Fable III: Traitor’s Keep Preview

We go hands-on with this swashbuckling addition to Fable III at Microsoft’s February Games Showcase.

Fable III’s magical world of Albion has never had a shortage of mischievous miscreants to fight. There are plundering pirates in need of a good stabbing, howling wolves tempting your trigger finger, and ambushing outlaws desperately seeking an elemental strike. If you veer down an unrighteous path, you may even take the life of an innocent citizen and carry with you the repugnant stink of a willful murderer. But never in all of your many travels have you had an army of mechanical men to square off against. In Traitor’s Keep, Fable III’s first downloadable content offering, you finally have a chance to point your musket toward the metallic face of an evil robot. At Microsoft’s February Games Showcase, we got a chance to briefly resume our role as king in a short demonstration. The full experience is available for download on March 1 for 560 Microsoft points ($7).

With the thorny crown of absolute monarchy comes a brigade of ready enemies eager to challenge authority. That dynamic is explored in Traitor’s Keep, battling foes across the land who want nothing more than to knock you clear off your throne. The DLC picks up immediately after the events from Fable III have concluded. The monsters of pure evil have been vanquished from your peaceful cities, and you can see how the choices you made impact the world around you. If you decided that a little extra money was more important than a pristine lake, or figured a brothel could provide a better service for your citizens than an orphanage, you have to deal with those consequences.

The bulk of the experience does not force you to dwell on your previous choices, though. Rather, you venture to entirely new lands in search of adventure and a chance to finally swing the balance of power entirely in your favor. The demo placed us in a town called Clockwork Island. Ruled by a brilliant eccentric known only as the Inventor, this anarchistic village has smiling robots instead of the woebegone humans you would expect to populate any community during this era. There is a very good reason for the cutting-edge technology on display. As you open the gates to this steampunk-inspired world, you are told to behold the streets of the future. The town has been modeled on a vision of what Albion will look like 15 years in the future, a transformative leap from the modern world.

From an architectural standpoint, Clockwork Island looks like any other village in Fable III. Modest wooden homes line the streets; a pleasant grassy oasis resides in the center; and cobblestone pavement lies underfoot. It’s only when you get a close-up look at the townsfolk that you realize something is not quite right. A waving robot welcomes you, and when you click on him, you find out that just one gallon of gasoline produces 37 waves. A little rough on the environment, but it’s worth the excess pollution for the friendliness that exudes from this metallic body. Robot citizens aren’t the only things in Traitor’s Keep that have been given a technological makeover. Your furry pooch has been replaced by a steam-powered canine that happily wags alongside you as if it’s a living, breathing animal.

It’s only when you approach the fence that separates the town proper from its eccentric ruler that things turn sour. The Inventor knew you were coming all along and has equipped his malleable robots to deal with troublemakers. Waving hands are quickly replaced with punching fists, and the robots’ friendly demeanor quickly turns to one of hostility. In a flash, you’re surrounded by an army of unfeeling automatons, and they set out to attack you with an unrelenting determination. Combat hasn’t changed a peck since Fable III. Your rifle, sword, and magical powers are controlled with separate buttons, and you determine the strength of your attacks by how long you hold down each button. The enemies are much harder than those you faced in Fable III, though. No longer can you dispatch entire groups of enemies just by casting a few area-of-effect spells. These dastardly devils teleport and strike with hateful relish, and you need to roll and block just to stay alive.

By the end of this frightful encounter, the Inventor has been defeated, and you have the choice in how you want to deal with his treacherous acts. The demo ended right after we chose the evil path, but it’s clear that the same morality system from previous Fable games is in place in this newest offering. Other than that, it’s hard to say what to expect. The steam-fueled robots are a step in an unexpected direction, and there’s no telling what other crazy critters will surface during the rest of this quest. If you’re curious how this latest adventure turns out, you can download Traitor’s Keep on March 1. Keep your eyes on GameSpot for more information on this content.

By Tom Mc Shea, Editor

Zeit Squared Hands-On

Traveling back in time adds an interesting twist to this shoot-’em-up.

Shoot-’em-ups will always have a special place in the hearts of many gamers who still find the time to play Gradius or R-Type. The genre that was once incredibly popular in arcades has been able to find an audience, thanks to platforms like Xbox Live Arcade. Zeit Squared is very much like the 2D side-scrolling shoot-’em-ups from the past, but it changes things up with a time travel twist.

