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(This review is also available on www.digitallard.com - the one stop shop for ridiculously high word counts)
It's been a long while since I last put together a Dooyoo review. I guess I was waiting for a product to come along that inspired me - either by being so good that I felt the overwhelming need to promote it from the rooftops, or by being so bad that I felt the overwhelming need to push it from a rooftop. Left 4 Dead 2 is this product.
Available for PC and Xbox 360, Left 4 Dead 2 is Valve's second take on a zombie apocalypse first person co-operative shooter. The first game in the series was a massive success due to its high quality production and unique online experiences, and the sequel doesn't attempt to fix something that wasn't broken, and instead focuses on bringing more of the stuff that made the original great.
For most of the game, you will play was one of the four human survivors. These are Ellis (the lovable hick pretty boy), Rochelle (the sassy journalist in a Depeche Mode t-shirt), Nick (sarcastic con artist) and Coach (he's a coach). Immune to the virus that has infected everyone else and turned them into mutated undead freaks, the team must collect any weapons they can and fight through hordes of super-fast zombies in order to reach safe points, and ultimately their rescue.
There are five campaigns, all of them set around New Orleans, and each one is made up of four to six maps which will take an average player between ten and twenty minutes to get through. On the whole, the game is a 'get from A to Z without being eaten' experience, although occassionally a map will require something different from you, such as collecting items or going on a salvage mission for petrol. The maps are packed full of great ideas and have expert design and stylish visuals. There are flash floods to deal with, uncontrollable fires, a creepy carnival and a rock concert, to name a few of the highlights. Due to the AI Director, each playthrough is different, making it easier for struggling players, harder for confident players and, above all else, different every time.
Making your journey interesting will be the occassional horde of zombies, who are easily dispatched with a shotgun blast but they will cause problems if you let them swarm. There are Special Infected too, horribly disfigured creatures who will attack your team in different ways. Spitters will cover you in burning acid, Boomers will vomit over you (which will attract the zombies), and Tanks and Chargers will just generally beat you up and then down again. The ones to really look out for are Hunters, Smokers and Jockeys, who can essentially disable you until a team mate comes along to help. And don't go disturbing the crying Witch...
Various weapons can be found along the way. These range from the logical (shotguns, machine guns, pistols, magnums and grenade launchers) and the cool (melee weapons such as axes, samurai swords and guitars, modified pipe bombs and Molotov Cocktails) to the outright weird (bottles of vomit and a garden gnome). The best weapon you will have at your disposal though is your team work. You won't make it through unless you work as a unit, protecting each other, rescuing each other and managing your resources properly. You can play the game as a single player experience and the computer players (the AI bots) will do a decent job, but Left 4 Dead is at its best online or split-screen with living human beings on your team.
I mentioned that you would spend about half of your game as the human characters, and this is because of Left 4 Dead's excellent Versus mode. Most of the life from this series comes from the multiplayer fun, and this is the core attraction. The players are split into two teams - Survivors and Infected. The Survivors have to try their best to get through each map, while the Infected players take control of the nasty zombies and get in the other players' way as much as possible. Unique, exciting and unpredictable fun, and let's be honest, it's great to be a zombie. The only downside to this mode is its extraordinary length, so if you want to take control of a zombie for a shorter period of time, try the Scavenge mode, which plays like a cut-down version of Versus. Wrapping up the available game modes are Survival, where you must fight against waves of attackers and last as long as you can, and Realism, where some of the more video game style elements are removed from the gameplay in order to make it more realistic (read: difficult).
When compared to the original (and cheaper) game, there is not much technical stuff that has changed. There is a lot more content though, and the graphics and the world of the game are crisper and smarter than they were before. The maps exhibit smarter design, and each campaign offers a unique experience. There are new weapons and items to collect, four new fun characters to get to know and eight new zombies to re-kill. Would you be missing out a lot if you saved a few quid and went for the original Left 4 Dead instead of this sequel? Not really, but in all honesty, both games have such strong replay value that I recommend you buy them both. The online play experience is brilliant and addictive, and while the game itself is quite short and basic, the unpredictability and variety on offer makes it one of the most engaging zombie apocalypses you could ever hope to be part of.
The Passing Downloadable Content
Recently (April 2010), the 'Passing' add-on pack was released for Left 4 Dead 2. Available free for PC users and for 560 points (about £5) for Xbox users, the Passing adds three maps to the game, along with a new zombie type (the Fallen Survivor), a gun and a melee weapon. Also, Valve have introduced the Mutation mode, which presents a weekly variation on a game mode for players to enjoy. These are unique, fun and sometimes sadistic extra challenges that mean you will get serious long-term value for money on your download. PC users should pick this up without hesitation, and I would recommend this downloadable content highly to Xbox users, despite the added cost, as I think the new maps, weapons, Mutation mode, achievements and avatar unlockables will more than make up for the small investment.
Video game developers PopCap Games are to puzzle game enthusiasts what Elvis Presley was to music, what Tom Baker was to Doctor Who, what biscuits are to tea. That is to say they are seriously awesome. They are the minds behind such classics as Bejeweled, Bookworm, Feeding Frenzy and Zuma. With its super addictive qualities, Bejeweled alone makes them more powerful than twelve Decepticon US senators. Peggle is one of the weapons in their all-conquering arsenal. Let's hope it has mercy on us.
Peggle is inspired by the Japanese game of 'pachinko'. The concept behind pachinko is similar to pinball, except the machines stand vertically and they have grids of pegs littering the playing area. The metal balls are shot into these pegs and with any luck, their random bouncing around will lead them to one of the 'jackpot' pockets. Peggle retains the pegs, but now the challenge of the game is to hit all of the orange pegs to clear each level. This requires a great deal of skill, luck, psychic ability and screaming at the monitor.
So, let me show you how it all works. You will start a level with ten balls. You fire your first one using the cannon at the top of the screen (mastering your aim with this is vital to success) and it will throw itself into the grid of pegs. Each level has a different peg layout - some easy, some hard, and some with obstacles and hidden secrets. Most of the pegs are blue and hitting these will only clear them and give the player a small amount of points. Twenty-five pegs will be orange, and clearing these is the only way to conquer a level. One peg per shot will be purple, and hitting this will provide a points boost. Two pegs per level are green, and hitting these will activate special powers which we will explore soon. There is a moving pocket at the bottom of the screen, and if your ball lands here you will gain an extra shot. If it doesn't, then the ball disappears into ball Heaven.
Most players will start with the Adventure mode, a 55 level experience which takes you through intensive courses with the ten Peggle masters. These comical creatures include a unicorn, a cat, a hamster, a magic rabbit, a dragon, an owl, a talking flower, an alien, a pumpkin and a lobster. They have some great dialogue, but even more useful are their special powers (which are activated with the green pegs mentioned above). These can save your bacon, so use them wisely. The unicorn gives you a guide for your shots, the dragons turns your shots into burning balls of burning fire, the alien creates and explosion, the lobster gives you pinball-style flippers and so on.
Peggle is deceptively simple, and it takes mere seconds to lure you in. The beauty behind it is in perfecting your shots. There are plenty of bonuses to be won for being an expert aim, a lucky blighter or a combination of the both. You will be rewarded for pulling off nifty moves, and the Replay function will allow you to relive them indefinitely. Or show them off to your mum, or whatever. If your mum's not in, then the feeling of playing on its own is satisfying enough.
Once you've cut your teeth on the Adventure mode, you'll want to progress onto harder stuff. Luckily, Peggle offers a lot more for the dedicated player. The Challenges are Herculean, but for me they were even more addictive than the main game. There are several types of challenge if you're up for them, and they include clearing a higher number of orange pegs, clearing ALL pegs, earning over 400,000 points in a level and so on. They're tough cookies, the lot of 'em, but they add a whole load of replay value.
If you're the competitive sort, then Duel mode will please you. You can face off against a real-life humanoid or a computer simulation of one, and you each take turns earning points on the same board. This mode is tough as you must predict your opponent's moves if you want to make the best of the situation, and you will be punished if you fail to hit any orange pegs. If you have Peggle on the Xbox 360, you can also take part in a Peggle Party, where up to four players duel against each other at once. This mode is tedious and not as fun or rewarding as it feels like it should be, but it's good if you've got lots of buddies to banter with while you're waiting for people to take shots.
Peggle is a great game for the casual gamer and the hardcore. The casual gamer will appreciate the well-developed points system, the bouncy, happy graphics and the addictive qualities, while the hardcore player will lap up the huge range of challenge on offer. Everything about the game reeks of fun - from the celebratory use of 'Ode to Joy' as your victory music, the cheeky and tense sound effects, the wise-cracking and congratulatory weirdo characters, and so much more. It should be insanely frustrating, but it's been so expertly put together that you will forget about your frustration instantly as the lure for points and peg clearing overcomes you, over and over again.
On the PC, you will be able to find a copy of this for between £4.99 and £9.99 in most gaming shops. If you are a Steam user, you can download an exclusive trial version called Peggle Extreme, which is based on the games featured in the Orange Box. There are plenty of expanded trial versions out there on the web so check out PopCap's website or something similar to give the game a go. If you are an Xbox 360 user, you can download Peggle for 800 Microsoft points (roughly six or seven pounds) via the Xbox Live Marketplace. Check out the demo before you do so. DS users can also pick up a copy, which includes extra unlockable bonus content (based on the semi-sequel, Peggle Nights). Whatever format, I would recommend you try Peggle out.
I've got a confession to make. A few months ago, I sat here in front of my PC screen and tapped out a review of The Orange Box. I gleefully chatted about the five Valve first-person shooter games collected together in this compilation. I waxed lyrical about the mature storyline of Half-Life 2, the ingenuity of Half-Life 2 Episodes One and Two, the diabolical evil genius of Portal and... well, I think I might have mentioned Team Fortress 2. Truth was, I didn't want to play Team Fortress 2. It was a strictly online experience, and I was intimidated by the concept of having to work as a team with experienced players when I hadn't ever played the game before. They would call me a 'n00b' and then shoot me, no doubt. As I couldn't practice offline or with friends, I left TF2 to the very last and concentrated my reviewing efforts on the other games. Eventually, I couldn't put it off much longer. After watching as many videos and consuming as many text files as I could find, I bit the bullet and jumped into a game. I didn't really understand what was happening, and I kept on getting blown to pieces, bits and smithereens, and also bits of smithereens.
Reader, I would love to say that I persevered and learned the ropes and eventually turned into the Intercontinental Champion of Team Fortress, but this would be a lie and the internet is not the place for those. The damage had already been done by the preceding weeks of hesitance and fear. Because I wasn't instantly amazing at TF2, I simply accepted that I had been right in the first place about it not being fun, and that I would stink at it, and that I should leave the internet to people who can fire guns accurately. I turned it off, I wrote my review, and I forgot all about it.
Some weeks later. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was home alone for a few hours. Out of the blue, I decided that I wanted to play Team Fortress 2. It was an odd sensation, and one I completely didn't foresee. Still, I vowed to be patient and optimistic, and I turned the game on.
Its cartoony style, vivid colour scheme and dramatic, bombastic soundtrack were alluring - they promise simplistic, over the top action. With its exaggerated caricatures and near-supernatural weapons, the game is definitely OTT, but if you're expecting a simple blast-a-thon, you'll be surprised. Still, the presentation is basic enough and welcomes you into the game without any unnecessary waffle. I chose a 'Ranked' game, which meant that I would be matched up with players of my skill level online, and the results would be recorded on the leaderboards (Alternatively, I could have gone for a 'Player' match, which has less rigid rules and allows for joining a game halfway through - there seems to be more people playing these.)
