Feature | Beyond the Cube: 2012 Round-Up Edition

By Calum Peak 03.09.2012 1

Image for Feature | Beyond the Cube: 2012 Round-Up Edition
Welcome back to Beyond the Cube, Cubed3's foray into 'the other side.'  It has been a while hasn't it? In this round-up version, there is a tasty set of RPGs (Diablo III and Witcher 2), a splash about with some run-and-gun action with Max Payne and Ghost Recon, with a bit of brutality on the side, served up in the form of Kombat style, topping it off with some Awesome(nauts). Therefore, shut those curtains and block out the sun -- screen glare is annoying -- and join Calum Park once again for Beyond the Cube.

Awesomenauts (PC [Tested], Xbox, PS3)

Ronimo Games has a lot of talent when it comes to making wacky and fun titles. Starting with de Blob, a platformer where you rolled around levels as a paintball and thwarted the bad guys with colour, was well accepted, and quite rightly so. Thankfully, Ronimo's quirky spark doesn't stop there, especially with the release of Awesomenauts, a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena)-come-Tower-Defence game on overdrive. If a space cowboy that can summon bulls and has an obsession with dynamite, a frog that's a brawler, or a French chameleon doesn't pique your interest, then I don't know what will.
The premise is simple; there is a war going on between two factions over intergalactic solar -- the game's natural resource and currency. Your character -- the titular named 'Awesomenaut' -- must battle 3-on-3 to get to the other team's mining drill whilst defending your own. This is done by working together to take out turrets one-by-one to have a clear path; all the while your characters are gaining crazy abilities, getting more destructive, and, well, more awesome. Matches usually last around 20-30 minutes and in that time you can wreak a lot of havoc, although it's also fairly easy to stay alive if you don't get ahead of yourself and make sure you upgrade sensibly. It also suffers heavily from that 'one more match' syndrome.

Image for Feature | Beyond the Cube: 2012 Round-Up Edition

MOBA's have a habit of alienating new players with a steep learning curve and unlocks that others can't hope to achieve due to how overpowered everyone else is. Not the case with Awesomenauts; everyone starts on a level playing field each match and you have to save and purchase upgrades as you play. This not only balances the game but also makes it a lot more accessible to everyone. Mix that with the simplistic controls and addictive gameplay and you have one hell of a recipe for a good time. There is a levelling system, though, and that opens up 'loadout' systems and characters (but nothing too crucial to success) -- there's quite a bit of depth here, although it would have been nice if there were a few different gameplay modes.
Regardless, Awesomenauts is a fun title, and at £6.99 it's hard to argue with its value for money. It's a game that you can relax with as whilst the gameplay might be manic, if you try to progress too fast you will get well and truly destroyed.

BtC Rating: 8/10

Max Payne 3 (PC [Tested], Xbox 360, PS3)

It's been a while, but Max Payne has been brought back from the dead, and let me tell you, it was well worth the wait. Rockstar seems to like playing with Noir stories at the moment. First there was LA Noire and now Max Payne 3. Unfortunately, his life has spun out of control in self-pity with a more than unhealthy dose of alcohol and painkillers. Max has grown middle aged, pudgy and has a personality that's as dreary as your English teacher's monotone reading voice, but with a heavy dose of sarcasm. Max gets dragged back into a personal security job by ex-force Raul Passos and from there things go from bad to worse in a matter of minutes. He really shouldn't drink on the job! Despite all the unfortunate events that befall Max in the 12-14 hour campaign, it's pulled off spectacularly.

Image for Feature | Beyond the Cube: 2012 Round-Up Edition

Where the game really shines through, however, is in the gameplay. Rockstar has worked miracles with the controls and fluidity; this is pure run and gun. There is a cover system, but if you are using it, then you are playing the game wrong. The originals were all about bullet time and fast eliminations, and it returns in true cinematic style here. Dodge shooting especially can lead to some impressive final kills. This is accentuated by the way Max himself moves, with it feeling completely natural from diving to being able to pivot on the spot whilst picking off enemies. Even to the point of swapping out weapons; if you swap to a pistol, Max will carry the larger weapon in the other hand.  One thing, though, accuracy needs to be on point as AI can be very unforgiving -- so consider a PC for this one. Max is one rough cop with the hangover to show for it. Brilliant!

