Archive

Archived game reviews and features from back in the day when I contributed to Nottingham Trent Student Union’s Publication: Platform.

Platform is also online at: http://platform-online.net

Review: Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing

Sonic and co. start their engines for a thoroughly outstanding kart racer

Format: PS3 (version played), Xbox 360, Wii, PC, DS Dev: Sumo Digital Pub: Sega
Out: 26/02/10 Players: 1-4, 2-8 online

If you’re trying to determine who the greatest Sega character of all-time is then you’ll have a pretty tough job devising a competition which will find even ground between characters such as Ulala and Sonic. But if you place twenty characters from Sega’s wealthy record into race-ready rides and equip them with all sorts of wacky weapons, then you might at least find out which of them is the best driver.

Unlike previous attempts at games of this type, developer Sumo Digital has clearly put a huge amount of effort into not just making a game that can cash in on the successes of Mario Kart, but can also knock the classic series off its perch. Its superiority relies heavily on the graphics, in which a kart racer has possibly never looked so sweet. Although, not available for those considering the Wii version of the game, it’s helpful to note that in HD the game offers a decent trackside garnish thrown on top of colourful and confident landscapes.

There are 20 Sega characters in All-Stars Racing, which I assure you are an odd bunch. Seven of which have been pulled from the well-worn Sonic universe, though, between you and me, I would have preferred to see a few other franchises sharing the limelight rather than some of the lesser known entrants. It makes sense that the lightning-fast blue hedgehog and his evil nemesis, Dr. Eggman, made the cut, but would you really have missed Amy or Big the Cat? The 13 non-Sonic characters range from absurdly obscure, to famous favourites, to long-forgotten 8-bit stars. It’s a diverse cast that stretches through Sega’s entire history, which should please anyone who’s been following Sega since the Master System days.

The mass variety of weapons, competitions, missions and racers available to play mean the longevity of the game is extensive. The consistency of track design, multiplayer options, both on and offline, and ease of controls means absolutely anybody will be able to pick up the basics in no time. Gameplay is extremely remarkable, with accurate and receptive controls and ingredients such as powersliding spicing it up.

The 24 tracks on offer are filled with all sorts of obstacles and hurdles, from tense turns and feral jumps to hidden shortcuts, which prove absence of repetitiveness. Themes of certain tracks do lack variety however. Nine of which have been snatched from Sonic with only three unique styles and House of the Dead tracks thrown in for good measure. These are delightful but creepy, yet to have a few more franchises thrown into this playful mixture would have put the icing on the cake.

Blasphemous as it may be, race for race, this game is significantly more pleasurable than the Nintendo title it is attempting to recreate.

Review: Vancouver 2010

It may be the official game, but Olympic Gold is something it certainly is not

Format: PS3, Xbox 360 (version played), PC Dev: Eurocom Pub: Sega Out: 15/01/10 Players: 1-4, 1-4 online

Oh, the poor Winter Olympics. How many of you reading this, were even aware that they came to an end over a month ago? Other than our Canadian readers, that is. It is obvious these days that both editions of the Olympic Games don’t get nearly as much love as they deserve. Video game interpretations often fail to disprove this. Often demoted to bargain bins, sports games of this kind don’t get the kind of attention that the bigger and more money-making sports do, and Sega’s latest is regrettably no different.

The sports included on the 2010 version of the game are all ones that are compelling enough as video games in their own right, and on their own they mostly work. Each of the 14 winter sports remains a decent experience with respected graphics. Honest enough designs challenge the player’s ability to hit certain buttons or steer something along a guided track. Individual experiences of competitions are extremely exciting but the whole package tying them together is underdeveloped and sourly disappointing. The lack of presentation adds to this disappointment and the only real way to play the game is one at a time – with or without friends online. The absence of any career mode, a coherent grouping of events, customisable characters or real world athletes begs the sorry question: what is the point?

Some of the most interesting and replayable of the events include ski-jumping, aerials, snowboard cross and, my favourites, the bobsleigh, luge and skeleton races! The game seems somewhat incomplete though without the infamous curling (why?) and absence of both genders on a lot of the sporting events. I understand you can’t have everything but the offer here does seem rather skinny. Many of the uncommon sports have been stripped away which removes the novelty of the real Olympics. Having few unique activities to take part in, in-turn removes any long-term appeal that Vancouver 2010 may have offered its gamers.

Thankfully, one mode I took solace in was the challenges which involve taking part in a variety of objective-based events. As the most interesting aspect of the game, most of your goals involve tearing through an event as if you were a real life competitor: keeping your speed above a certain average in skiing or taking corners perfectly in the luge will force any gamer to master intricacies of the courses and controls. Each one of the 30 challenges is fun and it’s rewarding to attempt to shave off that miniscule second or land a particularly difficult jump.

Although this game makes vast improvements on its predecessors it ultimately lacks in key areas – as much as it pains me to say it, it is more fun watching the real competitors do their thing than taking part in a disappointing digital representation.

Games of the Decade

Platform’s gaming team share their picks for the decade’s best

We were never going to be completely satisfied with our team picks for games of the decade. The fact is gaming has grown so rapidly in the last decade that choosing just a handful of games is a messy task when there have been so many prolific and culturally important titles. So, in order for us to crack-wise and share our more personal treasures, here are some choices from Platform regulars and friends…

Professor Layton Art

Nadya SJ, Contributor

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)
Activision

The single-player campaign is over in the click of a finger and although this is a shame, the high quality of that campaign and the shear breadth of terrific multiplayer options being some of the best that I have ever played, I feel make this a truly astounding package. With an amazing audio-visual combination to keep you enthralled throughout this is definitely a game I found hard to put down.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006)
Bethesda

What’s overwhelming about Oblivion is just how much there is to it. Almost everything that’s ever been done well before in past RPGs is here, but better. From the quality of the story and character interactions, to the pure thrill of combat, to all the pleasure to be found in the game’s minute details. These elements combine to make Oblivion one of the single best, longest-lasting game experiences to be had in a long time.

BioShock (2007)
2K Games

BioShock’s components create a creepy and mysterious setting as well as breath-taking results. However, its real strengths are a compelling work of interactive fiction and as a unique ride through a warped world with some great payoffs built into its mysterious plot. It never has you disappointed.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village (2008)
Nintendo

With a combination of an interesting story and challenging logic puzzles, what more could I have asked for in a game? Well, the creators of Professor Layton sure gave me plenty more with this one. An extra mixture of exploration, comedy, entertainment and even an educational experience to boot. I was flabbergasted at just how attached this wonderful DS game had me and I didn’t even get frustrated.

The Sims (2000)
EA

The amount of creativity and control given to me over lives of tiny computerised people dwelling in miniature homes of SimCity when I first played this game almost had me wetting myself with excitement. I was glued to the computer screen as well as my chair going over vast possibilities for hours upon hours… and then I couldn’t wait for the expansion packs. The Sims was, and still is, an enjoyable and intriguing game and the first of its kind. And even though some won’t admit it, they will more than likely have found themselves engrossed in The Sims’ exciting world of miniature people at some point.