I found a game on the 2Fort map - a "Capture The Flag" affair where two opposing teams (Red and Blue) store intelligence briefcases in the basements of two farmhouses on either side of a small stream. Each team must try to break into the enemy base using force, stealth or technical wizardry, take the briefcase and return it to their own. Simple enough. The teams in my game only had two players each, but I wasn't playing to win, I was playing to learn what the heck I was supposed to do. Bigger games can support up to eight players a side.
From the nine available 'classes', I selected the Pyro. The other classes are Scout, Soldier, Engineer, Demoman, Heavy, Medic, Spy and Sniper. We'll take a proper look at them later. I went for the Pyro straight away because he has a flamethrower. Hey, I never claimed to be an intelligent guy.
It wasn't long before my 'team mate' decided to bail, leaving me on my own against my two enemies. If I wanted any chance of staying alive, the logical thing to do would have been to guard my intelligence briefcase and burn any invaders. But I wasn't here to do a Custer impression, I wanted to throw myself into this game and get to know what's up.
I used the signposts dotted around the base to find my way to the 'no man's land' inbetween the two bases. There are a couple of routes across I could have taken. Had I been a Scout, I could have double-jumped onto the metal roof over the bridge and leaped straight onto the enemy's building. A spy or someone with a penchant for the sneaky could have dived into the water and taken the sewer tunnels. As there were no snipers watching out for me and it was a pretty unpopulated game, I was safe to simply take the bridge. I ducked through the corridors, ran up the stairs, went through a few more doors and then descended into the basement. While the rest of the map looks like a sadistic farmyard, the basements are very sci fi and evil genius. Although the maps are complicated and allow for a variety of routes, approaches and strategies, it is very hard to get lost in them. I found the intelligence, grabbed it and ran back the way I came. Of course, at this point I had no idea how to keep myself hidden in this map, so it was not long before I was tracked down by my opponents. I managed to torch one of them fairly badly, but they were too good for my amateur self. They slaughtered me and I respawned back at my base, to start all over again. And so it continued. I had no chance of winning and I believe they beat me 3-0 (meaning they captured my intelligence three times, and I got theirs no times) but I had a lot of fun running around, fending off attacks with bursts of flame and laughing triumphantly for the three second bursts that I had their intelligence.
Had I got this game wrong! My own misgivings had put me off a very tactical and endlessly enjoyable game. Not wanting to swamp myself with information, I decided to slowly work my way through each of the classes while sticking with the same 2Fort map. Here's my breakdown of each of the different 'characters' you can be, each with their own clearly-defined strengths, weaknesses and personalities.
Class Name: Scout
Appearance: An over-enthusiastic baseball fan.
Weapons: Scattergun, pistol, baseball bat.
Special Abilities: Scouts can run exceptionally fast and can double-jump. They are the best at claiming 'Control Points', which is essential for winning some of the maps.
Class Name: Soldier
Appearance: Well, he's a soldier.
Weapons: Rocket launcher, shotgun, shovel.
Special Abilities: The soldier can use his rocket launcher to give himself a jump boost, although this does damage him slightly.
Class Name: Pyro
Appearance: Looks a little like a gasmasked freak.
Weapons: Flamethrower, shotgun, axe.
Special Abilities: The flamethrower can set enemies alight, which causes extra damage. Make sure they don't jump into any nearby water though!
Class Name: Engineer
Appearance: A rough-round-the-edges Texan.
Weapons: Shotgun, pistol, wrench.
Special Abilities: Engineers can build sentry guns (the most powerful weapon in the game), teleporters and supply points, meaning they are essential for a tactical team.
Class Name: Demoman
Appearance: Unshaven and covered with grenades.
Weapons: Grenade launcher, sticky bombs, bottle.
Special Abilities: Demomen can place sticky bombs and detonate them at will, meaning they are the ultimate trap-setters.
Class Name: Heavy
Appearance: Muscular and about seven foot tall.
Weapons: Minigun, shotgun, fists.
Special Abilities: The heavy has the most health out of all the classes, but don't expect him to move quickly.
Class Name: Spy
Appearance: Wears a suit and a mask.
Weapons: Revolver, knife.
Special Abilities: The spy can turn himself invisible for a short period of time, and can use his Sapper to destroy enemy machines such as turrets. He can also disguise himself as a member of the opposite team. When he is in disguise, he can stab people in the back for a one-hit kill.
Class Name: Medic
Appearance: A doctor from Hell.
Weapons: Medigun, 'syringe gun', saw.
Special Abilities: The medigun heals his team's injuries, and if the medic heals enough, he can use an 'Ubercharge' to make himself and a mate invulnerable briefly.
Class Name: Sniper
Appearance: A stereotypical Australian, for some reason.
Weapons: Sniper rifle, submachine gun, kukri.
Special Abilities: The sniper, if he charges his gun up enough and gets a clear shot at someone's head, can kill an opponent with one shot.
Each individual class is exciting for its own reasons, even relatively dull-sounding ones like the Medic or Spy.
There are six maps to play on, including 2Fort, Well, Hydro, Dust Bowl, Granary and Gravel Pit. 2Fort is the only Capture The Flag map, while the others involve the team battling over various 'control points'. Some of the maps have one team defending and the other attacking ('King of the Hill' style), while the others give the teams bases and ask them to attempt to takeover the other. All of the maps are expertly designed, producing twisted versions of everyday environments with multiple routes, hiding places and secrets galore.
I generally play Team Fortress 2 on my Xbox 360 due to ease and because my PC can't handle anything bigger than a Beatles MP3. However, I have to say the PC version is superior. Not only does it have the usual hacks and custom skins available, there are more official maps to download (including a more than welcome Team Deathmatch mode and the new 'Payload' mode) plus unlockable weapons. This makes the Xbox 360 version seem a little smelly, to be honest. It also affects its longevity quite negatively.
Playing online is a mixed affair on the 360 - there are not a lot of people discussing tactics, so despite the team-based nature of the game, it tends to be a free-for-all. There seem to be a few hacks around, meaning you could find yourself in a game with annoyingly low gravity or some such irritating glitch. Also, reliability of servers is an issue - I've been disconnected, or booted, or "lost my connection" on 1 out of every 3 or 4 matches. Whether this is just bad luck or not, I don't know, but it does put me off playing.
With so few maps on the 360 version, this game has enough material to keep you hooked like a grubby little fanboy for a week or so, before it will no doubt get a little old. However, the PC version has enough variety and room for development that it ranks as one of the better light-hearted online games out there. It's a pumped-up 'Paper, Rock, Scissors' game played out in gloriously gratuitous sophisticated cartoon, peppered with more wit than many movies. The terrifying 'head mistress gone bad' voiceover work of Ellen McLain gets annoying due to its repetition and sheer volume, but it's essential for orchestrating in-game events. The personalities of the characters are thankfully more entertaining, and the way you will be mocked for losing is fantastically frustrating (you will be shown parts of your exploded body, shown close-ups of your killer and given a 'nemesis' who you have to seek revenge upon).
While the Xbox 360 version is smaller than the PC, it is part of the Orange Box, which is itself an essential purchase for any first-person shooter fan full stop. It can be bought seperately at a budget price for the PC, or downloaded via the Steam service. The best way of obtaining TF2 though is definitely the Orange Box - the cheapest, greatest video game compilation of all time.
It's cheaper to download Uno on Xbox Live than it is to buy a deck of Uno cards. Your average pack of real, hold-in-your-hands Uno cards will usually cost you a fiver, while the digitised version will cost 400 Live points, which roughly equates to £3.60. Given that the Xbox version comes with three players who are willing to play at all times, you really can't knock it for value. Unless you've already got an Uno deck, which you probably have. Check the cupboard in the hall. Nan probably bought it in 1989.
Whether it's online or on your Nan's shopping list, the rules for Uno are simple yet strangely sadistic. Each player is dealt a hand of seven cards from a deck of one hundred and eight. Turn-taking goes around the circle of players, each one discarding a card when it is their go. The card must match either the colour (green, red, blue or yellow) or number (0-9) of the card on the pile preceding it. If he hasn't got a suitable card in his hand, he must draw another. Play continues in this way until one player is down to his last card, at which point he must yell "Uno!" or face the wrath of a spiked mace (or whatever your house rules are). If that player can then get rid of his last card, he wins!
Of course, this wouldn't be any fun without some funky penalties thrown into the mix, so mixed in with the 0-9 numbered cards are the following nasty little blighters...
+ 2 - The person next in line to play must pick up two cards from the pile
Missed Turn - The player next in line misses his go.
Reverse - Flow of play turns 180 degress, so the person who played before you goes next.
Change Colour - The player gets to declare what colour the next card should be.
Change Colour + 4 - A combination of the Change Colour card, which whacks the next player with four extra cards. Has been known to end otherwise peaceful relationships.
Uno on the Xbox translates this game faithfully and competently onto your HD screen. The basic game is a simple Single Player ordeal which pits you against three CPU controlled players of questionable Artificial Intelligence. Playing the game is easy, as visual clues flash up on screen to tell you what actions you can take at that time (Call Uno, draw a new card etc). To simplify things even more, you can also team up with a CPU player for Partner Uno, and work together to complicate life for the other two players. Finally, you can customise a game completely, switching the rules to match your own preferred style of play. This is an excellent option, because some people have strange ideas.
Playing by yourself gets boring quickly due to the lack of challenge and variety from the CPU players, so the real life and soul of Uno comes from the various multiplayer options. Like most online games these days, you can play a Player Match or a Ranked Match with your friends or complete strangers. Player Matches involve whatever rules the host decides to cook up, and players can join and leave as and when they feel like it. Ranked Matches pit you against three human players and involve a complicated series of statistics and a leaderboard, with each game played to strict, traditional rules and wins, losses and skill are all tracked. Players can voice chat through the game, although few seem to do so. I have experienced no lack of players when battling online, and there do not seem to be any cheaters or glitches lurking around. Plus, the game uses Xbox avatars, so you can watch your opponents' virtual selves celebrate and grumble as you play. It's the world of tomorrow - today!
Unless you're a massive fan of the card game already, Uno might grow a bit stale. Luckily, help is at hand. There are a handful of extra decks to purchase, including Street Fighter and Kameo themed ones. Each deck costs between one and two pounds worth of points, but if you're a fan of the games involved (Uno, Street Fighter or Kameo) then these are nice additions. Each one has a whole heap of new graphics, sound effects and gimmick cards that alter the gameplay. Even if you don't want to pay any extra, have a look at the Downloads section anyway, because there is a free '35th Anniversary' deck to download which adds some life to the game.
For those who keep track of such things, Achievements are quite easy to earn, and are mostly based on using a certain number of cards or winning a certain number of matches. I have got all 200 of the available Gamerscore points, and it did not take me much longer than a week of semi-casual play.
So, the game is of unquestionable high quality, with its only negative quality being its possible lack of staying power. The game is well crafted and lacks for nothing, and, as mentioned above, it is cheaper than a real deck. Uno Rush is also available for the Xbox 360, at twice the price. I haven't played it so I can't really comment on what it offers the player, but I do know that the original Uno already has a massive established online fanbase and its as cheap as chips with a freebie download too, so unless you're passionate about the 'Rush' rules, then I think the original should be the way to go. Its cheap, pick up and playable and easy to play. An essential addition to anyone's Xbox Live collection.
