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Now, before I go any further, I'll tell you a story. I am an Android fanboy. I have been for a year. I've been a Google lover for longer than that, but after moving from a Blackberry Curve to a HTC Desire HD, I fell in love. However, I made the mistake of taking up a 24 month contract and although there's nothing wrong with the Desire HD as such, I'd seen the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and had been lusting after it. But with a year left to go on my contract, I couldn't really justify £500 just to get a new phone. I was drawn in though by the adverts, the features and just the sheer awesomeness of it. The Galaxy Nexus is instantly appealing to any Android fan because it's the standard Android phone. There are no manufacturer extras (like HTC Sense) which will stop you getting updates, no, the Galaxy Nexus gets the official Android updates straight from Google. Which is brilliant.
There are plenty of other features which are instantly appealing. The panoramic camera which automatically stitches together snaps to make one long picture, the gimmicky face unlock which makes getting into your phone fun, Android Beam, the sexy interface, the speed. There's plenty to love. But I couldn't have one.
So I entered the competition and forgot about it. I knew I'd never win, I never win anything. That's life. But then I did win and what a day that was! Now I've had the Galaxy Nexus for a while, so I'm going to write a review from the perspective of an Android lover who won the awesome phone he was lusting after.
Now, I'm not going to go into massive detail, because there are plenty of other reviews out there from professionals who do it properly and in-depth. Instead, I'll just tell you what I like.
Anyway, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus arrived at work, and I was quite pleased.
Alas, my wife had just renewed her contract and got one that way, so it wasn't the first time I'd seen one in the flesh (so to speak) but it was mine. My first impressions were much like everyone else's and you'll see this a lot on the web - it's massive, it's light and it feels cheap. I think I need to clarify that quite quickly, especially that last point. It feels cheap because it's made mostly of plastic, but once you turn the screen on, you see the value. It has a truly magnificent screen that has an amazing resolution (1280 x 720p) which, when you think about it, is pretty impressive. That's nearly a full HD screen on a 4.65″ screen. Imagine if it was blown up to the size of your TV while maintaining that ratio of pixels - you'd be looking at something that would make your current HD TV look like a black and white set from the 1950′s.
No, once you turn it on, the quality is instantly apparent. The Samsung Galaxy Nexus doesn't care about looking flash or shiny. It's not a fashion statement, it's just an amazingly brilliant product. Sure, there are complaints - there's only 16gb of internal storage (unless you're lucky enough to be American in which case you can get 32gb) and there's no SD card slot. The camera is a measly 5mp (but let's be honest, if you want amazing pictures, you won't be using your phone) and it's brown, but otherwise, it's a work of art.
Compared to the HTC Desire HD, the screen isn't a great deal bigger. It is taller and thus won't fit properly in the pouch I used to use for the Desire HD, but it isn't offensively huge and it just works really well. It's instantly obvious that there's a clarity and quality to the screen that you won't see elsewhere. It's vibrant, impressive and beautiful - especially if you turn off automatic brightness and whack it up to maximum.
What's the difference between the Nexus and the Desire HD? Well, plenty. For a start, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is running Ice Cream Sandwich which is version 4 of the Android operating system, while HTC's lack of updates leaves the Desire HD stuck at 2.35 (for the moment). This in itself was a treat, but not the only benefit. As a test, we put my new phone next to my colleagues rooted Desire (with ICS running) and checked to see the difference.
The Galaxy Nexus was visibly quicker and smoother between windows and applications. Impressively so. I wasn't expecting to be blown away by the Galaxy Nexus after using the Desire HD as it was only a year old and had been a good spec when I bought it, but I wasn't let down by the Galaxy Nexus either. The first thing I noticed was web pages seemed to render more quickly, even with only G signal, which I was both impressed and surprised by. It might less time waiting on the train for pages to load.
Multi-tasking seemed to work well too, though that was the case on the Desire as well. But the introduction of new features meant my old apps were no longer necessary. You don't need advanced task killer on the Galaxy Nexus, pressing the application button (bottom right) brings up the current apps running and you can just swipe them off to close them. You don't need an app to monitor your data - there's data usage built into the operating system so you can set data limits, restrict background data and more. It's just sleek and sexy.
One of my favourite new features isn't phone specific, but belongs to the OS and that's screenshots. Pressing and holding both the power button and the volume down button at the same time snaps a pic of what you're looking at on screen which makes it handy to show off your apps or current setup.
You have 5 home screens on which to arrange apps and (resizable) widgets, but a new addition to Android is the ability to be able to drop apps on top of each other and create folders. I've got one for email, one for Google apps, one for social and one for games. The default buttons across the bottom include phone, contacts, messaging, web and apps. But you can move and change these to your will. These buttons remain static which ever screen you're on, so you can always easily access them.
For Android lovers, there's plenty of interface updates and improvements which just make ICS the best operating system yet, but also work well with the new phone. The music player has been updated with a new look and a graphic equaliser and integrated to work with the lock screen.
The contacts page has been tweaked, so you can easily reach all the necessary info. It's clever too, it took people/companies I was following on Google+ and stuck all their information right there for me to see - including all the phone numbers, email addresses and more, swipe sideways and you've got access to live updates of their social profile which is handy if you don't want to trawl through all the messages out there to see what one person is saying.
Disturbingly, I found contact phone numbers for people I didn't even know, taken straight off the web.
The browser seems faster and can import your Google Chrome bookmarks, which is another improvement. With the Labs settings, you can even ditch the traditional address bar when viewing pages and opt for the rather stylish menu system which is accessed by touching the very edge of the screen.
To give the phone a proper test, I bought a film from Google videos and I have to say, the picture was impressive, even if it was on a small phone screen (rather than tablet or PC). It wasn't an HD video, but you'd have trouble telling with the quality of the screen and the sheer presence of the pixels. It's delightfully delicious.Watching HD videos on the Youtube app is both impressive and immersive. The quality is far superior to my old phone and no doubt it's the best on the market.
But still, one of the best features has to be the panoramic camera, which lets you take wide shots by just moving the camera side to side. If you aren't careful and steady you can see stitching or blurring, but it's a very cool toy.
I think if I lost this phone or it was stolen, I'd have to buy it to have it again, it's just that much better. The only complaints are easily dismissable. Especially the size of the storage - when you consider that Google Music is out there (and hopefully will make it to the UK) then you can store all your songs in the cloud. The battery life is short, but it is with any smart phone and if you turn the brightness down or limit background data and other things, then you can easily manage that - personally I just charge it when I'm at my desk - USB charging makes life easy. As for feeling cheap, that soon fades and you have a fantastic phone which is a joy to own.
I'd highly recommend the Galaxy Nexus to anyone.
Ah, zombies, they seem to be all the rage at the moment. We've had zombie flick after zombie fick hitting the big (and little) screen and it seems like everyone is cashing in. Games are no different. There have been copious amounts of them over the last few years - Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead, Killing Floor, even the 'Undead Nightmare' expansion for Red Dead Redemption. Call of Duty fans even have the zombie survival mode to enjoy. And why not? Killing zombies is fun after all. Nevermind the fact that they were probably once your loved one, neighbour, school teacher or work colleague, they're trying to eat your brains! Smash their skull in! Odd murderous analogy aside, zombie gaming is good healthy fun and often thoroughly enjoyable. It's rare that there's a bad zombie game, let's be honest. That's because the premise is simple - zombies come at you, you kill them. That doesn't mean you can't build a clever game around them though and that's what the chaps behind Dead Island have done.
I'd first describe Dead Island as a cross between Left 4 Dead and Far Cry. That's simply because it's a 4 player co-op zombie game set on a rather beautifully crafted and graphically pleasing desert island. The premise is simple, something has happened (doesn't it always) and there's been a breakout of zombies determined to ruin your holiday. The Banoi holiday resort is packed full of groaning, salivating brain nommers ready to cause you mischief. Conveniently, you're immune to the zombie plague. You can still die, but you won't turn after being bitten (lucky you) but obviously everyone else on the island is in a spot of bother. It's therefore your duty to help them and eventually find a way off the island.
