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In a market oversaturated by a steady stream of shooters and sports games so unbelievable they need to be released annually to satisfy developer's wallets, it was easy to feel a drought of Strategy and Role-Playing Games on the PlayStation 3 for a while after its debut. Largely undiscovered by myself even after a couple of years of its release in 2008, Valkyria Chronicles was an often gone unnoticed piece of gold under the main stream. It happened to tie together Strategy, Role-Playing and shooting into a truly astounding experience complemented by a beautiful art style and captivating story to deliver a game that is sure to be searched out for by RPG collectors in years to come.
Part of my appeal of Valkyria Chronicles is its fairly easy to follow story with only a few key points of information needed to be stored in memory to understand what is going on. This is pretty refreshing and makes playing Valkyria Chronicles infrequently very practical. Briefly put, Valkyria Chronicles is set in 1930s Europe where 2 major forces are at war for the precious fuel substance known as Ragnite which has the kingdom of Gallia in the crossfire. The story revolves around Squad 7 of Gallia which is commanded by the intellectual nature enthusiast and son of essentially a hero of Gallia: Welkin Gunther. After being caught up in an invasion by Imperial soldiers in the Gallian town of Bruhl, Welkin is forced to take up arms and join forces with the likes of Alicia - a caring and hard working baker, Rosie - a hot headed pub singer and Isara - Welkin's adopted younger sister and engineering prodigy who is of Darscen race. Although fighting is not in Welkin's best interests, he soon becomes an increasingly renowned Tank Commander of Squad 7 in pursuit of taking back what is rightfully belongs to Gallia and ending the war.
There are a fair number of themes throughout the plot but the strongest and best accomplished is racism towards the Darscens and the realisation that these 'dark hairs' as they are referred to are just as human as the rest of Gallia, that their past of annihilating innocent people was not truth and that history often manipulated by the victors of war. It creates a lot of drama and conflict even within Squad 7 as Rosie refuses to cooperate with the Darscen Isara. It simply adds another layer of depth to the strength of the story.
The style of Valkyria Chronicles is what immediately makes itself recognisable amongst the rest of the PS3 games. The whole game is a painting come to life with its strongly watercolour paint influenced character models and environments. The character models also portray the look of anime characters with their large eyes and outlined figures. Whilst the graphics aren't particularly heavy on PS3 resources, they are beautiful none the less.
Valkyria Chronicles is the kind of game you actually get excited to turn back on after your last play to resume your progress with the ability to save at any time. The story is told literally as a story, from a book detailing the events of Squad 7 in the past. The player accesses various sections of the current chapter in the book to activate both compulsory and optional scenes and engage in the operation of the chapter. What is really nice about this approach is that the scenes are kept short, can be replayed as many times as you wish and allows you to save after each scene. The book also has different sections which are tabbed to take you to places such as headquarters where you can configure and kit out your squad and Skirmish battles which are replayed battle missions to help rank up your soldiers.
Pre-battle preparation is a fairly important aspect of Valkyria Chronicles. As the commander of Squad 7, you choose from 50 or so available soldiers of different strengths, weaknesses and friendships and the equipment they use in battle. I've particularly spent hours simply hand picking my squad and fine tuning it to create the team which works best together by choosing team-mates who like each other to give them extra stats on the field. Also making up for the weaknesses of your other soldiers by keeping people in your squad whom are best in different environments such as darkness or country terrain. These soldiers in the barracks all have fixed classes which gives them various statistics. Of course, the reason I spent so much perfecting by squad is because I enjoyed doing so, not because I was forced to. Since each character is different, with different voices and attitudes, it feels like more care is put into your selection and genuine regret if one of your liked squad members dies in the line of duty.
Scouts are natural runners equipped with rifles and are a general use troop which have an eye for spotting enemies at great distances.
Shocktroopers are standard fighting soldiers with machine guns which impairs their running distance.
Lancers are explosive masters with essentially rocket launchers to take down tanks and other heavy machinery.
Engineers are out their to provide support with good healing, ammo replenishing, repairing tanks and disarming mines.
Snipers are the masters of precision with high damage sniper rifles making for a deadly attack from great distances at the expense of being unable to move far in a turn.
All classes typically have certain good points and bad points with the 'potentials' of each character activating under certain circumstances to increase the effectiveness of that character temporarily. Experience gained in battle allows you to level up each class separately, whilst money allows for the creation of new weapons and armour for both your foot soldiers and your tank. I love the flexibility it gives to levelling your troops as the choice is entirely in your own hands.
Now the best part, the operations. Typically battles consist of an objective which can be as simple as capturing the enemy main camp, or have restrictions and limitations such as defeating a large tank without explosives by filtering and blocking its path through a city with your own to create spaces for foot soldier fire. The missions are kept fresh with new equipment whilst allowing you to still make use of strategies and experience you've earned in previous battles. Firstly you choose the 10 characters who will fight in this battle and place them in certain pre-determined nodes on an overhead view of the map. Again this takes careful consideration and is an important aspect of winning any battle.
The actual gameplay itself is very interesting, challenging and great fun! The 2 sides of the battle are split into phases which alternate each turn. The attacking team can move their soldiers and attack, whilst the defending side remains still and fires at oncoming enemies. It pretty much becomes a tower defence game for the side who does not have the turn.
The player chooses from an overhead map the character they want to move. This expends 1 action icon for soldiers and 2 for tanks. Typically the player has a row of these action icons at the start of their turn, these are carried over to the next turn if unused and are also used to request reinforcements, or order troops to increase their defence. Once a character is selected, the camera very nicely pans down to a 3rd person view on the battle field where the player takes control of the character and can run as far as their 'action gauge' allows. Character actions are dependent on class, but in general they can bring up a crosshair to allow the player to aim and fire at an enemy, throw a grenade or heal themselves or others. Firing at enemies next to character's that are friends allows those team-mates to give support fire on the same enemy. Where you run your characters to is very much as important as who you attack, for if you have not crouched behind cover and left yourself open you are bound to be hit hard by the enemy. The main way to progress is to capture enemy camps to get footholds towards the main enemy camp.
The gameplay is definitely different to what I've played before. I like strategy games along with real-time strategy games, but often real-time feels a bit rushed. Valkyria Chronicles sort of blurs the edges of these two together, its real-time action, but you don't have to worry about the enemy moving. It gives you plenty of time to think and plan your moves. I have to say, it can be pretty tough at times. I've found myself restarting battles over and over to tackle the battle with a different strategy. Although unforgiving, Valkyria Chronicles allows you to return to the book-mode as it is known and reconfigure your squad, buy new weapons and even train up in Skirmish mode. You don't have to go saving on multiple saves to be safe that you can get past the current mission. All 50 squad characters feel somewhat individual and genuinely part of a team. Soldiers who lose all their HP in battle are injured and lay on the field until reached by a squad member to call a medic, or for the enemy to reach them and to deliver the final blow and remove the member from your squad forever.
**A few things I didn't like**
During the battle or when deploying your troops, you are unable to get detailed information of the potentials that each character has. This makes for some guesswork as to what each is and makes for a little less tactical placements. It may be handy to have a printed sheet of what each potential is since it isn't covered in the manual.
Some battles could be won by running a scout from one end to the other and capturing the enemy base by using a defence boost order on them. Although this isn't actually a natural thing to do and I didn't even think of it, I've seen it done on youtube videos to achieve fast times.
Snipers can cover the least amount of distance running. Whilst their range makes up for this, it becomes a pain getting the snipers to good vantage points.
Troops crouched behind cover such as sandbags take much less damage. Even if you infiltrate an enemy camp from behind, you cannot hope to kill the enemy fire your weapon in 1. Instead a grenade must be thrown to destroy the cover.
What I do like about Valkyria Chronicles definitely makes up for the minor dislikes I have with it, enough to deserve 5 stars. There is very little loading to be done after the game has been installed, making for seamless action. It also boasts some great replay value with an extra hard mode for those who like the extra challenge. There is also DLC available which I have yet to download but I look forward to buying that adds some extra missions. The story is great, the art work is really nice, the game itself is ridiculously addicting... I'm actually quite surprised there is no multiplayer modes either online or offline. It would make for some fantastic battles but with battles in the single-player lasting often 30 - 60 minutes, it could easily prove a problem when it comes to players quitting early or disconnecting. It has potential for multiplayer, especially local multiplayer, but for online I'm kind of glad it didn't.
After the demise of my PlayStation 2 Socom headset, I've struggled to find a good quality replacement. Sadly the Logitech 'premium' headset does not meet the mark even with its premium price tag that goes to show that money isn't always the best representation of quality. Although the product is the Logitech Premium 350 'USB' headset, I'll be reviewing the same headset with audio jacks instead.
With a thick headband and large ear pieces, the headset does look the real deal. It is comprised entirely of hard plastic apart from the minimally cushioned ear pieces which are only just adequate enough in size. It is a fairly stylish headset with a pretty rigid build quality. The microphone arm typically sits to the right side of your face with the freedom to revolve the arm 180 degree upwards only. The main reason for this is to keep the microphone out of the way by lining it up with the headband should you not want to make use of it. Secondarily, by further pushing the arm to its limit, you can reverse the headset to have the microphone arm on the left side of your face if desired. Its nice to have that option at least.
The single cable that is about 3 metres in length comes down from the right ear piece with control piece about a third of the way down that can be clipped onto clothing such as your jeans or t-shirt neck to keep the control piece in a quickly accessible place to slide the microphone from ON to mute or increase and decrease the volume output from the headset speakers. Finally at the end of the cable comes either the USB connection or in my case the 2 audio jacks which separate into 2 wires with about 15 cm of wire each.
There is plenty of head room with this headset, it does adjust to accommodate different head sizes. The ear cushions feel a bit rationed, but they do well enough to provide decent ear comfort, its the head strap which makes this headset a bit miserable for myself. As I stated before, the headset which includes the head band is completely plastic without any more cushioning than at the ears. Within 15 minutes the hard plastic pressing on the top of my head begins to get annoying. After 30 minutes pretty uncomfortable and as an hour approaches it begins to ache. I did get around this by sellotaping a couple of cotton wool pads around the top to get a comfort which should have been included with the price which was around £40 when I first got it a few years ago.