Professor Layton is a curious man - an English gentlemen with a penchant for puzzlement. His young charge and apprentice, Luke, shares his master's curiosity for riddles and other such brain-bending entertainment. They are remarkable minds - Layton is unshakeable and shrewd, while Luke shows wisdom beyond his few years - and they like nothing more than a challenge. That's why, when the late Baron Reinhold leaves a cryptic mystery in his last will and testament, the duo are summoned to the scene. Reinhold claims that whoever can find the "Golden Apple" will inherit his entire estate. Sadly, not a soul has any idea as to what the Golden Apple actually is. The Baron's widow, Lady Dahlia, invites Layton and Luke to the village of St. Mystere so they can solve the mystery. But there are more mysteries here than meets the eye, as the whole village seems very, very curious indeed...
Professor Layton & The Curious Village is a puzzle game, and by 'puzzle game', I don't mean some Columns/Bejeweled/Tetris knock-off. Nor do I mean a game based on jigsaw puzzles (although there is one in there). This is a pure puzzle game, based on a series of over 130 proper puzzles. If you've ever read a book of brain teasers, or played the board game Mind Trap, you'll know what kind of puzzles these are. Can you get the chickens and the foxes across the river, without leaving them in a position where a fox can eat a chicken? Can you follow directions to work out where a particular house is? Can you place eight Queens on a chess board without any of them getting in each others' way? These are mind-melting, logical torture sessions that will have you leaping with glee as soon as you chance upon the solution. One hundred and thirty times.
These puzzles are discovered through Layton's explorations around the village. The village is portrayed by a series of static, yet wonderfully illustrated, backgrounds with animated characters superimposed on top. Points of interest on the screens can be clicked with the stylus to chat to characters, look at objects or search for hint coins (which can buy hints for the puzzles), or you can move on to an adjacent screen. The characters and conversations are witty and mostly silly, but the most engaging characters are the two you spend the whole game controlling and listening to - the faultless gent Layton and the Scrappy Doo-style boy wonder Luke. The puzzles are tied up into the framework and narrative of the overall story - characters will ask you to solve puzzles before you can enter important areas, and will use them to test your competency. It's a predictable plot overall, but nonetheless enthralling. Most importantly, the dialogue doesn't ramble on and one like other similar games like Phoenix Wright and Another Code.
Most of your time in game will be spent solving puzzles, so let's take a look at them. The DS' top screen is used to explain the puzzle, giving information on what you have to do or what the problem is you need to solve. Just text up there. The bottom screen is generally an illustration which may require some amendment, some scribbling, or just looking at and pondering over. Your answers are provided via the stylus, whether you are required to write in some numbers or draw an outline in a drawing to point out where the 'hidden monster' is or some such thing. A very intelligent system, although there could have been a 'scratch pad' or something to help you out with your working. You can buy hints with your earned treasure, although they can be infuriating vague!
Success with the puzzles is its own reward, but if pride is not enough for you, there are plenty of awards. First, the Picarats - points - that are given to you upon completion of each one. The puzzles are never timed (promoting a relaxed and thoughtful atmosphere) but getting your first guess right will get you more Picarats than getting the second one. This is to discourage repetitive guesswork. Also, some puzzles provide a jigsaw puzzle, an item of furniture or a 'gizmo', all of which can be used in mini-games.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the puzzles are difficult, and you may end up screaming at some point. Unfortunately, they get fairly same-y before the end, resulting in something of an anti-climax. However, there are plenty of them to solve. Not only are there hidden ones scattered around the scenary, but there are extra tough ones unlocked after completing the game, plus a 'Weekly Puzzles' bonus which provides, shockingly, a new puzzle to download every week! Good value for money there. In fact, there is plenty of hidden stuff lying around to be found, and I won't spoil all of it here.
As previously mentioned, the illustration work is brilliant, and the still environments are livened up by occassional cartoon interludes that look fab and very professional indeed. The characters have excellent voice work and the sound effects are bright and fun. Musically, you will be soothed and entertained by the soundtrack's dulcet tones, although you might want to turn the volume down if you plan to spend a long time scratching your head over a tricky puzzle. And, unless you're extraordinarily good at working things out, you're going to be doing that for quite a while. For a DS game, 15-20 hours of gameplay doesn't sound too bad, does it?
There's nothing negative I can say about Professor Layton. It's hard and not very action-packed. But even those points aren't strictly true - the conversations and story events pump the game with excitement, and if you can't solve a puzzle even after using all your hint coins and stressing for three hours, just look it up online! There's no shame. A couple of words of advice for the puzzles though - always think as logically as possible, and remember you will never be required to "know" any facts or do any complicated mathematical work. Oh, and a man can't cut his own hair!
I've never been a great lover of first person shoot 'em up games. I've been an adequate lover, I guess. I remember most birthdays and occassionally take them out for dinner when I'm after something. However, once I found that special FPS, I turned my back on my lacklustre lovin' ways and turned myself into a respectable gentleman player - the kind any game would be happy to call their user. This happened to me last year - after revisiting Doom and Duke Nukem 3D (two flames from my past who were the exceptions to the rule), I took a chance with Half-Life 2. After consuming the entire Half-Life series, I rabidly worked my way through The Darkness, Dark Sector, Gears of War and, the latest to date, Unreal Tournament 3.
I remember playing the original UT way back in the day, but I don't recall enjoying it too much. I think it was something my friend liked to play and I didn't, so I bundled it in the 'sacrifices I make to keep other people happy' pile, which is NOT one of my favourite video game genres. What I remember about Unreal Tournament was that it was kind of like Doom, except the main focus was on exploring battle arenas and eliminating human or CPU-controlled opponents, rather than solving puzzles and fighting off hordes of enemies. It was a multiplayer-based experience, great for people with PCs who could handle it. Sadly, mine could not, so my enthusiasm was limited. Since I last put the game down, a host of updates and (I presume) an Unreal Tournament 2 have passed. I wasn't following the series, but when I found out that the third chapter was available on Xbox 360, I felt it was time to direct my newfound FPS passion back into the past.
I'm not quite sure what's happening with the plot, but it seems to involve human warriors waging covert wars with a variety of hostile alien races. The main character, Reaper, is about nine foot tall and weighs about six hundred stone, and talks with the gravelly type of voice that Christian Bale puts on when he's being Batman. He's hard, I guess. In the main campaign, you see through his eyes as he leads the Ronin (a small group of soldiers, which includes his sister Jester, the hyper-religious Bishop, and some ugly Papa Shango looking dude) as they track down a traitor. This tracking down involves lots of fights and shooting of things, plus some swearing. This ain't for kids.
There are about six types of game to play, all of them based around the original concept of being locked in an arena and having to kill your enemies before they kill you. Here's a breakdown of the different styles of play. They range from basic and base, to complex and confounding.
Deathmatch: The core of the game. You are alone with only an Enforcer handgun to your name. The arena is filled with people in the same boat. There are weapons and tools scattered around, and the first one to reach a certain number of kills earns the victory. It's a splendidly-enjoyable crazy ride full of explosions, blood, violence and fun, and I can play this type of game over and over again for hours without the bloodthirsty gameplay drying out.
Team Deathmatch: Like the above, except the players are split into teams. Avoid shooting your 'friends', as they will not doubt yell something sarcastic at you.
Duel: Like a Deathmatch, but a one-on-one affair. Boring, unless you're playing someone good in a small arena.
Capture The Flag: Oh, I'm sure we all know how to play CTF. Your enemy has a base with a flag in it, and so do you. You have to capture their flag and bring it back to your own, and they have to do the same. There are two tactics here - you can storm the base, grab the flag and leg it back to your own, avoiding the inevitable wave of attacks or arranging to get cover from some friends, or you can guard your base and fend off enemy assaults. If you're playing with real people, then this is a great level for strategy and tactics, but if your team is made up of CPU bots, then good luck trying to get everything done.
Vehicle CTF: Like the above, but with cars, tanks and death machines. Although the vehicles are fun (mostly) to pilot, the game style is really irritating and badly thought out. As you can only carry the flag on foot, you have to rely on escort services to drive you through the battlefield, which makes you a massive, stupid-looking target. I tended to ignore the vehicles and trudge along on my hoverboard, which takes quite a while. Probably my least favourite gameplay mode.
Warfare: My second favourite after Deathmatch, even though this is the most complicated mode. Each team has an armoured core which requires defending. Scattered around the field are Nodes, which look like miniature cores. Defending the Nodes will defend the Core, but if your enemy overwhelms your Node, the Core is open for attack... but then, if they all pile on top of the Core, then you can reclaim the Node and work towards attacking theirs. Warfare requires a balance of resources and a good distribution of team mates, meaning this is a fantastic level to play if you have some intelligent friends. The maps are varied and require different approaches in order to conquer, so they're always high-speed, exciting and interesting.
The campaign mode will offer you a whole host of variants of these games over dozens of maps, while some plodding sci-fi wargame plot rumbles along in the background. Instant Action games and Multiplayer games keep the game alive after the medium-length campaign ends. This is an excellent example of a game that can be pick up and playable (with Deathmatch and Duel) while also indepth and demanding (with Warfare and CTF), so whatever you want from your shooter experience, you can get it from Unreal Tournament 3. The weapons are unusual and funky, including traditional fare like double pistols, sniper rifles and rocket launchers, plus a whole host of super space style shooters, including Bio guns (firing green blobs of radioactive goo), laser guns, flak cannons, even slo-mo fields and giant killer bombs. All the guns have at least two styles of shooting, and they are massive fun to use. With yelled encouragement from the booming voiceover guy (who will joyously yell things like "Killing spree!", "DENIED!", "Dominating!", "Monster Kill!", "Rocket Scientist!" and, hilariously, "SHAFT MASTER! as you rake up the kills) and the bodies around you exploding or melting down to their skeletons, I guarantee you will be giggling with sadistic pleasure.
There are a few weaknesses. Despite their imposing looks, the vehicles are bulky and mostly aggravating, and I prefer to keep things traditional by staying on foot. The female voiceover has so much repetitive nonsense to say that she turns into a bug-a-boo swiftly. All in all, there isn't enough unique speech to keep that part of the story interesting. The ending is disappointing and unrewarding, and I felt no attachment to any of the comic book characters throughout the whole thing. However, these really are tiny troubles and shouldn't detract from the quality of the game. Graphics are top-notch and the game moves awfully fast. The modifiers that can be added to each game (try Instagib for some real fun) and the unlockable characters add a lot of variety, while the Xbox 360's Achievements reward repeated play and offer some tricky challenges.
Playing this game will make you feel angry, proud, excited, panicked and amused all at once - a complicated emotional journey based on something so perfectly simple. With something for everyone, this underrated FPS deserves your time, especially if you can take the incredibly immature, Games Workshop-calibre storyline and take it with a rocket pack full of salt.
I used to love Garfield. My fandom started with the cartoon series ("Friends are there..."), then the comic strip, then the cash-in magazine and the wall clocks. But not once did I look into the video games based on my favourite fat cat, despite my love for gaming. You see, in the Nineties, gaming was very much about jumping on platforms, smashing up baddies and collecting power-ups. There was part of me that refused to believe that Garfield - that overweight, lazy cat - was capable of Sonic-style athleticism, so I stuck to the blue hedgehog. However, it's 2009 now, and Garfield's still here, still doing his platform adventure games, so I thought it was about time I broke down and gave up my resistance.
The story for Garfield's Nightmare on the Nintendo DS is based on a giant sandwich. Garfield eats this sandwich. Woah, slow down! I just can't handle these modern video games with their complicated plots! I apologise if I struggle to keep up. This introductory tale is narrated to you via a scrolling cartoon strip played before the main game begins, but to break it down - Garfield eats the sandwich, then falls asleep and has nightmares because he ate too much.
