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Somewhere between my last year of University and the present day, I stopped eating Pot Noodles. I'm not sure why exactly, probably something to do with the rising price and wisdom of age telling me that the best meal available is not always the fastest. However, Golden Wonder's limited edition Sticky Rib Pot Noodle is here in its slightly racists packaging to remind me why I liked Pot Noodles in the first place.
If you've never had a Pot Noodle before, the idea is a simple. There is a pot, it had a block of noodles and flavouring in it. Boil a kettle, stick in a fork and in a couple of minutes you will have hot food. Not always very nice hot food, but then beggars can't be choosers. I have always found Pot Noodle flavours to be very hit a miss, the "traditional" flavours all taste like bad cup-a-soup to me but some of the more adventurous offerings can be quite delicious. The mild curry is an old favourite of mine, but has recently been replaced by Mr. Sticky Rib.
The Sticky Rib pot noodle has a flavouring that tastes like a slightly meaty Chinese soup. The combined seasonings of a thousand bad takeaways filled my mouth, but I can't say I ever pinned down a specific ingredient. It's a nice flavouring, not too strong or sweet but not particularly rib-like in itself. Here Golden Wonder's trademark sauce sachet seals the deal. The "peking sauce" is a sweet and sticky gunk that tops the Pot Noodle and creates a nice combined flavour with an authentic Chinese Rib effect.
All is not well in Pot Noodle land however as it suffers from many of brand's pre-existing problems. The sachet of sauce is too small and only gives you the rich flavour in the first few bites. Novices might be tempted to stir it in, but the only effect here is to lose the flavour completely. Also, Golden Wonder has still failed to create noodles that take less than five minutes to soften. Sure the instructions say to wait a minute, stir and wait another minute, but without a bit more patience the first bite is always too crunchy.
Chance are if you're reading this review you've hear of a Pot Noodle and if you like them then you'll probably like this too. It's a nice new flavour that doesn't taste like a lot of other snacks out there. It's not too rich or sweet like a lot of Pot Noodles and it's filling enough to keep you going if you don't have time to cook.
How is it that Duke Nukem Forever managed to be everything I expected it to be and a bitter disappointment at the same time? Let's review, shall we. Duke Nukem Forever is a very late sequel to a very popular series of shooters released in the 1990s. It is also a terrible, terrible game that has only seen the light of day because of the infamy that comes of being in development for fifteen years. Perhaps a little background is necessary.
Back in the ancient past of 1996 there was a first person shooter called Duke Nukem 3D. Built in an era when we still called first person shooters "Doom Clones," it was a primitive sort of game by todays standards, but stood out from the pack by satirising 80s and 90s macho action heroes while relishing in sex and violence. Truth be told, it wasn't a particularly amusing or entertaining game back in 1996, but despite this it has been remembered rather fondly by a lot of gamers who were teenage boys at the time. Coincidence perhaps. A sequel was inevitable, or so it seemed, and development began on Duke Nukem forever. However fate intervened and my generation were spared a second exposure to the Duke Nukem world. The game languished in development hell for over a decade while refusing to be cancelled outright until it obtained something of a legendary status.
Fifteen years on, a game called Duke Nukem Forever, has been released. We are supposed to be impressed by this, I imagine, but then I'd be very surprised if 2011's Duke Nukem Forever resembles the title planned for the 90s in any way.
So, what is the game like? I wish I could just leave it at "bad" but that probably wouldn't cover it.
Duke Nukem Forever is, like its predecessor, a first person shooter. The game places you in control of macho-man and global icon, Duke as you are tasked with fighting off an alien invasion. There is no real plot beyond that, the game does not take itself seriously, and the brief moments of narrative serve only to move you from one set of crude jokes to the next. I should point out, I am not a prude. I enjoy a bit of adult humour as much as anyone, my only requirement is that it be funny. It never was. Worse still, there is a section of the game about halfway through which was unpleasantly, bizarrely distasteful. I won't detail it specifically as it probably falls under spoilers, but for me it was the point when Duke Nukem Forever stepped across a line from crude humour to just seedy. Again, I have no problem with adult content in games but there has to be some kind of grounding, some sort of context. Duke Nukem Forever just seems to revel in its childish shock tactics because it doesn't have decent gameplay to support it.
As you travel through the game's various set pieces, you'll encounter a range of difference gameplay styles and environments which seem to reflect the game's lengthy development. Early levels feel pretty nostalgic and for a little while I did feel like I was back in the 90s (though that could have been the graphics) but it's when the game starts trying to be funny again that it all falls apart. Fairly early on in the game you'll be forced into an awkward sequence in which Duke is shrunk and you'll have to do some clumsy first person platforming and then race around on a little car. It's not as fun as it sounds. This became something of a growing problem later and I was surprised to find a game that spent so much time giggle at over the top violence was contriving ways to stop me shooting things. By the time I got to the end of the "story" I had completely lost any interest in the game and if it hadn't have been a lot shorter than I expected, I'd have given up before the end.
Graphically, Duke Nukem Forever is a mess. Some bits look alright, in fact the game's opening features some of the nicest looking environments. It's a bit of a disappointment when you start to descend into darkened corridors and things take a drop. By the time you arrive at Duke's casino, the game looks like it has escaped from the Playstation 2 days. This is an inconsistent game, in both style and quality. Character models are probably the worst elements but a lot of the enemies are much prettier. Again, sloppiness and inconsistency can be explained by the troubled development, but not excused.
If there's one area I can probably praise Duke Nukem Forever, then it's in sound design. The voice acting, extravagant sound effects and boisterous music were all a lot of fun and I'd have had a great time with them on a better game. In fact, that really sums up how I felt about a lot of this game. There are times when you feel like you're back in the mid 90s, playing a game where plot isn't as important as killing aliens. Those times are rare, the rest of the game is bogged down with sex jokes, toilet humour and lots of different game mechanics stolen from other games. If anything, Duke Nukem Forever made me long for someone to come along and develop a 90s style shooter properly, with colourful visuals and enthusiastic sound design. Unfortunately, this isn't it. The macho-man joke died out in 96, the humour is juvenile and the game tries too hard to prove itself as a big budget modern shooter to have any real nostalgia value.
A lot of people will play this game out of nostalgia, or to see what a game in development for fifteen years turns out like, but I can't recommend it to anyone. It just doesn't offer even the most basic standard of quality. I know it has had a hard time in the last decade and a half, but this game cost £40 when it was first released. Sure, it's dropped a bit now, but it's already had more money than it deserves. It's a poorly designed, misguided act of greed, that doesn't deserve to exist when there are so many great games out there that just aren't selling.
The original Crysis on the PC was a first person shooter that was infamous for being a strain on the hardware. While the game was undoubtably beautiful, most people couldn't afford the PC to prove it. To make matters worse, it might have been very impressive visually, but it wasn't very inspiring to play and so it is remembered as a sort of awe inspiring disappointment. When Crysis 2 came along, people were uncertain of what to expect. On the PC the series exploited the bleeding edge of gaming hardware, but the sequel would also be released on home consoles which were becoming more than a little behind the times. Crysis 2 works as a sequel by standing firmly on its own merits and refusing to compete on the same grounds as the original, but the spirit is very different here.
The game places you in the shoes of a particularly unlucky marine who happens to be part of a doomed mission. Separated from the rest of the marines, you find yourself in New York City, just as a new group of hostile aliens invade. Through another convenient twist of fate you are granted a super-powered battle suit and you must progress through the city to deliver crucial information to the right people and possibly repel the alien threat. There's nothing we haven't seen before in the story, but the execution is clean and polished so it doesn't feel too hackneyed. While the story does continue from the first game, it really doesn't matter if you haven't played it. You are playing a completely new character and I don't think the events of the first game are ever really referenced early on. By the time you're really laying into the aliens and their plot, you'll be pretty far into the game and picked up all you need to know.
The gameplay in Crysis 2 works well, but I must admit this isn't my favourite style of shooter. There is a certain amount of realism to it (super powered battle suit aside) and it felt much closer to the Call of Duty style of games than the sci-fi / fantasy worlds of Halo or Resistance. This is still very much a sci-fi adventure, but it expects a certain tactical approach that can be very challenging. Gameplay is tough, enemies are brutal and charging into a situation head on with your guns blazing will usually not end well. A certain amount of tactical thinking is required. You will frequently find yourself in awkward situations with different possible solutions. The only way to clear them will be to really play to your strengths and assess the situation. I did enjoy this flexible style of gameplay, but it becomes a little overly militaristic in a way that I don't find fun in "real war" games and I don't find much more fun here. However, if you take the time to adapt to the game's difficulty, it can be very rewarding to play. It's certainly to this game's credit that it never feels difficult a frustrating way. I'm not the most talented gamer in the world and I must admit that I found myself repeating a few sections many times before clearing them, but I never felt that I had been killed due to poor or lazy design.
One drawback that might upset fans of the first game is in the linearity. The original Crysis was something of a successor to Crytek's Far Cry. Both games features lone protagonists exploring wide, rural landscapes in a non-linear fashion. The game would occasionally direct you to an important landmark but you could explore different sections of the environment at will. Crysis 2 does not offer the same freedom. While you can certainly approach every situation with my flexibility than before, Crysis 2 isn't that much better than a corridor crawling shooter. Landscape restrictions mean that you will spend the game moving from one area to the next, at the game's discretion. You are led by the hand through each event in sequence. It seems a little unfair to criticise Crysis 2 for this as it is very common in this type of game, but it does feel like something of a step back. Particularly since the freedom of exploration was a big part of the identity of the original game.
