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Sometimes you watch a film you loved as a teenager and enjoy it just as much, and sometimes... you don't. I found the latter to be the case with Ten Things I Hate About You - it certainly has some memorable moments, but much of the movie left me unmoved. I guess that's what happens when you watch this sort of movie when you're no longer a teenager...
The plot is simple enough and typical teen-movie material; Bianca Stratford (Larisa Oleynik) wants to start dating, but her father Walter (Larry Miller) wants to keep his daughters out of harms' way. So he decides that until her older sister Kat (Julia Stiles) is dating, nor can Bianca. This proves somewhat troublesome for her since Kat has made herself one of the least popular people in school. Meanwhile Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has just joined the school and instantly falls for Bianca. His friend Michael (David Krumhoiltz) hatches a plot to get the school bad boy Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) to date Kat... the only problem being that the bankroll for this operation is coming from the hunky but obnoxious Joey Donner (Andrew Keegan), who also has designs on young Bianca.
The typical (American) teen comedy props are all there, including the ever-present prom night. It struck me while watching it this time that the production values weren't very good for large parts of the movie, and with some awful dialogue in places it tended to come across like a feature-length episode of Saved by the Bell. However the screenwriters Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith redeem themselves admirably on several occasions with some sparkling one-liners. Quite what The Bard would have made of this rewriting of his play "The Taming of the Shrew" is anyone's guess, but through different plot devices there is a lot of love for William Shakespeare shown in 10 Things I Hate About You.
The cast are mostly excellent, with strong performances from leads Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger. The supporting cast do very good jobs, albeit their characters are rather stereotyped; Larisa Oleynik is a pretty young thing, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is very earnest, David Krumholtz is very nerdy, Andrew Keegan is utterly self-obsessed... Daryl Mitchell is great as the English Teacher of the class Kat, Patrick and Joey attend.
There are a lot of set pieces that are genuinely funny, such as Patrick taking over the school's PA system, serenading Kat and then trying to evade the school's security, and Kat's subsequent tactics for getting Patrick out of detention. There are quite a few memorable lines and scenes in the film, unfortunately held together by lacklustre typical teen comedy that's not nearly clever enough to be amusing. The end result is a film that is certainly still worth watching, but overall it fell some way short of my teenaged memories. The soundtrack contains a lot of fun memories for those of us who remember the music of the nineties with anything approaching fondness (I have mixed feelings about nineties music myself, but I liked a fair amount of the songs in this movie's soundtrack.
[The film's rating 12A for crude sex-related humour and dialogue, alcohol and drug-related scenes.]
Surf's Up is a WII game based on the animated film of the same name. It's a decent game and a pretty good interpretation of the movie, which features surf-boarding penguins. The whole game is based around surf-boarding, though there is also a bonus game where you have to slide down a track on a leaf - obviously this has certain similarities with the main game, but it does have a different feel to it.
There are several characters to choose from - in fact, all the main characters from the film. Each surfer has his own range of abilities including speed and freestyle ability, and there is a selection of boards which also add to or detract from your different abilities. As you progress through the game there are lots of different things you can unlock, mainly new characters and boards. You can also add new songs to your track list, and the soundtrack is pretty good. I never felt it quite took off, but the songs were good and appropriate to the surfing theme. The sound effects were fine too, with a large number of sound clips from the movie. They did get a little repetitive after a while however. The graphics are also pretty good, with reasonably accurate representations of the characters, good backgrounds and some nice special effects. The different locations are rather nicely rendered and, within the confines of the game (after all, sea and surf are going to look alike in any location) there is a decent amount of variety. There are a large variety of areas to surf in, which you can enter after you've completed certain challenges.
After the tutorial levels which are (mostly) helpful, you can start on the championship mode. There are only a couple of available courses open at the start, and you get more as you successfully complete one of the three main objectives for each course - two are reaching a particular score (one challenging, the other seemingly impossible!), and one is making it through all of the gates (which is easy in the first few levels but gets quite tricky later on. You score points by doing tricks - the harder the trick, the more points are awarded. There is also a "stoke mode" that you can get if you top your energy bar up to the top, which lets you perform much tougher tricks that net you huge point bonuses. One snag is that tricks have to be successfully completed before you get the points - if you crash even close to completing a trick, you get nothing.
Other features of the film such as riding the "tube" and video clips giving commentary on the surfing tournament are included in the game. The video clips are frequently amusing, if not riotously funny. It doesn't take the form of retelling the story of the movie, it's just a straight surfing game. In many ways it succeeds in being a good one and the game makes reasonable use of the WII controllers (Wiimote and nunchuck used together) - but unfortunately the game responds to your commands far too inconsistently. Things will work at times and not at others with no apparent cause. The main problem with the game is that it just isn't all that much fun - and a surfing game, you would think, has a lot of potential to be fun. This problem continues with the multiplayer mode - only up to 2-player - which isn't as much fun as you would think.
Surf's Up has some nice features, but the lack of consistency in the controls kill off any chance of it being a truly great game. Overall it's enjoyable for a while, but it's more a rental (or maybe 2nd hand if you can find it dirt cheap) game than one worth buying. Definitely worth a shot if you like surfing and / or the movie, but don't expect it to keep you entertained for a particularly long time. Still if you're desperate to get a new WII game, Surf's up isn't bad and it's different enough not to feel like "just another racing game".
We bought Surf's Up from the Game store in the Bull Ring in Birmingham. It was in the used games section - I think (memory's not perfect so I could be wrong) that we paid twelve quid for it. Not a bargain, but not a complete rip-off either.
28 Days was released in 2000 and stars Sandra Bullock as Gwen Cummings, whose life at the start of the film is one huge party. She goes from one drunken night to another with her partner Jasper (Dominic West), and pops a few pills just for good measure. Things come to a head when her behaviour completely destroys her sister Lily (Elizabeth Perkins)'s wedding day, and as a consequence is sentenced to 28 days rehabilitation.
The rest of the film charts her rehabilitation and how her Counsellor, Cornell Shaw (Steve Buscemi) and the other rehab patients affect her life - and how she affects theirs. She starts off very much with a belligerent attitude of "I haven't got a problem, I don't need help" but slowly comes to appreciate just how much she really does need help. This is definitely one of Sandra Bullock's best performances, she handle's both the emotional scenes and the comedic scenes equally well.
If you were expecting a straight comedy, you would probably find this far too slow in that the time between laughs can be pretty long. Alternately, if you want a serious study of the issues raised in this film, you'd probably be annoyed with the frivolities in some sections. If you were hoping for a comedy / serious drama, you may be disappointed. 28 Days is really a balance of serious drama and comedy elements, and I think it manages the balance quite brilliantly. It should be said that many of the scenes can be quite disturbing. If you have family members who suffer from mental health problems, especially depression and suicidal tendencies (and / or substance abuse), you may find it particularly difficult to watch some scenes - it doesn't pull many punches and may well touch a raw nerve with some people. Then again I'm not exactly untouched by some of these issues in my own family and it didn't unduly worry me. I've actually worked in mental health though so maybe that makes a difference. If you think in advance that you'd be uncomfortable watching such things, you probably will be.
I have to say that this is one of my all-time favourite films and certainly my favourite Bullock film. There are plenty of other memorable performances in this film besides her - Alan Tudyk was hilarious every time he was onscreen; Viggo Mortenson gave a measured performance as a baseball player suffering with an addiction; Azura Skye was hauntingly believable as a self-harming young girl. Perkins and West as Gwen's sister & partner gave strong performances too, and of course Steve Buscemi is brilliant as her Counsellor. If there is one thing wrong with the film then it's that he's not in it a bit more, but one sign of a great actor is that he can appear for a couple of minutes and at the end of the film, it's his performance you'll remember. As he has shown time and time again, even in very minor performances, Buscemi has achieved that sort of greatness.
To me at least, the humour and drama work equally well and the balance is nearly perfect. The music score by Richard Gibbs certainly doesn't disappoint either. I'm a big fan of Bullock, Buscemi, and Tudyk in particular, which probably was a factor in me loving this film so much. Even so you won't actually need to be a fan to enjoy it - though as mentioned earlier, if you're looking for a straight comedy or drama, you may not be too keen on it. If like me you loved the TV series MASH, and particularly the way it could turn from laughter to tears in a split second, hypnotising with powerful emotions and unforgettable characters, then I think you may just end up loving this film as much as I do.
28 Days was directed by Betty Thomas and rated 15(UK) for mature thematic elements involving substance abuse, language and some sensuality. I've seen much worse in a 15-rated film, and this film deals with difficult topics in a responsible manner. All the same, it might not be for some younger ones - I'd advise parents to watch it first if they're not sure. The screenplay was written by Susannah Grant, who also wrote Ever After and Erin Brockervich.
There's the normal bunch of extras on the DVD package - "making of" feature, deleted scenes, trailer, filmographies - and they're all pretty good if you like that sort of thing. Personally I'm not a great fan of DVD extras, so they neither add nor detract much from the overall package. The isolated score is also available, and a slightly strange feature called "How to Build a Gum Wrapper Chain" - this is something Gwen does in the movie. I suppose there must be some people who want to know how to do this?!? However there is one final extra that is far more interesting, even to someone like me who rarely bothers with the extras...
