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 Hi-Score.co.uk...

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”

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

L'Angleterre est une nation de boutiquiers

"A Nation of Shopkeepers" ("L'Angleterre est une nation de boutiquiers" is how Napoleon once famously described our fair isle (although it was probably first coined by Adam Smith). There are two topics of conversation that all British people are obsessed with: the weather, and “the price of fish”. Well, not just fish, anything and everything!

We have a culture that is always skewed towards cheapness over quality: from badly placed government IT contracts and infrastructure projects, to supermarket produce and hooky DVDs down the pub. This obsession also skews our retailers and high-streets.

Walk into any shop and 60-80% of the stock is “on-sale”, “on offer”, or “buy one get one free”. It’s like no one will buy anything unless they think they are getting a deal. But of course, the retailer has to make money, so products now must routinely carry a higher recommended retail price to make margin so that it can then be artificially discounted.

Listen to many UK-based gaming podcasts and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the only thing that matters is the price. With the exception of often sound consumer advice on FrugalGaming, I have become increasingly annoyed at complaints about the price of video games, in particular those on Xbox Live and the iPhone.

I think a lot of gamers fail to appreciate just how much it costs to create a game, even a fairly small one. The average Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 game costs £5-15m to create. That is a considerable investment for any company to make. Only half of all games made actually break even. In the beginning of Xbox Live Arcade titles were small ports of PC games that were produced for less than £100k and came in under 50MB. Today, Xbox Live Arcade games can be anything up to 500MB and costs between £100k and £1m to make: for example Braid is reported to have cost $200k.

Given the dramatic increase in the quality, size, value and cost of an Xbox Live Arcade titles isn’t it inevitable that the retail cost must increase. Given the 200-1000% increase in production costs, it would not be unexpected to see a similar increase in the purchase price? However, most games are today are either 800 or 1200 Microsoft Points: that a miserly increase of 50%, or just £3.40. Are we really trying to say that we are not prepared to pay an extra £3 for games that have the quality and production values of Battlefield 1943 or Braid, or would we rather stick to playing cheap thrill ports like Wik?

Incidentally, £3.40 buys you:

A pint of beer and some peanuts

A fish pie ready meal

A copy of the TV Times

A Venti Skinny Latte

The iPhone has revolutionised handheld gaming, and has created a new wave of “bedroom” indie games developers. The App Store provides an opportunity for games developers to produce small, cheap games that can be enjoyed by the masses. Prices range from 59p to £5.99, with most games selling for between £1 and £3. Considering the more expensive studio games, such as Tiger Woods, it still seems incredible value when compared to the cost of the same game on a Nintendo DS or Sony PSP (£25+). Yet, I still hear complaints about the pricing!

So what is the underlying problem here? Is it because these games have no physical media, and so therefore our perceived value of the product is less, even if the game may be identical to a physical version of greater cost? Probably.

Maybe it is the method of pricing that is the issue? 1200 sounds like a lot of money compared to 800. But £10.20 doesn’t sound like a huge amount of money; after all it’s the price of the average movie DVD?

Activision recently announced that their premium titles would carry and premium price. Not totally unexpected. Modern Warfare 2 is likely to be the best selling game of the year, but also one of the most expensive games ever produced. The publisher’s margins will also have been squeezed by the dramatic increase in the popularity of game rentals and trading that become a feature of this generation.

Whilst the timing of this price increase seems opportunistic, I have felt for some time that the impact of game trading and rental, on the scale we are seeing today, can only ever result in forcing prices up. A similar thing occurred in the early 90s when rampant piracy on the Commodore Amiga saw the price of games increase twofold in a couple of years. Video Games cost a lot of money to make, and the main means of returning a profit is to sell disks. If the disk is being resold or rented then you aren’t making money on that.

The issue of retail price is further exaggerated in the UK by our obsession with “getting a deal”. I can’t remember the last time I actually paid RRP (recommended retail price) for a game, even on pre-order. There is almost an unwritten rule that all games bought online or on the high-street carry a 20% discount!

