Wednesday 30 June 2010

Red Dead Redemption Review

Now, I've never been too much of a fan of Rockstar's flagship franchise, Grand Theft Auto. While I've certainly played and enjoyed it to a certain extent, I found it to be, despite the title, a fairly pedestrian experience, quickly becoming bored with laborious travelling between missions and frustrated with the twitchy driving controls (this may be, in some part, due to the fact that I'm rubbish at almost all driving games). So, thusly ill-equipped to comment on what people are calling 'GTA in the wild west' (or Grand Theft Horsey), I plunge into the untamed frontier lands of Red Dead Redemption, and hope to find a place to settle down.

The main character of RDR is John Marston, an instantly likeable cowpoke who is equal parts courteous and curt, rough in appearance but not in character. One of the first things I noticed about Rockstar's latest offering was the amount of thought and effort they put into representing Marston and his supporting cast, making their interactions believable both from a emotional standpoint and a graphical one. The lip-synching and other facial animations really cause the characters to jump to life and the writing, more subtle than that seen previously in the GTA series, is top notch, creating a convincing and colourful cast of characters. The game follows Marston as he weaves in and out of these characters' lives, as they help and hinder him on his path to 'redemption'.

You will by now already be familiar with the sandbox-style of gameplay that RDR contains. In this sense, RDR is very similar to GTA, even down to the style of mission marker on your mini-map. Over the first five or six missions, you are slowly taught the key mechanics that you'll be using throughout the game, such as shooting, herding, horse riding and lassoing. It takes a long time for the game to hit its stride and many players may be put off by the overly sedate beginning.

I expected that a cowboy game would be based heavily around shooting vicious varmints and dangerous desperadoes, and therefore anticipated a deep shooting system. Instead, GTA's infallible lock-on and fallible cover system has been implemented, making shoot-outs a simplistic affair. Luckily, John Marston's 'dead eye' ability (imagine bullet-time with a sepia effect) allows the player to get a little more creative with their shots, enabling dramatic disarms and hair-raising hat-shots, but this is no Uncharted 2 or Gears of War. Also worth a special mention are the quick-draw duels, a surprisingly deep and satisfying gameplay mechanic that requires speed, accuracy and nerves of steel, but rewards the player with an experience straight out of the old spaghetti westerns!

The controls in general are a little hit and miss. At times they were overly simplistic (such as with the shooting and brawling systems) or too fiddly and complex (lassoing a target from horseback requires the player to hold up to four buttons at once). However, when the main character is as versatile as John Marston, who is able to engage a group of enemies in a gun fight, lasso the last fleeing bandit off his horse and drag his quarry back to the sheriff's office (all without getting off his trusty steed, I might add), the occasionally awkward controls can be forgiven.

The time you spend between missions has been improved, with incidental missions popping up occasionally as you pass from place to place. These optional occurrences, like the pickpockets and messengers of Assassin's Creed 2, require you to act fast and think on your feet. Combined with the sheer amount of wildlife (all of which you can hunt and skin for fun and profit) Rockstar have really spiced up what could have been a boring ride across RDR's huge landscapes. Rockstar have also decreased the amount of back tracking the player has to do by introducing an improved checkpoint and fast-travel system.

While a lot of things may be borrowed from the GTA series, there are a few important differences that make Red Dead Redemption stand head and shoulders above its urban cousin. The western setting, while some may say it is only an ascetic difference, really helped me immerse myself into the game. I was often bored by the urban contemporary setting of Liberty City, of its rude and impatient inhabitants and its loud and garish streets. I already live in London! I would rather escape to a simpler and nobler time, explore expansive and nakedly beautiful landscapes, save damsels in distress and thwart rustlers and banditos! With hours and hours of superb mission-based gameplay (not to mention all the challenges and titles to earn, as well as in depth online multiplayer), exceptional graphics and brilliant but subtle music, Red Dead Redemption is a must buy. And who can turn down a game with a dedicated 'howdy' button?

Lukao gives Red Dead Redemption 8 cowboy hats out of 10.

Lukao Rosales McCabe

CeX Rathbone Place

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Friday 25 June 2010

Nintendo E3 Press Event 2010

Hello and welcome to my write up of the 2nd press event held this year at E3 Los Angeles. Nintendo have always been known to step on stage and raise the bar year after year with great content and new innovations. Last year however, they lacked the spark that they are usually known for, showing off nothing of major interest and having the Wiimotion Plus as their highlight of the event. Well this year Nintendo have come back strong with plenty of exciting titles and an unveiling of a brand new handheld console!

The conference began with the face of Nintendo’s publicity campaign Reggie, hitting the stage. After a quick introduction depicting that Nintendo have the ability to mix technology and game design perfectly to offer an ultimate experience, the first game demo was launched.

What a great demo to open with as well, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Shigeru Miyamoto demoed the game and showed off the new controls with the Wiimote accompanied by the Wiimotion Plus being your sword, and the Nunchuck being your Shield. Using a translator, Miyamoto explained the various different ways of slicing and attacking depending on how you move your Wiimote but while demonstrating there was significant lag and Link was not doing what Miyamoto wanted him to do. He then proceeded to show off some items from the game including the bomb, slingshot, the bow and arrow, the beetle scout and the whip. During the demonstration of the bow the Wiimote literally went mental and Miyamoto could not use it, blaming it on wireless interference. The game itself is designed using cell shading much like The Windwaker however, it is much less cartoon like and Link does look fairly serious. The demo concluded with reassurance that the demo on the show floor ran without any problems or lag and that the game was set for release sometime next year. I was not impressed personally, but being a Zelda game there’s no doubt it will make fans proud of the series, of course all the demonstrational problems sure didn’t help the preview of the game.

Next to be revealed was the very much-anticipated NBA Jam for the Wii. There was no demo or game play footage which is a shame but I recall having an incredible time growing up with the arcade basketball sim and cannot wait to see this hit the shelves.

