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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Holiday 2008's Best Picks (Part 1)

Call the mirror to the edge of its duty.

Publishers have the propensity to release really promising titles towards the end of every year, perhaps hoping to catch the holiday season shoppers just in time – and this year’s no different. Let’s check out the potential game-of-the-year titles in the offing.

Mirror’s Edge

She knows kung-fu!

Innovation is never bad – though how well the final product turns out is another question altogether. The game wheeling the innovation cart last year was Portal, Valve’s first-person puzzle game, but for this year, we have Mirror’s Edge. When this game was announced earlier this year, it really caught my attention. The first screens and footage of Mirror’s Edge showed that this title certainly isn’t your archetypal first-person game – well, the tell-tale sign is the game’s focus on acrobatic action instead of the usual gunplay.

Alright, it is easy to get confused here. First-person acrobatic action? What’s exactly is Mirror’s Edge all about? Though the story’s a little sketchy right now, it is known that you would be playing as Faith, a woman who is mysteriously wanted dead by the several men in black (literally). No, she doesn’t have any weapons with her – but she does have one skill – and that’s her agility. By means of some rather impressive acrobatics, she jumps across to roofs of buildings with an unprecedented elegance to evade her enemies. Horizontal poles hanging in mid-air are also fair play. Faith’s acrobatics aren’t merely for evading, though – they come in handy when engaging in melee combat with enemies as well. When faced with such a situation, she can disarm them with some kung-fu-esque moves, and then the game gives you the choice of using the weapon. Equipping the said would preclude Faith from executing any acrobatics, but allow her to silence enemies from afar and hence reducing the risk of attaining an injury – it’s essentially an option that you have to weigh.

Taking a water slide.

However, the fact that this game puts you into a first-person perspective while doing acrobatics means that Mirror’s Edge may turn out to be the videogame version of the film Cloverfield – which means constant shakes and distortion are to be expected. How DICE, the developers, will handle this to keep headaches at bay remains to be seen.

All in all, this game’s shaping up to be a unique title. And nope, the beautiful visual style employed here hasn’t gone unnoticed. Mirror’s Edge arrives November 11 on the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. Whoa, that’s really close to Gears of War 2’s release date.

Call of Duty: World at War

Now you see him, now you don't.

World at War is the latest installment in Activision’s established franchise and this year’s offering is being developed by Treyarch. Unlike Call of Duty 4, World at War is going back to the World War 2 theme – but for the first time, you will get to face off against the Japanese. The game also has you fighting the war from the Russian front, whose campaign takes place near the end of the war.

But how is World at War going to set itself apart from the countless other World War 2 shooters that you and I have played for so many years? For a start, World at War utilizes the visual engine from Call of Duty 4 – and the fact that Treyarch already has its hands on the engine a full year before Call of Duty 4’s release means that there is a lot of time for the studio to further polish the graphical aspects of the game and make them even better. Using Call of Duty’s visual engine also means that Treyarch has more time to focus on creating an immersive gameplay as there isn’t a need to build the graphics engine from the ground up.

How can you ever miss this target?

Needless to say, the crux of the game’s going to be its action. And with regards to that, World at War does have a few tricks up its sleeves. Mission diversity has always been a selling point of Call of Duty games and World at War isn’t an exception. From night missions that require a little bit of stealth to close-quarters jungle warfare with the camouflaged Japanese soldiers to the bombing of Japanese vessels in the Pacific Ocean, World at War certainly has quite a lot of mission variety. Besides mission diversity, Treyarch has also added the idea of alternative paths into World at War – each path offers varying combat strategies and it’s up to you to decide how you want to approach your enemies.

The addictive Pokemon-style collect-em-all multiplayer from Call of Duty 4 is returning as well. What this translates into is the option to unlock more weapons and abilities as your rank increases. Why change a thing that’s not broken? Perhaps more noteworthy is the addition of 4-player co-op multiplayer, which can be played in both split-screen mode and online. The game will increase the difficulty of the missions in accordance with the number of players and their skills.

What is there not to like about World at War, really? Treyarch has been involved in the Call of Duty franchise since the early days and if all is implemented well, this could be the game that would match, if not better, Call of Duty 4 and redefine what a World War 2 shooter should be like.

Be sure to gun down Call of Duty: World at War on November 11 on every major platform except the PSP. Oh my, why are PSP gamers still not getting Call of Duty? Well, get the DS version (which feature richer graphics than Call of Duty 4 for DS) if you want some portable action. And wait, November 11? WTH! It’s a same day release as Mirror’s Edge! Looks like I’m going have to spend more on November 11.

More Holiday 2008’s Best Picks Part 2 soon!


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