Welcome! Log in or Register

smooth_criminal_

smooth_criminal_
  • 16
  • 16
  • 0
  • 171
  • 1223
  • 1159
  • Crowns
  • Premium reviews
  • Express reviews
  • Comments
  • Reviews rated
  • Ratings received

Member since: 06.03.2007

People I trust

Users that trust you
  • Sort by:
    • More +
      14.09.2007 13:53
      Very helpful
      (Rating)
      3 Comments

      Advantages

      Disadvantages

      This is a thoroughly recommended, engaging, and enjoyable read

      Writing at a time when it seemed that democracy, that great liberal ideal now taken for granted in western society, might well give way to a new totalitarian nightmare, Karl Popper crafted in 1943 a wartime masterpiece that should be read by anyone with an interest in the defence of freedom. A concise, analytical, and contemplative study in political philosophy, The Open Society and Its Enemies remains engaging and readable throughout, making it a must for both the seasoned intellectual and the casual enthusiast.

      At just over 200 pages of text, with another 200 of notes and appendices, The Open Society offers a succinct but developed analysis of the conflict between totalitarianism and democracy, the political forces and theories that underpin authoritarianism, and, crucially, a criticism of the anti-democratic historicism (i.e. the notion that history is governed by natural laws, and is therefore determined) offered by Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher who thought rule on behalf of the people corrupt and philosophers the only viable leaders. Having read Plato's, The Republic, and with a keen interest in political philosophy, I found this a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking read, particularly the sections in which Popper lays down a sincere and rigorous defence of democracy in the face of the contemporary dictatorship which he, in his lifetime, saw penetrate the heart of Europe in both its communist and fascist forms.

      How readable is it?

      Although The Open Society contains over 400 pages, it is shorter than it seems due to the aforementioned appendices which, rather excessively, appear to make up more than half of the book. With only about 200 pages of text, divided neatly and thematically into ten chapters, length is not much of an issue. Indeed, that Popper was able to fit such a careful analysis into such a short book is a testament to his concise writing style and remarkable precision.

      However, a significant but rather inevitable drawback in terms of readability is almost certainly the technical language that accompanies Popper's subject matter. Although it might be possible for the casual reader to get by and finish with a reasonable grasp of Popper's arguments, in order to get the most out of the book, it is undoubtedly preferable to be well versed in basic political philosophy. For me, having prior knowledge of the concepts and ideas that Popper discusses helped me to enjoy The Open Society a lot more than I would have done had I known less.

      Having said this, Popper does reasonably well to explain the terminology that he uses, and this is certainly not a title written to exclude those without specialist knowledge. So long as you have a reasonably good idea of what, for example, totalitarianism and democracy mean to you, you are more than likely to enjoy reading this. Unlike many other texts exploring political philosophy, The Open Society is not so intellectual as to be unreadable, but equally not so dumbed-down as to be uninteresting.

      Why is this worth reading?

      If, like me, you have a natural interest in political philosophy, then this is worth reading for obvious reasons. It is a powerful and famous critique of Plato's closed society, attacking not only the principle of the Philosopher Ruler but the Theory of the Forms that underpins it. It is a concise work of substantial value that explores political ideas and concepts that are still wholly relevant today.

      For the more casual reader, this is a book about democracy - the political system that most of us westerners have lived under for our entire lives. Popper wrote The Open Society at a time when that system, which we now tend to take for granted, was under attack by those swayed by totalitarian dogma. Reading this book, written sincerely and in earnest by a man determined, on an intellectual level, to defend freedom in its hour of maximum danger, really allows one to understand the value of the system that we live under and the high cost of succumbing to a closed society like the one Hitler and Stalin, as well as Plato, although in a different sense, envisaged. This is a major strength of the book, and makes it a valuable read for those who wish to understand the basic principles governing our political system and the alternatives on offer.

      Compared to the rivals?

      The Open Society and Its Enemies is a fairly unique analysis of Plato's work and the conflict between totalitarianism and democracy, and is, as a result, difficult to compare to other titles. Similar ideas do, however, persist in other works, for example, Mill's, On Liberty, offers a defence of democracy, and specifically freedom of choice, as a force for progress. Popper discusses this in some depth when analysing Plato's Theory of the Forms, criticising his appeal to the unchanging and asserting the importance and value of political evolution.

      In this sense, titles such as On Liberty are comparable to The Open Society, but Popper's contribution is notably more dynamic than Mill's, and while Mill has a tendency to spend far too much time simply repeating the same idea, however important, Popper looks elsewhere in his analysis, particularly at historicism and the nature of justice, giving The Open Society considerable breadth in comparison to its rivals. Having said this, On Liberty is probably marginally more accessible to the average reader, and this is an important point to bear in mind. Personally, I would recommend both rather than one or the other, and reading Mill's contribution might serve as excellent preparation for Popper's.

      Overall

      While principally for those interested in political philosophy, The Open Society and Its Enemies is a well written, not unreadable analysis of ideas that are still highly relevant and important today. The casual reader should not be put off from giving this a go, and it certainly compares favourably to the rivals in terms of scope. Writing at a time of great danger, Popper provides a concise insight not only into the fears of the past, but also into the corrupt nature of the closed society today and in the future. This is a thoroughly recommended, engaging, and enjoyable read.


      Key Facts:

      Price: £9.88 (Paperback, Amazon, February 07)

      432 pages (of which roughly half are appendices)

      Published by Routledge

      ISBN-10: 0415237319

      ISBN-13: 978-0415237314

      Dimensions: 5.1 x 7.8 inches

      Comments

      Login or register to add comments
      • More +
        13.09.2007 16:34
        Very helpful
        (Rating)
        6 Comments

        Advantages

        Disadvantages

        Makes for a truly unforgettable experience that only the 'Matrix' title could deliver

        With the prospect of being the best movie – tie in game ever made, Enter The Matrix certainly had a lot to live up to. There’s been a lot of criticism of games which are based around movies and this game had it fair share of critics right from the beginning. The big question is did it live up to the massive hype and anticipation that was cast upon its shoulders? There’s no actual answer to this question, it’s definitely a brilliant game, no doubt about it. Whether it’s the sensational, masterpiece which combines several different genre’s and executes them all to complete perfection is an entirely different story.

        Enter The Matrix boasts some of the most fast paced, exciting and truly extraordinary action seen for some time. It offers car chases, diverse fighting techniques, tons of weapons and the incredible experience of battling face to face with an agent. You can run up walls, you can take out SWAT teams, you can even spar with Trinity. From this it is clear that Enter The Matrix relies heavily on the plot and story of The Matrix itself. To some this may make the game predictable and boring, for others it may make the game exciting and compelling.

        People can complain about the story or the predictability of the game all they want. However, the simple fact is, there’s nothing else out there that can equal the pleasure of jumping off a wall in slow motion and executing a roundhouse kick right into an agents face all in the space of a few seconds. Nothing can equal the tremendous burst of excitement as you walk through the airport, shotgun in hand, taking out police snipers and SWAT team members.

        Graphics

        The first glimpses that everyone saw of Enter The Matrix didn’t look at all promising. Then another batch of screen shots were released and things were looking up, the trailers then only confirmed that the graphics were, indeed, quite good. There are a lot of good things to point out about the graphics in Enter The Matrix. However, there are also some not so good things to point out as well.

        For a start, the environments are dreary and extremely repetitive. One example of this is a level in which you are travelling down sewer tunnels after you and a group of other rebels were ambushed. Obviously, sewers aren’t meant to look fantastic but they seemed to just go on and on. After you manage to get past the dreary, dark green tunnels which make up the sewers, there are yet more dark green sewer tunnels to travel down and even more after that. Another example is the very first level where you’re attempting to procure a hidden package in a postal sorting office, it seems all that inhabits this sorting office are desks, walls and maybe a few chairs if you’re lucky.

        However, what must be remembered is how incredibly huge the environments are and, although they are quite bland, what is there is actually quite well designed. The detail of some levels is better than others, the levels range from huge airports to rooftops, quite diverse and well detailed in all but a few cases. What really stands out from the rest of the game graphics – wise are the characters. The playable characters are extremely well designed and the enemy’s are minutely detailed.

        The major let down is the environments, some are good but driving down a freeway for an entire level isn’t much fun, especially when the freeway just looks the same all the way through.

        15/20

        Sound

        Sound is probably where Enter The Matrix really excels. Everything, from footsteps and gunshots to ricochets and the sound of someone’s ribs breaking, has been done to perfection. Even the sound of a punch whistling through the air as it nears its target has been superbly done. The sound effects are brilliant and have obviously been a priority for Shiny, the developer.

        The music, however, is a different story. Enter The Matrix has adopted all of the original Matrix sounds. This means the game sounds great a lot of the time; you really feel as if you’re in the Matrix. Although some of the time, the music doesn’t match the pace of the game and can sometimes even be annoying. The music doesn’t seem to adjust when you stop fighting or when you start fighting again, it just carries on in the background, almost oblivious to how you are playing the game.

        Despite this, the sound effects are breathtaking and, most of the time, the music is good too.

        18/20

        Gameplay

        Enter The Matrix combines several different genre’s which generally works well throughout. The most noticeable combination is that of gunplay and beating the hell out of your opponents. Effectively you nearly always have a choice between shooting someone and kicking someone. The most spectacular is, of course, all the kicking, punching and throwing combos and they’re all an integral part of the gameplay.

        If the game was solely focused around guns and weapons then it wouldn’t be as good a game. The gunplay itself isn’t actually lacking, with tons of weapons such as sub – machine guns, sniper rifles, crossbows, pistols and grenades, which can all be used in a variety of different ways, it’s certainly very entertaining. You can shoot at enemies while running sideways along a wall, you can shoot them while diving backwards and if you don’t happen to have any guns on you, you can even take an enemies weapon and use it on its former owner.

        However, the hand to hand combat is what really sets this game aside from any other. The variety and diversity of the moves is incredible. From triple kicks to flips and punching combos, from counterattacks to trips, the combat is the most dynamic ever seen. To carry out the most spectacular moves and combo’s you have to make use of the focus gauge. This is basically a gauge which determines how long you can move around in slow motion for. The focus can be used to dodge bullets or it can be used to carry out the more interesting combo’s. It’s all a bit Max Payne when you consider the focus bar but there’s a lot more you can do in slow motion in Enter The Matrix. You can, not only dive into a room guns blazing but you can run up walls and jump into the air to execute a spectacular kick or whatever else takes you fancy, Max isn’t really up to that.

        Possibly the biggest let down in the gameplay is the driving and flying levels. They’re so boring and repetitive that you just found yourself wanting to get them over and done with instead of actually enjoying them. Another bad point is, despite its strong connections with The Matrix storyline, Enter The Matrix can be quite confusing. Some of the time the player won’t be sure of what he’s actually meant to be doing and the hint boxes that occasionally come up to help are few and far between. The only other thing which provides some insight into your goals is the objectives screen which, unfortunately, usually contains a rather obscure comment.

        The game also has some saving issues which would have benefited from some redesign. The save points are in very strange places throughout the game. For instance; you could go for fifteen minutes without a much needed save point and then, when you finally find one, you go on for about a minute and find another one.

        The gameplay is generally fast paced and does not require any kind of tactics. Usually, it’s just a case of getting from A to B and taking out as many opponents as you can. Surprisingly, you’ll never tire of doing this and exploring new ways of attacking enemies. Enter The Matrix is as non – linear as this type of game can be and this makes for a pleasurable experience all round. Despite some glitches, the gameplay is generally quite good.

        18/25

        Lifespan

        The fast paced action means that you’ll probably get through Enter The Matrix fairly quickly the first time round. Then, however, you have the option to play as another character which adds considerably to the lifespan. The choice is between Niobe and Ghost and after you’ve completed the game with one of them, you’ll most probably be compelled to have a go with the other. Their courses throughout the levels to differ quite dramatically for the most part.

        Quite an original and unique feature of Enter The Matrix is the ability to hack into the Matrix. While, in truth, this is just an advanced form of cheating, it adds a new and exciting layer to the game. You can unlock all sorts of different things, from basic cheats (Not that I’ve actually tried these cheats of course) to an actual multiplayer level.

        With other an hour of unseen footage from the film cleverly integrated into the cutscenes as well, Enter The Matrix is an above average game in terms of lifespan.

        25/25

        Originality

        Despite the minor cross with the Max Payne slo – mo bar, Enter The Matrix is a highly original game. Since the bullet time feature actually belongs to the Matrix it can’t be marked down because of this. No other game has combined driving with hand to hand combat and shooting as well as Enter The Matrix has.

        10/10

        Overall

        Overall, this wasn’t the game of the year that was anticipated. This wasn’t the best thing since sliced bread. However, it more than made the grade and has achieved perfection in many places. Enter The Matrix will go down as a damn good game, not a revolutionary piece of genius but a brilliant game. It’s well worth your hard earned cash and makes for a truly unforgettable experience that only the ‘Matrix’ title could deliver.

        84%

        Price: £5.00

        Comments

        Login or register to add comments
        • More +
          11.09.2007 12:13
          Very helpful
          (Rating)
          3 Comments

          Advantages

          • "Ease of use"
          • "Ease of use"

          Disadvantages

          In its price range, the NV GS320 does well

          What is the mark of a great digital video-camera? Since discovering the Panasonic NV GS320 last week, I have been slaving over this question, pondering and musing, desperately trying to seek a definitive answer. Is it astounding quality, or diversity of features; is it value for money, or incredible good looks? I have all of these things. But the Panasonic NV GS320 does not. On paper, it is a fantastic video-camera; indeed, I thoroughly enjoyed using it. It offers a variety of useful features, boasts remarkably high quality for the extremely reasonable price tag, and even my beautiful fiancée managed to understand how to use it.

