Thursday, 29 April 2010

Review | Red Steel 2 - 2nd Look

Many of you may remember Red Steel, the mediocre wii slasher/shooter that while created a stir with it's promise of motion sensitive sword and gun-play, failed to wow players due to it's inaccurate controls. Now the sequel requiring the wii motion plus is available, will Ubisoft's first-person-slasher-shooter (FPSS... you heard it here first) be a cut above the rest or a shot in the dark?

I'll address first what you all want to know: Yes the sword controls have been improved. In attacking and defending, the direction, angle and speed of which you hold and swing the wiimote is accurately translated onto the screen as your avatar performs slashes and parries, as well as special moves and finishers. However, while it is fun to role-play as the samurai sword-slinger for the first few hours, swinging your arms at full stretch as instructed, you'll soon be reduced to unenthusiastic flicks of the wrist. The gun controls are slightly improved also, but gunplay is downplayed in this outing, used mostly to stun weaker enemies or hit out of reach bonus items.

Forgoing its predecessor's modern Japanese backdrop, Red Steel 2 instead chooses a cel-shaded fictional ancient east-meets-wild west setting. The graphics are pretty impressive for the wii, and the colourful characters and enemies are well designed and highly animated, fitting in with the slightly corny tone. However, the sandy sepia-toned environments become stale after a short while, as the game asks you to traverse each dusty town multiple times before progressing.

Perhaps with a more linear design and with more varied environments, this game could have really excelled. As it stands Red Steel 2 boasts an enjoyable and visually impressive combat system (especially once you have unlocked all the different moves) that is let down by a game that mostly feels like filler. In short, for owners of the wii and wii motion plus looking for a few hours of fun, Red Steel 2 delivers, but others may want to wait for a price slash before giving this one a shot.

CeX Rathbone Place, London
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Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Review | Super Street Fighter IV

With the release of Super Street Fighter 4 just around the corner, I'd thought I'd treat you, my beloved readers, with a sneak peak of the newest update to Capcom's heavyweight beat 'em up franchise. For the chronically uninformed among you, Street Fighter has been around since the late 80's, and has spawned many different series on almost every console available. Street Fighter 4 is the forth core game of the series, set confusingly enough between the events of 2 and 3. The format is simple: a 2D beat 'em up that uses 3D graphics. However the simple design belies an incredibly deep fighting system that is easy to pick up, but hard to master. People have been playing this game for over 20 years, and it still hasn't lost steam!

For those who have played some form of Street Fighter before (and if you haven't, where on earth have you been?!), SF4 plays more similarly to SF2 and 3 than to any of the more recent VS or alpha series, foregoing giant screen-filling attacks for more technical combos and special moves. All the characters and environments look incredible, and the facial animations are hilarious! Some may feel they take away from the serious tone of street fighter, but how can a game with a giant green electric beast and a stretchy-armed yoga master be taken seriously?

The online component of the game is well developed, with voice chat, match-making and ranking systems all in place. You can even search for a fight based on connection strength, so there is very little lag. If you haven't already taken the fight online, give it a try.

'This is all old news!' I hear you cry. That may be true, but the SUPER Street Fighter version of 4 brings with it new characters, stages, costumes and online modes and addresses balancing issues based on community feedback. With a full 10 new characters (bringing the roster to a screen-bursting 35) and each character able to choose from to different ultra combos, players will find there's a lot of variety to keep them busy.

The new characters are a mix of old favourites from throughout the Street Fighter series (such as Dee Jay from Super Street Fighter 2 and the knife-wielding Cody from the Alpha series) and newcomers like Juri and Hakan. Hakan is a personal favourite of mine, a Turkish oil-wrestler who slips and slides his way across the screen, using his momentum to increase the range of his command throws.

Many people who already own SF4 may wonder whether it's worth shelling out for the update, but with the addition of unique characters like Cody and Hakan, as well as the new online modes and options, it's difficult to see why you shouldn't trade in your existing copy of Street Fighter 4 to get value off the supposedly low retail price. There may not be many arcades around any more, but a well fought round of SSF4 brings back those glory days!

