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.

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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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.

King of Fighters XII

October 6, 2009 by Thomas Burley  
Filed under Playstation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360

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Overview

Title: The King OF Fighters XII

Release Date: 25th of September 2009

Developer/Publisher: SNK/Ignition

Genre: Beat’em Up

Platform[s]: Xbox 360 / PS3

Storyline

Anyone who has played a The King of Fighters game (KoF) will know that  a story mode included in the game and for a beat’em up is a great achievement. Unfortunately this time round there is no story mode at all. However there is something that does come close and that is the arcade mode which consists of 5 time trial fights of 3 v 3 with very short cut scenes – One with a women behind a desk explaining the rules and another of a news report talking about the excitement of the final rounds.

There’s no ending for any characters at all so many fans will find themselves very disappointed by this factor. I myself assumed there would be a lot more and in today’s standard a game with no story will always make you feel like you’ve been short changed.

Gameplay

With the lack of any story mode, KoF XII needed to add extra depth to the combat while still being balanced, to be able to redeem itself in my eyes. Though many games have struggled to do this, the KoF series has mastered the 3v3 battles, rather then 1v1 like standard beat’em ups. This means individuals have to master all three of their characters, which certainly adds more to the gameplay.

I felt as though the fighters themselves needed a little bit more fine tuning with their available attacks and even in attack damage. There does, however, seem to be a very good balance of differing styles, so not everyone will have the same teams online.

2Players have 22 characters, which a lot of people would think is a big roster, however true KoF fans will know the series tends to have well over 40+ characters, so this is a big cut from what normally is seen in KoF games. Some of the bigger names  missing include,  Rugal, Geese, Orochi and even Mai (which is a massive fan favourite). They seem to have cut the character list to focus more on the feel of the game. With this being the first High Definition version of a KoF game the combats great and the gameplay really is one of the best for a beat’em ups.

One the down sides is the fact that there are only 6 levels in total, one of (which is used twice). This again is not what fans are use to or expect and will leave a lot of people wondering what they are getting for their money.

KoF XII has no real single-player aspects at all, so you’ll find yourself finishing arcade mode in less then 10 minutes. The achievements are quite easy to beat, some are achievable in less then 8 minutes, 6 minutes and even 3mins 30 seconds – It goes without saying that the arcade mode is very short the only reason you’ll replay it is just for the achievements.

There are no boss battles in KoFXII, and the fans of the series will feel this should have been including into the game as it has always been a big aspect of the series. There aren’t any unlockables or any secret characters either, which kills any replayability for the offline aspects of the game.

Though there’s a lot of reasons why this game lets down to the fans of the series, KoFXII certainly isn’t a bad beat’em up! In fact it’s very enjoyable when you are playing with friends or even just online. While playing offline you can pick  a “Simple” command mode once characters have been chosen, this mode means all you have to do is press a direction and then a button to pull off a special move, rather than a combination of various different button moves. This is great for beginners and helps to pull your mate up to your standard even if they haven’t played a KoF game before. Be warned though, you can’t use this online so if you’re going online.

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Two new combat  mechanics in KoFXII “are guard attack” and “critical counter”. Guard attacks are attacks which act like parry moves and counters with an attack knocking your enemy to the floor. Whereas critical counters are a gauge under your life bar that fills as you take damage and deal damage. Once full it will automatically activate and start to lower and in this time you have to counter your opponent with a hard punch or kick to activate critical counter, once pulled off this will temporarily immobilise your opponent, activating a close up and a green like circle surrounds you, now you’ll be able to deal normal attacks, special moves and even super moves as a barrage of attacks  acting like a powerful  combo and dealing massive damage.

The critical counter mechanic is great  and the advantage of dealing massive damage means experts are going to try pull these off but the one good thing is that a beginner may also turn the table around on them.

Though critical counter is a great feature I feel that the guard attack feature is a little bit of a waste and brings a bit of a problem to the combat, as guard attack is very easy to pull off and yet players gain such an advantage it always feels as there’s a low risk to pulling them off while gaining a massive advantage as your enemy is knocked down, so I can see them being used a lot by experienced players.

