Posts Tagged ‘ PC ’

Tales of Monkey Island: Rise of a Pirate God Review

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After five long arduous months the struggles and troubles of Guybrush Threepwood (Mighty Pirate) come to an end with Episode Five – Rise of a Pirate God. The previous Tales have seen Guybrush battling pox pirates and partying inside a giant manatee, but this tale has the grandest backdrop yet, the pirate afterlife.

The pirate afterlife is a really compelling setting, from the off you’re greeted with some great gags; the grog vending machine that sells cherry grog, diet grog, grog 😄 and of course…grog; turnstiles, because even in death, life never loses it’s inconveniences. Telltale’s little details really help you become immersed in your surroundings, with the added humour of Threepwood of course. You find yourself at the crossroads of the pirate afterlife which leads to three separate areas – swordfight, thieves den and treasure hunt –  each one with its own situations and characters.

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The task set in front of you is to somehow get back into your body, stop LeChuck, save Elaine and possibly the whole world. Should be easy enough then. The first thing you have to do is find a way out of the afterlife, thankfully LeChuck has already proved this possible, so retracing his footsteps is the key. Through a means that I will not mention, you gain access to the world and get to meet up with some well-known places and faces from the previous tales. It’s nice to see the old familiar characters again and is a good way to tie the whole story together.

New characters also have their chance to shine and two really stand out – Caleb and the “friend” in the thieves den. Caleb, if that is his real name, is a strange little man who is there to give you advice and confuse you in equal measures. The nameless “friend” is someone I want to see more of, a sort-of-rasta pirate thief who loves to show off his impressive skills of thievery. Both these characters contain some great lines of dialogue and add some key refreshment to the gathering of returning characters. You also get a dog, although not as funny as the afore-mentioned characters, he is very handy in solving some cheeky puzzles.

Solving some of the problems in the later half of the game was great fun, switching between situations and combining items are something that TellTale and Monkey Island do very well. I wish I could tell you all the hilarious details but it would ruin it for you. Safe to say, I chuckled, you’ll chuckle, we’ll all chuckle. Especially with the…no, I can’t tell you. Only one puzzle had me really stumped to the point of asking for help.  There is nothing more frustrating than knowing what you have to do but not knowing how to do it. Sadly, point and click games are filled with moments like these and Tales has had its fair share. Maybe I’m just impatient, I’m sure a lot of people would have no trouble with the challenges.

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Frustrating puzzles aside, the story really does thunder along nicely, bringing out compelling twists and real heart warming situations. All the threads that have been laid have been sewn together in the last two Tales and completed in this last story. Few things really bothered me with Rise of a Pirate God – besides some frustrating puzzles – the only thing that really hindered my experience was the game crashing at one point and losing a chunk of progress. From this error I learned to save the game a lot more as the auto save is somewhat lacking. Nothing worse than having to rush through, what was enjoyable game play, just to get back to where you were.

So, Rise of a Pirate God wraps up what has been a brilliant series of games and a resurgence of a classic franchise. Tales not only pleased old school fans, but should have easily brought in legions of new fans with its pick up and play natire and expertly funny story. To quote the Treasure Hunter – “What’s wrong with a little colourful narrative?” – nothing at all, and I want more.

Hi-Score – Great End to the Story, Very Funny, Great Characters, Well…It’s Monkey Island!

Lo-Score – Lack of Autosaves, Some Puzzling Puzzles

Score – 8/10

Tales of Monkey Island : The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood Review

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It’s that time of the month people, another Monkey Island game has washed up on our briny shores thanks to Telltale games. The series so far has been steadily improving with the last two outings being the best yet. Can Episode 4, The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood, continue this trend?

For the first half of the game, it does. The story picks up from Lair of the Leviathan with Guybrush Threepwood getting led back onto Flotsam Island by the back-stabbing pirate hunter, Morgan Le Flay. Threepwood is supposed to be handed across to the evil Marquis De Singe. Luckily however, Guybrush ends up getting arrested for his previous deeds and gets thrown into the, once closed, Flotsam Courthouse.

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The courthouse is not the only area you gain access to in chapter 4 as Club 41 is now fully open for you to explore, and hopefully not destroy this time. It’s nice to have a new setting to explore after having been on Flotsam Island for three games. The bar is full of character: amusing paintings, skull candles (Murray?), crocodile dartboard and of course, grog. At the head of this bar is Judge Grindstump, a great name and a great new character. Although he is a heartwarming, cheery barkeeper, he is an intimidating pox spewing judge.

Grindstump is holding four charges against you: ranging from literally scaring a cat stiff to burning a ladies leg with some hot nacho sauce. Proving your innocence leads you into some great situations. Some needing you to wander back and forth to find the correct selection of items, while others need a bit of good old lateral thinking. Solving these puzzles gives you a sense of satisfaction to go with your big grin, something that – in my opinion – Monkey Island has done, and continues to do, better than any other point-and-click game out there.

Sadly the enjoyment did begin to disappear in the second half of the game as the wander-around-aimlessly-with-indechipherable-map puzzle reared its ugly head again. Maybe it is just me, but I really struggle with these puzzles. After a few attempts to wander around in the correct way greet failure I end up looking up a guide in frustration. This one has been the worst yet as I had no idea where to start, I was literally ‘Grind’stumped.

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Besides the puzzles, the story also took a weird turn throwing up some strange turns that just did not sit well with me. It felt like TellTale rushed the story arc a little; I would have loved to have had an extra hour of gameplay to ease it in. Even thought the story felt a little forced, the dialogue was still excellent. The return of the ever arm flailing entrepeneur Stan was a nice surprise. Other returning characters, beside the residents of Flotsam, include a welcome return of Hardtack, now Bailiff Hardtack of the Flotsam Courthouse, one of my favourite characters from The Siege of Spinner Cay.