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Like many other games of its kind, Zeit Squared is set in a futuristic environment where you move from left to right, firing at almost everything that comes at you. Instead of enemy ships, you fire at abstract organisms that look like giant squids or bacteria. We’re not really sure what they are–we were nothing but a glowing orb with a blue shield that could fire bullets–but it didn’t really matter as long as they didn’t get by us. The visuals are quite simple and elegant, at least in the early stages, so you don’t feel distracted by too many things onscreen. Boss fights are waiting for you at the end of the stages, which will require some fancy dodging on your part, but the premise is fairly straightforward once you learn all the tricks for staying alive.

In Zeit 2, you can’t just hold the fire button and fire endlessly to the right. Your health percentage in the top-left corner will decrease every time you fire. It will increase if you hit your target, though, and it is beneficial to be somewhat conservative with your fire power. Enemies that have a blue glow around them will drain your health if they get past you. There are creatures that don’t glow, so you’ll want to target the ones that would do more damage if you miss them. We also came across ghosts that glowed, but we couldn’t destroy them, making it so that we had to watch them go by as they drained our health. As your health depletes, your shield around you will also begin to shrink, giving you a visual cue that things are not looking good. Health pickups are available, though, to give you a boost, and as long as you keep killing those enemies, your health will continue to increase.

The time-travel mechanic is activated by the left trigger, which will rewind several seconds back and create a shadow clone so that you can replay those few seconds with the help of a second ship. This is particularly helpful when you’ve got a row of glowing enemies coming at you from the top of the screen and you realize a horde of them is approaching from the bottom. In this case, you can be at two places at once; so by rewinding a few seconds, you can then have your clone take out the initial top row while you handle the bottom. You can’t travel back for as long as you want, however; you need to recharge your time-travel energy, and the timer on the bottom-left-hand side of the screen will let you know how many seconds you can rewind. By shooting your clone, you can also get it to fire bullets in all directions.

You’ll gain new weapons as you go through the game to help clear out those pesky organisms. We received a beam shot after the first boss, which let us charge up a powerful ray that we could fire across the screen that basically cleared out anything in its way for a couple of seconds. It does take awhile to charge, though, which is indicated by a beam of light around your shield. Other than the Arcade mode, there are five other game modes to compete in on the leaderboards, such as Score Attack, Survival, Wave, Time, and Tactics.

Time to test your reflexes.

Time to test your reflexes.

Zeit Squared adds a new depth to the genre, so instead off firing wildly and dodging bullets, you have to think about when to fire and what position to be in to make the best use of your clone. A tutorial at the beginning of the game should gently ease in players, and while you do need to be quick with the analog stick, it’s not so difficult that it’s frustrating. If the game turns out to be too easy for you, a fast-forward button that speeds up the game are for hardcore players who want more of a challenge. Look for Zeit Squared when it is released January 5 on XBLA for 800 Microsoft points. The PC release will come shortly after for $9.99.

By Sophia Tong

Shoot Many Robots First Look Preview

GDC 2011: Robots abound in this run-and-gun shooter from developer Demiurge Studios.

With a name like Shoot Many Robots, the title says it all. It’s a game with lots of robots and lots of bullets, and when the two come together, it’s lots of fun. Developer Demiurge Studios, a Boston-based studio that has worked behind the scenes on such games as Borderlands and Mass Effect, is hoping to do for Metal Slug what Shadow Complex did for Castlevania. A faithful reimagining, a modern-day update…whatever you want to call it, we had a blast going hands on with it during this year’s Game Developers Conference.

Demiurge Studios’ Al Reed and Josh Glavine explain the fine art of robot shooting.

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In Shoot Many Robots, you take on the role of P. Walter Tugnut, a good ol’ boy living the simple life in his dilapidated, countryside RV. Not one for civilized society, Walter has found his life’s calling in the wake of a sudden robot apocalypse. He is every action movie hero you’ve ever seen, armed to the teeth with an extensive gun collection and an eclectic wardrobe. Our demonstration began here–in Mr. Tugnut’s mobile home.

