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.

shjripper04

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!

shjripper05

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!

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

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

Screen

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.

Screen2

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.

Screen3

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!

Screen4

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

wglastresort_gromit

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.

148071-wallace

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.

wglastresort_deductomatic

Tower Bloxx Deluxe

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

Tower-Bloxx-Deluxe_2

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.

dchoc_towerbloxx-deluxe_shot_01_800x600

Scrabble Interactive 2009 Edition

October 21, 2009 by Laura Broome  
Filed under Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, PC, Reviews

Overview

Title: Scrabble Interactive 2009 Edition

Release Date: 2nd October 2009

Developer/Publisher: UBISOFT

Genre: Boardgame

Platform[s]: PC / Nintendo DS / Nintendo Wii - Please note, I am reviewing the PC version of this game!

Objective

The main objective is to make words using a random selection of  letters! No matter whether you play the classic mode or any of the puzzle games this really is the aim. Obviously there are tactical moves to be thought of and ways to make low scoring words in to higher scoring ones by placing them on double or triple score squares.

Basically it is the classic game of Scrabble, but on the computer!

Gameplay

This game has 3 main modes, Single Player, LAN or Multi-player. So far I have only been able to play the single player mode as nobody I know has the game yet, I am really hoping this changes. This doesn’t mean however that you are playing all by yourself. You are able to choose your opponents and they have avatars,  names and are of different abilities. There is a Tutorial Mode that unlocks characters and wallpapers as well as guiding you through all of the types of tactical play.  All in all this is a good word puzzle game with some interesting twists that keeps you mind working whilst playing the hours away.

In Single Player mode there are different games to play. The Classic version plays the same as the board game but is never easy, well for me anyway! I was dubious that the computer version of this game would spoil the real live aspect but actually I feel it enhances it, mainly because you never actually look or feel stupid when you spell something wrong you just get a little box that pops up telling you that the word you have entered is not allowed, and yes this does happen to me quite a lot! You also don’t have to wait for what seems like a life time for your opponents to play their turn as it is automatic. Personally I feel that I could get hooked on it. When I first began playing I was really finding it difficult, I had not heard of a lot of the words that the computer was playing and was missing obvious moves which would increase my score. At this point I did not think I would like this game and would end up putting it on the shelf to gather dust but unlike me (probably because I had to review it) I stuck with it and with a bit of practice I have adjusted to playing a computer and I have actually won a game now!

Along with the Classic Version there is also a selection of other mini games to play. There is something for everyone. The game that struck me the most was Scrabble Hold’em. This is a take on the poker game Texas Hold’em and it works very well. You play the computer which plays the part of the different characters. You then are given some money with which you can bet. The dealer button is passed round after each game and there is a small and big blind just like the real game. The basics are that instead of cards you have letters. You are dealt 2 letters with which you can bet, check or fold and then three more letters are drawn and again you can bet check or fold etc. This carries on and once 5 community letters have been drawn then you put in the word you wanted to make using your 2 letters and the community letters. The person with the highest scoring word, which is worked out using the numerical values for each letter, wins the pot. It is a fun way to pass some time and if like me, like poker and word games then you may just find it hard to stop playing.

Most of the other mini games are fairly generic for word games. There is one variation called Duplicate this is available to play in Single –Player mode but is the form that is also mainly played in Multi-Player mode. In this mode all the players are given the same letters to make words with. Once you have decided the word you want to play, you place it on the board, the person who comes up with the highest scoring word has their word put on the board however everyone’s score is added to their total. Once the highest scoring word has been put on the board everyone receives their next set of seven letters, again everyone is given the same tiles and the game carries on in this fashion until the bag of letters is empty. The winner is the one with the most points.

Other mini games include Anagrams, where you have to find all of the possible anagrams from the set of letters, you can move on to the next set of letters if you get stuck but you earn bonus points if you find all of the possible anagrams from the set. This is a good method of training for the real game.

Another game is Escalators which is where you have to form successive words by adding one letter at each step. You do get a time bonus if you manage to get all of the words on the grid without passing. I am not a massive fan of this mode but this is personal choice as it is not the type of word puzzle I favour.

The other mini game is called Puzzleletters and this is fast becoming top of my favourites list. In this mode you have a board of letters and you have to find words by linking adjacent letters together. You begin by having to find 2 words in 100 seconds and this increases as you progress. It is reasonably difficult and you have to try to ensure you don’t block yourself out of making further words as you can only use each letter on the board once.

It is a shame that at present it has not been possible to play the Multi-Play function however I keep popping online in the hope that other people have been out and purchased the game and I am confident that this will soon become quite popular.

