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)