Monthly Archives: October 2016

Book review: The Art of Deus Ex Universe

The Art of Deus Ex Universe (Jonathan Jacques-Belletete and Martin Dubeau with Paul Davies. Titan books)

As a teenager, I loved sketching characters like Judge Dredd, Boba Fett and stormtroopers (not together in the  same scene, obviously). I particularly loved drawing Judge Dredd. I guess it was his hard-edge face with what seemed like a permanent scowl that was the attraction.

I always started with the helmet before I added in the respirator and the nose piece – and then it was pretty much just a solid chin with that scowl. Judge Dredd was such an interesting character to draw and it was only natural that my love of drawing pop culture characters (and studying art at high school)  would lead to me being intrigued by the design processes of video games.

I’m incredibly fascinated by how game makers start with a spark, an idea, and flesh it out into a full realised character as we see in a finished video game.

As someone who loves the design concepts and processes that go into video games, and a longtime fan of the Deus Ex series, The Art of Deus Ex is a fascinating 210-page book that delves deeply into the thought processes of the artists, designers and conceptual artists as to  how they settled on the final designs of characters and locations used in Deus Ex Mankind Divided and Deus Ex Human Revolution.

I bought the book from Amazon for about $NZ50 (including delivery) after playing through Deus Ex Mankind Divided, a game that had such a visually impressive art style that just had to have an art book that detailed the design process. I loved the game but I think I love the art book even more than the game.

The game opens with a section on Adam Jensen, the lead character in Mankind Divided and Human Revolution and a character that I actually liked despite many thinking he was a douchebag and it’s interesting that reaching the final visual look was a two-year process, says the book.

In it, Jacques-Belletete says Jensen had to represent “what it meant to have your body augmented way beyond its natural and biological capabilities”. The book shows how Jensen’s character evolved and changed over the design process, eventually settling on the cyberpunk look we see in the final game.

For gamers who want to see the process from ideas to finished project, a book like The Art of Deus Ex Universe is well worth the money. I just love seeing the sketches and concept art of the vision for what they want the game to look like. It’s fascinating seeing the transformations of characters from rough sketches to fleshed out as they look in-game.

The book covers everything from cybernetic implants and augmentations and characters like Frank Pritchard, Jaron Namir (from Human Revolution) and Elias Chikane to locations like Detroit, Prague, Sarif Industries and Hengsha. Fans of Human Revolution and Mankind Divided will be in heaven, as I was.

The Art of Deus Ex Universe is stunning from start to finish chokka block with highly detailled images – hopefully the images accompanying this post will do it justice – for gamers who love the process behind the games they play to pore over.

I’ve got several video game art books and I have to say that this one takes pride of place in my collection.

 

 

Gears of War review: Time to rev up that lancer!

Please note, dear readers, this is a review of Gears of War 4’s campaign and not any of its MP modes. If I get time to play any of them, I’ll post my thoughts, but that said, I like single player campaigns more than MP so that might be a while …

I’ve always been a fan of the Gears of War video games.

Son of a gun: JD Fenix

Son of a gun: JD Fenix

In fact, I’ve always liked the series much more than Halo, to be honest. Maybe it’s  the over-the-top characters with larger than life calves and that it has a gun that has a freaking chainsaw attached to it, but I always liked the dude bro chemistry between original Gears characters Marcus Fenix, Dom Santiago, Damon Baird and Augustus “Cole Train”Cole as they battled the Locust.

Set 25 years after Gears of War 3, you fill the combat boots of James Dominic (JD) Fenix, the son of Gears legend Marcus Fenix, and this time around the COG (Coalition of Governments) that Marcus and his pals Dom, Cole and Baird fought for so long ago are now the enemy, with JD and colleagues Kait and Del sort of revolutionaries fighting against the machine that is now the COG.

This is a much more vibrant Gears of War game, at least compared to the dark, gritty colour tones of previous games in the series, and while it’s not unicorns and rainbows it’s nice to see colour that isn’t various shades of brown and grey.

Gears of War 4 Drone BattleGOW4 takes a while to warm up and much of that is down to the fact that for the first couple of hours all you battle are COG robots called DeeBees. Don’t give up, though, as once you start fighting the Swarm – the new enemies – things pick up for the better.

Despite a new developer, Gears of War 4 feels like a Gears game and by that I mean it’s a tightly scripted affair where rooms are combat arenas full of knee-high walls and barricades that you can hunker down behind and pick out the horde of enemies, one by one. JD smacks into walls with a satisfying thump (you can almost feel the masonry crumble as a shoulder slams into it) – and there’s always plenty of cover to move to as you advance. There are new weapons too, to mix things up a little so you don’t have to reply on the faithful lancer all the time: One that fires saw blades, while another fires projectiles that drill into the ground then explode.

Gears of War has always been about arenas where you enter a room, clear out the enemies then move towards the objective. It’s never been about open-world exploration where you can wander off the beaten track.

Narrative has never been  a strength of the Gears games and it’s pretty average here but JD Fenix is a likeable character that grew on me the more I played the game and in a nice nod to the previous Gears titles, it was nice that Marcus Fenix becomes part of the team during the latter stages of the game.

A welcome return: Marcus Fenix makes a welcome return in GOW4.