CeX Rathbone Place, London
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Friday, 23 April 2010

Review | Resonance of Fate

The RPG franchise has always been known for its challenging game-play and compelling storylines. Once in a while, a top quality title like Final Fantasy XIII hits the shelves with a lot of promise, but while it succeeds, it tends to hold your hand through the adventure, offering victory at the end of the long road, but not a feeling of satisfaction and triumph. Resonance of Fate looks at the hand that’s guiding you through the adventure, chops it off, throws into a volcano and laughs as you quiver in fear amidst hordes of enemies. There is no doubt that you will make you see the game over screen enough times to have it forever imprinted in your mind every time you close your eyes. Yes, Resonance of Fate takes no prisoners, but it boasts an ever adaptable fighting mechanic that will not let you die cheaply, you will learn from your mistakes, you will come back for more and when the tides turn in your favour, you will come to find out what true success actually tastes like.

Part of Resonance of Fate’s appeal is its rather weird and quirky storyline. The main story revolves around the world being ravaged by the climate and a new population forged in a city in the sky, but it is the seemingly unrelated and menial tasks you are forced to partake in until a considerable amount of hours through the game when the story decides to intertwine and come together. A great example of these trivial tasks would be Roxas’ adventure in the beginning of Kingdom Hearts 2 for those of you lucky enough to have enjoyed that franchise. Fortunately the difference is, the characters are actually likable. Indeed you play through Resonance with 3 party members, Vashyron, Zephyr and Leanne and all 3 have a unique and interesting personalities that can be related to and engaged with. A great job by the voice actors certainly helps develop this bond between you and the characters, along with the innocent and funny banter that goes hand in hand with the serious development and tone of the game’s story and issues it tackles.

Alongside the interesting storyline comes a gun blazing, wild and extravagant combat system. I very rarely find it difficult to put something into words, but Resonance of Fate has stumped me with regards to how to explain how this complicated, yet incredibly fulfilling and fun system works. You are required to plot your characters movements in and around your enemies while engaging in real time combat. The movement is essentially your defence mechanism as it lets you avoid enemy fire while you can concentrate fully on putting as much lead into your enemies as possible, oh and how much lead there will be. You are forced to be very aware of your surroundings while in movement to ensure your character out-manoeuvres his foes. Thankfully, the clever mix of real time combat and turn based offers plenty of time to analyse your chosen paths and how you decide to tackle your foes. Every RPG has one super nifty and unique game mechanic and Resonance is no different. The ever-thrilling Hero Moves allow your characters to be set up to traverse a pre-dictated course on the battlefield and weave their way through it annihilating all the enemies during the process. This is your main source of huge damage and used properly can be the deal breaker between a successful victory and another game over screen.

Resonance of Fate really does not mess around when it comes to throwing you into the deep end, it expects you to be able to swim like a champion because if you don’t adapt quickly to play with the big boys, you are going to be knocked right down. Right from the first battle, the seemingly useless tutorial system does little to nothing to help you dive in, instead you are forced to figure everything out for yourself and figuring out is actually one of the huge thrills in this game. You will find yourself coming up with new techniques, strategies and moves even throughout later stages of the game, even though the games mechanics are openly available right from the beginning. Once you get past the initial shaky stages and the gruelling learning curve, you will soon gather momentum and really enjoy exploiting Resonance’s incredible game style.

The real thrill in Resonance comes from understanding all of the possible counters your enemies may have to your attacks. It is up to you to mount an offence while staying out of range to avoid return fire. You will find yourself almost hunting like a pack throughout your fighting exploits as you try and maintain groups of enemies in sizable chunks to avoid being overwhelmed and outnumbered. Thankfully the game gives you some help in the way of a wide variety of elemental bullets, hand grenades and a few other nifty explosive devices to give you some chance of survival.

The thrilling combat is accompanied perfectly by over the top and outrageous battle scenes. Your party’s assortment of superhero based movements resemble Bayonetta in some ways as you duck, weave, twist and turn your way in and around hordes of enemies while almost effortlessly blasting away with your huge guns, it’s a lot of fun to watch and satisfying since you know it was your clever placement of the characters that created the opportunity to exploit an over the top Hero Move. Resonance does a great job slowly building your ego and then crushing it between the feet of huge bosses that you will encounter. While you may initially have trouble with normal in game enemies, after some time spent perfecting your techniques, they will not pose a big threat. This is when the bosses come in, no holds bar, carnage. Resonance makes sure that the only way you are completing it, is by being good, very, very good at the game. Indeed you will be forced to endure deaths going into the dozens before your timing and execution and skill reaches its peak to topple the towering giants that will block your path to success. For the dedicated gamer, it is these moments of victory that make this game so priceless.

