Tuesday 30 March 2010

Review | Final Fantasy XIII

There is almost no other similar feeling in the video game world than beginning for the first time, a brand new Final Fantasy adventure. It is almost as epic as beginning Pokemon, almost.

The world of XIII brings together a group of lovable, well designed and emotionally deep characters, and unfortunately, a single frustratingly irritating one; throws them into a world of turmoil, angst and war; pits them against demons, monsters and even gods that tower battlefields; all in the name of love, friendship and devotion. The journey is long, somewhat stretched out, hindered slightly by a few technical details, but is bursting with the most incredible graphics, beautiful story structure, over-the-top, technical, challenging and memorable fighting and so much emotion it will have even the most rugged of first person shooter fans reaching for their handkerchiefs to wipe away a sly tear.

Before writing this review I put myself into a dilemma of whether to write this review pretending that no other Final Fantasy titles existed, or to do what every other critic has done and compare it to the other undeniably great adventures that have preceded this instalment. Instead I thought I would throw in a few comparisons here and there as we go along just so people who have played the previous adventures would have somewhat of an idea of alterations, expansions and at times, steps in the wrong direction with the game.

First of all it is important to mention that XIII is driven by its story. While this may seem an obvious point and most of the other Final Fantasy titles fall in line to this trend, the difference here is XIII does drop customisation and game progression to the back seat and emphasizes the tale being told as the highlight of the journey. This is somewhat disappointing and as a result makes XIII one of the less technically challenging. For example, Final Fantasy X’s customisation offered a beginner’s option and an advanced option for complete control of your character designs. Unfortunately here, the game holds your hand the entire way. Upon playing through however, it is not as bad as it sounds; sure the technical aspects outside of combat have been dumbed down to fit a larger gaming demographic, and game play progression is quite linear also, it avoids aimless wondering and hours spent in menus plotting out lines of customisation. So yes, hardcore gamers might complain, but I consider myself a veteran of the RPG scene and I have no issue with the game prodding me in the right direction so my strongest character doesn’t accidentally become a healing mage or my defensive character is my port of call for offense. Also as more classes become available, which I will discuss shortly, the order in which you unlock different spells and abilities becomes varied so there is some form of variation present.

To summarize a very long and intriguing story, as with all other Final Fantasy titles, a great global war is raging and you become involved in a purge of the population between Cocoon and their enemy world, Pulse. The game somewhat assumes you will piece the storyline together, especially at the beginning as the dialogue throws out specialised lingo that you have to just acknowledge that you do not know yet, and at times this was slightly frustrating, however things become clearer as you progress and the turmoil is explained through each character. XIII’s heroine is Lightning, an ex-Grand Corp military personnel. She is tough, filled with desire, head strong and easy to become attached too. The tradition continues here with a great leading character and it is nice that this time it is a lady. Along the way your squad increases in size and you meet other characters, all with their own struggles and goals in mind, including Snow, a self proclaimed hero (who looks so much like Terry Bogard from King of Fighters), Hope a young boy who has lost something very dear to him (who looks like a young Tidus from X) and unfortunately Vanille. This incredibly annoying girl has to be one of the worst Final Fantasy characters to date. You can understand her optimistic attitude, but her voice actor is dreadful and just plain hurts your ears, I have no idea how they coped in the recording studio listening to that for days on end.

Throughout your adventure you will travel diverse and simply mesmerising locations. XIII is up there with Metal Gear Solid 4 and Heavy Rain as one of the most beautiful games on the Playstation 3 and while textures and colours are somewhat diminished on the Xbox 360 version, it is still a gorgeous experience. Detail, is the key word here; everything has been looked over to ensure even the smallest of backdrops looks perfect, with the more up close and personal stuff like enemies and landscapes looking incredible. Character designs are also phenomenal, the detail is ridiculous, for example Snow’s beard, I don’t think I have ever seen a more realistic looking beard in a video game.

