Monday, 15 February 2010

Blog Moved to GiantBomb

You can now find my blog on This carries several advantages, but in particular it allows me to distribute my little reviews to a wider audience.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Top Five Games of 2010?

Concluding my top 5 lists I present my five most anticipated games of 2010 and my five to watch in 2010.

Most Anticipated Games of 2010

1. Infinite Space (DS)
I have been looking forward to the European release of this Starship-based JRPG for some time. It is my most anticipated game of the year.

2. Mass Effect 2 (360/PC)
Mass Effect created a world that I really wanted to spend a lot more time in. Thankfully, I now don't have long to wait to don my N7 suit again.

3. Split/Second (360/PS3)
I played Split/Second at Eurogamer and was instantly won over. This could be the best arcade racer since Burnout Paradise.

4. Red Dead Redemption (PS3/360)
If someone could make a decent Wild-West genre game then you would expect it would be Rockstar.

5. Professor Layton & The Final Time Travel (DS)
With two fantastic adventures under his belt surely the Professor can be trusted to give us a third memorable game?

Five to Watch in 2010

1. Bioshock 2 (360/PC/PS3)
Most people are expecting it to fail to live up to its predecessor, but it could once again be a surprise package?

2. The Eye of Judgement Legends (PSP)
No fussy camera or fiddly cards necessary in this portable reinterpretation of the game.

3. Tower of Shadow (Wiiware)
A really interesting concept (using shadows) is at the heart of this future Wiiware title.

4. R.U.S.E (360/PC/PS3)
Can an RTS on a console actually work?

5. Fallout: New Vegas (360/PC/PS3)
It has yet to build any hype, but if it is as good as Fallout 3 no one will be complaining.

Other games I'm really interested in...
  • Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4 (All)
  • Dead Space 2 (PS3/360)
  • Fat Princess: Fistful of Cake (PSP)
  • Hot Shot Tennis (PSP)
  • Picross 3D (DS)
  • Dragon Quest IX (DS)
  • Alan Wake (360)
  • Splinter Cell Conviction (360)
  • Fable III (360)
  • Joe Danger (XBLA)
  • Heavy Rain (PS3)
  • ModNation Racers (PS3)
  • Final Fantasy XIII (PS3/360)
  • Sonic & Sega All-Stars (All)

Friday, 18 December 2009

Five Great Games Everybody Played in 2009

Continuing my top 5 games for 2009 I’m moving on to the 5 great games that everybody played: a collection of games that grabbed the headlines as well as being the cream of the crop.


Easily took the crown as the most enjoyable and rewarding racing game of recent years. DiRT 2 is the best pure racer –with focus on racing rather than simulation- since Project Gotham Racing 4, and much more fun than the cold and anaesthetic Forza 3. Amazing graphics, a solid frame-rate and a pumping soundtrack complete the package on one of the games of the year.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

The real outstanding feature of Uncharted 2, in addition to the jaw-dropping environments and non-stop action, is the quality of the dialogue, narrative and general writing. It really does raise the bar in interactive character driven story telling: there is little exposition, well rounded and believable characters, and a story that propels itself without the need for clumsy prolonged cut scenes or back-story. At no point do you think “what am I doing?”.

Professor Layton and Pandora’s Box

The Professor and Luke are back again to unravel the mysteries of Pandora’s Box and a train full of crazy characters. Like the previous game in the series the puzzles range from the very easy to the fiendishly hard. In this second outing the puzzles are much better integrated into the main story and its events. With three more Layton games bound for Europe, we can look forward to many more years of intriguing stories and addictive puzzles.

Battlefield 1943

Battlefield 1943 excels as a fun and enjoyable multiplayer first person shooter. Stripped of complexity and perfectly balanced, it proved to be a hit with both shooter aficionados and more laid back players alike. The easy to master controls (with the exception of the plane) and non-stop action mean there is never a dull moment and no frustration. A sub £12 price-point made Battlefield 1943 one of the best value games of the year.