The next demo fortunately had a game-play video, Mario Sports Mix. Think of all the sport themed Mario games you have seen and this simply incorporates lots of sports and events he has not yet participated in including Volleyball, Ice Hockey, Dodgeball and so forth. Another party game to add to the Wii catalogue, joyous.

Reggie then proceeded to throw some numbers at the audience and to prove the Wii haters wrong. He went on to suggest that those who thought Wii momentum would fall and that Wii owners would stop buying games were completely wrong, using Mario Kart’s 22 million copies and Super Mario Bros’ 14 million copies sold as prime examples of the Wii’s powerful market presence. This, Reggie claimed, was thanks to bridge games such as the former 2 that bring people into the gaming world and Nintendo are going to continue bringing more people to Nintendo with the addition of another bridge title, Wii Party. Wii Party is shown to introduce 13 different party game modes including such events as Board Game Island, Balance Boat and House Party games, the names are fairly self explanatory. This on top of 70 different mini games could see this being a fun filled package for the family.

Next to be shown off was Ubisoft’s Just Dance 2. To be honest after seeing yesterday’s presentation of Dance Central from Harmonix for the Xbox 360, this just looked like a joke, no one wants to dance with a Wiimote in his or her hand.

The next game however, is a very big deal and received plenty of applause and a rapture of noise. Golden Sun Dark Dawn was confirmed to arrive this holiday season for the DS and the trailer showed off lots of action and giant creatures that will make this role-play adventure another instant classic. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of playing a past Golden Sun adventure on a Nintendo hand-held, you have missed out if you are a fan of Final Fantasy, Dragonquest and games of that nature.

Kicking it old school was definitely going to be a theme for Nintendo this press event and what better way to touch our nostalgia by confirming a re-release for what is arguably the best first-person shooter of all time, Goldeneye. Indeed the Nintendo Wii is going to see a remake this holiday season of the influential and action packed adventure. The trailer showed off in typical fashion, lots of explosions and gunplay, I was not happy however; to see that Daniel Craig was playing James Bond, this is Goldeneye, why on earth is it not Pierce Brosnan? That aside, this was certainly a welcome addition to the catalogue of announced games.

Continuing to go back in time to the roots of our entertainment, Disney’s Epic Mickey was next to be demoed to the audience. The game-play showed Mickey venture across different landscape from the Disney world resembling Kingdom Hearts somewhat. The innovative game mechanic here was paint and thinner, allowing Mickey to create and interact with the environment and characters, but also erase those said things. The developers went on to suggest that players could dynamically change the game world to save it. Play style matters. How each characters story ends and who will offer their help and services to you. They stated it is a crafted and unique experience.

The next familiar face from Nintendo to get a makeover was Kirby in his brand new journey Epic Yarn. The entire look resembles yarn but from the demo we could gather that this will allow Kirby to be even more flexible and really allow players to have a brand new experience with the lovable pink ball.

Reggie moved swiftly on to announce that Dragonquest 9 was finally going to see an American and European release date on July the 11th. This series simply goes from strength to strength and this DS title will definitely be one to look out for.

Another highlight title from Nintendo’s arsenal was presented next. Team Ninja’s Metroid Another M was presented in trailer form and showed Samus in her new 3rd person perspective. It was emphasized that isolation and exploration that made the series so incredible have not been lost in the transition to Samus’ new adventure.

The last of the retro games to be unveiled was none other than Donkey Kong, a nice surprise in the event. Donkey Kong Country Returns will be hitting the Nintendo Wii this holiday.

As Reggie returned to the stage there was a sense that something big was going to be announced next. He emphasized that 3D entertainment is an exciting prospect for video gaming, one that Nintendo have grasped with both arms. With that, the Nintendo 3DS was unveiled by President Iwata. Looking much like the Nintendo DS but with subtle changes, the 3DS looked very impressive. It included an analogue stick for better control, a depth slider to either maximize the 3D depth perception, or remove it completely, motion and gyro sensors, a camera on the inside and two cameras on the outside to allow the capture of 3D photographs and will also be able to view 3D movies. Most importantly, you will NOT need glasses to view the 3D; it is all viewed just with the naked eye. Unfortunately because of this, it was impossible to demonstrate the 3D capabilities of the console on the huge screen to those of us watching over the internet, rather Nintendo got around a hundred beautiful ladies to go into the audience with 3DS’s attached to them and allow everyone in the audience to see it for themselves. I am assured that it really is a surreal sight and was backed up various game designers as they voiced their opinions about the new technology and what they could potentially do with it.

From this point, developers and companies were mentioned who would be involved with the console’s launch and what games we can expect in the future. Kid Icarus Uprising was the first game to be shown off and while we obviously cannot see the 3D, the graphics have to be acknowledged that they are almost as good as the Playstation 2, that is one incredible processor in there. Iwata then proceeded to confirm that a 3D version of Nintendogs and Cats was in development by Miyamoto. Most exciting however, was hearing Kojima discuss the possibility of a Metal Gear Solid game for the 3DS, Square Enix giving the Kingdom Hearts franchise a run on the console and Capcom also developing a brand new Resident Evil for the machine.

On that note, the audience began getting out of their seats to try the 3DS and the press event ended, closing off Nintendo’s next step into the future of gaming.

Igor Kharin

CeX UK Contributor

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Tuesday 22 June 2010

Game review: Super Mario Galaxy 2

Ah Mario. Everyone's favourite Italian plumber (well everyone that I know). Avid sportsman, environmentalist and party-thrower, the plump piasano has now become known as quite the astronaut. Following on from the success of 2007's Super Mario Galaxy, can the sequel surpass its predecessor?

