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@@@ Introduction - "What's all the Fuss about?" @@@
Released in June 2004, Hot Fuss was the debut album by The Killers, a 4-piece rock band from 'Fabulous' Las Vegas, Nevada. It was released to widespread acclaim, and reached Number 1 in the UK album charts, with a number of successful singles.
On a personal note, this album became one of the soundtracks to my first year of University. Hit singles 'Mr Brightside', 'Somebody Told Me' and 'Smile Like You Mean It' were among the most commonly heard tracks in the student bars and clubs in 2004 and 2005...
@@@ Thank you, Jools... @@@
I'd like to start my review by thanking Jools Holland. Now, Jools plays a mean boogie-woogie piano, but that's not why I'm so grateful to him. His TV program "Later..." has long been a source of inspiration and a great showcase for upcoming talent. In recent years the show has introduced me to some fantastic new bands, including, at some time in late 2003, 'The Killers'. At the time they were totally unknown to me, and appeared on the show performing their single 'Mr Brightside'. It was a solid performance, with the band showing great energy; the song was catchy and seemed fresh, whilst still having some retro charm about it. I was massively impressed, so thanks again Jools!
Over the coming months, 'Mr Brightside' got a lot of airplay, and by the time the album 'Hot Fuss' was released the following June, I was one of many budding fans who were keen to get hold of it...
@@@ Track by Track... @@@
1 - "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine"
"Jenny was a Friend of Mine" is a confident opener to the album, and gets proceedings going with a bang. It begins with a brilliant bass guitar riff, which is very reminiscent of the riff in Gary Numan's "Music for Chameleons", albeit with a darker mood. This track is early evidence of the influence that Numan, along with other 80s synth and electronica groups, had on The Killers, and this is abundantly clear throughout the whole album. The song itself is very emotionally charged, with an interesting story to it - it actually forms part of an informal 'trilogy' referred to as the "Murder Trilogy" with the other two tracks "Midnight Show" (featured later on this album) and "Leave the Bourbon on the Shelf", (featured on 'Sawdust', a Compilation of B-sides and rarities by the band).
2 - "Mr Brightside"
The single "Mr Brightside" is probably the best known from the album, and has become recognised as a modern Indie classic. It's also one of my personal favourite songs of all time. The energy and passion of the song, along with its pacey drums and synthesised sound come together to create an iconic club song which you can't help but dance along to and belt out at the top of your voice. Once again, it's the darker themes and emotionally charged lyrics which make this track stand out - there are ideas of suspicion and obsession that resonate with people, and make for a great sing-along chorus. It doesn't hurt that the synth and guitars sound so flippin' catchy either!
3 - "Smile Like You Mean It"
And still the great songs keep coming! The 80s influences are still shining through; yet another great retro organ riff dominates in "Smile Like You Mean It". The rest of the track is given real substance by great guitar, driving bass and solid percussion backing, which works fantastically when they all come together. The vocals start in a relatively plain and monotone fashion, but they do build and change as the track progresses - another great tune.
4 - "Somebody Told Me"
The Killers really are relentless! After the slightly slowed pace of the previous track, "Somebody Told Me" explodes onto the scene to attain instant 'anthem' status. Beginning with raw guitar chords, followed by another heavy synth riff, this is an up-tempo, frantic track. It's great energy and curious but infectious lyrics make it another massively popular and catchy song. I could not possibly guess the number of times I heard this track while on a University night out, and it is still a staple of Indie music venues today. Sheer brilliance!
5 - "All These Things That I've Done"
From the opening of "All These Things That I've Done", the band provides a solid stage which allows Brandon Flowers' lead vocals to well and truly take the spotlight. The track doesn't have the same club-style sound of several of the opening four tracks, and the synthesisers take a back seat here almost entirely, but there is yet another catchy chorus! The building drums imply a crescendo is coming, and when it does, the song opens up with a great festival-friendly refrain: "I've got soul, but I'm not a soldier". This is undoubtedly one of the album's strongest tracks, and demonstrates the band's real skill in creating a song worthy of a much more mature and established band.
6 - "Andy, You're a Star"
Finally, a chance to catch your breath! "Andy, You're a Star" is a significant shift in pace for the album, with much more subdued guitars and slower backing. It has the same emotional draw of some of the previous tracks, but its slightly distorted vocals give it a very different feel. It is perfectly placed to break up the album, and showcase a different facet to the band's sound.
7 - "On Top"
"On Top" is one of the few songs on the album which has a less defined narrative to it. However, the lyrics still have an unusual and poetic quality which I really like. It is slightly slower paced, but does build towards the middle and end, with the guitars and synthesiser combining well yet again. This track alone is a great example of the way The Killers have combined their 80's electronica and new-wave influences with more modern guitar-led Indie music. Another really strong track overall.
8 - "Glamorous Indie Rock and Roll"
Although not one of the most played tracks on the album, this is one of my favourites, and a very popular song for live performances. "Glamorous Indie Rock and Roll" begins with quite sharp, distorted vocals and a slow pace again but reaches the crest of a wave with the chorus. This song doesn't follow the traditional "verse - chorus - verse - chorus" structure, and has a couple of big crescendos and changes of speed. The fantastic vocals taking centre stage, and this is yet another song with great 'anthem' potential to really get the crowd singing along.
9 - "Believe Me, Natalie"
The lengthy instrumental at the start of "Believe Me Natalie" allows the rest of the band a little more time in the spotlight before the vocals kick in. This is a slower track, with a darker sound to some of its predecessors. Whilst performed with the same passion and vigour by the band and especially by Flowers vocally, this song doesn't have the same appeal as the others. It's still a solid album track, but lacks the real charisma of much of the rest of the album.
10 - "Midnight Show"
"Midnight Show" blasts straight into action with a quick and jumpy pace. It forms part of the informal 'Murder Trilogy' of songs I mentioned earlier, and has an interesting if creepy narrative to it. Once again it's performed with a lot of energy, and although it could be considered as an 'album track', it has it does have its own appeal. In terms of sound, the synths take a back seat again - this tune is dominated by drums, bass and guitar (including a decent helping of some good riffs).
11 - "Everything Will Be Alright"
The final track of 'Hot Fuss' is not a barnstorming finale. Whilst I was initially disappointed by this fact, "Everything Will Be Alright" is a track which I really enjoy, and one which fits well as an album closer. The softer, slower pace of this song brings a frenetic and exciting album to a more relaxed close. It adds to the variety of the album as a whole, taking another break from the club-style rhythms, edgy guitars and jagged electro beats of earlier tracks. The vocals are once again passionately performed, and this is also a strong track musically.
@@@ Cost... @@@
You should be able to pick up this album for around £5 now, which is an absolute steal! However, do be aware that there are a couple of different versions available with slightly differing track lists and the option of bonus songs.
@@@ Overall Thoughts... @@@
This is an emotionally-fuelled, energetic, and musically intense album. It features infectious Indie "floor-fillers" and brilliant festival anthems in equal measure, and even the 'album tracks' have great appeal. Spawning several massive singles, including some true modern classics, "Hot Fuss" is undoubtedly one of the best albums of the last 10 years.
- - - Influences...
It is abundantly clear throughout 'Hot Fuss', that The Killers were very strongly influenced by 80's synth and electronica artists, as well as some 'New Wave' music. There are echoes of Gary Numan, as I've mentioned, but also the likes of New Order and Joy Division, and even a bit of The Pet Shop Boys in here. However, despite these influences, the album does not sound dated over familiar. What the band managed to do was to create a fresh and original sound, by adding the guitar-led Indie rock element, which gave more substance to the electronic side of their music.
- - - Prospects...
As a debut album, 'Hot Fuss' is extremely strong. The Killers really burst on to the music scene with style, and I don't need to point out how successful they have become since this was released back in 2004. Even at such an early stage, their star quality was crystal clear - they brought a unique and appealing sound which fused several musical styles with great success. As a group, they show a real knack for catchy lyrics and instantly memorable riffs, but above all it is the confidence and charisma (especially that of front man Brandon Flowers) which sets them apart.
In the time since 'Hot Fuss', there have been 2 very successful follow up albums (as well as a B-sides and rarities compilation) and numerous incredible liver performances, followed by an extended hiatus. The Killers' musical style has evolved, but they maintain that class and ability in all of their music, and I hope isn't too long before we see them again. I'm sure they will continue to produce brilliant music, but it will take something very special indeed to surpass this debut.
I'm also on Ciao :)
I own several pieces from IKEA's 'Malm' range, including this 3-drawer chest. At the time of purchase, we were living in part-furnished rented accommodation, and were looking for affordable, practical furniture which would be hard-wearing. We also wanted something which was quite modern in style without being too quirky, and a relatively neutral appearance so it would fit in with our choice of décor when we eventually bought our own house and moved on. Ikea was a natural option, of course, and the Malm range seemed to tick all of our boxes...
@@@ - Style and Appearance - @@@
We purchased the drawers with a Birch veneer, to fit in with the lighter, brighter colours in our bedroom; for those who aren't sure, Birch is a pale wood, with very light graining in large waves. The Malm range is also available in Oak, white-stained oak, black-brown, and white. The drawers are quire minimalist and very plain in appearance, simply consisting of flat, smooth surfaces. The plain finish even extends to the handles on the drawers - there are none! Instead, the front of each drawer is quite chunky, and has a wedge-shaped top rim for ease of opening.
They may be too plain for some, but I feel that this is ideal in a smaller room, as it helps to make larger furniture less imposing. Also, although I'm not a minimalist to the extent of wanting plain white sleek furniture with no character at all, I do prefer more simple designs.
@@@ - Assembly and Instructions - @@@
I'm not the most practical person, but I've never really had any trouble with flat pack furniture - I actually find it quite fun to put together and satisfying once it's done. As you would expect from IKEA, the instructions are very clear, and you can build the drawers with very basic tools; a small hammer and a Philips (cross-head) screwdriver will suffice. I think this particular set of drawers only took me about 30-40 minutes (I was in 'the zone').