It's the little things that count
Where a game like Left 4 Dead mostly just involves surviving the hoard and getting from A to B, Dead Island adds a bit more 'life' into the zombie genre. Chatting to the NPCs you'll find cowering in various buildings throughout the island gives you access to various tasks and side quests to complete. Simple things like collecting car parts, empty bottles for molotovs, petrol to burn zombie corpses, radio equipment and flares to call for help. Each quest completed unlocks XP and the ability to upgrade your skills allowing you to kick, stab, bosh and wallop your way through the undead. Some people will give you cold hard cash for helping them out. What good is cash when the zombies are loose? I hear you cry. I wondered that too, then I discovered that I had to pay to upgrade and repair my weapons, yes, that's right, your weapons will break (this is where the game is like Far Cry 2).
Slowly over time, your weapons will degrade. Zombies might be soft and mushy, but there's only so many heads an oar, plank of wood or baseball bat can wallop before it breaks. There are a great variety of weapons throughout the game and each has its own perks and which you choose to use will also depend on your skill level (unlocks) and the character you choose to play - there are 4 of them to pick from and they each have a different skillset. Whoever you choose, you'll still suffer from the same issues. So you'll need to lay your hands on anything you can. There are plenty of ordinary items scattered about the world which make for good zombie smooshing - hammers, wrenches, oars, planks of wood, bats, knuckle dusters, iron bars, knives, cleavers and much more. Each has its own attributes and qualities and each will break eventually. Luckily, you can pay to repair your favourite zombie-slaying tools because there's nothing more frustrating than breaking everything in your inventory and having to fight off the zombie hoard with your hands and feet.
When all else fails
When all else fails, there's always your feet and fists. Zombies don't like being punched and kicked. It hurts. It might be rough, but knock one down with a good kick and you can beat them to a pulp before they can get back off the floor with well placed kicks and punches. Be warned though, the sprint/energy levels are directly linked to your ability to keep swinging. If you tire yourself out, you'll have trouble continuing the onslaught and soon become zombie food. So, it's not sensible to run everywhere or try to take on too many zombies at once or it could all go horribly wrong.
HINT: If you find yourself in trouble, jump in a swimming pool. If they follow you in, try to knock them down. Zombies can't get back up very easily for some reason and thus drown in water. Making your life easier.
Warranty void if used
So there are plenty of tools of the trade, but the good news is you get to make your own. Yes, DIY zombie killing weapons are another feature of the game. You'll find various 'blue prints' scattered throughout the game which tell you how to make various items. Before you can build them you'll need to collect a shopping list of parts. So it's worth searching every cupboard, bag, box and container to see what you find. You can then craft all sorts of weird and wonderful weapons at the various tool making benches scattered throughout the island. Baseball bat and nails, for instance, gives you a nice mace style tool of death. There are a wealth of other fun tools to be crafted. Molotovs are simple but effective and flaming zombies smell delicious, but be sure to stand well back as they'll keep charging until they're finished off and it's not pretty. Obviously crafted weapons are still susceptible to breakages. So be sure to keep them repaired if you want them to last.
Not for children
In case you hadn't gathered already, Dead Island is most certainly NOT for your children. It's gory, graphic and horrific in places. There is a lot of blood and gore. A carefully placed slash and you can lop off zombie heads as they run at you, causing a fountain of blood to gush from their neck hole. Arms and legs can also be severed and bodies cut open. A blunt or weak knife can take several stabs and swipes to finish the job, spraying life juice all over the place. It's thoroughly messy. Obviously losing all your weapons means you'll have to kick and punch your way to freedom, which can be quite brutal in itself. I have to admit to being mildly disturbed by the way the zombies sound almost human when being beaten, stabbed or bashed - they squeal, moan and scream in a human tone which is off-putting. But it's best to keep going because it's you or them.
Not all zombies are the same. There are bigger, tougher and ugly beasts to combat as you progress through the game - what's new? The challenge has got to be kept fresh.
One of the best features of Dead Island is (in my humble opinion) the cars. Find a driveable vehicle and you can tear around the road splatting, smooshing and squashing zombies left, right and centre. A nice touch is the way the windscreen shatters if it comes into contact with a zombie head or a hard smash. It cracks in a spiderweb and you can't see out, so your character automatically bashes the screen hard with his fist until it gives way. Quite a nice, yet simple addition to the game.
It's pretty, but it's not perfect
Dead Island is a very pretty game. Gorgeous in fact. Which seems an odd thing to say about a zombie game, but you're essentially battling the zombie hoard on a tropical paradise. Palm trees, swimming pools, bars, ocean and soft sands make up the landscape and it's wonderfully designed and lit. It looks lush. The characters are well modelled and the level of detail is fantastic.
But it's not perfect. Hopefully it will be fixed, but there are a few minor bugs here and there. Problems with the sound and the way things happen. I was playing with others when we got stuck, with no obvious way to progress, NPCs stopped talking to us and there was a zombie in the middle of the street who seemed to be morphing into a million other zombies before our eyes. I had to quit the game to fix it. I had a similar issue where I used 'quick transport' to get to somewhere I'd already been without all the tiresome walking/driving and characters I'd already spoken to talked to me like they'd never seen me before. Very weird. A patch should hopefully iron out these issues and they are only minor, so it's difficult to complain too much.
In the end, Dead Island is a thoroughly enjoyable addition to the zombie-smashing genre. You can play through the game with 3 friends (or 3 random people on the internet) and keep each other alive while completing the various missions. Or simply play on your own for a more intense battle against the undead.
I am told there are over 25 hours of play depending on what you do. So it's worth the money-to-minutes.
Highly recommended fun.
Well, it took me a while but it's probably time I wrote a review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The first point to note, something you might gather from the fact that it's now a few weeks since its launch, is that the game is substantial. In total it took me a healthy 26 hours to complete. Bear in mind, that this was a thorough play through talking to every NPC in the land, searching every nook-and-cranny for hidden goodies and completing every side quest I came across. I'm a little OCD when it comes to things like that. I'd stumble across a locker room and think 'oh great, now I have to open every bloody locker' - just in case there might be a nutrional energy bar hidden inside one of them (and there usually was), but I am NOT so OCD that I have to complete every achievement. In fact I find achievements a pointless waste of my time, so don't expect any mention of them here. Anyway, I'm getting carried away, the point is, it's a nice long game, much unlike the majority of games nowadays which you'd be lucky to make last more than a day. That's the first bonus. Now let me start from the beginning.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is actually the third in a series of the Deus Ex games. All set in the future and all featuring cybernetic implants known as augs (augmentations) and heavy amounts of conspiracy theory and evil dabblings of the illuminating. The name 'Deus Ex' comes from the Latin 'Of God' and gives you an idea of the theme of the game - using augs is playing God and is BAD. Or is it?
The original Deus Ex was highly acclaimed, though I wouldn't recommend playing it now as it would look bloody awful. At the time though, it was thoroughly enjoyable, innovative and good fun. The world was large and you could interact with it in various ways. Cybernetic implants changed the game depending on what you decided to 'pimp' - stealth, agility, strength, hacking, rambo-gun-toting-goodness, it was up to you. Anyone who calls themselves a gamer will have played the original and if they haven't then they either a liar or they're 12.
It is universally agreed that the second Deus Ex game (Invisible War) was awful and an insult to the memory of the first. So the announcement of this new incarnation lead to a lot of mixed feelings with those that cared. But unless you've been asleep for the last few weeks, you'll know that in general the new game did not disappoint. However, that doesn't mean it's game of the year either.
Start from the beginning
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is set in the near future, that is, before the original game. You play a young JC Denton, an ex-swat officer who finds himself heading security for a large corporation known as Sarif Industries. Obviously, he gets into a bit of trouble and ends up (against his will) being implanted with augmentations to save his life. The now cybernetically-enhanced Mr Denton is tasked with finding out what the hell happened when the head office building was raided by armed mad men. And this is where the story becomes interesting. There's no denying the story is good and lengthy. It'll have you exploring Detroit and China, as well as other locales. Large expanses open (within limits) to your nosing.