Given its pedigree, a lot of interest was built up over Crysis 2's graphics. There are some minor setbacks, but overall I'd say the game doesn't disappoint. Right away, it has to be said that Crysis 2 runs at less than 720p on the PS3. This isn't uncommon for demanding games and it's certainly not a deal breaker, but it does give the game a certain soft look that doesn't always work well for it. However, unlike a lot of PS3 games that run at lower resolutions, the game still has a decent anti-aliasing feature so it doesn't look intrusively jaggy. The rest of the game's visuals are quite impressive. The city looks great and you can see a lot of details at good distance. I also found the game to be surprisingly colourful. It doesn't deviate too far from the fashionable brown and grey colour palettes of the current generation, but there are some good shots of blue water, green parks and vividly coloured space invaders. Crysis 2 shows that it's possible to be realistic, even to be predominantly brown, and not to mute the colour completely. A lot has been made of the shading and lighting in Crysis 2's game engine, I can't say I ever noticed anything that really blew me away. What I can say is that everything looks polished, clean and impressive. That means more to me that full 720p.
Overall, I liked Crysis 2. Considering I was somewhat apathetic towards the first, and the game is certainly not my type of shooter, I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to. Visually it's a stunner and the gameplay feels absolutely solid. It's a lengthy, challenging shooter that will probably appeal to a lot of people more than it appeals to me. I think it has taken a few steps back from the first game, but the advances it has made put it way ahead. Though, fans of a more trigger happy shooter might find the difficulty curve a bit tough.
For many people Resistance: Burning Skies is the type of game they bought their PsVita for. A twin stick shooter with next gen graphics, a meaty story campaign and ranked online multiplayer. It took a while to show up, but Resistance promises to live up to all the Vita's pre-release hype. So, how well does it fulfil that promise? It's something of a mixed bag.
Burning Skies is set between Resistance 1 and Resistance 2. The series portrays an alternate version of the 1950s in which the Earth is besieged by an alien virus that transforms people into a monstrous race known as "The Chimera." Initially confined to Europe, they travelled overseas by Resistance 2. This title explores their initial invasion of the United States from the perspective of Tom Riley, a firefighter. Tom becomes separated from his family in the initial attack and must try and rescue them while crossing paths with the army, a resistance group and a shady government agency. Isn't it always the way?
The story isn't really anything special. The characters all have something of a B-list feel that is common on handheld spinoffs. It's not bad, by any stretch, but the game never lets you forget that you're enjoying a side dish that only hints at the delicious main course it accompanies. Still, it does feature quite a large range of characters that are all fully animated and voice acted so it does deliver on the whole "big budget game in your pocket" angle. There are also some nice retro style animated cutscenes that move the story along and fit in nicely with the series' 50s aesthetic. The problem isn't so much the people, but that the game never really takes you anywhere very interesting. This was something of an issue on the PS3 titles where the only setting was "Ruined Buildings," but here the buildings aren't even that ruined yet. It's mostly a very red brick incarnation of America's east coast. Even the Chimera's buildings don't seem as alien as they used to. Part of this is technical limitations, but there's definitely a lack of inspiration in the design.
From a gameplay perspective, Resistance is a game of two very distinct halves. The core gameplay is tried and tested, solid as a rock First Person Shooter. Walk with the left stick, look with the right, fire with the shoulder buttons. Once you're used to holding the Vita in your hands, you're good to go. This is where the game really shines because so much of the console's identity is centred around having two sticks. In the run up to release, Sony seemed to be shouting from the rooftops that First Person Shooters could now be enjoyed on the bus, in the bath or discreetly in meetings. Unfortunately, the console didn't launch with any. We did have Uncharted which was gorgeous but lagged terribly. Now Resistance is here and we can finally experience it for ourselves. Is it an earth shattering revelation? No. It's exactly the opposite. It's comfortable, familiar and as natural as a home console, which is everything it needs to be. The game also features a generous amount of weapons, both Human and Chimera that have their strengths and weaknesses, all work well with the game's core shooting mechanics, which is quite an achievement for a handheld.
Then we have the other side of the coin which is, to say the least, problematic. The basic shooting mechanics needed to be solid, and they are, but Resistance is a popular series with its own game mechanics that need to be included for an authentic experience. One of the hallmarks of the series is its quirky weaponry. Every gun in the game has two modes of fire. This can be as simple as a rifle that also fires grenades, or something more colourful. For example, one of the Chimera weapons can fire like a normal machine gun. Alternatively, you can fire a homing tag and it rapidly fires bullets that will track down your target. On the PS3 this is no issue, the control features four shoulder buttons which is more than enough. The Vita only has two and they're both already used for aim and fire. Inevitably, the secondary fire functions end up being mapped to the touch controls. This wouldn't be so bad, the instead of asking the user to simply tap the front or back in place of pressing a button, the game forces you to do something more complex. In the case of the homing gun, you are required to hold your finger down on the touch screen, then hover over the enemy you want to target. It's not that complicated, sure, but the game get's pretty fast paced and it's a slightly fiddly function that is very different to the main controls. Most weapons involve something like this and it creates an irritating disconnect in the game every time you do it. In the end it's easier to just rely on the primary fire and forget about the more interesting options. It makes for a less charismatic game, but it's much smoother to play.
Visually, Resistance is effective but not impressive. It doesn't look as stunning as Uncharted or Virtua Tennis, the Vita's two finest titles by far. It even seems to suffer in comparison to more stylised games like Little Deviants, but it's generally on a par with my expectations for Vita games so far. It runs at less than native resolution, which gives it a soft look and the visuals certainly aren't helped by the grimy style of it all. There were times when I wasn't sure if something was supposed to look smudgy intentionally or I was looking at a dodgy texture. It lacks the wow factor of the best Vita titles, but it still knocks the socks of a 3DS, PSP or Wii title. The character and enemy models are all decent, well animated and detailed. The first shot of the game sees you driving through the streets on the back of a fire engine and it looks shockingly bad, but once you get to the interior sets where you'll spend most of the game, it really doesn't look that different to the first Resistance game. As time goes on, I have a feeling Resistance will probably look worse in comparison to the latest Vita games, but we're still in the handheld's first year and it's hard not to be impressed by everything it is doing right.
Sound design is pretty nice on this title too. As I said before, it features full voice acting, and it also has a decent but forgettable soundtrack to accompany things. It's a lot of fun through a pair of headphones and sounds pretty clean and exciting through the console's own speakers too.
Lastly, I'd like to give a brief review of the multiplayer. I can't speak at length as I generally prefer to play the single player campaigns but I have tested it out and played it for a little while. To access the multiplayer you need to activate a code in the box, or buy a pass if you bought the game second hand. I still don't like this attack on the used game market, but I seem to be in the minority and so they're still getting away with it. The multiplayer is the usual, derivative setup you get on all shooters now. There are deathmatch, team deathmatch, free for all options etc. which is pretty standard. Gameplay seems to be identical online. I never had any trouble finding matches, nor did I have disconnection problems or lag.
Overall, I liked Resistance: Burning Skies. I enjoy this series and while this particular entry won't blow you away, it's a nice way of returning to franchise for a little while. Gameplay is solid when it comes to basic shooting, but suffers a bit when it tries to get more sophisticated. It works, but it's never quite as natural as I would have liked. The story isn't bad but is largely forgettable and the graphics are clean and functional but never really impressive. It's not the best title the system has to offer and for a first part title with such a big budget, it does feel a bit B-list, but it works and it's fun.
As a kid the Superman films were always among my favourites; I watched Superman III so many times that I wore the tape out and for the next six months I scoured the TV listings every week hoping it would be on again so I could retape it. Eventually my Dad got fed up of having to buy the Radio Times every week and drove out to buy a brand new copy. For a long time that was the only video we had that wasn't taped off the TV. I still enjoy the films a lot, though my love for Superman III was replaced over the years by a growing appreciation for the original Superman: The Movie, and over the years I managed to own just about every release of it including the short lived HD-DVD release and the standalone blu-ray. So, when the entire series of films was put together with a huge collection of special features into this very well priced box set, it was a must buy for me.
Before I start filling you in on this set, I should probably mention that there is a lot of stuff here. As such, I will be covering the films briefly but I will not be doing an in depth review of each one. There are plenty of reviews on Dooyoo if you want to know more about an individual film.
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This set goes under the title of The Superman Motion Picture Anthology with a subtitle of 1978-2006. This pretty much sums it up because this set packages up every Superman film released up until 2006, including alternate cuts.
Superman: The Movie - 1978
I think it's probably fair to say that Superman: The Movie is the definitive comic book film. This is the film that broke the mould. Superman's origin story is told and we see Clark Kent and Lois Lane meet for the first time. We also see Lex Luthor perform his first fiendish real estate scam involving two nuclear missiles. The comic book source material is take seriously and the characters are all played pretty straight, this helps the film stand along as an iconic representation of the character. The downside is that it all feels a little bit too straight thirty years on and becomes slightly flavourless. The first half hour is terribly slow paced by today's standards, but it really picks up once we move to Metropolis and the dialogue between Lois Lane and Superman is exceptional.
Superman: The Movie - Extended Cut
This is a pretty minor extended cut that adds about eight minutes of footage throughout the film. Worth having, but the difference between the two is negligible. This is not the same as the three hour international cut that is floating around, but most of the extra footage in that one isn't great. It's nice to have this version, but the differences are so minor that you could watch either without noticing.
This very fine sequel follows three villains from Superman's homeworld who arrive on Earth after being freed from a high tech prison designed by Superman's father. Once on Earth they share all of Superman's powers and for the first time Superman is forced to fight opponents who match him in strength and speed. This sequel takes a lighter tone due to new director, Richard Lester. Some of this works very well and the scenes between Lois Lane and Clark Kent work very well. Not so good is the comic relief that Lester injects into supposedly serious scenes. Still, it's a decent sequel that builds on the first film the way a good sequel is supposed to.