In the movie, one of the characters (and later all of them!) is addicted to a soap opera called "Santa Cruz". This spoofs all soap operas ever made in terms of ridiculous storylines, terrible acting, and atrocious dialogue (and, apparently, pretty much every character being secretly related to or sleeping with - or both - the other characters). We see only tiny snippets of this in the film, but the DVD has a fairly lengthy set of clips from this imaginary series - and it's hilarious. One of the best DVD extras ever, at least to me.
Amazon.co.uk have it new for £3.98. Play.com don't seem to sell it new anymore, and they only have it second-hand (and it's only on Region 1). One to look out for at Woolworths then, I think! I can't honestly remember where we got it from now, but it was most likely Amazon or MVC when they were still in business, for about five or six quid.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End puts in you command of Captain Jack Sparrow, William Turner, Elizabeth Swann, Captain Barbossa and quite a few other characters from the film if you unlock them as extras. The plot is based on the second half of the second film as well as the whole of the third Pirates of the Caribbean films, ultimately ending with an epic battle against Davy Jones.
Many locations and plot elements, as well as the characters are in this game, are taken directly from the films. Sometimes the plot scenes don't really follow each other in a particularly logical way, so a familiarity with the films does help in that regard to know what's supposed to be going on. Even if the cut scenes don't always make all that much sense though, it's always clear enough what you're actually supposed to be doing. This game is a rather simple style of arcade adventure where you explore, do a lot of sword fighting, collect objects, solve the occasional puzzle, complete quests, and do more sword fighting. It doesn't really have much in the way of RPG elements, though as you progress through the game you can collect various objects: food (life points), flintlocks (one-shot, slow but powerful weapons), grenades (fiddly to use but good for attacking groups of enemies), and knives (for a quick throw before your opponent gets near enough to run you through). Each of these items become more effective as you progress through the game. The story mode features 12 locations, each containing a main objective and 4 sub-objectives. Completing the level just involves completing the main objective, but in order to unlock special game features, the sub-objectives need to be completed too. On your first run through the game you're not likely to complete more than one or two sub-objectives per level. Along the way you'll find yourself facing the Navy, Chinese pirates, native cannibals and undead pirates. All in a day's work for Captain Jack Sparrow.
The graphics are decent enough but not outstanding, though the locations are well portrayed. There are no real options for the graphics apart from the resolution, which goes as low as 640x480, so you don't need a very powerful system to run it at a decent frame rate. My system ran it at 1280x1024 with no slow-down (I have a GeForce 7500LE PCI-Express card - a bottom of the range 7xxx series card). The character models are somewhat less impressive - basic, rather skinny and angular models with 2D digitised pictures stretched over a simple 3D head. Still, at least most of the characters did at least resemble their movie counterparts. While the music in the game is taken straight from the film (and is excellent), unfortunately very few of the original cast were here to lend their voices to the game, though notable exceptions are Tom Hollander (Lord Beckett), Mackenzie Crook (Ragetti) and Lee Arenberg (Pintel). Jared Butler, Crispin Freeman and Brian George were pretty convincing as Captain Jack Sparrow, William Turner and Captain Barbossa respectively, but unfortunately Eliza Schneider sounds nothing like Miss Knightly as Elizabeth Swann. The graphics for Swann's character also looked pretty terrible - in particular a really bad job has been done on the graphical modelling of her face.
Fans of Elizabeth Swann are likely to be further disappointed by her dialogue - it's bland, boring or just plain irritating. However the other characters, particularly Sparrow and Barbossa, have some quite funny lines. There's not a great deal of dialogue in the game, most of what there is being generic expressions when you win or lose a fight, but they are quite fun on the whole. There are some proper conversations in the game and you sometimes have a (rather limited) choice as to what your character says. It's really all about the action though, and thankfully this is well handled in the game and the sword fighting is really good fun, if a little repetitive at times. Some characters you encounter can be talked to for more information or possibly sub-quests - look out for the exclamation mark above their heads, it's a dead giveaway! The story mode can be completed quite quickly - I would have thought that most players will complete each level in around half an hour to an hour, with the whole thing taking maybe ten hours altogether. Only the last level set between the Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman were a serious challenge, though some of the earlier levels aren't exactly a push-over. When you have been killed the game immediately restarts at a restore point, and you can only save the game between levels.
To add a little a more interest to proceedings there are two mini-games - completing them isn't really necessary in order to complete the story mode, but they are quite fun. The first is Pirate Dice, first seen in the third film when Will Turner tries to win his freedom from Davy Jones. It takes a little while to work out the rules (though they're explained in-game and in the accompanying game manual, it still takes a little working out), but once you do it is really a quite enjoyable distraction. There's also Pirate Poker, which won't take you long to work out if you know any type of poker. This is also quite good and I actually played it quite a bit. But a dice game and a card game... hardly going to have any real staying power for most gamers, is it? Well these aren't just any old dice and card games we're talking about here, because these be pirates, you see (arghh me hearties etc). And pirates, being as they travel the seven seas, encounter all sorts of legendary and mystical objects. (You aren't just given them though - throughout the game you will have chances to obtain them by completing various sub-quests.) There are talismans around that can increase your chances in these games - being able to see the opponents hand, change the game rules, and other devious underhanded tactics. Cheat, in other words. Playing the games is one thing, but playing them when you have uncanny powers is so much more fun...
When the story mode is completed, there is more to do. There are the sub-objectives within the story mode that you didn't manage to complete first time round, and for each of the 12 locations there are three "challenge modes" for you to win in order to get more hidden goodies. There are to gain a certain amount of loot in a given time, defeat a certain number of enemies, or attaining a combo of a certain number of sequential attack moves. These unlock more characters, weapons, and other stuff for you to play with later on. You can visit a location called "Treasure Cove" from the main menu to see exactly what extras you have already managed to unlock, what are still to be unlocked, and where the undiscovered extras can be found.
Another small aspect of the game is "Jackanisms" - in these you have to press the right keys at the right time to complete the sequence in Jack Sparrow's own unique way, like in several dancing games. Failing will not actually stop you from progressing in the story mode part of the game, but you do only get one chance at it every time you play the level. Succeeding increases your notoriety, which makes up your overall score. Certain other sequences in the story mode also require you to press the right key at the right time, but you get unlimited attempts for those (thankfully!).
The other game type you can pursue is duelling. These are unlocked when you have successfully won that particular duel in the story mode. Once you play it as a standalone duel, however, you can select any character you have already unlocked. While the difference is not very great in terms of the difficulty of the game, each character has their own particular stance and style; for instance Will Turner and Elisabeth Swann, being upper class, both use the classical fencing position and technique. On the other hand Captain Barbossa, being more your traditional piratey figure, holds his cutlass somewhat crudely and attacks in a hacking fashion; Jack Sparrow, with delusions of grandeur but without the proper training, is somewhere between the two. The various weapons seem to mainly be different in aesthetic properties rather than action. This duelling can be a little odd in that whatever character you are controlling at the time, the dialogue remains the same as in the story mode - so you are Jack Sparrow, Will Turner etc to your opponent whoever you actually are at the time!
As mentioned before the game is a little simple and repetitive, though the fact that it's not in depth makes it one of those rare games (these days) that can be played for a quick ten minutes rather than having to have sleep-reducing playing sessions. The game would probably only be worth 3 stars, but the addition of a 2-player duelling mode (you will need at least one joystick / controller as only one player can use the keyboard) gives it an extra edge that makes it worthy of 4 stars... just about. It certainly makes the game worth playing long after you've got bored of all the 1-player features.
OS: Windows XP, Vista [not Windows x64] - tested on Vista with no problems
CPU: Pentium 4 / AMD Athlon 1.5GHz or higher (at least 1.8GHz recommended) - tested on a Core Duo 4300
Ram: 256Mb (at least half a gig recommended) - tested on a 1Gb system
HDD space: 1.4Gb
3D card: 64Mb card - 128Mb or higher recommended - compatible with DirectX 9.0C, hardware T&L compatible
Integrated (built-in) graphics cards are not supported.
This game is distributed by Disney and comes with very striking cover art and a helpful manual. I picked it up at Morrison's for £6.99 - at least my unreliable memory keeps coming up with that price. Amazon have it for £7.98 and Play.com have it for... a penny more. It definitely helps if you're a fan of the films, but you should find the game good fun anyway.
(PEGI Rating: 12+ for violence and gambling elements)
Heroes of Might and Magic V is a massive game which keeps the spirit of earlier games in the series and a virtually identical interface, but it's presented with more style and much more impressive graphics. It stars off with the marriage of Emperor Nicolai and Lady Isabel - but those pesky demons in the land can always be relied on to try and ruin things, and sure enough along comes an evil beast to break up the happy couple. With Nicolai taking the battle to the demons far away, Isabel is much too feisty to just sit around and wait for him to return, and sets off on a journey to gather an army and rush to his side.
