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Bioshock was one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the year, being produced by 2K games, formerly Irrational Games, the creators of the almost legendary System Shock.
Within Bioshock, you are Jack, who survives a plane crash into the sea and manages to swim to the entrance of the underwater city of Rapture. The intro sequence, which includes the crash, sets the scene very well, and also demonstrates the awesome graphics. The plane sinks into sea, whilst the planes fuel burns on the surface of the rolling waves. Wow!
So, you get into Rapture, and go down in a lift. It is at this point that the though that has gone into the look of Rapture hits home. As you descend, you pass statues and decorations in an art deco style. It looks really retro yet futuristic at the same time.
The first few moments of the game give you your first weapon, a wrench, and introduce you to some of the other denizens of Rapture, however, not long after starting the game, you get introduced to the first real difference about Bioshock the plasmid. Plasmids are genetic modifications that you can apply to yourself to give special abilities. The first one you get is electrify, which allows you fire bolts of electricity around. Not only do these cause damage, but they can stun some of the You even get taught the trick of firing a bolt at water, if there are enemies stood in it, and it will zap all of them at once.
As you progress through the game, a larger variety of plasmids become available, such as telekinesis, which allows you to pick up any loose object in the game and use it as a weapon and throw grenades back at people, to more directly offensive plasmids, such as incinerate, which sets people on fire. As is the case with electrify, there are often places where you can make the environment react to your chosen plasmid to cause more damage.
All of the offensive plasmids are powered by Eve, which can be recharged by eating certain types of food or Eve hypos. Once you are out of Eve, you are unable to use offensive plasmids.
There are also constant effect plasmids which give you continuous abilities. There are plasmids that increase your ability to hack machines gain more Eve and health from various items, reduce the damage you take etc. The list is very large, with a large range of options to choose from. However, you are only given a limited number of plasmid slots of each type to use, so you have to choose which ones you want to have equipped wisely.
Whilst you use Eve to power plasmids, you need to acquire Adam to buy plasmids. The first couple of plasmids you get are just lying around, but once you get into the game proper, you have to buy them from vending machines. Of all the things you need in Bioshock, Adam is the hardest to come by.
Most of the Adam you gather will come from Little Sisters. These are little girls who have been corrupted and gather Adam from around Rapture. However, in between you and each Little Sister you encounter, there is a slight obstruction. These are the Big Daddies.
A Big Daddy is basically a giant armoured suit with a drill and a big gun, and they are incredibly difficult to kill. Once you do, however, you can get at the Adam the Little Sister possesses.
So you see, the world Bioshock is set in is very clever. More and more of the back story unravels as you progress, liking everything together and describing the fall of rapture into its current state. So why, you may ask, does this game not deserve five stars?
The first thing about Bioshock that I struggled with was how linear the game is. There is only one real path through each puzzle, with little or no variation possible. Admittedly, due to the range of plasmids and weapons on offer, you can kill people in interesting ways, but the actual path through the game is very one-dimensional.
The next issue I encountered was the one that killed the game for me. The way Bioshock handles your death is very, very poor. Scattered pretty liberally about Rapture are Vita-Chambers. When you walk up to one, they do not seem to do anything. When you die, however, you are whisked back to the closest Vita-Chamber, with all you inventory intact, and with a small amount of health.
The problem this poses is that any damage you have done to the bad guys is not healed (unless they use a health station), and you just head back after them. You can repeat this process forever, even if it means that you are clanging a Big Daddy with your wrench. Unfortunately, I actually did this, and that was the point at which I stopped playing.
Bioshock, to me, was a real disappointment. It comes from such a good pedigree, and expectations were so very high for it. Graphically, it is marvellous, especially the water effects, and the plasmids are a great idea. However, these are not enough to drag the game above the poor end of mediocrity.
Apparently there are twists in the plot towards the end of the game, and your actions through out the game can change the ending, but I just did not feel involved enough to see it through to the end.
Medal of Honor: Airborne is the 11th game in the series, and this time you take the role of Private Boyd Travers, a member of the 82nd Airborne division in World War 2 (WW2).
On top of the 11 MOH games, there have been numerous other games along these lines. In such a packed, and possibly tired marketplace, what is there to set Airborne above the rest?
Aside from an improvement in the graphics and sound, which you would expect, the biggest change is the addition of the ability to parachute, which is brilliant!
Every mission starts with you in a transport plane, with the rest of your squad, waiting to get over your drop zone. This little interlude really helps to build tension, as flak burst around the plane and banter flying back and forth between the other soldiers. On some mission, the plane gets hit, and this really does give a burst of adrenaline to the proceedings.
Once you are over your target, you leap out of the plane, and can steer yourself down onto the map. The location you pick to land on can have a great deal of impact on how long you survive for. In the pre-mission briefing, the safe zones are highlighted, which are areas where you can land without fear of being shot, and these are marked on the map by green smoke. Land at ground level outside of these areas, and you are pretty much guaranteed another parachute jump, as you re-spawn from the aircraft.
In addition, as you explore each level, you will come across hidden skill drops. These are locations that are tricky to land upon, and hitting all 5 of these during the course of mission gains you an additional medal at the end. However, there is also a medal for completing a mission without being killed, and the two are pretty much exclusive.
Once you are on the ground, it is pretty standard FPS fare, with mission objectives ranging from holding a position until reinforcements arrive to blowing up artillery and anti-aircraft positions.
One of the better aspects of the game is how cover is handled. You can crouch behind objects such as walls, which is pretty standard. However, you can pop over and lean out from behind your handy barricades to return fire. You can also hold down shift to sprint from one hidey-hole to another, and you will drop back into a crouch once you have stopped running. Having played other FPS games since, I really do miss this feature, as it makes so much more sense than most of the other control methods out there.
Another interesting change is the way that your health I handled. It is split into four sections, with each one acting as a mini-health bar. The main difference is that, if you have anything left in one of the bars, sitting in cover for a while will allow that bar to fill back up. Once a bar is gone, the only way to replace it is with a handy medical pack. This mix means that you can take risks and get away with it, but not scott free, as is the case in some games these days.
The missions themselves are fairly big, with lots of objectives that follow on from each other, but if you are a hardcore player (and not married like I am) you could easily rattle through all of the game pretty quickly.
