Following rumors and leaked screenshots, Ubisoft has officially confirmed the existence of Assassin’s Creed Unity with a brief teaser trailer for the upcoming game. Set in 18th century France, the game is the first Assassin’s Creed installment to be developed exclusively for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One – a separate game, codenamed Assassin’s Creed Comet, is rumored to be making its way to the PlayStation 3and Xbox 360 – features a brand new black-clad assassin, and is rumored to employ a modified take on the series’ signature parkour-like navigation system. Check out the brief glimpse of the game above and stay tuned for additional looks ahead of its Holiday 2014 release.
The PlayStation 4 was king once again to start off 2014.
Gamers only spent $664 million on physical games at brick-and-mortar stores, which is down 21 percent from $835 million in 2013, according to industry research firm The NPD Group‘s monthly report. But the comparison isn’t quite fair since The NPD Group observed a five-week period in January 2013.
“Overall retail video game sales would be down only 1 percent instead of down 21 percent, if sales were normalized to account for the five-week January 2013 compared to the four-week January 2014,” NPD analyst Liam Callahan said.
The big drop was due lackluster software numbers. Spending on hardware picked up 17 percent to $241 million. But people spent 40 percent less on games to only rack up a total of $224 million in software sales.
As always, these figures only represent physical sales of new games. It does not include digital or used software, which is a major aspect of the market. For that reason, NPD’s monthly report is best viewed as a snapshot of what is doing well and not necessarily as a barometer for the overall health of gaming.
With that said, let’s take a look at the best-selling games of January.
- Call of Duty: Ghosts (360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4, Wii U, PC)
- NBA 2K14 (PS4, 360, Xbox One, PS3, PC)
- Battlefield 4 (PS4, Xbox One, 360, PS3, PC)
- Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (360, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Wii U, PC)
- Grand Theft Auto V (360, PS3)
- Madden NFL 25 (PS4, Xbox One, 360, PS3)
- Minecraft (360)
- FIFA 14 (PS4, Xbox One, PS3, 360, Vita)
- Lego Marvel Super Heroes (360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, 3DS, Wii U, Vita, PC)
- Tomb Raider (PS4, Xbox One, 360, PS3)
It’s interesting to note that the PS4 version is outselling the Xbox One version for each one of the above games except for Call of Duty: Ghosts and Lego Marvel Super Heroes. That led Microsoft to point out that Xbox One and Xbox 360, when taken together, are responsible for the most software sales.
“January NPD Group figures released today revealed [that] Xbox systems sold the most games across all console platforms in January with 2.27 million units sold, making up 47 percent of software market share,” Microsoft marketing boss Yusuf Medhi wrote. “Fans continue to show their excitement for new-generation Xbox One games, with U.S. consumers purchasing an average of 2.7 games per console since launch.”
Of course, that’s for both current- and last-gen games. When only looking at the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, it looks like Sony has a distinct edge.
“It’s clear gamers are choosing PlayStation as the best place to play, with PS4 software sales ranking No. 1 in January, highlighted by strong sales of Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, which sold twice as many units on PS4 than any other platform,” Sony spokesperson Guy Longworth said.
As for the games themselves, Call of Duty once again topped the list, but NBA 2K14 is continuing to chart well thanks to its strong performance on PlayStation 4. Minecraft on Xbox 360, one of the best-selling games of 2013, is still making its mark on this top 10.
As is often the case, some companies are keeping their hardware sales on the down-low. Microsoft did not specify how many Xbox Ones it sold. That’s typically a bad sign.
“PS4 led overall hardware sales this month, followed by the Xbox One,” said Callahan.
We reached out to Microsoft for its sales result, but it declined to comment. Nintendo also did not update its hardware numbers. Sony, however, confirmed that the PS4 doubled Xbox One’s sales.
“Demand for PlayStation 4 remains incredibly strong as it was No. 1 in sales for next-gen consoles in January, nearly doubling the nearest next-gen competitor, and remains the cumulative leader, according to today’s NPD report,” Sony spokesperson Guy Longworth said. ”Although PS4 remains severely constrained at retail, we are working hard to refresh supply as quickly as possible.”
While Sony has the advantage, both consoles sold well.
“Continued success of the new consoles drove a 17 percent increase in hardware sales in January 2014, and when taking into account the 5-week month of January 2013 compared to the four-week month of January 2014, normalized sales of hardware were up 47 percent,” the analyst said.
BY SHARIF SAKR
We’ve had a lucky run with product teasers recently. Instead of being totally vague, they’ve deliberately given us some inkling of what to expect, and we’re hoping that the Sony flyer above — summoning us to a PlayStation event in London — does so too. We’re told the briefing will introduce UK journalists to the “slimmest” PlayStation device, but we’re not told that we’re definitely going to witness the launch of a whole new product, which — to our minds, at least — suggests we might be looking at the UK launch of the PlayStation Vita TV. At just 13.6mm thick, the Vita TV is the thinnest PS device that we know of and it’s currently only available in Japan, so a launch in the UK (or anywhere outside of Asia) could potentially be a big deal. We’re gonna go ahead and rule out a super slim PlayStation 4 already, but the other plausible alternative is that the flyer is technically wrong, and that this is the UK launch of the slimmer version of the PlayStation Vita handheld — in other words, the 2013 Japanese model, which has an LCD screen instead of OLED, better battery life and which is just 15mm thick (20 percent skinnier than the current UK model). In any case, we’ll be there at the event on January 30th, with a flask of coffee and a pair of calipers.
