torstai 5. tammikuuta 2012

The Big N7 Preview

At this exact time last year, I was practically soiling myself over the Collector's Edition of LittleBigPlanet 2, encased in a fancy metal box. Also, at the exact time this year, I was unceremoniously told that the mentioned metal box was the only thing truly fancy about the EUROPEAN version of the Collector's Edition. We ignorant Europeans who pre-ordered the Collector's Edition paid for the game just as much as everyone else, who got a whole lot more for their money and trouble, including the Sackboy doll. Yeah, I'm still beefed about that one. I had a space all cleaned and ready for him on my game shelf, God damn it. Then they tell me I'm not going to get the doll OR the stylish LittleBigPlanet bookends, but I still have to pay €80 for the game? All I get is a bunch of avatars and costumes which I will most likely not use? Fuck you, Media Molecule!

But in turn, the gods of gaming bless BioWare. More details on the N7 Collector's Edition of Mass Effect 3 have officially emerged. Since that whole thing with LittleBigPlanet 2, I swore an oath to myself that I would never buy a Collector's Edition of any single game again - except, of course, the game's name happens to be The Long Overdue Remake of Final Fantasy VII. What's the use, really? I like collectors' game memorabilia, as long as it's concrete and not just some random virtual junk like LittleBigPlanet 2's PSN avatars, which you might lose forever due to a simple mishap like hardware corruption. I don't like paying my ass sore for a game I could get a lot cheaper as a standard edition before knowing at a complete certainty that the game is truly going to be one of the centerpieces of my collection, and also look like one. In the case of Mass Effect 3, I completely forgot my oath. GameStop's own pamphlet, found from a local GameStop, described the contents of the N7 Collector's Edition - it's way too late for them to back down on their words. So, I took the risk, and pre-ordered the game - I'm not even sure of its ultimate price. I know it's somewhere between €80 to €100, luckily I've already paid the €10 Collector's fee. IGN's latest report on the game says the Collector's Edition is sold for $79.99 at American GameStops, which sounds pretty fair and applicable to me. It doesn't really matter what it costs with all that has been promised, or even shown of the Collector's Edition of a game that will most likely be this year's finest. I think the following will pay me back. First, let's watch the official trailer of Mass Effect 3 - N7 Collector's Edition. (While you're watching, think how many Collector's Editions get their own promotional trailers quite this epic.)

OK, so let's break the video down. First of all, regardless of the platform you're playing Mass Effect 3 on, the game comes in a black, probably matte metal box, which features commemmorative artwork of both the classic default male Shepard that's been around since the first game, as well as his female counterpart, who now appears for the first and last time, and whose appearance was voted by a host of Mass Effect fans.

The art book that comes with the box has often been confused and mistaken for the comic book, but as this video explains, it's actually a 70-page, hardcover book on original concept art for the game. I'm not so ecstatic about it, but it will probably be a fun read and I know a certain friend of mine, who's into visual design in video games more than most people, will most likely appreciate it. Perhaps I could give the book to him as a present, since he doesn't care for Mass Effect enough to get a Collector's Edition of the game, and it's his birthday soon enough... or, I could be all Eric Cartman about it and keep it for myself just to fuck with him for no apparent reason.

"Exclusive Bonus Squad Appearances" sounds shady - if someone just said that to me, I would probably just assume that the playability of Ash or Kaidan, Liara and the new character of James Vega would be somewhat limited in the standard edition. But, as always, I tend to think too complicated and grandeur - of course it means alternative attires for the four characters. I've been poisoned by thoughts of Collector's Editions of games being whole new worlds in comparison to the standards. As a sidenote, Ash is hotter than ever. That's hot. I just wish she'd still be alive in my primary universe. I never even bedded the girl. Makes me think I should start my main Shepard's career anew.

There are those people who are most crazy about exclusive practical content for games, such as weapons. We get those, too - four weapons collectively known as "Exclusive N7 Weaponry": the Crusader shotgun, the Eagle pistol, the Hurricane submachine gun and the Valiant sniper rifle.

A lithographic print of the Normandy, now we're talking memorabilia for my taste. A 4"x6" print? Uhh... that's like 10x15 cm. Isn't that a little... small? I was expecting a gigantic poster that would make my whole apartment look like the final, ominous view from the window of a geth cruiser, but I guess I can't have it all. I take it that the N7 fabric patch ain't much smaller than the lithograph. This one will most definitely get planted on the sleeve of my ski jacket. The weather out here is so warm (for wintertime) that every time I go out wearing this jacket, it feels like I'm equipped with heavy armor, so it fits.