If you're an old school gamer, this might remind you of something. That something is the similarly-titled SNES game Bart's Nightmare, starring Bart from The Simpsons fame. While in Bart's Nightmare, the player was sent into a pizza-induced restless slumber and was tasked with collecting Bart's schoolwork, Garfield's Nightmare is based on a sandwich-induced restless slumber and requires the player to collect pieces of Garfield's shattered alarm clock. Seeing as The Simpsons makes one episode a week and Garfield's creator produces seven cartoons a week, you'd think they would be able to manage better storylines than that.
Garfield's first nightmare (level) is set in a medieval castle. Castles must scare this cat, I guess. Some on-the-job training will instruct the player to collect pizza slices and doughnuts, to jump on enemies and collect the golden coins that their corpses spew out, and to avoid things that can cause death. The world of Garfield's dreams is a pseudo-3D platform landscape, allowing for some level of depth and interaction with the background. Garfield has been rendered in 3D, which makes him look pretty plain and charmless. One can't help but think that the game would have been prettier if it had stuck to the same 2D look of the comic strip rather than gone off on a more technically-impressive but less aesthetically-pleasing 3D attempt.
While we're at it, the entire game seems to be devoid of any of the characteristics of the comic strip, TV series or films starring Garfield's chubby mug. There is no Jon, no Odie, no Nermal or Arlene. The writing is lifeless, and not even the vocal styles of Lorenzo Music and/or Bill Murray have been attempted. Instead, Garfield only manages to meow a pained shriek when he gets hit by enemies, a noise I've never heard him make in any other medium. If it wasn't for Garfield's thought bubble narration and the occasional reference to the strip in the background, there would be absolutely nothing here that has anything to do with Garfield's world, humour or personality.
After four gruelling levels of castle crashing, including altercations with spiders, ghosts, crates and barrels, Garfield comes face-to-face with the boss of the haunted castle world. Well, I say 'boss', he's more like the guy they just left behind and forgot about. A tepid boss battle from 1993 later and we're on to the next nightmare world, which appears to be a prehistoric volcano. Other levels include a winter wonderland and a really cloudy place. What is wrong with this pussy's dreams, for crying out loud? Not only are his nightmares pathetic, they're also far too human. Why isn't he afraid of cat things, like choking on furrballs, being spayed or dying ten or more times?
These levels are frustratingly slow. While they are nice and long, they're fairly sparse and not exactly thrilling. Five levels are spent in each world, so it doesn't take long for the scenary to get repetitive. However, it is enjoyable to see a platform game take a more measured and thoughtful approach, and there is plenty of room for Garfield to explore and investigate. While not exactly difficult, there is enough of a puzzle element here to keep kids challenged. The music in the background is relaxed and stylish, not straying too far from usual classic platform fare but still involving enough to warrant a mention.
Some variety is offered in the form of mini-games. There are two types of these. The first are unlockable and hidden within each level, and require coins to buy access to. These are extra life earning affairs that ask you to make Garfield jump on things. The second are accessible from the title screen and have been thrown in for the touchscreen-obsessed. The first one involves controlling Garfield's disembodied head (?) as spiders try to eat him (??). I gave up after thirty seconds of this one. Tiresome, and unnecessary.
It's easy. It's slow. It's as related to the Garfield universe as your own pet cat is. It's short, even though it feels so long. Basically, it's strictly for kids. If you're an adult gamer (which I hope you are, as I think I used a bad word up there), this game isn't really worth your time. It's not that bad a game engine, and the graphics look splendid, but there are better ideas out there in the platform genre. However, if you have a bored child, then this really is worthy of a rent. The gameplay will keep them busy for a weekend or so, and it's enjoyable enough as long as you don't require much depth or challenge from your DS adventures. Sadly, most of us do.
It's been two weeks since the outbreak. Forgive me if I don't feel like celebrating the anniversary. The zombies are showing no signs of giving up - they're still too fast, there's still too many of them. They keep on coming, wave after goddamn stinkin' wave. Now there's only four of us left, and we're stuck on this rooftop, overlooking streets packed with these freaks ripping corpses to bits.
How I survived, I haven't got a clue. Dumb luck, I guess. I'm just Louis the computer geek. The others, I can understand a little more - Bill, he's an old man but he's fought in more wars than I knew ever happened... Francis, I think he's the only guy in the world who punched the air when he heard the zombie apocalypse was happening... and Zoey, she may seem harmless but she's schooled herself in the art of undead-beating from countless hours of horror movie watching. All we have left is a couple of guns and our immunity to the disease. And, I guess, we still have hope.
We have a chopper! It showed up late in the night, declaring to any survivors that they need to make their way to Mercy Hospital. Leaving our safe base is a risk, but if there are people out there who can get us away from this hell of a town, it's worth it. Bill knows his way through the city, but it seems we've got to get down through this building onto the streets, down into the subway tunnels, then into the sewers, before finally fighting our way up to the roof of the hospital building. It's going to be dangerous, but we've got each others' backs and, if we watch out for...
(Journal ends here)
Louis' fate lies in your hands. Will he make it through the endless hordes of zombies? Only you and his friends can make that happen. To be honest, the odds are stacked up against the team of survivors. The regular zombies are fast and agile, not lumbering or dumb. There isn't a voodoo curse behind this outbreak, this is an advanced form of Rabies, which takes over the body and pumps it full of rage, hunger, pain and adrenaline. Be quiet - loud noises like car alarms and machinery attract them, and when they're bothered, they come at you in waves. Individually they are weak and easy to pick off, but as a horde? Good luck.
Those are just your regular, common garden undead. Standing out amongst them are the Special Infected. They include Tanks (massive mutants who take a lot of bullets to bring down), Hunters (who will leap on survivors and tear them to shreds if they can't get help from a team mate), Smokers (they will wrap you up in their massive tongues and explode in a cloud of disorientating smoke when killed), Boomers (obese beasts who are full of zombie-attracting bile - avoid their vomit!) and, the most sinister of all, the wailing, skinless Witches. Whatever you do, do not disturb them - they will decimate you.
With enemies like these, it is vital that the four player characters stick together and work as a team. There are four scenarios available - the one detailed above is the first, while the other three are set in the country, in an airport and in the woods. Each of these is split up into five parts, and during these parts, it is down to the team to drag themselves through the zombie madness to reach the safe houses. By sticking together and keeping an eye out for everyone else, they should just be able to make it. To help you out, there is a small selection of guns (too small, in fact, and the sniper rifle is all but useless), fun grenades and boring Molotov Cocktails, and some First Aid supplies.
Put together by the good folks at Valve Corporation, Left 4 Dead feels a lot like an amped-up version of Half-Life 2, albeit one splattered with blood, disease and fear. You will see the game through the eyes of your chosen survivor, while the other survivors hang around you, watching your back and shooting Hunters when they jumbo on you. Of course, you're expected to return the favour. If they are controlled by AI bots, your team will follow your lead, but by hooking up to Xbox Live or by splitting the screen you can replace them with real human players, allowing for plenty of options for tactical zombie-smashing.
If you don't fancy working alongside your friends and would rather eat them alive, then the novel Versus mode should entertain. The players will be split into teams of two - one playing the Survivors, the second playing the Infected. These roles will alternate so that each player gets to play every part of the scenario as both human and living dead. This is a fun idea, but is lacking in a few areas. Playing as the Infected is limited, frustrating and, ultimately, very brief. They are all too difficult to control, and you will get blown apart within seconds if you get anywhere near your human foes. Then there's a massive, lengthy respawn ordeal. The mode is fun for a while, but I can't see anyone playing this version of the game in six months time. If you want to play Left 4 Dead online, play it co-op. The opportunities to work together in intelligent, strategic ways outweighs any gimmick of playing as a big, fat vomiting dead dude.
While there is not much in the way of raw gaming material (each scenario will last about an hour, depending on difficulty), there is plenty of replay appeal. This is due to the AI Director, who controls the random nature of each level, mixing up the placement of weapons, supplies and monsters so that no playthrough is the same as the last. The voice-acting is equally as varied. The characters have hundreds of lines between them, so there's always something new to listen to. The environments look brilliant (beautiful and disgusting at the same time) but there are multiple routes through them, so not even that gets on your nerves.
Left 4 Dead does have some weaknesses. The replay value is high, but it won't last forever. However, there is rumour of downloadable content coming soon, which will presumably mean more maps. And also, there should be more weapons. Two machine guns, two shotguns and a rifle might satisfy all the basic needs for firepower, but where's the fun in that? I expected more from the team that brought us the Gravity Gun, the Portal Gun and the Antlion Spores. However... I'm shocked to say that these minor gripes are about all I can manage. I feel like I should be frustrated by Left 4 Dead's limited nature, but in a way, that works to its advantage. Keeping it a simple, visceral zombie-blaster, swimming away from the rivers of dull plot development and down the high-energy gaming rapids, means that you won't have time to get bored of Left 4 Dead. You'll be too busy running.
It's a pretty basic concept for a game, but atmospheric. Stripping out any complexity and replacing it with thrills has worked for this particular zombie romp. I have enjoyed an easy twenty hours of Left 4 Dead, which is unusual as there is only about five hours of gameplay here. Plus, I'm looking forward to at least twenty more. There's a lot of fun to be had playing by yourself or with friends, and Achievement hunting is a great incentive for repeated play, the achievements being fun to earn and they reward long-term gameplay without being insanely anal or demanding. Besides, who ever gets sick of shooting zombies?
(A version of this review has also been posted on digitallard.com)
No More Tears
Record Label: Epic
Vocals: Ozzy Osbourne. Guitar: Zakk Wylde. Bass: Bob Daisley, Mike Inez. Drums: Randy Castillo. Keyboards: John Sinclair. Musical Direction: Mike Inez.
No More Tears was the first Ozzy Osbourne music I ever heard, which is odd as it was Ozzy's sixth studio album and I first heard it in 1998, seven years after it was released. It's quite an unusual story, and it starts with me buying the South Park Chef Aid album. The South Park album, despite its vulgarity, was an interesting melting pot of musical styles, and track two was a song called 'Nowhere To Run' which starred the rogue's gallery of DMX, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Crystal Method and Ozzy himself. Yeah, not exactly the Osmonds, but it was a good song and I was intrigued by this 'Osbourne' fellow - it was a name I had heard before but never actually noticed. Bear in mind that I was in my early teens at the time, and this was before The Osbournes.
So, off to the library I toddled. When I was younger, I tried my hardest to go to the library to study but instead all I learned from that place was that they stocked CDs (and also that you couldn't eat ice cream at the computers). I borrowed No More Tears - the only Ozzy album that they had on their shelves - and also I believe a Terry Pratchett novel. The CD was the 1998 rerelease of the album (on Amazon as ASIN: B0000252SH), which featured a very poor version of the cover but an improved sound quality.
When I got home, I slipped the disc into my PC and let it whirl away in WinAmp while I played Minesweeper, as was the custom of the time. This is the exact moment when I got hooked on Ozzy's music. It wasn't long before I bought my own copy of No More Tears, and in the following months I spent all the money I could find on whatever Ozzy album that was the cheapest in HMV - The Ultimate Sin, Bark At The Moon, all of 'em, even a couple of cheap-o crappy Black Sabbath compilations. This was a year or two before I became aware of my teenage self and the blinding sense of self-consciousness that came with it. When that kicked in, I threw out the old fashioned, "cheesy" music of Oz and replaced it with precariously rapping along to 2Pac screaming about how he was a thug and how others were not, or were unlikely to be, thugs. But for a long time, Ozzy was awesome to me.