BY JON FINGAS
Typically, motion controllers aren’t very good at adapting to different gameplay situations — not unless you’re willing to slap on a cheap plastic shell, anyway. Sony may improve that state of affairs in the future, though, as it recently filed for a patent on a modular PlayStation Move controller. The concept lets gamers attach parts to the Move that change not just how it feels, but how it behaves in-game. A set of “limbs” would turn it into a humanoid, for example, while a rotating part could switch between a gun and a sword. It’s an intriguing idea, although we wouldn’t count on seeing it any time soon. A modular system would likely raise the price of a future Move controller, and Sony has lately focused more on the DualShock 4’s Move-like features than dedicated peripherals.
VIA: Push Square
After one of the longest console generations of all time (seriously, that went on for-ev-er), a new era of console gaming has arrived. You’ve likely already read our PS4 review and made up your mind about the system; now it’s time to decide which games are worth buying. Do you pick up the exclusive AAA titles, focus on downloadable indie releases, or just snag the year’s biggest shooters? Well, we have some answers.
This list is currently a bit light, to be sure–but we’ll continue to update it as new games come out (and, more importantly, as embargos lift). Want to know which games to buy on day one? Well, look no further…
Knack is so close to being the game you want it to be. When the camera’s pulled in tight the graphics looks fantastic, and when the combat is at its best, it’s surprisingly clever. The end result is something of a muddled experience, with gameplay that seems stuck between the past and the present, and characters you’ll forget the moment they’re off-screen.
That said, there’s definitely an audience (see: kids) for the game, as we discussed in our Knack review. It has a ton of content, with a meaty, 10+ hours of story and plenty of replay value with its unlockable skins and gadgets. There’s even a downloadable companion app that’ll help you along the way, giving you access to new items that help keep the combat varied. Sony might not have a new mascot in Knack, but it definitely has a serviceable brawler.
How does that saying go? “You can’t argue with free?” Okay, that may or may not be an established saying, but it rings fully true with regards to Warframe, a competent online cooperative shooter with a few unfortunate issues. But its strong base mechanics, visual style, and interesting universe make it worth a look, especially because its barrier to entry isn’t a monetary one.
Calling it free is a bit misleading, because you’ll have to play it for an inordinate amount of time to unlock most of the content you could pay negligible fees for. But jumping in without shelling out a dime will still give you enough base-level material to enjoy for hours on end, and Warframe does bring some fun ideas that you won’t find anywhere else. Like, for example, you play as a space ninja. When all you have to give up is a bit of your time, how can you turn that down?
Create the most badass mining rig the universe has ever seen. That’s your goal inSuper Motherload, a score-based downloadable that tasks you with harvesting all the riches you can from the underbelly of Mars. The gameplay here follows a predictable cycle: dig for resources, return to your mining ship to refuel and unload your harvest, then get back to it. But once you start figuring out the subtle but rewarding tricks for increasing your payout, and once you start spending all that hard-earned cash on upgrading your mining operation, you’ll be eager to return to the driller controls.
Super Motherload isn’t exactly the most exhilarating game out there, as its gameplay is simple and repetitive. But it has a sort of calming effect to it; turns out, mining on a planet other than Earth is an isolating process, and it’s easy to fall into a hypnotic trance once the game’s eclectic soundtrack kicks in. If you’re after some sort of epic simulation experience, look elsewhere–but if all you want is to rack up a boatload of resources and fill your pockets with cash, Super Motherload is a decently enjoyable venture.
All a puzzle platformer needs is one interesting mechanic and we’re hooked–andContrast absolutely has that one interesting mechanic. In it, the heroine can meld into the shadows, interacting with the darkness cast on the wall by objects in the environment. That means you’re able to push a box in front of a lamp to give it a bigger shadow, then climb on it. Impressive, right?
Technical hiccups and a lack of character hold it back from true greatness, but the beautiful world does a good job at providing you plenty of eye candy to gawk over as you explore the dreamlike 1920s setting. And, like, it’s free on PlayStation Plus, so… you might as well, right?
Finally, a sequel to Doki Doki Panic. Wait, apparently that’s factually inaccurate. That’s okay though, because Doki Doki Universe is a thoroughly bizarre, endlessly charming adventure that harkens back to the specific type of weird Japanese game that hasn’t really been around since the PS1 days.
Yes, the game has some problems, both technical and design-related, that get in the way. But it’s still an adorable, family-friendly experience that’s so refreshing in the face of the copious realistic violence of other next-gen releases. And aside from its pleasant atmosphere, the Scribblenauts-meets-Monkey-Island-meets-bonkers gameplay is enough to keep you invested on its own.
With Skylanders: Swap Force, you have yet another chance to feed your obsession and collect even more Skylanders figures. Just drop them on the power portal, level them up, and get absurdly addicted to the beat-em-up, co-op adventure. The new Swap Force figures take center stage, adding more variety to the gameplay with their ability to take on other character’s powers by switching out the figures’ lower half.
On the PS4, the visuals get kicked up a notch. The environments are exquisitely detailed, CGI cutscenes look like they came straight out a Pixar movie, and your characters are even more lifelike than before. There’s more in our Skylanders: Swap Force review, but if you haven’t already committed to purchasing Swap Force on current-gen, you won’t be disappointed by the look of your characters on the next-gen hardware.
