Monday, October 17, 2011

Announcing... Dragon Quest Fest!

So... the week long series of reviews isn't going to be happening this week.  Sorry about that. 

However, I am going to start a project that may take a little while to complete but should be worth it in the end: Dragon Quest Fest

In some ways this has already been started because there are reviews of Dragon Quest VIII and IV already on the site, but I am gradually going to add reviews of all of the other main entries in the series and perhaps DQ Monsters Joker 2 as well.  My review of Dragon Quest IX will be published as part of my week of reviews which I really hope will happen next week now, and Dragon Quest V shouldn't be too far off either as I am just reaching the end of the second major part of the game on my commute to work.

Unfortunately, when I changed templates a while ago my review of DQVIII got mangled in the process, so my first job is to go back, fix all the paragraph spacing and weird extra characters that were added, find some screen shots to liven it up and some video if there is some available.  There will also be one other special article on the series as whole that I hope to get up by the end of this week.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tons of content coming soon!

Greetings ladies and gents

Just wanted to let you know that quite soon in the near future (perhaps next week) I will be posting every day Monday-Friday! Woo and indeed hoo!

I have played my way through quite a few games over the last month or so and am ready to deliver my verdict on them.  I will also try to get some more meaningful content up this week.  In the meantime here is the plan of action for the week long review frenzy: 

Monday - Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360)
Tuesday - Dragon Quest IX (DS)
Wednesday - Shadows of the Damned (Xbox 360)
Thursday - Dungeon Siege III (Xbox 360)
Friday - Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (Xbox 360)

As you can seem most of these are slightly older games, but not to worry - we don't do deadlines here! I am currently playing my way through Rage so I should have a review of that up fairly soon after release at least, and my Gears of War 3 critique was quite timely for me. Besides all this stuff, I will also start working out what to put in my yearly Gaming Gift Guide soon.  The autumn and winter months are seeing another bumper crop of amazing releases this year so there will be plenty of games to consider for my various top 10's.

Until then, enjoying playing whatever game is keeping you occupied at the moment, and make sure you keep checking the blog for new stuff!


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gears of War 3 review

So finally, with the release of Gears of War 3, the story of Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad comes to a close.  The first part of the trilogy was released in the early days of the 360, and although 3rd person cover based shooters had been seen before, they were never as polished as this.  The first Gears also brought some other new ideas to the table, such as the addictive Active Reload mechanic, which rewards good timing with extra damage. It was a great game at the time but in light of what has come along since I would only give it a 7 out of 10 if reviewing it today.  Then a few years later the middle chapter in the story was released, which improved the graphics, added a whole load of extra monster types to keep things fresh, and most notably added the excellent Horde mode into the mix.  It was a very good sequel and today would still be worthy of at least an 8 out of 10.  Is the closing part of the trilogy another step forward? Let's break it down...

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Epic Games
Expect to pay: £40 (for the standard edition), silly money (for the other editions)

Graphics: 9 out of 10
The first two games in the Gears of War saga have had plenty of criticism for their mostly brown and red colour palette, and for that fact that a lot of the game is spent in dark areas underground.  In start contrast to this, Gears of War 3 takes place in a variety of environments, that are not only outdoors for a good chunk of the time but also extremely colourful.  From the decks of a ship, to a beach, underneath the waves of a clear blue sea, and inside a luxury hotel on a tropical island, each act of this game shakes things up and really helps to keep things interesting.  Added to this are a huge number of new baddies to pit yourself against, both from the locust horde and the lambent, which have been seen in previous games but are now running wild and threatening the existence of the whole of planet Sera.  I don't want to spoil the many surprises so I'll just mention one encounter that features an old "friend" but in a new way.  The corpser that you may remember facing off against during the first game in the series makes a return, but this time she has brought her entire family.  Tiny corpsers and adolescent versions of the spider like beast will come to their mothers aid in an exciting boss battle, that comes not at the end of an act, but in the middle.  There are plenty of similar situations throughout the game but this was my favourite.

Another common criticism of the Gears trilogy is the look of the characters: namely that they all look like they're jacked up on steroids.  While they are still indeed some chunky looking a-holes, I think they have actually toned this down a little bit this time around as Cole Train in particular doesn't look quite as ridiculous as he has previously.

Sound and Music: 9 out of 10
John DiMaggio, Carlos Ferro and company are back as you would hope and in fine form for this third fantastic fracas.  Most of the major characters: Marcus, Dom, Cole Train, Baird and Anja get their moment in the spotlight as the story progresses and their voice actors do a fine job of it. They are ably supported by some familiar voice talent: Jennifer Hale, Dwight Schultz and Yuri Lowenthal all play at least one character - there's a good chance you will know them when you hear them.

The soundtrack is also up to the par of the previous games in the trilogy, with plenty of new music backed up by new renditions of themes that were composed for the other two games. You can't help but feel the excitement well up in the final act when some the recognisable them kicks in - it signals that the end is coming and it is time to kick the queens ass once and for all.

Game Mechanics: 9 out of 10
Everything that was present in the previous games is back again - the way you can easy snap into and out of cover, the active reload mechanic, the many weapons including the lancer with its chainsaw bayonet, the explosive torque bow and the supremely satisfying longshot sniper rifle.  Epic Games have retained all that was good about the previous entries in the trilogy and expanded upon them.  So now we have new weapons such as the retro lancer which packs more raw power that its more modern equivalent but suffers from terrible recall, and the deadly One Shot which can literally obliterate anything in a single well aimed shot.

On top of this, they have added a levelling mechanic that is prevalent across all game modes, including single player, and a wealth of ribbons, medals, characters and collectibles to find or unlock.  There is plenty of game here to keep the average player entertained for quite some time.  Horde mode makes a welcome return but it has had tower defence elements added to shake things up - now you get 30 seconds between rounds to buy defences including barricades, turrets and decoys.  You will need them too because your opponents are more vicious than ever, and every 10th round is now a boss wave that could see you going up against a couple of Brumaks for example, or perhaps three very angry lambent berserkers!

That is not all though, because a new mode has been added to Gears 3: the Beast mode.  It turns the tables on Horde and sees you playing the part of the locus.  At first you a limited to low level fodder such as tickers and grunts, but as you earn experience you will unlocked the ability to play as tougher and tougher creatures like a Theron Guard or a the Kantus.  Things are topped off by a fun range of competitive multiplayer modes including old favourites like Execution, and a co-op campaign that has been expanded from two players to four. My only complaint is that I would have like more consideration to have been made for lone wolves such as myself to be able to play Horde with the assistance of three bots.  I don't think this would have been too hard to implement: the Unreal Tournament series had bot matches years ago.

Innovation and Cleverness: 7 out of 10
Though this is the third part of a trilogy and therefore quite iterative in its nature, Gears of War 3 still contains plenty of clever touches.  The single player stages are excellently designed and full of set piece moments that put most big budget actions films to shame.  The controls and the weapons feel right and are very satisfying, and the whole game just exudes polish.

