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MAX PAYNE 3 is an third-person action game from Rockstar Games - it is (obviously) the third game in the franchise, and is rated '18'. This review of Max Payne 3 is for PC, but the game is also available on the Xbox 360 and the PS3.
==How's the story?==
Max Payne 3 is set near to present day, and is almost directly canon to the previous games in the series. The game begins with a washed out, alcoholic Max Payne drinking himself to death in New Jersey following the death of his wife, his baby and his hitgirl lover Mona Sax. Depressing, I know, but it's how Max Payne got how he is.
Now Max has moved on from the tragic events of his path in hope of finding a new life - a better life - for himself, a life where he can move on and earn some extra money. This job happens to be being a bodyguard for a rich family named the Branco's in Brazil, who need protection from the lower classes and corrupt police officers. Max figures that this job will be easy, a cake run, especially with his friend Passos there to help him, but when one of his protect-ees are captured by a strange group, Max finds himself thrust into the life of gunfire and death that he was trying to leave behind.
The storyline of Max Payne 3 is good in the sense of being better than your average video game storyline - there are extended cutscenes (not skippable for the most part, they're masking extended loading screens) to explain the story to you, the characters have a lot of depth, and they're semi-likable, although I can imagine some people just won't get along with the cast of this shooter.
As for the story-telling style, it's a little disappointing - while it is still very much a Max Payne game in the story type (woman gets captured, Max has to get her back and ends up digging himself a massive hole and is required to riddle men with bullets because of it), it lacks some of the tasty noir feel from the first two games, and exchanges the bleak New York/New Jersey 'grainy, gritty film noir' feel for a bright, sunny (but still dark) 'Man on Fire' feel.
I do, however, consider Max Payne 3 to be great in both the sense of being a Max Payne game, and great in the sense of being its own game in terms of story - oh, and a side note, everything is pretty easy to latch on to, so there isn't too much of a need to play the first two games first (essentially, the only thing you take away from the first two games here is 'everyone Max Payne ever loved is dead', and that's explained in the opening cutscene).
The story of Max Payne 3 is a real winner - it's cinematic and well told and acted. I give it a 5/5.
The gameplay of Max Payne 3 stays very true to the roots of the series. In a lot of senses, it plays a lot like the standard third person shooter, but with a few very important differences. One of these differences is that in Max Payne 3, the shooting is tight - and I mean very tight. It feels a lot like you're playing a first-person shooter, as opposed to the heavy, sluggish aiming style of third person shooters of current like Gears of War. This is a good thing, especially since that's what fans of the series want - and it means that the gameplay feels fluid for new players too.
The gameplay is rarely frustrating, but there are certain parts of the game that may not be completely obvious at first, and may result in a few deaths. Usually, however, the game's automated checkpoint system will plonk you down less than a minute before the point at which you died, so there's not all that much frustration to be had from the gameplay and it's difficulty. If you die enough times too, the game will give you painkillers, which can be used to heal up Max in the event that he is injured in battle.
Speaking of the painkillers, these also act as a mechanism to make the game slightly more friendly - instead of straight out killing you when you are shot to death, the game will trigger slow motion, allowing you a final chance to shoot the person that killed you for the chance to continue living, but this costs you one of your painkillers. If you don't have any painkillers, you're dead once you're out of health..
==Graphics and Optimization==
This is a Rockstar game, anyone who knew anything about their previous works (Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption) knows that there is going to be an insane amount of detail and thought put into these games, but the vast majority of PC gamers know to expect poor optimization on their platform of choice.
Rockstar have proved themselves in the first category, and disproved their old habits in the second category. This game has insane amount of detail (the bullet casings are fully detailed, and clips ejected from your guns actually have the amount of bullets you had left in them), and you can even see Max's muscles tensing and retracting under his shirt. The physics engine is also fantastic, and has Max diving through the air with flamboyance (actually, wrong word) and tact (actually, what I meant to say was 'simulates him headbutting the wall really well'). It is an impressive, weighty and realistic physics engine none the less.
The most impressive thing for me about the Max Payne 3 graphics for me though was the amazing performance:quality ratio. Previous efforts on the PC by Rockstar have suffered horribly from issues like DRM (Games for Windows Live is a payne - also I hope you see what I did there), and terrible performance issues (GTA IV would drop into unplayable framerates on even the best of systems at times), but once you have Max Payne 3 up and running, you can have it running on the vast majority of new hardware - even if it's not particularly high end - and have the performance be exceptionally good, and by that I mean it's one of the best PC versions of a game that I have seen in many years. Rockstar should be proud and I hope they keep it up for GTA V.
All of the characters are impressively acted, and although one or two of the weapons sound a little bit like pea-shooters with silencers the vast majority of weapons actually sound pretty good. However, what really stood out about the audio in Max Payne 3 was the soundtrack. It's still every bit as good as the first two were. The title theme in particular is somber, dark and sets the scene for the entire game, even if you haven't started playing yet. It's a fantastic rendition of the original theme for the first two games, and I'm really glad that they left it in - it's one of the few remaining 'film noir' elements in the game (excluding a few levels in New Jersey).
The only issue that I've had with the audio is on some of the cutscenes, it appears that some of the characters skip their lines occasionally (as in no audio plays, but their lips do move), and I can only attribute this to my system, as the audio files are there, and it sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. It should be known that I am not the only person with this issue though.
The game's multiplayer has a variety of modes and an unlock system. The unlock system works by unlocking pieces of equipment and weapons as you progress through the in-game ranks - this is very standard of first person shooter games, especially those in the 'modern warfare' variety because of the addicting nature of the system and the fact that it makes people want to keep playing and paying for more things. The unlock system in Max Payne 3 isn't overbloated, and it's pretty staggered and rather nice to progress through.
However, the gamemodes are locked to rank - a stupid decision that could end up dividing the community. The 'hardcore' gamemodes are restricted to those who have more than 1000 kills, which could take a while for the less-skilled players. I understand its to keep to bad players at bay, because no-one likes to have a bad team in a gamemode determined by their teams skill, but come on, you're locking the player out of the game that they paid for. This is something that irritates me about the game, and something that I'd rather not happen, but Rockstar obviously have their reasons.
In terms of gamemodes, we have your standard Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch varieties, as well as two other modes. There is Payne Killer, where two players are given the more powerful roles of Max Payne and Passos, and the other players have to take them down. The player that takes them down becomes the character they killed. It's a fun gimmick, but in practise me and my friends didn't really have all that much fun with this mode because of massive skill differences and balancing issues.
There is also Gang Wars - now this one is fun. It sets the scene of a point in the game, and has two rivalling gangs battle it out in a series of objective based modes, which seldom last a few minutes, to gain points for the advantage in the final round of the game - a team deathmatch game. The objectives in the preceding modes are things like 'deliver the bag' (capture the flag), and 'hold the point' (akin to a small scale version of Battlefield's conquest mode), and it all comes together in a great harmony of fun.
However, there is a major problem in this game's multiplayer. The loading times seem to be surrounded around the lowest denominator. Now, I don't like to brag, but I do keep my hardware up to date, and as such I generally load pretty quickly in the latest games, but that doesn't matter in the online component of Max Payne 3, because everyone loads as quickly as the slowest person - which means that in some cases you can be waiting five minutes to get into a game, when it only takes you twenty seconds to load.
There are also assorted other issues that I'm sure Rockstar will fix eventually like the map not fully loading (elements and models are not loaded in the game) and an endless respawn (occasionally you will die and find that you can't respawn for several minutes, or in some cases the rest of the game).
For these reasons, I shall give the inventive but flawed multiplayer a 3/5
==Value for Money==
Max Payne 3 was £29.99 when I bought it. I preordered the game and so got myself a fair bit of DLC with it, but sadly missed out on the free copy of LA Noire that was up for grabs (it's a shame, I would've liked to play that), but I feel that I would've got my moneys worth even if I didn't get the preorder bonuses. The storyline is fairly long, well acted and has incredible production value (and spanned about eleven hours in my experience), and it was one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences I've had in a while.
The multiplayer mode is also pretty good fun, and will likely last me and many others a good while to come, despite the slight dwindling of the game's online population (possibly for reasons detailed in the multiplayer subsection).
There is, however, DLC. This DLC is stuff that I'd be happy to pay for, and it's presumably going to be affordable and the releases are going to be staggered, but with DLC I feel like I've been cheated out of a bit of game, a game I thought I had paid for. The feeling isn't so strong here, but it is there.
I feel that the value here is very good, but there is near-release paid DLC, and therefore shall give it a 4/5.
Max Payne 3 is rated '18' by the BBFC. Here's a rundown of why.
Max Payne 3 has a fair amount of violence, hundreds of characters are killed per level, and occasionally with bloody detail and in slow motion. The vast majority of the time however, the characters get a bit of blood on them and promptly fall over without too much dwelling on the payne (I hope you're liking these puns).
There are a few scenes which are particularly bloody though. Arguably the strongest of which is when a character has a grenade detonated near him and his limbs are dismembered in slow motion, with considerably dwelling on the characters pain while Max circles him. The character appears to be struggling and trying to get away, leaving a trail of blood. This is the only scene of such strong nature in the game.
There are some death scenes where blood is separated out from characters heads. These are not particularly graphic and don't focus on the detail.
A character is burned on-screen with gasoline, it's extended and we hear screams. There is not too much detail on the injuries though.
Many of the characters swear in the game. Words such as 'f*ck' and 'sh*t' are commonplace, with rarer use of milder words like 'b*tch' and 'whore'. There are also a few racial slurs in the game, although usually in a friendly way (a black character says 'wassup my n*gger' to another black character. Racism is not obviously intended).
There are a fair few women wearing skimpy clothes through the game, nothing out of the ordinary for a game of this type though.
At one point in the game, Max enters a brothel - there are naked women shown in detail for short periods of time, and you can see sexual action taking place (oral sex mostly) but any detail is obscured cleverly in game. This is not the focus of the level.
Max makes sarcastic remarks of vague sexual nature occasionally - for example "It was like Baghdad with G-strings".
Max is a heavy drinker, but it's made obvious that he is not happy about this and wants to stop. This is shown in a negative, albeit detailed manner (the player see's Max throw up in the sink, get hangovers, stagger across the room and fall about with drunkenness with added screen effects to add to the feel). This is not glamorised, and it is made clear that Max wants to stop. Max's alcoholism leads him to bad places on multiple occasions.
This game isn't all that bad with its content, and the detail is pretty low for the vast majority of the game. I reckon a fourteen year old could probably deal with the vast majority of it's content, if you can get past the adult-y themes like alcohol abuse, which aren't portrayed in a positive light anyway.
Max Payne 3 is a briliant game, and it deserves to be bought and played by practically everyone. It's a benchmark in storytelling, a staple in graphics and a step forward in games in general. Rockstar have done the franchise proud, and I hope that Rockstar finds success with this game eventually (following sub-par sales at release).
I give Max Payne 3 a 4/5, for being great in almost every way apart from multiplayer.
THE DARKNESS 2 is a first-person action game from developers Digital Extremes which is published by 2K Games. The game runs on the 'Evolution Engine', and is rated '18' by the BBFC.
What is The Darkness 2?
The Darkness 2 is a dark and enthralling action game with some horror elements, and is the sequel to the original 'The Darkness' game, and shares many of the same elements. It is predominantly singleplayer, but has several cooperative modes that are playable both online with friends, and offline on your own - if you prefer. It's based off a visual novel (essentially a comic for adults), and is well-known for being one of the goriest games recently created.
The storyline of The Darkness 2 follows Jackie Estecado, a mobster that has recently received the power of an ancient evil that has possessed many others in the past - essentially making them it's "puppet".
The story is a direct continuation of the first game, and if you're playing on the PC you won't be able to play the original. Thankfully, a video at the beginning of the game clears up the storyline of the first for you. Essentially, Jackie has acquired the powers of a mystical force named the 'Darkness', a kind of ancient evil that manifests as a pair of shoulder-mounted 'snakes', which has been using him as a host. However, during the last game, disaster strikes and the 'Darkness' prevents him from saving his girlfriend, Jenny from opposing mobsters - as the 'Darkness' says she's a burden. She is killed in front of Jackie, and Jackie 'kills' himself, only for the 'Darkness' to revive it's host.
In the period between then and the second game, Jackie has kept the Darkness kept up, and during an attack on a resturant he is dining at, there's an unexpected attack from a group of mysterious villains. Faced with near-certain death, Jackie has a choice - free the 'Darkness', or die.
Jackie frees the Darkness to keep himself alive, alerting a gang that he is the carrier of the 'Darkness' - leading Jackie to a race to find out what is going on - haunted by illusions of his old girlfriend - before it's too late.
The gameplay of 'The Darkness 2' is incredibly fun, it allows you to carry a total of three weapons. Two 'one handed weapons', that you can also dual wield, and a single 'heavy' weapon like a shotgun or assault rifle. In addition to his mechanical, man-made arsenal, Jackie also has shoulder-mounted 'snakes' and a lethal 'monkey' creature as powers of the 'Darkness' - both slick machines of death that tear men apart in mere seconds.
"Well, doesn't that make the game ridiculously easy?" I hear you ask. Well, no, not really. The downside to the Darkness powers is, as the name would suggest, they can only be used in the shadows. If Jackie is exposed to intense light, his snake-arms retract, and his darkling (the name of the 'monkey' like creature) will die if exposed to the light. So you must destroy lights before walking through the area, or risk losing your 'Darkness' powers for valuable seconds.