Flower is the kind of game that makes the word “game” seem meaningless. In it, you fly around beautiful, vivid landscapes as a flower petal, triggering flowers to bloom and spread color to the world. It’s relatively simple and won’t provide you with a challenge, but it’s the perfect game to zone out to thanks to its clean visuals and fantastic music.
The PlayStation 4 version of the game isn’t a huge departure from the original, though you’re not going to mind. The 1080p visuals are much cleaner, and make the already entrancing world look all the more stellar. While it might not move you as much as thatgamecompany’s more recent works, it’s definitely a worthwhile, magical journey (oh, man, that has to come out on PS4 too).
Fans of Criterion’s recent run of arcade racers will be happy to know that Ghost Games’ first Need For Speed continues in the Burnout developer’s path of fast, fun racing. Set in an awesome world full of things to do (our Need for Speed: Rivals review called it the Skyrim of racers), the game features brilliant driving that looks downright fantastic on the PS4.
Those interested in changing engine parts and simulating driving in circles need not apply–Rivals is made for those more comfortable running opponents (or, let’s just say it: rivals) off the roads. With a suite of online multiplayer options, NFS: Rivals has plenty to offer.
DC Universe Online isn’t a new game by any means–it’s been alive and well on the PC and the PS3 for some time now. The free-to-play MMO gives you the ability to customize and create your very own hero or villain and fight through you all your favorite DC locations, with powerful, physical combat that makes the game feel more like a brawler than a traditional MMO. It’s ranked pretty high on our list of the best free MMORPGs, too, and it stands the test of time.
The changes to DCUO on the PS4 are pretty minimal when you put them side-by-side. A few new environmental effects pop up from time to time, and overall things are a little less jaggy. When you’re flying high above the city you will still get substantial pop-in, but it’s hardly a deal breaker. Instead of a leap forward to next-gen, DCUO on PS4 is more for people to continue their current experience onto their new console.
It’s not just about shiny basketball men with wavy shorts (although the player models and cloth physics are amazing). NBA 2K14 on next-gen plays slicker thanks to improved on-court animations and smoother flow in between them. It also adds more immediate tactical options, and refreshes the presentation with mid and post-game interviews.
Big changes abound in the modes too. My Career is now a proper story, with cut-scenes, characters and interesting scenarios to smash through. It’s a fantastic way to revamp the stale career mode. Meanwhile My GM makes franchise-management easier on the eye, and My Team gets online tournaments. Only rough edges and some reused presentation content spoil an otherwise superb next-gen sports experience.
Nothing quickens the pulse like a wall of incoming fireballs, speeding at you amidst an eye-popping chaotic neon light show. And wouldn’t you know it–that feeling encompasses every moment of Resogun, an arcade shooter that’s traditional in its gameplay and stunningly advanced in its presentation. This PS4 downloadable is just the kind of experience you’re looking for at launch: a score-driven good time that’ll have you chasing your friends’ records for weeks.
When you’re not engrossed by the frenetic shmup action, you’ll be in awe of Resogun’s particle effects, which fly around the screen at a furious pace. Your reward for completing levels is actual Armageddon, as the whole mother-loving cityscape explodes around you into itty-bitty fragments. It’s glorious destruction at its best, and serves as a fitting incentive for saving the last remnants of humanity.
So, you’re looking for a shooter and you don’t feel like playing Killzone: Shadow Fallor Battlefield 4? Good news! As our Call of Duty: Ghosts review explains, the latest COD has everything you’re looking for. Want to blow up a nuclear-missile-launching space station while floating around in zero gravity? Yeah, that happens. Like, right away.
Oh, you’re a multiplayer gamer? CoD: Ghosts has one of the most polished and robust multiplayer offerings on the market. How robust? Dude, you can be a female soldier, customize your loadout with 30 perks, and play in a bunch of multiplayer modes. Not a multiplayer gamer? What else is there? Oh wait! Aliens. Extinction mode. Co-op. Boom!
Easily the better of the PlayStation 4’s two AAA launch titles (as you likely read in ourKillzone: Shadow Fall review), the latest entry in the Killzone franchise is an immensely enjoyable first-person shooter, with decent multiplayer and a single-player campaign that’s wrapped in a surprisingly tense Cold War narrative. Its main characters are a bit bland at times, but the campaign more than makes up for their shortcomings with powerful vignettes that depict the effects of its fictional sci-fi war. And even if you can’t be bothered to care about its story, the gunplay here is great, thanks to open-ended levels and really awesome equipment that lets you apply some strategy to your next-gen firefights.
On the multiplayer side, Shadow Fall features a suite of standard modes, including variants of team deathmatch and capture the flag, among others. The series’ trademark Warzone mode, which randomly rotates through various objectives on the fly during a single match, makes a triumphant return, and the ability to customize your own rulesets means players can create a variety of unique modes separate from the official offerings. As a complete package, Shadow Fall is definitely a PS4 game worth getting excited about.
We weren’t too sure what to think when we heard that the Assassin’s Creed franchise would be heading to the high seas in a pirate-filled adventure. What we definitely didn’t expect, though, was for our Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag review to call it the best AC yet. Seriously, it’s that good. The land combat is as strong as ever, and features some of the most interesting outdoor locations we’ve explored in the series–but it’s really the open ocean where AC4 is at its best.
