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9:53 AM on 10.23.2011

Batman Arkham City Review: You Are Batman Edition

Spoiler Free

Admittedly I was never the biggest supporter of Arkham Asylum. Sure it had proved to be the best batman game ever created undoubtedly. Yet it was one of those games which seemed respectfully restrained with its license and the combat system was either a hit or miss with most players due to its combat system.

So with Arkham City you would be forgiven for initially assuming that Rocksteady had forgone the metroidvania route for a sandbox, akin to Grand Theft Auto or Saint’s Row just letting you play as Batman.

Well when the game begins you are treated to one of the best videogame introductions in recent memory. It simply sets the tone of what is to come. But it is beautifully disguised as the game’s tutorial which is quick and simple as the sequence.

Upon reaching the top of the ACE Chemicals building you are greeted by your first true vista of Arkham City, and it is dark and gritty and plastered with crime as you might imagine or flick through a Batman DC comic book and it appears very similar to scenes you can see there, even more so once you re ach your first gargoyle and get that iconic side view of Batman’s face against the background of Gotham City and Arkham City below; you are Batman.

Getting around is simplistic as it was previously but with some added feature’s. Previously Arkham Asylum wasn’t super big so there was no real need to glide long distances. Now there is as Arkham City is one huge horse shoe shaped expanse. You’re going to need multiple ways to get around, so enter dive bomb gliding. Simply hold the trigger for a moment, release hold the analogue stick so you pull up out of the dive, and you not only increase glide speed but occasionally gain height, and cover a satisfying amount of distance. When you begin learning you will probably make it from building to building, or from a good height a number of buildings before using the batclaw to grapple upwards to your location if you dip below, or are within reach of your location.

Eventually you will unlock a series of ‘Augmented Reality’ Training sections, successful completion of all of them granting you an advanced batclaw which helps improve your locomotion further and has a really badass takedown if you can execute it properly.
The combat system remains relatively unchanged just with some minor tweaks and additions allowing formerly unskilled combo chainers like myself to get combo’s up into the high twenties or on a good round, the mid to low thirties. But masters of the system will be easily raking in combo’s over one hundred in some scenarios, meaning they will be levelling up Batman’s combat skills a little faster than others may be due to the combat bonus multiplier for XP but even poor combo players will be maxing out the skills in time anyway.

One of the biggest criticism’s of Arkham Asylum was the lack of some of the cast, having them simply as easter eggs, and in some cases a lack of Robin the Boy Wonder in any shape or form. Well after going through the game’s roster the only significant omission I can think of is the lack of Nightwing who could have fitted in rather easily for a side mission cameo. But the third iteration of Robin aka Tim Drake is more than satisfying and welcoming.

Surprisingly the game’s comedy doesn’t come from who you may expect, but in the dry obvious observational humour of Alfred, I was roaring at some of his quirky comments.

If anyone complained or even hinted at the lack of bad guys in Arkham Asylum, they have very little room to manoeuvre now as the cast is packed to perfection playing upon the mythos and history of Batman to perfection, the gloves well and truly come off this time around and the key players in Arkham City create a perfect symphony of chaos, deceit, treachery, double-crossing, betrayal and scheming, I consider this not only the best Batman game of all time, but possibly one of the best Batman plots I have personally ever witnessed, from the handful of comics I have read, the entire filmography of Batman, and anything else Batman I have come across, only a number of storylines can contend with this one, but they tend to focus on one maybe two super villains, in this story there are at least eight I can think of without so much as looking at the roster of villains, Rocksteady & DC have done an amazing job.

The main storyline will probably last anyone who decides to never deviate from it ten or so hours. But thanks to the Riddler the time sink for fellow videogame kleptomaniacs such as me will find that they will be puzzling out the 400+, (yes there are over 400 to get.) will be searching these little babies out for a further ten plus hours alone, and if you get stuck, there are always the helpful Riddler informant’s who put the trophies in these places for Riddler in the first place, which explains so much and also gives you handy little map markers to find.

If you get the Catwoman code you not only get a prologue, and missions that break up and take place during the main story of Arkham City giving you control of Catwoman at genuine intervals of Batman’s story but you genuinely feel that the gameplay is different and unique, and a great contrast to Batman showing you how his technology makes it easy for him to disappear and appear depending on his situation, but you get to experience the agility of Catwoman and experience a little bit of a side story, which admittedly falls a little flat, but is one hundred percent typical Catwoman.

The combat/predator missions have been changed up a little bit in that they are integrated into multiple mission’s tasked to you by none other than the Riddler, an example of which being you will do three missions in one, two predator and one combat missions, your rating is then tallied and scored accordingly with the typical targets and parameters for you to complete. This makes it that much harder for people to exploit for quick times or perfect combos, the requirement now is to perfect all of them in a single sitting with limited amount of retries.

When it comes to ‘issues’ with the game, I genuinely cannot come up with anything that is broken or requires immediate fixing. I am sure some players somewhere have found a falling through the map glitch that may need a patch at some point, but once the costume packs for batman and all the rest come out Batman Arkham City can only ever improve in my eyes, and the room for actual DLC content possibly adding new villains and content to the game is just large enough to accommodate such a plan.

There is only one way to top Batman Arkham City, and that is for Rocksteady to take the time out and comeback in the four years or more required to give us the big expansive Gotham City proper we are treated to in the background, with an added playable batmobile, and batwing and giving us either an integrated batman and robin co-op campaign, or a separate batman and robin co-op campaign. If there is anything that can make this game more amazing, it is doing it legitimately with a friend over a good online co-op service with a messaging system if the host wishes to go into an interior location and the co-op partner has to accept. Also co-op Riddler puzzles, if the team at Rocksteady get a kick out of hiding these things so well which require a lot of player ingenuity to find in the first place, imagine the sadistic pleasure they would get out of making and hiding co-op based Riddler puzzles. Then better yet, imagine the feeling you the player will get out of solving the harder versions of these.

But as it stands if you rent Arkham City, I will be surprised if you don’t end up buying it or at the very least want it but just can’t afford it. This game is not just a must buy, it is a must play!

+ Arkham City is an amazing sandbox
+ One of the best Batman plots in the history of the franchise
+ Improved and increased roster of villains and heroes
+ Plenty to keep you occupied, find, and test your mental fortitude
+ You ARE Batman
- Still no co-op

10/10   read

3:49 PM on 10.14.2011

Dark Souls Review: Reflection Upon Completion Edition

If you have never experienced the increase of a difficulty curve in a videogame before, and want to; look no further. Dark Souls is the perfect example of fun, immersion, depth and mind numbing rage.

Previously in Demon’s Souls you did a quick tutorial level, where the boss was intended to kill you, if you pulled off the next to impossible feat and slew him, you would be firmly punched in the face by one of the games later bosses and begin the game proper in The Nexus. The hub of everything and only bastion of safety from enemies and players seeking to kill you. Levels where separated and disconnected and unlocked checkpoints for every boss you managed to kill.

Dark Souls is fully interconnected, within the space of one giant city, Lordran. Your bastion of safety is the heat of a bonfire flame, to where you are the closet you will ever feel to 'safe'. If you venture beyond the safety of these scattered bonfires you will fight through undead armies, creatures of the deep, apparitions, to mythological creatures. And that’s not even including the bosses.

Demon’s Souls was a pretty big game, but it mainly depended on you farming the levels repeatedly for more souls, the games universal currency and experience points. Each stage of the way in Dark Souls seamless world you will be put to a challenge you must overcome. While the new players will die repeatedly, veterans of the previous game will find that it is nothing they cannot handle... to begin with.

Dark Souls unlike its predecessor, eases the player in where death is guaranteed on a repeated basis. But herein lays the thrill of a Soul’s games. Most games appeal to the audience to give them a crescendo with a boss fight. In Dark Souls the boss fight is something intended to batter you to your knees until you learn the proper way to defeat it, to which you then feel a massive amount of elation and achievement.

