Friday 28 May 2010

Red Dead Redemption

Rockstar games are back once again bringing us their next installment into the open sandbox world of games. Make no mistake, this is not merely another Grand Theft Auto with a make over, Red Dead is a brilliant game that takes everything GTAIV did well, expanding upon it, leaving out all the bad stuff and mixing it all together with an epic storyline, amazing game play and one hell of a journey through the Wild West.

Red Dead puts you in the shoes of your stereotypical gunslinger with a crooked past trying to go clean and live the honest life. John Marston is a very likable protagonist and continues on Rockstar’s trend of fantastic main characters. Throughout the game you will uncover his past and seek to overcome those trying to get the best of you, all the while meeting a great cast of characters that all help to flesh out the world around you.

Beginning the game you will find yourself stepping off a train that has left you in the small town of Armadillo. Immediately you feel the sense of life buzzing around you as Rockstar have really worked hard to create a believable Wild West, from gambling to drinking, to old school movie theatres, the entire package surrounds you with plenty more towns to be discovered across the massive terrain you have at your feet. Red Dead does a fantastic job slowly introducing you to the game’s mechanics, be it horse riding, killing enemies, to catching horses or hunting for animals. All of this is shown through tutorial like mechanics and then you are pretty much free to do as you will and take on missions and objectives in whatever order you fancy.

Variety in missions is a real bonus in Red Dead. You will find yourself taking your time to complete the main story missions, just because there are so many side quests that present themselves to you. While traveling across the desert plains you may find yourself doing favours or chores for strangers, or working for the Sheriff and collecting bounties. These very rarely are boring or time consuming so it is a lot of fun to take time out of the main story arch to go about other business, be it beneficial, or selfish work.

Speaking of being a good or bad guy, Red Dead naturally offers you the moral choice of choosing your own path. As you progress through the game you will gain fame that makes you more recognizable through the deeds you have accomplished. However, depending on your honour is whether the town folks will react positively or negatively to you. This of course all depends on how you go about your business, say for example you choose to pay a man for a piece of land you want, or whether you just kill him and take it by force. All of these little scenarios play out in interesting ways and help change the game making it different if you choose to replay it.

It is possible to go through the entire game without actually getting into conflict with the law. While this may be entertaining the first time through, this is a game with Grand Theft Auto roots after all and there’s really nothing better than a good chase. If you choose to commit crimes against the land, bounty hunters will mercilessly chase you until you manage to escape their perimeter on the map. After this however, a genius mechanic is implemented forcing you to go to a local town and pay off the bounty that’s on your head or face the constant pursuit of hunters. You can also occasionally find letters of pardon from high social figures that excuse your actions. This does something that no other GTA game has ever done; make you feel that your actions have long lasting consequences, which is very impressive.

In terms of game-play and game mechanics, oh wow what an improvement over the clunky controls of GTAIV. Red Dead makes covering behind terrain incredibly easy with a flick of the bumper button and there is also a very handy auto lock on mode that locks on to a target nearest to your reticule just by holding down the left trigger. You would assume this would make shoot outs significantly easier, however it’s implemented well and with the minimal damage you can actually take, it’s handy that you can take out enemies quickly and efficiently. In terms of weapons, all your classic stuff can be found in Red Dead, from revolvers to shotguns to rifles, there are numerous types of weapons for each weapon class and all are fun to use in their own right. A more advanced game mechanic comes in the form of duals where you are challenged to one on one shootouts to the death. These are accomplished through a slow motion bullet time like mechanic called Dead Eye, which is a whole load of fun to use. The Dead Eye can also be used in normal play when unlocked but is very rarely needed thanks to the great lock on mode.

Out of all the incredible people you meet along your journey in Red Dead, your most important companion will be your horse. While they can be exchanged, after growing attached to a horse you have been riding for a while, it can be difficult to give them up. Wild horses can be tamed using your lasso and a simple mini-game where you have to stay balanced while the horse tries to buck you off. Some horses are more powerful therefore quicker than others but if you use the same horse for a lengthy period of time, it begins to trust you and thus puts more effort in. The horse riding controls are also very easy to use, with the options of changing speed very easy and the ability to match the speed of whoever you’re riding with by simply holding down the action button. It is also incredibly useful to be able to whistle wherever you are by pressing up on the D-pad and your horse will instantly come and find you. Speaking of the lasso, this is another amazing addition to your arsenal of weapons. When hunting for rogue bandits it is sometimes worth bringing them in alive for double the reward. It is incredibly satisfying shooting an enemy in the leg and then roping them up and slinging them onto the back of your horse and taking them back to the Sheriff.

Unfortunately the horse can be killed by the games more dangerous wild animals including cougars and wolves, if this happens however, to avoid losing your horse if you die as well you may go back to your last check point, but you get your horse back. There is plenty of wildlife in the wilderness to keep you on your toes, bears, boars, buffalo, deer, snakes and plenty of other animals all live out their lives in a believable fashion as you travel across the beautiful environment. This really needs to be emphasized, as the game looks simply magnificent. GTAIV was criticized for its apparent aging graphics, well technical presentation has stepped up here as not only do character models look impressive, but also your surroundings are always beautiful and come to life as you ride past them.