Value and Replayability: 8 out of 10
There is a LOT of stuff to keep Gearheads occupied in this game: single player over 4 different difficulties, co-op for up to four players, a special arcade version of the campaign, an expanded Horde mode, the brand new Beast mode, multiple competitive multiplayer modes, 100 levels of character advancement, dozens of ribbons, medals and achievements, 15 COG tags to find and even more stuff to collect.  Phew! That sounds like plenty to be going on with for the time being if you ask me.

Overall: 9 out of 10
Gears of War 3 is a very fitting swansong for Delta Squad, but it is not the end of the franchise as a whole. For starters we've been promised campaign DLC that introduces a new cast of characters and paves the way for the next Gears of War title. My guess is that will be a Halo Reach style prequel set in or around the Pendulum Wars that occurred before Emergence Day - humans fighting amongst themselves over the emulsion fuel.  I look forward to it and now, having finished the Gears 3 campaign for the first time, am about to settle into several months worth of levelling up over countless Horde, Beast, and competitive matches. See you online!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wii Hidden Gems #2 - Little King's Story

It has been way, way too long since I wrote the first entry in my Wii Hidden Gems series, and seeing as the article is one of the top five most popular posts on the blog I thought it was time to highlight another title from the consoles back catalogue that I feel doesn't get quite as much love as it deserves.  This time I will be covering Little King's Story, a strategy game that was published in 2009 by Rising Star Games in Europe and XSeed Games in the US.

Publisher: Rising Star Games
Developer: Cing
Expect to pay: £5 - £10

Graphics: 8 out of 10
Little King's Story features extremely colourful graphics that are very whimsical in nature.  They are quite cartoony yet quite stylised and detailed, and they suit the host platform very well.  There can be quite a lot going on at the same time yet the game doesn't slow down, even when you have dozens of your loyal follows trailing along behind you.  There are quite a few boss battles throughout the course of the game, both optional and obligatory, and they are usually quite large in size.  It can be quite a challenge to keep all of your little soldiers alive when you are being charged by a giant bull, squashed by a huge toad or attacked by the Oni King and his many minions, to name just three examples.

Sound and Music: 9 out of 10
This is where Little King's Story really gets a lot of its charm.  Despite the music consisting almost entirely of classical music that has been out of copyright for centuries, the soundtrack still manages to amaze due to the way the various compositions have been remixed and implemented into the game.  You will most likely recognise a good deal of the music from the moment it starts up. Speech consists of a gibberish language that the characters speak that sounds vaguely foreign but in actually fact is just a bunch of random noises.  Depending on your tolerance for this sort of thing it could get quite annoying after a while.

Game Mechanics: 9 out of 10
As for the gameplay, well... it's Pikmin, isn't it? Except in a fantasy setting and a few more RPG overtones.  If you have never played a Pikmin game, you control one character - in this case the eponymous Little King, and then roam around the game world with minions of different types trailing around behind you.  Each type of minion serves a purpose - use soldiers to take out monsters, carpenters to build bridges, etc.  You have to be careful not to let your non combative minions too close to monsters because they will not be able to defend themselves very effectively.

So armed with your different types of followers, you slowly explore further and further into the game world, uncovering loot and slaying bosses as you go.  You can bring back the stuff you have found to your kingdom where you can either sell it to help fund the further development of your kingdom (which is required to progress) or sometimes keep items for yourself to equip.  The game can actually be quite tough in places but it does allow for a certain amount of grinding because smaller monsters do reappear over time.

Innovation and Cleverness:
6 out of 10
While the game does undoubtedly steal a lot of the design from Pikmin it does bring it's share of new ideas to the table and overall is a better (not to mention longer) experience in my opinion.  As the Wii never got it's own new Pikmin game (the re releases don't count), this makes for a very good substitute.

Value and Replayability: 7 out of 10
Quite some time ago I happened to spot Little King's Story in the bargain games rack of my local Morrison's supermarket for a fiver.  That my friends is an absolute bargain and if you see while stocking up on groceries you should really chuck it in your basket or trolley without a moments hesitation.  There are quite a lot of stages in the game so it will take you quite some time to finish, but I'm not too sure whether you'd come back and do it a second time.  Luckily though the game is getting a sequel for the PS Vita - hopefully it will sell more copies this time, but maybe not if handhelds are as dead as most video game journalists would like you to believe.

Overall: 8 out of 10
This is a true shining gem amongst the collection of titles that have been released for the Wii over the years, and an affordable one at that.  So if my ramblings here have whetted your appetite at all, go seek it out and enjoy it!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Game Diary: Driver SF - don't let the ridiculous premise put you off

The Autumn release period is now well under way. In Europe it started with the amazing Xenoblade Chronicles, which I'm now almost 40 hours in.  I have taken a peak at a FAQ to see roughly how far into the game I've got and there's still a ton of content to go. I'm definitely taking my sweet time with it though, for example on Saturday afternoon I spent over an hour just walking around one of the huge towns picking up quests to complete later (to be fair the towns are vast in this game, and you have to explore them at different times to day because the NPC's all keep to their own schedule).  I'll be plugging away at this game gradually for quite some time to come, so I wouldn't expect a review until November at the earliest I would guess.

This past Friday saw the release of Driver: San Francisco.  Now, I must be one of the few people who actually quite enjoyed Driv3r on the last generation of consoles and didn't encounter too many bugs, so my enthusiasm for the franchise hasn't really waned and this game has been on my wanted list since I saw the E3 trailer from a few years back.  When the demo appeared on Xbox Live Marketplace last month I was quick to download it and take the game for a spin.  It was then that I started to get a bit cynical about the game, as Reflections have come up with a ridiculous coma storyline in order to explain away the new body shifting mechanic that plays a huge part in the new game.  I found the idea really naff and almost passed the game up as a result.  However, after a particularly bad day commuting which saw me get home from work at 10:30pm, I decided I was going to buy the game after all to cheer myself up (any excuse for a new game).  I'm very glad I did.

Once you get a little way in the storyline the shifting and coma ridden Tanner stop being an issue (at least for me) and then become the perfect excuse to take on all sorts of wacky side missions and just have fun.  Reflections have very wisely done away with the on foot sections of previous games that never worked very well (I think they fell into the trap of trying to compete with Grand Theft Auto, when they'd have been better off just doing their own thing).  The focus here is very much on driving, and the handling feels great - weighty but still on the arcade side. An old 70's muscle car feels completely different to drive than an Audi RS or a VW Beetle Buggy (my personal favourite), and throwing them around an exaggerated approximation of San Francisco is fantastic fun.

The multiplayer is if anything, even better, with many different modes to enjoy.  Some of them involve using the shift mechanic to stay in contention (Takedown events see cops chasing one player who's been designated as a criminal, and the rozzers can instantly beam themselves into any vehicle, whereas the perp is locked out of shifting and must use all of their skill to frantically escape).  My personal favourite discipline is traditional racing, where up to 8 players take part either in a series of 5 frantic sprint races, or one longer classic race.  There are a ton of tracks and many different vehicle types - although you don't get any choice in which you race, the game chooses at random.  There is also a qualifying round before each main event and there are several different types - smashing objects, jumping, drifting, overtaking and achieving the highest top speed.  I've got pretty good at these race events and consistently place in the top 3.