In the Single Player mode - I fear never emerging back into real life if I venture into the multiplayer mode, and therefore refuse to try it - you start the first of 5 scenarios, each spilt into 5 missions, as Isabel at the start of her quest. If you think that 25 missions in total doesn't sound like there's much longevity to the game, you'd be very wrong - each scenario is likely to take you several hours to complete, and while I'm perhaps a rather cautious player (preferring to build up an invincible army before venturing into very dangerous territory) you would need to be either uncannily blessed or a tactical genius (or, perhaps, a hacker!) to complete the whole game in less than 100 hours.
The game is mainly turn-based strategy, though on occasion there are elements that run in real-time. Basically though it's a game you can leave for hours and come back to without having to pause it, as it won't do anything until you've finished your turn. You start off with one hero, Isabel, and later in the game you will come to control more or can hire extra heroes in taverns. You capture towns and develop them by building extra structures, each of which can benefit you in different ways. As you battle or visit particular areas you can gain experience and level up, with your hero learning new abilities and improving stats. On the main game map there are various places to visit both above and below ground. There are also a lot of helpful things to find including spells to learn, treasures, resources that can be used in trading or building, artefacts (and artefact dealers) - these can give you permanent stat-boosts or other benefits, though you don't carry them from one scenario / mission to the next. In fact I would have preferred it if you didn't start every mission from a preset point - it would have been nice to carry over some of the success / troops amassed from one to the next as a kind of reward for your genius and / or persistence in the previous mission. However I think the designers felt that this would have made the game too easy, which is probably a fair enough point. There are three difficulty levels, and while on some levels the game is easy (with patience!), on others even the lowest (normal) difficulty level is a good challenge.
Each mission starts with one or more objectives, and as you reach some of the objectives, you are given more. When you have completed all of them, the mission ends. When you have infinite time and no specific enemies apart from those stationed on the map to contend with, there really isn't much challenge, but when you have to complete something in a set time period or have a competing hero vying with you, the stakes increase significantly. When you have both, things get much more interesting - and challenging. You can save the game at any point as long as a turn is not in process.
The turns seem quite short at first as your character isn't able to do very much in terms of travelling or abilities, but before long the turns seem quite long as you are put in a position where several tactical decisions have to be made every turn. I must mention that this is a game for those who like thoughtful strategy rather than action-packed games. During battle the game switches to another view where you can see the battlefield and your units. Before each battle you can select the starting positions of each unit, then onto the battle itself and you can see where the enemy is positioned. The units taking a turn rotate, some coming back into the rotation quicker than others depending on creature type, abilities and status. The opposing commanders also are in the rotation, and they can use special abilities or spells that you have gained along the way, which can affect friendly or enemy units in different ways. The battles are pretty well balanced, and you don't normally lose a battle you'd expect to win unless you do something really stupid. If everything's suddenly gone against you then fleeing or surrendering may be an option, but depending on the hero controlled at the time and the scenario, this may actually result in losing the game because you've me a lose condition - so be careful and save if an opposing army is on the horizon and looks tricky to defeat! There is also an auto combat mode if you're feeling lazy, which isn't too shoddy though at times it makes odd decisions. In general if you want to use the automatic mode for your battles, be sure to have a good army with plenty of ranged firepower as well as strong melee units! Actually you need that even if you control the battle yourself...
The units can be made up of a myriad different creatures, from gremlins and gargoyles to archers and cavaliers. Every unit has their own base stats, to which are added modifiers depending on the commander's stats. The units don't garner experience in themselves, but this is just as well since the game is detailed enough already! Some units have the ability to cast spells, heal other units, or perform special attack moves. The base unit types can by upgraded as well - for instance archers can become marksmen, griffins can become imperial griffins,. angels can turn into archangels, and so on. Compared to the 3rd game in the HOMM series (the only other one I've played), the battles seem much more balanced - the outcomes depend more on the strengths and weakness of the units as a whole rather than seeming to be more a case of finding out what type of creature is most effective against a particular creature. The battles can be quite epic in themselves, and with the auto combat and the fact that you can gain experience points from letter much weaker opposing armies flee from your mighty forces instead of having a pointless one-sided contest, they don't really get boring even after a long playing session.
Though the long playing time of the game is a plus point, the necessity of very long playing sessions in order to feel that you've actually got somewhere in the game is a bit of a minus point. Most of us, even if we're avid games players, have too much going on in our lives to spend many hours at a time playing a game. The storyline is quite good and you makes you want to complete missions not just for the satisfaction of completing it, but to find out what happens next (unfortunately the cut scenes are not particularly good - see below). Because each mission takes a long time to complete, you get a real sense of accomplishment when you finally have beaten it.
About those cut scenes... It is very odd that in a game that has such impressive graphics, the cut scenes are weak, but they definitely are. They mainly consist of one character talking then another, with the camera switching between them. Considering how much cinematic effects are used in the game itself, there are precious few in the cut scenes. The character's gestures and movements often look unrealistic, but the worst of it is the lips - they don't move. It has good (if very cheesy!) voice-acting and some decent action scenes but often the characters' lips don't move at all, and when they do there is little synchronisation between them and the words.
However other than that the graphics are extremely impressive. The landscape (which you can zoom in and out of as well as change perspective) looks fantastic and is rich in detail. The various creatures look brilliant and some of the effects are quite spectacular. A lot of the creatures are also quite amusing - the imps and gremlins are my favourites in that regard, they always make me laugh. The sound too is very good with high quality effects and atmospheric music.
Apart from the already mentioned single-player campaign and multiplayer mode, there is also a custom map mode if you want even more adventures.
Overall this game has just about everything you could ever want from a turn-based strategy game. Several overall game strategies are possible and, if implemented wisely, each one can be successful. The cut scenes are definitely a let down and the huge amount of time involved in a decent game on this makes it unwieldy for a lot of player, so I don't quite think it deserves 5 stars. If you're a fan of the series I'm pretty sure you'll be impressed by this latest version (which has a different developer, thus a slightly different feel to the earlier games.)
Minimum System Requirements
CPU: 1GHz (2GHz recommended)
Graphics card:64Mb (128Mb recommended)
NVidia GeForce 3/4/FX/6 (apart from 4MC) - the packaging doesn't mention the 7 series but it worked fine on mine.
ATI Radeon 8500/9000/X families
Any later model cards, such as the nVidia 8 series, should be fine.
Laptop cards are not supported.
DVD-ROM Drive: 4x speed
Free HDD space: 2GHz
Internet connection needed for multiplayer (and it goes without saying that a high-speed connection is recommended)
Tested on system with Intel Core 2 Duo E4300 processor, 1Gb RAM, nVidia GeForce 7500LE graphics card)
The PEGI rating is 12+ probably mostly for the warfare element. There's not much gore (though there is a little). Another thing might be that the female characters / creatures tend to be dressed as females usually are in fantasy artwork.
I got mine as one of two games for fifteen quid at Game in the Bullring Shopping Centre, Birmingham. This compares very favourably with the online prices - Amazon have it for £8.48 and Play.com sell it for a penny more. I noticed that they also had the Gold Edition, which includes the Hammers of Fate and Tribes of the East expansion packs, along with some other extras like Developers Diaries and Monster Test Videos. If you're a fan of the genre / series, that might be an even better buy.
Legoland is basically Theme Park but with LEGO characters, and is presented in a simple way that makes it a good game for younger ones, though it makes it less interesting for adults. In an attempt to make things more interesting you also have a dotty professor who time travels and generally wreaks mayhem (grabbing new rides and ideas at the same time), and aliens who love theme parks and subsequently visit earth, usually taking most of your rides with them.
I've never been a huge fan of the theme park and spin-off games like Roller Coaster Tycoon style myself - though they are quite fun for a while, I tend to quickly get bored of them. If you are a fan of the genre, you will probably like this game more than I did - although you will also probably want more depth than this game, as it is after all aimed mainly at children.
Still, all things considered Legoland is still a relatively fun game for a while. To start off you must go through the tutorial levels, which introduce you to the basics of managing the theme park; building the rides, beautifying the environment, maintaining the park and gardens, ensuring there's enough power, keeping an eye on the cash flow, building pathways to make sure that everything is connected, and that sort of thing. The interface is easy to use and allows a fair level of control when you design the bigger rides. You start off with just the basic "theme" plus one other, and gain more as you progress through the game. Every theme has its own attractions, shops, plants etc. The bigger rides such as roller coaster and log flume have an additional menu and you set the course of the ride. When everything is finished the ride you've created is built and you can see the little LEGO people go on them and enjoy the ride - or not enjoy it so much. As you'd expect, you can click on each person and see how happy and hungry they are - or not.
The graphics look very old-fashioned but are clear enough and there are some nice animations. As you might expect, everything is made from LEGO pieces, and the people are LEGO people. The park is presented in an isometric view, which is fine most of the time but a variable view angle would have been nice - and, in some instances, rather helpful. The cut scenes also look old and low-res, but not so much that they aren't quite enjoyable. Young ones especially will probably enjoy the antics of the mad professor. The sound is very disappointing - the music is mediocre quality and there's only one endlessly repeated tune. This quickly makes you want to bang your head against the wall so putting on a CD and changing the settings to effects only is recommended! The rest of the sound effects are okay but pretty minimalist, though the annoyed sound gardeners and mechanics make when you pick them up to relocate them in the park is quite funny. For a 7 year-old game I guess it doesn't look too bad, but the graphics and sound aren't going to enhance your gaming experience much.