For those of you who missed out on Mario's first foray into the inky blackness of outer space, SMG2 plays out similarly to much of Mario's previous terrestrial adventures. The player navigates Mario through various contained stages, using his various moves and power-ups to collect coins, stomp enemies and obtain power stars. Once Mario collects enough stars, he is able to progress to the next stage, and take one step closer to rescuing Princess Peach from the dastardly Bowser.

Yep, that's right, Bowser's up to his old tricks again, and Mario (once again lured back to the Mushroom Kingdom by the promise of cake) jumps into action without hesitation. Now I know the core Mario games aren't known for their in-depth story and narration, but I was hoping that Nintendo would make a little more effort on this front. At least they could try and explain everyone's obsession with cake!

While the story may be stale, the game-play definitely is not. The controls are tight, the platforming is well-executed, and the levels! Oh my! Unlike the more coherent environments featured in other plaform games, SMG2's levels consist of free-floating galaxies, which in turn are made up of different planets and structures. These planets each have their own individual gravitational pull and rules which Mario must manipulate to progress. Some galaxies are more abstract than others, and the levels vary from planets made entirely out of ice to a galaxy of cakes! SMG2 improves on its predecessor by removing the awkward hub level, and replacing it with a world/map screen (think New Super Mario Bros.), which makes navigating between the galaxies a much simpler task.

Variation is SMG2's trump card. The game is so packed full of ideas and innovations, that no sooner is a gameplay mechanic introduced to the player, than that idea is tossed out of the window in favour of new one. This constant cycling of objectives, formats and environments is hugely enjoyable, making each play session unique and fun. However, this schizophrenic playstyle can have its drawbacks, as some ideas don't feel as well developed as others, and I started to miss the more concrete structure of conventional platformers towards the end.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a joy to play and with some of the best graphics seen on the wii (and a fully orchestrated epic soundtrack) is also a joy to behold. The development of the ideas set out in Super Mario Galaxy along with the introduction of new power-ups and old friends (the return of Yoshi is my particular favourite addition) makes Mario's latest outing a must own. But was that really in any doubt?

Lukao gives Super Mario Galaxy 2 9 power stars out of 10.

CeX Rathbone Place
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Friday 18 June 2010

Sony E3 2010 Press Conference Round Up

Coming in with what they describe as market momentum, Sony’s representatives ooze confidence throughout the conference and with the content they had to offer, frankly I am not surprised.

The conference opened with President and CEO of Sony, Jack Tretton boasting about the top end exclusive titles the Playstation offered including God of War, Heavy Rain, Little Big Planet and Uncharted. He swiftly passed the torch to Kaz Hirai who began discussing Sony’s involvement with 3D and their take on innovation and content. He confirmed that a system update was coming to the Playstation 3 that would make it 3D ready alongside Sony’s 3DBravia TVs and that Super Stardust, Pain, Motorstorm Pacific Rift and Wipeout were all going to get 3D compatibility through software updates.

The first big game to be demoed came in the form of Killzone 3, a massively anticipated title in Sony’s catalogue. The audience were asked to put on their 3D glasses to enjoy a live demo of the game, something unfortunately those of us watching on the internet, could not be part of. Nevertheless, it was emphasized that the future of 3D games is not merely a 3D makeover (I’m looking at you Clash of the Titans), but rather being built in 3D from the ground up, like James Cameron’s Avatar. While I could not be involved in the 3D goodness, I can mention that the Killzone 3 demo introduced jetpacks on enemies and to use and vehicle capability in the form of a flying bike with a mounted Gatling cannon. Killzone 3 is set for launch worldwide February 2011 and will also be fully compatible with the Playstation Move.

Kaz Hirai noted that lots of top end titles were going to be built using 3D technology including Motorstorm Apocalypse, Gran Turismo 5, Crysis 2, Mortal Kombat, Ghost Recon Future Soldier and numerous others that will also take advantage of Move technology. It is very important to note that Sony hold a huge advantage with regards to 3D games because of their Blu Ray discs massive storage space. This will allow publishers to put both a 3D version of a game and its normal counterpart, on one disc, giving variation to the customer and not forcing 3D on the consumer.

Jack Tretton then returned to the stage to discuss the Playstation Move and it’s involvement with not only social gamers, but the core and more hardcore gamers as well. This hypothesis will have to wait but what we do know at this moment is the Playstation Move is completely body respondent, is essentially a Wiimote with Wiimotion Plus and has no lag response time unlike the Kinect that has a 150 m/s response and can only be used when standing up.

Move demos were up next, first of which was Sorcery, a 3rd person action adventure title. The game resembled Zelda like game play in a Harry Potter like environment, with the Move controller being your magic wand. I was very impressed with the intuitive and fluid controls the game showed off and how accurately the character’s wand moved with the movement of the controller. It is always a welcome treat to see new titles revealed and receiving positive praise from the audience.

EA sports were up next with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11. Again the demo really portrayed an absolutely accurate representation of holding and swinging a golf club, including momentum and strength of the swing. While we may have seen this already on the Wii, I have a feeling that Sony’s Move technology alongside the processing strength of the Playstation 3, will really allow motion gaming to step to new heights.

A very exciting compilation gets demoed next titled Heroes on the Move, depicting a roster of Sony’s favourable adventure game characters including Ratchet, Clank, Jak, Daxter, Sly Cooper and Bentley. This could be a very exciting adventure because as solo titles they were all incredibly successful, let’s just hope they don’t ruin their great reputations.

The Sony press event proceeded to take a comical tangent with the arrival of Kevin Butler (played by actor Jerry Lambert) on to the stage. KB is a fictional character used by Sony in their marketing campaigns with huge success as he proceeded to throw a memorable and powerful speech at the audience containing some epic quotes such as ‘’gaming is, having a ridiculously huge TV in a tiny 1 bedroom apartment’’ and ‘’gaming is, staying up till 3 in the morning to earn a trophy that isn’t real, but is.’’ The moral of his speech was to not hate on casual gamers, every gamer is a true gamer and we should all join the MOVEment! The Playstation Move information was coming to an end with a trailer showing off Move games such as The Fight Lights Out, Sports Champions, Resident Evil 5 Gold Edition and a few others previously mentioned. Also the launch details were announced with the Move coming to Europe September 15th.