@@@ - Quality and Longevity - @@@
The Malm drawers are a pretty solid construction, and are hard-wearing. We have moved into our own home and taken them with us, and they are still sturdy despite being lugged around. The individual drawers are also deep, with plenty of capacity. The one part which concerned me when purchasing these drawers was that although the main panels themselves are thick and chunky, the drawer bottoms were quite thin. Although we never planned to have anything too heavy in these drawers (using them only for clothes) I wondered how they would hold up when packed full. Unfortunately, I was right to worry, as the bottom of the lowest drawer, which holds all of my jumpers, has bowed in the middle and will not bend back into shape. Admittedly this has happened because I have slightly over-filled it with bulky jumpers, and when squashing the clothes down slightly to push it back into place, this has actually pushed the drawer out of shape.
@@@ - Overall - @@@
The 3-drawer Malm chest retails at £55 currently, which is a very affordable price. For that price, you get a smart, modern set of drawers which should fit nicely with more minimalist modern décor. The only real downside for me is that I managed to push the bottom of one of the drawers out of shape. However, as the set retails at such a reasonable price, it is very hard to complain about this issue too much. With a bit of care (especially when it comes to chunky knitwear) you should have no problems at all with the Malm range.
I'm also on Ciao as DonPaolo
When I first moved in with my girlfriend just over 2 years ago, we had a 'furnished' flat where the only seating available was offered by 2 small, hotel-lobby-style armchairs. We weren't ready to buy a proper suite, and didn't have the room either, so looking for a basic sofa, we went to Ikea.
There is a decent selection of options in Ikea, most of which are quite simple and modern in their style. We liked the Karlstad range as it provided large seating space without being too bulky, and the seats were very comfortable. The range includes armchairs, 2 and 3-seater sofas, corner units, sofa-beds and chaise longues. We chose the Karlstad 3-seater model, with pale beige fabric covers, which was around £350 at the time. A range of colours and fabrics are available, and depending on the cover you choose, this same sofa currently retails between £289 and £540. These prices make the Karlstad a very accessible option, and it was ideal for us at the time, looking for a comfortable and affordable basic sofa.
It took us by surprise, but the Karlstad comes in traditional Ikea flat pack format, so we took it home on the day to avoid delivery charges. After a great deal of rearranging and dropping of the back seats, we were pleasantly surprised when the whole package fitted snugly in the back of the little Ford Escort we had at the time.
@@@ - The dreaded assembly! - @@@
I generally find Ikea products to be simple and quick to assemble, with good clear instructions, and this sofa was no exception. Putting aside the cushions and legs for a moment, the body of the sofa comes in 4 parts; the seat, the back, and 2 sides. As you attach these parts, you also put on the fabric covers you have chosen, stretching them over the main structure and fastening them on. At this point I was slightly disappointed to learn that they attached by Velcro, which seemed to me a little tacky (I was expecting zips, perhaps).
Overall, putting the Karlstad together was pretty simple. I managed it alone in about 40 minutes, although these things can be quicker if you have a glamorous assistant, provided they don't get in the way! The trickiest part of assembly without doubt is ensuring the covers are neat and straight, and that the edges of the sofa match up with the seams of the fabric, but this is worth the effort to create a tidy result.
@@@ - I'm going for a nice relaxing sit...- @@@
The finished sofa is very comfortable; the cushions are thick and soft, but substantial enough that they don't squash into nothingness when you sit on them. Most importantly for me, as I am tall, the seats are very deep, so I can sit right back on them and have my legs properly supported. My mum is only 5 foot 2, and if she sits right at the back of the sofa, her feet and lower legs dangle over the front like a toddler (we give her extra cushions).
@@@ - Fast forward 2 years... - @@@
We've owned the sofa for over 2 years now, and taken it to 2 different homes. We have recently bought and moved into our own home, and placed an order for 2 'proper' sofas which are due to arrive in the next fortnight.
It is the end of an era for the Karlstad, but its time has definitely come. It is still comfortable, and still looks quite good, but we are now ready to move on. The covers have become slightly loose in parts, with the Velcro fastenings needing to be straightened up, and the fabric stretching slowly over time. The cushions are also looking more squashed and messy (they need to be 'plumped' every so often to keep them looking good and feeling comfortable.
Over time, you will undoubtedly spill various things on your sofa, and if the worst comes to the worst, the covers can be removed, and you can buy new sets separately, allowing you to change colours or just spruce it up a bit. Crucially, some of the covers can be machine washed, which is ideal, but ours don't fall into that category sadly. However, despite my best efforts with pasta, red wine, curry and the like, ours is still remarkably clean, as we have managed to use spot removers such as Vanish or similar to remove any marks. Needless to say though, it does not look as good as it did when we bought it.
@@@ - Overall Thoughts...- @@@
Our Karlstad sofa has served us well over the last 2 plus years. It is very affordable, and is comfortable and hard-wearing for the price. Of course it isn't of the highest quality compared to high street furniture stores; I look at it and I know that it's made of MDF, Velcro and fluff, but when the finished article is completed, it does look smart and feel good.
The styling is simple and modern, and it can complement most rooms well, giving plenty of seating space without being unnecessarily bulky. It was absolutely ideal for us at the time, and I hope we can find another place for it in the next few weeks; maybe in the spare room...
@@@ What is Xbox Live? @@@
Xbox Live is a service provided by Microsoft, which allows Xbox users to connect their consoles to the internet and join a worldwide network of fellow gamers to play, share and communicate together. The service allows you to play games with or against fellow gamers from all corners of the world. From the comfort of your own home, you can chat to friends who are sitting in the comfort of theirs, whether they live round the corner or on another continent.
@@@ Online Console Gaming @@@
The phenomenon of online console gaming has exploded over the past 5 years. Previously, online gaming was reserved for PC users, and the only way you could play multiplayer games on a console was to have friends round to your house, or cart your console and games around to other people's homes.
With the massively increased uptake of broadband internet connections in recent years, online gaming is a realistic option for most console owners, and has become integral to their playing habits. After tentative initial steps, Xbox Live has grown to become one of the major facets of what Xbox gaming has to offer.
@@@ Membership @@@
If you have an Xbox 360 console and an internet connection (preferably broadband) Xbox Live is accessible to you. When you turn on your Xbox and create your personal profile, you can sign up for a free 'Silver' account and get access to some of the basic features; you can find, add, and communicate with friends, download additional content for your games, and so on.
'Gold' membership, on the other hand is a paid service, and opens up a world of options. In many ways, a Gold account can be likened to a golden ticket to Willy Wonka's factory - a magical world where all your chocolatey dreams come true! A Silver account on the other hand is just a license to stand at the locked gates, straining to see what's going on inside, knowing your friends are having an amazing time, but all you can do is stand their salivating....
So Silver is relatively pointless, and if you want to be able to play games online, join parties with friends, and engage in other assorted funs, the Gold account is the way to go. The 12 month subscription plan is in my view the best way of accessing Xbox Live Gold. It is the longest term you can purchase, and at around £40 (the price of a game) it results in the most cost-effective membership. A 3-month membership is around £15, and that wastes a great deal of cash in the long run - if you're not sure about whether you want to join, many Xbox games come with a voucher code for a free 48-hour Gold trial - why not suck it and see!?
@@@ Interface @@@
The appearance and interface of Xbox Live changes regularly, and I'm not a massive fan of the way the latest iteration looks - maybe I just don't like change. Having said that, the system has always been uncluttered, intuitive and very easy to navigate, which makes using it very fun and simple. Even when you're in the middle of playing a game, you can use the central button on your game controller to bring up a mini menu, and access all of the major services, including chatting with friends or sending messages.
@@@ Gaming Online @@@
Playing games online is the primary reason for having an Xbox Live account. Personally, it gives me the opportunity to shoot and kill friends (and strangers) without the fear of devastating legal implications. In fact, some would argue that the main draw of games like Call of Duty and the Halo series is their online multiplayer component - they would be nowhere near their current popularity levels if you couldn't team up and take on opponents from across the world.
The quality of the actual gaming experience is down to the game's developers and thus can vary massively; each individual game has a tailored online offering, and in this sense, Xbox Live just provides a platform for the game developers to create the online experience they want to. My personal online favourites include the Halo series, (where I can play through story missions with a couple of friends on co-operative mode, or join in to multiplayer battles with up to 15 other random players from round the world), and FIFA (where you can take on a friend or be set up against a stranger in a 1-on-1 football match or even an online league system).
@@@ Communication @@@
Although my main motivation for purchasing Xbox Live was to play online and get more out of my games, I have now come to almost depend upon it for a different reason - communication. About 2 years ago I moved away from home, and away from my childhood friends; Xbox Live allows me to keep in touch with them, to have regular contact and enjoy the same shared hobby, even though I am hundreds of miles away. It also allows me to connect with friends from university who live all over the country, and even with friends who have moved abroad.
It's important to mention at this point that the Xbox headset and microphone are an absolute must for me. They allow you to have a 1 on 1 conversation, or to join a 'party' and effectively enter a free and unlimited conference call with several people at once. I can quite happily sit and play for hours with friends while we chat together. You can also compete with friends, and compare your progress in various games.
Along with social media, which fosters this kind of communication, Xbox Live is a great tool for me to stay connected with people. A small bugbear I have on this front is the Xbox controller. Whereas a headset and microphone is included in most Xbox bundles, you can get a small 'QWERTY' keyboard which attaches to the controller as an additional purchase. Without that, you have to type any messages on an on-screen keyboard, using the joystick to move a cursor round the characters. Typing like this is very laborious and frustrating, but I'm yet to be compelled to shell out the extra money for a tiny little keyboard.
@@@ Social Media @@@
Speaking of which... Xbox Live comes complete with MSN Messenger, and is now integrated with Facebook and Twitter as downloadable free 'Apps'. The Xbox dashboard acts as a hub for you to manage your accounts on these sites and speak to people who aren't necessarily on Xbox live. This is a brilliant edition which expands the offering massively.
