Archive for the ‘ 360 ’ Category

Left 4 Dead 2 – Shambling Ramblings

I was lucky enough to win an early code for the Left 4 dead 2 demo from Console Monster, and the nice people even asked me to write a paragraph or two on my opinions, which as of yet has not been published. I got a little carried away and had to stop myself when I hit 700 words. You see, for a demo, there’s so much to talk about.

Over the past few days I’ve been thinking more about the demo – especially things that I did not mention before – so instead of keeping them penned up I thought I’d bore you lot with them. I’ll warn you now that these are just my opinions and it may become a bit of a rant. I want to open these topics up for discussion and see if we can get some alternate viewpoints

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Atmosphere

Remember the first time you booted up Left 4 Dead? I do. I downloaded the demo over night and jumped on to grab a few games in the morning. Being the big wuss that I am, I waited for some friends to come online as I was too scared to play it on my own. I remember my first game, it was the subway level of the No Mercy campaign and I believe it was with Hi-Scores very own, Mr Daniel Lipscombe a.k.a strybe.

My hands were sweaty, I was close to smashing the pad as I hammered RT; spraying my Uzi through Bill’s buttocks, Laying out Louie and maybe, just maybe, killing a zombie. I shot Strybe, and our friend’s, more than I shot the Zombies. The reason I shot the hell out of my friends? Because I was scared half to death. Creeping around corners in the dark to be greeted with a horde of undead was not my picnic (then at least).

You see, a friend pointed out to me, although he loves the demo, it seems to lack the atmosphere that the original captured. I kind of agree with him, the sunlight is great but it does take away the fear of the shadows and what might be lurking in them. But, on the flip side, you cant hide in the shadows any more. I felt completely open, every where you turn you can see the zombies meandering about, massing up for a charge. Valve will have some darkened creepy levels tucked away but what the demo lacked in atmosphere, it made up for in adrenaline; the new events, sunlight and wide open spaces all added up to give me, and maybe you, a new heart pounding experience.

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Versus

I am a huge fan of the originals versus mode, I’ve probably played more of it than the actual campaign mode. It’s such a different affair from your standard multiplayer FPS, requiring teamwork and co-ordination. On around my fourth play through of the demo I could not help myself from looking around at the level from a versus perspective. The major thing I noticed was the balconies along the tight streets. With no ground access these are definitely smoker perches. The daylight will add an interesting perspective as your smoker will be a lot easier to spot. Teamwork is going to be key, splitting up the survivors might be even more important in the sequel than it was in the original.

Cue the new special infected: the Spitter, Charger and Jockey. Having these new “weapons” at your disposal is going to change Versus for good. It feels like Valve have created them (almost) purely for Versus as their main purpose is splitting up and isolating the survivors, the afore-mentioned key to Versus. The Spitter can force the survivors out of the hiding spots, the Charger can pick one player up and smash him out of the group and most importantly the Jockey, who if used correctly (and with support) could be the most fun. His possibilities seem endless, whether your running survivors into ambushes, off buildings, into fire, into boomers, he will always cause chaos and disorientate the group.

The last, and most hotly debated item, is the melee weapons. How will these factor into Versus? I honestly can’t say. I trust Valve won’t have made them too powerful against infected players but who knows. If you play together and use teamwork then you should be able to deal with any situation, even chainsaw wielding humans. The more melee weapons, the less guns to shoot you.

I did warn you it was going to be a rant, but I hope some of these thoughts made sense. I for one can’t wait to get my hands on this game. Please post your own thoughts, opinions, disagreements, whatever you want to call them and I’ll reply to them all.

Eurogamer Expo: best of the rest

Naturally, at a gaming exhibition, some of the hands-on time doesn’t justify a lengthy piece or in-depth analysis.  With that in mind, check out my summary in my “Best of the Rest” picks:

Most pleasant surprise: Lost Planet 2

Lost Planet was something of a bland proposition.  I didn’t like the first, and thought the endless snow-bound combat was as dull as wading through treacle.  Imagine my chagrin, then, when Lost Planet 2 crushed those unfavourable impressions.   The visuals were crisp and pleasing, the combat smooth and unfussy, with the use of grappling hooks adding a fun twist to truly three-dimensional combat.  On the strength of this demo alone, I am very tempted to pick it up on release.