BtC Rating: 9/10

Diablo III (PC [Tested], Mac)

Diablo, for those not in the know, is an isometric view dungeon crawler/monster slayer RPG and forms the roots for some of the most popular MMORPGs -- especially World of Warcraft (well, it is Blizzard). Returning ten years later, Diablo III brings back the same formula with a plethora of new classes and a very pretty engine. Players take control of one of the five classes available; Barbarian, Witch Doctor, Wizard, Demon Hunter or Monk, and set off to stop the evil that has once again spread to Tristram in the form of the 'Nephalem,' laying waste to the hordes thrown at the hero. The campaign can be beaten relatively quickly (in six hours or so) but the main attraction comes from levelling up the character and progressing through very unforgiving difficulties (you will die a lot) whilst kitting the character out with the best available gear -- if the thrill of progression through grinding isn't appealing, look elsewhere for an RPG fix.

Image for Feature | Beyond the Cube: 2012 Round-Up Edition

Sadly, though, Diablo III isn't without its problems, one of them being the need for always-on DRM, with players having to stay connected to the Internet to play - which isn't too bad, but the fact that players can experience lag in what started off as a predominately single-player experience can put a dampener on the game. There also feels like something is missing from that made the previous ones so memorable, with Diablo III coming across as quite forgettable; beyond repeating the same levels and maxing out each individual character, it's missing a strong dose of diversity. It's a fun title and one that you will come back to frequently -- especially if you get a few mates in on the action, but it just doesn't quite live up to the hype and the previous titles. It's hard to believe that this is the same company that made the overly addictive World of Warcraft and StarCraft series, since there is a serious lack of content.

BtC Rating: 6.5/10

Ghost Recon: Future Soldier (PC [Tested], Xbox 360, PS3)

Ubisoft has a penchant for stealth and infiltration games, holding dearly onto the Tom Clancy licence with Splinter Cell (though Conviction was as much third person shooter as it was stealth), Ghost Recon, and H.A.W.X. Future Soldier sees players back behind Ghost Squadron Hunter, a highly trained group of individuals who can quite literally become invisible in amongst their foes. The plot takes you all over the world in the effort of tracking down illegal weapon smuggling, from Bolivia to Russia. Each area throws the player against different conditions and lets you play with a host of different gadgets and weaponry; who wouldn't want to take control of a Mech to wipe out targets?
Gameplay is much the same as previous iterations and takes its place within a plethora of third person cover-based shooters; the difference is how you go about the missions. Use an adaptive camouflage to seemingly disappear and sneak past enemies -- though a shadow is still cast as the armour refracts light, rather being an invisibility cloak. Secondly the updated cross-com system allows for control of squad mates accurately, lining them up with a total of four targets (including the lead player) in order to drop enemies quickly and silently. Gadgets play a big role in this also, with personal UAVs that can turn into miniature RCs and distract enemies whilst breaching and surprising them, as well as smaller niftier gadgets like motion mines.

Image for Feature | Beyond the Cube: 2012 Round-Up Edition

Customisation is also incredible; before each mission you can select a weapon, dissect it, blow it up and change the individual parts and swipe and swap out everything from the colour to the type of trigger wanted. This looks really cool with Kinect -- though I've yet to try it -- as it gives a minority report vibe to the whole menu system, but it's aesthetic more than game changing.
If you like stealth games then this should be right up your street, and whilst it can occasionally feel a little rough there are plenty of cinematic moments to make up for it, making this a solid title.

BtC Rating: 7/10

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition (PC [Tested], Xbox 360)

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings sees the player once again taking control of Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher and one of the few remaining monster hunters. This time he has been framed for murder of the high king and must travel the world to uncover the truth. Throughout the story players come across beautifully crafted worlds, deadly monsters, a deep combat system, and well developed characters. The crux of this game, however, is the decisions that the player makes. There are the bad and good choices, but the lines between them blur; choosing, for instance, to give someone a sword or not during a vital moment can shift the whole weight of the game. This even goes so far as to not visiting entire sections of the campaign - multiple play-throughs are definitely required!

Image for Feature | Beyond the Cube: 2012 Round-Up Edition

Visually The Witcher 2 is stunning; Geralt himself is animated well and everything is highly detailed, from the swords swinging methodically on  his back to the scars on his face. The areas themselves are vast and diverse with plenty of secrets and quests to uncover, with each region topping the last with breathtaking views and technical wizardry.
The enhanced edition adds further story and cinematics to an already brilliant title, setting the scene for the story to come perfectly. CD Projekt has created a behemoth of a title that deserves your undivided attention and the fact that you can play it on a home console is further icing on the cake.