On top of the great story missions and the heaps of side objectives available, you will also find yourself constantly busy with the different challenges set to become a legend of the west. There are a variety of different challenges such as the Sharpshooter challenge, the Hunter challenge and the Treasure Hunter challenge. Each has its own set of goals for example, shooting out five birds of prey, then proceeding to kill five rabbits and they progressively get harder and harder. These objectives increase your fame and also unlock the different costumes that John Marston can dress up in throughout his adventures.

These costumes aren’t just for show either. Depending on how you dress has a strong effect on how people perceive you. Unlocking gang uniforms and such could perhaps give you a stronger bond with some of the crooks, while on a more fun note wearing the gambling outfit allows you to cheat at Poker in local bars. This stretches the game further and really shows off the detail put into the main character and how you can go about molding him.

Red Dead also offers a very thrilling online multiplayer experience that supports both competitive and cooperative game modes. All multiplayer experiences start in the Free Roam mode that simply opens up the entire world to you and 14 other players. At this point you can chose to do whatever it is you see fit, work together to take down gangs, cause havoc in the towns or go solo and try to kill everyone and become the most notorious outlaw of the west. It is nice to see personal customization put into the online mode as you get your own character and watch him progress, level up and unlock cool new content as you persist online. This of course excludes the competitive online game modes that pit everyone against each other in a fair default character setting. These game modes are obviously variations of Deathmatch style games but offer some incredible additions to the style of play with the Wild West make over.

Technically Red Dead Redemption is an outstanding game. There have been a few hitches noted, on occasion AI can get stuck, a few cut scenes have some issues but these problems are so miniscule that it can be forgiven, especially how beautiful the game is and well it is presented both visually and through audio. The story line is deep and intricate; it is incredibly satisfying playing through and watching John Marston progress through the story. Ultimately, very little can be said to fault this game, how do I know this? It’s simple, I did not like GTAIV, but I love this game because it has done absolutely everything right. If you enjoy sandbox style games, this is a must have game.

Technical presentation – 8/10

Graphics – 8/10

Game-play – 10/10

Replay value – 9/10

Final score – 9 / 10


CeX (UK) Contributor

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Wednesday 26 May 2010

Game Review: Prince of Persia: the Forgotten Sands

Having been a huge fan of the Prince of Persia series on the last generation of consoles (in my mind, one of the finest trilogies available for the xbox/PS2), I was really looking forward to Ubisoft's latest addition to the 'Sands of Time' story, which places itself between 'Sands of Time' and 'Warrior Within'. After the disappointment of Prince of Persia 2008, I was eager for the series to return to its roots and deliver an magical experience of fun combat and inventive platforming puzzles. What is it they say about being careful what you wish for?

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands plays out very similarly to its predecessors, primarily consisting of exploration and puzzle platforming (the highlight of the series in my opinion), combat and, as always in this sort of third-person adventure game, the occasional puzzle. I'll never quite understand why games developers feel the need to make gamers jump through these quasi-intellectual hoops every so often. I understand the need to create variation and challenge the mind as well as the reflexes, but when the puzzles are as simple as 'turn crank until platform A and B are aligned' it seems more of a chore than a game. In any case, these moments only occur every so often.

The combat is simple, with many of the options available to you in the previous games removed. Gone are the wall attacks and counters from Sands of Time, exiled is the multi-faceted 'free-form' fighting system of Warrior Within, banished are the speed kills of Two Thrones. Instead, a simple combat system is implemented, with the only options being sword or kick attacks. You can still jump on enemies to execute acrobatic aerial attacks, different magic spells are available and there are context sensitive moves that automatically occur if you attack an enemy close to a wall or ledge, but combat still feels limited, especially compared to the earlier entries in the series. Ubisoft seem to instead put the emphasis on the amount of enemies you fight at once, which at times can certainly be impressive, but what's the point in allowing the player to fight dozens of enemies at once, if it's no fun to do so?

While you may think at this point I absolutely hated the game, I haven't covered the most important aspect of the game yet: The platforming. As ever, the style of puzzle platforming that the Prince of Persia innovated is present and as strong as ever, with beautiful environments hiding intricate and enjoyable free-running sequences that trump anything in Prince of Persia 2008. The Prince's new ability to control the elements (well, just water really) creates some interesting and thrilling situations, forcing the player to freeze and unfreeze water spouts and waterfalls in mid air. My only concern is that for a game that uses water so often, the water effects are pretty dire. There are no real-time water physics, and water seems to appear and disappear in mid air (also, for a desert palace, they seem to waste an awful lot of water!).