Dying is the most frustrating part, not because it was cheap, or because you where no way near something. If you die, it is not only completely your own fault, it is in aid of learning something new, or causes you to change up your tactics and become a better player. Death teaches you so many things in Dark Souls, be it the location of a trap if you managed to die by it or fall in it, potential ambushes, to in rare cases where you need to go next.

As a single player experience Dark Souls is one of the most brutal, unforgiving action RPG’s you can play today. While you can never exactly feel god like in the game, you will feel like a battle hardened warrior, priest, mage or whatever you make your own class to be.

Dark Souls took the immersion from the previous game, stuck you in it permanently and then quadrupled it in size and scope. When it comes to design it trumps its predecessor better than I could ever of hoped, the vistas are amazing, the world is connected just as good if not better than a Castlevania game, it is a marvel.

So what are its problems? Well just like before even if it is early days yet, the co-op has to be the biggest failure of this game. I know people who specifically bought this to play with friends only to find out that the game purposely blocks such interactions in every way possible. For me I got through the entire game by some fashion completely solo and only saw three summoning signs that weren’t AI companions you can unlock via the games covenant system.

At least in Demon's Souls you could at least work out a way to summon a friend or regular player without much fuss, and made the game infinitely more enjoyable and last much longer than it may have lasted as a completely solo experience.

So disjointed is the co-op system it seems that even the other aspect of the souls franchise, that it was made infamous for, the black phantom break-in’s fail to work a majority of the time. The connection errors on top of a limited co-op, causes the game to drop in overall difficulty by no one other than the occasional easy to kill AI phantom’s that have been added to break in once every blue moon.

Death is also no longer a penalty gone is the half-health for being dead negating the necessity to even become a human again. The only way your health drops to half is if you suffer the new status effect ‘curse’ which can remain a permanent side effect unless you have the purging stone to correct it, or see someone capable of breaking it.

If it wasn’t for the fact the first half of the game is a challenging walkthrough, any genuine attempt at determination and persistence can breakthrough, I doubt it would be as addictive as it is. The latter half of the game though soon cranks up to the difficulty demon’s souls players would expect from the game, until the last few stages where the game gets stupidly tough, to the point I believe regular players will never so much as finish regular New Game difficulty, let alone the NG+’s beyond a single completion.

The game quite literally takes you through its own versions of heaven and hell, and by the time you’ve possibly finished one run-through you will feel like you have been dragged through it yourself.

Dark Souls would have been the perfect game of this generation if its co-op wasn’t purposefully flawed. It refuses to hold your hand the same way ascending a mountain refuses to hold your hand, because eventually you will experience the vertical climb and the occasional overhang if you ever want to progress up the ladder on this beast of a game. Just don’t ever hope to get any help from your friends... as it won’t let you.

+ Perfect game for anyone who considers themselves a ‘hardcore gamer’.
+ A seamlessly woven world with both beautiful and disturbing scenery.
+ If you ever imagined a 3D third person Diablo game, this is as close as you will get.

- Co-op bans you from playing with people you want to co-operate with
- Connection errors if you ever try to get a game/invade a game
- Later stages will cause regular gamers to quit playing

8/10   read

8:23 AM on 10.02.2011

The Future of New Game Codes? - The Pre-Purchase Edition

2011 has had some key moments, and none where so dramatic as the ‘Rockstar Pass’ for L.A. Noire in May. It was soon cloned by Netherrealms if nothing more but proof and belief in the method of which games of the future are about to potentially change.

Someone who follows gaming as closely as myself simply saw it coming, the moment L.A. Noire’s DLC plan was revealed. That paved the way for future digital distribution; Activision in their belief to deliver a high quality product will evolve the gaming retail market, cementing physical retail product as a genuine resource, and almost stamping out ‘100% digital distribution’ of gaming products as the preferred resource.

With Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3’s Hardened Edition, fans will receive a code in brand new copies of the game for the entire year’s planned DLC, for “free” (it’s not, but they promote it as such thinking you are paying for the other things inside the package). Retailing at a UK price point of £80 (£79.99) you get a full year’s subscription to Call of Duty Elite premium service package with founder membership, and artbook, a steelbook casing of the game and a twelve month DLC package from day zero, no need to pay when it releases, and download at your leisure.

Over the course of 2012, developers & publishers will become well aware of the success and the additional percentages of sales Call of Duty content & map packs will inevitably receive. The reason can be summed up as simple one word: ‘convenience’.

If you have been on Xbox Live from the first year of its release you will have noticed how (with the exception of Ghost Recon) map packs before Call of Duty took over from Halo as the ‘King of Multiplayer Shooters’, prices plateau’d and became very acceptable at 800MSP per map pack, and is still a moderate standard of pricing across any game not ‘Call of Duty’.

The map pack argument of 1200 points for 5 maps is something even I have been vocal about. And to this day have never bought a single CoD map pack. The debate will still rage on so long as CoD continues to be the exception to the ‘rule’ as it where.

Soon however with MW3’s Hardened Edition the shape of retail gaming is going to change as you will soon see on shelves not just special editions with art book’s or quirky plastic figurines of characters from the game offered at an increased price range to help maximise profit for publishers and developers. Soon those versions alone will become a lesser version of itself without offering pre-purchased DLC codes.

Limited Edition used to genuinely mean something, until the profits from Halo 3 threw the margins out of proportion, and suddenly every game and it’s grandmother started receiving some kind of box claiming it was some kind of special ‘Edition’ at a marginal but increased price point over the basic retail version of the game at the very least.

Things have since simmered down, Limited Editions are still as prominent as they have been in recent years but the quality has been ever increasing. EA never seemed to go for the big push on special editions in terms of collectible memorabilia, and instead choosing the new buyer code route, which gave the consumer ‘DLC’ exclusive to them that could either never be purchased or redeemed in future if bought second-hand.

This seemed to stir a wave of criticism and rather than effecting tiny single pieces of armour, or a character has reached levels of locking out single player content in id’s forth coming RAGE that can never be played by retro gamers in decades ahead, to locking out multiplayer on like likes of Medal of Honor or Dead Space 2 on EA’s side of things at least. But this is no issue for the new purchaser, and only effects people purchasing second hand and lacks any sense of foresight once the DLC is no longer available in the years to come.

The solution it seems, (for a reasonable additional pricing) is here. As physical copies of games no longer need to lock out content entirely, (see: Capcom & 2K Games) as the codes of new copies can offer this content without fear of pre-owned sales destroying profit margins.In the past if a game has the bad version of DLC known as ‘Disc Locked Content’ gamers would rage, and did so when Street Fighter 4 did this, and BioShock 2’s first DLC’s where already there ready and waiting, and promoted as if it had been made post-production. Even Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed 2 was guilty of this ripping genuine content from the game which while not deemed a high priority to the games story was deemed underhanded and callous by the gamer community.

Soon all major game titles boasting ‘special edition’ will come with a redeemable code for future planned DLC at retail with a increased price tag that shouldn’t effect sale pricings as you will be buying the DLC and retailers passing on the profits directly. If anything, unwise store’s ordering too many copies will reach equilibrium. If they buy a regular game for sale at £35 to sell at £40 where they earn their profit, they need to sell four other copies of different games to make back what they lost on one single copy. Over ordering special editions at £80 due to DLC passes being included would see them level out on profits with pre-owned sales, and this seems to be the plan from a publisher’s side at least, as Quantic Dream reported £10 million losses on Heavy Rain due to pre-owned sales that saw only retailers receiving 100% of the profit recently.

Where is the bad news of this highly likely future of retail gaming for you, you might ask? Pre-made content or minimal DLC. It is an issue, and some evil/greedy company out there is going to do it, if the codes become the norm’ eventually. With trusted developer’s building Triple AAA titles, this won’t and can’t be an issue, and is most likely going to become the norm with those individual companies over time anyway. But depending on what comes with either a new IP or tacked on ‘special edition’ of a game in future will see a high price tag most likely at what will become the established price point and then deliver the equivalent of a character pack and horse armour; and that will be it.