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut
Originally Superman and Superman II were to be directed by Richard Donner almost simultaneously. The end result would be a pair of films that could be released relatively close together and have a consistent tone and cast with running themes and story between the two. This is how a lot of comic book films are planned out today, but in 1978 this was pretty original. However, when the first film went overbudget the film's producers kicked Donner off Superman II despite being around 70% complete. The job was taken over by Richard Lester who re shot as much footage as was possible, making a final produce that is a lot better than it probably should be.
Still, there has always been the lingering question of how Superman II would have turned out if Donner had been allowed to finish the job. When Donner was finally given chance to return to the project in 2006, he dug up as much of his original footage as he could and pulled something resembling his original vision together. Sadly, the final product isn't as successful as Lester's Superman II. This isn't Donner's fault, he could only work with footage that had already been shot, and there are hints of a really great Superman II in here, but at best it can only be a patchwork. It's great to see and there are a lot of really great moments that tease us with what might have been, but it just doesn't come together into a decent enough film at the end of the day.
The third entry in the series marked a noticeably downturn in the franchise (as much as my seven year old self adored it.) Richard Lester returns and we are forced to endure 125 minutes of slapstick comedy that never quite works. There are a few laughs from Richard Pryor who has been shoehorned in, but he gets old fast. Lex Luthor is out of the picture and we have Robert Vaughn playing a villain who would be great in a much more balanced film. There's some great character moments and Reeve gets to play an evil Superman for a bit, but it's not in the same league as the first two.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Easily the lowest point of the series. This very weak sequel was produced by Cannon Films who were funding so many other films at the time that the film looks like it didn't have a penny spent on it. Even the credits are drab and lacklustre. Perhaps the most telling moment comes when Superman goes to address the United Nations and we are treated to a shot of the old train station in Milton Keynes. Though the cast and crew argued that Milton Keynes could not pass for the United Nations, Cannon refused to budge and so that is where they filmed. The plot is awful and sees Lex Luthor creating a clone of Superman that has electricity powers and falls asleep when there is no sunlight. Again, the high points are the character moments but they come few and far between in this dull flick. There's a nice moment where Clark returns to the farm where he grew up and talks about his Dad. it's a scene that belongs in a much better film. Everything just looks and feels cheap and depressing.
It is very fitting that Superman Returns is included in a boxset of mainly Reeve era films. One reviewer (whose name I have unfortunately forgotten) summed up my feelings on Superman Returns with this. "Never have I seen one movie so in love with another." Superman Returns is a film that wants to be Superman II so badly. It features the same style opening credits, a Christopher Reeve look alike as Superman, borrows a lot of the same musical cues and even riffs on the most famous dialogue. It sensibly ignores Superman III and IV and only borrows small elements from II. The pacing, and unfortunately the plot, are right out of Superman: The Movie with a remarkably similar structure carrying the film along. In other respects it's very modern. the look of Metropolis is very "designed" as opposed to the Richard Donner realism and the actions sequences are huge CGI explosions. The problem is that the film is sort of mismatched. It takes the slow pacing, slightly too serious, elements from the first film but it pastes a sort of modern rollercoaster style over it that never really works. When it's exciting, it feels like a compromise, when it's dull it is very, very dull. To cap it off, nearly every character is woefully miscast and phoning their performance in. I don't hate Superman Returns, when it works it's a lot of fun, but I can never shake the feeling that would not fit in 2006 or 1978.
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If you're buying this up on blu-ray instead of the old Ultimate Edition DVD set then you're probably interested in the picture quality. Due to the range of films in here, you're probably not surprised to hear that it's a mixed bag.
Superman: The Movie has been remastered since the first blu-ray. The picture is better, but it's probably not too noticeable. Both the Theatrical and Extended editions look just about as good as the film has ever looked but this is still from 1978 and has an overall soft-focus look that can hide a lot of the sharpness. Colours are pretty could and the early scenes in Kansas are pretty amazing. The same goes for Superman II which has had a remaster but is about as old and has the same soft look. Both look great compared to the DVD releases though.
Superman III is a pretty good looker. The visual style is different here, it looks a bit sharper and the colours come through really strongly. No complaints there.
Superman IV is interesting. The picture looks really great, better than I've ever seen this film look before. Unfortunately, that means that the horrendously cheap and nasty special effects look cheaper and nastier than ever before. So clear you can see cut corners you never knew were there!
Superman Returns as the newest should probably look the best, and from a certain perspective it does. It's a nice, modern picture with a big film feel, but it's been shot on digital video and has a lot of CGI. The result is a film that looks a bit muddy in the shadows. It's been loaded with Digital Noise Reduction which makes it look a bit smudgy too. Better than the DVD? Sure, but not a great blu-ray.
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I don't have too much to say about the audio, the story is largely the same for each film. The all sound about as good as you'd expect given the source material. Each film features a lossless DTS-HD-MA soundtrack that presents the source without compression. The first three films have 5.1 tracks and these sound great but subdued. They're not much altered from the stereo sources though with the rear speakers taking a bit of ambience and music most of the time. Sound is clean and pleasant but it doesn't offer the bombastic experience of a more recent film. Superman IV has a stereo soundtrack, but it's pretty good. Nothing sounds out of place or unclear and for a low budget film from 1987 that's the best you can ask.
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Now, here's where this set really shines. Both Superman and Superman II can be bought separately, III and IV aren't going to be drawing many buyers, so why buy this set? Because the extras here are absolutely exceptional and includes all the features from previous DVD releases. Across the set you will find audio commentaries for each film with producers, directors and scriptwriters. These are all pretty interesting if you're the type who enjoys the commentaries.
Firstly, there are a lot of documentaries on the special features disk and not that many duds among them. These tackle the franchise as a whole and are great for fans.
Look, Up in the Sky! - This is a two hour documentary in HD all the history of Superman. This is a really great documentary that covers the whole history of the character and would be worth buying on its own.
You Will Believe - Another lengthy documentary all about the creation of the film series. Very interesting for anyone who enjoys these films.
The Mythology of Superman - A short documentary about Superman as a mythic figure. Comparisons to literature and Messiah figures and so on. Interesting, but a bit limited as these things often are.
The Heart of a Hero: A tribue to Christopher Reeve - Speaks for itself, a twenty minute documentary about Reeve with interviews from those who worked with him and about his life. Another nice one.
The Science of Superman - This is one of my favourites, an HD documentary about the physics and biology that could explain Superman's powers. It's a bit of a fluff piece, but it's fun.
On top of all there, there is a lot of individual "Making of" stuff for each film that would take way too long to list individually. Suffice to say, it's the usual mixed bag you'd get with any DVD release. There are the usual TV specials from the time of release, but there's also a lot of modern perspectives on the older films, particularly the controversial entries, that aren't as fawning as these things usually are. Each disk has enough extras to get full marks for special features, nothing has been skimped.
As well as the usual documentaries, there is a lot of really excellent Archive stuff and a lot of it is must see.
Superman and the Mole-Men: This film was the pilot to the George Reeves Superman TV show. Basically, it's a 1950s black and white Superman film, but it's pretty good if you're in the mood for a retro comic book film. A bit corny but a lot of fun.
Some Cartoons: Three old Looney Tunes cartoons that parody Superman. Worth a laugh if you enjoy old cartoons.
The Fleischer Cartoons: One of my favourite extras is the inclusion of all the original Fleischer Superman cartoons. These are public domain now, so it's not exactly breaking the bank to include them, but they're really great to have. They're certainly dated now, but really wonderful and a style of cartoon that hasn't really survived anywhere else. This set is worth buying just to see the World War II propaganda shorts. There's also a great documentary all about the creation of these cartoons.
The set also includes a large collection of behind the scenes bits and pieces like screen tests and deleted scenes.
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All in All:
If you like Superman and have a blu-ray player, this set is a must buy. It is one of the most exceptionally generous box sets I have ever owned. There are five films here, six if you count one very different director's cut, and one of the largest collections of special features you will find. There's an "everything but the kitchen sink" philosophy here, with each film getting a generous amount of special features and a separate special features blu-ray just to house several extra feature length documentaries as well. The inclusion of the Fleischer Cartoons, Superman and Mole-Men and the Look, up in the Sky documentary push this from Great into Exceptional.
The cherry on the top is that this set can be had for less than £30 at Amazon.
If you play a lot of games, you've probably heard of Portal. The surprise hit of 2007's Orange Box games bundle, the original Portal was a first-person puzzle game with a great script and a darkly comic plot. The first was widely regarded as one of the best games of the current generation, and so Portal 2 has a lot to live up to. For the most part, it manages to do this pretty effectively.
Portal 2, like the first, is a puzzle game in which the player is given a portal gun. This tool fires two portals, blue and orange, when the two are placed in the environment they form a connecting tunnel. You must travel from section to section, working out where to place each portal to move forward. It sounds simple in theory, and that's part of the success. Getting to grips with portals and how they work is easy and a lot of fun, but things get a lot more complicated pretty quickly. Controls will be familiar to anyone who has ever played a first person shooter: walk with the left stick, look with the right, fire with the triggers. It doesn't really get any more complicated than that.
The single player campaign is a sequel to the first game's story. It features the original protagonist, Chell, revived from suspended animation and sent back to the Aperture Science Labs to face the evil computer GladOS once again. This story mode is a lot more fluid than the original game's campaign. Where the first game saw you progress through a series of test chambers, in Portal 2 the lab has been partly destroyed and you work through a lot of back rooms, hidden chambers and long forgotten sections. The story comes through a lot more strongly this time around; while the familiar Portal gameplay has returned, the game feels a lot more like a modern first person shooter in some respects. This isn't a bad thing as the writing is still top-notch and the focus is still more on locked-door puzzles than on action, but the feeling of isolation isn't as prominent. Aperture Science might be falling apart, but there is a lot more life to the place this time around.