This was ten or something years ago now. I got thinking the other day, when an Ozzy track found its way into my ears via my MP3 player's shuffle feature, what I would feel about my old favourite in this day and age. Suddenly excited, I pulled that CD out of my racks and sat down with a pen and a pad. And this review is what happened. Come with me, as I return to every track, and write things about them!
1. Mr Tinkertrain (5:55)
The album opens up with the slightly disturbing sound of a child's music box playing over the noise of some lost children (from the film Sometimes They Come Back, film fans). The song suddenly explodes into a banging partnership between Castillo's rolling thunder of drums and Wylde's skilled guitar work, and it'll be mere seconds before your head nodding along. The theme of the song is quite risque, with some troubling lyrics - lines like "Would you like some sweeties, little girl?" and other blatant paedophilic references disturb me a lot more than they did when I finish listened to the song. Funny how being an adult can make you realise just how wrong some of the songs you used to listen to are! Anyway, Ozzy is blatantly not a paedophile and the lyrics are merely meant to shock and stun rather than promote child abuse, so they are never so explicit as to be pornographic. If it was about anything else, Mr Tinkertrain would be a powerful uproar of a metal anthem, full of energy and wit. But it's about abducting children, it seems, so that marks it down a little bit! Take it a bit tongue-in-cheek and it's quite enjoyable. 3 out of 5.
2. I Don't Want To Change The World (4:04)
Slightly more poppy this one, but no less powerful. It's the addictive, instant nature of these first few songs that got me hooked on this album in the first place. The chorus is based on Ozzy's sentiment that he doesn't want to change the world, and he doesn't want the world to change him. It's snappy, catchy magic, and you'll even wind up singing along to Ozzy's "Uh!" ad libs. All together now... "I-I-I don't wanna change the world, I don't want the world to change me... DUNNA DUNNA DUH!" 4 out of 5.
3. Mama, I'm Coming Home (4:10)
Dedicated to his wife Sharon (who, at the time, was still just a nobody. This was before she become a major celebrity, eclipsing Ozzy in fame), this song is about Ozzy's impending retirement. He is "coming home". The first ballad of the album, this starts off slow and romantic but soon bursts into pure power. Touching, in an odd kind of way, and probably one of Ozzy's best ever. Another sing-a-long special. 5 out of 5.
4. Desire (5:45)
I remember liking this one when I was younger, but now it stands out as the weakest track so far. It doesn't pack as much of a punch as it would like, and it doesn't seem to be about anything at all. Nothing of any worth, anyway. Similar to style to I Don't Want To Change The World, only this one is about half as infectious and nowhere near as impressive. 2 out of 5.
5. No More Tears (7:21)
The darkest song yet, this is as haunting as it is epic. It's another song about being a psychopath, although this is about being a serial killer, and not a paedophile, so it's slightly more acceptable. Wait, did I just say that? What the hell is wrong with me? More to the point, what the hell is wrong with Ozzy Osbourne? Anyway, dropping the explosive guitar solos in favour of a creepy piano and some sinister special effects (including a rather bizarre poem read by Ozzy with an altered voice) makes this a different kind of song to all of its predecessors. It's long, a bit too long, but it'll make you sit up and take notice. 4 out of 5.
6. S.I.N. (4:46)
It stands for Shadow in the Night. The lyrics appear to be reacting, and dealing with, the death of a friend, and the fear of being alone. As such, it's quite a sad song lyrically, but it attacks with the strength of a full metal anthem. Poignant, yet rocking. 5 out of 5.
7. Hellraiser (4:51)
About halfway into the album now, and it's still looking rosey. The album is holding up, even after all these years, although maybe that's the nostalgia talking? To be fair, I don't think as much as some of the tracks as I used to, so it can't be that. Moving on to the one that I remember as my favourite, 'Hellraiser'. Written by Ozzy, guitarist Zakk Wylde and Motorhead's Lemmy, this still excites me. Building up slowly, luring you in with a cool intro, then explodes into a stadium-rocking dedication to life as a heavy metal star. Absolutely outstanding, this is a testament to the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, complete with headbanging moments and a yelled chorus. Magic. 5 out of 5.
8. Time After Time (4:20)
The second ballad. Suitably for Ozzy, this isn't so much as love song as a tender, melancholy ode, tinged with feelings of regret and sadness about a love lost.
"Time after time, I guess that love is blind,
I couldn't read your mind, time after time.
Day after day, I watched love fade away,
I wanted love to stay, day after day."
An affectionate and unusual song, and it's great to hear Ozzy do tracks like this. 5 out of 5.
9. Zombie Stomp (6:13)
Ah, filler. It wouldn't be an album without a filler track. This really is no good. It's pointless, boring and over-long. "Hey, hey, do the zombie stomp" the chorus goes. What? It's about zombies? Seriously? Like, dead guys? Like zombies, the best thing you can do with this song is to sever the head, or run away. 1 out of 5.
10. A.V.H. (4:12)
Alcohol, Valium and Hash. Never thought I would use those words in quick succession in a Dooyoo review. But then again, I haven't written my 'Coping with Jimmy Carr' discussion piece yet. Anyway, that's what it stands for, but despite that, it's not just a stupid song about drugs. Well, the lyrics could be, but like most of Ozzy's work, they're a bit too vague so they could be about anything. It's packed with energy, with spiky guitars and drums coming at you like shotgun bullets. Must say that the drumming and strumming on this album has been of a consistently high quality. Much respect to the band. It's a fun song, but not a classic. 3 out of 5.
11. Road To Nowhere (5:09)
Ozzy closes the album by reflecting on his life, his mistakes and his decisions, claiming that he'll "do it all again". It's the final ballad, and it's another good one. It's actually a fairly mature song, once again representing the melancholy that we've already seen it earlier tracks, but also a warm sense of optimism. According to Ozzy, the "road to nowhere leads to me". Don't quite know what that means, but it's a great song anyway. 5 out of 5.
Average Track Rating: 3.8 out of 5. OK, let's not be ridiculous, let's call it 4.
Returning to this album was a pleasant experience for me, and it wasn't just because of the memories it brought back. In fact, I didn't have much in the way of sentiment attached to the LP, it was mostly just appreciation for good songs that got me smiling. Of course, it's a little bit cheesy, and won't satisfy any music snobs, but for a solid, high-energy classic rock album, there are few better examples. Wylde and Castillo are excellent musicians and the music they create to back Ozzy up is a chaotic delight. Ozzy's lyrics, an odd mix of mature reflection and childish shenanigans, are hardly Shakespeare but his unique singing style is enjoyable.
What you get on this album depends on what version you buy. The latest release, pressed in 2002, includes two bonus tracks ('Don't Blame Me' and 'Party With The Animals') which are ok but kind of just add bulk to an otherwise streamlined album with a clear vision and structure. Every track, even the silly zombie one, sounds like part of the 'No More Tears' vision, and these bonuses are middle-of-the-road-to-nowhere add-ons that ruin that feel. Still, the remastering is the best on this version. Buy whatever version you can find, they're all good and if you're a rock fan, or just looking for something a bit different but not well weird and super pretentious, check this one out.
Pizza is probably my third favourite type of takeaway, after Chinese and Indian, but it's by far the one I order the most often. This is because it's the only one from that list that's widely available to order online. Ordering from a website is easier than by 'phone - the menu's always there, you can pay by card, and specify and customise your order to how you like it. All of the big pizza places have sites and I tend to alternate between them, but I have been using Domino's for the longest out of them all so I feel I know it best.
Clicking on dominos.co.uk will send you to a pretty sparse, white page that presents a handful of buttons to press and an animated advert and that's about it. You'll be given the chance to log in to your account, or search for a store by your postcode. You'll get the most out of your Domino's experience if you open an account, as the site will remember your delivery details and your orders. If you're that way inclined, you can simply log in and ask it to repeat your last order. I've had an account with them for something like three years now and I never receive any trashy spam from them or anything like that, so it's definitely worth doing if you plan on eating more than one pizza in your life.
Once you've tapped in your user name and password, you can populate your order by flicking between the 'Starters', 'Pizzas', 'Desserts', 'Drinks' and the newest addition, 'Meal Deals'. There is also a tab that allows orders via text message, but I have yet to place one so I can't really pass judgement on the service. The food available on the online menus will be provided by your local store so it should match up with their menu, but don't expect everything to be available online. Occassionally, it takes a while for new menu items to be available to buy via the web.
I'm not here to tell you whether or not to eat Domino's, but to review their internet presence. However, this review wouldn't be quite right if I didn't take a look at all of their delicious wares, would it? Mmm... wares.
Starters - A good place to start. Domino's offer an interesting if limited range of starters, including (at time of writing) Loaded Potato Skins, spicy Chicken Kickers, Chicken Strippers, Garlic Pizza Bread, Coleslaw, Potato Wedges and a bunch of Dips, including Honey & Mustard, Garlic & Herb, Sweet Chilli, Barbecue and Extra Hot. Like all of the menu items under the other tabs, they are presented in a list with a brief description, thumbnail image and an adjustable 'Quantity' option for each one. Coloured dots next to the item names let you know if the food is Vegetarian, Hot or Reduced Fat. If you find something you fancy, click on 'Add' and it will travel over to the 'Your order' list on the right side. Prices range from £1.49 to £5.99, with Dips costing 30p.
Pizzas - The reason we all came. Pretty much every pizza is shown off here, with all of their variants on offer. Picking a tasty-looking pizza is easy, as is selecting your prefered size from the drop-down list (you can have Individual, Small, Medium or Large). If you don't want to conform to what Domino's expect from you, feel free to customise one of their pizzas or make your own one. You can select from the four sizes, one of four base types (Regular, Thin Crust and the ingredient-packed Double Decadence and Dominator), your favourite pizza sauce (Pizza, BBQ, Piri Piri or the sublime Sundried Tomato & Garlic Sauce), Mozzarella or Reduced Fat cheese, and single or double helpings from their wide range of toppings. There is a lot to do here, and hopefully having it all written down on paper will mean that the staff putting together your meal won't make any mistakes. More on that later. Prices start at £5.99.
Desserts - I never order desserts from takeaway places, because they're quite simply trash. Domino's online selection is no better, and seems to be there simply because it has to be. Currently on offer are Cookies, Waffles and Chocolate Brownie Squares. £3.49 a serving.
Drinks - A 1.5 litre bottle of Coca Cola, Diet Coca Cola or orange Fanta. Not much choice and they're fairly expensive at £1.99 each.
As I mentioned above, customisation, as well as picking and choosing ingredients for your ideal meal, is a massive benefit of ordering online and one that Domino's provides for. While you are limited to three changes per set pizza (for example, swapping a topping counts as two changes, while removing a topping counts as one), you can create your own to your heart's content. I haven't tried the Meal Deals, but they seem to be pretty basic Buy One Get One Half Price jobbies.
Checkout is simple yet secure. They don't seem capable of saving your card details just yet which is a nuisance, but everything else is recorded under your account name - telephone number, address, delivery details etc. You can pay by cash or card, and can collect or ask for a delivery (you can set a specific time too). The best thing about Checkout are the bonuses - you can opt to use a discount code or ask for a free side! A simple Google search will bring up some codes you can use here, the best of which seems to be 25% off when you spend £20, but they vary. Alternatively, you can request a free garlic bread or chicken strippers portion. Score!