The gunplay is pretty good, the guns feel beefy and powerful, and the dismemberment of the enemies caused by the weapons give the guns a pretty good feel of strength. The 'Darkness' powers add a lot to the game too. They're generally pretty slick, if not entirely precise and incredibly fun to use. There are also several abilities that the shoulder-snakes can use to gain benefits for Jackie, like extra health and ammunition.
The difficulty curve is actually pretty modest, the game starts ridiculously easy to let you get the hang of it, and slowly ventures into the more hard things like enemies with mounted lights. There's an increasing feel of threat as the game progresses, and this adds to the difficulty. The enemies get more skilled, and new types of enemies are introduced all the way through the game - and it doesn't stop introducing weapons either.
The gameplay in this game is great, but the game is a little short: therefore I give it 4/5.
The graphics in 'The Darkness 2' are cel-shaded, a technique used to simulate the comic-book that the game is based off of, unlike the original game that appeared to have a somewhat 'grittier' feel (from mere observation, due to the lack of a 'gaming' console I never got to play it). Some may argue that the graphics in 'The Darkness 2' take away from the theme, but personally I think it just intensifies the brilliant style of the game, while reminding you of the series' origins - a comic book of the same name.
The weapon and character models are generally pretty good, and fairly high poly - and while there are a few lower resolution textures here and there, the textures as a majority are absolutely fine - not that you'll be looking for bad textures in a game of this pace. The game also features a slider to set 'Field of View', so those who get motion sickness from lower FoV angles such as those that are default, they can set the game to work with their own preferences.
The only graphical fault that I encountered through the game is that the shadows will occasionally flicker and look generally bad at 'low' settings, breaking the immersion a tiny bit.
I rate the graphics: 4/5.
The voice acting in 'The Darkness 2' is superb, each of the characters are very well acted and it draws you into the storyline pretty well. The main character, Jackie Estecado's, voice acting is particularly incredible - especially in the substanical monologues that the character gives in between chapters of the game, something that I imagine would be extremely hard to pull off because of how cheesy it may appear.
The voices of all of the major characters, including that of 'The Darkness' itself, are all very well acted - and while not from an all-star cast - they are all very believable.
The weapons sound pretty beefy too, although some of the weapons towards the end of the game feel just the slightest bit tinny because of a 'muted' sound effect that the developers seemed to have applied, that limited the volume a little bit... lower.
Other than that, the sound is good enough to warrant a 4/5.
Value for Money
This is the major downfall of 'The Darkness 2'. There is no major multiplayer mode, and while I do not argue that this is required in any game, ever, the storyline should at least be long enough to compensate for it's abundance. That is not the case here. The storyline barely lasts six hours, and while that does seem like a while compared to a movie, it's a storyline with very little replay value, and if I were paying the full price of £29.99 for it, I would feel miffed. There is a cooperative mode, but it lacks oomph, and there aren't all that many players so you may find yourself hard pressed to find yourself a match to play with. You can play them solo, but where's the fun in that. I feel that I got my money's worth for this game, but then I only payed £7 due to a sale, not £29.99.
The multiplayer component of 'The Darkness 2' is a small, bitesized and mediocre chunk. It's a semi-interesting cooperative mode in which you play out parts of the story playing others of Jackie's henchmen. The multiplayer mode shows no restraint on releasing story information from various parts of the game, and I'm glad that I played it after the singleplayer because of this.
There are four playable characters with 'Darkness' powers (contradicting the rest of the game), and a variety of missions where you've got to rescue/kill/massacre others. It's all pretty standard FPS stuff, and really feels like a bit of an afterthought. I thought the multiplayer, especially the fact that there is no competitive mode at all, was a little bit disappointing - a disappointment increased by the fact that it really doesn't extend the life of the game all that much.
I give the multiplayer a 3/5, for being uniquely average.
In case you didn't guess by the title, 'The Darkness 2' isn't a light and fluffy edutainment game for children, it's a much more gritty and violent affair. Here's a run down:
This is a very violent game, the game features your average violence like gunfights on the street and some hand to hand quick-time-event styled combat, but the strongest of the games violence includes mutilation of limbs and heads, usually in slow motion and the execution of several finishing moves, including one where your shoulder-mounted arms perform an 'Alien' birthing sequence on your poor victim and another where it draws and quarters the victim while suspended in mid air and mid-view.
There are also several extremely cringeworthy events throughout the game, including one where a character is crucified in a gruesome, awake manner. There's a fair bit of screaming and shouting there, and a scene where a character is placed in a medieval instrument of torture known as the 'Iron Maiden' (it's essentially a coffin where a person is closed in with inwards facing spikes). Followed only by a bit of comic relief as a character remarks he now looks like a cactus.
A character is stabbed just off screen in the throat, you hear spluttering and choking for a second and a spray of blood. Some players may find the scene distressing.
There is a fair variety of strong language in the game, including several aggressive and passive uses of the words 'f**k', 'sh*t', 'bollocks', 'arse' and 'b*stard'. There are also less regular, and distinctively quieter uses of the word 'c**t', used in a non-aggressive way.
A female character asks your character to 'come around the back and find out', in a manner that suggests sex. The player never sees anything.
Some may find some of the villainous characters to be a tad anxiety producing, but for the most part the tension isn't really continued on extensively, and there are several moments of comic relief after more frightening parts.
This is a particularly violent game, and I reckon that the rating board were actually pretty close this time around, and would suggest this game to an 18+ audience, unless you know what you're getting into.
'The Darkness 2' is a first-person shooter that just reeks of storyline and atmosphere. It is truly one of the best singleplayer shooters of the past few years, and I was disappointed it's over so quick. The multiplayer isn't really all that worth investing for, but if you want a good, solid singleplayer campaign to take up a few days or weeks (depending on how fast you play), this is the game for you.
(also posted on Ciao.co.uk)
The Galaxy Ace is a smartphone by Samsung, it features an 800MHz processor and the price without contract clocks in around the £220 region.
==The Performance of the Phone==
The Samsung Galaxy Ace has an 800MHz single core processor, which is a little bit tame considering a lot of the higher end phones actually have dual and quad cores as of recent. The phone also has 256MB of RAM, which again may be considered tame by the hierarchy of extortionately expensive communication devices, but you never really see any disadvantges of this when using the phone.
Using the default 'launcher' (basically something that puts an interface over the phones working, which isn't really needed at all for Android, but Samsung seem to use it regardless), which is Samsung's proprietary Touchwiz interface, the actual phone feels a little bit sluggish to use - the interface wasn't implemented well at all - and was completely unneeded in the first place.
Thankfully, due to the open nature of Android, the interface can be easily modifiable and changeable to adapt to fit your needs - for example, as of quickly after getting my phone, I started using 'Go! Launcher Ex', an application on the Android market that changes your loader to a community developed one which feels much smoother and much more slick. With Go Launcher, and presumably the default Android interface if you can be bothered to root the phone, the phone runs like a dream. It runs well with the default interface, don't get me wrong, but it could be far better.
However, the hardware that may be considered a little tame has put some limitations to the phone that may not have been experienced by the higher end phones. The Samsung Galaxy Ace doesn't actually have any Adobe Flash capability, will never be receiving an update to Android 4 ICS (you can upgrade it yourself, but unofficially) and it will not play certain Apps - most annoyingly those made in the software Unity. The limitation of RAM sometimes means you'll have to close background applications, but that's hardly a problem.
However, as a phone, it does all that I need it to, and relatively quickly too. The phone takes about thirty seconds to get to a working state and about fifty seconds to be totally smooth from pushing the button, and that is a fine amount of time by me.
As I've said already, Android allows for altering your loader, and so this section isn't incredibly important to everyone, but I felt the need to include it anyway.
Samsung's proprietary 'Touchwiz' UI is incredibly bad. It looks bad, it feels unresponsive and it's just completely unnecessary in every way. It would've been much easier if Samsung had just stuck the default version of the Android OS onto the device, instead of faffing about trying to get the interface from their inferior smartphones prior to their use of the Android OS onto Android.
However, once you've got a custom loader, and there are a few to choose from and are all incredibly easy to install, you're good to go. Every Android feature is there and easily accessible, and the rest of Android is practically untouched by Samsung, so I can't say anything bad about that.
However, it's generally thought that 'Touchwiz' is pretty bad, but then again, it's better than the HTC based loader.
The screen isn't the most high resolution arrangement of pixels in the box, but for half of the price of an Galaxy Nexus or iPhone, what did you expect? The important thing about the screens on these phones is that they are going to be used for reading texts and internet browsing, and therefore being able to read text easily on them is a major priority.
Here, they appear to have focused on the priority. The screen is bright, and the resolution is high enough to read the text on screen easily. Extremely large blocks of text on the screen, especially at smaller font sizes may prove challenging to read, but it's nothing that you can't get over. The screen resolution of this phone is 320x480, roughly akin to an older generation iPhone or iPod Touch.
The screen also apparently has Gorilla Glass, but upon removing my screen protector, it took only a day to get a tiny scratch on the screen. Turns out that Gorilla Glass is still susceptible to the same dangers as normal glass, but less so as it's a type of plastic. As such, anything you'd expect to cause scratching on plastic will still cause scratching on Gorilla Glass. It's a helpful preventative, but nothing to go bananas over (see my pun?)
Android does come with a built in tutorial on how to use your phone, and the manual that comes with the phone is extensive enough to get yourself up and running. Android isn't a particularly hard operating system to use, and anyone with even the lowest level of contact with smartphones will be able to use this phone without any problems. The manual doesn't explain everything though, and if you haven't updated your phone since the early Nokia phones you may find yourself having issues working out how everything works.
However, most of the apps have their own instructions, and there is a system tutorial in the Settings of the Android OS, so it should be more than fine for most everybody to use, and without hassle.
==Extensiveness of Apps==
Apps are an increasingly popular reason to get a smartphone. These can range from being able to play Pictionary with your friends over the internet the being able to access social networking sites like Facebook and chat services like Skype from your phone with no problems whatsoever.
However, not all of the apps are fantastic - for the most part they are, but the Facebook app isn't all that great at all, for example. It kills battery life and there's no way of stopping it from incesently nagging you about your notifications short of rebooting the phone. It's an infuriating development, but one that is easily avoided by not installing the app. The Android Task Manager needs more of a sure fire way of stopping these apps though.
Apart from that, the app selection on Android is arguably more extensive than the Apple App Store even, and for that an Android phone is a great choice - even if you don't pick this one.
On average, my battery lasts between three and five days, using a battery saving app called 'Juice Defender' that turns on and off services that are and are not required for the current time of use. Without, it'd probably be a day or so less, so not a massive improvement - but an improvement nonetheless.
For the most part, the battery life is staggeringly good. However, there is one downfall. Using the phones networking (so 3G, GPRS and so on) drastically reduces battery life by many percent. This is true of all phones, but particularly noticeable here - it's bad to a point that I have to switch it off because on some occasions it wouldn't last overnight with it on. However, it's fine to have it on for short bursts during car journeys or when you really need to look something up and the like.
Also applications that use a lot of CPU, like the Facebook application (at time of writing) may also reduce battery life substantially, along with running many applications at once.
This is a good phone, and it does all that I want of it. Sure, not being able to update the Android on the phone to the latest version is a bit of a bummer, as well as not having Flash support, but when it comes down to it - when will you really be using that on your phone. It does exactly what it says on the tin, and a little bit more. It's well made, documented, and the claims that Gorilla Glass is scratch resistant are a bit on the borderline but it's a great phone despite all tiny niggles.
I give the Samsung Galaxy Ace a four out of five.
The Seagate Barracuda 500GB is a 7200RPM hard drive with five hundred theoretical gigabytes of storage space - the drive also has 16MB of cache. The disk uses SATA, has S.M.A.R.T sensors and is 3.5" in size.
The disk is amongst the faster hard drives, with the capability to go up to 7200RPM - pretty much the fastest hard drive speed for consumer hard drives. You can go higher, but it's uncommon. The hard drive also has 16MB cache, which is used to 'store' regularly used information from computer use for faster access, much in the same way as RAM is used. There are several hard drives with more cache than this drive, but there is rarely a noticeable benefit from anything more than 8MB, let alone 16MB.
In tests performed by benchmarking tool Passmark on my own computer, after a month of near constant usage the drive provided a 'sequential read' (this basically means when reading a single file, how fast can it go) speed of 90.6mb per second. This means that the hard drive could theoretically, on a single file, read 5,436mb in a minute. It's very unlikely that you'll be reading files at such a speed, and if you are, it's very unlikely to be on a regular basis. Amongst the only things I can think of are loading games (large packages stored on the RAM have to be transferred to system and graphics RAM) and watching uncompressed video (such as that captured with real-time, high-framerate recording softwares like FRAPS).
In other tests produced by the same application, it was revealed that the drive could theoretically write 78mb a second - 4,680mb in a minute. Again, it's very unlikely that you'll be writing at that speed. The only time I can think of that this will be used is copying really large files across hard drive partitions - or onto other hard drivers. If you batch process large images, you may also see some benefit here, and you may see a lot of benefit if you use software like FRAPS to record uncompressed high definition video. However, most people will not see the benefit of a hard drive being this speed - but it is nice to have.
However, somewhat more disappointing results in the 'Random Seek + Rewrite' test from Passmark, of just 2.86mb a second - 160.8mb a minute. This test is composed of the application reading many different files from across the hard disk, so if you're copying a large amount of files that total more than 160mb across hard disks or partitions, don't expect it to be done in less than a minute. Sadly, a somewhat disappointing result.