By the end of the single player campaign, it's been a great ride and a decent enough follow up to the original game. However, where Portal 2 really exceeds is in its perfect co-op campaign. This can be played online or in splitscreen at home and unlike most co-op games, it is not a multiplayer version of the single player campaign, but an entirely new story mode with completely different levels. The test chamber style gameplay of the first game returns, but with two players you can now employ up to four portals (if you can coordinate.) A lot of time has gone into making the co-op really work under the same principles, while designing puzzles that really require you and your partner to pull equal weight. The rooms are a lot more complex than anything in the single player campaign and can often take some time and effort to solve. Here is where the game really picks up the torch from the first and runs with it, everything is tightly planned and perfectly balanced. No corners are cut on the writing here either, and the story plays out with subtlety and a good pace like the original.
While the gameplay is this games real selling point, it's nice to see that the visuals have been given a bump up. The original title had simple, clean graphics without much flair, they worked but never shone. Portal 2 has a lot more stylistic development, with age showing on the laboratory walls. Later on when the player visits a 1950s style part of the lab, things get a lot more interesting to look at and Valve's source engine shows that it's not obsolete yet. This isn't going to knock Uncharted or Crysis off their top-spots, but it's clean and polished. This game also features anti-aliasing, which is a relative rarity on the PS3 and is, in my opinion, one of the most important factors when it comes to producing decent image quality.
Portal 2 is a really fine game. I don't know if I'd say it was as good as the first, there's certainly more here and all of it is good, but the original Portal has a certain standalone simplicity that works so well. Portal 2 has the feeling of the inevitable sequel, but the best compliment I can give it is that it adds to the original and never detracts. It offers two complete campaigns to play through, alone or with friends, and each feels original and worth the price in their own right. I would have given at least four stars to both on their own. Also, when you buy the game on the PS3 you'll fine a code inside that provides you with a free copy of the game on Steam, valve's PC and Mac distribution service. This was a great little extra as I do play games on my PC but wouldn't have bought a game I already had on a console.
Portal 2 is a very easy game to recommend. Its puzzle gameplay is very accessible and its story and writing are top-notch. An easy must own.
Tron: Legacy was one of the big surprises at the box office in 2010. A sequel to the classic Disney film that has not aged as well as it could have, Tron: Legacy was exciting both visually and dramatically as well as anchoring the action with some light exploration of philosophy and ethics. Oh, and it had one of the finest soundtracks for years. Unsurprisingly, a video game tie-in release was part of Tron: Legacy's marketing monolith, but did not hit my shopping trolley until recently. Generally I avoid tie-in games. They aren't all bad, but the vast majority of games based on films are poor and derivative, serving little purpose other than to reinforce a franchise's recognition and push up ticket sales while making a quick bit of cash on the side. Still, I'd heard good things about Tron: Evolution and so the game finally one me over at a very fair £8.
Tron: Evolution is a third person platformer in the style of the Prince of Persia series. For those unfamiliar with Tron or its sequel, the setting is "The Grid." This is essentially a world inside a supercomputer, structured like a futuristic city. The Grid is populated by anthropomorphic computer programmes who live and work in the city, performing all the functions of the computer for the user. You control Anon, a piece of monitoring software developed to keep a check on all the system's functions. Anon has been introduced into the system because Tron protagonist, Kevin Flynn, believes that something suspicious is going on in the computer without his knowledge. Anon must travel through different areas of The Grid, trying to investigate a murder while revolution erupts. Meanwhile, the system is being attacked by viruses. The plot ties in very heavily to Tron: Legacy, but still stands on its own as a very well developed prequel. However, while the film works perfectly on its own, I couldn't shake the feeling that the game would lose me completely if I hadn't experienced both. Still, the upside to this is that if you are a fan of the film, the game really feels like a sincere and significant piece of back story. It's set entirely in the grid, which does mean the human element of the films is a little lost, but once you get a feel for how everything works then the story becomes quite absorbing.
Gameplay is quite well structured, it reminds me a lot of the recent Spider-man: Edge of Time, but is significantly better balanced. You move between sections of locked down rooms where you are required to fight your way to freedom, and tricky free-running sections across ledges and "rooftops." It's very well designed, though I found the difficulty to be quite challenging from very early on. The only downside is that it does get a little repetitive as you progress, with the only real variation being in the tougher enemies you encounter. Combat is fun and is based around combining a throwing disc and using your fists. It has a nice bouncy feel, but ultimately you'll have to get used to some slightly more complicated power attacks and combos to move on. You can't just hammer buttons to move on and it never feels easy, but it's usually fair and balanced. Extra to the story mode, you can also visit the game grid and participate in one of the series' iconic light cycle races or duke it out in a disk fight. This nicely captured the film's tournament scenes but really wasn't my kind of thing.
Tron: Evolution also comes with some nice visuals. The films are known for a very defined visual style, utilising groundbreaking computer graphics so it's nice to see that this game captures the look of Tron: Legacy perfectly. The glowing outlines combined with dark shadows really comes off well here. The only let down was the lack of anti-aliasing. AA removes jagged edges by filling in the jags with intermediate shades, when you're dealing with a game so full of high-contrast edges and fine details, even a basic anti-aliasing solution can really clean up the image. However, this is not uncommon for PS3 games due to hardware limitations so I suppose I can't really complain.
The sound design was clear and effective, but I was a little disappointed that the film's excellent soundtrack by Daft Punk had been mostly scrapped from gameplay. The two major tracks "The Grid" and "Derezzed" feature briefly, but most of the gameplay features original music that just isn't as good. The game's new tunes sort of fit in with the electronic music vibe but without an ounce of the originality. It's certainly par for the course in a game of this budget, but the film had a lot to offer in this department and I don't know why the game hasn't drawn upon that.
Overall, Tron: Evolution is a tricky one. I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure who I'd recommend it to. Certainly, anyone who enjoyed Tron: Legacy will probably get some fun out of this, especially if their fans of Prince of Persia. For others, I think the complex world is a bit too much to get used to without more of an introduction than this game provides. It's a lot of fun but you get the most out of with when you treat it as a companion to the films. Which, I suppose, is what a tie-in game should be.
Saying Mario Kart games are very good seems a little redundant at this stage. Given how well the titles sell, chances are if you're open to buying video games then you've already played a Mario Kart title. Also, judging by their relative scarcity on the pre-owned shelves, you probably enjoyed it enough to keep it. Still, Mario Kart 7 is in a bit of a different position, launching on a handheld console and very early in the system's lifecycle. Mario Kart 7 has already shift quite a few 3DS consoles and seems to have been a much needed shot in the arm, but does it live up to the high standards of its predecessors?
If you are one of the few people who have never played Mario Kart, the games all follow the same template. Nintendo mascot Mario, all his friends, and a few of his enemies are competing in a Go-Kart tournament. Fair play is left at the door, and players must use an arsenal of Mario themed weapons and traps to secure first place. The game is divided into cups, each cup consists of four tracks touring famous locations from Nintendo games. This means the game is neatly divided into four race segments, which keeps the pace nice and snappy. Four cups present entirely new tracks while another four are popular tracks from previous games.
The handling in Mario Kart 7 is perfectly set up. Nintendo have had a long time to get these controls right, and everything feels perfect here. Differences in acceleration and handling can be achieved through a very simple Kart customisation menu, but picking the standard parts will give you a very traditional Mario Kart experience. It's like settling into a comfy chair, perfectly familiar and welcoming.
So, what's new to this entry in the series? As usual we have a new collection of tracks to enjoy. Most of these are pretty good with the gentler early tracks being a lot more interesting than usual. Later on there's a course which will take you around the Island from WiiFit. Anyone who's ever sweated through the jogging course will see a lot of familiar sights. The selection of Retro tracks seems a little bit off though. Perhaps they've used all the best old tracks by now because I didn't have as much fun with it as I usually do.
Also new is the gliding and submarine sections, much touted in the advertising. I don't know why they spent so much time promoting them though, because these brief moments are totally superfluous. Occasionally a track will drop off into the water or fire your Kart into the air, you will then enter submarine or glider mode automatically. For a very short time, your car will control differently, but as there's no way to really deviate from the course or dramatically shakeup the dynamics of the race in these sections, I really couldn't see the point. Still, they add a little flavour to the track and they don't really detract.
One of the most interesting areas to look is the game's visual performance. A lot of speculation has been thrown around about the 3DS' graphics capabilities, being able to compare Mario Kart 7 to Mario Kart Wii is very revealing. Particularly when we can look at the same tracks side by side. While the Wii is known for being underpowered, it's amazing just how well Mario Kart 7 holds up, with the two games looking very close. The assets on the 3DS looked a little toned down, with character models having a few less polygons and textures a little foggier. But really, not so far toned down. However, I was surprised to see that Mario Kart 7 actually looks better than Mario Kart Wii in some respects. Lighting and shading is all more interesting on the 3DS which is probably the result of a more modern graphics processor. In this case, the 3DS does less than the Wii, but it puts a much better polish on it all.
As for the 3D effect, a lot was said about the 3D stretching off into the distance and really making the courses look deep. Absolutely not my experience. As usual, for me, the 3D effect is visible but never really there, creating separation, but never really depth. It's quite nice at some moments, there are no benefits to turning it off, but it adds nothing to the game.
If you're one of those people who has to have multiplayer, don't worry. Mario Kart 7 has ad-hoc between 3DS consoles and online play. You'll need to put up with the 3DS' silly friend code system to play against people you know online, but that's a chore inflicted by the console and not the game so I can't really knock it. The online multiplayer works pretty well, though you'll have to get ready to lose a lot. As for the ad-hoc, I tried in vain to find another 3DS owner and failed so I have no idea how well that works.
Overall however, Mario Kart 7 is a great game with some caveats. It's easily as good as the series usually is and the new courses are all great fun. The retro courses could be better, but they're not terrible. The games looks nice and plays well, but if you were hoping to get anything new from the gliding or underwater sections then you're setting yourself up for a disappointment.
