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Crackdown Review | A Cracking Sandbox Superhero Playpen

Author:
Felix Kemp
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Action Games, Crackdown, Games reviews, Xbox 360 games
Discuss:
Xbox 360

Crackdown_logo

Launching myself into the air, I leap across the chasm between two Pacific City high-rises, spraying a clip from my machine-gun at the assembled goons below. They simply gape as I plummet from the air, crashing into their midst, before unfurling and letting fly with a devastating roundhouse kick. The unfortunate recipient cartwheels off the rooftop. I mop up the rest by placing an explosive charge on the floor and clicking the detonator.

Explosive is an apt summary of Crackdown. Not just in reference to the range of possibilities in which you can make things explode, but the general experience itself. It's a concussive, free-form exploration of what is possible when you plunk a player in a wide open space and release their restraints. But with a rich legacy to live up to - Dave Jones, creative director, designed Lemmings and the first Grand Theft Auto - is Crackdown a leap forward or a stumbling step back?

Welcome To Pacific City, Agent

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The premise of Crackdown is simple; Pacific City, a once glorious and peaceful metropolis, is in a three-way struggle for power. On the one hand, you have Los Muertos, a ruthless cabal of gun-toting criminals controlling a specific portion of the city. On the other, the Volk, a formidable Eastern European force ruling over the city's industrial district. And finally, Shai Gen, a rich and well-equipped faction overseeing matters from their luxurious high-rise towers.

Click here to read more on Crackdown

Gears of War 2 Review: Whoa, Dude!

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Action Games, Games reviews, Gears of War 2, Xbox 360 games
Discuss:
Xbox 360

gears 2 logoPlatform: Xbox 360 (reviewed)

Developer: Epic Games

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

Gears of War was one of the most important and critically-acclaimed new IPs on the Xbox 360... and with true Microsoft exclusives slowly grinding into a bottleneck, Gears of War 2 needs to deliver. After years of desperate defence and retreat, the Coalition of Ordered Governments are finally ready to bring the fight to the Locust's home turf; which means that Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad are headed deeper underground to cut the head from the alien menace once and for all. There's a lot riding on this one- and I'm not going to sugar coat it. In technical terms, harnessing the entire lexicon provided by the ancient and venerable English language, Gears of War 2 is kickass.

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Whoa, dude.

It's an interactive summer blockbuster that chainsaws the pants off of everything that Michael Bay's put out there; delivering big budget thrills that simply don't leave you room to catch your breath. One moment you'll be desperately defending a hospital against marauding locusts... and before you know it, Fenix and Co are hurtling through the Earth in a subterranean drop pod or boosting a massive tank over improbably large chasms. And just when you think that things are slacking off, then you'll cut the heart out of a worm that's could comfortably swallow Greater London. Everything about Gears 2 is gleefully, ridiculously, wonderfully and unashamedly OTT- and makes it as fun to watch as it is to play. This is also partly due to the fact that the improved Unreal engine delivers some of the finest console graphics of this current generation.

Whoa.

Dude... whoa!

In terms of gameplay, Gears 2 provides a natural evolution of its predecessor. You'll still use a combination of cover tactics and intelligent flanking to best your enemies, but a new control scheme (that I heartily recommend you adopt) makes everything a lot crisper and sharper this time around. A new selection of weapons  (such as a vicious automatic pistol, poison grenades and a hilariously powerful mortar) epic additions to your arsenal Some of the old classics have been retooled, including an scoped Hammerburst and sticky grenades that can be attached to walls and enemies. And of course, the Lancer's still around to deliver mid-range domination and brutal, beautiful chainsaw takedowns.

WHOA! Sorry, dude!

WHOA! Sorry, dude!

Speaking of takedowns, I do need to expand on the new executions. I love me some filthy ultraviolence from time to time- and Gears of War 2 introduces a new downed but not out mechanic that shakes things up even further. Enemies can be brought to their knees and revived by their allies... but instead of just putting them out of their misery, you've got the choice of curb stomps, quick executions or a lengthy cinematic coup-de-grace that'll force you to look at your guns in an entirely different way. Did you know that the Longshot sniper rifle has a handy backup use as a golf club, for example?

You've got all this new gear for a reason. Enemies attack in greater numbers and increased intelligence (especially on tougher difficulty levels)- and some new arrivals will put you through your places. Kantus priests can resurrect their allies, voracious Bloodmounts elevate their riders even as they void your cover and several new boomer variants wield a selection of horrific mounted guns. Killing them grants you access to the mulcher- a delicious mini turret that provides the user with cover whilst raining death onto the... sorry, I'm back on the boomsticks again. Focus, Jon.

Dude! Whoa!

Whoa! Dude?

The pacing is much more varied than last time around. As well as a greater mix of open environments and tight arenas, Gears 2 throws a number of unfamiliar and thoroughly enjoyable new gameplay experiences at the player. You can almost hear Cliffy B and the Epic dev team excitedly high fiving, fist-pounding and chest bumping with each new addition to the franchise.

Bored of sticking to cover? Fine, why not protect a massive landcrawler from grappling boarders and ravaging Brumaks! Corridor-crawling getting you down? Okay then, get in a tank and rag it across an icefield while artillery pounds the ground from underneath you! Bored of keeping your boots on terra firma? Cool, let's get you airborne...on a Reaver! Yeeeah, boi!

Okay, so my mental image of the Epic offices are clearly embarrassingly unrealistic, but you get the idea.

Dude, whoa!

DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUDE!!!

The campaign does choke every once in a while. A frankly ill-advised timed obstacle section inside a massive oesophagus provides several scoops of frustration thanks to the clunky Roadie Run mechanic; and an odd horror-themed level slows things down to an unsatisfying crawl. A couple of weak attempts at boss battles also let the side down. What's more, some deeply personal and emotional plot lines occasionally leap into the spotlight. These moments are surprisingly tender and well-handled, but they feel disjointed and inappropriate considering the fist-pumping testosterone-fueled background. Oh, and don't expect any closure. Gears 2 bring up myriad new questions without providing any answers whatsoever. Vexing.

Dude. DUDE! Whoa.

Dude. DUDE! Whoa.

So, the singleplayer is undeniably good fun... but that's only half of the package. Gears of War multiplayer revolved around small teams and intimate maps- and though the scale has slightly increased, it's pretty much the same fare this time around. Five-player matches and new gametypes slightly increase the size of the battles (including a hilarious new capture the flag variant that replaces a cloth on a pole with an ornery shotgun toting outcasts)... but unfortunately, Gears 2 also includes all the nasty niggles that crippled the original- plus a whole lot more.

I've seen host advantage. Massive crippling lag. Poorly implemented matchmaking. Bad weapon balance. More glitches than I could comfortably handle. It's especially infuriating because the multiplayer is actually a lot of fun, but is effectively neutered by some easily-correctible technical issues. Epic had better get on the case and get this sorted. Now.

Whoa, stop lagging dude!

Whoa dude, stop lagging!

Update: The recent patches have sharpened up most of GOW2's multiplayer problems. It's still not perfect, but at least it's consistently playable.