Bringing characters back from the previous Tales really helps to combine the separate chapters into one complete story. As funny as the previous Tales have been I have to say that this is possibly the best. Getting yourself out of the dock and proving your innocence had me chuckling throughout. Having done so many things right makes it even more annoying that The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood lacked the consistency of some of the other Tales. Even with these possible errors it is still a very good game that has set up a tantalising finale to the story.

Hi-Score – Brilliantly Funny, Great Characters, Clever Puzzles

Lo-Score – Weaker 2nd Half, Utterly frustrating Puzzle

Score – 8/10

Risen (PC) Review

Two things that are key to my enjoyment of an RPG are an immersive world and a character that I care about. With Risen, Piranha Bytes almost had me. Almost.

When you first wash up on the island it seems like your standard RPG fair. But that is where you’re wrong, Risen is a very peculiar beast. In some areas it excels but in other important areas, it has faults. Your struck by Risen’s odd yet well executed tendencies very early on. You have to find food for your damsel in distress, to do so you have to take the meat off a slain monster. When you have the raw meat you have to find an open fire and a frying pan.

This is one of the things I like about Risen – besides the slow, boring cooking animation – the attention to detail. I loved the fact that as your hunting skill develops you can de-tusk boars and clip birds wings. I can easily lose myself doing these non-story based tasks, even collecting herbs for potions, making scrolls and even finding ingredients to make recipes. It’s just really good fun. But doing these little personal errands means braving the outside world and in Risen and it’s not a pretty place.

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It is pretty in a visual sense, with lots of scenic views and lush forests, but the characters sadly don’t fare as well. You will see the same face over and over, although not so bad at first you eventually lose any connection with the NPC’s. You can talk to one really interesting, compelling character, then turn the corner and there he is again, but it’s just his face (it’s like some twisted island of clones). At least your character looks different, maybe he will be interesting and charismatic, but then he speaks. Dull, charmless, badly acted voice over can ruin a game but gladly in Risen it does not as the dialogue in the entire game is pretty much the same. A few characters are well narrated but these are few and far between. I found myself reading the subtitles and skipping the audio of the conversations which is criminal in an RPG but I had to do it.

There is a good story hidden away under the clunky dialogue. The island is littered with monsters, spewed forth from strange temples that have burst from the land. White Robes of the Inquisition guard these temples and if you don’t want to join them then trust me when I say it’s best to stay far, far away from them. The only other option is joining Don Esteban and his bandits. By joining a faction you get to pursue that side of the story and gain their respect. You don’t have to join a faction right away, instead you can pick and choose your way through the quests, playing each side against each other and getting the best out of each situation.

A lot of the quests are relatively open-ended as you can use whatever skill set is at your disposal to work it out. Are you a pesky little thief? Then pickpocket the items and sell them to the highest bidder. Are you a crafty business man? Then buy the items and make a profit. Or do you just like to beat people up? Then beat it out of them. You dont have to kill people in Risen, you just whack them around a bit then they fall over and eventually get up. It’s a good touch as you can really be a ruffian and not a murderer.

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I tried to stay away from the fighting option as I prefered the more subtle approach of paying people off and then robbing them. Although I love this option it was not one of choice, but more of necessity, as I found myself getting beat up a little too much. The combat in Risen is quite a simple affair – left click to swing your weapon, right to block, dodge by double tapping the movement key –  but somehow I just could not grasp it. Even at the later levels I still ended up spamming the attack button and hoping my health would last out. I’m usually fine against one enemy but against multiple opponents I often find it a bit clunky. They swing around behind you and you have to quite heavily flick through the slight auto aim to target the character you want to block. A few of my key fights I won by managing to glitch the enemy up against a wall then beating them to death.

Monsters are even worse as they are (although impressive creations) really tough to kill. As a low-level character I could not even take down a couple of giant spinerats.  I found myself running through open areas of country with a tail of wolves and giant moths just hoping I’d either run into some help, or they would get bored and leave me be. The one good thing is that the enemies don’t re-spawn, so over time you can empty an area. Normally no re-spawning is a bad thing but there’s so many monsters in Risen that it’s a saving grace. If they re-spawned then I doubt I would have made it past the first few levels. It’s such an unforgiving game to new players, but I kind of like it. It’s nice to struggle at times but at others it made me just turn it off.

Maybe using magic would be easier but I’ve not had time to start a mage yet. One thing that amused me about being a mage is that they’re alcoholics. Seriously. Drinking alcoholic beverages increases your mana bar and, unlike other games, does not have any negative effects. Sounds like the perfect world for drunks. Even if you’re not a wasted wizard you can still use magic scrolls and boy does Risen have some crackers – telekinesiss, healing, levitation and snail metamorphosis. Yes, in Risen you can transform into a snail. It’s actually a very handy spell as you can sneak past guards and through small doorways. Using the spells are key to accessing secret areas and bypassing traps.

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Levelling up makes combat a lot easier and once again, Risen does it in its own strange way. You gain experience the standard way by killing enemies, completing quests and eating the occasional plant. When you’ve levelled up you can seek out a trainer to train you in your ability of choice. You also need to have a fair amount of gold coins to cover the training expenses. I like the fact that you can choose the skills you want but it has its faults. You have to buy the sneak skill which is basically paying for the ability to crouch. This seems a little senseless but maybe I’m just a fan of the Oblivion style of levelling; the more you use a weapon or trait then the more it upgrades. The upgrades are good but I found myself not having enough gold, or not knowing what to spend it on; I want to learn the parry skill yet I also want to be able to lock pick. I ended up with a character who was a jack of all trades but a master of none. It may have been my fault but it feels like you have to go down this route as you can’t get by without a foundation in all the skill sets. Maybe on my next play through I’ll concentrate on one ability and see if I can have more of a stress free time.