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands does indeed return to the series roots, but almost to a fault. Many of the environments are directly lifted from scenes of its predecessors (the castle siege, the hanging gardens), the graphics do not seem next-gen and I often felt that this game could run on an original xbox, and many of the features that made the series great have been removed (the immersive narration was a feature I particularly missed). It is an enjoyable game, but apart from a spectacular set-piece towards the end, falls sort of my own high expectations. In short, it is a game with glimpses of brilliance and worth at least one playthrough to those interested in filling the gaps in the Prince's story. I'll give it 7 sand dunes out of 10.


CeX Rathbone Place, London

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Thursday 20 May 2010

Game Review: Lost Planet 2

The original Lost Planet was surrounded by a lot of hype back in early 2007. The game sported phenomenal visuals most notably an incredible environment, robust action sequences against a variety of larger than life enemies and most importantly, Lost Planet was a lot of fun. It did have considerable issues but most of which were easily overlookable and overall, it was a success. You would assume then, that Capcom would take their successful series, which sold over 1 million copies by April 2007, expand upon it and release a new installment that had all of what made the original so great but excluding the previous issues.

Unfortunately, this is not the case here. As much as you want to love Lost Planet 2, it is a disaster waiting to irritate and frustrate you every single time you play the game. Not only did Capcom not address the game’s previous issues, they seemed to assume we didn’t mind being plagued by linear and poor level design, awkward camera angles, some of the worst AI you have ever played with and inconsistencies left, right and centre. Blessed with terrific visuals, a few pretty fascinating and action filled boss segments and great multiplayer, Lost Planet 2 manages to stay afloat but unfortunately, it does little for itself to warrant a purchase.

Lets start by talking about some of Lost Planet 2’s good features. Returning back to the Planet E.D.N. III some years later provides a shock to those who played the original. No more is the looming snowy landscape, now the climate has drastically changed allowing for exploration in a lot of diverse and varied locations ranging from forests, deserts to compounds. Perhaps its biggest asset as I have said before, is the incredible visuals that really help bring the planet to life. It is also worth noting that you will have the opportunity to experience different types of game-play across all of these varied terrains, allowing some of the slower paced segments to be used as a way to really admire and take in the technical visual beauty of Lost Planet 2.

Unfortunately, this is pretty much the only time Lost Planet 2’s technical traits shine. While the levels may be varied, they lack consistency in length and often end as things are starting to pick up, or leave a sour taste in your mouth by showing over and over, the inconsistency of the game’s design, be it through failure in communicating objectives, to oversimplifying moments that seem to be destined for an explosive climax or by killing you again and again with unfair and cheap pummeling methods that can rarely be stopped or avoided.

I remember a moment in the original Lost Planet game where you take a snowmobile across a massive terrain and you get attacked by a giant worm like monster that ends up being an optional boss to tackle. It was so difficult to kill partly because the game did not tell you how to do it. This however, is acceptable because it is optional and you don’t have to do it, in fact you can just run right past it. Lost Planet 2 however, chooses to not tell you how to accomplish your main goals, which leads to exceptionally frustrating segments that boggles my mind because it is such a basic design error. Most notably, a certain mission places you on top of two speeding trains and while being constantly knocked off the side of the train is horrendously annoying in its own right, getting to the conclusion of the level where a giant enemy attacks your train and you are told nothing of how to stop it, is absolutely ridiculous.

This sounds mind-numbingly painful and it doesn’t stop there, oh no it gets even worse. Lost Planet 2’s campaign is based around multiplayer; indeed you are at all times supported by 3 computers AI. By supported however, I mean they do less than nothing to aid your cause and would literally be better off trying to shoot you because in that case, you could dodge their bullets and they might accidentally kill an enemy behind you. In all seriousness, it is a joke how bad the game’s AI is, going back to the speeding train level, if you ever figure out what you have to do at the end, you will end up needing the help of friends in order to accomplish the variety of different objectives that need constant attention in order to pass the level. The AI, do none of these objectives for you, playing alone is pretty much suicidal and human friends are a necessity for this part and indeed others throughout the campaign.

Lost Planet 2’s design flaws don’t just exist on the larger scale, for the most part, everything in this game is out to make your experience not fun. Inconsistency is a word I have thrown about a lot in this review but it is just the perfect word to describe some of the bizarre things that happen throughout Lost Planet 2. For example, the game tries so hard to keep you engaged in action sequences, but gives your enemies the power to send you flying and then continue attacking you giving you no chance to get back up and defend yourself. Lots of weapons deal a lot of damage and all have massive knock-back as well meaning you will spend so much time on the ground or stunned it is ridiculous. Forget about trying to heal or throw a handheld weapon while involved in combat as all animations are stopped if even so much as a single tiny bullet hits you. Now I understand technically that makes sense, but it just makes the whole experience incredibly irritating. On top of that, while the game may look pretty, fundamental errors in terrain boundaries can be noticed all the time. Sometimes water signals instant death, while other moments it is perfectly ok. Some rocks look like you can grapple hook onto them, others for some strange reason won’t let you, it’s baffling all the time.