I have a feeling we are heading towards a very uncomfortable future. Retail copies of games are likely to continue to increase in price in an effort to claw back revenue lost to trading and rental. The publishers are keen to get their games distributed online, but that carries the burden of massive IT infrastructure; discrimination against those gamers who are not online; or who can only “trade purchase”; and the aforementioned perception that download games are overpriced or lower value.

Microsoft are due to launch their own On-Demand service soon. It is the future, but I can already hear the complaints from British podcasters; I might just have to take a 3 month holiday when it arrives!

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

An Elixir for Success

I recently recorded an episode of the Big Red Potion podcast (http://bigredpotion.com) with StridentUK (blog writer for the Cranky Gamers) and the show's host Shoinan a.k.a Sinan Kubba (writer for TheGameReviews and EGC Games). In the show we discussed the often tricky subject of Sony's relative demise. I say relative, because any product that sells 20 million units cannot be considered a failure.

I personally found it a very rewarding discussion and one which I think video game enthusiasts would have thought about themselves over the last 18 months. It did however get me wondering just how important our opinions are to the wider world? I certainly have influence over the buying decisions of friends and relatives; that could account for maybe 20 sales. I have been known to dish out advice to strangers in a store if I think they are getting bad advice (I once sold a Mac to someone in PC World!); so that could influence another half a dozen people. Would they pass on my views and advice? Possibly. But it would have increasingly less impact.

I guess what I am mulling over is how much influence do gaming enthusiasts have over the general console buying public? My conclusion is actually very little. Movie critics have very little impact on what films make it to number one, and similarly, gaming enthusiasts can only ever hope to influence each other.

Anyway, listen to the podcast and leave feedback for Sinan on iTunes and his blog. It was a pleasure to record the show and I hope you enjoy it.


Saturday, 14 February 2009

Review: My Horse and Me 2 (Xbox 360)

Full Review on Cranky Gamers UK
My Horse and Me 2 turns out to be a rather enjoyable, if simplistic, sports game. Essentially it is a “Three Day Eventing” simulator (Dressage, Show-jumping, Cross Country) with various horse grooming mini games thrown into the mix. Despite being clearly aimed at young girls, My Horse and Me 2 avoids many of the usual female social stereotypes. It is only the unintentionally funny cutscenes and sugary presentation that illustrate you’re playing something aimed at a specific gender.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Reviews Round-up Part 5

Motorstorm 2: Pacific Rift (PS3)

Motorstorm is back, and this time it has taken the cyberpunk off-road racing even further and set the entire game on a volcanic pacific island. The setting provides Motorstorm with much needed variety in both the track environments and design: from long beaches and lava tubes, to jungle tracks and mountain top observatories. Races are grouped by location and race type, making progression less linear and more interesting. Online, you can race with up to 12 other suicidal petrol heads. Motorstorm 2 is loud, brash and loads of fun.


Mirror’s Edge (PS3)

Mirror’s Edge proved to be a revelation. Despite my dislike of the first person shooter genere, and especially first person precision jumping, I found the game to be exhilarating and rewarding. The first person free-running is brilliantly implemented, and the stark environments spectacularly convey the corporatocracy (a government dominated by corporate influence) in which the game is set. Despite a number of flaws, such as the forced combat and weak story-telling, Mirror’s Edge manages to balance frustration with fun, and difficulty with well thought out puzzles.


Little Big Planet (PS3)

Little Big Planet is both revolutionary and old fashioned in equal measure. Essentially it is a 2D platform game construction set. But such a description doesn’t do the game justice when you consider the sheer scope available to players and creators alike. With thousands of user created levels already in existence and the impossibly cute Sackboy, Little Big Planet should have something for everyone. Unfortunately, it is not a flawless experience: the floaty jumping never feels right and restricted number of retries make the gameplay more frustrating and difficult than it should be. However, Little Big Planet is a contemporary classic and many hours of fun can be had both playing and creating levels.


Reviews Round-up Part 4

Fable II (Xbox 360)

Fable II is best described as an adventure game with RPG features, rather than a full-bodied RPG. Lionhead Studios have managed to create a wonderfully rich world to explore, and written a half decent story too. However, the real stand-out feature of Fable II is the way in which the game makes you really care for your Hero and dog companion. Very few games have managed to achieve such emotional depth. It elevates Fable II to be one of the best games of 2008.