Although my particular headset had the audio jacks, I actually bought it for my PS3 which I assumed the headset was actually the USB version. Luckily I was able to purchase a small device to convert the signal to USB and happily make use of the headset on both my PC and PS3.
I have to say that the sound quality from the speakers is very nice, its great for listening to music or games with the control piece volume controls becoming useful for quick volume control. Sadly after a year or so of use, the right ear piece has stopped working. Its still perfectly usable but not quite what it once was.
This is where the headset begins to lose its worth for me. The headset claims to cancel out background noise, which it does just a bit too strongly. My voice is generally deep and at times it has been regarded as background noise causing others to hear my voice cut out occasionally. Accompanying my voice is also a constant static noise which is not something you want other people to be hearing. Other than that, when my voice is picked up, it is captured relatively clearly but still leaves some clarity to be desired. I've been using this headset on my PS3 and whilst it did what it had to do, its not reliable.
Poorly designed sums this up. Adjusting the audio requires turning a kind of wheel with a very small raised bump to act as a grip. Its difficult to turn the wheel without using a nail to do so. Were a couple of buttons too much to ask? Next we have the microphone mute switch. That's right, a switch and a soft switch at that. When I say soft, I mean that the switch slides but never properly clicks into place. There is a great deal of ambiguity in whether the switch is slid into mute or not. Often I've been speaking to myself, thinking that the headset microphone was switched on. There are not lights on the control piece so your only indication is by using the tiny picture which represents a microphone to know if it is activated.
I particularly do not recommend this headset for on-line gaming. Its uncomfortable, it has poor controls and constant static microphone which occasionally confuses voice with background noise. Great speakers (providing they work) though I have to say. I don't use my headset terribly often, so I just grin and bear this 'premium' headset.
The short and charming 'extra' game known as Portal that was combined with Team Fortress 2 and Half Life 2 in Valve's 'The Orange Box' received unexpected recognition as one of the greatest games of all time. It was inevitable that what became an internet phenomenon would not take it's chance to have a follow up title to quench the thirst of fans eager for more. The excellence of Portal had placed a tremendous weight on Valve's shoulders to produce an even funnier, longer, more crazy mind-bending puzzle shooter game which would once again become a benchmark for defining perfection. That game is its sequel: Portal 2.
Following on from the events of Portal 1, the player again assumes the role of Chell; the silent female test subject whom we still know nothing about. The player is returned to the Aperture Science laboratories that is still run by the psychotic watching eye of GlaDOS, the twisted robotic villain who is still bent on using Chell to do further testing of the portal device by trying to kill her; in increasingly dangerous puzzles. Aperture Science is somewhat in ruins after the first game and GlaDOS is in the process of 'cleaning up' the mess which in some ways develops a strange sympathy for your greatest enemy through the course of play. At the start of the game, the player is promptly greeted by a robotic personality core known as 'Wheatly'. Boasting a strong British accent he accounts for many amusing sequences with his idiotic nature pretending to be somewhat intelligent. The objective of the game is naturally to escape the chaos of the Aperture Science laboratories with your new buddy.
The structure of the game is fairly similar to Portal 1. GlaDOS still wants to test and you are still the tester. The game is broken up into a series of Test Chambers, each with their own puzzles to solve before proceeding to the next chamber with an increased level of difficulty. The first few chambers are overgrown by plants and the chambers are corroded and broken as a result of the lab being unused for some time after Portal 1. Yet, upon your return the whole place feels alive, panels are restoring themselves to original positions, stairs replaced and the occasional pieces of rooms being unable to fix themselves and proceed to what looks like them hitting their heads off the walls in frustration. Some of the gameplay does take place outside of the test chambers, featuring the 'old' labs not created by GlaDOS. These provide a very interesting back-story to Aperture Science itself, its origins and just what the heck happened. The player treks through these test chambers accompanied by voice recordings of Cave Johnson exposing the player to lines of pure gold. Portal 2's dialogue has more worthy quotes than that of Shakespeare, to give a small taster of one of the lesser quotes:
"They say great science is built on the shoulders of giants - not here. At Aperture we do all our science from scratch; no hand holding." - Cave Johnson
Its probably time to tell you what Portal 2 actually is, huh? The fact I've taken so long to get there shows how much the story, characters and setting itself are just as important and interesting. For those unfamiliar with Portal, the name comes from the device you are involuntarily testing for your own survival. Chell is equipped with a gun which fires portals, the mechanic is fairly simple yet feels strangely original. Simply put, fire 2 portals at 2 different locations. Walk through 1 portal, come out the second, simple yeah? The concept is, the practical use of them however becomes a bit more tricky and head hurting when physics puts itself into the equation. There is no loss of energy between portals, thus the speed of entry is the same as the speed of departure which can result in high flying sequences of picking up momentum by falling from a height, into a portal to propel yourself to a higher platform. Puzzles are made more interesting with the introduction of tractor beams, light bridges and various gels such as bouncy repulsion gel, all which can be manipulated through portals to make for some elaborate puzzles with many solutions.
The puzzles of Portal 2 are of appropriate difficulty level but I didn't feel that the single-player campaign was as difficult as I hoped it'd be. Of course, I have to step back and look at the audience. Portal 2 reaches out. It couldn't be too tough for the many whom may never have played Portal and won't have the experience 'thinking with portals'. That said, some puzzles did take me some thought, enough to give me satisfaction in developing a solution. I did get stuck the odd couple of times, but it wasn't too long until I had that 'Aha!' moment. I was disappointed with the lack of Advanced Chambers** like Portal 1 which strip away some parts of the tests to make things harder, I'd have enjoyed the tough challenge. The single-player was an experience to remember, its around 8 hours of incredible fun, but that is the issue, it'll just be remembered. Its difficult to go back and play Portal 2 again since you should remember the solutions to most of the tests taking away most of the fun until new content is released.
As excited as I was for the single-player to Portal 2, it was the new co-op mode that I was most interested in. Its introduction allows a couple of players to play a side story of 2 testing robots either split-screen or online. Two players means 2 portal guns, which allows for harder chambers and more head hurting. The co-op is naturally more difficult that the single-player. I played online with a mate of mine and whilst the game handles the puzzle solving with the only communication being pointing markers for where the other player should place their portal, where to stand indicators and timers very well, its nothing compared to using headsets to solve the puzzles. My friend and I had great fun trying to solve the puzzles, some of the solutions staring us in the face and we still took a fair bit of time to solve them. Its every bit as addicting as the single-player game such that we blitzed through the game within about 4-5 sittings. Its interesting to see other people's thought processes, we often had different ideas on how to solve the tests, both perfectly okay but with a clear winner in the easy to implement department. If you don't know anyone with Portal 2, or have not a second controller for split-screen, fret not! You can play online with automatically matched co-op partners. I found the loading times a bit long between tests, but its a small price to pay for the amount of fun you get out of it. Since the PS3 edition also incorporates Steam, its allows PC gamers to play co-op with PS3 gamers. Great news! The fact that the PS3 copy grabs you a free copy of the PC version is even better, for the toolkit has been released and will allow gamers to download and play user-created levels. Thus, the PS3 gamers can also get in on the modding action to make for more user created levels on the PC.
I really don't want to say much about the story, you'll just need to take my word for it that Portal 2 exceeds Portal, it is an absolute joy to play and like Portal just feels like nothing I've played before. The puzzles are fantastic, the characters, the dialogue, the level design, voices, everything. So incredibly addicting that you just keep wanting more of the game, Valve have delivered what was expected from me and I'm extremely happy to have played through Portal 2 and really hope for some great new downloadable content to be released to get my brain going again.
**At the time of writing, there were no Advanced Chambers available. I am aware that in the future there is to be free DLC containing advanced chambers and some extra chambers. This review is only accurate from the time of writing: 24/05/2011
Note: With Wipeout HD being one of the 5 free titles available to PSN users after the PSN outage of April 2011, I decided to review the game that I already had, but wish I didn't yet. I hope this helps users make Wipeout one of their choices!
Wipeout is far from a new title, its been around since the beginning of the PlayStation and hopefully will live past even the end of PlayStation itself. Definitely not to be confused with the obstacle course TV series, Wipeout is a futuristic pick-up racer with blazingly high speeds that have never been rivalled in any other racing game I've played. Wipeout HD brings the series to a new high with silky smooth 60 FPS online action on the PlayStation 3, making for a real treat of an experience.
Racing games never really had a place in my games collection unless some form of violence was involved, be it pelting other motorcycle racers with fists in Road Rash, slamming a racer from the road into the sea on Burnout or even tripping other racers up with bananas in Mario Kart. As long as there was some way to punish other players and essentially take them out of the race. What I like from a racing game is speed, weapons and a good laugh. Wipeout HD simply nails every one of them.
Wipeout HD is akin to Mario Kart, where the karts are spaceships, the bananas are highly explosive bombs and the general speed is faster than what any mushroom could ever possibly dream of giving to a go kart. Its rough and not for sore losers. A race typically involves choosing one of the several ships with different strengths and weaknesses (speed, thrust, defence and acceleration) and aiming for blue pads on the track to give a little boost to the already accumulated high speed. Red pads grant the player a randomised weapon to either deploy on the enemy, or absorb to repair some of your ship's health. The tracks are all pretty self-contained and as you may expect, bashing against the sides of the track will lower the ship's health as will being hit by enemy weapons. The player can perform barrel rolls in the air to give that extra boost of speed on landing at the expense of some health which plays a tactical advantage by finding new jumps to barrel roll from. The player can also tilt the nose of the ship up and down slightly to give more air or a faster descent which aids the barrel roll business. That's all there is to the standard Wipeout races, its a fairly simple formula but the execution is simply a joy that it brings me back for more.