The one downside about the multiplayer that I can see is the level cap.  It only goes up to 38 and I managed to get to level 16 in just one day, so it won't be very long before I've maxed out.  I don't think there's a Call of Duty style Prestige mode present in this game, unfortunately. Hopefully future DLC will increase this cap at the same time as adding new content.

I also finally got around to picking up a copy of Demon's Souls for the PS3. I had hesitated for so long because I was aware how challenging the game was and it didn't sound like the sort of thing I would be able to get any enjoyment out of.  After hearing how great it is on many different podcasts though, I decided to give it a chance.  Though it certainly is challenging, it isn't unfair and the weighty combat feels really satisfying. I've only managed to get past the very first stage so far, but it would seem that your choice of character class makes quite a difference in how tough you will find the game and magic users get an easier time of it than melee fighters, so I may start again as a Royalist and see how it goes.

I did also buy Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but I haven't really played enough of it yet to comment.  I think I will be putting it on hold until I'm done with some of the other games I've started recently.  That's everything for this week - I'll have another post soon which will probably include my thoughts on Star Fox 64 3D.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Game Diary: Xenoblade Chronicles impressions

It's time to share with you all some of my initial thoughts about Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii, which was just released in Europe this past Friday. I have managed to put in just over 20 hours of play time over the weekend, which I feel is plenty long enough for me to comment on the game so far.

First off, the game looks fantastic. The areas that you will be exploring are huge, colourful and extremely detailed, with grass blowing in the breeze, creatures both small and gigantic roaming around the environments, and a very impressive draw distance. It really does show off just how powerful the Wii actually is under the hood, and is also a testament to the programming and design skills of Monolith Soft.

Next, let's get on the game play. For those that have played Final Fantasy XII, then the way that Xenoblade plays should be quite familiar to you, though it lacks the ability to program your AI companions. Basically it is a lot like playing an MMO without an online component. Within a given area there will be a safe town or other such settlement, full of NPC's with dozens of quests to dole out. These quests typical involve killing things, gathering a certain number of resources, or seeking out a particular item hidden away in the zone. Then you will venture out with your party into a wide open expanse of countryside, populated by wandering wildlife that is both benign and openly hostile to you. The game world really feels like a living, breath ecosystem.

Of course there is a central plot that runs throughout the game and you could just ignore the 300 or so quests and stick to that, but where would the fun be in that? Plus you get the benefit of cash, loot and levelling up that comes with carrying out these tasks. Speaking of the plot, it would seem that Monolith Soft have reigned in the complicated narrative that typified the Xenosaga trilogy and delivered something that is much simpler to follow, with cut scenes that rarely run over 10 minutes (which may seem quite long, but scenes from Xenosaga could go on for up to an hour). That's not to say there aren't plenty of twists as you progress through the game, but it would seem the game mechanics were the main focus here, and the game is all the better for it.

I have no idea how far through the game I am at this point, but it wouldn't surprise me if Nintendo and Monolith Soft have delivered an RPG as huge as Final Fantasy XII (which I easily spent 111 hours on without getting bored). I'm now really looking forward to the upcoming Bank Holiday weekend where I can sink a whole load more time into the game (as well as Deus Ex: Human Revolution which is out this Friday). Anyone from the US who happens to read this and is angry that Xenoblade hasn't been announced in their territory could import the game (with or without the optional red Classic Controller Pro) from or (and I really wouldn't blame you, the game is worth the inconvenience and Nintendo of America should really get their act together and release the damn game already).

Below is part one of the Nintendo produced and spoiler free Let's Play series for Xenoblade.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Game Diary: Tales of Fantasy in the Sky

It's been a little while since I've posted anything, and that's mainly because I've been immersing myself within several fun RPG's at the same time. I am nearing the end of one, just past the half way point of another, and have just cleared the prologue of the third. First of all, we have Tales of Legendia, a game I picked up on a recent eBay RPG spending spree. I have been meaning to pick this game up for years now, way back since around the time of its release in fact. I had heard all about how it was different from the rest in the series due to being developed by a different team. It seemed that people either really liked it or they hated it, and it has become the black sheep of the Tales family over the years.

Having invested over 35 hours into it so far, and with sizable chunk of the game to go, I am of the decision that it is a decent, enjoyable RPG, yet lacking in several respects compared to the stronger entries in the series, such as my favourite, Tales of the Abyss. Instead of making use of the 3D battle engine that has now become the standard, Legendia regresses back to a single plane like the first game in the series, Tales of Phantasia. Random battles also make an unwelcome return, and puzzles are largely absent from dungeons (apart from a single "puzzle booth" per dungeon). This makes the dungeons fairly dull affairs, as you trudge around looting treasure chests, mashing the attack button whenever a battle is triggered, and then actually having to use your brain a little bit when facing the boss.
What saves the game from complete mediocrity are the characters.

Throughout the course of the main story, which covers roughly the first 25 hours of the game, you are introduced to the cast of Tales of Legendia. Most of them have some unfinished business in their past or in the case of Grune are just a complete mystery to everybody, and this plot threads don't get resolved until you have saved the world from certain doom at the end of Chapter 7 and have progressed on to the character quests. Each character gets their own turn in the spotlight, where the party helps them work through their issues and achieve some kind of closure, and by this stage in the game you have actually begun to know and care about these guys. The only disappointment here is that the game expects you to go back through the exact same dungeons you've already visited in the first half of the game, except with harder monsters and new treasure chests. This does make completing the game a bit of a chore, but I will get to the end eventually and I am glad that I have finally got hold of a copy of this game.

Next, I have
been replaying Final Fantasy X, and am on the home stretch now. What has really struck me is how good this game looks and sounds even today. It was something of a landmark release for the PS2 when it came out, as it featured cutting edge graphics a leap above the already outstanding work that Square had done on the original PlayStation, combined with fully voiced characters. What has also struck is how the main criticism of Final Fantasy XIII could also be applied to X - the game funnels you down a linear series of corridors for the most part, only opening up during the final hours of the story. It also did away with levelling in the conventional sense, and introduced the "sphere grid", with you earning the right to move along the nodes and plug in various types of spheres that are dropped during combat. The basic premise of the game and the way the story is told is quite simple yet very effective. You are told very early in the game that a powerful entity known as Sin is laying waste to Spira, and the only people who can stop it are the summoners, who go on a pilgrimage to every temple throughout the world to gain the power of the Aeons before a final showdown amongst the ruins of Zanarkand. Every step you take in the story takes you one step closer to that inevitable battle, and by putting you in the shoes of "man out of time" Tidus' as he comes to grips with what the journey will mean to him and the people he's travelling with, it really makes it easy to identify with him. Much as I enjoyed Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX, I can't say that I really identified with their protagonists or even really liked them that much. Tidus is one of the better lead characters of the modern FF era.