There are a few different multiplayer game modes that you can use, with the standard death match and capture the flag options. However, this is another instance where the parachuting element of the game is used to good effect. In the team versions of the games, you have the option to have the allies airdropping in when re-spawning. This is great, as it gives you the chance to pick up where you left off by dropping into the same area where you were killed. The down side of this is that a member of the enemy team with a steady aim can shoot you out of the air on the way down, which can be a little frustrating.
All in all, this is very much a standard FPS. There is, however, enough in there to make it different enough to be a worthwhile purchase, but only if you are not sick to death of the genre.
Portal is something of a rarity in this day and age a game with some truly original ideas. It is from Valve, the creators of the Half Life series, so you can be sure that it is going to be a polished and slick creation. Built using the bespoke Source engine, it has the same excellent graphics as the Half Life 2 games, along with the amazing physics engine, which is where I suspect the inspiration for the game came from.
Within Portal you are a test subject in a laboratory, and you are presented with a series of puzzles to solve. As they increase in complexity as the game progresses, you are introduced to the concepts of portal in a nice gradual manner.
The graphics are well polished throughout, but the maps are a little sparse, but they are supposed to portray a clinical testing environment, they are perfectly suitable. As and when particle effects appear in the game (flame and smoke and the like) they are very well done.
You are directed along your way by the voice of the computer that controls the lab, which can be handy, as she (it?) can give cryptic clues along the way. The voice of the computer I though was very well done, as it is obviously synthetic but still portrays a great deal of character. My wife, however, could not stand it at all and had to leave the room whenever I played! There is also a good but sparse soundtrack at certain points, but this lack of background music adds to the clinical feel of the game.
The earliest puzzles are of the put the block on the pad variety, and are quite easy. However, the game comes alive when you pick up the aperture creation device, or Portal gun. This handy device can create a hole in space on any handy flat surface.
When you first acquire it, you can only create blue portals, with the orange portal remaining fixed. However, when you gain the ability to place both ends yourself, the amount of creativity possible when solving the puzzles is incredible.
It is hard to give examples of how this works without giving anything away, so I will use a fictitious example. To get to the exit, you have to cross an open room, which has sentry robots along the walls. Beside you are some crates, and all the walls and ceilings in the room are able to have portals on them. What do you do?
The great thing about this game is the number of options you have available. You can drop the sentries into the middle of the room, drop the crates on the sentries, drop the sentries on the sentries, use portals to move around the room so you avoid getting shot or, one of my favourite aspects of the game, fling yourself.
A fling uses the fact that the physics in the game work as you would expect in the real world (apart from a gun the fires holes), so you can drop your self from a high portal and fall into another, and you will keep falling. Build up a bit of speed, and you can then move the top portal onto a wall, and the next time you fall through the bottom, you will get fired out of the wall at speed.
Some of the puzzles are really devious, and can only be solved by very fast and judicious use of this kind of portal moving.
As I mentioned earlier, the puzzles get progressively harder, although the first dozen or so are all quite straight forwards, and it is possible to whip through them quickly. However, once the difficulty ramps up, there is a real noticeable difference.
One of the best bits of the game is the twist in the plot, but I cannot say anything about it without giving it away, although there are clues if you look for them. Suffice to say it is a good one, and makes the puzzle-solving seem more urgent after it happens.
There is also a streak of dark humour through out the game which mostly manifests itself through the voice of the computer, especially in the later stages of the game. Again, I cannot say too much, but it is well worth the wait.
The main drawback of the game as it stands is its length. Due to the early puzzles being simple, it is possible to finish quit quickly. I myself started playing on Friday evening and I was finished by the end of Sunday, and I did not spend all my weekend playing.
Once you have finished the game once, some bonus map are opened up, which are either more difficult or have limit on time or the number of portals you can open. However, as these are puzzles you have already solved, it adds too much to the games longevity, but not by much.
The developers are currently waiting to see how the game is received by the community before they decide on what to do next, be it releasing map packs or even Portal 2.
Even with the slightly reduced duration, Portal is a worth purchasing as whilst you are playing it is truly addictive and the developers should also be rewarded for doing something brave and interesting.
Portal is currently available as a direct download from Steam, Valves online distribution tool, or as a part of the Orange Box which contains Half Life 2, Episode 1 and Episode 2, Team Fortress 2 and Portal.
Well, this is the game I have been waiting for. If you have ready any of my other reviews, you may spot a slight preference on what a strategic or tactical game should be. This, my reviewing chums, is it.
Firstly, a bit of background on the developers. World in Conflict has been crafted by Massive Entertainment, the creators of both Ground Control games which are, in my opinion at least, vying for the award of best strategy/tactics games with the Total War games. Therefore, when I found out that world in conflict was on the way, I became truly excited, which is rare in one so cynical!
I am relived to say that I have not been disappointed.
The game is set in the late 1980s, where the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact have invaded Western Europe in an effort to stave off economic ruin. NATO and the US rally to the defence of Europe, and World War III begins.
Whilst the US is tied up fighting in Europe, the Soviet Union launches a surprise attack on the Western Seaboard, and invades Seattle using both airborne troop and merchant ships. This is where the action kicks off.
One of the first things you notice about the game are the graphics they are amazing. But they have to be, as rather than making up new units and maps, everything is real and recognisable from the units to the actual maps. From asking around, it seems that the developers have spent quite a lot of effort getting the Seattle area mapped out quite well.
The graphics also get better once battle is joined, as explosions generate smoke and debris, both of which are well modelled and realised. Everything even looks good on a slightly older PC (like mine!) and the frame rate remains nice and fast even with lots of action on screen.
I did, briefly, turn the detail settings up as high as possible, and now I want to upgrade, as I was really impressed by at the work that has been put in to the models and textures, and I would love to see it whizzing along at a decent rate.
It is not only the graphics that the developers have taken time over. The sound quality within the game is also excellent. The voice over for the cut scenes is provided by Alec Baldwin, making them much more emotive and involving that your average game. They are also a very effective way of filling the loading times and providing a good narrative bridge from one level to another.
The sound effects and dialogue within the game are also of a very high quality, with the rumble of tank engine and the roar of jets carrying out bombing runs making you feel like a real part of the action.
When you combine the excellent graphics with the sound, you get a great immersive experience.
