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After the success of Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, it was inevitable that LucasArts would cash in on the renewed interest of the classic series to remake the 1991 game LeChuck's' Revenge, which continues the story of Guybrush Threepwood on his goal to become a mighty pirate.
After defeating LeChuck, we catch up with Guybrush at the end of his current adventure. Dangling into a huge hole, rope in one hand and treasure chest in another, he then proceeds to tell Elaine Marley exactly how he got into this situation. We are then greeted with a flashback of Guybrush on Scabb Island; basking in the glory of his defeat of LeChuck, we find out that Guybrush is now going after the biggest treasure of all - the aptly named Big Whoop.
Unlike the most recent title in the Monkey Island series, which could be criticised for simple puzzles, the second game has no such issue. Quite possibly the hardest in the series due to the relatively infamous 'monkey wrench' puzzle, completing the game is truly an achievement. Unlike the first game which was certainly not easy but unquestionably linear, this game aims to be more ambitious with a large part of the game spent hopping from island to island trying to find a logical use for your multiple inventory items. Thankfully the game remains logical in all but one puzzle, though this is not an easy game. Fortunately the game comes with a built-in hint system. At the click of a button you can get an obscure hint that will aid you in your journey without spoiling the fun. The more you click the less obscure the hint becomes until it bluntly tells you what you should be aiming for.
For those new to the genre however, be slow with the 'H' button. Much of the joy in the series comes from solving the creative puzzles which make great use of random objects. It is the mark of a great adventure game when you wander around for hours not knowing what to do next, only to solve the puzzle and immediately think "of course!" not understanding why it took you so long to use a certain two items together. The game undoubtedly isn't for everyone - by their very nature the point and click genre is slow paced, an obvious change from most modern games, though it is through the pacing that the game shines. It is through the exploration and examination, through the dialogue and frustration that the humour shines. As with the original the humour is mixed, ranging from innocent japes about the main characters inability to grow a beard to hilarious innuendo. Guybrush oozes charm in a way no other character does, having all the allure of Jack Sparrow and them some. You could spend hours engaging in useless dialogue with every character there is, going through every dialogue option available. It's largely useless - only small amounts of the conversation will be useful though it will put a smile on your face.
The game has two sets of graphics - the original graphics and the wonderfully hand-drawn graphics of the remake which you can switch between with a button press. It allows you to enjoy the game in both its new form and the pixellated form that the old fans will love. Along with the change of graphics the atmospheric music has been updated, and voices have been implemented, with an option to have voices even in the classic mode of the game. The new graphics capture the atmosphere of the games perfectly, a (more basic) Curse of Monkey Island style with a darker, yet equally vibrant palette of colours.
The voices could do with some work however. As with the first remake, though the voices of the main characters are charming, the side characters could do with some work. Dominic Armato delivers another excellent performance of Guybrush Threepwood, though the voices of the minor characters largely have a wacky sound that doesn't quite fit the Monkey Island world. The same could be said for the narrator - a pointless voice that adds nothing to the experience.
The updated music on the other hand is merely a touch up to keep with the updated graphics and is nothing less than perfect.
To better show off the updated graphics, the old-style SCUMM engine is gone and replaced with an updated version which allows the game more use of the screen. The inventory is now accessible by pressing 'I' instead of being at the bottom of the screen and the verbs (pick up / use etc) can be accessed via mouse wheel of right clicking on an object. Right clicking brings up an interface not dissimilar to the Curse of Monkey Island SCUMM engine with the verb choices easy to use, providing a better experience than the engine in the first remake which at times felt clunky.
As an extra when playing through the game is an audio commentary delivered by the creators. Their commentary is amusing at times though is one for the old fans more than anything else.
In short, it is a fantastic game. The Monkey Island series possibly has the best game humour, and you won't find many point and click games with better puzzles. The slow paced gameplay will be off-putting for some, but for everyone else, you will find a great game. A lot of games are being remade these days, and it is brilliant to see one stay so true to the original.
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge is available on Steam for £6.99. It is also available on PSN, 360 and the iPhone.
The Wheel of Time series tells the story of Rand Al'Thor, The Dragon Reborn, a man doomed to go insane from being able to channel (Wheel of Time lingo for using magic), something males have not been able to do for centuries due to a taint. He's a man that is prophesised to both break and save the world from the malignant Dark One, a god-like force with the aim of breaking free of his meta-physical prison. So far the series has dealt with Rand and his allies in their quest to ready the world for the Last Battle, having to deal with invading forces and Aes Sedai, an arrogant organisation of magic users too busy with a civil war to lead the world to the Last Battle.
Crossroads of Twilight is the tenth book in the series, set after the climatic event of Winter's Heart. Rand takes a time out in this book, with Robert Jordan instead focusing on other characters such as Matt and Perrin, two young men with a large part to play in the upcoming battle, and Egwene, who is focused on the Aes Sedai.
There has been a problem with the last few books in the series however - it doesn't feel like it is ending. The first few books were a magnificent journey, allowing you to explore a new world through the eyes of the main characters as the plots and creativity or Robert Jordan flourished. Somewhere however he has got lost along the way and since book seven the series went in freefall. Jordan showed an inability to end storylines, leading to a greater focus on minor characters and stories', giving the series an agonisingly slow pace where quite honestly, very little happens. By book 10 the series should be sprinting towards the end, though truly it's limping, with most of the story being little more than padding. Perrin is busy chasing down his kidnapped wife in a story that feels forced and unnecessary - merely there to give Perrin something to do whilst the rest of story catches up. The character Egwene is busy with the civil war of the witches in a story that's been stale since book eight, and the princess Elayne is busy trying to secure her throne. The best character in the series Mat Cauthon is escaping an occupied city having kidnapped the leader of an invading army in a story that retains its interest only because of Mat being a humorous character. With each individual story there is little focus on The Last Battle, and therefore little urgency as Jordan focuses on the smaller issues that lack interest or overall importance. The feeling of danger that existed in book one when the children of Emond's Field were scooped up in the night for fear of their lives has long since vanished, not just due to Jordan's inability to kill of main characters but because the plot threads feel mundane. The scope still feels impressive - the world itself feels real and the magic system has a depth to it unmatched by most authors though this has been the case since book one. Something more must be done to make the later books stand out.
The slow pace affects not only the story but the writing style. Robert Jordan has always been heavy on the description though it goes too far here - too often have I read descriptions of dresses , embroidery and seating arrangements in a detail that goes far beyond what is necessary to tell a tale. The slow paced politicking of Elayne lacks the interest you'd get in the politics of A Song of Ice and Fire (George RR Martin) for example because it lacks the backstabbing and grandeur -the ruler of the country seems an irrelevant issue compared to the Last Battle. With the main character Rand barely being present and so many stories to finish, I couldn't help but feel that the author was taking the piss when I was reading about the princess having a bath. Where is the focus on making a pact with the invading army? What is going on with Mazrim Taim, the shady leader of a group of male magic users doomed to go insane? Such stories are mentioned, though too briefly considering the lack of plot progress in this book. Whilst Robert Jordan has attempted to create an equal world or one where women could be considered the more powerful gender, his writing often feels stereotypical. This has always been prevalent in the series though feels more so with the slower pacing and repeatedly have I read of women smoothing their skirts or sniffing in the supposed-to-be-subtle-but-very-obvious form of passive aggression that seems to plague most female characters which doesn't help you care for their cause. No doubt this would be less noticeable if the story actually progressed enough to keep it interesting. On the positive side however the descriptions are clear and the dialogue feels realistic. One of the upsides of such slow pacing is also that character development feels far more natural than in books with a faster pace, such as those of Brandon Sanderson where such development feels like it is driven by author, not the character. Some of the new characters show potential - Rodel Ituralde the battle commander being one, though he doesn't appear outside of the prologue, meaning he is just part of one more story that builds up and doesn't end. Or in this case, truly get started.
The problem is that despite the length of the book (over 800 pages in paperback and over 250k words), it doesn't feel complete. Too much time is spent ensuring all characters are at the same point in the story which has the effect of getting several character reactions to the climatic events of book nine, stagnating the story since the reader already knows what happened. Whilst the first half of the book seems more of an epilogue to book nine, the latter half feels like it should be part of book 11. In hindsight, it certainly seems that way. In book 11 Robert Jordan finally got the series back on track, and he ended some of the plot lines established in Crossroads of Twilight.