The online fighting in KoFXII is quite a mixed bag, in my experience the game runs smoothly sometimes while others will lag so bad it’s unplayable. Online game mode consists of:

  • Arcade Mode -  Gain battle points rankings, through fighting other individuals.
  • Ranked Mode -   Pairs you against someone who has the same TrueSkill ranking.
  • Player Mode – Where you can take on anyone without the fear of losing ranking points.

5Arcade mode and player mode matches consist of rooms were up to 8 individuals can wait to take on the winner or loser (depending on room settings) with the winner staying on, this mode is great for a large group of friends online but otherwise it can feel like a big wait for a match that could  lag out and become unplayable. Room settings can be changed so that players can complete in either 1 v 1 or 3 v 3. In 3 v 3 players can either set them to control every player or have another individual control the other guys so therefore making it 3 v 3 players, but you’ll have to wait for your team mate to be defeated before you join the match. It’s a good feature and once the online lag is sorted it could be the games saving grace, lets just hope it’s patched soon. Ranked matches can only be played 3 v 3 but the player has to control all three of there characters, the grade system is a letter system and defeating more players online will improve your ranking from F all the way to A, then you continue till you reach the top rank of SSS.

Though there is a lot of things that should have been included, the combat is still very good and once you play online  the matches become very technical and very quick as well, so individuals wont feel as though it a complete let down to the series as the core factors in a beat’em up is the combat and are pulled off very well.

Graphics

KoF XII is the first KoF game in the series to be put into full HD and with it still being a 2D fighter instead of a 3d fighter (like most have done) the graphics were always going to be an aspect the game had to excel in. The choice of manga-like art style is very fitting to the game and players wont be disappointed. The backgrounds too are amazing and have fantastic detail!

It’s great that they have reworked some of the character model, the shades and shadowing on the characters  is very impressive and wont disappoint fans. The fact that they’ve reworked the look as well as characters adds an extra quality to the graphics. Though the graphics are really good there are two big factors that really annoy me – The first being the outline of the characters, they look good when the camera doesn’t zoom in but once it does the characters outline becomes very blurred and pixelated. The second is the explosions during attacks, they look very outdated and even “last gen” games had better explosion graphics.

Sound

The sounds of KoF XII are great and really add intensity to the fighting. It is a shame that the characters don’t talk, just grunt, but it is forgiveable in a fighting game. The background music and sounds are also very impressive everything just seems to fits so well together, it is one aspect of the game they’ve really done justice with.

Overall Score & Replayability

4I have played other games in the KoF series, so when I was asked to review Kingdom of Fighters XII, I was really looking forward to it. However I hold a real mix of feelings towards the latest in the series -  The combat is great and the simple command feature will help keep competition alive, with friends that are new to the series, but on the other hand the fact there’s no story mode or any real single player aspect makes you feel like if doesn’t deserve the full price tag its given. I can’t help but feel that anyone without the internet is really going to miss out on the good aspects of the game, and just feel resentment for buying KoF XII, as the arcade mode can be done in around 10 minutes the first time round, it is such a waste they’ve took out story mode.

The online modes are what’s going to keep the game from a really bad set of reviews but as things stand at the minute with my experience the game needs patching as the lag issues make the game unplayable and you never know when its going to happen as lag affected about 3 in every 10 games I played, but when it works it works great I cant deny that.

My recommendations is that wait until it drops in price as there is no way the game deserves the full retail prices it given and if you don’t have the internet stay away all together unless your a big fan of the series and play with friends very regularly you’ll never play the game enough to get value for your money and with many great beat’em up’s already I can see this being a big hit like some of the games in the series have been its a a shame it just feels a little rushed.

Wolfenstein

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

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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.

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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.

Wet

September 30, 2009 by Jeff Barker  
Filed under Playstation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360

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Overview

Title: Wet
Release Date: 15th September 2009 (NA) / 18th September 2009 (EU)
Developer/Publisher: Artificial Mind + Movement/Bethesda Softworks
Genre: Action & Adventure, Shooter
Platform[s]: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

Storyline

Tarantino meets Tomb Raider in this highly stylized third person action adventure title, with the player taking on the mantle of vicious gun for hire Rubi Malone. Sent on a globe-trotting mission to retrieve crime boss Mr Ackers’ son, Rubi gets inevitably double crossed and sets about exacting revenge in spectacularly bloody fashion…