Once your order is placed, you will receive a simple email providing your local branch's phone number, plus a breakdown of your order and an order number. My last order included a Medium pizza, a Personal pizza, a Chicken Combo (Chicken Strippers plus Potato Wedges), two bottles of drink and an extra dip. With my 25% discount, this cost £23.44. The pizza should arrive within 45 and 60 minutes, depending on your personal branch.
I've only ever had one major issue with Domino's online delivery service, and that's the execution of the deliveries. While the site is great and the deliveries punctual, I must say that it seems like 40-50% of my orders show up messed up somehow. Normally, it's just the wrong dip (I'm very specific about such things), missing sides or "bonus" toppings on the pizza, which are irritating and damage my faith in the company. My latest example was with my last order. Basically, they neglected to provide us with the personal Pepperoni Passion pizza we ordered. Getting nowhere with a confused conversation with the delivery driver (who had a bad grasp of the English language, and an even worse persecution complex), we ask for a phone number. He points out our own one. Oh dear. We call the store and ask what happened to the little pizza, and apparently it was never included in our order email. A chat with head office ensured that our pizza was sent out and received about forty minutes after the rest of the order, and luckily it was delivered by a man with an apology and not an "I didn't do it!" mentality like the last guy. Still, what exactly happened to our Pepperoni Passion? Why was it not emailed to our branch? Even the prices on the receipt and the email were different. Although it was resolved easily (as are all of the mistakes I decide to complain about), you still wind up waiting ages for food sometimes.
All in all, it's a high quality site - simple, easy and functional, with a lot of room for customisation. Unfortunately, it's let down by sloppy deliveries. I can't tell you if this reflects Domino's in general as I do not order by 'phone, nor do I collect my orders, but I don't feel that making minor slip-ups everytime something is ordered is acceptable, especially when the specifics of the order are written down. With regards to the latest mistake - granted the Pepperoni Passion wasn't written down, but that brings up another issue. Why was it missed out by the email? Technical error? I hope it was a one-off. I have to remember I'm reviewing the site here, and not the company, so I'm going for a high mark. However, they could improve by offering better deals and a wider menu. Also, a personal Pepperoni Passion pizza.
The idea of being a rich person has never really appealed to me. Now, don't misinterpret that sentence. I like the idea of being rich very much. It's one of my favourite ideas. But having to actually earn it kind of puts me off. I'm not afraid of a little hard work, I'm afraid of a lot of hard work. And that's what it would take to get anywhere near being rich.
I would have to compromise a lot of my personal beliefs, passions and hobbies too, and wind up doing lots of things I don't want to do. It would be all twelve hour days, backstabbing, schmoozing and networking and wheeling and dealing, Armani suits and shiny boots and corporate websites and canapes. It would mean spending more time with a pasty-looking fish of a man in a charcoal suit than with my wife, and employing a PA who knows more about me than I do and arranges business lunches while she irons my socks. It would be reading the Financial Times and not laughing out loud. It would mean ending all of my emails with "This was sent from my Blackberry." I would have to throw my whole life away, and for what? Money. But what will I do with this money, once I have this network of friends, colleagues, contacts, associates, mentors, assistants, superiors, inferiors and dealers? It would all be flushed away in expenses - ski weekends, champagne and fish eggs. I don't like champagne. I don't like caviar. No, the life of a rich person is not the life for me. Call me common, call me a barbarian if you like, but I would rather have a bar of £1.29 Dairy Milk than a £9.99 box of Thorntons. And Thorntons is the poshest type of chocolate I know, that's how damn common I am.
Still, this isn't a chocolate review, it's about what I would do if I won the Lottery. Isn't that an ideal solution to my problem? Winning a few mill on the Lotto would make me a rich person without having to endure all of that sacrifice and effort that most people have to make. Then I could carry on living the way I am, without having to... y'know... actually do anything.
I play the Lottery quite a lot - two Lotto and two Thunderball per week - and so far I haven't won anything other than a handful of tenners and a Direct Debit. I carry on regardless though, confident in my chances. After all, isn't that what that massive hand says? "It could be you!" If there's anything that my years of watching Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers have taught me, it's that you should always trust a giant, disembodied body part. Twice a week, every week, I am filled with disappointment when only one of my numbers comes up, but I reassure myself that this only means that I am one more week closer to winning something big. I calculate the odds and everything.
Wednesday and Saturday evenings are quite slow for me.
Blimey, we're 500 words in and I haven't said anything yet. Let's speed up. Bang! I've won the Lottery. Sweet deal. First thing to do is claim the money. Claim the goddamn money! Haven't you seen it on TV, where they quit their job and buy a gazebo before getting the money? Then, lo and behold, when it comes to actually calling the Lottery people up, guess who can't find their winning ticket? That's right, it's your suddenly unemployed, gazebo-owning ass. And rest assured, that ticket will wind up in the hands of your chavvy next door neighbour, who will no doubt spend all the money on teaching his dog to bark even louder or on driving cars into your belongings.
Now you have your hands safely on the money, you can start doing stuff. Rich stuff. Let's go crazy. Let's presume that we get a cheque for four million of your Earth pounds. Thinking about this... I worked briefly for a bank and I remember that I can only keep a maximum of two million pounds in my current account. That's a crazy rule, and it's going to cause some problems. It's also not really an issue I thought would ever come up. Apparently though, the Lottery people supply you with a finance-knowin' dude who can help you out with investing your money properly. That guy must get laughed at loads.
With four mill in my pocket (I have big trousers), the first thing I need to do is pay off all my debts. That shouldn't take too much effort, as I'm quite lucky to not have loan sharks after me. More like a loan cod, or some loan prawns. My parents and my fiancée's debts will be shot dead too, then buried or thrown in a river. Parents would receive a quiet little house somewhere, far away from everything that annoys them. So, on the moon somewhere.
Then, of course, it's the predictable stuff. I'll start with a nice house, but not a mansion, as I can't keep more than two rooms tidy at any one time. I don't drive as I hate the idea of it, but hiring a chaffeur? That sounds like something a Lottery win can make happen. I will name him 'Jeeves'. Do chaffeurs come with names already? What do you feed them?
Where to, sir? The Arcade, Jeeves! Obviously my new big-but-not-too-big house would require a games room, so I would go on a quest to uncover working versions of all of my favourite classic arcade games. Boys and their toys, eh? Video games are a massive part of my life, so of course I'm going to need a personal arcade. This will probably be my only massive indulgence, as I'm not into boats and cars and statues and things. So, I'll be welcoming into my house the Simpsons Arcade Game, Discs of Tron, Garou: Mark of the Wolves, Mario Kart Arcade, and I guess I'll be buying a few friends to play them with me.
I am an engaged person, and realistically I would never be able to afford a massive wedding, but if you've got the kind of money in your pocket that we're talking about then I guess I owe it to the people. You know, the masses. Got to put on a show. Nothing cheesy, but big enough and bold enough to stay in the memory forever. I am not one for planning such things - incidental details merely distract from the size and beauty of the event - but then, you can always pay people to plan such things for you.
I've disappointed myself. I thought I would wind up being insanely indulgent in this little fantasy piece, but what has come of it? A lukewarm video game daydream and a vague indication that I would have the wedding that I wish I can afford, even though I'm not entirely sure what that involves. Perhaps I would never need that much money. So let's take a serious, balanced look at the cash that's left.
Obviously, I want to keep a decent share of it in some super hardcore savings account. I'm not too sure about investing these days, I reckon you're better off with ISAs and bonds at the moment. This admittedly boring safe approach will not only ensure that I won't have to work a day again in my life (think of all the dooyooing I could get done!), but also so I have a legacy to hand down to my children. Of course, this means that they will probably grow up not knowing what hard work, suffering and pain the average working class person must cope with in order to survive... but that's kind of the point.
Of course, I'm giving to charity! And I don't just mean Jeeves. There's a lot of poor people in the world, even more who have to live in piss-poor conditions and suffer everyday, and I don't see why I should be allowed to keep my hands on piles of money I won't ever need because I was lucky enough to pick the right set of six numbers. I haven't had a particularly easy life but there are thousands out there who put up with worse, without millions of pounds... usually, without much money at all. It's odd to me that there are people in the world who don't do things like this and waste time wondering about what material goods they would splurge money on because the concept of being in that situation would never... could never... occur to them. I don't deserve that much money, but I deserve enough to ensure the survival and happiness of my family. We all do. It would be nice, though, to have the money in my hands to go and make changes in other peoples' lives, whether that's through organised charity or just my own work. I would definitely want to go on The Secret Millionaire. I think I would be great on telly. I would give knowing winks to the camera when people start talking about money. I would hug people all the time. Old ladies would love me.
So, yeah - wedding, house, personal arcade, Jeeves, legacy, The Secret Millionaire. That's what I would do with a big payout like that. Make life as happy as possible for as many people as I could. Especially me. Would it change my tastes and attitude towards life? I hope not. I love Dairy Milk.
Puzzle games have found their natural home on the Nintendo DS. The touchscreen allows for easier manipulation of all the blocks, gems and miscellaneous coloured shapes that the puzzle genre is so fond of, the dual screen allows for a straightforward way of providing all necessary information, and, of course, no console has ever had such a following in the older and/or female demographics. It doesn't hurt that a lot of these puzzlers don't ask for much of an investment, with most of them not requiring more than £20. Just look at the great range of affordable top quality gems in the DS' catalogue (in fact, take a look at the bottom of this review for my top ten). Here's a brand spanking new entry into that catalogue of conundrums and Columns, and it's called Colour Cross.
Many moons ago, before Sudoku landed on Earth and used its powers to hypnotise out fingers to do its bidding, the Sunday Telegraph used to publish a puzzle it called the 'Nonogram'. Grid-based like Sudoku, with each vertical and horizontal line having numbers by the side which indicate what squares in the line need to be filled in. Shade in the correct squares (via a combination of logic, deduction and fairy magic) and you will be rewarded with a picture. Like 'paint by numbers'. This game became popular with Nintendo, who have released a handful of nonogram video games over the years (under the name 'Picross'). Picross DS was the latest, and here we have its only real rival, Black Star Games' Colour Cross. The difference? The selling point? While the grids in Picross DS is only black and white, Colour Cross is... um... well, it's obviously in colour, isn't it?
The idea is to complete each puzzle in as little time as possible, using two or more different colours. Completion of puzzles unlocks more challenging puzzles and categories - in total, there are 150 puzzles split between 10 categories (with charmingly unique themes, such as 'Candy', 'Magic' and 'Babies'). Also, the categories have bigger pictures that are revealed bit-by-bit as you progress.
Each colour has its own numbers along the X and Y axis of the grid, and these numbers are switched between with a simple tap of the stylus. The numbers are the clue to solving your problems. They will generally be presented in a style like '5, 2, 5'. This means that, in this particular line, there will be a block of 5 squares in your current colour, then a block of 2, then another block of 5. They will be seperated by at least one empty (or different colour) square. It's your job to work out where those three chunks of colour are supposed to be, based on what's already on the grid and what the other number codes are saying. Of course, if the number is '7' then there will only be a string of 7 and 7 alone, and so on.
The question of whether or not having more than one shade in the mix makes the task more challenging is up for debate - at times, having a variety of colours to work with helps with the process of elimination, but at other times, the sheer range of options is mind-boggling. On the whole, Colour Cross is more difficult than it is not. Each puzzle requires a long sitdown and a ponder. However, it's a relaxing, thought-provoking game to play, and there is very little frustration, although the grids can be quite small in the later levels and it's easy for your stylus to slip. If this happens and you accidentally fill in a square that shouldn't be filled in, you will receive a time penalty. Do this enough times and you'll end up having a time of 43 minutes per puzzle. Which doesn't look very good.