Lost Planet 2 looks very promising

Most bonkers gameplay: Bayonetta

Initial appearances might suggest Bayonetta is little more than a Devil May Cry clone.  However, with Japanese magazine Famitsu scoring it a maximum 40/40, it begs closer inspection.  Despite the protagonist being a gravity-defying incarnation of the most delusional fantasist, the boring stereotype serves up lashings of fun and unexpected combat.  Massive thigh-high leather boots will descend to squash celestial hordes, hellish dragons will appear to devour gargantuan opponents, and epic boss fights will quite literally land you in unexpected places.  In my limited time with Bayonetta, I barely scratched the surface of the combat, but even my brief stint hinted at a bafflingly diverse array of special moves and intricate combos.  Best of all, it was nonsensical fun.  Definitely one to watch.

One game to rule them all: God of War 3

God of War is all about spectacle, and oh my, what a spectacle it is.  I stood looking on in awe, exclaimed out loud at several points, and thoroughly enjoyed the seamless flow from one superb scene to the next.  Admittedly, the combat hasn’t taken any noticeable leaps, but who cares?  When a game flows with such seamless polish as this, and every part throws out an unexpected wonder, you will forgive a lot.  Not that you’ll need to – it looks finished already.  And as for the fixed camera…  What camera?  I didn’t even notice it or think about it until afterwards, that’s how perfect it was.

Most traditional sequel everyone wants to see: Battlefield: Bad Company 2

A brief hands-on with Battlefield: Bad Company 2 left me impressed.  There’s not much to say other than that it seems to be every bit the refinement current BF:BC players want to see.  Particle effects look great, sound is dynamic and intense, gameplay runs smoothly, and there were no noticeable hiccups in all of what was going on.  Graphically, it’s noticeably a step on, but best of all, DICE seems to have moved on with the Frostbite engine destructibility.  My session was brief, but I will say that either destruction is now totally dynamic, or that the destruction “cut away” templates from the first are more varied and cunningly disguised.  Fans can rest assured that the entire package looks very promising.

Heavy Rain has stunningly realised characters

Most hyped let-down: Heavy Rain

It’s perhaps unfair to say that Heavy Rain was a let-down, exactly, but I certainly left with mixed feelings.  The story looks cinematic and gripping enough, but I didn’t witness the endless variations of each promised scene.  In the now-famous shop scene, detective Scott Shelby has to stop a robbery in progress.  I certainly couldn’t seem to get myself shot or end the scenario in any way other than wrestling the would-be thief to the floor and knocking him unconscious, despite having several tries.  Perhaps I’m being too cynical, but the in-game “triggers” felt like little other than cleverly-disguised QTEs.  Regardless, though, the facial animations are superb: it sounds like an odd observation to make, but the eyes of characters in particular are brilliant.  The world-weary hangdog expression of Scott Shelby; the painfully damaged openness of shopkeeper Hassan: the essence of each character is perfectly and instantly relayed.

Eurogamer Expo: Aliens vs Predator

Unbalanced.  That’s the main feeling I got walking away from the AvP demo. 

The marine/alien/predator triangle really throws up some interesting possibilities.  Luckily for me, then, there was a hands-on multiplayer demo at the EG Expo.  Unfortunately, I left feeling slightly disappointed.

Game over, man!

In fairness to Rebellion, there remain a lot of reasons to be optimistic that this can become a stand-out title – but it needs a lot of work before its release.  Odd graphical glitches were frequent in what I can only hope is an early build: marines and predators would occasionally “slide” across the floor, animation totally absent.  There was alarming lag, too; I had assumed I was playing a LAN game, and – if so – then this is an ominous portent for the online side.

Graphically, it was solid but unremarkable.  It also suffered from the single issue that plagued Arkham Asylum: when playing as the Predator, you will want to use thermal vision all the time.  This time, however, it does at least serve to underscore the continuity of the inspiring fiction.

The biggest gameplay issue, though, was balance.  The marine is woefully underpowered.  S/he has a motion sensor in a fitting nod to the films, but it is exactly that: a motion sensor.  As aliens and predators alike can lurk in the shadows to good effect, it is somewhat irksome that your one way of redressing the balance is undone by the inclusion of one-button stealth kills.  Aliens and predators can pounce on unsuspecting victims for an instant kill, and – although the animations are slow and can leave players exposed when used gratuitously – it still means there is a lot of hiding in shadow.  All too often, I would be engaged in a firefight or about to spring a trap of my own, when I would simply be picked off in such a manner and sent packing to the respawn screen.  In fact, it is entirely too easy to believe that unlucky or impatient players will see a lot of the floor while waiting to rejoin the fray.  Alas, I didn’t get to play as an alien, and potentially they offer some of the most unique gameplay elements – certainly, their gravity-defying locomotion opens a vast array of tactics.