Where should a review of Ocarina of Time begin? Most start off with a lot of fawning. "Greatest game ever made" will probably turn up somewhere. My review won't go like that. Firstly, because I don't think that is necessarily true, and secondly because the original title came out nearly fifteen years ago. Most reviews of Ocarina of Time 3D seem to say more about games in 1998 than of today, and more about the Nintendo 64 than the 3DS. Despite its great reputation among gamers, we are dealing with a whole new audience now and so this port must be able to stand on its own two feet.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D is a remake of the first 3D rendered Zelda title. It features the entirety of the original game, along with upgrade graphics and a few minor adjustments to the control scheme. Otherwise, this game is generally unchanged. The game stars Link, unless you change the name, a young boy who lives in the woods with a community of childlike people called the Kokiri. The game opens as Link is sent on a quest by the protector of the Kokiri village, a wise talking tree. It's all a bit outlandish in the way games and films from the 90s so often were, but it's not as goofy to play as it is to write down. As Link leaves the forest, he eventually finds his way into the vast open kingdom of Hyrule. The story takes link from settlement to settlement, dungeon to dungeon, where he'll meet royalty, fish people, lava monsters and, if you're lucky, a horse.
If this all sounds familiar, don't be surprised, Ocarina of Time was so successful that it eventually became the template for almost every Zelda game that has come since. However, it's only by replaying this game that I realised just how derivative, and dull, the series has become. Ocarina of Time 3D, despite its ages, manages to be a better game than its successors by remaining so conceptually pure. Link is a young hero who sets out to rescue a princess, the kingdom of Hyrule is a like recognisable fantasy medieval kingdom and the various dungeons have clear structures and puzzles based around their theme. There's a sense that the game is reduced to its most basic elements here and the result is that it feels very accommodating. It's a difficult game at times, but it never feels like the game is cheating or confusing.
I think one of the most enjoyable experience to be had here is the sense of scope. This is a big game, it was a big game back in 1998 and it's bigger than a lot of games now. It will take you a long time to work through, but there'll be real twists and turns in the gameplay along the way. The 3DS is still not exactly rolling in great games, so it's nice to have one that you can really invest yourself in if you choose. The flip side of that is that this games is not really meant for pick up and play gaming. Put it down for a few days and you'll probably have lost your way a bit, forget where you went last and where you should go next. In some ways it's very modern, in others there's a frustrating sort of trial and error about it. I'm not fond of modern gaming's tendency to hold the player's hand, but Ocarina of Time throws you into the deep end in a way that's refreshing and irritating at the same time. Its style lends itself to continuous play, but its length prohibits it.
There are some problems here though. Most are leftovers from the 90s. The controls are alright, but the camera controls are a little awkward. The original game used an awkward "3D look" setup which had not aged well and has unfortunately been carried across here, but for the most part it's easy enough to adjust to. There's also the small problem that small 3DS screen makes a few things trickier to deal with. Shooting a tiny spider off a web from the other side of a dungeon is a lot easier on a 20+ inch TV. However, it's not all bad. The developers have used the 3DS touchscreen to implement better swapping of inventory items. This makes quick switching between gadgets and weapons much more pleasant, and takes away one major design flaw from the original game that made a particular dungeon a nightmare to traverse. I wouldn't give this game a great score for controls alone, but it's never a serious infringement on your fun.
Graphically, I have a lot of praise for this game. The style of the game is preserved, but improved. It looks clean, colourful and fits the console well. The 3D effect is a bit of a waste. The game doesn't lend itself well to the 3DS style of depth, which works better for games with tighter, more locked in visuals. Though, I might be biased. I played this game with the 3D off most of the time. I don't have anything against the 3D effect, but Ocarina of Time features a nice anti-aliasing option that is only enabled when the 3D is off. This very well implemented feature smooths out a lot of the aliasing and makes the picture dramatically better on the 3DS' low res screen.
I was all set to bash Ocarina of Time 3D. A port of a 15 year old console game on a handheld that really needs more innovative releases. In the end though, I came away with the feeling that Ocarina of Time 3D had been really worth my time. It's a nice, lengthy adventure that is accessible and well made. It feels more fundamental than more recent Zelda titles and held my interest far better than I expected it to. Its inherited a few problems as a remake, but none of them are deal breakers. Overall, I'd say it's a 3DS must own.
Sonic has had his ups and downs over the last twenty years. Originally launched as a rival to Mario on the Sega Mega Drive, Sonic never really made the transition to 3D gameplay and so in recent years has starred in a series of disappointing releases that don't really live up to the brand. The exception to this pattern has been on handhelds, where development team Dimps has stayed more true to the original gameplay of Sonic games and had a lot more success. For the 20th anniversary of the franchise, Sega has cranked out Sonic Generations, a celebratory look back at the history of Sonic games.
The gimmick here is that the game revisits classic sonic levels, one from each of the main games in the series. Each level is divided into two zones, the first of which is played in the style of the 90s Mega Drive games, and the second which is more like a modern Sonic title. On the consoles, the modern sections play something along the lines of Sonic Unleashed or console version of Sonic Colours, on the 3DS however the games takes the DS games as its model. The result is a slightly mismatched experience that is playable, and often a lot of fun, but lets itself down. The DS Sonic titles have all been very well made, but putting the gameplay next to classic Sonic really shows up just how much tighter those 90s games were. The classic Sonic levels are a joy to play, particularly when you're exploring a retro interpretation of a famous 3D level. Modern Sonic, on the other hand, is overpowered and fiddly to control. It's never quite clear if there's any skill involved in reaching the end of the level or if you're just holding boost down the whole time and sliding through on auto-pilot. However, the complete package is a lot more satisfying than the PS3 and 360 versions where the two halves feel completely at odds with each other.
One change I would have made is in the distribution of the levels. For a great celebration of Sonic's past, it all feels a bit stingy. One level from Sonic 1, one level from Sonic 2 and so on, and it's not even a collection of the series' greatest levels. Aside from the first level, the 3DS and Console versions are a completely different selection and it's pretty obvious that consoles got all the most memorable (and fun) ones. 3DS owners are left with some really oddly chosen dregs. The levels aren't bad in themselves, though there's a bit too much trial and error for my liking, but they seems to become less and less imaginative as they go on.
Graphically, this is an interesting one as so many unusual factors are involved. The game is a sidescroller, a lot of its levels are remakes of 16-bit era levels and it features a lot of familiar elements. In the end this was the area where the game impressed me the most. It has the usual problems with aliasing on the 3DS' relatively low-res screen, but beneath that it features smooth, clean visuals that are bright and cheerful. The 3D is used really well here, with a very distinct separation from the background that really changes how you look at Sonic games. I found myself interested in the world off in the distance, beyond the one plane the game is locked too. It's not going to win any awards, but it's polished and pleasant in a way the rest of the game just isn't.
In summing up, Sonic Generations on the 3DS is a bit of a hard game to judge. There's some great gameplay here in the Classic Sonic levels and it's a type of gaming that is a joy to revisit. But there's an element of reluctance about it. The Classic Sonic levels are shorter, easier and contain less original elements. Despite the fact that they play so much better and shine out among the cluttered nature of the Modern gameplay, the game seems to cling insistently to the notion that Modern Sonic is what the player is their for. There's a faint cynical edge to it all, as though Classic Sonic is only included here as Modern Sonic's foot in the door. However, the Modern Sonic half isn't that bad, it's certainly on worse than Sega's Sonic games on the DS and I praised them. I suppose I'd have to say that Sonic Generations is a decent game, and a decent idea, for a series that has lost its way, but that it lacks commitment. It feels like a token effort that fix a problem that developer doesn't see as a problem. It's worth a play and there's fun to be had, but it's a mildly frustrating experience at the same time.
I'm not a big fan of racing games. I have enjoyed some in the past, and I'm sure I'll enjoy some in the future, but they're never on the top of my list when it comes to buying games. However, during the early weeks of a console's launch when choice is limited, I usually end up picking up a game that's a little outside my comfort zone. With the 3DS I enjoyed a brief stint with Super Street Fighter IV, with the Vita I'm delving into Wipeout 2048.
Wipeout 2048 is pitched a sequel to the long running, futuristic racer series. Set during the early years of floating racecars, we are treated to a supposedly "back to basics" Wipeout game that promises all the action of the series with a nice pick up and play approach. For the most part, this is just marketing spin. In terms of gameplay, nothing seems to have changed from out entries in the series and the "2048" angle just means the car designs are less streamlined and more eccentric.
The game itself is pretty playable. You can compete in a range of different events from races to endurance trials to battles. You'll have to employ a lot of different skills, and a lot of different cars, to clear all the events in the distant future of 2048. Once you've passed all the events, you'll unlock 2049 which bumps the speed up significantly and introduces some new tracks. There's no real story mode or anything like that, but there is a nice sense of a career about it with a steady progression as you unlock more complex events.
Gameplay is tight, with a decent learning curve. Early on the speed is held back, giving you time to learn how to use your air-brakes and to make your way around the track without bashing your car up too much. This will become more of a challenge as you pick up speed, but once you get the hang of how cars handle it's a very satisfying experience.
On top of the career mode, there's also some good multiplayer options with ad-hoc between two Vita systems or against other players online. The game also shares some tracks with the PS3 version and multiplayer between the two systems is available. This is a nice touch which means there's always someone out there to compete against. However, to play online you will need to buy this game new or purchase a network pass from the PSN.
Graphically, Wipeout is a dream. This is easily the best looking Vita game, no exceptions. Every car, every track, every special effect is flawless. The models look clean and professional while the lighting and shading effects would be at home on the PS3. To top it all off, this game runs at the Vita's native resolution, employs anti-aliasing and runs at a solid 30 frames per second. Put simply, the game is absolutely flawless, accomplishing everything it sets out to without sacrifices. This is a rarity in modern game development and is wonderful to see.
