Archive for the 'Review' Category

27
Sep
09

WET Review (X360)

3rd person action games over the years have been pretty hit or miss. A good couple of hits have been, Max  Payne, God Of War and Devil May Cry. Does WET fall in to that category?

hmm.

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You play as a hired gun called Rubi Malone. You are a ruthless, brutal and very skilled woman who loves to get the job done in style. At first you are hired by a Londoner called Trevor Ackers to collect a heart from the black market in order to save Trevor’s dieing father. Someone gets to the deal before you and it’s your job to get back what is rightfully yours/Trevor’s. After a couple of levels you get it back, save Trevor’s dad then skip forward three years.

You are then approached by a guy who claims to be Trevor’s dad three years later. You’re then hired to collect Trevor and bring him to his father. Over a couple more mission you do so and the guy murders Trevor which is a bit weird. You then find out that he isn’t the guy who he said he was and all hell breaks loose. Not a bad story really, simple but effective, I found myself getting a little into it at some points, but it was kind of predictable once it got rolling.

What really swung this game for me when I played the demo was the game play. A lot of people have compared the gameplay to John Woo’s Stranglehold. I haven’t played Stranglehold so I dived into the game relatively fresh-faced. If you didn’t catch up on my demo review, here is the low down. You are armed with a sword and fire arms for combat, you also have abilities such as wall run, slide and jump. If you do these moves coupled with the firing of your weapons you will go into a slow mo mode, kind of reminiscent of Max Payne’s bullet time, where you can aim at you enemies. What I really love about this style of combat system is you could link moves together. For example you can wall run, jump then slide while you were gunning thugs down, and the beauty of this is the gunning in slow motion has a total 360 degree view so you you could shoot pretty much anywhere. The icing on the cake here is you can aim one gun at one enemy and your other gun at another, making for some pretty sweet shooting action.

On top of that you have your sword attacks, they are a nice addition but not exactly Devil May cry. You have the ability to link sword attacks after slides etc for some good chain kills, but for me the sword fighting could have been a little more in-depth.

Depending on how stylishly you kill your enemies you are given style points, which at the end of every level you can upgrade  Rubi’s abilities and weapons. What I though was a bit rubbish about this upgrade system is that some of the moves that you had the opportunity of unlocking were pretty mandatory moves, these should have been there right at your disposal, right from the start, like dodge roll for example, or mid air sword attacks. They could have done so much better with the upgrade system if they gave Rubi the fundamentals at the start then thought of more impressive/inventive moves to unlock.

The level design at the start of the game was pretty good I got pretty into it all. The Levels consist of killing enemies and basic Tomb Raider esqu platforming/scaling of enviroment. There is also some interesting sections where you were put into an open area with enemy spawn door, the idea here is to shut down all the spawn doors and kill all the enemies, again simple but effective. Then there was the rage sections of the level, each of these section started off with Rubi gunning a guy down, getting blood on her face which then triggered off her rage mode. The whole screen would turn black and red, kinda reminiscent of reservoir dogs, and you would play the level in this mode getting scored on kills alone. All these sections sound good in writing, but as your progress through the game, they kind of got predictable and tedious, which is a shame. The game tried to steer away from repetitiveness with levels here you would be riding on top of cars gunning people down, there is also a level where a plane has been blown up and you gunning thugs down while you free-falling through the air. A nice touch but it wasn’t enough to steer away from the repetitiveness of the later levels. They even tried to throw in some Quick time events, but I tell you this now, not trying to spoil the game for anyone here but the use of Quick Time Events in his game are over used and really, really should not be used in some places.

After completing the game you have the opportunity to do challenges, these challenges come in two flavours. Rubi’s boneyard challenges, which consist of speed trials where you have to run and scale the enviroment, while going into slow mo to take out targets, which in turn take seconds off your time. And there is the point challenges, where you pick any level and score the most point possible. Some pretty cool gameplay to keep the game going after you have completed the story.

Visually the game had really good potential, the game was going down the whole ‘as if the game were a film’ route, with screen scratches (which thankfully could be turned off), breaks every now and then which consisted of 70’s american style cinema adverts, and the overall feel of the game was very Quintin Tarrentino/Guy Ritchie. Grimey, dirty street crime with no good manners at all. Kind of like a drunken hobo in that sence. Which would have been great if done properly, instead it felt like a half assed attempt, more work could have gone into it. What I really did notice though was the amount of screen tearing and glitches the game had, there was even one point where the game went out of focus for me. Not good.

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What I really did like about this game was its soundtrack, the songs from the game fit in really well with the whole theme, and there is one from the very beginning of the game that still gets stuck in my head. The voice acting is well done, With Eliza Dushku (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Tru Calling and Doll House) taking the roll of Rubi, she does a great job of voice acting the part but sadly her death cries are pretty rubbish. There are some other famous voices such as Malcolm McDowell (Heros, Doomsday), who plays the voice of the main bad guy, Rupert Pelham.

WET tries to be such a good game, there is apart of me that still wants to really like it, so I might go back for a second helping sometime, but all in all the repetitiveness of the levels, the glitches in the graphics and the overuse of Quick Time Events back this game fall into the Mediocre pile. This game is More…moist, and believe me, thats not in the good way either.