Gameplay

Wet’s gameplay is fun, fast, frantic and varied – based around gun and sword attacks which can be chained together with devastating effect, QTE’s, on-rails sections and the super-stylish “Rage” mode (which we like lots). Harking back to the days of Max Payne, bullet time is triggered automatically when Rubi fires off a shot during a jump or some kind of Tomb Raider-esque acrobatic lunacy (of which there is a fair bit), giving you more time to take out your enemies, but also granting you the ability to target two enemies at once. One is automatically locked onto for you, while you’re free to move the left stick around at will to take out any of your other nearby enemies. It takes a while to get used to, but with Rubi’s full 360 target capabilities it’s a hell of a lot of fun once you master it, and you’ll soon be swinging on poles, sliding down ladders and wall-running whilst cracking off head shots with the best of them.

The majority of your play time will be spent moving around each level, disposing of your enemies before entering a main “arena” style section which sees you shutting off enemy entry points and collecting score multipliers. These parts offer up more acrobatic combo opportunities than usual, and we’re sure some gamers will have great fun learning the quickest and most stylish route around as you leap from wall to ledge to pole and back again. At the end of each level you’re offered a score based on your performance (how quickly and stylishly you completed the level, and how many kills you successfully chained together), which is then translated into RPG style experience points that you can spend on upgrading Rubi’s skills, abilities and weapons strength.

Despite the main levels being largely linear and rather samey, Artificial Mind + Movement have done a great job of breaking up the monotony by throwing in some cracking on-rails levels, one of which sees Rubi leaping from car to car whilst capping bad guys in a Matrix style freeway chase, as you would have seen if you’ve downloaded the demo currently available on Xbox Live. One level in particular is especially inspired (we won’t spoil it by telling you why), completely ruined by the most frustrating collision detection and trial and error gameplay we’ve seen for quite some time.

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Finally, Rubi’s “Rage” mode: only available during pre-set parts of the game (with seemingly no attachment to the main story), it echoes the Crazy 88 fight in Kill Bill, with the screen taking on a cartoon-esque black and red hue. Using Rubi’s heightened senses you have to clear the area as quickly as possible, with points accrued for large amounts of kills chained together. It’s a wonderfully stylish idea executed marvelously – although we’re deducting points for the fact that you can’t earn the right to trigger the mode once a set amount of kills are achieved during the main game, for instance.

Graphics

Drawing on Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse movies as inspiration, Wet mimics the grainy, scratchy camera style they made famous brilliantly – coupled with the over the top action, constant blood spatter and stylized characters it gives the whole game a cult 70’s action flick feel which really makes the game stand out from the pack. The camera imperfections can be switched off however, which does make some of the poorer graphics stand out – for instance, some of the incidental characters are badly detailed and look china-dollish next to Rubi, Ackers and crew. The environments are varied and interesting to look at and (despite the mediocrity of the opening levels) fit in well with the rest of Rubi’s universe.

The characters are well animated, and although the hack and slash action isn’t quite up to Afro Samurai’s limb-removing standards, the blood spatter is satisfying and some of the cutscenes are particularly wince-inducing.

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Sound

Boasting the vocal talents of Eliza Dushku (Buffy The Vampire Slayer), Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) and Alan Cumming (X-Men 2), a sleazy rockabilly soundtrack to rival Dusk ‘til Dawn and some of the snappiest in-game dialogue we’ve ever heard (penned by Duppy “24” Demetrius), Wet sounds amazing – and we guarantee you’ll be humming “Insane” by The Arkhams for days to come.

Overall Score and Replayability

Wet is a rare game, one that dares to be different and despite the odd graphical glitch here and there and linear and repetitive levels it manages to pull off enough quick fire, enjoyable gameplay a lot of titles seem to be lacking these days to warrant a spot in your “to play” pile indefinitely. With a couple of unlockable challenge modes once the main game is completed, a heap of toy monkeys to find in game and the chance to better your previous scores on the arenas Wet has definitely got a lot to offer.

DiRT 2

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

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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!