The techno-soundtrack of other Wipeout games returns. This isn't really my area of expertise, but the music generally seemed nice and suitable for the game. It supports to gameplay without being distracting, which is about the best you can hope for.
So, all in all, how do I feel about Wipeout 2048? I started by telling you that racers aren't really my games, and that's still true. I played Wipeout 2048 and completed all the events, I played the multiplayer and I had fun but I probably won't be returning to it in future. Not that this should count against the game, I was extremely impressed with the final product which controls well, looks beautiful and seems to have been made without a single cut corner. I suppose, in the end, I have to settle with the judgement that Wipeout 2048 is an exceptionally well made game, but one that lacks ambition. Highly recommended, but don't expect anything groundbreaking.
The Uncharted series should probably be harder to categorise. On paper it seems so disjoint, part action shooter, part platformer, the games swap between climbing great moutainscapes and temples looking for handholds and quick trigger shooting more akin to most first person shooters than third person adventures. It seems disjointed on paper, as though the developers didn't know where to go with it. The results are a perfect match, however, and the series has become Sony's biggest success story on the PS3. Comparisons have been made to Tomb Raider, and it's clear that the series takes some inspiration there, but it has outmatched its ancestor in nearly every way. The series features some of the most dynamic sequences in the current generation, along with believable characters and incredible graphics. Now, the series known for using the sheer brute force of the PS3 comes to a handheld and it's a remarkable transition.
In many respects, presenting Uncharted as a PS Vita launch title is a masterstroke. Firstly, the Vita is without a doubt one of the most powerful handheld consoles ever made. This is a tough sell, and pairing it with a franchise known for its jaw dropping graphics creates and instant benchmark with which to judge the console's performance. Secondly, the series has maintained a very high standard since its introduction in 2007. Introducing a console into today's market requires that kind of brand recognition on a Triple-A, big budget title.
So, on to the game itself. Uncharted: Golden Abyss follows the adventures of series protagonist, Nathan Drake. Nathan is a descendent of the great Sir Francis Drake, and has followed in his footsteps by travelling the world stealing treasures from foreign countries. This prequel finds Nathan recruited by an old friend, Dante (who seems an awful lot like Steve Buscemi) for a second opinion on a treasure hunt in Panama. Unfortunately, at the same time the area is being torn apart by the leader of a rebel group named Guerro, Drake and Dante are separated. In the middle of the action, Drake ends upon the run with Marisa Chase, the daughter of another treasure hunter who has gone missing in the area. It's a bit of a convoluted plot to summarise, but it's nicely paced out in the game and features some pretty exciting developments along the way.
The Uncharted games have always had a strong story element. Admittedly, these usually only serve to carry the player from one action sequence to the next, but they have always been exceptionally well written and amazingly cinematic. It's wonderful to see that this high level of story telling returns in Golden Abyss. The characters are all well rounded, real people and Drake feels true to his character in the previous games. The story is also pretty lengthy and will last you a good ten hours to work through. This might be on a handheld, but it's no cut down adventure done on the cheap. If I had any criticism, it's that it does still feel smaller than the last two Uncharted games. This isn't really the developer's fault, Uncharted 2 and 3 have features sequences unlike any seen on the PS3 and the Vita just can't compete. It means the adventure feels a little more subdued. Overall, it is similar in tone and in scope to the original Uncharted: Drake's Fortune back in 2007. This isn't a bad thing, and I'm glad the game was solid, but it doesn't feel as ambitious.
The gameplay is where a few criticisms start to slip in. At its core, it is the same as on consoles. Climbing and shooting are both the same, though there is a touch screen climbing mode that seems to serve no purpose other than to make the climbing sections for too easy. When fighting or exploring the jungle, however, you'll soon run into sections that ask you to swipe across the touch screen. It's awkard and jarring to constantly be taking your hands off the buttons and putting them back again, especially when the original method of control from the consoles is perfectly manageable on the Vita's inputs. There are a few more gimmicks here and there. Some work, like the touch screen grenade throwing, others don't, but I think it's fair to say the good outweighs the bad. Everything works as it should do and by the end of the game you'll probably have adjusted.
No discussion of an Uncharted game, or of the Vita, would be complete without a discussion of the graphics. I should start by mentioning that Uncharted does not run at the Vita's native resolution, like a lot of the launch titles. This means that there's more than a little aliasing, however if you spend enough time with the game then you'll soon adjust to that. What you get in return is stunning though. Golden Abyss, at first glance, looks just like a current gen console game. The character models will draw your focus at first, and they are practically perfect. Drake has a few less polygons here or there, but the textures and the lighting are superb. In fact all the characters look great, the animation is just as good as it usually is in the series and I had absolutely no complaints. However, despite Sony's marketing, the Vita isn't a PS3 in your pocket and so sacrifices had to be made. Usually it's in the brush and plantlife you'll spend so much time walking through. There's a lot of it, and it's quite an achievement but it doesn't have substance to it. Environment textures are usually pretty good, but not quite up to what you'd see in other games. Not that I want you to take these points as criticisms, merely points of reference. Play this game after one of the console titles and you'll see where the corners were cut, but judge this game on its own merits and it's absolutely astonishing what they've actually achieved.
Extra features are a little thin on the ground. There are collectibles scattered throughout the game which you can gather for trophies, these can also be traded through the Vita's "Near" app with other players. There are no multiplayer features, so if you're a big social gamer then you might want to give this one a miss. For all other vita owners, this is a true Uncharted game in both story, visuals and gameplay. It has a few flaws, stemming from control elements, but it's a remarkable achievement and an all round great game to play. Highly recommend.
I liked Modnation Racers on the PS3. I didn't love it, but I liked it. I was a game that had its problems, a bouncy Kart Racer that boasted a "build-your-own" philosophy in the style of Little Big Planet and had a story mode with cutscenes worth a few chuckles along the way. Its weakness was that it felt a touch cynical, with a lot of the build-your-own pieces tucked away as paid DLC. The make matters worse, it lacked the tight controls and balanced powerups needed to make a Kart racer really work. Overall, however, the bad outweighed the good and it was a lot of fun. As such, Modnation Racers: Road Trip was on my list of wanted launch titles for the PS Vita. A new revision of the gameplay to work out the bugs and some of the touch screen controls to clear up the interface sounded to be just what the series needed. Unfortunately, Modnation Racers: Road Trip is a hurried mess that feels like a shoddy cash grab.
For those new to the series, the game is an arcadey Kart Racer in which you can come first by finding short cuts, unleashing weapons on enemies or just being the best racer... like Mario Kart. Where the series differentiates itself is in the "Mod" of "Modnation Racers." Using combinations of pre-designed parts that are unlocked as you progress, you can make your own Characters, Karts and Tracks. You're somewhat restricted to the base materials. The characters are all the same shape, pick a Kart chassis that looks like a Ferrari and it will always look like a Ferrari, but within that there are a lot of options. A little practice and you can make a decent Spider-Man or Batmobile. The downside is that this has no effect on gameplay, no engine parts make your Kart faster or tackle corners better. The only influence you can have is on track design.
Designing a course is little more than driving through it. You control the track layer much as you would a kart, picking height and angle to make bends and curves that will test the most skilled drivers. Once you've made a complete loop, you can auto-populate the track which fills it with scenery, powerups and traps or laboriously go through the course one section of a time crafting your masterpiece. This is where most of the depth in the game comes from, and it's remarkable just how much you can achieve if you really have the patience.
At the same time however, it feels strange that a racing game has adopted Little Big Planet's approach. It should feel like the only limit is your imagination, and yet the experience is a bit more controlled than that. You can't really design your own accessories or traps as Little Big Planet would let you, and at the end of the day you can only create one kind of level. A race track. Still, the tools work well within their limitations and it's really quite fun to skid around corners as Barack Obama, driving a shuttle from the Starship Enterprise.
So, that's the basic game and when it works out right, it's a lot of fun. Unfortunately it's an experience that's forever hampered by cutbacks to the Vita version. Firstly, something that will affect players who enjoyed the career mode on the PS3. Before release, it was promised that Road Trip would not be a mere port but a true sequel to the first game. This is a half truth, there are new course, though given the nature of the game it would have been a crime if it were otherwise. However, these is no real story mode as there was before. The cartoony cutscenes are gone, with no drive to keep going from track to track. This creates a real disconnect from the career mode as there is no real reason to progress. New abilities are not unlocked as you proceed, just new parts for modding. It's a real shame and makes the game feel like a cheap side release rather than a totally new instalment.
This wouldn't be so bad if there were much else to do, but the ModSpot from the PS3 version has gone also. This area was a social space where you could drive around, meet people, see the highscores and the best creations of other people out there and generally interact with the community. At first I couldn't understand why this had been cut, and then I realised that there is no real community interaction in this game. Creation leaderboards? axed. Weekly Time Challenges and events? Axed. Basic online multiplayer? Axed. In fact about all you can do is upload and download Karts and Tracks from the database. This creates a sort of pathetically lonely vacuum in which you can create the perfect Captain Kirk racer but nobody can see it unless they happen to find it in the slush pile of everyone else's creations. It just feels so pointless. Games like these are about being creative and about showing off. It's fun to see just what people have been able to create and to enjoy them together, they is lost in Road Trip. Downloading new Karts is about as fun as catalogue shopping.
If only that were the end of this game's problems. Unfortunately, the interface is the cherry on the cake. This game makes you use the Vita's touch screen for nearly everything in the menus and creation modes. That wouldn't be so bad, but I had never had a touch screen interface control so badly. It leaves me scratching my head wonder what they did to it. Touching what should be the right place often does nothing, it's slow and unresponsive and often you'll find yourself wondering if you actually touched the screen at all. It's so bad it should never have made it past quality control.