Pimp my Denton
Playing the game, completing side and main quests, you'll slowly unlock XP which allows you to gain 'paraxis' points and thus augmentations. Obviously, in the same vein as the original game, whatever you unlock will change your game. As a simple example, pimping your arms will allow you to lift heavy objects and move them. This will help you find your way into locations you couldn't otherwise reach - moving large wheelie bins out of the way of air vents or positioning boxes to jump over a fence. Things like that. There are all sorts of things to augment. You can make yourself invisible, improve your hacking ability (highly recommended) to get through doors and into safes, improve your arms to enable you to punch through walls. Plenty of fun to be had. If you're not levelling up fast enough you can also buy paraxis kits from L.I.M.B clinics for a rather pricey $5,000 each.
Obviously potential augmentations are limited. You won't be able to unlock everything before the game finishes, so you better choose wisely. Though some upgrades are pretty much essential - especially hacking which is impossible to function without. I can't help but feel that they could have made more of some of the augments, especially social interaction of which there is only one unlock and that's it.
One of the frustrations I had with the game stems from melee combat. You can creep up on someone and give them a nice punch in the face (or other forceful attack) to knock them out and get them out of your way, but for some reason, even chinning someone like that is a drain on your energy. So you can probably punch about two guards before your battery is flat and you'll see 'Not Enough Energy' before getting discovered and shot in the face. I don't really get that. Suddenly, you've got bionic arms, but sorry, you can't use them very much or you'll get drained...what? This seems daft to me.
Pimp my gun
Weapons can be pimped too. Of course, the game heavily rewards stealth and if you can sneak your way through an enemy base or locale without being seen or setting off an alarm you'll get a special 'ghost' bonus and extra XP. There's also an achievement for completing the game without killing anyone (damn, I promised not to mention achievements) but it's much more fun to snap a few necks and pop a few caps.
There are a nice healthy selection of weapons throughout the game, the bigger and meaner they are the more room they take up in your inventory - which is limited. At first this isn't an issue, but after a couple of hours you soon realise you'll either need to be very choosy about your weapons or use paraxis points to expand your inventory and the amount of stuff you can carry. I made the mistake of buying and attaching a silencer to my assault rifle early in the game, then couldn't find ammo for it for ages and didn't want to drop it and lose the silencer as a result. So the weapon of choice usualy ends up being the 10mm pistol. There are plenty of lovely attachments to buy and find, silencers, laser sights, ammo capacity upgrades, reload speed improvements, cooling systems, it all depends on what you're using.
I spent a great deal of time with the tranquiliser gun, shoot enemies and watching them drop unconcious then creeping up to their fallen bodies and shooting them in the face with a silenced pistol to make sure they didn't come back to haunt me later - bit harsh, but effective.
Otherwise there are plasma rifles, heavy machine guns, laser guns, carbines, stun guns and of course the swords built into your cybernetic arms.
Sneaky, sneaky, vent creepy
Deus Ex is all about finding the hidden paths to your objective. If you play the game as it should be played you'll be sneaking quitely past guards, dodging cameras and waddling about in air vents. New paths can be discovered and investigated depending on your abilities. As I said before punching through walls or lifting heavy objects will help you find new paths to rooms or areas. Similarly, hacking will get you through doors you couldn't otherwise open. Good old investigation might just turn up a password on a 'pocket secretary' littered about the land or on a guards corpse whcih will let you access a computer panel and turn off the cameras, robots and turrets in an area - or better still, turn them against their comrades. But mostly it's all about the sneaking. Despite the quality, I couldn't help but think that this game was made in the 90's as I found myself creeping through yet another air vent. It's air vent after air vent, which is very old hat and to be honest a bit boring. Yet it is part of the Deus Ex style so I'm not sure how they'd do it differently.
There's the usual cover system which has been done to death in games ever since Gears of War. Hide behind objects, go into third person view and see your surroundings. Fire blindly around corners if necessary or pop out for a good clean shot. It's done well, but it's not original by any means.
Mediocre graphics, immersive story
In 2011, especially on PC, you'd expect good graphics. I can't help but feel that Deus Ex: Human Revolution looks dated and a bit naff in places. I'm not saying the graphics are awful, just mediocre. Apart from the cut scenes which are rather spiffing, it does feel like this game was built half-arsed in the graphics department to simply cater to the consoles without much effort or thought. The story and gameplay is immersive enough to make this forgiveable. One friend commented before launch that the graphics looked awful, but on playing it he said he didn't notice because he was so wrapped up in the story. I am inclined to agree, but it's still a niggle for a modern game, especially with beautiful games like Battlefield 3 on the way shortly and the visually stunning Dead Island just launched.
There are some features which verge on innovative or extremely welcome which will make me remember this game fondly. The first of which is the cloak - not a new thing in gaming - invisibility, but the fact that you can go invisible and shoot people while invisible is different to the majority of games out there and a very welcome feature. Of course the cloak doesn't last long but it's very handy for short periods of gunplay or sneaking (with it activated you can also walk straight through laser fields).
The ability to punch through walls is a nice touch, but it only applies to specific areas of wall, not every wall you come across for obvious (but boring) game convention reasons.
One augmentation allows you to jump from any height and 'glide' to earth sorrounded by a yellow glow of power and awesomeness. Again, a nice feature, though not very subtle.
In the end, it's a good, thoroughly enjoyable, immersive game that did the original justice but could have been better.
So, Battlefield 3 is coming soon and it looks like it's going to be quite taxing on most PCs. I haven't upgraded mine in a while and while most of it is still reasonably high end, my old graphics card (a BFG 280gtx) was looking rather dated. So I decided to treat myself to something crazy.
It had to be Nvidia. I've always had Nvidia graphics cards and have never had issues. They're excellent. Plus, I've heard nothing but bad reviews about the driver support for ATi cards, so it was the only choice. Alas, the manufacturer of my previous graphics card (BFG) have since stepped out of the gaming GPU arena, so they weren't an option, which was a shame because the old 280 had held out for a good few years, running everything at max with no problems or grumbles. The other thing I liked about BFG was the fact that they overclocked their GPUs out of the box and still included a warranty with it. Normally, if you overclocker a card yourself, you'll reduce the lifespan, but BFG were so confident they'd offer upto x3 overclocking but still under the standard warranty. Well, they weren't an option anymore, so who did I choose? It's always been my opinion that if you're going to do something, you should do it properly. There's no point in scrimping and buying a cheap bog-standard graphics card. A friend that made mistake and it barely survived a year. But which brand woud be reliable? I'd bought a Gainward card a few years ago, but it only lasted about a year before it popped. So I wasn't going to risk going with them again. There's dozens of GPU manufacturers out there, but who could be trusted?
My current machine is running off an Asus P6T motherboard which has some very nice settings in the BIOS, allowing easy overclocking and various other functions. Asus have quite a reputation for releasing solid products. I'd recently purchased an Asus Transformer, so 2011 was obviously the year for Asus products. Their motto of 'Persistant Perfection' obviously appealed.
I'd already decided I wanted a 580, as the reviews were clear that it was far superior to the older 480 in terms of power useage and performance. BI knew that it would run hot though, so I wanted something that looked like it could cope. The Asus GTX580 Matrix card obviously looked like it meant business. Copper cooling pipes and heatsink and two large fans on the case of the card. There was no doubt this card would be beefy, but cool.
I splashed out and bought the card from Novatech.co.uk. It was delivered the next day in a box which frankly was big enough to house a small PC. The bright red box and loud text screamed class. There's a flap on the front of the box which allows you to peep at the graphics card through a little window before you've even thought about removing it from the case, which is good, because it had arrived at work at lunch time and I could hardly get it out and have a ganders there and then. The box was so huge I assumed the card would be the same. I wasn't wrong.