Next, I have also started playing the PSP title, Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky over the last few weeks, and I am really loving it.
I have reviewed one of the games in the series before, but as it turns out the original creators of the game, Nihon Falcom had nothing to do with that game. They were hands on with Trails though and the difference really shows, the graphics are decent (even if they are a little dated due to the fact that the game originally came out in Japan about four years ago), the music is absolutely fantastic and really funky to boot, and the battle system is fun and challenging. XSeed Games have done a really good job with the localisation (if if the game can be a bit on the verbose side at times) and have further cemented themselves as the go to company for solid handheld RPG releases. The only company that compares to them is Atlus, who lavish an equal amount of care on their games and usually pack in freebies such as soundtracks with their games. Anyway, I've just finished the prologue and am about 7 hours into the game, and I will continue to play my way through during my daily commute over the next few weeks (or months).

I was planning to replay Final Fantasy X-2 after finishing the first part, but the current lull in the release schedule is about to come to an end so I may put that on hold for a while. At the end of next week, Xenoblade Chronicles is released in Europe for the Wii. Comparisons have been made between it and Final Fantasy XII, a game which I absolutely adored. I am really glad that at last other RPGs are coming along that feature a huge open world full of optional areas and quests - The Last Story, the next game by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi and his team at Mistwalker, is another such game. That one hasn't been confirmed an English release yet though so I'm going to avoid learning too much about it to try and avoid the disappointment of it never coming out in the west. As soon as it should be announced though, I will be gobbling up every bit of media I can find about it.

Then the week after we have the next entry in the Deus Ex series. This game is being released in no less than four different editions: Standard, Limited, Augmented and Collectors. I am toying with the idea of going for the Augmented edition (at £50), but there's no way I'm paying £90 on the Collectors edition because I actually want to play the games I buy and the minute you take the seal off the value will have diminished greatly. Regardless I am looking forward to playing the game and I think it will be a big improvement on the disappointing Invisble War that came before.
That's all for now, I do intend to return soon with reviews of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, Tales of Legendia (once completed) and a retro review of Final Fantasy X. Until then, keep on gaming!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Assassin's Creed II + Brotherhood double review

Over the last couple of months I have played through both Assassin's Creed II and its follow up, Brotherhood, with only a few days between ending one and starting the other. As they are so similar mechanically, and Brotherhood is really an extension of the AC II storyline, I've decided to review both games at once. I may also follow this up with a summary of the DLC packs that have been released for both games. So now, let's take a stab at summing up two of the finest games of recent memory...

Format: Xbox 360 (also on PS3 and PC)

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Expect to pay:
£15 to £20 (maybe a little more if you want the special editions with DLC included)

Graphics: 9 out of 10
The original Assassin's Creed was definitely a pretty game when it was released, but the two releases that comprise Ezio's story so far take things to another level in terms of scope and detail. Firstly, in AC II you have the sheer variety of Italian towns and cities to explore, including Florence, Venice and your fortified hideout at Montereggioni. Then in Brotherhood the action is transported to Rome, and it initially feels like a step backwards to set the new game in just one city instead of the multitude from before. However, Rome is a huge place and each district has its own features and lighting to help set it apart from the others.

You also have various set pieces throughout the game that take you outside of the capital for brief sections of time, such as the missions that have you controlling an ancient tank prototype or manning an early machine gun on the back of a horse and cart. These add some much needed variety to the game and are quite spectacular to take part in. I can't really say that Brotherhood is any prettier than AC II as it is so obviously running on the the same engine and lot of the same textures are reused. This doesn't detract from the experience in a big way though as there is still a ton of variety in the game play, unlike the first game in the series which suffered greatly from its small range of mission types that were constantly repeated.

Sound and Music: 9 out of 10

Firstly I absolutely have to say just how amazing Jesper Kyd's musical score is on these games. Throughout both stories, he conjures up a soundtrack that would be worthy of the very best movie, with a strong theme flowing throughout the many compositions. Though much like the graphics some of the music in Brotherhood has been reused from AC II, much of it is still new or remixed in some fashion. It was a pleasure upon completing both games to sit and watch the credits scroll past, as it meant you got the opportunity to listen to the music is all its glory.

The voice work in these games is of a similarly high standard, as Ubisoft have hired genuine Italian actors to play the parts, ensuring that the accents are authentic and don't sound phony like so many games do. For extra authenticity you can even have full Italian voice overs and keep the English subtitles, though even if you have the game set to English the characters still lapse into the odd bit of Italian from time to time (mostly when there's swearing involved). There are a few celebrity voices amongst the cast including Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars, Elle from Heroes), Nolan "Nathan Drake" North and the UK's very own author and DJ, Danny Wallace. The final component in this category, the sound effects, are also on par with the rest of the game as sword strikes, shots from your hidden pistol, and Borgia towers exploding all sound exactly as you would hope.

Game Mechanics: 8 out of 10
As I've already touched upon briefly the first Assassin's Creed was a decent game that suffered from repetition in a big way. There were only a handful of different mission types that you would repeat over and over again from one city to the next. The developers had quite a momentous task in building the first game, and it would appear that the temptation to just get the game out of the door became too much and they released it before it was quite ready for public consumption.

Assassin's Creed II takes everything that worked from the original game and layers on many new things to do, cities to visit, and people to stab. The main story itself is fairly lengthy and varied - on top of this a short while into the game you are given a whole town to develop (Montereggioni). This is entails renovating buildings and shops, buying paintings to hang in your villa and more. The more money you put in the more cash is generated every 20 minutes, more than enough to keep you stocked up with the latest armour, weapons and vital healing potions.

By far the most enjoyable part of both this and Brotherhood are the optional breaks that you can take to do a spot of tomb raiding. These linear stages play out like something from Prince of Persia (both games share similar climbing/platforming mechanics). Sometimes these levels can be a test of your controller dexterity, others are more combat focused, and some are a mixture of both types. Your reward for completing all six in both games are some nice achievement points and access to the best armour in the game. Brotherhood takes things one step further and introduces new criteria that you need to fulfill in order to achieve 100% synchronisation, which not only applies to these tomb stages but to every memory (mission) in the game. They can include things like using a particular weapon to take town your target, finishing a mission within a time limit, or not losing any health. You can earn some more achievement points and a special item if you manage to 100% every mission in the game (including optional ones) but it isn't required to see the end of the story.

Both games also include hidden codes on particular buildings left behind by subject 16, another person who was forced to relive the memories of his ancestors by the Templar owned Abstergo corporation. These puzzles usually aren't too taxing, and often involve a little bit of trial and error. Successfully completing them unlocks a brief movie snippet which gradually builds up into a longer clip that teases some of the secrets behind the story of the games. Now I'm going to cover a couple of things that set Brotherhood apart from the previous title: namely the ability to enlist assassin recruits and the multi player.