As you can tell, my thoughts on Risen are quite varied; there are things I loved yet things I disliked. It was a journey of frustration filled with pockets of fun. As frustrating as it was, it created a refreshing environment, making the world feel real. The creatures were tough from the off set and unlike most RPG’s you really felt out of your depth. The main character, although boring, did feel like an untrained foreigner washed up in a strange land with no one to connect with, no one to befriend. The game successfully conveyed the feeling of unease and isolation which is probably the most impressive thing Piranha Bytes have managed to do.

So, If you’re a fan of RPG’s then go out and give this game a shot. I cant promise you will love it – I’m still not 100% sure if I did – but it’s an interesting game that really deserves to be played. The faults are out weighed by an impressive world, interesting depth and a refreshing take on the fantasy RPG genre.

Hi-Score – Captavating World, Impressive Range of Skills, Unique Creatures, Realistic Enviroment

Lo-Score – Voice Acting, High Difficulty, Poor Characters, Random Bugs

Score – 7/10

Tales of Monkey Island : Lair of the Leviathan

TellTale Games

Telltale games have succeeded in bringing Monkey Island back from the murky depths with the first two games in their five part series, the Tales of Monkey Island. Lair of the Leviathan looks to continue the story of the hapless yet surprisingly successful, Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate, and his quest to recover the Esponja Grande and rid the Caribbean of the deadly Pox.

If you have played the previous Tales then you will know of the predicament Guybrush finds himself in and an interesting predicament it is.You find yourself shipwrecked in the stomach of a giant manatee and surprisingly you are not alone. In fact the very gentlemen you are looking for, Coronoda Decava, has set up camp in the beasts mouth. Unknown to him, his crew of which he thought dead are living it up in the belly of the beast. They have formed a club called the Democratically United Brotherhood of the Manatee Interior. You of course have to weasel your way into the club in typical Threepwood fashion.

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Washed up with you is your very amusing firstmate Mr. Winslow and Morgan Leflay, Pirate Hunter. The first two games introduced the characters that are just now beginning to show their true potential. Plot lines are getting cast and intertwined that show a lot of promise for the last two tales. The new faces in this tale are interesting enough but are completely overshadowed by the return of a fan favourite, you can call him Bob but to everyone else he is known as Murray!

Murray is my favourite character from the Monkey Island games as I am sure he is to a lot of other fans and his inclusion made the second half of the game a complete treat to play. The conversations between him and Guybrush are excellent as is the dialogue with every character, its what you expect from a Monkey island game. You know your guaranteed a sarcastic line with every click of your mouse.

The area to explore is much smaller than the previous games but this does not hurt it as much as I would have thought. Its nice to get away from the jungles and see a different art direction. From bile filled bongo drums to pools of scrummy Ichor the designers have really made the most of the setting. The graphics, while not being jaw droppingly amazing are really solid with some great facial animation. Sometimes the controls let the game down as the arrow keys are not accurate enough and Guybrush ends up shuffling up against the side. This can be slightly annoying but it’s not enough to hurt the game. It makes you wonder why they have left the tried and tested point and click controls.

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The different setting has given Telltale the opportunity to create some really unique little puzzles. Thankfully they have removed the frustrating jungle maze puzzles that the last two games featured. Only one challenge near the end of the game had me frustrated but that was overturned with laughter when I worked out how to do it. The pirate face off game was one of the most genuinely funny things I have done in a game in a very long time. I even intentionally failed just so I could go through it again and see what else I could create.

You really get the feeling that Telltale are finding their sealegs with this series. The puzzles are getting tighter, characters are developing along nicely and some of the annoying things from the first two games are non existent. If you have not played any of the previous tales then get yourself over to Telltale’s website and buy them because their only going to get better. Broad grins and the odd chuckle AAARRRRR! guaranteed.

Hi-Score – Brilliant script, Clever challenges, Best in the series, Return of Murray!

Lo-Score – First half of game is a little weaker, It ends…

Score – 9 out of 10

Top Ten Baddies……With a twist

After the success of our last Top Ten with a twist (platformers) I was bombarded with messages on Twitter and in my inbox saying how interesting it was. So now it’s time to bring you another edition, This time we’re covering enemies in videogames. The ten writers taking part this month were told to choose their favourite bad guy, anything from Goombas to Emerald Weapon, from Grunts to Wesker. Each of them chose their entry and wrote what they felt about the baddie in question.

Quite an interesting selection and one that shows the power of Bioshock in today’s gaming plateau, with 2 selections being Splicers and one for the Big Daddy, Bioshock holds a lot of sway when it comes to nasty living obstacles in your way. We have a few great traditional characters and some more obscure, I hope you enjoy the Top Ten, feel free to have your say in the comments. For now, we’ll leave it to; J.D.Richardson, Jennifer Allen, Adam Standing, Kevin VanOrd, Sam Giddings, Sinan Kubba, Christos Reid, Phill Cameron, Adam Roche and Gary Blower.