Luckily, Gears 2 comes with a multiplayer ace that's sure to become a staple of the genre. Horde Mode allows four Gears to team up and work together to defeat increasingly-difficult waves of enemies, using an addictive scoring mechanic and lives system to keep track of player progress. The improved AI makes for a tense and unpredictable experience that demands close team tactics and a fair amount of trust to succeed. Friends will be made and lost forever on the Horde maps, mark my words.

Pros:

  • Sharp, varied combat with some amazing kills
  • More fun than most blockbuster movies... even to watch
  • Probably some of the best graphics to ever grace a home console.

Cons:

  • Terrible boss 'battles'
  • No answers... just many more questions
  • Glitchy, embarrassing multiplayer. Fix it, Epic! Fix it!

The Short Version: Gears 2 is brash, unashamedly OTT, vulgar and beautiful; delivering blockbuster thrills that don't let up for the duration. You'll laugh, you'll cry... and you'll find it difficult to resist being swept up in the rampant spectacle of it all. Occasionally ropey design choices and a staggering selection of technical multiplayer issues sometimes rear their ugly heads- but if you own a 360, consider this a killer app.

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Too Human Review | Too Little, Too Late

Author:
Felix Kemp
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Action Games, Games reviews, Role playing game, Too Human, Xbox 360 games
Discuss:
Xbox 360

too-human-logo

First announced in 1999 as a four-disc extravaganza on the Playstation, only the Duke has hopped more eras and platforms than Too Human. Silicon Knight's ambitious epic is now upon us, with the first game given the unenviable task of setting up a trilogy of titles the studio - and Microsoft, who've invested millions - expect can rival Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings saga.

But with its long gestation period, it's constant story and setting adjustments and an even a multi million dollar lawsuit, can Too Human buck the bad omens and deliver on Silicon Knight's hype? Or is it simply a case of too little, too late?

Beowulf Runner

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In Too Human's universe, the Norse gods exist. Thor, Loki, Odin, you name it. Only instead of mythical beings, they're cybernetically-enhanced humans with powers no mortal can fathom. In the Scandinavian myths, Baldur is the god of peace. In Too Human, however, he's a cybernetic badass with a big sword, two pistols that fire razor glass and facial scars that glow a lovely shade of blue.

What I can't fault Too Human for is imagination. It's simply overflowing with wonderful techno subversions on traditional Norse mythology. Take, for instance, Mimir, who in the myths is a knowledgeable figure who is eventually decapitated. In the game, he's a severed head kept alive by cybernetic implants who acts as an almost Cortana-esque adviser. Or the Norns, who are a Norse analogue to the Greek Fates, observing the past, present and future. They're renamed the N.O.R.Ns (Non Organic Rational Nano Systems) in the game and track events in cyberspace.

The only problem is, while the story and setting are sumptuously detailed and imaginative, the plot itself is pretty bad and the dialogue is awful. Baldur is a boring, brooding warrior with an arms' length of bad one-liners. Thor is an annoying oaf, Mimir a whining tag-along and even Loki, the god of mischief and Too Human's principle antagonist, is just yet another sneering, snide villain. I won't ruin the plot for you, however, as it takes some interesting twists and turns, but the overall reaction to it is decidedly underwhelming.

Too Many Ideas

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With Too Human, Silicon Knights boldly proclaimed they'd merged the hack and slash stylings of the action-adventure genre with the loot grinding of an old-school RPG. Sounds fantastic, right? Imagine, whizzing around as Baldur, carving up robotic adversaries who reward you with all manner of new weapons, armor pieces and upgrades. It also featured an original take on combat, with the analogue sticks employed instead of the traditional face-buttons, a flick here and a flick there hurling Baldur across the screen in a flurry of swipes and slashes.

The problem is, Too Human isn't sure what game it wants to be at times, and the overall system crumbles under the weight of too many half-baked ideas. Take, for example, the combat; on the one hand, you can flick enemies in the air and chain attacks without touching the ground. On the other, however, it's difficult to properly target particular foes, it lacks considerable depth and just isn't as visceral or engaging as pounding the face buttons, however mindless that may be.

Then you have the RPG elements, which fare a little better. You can pick from five classes; the Champion, the Defender, the Commando, the Bio Engineer and the Bezerker. Each cater to a particular play-style, be it the melee wonders of the Bezerker or the ranged efficiency of the Commando. As an RPG, Too Human isn't bad, with a robust upgrading system and generous looting. However, it just doesn't gel with the combat, which is too comparatively simplistic, resulting in a mixed bag of offerings.

Too Dated

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I apologize for the headings. I'm only human, too. But I digress. In 2005, Silicon Knights purchased Epic's Unreal Engine 3 to power all their upcoming projects. But when the development kits arrived late, resulting in a disastrous showing at E3, the team abandoned UE3 and began work on a brand new engine from scratch. Too Human had already been in development for six years, and now another two were to be added on.

As a result, a slew of features once promised had to be cut, and the overall game, while at times polished, is a little rough around the edges. It has a terrific art style, blending the stonework of Norse ruins with the techno stylings of cyberpunk. The score is epic and bombastic, the characters, while stiffly animated and poorly voiced, look the part as cybernetic gods.

But I can't help ruing the loss of the once championed four-player co-op, reduced to a stilted two player option which really doesn't live up to its potential. And the lauded camera system, which is controlled by an AI director that chooses appropriate angles to dramatically pitch stages and scenes, just isn't up to scratch. Too Human had so much promise, but just couldn't deliver.

Pros:

  • A terrific take on Norse mythology
  • Deep, robust RPG options
  • Analogue-stick combat is interesting...

Cons:

  • ... But also unwieldy and simplistic
  • Poor story and characterization
  • A slew of cut or poorly executed features

The Short Version: Too Human is a cybernetic action romp with a great take on Norse mythology. It suffers from an over-abundance of ideas the team simply can't pull off, and the long wait and numerous controversies don't help matters one bit. For fans of old-school dungeon crawlers it has its appeal, but for those of us looking for the perfect mash-up of the RPG and action-adventure genres, we have to be content to wait.
score06

The Darkness Review | Be Afraid Of The Dark

Author:
Felix Kemp
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
First person shooter, Games reviews, PS3 games, The Darkness, Xbox 360 games
Discuss:
Playstation 3 | Xbox 360

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I'm a little perturbed by how much fun it is too raid a corpse for its blood-oozing heart. Once again, I watch in fascination as my grinning demon tendril lunges into yet another gunned down goon's chest, re-emerging with the glistening red organ to chow down on. It can't be healthy. And yet Starbreeze Entertainment, who developed the terrific Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, genuinely encourage corpse-looting. It should be featured on the back of the box.

Handling yet another licensed property, can Starbreeze strike gold again? Or is this a case of second time unlucky?

Death Does Not Become You

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Jackie Estacado isn't having a great birthday. On the run from the law and then targeted for assassination by his own mob boss, Jackie discovers he's inherited a particularly demonic gift from his forefathers; the Darkness, a bloodthirsty entity that gifts him supernatural powers and abilities, but potentially at the cost of his mortal soul.

As if that matters when you're on the run from gun-toting mafia henchman. Already a capable hitman, his murderous instincts having been nurtured by former father figure, Uncle Paulie, who now wants him dead, Jackie finds the Darkness a frightening but otherwise beneficial partnership. But when tragedy strikes and Jackie takes his own life, he discovers the true nature of the Darkness and seeks to rid himself of the curse.