There are 10 levels you can play, with a little chap on the bottom right of the screen telling you what your next objective is. The objectives change as you get further into the level and achieve previous objectives. As mentioned there isn't really too much challenge in it for an adult playing, even though it will still take you a while to complete the whole game. (Once you've been through the tutorial, there's also a Free Play mode if you prefer a more open-ended type of game.) As you go through the levels you get more themes, rides, and add-ons to play with. Personally I found it very annoying to build up a nice lot of rides only to have aliens suddenly appear and take them all away, leaving you to rebuild virtually from scratch! I'm not sure how kiddies would react to that - possibly they'd find it funny and not mind. Maybe not...
The system specs for this game are extremely low - I doubt there are many PCs left in working order that wouldn't be able to run this game. (CPU: 233MHz PII, 4Mb graphics card, DirectX 7.0a, 150Mb HDD space, 32Mb RAM.) It officially works on Windows Me, 2000 and XP, though it works fine on Vista as long as you run it in XP compatibility mode.
All things considered, I would only recommend this for children - it's got an ELSPA rating of 3+, but my guess would be that it's best for children aged about 6-10. Since it is after all aimed at kids though, I'm going to give it 3 stars.
We got Legoland in a 2 games for £15 deal at Game. Amazon only have it second-hand, from 97 pence on the marketplace and Play.com have it new for £7.99 (postage free in the UK).
Older games players may remember the original Bard's Tale games. If you're looking for an in-depth RPG game in the style of those games, this modern version of The Bard's Tale may not appeal as it's a very different type of game to the original. Though it's got the same Producer as the original - Brian Fargo - this is not a remake by any means.
What we have here is an action-RPG a curious mix of game styles that works well in some ways, not in others, but in the end it works very well because of the large doses of humour injected into it. Most RPGs have rather hackneyed storylines and this is no exception rescuing a princess held captive in towers by some evil critters, etc but The Bard's Tale takes this storyline and makes fun of it, along with the clichés that infest the whole genre. The game has a narrator (veteran games Voice Actor, the late Tony Jay) who at times lets you know what's going on, and frequently insults the Bard, who is voiced by Cary Elwes (not always brilliantly it has to be said, but he's often funny). The humour in the game is mostly very good, especially the narrator's dislike of the Bard, and they often have short conversations - sometimes with other characters in the game wondering just who the Bard is talking to!
The game simplifies many of the aspects of a traditional RPG - for instance weapons and combat are kept quite simple. Combat can be a little too repetitive at times, which is probably the main weakness of the game, but there is a range of tactics that can be employed and different enemies can require particular tactics to defeat without taking too much of a beating yourself. There are three difficulty levels - easy, normal, and "old school", which determine your starting stats. These consist of the normal things like strength (for melee weapons), dexterity (ranged weapons), vitality, luck, charisma (for getting shopkeepers to reduce their prices!), and rhythm. Rhythm isn't something you would normally expect to see, but you are a bard after all. Instead of wandering around trying to find outcasts and misfits who are willing to join your merry band of adventurers, you can instead summon various characters and creatures by playing a special tune on your instrument (as you get more powerful instruments, your mana and the number of creatures you can summon increase). This gives the game a different flavour and during the course of the game, or even during a battle, you can change your party around. This can be tricky if you're in the middle of an intense fight since, of course, you cannot wield a weapon and your instrument at the same time. You have to learn the correct tune before you can summon a creature - you start off only knowing how to summon a lowly rat, but in time you can learn more and improved versions of those you have.
When it comes to battle, you control both that Bard himself (using the mouse plus the spacebar if you are equipped with a shield) and your party. These are commanded (though they sometimes like to do their own thing as well!) with four basic commands - attack, defend, come to the Bard's position, or fall back. There is a little scope for genuinely devising your own tactics for different situations even if it does seem a little limited at times. The characters themselves are often very funny - for instance the Explorer is a very handy chap to have around - he searches for and disarms traps, open chests containing objects, and collect any objects that are left over from battles (the objects are instantly converted into silver, another instance of the game mechanics being simplified). He does however enjoy it greatly when you blunder into a trap yourself! The Crone is hilarious - "I'll put a spell on you!), the Light Fairy always make me smile (though for some reason he doesn't usually make much difference to the actual amount of light in most locations), and the Mercenary is quite fun. There are 16 basic creature types to be summoned in all, plus improved versions of existing creatures. The higher your rhythm, the better their abilities.
Aesthetically the game is nice, not amazing by any means but it gets the job done. The voice acting on the whole is very good and as mentioned often funny, but once or twice it just sounded like completely the wrong inflection was put on some of the words. There is a little bad language and quite a lot of innuendo in the dialogue (the game is subtitled: "A Quest for Coin and Cleavage"), which along with the slightly gory battle merits the 12+ PEGI rating for the game. To give you fair warning, its not a game for the very easily offended. Nor is it completely sick as some much publicised games seem to be (those sort of games I wouldnt want to play, incidentally - this sort of fare is about my limit for what could be considered objectionable content!)
There isn't much scope for conversations in the game beyond the pre-set conversations, though you do get the opportunity to give a positive or negative reply in many situations. This doesn't generally have a massive impact on the outcome but does at least give you some control. Oh, and many people in the game seem to like it if you're rude to them - which considering the Bard's personality is just as well!
Overall it struck me as Gauntlet meets Dungeon Master (I appreciate that if you weren't into gaming in the late 80s and early 90s, this may mean nothing too you!). It's no quite an arcade game, and not quite an RPG - it may not be a satisfying blend to most hardcore fans of either genres, but I found it an entertaining and rather unique experience. Without the humour it definitely wouldn't have been as good, but it's a game that will frequently have you laughing, which makes up for any parts of the game that start to feel a bit repetitive.
Now that it's out on budget (on the Revival brand, the game's original publishers were Ubisoft), it represents great value for money as it's a long-term challenge to get to one of the possible endings, let alone all of them. (Not sure how many there are but the packaging says there are "many" possible outcomes, and I've already come across several areas where the game looks like it has the possibility to branch out in different directions.) I don't think there's a CD-ROM version available now, but even if there is go for the DVD-ROM version. The full game takes up a whopping 7.5Gb and even the normal install uses up just over a gigabyte of memory. If you don't have a really good graphics card you'll probably experience some slowdown at parts of the game where there's a lot happening on screen, and considerable slowdown in some of the cut scenes.
Operating System: Windows Me / 2000 / XP (+Vista - see below)
Central Processing Unit: Pentium P3 933MHz or above
Graphics Card: GeForce 3/4/FX/6/7/8 series (probably not GeForce 4 MX), or Radeon 9000 or above.
If you have Windows Me/2000/XP you can skip the next bit!
Running The Bard's Tale on Windows Vista
Officially the game doesn't run on Vista, and I had problems both installing it and playing it after I got it to install - it constantly crashed to the point of it being completely unplayable. However I managed to overcome both problems - here's how:
The problem is not in fact with Vista itself. The game uses Windows Media Format 9 (used in Windows Media Player 9), whereas Vista comes with WMF 11 which does have some backwards compatibility issues. When you try to install the game, it looks for the DLL files associated with WMP 9 - and, of course, does not find them. However if you exit the dialogue box that comes up telling you that you need to have WMF 9 installed, you get the option to either cancel the installation or install with the recommended settings. If you choose this the game does actually install properly. Problem solved.
You might find that the game frequently crashes to the point where you think it's a waste of time trying to play this game - but never fear. As the problem is with WMF not Vista itself, and the game worked fine most of the time but crashed when entering a cut scene, it occurred to me that turning off the different graphical effects or turning them down to minimum might help. Once I had done this the game naturally didn't look quite as good (though the difference isnt really all that noticeable), but it was still perfectly playable and I didn't have a single crash in the 20 hours or so it took me to complete the game.
I got it from HMV for a penny less than a tenner. Amazon.co.uk and Play.com have it for half that, which cant be bad!
It is about 4,000 years before the events of the first Star Wars film, and 5 years after the events of the first Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) game. As usual the Jedi, guardians of the galaxy and all that, have managed to let themselves almost be wiped out entirely, and yes - its somehow all up to you to save things. No change there then
You start the game unconscious and desperately in need of help, and in the prelude (Id advise skipping it unless youve never played the first game) you control a droid trying the get the ship youre on, the Ebon Hawk, to safety and a place where you can recover. However the Sith arent the only people interested in Jedi, theres bounty hunters galore, and everyone seems to think you are the very last of the Jedi. The plot quickly thickens of course, and nothing is as it first appears - but then, is it ever?
Like the first game, KOTOR 2 comes on 4 CD-ROMs. It takes a few minutes to install, and did so with no problems. I ran the in-game update straight away which took another couple of minutes. Again no problems with that. Initially the game ran fine but I soon ran into some problems more on that later.
The game is controlled using a combination of the mouse and keyboard. At first I kept expecting the characters viewpoint to change when I moved the mouse, but the mouse actually is just to point and click on characters / objects (though if you have the cursor to the very edge of the screen it will swing the perspective that way). Character movement and rotation is controlled via the keyboard, which doesnt take long to get used to and works fine once you convince your mind that moving the mouse doesnt change the viewpoint!! Various commands are accessible via a keystroke or a menu accessed from the mouse. It really doesnt take long to become very familiar with the main controls and it works very well, even though I havent played the first game for ages.
