Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

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Review – Perfect Dark XBLA

March 18, 2010

This was one of the lucky ones, you’ll find it here at my new blog.

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Review – Bioshock 2

February 23, 2010

Available on: Xbox 360, PC, PS3

Version Reviewed: PC

2K Marin have also done the PS3 version of Bioshock.

A great scholar once said, “Right here on the ocean floor, Such wonderful things surround you, What more is you lookin’ for?” What more indeed, many people will come to Bioshock 2 launching criticism like a juiced up splicer hurling bees, ‘Rapture doesn’t feel new’ they’ll scream, ‘I’m not squashing people under my size thirteen’s’ others will moan, ‘Buying this game didn’t get Sarah to notice me at lunchtime’ Timothy from Massachusetts will strangely allege.

Final absurd point aside these ‘complaints’ aren’t without reason, but did you expect Rapture to feel all that new? An invitation back to one of modern entertainments more interesting locales should be embraced not dismissed as for all its similarities the team at 2K Marin have re-created and expanded Rapture beautifully without losing any of its unique charms, What more is you lookin’ for?

Daddy Issues

Filling the oversized boots of Prototype Big Daddy ‘Delta’ the game’s opening sees you rudely separated from your Little Sister companion by the game’s villainous figure, Sophia Lamb. It turns out that Lamb was one of Andrew Ryan’s main figures of opposition and a key figure in the downfall of Rapture, an addition that may irk some fans however Lamb’s morally ambiguous objectives and soulless delivery create a character that only serves to foster questions throughout the game as you struggle to reclaim the sister she took from you, moulding a story that manages to holds its own against the first game’s Pulitzer Prize quality scribe.

Rapture is in an even worse state than the previous game.

Progression through the game is linear to a degree, you’re free to explore each individual area though roughly until you decide to progress the plot, which is for all intents and purposes the same system as the first game. This new system works to the game’s advantage however, walls will come crashing down on your face, forcing you to plod along the sea bed to a new area or you’ll have to fight your way out of a flood that threatens to seal you in a watery grave, the frequency and impact of setpieces has been turned up to eleven.

The Gameplay has also been improved greatly through the simple addition of dual wielding a gun and plasmid power at once, no longer must you sacrifice playing around with telekinesis for the sake of having a firearm at the ready. The weapons unfortunately feel like Big Daddy ‘versions’ of standard armaments and many of the plasmids are returning favourites however a few of the late additions to your arsenal are well worth waiting for.

Aside from you being able to shoot better, those that want to plug some bullets in you tend to come in a larger array of flavours, normal and Houdini (invisible) splicer opponents return alongside the hulking Big Daddies but they are accompanied by the unwieldy Brute who will happily throw the nearest heavy object your way, and the frightfully nimble and screamy Big Sister who will act unkindly to anyone who tampers with the Little Sisters roaming a level, these fights alone are worth the entry fee.

n'yaw, innit cute?

It’s not all praise however, the initial hours will feel like a re-tread of Bioshock; plasmid introduction and progression will cause Déjà vu moments a-plenty for all but the most forgetful of players and Little Sister protection can become an exercise in monotony. That said the game only manages to improve itself throughout with the final hours offering an arguably better experience than anything in Bioshock, you can live in confidence that while the first game peaked early the second is always accelerating to its nuclear explosion of a final act.

Under the Sea

It’s plot isn’t as intelligent as Bioshock, and the location won’t re-introduce your jaw to the floor like it’s 2007 again, but as a return to Rapture it improves itself as a video game; your moral decisions have a larger impact, the tweaks to gameplay make it simply more fun to play, and having more nooks and crannies than a Parisian back street means the investigative player will double, perhaps even triple their playtime over a straight six hour run.

Add to this brilliantly realised single player a surprisingly interesting and unique multiplayer, plasmid powers and tight interior fighting helps it stand out from the modern warfare seen elsewhere, and 2K Marin have created a more complete package than the first game offered. It’s not the bravest of sequels to come out recently but, as that great scholar once said, “Darling it’s better, Down where it’s wetter, Take it from me.”

9

For your consideration – Download-tastic! 2K have already announced an incoming multiplayer expansion that sounds a touch dubious but there is single player content promised, and with Delta’s story all but done here’s looking forward to some interesting ‘episodes’ in Rapture’s future.

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Review – Mass Effect 2

February 10, 2010

Available on – PC, 360.

Bioware have also done Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Kotor, and are working on The Old Republic.