When you’re sailing through a massive storm, raiding enemy ships for rum and harpooning whales for crafting materials, it’s easy to forget how mediocre AC3 was. Blasting apart enemies is rewarding thanks to refinements to the ship combat, and boarding vessels provides a non-stop source of entertainment. Turns out, Assassin’s Creed’s combat works really well within the bounds of a pirate game–who knew?
No doubt about it, Battlefield 4 on the PS4 is hands-down one of the best ways to experience this absolutely thrilling multiplayer shooter. The difference between playing it on your PS3 and a shiny new machine packing seven years of technological advancement is nothing short of astonishing. The visuals look roughly a billion times cleaner, which has a direct effect on the amount of enjoyment you’ll derive from playing it. Few things are as exhilarating as fighting in massive battles with a total of 64 players, watching soldiers duke it out in the streets while tanks hurl shells at anything that moves.
You’ll instantly understand why we fell in love with this game the second a humongous battleship comes plowing through the shoreline, while player-controlled fighter jets dogfight in the sky overhead. The environmental destruction is more impressive than ever, the battles are tense, and even the single-player campaign has been greatly improved in comparison to the tragedy that was Battlefield 3’s solo offering. If you’re planning on playing Battlefield 4 on consoles, go PS4 or bust.
full story: http://www.gamesradar.com/best-ps4-games/
Between brand new consoles and blossoming indie development, this is a year to watch the gaming industry.
The year has only just begun, but there are already plenty of exciting hints at what the gaming industry has in store for 2014.
At the intersection of powerful hardware and game developers unafraid of experimentation, the following trends are setting the stage for one of the most interesting years for video games in recent memory.
1. Inventive Hardware
Gaming hardware will follow software into more experimental territory in 2014. The Ouya bucked the three-party system last year, but at this year’s CES, Steam’s small fleet of Steam Machines are set to sail and other inventive takes on gaming hardware have bubbled up, too.
The new Oculus Rift prototype, known as “Crystal Cove,” builds out the virtual reality head-trip of its forebear by adding an OLED screen and positional tracking, among other refinements. (In a press event, Sony showcased its own Oculus Rift VR knock-off too.) Meanwhile, PrioVR is taking the idea of wearable gaming to the next level with full and half body motion suits.
2. Gaming In The Cloud
In the virtual world woven together by syncing and streaming services, the gesture of placing a disc in a tray feels downright prehistoric. Video games are a booming business, so why should playing them be any less modern than streaming a song on Rdio or syncing a movie across iCloud?
Well, Microsoft considered ditching the Xbox One’s optical drive altogether this generation, but eventually reversed that decision as well as abandoning its other strict DRM policing policies in the face of massive consumer backlash. Sony-side,PlayStation Now—a cloud gaming service that syncs games across devices—will merge video games with the cloud in a decidedly gamer-friendly direction. Expect these tensions to play out over 2014 as companies nudge their platforms toward the cloud without kicking the hornet’s nest.
3. Indies Flourish
Indie games once existed in defiance of the mainstream machine. Now they’re alluring to console makers and major game publishers alike, as both try to buy goodwill with gamers. Nostalgic indie shooter Resogun, published by Sony itself, stood out among the new PS4’s handful of launch titles. By showcasing the buzzy indie exclusive Witness (the latest from Braid’s legend-in-the-making Jonathan Blow) and allowing indie devs to self-publish, Sony is positioning itself to be the indie gamer’s console of choice.
Microsoft played catch-up by announcing “ID@Xbox,” its own program to support smaller developers. Expect to see huge indie hits enjoying support from major publishers across both consoles in the coming year, not to mention more indie gems popping up on mobile, PC and on Steam.
4. The New Consoles Will Become Worth Buying
Laptops and phones get annual updates like clockwork, whereas new consoles only roll around every eight years or so. At launch, both the PS4 and the Xbox One had barren game catalogs, making it hard to find a compelling case to upgrade at launch. Droves of next-generation titles will launch in 2014, making Microsoft and Sony’s brand hardware beasts worth considering. Every major console launch year is a truly special occasion—and a lightyear’s worth of hardware evolution.
5. Storytelling Transcends Genre Conventions
With rote refreshes of mindless shooters like Call of Duty growing stale, inventive, narrative-driven games will have even more room to shine in 2014. Last year, completely unconventional games like Papers, Please—a game literally about stamping passports—topped “best of” charts.
The Last of Us, another chart-topper with more than 3.5 million units sold, was lauded not for its survival horror mechanics, but for the intricately emotional relationship between its two protagonists. Even the violent sandbox of Grand Theft Auto V relied heavily on the cycling stories of its three main characters, exploring gritty and at-times mundane hyper-realism—and even following one of them to yoga class.
These aren’t the only gaming trends we’ll be watching into the year—Twitch and casual gaming are two others that spring to mind—but they’re definitely a few areas for gamers to keep a close eye on over the next 12 months and beyond. Gaming is more mainstream—and more lucrative—than ever, so with new consoles added into the mix, 2014 will be an exciting year no matter which way you cut it.
PlayStation Now could be the future of gaming, but you’re going to need a proprietary controller to play. Though Sony has announced that the streaming game service will come to tablets and smartphones — perhaps even non-Sony devices — the company doesn’t plan to let you use a touchscreen. To play PS3 games, PlayStation marketing VP John Koller tells us, you need to have the gamepad they were originally designed for. “You need to have the DualShock to be able to play,” says Koller.