Wipeout is mostly renowned for its unforgiving speed and Wipeout HD definitely does not hold back. For players new to the series even the lowest (baby) speed might be too much to handle causing them to play ping-pong with the solid ridges of the track until they blow to smithereens. The game has 4 speeds to play on; Venom, Flash, Rapier and the sickly reaper of a speed appropriately named Phantom. Players new to Wipeout should have a shot at Phantom first, seriously. It just might blow you away (literally, you are sure to blow up) at how fast the corners appear before you can react. This is where you aim to be, this is the speed you will eventually conquer as impossible as it may feel to begin with. If you are having trouble, there is a pilot assist option which veers the ship away from the sides of the track at the cost of a very slightly reduced speed. Of course, it is still possible to crash and can help a lot of players get into Wipeout.
There is several weapons, some more common than others which are gained after passing over a weapons pad. Although the player must mostly remember the symbol of the weapon, the name is sometimes read out by a slightly robotic female announcer who also cruelly lets you know that someone behind you has just deployed Quake: a flaming earthquake which hits hard on every unfortunate player who is in front of you as it waves down the track. Luckily the most powerful weapons such as Quake are much less common than the likes of mines or machine guns. Although not technically a weapon, the player can also pick up a boost, auto-pilot or a shield making for an invulnerable ship for a limited time. Sometimes the weapons feel cheap, but that is what is fun about these kind of games.
Wipeout could be taken more seriously than other pick-up racers, but where is the fun in that? Taking Wipeout too seriously is only going to lead to frustration. Whilst the majority of the gameplay very much has skill as a requirement, the randomised weapon pick-ups makes for an element of luck. Wipeout HD can be played multi-player both locally (split-screen on the same system) and over the internet with a wide array of players. Letting a friend pass you on purpose in a race and proceeding to fire a missile at them doesn't really get old. Wipeout is certainly a better experience with friends despite having a solid single-player campaign.
In the single-player game there are 4 different game modes. The standard race which could be played as a tournament, speed lap- where you continuously lap around a track until you beat a certain time, time trial and finally Zone mode. Zone mode is the most interesting and difficult mode of the game where you loop infinitely around a track until you destroy your ship. The player must use a ship unplayable in the standard races whilst they start their journey around one of the tracks which has now been saturated in bright colours. Every lap gradually increases the speed and adds a new set of colours to the funky looking track which acts as a music equaliser to the excellent electronic soundtrack of Wipeout HD which can also be replaced by your own music! Zone takes practice, practice, practice. Originally unable to beat 25 zones, I eventually made it up to 76 to get the 'Zone Zeus' trophy, one of my greatest gaming achievements.
The optional extra to Wipeout HD known as Wipeout HD: Fury adds new tracks, upgraded ships and brand new game modes; eliminator, detonator and zone battles. Eliminator makes for a kind of battle mode where the objective is to damage enemies until a certain number of points have been gained. With the ability to quickly switch direction and go the opposite way, it makes for some intense fire fights. Detonator is similar to Zone mode, except the ship is kitted out with a gun to destroy the objects and mines blocking the path. It is a fantastic mode which does not have a multi-player equivalent unfortunately. Lastly, Zone battles is again based on the awesome Zone mode, except this time it is a race against other players to reach a top speed. By driving across pads, the player builds up a boost gauge which allows them to get a quick burst of speed and place a barrier which if hit by other players slows them down. This boost gauge can also be absorbed for more health. The decision between repairing the ship or taking a risk and using that boost is what makes Zone Battles great fun.
Wipeout HD coupled with Fury is bound to provide endless amounts of entertainment to both yourself and those you play with. There isn't very much replay value as far as the single-player goes, but when it comes to multi-player you will be sure to have the urge for a quick game of Wipeout now and then. Its pretty difficult to pin-point many flaws with Wipeout HD, its an excellent racer which at times is maybe a little hard? But how can that be a weakness when it is also a strength of Wipeout HD... The music is incredible, the graphics are pleasing and the gameplay is pure genius.
With every great game comes a controversial sequel. Bioshock was a marvellous survival horror FPS experience and although it did not particularly beg for a sequel, its hard not to resist the desire for one. Of course, the actual production has the opportunity to dim the spotlight of excellence of the former game, resulting in furious fans claiming its predecessor to be ruined. A harsh claim to make, unfortunately there are people taking this slightly childish view with Bioshock. For myself, I believe that ideology in this case to be nothing short of pathetic. Bioshock was fantastic. Flawed, but, fantastic. There was much room for improvement in terms of gameplay mechanics and it was never a perfect game by far. It had an atmosphere like no other game I've come across and is essentially a difficult game to replicate it as such. Whilst it does not bring quite the same awe and general fear that Bioshock had in spades, Bioshock 2 is a worthy enough sequel that deserves an applause.
With a setting as great as Rapture, its really difficult to imagine a sequel being anywhere else. Ten years on from the first game, Bioshock 2 puts you in the boots of those slightly terrifying enemies of Bioshock 1; a Big Daddy. You play as Delta, a prototype Big Daddy of the Alpha series who lay dormant, during the events of Bioshock 1. After being awoken by a voice, Delta is aware that his 'daughter', a little sister known as Eleanor has been taken from him and he seeks to reclaim her from Sofia Lamb the new found 'ruler' of what is left of the broken underwater city of Rapture. Delta must battle countless splicers, big daddies and the new agile and ultimately more deadly 'Big Sisters' on his way to Sofia Lamb who holds Eleanor captive as a means to rebuild the utopia.
Having already experienced the wonders of Rapture before, its not quite the adrenaline rush as was the descent to Rapture in the first Bioshock game. There simply is no way to replicate that experience with a place the player was already aware of. Being a Big Daddy does open the player up to the sea-bed which whilst it was a nice change of scenery, I was disappointed not to see any huge whales or the sorts gliding just above me to give that sense of being small once again. They are simply point A to point B sequences with only the ability to move and jump and collect the occasional leech to acquire ADAM, the substance Rapture became addicted to, using it for purchases of plasmids - various special attacks such as setting enemies on fire or projecting a controllable spirit of yourself.
As with Bioshock 1, the story of the game is typically told through its environment and audio logs that can be picked up and listened to. Rapture is now simply a mess with what looks like little hope of restoration. The majority of the places you play through are new sections of the city, unexplored in the first game. However, there is the odd occurrence of being able to return to certain areas of the first game, a nice bit of deja vu for Bioshock 1 players. As a whole, I really can't remember any notable moments of fright and suspense. There was of course the fear of seeing a Big Sister for a glimpse, or the sequences of Big Sister battles. Being a Big Daddy, perhaps made for a less 'scary' experience. Bioshock 1 hosted some superb moments of fright which Bioshock 2 lacks.
Although not quite on par with the atmosphere of Bioshock, the sequel definitely makes up for with its changes to gameplay. Being a Big Daddy, the player is equipped with a deadly drill that acts as a melee weapon to smash or rev into enemies without much mercy. Revving does consume fuel, but as a melee weapon, I'd take it over a wrench any day. As with Bioshock the player takes control of plasmids which consume EVE to electrify foes or have them help you. Only this time its possible to use plasmids simultaneously with weapons such as the rivet gun, shotgun and spear gun. This makes for some epic battles with you piling round after round of machine gun fire into an enemy whilst stunning them with electricity. I felt that ammo was not quite as scarce as it was with Bioshock making it perfectly acceptable to fully utilise your weapons. With every weapon comes alternative ammo such as the rivet gun can fire motion detection traps and the shotgun electrifying bucks to give plenty of variety to each weapon. Once again 'power to the people' stations are hidden throughout the game to grant 1 weapon an upgrade be it more damage or an increased fire rate.
There isn't a great deal of new plasmids which makes the player already familiar with the likes of Incinerate or Insect swarm. However, there is some interesting twists on some plasmids with each plasmid having 2 - 3 upgrades. For example, the cyclone trap can now be ignited with fire, insect swarms, even hypnotising enemy plasmids to make for an enemy being thrust into the air AND set up in flames. It really makes for more elaborate trap setting and preparation for an upcoming wave of enemies. Most plasmids can be 'charged' to unleash a stronger version of the plasmid at the expense of more EVE. Such that Incinerate becomes a wave of fire that can be continuously held to burn up all those around you should you have upgraded the plasmid as far. Unfortunately my favourite plasmid of Bioshock 1 which was a blast of wind to totally launch enemy splicers into oblivion has been removed, as far as I'm aware that is the only subtracted plasmid.
Hacking and researching was probably one of the worst and most tediously boring aspects of Bioshock. Hallelujah that both have been made far less of a chore. Hacking used to involve a small puzzle connecting pipes to ensure a stream of liquid met its destination, it was slow and quickly became boring enough to stop hacking enemy turrets to make them fight for you. The hacking process is now a quick timing exercise where a needle swings back and forth and must be stopped in a green zone. Stopping in the red triggers an alarm and a swarm of bots whilst stopping on the clear simply gives the player an electric shock draining some HP. The game also no longer pauses during hacking so you need to be quick. Researching is also made that much more of a breeze than it was taking photos continuously of enemies. The camera has been replaced by a video recorder which is turned on once and leaves you to fight the enemy which you must attack using a variety of different plasmids and weapons as the camera rolls. The more different ways you damage the enemy means more points which accumulates to a research level increase on that enemy. Research levels typically increase attack power against those enemies or an extra 'tonic' plasmid which are attribute increases such as increased fire damage. Tonics are also a lot less hassle with the ability to equip about 20 of them at a time!
Multi-player came as quite the shock when I heard of its inclusion. I would not have associated Bioshock with competitive multi-player at all, but somehow it actually works. The multi-player takes place before the fall of Rapture, before the first game at the time of chaos where the citzens began to go crazy so to speak. The player can choose a splicer character and their accessories along with the weapons and plasmids they wish to take into battle. By choosing 2 weapons and 2 plasmids + 4 tonics for each character set-up slot, the player can create different combinations for different situations in battle. Only a handful of plasmids are available such as electrocuting enemies and freezing which again have multiple uses. Freezing an enemy typically slows them down and lowers their defence. However, the same effect can be applied to doors, freezing them such that they take longer for other players to open. Its all done pretty well I have to say, but its not particularly a multi-player game you can play for a long time without tiring. It is hard to keep playing but its always a nice break from other FPS games.