For the normal end user, these results probably don't mean a lot, and it'll more likely than not be more than efficient enough for the regular user. However, despite a single iffy result, the rest of the results compete with the highest tier of hard drives, beaten only by a few - including the more expensive SpinPoint F3. However, the performance of this drive is recommended by me, and I really doubt you'll need a massive amount more.
The drive should also not reach anywhere above 45C with proper case cooling.
==Size and Installation==
Hard disks are amongst the easiest pieces of kit to install when it comes to computers. You simply slide the hard drive into the 3.5mm drive bay (they're pretty obvious, and you'll know it when you see it), and then you plug the SATA cable (it's long, thin and looks like a mini 'L') from the power supply to the hard disk, and then a second SATA cable (included with the motherboard in new situations, should be purchased alongside hard disk if you don't already have them) to the slot on your motherboard. You then simply screw the hard drive to your case (the screws are included with the motherboard), ensure that the hard drive is tightly secured and then reboot your computer.
The hard drive is 3.5", and will fit in a 3.5" drive bay more than easily enough, but that is just expected for hard-drives. The drive appears to be well manufactured, and is tightly packed together, making for a sturdy hard drive. This is all pretty standard stuff for hard-disks, but you never know.
==Value for Money==
This drive is cheap. It's one of the cheapest 7200RPM drives that you can get. One of the reasons for this is because the reputation of the Seagate Barracuda's was destroyed early on in the brands history, as they released a group of hard drives very likely to fail on the user. They have since ironed out the kinks in their product, but the reputation still sits sternly with the brand.
As such, the pricing of the hard drives, regardless of size or speed, seems to be extremely low. While not good for the company, it is good for the end-user that can cast aside the prior reputation of the company and brand of hard drive, because it means that they'll get an incredibly cheap hard drive.
The hard drive is also available in OEM versions, which include no documentation, and are a fair bit cheaper.
Seagate has an application called 'Seatools'. This application runs on your hard drive and determines if there are any faults with the hard disk. If it detects any faults, you can ask it to automatically send a warranty request to Seagate, where they will most likely replace the hard-drive for you.
If you cannot for any reason boot into Windows, or cannot install the application, they also offer a form which you can fill out to act on the warranty of the drive. All you need to put in is the 'Serial Number' of the drive, the 'Model Number' of the drive and - if possible - the SeaTools result, proving that the drive is indeed malfunctioning.
The Seagate Barracuda 7200RPM 500GB is a great hard drive - it's reputation doesn't precede it, and it's running nicely in my computer as we speak, running well above what I was expecting from such a cheap drive. It is currently my primary drive, and I don't think I'll need to change it for a long while. This is a great drive, and deserves to be used, and trusted, regardless of previously dodgy brand name.
I give this Seagate Barracuda four out of five, because the 'Random Read + Rewrite' test could have been a fair bit better.
The CX430 is a Computer Power Supply Unit produced by Corsair. It theoretically puts out 430w and costs between £30-£40.
==Ease of Installation==
Power supply installation is pretty standard throughout all the brandings, and this model is no different to many of the others on the market. The power supply is designed to be put in a case that supports ATX, but may also fit in a variety of other cases, including some mATX cases.
The power supply is just the right size for most cases, and has four screws to screw it into the case. These keep it very secure and in place. From here, the cables are all tied up with several cable ties, simply unscrew it and plug it all in to use. The majority of the pins are more than long enough to reach even the farthest away components in your computer, so it's unlikely you'll run into any issues.
The only thing that I can imagine being an issue of any description is that the SATA cables are all on a single cable, and so while one of them has a distance that can extend across the case, the others have staggered shorter cables.
The power supply also accommodates case fans and a variety of high end graphics cards, with multiple 'Molex' cables and a PCI-E connector. Some of the cables are also sleeved to help ensure good cable management.
The Power Supply is 430w and rated for at least 80% efficiency on typical load. This means that when your computer is being used typically, it will use no more than 20% more than the computer actually needs (of course 100% would be better, but sadly it's impossible to have 100% efficiency in any energy transfer).
The Power Supply also has a dedicated +12V Rail. This basically means that the power supply is a lot more reliable, and is more likely to be able to power high end devices like dedicated graphics cards.
The Power Supply also features a 'universal AC input', which essentially means it can work all over the world without changing anything on the PSU (on lower-end PSUs you'd need to physically flip a switch to tell the power supply what voltage the plug is outputting, but here, it is done for you). It also conforms nicely with the majority of EU Power Saving standards, meaning that you can be sure you're getting efficiency for your machine.
The power supply also features protection against a lot of generic problems that could be caused by unseen circumstances or issues with the houses wiring. This includes protection from over-volting and over-powering, as well as under-voltage and short circuiting protection. This means that the PSU can protect both itself, and the components inside your PC (if an issue like a short circuit where to happen under a cheaper, 'no name' PSU, you might find yourself heading down dead computer lane without a paddle, potentially losing a lot of data).
For such a cheap PSU, the CX430 has a great range of features and additions that make you feel safer, and help provide a clean and consistent power supply.
The Corsair CX430 has a 120mm fan, and it is actually surprisingly quiet. It's more than adequate for cooling the power supply, but the power supply still remains what is probably the quietest component in my computer, which for many is a rare occurrence.
However, under a considerable amount of load (components drawing a lot of power), you can observe a problem that affects all power supplies, but particularly badly the CX-series ones. A high pitched squeal will be produced by the power supply - and if you're not wearing headphones, it's incredibly noticeable. The squeal isn't a sign of anything bad happening, and it is relatively normal for PSUs, but the Corsair's squeal is pretty loud in comparison to most - and it could quite easily get on your nerves.
However, the only time when I've found that it is so under load that it requires to start squealing to it's hearts content is when I was running both a graphics card and CPU stress test at the same time, and while playing Battlefield 3, and to be honest, they're both effectively the same thing.
Amps are an important part of a gaming system. The graphics card can sometimes require a substantial amount of amps from the power supply, and as such it's important to provide that. The Corsair CX430 does provide very good amperage on all of the rails. For those who aren't too interested in what the amps on the voltage rails are, you can safely skip over this section, especially if you're not running a dedicated graphics card, as you won't need to worry about this.
+3.3V = 20A
+5V = 20A
+12V = 28A
-12V = 0.8A
+5Vsb = 3A
The amperages here are more than enough to run the majority of systems where 450w is the recommended power supply. No guarantees, and you should definitely check things for yourself, but it should run higher end cards like the 6770 just fine.
Corsair are one of the best companies for manufacturer support around. They will take everything that is in warranty (the warranty that comes with the CX430 is 3 years), and replace it if there is even a shadow of a doubt that there is something wrong with it. They will not give you your money back though, only replace your PSU.
It doesn't even matter if you bought it from a separate retailer, they will replace any RMA request on their website so long as you can prove that the product is still within warranty.
Again, Corsair are one of the best companies for keeping your warranty safe.
Power Supplies are not a case of "I hope it doesn't die", they're a case of "I hope it doesn't die too soon". You see, all power supplies are destined to degrade. Their capacitors worsen, their wattages drop, their amperages fall, and eventually they'll just give up on you. There no avoiding that fact, and it's one of the reasons you need to buy a good one, to deter this from happening.
Thankfully, the CX430 is good at detering this. Their MTBF (Mean-time-before-failure) is 100,000 hours, which works out as more than ten years of constant use. Of course, this is only a mean time, and if you're unlucky you may find that your PSU gives up before then, but if that is the case, you'll most likely be able to apply for an RMA due to the superb Corsair warranty.
The longevity of the CX430 makes it worth it.
==Value for Money==
A vast majority of cheap-out power supplies cost more than the CX430, so you know you're getting a good deal when you're buying the power supply for around £35. It may seem like a lot, especially when there are other power supplies of higher wattages going for far less, but what you've got to remember is that those cheaper power supplies are more likely to fail, and when they fail, they're more likely to take all of your components with them.
This is why you need a good power supply, because otherwise, your other components have potential to go with them - and really, it's worth paying an extra £20 to protect what may be £400 worth of investment).
The CX430 is a fine power supply, delivering efficiency, good amperages on all of it's voltage rails and a level of reliability unrivaled for the price. There may be cheaper power supplies on the market, but you can bet they won't be anywhere near as reliable as this.
If the potential of a slight squeal when under the heaviest of loads isn't an issue for you, I would recommend you to buy this power supply - it's great.
I rate the CX430 a four out of five.
This Sapphire HD Radeon 6670 is a mid/high-range card manufactured by Sapphire. It has 2GB Dedicated Graphics Memory and shares some memory with the RAM in the event that it runs out.
==General Techy Information==
This card is a mid/high range card intended for some gaming and multimedia purposes - for a workstation it'd probably be overkill. It is the bridge between mid-range and high-end on the AMD graphics card series', and is particularly cheap - usually found for less than £60.
The graphics card has DirectX 11 support, allowing for advanced features such as tessellation and image-based reflections, however, it would probably require a higher-end card to use all of these features to their full potentials. The card has 480 unified shader cores, and has a 'Core Clock' speed of 800MHz. The graphics memory also has a speed of 800MHz (the clocks don't mean an awful lot to regular users, but those interested in overclocking may find it useful). The bus-width of the card is 128-bit, allowing for a fairly quick data transfer speed from and to the graphics card, but not as fast as cards with a larger bus.
The card is also based on a 40nm architecture (smaller is better), has 716 million transistors and supports OpenCL and DirectCompute 5.0. This card has no support for Nvidia exclusive features like CUDA or PhysX.
==Ease of Installation==
The 6670, and in fact graphics cards in general, are extremely easy to install. This graphics card requires one PCI-E slot running at x16 (most recent desktop motherboards have one of these slots, it's a long slot (and usually blue), with a pullable 'release tab'. Google will provide some lovely images and explanation on the matter if you're at all unsure.
This graphics card simply slots in, and since the card operates at under 65w, it can be powered entirely by the motherboard, so no additional power connectors required. Simply screw it into your case with the provided screws and install the drivers off of the internet (or the included drivers on CD if you don't have access to the internet, but the CD drivers are usually out of date), and hey presto, you're done.
The instructions included are more than adequate, and it's likely that your motherboard will also come with a guide on how to install a PCI-E device.
The performance is an extremely important part of a graphics card, especially for gamers and those that use many graphically intensive applications, and even home users who just want a smooth experience on Windows watching movies and the like. You'll be glad to hear that the performance in lovely here.
The card can easily decode 1080p video under practically every format when run in Media Player Classic (which uses GPU acceleration for the video rendering, making it a good judge of card) and rendered the web beautifully quickly when browsing with Firefox (again, it's GPU rendered, so a good benchmark). I saw no stutters nor slowdowns during either of these activities, not even with YouTube videos pushed up to the highest resolutions, making it perfect for home use.
Gaming is probably an important part for someone who is looking into buying a card like this, especially since there are far more cheaper alternatives available for home use, a purpose which doesn't need a particularly speedy graphics card anyway (if you're looking into basic home use, I'd recommend a 6450 or 6570 at time of writing).
So, how does the 6670 perform in-game. Below are a few of my benchmarks. The graphics card is in these tests is coupled with the i3 2120 and 4GB of dual channel RAM on an H61 LGA1155 motherboard. All tests span one minute.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 - 1280x768 resolution, max settings. No AA, No AO (60fps+ recommended)
Minimum framerate: 43
Maximum framerate: 93
Average framerate 72.217
Minimum framerate: 54
Maximum framerate: 93
Average framerate: 75.2
Modern Warfare 3 is a big one amongst gamers, but it is amongst the easiest AAA games around at the current moment in time, using the dated Quake engine, and allowing for extremely high framerates.
Battlefield 3 - 1280x768 resolution, max settings, No AA, No AO (30fps+ recommended)
Minimum framerate: 26
Maximum framerate: 50
Average framerate: 36.4
Minimum framerate: 21
Maximum framerate: 41
Average framerate: 29.583
Battlefield 3 is one of the most graphically intense games going, and is used as a benchmark for far higher end cards than this. For the price of the card, compared to the price of the recommended card to run this game (a 6950, clocking in at just over £200, yikes), the performance is actually staggeringly good - especially considering the fact that it's Ultra settings.
Counter Strike: Source - 1280x768, max settings, No AA (60fps+ recommended)
Minimum framerate: 193
Maximum framerate: 298 (engine limit is 300 here)
Average framerate: 260.550
Minimum framerate: 141
Maximum framerate: 286
Average framerate: 224.052
Counter Strike: Source is one of the most loved games in the gaming community, and by far one of the most played. If you're interested in Counter Strike, there's no way that you're going to be let down by this card. The framerates never drop below 100, and regularly hit the engine limit. A testament to Valve's game development skills and the power of the card.
The HD Radeon 6670 is pretty much the comfortable gaming experience for the majority of people. It topples the performance of gaming consoles, and with the right components, could even be made into a PC cheaper. This is the budget gamers choice.
You don't like burning your fingers. Or your case and motherboard for that matter. However, with the Sapphire 6670, this is unlikely to be an issue. The fan on it is pretty large, and with only 65w input, it doesn't have a whole lot of capability to produce masses of heat. Regardless, it pretty much balances out at 50c, which is far below the maximum operating temperature of graphics cards as a collective, which usually sit around the 100c mark.
The Sapphire 6670 is a cool solution to your gaming needs, and may even be one of the coolest running brands of graphics card.