@@@ Music & Video @@@
Being 'connected' is not just a social thing, and not everything on Xbox Live is communication and friend related. The service also gives you access to a strong (and growing) range of media options. There are free apps for Youtube (allowing you to search the site and watch videos just as you would on a web browser), Channel 4 OD (so you can catch up with TV shows you've missed, and watch various series from the vaults) and more.
You can access Netflix, streaming online movies and TV shows, Zune for streaming music, and if you have a Sky account, you can watch Sky TV through your Xbox! It really does give you access to a steadily growing world of entertainment avenues at your fingertips.
Needless to say, you can also purchase Microsoft products on Xbox Live, including games, expansion packs for games, and so on, as well as watching trailers for upcoming games. Thankfully, there is no intrusive advertising on the platform, which was a very real danger. It is very easy to sign in and get straight into a game or a conversation with your friends without being exposed to loads of aggressive marketing. Needless to say, when you use an app, or watch a movie, you are then fair game, and will have to sit through the odd trailer or promo, but it's totally understandable.
@@@ Security and Families @@@
Parental controls are an essential consideration for Xbox Live. Gaming is a hobby for all ages, and the number of young people getting involved in online games in increasing, which is great. However I feel great care should be taken as to what content they are exposed to. I do find there is an element of hypocrisy involved here - I have often encountered young gamers playing games online which are clearly unsuitable for their age group, whilst parents will start to point fingers if their child is exposed to unsuitable content. If you are going to buy your 12 year old son a game with an 18 certificate and access to an online gaming community, you don't really have a leg to stand on if he is exposed to bad language, graphic violence, or anything else unsavoury. Parents - exercise some control, just as you would over X-rated movies.
Nevertheless, it is important for parents to have the option to protect their children, and Microsoft have included good parental control options, as well as a blocking option to stop you from encountering people you don't want to, and a reporting system if people are behaving unsuitably. This system is very easy to use and effective in rooting out troublemakers.
@@@ Overall Thoughts @@@
The Xbox Live Gold 12 month plan gives 1 year of access to a brilliant array of online gaming, media and communication, for a very reasonable price of around £40. For the price of one typical game, you can unleash new possibilities in almost all of your Xbox titles, chat for free with friends, and take on players from all over the world. The interface is neat and easy to use, and the process is slick. As long as you have a decent internet connection and obviously an Xbox, there is a very entertaining set of possibilities at your fingertips. My annual renewal of my membership is one of the easiest purchasing decisions I've ever had to make, allowing me another year of fun and games with good friends.
Thanks for reading! I'm also on Ciao :)
BRMC is the debut album by indie band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Released in 2001, it features some of the band's most popular singles, several of which have become very popular modern anthems.
BRMCs major influences are clear to see, such as The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, T-Rex, early Oasis, and the Velvet Underground, and its easy to understand why the band created such a stir with their initial singles. There's plenty of rock 'n' roll energy and swagger here, along with great thumping tunes to enjoy. I've owned this album for several years, along with the band's more recent releases, and it definitely features a handful of songs which could be considered their best work. Unfortunately, on reflection, it is one of their least consistent albums, and the rest of the tracks don't really hold up to the few moments of brilliance.
For the most part, these shortcomings are due to a bit of over-indulgence (stringing out a 3 and a 1/2 minute track to a 6 minute snooze-inducer) or a lack of imagination (starting with a good idea which ends up going nowhere).
Anyway, here are my highlights...
The album opener has a great intro, which starts gently and brings in some smashing drums. It showcases some good riffs and strong rhythms, with some great distorted guitar sounds - a nice and fuzzy dirty groove! It's a great start to the album...
"Red Eyes and Tears"
The 2nd track has a slightly different feel, being darker and slower, but is again very strong with some catchy riffs. It's slow rumblings give way to a blistering guitar sound later in the track, which really makes it come alive.
"Whatever Happened to my Rock n Roll"
This is the first I ever heard of BRMC; a brilliant, fast and furious track. It's catchy and exciting - a great example of the attitude and groove that the band undeniably have. However, it is also the question I found myself asking once I had listened to some of the weaker songs on the album!
"Spread Your Love"
This has an instantly recognisable opening riff which you may have heard regularly on "Live at the Apollo", "Skins" or any number of TV trailers. Again it's really catchy and has the sound of an established band whi know exactly what they're doing. It's good old-fashioned rock n roll in my book, and a modern classic.
Unfortunately that's it. I really wanted to give this album 4 stars, because the tracks that work are phenomenal. However it gets 3, because the rest of the album misses more than it hits. There are some absolute classics here, but I can't imagine myself ever sitting through the whole album again - I will just be ruthless and skip to those tracks I've highlighted.
"Baby Darling Dollface Honey" is the debut album by Band of Skulls, a 3-piece alternative rock band from Southampton, England. The album was released in 2009...
--- My Introduction to 'Band of Skulls' ---
In summer 2010 I went to see one of my all-time favourite bands, Muse, live at Old Trafford Cricket Stadium in Manchester. On the day, their main support act was "Editors", along with 2 bands I hadn't heard of before; "Band of Skulls" and "Pulled Apart by Horses". My friend and I weren't massive fans of Editors, but we decided to get to the stadium a little earlier and check out the other groups anyway.
Because of traffic, queues, and a pit-stop at the bar, we got to the stage as "Pulled Apart by Horses" were finishing - such a shame! After a bit of an intermission, 3 little characters walked out on to the huge stage ("Band of Skulls"), on a bright but rather windy day and began to set up. They looked a bit lost on the towering stage, which was predictably glam and ornate, ready for the musical, dramatic and pyrotechnic spectacular of Muse that was to follow, but they still made a great impression on me that day.
The trio produced a great sound when they got going, and belted out 5 or 6 really enjoyable tracks from their album. My friend and I were definitely pleasantly surprised - we only had eyes for Muse at the start of the day, but it was a great bonus to get introduced to a new and exciting band into the bargain. We both bought the album the following week...
--- Impressions of the Album ---
I'm not a fan of throwing meaningless labels at bands, but 'Garage Rock' is probably the best fit here. The album is energetic and quite rough, with some bluesy touches, and you can see the signs of a very diverse range of influences.
The lead vocals on the album are share relatively equally between the male lead guitarist and the female bass player, and there is a great interplay and contrast there. I would describe the sound as rough and raw, and while it's not quite on a White Stripes scale, there are some great rasping dirty guitar riffs to be had here. The bass and thumping drums combine to make a powerful rhythm section which drives most tracks along well.
There are 5 or 6 great songs on the album and most of the others, while leaving a little to be desired, still offer some interesting ideas and are worth a listen. If anything, the album is a little too 'front-loaded', with the 1st half containing the majority of the strong tracks, and the 2nd half being a little more hit and miss.
--- Highlights and Favourite Tracks ---
- "Light of the Morning"
On first listen at the gig, the opening track ("Light of the Morning") confused me. The introduction is disjointed, the first beats of the drum seem off time, and I found it difficult to get my head around the rhythm of the song. However, as the 2nd verse kicked in, and the drum beat started properly, all was revealed and it suddenly made sense! There is an unusual groove to the song which is really infectious - the only problem is that it's over far too quickly!
- "Death By Diamonds and Pearls"
"Death By Diamonds and Pearls" has a stomping beat and a big sound, with the vocals led by the lead guitarist. The song then hits you with a squealing guitar solo which comes out of nowhere and really takes you by surprise. It actually turns out to be brilliant and caps the track of nicely.
- "I Know What I Am"
The vocal talents combine and share the limelight on "I Know What I Am". This is one of the quicker, more upbeat songs on the album, featuring some really catchy hooks and quick fire lyrics.
For me, "Patterns" is probably the stand-out track of the whole album. This time the vocals are led by the female bassist, and along with the rough-around-the-edges guitar playing, this produces their most catchy and appealing song. I understand it has been used in the soundtrack to a Gran Turismo game too - well done!
--- Overall Verdict ---
All things considered, "Baby Darling Dollface Honey" is an exciting debut from a band which clearly has plenty of talent and some strong original ideas. It's been quite a long time since I bought such an accomplished album from a brand new band, and it's still one that I play regularly.
I really think 3.5 stars would be the best rating here, but I have erred on the side of praise with this being a promising début album. There are many more established bands who can have praise heaped upon them for turning out an album with 3 or 4 good singles sandwiched between mediocre filler, so I think Band of Skulls deserve some credit for providing a slightly different sound, some great original tracks, and overall for grabbing my attention.
About a week ago I listened to this album from start to finish for the first time in a couple of years; I'd really forgotten how much I enjoyed it and felt compelled to review it. So here goes...
X&Y is the 3rd studio album from Coldplay, released in 2005 after a lengthy and protracted recording and production process. There was a massive amount of anticipation surrounding the release following the success of its predecessors, and that pressure clearly led to the band being very picky about getting things right.
--- Overall Views: ---
I had been a fan of Coldplay's previous albums, whilst not getting quite as carried away as many others were; I thought they were very good, but not great. However, with X&Y, they took a great step up in my estimation and created a highly accomplished album with greater depth. Until this point, they had had several great singles, but to me their album tracks were often leaving a lot to be desired, and just seemed a little like filler. This issue disappeared with X&Y, where every single track has substance, offers something different and is worth listening to.
Although the musical styles of the tracks do vary, they all have a multi-layered and rich sound, which is testament to the time and effort put into production. There are also many more instances of the band being a little braver, with various electronic influences and synthesisers playing key parts, and a good helping of catchy hooks and guitar riffs thrown in which I hadn't expected.
This makes the whole album a real pleasure to listen to, and it's not surprise that Coldplay actually got 5 singles released from this album ("Speed of Sound", "Fix You", "Talk", "The Hardest Part", "What If" and "White Shadows").
--- Track Breakdown: ---
1. "Square One"
A synthesised start to the album, followed by a quick and catchy piece of percussion. This song builds in momentum and then gives way to a more powerful chorus and strong guitar riffs - a significant indication that there will be a few surprises on this album, and it won't just be a textbook Coldplay sound. With Chris Martin's occasional falsetto used in a more upbeat and rocky song, there is a definite new dimension here. Great stuff!