Cyborg Midwives – System Shock 2

J.D. Richardson – Resolution Magazine

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I like scary villains in my games and for me, nothing comes close to the utter horror of the Cyborg Midwives in System Shock 2. Created by The Many to tend to and defend the annelid eggs, these creatures are a perfect example of the Cronenburgesque body horror in video games. Created by fusing a female human with machine components and controlled by the hive mind of The Many, the cyborg mid-wives stalk the decks of the Von Braun and the Rickenbacker. One of the scariest things is that you generally hear them first but don’t actually know where they are and when they are aware of your own presence and start saying things like “I can smell you” or “I’ll tear out your spine.”

In that voice of theirs, it chills you to the bone. If you manage to avoid their detection you can often hear them declaring things like “Babies need meat.” And “It’s my job to worry.” It makes the horror more palpable and complete. The main aspect that makes the cyborg midwives so terrifying is the visual design which in my opinion is one of the best examples of character design I’ve seen in a video game. These things were pretty tough as well, usually requiring armour-piercing rounds to take down and that’s if the gun didn’t jam and create one of the scariest “Oh shit…!” moments as the midwife came running at you, screeching and firing that damn laser from their arm which is extremely deadly. There was also an amazing feeling of relief when you managed to kill one, for a little while you were safe. Well, a safe as you could be in System Shock 2.

Ten years after System Shock 2 came out and the Cyborg midwives are still very much etched into the part of the brain that deals with fear, nightmares and other really bad things. Even though they are horrific and terrifying, an encounter with a Cyborg midwife is always an exciting experience and even though I had to turn the game off the first time I encountered one, it was still an enjoyable kind of horror. It was a memorable moment in my game playing history and it’s those moments that make modern gaming so bloody good.

Dr. Robotnik – Sonic The Hedgehog

Jennifer Allen – Games are evil

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Every hero needs a nemesis. It might be a man who looks like a very sinister clown, it could be an evil monkey, in the case of Sonic the Hedgehog it was Doctor Robotnik. Also commonly known as Doctor Eggman in Japan, Robotnik was my first true experience of a memorable bad guy. It was a somewhat unconventional first experience of Robotnik as it wasn’t actually on a console; it was on a Tiger LCD game. The game was ridiculously simple compared to the likes of the DSi and the PSP that children have now, but in the early 1990s when I was a mere seven years old, it was amazing. The concept was very simple. Move left or right to dodge attacks from enemy robots and press jump at the right moment to kill them. There was no scrolling; the action was all on one screen. It was the sort of thing that if I showed it to a child now, they would laugh and call me old. But as a child who had only ever owned a Commodore 64 before, this felt very special and I instantly loved Sonic and his arch nemesis Dr Robotnik.

I would encounter the evil Eggman at the end of each of these stages. Again it was quite basic as it was all on the one screen but through the very fuzzy LCD graphics, I loved the look of Dr Robotnik. He appeared to be a formidable foe and yet not too scary (I was a wimp as a child) thanks to his bumbling egg like appearance. At first I struggled against his might, but with more and more patience (a rare thing for me, even now), he succumbed to my superior gaming skill. I played the LCD game to death, to the point that the image of Sonic is still frozen on the screen even when switched off. Poor Robotnik stood no chance against a seven year old me by the end of it. I suspect at that, unfortunately, young age my gaming prowess had peaked and Robotnik was the unsuspecting victim in all of this.

Of course I encountered Robotnik many, many times more over the coming years of my childhood. I also encountered many other bad guys, such as Bowser, Ganon, Sephiroth, the list feels huge. But, simply put, none could hold a candle to Robotnik. Sure Sephiroth set fire to Nibelheim and Bowser was forever kidnapping princesses, but Robotnik turned little, cute, fluffy animals into robots! How much more heinous could you get than that? The most vulnerable creatures possible. At least a princess should have had the sense to try running away and escaping instead of waiting for a dodgy looking plumber to come rescue her. The poor cute rabbits however had no chance of survival if it hadn’t been for that spiky blue hedgehog. Doctor Robotnik: the cute, fluffy animal enslaver and my favourite bad guy of them all.

Splicers – Bioshock

Adam Standing – Game People

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I usually find the basic grunt in a videogame a dull and unchallenging opponent. After all, mowing down Nazi’s or Zombie’s, or Nazi Zombies gets a little boring after the 2nd millionth headshot. But Bioshock was different and the Splicers that roamed the fallen city of Rapture, driven insane by their desire for Adam, were unlike any enemy I’ve come across before.

Why? Because these psychopaths were the most disturbing and deranged killers I’ve had to battle. Going through Andrew Ryan’s ruined city was creepy and atmospheric enough, but these depraved examples of humanity made every inch of this dystopia an unsettling nightmare. What made them so memorable was their origin. As the scattered audio diaries attest – they were once living happy normal lives before the need for Plasmids overwrote their humanity.

But they were dangerous too. At any point in the game it only took a casual attitude to one of those Leadhead goons to kill you off and when packs of them start prowling around Apollo Square in the latter stages it’s very easy to become Splicer toast in a few seconds. This is what kept fighting them a fresh experience for me. If it wasn’t the fire-bombing antics of the Nitro Splicers that disorientated me then the Houdini’s would scare the hell out me by blasting fire or ice Plasmids and then vanishing in a second.

But it was the Spider Splicers that were the most formidable and disturbing. It wasn’t just the wall-climbing or hook-throwing that kept me on my toes, or even the way they had a habit of sneaking about and making me jump out of my chair. No, it was the reciting of freaky Bible songs that really creeped me out. When some crazy murderer starts singing to himself that Jesus loves him, even when he’s covered in the blood of his fellow man and using  metal meat-hooks for weapons, that’s when I start to get scared.