Sony tells us a DualShock 4 will do for the PlayStation 4, and the PlayStation Vita handheld buttons can continue to work the same way they do now. Sony’s new Bravia TVs will specifically require a DualShock 3 controller, though — and so will tablets and smartphones, according to the executive.
A BIT OF AN ODD REQUIREMENT
It’s a bit of an odd requirement. While a DualShock 3 isn’t particularly expensive anymore and used controllers won’t be hard to come by, the idea of taking your game anywhere you take your smartphone is slightly diminished. If you have to carry a gamepad wherever you go, it’s a bit of a hassle, although admittedly the DualShock 3 isn’t as bulky as some other gamepads. Besides, the company’s already proven that the PS3 can accept input from mobile devices as if they were a controller themselves. Beyond: Two Souls has a companion app that lets you play the entire game from a smartphone.
However, it isn’t necessarily about what the technology can do so much as the gaming experience Sony wants to provide. “It’s a lot of how these games were developed,” says Koller, when we ask why virtual buttons wouldn’t work. “We want to continue the experiences as they were meant to be played on the controller,” he says, explaining that if you’d previously played a game like The Last of Us on PS3, you’d be able to pick up the controls immediately on PlayStation Now with the same exact gamepad in your hand.
“WE WANT TO CONTINUE THE EXPERIENCES AS THEY WERE MEANT TO BE PLAYED ON THE CONTROLLER.”
And it may need to be the exact same gamepad, even if you’re theoretically gaming on a device, like the iPhone, which has a gamepad standard of its own. Koller says that Sony still needs to test and see if it can sync up the DualShock 3’s Bluetooth standard with the iOS 7 gamepad API, but that’s the direction that the company is headed right now.
Sam Byford contributed to this report.
When real travel stops feeling revelatory, the digital road takes its place — for good or ill
by RYAN LEAS
You want to begin again. You’ll get it right this time. Buy the beautiful house, associate with interesting, beautiful people. Drive a new car. A fast one. Get rich, naturally. You want to cut everything away, leave behind all your old things, all your old acquaintances. Slip out quietly as night falls, or just as the sun’s rising. A clean slate, no past. Head someplace else, somewhere far away. You want to have control this time. Be your own architect. Press “Start” once more. A new life. A new career, in a new town. We’ve all thought of that right? It’s what we were promised, after all.
Ain’t the American Dream grand? Michael, one of three playable characters in “Grand Theft Auto V,” yells this periodically during firefights, typically when you’re rampaging against cops. In a nutshell, that context is all you need to understand the wicked smirk specific to the GTA franchise’s exaggerated vision of America. It’s always hard to pin down exactly what the ultra-successful series is. “GTA” is equal parts incisively clever and on the nose. It pushes boundaries with some of the most mature content in mainstream video games while channeling that content toward juvenile ends, tapping into latent teenage dreams of anarchy. The games acerbically critique American consumerism while also offering a world in which driving up on a sidewalk and running down civilians is cause for laughing out loud.
Throughout, one thing has been consistent. In its continual mining of classic American crime dramas, from “The Godfather” to “Scarface” to “Heat,” the GTA franchise automatically inherits that tradition’s outlaw take on undying American Dream tropes. The upward mobility, the rags to riches, all with a pistol in one hand and a bag of money in the other. Through its knowing recalibration of this traditional structure, “GTA” would like to position itself as subversive. And, no doubt, its vision of America has always been an amusingly satirical one, that proclamation of “Ain’t the American Dream grand?” delivered with a healthy amount of sarcasm. But it’s also fantasy fulfillment. As much as this newest iteration of “GTA” skewers American culture, it also captures how the GTA franchise as a whole plays into a more contemporary tradition — a new, digital American frontier in which to play out our inherited myth over and over. One that urges us to press “Start” once more, but on the pretense of what is, ultimately, a batch of false promises.
There has always seemed to be promise in the American landscape — its expansiveness seemed to suggest unlimited potential for self-reinvention. It’s big enough for you to keep diving deeper inward, and this has become woven into the stories we tell ourselves about American identity. This is, of course, all over the place, but just take a look at three iconic American artists. Fitzgerald gave us one of the holy texts of American Dream iconography with “The Great Gatsby,” one of the archetypal stories of a man fleeing to one coast to recreate himself in a new image, to start again as someone else. There was something more diffuse in the stories of Kerouac, a wanderlust that ping-ponged between those two dream-state destinations of New York and California. And, of course, there’s always Springsteen, perhaps the most iconic American artist to poeticize the lure and possibilities of the open highway.
But lately the idea of taking off and starting anew in another town feels a bit outmoded. We’ve inherited the failure — Gatsby winds up shot in a pool, Sal Paradise no longer really believes in Dean Moriarty, and the characters of “Born to Run” never make it past the city limits but instead wind up in the bar of “Glory Days.” That’s the symbolic stuff, but the act of traveling through America has changed, too. The prices of airfare dropped, allowing middle-class Americans to traverse their continent in a few hours, abstracting the distance. Road trips became something of a stereotype. For different reasons, the recent film adaptations of “On the Road” and “The Great Gatsby” were more or less conceptual failures, but what they had in common was that they felt heavily inert for stories that were supposed to be so dynamic. Their sense of wonder now scans as quaint, a forced premise covering up attempts at escape we inherently understand as failed experiments.