The benefits of retail games offering these deals can be seen, and I think everyone interested in the sales margins will love to compare the previous sales of MW2 and Black Ops against MW3.

The leap of faith consumer’s must take if they want the premium version of a game that chooses to follow this path is large. But so long as full disclosure of what is to come in some respect, as to when the DLC is released, and how much of it is coming sets to pave the way for games of the future.

Digital download passes have proven to work, and established a clear interest amongst consumers, if it is the future of gaming only time will tell.

Do you question the price points of certain DLC still? Do you not see pre-purchasable DLC codes in retail packages as the future? What are your views on Limited Editions to begin with? Have you bought a pre-purchase DLC pass, if so what is your impression of such a feature? But more importantly do you think you would be more likely to buy a retail copy of a game at an increased but reasonable price and never need to worry about buying DLC in the future? Let me know what you think below.   read

1:55 PM on 09.07.2011

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review Yet Another One For The Unused Pile Edition

It has been a long time since we’ve seen a Deus Ex game, so long in fact human revolution almost seems to promote itself as a new franchise, while feeding off its rich history. Which is right, as there are a lot of new gamers out there compared to when the original launched on PC and eventually came to PS2, so to those of you who have never played any of the previous games buy this now, you need this game in your collection, end of discussion.

There are however long time fans such as myself who love Deus Ex and rather than getting a sequel to the JC Denton story created by Warren Spector, we get a prequel that takes place twenty-five years before the original, when humans are augmenting themselves with advanced limbs which are superior in function. This has caused a rift in the people by the games 2027 cyberpunk noire setting, and has purists ( anti-augmentation) protesting against the big companies such as Sarif Industries the company the main character Adam Jensen works for.

After a daring raid by mercenary special forces, equipped with weaponised augmentations, Adam is thrown through glass and is embedded in a machine, only to be further attacked, and shot in the head by one of the mercenaries, and left for dead.

Sparing the details, Jensen is brought back from the brink of death thanks to augmentation, and now returns as what can only be described as a Robocop version of Neo from The Matrix. This is where the game properly starts, and you can eventually go through the motions as you are introduced to your new equipment one by one, so as not to overwhelm new players to the series.

Deus Ex has always been about freedom of choice in terms of gameplay, and intelligent written story and dialogue. For the most part it nails both, the gameplay is nailed perfectly and is possibly more open and free to tackle as the player sees fit than ever before, and is bordering on faultless except for that one time I found an enemy lodged in a wall. The writing though shows it’s intelligence through the science and plausibility of the technology in the game, rather than the dialogue.

What I mean by that is previously the other games spoke sometimes at length with an almost political and ethical debate at times while adding some occasional comic moments, intentional or not via cheesy dialogue. Human Revolution seems to lack this trait, if only for an exempt character I will not speak of, but it does shine a bright golden ‘is this ethical?’ spotlight over this sort of subject matter.

When I mentioned freedom of choice in the gameplay earlier, I was not joking, even though we have seen many games try this and fail hard in the time between invisible war and now, the game itself wants to mix both action and stealth. If you want to play this like its Call of Duty with an RPG element thrown in, go ahead, if you also want to play at Solid Snake, or I guess in this case Augmented Snake, the options and gameplay mechanic are there also. Want to skip a fetch quest and get the information you want directly on rare occasion? You can thanks to dialogue options. Don’t know the code to the gate, or have sufficient ‘hacking’ skills to bypass the lock? In other games you might encounter the fabled ‘invisible wall’ in this scenario, not so, grab some barrels and crates, and build yourself a stair case, you can honesty do it, and feel reward and satisfaction when you do get past it. However it’s most likely the code is as simple as ‘0002’; c'est la vie. The freedom of choice in the way you play has never been more open to you, and this is what makes Deus Ex.

Another thing of note is that through the conspiracy story Deus Ex games have always played upon, in your quest to seek out the truth, and seek vengeance against those who have wronged you in some way. There has always been a globetrotting element, in the original you went to a number of major cities working with multiple factions and ultimately you are given a choice.

This is played down somewhat in Human Revolution and is a little disappointing in how there are only two genuine cities to traverse in, yet when you focus on the main storyline you do tend to hop about a bit around these cities into areas you can’t get to while in an exploration state, which is indicated by the fact of Jensen isn’t wearing his jacket.

But the key thing to note about these two cities are that not only do they feel like miniature sandboxes with multiple tiers and complexities, it is that they are the most highly detailed environments you will have ever explored in videogame history. There is so much detail going on without over powering you with useless inanimate objects it looks exactly like a futuristic pair of cities, with unique visual styles, Detroit and Shanghai can offer.

There is only one flaw with Human Revolution and I cannot go into detail about it. But suffice to say the conclusion to Dues Ex has greatly impacted the world at large Human Revolution is handcuffed by its prequel status, and it can’t be blamed for that. I can only hope Human Revolution becomes the financial success it deserves to be, so that Eidos Montreal can use the same engine to build a genuine sequel to the conclusions of Invisible War, or at the very least give us a HD remake of the original, one of the two needs to happen, as Deus Ex is a series that should never die out ever again. If you don’t get this game, you don’t know what a real game is – fact.

+ The most awesomely detailed environments in videogame history.
+ More freedom of choice than ever before.
+ Verbal boss battles as well as classic boss battles.
- Shackled by being a prequel rather than sequel
- You have to learn hacking to get the most out of the game
- Too much hacking, but it’s at least fun to do.

10/10   read

1:58 PM on 08.04.2011

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet Review: Metroidvania Edition

Would you be insane to drop 1200msp on this game, or would you be insane not to?

What Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (ITSP) is, is a spaceship metroidvania title, which is reminiscent of the old NES title Solar Jetman, mixed with last year’s Hit arcade game Limbo art style, just with an added dash of colour.

It has been a while since a metroidvania game has come to XBLA since Chair’s awesome Shadow Complex; however the later had massive amounts of plot, and dialogue throughout its adventure. But ITSP is silent as a deadly mouse that trundles along barely uttering a pew, pew, pew sound effect.
The basic synopsis is that an alien space virus comes and absorbs your little alien characters nearest sun, terraforming it into a giant black thorny shadow planet, it’s debris from the explosion causes it to spread to your little corner of the world, and you begin a journey to eradicate it, before it engulfs your planet.

Soon enough you will be hovering around the engulfed sun, killing bosses, and finding power-ups, artifacts and concept art collectibles. The cooler features of the single player campaign is when you do start finding the collectibles, they will reveal the origins of the infection, piece by piece. Only rewarding you with the full cinematic once you have collected them all.

The puzzles, are a treat specifically the snow zone, using ice mirrors to reflect laser beams to open the way forward, or cut ropes you have no access too, is just clever design, another puzzle has you pushing and moving blocks to get a item you need to progress through a wall, in another area, you have to get to, but in a completely blocked off section, and you have to do it fast enough before the level forces your spaceship even further down the line, making it a chore to get back up, and try again. It is little moments of genius like this that make you forget about the clock, and keep you playing.

It is kind of an issue, because if you have a strict amount of hours, you will be wondering where the heck all that time went. From beginning to completion you could do the entire thing in a day 100 percenting the campaign, but you are looking at a three hour speed run, or a twelve hour marathon session, wondering why you are having so much fun, finding all the nooks and crannies you have yet to discover. The silent progression and minimal story help keep you playing, as you just look forward to seeing what is next.

Boss fights have always been a staple of what metroidvania style games have to offer players. Some are strategic; some are over complicated puzzles, while others are just a war of attrition combining gunplay and clever positioning. ITSP has them all on offer, as they are all uniquely designed and test your wits perfectly to the progression of the game.