You control up to three characters at a time, and through the game you can meet up to nine other playable characters in addition to your own character. Each of these has their own unique skills and abilities, as well as their own history to be discovered Most of the time you can easily change the characters in your party, though at times they are unavailable until you complete a particular mission. At certain points in the game your party will be changed automatically depending on the situation.
The graphical style and indeed some of the locations will be familiar to fans of the first game. This is no bad thing as the graphics were very good anyway. If you have played the first game then a lot of the character models and environmental graphics are clearly unchanged. The only things that seem to have significantly improved (though this may be because I was not able to use a very high graphics level when playing the first game) are things like the effects when you use force powers, shields and the like. A lot of the indoor locations tend to be a bit repetitive and bland where the graphics come into their own is in the outdoor locations, which really look great.
There are occasional glitches such as gaps appearing in objects and sometimes characters heads (usually when the perspective shifts to just above and behind the character) certainly not frequently enough to interfere with the gameplay. The locations are nicely detailed and the many different locations are depicted with graphics unique to that area, along with a few standard pieces that appear in each one. Character movements appear quite smooth and realistic, while other effects such as lasers firing, explosions, automated computers etc all look very good. The only part where it really fails to impress is when characters are performing various tasks such as hacking the computers or portraying motions. Some tasks look realistic or unrealistic depending on exactly where your character is positioned. A fairly small complaint really though and sometimes funny, which helps to make up for it! Effects such as mist or close-up views of explosions can cause a lot of slow-down even if the games running at a nice speed otherwise.
The minimum resolution is 800x600, which doesnt look too bad but if your graphics card can handle 1024x768 or higher it really makes a difference. There are plentiful options to get the best mix of aesthetics and performance, the most important of these being anti-aliasing and anthroscopic filtering. Even if you have these set on the lowest levels it makes a huge improvement over the appearance with neither of them activated. Each user will have to find their own best setting - change a few things at a time and see how the performance goes for a few minutes.
As with most of the Star Wars franchise games, the voice acting is very good. I did find one or two of the main characters, including one of the main characters (the cranky old not-quite-Jedi you meet just after the start of the game) tended to be a little over the top. The music was pretty good too, though I tended to think it was a little weaker than other games in the series. As always its based upon music from the movies or variations of those themes. The ambient sound effects are almost always very good and add to the being there feeling quite a bit. At times the music or other sound effects at default level seriously interfered with being able to hear the characters talking though as long as you have subtitles enabled you will be able to see whats being said even if you cant hear it.
As you go through the game you follow a main storyline, but there are several ways you can go ahead in different situations and there are many optional side-quests. The number of different items available to find or buy weapons, armour, upgrades, health items, permanent and temporary stat boosters, special items etc is quite overwhelming. At the end of the day your playing style will largely determine how you decide to equip your party.
The dialogues can get a bit lengthy, though in truth you can skip most of it if youve heard it before. When talking to your crew or others you might have opportunities to gain experience points or light / dark side points, as well as accepting missions or learning valuable information. Depending on your skill levels in various attributes for instance awareness, intelligence, persuasion etc new dialogue options may become available. Generally speaking there are several ways around each situation, but some things wont be possible unless you have particular abilities or alignment. You can often, though not always, go back and try again later when youve enhanced your skills. You will definitely need to play the game at least twice to complete all / most of the quests in the game, especially as many quests are opposed to other quests in the same area (often the quests will be from opposing factions).
- The Force
As time goes by you and your companions gain power and abilities in the force. You can also go towards the light or dark side of the force depending on your actions. Your force powers can be light, dark or universal when you are oriented towards the light side of the force your light side powers will increase in their effect whereas the dark side powers will decrease, and vice versa. Effectively three distinct ways to play the game go on the light side, try to help everyone and be nice to everyone; go to the dark side, be evil to everyone and speak harshly to them; finally, try to maintain a middle ground and keep everyone more or less happy.
Your choices and the way you speak to different crew members will affect your influence on them. High influence on a character makes them more likely to open up to you about their past, more loyal to you, and affects their force alignment in line with yours. This is an interesting addition and adds a certain extra depth to the game. Different characters respond well to different things, so being kind to everyone not necessarily the way to obtain everyones loyalty.
There are several key ways to progress your characters as you level up (for lazy people there is an Auto Level Up button!).
How tough / dextrous / wise / charismatic etc your characters are. These stats affect all parts of the game to a certain extent.
Do you want to be an expert in using / disarming demolitions? How about a skilled computer user, or a wizard at bypassing security systems? Maybe you want them to be very persuasive These are the sort of choices you must make. As always, its a good idea to try to have a good balance of skills in your party.
Many feats are automatically gained throughout the game, but there are also many you can choose from. Some of these increase your skill stats, others give you the ability to use particular weapon or armour classes, while still others give you particular skills that may be useful if you want to specialise in certain abilities.
Ah, using the force, thats what we all get the Star Wars games for in the first place, eh? These are spilt into light, dark, or universal powers. Some give you healing, some protection, some are offensive weapons, some are more general skills that might be useful both in and out of battle situations.
Manning the turrets sometimes youll have to man the turrets of the Ebon Hawk to stop ground troops boarding or in space battles. One of the space battles seems practically impossible (or at least, Ive never managed it!), though I have a feeling it may be supposed to be impossible. Not a bad diversion from the main game.
Swoop Racing A simple drag-race type game which seems a lot harder than in the first KOTOR. Quite fun but frustratingly difficult at times.
Pazaak this is a card game similar to blackjack, you can win (or more likely lose) money wagering on the games, and some characters will only talk more or put up special items as wagers if you beat them once or several times. Relatively diverting but not exactly addictive.
Technical Details and Overall Verdict
I had problems with the game not starting up properly on many occasions, which seems to be a regular problem for Vista users though its more to do with the graphics drivers than Vista itself. Hopefully in time this problem may diminish as newer drivers come out. (My graphics card is an nVidia GeForce 7500LE).
Despite the technical problems and a few other niggles, I really enjoyed playing Knight of the Old Republic 2. Theres a lot of depth and it genuinely is worth playing through the game twice or perhaps even three times, as the style you play it in affects your path through the game considerably. Completing it just once a mammoth task in terms of hours spent (I havent actually completed it yet but would say that 40-50 hours might be quite a conservative estimate). It has much the same look and feel as the first game naturally enough as they use an almost identical game engine and though the story wasnt as good as the first game, it was still good enough to hold my interest most of the time.
Despite the problems with the game not starting and some niggles, I still really enjoyed the game, so Ive given it 4 stars.
DirectX 9.0c compatible computer.
OS: Windows 98 SE, Millennium (ME), 2000, and XP. (ran on Vista but with problems)
Pentium III or Athlon class 1 GHz or faster required.
Pentium 4 or Athlon XP class 1.6 GHz or faster recommended.
256 MB RAM required.
512 MB RAM recommended (ran on 1Gb RAM system)
32 MB OpenGL 1.4 compliant AGP or PCX 3D Graphics card with Hardware T&L Capability required.
ATI Radeon 9200 or NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti or better recommended.
100DirectX 9.0c compatible audio device required.
Play.com - from £10.50
Amazon.co.uk - from £6.49
Unfortunately the above are being sold on the Marketplace second hand. Its difficult to get a new copy of the game anymore as it was after all released in 2005.
The Angry Aztecs is another in the popular Horrible Histories range of books aimed at children, but which can also be quite fun and enlightening for we older ones. Theyre a really easy read but despite their slim volumes, inclusion of cartoon illustrations and appeal to the kiddies, they contain a mine of intriguing information about past civilisations and suchlike. Of course, with a name like Horrible Histories you expect a certain amount of gore
which the books gleefully deliver.
All the Horrible Histories are written by Terry Deary, who obviously has a real passion for bringing history to life. In this book, <B>The Angry Aztecs</b>, he starts off by giving us some information about the Mayan and Olmec people the previous great civilisations before the Aztecs became great. A great mystery surrounding the Maya is the fact that they built large cities with huge pyramids and then at around 900CE, they just disappeared still living on in rural communities, but the cities were completely abandoned. To this day no-one knows why
The early history of the Aztecs if then discussed, and of course why they were so angry as the books title describes them. They became great warriors and eventually turned on those who had subjected them, becoming the most powerful people in Mexico at that time. They had a few unfortunate traits however not least of which is their habit ripping out living peoples hearts in ritual human sacrifice nice, eh? They had a huge number of superstitious beliefs, had some rather odd dietary habits, some medical methods that you really wouldnt want to be on the receiving end of, an advanced calendar (that incidentally predicts the end of the world in 2012), and a very hierarchical society with priests at the top. Their sports were a quite intriguing as well, including the ball game that you might have seen in the animated movie Eldorado. Children didnt have much luck in the Aztec society, but in general it was better than being a captured enemy the Aztecs would actually try to not kill too many of their enemies so they were sure of having enough human sacrifices. This probably made sense to the soldiers who might have ended up having their heart ripped out at the top of a pyramid themselves otherwise! The Aztecs had a brutal and cruel society, which came to an end brutally and cruelly at the hands of the Spanish Conquistadores led by Hernan Cortes.