CSI-Hard Evidence (Xbox 360)

CSI features five murders where you play the lead role in the criminal investigation. The gameplay involves examining the crime scenes for clues, interviewing suspects, and gathering evidence to get a conviction. The game is entertaining and well conceived. The only real drawbacks are the rather clunky controls (ported from the Wii/PC) and lack of replayability - unless you want to search for all the cockroaches!

Full Review


LEGO Batman (Xbox 360)

LEGO Batman follows on from LEGO StarWars and LEGO Indiana Jones and brings together Batman, Robin and an assortment of villains from the DC comics. The big difference this time is that the story and characterisations are all new and not taken directly from an existing film. LEGO Batman has huge number of different characters and puzzle solving special moves. But it is a case of less is more as you find yourself constantly swapping characters or abilities. Odd design decisions, such as the instant deaths in the hub world and recycled levels from LEGO StarWars, do spoil an otherwise enjoyable game.

Full Review


The Bourne Conspiracy (Xbox 360)

The Bourne Conspiracy is one of the best movie tie-ins of recent years and features cracking mêlée combat and great pacing. The destructible environments add a layer of texture and sadistic enjoyment to the gameplay and elevate it above the norm. The Bourne Conspiracy also successfully adds further back story to the movie/books, whilst not bogging itself down in lengthy cut-scenes or dialog. The Bourne Conspiracy is a hidden gem and not just another mediocre movie-licensed game.

Full Review


The Force Unleashed (Xbox 360)

The Force Unleashed attempts to establish another story arc and character to the StarWars universe, in the form of Vader’s apprentice. Unfortunately, although the story is interesting, the gameplay and force powers are not. Essentially a God of War clone, The Force Unleashed suffers from poor level design and lacklustre combat that never really manages to be anything other than competent. There were better sword-based action games last year, such as Viking: Battle for Asgard.


Reviews Round-up Part 3

Banjo-Kazooie (Xbox 360)

Banjo-Kazooie is a flawless port of the N64 original and my favourite game of all time. On the surface it looks like any other 3D platform game from the period. But the cute characters and squeaky voices mask superb level design, balanced difficulty, and sharp dialog. The conversion to the Xbox Live Arcade comes complete with generous achievements and new hidden secrets. A must buy.


A Kingdom for Keflings (Xbox 360)

A Kingdom for Keflings is a city building game in which your giant New Xbox Experience avatar has a very hands-on role. The highly addictive gameplay focuses on resource collection tasks that are assigned to the little Kefling residents; your the ultimate goal being to complete the construction of the city and its castle. Kingdom for Keflings is simple, yet original, rewarding, and fun.


SceneIt? BOS! (Xbox 360)

SceneIt? Box Office Smash is the second instalment of the Buzz (PS3) beating movie trivia quiz game. Box Office smash includes much better localisation than the previous game: with UK questions and British voice-over talent. The Big Button Controller is easy to use and mixture of questions and puzzles can be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in movies.

(Game 4/5, Peripheral 5/5)

Gears of War 2 (Xbox 360)

Marcus and Dom are back, and Gears is bigger and better than before. Gears of War helped define this generation of consoles, and the sequel improves on the original in almost every way. The action is grander, the 3rd person combat is refined, and the environments are varied and beautiful. The addition of the cooperative Horde mode, where you face waves of enemies, and excellent multiplayer maps, make Gears 2 the most complete shooter available.


Fallout 3 (Xbox 360)

Fallout 3 promised much but is held back by the dreariness of the game’s post-apocalyptic setting, and some questionable design choices. Essentially, Fallout 3 is a large open-world RPG where your actions have real consequence in the world. Key side-quest provide the opportunity to fundamentally change your character and the quests that you follow. A unique timed aiming system, called VATS, helps root the combat in solid RPG mechanics, but it is often overly constrained resulting in unnecessarily frantic encounters. Recycled side quests from Oblivion and a confusing mapping system further diminish the experience. Fallout 3 could have been great, but instead it is disappointingly mundane and difficult to enjoy.


