All About UnnDunn
Some people can complete any game within a few days. Others can get to the top of the leaderboard at will. I am not one of those people. But I love my games.
The recent history of Need For Speed is an object lesson in what you get when marketing people and accountants make decisions about the content of a game rather than the passionate lead designers and artists.
Need For Speed's gameography can be effectively divided into two Eras: the old era (everything up to and including Need For Speed Hot Pursuit 2,) and the new era (from Need For Speed Underground onwards.) With the "old era" Need For Speed games, you could tell that the designers and artists were in charge, and that they really had a passion for the game and the material they were creating. In those games, the cars were the stars; the tracks and locations were designed specifically to showcase the exotic cars that very few of us could afford.
Their magnum opus was Porsche Unleashed. That was the ultimate Porsche love affair, a game that celebrated Porsche in every way, and lovingly crafted every Porsche vehicle in painstaking detail. And it was an amazing game to boot, allowing players to get as close to feeling what it's like to drive a Porsche as possible without scheduling a trip to the dealership.
And then the bean-counters and marketing folks got involved, putting BlackBox on an annual release schedule, bringing in all the crap stories and trying to capitalize on the street-racing, "Fast and Furious" crowd. The car was no longer the star, the passion was gone. Despite that, the games still actually managed to be good. Underground and Underground 2 were decent efforts.
And when they brought the cops back in Most Wanted, they did not **** around. Most Wanted was a really fun game; it perfectly captured the intensity of being chased by the cops, far better than Hot Pursuit or Hot Pursuit 2. MWs story was campy, but in a playfully-written, fun way that kept the player engaged.
After Most Wanted, though, NFS took an utter nosedive. Carbon was phoned in. ProStreet showed a promising change of direction, but was ultimately hamstrung by a driving engine that didn't know whether it wanted to be hardcore-sim or walk the middle ground between sim and arcade. I stayed away from those games after playing their respective demos.
Which leads us to Undercover. Never have I felt so utterly, utterly disappointed in a game. This game is all flash, no substance in almost every way. It does have a few sparks of brilliance here and there--the Highway Battle mode is a fun replacement for Drag mode in previous games, the driving engine does make for some fun racing action, and there are a handful of story missions that are well-designed and fun to play. But everything else is completely lifeless, soulless and ultimately a waste of time.
The story is completely terrible, with the worst writing yet and horrible acting, editing and cinematography. The cityscape is a hodgepodge of random roadways that you could race on a hundred times and you wouldn't remember anything. The progression system is an indecipherable mishmash of bar graphs, event and location unlocks and a "wheelman level" that just seems completely superfluous. And the police chases are either completely dull and formulaic at the early levels, or brutally, unfairly hard at the later levels. Picture yourself in a McLaren F1 LM doing 230+mph, and the cop cars in SUVs not only keeping up with you, but also maneuverable enough to box you in. That's a reality in Undercover's universe.
No wonder they never released a demo for this turd.
Having said all that (and if you're still reading this far, you have my gratitude,) it would be a shame to see the NFS franchise go. I think with a little care, and a development schedule that allows the designers and artists room to breathe, NFS still has the potential to return to greatness. Corporate culture being what it is though, the only possible outcome is for the bean counters and marketeers to cancel the franchise, thereby vindicating themselves.
What a shame. NFS, a once proud franchise brought low by the whims of EA middle management.
Everyone likes to speculate about the future; when the next generation of consoles will be out, what the games will look like, and so on. Everyone looks at Sony and sees how their consoles have outlasted all of their competition in the marketplace. And everyone thinks the Xbox 360 will be phased out in the next year or two, just like Microsoft did with the original Xbox. Well, whatever you think about the "next generation" of consoles, understand one thing: it is going to be nothing like any generational shift the industry has seen before. And Microsoft is largely to thank (or to blame) for that.