After around four "segments" (chapters) into the game you can start recruiting potential assassins from the general populace and train them to be efficient killers. You first have to help them fight off the guards that are assaulting them, then once you have saved their life they will join your cause. From that point on you can send them on missions at any pigeon coup or your home base on Tiber Island. Recruits start at level 1 and go up to 10 before being embraced by the order completely and taking part in their initiation ceremony. The missions themselves are chosen from a list that vary in difficulty from one to five points, and when you select a recruit you can clearly see the likelihood of them completing their mission successfully and indeed surviving. To increase the chances of success you can send up to five recruits at once, and should they come back having achieved their goals (which takes a given number of minutes) they will each get a share of XP towards their next level. Sometimes rare items will also be awarded, many of which are used to unlocked certain armour and weapon sets from vendors.

The most useful aspect of having your recruits is the ability to summon them in the field and have them take out your targets for you. The amount of recruits you can send into combat at any time is tied to the number of Borgia towers that you've destroyed, up to three at a time maximum. A quick press of LB will call them into to take on whichever enemies you've currently got targeted. If you have all three pips charged and ready to go, holding down LB for longer triggers an arrow storm move where multiple enemies are shot down quickly. The recruits will earn some XP when you summon them as well, but not as much as sending them off on missions. As they progress through the levels you can equip them with better armour and weapons, thus increasing their effectiveness. It's a great mechanic that adds another layer of depth to the game.

The other thing that differentiates Brotherhood from the second game in the series is the addition of multi player. There are a variety of game modes including solo and team based games, but basically they all involve hunting down your fellow players and killing them as quietly and inventively as possible. Simply rushing straight towards your target and leaping at their neck will earn you the bare minimum reward, but by carefully stalking your prey or using special abilities you can earn much more. There are 50 levels to progress through and each one unlocks something, be it an ability, a new character skin or something else. Abilities include disguising yourself as a different character model for a brief spell of time, or using a hidden pistol.

I did find the multi player a bit unbalanced for low level players (I've got up to level 8 so far) because those who had already reached level 50 had access to abilities such as poison that allows them to kill you without getting anywhere near you, and an ability that allows your target to see who's coming after them. There were many times that I would be carefully trying to deduce which of several similar looking people I was supposed to kill, only for them to hit me (thus losing the contract). The other problem I had is something that effects many multi player games that aren't Call of Duty or Halo - the number of people playing starts to get a bit thin on the ground after a while. I found it hard to find a match unless I was playing at peak times. So my advice, if you want to check out the multi player mode of Brotherhood, is to either check it out right now while there's still people playing it, or just wait until Revelations is released which will include a refined version of it.

Innovation and Cleverness: 8 out of 10
Ubisoft got the traversal mechanics just right with the first game in the series, but the game felt empty and I lost interest before the end. By introducing so many new aspects to Assassin's Creed II, they've crafted one of the finest open world games of recent years. Then with Brotherhood they've done it again. The Borgia towers, the recruits and the multi player all shake things up once again and help to keep the experience feeling very fresh, despite essentially using the same engine as before.

Value and Replayability: 8 out of 10
There is a decent amount of content in both games. I would say that the main story mode of Brotherhood is somewhat shorter, but on the other hand the amount of optional missions has increased so on the whole they're about even. Then the multi player mode gives you a whole other type of experience to try out, and it works pretty well. It certainly makes a refreshing change from playing another FPS online.

Overall: 9 out of 10
Ubisoft has made turning out a new game in this franchise every year appear almost effortless. When you look at the amount of stuff crammed into each game and how polished they feel, it's actually quite amazing what they've achieved (especially compared to Duke Nukem Forever). Today you can pick up both of these games in editions that also include their DLC for less than the price of one new release, and they're definitely well worth it. I have great confidence that Assassin's Creed: Revelations will develop the franchise even more, and I look forward to the eventual release of Assassin's Creed III even more. I wonder which time period we will be in next?

Friday, July 08, 2011

Child of Eden review

At long last, the fantastic music/on rails shooter hybrid Rez gets a pseudo sequel in the form of Child of Eden. It shares many elements with its predecessor yet also manages to make its own mark with its use of the Kinect sensor and the Genki Rockets soundtrack that is present throughout every stage. Does it live up to the brilliance of the older game? Let's jump right in and see...

Format: Xbox 360 (also available for PS3)
Publisher: Ubisoft
Q Games

Expect to pay:

Graphics: 9 out of 10
The visuals within Child of Eden are a fantastic blend of bright neon colours, sea creatures, insects, cogs and other imagery, depending on the theme. Whereas most of Rez had a techno industrial vibe, the themes used for the various levels in the follow up are much more organic in their nature. For example the second level is entitled Beauty, and features many colourful flowers that bloom when you shoot them. When you shoot down the enemy bullets during this stage they make the sound of raindrops.
Most levels feature multiple boss encounters, usually one around the middle and another at the end, and these are impressive multi stage battles. My favourite of these comes at the end of the fourth stage, entitled Passion. This level shares the most in common with the design of Rez, as it takes place within machinery and features a fast paced techno tune. The boss is a giant green machine which keeps you on your toes by making you constantly switch between your two weapon types (more on this is a little while). Overall the graphics of Child of Eden are great, but it's when they are combined in synch with the music and the game play that the game truly becomes something special.

Sound and Music: 9 out of 10
At the most basic level, Tetsuya Miziguchi and Q Games have used various tunes by J-pop group Genki Rockets (which is itself a project by Miziguchi). However, things are a bit more complex that that because not only are the tracks remixed, they've also been cut up, split into their separate channels and rearranged into unique forms just for this new game. It works extremely well as the tunes usually build into a crescendo by the close of a level and gradually the vocals are introduced. The Genki Rockets tracks that have been used are the singles from their Heavenly Star album that can be downloaded from iTunes. Since buying the game I have bought the album myself and am loving it.

Besides the music, the sound effects add another layer to the experience and are created directly by the player. As you lock on to your enemies and shoot them down, various effects are released such as a hi hat or the aforementioned raindrop sound. This ties into the game plays well because if you lock onto the maximum 8 enemies at a time and then fire on the beat, you get a perfect score bonus. This is fun when playing the game with a controller because the force feedback rumbles in time with the beats, but it truly comes into its own when playing the game with Kinect. In order to stay in time, it helps to groove along with music, and when you're using your body to control the game this will probably happen without you even realising it.

Check out some footage of the early stages of the game, thanks to GhostRobo

Game Mechanics: 9 out of 10
Child of Eden takes place over 5 levels initially, with an additional challenge stage that is unlocked once you've completed it for the first time, and a series of different visual skins that are gradually made available by earning stars. The stars are handed out at the end of each stage and the quantity received depends on the percentage of enemies and bonus items you manage to shoot, your total score and how much health you have left. Because it's harder to be precise while using the Kinect controls instead of the controller, the game is slightly more lenient with you. Those who play with the controller will have a smaller targeting reticule, the thresholds for awarding stars will become more stringent, and each control method also has its own scoreboard (which is only fair, to be honest).