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Need For Speed: Undercover

September 22, 2009 by Colin Ward  
Filed under Nintendo Wii, Playstation 2, Playstation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360

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Overview

Title: Need for Speed: Undercover

Release Date: Nov 18th 2008 (NA) Nov 20th 200 (AU) Nov 21st 200 (EU)

Developer/Publisher: EA Black Box & Firebrand Games (DS) / EA

Genre: Racing

Platform[s]: PC, Playstation 2/3, Playstation Portable, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS

Storyline

You star as a expert police driver, trying to infiltrate a gang of car smugglers, so your task is a simple one, go deep undercover using your skills on the road to convince them that you’re a street racer and gain their trust so you can gain information and stop the gang in their tracks. The action takes place in the 80 miles of road, highway and alley ways of the Tri-City Bay Area – a fictional city made for the game based on several American cities.

Your main tool to gain the gangs trust, is to take place in various street race events, wheel jobs and to avoid the police at all costs, since your fellow police officers will hunt you down as a common criminal, since you’re in so deep undercover.. Your only contact in the police is Chase Linh played by Maggie Q and she is one tough cookie.

So hit the open world and hit the highway at speeds close to and over 180 miles an hour, and bring that gang to its knees… featuring over 55 licensed cars, a brand new Heroic Driving engine, which for the first time puts your car under a new cutting edge physics driven control method, perform amazing driving actions at high speed, and battle improved AI and push yourself to the limit..

Start your engine, turn up the music, and hit the road..

Need for Speed Undercover

Gameplay

The game as a whole seems to be aimed at the more casual player, right from the get go, just after the title sequence starts to roll, your dumped behind the wheel of the starting car [you have no choice in the car or colour ] and let loose in the Tri-City Bay Area, a huge and expansive open world. Being the 12th game in the need for speed series, undercover really needed to deliver something fresh to the series, which is the new physics based driving, which sounds great on paper, but can be a little tricky to handle at excess speed, but the driving aspects are never less than fun.  The first chase in the game really gets the blood pumping, and is a great taster for the game to come.

Anyone who has played Most Wanted will be at home with the Police chases, however this time, they have supposedly better AI and also some more daring tactics to hunt you down, such as pike strips so your job of losing the police, who can start chasing you at any point, is made slightly harder – however the ‘Pursuit Breakers’ are also back, which are items on the map that if you collided with them in just the right way will force any pursuing police to stop and deal with the  problem, however other units will engage you until you can hide and wait out the alert status. Adding to the cars, are also helicopter units that also seem to have been upgraded, these now dart under bridges and are much harder to loose, so watch the skies as well as the road!.

The many races and events are littered across the large open world, but can only be accessed via the in game map or handy downward push on the d-pad, which instantly launches the next rate so unlike other open world racers, such as Burnout Paradise, you can’t drive around finding them – so this does seem a bit of a backwards step, and ultimately limit’s the amount of fun had exploring the world considering the whole open map approach.

Races and events range from simple point to point races, with plenty of time to show off to other gang members to full on highway battles with not only other cars to race, but road traffic and police – so there’s a nice mix of different events and styles of driving, some will require you to have pixel perfect driving so you will be happy to know that the ‘speed breaker’ – a quick button press will slow time down to a crawl for a limited period- returns and is as helpful as ever, for both making tricky turns and avoiding police road blocks and spike strips.

As you progress through the game, towards the ultimate goal of bring the gang down, you also ‘rank up’ and gain driver points which are tallied to your cars specs, at seemly random points, however as the game can be incredibly easy to handle, depending on the car used, you’re never in any real need of them. You will also be able to unlock upgrades and new cars, which will need to be brought, to use, but the performance tuning in the game, is very in depth – from simple paint jobs – to full body kits and transfers there’s enough to keep all but the hard core car tuners happy – with some really great looking cars being able to be made.

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Another handy show off feature, is photo mode – your able to take a ‘photo’ of the car in action at any point in the game, simply hit pause, select ‘photo mode’ and line you your shot – the simple controls can produce some interesting shots, which are in turn uploaded to the NFS website, for viewing and sharing with your friends – a small addition to the game, but one that will be well used by car fans, since the game contains over 55 unlock able fully licensed cars, ranging from the Mercedes CL55 to the Audi R8 – there’s sure to be something to suit both your style of driving and also your look.