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23
Sep
09

Empire Total War (PC)

I’ve been a fan of Creative Assembly’s Total war series since the first instalment Shogun graced computer screen at the turn of the century. The graphics were pretty (for the time), the score was ambient, the little assassination cut scenes gave it real character, the A.I was able and the strategy was near perfect. It created a new brand of strategy game, combining both turned based and real time into a beautiful unity. However it wasn’t until Rome Total war arrived on the scene in 2005 that the Creative assembly really grabbed the wider gaming nation’s attention. A fully 3D map with dozens of beautifully modelled 3D units made battles on a large scale such a joy to behold. Now we are entering the next phase of CA’s series development into 18th centaury warfare, a great departing from their previous work. How well do they pull it off? Well…the results are mixed…

The Bad

The initial version of the game had more than its fair share of bug, even after pushing the release date back by a few months for tinkering time. While these bugs didn’t make the game unplayable it did add a lot of frustration for players (cannons refusing to fire or failing to deploy properly, units stuck in tree’s etc). This is such a pity because CA has usually been so good with realising a very competent game with only the occasional minor bugs that only detracted slightly instead of being a real annoyance.

Also the balancing of the sides especially when the difficulty level is changed is enormous. Factions like the Netherlands, Russia and the Ottomans become infuriatingly tough to play as their neighbours turn on them at the drop of a hat and their early economies rely either on poorly funded and producing towns and farms that failed to contribute as much as the more developed nations in Europe and in India.

Another problem is the sheer number of factions involved not including the main playable ones. This means when you finish your turns you’re waiting a good two and a half minutes minimum and sometimes even longer before you have control again, even with following all units off! I play a game of how much stuff I can get done before it’s my go again which isn’t something that endears the game to you if you’re so bored you seek out other means to keep you occupied.

The Different

Diplomacy is also another difficult area for the game. It’s nice that you no longer have to rely on diplomats running all over the map to make a deal. You only need concern yourself with either the Rake (a spy, saboteur and assassin) or Thugee and the gentleman (a researcher and duellist with either other gents or the wicked Rake) or eastern teachers (their non-violent counterparts). But core problems still remain. The A.I can be incredibly unpredictable, declaring war despite having a trade agreement and their government being friendly towards you.

Not only that, but on normal and higher difficulties making a deal is harder than haggling with Apu on a bad day! They literally expect you to empty double your coffers for a trade deal or Alliance (which they may never honour) and expect you to part with your best money making province for a handful of peanuts and some as yet un-researched technology.

Now the navel battles, the first time CA have enters this arena. Again the result is mixed. On the one hand the sea and ships are beautifully realised (though a large sea battle will slow all but the best rigs down). It’s incredibly detailed: every movement of the crew, the cannon shot, the explosion as a lucky shot hits the powder magazine and the entire ship is engulfed in flames and the way they list and sink beneath the waves after one too many broad sides. Unfortunately, this also initially suffered from way too many bugs, including crew suicide on attempting to board a vessel and clipping issues with waves and other ships detracting from the immersion.

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Even after the fixes were made, there were still aspects of navel combat that made it fall short of being a potential show stopper. The fact that other nations were somehow able to field more and better ships than you was a common problem. There was also the lack to tactical depth, if you had the bigger and better ships or just enough to make your firepower count, you could win by simple strategy. While it’s fair to say that due to the manner of the combat we can’t expect it to be as complex as it is on land and so is limited in its appeal; I still believe that more balancing could have been done to make it more engaging.

Finally, the new technology system and agent spawning.  In previous games you enhanced your army by upgrading your various barracks, shipyards and armouries to get an edge over your enemy.  Now this is replaced with universities and new technologies. You evolve new ways of dealing with cavalry charges by researching square or new farming methods by crop rotation. So planning on building a lot of professors to get in there first? Not going to happen, the geniuses that come up with these ideas can’t just be plucked from obscurity, they appear as and when they’re recognised. The better the buildings, the more likely they will spawn and the more able they will be. Again, this is a nice idea and works fairly well if a bit unevenly. Almost everyone is one step ahead with more agents and techs than you putting the pressure on and pissing you off. And why should you need to ‘research’ the idea of forming a square? Shouldn’t you just be able to make your men do that?

The Good

First and foremost in my mind is a small feature that makes the real time battles better for its implementation, the slow down button. Reducing the action to roughly a third of its actual speed allows you time not only to admire your armada and army in their beautiful detail, but to set orders and react to enemy manoeuvres without needing to pause the action to do so.

The land battles have always been the staple of the Total War’s series strength, especially after Rome. Empire is no exception. You must acclimatise to the new style of warfare and do so quickly. Luckily the historical campaign, ‘America’s road to independence’, is a good option, not only into bringing new players to the series but showing the old guard the new way that combat works. That said, the battle for Bunker Hill was fairly hardcore and as about as accurate as ‘The Patriot’ in what really happened and how, but hey in the grand scheme of things it’s forgivable.