Like Butcher Bay, The Darkness takes a very cinematic - and bloody - route to to its storytelling, with Starbreeze pulling no punches in their gritty take on the already dark comic. Jackie is a strong, sympathetic lead, with Kirk Acevedo of Oz fame in top form. Faith No More's Mike Patton lends his twisted talents to the Darkness, and the rest of the cast is terrifically voiced and animated, with Starbreeze capturing each actor's lines and actions at once, in a process dubbed 'vo-capping'. Very snazzy.

Creeping Dark

The Darkness - Dead Bloke

To begin with, Jackie is simply a cunning and skilled hitman. Proficient with most firearms - especially a few pistols hefted in both hands - he's still just a man of flesh and bone, susceptible to all the same mortal undoings. But once he is possessed by the Darkness, Jackie finds a few new tricks at his disposal. For one, he can impale and swat aside goons with a fang-grinning demon arm. Or he can summon a cheeky - and by cheeky, I mean homicidal - Darkling, which comes in a variety of flavors, to set on hapless enemies.

Jackie's powers depend on light, and namely the lack of it. Starbreeze's engine is adept at showing of multiple light-sources, but their true purpose isn't simply cosmetic. Shoot out a bulb or have your demon arm shatter a lamppost and your powers increase tenfold. However, out in the bright open, the Darkness is nullified. You must remove all ambient light or stick to the shadows if you wish to revel in the Darkness' true might.

And it's fun to batter folks with a well-placed slap from a demon arm or send a Darkling off to maul a crooked cop, Jackie is still a capable gunslinger, and Starbreeze employ a stylish auto-aim feature to showcase his hitman roots. Firing from the hip, Jackie's pistols or sub-machine guns often alternate between enemies in your line of fire, and once you're within range he'll perform a brutal coup de grace, which often includes jamming a pistol under a mobster's chin and pulling the trigger. While I'd have liked a little bit more control over the shooting, I can't deny it has impressive visual function. Not to mention you'll never have to reload a weapon or scrounge for ammo. When a pistol's clip is depleted, Jackie simply tosses it aside and picks up another.

New York, New York

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Starbreeze don't do linear environments. Butcher Bay was a controlled sandbox, funneling the player down certain channels but allowing them to explore separate routes. The Darkness is much the same, with Starbreeze ordering you in the right direction but affording you a bit of freedom. New York isn't huge, but it is sprawling, with the subway acting as a hub of sorts, a labyrinth of tunnels and railway lines.

To reach certain points in the story, you must travel by subway across New York. At first, I applauded this decision. It embeds you in Jackie's world, which is brought to life in vivid, well-animated detail. But after a while, it becomes a painfully repetitive slog to endure, and the recycled NPCs and cumbersome turnstiles only serve as annoying distractions rather than ambient victories.

Without spoiling too much, The Darkness has an additional area Jackie finds himself in. It's an incredibly ambitious idea, and adds a level of depth to Jackie's story that few games attempt. But, again, repetition creeps in, as do a few odd design choices - boss battles, in particular, are not Starbreeze's forte - and the promise is often overshadowed by this. The Darkness also includes a multiplayer option, but the less said the better. While that might sound like bad journalism, the multiplayer was obviously thrown in late, with little in the way of balancing, modes or, well, fun.

Pros:

  • Great cast and a gripping plot
  • Darkness powers are fun, gunplay is stylish and visceral
  • Great visuals, for the most part

Cons:

  • Gunplay can feel overly scripted
  • Subway traveling becomes a chore
  • A lot of missed opportunities and bad design choices

The Short Version: Starbreeze continues to cement their place as a very capable developer of adult, mature experience with an emphasis on stealth and shocking violence. Jackie's story is a gripping tale of revenge, loss and redemption, eventually culminating in a teasing finale of what a sequel might offer. While the game is beautiful and stylish, it's also incredibly repetitive and perhaps overbearingly bleak.

score08

Test Drive Unlimited Review | Fasten Your Seatbelts!

Author:
Tom Silkstone
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Driving games, Games reviews, PC games, Playstation 2, PSP games, Test Drive Unlimited, Xbox 360 games
Discuss:
PC | PSP | Xbox 360

Test Drive Unlimited

Developers: Eden Games & Melbourne House

Publisher: Atari

Platforms:  Xbox 360 | PS2 | PSP | PC

When I first put this game into my Xbox I was completely out of my comfort zone; sure I enjoy taking control of vehicles when a mission comes up where it’s necessary to do so, but I tend to steer clear of games that are completely focused on driving like Gran Turismo. In fact the last time I played a game like this was when I picked up Driver for the PS1. With that in mind you can imagine my surprise when I quickly found myself becoming addicted to the adrenaline fuelled engine roaring experience that Test Drive Unlimited offers.

During the course of the game, you slowly but surely build up a collection of some of the most desired cars in the world, which you can then race, put through time trails, pick up hitchhikers in, and also use to ferry around models. The difficulty of these missions ranges from those that are a walk in the park to others that are absurdly difficult, and the other factor you’ll have to take into account is whether or not you’re driving in traffic. However, it pays to be vigilant and obey road traffic laws on some occasions, because a perfect mission will reward you with far more money.

Test Drive Unlimited 2

Perseverance is the key to this game if you want to get your hands on the sort of cars you see the rich and famous taking out for a spin, because just like real life you’ll have to earn enough cash to get hold of them. The step up from one car category to another is pretty noticeable and you’ll have to get used to changing between super cars that have a lot of power under the bonnet, to the far more manageable saloon style cars. One of my guilty pleasures, however, is roaming around the island in search of classic cars to line my driveways with, and whilst they’re definitely the hardest cars to get the hang of, they’re great fun to cruise around in.

Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you can pick up motorbikes, and they raise the bar on the excitement factor tenfold, since their acceleration is better than most of the cars in the game and you can weave through small gaps between vehicles to avoid slowing down.

Another couple of nice aspects of the game are the chance to customise your character's appearance and accumulate property strewn around the island. Clothes and sunglasses can be purchased from various stores, plus you'll be able to hand pick your own motorbike leathers and helmets from specialist shops. Grabbing a new home or apartment on the island isn't just for show however, they'll also give you valuable parking spaces, which'll allow you to buy more vehicles.

Test Drive Unlimited 3

This is a game that’s good old fashioned fun, you don’t have to brutally attack anybody or blow stuff up, in fact the cars don’t even take any damage when you accidentally swerve into a 200mph head on collision. I found myself welcoming the escape the game offered, heading into one of my garages taking out a Ferrari Enzo or an Audi TT, and then cruising along the streets and highways of Hawaii, which have been intricately mapped out. In fact the detail is so good, that I’ve almost convinced myself I could travel to Hawaii and know my way around like the back of my hand.

Whilst the driving experience is a joy to engross yourself in, it can at times be ruined by the AI. Occasionally, the other cars will indicate only moments before turning into your lane, causing you to have to slide off the road or crash the car. This becomes especially annoying when you’re taking part in a long mission that requires you to drive perfectly, and I frequently found myself blurting out a long line of obscenities at the screen.