Reviews Round-up Part 2

Rock Band 2 (Xbox 360)

At first glance Rock Band 2 doesn't appear any different to Rock Band. Dig a bit deeper and you start to uncover an improved playlist and better game structure. Your Band can now be played in the Tour mode, even if you are the only player. You can also swap instruments and take the Band online. New challenges and additions to the Tour mode complete the perfect package. Just make sure you buy the Guitar Hero instruments instead, which are far superior to the Rock Band peripherals.

(Game 5/5, Peripherals 3/5)

Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 09 (Xbox 360)

It's another Tiger Woods game, which means it's the same solid game as last year, but with a few additions. This year's biggest change is the introduction of simultaneous online play: instead of everyone taking their shots in turn, each player takes their shots in their own time; whilst coloured ball-paths show the other players' progress. If you like to play Tiger with friends then the changes really improve the experience and make for a quicker, more enjoyable game.


MONOPOLY (Xbox 360)

This version of the classic game features a number of alternative boards: from the 'Here and Now' edition to Cheese(!); and a new faster variation that incorporates Mario-Party style mini-games. Sadly the game seems to be optimised for the Wii version, making the point-and-click interface awkward on the Xbox 360 control sticks. Monopoly would have possibly been better suited to the Xbox Live Arcade, but it is still a decent package and saves you loosing the houses down the back of the sofa.


Dash of Destruction (Xbox 360)

Do you like easy Achievements? Do you like games for free? Dash of Destruction is a sponsored game involving pizza...sorry, I mean "Doritos" delivery vans and killer dinosaurs. Disposable and short, it is still more fun than some of the paid for content on the Xbox Live Arcade.


Full Auto (Xbox 360)

Full Auto was part of the handful of titles that came out just after the Xbox 360 launched. Essentially a combat racing game, it has more in common with Mario Kart than its contemporary Californian landscape suggests. The main problem with Full Auto is that it uses extreme AI rubber-banding (handicapping the leader) to ensure that the action is maintained in condensed field of cars - which is partly necessary because the weapons are so underpowered. Full Auto is mildly amusing, but dated and flawed.


Reviews Round-up Part 1

I had a backlog of games that I played over the autumn period and had not yet published a review for. So here, in 100 words or less, are the reviews.

Guitar Hero World Tour (Xbox 360)

Guitar Hero continues to evolve along the path laid down in "III" and "Aerosmith". The inclusion of the overly complex music creator and “note-strings” don't really add much to the overall experience. The new peripherals, however, are the best yet and should be purchased for use in Rock Band 2 too. Guitar Hero’s core gameplay is still a whole lot of fun when the playlist throws up songs that you enjoy.

(Game 4/5, Peripherals 5/5)

Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (Xbox 360)

A sequel to Banjo Tooie was a long time coming, but it was well worth the wait. Nuts & Bolts cleverly integrates Lego style vehicle construction with entertaining mini-games complete with gaming satire. Nuts & Bolts doesn't hold the player by the hand, but it does offer huge depth and enjoyment for those willing to invest time in the vehicle editor. The silly multiplayer mini-games, and originality of everyone’s vehicle designs, make the online experience a real hoot.


Prince of Persia (Xbox 360)

A beautiful cell shaded look and interesting new direction fail to mask the inadequacies of the gameplay, script and design. Clearly using the same engine as the equally mixed Assassins Creed, the acrobatic gameplay is marred by floaty imprecise controls that fail to engage the player. The combat isn’t much better with little to communicate actions and an awkward block-&-parry system. The story and characters are shoehorned into the semi-open-world and fail to convey any sense of a "Persian" setting. The biggest crime, however, is the prince himself who has become a dislikeable jock with all the charisma and charm of a fight in a kebab shop.


Lips (Xbox 360)

Lips' brilliant wireless microphones and interesting party mini-games are not enough to unseat Singstar (PS3) as the king of the Karaoke game. Interestingly, for a music game, the background menu music is appallingly twee and inappropriate. If you don't own Singstar it is worth a look, otherwise stick to the best.

(Game 3/5, Peripherals 5/5)