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Hand to hand combat has never been more messy or costly than it has here. Getting in close should only be done to finish off a weakened or wavering unit; else you’re in for a long and bloody struggle. The tension as your men line up and prepare to fire volley after an approaching enemy, hoping to make the most of stopping before they did to get the first  shot in is something that still get me every time I play. Artillery and cavalry have also changed with the revolution of gunpowder. Especially after the first few military technologies researched do you realise how cut throat and quick you have to be to make a shot or cavalry charge work. A single screw up can cost you a good portion of your regiments as they’re decimated by grape shot or a surprise charge in their flank.

Not only that but choosing your battlefield has never been as crucial. A built up area with plenty of buildings for infantry to hide in is going to cause a lot of problems if you’re fighting with a army largely comprised of cavalry or even cannon will take time to get though the cover to your troops. Similarly with woods or hilly areas diminishing your artillery’s ability to hit targets accurately.

Empire has changed the game completely, from new trading avenues and navel combat to the way in which you manage your government, not to mention the new arenas of India and America to do battle in.

While this is a game with its problems and let downs, there is still a rich and immersive work with beautifully rendered battles, a decent soundtrack, a reasonable yet punishing A.I (either punishingly stupid or just brutal) and several small yet delightful details showing some creative flair still burns in the heart of my beloved Creative Assembly. I highly recommended this to any strategy fan.

– Theat Bloke in the Beanie

23
Sep
09

Guitar Hero 5 It's Better In The Dark…And You Won’t Be Disappointed (X360)

Well the moment I have been waiting for all year has finally come, drum roll please (all be it a virtual one) GUITAR HERO 5 IS HERE.

Now I know for most people this probably wont be as big a deal, but for me guitar hero releases are the highlight of my year and I’m pleased to say this new addition is no disappointment. With a set-list of over 80 songs and stunning graphics this is a must buy for any fan of the Guitar Hero series. After Guitar Hero Metallica (mainly for Metallica fans) and Guitar hero greatest hits (lets face it a cop out really) this is a real breath of fresh air. The set-list is diverse with a good mix of modern hits such as ‘Sex on fire’ by Kings Of Leon and classics like Nirvana’s ‘Smells like teen spirit’ making this a game exciting and fresh throughout. I must admit I also got very excited when I found out they had included ‘Plug in Baby’ by Muse. One of my all time favorite bands so I had to mention it somewhere.

Now a bit about the gameplay. I have a theory about Guitar Hero. In my opinion with every GH release the note streams get more complicated but the reaction time of the game speeds up allowing you to keep up. In effect the games are slowly getting as fast as the people who play them, and to me this is no exception. The notes come thick and fast from the onset, but due to the slick programming this is not a problem, in fact it’s a joy to play. The difficulty level is in keeping with that of GH Metallica, with tricky solo’s and the promise of some really challenging levels nearer the end. A nice addition to the game is the opportunity to complete additional challenges within each song. These challenges are instrument specific and set you a range of different tasks to gain additional stars. The tasks range from whammying the most notes to getting the longest note streak or hitting the most notes of one color. I find these challenges really bring out my extremely competitive nature and so add great replay value to the game.

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And now for a quick moan, skip this paragraph if you want a happy read.

Only one thing is annoying me about this game, and it’s a big problem. When you create a band and start your solo career it only displays the overall best star rating you have achieved for all instruments you have played. For example, when I started my guitar career and went through the songs it was easy to keep track of my place within the game, I just looked at my star ratings. However when I repeated my career with the drums the fact that I was a drummer this time and not a guitarist was not obvious from the song selection screen. This made it extremely hard to track how I was progressing within my drum career. GH Metallica had the same problem and I would have hoped they would have spotted it before this game was released, sadly no luck.

That’s it, Moan over!

Onto the Visual stuff. The character movements have been improved and you can now play in a band comprised entirely of Traditional GH characters which is a novelty. All of our favorite characters are still there, even if Judy nails is looking a bit skinny for my liking (I wonder if she is eating enough) alongside the opportunity to create your own characters much the same as in GH World tour. I feel that Guitar hero has the edge when it comes to character customization and this game is no different. I have always been able to create a good likeness using the GH rock-star creator, something I have never managed to fully achieve with RockBand. In this game you can create the real you as well as many other random creations which in itself leads to hours of fun. Alternatively if real life doesn’t float your boat, why not take a step back and let your XBox 360 Avatar play for you? A quirky feature more than anything but fun nonetheless. One way this game differs greatly from its predecessors is that the screen layout has been cleaned up, with all of the information such as the star power bar and score bar consolidated around the fret board area. At first I found this a little odd, but once I had become used to it I began to appreciate how much of the screen this frees up for the graphics.

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As for the graphics themselves, they are stunning. In fact I am now lusting over a larger TV as I feel it would be really worth having to fully appreciate this game (at least that’s what I keep telling myself). The menu screens have the usual doodled rock theme which I have always loved and the layout of the set lists in career mode is clearer and more exciting than in world tour giving the game a clearer, more structured feel. The game graphics themselves are still cartoonish and exaggerated in style, but with a more electric, dramatic feel which I love. The fret board is less fussy but has a new texture, and I love the way that blue lights sweep across the board when star power is activated instead of the usual electricity. It is for this reason I would urge everyone to play this game in the dark. The bold colors and use of blue light within the game really lend themselves to the real gig experience when set against a dark background, it is darkness makes this game truly great and I promise…you won’t be disappointed.