Next up Sony Playstation Portable (PSP), which was speared forward by the incredible Metal Gear Solid Peacewalker. I really hope this game sees a Playstation Network release. God of War Chains of Olympus was teased next and Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep but nothing noteworthy was shown in the trailer videos. A final video wrapping up the PSP’s content wasplayed showing off more titles we can expect in the near future including a new Dragonball Tenkaichi game, Patapon 3, Ace Combat, Valkyria 2 and Madden 11.

The conference then changed it’s attention to Sony’s Playstation Network. Favourably, Sony recreated it’s entire E3 booth line up on the Network and all of us at home can go online and see and play most of the games mentioned here today. The attention moved rather quickly towards Sony’s staple ideas of play, create, share, established and headlined by hit titles Little Big Planet and Modnation Racers. With this in mind, Little Big Planet 2 got a demo run. Essentially the demo showed that players will have the ability to create more than side-scrolling levels, but rather you can change genres and game styles. Media Module had a team showing off an FPS style game, a racing game and a few other nifty ways to use the intuitive and vast creation tools Little Big Planet 2 has to offer. Following this, the Playstation Plus service was announced, giving exclusive features, lots of content, features and discounts to those willing to pay the subscription fee.

The conference really needed to get back on track to games and EA most certainly had the answer with Medal of Honor. This first person shooter will be set in modern Afghanistan and will be released world wide in October 2010. The demo revealed some pretty impressive looking multiplayer and being made by the same guys who created Battlefield 2, DICE, the multiplayer will surely impress. The actual in game footage looked like a mix between Call of Duty and Battlefield 2, a cheeky mix but taking the best from both FPS worlds, this could be a winner. The Playstation will also see exclusive content as the game will come with a remastered HD version of Medal of Honor Frontline.

EA announced what is my most anticipated title in the upcoming gaming year, Dead Space 2. I am still a firm believer that Dead Space 1 was the best game of 2008 and if it wasn’t for Metal Gear Solid 4 coming out in the same year, the former would have won unprecedented amounts of awards. That is neither here nor there, what is important is the footage of Dead Space 2, was beautiful, action packed, immersive and will see exclusive content in the form of Move compatible Dead Space Extraction arriving with the game in a limited edition bundle.

Next on stage was a rather surprising visit from Valve and their announcement that STEAM will be coming to the Playstation Network and Portal 2 will be released on the home console. The previous instalment of the series was such a hit that it’s nice more gamers will be able to experience what was one of the most thrilling puzzle adventure games to date.

A quick sneak peak at Square Enix’s mass media online game Final Fantasy 14 was next but other than a small trailer, little to nothing was revealed so not much can be said yet.

It was also revealed that 2K Games would be shipping Mafia 2 on August 24th for the Playstation 3 with lots of exclusive missions and content only on this console.

Ubisoft’s Assassins Creed Brotherhood was next to be shown off on the big screen, most notably was the inclusion of a thrilling trailer depicting some pretty epic multiplayer action as different characters go about the different worlds trying to best each other. The multiplayer beta will exclusively be on the Playstation Network for those wanting to get a taster as quickly as possible.

Next up, the eagerly anticipated Gran Turismo 5 in 3D was given a release date of November 2nd 2010 and a beautiful trailer showing off some top end graphics. One of Sony’s youngest and more impressive new series was next to have a sequel announced. inFAMOUS 2 sees the main character develop the ability to control ice and we could also see that there will be plenty of trouble in a rebellious city you inhabit.

To end the game packed conference, Sony surprised the audience by bringing back one of the company’s most prized series Twisted Metal the action packed racing shooter. This quick presentation showed off the Team Death Match mode and a new game type called Nuke. The game looked like a lot of fun with plenty of carnage coming in from every angle.

On that note the conference ended and Sony could leave the theatre pretty happy with another decent outing. While nothing magnificent was unveiled, plenty of solid exclusive titles and lots of Playstation only content helped brighten up Sony’s next year.

CeX (UK) Contributor

Igor Kharin

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Wednesday 16 June 2010

Microsoft E3 2010 Press Conference Round Up

Here's a round up of Microsoft Press Event in E3 Los Angeles. It seems like yesterday that I watched and discussed Microsoft’s embarrassing conference where the creator of the Fable franchise Peter Molyneux, took to the stage and we were treated to nothing more than an extended tale about how great Fable III was going to be. Well thankfully, things could not really get any worse than that this year and they didn’t, which is always a joy to behold. Here is a rundown of everything new and exciting Microsoft had to offer and a little of my opinion with regards to the content, enjoy!

The event began with a Call of Duty: Black Ops trailer. In typical fashion, lots of things blowing up, lots of Commandos killing and destroying things, it was very gripping. The graphics were of high quality but little can be said yet about the next instalment in the Call of Duty series.

We were then treated to a monologue by the Senior Vice President of Microsoft, Don Mattrick about how awesome the Xbox is, how much it has progressed since its launch and how much better it is going to be with the new Project Natal, now officially renamed to Kinect.