          But it is an ugly beast – a tragic and unrivalled fashion disaster. It is wide and chunky, poorly proportioned, and incredibly embarrassing to hold. As someone who takes enormous pride in my gadgets, I knew I would never be able to own something like the NV GS320. Even the person from whom I borrowed it looked uncharacteristically bashful when surrendering their piece of newly-acquired technology for a week. The extent to which this matters is a purely personal and subjective decision, but for all those image-conscious youths out there, the NV GS320’s looks may prove a big turn off. However, for those who are perhaps more enlightened, the camera’s various other assets make it a must-have in this price-range.

          Aesthetics

          Panasonic’s NV GS320 does not pride itself on its good looks. For all its qualities elsewhere, it fails to match them with the sort of flashy, swish design that one might hope for from a video-camera of this calibre. The digital age brought a revolution in style as well as technology, and other Mini DV video-cameras often demonstrate a certain elegance and sharpness in their design that reflects their high quality. However, the moment I saw the NV GS320, I noticed its aesthetic flaws.

          Its width is excessive, with the tape holder taking up far too much room on the right hand side of the camera, creating a bizarre bulge that looks embarrassingly out of place. Despite not being an overly large or heavy device, this poorly proportioned approach makes the camera look and feel bulky. The lens protrudes further out of the camera than it should, making the NV GS320 look what can only be described as bug-eyed. From certain angles, the device looks so odd that I wondered whether it was a digital video-camera at all. Admittedly, it lacks clutter on the outside, utilising a small joystick for menu-navigation purposes rather than a bunch of inconvenient buttons, but if you’re looking for beauty, you are best advised to look elsewhere.

          Quality

          However, if you are looking for quality at an affordable cost, and are rather more charitable about looks than myself, the NV GS320 may be just the ticket. Boasting 3CCD imaging technology, the camera is able to capture colours and images with greater precision than many of its rivals, helping to produce filming of formidable quality. Often, video-cameras produce movies with dull colours and poor lighting, but, with the NV GS320, this is overwhelmingly not the case. Movies are colourful and bright, even in poor weather, and the resolution is also superb, providing for crisp still images as well as films. The 2.7 inch colour LCD display is also of a high quality, allowing the user to play back movies on the go.

          While the quality of still images on the NV GS320 is extremely high compared to other video-cameras, at 3.1 megapixels, it fails to rival your average digital camera. But, obviously, this is not the device’s main function, and its film quality is undoubtedly above average in this price range. The camera also does well in terms of audio quality. Using a standard built-in microphone, sounds and voices can be heard clearly on playback, and, in my experience, muffled audio is almost non-existent, with a wind noise reduction system also helping to reduce the sound of outdoor gusts.

          At the fairly low price, compared to many other cameras, of £329.99, this model delivers film, audio, and even still images, at an impressive quality, providing the user with clear value for money.

          Functions

          The primary function of the Panasonic NV GS320 is, unsurprisingly, to record videos. As we have seen, it performs well here, delivering high quality movies with fantastic colour. Given its effectiveness with colours, the NV GS320 is especially good for filming outdoors. So whether you’re out on a stroll at sunset, or having a picnic on the grass, this video-camera is perfect for capturing the moment.

          Furthermore, the camera also serves to capture still images, which is useful if you don’t have a standard digital camera to hand, and can, of course, be used as a webcam if you’re feeling particularly cheeky. These additional functions add a touch of variety to the camera, but it doesn’t claim to be an ‘all-in-one’ solution. It doesn’t have a personal organiser, it can’t boast an mp3 player, and it cannot connect to the web. Nor can it fly. It sticks to what it does best, and, indeed, does it very well.

          Features

          The NV GS320 proudly packs in all the usual features. Perhaps most impressive is its powerful 700x digital and 10x optical zoom, allowing the user to zoom in with a vengeance. This is especially useful for shots where distance is required, or for slowly zooming into the subject for dramatic impact. The camera also boasts a range of different shooting modes, such as ‘surf and snow’ and ‘sports mode’, which optimise the camera for a variety of shooting circumstances. The low-light mode, for example, is particularly useful when there is little light available, helping to enhance the film quality where other cameras would fail. The standard backlight compensation and night-mode features are also included, and a handy remote control is available to manipulate the camera from a distance.


          Predictably, the NV GS320 doesn’t try to do anything too innovative here. Save, perhaps, being able to take photos while filming simultaneously, there are no revolutionary gadgets. But it boasts all the features that are expected of it in this price range, and the amateur filmmaker can’t go wrong providing they’re willing to keep things simple. For something more daring, offering more interesting features, one would undoubtedly have to go further up the price scale.

          Uploading, Playback, and Editing

          Videos and images are uploaded from the video-camera to the computer via an included USB cable, but can be played back, though not edited, on the camera itself as well as on the computer. Furthermore, videos can of course be played back and edited on the television, and transferred to tape. For still images, the NV GS320 can use PictBridge technology, which allows for direct printing of photos from the device itself, without having to use a computer as a medium between the printer and the camera.

          Battery-life

          The NV GS320 isn’t so competitive here, with the battery lasting no more than a couple of hours, and even less if features such as the zoom are used repeatedly. The price of the camera is probably a good explanation for this, and if, like me, you wish to use the video-camera extensively, it would be wise to purchase an additional back-up battery. Usually, these days, this isn’t necessary, and the NV GS320 thus falls down considerably on this front. A good way to save battery is, of course, to use the viewfinder rather than the LCD screen when recording movies, but I certainly resented having to do this. The rechargeable Lithium-ion battery will self-discharge over time, probably by about 5% per month if charged sensibly, and will probably last for about 30 months, giving the camera an excellent lifespan before a battery replacement is required.

          Overall

          This is an affordable, reasonably high quality video-camera, with some good features to boot. It is easy to use and understand, and thus a good option for the less experienced and less well off filmmaker. However, it is without doubt an extremely ugly device, and the battery-life is notably unimpressive. Furthermore, while the camera does boast all the usual features, it doesn’t push any boundaries. Many people would love this video-camera, some might even find it attractive, but it is all a matter of taste. If you want something a little more flashy, with a few more features, then you’re going to have to pay a higher price. In its price range, the NV GS320 does well.

          Key Facts

          £329.99 (Amazon, August 07)

          Width: 7.9 cm
          Depth: 13.6 cm
          Height: 7.3 cm
          Weight: 450 g

          Media Type: Mini DV

          Digital Zoom: 700x
          Optical Zoom: 10x

          Battery type: Lithium-ion, rechargeable

          Cables Included:
          A/V cable
          USB cable

          System requirements for pc connection
          Operating System Support: MS Windows XP, MS Windows 2000, Apple Mac OS X 10.3 - 10.4

          Comments

          Login or register to add comments
          • Bioshock (Xbox 360) / Xbox 360 Game / 40 Readings / 36 Ratings
            More +
            09.09.2007 13:16
            Very helpful
            (Rating)
            2 Comments

            Advantages

            Disadvantages

            Bioshock is a refreshing addition to the genre, teeming with originality and engaging gameplay

            The so-called 'spiritual successor' to Irrational Games' System Shock 2, Bioshock is a captivating, immersive, and truly terrifying gaming experience. A master-stroke of storytelling and games design, this plot-driven First Person Shooter (FPS) seizes the player from the comfort of their computer chair and drags them mercilessly into the world of Rapture. This undersea graveyard is a fallen city - a utopian dream gone horribly wrong beneath the ocean's surface. Decaying with time and forgotten by everyone except those trapped within its walls, Rapture had been the pinnacle of social and scientific advancement, driven by Nietzschean ethics and a fiercely libertarian philosophy.

            But as the city fell apart through conflict and violence, the dream soon turned to nightmare, and an underwater dystopia was born. In 1960, nearly 15 years after Rapture's construction, the player will assume the role of Jack, a seemingly innocent young man driven below the ocean's surface by a plane crash and forced to fight his way out of the broken city. With a compelling story, immersive and varied gameplay, and a powerful graphical and audio experience, this is a truly brilliant game.

            Graphics

            The city of Rapture gave the developers of Bioshock, 2K Boston, a unique opportunity to construct an entirely new world on the ocean's floor. The result, of course, was a beautifully crafted environment, offering stunning visuals that can really immerse the player into Bioshock's nightmarish world. Being underwater, the first thing to mention is the incredible water effects present throughout Rapture's different environments. 2K Boston reportedly hired a developer to work solely on the game's water visuals, and the extra effort really shows. Whether simply viewing the ocean from inside the city, or watching water seeping through Rapture's decaying walls, the water effects are simply remarkable, and stunningly realistic.

            The diversity of environments within the city is also a remarkable feature. Given the limits of the location, one could be forgiven for assuming that the game won't offer much graphical diversity, but this is not true at all. From abandoned shops and elegant dining halls, to undersea forests and creepy corridors, Bioshock has it all, and it is all superbly well designed. Bioshock's artwork is undoubtedly among the best out there, making the game beautiful to look at.

            Enemies as well, ranging from the basic splicers to the formidable Big Daddies, are fabulously constructed, with the clunking Big Daddies looking particularly frightening with their metallic water suits.

            20/20 - Exceptionally well designed environments, beautiful water effects. Bioshock's outstanding visuals undoubtedly contribute to its superb atmosphere

            Sound

            Bioshock offers a powerful audio, as well as visual, experience. Accompanying the beautiful water effects are the wonderfully immersive sounds of water falling and trickling onto the floor and down the walls. Audio diaries that can be picked up as the player makes their way through Rapture offer extra insights into Bioshock's story, and are a testament to the excellent voice acting talent present in the game. The accounts are convincing and sometimes chilling, offering the player a real sense of depth and immersion into the game world.

            Weapon sounds are also brilliantly done, with the various sounds of plasmids enriching the game's audio experience, and gunfire also offering a convincing display. The variety of different ammunition is reflected well in the diversity of firing sounds, and things like explosions and the crackling of fire are also done superbly. I particularly found the sound of the Big Daddies clunking slowly across the floor extremely realistic and intimidating, contributing heavily to the chilling atmosphere of the game.

            19/20 - Absolutely superb audio effects

            Gameplay

            Bioshock boasts some wonderfully innovative singleplayer gameplay, both dynamic and ambitious. The options available to the player, once they find themselves fighting for their virtual lives in Bioshock's undersea dystopia, are exceptionally diverse, and these different options arise from the game's unique storyline. Rapture's libertarian philosophy meant that science was not held back by conventional moral restrictions, and thus it developed at a rapid pace. Soon, Rapture's citizens were able to modify their DNA using genetic material called ADAM. From this, they could install plasmids, which gave them certain abilities. As science turned to civil war, plasmids were used for violent purposes, with special abilities including telekinesis, electrical shots, and burning now at the player's disposal.

            In order to gain these abilities, though, the player must harvest ADAM from Little Sisters - small children who roam Rapture, guarded by the monstrous Big Daddies, in order to extract ADAM from dead bodies. One can either kill the Little Sisters and gain all their ADAM, or spare them and only take half. The choice you make will have consequences for the game's storyline, but if it all sounds a little complicated there is no need to worry - the system is intuitive and doesn't take long to get used to. Once the ADAM is harvested, the player can then gain the plasmids, which provide for some awesome combat experiences.

            2K Boston designed the game to be dynamic, and the player is thus encouraged to use their imagination when it comes to the plasmids. Imagine, for example, setting a barrel on fire using the burning plasmid, and then using telekinesis to direct it towards an enemy, or turning invisible to avoid the enemy altogether. How about using the electric shock plasmid to electrocute an opponent standing in a pool of water, or using telekinesis to stop a grenade in its tracks and send it flying back to the enemy who threw it? With over 70 plasmids in total, the player is given considerable room to be inventive, and they also serve as a fantastic medium through which one can interact with the environment around them.

            Plasmids aside, ordinary weapons can also be used to great effect. The style of weapons is noticeably 1950s, which makes for an interesting mix of old and new, with a tommy gun on the one hand, and advanced plasmids on the other. The contrast is a testament to Bioshock's diversity, and also provides for the variety of choices the player has when going into a fight. With weapons ranging from pistols and shotguns, to grenades, machine guns, and rocket launchers, combat can get very interesting indeed. Furthermore, the player can switch to different sorts of ammunition to deal with different sorts of enemies, adding yet another factor into the mix, and buttressing Bioshock's already varied gameplay.

            But for those, like myself, who prefer to be more intelligent in their approach, you can also hack mobile security bots à la Deus Ex, set traps, and even, with some clever use of plasmids, force enemies to fight against each other, thus limiting the amount of fighting you have to do yourself. Sitting back and watching a bunch of splicers being ripped apart by a hacked security bot is a fantastically satisfying, if a little violent, experience.

            As for the combat itself, your foes are a little more limited in terms of diversity. Enemies come in mainly two varieties - splicers and Big Daddies, although there are also unique bosses to battle against. Splicers come in different forms, but they are basically just crazed humans. They can be tough to beat, crawling up walls and jumping around incessantly, but they're pretty standard opponents. The real fun comes when you get on the wrong side of a Big Daddy, the giant protectors of the Little Sisters. These things really have to be seen to be believed, and can survive the most devastating of assaults. To beat them, you really have to have your wits about you, and use every tool at your disposal, creating what must be Bioshock's most challenging component. I spent many minutes dancing around a Big Daddy, blasting shotgun shells into its oversized head, only to be gruesomely hacked apart by its giant drill. But these battles can be incredibly fun, and you will really enjoy trying to take one of these things down using the various methods.

            My only quibble with Bioshock's gameplay might be to point out the flaws in its revival mechanic. Unlike in most other FPSs, where you would expect to go back to your previous save point when killed, ready to tackle the level again, Bioshock allows you to respawn at the nearest set point, called a vita-chamber, with all the damage done to enemies before you were killed remaining. Clearly, this takes a lot of the challenge out of the game, since you can die and respawn multiple times without suffering any disadvantage. On the whole, however, this issue is eclipses by Bioshock's brilliantly diverse and satisfying gameplay, which provides for a truly unforgettable experience.