I guess playing with friends makes the game somewhat bearable, if you are the most persistent set of gamers that have completed everything else available in your local store. In all seriousness, some joy can be found joining forces with friends and taking down the epic beasts that are encountered throughout the campaign. Lost Planet 2 does a great job introducing some beautiful and terrifying creatures into the action and when playing with friends, it is a lot of fun trying to take them down. As I am writing this I am beginning to really believe that Capcom set out to just make everything here as annoying as possible. Even this simple co-op experience had to be tampered with in such a way to come up with some sort of problem. You cannot join friends that are already mid-action, which is pretty dumbfounding. Also you can only play levels that both you and your friend have completed, again, I don’t actually understand the reasoning behind this. Unfortunately, this is as good as it gets for the campaign mode.

Prodding the campaign further, would it have killed Capcom to attempt to inject Lost Planet 2 with a bit of life in the character and story departments? Think of the campaign mode as a beautiful, yet shallow shell, it may look good but it is about as interesting as a goldfish. The original game had a protagonist and a stab at some sort of story, here you play as an unnamed group of soldiers, you follow an incomprehensive campaign with little to no explanation about what’s actually going on. The game even opens each levels with a ‘ready 3 – 2 – 1 go’ segment just showing further the shallow arcade feel it gives off. I understand storyline isn’t actually that important when it comes to shooting games but a bit of substance could never hurt.

Thankfully Lost Planet 2’s online competitive multiplayer is actually pretty good. The game offers a large variety of different enjoyable game-types across some pretty cool maps that really have an original twist to them from a technical aspect. The multiplayer faction mode is another great highlight of Lost Planet 2 as it divides the world map between 5 factions and earning points helps your faction climb the ranks and be victorious. There are also lots of goodies to unlock and rewards for continuous play. The important ones of course are weapons and upgrades but the consistent and persistent unlocking of useless titles like in Modern Warfare 2 make it really irritating because you cannot choose what to unlock as its done randomly on a roulette style machine. Regardless, with enough game time you will start unlocking lots of cool stuff that keeps the online action entertaining and fun.

I am disappointed with Lost Planet 2 because it simply had so much potential. With a solid base to work from, there really is no excuse for Capcom’s delivery of this sequel. They had all the tools to build what could have been one of the best games of the year but consistent basic issues and problems really take the enjoyment out of the majority of Lost Planet 2. Fortunately, beautiful graphics, the option to play with up to 3 friends, a great multiplayer and variety in different areas help keep Lost Planet 2 from being a total failure, but it is a right shame this could not be the winner we were all hoping for.

CeX (UK) Contributor

Igor Kharin

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Tuesday 18 May 2010

Game Review: Fifa World Cup South Africa 2010

Only 6 months after the release of FIFA10, EA sports have brought out their new addition to the football simulator franchise. With such little time between games one would question whether FIFAWORLDCUP10 is worth the full retail price attached to it. Some would also question what kind of possible changes could occur in such a little time gap and if it is not simply better to wait for the arrival of FIFA11. Fortunately, a lot of care has been put into this instalment and with improved game mechanics, enhancements over FIFA10, aesthetic revisions and re-modelling, on top of the unparalleled resemblance to the actual World Cup, this addition to the series really brings you to the action like never before.

Lets not beat around the bush here; FIFAWORLDCUP10 is all about the glory and dynamism that is associated with the world’s biggest sporting event. Right from the first game you jump into, the atmosphere will blow you away, the fans erupt, fireworks signal the beginning of the World Cup, the managers walk out onto the pitch and shake each other’s hands, the even more life like player models exchange small talk before an even more realistic and enjoyable game of football is played. With such a short time span to make technical revisions to FIFA10, it was obvious that the job of the staff would be to tinker with the technicalities of the game and remove previous issues and problems. Players now feel even more life like, especially with regards to the contact they make with each other. AI’s intelligence has been enhanced; the passing system has been improved with better through balls to accompany smarter runs behind the defenders. The shooting feels a lot harder, it is more difficult to find that cheap goal that always goes in, however you find that a lot more realistic scrappy goals tend to find their way into the back of the net, which is fine since if players never made mistakes, you would never see any goals. The game’s default camera has changed and zoomed out a little bit to give you a better view of the pitch allowing for easier cross field balls to stretch the play, but this of course can be changed back if you find it not as comfortable.

One of the most significant and needed additions to WORLDCUP10 is the composure metre for penalties. The technique for taking penalties is more difficult now, but it works an absolute treat once you go through the penalty tutorial mode and get to grips with it. Since a lot of games could come down to penalties, it was a wise choice making them more of a challenge to convert to make the shootouts much more dramatic. WORLDCUP10 also has the help of commentators Clive Tyldesley and Andy Towsend, who do a much better job than Andy Grey and Martin Tyler, talking in a much more realistic and fluid manner.

