Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Christmas Gaming Gift Guide 2009 Part 3: Budget titles

Time is marching on and this third and final part of my Christmas Gaming Gift Guide is going up later than I had originally planned, but I am back at last to hopefully give you 10 more ideas of what to get for the gamer in your life or indeed something to treat yourself to with any money you may receive over the festive period. This time I am looking at budget titles, and as well as boxed retail games I'm also including downloadable titles in this part. My definition of a "budget" game is £20 or less.

Trine - PS3 (PlayStation Network), PC (Steam) - Out Now - £16.99

is a mixture of platformer, RPG and puzzle game with some fantastic graphics, solid physics and plenty of quality gameplay for your money. In single player you can switch between warrior, mage and rogue characters at will, each of which have their own skills and abilities. For example the mage can conjour up a wooden box to climb on, the rogue has a grappling hook she can use to swing around the levels and the warrior uses brute force to tackle the many enemies wandering around. In multi player these roles can be filled by two other human players working in tandem to reach the end of the stage.

Dead Space - Xbox 360 - Out Now - From £10 (best price)

EA's combination of third person shooting and survival horror is a quality title that can now be found for a bargain price. You play the part of Isaac Clarke, sent as part of a team to fix the communications on board a mining station. Soon after docking however, it soon transpires that something terrible has happened to the crew, and armed only with mining equipment you must venture deeper into the darkness before you are able to escape.

Shadow Complex - Xbox 360 (Live Arcade) - Out Now - 1600 points normally, 800 points between December 21st - 27th

Chair, the developers of Shadow Complex, have taken the relatively niche "Metroidvania" genre and brought it right up to date thanks to some clever game design and the Unreal engine. When your girlfriend gets snatched while exploring a cave, it's up to you to investigate the military complex hidden within in an attempt to get her back. Despite offering fantastic 3D graphics, the game actually plays out on a 2D plain and plays much like the classic Metroid or Castlevania games of old, which is a good thing.

MotorStorm Arctic Edge - PSP - Out Now - £17.99

This latest outing for the MotorStorm series is every bit as good as the two games on the PS3, except now of course you can take it on the road and play whenever you have a free moment. Graphically it stands up to its brethren remarkably well, and although there are fewer courses they are all as well designed as ever, with multiple routes and some stunning scenery. If you love arcade driving games then you definitely need to give this a spin.

NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits - Wii (Wiiware) - Out Now - 1000 points

This game has been available for quite some time already but may have been overlooked, which is a shame as it's a fantastic platformer with a unique visual style and some well implemented motion controls. You can point at blocks to lift them up and and assist you in your journey through the game, for example. It's not the longest game in the world by any means but you definitely get your moneys worth

House of the Dead: Overkill - Wii - Out Now - £10.98 (on sale at

If you're a fan of the Planet Terror half of Grindhouse then you should definitely take a look at Sega's latest entry to their House of the Dead franchise. This Wii exclusive features plenty of gore, bad taste humour and a character who is obviously based on Samuel L Jackson, constantly dropping F bombs throughout the game. The game can be finished fairly quickly but by doing so you unlock a harder "directors cut" version of the game with slightly different cut scenes and even more zombies to shoot.

Shatter - PS3 (PlayStation Network) - Out Now - £4.79

is a Breakout/Arkanoid style bat and ball game with cool style, fantastic soundtrack and some clever new ideas for what was a rather tired genre. Levels are orientated both horizontally and vertically, you can suck the ball, power ups and bricks or blow them away from you, and the curved nature of your bat allows you to put spin on the ball, allowing for more precise control. Considering that you get all this for under a fiver, Shatter really is a steal and deserves to be part of every PS3 owners collection.

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts - Xbox 360 - Out Now - From £10 (best price)

Rares third game in the Banjo series is a bit of a departure from the 3D platformers of old, as it focuses more on vehicular challenges. You can either use of the preset blueprints built into the game or construct your own contraption using the various parts that you can earn throughout the game. While I don't think this quite lives up to the first two games, it is a worthwhile purchase for a tenner and a refreshing change from all of the grim first person shooters that are doing the rounds at the moment.

1 vs 100 - Xbox 360 (Live) - Out Now - Free with a gold subscription

Now this might seem a bit of an odd choice, but 1 vs 100 on Xbox Live is extremely good fun (especially with friends) and as long as you have a gold subscription to Xbox Live it won't cost you a penny. Why spend money on quiz games like Buzz or Scene It when this really offers everything that you need? The only downside is that you have to play at certain times of day - i.e. "Primetime" (7pm to 9.30pm).

Scribblenauts - Nintendo DS - Out Now - £14.98 (from

Although the promise of Scribblenauts wasn't fully realised (the controls are unfortunately a bit broken) it still offers hours of fun just inputting random words and seeing how they are realised by the game. There are plenty of puzzle and action levels to work your way through (which have to be completed 3 completely different ways to earn a gold star), but I gleaned the most fun from the game just by mucking about on the title screen.

I would also like to give an honourable mention to Torchlight, even though I've already featured in in part 1 - as it offers a huge amount of game for the rather paltry sum of £13. I am hoping to get a review of it posted up over the festive period. I'm also very close to completing Dragon Age for the first time and plan to write a review for it too, so keep checking the blog or sign up to my Facebook or Twitter feeds to be kept up to date with new articles!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Christmas Gaming Gift Guide 2009 Part 2: Worth a look

Here I am again as promised with part 2 of my Christmas Gaming Gift Guide. This time I'm featuring 10 games that interest me but I still have my doubts about. I would consider purchasing these if I see them in a sale or maybe after renting them first.

Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier - PSP - 27/11/09

I loved the original Jak trilogy on the PS2 with it's blend of classic 3D platforming, combat and racing, but I'm always a bit wary about sequels/spin offs that weren't developed by the original team. The game does look good though, but from what I've heard the controls aren't perfect and some of the mini games are repeated slightly too often. This time, Daxter is the one that gets Dark Eco infused super powers - transforming into a giant, damage dealing, lumbering beast.