As the campaign is not quite as good as say Shadow Complex, or a Castlevania or old school metroid, it makes up for it in plain fun, and visual eye candy. You cannot seriously go through all these unique zones, and not find something you like visually, from the clever usage of snowflake enemies or the pinball machine area, or the cool enemy designs which fit perfectly into the world and feel menacingly evil.
ITSP can see its faults it seems in this. So it offers players a second mode which can be played with up to four players co-operatively in ‘Lantern Run’. It is slightly expected of you as a player to have reached a certain amount of completion within the campaign to understand the concept of the lantern run, as it is a part of the campaign in one section. The idea is simple, take your lantern as far as you can, while killing as many enemies as you can, while finally staying ahead of the ever encroaching dark, blood red eyed squid/tentacle monster hell bent on eating you or your lanterns. It is game over if either all the lanterns are destroyed or all the players die.

I cannot stress how fun and enjoyable this mode is with a friend or random players, the feeling of doing better, or reaching a new personal best with each run is awesome, there can never be a winner, but you can always be the best survivor.

You play it twenty times and no one run will be the same as each run can produce new chambers to navigate, while item drops can be randomised between health or raygun upgrades, while each ‘arena’ you clear can produce one random cycling upgrade some are helpful in clearing enemies along your path, others can help unlock path options that are way safer than other routes.

Every average run will last between five or ten minutes, with good runs lasting nearer thirty minutes. So when you start your evening of gaming at say 6pm, and when you need a break only to see it is past midnight, you know a game is fun.

Going on the campaign alone, I would say ITSP is intended for those that enjoy metroidvania designed games, with room enough for new players to get into and enjoy its easy but challenging gameplay, however it isn’t the best example out there even on XBLA with Symphony of the Night and Shadow Complex for company. Yet Lantern Run is full of replayability and gameplay that if this mode alone was all you had, I would be willing to pop 800msp alone for it, so to say you get a fully realised campaign and this awesome four player co-op on top it is worth its price of entry, and if you are sitting on the fence for this title, you insane not to have jumped off it yet, especially if you have got all the other examples already. This is your arcade game of the year, let alone the summer.

+ Great gameplay
+ Fun
+ Loads of replayability
+ Art style is beautiful
- Campaign is a little on the short side
- Leaderboards only update the host’s scores

9/10   read

6:57 PM on 08.01.2011

From Dust Review: Someone Get Me A Duster Edition

It’s been a while since I’ve had any interest in a God sim’ of any sort since Peter Molyneux’s Black & White. Though From the moment it was unveiled From Dust (FD) showed some potential, rather than nursing a number of villagers and catering to them, you are literally in control of, and protector against the elements.

The campaign mode consists of thirteen lands the first ease you in, with little challenge and give you enough to get to grips with the controls, which are easy to learn. Utilizing them to aid you through each land is tricky to master, but by no means impossible. The stakes are raised significantly with each land, and before you know it you will be trying to figure out how to raise a village from the ocean floor as a tsunami washes away any land around it in significant intervals, or channelling lava to stop it incinerating your starting village.

The final few levels throw every element at you at once, and while a nightmare tactically to navigate, witnessing what happens to the land, is amazing, the finale is a treat to anyone who had been asking it in their minds as they play through these levels.

Playing God in FD is a treat, as while you rely on your villages to be protected from the elements with some ancient magic’s which appear as kites on totems at the centre of each village once a shaman brings them to the village, they can repel tsunami’s and giant lava flows in the path of a central volcano’s path.

The object of each land is to essentially populate it from its starting barren form, and make villages 80% of which can offer you powers to gather more earth to create paths, or turn water into jelly in an instant, and absorb flood waters and save a village from drowning for example. Once you build every village, you can then make your way to the exit gateway, which will end the zone. The difference you can make from beginning to the end of each territory is just pure eye candy.

Because FD is a sandbox of different scenarios, you can be flexible in how you approach a good amount of levels. Sure for some you are rigid in how each level begins, but I sincerely doubt any two players did things the exact same way, and this is the brilliance I found in FD. Sure you can solve a puzzle of drying out a flooded zone one way, but you have plenty of different ways in which to do it, effectiveness be damned those options exist.

Even when you are done, making the zones forested, finding the hidden totems, and saving the villages, there are thirty more challenge maps for you to complete, all with their own objectives, and requirements, and some maps are even more extreme than the main campaign.

You can get your money’s worth from FD, however once all is said and done, there is little else to do, even bettering yourself on the challenges, seems a pointless exercise considering the ‘leaderboard’ is restricted to friends only, while each level is played out to a story for the villagers, there is no real story to speak off, this is one game where you tell yourself, ‘it is about the journey, not the end.’

I just genuinely hope FD gets a sequel, but this time adding a tangible story to follow to reward progress to the player, and a editor/upload feature. Trails HD’s success mainly comes from this feature as limited as it was, and it is one thing FD could have been amazing with, as player create their own sadistic, but completeable challenges, over a number of templates. Otherwise if FD receives no support it is simply a very, very good weekend experience, with a limited amount of replay value based on individual player’s attention span and imaginations.

That said though, From Dust 2 could easily be a full on retail release if the suggestions above are put in along with a batch of brand new levels. My advice for anyone not 100% about a purchase is to try the game first, while I’m sure it is barebones in comparison to the final product, the final level is worth reaching for anyone who gets it.

+ Pure Eye Candy
+ Simple & Fun
+ Gives life to a return to a console God Sim
- Would be surprised if it had people playing it for longer than three months after purchase
- No genuine create a map feature beyond the finale
- Limited Replay Value Overall


The website I do regular work for.   read

11:07 PM on 06.12.2011

Chasing the Golden Carrot: Aiming for the Top Edition

Nowhere is the evidence of companies chasing the golden carrot more prominent in today’s videogame industry than the MMO genre, and it’s Emperor; World of Warcraft. Ever since it released years ago pretenders and wannabe’s have sprung up trying to penetrate the bubble of the MMO market like never before, and countless games have fallen before it. But it is endlessly a cause of others trying to break that bubble World of Warcraft dominates in a hope it will take away from its small country sized population of subscribers. It will never happen trying to copy it, yet they will always try.

Look at the number one shooter in videogames of these modern times in Activision’s Call of Duty franchise. While its popularity grew with each new iteration of the World War II era of the franchise, it could never quite take Bungie’s Halo 2 off the top spot until Modern Warfare, which ushered in a new king of the shooter’s. It seems almost every genre of videogame has had its time in the spotlight, and when a game is done incredibly well the usurpers come out of the woodwork. However this is how games get better, but shows when pretenders looking to ride on the coat tails of another games success degrade not only the industry but the genre.

When less equals more and you can do the less part extremely well, the more a game will pop up. Guitar Hero is the poster child of this method of development. Once the engine was built, it never took long to complete another version, so much so you can look back and see how Guitar Hero took off until its eventual demise, a victim of success and greed.

Yet what happens when you take that ‘less is more’ mantra to an already established and successful game? Final Fantasy XIII is the answer. Final Fantasy was the game that defined an entire console generation; FF7 is the keystone to what made the Playstation when it started off. Until its release the ‘console war’ was very much up for grabs. But FF7 threw content at you, with a storyline that was engaging and compelling with almost endless chances to explore, a vast world, full of monsters and mini-games and side stories. Fast forward and FFXIII was chiselled down to a point it stopped just shy of being on rails, with endless linear corridors, andonly a handful of big vast open spaces only towards the finale.

Less is more works with the first person shooter because it’s very hard to get less than ‘shoot the enemy’ and because war is its own Petri dish of controversial subject matter, there is a never ending supply of possibility with it, and the endless wars throughout history is proof of a never ending supply of demand.

Yet the number one term used by gamers to describe why they game in the first place is ‘escapism’. To experience something they could never do, and when seeking adventure in games only two names instantly come to mind. Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider which has always changed its story and recently been updating its design since Angel of Darkness, while keeping its core gameplay, despite receiving mixed but high reviews Tomb Raider has long since established itself as Queen of the Adventure games in the line of Indiana Jones.