Yet the single Splicer that unnerved me the most was Sander Cohen. The fact he seemed to have the slightest grasp of reality and yet still abuse and torment everyone else in Fort Frolic made him so unpredictable. Although you never fight him unless you want to, his artistic ramblings and manipulative desire to use you as his murderous tool made him just as dangerous as a Big Daddy. Running his errands made me feel completely used and he took the most gleeful delight in telling me how much of a pawn I was.

So the Splicers & Sander Cohen got under my skin and constantly challenged the way I played Bioshock – unnerving the hell of me for good measure along the way. If any enemy in a videogame is going to give me nightmares then it’ll be the depraved inhabitants of Rapture, muttering and swearing to themselves in the shadows.

Striders – Half Life 2

Kevin VanOrd – Gamespot

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Gordon Freeman is an ordinary man facing extraordinary circumstances. He’s not your typical game hero; for better or for worse, this MIT-educated scientist is a political lightning rod and the unwitting spiritual leader of an entire rebellion. In most shooters, you take the offensive. In Half-Life 2, you’re constantly on the run, pursued through unfamiliar environments for reasons you don’t always understand.

No battles in Valve’s modern classic better represent this sense of fear and oppression than those versus the giant four-legged mechanical striders. You see one galumphing about in the distance during your early hours in City 17, but nothing can prepare you for the anxious thrill you feel as one looms above you for the first time. As you dance about avoiding its towering limbs while you take potshots with a rocket launcher, your fellow freedom fighters flock to your side. All at once, the gravity of your plight becomes clear. That strider isn’t just a huge metal daddylonglegs–it represents the fearlessness and cold inhumanity of your oppressors.

This first encounter won’t be your only one, and Half-Life 2: Episode 1 ends with another memorable strider battle. But while these colossal enemies are designed with incredible care and present a fair and exciting challenge, it’s what they represent that makes fighting them so astonishing. A single strider is a microcosm of Combine authoritarianism; once you face one, you’ll never forget it.

Locust – Gears of War

Sam Giddings – Hi-Score

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Over the years, many digital enemies have haunted my dreams.  Some of them are even covered by the rest of this top ten, I’m sure.  It was difficult for me to pick, especially as I have decided to controversially go for a modern baddie: The Locust.

And here’s why.

When I first ventured into Sera, I was blown away.  Right from the moment Marcus Fenix booted open a door and slid effortlessly into cover, I felt part of something.  As I ducked incoming bullets from my subterranean counterparts, thrown pell-mell into the front line, I knew I was in over my head, and this experience was going to change me.  This was no war I’d ever been in before.  Combat was mind-bendingly intense, tactical, and brutal.  The Locust had arrived.

It was also beautiful, in a way.  The “destroyed beauty” theme of Gears has never been better – the sense of loss for the world that had existed before E-Day was very real.  And I was going to make those scum pay.  Blood, bullets, and a righteous personification of fury were headed their way.

So many moments stand out: fending off surrounding swarms as I tried to plug the emergence holes with grenades; mounting a gun turret for the first time; gaping in awe as I evaded a Brumak; being holed up in a house and fighting desperately to survive.  But the thing that never went away, no matter what the game threw at me, was the sense of numbers.  Perhaps it was because The Locust lived in underground tunnels, or perhaps it was that the human front seemed stretched so thin, but I always felt that my enemy was limitless.  Unseen, everlasting, unknown.  Their motives were a mystery, their origins equally so, and their way of life seemed thoroughly bloody – and yet they looked like us in many ways.  Human in shape (but even uglier than my mate Darren), they were primeval and animal, despite their technology.

But that’s not the only reason the Locust were such a memorable enemy – I got to do things to them.  Horrible, nasty, sadistic, disgusting things, all of which pleased me no end.  I chainsawed them in half, jammed grenades into their skin to see them disappear in a shower of meaty chunks, exploded them with tipped arrows, and I even got to pop off their heads with the most satisfying sniper rifle ever created.  Hell, the vanquished Locust even got nuked at one point.  And as for General Raam, well, I even used a turret to disintegrate his body into shark chum…

I won’t say their genocidal ways earned my respect, but this was certainly a foe I approached with caution.  The old run and gun tactics of yore were a poor servant here. So let me raise a glass of mead like the mighty warriors of legend.  Here’s to you, Mr Locust, and the violations you let me inflict.  I enjoyed the killing as much as the winning.

Bowser – Super Mario Series

Sinan Kubba – ThegamesReviews

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Super Mario World was the perfect concoction of Super Mario Bros. 2’s trippy eccentricity and Super Mario Bros 3’s imaginative, tight level design, and nothing best represented this than its memorable final boss. Sure, it was Mario versus Bowser again, but this time it was clear that our Italian hero wasn’t the only one enjoying shroomy delights, as evidenced by the Koopa Clown Copter. It was a cup-like structure kept aloft by a propeller on its base, painted with a creepy clown’s face. What apart from psychedelics could’ve provided Bowser with the blueprints for such a contraption? Or, more pertinently, the game’s design team for that matter?

I chose Super Mario World’s finale because it provided in spades the two things I look for in a boss fight. The first of those two things is being something different and unexpected, and as I’ve described above, it clearly did. Gone were the boss fights of previous Mario games that were final evolutions of previous boss encounters, for here was something totally unpredictable. Sure, Bowser’s castle was the setting, and the dark, haunting music was once again present, but who really expected to see Bowser on top of a flying clown face, launching clockwork koopa troopas and giant bowling balls at them? On top of that, it threw some unusual twists into the battle. When Bowser was hit enough times, he would flee by flying directly towards the player, giving the fight an unusual 3D perspective. During his disappearance, Princess Peach would pop up out of the clown copter and throw Mario some (non-psychedelic) mushrooms, providing some unusual empowerment for the damsel-in-distress. Of course, when the fight was over, she still rewarded our hero with a big smacker on the cheek. And even when she was launching the mushroom, she was flailing her arms and screaming for help. For goodness sake, woman.