I’m off now to dim the lights, close all the doors, slip into something a little more comfortable, pick up my beloved plastic guitar and rock out.

Until next time.

GuitarGirl24

22
Sep
09

Brutal Legend Demo Verdict (X360)

When I first booted up the demo I could not help but smile, from the get go you are introduced by metal awesomeness, you are taken to the start screen which is a cover of a Vinyl EP, you know the retro records you used to play on record players, the menu itself is totally made up of this retro metal EP which I thought was a nice touch. Kind of like the menu layout in Guitar Hero 3 but more metal and using proper filmed footage as apposed to cartoon based graphics. So after gawking at the menu for a minuet or so I got stuck into a new game, the only option that is available as it is the demo.

Brutal legend logo

I just have to say this now before it explodes out of my like some sort of hell demon. Brutal Legend captivates, and utilizes Metal Folk lore, brilliantly everything that has been done in this demo, and indeed the game has been superbly thought out with original metal music in mind, we are not talking Limp Bizkit or Linkin Park here, we are talking Slayer, Motor Head and Judas Priest. Now that I have got that out of my system, the start of the game shows the roadie Eddie Riggs, he is the best roadie alive. He can fix guitars no matter how broken they are, he can build colossal metal themed stage sets single handedly and of corse shred some awesome guitar licks which will most likely melt anyones face around. But he is an old school metal fan who has been lumped with a band that is renowned for 21st century rap metal, and he is sick of it.

To cut a long story short, during a gig he saves one of the stupid band members, who thinks its an awesome idea to climb all over the stage set…fail. Riggs saves him but gets crushed to death by the set in the process. But in true metal fashion, his blood awakens the set he has built in the shape of a huge metal beast, which rips apart the band and transports Eddie to another realm, alive and well. Hell of a way to go I must say.

As a side note. Double Fine, the makers of Brutal Legend, put a neat little feature into the cutscenes. Before Eddie swears his socks off you are given the choice to ‘Hear every single nasty syllable’ or ‘No swearing please’. This also goes for gore, you can either have ‘No Gore please’ or ‘Show Me every Gory Detail’. I think this is a great add on meaning anyone can really play it, even though the game will have an 18 certificate.

Anyway so you awaken in this different dimension, realm, whatever it is. You awaken in a temple and for some reason in doing so you have really hacked off some priest demon guys. So naturally you would find a weapon and start defending yourself. Or in this case pick up the ceremonial axe the priest demons were praying around and hack them all up to bits.

Using the A button to use some pretty heft and pretty darn awesome axe attacks you make mince meat out of these guys no trouble, well I did anyway. The melee system in this game is simple but effective, I found myself quite happy hacking these guys to bits with a mixture of holding and pressing the A button for different attacks. Mind you, the battle system got even better when I picked up Eddie’s guitar.

The guitar is the source to Eddie’s magic power, by pressing the X button you can unleash magic attacks, this mixed with the axe attacks gave me a great opportunity to mix, match and experiment with the magic and melee attacks. Later in the game though I was teamed up with an accomplice to do some demon slaying with. If you press Y nest to your accomplice in battle you both then have the opportunity to do a joint attack for greater damage. Yet another great way of attacking for some mind blowing melee combo attacks.

The game then went on, killing demons and just being the most awesome metal music themed game of this generation. I took a minuet out from slaying demons just to look at my surroundings. As I said before, a lot of though and detail has been put into this game, and the landscapes are just brilliant. The whole look of the game could not be better in my opinion.

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When I got to about the half way point of the demo I was told to use do a guitar solo. Holding LT down I was taken to a mini menu, Highlighting the solo I was supposed to do and selecting it I was then taken to a fret board with a button sequence going across it. After executing the sequence, Eddie did a massive solo which then summoned up some parts so he could build his huge metal 4 wheeled vehicle, which he then proceeded to construct. It appears throughout the game you can unlock more of these solos, which will do different things, maybe summon attacks will be available? Who knows, can’t wait!

After constructing his new car dubbed ‘The Druid Plough’ I was then driving through hordes of demons, running them down. When I heard about the driving elements in this game I was a little skeptical, seeing as the driving elements in tomb raider for example weren’t the best elements to the game. The driving was surprisingly good and didn’t feel too out of place, even though it’s very simple the level design and the environment just captivated me.

Then it was boss time, not going to spoil it to much here but lets just say it was a great use of the driving element and even though relatively simple pretty inventive.

Brutal Legend is a must play for any hack and slash or indeed metal fan. Jack black does an amazing job as Eddie Riggs, the humor is brilliant and the overall setting is awesome. Even if the driving elements are a little weaker than the fighting elements. Cannot wait for the full game this Rock-tober

-Garv

21
Sep
09

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Recently released, Batman: Arkham Asylum is set in Gotham’s lunatic asylum, where all of the city’s nastiest crazies are kept in a hopeless attempt to ‘cure’ them of their terrible habits – mainly mass murder and some reason to feel obliged to cause Batman a lot of pain. The story begins with Batman’s capture of the Joker after his latest escapade, although something’s not quite right – the capture seems far too easy and Joker seems all too willing to be caught. After an eventful trip escorting a restrained Joker to a high security sector of Arkham, Joker escapes his captors and – aided by the crazed beauty Harley Quinn – gains control of Arkham’s security, and the fun begins.