Still, minor control issues aside, the presentation is perfect. Of course, it's the kind of game you can play with the sound down, but the background music is soothing and intellectual (for the DS' speakers, anyhow). Graphics are functional and mostly quite clear. Even if you do have trouble with the stylus, it's easy as anything to play the game with the D-pad and buttons, so Colour Cross is accessible to all kinds of players.
Colour Cross doesn't try to be anything more than a set of puzzles that let you look at fun pictures if you're good at working things out. There are no forced multiplayer modes, no gimmicks or time trials or blah blah blah. While Picross DS was loaded down with all kinds of modes, this is just pure puzzle. It's tough, it'll last a while, and it's fun. That's all you need really, isn't it?
Available at an RRP of £19.99 (and cheaper at most online retailers), this is an ideal budget purchase for the more intellectual gamer. I recommend it to anyone who doesn't need a barrage of guns, guts and goo to get some pleasure from a video game.
As an added bonus, and because I'm a top guy, here is my list of top ten classic puzzle games also available for the DS. This doesn't include Colour Cross, because I think I've already said enough about that!
* * * Bonus Stuff: My Top Ten Puzzle Games (Nintendo DS) * * *
Apply your newfound powers of deduction in this oriental-themed word game. Interesting and very cheap.
Explosive sci-fi based Tetris variant. You've gotta have nerves of steel for this one, as it's got one hell of a fast pace.
8. Bust-A-Move DS
Classic Puzzle Bobble action here. Shoot coloured balloons at more coloured balloons. Play as a dinosaur. Brilliant.
7. Pokémon Link
It's a bit like Bejewelled, but with Pokémon. The interesting twist is that it asks you to collect the pocket monsters and compile a Pokédex. That adds to the longevity.
6. Tetris DS
Tetris is Tetris. It's the king of puzzle games. This is the most modern and expanded version of all of them, and adding to the fun is the retro Nintendo twist that it has. Want to play Tetris with Donkey Kong? Go on then.
5. Mahjongg Quest Expeditions
You either love or hate Mahjongg, and if you like it, this is the best way to play.
4. Picross DS
More Picross, but in black and white. A little easier, but not much.
3. Brain Training
Simply because of the Sudoku part. Probably the best way to play Sudoku ever, unless you really like rubbing things out.
2. Word Jong
Not available in the UK, but easily imported. A cross between Mahjongg and Scrabble. String the letters into a word to destroy the tiles. Absolute class.
1. Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
An RPG based on Bejewelled. Competitive Bejewelled at that. Could there be any concept greater than this? Develop your character, challenge orcs to a game of gem-matching, solve a puzzle to learn a spell, and then bring down an evil minotaur god. I've been playing this for months, and I don't think I'll ever stop.
All of these games are inexpensive and are worth a look if you enjoyed Colour Cross or are looking for something slightly different. Whatever you choose - enjoy!
Rocketbowl is a bowling game. Well, not a traditional bowling game. It's really more of a crazy golf game. But it's nothing like crazy golf, really. It's more like... well, it's Rocketbowl.
I stumbled across Rocketbowl when I first connected my Xbox 360 to Xbox Live (its online service) and downloaded whatever free demo I could get my stinky hands on. To be honest, the idea of rocket-propelled bowling didn't really appeal to me, but free is free and everything's worth a shot... when it's free.
The demo's free.
With its retro-futuristic Fifties-style décor and amusingly bright soundtrack, RB is an instant attention-grabber, and it caused me some surprise to find that I instantly forgot my doubts and became increasingly bewitched by the game's charm.
It's based around a simple concept - the transplanting of the bowling game onto a crazy golf course. Each course provides ten frames, each one made up of ten. Your job is to knock down as many of those pins as you can with a swift roll of a bowling ball. But, unlike regular bowling, you have a degree of control over your ball as it rolls, plus a supply of rocket-boosts to shoot you in a preferred direction, and if you completely miss all pins on the current frame, you can roll around the rest of the course and knock down any other pins from another frame. Simple, eh? Well, you also have to deal with water traps, crazy trick shots, hills, alcoves, and awkward angles. It would be too easy otherwise, wouldn't it?
Based on the same Torque engine that fellow Xbox Live title Marble Blast Ultra used, Rocketbowl has suitably impressive physics. Each course has a decent amount of hills and dips, curves and straights, and the ball traverses them realistically. It also has a fair whack of bonuses and power-ups for your ball to pick up on its travels. These include stars (that represent currency), extra boosts and extra time.
It is in the Free Play mode where you will get to grips with how the game plays. It's also here where you will get used to RB's sparse but colourful and functional graphics, its occassionally irksome 'dramatic' music that comes out of nowhere, and the hilarious sing-song congratulation sound effects and exclamations (hit 3 strikes in a row, and you'll be rewarded with 'TUR-KEEEEY!'). Free Play games are simple affairs, it's just you and the pins, and your job is to get as high a score as possible. You begin play with two available courses - the first proper Rocketbowl course, and a traditional bowling lane which ignores all the idiosyncrasies of Rocketbowl and presents you instead with just a colourful bowling sim. Success with this first course (by which I mean a high score) will unlock a second, which will unlock a third etc. until you get to the one with all the hills and you can't possibly get any further. Well, that's what happened to me anyway.
Once you've earned enough cash in these solo matches, you can progress to Challenges and Tournaments. This is where the big money is earned. Challenges set you up against an AI-controlled player on whichever course you pick, while Tournaments set you up against seven other computer players. Challenges require you to place wagers, while Tournaments want an entry fee, but success with either will earn some big bucks. Don't worry about these games taking too long, by the way - your opponents will bowl at the same time as you, meaning you don't have to spend anytime hanging around for them. You can only play these game modes on courses that you have unlocked in Free Play, so you will probably want to make some progress there first.
Longevity comes from the challenge of unlocking all the courses and also collecting money to purchase bigger and better balls. Once you've got some cash together, you can pick out a new ball from the twenty available in the shop - they range in design, from the comical Orange (which is shaped like an orange) to the Pretty In Pink and the all-powerful 8-Ball (the most expensive and useful ball of them all). As you get higher up the bowling food chain, the balls get a higher number of boosts, the vertical boost is introduced (which allows your ball to fly), and also boring things improve, like the level of control you have.
Despite the range of courses, Rocketbowl will require plenty of repeat play in order to achieve everything, and this gets tiring after a while. Some relief comes in the form of multiplayer. I haven't had much experience online as there seems to be very little going on on the servers, but playing against real life humans is a lot more enjoyable than the rigid computer players so crack out a second controller. There is even an Alternate Shot mode (player one makes a shot, then player two, and player one again...) which allows for a quick, more explosive game.
At 800 Xbox Live points, Rocketbowl will set you back a little bit more than a fiver. This is a good price for a good game. It'll never blow anyone out of the water, but it's a chunk of fun that won't cost the world. It won't last forever, but you don't get much better when it comes to off-kilter, no frills fun. If Rocketbowl were a bowling term, it would be a spare - it's not going to disappoint you like a 7-10 split, but it won't stay in your memory like a strike.
The Orange Box is a video game compilation of first person shooters (FPS) for the Xbox 360, PC and PlayStation 3, produced by the wonderfully talented folks at Valve. How's that for a professional introduction? Look at all the information I squeezed in there. I could end the review right here. But I won't.
The games included are all based on the same game engine, the Source engine, and although they're all FPS games, they provide a wide range of variety and gameplay style. The games included all have names, and these are them: -
Half-Life 2: Episode One
Half-Life 2: Episode Two
Team Fortress 2
The games are all selectable from a menu that pops up once you boot the Orange Box disc. No fuss there.
Half-Life 2 is the biggest game in the pack and will probably give you the most play time (about 15 hours at a comfortable place). Placing you in the head of Gordon Freeman, the silent hero of the Half-Life series, your job is to survive in a post-apocalyptic dystopian nightmare. Your enemy are the Combine, an alien force that have taken over the world while you've been preserved in stasis following the events of Half-Life.
Hailed as the symbol of hope by the underground human rebellion, you are instantly a marked man in the Combine's eyes. With just your wits, your degree in Physics, an array of peculiar weapons and the occasional assistance of rebel factions to help you, you have to escape from the clutches of City 17, traverse the poisoned swamps and reach your friends in Black Mesa East, all the while avoiding enemy helicopter attacks, assassination attempts and head-sucking alien critters! A crawl through a zombie-infested city and a break-in at the Nova Prospekt prison later and you might have earned your freedom. But then again...
Splitting the gameplay up between action-packed shoot 'em up moments and intriguing puzzles, the endless memorable set-pieces mean Half-Life 2 never fails to entertain. Whether you're setting up environment-based traps for the enemy forces, outsmarting the physic-based problems that hamper your progress, or commanding a pack of antlion beasts into battle, there is never a boring moment.
The learning curve is fair, and the controls are standard FPS style, so there is no enforced gimmick interrupting your immersion in the game world. Just straightforward controls (jump, sprint, crouch etc) and logical solutions to problems. This is assisted by the absence of cut-scenes - with all story events occuring as part of the gameplay, you will soon start to feel like you are Gordon Freeman, with his eyes and ears, and not some detached voyeur who gets to see what's going on at all times. Still, the voice-acting and soundtrack are suitably splendid and atmospheric. Difficulty-wise, there is enough challenge to keep you guessing, but I never got stuck for very long, and when I did, I ended up smacking my head at the common sense behind the solution. This isn't a game you're going to get frustrated with. You'll be too busy enjoying it. * 5 out of 5 *
Episode One follows directly on from Half-Life 2, and it's basically more of the same game. There are no differences in the gameplay or controls, meaning that what you have here is simply an extra 4 or 5 hours of material. However, you do spend a lot more time with Alyx Vance in this adventure. Alyx (the daughter of your scientist friend Eli Vance, and master hacker and technological expert) spent some time with you in Half-Life 2, dragging you around the place and breaking into security systems to assist you, but now she becomes a more-or-less fulltime companion. Together, you must risk your lives (again) to deliver some important information to her father. I won't spoil you anymore than that.
Alyx takes care of a lot of the shooting action, which makes you the puzzle-solver in most scenarios. Episode One is very much the gravity gun's showcase, and it is in fact possible to complete the game using just one bullet, although I wouldn't recommend it. I find that Alyx gets in the way a lot, but having a voice keeping you company keeps the story going nicely.
Episode Two is - you guessed it - the direct sequel to Episode One, and it carries the trails and tribulations of Alyx and Gordon out of the urban landscape and into the rurals. That's 'forests' for the layman. Now that the scenary looks so much more varied and there are more vehicles to use, the style of gameplay expands slightly. It's definitely the better (and longer) of the two episodes, although both are a great deal of fun for fans. A lot of it is "more of the same, but with twists", but there is enough new stuff to keep you hooked. Both episodes are very worthwhile and earn themselves a decent * 4 out of 5 *.
In Portal, you are Chell, the unwilling volunteer in a series of tests run by the slightly insane mastercomputer GLaDOS. Equipped with a 'portal gun', you are tasked with surviving the increasingly threatening challenges and ultimately escaping from her imprisonment.