This card doesn't require any additional PCI-E connectors from the power supply, only the base power from the motherboard, meaning that it cannot use more than 65w. This is good for computer efficiency, because it helps you keep your electricity bill down. It's unlikely that the graphics card will ever actually pull 65w, mind you. I don't have exact readings, but I reckon that it probably hangs around the low tens idle and the mid fifties under load.
The only downside to having only PCI-E slot power is there is not an awful lot of additional power to put into overclocking, which may leave some people disappointed. There should be enough headroom for some overclocking though, I should think.
==Value for Money==
This card was cheap. I got it for £50, and it has proved itself to be the exact gaming beast that I wanted in my machine. While waiting for it to come, I was wondering if I had made the right decision, but now that it's here and I'm using it, I realise that this was all I needed, and it's a fabulous card for the price. So why pay more?
I wholeheartedly recommend this card to anyone on a tight computer budget.
This is pretty much the peak of the mid-range card. You don't get more performance for lower-profile cards, and you especially don't get more performance at the price that the 6670 is offered at. This is a phenomenal deal, and is exactly where I would place the budget gaming deal.
This is a card for everything. It is well worth the purchase.
I award the Sapphire HD Radeon 6670 a 5/5.
The 'Core i3 2120' is a computer CPU produced by Intel. It runs on the LGA1155 socket (otherwise known as the 'Sandy Bridge' socket), runs at 3.3GHz and is geared more towards the budget market than the high-price market.
==Ease of Installation==
Happily, the Intel Core i3 - and for that matter any of the Sandy Bridge processors, is very easy to fit into the motherboard. For the most part, many agree (including myself) that inserting this CPU into the motherboard was the easiest part of their build.
To insert the CPU into the motherboard, you simply remove a cap on the motherboard, allowing the slot to open up (removing the retraction arm first, which helps keep whatever's in the CPU socket in the CPU socket) then you place the CPU onto it, pins facing downwards. You then pull the retraction arm down over the socket, sealing the CPU in place. After this, you fit either the included heatsink or custom heatsink on top of the CPU. This is done by hovering the heatsink over the four holes and securing the heatsink to the motherboard and CPU by turning four knobs clockwise.
From here, the installation is actually complete, making for one of the easiest CPU installations I have ever attempted. If this made you sound even a tiny bit worried, you needn't be, since most motherboards come with a picture-based guide on how to insert your CPU. Some even come with a video, making it even easier to fit!
While the Intel Core i3 2120 is amongst the 'budget' end of the Intel CPU market, it still delivers a fair bit of 'oomph' for the price-tag. I've been using my one for fairly high-end gaming, and for a fairly large amount of CPU heavy applications, such as 3D Modelling software and several game development engines.
--Cores and Threads--
The Intel Core i3 2120 has two physical cores, and these use a technology called 'hyperthreading', which basically means that they double up into four 'logical' cores, allowing the processor to work more like a quad core than a dual core. This is a useful feature for applications which are multithreaded (this means they can use multiple 'threads' for different operations within the program), as it means that performance is pretty drastically increased.
As for the usages of the CPU, a particularly impressive one has been gaming - even in the majority of CPU-dependant games, the CPU has not actually been the limiting factor, it has nearly always been my graphics card, acting as such a bottleneck that it usually leaves about 50% of my CPU free to do other things in the background while still running the game at an incredibly speedy framerate (usually around 60fps, which is as fast as my monitor can display properly). For gaming I think that the i3 2120 is a pretty future-proof budget option, especially since the majority of games are not utilizing it now, leaving some leeway for the future.
--'CPU Intensive' Applications--
For the heavier applications, such as 3D Modelling and Game Development, the whole CPU was utilised. Each of these applications regularly had the CPU running at 100%. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the performance of this CPU in 3D Modelling software and other such things, as it produces incredibly quick results, especially when compared against my previous main development machine, a Core 2 Duo E6600 @ 2.2GHz, which had frankly began to degrade and become unusable for high-impact needs. For the price, the heavier applications around were performing more than acceptably for a CPU of this calibre.
They were performing extraordinarily.
If we dump the idea of 'real-world' benchmarks and go to the world of strictly performance benchmarks, ranking tiny increments of performance through varied and strenuous test, we can see that on a Passmark benchmark (Passmark is a benchmark specifically designed to rank computer components), that the i3 2120 receives a score of '4,193', which is relatively high, especially for a budget CPU.
Compared to the nearest priced AMD CPU, the 'AMD Phenom II x4 965', it performs roughly equally (the AMD Phenom receives a score of '4,199', only six points higher than the i3), but for a lower price (across the vast majority of retailers, the i3 2120 ranges from minutely to massively cheaper, increasing it's value for money).
It also beats the majority of the AMD FX series of CPUs, which were released as a direct competitor (albeit a more expensive one) to the Sandy Bridge CPUs in general.
Power Consumption is one of the things on every-ones mind, right? I mean, why wouldn't it be, power is expensive, and the more power you use, the more is added onto your electricity bill at the end of the month, and nobody wants that to be any higher than it needs to be, so if you regularly use a computer for long periods of time, it makes sense that power consumption will make masses of difference to you.
Luckily, this is pretty much THE area where Intel beats the AMD competitor. The main priced AMD competitor (the aforementioned AMD Phenom II x4 965) can use up to a whopping 125W of power on the CPU alone. The i3 2120 should use up to 65w. Assuming you've got the CPUs maxed out at all times, that's a 48% reduction in power usage by using the i3. However, if you're not using the CPU maxed out the whole time, surely the power usage will go down?
Correct! The power usage does go down when not in use. I've built and used both the i3 2120 and the AMD Phenom II x4 before, and the Phenom usually uses about 65w near idle, which is a lot compared to the i3 2120, which is using a whole 7w as I type this review. This is a massive ~90% reduction in power usage by using the i3, and something that nearly every user should take into direct consideration when purchasing a new CPU.
When power's involved. Intel comes out on top.
The Intel-bundled heatsinks and processor fans are generally known for being a bit on the junky side, but with the i3 2120, the stock cooler is more than enough. Of course, if you were using - say - an i5, it would probably be time to buy a third party cooler, because they are chips that are so much faster, and work much harder than the i3's, which are coincidentally fine under stock cooling.
With the pre-applied thermal paste on the heatsink, the processor rarely reaches over 50c under stress, where the maximum temperature for the processor is 69.1c, leaving plenty of headroom even when performing the most demanding of tasks (even Prime95 doesn't yield temperate results).
These tests were conducted in a Novatech Prowler Mid-tower case with two accompanying case fans, these additional fans may have affected the outcome of this test slightly.
==The Integrated Graphics==
The Integrated Graphics in the i3 2120 are Intel HD 2000 series graphics. They are not all that accustomed to gaming, but can provide playable gameplay (30fps) on DiRT 2 at medium settings, and can also decode 1080p video without any slowdown, making it ideal for simple home use.
The integrated graphics are not required to be used, and are turned off automatically (disabling all of the video outputs on the board) with the presence of a discrete video card. If you plan to do any serious gaming, a discreet video card is recommended, as the Intel HD graphics, while good, can't really hold their own against even a 'AMD HD Radeon 6570', a ~£45 budget card.
==Value for Money==
I purchased my Intel Core i3 2120 for £89.99, and I can tell you that for the price, there is practically no competitor that could possibly deliver the same level of performance, with the AMD Phenom equivalent performance sitting at about £130 on the majority of websites.
The processor is also pretty future proof, and I doubt it will need replacing any time soon, but even if it does, the architecture (LGA1155) is compatible with the upcoming Ivy Bridge processors, so if you find that the i3 is not fast enough for your needs, you can replace it with a faster i3 processor that comes with the Ivy Bridge architecture, or an Ivy Bridge i5 - that is if you really need a step up.
I really doubt you'll need to upgrade this processor any time soon though. I expect it'll be good for gaming, multitasking and general use for a good few years to come.
The Intel Core i3 2120 is a super-worthy processor, especially for the incredibly cheap price that you can usually find it for. It's a cool-running chip, that is capable of a fairly high clock speed and some phenomenally high-end things, including gaming and 3D editing without slowdown. This is a processor that is fine in both general home-use situations, and even some of the most demanding of applications.
This is a seriously good processor for the price. I highly recommend it, even if the integrated graphics aren't the greatest.
I give this processor four out of five!
The Core 2 Duo E6600 is a dual core computer processor, intended for a 1066 socket motherboard.
==Fitting the processor==
The Core 2 Duo is relatively nice board to fit, at least on the motherboards I have tested it on. It slots in nice and easily, and the heatsink is rather easily attached. However, although it sounds positive - it's as much as I'd expect from a consumer processor, especially once made with the intentions of being built by the consumer.
There were no particularly noteable difficulties in placing the processor on the board, which is always a positive, especially for those building their first PC and those who are deeply worried they'll break something (you won't, especially if you follow proper instructions).
This is a dual core processor, and a particularly expensive one at that, and you'd expect for the price that it has been set, that it'd outperform most of its nearest competitors. The good part is that it does, the bad part is that it doesn't outperform the Phenom II x4 955, an AMD processor of the same price and double the cores, and a faster clock speed.
It's not ideal to have a processor worth less in terms of performance over another processor, but in some cases the user might prefer the brand name of Intel over AMD, simply because they will have heard more of it.
The processor has a four megabyte L2 cache, which by today's term is hardly top of the line, with the majority of processors, even those cheaper than this once having a four to eight megabyte L3 cache. The L3 cache would deliver far better performance, but price is king, and the expense you have to pay to invest in Intel processors will L3 cache is a large amount more than this Core 2 Duo processor.
The majority of desktop applications, such as Word, Powerpoint and web browsing appear to be fine with this CPU, and it wasn't causing any slow-down. In gaming tests, I placed an overpowered graphics card in the computer and played on highly CPU intensive but lowly GPU intensive settings to ensure that the CPU was the bottleneck. The majority of games worked fine, mostly playing at top end of settings. However, very CPU intensive games like Battlefield (particularly 3) ran into issues with framerate at times, nothing horribly bad though. However, poorly optimized Grand Theft Auto IV struggled along like a snail.
Specialist performance ranged in decency - the Photoshop tests had very few issues, even with large amounts of layers and effects being applied. The Vegas test was also pretty good, with video editing in application being handled with considerable ease, and the rendering being pretty speedy too - for what it was at least. The 3D animation tests, conducted on 3D Studio Max, were the least decent - although by no means awful. However, it's obvious by the price that this was not the obvious choice for 3D rendering enthusiasts.
The power consumption for the E6600 should be, at maximum, 65W. A number that, by all my accounts, is particularly correct. It's very power efficient, giving pretty decent performance at particularly low wattage. This is good for your electricity bill, and it means that you can save money buying a less powerful power supply. This makes the processor especially good for a budget build.
However, the processor shouldn't be used with a very cheap, unbranded power supply, not because it won't support the processor, but because if the power supply is to fail, it'll take down all the other components with it (in many cases), therefore it is never advisable.
As an estimate, the Core 2 Duo E6600 should work fine on a 350W power supply, although if you possibly can I'd go higher, if only to reduce the risk of needing an upgrade next time you change a component, due to increased power draw.
==Is it a furnace?==
Thankfully no. The maximum temperature that the E6600 can withstand is 60C, but it rarely even begins to touch on temperatures of that height. It runs pretty cool with stock cooling, even under particularly high levels of processor strain.
I'm told that on the stock cooling, it's actually a pretty good overclocker - that is if your motherboard actually supports processor overclocking, mine doesn't - so that'll just have to remain a grey area in my review. My friends that have overclocked this processor say that it can safely reach near 3GHz, an improvement on 0.6GHz upon the stock clocks.
However, if you intend on overclocking, I'd really recommend that you go with one of the Sandy Bridge processors, particularly the i5 2500K. I hear nothing but good things from overclockers with that processor, more so even than me and my i7 920, a pre-Sandy Bridge i7 processor.
==The Technical Stuff==
The Core 2 Duo E6600 is a dual core processor, it is not hyperthreaded (which is the act of splitting up processor cores to produce different 'threads', so that processes can work as if there are four cores on the processor, which is can cause an improvement for some users). It uses a 65 nanometre architecture (it's larger than a lot of processors architectures) and has an FSB Speed of 1066MHz.
It should not, in any circumstances, overheat beyond 60.1C, and if it does, it requires to be cleaned out urgently. It does not support high-tech Intel features like 'Intel Turbo Boost', but it does at least support 64-bit operating systems, as well as 32-bit operating systems. It will not, however, work with an ARM-based operating system (no surprises there). It also does feature 'Intel Speed Step', for increased overclocking support.
The manual is pretty nice with the E6600, as it is with practically any Intel CPU. It includes many languages, allowing multi-lingual computer builders to build in their preferred language, as well as diagrams showing you how to fit the processor into your motherboard, just to help you ensure that you're OK with the installation.
The manual also features a variety of warnings and what you've got to do to fit the CPU successfully, which is nice, especially considering that it is an expensive piece of kit, and any sane person who is doing this for the first time will want to know exactly how to fit it to prevent breaking anything. The good thing is that the processor is amazingly easy to fit, and the manual only serves to make it easier, putting even the most inexperienced builder at ease.
This is the breakdown of the hardware. It's where I show you what the processor is good for, and score it out of ten.
General Use: The processor is pretty good for general use, it holds up on simple everyday tasks like word processing, publications and web browsing just fine - making it a perfect processor for a large portion of the population.