The game is a third-person title, giving you free reign of the grounds of Arkham at night-time. Somewhat reminiscent of Bioshock, the Asylum has a creepy darkness about it that gives the game a disturbing feel. In a somewhat ‘metroidvania‘ feel, certain areas are locked off until you acquire certain gadgets, which means you won’t be able to go everywhere to begin with, but there’s enough freedom to keep it from feeling linear.

Basic gameplay involves exploring the asylum’s various areas, whilst battling various goons and a mix of stealth and traversing the environment. Batman has access to some basic platforming abilities, which work fluidly by holding the run button whilst moving towards certain short walls or ledges to jump or climb them automatically, in a similar style to Assassin’s Creed – albeit without any complex wall climbing, but it all fits together well.

While exploring, Batman has access to a selection of gadgets, such as his cape which can solidify to glide, the batarang to hit or cut objects from a distance, his grappling hook which allows him to access higher ledges and explosive gel for breaking weak walls to access hidden areas. This allows Batman to travel quickly and quietly through various types of terrain, and access different vantage points to hide and get the upper hand on his enemies.

Batman also has access to a very handy ‘Detective mode’ which can be used to see any important aspects and enemies to take note of, with x-ray features to see through some walls. Interactive objects such as vent covers and control boxes are highlighted in red, and enemies are highlighted in red and blue depending on whether they hold guns or not, allowing you to assess the situation before you make your move. As a secondary function, the Detective mode allows you to search for forensic evidence in a few locations, such as DNA or chemical traces, which will allow you to follow traces of the substance to find your next objective, usually a person who needs to be saved, or the villain you are currently tracking.

As you progress through the game, you will receive experience which fills up a meter at the top left of the screen. Each time this meter fills, you can choose an upgrade from a list which grants batman a new ability or improvement – giving him new functions for tools such as multi-batarang, and proximity detonation for explosive gel. There are also upgrades to improve Batman’s health, which will be vital for some of the harder stages later on. Batman gains most of his tools throughout the story, and the corresponding upgrades are added to the list as he gains them. I won’t spoil all of the gadgets, but there’s a nice range of tools to collect which can aid in accessing new areas, or used for taking down enemies – some, such as the Batarang and Explosive Gel, can be used for both attack and exploratory purposes.

Using these various tools and functions, it’s possible to manoeuver around enemies to take a stealthy approach. Whilst it’s generally possible to take a head-on approach to most groups of enemies, it’s always advantageous to strike from the shadows at first – especially if they’re armed, since Batman is human and can’t take more than a few bullets. Using the grappling hook you can access higher ledges, and in many locations there are gargoyles that are conveniently placed around the asylum’s grounds. Depending on your location there are various ways to take down opponents – while on the ground you can sneak up to an enemy from behind for a silent KO, while hanging from ledges below opponents you can yank them to a surprise drop, and in true batman style you can drop down with an upside-down batman hanging from a gargoyle, and grab the unsuspecting victim for an instant KO. If you are spotted, you can escape to any location out of view to try and hide from any armed opponents. Although the AI is fairly good, it can often be simple enough to escape their view by swinging from gargoyle to gargoyle until they lose you.

The enemies consist of a mix of lunatics, and convicts working for the Joker – prisoners whom were transferred to Arkham after the Joker bombed Gotham Prison while he was on the loose.  The combat itself is fairly easy to control, yet has enough variation to keep it interesting. Batman has three main melee attacks – the basic attack, the counter-attack, and the stun attack. Using the basic attack button Batman will use various combos which can be chained by keeping attacks flowing without missing or getting hit. When an attack is about to hit Batman, a symbol is shown above the attacking enemy, and by timing the counterattack button you can perform an impressive looking counter attack and keep the combo going. The stun attack can be used on some of the later enemies, which need to be stunned to stop them blocking before you strike. Also, it’s possible to jump over enemies, as some opponents with stun rods can only be attacked from the back, to avoid getting stunned . Finally, it’s possible to unlock new special attacks such as throws and instant KO moves, which can be performed by pressing two buttons at once, when you have a high enough combo. It all chains together in very smooth animation, and at the end of each group of enemies you are shown a close-up slo-mo of the final blow. Some gadgets such as the Batarang can be used in combat as well, to mix up attacks, stun enemies or attack long range.

Along the way, there are of course several bosses, these usually being Gotham’s more prominent villains – such as Harley Quinn, Bane, and The Scarecrow. These all have different methods of fighting – some simply involve defeating waves of henchmen they send at you, others are larger enemies that you must defeat by avoiding attacks and using gadgets to stun them and give you a chance to attack. The Scarecrow is a formidable villain, torturing Batman with strange hallucinations and visions to torment him. I won’t say too much, but suffice it to say that the Scarecrow was one of my favourite villains in the game.

