Friday 30 July 2010

Game Review: Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker

Over the entire two and a half years that I have been writing for CeX I don’t think I have ever reviewed a game for the Playstation Portable. This could have something to do with my undeniable hatred for Sony’s handheld machine, its lackluster presence on the market goes almost as far as to insult me as a video gamer. Thankfully this article is not primarily aimed at crucifying the PSP, rather we are here to acknowledge that certain games deserve recognition and in this case, unfortunately I feel, the next installment in one of video gaming’s most iconic franchises continues its story on the Playstation Portable, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.

Peace Walker is a masterpiece, a game that re-sets the bar for portable gaming. Packed full of content, features, cooperative game-play, beautiful technical prowess; this well-rounded experience will have you at the edge of your seat the whole way through.

Peace Walker follows on from the story of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, bringing you back into the Cold War conflict and throwing you into South America. As per usual, Kojima and his team have produced nothing less than excellence with regards to the story, which is a gripping tale that flows precisely and effectively as you dwell deeper into Costa Rica. The presentation of the story is also worth commending as it all unfolds in a beautiful graphic-novel that is helped along with some incredible voice acting from returning veterans such as David Hayter.

Of course at the heart of Peace Walker is the demanding and compelling stealth action that you will guide Snake through. Aside from scripted action scenes and intense boss battles, you are encouraged to take a patient and tactical approach to the game in order to receive heroism points that can later be used as upgrade points for weapons, gadgets and your own personal army. To complete your mission at hand Snake will require the help of many different gadgets stowed away in your inventory, it is nice to see that all gadgets have a use and are required at one point or another, allowing for a wide variety of non-lethal ways to tackle the games scenarios. Unfortunately the game is let down somewhat by the rather confusing control set up on the PSP. This is to be expected because of the various different things Snake can do and it has been made as user-friendly as possible, however at times you will find yourself fiddling around to navigate weapons and items.

Playing Peace Walker you will sometimes forget that this is in fact a portable game. With this in mind, the outstanding graphics and audio deserve a large amount of praise. The graphics are pretty to look at and technically are a delight to behold. Both character models and the vast jungles around you look great and interact naturally. The miniscule sounds of bugs and birds in the jungle and the softened footsteps of soldiers really aid to enhance the experience. I recommend playing the game with headphones to really engross you and remove all outside noise and interference.

You will notice immediately when playing Peace Walker that your home screen is an island known as Mother Base. This interesting additional game play element takes on board the idea of team development. Mother Base serves as a welcome reprieve from Peace Walker’s core game play and allows you to interact with prisoners and enemies that you encounter and transfer to the base throughout the campaign mode. These soldiers swiftly become your recruits for your own personal army, one that you can upgrade, enhance and send off to fight in exchange for the earning of points and upgrades to technology and weaponry. At first glance this mode can be quite overwhelming as it is hugely based on statistics and numbers, however with a pretty easy to use menu navigation system and understandable mechanics, you soon begin to love taking time out of the action to come and play admin in Mother Base to truly unlock all the potential Peace Walker has to offer. This certainly offers a different angle to what Metal Gear Solid is initially about, but it is implemented well and is a testament to the diversity the series is known for. If this however, really isn’t your thing, then you can set the game to automatically distribute skills and points to your army without you having to go near Mother Base in any great urgency.

Peace Walker continues to impress with a fantastic cooperative game mode. Two players can join together to tackle the campaign and up to four players can tackle boss battles together. This changes the whole espionage experience and offers diverse and fun ways to tackle the games different missions, some of which are specifically designed for cooperative action. Aside from cooperative play you can also get involved with the competitive multiplayer that offers death match modes and defense game-types. Like all Metal Gear games, the shining gem is espionage so perhaps frenzied gun combat between players is not the most fun thing you can do here, but it still proves as an enjoyable outlet from the campaign mode.

It is also a delight to see that the development staff has acknowledged that this is a portable game and some people would like to play it on the move for short periods of time. With regards to this, Extra Ops is a perfect game mode full of short, repeatable extra missions that can be accessed at any time. There is plenty of incentive to do these missions as they offer lots of goodies and rewards and as stated, are very time friendly.