But the Granddaddy is Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda. Since its birth in the 80’s the story has not changed in the same manner its [Nintendo] key franchise Super Mario hasn’t changed, ‘save the kidnapped princess’, kidnapped by the same bad guy over and over again. The key plot point hasn’t changed for twenty five years! But these two Nintendo franchises will receive 9/10’s & 10/10’s the only thing that has ever changed in the Legend of Zelda is either the graphics or the adding of a key ability such as sailing, being a werewolf, or controlling time. But you will always find Ganondorf kidnapping Zelda at some point and you having to defeat him in the final battle.

Yet the Adventure/RPG genre doesn’t need to be overcomplicated with abundant amountso of storyline, more side quests than story or a casino’s worth of mini-games or throw waves of endless enemies at you as you struggle to get to the epic boss battle. The king of the Adventure game in ‘less is more’ is Team ICO’s Shadow of the Colossus. The girl is dead, you make a deal with a demi-god and the final reward is the girl will be resurrected. This is the full extent of the story for over half the game, and it is barely interrupted with a cutscene to reset you after each defeated boss. No creatures stand between you and the boss, at most there is barely terrain to climb yet the challenge in this David vs. Goliath style game is simply reaching each giant’s weak spot and stabbing it. This is what you do the entire game, and it is widely regarded as one of or the best game ever made. Find the boss, climb the boss, kill the boss.

Yet unlike all the games mentioned before it, there is not a single pretender or usurper to challenge its throne in the game industry. It currently stands alone; no Siphon Filter or Splinter Cell to its Metal Gear Solid, nor a single Saint’s Row to its Grand Theft Auto.

So why isn’t it cloned just like all the other key games? Publishers would point out sales as a reason, and fans would point out a lack of marketing; Shadow of the Colossus remains a very under the radar game with average sales, but diamond standard reviews.

Whether you like it or not, America is the father of the videogame industry today, even if Japan is the mother of it giving birth to the standard of gaming we’ve come to know and love since the NES, Master System days and the Atari 2600 before that. America is in a perpetual love affair withal things guns and its message is carried in basically all videogames it produces with them.

There isn’t just one golden carrot in the industry, but more like one for each genre. Yet because of the connection of killing strangers quickly and repeatedly over the internet the multiplayer golden carrot seems joint at the hip to the shooters figurative carrot. Maybe the next generation will usher in a new keystone game to mirror Final Fantasy VII’s success, unfortunately for those wanting innovation to give us something new we can only wait and see.   read

2:37 PM on 05.23.2011

L.A Noire Review: Spoiler Free Edition

L.A. Noire, the latest and greatest spectacular from Rockstar Games. Think you can make it as the big hotshot of the L.A.P.D. or will you crumble during questioning?

Things start of simple enough, as all your cases open up in the style of an old 1940’s movie with a catchy title. Your Patrolman Cole Phelps a former 1st lieutenant in the US Marine Corp. Who earned himself a Silver Star and sets off on his 1st day as a beat cop, your assignment is to help find a murder weapon some lazy homicide detectives don’t care to find. You don’t care though because you’re in it for the commendation, right?

The first few chapters or cases set up some story and background, and show Phelps hardcore commitment to the right side of the law. Finding evidence and clues, is the easy part of the game, and one of the more interesting parts of putting together a case. Yet you will learn a very valuable set of lessons when you play L.A. Noire’s interrogation/questioning part of the game.
You have a series of question, with a vague title listed in your case notebook, and ask, you get a half answer to which you are prompted to see if you believe what you’ve heard is either, the truth, a lie, or doubtful.

Phelps doesn’t do full measures, if he played poker every hand would be all-in, screw the consequences. This is where you ‘the mediator’ come in, as you have to read the facial tics, the body language, and the shifty eyes, to tell if they are telling you the truth, or lying, but if you think they are, every time you need evidence which proves they are lying. However if you believe you don’t either have evidence to back up Cole’s initial claim or their answer is obviously a lie but you have no proof, you doubt them. It’s simple in theory, but gets harder in some cases than others, some people are just born liars, or are so arrogant that you have nothing on them it can be hard to read them in some situations.
Outside of this, the streets of 1940’s L.A. have been meticulously recreated, with some obvious tweaks to benefit the game’s story. However beyond searching for very well hidden movie reels of actual films from the era, or discovering landmarks, there is nothing else to do outside of the cases, and a select handful of ‘random’ crimes. They aren’t random by any means and are only forty in total.

The issue is this is a game released under the brand that gave us GTA. Where random stuff is happening even if you don’t know it, to the point you even have a statistic to this effect. Random policemen chasing criminals, for whatever reason, if simply to convey L.A. wasn’t riddled with random crime, or paint the city in a bad light to some random real person who is crazy enough to think it’s not a videogame, there is little else for you to do once you reach that 100% rank, sure it will take well over forty hours to achieve, but it’s something that’s there.

Team Bondi used a new facial capture technique which will in the future aid the videogame industry in narrowing bridges between movies and games ever so closer, However it is a technology which is in need of heavy refinement. It’s a fantastic bit of kit, without a shadow of a doubt, but the size of the files it carries is insane for this current generation of consoles.

I’m sure if all this facial animation was to be produced in HD and put in game it would be eating gigs for breakfast, and even when highly compressed to the point faces appear highly pixelated and low grade on close inspection it takes some basic textural advances back years. An example is hair. The resolution is god awful from any distance, yet only last Year Red Dead Redemption had such a high level of detail and quality it was bordering real.

The argument here is obviously to save countless hours on animators that could never make faces lie like an actual one, I get that and it works, for certain distances, this appears flawless, but cinematic close-ups break the illusion and it looks barely no different than a rainbow six facial scan. It’s clearly a great new technological leap, but this is just its first step, and it’s a great one, but kinks show after sampling forty plus hours of it.

Also L.A Noire had two desks (fraud & burglary) removed from the final product possibly to hold back as DLC, and fobbed off as an excuse for reducing at least the Xbox 360 version from a whopping six discs, to three. But the issue is L.A is massive. And you spend a vast majority of your game time in half of this area, you’ll have a quick foray into main Hollywood, but this is where you will start to notice the small draw distance and pop up of trees, the blurry ‘HOLLYWOODLAND’ sign L.A. in my experience was just far too big of a sandbox to roam, with just a handful of collectibles.

L.A. Noire is a showcase for the tech, an interactive crime thriller movie you will want to experience, but held up to the likes of GTA and Red Dead Redemption, it doesn’t reach the heights, and it’s a shame that for some players there won’t be enough to hold them, and will be shelved or traded in after a week. This is an adult game handled with care in its story telling, taking things to a perfect limit that shouldn’t cause controversy, with superb acting by everyone involved.

If your after something different, and want to experience the future of videogames in five or ten years time, get in on the ground floor because Aaron Staton is going to take you on one hell of a journey through a corrupt L.A. and a World War II story like no other. You’d have to be a Mad Man to miss out.

Strengths & Weaknesses:
+ Opens a new gateway for movie actors to break into gaming
+ Playing the cop side in a Rockstar game is refreshing
+ Highly intriguing storyline
- Facial Capture Technology has limits
- Sandbox of L.A. too big vs. story content.
- Lack of free roam content

8/10   read

12:47 PM on 06.20.2010

An All-Time Top 20 List: Dusty Blog Edition

I have always caught myself saying something like, "This has to be one of my all time top XX games." But lately I wondered to myself, what is my all time top... whatever, just list them.

So I have, and found sticking to a top 10 is hard. Even now, I can sense some rough entries in the later areas simply for lack of not knowing what the game was. I also handcuffed myself to just one game per franchise, if it indeed had multipal entries. So below is my top 20 all time favourite games.