Up to 8 players can complete online, in either Sprint – simple point to point races, circuit races or the much more exciting new Cops N’ Robbers mode, where two teams of four take turns being either the Cops or the Robbers. During this new mode, the Robbers have to collect money and drop it off at a certain point on the map, while the Cops pursuit and try to take them down at any cost. This game mode can be very heated with the teams fighting it down to the last, and is a great bonus and building on the single player campaign by giving you a chance to play the ‘good guys’

Graphics

As soon as the games starts your treated to full screen video that sets the scene nicely, with some great acting as well as some really bad acting later in the game, but as a whole – it provides just the right feel.

When you hit the roads however, you may be slightly disappointed by the lack of detail on the streets of the Tri-City Bay Area, there is a total lack of people and any sense of ‘life’ in this sprawling city, and traffic even on the highways is a little thin on the ground, and lacking detail close up. You may also notice on coming cars fade into view, which can be a little off putting at 180 miles an hour.

The sense of speed is good, with blur effects and wind streams when you hit the 100’s – however there are some problems with the frame rate at times, more often than not with a strange stutter that happens every so often, much like in Most Wanted – where you could be tearing down a road at a rate of noughts only to seem a split second pause in the action. There’s also some nasty pop up on buildings etc and installing the game to the Hard drive did not seem to make this issue disappear – but did help slightly in the loading times of events – and being about 4.8gb it’s a fairly small amount of space to loose.

The cars are all nicely detailed and deformable, which you will notice after a few minutes of driving on the highway – with trucks that seemingly like to pull into your lane at the last second, but unlike Burnout, the crashes seem a little tied to the ground, so no exploding cars to be seen here.

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Sound

Over all the sound is well mixed and very realistic, from the growls of the higher performance cars to the clunk of the gear changers – if you like your racing games loud and proud – this game is for you.

Music in the game is also very fitting, ranging from some quite slow tracks to pumping techno tracks that add to the sense of speed on the road – one thing you may miss is the ability to choose the EA Trax, since in this game – you have no choice over it.

Police CB chatter is also very clear and also well voice acted along with being extremely handy – since not only do you know when they are looking for you, but you can also hear just where and when they want to set up a road block or a spike strip, so keep a ear out for important messages coming over the air waves.

The whole sound track mixes in to an exciting experience one which should be played LOUD.

Overall Score & Replayability

Even if the game seems to be aimed at the more casual racer – from the handling of the cars down to the easy race starts, the game is still a worthwhile play. The only downsides to it are the few graphical issues, such as the frame rate, pop up and lack of street detail which if your not that fussy is not a major factor, since some the police chases are some of the best seen.

I say ‘some’ since some of the police chases especially later in the game, are very, very basic with the Police fully intent on ramming you off the road, and that’s what they will try and do, some of the later missions are really a test of your stamina to put up with the crashing and bashing, and looking out for the pursuit breakers – which sometimes are very fair and few between.

It’s a shame that there is not more to do in the open map, with races just appearing on the map and selectable by clicking on them, or pressing down on the d-pad, there’s no real need to explore the city, unlike Burnout paradise – which expected you to find events. Not to say you cannot have fun just driving around, since many a time the police will lock on to you, and a great five or six minute pursuit can ensue.

Another slight letdown is the Heroic Driving – when you are racing or being pursued there’s not really enough time to pull any fancy moves – so even though the game will reward you if you’re able, many people with just forget about it, and put their foot down.

If you can handle that lack of a real need to explore, and are looking for a fun racer, then Undercover is a good choice, however with the likes of Burnout paradise and Midnight Club  LA already released, it has some strong competition.

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Rock Band 2

September 22, 2009 by Colin Ward  
Filed under Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360

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Overview

Title: Rock Band 2

Developer/Publisher: Harmonix & Pi Studios / MTV Games

Genre: Rhythm Game

Platform[s]: Xbox 360, Playstation 2/3, Nintendo Wii

Storyline

As with Rock Band and just about every other music rhythm game on the market, the aim of the game is to hit the coloured notes as they travel down the ‘Highway’ – hit these notes at the correct time, and your onscreen instrument will play the correct note, make a mistake, and not only does the music suffer, but your score. Hitting certain special notes flawlessly will allow you to go into ‘Overdrive’ a mode where your score is doubled and the crowd cheer even more!

Unlike other music games, Rock Band was the first franchise to take the normal guitar based game and add in a new dimension – a complete [or near enough] band – up to four players can become part of your band, either offline on a single console, or via the magic of Xbox live.