Digital culture has, as it does with most things, accelerated this process. These kinds of classic American tales of reinvention might not end with the characters finding what they’re looking for, but at least those characters were able to work off of an initial sense of wonder. There is very little mystery left in driving around America when you can search a million photos of the Grand Canyon online, or when you hew rigidly to the route laid out by the automated Google Maps voice as you roll through the desert. You can travel anywhere you want before you actually go there. Inevitably, this changes how it feels to arrive at a new place — leaving you with that nagging sense of having been there before, of having lived this moment before. Digital culture demystifies something that strains to remain legendary, demoting an enigmatic frontier to the banality of a default desktop photo.
The effect of digital culture isn’t just how it alters our old dreams, but also what it offers as an alternative. If physical space feels finite even when we couldn’t possibly see it all in person, the new worlds we create for ourselves feel truly limitless. The Internet, of course, is the main venue in question, with its countless portals to wherever we wish to go, with the way it fragments us from a single person into a Facebook self, a Twitter self, etc. What is perhaps less considered is how open-world video games have, for a not-inconsequential portion of a certain generation, supplanted that notion of discovering yourself somewhere in the American continent.
There’s still plenty to be said for the experience of driving across America, but increasingly, it’s the virtual worlds that trigger our imagination. We no longer have to be concerned about arriving at the opposite coast and realizing that we still have ourselves to deal with when we arrive. Now we can acutely craft how we present to others with our various profiles, or disappear entirely into characters in some sprawling digitized world. Mostly, these kinds of games still operate in a fantasy/sci-fi vein, offering the player a world entirely dissociated from our own. We require different things out of video games than other art — we seek an active performativity, and games like “Skyrim” or “World of Warcraft” deliver.
There’s something else to the GTA franchise, though, something that hits on multiple levels. It’s an open, virtual world that we’ve created, but a vivid reflection of the real one, which complicates things severely. Digital culture contributed to the downfall of our myths, but it can build them up in even more extreme forms. When the aura of the American frontier fades, all it takes is a sunset rendered in graphics, all the colors punched up to their more delirious selves, and suddenly we have new places again.
When “Grand Theft Auto III” — the first entry in the franchise to take the world to full 3D as we now know it — was released in 2001, its creators at Rockstar Games expected another cult hit, but not a major hit. It wound up being the highest-selling game of that year. When “Grand Theft Auto V” was released this past September, it made over a billion dollars in three days, which isn’t just a record for video games but for all forms of entertainment, period. As a recent Grantland article pointed out, with more than 29 million copies sold, the reimagined Los Angeles of “GTA V” — dubbed Los Santos — has a player base milling around in it that’s more than triple the population of real-life Los Angeles. Has there ever been another game that received as much hype before its release alongside such a massive succession of considered essays on the experience of playing it?
People still wring their hands over the game’s teenage dreams of rebellion, or over its rabid political incorrectness. With a cultural footprint like that, though, we have to be dealing with something beyond leftover adolescent wish fulfillment. Something bigger, more endemic.
For those of us raised on the teleology of level-based side-scrollers, open-world games are revelatory.
As a genre, they allow us to disappear into something. Live a different life. It’s effective because the worlds are so sprawling and intricate as to feel like true alternate existences. That’s long been half the fun of the GTA franchise. You don’t have to do anything. Each iteration deepens its world, and drives that point home. “GTA V” has, as expected, taken everything to the next level, including this. It added far more atmospheric stuff to occupy your time — the “Strangers & Freaks” encounters playing on cartoon versions of California full of drug burnouts and the fame-obsessed, bounty-hunting gigs, arms-smuggling.
As you drive through Los Santos, lots of what happens to you seems unrelated to the game’s main point. Someone will get mugged, and you have the option to help them. You’ll stumble across armored vehicles you can rob for a few thousand dollars. You might witness someone stick up a clothing store, and you can either let them run away or gun them down. This is all outside the main storyline, which itself is somewhat amorphous. Where past “GTA” entries had players encounter a spectrum of different criminals, they still operated on a basic structure, point A to point B. There’s less direct momentum to “GTA V.” Between its three characters and the fact that you spend the bulk of the game actually working for yourself or the government, it feels more like you’re wading into these lives rather than racing alongside them.
Coupling the largest and most complex world of any of the GTA games with this even wider-open nature of gameplay, “GTA V” is the most immersive of the series and the one that best represents the moment where the new escapism of open-world gaming dovetails with an inherited American mythology. Playing any game entails some level of physical and psychological immersion. You don’t think “I need to press R1 to take cover, then L2 to aim, then R2 to fire at this thug before he takes away enough of my health meter that I lose and have to start the mission over.” You think “I need to kill him before he kills me.” “GTA V” welcomes that immersion, letting you move through its world with a new level of grace, whether it’s the smoothness of its weapon wheel and aiming system, or the responsiveness of its driving mechanics. You are inhabiting a new skin and a new place, but the game hardly lets you see the seams as you traverse this new existence.
The other reason the experience feels so natural is that, for a time, “GTA V” seems to promise that it will never end. Surely the massiveness of its world, the variety of its activities, would guarantee that there would be unlimited potential. The setting of the game makes “GTA V” feel theoretically limitless even if that’s demonstrably untrue physically. Playing “GTA V” is a radical and twisted form of virtual self-reinvention, taking place in a world that is itself a twisted reinvention of our real one.