One of Demiurge Studios’ development philosophies is that role-playing mechanics make everything better. To wit, our character could gain experience, level up, and define his role in the upcoming robot slaughter based on the equipment we brought along. These items included everything from football helmets to Viking shields, and each one conferred its own special ability, as well as altered the appearance of our character. It may have looked silly, but the boost to running speed and jump height from the pink tutu (part of the fairy princess item set) was impressive.

Our means for dispensing robot death came in an equally diverse assortment of flavors. Dozens of shotguns, rifles, machine guns, and more–each with unlimited ammo–were available as primary weapons. Our secondary choices, referred to as “Oh Snap!” weapons, ran the gamut from grenade launchers to Molotov cocktails. Once we had made our selection–stuntman helmet, jetpack, leather pants, machine gun, grenade launcher–we were prepared to face the horde (or have one wild weekend).

Walter's RV is more than just his funky home; it's also the hub screen where you can pick your next level.

Walter’s RV is more than just his funky home; it’s also the hub screen where you can pick your next level.

We were dropped into the Grain Processing level, which was an early farm/factory level far away from the epicenter of the robot outbreak. After blasting our way through this opening stage, we were most impressed with the pacing of the action. In a game where presentation is all about loud music, big guns, and lots of robots, it would have been easy to drown the player in a light show of explosions and enemies. Instead, during our brief time with the game, we felt empowered and in control. We didn’t get lost in the action, and there was always a creative way to dispatch any threat.

The flow of battle was held together with nuts. These metallic bits burst forth from robot corpses and act as both currency and a point multiplier. You’re going to need those points because Shoot Many Robots is all about the score chase. At the top of the screen, alongside your current score, the next highest score on your friends list is always displayed. If you beat his, it automatically updates to the next. After we finished, the two Demiurge staffers loaded up a cooperative game, which supports two-player local play and up to four players online. One decked himself out in heavy gear armed with a shotgun, while the other chose damage-boosting items and a high-powered, single-shot revolver. Together, the duo formed an unstoppable team that never stopped moving and quickly put our meager score to shame.

The tactical stance allows for a full 360 degrees of aiming to hit those hard-to-reach enemies.

The tactical stance allows for a full 360 degrees of aiming to hit those hard-to-reach enemies.

Our demo ended with us back in the driver’s seat going up against The Fat Man–a living, fire-breathing anthropomorphic bulldozer. The metal monstrosity would vomit puddles of oil on the ground before lighting them on fire and driving up our nation’s gas prices. Our jetpack was the real hero of the battle because it saved us from getting burned on numerous occasions. Once we emerged victorious, we were eager to jump back in for another round, but our time was up. We look forward to seeing more of the robot apocalypse though the eyes of Walter Tugnut on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC later this year.

By Maxwell McGee, Editor

Section 8: Prejudice Hands-On – Multiplayer

Prejudice is calling down a ton of new content for this upcoming multiplayer shooter release.

Section 8: Prejudice, the follow-up to last year’s sci-fi multiplayer shooter, is upgrading several features players felt came up short. More guns, more gadgets, and a fully featured single-player campaign are all in the works, but what caught our eye was the new multiplayer mode: Swarm. Together with developer TimeGate Studios, we decided to hit the battlefield and check out this new mode, and the new game’s improvements.

The revamped mech suit is a force to reckoned with on the battlefield.

The revamped mech suit is a force to reckoned with on the battlefield.

Swarm is a cooperative multiplayer mode that pits you against three waves of enemies–not unlike Gears of War 2′s Horde mode–and tasks you with preventing these fiends from capturing a lone control point. The enemies in each wave are staggered, so you won’t be fighting them all at once, but if you’re not quick, your aggressors will completely overrun you with numbers. To help even the odds, each wave also has a time limit. Hold out until the end, and an airstrike is conveniently called down to clear out the remaining foes, buying you some time to regroup for the next wave. Hold out against all three, and you win.

While our first match across a frozen tundra ended in an icy grave, our second round, which was set in a dense jungle, sent a more favorable wind our way. At the start, we selected our weapon loadout and landing zone before being launched via drop pod to the jungle arena below. Upon landing, a quick appraisal of this compact battlefield showed that our control point was inside a small outpost with a commanding view of the battlefield. Once we were in position, the control point was activated and the match began.