This is the first point to note. If you're into PC gaming, then you probably already know that graphics cards are generally large. There's no messing around. They're large, loud and proud. You better make sure you have room in your case. Mine is a full tower (Coolermaster HAF-932) and even despite that it's a bit of a squeeze. I could probably fit two cards in, but not much else. The GTX580 was noticeably larger than my old 280gtx and that was chunky enough on its own. The Asus 580 is fatter and longer than the old 280, it also takes up and extra slot on the back of the case, just because it can - 3 compared to the 2 taken up by my old 280. My first, instant worry was the sheer amount of power the card required. The box recommends a minimum of 700watt power supply unit. I gulped. My old Coolermaster 620watt PSU wasn't going to cut it. It could reach 700 watt, but that was it's top end and it might well struggle to perform. I didn't want to risk ruining a brand new graphics card with an under-powered PSU, so I purchased a Corsair HX1050watt PSU (again from Novatech) and waited a day for delivery before I even fitted the card. The GPU takes two 6pin PCI-E power connectors and it's easy to see/hear why when you boot the machine up.
The 580 fitted without too much hassle, as if it and the new Corsair PSU were meant to be. It popped nicely into my motherboard and just fit perfectly. On first boot, the computer failed to pick it up, giving me a long beep followed by three short ones to signal no VGA detected - eeek! Panic! Nope, just loose power cables. Phew...
With everything working properly, I turned the rig on, it sounded like a jet taking off. I assumed that the card just made an excessive noise when booting, but apparently that's just it's usual tone. This card is LOUD, there is no denying it. The two fans should probably have given that away. But I really wasn't expecting it to be so loud all the time. If you're after a nice quiet machine, this is not the graphics card for you. However, I run a 7.1 sound system while gaming, so it's easy enough to drown out and frankly I'm happy it's loud as long as it's keeping the card cool. I looked in the GPU tweak tool and can't see a way to actually turn the fans down, so I'll just have to put up with it.
For the last few years, I've been running most games on maximum settings. So I really wasn't expecting to notice any difference when I started using the 580 compared to the old 280. After all, most of the games I play are dated (Battlefield Bad Company 2, Company of Heroes, Far Cry 2) and I'd only bought the card ready for Battlefield 3.
To give you a comparison idea, this is my machine as it was:
Asus P6T motherboard
Intel Core i7 920 (Bloomfield) CPU (2.63ghz)
BFG 280GTX GPU
Corsair Dominator DDR3 16000mhz 6gb RAM
Coolermaster 620watt PSU
Western Digital Velociraptor 10,000rpm HDD
Coolermaster HAF 932 Case
And as it is now:
Asus P6T motherboard
Intel Core i7 920 (Bloomfield) CPU (2.63ghz)
Asus GTX580 Matrix
Corsair Vengeance DDR 2000mhz 12gb RAM
Corsair HX1050watt PSU
Western Digital Velociraptor 10,000rpm HDD
Coolermaster HAF 932 case.
Note, the slight difference in RAM and power but otherwise my system remains unchanged. Yet on running my current games there was a noticeable difference. I'm not the sort of person to run a constant overlay with my FPS (Frames Per Second) displayed - many gamers are and it's a point of pride "Oooh, I'm running 90FPS" - blah, blah, blah. If it runs well and looks pretty, I'm happy. I pay good money for my equipment, so I expect to be able to run the games at max settings with good performance. There's no point in spending loads of money on a good system, then running low settings just so you can get a better FPS and KDR. If you do this, you're an idiot frankly. So when I started running BFBC2 I expected to see no difference in the graphics. Yet, something was different. I couldn't tell you what exactly as I haven't run the FPS tool for a before and after comparison. But everyone seemed to be moving about faster and things were smoother. I knew there would be less lag during explosions or graphically intensive moments of gameplay, but I wasn't expecting it during normal combat. Yet there it was, it was running better. My KDR seemed to improve, whether that was fluke or just sheer power - I'm not sure, time will tell. But I am pleased to report the card delivers, even where I wasn't expecting it to.
Just for giggles I ran a benchmark in Far Cry 2. With everything set to maximum or 'ultra high' the test reported a rough average of 62FPS. Which is pretty bloody good really. I'm told (by my ultra-geek friend) that anything around 60 is good, anything more you won't appreciate anyway, because both your monitor and eyes won't notice a difference. Blu ray films run at 25FPS and they look good don't they? Other friends claim I need to overclock my CPU to improve the performance further. I'm testing this to see if it will make a difference, but so far, the graphics are pretty spanky. Despite it's age, Far Cry 2 is quite intensive and it handles it just fine.
The question is how will the Asus GTX580 handle load? Asus have obviously considered this at some point. The graphics card is emblazoned with the word MATRIX across its side. This lights up various colours depending on the load. Under normal load, its a lovely calming shade of blue. Heavy load is purple, extreme is red, safe mode is represented by a shade of green. This is a nice touch if you have a window in your case to actually see the side of the GPU, otherwise it's probably useless.
In the end, the Asus Matrix GTX580 lives up to expectations. It's not cheap, but you get what you pay for. If you can handle the noise, you'll enjoy the power and performance levels.
Main factors to consider:
2 DVI and 1 HDMI output
There's been an awful lot of negative reviews of Duke Nukem: Forever since it's release. If you have any mild interest in gaming then you probably noticed. There was even a big hoo-haa as the PR company made a big balls-up threatening reviewers who dished out bad reviews of the game. Frankly, they're all noobs and I'll tell you why...
It seems that the great majority of reviewers (and people in general) went into Duke Nukem: Forever thinking that it was a game that had been in production for 11+ years and therefore had to be fantastic. I, on the other hand, went to play Duke in the knowledge that NOTHING could live up to that hype or development time-line. Just like I expect Dr Dre's Detox album to be a let down, I went into Duke expecting to be underwhelmed and disappointed. After all, if you look at the historic screen shots and gaming videos of Duke Nukem: Forever over the years, it's such a mixed bag, how can it possibly be any good? Playing the game with this outlook, I was far from disappointed.
Duke Nukem 3D was innovative and amazing in its day. It broke the mould and changed the way things were done. Sure, it was rude, daft and had strippers, but it also had little quirks and game play elements which helped it stand out from the crowd. Alas, Duke Nukem: Forever has none of that. So don't expect to be blown away. In terms of game play, Duke Nukem: Forever is not very different at all from Duke Nukem 3D. In fact it might as well be called Duke Nukem 3D Part 2. But where most games would fall down for this, Duke Nukem: Forever wins prizes (in my book). It's DUKE! Come on!
I'm from that age group of people who played the original game when computers were still cream and games like Doom, Rise of the Triad and Return to Castle Wolfenstein were the dogs-knackers. Thus, I have hazy fond memories of fuzzy boobs, classic Duke Nukem lines ('Shake it baby', 'It's time to kick ass and chew bubble gum...') so the new game has a special place in my heart for helping me relive my youth without ruining the memories by trying to run the old game on an emulator.
Duke Nukem: Forever is an unhealthy trip down memory lane. Where we're kicking alien ass simply because they spilt our beer and had the cheek to steal Duke's babes.
There are plenty of complaints about the game - the graphics are naff, there's nothing new, you can only carry 2 guns, it's unnecessarily rude...blah, blah, blah. Well, all of those arguments are just daft. On PC the graphics are pretty good, sure, it's not eye-poppingly amazing, but reasonably spiffing. Yes, there's nothing new, but that's why its good - pump action shotgun, chugging beer, peeing in the urinals and enjoying strippers....what's not to love? You can only carry two guns, but that hardly matters as you'll be constantly running out of ammo anyway. There's plenty of different guns (pistol, RPG, devastator, rail gun, shrink ray, freeze gun, shotgun, etc, etc) lying about the place, so grab something new and have a laugh. The shrink ray is top fun, shrink a pig cop then stomp on them. What's not to love. Steriods, Duke hologram and beer make for a varied bit of game play. There's plenty of fun to be had.