            24/25 - Excellent gameplay, with enormous diversity arising from game's unique storyline; well varied, offering multiple approaches; fun and engaging combat, though the revival mechanic is a bit iffy

            Lifespan

            With no multiplayer option available in Bioshock, the game does suffer a bit here. Rivals such as DOOM and Quake all tend to offer a multiplayer option for internet gaming, which helps to increase longevity. However, one can expect to glean a good week's gaming out of the singleplayer mode, especially if you're willing to draw things out a bit by experimenting with the gameplay and exploring all the different parts of the game. With such a variety of different approaches, and, particularly, so many plasmids to use, there is also a considerable replay value, adding to the game's lifespan.

            20/25 - No multiplayer, but an engaging singleplayer helps to compensate

            Originality

            Unsurprisingly, Bioshock scores well here. It would probably gain full marks for its plot alone, with the nightmarish dystopia of Rapture immersing the player into the game's world with its powerful atmosphere. The game's basic storyline premise is strong, and, unlike alternative sci-fi shooters, does not follow the traditional 'aliens have invaded us' plot. The addition of plasmids is new and fresh, and, although character customisation is not original in itself, Bioshock provides a new and effective method through which to do it, adding considerably to the game's originality. Some aspects may remind players of games like DOOM 3, or, for me, Deus Ex, but this is a genuinely innovative title, with an overwhelmingly original plot.

            10/10 - A refreshingly original and engaging plot, with some innovative gameplay features to boot

            Overall

            Overall, Bioshock is a refreshing addition to the genre, teeming with originality and engaging gameplay. It can, at times, be both a brilliantly entertaining and a genuinely terrifying and atmospheric experience. With cutting edge graphics, a convincing audio performance, and such a diverse approach to gameplay, this is a must have for any fan of the FPS genre.

            93%

            Key Facts:

            Price: £39.00 (Amazon, September 07)

            Certificate: 17+

            Genre: First Person Shooter

            Developer: 2K Boston

            Publisher: 2K Games

            Comments

            Login or register to add comments
            • Vietcong (PC) / PC Game / 39 Readings / 38 Ratings
              More +
              04.09.2007 15:48
              Very helpful
              (Rating)
              2 Comments

              Advantages

              Disadvantages

              This is a great game with a few flaws

              As yet only a small number of game designers have been brave enough to venture into the Vietnam genre. At first when thinking about it it’s hard to see why – surely basing a game on such a huge conflict would be an extremely good idea. Unfortunately it seems almost every designer who’s attempted it has come out with a distinctly flawed game. So when I bought Vietcong I decided to approach it with some caution.

              Expecting a bit of a let down I settled into Nui Pek camp in the central highlands (the setting for the game) as Hawkins; a green beret with a distinct hate for the Viet Cong guerrillas. As I started getting into the game I suddenly realised how good it was – exciting and rewarding gameplay, beautiful jungle locations, a vast array of incredibly detailed weaponry and equipment, what more could a gamer ask for?

              After looking past a few minor problems, Vietcong offers an incredible experience matching most other first person shooters out there. With the horror of jungle warfare, the realism of fighting such a dedicated enemy, and the variety of mission types, not to mention the online play, Vietcong certainly breaks the mould in the Vietnam genre.

              Graphics

              An integral part of any new pc game, the graphics in Vietcong are at the best of times stunning, and at the worst of times dull and uninspiring. Most of the time the graphics in Vietcong are nothing short of amazing – they have to be in such a detailed environment as a jungle. It’s only when you look slightly closer that you begin to see glitches such as your pointman walking into a bush and seemingly going straight through it.

              What’s perhaps most impressive about Vietcong’s graphics is the attention to detail the game designers have employed. The weapons available in the game and the realism with which they’re presented was one of the things the designers, Pteredon, boasted about at the time of release. They were right to draw attention to it; the superbly detailed weaponry is really a feat of brilliant artwork.

              The environments are, most of the time, brilliantly done. Everything, from the depths of the jungles to the open spaces surrounding bases or fortifications, is usually perfect. The only places you’ll find fault are in the boring, repetitive tunnel systems – unfortunately there’s nothing Pteredon could really do about this as it’s an important part of the game. What particularly impressed me were the missions in which you had to travel down or across rivers. Looking down and watching the water flow past your boots is genuinely spectacular.

              The characters are also fairly well done, leaving nothing to really complain about. The graphics in Vietcong certainly don’t provide anything new or exciting, but they’re definitely up there with the best of them.

              16/20

              Sound

              What’s good about the sound in Vietcong is that it really does sound like you’re in a jungle. You can hear the cries of birds, your body brushing against the leaves of a tree, and the hum of the jungle insects. As well as all the natural sounds you can’t help but admire the brilliantly accurate sounds of gunshots ricocheting off of a tree, the screams of your enemy as you empty rounds into him, and the distant sound of artillery homing in on its target.

              All combined the sounds in Vietcong really make you feel as if you’re in the jungles of Vietnam engaging Viet Cong guerrillas. You get that sense of battle which is incredibly necessary in this type of game. Nothing beats hearing bullets zip over your head as you assault an enemy position, or listening to the cry of your fellow soldiers over the radio as they request support.

              19/20

              Gameplay

              With the brilliant sound effects setting a standard for Vietcong, the gameplay doesn’t disappoint either. The game can switch very quickly between slow and fast paced action. Suddenly from out of nowhere you can find you and you team being ambushed by a group of enemy, then almost as quickly as it started the fire fight is over and you find yourself setting out on foot once again walking towards your objective.

              In Vietcong you have a team to support you – this consists of five other men besides yourself. You have a radioman, a machinegunner, a pointman, a medic, and an engineer. All of the characters are typical Vietnam stereotypes; you get the blood thirsty machine gunner, the medic with big glasses and the small and slightly annoying radio operator. Although you have a team who you can command the gameplay is still essentially anything but squad based. You can tell your team to attack, retreat, and cover you but the commands don’t get much more complicated than that. Also, quite a large part of the game is played without your team actually being there. There are several reasons for this ranging from being cut off to having to go into tunnels (a job you can only really do on your own).

              The variety of gameplay is also to be commended. With about twenty missions there’s an incredible diversity. Objectives range from attacking enemy fortifications and going on recon patrol in the jungle, to defending your base from attack, driving a jeep, and operating the side cannon of a Huey helicopter. The numbers of enemies you fight on a mission can sometimes be as little as three snipers (the first mission) or as large as an entire enemy company – it depends on the situation you’re in.

              As you progress through the game the difficulty increases – at first you’re just fighting Viet Cong locals but within a few missions you find yourself beating back hordes of professional North Vietnamese Army soldiers.

              The only real problem with the gameplay is the game’s tendency to give you one mission where you’re right in the thick of it – fighting off large numbers of enemy, and another mission where all you seem to do is walk around. Don’t get me wrong – it’s obvious that you can’t be fighting all the time, and having to walk around and find your enemy is realistic, but sometimes getting killed and then finding yourself having to re trace your steps can be incredibly tiresome especially if you’ve just covered a large distance.

              The game is an incredibly realistic one employing such elements as extreme recoil, and finding yourself in trouble if you mismanage your ammunition. This can lead to the game being very rewarding but also very annoying at times.

              Then there’s the online multiplayer – something which generally comes as standard with this type of pc game. The multiplayer is diverse, offering many different types of games including capture the flag, assault team game and deathmatch among others. The multiplayer is very well done and provides endless fun for the die hard Vietcong gamers.

              17/25

              Lifespan

              Due to the online play Vietcong effectively has almost an unlimited lifespan. But putting that aside the actual single player is also quite long. With twenty missions to get your teeth into it’ll take you several days to complete.

              Then as usual there’s the inevitable replay factor. After you’ve completed the game there’s the option to replay the levels as single missions. You might think this would be somewhat repetitive and indeed in some of the missions that’s true. However, most of the missions have a huge replay factor which allows you to relive those classic Vietcong moments time and time again.

              25/25

              Originality

              As I said at the start of the review; Vietcong is one of the few games to be daring enough to tackle the Vietnam genre making it a fairly original game. Of course it’s not your average first person shooter namely because you can’t really play it like you’d play Halo or Unreal Tournament. You can’t go in all guns blazing because you’d simply be killed straight away.

              This is the type of game where you have to stay in cover – and that’s one of the first lessons you learn. You have to be cautious and have your wits about you as an enemy could be lurking behind every bush, every tree and every rock you see. Close range combat is not to be advised. Instead the game adopts a more rainbow six style approach; obviously not quite as hard but as the instruction manual says – one bullet from two hundred metres away could kill you.

              7/10

              Overall

              This is a great game with a few flaws. It’s been highly underrated this year and I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s the kind of game that you’ll either love or hate but even if you end up hating it you’ll find yourself addicted. There seems to be a certain charm about this game, whether it’s the idea of a successful Vietnam setting or just that it’s a very good game is hard to tell.

              84%

              Price: £22.99 (Amazon, September 07)

              Certificate: 18

              Comments

              Login or register to add comments
              • More +
                03.09.2007 14:20
                Very helpful
                (Rating)
                5 Comments

                Advantages

                • Reliability
                • Reliability

                Disadvantages

                This charming little device quite simply exceeded all of my expectations

                When I’m not hanging out on street corners and harassing old couples, or doing any of those other things that teenagers like myself inevitably do, I can often be found hiring myself out as an amateur wedding photographer. Exchanging my hoody and bandana for a top notch digital camera, it is my job capture those special moments for family and friends. It was in this highly privileged capacity that I recently discovered my love for the new EX-Z1200, Casio’s self-styled flagship digital camera. Purporting to be, at 12.1 megapixels, a model of unparalleled quality, this charming little device quite simply exceeded all of my expectations.

                It is, of course, notably pricey, weighing in at an eyebrow-raising £215, but, as I always explain to my clients, you get what you pay for. In other words, it is undoubtedly worth forking out the extra money for, with an impressive array of features and functions, particularly its powerful 12x zoom and image stabilisation technology, a smart look and lightweight feel, and truly astonishing quality, not to mention the benefits of its super-life battery. For anyone who is interested in photography, this model, easily deserving its ‘flagship’ status, is something to seriously consider.

                Aesthetics

                It is probably rather unhealthy to describe a piece of technology as good-looking, but it is fair to say that the EX-Z1200 is just that. Admittedly, few cameras these days are downright ugly, and there are arguably more stylish models out there than Casio’s flagship device. A little like the best friend of the most popular girl in school, then, the Casio EX-Z1200 is attractive, but it is what is inside that counts. It is a charming and appealing device, but it is important to remember that there is more to this camera than its good-looks.

                The camera has a neat, black finish on its front side, with the flash and the lens clearly visible but not imposing. On the back, the EX-Z1200 boasts a superb 2.8 inch colour LCD display, with just a few buttons scattered to its right side to allow the user to navigate the menu. The impressive display makes the back of the camera appear suitably stylish, and, as is increasingly the case with new digital cameras, the lack of buttons eliminates any impression of clutter. On the whole, the EX-Z1200 is carefully and intelligently designed, with a smart aesthetic quality, making for an attractive camera.

                Quality

                It is clear that Casio take enormous pride in their flagship model, and they have good reason to. The EX-Z1200 is selling itself on quality – pure, unadulterated quality – and Casio has clearly put a tremendous amount of effort into this aspect of the camera. At an astonishing 12.1 megapixels, the EX-Z1200 has set a benchmark for quality in this price range, producing images of a breathtaking standard that remain at a high resolution even when significantly enlarged, helping considerably with my new poster range.

                Furthermore, the camera uses an advanced image stabilisation system to reduce blurring, which prevents pictures from being ruined by movement or shaking. Using its ‘CCD shift technology’ and anti-shake system, I have been able to take high quality images, where other cameras have failed, even with significant movement in front of the camera. The EX-Z1200’s auto-tracking technology also helps considerably with this, enabling the camera to track images as they move across the screen, keeping them in focus. This is particularly useful for taking pictures of children who want to do anything but stay still.

                The quality of movies on the EX-Z1200 is inevitably limited by the 11.4MB internal flash memory (though additional memory cards can be added by the user). While this is plenty of room to store photographs, it is not enough to store long, high quality movie clips, and thus the length and the quality of movies suffer equally. However, this is not the camera’s prime function, and if you want to focus on recording movies, a video-camera, rather than any sort of digital camera, is your best bet.

                Functions

                The EX-Z1200’s primary function is, of course, to take photographs. Indeed, as we have established, it excels at this task. However, there is more to this charming device than meets the eye. It can also serve as a voice recorder, allowing the user to add voice-overs to their photographs. There are always cynics out there who would dismiss this sort of thing as nothing more than a gimmick, and I would venture to wholeheartedly agree with them, but it could undoubtedly become a useful function for many.

                Perhaps more significant is the camera’s ability to capture movies. This is, admittedly, nothing new, but any modern digital camera of this calibre that lacks such a facility would inevitably be marked down, and the EX-Z1200 is determined to suffer no such fate. Lacking perhaps, when compared with my own Samsung i70, is the option for playing music, but buying a digital camera for the purpose of playing music is a little like buying a book because you want to play video-games. You just don’t do it. The Casio EX-Z1200 is, on the whole, more or less on par with everything else in its price range in terms of functions.

                Features

                In addition to its high quality, it is in its various features that the EX-Z1200 really comes into its own. As aforementioned, the camera boasts a highly advanced image stabilisation system, utilising an anti-shake system, ‘CCD shift technology’, and an auto-tracking system to prevent pictures from blurring. Furthermore, the EX-Z1200 is notable for its impressively powerful zoom, combining 3x optical and 4x digital to allow for a zoom of up to 12x in total, useful for bird-watchers and stalkers alike.

                All of this makes for an impressive diversity of features, enabling the user to get the picture they want. And the EX-Z1200’s features are not just limited to taking photographs, they are also in evidence upon playback, with a high speed image playback feature, enabling the user to view a hundred images in ten seconds. I did of course give this a go, unfortunately finding it a little pointless, given that by the time I had a chance to look at one, the camera had moved onto the image five images after the one I had been looking at. That said, when slowed down a little, the feature was a breath of fresh air after being used to the traditional irritating two second pause between each photograph that seems to persist on most other cameras.