In the skies above we spotted our foes making their descent. As they slammed into the battlefield, our superior positioning let us snipe with impunity. A few quick kills netted us enough requisition points to start purchasing defensive structures, such as antipersonnel machine gun turrets, long-range missile platforms, and medical stations. Halfway into the second wave, the game tossed a dynamic combat mission (DCM) our way to change things up. DCMs provide you with bonus combat objectives, in this case escorting a VIP unit from the far side of the map to our base. To help cover the gap, we called in a speedy hoverbike. While it can’t turn on a dime, the hoverbike packs plenty of firepower and was just what we need to get the job done. With the VIP secured, we now had a powerful ally and ultimately emerged victorious.

Flush with victory, we jumped into Prejudice’s second multiplayer game mode, Conquest–a carryover from the original Section 8. Conquest is all about amassing points, which you earn by holding control points and completing DCMs. The first side to reach a set number of points wins. Our arena, an expanded version of the jungle map we just left, provided us with enough room to take advantage of the improved tank and mech suit. The tank, a slow-moving death wagon built for two, is equipped with a devastating cannon for the driver and a machine gun turret for the copilot gunner. The personal mech suit is also armed with a deadly machine gun and can easily execute foes who fall into its robotic grip.

While neither is especially quick, both the tank and the mech suit felt very durable and easily traversed the terrain without getting snagged on the geometry. As the fight progressed, various DCMs were assigned to either side, forcing us to split our attention between capturing points, completing bonus objectives, and denying the enemy its bonuses. This three-way battle means there’s always a way to contribute to the fight outside of simply scoring kills. As the firefight came to a close, we scrambled to reach the score cap but ended up tasting bitter defeat for a second time at the hands of our AI aggressors.

Prejudice packs plenty of ways to cut your opponents down to size.

Prejudice packs plenty of ways to cut your opponents down to size.

Though we might not have won every battle, we can tell from the time we’ve spent with the game that the multiplayer in Prejudice will be fast, frantic, and always full of options. A constant string of upgrades and unlocks should keep you clamoring for seconds, while the persistent stat tracking and promised online clan management tools will be a boon to any multiplayer fanatic. And should you find yourself flying solo, AI bot support for both modes is there for you to test your mettle in the absence of human competition. Be sure to check out Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, Steam, and other digital outlets for Section 8: Prejudice early next year.

By Maxwell McGee, Editor

E3 2011: Mercury Hg Hands-On Preview

We play around with volatile chemicals in this latest iteration of the Mercury series.

Any puzzle game fan worth his salt may recall the underrated Archer Maclean’s Mercury that was on the PSP. Recently during E3 2011, we managed to test out the PSN version of Mercury Hg, the latest in the Mercury series published by UTV Ignition Games.

For those not familiar with the 2005 title, you are given the task to move a blob of mercury to reach the finish line in the shortest amount of time possible while keeping the blob 100 percent intact. To do this, you have to tilt the board to move the blob around. You can also collect atoms on the way to unlock levels laid out like the periodic table of elements.

Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a challenge if there weren’t any obstacles to get in the way. Ridges and edges of a map can make the mercury blob split into tiny increments. Color-coded barriers require you to paint the blob to match the barrier’s color by passing under a paint shop. Some switches that create bridges out of thin air can be triggered only by painting the blob with a different color. You should also factor in hazards like splitters that split the mercury blob, magnetrons that pull a blob to its center, and anti-magnetrons that push it away. Later on, other levels forsake walls on the edges of the board, which means that you will have to be precise and gentle in tilting the board.

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A few other features creep into this sequel. You can press a button (in this case, the X button on the PSN version) that helps reemerge split blobs together at the cost of a few extra seconds on the clock. You can also line up a custom soundtrack from your respective console’s hard drive that reacts in sync with the backgrounds and floors. The reactive backgrounds add a sense of style while you’re navigating each different map, and the fact that you can listen to your own tracks adds a bit of variety to it.

While our initial playthrough of the first few levels was a breeze, we’d shudder to think how tricky the game could get with its level designs and hazards. The tougher ones required us to purposely split the mercury blob into two to activate certain switches simultaneously. Since the game is touted to have 60 new levels, there should not be any shortage of levels for puzzle fans to tinker and experiment with. Furthermore, you can race against your own ghost data with your previous best records, adding further incentives for replayability.