It's not all bad of course. Whilst Rand is missed from the book, the staggering length of the series means there are enough characters that are interesting to the reader. Despite Perrin having a relatively dull story his complex character and identity crisis can make for interesting reading and much the same could be said of Mat as he blindly continues on his journey to deny his importance to the world by acting a hero. Mat especially feels well written with his joyful yet cynical outlook on life, making even his worse chapters a good read. The same can't be said however of Elayne, who continues on her voyage to be the most pointless person in the series, a huge feat considering the Wheel of Time has over two thousand named characters. At few points in the series has she actually felt integral to the story.
If this were a stand-alone book, I wouldn't recommend it. There are interesting sections, though few interesting enough to ensure it is constantly exciting. However, it's part of a series, which has to be taken into account and whilst the book series has certainly taken a nosedive since book seven it has for the most part remained decent. Hindsight is also a wonderful thing - Robert Jordan got the series back on the right path with book 11 and (due to the death of the original author) Brandon Sanderson should be applauded for doing a great job in his attempt to finish the series, with only one book left to be released. Crossroads is undoubtedly a blight on the Wheel of Time series with far too little happening in far too many words though it is only a blight and hasn't spoiled what has overall been a wonderful fantasy series.
Crossroads of Twilight can be purchased for £5.76 on Amazon (New) and from £1.08 Used. The first book in the Wheel of Time series (Eye of the World) is available for £6.00 and that is something I would definitely recommend - the epic story and interwoven plots make for brilliant reading and the well designed magic system based on weaving the elements make the series stand out. Even the worst Wheel of Time book is better than many of the fantasy books out there and though there.
Before the rights to Crash bandicoot were sold on by developers Naughty Dog (who then went on to make the Jak and Daxter series, then Uncharted), they decided to test Crash Bandicoots driving skills in Crash Team racing, an obvious Mario Kart rip-off developed for the Playstation One.
Alien enemy Nitros Oxide has teamed up with some of Crash Bandicoots old enemies to turn the world in to a parking lot. Forever saving the day, Crash has decided to grab some wheels and take on Oxide in a competition to save the world. Old enemy Neo Cortex even joins in with the aim of taking Oxide down, not content with someone else vying for world domination. So Story Mode will have you racing as one of eight characters (from Team Crash or Team Cortex) in various events. There's a couple of characters from previous Crash games I wish had made an appearance, though the huge amount of colourful characters that make up the Crash Bandicoot world allow for a decent line up of racers.
Most of the time will be spent racing through various tracks - eight racers start though only one will win as you race through various tracks that pay homage to each of the previous Crash games. You've got levels reminiscent of the snow levels in Crash Bandicoot 2 for example (Blizzard Bluff and Polar Pass); with Crash Cove taking you back to the original Crash Bandicoot game. Some races are certainly better than others - Coco Park feels quite bland when compared to Polar Pass for example, a track with bursts of high speed, obstacles to put you off and a shortcut if you can make the jump correctly. There's plenty of variety for sure with icy terrain to change kart handling, or roaming seals or crabs that will knock you off course if you aren't careful. The races themselves feel hectic with a decent amount of weapons. Again, the influence of Mario Kart is apparent here with bombs being near-identical to the green shell and missiles having the same effect as the red shell. The protection Masks have the same invincibility as the (Mario Kart) Star and a Turbo Boost item having the same effect as a Mushroom in Mario. There's a complete lack of originality for sure, though it doesn't make the game itself worse because everything is so well designed, fitting the Crash Bandicoot series perfectly.
There are other modes of course. The Relic Race lets you race though a level as fast as possible, picking up boxes to temporarily stop the clock and offers a different experience to an outright race and there is also 'CTR Challenge' where you have to collect the letters 'C', 'T' and 'R' that are scattered about in the more obscure part of the track and another mode has you racing around collecting Gems, which is perhaps the least fun of the lot. Still, there's as much variety with game modes as with the tracks and there is also the option to race in two players which adds a social element. The game mode that will offer the most replay value is Time Trial of course - where you race three laps around a track to beat your fastest time. Get a certain time and you unlock the ghost of N. Trophy. No weapons, just a standard race to see who is fastest. Beat him and you have to take on ghost Oxide and that really is a challenge.
It's in Time Trial mode where the game finally steps out of the shadow of Mario Kart and shows something unique - the Turbo boost feature. Jump and slide round a corner and for a short while you have the opportunity to use this power slide to gain a boost, which you can do up to three times. It allows you to power through the track and save a few precious seconds. Though this is possible in all game modes, it isn't really necessary unless you are in Time Trial and it is something you will have to perfect if you want to take on Nitros Oxide in all the tracks because he is notoriously difficult to beat, making Time Trial highly addictive for those tracks where you are always on his tail.
The controls are simple and the handling feels tight and there are three categories of karts. The three stats are speed, acceleration and cornering and it is up to you which of those stats are more important in your kart. The graphics of course have aged - this is a PSone game after all though with such cartoony characters and bright colours the graphics need not be powerful for the game to look good. The music is a high point of the game, with each track having highly individual music that is as catchy as the Time Trial mode is addictive.
In short, it's a Mario Kart rip-off. But Crash Team Racing has succeeded where so many other karting games have failed - it's a brilliant Mario Kart rip-of. The track design is fantastic, offering more variation even than Mario Kart and there are enough game modes to keep you playing for hours - it's highly addictive. If you are a big Nintendo fan there probably isn't a need to get this - Mario Kart on any of their consoles will give you a very similar experience though for anyone else this game comes highly recommended and is as much fun to play today as it was twelve years ago.
Crash Team racing can be purchased on the PSN Store for £3.49 and after that can be played on PS3 or transferred to the PSP where the game plays very well. If playing on PSP you'll have to choose between part of the screen being cut off or playing with an even smaller picture, though other than that there are no problems.
The Emperor of Tamriel has had a dream about you, and instead of chronicling it in his dream journal greets you via a secret passage to your prison and helps you escape. Once he dies, the bloodline of the Emperors will end, causing gates of Oblivion to open and spawning demons into the world, so it is up to you to find the heir to the throne.
After a fairly detailed tutorial which allows you to pick your chosen abilities (your race and class etc.) you escape from the sewers to witness a beautiful view of a hillside and a lake. Deer will most probably be seen. Though the game is a couple of years old and there are better graphics out there now, that doesn't take away from the immediate splendour of this scene. You are in Cyrodiil with a quest, so it's time to get cracking. Or not, because the land of Cyrodiil is available for exploration so the alternative is to go where the wind takes you, a wind that could lead you to nine cities or dozens of caves, up mountains or in forests. There are hundreds of side quests for you to find and enough small towns to keep you exploring for hours. At times it can feel as though the environment lacks variety, though there's so much to discover. You could wander in to a standard cave for example and find yourself chased out of it by a giant demon as part of an obscure questline. Or you could wander into Hackdirt, a brilliant town of paranoid people that is a reference to Innsmouth from the writings of Lovecraft.
If you do go for the main quest however you'll be closing down the gates of Oblivion whilst trying to find the heir to the throne though unfortunately, with so many other quests to do the main story is also the most underwhelming. The lands inside the Oblivion gates are a dark shade of orange, a stark contrast to the greenery and snow capped mountains of Cyrodiil that will be yearning for before long. If you like your RPG games to take you on a personal story, I recommend the BioWare games because the main story is perhaps the biggest criticism of Bethesda who is far more adept at created an entire world.
The side quests on the other hand are an entirely different scenario. You have your random side quests you pick up from exploring - this can be anything from a journey to find a lost brother to a venture into another world via a painting. They give hundreds of hours of content and let you explore the world a little bit further. The best side quests will be found in the Guilds however - you can progress through all four Guilds (Fighters, Mages and Thieves Guild, and the Dark Brotherhood) which show Bethesda getting the questing right. As you level up through the guild you get access to better items and better quests and it feels more of a personal journey than the main story with the Dark Brotherhood providing the best quests in the game. Acting the assassin, you are sent on various missions to kill and have to choose the best way to do this without getting a bounty - do you break into their house at night to do the act, or follow them around in their daily routine until they walk down a dark alley? With access to melee and long ranged weapons and various poisons it is brilliant to try out killing in different ways. Possibly the best quest you'll be sent on however is a whodunit where you must kill various members of a household whilst they all get paranoid as to whom the real killer is. A quest compass will lead you in the right direction for most quests making questing a little bit easier, which may be a letdown to fans of the previous Elder Scrolls game (Morrowind) where the lack of quest compass forced you to explore that little bit more to find what you need. Whilst this could be portrayed as a negative, it undoubtedly leads to less frustration and a faster paced game which many might find preferable.