He then left the stage introducing the legend himself, Hideo Kojima. Kojima had little to say other than introducing the producer of the next step in the Metal Gear franchise, Matsuyama, the creator of Metal Gear Rising. Cutting to the chase, a trailer emerged and this was particularly exciting. It depicted Raiden, still in his Cyborg Ninja form slicing and dicing enemies and his surroundings but removing what looked like inner energy cells of his enemies and absorbing the power to perhaps charge his suit and body? The most important thing we learnt from this trailer is you will be able to cut in any way you see fit and this was shown with a clever and witty scene where Raiden was cutting apart watermelons, oh such typical Konami fashion.
Corporate President Phil Spencer was next to grace the stage, boasting about the Xbox’s top titles such as Halo, Fable and Gears of War. On that note he introduced Cliff Beszinski, the guy behind Epic Games and consequentially, the Gears of War series. A live game-play demo was then shown off showing expected similar game style but with tweaks and subtle touches to change the game for the better. For example, Marcus was spotted tagging an enemy with a grenade and then kicking the enemy into a group of the Locust, blowing them all up. The demo also showed weapon switching between teammates, which is very handy, not to mention this was a 4 player co-op demo and included female Gears. The demo finished with the team fighting a Lambent Berserker, the Lambent being mutated Locust and are a new host of enemies throughout the third instalment of the series.

Oh a familiar face, Peter Molyneux himself jumped on to the Microsoft stage once again to talk about Fable III. For some this may be fantastic news but I am so bored of him and the franchise that I really wanted him to get it over with. He showed off a brand new trailer for the game that suggested there would be a revolution in Albion and you will be the hero to guide the people. The graphics have taken a slight tweak, still cartoon like but a little more serious.

The event moved swiftly on to one of Microsoft’s new game studio partners Crytek and their upcoming release Codename Kingdoms. The trailer showed nothing other than what looked like 3 gladiators standing side by side, nothing was told of what kind of game it will be and so forth, so no comment this early on.

The crowd was then subjected to some figures about how amazing the Xbox is, with over 34 million games sold and 2 billion online hours clocked, they were certainly proud of those numbers, and who wouldn’t be? A guy from Bungie hit the stage next and thanked the 2.7 million fans that logged on to the Halo Reach demo, making it the largest console Beta to date. They then proceeded to show off in game content of Halo Reach, in particular the campaign. Landing on an alien planet, 4 Spartan soldiers began to take on numerous Covenant forces. The HUB was very reminiscent of any Halo game, it was seen that the special powers you got in the online beta such as speed, invisibility, Spartan shield and jet pack, can all be used in the campaign mode. The graphics were absolutely beautiful as expected and this was definitely one of the highlights of the press event.

The next step of the event came in the form of Kinect. Marc Whitten, the Corporate Vice President of Xbox Live came on stage with a helping hand to show off their incredible new toy and boy is it impressive. He signed into Xbox Live by waving to the Kinect camera, which then opened the Kinect HUB, very reminiscent of the Nintendo Wii home screen except you navigate by using your hand as opposed to the Wiimote. He then showed off voice commands, you can say whatever you want and the Xbox will do it, as long as you say Xbox first. The very strong X sounds in the word Xbox means that Kinect will not accidentally switch on and do things amidst chatter in the room, it picks up specific voice signals for optimal control.

Video Kinect was next to be shown off by 2 twin sisters going on dual-video chat and partaking in the most cringe worthy conversation you have ever heard. That aside they were able to watch movies, news, sports and so forth together while still being on chat and if you move around your room, Kinect follows you so you are always on screen, that’s very cool.
Moving on Microsoft announced an exclusive partnership with ESPN offering the service to Xbox Live Gold members for absolutely free. The package will allow sports fans to watch over 35,000 live sporting events this year alone, a lot of which will be in High Definition. Kinect was shown off further during a live Football game feed where one of the hosts said ‘’Xbox Replay’’ and a replay came up of a huge play. This is a massive deal, but more so for the Americans who are into college football, basketball, the NFL etc. It doesn’t hurt to be able to catch the games of Soccer on your Xbox if you do not have ESPN at home. Regardless, for free, it’s terrific.

The event finally moved on to the games Kinect will have on launch. The first to be demoed by a little girl as she played with an interactive tiger on the screen. The tiger reacted to everything she did, she even hid behind a desk and the tiger knew she was gone and went looking for her, it was very cute and a perfect game for younger children. This game was then acknowledged as Kinectimals. Kinect Sports was next, showing off various sporting games such as a sprint race, football, bowling, athletics, table tennis, boxing and everything else you would expect. I am going to hold my tongue with regards to copying Nintendo here and I will explain once I have finished discussing the rest of the Kinect games, so bare with me. Next up was Kinect Joyride that was basically a Kart Racer using your hands. Then Kinect Adventure showed off Kinect’s ability to detect a friend and automatically make the game two player as they competed in different challenges.

Next up were the more mainstream developers pledging their support to Kinect. Ubisoft were first showing off Your Shape Fitness Evolved. This game was demoed and it was very impressive how the game accurately scanned you into the virtual world, telling you every single detail about your body. The demo then showed off a virtual fitness coach who helped you exercise through various different things be it a form of martial arts, or yoga, muscular endurance, cardio and so forth. The woman demoing the game actually took her sweater off and inside the virtual world the same happened, it was very impressive. This is a rich mans Wii Fit if we were to compare here, once again, it is difficult to say because I would never buy it, but sales will dictate otherwise perhaps?

Harmonix were up next on stage to show off Dance Central, hello rhythm game! The demo showed off accurate duplication of dance moves and it was proper dancing not goofy nonsense, this could be a very cool party game.

Lucasarts got in on the action as well unveiling a Kinect Star Wars game that showed you being able to take on Darth Vader, now that is what I am talking about. Most likely you will be using your hands to use Jedi powers and such, this could be very cool.

The Kinect demos ended on Turn 10 and their presentation of the new Forza Motorsport. This I felt was the worst of the games, it showed off the ability to get inside a virtual Ferrari and find out lots of different statistics about it, all a waste of time. The driving just like Joy Riders, will be done with your hands and this I guess could be quite enjoyable, even though when I play racing games I hate the 1st person view camera.