Review: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games

Will it be a podium finish for this Mario & Sonic mini-game mashup?

Format: Wii (version played), DS Dev: Sega Pub: Sega Out: 16/10/09 Players: 1-4

Two years ago Mario and Sonic joined forces for the first time to compete at the Beijing Olympics. Now they have reunited to hit the slopes and skating rinks of Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Games. The result, an occasionally enjoyable, but very inconsistent, assortment of events that improve slightly on its predecessor, but still falls short of earning a medal.

The game itself boasts 27 separate events divided into two categories: real Olympic events and then the insane dreamy events. Some of these are extremely inspired and can involve anything from the absurd to the plain ridiculous such as skiing through a Mushroom Kingdom at fatal speeds. The oddball dream-like competitions really had me flummoxed at times though, with dream snowball fighting and dream gliding – I couldn’t help but think the creator had run out of ideas. Also, as the dream-like and actual Olympic events are played in the exact same way, there isn’t nearly as much variety as you are lead to believe.

Bobsleigh and skeleton events deliver thrilling speed, but because you are given a predetermined course, they aren’t as interesting to play as the skiing and snowboarding events. These are enjoyed through the use of either the Wii Remote or Nunchuck held like a ski rod, being turned from one side to the other, involving tilting forward to gain speed and flicking to jump. The good senses of speed given by the visuals contribute to the excitement. However, when playing in a group, bobsleighing does appear the most fun as you are required to coordinate by leaning left and right as a group in order to achieve the best speed. As you can imagine though such a tedious task doesn’t remain interesting.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games_2

Figure skating offers a visual break from the action as your character performs preset routines leaving you to just flick or twist the remote in order to jump or spin. The use of such elaborate and entertaining visuals makes the actual gameplay too passive for involvement.

Single-player events are playable as well as the game’s festival mode, which takes place across seventeen days – not in real-time, thank goodness. The objective with festival mode is to emerge with the highest overall score which is not difficult. This is the point at which a difficulty level setting would have gone down a treat with those looking for a bit of competition.

In total you are able to play as one of 20 characters from the world of Mario and Sonic and though statistical differences do vary, these are not even noticeable in the characters actual performance. What does bring a smile to your face is how good the characters all look and the way their personalities come across in their animations and character specific actions. Another option is to play as a Mii and live out your dream of sharing that bobsleigh with Donkey Kong.

Whilst some events have a good party game feel to them, there are way too many faults in this hit-and-miss collection to make it easily recommendable to anyone, but those under the age of seven.

Review: Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Handheld crime capers

Format: PSP (version played), DS Dev: Rockstar Leeds / Rockstar North
Pub: Rockstar Games Out: 23/10/09 Players: 1-2

Chinatown Wars could be mistaken for a return to the Grand Theft Auto series’ humble 2D beginnings. The action is viewed from a bird’s-eye perspective, and you still spend much of your time driving stolen cars and causing trouble with firearms. But the similarities between this superb game and its 90s progenitors ends there. Originally produced for the DS, Rockstar has now ported the game to PSP.

Set in the same instantly recognisable Liberty City as GTAIV, Chinatown Wars tells the story of a power struggle within the Triad gangs from the perspective of Huang Lee, whose crime-boss father has recently been murdered. Huang flies to Liberty City from Hong Kong to avenge his father, and predictably becomes entangled in the war between those hoping to step into the dead man’s shoes.

It plays mostly like any other GTA game with the basic control for movement and carjacking being mapped to the same buttons as they are on other platforms. The uncomplicated on-foot and vehicle controls are largely the same, so even those with no prior GTA gaming experience should have no problems in picking them up. Auto-targeting for drive-by shootings is an addition to the game as well as a subtle steering assistant.

Story missions are mandatory, however, Chinatown Wars is the first GTA game to let you replay any missions you’ve played already in an attempt to achieve a higher score or faster time. Also, if you choose to retry a mission immediately after failing you are able to bypass the road trip at the start of the mission and get right back into the action – a gratifying inclusion considering all the travelling you’ll be doing.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars_2

Incidentally, weapons are in plentiful supply and can be ordered from Ammu-Nation’s website using your, occasionally sluggish, in-game PDA. There are more than 20 different weapons to play with in Chinatown Wars, including everything from fists, flashbangs and flamethrowers, to swords, shotguns and sniper rifles. Most weapons fall into either the ranged, melee, or thrown classes as far as controls go, and all perform their jobs admirably. The sniper rifle is unique in that it comes into play only in specific missions. It must also be assembled via a simple mini-game before use, which turns the entire screen into a crosshair. But it’s so much fun to play with.

Whilst in previous games getting away from the police has involved outrunning them, laying low, ducking into a pay n’ spray or even fighting, Chinatown Wars gives its players an additional option. If you have a three-star wanted rating, destroying three cop cars will knock it down to a two-star rating and so on.

Local multiplayer support is a gem and allows for two people to compete within Chinatown Wars and can be arguably more fun than playing through the story, with the inclusion of races which almost always involve you destroying the others vehicle or even ditching them when you find a faster one.

Other than lacking voice work for key characters, the audio in Chinatown Wars does little wrong. There are 11 radio stations on offer that either compliment or serve as perfect counterpoints to the action depending on the station choice. Furthermore, every item in the city has its own believable sound effect, so get ready to cringe when you run over an innocent pedestrian and hear their body squelch.

With its handful of extra story missions, significantly improved audio and visuals, and mostly superior control scheme, the PSP version of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars is fantastic. It’s also better than either of the other Grand Theft Auto games for the PSP and, unlike those games, in no way does it feel like a scaled-down handheld version of a ‘proper’ console GTA.

Review: Overlord II

Do you have what it takes to be a dark lord?

Format: PS3 (version played), Xbox 360, PC Dev: Triumph Studios Pub: Codemasters
Out: 26/06/09 Players: 1-2, 2 online

The mischievous minions of the Overlord universe haven’t been idle in the past two years since the first game and have emerged with a host of new tricks. The evil little scamps have used the time off to learn how to operate machinery, wear disguises, sail the open seas, ride mounts, and get possessed by their evil master, as well as develop an uncanny talent for attacking baby seals (the question is… why?).

In this small bundle of evil fun you will rule over the Netherworld as you take on all sorts of creatures, from man to beast. Gamers who enjoyed the first Overlord title will be happy to see the familiar Overlord mechanics back in action. For all those who missed out on the original first time around, I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised – either that or bored.

Set dozen of years after the first game, Overlord II has a new enemy in tow. The tone of the game is more satirically charged, sharp and even borders on the daft, portraying elves as hippy environmentalists, nobles as obese snobs and fairies who are outrageously over-endowed. The soldiers of the game look like characters from an Asterix comic, which proves that it’s all just harmless fun whilst they kill cute animals. Wait a sec, huh?