Ultimately very little can be said to fault Peace Walker. This is what can only be described as a fantastic portable experience. It holds all the properties of a top end console game, but with the addition of such modes as Extra Ops, helps us to remember that its home is on the Playstation Portable. A fantastic story, excellent game-play, plenty of replay value and probably the best technical achievement to date on a portable machine, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is the only game to own if you have a PSP. I myself am praying for a Playstation Network release so those of you who do not own the handheld machine, will still be able to fully experience this masterpiece.

Technical presentation – 10.0
Graphics – 9.0
Game-play – 10.0
Replay value – 8.0

Final score – 9 / 10

Igor, CeX contributor

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Friday 23 July 2010

Game Review: No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle

It permeates everything. Everywhere you look, you can see it: on T-shirts, in music, branded across the backs of particularly enthusiastic followers. I am of course talking about the wave of Retro-cool that is sweeping the world, or as I like to call it, Geek-Chic. There used to be a time when being a geek was frowned upon and we were shunned from society, forced to indulge our secret passions behind closed doors. Now I can't go five minutes without seeing someone with a faux-vintage Nintendo T-shirt or hearing an 8-bit chip-tune dance track, and some of you may have noticed that the last two games I reviewed had a definite retro appeal.

No More Heroes 2 is the epitome of this fashion, combining hack-and-slash gameplay with old-school-cool. But fashion is such a fickle mistress. Can Suda51 score another touchdown with their freshest franchise?

No More Heroes 2 picks up where its predecessor left off, with legendary otaku Travis Touchdown once again racing to become Santa Destroy's number one ranked assassin. However, when I say assassin, I don't mean the 'stealthily-hang-around-on-rooftops' kind, I mean the 'show-up-at-your-house-and-kill-absolutely-everyone-in-sight' kind. The majority of NMH2 gameplay consists of you navigating Travis around fairly basic environments, slashing away at the no-brainer enemies and using a combination of martial arts and wrestling moves to dispatch them. The combat is simple but very satisfying, allowing even the most cack-handed of players to create spectacular action sequences. The motion-sensitive wrestling moves and death-blows are definitely a highlight, but since the level and enemy design is fairly bland, things can get a little monotonous after a while.

The real meat of the previous game were the boss battles, and the rest of the game seemed to be filler to build up the tension between these climactic clashes. Boring chores, entry fees, training and literally commuting between missions all made Travis' life seem boring and pedestrian in comparison to his exciting existence as a ranking assassin. Players will be pleased to hear that all of the above has been thrown out, as there are no longer entry fees to the ranking battles, the bland overworld of Santa Destroy has been replaced by a menu screen and jobs and training now take the form of 8-bit style mini-games, and are entirely extra-curricular.

While I saw this as a massive improvement, I did feel that the gaps between bosses felt strangely empty, sometimes going straight from one to the next without even a proper stage separating them. The bosses themselves are great fun, but seem to lack the variety and flair of those from the first game.

The main selling point of NMH2 is its style and presentation. The principle characters are snappily designed, the music is catchy and stylish, and the entire affair oozes cool. While the graphics aren't the best in existence, the cartoony visuals are some of the best that I've seen on the Wii. However it is the little touches that leave the biggest impression. The self-references, the spot-on anime satire, the subtle and not so subtle breaking of the forth wall. The sound of someone blowing into a cartridge when the 8-bit mini games start up. The first time you realise that the batteries depleting in Travis' beam katana mirror those in your Wii-mote. NMH2 is full of cool little moments like these.

No More Heroes 2 is a fun and stylish game, but rather than concentrating on improving on the original, Suda51 seems content in simply removing elements that critics didn't like. Suffering from the same repetitiveness of its predecessor, NMH2 does break the monotony with some unique segments and occasional alternate characters, but ultimately comes across as style over substance. But it’s got a hell of a lot of style.