As expected with RPG games, there is a level-up system. Use certain abilities (anything from merely jumping and running to using certain weapons) for enough time and you can level up - being granted the opportunity to level up certain 'skill'. There are 21 in all, 7 major and 14 minor and it's best to level up the skills most useful to your playing style. No point in levelling up a weapon skill if you are a mage for example and no need for stealth if you are a warrior though with so much variety it's entirely possible to create hybrid classes and as you level up you'll get more powerful with loads of abilities. In short, there is a class for every playing style.
It isn't all positive however. For a start, the game rarely gets to feel harder. Instead of locking of certain parts of the map early on due to the enemies being too high level, Bethesda has instead incorporated a system where as you level up the enemies do. Whilst this allows for loads of exploration early on in the game, the lack of difficulty can become frustrating. Combat is also a relatively weak part of the game - it feels merely like a hack and slash and neither you nor your enemy seem to react to slashes and jabs which prevent any of the weapons from feeling powerful. Still, this doesn't harm the game too much - the pull of exploration is fantastic and there's a brilliant range of spells and enchantments on weapons to keep combat at least moderately interesting as you go about exploring.
One of the bigger negatives of the game is the lack of personality in the none-player characters (NPC's). They never show emotion or feel natural when speaking to them which can take you out of the world a little bit. It is expected in such a vast game - with so many NPC's it would be a huge job to have them all feeling different though it remains a weak point of the game. The most disappointing negative however is that the game is filled with bugs, most minor though one or two are game breaking - and it is painful to come across such bugs when you have over a hundred hours game time which is why I recommend saving the game often and in different save files. Bugs are expected in a game like this though they are also expected to be patched, though Bethesda haven't fixed a huge bug in the PS3 version that can prevent you from curing yourself of vampirism.
All of this could be attributed to the original game however, so what does the Game of the Year edition add? The Shivering Isles expansion pack is what it adds. The Mad God Sheogorath has opened up a portal to his world, taking you on a quest to stop the events of Greymarch - an incoming invasion by a daedric prince who wants to restore order. The questing here is of a quality similar to the side quests in Oblivion more than the main quest line. The story itself is intriguing and the conversations with the Mad God are truly hilarious, even if his rigid stance and facial animations take a little away from his character. The questline is longer than many full price games, though the greatest part of the expansion is that you have a whole new environment to discover. It thankfully lacks the garish colours of the Oblivion gates, instead opting for an eccentric environment of oversized shrubbery and bold colours making it reminiscent of a Tim Burton world or perhaps Wonderland. The quests are equally manic, as would be expected in a world of an insane God, giving you random quests. One town for example has two copies of each person, each wanting the other dead and you get the fun of choosing which one to kill. It adds some eccentricity to a game that was otherwise particularly normal and for that reason I couldn't recommend getting Oblivion without getting the Shivering Isles expansion pack. The original game is brilliant, though the Shivering Isles adds to this.
Truly there are very few reasons to not like this game. If you aren't a fan of the RPG genre that will be a valid reason though the game has such beauty and grandeur, such value for money that I can do nothing but recommend it. The main game alone can last hundreds of hours and if you like exploration you can waste well over a day's game time in the Shivering Isles alone. Oblivion Game of the Year Edition can be purchased on Amazon for £17.85 (New) and from £11.64 preowned. It's certainly not perfect, and not fixing some of the game breaking bugs is criminal, though the game has so many things going for it that such bugs aren't enough to not buy the game.
Oblivion is also available on the 360 and PC. The PC version comes the most highly recommended.
*Film only review*
With the hype finally gone, it's perhaps safe not to view Avatar not through the rose-tinted spectacles acquired through the phenomenal amount of publicity this movie received when released. It was a film so big, not only did it get a second run at the cinemas, but also sits as the highest grossing film of all time. But is it any good?
The story follows Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a former marine called up to infiltrate the na'vi, an alien species living on some land that houses unobtanium, a highly original name for a highly valuable mineral. He does this through jumping into a scientifically created na'vi body, an 'avatar'. Not all goes to plan however as Jake gains affection for the land and species that the humans are going to invade.
It's a story that has been done hundreds of times, from Pocahontas to the Orcs and Night Elves of World of Warcraft - invasion of peaceful lands and destruction of a different way of life. The message the movie aims to instil (aside from the value of 3D) obviously relates to climate change and the destruction of the rainforests, with a fairly heavy anti-capitalist theme, but it lacks any subtlety.
The humans are perceived as nothing but a malicious species and though the leader (Colonel Quaritch, played by Stephen Lang) would make a brilliant Disney villain, the entire role lacks depth for a movie professed already as a modern classic. There is no grey here, just black and white. Other characters don't match up either. Jake has few redeeming qualities at the start of the movie, appearing to be a character that should be pitied, not liked. Being wheelchair-bound, taking control of an avatar gives him a freedom he has sorely missed and whilst his joy of freedom is fantastically shown in a heart-warming scene, his personality leaves a lot to be desired. Much of the problem is no doubt due to character development. It never feels natural, merely something to further the story. This is never more apparent than in showing Jakes changing opinions to the na'vi race. Instead of in being dialogue or story driven, we are taken on a magic carpet ride where he flies through the brilliant environment of Pandora on a winged-creature. Graphically, it is amazing, though the film falls apart with story and dialogue, both of which would be better suited to showing character development.
The world of Pandora is fantastic, nobody can deny that. The 3D is amazing and the world is rendered in such beautiful detail that it is hard not to fall in love with Pandora. For those without a 3D TV (such as me) fear not, because the environment remains stunning, though some of the wonderment is lost on a small (non-cinema) screen. The na'vi race is brilliantly designed, and their culture is interesting, though the good-and-evil story ensures you will be rooting for them anyway. The floating mountains and waterfalls are fantastic. Ultimately however it detracts from the plot or what the plot could have been had there been less reliance on CGI. CGI won't make a bad film good, and though the special effects are impressive enough to make a bad movie slightly better, the movie feels more like a tech demo of 3D and CGI instead of a story. The (already mentioned) flight on the winged creature shows this the best, using CGI instead of story to further a plot and this is not a unique event. The main na'vi, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) often finds random prophecy in nature (such as a floating dandelion) and though this may add to the mystery of the alien race with the younger generation, adult viewers may be left feeling short-changed.
The acting doesn't stand out. Stephen Lang plays a comedic villain more than a sinister one though the lack of depth is more in the writing than the acting and the same could be said for Sam Worthington as Jake. Zoe Saldana uses motion capture technology to play Neytiri and does a fine job playing as a different species though with the na'vi being portrayed as the obvious good guys it's hard not to like her character.
At 2 hours and 40 minutes the film runs possibly a bit too long with the end especially dragging on. The predictability of the entire movie ensures little suspense as you always know what is going to happen next, always know the next plot twist - not a trope has gone unused in this unoriginal movie. Yes, the CGI is good, and I can think of no better environment to show off 3D than the beautiful land of Pandora though CGI doesn't make a movie. Take away the CGI and you are left with a predictable plot and lacklustre script, and characters with little depth. The CGI is perhaps an attempt to hide such a poor script, or more likely, such a poor script has been used to highlight the power of 3D.
Yes, there is a message behind this story but the main message appears to be 'look at what we can do with 3D'. The message on the destruction of rainforests has been lost amongst the obsession with the graphics and the anti-imperialist message is too black and white to provide any depth. If James Cameron truly wants to convey such a message in a film I suggest a movie about 1960's Latin America instead of Pandora.
I'll be kind with a three stars though two stars is tempting.
Avatar can be purchased for £3.38 preowned on Amazon (DVD) and £9.97 on Blu ray. The Extended edition can be purchased for £11.93 new.
Quite possibly one of the most recognised figures of the 20th Century; his face adorned on countless merchandise, Ernesto "Che" Guevara has become an icon that represents revolution. Make a man a hero however, and much of his values can be forgotten about. What was it that made a bourgeois Argentine develop Marxist values and fight alongside Fidel Castro for the 'liberation' of Cuba, a foreign cause?
Jon Lee Anderson aims to tell you in this thrilling biography that details Che's life, from a troubled childhood to the man who died in his goal to bring revolution to Latin America, freeing them from the imperialistic grasp North America had on their economy. The Sources for the book are numerous - from Che Guevara's own writings as an adventurer and soldier, to interviews with allies, family and enemies. Interviews with the widow, who was previously reluctant to speak about Che, ensure that the same information may not be found elsewhere. Anderson doesn't aim to glorify the man and treat him as a mythical hero, and neither does he vilify Che for the destruction he caused. Instead we are gifted with a biography that shows Che simply as a man, showing us exactly how an Argentine youth troubled with health problems became a ruthless guerrilla. Though occasionally it may seem that the book draws judgement, this is most likely from excerpts of Che's writings, not Andersons.