As a fun sidequest, the Riddler talks to Batman by hacking into his communication’s device, challenging him to a battle of wits. Throughout the game there are a total of 240 things to find – ranging from trophies hidden around the game, certain objects such as statues or relics you must find which relate to various riddles he gives you, hidden interview tapes which can be listened to in order to get some extra insight into the game’s villains, and hidden question marks which can only be seen in detective mode – but are hidden cleverly in ways that can only be seen from certain perspectives. Many of the riddles involve finding objects and items relating to the Batman characters, so there are plenty of references to many of the characters for the Batman fans out there – such as the Penguin’s Hat and Umbrellas, and newspapers with articles about Prometheus and Firefly. Finding these secrets also nets you some experience towards upgrades, so it serves a worthwhile purpose if you’re not bothered about scores. As a nice touch, however, these items can also unlock various bios for many of the Batman comic characters with comic artwork and lots of details about them all. It’s also possible to unlock “Character Trophies” which allow you to view 3D models of the game’s various characters from the main menu. Lastly, finding some of the Riddler’s secrets unlock challenges in the game’s Challenge mode – so there’s plenty of reasons to search for them all.

The game’s Challenge mode offers some extra gameplay to the title, and allows for a bit of leaderboard competition. There are two types of Challenge – all-out brawls, and stealth challenges. The brawl type Challenges involve fighting five waves of increasing amounts of enemies, whilst getting scored on your combat performance. This is graded depending on how varied your combos are, how high your combos get, and whether or not you take damage in the process – beating a round without taking damage nets you some points, while beating all five rounds without taking a hit grants you another score bonus. The stealth missions, however, involve taking down armed opponents as silently as possible. You will be in a certain area of the asylum with a large amount of enemies, and its up to you to take them down quickly and quietly. Each stealth mission has three special objectives you should try to meet for the best result – such as successfully performing a silent kill, or taking an enemy out by hitting them with an explosion. Get all three, and you’ll be awarded 3/3 bats for that particular level. The game also records your time, so you can try and beat the level as quickly as possible for a better result on the leaderboards.

The game runs on the Unreal Engine so the lighting effects are done very well, as I said before the style reminds me somewhat of Bioshock, and has some very unsettling parts that were done masterfully. The characters look great, textures on Batman’s suit looking detailed, and the Joker and Harley looking quite scary. The game is dark and gritty so it works perfectly, and the game’s range of environments isn’t at all lacking – from caves to the medical centre, the Arkham Mansion, plant-filled Botanical Gardens and the scary Penitentiary ward where all of the craziest lunatics are held. The sound merges perfectly, with Mark Hamill voicing the Joker perfectly, and Batman with his familiar over-the-top hero voice – the sound effects only add to the scariness of the place with hysterical laughter and the voice of the Joker taunting you over Arkham’s PA system.

There is also some free DLC for the game – The Insane Night Map Pack which has just been released – including ‘Totally Insane’ – a challenge of endless waves of enemies to fight, and ‘Nocturnal Hunter’ another stealth type map. Another DLC pack is also due on the 24th October, named “Prey in the Dark”. No details have been released yet, but we’ll let you know the details as soon as we know! Obviously, for free, theres no reason not to pick up these goodies to expand the game a little more.

Also, exclusive to Playstation 3 are some extra Joker Challenge Maps, also a free download. These maps work in the same way as Batman’s regular stages, yet you get to play as the Joker with his own moves, and a couple of exclusive gadgets. If you have a 360 don’t worry, its nothing you can’t live without – yet it is a fun little thing to mess around with so theres no reason not to get the PS3 version if you have the choice.

Overall, Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of the best games I’ve played in a while – a beautifully designed game with loads to do. There’s plenty of gadgets and toys to play with, and you often have a fair amount of freedom to attempt things in whatever way appeals to you most. It’s got a decent length, and is fairly challenging but not impossible. The controls and gameplay work very fluidly, and even if you’re not a huge Batman fan it’s a highly enjoyable game. It has scary moments so I’d keep it away from the kids, but it’s not terrifying so don’t expect huge scares if you’re actively looking for them. With more DLC on the way the game has potential to offer yet more gameplay time, and so far I could even go so far as making it my personal choice for Game of the Year.

-Leon

20
Sep
09

Another Look At Beatles Rockband And The Big Questions In Life…

Well after a long postal delay (thanks a bunch royal mail!) I am now the proud owner of my very own copy of the Beatles Rockband. Some of you may remember my previous taster review about the game, and I am pleased to say that so far it has lived up to my high expectations. Overall it is an extremely uplifting and very well put together game. The game tells the history of the Beatles through a mixture of chronologically ordered music choices, photography, and animations which resemble a kind of living scrap book. The game characters also age throughout the games progression making you feel like you are really taking a journey through time with the band. I found the gameplay enjoyable, much the same as Rockband 2, however unlike Rockband 2 you do not have as much control over the drum solo’s and the whammy bar seems to have little or no effect on the note you are playing. I feel this is a shame as this freedom to experiment was a nice touch in the previous games, and without these features I find myself distanced from the gameplay. There are however a few nice features to the game which go some way to making up for this. One of these is the opportunity to unlock bonus photographs and create an album of the beetles history for exceptional performances during the career mode. Though these are probably only of interest to true beetles enthusiasts, it does give you a reason to challenge yourself which I feel gives the game a greater replay value.