The control method that you favour will depend on you as a gamer, and what your living situation is like. Though you can technically play the game with the Kinect while sat down on your couch, it is a much more enjoyable experience when played whilst standing up. I don't have much room to move furniture around in my flat unfortunately so it is easier to use the standard controller. Whichever option you go for, they both work, and this game shows the true promise of the Kinect when it is applied to a "proper" game, and not the usual mini game collections that have littered the Wii release schedule for years and what we've seen from the Kinect to date.

While this review splits the game into graphics, sound and music and game play, with this particular game these three aspects are so inextricably linked to the overall experience that you really have to consider them all together. Those expecting another Rez run the risk of being disappointed because the music is of a different style which may not be to the taste of everyone. I also don't think that any of the levels quite match up the to the excellence of Area 5 from Rez, though its counterpart does come quite close.

This is the trailer that was revealed back at E3 2010, where I fell in love with the music.

Innovation and Cleverness: 7 out of 10
While the overall structure of the game and the concept is fundamentally the same as Rez, the implementation of the Kinect sensor shows its true potential as a platform for serious games and so Child of Eden deserves a respectable score here.

Value and Replayability: 7 out of 10
This may be the one potential sore spot for gamers - the five main levels of the game can feasibly all be unlocked and completed within a couple of hours. For some, they may decide they've seen enough there and regret spending £40 on such a short lived experience. Others like me will probably consider Child of Eden less of a game in the conventional sense and more of an interactive album - something that you will come back to time and time again. The different visual effects do help to add a little variety, but don't really change the game at its core. If you're someone who tends to play through a game once and move on, then I would recommend renting Child of Eden as it's definitely worth experiencing. I'm glad I have another game to go along with Rez and the two Space Channel 5 releases in the "interactive album" category.

Overall: 8 out of 10
Child of Eden is a fantastic experience that I think falls just short of the brilliance of Rez. It deserves to do well, but I fear that the majority of gamers are content to keep playing "Generic Military Shooter X" rather than trying something different. Saying that though, as long as we have game designers like Tetsuya Miziguchi in the world, and publishers like Ubisoft and Sega that are willing to give them the freedom to design the games that they want to design, I will be happy.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Game Diary: Dog people, robots and airships

I have been commuting to and from London on a daily basis for over two weeks now, a trip that takes just over two hours, and only now have I started playing games to pass the time. I depart so early in the morning (and I am definitely not a morning person) that I often just want to chill out on the way in, and I had a fairly sizable backlog of podcasts that I hadn't been listening to while I was off work. Now that I've settled into the routine and caught up with all the episodes of Retronauts Live, Weekend Confirmed and others, I will be spending more time with my 3DS, Caanoo and tablet. A little while ago Ocarina of Time 3D was released of course, and while it is undoubtedly a fantastic game, I've already completed it - twice, on older hardware. I do intend to play all the way through eventually but at the moment it's not really firing my imagination. There is another game that has just been released this past Friday though, that I find thoroughly engaging, and it goes by the name of Solatorobo.

During the PS1 era, a game was released by the name of Tail Concerto, which took place in a world of talking dog and cat people. I have played small portion of this game, but enough to know that it was a high quality action game. Solatorobo is a sequel of sorts to that game, and it takes place in the same world but centres around a new cast of characters. In it you play Red the Hunter, a vulpine bounty hunter who stomps around on a giant robot while helping out the local populace for money. A short while into the game, you can also use your robot to fly for a finite amount of time, and also enter into full on air races that play rather like an airborne variant of Mario Kart.
The are many side quests and distractions throughout the game, including finding kittens who have stolen somebodies photo collection, and a fighting arena.

This is just scratching the surface, and I'm only a few hours into the game at the moment so there is a lot more to see and do. Most missions in the game take 10 minutes at the most to play through, so it is an ideal game to play on the go. Despite running on the original DS hardware rather than the more powerful 3D, the game looks great too, with the sort of hand painted anime look and European style towns that frequent many of Miyazaki's best works. It's definitely a keeper, and looks set to become on of the true hidden gems of the Nintendo DS. It's currently not released in the US, but XSEED Games have plans to bring it out there in the Autumn. If their past releases are anything to go by, they will have some lavish packaging to go with it, so it may well be worth holding out for. Should something go awry though and the game doesn't come out as planned, at least now they have the option of importing the game from Europe. It would be well worth the effort.

My Child of Eden review is still on course for later this week, but I want to spend a bit more time playing it with Kinect, as most of my play time so far has been spent using the controller.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Game Diary: Honeycomb Edition

I'm writing this entry on my brand new and shiny Acer Iconia A500 Honeycomb tablet, so it might be a little shorter than usual. Originally I had considered an iPad 2, but having weighed up the options a while an Android based machine seemed like a better option for me. The integration of flash, cheaper overall price, and easy integration of Gmail and Blogger were all major pluses. I'm still getting used to the tablet (can't figure out how to remove icons and widgets I don't want), but I have been impressed by the technology so far. Games like Riptide GP and Samurai II look fantastic thanks to the Nvidia Tegra 2 graphics chip that gives the machine its raw power, and its lovely big screen makes it a joy to watch movies on. There are even PlayStation emulators on the Android Market, but I haven't had a go with these yet.

Besides the tablet, I've also been playing Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Child of Eden and Shadows of the Damned lately. Brotherhood is awesome, but feels like and extension of AC2, especially as I came from playing that game without much of a break. It takes a fair old while to unlock the ability to recruit young assassins to your cause but once you do it adds a great deal to the game play. Child of Eden is everything I had hoped for from a follow up to Rez, official or not, and you can expect a review very soon. Shadows of the Damned shows its Resident Evil 4 heritage quite clearly in its game play, yet it is much more playful in tone. For instance, your guns are all tranformations of your talking demon skull companion Johnson, who is constantly cracking knob jokes throughout the game. I've only played the first act so far, and it's been great fun, so I hope this games doesn't get overlooked by the masses in favour of more established IPs.

I'm going to sign off for now as typing this takes forever on a touch screen keyboard, though I may add a bit more when I get to work. Keep an eye out for that Child of Eden review in a day or two.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Red Faction: Armageddon review

Red Faction: Armageddon is the fourth game in the franchise from Volition, following on from Guerrilla that was released a few years ago. This time, Volition have eschewed the free roaming elements that they introduced in the last game and have instead decided to focus on a much more linear single player campaign. They have also introduced a race of hostile insect like aliens that have been dormant under the surface of Mars, that is until your character Darius Mason unwittingly wakes them up. I remember when I watched the first announcement trailer that I was concerned that this game would have gone from something unique to just another space marine shooter, and these concerns remained until I checked out the demo a month or two ago. I had a great time with what I played there, so from then on I looked forward to playing the full game. So now it's time to find out how Armageddon stacks up against the rest of the series and the competition...