Overlord II has a single-player campaign that spans more than 20 hours. The game also has two-player competitive and co-operative modes, which can take place both offline and online. Although, these aren’t as profound or fully featured as many modern multiplayer offerings. There are only four modes in total, with each of the modes being played on its own individual map.

Overlord II_2

During the majority of gameplay the reliability of your minions is dependable. They can at times take stupidity to a new level, meaning a certain amount of micromanagement from their overlord is in order. Minions will often stop to pick up booty-licious babes when there are still plenty of dangerous enemies attacking, and some are prone to aquatic suicide by trying to pick up objects close to water.

Overlord II adds some outstanding special effects to the game’s environments. From the little Gnomes, to a dangerous snarling Panda Bear, Overlord II has a lot of personality that draws you into its fairytale world of damnation. The only negative spot to the graphics is that some of the textures seem a little low-resolution.

While the original Overlord suffered from not allowing players direct camera control, the sequel does allow you to manually move the view. But strangely, it assigns this to the right stick on the controller, which when translated means, frustration. The two jobs of moving the camera and sweeping the minions can become mixed up too often, and you’ll find yourself inadvertently moving your minions when you wanted to shift your view.

Despite certain annoyances, the Overlord II package does prove to be somewhat fun. However, its faults overshadow it. Triumph isn’t looking for a new audience, as this targeted sequel is meant to please fans of the original.

Review: Scribblenauts

View the boundless potential of animated Pictionary in this landmark DS title

Format: DS Dev: 5TH Cell Pub: Warner Bros. Out: 09/10/09 Players: 1

One thing I criticise DS games for is a lack of innovation on such an innovative platform. With all of its little knick-knacks it’s crying out for something out-of-the-ordinary to pop up. On very rare occasions, however, a developer hits all the right buttons and pairs that with an engrossing, challenging and downright wonderful game. Scribblenauts is definitely worthy of such praise.

Scribblenauts is a side-scrolling puzzle game, handing out tasks ranging from destroying a rat infestation, to restoring a lost lamb to its herd. As Maxwell, the protagonist, you can leap and bound around the colourful scenery, and interact with objects. Nothing unusual you may say, that is until you rip open your notepad and start scrawling.

If you’re anything like me, frustrating limitations in games are often cursed aloud with a stream of “ifs” and “buts”. Though, Scribblenauts gives you the power to invoke almost any physical object you could ever dream of to help you out. With an estimated 15,000 unique items at your disposal, the game is literally bound only by your imagination… and vocabulary.

Successful developers, 5TH Cell, have opened a world of virtually limitless, creative problem solving on the DS. As Maxwell, you are given little more than a basic hint for each stage – it’s left entirely over to you to reach the goal and the reward of a ‘Starite’, which you receive for completing each level. Without giving too much away, a particular challenge involves saving a lost lamb from the hungry wolf across a river.

Solutions I came up with ranged between a simple helicopter rescue mission, to utilising wings and a rope, to something resembling an acid flashback involving a colossal squid and a catapult. I found myself becoming more and more self-critical, disallowing the use of wings when a more stylish solution could be found. Points are awarded based on style, speed, originality and ‘par’, which measures the number of items you needed to finish a level. These points, referred to as ‘ollars’, are used to open more advanced worlds containing more devilish puzzles. With over 200 levels to play through the value of this game is incomparable.

Scribblenauts art_1

Scribblenauts showed me something scary about myself – not only that my vocabulary is seriously limited, but that years of playing games in a linear and limited fashion have curdled my brain. After a few worlds have been unlocked however, you really get a feel for the freedom of the game. Ever seen God fighting the devil in a wind turbine? Thanks to this game, you can.

The bundled level editor in action mode is fantastic, allowing you to create immoral and reprehensible challenges for your friends (via wi-fi), giving you even more to do when you’ve completed multiple challenge modes on each level. On certain occasions the gameplay will most definitely grind to a halt while you learn who wins in a fight between a rhino and a panda bear, but that’s just because you want to know and because you can.

Coupled with the incredible dynamics of the physics engine and enormous scale of objects available are the delightful graphics and sound effects. The world feels light and fun regardless of how evil you try to make it, with each of the eleven themed worlds feeling distinct and equally well designed. The in-game music is well suited to the thoughtful and playful nature of the gameplay, with more available in exchange for your hard earned ollars.

As with any puzzle game, there are elements of legitimate frustration to be found in Scribblenauts. At times the fully stylus-based controls are a little touchy, which can make delicate control of some objects seem unreasonably fiddly. My criticism of the game design stops there however, it’s really too refreshing and exciting to ridicule. Virtually any problems you run into when completing a level can be overcome thanks to the astounding scope of objects at your fingertips.

Like LittleBigPlanet before it, Scribblenauts invites players to express their creativity in ways they’ve never imagined.

Review: Ready Steady Cook

Rustle up a storm with your new portable kitchen

Format: Wii, DS (version played) Dev: Mindscape Pub: Mindscape
Out: 14/08/09 Players: 1-2

If you play plenty of computer games, you’re probably suspecting that this is a cheap and cheerful Cooking Mama clone aimed at your mum. It may surprise you to learn that it is, in fact, an open world adventure featuring acrobatic exploration through seedy gang territory in search of mythical ingredients, while being chased by aliens and bald space marines with big guns…

Actually, no, that’s a lie. You were right all along.

The game follows the same popular format as the BBC television show. Everything you’d expect from Ready Steady Cook is there, from the red tomatoes, to the green peppers, a shopping bag containing all your ingredients and a chef who assists you with getting the dish together in the allotted time. Games are timed with the Ready Steady Cook music playing in the background to spur you on, which mixes things up that little bit.

You have a choice of bags with various ingredients in and you can choose a difficulty level. Of course, as most people do when starting out for the first time, I went for easy. So, I thought, great, the DS version will mean the cooking tasks will be achievable and I can get to grips with the game before moving on swiftly – wrong.

It all looks quite straight forward to begin with. Choose the ingredients from the larder shelf, crack some eggs into a bowl (this one was actually much easier), then deseed a pepper. Now this was tough. No matter how many times I waggled the stylus around I couldn’t deseed the pepper, and I still couldn’t do it fifth time round.

A zigzag arrow appears on the pepper which I dutifully followed with my stylus to no avail. Frustrating? Yes. Another thing to note is that the game really doesn’t give you much of a chance to do the tasks. You can lose them with just one wrong tap and your chef is shaking her head and saying “don’t worry, I’ll fix it” (catchphrase of the game). It’s over without you even having a chance to work out how to put the oven on, let alone put your dish inside.

Now, there is a training section, so I suggest if you’re serious about getting to grips with Ready Steady Cook you go there first and master some of the basic tasks. If you can do that you’re in with a fighting chance of getting somewhere.

Ready Steady Cook is a competent collection of twenty short, culinary mini-games. These are put together in different combinations to simulate recipes. Each recipe takes around five minutes to play and has a good mix of memorisation, precision, timing and frantic stylus waggling. Played for a quarter of an hour, after some practice, it’s quite entertaining. Play it for longer than that in one sitting, though, and it becomes incredibly tedious. Most of the mini-games only last a few seconds, so you’ll have played them all before you know it.