BrĂ¼tal Legend - Xbox 360, PS3 - Out Now

Tim Schafer has worked on arguably some of the best and funniest games of all time (The Secret of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Psychonauts), so you'd think I would be jumping at the chance to play his latest. The reason for my hesitation? Jack Black. OK, he was funny the first time, but he basically just plays himself in everything he works on and that can start to get irritating after a while. I'm also not that into heavy metal, so most of the in jokes and references to the culture will get lost on me. Having said all that, this does look like a decent game, so I will definitely come back to it later.

Batman: Arkham Asylum - Xbox 360, PS3 - Out Now

Now I'm quite fond of old batters but not really keen on the whole Splinter Cell stealth scene, so I'm a bit wary of this game. However, it is my understanding that you don't have to use stealth if you don't want to and can let your fists do the talking instead. It does look like a really well made game though, boasting voice actors who have actually worked on the animated series, and some great graphics. Definitely one to add to the collection eventually (i.e. when it can be found cheap enough).

LittleBigPlanet - PSP - Out Now

Media Molecule have basically taken their critically acclaimed platformer/creation tool and shrunk it down to the PSP, but the included levels are all new and there are new themes to play with too. I never really got into creating my own levels with the original, but I did play plenty of other user created levels for the PS3 version, and some of the things that people have managed to do with the creation tool is amazing. Provided you can download the levels onto the memory stick and take them with you, and not have to be online in order to play them, this could be the perfect game to play on the go.

Risen - Xbox 360 - Out Now

I love a good RPG, I do, and this game could just fit the bill. It has been getting fairly average scores from professional magazines and web sites, yet above average scores and praise from actual gamers, which leads me to believe that it is indeed worth checking out. Risen is an action RPG, in much the same vein as Oblivion and the like, and I think it has something to do with the Gothic series on the PC (you can tell I don't really know much about this game, can't you?). I'm not prepared to spend £45 on it but when the price comes down I'll be sure to pick this one up.

Divinity 2: Ego Draconis - PC, Xbox 360 - Out Now

Yes, another RPG. I loved the original Divine Divinity on the PC a few years ago, but didn't think the sequel (Beyond Divinity) lived up to it. This is in fact the "true" sequel, and takes the series from an isometric Diablo style RPG to a full 3D explorathon. From what I can gather from the trailer, your character turns about to be a Dragon Knight whose powers have lain dormant for quite some time (turning into a dragon, I guess), but they are about to awaken. Looks like it could be good but until I get to read and watch some reviews I will remain undecided on whether to give it a go.

Gran Turismo - PSP - Out Now

As I mentioned in part one, I really think that the Gran Turismo series has been surpassed by the Forza Motorsport series, but I still plan on playing this game eventually. It has taken Polyphony Digital an awful long time to put this one together so there had better be some major improvements over Gran Turismo 4. I have heard that they have made some rather strange design decisions though, like only making certain cars available on certain days. Is the PSP up to the task? In theory it should be, but I'm not so sure.

Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles - Wii - 27/11/09

The Umbrella Chronicles was a pretty good light gun shooter a few years back but fans of the Resident Evil series bemoaned the fact that arguably the best game in the series (Resident Evil 2) wasn't included amongst the various settings. That's because Capcom was saving it for the sequel, which also includes levels based on Code Veronica and Resident Evil 4 (all the games with Leon in them, basically). Wesker is bound to be up to no good again, darn him!

Muramasa: The Demon Blade - Wii - 27/11/09

Muramasa is a kind of follow up to PS2 game Odin Sphere, and features the same blend of sumptuous hand drawn backgrounds and action packed er, action. It blends quick and fast hack and slash action with RPG elements (yay!). It could be a tad on the hardcore side for my tastes (Odin Sphere was rock hard) but I'd like to give it a try.

Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days - DS - Out Now

Since completing Kingdom Hearts 2 (review here), I've been looking forward to playing more games in the series. While there's still no sign of Kingdom Hearts 3, the DS and PSP are at least getting spin off games of their own. The downside to this is that the levels are mostly rehashed from previous games, and the games don't focus on main protagonist Sora but rather some of the minor characters from KH2 (Roxas and Axel). Another case of try before I buy for this one then!

OK, one more part to go next week - this time I will be looking at budget titles, and I will be incorporating both full retail boxed games and downloadable games for Xbox Live Arcade, PSN and WiiWare. I also hope to put together some awards this year like I did a few years back, and I'm currently giving some thought as to what should be my winner and runner up for each platform, as well as overall.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Christmas Gaming Gift Guide 2009 Part 1: Must Have titles

It has become tradition for me to write a little gaming gift guide around this time of year, so here I am again with what I consider my 10 "must have" titles for the 2009 festive season (funds permitting). The list may be a bit RPG heavy because that's by far my favourite genre, and they are perfect for this time of year with the long cold nights and time off from work. Some of these games are already out, and some are released soon. Watch out for part 2 soon which will feature another 10 games that I am interested in, but will likely only pick up if I see them cheap somewhere.

Dragon Age: Origins - Xbox 360, PC - Out Now - PS3 - 20/11/09

Bioware have once again crafted an RPG of truly epic proportions. Choose from one of six completely different origin stories and join the Grey Wardens as they battle to save the land of Ferelden from both the evil hordes of the Darkspawn and political machinations from within. The game should easily last you 50 hours (more if you decide to wander and complete side quests) and is extremely replayable due to the decisions that you have to make and the bearing that they have on the overall storyline. By the time you're done with this, it should be almost time for Mass Effect 2!

Borderlands - Xbox 360 - Xbox 360, PS3, PC - Out Now

Borderlands is a RPG/FPS hybrid, and is incredibly addictive as a result. Choose from one of four classes - Soldier, Hunter, Siren and Beserker, each with their own unique abilities, and venture out into the wastelands of Pandora in attempt to find the legendary vault. If that sounds a bit like Fallout, it's no surprise as this game was inspired by that series. You can play the game on your own if you wish but it really comes alive in the 4 player cooperative mode, where the different classes complement each other (one class has bullets and grenades that actually heal rather than harm allies, for example). There are squillions of different guns to find, a huge world to explore and a dark sense of humour throughout. Where else can you find mobs that go by the name of Midget Psycho or Badass Corrosive Alpha Skag?