The early parts of the book show Che in his youth, detailing the progression of his political views and his unwillingness to act upon them. With much of the detail taken from Che Guevara's own memoirs (The Motorcycle diaries) you can glimpse him as an adventurer, travelling Latin America with a close friend, sleeping in police cells and hospitals as they hustle the locales out of food and glimpse the poor conditions of Latin America. An especially human side is shown of Che here as he gets up to various misadventures including the accidental shooting of a dog and crassly crapping on a sheet of sun dried peaches. It makes for light reading, though still necessary as it is those experiences that formed the basis of Che Guevara's opinions as he headed into Guatemala searching for a cause to fight for. It's an intriguing personal voyage of a man who didn't know moderation.
As Che's views gain momentum, the biography then leads us to Mexico where Che met a fellow revolutionary Fidel Castro. As they start planning for the revolution in Cuba, the book becomes a heavier read as the actions of Che become grander. No longer mere theory, his revolutionary views are carried out in a campaign of guerrilla warfare where it must be decided how to treat prisoners and deserters. Here we truly see a more brutal side of Che, always focusing on the revolution. Later on, even as the book begins to focus on the somewhat controversial Bolivian campaign, Anderson doesn't draw judgement and allows us to make our own views on his actions. What is obvious however is how devoted Che Guevara was to his beliefs. There is a particularly chilling section not too far into the book (taken from The Motorcycle Diaries) where Che has a prophetic discussion with a man about the road of revolution. Allies described this scene as poetic license - there was no man, it was one of the many examples of Che's poetic license.
And whilst this is all detailed, Anderson gives insight into not only Che's Life, but the climate of Latin America at the time - detailing the hold of Imperialistic America, the worldview on the various political movements and the numerous dictators of Latin America. America becomes alive in a period of growing tensions between imperialistic America and the equally manipulative USSR. The political climate of the world is detailed, showing the tensions between the Chinese and Soviet Communists, and Anderson doesn't get bogged down with analysis into the benefits and drawbacks of Communism. It is all necessary to truly grasp the reasoning of Che Guevara, and though due to the history the book is a bit of a heavy read, it is only as heavy as it needs to be, never getting too complicated. Occasionally I wished the book could expand more on specific scenarios, though this desire only shows further the magnificent writing style of the book, encouraging further reading in areas away from Che Guevara, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis or Fidel Castro, an equally controversial man with an extraordinary life.
If you have an interest in Che, I'd definitely recommend this book. The largely unbiased approach to the life of Che Guevara makes for interesting reading though be warned that this isn't the type of book that will make for a quick read on a plane journey. At over 800 pages it makes for a detailed read, covering as much of Che's life as possible. The contrast between the light hearted tales of Che's adventures compared to the heavier read of warfare makes for a varied read that will keep your interest until the end. This biography isn't merely historic, but will take you on an emotional journey through the eyes of one of the most famous men of the twentieth century.
Price - £10.49 New (Amazon)
With a nine year absence from the games industry, Monkey Island seemed dead. That was until E3 2009 when not only was a remake of the first game announced, but also Tales of Monkey Island, a new game in the series that would be released episodically. 'Launch of the Screaming Narwhal' is the first chapter of five, which collectively make up Tales of Monkey Island.
First, let's get the boring bits out of the way with the system requirements:
Processor - 2GHz (3 recommended)
RAM - 512MB (1GB recommended)
Video Card - 64MB (128MB recommended)
DirectX 9 or better
They aren't high system requirements and are perhaps indicative of the graphics. For those without technical knowledge you certainly won't require a gaming PC to run this game, and for those unsure a demo can be found on the Telltale website listed below. Don't expect any fancy graphics then since they seem more PS2-era than modern but the Monkey Island games have never been about graphics. They haven't aimed for realism and the graphics have a nice cartoony feel, full of vibrant colours.
On the story side of things, a lot of time has passed between the events of Escape from Monkey Island and Tales. LeChuck, back once again, has kidnapped Elaine. Holding a monkey in his hands and claiming it will grant him voodoo powers; Guybrush makes an impromptu voodoo weapon and stabs his foe. Instead of defeating him once and for all however, LeChuck is turned human. A fight ensues and Guybrush winds up on Flotsam Island where the winds prevent anyone from leaving. A journalist is willing to help you, though you'll have to help him first, and the fifth adventure of Guybrush Threepwood begins.
From the beginning it all feels rather familiar. Find some treasure, acquire a ship and start a fight. The first two are required in the first Monkey Island game, which feels a rather cheap way to introduce us to the new series. Unlike the first game however, you won't be struggling with the puzzles. Logic is always looked for in a good point and click game and in Tales you won't find an illogical puzzle. You won't find much of a puzzle though as everything seems rather easy - nothing will stump you for more than a few minutes. Unfortunately it seems symptomatic of the point and click genre with no Telltale games pushing the limits with puzzles as with the classics, possibly because Telltale aren't in the business of making classics. One puzzle for example requires you to break an unbreakable glass bottle. Gone are the days however where you would wander around the island using your inventory piece against every clickable item, because speak to one of the few people on the island and you'll be told he has just the item you need. The puzzle isn't solved of course - you still need to find a way to get this item, though the puzzle is made unnecessarily simple because of the dialogue. It's an example of Telltale being too cautious in design, not wanting to scare people away from a genre that used to be challenging. Or possibly Telltale could be easing us into Tales of Monkey Island, which is a problem with reviewing episodic games. A hint system is in place for those who do get stuck, which makes the easy puzzles even more questionable.
Next on the hit list are the characters. Thankfully Telltale has done a wonderful job bringing Guybrush back. Voiced by Dominic Armato, he contains all the loveable charm that was apparent in the previous games. The brilliant sense of humour - a mixture of innocence and innuendo, and misplaced arrogance allow Guybrush to be as good as ever. The same goes for Elaine. LeChuck has a weird laugh due to being voiced by Adam Harrington instead of Earl Boen though aside from that his character holds up well. The problem is the other characters - there's not a memorable one between them. The antagonist of the plot, Marquis De Singe has few interesting qualities and the remainder of the side-cast seem to be nothing more than human-shaped information centres that can help further the plot. Telltale do a great job with already developed characters though ask them to build a new personality and they fail. The side-characters are all based on two models - short and chubby or tall and thin - which becomes obvious extremely fast.
Two important aspects of the Monkey Island series remain - the humour and the music. The music is as memorable as ever, providing an adventurous piratey theme, and thanks to the strength of the main characters the humour is as good as ever. The dialogue trees allow for a decent range of responses (meaning you may want to play through the game more than once) and the opening cutscene really does have the Monkey Island atmosphere.
Back to the negatives again however. The island feels pretty small to explore, though this is most likely a result of the episodic gameplay which will require each new episode to have a different environment and won't be as noticeable if you play the full game. What is noticeable however is the pretty dire interface. Hold down the left button to move around, which feels like you are dragging Guybrush more than controlling him, so moving around with the keyboard is preferred. There is no verb interface this time and everything is done with one button. This of course streamlines the game though doesn't allow for so much fun being able to examine everything. The inventory is fine though the ability of merging items feels clunky, though it's a small complaint.
Overall, it's a decent start to Tales of Monkey Island but not the start to be hoped for. The numerous Monkey Island references and similar puzzle ideas are fine for the first chapter though if it carries on to the other chapters I can imagine it getting old. Point and click fans just have to accept that the genre has gotten easier. The secondary characters are poor though the main characters will make up for it - the series has always been about Guybrush and the humour is still there, which is vital for the quality of the game. The game really borders between 3 and 4 stars so I'll be generous and give is a 4 star since it is the first chapter.
Tales of Monkey Island can be purchased on PC, Wii and PS3. The entire game is available on Steam for £25 though if you just want to try out the first episode it is available on the Telltale website for $8.99.
Note: A similar review (not the same) has also been posted on The Third Schism website (by me).
Games based on movies almost never work. A decent title is released every so often but mostly movie tie-ins tend to be below average. The same can't be said for the LEGO games however which have been a delight over the years. They have a rare charm rarely seen in games now. It's not about tactics or graphics or difficulty, but fun. It's a game that puts a smile on your face that won't disappear until the credits role.
This time round you'll be playing as various characters through the Pirates of the Caribbean (PotC) series. The cutscenes are played out in LEGO form with no voices used, which means progression of the story comes through character actions, not dialogue. For many scenes it works; the arrival of Jack Sparrow to Port Royale is brilliantly repeated in LEGO and the introduction of Davy Jones really shows the sense of humour the developers have tried to input into the game. However, at times it doesn't work so well and for those who don't know the PotC story, you may be left feeling a little confused with parts of the At World's End and On Stranger Tides storylines. The strength of the game however isn't in the story but the charm, and there is plenty of that.