It’s a passable diversion for short bus journeys and mini breaks from university work, nonetheless. As a bonus however, once you’ve spent a while staring at the pictures of food, the proper recipes are presented clearly and well-organised. So, if you do find you have completed a cooking task, and you really like the look of your finished dish, you can look it up in the recipe section. This is where the portability and ‘notebook’ style of the DS brings a nice element to the game.

Ready Steady Cook on the DS is not a game that is going to set the world alight, but anyone who finds the idea of a Ready Steady Cook game appealing will be happy enough with this. (Those wishing to be chased by aliens and space marines should look elsewhere.)

Review: The Sims 3

Who’s your diamond denizen?

Format: PC (version played), Mac Dev: EA Redwood Shores Pub: EA
Out: 05/06/09 Players: 1

EA’s popular life-sim franchise will be fresh and familiar to the majority of people reading this, I’m sure. Following two major releases, a seemingly endless array of expansion packs and a four year wait, The Sims 3 has finally arrived to introduce us to a whole other world.

The laundry list of new features in Sims 3 for all experienced players is extensive, but the biggest impact on the game is the simplicity of movement around your virtual town. In previous versions the presence of various neighbourhoods lead to a disorderly experience, but now with the ability to freely explore – by walking, biking, driving or taxiing – it would seem this virtual world is your oyster.

Community aspects of the game also have a greater influence, allowing you to invite friends with your handy cell phone or heading directly to a Sim’s house to introduce yourself. There are numerous public venues: beaches, parks and graveyards to name a few. And it is in these places where you get your chance to interact with other Sims – perhaps leading to an assortment of surprises and even the chance to meet your very own ‘see-through’ friend or foe.

Sims 3_2

The traits you assign to your Sim during creation often result in the social opportunities that occur. Traits almost allow you to ‘play God’ and influence how your Sim will behave in certain situations. It even gives you the option to create a virtual twin of a friend, family member or even yourself. No gaming experience of Sims 3 would be complete without giving that a go. For example, a recreation of a friend with a frugal trait illustrated her in-game character clipping coupons from the newspaper, giving her discounts when she headed to the shops.

When creating your Sim however, you will be choosing more than just personality traits. Physical customisation options are far more extensive than before. Gamers are now able to manage anything from the Sim’s body-size to their hairstyle, birth-marks or even skin tone. The ability to fully customise faces in the smallest of ways makes the character builder seem very complex, but it’s something I found surprisingly easy and relatively fast to use. The really exciting part is the introduction of the ‘create-a-style’ sliders, where you can settle on exact clothing hues matching the top of the outfit with the bottom and tweak colours as you see fit. There are a huge number of patterns to choose from, even those for non-clothing items can be utilised. So, have fun making a swimming costume out of bricks. I’m sure everyone will be wearing them soon.

Like real people, your Sim will always want a better job, a nicer house and (for females) a better wardrobe. Starting with meagre means and progressing down the chosen career path will eventually compensate with more simoleons being available to spend, and less time having to be spent at work. Buy and build mode is where you’ll spend most of your time at this point. The ‘create-a-style’ concept works here too, so customising furniture and appliances is far more exciting than before. Why not go all-out and make your house match your outfit too? Cheat codes are still as available as before to manipulate things further, should you wish to.

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Online features are integrated into the game far better than before, though there is room for improvement in this area. Uploading and downloading shared content is simple, through the use of the game launcher and the ability to upload movies to the Sims 3 website and edit them is a great new utility which must be used (see if you can find mine).

There are some fantastic items available for download from the moment you register an account online, including an entire town (yes, it’s free). However, the drawback is that most of the official content requires you to spend SimPoints, which in turn cost REAL money!

With previous expansion packs offering pets to play with, seasonal weather and magical items it is apparent that there are noticeable holes within Sims 3 – especially when I’m sure that avid Sims gamers will have expected a sequel to include most of the popular features of the games that led up to it.

Sims 3_4

Sims 3 is a very scalable game to play, so the chances are that if you have a relatively modern PC running the game should be a doddle. Visuals are colourful and crisp, however the games performance does continue with the unfortunate trends of past Sims games. Performance becomes sluggish when scrolling across the town or following a Sim when he/she travels. Pathfinding has improved, but not to the standard expected, as some Sims often have difficulties travelling from point A to B. Jaunty tunes make gameplay absolutely charming. Although some sound effects have been recycled, Sims 3 doesn’t feel cheapened, but strikes a chord of familiarity that works to the game’s benefit.

Although this sequel to the franchise could have offered even more right out of the box, there’s still an awful lot of content to have fun with. The fact that The Sims 3 allows you to play out almost any conceivable lifestyle fantasy is certainly a highlight, and it’s bound to put a smile on almost anyone’s face.

Review: The House of the Dead: Overkill

Two to the chest, one to the head

Format: Wii Dev: Headstrong Games Pub: Sega Out: 13/03/09 Players: 1-4

As soon as you turn on The House of the Dead: Overkill it becomes immediately obvious that things are far more different than they used to be. Rougher, grittier and far grainier, providing reverence to its predecessors alongside an intrinsic cheesiness that is definitely not ‘over killed’ – pun intended!

This game is a definite reinvention of the renowned arcade shooting series – for the better – with an exaggerated grindhouse theme reverberating in every aspect; from the hilarity of the storyline to the incredibly vintage soundtrack.

You initially meet rookie AMS Special Agent G, who hardcore HOTD gamers will remember from the first instalment of this gaming series, of which Overkill is a prequel to. As G you are then forced (being the operative word) to team up with Isaac Washington, aka the brash ladies-man, a detective on the quest for revenge, whatever the gory consequences may be. As the two curse (rather unnecessarily) and fire their way through strings of endless zombies or mutants, chasing Papa Caesar down, you’ll encounter suitably named Varla Guns, an ex-stripper with her own vendetta who will assist in any way she can. You’ll blast your way through waves of terrifying but comically-mutant villains, which include football players, rednecks, back flipping clowns (NOT my favourite) and nurses, to name but a few.

Control over you path is limited as with all light-gun games but some peripheral vision is given when you move your crosshairs near the edge of the screen, aiding you in picking up power-ups, grenades, health kits, and the infamous ‘slo mo-fo’ mode (I’ll leave you to discover what this little baby is all about). Throughout the entirety of the game you are spoilt with hilarious hi-jinks of the at-odds duo of mutant mutilators, G and Washington, in the intentional weakly edited cut-scenes that underline each mission.

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Difficulty ranges from level to level but is, more often than not, ridiculously easy. Two-player co-op mode with a friend is always a helping hand and extremely pleasant to set up so that a partner can join at any point within the game. Firepower tends to kill foes with only a few shots, as is the same with the bosses. Although, I think the intention is for the bosses to be more astonishingly eerie than anything else, particularly in the form of the Screamer – who, I know, really freaked me out!