However, all this is just window dressing and the real excellence actually comes from the game play itself.
As you would expect from a development studio with the pedigree of Massive, they have built on the successes of their earlier games and also learnt a few lessons along the way.
The game starts with a simple tutorial that quickly and efficiently teaches you the various controls and techniques used to play the game, from moving the camera to calling in support weapons. Although I am an experienced gamer, I found this very useful due to different way support and reinforcements are used.
The controls are pretty much as you would expect for a game of this genre, with the mouse controlling you troop, using left click to select and right click to move or attack. There are a few control panels scattered about the screen, where you can access specific unit controls, select reinforcements and call in support weapons.
The only deviation that I had problems getting my head round was the camera controls. For some reason, the default keys use the First Person Shooter set-up, with W, A, S and D moving the camera forwards, left, back and right respectively. As every other game of this genre I have ever played uses the arrow keys, sometime I forget and the camera does not move, but I am learning!
When selecting your forces, control is at unit level, as was the case in the original Ground Control, which I personally prefer. I find it cuts out any faffing around at the start and trying to hot key infantry together into sensible unit sizes.
The only downside with the way units are controlled is the way the special abilities are implemented. Each unit has an offensive and defensive ability, such as an APC having the ability to fire anti-tank missiles or produce a covering smoke screen. Whilst these are very good ideas, the fact that you have to tell each unit when to use these abilities means that you do have to micro manage a little more than I would like.
For both support weapons and reinforcements, you acquire points as you fight, and can call down anything if you can afford it. It seems that pretty much the full range of military support hardware is at your fingertips. Anything from artillery strikes to tactical nuclear strikes can be called in as the game progresses. Unlike the unit abilities, this is extremely well implemented, and you can keep the support menu open whilst you pour artillery fire down and call in air strikes to your hearts content. As I mentioned earlier, the way that these attacks have been realised graphically is truly amazing, with smoke and debris drifting and bouncing around the battlefield in a truly realistic fashion. So far, I have only seen a nuke in the graphics test, but that really is something to behold!!
Finally, and for me the most appealing pert of the game, you play the part of a soldier in a conflict, rather than the overall commander. This means that whilst you are concentrating on your own mission objectives, there are other friendly forces pursuing different objectives. This allows for a great deal of flexibility in the way missions are structured. In one of the early levels, you hold one flank, whilst a compute controlled friendly force holds the other. Once you have successfully repelled your attackers, you are given control of the support weapons and tasked with providing support top your hard pressed allies.
It is this kind of joined up approach that makes this game fun and varied, but also makes you feel like you are actually involved in a war and that your actions are actually making a difference.
All in all, this game is truly excellent, and I would have no reservation in recommending it to anyone. It is not perfect, but the few minor drawbacks are vastly out weighed by the positives, and a lot of developers could learn a great deal from this game.
Let me begin by saying that I am a true Gran Tourismo fan. I have owned and played to death every version of the game on the PS2. Every other racing game I have played I have compared to GT and found lacking. This was one of the factors that was steering me towards a PS3. However, when a friend asked me to look after his Xbox 360 whilst he went on holiday, all this changed.
So, where to begin?
As you would expect from a Next Gen title, the graphics are amazing. And not just a little bit either. The attention to detail if phenomenal. The car models are truly fantastic, and the damage function is implemented really well, with buts flying with every crunch. In addition, the card actually look like they have been pranged, with pain scratched, panels crumpled and smoke pouring out.
In addition, you can see the effects of tuning your car visually. When you lower the suspension, your car sinks down. Change the angle of the tyres? They actually move. It is this loving attention that really makes this game stand out.
The tracks themselves are also detailed. The tracks that exist in real life are very accurately modelled, and even those that are made for the game feel like they could exist. The sun shines of the tarmac when it gets to the right angle, dust flies up when you take a brief trip off-road. It feels like you are there!!
The music in the game is pretty standard driving game fare. To be honest, it is only played on the menu screens, so I do not pay too much attention. The fact that I do not hate it makes it good enough!
When you get into the game however, the sound comes into its own. Tyres screech and engines rev. When you crash (having been in a few real life ones) it actually sounds like it. This is also another area where car tuning makes a difference. In a recent game I added a new exhaust and some engine parts to one of my cars, and the noise whilst driving was noticeably different.
With this attention to detail with the sound and graphics, you would expect the actual dynamics of the game to be excellent as well, and Forza 2 does not disappoint. Even from the outset, the different cars feel very different, and you can really feel the difference between the different drivetrain configurations. The game engine is also has more of a simulation element to it than many other racing games, and reckless and overly aggressive driving is punished.
The cars also feel right when driving them. There is really no other way to put this. They respond the way they should when you throw them around.
The ability to damage the cars really help in this, as a big smash (or several smaller crashes) can really ruin the way your car handles. In my mind, this is the main factor that sets this game head and shoulders above the competition. Too many games allow you to smash around the track with no real consequences, but in Forza 2 you have to pay for your car to be repaired out of your winnings. This can really hurt you pocket when you are in a very expensive car!
And now, we move onto the meat of the game: the choice of cars.
There are an amazing number of cars available to choose from in the game, from lots of countries and from various eras. In addition, some of the really high profile and high performance road cars are available to choose from. Traditionally, the like of Ferrari and Lamborghini have been loath to allow their cars to be licensed to a game with the ability to damage the cars, and it is good to see that they have now been won over.
On top of the vast number of cars, there are an equally amazing number of parts you can add to each car to boost their performance. The upgrades are split into 4 sections: Engine and Power, Performance and Handling, Tyres and Rims and Body and Aero. Within each of these sub sections, there are many, many parts you can chose, with normally three to four versions of each part to choose from.
This gives an incredible amount of customisation possibilities in itself, but when you add the ability to tweak and tune the setting for some parts, it gets crazy. One of the main advantages that Forza 2 has over other games of this type is that the help text on the tuning screens is actually helpful, so you do not have to be a fully experienced race mechanic to get started.
And the final crowning glory of Forza 2 is the on-line element. Even if you do not race online, your race times are uploaded to a central server, allowing you to see how fast you are against everyone in the world, but more specifically, the people on your friends list.
If, however, you do get this game, I cannot stress how much fun it is to actually play on-line. It is easy to either set-up or join a race, and there is even an option to take part in a race that will earn you money in career mode, which is a nice addition.
