Naughty Dog dishes out free DLC for Uncharted 3’s two-year anniversary. Can we make it a trend, please?

Here’s a fan-friendly move that needs to become the new industry standard: Naughty Dog celebrated the two-year anniversary of Uncharted 3 by removing the price tag from its DLC multiplayer maps. Not enough anniversary love for you? They also added a brand new map called Dry Docks and slashed prices on other DLC (costumes, etc.).

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Here’s your excuse to get Sully, Elena, Chloe, and the gang together.

For those of us who groan about DLC, this is slick news, not to mention a classy move on Naughty Dog’s part. It got my overworked mind thinking: Why don’t more companies do something similar on the two-year anniversary of a game?

Imagine this life cycle for a game:

a) Release date: A game releases in bare bones form.

b) One-year anniversary: Ultimate edition or Game of the Year edition hits shelves, coaxing those who passed on the game earlier.

c) Two-year anniversary:  DLC sheds its price tag, gives early adopters a reason to boot-up the game and spread the word to potential newcomers.

In other words, free things come to those who wait. The only problem with this system is that it could deter early adopters from buying DLC. However, if companies stay tight-lipped until the two-year anniversary, the system could work to benefit both gamers and game companies.

As a bonus, this strategy could benefit games that don’t receive a GOTY Edition. Imagine if Konami announced free DLC for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (I know there’s a LoS multi-pack, but work with me here). Gaming sites and blogs would buzz with the news and make the game relevant again. Fans of the original would pop-in to play the DLC while curious newcomers would pull the trigger. Meanwhile the release of Lords of Shadow 2 is looming, and suddenly there’s rejuvenated interest from old and new fans alike.

Free DLC for the sake of advertising. We can do this.

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Ubisoft axed Far Cry 3 voice actor for prior success with Deus Ex game

Next time two years of your professional life goes to waste, think about voice actor Elias Toufexis, who recently revealed that Ubisoft pulled him from Far Cry 3 after recording the voice of protagonist Jason Brody for two years. Toufexis (good luck pronouncing that one) voiced Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s protagonist Adam Jensen, and had enough success to make Ubisoft uneasy:

“I played [Jason Brody] for two years, did the voice and when Deus Ex came out [Ubisoft] replaced me because they were nervous that … ‘We don’t want people playing this game and thinking of another game.'”

As with live-action performers, it’s common for voice actors to dabble in different game franchises. What hurt Toufexis in this case was the fact that he bestowed his “normal voice” on both protagonists, thus creating a potential situation where Far Cry 3 players could potentially find Toufexis’ voice jarring, had they played Deus Ex.

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Every time Adam Jensen opened his mouth, his VA came one step closer to losing his job.

I understand Ubisoft’s logic here, but this makes for an odd double-standard in the world of entertainment. I’ve never known anyone who walked into a Batman movie and found Christian Bale’s presence unsettling due to his prior role as the murder-obsessed protagonist of America Psycho. Granted, live-acting and voice acting are two different beasts, but how many times have you watched a Harrison Ford thriller and instantly thought of Han Solo or Indiana Jones? And yet the directors of Air Force One, The Fugitive, etc. didn’t pull the plug on Ford.

Video game voice acting becomes more controversial by the week it seems. Hollywood voices continue to trickle into our digital worlds, and Beyond: Two Souls may end up as a watershed game in terms of determining the fate of “game actors.” This recent news of Toufexis’ firing only throws more on the pile. Can top voice actors survive without modifying their voice for different roles? And what about familiar voices of Hollywood actors–aren’t they every bit as unsettling as the sounds coming from mouths of big-game VAs?

Top 5 Tuesday: Castlevania games not named “Symphony of the Night”

I’m in a whip-cracking mood today with Halloween on the horizon, so let’s run through my favorite horror-themed franchise: Castlevania. For those of you who’ve never played a Castlevania game (It never ceases to amaze me how many people have overlooked this classic series), know that the games range in play-style from linear action-platforming to Metroid-esque exploration to Ninja Gaiden-style 3D action. Though I prefer the “Metroid-vanias,” I’ll take Castlevania in any form I can get it.