Format: Xbox 360 (also available for PS3, PC)
Publisher: THQ

Developer: Volition

Expect to pay: £40

Graphics: 8 out of 10
Red Faction: Armageddon
is a very competently put together product. Things that were a little rough around the edges with Guerrilla have been given an extra layer of polish this time around, and the graphics have an extra bit of detail that was lacking last time. The destruction that the series is known for is back in this entry, as you would expect, but it is not quite so prevalent within the confines of the underground network of tunnels, and sadly takes a back seat towards the end of the story. The alien race that it unleashed are a somewhat generic selection of bugs, from small an fast crawlers through to hulking behemoths, and absolutely huge monoliths. Things move around the screen at quite a pace, even while the buildings are collapsing all around you and the scenery is exploding all around you.

Those who played
Guerrilla may recall that a device known as the Nanoforge was discovered towards the end of that game, and it plays a big part of the gameplay in Armageddon. Now you can reconstruct many buildings, bridges, etc. using this device, which not only looks really cool but also allows for some more interesting tactics. Should the cover that you're hiding behind get blown to pieces during a particularly intense firefight, you can just hold down the left bumper on your controller and recreate it, good as new. A good deal of Armageddon's story mode takes place in the pilot seat of a vehicle, including mech suits, walkers that resemble spiders, a trip down a river of lava on a barge, and a brief flying sequence. All of these vehicles are well armed including machine guns and more often than not, heat seeking missiles. They are fun and help to switch up the pace of the main campaign, and stomping around blowing the shit out of anything that moves is always a laugh.

Sound and Music: 8 out of 10
I really liked the creepy and atmospheric music used throughout
Armageddon, it reminded me of a really good science fiction action movie and it fitted in perfectly with the action. The noises that the alien life forms emit are suitably horrific, and when you're all alone in a dark tunnel, with monsters creeping up all around you and low on ammo, can heighten the tension nicely. Finally the voice acting is perfectly fine, certainly not the best I've ever heard but there was nothing to make me cringe.

Just one of the many nasty bugs that will terrorise you throughout the campaign.

Game Mechanics: 7 out of 10
A great deal about Armageddon is a joy to experience - the destruction is just as cathartic as it was last time around, and enhanced with the introduction of some fun new weapons. Chief among these has to be the magnet gun, which allows you to attach objects and enemies to each other and then watch as they are thrown into each other. Another gun creates a localised singularity which drags in any enemies to the blast, and then there's an extremely powerful plasma beam weapon that can slice straight through almost any structure. My personal favourite weapon has to be the rain gun however, which acts like a sniper but allows you to shoot straight through solid structures and target enemies using their heat signature.

Bolstering these exotic weapons are a selection of arms that you would expect to find in any self respecting shooter: an assault rifle, pistols, a shotgun and more, which leads me to one of the failings of the game. During the early to middle stages of the single player mode, things are relaxed enough for you to be able to play around with the more interesting weapons, but towards the end of the campaign the aliens will bombard you in such high numbers that it's simply much easier to fall back to the standard fare. The shotgun in particular was a good friend to me when things started to get overcrowded. There is no end to the stream of enemies during the closing stages either, you have to slog your way through them until you reach your objective. Combine this with a noticeable lack of destroyable scenery during the last hour and you have quite a dull and frustrating final act.

Besides the main story mode of the game there are two other modes: Infestation, which is basically a carbon copy of the Horde mode from Gears of War 2, and Ruin, which is a variation of Wrecking Crew from Guerrilla. Infestation is implemented well and many games have copied Horde mode for a reason: it's great fun. There are plenty of maps to fight your way through and your not obligated to play online with other people - if you wish you can go it alone and the game adjusts accordingly by giving you more lives. In Ruin mode (which you have to enter a code on the back of the manual to access) your objective is to cause as much destruction as possible within a limited time frame. There are no enemies here, just you, your weapons and many structures to flatten. The more buildings of high value that you can chain together, the larger your multiplier can get and therefore your score. There are set targets to reach in each map before you can play the next one and full leaderboard support.

Innovation and Cleverness: 7 out of 10
Armageddon deserves some points here for the fun new weapons that it introduces and the mechanic of rebuilding things with your nanoforge. The actual GeoMod 2.0 destructibility is pretty much as it was in Guerrilla however so I can't really give Armageddon any credit for it.

Value and Replayability:
6 out of 10

The main mode of the game is a bit on the short side at 6 hours, but as you would hope there are multiple difficulty levels. There are enough maps to play through in Infestation mode to keep you going for a while, but Ruin probably won't hold your interest for very long. You may want to wait until the game as gone down in price a bit before picking it up.

7 out of 10

Though I was disappointed to have reached the end so quickly, and the last hour was somewhat tedious to play through, overall I did have a fun time with Armageddon. The controls and the level of polish have been tightened up since Guerrilla, but all things considered it is not quite as good as its predecessor.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Game Diary: The Streets of L.A.

This past Friday saw the European release of L.A. Noire, and thanks to all the loyalty points I had accumalated from buying the Nintendo 3DS and a few other games in the interim, my copy didn't actually cost me anything! I've been playing it quite a bit over the weekend, and so far my verdict is that while Rockstar have another high quality game on their hands, I don't think it quite matches Red Dead Redemption, at least for me. I thought the first few missions as a patrolman were rather short and disjointed, but this does pick up when you get promoted to the traffic desk. From then on the cases are considerably longer, and involve scouring the crime scene for clues, interrogating witnesses until you find enough evidence to put someone away, or catch them out in a lie. Then you usually have to chase them down, either on foot or in a car.

The main technological breakthrough that L.A. Noire offers over other games is in the facial animation - never have video game characters looked so convincing. This aspect of the graphics is incredibly impressive, and necessary for the game to work properly - as without the facial ticks of the people you're interviewing, it would be much harder to tell if their withholding information. Nevertheless, outside of this, I don't find the graphics particularly amazing. The 360 version in particular suffers from some unfortunate glitching and slowdown - something that the PS3 version has managed to avoid, from what I've heard. I will save my final verdict for when I've managed to beat the game though.

Sorry for the continuing dearth of posts - things will pick up soon. There's a chance that I may get a job in London, and if that does indeed happen there will probably be a change in focus for this blog. For a little while at least, I will be spending quite a while each day commuting, so there will be less time to play on the 360 and PS3 at home and much more time that could be spent with my handheld consoles. I recently bought the latest version of the GP2X, known as the Caanoo, and it has many improvements over the original model, including a faster processor, inbuilt rechargeable battery and bigger screen. I'm loving it so far and have begun playing Final Fantasy V on a SNES emulator, one of the few games left in the series that I haven't played. Check the video below (not made by me) for an overview.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Game Diary: Backlog Blitz

For the last week I have been on "holiday" (technically, I'm unemployed, but chilling out for a couple of weeks before I really focus on finding another job), so there hasn't been much activity here. I'm going to make up for that this week however with at least one review and potential for more, as my time off has been spent enjoying many games from my backlog. First off, I dusted off my copy off Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood and gave it a spin. It's a very competently made wild west themed first person shooter. Battles are fast paced and exciting, the graphics are decent and it does capture the atmosphere of a classic western very nicely. Some of the features of the game do remind me of Red Dead Redemption, except Call of Juarez came first. It is getting a sequel, but they are bringing the franchise into modern times which I think is a bit of of shame. There's room for one wild west franchise on the market if you ask me, but maybe sales figures say otherwise.