In addition to being unusual, Mario’s fight with Bowser’s clown copter was pleasingly challenging. It’s by no means the hardest boss fight anyone’s ever played, or even one of the very hardest Mario fights, but its gameplay was unusual, and forced the player to try and do something a little different to anything they’d done in the game before. To damage Bowser, Mario had to pick up a dazed clockwork koopa, and launch it at the airborne reptile so that it conked him on the cranium. Easy enough at first, but when Bowser started thumping the ground with his copter, while koopas marched dangerously around you, it certainly became challenging. And that’s all a good boss fight needs to be: unusual and pleasingly challenging. And yet so many fall by the wayside.

Super Mario World’s outstanding boss fight never did fall by the wayside. The Koopa Clown Copter went on to make appearances in the Paper Mario, Mario Party, Mario & Luigi, and Mario Golf series, as well a memorable inclusion in Super Mario RPG when he once again abducted the Princess in it. If you asked a Mario fan to name his favourite Mario boss fight, chances are he’d say this one. And so he should; it was a fitting conclusion to one, if not the best 2D platforming game ever made.

Splicers – Bioshock

Christos Reid – For the Gamer Good

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My favourite bad guy is going to come as a bit of a confusing statement, simply because he’s not a major villain. In fact, he’s a generic bad guy, and appears repeatedly throughout the game. Let me elaborate with a little background.

It’s Hallowe’en in 2007, and I’m playing Bioshock for the first time, properly. I’ve got the lights turned off, and I can’t even see the controller. I move cautiously through Rapture, each ominous footfall taking me one step closer to the next musical sting and furious attack by the warped denizens of this forgotten underwater metropolis.

As I make my way through a dilapidated area of the city’s market district, I stumble across a case of Bibles. I know these were banned by Andrew Ryan, seeing them as an embodiment of everything Rapture was opposed to, and above the burning books is a man who has been crucified on electric fencing, dancing slightly as the current courses through his long-dead limbs. I turn it off out of respect for the free-thinker.

I then hear footsteps, and someone humming to themselves. The approaching figure is male, his high-pitched voice displaying a remarkably human level of singing ability, his humming fractured by the odd cough and splutter. I tense, readying my shotgun and plasmid, sheet lightning coursing along my fingers.

I feel confident, and this is an important feeling in Bioshock, so I hang onto it desperately. To lose confidence in Rapture is to retreat, to run, and to run is to die very quickly as the splicers repopulating the cityscape you’ve cleared an hour ago know you’re coming, thanks to shouted warnings from the monsters clawing at your back.

Then he begins to sing, and my body temperature actually feels like it’s dropped by several degrees. “Jesus loves me this I know…” he warbles, turning the corner to regard me with crazed eyes, and launching himself towards me, lead pipe in hand, before finishing the verse – “because the bible tells me so!”

Honestly? Are you kidding me, 2K? I’ve seen some ridiculously scary crap in my time playing horror games and watching zombie films, but Christianity in the most unholy place on the planet was just downright unsettling. What I thought was genius about it was the story behind the invasion of religion into Rapture. Fontaine brings in bibles, and all of a sudden people “get” religion. To know from two sung lines from some miscellaneous hymn, that the man attacking you is not only insane but is also one of Fontaine’s own splicers, is doubly threatening, and very clever.

I could have said Sephiroth, and I could have just as easily said Fontaine himself, or any one of the list of big, scary bastards you’re likely to come across whilst gaming. But I find it’s the little things that matter, and that one little thing scared me more than twenty hours of scampering through Rapture, shooting people and throwing tennis balls with my mind.

Alex Mercer – Prototype

Phill Cameron – The Reticule

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It’s the hood that gives him away. No one who ever thought he had to cover his face with a hood was ever that trustworthy. A few superheroes, perhaps, but then, however really trusted them. They save your life, but you don’t particularly want to see them again. Violent, unsavoury types.

No, when you have a protagonist with a hood and a leather jacket, the message is clear; this is not a nice person. When you then show how they can turn their arms into living weapons you go that step further to stamp a great big warning sign on his forehead. Of course, taking the step to have him slaughter innocent civilians and bring down the only force trying to stop the infection, the military, in huge swathes, hardly helps.

Alex Mercer is a villain, pure and simple. It has little to do with whatever twists may or may not take place during the prototype story, but everything to do with the fact he’s a murdering son of a bitch who’s got nothing better to do than mess with a military task force that’s trying to save the citizens of Manhattan. From the beginning of the game, where he escapes from a military morgue to wreak his vengeance on the world, paints him as such. The problem is, you’re controlling this person, so it takes a while for those warning signs to sink in.

It’s almost subtle; little things like a quick death tally up in the top right of the screen, letting you know just how many poor souls you’ve ripped and pulverised. Or perhaps the utterly sadistic and violent way he absorbs other’s memories. If he had a shred of decency, he’d give them a quick jab to the brain, making it quick and painless. But no, he chooses to rip them into two pieces, or punch their face until there’s no more face to punch.

There’s a prevailing feeling throughout Prototype that you’re the final boss in some other, more wholesome game, where the player is one of the many marines you slay over and over, tasked with bringing you down. Only you’re too much of a bastard to care, and besides, you’re having far too much fun running vertically up a building, only to jump off into a swan dive that ends with a wet, sticky, explosive impact.