The Internet and digital culture are simply facts of our lives and times, and many of us spend much of our days navigating the digital and cyber landscapes far more than any literal landscape. What goes on there, what identities we create out there — whether in the play realm of video games or the social and professional realms of the Internet — is very much legitimate. We know the frontier of “GTA V” is a constructed one, but the fact that it is created purely to lose yourself in — as opposed to the actual American landscape, which will exist with or without your cares — makes it feel like a more appropriate method of escape and performative reinvention. The artificiality of it all is part of the deal. It’s what makes the escapism legible to us in the 21stcentury. “GTA V” succeeded in delivering a world that hit all these pleasure centers and intellectual concerns alike. So, why, ultimately, does it still feel unsatisfying?
When I first started playing “GTA V,” I tried to space it out. A few missions a night, mess around a bit, keep it to maybe 90 minutes of gaming a day. Eventually, this system broke, and I played through more than half of the game in the course of one weekend. Clearly, I was hooked, and I did love the game, but I kept waiting for something to click that never did. Even now, three months on from its release, I’m not entirely sure how to describe my experience with “GTA V.” Something about it feels a little hollow.
In the course of playing a game, you inevitably come upon its borders. You can’t go to this section yet. You don’t yet have the special ability needed to defeat this boss. You can’t replay that level until you finish the game. Open-world games seem to promise that won’t ever happen. They’re supposed to give you a self-sustaining, fully-functioning space unto itself that you can enter and reenter at will with the feeling that the systems within it keep moving along without your presence. Maybe “GTA V” tried to be too much. And somewhere along the line I started to lose faith in Los Santos.
Paradoxically, “GTA V” is so massive, intricate and immersive that when the curtain gets pulled back just a little bit you suddenly become aware of how tightly cornered in you really are. Some of it is symbolic. You’re playing in what you understand to be a fictional, bloody funhouse reflection of our real-life cities, but every now and then the real world encroaches. A Shark? song called “California Girls” comes on the radio, but you live in San Andreas; a Bob Seger song called “Hollywood Nights” is playing, but you’re driving through Vinewood. There are little gestures to suggest the continuity and interconnectedness of the GTA franchise’s world even across the PS2′s “3D Universe” and the PS3′s “HD Universe” — people mention Vice City; they allude to your “GTA IV” protagonist as a Russian “making waves” in Liberty City; radio personalities like Fernando and Lazlow are ever-present. But while Vice City stands in for Miami, you get real references to Mexico’s nearby border or Chinese gangsters. The variance makes the world feel connected to our real one, not independent.
I remember the first time a “GTA” game shocked me. Early in “GTA III,” you are tasked with assassinating a Triad member in Chinatown who works a little street stand in a pedestrian mall. When you walk up, he gets spooked and starts to run. I shot at him a few times, grazed him in the leg, ran out of ammo and had to chase him down to beat him with a baseball bat — all of which was a lot more comical than it reads, given the cartoonish look of the older “GTA” games. The Triad member ran down the pedestrian mall and out onto the highway, where a taxi cab suddenly hit him, knocking him over but not killing him. It was a bizarre, startling moment — a realization that this world was functioning outside my actions. I could have caught up with the Triad and fought him on the sidewalk, and that car could’ve still passed by. Anything could happen. This was what was so appealing about “GTA’s” anarchic spirit.
“GTA V” is elaborate and more cinematic than any other installment in the franchise. There’s an ambient score that will play during chases and missions, undoing the intense and strange (but realistic) silence that would occur when you had to abandon a car in the middle of a chase and lost the radio, or when you were in a shootout inside a warehouse. The missions themselves are now more expansive and flashier — an early one features you pulling someone’s house off a cliff, but it isn’t long before you graduate to multi-part heist missions. All of these things are great. They just also happen to move in the direction of reinforcing the invisible rules of this world.
In “GTA IV,” if a truck happened to pull out suddenly and crash into you in the middle of a chase, half the time that was a scripted event for the mission. It’d happen the same way if you failed and tried again. Sure, there is still plenty of chance for random madness like a cab hitting that Triad, but more and more the GTA world shows its hand. All the spontaneous moments in “GTA V” — the muggings, the armored trucks, the strangers needing a ride — at first seem truly random. Like they could happen anywhere at any point, like this is a fully functioning world. Of course, that’d be wildly complex to achieve. In reality, there are four or five set incidents in each category, and they’ll eerily play out again if you happen to not finish them right — like, for example, if you’re supposed to give someone a ride but crash and blow up your car. Roll past again a little while later, and there they are, asking once more for your help.
These technical edges are the ones that make the escape of open-world games feel like an insidious one. At first the game seems like a new, endless digital frontier full of its own unique events. Those little slips of repetition make you think about all the rest of it, too. You jump out of a plane with Franklin, and as wildly impressive as it is to see the game’s map laid out before you and know that as you descend all of these distant lights will form into buildings with windows and doors and people outside, just like they would in real life, you can also look out at the expanse of the blue sky, and feel a flatness, a feeling as if you are in some big invisible box.
This is, of course, always the way such games eventually fail to maintain their worlds. In those earlier 3D “GTA” iterations, you’d die just by going in water. In later ones, you’d go as far as you could and the world would just stop. In a non-level-based game, the designers don’t have the luxury of having the space end with the wall of a house you can’t break through. They have to camouflage their limits out in the depths of a sea that hopefully few players are willing to take the time to seek out.