Previously, console transitions meant massive changes. We had to make do with a launch library consisting of one standout first-party title and a handful of rushed-to-launch third party filler titles. We had to go out and buy new controllers, new games, new memory cards, new everything. Developers had to juggle their resources, figuring out who to target their titles for. In many cases we had to choose between the next-gen or previous-gen versions of a hit title... buy the previous-gen version to play on your previous-gen console knowing that it would be useless as soon as you bought the next-gen console, or buy the next-gen title and risk not being able to play online with your friends who hadn't upgraded yet.
For Xbox 360 gamers, the next console transition is going to be so much smoother than that; it will be completely hassle-free. None of the tough decisions, a full library of games, no new controllers or other peripherals to buy, and no need to sign up for a different XBL membership. Xbox gamers will just walk into the store, purchase the new hardware, bring it home and resume playing their games, with many of their old games seeing vastly upgraded graphics, but everything else unchanged. Don't want to upgrade? Want to wait a few months before shelling out for the upgraded hardware? That's no problem either, because the new games will also be backwards compatible with the old hardware. In face, any game released around the time of that transition will fully support both the old and new hardware on the exact same game disc, but will utilize enhanced graphics and sound on the new hardware, or maybe they'll have features that can only be unlocked with the new hardware (they'll want you to buy the new hardware, after all.)
This is possible because of the fundamental nature of the Xbox ecosystem, and how it differs from those of its competitors. Previous videogame console ecosystems were built around the hardware platform; everything about them – the games, the controllers, the accessories – was designed and built as to be inextricably tied to the console hardware. Playstation 2 controllers and accessories only work on PS2. Wii-motes only work on the Wii. Original Xbox controllers and accessories only work on the Original Xbox. On the other hand, Xbox 360 is built around a software platform—XNA—of which the 360 itself is a mere part. Every Xbox 360 game, accessory and controller is built to support XNA, and the Xbox 360 itself is simply a hardware device to run XNA software. XNA itself was designed from the ground up to support several different hardware devices with different capabilities, from Zune and mobile phones on the low end, to all sorts of PCs running Windows, to Xbox 360 and beyond.
For Microsoft, this means their next console doesn't have to have the same hardware platform as the 360. Instead of using PowerPC and ATI, they could switch to x64 and nVidia. Instead of sporting just a DVD drive, they could switch to Blu-ray, or simply provide a massive hard drive and rely on digital distribution. As long as the console fully supports the XNA standard, it will be 100% backwards and forwards compatible with Xbox 360 and other XNA titles. They can sell both Xbox 360 and the next Xbox alongside each other, and cross market the accessories and games.
For developers, this means any projects they have in development will seamlessly transition over to the next XNA hardware device with virtually zero additional work from them. They won't have to ship two versions of the same game. They won't even have to develop or build two versions of the same game. They'll merely have to include a hardware sniffer to determine the capabilities of the hardware running their game, and adjust the graphics based on that. They already do this for PC games. They'll be able to ship a game today that runs well on 360, then when the next console comes out, they'll be able to ship a downloadable "enhancement pack" that will update the graphics in their game to next-generation levels.
For gamers, this removes the uncertainty that the games and accessories they buy now will be obsolete when the new console appears. They can know that the games they buy today will work with the new hardware, no matter what it may be. They won't have to rush out and buy the new hardware on day one, simply buy the new games and play them with reduced graphics until they are ready to upgrade. When they buy the new console, the old one won't suddenly become obsolete; they can put it in the kids' room or something, and it will still be able to play all the new games.
XNA is a platform that will far outlast Sony's vaunted "10-year lifecycle." We'll still be playing XNA games two decades (or more) from now. In 2030, you'll be able to pull out that old copy of Halo 3, and jump into a quick Slayer match with your buddies on your new Xbox consoles, just for old time's sake. And it will work with 100% compatibility. That's the power of XNA.
Wow. There is only one word for this game: Stunning.
This is Microsoft's answer to Zelda, and Nintendo had better start taking notes, because Fable II is every bit as good as any Zelda game yet. In many ways, it's even better.
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