One thing about the game however, is really bothering me. Unlike previous Rockband games, in this game to play the singing career you need a proper microphone, the normal x-box live headsets don’t work. Now usually this would not be a problem (seeing as most people with the band kits have a mic) but with the addition of 2 and 3 player harmonies this becomes very frustrating. I can’t even try out this new feature without buying a second mic (which I probably won’t use outside this game anyway) and seeing as i usually play alone or with a full band and not 2 singers I cannot justify buying a second mic. This has made me wonder why Harmonix has decided to stop the use of the live headsets. Is it because they are not as effective, or simply a scheme to make people shed out for the extra microphones? With this thought, my mind begins to ask the higher question, are official Rockband Mic’s really necessary to complete the game? Or is it possible to equal or beat your score using an X-box live headset instead. Also, and perhaps more importantly, are singers without the proper microphones truly at a disadvantage, or are they just using this as an excuse for their poor singing? I decided to conduct a short experiment to find out once and for all.

The experiment went as thus. Using Rockband 2 on expert mode I sang a 3 song setlist with the official Rockband Mic and noted down the scores. I then sang exactly the same songs with the X-box live headset and compared these scores with the original set. The results were quite conclusive-

Blondie-One way or another
Rockband Mic- 128,332 (I put this down to having no warm up!) 5*
X-box live headset- 130,863 5*

Kansas- Carry on my wayward son
Rockband Mic- 106,613 4*
X-box live headset- 91,056 4*

Tenacious D- Master exploder
Rockband Mic- 38,230 4*
X-box live headset- 34,486 4*

It looks to me that though the scores are consistently higher with the Rockband mic, it is possible to get the same *rating with a score almost as high with a live headset. Overall this experiment has taught me three things.

That it is more fun to sing with the Rockband mic
The Rockband Mic gives slightly better results than the Live mic
The same star level can be achieved with the Rockband mic and the Live headset.

To conclude, though the Rockband mic gives slightly better scores, in my opinion the scores are not different enough to warrant scrapping the Live headset altogether. This tells me that Harmonix have scrapped the live headsets in the Beatles game either to try to improve the gaming experience, or simply to sell more microphones and make more prophet. I am sad to say that I believe it is the latter, sorry Harmonix, your busted!

– GuitarGirl24

18
Sep
09

Castlevania Judgement (Wii)

I’ve been a fan of Castlevania since I first played Symphony of the Night on the PS1 – since then I’ve been a collector of Castlevania games and amassed a collection of more than ten ‘vania titles. Therefore, when I saw a copy of Castlevania: Judgment on the Wii, I couldn’t resist. Not unlike Final Fantasy: Dissidia which I have been playing recently, Castlevania: Judgment plucks various characters from the Castlevania series and pits them against each other for a fighting game to please the fans.

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The story is fairly simple and negligible, basically a man called Aeon (with powers to influence time) creates a rift to bring all of the characters together, and tells them that if they pass his ‘trials’ they shall get what they desire – the trials consisting of battling it out with the rest of the game’s cast. There are characters from a wide mix of the series, such as fan-favourites Simon Belmont, Trevor Belmont, Alucard, Maria Renard, Death and Dracula, and some more obscure characters such as Cornell from the second Nintendo 64 Castlevania title, Carmilla from Circle of the Moon, and “Golem”, a monster sharing a name with some of the series’ previous enemies. Maria appears as her child form from Rondo of Blood, but strangely Eric Lecarde appears in child form also, as opposed to his adult form in Castlevania: Bloodlines.

Sadly some of my personal favourite characters have been left out of the mix – such as Soma Cruz from Aria of Sorrow, Leon Belmont from Lament of Innocence (the first Belmont in the timeline) – and Richter Belmont from Rondo of Blood/Symphony of the Night, but I assume this was chosen in order to mix up the cast a little; the Vampire Killer is already used by both Simon and Trevor so Leon/Richter’s move sets would no doubt have been too similar. Shame about Soma, though – he had a lot of potential.

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The gameplay itself is reminiscent of Soul Calibur, albeit slightly more simple, and its also possible to run around the arena more freely. Characters have access to several basic combos, harder-hitting Charge attacks, and ultimate attacks called Super Finishers which require a full Skill Gauge to execute. It’s also possible to jump in order to evade and pull of aerial attacks. Characters can also guard, and perform a guard-breaking attack by attacking whilst in a defensive stance.

Some of the game’s finer details include the ability to interact with certain objects in the arena (such as throwing a barrel at an enemy), and the use of various sub-weapons that require hearts to use – which can be found in destructible candles and boxes around the arena, alongside items that heal you and others that grant you the ability to fire sub-weapons at a faster rate. There is also potential to master the game to a degree, with some more advanced techniques such as jump cancelling, so there’s some room for growth if you really get into it.