What would an EA sports game be without flash, without flair? Well WORLDCUP10 is bursting to the brim with beautiful looks. As always, the games presentation right from the title screen is absolutely gorgeous. In game, as I have mentioned, the designers have taken the time to model all of the 32 qualified managers and you can see them occasionally during breaks in play barking out orders or patting players on the back when they make substitutions. Every World Cup stadium looks gorgeous and there are others to play in as well that all look fantastic. Fan animation has also been added with people screaming from the stands with face painted national flags and so forth. This all alongside the great game play, helps build the atmosphere of a terrific sporting event. Overall, the game feels significantly more realistic (if that word can be used to describe a video game), but it is a vast improvement over FIFA10 and I could not go back to playing the prior.

Now lets talk about the modes available in this game. In comparison to FIFA10, you are somewhat limited but what you are offered is ever so thrilling. WORLDCUP10 offers you a choice of 199 international teams, but no clubs. The teams that have never qualified for a World Cup can be guided through the qualification process and eventually brought into the World Cup where you can take the under dogs and try to win the ultimate prize. If that seems too much of a hassle for you, you can take one of the already qualified teams and play through the group and knockout stages to reach the end. The games difficulty curve is presented almost flawlessly, with available challenge to any player of any level. The final offline mode is Captain your Country, which allows you to play as a single player, or alongside 3 friends in offline mode, each controlling a player, as you try to reach the captaincy and first team squad of your chosen team for the World Cup Finals. This mode provides a slightly enjoyably variation of the football simulation, but is often plagued with ridiculous technicalities, such as at times you could be scoring a hat-trick a game and all of a sudden you can be dropped to the reserve team and lose the armband. Overall, you don’t buy any FIFA game to really be playing this mode.

The cream of WORLDCUP10 is by far the Online World Cup Mode. This allows you to pick a nation and guide them through the group and knock out stages of the tournament. You are paired up with players that are playing with the same teams as allocated in your groups, so while you will not go through the group stages with the same 4 players, they will be the same teams, keeping the realism. It is especially exciting when another game of the other two nations is going on and their score-line is passed onto you, as more often than not, goal difference can decide group stage qualification. The game promotes play with weaker teams in this mode as you gain more points, but unfortunately, you can really feel the difference of powerhouse teams such as France and Holland, so no matter how good you are, it is difficult to stop Frank Ribery and Aaron Lennon bombarding the wings with you not being able to get anywhere near them. That’s not to say that this is still not an incredibly enjoyable game mode. When you enter the knock out stages you actually feel the pressure and excitement and the reality that you might win the World Cup with your favourite team. This sense of emotion is what WORLDCUP10 does best in simulating and this is certainly no easy task to accomplish. The national pride at stake makes it a nerve-racking tournament but the satisfaction of winning is absolutely incredible.

To conclude, unfortunately it is difficult to admit that £39.99 is a hefty price tag, but this is only because FIFA10 came out 6 months ago. There is very little difference between the PS3 and 360 versions of the game, if at all. The Wii version is a totally different game with the Wii controls so this review does not apply to it. There is absolutely no doubt that FIFAWORLDCUP10 is a better game in every aspect technically and visually. If you have the money, get it, you will not regret it, it is as simple as that.

CeX (UK) Contributor

Igor Kharin

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Friday 14 May 2010

Game Review: Alan Wake (X360)

For generations now, the horror franchise is a staple in the video game industry. Many key games and characters have developed from this portion of the video game world and scare-tactics, atmosphere, gripping audio, all have infinite potential to be used in such a way as to scare the daylights out of gamers. The concept of darkness itself is quite an intriguing one because like ghosts, phantoms and such, it is a metaphorical presence. Games that encompass zombies, aliens and the like can be scary, but it is what lurks in the unknown, that is truly terrifying. Alan Wake takes you on a narrated adventure where a flashlight, a weapon of choice and your own thoughts are the only accompaniment you will get while traversing ominous forests, foraging through abandoned cabins and trying to survive against an enemy that all the way through the game, you cannot really be sure, if it is real or not. Indeed Alan Wake is an action packed, thrilling and down right scary psychological thriller that only fortunate Xbox 360 owners will get a chance for the time being, to get their hands on.

Alan Wake puts you in the shoes of yes you’ve guessed it, Mr. Wake himself. After not being able to write a new novel after a best selling hit, Alan Wake takes his wife up to a remote mountain village where he hopes peace and tranquility will give him the time and inspiration he needs to put pen to paper and create another successful novel. Unfortunately for Alan, the story he writes comes to life in this cleverly unfolding story. Alan narrates what goes on around him in very fluid prose that help push the story along while doing everything he can to uncover the secret behind the darkness trying to envelop him and his wife. The perfect blend of questions and answers help to make it really believable that Alan has no idea what is going on around him and fortunately for you, it is him that is stuck in the nightmare.

Alongside Alan Wake’s story telling are the optional, yet recommended pieces of abandoned text and parchment that lay ravaged across the game. It is made very clear that to collect this extra content you will be straying off your main path and into subsequent danger, but it is more than worthwhile as you begin to learn that Alan had already written the story that was unfolding before his own eyes and finding these scripts can help you prepare for what could potentially be coming next in the story’s thrilling build up. On top of that the game also shows off its interactivity by letting gamers tune in radio stations and turn on TV’s that offer further insight into the town and story.