There are also three mini-games available to play supporting up to four players in which you can earn a vast amount of achievements by performing defeats. Director’s cut versions of all of the levels are also unlockable, which contributes to making levels longer with previously deleted scenes, made more difficult with larger quantities and more durable enemies whilst limiting the number of ‘continues’.

HOTD: Overkill is without doubt one of the best looking games on the Wii, with credit to the use of motion blur, grainy filter and an overly stylistic colour palette. It seems incredibly satisfying to shoot mutant zombies to pieces and watch their limbs takeoff or plunge off, realistically raising both the gore aspect and the amusement. Glitches do occasionally occur however. Enemies somehow get stuck in walls or in between terrain – this was the frustrating part for me.

Also, one of the best game soundtracks in years, as each mission is accompanied by incredible vintage-style themes and guitar riffs that stick with you long after you’ve set the Wii remote to sleep. It’s hard to believe that even better remixes of in-game songs are unlocked with the completion of missions. Not only this, but the voice acting from the characters is equally first-class, making every character unforgettable and entertaining. The frequency of F-bombs dropped after every other word and plenty of other swearing to accompany it may be the deal breaker for some, but the overall theme suits it well and rather than detracting from the events of the game it adds to it.

HOTD: Overkill, with all its revival of the golden age of British low-budget horror, cheese and gore, resurrects an old franchise as anything but an ungainly corpse. Not only raising the bar for all third-party production values on this generation’s best-selling console, but is an exploitation of the horror-film vibe that has been so fully realised that you’ll completely forget that you’re simply moving a cursor about the screen and pushing a button.

[Originally published on Monday, 11 May 2009]

Review: Ready 2 Rumble: Revolution

A ‘revolution’, this certainly is not

Format: Wii Dev: AKI Corporation Pub: Atari Out: 20/03/09 Players: 1-2

To say punching people in the face (virtually) can be such an innately pleasurable experience at times it does come as a surprise that Ready 2 Rumble: Revolution removes any of the enjoyment out of this pristine pastime. This game does well to serve as a warning that no matter how fun a concept behind a game, maybe it is almost impossible to enjoy those ideas by utilising controls which respond to neither movements nor requests.

Motion commands imparted unto boxers are rarely followed making matches not only chaotic but exhausting, but at least the winner can rest assured that they had more stamina and/or luck than their competitor. Initial flicks of the Wii controller often won’t register at all, so your boxer will either throw a different, much weaker punch, or simply stand still as if they’ve given up on life! Other instances leave your fighter in the wind-up stance but never striking when the first flick will register but the second will not. This lack of precision is even more infuriating when you’re trying to defend yourself.

With the above in mind, fights are far too chaotic; fights against human opponents are fraught with abysmal controls which leave the only rational approach of waving your arms frantically in any direction in any hope that you can dish out more damage than you take.

Multiplayer is facilitated well with quick match, team and full tournament modes. Arcade and career championship alternate weekend stints on the game with weekday training mini-games – building up your created characters statistics, with the capacity for boxers to be unlocked throughout the game whilst earning and spending cash in order to unlock further character customisations.

Brad Pitt as he appeared in Snatch, Jack Black in a schoolboy uniform, David Beckham with a Mohawk and John Travolta and David Hasselhoff, do make an appearance in the game, although somewhat make it feel like a missed opportunity. The characters likenesses are tolerably comical, but I must admit there is nothing incredibly exciting about making these particular celebrities beat the living daylights out of each other!

Ready 2 Rumble: Revolution does have a half-decent arcade fighter residing somewhere underneath it all. However, even if this is the case, it’ll need to go back to the gym for some serious work before showing its face in the ring again.

[Originally published on Friday, 24 April 2009]

Review: MadWorld

Viewtifully visceral violence

Format: Wii Dev: Platinum Games Pub: Sega Out: 20/03/09 Players: 1

MadWorld, an inventive third-person action game exclusively for Wii, this is definitely snuff video gaming at its highpoint; the latest in a short but controversial line of games about a character killing other characters in gruesome ways for the viewing pleasure of an in-game television audience.

You enter the game as Jack – ‘Just Jack’, the newest participant in Varrigan City’s killing games, affectionately termed ‘Death Watch’. From the outset this ‘mad world’ of a game show narrative may remind you of a far grislier version of SmashTV, but as you move further into the narrative some curious twists do appear. This curiosity, grittiness and horror is further characterised through MadWorld’s graphic novel looks. Aside from the copious spurts of red blood (or blue alien goo) and the odd splash of yellow comic book onomatopoeia, everything is rendered in black and white, and for a while it’s hard not to be awed by this unusual presentation. It is understandable that such a style of gaming will come at the expense of optical clarity and ease, and over a short spell it does become progressively more difficult to distinguish between objects of use and the gaming backdrop. Therefore this game is best played in short chunks, if only because you’ll need both visual and emotional relief from time to time.

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Fortunately, Platinum Games have taken into consideration that overkill is best experienced in small bite-size portions and have placed time limits on levels overflowing with horrific and lethal devices. ShockTV viewers are a hungry audience and you’ll discover that earning points is not only determined by how many opponents you kill, but most importantly how violently you choose to do so. As ‘Just Jack’ you could simply impale a foe on a wall of spikes over and over until copious spurts of red blood fill the screen, which may sound savage enough, but this won’t earn you as many points as shoving a tyre over their head, piercing them with a traffic sign and then using a spiked baseball bat to launch them onto the wall of spikes over and over again – brutal, eh?

In moderation to all of this killing a constant stream of humour is also provided in the voices of Greg Proops (Whose Line Is It Anyway?) and John DiMaggio (‘Bender’ from Futurama). Little of it is fit to print, but it is laced with some F-bombs and MF-bombs, with banter going back and forth and you often go red-faced with laughter or experience the occasional blush from the witty and profane remarks. A twenty track hip hop soundtrack does compliment both the chatter and the gameplay, and the crunching and squelching noises apparent from in-game are almost as gruesome as the sights.

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From everything I experienced, the game’s control scheme does utilise the Wii’s capabilities well, offering a balanced use of button-bashing as well as the signature remote waving which simulates the on-screen action in a variety of finishing moves, ranging from swinging your victim around to cutting through enemies with a chainsaw. As such, you’ll be swinging the Wii Remote around your head to throw enemies into jet engines, or pulling the Wii Remote and Nunchuk apart from one another to break a grunt’s neck. There’s a lot going on but the action is never anything but instinctive. The design of the game does promote a few camera troubles which can lead to slight disorientation. Occasionally this can mean grabbing thin air instead of that traffic sign that you wanted to plunge into your enemies torso, which can be frustrating and although the game is designed with a lock-on feature (designed to alleviate this problem) it doesn’t always work when needed, particularly in boss battles, when it would really have come in handy.