New Super Mario Bros. Wii - Wii - 20/11/09

From the videos that I've seen of this game so far, it looks like really good fun in four player mode but the likely source of a lot of arguments this Christmas, as the hectic nature of the game will inevitably lead to someone accidentally causing the death of someone else, which will probably spark a rebellion with all hell breaking loose. Those who fear that the single player mode will suffer as a result of the emphasis on multi player should relax - Nintendo have things well in hand. This could well end up being my game of the year, and I don't have long to wait now!

Forza Motorsport 3 - Xbox 360 - Out Now

In my opinion, the Forza series has been the leader of the "racing simulator" sub genre for some time now, offering quite a bit that the venerable Gran Turismo series doesn't, and it looks like Forza Motorsport 3 will easy outclass Gran Turismo 5. What you have here is an incredibly deep and complex game, yet Turn 10 have manages to streamline the interface and the game to coax in newcomers gradually, giving them as many driving aids as they require yet encouraging them to switch them off in return for bigger rewards at the end of the race. It also features a rewind button, which has become the feature du jour since GRID included it.

Torchlight - PC (download only) - Out Now

If you're one of the many people eagerly awaiting the release of Diablo 3, then you should probably take a look at Torchlight. Many of the developers have worked on the first two Diablo games as well as Fate. This game brings a few new things to the table, such as a pet that you can load up with loot and send back to town for you. You could also equip your moggy or doggy with some powerful spells, or do a spot of fishing and then feed whatever you've caught to them to transform them into a different creature temporarily. At $20 (about £13) this is quite the bargain.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves - PS3 - Out Now

I have only discovered how great the first Uncharted was fairly recently (check out my review), but the sequel promises to outdo it in every area. It features some of the most breathtaking scenes on any platform, and this time also includes a surprisingly good online multi player mode as well as a selection of cooperative missions. Quite possibly the best game available for the PS3 so far.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks - DS - 11/12/09

Like Uncharted, I only got around to playing Phantom Hourglass properly this year. Overall it was great, but the dungeon that you had to keep going back to time and time again was a bit of a pain, so hopefully Nintendo will tone this aspect down for Spirit Tracks. From what I've seen so far, Zelda (or rather Tetra) is killed early on in the adventure and then accompanies Link in spirit form, possessing Phantoms to assist him in solving puzzles. Will he be able to help her return to her corporeal form? I'm guessing yes, but it will be a fun adventure in the meantime. Also - trains!

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 - Xbox 360, PS3, Wii - Out Now

The first Ultimate Alliance (and the X-Men Legends games before it) were highly enjoyable action RPG's, featuring a ton of famous and not so famous faces from the back catalogue of Marvel Comics. I made the mistake of buying the Wii version of the last game which had horrible controls and no online mode to speak of, so this time I will definitely be going for the 360 or PS3 version. I have had a go at the demo and the graphics have leaped ahead in quality quite significantly, and there are cool new team up moves that you can carry out.

Need for Speed Shift - Xbox 360, PS3 - Out Now

The quality of recent releases in the Need for Speed series has been patchy at best, but this latest entry in the series will hopefully compare favourably do the similar Forza 3 and Gran Turismo 5, and not leave me thinking that perhaps they should have left the f out of the title! It incorporates a stars system for completing certain challenges during each race, such as staying in first place for a whole lap or beating a particular time, and these change depending on whether your play style falls under the category of "aggressive" or "precision".

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story - DS - Out Now

The Mario RPG's have always been incredibly funny, well written games with some really fun gameplay to back it all up, but the last one (Partners in Time) suffered a bit because of over complicated controls. This time Alphadream have simplified things a bit, and have also apparently been inspired by the classic movie Inner Space, as Mario & Luigi find themselves inhaled by Bowser. You then spend much of the game exploring Bowser's gut, or stomping around the Mushroom Kingdom as the Koopa King himself as he attempts to reclaim his castle from the evil (and hysterically funny) Fawful.

So that's it for part one - I have already bought copies of Dragon Age, Borderlands and Torchlight and will be reviewing each of them over the next month or so, and I'll be picking up New Super Mario Bros. Wii tomorrow! Next week I'll also be posting up part 2 of this guide, looking at 10 also-rans that may just be worth grabbing in the sales!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune review

Since buying the system a couple of years ago, my PS3 hasn't really been used for playing games much, especially compared to some of my other consoles. It does get turned on quite often to play Blu Rays, but if a game is multi format I usually go with the Xbox 360 version because I have way more people on my friend list and I prefer Achievements to Trophies. When I was about to take a week off from work however I decided I would pick up a few games for Sony's black beast and spend some time with it - namely the new Prince of Persia which I still haven't played very much of, and the subject of this review, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune which I played through to completion by the end of my holiday. The game sees you take control of Nathan Drake, supposedly the long lost relative of explorer and alleged pirate Sir Francis Drake, as he attempts to find the mythical El Dorado. By the time I was done with it I was extremely impressed with the game - read on to find out why.

Format: PS3
Publisher: SCEE
Developer: Naughty Dog
Genre: Action Adventure
Region: PAL
Expect to pay: £8 - £10

Graphics: 9 out of 10
Now you would more or less expect a PS3 game to look great, with HD as standard and all the muscle that the system has, but the graphics of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune are fantastic from a design standpoint as well as a technical one. Through the course of the game you will be taken from dark, atmospheric temples and crypts, to lush green jungles and tropical vistas. The palette is in stark contrast to something like Gears of War with its oppressive tones and fondness of the colour brown - and quite deliberately so as various members of Naughty Dog explain in the bonus documentaries included on the game disc. It's refreshing to play a modern console game that isn't afraid to use vivid colours, although this was also a hallmark of Naughty Dog's previous series Jak and Daxter as well. There are also subtle trails in the level design which manage to subconsciously lead you on the correct path through the level, while at the same time still managing to look natural.