Normally, I wouldn't give a rat's ass about a modern video game soundtrack in itself, especially not one of an RPG, but Clint Mansell's doing this game. Clint fuckin' Mansell. "Lux Aeterna"? "Summer Overture"? Ring any bells? I'm not a big fan of ambient music, which is the choice genre for plenty of RPG's these days, but Mansell's in his own epic league, and I'm guessing he was brought along to outdo Jack Wall's work on the first two games, which was already phenomenal, standout stuff. So, the N7 comes with a digital soundtrack of Mass Effect 3. If the soundtrack turns out great - I'm sure it does, just listen to the trailer when that "digital soundtrack" bit with the remixed Mass Effect theme hits! - I can't wait for morning shifts with it playing in my headphones.

A copy of the comic book Mass Effect: Invasion, graced with exclusive cover art comes along, but what I am still a bit confused of, is whether it's going to be the whole four-issue series, or some sort of a special edition of the first issue. Probably the latter. Anyway, I think I'm going to enjoy it - usually, I don't take expanded universes too seriously, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate fiction outside the usual box, as long as it's done well. Invasion was written by BioWare writer Mac Walters, who's also been one of the writers of Mass Effect all along, so its quality should probably not be questioned.

The trailer's made with Xbox 360 players in mind, so I'm not quite sure what BioWare has in store for the PC and PS3 when it comes to system-specific bonuses. I bought the game for the 360, so I'm getting Mass Effect 3 props for my avatar, which I'll certainly be taking advantage of to fuck with my friends on LIVE. I'm guessing at least the PS3's going to get a bunch of avatars and desktop themes.

The rest of the N7 content will most probably be made available as downloadable content a bit later - what's most important is that we get it while it's hot. Most of Shepard's civil clothing in Mass Effect 2 was ridiculous, that's why I'm glad they gave him/her a cool N7 hoodie to wear if the standard clothing turns out just as laughable. The mabari warhound was made a part of a downloadable add-on in Dragon Age II, and mabaris are very popular in the Dragon Age community altogether, so now they decided to give Shepard his/her own robot dog, which is kinda cool, but the dog probably won't do him/her any actual good like the mabari does. Last, and definitely not least, the N7 comes complete with an extra squad member and an extra mission; details are classified at this time. I'm sure people's desire for more details will brew up quite a storm before the game comes out in early March.

It's obvious that whether Mass Effect 3 is going to rock or suck - I probably don't need to present my prediction on the subject - it will definitely remain this year's hottest subject of anticipation and hype right up 'til the end of the year, IF Naughty Dog's new endeavor The Last of Us and the bigger-than-life Grand Theft Auto V won't suddenly get slated for a 2012 release to give it some true competition. The sole reason I didn't compile a list of this year's most anticipated games in this camp like I did last year is pretty much Mass Effect 3, it's that God damn big. However, there is one game that has suddenly, against all odds, managed to capture a notable deal of my interest...

THE greatest villain in TV history
is returning to video games, and this
time he just might make a performance
worth one million dollars.
...And that is an upcoming role-playing game tentatively titled South Park - The Game. When I first heard of another licensed game based on my second-favourite TV show of all time (after Twin Peaks), my thoughts immediately shifted to the bunch of crappy South Park games that Acclaim spewed out back in the day. Then I heard it was an RPG - I think I reacted with a brief laugh and a facepalm. Then, I heard Obsidian Entertainment's in charge, and that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are supervising the development themselves due to their vocal disappointment with the earlier games, and my initial amusement turned to genuine interest. Those who do not know, Obsidian's a moderately small group of developers risen from the ashes of Black Isle Studios, who made the original Fallout games. They're also somewhat famous for picking up on BioWare's trails - they made Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II and Neverwinter Nights 2 - so yeah, this newsflash does kind of relate to the actual subject at hand. Not much details of the game are known just yet, except that the main character is a new fourth grader, who tries to make friends with the four main characters of the show by embarking on different quests. Although the game is based on the guys ordering the protagonist around, Obsidian will probably opt for an initially neutral character typical for an RPG instead of a full-blown pushover like Butters, at least I hope so.

So, let us propose a toast to the two games that will most certainly generate the most heat in the video game scene in 2012, and to hoping more details on South Park - The Game will be revealed as soon as possible... like a new title, that one doesn't really work. More DLC reviews will be up "pretty soon", I'm working on a couple, but I'm on a tight civic schedule for a few more days as I'm taking care of my friend's cat 'til the weekend.

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