Out of the three Horrible Histories Ive read so far, this was by far the least impressive. Deary tries far too hard to be funny here, with the result that he usually fails The 128 pages have far more filler material than the others, too, though its still quite a good read with many interesting facts spread throughout it, and Martin Browns illustrations were pretty good though perhaps not among his best in this series.
Despite its failings I think anyone, obviously especially a young person, with an interest in history that doesnt necessarily extend to serious academia would enjoy it. It does lack the sparkle and quality of information that the other books have though, so its only marginally recommended.
The book retails at £4.99 and Amazon have it new for £3.909. Youre best off getting it in a collection with some others in the series, especially as this isnt as good as many of the others.
Loosely based on the first <b>Pirates of the Caribbean</b> film, this game puts you in the role of a young sea captain setting out from a little English port, off to make his fortune. This game though was designed not for the movie fan however, its very much a game in its own right without much in common with the film. In fact apart from the location and the fact that your character looks a little like Will Turner, theres really not much similarity to the film at all. What we have here is a full-blown pirate RPG, with a serious attempt made to merge the two genres. (A similar attempt was previously made with Sea Dogs- though the developers claim this was not the original intention but happened over time which would have worked nicely if that game hadnt been so buggy.) In many ways this game manages to mesh the two genres, but it doesnt manage to do so perfectly.
The game starts with an optional tutorial mode led by your boatswain, and he pops up at various times throughout the game to offer help. In true RPG (Role Playing Game) style, when youre in the ports you can wander through the area, talking to the inhabitants, dropping into the local tavern for a quick drink, seeking out quests, trading, visiting the Governor, picking up local gossip, and of course the all-time favourite pastime in RPGs: randomly entering peoples houses and taking whatevers inside. The graphics are very nicely done indeed, whether in town or at sea. There are other places you can explore as well like caves and jungles, with new weirdness to be found there (though some of them seem to simply be there as they are nice to look at!) The ambient sound effects are very nice as well, and there is quite a bit of sampled speech here and there which is good quality. Aesthetically I cant fault the game and there are certainly a large number of characters with quite varied quests for you to find in a pretty big gaming world. Theres a nice amount of variety in the different settings, and the individual towns and ports look pleasingly different. The people you meet throughout the game are, like most RPGs, pretty much a few stock characters used repeatedly, but the Governors at least look a little different from each other.
Role playing games give your character a set of stats that can be improved as you gain experience and level up, and this game has several stats for you to improve. For example you can have skill in leadership, meaning your men will fight harder and be less likely to give up, or swordplay, and various other things. As you go along you can also acquire specific skills related to certain aspects of the game, such as better control of the ship and less damage during storms. Obviously these things can make certain parts of the game easier, or make various challenges or opponents viable targets instead of things to be avoided as they will instantly kill you earlier on! There are many options for upgrading your equipment, your ships abilities, and your crew (recruiting officers with better skills). Several nationalities are to be befriended or contended with, and of course there be pirates in these waters. Argh, me hearties. And all that. It pretty much sounds like the perfect gaming experience for pirate sim and RPG fans, doesnt it? Sadly, thats not quite the case.
To me the big problem was the interface; I felt that it let the game down badly. (Possibly because I was using the keyboard & mouse although thats what I generally use in RPGs with no problem - or possibly because I didnt have enough patience with it; at the end of the day I just didnt think the interface was up to the job.) Even after customising it I didnt feel comfortable with it. It works much better in RPG mode despite a couple of niggles even there than it does in pirate mode. The sword-fighting seems unnecessarily irksome, and the naval battles that are mooted as intense and exciting on the packaging initially appear impossible, unwieldy, or just plain boring (you could go and make a cup of tea waiting to get in range on the worst occasions!) It does improve a bit if you manage to upgrade your ship, but even then it seems quite cumbersome. The screen where you sail between destinations on the other hand is unsatisfactory for the opposite reason its too easy. I mean, simplifying true ship movement a little is probably necessary in a computer game, but in this your ship drives more like a dodgem. You cant just put a sailing ship into reverse! All in all this rather ruins the authenticity and playability of what otherwise looked liked like would be a fine game.
Im afraid that because of the interface problems I gave up on it completely in the end, which is a shame is it does have several good features. If you either have more patience than me or perhaps have a multi-buttoned joypad that youre comfortable using, it might well be worth 4 stars perhaps even 5. To me, youre still far, far better off with Sid Meiers Pirates! than with this though this is the best effort yet to knock that game off its perch of King of the Pirate Sims!
OS: Windows Me, 2000, XP, x64
CPU: Pentium III 800Mhz
HDD space: 2.9Gb (comes on 2 CD-ROMs)
Graphics card: 32Mb
OS: Windows XP Home Edition SP2
CPU: Pentium 4 2.4GHz
Graphics card: 256Mb GeForce 5500 FX
(The game ran without a hitch on my system.)
The RRP for this game is £9.99, but you can get it new for a couple of quid less at Amazon.co.uk. My memorys a little shaky on this but my copy was either £5.99 or £6.99 (most likely the latter) at Morrisons. If you like pirate games and RPGs, and have a good controller (or masses of patience!), this could well be for you. If you like purely RPG or pirate games exclusively, Im not sure this is going to be for you.
The Horrible Histories range of books is designed to get kids interested in history by
well, by telling them all the horrible bits as well. The intro to this particular books, The Ruthless Romans, actually starts out by telling us how teachers always go on about how wonderful the Romans were, and conveniently ignoring the more atrocious side of the Romans. Actually from what I remember of history lessons, theres an element of truth in that. This book then focuses not on the what the Romans did for us philosophy, but on what made the Roman Empire so devastatingly powerful their ruthlessness and also the entertainment they enjoyed. So basically what we have here is a brief account of the rise of the Roman Empire, and a long account of the Games that the bloodthirsty Romans enjoyed. Like most cultural developments, at least part of the idea for the gladiatorial games was borrowed from an older culture (in the case the Etruscans), and the book goes into some detail about how this may have taken place. There is a little general information about the Romans in addition to specifically dealing with the Games.
Despite this being designed for kids, the average adult who isnt a history professor will find this book both entertaining and educational. For instance, do you know why the famous Coliseum is so named? It has nothing to do with its size in fact, its rather small for a Roman arena. Thought you knew a lot about the gladiators? Its very likely that a lot of what you thought you knew isnt actually true. There are a lot of accounts retold in this book from various people, including Caesars, gladiators, trainers, slaves, and Christians who were about to be thrown to the lions. The bloodthirstiness of the Romans seemed to know no bounds. Their methods of execution and cruelty were both savage and ingenious, and showed contempt for humans an animals alike. Not a bunch of people youd like to invite home for tea
The writing style is humorous and light-hearted, insofar as the material allows. Some of the scenes described are just too horrific (or the attitudes of the victims too noble) for jokes to be made of them, and there are a few appropriately more sombre parts in the book. (Most notably the author draws some undeniable but uncomfortable comparisons to our day.) Thats to say that some of the humour isnt what some people might call inappropriate given that its based on the Roman Games, most of the material is pretty awful if you actually think about it really having happened. Then again thats what the Horrible part of the books title is all about and kids are horrible, so they tend to like that sort of thing!
The text is accompanied by some cartoons (which are frequently very funny), and lots of techniques are employed to stop the book from becoming boring for kids, such as diary excerpts etc being presented on the page as if on a parchment. Its visually very easy on the eye but the style doesnt stop the points from getting across in fact, if anything it enhances the impact of what you read (even, perhaps for an adult reading). Sometimes the visuals actually make more of a statement than the text does, and some of the stories are told in cartoon-strip form. Martin Browns illustrations really suit this down to the ground.
I find the Roman Empire particularly interesting because at no point in history before or since has there been anything quite like it. I already knew a fair bit about the Romans but definitely learned some interesting facts from this book. On the other hand, there were one or two points that I found to be somewhat spurious, though to be fair the book itself admits the fallibility of history books and they not everything in them should be trusted!
One of the other reasons that I found this book interesting was that I could see how much real history was included in the film Gladiator, or at least historical events that provided the inspiration for some things in the movie. Many of the events and characters in the movie were inspired by things that really happened, though not surprisingly a certain amount of creative licence was used in the film!
Though its designed for kids, adults with a passing interest in history will enjoy this book, and though its a quick, light read, theres a lot of information packed into its 128 pages. Not necessarily a book to eat while having dinner though as it does get a little gory at times
Text as always was by Terry Dreary
Illustrations this time were by Martin Brown
My copy is not going to win any prizes for production values, though I do wonder if part of the reason for the cheapness of the set I bought was because it had lower-quality printing than usual. Its clear enough to read easily and see the detail however, so Im not complaining.
I havent yet read all of the ten Horrible Histories I got from The Book People for £10, but of those Ive read so far, this one is the most interesting, best written, and most visually appealing of them. Some history textbooks tend to be rather alienate the casual reader, giving the impression that you should already be a professor to understand them, but no-one would have any problem whatsoever picking up a Horrible History and reading though it. Plus, of course, they are great for kids being designed for them but they dont talk down to the kids and for a bit of light yet informative reading, adults can enjoy them as well.