The more positive aspects of AvP were perhaps slightly trickier to qualify.  For one thing, seeing aliens scuttle around the claustrophobic levels and disappear into the shadows was superbly atmospheric, and left you with interesting choices: do you risk rushing in for a kill, or abandon what might be a trap?  On one occasion, my marine chased an alien up a stairwell, firing blindly into the darkness.  As I emerged from the darkness on to a walkway, a shape flitted off to the left.  I jumped back, seeing the alien dangling into the darkness, ready to pounce if I’d continued my pursuit.  I can’t imagine a more authentic experience – that one moment perfectly encapsulated everything about the films.

Newt's down here?  Screw that

Despite the reservations I have, there is huge potential here.  If Rebellion can nail the balance and fix the technical issues by release, then this could be a competitive FPS that breathes tension into an often-stale genre, rewarding cunning gameplay far beyond most shooters.

Eurogamer Expo: Mass Effect 2

se·quel

n.
1. Something that follows; a continuation.
2. A literary, dramatic, or cinematic work whose narrative continues that of a preexisting work.
3. A result or consequence.

Let’s take point three and examine what I mean.

Saren returns

 

With dismay, I recently revisited the first Mass Effect to find that – from a technical perspective – it has started to creak slightly with the passing of time.  It is to BioWare’s credit, then, that its impending sequel seamlessly transitions from one game to the next without needing to preen and strut self-consciously.  There are no flashy “look at me” histrionics, no radical overhauls or deviations from the core gameplay.

The changes are subtle – so subtle that, if you haven’t played the first recently, you probably won’t even notice them.  The much-vaunted combat improvements brought me right back into Mass Effect universe while instinctively feeling smoother than the first.  For those of you who may not know, you can now target specific body parts on enemies for distinct effects.  Headshots will see a spray of blood, and targeting a leg will allow you to stall enemy advances – this is critical for avoiding the flanking issues that smudged the first.  Combat also sees the introduction of the “health regeneration” feature of most modern shooters – no rooting around for medi-packs now.

The dialogue wheel remains perfectly preserved, while the graphics themselves are beautiful.  If you thought the first was joyously pretty, some of the sweeping vistas and facial animations seen in the demo were just breathtaking.

Look!  New characters

Of course, it’s always tough to work out exactly how such an RPG will develop and engage – particularly when it’s driven by an arc as strong as that in Mass Effect.  There are already tantalising glimpses shown here, though, and in every way this is a game spawned by its progenitor, as the dictionary above might suggest.  BioWare seems to have set about delivering careful, considered tweaks, having learnt from the few mistakes of the original.

The level of polish already on display was fantastic to see, and I would casually suggest that the release date of January 29th looks a certainty.  I’ll be first in line.

Sam and Max Beyond Time and Space Review

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s the point and click adventure was king of the game genres. They revolutionised the way in which interactive stories could be told at a time when graphical and processing capabilities were limited by modern day standards. Rather than focusing on physical challenges, the point and click adventure focused on exploration and puzzle solving tasks. While games such as Myst and the Zork series were distinctly sombre affairs, other games like the Monkey Island series and Sam and Max Hit the Road were much more humorous. Sam and Max was my particular favourite, what’s not to love about a detective duo made up of a sensible, stoic dog and a hyperactive, psychotic rabbit? Fans hoped for more from the duo but for various reasons, this wasn’t to be until Telltale Games picked up the license and ran with it ably demonstrated by Sam and Max Season One and now Season Two: Beyond Time and Space.

As the season term suggests, rather than simply being one big adventure, Beyond Time and Space comprises of five episodic segments. With each episode taking a few hours to complete, it’s a nice way of making the game feel like value for money. It also makes the Season feel like a more rounded product than if the games had been sold separately as some episodes are better than others. The stories range from Sam and Max saving Christmas in Ice Station Santa to rescuing Bosco the shopkeeper’s soul in What’s New Beelzebub. Each story is fairly self contained albeit with the odd overlap and many settings and characters being re-used.