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Symphony of the Night is an masterpiece, and not just because it let you slash at a giant sphere of dead bodies.

To spice up the list, I’m withholding the excellent Symphony of the Night, which is the pinnacle of the series in most fans’ eyes (mine included). If your haven’t played a Vania, start with that one. If you have, look into these five games while the night is still young.

5. Castlevania (NES)

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I pity the fool who doesn’t bring Holy Water to the Grim Reaper fight.

I didn’t play the original Castlevania until it’s Game Boy Advance re-release in 2004, so its #5 ranking has nothing to do with nostalgia. It’s simply a fun, challenging game that has aged better than most games from the late-80s. With just six levels, the original is super-short in terms of actual game length, but its brutal difficulty (and admittedly archaic jumping controls) makes it feel four-times its size.

How hard is it? Well, if you want to have any chance at defeating the later bosses in this game, show up to the fights with a full health bar. Having the right sub-weapon helps, too–just be prepared to lose your ax or holy water whenever you die… which is quite often.

4. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (DS)

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So what if his sword is thrice the size of you? You’ve got a halberd, man.

Dawn of Sorrow is the sequel to the final GBA Castlevania, Aria of Sorrow. Though I loved Aria’s gameplay concept (kill enemies to acquire “souls” that bestow abilities), all the soul-farming lead to unintentional level-grinding and thus a soft challenge. Dawn of Sorrow fixed the problem with a stiff difficulty that complemented the soul system, all while continuing the futuristic Vania tale of its predecessor.

3. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (GBA)

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A giant succubus riding atop a worm-headed skull: the ultimate male fantasy. Sort of.

Circle of the Moon was the first portable Metroid-vania, and thanks to an intense difficulty level, it nearly lived up to it’s PS1 predecessor. The game boasted a card-based power-up system for your whip, but what ultimately defined the game was how it managed to feel like a classic Vania in a Metroid setting. While Symphony introduced swords and button-combo attacks, CotM reached toward its roots and put the whip back in the protagonist’s hands. It also jacked up the challenge with tougher enemies and devastating bosses.

2. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (DS)

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Lighthouse crab Brachyura is my favorite boss in the series. After he chases you to the top, the only option left is to drop a spiked elevator on him. Epic.

In 2006 Konami changed the Metroid-vania formula by taking us outside the castle in the DS installment Portrait of Ruin (which barely missed cracking this list). Two years later, Order of Ecclesia followed suit by sending us to secluded lighthouses, mist-blanketed forests, and mountain passes.

And that was only the first half of the game.

Dracula’s castle returns in the second half, making the game’s world a blend of new-age locations and the classic labyrinthine castle. Throw in a mysterious new heroine and a modified version of Aria and Dawn’s soul-collection system, and you have the best portable Vania in the palms of your hands.

1. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (PS3)

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Lords of Shadow is home to one of the most brutally gothic intros you’ll ever witness.

Many fans and critics dragged Lords of Shadow through the catacombs, claiming that it lacked a true Castlevania feel. While LoS certainly draws heavy gameplay influences from God of War, Ninja Gaiden, and Shadow of the Colossus, the total package is cloaked in a decidedly Vania atmosphere. Occult powers, vampires, and whippings are abound, and the storytelling has the looming, historical tone that the series has always thrived off.

Bells and whistles aside, Lords of Shadow took #1 thanks to its ridiculously fun and challenging combat. Put the game on Hard Mode, then take the time to experiment with all the whip combos (which include turning your whip into a buzzsaw), sub-weapons, and dodge techniques. You won’t be disappointed. Then brace yourself for Indiana Jones-style whip swinging, snappy quicktime events, and bosses that’ll have you trash talking your TV screen.

And hurry up. The sequel is just a few months away.