My Top 20 Best Games of All-Time:

#1 Panzer Dragoon Saga – Sega Saturn

Kidnapping the girl of the game, is possibly the main plot for a vast majority of games in some fashion or another, but in a sequence that last over 10 minutes to set the story and the goal of what you are trying to do, only for your character to be not only shot in the heart, and fall off a rope bridge into a mile deep chasm, is some serious player motivation. and while you may or not have died, something mystical heals you in the water. and he awakens. and later meets the dragon. then begins a 24-50 hour adventure RPG. Sure its awesome having a 100+ hour grind fest but PDS was no grind, and was just pure content. take away that final fantasy grind, and your left with something very simalar to PDS. However PDS did all of that. the graphics were the equivlent of spirits within for its time. and is the ONLY game I have ever played that ends entirely with a BAD ending. Them gameplay, the variations, the characters, and the grand bosses are legendary. This is the best game in the world to me and hardly a soul has played it. So we need a full remake without any directors cut crap released on 360 and ps3, or at minimum a digital download for XBLA,PSN and VC.

#2 Shadow of the Colossus – Playstation 2

A game with no minion enemies, just bosses. How this works I can never quite fathom, but it does. Not only does it make its realism, well real. When you meet the colossai for the first time your eyes just widen. Probably a worldwide pick for '#1 games are art' debates but the twist is just so amazing, tacked onto a picture perfect game with the most awesome gameplay you will ever come to know, SOTC is a masterpiece in everyway, its just flawless.

#3 Red Dead Redemption – Xbox 360

Sure I was initally sucked in by the PR videos, but I like GTA games, and this felt like GTA meets Fallout (once the land begins healing) and While I think its still to fresh to be spoiling the ending. I will just say I love revenge story's and this is the current pinnacle of revenge plotlines.

#4 Skies of Arcadia – Dreamcast

Only one thing beats my love of a Hitman game, and its an epic storyline, that is filled with gameplay, has that revenge element, and that twist you never saw coming. Skies had all of that in some way or another, and the rollercoaster ride it was from flying pirate ships, to just a journey around a sunken planet was a treat, from the islands, the characters, or the story itself. Arcadia to me is the second best SEGA game ever made and if I worked for SEGA I would make this one of my top 5 priorties for making a genuine sequel too.

#5 Hitman: Blood Money – Xbox 360

Hitman has been all over the place, people found it too hard, too easy, controls too fiddly. So when its controls are perfect, its difficulty is just perfect, and its story is based around 47's funeral, and is the end to the Hitman series (so your supposed to be lead to thinking) and that credit sequence rolls only for you to wake up and have another level to do in an ever more badass suit, coupled with its tease of an ending. I can't help but make this the best in the series and want the next one as soon as inhumanly possible.

#6 Fallout 3 – Xbox 360

337 hours... 349 saves... but I wouldn't trade a second for Fawkes, the walking battletank. He always wins, and can take a super behemoth in a minute flat. I'm just glad he is on my side. So when Bethesda threw in all those DLC's with point lookout being my favorite of the lot I can't help but love this game. it quite literally is Elder Scrolls with guns, and has a selection of swords that can mean you can play it that way if you must. then through in that stealth suit, which was like a digital wetdream, as my prefered playtype is the sneaky thief I was away.

#7 Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – Playstation

Simply the best Castlevania ever made. not only did you have to do the castle, you had to do it a second time, but inverted. so it is quiet the shock to the system when you find the inverted castle is so cleverly thought out as the original it becomes a masterpiece of inginuity. If that was not enough past completion you then had the choice to do the entire thing over again, but as Richter Belmont. It was just a classic game that kept on giving, and was full of secrets, and ways in which to break sequence.

#8 Left 4 Dead – Xbox 360

You know what I don't hate? I don't hate Francis or Left 4 Dead. However I was very close to manufacturing a 'Bill ninja'd my medpack' t-shirt so I was elated when I discovered he died in the passing. But I can't figure out why I love the original over the much improved sequel. maybe it was the initial experience, or it was just more fun in tighter corridors when playing versus. Or laughing my head off down a headset when I reached the very first saferoom in 30-40 seconds and the enemy team is wondering 'where's the fourth one?' when ythe rest of my team is on the roof. All I know is there are engrained experiences I will never forget doing expert to completion with my friends on this one.

#9 Demon’s Souls – Playstation 3

I always imagined what would Diablo 2 be like if it was a 3D adventure, Demon;'s is that answer. I was so disappointed with the reveal of Diablo 3 as a top down game I almost felt my heartbreak. Sure back in the day it made sense, but with the leaps and bounds games have come since Diablo 2, I felt a 'meh' reaction. So When my mate introduced me to Demon's Souls I lost like four months in what felt like a week and a half and a level 300+ character that yawned at dragons with the damage I could inflict. Over a year and a half later I still get this constant itch to play the game (I had the import version one month after the asian release) Theres always something to do, or something I want to try. just because you killed a boss with magic, doesn't mean to say you cant retry on another playthrough with arrows, or that new super sword you crafted.

#10 Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind – Xbox

Oblivion was awesome I will always remember those brotherhood missions, however I got Oblivion thanks to Morrowind, but Morrowind clearly did it better, spells that made you fly, and could bombard enemies from above, the ability to steal some of the top class armour in the game five minutes in, if you knew where or how. and watching your own in game house being built exclusively for you over months of ingame days was a treat. and for me at one point I noticed Oblivion treading over simalar ground to morrowind and the gods. But I will always remember the raining hellfire I was able to cause. this game sucked up so much time from plotline, to side missions, to no point at all other than to raid and loot crap sections that were just there for the hell of it. If this game ever came out as a console MMO, I might as well be declared dead.

#11 Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater – Playstation 2

While I am probably the one of the biggest Liquid Snake fans, adore the original to death, Snake Eater had both story I felt on par with the original MGS, but I found myself an even bigger fan of eyepatches and bikini girls in overalls. So adding a realistic healing system, what felt like the longest Metal Gear in terms of gameplay, took you over several variations of terrain that stopped only when it felt nessicary, with a story that was revenge over betrayal. A james bond intro with the only song I've ever heard make tree frogs sound epic, and then that 'interactive ending' meant it would always be in my memory. then came my introduction to speedrunning games shaving 12 hours, to 2:49. became an addictive pass time for me.

#12 Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic - Xbox

EIGHT!! Completions. Either I loved HK-47 so much I could listen to him for hours, or the Reven reveal was the gamer equivlent of original movie-goers finding out Vader was Luke's father I couldn't stop, I didn't want it to end.

#13 Super Mario Bros 3 - NES

3D Mario sucks ass, sorry it just does. So not only do I have to go with the best 2D Mario ever made, it is a bench mark for 2D Mario's for all time.

#14 Burning Rangers – Sega Saturn

Name me one other game about Fire fighting that does suck ass!, Burning Rangers is the only one I know of that felt extremely original, fun, and gave you that after thought respect towards real fire fighters.

#15 Devil May Cry 2 – Playstation 2

DMC 1 was ok, but a bit on the hard side for me, DMC 2 however it felt the same, but Dante looked cooler, and the diffculty wasn't tweaked but felt you genuinely had a sword and guns, rather than a popsicle stick and nerf guns, so much so I was able to master every difficulty after barely scrapping through hard mode in DMC 1 and subsequant DMC's. It felt like the perfect balance, and Dante' shrugged off the exact same attack that crippled Kratos ;) You just know Dante would infuriate Kratos to the point his head explodes with rage.

#16 Diablo II - PC

Dear Blizzard, Please can I half my teen years back please, while your game was/is freakin awesome, I barely remember school and then one day having a 2 foot long beard.

#17 Deus Ex - PC

JC Denton, I could listen to that guys voice actor spew conspiracy theories for hours! and even though it has its attrocious moments. This was the first and only FPS RPG I knew about, and with multipal ending to achieve; I lost so many hours to this, and its Xbox sequel, which was good but had its moment when it was like playing the matrix, before the matrix existed.