Lukao gives No More Heroes 2 7 powerbombs out of 10

Luke Rosales McCabe
CeX Rathbone Place

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Tuesday 20 July 2010

Game Review: Crackdown 2

The original Crackdown was a splendid open-ended adventure game that soared over initial expectations. The game presented a fabulous world to explore in a beautiful cel-shaded design, along with plenty of fun action. Indeed the game had its fair share of flaws, including limited hand to hand combat, repetitive mission scenarios and broken vehicles. One would have hoped that the developers behind Crackdown 2 would have taken the formula they had and expanded upon it substantially to bring out an even better video game. Unfortunately this is not the case as Crackdown 2 is a stereotypical example of a video game designing safety play in that almost nothing new is attempted, the game is almost completely moulded on the architecture of the predecessor and 3 years later, albeit still fun, it is not as impressive this time round.

Speaking of architecture, those who played the original will notice straight away that Pacific City has not changed at all geographically. Physically on the other hand, the city has been ravaged and destroyed by mutants and enemy soldiers. While it can be very thrilling running past a distinctive land mark from the previous game and seeing how time enveloped it in rust and decay, you can’t help but feel somewhat ripped off in that the map is identical to its predecessor. This time round the same graphical praise cannot be given to Crackdown 2; the game tries to use a dark and gloomy environment to suck you into the world but often leaves little to the imagination. Everything around you is dingy and plain ugly to look at. The cel-shaded look helps keep the games style unique, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Just like the original Crackdown, most of the fun will be had in exploring the city and tracking down the power enhancing orbs. The achievements for finding all 500 in the last game or however many there were I lost count and gave up myself were a staggering success amidst gamers. The same formula is implemented here and will see you climb rooftops, check every nook and cranny and now even give chase to persistent orbs to continue powering up your super hero. It really says something when in an open world action-adventure title where there is so much fighting and gun action, that collecting bright orbs is unfortunately the pinnacle the game has to offer.

Crackdown 2 suffers from some pretty irritating inconsistencies, namely in the areas where you would expect it to be strongest in. Promoting continuous exploration of Pacific City would surely entail that the environments would be a joy to navigate. Well, you will find yourself infuriated at the games inability to register particular ledges, windows and other things you can grab on to. This comes into fruition particularly when you start making your way to the top of the games tallest buildings and losing your grip and proceeding to plummet to the bottom is an utter nightmare. The issue doesn’t happen a lot, so it is not enough to warrant not attempting the more advanced areas of exploration, I’m just saying be warned, take a few deep breaths if it happens, and go for it again.

The original game introduced an incredibly annoying voice in the sky that narrated everything you did, well that same God like figure makes a grand return here. Alongside his awful and inconsistent narration, the opening and ending video reels are about as much story as you’re gonna get in Crackdown 2. You can spend time finding audio logs scattered around the world and they do shed light on the experience somewhat, but I feel that there is so much already to try and find in Pacific City, that another thing to add to the agenda is bothersome and irritating.

So Crackdown 2 will eventually force you to fight some enemies, which come in 2 different variants, the Cell organisation; a bunch of humans looking to destroy your organisation, and the mutant freaks. The developers chose to omit enhancing the fighting mechanics in the series, which is a terrible shame because they were average at best in the original. You gain a vast variety of weaponry that you can use to decimate foes including your fists as well. When you get attacked you go into a ridiculous limp like state that takes an irritating few seconds to recover from but unless you play on the hardest play settings, no amount of enemies should be to hard to despatch. The main issue in Crackdown 2 is the ridiculous repetition in the objectives you tackle, all of which follow a very linear set of patterns, either run to here, clear this strong hold out, race to here etc. There is nothing neither interesting in the missions nor rather challenging for that matter.

The game tries to diverge from this monotonous formula by once again offering you a variety of vehicles, including a few new ones to try out. The original Crackdown really put incentive on the vehicles, regardless of the fact that they just weren’t that much fun to drive. Once again various stunt missions, timed runs and so forth make it worth getting behind the steering wheel, but aggravating issues such as Pacific City’s idiotic populace makes driving around more trouble than its worth.