Phoenix Wright forces fans to go digital, raises objections.

Though I snag a physical copy whenever I can, the list of positives is ever-growing when it comes to digital game sales. In addition to a) preserving classic games, b) making rare games obtainable, and c) directing consumers’ money to the right places (the game companies), digital sales eliminate a tired excuse used by hesitant publishers: “All that packaging costs us money.”

Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies hit American 3DSes last week without ever hitting US shores, and I’m okay with it. If I have to sacrifice a little white box and instruction booklet to play the newest entry in the Phoenix Wright series, then let’s sacrifice. Seriously, start a fire, get your animal skulls out, and rip my heart out Indiana Jones-style for all I care. I just want to play the damn game.

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Are you man enough to support digital-only game sales?

What has blown me away since the announcement of Dual Destines’ digital release has been the negative fan feedback. Whether you’re browsing a GameFAQs message board or checking a YouTube comment section under the game’s trailer, you’re bound to come across folks saying they won’t touch the game because they can’t physically touch it.

Here’s a thought: Instead of worrying about the touchy, feely, tangible, dust-collecting aspects of hard copies, be grateful you can experience the game in its fully-localized glory. It’s your call: digital-only Phoenix Wright for $29.99 or a slew of Japanese language and culture classes.

And, oh by the way, if you ever want to see Phoenix Wright games hit store shelves again, boycotting the newest game in the series won’t bolster the cause.

Risky business: PS4 offers the option of displaying real identities online

I’m old-school and maybe a little old-fashioned, but Sony’s latest announcement about displaying real names online is a rotten idea to me. Here’s the skivvy: PS4’s ID system will allow games to pull their real names from Facebook. From there, gamers can decide whether they want to display their real name to friends, opponents, strangers, and male sex offenders posing as gamergurl91.

Now, I know you’re thinking: “Whoa, if it’s optional, what are you so upset about?”

I understand it’s completely optional, but the option itself is one that will only cause more harm than good. I hate to sound preachy in a gaming blog, but people who display their real names will be opening themselves up to any number of security issues–and for what? So we can know that “Dave Smith” was the one who sniped our asses in a FPS deathmatch? And since PS4 identities are drawn from Facebook accounts, cyber-thieves will have an easy trail to follow.

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No one is happier with the news than this guy.

I shouldn’t have to point out that you can display your real name easily on PS3 or any other system that permits screen names. “Dave Smith” could roam the PS3 waiting rooms as “Dave_Smith1” if he pleases. What this new PS4 option means is that gamers will be more encouraged to display their identities online. If the option itself isn’t enticing enough, imagine how gamers will cave once online trash talk heats up: “If you’re such a badass, why do you go by your screen name?” 

I’m sure Sony’s intentions are clean. In a perfect world, real name displays could prompt maturity and accountability in online matches: we’d surely see a decline in gradeschool sex jokes and uncalled-for insults. Yet at the same time, the twelve-year-old screaming throughout a Call of Duty match is nothing compared to the silent lurker who for some reason wants to get on your good side…

 

Too little, too late? New Zelda to make legitimate use of 3D in the wake of the 2DS era

Just when you thought I’d get through a full week without Zelda speculation, this comes to my attention. According to Gamespot, Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma stated last week that A Link Between Worlds will incorporate 3D effects that impact gameplay. My guess is that 3D visuals will help distinguish height differences that may appear unclear in 2D. Height played a role in the E3 Trailer, with Link launching skyward to reach upper floors of a dungeon. How else the 3D benefits puzzle-solvers is anyone’s guess for now.

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That red smiley-face in the bottom corner is actually a launching pad. It’s likely that 3D effects were implemented to make vertical-jumps more discernible.

The other half to this story is the fact that the unveiling of the 2DS shook up Aonuma’s plans. Though he didn’t unload specific details, he did claim to make changes so ALBW could fully function at as 2D-only experience: “We found out about the 2DS during development, not before, and we also made changes so that we were sure that you could still play and solve the puzzles only with 2D.”

