top scorer in the Middle East award once. But this is the first time I won the Middle East championship, and it was very exciting to take part in it.

How were you feeling before the final match?
As you know before the final match a person would be a little nervous. But after the match started, I just relaxed and played the best I could.

How do you feel now that you’ve won the tournament?
I am very happy, and my brother is with me to celebrate my victory.

What is your favorite team on the field and in-game?
My favorite team on the field is Inter Milan, and in game it is Real Madrid

What advice do you have for those who want to play FIFA on a championship level?
In the beginning, don’t choose the strong teams. A person has to practice with the weaker teams at first, and once he sees himself improving, he can choose one of the strong teams such as Barcelona and Real Madrid. If a person starts with a strong team right away, his skills won’t improve.

And finally, how do you think your performance will be in the final match?
I hope to do as well as I did today – wish me luck!

Check out the full gallery of photos here.

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