Test Drive Unlimited 4

The police seem to follow a very confusing set of traffic laws, and whilst I found myself grateful that they didn’t come after me for screeching through a set of red traffic lights at 170mph in a heavily populated area, I did find it slightly unfair that they would attempt to arrest me whenever an NPC caused a crash that was clearly their fault.

The online multiplayer allows you to join other players going head to head in driving challenges, however it comes into its own when you join a group of friends for a quick drive around the island. Lets face it there aren’t many games where you can pick up your headset and say ‘Come on boys, let’s meet up at the lighthouse and start driving from there’.

For me Test Drive Unlimited has restored my faith and enjoyment of the driving genre, and I’m hoping the developers will have smoothed over some of its rougher edges when Test Drive Unlimited 2 comes out.

Pros:

  • Amazing selection of cars and bikes
  • Great escapism
  • Full throttle fun

Cons:

  • You can't get out of the vehicles and walk around the island
  • The AI can be incredibly annoying at times
  • Whilst the cars look great, other areas aren't quite as polished

The Short Version: A fantastic driving experience that should get your engine purring!

score08

Halo 3 ODST Review | Shock Tactics

Author:
Felix Kemp
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
First person shooter, Games reviews, Halo 3: ODST, Xbox 360 games
Discuss:
Xbox 360

halo_3-odst-logo

When Bungie announced their next game wasn't Halo 4, a collective groan echoed across the net. And when the game in question was revealed to be an expansion pack to Halo 3, the groans grew so loud it resembled the sound of an adult male weeping into his keyboard. Halo 3 ODST was to fill in the gaps between the second and third games, switching perspectives from the laconic Master Chief to the brash, brawling Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, scattered across the devastated, Covenant-occupied remains of New Mombasa.

So what is ODST? Is it just a combined attempt from Bungie and Microsoft to milk yet more money from the Halo brand? Or is ODST the real deal?

The Rookie

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What separates ODST from past Halo adventures is how Bungie approaches storytelling. Instead of a linear narrative from the Master Chief's perspective, ODST switches things around, presenting the adventure from numerous vantage points and time-zones. But let's dial back a bit. Cast your mind back to Halo 2, when the Prophet of Regret entered slip-space in atmosphere above New Mombasa. Master Chief, aboard In Amber Clad, gave chase, but the UNSC ordered an elite squadron of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers to take back New Mombasa from the Covenant.

And so begins our tale. ODST doesn't have a singular protagonist, per se, but the main character is undoubtedly the Rookie. A new member of the team, he's made in the same mold as the Master Chief. Silent, faceless and considerably capable. He's under the leadership of Gunnery Sergeant Buck, voiced by a brilliantly in-form Nathan Fillion, who isn't at all happy with orders to enter New Mombasa, as he's worried about the safety of his men, heavy weapons specialists, Dutch, the wise-cracking Mickey, and sniper Romeo. Joining them on their mission is an ONI spook, Dare.

ODSTs are renowned for how they quite literally drop into combat-zones. And a standout moment early on in ODST has the team hopping into their drop-pods and lowered over the sprawl of New Mombasa thousands of feet below. But just as the Rookie and co drop in, Regret's ship enters slip-space, sending a radioactive blast over the entire area and scattering the team. The Rookie wakes up, hours later, his drop-pod nestled in the roof of an apartment building in New Mombasa. It is now night, the ruined city lit by fire and ash. He's been unconscious for six hours, and has no idea where the rest of his team is.

Welcome To New Mombasa

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ODST isn't quite open-world, but New Mombasa is a vast, far more flexible playground than you've ever seen in a Halo game. To begin with, the narrative funnels the Rookie towards his primary destination, but a couple of hours into the game and it truly opens up, allowing you to choose where and when you want to piece the fractured narrative together. Without spoiling things too much, you'll see just what happened to your other squad-mates and discover just why the Covenant seek to claim New Mombasa.

This allows Bungie to take some risks with the standard Halo formula. Sadly, the Elites haven't returned, with Brutes still in charge of Covenant military forces. Unlike the Master Chief, the ODSTs aren't super-soldiers. They can't soak up the same kind of damage nor inflict it, and as a result you'll have to keep an eye on your depleting health, as it can only be replenished with health-packs.

All in all, ODST is a far more cautious experience. The Covenant don't always know you're around, and some parts can be bypassed without having to fire a single bullet. The Covenant have new AI patterns now, patrolling vast swathes of New Mombasa in search of the last dregs of UNSC forces. To compensate for your new-found frailty, the ODSTs have a few new toys to play around with, namely the suppressed pistol and redesigned SMG. Both are terrific weapons, especially the pistol which is a return to form of Combat Evolved's all-conquering hand cannon.

Firefighting

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ODSTs campaign is surprisingly good. Bar a few missteps and bad design choices, it's a thrilling, quintessentially Halo adventure with some palatable twists on the standard formula. However, what ODST will be remembered for most is introducing a new mode Halo fans are sure to love; Firefight. Take a page from Gears of War's Horde mode, it pits up to four ODSTs against ever-increasing waves of Covenant forces. The objective? Survive.

It might sound simple and repetitive, but Firefight is outstandingly good. It begins slow, with each player settling into the groove of things by dealing with Grunts and Jackals and a few low-ranking Brutes. There's a healthy amount of competition, with Medals and scoring taken from the campaign and multiplayer integrated to spice things up.

But make it past a certain number of waves, and Firefight becomes particularly tough. You have a select amount of lives that deplete with each player's death, and once they're gone the game is over. The higher waves introduce swarms of Buggers, hammer-wielding Brutes and sniping Jackals, all thrown into the devilishly well-designed maps. It's a cracking new feature I expect every Halo game in the future to include. In fact, I'll be upset if they don't!

Pros:

  • A bold new take on Halo
  • Great cast of characters and an exciting new storyline
  • Firefight is a brilliant new addition

Cons:

  • Despite the price, it's not quite a full game
  • Engine is showing its age
  • No online multiplayer or co-op

The Short Version: Halo 3 ODST isn't simply a cash-in on the brand, but a bold, ambitious spin off that's sure to live long in fan's memories. The story is excellent and presented in such a unique way it more than makes up for the repeated set-pieces and aging tech. Firefight is a fun, addictive new mode and it's nice to see a specific piece of Halo lore, the ODSTs, expanded upon so well.

score08

Halo Wars Review: Big On Halo, Light On Strategy

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Ensemble Studios, Games reviews, Halo, Halo Wars, RTS games, Strategy games, Xbox 360 games
Discuss:
Xbox 360

halo wars logo

Console real-time strategy sucks.

It does. Standard controllers simply can't handle the sheer number of command and control inputs that armchair generals need in order to manipulate their armies. However, if any game were to break this dismal cycle of failure and regret, it's Halo Wars. The esteemed (if sadly closing) Ensemble Studios and the rich Halo mythos provide the perfect one-two combo for an epic RTS. So, does their lovechild manage to revolutionise the genre?

The short answer is no. But the longer and infinitely more important answer is that it never intended to.