2. "What If"
Beginning softly with vocals and a piano, this is more of a ballad. It's a nice follow up, without being brilliant, and you know that the band aren't just throwing all of their best stuff at you within the first 4 or 5 tracks.
3. "White Shadows"
I didn't realise Coldplay were capable of this kind of track. It's another quicker one, with some great rhythms and guitar riffs. I would love to see more like this from the band - possibly my favourite from the album!
4. "Fix You"
One of the stand-out tracks, a stirring and powerful song. Unfortunately this has resulted in it being one of the most criminally overplayed songs ever. Programs such as X Factor, Britain's Got Talent and many other reality shows have almost ruined this song for me, using it as the go to option for conveying the cliché of a contestant going on an 'emotional journey'. Such a shame...
The slower and gentle opening to this song once again builds to a great chorus, and Coldplay again show they can construct a song with real substance and feeling, which also combines some catchy riffs and rousing lyrics. This is another of the album's top songs in my view.
6. "X & Y"
One of the album's slower tracks, X&Y still has a rich sound. It's overall feel is a little bit of a departure from the regular Coldplay style, but this is a pleasant change which adds some variety to break up the album a bit more.
7. "Speed Of Sound"
One of the best selling singles from the album, and a typical example of an early Coldplay classic. Speed of Sound was instantly compared to their previous hit 'Clocks', and there are definite similarities here. A great pop track!
8. "A Message"
Beginning with the soft twang of acoustic guitar and vocals, this is yet another track which offers more than meets the eye at first. It builds both musically and emotionally, and definitely feels like it could have been another single.
This is a mirror image of some of the previous tracks, starting with a quick beat, and becoming more intense with great lyrics and guitar pieces. Then it dissolves into a slower final third, almost drifting away - a solid and interesting track.
10. "The Hardest Part"
A more gentle-sounding song, which still manages to include a nice guitar solo towards the end. I don't have a great deal to say about this one - but it's a good album track.
11. "Swallowed In The Sea"
This slower song stands out for the lovely poetic quality of the lyrics. It doesn't have a traditional chorus, but consists of a series of longer verses which return alternately to the eponymous line "Swallowed in the Sea". A pleasure to listen to and a great bit of variety on the album.
12. "Twisted Logic"
More experimentation from the boys (but only a little bit really). This is one of the less memorable tracks on the album, and in my view it doesn't quite work. Never mind - it's surrounded by brilliance!
"+" or "Til Kingdom Come"
A lovely little bonus track tucked away at the end of the album. This is a beautiful and simple song, quite different from the other 12 tracks, and one of my favourites.
--- Final Thoughts: ---
X&Y is Coldplay's most accomplished album, bursting with great singles and very impressive album tracks. The production and depth of the sound makes it an exciting and absorbing record to listen to from start to finish, and it's been a real pleasure to revisit it. I believe the band are at their best like this, with crescendos, driving drum beats, catchy riffs and simple, often beautiful lyrics. Great work all round by a great band!
I owned Screwball Scramble as a child, and decided to dig it out from my parent's loft to try it again and do this review. So here goes...
<<< What is Screwball Scramble? >>>
Screwball Scramble, by Tomy, is a manual game of skill. The objective is to transport a small ball-bearing through a series of challenging obstacles to the finish line, using a selection of controls. You can also play against the clock, with the built-in timer giving you 60 seconds to complete the course.
The game consists of a plastic base unit, with a series of coloured obstacles attached to it creating an intricate course. Along one side of the board are seven different control buttons which are used to manipulate the various moveable parts of the course.
<<< Playing the Game >>>
Screwball Scramble is based on skill, good timing, nimble fingers, quick reactions, and a steady hand. None of the obstacles require force or power to negotiate - rather they require subtle touches, good judgement of timing, and a bit of patience to master.
It also relies on fair play - if you drop the ball-bearing or fail an obstacle, there is no automated system to force you back to square one. It's easy to cheat and skip the tricky parts, but the most fun is always had when facing a challenge and beating it!
<<< The Course >>>
Start the clock! You begin by placing the ball-bearing on a small sloped platform at the bottom right corner of the board. The first obstacle is the "See-Saw Bridge" - a humped bridge consisting of three see-saws. These rise and fall alternately with a press of the first button, and you must shuffle the ball-bearing along the bridge, using momentum and carefully timed presses of the button to place it on the platform at the other side. This can be a tricky first obstacle, as timing is crucial, and the ball often slips back along the bridge if you get your rhythm wrong!
Next up is what I call "The Crane" - you rotate the crane to position a small magnet above the ball-bearing, and then spin it back slowly into position over the next obstacle, the parallel bars. This sounds simple, but if you swing the crane too quickly or jerkily , the ball-bearing will fall off, as the magnet is only very weak. Once you've turned the crane, a small arch detaches the ball-bearing automatically, dropping onto...
The "Parallel Bars"! A small slider causes the bars to separate at one end, allowing the ball-bearing to slowly roll forwards. However if you don't close the bars, the ball will fall off. The trick here is to slowly part the bars, then close them as the ball starts to move; the momentum of the ball should carry it onto the next obstacle...
The "Wobbly Board" - a small platform controlled by a joystick, which can be tilted left-to-right and front-to-back. The platform has a rim round most of it and small pins to impede the progress of the ball. There are 2 exits; the first leads to the next platform, and the second is a drop, which means you have to start all over again! Careful tilting of the platform should let you roll the ball onto a small ramp...
The ball-bearing will roll along the ramp and drop into the first of "The Jumps". These are a series of tubes of increasing height - a simple button press pushes a small piston out of the tubes to 'jump' the ball up to the next tube. The key here is not getting carried away - if you hit the button too hard you will launch the ball too far, or even off the game board entirely. as you gently jump it up the steps, you finally have to launch it through a small hoop and onto another ramp. This ramp leads to a dark and terrifying place...
The "Labyrinth"!!! Of course, calling it the labyrinth is a massive exaggeration here - this is a small tubular maze controlled by another joystick, but it is definitely the most tricky of all the obstacles in Screwball Scramble. This is primarily because the maze is covered, and you can't actually see where the ball is, you can only here it roll back and forth as you tilt the maze with the joystick. There are a few tricky turns and a couple of dead ends to negotiate here, and it can be frustrating as you will often lose track of the ball completely. When you finally get the ball-bearing to drop out of the maze, with palpable relief, you face the aeroplane...
The "Aeroplane" is a small plane attached to a plastic arm, and is controlled by the same twisting control as the "Crane". This time, rather than being carried by a magnet, the ball-bearing sits in a small indentation on top of a plane, and you must slowly and steadily rotate the arm round to the next platform. Again this must be done carefully to avoid the ball rolling off, but at the end you do have to speed up in order to knock the ball off and onto the next platform.
The ball-bearing will now roll and drop into "The Catapult" - the final obstacle in the game. The catapult is one of the simpler obstacles, but it is very easy to misjudge and fail at the final hurdle. A simple press of the final button 'fires' the catapult sending it over, dropping the ball through a ring to hit the small bell and signal the end of the game. Press too lightly and the catapult won't make it past the 90 degree point, but press to hard and you might get an eyeful of ball-bearing. Be careful!
<<< Ways to Play >>>
Technically, Screwball Scramble is designed to be played by one person at a time, however there are several different ways to play which make it more fun. You could play alone, either in your own time, or against the clock. You could also have more than one player, controlling different obstacles and using teamwork to complete the course.
Probably the most fun option is to 'race', competing with other players to see who can complete the course fastest. Whichever way you choose to play, nimble fingers and good timing are the key to enjoying this great game.
<<< Opinions of the Game >>>
Screwball Scramble is great fun to play - and offers a healthy challenge to all ages. It's difficult to master the various controls, but not so tough as to become frustrating or boring. Using a combination of careful timing, agility and patient, controlled touches, you will be able to complete it eventually!
My only very minor complaint is that the timer and buzzer do get on my nerves. As the clock counts down, it makes a rattling ticking sound. This might be intended to add to the frantic pace of a timed game, but it is actually just annoying. It's probably even more annoying for parents who have to listen to the incessant buzzing as their kids try repeatedly to do the the course!
<<< Suitability >>>
Screwball Scramble is suitable for kids aged 6 and over. This is due to the loose ball-bearing, which obviously is a choking hazard for younger children. Although it is billed as a game for young children, it's still great fun for older children, and many adults will also find it a fun challenge.
Screwball Scramble is a quality game which will last for ages if properly looked after. Mine has lasted over 20 years and is still in perfect working order. It is a solid construction, with no sharp edges or rough parts. Although sturdy, some of the obstacles could be fragile if you are sufficiently rough with them, or if the game is not properly stored in the box.
<<< Price >>>
Screwball Scramble is currently available on Amazon for between £10 and £11, which is a decent price to pay for a fun, challenging and well-made game.
<<< Final Thoughts >>>
It's been a very fun and nostalgic experience playing it once more for the first time in about 15 years - I found myself getting quite addicted all over again...
Batman: Arkham City is the second Batman game from developer Rocksteady Studios. By acquiring the license to produce games based on the Batman universe, the developers were taking a big risk. Probably not a financial risk, as any half-decent game which used Bruce Wayne's alter-ego as the protagonist would surely sell. Rather they were risking their credibility; would they opt to cash-in on an incredibly popular franchise and sully their reputation, or would they fulfil fans' dreams and create something special?
Fortunately the latter has been true of both games; Rocksteady have clearly put their heart and soul into both projects. This game's predecessor, Arkham Asylum was very well received, but the sequel builds and improves upon it in almost every conceivable way. This is a brilliant adventure game, with an atmospheric setting, diverse and thrilling combat, a great variety of gameplay and loads of engaging content...
<<< The Caped Crusade...>>>
1 - The Situation...