Not only do you have the choice of playing lead guitar or bass, but also for the first time in a single game your able to pick up a microphone and sing, or play the drums with your friends or alone. Of course the options open to you depend on the controllers used, without any – you can only sing, via a Xbox live headset but add in a USB microphone or drums and guitars from other Xbox 360 music games [ which will all work on Rock Band 2 to differing levels of usability  - and you have a complete band..

There have been minor improvements to the game in general over Rock Band - but the fundamental game play dynamics remain the same - play gigs to earn money to spend on new items, such as instruments or outfits, and progress unlocking new songs along with venues until you reach super stardom

There are over 80 new tracks in the latest instalment [not including the free 20 tracks via the code inbox - and any tracks you already brought - since unlike other games the older RB1 tracks you have paid for and downloaded work in RB2], that coupled with the ability to export most of the songs from the first game disc, [over 60] for a fee of 400 Marketplace points and the promise of new downloadable songs every week, it will be a while before you are bored of the set list.

Time to get your Rock on!

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Gameplay

After connecting your instrument of choice, or the normal pad and a headset, you jump in creating your onscreen rock god [or goddess] – the process is basically the same as in the previous RB game, but this time your onscreen character is not locked to an instrument, so your free to change your role in the band at any time and carry on using the same avatar – this is very handy if you enjoy playing a few different instruments, since your core and money is pooled into one pot.

After that you’re able to choose a few training modes, quick play modes [basically a quick play version of the game] or world tour.

The training modes offers up a practice mode which allows you to practice sections of tracks, or the entire song, without the pressure of failure – you can also slow down the speed the track is played at – which can be handy for tricky parts

The tutorials offer a few basic skills, some Rock Band specific ones that you will need to know, tailored for the instrument you have plugged in. While this may be old news to fans of the games, there are a few special Rock Band moves you will need to learn, if you’re new to the series such as guitar solos, and drum fills. So it’s a good idea to check out the training tutorials, especially if you’re a drummer, since not only does RB2 have a drum beat trainer- allowing you to prefect many standard drum beat patterns, but there’s also a drum ‘freestyle’ mode – this allows you to jam along with any music that you have on your Xbox 360 hard drive, or external USB device. While this is a slight gimmick, the drum kit used has several ‘kits’ you can select from a roomy kit to a electronic ‘bee bop’ pop kit – so jamming along to some classic tunes from your HDD or ipod, adding in drum fills and beats, can keep you amused for a few hours.

Quick play has a few modes, Quick play – solo is unchanged from the first game, as before you can only choose from a small selection of tracks when you first start the game, with songs added as you progress through the ‘World Tour’ mode – but this mode allows you to just pick up and play either on your own or via multiplayer menu with friends on the same console or via Xbox live.

  • Quick play – band allows you and up to 3 others to play on the one console, in the same way as above each taking the role of drums, vocals, lead guitar or bass – you can choose preset characters and just jump in and start rocking.
  • Quick play – tug of war allows 2 players to battle it out, against each others skill at playing sections of the track, one after the other – try and hit more notes and keep the crowd on your side to win
  • Quick play – Score Duel does exactly what it says on the tin, both players play the same instrument, and at the same skill level and see who can rake in the most points.

World tour is the main meat of the game for most people, either once again solo or with others in a band, via one console or Xbox live, if you choose to go it alone – then your instrument you have connected at the time is the choice of your role, so if you need to swap to singing, you will need to connect a pad and microphone for example. Unlike the older game, you have friends who wish to play on the same console, they do not need a profile, they can simply jump in to the band, and choose a preset character – and get playing, this is a small but very welcome addition.

After making your onscreen persona [or one you created for quick play etc] you can name and design the logo for the band, or just choose a random name/ logo, after that you’re into your first gig. Unlike the first game – in offline tour as you go from place to place you can now earn [and lose] fans, a small addition, and one that adds a little to the game – at certain points your able to hire promoters to help boost your fan base, or hire and fire AI members of the band. You also can hire other people that may unlock new venues, so once again, this adds to the overall gameplay.

One of the new additions is the new ‘challenges’ which can pop up between venues / songs – these add another level to the game, since these can be from your downloaded content, so you sometimes have no idea of the song your being asked to play. You can also choose to play a challenge at any time from the main tour screen.