Remake anything in LEGO form and it's going to look magical and the scenery is no exception. From Tortuga and Port Royale to the black Pearl and Singapore, everything is recreated in fantastic detail, managing to retain the atmosphere of the film set but with the playful feel of a LEGO game. As in the movies, Jack Sparrow stands out as the star, running about the levels in a drunken swagger and killing enemies in humorous ways. The charm of the characters extends to LEGO form. As with the previous games the characters can be grouped by abilities. If you are treasure hunting for example you will require the help of Jack Sparrow, though you'll have to switch to a different character if you want to shoot a distant target or walk on the sea bed. As those familiar with the LEGO game series will know, this allows for some brilliant replay value. Once you have finished the level in story mode, you can then go back and play it in 'Free Play', which allows you to play as any unlocked character. Different characters can unlock different areas, so if you couldn't play as Jack in story mode, you can play as him in Free Play to find all the hidden treasure, or play as a female character that can double jump and reach new places. It's the type of game that has a huge amount of replay value if you are interested in 100% completing the game as you will have to play through each level multiple times to find all of the unlockables.
Most of the gameplay is puzzle based. Once you are used to destroying as much scenery as possible, few puzzles will catch you out. Many puzzles merely require you to smash enough scenery up in order to get the LEGO blocks to build new objects, though this is made interesting by the clever use of multiple characters. Several puzzles will require the use of multiple characters with their different abilities for example, though the game still can't be classed as hard. Dying has little impact on gameplay - you will lose a bit of the currency you have collected and reform. The game isn't about difficulty, but fun. It's about running around and exploring, smashing scenery and finding secret unlockables.
The game isn't entirely puzzle based though - as would be expected in a pirate game, there is some combat. Most enemies will be beaten with the swing of a sword, and with dying being pretty much inconsequential, the enemies seem to be there more for the atmosphere than anything else. The fantastic PotC music blares as you jump about taking a swing at different enemies whilst trying to work out where to go to next. Bosses however are a different issue. They provide a great mix of puzzles and combat as you whack the enemy and then chase him around, solving various puzzles to get to his new location just to whack him again. They generally follow the same formula though this doesn't detract from the fun.
At times the game can get a little messy. Occasionally your LEGO allies will get in the way, which can be frustrating, and some gameplay elements don't work out the best. The rolling-wheel fight of the second movie felt clumsy to say the least, though it would have been a crime to not have tried such a fight, even though it could never be anything but clumsy. For the most part however the gameplay remains fantastic.
As with all LEGO games, co-op is a big highlight. Get a friend round and he can drop-in or out of any level and take charge of one of the characters to aid you in your quest. The simple, relaxed gameplay is perfect for offline co-op and though the split-screen can be awkward at times (with the screen going from one picture to a split screen if you get too far away from each other) though the game is far better with two people playing.
The game rarely has time to show its graphical power but when it does (such as with water and lighting), it looks fantastic when contrasted with the simplicity of the LEGO block scenery.
It's certainly not a game for everyone, but for those looking for something a little bit different, something that will put a smile on your face or something to play in co-op, this could be the game for you. It's the type of game that will leave you smiling from start to finish as the game just oozes charm. It isn't flawless but can keep you occupied for hours if you like collectables. The main story will take about 10-15 hours to complete, though getting to 100% will take a few hours longer.
LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean can currently be purchased on the PS3 for around £34 on Amazon (New), and is also available on the 360 for the same price. It is also available for the PC, Wii, PSP, DS and 3DS.
Though fan sites were clinging on to the possibility of a new Monkey Island game, all hope looked lost. LucasArts had given up on the point and click genre, instead focusing on endless amounts of Star Wars games. So it was a great surprise when, in early 2009, not only was a fifth Monkey Island game announced, but also a remake of the first one. Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is a remake of a game released over 20 years ago now, telling the story of Guybrush Threepwood, who washes up on the shores of Melee Island with one aim - to become a swashbuckling pirate.
It was a fantastic game, full of brilliant humour and inventive puzzles that would become expected of Lucasfilm Games, who throughout the 1990's found fame with not only the Monkey Island series but Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango, amongst other games now considered classics.
Guybrush Threepwood has one aim - to become a mighty pirate. Arriving on the shores of Melee Island however, he becomes entangled in a strange series of events that leads to him in need of both a crew and a boat - the governors daughter has been kidnapped by the evil ghost pirate LeChuck and it is up to you (as Guybrush) to stumble throughout the game in an attempt to rescue her. There are surprisingly few pirate games out - which is quite odd since pirate games would have a lot of potential. So it's even odder that when a pirate game finally comes along, it isn't so much a pirate game but a child's view of piracy. It is the romanticised view of piracy based on freedom and exploration, quite apart from the pillaging and raping you'd no doubt come across on a 17th Century pirate ship. It is this however that makes the game, providing loads of humour by not taking itself so seriously. Problems aren't solved with the sword, but the collection and use of items, and talking to the various folk you will come across who may just give you a shove in the right direction. Or, just as likely, provide some hilarious yet utterly useless dialogue.
A big problem with modern adventure games is that they are too easy. Play Tales of Monkey Island and you may enjoy it, but it becomes too straightforward. The brilliance of the point and click genre comes from the frustration at roaming around for ages wondering what the hell to do with a random inventory that considers of a salmon, a bucket and mug of grog. Being originally released 20 years ago however, this game has no such problems. The puzzles aren't as a whole too easy, and likely a couple of them will have you stuck for a while though this is expected of an adventure game - you have to think. All that can be asked for is that the puzzles are logical and thankfully they are. It is logical, for example, to use a kitchen pot as a helmet. It is not logical to use a monkey as a wrench, an unfortunate puzzle you'll find in the sequel to this game that will have drove thousands of fans mad over the years. Compared to Monkey Island 2 the puzzles in this game could be considered somewhat simplistic, but the puzzle design of the original will let old point and click fans have their fun, whilst making it an ideal game for new fans of the genre to start with.
The puzzles themselves are imaginative, ranging from the standard puzzles you would expect to find in an adventure game to the wonderful insult sword fighting. After all, in a romanticised version of piracy, pirates aren't killers, and instead win battles with insults and wit.
All of the above however could be directed at the original game. So the big question is what does the Special Edition do that is different? For a start, the graphics. Instead of the pixellated version of the original, you'll be treated to beautifully hand-drawn graphics that are vibrant and perfectly captures the atmosphere of the original game. There is maybe a case of Guybrush looking a little weird but if you aren't a fan of the new graphics, at the press of a button you can chance back to the original version of the game. It is a genius decision that is remarkable to do, allowing the graphics to instantly change between the old and the new.
The interface of course changes. The old version keeps the original SCUMM interface where the verbs (use, give etc) and inventory are situated at the bottom of the screen, whereas if you are playing with the new graphics you are treated to a larger screen as the interface is accessed via a menu or cycle of commands. The old interface feels a little more natural though the new one won't cause too many problems.
Also new is the voice acting. Dominic Armato has returned to voice the main character, Guybrush Threepwood, along with various other voice actors who you'll recognise from the later monkey Island games. It's wonderful to play an old game with the recognisable voice actors and it's hard to believe Guybrush didn't originally have a voice. However, get away from the main characters and the voice acting isn't so good. Some of the voices feel a little forced - wacky voices for the sake of being wacky, instead of voices to fit the character. There are some gems however - the shop keeper on Melee Island sounded just like I pictured he would for example.
The music of Monkey Island is, as always, magnificent. The theme tune to the series is breathtaking, probably one of the best pieces of game music there is, and there are other tunes you'll find yourself whistling to after you have played the game. The music perfectly encapsulates the atmosphere of the game - it has sufficient depth to draw you in, to add to the game itself, and always feels in place.
The game is available on PC for £6.99 on Steam but the game is also available on the 360 and PS3 via online stores. If you are looking into the point and click genre, or if you are just looking to play a different game, bored of the endless FPS games that seem to be released nowadays, there is no better series for you than the Monkey Island series, and this is the best starting point. LucasArts have provided a game that will please everyone - the new graphics and voice acting will appeal to the newer audience, but there is little for the old fans to complain about due to the brilliant way you can swap between the Special and regular edition of the game.