Arkham City is a single-player adventure game, set in the North of Gotham City, which has been cordoned off from the rest of the metropolis and used as a heavily fortified prison to house the local criminal contingent. Chaos reigns inside, with competing criminal factions locked in conflict, orchestrated by top notch baddies The Joker, The Penguin, and Harvey Dent (aka Two Face). As Bruce Wayne, you inevitably find yourself kidnapped and stranded in this cauldron of mayhem, for a reason as yet unknown...
2 - The Setting...
From the very beginning of the game, the towering metropolis of North Gotham is open for you to explore, and although it isn't the largest open-world ever in game, it is certainly one of the most richly detailed and fun to discover. The city is brilliantly realised in a dark and grimy stylised gothic way, almost exactly as you would expect.
3 - The Story...
The main story line is exciting, full of twists and turns, making great use of the whole city and striking a delicate balance between the sublime and the ridiculous. The plot is satisfyingly sinister and foreboding, but with the presence of ice grenades, toxic viruses, mutated henchmen, mind control, and even a shark, you are constantly reminded that you are in a comic book world, and anything is within the realms of possibility.
4 - The Stars...
Arkham City makes fantastic use of the array of It is a real ensemble performance, with star turns from The Joker (of course), Penguin, Harvey Dent, Edward Nigma (The Riddler), Catwoman (who you can also play several missions as), Poison Ivy, Bane and Mr Freeze among others. I'm not a hardcore comic fan, so I was able to discover loads more villainous characters who enter into the main plot and side missions, including The Mad Hatter, The Black Mask, Calendar Man, and a great many more besides.
<<< Be The Bat... >>>
I'm not an avid comic book fan, but for me, Batman has always been one of the most appealing comic book heroes. Please note that I did not say "superheroes", as Batman's main discerning characteristic is his lack of actual super powers. In the comics, he is referred to as "The World's Greatest Detective", and prospers due to a combination physical prowess, stealth, intelligence, agility and skill.
This is what makes the character so compelling, and what Rocksteady have recreated so well in this game. Whatever you're doing, wherever you are, they really make you feel like you are Batman throughout the experience...
1 - Go Go Gadgets...
Whether you're using 'Detective Vision' to pinpoint the position of enemies or analyse evidence at a crime scene, or shooting up to the heights of a skyscraper using your grapple gun, the wide range of gadgets at your disposal provide so much fun, variety and immersion into the character. The brilliantly intuitive controls mean you can hack security terminals, destroy surveillance cameras, soar across chasms on a zip-wire, disable mines, spray explosive gel and much more with a couple of simple button presses. There are so many features and gadgets to get your head around that you often have to stop and think before you accidentally do something you shouldn't, but they are introduced incrementally throughout the game to ensure you get used to them at a comfortable speed.
2 - I Get Around...
Probably my favourite aspect of Arkham City is the rudimentary process of moving around. Sure, Batman can stride confidently about the streets, or crouch and move urgently and silently through the shadows, but that's not even 1% of the thrill here. From the very first time I reached the summit of a Gotham skyscraper, leapt from the building and opened my cape, I knew I could happily spend hours gliding, soaring, swooping and diving around the city. I probably had to restrain myself from yelling "I'm Batman" on more than once occasion.
In all seriousness, there is no better way to see the sprawling metropolis of Gotham than by cape and "grapnel gun", surveying the scene, exploring the heights and depths of the city, and swooping down on unsuspecting goons on a whim is an exhilarating experience, and a real highlight of the game which has been exceptionally crafted.
3 - Pow! Biff! Thwack!
Hand-to-hand combat makes up a significant portion of the game too. The city is swarming with faceless goons to be dispatched, and you will often find yourself outnumbered, which is part of the fun. Now, this is not a 'beat-em-up' game, and you could actually criticise the controls for being too simplistic here - there is one button to attack, one to counter, one to stun your enemy with your cape, and one to jump/evade. After a couple of encounters, your options begin to look very limited and things look like they could become very stale indeed.
However, the pleasant surprise is that they don't. The beauty of the combat system is timing, rhythm, and stringing together long combos without being hit yourself. Rather than mindless button-mashing, you are rewarded for carefully timing your attacks, reacting to your enemies' strikes and executing evasive manoeuvres. As the game progresses, you gain access to many upgrades, including more powerful attacks, special combo moves, and the ability to integrate gadgets such as the Batarang and grappling hook into your combos. Similarly, your enemies may acquire certain 'tools' to aid them; baseball bats, knives, riot shields, and body armour will force you to mix up your tactics in order to survive.
4 - Hunter or Hunted?
Of course there are many, many occasions in the game, where the enemies you face carry firearms, which is a total game-changer. One of the most important aspects of Batman is that he is vulnerable; he is tough and wears body armour, but he is human, and most definitely mortal. You must do everything you can to avoid being discovered, or coming face-to-face with a trigger happy goon, and thus the 'stealth' sections of the game are a stark contrast to the combat sections.
Entering a room or outdoor area occupied by armed enemies, your chief weapons are stealth, strategy, surprise, and fear. The pace of the game completely changes; you hang from gargoyles, crawl though ventilations shafts, and hide under grates as your survey the scene, then pounce and swoop to dispatch the enemies.
There are great gameplay features at work here, including the ability to cause rising tension and even panic among your enemies as their comrades are picked off one by one. There is also a tremendous array of attacks and strategies at your disposal, and there are always many ways to clear a room, depending on your favourite gadgets or chosen approach. This is another of the game's high points, which makes you really feel like Batman.
5 - Meet the New Boss...
The Boss encounters in Arkham City are a mixed bag, and the only real downside to the game. The Batman universe has an embarrassment of riches in terms of villains and whilst many are well integrated into the story, the final showdowns with them often leave a lot to be desired. They are sometimes rushed, often too easy, and generally patchy. Fortunately they make up a relatively small proportion of the game so as not to spoil it. They aren't great, but the saving grace is that none of these encounters are anywhere near as bad as the predecessor Arkham Asylum's appallingly bad final confrontation with The Joker.
<<< Side Shows and Extras... >>>
In addition to the main story, this game boasts a strong set of side quests. Some of these will last a few minutes, whilst others will have you trawling the entire city, or frantically racing across the rooftops. There is plenty of variety here, and the opportunity to engage with lesser known characters in the Batman universe. However what really sets the game apart is the massive selection of hidden items, secrets, unlockable features and additional story points to explore.
1 - E. Nigma...
The most expansive side quest without doubt is provided by Edward Nigma (The Riddler) who is desperate to outwit Batman. He has taken hostages who you have to save, but in order to find out their locations, you must collect hundreds of hidden trophies, solve riddles, complete challenges, and destroy objects throughout the city. This section of the game provides a great diversion, some compelling and often very challenging puzzles, and interesting riddles, and ultimately contributes to several hours of game time in itself.
2 - For the BatFans...
Throughout the game, and depending on how thorough you are, you will unlock lots of interesting story snippets and exposes on characters you meet and places you explore. These add great depth, and must be great extras for true fans of the comic books.
3 - Upgrades and Progression...
As I have mentioned, there are many combat upgrades and new gadgets which become available throughout the game. These are a great way or encouraging the player to invest more time in the game, and ensure a good sense of progression, whilst adding some real fun elements to gameplay.
<<< Graphics... >>>
The dark, moody and gothic feel of Gotham City is very well captured in this game. You feel like you are part of a living, breathing graphic novel, and the surroundings of the open city are richly detailed, full of deep shadows and shallow neon lights. Character animations are very well done, and I did not experience any kind of graphical glitches while playing; this is a very polished game.
One unfortunate drawback is to do with the detective mode. This is an invaluable gadget, akin to night vision, which brightens the surroundings, and highlights the locations of enemies, security consoles, destructible objects, etc. in vivid colour. It's a great tool, but I found it so essential to picking out enemies in the darkness and planning my attacks that I often felt I was spending too much time viewing the world in this modem and not fully appreciating the normal dark and moody setting of the city. The lesson: make sure you take time to soak up the atmospheric setting before popping those goggles on!
<<< Sound... >>>
Arkham City features a rousing and brilliantly orchestrated soundtrack. The music suits the changing moods of the game very well, will a good mix of suspenseful, tense tracks and dramatic, exciting ones too. The wide range of sound effects for the gadgets and combat are very good without being amazing, and fit well with the game.
Perhaps the best facet of sound design is the voice acting. Although the generic thugs can sometimes be a bit repetitive in their dialogue, the main stars and villains are all most all brilliantly done. Special mentions have to go to Kevin Conroy as Batman, and especially Mark Hamill (of Star Wars fame) who is superb as The Joker.
<<< Final Thoughts... >>>
Wow. Batman: Arkham Asylum is a brilliant action and adventure game. It combines stealth, gadgets and combat to outstanding effect, to create a really engrossing, fun and varied experience. The wealth of unlockables, collectibles and hidden extras mean there is loads to explore, many hours of entertainment, and lots of value for big Batman fans. Most importantly, this game does the character justice; it lets you be Batman, and fully experience the thrill of being the Dark Knight, complete with your skills, intellect, power and vulnerability.
<<< Happy Haloversary... >>>
It's 10 years since "Halo: Combat Evolved" burst onto the scene, changing the first-person shooter (FPS) genre forever. As a launch title on Microsoft's original Xbox, Halo showed the world that it possible to produce a well-rounded, fluidly controlled FPS for a console. 10 years on, consoles have actually become the primary tool for playing this kind of game. And now the original Halo is back!
Since this is a remake, you should be able to pick it up for £30 or less - personally I believe£20 - £25 would be most suitable!
<<< R-R-R-R-Remix or Remake? >>>
After the release of Halo; Reach, the games studio Bungie announced they were leaving the hugely popular Halo franchise behind to moving n to new projects. This was closely followed by the news that 343 Studios (assembled by Micro$oft, and featuring several former senior Bungie staff) would be continuing the franchise with Halo 4, but not before releasing an HD remake of the original Halo game.
This was met by much excitement and scepticism, primarily regarding the reason for the remake (a money-spinner by Micro$oft?) and how faithful to the original any remake would be...