(Next Horrible History to be reviewed: The Angry Aztecs look out for it soon on Dooyoo!)
If you want to buy The Ruthless Romans individually, it costs £2.99 on Amazon (new RRP £4.99), which is better value than getting it second hand on the Marketplace. Id still advise getting a set with at least 3 Horrible Histories books for better value though.
BODY - subtitled An amazing tour of Human Anatomy is a real gem of a book that explores the wonders of the human body. Id never heard of it before, but when I saw it with its cover featuring and inside view of a head my curiosity was piqued, and when I delved into the book a little it looked absolutely fascinating. Written by Richard Walker with Robert Winston acting as Editorial Consultant, this is an incredible book that is both informative and visually stunning. It uses vivid 3D visualisations of the body made from computer reconstructions of photographs taken of 1mm slices of a frozen dead body (donated to science). The book gives a reasonable amount of detail about how this was done. The photographs are then labelled and a 3D wireframe model is made up of the whole body, with colours and textures then applied from the information in the photographs. This creates some of the most startling images you are ever likely to see.
Robert Winston describes the human body as a tremendously sophisticated machine, making the point that during his years practicing medicine he has seen many attempts to make bionic replacements for damaged organs or limbs, but that none of these have come anywhere near competing with the real thing. This book looks at the intricate complexities of the human body, yet does so in a way thats simple and accessible to understand.
The pictures show everything from the skeletal form through to the nervi, musculature, lymphatic system, and circulatory system. The level of clarity and detail is incredible, and just looking at these pictures is both fascinating and enlightening. However this isnt just a picture book, each part of the body is explained for us. Since Ive worked in the health service for several years (I have a continually haggard look to prove it!) Im already pretty familiar with most of it, but this book helped me really appreciate the level of complexity various body parts (which we take for granted) actually have. It is written in a plain, matter of fact style that makes it easy to understand but in no way does it dumb down and it doesnt shy away from medical terminology. I dont think this would really be a problem for the novice though as you can actually see what the terminology refers to.
On some of the pictures there are overlays that, for example, show the circulatory system around the heart or describe the digestive system, showing the route food takes and what happens to it at each stage. It also gives the time for each event did you know that it takes your food ten seconds to reach your stomach after you swallow it, but 6 hours to reach the midpoint of the small intestine? Waste products are normally expelled about 32 hours after the food is initially swallowed though I know a few curries that havent taken that long! (sorry for that image )
For each main sub-section there is a Did You Know? feature, a small box containing an interesting (and relevant, of course) factoid. For instance, when discussing the reproductive system, the factoid is that when sperm were first discovered in 1677, many scientists believed that each one contained a tiny, perfectly formed human called an homunculus. It wasnt until the 19th century that scientists realised that the sperm had to be fertilised before an embryo could develop. Or when talking about the stomach, it recounts the story of a Fur Trapper named Alexis St Martins freak accident in 1822 when he somehow managed to shoot himself in the side, leaving a permanent opening to his stomach. He was treated by Dr William Beaumont, and American Army Surgeon who (presumably with St. Martins consent!!) used this for 11 years to conduct experiments, including dangling various foods into his stomach and seeing how long they took to digest. (Nice hobby ) He published his findings to great acclaim in 1833.
Speaking of stomachs, if all this is turning yours then youre probably in the only group of people I wouldnt recommend this book to the queasy. It doesnt shy away from anything, it just tells things exactly as they are. Having worked as a Medical Secretary for quite a while now (yes there are male Medical Secretaries, no it wasnt exactly a career choice, it just sort of happened), there is practically nothing that could put me off my food. (Typing a letter about a patient coughing up green sputum while eating a guacamole? No problem!!) If you are of a queasy disposition this probably isnt for you.
If however you are fascinated by the way we humans are made, and would like to see and understand more about how we work, then this is a priceless book. Its divided into four sections:
Section One: Body Systems - skeletal, muscular, nervous, cardiovascular, endocrine, and lymphatic systems, plus skin, hair, and nails.
Section Two: Head - head and neck, brain and spinal cord, skull and teeth, head muscles, tongue and nose, ear, eye, mouth and throat
Section Three: Upper Body - thorax, heart, respiratory system, lungs, shoulder, arm and elbow, hand and wrist, spine and back, trunk muscles, abdomen, digestive system, stomach, liver and gall bladder, intestines, pelvis, kidneys and bladder, female reproduction, male reproduction
Section Four: Lower Body - hip, leg muscles, thigh, knee and lower leg, foot and ankle
As if that wasnt enough, the book comes with a CD containing the programme Primal Body 3D. This gives you a 3 body that you can rotate, zoom in and out of, explore various areas in detail, show nerve and muscle layers, and save the images to file for use later. Probably more useful to someone who might use it to create visuals for a lecture etc, I found this far less interesting than the book itself. Still, a nice addition and the book on its own is already easily worth the asking price, and probably of more use to a medical student who wishes to delve into things a bit more than the interested layperson.
BODY is an incredible and unique book, with wonderful layout and design as well as effective text and astonishing images that really make it more a work of art than a piece of literature. The fact that its ring-bound aids the pages being fully opened up for the best effect and its printed on high quality glossy paper emphasises that feeling. The images are stunning and basically indescribable, which is why I wont try you truly do have to see them for yourself. The size of the book (not in terms of thickness but width and height) are unusual and the only real drawback I can think of for the book in any way is that it might be tricky trying to fit it into the average bookcase.
From the mildly interested man or woman in the street to the medical student, this is a book youll never regret buying. Its more likely to be used as a reference book to look things up as and when you wonder about a particular subject, but due to its accessible writing style it is actually something you could pick up and read from start to finish. The retail price of £12.99 isnt really too much for a book of this quality, though youd have to really be interested before parting with that sort of money. Mine cost £6 from The Book People, and for that money was a real bargain. Amazon.co.uk have it for £8.57 new (from £8 on the Marketplace, so with postage costs getting it new from Amazon is cheaper).
Published by: Dorling Kindersley Limited
Pages: 96 including a comprehensive glossary and index.
Its a pretty durable book though be careful not to bend the spine too far back.
The Incredibles: When Danger Calls is a movie tie-in with much the same philosophy as the Finding Nemo game I recently reviewed give you a slick interface based on the movie and throw in several mini-games related to scenes in the movie. And
thats it. With two great movies such as Finding Nemo and The Incredibles they could really have made a couple of great games, but we just have these very lazy, uninspiring titles.
(The PC and Mac versions of this game are on the same disc, but since I dont have a Mac, naturally enough Im only reviewing the Windows version. I dont suppose the Mac game is markedly different.)
In all fairness they did make a bit more effort with this one. Instead of seven mini-games you have ten, with a proportion increase in the number of movie clips (20 in total). With each of the four in the Incredible family Bob Parr / Mr Incredible, Helen Parr / Mrs Incredible (duh), Dashiell Parr / Dash and Violet Parr / Invisible Girl, you have a normal life game. When you complete the normal game it unlocks a new game where you play the same character with their superpowers. All the games are simple and most take place on a single screen for instance, in Violets bedroom as you position force fields to stop your annoying brother from nicking your stuff. The simplest game of all is when you play Bob, doing a bit of weight training by lifting up trains! All youre required to do here is hit the space bar at the right time. Thrilling. The repetitive sound samples really start to grate on the nerves with that one. The game where you play Dashiell is very annoying as the mouse control really doesnt work very well at all. On the whole, the games where you have your superpowers are much better, though still very repetitive.
The graphics are good, with fairly basic character models but some lovely backgrounds. Its all very bright and colourful and thus appealing to young children, who are the primary audience for this game. The voice acting that there is works okay, and much of it is taken from the movie. Again the use of sound-bites is maddeningly repetitive. There are two other games that can be unlocked apart from those above, one where you control Mr Incredibles buddy Frozone to use hiss powers fighting fire, and one where you have to press the right key at the right time (as you do in dance games well, that is if you are pressing keys rather than dancing on arrows on the floor ) to stay alive against the huge robot from the end of the film. Guiding you through the game and assessing your performance is your very eccentric and probably mad costume designer, Edna "E" Mode - funny at first but annoying after a while.
Saving the game from a two-star rating is the fact that there three difficulty levels, giving it a little extra appeal to older players, and some extras mainly screensavers. There are also some colouring in sheets you can print off, again showing how much this release is geared to young children. Again, my rating might seem a little unfair with this in mind, but the movie was for adults and children, so why should the game only be for children?
The presentation is superb but the games themselves just arent that much fun to play, and get very repetitive. Unfortunately this isnt a game I can really recommend, though again younger players will enjoy it a lot more than I did. Much younger if theyre under ten, theres a good chance theyll like it. For older players like myself it seems a little like a throwback to yesteryear in the days before computers and games consoles were not powerful enough to scroll the screen with bearable speed, all games were either single-screen or flip-screen, or like this a collection of different single screen games. Admittedly I didnt get much of a feeling of nostalgia since detailed, colourful graphics, sampled speech and video clips were hardly the norm for video games in the early days.