Fans of the first game will see this as a long-overdue return since its core gameplay is intact, and if you’re hankering for something akin to Sega’s Monkey Ball but with a science feel, you may want to keep an eye out for this puzzler. Mercury Hg will be out this August and will be available on XBLA and PSN.

By Jonathan Toyad, Associate Editor

Dead Space 2: Severed Preview

So long, Isaac. This downloadable content pack has a new hero.

While the PlayStation 3 version of Dead Space 2 included a free copy of the well-received spin-off Dead Space: Extraction, the first downloadable content for EA’s sci-fi horror sequel will forge an even tighter bond between the two stories. Dubbed Dead Space 2: Severed, this DLC tells the story of Gabe Weller, one of the central characters from Extraction, as he traverses through a variety of environments both brand new and familiar to those who’ve completed the Dead Space 2 story campaign. With the release slated for March 1, EA recently dropped by the GameSpot offices to give us a look at what’s in store.

Gabe Weller will be fighting creepy baby necromorphs this time around.

Gabe Weller will be fighting creepy baby necromorphs this time around.

Besides a different suit and a decidedly more English accent, the biggest difference between Dead Space 2′s protagonist Isaac Clarke and Severed’s hero is Mr. Weller’s occupation. Weller is a security guard, meaning his default weapon is a pulse rifle rather than an engineer’s plasma cutter. This is a change that makes the DLC feel a bit more like an action-focused third-person shooter. In fact, Visceral Games producer Scott Probst was perfectly upfront in letting us know that Severed has been designed to be a more action-heavy experience than Dead Space 2. Zero-gravity moments and slow, subdued treks through the unknown have been replaced with necromorphs, necromorphs, and more necromorphs.

The story in Severed is a simple tale of a man trying to find a lady. In this case, it’s Gabe Weller searching for Lexine Murdoch–another character you may recognize from Extraction. The only problem is that between those two are several hundred zombified aliens and a series of decrepit outer-space hellholes. The locales in this DLC pack offer a bit of the familiar and the new, with most of your trekking done in all-new locations but with the occasional crossover into areas that Isaac Clarke explored in the Dead Space 2 campaign.

At one point while we were playing, we managed to move from a dark, dreary Titan mining cave into a more wide-open industrial expanse with machinery and platforms. At first, it seemed like fortune was smiling upon us, going to an area with better visibility. But then, we began to think, “Oh, right. Weren’t there like 900 necromorphs in this area in the campaign? Oh God, what’s that noise?!” And you can probably guess what happened from there. So, maybe we were wrong. Maybe the environments aren’t so much new and familiar as they’re new and deja vu, mixed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Gabe's default weapons and armor are a bit different from Isaac's.

Gabe’s default weapons and armor are a bit different from Isaac’s.

Altogether, the small chunk of Severed that we played did manage to feel like a more action-oriented affair than Dead Space 2. The enemies seemed to be more frequent, and there wasn’t quite as much understated tension as certain parts of the Dead Space 2 campaign offered. But, ultimately, it still felt very much like Dead Space 2 because we were throwing enemies into stasis left and right while making sure their arms and legs came to an unfortunate end as soon as possible. In other words, there was the same core gameplay but with some new window dressings on top. The biggest sell has to do with just how interesting the story and characters are when determining whether this DLC is worth your $7. You can find that out for yourself when the DLC pack arrives on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network on March 1. Unfortunately, no word yet on a PC version.

By Shaun McInnis, Editor

Torchlight Preview

We see how the XBLA version of the popular PC dungeon crawler is shaping up.

Torchlight provided PC gamers with an addictive, loot-filled, distinctly Diablo-esque dungeon crawl experience when it was released in 2009. Today at Microsoft’s February Games Showcase, we got to trade in the mouse and keyboard for a controller and get a feel for the soon-to-be-released XBLA version of the popular game.