There's no doubt that this game makes good use of the PS3's capabilities, and it still looks great today despite being one of the earliest releases for the console. I should also mention the animation which is both fluid and realistic, giving your the feeling that Nathan Drake has real weight and inertia. As you navigate a tricky series of jumps and climbs, he reaches out towards parts of the environment that can be jumped to, and sometimes manages to save himself from plummeting to his doom by grabbing hold of something with one hand and pulling himself up.

Sound and music: 9 out of 10
Uncharted boasts a musical score composed by Greg Edmonson, who has previously worked on Joss Whedon's tragically short lived Firefly TV series. Fans of the show will definitely find certain instruments and tunes familiar, and his work here definitely helps give the game the gravitas of a big screen blockbuster.

Voice acting is solid as well, comprising of performances by the likes of Nolan North as Drake, Emily Rose as Elena Fisher and Richard McGonagle as Victor Sullivan. I'm not familiar with any of these names, but a quick scan of their CV's shows that Fisher and McGonagle have done a fair amount of TV and voice over work for cartoons, while it appears that the first Uncharted was North's first job. Instead of dubbing over cut scenes that had already been created by animators, the dialogue was recorded at the same time as the action using motion capture suits, which helps keep things feeling natural as the actors were all present at the same time and interacting with each other for real.

The final element of the sound is the effects, and these are very well done too with a variety of different weapons that all sound like they should, supported by a great 5.1 surround sound mix so you can really hear where the bullets are coming from if you have the hardware.

Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher at the start of their epic journey.

Game Mechanics: 9 out of 10
There are several different game play styles that make up the DNA of Uncharted. Let's start with the combat first. It plays very similarly to Gears of War, with an over the shoulder perspective and the stick to cover. Enemies can pour in thick and fast, and it's extremely satisfying to take them down with an expertly placed head shot from your pistol or a well aimed grenade (the Sixaxis controller is also utilised to change the path of your grenade, although personally I would have preferred to use the analogue stick). There are a variety of guns in the game, including various pistols, automatic rifles, machine guns and shotguns. Ammunition levels can pose a problem in protracted gun fights, and you may have to leave the safety of whatever cover you've found in order to retrieve some more ammo clips from the corpses of the slain.

Then you have melee combat, where you can get in close to your enemy and execute a string of buttons presses which if timed correctly can take your opponent down with quiet efficiency. The pirates that you go up against are fairly intelligent - ganging up on you, trying to pin you down and generally trying to outsmart you in every encounter. Thus, you will probably find yourself taking out a few bad guys initially and then have to retreat and heal up before re entering the fray. Healing is much like any other action game of recent times - you just find a quiet spot and rest up for a few seconds and you're magically back to full heath. This makes sense for Halo where the shields of your suit re power after a while, but seems a bit strange when your playing as a regular guy wearing just a T-shirt and trousers.

Aside from fighting, you will spend a considerable amount of your time just navigating the environment - clinging on to crumbling pillars, swinging from vines, shimmying across chasms and the like. This is where Naughty Dog's pedigree as a platform game designer really pays off as the action here is extremely slick and fluid you always feel in control. It's about as far removed as the clunky old Tomb Raider games as possible. Then we have the puzzles, which aren't particularly taxing but are a fun diversion from time to time nevertheless. A little bit of experimentation and studying Francis Drakes journal will usually steer you towards the solution.

There are also a few vehicular sections scattered throughout the game - an on rails section that sees you manning the guns in a jeep, and a couple of jet ski bits through a sunken city and up a river. They don't outstay their welcome and are a fun way to break up the shooting and exploration for a little while.

So then, all of these elements have been done before in other games but seldom have they all been found in one title or executed with such panache. They can also flow from one style of game play directly into the next, so barely seconds after navigating a tricky series of jumps you could be plunged headlong into a lengthy gun battle. Naughty Dog really are in the top league of developers and are a huge asset to Sony, so I hope they manage to keep hold of them for quite some time.

Walking across logs also triggers Sixaxis motion controlled sections.

Innovation and Cleverness: 7 out 10
Like I said above, most of the game play elements of Uncharted have been done elsewhere but not at the same time and not with the same level of execution, so the game scores heavily on the Cleverness score. The production values are also incredibly high, with the cinematic score and solid performances. It manages to make the last Indiana Jones film look decidedly pathetic - George Lucas and Steven Spielberg pay attention, this is how you're supposed to make a story of this nature!

Value and Replayability: 7 out of 10
Uncharted is not a particularly long game - it will only take you about 10 hours to complete - but there is a nice array of bonus materials, such as galleries, making of documentaries and other videos to watch. These have to be unlocked by finding hidden treasures throughout the main game (of which there are 50) and also by completing various achievements. Getting a certain amount of head shots, killing three baddies with one grenade, the usual sort of thing. Then there are three difficulty settings if you decide you want to go through the story again (which you probably will, in time). The game can be purchased for £10 or less these days, and it is well worth that price.

Overall: 9 out 10
Uncharted is an excellent demonstration of what the PS3 is capable of in the right hands - it's fun, exciting, easy to learn, but with plenty to keep you coming back. Uncharted 2 is just around the corner and it looks spectacular, but I would still recommend getting the first game if you haven't yet done so.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

RMGB TV - Nintendo Night

Keep checking this YouTube playlist regularly for gameplay videos of NES, SNES, N64 and Wii titles (including WiiWare and Virtual Console).

Saturday, August 08, 2009

RMGB TV - The RPG Show Episode 1 - Arc the Lad Collection

Here is the first proper episode of RMGB TV's RPG Show, all about Arc the Lad Collection from Working Designs.

Monday, August 03, 2009

RMGB TV Episode 0: Test Footage and Introduction

Here is the very first episode of RMGB TV, Episode 0, or the pilot if you like. The quality of the video leaves a lot to be desired, I will try and invest in some decent equipment later on, and also write some notes so that I'm not making it up as I go along (resulting in long pauses as I freeze up). Not sure when I'll pluck up the courage to do another one, I may try and hone my skills a bit first.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The iPhone App Report #1

I'm going try and tear myself away from my new iPhone 3GS long enough to share my thoughts on the various games and other sundry apps that I have tried out during the first week of ownership. This first App Report probably won't contain any real surprises for those who have owned an iPhone for a while, as most of the games covered here a very high profile, but hopefully next time I will have unearthed a few gems to share with you all. I will embed YouTube clips of the apps wherever possible and appropriate so you can see them in action. Click on the name of the app for a link to the App Store.