You play as Ezio, a fifteenth century Assassin intent on avenging his family after they were killed for political reasons. Actually, you play as Desmond Miles, who is reliving through the memories of Ezio using the Animus - a Matrix-style machine he is using to learn the skills of an Assassin. Modern day Templars are getting restless and it is up to Desmond to stop them, just as Altair did in the first game.
And already we have the first downfall to the game and that is the story which is mixed, unpleasantly with cutscenes that cannot be skipped. The story itself is not bad and the sci-fi element adds depth to what would otherwise be quite a basic story but the Ezio part of the story would be more than adequate for a game plot and, more importantly, would let you get on with the assassinations faster.
The original Assassins Creed was something of a flawed masterpiece. It was so fluid - the combat and free running felt so natural. It was, however, flawed with a dull story and repetitive gameplay. Peter Molyneux take note however, because it is heart-warming to announce that the developers have taken on board the criticisms of the first game and delivered a game that is on the whole, far better. The story has its flaws, though the Ezio-side of the story is decent, made far better by the personality of the main character - you actually care for him. The biggest improvement however is the assassinations.
Unlike the first game where each assassination required scouting and eavesdropping, the sequel thankfully mixes it up a little. There is still repetition of course - there's only a certain amount of ways you can stalk, kill and run from an enemy but it is all fun - a change from the relatively dull scouting sections of the first game. The gameplay stays pretty constant throughout the game though every so often you are tasked with something quite different - such as having a go on one of Da Vinci's machines.
The genius of the game comes from the free-running and fluid movement of the character both in and out of combat. With a variety of weapons at your disposal from swords to throwing knives there are multiple ways to deal with enemies, and combat will generally see you making use of quickly attacking, and then holding down R1 to go into counter-attack mode. Attacks and combo's are brilliant to pull off and great to watch on the screen with the one downside being that the combat is quite easy. As long as you can dodge and counter attack the enemies won't provide too much trouble, though when the combat is so fun, the ease of the combat is a small problem.
After a successful assassination of killing spree however it is time to escape and that is when the next genius of the game comes into play. Free-running is incredibly easy, the case of holding down the R1 button (high profile mode) and steering your character up building by looking out for ledges to grab onto. It's this type of movement that makes you want to take a break from the story and just aimlessly explore. The environments themselves are fantastic, with the only downside to them being the very-visible walls that block you from exploring too much until you proceed further in the story. Nothing will take you out of a game faster than a large white wall.
Away from the main story there is a little to do. Side quests will offer some entertainment for a while though the main quest line is far better. Other than that there's rare armour to find and the collection of flags which are situated throughout the several cities you can explore. Away from the story however most of my fun came merely from exploring and killing guards because side-quests and flag collection have little appeal, with flag collecting probably being the dullest way of artificially increasing game time that has been thought up.
You can renovate cities - banks and blacksmiths, tailors and stables. It feels quite useless however. Regardless of the open world, Assassins Creed is not an RPG and though you can have a lot of fun purchasing swords and armour every now and then, city renovation and multiple armour upgrades don't suit a game that will probably be completed in a few afternoons game-time.
There is very little truly negative to say about the game however. A small complaint is the difficulty in pulling off a stealth assassination. If you are after a stealth game, this may not be for you - which is strange since you are playing as an assassin. The aim of the game is to kill and then quickly blend back into the crowd which is in itself fantastic. There is a great feeling of blending into a crowd of people when there are guards searching for you, your heart pounding in the hope that you are not noticed. It is a brilliant mechanic and the series would not be the same without it, though mixed with the ease of combat it becomes extremely easy for a stealth assassination to become a mass murder. Increased difficulty in combat would definitely make you think twice about your assassination style.
Fans of the first game will love this one - it has improved immensely over its predecessor whilst still keeping true to the series, and because of these improvements, critics of the first game should re-assess their opinion of the series because it is rare a developer so thoroughly fixes the problems of the original for a sequel. Even wit the sequel (Assassins Creed: Brotherhood) already out this game is still worth a look at, and you can't go far wrong when it can be purchased for only £12.89 on Amazon.
The original LittleBigPlanet did something amazing - it combined the charm of a 1990's platformer with the brilliant technology of the current generation of consoles. It was a breath of fresh air when it arrived, completely different from the dark and serious shooters that currently plague consoles. It was a side scrolling platformer where you play as 'sackboy', and run through the levels avoiding danger and completing simple puzzles. It was physics based. You can drag an item made of sponge for example, or roll a ball into a big gap to make a bridge, but your little character can't muster up the strength to pull metal or any heavy objects, resulting in a humorous facial expression of the sackboy. It had a simple charm.
However, with this simple charm was a surprising amount of depth. The simple to use level creator gave the game life years after its release with over 3 million user created levels released. And if you wanted to collect all of the materials and stickers, you had to collect them in the Story Mode, which encouraged multiplayer.
The first game was kept active by DLC, with Metal Gear Solid and Pirates of the Caribbean level packs, which leads you to wonder if there was even a need for a sequel. What the sequel adds is a full new story mode - seven new worlds full of side scrolling levels and mini games for you to jump into, and with it, new things to do.
What the sequel adds is power ups. Early on in the game you are granted access to the grapple hook, which allows you to swing through levels or pull switches from far away. Later on you will get the 'grabinator', a Ratchet and Clank style glove that lets you pick up items that are far heavier and throw them. Throughout all of these worlds you are introduced to the new items of LittleBigPlanet with the story mode revolving around them. Whilst they are only power ups they add a great amount to the game. LittleBigPlanet has always been great - the simple charm and narration by Stephen Fry gave it a cute quality that few games can manage, and this charm is still there. Much of the game is the old school platforming gamers will be used to. The power ups just add to this experience. The grapple hook for example offers faster paced gameplay than expected - perfect for timed races, and the newly added 'Sackbots' slow down the pace, allowing for more in depth puzzles as you gather a following of small robots that can be used to open doors. It's the kind of gameplay familiar with those who have played the Clank sections in the Ratchet and Clank series.
Once you have completed the story mode there is still plenty to do. For a start, collecting all the prize bubbles to 100% complete the game - which includes needing to ace all of the levels. If you are interested in level creation this is something you'll be looking to do to get all of the materials and stickers and it isn't easy. It is fun however.
The level creation remains largely the same - you get to use all of the tools you picked up in the first game and those you picked up in the second to create levels. The new tools such as the grapple are easy enough to use and many things have been made easier. The addition of spring boards for example saves you from having to create them yourself. For those looking to create a deeper level however with a greater experience, there's so much extra to do. The Sackbots already described in the story mode have such great potential. You can use them as allies in inventive ways, or use them to create enemies - enemy creation was perhaps the biggest limitation of the previous game.
You can also play online. This lets you play through the story mode with other people online, or play through user created levels. The Story mode is far more fun when you play with others, having to navigate tricky puzzles together and watching each other die.
User created content varies. Some of the levels are, as expected exceedingly average, though some user created levels rival those of the story mode. The developers, Media molecule pick out the best levels they have played making it easier to come across some brilliant levels - which were a problem in the first game. All of the user created content from the first game is also available to play, meaning you won't be short of levels to play.
The graphics are brilliant and only help to create a wondrous atmosphere, with brilliant lighting and I have similar praise for the music. Music will never make a bad game good but it will certainly make a good game better.
The controls are much like the original and this means the floaty controls of the original. I love the floaty jump of the sackboy character I don't consider it a problem but to those who complained about it in the original game - nothing has changed.
It's quite possible that all the new features of this game could have been sold as DLC for the first game or patched into it. However, there's enough new content to justify a new game. A new game itself will renew interest in the franchise far more than downloaded DLC, so with some brilliant user created content out already, and a charming new Story Mode, there's little to complain about. If you want something different, or if you just miss the platforming genre, a genre that has got little love in recent years, this game may be for you.
Available exclusively for the Playstation 3 console, it can be purchased for £33.95 on Amazon (new).
Rand Al'Thor is the Dragon Reborn, a title given to the man prophesised to both break and save the world from the evil force of the Dark One, antithesis to the Creator. The previous eleven books have detailed the life of Rand Al'Thor and his friends, snatched up by an Aes Sedai in the night - the name given to the witches of the world and told that the weight of the world falls on their shoulders. This Tolkienesque epic fantasy has so far detailed the rise of the Dragon and the political and military manoeuvrings as the fellowship try to prepare the world for the Last Battle; a battle that has happened infinite times before, and a battle that will happen at the end of every Third Age due to the cyclic nature of time in Robert Jordan's world.
