Xbox One Launch Lineup Preview: Potential, Little Substance
Twisted Pixel Games built an impressive reputation on the backs of ‘Splosion Man, Ms. ‘Splosion Man, and the under-appreciated Gunstringer. Irreverent arcade racer Lococycle looks to continue that tradition. Developed originally for the Xbox 360, the game will appear as downloadable title on the Xbox One with suitably souped-up graphics.
The set-up is, in a word, zany. I.R.I.S. is a piece of high-grade military hardware, a sentient, talking motorcycle. Rebelling against her masters, she escapes, dragging a hapless mechanic, Pablo, along with her. To be clear: Pablo never actually rides the motorcycle — he spends the entire game behind it, sliding along on his back, with a pant leg caught in I.R.I.S.’ rear axle.
The action that ensues is breezy, old-school fun, drawing on classics like Road Rash and especially Spy Hunter. I.R.I.S. moves along automatically at speed; it’s up to the player to dodge cars, deploy turbo, fire on-board machine guns, and even swing the bike’s “limbs” in a silly-but-satisfying approximation of melee combat. Highlighted counter opportunities trigger endless juggle combos, — just another part of all the madcap madness. Enemies spawn in a ways down the highway, then turn to attack, but whether it’s mafia goons on ATVs or wasp-like flying robots, nothing gets in I.R.I.S.’ way.
Speaking of evil robots, how about the fact that the game’s antagonist, an evil chopper named S.P.I.K.E., is voiced by Robert Patrick — a.k.a. the T-1000? In fact, there’s an extensive live-action component to the game’s plot presentation that also involves director film director James Gunn (Super, Slither) and horror legend Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead, From Dusk Till Dawn). I’m not sure there’s a good reason for this — signs point to “a bunch of Austin dudes networking and making cool stuff happen” — but it certainly sets Lococycle apart from other indie competitors.
Actor Freddy Rodriguez (Planet Terror, TV’s “Six Feet Under”) plays Pablo, and he’s saddled with a lot of “Ay Dios Mio!” clowning that I could frankly do without. Still, it’s all in the spirit of campy fun, and it’s hard to find fault with the way the game mixes old-school gameplay with new-school polish. If there is one flaw, it’s that the gameplay loops can start to feel a little repetitive — not a good problem to have when you’re asking people to replay levels to get a higher score. Look for Lococycle before the end of 2013.
NBA Live 14
It’s been a long time since NBA Live 10, but EA Sports is back on the hardwood, looking to cash in. NBA Live 14 is purpose-built for next-gen systems, which means it’s not caught in the same netherworld as label-mates NHL, FIFA, and Madden. Instead, it looks to draw on the best features of these games to improve its basketball gameplay.
My hands-on experience made this immediately obvious; certain control schemes felt familiar, as along with the look of EA’s new Ignite engine. In particular, I was watching the motion of the ball — according to EA rep Michael Yaeger, Live drafted in the same guy who revolutionized FIFA’s dribbling physics to perform a similar feat in a very different sport.
The dribbling was indeed impressive, but the game’s not a perfect experience by any means — certain aspects of the gameplay still felt a little stilted, particularly rebounding, and there were times when I felt like the animations were taking over control. Still, it’s a big step in the right direction, and the beginning of what Yaeger called a “multi-year process to restart franchise momentum.”
Apart from the gameplay, EA is putting a huge emphasis on a “Connected Experience,” which will provide a wealth of real-world statistical information and other updates — every day. Listening to Yaeger describe the post-launch support, I started to pity the low-ranking EA plebes whose job it will be to constantly create new scenarios. For bonus XP, players will be asked to recreate statistical outliers, to undo history, and to go back through previous seasons and try to change the outcomes. Tournament challenges will be organized around trivia like college alma maters, or whether players have ever been on the cover of a video game.
Shoe and haircut updates will ensure that the game is always up-to-date. Up-and-coming artists will create proprietary music for the game, long after its release date. Jalen Rose will provide a weekly color commentary update to keep the announcers current. Real coaches have even provided voice acting, so that we can pretend that their in-game avatars are “wired” for sound during virtual games.
EA is no stranger to cowing consumers and competitors with its licensing and access, and NBA Live 14 is no exception. Still, the “Connected Experience” is certainly impressive — more ambitious and multi-faceted than any other comparable project. When it comes to the actual gameplay — I would give the team in Vancouver another year or two to perfect it — which, inevitably, they will. That said, if you want the extremely polished dress rehearsal, the game is available at launch.
Skylanders: Swap Force
If you have kids in the house, Skylanders: Swap Force is sure to please, provided you’re okay with a little cartoon violence. Like previous Skylanders titles, you can collect 16 different physical Skylanders action figures, then transport them into the game by placing them on the “Portal of Power” peripheral. Mechanically, the game is a third-person action romp in the vein of Diablo, but more “fluffy.” By defeating enemies and collecting power-ups, Skylanders can gain new powers and abilities. The figurines themselves retain all of that character data. They can be — for example — brought to a friend’s house and used in-game, where they’ll retain any new data obtained there, to be transported back home.
The catch in Swap Force is all 16 creature figurines have a detachable top and bottom half, which can be mixed and matched for over 256 different combinations. Parents can team up with their younger gamers via 2-player co-op as well, and all the figures from the earlier games are, of course, supported by the new title.