Mass Effect 2 is a strange game, in many respects the natural sequel to its predecessor but in a host of others a re-invention. The menus look the same and the world and characters that inhabit it are as expected but the RPG fat has been sliced off and the combat tweaked into a well-oiled machine. It all adds up to an elegant streamlining of the formula that may seem like a revelation to some, yet a sacrifice to the action gods by others.

A short while after the events of Mass Effect Captain Shepard and his ship are attacked by unknown assailants who, rather rudely, blast Shepard out of the sky. Out of action for two years he returns to fight a new threat under the orders of a new organization in a universe that has decided to stop leaving armour and guns lying around and that guns that can shoot infinitely without reloading are actually a bad idea.

Less Baggage

The first Mass Effect was a space age RPG bogged down by trappings commonly associated with the traditional, beards down to your knees stat cruncher so it makes sense for the RPG gubbins to be slimmed down a bit; huge inventories full of sale fodder are gone for one and a focus on leveling is the second of the main ‘casualties’ in Bioware’s more aerodynamic system.

Does this hurt the experience? Quite the opposite; improvements in combat mean each weapon you find, as rare as they are, feels unique in some way making each fun to try out whilst the various armour types look different and bring stats with them for customization headaches. Further alterations to the statistics game means you’ll be buying upgrades with materials rather than assigning minor modifiers you’ll just abandon five minutes later, however you’re never inundated with the required resources thus limiting your available upgrade choices with the game encouraging exploration to find further upgrades still.

The Mako is also gone, the hole it leaves is noticable but it was a rubbish vehicle anyway.

Leveling also takes a backseat with the game kindly reminding you before a mission to assign stat points because you’ll probably level up without even realizing it, however that’s not to say its effects have been diminished. Fully upgraded Biotic powers are absolutely riotous fun to use and their complete abandon of the usually careful structure associated with RPG combat is one of Mass Effects best features, sending five aliens ricocheting off walls and exploding a heavily armoured mech from within itself are grin inducing actions made possible thanks to the game’s faster combat, playful physics, and gorgeous visuals; it’s simply brilliant fun to play.

A Matter of Character

This probably sounds horrendously watered down to an RPG fan, and there’s no denying that there is an element of that, but by making the boring parts of an RPG more intuitive to players who don’t fantasize about Excel spreadsheets, Bioware has constructed a more interesting and immediate character piece, with less mundane number fumbling to worry about your attention can be focused on enjoying the  narratives that surround you.

While the main story isn’t as gripping as the first game, it lacks a Saren-like ‘evil doer’ figure to shake your fist at, your comrades and their ‘loyalty’ missions are some of the game’s best moments, learning about each character individually and allowing Shepard’s relationships to deepen whilst some of the missions being a welcome change of pace to the constant bang bang action of the main quest seeing you stalk a corrupt politician from the rafters or even court an evil nymphomaniac killer (admit it, now you want the game). Meanwhile the torrent of conversations is as prominent as in any Bioware game, but arguably more refined. The good Shepard/bad Shepard roles are back but the choices are more interesting while the ‘interrupts’ you can trigger in specific scenes are both entertaining and serve a wider purpose both in adding gameplay variety and in simple satisfaction.

As well as characters Bioware has worked to flesh out the world and whilst no location is as big and confusing as the Citadel of the first game the amount of places you visit gives a wider impression of the galaxy, you get a snapshot of several different lifestyles and cultures rather than a portrait of one.

Voiced by Martin Sheen, the Illusive man is a winner.

It’s a tough thing to make an RPG approachable from an action standpoint but with Mass Effect 2 Bioware has almost cracked the equation, the simplification of statistics may alienate some but the universe is so rich and crammed with content that even the most anal RPG fan will find more than enough to keep themselves occupied without needing fifty types of pistol to sort through whilst improvements in the cinematic presentation of missions, combat, and conversation mean the game pushes the bar not just in what is expected from the RPG genre, but in the action genre as well.

Mass Effect 2 may occasionally feel like filler, the story is ultimately a means to reach its conclusion whilst the more episodic feel of the missions and large array of interesting side quests serves more to deepen the character of Mass Effect’s universe than create a lengthy narrative, the combat is so satisfying and the universe so wonderful to inhabit that these are minor niggles that can’t get in the way of one of the most enjoyable games to be released in recent memory, on this planet or the next.

9

For your consideration – As with Dragon Age Bioware are hoping to support Mass Effect 2 far beyond release, and if you purchase the game new you get additional missions.

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Dead Space: Extraction

January 12, 2010

Worst. Boxart. Ever.