With only one book to go the series looked like it would finally be finished, until the unfortunate death of the author, who once joked his notes would be destroyed upon death. Announcement of an illness however changed his mind so his wife (who also his editor) chose a new author to continue the series - Brandon Sanderson, a lesser known author responsible for the Mistborn series has taken the helm. The notes left however for the 'last book' were too much however, so once again, the series has been elongated. The Gathering Storm is the first of what will become three books, and had fans on edge not only because of the new author who has a different writing style, but it also represents the beginning of the end. So let's see how the new book lives up.
At this point in the story we have Rand, having already conquered large parts of the world, going for more and trying to ease the suffering of the people affected by the Dark One's touch on the world. Egwene, a young Aes Sedai and leader of a rebel faction has been captured and continues to try to undermine the authority of the White Tower, an organisation of witches who, instead of getting ready for the Last Battle, are too busy with a civil war. Also present throughout the story are Mat and Perrin, friends of Rand with duties of their own. In short, Robert Jordan left a lot of stories open, and (as apparent in the later books of the series) was reluctant to close stories. Whilst the epic plot and huge storylines are what made this series fantastic, the series went downhill after book seven, with too much time being given to the stories of side characters and with major plotlines developing too little and too slowly. The series stagnated, and with so few books left, events need to start happening.
Brandon Sanderson therefore is the man for the job. Unlike the prose of Robert Jordan, which ended up heavy on description, Sanderson's writing is a little faster paced with less description of attire and gilt for example. He hasn't tried to copy the style of Jordan and what this means is a faster paced tale that actually end up getting things done. As with the previous books the plot gets more complicated and characters develop, though at the same times, plots are being finished, and the end feels near. After twelve books and a prequel all concerning preparation for the Last Battle there is an epic feeling, a feeling of imminent inevitability, though writing does have its downsides. The slower pace of Robert Jordan let character development occur more naturally and though it was frustrating at times, it felt natural. The development of characters under Sanderson occasionally feels unnatural, where development happens through mere logical thought and conversation and can happen within a couple of paragraphs. Sanderson also has the habit of telling, not showing and gone is much of the subtlety of Robert Jordan's writing that had us for eight books guessing who killed a certain character. This could merely be the natural outcome of the faster pace of the books, an evil necessary to tie up all loose ends in only three books.
Jordan created an epic world that felt alive, full of rivalries and politics, beliefs and different cultures, with an in depth magic system of weaving threads. Sanderson successfully manages to keep this epic feeling alive, his writing adding to an already vibrant world.
The Gathering Storm isn't the perfect book, but it is the book that the Wheel of Time series needed; a book that would pick up the pace and finish plots, a book that brought the focus back to the main story rather than focusing on frivolous stories of Monarchic wars of Succession. Whilst the writing of Sanderson doesn't have delicate intricacy of Robert Jordan, the benefits equal the negatives because it is due to Sanderson that finally, the end of the Wheel of Time feels imminent. I'd advise anyone who gave up on the series due to Robert Jordan's death to reconsider the series, and whilst potential new fans won't be able to jump in on book twelve of such an epic tale, I'd advise the Wheel of time series to anyone interested in fantasy books because though the quality does dip for a while it truly is an epic fantasy that looks to be ending on a high.
The Gathering storm can be purchased from Amazon for £5.12 in paperback and for those with a new interest in the series; the Eye of the World (the first book in the series) can be procured for around the same price.
ISBN : 978-1-84149-165-3
So, Killzone 3 has come about and with it a new wave of hype. The 360 after all has the Halo series, so Sony has to have the equivalent. Unfortunately, hype always leads to bloated expectations, meaning as good as the Killzone series it, the reviews have been quite underwhelming purely because they haven't matched Halo. So let's see what the newest Killzone game is like.
You play as a soldier of the ISA, locked in a bitter war with the enemies, the Helghast, a faction of humans that were mutated from the harsh environments they suffered during space colonization. The plot actually has great potential, though ultimately fails in its execution. I'm of the belief that no matter how good an FPS game is online, a good offline is needed for it to be ranked up there with the best. People will have hundreds of hours of game time on Modern Warfare for example, but they'll always remember 'that' sniper level in the single player campaign. Unfortunately however, Killzone 3 already falls short. The story is dull; instead of a tale of depth and morality, the enemies are instead portrayed as British-Space Nazi's, useful only for an increased kill count. This would be fine if the allies had any depth but unfortunately the ISA are portrayed as the stereotypical soldiers you see in bad war films. They have no personality or charm and few qualities that actually make me want to take an interest in the story itself.
Aside from the story itself the game does fare better however. The campaign of the game can be played either single player or split screen co-op and there is a fair amount of variety. The campaign mode will have you running about on foot with various types of weapons, from short range machine guns to long range sniping, and to spice it up a little there's also a fair amount of vehicle sections. I've long had a problem with vehicles in FPS games. They never manage to be as exhilarating as they should be, and you are left with awkward controls and a jetpack that effectively allows a big jump.
Put a gun in your hand however and the game is a lot more enjoyable. It is here that you get to enjoy the AI of the Helghast. Unlike Call of Duty for example the difficulty in Killzone doesn't come from the amount of hours that can be thrown at you but rather the tactics of the enemy as they try to flank you. The enemies are hard to see - you need to look out for the distinctive glowing eyes, meaning you are a dead man if you step out of cover and you aren't careful. As with the predecessor, there is still a weight to your character meaning you don't feel light a floating gun but it seems to have been reduced, brining it more into line with other FPS games. However, in the process it has lost some of its identity. A stealth and sniper mission early on in the game is a real laugh, but is a failed copy of the flashback sniper mission of Modern Warfare. Again, not far into the game you'll hop into what is effectively a smaller Metal Gear.
It doesn't lead to a bad game of course but when a game series is hyped so much you expect more. One brilliant system of Killzone 3 is the cover system that allows you to hide behind, and peek from behind cover and it really helps immerse you in the game. There's little more annoying in an FPS game than having to step completely from your cover just to fire a shot, but Killzone avoids this.
If you play the campaign mode of the game you'll be playing the same story. Too many developers overlook the fun a gamer can have playing with someone in the same room, it is just a shame there isn't also an online co-op. Strangely when in co-op, the split screen doesn't utilise the full screen size, and with enemies being hard to hit from behind cover anyway, and objective writing already being small, it leads to quite a bit of frustration that could easily be avoided.
The graphics are, as expected, gorgeous. You'll go from urban cities to sublime snow covered environments and it is jaw dropping to see. If you are lucky enough to be able to play in 3D, Killzone 3 is definitely for you, and it similarly has Playstation Move Support. For me however, I played in HD and with a standard controller.
The controls are, unusually, also worth a mention. The default layout of the controller will have you pressing a shoulder button to melee and R3 to aim. It doesn't feel natural and I find it suspicious when a developer has a different control scheme. The story and gameplay should be unique, not the control scheme - especially when the standard control scheme found in FPS games suits the game perfectly (and can thankfully be selected in the options).
If you are in the market for an FPS game however, chances are it is the online you will be looking for and this is where the Killzone series exceeds. You have the choice of 5 classes all with unique abilities that drastically change the way you play the game. As you kill and capture objectives you will level up, granting you points to spend on new weapons and abilities to make the classes more effective. For example, the Marksman class grants you a predator-style invisibility, and infiltrator allows you to disguise yourself as the enemy to enable you to sneak up on your foe and silently take them out. If you want a more in-your-face style of gameplay however then the other classes may be for you. Engineers can build turrets for example, and tacticians exceed in capturing objectives. Medics can revive wounded allies.
As you level up you will be able to improve these abilities and get a wider range of guns. The vastly different classes come into great use for example when playing with your friends, enabling different tactics. The level up system only has one disadvantage and that is that newer players will be at a disadvantage though it doesn't take long to upgrade your first class.
There are three game modes to choose from - the first effectively being a Team Deathmatch which is always fun. On the whole the maps are smaller, but varied, with the enclosed Kaznan Jungle for example being a contrast to the Bilgarsk Boulevard, a larger map perfect for snipers. The map size (and maximum amount of players) is smaller than it was in Killzone 2 however which is a bit of a disappointment and I do find myself longing for one or two of the Killzone 2 maps occasionally but overall the maps are good quality.
The second mode is actually several modes rolled into one, rolling objectives. In half an hour you'll be tasked with missions of assassination or protection, search and destroy modes and team deathmatch style free for alls. It's brilliantly fun and fast paced and again, perfect to play with a group of your mates if you have a headset. The maps here are larger than they are in Team Deathmatch, which makes me think this is really the go-to mode with the Team Deathmatch mode merely being there for practice. I can't blame the developers however, since this mode really is the highlight of the game.
The third mode, Operations, includes cinematics which is quite unique and really shows the developers going for something different though it is largely still an objective based mode.