All in all, Forza 2 is perhaps the best driving game out at the moment. It is so good, it has made me an Xbox 360 convert. Goodbye Sony!!!
S.T.A.L.K.E.R is set, quite controversially, in the ruins of Chernobyl, a town in Russia near a nuclear reactor that underwent a melt down. Ignoring the moral squeamishness that surrounded this decision, this is a really good setting for a game, as it adds scope for a whole host of game play ideas.
When you first start playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R, it seems to be a simple first person shooter (fps). The controls are the now standard WASD keys for movement and the mouse for looking, so anyone who has played a PC fps in the last couple of years should be right at home.
The game starts with a monologue from one of the non player characters (NPCs), who lets you know hoe you got to where you are. What it boils down to is that you were found, half dead, and have no idea who or what you are. This seems a little bit hackneyed, and the NPC monologue is not the best plot device ever, but I think we can forgive them for that.
The NPC gives you your first mission, and you can come back to him later for more. So off you go, trying to find the next person to talk to. Most of the missions follow this vein, with you having to speak to a few people before retrieving an object or some information, which is almost always heavily guarded.
Once you get out into the open, you notice how good the graphics are. Grass and trees move in the wind, fires flicker within oil drums and abandoned buildings. The only possible criticism of the look of the game is that it is all a bit drab, but it is supposed to be set in a radioactive wasteland, so this is fair enough.
Whilst crossing the countryside, the dosimeter you carry occasionally starts clicking, which means there is danger nearby. This often takes the form of and anomaly, which is some form of radiation induced oddness which is often fatal. These take different forms, and get more extreme the further you head into the game. On a slight aside, it is quite funny watching the mutant animals scattered across the landscape run into them and explode.
However, it often worth getting as close as you can to these anomalies, as they often have artefacts at their centre. These are items that provided different benefits and penalties to your character, including greater resistance to various forms of damage, resistance to or constant exposure to radiation and even a tendency to bleed more when injured. Balancing your equipped artefacts is one of the keys to being really successful in this game.
Anyway, back to the first mission. You eventually find some allies, and start to assault a compound. You sneak up through the trees, matching the pace of your allies. Shots break out - some of you have been spotted. A full gun fight erupts. They see you. Bullets fly past. You return fire, running for cover. Then, you die.
That is the point you realise that this is not a normal FPS, but a strategic game, where the guns work properly and stealth is key. If you approach STALKER like a gung-ho Hollywood movie, you will do nothing but die often. You need to plan your approaches, use cover, and even use guerrilla tactics when out numbered. It really is a case of slow and steady wins the race.
One of the problems I found with the game was the enemy AI. Aside from the mutant animals, almost everyone you come up against is effectively a trained soldier, and will rip through you if you are not careful. They also have the uncanny ability to tell friend from foe at a range when they are nothing but a dot on your screen. If their weapon has a long enough range, you could well die without even seeing them. Very frustrating!!
However, this gripe aside, this is an amazing game. If you like FPS games, but like something with a bit more of a strategic bent than the likes of Quake or Unreal, I can whole heartedly recommend this game. If you want to just shoot and blow thins up, stay away!!
Put simply, the Guitar Hero games represent a variation on the tap buttons to the rhythm format, but with a very important difference you get to pretend you are a rock star on stage! However, there is much more to it than that.
So, to the basics. The game has 4 modes, and we will start with training. Within training there are two options, the first of which is the tutorial. This teaches you the basics of the game: How to play notes, how to play chords (more than one note at once), how to hammer-on and pull-off and how to build up and use Star Power.
Within the training section, there is also an option to practice the various songs in the game once you have unlocked them, on any difficulty. You can also change the speed the song plays at, which is a godsend for getting to grips with the higher difficulty levels.
The main thrust of the game takes place in Career mode, where you and your band rock your way to stardom. As you progress through the game, you unlock songs and progress to larger venues for your gigs. At the start of your career, you choose the difficulty you want to play, and there are four to choose from. The best place to start is Easy, as this will quickly teach you the basics of the game. In Easy, the songs only use three of the note buttons, and there are very few chords. In addition, the notes appear quite slowly, so you do not have to play every note in a song. To counter this, not all of the songs or venues are available in Easy, so there is some motivation to move on.
When you move onto Medium, the challenge the game presents leaps up, and it presents something to really get your teeth into. On this difficulty, 4 of 5 note buttons come into play, more chords are thrown at you and the songs speed up, meaning that you have to hit more of the notes in the song. This extra difficulty does have its compensations, as now all the songs in the game can be unlocked, along with some extra venues. At the end of each set, there are now encore song, which are often more difficult than the other songs in the group, finally culminating with an encore of the legendary Free Bird at Stonehenge, which takes almost 15 minutes!!
Once you have finished the game on Medium, you should be well and truly hooked. This means that, for me at least, the fact that the only change when moving to Hard was another jump in difficulty, with no additional rewards, it was the challenge itself that kept me going. On this difficulty level, all off the 5 note buttons come into play, with chords flying at you all the time. Couple this with another hike in the speed, and this really is challenging. Personally, I found the shift from one finger per button to having to move them around took awhile to get my head round.
Finally, we have Expert, the hardest difficulty. I, personally really struggle with Expert. All 5 notes remain in play, chords aplenty and so very, very fast. On this difficulty, no notes are missed, and it is like playing the song for real. When you consider the complexity of some of the songs in the game, this really is a worth challenge.
The next available game mode is Quick Play, in which you can play any song you have unlocked in career mode as practice or just for fun. I personally keep going back to Free Bird, but that is just because I really like it.
Finally, you have the multiplayer option. To make the most of this, you really do need to have two guitar controllers. It is possible to play with a normal controller, but it makes the game more difficult, and you look no where near as cool!
There are 3 game modes in Multiplayer. The first is co-operative, in which two players take different sections of the song (lead, rhythm or bass) and try to work together to finish it. Next is Face-Off, in which you both play the same song, but have different sections, and the overall score you achieve decides the winner. The best bit in Face-Off is that each player can play the song at a different difficulty, and the scores are weighted accordingly, so a novice can still beat an expert, which makes it so much more fun.