Lets now talk about the most important aspect of XIII and indeed, any role-play game, the combat. Many people who give XIII a quick spin have a negative opinion with regards to the combat and this is because the first couple of hours do absolutely no justice to the game’s system. This does mean it takes a little bit of time to shift up a few gears but once it does, boy is it a ride you will not forget. You will find yourself shifting through a lot of menus through battle, immediately however, you will notice everything is smooth and there are no problems in this area of the game. To fight, XIII offers you an ability button that lets you map your attacks up to the amount of move’s you are allowed to perform through your action gauge, and an auto-ability button, arguably the worst addition to XIII. Auto-ability lets the computer assign an assortment of moves that is best suited to the task at hand, this means the first couple of hours when you have one attack and one special ability, allow you to simply button mash auto-ability and kill absolutely everything, you literally spend the first two hours doing this and occasionally using a potion.

After a few hours, the game progresses and introduces the technical aspect of combat, Paradigm Shift. In the game all of your characters can change classes ranging from Commando, Ravager, Sentinel, Saboteur, Medic and Synthetics. These all accomplish different things in combat, from statistical bonuses, to greater attacks, to defensive duties. Each character is able to level up a variety of these classes and you unlock different abilities and spells depending on where you spend your experience points. Of course if this was Final Fantasy X, each character would be allowed to upgrade every class from the beginning of the game, so anybody could be a healer, or a strong mage, like I said before however, XIII holds your hand and prevents this from happening until much later in the game when eventually, all the classes become available. The problem with this is very much two fold. First of all character development is linear and it becomes very obvious which character is going to play what role throughout the game, no prizes for guessing that a small girl with low attack and huge magic is going to end up your Mage and a huge guy with a six pack and a massive health gauge will be your Tank. Second of all, when the other classes are eventually unlocked, it is a huge waste of experience purchasing low level enhancements when those points could be spent on further enhancing your chosen speciality as for the most part each character will be very good at two chosen classes with a third being alright and the rest completely pointless.

You may be wondering what is the actual need for Paradigms; this is because you are actually only in control of one character at a time during combat, with the other two party members being controlled by the computer. Paradigm shifting essentially allows you to tell your team mates whether you want them to take an offensive, defensive, or balanced approach to the combat, in obviously a much more technical manner.

XIII emphasizes that attack and defence in combat are just as important as one another. Enemies have their usual health bars but also more importantly, a stagger bar. When you hit an enemy, their bar goes up, Ravagers as a class actually make the bar go up more and the Commando class makes the stagger bar diminish slower. Once you combo enough attacks together to max the bar, the enemy goes into stagger mode where he takes a load more damage. This is essentially the aim of the game, stagger the bosses as quickly and effectively as possible and smash them while they are susceptible. This of course sounds a lot easier than it is as mid combat you need to change your Paradigm which changes the class of your characters; this could be due to a Medic being needed to heal or a Synthetics character to re-boost attack; while all of this is going on however, your enemies stagger gauge drops, letting it go down to zero without staggering an enemy forces you to start your chain of combos again, wasting precious time. The Sentinel class, especially at the beginning of the game really shows you that defending is incredibly important and using Sentinel players as shields to avoid huge damage is crucial in combat. You will notice that your party heals after every battle, something that is not customary in the Final Fantasy franchise. It works here however, as in combat you take a tonne of damage, way too much to not be forced to heal after almost every battle.

Time is indeed very precious in XIII as at the end of every battle you are given a time you were expected to win the battle in, your actual time of success and a rating out of five stars with spoils being awarded depending on how many stars you achieve. Therefore quick and swift victories are what make a good XIII player and to handle the technical aspects of Paradigm shifting, while keeping an enemies stagger gauge rising, while maintaining party health and boosters, all under the pressure of the clock, makes the game a load more technical and exhilarating than people make it out to be.

XIII throws out more customisation with the ability to use items found in the world to upgrade your weapons and equipment. This is vital for unlocking the most powerful items to make your team strong and able to contend with the big bosses. While not extremely complicated, you become wary of wasting items and without prior knowledge you don’t know what weapons will eventually become incredible and what might have been a waste of time in upgrading.

Linear, a word that I have been throwing around in this article is unfortunately, a strong word with regards to XIII. The world while being incredible massive and beautiful, is merely an illusion. The little map in the top right hand corner of your screen is in reality, an actual representation of how much room you have to manoeuvre, and that is none. Short walkways and corridors are what comprise the adventure aspect of XIII; something could have been brought in to liven things up and offer room for exploration, but sadly this is not the case here. There is one added bonus however, the story as a result aside from a couple strands of tediousness, moves ahead with full steam and is a dream to go through.