I really have made it quite clear that Resonance is not a push over game and this is true; you will need commitment to get through this adventure. That’s not to say it is not manageable, as the difficulty curve progresses at a decent pace, one that you can stay on top of, if you go through the 16 available chapters and complete all the side quests available in them before tackling the main portions of the game. These side quests provide experience and items that make the main game a lot more controllable and ultimately, not as punishing. Gamers looks for a much more brutal challenge can opt to avoid the side missions, but this is certainly not recommended. Side missions themselves aren’t that much different, if at all to the kind of combat you encounter throughout the game, but with the awesome fighting mechanics and the inevitable thought of not needing to die ten times over a single enemy, it proves to be worth doing in the end.

Technically, Resonance of Fate is not the most impressive visual title, especially compared to the standards Final Fantasy XIII has just set. The character models all look beautiful and actually have different forms of clothes customisation at your disposal. Your enemies and the bosses in particular, are all well designed and very cool looking, but unfortunately the story itself forces the graphics to be below par. Indeed the ravaged and poverty ridden city in the sky known as Basel, is forced to be dull, gray, diseased and disgusting. It is a shame that the games visuals don’t quite match up to the thrilling combat, but this is not the fault of the design, it is the burden of how the game has to look like in order to portray the ambiance of the dying world in the sky.

To conclude, Resonance of Fate provides a very engaging and enjoyable adventure. There’s plenty of action, a story that hooks you until the end, lovable characters without a traditional annoying one (cough I’m looking at you Vanille) and a very rewarding conclusion both in the story and from the effort you put in to get to the end. Resonance offers a compelling 60 hours, boosted by side missions and inevitable amounts of deaths but theirs is plenty here to keep any RPG fan entertained and to a high standard.

Igor Kharin
CeX Contributor
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Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Review | Red Steel 2

I think I speak for everyone who purchased a Nintendo Wii on launch back in 2006 that Red Steel was certainly a game we were all looking forward to. With promise of intense action, innovative new game mechanics using the Wii’s motion controller, the hype really could not have been bigger for this particular launch title. Shortly after falling flat on it’s face, Red Steel was rightfully forgotten as the controls ended up clunky and unresponsive, the game itself was uninspired and boring and overall, it certainly did not live up to the expectations we all had. I felt sorry for Ubisoft because after all, this was there first attempt at creating a game of this design, for a brand new console. To me, it was no surprise that it did not come out perfect. Therefore, it was up to them to take the formula of Red Steel, recreate it and bring us a brand new package that showed they had learnt from their prior mistakes and rebuilt the franchise better than ever.

Now, aided by the Wii MotionPlus accessory that provides full 360-degree movement, Ubisoft has revamped the Red Steel franchise. While it is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, you can see and feel that it is overall much better in almost every aspect in comparison to its predecessor and at times, is actually a really enjoyable game to get involved in.

Red Steel 2 divulges from the Japanese Triad theme it had in the original and opts for a much more wild and outgoing them of the Wild West visuals mixed with traditional Japanese audio and a dose of killer high tech weaponry. The protagonist is an unnamed hero who was part of a once ancient clan that has now been slain by villains and thieves that inhabit the land and it is up to you to unfold a tale of revenge. Unfortunately, you won’t actually be doing much unfolding as for the most part the story takes a back seat to the action and this is for the best really as it’s not told very well and becomes boring pretty quickly. The main character is not developed in the slightest, the main bad guy is uninspired and this is all molded together with a pretty disappointed ending.

But do not let this put you off as Red Steel 2 shines very much in it’s revamped game-play mechanics. The nunchuck is used as your basic movement tool but the Wii motion control is used for almost everything else including turning. The difference here between this and the original is the movement feels a lot more fluid and this is the most important aspect when developing an arcade style shooter for a console. You will not find yourself swinging the Wii mote and turning past enemies as the game does a good job sensing how much is needed to turn to face certain enemies and so forth.

Your main character’s assortment of weapons range between blades and guns, an appropriate mix from the West and Asia, but with some futuristic components thrown in there for good measure. At this point, Red Steel 2 opts for consistency over showing off, by this I mean the game does not mimic your exact movements like for example in Wii Sports Resort, the blade wielding mini game. Instead, certain movements on your part register particular moves from your list of skills in game. This allows for flashy finishing moves to be performed with minimal effort but at the same time you feel like you have much less control than you really should. Fortunately, because of this slight simplification, the game almost never causes any problems with hand held fights and with some cool on-screen prompts and the ability to switch easily between your blade and guns to kill varieties of enemies, you will find the combat free-flowing, smooth and a whole load of fun.