Finally, you can unlock the Pro Face-Off mode, in which the player who gets the closest to a note gets the points for it. Consequently, both players have to play at the same difficulty, which is a little more limiting, but the extra competition does make up for it.
When you are playing, you really focus on the notes, and everything else is just in the background. It is only when you watch someone else play that you notice that the graphics are actually rather good. The different venues are noticeably distinct and have their own characters. In addition, the animation around the band members, and your guitarist in particular are excellent.
It goes without saying that the music in the game is excellent is, after all, one of the main elements of the game. I do, however, have two minor gripes. The first is that some of the songs have cover singers who are slightly off and are nothing like the original, and the second is around the actual songs picked. I am a but of a metal fan, and some of the songs in the game I have never heard of, which can make them very difficult to play. It appears that the selection is geared more towards an American audience, so perhaps regional versions would have been a better idea.
Aside from these minor issues, this is a fantastic game. I would go so far as to say that it is one of the best games I have ever played, as it is great fun. I have owned it for about 10 months now, and I still pick it up and rock out every now and then!!
This game is set in an undisclosed future in the fictitious locale of Pacific City. Crime has become so bad in the past, that a special, multinational police force, the Peacekeepers, was set-up in an attempt to combat this criminal menace. Unfortunately, this has not worked. You take the role of an Agent, one of a new generation of law enforcement officers, who have been genetically engineered to be super human.
Pacific City itself is split into 3 islands, each controlled by a different criminal gang. Each gang has a different flavour, one being Hispanic, another Eastern European and the third being Oriental.
To defeat each gang, you need to kill six generals and the gang Kingpin, which will completely remove a gang from an island.
And that is about it as far as plot goes in Crackdown. Enough to justify the wanton destruction that is to follow, but do not expect any twists and turns along the way.
This game is similar to the Grand Theft Auto series, with a populated city for you to play in. Traffic moves of its own accord, and people come and go about their daily business.
The graphics are amazing, with incredible detail on pretty much everything, although everything is cell-shaded (everything has a black line around it), which may not be to everyones taste. That being said, the view from the top of one of the big buildings in the city is suitably amazing, and shows the potential inherent in the Next Gen consoles. When coupled with a HDTV, this is mind-blowing, to say the least!
Sonically, the game is brilliant. From the different effects for every gun, the roars of the agency cars to the differing voices for the different gang members, the sound is immersive and helps to create a real feeling of being in the city. In addition, the tracks that play in the different vehicles you can drive are brilliant, especially the Agency vehicles (I do love a bit of trance!). An extra nice touch is that if you dive out of a moving car, the music continues to play and fades away as the car speeds on. If you can, try to play with surround sound, as the developers have got this spot on. In the midst of a pitched gunfight, bullets zing past you and you can hear them, thudding into the wall you are hiding behind. Truly a lesion in how to do immersive sound in a game!
The game play follows in the GTA mould, with you running around the city, taking cars and shooting bad guys. There is, however, a twist. Unlike other games of the genre, you can grab ledges. When this is coupled with the superhuman abilities of your agent, this makes it possible to scale building by leaping from balcony to balcony, or even window sill to window sill. This is very handy for getting out of a tight spot.
Another of your superhuman aspects is exceptional strength. There are all kinds of interactive objects you can lift in the game, including cars when your agent is experienced enough, and all can be thrown at enemies. On one occasion I killed someone using a wheelie bin I through from a roof top! It is this kind of creativity that makes this game so much fun.
There is also a diverse range of weapons in the game, although your initial selection is limited. The firearms on offer range from pistols to rocket launchers, and everything in between. Whilst your agent can only carry two guns and one set of grenades, if you run out of ammo, you can take the weapon from a fallen foe, If you take this back to one of the supply points, it will be added to your arsenal, allowing you to select it.
On top of the weapons, there are a vast number of cars available. The three most impressive are the Agency vehicles the Super car, the SUV and the Truck cab. All three are very different, and even change in appearance and abilities as your agents driving skill improves. In addition, any vehicle on the street can be taken back to the agency garage an impounded, allowing you to select it for use whenever you want.
As I have mentioned a few time so far, you Agent has a set of core skills. These are Agility, Strength, Driving, Shooting and Explosives. The easiest way to improve each of these skills is by taking down gang members. For each enemy you kill, you will get a certain number of experience orbs, based on the difficulty of the enemy in question, and you get a percentage for each skill, based on the amount of damaged caused by each. The one exception to this is Agility, which you can build up by collecting agility orbs, which are scattered throughout the city, normally on the rooftops. One thing I have discovered is that you can also gain Agility by killing someone from a great height, so shooting them from a rooftop or jumping on them builds it up too.
There are also races, either Rooftop Races or Road Races scattered around the map. If you beat the target time on these, you get either Agility or driving skill bonuses. I Personally find the Road Races quite easy, but the Rooftops I struggle with.
And finally, there are also Secret Orbs hidden around the game, often in hard to reach places, that give you a boost to all your skills.
Your skills are rated from one to four stars, with a 0-99 count within each star. Once you get past the 99 mark, a little animation kicks in, and your Agents prowess in that skill gets better.
As you agility increases, you can run faster and jump higher, which is ideal for leaping from roof to roof. A higher shooting skill means that you lock onto targets quicker, even gaining the ability to target various sections of the body. As you build up your strength you do more damage with physical attacks and the amount of weight you can lift and throw increases. A higher driving skill increases the responsiveness of vehicles, and you also gain the ability to steer them whilst in the air. Finally, we get to my favourite, the explosives skill. As this skill goes up, any grenades thrown or rockets fired have a bigger radius and amount of damage. Blowing up a horde of rampaging gang members with one well placed rocket is satisfying!!
In addiiton, there is the option of playing the game cooperatively on Xbox live. This is something I cannot recommend enough, as the way teh game plays is vastly different everytime you play with someone else. Seriously, try it!
All in all, the lack of a plot really does not hinder this game, as there is so much to do to keep you busy, and leaping from roof to roof thwarting evildoers is just a barrel of laughs!!
First of all, I have to admit that I love role playing games. I spent many years in my geeky youth rolling dice and the like. It is not something that ever really leaves you alone.