From the main tour screen you can also choose to play a ‘battle of the bands’ these are challenges set by other players and bands, via the rock band website with not only a set list but some also have rules and goals. This does add a little to the game, since these are updated regularly so offer new and exciting challenges every week.

The overall difficulty of the game has been tweaked slightly – so people looking for a challenging game should be very happy with some one the harder levels / tracks – and those new to the series or genre can even add in a ‘no fail’ from the option menu – this allows you to just enjoy playing a song without worrying about the score – this mode does disable saving and online – but it’s ideal for parties or a late Friday night session!

The entire main core game play has been tweaked slightly but remains true to the original, with the addition of a few new items

Online versions of all of the modes work in basically the same way as offline, but using Xbox live your other band members can be anywhere. These mode works well with minimal lag and can be a great deal of fun, the main aim of this mode remains the same, but the added bonus of Xbox live leader boards, so careful choices need to be made if you want to hit the top spots fro fans etc. if your friends also have the game, this might be the mode you may well spend the most time in, this along with leader boards and DLC, will keep this game popular online for many months to come – much like Rock Band 1.

rockband

Graphics

As a music game goes – the game looks great – from the new 3d style menu system to the updated venues there’s only so much that can be done, but the background animation and effects look slightly better than before, with new video effects and lighting adding to the polish.

The notes are clear to see, without fading into the background of the ‘highway’ – which could happen on some other games, with plain background used as a base, unlike games such as Guitar Hero, where sometimes the highway can look a little busy.

Animation of the onscreen band is done well, with lips and body actions, such and strumming and hitting of the drums, matching the sound track perfectly along with a few special effects added when you hit certain parts of the track.

Sound

For a music game this is the most important part – and Rock band 2 delivers by the truck load. From classics like, American Woman to Living on a prayer – the set list is very good, with the added bonus of adding in most of the RB1 tracks – there’s expected to be nearly 500 songs to play – including DLC by the end of 2008

Each track is instantly recognisable [if you’re a fan!] and the punchy 5.1 sound track makes for a truly epic band experience. Adding to this the crowd singing along with the song, if you’re doing well, and you can really feel as if you’re playing a gig in one of the venues.
Sound effects for missed notes and special items, such as over drive being earned, add to the overall effect, but the effect of going into overdrive, which adds in reverb and echo really does get the blood flowing if you hit it at just the right part.

Overall Score & Replayability

Great update of an already great title, adding in a few new modes and minor tweaks to the difficulty level, has made the game slightly better than the older RB1 game. Add in the ability to export almost the entire track list from the first game for 400 MSP – you lose a few due to copyright issues – and you could well end up with well over 150 tracks to play without any downloads – but the fact that any DLC you have got from RB1 works with it, is the icing on the already very tasty cake.

Drum freestyle mode, even though a tiny addition is also great fun, but the main core game is still at the top of the list if your after a ’music and rhythm’ game, even though it’s completing against Guitar Hero World Tour, Rock Band 2, has the slight edge of a slightly better base set list – but the ability to export songs from the older titles and still play DLC from it as well, may just be the thing that makes this title the winner.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

September 1, 2009 by Aaron Green  
Filed under Playstation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360

Overview

Title: Batman: Arkham Asylum
Release Date: August 25, 2009 (US), August 28, 2009 (EU), September 3, 2009 (AU)
Developer/Publisher: Rocksteady Studios/Eidos Interactive
Genre: Action
Platform[s]: PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360

Storyline

The story begins with The Dark Knight bringing his nemesis The Joker to justice after a recent escape from Arkham Asylum, during his escape The Joker launched an attack on the Mayor’s office.  At the same time, a fire breaks out at Gotham City’s Prison.  Things seemed a little to easy for Batman this time around and on top of that there must have been a reason for the menacing Clown Prince’s attack.  After a while, everything becomes clear!  I won’t spoil the story any further by revealing the plot behind B: AA but what I’ll add is that following the events portrayed above; Batman (as well as other known residents from Gotham) end up trapped in Arkham Asylum with a host of comic book villains such as: Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Bane, Scarecrow, The Riddler, Killer Croc and (of course) The Joker. 