Torchlight’s charming, cartoony visuals appear to have made the transition to XBLA unscathed, and just as in the PC version, we were able to zoom the camera out to an overhead view that gave us a good sense of our surroundings or zoom way in for a better look at the action. We played as the destroyer, the game’s fighter class, and hacked and slashed our way through swarms of the ratlins and varkolyns that infest the Orden Mines, the earliest section of the Torchlight dungeons. After a brief period of adjustment, using thumbsticks and buttons to decimate creatures of the underworld felt as natural as constant mouse-clicking. The left thumbstick controls your character’s movement directly. While the PC version involved clicking on enemies to target and attack them, here, the primary target of your attacks is automatically selected based on your position, but any enemies within the sweep of your attacks are liable to take damage. Button presses let us perform our standard attacks and use our special abilities, like summoning a spectre to attack our enemies. The combat had an immediately gratifying hack-and-slash feel to it, and the left and right bumpers gave us instant access to our health and mana potions. All the controls are mappable, so you can use the configuration that you’re most comfortable with.

Many more varkolyns will die come March 9.

Many more varkolyns will die come March 9.

The character and inventory screens have been significantly altered from the PC version to make them more controller-friendly, with items appearing in categorized lists for easy sorting, rather than in the slots used in the PC version. The changes seem to be for the best. It’s still a breeze to compare and equip items, spend your earned points to enhance your character, or give unwanted items to your pet and send it back to town to sell them off. (Our pet was a cute little dinosaur, exclusive to this version, though the dog and cat will also be available.)

Torchlight seemed uncompromised during our brief time with it. The combination of exploration, combat, and loot should prove to be as addictive on XBLA as it was on the PC. In any case, we won’t have to wait long to find out. Torchlight opens its gates to 360 owners on March 9.

By Carolyn Petit, Editor

E3 2011: Warhammer 40K: Kill Team Hands-On Preview

We check out a demo version of THQ’s recently announced downloadable sci-fi shooter on the E3 show floor.

Announced just last week, Warhammer 40K: Kill Team is a shooter set in Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40K sci-fi universe. In it, you’ll assume the role of a space marine (from one of a number of selectable chapters) tasked with taking down an ork spaceship from the inside, and while you’ll certainly be massively outnumbered, the good news is that you don’t have to go up against the ork horde alone.

Kill Team won’t support online play, but you and a friend will be able to play together locally. There are four different classes of space marine to choose from, each with access to some unique abilities and weapons. These names won’t mean much to you unless you’re a fan Warhammer 40K, but you can play as a librarian, a sternguard, a vanguard, or a tech marine. Each class can choose from four different weapons, including power swords, lightning claws, heavy bolters, rocket launchers, and pistols.

Played mostly from an isometric perspective, Kill Team is a dual-stick shooter at its heart; you move around with the left stick and shoot with the right. There’s a lot more to the game than that, though; you can perform melee attacks with the A button (or X, on the PS3), throw grenades with the right shoulder button, and launch special attacks with the left shoulder button. Special attacks vary considerably depending on which class you’re playing as and which weapon you’re using. As the sternguard veteran armed with a heavy bolter, for example, we were able to significantly increase our rate of fire for a short time, while as the vanguard veteran wielding lightning claws (with a pistol in the other hand), our special saw us rushing into crowds of enemies and knocking them to the ground before performing an area-of-effect attack.

We’re told that around 80 to 90 percent of Kill Team’s gameplay will pit you against orks, and greenskins accounted for 100 percent of the enemies that we faced in the demo. They came in plenty of different shapes and sizes, but ultimately none of them demanded a different approach, so the combat felt a little repetitive. There were a couple of set pieces that required us to hit switches or defend positions from multiple waves of enemies, but while space marines should certainly feel incredibly powerful in the WH40K universe, in Kill Team it’s possible that they might be a little too powerful. (It’s also possible that the demo was tuned to make it easier for E3 attendees.)

Numerous power-ups were scattered liberally throughout the level that we played through. Most made our weapons more powerful or shielded us from damage for a period of time, but health pickups were also in plentiful enough supply that we never felt like we were in any real danger. Hopefully this won’t always be the case. A lack of challenge and some minor camera issues aside (it didn’t always do a great job of keeping both players in the shot), we really enjoyed our time with Warhammer 40K: Kill Team. The lack of online cooperative play is disappointing, but we’re still very much looking forward to bringing you more coverage on the game just as soon as we can get our hands on it again.

By Justin Calvert, Executive Editor

E3 2011: Puddle First Look Preview

We went for a splash through the physics-based puzzles of Puddle.