This game is very easy to play and it is not a game that becomes frustrating, it allows you to place words in letter by letter or you click all the letters you want to use in order and move them to the board in one go. I have found that you can play this game in two mind-sets, if you want to just click away without much thought and the television on in the background you can although be warned you will probably get beaten! But you can put a lot of thought and concentration in to it as well. My advice would be not to play this after one too many drinks though as the words you try to put in are not usually accepted!

Graphics

The graphics are clear and straightforward and there is a useful bar at the top which gives a description of the words used, this helps when the computer plays something you have never heard of and also aids in helping you to remember the words that are high scoring. There are different backgrounds which you can choose from and most of these are unlocked by playing the tutorial mode. The backgrounds are nothing particularly special but you can change them to spice things up if you want to.

Sound

The audio for this game  is nothing to write home about, fairly usual for these type of games, however it is nice to have them there, especially if you are sitting at home by yourself with no other sound around you and helps you to focus. I tend to play with the sound off and the television or music on in the background but this is down to personal preference. The sound would probably get a little tedious after a while though.

Overall Score & Replayability

Overall this game is highly playable. You do lose track of time quite easily so if you have to be somewhere at a certain time then make sure you set yourself an alarm.  It is always nice when a classic board game hits the computer world but sometimes they can be hugely disappointing, this is not one them. Yes, it is another game that stops us playing with real people whilst having real discussions but lets face it there are times when you want to shut yourself away from the rest of the world and just have some time to yourself. At least if you are playing this you are giving your brain a work out at the same time.

If this was just purely a version of classic scrabble I would say that after a few goes you would become slightly bored, however because of the mini games and the Multi-Player functions then there always seems to be something else to entertain you. So on that note I shall sign off  here and get back to trying to beat my personal best score.

Wish me luck!

Wolfenstein

October 6, 2009 by Susan Taylor  
Filed under PC, Playstation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360

wolfenstein_naziskelleton_blog

Overview

 

Title: Wolfenstein

Release Date:18th August 2009 (NA), 19th August 2009 (AU), 20th August 2009 (EU)

Developer/Publisher: Raven Software, id Software, Pi Studios & Endrant Studios / Activision

Genre: First Person Shooter

Platform[s]: Microsoft Windows (PC), Xbox 360, Playstation 3

Storyline

 

The SS Paranormal Division (based loosely on the Ahnenerbe) are back in full swing and so are you Agent Blazkowicz (aka B.J). You’ve conquered Return to Castle Wolfenstein, so now it is time to take control of your sequel, Wolfenstein, and stop those damned Nazis and their supernatural ways….again.

The tale begins when you come to hold a special medallion of great unusual power. You are sent deep undercover to the town of Isenstadt to learn more about what you discovered. Your cover is quickly blown and you soon release that the town has been overrun by your German foe who are intent on obtaining powerful crystals that are needed to access the “Black Sun”. Thankfully you have allies in many shapes and forms in Wolfenstein; the Kreisau Circle, a group of resistance fighters who want the Nazis out of Isenstadt; the Golden Dawn, a collection of scholars who study the occult and hand their knowledge of the “Black Sun” and the “Veil” over to you; the Black Market, a self-explanatory band who are useful when you need to purchase upgrades and ammo.

It is up to you, Agent B.J, to help free fictional German town of Isenstadt from the clutches of the Nazis, their inhuman creations, and to put an end the madness, once and for all.

Gameplaywolfenstein.02.lg

 

Single-player

Wolfenstein is a very smooth first-person shooter. At lot of FPS games can feel quite stunted in movement and feel very “sluggish”, but like the top games of out shooting generation (name Call of Duty), Wolfenstein is very much up there. You can freely explore the town of Isenstadt through scaling walls, jumping across rooftops, exploring the sewers, sneaking through houses or just walking the streets with your gun at the ready.

Isenstadt is very much the main area of the game. As you progress through the story you are loaded onto vehicles and cast off (through the powers of a loading screen) to a variety of locations such as a dig site, a church, a hospital, a farm, the SS Headquarters, a Paranormal base, a General’s home, an airfield and a large Zeppelin. All of which are very linear-based and generally “Get from Point A to Point B to achieve Objective X”.

Wolfenstein offers up an arsenal of eight weapons, five of which you will find in the history books, three of which are supernatural and, unfortunately, non-existent in the real world. The history-book weapons include an MP40, an MP43, the Kar98k (my personal fave), a Panzershreck and the Flammenwerfer. The fictional weapons include a Particle Cannon, a kick-arse Tesla Gun and the Leichenfaust 44 – the ultimate weapon of destruction and mayhem.

Aside from your array of weaponry, you also hold the Thule Medallion. Through this you can enter the Veil, a barrier between our dimension and the elusive “Black Sun” dimension that your Nazi adversaries want to master so badly. With this you are given four new abilities, which unlock as you progress throughout the game and that can be upgraded through collecting material that I will explain later and heading to the Black Market to part with your hard-earned gold.