It would be erroneous to say that Alex Mercer was my favourite bad guy. He’s certainly the one that sticks in my mind the most at the moment, both due to how recently I played Prototype, and the virulence with which his villainy is shown. If anything, I think he’s one of those things that, personally, is going to stick with me, niggling at the back of my mind as I play any other game, wondering whether the actions I’m performing are all that heroic. So he’s made me self doubt, and that’s what villains are supposed to do, right? Undermine and exploit vulnerabilities. He’s such a cock.

GLaDOS – Portal

Adam Roche – Electro Candy

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Oh, GLaDOS, voice from the ether, a still, solitary, watchful eye. She haunts me still, this ‘Bride Of Hawking’ happy to warn and punish the would-be vandaliser with fire and sentry bot. Cheerfully she dispenses her penalties for failure, and for having succeeded.

And yet, as death is dealt from this casual psychopath, you cannot help but fall for her charms, and trust in her promises of cake time and time again. I must admit that I have never found pastries a particularly alluring prospect. But this, after all, is the future. Maybe in twenty years time, I will be willing to drop in and out of walls to get my Custard Slice fix.

And so, as the journey continued from test chamber to test chamber, I found myself in the beginnings of love with this voice from beyond as it nonchalantly lost it’s mind. Love after all is blind, and so I forgave her for the lasers, for the toxic waste, for the fire, even for forcing me to murder my beloved companion cube in cold blood. It was worth these trials and sacrifices to have spent time in her company.

And though our relationship ended when I tore her to pieces, and threw every piece into a fire, I still carry her with me. That woman damn near killed me, and yet I rejoiced to find that she was still alive.

For all great villains are touched by madness. The terrifying thing about GLaDOS, is that in her case, she may not be mad at all.

Either way, this was a triumph.

Big Daddy – Bioshock

Gary Blower – Xan’s Blog

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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.

There we are, for the record I would’ve chosen Wesker from the Resident Evil series, but Hey Ho! Let us know what you think, did we get any wrong? Do you know better? Let us know and we’ll see you again soon for the next part.

Batman: Arkham Asylum Review

Wholly brilliant, Batman!

First, let me say that I am not a comic book fan. I have not read the great entries into the literary canon of works about the caped crusader. To my chagrin, I have not even read Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. But I still know about Batman – he’s everywhere. Adam West, Tim Burton, Christian Bale – these are all reasons why everyone knows the Bat.

But none of that matters. Why? Batman is a cracking good game. That’s why.

Forget what you know or don’t know – this game does all the hard work for you. One of the many masterstrokes is in creating a series of collectibles in the form of a challenge laid down by The Riddler. Exploring the crevices, crevasses, crenellations and craggy peaks of Arkham Island will reveal a well-organised mixture of puzzles to be solved. I don’t normally care too much for collectibles in games, but here they add another layer to an already fantastic game. Firstly, solving them earns you experience, which goes towards getting Waynetech upgrades for your batsuit and gadgets. Secondly, it is a mechanic to unlock information about both the game you’re playing, and about the Batman world in general. Imagine knocking on a stranger’s front door and staring in amazement as a kindly old man invites you in for a cup of tea and a slice of cake, and imparts his incredible life story – it’s the same with the collectibles in Batman. You didn’t know you wanted to know, until you knew. So now you know.

Okay, so how does it play? “Well,” is the short answer.

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I have read reviews comparing this game to Bioshock. Yes, it’s that good. Now, I’m not saying it’s like Bioshock – The Dark Knight and Big Daddies are completely separate beasts. However, what does resonate from that comparison is the sense of atmosphere. Both worlds are completely immersive, drawing you in like… well… a decent simile, which this is not. In the same way as Rapture did almost exactly two years ago, Arkham Island has a sense of authenticity, of weight, and of reality. Sure, they’re both comic book realities, but that’s the point – you’re Batman, and this is his world. Welcome to the shadows.

That segues not-so-nicely into my next point: graphics. They’re stunning. Gothic, sweeping, majestic and claustrophobic all at the same time, this is more Tim Burton’s Batman than Christopher Nolan’s, and the better for it. This perhaps demonstrates yet again why it feels so much like Bruce Wayne’s world made flesh – the story is engaging, but almost secondary to the visual impact the game has. Which is a bit like a comic. The plot is intriguing – why is The Joker loose in the asylum, and what does he want? – But it’s never the main attraction. There are some fantastic set-pieces and cut-scenes, too, but I won’t ruin the surprise for anyone uninitiated.

I am hardly the first to mention this, but the voice-work is sublime, too. I certainly can’t think of a game with any better. Kevin Conroy is suitably gravel-throated as Batman himself, and there are some other superb efforts from the likes of Arleen Sorkin. The highest plaudits, however, must go to Mark Hamill as The Joker, who is just perfectly pitched as the hyperactive, murderous, maniacal clown.

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So what else does Batman offer?

Exploration is near-faultless. Areas are limited in a similar fashion to the much-vaunted Shadow Complex (and its direct predecessors, Castlevania and Metroid), so Arkham Island has the feel of an open-world game without allowing you to ignore or overlook your main journey. It beckons you down the correct path like an alluring siren, rather than holding your hand like a patronising child-minder.