After playing Alan Wake for a while, the game really reminded me of Silent Hill. Just as much as fog was your enemy in the latter, the darkness is as much of a threat here. Throughout the game Alan carries a flashlight that he can use to weaken and stop the dark figures that haunt him. When they are weakened you can take them down with whatever weapon you are holding and with the addition of awesome upgrades like flash-bang grenades, you will soon learn that using light in interesting ways will help you overcome the enemies that outnumber you. The game offers other additional weaponry like a hunting rifle and a shotgun, but once you master the flashlight and shoot mechanic, weapon choice rarely matters.

There are segments throughout the game that offer you potential light sources to hide in, ironic that you must hide in the light isn’t it, but of course these are segments where you must fend off enemies while attempting to secure a checkpoint. Unfortunately the game needs to be played on the harder difficulty if it is to be much of a serious challenge as the game offers a lot of ammunition on top of your health bar regenerating after every battle. The regenerating health bar is a huge problem in Alan Wake and I feel the game could have benefited much more from a health pack type mechanic, making survival a lot tenser as opposed to healing periodically after every fight.

While Alan Wake really turns on the scare-factor early on in the game, you will find that after the first few hours when you have adapted, that there really isn’t much else that actually takes you to the edge of your seat. The opening segment of the game really sets up an intense adventure and while it does by no means, fall flat on its face, it just hits its high point at the beginning and never really rises above that. Alan Wake excels in incredible story telling and because the fighting mechanics are so thrilling, you won’t mind that things don’t change that much, but if you were to pick a hole in this game, versatility and variety of scares could have used some work as most things become predictable and at times, rather stereotypical of the genre.

Technically Alan Wake is also very impressive. The graphics are top notch, Alan himself is not the best character design we have seen on a next gen machine, but the phenomenal atmosphere the haunted forest gives off is just so incredible. It oozes terror and tension every single time you step outside with Alan and your flashlight really feels futile amidst the engulfing darkness of the forest. I guess one of the most terrifying aspects of Alan Wake is that because there is darkness all around you, this technically means that the enemy is always stalking, hunting after you. The demons in Alan Wake hunt like raptors, circling and constantly torment you, forcing you to keep them at bay with your flashlight. This creates great tension and really forces you to move and want to find the next available flicker of light that will allow you to rest. Also like anything from the horror franchise, the musical score adds to the terrifying tone of the game, subtly creeping up your spine as you navigate throughout the game.

To be perfectly honest, the storyline is the main selling point of Alan Wake. Fortunately, it does have a very innovative, interesting and well implemented fighting mechanic as well, which helps it to promote the game even further. Alan Wake is an incredible experience, one that gamers should not miss, great horror games are few and far between but this one does a very good job at delivering tension, excitement and horror. Alan Wake wants to write a gripping tale, well here it is, alive and in motion.

Just on a side note, there are actually 4 episodes on the Internet called ‘Bright Falls – the prequel to Alan Wake’. These are very creepy and strange video segments that lead up to the actual game. They are well worth checking it for those about to jump into the game and those already completed it, some thrilling stuff going on the videos. Now go get the game!

CeX (UK) Contributor


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Wednesday 12 May 2010

Game Review: Dead to Rights Retribution (Xbox 360 & PS3)

This recent spate of bad weather is really starting to depress me. After a few days of sunshine, we're subjected to another round of chilly winds, horrible rain and even volcanic ash! Well screw it, I'm headed indoors to get some gaming on. And what better way to combat the grey and rainy weather than with a grey and rainy game? You know what they say, misery loves company!

Dead to Rights: Retribution is Namco's latest attempt to revive the dog-eared franchise, this time emphasizing the hybrid combat system, wherein the player moves seamlessly from cover-based gunplay to hand-to-hand combat. Can Namco find the winning formula for this flagging franchise or is it a case of a sheep in wolf's clothing?

Dead to Rights: Retribution is a re-imagining of the story of Jake Slate, a tough, gruff and buff vice cop working in the fictional and gritty Grant City. Joining Jake is his dog (or miniature polar bear) Shadow, an animal of equal tough, gruff and buffness. The design on these two is pretty ridiculous, with Jake looking like he works out at the same gym as Chris Redfield, and Shadow appearing more like a werewolf than a police dog. This sort of outlandish design works against itself in a game which tries to be gritty, realistic and supposedly noir. For every well-delivered monologue and atmospherically lit environment that sets the mood, a cartoon-like enemy or clumsily choreographed takedown animation shatters the effect.

Rather than deciding to focus on the game's unique factor (i.e. your canine partner), Dead to Rights instead calls on the player to defeat enemies with a blend of shooting and fighting. If the player can weave a series of successful attacks together, they are rewarded with an often brutal and always over-the-top takedown move (accompanied by the liberal use of slow motion) . The player is rarely given the opportunity to stay in cover and pick off enemies since ammo is scarce and your cover can be destroyed, forcing you to run from place to place, making well-placed headshots before rushing in and serving the surviving enemies a round of knuckle sandwiches. Combine this with the ability to send in Shadow to retrieve ammo, worry attackers and finish off stragglers, and you have yourself a fairly unique experience.