<<< Single Player Campaign >>>
The way games are played has changed significantly in the last 10 years. In the days when Halo was released, there was no such thing as Xbox Live, and the multiplayer online shooter genre was almost exclusively reserved for PC gamers. As a result, Halo's single player campaign was the primary focus, and was a real powerhouse.
I am pleased to say that 343 Studios have put a great deal of time and effort into crafting an almost exact replica of the original campaign, albeit with updated HD graphics and sound design. The graphics are brilliantly done, and it's surreal to play through levels which I have played so many times over the last decade, and to still look at them in a new light. For a handy comparison, at any point in the game you can press the 'back' button to the left of centre on your controller, and be transported back in time to view the original graphics. This is a real eye-opener of how far game graphics have progressed in 10 years, especially bearing in mind that the new graphics are nothing special by today's standards.
The original game's exact level layout, weapon design and physics have been retained, as has the enemy AI (artificial intelligence) which means this remake really does play exactly the same as the original. It is packed full of varied combat, exciting encounters, suspense, and all-out-action, meaning it is just as fun to play as it was 10 years ago.
There's always a tendency to look back on brilliant games like Halo with rose-tinted spectacles, and there are some unfortunate quirks and faults which are more evident now in hindsight. However, I feel many of these add to the charm of the game. The developers have not chosen to iron out issues -this is a warts-and-all remake, with warts which are ultimately insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
<<< Multiplayer >>>
As I've mentioned, when the original Halo was released, Xbox Live was a twinkle in Micro$oft's eye, and 'multiplayer' meant only one thing - LAN parties! For the youngsters or uninitiated, that means: having 4 controllers plugged into 1 Xbox, and having your TV screen divided into quarters, with one player using each quarter as their screen, then setting up a 2nd TV, getting your mate to bring his Xbox to your house with another 4 controllers, and connecting the 2 consoles with a network cable so that you and 7 friends can play against each other all day and into the night! In case you're wondering, LAN parties were awesome, and they were a key facet that made the original Halo such a famous and revered game!!! But would this magic be lost in the remake?
The answer unfortunately is 'YES'. Multiplayer gaming has moved on so significantly in 10 years, and these LAN parties are only a familiar thing to gamers in their mid 20s and above. Online multiplayer is now the staple of game franchises like Halo, and you can tell that this remake wanted to find a balance between nostalgia and modern appeal. It does not bring us back to the halcyon days, but instead serves as a 'tribute', using the newer Halo: Reach muiltiplayer engine as the basis for a series of remake of previous favourite multiplayer maps.
These maps are admittedly well made, and bring updated versions of some old fan favourites, but there is limited choice (only 7 maps) and it sits awkwardly with the single player story. There is the option to alter settings and weapons to create games which are much more similar to the original game, but this is little more than the game giving a tip of the cap to its predecessor while reminding us that things have moved on.
<<< Longevity? >>>
I've thoroughly enjoyed re-immersing myself in the original Halo story once again, but I'm not sure how long the appeal will last. I don't think I'll be getting a lot of mileage out of the multiplayer games, although they are fun. The main thing which will keep me coming back is the ability to play the campaign in co-operative mode with a friend over Xbox Live and relive my youth...
<<< Final Thoughts >>>
When I was 15-16 and living at home in Newcastle, I would go to my friend's house, we'd order a pizza and get a bottle of coke, and play Halo co-operative on 'Legendary' difficulty for hours on end, often until the early hours of the morning. Now we're 25; I live and work in Manchester, and he's down in London, but we can still relive the fun of those days and play the same game together over Xbox Live. It's not quite the same, but it's a pretty good substitute. Also - I now make my own pizzas, and I've upgraded the coke to a beer.
<<< Skyrim - An Introduction >>>
"Skyrim", or to give the game its full title, "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim", is the fifth and latest instalment in the long-running 'The Elder Scrolls' series of games by Bethesda Softworks. It is set in the same 'world' as previous games in the series, called 'Tamriel', but the action takes place in the region of Skyrim, which as yet has not been explored by a game. For Elder Scrolls fans, this story is actually set around 200 years later than the previous game, Oblivion, and you will hear references to the events of previous titles.
<<< Style & Scale >>>
Like its predecessors, Skyrim is an open-ended RPG or "Role-Playing Game", and does not involve taking a set character through a linear series of scripted missions in a structured order. Instead, the player creates their own character to inhabit a fictional world; a vast, expansive world with hundreds of possible activities and quests. There is a main storyline quest to follow, which forms a significant chunk of action, but the bulk of the gameplay takes the form of side quests, which you may stumble upon, hear about from another character in game, or go in search of in the wilderness. All things considered, you could quite easily spend over 100 hours of game time in Skyrim, and still have more to see. I have never seen an RPG of such magnificent scale on a console before - it is truly worthy of being called an 'Epic' game!
<<< Character Creation >>>
You begin the game by choosing the gender, race, and appearance of your character, with a wide range of strengths, weaknesses, skills and attributes to bear in mind. As you progress through the game, you develop, and acquire a self-determined set of skills. You may choose to become a burly warrior, with little in the way of stealth or tact, but a massive magic battleaxe and the devastating power to use it... You may choose to become a sneaky thief, who has little combat skill but oozes the charm and charisma to squeeze out of tricky situations (and the lock-picking ability doesn't hurt either!)... Or you may become a powerful sorcerer who can create, destroy and control with a wave of the hand... I'm sure you get the idea, but the point is that the Skyrim's character customisation options are mesmerising, and allow you to deal with the game's scripted quests and chance encounters in a massive array of ways.
For example, you need to gain access to a certain restricted area - Do you try to talk your way in? Do you sneak past the guards and risk capture? Do you help the locals, earn their trust, and gain access honestly? Do you kill the guards or summon a demon to do your dirty work for you? It's all for you to decide and live with the consequences... In order to truly appreciate just a portion of the possibilities this offers, you would have to play through at least 3 or 4 times, which would be a major undertaking.
<<< Plot & Premise >>>
With you self-created character in place, you begin the main story. As you wait to be executed, the townspeople's priorities are suddenly changed by the arrival of a dragon. Although this affords you a lucky escape, it's very much 'out of the frying pan, into the fire-breathing lizard'. You are the 'Dragonborn', possessing unique powers which will allow you to take on the devilish creatures who have returned to rule over Skyrim, and so you set on the main quest to discover more and ultimately attempt to vanquish your scaly foes!
As I have mentioned, it is entirely up to you whether you drive forward with this quest, or get distracted immediately by the rich and enthralling world of Skyrim, with its many side missions, places to explore and people to meet.
<<< Great Gameplay >>>
The variety of the play in Skyrim sets it apart from other games by miles. You can travel alone or with allies, you can go on foot or by horse, you can climb mountains and explore dungeons, you can collect ingredients or rob stock rooms, create potions or spells, and generally be good or evil or anything in between.
Combat does make up a major element of the game, and is well structured. You will collect various weapons, potions and spells throughout the game, and you can even mix, create and enchant your own, which can be combined to devastating and satisfying effect. Despite there being such a range of spells and weapons available to you at any time, it is quite easy to manage them effectively. For novice players, the system may take a little getting used, including choosing your active spells, donning certain armour at specific times, and switching between set ups, but this is simply due to its depth and not its complexity - the system is quite intuitive and clear.
I've found it impossible to get bored with Skyrim. Having spent my first hours exploring nearby towns, meeting the locals and helping with minor searching fetching quests, I felt I'd soaked up enough culture and had a thirst for battle. I set of to look for a nearby dungeon, sword in hand and firebolt spell at the ready, only to endure almost an hour of frantic and visceral clashes with a band of goblins. After that, I needed a break; so I bought a horse and rode around the hills and valleys, just admiring the incredible vistas and jaw-dropping scale. Which brings me nicely to...
<<< Graphics (& Glitches) >>>
When you consider the sheer scale of Skyrim, the graphics are incredible. Character animations, textures and locations all represent a significant upgrade from the game's predecessor 'Oblivion'. There is so much handiwork to admire, whether you're walking through a forest glade, battling a dragon on a snowy mountain crag, or exploring a subterranean dungeon by flaming-torch-light.
On very close inspection, some of the surfaces and textures are a bit on the rough side, but this has to be expected when looking at such an open game. You won't find the incredibly sharp graphical attention to detail of say, Call of Duty, but rather the attention to detail is in a living, breathing organic world, where the characters have daily routines and don't just exist to interact with you at pre-ordained moments.
As with other titles in the series, and indeed other large RPGs, there are many glitches, both graphical and gameplay wise. These can shatter the illusion for a while and be frustrating, especially when they cause your character to die or lose some possessions. However I have not had anything major like causing the Xbox to crash (so far) and I would advise regular saving to minimise any damage. In any case, these are minor imperfections in the grand scheme of Skyrim, and do very little to put me off playing.
<<< Questing & Side-Questing >>>
Skyrim's main quest, is dramatic, engaging, and incredibly fulfilling to pursue. I will not spoil any details, suffice to say that you will be relentlessly scouring the game-world and battling all manner of terrible creatures in some truly amazing set-piece encounters as you seek to restore order. Altogether, I reckon it takes around 20 - 25 hours of play to complete this quest, and it is a well-scripted, well acted and rewarding one all round.
The side quests are myriad and varied, from basic collection and conversation objectives which can take you mere minutes, to campaigns which involve hours of searching, battling, thieving, spell-casting, exploring and more. It's very difficult to estimate the length of time to be spent engaging in these parts of the game, as I feel I have only scratched the surface myself sometimes. However, I would conservatively estimate at well over 100-200 hours of play, and that is just in a single play-trough.
What you must remember as you look at your next objective on the map, is that your destination may be literally miles away, and if you don't have a horse to hand, you will have a significant hike on your hands. It's during these long journeys that the game's quality truly reveals its quality. One journey which should have taken me around ten minutes to complete on horseback resulted in me encountering a wild troll, who quickly dispatched my steed and almost left me dead too. I travelled to a nearby town to recuperate at an inn, and ended up running a few errands for the innkeeper, and joined the local Mage's Guild (a cosy little club for wizards). It was only several hours later, as I was completing some wizard training, that I realised I had completely forgotten about the urgent quest I was on before being so rudely interrupted by that troll! The way this game holds your attention and sidetracks you with such weird and wonderful distractions is really brilliant.