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Telltale Games have done a great job with each of the episodes being very enjoyable experiences. My particular favourite storyline was Ice Station Santa’s where Santa becomes possessed and it’s down to Sam and Max to save Christmas. Any game where you have to collect up action figures based on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse has to be given some credit. Throughout the episodes, Sam and Max’s one liners continually made me crack a smile and the barrage of pop culture references were extremely welcome. Max may be a completely insane rabbit who would kill everyone just for the hell of it, but he manages to still be immensely likeable. The same can be said of the ever deadpan but darkly sarcastic Sam. The supporting cast also provides some laughs, such as Sybil the, ever desperate for love, office worker and my favourite: the garage computers. These computers comprise of an abandoned arcade machine, some form of 1980s home computer and a punch hole machine, all with their own, unique (and odd personalities).

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The only real let down for the stories was the third instalment Night of the Raving Dead. The story felt much weaker than others and less enjoyable. Some of the puzzles also felt quite illogical at times which was a tad disappointing. Despite these shortcomings the other episodes were very enjoyable with the majority of puzzles making plenty of sense. Be warned though: some puzzles do provoke a feeling of ‘Doh!’ when you finally figure out just how simple it really is after spending 30 minutes or more pondering what to do next!

Besides the puzzles and typical point and click action, a few minigames make an appearance to break things up a bit. I have to admit that I did find some of them a little gimmicky. Brief games that involve driving over bagpipes or shooting zombies just felt a little bit like they were padding out the length of the game. That’s not to say that they weren’t quite fun for a few minutes but they did feel a little pointless when more puzzles could have been added in their place. Purists of the point and click genre may be particularly peeved by their inclusion.

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It’s great to see a much loved franchise such as Sam and Max succeed so well on a different system, and a new audience. A lot of gaming feels so serious and glum that to play a game which genuinely made me laugh out loud was a great surprise. At 1600 points it may seem like a slightly expensive choice to make on the Xbox Live Marketplace, especially when bearing in mind it is single player only. However I’d say it’s worth every penny if you enjoy witty dialogue and using the old grey matter from time to time. Personally I’m crossing my fingers tightly for a Season Three!

Hi-Score – Consistently funny dialogue and storylines, Sam and Max exude charm

Lo-Score – Minigames can begin to grate after a while, no replayability

Score – 8 out of 10

Warriors: Street Brawl Review

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Warriors, where are you? A question that I sadly had to ask myself multiple times while playing this game.

The Warriors is a cult classic from 1979, a film that was passed down to me by my father, that I now pass down to the younger generations. My experience with this game has left a stain on one of my favourite films, a stain thats going to take some time and possibly therapy to remove.

The side scrolling beat ’em up is one of the oldest genres in the book, made famous by such classics as Streets of Rage and Golden Axe, both of which ate up a hell of a lot of gaming time in my youth. The fundamentals are simple, move your character from left to right smashing up any and every thing in your way but somewhere down the line Warriors Street Brawl got it wrong. The controls are very simple, one button to kick, punch, throw, block, run and jump; combing these will result in different combos and specialist tricks. Using any of these moves will dispatch a foe with relative ease but when your attacked by multiple enemies the cracks begin to show.

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You hold block, waiting for your chance to swing back but it never comes. It’s almost like the enemies have planned their attack pattern; just as the first enemy finishes his 3 hit combo you release block and start your swing then BAM, the enemy behind you starts his attack. I spent more time hiding behind my fists than throwing them. The one sure fire way to get out of this is to use your special attack which sends your enemies spinning away to the floor. Even this has its drawbacks as it depletes your health which is not usually a bad thing but I struggled to find any in this game. You smash-up bins and lamp posts to find roast chickens and the likes (seriously) but more often than not I found money, diamonds or rage.

Rage is something you’re going to need in this game even though it does not work. You build up your meter by stacking up chains of attacks or finding the afore mentioned rage boosters that take the form of a glowing skull. When you activate your rage you glow red and inflict more damage, which is great but you can still be hit and knocked over with ease. So if you find yourself surrounded (again) then it’s not going to help you out. I know I’m complaining about being surrounded a lot but it really does happen that much. At certain crux points of the levels you have a small selection of enemies to defeat in an alloted time. If you dont defeat them then reinforcements come, if you dont defeat the reinforced foes then another wave come. Why? In theory it may be a good idea but in practice it makes you want to quit out and go play a real game like Streets of Rage.