Part of the fun in Red Steel 2 is building up your arsenal of moves and weapons. At the beginning of the game you will obviously have very little at your disposal but Red Steel 2 boasts a very good character construction curve that deals out special abilities at what seem like very appropriate times in the story. You will find that just as enemies are becoming pretty hard to handle, you will be rewarded with a new technique to make your life easier at that point in time. Of course you can also purchase techniques and even find them scattered in the world, offering a little more customization in terms of what you unlock first and what suits your fighting style.

Red Steel 2 also shows off a very well designed difficulty curve that compliments around 10 – 12 hours of action in the campaign mode. The game does promote memorizing what techniques are better suited to tackling what enemies and once this is mastered, some enemies can be eliminated without any problems whatsoever. However, the enemy AI does a good job in ganging up on you and this is where problems start to occur. One on one you are almost unbeatable with patience, good defense and a deadly offense, but when enemies group together it takes skill and precision to eliminate them. Unfortunately, at times these group tactics feel a little cheap, especially when enemies come at you from behind. This becomes frustrating at times, but a well thought out game plan can get you out of pretty much any mess in Red Steel 2.

For the most part, Red Steel 2’s does a great job with both the shooting mechanics and the hand fighting. Of course you might encounter a few niggling issues and an occasional slash that does not register, but this is still to be expected. As mentioned before, the simplification of motion capture has made Red Steel 2 an interesting topic of debate, arguing whether motion sensing games should capture each and every precise movement of a gamer, or whether catching a few moves and interpreting them as command actions in game is the better way forward. Obviously the latter is being used here because Ubisoft could not effectively find a way to register all the movements of a human so perhaps in the near future with Microsoft’s Project Natal and Sony’s Move components being developed, this will be a much more realistic possibility.

Red Steel 2 does not offer much outside of its campaign mode. There is no multiplayer mode as game designers said there was no time to dwell in that department before the release and they decided to concentrate on a great single player experience rather than an average multiplayer game. I can respect that, I have no issue in a game that brings to the table an incredible campaign but no multiplayer, look at Bioshock as a prime example. Unfortunately, this of course it not in the same league as games like Bioshock, but is good enough to validate the exclusion of multiplayer. Red Steel 2 does offer some side missions and quests in game to earn more money and unlock further enhancements and upgrades. These are far from imaginative however, and for the most part you can get the upgrades required to complete the game without ever stepping into a side mission.

Red Steel 2 does deserve significant praise for its fantastic visuals. They are very similar to other cell shaded style games by Nintendo such as Killer 7 and XIII, all of which looked gorgeous on the Gamecube. The graphics here while of course don’t match up to the Playstation or Xbox, are still for the Wii, very vibrant, alive and suffer from no slow down or frame issues. Great graphics do need great audio to go with it and Red Steel 2 does fall off the mark in this respect. Voice acting is pretty bad to say the least and the in game sound is nothing to get excited about, but I think the visuals are really good enough to warrant overlooking the average sound quality Red Steel 2 provides.

Overall, Red Steel 2 is a good game by FPS standards on the Nintendo Wii. It is an enjoyable experience while it lasts and while there is little incentive to dive back into the world once it is completed, you will enjoy the hours spent completing it. I think the reason I have such a positive outlook on Red Steel 2 is I am just so impressed with Ubisoft’s overall improvements on not just the game, but also the way the motion sensing mechanics are implemented. As a result, if the progression curve stays as positive as this, I cannot wait till Red Steel 3 is in the works.

Igor Kharin
CeX Contributor

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Thursday, 15 April 2010

Review | Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction

Sam Fisher is back once again in a brand new, revamped and thrilling experience as Splinter Cell Conviction takes you through a rollercoaster ride full of brand new content, a thrilling campaign, a simply stand out multiplayer mode and plenty of action to keep you coming back for more and more. While straying away from the original Splinter Cell formula, Sam Fisher has not lost his edge; in fact he has gone off it as now the cold, calculated protagonist is out for revenge. This is not the same complex stealth adventure you might remember and this style certainly takes a back seat to action and firefights, but this is not a bad thing as Conviction rarely has a boring moment, keeps all the best bits from previous installments and Fisher keeps you going through the paces of adrenaline pumping adventure that will be very difficult to forget in the long run.