Real Racing | £5.99 | Genre: Racing | Tilt and Touch Controls
This is without a doubt the "killer app" for the iPhone right now. The graphics and gameplay are a match for anything the PSP or DS have to offer and even give the home consoles a run for their money. It is at the pricier end of the scale for iPhone games but you definitely get your money's worth, with plenty of cups to win and three different classes to work your way through. Initially the game took a bit of getting used to, but after I turned the tilt sensitivity down a bit, turned off the break assist completely, set braking and acceleration to manual and switched to the in car view, the game felt incredibly natural and extremely immersive to boot. A must have for iPhone owning race fans. Verdict: 10 out of 10

Peggle | £2.99 | Genre: Puzzle/Casual | Touch control only
PopCap's classic pachinko/pinball hybrid game is available on the iPhone in all its glory, at a fraction of the price of other versions and sporting several features exclusive to the platform (including a tap to zoom feature and an on screen scroll wheel for making fine adjustments to your aim. If you've never tried Peggle before, then this is the perfect version to go for - it's cheap, and is ideal for handheld play because you can play a level or two on the bus and then pick up exactly where you left off the next time you fire it up. Verdict: 8 out of 10

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition | £4.99 | Genre: Adventure | Touch control only
Monkey Island Special Edition was only released on the PC and Xbox Live Arcade fairly recently and yet here is exactly the same game (except with touch control of course) available for you to play in the palm of your hand. When I bought my iPhone last Friday this was the very first thing that I rushed to the App Store to buy. The graphics, sound and music have all been updated, but just by swiping two fingers across the screen you can switch to the classic version. Fantastic. Verdict: 9 out of 10.

Tap Tap Revenge 2 | Free | Genre: Rhythm Action | Touch and shake controls
If you're looking for a Guitar Hero style game for your iPhone then look no further than Tap Tap Revenge 2, as not only is it excellent fun, it is also completely free to download with over 100 songs available, spread over five difficulty levels (Kids, Easy, Medium, Hard and Extreme). There are themed Premium Packs for £2.99 each which focus on a particular artist such as Coldplay, or a genre such as Dance, and these replace the stock backgrounds with ones that reflect each particular song, but the free content will keep you playing for a fair old while before you get bored. Verdict: 8 out of 10.

That's it for now, join me again soon where I will be giving some DSiWare similar treatment.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fallout 3 review

The RPG that saw me through the late winter months of 2008 and beyond into 2009 was Fallout 3, set in a post apocalyptic world in and around Washington. You begin your epic journey as a lowly vault dweller, but not long into the game you leave the confines of Vault 101 and go looking for your father. It's up to you how you go about finding him though - you could just follow the linear path that the game sets out for you, or you could forgo it altogether and explore the world, picking up the trail later on. What you do when you do finally catch up with your father is also in your own hands, as you can decide to be good, bad or neutral. Not sure if the game is right for you? I'll help you decide.

Format: Xbox 360 (also on PS3, PC)
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Genre: RPG
Region: PAL
Price: £30-£40

Graphics: 8 out of 10
All in all, the graphics in Fallout 3 are fantastic - but they aren't without their faults. The NPC's you speak to all have a glassy stare on their faces which a bit of naturalistic animation could have fixed. This is also a criticism that has been levelled against Oblivion, so it's somewhat annoying that Bethesda hasn't fixed it. There is also a fair amount of repetition across the various areas of the wasteland - you will continually find identical looking metal boxes, radios, sewer systems and other bits and bobs. I understand why the developers would choose to reuse resources wherever they can in a game of this scale, but I appreciate it when teams make a bit of extra effort to make different areas of their world look unique (Dragon Quest VIII remains a shining example of this in my opinion).

Nevertheless, there's still an awful lot to be admired about the visuals - when you're creeping around, unsure what's around the next corner, it can be extremely atmospheric, and when you are suddenly faced with a Feral Ghoul of a Super Mutant Master it can be shit-your-pants scary. The minor quibbles won't spoil your enjoyment of the game too much, but they are serious enough to lower the score to an 8.

Sound and Music: 9 out of 10
Most of the time while playing the game I was tuned into Galaxy News Radio, and I absolutely love the range of old timey music that plays on that station. The list of artists include Cole Porter, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Great though this music is, there isn't quite a enough of it. By the end of the campaign, I must have heard the same tunes dozens of times. I didn't matter too much, but at the same time I would have appreciated some more. If Bethesda had offered a DLC pack which was nothing but another selection of 20 or so tunes for example, I would have bought it - but that is unlikely to happen.

Apart from the music, there are also a few famous voices amongst the cast. These include Liam Neeson as your father, Malcom McDowell as President John Henry Eden and Ron Perlman, reprising his role as the narrator from the first game in the series. All of them put in solid performances and help give the game more atmosphere. Some of the incidental characters have the same voice (most of the male ghouls sound the same for example) but this is nowhere near as great a concern as it was in Oblivion, where there was seemingly only a half dozen or so actors playing hundreds of people.

Finally, the sound effects. Gun shots and explosions all sound suitably beefy and realistic, monsters sound nicely disgusting and the sound effects of the VATS system, while borrowed from the first game in the series, are unique and very easy to identify.

You can gain several followers during the game including Dogmeat here. He died valiantly defending me from killer robots during my play through.

Game Mechanics: 8 out of 10
My opinion about the game mechanics is much the same as the Graphics - they work well enough but still have a few niggly flaws that prevent them from being great. Firstly, the battle system - you can play Fallout 3 in real time like a first person shooter, but it really doesn't function very well if you do decide to go that route. To get the most out of the game you should use make use of VATS whenever you can, and just use the real time combat as a fall back. Pressing the RB button freezes the action and puts an overlay over the enemy that allows you to target a specific body part and see how likely you are to hit it, and you have a certain amount of ability points to spend on shooting at the enemies. Different weapons will use up different amounts of AP.