A big bonus in Crackdown 2 and lord knows it really needed one, is the ability to play the campaign cooperatively over Xbox Live. You and up to 3 other friends can rampage the city or just run around collecting orbs, you get to keep what you find which is a great incentive to hang around in your friends world as it is just plain more fun with buddies around. This is definitely the highlight of the game, when playing with friends all of the games issues seem to dissolve away and it is undeniable that there is an endless amount of fun to be had with friends in Pacific City. Should you chose to tackle the campaign together, or go after the multiplayer specific objectives, or even get involved in the competitive side of the multiplayer, all of it is very entertaining. Lets not forget that pushing a friend off of one of the games highest buildings could cause many giggles and potential in game fights.

I feel that I have put Crackdown 2 in a pretty bad light over the course of this review; to be honest I feel it does deserve it, somewhat. The good thing, no, the great thing about Crackdown 2, is that you get the feeling the developers stepped away and let you create the fun you have, be it through exploration, through cooperative annihilation and so forth. While yes technically the game is poor, the graphics aren’t great, it suffers from monotony, the audio isn’t exactly special etc, but there’s something about Crackdown 2 that is just, fun, yeah, it is addicting and fun. It deserves a go, perhaps I was a little too critical, after all, I’m booting up my copy now.

Technical presentation – 5.0
Graphics – 5.0
Game-play – 8.0
Replay value – 9.0

Final score – 7 / 10

Igor, CeX contributor
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Thursday 15 July 2010

Game Review: Transformers War for Cybertron

Transformers: War for Cybertron. TRANSFORRRMMEEEEEERRRS!!! Just hearing the epic first line from the 80's cartoon brings back fond memories of sticky fingers struggling with complex transforming mechanisms, bouncing up and down on the sofa with glee, re-enacting the latest adventures of the valiant Autobots and the villainous Decepticons. It is a very special bond indeed that exists between a boy and a small plastic robot that also turns into a truck.

Transformers: War for Cybertron, rather than the latest Shia Lebouef-infused douche-baggery, is based on the original designs and story of the Transformers canon. Set during the conflict that led the transforming robots to flee their home planet, the game views the war from both sides, giving the player the opportunity to control both Autobot and Decepticon forces. The ability to play through each chapter of the campaign as a different Transformer really appealed to the collector in me, especially since the games features old favourites like Starscream, Soundwave, Ironhide and of course the leaders Megatron and Optimus Prime.

The main game plays as a solid third person shooter, with the Transformers having access to an array of high tech space-age weaponry, which are really just fancy versions of machine guns, sniper rifles, shotguns and more. High Moon Studios did a good job of integrating the character's transforming abilities into the gameplay. The standard run-and-gun action is often broken up with brief vehicle sections, and the feeling of rushing up to an enemy in car form before transforming and destroying them with a quick melee attack is definitely thrilling.

The representation of the Transformers and their home planet Cybertron is spot-on, with intricate animated details on both the characters and the environment. My only quibble was that after four or five missions, purple and red metal corridors, no matter how intricately rendered, become monotonous. The highlight of the single-player campaign for me were the chapters featuring the flying Transformers, as the ability to gain the high ground during firefights as well as swap weapons while transformed made the game feel more complete. Also, the dedicated flying sequences were superb, reminding me of the Millennium Falcon's desperate escape from an exploding Death Star! Unfortunately, these chapters only make up a small part of the main game, and its a shame that there weren't more.

The online component of Transformers:WFC features a three-player co-op version of the single player campaign, a competitive multiplayer arena and Escalation, a co-operative survival mode (think Gears of War 2's horde, but with robots). The inclusion of the character's transforming abilities and special perks and powers make the multiplayer a fairly unique and fun (funique?) experience, if not a terribly deep one. Its no Halo 3, but it will definitely extend the lifetime of the game.

While I may not be the biggest Transformers fan in the world, I can recognise when a franchise is treated with care and respect. Activision and High Moon Studios have done an excellent job of bringing the series to life, from the superb graphics and spot-on voice acting to the famous 'ree-ee-aa-oow' noise (you try spelling out the 'transform' sound effect!). Tranformers:WFC is fairly fun and has moments of brilliance, but falls short of spectacular. I would heavily suggest that fans of the series should transform, then proceed to roll out and buy a copy!