Compared to Finding Nemo: Nemos Underwater World of Fun, which I bought at the same time and reviewed recently, The Incredibles is a little better value but in some ways I liked it less. Both made nice presents to young friends though so Im not too distraught about having bought them the kiddies who received them dont need to know that I hope to recoup my money reviewing them, eh? :-D
OS: Windows 98/Me/2000/XP/x64
CPU: Pentium 2 266MHz or above
HDD space: 330Mb
Memory: 128Mb or more
Graphics card: any 8Mb 3D card compatible with DirectX 9.0
Age rating: 3+ (my guess is it's most suitable for 4-8 year old's, give or take a year maybe)
OS: Windows XP Home Edition SP2
CPU: Pentium 4 2.4GHz
Graphics card: 256Mb GeForce 5500 FX
- No technical problems encountered.
I got the game as an impulse purchase from Morrisons for £3.99, and the best way to get it is probably with Play.coms 3 for £10 offer. This is strictly for the kiddies though, like the other games in that range.
Horrible Histories is a range of books aimed at getting kids interested in history by telling them the whole truth - with all the awful horribleness that teachers dont like to tell you. So, basically its a school textbook with added squishiness and comedy factor. Theyre priced at £4.99 each retail, but I got a box set of ten from The Book People (you know, the people that visit the workplace) for £10. The set includes such other titles as The Angry Aztecs, The Ruthless Romans, and The Blitzed Brits. The books appealed to me because they looked a little like 1066 And All That, a book I love, in its style and presentation. I wasnt quite right about that, but I still enjoyed this first book out of the ten (they were in no particular order but this was the one I chose to read first). So here we have The Awesome Egyptians. (Unfortunately this being a kids book means that the word awesome is chronically over-used!) Ive always been quite interested in the Egyptians especially, which is why I chose this book to begin my reading of the series.
So why, you might be asking yourself, did a 30 year-old get a bunch of kids books in the first place? Well, although these books are primarily designed for kids, you really dont need to be a kid to enjoy reading them well, perhaps you need to be a kid at heart. Ive always had an interest in history but, at the moment at least, I really dont have enough interest in one particular era or culture to buy and read in-depth textbooks of a thousand pages or so about it. Therefore this book, with its 128 pages (low-quality print but not to the extent that it was a problem) with its light-hearted style, frequent cartoons, and lots of humour suited me perfectly. Dont be misled though, this book has some really interesting information in it. Its not crammed with facts and figures, but it certainly doesnt shy away from them. Its not intended to present a watered-down view of history, just present a completely non-watered down view in a format thats very easily accessible.
We read about the Pharaohs, how they lives, how the hierarchical system in Egypt worked, the way the Nile floods were vital to the farming, why pyramids were build, various myths surrounding the tombs, tomb-robbers, the Egyptian gods, and much more. The information is presented in a matter-of-fact manner, however there are several viewpoint questions, a few quizzes, and even instructions on how to make some items. (For instance there is an experiment on the power or magic of a pyramid shape you are shown how to make your own pyramid, and you can place some cheese inside it to see if it goes off or if the pyramid shape really does have amazing preservative powers!) There are also instructions on how to make your own shaduf, which was a contraption used by the peasants to lift heavy objects easily. The book also contains many anecdotes that help to keep it interesting. Theres also a section on how to understand hieroglyphics, which is pretty cool even for us oldies!!
There are also a large number of cartoons throughout the book, which are mainly for adding humour though sometimes they do help to tell a story / put the point across. Unlike the aforementioned 1066 and All That it is really aimed at kids not adults, so as an adult reading dont expect to find them all hilarious. The writing style very occasionally does get tedious because of its simplicity and repetitiveness, however for the most part is nice, easy reading but still very instructive.
Overall Horrible Histories: The Awesome Egyptians is a very easy read and much more educational than Id originally thought. Obviously its not for serious students scholars, but then they presumably wouldnt even consider reading this (apart from for some light relief, perhaps!). It does a very good job in presenting history in an accessible and entertaining way, and Im looking forward to reading the rest of the books I have (I dont know how many are in the whole series but its certainly more than ten!). Look out for it in a set though, Im really not sure Id pay full price for the individual books even though I like them (though this is largely due to the poor print quality rather than the content.). If youve got a child and would like to encourage them to be more interested in history (or just want them to get better marks at school!), or just have a passing interest in history yourself without the time or inclination to go more serious academia, this is a good book for you. (For kids its the most effective type of education educating without the student realising thats whats happening!!)
The text is by Terry Deary with cartoons provided by Peter Hepplewhite. Deary has written all the books in the Horrible Histories series, but several different illustrators have been used. Hepplewhites style is fairly typical of all of them, being of a style that is rather like the political satire sketches found in many newspapers. Not exactly visually amazing, but certainly appropriate for this book and often quite funny.
The Awesome Egyptians is available for £3.99 new or from a penny on the Marketplace, and is also £3.99 from Play.com. The trouble with The Book People is that you never know when they might stock it again; the particular ten-pack that I have is exclusive to them, but there are various other collections available, so check for them online theyre a lot cheaper than getting the books individually.
Finding Nemo: Nemos Underwater World of Fun is a typical example of a movie tie-in game gone wrong. Sure, its very nicely presented and has some clips from the movie for you to watch, but theres no substance to it at all.
Basically what we have here is a collection of simple mini-games, which when completed let you play a different mini-game. When youve completed that youve completed the game. (To be fair you can go back and play any of the seven different games again, and the difficulty level will go much higher than needed for to complete the basic game, but why would you?) The best thing about the movie was that although kids loved it, it was just as enjoyable (perhaps even more so) for adults, because of the different layers of humour. With this game its purely for young children (who may love it) the games are very easy and it took me a grand total of an hour and a half to complete the game (including watching the movie clips!).
The graphics are very nice and look authentic to the film, and the animation is reasonably good (apart from the lip-synching). There is some decent music and the voice-acting is good, though the sound-bites from the movie get very repetitive. Its all very prettily presented though and pretty much all of the characters from the movie are here somewhere.
Nemos father explains when you begin the game that hes going to build a racecourse so that Nemo can prove himself to be a super swimmer. Before this however Nemo needs to win some items by playing the sub-games. You swim round looking for these games (with a few animated bits you can activate along the way by clicking on them). Theres a game where you have to guess which shell a little critter is hiding from there are only three which get shuffled around, but it is extremely easy to keep track of where the critter is. You also have to feed kelp to Bruce the shark in a breakout / pinball style game, and help Dory with a shape-order memory game with the ever-moving shoal of fish, and play a match-it game which is also far too easy because its only on a 4x4 grid. By far he best of the games is one where you swim through the gulf stream with the turtles, collecting shells along the way and avoiding collisions, and have to exit at the correct point. Once youve completed a game at level 5 you get to see a related clip from the movie, and you also collect a shell. When you have the shells from all 5 games, you go to the main race.
This is somewhat like the turtles game and involved trying to collect the singing clams against a time limit. Various obstacles slow you down but there are power-ups to collect that can help you. The controls for this part of the game seemed a little sluggish, but at least with the power ups etc there was more going on in this than most of the other parts of the game. Complete the racecourse at level 5 and you win the game. Roll credits
Once youve done that you can race again or play any of the other games, and they do get harder as you go along. Theres also another weird game where you help the gang from the fish tank create weird and wonderful music. Well mostly weird. For a very young child who loved the movie and hasnt yet developed any kind of advanced co-ordination skills this would be a very good game, but for anyone whos played computer games before its far too easy and very, very simple. It looks and sounds nice for toddlers, and they may enjoy it, but I wouldnt recommend it for anyone else. I cant really knock it too much for being appropriate to its target market, but since the movie was hugely enjoyable, I dont see any reason why the game couldnt have appealed to a wider audience. For me by far the best feature was actually watching the video clips from the film (which are tolerably good quality), but its not worth getting the game just for those.
You dont need a high-end PC to run this game. Here are the system specs
OS: Windows 98/Me/2000/XP/x64
CPU: Pentium 2 266MHz or above
HDD space: 440Mb
Memory: 128Mb or above
Graphics card: 8Mb or higher card with DirectX 8.1 or above
OS: Windows XP Home Edition SP2
CPU: Pentium 4 2.4GHz
Graphics card: 256Mb GeForce 5500 FX
I experienced no technical problems whatsoever playing Finding Nemo: Nemos Underwater World of Fun.
Age rating: 3+ (my guess is it's most suitable for 4-8 year old's, give or take a year maybe).
(This game CD contains both the Windows and Mac versions of the game.)
I picked this up at Morrisons for £3.99 and then passed it on to a young friend, so it wasnt a total loss. Amazon have it for £4.98 new (from £1.99 on the Marketplace but with the postage costs youre still better off at Morrisons if you see it there), while Play.com have it for £4.99 or in a 3 for £10 range (which may possibly be better if there are any other games you want in that range if the promotion is still on when you read this, you can find the complete list of games in this range at http://www.play.com/Games/PC/PROD/2-/2019/2-/Promo.html Unfortunately they only have kids' games in this promotion, so it's a parents-only domain really!).