Available on – Wii

Visceral Games have also done – Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Dead Space, the upcoming Dante’s Inferno, and Dead Space 2

Not the norm

Lightgun shooters are often fast paced arcade jaunts through curious locations, shooting hundreds of bad guys with little or no consequence besides a score numbering in the thousands and a multiplier of times awesome. Extraction on the other hand, is an emotive story driven first person ‘experience’ in which your shooting prowess moves the journey from one plot point to the next, creating a nail bitingly intense seven hour story with plenty of satisfying shooting.

Anyone who has played Dead Space, or seen the gratuitously sweary ‘Downfall’ anime will know what’s happened, but for the uninitiated a mining operation has discovered a mean, ominous looking ‘marker’ on a planet that some religious types take a keen interest in. Before long an intense case of rabid dementia breaks out amongst the mining crew and eventually they start turning into gribbly space zombies, or ‘Necromorphs’ (sounds rude).

What unfolds is an entertaining plot that sits alongside the anime and full game as a side story of potentially huge importance for anyone looking forward to 2010’s Dead Space 2, playing mostly as McNeill the P-SEC officer (intergalactic FBI) you buddy up with bad ass Gabriel ‘one liner’ Weller and ‘Is she underage?’ Lexine as they attempt to escape the infestation alive. All of the characters present great voice work and convincing progression through the game with some genuinely well scripted events, it makes a welcome change to the usually solitary video game horror scenario.

BLAMMO!

But what’s really important is how entertaining the combat is, dismembering necro’s in Dead Space was fun but Extraction sends far more enemies at you with a remarkable amount of visual prowess for the little white box, and the weapon selection is deliciously visceral and pleasantly diverse whilst the scarce ammo will have you swapping around them depending on situations, slowing enemies down, hurling explosive barrels at them, tearing them up with saw blades, burning them in cleansing fire, and blasting them back with pure force whilst limbs and claret scatter around the grimy, intricately detailed locations. Welding mini games also break up the killing, or cause additional sweat inducing pressure whilst fending off a never-ending wave of opponents.

All guns have two modes which you hold the Wii mote normally or on the side to activate.

It must be said though that whilst the combat is brilliantly brutal it won’t come frequently enough for some people, be prepared to sit back and enjoy some conversation or to plod down a quiet corridor with nothing happening as this is primarily a story driven horror game and far from the arcade action of the more immediate House of the Dead or Ghost Squad.

Challenge rooms on the other hand, unlocked through playing the main game, simply ask you to off waves and waves of the gangly limbed monsters intent on munching your face simply in the name of score. The lack of online leaderboards is a hindrance as to the appeal of this mode, but as a means to simply enjoy the relentless combat the mode is appreciated.

For those willing to give it the time Dead Space: Extraction offers one of the best looking, most satisfying experiences on the Wii, or on any platform for that matter, and a potentially important chapter in one of gaming’s most interesting new franchises. That and Weller is an absolute bad-ass whom you must meet, “man up, sweetheart”.

8

Remote waggling is kept to a minimum, with only the glow worm (torch) being a little irritating.

For your consideration: Dead Space: Extraction is now cheap, like £15 cheap, and really shouldn’t be missed. It would also really suck if anything about Dead Space 2 spoils the plot of this game, so go play it now!

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Dragon Age: Origins Review

January 4, 2010

Version reviewed – 360 (with wank controls)

Also available on – PS3, PC

Bioware have also done – Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2, Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect.

A long time ago…

Talk to anyone old enough to remember ‘proper’ RPGs (they probably have a beard) and they will wax lyrical about epic five hundred hour quests, compelling characters, thrilling inventory management and pouring over statistics pages longer than Gene Simmon’s tongue. Finding one of these people may be hard now however as Bioware seems to have kidnapped them all to work on Dragon Age: Origins for the past twenty years.

DA is an obese game, it’s belt is about ready to ping off with all the content that’s been rammed into every last byte available, but be warned; it can be a slog if you’re not used to the games DA:O is aping. Sections another game would squeeze into thirty minutes, DA:O stretches into suffocating two or three hour campaigns as you waddle around ancient halls looting every last pot and bookcase, slaying hundreds of dudes, and running out of inventory space.

The game does its best to avoid sections becoming a chore, interesting set pieces are sprinkled refreshingly frequently throughout the dungeon crawls which range from the standard Bioware staring contests (conversations) to some light puzzling and other, slightly off kilter experiences, whilst party members will share genuinely interesting conversation on a whim. Oh and the frequent combat is fun as well, if unfathomably punishing.

Yes, along with the social life threatening length of the game it’s also a punishing affair even on the apparently ‘normal’ difficulty and unless you save frequently a misjudged manoeuvre on your part could mean getting thrown back an hour by a cheeky group of wolves.

Something old, something new.