Rather than completely reinventing the wheel in order to make it roll on unfamiliar terrain, Halo Wars strips back the genre to its bare essentials. Each player is assigned a small modular base that can equip a limited variety of outbuildings; some of which produce units or contribute a steady trickle of resources to the cause. There's no harvesting or finnicky resource management to speak of, meaning that a few quick minutes of turtling results in a functional foundation for an assault. After all, we're here to control iconic Halo units rather than faff about with silos and refineries.

halo wars render

Right. About those units, then. The UNSC fields a familiar army of marines, Warthogs, Scorpion tanks and aircraft that can all be upgraded with extra firepower or alternate abilities (such as infantry grenades that can be deployed with the Y button)... but they all fulfil the cliched scout, heavy ground, air & anti-air roles that we've come to expect from every game that's come before. The addition of a dedicated anti-air unit that's never previously appeared in a Halo title helps to demonstrate this failure to innovate. However, the Spartan super units provide much-needed variety with the ability to hijack any enemy vehicle. The Covenant forces actually handle in a very similar way to their human counterparts, though a weaker overall strength is compensated for by powerful unique heroes. The conniving Prophet of Regret even makes a playable debut on his grav throne! Halo fans will get a huge kick out of commanding their (our, who am I kidding) favourite vehicles.

It's time to tackle the million dollar issue: how it handles. The left thumbstick controls a scrolling cursor that can select individual units or highlight multiple adjacent troops with a radial brush. Once selected, context-sensitive commands do the rest. Build queues and upgrades can be accessed through accessible radial menus, along with a couple of handy hotkeys for snapping between bases and heroes. It's nothing fancy, but it does the job.

halo wars arctic screenshot_picnik

Up to a point. This setup works reasonably well for simple 'tank rush' tactics, but unfortunately it's easy to get thoroughly overwhelmed when attacked on multiple fronts by the AI. More gallingly, however, it's nigh-on impossible to return the favour. As mentioned above, players can only select single units, proximal clusters or every single unit on the map... but there's no option to cherry-pick and designate specific unit groups. Unit grouping is one of the most basic and fundamental parts of any RTS, and its omission means that an essential tactical dimension has been lost. Battles usually descend into chaotic furballs rather than choreographed masterpieces, and diehard RTS veterans will quickly sling their controllers away in disgust.

But that's fine. Halo Wars doesn't pretend to cater for the hardcore. It's marketed squarely at the legion of shooter fans who have little experience with PC strategy gaming. The singleplayer campaign charts the adventures of the Spirit Of Fire: a retrofitted colony ship-turned troop carrier that's sent to take back Harvest from the Covenant. However, some early revelations soon turn the routine ground pounding into an desperate scavenger hunt of intergalactic proportions! A range of levels provide the usual selection of standard wars of attrition, timed objectives and escort missions along with a couple of unique challenges (including a memorable face-off with an immobile Scarab). Luscious cutscenes, an interesting plot and an unlockable timeline to pore over gives Halo fans a good reason to forgive the mechanical shortcomings... that is, if they even notice them in the first place. Newcomers will find it a perfect gateway into the otherwise intimidating RTS scene.

halo wars inside screenshot

Multiplayer is competent if a little on the basic side. Six-player skirmishes (including tag-team modes) can be held over Xbox Live, and surprisingly the campaign can be played cooperatively with a mate. Though several selectable leaders provide slightly different unique units and powers, it's a shame that The Flood weren't included as a third playable faction. I fear that there's not enough variety between the two armies to hold our interest over the coming months.

Finally, it's important to note that the visuals are absolutely superb. The game engine combines luscious terrain with extremely detailed unit models that move, attack and even loiter realistically. The net result are absolutely gobsmacking engagements that look and feel quintessentially Halo. Fans will relish the opportunity to see their favourite units duke it out in glorious that make even Two Betrayals seem like a tiny skirmish by comparison. Copious plasma, bullets and explosions make every engagement more visceral than you'd expect from an RTS.

Pros:

  • Streamlined mechanics do their job reasonably well
  • An incredible new experience for Halo fans
  • Great visuals and authentic art direction

Cons:

  • Annoying lack of unit grouping and other basic RTS features
  • Cliched unit roles, objectives and gameplay
  • Two playable factions aren't really enough

The Short Version: Halo Wars is not the next giant leap forward for console strategy and will leave RTS veterans cold... but at the end of the day, that's not what it's for. It's pure fan service that provides Halo aficionados with a decent- if simple- introduction to the genre. The accessible mechanics and sumptuous presentation eclipse the niggling flaws long enough for RTS newbies to have an absolute blast.

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InFamous Review: It's Electrifying!

Author:
Felix Kemp
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Action Games, Games reviews, InFamous, PS3 games
Discuss:
Playstation 3

infamous-20081009020107996

A superhero's power is his defining feature. Wolverine can regenerate, Superman can fly, Bruce Banner becomes The Hulk, and Dr Manhattan can engage in threesomes whilst solving the riddle of fuel-free power. Their powers define their lives, their struggles, and the villians they'll inevitably encounter. In Infamous, Cole McGrath was once but a lowly bike courier, but when a mysterious explosion, set off by a package he was delivering, levels Empire City, unleashing an army of bandits and freaks, Cole somehow inherits the ability to harness electricity.

With coils of electricity crackling along his fingertips, Cole has a choice. Should he rescue Empire City from the turmoil of gang-warfare and villainous freaks vying for control, in the process becoming a poster-boy for superpowered individuals? Or should he rid Empire City of competition, sacrificing innocents in the struggle in pursuit of ever greater power? In Infamous, the choice is yours.

Super Morals

infamous_karma

When Cole is blamed for the destruction of Empire City, he and his best friend, Zeke, flee, only to be apprehended by the FBI. Agent Moya, whose husband and fellow agent John, disappeared before the blast, tasks Cole with finding him and uncovering the mystery of the 'Ray Sphere'. To do so, Cole must defeat the violent and well-armed gangs plaguing Pacific City, and face certain superpowered individuals plucking the proverbial strings.

What sets Infamous apart from a linear superhero story is the concept of 'choice', injected into pivotal moments of the story. Early on, the recently quarantined Empire City receives a vital food-drop, and nearby residents, including Cole, Zeke and girlfriend Trish, descend on the scene to salvage what they can. Only the food-drop is tangled in the lofty arms of an Empire City monument. Cole, so agile he'd turn Nathan Drake green with envy, ascends the monument and severs the food-drop to the churning crowd below.

Here, Cole is presented with a choice. Share the food-drop's precious cargo with the residents of Empire City by protecting them from the oncoming and very hungry bandits? Or defeat the bandits, but claim the food-drop for yourself and Zeke? Such choices litter the story of Infamous, and provide points to your morality meter, which can either veer towards the good or bad ends of the spectrum. Rescuing civilians set upon by bandits rewards your morality meter, whilst reckless violence at the cost of civilian lives depletes it. A 'good' Cole crackles with white-hot electricity, whilst a 'bad' Cole smolders with bristling red barbs of lightning.

Click here to read the rest of Felix's review...

Killzone 2 Review: The Halo Killer?