The Beatles: Rockband

I really don't like the Beatles: I don't enjoy their music and I find their whole mythology an irritation. Somehow Harmonix have managed to sell me something I don't like and have a great time playing it? I think it is in no small part to the quality of the production, and the visual flare used in the presentation of many of the songs. It hasn't made me a fan of the band, but I can honestly say I really enjoyed playing their music in the game.

(At the time of writing I have yet to start playing Assassin's Creed 2 or Batman Arkham Asylum in any depth.)

Read part 1 of this series: "5 Great Games Nobody Played"...

Five Great Games Nobody Played in 2009

In what is rapidly becoming a seasonal feature, I am once again going to reveal my top 5 games for 2009. We start with the 5 great games that nobody played: a collection of games that passed under the radar or that sold poorly.

Anno: Create a New World

Shamelessly overlooked by most of the gaming press, Anno: Create a New World (or Dawn of Discovery in the US) is the first Anno game to have been specifically designed from the ground-up for the Wii. The result is a first rate Civilisation-style game with arguably the best control system yet devised on a console. Playing the game with the Wii Remote and Nun-chuck is simple, intuitive and an absolute pleasure. If only all games were as well produced and designed as Anno: Create a New World.

Dead Space Extraction

The Wii has hosted some excellent games this year that cater for all gaming tastes. Dead Space Extraction is the year’s surprising twist on the survival horror genre. Mislabelled by those who haven’t played it as “on rails”, Dead Space Extraction proves to be both intelligent and frightening in equal measure. Clever use of cinematic techniques and brilliant voice acting add depth and quality to the presentation; whilst the level design and ammo conservation deliver tension with the frights.

Swords & Soldiers

Wiiware has really taken off this year and has seen some remarkable independent games - such as the Bit Trip series and Art Style: Orbient. However, the real star was this unusual 2D side-on real-time strategy game. It could well be the best real-time strategy game conceived on a console. Its design overcomes the limitations of using a control pad, whilst retaining all the necessary features for a fun and challenging strategic game. What makes Swords and Soldiers really stand-out is the charm and humour of the characters, which are clearly inspired by Hagar-the-Horrible.

Tropico 3

Who wouldn’t want to be a dictator and run their own mini Cuba? Think of it: cigars, mojitos, and all night salsa! Tropico 3 is a clever blend of Sim-City and Theme Park set in the 1950s Caribbean. Available for both the PC and Xbox360, it made a refreshing change to the “flash-bang-wallop” that most of November’s games were all about. With a wonderful soundtrack, decent graphics and more satire than an episode of “Have I Got News For You”; Tropico 3 is a real winner.

DJ Hero

A combination of a devalued “Hero” brand, a high price, animosity towards Activision and some bizarre marketing decisions (Emimen and Jay-Z - their music is hardly in it) has put off most people. It is a real pity as DJ Hero is an absolute gem and goes a long way in refreshing the tired rhythm game genre. DJ Hero’s eclectic soundtrack has music in it to sort all tastes, whilst the combination of tight controls and excellent mixes makes for a really enjoyable game. Even the Turntable peripheral is solidly constructed and well designed – aside from a slightly loose cross-fader.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Modern Warfare 2: Bad Story Ruins Games

If you are not buying Modern Warfare and want to know about its crazy plot then read on?


If you are curious as to why, for me, I just can't get my head around it then read on.

The Story (Spoilers!)

Basically a Russian dissident goes to Moscow Airport and murders everyone inside. You play a CIA agent in his gang and witness/take part in the killing (I chose not to shoot anyone). The event takes place in a graphic scene, which is cruel and brutal. In the right context it would have been challenging and interesting; however In MW2 it is just unnecessary (it is skip-able) and violent for the sake of a weak plot device.

At the end of this massacre, the villain shoots you to make it look like the CIA walked into Moscow airport and killed everyone - a ludicrous conceit. You are supposed to believe that the Russians would not know that the CIA had infiltrated the gang, or that the gang are all Russians anyway. The fact that four terrorists take on and kill 200 Russian SWAT is even more daft.