There are mini-games available, but not what you’re used to seeing on the Wii. These brutal bits provide some of the game’s most explicit imagery, and many of them are funny in a grisly way. Throwing enemies into a giant hand, which then squeezes blood from their bodies as if juicing an orange and sticking your targets in barrels that then launch into the air, creating a bloody fireworks display are just some violent examples, however, most of these are enjoyable for the limited time in which they occur. You can revisit them with a friend in a split-screen multiplayer mode in which you compete for high scores, but out of context, these challenges are far less enjoyable and pretty tedious after one or two attempts.

In short, although MadWorld does have its inconsistencies it does provide that much needed rush of blood to the head for adrenaline junkies almost as often as it provides a rush of blood to the floor. MadWorld is what hardcore gamers and adults want for the Wii.

[Originally published on Monday, 20 April 2009]

Review: Deadly Creatures

Creepier than the bugs in your bed

Format: Wii Dev: Rainbow Studios Pub: THQ Out: 13/02/09 Players: 1

Insects and arachnids have never been ones to be appreciated or embraced by modern humanity, with their excessive amount of legs and almost supernatural presence, the majority of people unlucky enough to have one obstruct their pathway are usually injected with a noxious dose of fear.

Deadly Creatures does little to contradict this notion of “creepy crawlies” as it sends the player on a series of twists and turns (literally) as two rather realistic but unorthodox protagonists: a tarantula and a scorpion. Travelling through muggy caves below the sterile desert land, these two rather loathsome creatures lend a hand to making Deadly Creatures an interestingly diverse and rather satisfying adventure. As the player you won’t find these scream-provokers growing on you, however, the perverse conflicts and utterly peculiar situations you’ll find yourself in definitely will.

The somewhat unconventional storyline sustains the unorthodox protagonists well, enabling you to journey (or should I say crawl) around a multitude of dim and unpalatable surroundings, grasping bits and pieces of conversation between two prospectors in search of what appears to be buried treasure. As the only two humans in the game these gold-diggers, whose voices are courtesy of Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper, don’t provide the best of back-stories, but do however add that extra inch of personality lacking in the arid environment in which the game is set. It’s just a shame that their main role in the game only loosely ties into the insects’ main objective, which, when you do come to the supercilious conclusion, still doesn’t become clear as to what the main aim of the adventure was.

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There are a total of ten heavy combat scenes all viewed from the third-person and although you are stuck in the desert throughout, there is still some variety chucked in. The environments are all fairly linear in design, although every so often there are pathways which lead off somewhere to reveal bonuses (if you could call them that). As a scorpion movement is more restricted than the character of the tarantula, but this is fairly acceptable as the tarantula in reality is far more agile. When you get lost, there is also an arrow guide utility which the player can pull up. This is a huge help as it can be tricky to keep your point of orientation in the 3D surroundings.

The controls are fairly straightforward giving each character, which ever you are playing at the time, a variety of battle moves and definitely makes you feel as if you’re in the heart of the action. My favourite has to be burrowing underground as the scorpion to launch an attack on a passing creature – this involves a simple flip of the Wii remote upside down. It mixes things up a bit, should things get a little tedious, which I must admit is very rare, but I found this move does get a little addictive.

Deadly Creatures provides the player with fantastic graphics without becoming way too crass. The entirety of the arachnid crowd is sinisterly animated with their little legs stirring realistically enough to give you a serious instance of the jeepers-creepers. Alongside this the realistic sound effects, which capture the scurrying of insect legs along the dirt paths of the dank caves, add a significant amount to the experience of the game, plummeting you head first.

Deadly Creatures is a game which keeps you focused on the protagonists and their plight for survival, rather than your enemy’s death, plunging you deep into a magnificent world of microscopic but delightfully hideous creatures.

[Originally published on Friday, 6 March 2009]

Review: Silent Hill: Homecoming

Shh… mummy’s home and she’s not happy.

Format: PS3 (version played), Xbox 360, PC Dev: Double Helix Games Pub: Konami
Out: 27/02/09 Players: 1

The saying usually goes “home is where the heart is” but with the fifth instalment of Konami’s Silent Hill franchise comes an altered version of that saying because now… home is where the horror is!

From a first-person perspective as the character of Alex Shepherd, a soldier recently discharged from duty, the player is immediately sunk into action. A rather derelict hospital is the setting which opens the game. As monsters jump out and the player witnesses a rather miserable attempt at the beautification of zombified nurses which jolt out in ominous corridors, we soon learn that Alex Shepherd is a character plagued by dreams during his own waking moments, particularly revolving around his younger brother Joshua.

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Alex eventually returns home to find his hometown of Shepherd’s Glen blanketed in a thick fog, familiar streets ending abruptly with endless pits or wreckage, strange creatures roaming the town and his mother (oh, how annoying his mother is) sitting rigid in her empty house. After learning about the numerous disappearances including the disappearance of his own father and brother (with no help from his mother that is), Alex begins the search for his younger brother, of whom he keeps getting glimpses of in the distance. The most obvious thing to happen, which does is that each time Alex is about to catch up to him, Josh flees, forcing Alex to explore the town of Shepherd’s Glen further. There is a purpose to this tedious task though, as eventually the player winds up in the familiar scenes of good, old Silent Hill.

This is the part where the fine line between being scared and being frustrated that Silent Hill games have always walked comes to the test. By walking through the fog of Shepherds Glen and Silent Hill, Alex in turn walks through the fog of his past via a series of dramatic, but helpful, flashbacks. As Alex finds more answers to his questions, the player will have to combat more and more monsters which include: zombified nurses, armless creatures blowing toxic gas and my favourite, a ground pounding beast which glides along the ground resembling more of a bald-hunger-crazed-man sporting a sleeping bag for an outfit. More funny than scary I’d say, but that’s just me.

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In previous iterations of the Silent Hill franchise combat has been crude and weapons unpowered, making it somewhat of a struggle to put up a fight, however, the latest addition to the franchise sees a more robust combat engine in the form of Alex Shepherd. The combatants aren’t as tough as they could be but allow more fight than flight, in comparison to previous titles.

As expected the characters still spout the trademark clichéd and suppressed dialogue when a more believable response would be to go insane on the spot at the sight of a bald-hunger-crazed-man in a sleeping bag. The graphics are a pleasure to endure as you play the game, giving you the impression that you are watching the events play out through an old film filter, leaving everything grainy and somewhat out-of-focus. This is most certainly works extremely well, however, the saturation of darkness tends to get tiresome, as even when daylight comes the branded Silent Hill fog is still present, making everything appear mysterious and subdued twenty-four hours a-day. By utilizing this aspect of the game throughout, a significant amount of clarity is lost and seeing something you really want to see will result in you squinting until your eyes are shut, and the flashlight isn’t too helpful either.

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If you were to think that the graphics let you down then it is pleasing that sound takes centre stage. The groaning, the scraping, the shuffling sending shivers down your spine as you approach that sharp corner, are all ingredients crucial to Silent Hill’s presentation.