Of course, you could argue (and some have) that this sort of shooter is dated and belongs in 1995. You'd probably be right. It's a corridor shooter, with limited ammo and bosses that are a pain to kill. It's a game from a different era, but that's why it's great because it's a classic revived. Sure, Duke Nukem: Forever will not be winning game of the year awards, but it's a good giggle and I don't regret purchasing it.
The other big argument is the game is rude, offensive and unnecessarily vulgar. Erm... It's a Duke Nukem game? That's a stupid argument. It's like saying the Pope is too religious. If there wasn't plenty of swearing, daft toilet humour and naked ladies you'd be disappointed and if you weren't, then quite frankly you shouldn't be playing Duke Nukem - go and play Halo, you noob.
It took me 9 hours to complete Duke Nukem: Forever on the 'Let's Rock' (medium) difficulty setting. And I enjoyed every minute. Then I was rewarded with 'extras' which included original trailers, screenshots, concepts and a Duke Nukem time-line. Looking through it you remember just how much went into this game. Yes, it could (and perhaps should) have been mind-blowing, but if you were seriously expecting that then frankly you're just being unrealistic.
There are however, some unexpected elements to Duke Nukem: Forever I wasn't expecting. For instance, there are several levels where the game essentially turns into a platformer as you run Duke around trying to find a way out of a room or across to a specific objective. As an example, you enter a room and the floor is electrified, you've just recently been shrunk into a tiny Duke and have to bounce across burger buns, shelves and microwaves in order to turn the power off. There are more parts of the game like this when you're shrunk and need to combat full-sized aliens. Luring them into a shrink zone so you can fight at the same size or simply pummelling them with RPG rockets until you win. There are a few levels where you tear about in a truck (or remote control car) and even an area where you use a fork lift truck to skewer pig cops. There's plenty of variety, yet the game is most definitely a corridor-shooter in the original sense. You have one specific path through the game and cannot make your own way. This is made even more clear when you realise that you cannot escape a room without killing all the enemies inside and the last one explodes against a wall, dropping a bit of ceiling so you can escape (or some such enemy-enabled escape exit). This can be frustrating and has been done to death, but Duke is meant to be saving the earth from the alien menace, so just get stuck into character and do what you're meant to and it's thoroughly enjoyable.
It's an absoloute joy to hear Jon St. John voicing the new itteration of Duke with his usual passion and class. There's plenty of current quips, daft references to other games and classic Duke one-liners. Thoroughly enjoyable. I only wish he'd said some more of the classics. But the extra bonus is when you've completed the game you'll get a Duke Nukem soundboard - probably so you can re-enact the Duke Nukem Ventrilo Harassment video (see youtube).
In the end, as a trip down memory lane, this Duke Nukem outing was well worth the wait. It's good dirty Duke fun. Remember, no one forced you to pick that turd out of the toilet and chuck it about. Or put that rat in the microwave. You did that all yourself, you sick bastard.
n.b. I've not played the multiplayer yet - watch this space for more...
Sniper: Ghost Warrior is one of those quiet games that probably passed you by. Yet it's a hidden gem. Sure, it doesn't have any major innovations or ground-breaking elements, but that doesn't mean it isn't clever and fun to play.
Stealth and guile is the name of the game. You spend the majority of the game crawling through the thick undergrowth of various jungles, avoiding head on conflict in favour of a main objective. This is not a run-and-gun game. In fact, if you try to run and gun, you will die a lot. Mostly because you are out numbered, but also because the game is designed that way.
Being a game heavily focused on the art of sniping, there are several elements to immerse the player in the story. Yes, as with most FPS games, you can hold your breath to stay your aim, that's certainly nothing new, but there its much more. Part of your setup also includes a heartbeat monitor, run around too much and your heartbeat will climb into the hundreds and you will find it almost impossible to aim. Similarly, rapid gunfire also sky-rockets your pulse, encouraging careful, steady aim and a one-shot-one-kill mindset. As you'd expect, gravity effects your aim pulling your bullet down the further you fire. But you'll also need to account for both wind speed and direction. On the hardest difficulty setting you will have to make these calculations yourself, but on ready and normal the game assists you with a small red reticle which shows where your bullet will actually impact. Bullet time is another game feature which appears when you pull off a perfect headshot - you'll watch the bullet leave the barrel and travel, satisfyingly to strike its mark. Of course this is nothing new, it was seen as early as the first Max Payne game and also appeared in Sniper: Elite, but it is a welcome addition.
If you enjoy Call of duty style run-and-gun shooters then this game is probably not for you. Alas, the designers did feel the need to put in some levels where you play a special forces character running about with an assault rifle, but the gun was so inaccurate I couldn't help but long for my sniper rifle and wish they hadn't bothered with those style of levels.
The stealth sniping elements on their own are enough to keep the game interesting. Getting perfect head shots, killing more than one person with a single bullet or simply completing a mission without being seen, it is all excellent fun. For further variety there is throwing knives and a silenced pistol for the more up close and personal kill. I spent most of my time crawling around on my belly in the undergrowth - an unseen and deadly assassin. If you have patience, this is one of those satisfying games which feels rewarding to play.
I don't think it's going too far to say Far Cry 2 is one of the best games I've ever played. Yet apart from a few good reviews around the time of release, there wasn't much of a fuss made over it. Which seems bizarre to me.
A few friends have murmured some annoyances with the game design which make it repetitive it places - an understandable complaint, but they seem to have missed the other (fantastic) elements which make it brilliant.
Far Cry 2 was originally released in 2008 and I really do wonder how some of its innovations haven't made it into other games.
Anyone who knows anything about guns or has ever watched Full Metal Jacket knows the importance of keeping your gun clean (no innuendo intended). A dirty gun is likely to jam - a serious inconvenience in the middle of a battle. Far Cry 2 plays upon this. The enemy are useless at weapon maintenance and in the harsh environment of the African jungles they soon get covered in dirt and dust. As a result, if you nab an enemy gun from a fallen foe you're likely to find it jam on you an inconvenient moments. Jams can be dislodged with vigorous pounding of the reload button, but it can take precious seconds as you cower behind the hulk of a vehicle or trunk of a tree to avoiding the hail of bullets. Sure, you could switch to a secondary weapon, but there's no guarantee that won't jam on you as well. In fact the only weapon that won't jam is your machete, but this doesn't mean you can run into a wall of lead hacking away with your blade. It gets better - guns that regularly jam eventually misfire and become useless.
Of course, you can purchase more reliable guns (a wealth of them) from your local gun-runner, but over time they become dirty and start to degrade as well. Some gamers might find this mechanic annoying - perhaps too realistic, taking away from the fun of gaming. But personally I thought it was a very nice touch and I'd like to see it in more games. The fact that your gun could jam at any second adds an intensity to the gameplay. The animations are different for each gun and it is done really well.
The other good news is there are plenty of guns to choose from. You'll find lots on enemy corpses you'll inevitably leave littering the landscape, but also a fair few are available from Black-market dealers. Assault rifles, SMGs, LMGs, sniper rifles, RPGs - even some motar tubes! You can stealth it up with silenced weapons or go Rambo on it. Whatever your gaming preference.
Another nice element of the game involves healing your own wounds. Far Cry 2 does not jump on the regenerating health bandwagon. You have a life bar and damage taken by bullets, fire, explosions etc will reduce it. But it's okay, a quick syrette of morphine and you'll soon feel better.
However, if you really get into trouble you'll need to do a little surgery. On the last bar of health, when things are starting to look a bit hazy, you'll need to dig into wounds with pliers and other instruments. There are various animations depending on your predicament. At first I thought I was always getting shot in my wrist, then hitting the heal button started digging bullets out of other places. An explosion went off nearby and I found myself slapping fire off my arm. Falling off a cliff, I had to adjust my dislocated ankle.
This is another very nice element to the game, but like weapon jamming it takes time to heal yourself so you need to take care and avoid being outnumbered and murdered.
If your really find yourself in trouble, you might get rescued by a buddy. Rather than just dying and having to start from your last save point, you'll find yourself being dragged to safety by one of the 'buddies' you'll make throughout the game. They'll save your ass and expect you to return the favour at some point in the future. This is a nice touch and adds variety to the game. They won't always be there to save you though.