Veil Sight – The ability to see hidden pathways, doorways and secret treasures. Once upgraded you can also see through walls.

Mire - A very useful skill that allowed you to slow down time.

Shield - Very handy to have when up against a wave of bullets. Once upgraded those bullets will bounce back.

Empower - This talent gives you a significant increase in the damage caused by your weapons.

wolf3All of the above will become very important to you once you realise just the type of enemy you are up against as you move through Wolfenstein. Gone are the days of taken on just human soldiers, you are now facing a powerful army of specialised foe. There are assassins, who are invisible; scribes. who can shield themselves and non-supernatural soldiers, and large brutes wielding powerful weapons (which you can pick up upon killing them).

The pack-rats of the gaming world will love the collecting aspect of Wolfenstein. Throughout Isenstadt and the various other locations you must conquer, there will be Intel, Gold and Tomes of Power for you to find. Gold is an obvious collectable and without it you would not be able to upgrade your weapons/powers and purchase ammo when needed. Intel provides you an interesting background to the story, plus weapon unlocks. Tomes of Power unlock Veil upgrades.

Multiplayer

Eight multiplayer maps are offered up with three modes for you to choose from.

Objective - You have an attacking team and a defending team. The one on the offensive has to achieve certain objectives to win.

Stopwatch - Both sides take turns in trying to complete the listed objectives, the team that does it in the least amount of time wins.

Team Deathmatch -  You should all know this one by now. Team A versus Team B – Have at it!

There are three classes available, the Soldier, the Medic and the Engineer. Each class has a specific role to fill, such as the Engineer who can rig/disarms bombs. Each class also have their own Veil Powers, for example the Medic has the “Healing Aura”, which would replace “Mire” which is found in the single-player. Your weapons and Veil Powers can be upgraded the more you play the MP side of Wolfenstein and the more experience you earn (which is converted into money).

As for playing as a Nazi or a Resistance Fighter? It does not really matter as there are no noticeable differences between the two sides, which is very disappointing to say the least. Each side has the same weapons and the same classes. I would be a lot more excited if the developers decided to mix things up a little and give each side something unique.

Graphics

 

The single-player graphics are very much on par with what we picky gamers demand from our games these days. I have to admit I was not expecting this, but from the moment I had control of Agent B.J, I was very impressed. Nothing is jagged or pixelated, running water looks very realistic and even affects your vision if you stand underneath a stream of it. The physics are top-notch in the SP side of the game and really add to how impressive this game is.

Wolfenstein’s environment has great attention to detail and you really feel as though you are in a war torn German town. From the multitude of propaganda posters through the town to destroyed tanks scattered throughout, you can tell that the developers really put effort into creating a believable world.wolf10

There is a downside to the pretty eye-candy. I found that the game could be a tad laggy at times, even the loading screen would lag ever so slightly on occasion. This is easily overcome however by downloading the game to your hard drive. I had no lag issues with the single-player of Wolfenstein, and it’s purdy graphics, once I’d it was on my 360’s hard drive. I cannot comment on the PC/PS3 versions of the game.

Having read the above praise, you may be saddened to hear that the amazing graphics of Wolfenstein do not carry over to the multiplayer. The quality drops significantly and your world suddenly becomes very blurred and quite choppy. Unfortunately we are not going to see an improvement in the look and feel of the multi-player as the team behind it was quickly laid off soon after it’s release.

Audio

 

I am always very nervous when it comes to voice acting in games as it can be the make or break for a title. Thankfully the voice actors hired did good and Wolfenstein has successfully jumped a difficult hurdle. You have a mixture of accents throughout the game – American, German (speaking German & speaking English) and Russian. All NPCs will talk back to you, when you are in a group there will be commands shouted out to you and even the Intel you pick up has a voice over, which was a nice surprise and adds a nice element to the game.

As for the musical score? There is nothing noteworthy about the music of Wolfenstein, which is a shame. I really enjoy games which have a soundtrack that will create anger, instil fear into you and get your heart racing. Although I love the work of Bill Brown, of Rainbow Six and CSI: New York fame, there is a lack of atmosphere from the music. It can really get lost in the background and is very unnoticeable.

52627_Wolfenstein-07_normalOverall & Replayability

 

I have to admit, I did not get my hopes up with Wolfenstein, but I was pleasantly surprised and will be the first to say that it is a very enjoyable game. The single-player is sexy, smooth and perfect for any FPS fan looking for a solid game to get their teeth into.

Wolfenstein was severely let down by it’s lack of attention to the multi-player aspect, but all it needed to do was look at any Call of Duty review to realise that multi-player is extremely important nowadays.