                Uploading, playback, and editing

                The EX-Z1200 allows for easy upload of movies and images onto the computer via its included USB cable. Editing can then be performed using the software of your choice. Playback of movies is available on the camera itself via its LCD display, as well as on the computer, allowing the user to assess their movies on screen before deciding to upload them and use up that valuable memory space. The camera does the basic things here, and does them sufficiently well to make the process a simple and easy one, which is what the vast majority of users are after.

                Battery-Life

                Casio have made the impressive battery-life of the EX-Z1200 one of its unique selling points, using their new ‘super-life’ lithium-ion rechargeable battery, which provides a significant boost to the camera’s battery-life. Even with intensive use, the battery will last for several hours, and the standard use of a camera would probably only require a fresh charge every few days. However, it is, as ever, nearly impossible to give an accurate prediction of battery length, given that it will fluctuate according to how the device is used. If you only wish to take the occasional picture, you can expect charging to be relatively infrequent, but if you wish to maximise your use of the EX-Z1200’s movie function, for example, you can expect to have to charge it much more often. As ever, the rechargeable Lithium-ion battery will self-discharge over time, probably by about 5% per month if charged sensibly, and will probably last for about 30 months.

                Overall

                The Casio EX-Z1200 is a camera designed for the individual with, like myself, the perfect mixture of both style and substance. It’s not that I’m unhappy with my own camera, but I must confess to being rather jealous of its parental owner. It was clear from the start, when I first started using this model, that it provides the utmost in quality, while also displaying an impressive range of features, a fantastic battery life, and a good variety of different functions as well. The price may make some think twice, and there are probably flashier models out there as well, but for outstanding quality, this is the perfect option.

                Key Facts:

                Price: £215 (Amazon, August 07)

                Dimensions:

                Width: 9.3 cm
                Depth: 2.2 cm
                Height: 5.9 cm

                Weight: 152g

                Internal Memory: 11.4MB

                Optical Zoom: 3x

                Digital Zoom: 4x

                Battery type: Lithium-ion rechargeable battery (included)

                Included: Strap, USB cable

                Comments

                Login or register to add comments
                • More +
                  01.09.2007 12:03
                  Very helpful
                  (Rating)
                  5 Comments

                  Advantages

                  Disadvantages

                  Vegas should be a welcome addition to any gamer's collection

                  As, one evening late last year, I finished playing the latest incarnation of Ubisoft's other best-selling franchise, Splinter Cell: Double Agent, I commented in jest to friend and devoted fan of the games company that one might be forgiven for wondering whether they are against innovation as a matter of principle. With this in mind, I approached Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas, with somewhat low expectations. For years this franchise has been endlessly recycled for sequel after sequel with few gestures towards substantial improvement, and it seemed sensible to assume that this would be no different.

                  It was, therefore, something of a surprise when I became utterly absorbed in this engaging, intense, and fiercely realistic tactical, squad-based shooter. Boasting a satisfying mixture of magnificent visuals and dynamic gameplay, Vegas is as ambitious as it was unexpected. An intelligent but often fast-paced shooter, and set in the notorious casinos of Las Vegas, this game confidently offers a powerful and addictive experience that should appeal both to fans of the series and newcomers alike.

                  Graphics

                  In addition to the gameplay, this is what makes Vegas stand out the most, guaranteeing its appeal to the more aesthetically minded player. The careful attention to detail and superbly designed characters, weapons, and environments, make for a stunning graphical display that is, at times, unrivalled on any platform.

                  That is some achievement, and it is clear that Ubisoft put a lot of effort into this aspect of the game. The character designs are particularly impressive, undoubtedly setting a new visual benchmark. Your black-clad team-mates, with their superbly detailed gear and weaponry, could easily distract from combat as they manoeuvre effortlessly in and out of danger, with streaks of light shimmering delicately from their helmets and guns. The environments are also stunning and varied, and the player can really appreciated the attention to detail while hugging whatever cover is available.

                  The slot machines and gambling tables of Las Vegas' casinos are well recreated, providing an authentic flavour of the great city that I found utterly convincing right the way through, and while the setting is perhaps underused, the Mexican slums and other environments that it gives way to are equally well developed, making for a realistic and engaging visual experience that adds immeasurably to the gameplay value.

                  20/20 - Stunning, with a careful attention to detail and beautiful character designs to boot

                  Sound

                  Probably Vegas' most attractive feature - its unparalleled realism - is built around its sound as much as its gameplay. While I perhaps found the voice acting a little lacklustre and the lines a little clichéd, these minor limitations failed to distract.

                  The game's sound is really at its best during the many firefights that occur throughout the game, with superb weapon effects, ricochets, and impact sounds making for a highly satisfying audio experience. There is nothing quite like the sound of a grenade or flash-bang going off as you storm a room full of terrorists, gunfire rebounding off the walls and the cries of your brave comrades registering behind you.

                  Overall, the audio standard of Vegas is high, and, although other games have offered better in the past, nothing, aside perhaps from the voice acting, is substantially lacking, and the sound reinforces the highly realistic atmosphere and gameplay that makes the game so unique.

                  18/20 - Powerful and realistic sounds despite lacklustre voice acting

                  Gameplay

                  Playing as Logan Keller, the player takes command of a specialist military unit, combining careful tactics with considerable firepower. With two AI-controlled teammates in support, both combat and management are integral to the gameplay, but Vegas ultimately delivers a highly engaging and entertaining experience, breathing some life into a franchise that was in desperate need of a boost. It is a testament to the flexibility of Vegas' gameplay that it is a game for both the seasoned tactician and the brave newcomer. Some have criticised previous Clancy titles for being too difficult - taking realism to its ultimate but virtually unplayable conclusion - but this title retains the unrivalled realism of the Rainbow Six franchise without compromising gameplay value.

                  This is achieved, in part, through a well designed but uncomplicated team command system, allowing the player to control their teammates effectively in often highly demanding and chaotic situations. The ease with which I was able to use this mechanic is well representative of the game's improvements and means one can enjoy playing alongside the AI without being too distracted by them. Vegas also uses its difficulty settings to strike a balance between realism and playability, with 'realistic' setting the standard for the ultra-tactician and providing challenging, engaging, but ultimately rewarding gameplay. But this will not be for everyone, and the easier difficulty setting allows for a more forgiving experience, making the game accessible for the newcomer as well. Successfully striking this balance is, almost certainly, a key strength of the game.

                  It might be easy to hear the word 'tactical' and forget that Vegas is in fact built upon its combat, and, on the whole, this is very well executed. In game environments usually have multiple points of entry, spicing the gameplay up to provide some variety and unpredictability and making it as non-linear as is possible with this sort of shooter. Firefights are fast-paced, intense, and highly realistic, particularly on the highest difficult setting, and there is a vast array of weaponry available, including shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, and sub-machine guns. Cover dynamics also undoubtedly boost the combat value. Although a comparison to the vastly superior Gears of War would probably be unfavourable, taking cover behind a casino slot machine or a burnt out car whilst pinned down by enemy fire, shooting wildly over the top and around the sides to avoid certain death, is a truly unforgettable gameplay experience.

                  Added to this is the impressive AI present particularly in your teammates. On the whole, they respond well to your commands and act almost intuitively, making themselves adaptable to a variety of situations. They hug cover and avoid enemy fire just as you do, and are notably effective in combat, occasionally flooring terrorists before you even see them. Ubisoft clearly placed a strong emphasis on this in development, and it has paid off well, adding significantly to the game's realistic appeal. If one wishes to exchange AI for real players, however, then the cooperative mode awaits; this provides some of the game's best entertainment and is well worth a go if you can get some friends together.

                  The only issue I took with Vegas' gameplay was its saving mechanic, based upon a checkpoint system. For challenging and realistic gameplay, this type of system is simply inappropriate, and, despite rechargeable health, players will find it particularly frustrating, especially on the highest difficulty, when death is common.

                  Fortunately, Vegas is good enough for it not to matter so much, and the multiplayer is certainly one reason for this. With up to 16 players supported - appropriate for the genre - with all the traditional gameplay modes available, tactical internet gaming has never been so good, and player customisation, of both character and weaponry, adds a valuable final touch.

                  23/25 - Excellent tactical gameplay with impressive combat sequences; the inappropriate saving mechanism provides the only tangible shortcoming

                  Lifespan

                  It is a significant drawback of the game that the singleplayer does not last as long as perhaps it should have done, making it possible to fully complete Vegas within a matter of days. However, this is fortunately countered by the considerable replay value of certain missions, especially those that take place in Las Vegas itself.

                  The multiplayer also serves to enhance Vegas' longevity, and is, with its various modes and customisation, surprisingly addictive for a tactical shooter. Overall, the game initially falls short in this category, but replayability and the entertaining multiplayer rescue it from a lower score.

                  20/25 - Great replay value and an engaging multiplayer make up for a slightly below average singleplayer campaign

                  Originality

                  While Vegas has almost certainly injected some much needed energy into the Rainbow Six franchise, it would be unwise to call it an entirely original game. In fact, originality is sharply lacking, with a clichéd plot structure and some action sequences that could have come straight out of one of the lesser James Bond movies. Despite this, however, the reasonably non-linear approach of the game brings a considerable sense of unpredictability, so it is certainly not a bore.

                  6/10

                  Overall

                  Vegas prides itself on an uncompromising mixture of intense action and intelligent, tactical gameplay, which, combined with the surprisingly non-linear approach of the game and its powerful visuals, makes for a unique gaming experience that cannot be fully rivalled elsewhere.

                  Fans of the franchise will be relieved to play Vegas after the disappointment of previous titles, and this reflects well how far a little extra effort in development can go. Ubisoft clearly worked hard to deliver on this one, and its success is to their credit. With gameplay that is both entertaining and realistic, Vegas should be a welcome addition to any gamer's collection.

                  87%


                  Key Facts:

                  Price: £27.99 (Amazon, September 07)

                  Certificate: 16+

                  Publisher: Ubisoft

                  Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

                  Genre: Tactical Shooter

                  Comments

                  Login or register to add comments
                  • Samsung i70 / Digital Camera / 53 Readings / 48 Ratings
                    More +
                    23.08.2007 12:11
                    Very helpful
                    (Rating)
                    6 Comments

                    Advantages

                    Disadvantages

                    An undeniably charming device

                    Being something of an expert at almost everything, I recently found myself in the somewhat embarrassing situation of being asked by a friend how he should go about finding himself a lady-friend. Answering with my usual modesty, I whipped out my newly acquired Samsung i70 and explained, quite simply, that it is all about style. There is, I hasten to add, a point to this story that moves beyond mere digression. It doesn’t matter whether we are shopping for shoes, underwear, cameras, or girlfriends, we are always attracted by something that has style, and the Samsung i70 has it in abundance.

                    Functions and features are important, and the i70 has plenty of those as well, but this digital camera is unequivocally stylish. The Samsung i70 will go down in history as the innovative creation that made it possible to pose behind the camera. For those among you who would remain incorrigible cynics, unmoved by even the finest work of art, you can rebel against consumerist society’s obsession with style and good looks by taking comfort in the knowledge that the i70 boasts, at around £160, impressive quality for a reasonable price. It’s teeming with imaginative features and functions, encouraging creativity among budding photographers. It is an undeniably charming device, and I could ask for nothing more.

                    Aesthetics

                    The Samsung i70 was made to impress, and this is what struck me immediately when I saw it in the store. Available in red, gold, black, or silver, the steel finish is nothing short of seductive. It boasts a sleek, compact design, with a sliding cover to reduce size when not taking photographs. When slid open, the cover reveals an array of buttons to help the user navigate their way around the various features. However, when closed, there is no clutter around the camera, with just a few buttons neatly positioned on the top, making for an easy and uncomplicated design.

                    A well sized, well positioned three inch wide LCD screen is nicely placed at the back of the camera, taking up the majority of the space. But it is not too imposing as some displays can be, retaining the i70’s minimalist feel. On the whole, this camera cannot be faulted for beauty and style. It is superbly and carefully designed, and enough to catch anyone’s eye. For me, this is what separated the i70 from the all very admirable competition.

                    Quality

                    £160 is a very reasonable price for a camera of this standard, with its quality undoubtedly matching its good looks. The Samsung i70 is a 7.2 Mega-pixel camera, meaning it can produce images of a very high quality. Comparing images taken using film on one of my old cameras, and digital images taken on this camera, I couldn’t tell the difference between the two, which is always the mark of an excellent device. Furthermore, the i70’s red eye fix feature eliminates any red eyes in pictures, and its advanced shake reduction system prevents blurring very effectively, helping to ensure high quality images. Perhaps even more innovative is the camera’s face recognition ability, which identifies faces in images and enhances the clarity, making sure that each person’s face is as clear possible.

                    The camera can also capture short movie clips of a reasonable quality, although a proper digital video-camera would always be preferable for this, considering that a lack of storage space (the i70 has an internal memory of only 10MB, but an external memory card can be added) usually means a lower quality of video. This is certainly true with the i70, which doesn’t offer an overly impressive frame rate. However, it is undoubtedly a useful feature for capturing those amusing moments, regardless of quality. Concentrating on the camera’s photographic function, however, its capacity for producing high quality images is extraordinarily good, and it cannot be faulted here.

                    Functions

                    The i70 has five main functions, with, it goes without saying, its photographic function taking full priority. The Samsung i70 is not an all-in-one. It doesn’t pretend to be more than what it is, and this is probably how it should be. It is not a PDA, it certainly isn’t a phone, and it doesn’t have web access. But, apparently, unless you are my fiancée, you can’t be good at everything.

                    As aforementioned, the i70 performs its photographic function very well, producing images of a notably high standard, and its video function not so well, producing short clips that are more about fun than quality. That it can record movie clips is a useful add on, handy for recording anything you wish – shouting matches, ridiculous stunts – allowing the camera to make a brief gesture towards flexibility. And it can even function as a voice-recorder, which, again, is a useful but not essential add-on, very much like its ability to store data and play mp3s. Overall, the i70 does almost everything that any other digital camera in this price range can do.