During my time playing games, it is always fun to try something different the likes of Dungeon Siege for a bit of fast and dirty action, and then the likes of Oblivion to really get your teeth into. Howver, my spiritual RPG home is, and always has been Dungeons and Dragons. No matter how much the rules may have evolved over the last 15 years, I still look forward to a new D&D game.
This game is the latest in a line of D&D games that has proceeded from strength to strength. Going all the way back to the first Baldurs Gate, via its sequel (creatively named Baldurs Gate II), and then becoming more visually appealing with the first Neverwinter Nights.
The first of the never winter games was my all time favourite party based RPG, so you can probably imagine how excited I was about the arrival of a sequel. I ordered the game and waited impatiently for it to arrive through the post.
It turned up. I was overjoyed. Into the DVD drive it went, and I installed away. I could hardly wait.
Post installation, I fired the game up, and it detected that updates were available. Always nice to have the most up to date patches, I though, so I sent it off on its merry way, not thinking it would take too long.
Two hours later it had finished. Quite frustrating, but I was now pretty confident that a jump of 6 versions would have fixed almost every bug that had been found.
Even though my pc is substantially above the minimum spec, it recommended that I use the lowest option on many of the graphical settings. I had heard that the graphics with all the bells and whistles could eat up all but the most powerful rig, so I left it at that. Later, whilst playing the game I set a few of the options to maximum, and whilst the game got a lot prettier, the speed was reduced to an unplayable, juddery crawl.
I sat through the usual splash of logos and developer screens at the start, with the now obligatory Nvidia screen, and then the intro movie started. It is short, and it has nothing at all to do with the plot, but it was like watching what happened in my head when I played RPGs as a youth. It depicts a few minutes of a battle between two characters, and it sets the mood and really whets your appetite for the game.
I charged ahead to start a new game, and create my first character. This is one of the sections I normally love about RPGs, working through lots of different races, classes and skills, just top see what you can create. NWN 2 has one of the most user friendly interfaces for character creation, with lots of help and advice along the way. The only minor gripe I had was that the appearance of your character was pretty limited. After games like Oblivion (and even the Tiger Woods golf games) where you can tweak almost every attribute, being presented with sliders for height and width, along with a section of about 10 different faces and hair styles is a little disappointing. That said though, this bit still felt satisfying.
At the very start of the game, you are given the option of carrying out a tutorial or heading straight into the action. I chose the tutorial, as it had been awhile since I had last played one of these games. However, if you do go straight through to the action, your character gets all the experience you would accrue by going through the tutorial, which is a nice touch.
So, I pressed on with the tutorial, which is light hearted and a bit of fun. Everything came back to me quite quickly, so I found it a bit slow, but it is a nice intro to how to play the game. Then it was onto the main quest.
I do not want to give too much away, but the game proper starts with your village being attacked by dark dwarves and some funny lizard men. Once you have repelled the attack and done a few tiny side quests, it is off to the swamp to find a hidden object.
Once you have got this far, you are off to explore the world alone. And this is where I started to encounter serious problems. On my first attempt to move out of the start area and onto the main quest, the game just hung. The only way to get out of this was to close the game using the Task Manager (or Ctrl-Alt-Del).
I assumed that this was just a glitch, so I launched the game again. Fortunately, it had automatically created a saved game just before, so I did not have to redo any of the game. So I tried to move to the next area, and it hung again. This time I completely re-booted my PC and tried again, to no avail.
It was at this point that I decided to search the internet to see if anyone else had encountered the problem. This opened a real can of worms. It appears that the developers decided whilst writing the game that every one has to have at least 500Mb free on their Windows drive. If you do not, loading some of the larger map areas within the game happens so slowly that it may as well not happen at all.
To explain a bit of why this matters to me, I have my drives on my computer partitioned, with my Windows partition having just enough room, plus about 300-400Mb just in case, with everything else pointing at my 70Gb partition, even my windows swap space is there. I have done this because I have had my windows partition destroyed by viruses and the like in the past, so it contains the smallest amount possible so I do not have to replace as much. next time.
However, in the eyes of the developers, they know more about how my system is supposed to configured than I do. Still, I did some pc based swapping and shifting to free up about 500Mb, and then tried again.
Fantastic! The next section loaded like a dream. So on I went with the game, happily playing along and having a good time, although it was slightly marred by the extra messing around I had had to do. Then disaster struck again.
Because the game filled up all the avalaible space on my C: drive with temporary data for the game, I could not save. Even trying deleted the save game I was using. It had also deleted any automatic save points created along the way.
Back to the internet I went, to try and see if there way around this or a fix in progress. It appears that this issue has been going on for almost as long as the game has been out, and there is no sign of a fix. Nor have the developers even responded to the 20 or so pages of posts on their tech support forum that relate to this problem. A bit of further digging revealed a whole host of bugs and issues still outstanding.
Now, I faced a choice. Did I delete everything from my PC and reinstall everything I had, or consign the game to the wastes of e-bay?
I got around £15 for it.
Available on Play.com for £24.99
I fell in love with the strategy games produced by Westwood Studios back in 1998 with Dune 2000. This is the game that got me playing strategy games, and I loved every minute of it.
Now, picture the scene 19 years later, when I start playing Command and Conquer 3. The graphics looks flash, as you would expect in this age of 320Mb graphics cards and Direct X 10.
There are two single player campaigns available, one as the GDI, who are the equivalent of NATO, and the other as the forces of NOD, who want to spread Tiberium all over the world. As I am by nature a bit of a good guy, I started the GDI campaign.
There are some amazing cut scenes, with some pretty famous actors (Michel Ironside and Grace Park, who played Boomer in the new Battlestar Galactica series). These cut scenes really do add layers of atmosphere, and you can see your self as a commander fighting a last ditch battle to save the civilised world.
I then moved on to the Theater map, which shows the missions avalaible to you the current area of the world you are fighting in. Off I went to my first mission, where I had to defend the Pentagon from the evil forces of NOD.
Pop, went the bubble.
The problem I immediately encountered was that this is the same game I played back in 1998 on my Commodore Amiga. The units may have different names, although some are still the same, but it is exactly the same game play.
Some units are good against tanks, some against infantry, some destroy buildings and others can take out aircraft. That being said, most units will do damage to targets that are not their speciality. This means that a couple of tanks can be swarmed by normal infantry (who have machine guns) and then be destroyed. Now, I am not an expert, but I am pretty sure tanks are bulletproof. The only exception to this is that some units cannot attack aircraft at all.
