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.