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As part of a series of new columns here on TVG, Friday Downtime takes a critical look at the week's news...
The week ending 23rd January 2009: a pretty bleak one if you're a console manufacturer. On the same day (Thursday) that Sony amended its financial forecast for the year to a staggering loss of £2.1 billion, Microsoft came out and announced 5,000 job cuts. Even more worrying is speculation that the Redmond giant's Xbox division could feel the pinch of these lay-offs, 1,400 of which will be put in place immediately while 3,600 will be cut in the following 18 months.
But we're not going to fill this column with depressing news related to the recession (a recession, by the way, that the UK is now officially in according to figures published today). On a more positive note, the Australian Classification Board cleared Platinum Games and SEGA's controversial MadWorld with a Mature 15+ rating. The Australian board is certainly one of the more scrupulous rating wranglers in the world (alongside the likes of Germany), so it's good to see that even the fuddyest of duddies are giving this title the go-ahead, even if they did list MadWorld as a "Multi platform" title (something that SEGA was quick to douse the flames of).
This follows last week's 18 classification of the title by the British Board of Film Classification, which passed the game with no cuts or edits. This should come as something of a relief to mature gamers because, with the help of the Daily Mail, Mediawatch-UK (Britain's oldest media watchdog founded by Mary Whitehouse) has been lobbying since last summer for the BBFC to refuse classification of MadWorld, thereby banning it from the UK market. This is the same Daily Mail that, after calling MadWorld the "Most Violent Video Game Ever", then listed it amongst its games to look forward to in 2009 in an article that made the following comments:
"MadWorld should tempt a few. A futuristic, first-person fighter with a deeply involving storyline, it casts you as a player on a TV game show where survival depends on dispatching rivals gruesomely. Proof of its adult credentials lies in the fact that the action unfolds in black and white."
Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. First of all, a first-person fighter? Ahh yes, that well known FPF genre of games, never mind the fact that it takes place in the third-person. Secondly, beyond the Battle Royale style twist in MadWorld, we're not quite sure that you could describe the storyline as "deeply involving" - it's hardly Great Expectations. Thirdly, since when is the black and white medium proof of adult credentials? Yep, that Casablanca is a bloodbath.
MadWorld's classification is a victory for gaming and, as you can clearly see, we know how to win gracefully. Something that may not please gamers quite so much (broke ones at least) is yet another EA portion of downloadable content that charges them for content that is otherwise unlockable in the game's main campaign. Skate 2, which is undoubtedly a fine game from developers EA Black Box (a studio that's also reportedly feeling the 'crunch' at the moment), was released in the UK today and has already received its first portion of DLC from EA entitled "Time is Money" for 400 Microsoft Points (£3.40).
The DLC unlocks "all locations, skaters and gear that can be earned by playing through Skate 2's career and online modes". This is not the first time that EA has charged gamers for these sorts of liberties either - its Need For Speed series has also put price tags on oodles of car bundles and customisation packages that can otherwise be unlocked by progressing through the main campaign. EA would obviously argue that it's not forcing gamers to purchase the DLC and is merely publishing a product that consumers have the free will to purchase at their own discretion. Of course, we do live in a capitalist society and their views are protected by the letter of the law, but these views also illustrate the downside of digital distribution on the scale of the HD generation.
If other publishers start following EA's lead with this sort of DLC policy, then it will signal an end to the days of free cheat codes and unlockable characters that have been a staple of gaming for decades. Some publishers are already in EA's boat (not mentioning any names, Ahem! Namco, Ahem! Bandai). This Japanese publisher's decision to charge gamers for the unlockable characters Yoda and Darth Vader (depending on your system) in Soul Calibur IV DLC when these characters were already embedded as code on the game disc angered many a gamer last year, and we would argue that they were rightly angered. After all, EA has always taught us to "Challenge Everything".
N.B. For some more uplifting DLC news, check out our GTA IV: Episode 1 preview here.
Rounding off Friday Downtime in our "And Finally..." section is a bunch of news that was projectile vomited all over the gaming press from Ubisoft's quarterly sales report yesterday (as well as the ensuing investor conference calls etc.). It seems that the French publisher has sequels of Assassin's Creed, Ghost Recon, and Splinter Cell in development, although if his current form is anything to go by then you probably shouldn't hold your breath for the re-appearance of Sam Fisher. Film licensed title James Cameron's Avatar was also confirmed for release before the end of March 2010, while a follow-up to Wii launch title Red Steel is seemingly in the works as well.
I Am Alive, Ubisoft's take on the ill-fated disaster game genre, was pushed into a vague Fiscal 2010 release window (any time between April 2009 and March 2010), which is somewhat surprising because according to a Ubisoft release schedule from earlier in the week, the title had just been moved forward to a release before the end of March 2009. It probably won't be a huge loss to gamers though, as an inside source has already told TVG that the game (which we've seen nothing but a CG teaser trailer of so far) is hardly worth the pile of post-disaster rubble that it's built on, although there's always the chance that this delay could allow the game's developers the time to improve things somewhat.
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