Gaming Use: Newer games will struggle, such as Battlefield 3 and GTA IV due to the lack of cores, especially since the Xbox 360 has three cores, and that's what a lot of games use and optimization between platforms is generally quite poor. You should try looking for a hyperthreaded dual core like the Sandy Bridge i3 or a physical quad core like the Phenom II X4 955 at least if you're considering any particularly strenuous game.
Enthusiast Use: Photoshopping is fine, as is video editing. There is nothing wrong with any of that, apart from perhaps the slightly slow rendering times, but that's not too much of an issue. For 3D rendering, this is not the best processor. It's a tad slower to render, but that's not much of an issue, but any serious 3D editor will use a better processor.
The E6600 is a pretty good processor, but it's not the best for enthusiast or gaming use. However, if you just need something cheap for your computer, perhaps for your mother or fathers computer, than this is a pretty obvious choice, especially since it won't punch your electricity bill straight through the nose.
Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne is a third person action game created and published by Rockstar Games. It is rated 18+.
You're Max Payne, your wife and child were murdered by junkies in the night before you got home from your job at the NYPD. You've got nothing left apart from your job, and you feel the need to tell everyone about it in an extremely melodramatic fashion.
Max Payne 2 pits you as everyone's favourite slightly melodramatic and mildly depressing cop in yet another crime fighting adventure, filled with death, destruction - thrills and unexpected turns. However, I shall go no further into the storyline than that, and I shall allow you to discover that for yourself.
The actual gameplay of Max Payne is pretty consistent. Jump through the air in slow motion, shoot things in the face. It's a formula that Rockstar had realised they have done right in the first Max Payne, and they just stuck with it for the second. A lot of the gameplay is shrouded in noir and a very dark, gritty, movie-like atmosphere. Max Payne might as well be a particularly dark cop movie (and I'm not talking about the movie adaption of the game, which had nothing to do with the game apart from the main character and was an absolute disgrace).
There are also some puzzle elements, although these are pretty much always 'hidden object' style things, and you've just got to find them to progress - yes, you guessed it, this gets extremely infuriating very quickly, to such a point that you wish the developers would stop being so incredibly sadistic with their playing style and just let you get on with what the game does best, letting you shoot people in the face, while shouting, in slow motion.
Max Payne 2 was released many years ago now, as such, the graphics are tiring a tad - but due to the sheer level of graphical options included at release, it still looks pretty passable today, with extensive use of pixel shaders, high resolution textures and graphics heavy cinematic effects ready to take on a modern day challenger, especially not-so-good-looking games like Call of Duty.
The best part? It's well scaleable, that's right, it looks great on highest settings, but you can play it on your netbook if you really want to, albeit with reduced settings. It's a good thing the difference between high, medium and low aren't so massive, but the framerate jumps are. With graphics approaching photorealism, upping the graphical settings can only add so much, so eventually the highest settings are only adding the most subtle of additions to the game, because that's all that's left.
The gravelly voice over of Max in the game is amazing as always, and with the games new sequel coming out, Max Payne 3, I'm wondering how they're going to recreate the voiceover with the new voiceover they hired. I'm not sure if the mildly depressive rants of this Max Payne will ever be paralleled. We'll see though.
The gunshots and supporting characters are also pretty good, however some of the sounds are a bit lower in actual bitrate because they had to keep the games size down - seen as this was probably released in the days of using CDs for game storage, instead of DVDs.
Also, any avid Max Payne player will tell you how the music of the game has stuck in their mind forever, and I can confirm that it does that. Max Payne has one of the most amazing soundtracks ever, at least in my book.
==Value for Money==
Max Payne was released a long time ago now, and the asking price has lowered with its age, the price of the games are still unusually high on retail digital distribution platforms like Steam, but physical retail copies of the game can be picked up for a few pounds these days, not a bad deal in the slightest.
There are, however, pretty frequent Steam deals where the game is reduced to a few pounds, and you also get the convience of being able to download the game to your computer wherever you go, if that matters to you.
The game apparently takes most people around ten hours to complete, but because I'm so bad at it, it was more like twenty for me.
Max Payne 2 is most certainly not a children's game. It features pretty intense violence, language, sexual content and frightening scenes. Here's a run down
It's a noir-styled cop game, of course there's going to be some high octane violence. The violence in this game generally involves diving through the air and shooting at people with a variety of weapons. When bullets impact, there is usually a splash of blood, a ragdolling effect and a blood stain on the wall or floor behind the character. It's not as gory as some games, but it's still pretty bloody.
Melee weapons are also used, but to a lesser effect, there is no physical damage that can be noted from hitting a character with a melee weapon, at least not noticeably.
There are also flash back scenes and cutscenes were the violence is more heavily emphasised on, and is also a tad stronger, so look out for those scenes. There is generally a lot of blood in these scenes.
Max Payne 2 also contains some surgical imagery, but there is no detail.
Max Payne 2 has a variety of language, from the mildest terms to stronger terms. This includes anything from 'damn' and 'hell' to 'sh*t' and 'f**k'. There are also apparently some racist terms uttered in the game, although I didn't notice them specifically.
There is a scene in the game where Max and a female character have sex, but it's present in comic book style and without any significant detail. There is a non-comic book scene of this, but the characters are fully clothed and there is no detail.
Some of Max's nightmares may be deemed frightening by younger children, but if you look past the mildly trippy exterior, you'll realise that it's actually to show that Max's mind is messed up, and to show is conflicting emotions.
Any child aged 16+ should really be OK with this, but societies prudish view on Sexual Content earned the game the official 18+ rating. Remember every child is different, and some may be able to play from an earlier or later age.
Max Payne is your favourite cop, and he even narrates in a pseudo-saddening voice. Why do you not own this game yet? It's so cheap, and it offers so much. A true gaming classic, pick it up the next chance you get. I give Max Payne 2 a 4/5.
Pentium III 1.0 GHz CPU,
256 MB RAM,
32 MB video card RAM,
STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl is an action-RPG by GSC Software, and published by THQ. It is rated 16+.
STALKER is set in the year 2012, the radioactive zone around the destroyed Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant has exploded, increasing the range of radiation dramatically.
This high level of radiation has caused many occurrences inside the now extended zone. These occurrences include radioactive artefacts, so valuable and with such powers that many crave them - however, the zone has more deadly effects - many animals and humans in the area were horribly mutated, animals grew extra legs and became aggressive, humans attempting to prevent any further radioactive damage crawl around on all fours, gasmasks welded to faces by the sheer heat of the blast.
However, the benefits of the zone - the radioactive artefacts attract many, who hunt for them in search of riches. These men who come to the zones call themselves Stalkers. However, also in the zone are some militaristic rules, accompanied by patrols and tight regulation - these patrols generally attack Stalkers, and they just don't get along. Some men don't even want to be involved, and just want a place to live, instead of remaining homeless.
Your character, who remains unnamed, has amnesia (I love clichés). He doesn't remember a thing about who he is, what he used to do - or what he enjoys. He knows only one thing, desperate and unable to remember anything, he knows he must find a Stalker that goes by the name of Strelok, and kill him.
STALKER is played as a first person shooter with rather heavy RPG elements. You follow many major quest-lines, as well as a variety of side-quests in order to convince the people of the zone to tell you where to find Strelok. These questing situations range from anything from intensely easy to excruciatingly hard.
The shooting, which does make up a large portion of the game, despite not being the main focus, is actually pretty good. Guns feel weighty, and they feel precious, especially with the severe lack of ammo that plagues the zone. The only issue that I had with the shooting is that the guns feel like they should do fairly substantial damage, although in practise, especially earlier in the game, many of them do not - with beefy shotguns taking three to four shots to down a man on occasion. It's not a fault of the game, but a mere inaccuracy - it's obvious the developers did this with the intent of challenging the player and giving a sense of progression as they go through the game.
As for the RPG-ing part, it's good - it's not infuriating as many RPG games are, heck, it's even enjoyable and intriguing at times. The world of STALKER is genuinely interesting, and it (at least for me) makes you ask questions about how everything came to be. How did that person get killed? Should I be worried? Am I somewhere I shouldn't be?
Also, the level of detail built into the game world is phenomenol - it makes sure to make the game as believable as it possibly can be - it even has a PDA-like device (basically a wrist-held smartphone) that gives you a map of the area, as well as definitions and descriptions of the many anomalies, creatures and factions that you will meet throughout the game. It does a really, really good job of explaining everything to you, in a friendly, but not overprotective manner.
The main gameplay focus of STALKER is realism and survival - there are several features in STALKER that you probably won't see in any other game. These include a system where you can bleed to death if you're not careful - a hunger system and a system that determines the possibility of getting radiation sickness - however, this is not an issue because the game is very good at explaining this to you, and makes it difficult, without being incredibly daunting.
STALKER is a game released in 2007 and the graphics have aged a bit since then, sadly. There are still many features that weren't commonplace in games on release, but compared to many of the graphical features that we can achieve today, particularly on the PC, which remains the only platform you can buy STALKER for - it looks pretty dismal.
The graphics engine does, however, support multiple dynamic lights, allowing for dynamic shadows to be created from gunfire, which adds another layer of atmosphere to the game - in calmer moments as well as gunfights, such as when the Stalkers are around a fire, strumming their guitars and singing in Russian, their shadows are presented in a stretched, long glow behind them.
There are also several mods that actually improve the graphics for the Stalker games, and they do make it look particularly beautiful, or so I've heard - I haven't tried using mods with Stalker because I am very happy with the way it is at the moment, but many people will enjoy using mods like Oblivion Lost to make their graphical experience more enjoyable.
I have already mentioned about the games gun sounds sounding very triumphant and rough, and that's a good thing, even if the ingame effect doesn't really correspond very well to the sound. However, a lot of the voice acting in STALKER is a fair bit dodgy. What you've got to remember is that the studio that makes STALKER is actually a Russian studio - they may not actually have native English speakers on hand, and may have to translate their own writing, meaning that a lot of the writing and speech isn't perfect. You can, however, download a much better Russian sound pack, which, while retaining the English subtitles, changes the characters voices to the much better sounding Russian version.
I'm not critiscing their voice acting for what it is - I'm critising it in comparison to what many gamers have come to expect from the voice acting in games - especially in very story driven games and genres like this one and the role playing game genre as a whole - especially since poor voice acting can easily break immersion.
However, the music in the game is fantastically subtle, and you only hear it on occasion, with the strum of a fellow Stalkers guitar echoing through the wasteland. It can be surprisingly sombre and atmospheric.
Value for Money / Longevity
STALKER is especially cheap now, so cheap that you shouldn't even be questioning if it's worth your money - it is worth your money, go and buy it right now if you're an RPG fan - if you're not, definitely consider it. Many people say that the game is terrifying, which may put you off if you're not the greatest fan of horror, but it's not all frightening, it's just pockets of tension in an almightily beautiful experience.
Try STALKER at least, especially as the £5 that you can get it for. It should last you over fifty hours at the very least.
STALKER isn't suitable for children, so here's a rundown of the content so that you can make an informed decision on if your child should be playing
First and foremost violence - it's the biggest issue in STALKER by far, there are a fair few gunfights, but these aren't too bad, and they show minimal blood and injury at best. There are occasions when small splashes of blood remain on the walls and floors, and the bodies ragdoll, allowing you to loot them for their possessions after their death. You cannot mutilate people, alive or dead.
There are also some sequences where you are required to kill some animals, people who find this to be against their ideas may find these scenes disturbing and disrespectful, especially since they're compulsory to continue with the game. There is no emphasis on the pain of the animal, and the animals are fictional, but they closely resemble dogs and boars. There are minimal blood effects.
There are also some stronger sequences, such as when the game is showcasing what the anomalies can do to you if you get too near them - a boar like creature flies into the air in front of you, begins to suck itself into its core, rotates at an alarming pace and explodes. This sequence is very brief and is only played out once in the entire game.
Some mild to strong language is used throughout the game, although it is not especially frequent. There are some uses of "f**k" in the Russian version of the audio (in Russian, of course), but I haven't seen any translated profanities in the English version, at least not surpassing the mild ones like "damn" and "hell".
There are some frightening scenes in STALKER. Particularly in the Chernobyl power plant itself, where the actual environment is very claustrophobic and frightening to be in, especially with the ambient noises of creatures lurking in the dark. For the most part, it's because you're so immersed in your character, and because you realise that your character is dead if anything jumps out because you have low health and two remaining bullets.
Most of the horror scenes are limited to jump scenes, claustrophobic environments and scary noises, although for the most part, these scenes are not particularly prolonged. They are necessary to carry on with the game though. The game never uses 'shock' horror, such as gory images to scare the player - at least not in my experience.
The level of horror in STALKER doesn't really surpass the level of a '15' or 'PG-13' rated horror movie, as a point of reference.
STALKER is a brilliant game, and if you can play it but choose not to - you are missing out. Understandably, a lot of these elements are things that not all users want to experience, but I reckon that a child aged 13 should really be able to play this - 15 at the latest.
The graphics may be wearying and showing their age, but that doesn't affect the core gameplay experience, STALKER is still a brilliant game, and it should be treated as such. A must have for all RPG fans. I give STALKER a 5/5.
Windows 2000 SP4 or above
Intel Pentium 4 2 GHz or AMD Athlon XP 2200+
Geforce FX 5700 or ATi Radeon 9600
10GB Hard Disk Space
Copied from my Ciao account of the same name.
==The HP G60 laptop==
The HP G60 is a 'multimedia' laptop, meaning that it should be suited to playing movies, music and providing entertainment, as well as to some extent, playing video games.