Shadow's involvement is not only confined to a supporting role; the player can also take control of him at certain sections of the game. These missions are given different objectives, but the gameplay remains the same: sneak up on enemies and stealth-kill them. There's nothing much to write home about here, anyone hoping for an Okami experience will be sorely disappointed.

Dead to Rights: Retribution ticks all the boxes and has it's moments, but in the end is not refined enough to be a big hit. In its efforts to create a bad-ass character with brutal takedown moves, Namco ended up creating a cartoony muscle-bound cliché. The game is satisfyingly enjoyable, but is definitely a case of style over substance, or perhaps more fittingly, all bark and no bite.


CeX Rathbone Place, London

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Friday 7 May 2010

Game Review: BlazBlue Calamity Trigger (PS3, Xbox 360)

To follow up on my Super Street Fighter 4 piece, I'd thought I'd combo straight into a second beat 'em up review. Arc System Work's Blaz Blue is the spiritual successor to Guilty Gear, another alliterative free-form fighter from the Japanese studio. If you are at all familiar with Guilty Gear, you will know what to expect from Arc's newest and hardest to pronounce 2D brawler, but are there enough new elements here to keep things interesting?

If you are a newcomer to any of Arc's fighting games, they are in essence similar to the sprite-based 2D beat 'em ups of yesteryear, but boast much larger and well animated characters, along with detailed 3D backgrounds. Like Guilty Gear, Blaz Blue features a complex combat system that rewards the quick-fingered among us with incredibly complicated and flashy combos, while still allowing the inexperienced player to enjoy the simpler aspects of the game.

Each fighter has three attacks of varying strength: weak, medium and strong (referred to in-game as A, B and C attacks), as well as a separate button for throw attacks. A fourth, unique Drive attack (assigned as D) is available to each fighter, and varies wildly from character to character. For example, Arakune's Drive attack summons a cloud projectile which 'curses' his enemies in various ways, while Rachel Alucard's Drive effects the direction of the wind on the playing field, allowing for higher jumps and faster projectiles, just to name a few.

On top of that, each individual attack (A,B,C and D) can be modified by holding a direction while executing it, and of course each character has a selection of special moves. This leads to players having plenty of options on how to attack, as well as how to approach their enemy.
Defensive players are given just as many options, with instant blocks, counters, barrier bursts and evasive air- and back-dashes. Many casual gamers may find this wealth of options a little overwhelming, but combo-enthusiasts will love the variety that each character brings. By making each fighter play so differently than the last, even the relatively small roster supplies hours upon hours of play time.

Blaz Blue's presentation is certainly impressive. From the beautifully animated sprites, to the wonderfully detailed backgrounds, the screen bursts with colour and character. Speaking of character, the game's principle players are as wacky as they get. From Carl Clover, the steam-punk magician to Arakune the no-faced blob of insects, to Bang Shishigami, the Naruto-esque ninja who wields an over-sized nail, each character is as different in design as they are in play style. Arc System has also put a lot of effort into weaving these characters together into a cohesive storyline, as Blaz Blue features one of the most in-depth story modes I have seen in a fighting game.

While I wouldn't necessarily recommend Blaz Blue to anyone who is only vaguely interested in beat 'em ups, I'd definitely say it is an outstanding game. Fans of Guilty Gear and technical beat 'em ups in general (such as Virtua Fighter) will find plenty to sink their teeth into, and the outlandish character design and wacky presentation is sure to win over plenty of new comers as well. And for anyone who was wondering, it's actually pronounced Blay-Bloo.


CeX Rathbone Place, London

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Tuesday 4 May 2010

Game Review: Monster Hunter Tri (Wii)

The Monster Hunter series has found it very difficult to establish a presence in Europe and the UK. In Japan, the games have a massive fan base and generally the series is considered to be one of the best of the current generation. This new instalment, Monster Hunter Tri, has finally come into its own and reached the series’ highest potential yet. You will be engrossed in an engaging and action packed world, full of beautiful and deadly monsters that will need teamwork and skill to take down. Tri offers fantastic weapon and armour customisation, a really well grafted single player campaign, but it is the cooperative monster hunting adventures that steal the show. You will find yourself partnered with friends and strangers alike in parties of up to 4 players, traversing beautiful landscapes and taking down incredible beasts, which in itself, is an incredibly rewarding and fun experience. This is without a doubt the best way to enjoy Monster Hunter Tri.

Although the single player campaign is not the main focus point of Monster Hunter, it is an important asset in terms of getting you accustomed to the world and game-play. For newcomers to the series, this is an excellent example of differentiation between games that are catered for the Eastern Market, as opposed to the West. Many casual gamers will have probably never played a game like this and the best way to describe it is somewhat resembling World of Warcraft, except without all the difficulties and time consumption that comes with an online-only title. The first few hours of the campaign mode start you off with small bounty missions to get to grips with the games fighting mechanics, while also emphasizing the importance of farming for items and minerals to upgrade armour, create potions and traps, all of which will be needed as the game progresses and enemies become tougher and harder to handle.