To conclude, yes XIII does have a few noticeable problems, it is not a 10/10 title like Final Fantasy X or XII, however, it is fully worthy of the Final Fantasy title and a great successor to the series that has done the whole franchise proud. With an incredible storyline, rich characters, beautiful graphic and audio design and a whole heap of action to keep you entertained. Is it the best RPG to date? No. Is it the best RPG out right now? Yes. Final Fantasy XIII has been made in such a way that it’s demographic has widened and I am very confident that if you have not played a Final Fantasy game before, you should have nothing to fear as this is an excellent game to start your RPG experience with.

Igor Kharin
CeX (UK) Contributor
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Thursday 25 March 2010

Review | Battlefield: Bad Company 2

Yes, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is better than Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. I apologize for the direct approach I have opted to take for the introduction to this review; however, I felt that for the majority of people who decided to read this review that was the one real question they wanted answering. Here is why:

Indeed the gaming market is flooded to the brim with First Person Shooter titles, all of which are dominated at this moment in time by the Infinity Ward’s Goliath, Call of Duty. However, amidst the chaos, David stand’s tall and for this metaphor, goes by the name of Bad Company 2, are you following me? In all seriousness, Battlefield: Bad Company 1 was an excellent title that boasted great potential for expansion into a staple FPS franchise. This is exactly what has happened as Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is an intense package that boasts superb online multiplayer, a thrilling and engaging campaign, all strung eloquently together with great voice acting, script, technical design and physics; just about all of which, is executed with perfection.

Bad Company 2’s campaign mode is certainly an epic ride. You find yourself traversing beautiful and vast locations from the jungles of Bolivia to the Andes Mountains, all of which boast huge firefights and lots of action to sink your teeth into. Unfortunately, one of Bad Company 2’s only faults is spotted almost immediately upon playing the game; there is no co-operative campaign mode that allows you to play with a buddy. This is a real shame, but is sort of amended by superb character involvement. Your entire squad is vibrant and bursting with personality, making it not only intense, but also extremely entertaining to play out the campaign. The campaign’s difficulty curve is very well done, challenging with the ability to make it a real battle for survival on harder difficulties. Your AI buddies are also balanced brilliantly, getting involved with the action but allowing most of the fun and glory to be done by you.

Bad Company 2 also boasts incredible destructive physics, allowing everything to be shot through, blown up and just plain ravaged by war. This spawns into the multiplayer also, giving maps a real post battle tone, making victory that much more fulfilling knowing you’ve not only destroyed the enemy, but also absolutely everything else in your path. There is absolutely nothing like blowing the side of a wall off with a grenade launcher, to get allow your sniper a better shot at the enemy inside. A lot of games actually boast this physics, most recently being the new Red Faction game. This destructible environment perk can easily go wrong, with things landing in awkward positions and sometimes being stuck in the air, fortunately in Bad Company 2 this is certainly a rarity. You will a few times in your adventure stop and laugh at a stupid result to an explosion, but for the most part it is implemented very well.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2’s highlight is by far the multiplayer and also arguably the most important comparison for Call of Duty, the dominant multiplayer shooter on the market. Up to 24 players battle it out in squads across various maps in four different game types. These are Rush, a defensive based battle where players must either attack or control M-COM stations until the time runs out. Conquest, a capture the flag game mode where the aim is to not only hold the flags but until the enemy runs out of respawn points to continue fighting. Squad Deathmatch, a brutal battle between four squads and an Infantry Fighting Vehicle, first to fifty kills. Last but not least, Squad Rush, a miniature version of the first game mode where four on four do battle over the M-COM stations.

The multiplayer shows off technical genius with well-designed, balanced and large maps for this action to unfold. The game just oozes adaptability and skill in online game mode as Bad Company 2 is all about cooperation and team work, solo efforts go few and far between for victory, something that a lot of Call of Duty players have been saying is missing from their online experience. The demographic is also much more suited to how shall I put this, mature gamers, you will find yourself getting a lot less annoyed with the people you play with online here.