Matches are at most 8 vs 8 and contain game modes such as a free for all, standard team deathmatch and my personal favourite 'capture the sister' which involves the attacking team kidnapping the little sister from the enemy base and returning her to the vent at their own side of the map as she kicks and screams to put her down. In some game modes a Big Daddy suit allows the first player to grab it to become a Big Daddy until they are defeated. Ranking up unlocks new weapons and plasmids to provide a good 20 or so hours of multi-player to get to the maximum rank.
I really enjoyed playing Bioshock 2. The gameplay improvements make the game so much more than Bioshock was in those terms. It never managed to compete with the same atmosphere that Bioshock was famed for, but it is still an excellent game that I actually prefer to play. Playing as a Big Daddy was quite the experience and despite the power I felt when controlling Delta, my heart was still racing at the coming of Big Sisters.
If there is something Guerilla Games are good at, its taking the feedback from their customers to heart. But when they lean so far to listen to the whinings of minorities it puts the stability of what they themselves believe to be a good game into turmoil. Killzone 2, the previous iteration of the series was a fantastic gritty game implementing a 'teamwork- or die' like strategy to its multi-player alongside a heavy feeling that the game was loved and hated for. Brushing off its marmite-like controls, Killzone 2 online was superb, immersive and difficult. It was constantly being updated with game tweaks: bots being too weak, then too strong, until the miserable voices were at a less audible distance. Naturally, Killzone 3 is this warped version of its predecessor tailored to fit a wider audience, that's great, but I felt a bit out of touch to what to me defined Killzone and set it aside from the Call of Duty crowd.
Killzone 3 picks off from where Killzone 2 left off, on Helghan with Visari dead and what feels like the whole planet against them, the remaining ISA soldiers ( including Sevchenko, Rico and Captain Narville) make an effort to escape the planet that they had previously declared war upon. The game ventures through some pretty sudden changes of scenery, from the grey and brown cities of Helghan to the over saturated vibrancy of a dense helghan jungle, to snowy strongholds. Killzone 2 was pretty dull in terms of colours, but that was just how it was and it pulled it off tremendously. I welcome the slightly more colourful Killzone 3 (likely influenced by complainers of the colour scheme used on the previous game) but it feels slightly tacked on with areas sprouting oranges and yellows which never really needed to be there. The jungle makes for an exception, filled with glowing plants and bugs, for the first time it really reminds you that you are on the alien world of Helghan. Graphically, there does not seem to be much of an improvement but is still looking as crisp as ever.
The game difficulty has been toned down, making the Elite difficulty mode a much easier feat than Killzone 2. There doesn't really seem to be much of a difference between the 4 difficulty settings, but I guess since the AI were already pretty damn good its hard to make them any better. The game controls are likely the most noticeable change to Killzone 2. The weighty feeling is almost completely gone which makes for far easier aiming. I do welcome the change, but cannot help but long for more weight to the controls as before. These adjustments make Killzone 3 far far easier to get going with as it feels much more like the standard FPS set-up. Despite the change of sensitivity, the game plays out as it once does using the duck and cover system to dive behind cover which doesn't actually fully protect you. Melee attacks are nothing short of excellent, from eye gouging, to neck-snapping, these brutal melee kills are a definite improvement over the simple gun hit. The single-player typically pans out with you making slow progress towards the objective, peeking around and nailing several bullets into the enemy Helghast soldiers before proceeding to the next fire fight as most FPS games typically do. Things are made a little more interesting with several sequences that involve gunning down a huge huge walking tank and using a jet-pack. These are made short, but sweet.
Story was never a particular strength for Killzone, but I must say I've always been more inclined to follow and actually remember what occurred. I can't say that for the likes of any other shooter I've played which I quickly forget and often do not even bother listening to. Without Visari, I felt that the story itself would be much less enjoyable. However, I was pleasantly surprised. With Visari gone, order within the Helghast becomes unstable, with internal conflicts giving a little background to the infinitely more interesting side of the war, the Helghast, the 'baddies' who want the ISA forces off their planet. Killzone 3 could have wrapped up very nicely, yet falls upon another cliffhanger for likely the 4th instalment of the series.
Killzone 3 also utilises 3D and the Move controller. Sadly I own none of these so cannot make a judgement on either.
The real heart of Killzone is its multi-player, its predecessor delivered what was to me a very solid experience if a bit difficult and occasionally boring after a while. Catering to the complaints of players and to a wider range of players in general, the multi-player has been modified, dumbed down perhaps. The game is sluggish as it was before, but with its lighter controls has made for slightly more run and gun style battles. There is no longer squad spawning, making squads practically useless along with pre-determined tactical spawn locations. With the lack of squad spawning and with the now lighter controls, teamwork is much less
Killzone 3 bears 3 game modes and a matchmaking system (its unfortunate you can no longer create your own games with its own rules). The 3 modes are Guerilla Warfare - standard team deathmatch, Warzone and Operations. Warzone is simply a copy and paste mode from Killzone 2 which isn't a bad thing. It is a game mode where a random objective (team deathmatch, search & destroy, search & retrieve, assassination, capture & hold) is chosen and once a team has won that mode, another is selected. The team with the most wins, wins the game. Operations is my favourite game mode out of the 3. It tries to add a little piece of an incentive to winning the match by adding a sort of ongoing mission feel to the game. The Helghast are the defending team whilst the ISA must complete all 3 small objectives to win the game that the Helghast are defending. During the course of the game there are short cut-scenes staring the best players in your team which is fun to watch. It's unfortunate there are only 3 different maps which it can be played on, for it is by far the best for teamwork and the feeling of achievement.
The level up system is about class development. The player can choose to spend ability points on whatever class (Engineer, Medic, Infiltrator, Tactician or Marksmen) as they please to concentrate their skills on the role they favour most. Classes have been reworked from Killzone 2 and a few abilities have been tinkered with, removed and added. Again each class has a primary and secondary ability. However, it is no longer possible to change the secondary ability with that of another class. If its capturing areas of the map to give access to jet-packs, walking tanks or mortar strikes, or getting up close and personal disguised as the enemy in their own camp, there is a role for everyone to fulfil to bring victory to their team.
Its hard to say Killzone 3 is much better than Killzone 2. It doesn't have the same solid feeling to the game-play as Killzone 2 did and isn't exactly the FPS of all time. Saying that, its a fine game and I really enjoy playing Killzone 3. In fact, I'd go as far to say I prefer the multi-player due to the strict class abilities as a whole, yet it feels like it is missing a few aspects of Killzone 2 which would make Killzone 3 the ultimate experience for me. If you are new to Killzone, I recommend Killzone 3 over the 2nd game, for it is a far easier game to pick up, play and generally get into. Unfortunately I find that my friends lost interest very very quickly in the multi-player, leaving me a lonely trooper on Helghan.
It's 2009, the PlayStation 3 is in full swing and the PlayStation 2 systems are in the closets accumulating a period of dust as the games of the 'next-generation' take centre stage. With the likes of Metal Gear Solid 4, LittleBigPlanet and Killzone 2, the PS3 has finally been given the kick start it deserves. This makes the decision not develop Persona 4 for the PS3 surprising and perhaps a wasted opportunity to further perfect what is already in my eyes; a masterpiece.
What the game is about
Once again the player takes the role of a silent high-school protagonist whose personality is shaped by the player themselves. The character has moved away from the city to live with his uncle and little cousin Nanako (whom he has never met) in the country town of Inaba for a year. Shortly after arriving, fog envelopes the town bringing with it unusual deaths of citizens. The rumour of the 'Midnight Channel' is passed around school, where staring into a blank TV on a rainy midnight conjures the image of ones soul mate. Curious, the main character tries it out and discovers he can in fact pass through the TV into a world that can only be described as the materialisation of other's desires. This new found power leads himself and his school mates Yosuke and Chie to take it upon themselves to investigate the murders of Inaba with the idea that the midnight channel may have something to do with the unexplainable deaths. They soon realise they are the only ones who can save the victims from an unpleasant demise by doing so before the fog returns to Inaba.
Alongside battling shadows in the TV world to become closer to solving the mystery, the player can partake in developing 'social links' which is a level based term for ones relationship with other characters in the game. Strengthening these links directly contributes to increased battle performance with the ability to summon a stronger 'Persona'. You can form links with team-mates and certain other characters such as school club colleagues and even a fox. The player also has the opportunity to take part-time jobs such as tutoring and making envelopes which each increase 1 of 5 of the character's personal characteristics: Knowledge, Expression, Understanding, Diligence and Courage. Certain levels of the these characteristics are requirements for progressing further with some social links and starting others in the first place.
The RPG combat system takes place in the TV world and takes up the whole day for the character. The battle system will be familiar to players of previous Persona or Shin Megami Tensei games using weakness and strengths as the most fundamental approach to any battle. By hitting an enemy shadow's weakness, the player gets 1 extra turn and likewise the enemy would get an extra turn if they hit your weakness. Even a standard battle can become a nightmare for your team if you don't protect your weaknesses. The player attacks by summoning personae to cast magical spells or physical attacks, the main character can switch between a variety of aquired persona whilst teammates are restricted to a single persona of their own.
Developing your character I feel also develops yourself as a person. Persona 4 subjects yourself to many different scenarios that you may never have been in before. Given the choice of what to say is really thought provoking. There is a lot of depth to the characters which you interact with, different emotions and views. Maybe if its only just slightly, I feel its made myself a better person, I understand more about the people I speak with and Persona 4 has made me realise how treasured my friends really are.
The cast of Persona 4 really is great, topped off with fantastic voice actors it is a joy to have such a band of personalities as team-mates. Moments that make you smile, or even laugh out loud are simply abundant with some continued jokes that carry throughout the game. The team feels extremely close and as a result makes for some upsetting moments that you feel yourself.