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The one thing the game does right is the graphics, the levels and enemies look splendid in their shiny HD glory. It certainly brought a smile to my face seeing the locations and characters from the film brought to life so well. The one problem that occurred was finding the objects to smash. Everything looked so smooth and sharp unlike the really obvious out-of-place trash can in the old Megadrive games. It’s a strange complaint, I know, but it is valid (honestly!). The cut-scenes look equally nice as an animated comic book. I have no idea why the sexy red lipped DJ was not featured in the game, what a missed opportunity.

Sadly the sound was not up to the scratch of the graphics. Music from the film was kind of there but not really. The game would have benefited from some of the original music just to keep us fan boys happy. My biggest gripe with the sound was the awful noises the enemies made, not just their noises but their animations as well. After slapping you around they shake their fist in the air and make a noise which is akin to Inspector Cyril ‘Blakey’ Blake from On The Buses. I mean come on, this is supposed to be a seedy gangland, I’m supposed to be fearing for my life.

I sadly never got to test the multiplayer aspect out as no one I know had the game or wanted to play it. It does boast 4 player online and offline co-op which may address some of the game play issues but should the single player suffer? I think not.

“Can You Dig it?” Sadly, I cant. A very well presented game spoiled by frustrating gameplay that will leave you with a hoarse throat and a bruised knee.

Hi-Score – Impressive Graphics, Nostalgia, Multiplayer Options, eh…thats about it

Lo-Score – Horribly Frustrating Gameplay, High difficulty, Bad sound

Score – 4 out of 10

My Brother And Me

Outside games journalism itself, the press often gives video games a hard time.  While this is a sweeping statement, you only have to look to figures like Mary Whitehouse, Jack Thompson and even other vocal opponents such as Julia Boseman or Hillary Clinton for proof.

Now, most gamers I know wouldn’t try arguing games are without issues or faults – far from it.  Most would implore very particular treatment of young gamers, for example, and few would dispute the fact that, like all things, games are a hobby best suited for moderate consumption.  However, this is a long and complex discussion that has been raised before, and I am not about to wade into the quagmire today, especially without considerably more research.

The point of this article is simple: to underline my belief that there are very valid and very personal reasons why games can be a good thing.  In my case, it’s my brother.

Although similar in age (we’re just 18 months apart), my brother and I are very different people with very different interests.  Fortunately for us, being brothers and all, we have the same parents.  This means we shared the same upbringing, and have – over time – come to share many values.  Growing up, despite all the tomfoolery, squabbling and enthusiastically destructive play in which we indulged, we remained quite close.  Sure, there were some wobbly moments in the teenage years when I didn’t like my brother (or anyone else) very much, but time has mellowed us both.

However, my brother likes the UFC and MMA, boxing, cars, and Formula 1, none of which hold much interest for me.  I respect what he likes, except when I don’t, or see an opportunity to take the piss, but his interests are not my interests.  The exception is gaming.

Keith Jardine knocks Rampage Jacksons Mouthpiece flying

Keith Jardine knocks Rampage Jacksons Mouthpiece flying

We grew up playing games together – both video and “real” ones.  Everything from Roland in Time on the Amstrad CPC 464 to Goldeneye on the N64, we played it.  Perhaps nostalgia has helped cement the bond (we both remember going to look at the £1.99 Amstrad tapes under the glass counter in our local toy shop), but we still love games now.  It’s a common interest for us, and we will chat for hours about the upcoming releases, the good times on Gears of War or Skate 2, and even what idiots we encountered in the latest round of online gaming.  He knows the same people I do online, we like the same games (shooters, mainly), and he is of a similar standard.

My brother, Tommy, is good company anyway, and we’ve shared many a magical moment online.  I will never forget the time Tommy pulled up next to me in a Warthog and yelled at me to “get in the van.”  You’d never guess he was involved in the building trade at the time…  Okay, so he’s not quite as devoted to gaming as I am – he tends to wander in and out of remembering to pay his broadband bill – but that makes no difference to either of us.

"Get in the van" - Tommy

"Get in the van" - Tommy

In short, gaming has brought us closer – we always got on well, but over the last few years my brother has fast become one of my best friends.   I have faith that many other such stories exist out there – perhaps a couple who met through gaming, or a father and son playing together; maybe a family where video games have provided an outlet for other problems.

This is all a far cry from the thoroughly negative press that gaming often gets, and proves that video games can be a positive influence. As someone else once said, “virtual spaces, real relationships.”

Some come on, what do games mean to you and yours?