<<< Solid Sounds...>>>
The audio on Skyrim is once again excellent. With such a wide selection of characters to meet, conversation options to have, and scripted events which occur, there are hours upon hours of great dialogue here. There are always some generic filler phrases which crop up regularly and cause annoyance, but the voice acting of the primary quests is very well done indeed. The ambient sounds, clashes of swords, roars of dragons and flashes of spells are rich and realistic, and the musical soundtrack is suitably soothing and stirring when it needs to be.
<<< Legendary Longevity...>>>
I have touched on this several times, but in case you missed it, Skyrim is the most detailed game I have ever played. It's difficult not to be over-awed by the choices before you, and you will not be able to appreciate the scale of the world you inhabit or the possibilities available to you until you have spent many hours playing, only to look at the map and realise you haven't covered a fifth of the total land mass yet. However the mood takes you, you will find a suitable quest or activity to occupy several hours of your time without fail, and always be left wanting more - fortunately there always will be more to experience too!
<<< Overall Opinions...>>>
Skyrim is an incredibly ambitious game, which takes RPGs to new levels of scale and customisation. It has hundreds of hours of satisfying and engaging gameplay, and is exceptionally well put together. The way your character progresses is rewarding and challenging, and the game itself provides the variety and customisation to occupy gamers for many years to come.
+ Brilliantly crafted story and engaging game
+ Endless character customisation options
+ Surely the most expansive game ever created
+ Hundreds of hours of missions, quests and activities
+ Satisfying and visceral combat
+ Create your own potions, spells, weapons and armour
+ You get to fight massive fire-breathing dragons!!!
- Various glitches and bugs which have escaped testing - but this is to be expected in such a large game
- Scale can be very daunting. I think many will be put off by the length of commitment and time required to really make the game worth playing
<<< Availability >>>
This has been a review of my Xbox copy of Skyrim, but it is also available for the PS3 and PC. The Xbox version is currently retailing for £37.91 on Amazon, and will be available new or pre-owned from various entertainment stores.
Thanks for reading - this review will also appear on Ciao under the same name - DonPaolo :)
Bioshock is a brilliantly made and hauntingly atmospheric first-person shooter (FPS). It has a smart and engaging plot and unique gameplay twists which come together to create a modern gaming classic.
Bioshock is set in a parallel imagining of the 1960's, and takes place is the underwater city of Rapture. Rapture was designed as a utopia for free thinking intellectuals, where technological and biological science would be allowed to develop without restraints. When you arrive, this vision of perfection is long gone, and the city is bursting at the seems (in some cases literally).
Atmosphere & Style......
This is where Bioshock excels. The game's mysterious opening throws you into Rapture without a clue of what is going on. The layout, appearance, and sound design create a dark, eerie, claustrophobic world, with a very tense oppressive feel to it - you can almost feel the millions of gallons of dark ocean pressing down on you. This is very deliberate, and is brilliantly crafted by the designers.
The tarnished and disfigured Art-Deco styles, along with the bizarre quasi-futuristic mechanisms you encounter are very evocative of the unusual setting, and the distant creaks and booms are very unnerving.
You are initially lead through a brief tutorial as you are introduced to several of the less savoury inhabitants of the city, and the fact that you are constantly on the move and scrapping for survival immediately cranks up the tension...
Bioshock is a game which has you on edge almost constantly, and you will feel that you can never relax. It's an intense game, and consequently I found I was often not in the mood to play it - especially when coming back from a long day at work. It is a great experience, but there are some times when you feel you need something with a little more light-heartedness, or at least a chance for respite.
The beauty of Bioshock's story is that you can control (to an extent) how much you want to be involved with it. You obviously cannot ignore the core plot, but through various systems, including speaking to other characters, finding old audio-recordings, hacking into computer terminals, etc. you can learn more about Rapture and its inhabitants, and be drawn further into the workings of this mysterious place.
Whereas many games have these features as minor optional extras, Bioshock's added content is extremely rich and compelling, and I feel the best way to enjoy the game is to really embrace the idea of full exploration. You should see, do, read and listen to as much as possible, as you will be rewarded with a fantastic and original storyline, and a greater appreciation of the game's central plot for your troubles.
Although this is a FPS, it is far from traditional in its mechanics. Bioshock involves lots of exploration, hacking of computer terminals and other machines, problem solving and mysteries as well as combat. The combat itself is also diverse and original. Whereas you will usually have at least a basic firearm throughout the game (be careful, as ammo is limited) your secondary armament comes in the form of 'Plasmids' - genetic modifications which grant powerful abilities such as telekinesis, or emitting bolts of lightning or fierce flames from your hands.
These can be combined with your customisable weapons to unleash a wide array of destructive and devastating effects, and make for very exciting and far from traditional FPS combat.
One core mechanic of the game is the presence of the bizarre 'Little Sisters' and their protectors; the 'Big Daddies'. I won't spoil the plot for you, save to say that depending on who you believe, Little Sisters should either be saved and freed, or destroyed and 'harvested'. Depending on your choice of action throughout the game, you will receive certain benefits, but needless to say, whichever path you choose, the Big Daddies will not be happy...
This really is a key element of Bioshock, and proves, along with the unique setting and great storyline, that this is an FPS with a brain, and a moral compass.
From the moment you first set foot inside Rapture, you know that this is going to be an impressive and original game. Bioshock delivers on these initial impressions magnificently, offering something genuinely new in the world of FPS games, which is traditionally dominated by shaven-headed space marines, grunting machismo, and limited cerebral inspiration. A winding, branching, compelling plot will keep you gripped and entertained, and a brooding, eerie atmosphere full of danger will keep you on edge throughout.
The only negative thing I can really say is that the atmosphere is sometimes too much, and I found myself crying out for something a little more relaxed and less foreboding. However, this is simply testament to the brilliant job the designers have done in crafting the perilous and claustrophobic underwater world of Rapture.
Cue Rapturous applause...
Also on Ciao... :)
"Halo 3: ODST" is a First Person Shooter (FPS) game in the popular 'Halo' series of games by American developers Bungie. It features single-player and co-operative campaign modes, an online multiplayer element, and a brand new mode entitled "Firefight".
Despite being published after Halo 3, the ODST campaign actually takes place between that of Halo 2 and Halo 3, overlapping both titles slightly and providing an interesting additional set of story lines. For clarity, here is a run-down of how the story of the Halo games ties together:
Publishing Chronology... (the order in which the games were produced):
- Halo: Combat Evolved
- Halo 2
- Halo 3
- Halo 3: ODST
- Halo Reach
Story Chronology... (the 'actual' order in which events in the story take place):
- Halo Reach
- Halo: Combat Evolved
- Halo 2
- Halo 3: ODST
- Halo 3
What is an ODST? :
It stands for "Orbital Drop Shock Trooper". The ODSTs are a team of skilled, highly efficient and well-equipped soldiers (that takes care of the 'Shock Trooper' part), who are aerially inserted into the field of battle in small pods which are launched to the ground from a ship in orbit, (hence the 'Orbital Drop'...)
Also known in the story as 'Helljumpers' due to their penchant for being deployed into 'hot' situations, they first appeared in the Halo 2 storyline as non-playable allies.
For the first time in a Halo game, you do not take on the world as UNSC super-soldier 'Master Chief' also known as 'John' or 'Spartan 117'. Rather, you take the role of a new recruit to the ODST squadron, and you are referred to only as 'The Rookie'.
Single Player Campaign (also available in Co-op mode):
Despite being a varied and fun campaign, the single player campaign is probably the week point of ODST. It's short, and even on Legendary (the highest difficulty setting) can be completed in around 6-7 hours comfortably.
Despite placing you in the open city of New Mombasa, which is supposedly free to explore, the game often limits your options and channels you towards a particular location. In addition, the majority of the story is told through flashbacks, which are triggered as you reach certain objectives in the city. These levels are full of action and set pieces, but they tend to be very narrow and linear, and there is very little that feels original. If you are a regular Halo player, most of the encounters and action set-pieces that you face will feel recycled or adapted from previous games.
However, ODST does provide a slightly different experience to the rest of the games in the Halo franchise, due mainly to the limitations of the player's character 'The Rookie'. You are a great soldier, but not a 'super-soldier' in the mould of Master Chief. You are smaller, and weaker, meaning you can't easily 'beat-down' enemies with your melee attacks, and the larger enemies can make very light work of you with their hand-to-hand combat. Rather than Master Chief's recharging shield, you have basic body armour and limited, so you are very vulnerable when exposed...
The result is that you profit from a more tactical and restrained approach, especially on the 'Heroic' and 'Legendary' difficulty settings. NOTE: This is not a tactical shooter in the vein of Rainbow Six or similar, I simply mean it is more tactical than Halo's usual one-man-army experience. Overall, the ODST campaign is fun and worth a look, but its brevity means it is not the best that the game has to offer.
Multiplayer (Xbox Live):
ODST has 2 discs - the first containing the single player campaign and Firefight modes, and the second being a multiplayer disc. The 2nd disc contains the entire multiplayer element of Halo 3 in a stand-alone package. Halo 3 is one of the most popular competitive online multiplayer games available on a console, and this version features all maps (including the bonus map packs usually sold separately) to create a full Halo 3 multiplayer experience. You can play online with any other Halo 3 players without having to purchase Halo 3 itself, and benefit from exactly the same features.
The multiplayer element is what provides the bulk of the longevity in this game, although it must be said that if you own Halo 3 and have purchased the associated additional map packs already, there is nothing new here.