The style of Persona 4 emphasised with its upbeat soundtrack by Shoji Meguro does not become tiresome. In fact, I'm listening to the soundtrack CD that accompanied the game as I write and I'm once again blown away. Its the first time I've heard each piece so clearly and distinct which is probably due to my TV's audio settings when playing the game. Persona 4 is colourful and battles are fought with a song being sung in the background, not something I'm particularly used to for RPG battle theme music, but its a good change.
Nearing the close of the game, the player actually gets the option to choose, from a list of almost every named character in Inaba and choose who committed murders which I took a long hard think about. I wish there was more of this as you feel slightly detached from the mystery itself, it unfolds before your eyes without much input. However, that is possibly too much to ask for and you do get the satisfaction of suggesting a possible reason for an occurrence during talks with the team.
Adding jobs to Persona is a great way to build up cash, better yet it helps develop a social link making evenings working also a joy and not just a way to earn money.
Developing links with allies allows them to learn new follow up attacks or assistance moves which actually makes it worthwhile to develop social links with your team-mates.
Battle difficulty is a very good balance, it provides challenge without utter frustration of dying and losing that time spent getting up floors of a dungeon.
Items that are collected are stored in the same scrollable inventory with the only organisation being that similar items are adjacent items in the list. I found this pretty lazy, key items that are never used again are thrown in with frequently used items making the list scroll on forever. I feel the items should be categorised and tabbed.
Like Persona 3, dungeons are randomised which it might be nicer if they were a bit more personalised and had a strict design. Of course this could just be limitations of disc space, which makes it a little more annoying that it was no on the PS3.
Main character dies then that is that, game over.
There are 3 different endings for Persona 4, the bad, normal and true. The only way to avoid the bad ending is to answer a series of questions with certain answers at a particular point in the game with is perhaps a little unfair compared to a 2 answered question in Persona 3. I attained the normal ending myself but later found out about the 'true' ending which involves doing a particular thing at the very end of the game which was not really prompted. The true ending leads to an extra dungeon and boss which I missed out on my first play-through. I saved over the very last save I made with the new game+ data so I'd need to replay the whole game to get there. Putting in 80 hours, I'm not ready to go through it all again just yet and thus resulted in using youtube to satisfy me with a better ending, of course this was my own fault and it is kind of nice to discover for yourself, depriving a whole dungeon I feel is a little harsh.
Persona 3 comparison
Persona 3 (FES) secured the hearts of myself and many others as the greatest JRPG of the PS2 and one of the best of all time. Its pretty difficult to grasp that Persona 4 excels its predecessor in almost every single way...
The battle system formula is essentially the same with all the familiar Personae and spells at your disposal. Its still an enjoyable system and a redesign really was not needed, why fix what was already pretty great? The difficulty has been toned down making Persona 4 an easier and more forgiving game on the standard difficulty setting. The most notable change is that you can now control all of your team-mates actions if you like, placing less reliance on the AI allowing for more strategic battles.
What I feel to be the best addition to the combat system is social link induced attacks. Developing social links with your team-mates allows them to eventually take hits that would ultimately kill you amongst other helpful functions making social links that bit more important.
You have no control over which weapon the main character uses unfortunately, you are restricted to a 2 handed sword instead of getting the choice of any.
Cast & story
Persona 3 was pretty gloomy, dark and at times depressing. It was an incredibly serious game which I appreciate in its own rights and is great in those respects. Persona 4 takes a far lighter approach with a much more light-hearted journey which simply shines through its characters making for a more enjoyable experience. Living with relatives in Persona 4 adds family life into the mix and makes for a closer attachment to the characters. Using a murder mystery as the basis for the story adds a lot more depth than it was exploring a tower.
I had a concern with the clunky interface of Persona 3, its great to see Persona 4 lightening the load a bit with a much more responsive menu when switching persona or healing characters. Unfortunately the Velvet Room remains largely unchanged with my major issue of being unable to dismiss personae inside of the room still existing.
The mammoth dungeon that was known as Tartarus in Persona 3 was a real pain. There was the sense of achievement in scaling the mighty tower, but with difficult battles and only being able to teleport back to the bottom every 10 floors or so was simply hell. Having to ascend 10 floors in succession then conquer a boss without a save point in sight was unforgiving, tiring and left me not playing for days after losing an hour or so of battles. Persona 4 totally spawns relief by having smaller dungeons of 10 floors or so which allow you to return to the floor you exited the dungeon via an item or spell to save. Essentially this allows you to return and save for each floor you complete to beat at a much more manageable pace. Of course this is too good to be true and HP and SP are not restored. There is the fox that will cure SP at a fee which is determined by your social link with the fox.
I missed a few quests in Persona 3 due to completion date restrictions. Persona 4 has done away with that and it is possible to complete the quests at your own pace.
Attributes & social links
It is far easier to develop your character's individual parameters and social links this time around. I had no problem maxing out my knowledge for the exams well before the final exams which gives time for other social links and attributes. There is always some kind of beneficial action you can do with your time, even sleeping early can increase social link points through dreams.
It is no longer possible to be fatigued from battle or fall ill. I didn't find it a big issue in P3, but its one less thing to worry about
Summing it all up
Persona 4 is simply amazing, it really is. I only finished the game yesterday and I'm already feeling a bit upset that it is over. Its a real shame it wasn't developed for the PS3, it could have gone that little bit further with extra dungeons, full voice acting and parts to tide fans over until the next excellent game by Atlus. It has a brilliant set of characters, plenty of things to do and a great battle system. Nearing perfection, Persona 4 is a game I'm certainly proud to have in my collection and will surely emit fond memories and nostalgia in years to come. Way to go Atlus!
Commuting to University needs a trusty companion to store away books, stationary essentials and space to allow easy transport of a laptop. Although there are over the shoulder style laptop cases, they make for very little room to store other equipment along with the impracticability of heavier laptops putting too much strain on one shoulder alone. Therefore a backpack laptop case After making demanding use of this backpack for over 15 weeks, I feel that it is time enough to give an accurate review of the 16 inch laptop backpack by Port Designs.
I was first attracted to this backpack by its low price for a 16 inch laptop along with its regular backpack appearance. My friends wouldn't have guessed this was a laptop backpack, which is a major selling point considering the decreased chance of being a target of theft. It isn't exactly the most attractive looking backpack, but I assure you it looks slightly better than in the image. I've definitely grown to like the appearance of the backpack and actually find its minimalistic design to be quite smart. In terms of size, the backpack is quite tall so it might not be as suitable for children. The image makes the backpack look to be made from a shiny soft material, this is gladly not the case. The backpack is a matt jet black with a rigid outer fabric that does not give off much shine. The zip tags are of the same material and not in a metallic casing which I first had the impression of in the image.
Starting with the exterior of the backpack, the back is composed of a black soft material of almost sponge like properties which is also on the underside of the shoulder straps. This provides a cushion against your body for more comfortable carrying. Apparently there is a secret pocket on this area of the backpack, but it I've yet to find one, so if it does exist; its doing a mighty fine job at being secret. The strap adjusters aren't perfect, I've found them loosening ( very occasionally ) when under strain of a very full backpack, but are about standard in any case. The Port Designs logo seems to be firmly in place and is about the depth of three 2 pence coins. The handle is a tough fabric, but I always have my doubts when lifting by it of the durability of the fixing of the handle to the backpack. Luckily, it is still in tact despite very heavy contents in the backpack. The bottom of the backpack is a textured hard plastic which helps it stand upright. Unfortunately I've not had much luck with keeping this backpack upright on it own, but the material on the bottom does make for a little extra grip when attempting.
One of the nicest features of the backpack is located on the bottom. Detaching a velcro strap reveals a pocket which contains a rain jacket. Not a rain jacket for you, but for the backpack! It sits crushed up and compact in this little pocket whilst being still connected to the inside of the back by a stretchy material. The idea is that the jacket covers the front half of the back, but not the back since this is where your back would be when wearing. Great for sudden downpours when you have your laptop or pieces of paper you'd like kept dry inside. To my disgust the jacket is a florescent yellow which is great safety wise at night, but at the same time not very stylish having what looks like an oversized glowing sports bag. It does its job well though and in the situations where I've had to use it, I don't feel too silly considering the conditions. The jacket won't stretch over your head too ( I've tried ), so do remember to pack your own rain jacket! Despite this feature, the backpack itself is fairly water resistant itself.
Pockets, pockets, pockets. One of the more exciting concepts of backpacks is the number and variety of pockets. Starting on the exterior, there are 4 zipped pockets. A couple of pockets on the base of either side of the bag were initially just a little small for my liking. You'd just manage to squeeze a can of coke in them at least if that's a good measure of size. I find they are useful for keeping my tissues or occasionally my mobile phone power adapter. There is a very narrow pocket under the Port Designs logo which is a great quick access pouch which I often keep the train timetables along with a few folded up documents, it would accommodate a passport. Below this pocket there is another which is primarily for the likes of stationary. There are 3 slender pouches for storing individual pens and a plastic hanging hook to clip on a set of keys. Three pouches can be used for other kinds of stationary such as markers, rubbers or anything else with a width less than about an inch and a half. The backpack has 2 different compartments each accommodating a surprising amount of contents. The first of the 2 is slightly more narrow but is ideal for documents, notebooks and text books. Inside there are 3 pouches with an elastic edge which keeps the item in place. I've used these to hold a calculator, a glasses case and a bottle of water, for unfortunately there is no dedicated place for a bottle. Further up there is yet another pouch, again elasticated but also with padding to help protect fragile objects. As for the main compartment, this is where the laptop sits in a sectioned off padded part of the compartment. I found my 16 inch laptop to fit very nicely without coming into contact with the zip. There are a couple of pouched on the other side of this compartment which are ideal for storing a power adapter (unfortunately I have to split my adapter into the 2 parts for it to fit correctly) but I'd have liked an extra pouch for the battery or mouse.