So I am going to take a step back and discuss the Kinect. To put it simply, it is a Nintendo Wii, for the Xbox 360, if you understand what I am saying. Yes a lot of the games seem to be carbon copies of Wii Sports, Wii Fit and so forth, but make no mistake, this Kinect camera is one advanced tool that is going to be used for games almost as much as the central HUB for your Xbox 360. Kinect will be able to do things that the Nintendo Wii could not and the Wiimote is effectively obsolete now that you can do everything with just your hands. Saying that however, I bought a Wii, thought it was cool for 2 weeks then never played those games again, perhaps the same will happen for Kinect?

As the Press Event was coming to a close, Microsoft ended on a bombshell, unveiling the new Xbox 360 Slim. With Built in Wi-Fi finally, a much quieter game unit and a sleek design, it is incredible that it will be shipping as early as next week worldwide, for the exact same price as the previous Xbox Elite model.

Here's some gameplay footage.

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Monday 14 June 2010

Game review: Skate 3

Skate 3 sets out to be an enjoyable, varied and accessible entrance into the skateboarding world. While it does not do anything significant to re-invent the gaming franchise, its consistent and fun filled challenges, plenty of easily usable creation tools and noteworthy enhancements over Skate 2, really make it a great skateboarding game.

Skate 3 puts you in the shoes of an already established skateboarder, looking to build up an empire by creating the best possible team and selling as much merchandise as possible. Your success here is measured in board sales, with more sales enhancing the status of your team. This opens up team based missions and objectives across a variety of pretty standard yet will executed game modes such as races, score based events, H.O.R.S.E., bone breaking challenges and the occasional film and photo shoots to enhance your stature in the skateboarding world. Skate 3 offers two significantly different levels of completion in its challenge modes, the standard ‘owned’ completion that merely allows you to pass the challenge and go on to the next one, or ‘killing’ the challenge, which awards far higher points and gives a reason to go back to previous challenges to try and master them. This helps add replay value and most challenges are changed somewhat by asking for specific tricks and so forth, meaning you won’t simply be doing the same challenge just trying to get a higher score, you will be forced to implement advanced moves and skills.

Skate 3 also includes two new game modes titled easy and hardcore, the latter being what you want to get involved in to really get the most out of your experience with the game. Hardcore mode really mimics real life physics, making certain tricks impossible to perform at certain heights, making it more difficult to catch grinds on rails and forcing players to skate for longer to catch high speeds. The Easy mode is however including for newcomers to the series that changes the physics in almost the exact opposite direction, allowing for higher ollies, quicker movements and such to allow access to better moves in more unrealistic circumstances. Skate 3 also holds a very impressive tutorial mode for those considering to make the step up to the big leagues of Hardcore mode but don’t quite think they have what it takes. A well-created tutorial is incredibly important to a game that does have a variety of complicated actions that need to be performed and it is executed very well here.

Straight off the bat Skate 3 offers you the open-ended world of Port Caverton to explore. Fans of the previous instalment will notice that the immediate accessibility of all areas helps promote realism, but diminish a strong sense of progression that Skate 2 had. Fortunately, Port Caverton is certainly a beautiful looking virtual city. Skateboarding on the pier, in the neighbourhoods or across many of the different skate parks, wherever you go you will be impressed with the great detail put into the games presentation. Unfortunately, Skate 3 does little to promote the actual exploration of Port Caverton as there is in fact a menu option to access all the game’s challenges and this omits the actual need to travel by board across the city, unless you’re looking for the occasional ‘own the spot’ challenges or just want to freestyle across the terrain.

At this point it seems Skate 3 has done everything right, a large well presented open world, great variety in game modes and plenty of replay value. The package is hindered somewhat, not significantly however, by the lack of a consistent AI. You will find yourself on more than one occasion, infuriated with the stupidity of skateboarders around you, including at times, your own teammates. Too many times has a professional skateboarder I have been following, randomly fallen off his board and I had to wait for him to get back up and continue on our way. During cooperative based challenges it is unheard of that your AI teammates can actually drag your score down with abysmal performances while you put in a star show. The AI will also quite often get in your way during races and such, which ruins fluidity and the motion of the game which for the most part, plays at quite an enjoyable pace.

It boggles me how different the two sets of AI in the game are. While the skateboarding AI are so stupid and continuously make your life a pain, the pedestrians around Port Caverton will do whatever they can to get out of your way and as a result, make your roaming of the city actually quite fun, if you choose to actually do it. There are enough people to make the city seem fairly realistic and not deserted, but not enough for them to really get in your way. It is also absolutely hilarious abusing the civilians by using your D-pad to do crazy gestures that scare them away.

Skate 3 excels significantly in its online modes and being for the most part, a multiplayer experience, this is fantastic news. Removing the AI skateboarders and playing with your friends is really a fun treat that offers plenty of competition, rivalry and a great time. The game has certain features that are only actually accessed via the online experience such as certain game modes and the ability to create or join online skateboarding clans. All of these game-modes promote leaderboard scores and a lot of friendly competition, making this an experience you do want to return to again and again.

It seems that user-created content is becoming a really massive part of the gaming world this generation. The single most important basis of these creation tools is usability, if it’s complicated, no one will bother. Skate 3 does a fantastic job making the tools really easy and fun to use, allowing the creation of almost any type or size of skate park possible. One of the most satisfying elements here however, is the ability to share and play on other gamers created environments, which can be very well designed if the time and effort is put in.

To conclude, it is fair to say Skate 3 has a few noticeable lingering issues with AI and some rather questionable choices for game modes such as the poorly constructed photo shoot mode. However, with a well designed and varied single player mode, a great online community with plenty of continuous content flooding in and a good technical presentation, there’s no reason to not call this is a very good skateboarding game and a great sequel to the series. It may not unleash new features and re-invent skateboarding for those of us who grew up on Tony Hawks, but it does a good job at reminding me why I had so much fun with skateboarding games.