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 The paths that cave-drawing Link can take may be easier to distinguish in 3D.

This all echoes back to my earlier thoughts on the 2DS and what it means for the future of 3D gaming (if there is a future). Though gamers and journalists alike have labeled the 3DS’s namesake effects as “gimmicky” and “unnecessary,” Aonuma was clearly trying to prove otherwise with this latest Zelda installment. Then the 2DS arrived at the most awkward of times. In one corner we have Nintendo’s golden franchise ushering in some potentially innovative 3D effects, while in the opposite corner stands a brand new system model that may as well carry the casket for the original 3DS.

Your winner? Flat-screen gaming. For now. But don’t be surprised if some of Aonuma’s ideas leak into future games.

Playthrough Update: Radiant Historia (DS)

If Radiant Historia were a chick, she’d be the type who ditches the make-up, keeps her conversation smooth, and ends the evening like a lit quarter-stick in the sack. Well, on some nights at least. I’m closing in on the 20-hour mark in Radiant Historia, and my outlook on the game is simple: Cliched storyline, forgettable characters, nifty battle system, brilliant plot concept.

The plot concept is well-executed and largely original. You play as a mercenary named Stocke who jumps between two separate storylines in order to create the true history. For instance, when Stocke runs into an impasse in Storyline A, he can shift to Storyline B in order to learn a new technique or salvage an item that was destroyed or lost in A. From there, he can either return to A with the necessary skill/knowledge/item or continue through B until he hits another wall.

The main quests involves plenty of storyline-hopping, and some crafty sidequests flesh out the concept even more. For example, in one mission I had to grab a widow’s medicine in the present and go back in time to deliver it to her ailing husband. Simple, yet empowering and philosophical

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Though fresh and enjoyable, Radiant Historia’s battles don’t throw enough complications your way.

Though tweaking fate is a blast, the battle system as tapered off since my initial play sessions. On my honeymoon night with the game, I fell hard for the grid-based battle field, as well as the ability to knock enemies around to kill multiple birds with one sword. Unfortunately, the game throws minimal battle complications at you down the stretch. One character, Aht, has the ability to plant mine-like magic spells on empty grid spaces; once the mine is set, you can whack enemies toward it for serious damage. It makes Aht’s character unique, but she’s the only intriguing new ally from a battle perspective. As for enemies, they’ve learned to zap various grid squares as strength and defense pads. If they’re standing on a strength square with they attack, that’s double damage against you, son. And if you hit an enemy while he’s camped on a defense square, your attack comes out Nerfed.

The story and characters are cliched yet likable for the most part. The world is at war, there’s an evil queen, her step-daughter is recruiting rebels, Stocke has to pick a side… You get the picture. What saves the story is the timeline-jumping concept, but at it’s core, the tale is nothing ground-breaking… yet. I have a feeling that once (if?) the storylines intertwine, something mind-bombing will happen.

Now, to be fair, the concept doesn’t always serve the story well. It actually diminishes some of the emotional impact. For instance, when characters die, there is no mourning, just time-traveling to tweak the events for a less lethal outcome.

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Raynie has the best personality of Stocke’s bunch. Unfortunately, she takes a backseat to a prim princess in the story.

As for the characters themselves, it’s a vivid, balanced cast. Stocke is rather stoical on his own, but his chipper companions beat spurts of personality out of him. His rival-friend Rosch, a burly army commander, serves as a compelling foil, especially when he and Stocke debate their roles as soldiers and where their loyalties must lie. My antenna tends to go up when those two enter verbal conflicts together. Just wish I could say the same for any other cast member, particularly the vague, clandestine villains.

At the moment Radiant Historia has the feel of a 7/10 or 8/10 game. At heart it’s an average RPG, but the concept and battle system tick things up a notch. The game feels like it’s beginning to open up in terms of side quests and story complications, so I’m holding out hope that it finishes the way it started.