I don't like releases like Modnation Racers: Road Trip. The core game, as it was released on the PS3, is a lot of fun and there are glimpses of it here and there. But on the Vita it is rushed and of an exceptionally low quality. Considering it was released at the same price as Uncharted or Virtua Tennis, some of the finest Vita titles, it's a downright insult. I hate feeling ripped off by developers who think they can just push releases out like this and get away with it because trading standards doesn't yet accept the view that buggy software constitutes a faulty product. Unfortunately, I do. But, what bothers me most about Road Trip is the outright lies that were told to get people buying it at launch. Developers told every games journalist reviewing the game that online multiplayer would be patched in shortly after release (no sign of it yet, and in the gaming world I'm afraid 3 months later does not constitute "soon." Particularly when the developer seems to have stopped answering any questions about it.) Or being told it has a whole new story mode when it clearly does not. I can live with buying a crap product because I didn't do my research or make a misunderstanding, but I have no tolerance for products that I feel are benefiting from misleading PR.
Do I recommend Modnation Racers: Road Trip? No. Even if you love Mario Kart, no. The truth is, there will be another Kart Racer on the Vita someday and it will probably be much better. The good you can find here isn't worth the hassle of a lousy interface and cheap, cut-corners development.
Batman: Arkham Asylum was something of a surprise hit back in 2009. Developed by little known studio, Rocksteady, the game managed to combine original gameplay with a very authentic interpretation of DC Comics' darkest hero into one of the finest games produced this generation. A sequel was inevitable, and when the first whispers of Arkham City started to appear people began to wonder if Rocksteady could make lightning strike twice. The final game is here now and we can see how well it lives up to its predecessor.
Arkham City picks up loosely where Asylum closed with a large section of Gotham City fenced off and turned into an open prison for all the thugs and crazies that make up Batman's rogue's gallery. Though, funnily enough, the neighbourhood also seems to house most of Gotham's famous landmarks. The so-called Arkham City has become a political and legal nightmare which is brought to a head when Batman's alter-ego Bruce Wayne is arrested in the middle of a peaceful protest and locked up with the rest of the baddies. This is not entirely unwelcome however, as Batman can now investigate the city from the inside and find out exactly who's pulling the strings behind the whole shady affair.
Within Arkham City, you'll also find some subplots involving a lot of the supporting cast from the Batman comics. The Joker has a major storyline that interweaves with the overall plot which is tied to the plot of the first game, but you'll also see some faces we missed last time. The game features are great take on both the Penguin and Mister Freeze, you'll also spend a lot of time solving the Riddler's puzzles once more. Each of the characters feel like they were written and designed by people who read and love the Batman comics. For anyone familiar with the comics, it's very much like returning to that world of plot twists and interlocking characters, and it's nice to see a Batman game that takes this source as its inspirations and not the films or cartoons.
The game has made some changes from Arkham Asylum. Where the first was a tightly scripted affair, walking you through the Asylum building by building, Arkham City is an open world game. You are free to make your way around the city as you please, but the story will guide you to various locations such as the old police station or the abandoned steal mill. These sections are more tightly controlled and feel much more like the previous game. This creates a nice balance between the exploration sections that let you really feel like a superhero, and the more plot driven moments that give the game a stronger sense of narrative. One of Arkham's Asylum's biggest strengths was the feeling of authorship, of being guided through a really well constructed story. This is a double edge sword however, as the game occasionally felt on-rails and restricted. In Arkham City, the balancing of these two factors does have the consequence that the story feels like it has been placed on the back burner a little. The effect when you finish the game is a little less grand, the whole experience less gripping, but it feels necessary. A sequel could not have returned to the setting of the first game, nor performed the same tricks in a similarly structured location. It's a step forward, but a little is lost in the process. Still, Rocksteady do a lot with their transition to open world. There is a lot to find in the game, ranging from in-jokes and trivia for comics fans, to whole sideplots you might not discover until you've completed the main game.
The combat system returns, with very few tweaks, from the first game. This is easily one of the best fighting styles in games at the moment and the gameplay is so strong that the game is comfortable making set pieces entirely around one of Batman's martial arts battles. Essentially combat is divided into only two controls, Attack and Counter with more complex moves arriving later in the game. The goal is not to unleashed complicated attacks on enemies, but to fight multiple opponents gracefully. Moving from next to next without getting hit yourself. It has to be played to be understood really, but it remains one of the series' best features.
Also returning are the stealth sections. These take the form of rooms or locations patrolled by prisoners with serious weaponry. These fights are generally impossible to win when attacked head on, instead you are required to pick off opponents one by one using stealth attacks. The combination of the flowing martial arts sections and the slow stealth rooms really add to the feel of being Batman that make these games so unique.
Where things have changed from the previous game, they have mostly changed for the better. Batman is equipped with "Detective Vision," a sort of x-ray vision, computer mode that highlights enemies and strategic objects. In the previous game, this was criticised as having no restrictions. It would be too easy to simply leave it on permanently and play the game with super-sight. Arkham City however places clever restrictions on this that feel natural. Essentially, while the new detective vision highlights enemies and weapons, it obscures the environment somewhat. Leaving it on all the time will make it significantly harder to discern the room's details further away. You also can't view other directional info with detective vision enabled. This forces you to be more tactical and is a definite improvement.
Most of the gadgets from the first game return, with many of them unlocked from the start of much earlier in the game. There are even a few new ones. The game adopts the Legend of Zelda model, and uses the gadget progression model to lock you out of certain places earlier in the game, keeping you moving through the story to explore further. You can use the in combat also, but they're mostly superfluous and unless you're trying to get your trophies/achievements, you'll probably never use them.
Arkham City is a definite step forward from Arkham Asylum. That doesn't necessarily mean it is better in every way. It is an excellent game, but Asylum offers a more tightly scripted experience that moves from scene to scene with precision and timing. City looses a lot of that by going open world, but what it gains in return is a sense of forward momentum, a real reason to play the sequel. Most importantly, Batman: Arkham City is not a game to be overlooked by those who aren't necessarily Batman fans. It's a really great game that would appeal to all kinds of players.
Note: This is a pretty lengthy review, if you'd prefer a bitesize version then I'll be summing up in a few hundred words at the end.
Ah! Another year, another game's console. The PS Vita launched at the end of February and is Sony's successor to their PSP console. The device retails at around £230 for the Wi-Fi model and £280 for the 3G version, but if you shop around you can beat those prices by at least £20. This review will not cover the features of the 3G model, but I will cover why I chose the Wi-Fi model.
In marketing the PS Vita, Sony have boasted of some of the best graphics on a handheld device as well as two analogue sticks and double touch inputs. The Vita is being pitched as a real gamer's device, and retailing at the same as the 3DS did at launch, Nintendo could be looking at some serious competition if the device lives up to Sony's claims. After taking the time to play about with it as much as possible, I'm ready to give my thoughts and they're mostly very positive.
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Construction and Quality
At first glance the device looks a lot like a PSP. It's somewhat bigger and sits comfortably in a two handed grip. The central feature is the big shiny screen which is larger than most phones and takes up most of the face. Either side are the D-Pad and face buttons to match any Playstation controller along with the two little analogue sticks which are much smaller than they seem in pictures. Honestly, the buttons feel a little cramped but it doesn't take too long to adjust. The front also contains the Start, Select and PS button generally used for OS and Menu functions. I can't say they're particularly well placed, they're stuck on the sides and you really have to break from what you're doing to use them, but you're rarely going to need to find them in a second so it's tolerable.
On the back there are two wide grooves to rest your fingers and the touch pad which has a nice Triangle, Square, Circle, Cross motif from the Playstation brand. Presumably the grooves are to stop your fingers trailing onto the rear touchpad when you don't want them too, but I find them a bit close to the edges. The device feels rock solid and the plastic doesn't seem cheap or tacky. Games consoles rarely look as premium as Apple devices or expensive phones, and this is no exception, but among gaming handhelds this is pretty tidy and sharp.
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A lot of reviewers have raved about the PS Vita's screen and I'm going to join them. It is, without a doubt, the best screen ever seen on a handheld device and beats a lot of pricey phones and tablets too. It uses a five inch OLED screen with a resolution of 960x544. While this is still less than HD's minimum resolution of 720p, on a five inch screen it is beautiful. However, where it really shines is in black levels and colour. This screen is plainly gorgeous, in my first few days I loaded a few videos and photos onto it and all looked dramatically improved. It is vibrant, sharp and responsive with none of the smearing that ruined the early PSP models. Anything you run through it will look beautiful. The only drawback is that you'll have to continually wipe your smudgy fingermarks from it.
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User Interface and Basic Features
Firstly, I think it has to be said that the PS Vita is one of the few devices to really surprise me once I got it into my hands. If you have asked me to describe the Vita before launch I would have told you it was a modern incarnation of the PSP, a handheld gaming device with some added touch inputs and two analogue sticks. It's incredible how much you perception of the device changes once you have a little play with it. I'd now say the PS Vita is a very competent iPhone style device with PSP style controls fitted to the sides. The distinction between those two descriptions might seem subtle, but it actually changes the whole philosophy of the device once you get it booted up.
Upon starting you'll be greeted to the usual Mobile device setup wizard everything seems to have these days. Name, timezone, location etc. and you'll also be prompted to put in your Playstation Network details if you have an account. If not, it's worth signing up for one as some of the Vita's best features use it. More on that later. When you're done setting up and you get into the system it'll request you play a little game called Welcome Park. It's basically a collection of tutorial minigames that cover the various Vita control options and is worth doing.