Technical presentation – 6.0

Graphics – 8.0

Game-play – 8.0

Replay value – 8.0

Final score – 7 / 10

CeX (UK) Contributor

Igor Kharin

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Sunday 13 June 2010

Game review: Alpha Protocol

Since the last Metal Gear, I've been chomping at the bit for some solid tactical espionage action. When I heard of Alpha Protocol an 'espionage RPG' from Obsidian entertainment, I giggled with girlish glee at the promise of sleath and shooting gameplay, the ability to manipulate characters through your actions with them and customisable RPG elements. I imagined a mix of Jason Bourne-style action mixed with James Bond-esque charisma. Alpha Protocol fails to deliver.

Alpha Protocol tells the story of Mike Thornton, an agent working for the eponymous shadowy government agency. As he progresses through the story, he'll meet different handlers, informants and targets that, dependant on your actions, help or hinder Mike in his missions. Using a mix of diplomacy, subterfuge, sabotage and violence, Mike uncovers the mystery surrounding Alpha Protocol.

That sounded exciting, didn't it? The reality couldn't be further from the truth.

The majority of AP's gameplay is played out as a simple sneak and shoot third-person action game. Mike makes his way through drab and uninspired levels, following objective markers that quickly lose all meaning. After reaching your twentieth marker, only to have your handler garble something in your earpiece and redirect you to another point on the opposite end of the level, you stop caring about why you need to get there. While the levels are peppered with things you can hack, bypass or lock-pick (each with its own minigame), the gameplay here focuses on sneaking up on guards, who walk in preset patterns, and offing them one by one or combating them if you are spotted.

It is at this point where one of AP's main flaws rears its ugly head. The enemy AI is terrible, at times spotting you from miles away behind cover, and at others failing to see you despite the fact you are standing three feet in front of them. During combat, they fail to use cover properly, and are easily defeated using simple exploits. Even the boss enemies do little more than stay in one position and shoot.

Shooting is another issue AP has trouble with. Since it is an action RPG, whether or not you hit a target is dependant on your accuracy stats, even if the enemy is squarely in your sights. While this may sound like a good idea, it takes all the skill out of shooting and makes all of your guns basically unreliable. Combine this with the facts that the AI will cease fire if you are punching an enemy and that one melee combo neutralises most enemies, and you have a game where running around punching guards in the face is the most effective way to win a firefight. Not exactly subtle.

The missions are punctuated by 'saferoom' segments, wherein you can change up your gear and buy upgrades, and 'conversation' segments. These are similar to those seen in Mass Effect, with Mike having to make on the spot decisions on how to respond or react, making it even possible to talk your way out of (or into) a firefight. The trouble is that these conversations are often so boring and unenthusiastically delivered that I found myself losing concentration throughout most of them.

Alpha Protocol is also an ugly game. The character design is dull, the facial animations are weird and puppet-like, and the character animation is inconsistent to say the least. Mike's strange crouching duck-walk and the guard's hovering moonwalk are, considering the fact you spend perhaps 70% of the game looking at either of those animations, bizarre design choices.

Alpha Protocol does have some saving graces. Due to its customisable upgrade system, the player can choose how to level up Mike's stats and abilities, giving him access to sneaky near-invisibility or L33T hacking skillz. Levelling up is, as with most RPGs, compelling and somewhat addictive, and along with all the different choices the player can make throughout the game, some of you may find enough to like to warrant a playthrough or two. I myself am going back to my Jason Bourne Boxset.

Lukao gives Alpha Protocol 3 Jason Bournes out of 10.

Luke Rosales Mc Cabe

CeX W1 Rathone Place

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Thursday 10 June 2010

Game Review: UFC 2010 Undisputed

It is undeniable that the popularity of mixed martial arts and the UFC has risen substantially in the past few years. Thanks to the UFC President Dana White, the contact sport has branched out and become a very serious contender for one of the most popular franchises in current sports. Indeed with the release of UFC 2009 Undisputed, the franchise broke into the video game world and was undoubtedly better than the WWE/NWO style of wrestling games. The real, dangerous action of MMA fighting transitioned into the video game world well, so it is impressive in itself that this instalment in the series is even better than the predecessor. Prepare yourself for bone crunching, adrenaline pumping entertainment with great in game mechanics, alongside plenty of additional modes and game-types to get involved with. It certainly isn’t a perfect package and has a fair share of lapses, but overall, UFC Undisputed 2010 is an accessible and entertaining experience.

Just like the real world equivalent, UFC 2010 is a technical game, one that perhaps, is not so easy to simply pick up and play. For a gamer looking for quick fun, this could provide an issue, nothing however, that the in game tutorial cannot fix. To brawl inside an Octagon full of various martial arts styles and techniques and be competitive in a game that regards technical striking and grappling game-play, one should not avoid the tutorial. Saying this, it takes no more than five fights from past experience to begin to really understand what you are doing and before you know it, you will be a competitive fighter. The controls are simple enough, the four face buttons mapped to your limbs, the triggers and bumpers block and alter strike damage and where the hit will land, and the most important button, the right joystick, attempts grapples, clinches and takedowns. The most difficult part of UFC 2010 comes from perhaps not understanding body positioning. Those who are knew to MMA fighting will have to experiment to understand what position your fighter has to have be in on the floor or grappling standing, to land certain blows. For example, if your opponent is on top of you in full mount, rotating the right joystick moves your character in an attempt to free yourself and gain momentum to get back up. To newcomers, this will seem like a desperate struggle to spin the joystick until something happens, while a veteran gamer or one who follows wrestling, Brazilian jujitsu and watched the UFC will understand that you must watch your opponent and move when he moves to gain leverage. For those who enjoy the sport, this is absolutely incredible realism and implemented very well, for those who do not, ground game will take a little longer to get used to as opposed to standing and landing blows.

