Dead Island fans are eager for the sequel, but it has been overshadowed by a controversial marketing choice.
Welcome back, Screen Play readers. Those four endless empty weeks finally ended yesterday when Jason's first Monday morning game review went online. I'm back from my break with new ideas and lots of energy, and I plan to make 2013 another great year for Screen Play.
Today's article is a new concept, a weekly news round-up covering recent stories in video gaming news that didn't warrant a whole article to themselves. I also encourage you to post news stories that you want to discuss with other readers in the comments below.
In the future, this Tuesday news summary will cover news from the previous week, but this inaugural edition will be covering news stories we missed while Screen Play was on hiatus.
Fans of Elite and Frontier are pleased to see the series making a comeback.
Deep Silver proves it has learned nothing
Two years ago, in the wake of the release of Dead Island on PC, curious fans discovered that a character skill named "Gender Wars" in the complete game had been called "Feminist Whore" during development. Game studio Deep Silver subsequently apologised, but referring to it as a "private joke" did not help that apology go down smoothly.
It seems that Deep Silver has learned nothing from this scandal, and are determined to destroy their public image with more sexism. Last week, a special collector's edition of the upcoming Dead Island: Riptide was announced that is to include a "collector's figurine": a limbless woman's torso with the arms and head bloodily removed, but with her large, perfect breasts completely undamaged and barely covered by a skimpy bikini.
Exactly how such a poorly thought out "collectible" ever managed to be approved by management, manufactured, and promoted is simply baffling, especially when Deep Silver already has one misogyny-related scandal on its record sheet.
The company has offered some bizarre reasoning - apparently it is meant to be a homage to Roman statuary, and also a reference to the original game's corpse dismemberment feature - and has offered an apology of sorts, but it has not actually stated whether it will go ahead with selling this edition of the game.
R18+ rating for games hits the ground running
Australia has had an R18+ rating for games for only 22 days, but two games have already been classified with the new rating.
Less than two weeks into the new year, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge was classified R18+, making it the first adults-only game to be rated in Australia. In a twist that nobody could have seen coming, our first 18+ game is an exclusive for a "family friendly" Nintendo console, the recently-released Wii U.
Ten days later, the Classification board followed through with another R18+ rating, the free-to-play downloadable console title Spartacus: Legends. Loosely based on the infamously sex-and-violence-filled TV series, the game is a fairly simple one-on-one fighting game, reminiscent of games like Soul Calibur and Tekken, but far more gruesome. Its many decapitations and eye-socket-stabbings were clearly nasty enough for the Classification Board to decide that the new R18+ rating was justified.
Some commentators are worried that having two games slapped with the new rating so quickly is a sign that the Board sees R18+ as the new MA15+, and many games that would previously have received the lower rating are being bumped into the higher category. They fear that when an extremely violent game comes along, it will still be refused classification and banned from sale.
We will possibly get to see this theory being tested soon enough, as the publishers of two high-profile banned games are taking another run at classification to see if they can score the new rating. Warner Interactive has stated that they re-submitted Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition to try for an R18+ rating. Valve has told fans that they are looking at their options and considering re-submitting Left 4 Dead 2, which was initially refused classification in Australia and was only released after suffering heavy cuts.
Obama to launch violent games study
As part of a broad range of actions intended to reduce the number of gun-related deaths in the United States, in the wake of the horrific Sandy Hook school massacre, President Obama has announced his intention to launch a study into the effects of violent video games on players.
The announcement has been met with outrage and derision from many gamers and news sites, with many claiming it is a cheap political ploy to make it appear that the Obama administration is doing something about firearm crime.
I think it could be a blessing in disguise. No well-run study has so far found any link between video game violence and violent behaviour in the real world. As this study will be run by the politically-neutral Centre for Disease Control, it is likely to be conducted scientifically and without bias. If it concludes that video games are not harmful, as it is likely to do considering previous studies, then this will be a powerful tool against those who blame video games for all of society's ills.
Kickstarter to re-launch a legend and save a company
Video games on Kickstarter have been generating lots of interest in the past month. One of the most high-profile and successful Kickstarter campaigns of all time recently wrapped up, with David Braben's Elite: Dangerous exceeding its funding goal. This new title is a re-launch of Braben's much loved classic Elite, an expansive and unforgiving space exploration and trading game that was first released almost 30 years ago.
Another game studio has reluctantly gambled its entire future on its current Kickstarter campaign. Chris Taylor's Gas Powered Games has essentially shut down to await the result of its funding campaign for its upcoming title Wildman. Famous for Total Annihilation, Supreme Commander, and Dungeon Siege, Taylor was forced to lay off almost all of Gas Powered Game's staff.
Taylor then placed a touchingly emotional and honest video on Wildman's Kickstarter page, explaining the company's precarious financial position and asking for feedback as to whether the campaign should be ended prematurely, or if it should stay open and potential save the struggling studio. The fan response has been overwhelmingly positive, and it appears the campaign will go ahead as planned.
Android game consoles becoming a reality
Another Kickstarter-enabled gaming revolution is the development of Android-based video game consoles. One of the crowd-funding service's biggest successes, the tiny games console Ouya, recently started shipping completed units out to its backers and will no doubt become available for retail purchasers soon.
Hot on Ouya's heels are two more interesting pieces of new Android-based hardware, one on Kickstarter and one simply being offered as a retail product. The first is GameStick, a video game console the size of a USB flash memory stick. The stick plugs directly into your TV's HDMI port, and games are controlled via a Bluetooth-linked gamepad, which also has a slot where the stick is stored when not in use.
GameStick's funding campaign still has ten days to go, but has already achieved its target almost five times over.
Video card manufacturing giant nVidia has also announced its own Android gaming system, but it is something totally different. Currently codenamed Shield, the device is a self-contained portable handheld that resembles an Xbox controller, but with a fold-out touch screen fitted on top. Players will be able to play Android games on the powerful device, stream games to it wirelessly from their gaming PCs, and also plug it into their TVs for a big-screen experience.
The only question at this point is whether Android gaming is a viable platform, outside phones and tablets. In theory, the existence of three similar gaming consoles - Ouya, GameStick, and Shield - should make it more cost effective for game studios to port their existing phone and tablet games over to these traditional controller systems. Only time will tell.
Goodbye PlayStation 2
After an extremely long innings, we are finally waving goodbye to the venerable PlayStation 2. Sony has announced that it is ceasing manufacture of the PS2 after an amazing twelve years and 150 million units sold worldwide. Statistics about the PS2 are staggering. Almost 11,000 games were released for the console, and over 1.5 billion individual PS2 games have been sold.
This will no doubt fuel further speculation that both Sony and Microsoft will be announcing new PlayStation and Xbox consoles this year, with both most likely launching in 2014.
- James "DexX" Dominguez
DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez