Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter

January 30, 2010 by Thomas Mulrooney  
Filed under Reviews, Xbox, Xbox Live Arcade

Overview

Title: Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter

Release date: 13 January 2010

Developer/Publisher: Croteam/Majesco Entertainment

Genre: FPS

Platform[s]: PC, Xbox Live Arcade

I have fond memories the original Serious Sam: The First Encounter. I played through the entirety of the game a couple of times over LAN with a friend. Those hours sat at two computers were probably the most fun-filled co-op experience I’ve ever had, and making me incredibly jealous that I didn’t have a good enough PC to play it myself.

Since those days plenty of FPS games have been released; some of them wowing,  like the multiplayer mayhem of Timesplitters 2 (being in the same room as your opponents will always be the best way to experience those games), and some of them stinking to high heaven, such as the awful Daikatana. So, with that in mind does the HD re-release of Serious Sam: The First Encounter live up to preconceived standards? I returned to what used to be one my favourite FPS games to find out.

Storyline

This is one of those games where the storyline doesn’t really matter, as you won’t really be paying much attention to it but you need some kind of justification for doing the things you’ll be doing. Basically Sam gets sent back in time to defeat Mental, an enemy obsessed with eradicating humanity, and alter the course of history so humanity was never attacked. The setting for the ensuing mayhem caused by Sam’s appearance is Egypt, and you’ll be going from one monument to do the next while fighting off hordes of Mental’s strange but deadly army.

Gameplay

The game is packed with a host of fun weapons and weird enemies. You’ll be using the usual assortment of machine guns and shotguns (which pack quite a punch) but you will eventually come across a laser gun and a cannonball gun that fires large cannonballs and squishes your enemies into a nice gory mess. In the latter stages of the game you’ll want to be using a gun that can cut through hordes of enemies with ease, such as the minigun, or you’ll quickly become overwhelmed. Thankfully ammo is abundant, but you’ll often get ‘rewarded’ for picking up items through the game spawning another wave of enemies to throw at you. So, you’ve just picked up all that health and ammo and then you have to use it all on a wave of enemies without making much progress through the level. That’s Serious Sam for you, and it’s something you’ll quickly become aware of and end up actually backtracking while the enemy draws ever closer;  although there are times when this is impossible as the game closes you into space, which is sometimes confined or will be when the enemy completely surrounds you.

The enemies are a mixture of your common soldier (although ‘common’ in the sense that they’re actually dead and they carry their heads in one hand), armed with rocket launchers, chainsaws or grenades depending on the type (or just holding bombs and running towards you screaming before they blow themselves up, which starts to get highly annoying), to flying winged beasts that remind me of Flash Gordon and gigantic walking fish armed with lasers or rocket launchers. All of these enemies may look strange but they hold nothing back – and by god are they brutal!

In fact the whole game is brutal, and even on normal difficulty you’ll find yourself dying a lot (I haven’t tried it on co-op or a harder difficulty setting, but it’s my understanding that even more enemies are thrown into the mix). Thankfully you can just hit Y for a quick save, which arguably makes the game far easier than it should be. I still lost count at how many times I had to restart the game though, especially at one particularly nasty part of the game. This consisted of being attacked by hundreds of galloping skeletons while I was quickly running out of ammo. You could cut down twenty and they’d just be replaced by more, so it required some quick thinking other than just standing there and pumping bullets into the masses. I’ll let you figured it out for yourself.

The last level of the game is, quite understandably, a mass of enemies and bullets flying around everywhere. However, the best is definitely saved until last and when I and my friend originally saw this beast our jaws dropped. The appearance of the final boss is still one of those ‘wow’ moments even today, but I won’t go into the technicalities as you really have to see this for yourself.

Graphics

For its time Serious Sam: The First Encounter was a pretty good looking game. Of course, it’s nothing by today’s standards and Croteam wasn’t content with just re-releasing the game in its original form to make some quick cash. Instead they put the time in to upgrade the graphics to HD, and while it’s still not going to wow you by any means they’ve still done a great job with it. Everything is shiny, with some work done on the lighting effects and the look of water (although this is no Bioshock), but the fact of the matter is you won’t have much time to appreciate when you’re getting charged at by hordes of bulls. You’ll still appreciate that it looks better though, even if it’s only to get a better look at the bull that’s about to knock you halfway across the level.

Audio

One frustrating thing about the game is that you’ll often be attacked from all sides and you can’t really tell when you’re going to get attacked until it’s up in your face. The audio goes some way to fixing this, as you’ll often hear the scream of, for example, suicide bombers getting closer to your position as the scream gets louder. This allows you to figure out what direction they’re coming in without spinning around all the time when you’ve got other enemies to contend with. Sometimes this gets lost in all the gunfire and sounds of other creatures though, so you still have to be constantly aware of your surroundings.

Music wise it’s nothing special, with the dramatic rising tempos kicking in when you’re about to be attacked. Due to this you will always know when something is still alive in your area due, but the periods where the music stays at the same sound level are few and far between.

Overall Score & Replayability

The problem with this re-release is that it doesn’t try to be anything other than a slightly better looking version of its original form. There’s no extra meat here, with nothing included in the XBLA release that wasn’t already in the original. In fact the XBLA version of the game has been is slightly inferior to the PC version in that only four players are supported in co-op, with sixteen on the PC version. There’s also no competitive multiplayer, but that probably isn’t a bad thing as I don’t think the game would have grasped people’s attention long enough for them to stick around.

However, none of the above makes it a bad game and for what’s on offer it’s certainly worth the price. For people, like me, who have played the original it’s a nice little blast from the past where FPS games were far simpler, but also a lot tougher. Those who haven’t played it get a glimpse at what FPS gamers enjoyed in the past, and it may also make them delve deeper into gaming history. For everybody it’s an fun-filled action packed ride that never gives you a breather. It’s a pure arcade game at heart, and that’s precisely the type of game that suits XBLA.

Alien Breed Evolution: Episode 1

January 15, 2010 by Thomas Mulrooney  
Filed under Reviews, Xbox, Xbox Live Arcade

Overview

Title: Alien Breed Evolution: Episode 1

Release date: 16 December 2009

Developer/Publisher: Team 17

Genre: Isometric shooter

Platform[s]: Xbox Live Arcade, PSN (2010), PC (2010)

Storyline

Alien Breed Evolution’s storyline isn’t going to win any awards, as it’s little more than a justification for what you’ll be doing in the game. The basic gist (which, erm, is pretty much it) is that your ship, the Leopold, crashes into a mysterious gigantic spaceship whilst returning from a diplomatic mission. Of course, this isn’t just any old ship and soon enough the Leopold, and the protagonist Conrad, is under attack by aliens. They swiftly go about killing 99% of the crew, leaving Conrad pretty much alone apart from his ‘lover’ (I think so anyway, see how ‘great’ this story is about explaining things?) Mia, who regularly contacts him.

The story is expanded upon between the five levels, using narrated comic-book-style cutscenes, but it’s very basic at best and you won’t really pay much interest to it. When I did take an interest I found that the story didn’t even try to explain what’s going on, but I suppose this is episode one. Although, if you didn’t really care enough about the story in the first place then would you really be interested in what’s going to happen in episode two? I’ll let you answer that one.

Gameplay

The first level tries, and largely fails, to build up suspense by not having you meet one of the aliens for a short while and, instead, teaching you the controls. Speaking of the controls I found them to be quite fiddly. You use both dual-sticks to move and aim your weapon, making it actually pretty easy to sweep your aim around quickly whilst also moving to avoid being eaten. So what’s fiddly about them? Well, you use the d-pad to select weapons and items. The problem is that the ‘up’ and ‘down’ selects weapons, while ‘left’ and ‘right’ select the items. Simple enough, but it’s too easy to hit ‘right’ instead of ‘up’ in the middle of a battle, meaning that you’ll end up losing half your health while you desperately try to select a new weapon. Due to this it’s inadvisable to try to change items or weapons during battle, but you often have to because running away isn’t really an option. Each alien dies easier with different weapons, such as the small ‘facehugger’ creatures that are easily dispatched with your unlimited pistol, but you quickly learn that you’ll die if you change your weapon for every single creature type in a horde.

The aliens seem a mixture of creatures from Alien and the arachnids from Starship Troopers (which some of them are actually called). There are various types; ranging from the previously mentioned ‘facehugger’ rip-offs that are easy to kill but usually come in swarms, to your normal tanks and the long range spitting beasts. There is only one main boss, unless you count a chase scene which is one of the only one-off occurrences. Yes, that means that the entire game is the same thing over and over again.

Not only are you blasting through constant hordes of aliens, which I suppose is fun for a short while, but the end level destination (an elevator) is always blocked by a series of dull objectives. For example, you have to go through a room but find it’s on fire. Cue you going around half the level to press a button that gets rid of the fire, all whilst being attacked every ten seconds. When you finally get through the door another door blocks you away, and now you need to trek down another five hundred corridors to find the keycard. The names and destinations may change, but the actual objective is little more than pressing a button that just so happens to be still working whilst the entire ship falls apart. You can also top all this off by having to search lockers and bodies in every room, or else you’ll quickly run out of ammo and health kits. It’s not that easy though, as – surprisingly enough – you are usually attacked just as you start your search. The same thing goes when you press a button, and after the third time you just expect it to happen.

The weapons range from a simple machine gun and shotgun, to a flame-thrower and laser gun. I found the laser gun largely useless, since the shots bounce off the walls around you (and these corridors are thin) and end up hitting you half of the time. I had to use it when desperate though, and the same goes for the pistol, because I always seemed to run out of ammo. You honestly don’t need anything other than the machine gun, but it eats up ammo pretty quickly and it can be hard to find. Even when searching bodies and lockers you usually seem to get the message that ‘there is nothing of interest here’. I now feel like I’m playing an RPG!

As for difficulty I played the game through on ‘veteran’ (the game’s medium difficulty level) and I died less than ten times. It’s not a hard game if you have enough ammo to fight off the hordes, and even then you have your unlimited pistol as a last resort. You are also told where to go, so the most you have to do is destroy a barrel blocking your way or find a window to smash through. I didn’t try the game on the hardest difficulty, but obviously I assume it’s going to be harder – not that it really takes much.

Graphics

The graphics are decent enough, but a game like this was never going to be about spectacular graphics. The problem is that it’s often too dark to make anything out, even when you’re shining your puny torch light on them. This is playing on full 1080p resolution, so I dread to think how people forced to play on standard definition TV’s will find it. Instead you’ll largely grow accustomed to using the Alien style radar in the top right hand corner. Enemies and objectives show up as blips; red and blue respectively. You can see what direction an enemy is approaching you (and that’s mostly from all sides), so I just tended to point my gun (you can also rotate the camera by one angle each time you tap the ‘LB’ or ‘RB’ buttons, but I didn’t use this too much because I prefer a smooth rotate rather than a snap rotate) in that direction and pump bullets into the darkness (which, on reflection, is probably why I ran out of ammo all the time). This also means that you can’t really tell which type of alien you’re facing, so all tactics go straight out of the window. Pure button mashing at its ‘best’!

When you can see what’s around you 80% of rooms and corridors are largely the same. They could use the excuse that Xbox Live Arcade games usually have smaller file sizes, but that excuse doesn’t really roll anymore. Textures and objects are reused time and time again, and there are only a handful of destinations that at least try to stand out (such as the Hydroponics lab, although it doesn’t seem to have that many plants). Apparently space is very bland.

Thirdly, I know this ship has crashed but there seems to be a random explosion every five seconds. I’m not sure if these are supposed to scare you or not, but they quickly become annoying and most of them don’t actually do anything. It’s also worth noting that they look pretty crap.

Audio

Firstly the voice acting is awful. It sounds like some guy has recorded it in his bedroom and has tried to sound like Solid Snake. The woman is marginally better, but she’s not about to win an Oscar. All other speech is done through text, which you’ll often miss popping up at the bottom of the screen while you concentrate on shooting aliens. Not that you’re missing much anyway.

The aliens make, erm, alien sounds? It’s all screeching and roaring, but what else do you expect? You’ll also often hear screams in the distance which, again, fail to bring any sort of atmosphere to the game. Sometimes you’ll see a person getting killed, but you can’t save them and you’ll learn not to care (and you’ll probably miss it too, since it’s so damn dark).

As for the music, it loops. You will get rising tempos and crescendos when under attack, which I guess adds to the tension, but it’s the same damn thing every time and it quickly got boring – plus they even had the cheek to play it again during the ending!

Overall Score & Replayability

If you’ve read this review then I think you’ll be clear of my position on this game, but let’s sum it up anyway.

Replayability wise there’s a co-operative mode that adds a second player (duh!), but this only means four of the same levels with more enemies and more ammo. There’s also a free play mode that allows you to play through the levels you’ve already completed, but unless you’re going for the achievements I don’t really see why you would bother. That’s it though, and if you do buy this (don’t!) I recommend you get the achievements and delete the game.

Alien Breed Evolution may try to be the ‘evolution’ of a classic game, but it even fails at that. The game is firmly rooted in the past, and what was once the cutting edge of games is now dull and unoriginal to a crowd used to blockbluster shooters (which, ok, may not be entirely original either) and even Xbox Live Arcade games that dare to try something new. You will get a retro feel for the game at first, especially if you grew up on such shooters, but this will last about as long as a chocolate button in your mouth (and I hesitate to compare the two, because one gives you pleasure while the other one certainly doesn’t). I was ultimately relieved when the game ended, since I was bored to tears by doing the same thing over and over again.

Crap is still crap, whether it has a lick of paint on it or not.

Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper

January 7, 2010 by Susan Taylor  
Filed under PC, Reviews, Xbox 360

Overview

 

Title: Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper

Release Date: 26th May 2009 (PC) / 26th Nov 2009 (EU Xbox 360) / TBA (NA Xbox 360)

Developer/Publisher: Frogwares / Focus Home Interactive

Genre: Adventure

Platform[s]: Microsoft Windows (PC), Xbox 360

**Please note: I am reviewing the Xbox 360 version of this game**

Storyline

 

The year is 1888, the location is the East End of London. An evil madman is running loose around Whitechapel, preying on women of the night and murdering them in cold blood, mutilating their corpses in the process. The police are turning over every stone in the area, but the elusive Jack the Ripper keeps slipping through their grasp. It is up to the famous Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick, Dr. John Watson, to unmask the fiend and put an end to his dastardly deeds.

Gameplay

 

Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper can be played in either first-person mode or third-person mode. I will admit that I groaned upon starting the game and being faced with this hellish, zoomed out third-person view that I knew would see me repeatedly talking into walls and missing doorways by metres. I internally jumped for joy  when the option came up, through a handy tooltip, that by pressing X the camera would change to first-person mode. Phew! I played the whole game in this view and would definitely recommend it, but it is all down to personal preference and I am impressed that Frogwares put some thought into how people like to play their games.

Unlike other games within the crime genre, Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper steps outside of the point-and-click domain and offers up a nifty little adventure game which sees the player taking control of both main characters and wandering down the streets of London seeking out clues. Throughout the game you will face different tasks and challenges which requires you to play as either Sherlock Holmes himself or as Dr. Watson.

A Sherlock Holmes game would not be complete without puzzles and you will not be left disappointed. You will come across skill puzzles and a lot of logic ones; from fixing a broken pipe to cracking a safe by translating Yiddish to English, from learning how perfumes break down to mastering a rather trick sliding puzzle! I found these puzzles to be very entertaining and some of them requiring me to sit back and really give the objective a good think before attempting to tackle it. No doubt there is an extensive walkthrough online for those who find the puzzles a tad too difficult.

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One of the most interesting factors about Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper is the way the developers chose to handle the gruesome reality of the murders. For those who are not away of the truth behind this game, Jack the Ripper was an evil murderer who took great pleasure in mutilating his victims in the most gruesome manner – This included abdominal/genital and progressive facial mutilation and even the removal of internal organs (a kidney, more than one uterus and even a heart). Frogwares rightly decided to keep in the gory details behind each murder and even allows the player to inspect each crime scene in detail. The smart decision on their behalf was not to present the victims in a vulgar manner, but to have Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson inspect detailed “chalk drawn” images of the poor women, which can be inspected quite closely.

As this is a Sherlock Holmes game, there is a lot of deducing to be had! Holmes likes to be thorough in his investigations and throughout his home at Baker Street you will find the place getting more and more overwhelmed with timelines to put together, storyboards to complete regarding each murder and even a board for possible motives! This game really has it all!

Graphics

 

The visual side of this game, while not overly impressive, does not lack in a way that would cause someone to shudder in despair. While the characters are quite wooden-looking, especially when it came to their speech, the environments definitely make up for this. While walking the streets of Whitechapel, you definitely get the feel of London in the late 1800’s.

Not to mention the eery feeling creeping up the back of your neck as you wander down a dark back alley all by yourself..

Audio

 

The musical score of Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper is very well suited to the time era and overall theme being portrayed, lots of piano and violin scores. I found the music certainly adds to the ambiance of the game.

I am definitely on the fence when regarding the voices of the characters themselves. While I realise that Sherlock Holmes is a man of science and thus holds a rather cold exterior, the voice behind the character is very monotonous and he shows absolutely zero emotion throughout the entirety of the game, even when he is clearly upset. Watson, on the other hand, was voiced rather well and I found his character to be very likable in the game. Although, his puking scene was a little overplayed. Learn from this Frogwares!

The other voices in the game were quite typically Upper Class vs Cockney, with a bit of Yiddish accent thrown in. I found some of these to be quite believable, whereas otherwise were totally cringeworthy. Especially the man outside the brothel, yeesh! Grow a pair of balls man!

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Overall & Replayability

I scored this game quite high as it was a real breath of fresh air when compared to other games within this genre. You weren’t confined within X rooms with just a point-and-click action as your only means of playing the game. I enjoyed the fact that Frogware mixed fact (being Jack the Ripper tale) in with fiction (being Sherlock Holmes) and found the two complimented each other extremely well. As a huge Jack the Ripper buff I was very excited to see how the writers interpreted the tale of England’s most notorious serial killer and was pleasantly surprised to find just how well they had researched the history into it.

I would recommend this game to anyone who is a fan of the crime genre, likes point-and-click games or is a fan of Sherlock Holmes or even Jack the Ripper.

If only there was going to be a sequel.. Sigh!

Diner Dash

November 30, 2009 by Laura Broome  
Filed under Reviews, Xbox Live Arcade

Overview


Title: Diner Dash

Release Date: 18th November 2009

Genre: Casual

Platform: Xbox Live Arcade

Developer/Publisher: Backbone Entertainment/Hudson Entertainment INC

Storyline


Guide Flo while she masters her restaurant career. In “Story Mode” you aid Flo through four stages to complete her restaurant empire. Help her gain stars throughout the game by impressing critics and serving up food and drinks to varied customers. You are responsible for seating customers, taking their orders, serving them their food and and clearing away after them; whilst ensuring they are happy before they leave. Each new group of customers come along with their different demands and their varied likes and dislikes. Progress through the game and earn more money to see your restaurant improve and grow.

Gameplay


This game has been available on PC for many years and is available in quite a few episodes. I have personally spent way too many hours playing this game and so was rather excited when my favourite game was suddenly available on my favourite console! I had no idea how well it would work and I have to say I have been very impressed.

There are different modes to try out. In singleplayer mode you can play story or endless shift. Story mode guides you through lots of levels which increase in difficulty as you progess. You have two money based goals to meet the first is the initial goal to be able to continue to the next level and the second is expert which is fairly easy to achieve in the early stages but increasingly more difficult as you get to the higher levels.

The game is fairly basic and, although the difficulty does increase the general gameplay, stays the same throughout, however there are some ways in which you have to change the way you play to be able to achieve your set goals. In endless shift mode you play the game at a higher pace and you progress by meeting monetary goals and gaining upgrades. The upgrades you choose will depict on how long you survive in this mode so pic them carefully.

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In multiplayer mode there are various games to play. You can choose between tip wars where you and another player fight it out to seat, serve and clear up after each customer to gain the tips. You can play head to head which is fairly self-explanatory and (my personal favourite) which is team battles which a friend and I managed to master by ignoring our personal scores in favor of getting a higher team score which we did by concentrating on having specific jobs, for example I was in charge of taking orders and serving while she concentrated on seating people and clearing away.

By adding multiplayer and co-op play it completely rejuvenates a classic casual game and makes it more addictive than ever before. Generally the game is easy to navigate and is easier than using a mouse and keyboard. It is very responsive and everything seems to flow easier than on the PC.

Graphics


The graphics for this game are good. I was pleasantly surprised and personally think it is much better than the graphics on the PC. Everything is clearer and more defined and makes it easier to play. I have played this using both HD and without and of course HD is better but to be honest it works just as well without. All in all it is a bright cheerful game that is of course basic but clear.

Audio


The audio it is repetitive and can be annoying, especially for anyone else in the room who is not actually playing the game. In fact, I lost count of how many times I was asked to turn the volume off. This is not to say that it is bad but more that it is similar to any other casual arcade game and so the audio does not stand out as anything special. After playing with the audio on I soon turned it off and put some music on instead as playing without the game audio does not take anything away from the game’s playability.

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

November 20, 2009 by Jeff Barker  
Filed under PC, Playstation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360

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Overview

 

Title: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
 

Release Date: 10th November 2009 (Worldwide)
 

Developer/Publisher: Infinity Ward/Activision
 

Genre: Shooter
 

Platform[s]: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

Storyline

 

Set five years after the death of Imran Zakhaev (Call of Duty 4’s main antagonist), the Ultranationalist party has taken control of Russia and starts attacking the US. A terrorist called Makarov (one of Zakhaev’s former generals) heads up the attacks, and it’s down to Soap and a host of new characters (along with an old favourite) to hunt Makarov and shut him down. Kicking off in Afghanistan and taking in many locations around the world from Washington D.C. to the Caucasus Mountains in Russia, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is an epic tale of battle, honour and betrayal that will – quite simply – blow your socks off, put them back on and then blow them off again, just for a laugh. And you will love every single bloody minute of it.

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Gameplay

First of all, the basics: MW2 plays exactly the same as CoD4, and despite a change to the HUD everything else remains the same. In case you haven’t played CoD4 (apparently there’s still a couple of you out there), LS controls movement, RS is the “look” function, RT is your (often hair) trigger, LT aims, LB and RB launch differing types of grenade, and the face buttons reload and switch weapons. MW2 also employs the same squad-based FPS action as the first outing, using increasingly impressive set-pieces and situations to move the action along – which, being honest, left a lot of gamers wondering if things could get any better after Zakhaev had been dispatched and, as it stands right now, let me be the first to tell you that things are precisely 153% better. Let’s get this straight, MW2 rocks. Not just in the “oooh, that’s quite good” way either, this is full-on-rock-and-roll “Ozzy Osbourne just jumped on stage with Kurt Cobain and Keith Moon and nailed a 20-minute long rendition of the best bit in Stairway To Heavenrocks.

The game starts with the standard training level, but instead of treating you like the newcomer, you’re instructing a group of new recruits at an Army base in Afghanistan. Wandering around the base post-training, the attention to detail becomes clear – soldiers play basketball, fix trucks, smoke and trade small talk, adding to the level of realism and helping you feel like you’re actually part of a living, breathing unit. This follows throughout the main campaign, and with increasingly hair-raising moments thrown at you (sometimes relentlessly), coupled with the sound of gunfire, Hans Zimmer’s superb soundtrack and your comrades voices backing you up in your headset we can honestly say we’ve never experienced anything quite as epic or immersive.

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Although the game suffers from the tried and tested “CoD respawning enemies” factor, Infinity Ward have reworked the AI so your quarry will now actively hunt you down and attempt to push you towards the next checkpoint – although at times it’s all too easy to become pinned down and overwhelmed by the sheer number of bullets flying at you, and popping in and out of cover to take your foes down usually ends in death from an opposite angle. It’s usually impossible to take out every enemy in a section (unless you’re particularly skilled), and running away is sometimes the best form of defence. Which begs the question, where did the 20-odd guys who were just trying to shoot your face off disappear to after you ran into the next street?! It’s a minor quibble however, as the next street is usually full of more enemies, and the action can be so frantic you really need to keep your wits about you and be aware of your surroundings in order to progress.

It is possible to just blast through the game in as gung-ho a manner as possible, but in order to stay alive you need to adapt tactically to each situation, and we’d actively encourage you to do so in order to get the most from the game. Dying over and over again in the same place for the same reasons can get old rather too quickly. For instance, in one stage you’re pitched into darkness without night vision, and the area fills with bad guys with laser sights on their weapons – firing at the source of multiple red dots and keeping your location secret is a tough call and requires a bit of subtlety and a keen aiming eye to pull it off, whereas just steaming in will get you torn to shreds. It’s the knowing which tactic to employ in each situation that’s the kicker, and from time to time things can descend into a little bit of trial and error, but it keeps the campaign fresh and exciting and the whole thing will keep you on your toes until the final (shocking) stages of the game.

Each stage is distinct and memorable in it’s own right, asking you to provide predator missile support whilst defending a Burger Town restaurant in one or zipping down the side of a snowy mountain in a skidoo in another, and the set-pieces are sometimes ridiculously epic…I know we just mentioned about the closing stages of the game being shocking, but we can’t enthuse about MW2’s story and diversity enough. It’s a rip-snorting adventure that careers you from situation to situation in a fantastic fashion and it’s all too easy to become wrapped up in its “filmic” qualities.

But we do feel that the Single Player game might be slightly overlooked in favour of the (albeit superb) Multiplayer option. Building on the perks system of the original, MW2 offers a heap of new perks (including ‘pro’ versions), callsigns, emblems, attachments and killstreaks to mess around with – and all can be customized to suit you and your preferred playing style. These are unlocked by completing challenges or getting to a certain rank in multiplayer, and for every kill, condition met or game won you receive XP, adding to your overall ranking level. All the usual Team Deathmatch and Free For All match types return, but IW have thrown in some new games in the form of Moshpit (a randomly selected ‘playlist’ of three games), Team Deathmatch Express (offering a shorter time in the lobby between games) and a new Third-Person mode in the Free For All and One on One games, which pulls things out of the standard FPS view and means you can see your CoD character on screen for the first time. Although it sounds like it shouldn’t work, it does – and it manages to keep the same fast pacing as the rest of the multiplayer options and offers another fresh aspect to the game.

Added to this is the new Special Ops mode, a series of challenges that can be tackled singularly or in co-op, and range from Horde style endurance tests to protecting your comrades with an AC-130. It’s a brilliant addition to an already stellar package, and we guarantee you’ll want to rinse the mode to get the max amount of stars for each mission, and the kudos from your peers, of course!

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Graphics

If CoD4 is the attractive older sister, then MW2 is the drop-dead gorgeous younger sibling you just knew would turn out to be way more attractive. The levels are varied and beautiful, and in HD they are glorious. Dust kicks up in sunlight, gun barrels flare and things catch on fire, causing a heat haze to rise. If things weren’t so hectic it would be quite easy to spend a fair bit of time wandering around exploring and seeing all the little touches each level has to offer (such as the Army base in the opening training section or the chickens frantically thrashing about in their cages during the Rio De Janeiro stage), and some of the vistas on offer are stunning. The characters look chunky and individual, and the lip-syncing and motion-capture is absolutely spot on. The only minor complaint we have is the dodgy “bobbing” animation NPC’s seem to have when running up stairs in the main campaign, but strangely enough this either doesn’t happen or isn’t noticeable during Multiplayer. You can really tell that Infinity Ward have stepped up their graphics engine for this one, and it’s hard to believe our faithful grey boxes haven’t given up the ghost processing all the beauty.

Audio

Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer provides the musical score for MW2, and it compliments each situation magnificently. From points of relative serenity to the most frantic of shootouts, Zimmer’s accompaniment adds an extra layer of sheen on to an already polished title. At points it’s both beautiful and poignant and makes some of the more dramatic set pieces a completely emotional experience. The voice acting is superb – every character you come across feels like a real person, and never once is the script clichéd, stereotypical or hackneyed. If MW2 had been pitched as a film we suspect Hollywood would be fighting amongst itself for it – and with all the old cast reprising their roles and some of the new guard (Lance Henriksen, for example) providing vocal duties you will find yourself caring about each and every character within the game. You will notice incidental noises like explosions, bullet ricochets and birds singing in the trees during a particularly frantic battle scene and you’ll wonder just how much there is going on that you really haven’t noticed.

Overall Score & Replayability

Modern Warfare 2 is the most hotly anticipated game of 2009 – if not the decade – and judging by the success of CoD4, it’s not hard to imagine Infinity Ward have attempted to pull out all the stops to go one better by making MW2 an even more epic, enjoyable and immersive experience. While we all knew IW would pull it off with ease, there has always been the small voice in the back of everyone’s mind saying “What if it’s rubbish? What if it doesn’t live up to the hype?”, and I’m pleased to say that that voice is now well and truly silenced by an M4A1 with an ACOG Sight.

Despite the general shortness of the excellent main campaign (on average it’s taken the VGR team around 5 ½ hours to complete), it’s so ridiculously epic that it doesn’t feel like you’ve been cheated at all. Add to this the enemy intel items you need to hunt down in each level and the Veteran difficulty mode to unlock, you won’t mind returning to it again and again. However, Multiplayer is the real jewel in MW2’s crown, with its refined customization options and sheer addictiveness; we can see it holding us over until MW3 inevitably rears its wonderful head. Don’t look at MW2 like another FPS or another instalment in the CoD series – look at it as it deserves to be: a beautiful piece of modern interactive entertainment. Purchase instantly.

CSI: Deadly Intent

November 16, 2009 by Susan Taylor  
Filed under Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, PC, Reviews, Xbox 360

Overview

Title: CSI: Deadly Intent

Release date: PC/Xbox 360 – Oct 13th DS/Wii – Oct 20th

Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS

Genre: Point-and-click Adventure

Developers/Publishers: Telltale Games / Ubisoft

**Please note: I am reviewing the Xbox 360 version of this game**

Storyline

It’s time to pick up your bottle of Luminol once again and show the team of CSI Las Vegas what you are made of. As with the previous CSI games, you are the new kid on the block, but this time you are no longer a rookie. As a seasoned investigator, each case sees you working alongside one of the main characters  from Season 9 of the hit TV show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation; Nick Stokes, Greg Sanders, Catherine Willows, Riley Adams and Robert Langdon. There are five cases that need to be cracked and it is up to you to get your hands dirty, work out who is lying through their teeth and put the criminals behind bars.

Gameplay

It will not take you long to realise that the gameplay has not changed much (if at all) since the first CSI game as Telltale Games have continued down the rather limited route of the “point and click” genre. From the first person perspective, you will be investigating crime scenes, examining the evidence in two separate labs, getting warrants at Jim Brass’ office, hearing about your victims at the morgue and giving suspects  the third degree in the interrogation room.

So expect to click, click, and click some more as you move between locations, review case files in your inventory, search for clues, use the lab equipment to examine and enhance your evidence and initiate conversations with your team, witness and suspects.

Graphics

I was not expecting much from the graphics and I am glad I kept my expectations low. While there is an increase in the quality of the graphics over the last few games, it is not a significant improvement and looks very out of place compared to other next gen games.

Environments are very basic, the character models are very outdated, although I will say that the main characters do look similar to the actors they are supposed to portray from the TV show.

Audio

The soundtrack seems to have been recycled from the previous game, with very few minor changes to the songs themselves. The music does fit in with the TV show however and fans of the show will enjoy the soundtrack.

The voice acting is good though and it should be; Telltale Games have got the cast from the show on board to voice their game counterparts. I was a little more impressed with the emotions displayed in the game compared to the previous games, the witnesses/suspects actually sound like they mean what they are saying.

Overall & Replayability

This is a rather short game (I completed it in under 8hrs, with 100% achievements obtained) and would only recommend renting this game if you are a fan of the series and/or the point-and-click detective genre. Having said that, it is not a bad game by any means and I could not put the controller down once I started the game.

Wallace & Gromit Episode 2 – The Last Resort

November 12, 2009 by Jeff Barker  
Filed under PC, Reviews, Xbox Live Arcade

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Overview

Title: Wallace & Gromit Episode 2 – The Last Resort

Release Date: 04/11/2009 (XBLA), 05/05/2009 (PC)

Developer/Publisher: Telltale Games

Genre: Family, Puzzle & Trivia

Platform[s]: XBox Live Arcade, PC

Storyline

After ridding West Wallaby Street of the Giant Bee menace in the relatively successful Fright of the Bumblebees, Wallace & Gromit are all set to embark on a well-deserved holiday – but a freak thunderstorm and a burst water main in the basement force the plasticine duo to stay at home. A brutish Scotsman and dastardly plot threaten to ruin things further, but as usual W&G set out to save the day in their own bumbling, innocent fashion.

Gameplay

For anyone who played Fright of the Bumblebees, you’ll be pleased to know that the control system remains exactly the same (a case of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), giving an overall feel of consistency to return players. Newcomers will find things easy to grips with however, using LS to control your onscreen character, the left and right bumpers to cycle through the onscreen objects and X to call up your inventory.

Your job is to guide the title characters through a series of charming puzzles, using a combination of items and NPC’s in order to make it through each one. For instance, the first major hurdle you’ll come across is ridding Felicity Flitt (your neighbour and possible love interest) of an amorous Scotsman attempting to take her to the beach for the day. Felicity refuses to budge due to the weather, but the Scotsman will not leave her doorstep until he’s convinced a thunderstorm is on the way. Using Wallace’s love of cheese and a conversation elsewhere, you receive a delivery of Stilton that causes his stomach to rumble, dampening the Scotsman’s advances on poor Felicity and sending him on his way.

Things rarely get more complicated than this, and despite a few random solutions, answers are generally handed to you on a plate – but then W&G is primarily a family franchise, so it’s the sort of thing you can see the kids sticking on with Mum and Dad after a Sunday lunch, suiting the core demographic quite nicely.

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Graphics

Consistency runs throughout The Last Resort, with it clearly using the same graphics engine from Episode 1. We believe Telltale have given the gameworld a bit of a spit shine too, with everything looking crisper than before – the small dimples and imperfections in the plastecine characters are there, and in certain situations you can still easily forget you’re playing a game and are watching an interactive version of the show. Despite the small odd graphical glitch and dodgy bit of lip-synching, we really can’t fault TLR’s graphical flair.

Audio

The Last Resort excels sonically as well, with the guy standing in for Peter Sallis making another star turn out as Wallace. All the characters from …Bumblebees return, along with Duncan McBiscuit, the rampant Scotsman and this episode’s bad egg. Each of the characters are still voiced impeccably and don’t sound out of place in the W&G universe, but certain sections of the dialogue do feel a bit hackneyed and are, in some cases, actually quite cringe worthy.

Overall Score & Replayability

Wallace & Gromit fans will love The Last Resort, and anyone who played and enjoyed Flight of the Bumblebees will too. Its instantly accessible interface and big, bold style overall will entice kids and (dare we say it) casual gamers in for a quick bash, and in some ways it’s a funnier, better looking  and more enjoyable jaunt through the W&G universe. However, it really is just more of the same and those looking for a more cerebral challenge or who found nothing attractive about Episode 1 will have no need to download this. We would, however, recommend this over and above …Bumblebees for anyone looking for a few hours respite from the upcoming onslaught of Modern Warfare 2.

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Borderlands

November 12, 2009 by Jeff Barker  
Filed under Playstation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360

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Overview

Title: Borderlands

Release Date: Consoles: 20th October 2009 (North America) & 23rd October 2009 (PAL). PC: 26th October 2009 (North America) & 29th October 2009 (PAL)

Developer/Publisher: Gearbox Software Inc/2K Games

Genre: Shooter

Platform[s]: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC

Storyline

Borderlands is all about treasure. The Vault is a fabled place lying dormant somewhere on the distant planet of Pandora, said to contain immeasurable wealth, power and long-forgotten Alien technology. Taking control of one of four mercenary/treasure hunters, you set about relieving Pandora of its indigenous life-forms in a quest for The Vault, helping out the locals, slaying bandits and making an all-round nuisance of yourself to anyone who gets in your way.

Gameplay

Let’s get straight to the point here, a lot of ‘hoo-hah’ has been made about Borderlands’ supposed melding of our beloved FPS and RPG genres – promising an RPS (Role Playing Shooter, fact fans!) experience like no other, featuring infinite combinations of weaponry, enemies and missions. At first glance, it appears that Gearbox Software has managed to pull it off rather successfully, with elements from both genres clearly both present AND correct. RPG fans will be bowled over by the sheer amount of items there are to collect, buy and sell and FPS aficionados will be happy with the run and gun gameplay that lies at the heart of the title. But, upon further inspection (and after a lot of man hours invested), the cracks begin to show and you realize that the experience isn’t as deep as you’d been led to believe which, for a game that offers 160 quests, is quite a worry.

Now, don’t get us wrong – Borderlands has a lot to offer, and there’s plenty to see and kill on the way. For starters, the game has a random weapon generator that (at last count) offers anything up to 17,000,000 different combinations of ammo, barrel length, colour and size. So, every time you see a crate that looks like it has something interesting in it, the need to crack it open and get your hands on whatever lays inside is too much to bear. Handguns that fire shotgun shells, sniper rifles that cause your prey to explode into flames and machine guns that fire cats (we made that last one up) are some of the best examples we’ve come across so far, but for every exciting new kind of weapon there’s another humdrum revolver or bottom-end shotgun ready to clog up your inventory until you find a shop ready to take it off your hands.

These shops take the form of vending machines (a bit like those in Bioshock), stocking the usual health packs, weapon upgrades and shields that appear to be de riguer in any FPS worth it’s salt nowadays, as well as a “bargain of the day” that’s only on offer for a limited period of time – sometimes so tantalizingly expensive that you do all you can (without selling what you already have) to get the cash together to purchase it before returning and finding that you’re too late.

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Cash can be gleaned in a number of ways, from cracking open the myriad safes, toilets and piles of dung (yes, you read that right) that litter the landscape, to prising it from the cold, dead hands of your foes. When we say “prising”, we actually mean “button pressing” – instead of automatically collecting something when your character wanders over it, you have to stop and look at the item in question and then press X in order to retrieve it. It’s overly annoying and can easily disrupt the flow of the game, especially when you’re caught in a massive firefight with a group of bandits and run out of ammo: life would be so much easier if you just picked items up automatically instead. There is an alarming amount of stuff to be harvested however, and practically everything you kill either drops cash or ammo, and it appears to be relevant to the weapons you’re carrying at the time, meaning you’re never far from a full clip somewhere along the line.

Killing things earns you XP (experience points, for the non-initiated) which you use to level up, as does completing quests – which (in some cases), you need to do pretty quickly in order to progress through the story mode. When a quest is presented to you it tells you what level you need to be at to stand a chance of completing it, and most of the time you need to grind in order to do this. Unfortunately, most of these quests feel non-descript and samey, requiring you to “go here, kill him, collect this” in varying orders and it all gets rather repetitive rather quickly. Even the story-led missions lack emotion or anything worth remembering, and with little or no dialogue between you and the NPC’s (save the odd sarcastic comment when you kill something) it’s hard to build up a strong connection to your character. It’s like Gearbox read a list of all the things normal gamers care about (decent storyline and attachment to your character, for example) and got it mixed up with all the stuff we don’t instead. This may indicate a leaning towards old-skool gaming values of old, but without the core gameplay to back things up it just feels like urinating in the wind.