                    Features

                    The i70 is teeming with features ready to be used by, like myself, the more adventurous photographer. At first, I must confess I found the various options a little complex, and it certainly took some experimentation, and a lot of trial and error, to work out what was what. But, after a couple of days of tinkering, and a little help from the omniscient fiancée, I managed to figure everything out.

                    The i70 boasts, of course, a range of features, including the already mentioned face recognition, red eye fix feature, and shake reduction system, as well as a 3x optical zoom and sensitive flash feature. These are all useful touches, allowing mostly for enhanced quality with little extra effort. I’ve found the shake reduction system particularly useful, helping me to cancel out any irritating shakes that might affect the quality of the image. In addition, it is possible to edit captured movies. Perhaps most impressively, the ISO 1000 feature allows the user to adjust exposure, preventing those indoor lighting disasters where everybody inevitably turns out to be hidden in a shroud of inconvenient darkness.

                    Uploading, playback, editing and printing

                    Uploading images, movies, and voice clips to the computer is a fairly painless process, with a USB 2.0 cable supplied, allowing for fast transfer. However, if you wish, you can also connect the camera directly to a PictBridge printer, enabling the user to print out images straight from the device, which can speed up and simplify the process even further. Voice recordings, data, and movie clips can be directly uploaded to the computer, where movies can then be editing using any software available. They can also, however, be edited on the camera itself, using the simple and rather nifty editing feature, allowing the user to make their own decisions over editing. Of course, movies can also be played back on the camera as well as on the computer, again giving the user the choice.

                    Battery-Life

                    The i70’s battery life depends enormously on the way in which it is used. If one were to become obsessed with capturing short movie clips, they would find the battery depleting very quickly indeed, since this is probably the most demanding activity possible. Similarly, constantly using the camera as an mp3 device will guarantee a short battery life. Sensible use will ensure that the battery lasts for several hours, and, realistically, the i70 would not need recharging for a number of days of reasonable use. The rechargeable Lithium-ion battery will self-discharge over time, probably by about 5% per month if charged sensibly, and will probably last for about 30 months, which is average for these sorts of batteries.

                    Overall

                    I am very proud indeed of this purchase. Being a man of unquestionable style and taste, I feel the Samsung i70 suits me very well indeed, and this is likely to be the case for anyone else tempted to give it a go. And it is tempting. Frankly, just the fact that it slides open and shut makes it cool enough to buy, but there is so much more that this camera has to offer. It’s stylish and sleek, it boasts a vast array of features, and includes some useful extra functions without being too pretentious or forgetting what it is. The internal memory is a little on the conservative side, but this can be fixed by adding an external memory card, should one choose to do so. For £160, I could ask nothing more from this sexy, high quality camera.

                    Key Facts

                    Price: £159.99 (Amazon, June 07)

                    Dimensions: 89.7 (W) X 61 (H) X 21.5 (D) (mm)

                    Weight: 186g

                    Internal Memory: 10MB

                    Optical Zoom: 3x

                    Battery type: Lithium-ion rechargeable battery (included)

                    Included: USB 2.0 cable, AV cable, earphones, camera strap, Digimax Master and Digimax Converter software

                    Comments

                    Login or register to add comments
                    • More +
                      20.08.2007 12:19
                      Very helpful
                      (Rating)
                      8 Comments

                      Advantages

                      Disadvantages

                      A must for both fans of the genre and ordinary gamers alike

                      Reminiscent of other shooters in this first-person action sci-fi genre, particularly Quake 4, Half Life 2, and, inevitably, the Halo franchise, Resistance: Fall of Man delves into counterfactualism with its alternative take on the events of the mid-twentieth century. Just as Europe is about to plunge into WW2, an unfriendly alien invasion alters the course of history, forcing the great world powers to fend off the invading hordes.

                      This kind of thing, has, of course, been done before, but Insomniac takes a fresh slant on the basic premise by placing the action before the present day. This interesting new perspective, combined with state of the art visuals, impressive AI, and a notably stylish presentation, makes for a polished and addictive next-generation title.

                      Graphics

                      As one would expect, the PS3 has, arguably, an unparalleled capacity to deliver outstanding graphics. While Fall of Man undoubtedly fails to push the platform to its full potential (and this is unlikely to happen for some time), it boasts some stunning visuals that really distinguishes it from rivals, even on the PC.

                      Particularly impressive are the characters and environments. Insomniac, the developers, clearly invested a great deal of time and energy into designing the fearsome alien foes, the Chimera, who are far more visually convincing and genuinely frightening than, for example, the Strogg in Quake 4. Everything, from their body suits to their faces, has been intricately designed and add to the game not only aesthetically but atmospherically. The same can be said for the environments, with Fall of Man set in an England that remains both convincing and highly detailed throughout.

                      The lighting effects are also noteworthy and particularly effective in making the game-world both believable and vaguely sinister.

                      19/20 - Very impressive all-round although future titles will undoubtedly offer even more

                      Sound

                      While the main character in Fall of Man, a US Ranger named Nathan Hale, is not as verbally challenged as Half Life's Gordon Freeman, he does not speak as extensively as one would hope, and, as a result, coupled with the generic and monotonous cries delivered by British troops throughout the game, Fall of Man rarely shows off any serious voice acting talent.

                      This, however, is not a problem for such a strong title, and the game has other sound effects to boast. The weapon sounds, particularly, are probably the most powerful I have heard in a game of this kind, and vehicle sounds are equally as impressive as the player moves through the different stages. In terms of sound, Fall of Man, on the whole, compares favourably with similar titles.

                      17/20 - Sounds great, but a little more talk would have been nice

                      Gameplay

                      This is where Resistance: Fall of Man really delivers. Unashamedly stylish, the game mixes fast paced and intense shooting sequences with the vehicle-based action that has now become a must in this increasingly competitive genre. Fall of Man is at its best during the most intense shoot-outs, particularly when groups of your own troops join you to clash with the invading Chimera, making for some extremely satisfying and addictive gameplay.

                      Boasting an impressive range of weaponry, Fall of Man combines the traditional shotgun and assault rifle collection with experimental alien technology. I particularly enjoyed using a powerful alien blaster which allows the player to select enemies using a homing beacon, take shelter and then let loose in any direction of choice and wait for the projectiles to home in on their target. Aside from being a satisfying method of shooting the enemy hordes, the weapon in question makes for an inventive tactical mechanism that spices up the traditional run-and-shoot first-person gameplay in rival titles. This, of course, pales in comparison to the infinitely more impressive gravity-gun in Half Life 2, but it would be a little pedantic to make too much of this.

                      Fall of Man's AI also stands out from the crowd, with the Chimera being particularly adaptable in a variety of situations. This not only makes the game more challenging, it also draws the player into the combat and prevents the action from becoming too repetitive. The alien foes are particularly effective at encircling the player at every opportunity, encouraging the intelligent gamer to keep fire-fights long to medium range, although Hale's considerable firepower makes it entirely possible to go in close as well. It is in such situations that one thanks Insomniac for making the player's health rechargeable, but, even with this useful addition, survival is not guaranteed.

                      This makes the later levels particularly difficult, and the saving mechanism does little to help here. Not allowing the player to save at will, the game employs a system of checkpoints, which can occasionally become quite sparse. This certainly makes for a challenge as Fall of Man progresses, and dying and starting from the previous checkpoint continuously did irritate me at times. Fortunately, this is perhaps the only downfall of the game; it is, I should note, an unnecessary one, however. Moving away from the basic combat, the vehicle sequences, which see the player hopping into a tank among other things, certainly make up for this minor shortcoming, and are a welcome addition to the straightforward shoot-outs, helping to break up the action a little.

                      Should the player utilise the PS3's internet capability, one can also enjoy a vicious and engaging multiplayer mode that delivers all the usual capture the flag and death-match modes, combined with base assault and others, with a forty player total capacity. While some PC games can now admittedly boast up to sixty-four players, forty is perfectly adequate for this type of title. Even without an internet connection, coop and split screen modes could undoubtedly grab the player's attention for some weeks.

                      24/25 - Fast paced action sequences and killer AI set Fall of Man firmly apart from its rivals

                      Lifespan

                      Fall of Man does not boast an excessively long singleplayer campaign. I managed to complete it in under a week, and more seasoned players could probably finish it off within three or four days if they felt a need to do so. Having said this, the game's AI and stylish sequences give Fall of Man significant replay value. Adding to this, of course, is the extensive multiplayer mode, which could immerse a keen player indefinitely with its variety of different matches.

                      24/25 - Considerable longevity and excellent replay value

                      Originality

                      If Resistance: Fall of Man falls down anywhere, it is, perhaps, here. This sci-fi shooter has clearly borrowed from a range of other titles of a similar nature, most notably Halo, Quake 4, and Half Life 2. However, it would be unfair to crucify Fall of Man too much on this account, especially given that its counterfactualism adds a new twist to the genre.

                      7/10 - This type of thing has been done before, but Fall of Man is good enough for it not to matter

                      Overall

                      Fall of Man delivered on its promise as a powerful and immersive launch title, and has set the standard for PS3 shooters in the future. With a doubt, this is the one to beat, and, although it certainly takes inspiration from similar projects, this fast paced blaster is both imaginative and entertaining.

                      Thoroughly deserved of critical acclaim, Fall of Man combines impressive visuals with addictive gameplay, and a considerable lifespan to boot. This is a must for both fans of the genre and ordinary gamers alike.

                      91%

                      Key Facts:

                      Price: £49.99 (Amazon, upon release March 07)

                      Certificate: Mature (17+)

                      Comments

                      Login or register to add comments
                      • More +
                        07.08.2007 18:14
                        Very helpful
                        (Rating)
                        9 Comments

                        Advantages

                        Disadvantages

                        MGS3 is a gaming experience that no one should miss out on

                        The Metal Gear Solid series is now forever ingrained in the hearts and minds of gamers as a piece of gaming history - an unconquerable giant overshadowing the stealth genre, constantly setting the standard and tone for the future of gaming. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, is, in every conceivable measure, the pinnacle of the series, and it pushes the stealth genre to the edge; the game is teeming with innovation and confidence, driven by the defiant belief of its creator, Hideo Kojima.

                        For many fans of the series, MGS2 was a major disappointment. MGS3 could be viewed as an apology for MGS2, but it's much more than that; it's an epic reminder of why the series first began, and why it has been so successful. MGS3 encompasses everything that a stealth game should be, evoking memories of the original MGS games. For a long time, MGS1 has been set in my mind as the immovable stealth gaming juggernaut, but MGS3 has changed my mind.

                        This is a game that breaks boundaries in an unprecedented manner, and sets new benchmarks in almost every area. The storyline is brilliantly executed, and provides a powerful focus point around which the game is played - something I haven't seen since MGS1. Playing as Big Boss before he was corrupted, even the most cynical of gamers will be hooked.

                        Graphics

                        Snake Eater's graphics are probably the most beautiful that have ever been created using the PS2's hardware, and are an improvement on those seen in MGS2. It's hard to think of a game on the PS2 which has better graphics; however, compared to most modern PC games, they're about average.

                        The most impressive thing about MGS3's graphics is the surroundings and the environment. From the trees, long grass, and swamps of the game's outdoor environment to the precisely placed bookshelves and computers of its indoor environment, the graphics don't fail to amaze. Their realism and accuracy helps to make the game more believable, which is a definite advantage considering MGS' surreal tendencies.

                        The characters are also extremely well done, especially Big Boss, but even the standard soldiers look convincing, which is rare for any game. The weapon design is equally as convincing, putting most First Person Shooters to shame. It's clear that presentation is integral to MGS3, and this really lifts the game, adding that touch of realism and atmosphere, things which, usually, can only be provided with good graphics. Snake Eater definitely delivers in terms of graphical quality, with no faults at all - not one.

                        20/20

                        Sound

                        The sounds in MGS3 are rich and atmospheric, complimenting the game's gameplay and graphics. Stealth games can be very quiet at times, and sounds are crucial for navigating one's way past enemies. The sound of an enemy's footsteps nearby is incredibly distinctive, as is the ominous sound of a snake lurking in the grass, or the flutter of a bird's wings in the trees - things which, of course, can be seen as well as heard - and eaten too.

                        The sound of gunfire is quite unique, and the gunfire sounds were a criticism which I had of MGS2 - they didn't sound realistic at all. However, things have changed, and they are absolutely perfect. The Voice acting is first rate, with a welcome return by David Hayter voicing Big Boss. The sound of Solid Snake, in this case Big Boss, is a trademark of the series, and Hayter, as always, does an excellent job, and he's superbly complimented by a host of other voice acting talent.

                        20/20

                        Gameplay

                        There are only a few, minor criticisms that I could make concerning MGS3's gameplay, but they were outweighed by the sheer brilliance of the gameplay in general. MGS3 is a stealth game, and, therefore, the aim isn't so much to kill the enemy, but rather to sneak past them unharmed, although killing them always remains a satisfying option. Snake Eater's features provide an excellent variety of different ways to achieve this aim, including climbing trees, crawling through the grass, and hiding behind all the different objects in the MGS world. However, aside from these, the newest innovation is the camouflage index. This adds a completely different aspect to stealth gaming; essentially, it allows you to change your camouflage, of which there is a large selection, to suit your environment, thus giving you more chance of avoiding enemy detection. This idea was a real bonus while playing the game, and it gives you many more options than you would usually have.

                        This feature in no way makes the game easier, however, because the nature of MGS has changed in Snake Eater - most of it is played outdoors, and there's no radar. This makes the game a lot harder, and the enemy can spot you much more easily; it also adds a sense of realism to the series, something which it had previously lacked and had let it down against more realistic rivals such as Splinter Cell. The outdoor environments are far more exciting, and allow you to have some real fun with the enemy - you feel rather like the Predator, picking off squads of men from a tree top, or Rambo, creeping up on guards from behind the foliage and slitting their throats with a combat knife.