Konami’s E3 booth may have been dominated by the likes of PES, Metal Gear Solid, and No More Heroes, but tucked behind the giant monitors and gangs of booth babes were a number of smaller downloadable games. One of the most interesting was Puddle, a physics-based puzzle-platform game that has you guiding a blob of water around a range of obstacles and mazes.

Who’s Making It: Puddle started out life as a student project, which was showcased at the 2010 Game Developers Conference. It went on to win the Student Showcase award, attracting the attention of Konami, who’s publishing the game on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. The same group of French students is still working on getting the game ready for release, so despite the big publisher involvement, the game should retain its indie charm.

What It Looks Like: Puddle doesn’t push the boundaries of design, or indeed the power of the consoles it runs on, but it holds a certain charm. The blob of water you control shimmers and moves like the real deal, with objects passing behind it becoming distorted. The environments range from metallic structures filled with glowing pylons, through to simple levels populated with just the blob of water and a single puzzle to solve.

What You Do: The first level we played was called Fireman, and it had us controlling a stream of water, which we had to use to put out a fire on a burning pylon. The fire was split into three sections that all needed putting out as fast as possible; otherwise, other sections would reignite. Another look took place on a telephone wire. We had to carefully guide the water across the wires and make it to the end of the level. If we moved too fast, the water would bunch up, becoming too heavy and falling off the wire. There were also gaps to traverse that required long run-ups to get the required speed. The final level we saw was called Yellow Cake. Our blob of water was trapped in a maze of small tunnels, populated with areas of live electricity that would evaporate our water.

How It Plays: There were two ways we could control the water: by using the triggers or by tilting the controller in the PlayStation 3 version. Rather than move the water itself, tilting the controller moved the environment, simulating pouring. Getting the level of tilt right was tricky, particularly in maze sections filled with obstacles at the end of long slopes and tight corners. The controls worked well, though it was easier to use the triggers, which felt more accurate than the motion controls.

What We Say: Puddle is an interesting concept, but it does bear more than a striking resemblance to Curve Studio’s excellent Hydroventure. Regardless of its origins, there’s lots of potential for interesting puzzles and skilful platforming. Puddle will be out on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in Q3 of this year. Head over to our E3 hub for more from this year’s show.

By Mark Walton, Senior Staff Writer – Reviews

Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 Updated Impressions

We grapple, leap, and uppercut our way through this retro sequel.

Bionic Commando Rearmed played like a love letter to a bygone era of 8-bit platformers, adding a stylish coat of paint to a game whose overall structure felt firmly rooted in the 1980s. Of course, there was a perfectly good reason for that: Bionic Commando Rearmed was a remake of an NES classic. Rearmed 2, being a sequel to a remake, doesn’t have that same immediate connection to a decades-old predecessor. This has given Capcom and developer Fatshark the creative leeway to make some changes and additions to the original formula, several of which we’ve just had the chance to experience in the game’s latest hands-on demo.

The most noticeable one is your character’s ability to jump. Bionic Commando was a game that revolved around a grapple mechanic, having you run along and swing across gaps rather than leap over them. Grappling is still at the heart of the experience in Rearmed 2, but now you can move around in a way that feels, to put it simply, more natural. Levels are still designed in such a way that you’ll need to thoroughly master that grapple mechanic to get by, as well as seek out new weapons to unlock special sequestered goodies a la Metroid, so the addition of jump feels like less of a game changer and more of a slight breath of fresh air.

A number of new attack abilities are in store for players, as well. You can now do a sort of death-from-above attack when leaping from high platforms down to enemies below, which is also a mechanic that plays a role in progressing through puzzles whenever you’re trapped behind a stone wall. You can unlock a powerful uppercut ability that can instantly take care of weak enemies or let you quickly launch an explosive barrel at the tougher ones.

Like the original Rearmed, the sequel will have a cooperative multiplayer mode that allows two players to play simultaneously. You share lives and unlockables, and there’s no friendly fire, so there’s not much of a chance to grief your teammate. While the level design doesn’t change to require team-focused progression through puzzles, there are a number of enemy types that require you to work as a tight pair rather than let one person do all the work. You’ll have the chance to play it alone or with a friend when Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 is released in early 2011.

By Shaun McInnis, Editor

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