It's specification is as follows:
AMD Athlon 64 Dual Core at 2.0GHz
2GB DDR3 RAM
Nvidia 8200M G, 512mb.
LightScribe CD/DVD Drive.
Right, let's get on to how it performs, shall we?
The HP G60 comes with Windows Vista Home Premium from stock. On Vista Home Premium, it worked satisfactorily, but due to the instability of the newly released operating system, and the fact that Vista wasn't the sleekest operating system to work with in the first place, meant that some major system operations did stutter and stammer along. This includes things as simple as software boot times to things as advanced as video transcoding.
Switch to Windows XP or Windows 7, and these issues are less of a problem, as the operating system uses the resources more wisely. The waiting time for Windows 7 Home Premium to boot up something simple, such as the 'My Computer' dialog, is about 3-5 seconds. This is not the fastest laptop, not by a long shot, but it is comparably higher than average, at least over some of the other laptops of the time.
Windows Aero is another feature of Windows that is resource intensive. This is where the operating system uses a variety of tasty graphics card tricks such as Pixel and Vertex Shaders to make the operating system have a more 'glassy' feel to it. Of course, this does have an impact on performance, and the entry level card inside the HP G60 doesn't handle the effects very well. It's a shame, but the Windows performance is lacking, but for the price, it is still usable.
Right, when I say 'Web performance', I mean how well it'll generally get along with internet applications such as YouTube.
YouTube is a good online application, and the HP G60 doesn't actually handle it too badly. At the default 360p settings, the videos load and run at a relatively good framerate (by this I mean the amount of frames shown in a second - as a benchmark, television shows generally record at a framerate of 29.97), and by 'a good framerate', I mean 30fps, which is generally what YouTube videos are recorded at - meaning that any lag you'll experience is pretty minimal.
However, notch the resolution up to the higher end such as 720p (1280x720) or 1080p (1920x1080) and the onboard card really begins to struggle in the rendering, and it can make a lot of noise because the fan is desperately trying to stop it overheating, or you can experience freezing and stuttering because the chip is just not fast enough, particularly when not plugged in, as the components underclock (by this I mean, 'make less powerful') themselves when not plugged in to preserve battery life, which is good, but generally aggravating if you want to get equal performance no matter where you are.
Other, easier to run web applications like Facebook and its associated games (like FarmVille, CityVille and other such online applications) will run fine, pretty much without a doubt, as they do not require anything higher than what is average in terms of performance to run at a satisfactory level - the only time you can expect something to get a tad 'laggy' is when there's a lot happening on screen, or when the web-app is extraordinarily badly coded.
The web performance is satisfactory, but by no means excellent.
For some users, gaming, and the ability to game, is a massively important point - and for these users, the G60 is not the ideal laptop. The laptop contains a fairly low end AMD Dual Core, not really specified for gaming, even when it was new. It gets very hot under consistent strain, and fails to provide playable results in even mid-range CPU benchmark tests.
As for the graphics card, it is marginally better than your average laptop card, the Nvidia 8200M G, which outclasses an 'Intel HD X4500' by just a scrape, is able to play modest games on their lowest settings, although it is not expected to perform any better than 20-30fps, and don't expect the games to look very good at all.
The other issue with the HP G60 laptop, and in fact the entire Pavilion series of laptops in general, in regards to gaming is that once you have booted up the game, the temperatures will begin to creep up, until such a point as the laptop is overheating, and I have experienced the laptop actually shutting itself off because of the heat being too high. The temperature at which the laptop turns itself off is approximately 115®C. This is very hot indeed, especially for a laptop. Annoying, this prevents the laptop from playing the games for an extended period of time.
If you do plan to play in short bursts however, I have noted that Call of Duty 4 and similar specced games run fine on the laptop, although extremely unoptimized console ports like Saints Row 2 and Grand Theft Auto 4 struggle along at a pretty unbearable speed, sometimes failing to hit 10fps, making for an extremely choppy experience, that is not favoured, especially if you're gaming competitively or with intent to win.
==Cleaning the laptop==
Cleaning this laptop is a necessity, a must, because of how hot it gets. At first, the temperature rises may be somewhat bearable, but by such a point as having the laptop for over a year, the fans will have been clogged up considerably, and the temperatures will probably be creeping up into the triple digits in Celsius, making for a toasty, and extremely dangerous computing session.
The HP Pavilion series of laptops are known for their overheating, so I can safely say that it is not just the laptop that I have used that has these heat issues, but other, similar laptops also. Anyway, trying to actually get to the fans is an absolute nightmare, while my other laptop (A Novatech X16 HD) has three screws that need to be removed to get access to the whole motherboard and the full range of components, the G60 requires the whole laptop to be essentially dismantled before you get anywhere near the CPU fan, and there isn't a GPU fan in sight.
This cramped design is more than likely the reason for the notorious overheating problems that come bundled with this laptop, and the fact that the entire computer must be dismantled to get access to any kind of fan whatsoever, makes it a daunting task to clean it - especially since getting into the internals and putting it back again may prove problematic and take many hours.
This is the main reason that I do not recommend an HP G60 to anyone, especially home users that will have to pay an oversaturated fee to have the laptop cleaned, simply because the task is too daunting.
Let's move on to the good part of the laptop, shall we? The screen is brilliant and large, and on the highest brightness settings (although prone to overheating) it is bright, vibrant and great to look at, far surpassing many different laptop screens. However, the screen resolution, despite the fact that the screen is lovely, vibrant and good to look at, leaves a lot to be desired.
The native screen resolution of the HP G60 is 1366x768, which is relatively feeble considering the size of the screen itself - this means that you miss out on an otherwise far more defined computing experience, and it's a shame that HP gave a low-resolution screen as opposed to a high-resolution screen, and instead making it slightly smaller to reduce the price.
The speakers in the laptop are also considerably loud and clear, with a particular emphasis on the bass in audio. This makes watching movies a more 'cinematic' experience, although when listening to music, it can lead to the bass being completely overpowering, and it doesn't help if you want to use your own, separate, earphones that the heat that the laptop generates can actually damage the headphone and microphone jacks that come on the laptop to a point of them not working at all.
However, when the headphone jack does work, the audio chipset on the laptop leaves a lot to be desired, delivering comparatively low quality sound compared to some other laptops with similar aims, which is a shame, because I would have expected HP to be better than this at audio, especially seen as this series in particular is seen as a 'multimedia laptop'.
The HP G60 does come with a wide variety of peripherals, including the potential to plug an SD card into the laptop, which eliminates the need for another USB cable to come trailing out of your laptop. The included keyboard is large, and it feels great to use, allowing your fingers space to move around - although probably less than ideal for people with 'smaller' hands.
The trackpad that comes with the laptop is large, and it's smooth, it is also incredibly difficult to get grubby (unlike a lot of trackpads). With the correct drivers, it also has a physical feature where you can push a button and the trackpad will become inactive, allowing you to use your own mouse, if you were gaming, for example, allowing you to have a higher level of precision and ensuring that your aim is not thrown off by the slip of a hand.
It also comes with a multitude of USB slots, as well as a slot that allows the laptop to be plugged into an external monitor or television for larger viewing, or for gaming from a distance with a controller. The included slot is an HDMI, and the cable costs approximately £5.99 from most online retailers (price taken from eBuyer.co.uk).
A shame it has only a small harddrive, totalling only about 120GB, allowing for very little storage compared to similarly priced laptops, but hey, the more powerful-than-normal CPU and Graphics Chip had to have a knock on effect on the other parts, and the harddrive suffers most here.
==Value for Money==
The HP G60 is generally seen for less than £400, and for that price, the laptop is really not too bad, but it's not great either. The majority of laptops in a similar price range contain lower-speed components, but the sheer components in the G60 cause massive overheating problems, that are not ideal for any users in any situation, apart from perhaps enthusiasts that want a cheap laptop that they don't mind having to take apart and clean on occasion.
The laptop runs games much better than most in the price range, although this is still not very good at all, since the benchmark for gaming laptops is about £500, making building your own PC (from as low as £320, in some cases) a more viable option for gamers. This is a good multimedia laptop, it has all the bells and whistles, and delivers some respectable performance. It's just a shame that it has a massive potential to catch on fire while it does it, all the while having an incredibly small harddrive.
The HP G60 is exactly what it is advertised as - it's a multimedia laptop more powerful than a lot of the other laptops in a similar price-range, an excellent movie watching device and a semi-OK low-end gaming machine, but it is impossible to recommend to the average user due to the insanely high heat that the laptop generates, sometimes to the point of dramatically reducing the life-span of the laptop.
Sadly, regardless of the pretty good components in the laptop, the overheating makes it impossible to recommend, therefore I give the HP G60 laptop a 2/5.
This review was also posted on Ciao.co.uk under the same username.
DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION is a first-person action RPG set in the Year 2027 by EIDOS MONTREAL and published by SQUARE ENIX. This is a review of the PC version of the game, but it is also available on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. The game is rated '15'.
Deus Ex being an RPG, storyline is, as expected, very important to the game. While there are so many twists and turns that they cannot possibly all be described here without ruining the game to some magnitude I shall do my best to give a general outline of it.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution takes place in the Year 2027, and human augmentation is a new, emerging business. Human augmentation being the alteration of the human body, replacing fully functioning limbs with mechanical upgrades - but there is a twist. The companies in charge of the human augmentations are also creating brutal military augmentations, serving as argument for the pro-humanity protestors, and anyone that chooses to use the human augmentations has to regularly take a deadly, dangerous and highly addictive drug, Neuropozyne, to prevent their bodies from rejecting their augmentations, thus killing them.
You play Adam Jensen, a security guard of the major Human Augmentation firm, Sarif Industries. Following an attack on the Sarif warehouses where they were testing a human enhancement named the Typhoon that would change warfare forever you must discover the roots of the criminal organisations that are powering the pro-humanity riots, and put a stop to them as you ravel in a twisting tale of conspiracy and menace.
The primary gameplay of Deus Ex takes place in first-person, which is the view you'll be seeing most often as you walk around the cities that the game puts you in, or in all of the interactive dialogue segments. There is also a third person view which the game switches to when you go into cover, allowing you to see over the cover you are hiding behind, allowing for you to time your hiding and running from the guards accordingly, should you decide to play stealthily, or to keep unnecessary bullets out of you, should you play aggressively
Deus Ex has many different gameplay styles, it allows you to go about its many levels in a non-linear fashion, allowing you to go around the level in your own way, be it through the vents or through
the enemies head on or even through hacking a terminal and causing the guards own lethal security systems to turn on them. Deus Ex truly does offer a variety of interesting playstyles, likely to beat any RPG around.
It's also incredibly hard on the hardest difficulty, especially if you're trying to get several of the achievements that require you to not kill any of the enemies throughout the game, which is very possible, but infuriatingly difficult.
Then comes the boss battles, easily one of the most frustrating and stupid scenes in any of the games I have played in several years. They do not cater to the gameplay style that you may have been using. If you've been doing stealthy gameplay throughout the game, the boss battles are a massive shock to the system. They are unbeatable without fairly heavy weapons. It's infuriating to attempt to get past them, and there are four of them. Four, horrible boss battles.
Other than this - the gameplay is fabulous.
Graphically, Deus Ex is not one of the best looking games around, it uses the Crystal Dynamics graphics engine, and compared to other recent and upcoming games, like Crysis 2 and Battlefield 3, it looks poultry in comparison. The character animations, well, the animations in general, are pretty good - and that's really the most important part of graphics in a game like Deus Ex - but ultimately in a game like Deus EX graphics are not really that important anyway, so their quality, if it is at least bearable, shouldn't have too much of an influence on your gameplay experience.
What really is important about the graphics engine, however, is how optimized it is. When I say 'optimized', I mean how well it will run on modest computers at a variety of settings, and I must say, since its released it's been optimized a fair bit. Early players of the game may have suffered many stutters due to the games asset streaming, but that has been long-since fixed.
On my fairly low-midrange laptop, which doesn't really handle games all that well, it managed to stagger about thirty frames a second, which is pretty playable. It did, however, have to be set to near lowest-settings to be able to perform this well, which meant turning off eyecandy effects like shadowing and depth of field, and turning the resolution right down to the lowest in-game setting, which was 800x600. *
On a more powerful machine though, the game powered through mostly highest graphical settings without issues, the stuttering issue hit this machine hard at the release of the game, but it has since been fixed and the game now runs pretty smooth, allowing for a lovely gameplay experience. The only bug that I have discovered to be particularly prominent on this system is a sound desync issue, where the sound is noticeably out of sync with the visuals, particularly with weaponry - and even more particularly with the games assault rifle. You soon get used to this issue though, and it has still not been fixed. **
The voice-acting in Deus Ex isn't bad, and the characters are pretty diverse and, in a way, they are even nice to talk to, which is something that not many games can claim to have achieved. Some significantly good voice actors in the game involve your character, Adam Jensen, and David Sarif - your boss. There are also noticeably more annoying inclusions to the cast, including tech-geek Pritchard, however the character is meant to be snide and irritating, leading me to believe that the choice of voice acting was intelligent and appropriate.
The game also has a sweeping orchestral score, so much so that I was even enticed to buy the soundtrack for the game. The ambience is pretty fantastic if I do say so myself, and the tension building music are literally some of the best game music pieces I have ever heard. Honestly, I'd gladly have them on my iPod.
