Monday, 20 October 2008

Review: Age of Booty (X360)

Developed by former Bungie developers, Booty is a real-time strategy game featuring customisable maps and pirate whimsy. Played with up to 8 other players, you control a single pirate ship and work together to capture a specific number of towns. Easy to pick up and tricky to master, Booty is a good edition to XBLA libary.

Co-operation and strategy are key elements needed to win each match: do you attack or defend? which town offers the best resources? Played with friends, Booty can be a lot of fun. Teams can coordinate who gets ship upgrades and who holds or attacks. Online, random players tend to
steal upgrades and double cross team mates. Depending on your view this could be a laugh or just plain annoying.

Offline there are 21 challenges to keep you going, with a less than satisfactory AI for company. However, the challenges do allow the player to learn the best strategies to use in the game and prepare you for life on the Live high seas. A map editor and Bungie like playlists complete the package.


Sent from my iPhone

Review: Viva Pinata - Trouble in Paradise (X360)

The sequel to 2007's Viva Pinata, Trouble in Paradise makes enough tweaks and improvements to justify a new release: including structured challenges, an improved user interface and some novel co-op features.

Essentially a garden and zoo simulator, Viva Pinata requires players to develop a virtual garden to entice and breed cute Pinata creatures. The game employs a food chain so that you must carefully balance the plants and Pinatas in your garden to attract higher species. .

The cute visuals and jolly music mask what can be a very challenging and adult game. Later stages include garden vandals called "ruffians", who can ruin your best laid plans. Thankfully Trouble in Paradise includes a "just for fun" mode which removes some of the difficulty
and allows parents and children to develop gardens together.


Sent from my iPhone

Review: CSI - Hard Evidence (X360)

Pros: Captures the spirit and cheese of the TV show; great for achievement boosting

Cons: Dialog is often ponderous (like the TV show!); voice acting can be really bad; bizarre use of the d-pad; long load times.

CSI - Hard Evidence is a good example of how not to port a PC game. Despite this, it is actually a compelling game with five interesting investigations to resolve.

Anyone who has seen the TV series will be familiar with the laughable context (forensics playing lead homicide detectives), plot misdirection, and over-acting that are hallmarks of the show. Thankfully, these elements have been successfully retained in the video game. Essentially
a point and click adventure, you are tasked with solving each crime by: performing investigations of the crime scene, collecting evidence and interviewing suspects - normally just asking them every question you can.

Each of the five crimes has been carefully constructed with a colourful set of characters and a plausible trail of evidence. Unfortunately, on each investigation you are accompanied by a sound-alike character from the Vegas show, who generally states the bleeding obvious and gets in the way. Other minor irritations include the mysterious unlocking of new evidence at certain points -something the show does- and occasionally long load times.

The presentation is adequate but the menu navigation is poorly implemented. The game is clearly a port from a PC title, and you often move a cursor around the screen using the analogue stick to select or identify objects - this in itself works just fine. However, for some bizarre reason you cannot use the cursor to select large menu icons on the same screen. Instead you have to use the unresponsive abomination of a d-pad that the 360 controller comes equipped with. It is often difficult to see which menu button is highlighted and you'll often select the wrong menu option.

Achievement collectors will enjoy the 200G reward for completing each investigation - which can take anything from 2-3 hours to complete. Fans of the show will also enjoy the opportunity to play out 5 new episodes. CSI - Hard Evidence actually provides a welcome change of pace and can be enjoyed in single sittings or small instalments. As a cheap purchase or rental it makes perfect sense for a lazy Sunday afternoon.


Review: The Bourne Conspiracy (X360)

Pros: Feels like the movies; great combat; presentation; quality

Cons: Not much to do once the story has been completed; you need to like cut-scene events; driving level is a bit of a mess.

The Bourne Conspiracy is a character action game, based on the book & film series and is probably one of the best tie-ins since GoldenEye on the N64. High Moon studios have created quality product with superb presentation and production values that really gives you the feeling of playing Jason Bourne.

Released in the summer of 2008, the Bourne Conspiracy will probably have been overlooked by many, or rejected as another cheesy movie tie-in. It is a real shame as no game has captured the action film aesthetic as successfully as this. The game plays like a combination of "God of War" or "Conan" melee action and "Gears of War" cover-based firearm combat.

What really makes the game stand-out, however, is the use of destructible environments and finishing moves. Build up enough "adrenaline" and you can initiate a melee or gun finishing move. This often results in your character slamming the enemy into chairs, tables, windows, pipes or other scenery with spectacular results. You really feel like you are bashing the shit out of someone and making full use of the environment to hand. It is just awesome!

The presentation, music and level design is lifted straight from the movies and books. The quality of the presentation is top notch, and is supported by full THX 5.1 support. It 10 hours of play, I never encountered a single glitch or graphical anomaly.

The game carefully blends the present day story with assassination missions during Bourne's Treadstone years. These provide additional back-story, not found in the movies, and add to the Bourne universe. Not many games can claim to add something valuable to a movie or book
franchise, but The Bourne Conspiracy certainly does. If there is one criticism however, it is that the game can be completed (on easy) in under 10 hours. It doesn't offer much replay either, other than achievement collecting.

Such a high quality and enjoyable game should really have got more attention on release. Short? Yes. But also immensely satisfying and fun. Fans of the books or films will get even more from the game, and for them The Bourne Conspiracy should be a must buy.

A full demo, taken from one of the few escape missions in the game, can be found on XBL Marketplace and PSN.


Review: Lego Batman (X360)

Pros: It's Batman; Lego characters are cute; the villains

Cons: Platforming hampered by camera; vehicle levels are poor; hub world has instant death; no online co-op; dodgy AI again!

Lego Batman continues with the same formula used in Lego Starwars and Lego Indy. It is the usual mixture of 3D platforming and item collecting -studs, mini-kits & red power bricks- that have been hallmarks of the series. Where Lego Batman does differ is that we now have an original story and context that is not based on existing movies alone. Lego Batman is an welcome addition to the family but ultimately highlights the usual complaints about the Lego titles.

The Lego games are really the last bastion of traditional 3D platforming left in the current generation of video game consoles. For that we should be truly thankful. However, the cracks are starting to show, and the issues in the previous Lego games have still not been addressed: poor camera, instant death jumps, screen tearing, and unpredictable AI are still here and just as
annoying as in the last 3 games.

The switch to an original story, based around the various movie, comic book and TV interpretations of Batman, works well. It has allowed the developers to include some interesting new gameplay mechanics, specifically with the villain characters (always the best characters in the Batman canon). It does, however, make this Lego game even more fragmented when playing through on Free Play (where you can use any characters). You often have to toggle through 20 different characters to find the one skill you need to unlock a
particular door or object.

The sound effects are lifted from previous Lego titles, and the music has been licensed from the Batman movies. The music blends well with the "Burton-sequel" level design aesthetics. This is also probably the best looking Lego game to date, with lots of cool next-gen water and smoke
effects thrown into the environments.

Lego Batman is a good game but it feels like it should be the last in the current Lego series. Whilst maintaining the fun and whimsy of the previous games, the gameplay mechanics are starting to become tiresome. Adding more skills and characters doesn't completely make up for the poor AI and often unfair level design that continue to be a problem. Wherever the Lego series goes next, it must reinvent and resolve these issues or risk undermining the
good will it has generated so far.