Whereas frequent checkpoints are something that didn’t sneak in, other modern game elements have, for better or worse. Regenerating health is on such offender and whereas it makes every fight more immediately challenging as the developers have been able to tailor each fight to a fully healed party, traps become negligible thanks to your health returning immediately, rendering what is normally a demanding hazard in these types of RPGs a throwaway annoyance.

But all this critical analysis is froth on the surface because Bioware kidnapped those bearded wise RPG players to make a game to satisfy the very people that enjoy dungeon crawling, loot grabbing, the company of pointy eared folk and dialogue and art stolen from Tolkein’s secret giant tree lair (he doesn’t seem the sort for a volcano).

So if you’re the type who dreams of sprouting a forest from your chin, swigging a ‘flagon’ of ‘mead’, and carving up legions of gribbly demons with a glowing broadsword then tell your friends they won’t see you for a few weeks, Dragon Age is the game for you.

8

Recommended version – PC

For your consideration – Bioware have stated that Dragon Age is in for the long haul, they’re talking ten months of DLC and with some out already and the ‘return to Ostagar’ set for a January release they aren’t kidding, and this is only part one of a proposedtrilogy (isn’t everything) so if you like it, it may be the only fantasy RPG series you need for a few years.

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Gears of War 2 review

November 11, 2008

“Bigger, better, and more badass” said Cliffy B when he announced this sequel, and sure enough it is bigger, better, and more badass than the first game but it’s also familiar, pretentious, and occasionally ropey.

Don’t hit send on that hate mail just yet though because it’s only really bad on about three occasions in the campaign, and it’s only really bad because for the rest of the time it’s really, really good.

The lightmass bomb deployed in Gears of War has failed and the snarling locust hordes are back, complete with new creatures they didn’t see fit to use before while resigning others. The story tries to be epic but is often too big for its chunky boots; attempting to mix emotional anguish with testosterone fuelled carnage is admirable but comes off forced. Meanwhile locations and events fit like a jigsaw, events happen conveniently where you find yourself and you can forget about the bigger war happening around you.

But toiling on story details is pointless as the game mechanics are fantastic; the trademark cover mechanic works perfectly while new weapons and manoeuvres such as using downed enemies as meat shields gel seamlessly into the gameplay, making skirmishes in Gears 2 far more gritty and intimate than the first game.

However the multiplayer is the real meat of the experience, featuring a two player campaign, five player co-op against fifty waves of enemies, and a plethora of competitive game modes for up to ten players. Ignoring the long wait it takes to start a match, Gears 2 plays a better multiplayer than the first game in that it’s no longer an invitation to the shotgun party.

Despite some poor design choices, possibly attributed to a tight development schedule, Gears 2 triumphs as a fantastic game which doesn’t mess with the formula, but polishes its unique stop and pop mechanics until they shine.

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Dead Space review.

November 9, 2008

If I say Resident Evil 4 you would probably start reminiscing on running through a village knee capping Spaniards before kicking them in the face, taking shelter from the masked chainsaw man in a house. But were you scared, horrified, or even a little wet in your drawers? No you weren’t, because Resident Evil 4 was not scary.

Resi 4 single handily became one of the best video games ever whilst pushing the horror genre into action territory, scares became an after thought and Silent Hill disappeared off the map with games like The Suffering and Alone in the Dark jumped on the action bandwagon. It’s taken EA to  wrench the genre back into the realms of the terrifying because let’s face it, Silent Hill Homecoming isn’t that great.

Playing as Isaac Clark, a love sick engineer, your crew answers a distress call from the planet cracker ‘Ishimura’ and after a rough landing, two of your crew mates impaled, and you isolated your team comes to the shocking conclusion that something isn’t right.

Dead Space’s real triumph is its atmosphere, a perfect combination of visual, audio, and lighting. Whilst the combat is as fast as Resi 4 the designers managed to feel restraint, lights will go out and come back on without an enemy in sight, audio logs unsettle you and the sounds coming from every mechanism in the ship as lights play on shadows give the Ishimura the believability lacking from many game locations.

But when it comes to combat Dead Space gives you a small selection of well designed guns and abilities, you will be blasting tendrils off enemies to stop their advance, slowing them down, clobbering them with your gun and giganto boots while throwing explosive barrels at them, Isaac is a combination of Leon Kennedy, Gordon Freeman, and a drunk student who has downed one too many snakebites.

And that’s Dead Space, a ten hour effort to escape a doomed ship that takes plenty of cues from horror movies and games alike. Weapon upgrades and brutal difficulty levels mean there is enough meat for dedicated gamers to chew over but more importantly than that, the proper horror game is back! And if you’ll excuse me I just need to change my underwear.