Batman also has gadgets. Lots of gadgets. A quick tap of a button will fire your grappling hook upwards, allowing you to swoop around rooftops or glide between gargoyles and fight crime from the shadows. Not only does this make you feel suitably bat-like, it also supports a key function of the combat: planning your attacks. The Joker is not a mug, unlike the authorities of Gotham City, who have seen fit to transfer his legions of henchmen to Arkham Asylum to get in your way. Some of The Joker’s henchmen have guns. Unlike his DC counterpart, Superman, Batman is nimble and a bit mental, rather than in possession of superpowers – bullets hurt. So you need to stay out of their way. Hiding in grates in the floor, using explosive gel to blow up walls, throwing special batarangs, dangling henchmen from gargoyles – these are all options in your arsenal when trying to take down a room full of bad guys without being detected. And watching them become ever more frantic as “detective mode” shows their escalating heart rates and rising panic levels is schadenfreude of the best kind. Taking out an entire room of henchmen without them ever knowing where you are is one of the most satisfying gaming experiences I’ve had in quite a while.

There are also more run-of-the-mill henchmen, who haven’t graduated from Henchman University yet, and so are only trusted with pipes, bats, knives, stun batons and, for the exceptionally retarded, fists. You can tackle these hapless victims in a more direct fashion, using hand-to-hand combat. If you use what I call the “House of Pain” tactic and jump around a lot while furiously mashing buttons, you shouldn’t have too much difficulty beating down the swarms of part-time henchmen. However, that does the combat a huge disservice, and once you’ve unlocked a couple of special moves through the Waynetech upgrades, you can really get down to business in the combat challenges.

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Combat challenges, like the predator challenges, are unlocked by collecting special Riddler trophies. These can then be accessed from the main menu before you jump in to continue your story. The challenges are actually great practice for refining your skills at either combat or stealth attacks – it’s a shame I didn’t unlock more of them before finishing the game, as it was here (rather than in the course of the campaign) that I really got to grips with the mechanics of beating people up and nabbing goons from the shadows. Seeing as they’re also tied in to both World and Friend leaderboards, they’re also highly addictive, and I would say that I’ve almost certainly spent as much time playing the challenges as I have playing through the story. And I’m yet to beat them all.

Sadly, the story does end. Eventually, you will best all Jokers’ minions, thwart his plans, and cross swords with other nefarious inmates put into Arkham Asylum by Batman. But although it is sad that such a brilliant adventure must draw to a close, it is fitting that it plays out as merely another battle won in the endless war against crime, waged by one man and his quest for justice. Just stay tuned after the end credits for the near-inevitable sequel set-up. Roll on Batman: Gotham City.

Hi-Score – Forget Spartacus; I’m Batman. On Arkham Island. Battling the Joker. Come get some.

Lo-Score – some uninspired boss fights. The game ends.

Final Score – 9 out of 10

Tales of Monkey island, The Siege of Spinner Cay

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Telltale games have struck gold again with the second installment in the Tales of Monkey Island series, The Siege of Spinner Cay. I did not play the first game but I picked up the story quickly. In the first title, The Screaming Narwhal, you had to rescue your wife, Elaine, from the hand of the dread pirate LeChuck. From what I can gather you got rid of LeChuck’s voodoo curse which in result infected all the other pirates with the voodoo pox. The pox not only makes the pirates look rather mouldy but also more bloodthirsty and unreasonable like LeChuck was.

Guybrush’s left hand has a little pox filled life of its own but that does not last for long as its lopped off by the aptly named Morgan LeFlay, pirate hunter. After dispatching her and finding a handy hook replacement you find yourself on the Jerkbait islands where most of the game takes place. The islands are the home to the Mer people, also known as the Vaycalian’s. This is where you find the other plot line in the game. Your wife Elaine if here along with the pox filled pirate McGillicutty. You have to find 3 golden artifacts that are hidden around the islands. These artifacts will help find the Esponja Grande, which is a big sponge to soak up the voodoo curse, genius. The only problem is McGillicutty who already has one of the artifacts and wants the rest. With the help of the post pox pirate LeChuck you have to work out a way to find the rest.

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The challenges are some of the best I have played in any game. Only one had me stumped but the solution was right in front of me. I think if I was playing this without a review deadline I would have completed it with ease. Most of them could be solved with some typical Threepwood logic. I think it’s best to leave your landlubber logic on the side and think like a mighty pirate…ARRR! It’s a good feeling when you solve a puzzle as you get a new witty line and a cutscene to laugh at. This is as rewarding as hearing the bleep bloop of a Xbox achievement. When you are stuck, Guybrush will shout out hints like “I need to find more things to plunder” which fitted seamlessly with the gameplay.

To get your hands on the artifacts you have to explore and search for items. With these items you will solve puzzles much like any other point and click adventure game. But monkey island always brings its own touch to the game with a brilliant script and excellent voice actors. I had a constant smile on my face playing this game and laughed out loud at more than one point. This is key in a game that has you talking to a lot of different characters and some more than once. Every character you come across in the game is genuinely funny and interesting. My personal favorites were two of Mcgillicutty’s pirates, Trenchfoot and hardtack. You have to outwit them to get one of the artifacts and some of the dialogue that ensues is hilarious. My favorite being “Look, a distraction!”

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Looks wise its as charming and colourful as any other monkey island game. All the characters have great facial animations especially Guybrush. The raised eyebrow and cocky smirk just oozes sarcasm. This is what attracts me to the monkey island games. Their wit and charm is the best I have come across in any game. I already want to play the game over and over just to meet the characters again.

The only problem I have with this game is having to wait for the next episode. Like Defmash mentioned in his review of Launch of The Screaming Narwhal the ending can make you feel a bit gutted. Cliffhangers are great but this game is so addictive that you just want to keep playing it. I think I’m going to go visit Steam and spend far too much money on Monkey Island games. I want to meet Murray again!

Hi-Score – Hilarious Script, Loveable Characters, Challenging Puzzles

Lo-Score – Short length, cliffhanger ending leaves you wanting more

Score – 9 out of 10