Graphics

Looking like a cross between Prince of Persia and Afro Samurai, Borderlands follows the underused cel-shading method, which at least gives it a unique comic book style feel. The landscapes are vast, and there’s a real sense of scope and distance all around you. Unfortunately, most of the terrain looks like the same arid desert landscape you visited earlier and save the odd bandit camp or wind turbine it could very well be. Likewise, the enemies on offer are quite varied, from the mutated canine Skags to the highly amusing Psycho Dwarf fraternity, but despite the odd random variant (Level 12 Corrosive Skag, anyone?) they all look and act exactly the same. Texture pop is also an issue, with it being glaringly obvious in some places.

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Audio

Sounding like a cross between a twangy Ennio Morricone Soundtrack in places and Deliverance on LSD in others, Borderlands screams “old skool Western movie” – most of the NPC’s have faux-texan accents and sound like every cowboy cliché extra you’ve ever heard in a Clint Eastwood movie. The bad guys really all sound the same, and tend to spit the same token insults and taunts, with only the high-pitched giggling of the Psychotic Dwarves providing any real giggles. The gun sounds are quite convincing however, and the explosions have some real meat behind them – but why are the vehicles so quiet?!! They look beefy, but make little or no sound at all…the track over the opening movie is fantastic, though!

Overall Score & Replayability

As scathing as this review may seem, Borderlands does have a quirky charm – it is quite unlike anything available on the market today and we can’t quite put our fingers on what that something is. It could be the overall annoyance and complete lack of satisfaction you get when playing the game (the effort/pay off ratio is very low on this one), or it may be the unique graphical flair and the fact that Gearbox have tried to create something a bit different and, to some extent, have succeeded. The FPS and RPG elements mould into each other quite well but (and I’m paraphrasing here) neither are remarkable enough to achieve an outstanding final product. Nevertheless, the time we spent with Borderlands was quite enjoyable and it’s easy to whittle away a few days on Pandora’s sandy vistas – just don’t expect anything life changing.

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Tower Bloxx Deluxe

October 29, 2009 by Jeff Barker  
Filed under PC, Reviews, Xbox Live Arcade

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Overview

Title: Tower Bloxx Deluxe

Release Date: 21/10/2009

Developer/Publisher: Digital Chocolate

Genre: Family, Puzzla & Trivia

Platform[s]: Xbox Live Arcade, PC, Mobile Phones

Storyline

The city of Sunnyvale is in decline. The population is shrinking and its shops and businesses are closing down – and that’s where you and your avatar come in!! Using the cheap and affordable Tower Bloxx of the title, you’re tasked with rebuilding Sunnyvale’s towns and villages in an attempt to improve the population count and get the wheels of industry turning once more in this colourful, kiddie-lite puzzler. Digital Chocolate are well known for making simple, fun and kid-friendly titles on both PC and Mobile, and Tower Bloxx Deluxe is it’s first foray into console gaming. Based on a simple flash game for the PC where you have to drop living quarters (or Bloxx, if you prefer) on top of each other to create blocks of flats, the Deluxe version takes things into the third dimension and adds a few different game types to mix it up a bit.

Gameplay

In keeping with the original, TBD’s gameplay is extremely simple – your Avatar controls a crane that drops levels in a tower block on top of each other, with the key being to place them as squarely as possible – press A to drop your block, new residents begin to fly in on umbrellas (Mary Poppins style), Sunnyvale gets its economy back and everyone’s happy. But, things aren’t that simple – successfully landing your blocks on top of each other requires a keen eye and quick reactions, as off-centre placements will cause your building to start swaying (disturbingly, this doesn’t discourage people from brollying in) and you’ll soon find yourself locked into a battle of wits as you try to predict how sharp the sway of your building will be compared to the swing of the block you’re waiting to drop.

Points are scored for every block you drop successfully, and if you manage a perfect drop it encourages more new residents to move in to your building, increasing your overall population and score multiplier. If you miss a block it tumbles to the ground and, if you’re very unlucky, it may even knock a few levels off your tower, decreasing your population and score. It’s a fairly annoying prospect at times, particularly if you’ve spent ages antagonizing over the perfect time to drop your block only to watch it sail off into the distance, knocking out a few floors as it goes.

As you progress through the main story mode, you unlock new tower types offering more floors and extra residential spaces, adding a subtle strategy element to the proceedings – each town is made up of a grid and you decide which colour towers to place in each slot. Each tower has to be placed correctly (red can only sit next to a blue, for example), and some micromanagement is involved with rebuilding old towers with new blocks that encourage more residents to move in, capitalizing on space and resources.

Alongside the main game, Digital Chocolate have thrown in a local co-op mode (presumably in an attempt to get kids and their parents gaming together), where one player drops the blocks whilst the other nudges the off-centre ones into place. There are also 4vs4 local matches available, Time Attack modes and a Single Game where you’re challenged with building as big a tower as you can, eventually ending up in space where new residents zoom in wearing astronaut suits and jetpacks. Surprisingly, there is a complete lack of Online play – but you can send your friends a challenge to beat your score in the single build-as-big-a-tower-as-you-can mode, but we can’t help imagining what an online co-op session would be like.

Graphics

Matching the simple gameplay, TBD’s graphics are bright, bold and undeniably colourful – making it an instant winner with the kids. The overall look and feel is very My Sims, and the addition of Avatars as residents is a nice touch. Progressing from the hustle and bustle of the city into the sky and then into space is quite an amazing journey, and the little touches (like the astronauts and jetpacks) make a big difference and show some care and attention to detail has been taken. The Avatars themselves aren’t overly well animated, as most of them seem to statically glide across the screen into the buildings, but most of the time you won’t even notice.

Every now and again a prompt to press Y to “watch” will appear, and these opportunities focus in on an Avatar wandering around on the ground to an aeroplane circling your building – they’re all delightfully random but we can imagine little ones will enjoy these minor diversions. The swing of the buildings is also convincing, but it makes you wonder A) why they don’t topple and B) people keep moving into them, even when you’re 150+ blocks deep and in outer space…

Audio


Sonically, TBD continues the kid-friendly feel with cute (see: grating) music that bumbles happily along in the background, convincing you that the wheels of industry and turning and that you’re actually getting something done. In outer space the soundtrack goes all “out there” with the kind of weird noises that you would hear (we imagine). When you place a block perfectly, a whole bunch of Avatars fly into your building with a Lemmings-esque “wheeeeee”, which never fails to raise a smile, and the other incidental sound effects (aeroplanes buzzing about, for instance) all fit nicely into the game.