                        In terms of combat, the hand to hand fighting has been completely revamped, and there's been a huge step up from the old punch kick combo which had been used since MGS1. A technique called CQC is now used for close quarters, and it can be used to deliver a number of different moves to incapacitate the enemy. Of course, enemies can still be held up, knocked out, and you can break their necks - you can now also use a knife, which had been long demanded by MGS fans. The hand to hand combat adds a real touch of style and polish to the gameplay in general. The weapons are also brilliant, with a wide range of guns and grenades, including a shotgun, a pistol, a heavy machine gun, a sniper rifle, and a collection of different automatic weapons. The larger selection of guns makes the shoot outs much more exciting, especially in the jungle. The Bosses in MGS3 also provide a good battle, if a little easy at times. The End provides the most interesting fight, an intense sniper battle, in which patience is vital, The Fury the most scary, and The Boss the hardest, but they're all entertaining and help to break up the gameplay.

                        The gameplay in Snake Eater keeps you on edge with its incredible immersive, heart stopping action. The game lets the player decide how they want to tackle the situation, rather than deciding for them, and the options aren't limited in any way - you're the boss, excuse the pun. The player is not only full of ingenuity and innovation itself, it also demands that the gamer is, constantly keeping you on your toes and asking you to take risks and try new things. The situations vary from one environment to the next, and there's little repetition. From the time you turn on your PS2 to the time you've turned it off, you're totally fixated on the game, and this is mostly due to the gameplay. It can be hard, especially towards the end when there are a lot of soldiers in very small spaces, but getting past situations unseen and unheard is extremely rewarding, as is the gameplay in general.

                        Two other new factors also add to the excitement and realism of the game. First of all, in order to stay alive, Big Boss must find and eat food. This adds a whole new level to the gameplay, giving it much more depth; it also means you have a lot more to think about while playing - getting your next meal becomes a primary concern. Another new factor is that you have to heal your injuries; for example, if Big Boss gets a broken leg, then he has to bandage it up and heal it. There are a number of different options for treating a number of different injuries; this feature runs this risk of making the game overcomplicated and detracting from the excitement of stealth gaming, but fortunately it's done well enough for it not to be a problem.

                        The only criticisms of the gameplay are that, firstly, on occasion, and especially at the beginning, the cut scenes are a bit much. However, they're no where near as bad as in MGS2, and are essential for telling the storyline and developing the plot into the conspiracy driven thriller that it is. The cut scenes would only put off the most impatient of gamers, and this type of gamer shouldn't be playing in this genre anyway. Secondly, the combination of the camouflage index, hunting and eating food, and healing injuries could prove frustrating if the gamer just wants to get straight into the action. Despite these small things, the gameplay is nothing short of captivating.

                        24/25

                        Lifespan

                        MGS3 gives you a lot more options, in terms of gameplay, than its predecessors in the series, and this, in turn, adds to the replay factor. Once the game is completed, a number of features are unlocked in order to spice up the gameplay; for example, a new weapon is unlocked - the patriot machine gun, and Big Boss can be dressed up in a James Bond - style suit. These things are just gimmicks, but it gives the gamer more of an incentive to play the game again. The actual game itself is fairly average in length, comparable with both MGS1 and 2, so it'll take about a week of fairly intense gaming to complete, although it could be done in just a few days if you got really obsessed, as I did!.

                        However, there is no multiplayer, unlike in Splinter Cell 2 and 3, and there's no online mode. It's questionable whether or not there is a place for these things in MGS, or in the stealth genre at all, and so the lack of multiplayer isn't an important factor. It does mean, however, that MGS3 may lose out to Splinter Cell in terms of lifespan, although the game's single player replay factor more than makes up for this.

                        24/25

                        Originality

                        In terms of gameplay, MGS3 is built upon a set of firm foundations from which the stealth genre originally grew up. The basic principles are unchanged, but Snake Eater is full of new ideas and innovation which provides these principles with a new slant. The new features aren't just gimmicks - the game doesn't believe that originality can be produced from a couple of new gadgets and a new method of attracting the enemy's attention.

                        The camouflage index, the CQC, the hunting and eating, and the healing are all highly original ideas that change MGS without damaging it irrevocably; moreover, these new ideas set a benchmark for other stealth titles. In terms of the plot, it couldn't be more original; it's a little cheesy at times, however, showing that Kojima's games are more influenced by Hollywood than they used to be, but the storyline is intriguing and full of twists and turns, which adds character and excitement to the game as a whole.

                        10/10

                        Overall

                        With MGS4 on the cards, it's clear that Metal Gear Solid will continue to dominate the stealth series for a long time to come, despite what the folks down in Ubi Soft say. MGS always sets the trend in the genre, and then the other games follow with a few gimmicks here and there. Hideo Kojima knows how to appeal to gamers, and especially fans of the stealth genre. At the beginning of this review, I described MGS1 as a juggernaut, and I think that's the best possible description of the MGS series as a whole - the games, the vision, and the dedication of the series will forever prevail over titles such as Splinter Cell, which have always lived in Metal Gear Solid's shadow.

                        MGS3 is a gaming experience that no one should miss out on. It doesn't matter whether you're a hardcore fan of the genre and series, or whether you're a newcomer wanting to see what the fuss is all about, you'll love this game. It's one of the best games that I have ever played, and I don't say that lightly - I've played a lot of very good games.

                        98%

                        Price:£5.99 (Game)

                        Comments

                        Login or register to add comments
                        • Apple iPod (5G) 30 GB / MP3 Player / 92 Readings / 84 Ratings
                          More +
                          21.07.2007 13:25
                          Very helpful
                          (Rating)
                          16 Comments

                          Advantages

                          Disadvantages

                          The iPod deserves its reputation as the leading portable MP3 player

                          Apple must have known it was onto a winner from the start. This extraordinary innovation has become one of the most successful consumer products of recent years. It has led the way in the legal online downloads market, pioneered the use of hard-drive based devices in storing and listening to music on the move, and even become an essential fashion accessory. The iPod, a portable MP3 player, is something very special, and Apple have continued to innovate as time has gone by, ensuring that the 5th generation iPod on the whole outmatches its rivals and maintains its dominant position in the portable music market.

                          The black 30GB iPod retains the subtle and seductive minimalist design of its predecessors, giving it a darker but attractive and simple aesthetic finish, while managing to reduce the bulk of previous models. The audio quality remains superb, and the video and photo quality are excellent considering that they are not the device's main function. Furthermore, the 30GB storage capacity allows for quantity as well quality, and it is a testament to Apple that, in the 5th generation, they have provided so well for both. With a good battery life, at least initially, and a superb method for downloading music to boot, the iPod is a brilliant piece of kit. Much was made of the unreliability of the 4th generation model, and I myself experienced much frustration when mine self-destructed on a number of occasions, but the new model does a lot better here, and, despite still having some reliability issues, is overall a big improvement.

                          Aesthetics

                          The 5th generation iPod boasts a smaller and sleeker design than its somewhat more bulky predecessors. This is especially true of the 30GB version, which is much slimmer than even the 4th generation 20GB model, ensuring that it can fit nicely into your pocket as you brave the outside world. It is the iPod's minimalism - its simplicity - that gives it its good looks. The screen and touchpad (or click-wheel) are well positioned on the front of the device, easy to use and view but not obtrusive. There are no irritating buttons dotted all over, like on the rival iriver; everything is subtle and kept to a minimum, with the user able to navigate through the menus using only the basic touchpad.

                          The black version of the 30GB model is, it should be pointed out, the sexier and more stylish of the two. While white is the original and distinctive iPod colour, the black model is more classy, adding something new and exciting while retaining the iPod's attractive simplicity.

                          Quality

                          The audio quality of the iPod, with a good set of included headphones, is very high, though playback quality often depends far more on the song itself than the device upon which it is being played. Video and photo quality are, for this reason, more notable. While it is certainly true that one shouldn't expect an overwhelming cinematic experience while watching a movie on the iPod, given, at just 2.5 inches diagonally, the small size of the colour LCD screen, it is far more convenient than a portable DVD player, and has a reasonable 320 x 240 resolution, providing for decent quality photos as well as movies or music videos.

                          Functions

                          The iPod has multiple functions, making it an attractive device for a variety of reasons. Its primary function is as a portable MP3 music player, and this is, for most people, its main use. With an enormous storage capacity of 30GB, the iPod can store about 20,000 individual songs, making it instantly superior to the far more limited, and now redundant, portable CD player, although the rival Zen and iriver boast a similar capacity. Small and sleek as well as boasting large storage, the iPod more than lives up to its high reputation in allowing people to listen to their music on the move while remaining cool at all times.

                          Other functions include the ability to view photos, play videos, listen to podcasts, audiobooks, and play games, as well as being able to use the device as a calendar, clock, and even stopwatch. About 100 hours of music videos and movies can be stored, though converting them to an acceptable format for the iPod can often be an arduous task; on a few occasions, I've had to use conversion software, available for free download on the internet, to transfer files from my computer to my iPod. Once done, however, it is certainly worth it, and the iPod carries out this function admirably. Roughly 25,000 photos can also be stored, making it an ideal medium for showing pictures to friends without having to drag a photo-album around.

                          The option to play audiobooks and podcasts also contributes significantly to the iPod's functional variety, and is indeed a useful addition both for ordinary users and for people looking for a specific way to listen to such things. On the whole, the iPod, though lacking the iriver's ability to play radio, boasts a vast array of different functions for a variety of different users, making it a superb option in this regard, and well worth the still fairly high price (about £160-70) that Apple demand.

                          Downloading Music

                          The iPod comes together with software, iTunes, for downloading music, among other things, legally from the internet. It is a notably user-friendly tool, and music comes at a reasonable price: 79p per song, and usually about £7.99 per album. Music videos and games can also be downloaded, and a variety of payment options, including via gift voucher and credit or debit card, are available. A testament to its simple design and variety of music available, iTunes enjoys a significant share of the online downloads market, and will download your music, podcasts, audiobooks, and videos, from its library directly onto your iPod, making, video conversion aside, for excellent compatibility.

                          Battery-life

                          Using a lithium ion battery, Apple boast a 14 hour battery-life for the 5th generation iPod. This, however, is enormously misleadingly for the majority of users, who, using the device rigorously, will probably only get about 8 hours out of it at a time. This will also inevitably deteriorate over time. As the months go by, one can expect to see their battery-life reduced to 3 or 4 hours, depending upon how responsibly they recharge. On the whole, the battery-life is reasonably good, despite Apple's considerable overestimation, but it should be kept in mind that the eventual reduction in battery capacity over time will make the battery life less acceptable after a couple of years.

                          Reliability

                          Much was made of the unreliability of Apple's 4th generation iPods, with constant reports of malfunction, overheated hard-drives, broken screens, and a variety of other problems. The 5th generation has seen great improvement in this regard. Speaking from personal experience, my 4th generation model malfunctioned twice over the year and a half that I had it, but my current 5th generation version is, after several months, yet to cause me any trouble.

                          Having said this, surveys have shown an average failure rate of about 14%, though it is important to recognise that hard-drives are prone to malfunction more easily than other storage devices, and this is not, therefore, necessarily Apple's fault. But this should not put you off; most people have no trouble at all, and investing in a fairly inexpensive extended warranty ensures that the iPod will be replaced free of charge should it let you down.

                          Overall

                          Overall, the iPod is a fantastic and innovative device. Despite still retaining some reliability issues, it is a highly attractive, functional, entertaining, and thoroughly cool gadget. With a variety of different uses, a small size and sleek design, high quality, enormous storage capacity, and a reasonable battery life, the iPod deserves its reputation as the leading portable MP3 player, and should be the preferred option of anyone looking to invest in such a device.


                          Key Facts:

                          Price: £164 (Amazon, February 07)

                          Storage: 30GB

                          Battery: Lithium-ion

                          Battery-life: About 8 hours (though officially 14)

                          Recharge Time: About 3 or 4 hours

                          Product Type: MP3 player

                          Digital Player Type: Hard drive based

                          Width: 6.1 cm

                          Depth: 1.1 cm

                          Height: 10.4 cm

                          Weight: 136 g

                          Built-in Display: LCD - colour

                          Screen Resolution: Resolution: 320 x 240

                          Diagonal Size: 2.5"

                          System Requirements: OS Required: Microsoft Windows 2000 SP4 or later, Apple MacOS X 10.3.9 or later, Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2 or later, Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition SP2 or later

                          Included: iTunes, battery recharger, USB cables, instruction manual

                          Comments

                          Login or register to add comments
                            More Comments
                          • More +
                            01.06.2007 18:22
                            Very helpful
                            (Rating)
                            9 Comments

                            Advantages

                            Disadvantages

                            Looks aren't everything

                            It was, it is enough to say, difficult for me to come to terms with the Sony Handycam DCR SR290E. My previous video-camera – a bastion of unparalleled style and functionality – reviewed just a few months ago, came to an untimely demise at the callous hands of my fiancée, who had thought it wise to toss it to one side during a routine cleaning exercise. With my first love reduced to a shadow of its former self, I was forced to invest in a suitable replacement.

                            The Sony Handycam DCR SR290E seemed like the perfect choice. It is, without a doubt, a highly functional, if, at around £600, highly pricey, piece of equipment. Its proudest boast is its vast array of features, closely followed by impressive quality and enormous storage space, coming in the form of a mammoth 40GB hard disk. Of course, as is the established norm, the camera can also be used as a webcam, a microphone, and a standard digital camera. Unfortunately, it is an absolute monstrosity. I would not presume to call my video-camera ugly, especially since Sony so valiantly claims that it is the ultimate in style. But to call it sexy, beautiful, attractive, would simply be misleading.

                            Aesthetics

                            Does anybody remember the ritual humiliation at school that came with persistently being picked last for the football team? Of course, being the pinnacle of athleticism that I was, this never happened to me. But, should video-cameras play sports, this is what would happen to the DCR SR290E. Now, when one ventures into the labyrinth of beauty and attractiveness, one inevitably enters, at the same time, the dark world of radical subjectivity. One man’s Venus may be another man’s eyesore. So I accept that my opinion is simply that.