I have also been playing a fair bit of WRC 2010, another game I picked up over Christmas, and it's a great, realistic rally simulation. The graphics aren't quite as detailed as games like Dirt 2, but if you're looking for a realistic representation of rallying, then there are no alternatives. They got the important stuff, like the sensation of speed and the feel of the handling, just right. As for other games, I'm playing through Final Fantasy XIII again, trying to get to the end again - except on the 360 this time. Making good progress here - I've just cleared chapter 8. I picked this up with a very generous leaving gift from the colleagues in my department, along with some other new games - the first Call of Juarez which isn't nearly as good as Bound in Blood unfortunately, The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena which is an update of the Xbox game with new content. I knew the original was a great game but I never owned it, so I'll finally get a chance to check it out. Lastly, I also bought The Godfather, EA's sandbox game based on the film. It's not bad, no GTA but a decent game nonetheless.

Although this is a gaming blog, from time to time I also like to focus on movies, and as there are some potentially great ones coming out over the next few weeks you can expect some mini reviews here and there. We have Thor, Hanna, Attack the Block, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and more. I will also be starting an 80's movie club, where I will watch two randomly picked movies from a chosen year during the 80's and then tell you what I think. I have already watched one of the two films from 1980, so you can expect the first entry fairly soon. In the meantime, carry on gaming, and reconvene here in a day or two for that Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood review.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Game Diary: PlayStation Notwork

Another week has gone by and most of my gaming time was once again taken up by GTA IV: Episodes from Liberty City - this time on the Lost and Damned portion of the game. I actually took the time to finish all of the optional side quests and events and achieve 100% completion. This entails: winning 12 bike races, completing 25 gang wars, dealing with 5 pieces of “dirty laundry” for the corrupt politician, Stubbs, stealing 9 bikes, and killing 50 seagulls. All of this will take a considerable amount of time, but for the most part it is all entertaining. This is with the exception of the seagull killing, which is very tedious. Luckily other people have gone to the trouble of finding all the birds and making a map – there’s no way I would have had the patience to track them down myself.

My current GTA bug has spread to the PSP, and I have begun playing Chinatown Wars which I picked up around Christmas time. It’s very much a throwback to the very first GTA game, with its overhead viewpoint, but it is in full 3D. There’s a ton of stuff to do in this game as well, and I’ve barely scratched the surface yet – I did complete a quite addictive game that involves you branding your gang members with tattoos though. Plus my current enthusiasm for Rockstar games has me eagerly anticipating the release of L.A. Noire at the end of May - I expect the story telling and free roaming elements to be of their usual extremely high standards, but the game is also set to shake up the genre just as much if not more than Red Dead Redemption.

I also bought a copy of DC Universe Online last Saturday, but events that you may already be aware of have prevented me from playing it. First Sony were telling everyone that they were performing routine maintenance to the PlayStation Network, then a few days later they were admitting to being hacked. Now, almost a week after they first shut down PSN they have informed everyone that their personal details (name, address, email, credit card info) may have been stolen. Luckily the card I have on file isn’t my current one, but it is still quite a worry. I can only imagine what kind of damage this will have to Sony, both financially and from the amount of trust they will lose with their customers.

Finally I spent half an hour checking out the first level of Dead Space Extraction for the Wii – the on rails shooter that is the a prequel to the first game in the series. I was surprised just how good the game looked, and the controls have been very cleverly implemented too. I will play some more and possibly be back with a review soon. Episode 2 of my RMGB Radio podcast should hopefully be up this weekend, and I am hoping it will be a slightly more professional affair than last time, as I’m going for a semi scripted approach. You can expect recaps of all of this months written reviews, a new one for Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master, and plenty more fantastic video game remixes. Make sure you tune in!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Game Diary: Return to Liberty City

I've managed to finish quite a few games and get a nice variety of reviews up on the site over the last few weeks, and I'm trying to keep this momentum going at the moment. Ghostbusters and Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands were both rentals from Lovefilm and they both lend themselves to this quite nicely as they can both be finished within around ten hours. Usually if I hang onto a game from Lovefilm for too long then I start to feel that I'm wasting money, so it was good to turn these around within a week of receiving them and still feel like I had played them thoroughly enough to be able to critique them.

After finishing PoP, I felt like starting another new game, and turned to The Backloggery for help. If you haven't heard of this site, it is somewhere that you can enter your game collection and then log your progress in games, keeping tracking of what you've beaten and completed as well as how large your backlog is. I've managed to build up quite huge pile of unfinished games over the last few years, so the fortune cookie feature of the site is quite a useful tool. Basically you can use it to randomly suggest a game from your own collection for you to play. I tried this last week and it came up with Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City, which is a double pack of the two DLC packs that were released for GTA IV: The Lost and Damned, and The Ballad of Gay Tony.

I decided to try The Ballad of Gay Tony first, which sees you playing as Luis Lopez, business partner to Tony Prince, the owner of two Liberty City nightclubs. By borrowing money from some thugs with mafia connections, Tony has managed to get the both of you in a whole heap of trouble and the rest of the game is spent basically trying to dig you out of this mess. Suffice to say though, things don't go according to plan and things get a whole lot worse before they get better. Those who have played GTA IV will have noticed how much more restrained it was compared with the craziness of San Andreas, and The Ballad of Gay Tony brings back a lot of the outlandish missions and ridculous characters that populated the PS2 titles. You will be tasked with blowing up a ship with a military helicopter, stealing a railway car, and throwing a blogger from a helicopter before parachuting out and saving him before he hits the ground.

There's a decent amount of content here at around 10 hours for the main story missions and a whole lot more if you want to complete the required quota of drug wars side missions, manage the nightclub (and perform favours for spoiled celebrities), enter a cage fighting tournament, base jump from 15 locations around the city, and finally kill a whole lot of seagulls. Doing all this will easily double the amount of time spent on this game - I have only bothered to complete the drug wars side missions so far and that in itself took hours. Of course this is only half of what Episodes from Liberty City has to offer - I intend to begin the other half, The Lost and the Damned this evening. You don't need to own the full version of GTA IV by the way, Episodes runs from the disc as a standalone title.

I probably won't write a full review of this title as I think I've covered all the pertinent information here, but if I were to give it a score it would definitely get a solid 8. The shorter nature of these two DLC offerigns is quite appealing, as the main entries in the GTA series have never managed to sustain my interest long enough for me to complete one. I still have my Super Mario Galaxy review coming, and I will see what Lovefilm has in store for me next in a day or two. In the meantime, I'll be causing mayhem around Liberty City with Johnny Klebitz and The Lost biker gang.