To cut it short, the game does have many flaws and its biggest, to my knowledge, is its tedious and overly familiar experience. Trekking back and forth between places I’d squinted at god knows how many times to only be told that the “door was jammed” was a nightmare in itself. On the other hand though, rather obscure but tricky puzzles do help to break up the game slightly and if it weren’t for these I think I would have torn my hair out (not in fright).

Silent Hill: Homecoming is a game for die-hard Silent Hill fans, and diehard Silent Hill fans only – if it’s to fulfil its full potential that is. With the reduction from the initial tense psychological experience fraught with spine tingling jumps and scares to a generic predictable action title, it isn’t enough to please.

[Originally published on Tuesday, 24 February 2009]

Review: Professor Layton and the Curious Village

Somebody better tell Poirot to pack his things, because Professor Layton is in the house

Format: DS Dev: Level-5 Pub: Nintendo Out: 07/11/08 Players: 1

You know how the old saying goes… “curiosity killed the cat.” But not for this Professor. For this Professor, curiosity gets you interesting, entertaining and stimulating gameplay. As those of us with a DS know, there is no scarcity of brain training and mini-game collections floating around in the DS game charts these days, too many of which are run of the mill to say the least. That’s why Professor Layton and the Curious Village is such a breath of fresh air, with its fusion of story and gameplay, as well as mini puzzles and games to satisfy both the brain train buffs and story mode enthusiasts amongst us.

The games narrative follows that of Professor Layton, a renowned puzzle solver, and his apprentice, Luke, along their journey through a town (ironically) named St Mystere. From the outset their objective is to solve the mystery of a bizarrely written will and to locate a thing known as the ‘Golden Apple’. Through scenes of charming full motion video and delightfully attractive still settings the story gradually unfolds, with many other unidentified journeys entwined within the games main narrative, which you’ll want to see through until the very rewarding conclusion – which is dissimilar to other puzzle and brain training games.

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Through the use of an old fashioned Two-Dimensional point-and-click adventure, players are able to effortlessly travel and solve the many mysteries that St Mystere holds. You can interact and talk with the residents of the town, in addition to searching nooks and crannies to find hint coins, secret footpaths or even concealed puzzles by simply tapping them.

There are approximately a total of 120 puzzles to find within the story mode, which each cover a multitude of sorts, from easy to difficult – ranging from moving matchsticks to solving maths problems to one of my favourite puzzles, which included sliding blocks around in order to get a ball from one side of a box to the other – not as simple as it sounds. Although the game can get particularly challenging at times it cannot be categorised as ‘frustrating’. Without any time constraints the player has plenty of time to contemplate their answer, often leading to an extremely simple solution (perhaps for some of you, this may be the frustrating part). However, if you do get yourself into a sticky situation, there are always the hint coins you collected on your travels around St Mystere – you can use three hint coins for each individual puzzle. In spite of this there aren’t enough for every puzzle, so don’t waste them.

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Professor Layton and the Curious Village utilizes high-quality full motion videos which are complete with voice acting, something not quite so common in other DS games. Characters and environments with a hand-drawn look give warmth and personality to the characters – making them appear as if they have just popped out of a children’s book. However, the most notable and ONLY stain on the game is the audio consisting of accordion music so cyclic and monotonous that playing the game on low volume or even mute becomes a must.

On the other hand, the magnificent gameplay overlooks this, making it incredibly hard to put down and thankfully it should take you anything between thirteen and twenty hours to finish the gripping story mode, but once you’ve completed it there’s still more to keep you going. If you haven’t successfully found every puzzle within story mode you may want to go back and explore some more, you may even want to finish collecting any items you hadn’t already – such as gizmos for your contraption, scraps of a painting or furniture for Luke and Professor Layton which, by finding, unlock bonus content enabling you to tackle some especially complicated puzzles.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village_3

There’ll be heaps to keep you code cracking after completing the game with your free weekly download of puzzles – until Professor Layton and Pandora’s Box is released, anyway – and don’t be fooled into thinking this is a silly game for children by the game’s box art. If you think that then you’ll definitely be missing out.

[Originally published on Friday, 6 February 2009]

Review: Midnight Club: Los Angeles

Rollin’ with da club in West Side’s roughest neighbourhood

Format: PS3 (version played), Xbox 360, PSP Dev: Rockstar San Diego
Pub: Rockstar Games Out: 24/10/08 Players: 1, 2-16 online

After a three and a half year gap, Rockstar Games street racing franchise makes its debut with Midnight Club: Los Angeles, and is the first instalment to focus on a single city. Choosing LA for its extensive straights, wide freeways and hills, the game continues to summarise Hollywood’s interpretation of illegal street racing to fantastic effect, facilitated additionally by the real world landmarks, such as the 3rd Street promenade and LA Convention Centre. Pigeonholed buildings such as Pizza Hut and Holiday Inn do appear, despite the fact that you barely notice them at 130mph, but they do help the player to immerse themselves in the experience.

The inclusion of a day and night cycle within the game does take the ‘Midnight’ out of ‘Midnight Club’ to a certain extent, but it’s a first for the eight-year old franchise. And whilst the inclusion of this cycle may not sound like the most exciting aspect, it does work in tandem with the ebb and flow of traffic, whether it be morning rush hour or the dead of night, helping to bring the city to life – although, this did take me a while to notice.

The storyline is there but it’s the bare minimum to get you into a car and racing. The frame rate is steady and the action is fast, with an absolutely fantastic recreation of the streets of LA through stunning graphics which portray the beaches of Santa Monica and the Hollywood Hills as perfectly as they can. There are also numerous types of races – time trials, checkpoint races, freeway races and races from point A to B – in addition to the usual option of undertaking missions, which, in this version of the game, include missions by which you bestow payback – where money is earned by damaging targeted vehicles and delivering cars across the town intact in an awfully short amount of time.

This is where the game’s difficulty is called into question, and where the majority of frustration (which you’ll quickly become accustomed to) is caused. Occasional races do let you choose ahead of the race, but other than that there are no difficulty settings. Colour coded races do purport to have adjustable settings – easy, medium or hard – but I’ve found out myself that easy is, more often than not, just as challenging as hard.

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When you do eventually finish a race – after the tediousness of replaying over and over, just to unlock certain bonuses – you are awarded money and respect based on your position. Respect unlocks new races as well as new vehicles, customisation options and performance upgrades. The slow speed at which new vehicles are able to be unlocked is, more likely than not, down to how few the total number of cars and bikes that there actually are included within the game (approximately forty).

Another addition to this latest debut for the franchise of games is the inclusion of a police presence – which, in particular, offers stiff competition picking up players for not only breaking speed limits or crashing into a number of cars, but also do not give up the chase until the bitter end. These chases, however, aren’t competition enough for the Need for Speed games, but it is entertaining to watch yourself being pulled over on the Police car’s dash cam when the cop approaches your vehicle. Do you make a run for it or not?