                            But this camera is not attractive. Overly elongated, and holding a long but thin LCD screen, the DCR SR290E is not sleek and certainly is not sexy. The side of the camera is littered with buttons and the front is unusually imposing. Granted, the viewfinder is well situated, and the colour scheme, silver and black, is nicely polished, but I prefer understatement, and this camera looks like it is about to explode. On this front, I was uncharacteristically unimpressed.

                            Quality

                            But my faith in Sony was soon restored. In terms of sheer quality, this camera is astonishingly brilliant. It is almost sufficient to say that in this category, having some experience in filming, I felt that this model, essentially a fairly pricey but affordable amateur filmmaker’s camera, comes close to rivalling some of the cheaper, more professional options. The DCR SR290E is particularly impressive in its handling of colours and in terms of image resolution, and this is true both of its video and photographic functions, with the user able to take either 2848 x 1602 or 640 x 480 stills. The colours, especially, were far superior to anything I ever saw on my previous model, making this the perfect solution for anyone looking to capture the colourful variety and diversity of the outside world.

                            The 2.7 inch LCD display and the viewfinder also offer images of a high quality, allowing the user to identify the best shots possible before filming has started. And the camera’s audio performance is also second to none, with a built-in microphone capturing sounds very effectively. Providing one does not make the tragic mistake of pointing the microphone directly into the wind, or of directing it away from the person who is speaking (perhaps they weren’t very interesting), the audio quality is of an extremely high standard, complementing the visual quality very well indeed.

                            Functions

                            As the title of this review makes clear, the DCR SR290E is a highly functional monstrosity. It is not particularly nice to look at, but it does what it is supposed to do with unstoppable pride and vigour. Naturally, the main purpose of a video-camera is to record videos. You may wish to record the family Christmas, the eventful holiday, or, like my fiancée, the playful bunny hopping around in the garden. It is up to you, but this camera will let your creative juices flow in whichever direction you should choose.

                            The DCR SR290E can also be used, as aforementioned, as a standard digital camera, adding a touch of flexibility. Indeed, if you are that sort of a person, you may even want to connect your video-camera to the computer and use it as a webcam, boasting a far more impressive resolution than your jealous friends with their purpose-built devices. And the microphone does, of course, double as a voice recorder. All of this makes the DCR SR290E a video-camera that can rival any other, in its price-range, for adaptability.

                            Features

                            If you should manage to somehow avoid getting lost among the clutter of buttons positioned on the side of the camera, the DCR SR290E will gladly endow you with its vast array of impressive features. These include, of course, classics such as sepia, pastel, monotone, and old movie, but the most exciting feature, for the adventurous young director and cunning bird spotter alike, is probably the outstanding night-vision capability, which really allows the user to experiment with different approaches to filming. Slow motion is a useful addition, and a backlight prevents the predictable lighting disasters, though the zoom, at just 10 x optical and 20 x digital, is nothing to write home about. Furthermore, a handy auto power save feature helps to considerably increase the battery lifespan with no need for user intervention, and a standard remote control makes self-recording much easier.

                            On the whole, the DCR SR290E is impressive here, but it’s not too ambitious. For the newcomer, this will probably come as something of a godsend. Confusion is never good. But the innovator might be a tad frustrated, given the price of the camera.

                            Uploading, Playback, and Editing

                            Videos, images, and audio can be uploaded to one’s computer via a USB connection. The best advice for editing is probably Microsoft Moviemaker, though this is simply a matter of preference, and there are more professional packages out there. The significant 40GB storage capacity of the camera ensures that plenty of data can be recorded and then uploaded, giving the user hours of potential editing time. But this can often be the most interesting, and even the most creative part of the process. Video can, of course, be played back on the computer, on the camera itself, or on a television, making plenty of options available here and allowing the user to choose their own method.

                            Battery-life

                            The battery-life of the DCR SR290E is very impressive indeed, at about 6 hours if used conservatively, making the camera extremely competitive on this front. However, battery length will depend on how vigorously the video-camera is used. Using the LCD display, the night-vision, and the various features are sure ways to cut down on battery duration. The rechargeable Lithium-ion battery will self-discharge over time, probably by about 5% per month if charged sensibly, and will probably last for about 30 months, giving the camera an excellent lifespan before a battery replacement is required.

                            Overall

                            Overall, this is an impressive video-camera, and I’m more than glad that I bought it. I do, I admit, lament the loss of my old Sony DCR TRV270, but the DCR SR290E is a more than satisfactory replacement, boasting superb features, a good variety of functions, and a very impressive battery life-span. It may be an ugly duckling, but it is an excellent piece of technology, highly recommended for those who know that, while looks are important, they are not everything. I promise.

                            Key Facts

                            Price: £599 (Dabs, May 07)

                            Width: 7.6 cm
                            Depth: 12.8 cm
                            Height: 7.8 cm
                            Weight: 485 g

                            Media Type: Hard disk drive

                            Optical Zoom: 10 x

                            Digital Zoom: 20 x

                            Battery Type: Lithium-ion rechargeable battery (included)

                            Cables Included:

                            USB cable
                            A/V cable
                            SCART adapter

                            Software: Drivers & Utilities, Sony Picture Motion Browser

                            Comments

                            Login or register to add comments
                            • Supreme Commander (PC) / PC Game / 128 Readings / 113 Ratings
                              More +
                              09.05.2007 20:05
                              Very helpful
                              (Rating)
                              23 Comments

                              Advantages

                              Disadvantages

                              All gamers should give this a try

                              Games like Supreme Commander, it is safe to say, do not come around very often. The enormous hype, anticipation, and mass hysteria that has surrounded this game since its announcement is a testament to its rarity. After a few years of no real improvement and few new benchmarks, real-time strategy needed a game like Supreme Commander. It needed it not just to push the boundaries, but to shove them violently to the wayside in a moment of awesome gaming splendour, mocking the memory of everything that has come before, and setting the standard for years to come.

                              In its size and scale, this game is groundbreaking; in its visual quality and presentation, it is stunning; and in its gameplay it is unrivalled in the genre. For the hardcore fan of real-time strategy and the average gamer alike, Supreme Commander is a must. Innovative, engaging, and polished, this game is superb across the board, and thoroughly deserved of both its pre-release hype and a place in gaming history.

                              Graphics

                              Supreme Commander proudly boasts some of the finest graphics in the genre, which is an impressive achievement considering the scale of its maps. The attention to detail is superb, with even the largest environments remaining convincing. Mountains, cliffs, woodland, lakes, and a variety of other standard RTS visual features are designed and placed remarkably well, and the ability to zoom right in really allows one to appreciate the care that has gone into the game's graphics. The water effects, particularly, are beautifully done, and will be welcomed by those used to the lacklustre displays seen in some other titles.

                              Unit design is probably where Supreme Commander is at its most ambitious. The standard tanks, buildings, aircraft, and artillery are brilliantly crafted, but I felt the game really reached visual excellence when I was introduced to the enormous naval and experimental units. The Cybran aircraft carrier, for example, which is far larger than any of the game's land or air units, is beautifully and intricately designed, and the Cybran experimental spider unit is another visual treat, with its legs and hull looking convincingly bizarre and alien.

                              Perhaps the only downside to Supreme Commander's magnificent visuals is, obviously, the enormous demand that they place on one's computer. With the unusual combination of unprecedented scale and wonderfully detailed environments, the game needs a high-end system to maintain the graphical quality without suffering from a dire frame-rate. With fairly low settings, my computer, which was one of the most powerful on the market a year ago, could just about handle it, but, ideally, one should seek an upgrade for the best experience. Fortunately, this game is worth it.

                              20/20 - Demanding but superb graphics

                              Sound

                              It is perhaps because real-time strategy is often not quite as intense as other genres, particularly first-person-shooters, that sound is not the first thing one thinks of when playing a game like Supreme Commander. Nevertheless, Gas Powered Games have done well here too, delivering a high quality audio, as well as visual, display.

                              The sound effects, particularly weapons fire, and most notably the sound of enormous artillery shells hurtling down onto the enemy in almost apocalyptic fashion, are very impressive. Everything from laser beams to rocket fire sounds convincing, adding significantly to the player's immersion in the game. Furthermore, in-game music is well executed, remaining low-key enough not to distract from the action, but providing a sense of urgency and excitement that is important in this genre, particularly on the rare occasions when firefights are not erupting all over the screen. Even the voice-acting in the singleplayer campaign mode is of a high quality. On the whole, Supreme Commander delivers impressively in terms of sound quality, and cannot really be faulted.

                              19/20 - Impressive display across the board, particularly in terms of sound effects, adding to the game's immersive appeal

                              Gameplay

                              Supreme Commander is a real-time strategy game set in the distant future, meaning the player operates from an overhead perspective and is put in charge of a futuristic army. One must manage resources and base construction as well as basic warfare, and it is nearly impossible to win a game without striking a reasonable balance between the three, making the game more complex than your average blaster, but ultimately more rewarding and satisfying, particularly for the tactically minded.

                              There are three basic gameplay modes available - singleplayer campaign, singleplayer skirmish, and multiplayer - and these are all of an excellent standard. But what is common to all these modes, and what impressed me the most, is Supreme Commander's sheer scale. Nothing like this has been seen before in the genre, and it is what got the gaming community buzzing in the months prior to release. The smallest maps are larger than the biggest maps seen in rival titles, and the largest maps provide for strategic warfare on a colossal and unprecedented scale.

                              This, of course, adds an entirely new dynamic to the game, encouraging the player to build multiple fortifications across the map and making one think much more carefully about long term strategy. Suddenly, transporting units quickly from one side of the map to the other becomes an important issue, and things like aircraft carriers become necessary to refuel air units that can't fly the full stretch. In order to make the large maps as manageable as possible, the player can use a split screen mode, and the game even supports dual monitors, which is a real bonus if one wants to become the ultimate master tactician.

                              The size of the maps, and what this adds to the strategic depth of the gameplay, is truly groundbreaking, and makes this game essential for any fan of the genre. But, in addition to the scale of Supreme Commander, the combat itself is also remarkable. The player can choose between three different factions: the Aeon Illuminate, the United Earth Federation, and the Cybran Nation. Each is fleshed out, in terms background, in the singleplayer campaign, and each possess unique features and advantages. My favourite is undoubtedly the United Earth Federation - probably the most traditional and conventional faction - but there are benefits to all three, with the Cybran Nation being the most technological, and the Aeon easily the most bizarre and alien. The variations between each are a real bonus, and allow every player to choose what works best for them.

                              The vast range of units available adds to this considerably. Not only did I find at my disposal an assortment of land, sea, and air units, including the traditional tanks, walker bots, battleships, submarines, and fighter jets, the different tech levels that can be reached enhance the variety even further, as units become increasingly advanced. Each faction has different specialities as well; the Cybran Nation, for example, prides itself on its experimental spider unit - a gigantic spider that can devastate an entire opposing army with its enormous laser beam. The UEF, meanwhile, prides itself on artillery, able to deploy gigantic guns capable of hurling shells all the way across even the largest maps.

                              With such variety, strategic balance is essential, and Gas Powered Games have done a superb job here. The Cybran Nation can protect itself against UEF shells by constructing protective energy fields around important structures, and the UEF can hit back at the Cybran spider unit with its own experimentals. Furthermore, the awesome destructive power that can be wielded with nuclear weapons can be counteracted fairly effectively with anti-missile defences. This balance is a key aspect of the game's appeal and success, keeping Supreme Commander interesting and challenging by not making it too easy to win or lose in one quick sweep.

                              Furthermore, the different difficulty settings allow for increased flexibility. One can play on either easy, medium, or hard, allowing the player to set their own pace as they get used to the game and its challenges. Supreme Commander also allows the player to select the kind of AI they will fight against, with the different options being a surge AI, which surges the player with waves of low-tech units, tech AI, which techs up fast and uses advanced technology to win the day, and a medium between the two. The AI itself is extremely advanced, and often seems notably intuitive; at times it provided me with a real challenge, and, in its ingenuity and adaptability, was almost like playing against a real human.

                              Supreme Commander's multiplayer is also excellently done, and the majority of the things mentioned above apply here as well. Various game modes are available, with the players being able to set victory conditions before a battle starts, and there is support for up to eight players per game. Once again, the sheer size and scale of the maps make for a truly unrivalled experience. A fast internet connection, however, is a must for getting the most out of the multiplayer experience, with relatively quick broadband being essential. On the whole, Supreme Commander, with its enormous scale, brilliant AI, and variety of units, is a superbly designed game, and offers an unforgettable gameplay experience.

                              25/25 - Groundbreaking gameplay, unrivalled in the genre, and particularly notable for the scale of the maps involved

                              Lifespan

                              Supreme Commander boasts a lengthy and entertaining singleplayer campaign for each of the three factions, as well as unlimited skirmish battles, and, of course, multiplayer. Not only is the game thus fairly long in itself, its replay potential, and indeed value, is tremendous.

                              The player could probably expect to complete the singleplayer campaign for all factions in roughly two weeks, depending upon how many hours one is prepared, or perhaps compelled, to spend on the game. However, the skirmish mode and multiplayer together make the game effectively unlimited in its longevity. With this in mind, and with excellent replay value, Supreme Commander does not fail to disappoint.

                              25/25 - Lengthy singleplayer campaign, skirmish mode, and multiplayer make for an excellent lifespan and great replay value

                              Originality

                              The aforementioned scale of Supreme Commander provides the basis for its innovation and originality. Nothing so ambitious has been attempted before in this genre, and it was a bold move by the developers, certainly worthy of considerable praise. But it is also the game's brilliant AI and outstanding experimental units that make it stand out from the crowd. Nothing I've seen elsewhere can compare with an aircraft carrier that can submerge itself, or a giant mechanical spiderbot capable of unleashing unthinkable destructive power upon the enemy. This game really is remarkable, and sets new standards in all sorts of places.