A welcome return: Marcus Fenix makes a welcome return in GOW4.

It was nice seeing The Coalition give us an older, more grizzled (could he get more grizzled?)

Marcus Fenix, a military man who has lived life as a civilian for 25 years and now lives on a farm, growing tomatoes and generally leading a quiet life (there’s a nice sequence where JD, Marcus and co make their way through Marcus’ tomato plants and Marcus complains that his plants are being destroyed).

The Coalition hasn’t reinvented Gears of War here, and I don’t think anyone expected that they would, but I felt that the middle sagged a little, with the game becoming bogged down with traipsing through Swarm-infested lairs. As you’d expect, the ending has set us up for Gears of War 5.

gow4benchmark

 

Gears of War 4 looks wonderful on Xbox One – it could be the best looking game on Xbox One right now – and on PC, and it’s the third game to be released as part of Xbox’s Play Anywhere scheme where if you buy a digital copy on PC or Xbox One, you’ll get a free copy on the other platform and despite having a four-year old graphics card, I played most of the campaign on my PC. It’s incredibly scalable and my PC managed solid frame rates of close to 60 frames a second at 1080p using a mix of medium and high graphic presets. I was pleasantly surprised.

For a fan of Gears of War, I found number 4 in the series (let’s just forget that Judgement ever happened, shall we?) incredibly satisfying. It delivered all the things I wanted in a Gears game.

Now that The Coalition has got its first album out of the way, let’s see what direction the series heads in the future.

 

 

Entering the world of Virtual Reality, PlayStation styles

For a few minutes this week, I was The Batman. The Dark Knight. The Caped Crusader.

I threw batarangs through the shadowy streets of Arkham City, I used a forensic analyser to search a crime scene for clues, I tinkled the ivories before descending into the bat cave. I was inside The Batman’s head – and it was awesome.

Me being Batman.

OK, confession time:  I wasn’t really Batman, and I’m not likely to replace Ben Affleck/Christian Bale/Michael Keaton anytime soon,  but thanks to PlayStation NZ and its soon-to-be released PSVR headset (which releases this week), I got to pretend that I was Batman playing Batman Arkham VR from developer Rocksteady, and that’s good enough for me.

I’m no  stranger to VR headsets – I own a Samsung GearVR – so I knew what to expect in terms of comfort and experience, but despite its somewhat bulky appearance, the PSVR headset is comfortable and super adjustable, so it shouldn’t be a problem getting a good fit. It’ll also accommodate eye glasses, which most other VR headsets don’t cater for.

I did notice that I did sweat a bit while wearing the headset. Maybe that’s a result of all the padding, so keeping a cloth handy would be useful.

A close up of the PlayStation VR headset.In my hour or so hands-on with the PSVR, I played Driveclub VR (it was probably my least favourite VR experience),  watched my son’s friend Charlie play Rush of Blood (the on-rails shooter from the makers of the PS4 sleeper hit Until Dawn), watched my son Mitchell shoot pursuers in The London Heist, and I, of course, got to be The Batman, the game that sold me on PSVR being a viable VR platform.

It wasn’t a completely immersive experience: It was slightly disconcerting seeing my hands floating in space in front of me, cut off at the wrists, and when I looked down instead of a body I saw an empty space with a utility belt wrapped around it, but Rocksteady have pulled it off. Pulling the Move controllers triggers clenched my virtual fists, too, meaning that fighting games look a definite possibility with PSVR in the future.

Perhaps the most heart pumping demonstration, though, was Ocean Descent, part of the VR Worlds demos that come with the PSVR.  Putting you in a shark cage as it descends the depths of a tropical ocean, it’s a serene scene at first: A turtle swims past, then sting rays glide past, impressively.

The cage descends further,  the wreckage of a submarine suddenly appearing into view, resting on sea bed. I turn my head and realise that moving my head moves the headlamp attached (I’m assuming) to my dive helmet. Suddenly, a shadow looms into view: It’s a great white shark.

The shark circles the shark cage, it’s metal frame swaying as the creature buffets it in its wake. The creature disappears then suddenly it reappears, slamming into the shark cage, ripping a section of the door off. I take a step backwards towards the rear of the cage.

Now, let’s examine that statement for a minute: I’m in a room with five other people in an Auckland suburb near the city’s CBD, wearing a VR headset projecting me into a virtual world, yet my brain told me to take a step backwards because a VR shark attacked the VR cage I was standing in. Crazy.

img_20161005_111346I came away impressed with PSVR after the short time I spent with it. Ultimately, though, I’d like to spent more hours with it to get a real impression of how it is in a real-world environment (ie not in a controlled space).

Would I buy a PSVR based on my short time with it? Perhaps, but part of me still isn’t convinced quite yet that VR is the next big thing in gaming.

Besides, I’m never really a first-adopter of technology so I’d like to see how PSVR does once it’s out in the wild and user feedback comes through before I lay down several hundred dollars on hardware.

I did come away impressed with PlayStation’s answer to VR and I think will be the  most accessible mainstream VR platform available but time will tell whether it becomes a must-have VR platform for console gamers. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s half way there.

This week, plenty of PlayStation owners will get the chance to see what it’s all about.

*Thanks to PlayStation NZ for letting me, my son and his friend enter the world of VR using the PSVR.  It was much appreciated.