BtC Rating: 9/10

Uncharted: Golden Abyss (PS Vita)

Drake's PS3 outings have always stood out as being fantastic; the dude raider's adventures have captivated millions with expansive characters, an impressive narrative and explosive sequences. Saying that, how do Drake's activities hold up on the Vita? Very, very well, is the answer!
The first thing to notice is how well Bend has captured the look and feel of the Uncharted series, and it doesn't feel like a shrunk down version in the slightest. All the characters are fully voice acted, the title looks absolutely stunning - many will be hard pushed to believe that this is a handheld title -- and the campaign is very lengthy. You feel like an explorer in Golden Abyss. Drake doesn't have his little book of tricks with all the answers in, though, with the player having to discover them, building up his book as he goes along, which brings players into contact with some amazing characters -- Chase and Sully, for instance. It feels exactly like Uncharted should, albeit on a smaller screen.

Image for Feature | Beyond the Cube: 2012 Round-Up Edition

Where Uncharted: Golden Abyss does fall short, however, is in the lack of huge cinematic set pieces. Uncharted 3 saw players falling out of planes, sinking ships and all manner of other death defying leaps of faith. Golden Abyss takes this on in smaller scale -- burning buildings and collapsing…everything -- it's good, but not quite as impressive. There is also a lack of any form of competitive multiplayer, which the series has built up over the course of the franchise. It feels like you are missing a little longevity in that regard and it would have been nice to have fewer touch interface quick time events too!
Despite these facts, Uncharted is an impressive game, and one of the best launch titles for the PlayStation Vita. It shows off what the system can do on the whole, and that in itself is an mighty feat. Characters are explored well and Drake and Sully's banter returns here in force. If you have a Vita then there is no excuse not to own this. If you don't own a Vita, then this is definitely an excuse to get one.

BtC Rating: 9/10

Mortal Kombat Komplete (PS Vita)

Let's get something straight, I haven't enjoyed a Mortal Kombat title since the original on the Mega Drive, and that was a LONG time ago. All the others started to feel like a bad version of Soul Calibur, albeit with more super powers. Thankfully that's not the case with Mortal Kombat Vita. It's what many would call 'old skool.'

Image for Feature | Beyond the Cube: 2012 Round-Up Edition

Back we are to the 2D fighting plane with the standard host of old characters and a tonne of new ones that are all just as unique. The story is cheesy as expected, and about as pointless as any fighting game story line. Mortal Kombat has got it where it matters, though; it's aggressive, fast and ridiculously OP'd, bringing back the old spam locks.  Thus yes, you can now uppercut, do a jumping grab and pull of the classic 'Get over here!' (and repeat) with Scorpion. Of course, there are ways to counteract these moves, and that's what separates the men from the boys. It controls exactly as it does on console and brings in the X-ray moves also. Build up enough 'special' in a match and there is the chance to land a hit that will zoom in on parts of the body and show the damage done to the skeletal and muscular structures -- it is what may be deemed 'brutal.' In the best possible way, obviously…
Once the story is done and dusted, there is an extended ladder and tag-team ladder to finish (complete with the entire console DLC) and if you feel like being shown how inferior you are, there is a good competitive online scene. One of its downfalls is that the visuals haven't held up particularly well in the transition. The game runs at a sweet 60fps with very little slowdown, but the characters look a little blocky and textures aren't what they could be -- this is particularly noticeable in the transitions from cut-scenes or during close-ups.
Despite this fact, Mortal Kombat is about as good a fighter people are likely to get at the moment on the PS Vita.

BtC Rating: 8/10

That's all for now folks, Beyond the Cube is back for good, and will return sooner than expected, with another edition hopefully coming later this month, where Cubed3's trusty Alternative Content Editor will be taking a look at the Darksiders sequel and the hellishly cruel Dark Souls and whatever else can possibly be grabbed in the meantime (there is a large Steam sale library sat just itching to be played). Hopefully readers enjoyed this walk on the other side!

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Back with a bang indeed! Great work, Cal. Between this and Tech Up! it's superb to see more variety on these hallowed Nintendo-related pages on Cubed3.

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

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