Lukao gives Transformer: War for Cybertron 8 Energon cubes out of 10.
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Tuesday 13 July 2010

Singularity Review

In this day and age of gaming we look to games to offer us engaging story lines, thrilling moral dilemmas and immense emotional consequences that force us to dwell deeper and deeper into the roots of the game’s message and its purpose. Shooting games like Halo and Gears of War tell tales of heroes and fallen soldiers, of war trodden worlds and species fighting for survival. Singularity ignores all that boring nonsense, throws a heap of cool weapons on your lap and unleashes hordes of mutants and monsters at you expecting havoc to ensue. While indeed this game does not go much deeper than that, Activision offer a very fun and fast paced shooter with pleasant surprises along the way, a game that doesn’t take itself to seriously and as a result, is bags full of fun. A few technical hitches here and there alongside quite dated graphics make you wish a little bit more time was spent on Singularity, but this rarely gets in the way of all the awesome action you’re going to be involved in.

The premise of Singularity is very cheesy but does well to set the mood for a Sci-Fi Shooter; the game’s whereabouts are situated on the island of Katorga-12 where Russian scientists were experimenting with a substance known as E99 during the Cold War. This substance had the power to manifest and control time resulting in a catastrophic accident that forced the entire existence of the island and the project to be covered up by Russia. You play the role of Nate Renko, a soldier assigned to go and investigate strange emissions surrounding the island and obviously end up crash landing. From here you learn the islands dark, time travelling secrets, which I won’t give away otherwise there won’t be any story left! What I will discuss is Singularity’s awesome game mechanic, the Time Manipulation Device.

Indeed Singularity is more than just blasting enemies away with really cool shotguns and automatics, rather the addition of the TMD allows for some very fun and inventive ways to keep the combat fresh and exciting. On top of that the game also uses the following abilities to create puzzles to vary the game play, which serves as a welcome break from the action.

The TMD has many powers and uses, the first being the Age Revert. This power allows you to take objects and humans backwards and forwards in time. This offers many awesome advantages, allowing broken staircases to be fixed, fences to rust, humans to age turning to dust or attack each other in a primitive state and many more. The Deadlock power allows you to throw a time manipulating energy ball into the field of battle that slows down or stops completely everything inside it. Aside from slowing down enemies and bullets this once again is used in the environments to slow down speeding fans etc to allow safe passage. The next power is Impulse, which is a time shockwave that can knock enemies off their feet but more importantly if used on enemies that are floating between time dimensions, they become visible and allow you to kill them with your weaponry. Another power available is Gravity, which reminds me of the Gravity Gun from Half Life games and Portal, allowing you to move items and suspend them in time, so grenades won’t explode and so forth until you release them. The Chronolight is the final ability learned and is arguably the most interesting, allowing players to view their surroundings in different time periods. Accompanied by the Gravity ability, players can for example, take objects out of other time periods to solve puzzles in their current situation, providing some thrilling puzzle pieces throughout the game.

The TMD really helps transform this game from just simple shooter into an engaging and pretty complex experience. The need to constantly change abilities and combine with different weapons depending on what enemy you face makes Singularity a whole load of frantic fun. This isn’t to say that the TMD is the only cool weapon you get as the game offers some pretty terrific actual weapons for you to handle as well. When using the Sniper Rifle for example, time slows down allowing for some absolutely epic bombardment from distance. Another long-range weapon allows you to guide the bullet directly into the enemy yourself, providing some pretty sick yet awesome satisfaction. You will at first notice that the game feels too familiar with other such Sci-Fi shooters, yet as the game progresses and the TMD’s abilities are unlocked side by side with these cool weapons, you will begin to characterize Singularity as an FPS game in its own right, deservedly so at that.

The game continues to impress through its online multiplayer experience. Singularity takes the approach that less is good in this instance and only offers two game modes, an assault and defends game-type called Extermination and Deathmatch called Creatures vs. Soldiers. Both modes are terrific fun, especially the latter where you are given the opportunity to play as the enemies you encounter in the campaign. This segment definitely takes a leaf out of Left 4 Dead’s book, but it offers an engaging and variable game mode with lots of different powers available for each type of creature alongside the soldiers also getting access to the TMD’s special multiplayer abilities.