Just like any other competitive shooter, Bad Company 2 of course rewards players for their service on the field with experience points and unlockable content. You will be able to choose from one of four classes when you play online: the aggressive soldier who is your grunt man, the engineer who is your anti-artillery and heavy duty, the sniper who is your distant assassin and the medic who keeps his team alive. Each class feels very balanced but the right mixture is needed in order to be successful online and they must be used for what they are good for, as there is no use in running head first into a battle as a medic with his sub-machine gun. That is, until you start unlocking lots of upgrades for those particular classes, making yourself and enemies unpredictable, and as a result, very deadly.

I keep mentioning Bad Company 2’s incredible destructible environments, but this is largely thanks to the well-designed weapons and the powerful vehicles that you are at your disposal. There are 15 vehicles available, including new additions over the original such as the Black Hawk and a quad bike. Obviously each vehicle is used for a specific purpose, be it recon or sheer destruction, whichever way you choose to use them, the game does a terrific job at balancing combat and allowing engineers to really do a number to vehicles, preventing them from being overpowered. That’s not to say however, that you cannot catch a team off guard and go ballistic with the tanks turret cannon and rack up a huge score count, if a team chooses to not work together to take you down, reap the rewards.

I think it is here that I am going to take the moment to truly point out the excellence in the game’s sound design. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that has immersed me so much war. Aside from the obvious things such as hearing footsteps and the rustling of the jungle, depending on the environment you are in, it is a joy to hear snow crunching underneath your feet or the water splashing from your boots. On a more dynamic scale, huge explosions cause momentary deafness as it cracks the skull of your character. I thought the opening segment of Killzone 2 was incredible for this, but Bad Company 2 is really in a league of its own here. Alongside the sound design, the graphics are also surprisingly beautiful, I think it is more the colour design that makes the game so rich and nice to look at, but character models, building destruction and firefights are all very well presented with almost no slowdown time in the heat of the action.

Ultimately, this is a complete First Person Shooter package. I bought Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, have played it for countless hours, and still have not even touched the campaign mode or sniper classes online. What does this tell you, it’s a linear game that does not promote variation. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 emphasizes that the campaign is a huge part of the game, rather than a slung on addition, it demonstrates through combat that each and every class type is power in its own way and should be used and it damn well boasts some phenomenal game play that will have you questioning your FPS loyalties. This is without a doubt, the shooting title to own right now.

Igor Kharin
CeX (UK) Contributor
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Tuesday 23 March 2010

Review | Ace Attourney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth

I never really liked Phoenix Wright. The character, I mean. Sure he was great at pointing at stuff and yelling 'OBJECTION!!', but he always seemed a little too...inept. Bumbling, even. Now you know who I really thought had style? Miles Edgeworth. Yeah, he's the cat's pajamas. It'd be great if there was a game with just him in it. Wait, what?

So it turns out there is. Ace Attourney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth stars the eponymous prosecutor, as he solves crimes with his brand of cold, stern logic.

For those unfamiliar with the series, the Ace Attourney games play out as a sort of interactive murder mystery, wherein your character (in this case the permanently stoic Miles Edgeworth) seeks to gather evidence and testimonies in order to discover the truth. This guy doesn't mess around either, as most of the cases are solved even before they get to court! Therein lies one of the many differences between this and the other Ace Attourney games.

I felt that the Ace Attourney games where getting a little stale and formulaic, so these changes are a breath of fresh air. The first, most noticable difference is that you now conduct your investigations in third-person, moving Edgeworth around the enviroment with the d-pad, talking to witnesses and searching for clues. Also new is the 'Logic' tool, which asks you to connect two pieces of evidence or thoughts to form new conclusions.

Fans need not despair however, as this is still at heart the same fun game they have come to expect of the series. The amusing dialog, likable characters and convoluted plot twists all return, but bring with them the same flaws as the previous games: over-used character animations, some painfully obvious deductions and...spelling errors?! Really, in a game which consists almost entirely of text, would it have been too much to ask for a thorough proof-reading?