The VATS system isn't perfect either, though. The theory is that you can cripple the legs of your enemy to slow them down, but it is almost always better to simply aim for the head and try and get an instant kill instead.

The freeform nature of the quests have also come under a fire a little bit, too. I just recently listened to an episode of the Listen Up podcast where host Garnett Lee was describing how he accidentally managed to skip over several major storyline quests when he decided to do some of the optional quests first. I did exactly the same thing, except I later found out that you can go back and do those quests anyway if you want to (Galaxy News Radio). I see his point but personally it doesn't really bother me that you can direct the path of the main story, because I was planning to play the game a second time as an evil character anyway.

Speaking of which, Fallout 3 is yet another RPG where you can decide
to be good or bad, following in the footsteps of pretty much anything by Bioware, and the Fable games. I do like these games that give you moral choices and two ways to play the game, but it has been done to death at this point. Fallout 3 doesn't really add anything new to the idea but hopefully Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins will do something different. Each time you level up your character, you can also choose a perk, and your choice is also effected by your good/bad alignment, how may points you have assigned to a certain skill and how you rolled your stats at the beginning of the game. They include Strong Back, which allows you to carry extra loot, and everybodys favourite, Bloody Mess, which can cause enemies to explode in a shower of guts.

Innovation and Cleverness: 6 out of 10
Much of Fallout 3 is built upon the foundations of the original Fallout (the world, the dark humour) and Oblivion (the game engine, the overall design and structure), but that's not to say that it doesn't bring anything new to the table. The VATS system is a decent attempt to convert the battles of the original game into a real time, 3D world, and there are some very inventive optional quests for you to take on.

This is Megaton, likely to be the first town that you come across and home to some of the more interesting quests in the game. There's an unexploded nuclear bomb in the middle of town - will you defuse it or detonate it?

Value & Replayability: 9 out of 10
This is really the major strength of Fallout 3. There's an absolutely massive world out there, and completing the story and the optional quests will only show you a fraction of it. You could spend hours trawling through the the ruins of DC, taking down roaming bands of Super Mutants, or wandering the wasteland to see what you can find. Then of course you can do it all again as a character of the opposite alignment, and maybe focus on sneaking and thievery instead of just blowing everything to kingdom come. The choice is yours.

Overall: 9 out of 10
Despite all of the minor flaws, Fallout 3 is still a fantastic game and it was very nearly my favourite game of 2008. You don't really notice the niggly things while playing the game, you're too busy having fun. It's only after you've finished and think back on the experience that you realise that certain things could have been better.

I haven't covered any of the DLC packs in this review because so far I've only played through Operation Anchorage. I have bought and downloaded The Pitt and Broken Steel, and will play them soon, but I will wait until Point Lookout and Mothership Zeta are released and then write a round up of all of them at the same time.

Related posts:

Monday, June 15, 2009

Kingdom Hearts II review

I have tried and failed to complete the first Kingdom Hearts game several times for various reasons - the broken camera and poorly implemented battle controls being the main culprits. Yet I still picked up Kingdom Hearts II when I saw it for £5 in Woolworths the Christmas before last. It promptly got added to my backlog of games that I may get around to playing one day, and I thought little of it for well over a year. The box caught my eye a few months ago though and something compelled me to give it a try. This time, the game got its hooked into me and I completed it a few weeks ago. I've had some time to mull the experience over now and so it is time to deliver my verdict. Warning: There may be some small spoilers in this review but I'll try not to go into too much detail.

Format: PS2
Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Square-Enix
Genre: Action RPG
Region: PAL
Price: Around £10 these days

Graphics: 8 out of 10
Taking into account that this game is running on what is now last generation hardware, it still looks great for the most part. The worlds that are based on Disney animations (including Atlantica, Beast's Castle and the Pride Lands from The Lion King) look just like the feature films that inspired them, except of course they are now in full 3D. Not only do they look great, they are also incredibly well animated. There is one world that you visit that lets the side down, however. When the game was first announced and I started to read about it, there was one new addition that I couldn't wait to check out - namely Port Royal from Pirates of the Caribbean. To be able fight alongside Jack Sparrow. Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan sounded great - but unfortunately the technical limitations of the PS2 let the side down. The characters just don't look natural, and this is really due to the fact that they are recreations of life actors rather than cell shaded drawings. Unfortunately the graphics are not the only area that Port Royal is disappointing...

Sound and Music: 9 out of 10
Yes, the voice acting for the Port Royal sections is underwhelming as well. Johnny Depp was unavailable or simply too expensive to hire, and the actor they cast to try and imitate him just doesn't convince at all. It's a similar story for Will Turner. Thankfully, the rest of the game has amazing voice acting, with a huge array of familiar voice talent, both from film (James Woods, James Earl Jones, Chris Sarandon), TV (Hayden Panettiere, though few had heard of her when she made the game), other games and anime (Tara Strong, Corey Burton). Most of the actors who played characters in Disney films reprise their roles, and even when somebody else subs in for them, they are usually extremely talented people in their own right (for example Dan Castelleneta, aka Homer Simpson plays the voice of the Genie instead of Robin Williams).

The music is also a brilliant fusion of familiar Disney melodies and new compositions created by composer Yoko Shimomura, although sometimes the tunes can sound a little synthy (surprise, Port Royal again). Utada Hikaru also reprises her role from the first game and delivers an amazing opening tune (check out the video below - and be sure to come back for the rest of the review!).

Game Mechanics: 9 out 10
Kingdom Hearts 2 is an action RPG through and through - full of fast paced battles against hundreds of opponents. Thankfully the major problems of the original game - the camera and the controls, have been fixed this time which immediately makes it far more enjoyable than the first game. You control Sora directly but you also have up to two companions helping you out (Donald and Goofy most of the time, and a guest character that takes the place of one of them during one of the Disney themed worlds.