From a technical perspective unfortunately Singularity is a bit of a let down. While sound design is done very well, do not expect to be looking at this year’s best-designed game. The Unreal 3 Engine is implemented here, but the game’s resolution is lacklustre, graphics are quite dull and textures aren’t the greatest. Enemies do look quite nice, but are plagued by pretty dumb AI, more consistently noticeable on human enemies who just do not know how to hide and cover. The game doesn’t look bad, but it’s just not mesmerizing. Fortunately, the fluidity of the action helps keep this problem to a minimum.

Overall, Singularity is definitely a game that you can pick up for its fun factor. It does what it needs to do and does it really well, lots of action, great pacing, varied weaponry and mechanics alongside some great enemies and boss battles. Yes it has its problems, but you are not buying this game to marvel at its technical beauty, this game is all out action and excitement and is a winner in my book.

Technical presentation – 5.0

Graphics – 6.0

Game-play – 9.0

Replay value – 8.0

Final score – 7 / 10

CeX (UK) Contributor

Igor Kharin

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Monday 12 July 2010

UK visitors using PayPal

If you are in the UK and want to use PayPal, please point your browser at which has PayPal activated. does not have PayPal activated.

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Wednesday 7 July 2010

Game Review: 3D Dot Game Heroes

Ah, nostalgia... remember that? I've often spent a sunny afternoon reminiscing with friends about childhood memories, games and shows, the excited chatter punctuated by gasps of remembrance over some forgotten delight. 3D Dot Game Heroes is the virtual equivalent of taking a walk down memory lane, more specifically a walk down Legend-of-Zelda boulevard, just off Link-to-the-Past avenue. But can Southpeak's latest offering stand up to closer scrutiny, even if viewed through rose-tinted 3D glasses?

The first thing that strikes you when playing 3D Dot Game Heroes is the game's stunning presentation. Combining hyper-realistic lighting, shading and depth-of-field effects with an old-school pixellated aesthetic, 3DGH juxtaposes the real with the virtual, making it look as though someone has rebuilt your favourite 8-bit game out of Lego pieces. The overall effect is very convincing, as if the blocky characters and environments were really there in front of you.

After a while however, the initial impact wears off and what remains is the solid, if not entirely derivative gameplay. 3DGH sells itself as a homage to classic games such as Zelda and... erm I suppose that's it. Right down to the kinds of items you accumulate and use, the skills that become available and enemies you encounter, 3DGH repeats verbatim what it learnt in Zelda History 101.

In case you skipped that class, I'll go over it again. You control a pixellated hero as you explore a expansive kingdom (albeit separated into set manageable screens) from a top-down perspective. As you discover and complete puzzle-infested dungeons, you acquire items which allow you access to more parts of the world and thusly more dungeons, and so on until your quest is complete.

Now I wouldn't mind if 3D Dot Game Heroes was a mild Zelda clone, with its tongue burrowing through its own cheek. Unfortunately, 'clone' is the operative word, and I just didn't find it amusing. I was looking forward to a rip-roaring parody of 8-bit games, a good-natured lampooning of some of my favourite memories, all bundled together with classic Zelda gameplay. The jokes I encountered were rather dry, and while some were interesting comments on RPG conventions (for example, after bombing a conspicuous crack in a wall, I was promptly instructed by the woman I found inside to pay for destroying her house), the gags are simply too few and far between.

The gameplay, while solid and fairly enjoyable (due mostly to its source material) brings with it the same problems that the originals had: a difficult to navigate labyrinthine overworld (a tiny and indistinct map doesn't help), confusing objectives and character controls that are literally decades out of date. The few innovations in gameplay that are introduced, namely the upgradable screen-filling sword, seem ill thought out. While amusing at first, once you suffer a single hit your sword shrinks down to normal size, while your enemies (who are balanced to offer a challenge even with your mammoth weapon) can easily overwhelm you. It becomes a losing battle once you take a little damage, often being easier to reload your save rather than scavenge for health. A frustrating experience indeed.