There's a lot to like here, but if you are a newcomer to the series I'd suggest picking up one of it's predecessors, not only to test the waters, but also to get to know the characters and their background. TAKE THAT!!

CeX Rathbone Place, London
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Thursday 18 March 2010

Review | Just Cause 2

Have you ever wanted to go on an adventure holiday in an exotic country? Perhaps try out bungee jumping or skydiving? Maybe a bit of paragliding or mountain climbing? How about just causing civil unrest by demolishing the country's underdeveloped and fragile infrastructure?

Playing very similarly to Mercenaries, Just Cause 2 seems almost a step backwards from Panademic's sandbox title. The inability to destroy ordinary buildings feels unnatural given your ability to demolish certain government-built structures. This doesn't prevent your role as professional terrorist, ahem, agency operative from being any less fun.

JC2 calls upon the player to 'cause chaos' in the massive virtual playground of Panau. Chaos (denoted by an in game meter) can be achieved by completing missions for the local gang factions, destroying fuel depots and communication masts and generally being a pain in the Panauan President's backside. Having caused the prerequisite amount of criminal damage (don't worry, it's a corrupt regime, sabotage is good!) the next part of the story is fed to you via a new agency mission and the process starts over again. Slowly, as it factions you help gain influence and the government becomes crippled by your antidisestablishtarian exploits, you begin to unravel the secrets surrounding your assignment.

However, I would not suggest playing Just Cause 2 for the story. To be honest, I was pretty underwhelmed by JC2's storytelling, both in terms of narrative and presentation. What I did find was that it was immensely fun to play. The setting first of all is breathtaking. The islands of Panau are absolutely huge and incredibly detailed, With lots of incidental activity buzzing away in the background. You can fly for 10 minutes in any direction and still not reach the end of the map! The second hook to drag you into JC2 is the protagonist's unique weapon: the grappling hook. Acting as multipurpose tool to tether, grapple and pull, the hook can be used in combat (try tethering two soldiers together for instant giggles), for movement and, in conjunction with the new 'reloadable parachute', complex stunts.

While Just Cause 2 may not be the most important game release this month (I'm looking at you, God of War 3), it still is a blast to play. Ramping a sports car off a cliff into an oil refinery, bailing out at the last moment and ziplining to a passing helicopter and hijacking it, then detonating the explosives you set on the car is just as thrilling as it sounds. Why? Just 'cause.

CeX Rathbone Place, London
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Tuesday 16 March 2010

Review | Heavy Rain

It seems that the more you look around today’s video game charts, the more you see non-involving, emotionally detached games like Call of Duty and FIFA 2010. While they are indeed brilliant games in their own right, their appeal comes from the ability to jump in and play quick bursts with the ability to drop the pad after even as little as 12 minutes. I believe it is the lack of emotional attachment that causes games to develop like this and every once in a while, a game comes along that focuses and engages a gamer deep into a fulfilling and exciting series of events that simply forces the player to stay glued to his screen.

Heavy Rain is indeed that title. While of course there are genre’s specifically designed to engage players for countless hours such as RPG’s, this is a puzzle adventure that boasts variability in story progression, incredible narrative, amazing voice acting and graphics that compare to the likes of Metal Gear Solid 4. Unfortunately there are some hiccups along the way that I will discuss here, but overall, it is an experience that should not be missed.

Heavy Rain’s game play can be described as a variation of timed sequence events ranging from simply pressing buttons on time, to swinging the control from side to side, to button mashing. For something that sounds quite linear it is actually implemented well and varied accordingly to make sure you don’t get bored and are always on your toes. This of course is accompanied by exploration across the different environments that are somewhat enclosed off actually and you will find that for the oddest of reasons, the movement controls in Heavy Rain are far from smooth, in fact they are more trouble than they are worth.

The synopsis to Heavy Rain is a story involving four protagonists, each involved in one way or another, with the mystery behind the Origami Killer murders. As the story progresses, characters interact in different ways depending of course on how your decisions direct the flow of the game.