Author:
Felix Kemp
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
First person shooter, Games reviews, Killzone 2, PS3

killzone2

It's a daunting prospect for any game to be compared to Halo, not only in regards to quality, but in terms of cultural significance. Halo single-handedly rescued the Xbox, ushered in a new era of online console gaming, and continues to shatter sales-records. So for Killzone 2 to be burdened with such an unfortunate title, "The Halo Killer", is a daunting prospect, indeed. But when you consider the PS3's current state of health, lagging behind both the Wii and the 360, the release of Killzone 2, long in protracted and expensive development, is expected to reignite the ailing console and return Sony to pole position.

So is Killzone 2 Sony's saviour? Or is it yet another game to fall foul of "The Halo Killer" curse...

Welcome To Helghan

killzone2helghast

Set in the distant future, Killzone 2 focuses on the bitter conflict between the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance and their gas-masked enemies, the Helghast. Sergeant Tomas 'Sev' Sevchenko, along with the rest of Alpha Team, join in a surprise assault on Helghan, the enemies' home-world. Such a reckless move has consequences, however, as the ISA didn't bet on the Helghast being organised, motivated and well-adapted to their harsh surroundings. Led by their charismatic general, Scholar Visari, the Helghast continue to hold the ISA, despite their superior weaponry and numbers, as Sev and the rest of Alpha Team, stranded in enemy territory, struggle to stay alive and prevent Visari from achieving his goals.

On the surface, it's a fairly standard story of good versus evil, with the noble ISA leading the charge against the villainous Helghast, but dig deeper, and the Killzone universe reveals itself to be a fairly grey place, with very little moral room to cast judgment. The Helghast's motivations are understandable. Once part of the ISA, their ancestors were forced into what was essentially slave-labour on the newly discovered planet of Helghan. They adapted to the unforgiving conditions, and waged war on the ISA to usurp them from their totalitarian throne.

It's an impressive back-story, so it's a pity all the hard work on building this universe is instantly rendered redundant when the characters begin to speak. The dialogue is, frankly, awful, with Sev's commander Rico the culprit of lines so bad they're bound to become an internet meme in no time. It's enough to make a Sylvester Stallone film sound nigh Shakespearean in comparison.

Bigger, Better...

killzone-2_23-06-08_04

It's impossible to review Killzone 2 without mentioning the infamous E3 2005 trailer. Sony claimed it was real-time, showcasing a graphical fidelity heretofore unseen. It was obviously a lie, but Killzone 2 is by no means ugly. Quite the opposite, it's a visually arresting title, the monochrome colour-pallet offset by remarkable lighting, lifelike animation and spectacular particle-effects. Storming a bridge littered with debris, as dozens of ISA and Helghast soldiers do battle, explosions rocking the scene, the sky trembling with thunder and burst of lightning, is as close to true Hollywood-style quality the industry has yet achieved.

It's a staggering achievement, and the effect of being engaged in an actual firefight is only heightened by the control-scheme. Unlike most shooters, where your reticule is firmly placed in the middle of the screen, Killzone 2's guns tend to sway and shake, the reticule trembling on the screen as you struggle to control your aim and limit recoil as you rattle a clip into a Helghast's red-eyed visage.

Click here to read the rest of Felix's review...

God of War: Chains of Olympus Review

Author:
Brendan Griffiths
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Games reviews, God of War: Chains of Olympus, PSP games, Ready at Dawn, Sony
Discuss:
PSP

Platforms: PSP

Developer: Ready at Dawn Studios

Publisher: SCEE

God of War: Chains of Olympus is a real slap in the face to other developers trying to wrangle a half-decent looking game out of the PSP. One look at these screens is enough to show that Ready at Dawn have an understanding of the PSP that nobody else is even close to obtaining. On top of that they’ve kept the God of War brand in great condition while Sony Santa Monica press on with God of War III.

This game is a prequel to the original PS2 title where Kratos is still on the Olympian's payroll. The tale begins with Kratos taking on an invading Persian army before the true enemy, Morpheus is revealed. The gods believe Morpheus to be behind the recent disappearance of Helios, the Sun god. If Morpheus is not defeated soon, it may be the end of the gods.

The combat survives the transition to the PSP extremely well. The lack of a second analogue stick means the evasive rolls are now performed by holding the L and R shoulder buttons and tapping the analogue nub. The series has always managed well with using fixed camera angles and on the PSP it makes life especially easier. The only time it becomes an issue is against some of the larger foes that can block your view of Kratos. A quick roll and a flurry of the Blades of Chaos will put him back on the map though.

The rest of the combat with those infamous chained blades is reliably familiar. Gory finishers are in, the best one that springs to mind is climbing up onto the shoulders of a Cyclops and stamping one of your blades into his eye. Jesus. F**king. Christ.

Click here to read the rest of Brendan's review.

Grand Theft Auto 4 Review

Author:
Marius Goubert
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Games reviews, Grand Theft Auto

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It all started with a ten minute demo back in 1997 and now people are so obsessed by the Grand Theft Auto series that every new sequel seems to cause a bigger stir than the election of a new prime minister. Indeed with the fourth GTA having recently exploded across all formats from PS to PC, it was obvious an entire generation were going to be glued to their TV sets for months. And they wonder why young people don’t vote anymore!

Because, lets be honest, if it’s a toss up between worrying about the woes of the world and listening to a PM who looks like a scrotum that’s had a sad face drawn on it, or tearing through Liberty City on a GSX 900 whilst being chased by the cops, it’s not hard to guess what we'd all prefer. And this could not be truer of GTA4, a game which, for the hardcore GTA nut, is like finding Jesus in the form of guns, cars, and enough murderous missions to rival Osama Bin Laden. gta4

However, this is certainly what it feels like to begin with. When first getting into the game (after a really irritating installation if you played it on PC), it 's quite unlike anything you have ever seen. Gone is the quirky cartoon veneer, the cheeky flowery shirts, the cars which fall apart like cardboard, and in their place is a grimy, urban dystopia which is utterly divorced from any GTA game that’s gone before.

The story follows the character of Niko Bellic, an Eastern European immigrant who, fresh from some war torn, poverty stricken hell – hole, has just stepped off the boat in Liberty City. Along with his degenerate cousin Roman, Niko hopes to get a taste of the good life in the land of opportunity. But with no money, GCSE’s or even a green card to his name; it isn’t long before Niko gets stuck into the kind of work that suits him better than those Michael Jackson style mittens.

Gta4-niko-bellic1

This is of course as a hired gun. So the story follows the same old spaghetti western type format. But the real difference is that the narrative of GTA4 is even more brutal than usual. Niko is one stone cold killer who makes Tommy Vercetti look like something out of Jackanory.

For example, when it comes to people he really doesn't like, Niko has a new execution ability where he blasts victims at point blank range while covering his face from the fallout of bloody pulp. A feature which can not only be used on his most hated enemies but also on a job interview panel (such computer gaming catharsis could not have coincided better with the economic recession!)

But violence aside, in terms of visuals the game is really spectacular. The graphics engine has had a complete overhaul since the days of Vice City and San Andreas. The realism is staggering. So don’t think you walking away from a head on collision with a brick wall at 80mph, as now Niko will be hurled through the front windscreen in a scene even more graphic than a seat belt awareness advert. gta4woman

The Liberty City of GTA4 also has a much greater feeling of consistency compared to its predecessors. San Andreas and Vice City really struggled when trying to reconcile the large scale of the city with the small. When Running through Mad Dog’s mansion in SA you couldn’t help noticing how boxy everything looked. But with GTA4 the designers deserve real credit for how well they have tailored the building interiors.