Overall, I'll say if you are looking for a story based game or a game to play offline, Killzone 3 isn't for you. Though the single player mode is above average, there are better offline games out there. If, on the other hand you are looking for a game to waste the days away playing online, this game is definitely for you. The multiplayer rises above the single player and can keep you going for months with the brilliant class design and varied online modes.
The online definitely deserves full marks but I'll mark it down for an uninspiring offline mode that doesn't match the brilliant online mode.
Available exclusively on the Playstation 3, Killzone 3 can be purchased from Amazon for £38 new or £28 (+ P&P) on the Marketplace.
Pokemon Black/White has been released, meaning it is time to grab a new starter Pokemon and head out on the familiar journey of the Pokemon games. Travel from city to city, challenging Gym Leaders until you are ready to join the Elite Four. The developers, Game Freak, have been on to a winning formula since the original games reached Japan in 1996. The problem however, is that even a winning formula can get stale, and though there have been slight changes to the series, the recent games have felt somewhat familiar.
Pokemon White, thankfully, leads the way in terms of changes. It is still very familiar, though the recent changes keep the series feeling fresh. There is no radical change, but it feels refined. The aim of the game remains the same - you will still be travelling around a new region with the aim of taking on the Elite Four. The combat remains the same - brilliant turn based action where various strengths and resistances of the Pokemon Types come into play. What is different however, is the Pokemon.
As you travel around the new region of Unova you won't be fishing up any Magikarp, nor will you come across a Pidgey. Until you complete the main story, you will only see new Pokemon, and though this doesn't seem huge, what it does is take you out of your comfort zone. If you can ignore the calls of the Internet at least, you won't know what you are up against. Is this new Pokemon a fire type or an electric type? The best way to find out is to attack and hope for the best and the game feels less familiar, because the discoveries aren't just linked to the regions to explore this time.
This does have its downsides however. Though there are some brilliant new designs of Pokemon, too many of them look like the rejects in an Art Attack competition, a far cry from the glory days of the first generation of Pokemon. The positives outweigh the negatives however.
Team Plasma is the enemy this time - they have the aim to liberate Pokemon from their evil trainers and though this brings the usual theme of compassion towards your Pokemon seen in all Pokemon games, the plot this time round certainly feels more integral to your journey also. It is just another example of the Pokemon game not fundamentally changing, just refining. However, for the most part the game does remain the same, and though the story feels more important it doesn't change the gameplay. The turn based combat is as addictive as ever, easy enough for the casual gamers, yet it has ample depth for those looking for a deeper RPG and those who are looking into competitive battling. The casual players will have their fun learning of type advantages. Water beats Fire for example, but Fire is strong against Ice, reminiscent of a more complicated game of rock-paper-scissors. Those looking for the deeper gameplay however will be looking for the nature of Pokemon and Effort Values - stat affecting attributes.
It is not all positives however. The greatest negative shows itself once the main game has been completed, when there is still so much left to do. Unlike the brilliantly structured main game however, where you are lead from town to town at a decent pace, once the main story has been completed you are left in a world with a fair amount to do, but little guidance, which leads to a lot of slow grinding. Post-game feels like fun and more like a way for the developers to drag out the game. Pace yourself with the main story and it will take over a days game time to complete however so it does give value for money. The trading system is equally confusing - you can no longer trade Pokemon up from your GBA games, meaning aside from the flawed Global Trade System, the only way to trade from game to game requires two DS's.
The same happens with the interface. Instead of the touch screen providing instant access to your inventory and Pokemon, it is instead used for the C-Gear, which allows fast wireless interaction between Pokemon Games. The problem however is that if you live outside of Japan or aren't heading for a bring-your-own-games-to-school day in primary school, it has little practical use. The touch screen could be used much more effectively.
The graphics have been given a slight update. It still feels very reminiscent of the old Pokemon games, though there have been touches of 3D added, instead of the birds eye 2D style games. In the main city of the game for example the camera situates behind the character in an obvious attempt to give the city a grander feeling and though it had its charm, the city feels confusing because of it and the pixel graphics are quite off-putting.
You know what you are going to get with a Pokemon game. The Pokemon, the combat and the music all give the game a brilliant appeal. It's a game you can't help but like. It has its problems and the game is far from original - it is largely the same game you played 15 years ago. However, there are enough changes to keep the old fans happy and for any youngsters looking for a DS game out there - it would be a great shame if you missed out on Pokemon. Let's just hope the next game on 3DS innovates a little more.
The game can be purchased from ASDA for just short of £28 new.
After taking on Arthas in the previous expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, it was time for a new challenge for the legions of World of Warcraft players around the world. Deathwing appears to be this new challenge, a monstrous dragon who has decided to spice Azeroth up a little by causing the Cataclysm. This means a change of environment to all the WoW players out there, regardless of whether you have purchased Cataclysm. Old zones have been freshened up, with new quests and quest lines for those questing from levels 1-60 in Azeroth.
A quick trip to the Outlands for the Burning Crusade expansion and then a journey to Northrend to get to level 80, and it time to return to Azeroth once more because with Cataclysm Blizzard haven't taken us to a new continent, but instead expanded upon the old one, with a couple of new zones to quest in to reach the new level cap.
In short, Blizzard has added a huge amount of content to the game, only some of which you will need Cataclysm for. For people new to the game, or old players aching to explore the world with a new character, levels 1-60 feel a lot more streamlined. For most zones, the physical changes are relatively small, though the questing has changed a lot. And low level in general. The aim, it seems, is to make WoW more fun, and make low levels more fun. Gone are the days when players don't get and of the cool class abilities until high level, because Cataclysm has brought with it whole new talent trees. Core abilities are granted at level 10, giving Paladins a low level Crusader Strike for example, or Mortal Strike on a Warrior. It makes the classes more interesting at lower level, much preferred over the days when playing a low level Paladin involved two attacks, with enough of a Cooldown between them both for an enjoyable coffee break..
This fits in with low level levelling in general. The quests have been updated, generally helping to tell or advance a story, and are all linked together, allowing a smoother journey whilst questing. It's impressive, and though nothing will ever bring back the original thirty levels of WoW, where everything feels so new, so epic, I would still recommend to old players to give levelling a go again.
Of course, the lovely folks at Blizzard have given this to all WoW players, not just those with the latest expansion, so what does the new expansion add? Like previous expansions, it raises the level cap (this time to level 85), and with it, new zones to get to that level cap. You will also be able to fly in Azeroth now and two new races have been added. Not content with just the gnomes being picked on, Blizzard has given the Horde its own tiny race to play as, the Goblins. The Alliance gets the Worgen, also known as Team Jacob, with both of the new races given a brilliant (phased) starting zone.
For people wanting to just hop into high level content, you will have to level through the new Cataclysm zones and again, Blizzard has outdone itself. The quests in the zones feel streamlined and all connect to each other, telling a grant story. If playing through Hyjal for example, you play through the recovery of the zone and the raising of Ragnaros, one of the bosses in original WoW. For those who want to be a bit different however, how about the underwater zone of Vashj'ir. It isn't for everyone and player opinion seems to be split though even those not a fan of the zone will appreciate the uniqueness of an entire zone player under water. Questing can even get quite challenging at times, with enemies taking a little longer to kill.
Then it is time for the end game. Of the 5 man dungeons released so far thankfully none sink as low as the Oculus did during the Wrath years, and the heroics even provide a challenge to the players. Tactics are no longer non-existent and without some crowd control and people paying attention, it is easy to wipe, which will be a new experience for those (like me) who joined during the previous expansion when tactics for most mobs consisted of spamming area of effect (AoE) abilities until the enemy dropped.
From the small amount I have seen of raids, they too have an increased difficulty level on the whole, and this will be wondrous news to the old raiders out there who wanted some difficult content. It does provide a downside however. People in Wrath got used to the easy content of WoW, so doing new content in a random group can be a nightmare considering half the players you come across will either be elitist or mourning for the days of easy WoW so, as always, it's best to group up with people you know, guild mates for example, to prevent the drama that will inevitably befall you if you consistently group with random players.
For most people this review will be pretty useless because if you have an active World of Warcraft account and you are currently playing through the expansions you already know you are getting this game because if you enjoy it up to level 80, there's no way you'll be stopping there. However, I say to all those ex WoW fans that have maybe taken a bit of a break from the game and have always been tempted to come back...give it a go. Whether levelling a new characters or logging into an old one there are so many changes, there's just so much to do, so many new environments to explore. Classes have changed, hell, the world has.
Released in December 2010 Cataclysm can be picked up on PC for £18 on Amazon.