The principal problem which prevents Midnight Club: Los Angeles from fulfilling its potential is the Google Earth-type map. This looks impressive at first as it zooms out from street level to the satellite view, however, it’s not fantastic at showing you where to go – which, with it being a map, is a big flaw. Waypoints don’t show you the quickest route and many streets when zoomed in aren’t marked, which you can imagine, when in the middle of a race raises the difficulty level much more.

If you can look past the frustrating points of Midnight Club: Los Angeles there is plenty of fun to be found in the game’s multiplayer section – supporting up to 16 racers online, allowing you to create your own races, play capture the flag, Stockpile or even challenge other players just driving around to races. Multiplayer is where Midnight Club is at its best, once you’ve got some rides of course, giving you the opportunity to show off your cars and let people rate them as well as purchase them too – it’s a level playing field.

[Originally published on Friday, 6 February 2009]

Review: Far Cry 2

Welcome to the alternative safari experience

Format: PS3 (version played), Xbox 360, PC Dev: Ubisoft Montreal Pub: Ubisoft
Out: 24/10/08 Players: 1, 2-16 online

Imagine yourself as a mercenary thrown into Africa. Apart from being anything far from paradise you immediately run into a string of bad luck in this foreign land and after being ambushed by a band of guards you contract Malaria. Can things get any worse? Far Cry 2 is a first-person shooter with a choice of characters to play as and your mission from the outset is to find and kill ‘The Jackal’, an international gunrunner, by any means necessary. However, as with many things in life this will not be as simple as it sounds and you’ll soon being to realise that, unless you’re a mass murderer, you’ll be performing actions which are a million miles away from resembling you might see yourself in the danger world of hired mercenaries.

Your first contact with The Jackal appears to be fatal as he jeers and taunts you leaving you for dead, but you’ll find that this only spurs you on even further into the game to both find and kill him. Similar to open world games such as Mercenaries 2 you are able to play mission or activities at your leisure. However, there is an element of necessity in some missions which will lead you further into your primary goal to catch The Jackal. The level of freedom is rather high and refreshing in the sense that there is nothing you will encounter twice.

The main attraction when playing Far Cry 2 is not the quality of the missions, the freedom of choice in where  and which missions to play or the plot of vendetta against The Jackal, but the fifty square kilometres of African landscape which make up the games open-world setting. Far Cry 2’s extensiveness makes you want to get lost deeper and deeper in the African wilderness that Ubisoft Montreal has beautifully created. Other things that are fantastically noticeable are the effects that Malaria has on your character, with the screen appearing blurred and undulated affecting both your aim and weapon fire.

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The game’s storyline is full of potential, but nothing more. An underwhelming plot isn’t something that will make you want to replay the game time after time or the tediousness in navigating from one location to another on the gargantuan map. Certain side missions can feel slightly repetitive when played but the clever hook in playing them is the rewards that you gain from succeeding. Malaria pills to aid your HP and stamina, diamonds, new weapons and safe houses which allow you to save your game.

The freedom of choosing which missions to play is not the limit of Far Cry 2’s accessibility. Such choice also carries over to the ways in which you may choose to execute certain missions. The weather appears as a possible option to you, as well as the time of day or the type of landscape your mission takes place on. However, your choice in which way to act will affect how you ultimately succeed or fail in your missions. Those particular moments in which your meticulous planning pays off and you succeed in your mission is one of the most gratifying parts of the gameplay.

In addition to the single-player campaign, there’s a multiplayer mode for up to 16 players online. Typical modes such as ‘Capture the Diamond’, deathmatch and team deathmatch are available, as well as an Uprising mode.  The most impressive addition, however, is the ‘Map Editor’, which allows you to create your own African battleground for other players to experience online.

In summary, Far Cry 2’s extensive realism in its beautiful graphics, the stunning landscapes and the affects of the Malaria to the quantity of ammunition and artillery your character can carry at any one point are something the game heavily relies on. It does, however, run the risk of being overshadowed by other games which aren’t so monotonous in both plot and the elements of travel. Both are necessary in Far Cry 2 to get from one place to another and there is nothing except the landscape to hold your attention in between missions. Give it a chance, even if it’s just for a short escape to Africa.

[Originally published on Tuesday, 6 January 2009]

Review: Saints Row 2

The streets of Stilwater have changed – the Saints are back and thirsty for revenge!

Format: PS3 (version played), Xbox 360, PC Dev: Volition Pub: THQ
Out: 17/10/08 Players: 1, 2-12 online

Saints Row 2 takes place from the third-person perspective with a character customised by you from scratch with voice, gender, age, weight and even ‘crib’ modification. You are thrown back into the city of Stillwater, but not before your customised character is excitedly revealed from beneath a set of mummy-like bandages in the prison hospital ward. The opening mission to escape from the hospital ward (not as easy as it sounds) foregrounds the rest of the game to which menial and effortless missions are a thing of the past.

The island of Stillwater is wide-open from the very beginning which allows the you to roam freely around the entire island at your leisure, an element noticeably absent from the most recent GTA IV, to which its inclusion in Saints Row 2 greatly improves its story stakes. There is vast quantity of freedom to annoy innocent passersby and undertake entertaining missions from one side of the island to the next, such as Demolition Derby, Drug Trafficking, and the all new Septic Avenger – which absurdly allows you to spray the contents of a septic tank all over properties of your choice in Stillwater. Ahem… the lovely shade of brown will easily make you reach for this game once again instead of GTA IV. Even if it’s purely for the fact that minor tasks such as taking a girl out for a date aren’t even a passing thought.

Completing such entertaining tasks is necessary to earn measures of respect as well as money to take on the three main rival gangs of Stillwater: The Brotherhood, The Sons of Samedi and The Ronin. The dreaded Ultor Corporation appear further into the game as an added obstacle. Protecting your own territory comes as a given, but the means by which your character is charged to protect it doesn’t become too monotonous and there’s always something else to keep you interested. Maintaining this element of frivolous addictiveness is almost boundless, so make sure you get the housework out the way before putting the disc in!

A handy checkpoint system has also been added to the game in order to amend any frustrations felt with the first release – alongside an equally useful cruise control feature which increases your opportunity to produce more fatalities in missions – as you focus more on the aim than the drive. In every ‘crib’ there is also further activities and features that you are able to access to give yourself a break from the chaos of Stillwater. One of these is Zombie Uprising, which you can access through your TV. It’s a 3D adventure game which is far more bloodthirsty and violent than that of Saints Row 2. I won’t give too much away but just make sure you don’t play it alone and in a darkened room.

Although, the vastness of Saints Row 2 as a game is immeasurable, unfortunately, compared with the deftly filtered visual richness and tightly-woven story of GTA IV it’s no competition, making Saints Row 2 look somewhat dated. Character models as well as the Stillwater environments aren’t as meticulously detailed as they could be and the frame rate drops every so often which can be annoying. This isn’t to say that the game is totally poor. It’s more a case of “when things get bad, they get ugly”. In short, Saints Row 2 is like the perfect present with rubbish wrapping paper. You love what it is underneath! It lacks presentation, but it’s still great fun.

[Originally published on Tuesday, 6 January 2009]

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