This laptop has definitely served its purpose well and with its relatively low cost it has been a great investment. For those wondering just how much you can pack into this backpack, this was the contents of my backpack one day. My heavy 16 inch laptop at 3.51kg, its power adapter, a wireless mouse, a 1000 page textbook, my lunch, bottle of water, ipod, glasses case, calculator, stationary, cold stuff ( throat lozenges, ibuprofen etc. ), a notebook, several sheets of paper and various timetables. Its a fairly spacious backpack which should provide ample room for your needs. I've yet to see any signs of wear and have been extremely pleased with my purchase.
A recent groupon voucher which would save £30 on any order from glasses direct finally pushed me to sample their range of prescription glasses. I wasn't alone, far from it, with more than 4000 other users purchasing the groupon voucher to make use of a deal that in a sense granted 2 pairs of prescription glasses for £13; the website inevitably crumbled under the unexpectedly high volume of spectacle wielding customers that flooded into the website. After several hours of maintenance the site began to stabilise itself whilst temporarily locking out people once a threshold of connections were already established. Within a couple days the website was back to its original state leaving me happy with the work put into making the page accessible again.
Many will be unaware that prescription glasses can now be purchased online, no pressure to buy, reduced prices and the chance to obtain many second opinions. Glasses Direct offers a lot more freedom than purchasing from opticians, be it designer frames, Glasses Direct frames, sunglasses, prescription sunglasses and various coatings. There is no "I think you should get this coating for it will greatly improve your glasses", you select what you want without the influences of sales advisers.
A well designed website creates an important first impression. Glasses Direct looks and feels professional with its well laid out design and nice blue and white colour scheme. Glasses can be narrowed down to gender, frame shape, design, materials, price range and brand which does unfortunately refresh the page. As nice and clean as the website appears, it suffer a little from slightly sluggish loading times between pages. Luckily it does redeem itself once a particular frame has been selected. The frame can transition between different selected colours smoothly displaying various angled large pictures to allow a good look at the frame. The individual dimensions such as nose bridge width and leg lengths are clearly diagrammed for further information along with how much one would save compared to high street opticians ( usually in the regions of £50 ). One vital piece of information that isn't quite indicated well enough is whether the frame is suited for male or female faces. There has been a couple of times I have found a frame I quite liked, only to find out it was a female frame after ticking to show male frames.
There is a vast array of frames: rimless, semi-rimless, bold, retro, sporty along with a few others to suit your preferences that can be filtered out to display only those kind of styles that you are looking for. I'm not sure whether this is the case with most glasses vendors, but there is a significant 300 more female frames available than for men. Glasses Direct own branded glasses come with a free second pair up to the same value of the first purchased assuming it was £49 or more. With this deal it creates double the amount of deciding which all the more benefits from the Home Trial service. This allows customers to order up to 4 frames free of charge to test and try on at your leisure. These are posted with recorded delivery with free return postage. Payment details are required to take this trial, but the customer would only be charged if he / she did not return the glasses within 2 weeks. Personally I have yet to try this feature for the glasses I really liked were almost out of stock and were not available for trial. However, I've heard good words about this service. Similarly you can use the 'virtual mirror' to select a photo of yourself and superimpose any of the glasses to your face.
The basic lenses in each pair of glasses purchased are included in the price for the lens. Upgrades to the lenses can be requested for various prices. A scratch resistent coating adds an extra £5 to your order, whilst a sunglasses dark tint adds £10 to the order. Unfortunately if one orders a pair of glasses for £59, then selects their free second pair at £49, you cannot add a sunglasses tint without paying an extra £10. Bifocal lenses add £30 whilst varifocal lenses add £60. The prices themselves seem reasonable enough to compared to what I would have paid at my local glasses retailer. Before you can make a purchase with Glasses Direct, you need to know your prescription ( which can be obtained after an eye test ) so that the lenses can be manufactured to your needs. A free second pair can even have a different prescription applied to it encouraging the share of purchases. A piece of information that is vital to the creation is the 'pupil distance'. You must make sure you have this piece of information along with the strength of the lenses and their type before making a purchase. The pupil distance can be measured by yourself ( like I did ) but it is not recommended especially for those with stronger prescriptions. In general Glasses Direct is intended for those with lens strengths on the lower half of the scale and extremely high prescriptions should be left to high street opticians.
My pair of glasses were made 2 days after the order despite the thousands of customers and arrived the day after they were dispatched, in a large jiffy bag. Inside was a catalogue of their glasses and a soft brown ( made to look like leather ) magnetic button case lined with felt. I was expecting a cleaning cloth but unfortunately there was not one to be seen. [UPDATE: When I received my second pair there were 2 cleaning cloths inside a standard hard purple case for my sun glasses] The glasses direct logo was printed on the inside rather than the outside which was fairly surprising. The pair I had chosen were made from plastic which resulted in some creaking when unfolding the arms. The build quality of this specific pair ( Element ) seemed good enough for £49 yet posed the question of when would break for their creaking when bending them was a little disconcerting. Nonetheless they appear to be going strong as a replacement for my older glasses which refuse to stay in tact. Peering through the lenses was as you would expect. The prescription was perfect on both eyes which was a bit of a relief. There is a return policy that does allow glasses to be returned and swapped.
The customer service for Glasses Direct definitely deserves points. The online chat advisers were friendly and quick to respond to be queries. Amidst the thousands of customers, a certain man had an upcoming wedding for which he would really have liked his glasses to have come by. Glasses Direct pushed this order through all the chaos and managed to get the glasses to him on time which I thought was fairly nice of them. To keep the range of styles available in the £39 category, GD put sales on some of the higher priced frames to keep a steady variation of styles available in the £39 price category for all those benefiting from the groupon voucher. As an update to this review, the sunglasses I ordered were of limited edition and were sold out by the time I placed my order. I was given the option of a refund or selecting another pair. After some confusion I was refunded unintentionally. Yet, after an email I managed to get the refund taken back to select a different pair. I can't praise the customer service I have received highly enough as I know Glasses Direct will do what they can to solve any problems.
Its definitely been a positive experience for myself shopping at Glasses Direct. I have managed to obtain a couple of pairs of glasses without breaking the wallet too much which is quite essential. Providing you can obtain your prescription ( which cannot be legally withheld by your optician ), then you too can obtain a cheap pair of specs or two for yourself and a family member.
Got2b products have consistently delivered good results when I needed them most, the new Guardian Angel heat protection spray is far from an exception. Heat protection spray isn't a frequent purchase from my experience with previous brands. They do last a good few months so a price of £5 can be a little more bearable to protect hair from damage incurred by heat appliances such as hair dryers, flattening irons and curling irons. Making use of a heat defence spray is vital if one is to use the likes of hair straighteners. It forms a protective layer that is burned off first, before the hair itself is burned and damaged to prevent the likes of split ends. Of course, excessive use of heat appliances will cause damage despite packing on heaps of defensive spray, so all in moderation as they say.
Sitting in a slightly Gothic looking bottle was Schwarzkopf got2b Guardian Angel blow-dry + flat iron heat defence spray with the promise of defence up to 220 degrees Celsius. With 200ml stored inside its slender black and gold design, it appears to pack less spray within itself compared to other brands of the same price range. The spray does bring with it an interesting design with gold lines, a tribal symbol and a set of wings to particularly lay emphasis on the guardian angel concept, all set upon a jet-black almost hour-glass body. A thin middle of the bottle makes for easy grasping with hands being able to completely coil its waist. The nozzle is covered by a plastic lid which does not require much effort to remove along with a surprisingly easy neck to unscrew, allowing the liquid to easily be transported to another container. The design on the front can certainly be removed, for it is just a plastic wrapping, making way for a plain black bottle ready to be used for another purpose, such as a water spray.
The idea of such a spray is to apply it to towel dried damp hair before blow-drying. As stated on the back of the bottle; spray 'generously' throughout the hair to allow for a fully coated head of hair. The more spray used, the more effective the defence becomes. I've come to use around 2 - 3 sprays on each section of my hair i.e. front, sides, back and top which has become adequate protection. Its smell is not overpowering whilst being a nice scent that does not remain in the hair. The push to spray nozzle has yet to clog and effectively sprays a wide area with each full press. Users with smaller hands may have difficulty pressing the button whilst maintaining a comfortable hold on the body. The got2b range is generally targeted at young adults which if you fit into that category, or above, then the height of the raised button is quite acceptable with its grooved button to reduce slippage. Once sprayed liberally into the hair, there is no stickiness to the product at all, or heavy weight which makes blow-dry styling a little easier with hair that is slightly more malleable. There is no recommendation on the bottle to reapply heat defence spray after blow-drying with an implicit warning not to straighten wet hair.
"With up to 220 C Heat Protection, your hair will be invincible when using hot irons + blow-dryers."
Using temperatures this ludicrous to cook your hair is beyond me ( apart from those whom want to straighten afro style hair ), but its nice to know this product claims to protect against these heats also. I personally use the lowest heat setting on my hair dryer ( sometimes just the cool shot ) along with the lowest value of 180 C on my hair straighteners with thick and wavy hair and have no problems at all. The heat defence spray certainly protects against these heats for my hair does not emit smoke during the straightening process. In fact, my hair itself doesn't feel hot, but only warm and smooth. I found my hair to lack frizz with a very minimal shine and has consistently delivered protection. Trying to get away with less product simply does not work, hair feels just as hot as without the product with some clear signs of frizz and general unnatural looking hair.
With an attractive looking design and fantastic protection, this heat protection spray has a lot going for it. I have to say that this product is my favourite heat defence spray to date with an unfortunate higher price tag per volume. Yet, considering the time it lasts along with its effectiveness at protecting my hair, I will continue the purchase of this spray to retain healthy looking hair which has got to be the product of my Guardian Angel.
My extremely dry skin on the nose region makes way for dead skin afloat large red patches that are fairly unattractive. Having used ridiculous amounts of E45 cream I was informed by my Doctor that the substance common in many moisturisers: Lanolin, was possibly causing an irritation on my skin and I should seek some alternatives. Helpfully stating it was free from Lanolin, Vaseline intensive rescue relief and repair balm was an immediate purchase due to my trust in Vaseline products I had used previously.