The following day Russia stages a full scale invasion of the USA and large land battles take place in a suburban town (for no real reason - or explanation) and on Capitol Hill/The White House. We are supposed to believe the Russians were so mad, they were able to stage a full scale assault on the US in retaliation. Where are China and Europe in all this? The Russians barely had enough troops to invade Georgia in 2008. What about the global condemnation that would follow. Would the rest of the world just stand by? How did all these 10,000s of paratroopers & tanks, and aircraft cross European airspace?

To solve the problem a special ops team kidnap a terrorist in Sao Paulo (not sure why), rescue a prisoner from a Russian Gulag, steal a Russian nuclear sub and launch its nuke into space. The ICBM is detonated over the US east coast to cause a EMP wave that causes all planes and helicopters to crash, as well as destroy the International Space Station.

With me so far?

The special ops team then hunt down the dissident to kill him. Some how doing this will end the full scale conflict that has taken over the world?


It is all completely implausible.

I don't buy the argument it is just a game. IW have gone out of their way to set it in a contemporary setting. If it was a Fallout style twisted reality I would let it ride, but they set it up as a "what if".

The "what if" is based on the worst kind of soviet-era/communist aggressor tripe and lacking any historical context from the last 20 years. Worse, it is based on an enemy, and nation, who has never had the capability to do what they suggest. The major premise that a single out of context terrorist incident could cause a conflict on this scale is a leap even "24" writers would have trouble with. The single player plot is fictional garbage and neo-con scaremongering of the worst kind. The fact the plot is almost impossible to follow doesn't help either.

What MW2's story is, is a string of set pieces in locations the developers wanted to exploit for shock value. They often have no relationship to the story and lack any kind of logical cohesion. It is fiction, but it is ludicrous fiction. At least Tom Clancy based his tech-war writings on genuine facts and plausible events.

I am not the only one who finds it completely silly, I've read several reviews saying pretty much the same thing (see Charlie Brooker's and Eurogamer's reviews).

As for the scene in Moscow Airport, it is certainly one of the most violent things even done in a game. It doesn't offend me, but I did find it unnecessary and over-the-top (people crawling away bleeding to death and then being shot). As a plot device, it completely failed.

I do like many of the levels, taken in isolation, and I get that it is an action movie. However, the makers have gone out of their way to make it a "what if" story, and it deserves to be critiqued as such.

I'm sure the co-op and multiplayer will provide hours of entertainment, but the solo story in MW2 is a massive misstep, in my opinion, and belittles a lot of the ground breaking immersion that IW created in Call of Duty 1 and 2. Personally I found the story to be laughably preposterous and, at times, baffling, bloodthirsty and misjudged.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Big Daddy – Bioshock (Hi-Score Article)

Big Daddy – Bioshock (my entry to the Hi-Score Top Ten Bad Guys)

big daddy

The Big Daddy is the iconic image of the 2007 critical hit Bioshock. Whenever you think about your experiences of playing Bioshock, two images spring to mind: the creepy yet charming Little Sisters, and her ever present gargantuan guardian, the Big Daddy. Dressed in an armoured diving suite, with either a giant drill or grenade launcher grafted on to its body, the Big Daddy presents a formidable presence of size, strength and brutality.

The Big Daddy is, however, an unlikely “bad guy” because he isn’t all bad. His paternal nature means that he will completely ignore you -posing no threat- seemingly happy to lumber around escorting his Little Sister. Ultimately the Little Sisters are in the way of your goal in Rapture, and they carry the precious Adam that you must somehow obtain. Thus, reluctantly, you know you must take on and defeat the hulking brutes.

Regardless of the difficulty level played, the Big Daddy always offers a significant challenge. Each Big Daddy encounter is normally premised with fear and indecision. Taking down the armour plated guardian requires more than a little cunning to succeed. Big Daddy battles are often savage, violent and prolonged. Bioshock successfully makes you feel every punch, drill and thump from the Big Daddy – often sending you dramatically flying off your feet, or stunned on the spot. In defeat the Big Daddy continues to toy with your emotions. The morally good player is confronted with feelings of guilt and repentance; made worse by the cries of grief from the Little Sister for her now lost “Mr Bubbles”.