To a degree the plot is somewhat typical of Batman – and I mean real Batman not the clichéd TV shows, cartoons and original movies which are nothing akin to today’s graphic novels.  The content is adult and pretty much on par with the movies Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.  Expect sexiness, swearing and murder from every direction.  So, we have a solid story experience entwined within a morbidly dark world, works for me!

BAA-Screen

Gameplay

Arkham Asylum is a third-person over-the-shoulder action game with stealth elements.  The idea being that The Dark Knight has to explore the facilities, stalk enemies from the shadows, solve various mysteries and also fight goons with his hand-to-hand combat expertise.

The fighting segments are easily executed thanks to the developer’s “freeflow” system, all that’s required is combining three buttons; Attack, Stun and Takedown which can be hit to initiate an attack or to counterattack (when the an on-screen indication comes from the enemy) and combining these attacks/counterattacks to defeat enemies eventually enables access to special attacks (as the combo metre grows), things are kept fresh of course by the fact that the weaponry used by the game’s baddies varies which forces players to adapt.  All this also helps build up experience which can then be used to upgrade Batman’s attacks and statistics.

In general these things are all pretty good and help to make B: AA an enjoyable experience but there are a number of aspects which transform Arkham Asylum from the mentioned “enjoyable experience” to the 360, PC and PS3’s must-have action videogame of 2009.  For example, the methods utilized to defeat foes are totally up to the player: there’s predatory tactics to make hits on the inmates one-by-one, utilize Batrangs, Explosive Gel and other accessories to cause explosions and take out numerous enemies at once or whatever else springs to mind.  It’s all fun. 

Then there’s also the Detective Mode which in the midst of battle allows Batman to analyse his environment and enemies.  This is useful for drawing important objects to your attention, picking up thug statistics and for solving mysteries.  This brings me to my next topic: The Riddler.  Without the Detective Mode it wouldn’t be possible to pick up all of his clues, these lead to challenges and unlockable items – with 240 of The Riddler’s challenges there’s a whole heap of content to invest a significant amount of time in. 

Beyond the story mode there’s also additional content in the form of extra Challenge Rooms (sixteen or so I believe) which is the perfect avenue for DLC from PSN or XBL.  In-fact I’ll be very surprised if we don’t see something in the next three to five months.  The aim of the mentioned challenges is to meet certain combat/predatory goals, often involving taking out multiple enemies in bizarre ways.  This didn’t instantly appeal to me but then I imagine I’m not the only one to feel this way, the thing is with scoreboards attached to these, more often than not score whores are going to have a barrel of laughs meeting these goals and beating the next guy/girl. 

My only fault with the gameplay as I write this is that unless played on “Hard Mode” the A.I. is about as bright as Paris Hilton and believe me, I’m being kind.           

BAA-Screen-2

Graphics

Graphically I’m sure that you’ve seen all the screenshots by now, which means I’m sure you’ve seen the atmospheric backdrops of Arkham and the intense dark scenery. There are flaws; bad lip-syncing, occasional lag, minor pixilization and occasional modelling inconsistencies. None of these hurt the game much but it is saddening when so much effort has been made to perfect the gameplay just to see the graphics suffer on the small-fry stuff.  After all, these days it’s all about presentation! 

Sound

Fantastic!  Voice talent includes: Kevin Conroy (Lord Jack – Max Payne 2), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker – Star Wars Episodes IV, V & VI) and Arleen Sorkin (Rachel – Frasier).  Except for the henchman/goons who’re off-key and out of place at times all the voice acting found in B: AA is absolutely perfect as are the sound effects and ambience included in the game.  Of course the music also fits the mood brilliantly.    

Overall Score & Replayability

So, all-in-all a great game with a whole range of fantastic features but overshadowed with the occasional flaw.  Congratulations to Rocksteady for giving us the sort of Batman that the general masses have wanted since the recent movie reboots and hardcore comic fanatics have dreamed of for a very, very long time.  I just wish the A.I. was something more. 

For owners of both the Xbox360 and Playstation 3 I am inclined to encourage the purchase of the Xbox360 version; the reason being on this machine the in-game graphics and overall performance is slightly better (and without a three minute install of just over a gigabyte).  Saying that the PS3 version does offer the chance to play the Challenges as The Joker via PSN DLC but I expect the Sony exclusivity to last a year at the very most… Microsoft players will get it sooner or later I think and to be honest this game is a keeper, not a trade-in.

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