                              9/10 - Innovative and original - pushes the boundaries of the genre to new levels

                              Overall

                              This game smacks of excellence, and is bound to be a candidate for game of the year. The outstanding visual quality, impressive sound effects, innovative scale, and sheer imagination make Supreme Commander a different and exciting experience. This title will almost certainly go down in gaming history as something that not only provided thousands of gamers with hours of unrivalled entertainment, but also something that opened up the genre to the awesome potential that faster systems now make possible.

                              All gamers should give this a try, and it most certainly has proved, for me, a thoroughly addictive experience. Not to be missed.

                              98%


                              Key Facts:

                              Price: £29.99 (Amazon, February 07)

                              Certificate: 12+

                              Publisher: THQ

                              Developer: Gas Powered Games

                              Genre: Real Time Strategy


                              MINIMUM SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS:

                              Microsoft® Windows® XP Service Pack 2, Vista
                              1.8 GHz processor
                              512 MB RAM
                              8 GB available hard drive space
                              128 MB video RAM or greater, with DirectX 9 Vertex Shader / Pixel Shader 2.0
                              support (Nvidia 6x00 or better)
                              Sound card, speakers or headphones
                              Broadband internet connection (DSL/Cable).

                              RECOMMENDED SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS:

                              3.0 GHz Intel or equivalent AMD processor or better
                              1 GB RAM or better
                              8 GB available hard drive space
                              256 MB video RAM, with DirectX 9 Vertex Shader / Pixel Shader 2.0 support
                              (Nvidia 6800 or better)
                              Internet connection with Cable/DSL speeds

                              Comments

                              Login or register to add comments
                                More Comments
                              • More +
                                28.03.2007 17:43
                                Very helpful
                                (Rating)
                                23 Comments

                                Advantages

                                Disadvantages

                                A superb read

                                The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East is, undoubtedly, one of the most intimate and moving portrayals of a region which has, over the past decade, become an unrivalled focus of global attention. Unsurprisingly, Fisk is in a unique position to offer such an account. Writing as a journalist who has made a career from reporting in the Middle East, from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 right up to the current war in Iraq, and as a resident of Beirut, he turns what might have been a dry and detached analysis into a gripping and insightful journey that switches effortlessly and eloquently between historical account and autobiography.

                                At over a thousand pages, this is a lengthy book, and it took me over a month to read at a reasonably fast pace. But Fisk's style, mixing important historical analysis, most notably on the Armenian Genocide, with distressing accounts of torture and war, particularly in Algeria, Iraq, and Iran, and insightful personal experiences, including interviews with Osama Bin Laden himself, rescues the reader from fatigue and ensures a gripping and eventful read.

                                How readable is it?

                                As aforementioned, The Great War for Civilisation is an extremely lengthy book, and there are parts that perhaps should not have been included and add little to the overall experience, particularly Fisk's account of his journey to France in order to learn more about his Father's background in the army. Things such as this were, although important perhaps for Fisk, unnecessary for such a long read and can become frustrating. Luckily, they are few and far between, and Fisk's eloquent style is enough to sustain the reader even at the worst of times.

                                Perhaps one of the most difficult, but also one of the most essential aspects of this book is its account of torture, particularly in Saddam's prisons and in Algeria. Stories of excruciating pain, unthinkable horror, and summary execution can make for a very painful and distressing read, and some might find this a little too much. For me, however, it ensured that the book left a lasting impression and reinforced the importance of its arguments. The worst accounts often left me feeling particularly uneasy, but it was also something of an enlightening experience.

                                The book is at its best and most readable during the personal accounts, ranging from Fisk's interviews with a certain Osama Bin Laden in a cave in Afghanistan, in which he is asked rather menacingly to convert to Islam, to a near-death encounter with an angry Arab mob. By drawing on such personal experiences, Fisk adds real depth to the book and ensures a gripping read, and the extent of his travels also adds an astonishing breadth.

                                Why is this worth reading?

                                At a time when it is becoming increasingly important for Westerners to properly understand the nature of the Middle East, its many inhabitants, and their predominant religion, with regards to the growing opposition not only to the West itself, but also to Western ideals that is developing there, this book is essential reading.

                                Fisk seeks not only to address key historical issues but also to explain, in the eyes of a journalist who has lived and breathed the Middle East for decades, what has gone wrong there and what can be done to avert a clash of civilisations. A passionate polemic, Fisk's book traces the roots of our current crisis back to Western influence in the Middle East over the last fifty years, discussing the Shah of Iran, Israel, the arms trade, and neo-conservatism. It is important to point out here that The Great War for Civilisation has an undercurrent of a deeply liberal bias, and Fisk's worldview clearly influences his conclusions. However, while he does not invite the reader to disagree with him, his basic portrayal of events allows room for drawing one's own conclusions, and the book is not, therefore, oppressively dogmatic.

                                By addressing these issues and trying to discover their roots, Fisk's book is of tremendous importance to Western eyes in the twenty-first century. The Great War for Civilisation contributes to a debate that must be had if we are to address the threat at hand and avoid sleepwalking into another 9/11. Even without the fascinating historical and personal insight that Fisk offers into a deeply interesting region, the book is worth reading for this reason alone.

                                Compared to the rivals?

                                Fisk's epic compares favourably to the rivals. With its unique mixture of historical analysis and personal experience, the book certainly provides a more entertaining and memorable read than the various purely historical titles available, including Albert Hourani's famous 'A History of the Arab Peoples' and Mansfield's 'A History of the Middle East'. While such contributions are important for a deeper academic understanding of the region, The Great War for Civilisation, now fairly inexpensive, is unique in its approach and therefore useful both to the casual reader and the more dedicated enthusiast alike, avoiding the dryness that seems to persist in similar books.

                                However, it is important to note that alternative titles cover a far greater range of history, often stretching from the birth of Islam in the 7th century, which is discussed nowhere, in great detail, in Fisk's analysis, to the present day, and also tend to examine themes and ideas that are either completely ignored or only superficially explored in Fisk's contribution, such as the historical divides within Islam between Sunni and Shia. As noted, more academic approaches, such as Hourani's, are on the whole more detached and less emotional than The Great War for Civilisation, but this is not necessarily a disadvantage since it provides for a less overtly biased picture of the Middle East, which may well be more useful to the reader.

                                Overall

                                At the core, this is a deeply political life's work, and Fisk's passion runs through every page. Providing new and unique insights into a region that has been his home for decades, Fisk draws upon personal experience to deliver a gripping account of the Middle East's most fascinating events and most volatile countries. An enjoyable contrast to the rather dry, albeit useful collection of history books on this subject, The Great War for Civilisation is a personal and emotional journey providing a detailed contribution that is sorely needed in the current climate.

                                Key Facts:

                                Price: £5.94 (Paperback, Amazon, January 07)

                                1392 pages (medium-sized text)

                                Published by HarperPerennial

                                ISBN-10: 1841150088

                                ISBN-13: 978-1841150086

                                Dimensions: 5.1 x 7.8 inches

                                Comments

                                Login or register to add comments
                                  More Comments
                                • More +
                                  17.03.2007 12:33
                                  Very helpful
                                  (Rating)
                                  22 Comments

                                  Advantages

                                  • "Ease of use"
                                  • "Ease of use"

                                  Disadvantages

                                  A superb camera with lots of great features

                                  The Sony Handycam DCR TRV270, a Digital8 model (a combination of the Hi8 analogue tape and the digital codec), achieves a perfect balance between high quality and affordability. Not only is this superb video-camera highly functional, boasting an impressive array of different features, its sleek and sexy look makes it a unique and attractive choice. While it is by no means a suitable option for the seasoned professional, it is ideal for the amateur filmmaker like myself, and brilliant for home movies and holidays. In this capacity, it is, selling for around £250, almost unrivalled in its price range

                                  The camera has superb features in abundance, including a powerful and impressive 990x zoom, night-vision mode, and excellent special effects, including sepia, slow motion, black and white, negative art, and solarisation. In addition to this, it can also be used as a fairly high quality digital camera, with the ability to take stills, and can be setup as a webcam and microphone, making it an adaptable option, suitable for a range of different tasks, but not so complicated as to frighten off the first time user.

                                  Aesthetics

                                  This is a beautiful looking video-camera, with a look that cannot be described as anything other than sexy. The silver and black exterior keeps things simple but sleek, and the LCD display, battery, and viewfinder are nicely tucked away, creating a compact design that will come as a blessing to those used to more bulky models.

                                  Aesthetically, I felt the camera cannot really be faulted; it is everything you would expect from a Sony - polished, compact, and attractive. The various buttons are well situated, with the record and power buttons conveniently placed, and the buttons providing access to the more adventurous features either on the back or neatly positioned behind the LCD display where they cannot get in the way.

                                  Quality

                                  Those who are looking for the highest possible video quality available are best advised to focus on pricier models suitable for more professional work. However, in its own price range, the DCR TRV270 does remarkably well here, making significant improvements on its predecessors and providing a level of quality that certainly impressed me upon playback. The Digital8 format is, contrary to popular belief, in no way inferior to the MiniDV, and this is clear from watching recordings. The first thing I noticed, aside from the high resolution, was the camera's ability to deal with difficult lighting effectively. We have all seen the monstrosities placed on youtube, filmed with such poor quality models that faces are hidden in a darkened shroud, but this camera adapts to and copes well with the lighting available to it, making such embarrassments very rare indeed, even for those with little experience of adjusting exposure. The viewfinder and 2.5" LCD display also provide fantastic visual quality, allowing the user to find what works best with considerable precision before going on to record.

                                  In much the same way, audio quality is also of a very high standard. Using a fairly standard built-in microphone, the camera picks up voices and sounds very well, although, as always with this sort of model, one must be careful to aim it in the appropriate direction to ensure that everything is picked up. On the whole, the DCR TRV270, considering its price, offers a very high quality audio and visual performance.

                                  Functions

                                  This model is, as you would expect from a Sony, highly functional, with a range of uses beyond the obvious. In addition to filming your own movies, holidays, ridiculous stunts, or whatever it is you fancy, the camera can also be used to take fairly high quality stills. While these cannot rival those of a purpose-built digital camera, this is certainly a worthy addition, useful for taking spontaneous snaps.

                                  Furthermore, the DCR TRV270 can be used as a webcam, and, although it is rather bulky for this task, if it is feasible, the camera provides an extremely high resolution that can outmatch most ordinary webcams with ease. The microphone also allows one to use it for audio recordings, making it ideal for recording voiceovers, or for speech recognition on the computer. With a variety of different functions, therefore, this model boasts an impressive adaptability to different tasks, making it far more than just a standard video recording device.

                                  Features

                                  The DCR TRV270, as aforementioned, boasts a vast array of different features, the most impressive of which is probably its enormously powerful zoom. With a 20x optical zoom, and a mind-blowing 990x digital zoom, this is a stalker's and an amateur filmmaker's dream. At the very highest zoom, the quality of recording is significantly reduced, but one can still zoom in great distances before noticing this, meaning it is not merely, as some may allege, a worthless gimmick, but indeed a very useful tool.

                                  In addition to this are the various special effects, including sepia, slow motion, black and white, negative art, and solarisation. Night-vision is also available, which is a particularly exciting and useful feature, whether you enjoy investigating nocturnal wildlife or simply want to see and record the world in a new light. Furthermore, a small light is available above the lens to aid shooting videos at night, a remote control is provided to make recording easier, and a fairly effective backlight compensator is included to prevent lighting disasters. The average user may never even use these, but the more adventurous filmmaker will find them a huge bonus, and a great way of spicing up a video with very little real effort.

                                  Uploading, Playback, and Editing

                                  Uploading, playback and editing on the computer for this model is not, thankfully, an arduous or difficult process, and can actually be the most fun part of making a video, depending upon your persuasion. Video, as well as images, can be uploaded either by a USB or FireWire connection, and, once on the computer, can be edited using Microsoft Movie Maker, which, on the whole, is probably the best software option due to its simplicity and well tested interface. Editing is a fairly painless process, and newcomers will get used to it and start to enjoy it very quickly. Of course, editing with the Digital8 format can also be carried out more traditionally using a video player and the AV cables that Sony provide with the video-camera, making it possible not just to store video on the computer, but also to make tapes. Video can be played back on the computer, on a video player, or indeed on the camera itself, giving the user plenty of options for viewing their own work.

                                  Battery-life

                                  On the whole, the DCR TRV270 has a good battery life. Using an included Lithium-ion rechargeable battery, the video-camera boasts an effective life of roughly two hours, although this depends enormously upon the extent to which various features are used, since special effects are a major source of battery drain. Like most batteries of this type, it will self-discharge over time, probably by about 5% per month if charged sensibly, and will probably last for about 30 months.

                                  Overall

                                  Overall, this is a great camera for the newcomer and amateur filmmaker alike. Ideal for home movies and similar uses, the DCR TRV270 is both affordable and of a high quality, with a superb variety of different features, excellent zoom, and great audio and visual quality. The battery life is perfectly reasonable, and uploading, playback, and editing is made as simple as possible. For its price, this video-camera is highly recommended, and has certainly given me many hours of creative enjoyment.


                                  Key Facts:

                                  Price: £250.71 (Amazon, February 07)

                                  Width: 8.5 cm
                                  Depth: 15.1 cm
                                  Height: 9.8 cm
                                  Weight: 0.8 kg

                                  Display: Colour LCD, TFT active matrix, 2.5"

                                  Media Type: Digital8

                                  Optical Zoom: 20x
                                  Digital Zoom: 990x

                                  Battery Type: Lithium-ion rechargeable battery - 700 mAh (included)

                                  Connections:

                                  1 x composite video/audio output
                                  1 x IEEE 1394 (FireWire/i.LINK)
                                  1 x USB
                                  1 x DC power input

                                  Software: Drivers & Utilities, Sony Picture Package

                                  Included Accessories: Camcorder shoulder strap, lens cap, instruction manual

                                  Cables Included:

                                  A/V cable
                                  USB cable

                                  Comments

                                  Login or register to add comments
                                    More Comments