So the game really could not make a better first impression. However, after the novelty wears off and you near completion, a few cracks do start to appear. For a start having to wine and dine all of the contacts in your phone book until you unlock their special ability is fun at first, but soon becomes a major pain. It just takes far too long.

Also, the game completely lacks any elements which diverge from the main storyline. Admittedly you can do car races but there are no businesses to run, very few sub – games, and after completion, you’re stuck in a big city with nothing at all to do. There are also no tanks, choppers or f16s, and winding up the police quickly becomes boring.

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So after completing GTA4 it’s difficult not be left with a sense of anti - climax. Suddenly you start feeling a bit homesick for the tongue in cheek style of the previous formats; the cool radio stations, the vigilante missions, the bright colours, the hilarious comments of passers by. Vice City and San Andreas had this really cheeky cartoon feel which made them endearing, but the dark, gritty Gomorrah style violence of GTA 4 does grate on you after a while. There is little disputing the fact that the game is a fantastic achievement, but even though it comes close, it's still not quite a masterpiece.

[All Grand Theft Auto posts]

Prototype Review: Slaughterfest? Or Snoozefest?

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Action Games, Activision, PC games, Prototype, Radical Entertainment, Sandbox games, Xbox 360 games
Discuss:
PC | Xbox 360

prototype header

After being infected by a deadly virus and losing all his memories, everyman Alex Mercer makes the only sane choice: to kill everything in Manhattan until he remembers something about his former life. New York has been quarantined by a shadowy military force and mutated freaks roam the streets- providing a bloody canvas upon which to perpetrate some creative and imaginative rampages.

Rather than a chesty cough and some sniffles, Mercer's virus has gifted him with a bewildering array of upgradeable shapeshifting powers. Spiked claws, massive bludgeons, a massive sword, chitinous armour and an astoundingly useful spiked tentacle can all be used to hilariously gory advantage- especially when mixed with an ability to effortlessly run up skyscrapers and glide immense distances on jets of blood. A slew of unlockable techniques also provide an enormous variety of nasty combat options, though they have admittedly been squashed onto the controller in a cluttered and uncomfortable way. Having to press X and B together feels like medieval torture rather than an intuitive control scheme- but this doesn't stop Prototype being an immensely enjoyable slaughter simulator that delivers cathartic stress relief by the bucketload.

Insanely powerful Devastator attacks bring heinous death to the streets

Insanely powerful Devastator attacks bring heinous death to the streets

Normal sandbox games just don't cut it any more... after being able to run up the Empire State Building, karate-kick a helicopter out of the sky, plummet onto a tank and cracking it like an egg. And then surfing a hapless soldier down the streets on a wave of his own internal organs for fun. Hell, you can even hijack vehicles and commandeer regular firearms if the situation calls for it. It's easy to get carried away, and Prototype actively rewards players for taking half an hour off to commit mass carnage all over the city. Gory mass murder has rarely been this much fun.

Mercer's most subtle ability is also his most important. He can consume soldiers and civilians to gain their appearance- meaning that stealth is a viable alternative to balls-out butchering. Alex can also absorb memories from over a hundred respawning civilians to gain insight into the overarching Web Of Intrigue that surrounds the virus outbreak. These short interlinked videos are much more interesting than the main story itself... but more about that later.

Surf's up!

Surf's up!

This gloriously over-the-top combat provides the perfect framework for a gloriously over-the-top experience, but unfortunately this is where Prototype ultimately fails. Every aspect of its presentation is dreary and boring enough to trigger chronic narcolepsy in even the most unimaginative veteran gamers.

Let's start with the visuals. Prototype is built around an ageing engine with a foggy draw distance, grainy textures and an overall lack of detail... which could have been compensated for by providing a colourful and vibrant sandbox playground. Just ask Crackdown. However, Prototype's Manhattan is is uniquely dull and uninspired; dominated by rusty tones and samey vistas that will leave most gamers screaming for a little colour and variety. Sure, we like gritty- but not at the expense of fun.

prototype brownAnd then there's the story missions. You'd think that Mercer's skillset could be leveraged into imaginative objectives, but the main missions all boil down to killing the same kind of targets over and over and over again. Some deeply unpleasant timed escort and defence challenges also rear their ugly head, with cheap bosses that soon turn the exhilarating action into an unremitting grind. There's a lot of content on offer (including timed challenges and side missions), but they're all variations on a repetitive theme.

The story and characterisation are the worst offenders. The plot, premise and basic context are actually fairly sound, but it's delivered with grinding and  overbearing exposition that soon becomes a chore to wade through. Emotionless voice acting and truly unlikeable stock characters further compound the problem. Put simply, Prototype refuses to have any fun with its premise. For future reference, developers: if you don't have an interesting story to tell, don't bother telling it. Just let us run up buildings and kill stuff for the sheer fun of it. It doesn't help that Alex Mercer is easily one of the least interesting protagonists in videogame history. Seriously, he makes AC's Desmond seem genuinely charismatic and charming in comparison. His stoic, gravelly one-liners were clearly intended to lend him an cool edgy vibe, but they only manage to convey the overwhelming impression that he's bored with the whole situation. If Alex doesn't care, why the hell should we?

Pros:

  • Wonderful, brutal, joyous combat and creative rampages
  • Awesome consumption mechanic
  • Loads of content and side missions

Cons:

  • Boring, repetitive main missions
  • Mediocre graphics highlighted by dreary visuals
  • Apathetic story and characterisation will leave you cold

The Short Version: Much like Alex Mercer himself, Prototype lacks enough personality to be truly interesting. The gleefully OTT combat jars with the humdrum presentation and repetitive missions. Break through the apathy, however, and there's a lot of content to enjoy- making it a perfect choice for a weekend rental or to satisfy a lull in your gaming routine.

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Mid - Game Crysis

Author:
Marius Goubert
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Crysis, First person shooter, Games reviews
Discuss:
Crysis

Crysis review

Having consumed every FPS title from Doom to Halo 2 and clocked up more virtual kills than Arnold Schwarzenegger, things were getting so repetitious for fans of the FPS genre it was becoming like some Ground Hog Day type nightmare. Indeed, bringing home the same old shooters time and time again was beginning to leave one with the same feeling of despair Bill Murray felt waking up every morning to Sonny and Cher’s ‘I Got You Babe’.

Crysis reviewHowever, just when you thought it was time to give up hope and swap your bath foam for a toaster, along come an obscure group of German developers with one of the most innovative and spectacular First Person Shooters ever to grace the PC. Developed by a company called Crytek, Crysis is a FP shooter of such incredible aesthetic genius and superb gameplay; it actually makes you go slightly weak at the knees.

In terms of storyline, it follows a refreshingly simple narrative, with the player taking control of Nomad, an elite member of US Special Forces who is sent to investigate the occupation of a remote desert Island by North Korea. Nomad and his force are tasked with the rescue a group of Western archaeologists who have found themselves abducted by the fanatical general Kim.