Buddies also make up some of the side-missions in the game, so treat them well.
Destructive environments are nothing new, but Far Cry 2 does them very well. The brush and grassy environments of Africa are highly flammable - a badly placed molotov or grenade and you'll soon find that not only is the grass and trees on fire, but the fire spreads very quickly. You can use this to your advantage, catching enemies up in the flames or just stand back and enjoy the view. After the fire dies you'll find a scorched patch where it raged.
Similarly, other elements of the environment react well to your actions. There are ammo supplies dotted around the map - handy for replenishing your guns, but a badly placed bullet or grenade and you'll set off a mini firework display with bullets pinging and zinging in all directions. Another nice touch.
Inevitably, as with a few other games, as you bomb it about the map, you vehicle will start to suffer. Crash into too many trees, rocks, people and the thing will start to smoke, slow and eventually break down. Not to worry though, with a wrench, you'll quickly have that badboy up and running again. There are quite a number of different vehicles to choose from as well, quad bikes, Jeeps, crappy little sedans. It's all good fun.
But what's it all about?
I've got all this way, so exited by the innovations and keen to describe them that I completely forgot to actually talk about what the game is.
In Far Cry 2 you play a mercenary sent into Africa to kill 'The Jakal' - a black market arms dealer supplying both sides in a civil war. But before you can get to him you have to complete a number of missions to keep the locals on side. Mostly this involves going from A to B and killing someone when you get there. There is obviously much more to it than that.
But here is where most peoples gripes come with the game. It is repetitive. This is mostly caused by the fact that the map is rather large and you have to drive/walk/swim/sail quite a way to get to your objective. Inevitably along the way you bump into various road blocks and checkpoints, where angry locals armed with AK47s will try to turn you to Swiss cheese for no different reason. So you inevitably need to leave a trail of corpses in your wake. For a first person shooter, I don't see how that can be a bad thing. In fact it adds to the intensity of the gameplay as you fight for survival.
There's always the mounted machine gun on top of your Jeep to keep them at bay. Just remember to fire in bursts or it will overheat and catch fire.
All-in-all, an excellent game. Totally good fun and honestly, rather a hidden gem. Such a shame it didn't get more recognition and other designers haven't taken a leaf out of their book.
There's been plenty of hype and chatter around the new Rockstar game LA Noire in recent weeks. The critics gave it rave reviews and thoroughly good reports all round and you can easily see why. However, I'm not jumping on the "LA Noire is amazing" bandwagon. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad game, but it could have been so much more.
I just completed the game in just over a week. It was, admittedly, quite lengthy and an average gamer would probably spend longer with it. Which is certainly a good thing. Too many games these days cater to the ADHD generation and their need for a quick fix. Classic games like Call of Duty, that used to take months to complete are now over in a matter of hours and leave you feeling both exhausted and bemused, but LA Noire has stuck firmly to the GTA design - lengthy and absorbing. LA Noire however, is not another GTA clone. In fact, it's not even actually made by Rockstar. It was developed by Team Bondi, an Australian design company who were apparently responsible for The Getaway (a classic btw). So, although it looks like GTA and has some of the elements we know and love, it is not GTA. No, LA Noire is a very slightly different monkey.
It's no Grand Theft Auto
The story of LA Noire is a simple one. You play Cole Phelps, an officer of the law in 1940's Los Angeles. An ex-marine, officer Phelps has returned from the war in the Pacific fighting the Japanese to a 'normal' life as an LA police officer. You stalk the mean streets of LA, solving crimes and leaving a trail of body bags in your wake. The main differences between LA Noire and GTA are immediately obvious. You're not there to do whatever you want, shooting up the place, smashing up cars and generally causing a nuisance. No, you're there to stop crime and be a good boy. So, you better drive carefully and avoid mowing down innocent civilians or you'll soon find your record looking a bit shoddy. You can't just pull out your gun and wave it around willy-nilly either. No, Team Bondi will have none of that naughtiness, you're going to be a good cop, whether you like it or not.
So yes, as you can see, it's already sounding pretty restrictive. Go from A to B (driving bloody carefully to get there), find clues at B, drive carefully to C, accuse suspect of crime and make arrest. I'm dumbing it down a bit, but not much to be honest. Unlike GTA, there isn't much you can actually do outside of the main storyline in LA Noire. There are "street crimes" that need solving and these pop up as you drive about, but even they are specific set-pieces which I can't help but feel they could have done more with. There are hidden items scattered around the game - cars, newspapers, film reels, but unless you have OCD and feel the need to complete every challenge and achievement in a game, you probably wont care and it won't add anything to the value. It certainly didn't for me. Even a 'hidden' 1940's car is still a 1940's car. Don't expect 1000hp and nitros to go tearing around the LA streets with. Besides which, you're mostly better off sticking with your police car so you have the sirens to get people out of the way and the radio to find other street crimes (there's only 40 anyway).
No, the main selling point of LA Noire is not the sandbox style of play you've come to know and love from GTA but the innovations in facial mapping and graphics.
Truth or Dare
LA-Noire-Tech4The thing that has everyone excited about LA Noire is the way they've used technology to put actors into the game. You can see why people are excited, it is pretty innovative and very impressive. You'll spy actors you recognise, remarkably rendered and reformed in the game world. And the faces truly are fantastic (can't say the same for the hands, bodies and movement though). The idea behind this is simple, you're going to solve crime by deciding whether someone is lying based on their facial expressions, eye-movement and facial twitches.
When investigating a crime, Cole Phelps will naturally have to question both witnesses and suspects to decide whodunnit. And that's what this game essentially is. A virtual whodunnit. And no, it wasn't the butler in the parlour with the candlestick.
When talking to people, you have three options to choose from based on their answers to your questions. Truth, doubt or lie. Seems straightforward enough, but what you'll soon learn is that you can't accuse someone of lying without some proof to back it up. So you better make sure you thoroughly investigate the scene before you start questioning anyone. You can find clues by vibrations in the controller and audio cues from the game (a ping). Not everything is relevant, but a blood stained knife in a bin might be a helpful clue as to what really happened. Once you have the evidence, you can start probing the witnesses.
The thing I found on first play through is everyone looks guilty. Even when they haven't done anything wrong. This can make the truth, doubt or lie guessing game a bit frustrating. I suppose people probably do look a bit uncomfortable when talking to the police though, so it's a fair representation. To start with, I got most of the questions wrong and was accusing everyone of being a liar even when they weren't. Then I realised you need the evidence to back up a lie, so in most cases (unless you have the proof) it's either doubt or truth. So what initially feels like investigative freedom, is actually far more restricted. It is logical though, the law is innocent until proven guilty after all, the burden of proving the crime is on you. Of course there is always 'intuition' - a sort of six sense you can use to either find more clues or cut down on the potential answers to your questions. Using it will (for example) leave you to pick between two options instead of three (out of truth, doubt or lie). This might help or it might not, but intuition points are limited and you can only earn more by climbing the ranks.
This whole element of the game is truthfully quite well done. The faces are excellent and when I saw the actor John Noble (who plays Walter Bishop in Fringe) portraying one of the bad-guys I had to take a snap on my phone and send it to my wife. The likenesses are excellent because it is literally them - recorded and manipulated into the gaming world. Their voices, their faces, their expressions and mannerisms, all in pixelated form. Magnificent. Trying to decipher who is lying and who isn't is fun. But I do have some complaints. The number of questions you can ask a suspect or witness is restricted, usually to just two or three questions and what you can ask is also limited. There isn't much choice here and frankly I feel that an RPG style question and answer style might have been better. I'm also sure that genuine LA police officers would ask more than just two questions of a potential murder suspect.