You fight off the enemy Heartless and Nobodies with the help of your keyblade, a sword that is shaped like a key, and also doubles up as a story device to unlock paths between the various worlds. As well as your basic attacks you can also cast spells, summon various characters to help your out or change into one of three forms. As you level up you get the opportunity to spend AP (action points) on new skills that augment your character, be they new attacks, or just something that makes the enemies drop more money. You have to manage both the equipment and skills of yourself and Donald and Goofy, so there's plenty of opportunity for character development.

The length of time spent in each world without a break is typically far less than the first game as well - you rarely stay anywhere for more than an hour or two. This helps keep the pace of the game flowing and ensures that you won't get bored because there's always something new to see or explore just around the corner. Like in the first game, you travel between these worlds in a Gummi Ship, and Square have listened to criticism again and radically improved these sections. Now they are just like and on rails shooter such as Star Fox or Panzer Dragoon. All in all Kingdom Hearts II feels much more polished than the original, eliminating any little niggles that were present and transforming it into the classic that the original should have been in the first place.

Innovation and Cleverness: 7 out of 10
On the outside, to people who hate Disney or Square-Enix or both (they do exist), Kingdom Hearts II may seem like one big repulsive cash-in, and I was skeptical myself initially, but Square-Enix have skillfully woven a cohesive story around multiple Disney and Square franchises and delivered a game that could appeal to fans and non fans alike. Personally, while I have played the majority of the Final Fantasy series, I haven't watched a Disney animated film in years (with the exception of those produced by Pixar).

Disney stalwarts Donald and Goofy return to help you out once again

Value & Replayability: 8 out of 10
Action RPG's are usually a good deal shorter than their turn based counterparts by their very nature, but Square-Enix have crammed a lot of content into Kingdom Hearts II. The main storyline will take you in the region of 40 hours to complete. Then you have optional battles in the underworld and a whole log book of optional challenges and content to find and beat. If you beat the game in Hard mode then you will automatically get the chance to watch the hidden teaser for Birth by Sleep, otherwise completing all the side quests is the only way to view it (or you could just go and watch it on YouTube if you can't be bothered). Considering that the game can be picked up for a tenner or less anyway, you will more than get your money's worth.

Some of the worlds featured in KHII are repeats of those that were in the original, so the game lose a mark or two for that, although they have been changed significantly.

Overall: 8 out 10
Leave your cynical gamer persona behind and just be prepared to have fun in this fast paced and slickly produced Disney/Square love in. You don't really need to have played through the first game - I had only played part of it and I still managed to piece together what was happening with the storyline. The series shows no sign of dieing anytime soon with two spin off games for the PSP and DS on the way, and the inevitable Kingdom Hearts III. I would like to see the world's from the various Pixar films explored in a future game, I think they would fit perfectly.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Top 10 Highlights of E3 2009

Here are what I consider to be the 10 most exciting announcements that were made during E3 2009 in reverse order. Bear in mind that I am totally bored with the FPS genre and not too keen on most modern action games either, so don't expect to see the likes of Halo, God of War etc represented in this list. Click on the title to view a trailer/video about each one.

10. Metroid: Other M (Wii)
I absolutely loved the Metroid Prime series so anything within the franchise is going to pique my curiosity, however I hate the Ninja Gaiden titles and there's a danger that this game is going to be a similar hardcore action title. Hopefully the combination of Team Ninja and Nintendo will deliver a quality game.

9. Golden Sun (DS)

The two Golden Sun games on the GBA were classic old school RPG's with excellent puzzles and thoroughly charming graphics. A third game is very welcome indeed and somewhat unexpected given the amount of time that has passed since The Lost Age was released.

8. Scribblenauts (DS)
The concept of this game is just brilliant, and if it works as well as it appears to from the footage I've seen it could be a contender for my Game of the Year. Basically, you have to reach a star on each level, and in order to do so you enter words on the touch screen, which are then turned into physical objects or creatures. There are apparently over 50,000 words contained in the in game dictionary, and they include the likes of Cthulu, so if you wish to summon an inter dimensional god, go right ahead!

7. Forza Motorsport 3 (360)
Sony may have been showing off Gran Turismo in PS3 and PSP format once again, but for me that series was eclipsed by Forza Motorsport 2 and I won't be going back. Forza 3 looks to be even better than the last game with noticeably better graphics and even more customisation options, including the ability to record, edit and share videos.

6. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

The original Galaxy is one of the finest examples of game design I've ever had to pleasure to experience - continually inventive, always entertaining. So I do of course welcome the idea of a sequel. I do have some concerns though, chiefly that this game apparently started off as a remix of the original, which kind of shows in some of the footage with bosses simply being reused. Then there's the name - couldn't Nintendo have been a bit more imaginative than simply sticking a 2 on the end? Even Super Mario Universe would have been and improvement. They've still got time to change it I guess.

5. New Super Mario Bros (Wii)
Yeah, another Mario game, and this time it's a 2D one. The four player mode looks cool (although I doubt I'll ever play it) and the new power ups look like their going to be implemented better than those in the last game. I have rated this higher than Galaxy 2 simply because it's closer to being released.

4. ModNation Racers (PS3)
Sony are applying their "Build, Play, Share" ethic that has worked so well with Little Big Planet to a new genre - that of the kart racer. The demonstration from the press conference made it look extremely easy to put a track together, the idea of having an infinite amount of new tracks is exciting. Let's just hope the game play ultimately backs up the premise.

3. The Last Guardian (PS3)
This is the third in the Ico & Shadow of the Colossus "series", and it shares the same aesthetics as those two games, except of course it's now in glorious 3D. Instead of having to climb and take down gigantic creatures, it appears that this time you have befriended one and must use them to navigate the game environment. Check out the awesome trailer, which features background music from Miller's Crossing (it works surprisingly well).

2. Project Natal (360)
If this works as well as it appears to in all of the demo videos, that it will truly be amazing. Thanks to a new camera attachment, full motion capture in now possible in your living room, allowing you to use your entire body as a controller. More exciting than that though was the the voice recognition and the way that the cameras can apparently scan items you hold up to it in seconds, like the drawing in the Milo demo. Really exciting stuff!