However Nomad’s crew do have one big advantage. They are all encased within a high – tech Nano Suit which can be manipulated to either provide impenetrable armour, stealth invisibility (think Predator), greater strength or speed. However these attributes are dependant on the suits energy which gradually depletes and must be constantly recharged.

luke-skywalker-star-wars-chronicles-promo-stormtrooper-blasterAlthough the player can basically tear through the level like Luke Skywalker on speed with a machine gun, they must also keep close watch on their energy levels. Infiltrating a base crawling with enemies might seem easy when in stealth mode, but if caught in the open without enough energy to reach cover, you might find yourself as doomed as the guy in Kill Bill after he gets done by the 5 point exploding heart technique.

So Nano technology certainly gives the player the power of a super hero but, like a Jedi Knight, you are not invincible. The game is challenging, but the potential fun which the player can have with these abilities; whether you choose to infiltrate quietly through the forest, stalking Korean patrols and picking their members off one by one, or simply blasting straight through the front like Steven Segal, is endless.

The game is also complemented by graphics which to say the least are extraordinary. There is nothing quite like looking out across the lush green forests through the haze of butterflies and across the waters of the bay, to lift one’s spirits during the depths of British winter. The levels are also, even though they appear vast, deceptively small like some inverted version the Doctor Who Tardis. This really takes away any feeling of linear gameplay which so consistently plagues other titles.

crysisHowever, the biggest problem with the game comes mid – way in. Although the first half of Crysis is like a combat simulator, the second half turns into this sci – fi/ War of the Worlds type battle, no longer against Koreans, but against a load of rubbish aliens. This is a truly disastrous turn of events which leaves the player feeling like a small child who has gorged the best bits of their roast dinner and is now left with spinach and sprouts. Half heartedly continuing the game, the player comes to realise as they hark back nostalgically to the prior levels, Crytek certainly did not save the best until last.

However this can be overlooked like the mediocre second dish of a master chef contestant who still managed to bowl the judges over their first. Cytec produce enough wonders in the first part of the game for Crysis to secure its place as one of the greatest first person shooters of recent times. For a group of relatively unknown designers to come in and completely innovate the entire FPS genre with this calibre of game is no mean feat. First person shooters will not the same again, but one cannot help wondering: if this is only their second game release, what could possibly be next?

[All Crysis posts]

Left 4 Dead Review: Fourplay Or Fourgasm?

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
FPS games, Game reviews, Games reviews, Left 4 Dead, PC games, Turtle Rock Studios, Valve, Xbox 360 games
Discuss:
PC | Xbox 360
l4d logo

Together we are strong. We get by with a little help from our friends. Let’s get together and feel alright. Teamwork and cooperation are integral parts of everyday life, yet recent gaming trends have shafted cooperative mechanics. Most games throw in a 2-player mode as an afterthought… yet by embracing teamwork as a core tenet of the action, Turtle Rock has created a shooter that feels completely different from every other game on the market.

Like many of the best Zombie films, Left 4 Dead offers little in the way of context. A virulent strain of rabies has turned the vast majority of the population into slavering flesh-hungry monsters, and small groups of immune survivors have to keep moving from town to town in order to stay alive. Whilst the game dwells on the grindhouse action rather than any forced exposition, witty graffiti and heartbreaking messages serve to reward curious players with a little extra backstory.

left 4 dead building

The objective of each level is simple and similar. The four survivors have to fight their way through expansive maps to reach safe rooms: impregnable closets filled with ammo, guns and goodies. However, their way is blocked by (as you’d expect) hordes of rabid infected monstrosities. Left 4 Dead subscribes to the 28 Days Later school of zombie behavior, exhibiting fast and relentless enemies that attack in huge numbers (especially when alerted by setting off car alarms or other equally stupid mistakes). Special undead frequently provide mini-boss fights or catch unwary players off guard; exhibiting special abilities that can incapacitate stragglers. Hunters, Smokers and Boomers all provide a unique challenge... and the monstrous Tank has enough raw strength to heft enormous boulders and send survivors flying. Just to shake up the formula even more, the fragile yet dangerous Witch can be completely avoided by using stealth and keeping a safe distance, but will rip survivors to shreds if disturbed. Hear crying? Approach with caution.

Run. RUN!

Run. RUN!

The premise, therefore, is incredibly simple- but the vein of cooperation and teamwork runs through every aspect of the gameplay. On a very basic level, downed players need to be revived a la Gears Of War, and can voluntarily sacrifice their single first aid kit to heal another wounded teammate if the situation calls for it. The weapon selection spans a grab bag  of close range shotguns and versatile, ammo-intensive rifles that ensure the team needs to designate specific combat roles (i.e. point man vs support). As mentioned above, the special zombies demand close contact and cooperation to take down. For example, the agile Hunter pins a survivor to the ground and will maul them to death without assistance. Oh, and all four players will need to focus their firepower to take down a tank.

Each selection of four short levels is bundled into a short non-canonical campaign which is themed around classic grindhouse films. Each campaign starts with a humorous fake movie poster- and when completed, displays the ‘credits’ that lists each player’s kills and dedicates the ‘movie’ to the survivors who didn’t make it. However, there aren’t actually that many levels- and each map essentially consists of the same dark forest or grim city environments. This might sound like essentially poor value… but Left 4 Dead has an incredible ace up its sleeve. Everything from the number of zombies, their spawn points, their frequency and even the types of special undead are governed by an invisible yet omnipotent AI director that pulls every string from behind the scenes. Every single match is completely different despite being played on the same map, with completely different set pieces and spawn points that are tailored to complement the party's stress levels. Getting a bit complacent? A tank and horde might spawn behind you. Low on health after a relentless horde? Maybe the director will dispatch a few skirmishing Hunters to stalk you in the shadows. Each match is perfectly-paced, entirely unpredictable and frantically exciting. The concept of the AI director works perfectly, and we can see it being able to segue into practically any FPS. It's the future of shooters- and especially horror games.

l4d horde

Up to four players can cooperate in the campaign, and Left 4 Dead makes no bones about the fact that this is the meat of the experience. A maximum of two players can also participate in splitscreen matches, which is taken into account by the director who will go easier on duos. Unfortunately solo players will likely find it difficult to complete the crescendo finale events that lie at the end of each story, and should seriously consider staying away from Left 4 Dead in favour of more singleplayer-oriented titles. Competitive multiplayer allows a team of survivors to take on player-controlled special undead, but the balance is completely biased towards the gun-toting foursome. We hope that subsequent updates will restore some semblance of power to the infected hordes!

Pros:

  • Competent shooting with a cooperative twist
  • Unique, refreshing action
  • AI director ensures a different game every time

Cons:

  • Small number of maps/stages
  • Unbalanced competitive multiplayer
  • Can be frustrating solo

The Short Version: Left 4 Dead is a refreshing and frantic take on the hackneyed Zombie Shooter; delivering its own unique blend of desperate mayhem and cooperative tactics. It also happens to be an exceptional FPS. PC gamers and Xbox Live Gold members will discover a fantastic new addiction, but the experience may leave solo players cold. We hope that the concept of the AI director will start to appear more prominently in future titles as we’re convinced that it represents the future of FPS gaming.

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