There have not been many games that have established such an iconic bad guy. Even fewer have established a character class so strong that, in itself, it is a metaphor for the game and world in which it is set. The Big Daddy is Bioshock. Plastered over the front of the game cover; shipped as an ornament in the special edition; and taking centre stage in the gruesome promotion video for Bioshock’s initial release. Bioshock 2 looks to be building its entire story with a Big Daddy as its central heroic character. I wait with bated breath to see if a promised Big Sister can match her paternal inspiration.

To read the other entries in the top 10, visit

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Guitar Hero On Tour: Modern Hits (DS)

Guitar Hero On Tour, for the Nintendo DS, was a surprise worldwide hit in 2008 despite its mixed critical reception. Guitar Hero On Tour: Modern Hits is the third instalment of the cramp-inducing series that comes complete with a handful of tweaks and a new “modern” set-list.

Guitar Hero On Tour is probably better described as “Plectrum Hero”, since the gameplay centres around the use of the custom four-button fret board device that plugs into the DS Slot 2 (sorry DSi owners, no rock for you!), and a large plectrum stylus. The mechanics are fully translated from the plastic guitar version. The only difference being that the board has only 4 tracks of notes, and you strum on the touch screen using the plectrum stylus. Star Power, activated by shouting into the microphone, and Whammy effects are all present just as before.

Modern Hits makes no amendments to the series’ tried and tested gameplay, and it’s still the same heady mix of “Wow! this really works” and “Oow! This really hurts!” Strumming the plectrum on the virtual strings, and holding the frets, is enjoyable and feels strangely satisfying. The problem is you have to hold the DS very still in an uncomfortable portrait position. If you rock-out for anything more than 30 minutes at a time, it induces a painful cramp in your wrist and fingers. You will also constantly find yourself adjusting your grip or even propping the DS on a convenient shelf – a beer belly in my case.

The presentation is what you would expect from Guitar Hero. You get the usual whimsical 3D animations of the franchise characters, such as Clive Wilson and Judy Nails, performing on crazy virtual stages around the world. The sound, however, is heavily compressed to fit onto the DS cartridge. If you are not are wearing headphones the music will sound tinny and flat – not ideal for a rock music game.

Structurally Modern Hits is pretty much the same as the previous two installments. There are some cosmetic changes to menu layout and new replay challenges for each song you unlock. Modern Hits, like the two previous games, is fully cross-compatible with other Guitar Hero On Tour games: so you can enjoy a multiplayer game with a friend even if you both have different versions. I have found this feature to be particularly useful for long train journeys with the wife or friends. The technology to stream the song from one DS to another, during gameplay, is seamless.

Guitar Hero On Tour: Modern Hits is fun in small bursts but, ultimately, rhythm music games like this are judged on the set-list they contain. Like most Guitar Hero games, you can enjoy playing the notes on certain songs even if you might not like the music itself. It really is up to you to decide if these songs make you want to wield your inner plectrum, or “run to the hills”. (3/5)

12 Stones – “Adrenalin”
AFI – “Miss Murder”
Angels & Airwaves – “Call to Arms”
Atreyu – “Falling Down”
Black Tide – “Shockwave”
Coldplay – “Violet Hill”
Endeverafter – “I Wanna Be Your Man”
Evanescence – “Sweet Sacrifice”
Fall Out Boy – “This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race”
Finger Eleven – “Paralyzer”
Foo Fighters – “All My Life”
Franz Ferdinand – “The Fallen”
Kaiser Chiefs – “Ruby”
Lenny Kravitz – “Where Are We Runnin’?”
Modest Mouse – “Dashboard”
Phantom Planet – “Do The Panic”
Sum 41 – “Still Waiting”
Tenacious D – “The Metal”
The Bravery – “Unconditional”
The Donnas – “What Do I Have to Do”
The Duke Spirit – “Lassoo”
The Fratellis – “Chelsea Dagger”
The Kooks – “Always Where I Need to Be”
The Offspring – “Half-Truism”
The Strokes – “Reptilia”
Weezer – “Everybody Get Dangerous”
Wolfmother – “Dimension”
Yellowcard – “Lights and Sounds”