The main character, Ethan Mars is a successful family man that gets everything taken away from him when his first son dies and the killer captures his second son. Ethan Mars’ story is actually quite a huge rip off of the SAW movies, which I am sure you are familiar with. The killer gets in contact with Ethan through different devices and forces you through tormenting challenges asking ‘’how far you are willing to go to save your son.’’ The challenges are thrilling, including crawling through a dark tunnel filled with shards of glass and driving down the opposite side of the motorway for five miles. The absolute beauty of Heavy Rain and indeed this goes for all four characters, is no matter whether you succeed, or fail, the story progresses. I cannot tell you how wide the grin that developed on my face when I crashed my car on the motorway scene and instead of seeing a ‘FAIL PLEASE TRY AGAIN’ menu, Ethan Mars crawled out of the car and proceeded to escape, continuing the story, that was a great feeling.

The second character introduced is private detective Scott Shelby. This retired police officer is doing his own investigation into the case of the Origami Killer. His story involves quite a lot of physical confrontation and the need to find clues to figure out the mystery behind the killer. Along the way he befriends a single mother who helps him to try and uncover the mystery. A highlight for me with regards to this portion of the story was a small scene that is available on the online demo, where Shelby is required to disable an armed shop robber; while creeping up behind him you accidentally knock over some kitchen roll and if you don’t quickly press the timed sequence to catch it, you alert the robber. Needless to say, I failed horribly as I just didn’t see it coming, but then managed to convince the guy to leave without hurting anyone. Shelby gets involved with some seriously tough individuals and in my opinion, is the most lovable character of the four throughout the game, one that I personally got emotionally attached to the most.

The third character in Heavy Rain is FBI detective Norman Jayden, who is easily the best character in the game. Norman’s story concentrates largely on finding clues across crime scenes using the coolest gadget, ARI. ARI is a pair of virtual glasses accompanied by a special glove that turns anything Norman touches, into data that is analysed by the computer inside his glasses. When you use ARI, clues become available, information can be analysed and lots of other quite interesting things can be done. The most mind blowing sequence with regards to ARI is when Norman enters his new office in the police station, only to find that it is an absolute hole, so he opens his ARI system and transforms the room into a choice of locations including the planet Mars, or a tropical jungle, or the mountains. The game’s graphics are an absolute highlight here and it really put me in a state of awe to experience all of these environments in turn. A much more dramatic segment with Norman occurs in a flat when a religious fanatic is holding your partner at gun point and after persuading him to put his gun down, he reaches for his pocket and you get a quick time event to shoot him or not. I of course blew his head off; only to find out he was reaching for a crucifix. That moment really made me question my judgment and it showed me how well a video game can actually capture my emotions.

Last but not least, a journalist by the name of Madison Paige joins the story as kind of a side character to Ethan, his guardian angel if you will. Madison’s story is essentially used to prove Ethan Mars is innocent once he is accused of being the Origami Killer. Madison’s best scene is when she goes snooping for information and gets drugged by a mad scientist who then proceeds to try and operate on her with a drill. I fortunately got all the timed events correct and came out alive, but its sequences such as this that can change the entire story because if she dies, Ethan never gets in contact with her again and the path you developed changes. I feel it was important to keep Madison alive because Ethan goes through so much hell in Heavy Rain and she falls in love with him, so it is pretty cool that he gets a woman by the end of the game (do you see how much the game got me contemplating? And it is only a game!).

To be honest, the storyline throughout the game flows well, the game does a great job keeping suspense and you WANT to find out what is going on. However, when the conclusion arrives, you will be slightly disappointed, however, the ability to go back and replay chapters to see how the story could have played out pending on different decisions, is a great addition, one that is worth checking out just to see the different endings.
My conclusion summed up is this. The first time you play through Heavy Rain, you play based on decisions you make according to your moral decisions. Due to this, you do, without a doubt, become emotionally attached to the characters, you want them to succeed or fail depending on what stance you take, and you feel as if your good deeds are rewarded and vice versa. However, playing through a second time and forcing yourself to make decisions you normally wouldn’t make, just to see different variations of the story, is not actually as much fun because the emotional attachment disappears when you know the decisions aren’t really your own, just forced for the sake of progression.