Each mission normally passes through the following stages:
Weather the storm hold tight and fight of the hordes of attackers
Build the base Build up your production capacity and army
Rush the enemy Throw your Army at the enemy base until they are dead
I have found that I only ever hit a problem when I moved two quickly to the third step, but you can just go back to step 2 and continue from there.
It is this that I have a real problem with in many modern RTS games. The likes of the Total War and Ground Control games show that it possible to incorporate tactics into an RTS game and still keep it fun. How people keep getting away with churning out this kind of build a massive army then attack game is beyond me.
So far, I have all but finished the GDI campaign, but I fear that this title will be consigned to E-bay before I get round to the NOD campaign.
All in all, this a very polished game. It has lots of atmosphere and the visuals and sound are impressive. However, I can only really recommend this to real fans of the C&C series, or someone new to the RTS genre. There are much better, more intelligent games out there.
This game follows on from the earlier episode in the UFO series, but I have picked the series up after quite a long break (I think the last one I played prior to this was XCOM: Apocalypse).
You take control of a base on Mars that has been set-up by some people who have fled Earth after an alien attack, in order to preserve the species. Your aims are to terraform mars, to make it a suitable base, and find out what has happened to those you left behind on earth.
The action is split over a strategic world map, and a tactical mission map. From the world map, you can access all the different aspects of your base, such as research & development, production, base construction, training, squad creation and equipment. It is easy to navigate your way around this screen, and the controls are all very intuitive and will prevent no surprises to anyone with any experience of the genre.
There are an incredibly vast number of technologies in the game to research. The problem with this is that it can be very difficult to choose the right things at the start, and these early choices can have quite an impact in how successful you are. Having said that, the choice you are given does give you the chance to add a distinctive flavour to your games, and this can help with the replay value.
All the characters you have in the game have a major skill, either Technical, Scientific or Military, and some characters can have more than one. In addition, as you progress into the game, you can build robots to fight for you. Each character gains experience as they progress, and can be trained (or upgraded for robots) in new skills. As you complete new areas of research, new skills are opened up.
On the strategic map, the action is similar to the older games, with real-time replaceing the turn based action of yore. The controls for the individual characters in your squad are very easy to use, with left click selecting, and right click performing a context sensitive action. You can also set up a plan by using the shift key, so that actions are carried out one after another. It is also possible to move units in formation by selection them all at once and telling them to move. Unfortunately, there is no way to control which way a formation points, so some re-jigging on move orders can be required.
The mission maps are generally quite small, although some mission can be spread over different maps. For instance, in some you have to take an item from an old Martian ruin, requiring you to fight your way in from the surface, and then through the interior. These missions are a blessing, as there seem to be very few maps available, with the same ones re-appearing time and time again.
There are different objectives for the various mission, so you can have a more tactical experience, although they do tend to boil down to the same Kill all the aliens format, with the objective taken care of afterwards.
All in all, this is a very deep and involving strategy game. It takes a long time to work through, and the different technologies available mean that there is plenty of replay value. The most important factor is that it is fun. The strategic elements are not overwhelming, and the tactical missions are just plain fun, and can be approached in various ways.
If you are a fan of the series, or strategy games in general, I would heartily recommend this game.
As the latest game in the Total War Series, Medieval II: Total War has a tough act to follow. This time the game is set in Medieval Europe, just after the Norman Invasion of England, and at the time of the crusades.
The Total War franchise is a known quantity, and you generally understand what you are going to receive. The pedigree of the series is very good, with a good blend of strategic management and tactical conflict.
First, the good points. If you have sufficiently powerful pc, the graphics are awesome. The detail and the effects are excellent, when the settings are ramped up to full. However, various bits and pieces can be turned off, so that even a slower pc can deliver a decent frame rate, whilst still providing a good level of detail.
The different voices and samples for each unit type are also good, although the accents can be a little dubious at times. The music, whilst not amazing, does enough to set the scene for the game.
Settlements are now divided into Castles and Towns, with each providing different benefits. A castle is a military powerhouse, and can produce a vast range of units, where as a town provides much more income, and can house specialist guilds, to produce more advanced units, along with other benefits.
The variety of unit types available to each faction creates a sufficiently different tactical mix that they all feel slightly different, and you have to change your playing style accordingly. There are also, once again, a huge number of factions available to play, with different goals and objectives, so there is plenty of replay value.
The new innovations in the game generally work quite well. The Crusades (or Jihads for some factions) are a good idea, adding a little extra depth to the game. Basically, a Crusade is called, and you have to assemble an army for it, otherwise you will loose face with the Pope, which can drastically affect your relations with the other Catholic factions, which brings me nicely onto Religion.
The addition of religion into the game adds an extra layer of depth to the strategic side of the game. The more of the population in a region have the same religion as the faction that owns it, the happier they will be, and vice versa. This opens up all new avenues of attack, as you can send priests to regions who have different religion and cause a revolt. They you need only tackle a rebel stronghold, rather than another faction.
Now to some of the negatives. This edition in the franchise is more evolution, rather than revolution. The new ideas in the game are good, but it sometime feels like Rome:TW with knights, rather than a whole new game. After the high expectations raised by Rome:TW, this games does not deliver enough of an improvement.
In addition, the battles some how seem to be easier this time around. As an example, on my first attempt at a crusade, I managed to take Jerusalem first time, and never lost it again. This is most evident with Sieges, as it seems too easy to capture even the most fortified of strongholds.
At times, the religion system can be a little random, as one vote for the wrong candidate in a papal election can ruin your standing. In one game I played, I was excommunicated a few turns after capturing Jerusalem, simply because the candidate who won was from a faction who did not like me.
All in all, if you have played Rome:TW to death and want a new challenge, it is worth taking a look. However, if you are new to the series, or would like a more difficult challenge, Rome:TW is the game I would recommend.
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories originally saw the light of day on the PSP, and was eventually ported over to the PS2. Is this a cynical move by Take Two (the company who distribute the GTA games)? Well, lets see shall we.
The game is set (unsurprisingly) in Liberty City, the same place that GTA III was set. There area few minor changes, as the game is set prior to the events of GTA III, but it is, by and large the same map.