Climbing the ranks
Anyway, you start off as a lowly traffic cop and work your way through various departments, solving cases and making a name for yourself. Homicide squad finds you investigating the Black Dahlia murders, which is certainly a nice edge to the storyline. While Vice and Arson have their own interesting cases, most of which seem to lead to one big conspiracy. I don't want to spoil the story for you, but I wouldn't have to anyway, as the main story is quite obvious after getting about half way through the game. This is a bit frustrating, with cut-scenes and extra 'back story' videos you find in the game, you - the player, know what's going on before your character does and I started to feel like I was just going through the motions before I could arrest the big fish, which was annoying. But that's detective work I suppose.
Doing well in the game - getting questions right, finding clues, avoiding causing too much damage to your car, pedestrians or the city, earns you points and rank. Rank earns you new suits. Some of these suits have perks - like being able to take more damage or shoot straighter, but otherwise are just ways to make your character look nice. There's no pimping your man here. You can't just go shopping for new threads, you have to earn them.
Good cop, bad cop
I can't help but feel that LA Noire could have been so much more. A little more freedom would have been nice. The chance perhaps, to choose a path for your character as well. Corruption was rife at that time and Team Bondi obviously wanted you to be good, but I really think giving the player the choice could have been a welcome addition. You should have the option to go Serpico on the LA Police department or start lining your pockets with cash from dead stiffs and shaking people down. These elements (if they existed) could have effected the storyline and how people reacted to your character. That would have worked really well with the interview/interrogation elements the game is famous for and is a point the designers missed completely.
Having said all that, LA Noire is still an excellent game. It packs a punch in the graphics department and will hopefully make other designers up their game. You do feel like you're immersed in a film a lot of the time and the interactive nature makes it thoroughly enjoyable. I would recommend it to friends, but don't expect to be blown away like everyone else is promising.
A good friend bought me Mafia II as a surprise gift the other week when it was a mere £5 on Steam. It was certainly a welcome treat.
I had played the demo and was honestly underwhelmed by it. Mediocre at best. Which was rather a shame because I had high-hopes after hearing various pre-launch reviews. Yet I could hardly turn down the opportunity to get stuck in.
First impressions were good. It seemed to have high hopes, compared to the demo at least. You play Vito Scaletta, a poor Italian immigrant who moves to America during the early 1900s. The family are struggling to make ends-meet and Vito turns to a life of crime. A series of short videos show snippets of Vito's early days, before he finally gets caught robbing a jewellery stores and is sent off to war for his troubles. You then take control and get into a little scuffle fighting Vito's native Countrymen in a WW2 world. This is a good start in my opinion, it flashes out the character nicely and kicks the game off to a blazing start. Of course, this isn't a war shooter, so you are soon thrown back into your civilian/mob role as Vito is injured and invalid out of the Army. Back in Empire City (New York) he soon falls back into his old ways.
Obviously, you are playing a gangster, so much of the gameplay consists of robbery and running from the cops. You might think this is just another GTA clone and you'd not be far off, but there are a few differences.
Firstly, Mafia II starts off in the 1940s but soon moves on into the later decades as we see Vito start to age. This is a nice touch in itself as the world starts to change around you - music, clothes, cars, attitudes, everything is different and this is enhanced by the time you spend in prison.
Secondly, although you have the freedom to roam the Mafia II world, the actual storyline is quite limited and restrictive. Mafia II does not have the free-roam, open world feel that GTA does, even though you can go anywhere, you cannot do anything. This is a little frustrating, but the storyline is immersive enough to make up for it.
Mafia II has rather splendid graphics. On PC the draw distances are impressive, the character skins are scarily good and the world looks lovely. Cars take damage and crumple, scrape, bang and explode as you'd expect. Case in point, I smashed into a lamppost and the hub-cap flew off one of the wheels and shot off down the street. It's the little things like this which make for a very good game indeed.
Scrapping in the streets
The fight mechanics are a bit more sophisticated on the mean streets than they are in GTA. You can make combos of various light and hard punches, plus a number of finishing moves to put down an opponent (or some random chap you decide to duel in the streets). Yet the system is not overly complex and easy to master. However, you better learn to block or you'll soon get knocked down. Some enemies pack a rather hefty punch and seem to take less damage than you.
Guns are rife. At first, as you'd expect, they are rather limited, but I managed to get in trouble with the law quite early on and got myself a Tommy gun. Then there's shotguns, pistols, rifles...the list goes on. All of them can be collected and conveniently hidden under your jacket.
The gun battles can be quite fun, the usual cover mechanic which you see in so many games nowadays is also present here. Get into trouble - press up against a wall and pop out to fire off a few rounds before ducking back behind cover. Easy.
Mind the fuzz
One highlight (and annoyance) of the game is police mechanics. Unlike GTA, where you can get away with murder (nearly), Mafia II is a bit more strict. Police will chase after you if they see you so much as crash your car. Run a red light, break the speed-limit or murder innocent bystanders and you'll soon be in trouble. Luckily, they can be paid off by either letting them catch you or finding a payphone to call someone important. However, that is expensive, so a change of clothes or a trip to your local spray shop might be more useful.
The game mechanics are so clever that police will be hunting you or your vehicle specifically. So even if you get a new car, you might not be safe if they've seen your face. But if the police are looking for your car, then they will know what your number plate is. Going to a garage allows you not only to change the plate - but to personalise it to your own will. You can respray the car, change the wheels, up the performance and more. All nice little extras which don't go over-the-top.
Although the world is quite closed, there are a few things you can do to make life more interesting between (or on the way to) jobs. My personal favourite is robbing everything in sight. Popping to the local shops, you can hold them up and rob the till for a bit of extra cash. Clothes stores, burger joints, petrol stations - all are open for a little armed (or unarmed robbery). Another clever mechanic here - I'd been stealing from the local clothes shop a bit too often, so the owner hired goons to protect the joint. When I went in next time, I found myself in an unexpected gunfight with several men who appeared to be causal shoppers but turned out to be gangsters hired for protection. Be warned! Try to rob the gun shop and you better be tooled up or you'll soon find yourself with a face full of shotgun. It's worth the hassle though, I got $700 from one shop alone. Vito's father apparently left the family with $2,000 worth of debt, which they were all worried about. I made that in one day...and they say crime doesn't pay!
Another hidden gem includes a scrap yard which offers you $400 for every car you crush in their machine.
Mafia II is certainly worth a look. Especially if you enjoy the thought of running around with Tommy guns in the golden era of the American Mafia.
Watchmen is another in a long-line of films derived from comic books, but this isn't another Iron Man or Hulk, Watchmen is far more similar to Frank Miller's Sin City. Yes, Watchmen is gritty and unexpected. I didn't read the comic, so I didn't know what to expect and I'm sure fanboys would bemoan its inaccuracies and flaws, yet as a film it certainly does well.
The storyline is simple enough and rather intriguing. In a world slightly similar to our own, a band of masked vigilantes bash out their own form of rough justice. Slowly but surely they are killed, die off or retire. One man, a scientist is turned super-human when an experiment goes wrong. Russia and America are on the verge of nuclear war, who will prevent it?
Watchmen is a tad long-winded. I have to admit, I felt like it was going on forever, yet not necessarily in a bad way. There's a lot of story to be told and it is certainly done well. But if you are expecting the usual superhero style film then you better look elsewhere - Watchmen is far more aggressive and violent. Even the heroes are a bit blood thirsty it seems. Certainly a different twist on the usual antics.
The Watchmen is certainly a breath of fresh air, although air that hangs with the smell of burnt flesh and the copper tang of blood.
I've been wanting to see Inception since it first hit the big screen, but we rarely go to the cinema any more because money is tight and we're lazy. Still, with Crimbo coming around, I added it to my wish list and got my wish granted - full on blu-ray goodness.
I'd heard a lot of reviews of Inception before I actually had a chance to see it for myself. For the most part, people only had positive thoughts on it, though many seemed "confused" by the storyline. On watching the film myself, I can only assume that they were drunk when they went to see it as I didn't find it confusing at all. It is however, a cracking film which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Thinking back on it now, I realise there is no real explanation to the storyline, we are simply thrown into the magical world right from the beginning. There is nothing to say what year the film is set in, nor where this magical power to enter (and control) people's dreams came from. Yet, that doesn't seem to matter if you just sit back and enjoy the ride. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, essentially a thief of the dreamworld - he breaks into peoples dreams and steals their secrets. Things turn interesting when he is convinced to take on a job involving planting an idea on the head of a multi-national corporation. Apparently stealing is one thing, building ideas through the dream world is completely another. In order to plant the seed of an idea in someone's head, you'd have to go deep within the dream world - a dream within a dream, within a dream, within a dream. Things certainly get interesting at that depth...