At the time, this product was on sale from the regular price of £5 per 100ml of balm. With a cross section of a 2 pound coin and height of about 5 inches, this moisturiser is ideal to be grabbed quickly and easily with a blue coloured top to further aid in the locating of this product. RR&R (Rescue Relief & Repair ) balm is hypoallergenic which means the product is much less likely to conflict with any allergies. This product is suitable for 'very dry skin' which makes it Vaseline's most intense moisturiser. The aim of this balm is to help stimulate the repairing process of dry skin to recovery within 5 days with glycerin to 'instantly relieve dryness symptoms' and 'help fortify skin's protective barrier'. The container is a pump action dispenser with a small nozzle to release a rather small amount of this cream at a time which avoids too much moisturiser being expelled and wasted. The container itself is block white with no kind of indication as to how much of the product remains which became a problem for me recently. There was none of the lotion exiting the nozzle after several pumps, which was possibly due to it being clogged. Little did I know I still had a month onwards of product remaining for the days to come despite making use of it everyday for several months making for great value for money.
This product really manages to keep the redness away from my face with a dramatic reduction in dry skin from the first application. By applying the balm every time I wash and dry my face, I can keep my nose area feeling smooth and well... normal. Very little is required, but it will not simply become absorbed into the skin or dry off. To avoid oily looking skin, an extremely small amount should be used in the morning, whilst more for night where it will naturally rub off over time whilst staying long enough to moisturise. It is important to wash the dead skin away before making use of this product to allow it to work properly. Being a body lotion, you are not exactly limited to your face. I tend to get dry skin between my fingers where this balm isn't quite as effective. I found it to sting when applied to this area which contained broken skin, yet it does show a mild improvement. However I do let this slide for I originally purchased the balm for my face only. There isn't much residue left within the cap of the container for the cream does not harden like many moisturisers I've used and generally keeps the inside clean.
This is now a staple product to my daily routine to keep my dry skin in check which I must be consistent with, for failure to use this product for a day or two promotes the chance for my skin to return to the dryness of sand. So keep very dry skin feeling smooth and hydrated, Vaseline intensive rescue relief and repair balm is a moisturiser I put highly on a list of recommendations that should be considered.
I feel that a list of ingredients may be important for those with sensitive skin which is why I am providing one:
Petrolatum, Aqua, Glycerin, Cyclopentasiloxane, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Isopropyl, Palmitate, Stearic Acid, Potato Starch Modified, Glycol Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Glyceryl Stearate, Cetyl Alcohol, Stearmide AMP, Potassium Hydroxide, Disodium EDTA, Ethylene Brasslate, Methhyparaben, Propylparaben, Phenoxyethanol.
With all these back-lit glossy and curvy gaming keyboards out there, it can be a little difficult finding just a standard functional keyboard for the most basic uses of text input. Coming in at £10 was the HP standard keyboard which attracted me with its simplistic design and USB interface to allow me to form a connection with my Nintendo Wii and chat easily on Monster Hunter 3. The keyboard has me satisfied enough with its simple plug-and-play installation to recommend it as a nice budget keyboard to suit most needs.
Wearing a black and silver theme makes for a fantastic companion to my silver Logitech M305 ( see my review ) along with general colour scheme compatibility with most monitors and other electrical peripherals. Its design is rectangular with rounded corners outlining the standard set of keys that most people come to expect. Each key appears slightly textured giving off very little shine unless in direct sunlight where the keys reflect a large quantity of light proving a little more difficult to view. During the dark, the keys themselves pose difficult to detect, this is made up for with its white lettering. The windows button which opens the start menu gets a little extra treatment over the rest of the keys with a grooved windows logo and shiny background. I do find this keyboard a bit more attractive than most budget keyboards with its clean look and simplicity that is partly an influence to my purchase.
The layout of this QWERTY keyboard is the UK format standard which I'm sure UK residents will be glad to know that they don't need a second look to find the '@' symbol. Complete with a number-pad off to the side, all the standard features are included such as print screen, pause break, page up/down, insert, delete, home, end and a right click button. There are the general symbol keys, directional arrows and F control keys as expected. Along with the locks ( scroll, num, caps ) which have their status indicated by low level orange lights which will not serve as a distraction. The keys themselves are full-sized with a slightly smaller space bar to the likes of the standard Microsoft keyboard which results in smaller overall area. The keys themselves are just as noisy as every other budget keyboard unfortunately but at least is of a deeper tone. They push in nicely without a great deal of effort followed on by a return without sticking. The keys are stubborn to remove by hand as they are firmly locked in place which gives the added reassurance of keys remaining in their place from younger children whom may attempt to rearrange the letter order!
Keyboard elevating stands are hiding on the back of this keyboard that could easily be overlooked considering they are on the reverse of the face that is used to operate the keyboard. The stands are raised into a locked position which will not collapse unless heavy pressure is applied to break these plastic stands. A further hidden feature is that each stand has an smaller inner stand which can be used to elevate the keyboard a distance between flat and full angle. Applying stands makes for a raised keyboard gradually increasing in height away from the user. This makes for a more comfortable position for wrists to rest flat which is necessary without any wrist support to combat Repetitive Strain Injury.
The overall build quality is fairly good apart from having a bit of flex on the upper portion of the keyboard and fragile hinges on the stand, but it will survive falls of a few feet at ease. The white labelling of keys is fairly prone to wear. I haven't used this keyboard as my primary input device and yet the occasional character is beginning to fade. Although a bit heavier than I'd have liked it to have been - the weight of about a generously filled bowl of cheerios ( milk included ) - I've had heavier keyboards for sure. The main buying point for this keyboard was its USB interface. PS/2 was no good to me when wanting to make use of a wired keyboard for my Wii or PS3. Unfortunately the cable is fairly short at 1.8m for laid back play, yet, thankfully just long enough for me to play from the comfort of my X-rocker gaming chair ( see my review ) if pushed forward just a little bit.
If you are sizing up budget USB keyboards for laptop, game consoles, or even just as a cheap replacement, I do recommend the HP standard keyboard to be in the list. With a simple and clean design, multi-height elevated stands, responsive keys and the installation ease of plug-and-play, this keyboard is certainly a good one to have at a price of £10.
There isn't much appeal in lugging unsightly 50 Metre CAT-5 network cables under carpets, in and out of stairway posts and under doorways to achieve an internet connection in a room away from the location of a router; with a wireless signal strength that could easily be put to shame by a pair of childrens' walkie talkies. Upgrading the router was a necessity to maintain internet connection in such rooms. With a severe lack of network knowledge, choosing my new distanced friend among an assortment of antennae and flashing LEDs was little more than overwhelming. Settling on a LinkSyS WRT54GL was brought about by its cheaper price tag, blue coloured face plate and the 2 antennae which surely meant double the signal strength to my single antenna Belkin disaster. It clearly wasn't top of the range but it served its duty well. Three years on and it occurred to me that I had bought the most powerful router in the shop that day.
Networking can be extremely daunting to those uneducated in this pool of the cyber-sea (like me) , luckily the LinkSyS WRT54GL 54mbps is extremely easy going to install. As long as a modem is available to connect into the modem port (leaving 4 ports left) along with a socket to power the router, the set up process is easily done and is clearly documented in a huge fold out instruction set which details everything but; how to refold this poster! Plugged in and ready to go, the router gracefully flashes its LEDs to show there is life inside. Hurrah! My PS3 can connect to the internet without that 50 metre long cable! With a signal strength at about 70 - 80%, this router has been a massive improvement over the last. With several wireless connections, the router does hold strong enough to stay online (although the strength does dip with every additional connection). Whilst wireless 'G' routers are not the top dog any more, the majority of devices at the moment are wireless-G or B anyway. Configuration options are what to be expected for most routers these day; wireless security such as WPA, WEP, WPA-2. Port forwarding, static IPs and all the little obscure settings that go beyond me. Its a nice little router that does its job well and reliably but there are better routers out there of course.
The WRT54GL model runs on Linux ( hence the L ) which leads to a lot of untapped potential. Three years on I discovered an article which was named: 'Turn your $60 router into a $600 router', ridiculous it sounded, but I was a bit intrigued. I had clearly hit gold for my router model was the kind that allowed such a transformation by altering the firmware on the router. Downloading and installing Tomato firmware on my router was the best networking choice I had made thus far ( apart from purchasing the router in the first place ). With a few tweaks, no longer was my router 'sort of good', it was one of the best routers at the time.
Tomato firmware has transformed my router at no cost at all, reaping in benefits all the time it is switched on. The number of alterations that can be made to the router with tomato firmware is nothing short of overwhelming. Most of these tweaks are for the real network geniuses who want to change every little detail down to the sequence of flashing lights when the router is powered on. The feature which attracted me most to the firmware upgrade was the ability to boost the transmitting power from the default 30 mW. With a safe ( as in, will not overheat and damage the router ) increase to 70mW, that is more than double the transmitting power. More power means more signal strength from the router. My signal strength remains at 100% with the PS3, desktop and a laptop connected by wireless to the router. I've heard stories of people affixing heat sinks and fans to the router to allow further boosts, but without living in a mansion this is really not necessary for 70mW is certainly enough for your wireless needs.
A boost in signal strength isn't all that this newly improved router can achieve. Its quality of service (QoS) is an excellent addition to the already brilliant tomato WRT54GL. QoS allows the user to distribute their bandwidth based on their preferences. Those pesky youtube video viewers constantly streaming videos can have their download speeds sliced to as little as desired, giving full service to Skype calls the minute a call is received or when that PS3 is loaded up to give the best gaming possible. Tomato's user friendly interface makes for easy setting up of QoS priority levels where devices can be assigned to different levels. Such a sly way to dictate the internet as you please. Another cool feature in this menu is the graphing of bandwidth distribution. A superb pie chart displays the bandwidth distribution of the different priority levels. Playing a youtube video shows a full chart with 100% of the allowed bandwidth being distributed to the youtube lover, flicking on my PS3 quickily presents a pacman shape engulfing the youtube part of the pie chart whilst the youtube video buffers much slower. It seems to work flawlessly! Unfortunately, QoS seemed to cause me PS3 PSN problems as it began to believe it was being capped (whilst it wasn't) resulting in the removal of this marvellous feature.