Heavy Rain is unlike anything most people will have ever played or seen before. It is worth going through the game, but I simply cannot bring myself to recommend it to keep because there really isn’t much replay value, if at all in fact. If you can get your hands on a loan copy, or borrow it from a friend, do not hesitate, pick it up, play it, love it and it will stay in your memory as a brilliant experience. But if you purchase it, do not be surprised if after the first play through, it will be put on your shelf and stay there as there is really no incentive to play through again unless you are a trophy junkie and need to 100% that.

Igor Kharin
CeX (UK) Contributor
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Friday 12 March 2010

Review | Bioshock 2

Atmosphere is an aspect of the video game industry that can mesmerise and forever implant memories of experiences into the hearts and minds of gamers. 2K Games did exactly this just over 2 years ago with their award winning masterpiece, Bioshock. Although the original in the series was based from the ideas of other well established franchises such as System Shock, and it held certain game-play flaws, one word shot it to stardom, atmosphere.

An experience like no other is how I categorised my first play through of Bioshock 1. With the Cinderella tale of a paradise submerging into total destruction, Rapture was an underwater city that I simply could not wait to dwell in once again. Now after playing through the second in the series, I can give my opinion on whether it lives up to its predecessor.

Bioshock 2 is set 10 years after the events of the first game. No longer is the world of Rapture controlled by Andrew Ryan, but rather in his absence your enemy, Doctor Sophia Lamb takes the role of the voice of Rapture. Needing to play the first one is not actually a necessity, whether this is due to the second instalments poor story that can easily be overlooked, or because you make the moral decisions that dictate the story, I am not quite sure, but if you want to know the background and history of Rapture and why things are the way they are, then a history lesson with the first game certainly wouldn’t hurt.

The game finally puts you into the shoes of the lumbering behemoth like Big Daddies. These powerhouses were first introduced in the original and were guardians to the very rare Little Sisters. Those who have played the original will know to take these guys seriously as they pack a mean punch and will do everything in their power to protect their sister. Of course making you this powerful would make the game ridiculously easy, so the introduction of the so called Alpha series of Big Daddies into the story line, allows them to put you into one of the very first Big Daddy suits, one that isn’t quite as powerful as the Elite enemies you come across.

Waking up 10 years later and finding your little sister missing is bound to annoy the hell out of any Big Daddy, so your immediate goal is to try and locate your soul mate. As the story advances you find out that without your sister around you, your connection will sever and you will eventually die, putting urgency on the story, but an urgency that isn’t put to good effect at all throughout the campaign.

As the game progresses, you will find yourself constantly getting more and more powerful. The game’s fighting mechanics range from 2 very different weapon systems, guns and plasmids. Guns are self explanatory, ranging from a grenade launcher, a machine gun, a spear gun, to your trusty melee drill and a few others. Each weapon has a variety of ammos one can acquire, anti armour, anti personnel, explosive and so forth. The rivet gun has one of the more exciting bullets available, trap rivets. These can be used to set up traps for enemies, although unfortunately the use of this ammo really emphasizes the stupidity of the AI who just blunders straight through them time and time again.

The Plasmids on the other hand, are a much more intriguing mode of combat. Rapture’s famous demise occurred due to DNA tampering with a substance called ADAM. This substance can be found throughout the game by either acquiring little sister’s and helping them find it, or harvesting the sister’s and stealing it from them (no prizes which route gets the good ending and which gets the bad). The Adam can be used to buy electricity, fire, a swarm of bees; vortex traps, ice and other really cool elemental upgrades that can be used on the offensive, and on the defensive. These of course can all also be upgraded to make stronger and do lots of neat stuff and allows for quite deep customisation in terms of how you want to go about playing the game and fighting your enemies.

Customisation advances even further with the game’s perks system. You will find different advances in in-game abilities such as being able to run faster, hack machines quicker, heal more, stun when using melee weapons, give off electric shocks when you get hit and countless other neat abilities. These certainly help throughout the game and using the research camera and recording your battles with enemies can only unlock rare abilities. For example, when you max out research on the new and very deadly Big Sister enemy, you get the Drill Vampire Tonic that lets you recover health and EV when you use your drill weapon.