As you play through the campaign mode, a twisting tale of conspiracy and deceit unfolds. Following the death of Sam Fisher’s daughter, a single focus point unveils and revenge becomes the key to success. The highlight of the story is not so much the content as bar a few well-written moments, it is fairly standard. It is however, the incredible presentation of the events as they unfold. Conviction’s story is told in real time and is painted if you will, into your environments. For example, flashbacks and story segments will be displayed on brick walls as you wonder through lonely back allies, your current objectives will be drawn onto the side of a truck as you side step around it to avoid enemies. This is delivered to absolute perfection and keeps the pace and intensity of Conviction on full throttle and make you feel as if you are dwelling inside the mind of a man that’s bordering insanity.

From the moment go as you set into the world of Conviction you will feel a difference between this and prior installments in the series. It is a similar feeling like when you played Resident Evil 4 for the first time, elements of prior mechanics were present, but were overhauled to make way for a new experience. Sam Fisher’s movements have become quicker and much more simplified, I can only suggest that although I was a huge fan of the previous games, they were indeed very challenging so to fill a larger demographic of gamers, the difficulty of Conviction has been dimmed down to avoid frustration. Anyway, Fisher can still do almost everything you would expect, crouch, take cover, linger in the shadows, the black and white make over when you are invisible from enemy detection makes it’s glorious return, albeit sometimes making it rather difficult to distinguish your surroundings. Conviction has a very user-friendly movement system that sees the game indicator point out your movements from cover to cover and with a click of a button Sam will elegantly move to his next hiding spot, much like in Gears of War. At the heart of it all, Conviction is still a stealth adventure, so the aim of the game is to keep undetected, but if you are caught enemies to their utmost to try and find and trap you. A very cool addition in Conviction is a ghost replica of Sam appears in the last spot you were discovered and stays there, which is then where the guards focus their attention trying to find you.

Unfortunately while Conviction does enjoy giving you opportunities to use shadows, there is certainly nowhere near as much of slithering in the darkness as the prior installments. Sam Fisher is an enraged killing machine and does whatever he has to do to find the murderer of his wife. You will find the new mark-and-execute mechanic to be the best addition to Conviction and one of the most fun things you can do in the game. Mark-and-execute is accessed after every time you rack up a close-quarters-combat kill, which are fairly straight forward if you sneak up on an unsuspecting enemy. With that done, Sam Fisher will have the ability to call on his precise aim and bullet time-esque skill whenever he needs it to lock on to a group of enemies and execute them with bone-chilling precision. No longer are the days of being able to knock out or stun enemies, if it’s not a head shot, Fisher is simply not interested. Some of the game’s most exciting moments are literally driven by this mechanic as at times you will be grossly outnumbered and clever use of the mark-and-execute will get you out of deep trouble in such incredible style. It is I feel important to note that while this is freaking sweet, it does make you feel a little overpowered at times, luckily however it can be justified because Fisher is an expert with just about any weapon after everything he has been through.

Conviction continues to offer other entertaining elements to gamers throughout the campaign, most notably a potentially incredible set of interrogation sequences and the use of environmental objects. Both of these don’t come off perfectly, for example interrogation scenes had so much potential but end up being horribly over-scripted with no versatility in the torture methods and leave you wanting so much more. Imagine if they offered different ways to beat the information out of your targets or if they were interactive like the fight scenes in Heavy Rain. That would have been awesome. As for the environment, moments where you can exploit it are few and far between and getting your hands messy directly is a lot less of a hassle anyway.

While taking the direct killing approach does seem the easiest way to go about completing Conviction, there is some flexibility offered through the well-designed levels. You will find yourself traversing some interesting locations including a fairground and a beautiful museum, all of which offer a great set up for thrilling segments. There are always multiple different ways to tackle any given situation and you will find yourself varying things up to avoid repetition. This may be silent headshots, to parry’s to the back of the head, to pure violent massacre, whatever strikes your fancy as the optimal route to victory. What you will not have trouble with is choosing from your vast array of weapons and gadgets, because for the most part they are actually not required. That’s right, weapons are all pretty similar and you eventually gain points to upgrade all your guns with cool attachments, but they can all do the same thing without any problem. As for gadgets, Conviction should have added scenes where you are required to use your nifty Spy Camera and the Sonar Goggles as all of this super cool stuff is called into action a couple of times and then you pretty much forget you even have them (remember the days of using the spy lens under every single door you opened in prior Splinter Cell’s?) Conviction’s campaign lasts an incredibly disappointing 8 hours at tops, this is a huge let down as you feel they could have fleshed out the story and you do end the game with a desire for more. With an obvious lack of technological use for Sam Fisher, it seems completely reasonable to expect added length and addition for extensive use of Sam’s gadgets.