Fortunately the ground game is not as broken as it was in last year’s game. Now it is a lot easier to get an opponent off of you and heavy blows will only be landed if the player successfully mounts and gets the correct posture to unleash ground n’ pound. At this point however, it is possible to block and easiest to escape, so it really is a trial and error type of scenario, work out what is most effective and less damaging. Of course there is the option of attempting a submission hold that can succeed by spinning the right joystick while your opponent also spins in an attempt to reverse the hold. This I find pretty pointless because as soon as your opponent breaks free, you are vulnerable to some serious punishment on the ground. When player’s endurance begins to fade in the ring, then it is worth considering throwing in a submission in an attempt to win the match. A cool addition to UFC 2010 is the ability to change submission holds in attempt to fool your opponent into spinning the joystick in the wrong direction, given you certain victory.

UFC 2010 does a fantastic job taking what its predecessor achieved, and building upon the foundations to create an even more impressive experience. On top of a massive roster to choose from, the game now for added realism, includes the physics of the cage surrounding you. This to be honest was a massive problem in the original as the cage walls play a huge roll in the sport, especially when fighters grapple each other and use the cage to gain position. This can also be seen during take downs as the cage gets in the way and allows players to use it to try and push off from and get up from grapples. UFC 2010 has also included a fantastic sway system that allows fighters to duck and dodge against oncoming attacks in attempt to land a counter blow and finish the fight. This is certainly a risk-reward scenario because dodging is not the same as blocking and if you duck down and end up coming face to face with your opponent’s knee, its lights out for you.

In addition to fantastic character roster, UFC 2010 also offers a pretty extensive ‘create your own fighter mode’. This unfortunately I feel, is not one of the games highlight modes. Once again, this mode really shines for those who understand MMA, because customisation your characters looks is simple, but then combining variations and segments from different martial arts styles to create a personal fighter, can become incredibly complicated and tedious. Thankfully there are template models, but that sort of beats the character customisation doesn’t it? Perhaps I am being very critical as the last game I reviewed, Modnation Racer, was a highlight in user creation tools, but nevertheless, it is still worth the mention. You can create a character that is ready to fight in the big leagues, or really bring a grub to the scene and have him develop and go through career mode to become a champion. Another niggling issue is on the character select screen, there is little to be said about the fighters, making it once again for those who do not follow the sport, pretty difficult to select a character because you do not know what style of fighting they are best at. I watched one guy pick up a fighter known for his extensive groundwork, and during a 3 round fight, not go for a takedown once. You can press triangle or the Y button, which brings up certain stats and most fighters are pretty well rounded, but still a bit of extra information would not have hurt.

A massive improvement over UFC 2009 comes in the career mode. This is not to say however, that it is a great game mode however. Last year saw a frustrating, menu driven career that was painful to sit through. This year you spend a lot more time fighting, which is obviously a great thing, but also a lot of time training, which is boring and feels like a chore. Another absolutely ridiculous addition to the career mode is the attribute enhancement section where you spend skill points as you earn them to become a better fighter. This seems pretty self explanatory, but the game decides to drop skill points in sections of your fighter that you don’t often upgrade. This seems realistic say if you omit training your grappling game, your skill will drop, but this ends up being horrifically tedious and irritating as you are often required to spend at least one point on every single skill to ensure they do not deteriorate, meaning enhancing your strong assets takes forever. It also doesn’t help that you only earn skill points in training and nothing is gained from main event fights, which doesn’t make sense as you learn from every encounter in the ring, making career mode tedious and irritating.

That aside, there is some pretty cool additions in UFC 2010’s career mode, including visiting specialist martial arts camps where your character can learn new moves and fighting styles. You are also forced to get involved with the media, even rest and try to keep your conditioning high while your fatigue levels down. All of this really makes you feel like a proper fighter and although there are annoying issues in career mode, this all kind of gets ignored when you finally step into the ring of the UFC and experience what the game is best at, letting you pummel opponents.

The most impressive content on UFC 2010 is definitely the stuff you can just jump straight into it, be it by yourself, or preferably against a friend. Regardless, Title mode allows you to pit your strength against tough opponent AI to try and win the belt of your chosen weight class, Title defence then lets you defend that hard earned title and Event mode lets you create your own fight card and play through it. A very cool addition to UFC 2010 is the Ultimate Fight mode that allows you to relive some of the highlight moments of massive fights throughout UFC history. You will be required to complete certain challenges to make the fights end how they did in real life and this unlocks cool content including actual videos from those fights. It is at this point, that there is significant difference between the 360 and PS3 versions of the game. In terms of technicality, both games feel and play the same, but the PS3 version includes 5 full-length HD UFC fights and the videos you unlock in Ultimate Fight look stunning as opposed to the compressed versions on the Xbox 360. This is because the PS3 uses Blu-ray discs and can store more data. Also it is worth noting that the PS3 version has certain extra fighters available to fight with.

Sadly, while playing against a friend in the ring is a lot of fun on the same console, online it is frustrating and not enjoyable. This is a massive let down for UFC 2010 as the online modes suffer from lag, no interesting content and almost no incentive to actually get online and play in the first place. Miniscule experience points are offered and a pointless leaderboard hangs scores that are simply not worth the frustration that the online mode forces you to put up with.

This is a classic example of a game that does what it needs to do, very well. Yes in-between fights there are numerous issues surrounding different modes in the game, and this is a problem granted. When you step into the ring however, the game flows well, moves are executed perfectly and there is very little to fault in terms of game-play. UFC 2010 Undisputed is let down by its poor campaign mode and pretty awful online game-play, but inside the Octagon it does nothing but impress, both technically and visually.

Technical presentation – 6.0

Graphics – 8.0

Game-play – 8.0

Replay value – 7.0

Final score – 7 / 10

CeX (UK) Contributor

Igor Kharin

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