Overall Score & Replayability

Although it’s an extremely simple game, it does take some getting used to, and it won’t be long before you’re retrying towers over and over again, or challenging your friends to see who can build the biggest – plus there’s some tantalizing achievement points on offer (build a tower of 100 blocks, for example) which are worth hunting down. The lack of online multiplayer is a downer, and we can only see Tower Bloxx Deluxe being played in small bouts – it doesn’t lend itself to long play sessions as things can get too repetitive, even for the least ADHD-affected kid you can muster. To be fair, the 800MSP price point is a bit high when you look at the overall quality of the game, and bar something to keep the little oiks occupied over half term we can’t see this having much long-term value.

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Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

October 23, 2009 by Rob Knight  
Filed under Playstation 3, Reviews

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Overview

Title: Uncharted 2

Release Date: 16th October 2009

Developer/Publisher: Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment America

Genre: Third Person Action Adventure

Platform[s]: Playstation 3

Storyline

Uncharted 2, the sequel to the critically acclaimed PS3 exclusive from developers Naughty Dog has arrived a little under two years after the original and once again finds roguish hero Nathan Drake on the trail of fortune and glory. An artefact found in a ship that was part of Marco Polo’s lost journey returning from China in 1292 leads Drake, Victor Sullivan and new allies Chloe Frazer & Harry Flynn on the trail of the “wish-fulfilling” Cintimani Stone. As with any good action adventure all does not go to plan however and twists and turns along the way see Nathan in a race against time and a gang of mercenaries lead by a crazed war criminal to be the first to reach the treasure.

Gameplay

While the original Uncharted was seen as a poster boy for the then underused power of the PS3, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves truly is an amazing step in really showing what the console is capable of. All features and characters from the original are present and correct but it is apparent right from the start that Naughty Dog have not rested on their laurels and churned out a carbon-copy sequel, instead fashioning what is one of the most visually stunning and groundbreaking titles of this console generation.

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Obvious comparisons will always be made to the Tomb Raider series and more recently Gears of War and its’ sequel on Xbox 360 but I truly cannot remember enjoying a game as much and feeling the urge to carry on playing into the wee small hours in a long time, if indeed ever. With regard to the breaking of new ground I feel that you have to look back as far as the original Tomb Raider on PS1 to find an equal and, dare I say it, the spectacular set pieces from the Gears of War and Killzone series are distant memories once you have played through the first few levels of Uncharted 2.

The developer has made a conscious effort to improve the maligned aspects of the original such as the repetitive ledge-to-ledge jumping (or in my case plunging to my doom) and room-clearing gunplay as well as the underwhelming but much trumpeted hand-to-hand combat system that prevented Drakes Fortune from receiving higher review scores overall. Four difficulty levels from Very Easy to Hard also make this accessible to a wide range of players who may possibly be more used to the FPS genre with the added bonus that you can change the difficulty on the fly.

In almost all aspects of the improvements the creases have been well and truly ironed out although a few niggly moments in climbing sections require you to try a few times in order for your character to realise where you are trying to get to next. Also fairly early on a number of enemies appear that are near impossible to defeat which, while not a bad thing as far as difficulty goes, can be a frustrating leap up from the more general enemies that are encountered. There is also a level, which by means of a flash-forward at the very start of the game, is somewhat repeated later on but even this is handled differently the second time around so it’s absolutely not a game-breaker.

The selection of landscapes in which levels take place along with swings in tempo where one moment you find yourself fleeing down narrow streets from a truck or hanging from a train while escaping a helicopter gunship are then countered with sections through chilling icy levels and a near silent breather through a Himalayan village.

The truly great script includes some genuine laughs and the neatly paced scattering of set-pieces really does make this seem more action film than action game. Attention to detail is also spot on with the puzzle-breaking Journal (called into action on numerous occasions throughout the game) containing many revealing insights into the character of Nathan Drake ranging from graphs of scariness, the bottom level of which is shown to be Sully’s moustache! to a list of Drake’s girlfriends past.

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New to this series is the introduction of Multiplayer which includes many of the standard modes such as Deathmatch, Elimination, King of the Hill and the Domination-like Chain Reaction which provides players with the option to extend their playing experience beyond the single-player campaign and also includes co-op levels and machinima mode along with multiplayer cinema replay mode. This is however extra icing on the cake to what is the major draw of the title, namely the main storyline.

Graphics

You may have already picked up that graphically this game is stunning. On an HD display the 720p vistas have such high levels of detail that you will find yourself wishing that the single player had a cinema mode also that would let you pause the game, swing the camera around and simply stare at what surrounds your character. Indeed on levels such as Locomotion there’s so much detail missed as you rumble along hanging onto or running across the top of the train that I started to wonder how much time the team had spent drawing this largely unseen yet amazing scenery. In fact, Naughty Dog have stated in interviews that Uncharted 2: Among Thieves uses between 90 & 100% of the Cell Processor’s power and takes up nearly the full capacity of the 25GB available to them on the Blu-Ray and you have to say that it shows.
It’s also quite telling in the 11 hours and 11 minutes that my first play through took that the statistics screen tells me I stood still for 1 hour and 40 minutes – admiring the views !

Sound

I played the game both through a home cinema amp and using headphones (for late-night playing into the early hours – it really is worth losing sleep over) and in both instances the sound field including explosions & gunshots, crashing cars, trucks & locomotives through to the serenity of children playing in the Himalayan village and birds tweeting in the jungle were perfectly balanced.

Audiophiles are more than catered for with audio mode selections including Stereo, Stereo Headphones, Dolby Pro Logic II, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, PCM 5.1 and PCM 7.1 taking full advantage of pretty much every setup that anyone may play the game through.

Overall Score and Replayability

With obvious nods to the Indiana Jones series and The Empire Strikes Back amongst others this truly mindblowing game goes further in blurring the line between game and film as entertainment media than any preceding it. Where Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare included superb storytelling, level variation and multiplayer excellence, this includes all of that and characters that you feel an affinity towards by the time the credits roll.
I can’t wait to start my next playthrough of the single player campaign, trophy support and multiplayer will add longevity and variation as needed and there is even a Twitter feed update option that, although seemingly broken at the moment, will tweet level and chapter progress as you go and annoy your friends !

Final words – one of the best games I have played in a very long time, if you have a PS3, 11-15 hours available to you and are 15 or over (the BBFC is still watching after all ;-) ) buy it, buy it, buy it. You will absolutely not be disappointed.

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