I realize that in plenty of my other reviews I find myself concluding that it is ok for a game to avoid multiplayer and offer an incredible campaign. Well Splinter Cell Conviction offers a great campaign with a great multiplayer mode and that is its true claim to excellence. Totally separate to Conviction’s story, the multiplayer puts you in the shoes of 2 stealth agents advancing through their own set of missions and objectives. Combining your efforts to tackle hoards of enemies and tactically traversing your surroundings to find the best way to complete your goals is an absolute joy here, truly a top of the line multiplayer adventure. The mark-and-execute mechanic really flourishes when it is handled eloquently between 2 players, you will find that there is no better feeling than setting up a group of enemies to be taken down in such style, in mere seconds using your lethal skills.

This thrilling experience is littered with moments that force cooperation and the feeling of success is truly an incredible reward. If one player is downed then he has the ability to sit up and use his side arm while his friend comes to revive him. Enemies also have the ability to grab you and lock in a chokehold, forcing your partner to carefully pick the enemy off to free you. All of this is executed very well and it is fun each and every time it occurs.

Conviction offers other multiplayer modes also if the cooperative campaign just wasn’t enough. Hunter mode is a thrilling game of cat and mouse where you and your partner are thrown onto a map and are forced to eliminate all the guards. The catch is if you get caught however, reinforcements are sent in, increasing the amount of guards you have to kill. This is perhaps where Conviction really introduces the stealth game-play best and this will certainly have old fans of the series frolicking with excitement. The other game mode is Last Stand that resembles the oh so popular horde mode that seems to be included in almost all games now. You are constantly attacked by waves of enemies and it is up to you to hold them at bay. This is accompanied by a very well designed difficulty curve making deep progression possible with patience and good teamwork. The final multiplayer experience is Face-off mode, which is a very cool game-type. This puts you and a human player onto a map flooded with enemies and it is up to you to rack up points by killing them but also finding and killing your human opponent. This adds tension and urgency and makes the thrill of the hunt that much more exciting knowing that another clever human player is sneaking around the map looking for you, allowing mind games and trickery to be employed.

Technically, Conviction does not actually impress as much as it should. For a brand new title the graphics feel quite dated and while from a distance can be enjoyed, up close it is not a pretty sight. A very good color palette helps mask this and the dull lighting helps to portray a very foreboding ambiance symbolizing Sam’s anger and pain. The voice acting however, does stand out and Sam Fisher’s narrative is exceptional throughout the entire story, backed up by a very decent group of voice actors.

Overall, it is hard to not enjoy Splinter Cell Conviction. Its great campaign, excellent cooperative modes and intricate story telling make it a joy to experience, however when comparing to other games of a similar genre including Metal Gear Solid 4 and Batman Arkham Asylum, it doesn’t really stand above the crowd, in fact it is lingering underneath. Conviction does some things very well, and others not so well, which is a shame. It will also inevitably leave a lot of prior hardcore Splinter Cell fans disappointed, as this is not what the series is actually about. Saying that, it is a ferociously fast paced and exciting adventure that is every bit as brutal as it is satisfying.

Igor Kharin
CeX Contributor
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Monday, 12 April 2010

Review | Apple iPad

So the iPad is here and a lot of opinions have been expressed, some good and some bad. But nothing anyone ever says about anything really matters when measured up to your own hands on experience, whether what has been said is right or wrong.

Just a jumped up Ipod touch with no flash support? Are a couple of the negative remarks steered in it's direction. So I would like to give my thoughts on this much revered and or much denounced device.

Having had one in my chubby paws for the last few days ( and pretty much nothing else) I have been able to build a picture in my mind as to what this device is trying to achieve and ultimately where it is heading. The Ipad should be a bit all things to everyone. If it manages to deliver all your portable device needs then that's a bonus, but you shouldn't approach it believing that's what it's out to achieve. So let's get on with my review.

From a media player point of view I believe it really delivers. Don't get me wrong. From a portability aspect it's never going to replace your Iphone or Ipod, but what it does do, it does extremely well. The screen is rich and vivid and so long as you have the desired video media correctly formatted it will display it with incredible clarity. The interface is of course as you would expect from Apple. Clean and highly intuitive. And if, as the end user, your willing to put a lot of effort into maintaining your media library via iTunes, the Ipad has no guilt in incorporating all your album covers and information into the interface in a way that compliments that effort.