1. Tales of Monkey Island (Wii, PC)
The original Secret of Monkey Island is one of my favourite games of all time, I have replayed it so many times over the years that I've lost count. So the prospect of all new Monkey Island makes me very happy indeed. Five new monthly episodes from Telltale Games, the people behind the episodic Sam & Max, Strong Bad and Wallace & Gromit games. There's also a Special Edition coming to Xbox Live which is the original game remastered in HD and with rerecorded music and dialogue. It looks like 2009 is going to be the year of the monkey!

I am also really looking forward to Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins, but as I already knew about them I didn't include them in my top 10.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Movie Watch: Summer Round Up Part 1

The summer movie season is in full flow and there are some real blockbusters being released on a weekly basis. In this article I will briefly review the big films so far, along with some of the Blu Rays that I have watched recently.

Cinema releases

X-Men Origins: Wolverine
This was reasonably entertaining whilst I was in the cinema watching it, although shortly afterwards not much sticks in the mind. It is just a so-so comic adaptation, which lacks the impact of the old X-Men trilogy largely because it is a prequel centred around an already well established character. Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool was pretty cool, but Gambit didn't really add anything and on the whole it is a pretty forgettable film.
2 out of 5.

Star Trek
JJ Abrams has done a pretty good job at rebooting the franchise for the mainstream, but for me personally it lacked the spark of the original series and some of the actions of the new crew didn't really seem in character with their old incarnations. Maybe that's the point - I can't help but get the feeling that this film isn't really meant for Star Trek fans, but rather it's engineered to attract a whole new audience.
3 out of 5.

Coraline (in 3D)
The new 3D technology really does work well and it wasn't overdone which is a danger in this sort of film. The glasses did get a little bit uncomfortable after a while of wearing them though. As for the film itself it's a gorgeously designed dark fairy tale, and is quite slow paced at times. Don't got expecting a musical extravaganza in the style of The Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride, or something as funny as a Pixar release - it's just not that sort of film (as the few people who walked out of the showing I attended half way through must have discovered).
3.5 out of 5.

Night at the Museum 2
My new issue of Total Film arrived a day before I was due to see this, with a 2 out of 5 score, so I didn't really expect much from it. I have to say though this was a really entertaining family film, with plenty to keep both kids and adults happy. Amy Adams is as gorgeous as ever (her bum really does look quite splendid in her Amelia Earhart outfit. The film does remind of the original Bill & Ted film with its famous characters from history running around and general silliness, and that's never a bad thing.
3.5 out of 5

Blu Ray releases

I had heard that this was a good action thriller from various sources, and I had some Blockbuster rental vouchers to use up while I was on holiday, so I used one of this. To be honest though, I really wasn't "Taken" with it. It starts off great, the build up to Liam Neeson's daughter getting kidnapped is extremely tense - but once that's out of the way the action gets increasingly ludicrous and I started to lose interest towards the end.
1.5 out of 5

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
Now this was absolutely fantastic - definitely the best film I've watched over the last few months. I didn't really expect it to be all that great either because I watched the first Hellboy earlier in the year and thought it was pretty average all round. The sequel though has absolutely amazing special effects, brilliantly designed creatures, a decent story and a very funny script. It is one of the best showcases for HD available - I loved it!

4.0 out of 5

City of Ember
Walden Media follow up the brilliant Bridge to Terabithia with another adaptation of a children's book. It's not quite at the same level as Terabithia because the story lacks the emotional impact of that film, but it is well worth a watch in its own right. Bill Murray puts in another solid performance, and there are cameos from Liz Smith (nana from The Royle Family) and Mackenzie Crook (Gareth from The Office).
3.5 out of 5

This film is incredibly long and slow paced but the fascinating subject matter nearly mitigates that. It takes place over several decades as Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr) attempt to reveal the true identity of the Zodiac serial killer. As time and other events take their toll on these two men however, it falls to cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) to try and put the pieces together and solve the crime. If you like your films to have some closure you may end up disappointed by this one. There's a great range of special features on the disc including almost two hours of interviews with the survivors and investigators of the case, and a profile of the main suspect.
3 out of 5

Burn After Reading
I am a big fan of the Coen brothers and whilst the plot of their latest film ultimately doesn't really go anywhere, that's the whole point! Frances McDormand is Linda Litzke, a gym worker who is desperate to have cosmetic surgery done in a desperate attempt to hold on to her youth. When the cleaner stumbles across a CD with what appears to be sensitive government secrets on it, she and Chad (Brad Pitt) attempt to bribe ex CIA agent Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich). Events spiral out of control from there and the CIA superior (played by J.K. Simmons, aka Jonah Jameson in the Spiderman movies) looks on nonplussed "Report back to me when it... when it makes sense" he says to the agent keeping track of the case. A much lighter and more playful film than No Country for Old Men, but still laced with the Coen's trademark darkness throughout. Great fun!
3.5 out of 5

Be Kind Rewind
I loved Eternal Sunsine of the Spotless Mind - it's one of my favourite films of the last decade, so I couldn't wait to see how Michel Gondry would follow it up. However, even I found the concept of Be Kind Rewind a little hard to grasp. Mike (Mos Def) agrees to look after Elroy Flectcher's (Danny Glover) video store while his is out of town attending a meeting about his hero, Fats Waller. His friend Jerry (Jack Black), accidentally gets himself magnetised and ends up erasing all of the tapes in the store, and to cut a long story short they end up shooting their own version of the most iconic films ever made (including Ghostbusters). The scenes where they show the "sweded" movies are the best thing about this film. I'm not really a big fan of Jack Black, I find his personality overbearing, and while I feel the same way about Jim Carrey he managed to rein it in for Eternal Sunshine. Black however is his usually annoying self in this film and as a result I couldn't really get it into it now matter how much I tried.
2.0 out of 5.

Coming Soon... Part 2 - Angels & Demons, Terminator: Salvation, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Inglorious Basterds and more Blu Ray releases.