 

As for the achievements/trophies? They are pretty typical of the latest FPS games – Kill W amount of people using X weapon or in Y fashion, complete campaign in Z mode, and so on and so forth. The achievements seem split 50/50 between the single player campaign mode and the online multiplayer.

In conclusion, a very solid single-player FPS game which I would recommend to any FPS fan (or lover of the Wolfenstein series), but do not purchase if you are looking for a game to jump online with.

DiRT 2

September 27, 2009 by Dave Burns  
Filed under PC, Playstation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360

1

Overview

Title: Colin McRae DiRT 2

Release Date: 8th-11th September 2009 (Consoles Wordwide) / December 2009 (PC version)

Developer/Publisher: Codemasters / Codemasters

Genre: Racing

Platform[s]: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC, Nintendo DS & PSP

Storyline

Colin McRae is arguably the best Rally driver to ever grace the world of racing and that is still true today, even after the tragic events that took 10place 2 years ago in which Colin McRae and his son died in a helicopter crash, which left a huge hole in everyone’s hearts. Since then there has been a lot of drama online about whether or not Codemasters should be sanctioned to create another Colin McRae title, a series that has been going strong for over 10 years and is seen as the definitive rally driving game. Codemasters were granted permission from the McRae estate to go and create a new title based on the DiRT IP and here we are today with a fantastic title that Colin would surely be proud of if he was still with us.

DiRT 2 introduces Rally X Games, a sport in which Colin McRae was heavily involved with after leaving the WRC (World Rally Championship) and it brings a fresh, definitive look at rallying and introduces part off-road and part on-road rally driving. You see yourself travelling the world taking on Rally X Games, Rallying, Baja and many more.

Gameplay

A lot of improvement has gone into DiRT 2 after the feedback from the masses after DiRT, and playing this game reminds myself a lot of playing GRID. Whether your a seasoned racing game fanatic or a casual Sunday driver you are going to fail when you start, (unless of course your name is often featured on the WRC leaderboards) and you will probably find it slightly daunting, but after a few failed races you will learn the in’s and out’s of each car you get to drive in the tournaments and races. Each car does drive differently from the next so you may find yourself changing cars after failed races, in fact I probably kept swapping my cars for the first 2 hours of playing the game just to get accustomed to the style of each vehicle and learning the drive styles that match races and tracks.

2As mentioned before you get to visit tracks and race types all over the world, for instance London specialises in Rally X Games where as Croatia will see race in Rally’s. At first I felt a little overwhelmed by the different types of races but that quickly settled down as I learnt the tracks and felt comfortable with the cars.

Overall the game feels a lot like GRID and the original DiRT and it certainly accommodates new drivers with a difficulty system, there is a disadvantage to playing the game on easier levels and this is the amount of XP that you earn after completing races, but the difficulty can be adjusted before each race so as you get better at the game you can slide the difficulty up slightly to reflect your skill level. The XP that you earn levels you up unlocking a wide range of items such as liveries, cars and dashboard toys. Earning XP also unlocks new regions and new races to visit and special events such as Rally X Games, World Tours and a special Colin McRae challenge which upon completion unlocks a special tribute video of Colin McRae which will turn the hardest most daring people into a big pile of tears.

Graphics

“Does it really get any better than this?” a question I asked myself numerous times while playing DiRT 2, the scenery, the tracks even the advertising is extremely vivid and certainly leaves an imprint on your mind that will last for quite sometime. The whole design of the menu system is very unique and sees yourself looking around a trailer to enter races, configure options and play online amongst other options that we won’t bore you with. Your trailer also comes complete with a TV playing music video’s from the games soundtrack which we will talk about in the next section.

Sound

I haven’t wired up my gaming chair directly to my Xbox since I first got it, I just simply plugged it into my TV with 9loads of adapters and cables all over the place but this title made me want to get the most out of my system and I’m so glad I did. The roar of the engines at the starting line is quite phenomenal and I’m pretty sure you could find someone gullible and tell them that your not actually playing a game, your watching a race on TV. The unique sound of a Mitsibishi Evo X is unmistakable when your here it Rev up on TV or at a race but when your hear it from your own sound system it would almost be impossible to tell the difference between the two.

Not only has the game got unreal sound that’s identical to real life races, it has a killer sound track made up of artists such as Queens of the Stone Age, Prodigy, Bloc Party, Ladyhawk and Rage Against. In fact I could probably sit here all day and rave about the sound track but the only way your going to see is going out and buying the game for yourself.

Overall Score and Replayability

Overall this game is suitable for racing pro’s and newcomers alike with a fantastic engine thats made for everyone. Even if you only love racing sims you really need to give this game a go and see how fantastic it is for yourself, infact I don’t know how not to live without this game and it would certainly be a crime not to drop down to your local video game retailer and pick up a copy!

6