The safari web browser is of course not feature rich in OS3 but again it's the simplicity that is part the experience. A theme that I will often come back to in my thoughts is where the Ipad stands up against other devices that attempt the same thing. In the matter of web browsing, again the Ipad delivers. With a good Internet connection the Ipad is a dream device to surf. The pinch and expand interface is quite simply effortless and when measured up to most net books and other tablet device, they are quite simply clunky in comparison. So no flash support! Well to defend this feature shortfall I need to address it from two angles. Firstly there is of course the argument that flash is just a CPU hogging plugin that stifles your browsing experience rather than enhances it. And from Apples point of view this is certainly correct. They deride the software so much they design their portable devices to ignore it completely in favor of better performance and sustained battery life. But less face facts here. What are the mainstream flash using sites out there? Of course Youtube. But this is addressed via a separate app. And oh yes, the myriad of free access porn sites, which let's face it, is better at home on your PC rather than on your portable device where it's more likely to offend ( or amuse ) your fellow commuters. In respect of the others then refer to my next point.

The second angle that absolutely shouldn't be ignored here is where Apple now stands in the portable device market. A point we as 2nd hand retailers ignore at our peril also. So if your standing at your tills deriding Ipad or any other portable Apple device because of it lack of Flash support then allow me to throw a bit of market data your way. Over 2/3 of all portable browsing devices are Apple devices. This means that advertisers, web designers, content suppliers etc, are rapidly dropping flash or making sure they provide Html 5 alternatives. Not to do so now would be commercial madness.

Apps! Well quite simply Apple is the king of this hill. It's still early days for the iPad but if the iPod touch/iPhone is anything to go by then we know we will be drowning in Apps in no time. And with the Ipads rich display, a good game is even further unleashed. Ok it's no PC, and for the hard core gamer it's not a measure. But again let's face facts here. Most of us are casual gamers. The iPad delivers here also.

Ok. So you can tell from what I've written I'm pretty sold. Of course it still falls short in many areas. No camera, lack of multitasking etc. OS 4 will no doubt address the latter along with many other things. But Apple is a business above all and no doubt a camera will come on later models. So it's a question of being patient from the end user point of view. I' think I'm quoting Steve Jobs here when he says. For many features we are often the last to join the party. But when we arrive we bring the best liquor.

I want to conclude by pitching the iPad up as a useful business device. I for one can easily visualize how the iPad can benefit and enhance the way I do my job. General reports, document and spreadsheet creation are highly adaptable to the iPad. Using an electronic device not too dissimilar from a clipboard holds a key attraction for me. In addition the email client is, despite lacking some configurable features, the best I've ever used on any portable device.

So those are my initial thoughts and I could no doubt go on all day about it. I hope you all start getting your hands on them very soon. I love gadgets. The iPad has certainly been a highlight.

Roy Kindred
CeX Towers

Sent from my iPad
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Friday, 9 April 2010

Review | Metro 2033

In one way or another, we all have seen a vision of a post-nuclear apocalyptic future. Whether in games like Fallout or Borderlands, films like Mad Max or The Road, or in your own dark prophetic dreams, the image of a world transformed by a nuclear war is a familiar one. Metro 2033 tells a similar tale, but from the soviet side of the cold war: A bleak tale of human resilience in the face of overwhelming odds, of despair, doubt and ultimately hope.

Based on a book by Dmitry Glukhovsky, Metro 2033 is seen through the eyes of Artyom, a young man living in the underground metro system of a destroyed Moscow. The game starts with Artyom emerging out of the dark and dank tunnels onto the surface. However, this is not the emancipating experience of escaping Vault 101 for the first time. A bright and expansive world full of quirky characters and colourful locations does not await you. Post-nuclear Moscow is a bleak and unforgiving place where you scurry from place to place, foraging for supplies and eventually retreat underground.

As you can sense from the tone of this review, Metro 2033 is not a happy game. It is a game of confinement, both in terms of environment (you spend a large majority of the game underground) as well as supplies and equipment. The feeling of claustrophobia is palpable as you creep down an unlit metro tunnel, checking your air supply and stopping now and then to manually recharge your flashlight. This game's trump card is the way it immerses you in its atmosphere. Not only are the environments incredibly detailed and gorgeously lit, but other effects are in play to fully put you in Artyom's shoes. You have to constantly recharge your torch, lest it dim to a pathetic glow. You must manually reload each shotgun shell. You must maintain your gas mask in case it breaks or runs out of filters. Life ain't easy in the Soviet Union!

Atmosphere aside, Metro 2033 plays out as a linear but solid FPS. While there seems to be some problems with the event scripting design (often I found important events happening off-screen) and some dodgy animation, for the most part it is a great game, if not in the strictest sense of the word fun. If you've enjoyed games like Fallout or Bioshock, I would definitely give Metro 2033 a look.