What Bioshock 2 does well, is slowing the process of first person shooting down a little notch, and really emphasizing that there is a big role-playing element here. With diaries to find throughout the game and tonics hidden all over, it is almost impossible to not search through every nook and cranny to try and 100% this game. It is in these searching elements that the designers of 2K Games shine as they pack dark corridors and rooms with lots of spooky surprises and powerful messaging across the walls that really make Rapture come to life in front of you, almost to the point that the environment itself is telling its own story of sadness. That’s not to say the FPS element is not good, in fact a lot of improvements have been made over the original, most importantly the ability to dual-wield guns and plasmids for some intense combat scenes.

Bioshock 2 will offer you approximately 12 hours of campaign game time. I recommend playing the game on hard if you already completed the original because just like its predecessor, the game still carries the ridiculous flaw of death holding no consequence. In the Bioshock world, when you die, you simply re-spawn in a Vita-chamber with half of your health. You lose nothing in this process but all damage done to enemies, remains. So theoretically you can run into a room, melee attack a boss, die and just do it again until they die. I did not understand the logic behind this method the developers took but as a result you are 100% guaranteed to complete the game, which is a good thing, I guess. In those 12 hours you will experiences some excellent set piece battles, many more moral and consequential decisions that change the flow of the game and a huge load of jumps and scares. Rarely will the game get taxing and you will feel that it doesn’t pack the same punch as the original, almost as if they used ALL of their tricks in the first game and left nothing new for this instalment. Regardless, the campaign mode is well worth the play through.

Bioshock 2 continues the plight to keep us glued to the world of Rapture by introducing a multiplayer experience. It is actually, surprisingly fun and a welcome addition when most people will buy this game for the campaign mode alone. It is set during the fall of Rapture, so between the 2 games and puts you in the shoes of Splicers battling it out in all too familiar locations from the first game. There are a variety of traditional game modes with added Bioshock-type twists like the ability to become a Big Daddy, playing capture the flag with the Little Sister and so forth that makes it worth putting in the hours to rank up and unlock better plasmids and weapons for your online character.

Coming to the end of my review, I still find it difficult to find another example of a game that can capture the imagination of an audience so well. Sure if you break the game down, it is a decent shooter and a decent RPG at best. It is the world of Rapture that just blows minds, something that any and every gamer needs to say they have experienced. It truly is a utopia. God bless Rapture!

Igor Kharin
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Monday 8 March 2010

Wanted Web and Graphics Designer: Salary between 25K and 35K depending on experience.

Based in Watford, UK.

Will be working mainly with the Marketing, and IT departments for two major products.
  • Store Point of Sale and other Graphical Merchandising
  • Working to constantly improved the look, design, feel and culture of our web stores, email templates and our online communities
Good knowledge of HTML and Creative Suite.

Some experience in Flash, and other visual products helpful, as would an education of Media Studies and a capability to draw freehand.

Knowledge of PHP and back end databases would be a treat.

Overall the most important asset is a good eye for the aesthetic, and a rebellious streak in your art. Marriage of both is magic.

Reporting to the Founder, me, to start with, so balls necessary and that also means a large degree of creative freedom which a successful candidate will look at as an major benefit.

Apply via email uk.careers@webuy.com

Robert Dudani

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Wednesday 3 March 2010

What's in the Boxee?

I downloaded the Boxee alpha well over a year ago and was unimpressed, to say the absolute least. I failed to see why I would ever use it. Personally, I don't watch much video on my computer. I have a DVR set up to record all the shows I would ever want to watch, cable service with tons of OnDemand options including premium channel content and an Xbox 360 for streaming Netflix all displayed on a beautiful big screen. On top of everything else, the alpha version of the software left much to be desired.

Now that the beta version has been released, the software is much easier on the eyes and a lot more intuitive although still far from perfect. After toying around with it, even though I don't have an extensive video library on my computer(s), I can definitely see tons of potential in this piece of software and soon to be available hardware. With rumors of Apple putting an HDMI out on their next Mac Mini, I can definitely see myself loading one up with a hard drive full of movies and the Boxee software to make a video jukebox.

The full details on the Boxee Box (pictured) haven't been released yet, so it may be better (read: cheaper) to pick one of those up depending on the internal storage space and actual price point.

I'm really interested in hearing how every one else is using/not using Boxee.
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