What we have here is a puzzle game in the medium of a FPS, so out goes the guns 'n' ammo and in comes a pair of dimensional portals, one orange and one blue. These are fired onto an flat surface by your portal gun, and each one is a doorway through space to the other one. To borrow the explanation I used in my earlier Portal-only review (also on dooyoo, under the name 'Think With Portals'): If you fire a blue portal underneath your computer desk, and the orange one on the ceiling above the fridge, jumping through the blue portal will drop you down in front of your fridge. You probably wouldn't be able to reach the orange portal from there though, so you would fire one at your feet, falling through it and coming out through the blue portal underneath your desk. The portals are used for a number of reasons, including getting to hard-to-reach spots, moving untouchable objects around, destroying enemy machine gun turrets, and making long jumps. Basically, solving the environment-based puzzles you are set.
This has been said countless times about Portal, but I'm going to say it again: Portal is worth The Orange Box's asking price on its own. It's one of the smartest, most satisfying puzzlers ever concocted, and it's delivered so brilliantly. I would love to ramble on about every single one of Portal's positive points for as long as it took until the nurses took me away, but I just don't have the space! GLaDOS is hilarious and terrifying in equal measures, and damn near deserves an Oscar. The cake... the momentum trickery... the Companion Cube... It's impossible to list everything that's good about Portal, you really have to try it yourself to find out. The only negative point is that it is a bit short for a modern game, lasting only for a few hours even with the bonus unlockable challenges. But seeing as you're getting four other games with this purchase, I'm sure you'll cope. * 5 out of 5 *
Fifth and last on the list is the multiplayer-only Team Fortress 2. The most striking thing to a first-time player is the aesthetic difference between this and the previous games - while Half-Life 2 and Portal had attractive and realistic graphics, TF2 opts for a more cartoony, exaggerated look. The game itself is a much more light-hearted affair than its predecessors. Out goes the dystopia and imprisonment and in comes crazy 'Capture the Flag' nonsense.
Teaming up with your buddies or random strangers online, you choose a role to fill on your team and go up against another team in an absolute bloodbath. The point? To capture important documents from the enemy base and bring them back to your base, of course! The character class you pick determines what you're going to be doing during the game. The classes are demoman, engineer, heavy, medic, pyro, scout, sniper, soldier and spy. Nice, traditional jobs there then. The medic's life is dedicated to healing his fallen buddies, the pyro likes to set things on fire, the heavy is slow but can take lots of damage, the demoman is in charge of a grenade launcher, and so on.
Valve have put a great deal of effort into keeping the players' roles in the team balanced. The medic, for example, sounds like an exceptionally boring class, but he has been provided with unique weapons to make it a more exciting role. Hats off to them for making an engaging multiplayer experience, full of variety and fun.
The only problem here is that it is strictly multiplayer. This means it must be played online with other people, which may seem fairly daunting for first time players. It put me off for quite some time. I mean, I've played games online before and the world wide web is full of arrogant, aggressive gamers who can often ruin the experience. Having this happen while you're trying to learn the game (which you can only do in an online game) can prove to be a miserable experience. However, with a little bit of preparation, there is no need to be afraid. Read a guide online, watch a couple of gameplay videos, and you should be fine. It's standard online FPS fare, once you get used to the individual requirements of each class. I didn't love Team Fortress 2, but then it isn't my type of game. Therefore, I feel it's the weak link out of the set, but that still earns it a * 3.5 out of 5 *
Those are your games then. Phew, that was exhausting. Did you notice all of those high marks? For a compilation, that's a damn good average score. When you take into consideration that the Orange Box is a couple of years old now and its price is constantly going down, you're in for a fantastic deal. Your local Computer Exchange or Gamestation will probably be able to provide a reasonably-priced copy. Just look out for a box with lots of orange on it. Online, at the time of writing (26/01/09), Amazon.co.uk offered it for £14.99 on Xbox 360, £17.99 on PC and £13.95 on PS3, while Play.com are happy to take £24.99 of your good money for any version. Obviously Amazon have the best deal there, and seeing as Amazon prices are constantly shooting up and down, I would recommend you hunt down a copy right now. Go on. Go on. Go ON.
Back in 2002, Sonic Advance was not only the first Sonic game to ever appear on a Nintendo console, it was also a welcome return to the blue hedgehog's 2D platforming roots. Sonic had been meandering around in 3D adventure games for too long, so it was nice to see him going back to what had made him famous. Available exclusively for the Gameboy Advance (GBA), it was promised as a brand new slice of platforming action, the evolution of earlier classics such as Sonic The Hedgehog 2 and Sonic & Knuckles. But its production was outsourced from the hands of the legendary Sonic Team and into those of Dimps - the people behind the Dragon Ball Z games - so, to be honest, its success was never guaranteed.
If there's one thing that can be guaranteed, then it's Sonic Advance's loyalty to the earlier Mega Drive games. The gameplay style and plot stays the same, although the roster of playable characters is expanded. The point of the game is to stop the evil dictator Dr. Eggman from roboticising all of the world's animals and taking control of the all-powerful Chaos Emeralds. He can do some damage with those!
Levels are broken down into 'zones', with each zone containing two 'acts' each. At the beginning of each level, you will be placed at the far left of the world, and it will be your job to navigate your character all the way through to the far right, via a combination of running and jumping. Obstacles will stand in your way in the form of enemy robots, spikes, pitfalls and logic puzzles. Helping you out are a variety of spring-based contraptions to fling you around, collectable power-ups (speed boosts, protective shields, invincibility etc) and rings. Collecting rings provides you with some defence against the dangerous environments you'll be running through - get hit once and your coins will scatter. Get hit again without picking up any replacement rings and you'll bite the bullet. Oops. The player has a ten minute time limit for each act. Making it through to the end of the zone will reward you with a boss battle, which generally involves having to attack one of Robotnik's war machines.
There are six zones in all. Maybe there might be some more hidden away somewhere, but this is a review, not a guide. The levels are typical Sonic fare, but if it's not broke! They each have a theme, and they are...
Neo Green Hill Zone - Sun, sand, green hills and giant loop-de-loops for your characters to run through.
Secret Base Zone - With some cool searchlight special effects, this is a dank and moody level, full of uninviting architecture and deadly devices.
Casino Paradise Zone - A reimagining of Sonic 2's Casino Night zone, this one packs in all the thrills 'n' spills of an evening in Vegas. Anticipate lots of neon lights and gambling.
Ice Mountain Zone - Boring name, boring zone. There's lots of snow, ice and related traps. Expect to be slowed down a lot.
Angel Island Zone - Knuckles' home, this is a strange, slightly old-fashioned world full of mystery and history. Quite interesting.
Egg Rocket Zone - Despite sounding like a delicious sandwich, this spaceship is dangerous. It's also absolutely huge and very tricky. This is the only Sonic level where I've actually run out of time!
And there might be others. Find out!
There are four playable characters available in Sonic Advance. They're not all unlocked at the very start (with only Sonic playable), but progressing through the game with Sonic will swiftly make them available. Each character has to play through all the zones themselves, but the game will remember which levels you have beaten so there's no need to go through the whole game in one sitting. The four characters are: -
Sonic The Hedgehog - Sonic's the most all-round character, capable of high speed runs and high jumps. By pressing down and a jump button, Sonic can charge up a spin attack, leading to greater speeds. Tails and Knuckles can do this too, but I thought I would put it under Sonic's section just to bulk it up a bit! Sonic can destroy opponents with a jump or a spin.
Miles "Tails" Prower - Sonic's best friend, Tails is a cute fox with two tails. By double-jumping, Tails can fly for a brief period of time, which can help him cover longer distances or save himself from a perilous fall. He can destroy enemies by jumping on them, spinning into them, or catching them with his tails while flying.
Knuckles The Echidna - Knuckles is a red echidna with an attitude problem. He is probably the most accomplished character of them all, providing the most skills. Double-jumping allows him to glide through the air, while jumping into a wall leads to him sticking his over-sized knuckles into it and climbing up and down. Sadly, his jumps are slightly weaker. He can slay his foes with a jump, a spin, or by catching them while gliding.
Amy Rose - The only girl, Amy is a pink hedgehog and has a different approach to gameplay to the others. Incabable of dispatching enemies by jumping on them, Amy totes a massive Pico hammer which can be used to crush them with a press of the attack button. This makes her a lot harder to use than the others, and demands a massive change in tactics for the player. Probably the weakest of the lot, I'm afraid.
If you're a particularly competent player, you'll be able to find the Special Springs dotted around the acts. This will hurl you up into the stratosphere, flinging you into a wacky bonus stage. The prize for success here is one of the six Chaos Emeralds (one available per zone). What happens when you collect all six? Complete the last stage with Sonic to find out...
The first thing that struck me about Sonic Advance is the quality of the graphics. It's not too hot. Granted, it's an old game now and there was never much capacity for top quality graphics on the GBA, but the illustration work looks vastly inferior to the Mega Drive games. The animation has been improved a lot and the characters have more personality, but it's only really Tails who actually looks good. Sonic and Knuckles both look a bit on the gangly side, and their new looks just don't sit right. The environments are detailed and pretty, even though the enemies and traps lack the imagination of the earlier chapters in the series. In fact, most of the major attractions are just dull repeats of what has come before (such as the Robot Knuckles, who you duel in a fight eerily similar to the Sonic Vs. Knuckles fight in Sonic & Knuckles). The soundtrack is acceptable for the GBA, combining remixes of old Sonic tracks and new, upbeat tunes. You'll keep the volume up for a little while.
There is not much longevity here, despite the various characters. The first few zones will fly by in a fit of sprinting and leaping, and you should only encounter some real trouble once you get to the 5th and 6th zones. In an attempt to add to the longevity, a Time Attack mode is included, but this is ultimately pointless. Allowing you to set speed records in each of the acts you have managed to complete, there is only value here if you're a high score freak. A 2P mode lets you share the fun with friends and go head-to-head with them, and this is a cool bonus.
Finally, the last bonus mode is the 'Tiny Chao Garden' - the virtual pet simulator gimmick spilling over from Sonic Adventure DX for the Gamecube. Sonic's friends, the Chao (cute little blobby freaks), can be raised and trained here, and transfered back and forth from the larger Gamecube version (which is kind of redundant nowadays). Coins you collect in the main game can be used to buy goods for your pet in the Garden, including toys and such. Limited heavily by the GBA's memory, this plays like a slightly more advanced Tamagotchi, and the mini-games you can play with the Chao (including Ro-Sham-Bo) are dull and time-wasting. To be honest, the Tiny Chao Garden was obsolete when it came out.
Sonic's been pretty popular on handheld consoles over the last few years, so there is a lot of competition out there for Sonic Advance. While its immediate sequels Advance 2 and 3 are only slightly better than the original, they are worth picking up over this. A better alternative would be Sonic Rush for the Nintendo DS, but avoid Sonic Rush Adventure. Finally, if you have a Xbox, PS2 or Gamecube, you might be better off with the Sonic Mega Collection, which bundles together all the older, but still more exciting, Sonic platformers. Sonic 2 still has more charm than this offering, and Sonic & Knuckles offers far more challenge.
What Sonic Advance does have going for it is its price. If all you want is a slice of brief, unremarkable, but slightly amusing old school Sonic action, I'm sure you can find this for pocket money prices. It has also been rereleased in a series of double packs, which are even better value for money. The double packs include Sonic Advance and either Sonic Pinball Party (average pinball sim), Sonic Battle (an Advance Wars-style Sonic strategy game) or ChuChu Rocket (classic mouse 'em up puzzle game). If you find them for a decent price, pick whichever one suits your style the best and go for it! Sonic Advance is not the best Sonic game, not even the best handheld one, but it could be a lot worse.
(A version of this review has been posted to ciao.co.uk under the same user name)