There are many of the things that we have come to know and love about the GTA series are present, such as the amazing radio stations. The DJs and the adverts really do show a gift for comedy, albeit slightly twisted. The plot is also pretty standard GTA fare, with various gang wars and political machinations taking place.
When I first started playing, it all seemed very familiar. Perhaps a bit to familiar, as I was soon going to the same places for missions as in GTA III. In the early stages of the game, the missions are also very simple and fall into a few general categories, namely kill people or drive around. I found, certainly for the missions on the first island, a noticeable lack of flair in the design. Fortunately, on the second island and beyond, they are much more creative.
The graphics are absolutely awful. They are a pretty direct port of those used on the PSP, so the look little better than those of an original PS One. When you consider the graphical tour de force that was San Andreas, this really is shocking and demonstrates how this is just a way to make a quick buck. It is, however, priced as a budget game, so some of these gripes can be overlooked.
So, all in all, this is only a game for a real GTA fan. If you have not tried any of the games so far, please do not start with this one, as it really does not demonstrate the calibre of the series. If, however, you want a GTA fix whilst you wait for GTA IV to arrive, and you do not care how poor it looks, this is the game for you!
As a fan of Real Time Strategy (RTS) games, I love when I stumble upon a gem, and this game is one such find.
From reading the blurb on the back of the box, it seems like a pretty standard futuristic RTS game, but nothing could be further from the truth. This truly is an absolute corker of a game.
It is set about 500 years in the future, after the third world war, and follows the progress of Major Sarah Parker in her battle against the Order of the New Dawn.
Now, the game came out in 2000, so the graphics are hardly cutting edge, but the are perfectly functional and portray the action well enough. The sound is well done and conveys a real sense of being involved. These, however, are not what makes this game great.
This game is real tactical treat. There are so many really good ideas implemented that I am unsure where to begin, but I am going to try.
In this game, vehicles have different strength armour on different sides. A tank may be heavily armoured from the front, but the back, top and sides will be weaker. This means that a good old fashioned flanking manoeuvre has real benefits in this game, as do ambushes and also taking the high ground is extremely beneficial.
In addition, any unit under fire, weather it is being damaged or not, cannot move or attack as effectively, as they are forced to take cover. This means that a well positioned and protected squad of infantry can slow down the advance of enemy tanks whilst you flank them.
Infantry in this game are not reduced to the pointless cannon fodder role they are in other titles due to the factors I mention above, along with the excellent use of stealth. There is nothing more satisfying than hiding a squad or two of anti-tank infantry in the woods and blasting an enemy column from behind!! In addition to the use of woods to hide in, anyone can hide in shadows to remain out of sight.
The airborne units in the game are also implemented very well. The attack units do have extraordinary firepower, but they are incredibly lightly armoured. This means you have to use them very intelligently.
Finally, and perhaps the factor that has the biggest impact on the nature of the game, you only have a limited number of units you can use for each mission. When a soldier dies or a vehicle is destroyed, you really feel the loss, as they are not coming back. This effect is magnified by the fact that units get given experience at the end of each level, and they do develop noticeably as the game progresses. If you loose a few soldiers of vehicles from a unit, they are replaced by individuals of equal experience. If, however, a whole unit is lost, you get back some rookies to replace them. The anguish I felt when my best squad, who had been with me since the start of the game, died in an artillery barrage defies belief. This level of involvement in the survival of your troops adds a great deal of appeal to the game.
Unit control is handled at a squad level, rather than individual, which I find much more sensible. You can move them around in different formations, but they still retain unit cohesion, which is the way the real world works.
All in all, this is one of the best RTS games I have ever played, and I would recommend it to anyone, even though it is now 7 years old.
Supreme Commander is the new offering from Chris Taylor, the man behind the classic real time strategy (RTS) game Total Annihilation. There was a huge hype frenzy surrounding this game, as can only be expected when the man behind the best RTS ever get back into the game.
The game is set in the far future, and mankind has split into 3 factions, The United Earth Federation (UEF), who represent humans who are still loyal to the Earth Empire, The Cybran nation, who are all cyborgs and are linked to Artificial Intelligences, and finally the Aeon Illuminate, who are followers of an alien religion.
In single player mode, there is a campaign for each of the factions, but all revolve around the use of a weapon called the Black Sun and its use for each factions own ends.
I did not dabble in the multiplayer mode too much, as I prefer to play with people I know, but it is there and is perfectly adequate.
One of the main selling points of this game was the epic scale of the game, and this is where the divisions in opinion start to come in. The map is zoomable from a view that shows the entirety of the battlefield, with all the units you can see displayed all the way down to watching the animations of individual units.
The main positive of this approach is that you can quickly get an overview of the strategic situation across the whole map. You can also plat out massive move orders for groups of units, coordinating huge attacks with the vast number of units you can have in play at any one time. In order to facilitate this, the unit cap is often well over 1,000. This is, however, where we start to hit a few drawbacks.
Due to the sheer scale of the maps and the number of units in play, even with a top end pc, the action can slow noticeably. My PC was upgraded early last year, making it equal to recommended spec, and on numerous occasions, the frame rate would slow down quite noticeably. As this tends to happen when you are in the midst of a massive pitched battle, it is extremely annoying.
One other major problem I had with the game was that it was not really tactical enough. We are now in a different age of RTS games, especially after the likes of Rome: Total War, where battlefield tactics are the main thrust if the game, I do not feel it is particularly acceptable to return to the Rock/Paper/Scissors approach of old. What this means is that it is a matter of attacking the right thing with the right kind of unit, and then following up with the next type until you have broken through all of your opponents defences. It is just a matter of working out which unit beats what.
On one occasion, once I had the knack of beating a certain faction, I pretty much ripped through them with the UEF. That is not to say I finished the mission quickly, as each one can last hours, with new areas of the map opening up as you proceed. When I was getting towards the end of the game, I think I spent over 8 hours on one mission. This may be fine if you are a hardcore gamer with nothing else to do, but when you get half an hour to an hour whilst your wife is watching soaps, it is too long winded.
All in all, there are some good ideas in Supreme commander, but I found it very disappointing. If you are impressed by numbers of units and you computer can take the pace, then this may well be the game for you. If, however, you prefer a more tactically challenging RTS game, go for one of the Total War games or Ground Control II.