There is an interwoven back-story which twists its way into the plot, giving depth to Leonardo DiCaprio's character which makes the storyline even more intriguing. And DiCaprio and his team plummet their way through the dream world, it is clear that you better be paying attention or you might get lost and never find your way back. Yet the story is not overly complex, but it's easy to see that there will be a twist at the end - you could guess as much right from the outset.
It's hard to go into too much depth about the film without ruining the actual story, but when you consider that it's the dream world and anything could happen, you've got a potentially thoroughly enjoyable film on your hands. Inception doesn't fail to deliver, though there is a serious lack of unicorns and talking donkeys.
The blu-ray version comes packed with features, including behind-the-scenes goodness on how they pulled off some of the gravity defying stunts and other special effects. These alone are well worth a watch and you can see how Hollywood manages to spend such a terrific budget on their blockbusters.
Well worth a watch.
Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass back together again. Surely that's a recipe for a truly awesome film? Critics dubbed Green Zone as "Bourne gone epic" But Bourne it is not. It's what Bourne would be if he was a proper soldier being filmed by Michael Moore.
Basically, Green Zone is just a story about the Iraq war and the search for weapons of mass destruction or WMDs. We all know that was a load of tosh, the Americans just wanted oil. Operation "Iraqi Freedom" was just a good excuse to piss off yet another country and show off American might.
Green Zone plays on the conspiracy theories and political turmoil surrounding the illusive (probably non-existent) WMDs and (false) intelligence leading to their location. This leads to a rather dull political thriller, in essence. There is of course a little "action" - it is a war film after all, but the first half is rather dull. The later part of the film is certainly more action packed and interesting, but the storyline is rather predictable.
Matt Damon plays his part well. There is no denying that, but he's certainly not playing Bourne in this. In fact ignore everything you've heard, if you're after an action packed, in-your-face thrill ride, then this is not the film for you. Pop in one of the old Bourne films and enjoy that.
If you aren't drunk and want something that requires a bit more thought, then perhaps Green Zone is for you. I just want to be sure you don't watch it expecting some of the same.
Spooks, politics, people fighting for their freedom and a tale of wasted lives. That might be a good way to sum it up.
The quality of the blu ray footage is pretty good and there are a nice amount of extras including behind the scenes.
Being an FPS gamer, I'm used to "realism" in my games. You get shot, you die. You fall off a cliff, you die. Simple really. The trouble is you get stuck in that mindset and forget how much fun you could have in a completely unrealistic game.
That's the brilliant thing about video games - they're a place where anything could happen. So why not make it?
Just Cause 2 does just that.
The lovely Zombie bought a copy of it for my birthday and I couldn't believe quite how bonkers it is.
Within 5 minutes of playing I'd accidentally fallen off a very tall mountain and tumbled all the way to the bottom hitting my head on various rocks and other bits of landscape, only to hit the bottom, stand up and walk off unhurt.
Later, I fired a grappling hook at a helicopter, grabbed on, pulled the pilot out and took it over, killed another chopper, then parachuted out onto the roof of a nearby building while the chopper plummeted to a fiery death.
In another part of the game, you ride the roof of a car, trying to escape some enemies pursuing you. You can jump from roof to roof, killing the occupants of the other cars and even stealing their cars if you wish.
The storyline and the script are bloody awful. As is the acting. But the game play is truly hilarious. Love it.
Last night the wife was out and I fancied monging out in front of the television. Alas, there was a severe lack of anything good on, so I hit the Box Office button.
I fancied something with a little action and not too much thought. I spotted a film in the list starring Samuel L Jackson. I have to say, with the exception of Snakes on a plane I don't think I've ever seen a bad film with him in it. So I knew it was worth a shot.
The blurb was a little cliché, I'll admit.
"A terrorist has planted 3 nuclear bombs in 3 American cities. How far will deep cover agent Samuel L Jackson go to find them?"
Don't be fooled though, the film is actually much better than it sounds. Unlike most Hollywood films, it doesn't have a happy ending, which is a breath of fresh air.
So what's the name of the game? Torture.
That's his 'deep cover' job - torturing information out of people.
The film is an meant to be an insight into how America is the enemy. How all their "values" make them weak compared to the "believers" in the various terrorist organisations and how the American Government say one thing and do another - i.e. torturing and mistreating prisoners.
The terrorist responsible for planting the bombs has been caught and is in the custody of military intelligence. It seems he wanted to be caught, which demonstrates a hidden intention which needs to be extracted.
I don't want to spoil too much of the film for you, so I'll try to avoid actually describing much more of the story.
It is a well-known fact that physical torture doesn't work. A human being subject to vicious abuse will tell their captor anything to stop the pain. Taken to the extreme, they will soon realise there is nothing left to lose and will probably be harder to break. This is why methods of information-extraction have been refined over the years. Psychological techniques such as sensory deprivation and disorientation are seen to be more effective. This film involves both, but will they work?
Cleverly, Unthinkable is a commentary on the human condition. How far will one person go to save the lives of millions? Would you break your personal values to protect others?
Unthinkable is well worth a watch and certainly worth some thought.
The other night I decided I couldn't be bothered to go to bed as I was feeling rebellious. The wife was out with friends and I fancied watching a boys film. Hunting through Sky Box Office I discovered The Bad Lieutenant, a new Nicholas Cage film in which he plays, well, a bad lieutenant.
I've already seen the Harvey Keitel film of the same name from a couple of decades ago, so I was under no illusions as to how weird the film would be. I can't say whether this is actually meant to be a sequel, remake or homage to the original film, as frankly I was intrigued enough to thoroughly investigate the film before diving straight in and click "purchase". I can say that it is equally as weird.
Many people do not like Nicholas Cage. I am not one of those people and I quite enjoy his exploits on the big screen. He's played quite a few weird roles over the year, this one is no different.
Playing a corrupt, drug-addict New Orleans cop, Cage takes us into the seedy underbelly of the deep south with an awkward ease that only he could portray.
The storyline is rather thin and second place to his characters quest for money and easy access to a variety of drugs. With a .44 magnum stuffed into the front of his suit trousers throughout the entire film, he wanders around, stiff from an injury sustained in the line of duty.
Despite the apparent flaws in his character, he still manages to bumble his way through an investigation into a brutal execution style murder in a local suburb. Planting evidence and hunting potential witnesses.
Eva Mendes plays his unlikely prostitute girlfriend and play thing. And Cage is forced to "rescue" her from a number of unfortunate situations that eventually leave him being hounded by the mob.
It's rather trippy
I don't know if you've ever watched a film where the character(s) are meant to be on drugs and the director thought it would be a good idea to put this across by making the film itself rather trippy, but this is one of them. It is however, done rather well and in quite an amusing manner. Which is a breath of fresh air compared to the usual dark, unbearably twisted depictions you see in most films of a similar style.
At one point, Cage comes into a room chock full of other cops apparently on a stake out and slaps a lizard. "What's that lizard doing on the counter?" He says.
"There's no lizard." The others protest.
"Sure there is." He replies, pointing and slapping the lizard again.
The lizard startled and irritated hisses at him. The others don't seem to notice. For the next 5 minutes some funky music kicks in and the camera moves to various low-level close-ups of the lizard (and his friend) while Cage stares at them and the others stare out of the window.
This is a small example of how weird it gets. Yet quite an amusing event by all accounts. Typical of the rest of the film which remains thoroughly watchable and quite amusing.
Cage is under investigation by internal affairs, his dad is attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and he can't go 5 minutes without snorting some coke.
It's hard to believe there could be a happy ending, but this is Hollywood after all.