Value for Money/Longevity
I'll establish that I bought the game for £27.99 from Amazon.co.uk - and with fairly good service too, it has since gotten cheaper. Usually, the way that I rate my games for how good they are for the money I paid for them is my 'Pound per hour' rule. For example, if a game is £10, I'd expect to get 10 hours out of it, anything below ten hours if considered to be below average value for money, and anything above that is considered to be good value for money.
Even with no multiplayer, Deus Ex still falls into the 'good use of money' category. I paid £27.99 for it, and I've played just over 28 hours, and that was only one playthrough (meaning I only completed it once in that time). I didn't go for any achievements in particular, I didn't look for any secrets and I certainly didn't dwell too long on any of the levels. Something tells me that if I had done that, the game would have taken me a lot longer to complete.
There are also a lot of options in the game, including options that are only available if you take certain choices throughout the rest of the game experience, including five endings.
Deus Ex can be a fairly mature game at times, and here's a rundown of how.
A lot of the game features violence, some of it unavoidable, but a lot of it avoidable if you so wish. You only have to make four kills in the game. Particularly strong moments include...
*In a starting sequence, a character is thrust onto glass, his injuries are shown in brief detail in a close-up fashion.
*In a cinematic sequence, a man shoots himself in the head unwillingly (it is inferred that he is being controlled). We see the bloody wound.
*Several cinematic scenes in which major characters are killed feature blood draining out from bodies onto the floor, and occasionally more gory deaths.
*Regular firefights include blood and occasionally mild 'ragdolling', where the dead characters flop around.
*Players can use stylised 'takedown' moves that vary in intensity. One of the moves involves taking down a person by stabbing him/her in several places using wristblades.
*There are a few uses of strong language, both in cutscenes and in general gameplay - including 'f**k' and 'sh*t'. Other milder terms are used throughout the game also.
*While there is no actual drug use seen during the game, the game references neuropozyne, which is a fictional drug required for those who have augmentations to stop their bodies rejecting them. The drug in the game is not promoted, rather warned and protested against. It is described as being 'very addictive', and 'very dangerous' at different times in the game. It is also thought to be very expensive.
*Some may find some of the characters to be mildly frightening (mainly younger players, if they choose to play).
*Some scenes are very menacing.
*There is a scene where a man considers committing suicide, you can try and talk him of it or convince him to do it.
*There are needles seen in this game, during a fairly stylised opening scene, those afraid of needles or surgical detail can skip the cutscene.
*Some may find the riots and the very idea of the game's idea of 2027 frightening.
This game is more likely that not suitable for anyone over the age of fourteen. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone younger than twelve, at the very minimum, however.
OS: Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7
Processor: 2 GHz dual core
Memory: 1 GB RAM (Windows XP) / 2 GB (Windows Vista and Windows 7)Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 8000 series or ATI Radeon HD 2000 series or better
DirectX®: DirectX 9.0c
Hard Drive: 8.5 GB
*"Mid range" test machine consisted of Core 2 Duo T6600 2.2GHz, 4GB DDR3 RAM, Nvidia G105M
*"High End" test machine consisted of Intel Core i7 920 2.66GHz, 6GB DDR3 RAM, ATi HD RADEON 4890
This is one of the best RPGs to emerge in recent years, and everyone should play it, as in Deus Ex, there is something for everybody, and I, as well as many others - was simply blown away by the game.
Touché, Eidos Montreal, touché.
I give Deus Ex: Human Revolution a 4/5, simply because the boss fights too annoying to warrant a 5/5.
Also posted on my Ciao.co.uk account.
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS. DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO READ SPOILERS.
'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee
Story and Characters
To Kill a Mockingbird is set in early 1920s America. Racism runs rampant and segregation is the norm and is generally enforced.
The actual story takes place in Maycomb in the US, where Atticus Finch, a single father after his wife died, and his two children: Jem and Scout live with him. Jem is Atticus' eldest child, and Scouts slightly older brother; Scout is Jem's younger sister. Atticus is a lawyer, and is known for taking on cases that he believes are righteous and the defendant's innocent - regardless of race.
Outside of the Finch family, yet still serving in the Finch's house is Calpurnia, a black woman who helps Atticus around the house, looking after the children and cooking meals. The book makes sure that the reader knows that Calpurnia is smarter than a lot of black people at the time, and that she had taught herself and her children to read and write.
There are also a vast selection of not-so-important characters who seem to play a large part in the book but actually have very little relevance to the story whatsoever. For example, a lady down the street called Stephanie Crawford who spreads rumours around town is mentioned many times but never appears to actually advance the story at all, and her entire purpose in the book seems to be to reinforce to the reader what happened only pages before.
There is also a mysterious Radley family, who apparently never leave their house, but their convicted son apparently runs rampant in the night to eat animals and children? I understand it's supposed to give the impression of children's rumours, but the fact that the adults of the book believe that the Radley's son is a beastly creature is beyond ridiculous.
There is also the Ewell's, a group of lower class people referred to as 'trash', who live off welfare checks from the state. Their children never attend schools, and nor can the truancy officers make them (why they can't is never actually elaborated on in the book). The two stand out characters from the extensive Ewell family are Bob Ewell and Mayella Ewell, and we'll get on to what makes them so important in a second.
There is also Tom Robinson, a black man who, on the way home from work walks past the Ewell's house, and occasionally does jobs for Mayella out of the kindness of his heart.
What better way to repay him then to accuse him of rape? Bob Ewell accuses Tom Robinson of rape, and who would be appointed to be his lawyer? No other than Atticus Finch. You can practically predict this happening from the word 'go'. Atticus is a lawyer that takes on cases that it is unlikely he will win, usually from black people who have been accused of crimes; Tom Robinson is a defendant who is black and has been accused of a crime. See why it's so easy to predict?
This part of the book is literally the only bit that has any sort of tension whatsoever without being over-the-top and cheesy. The court-room scene where the public watch Atticus attempt to defend Tom Robison, going over about fifty pages of wondering and observing of the court. By the end, you may be intrigued by this book, which is a shame because by this point you're already four hundred pages in, and would probably have already lost interest due to the seemingly directionless story.
Honestly, when reading this I thought that Atticus put up a good fight in the Court of 'Law', but the judge seems to be incredibly biased and Tom Robinson is sentenced to death. Great, but wait, there's a twist! Atticus is going to appeal, another court room scene, the book might actually be somewhat dece- oh Tom Robinson is dead, he got shot in the back of the head trying to escape from the prison where he was being held for the trial.
So Bob Ewell won, but he wants to take revenge on Atticus for trying to save Tom Robinson (why?), so he tries to kill Atticus' children (why?) and then kills himself by falling onto his own kitchen knife (why?). Jem is seriously injured, the doctor says he'll wake up in the morning, the police come around, have a cup of tea, explain that Jem didn't kill Bob Ewell but he in fact killed himself and the end of the book is right there. Bish, bash, bosh - what an eventful book.
Honestly, apparently this story is influential of many books and inspired millions, but I fail to see how or why. The plot is practically completely directionless and the characters incredibly bland and uninteresting. While, yes, the courtroom scene was very well written and intriguing, the book actually fails to see its own strengths and faffs around with pointless sub-storylines that only make the book feel incredibly drab.
In short, the storyline is poor and predictable, with so many sub-storylines that you stop caring before you hit the half-way point. It's a shame, because it's a book that, with a focused storyline, could have actually been good - but it just falls flat on its face.
I'll be honest, I've never seen 'To Kill a Mockingbird' praised for its writing style, and it's not hard to see why. The speech is written as it's said, which understandably is to try and make the reader believe that the book is actually set in America, but it ends up making the speech a jumbled mess - and a hardly legible one at that.
It also uses a lot of American slang without properly explaining what the slang means - I had to look up several words to actually understand their meaning - only to find that some of the words can't actually be found in a dictionary. To Google, where Urban Dictionary will explain exactly what is meant by the dialogue. Really, this is pathetic - you shouldn't have to look up something that isn't properly defined in the book because it's an expression or description that is barely used anywhere else in the world but a particular county in America.
As for the actual writing outside of the dialogue, it's OK. The descriptions lack flair and it's not really written in a particularly engaging way, meaning that at least part of the book is just about bordering on 'worth reading'. The grammar is also well placed outside of the speech, but inside the speech marks it is hard to tell when the characters are quoting someone or something or are saying something with emphasis because the use of apostrophes and quotation marks are muddled throughout.
The writing, in conclusion, is poor - better than some writers, and the speech is obviously written with marvellous intent, but like the storyline, it falls flat on its face.
Value for Money
'To Kill a Mockingbird' isn't actually worth your money in the slightest, unless you like directionless literature, in which case this book is worth every penny. The book is non-linear, slow and directionless. It's a few hundred pages, meaning that with Amazon's asking price of £4.19, you're essentially paying for the printer and the ink. It's a shame that the paper would probably be worth more without the ink on it.
I don't recommend that you buy this book, but if you wish to, you can buy it from Amazon from the 'not-quite-worth-it' price of £4.19.
'To Kill a Mockingbird' is a relatively tame book as far as content goes, but here's a run-down.
- Two young characters discuss where babies come from, and one suggests that you 'give it to each other' and then a baby is taken across the lake from a land where all the babies are and given to you. The conversation is relatively brief.
- A child says they've been playing strip poker to get his friend who lost his trousers out of trouble.
- Character's say "nigger", but it's not derogatory and it was commonly used as a description in the 1920s, meaning that it is used in favour of historical correctness
- Two young children say 'damn' and 'hell'. The characters are told off at one point in the book for saying these words.
- Young characters often get into fights, no description of detail.
- A rape is described without detail by the victim.
- A character shoots a rabid dog.
- There is a fire, no one is hurt.
- Three children are shot at, no shot hits.
- A character is said to have been shot in the head. Not described beyond that.
The book is relatively tame, and is pretty much suitable for anyone over the age of ten, but they may not understand some of the themes (rape, prejudice, racism).
It is beyond me why they use this as a GCSE book in Britain. It's far from compelling, bland, directionless and not very well written. There is very little in the way of redeeming features for 'To Kill a Mockingbird' other than the tense court-house theme.
Avoid it at all costs.
I award 'To Kill a Mockingbird' two out of five stars for having one minor redeeming scene.
Hitman: Blood Money is a third-person stealth game by the company 'IO Interactive', who created all the previous 'Hitman' games and the 'Kane and Lynch' series. Blood Money has received its rating of '18' for 'Strong bloody violence, drugs, sexual content and violence'.
You may well be asking yourself "What is this 'Hitman', and what is it about?". Firstly, it's rather self-explanatory. It Hitman: Blood Money, you play a 'Hitman' or an assassin if you will, who is paid to kill certain targets. That's about the outline of the story, but the rest of the story is generally contained inside the levels.
In the 'Less Brief'
The gameplay of Hitman has not changed that much from the original game in the series, 'Hitman: Codename 47'. The gameplay is that you are placed at the start of a level, a client's assassination request and a variety of weapons (that you can pick, to ensure they are right for the job).
The gameplay is open-level, allowing the player to differentiate from the games path. For example, instead of just walking through the crowd, shooting three guards in the face and casually strolling into the room where your target is and potentially getting arrested, you could go around the assassination in a completely different way.
For example, you could casually stroll in the front door of the targets house, which coincidentally has a party going on, providing adequant cover and the ability to fairly easily blend in, and then go through an unguarded door, immediately on your left. Through the door, the guard is only just returning, and he is alone, so you could either just pop a bullet in his head, and risk people hearing the gunshot - or you could hop into the closet, wait until he is facing the other way and choke him with fibre wire. From there, you could steal his uniform and weapon, hide the body and casually stroll past the rest of the guards. You could then put a pistol in a basket, and carry the basket into the room where the target is sitting, claiming that it is food for the target. Once you're in and the doors are closed, you can pull the weapon out of the basket, kill the target and leave without a trace.
Hitman really is one of the games that can either be rather easy or extremely challenging, and the extremely challenging way is the most fun to play, because while the guns blazing method works, you don't get the satisfaction or precisely timing everything and working your way around problems, and since the large-scale gunplay isn't exactly extraordinary, you can probably make the game a lot more enjoyable to play by doing the sneaky method, as, predominantly, the Hitman series has always been about stealth.
On your screen, there isn't very much in the way of a heads-up display. There's your health, your weaponry that you have either holstered or are currently holding, and when approaching something that requires an action, like a door, a list of actions that you can perform and a 'detect-o-meter' for lack of a better word for it, that shows how suspicious and close to being exposed for being an assassin you are because of your erratic actions. The only issue with the suspicion meter is sometimes you are detected after the suspicion meter rose for no foreseeable reason, and this has been an issue over many of the Hitman games. Or maybe I'm just doing it wrong.
The gameplay in Hitman: Blood Money is exactly what you want it to be, personally, I prefer the stealthy method, because of the aforementioned poor large-scale shooting mechanics, but the game does let you go in all guns blazing, if that's how you want to play. Hitman has always been a game centred around stealth, but the thing that pushes the gameplay out from the crowd is the fact that the game allows you to do whatever you want, and not play by its own rules.
Graphically, Hitman: Blood Money certainly isn't bad. The locations that you visit are generally fairly picturesque, even if the targets are not. The textures are generally quite crisp, and not too blurry, which is usually seen as the mark of a consolised game, but we can see by the games looks that it was designed for PC, as the sort of console hardware that would be required to play at the maximum PC setting wouldn't have been around at the time of the games release in 2007. I have not, however, played both the console and PC version to compare, so don't quote me on that.