#18 The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess - Wii

When it comes to Zelda games, I'm a hater. The story hasn't changed since I was a kid, and it infuriates me Nintendo haven't come up with anything new, its always Ganon in the end, and you always win. However the gameplay is flawlessly fun, you pick up a controller to play a zelda game and you lose hours, and seeming Twilight Princess was the more mature graphic setting, and at least Tried to fool you in think it wasn't ganon, it became my favourite. OOT is second incase your wondering.

#19 Resident Evil 2 - Playstation

Everyone can remember the original doberman through the window, and the atrocious voice acting, but its original is a classic. However for me Resident Evil 2 is the best in the series for me, not only did it have up to 4 possible replays, and two different takes on the story, I somehow broke through a barrier, and felt that gaming god moment when I beat each senario in just over an hour, and remember one particular Claire run at 58 minutes and change.

#20 Shadowman - Dreamcast

Probably the hardest pick, as alot of games, could fill this slot, for me, but Shadowman was a combination of Tomb Raider, Manhunt, Legacy of Kain and much more. It had a bit of everything and some decent voice acting for the time. Then throw in the hundred hour gameplay I remember racking up in a single playthrough to get 100%, it stands up higher than the rest for me.

Clearly not everyone will agree, and be like where the hell is Game x, y or z on that list? Well for a start, it's my list; however if you feel inspired awesome.   read

7:14 AM on 11.02.2009

The Decline of Playtime: Rise of Marketing Edition

This issue, if indeed it can even be considered as such has been bugging me for a number of years, and I feel a recent need to address it before it falls off the map completely in my mind.
Today games are a mass market success dwarfing both movies and music in terms of sales, and revenue return. While I understand and accept the way gaming is going, I have noticed ever so slowly a massive change in the way games are played in the last twenty years. Maybe this is a development of maturity in gamers, in a literal sense, and being young you are restricted to your parents purse strings, or an amount of pocket money limiting what you spend those funds on, which maybe the case, still and I am now experiencing effects of a more aware and non restrictive cash flow.

But back in the late 1980’s I was playing my NES enjoying everything I could get my hands on from Shadow Warriors [Ninja Gaiden in the US], to New Zealand Story, Mario, Mega Man, Bad Dude Vs Dragonninja Duck tales, Rescue Rangers, to Jackie Chan’s Adventures. I loved my NES and these handful of games lasted me nearing on a decade. With swapping games with friends to play things like festers quest, batman titles and castlevania games. A lot of my life has consciously and sub consciously affected my life to which I don’t regret, nor apologise for.
Today these games are retrospectively criticised by James Rolfe as the AVGN via ScrewAttack and GameTrailers to which by todays standard do, “suck donkey dick”. But these were times when games were so vast in new IP’s it was rare for a sequel to be seen, and some sequels were so god awful you could hardly advance through stage one - case and point being Double Dragon III. Still this small handful of titles ended up lasting me over a decade. You’d spend month’s endlessly replaying titles with awful text translations you wouldn’t care about and find highly addictive.

Skip forward a few generations and some wannabe consoles, and you have a massive leap in game technology, which gave birth to devil spawn, sure they slightly existed before in the Nintendo versus SEGA console war but it was truly about the games offered. Nothing changed until Sony came to play and eventually gave us Final Fantasy VII and spawned the ‘Fanboy’. Before gaming had arguments which is better but until FF7 turned up there was nothing to be seen like the diehard elitism from these people, you would find them everywhere, at the time it couldn’t be deciphered too well till it came down to people just being gay for Sephiroth and Cloud or just wanting his babies if you were willing and able.

But before I distract myself with console war arguments, people were playing a different array of games almost twice as short as before. What would be six months of almost endless fun and gameplay and accessibility was being shortened, in truth this Playstation, Saturn, N64 era was the pinnacle of the RPG game. Never would it be so successful again. As it is a time when kids and other gamers are able to play as endlessly as they did before and clock up masses of time. Collecting items and defeating foes in turn based combat. While my time with FF7 was limited due to my lack of a PSX I did complete it from start to finish in an epic 47 hour gameplay session at a friend’s house sleeping over his place just to complete it.

The average was just three months of playtime per game before it collected dust, or was sold if you were so inclined. While the gameplay was dropping there was only a small insignificant dip in new IP’s which are going strong it wouldn’t be until SEGA dropped out of the console race would new IP development drop fast as light travels.

While the game Industry goes through a lot of changes as it develops to be the massive cultural phenomenon it is today, the precursor to what we have today being mainly thanks to SEGA and Phantasy Star Online, which after its retreat from console hardware development, was continued by Microsoft when it threw its hat in quite rightly after its domination of the PC market (to the point the Supreme Court was concerned about its dominance.) and gave us the Xbox.

During this last generation of gaming, I first started noticing that between games on the Xbox and Playstation 2, and remakes of Resident Evil, and new Mario and Zelda titles on the Cube, the amount of time I as a gamer was spending was drastically decreasing not because I was losing interest, but more because there was something new coming. I think while there was a decent amount of time to play ever title I wanted it wasn’t until the end of the cycle yet before the Current Gen titles came out was I skipping between games more frequently.

Now this argument if you will comes to a head with the Christmas Line up of games of 2007. This is a time when every anticipated title read in magazines, seen online from mid 2006, through spring and summer of 2007 are going to release. To a hardcore lifetime gamer such as myself you will have spent anywhere from £200 to £600. With a host of games with some released on the same day, or a week between title releases, while you would have the subsequent drought of January, February, and march of 2008 to play these titles over, it was daunting in a time where the gamer is no longer to blame for time spent, but the marketing companies behind all these titles, pushing players to buy these titles, and buy them now because all your friends will be playing them now, not in three months time.

Marketing is the be all and end all of a product. While post release date the future of a franchise or game depends entirely on the quality of the title itself, everything pre-release is what drives though sales, it used to be magazines and word of mouth, which was a great time, but sadly the time of having Sir Patrick Moore as the GamesMaster giving out cheats and tips, hosted by Dominic Diamond every week, which is another article and another time. But is Marketing effecting how long you play games now? Maybe you don’t even know you are doing it? Maybe you thought you will play a bit of modern warfare 2 this year but focus on assassins creed 2, and mass effect 2 and have modern warfare 2 for the rest of the year. Fap – leave a comment, maybe you had a similar thought on this.   read

6:59 AM on 11.02.2009

Christmas Game Battle: Pretty Pictures Edition

It’s nearly here. The Christmas Holiday Game Battle! Who will win out? The Military under the guise of Modern Warfare 2? The Creed of Assassin’s? Or will a horde of zombie’s end up eating them alive?

It’s Well established Modern Warfare 2 has had the media coverage behind it, add a mass of fanboy’s willing to commit martyrdom in the games defence and people hypnotised by TV ads etc and it confirms its self as the winner, we all know this but the question was never who would win, it’s a by how far will they win? Let’s find out...

Assassin’s Creed has no fear unlike other titles in the face of Modern Warfare 2 because it did battle with Modern Warfare before and people while praising the amount of publicity Ubisoft gave their new franchise in aid of it selling well using the now President of Ubisoft Montreal’s Jade Raymond, attention and sales went well to Assassin’s Creed and the sales numbers spoke for themselves and shocked a lot of people. It’s gameplay was solid and very well refined. However it fell into some bad habits with its mission structure and this was Assassin’s Creed’s biggest issue with many gamers. While niggling issues other than this pertained it was by far one of the biggest criticisms of the game.

Assassin’s Creed II has fixed the biggest issues of the game changing its mission structure from its previous predictable linearity to a freeflow mission structure, while some missions may begin like previously they by no means end the same, and on some occasions change, to the point doing so forfeit’s your advantage from an early assassination, or by ignoring it means you will go poor on another occasion because you chose to ignore a thief. Assassin’s Creed II has more of its finer details, in the details. From Ezio’s attire to the landscape’s themselves having real life landmarks. If a title was going to win an award for most Improved, Assassin’s Creed II would most likely win it.
Which brings us on to the hit title of 2008; Left 4 Dead.