Like the sound of dictating the internet yet? It gets better. Access restrictions allow certain sites, sites containing certain words in its address, or even certain ports to be blocked within a time of your choice. With a sibling addicted to an online game, trying to sleep in the same room with constant clicks and bangs on the keyboard proves troublesome. The solution for me was to restrict his gaming to cut him off at the time I sleep. BANG, on the dot, disconnected from his game. Cruel, I know, but he struggles to get up in the mornings anyway so I'm only doing him good. Access restrictions on the router directly block websites at the very root to ensure a full-proof crackdown on anything that needs to be blocked permanently or temporarily, which could be used to defend children against accessing specific sites or to lock certain computers or devices from the internet at specific times.
Both before and after Tomato firmware, the router itself has remained cool enough not to be problem to anyone. It is lightweight which would not appreciate too many books being left on top of itself as tempting as it is with only a slightly curved top. With a huge catalogue of hardware tweaks that can be applied, the WRT54GL router loaded with Tomato firmware truly is a magnificent piece of kit to keep the network happy ( at least for the administrator! Haha :D )
The link to the article on how to upgrade the router is more than 80 characters so I cannot post it. Search on google 'lifehacker tomato' for the guide!
P.S: 50th review!
Tightly bridging the gap between reality and the virtual world is possibly the most important aspect of a video game console. Without an adequate means to interact with what is being displayed on the screen, the game is just a video. Thus it is crucial to construct a hand-held peripheral or some other device which the user sends commands to the system whilst maintaining a high level of comfort for those extended gaming sessions.
Following the design success of previous generations of PlayStation controllers, the Sony Dualshock 3 is easily identifiable as a Sony product. The exterior can easily trick the user into believing it is just the standard PlayStation 3 controller if the word 'Dualshock 3' was not printed on the controller itself. Despite the near identical designs, the Dualshock 3 is made from higher quality plastic and is fitted with 'rumble' contributing to an increased weight. Holding a regular Six-axis and a Dualshock 3 to a nearby window will really bring to light the difference in plastic quality, as the Six-axis becomes transparent on the legs of the controller.
The Dualshock 3 consists of 2 analogue nubs ( which double up as buttons ), directional buttons, 4 action buttons, 4 shoulder buttons, 3 menu buttons and motion control. Gripping the controller by the legs with index fingers resting between the shoulder buttons and thumbs on the analogue nubs feels comfortable and natural with plenty of freedom to move fingers. The symmetrical design adds to a the shallow learning curve before operating the controller with eyes off the buttons. The buttons are labelled well enough in general; the shoulder buttons begin with L or R depending on which shoulder ( Left or Right ) followed by a number which represents its position on that shoulder ( 1 for closest and 2 for furthest away ). Unfortunately the action buttons are not as easy to remember. They consist of the shapes: triangle, circle, cross and square - which do not have an obvious way to remember their locations on the control pad. None the less, the design is solid and has a few features which double up the value. The controllers can be stacked on top of each other nicely for storage, the back side of the analogue nubs serves as a resting pad for middle fingers and last and definitely not least; the controller can be balanced upright on carpet like the previous controllers despite its increased weight which was always a fun thing to try.
As for playing with the controller, the Dualshock 3 is very reliable and last a long long time. It has a matte finish instead of being glossy like the console itself, this is a relief for it does not leave finger marks or cause hands to sweat. With the higher quality plastic, I find my analogue sticks to move more smoothly without the sticking that the six-axis accumulated over time. After a couple of years of use, this controller is still going strong with responsive buttons that do not jam or stick. Unfortunately, the Dualshock 3 has a major design flaw with its trigger shoulder buttons (buttons which curve whilst being pressed to add an extra layer of sensitivity). Being convex ( curving outward ), the trigger buttons are rather easy to lose grip of resulting in possible disruption to the gaming experience. I'd have thought this would have been rectified by the time the Dualshock 3 was released, but unfortunately it was not. There the 3rd party solution of attachable triggers ( see my Gioteck triggers review ) that work wonders for the controller by affixing concave pieces to complete the controller. Dualshock 3 allows 'rumble' which is haptic feedback to the user after possibly firing a gun, or crashing into a wall on a racing game but does drain battery faster. It is a little gentler to previous generations of the Dualshock to make it more of a compliment than an annoyance to your games. There is the option to turn of vibration completely. Despite being vibrations, these do not affect the motion control aspects of the controller. Although support for motion control has been on the decline, some games make use of the controller for receiving input from the user tilting or shaking the controller to perform actions.
As to be expected, the Dualshock 3 is a wireless controller which consumes power from its internal battery. The battery is charged via a mini USB lead which can be charged in the PS3 or any other available USB port and once charged can provide gaming for up to 30 hours in the absence of vibration. The controller uses bluetooth to connect to the PS3, the PSPGo or even PCs with a range of about 20 metres. Connecting to a PC by bluetooth or USB cable allows the controller to be used as a game pad for the PC which is fantastic for those who prefer not to play games with a keyboard and mouse. On the subject of keyboards, the PS3 controller has an accessory which can be purchased to clip onto the PS3 controller for easy input of text whilst playing games yet does not draw on the controllers power for it uses its own internal battery.
If it weren't for the trigger buttons, the Dualshock 3 would have been a 5* product from me with its high battery life, double functions and sturdy design. Luckily its flaw can be rectified to bring it to 5* quality.
I've never been quite with the times when it comes to mobile phones. As my friends were beating their high scores on snake; I was looking through my settings for fun. As they were flashing their multi-coloured displays; I was kept on the dull black pixels. As they were snapping photos, playing music and browsing the web; I was embarrassing myself with my monotone ringtones. With a phone upgrade every 6 - 10 years, I needed something that was cheap, robust, reliable, and would withstand the test of time. Although a bit dated at the time, the Sony Ericsson K800i seemed like a good choice to fulfil my needs with a second hand phone for £50.
Although the K800i is quite stylish, its bulk is what really drew me in. With a width of about 1 cm the K800i is fairly clunky for todays standards. I like a phone that feels for certain that it is within your grasp and has a weight which would not be missed if dropped from your pocket. The K800i hits the spot with a very nice build quality that is comfortable to use. Despite its comfort, the back-lit button layout doesn't do much justice for the K800i. The number pad buttons are compacted fairly close together which does take a bit of adjusting if you have just migrated from a much older phone. There are 2 extremely small buttons directly under the main menu selection buttons. One of which being the 'internet' button that opens up the internet and begins to charge money for its service. Of course this can be avoided by deleting all of the internet settings, but if this were to activate without the user knowing, they may lose out on a fair bit of credit. The back of the phone conceals the excellent cybershot lens under a slid-able cover which activates the camera mode once pushed down. A very handy feature for keeping the lens protected and for taking quick photographs. Unfortunately this brings with it the disadvantage of sliding open in ones pocket and consuming battery at a larger rate. Apart from that, the appearance and layout of the K800i is fairly solid.
With enough features that are accessible through a simple and clean menu to keep me happy, I'm sure I'll still have this phone for 4 years to come. It has all the general options that most phones possess: Bluetooth, a music player, games, a camera and video recorder, video calling, voice recording, music composer, alarm clocks, calendar, FM Radio (if an additional piece of hardware is purchased) and access to the internet. The top perk with this model is the 3.2 mega pixels camera. With auto focus and a flash, this phone can become a nice camera replacement. Photos can be taken based on the type of scenery i.e. twilight and dawn combined with distances and light levels create the best image based on the location that can be further edited in the photo DJ with text and silly images. When photographing, the capture button is pressed lightly as an orange light shines out to automatically focus the lens for you. A couple of fantastic features that I only discovered right now, are the 'Best Pic' and Panorama shoot modes. Best Pic takes almost a short video, the user then chooses which frame of the video was the best picture to be saved! As for Panorama, it allows 3 pictures to be taken at different angles to create a panoramic view photo, great for landscapes and is easy to use. Only the lens at the back can be used to take photographs, whilst the lens on the front is for video calls. The video recorder on the other hand is a little bit disappointing. Even in high quality mode is the frame rate horribly low. Its fine for videos with little movement, but the small resolution and low frame rate really were a bit upsetting.
The pre-installed games consist of 3D mini-golf and tennis which only serve enjoyment for the first couple of plays. I'd have been far more contempt with some retro Space Invaders, Pac Man or Tetris. The graphics are a bit pointy, possibly just under par than the PlayStation 1. Operated by the joystick, these games can be easily played. There is room for installing new kinds of games that run on the Java environment. Transferring Pokemon Crystal onto the 64MB internal phone storage led to a bit of sadness. The game played, but the frame rate and general slow responses left it unplayable to my Pokemon standards. Of course I may have been doing this wrong for I've known friends to have played Pokemon on their phones at full speed.
This phone can really blast out sound. Music can be played to ridiculously high levels with good quality which is a little unfortunate for the mornings. You see, the alarm clock has an increasing ring ALL the way to the top. If there has ever been a time I'd want to kick a big yellow bird, it'd be in the mornings where I lose my phone under my bed. With Odeka de chocobo ( Final Fantasy 8 Chocobo theme ) blaring ever louder at 6.45 in the morning whilst vibrating periodically. Up to 5 alarms can be set which is actually pretty useful. It allows certain times for certain days to be configured to accommodate long weekend lies. For those whom like to load their phones with albums of music, the 64MB will not be enough storage. M2 memory sticks can be purchased to slot into the side of the phone, up to 8GB worth on the tiny memory sticks that do not specifically have to be a Sony card. Sony Ericsson ear phones are supplied with the camera which means that not any old ear phones will be compatible.
The Sony Ericsson K800i is sturdy and reliable with a great battery life. The phone can be charged via the supplied power adapter, or by the supplied lead to connect to the PC via USB. It has yet to crash and freeze up on me which was quite common with my older phone. With enough features to keep the majority of people happy, I truly recommend this phone if you are on a budget. It perhaps is not quite top of the range these days, but it makes for a fantastic spare phone to take photographs with.