CeX Rathbone Place, London

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Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Review | God of War 3

It's pretty hard to write a review for a game like God of War 3. With so much hype surrounding it's release and the reputation of two stellar games to live up to, everybody expects it to be good and get great reviews. So, to mix things up a little, I'll concentrate on GOW3's faults.

The box art is a bit odd. It looks like a box of Special K. Seriously. What's that? Not enough? Well that's all I've got!

Okay, I'm only kidding, this isn't a perfect game. This sort of hyper-violent hack'n'slash gameplay isn't for everyone, and if you haven't played the first two GOW games, I'd suggest going through those first (check out my GOW2 review for more details!).

Fans of the series will know what to expect: Intense combat, gory finishing moves, inventive and varied enemy design and sublimely beautiful environments. GOW3 delivers on almost all of these fronts, and in many cases, exceeded my expectations. The combat, while following the same template as it's predecessors, amps up the intensity by throwing considerably more enemies at you at once, and giving those enemies different behaviours and attacks. The AI can quite literally swamp you as they surround and overwhelm you. Frantically struggling to throw off a crowd of dog-piling zombie warriors while a giant slavering Cyclops lumbers towards him is an everyday occurrence for Kratos.

The enemies themselves were a little disappointing. Not too much mind you, but while the models were superbly detailed and even had subtle differences amongst themselves, I felt that many enemy types were reused from the previous games, and not enough new monsters were introduced. There's still enough to keep things fresh throughout the game, but it would have been nice to see the God of War versions of the Teumessian fox or some other mythological creature.

The environments this time round are even huger than before, and often are dynamic, with the lay of the land shifting and changing as Kratos moves across it. I was blown away at the scale of some of these moving battlefields, Kratos seeming ant-sized in comparison.

However, the level design feels a little incoherent, as you move from place to place with no real sense of order or continuity. The game is set entirely around Mount Olympus, and I felt that you spend too much time going back and forth between areas that it's easy to become confused what path leads where.

Like I said before, it's hard to write a review about God of War 3. I could go on for pages about the fun combat, the incredible graphics and epic adventure gameplay. Sure, there are minor annoyances (such as the guitar hero mini-game and the repeated flying sections. Come on! 3 times?!), but in spite of these trifling matters, God of War 3 is an amazing title, and lives up to the hype as the must-have Playstation 3 title of the year(move over Heavy Rain!). So pour yourself a bowl of Special K, bust open a can of Red Stripe, because this season red and white are the new black!

(Note: Parents beware as this title is EXTREMELY violent and contains scenes of a sexual nature, not for kiddies!)

CeX Rathbone Place, London
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Friday, 2 April 2010

iPad reviews from Wall Street Journal & NY Times as US launch looms

The first credible reviews of Apple's iPad are from Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal and David Pogue of the New York Times. So is it a game changer or a crippled device for cretins who value style over substance?

While the
iPad goes on sale April 3 in the US, spare a thought for those of us in Blighty who are still waiting to hear a fixed release date and launch prices for the UK.

Everything you've always wanted to know about
iPad.... but were afraid to ask from David Pogue (below). Hit full screen to see this video properly, and hit ESC to come back afterwards .

I'm keen to get my hands on one, and I'm certainly tempted to get one for my retired parents. Any excuse for a new gadget eh? But honestly, it's surely an idiot proof simple computer for techno
numpties/non geeks.

If you get your hands on an iPad let us know what you think.

Jonathan Cronin
CeX Towers, UK
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Thursday, 1 April 2010

CeX on

Names CeX as a great money saving and money making website. "I picked this down to money making rather than money saving, even though you can buy many cheap items..... CeX it is a great place where you can buy and sell basically anything electrical, such as phones, computers and games consoles. So if you are interesting in making some money and want to see how much they will offer you, go to CeX type in the item. I have sold many items there and they always give you a fair price."

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CeX on

Interactive online magazine home to expert and reader commentary on 400 subjects for over 10 years names CeX as "A great place to buy and to trade in your old electronics for cash" in an article entitled "How to make money selling your old stuff online." The article continues "(CeX) accept used, out of box items and even products with missing instructions as long as they work. CeX is especially good for trading in digital cameras, mobile phones and computer software. Prices are affected by condition of the products but they are fairly priced. It is quick and easy online or in store to turn old, unwanted electronics into extra spending money and it is also good for picking up a cheap phone, camera or computer game."
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