For more detail on the Halo 3 multiplayer experience, please refer to my previous review of Halo 3 here: http://www.ciao.co.uk/Halo_3_Xbox_360__Review_6010195
Firefight (single player or co-operative game mode):
I have played through the Halo3: ODST story several times now, on my own and in co-operative mode with friends. Now that it's been completed on Legendary difficulty once or twice, I'm content that the campaign mode has no more to offer. Yet, the pinnacle of ODST, and the only reason I still own it and revisit it regularly, is "Firefight"
Firefight pits you, either solo or with up to 3 friends, in an epic battle against the Covenant's alien forces. You are dropped into one of several large, intricate arenas from the single player game, and face-off against waves of enemies in a desperate fight for survival. The waves of enemies increase in size, strength, power and cunning, brining ever more advanced weaponry and equipment as your stocks of weapons and ammo deplete, offering the ultimate challenge of how long you can survive as the odds stack up against you and your finite supply of health packs and lives diminishes.
In my opinion, Firefight is a master-stroke by Bungie. It is an addictive and compelling mode which showcases the pure fun and combat of Halo in a new way. It's best played with friends (either split-screen on the same console, or over Xbox Live) and has provided me with hours and hours of fun long after I stopped playing the single player game.
In hindsight, Halo 3: ODST also acted as a side-project by Bungie developers, allowing them to test some key game modes and mechanics which would be employed more fully in their final Halo game: "Halo: Reach". Reach features a better-looking, more developed, highly customisable version of Firefight, which irons out a lot of bugs. However the original ODST version is still brilliant!
Look and Feel:
Halo 3: ODST was built with the Halo 3 game engine, and as such it is very similar to Halo 3 in terms of graphical capability. It looks good, and provides an immersive game world without really blazing much of a trail. That's ok, because Halo has never been about the best graphics, but about crafting a highly playable and exciting experience, and that is very much intact here.
Despite handling a new type of character, the controls to ODST aren't that different from the other Halo games and are very intuitive. There are a couple of additional features such as a quasi-"night-vision" visor, slightly different weapons, and more vulnerability which change the way the game is played to a certain extent, but this is still very noticeably Halo.
"Halo 3: ODST" is a very well-made, interesting and very playable instalment in the Halo franchise. Its single player mode has some exciting action set-pieces and is enjoyable and compelling but brief, and ultimately it is pretty disposable as a part of the overall story, except for die-hard fans. Its multiplayer offers the full and expanded Halo 3 multiplayer experience, but nothing new, but the new Firefight mode is the real highlight here. It is a source of lasting fun, good replayability, and a great way of wreaking multiplayer havoc with friends.
Also on Ciao :)
The Halo series of games has captured the imagination of a generation of gamers, and in my opinion has been a major driving force behind the success of the Xbox and Xbox 360, due to their exclusivity.
With so much hype from its predecessors Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2, Halo 3 had a lot to live up to, and a set of wildly divergent expectations from fans as to what it should do.
As such, it would have been impossible to reconcile all of these ideas, but the developers, Bungie, have done an incredible job. They have created an exceptionally enjoyable and involving game, which gives a brilliant single player FPS (first person shooter) experiences, and one of the most complete and customisable multiplayer experiences ever.
The exciting and compelling Halo story has come a long way since the first game was released, and the Campaign would be the first port of call for many fans looking to see how it progressed. What they're met with is a lengthy story (depending on the difficulty level you choose), which is full of incredible set pieces, sprawling levels and varied and challenging enemies. In terms of difficulty, you can go for 'Easy', 'Normal', 'Heroic', or 'Legendary'. Bungie describe 'Heroic' as 'how Halo is meant to be played', and this is a great level at which you experience the bets the game has to offer. 'Legendary' offers a brilliant challenge, and encourages you to play in a totally different way, but is probably not the best way to kick things off!
Throughout the game, as you encounter the weird and wonderful enemy forces of The Covenant and The Flood, you also acquire a devastating array of weaponry and vehicles with which to take them on. As always, this firepower is balanced by the fact that you can only carry 2 weapons at a time, so if you want the power of the rocket launcher and the sniper rifle, you won't be able to have any other weapons to be used in close quarters.
Probably the best feature of the campaign is that you can tackle it alone, or with up to 3 others in a co-operative mode over a network or Xbox Live. This lets you combine with your team mates, execute different tactics, and experience the game in a whole new way. For some who find the 'Legendary' difficulty solo a bit too much, playing with friends will allow you to experience the toughest challenge the game offers.
In Halo 3, the Halo multiplayer experience, which has always been unique and exciting, is truly taken to the next level. You can play with up to 16-players over Xbox Live, facing your opponents in a vast array of individual or team-based games, including regular 'Slayer' (kill the opposition), as well as FPS staples 'King of the Hill', 'Capture the Flag', and several more original modes like 'Oddball', 'Juggernaut' and 'Rocket Race'.
These modes are all customisable, allowing you to create your own unique game experiences, or join in ranked and casual online games with standardised settings. When you consider the range of maps and weapons available, the depth of the multiplayer experience is truly incredible. All multiplayer modes are well-balanced, with expertly crafted maps which leave the most powerful weapons in vulnerable open spaces so as to present an extra challenge.
Graphics and Sound...
Halo 3's graphics and sound are very good. They work from a very rich colour palette, and are certainly striking. They aren't the greatest you can find on Xbox 360 console, but they are sufficiently good to provide an immersive and vibrant game.
Controls and Gameplay...
The control system has not changed a great deal throughout the series, and once again the Xbox controller is used perfectly intuitively for Halo 3. No functions are inaccessible or clunky, and the game is very responsive to subtle movements. You can off course reconfigure the controls to suit your preferences, and adapt the sensitivity too.
The game's developer, Bungie, places player experience at the very heart of what it does, and this is evidenced brilliantly by their online community at Bungie.net. Here, players can get involved in all sorts of discussions which influence the development of the game, changes to maps and the 'balancing' of online combat.
The website also tracks your statistics and performance every time you play a Bungie game online. This means, for real FPS geeks, you can see each game you've played, how well you did, which equipment you used, where on the map you died most often, which is your most effective weapon, and so on. In terms of providing a great community experience, Bungie are second to none, and the depth they go into has to be seen to be believed.
As well as this highly customisable, highly involving single player and multiplayer experience, Halo 3 packs in 2 brilliant new features; 'Forge' and 'Theater' which really raise the bar. Please not I'm using the American spelling of 'Theater', as that's how it appears in the game...
'Forge' gives players free reign on the game's multiplayer maps, allowing you to add structures, change weapon placement, choose starting 'spawn' positions and much more, effectively creating your own custom levels which can be played on your console, shared over Xbox Live, or uploaded to the Bungie community to be rated and shared by members.
'Theater' saves full videos of your most recent games, allowing you to watch your favourite set pieces over and over, take cool screenshots, or create and edit videos of your best bits! This is another brilliant community tool which gives a new dimension to the game.
Bungie have continued their groundbreaking Halo series with an incredibly good game. Halo 3 combines a dramatic and lengthy single player experience with one of the greatest online multiplayer modes available. When you combine this with so many levels of customisation and adaptability, you have a truly great console shooter.
Prince of Persia is a 3D platform game, played with a 3rd person perspective. You play the role of the Prince, who with the aid of the magical woman Elika, must cleanse her kingdom from the darkness which has engulfed it, and defeat the evil forces which now inhabit it.
Drink it in...
Prince of Persia is a beautiful and unique looking game. The graphic style, known as 'cel-shading' is a real highlight of the whole game. It essentially gives the impression of pen and ink drawings filled with blocks of vivid colour, and they look fantastic. This is most notable on the character of the Prince, who is obviously in the foreground of the screen 99% of the time. The game world you inhabit is packed with rich detail, beginning as a dark, grimy, polluted land and slowly transforming (if all goes to plan) into a lush, beautiful landscape with magnificent towers, cliffs and platforms as far as the eye can see.
Gameplay & Platforming Style...
The core platforming gameplay is a mix of climbing, swinging, and supernatural parkour (free-running) moves. This almost plays like a free-roaming game, with many of the key game areas open for you to swing between from a few minutes in. This allows great freedom to explore, and the closest to non-linear progression you can achieve in a platform game.
The key to enjoying game is fluidity. It looks at its best and plays at its most satisfying when you time your moves perfectly and judge your position carefully, stringing together lengthy combos of moves from swinging on flags, sliding down cliffs, to running along walls (or even the ceiling). There are much more extravagant actions than that, but I won't spoil everything! The control system for this is excellent - it's simple, fluid, and satisfying.
Combat is an intermittent occurrence in the game. Whilst there are several minor enemies scattered around, (whom you will make very light work of) there are 4 key enemies which you will encounter regularly, each owning one of the 4 main parts of the game world, and you will have to defeat them in each of their zones as you progress. It can often feel a bit clumsy, unless you can get into a proper rhythm, but as in the platforming part of the game, much emphasis is placed on fluidity and stringing together combos of effective moves for best results.
There are a few flaws in this game, so I will just come out with them directly...
- The game is pretty easy. There are a variety of different moves and abilities to master, which are introduced incrementally throughout the game to keep play fresh, but there were no real difficult puzzles to solve, or platform sections which had me beaten. Even with a basic and clumsy grasp of the controls, you will be able to progress far, but as I mentioned earlier, the real challenge is not to complete the game, but to master the timing and moves with fluidity - you get most out of this game when you feel like a ninja/chimp/tarzan. The 'easiness' is enhanced by the fact that...
- You can't die. This is not a spoiler - you will find it out within 5 minutes of starting the game. If ever the Prince takes a misjudged leap or slips off a tower, your magical female companion is there to save you and whisk you back to the nearest safe spot. In essence, this is an autosave feature which saves every couple of seconds. This nullifies a lot of the challenge and makes you take more risks, as the stakes are low, however I find it does also minimise frustration of having to repeat long sections of the game over and over again.
- The game is relatively short. There is even an Xbox Achievement to complete the game in 10 hours or less, which shows that you can race through it when you know how!
Finally, there isn't a great deal of replay value. Once you have seen all there is to see and completed the game once, there is little incentive to return. However, even if you just paly through once, the chances are you will have an incredibly fun, exciting experience, and you will definitely be treated to beautiful graphics and some great platforming gameplay!!
You should be able to pick this game up for a reasonable price now (around £15) and it would be well worth the investment!