Of course the real thrill in Monster Hunter Tri comes from the simply incredible creatures that you will encounter on your adventure. Size really must be emphasized, as you will be staring down the gullet of titans, giant dinosaurs and numerous other terrifying creatures. All of the different monsters including your standard small enemies are designed really well; they all feel different, move and act in their own specific ways. This offers a lot of versatility into the combat in Monster Hunter as for the most part you will become used to predicting patterns for monster’s attacks but there is a certain level of unpredictability as they will act like wild animals fighting for survival and if this means rampaging across landscapes to avoid losing to you, this is exactly what will occur. For anyone who has seen Clash of the Titans, think of that style of action, as you group together to engage mammoth beasts and the thrill that occurs when you finally take down the monster, is really satisfying. What makes the game more so engaging, is the time limits you are put under to finish off your targets, this makes action tense, especially when it goes right down to the last moments.

I feel it is important to note that while most of us have not experienced another Monster Hunter game, those who have really make an effort to state how well this instalment improves on previous titles. Another great addition to the Monster Hunter series, are the underwater battles. A lot of the beasts you come across in Tri are part amphibious, resulting in you having to get your boots wet to get the rare items you are looking for. This offers even more versatility into combat as enemies’ move-pools change dramatically in the water, meaning new game plans need to be thought out to continue engaging an enemy that now has the home field advantage.

Technically, Monster Hunter Tri is a very good game. A special bundle is available for purchase that offers the game, the Wii Speak and most importantly, a classic controller to play with. It is possible to play with the Wiimote and Nun-chuck controllers, but it is a lot more preferable to opt for a classic controller as fiddling with camera angles is such a nuisance on the Wiimote. The game looks very good as well, the Wii has come a long way in terms of graphics and Monster Hunter Tri certainly does not disappoint with its beautiful landscapes, textures and as I have stated before, incredible monster designs. The sound is also worth mentioning as the creatures all have menacing howls and cries, all of which adds to the realism and experience. The foreboding music that alerts you to the presence of boss style enemies is also thrilling and adds to the atmosphere.

Catering for the Western market, Monster Hunter Tri is naturally a quite challenging game. The difficulty curve picks up fast once the tutorial hours are over and without careful planning, correct items, weaponry and armour, you will struggle. However, if you take your time and keep up with all the upgrades and spend some time farming, your character will soon turn into a professional hunter that is worthy of the kills you make.

Continuing with the similarities to World of Warcraft and other mass RPGs, you will find yourself doing a lot of collecting. Fortunately the pace of item customisation and weapon forgery is excellent in Monster Hunter Tri, so you will not be spending needless time hunting for that particular item you need to create a new sword of hammer. In fact and you may find this hard to believe, but the adventure of gathering in Monster Hunter Tri is actually very enjoyable and is a welcome tangent to the constant battling of giant beasts. You will find yourself spending time creating new potions as well as weapons; these can help in combat or even uncover secret locations on the world map. This kind of intertwined action and moments of peace are very well spread out here, meaning there is always something to do.

Lets now talk about the cooperative game-play in Monster Hunter Tri, truly the best thing about the game. The online matchmaking system is a little bit complicated, so it takes a bit of time to get into the online world and find your friends, but once that is all done and the admin is complete, prepare for a whole load of fun to unfold. Having four players in a party offers many different ways of tackling the games tough opponents. You can work together to set up traps and lure beasts in, or some players can distract the beasts allowing other players to sneak up from behind and unleash powerful attacks from the games larger and slower weapons like the giant hammers. Unfortunately, the development team seemed to miss out one big flaw that is present in the online game, the lack of synchronisation when tackling smaller enemies. You will notice your friends attacking thin air, a lot as for them; the smaller enemies are in different locations as opposed to what you can see in your game. This is a nuisance that can be overlooked, but it just makes you think that after all the hard work that has gone into Monster Hunter Tri, why not go that little bit further and eliminate such a ridiculous administrational error that is annoying more than anything. Fortunately all the big main enemies are synchronised fine and they are the main thrill of the online game, so it can be simply ignored.

Once again taking pages out of an MMORPG, Monster Hunter offers both voice chat recognition, and the ability to plug in a USB keyboard. You will have at your disposal a stock of phrases pre-set into the game but there is no problem in having a chat with your friends through the speak, it is just difficult to find at times, other players who are using them.

Ultimately Monster Hunter is a great game to add to our ever-growing collection of top quality Nintendo Wii titles. It offers a thrilling adventure that the likes of is yet to be shown off on the Wii, meaning for the most part, gamers probably have not experienced anything like this. Fortunately your experience will be nothing but fun, engaging and intense, exactly what you’re looking for when you engage in battle against the game’s beautiful and devastating monsters. Monster Hunter Tri is a gripping adventure, one that should not be missed.

CeX (UK) Contributor


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