The game can be played with the Wii’s motion controls, using the Wiimote and Nunchuk’s motion sensors to attack and dodge by waving them respectively. Holding the B button on the Wiimote will allow you to perform Charge attacks by waving the remote, and Z and C on the Nunchuk are used for guarding and jumping. Pressing the D-Pad on the remote (when your Skill Gauge is full) will activate the character’s super attack, which will dash at the enemy, and – if it connects – will perform a cinematic move that will usually take about half of the enemy’s health bar. The game does a fairly good job at using the motion controls, but thankfully it also offers full support for both the GameCube and Virtual Console controllers, with various control layouts – so if you are like me and prefer to play in a more tradition way, the option is there. One small problem I did encounter, however, was in some it could be a little hard to see what you are doing when the enemy blocked the camera occasionally, but it wasn’t game breaking as such.

Characters have some of their traditional moves implemented into the game; Alucard’s “Summon Spirit”, mist (for evasion) and Sword Familiar are all used for various moves, whereas Maria uses the various powers of her animal friends to grant her several magical attacks. Some of the lesser known characters have been given more original move sets, however, such as Carmilla who takes a form with close range attacks and a grappling hook to pull opponents to her.

The game’s graphics aren’t bad for a Wii title, all of the characters with a new design made specifically for Judgment. Alucard looks a little younger than in Symphony of the Night, whereas Simon has been given a complete re-design loosely based on his appearance from the Castlevania Chronicles art, with shoulder length crimson hair, tattoos and some interesting armour. Some of the female characters, specifically Carmilla, have been given very ‘anime’ style appearances, with overly-large breasts to match. Dracula looks very much the same as ever, while Death has lost his robe and adopted a much more skeletal look. The characters have been voiced well, although the children (Maria and Eric) have typical anime-style voices which can be a little annoying after a while.

The arenas very much remind me of Soul Calibur, with a medieval tone – church-like areas with stained glass windows, castle courtyards, and dank stony passageways, but it does have elements which give it a more Castlevania feel – such as a giant zombie shark that leaps out of the water in the background of one arena, or spike traps and pendulum blades inside the castle that can hurt you if you accidentally make contact with them. Many of the stages include various hazards, such as poisonous water and molten lava that must be avoided, and it is possible to be beaten instantly if you are knocked off of the arena on some stages with a Ring-Out. Some classic ‘vania areas also return, such as Dracula’s throne room, the Clock Tower, and Crystal Caverns. The game also has a great soundtrack which compliments it well, using various Castlevania tracks such as the Vampire Killer theme, and recognisable tracks from other games including Symphony of the Night.

There are several modes to the game; Story mode is fairly simple, consisting of one-round matches that progress in a set way, with a small introduction paragraph to each character, and some short dialogue between the characters before a couple of the fights. There are also some special Monster Battles where you must fight a small group of traditional Castlevania style enemies such as zombies and armours, followed by a larger enemy such as the heavy-hitting Minotaur (copied from Curse of Darkness). These battles add an interesting mix to the progression and give the game a more ‘Castlevania’ feel. To begin with, only Simon and Alucard are available in Story mode, so you must beat their stories to unlock more characters stories to play. The game also offers a standard Arcade mode, which allows you to set the amount of rounds and face off against random opponents in a traditional fighter style. The third main mode is Castle, which offers a grid-like map which you must clear, by meeting the requirements of each panel to move around the castle’s rooms. Challenges include fighting regular opponents, collecting hearts around the arena whilst being attacked by enemies, fighting Monster Battles, or defeating opponents in specific ways (such as finishing them with a Super Finisher move). Dotted around the castle grid are save points which act as checkpoints to your progress – unlike the Arcade style modes, failure means Game Over so it’s worth saving when you get the opportunity. Castle mode isn’t perfect, but it gives the game more play value which is never a bad thing.

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The game also offers traditional Survival and Training modes, and a Tutorial to play when you first start the game. It also supports Versus mode, both 1 and 2 player – with the inclusion of online play if you have an internet connection. Also, Gallery mode allows you to access various bits of character art, voice clips and music files which can be unlocked in the main game.

It is also possible to unlock various Accessories to equip to the characters – one item can be assigned to each body part of every character – to each arm, the torso, the face and the head – including items such as glasses and hats. This is purely aesthetic, and you cannot change characters’ main clothing, but it adds a degree of customisation.

Lastly, the game offers a ‘Connect to DS’ function, which allows you to connect to the DS with a copy of Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia in order to unlock two characters in Judgment, and a mode or two in Ecclesia. However, both games offer alternate methods to unlock the same content without using this feature, so you won’t miss out if you don’t own them both.

All in all, Castlevania: Judgment is a fairly laid-back game to play if you fancy something casual. The game’s engine probably doesn’t stand up to fighters such as Street Fighter or Soul Calibur, but is one of the better fighters on the Wii at the moment. The game’s plot is fairly simple and has no real relevance to Castlevania’s overall plotline, but it offers a range of characters from the series and plenty of references to the series’ castle elements, enemies and music. The motion controls work well, but Konami have made an excellent move in allowing alternate controller choices – meaning the game doesn’t in any way force you to use awkward motion controls that feel tacked-on for the sake of being ‘innovative’. If you are a Castlevania fan, the game would be a welcome addition to the collection, and the cast of characters should keep you entertained for a while, but you might want to try a rental before buying if you’re not a big fan of the series, since all the references would be lost on you – it’s clearly a game made to target the fans.