The graphical quality is quite nice throughout the game, but some of my little niggles are that the characters look a little bit 'flat' or 'smooth'. They don't look as you'd expect a real person to look. Some of the foliage that scatters the level also looks incredibly false, but the prettiness of some of the areas more than makes up for it.
The models for the characters in crowds that generally appear around the target in the level, as a form of cover, also have particularly good AI, and a fair amount of detail, which is unusual, as I'd expect having that amount of models with that level of detail would be enough to bring some low-end computers to its knees. However, it seems to work with some of the lowest end computers you can get (however, the poorest computers don't handle it well at all).
Overall, while the game is not the all-around stunner, the optimisation and the ability to play on lower-end hardware, as well as a variety of post-processing options more than makes up for the occasional poor character of bland, fake looking piece of foliage, and, to be honest, if you're focusing on the foliage on the ground, then you are not doing what the game was made for.
Sound is always an important part of stealth games and listening to many voices coming through the walls, discussing day-to-day things like what they are doing tonight gives even the most throwaway characters a little bit of depth and personality. The sound of the speech through the walls also allows you to hear where the characters are in relation to you (you do have a map that pinpoints enemies positions, so this isn't required to play the game), and the musical ambience that is present throughout the game gives a sense of depth that many stealth games find it hard to rival.
The quality of the sound is good, but the immersion of the sound into the game world is not fantastic. Sound does not echo through a loud room, but I guess that's not required to make the game feel good and realistic to play. The only issues I ever have with sound and games is the minute details that always make the game appear more 'false' than it should do. It's a game though, and therefore you're probably playing to have a brief escape from reality, and I know plenty of people who could care less for echo-y halls.
Value for Money/Longevity
The Hitman series of games has never had a multiplayer element, and some may go "I'll just wait until it's a budget game" because of it. While the majority of you reading this appear to have waited until the 'budget' stage of the game (it can now be found for less than £10), I'd urge you not to wait if it was still full-price.
The Hitman games are still some of the best examples of single-player stealth I have ever played, and while there is no multiplayer, the sheer amount of difficulty and possibilities that plague the singleplayer storyline make it an astonishing purchase, as it can literally last much longer than any other generic multiplayer shoot-head-fest which takes after Call of Duty. Hitman is a real game that does not deserve to be ignored, the sheer attention to detail and amount of possibilities, and even how it at least tries to be a realistic, immersive world, is something to be desired, and the developers should really be rewarded with your money, it's the least they can ask.
I have yet to pass the second level and I have played eleven hours of the game. I'm not even 10% finished yet, and it has already lasted far longer than the average singleplayer shooter or racing game. That, readers, is something special for a game like this.
Minimum System Requirements
Processor: Pentium 4 1.5Ghz or Athlon XP Equivalent
RAM: 512 MB
Video Memory: 100% DirectX 9.0c compatible video card which supports Hardware TnL and Pixel Shader 2.0 (GeForce FX / Radeon 9500 or higher)
Hard Drive Space:5 GB
Operating System: Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7
Hitman, is, predictably a game about killing a target in a variety of ways. It is, as such, likely to contain some potentially offensive content, and as such, here's a run down.
* Gunplay is fairly prominent throughout the game, and killing a character causes them to ragdoll to the floor, and a pool of blood gradually forms below the body. The blood, nor the body ever disappear, they can however be disposed of in a variety of containers in the interest of stealth.
* A variety of 'close combat' weapons can be used, including your fists, knives and baseball bats. As well as a signature weapon of the series, the fibre wire. There is very little detail to killing with these in first nor third person, and blood forms under the body the same as it would if the character was shot.
* There is no ability to cause post-mortem damage, other than the fact that hitting the bodies cause the ragdoll to move limply across the floor, and there is occasionally a brief puff of blood when shot.
*The characters retain very little 'injury' on their bodies, apart from fairly small splashes of blood on their clothing where you have shot them. Close combat weaponry does not have this effect.
* The blood can be turned off, but the blood on the floor plays a vital game mechanic where the guards can find the blood of your victims on the floor. The difference is that the enemies are seen to be looking at the floor with no blood on it, making the game appear 'false'.
* There is some strong to moderate language - this includes use of stronger words, including 'f*ck', and milder words, such as 'sh*t' and 'b*stard'. There is a fair amount of profanity in character conversations, but while the player can listen to them, it's not obligatory.
* There is some racist language in the game, however, it is relevant to the characters that speak its personalities.
* There is a level where a drug baron is having a house party.
* There is a part of the game where you can see a man snorting cocaine. It is not glamorised in any way.
* In some levels, there are prostitutes in the levels, but they are never seen to be doing anything more than dancing for the people that hired them or cowering from the chaos of a gunfight.
*Switching clothes with a dead character leaves them in their underwear. You can only change clothes with men, presumably because women's clothing will not fit Agent 47.
Some people claim that the game is anti-Christian and racist. The racism accusation may stem from the characters language, and the accusations of the game being 'anti-Christian' may stem from the fact that Agent 47 has in the past been hired to kill by the church to rid the world of sin (this isn't the main storyline) or because in one of the levels it is possible to kill a priest without consequence.
The content in Hitman: Blood Money may be somewhat more serious than your average gung-ho action game, but that's just the way that it has to be because of the type of game that it is. The majority of the content 'issues' are dealt with lack of detail and sensitivity, and I'm assured that - despite some peoples interpretations and accusations - this game is not attempting to be racist or Anti-Christian. It was just worth nothing unless you're offended by that kinda thing.
I'd suggest that Hitman: Blood Money is suitable for those thirteen and up.
Hitman: Blood Money is far from a bad game, it can go on forever and I'd happily play through its superbly open levels many times. Hitman is, and has been for a while, the only, and therefore the pinnacle of open-world stealth based assassination action, and it likely will be for quite some time yet.
I'd happily recommend Hitman: Blood Money to any stealth-game lover, and I'd happily play it many times through - there may be no multiplayer, but this is an amazing singleplayer experience, given through a formula that has been greatly improved and been perfected since the first iteration of the series.
I give Hitman: Blood Money a total of five stars, out of a possible five.
F.E.A.R 2: Project Origin is the second in Monolith's first person horror video game franchise, and, from a story perspective it completely ignores the separately developed expansion packs to the previous game, Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate. It is rated '18' for strong bloody violence and gore, language, horror and nudity.
You and the rest of the F.E.A.R operatives (a team devised to combat supernatural threats to those who haven't played the first game) have woken up in a psychic commander creation centre, where subjects are operated on to be able to psychically control a deadly army. However, the technology is brutal and unperfected, so following a lot of blood and operation, as well as reporting, the building comes under siege, putting you in the fray of battle once more, but this time you don't have a gun from the word 'go'.
You learn as the story progresses that you were a particularly strong psychic commander and Alma Wade, the creepy psychic ghost girl who has become an image of the series, knows you're there without amplification, that other subjects needed to be able to communicated. The bad news, now Alma wants you, and she will stop at nothing to get you.
F.E.A.R 2 is very much similar to its predecessor in terms of gameplay, its still all about shooting the bad guys with guns and in slow motion, all the while occasionally being stalked by a mildly eerie Alma Wade.
The guns are still as powerful feeling as the guns in the original, and the slow motion still just as satisfying - a few things have been added to the mix to keep the game up to today's trends though. These include ironsights and more 'linear' game levels. These aren't a problem in my book, but I know that a few people that absolutely loved the original games were annoyed by these new additions. Personally, I see no reason why the new additions are bad, especially the ironsights - which in my opinion make the shooting a lot more satisfying, but some massive fans find it distracting and didn't like it.
The only changes from the original FEAR game that I really didn't like at all were the vehicle sections - namely those where you had to drive a mesh through the 'Project Origin' facility. It just felt so bland and uninteresting to play, and I had absolutely no idea why the developers would implement such a terrible idea into an otherwise fun game
The linear game levels, in my opinion, are also good because it allows for a more full on way of accessing the storyline, instead of having to search for an object that is hidden away, eventually having to resort to watching a walkthrough and completely breaking immersion while you do it, the majority of the game is very obvious and easy to navigate. Some die-hard FEAR fans may have enjoyed the item searching, but for me, the fact they removed the searching from FEAR 2, at least to such an extent that it is in the original, overjoyed me.
The original F.E.A.R's graphics, especially for the time, were absolutely astounding. It was released in a time where dynamic shadows were practically unheard of, and many games didn't even use pixel shaders. At the time, it was a hard game to muster, and even today it isn't ugly by any means. However, this means expectations for 'Project Origin' were pretty high, and to be honest, they don't really meet the graphical requirement that fans were expecting. Sure, the game has a few pretty effects but it fails to match up to the sheer level of graphical glory that accompanied the original F.E.A.R.
However, just because of its console limited graphics doesn't mean that it is by any means ugly - the game still looks pretty fair, and the graphics contribute to the atmosphere well, especially at certain points of the game. However, there are times throughout where the textures and models look a little drab, and it's a shame that its predecessor out does it graphically.
Any horror-game knows that sound is important, and the sounds used in F.E.A.R 2 are pretty good, apart from some pretty ridiculous voice acting (mostly from a suitably ridiculous character who helps you over a radio channel, while only referring to himself by the pseudonym 'Snake Eye'), but the music and the weapon sounds are all pretty fantastic.
Also, when the character decides to go into bullet-time (a slowed down version of time which gives players more of a chance to shoot all the enemies before they shoot back), the in-game sounds, even dialogue, slows also. A nice touch that some games don't do very well.
The multi-player is most certainly not where F.E.A.R 2 shines, Monolith neglected to release the game without dedicated servers or anti-cheat, leaving the game effectively dead for the PC. There are still a few players, but it's impossible to rank up as no one plays ranked anymore, possibly due to an imbalance caused by more experienced players showing off their kit on the battlefield.
The multiplayer isn't that much fun either, the majority of the time I was left completely blinded by flashbangs and disorientated, completely confused what direction I'm even facing. I'm unsure if this is a result of cheaters, which in turn a result of the lack of anti-cheat. The one thing that I learned from the multiplayer is that it was rather hard to not end up dead with a white, flash-banged screen and a respawn timer. It was then I realised why the community wasn't exactly the most active community in the land.
Other than the hard-as-nails multiplayer mode that Monolith seem to have (apparently unintentionally) employed, the game can get a little difficult at times, especially when the firefights are raging and you have very little health left. There are very few times, if any, however where you cannot pass a level second or third time, and I've didn't encounter a single level where it was so hard to pass it that it became incredibly frustrating.
Mind you, I was playing on the easiest mode, as I play for the storyline of games, not the difficulty, so more 'hardcore' players could turn the difficulty right up to their highest settings, but that would leave me slaughtered in a bloody pile on the floor, so I'll stay at the easiest option thank you very much.
==Longevity/Value for Money==
The F.E.A.R games always represent the best value for money for me. I play them all the way through and will occasionally (if I'm in an optimistic mood) try the multiplayer. At the end of the campaign, my mouth generally drops open, and as the credits roll I feel like I well and truly feel like I've got my money's worth. The fact that I got the original F.E.A.R, it's expansions, this and it's downloadable content in a Steam deal for £9.99 probably helped the feeling that I got my money's worth with this purchase also.
F.E.A.R 2 is, like most of the games I review, hardly child friendly. It contains a fair amount of violence, language and what could be deemed as 'sexual' content. Details of each of these can be found below.
The F.E.A.R series is traditionally violent, characters left right and centre are bloodied up by supernatural girl Alma Wade and shot up by other characters in the storyline.
There is a significant level of violence dealt from the character you are playing with a variety of weapons, in an attempt to survive the replica soldiers and other forces.
The character regularly finds bloodied rooms littered with corpses or witness people being killed, occasionally in a rather gruesome way.
Much less than the previous game to be honest, but there still are a few 'f**k's and 's**t's dropped from time to time. There are also some other, considerably milder, expletives - as well as a few insults, but that's the least of your worries if I am perfectly honest.
Alma (who is female) appears naked from time to time. There is no sexualisation whatsoever, and the character only appears very briefly and suddenly for a very short time with the intention of scaring the player. Her breasts are obscured by her hair, other places, however, are not.
There is a first person scene in which Alma rapes the player, it is not graphics, you see nothing and it's for story purposes.
*end of spoiler*
The entire game uses gore to create fear and uneasiness. The sounds are also designed to do just that. It succeeds for the most part, but some players may find the frightening scenes more intense than other players. Younger, more sensitive players or those prone to medical conditions resulting from an unexpected jump should not play this game.
Some may find the gory scenes uneasy or disturbing.
The content isn't as bad as the original F.E.A.R, but it's still a pretty mature game, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone less than fifteen years of age, or possibly older, depending on how the person is affected by mature content.
NOTE: There is an option to turn the blood in the game off, using the 'Low violence' option from the options menu.
This is a fantastic game, and while the multiplayer isn't quite up to scratch, and some existing fans of the previous game may moan about the new additions or 'consolised' graphics, there is really nothing stopping you from buying this game. It truly is worthwhile, especially at the extraordinarily low price that the game is going for today. Buy it, and be happy about it, especially if you like creepy little girls.
CPU: P4 2.8GHz (3.2GHz Vista)/Athlon 64 3000+ (3200+ Vista)
GPU: Fully DX9-compliant graphics card with 256MB (SM 2.0b). NVidia 6800 or ATI X700.
Memory: 1GB (1.5GB Vista)
OS: Windows XP SP2/Vista SP1
Sound: DX9.0c compliant
Optical drive: DVD (boxed only)
I give F.E.A.R 2: Project Origin 4/5