Valve is renowned for their long development cycles and hard work, and more recently their dedication to their user base supporting both the *lover’s and hater’s* when it comes to Left 4 Dead. So it comes as quite a shock for many people that Left 4 Dead see’s a sequel in Left 4 Dead 2 in what will be just under one year. New location’s, new graffiti, new weapons, even new zombie types. Left 4 Dead 2 is ticking all the basic requirements for this sequel, along with improving upon previous model’s of the horde for a new slimier zombie horde with easier chances of dismemberment, to a more technically advanced AI Director.

Left 4 Dead has the most technically sound multiplayer ever put in a videogame so far, with Left 4 Dead 2 simply building on this with the two B’s ‘ Bigger & Better’ and it delivers well, with a pre-release demo out to those who pre-ordered and very soon to those who haven’t it should make some decide which side of the fence they will drop on, the question is will it’s glory of last year be enough to maintain a similar or better sales record, or will the previous experience of therapy seeking lonewolves be too much? Or have they adapted to work as a team long enough to survive the masses of the zombie horde?

Terrorism... N00b... and too many cursewords and racial remarks including some you never even knew about, and hordes of pre-pubescent gamers playing a 18/M rated game their dumbass parents went out and bought them clueless to what content is on the disc will be over this like fruit bat’s over a fresh crop of mango trees. While this isn’t anything to do with Infinity Ward, or Activision. It most certainly is a by-product of success, and for gaming it smells like money and unwashed thirteen year olds.

With that unsightly public sanity announcement out the way, Modern Warfare’s success comes from a developer listening to the public outcry of, ‘Enough with the World War 2 games already!’ because if you need a history lesson on first person shooters pre-Modern Warfare, the amount of shooters based on world war 2 feels like it’s touching triple figures. Medal of Honour, Call of Duty, Brother’s in arms, Hidden & Dangerous, and many more franchises, spawning more sequels based on world war 2 scenarios than third world country families have children to help with farming, was getting out of hand, people barely kept their sanity with Tom Clancy titles like, Rainbow Six, and Ghost Recon. While they weren’t amazing back on their first outing, and weren’t the only modern war based first person shooters out there, they were few and far between.

So when Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was shown back in E3 2007. The video was of All Ghillied Up, then as soon as your commander moved in the grass the press gave a booming round of applause and the rest ended up being history with both gamers, and press. Modern Warfare was going to sell well no matter what but putting it in a modern climate with a modern selection of guns and using the world’s best known special operation’s team the S.A.S. along with the US marines meant it would sell across both sides of the pond.

Now the sequel is on the horizon, with more guns, perks, and modes than you can shake a stick at. Infinity Ward went all out with promotion, and development making two teams, one for single player, and another for multiplayer. Meaning the king that defeated Master Chief and took his Multiplayer Crown is about to retain its crown with customised kill streaks and death streaks, gun load outs and perks galore.

Let’s hope they can conquer the beast of infinite spawning enemies and phantom grenades with structured battles this time. But this year’s battle will begin with round after round of gun fire, then one week later followed by stealth assassinations and rampaging horde of those who have fallen wanting revenge.

This year’s Christmas rush has learned from its 2007 counterpart that too many titles grabbing for the domination of sales isn’t worth the hit in sales and moved out. But the new question remains, have they left it long enough for or did they forget about Christmas morning? Sure sales will go crazy with gamers, and parents buying the games, but while some will be sedated, others have to wait until Christmas day to get their hands on these titles, and it looks like Mass Effect 2 is first in the firing line of the post-Christmas madness.

Personally I question if those that pulled out of Christmas release after delaying a late summer / fall release in aid of getting a Christmas sales boost, then pulling out yet again , (yeah I’m looking at you Splinter Cell: Conviction) to avoid the shadow of Modern Warfare 2 will actually benefit the game or not. Only time and our pockets can tell.   read

6:34 AM on 11.02.2009

GTA The Ballad of Gay Tony Review: Shirley Bassey Edition

Tony Prince a.k.a Gay Tony is Liberty City’s top gay and straight nightclub owner, and is about to get himself involved in a diamond deal, and things aren’t going to go well for him. So it’s your job as Luis Lopez the game’s protagonist to get your boss out of these situations. Unlike previous GTA outing’s where some missions are farfetched it soon dawns on you the situations you end up in could be quite explainable when it comes back to your boss – Gay Tony. While the story is refined and great new additions are added you won’t be able to access old clothing stores for new apparel or visit the comedy clubs to see the digital versions of Frankie Boyle, Kat Williams or Ricky Gervais as you could previously in the lost and the damned. It seems you are given a lot of brand new content at the sacrifice of old content, which is quite a shame as it seems somewhat inconvenient to load up an old save to do a particular mini game you want to play because you are restricted. It’s a shame but its the very first negative thing one will most likely notice. With this out the way the things you are given to replace what is lost are bigger and better with a focus one ‘Extravagance’.

The Ballad of Gay Tony [TBoGT] gives you dancing, dance-offs, drinking games, golf, illegal cage fighting, and that old san Andreas favourite base jumping. While most of these provide a handful of achievements to them, some don’t but add some funny consequences. From drinking too much and finding yourself in the middle of a lake, or half way up a skyscraper, personally how Luis ends up in half the places he does after consuming too much alcohol seems like a mini adventure all of their own. Dancing provides its own non-complex mini game, where if you dance well enough you can turn the entire dance floor into a line dance of modern dance, using QTE’s to pull some nice moves off, and even getting into American Pie style dance off’s with cliché gay men with equally hilarious motives.

Once Tony calls you up because he has finally gotten himself into too much trouble you begin to meet some of Liberty City’s shadier character’s from more Russia mobsters, to a crazy Iranian businessman with literally more money than sense, voiced by the hilarious comedian Omid Jalili, who’s character Yusef Amin has previously been talked about in the GTA storyline but never seen until now, with gold cars, and even taking a new chopper called the buzzard and turning that gold too. Brucie also makes a surprising comeback this time with some sibling rivalry with some missions, along with multiple cameo’s by other GTA IV staple characters.

Luis Lopez unlike some previous GTA characters you play as has a lot of background work attached to him, with his past catching up to him in his old neighbourhood, to his out of town family shown in pictures and email at the local tw@ internet cafes, to old friends who are a card short of a full deck, and using their street knowledge get the card for them and make a tidy sum of money helping them set up a lucrative drug empire.

Rockstar Games have been very well known for pushing boundaries and breaking them in some cases, but if the news got all a flutter about one 2 second nude scene in Mass Effect TBoGT is the videogame equivalent of the Karma Sutra, you can literally end up having a sexual encounter two minutes into the game along with more graphic encounters later in the game. This is one piece of DLC definitely establishing itself to an 18+ market and something that if you let your kids play can be fully laid at the parent’s feet.

With TBoGT being the final piece of DLC and the send off party for Liberty City it is a good one, with more new weapons to get your hands on, and is a access all areas pass to the sex, drugs and Shirley Bassey of the nightlife scene controlled by Tony Prince, this packs in about thirty hours of solid gameplay with story and mini games to play first time around. While this review focuses on the final content of GTA IV if you missed The Lost and The Damned you should consider buying the disc version of GTA: Episodes from Liberty City as not only will you get the other side to the story, you will also get a extra radio station for TBoGT in the shape of Vice City FM.

If you didn’t like GTA IV because it wasn’t San Andreas, you may now need to reconsider GTA IV as a valid update as while it doesn’t have a jet pack, it has everything else and more in what can truly be called the true experience of Liberty City with Niko, Johnny and Luis this is a city just too big with history for one point of view. Rockstar have painted a great picture and no matter where the console GTA game goes next, you can guarantee they will have their finger on the pulse of society and give you a gritty comedic experience the only Rockstar Games can deliver.   read

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