What’s uncomfortable about these parts is how they make you realize that digital frontiers, whether games or the Internet, are seemingly limitless experiences that are actually very controlled by other people. Somebody had to write the code that delineates what part of the ocean you swim in and what part is actually off limits to you. The game programmers decide on other borders as well: what characters you can play as when you first turn on the game, which buildings have interiors you can enter and which don’t, the order in which the missions become available.
In any of these cases, you’re operating in a space allotted for you. The person creating these open-world spaces is still constructing an experience as much as the people who put you in a level system in “Super Mario World.” These spaces are all finite in reality, but we can’t see the end. They seem limitless, and we seem free, but how much of that comes from the distractions and directions written into the game is another issue. How many police chases can you get in around Los Santos before you realize its limits, the same circuit you always find yourself taking? Traveling through a real landscape, you have the roads people have built and the stories you’ve read, but it’s still the world. It’s just there. In a digital landscape, the roads are everything, even if they look more like scenery.
One of the other classic elements of the “GTA” games is the codes. When you’ve exhausted the world on its own terms, you can put in cheats — flying cars, moon gravity, invincibility. You can begin again. A new you that happens to be able to jump 20 feet in the air. But these are still the world on its own terms. Someone had to program these codes. That’s where the dissatisfaction seems to come in. As large and multifaceted as these worlds are, we want more. We want true malleability. These games have the potential to be our new frontiers, but right now it’s too easy to find the bones. The artificiality is what makes the experience legible, but it’s also what makes the limitations frustrating when they’re exposed. You feel like there shouldn’t be any limits, but you have no control over that. These worlds still have walls.
I’ve decided on an important thing. I want to be immortal. I want to do things I couldn’t do if I were able to die.
I’m Trevor, which in my game world means I’ve taken a scuzzy Wild West meth dealer and given him a denim jacket echoing “Drive” and a small-time cult leader beard. The patterns are familiar now. I put in the code for invincibility and the code for explosive bullets. I’m very aware of the buttons I’m pressing — I know the order and the names I need in order to create the result I want. I walk into a busy intersection, take aim, and a passing car explodes with a single shot from my combat pistol.
Setting off explosions in downtown Los Santos is a quick way to attract police attention, and I’ve attained a three-star wanted level in about a minute. I stand in the intersection blowing up cop cars for a while. Blood’s spurting off of me constantly, but I’m unharmed. Eventually, I decide to leave town. I put in the code to conjure a sports bike, and ride up mountainsides and off cliffs, knowing that I will be fine even as my motorcycle explodes.
I arrive at a military base and steal a fighter jet. I’m flying away, when a little beep warns me that the military base is sending some anti-aircraft missiles my way. I figure I’m out of range, but I’m wrong. The jet explodes midair, and I crash in its blackened husk on a mountaintop.
The police choppers have found me again up here. I begin running downhill. I pause. Reenter the code for the bike. Ride the rest of the way down.
The invincibility cheat has worn off, but I don’t bother to reenter it this time. I begin riding down the highway. There’s an eerie silence without gunshots, or without the cinematic score accompanying a chase. I pass dusty strip malls, and mini-marts with a two-decade old glimmer, and hodgepodge trailer communities. There’s just the low hum of my motorcycle, the occasional bark of a dog, the rickety whir of ATVs or rusted-out VW-esque buses as they drive by me. The American Dream is grand.
I pull up to a mini-mart, one called 24/7. Its sign is green and red and orange. I walk in, my jacket decorated with a dozen bloodstains, a gun still in my hand. The shopowner begins to warn me that cops frequent his store, and maybe to call him on his bluff or maybe because I’m ready for a final stand, I shoot him. I take cover just inside the doorway to the back room, awaiting the arrival of the cops.
Not long after they arrive, the firefight has escalated, a constant whine of sirens echoing from outside the mini-mart’s doors. I move out into the store, crouching against a small set of shelves. Soda bottles and snacks periodically get blown off shelves as the cops try to get me. I’ve crept towards four stars, and I know time’s up. SWAT members will start swarming the place, and I can’t hold the position forever. I stand up, and I move toward the door, an automatic shotgun in hand. And even as I knowingly walk to my death, to a last stand amongst the All-American detritus of this desert town, I have a familiar feeling that had been long lost. In that moment, I do feel limitless.
by Malathi Nayak Reuters
SAN FRANCISCO — Video game publisher Electronic Arts said on Thursday it halted development on upcoming projects of its “Battlefield 4″ game to fix technical problems that have plagued the title recently.
Gamers playing “Battlefield 4″ — a military-style shooter that is the company’s most-anticipated holiday title — have been complaining of crashes and online connectivity issues since its October launch.
Shares of Electronic Arts finished down 6 percent at $21.01.
“We’re not moving onto future projects or expansions until we sort out all the issues with Battlefield 4,” Electronic Arts said in a statement.
The company had planned five “Battlefield 4″ expansion packs with additional content for next year without announcing release dates.
Electronic Arts has temporarily put development on upcoming titles on hold to give current problems full attention, an Electronic Arts spokesman said.
“The work being done to stabilize Battlefield 4 does not impact our release schedule for future titles,” he added.
Since the game launched on platforms, including the new PlayStation 4 from Sony and Xbox One from Microsoft, sales have been weaker than expected, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said in a research note this week.
Copyright 2013 Thomson Reuters.