Once you're done and ready to explore, you'll find an OS that's similar to a lot of touch devices now. If you're used to navigating a PSP or PS3, the familiar XMB is gone and instead is a touch screen, App desktop type display. Instead of the familiar little squares of an iPhone, you're got the Vita's bubbles, but everything else works the same. Tap a bubble to launch an App, swipe down to see more pages of Apps, swipe right to see Apps currently running. You will never use the analogue sticks or D-Pad for navigating the OS, this is a touch device at its heart.
Anyone who has used an iPhone or Android phone will probably be up and running in no time, but there's a downside. While it emulates modern touch operating systems, it's not as smooth or simple. There's always a little too much on the screen when you really start using it and you have to view a sort of splash page before you launch any app. These pages aren't too bad as they give you the buttons for user manuals and websites and other extras, but often you just want to launch into an app without the extra steps.
I don't want to sound too down on it, everything works well and you can navigate to anything without too much hassle, but it's hard to shake the feeling that this is a sort of B-List iOS. In some respects, this is a good thing. It is far more suitable for the device than the XMB and it's far ahead of the fiddly, slow interface on the 3DS. For those who have never used similar devices, it might be a revelation, for everyone else it's functional but cheap.
On the plus side, there are lots of extras hidden away without remembering button combinations. A lot of the time, simply holding a finger on the touch screen will reveal extra settings related to whatever you're currently doing. Often these will contain helpful tweaks or customisation options.
The device features two cameras, mostly for AR games and video chat though you can take pictures. They're really feeble quality though and probably won't see much use.
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Games and Gaming
I don't want to delve too far into details of specific games as I think they'd be better served in separate reviews, however I think it's important to discuss the PS Vita's capabilities as a gaming device in at least a general sense. The device runs Vita games from a cartridge or download, it also runs downloadable PSP games. At launch all games are available as both physical copies and downloads, some games also have cross compatibility with the PS3, allowing you to buy the game once and play it on both systems. This includes the ability to share your progress across both versions. You can start a game on your PS3 in the morning, switch to the Vita on your bus ride into work and then sync up and finish on the PS3 in the evening. This is a great arrangement that makes the PS Vita better value to anyone who already owns a PS3.
Games themselves are wonderful to play on the Vita and the much touted hardware power shines through. The very popular Uncharted series on the PS3 has sprouted on the Vita with Uncharted: Golden Abyss as a launch title. On the PS3 the series is known for its incredible graphics and while Uncharted on the Vita doesn't look as good, it's hard to believe just how close it gets. This is a monster of a handheld, capable of games that really do look as good as a lot of home console games.
But, looks aren't everything, and the Vita really delivers when it comes to controls. How well a game controls will always differ from title to title, but the Vita offers some very nice analogue sticks that work as well as most I've used. I wouldn't say they're drastically better than the 3DS Circle Pad, but they're definitely an improvement. The console also makes use of touch inputs on the front and back. Altogether, the console offers a variety of inputs that felt comfortable and responsive in most of the games I've tested.
One in particular, Motorstorm RC, makes use of the dual analogue sticks almost exclusively. It also handles well, looks great and connects with the PS3. At £4.79 it is easily one of the Vita's best value titles, as well as the most fun. Most titles are priced at the same as PS3 and Xbox 360 titles, but if Sony can keep offering great titles on PS3 and Vita for less than a fiver, this console has a bright future.
Overall, games will vary, but your experience with the Vita will probably only be limited by the time it takes you to adjust to its layout. It offers controls for both action packed giant games and small iPhone style touch apps, and both seem to work equally well. It seems sometimes you can please everyone.
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PSP Backwards Compatibility
If you're an owner of a PSP or PSPGo system then the Vita will also play your PSP games. However, it has no UMD drive and so is limited to games downloaded from the store. The selection on the store is good, but not great, and you'll find some favourites are missing. However, if you already have a library of titles in your download list, the Vita does a great job with these games.
The Vita's screen is so much better than any PSP that it's almost hard to believe. If you're upgrading from a PSP or PSP 2000 you might not believe you're playing the same game. Colours are stark and without the aggressive smudging, you'll probably find your PSP games looked better than you thought they did. The Vita screen is also exactly four times the resolution of the PSP which means there are no scaling errors. Things can be a bit pixellated however. Included in the options is a "bilinear filter" which tried to scale the picture a bit more intelligently. It improves some games and not others, but it's easy enough to switch on and off so you can play it by ear.
The Vita also allows you to map the right analogue stick to different PSP controls. Often on the PSP shooter titles would operate by having the player walk with the analogue stick and look around with the face buttons, now you can get a basic dual-analogue setup in these games. It's not perfect, but it's much better than the alternative.
Backwards compatibility really helps a console feel more full at launch. Including a UMD drive would never have been a good idea, but I'm glad they've worked so well to get the Vita playing nice with downloadable PSP titles.
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Like most portable devices today, the Vita will play music and video. Transferring can be a bit fiddly though and requires installing a programme called Content Assistant onto your computer. This software doesn't work like iTunes or the PSP's MediaGo though, and just lets you pick a folder where your Vita can look for media. The transferring is all done on the Vita and is easy enough to do, though transfers are a bit slow. Music is easy enough with most popular formats support. Sound quality is reasonable through the Vita's little speakers, but better through headphones. The Vita also does a good job with metadata like Artist, Album, Song and Covers. It's a fairly nice device to listen to music on, but it's not going to replace anyone's iPod. However, as an added bonus, any music on the device can be used as a custom soundtrack for your games. Personally, I don't use custom soundtracks, but I know a lot of people will like the option.
As for video, things get a bit more tricky. Technically, you can put video on the Vita and it looks absolutely beautiful when it's on there. The only problem is that the Vita will only take one kind of video, .MP4 and as most people in the world work with .avi for SD content and .mkv for HD, you're going to need to do some converting. There's software out there to do it, but if you don't know what you're doing it can be an unpleasant job. It's a real shame considering how decent the movie player app is and the quality of the screen on top of it. Of course, you can also download films and TV shows from the Playstation Store, but I find the prices quite repugnant.
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With the Vita Sony have tried hard to correct a lot of the mistakes they made with the PS3. Online is prioritised right out of the box and features a lot of really good features. You can chat to any Vita owner in your friend's list no matter what else you're doing on the console. Online play is supported and seems to work quite well. The device even includes Trophy support on all its games, something that was very much missing on the PSP.
You can also download social apps like Facebook or Twitter. These work well and are much better than trying to use the Vita's browser which is not so well designed. There's really not that much to say about Online features, save that they work. That's great, but it's really to be expected now.
If you decide to buy a 3G Vita, you'll have some extra options. There's a Foursquare app on the store which is a bit pointless for the Wi-Fi model, but very handy with 3G. The Vita also features an app called Near which tells you about other Vita users nearby and what they're doing. You don't have to share with Near, but if you do it will let you make friends and swap data etc. This works on the Wi-Fi model but only when you're connected so unless Vita users start crowding the Wi-Fi hotspots it's a bit useless.
However, the 3G Vita is only really useful for these little updates. You can check messages, use the social apps and brows a bit, but you can't download from the store or play online. As with most 3G devices, in my opinion, the benefits are very nice, but won't really justify the extra cost until 3G bandwidth increases and prices drop.
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If I've made the Vita sound like a great little device the good, it is. It's a great balance between powerful gaming device and portable gadget. However, there's a negative that looms over the Vita. The device itself is great, but it features no internal storage. You have to buy memory cards. These memory cards are small, expensive and proprietary. This is no optional extra either. To play games, buy apps, take pictures, you're going to have to buy a memory card. Games don't save to their cartridge they save to a card, plenty won't even play without a card in the machine. Despite being largely the same as SD cards in construction, Sony want you to buy their special shaped branded cards with the cheapest being around £15 and only 4gb. The largest in the UK, the 16gb is around £40. This is unfair and expensive. A comparable SD card would cost around half that. While Sony claim this is motivated by a need for parity between users, with everyone operating from a fast enough class of card, Sony's own cards have been tested and they are miserably slow. It's a cash grab, plain a simple.
Furthermore, it fundamentally weakens the whole device. Sony have made a tremendous push into digital distribution with this console, and yet the biggest memory card available in this country would be maxed out in no time. Games aren't small, and if you want to put on some music or a film, you're going to be even more tightly squeezed. The 4GB stick is expensive and practically useless, I made the mistake of thinking it would be sufficient and filled it with one small Vita game, a PSP game and an episode of Doctor Who which I'd already compressed quite some way.
It's a real shame that will do a lot of hard to a device that could do so well with 2GB of built in memory, and slightly cheaper memory cards. This would satisfy people would are just going to buy games on cartridge not download, and make Sony seem less harsh to those of us who want to download.
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Is the Vita a good device? Yes. It's a very nice touch screen device that feels a like a reasonable, if slightly cheap, alternative to iOS or Android devices. Its got a lot of functionality including cameras, facebook, twitter, good online services and more. On top of all that, it's built into a real gamer's shell with great control inputs. The variety between all the different ways to play should please most people, and while the device doesn't sit as nicely in the hand as an iPhone, it's still comfortable. The highlight of the device is its stunning screen which makes gameplay, video playback and just using the device an absolute pleasure.
The games themselves are great, looking like real big budget titles that really impress. Together with the more App style games and the cross compatibility with the PS3, the Vita is a device that offers a lot to gamers. Particularly those who already own other Sony products. If you have a back catalogue of PSP games and videos from the Playstation Store, you're going to be able to use a lot of those on this device. It really feels like an extension of your PS3.
Media functions are nice, but a little limited by video formats. If you put the work in to get stuff onto the device, viewing and listening is a pleasant experience.
However, overshadowing everything is the lack of internal storage and the hight price of mandatory memory cards. The system is pretty much unusable without one, and it could easily have been made to support SD cards. It inflates the price and if you buy a smaller card you're forever going to be swapping games in and out which is not something you can do quickly. It's a cheap move by Sony that really spoils an otherwise excellent all round effort.