3D Dot Game Heroes is a competent game, and the in-built character editor and uploader may give you a few more hours of Lego-building fun. If you have never played a Zelda game, or reeeaally fancy repeating the experience with HD graphics, then you could do worse than giving this a try. However, if I wanted to poke fun out of the Zelda franchise, I'd go watch the Legend of Zelda 80's cartoon. Excuuuuuuse me Princess!

Lukao gives 3D Dot Game Heroes 5 Lego bricks out of 10.

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Tuesday 6 July 2010

HTC Desire Review

The Desire was released by Taiwanese company HTC on the 26th of March, I purchased one from the Bristol CeX store about six weeks later. I was previously using a Palm Pre, which although I loved the phone itself there seemed to be no developer support behind the OS. That alone made the phone almost useless to me and having already had the first two generations of iPhone and gotten very bored with that OS I decided to plump for a phone running Google’s Android.

Now after that little bit of background I’m going to delve straight into the review. The phone itself feels robust and survived a few weeks in my pockets and on several drunken adventures without a mark or scratch, very admirable since I managed to crack the Pre within two weeks of owning it. I have since bought a case for the phone but only to keep it looking as nice as when I got it.

Speaking of looks it is very similar to Google’s own Nexus One, probably because that was made for Google by HTC with the exact same innards as the Desire. The difference between the Desire and Nexus One cosmetically are that the Desire has an optical trackpad instead of a scroll-ball and it has physical buttons along the bottom of the device. The trackpad is ridiculously accurate and a joy to use, much more so than a scroll-ball and it looks very cool and futuristic too. The model I have has a strange metallic purple tinted casing which it took me about a month to notice but there is a plain black version available that looks just as good. It’s a very well designed phone and fits great in the hand though the buttons on the bottom of the device are in a slightly hard to reach spot.

Moving on now to the Android OS itself, the Desire is skinned with HTC’s own version of Android which they call “Sense UI”. This was the feature that really sold me on the Desire over the Nexus One, as I’ve always found native Android to look a little plain. The Sense UI is very pretty and polished and it runs like a dream on the Desire thanks to its whip-fast processor. Moving from iOS to WebOS to Android was very easy, it only took e a couple of days to rewire my brain into the way Android works and after that I was in phone geek heaven. Within a couple of hours I had already downloaded several free apps and games and had a fully-functional Gameboy Advance emulator on there playing Final Fantasy V at full speed and in fantastic resolution. I could list all the really interesting and innovating apps on the Android Market that I use daily but then I’d be here for months, and although there’s not as many apps on there as the iTunes App Store I much prefer the more open system that Google has.

My main gripe with the Desire and it’s Android OS is that about a week before I bought my phone the latest version of Android was announced and then released for its brother the Nexus One, but I may have to wait until September according to the most recent reports and blogs. Other than that I really have had no problems with the phone at all. The battery life is over a day better than the Pre and iPhone 3G, with it easily lasting 24 hours even when I’m using Spotify and playing games. The camera and flash are very good, 5 megapixels and not struggling in any light. It also has almost no shutter lag when taking pictures which was a real problem with all the smartphones I have had in the last few years. The external speaker is very loud for those of you who like to share your music with the rest of the bus and for those that don’t the sound through a good set of headphones is fantastic.

So, in conclusion, my opinion of the Desire is overwhelmingly in its favour. Not only is the handset itself fantastic but I’ve definitely been converted over to the church of Android, and although I can no longer mock iPhone users for not having multi-tasking I can hold my phone any way I like.

CeX (UK) Contributor

Sam Harrison

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Thursday 1 July 2010

Blur review

This review may come as a bit of a surprise to some of you. If you were paying attention in my Red Dead Redemption review, you will know that I fully admit my lack of ability when it comes to driving games. “So why are you doing a review of Blur, the new combat racing game from Bizarre Creations?” I hear you cry. Well, let's just call it part of my duty to uphold my journalistic integrity. Or the fact that the rent isn't gonna pay itself!

Having already established their proficiency at producing regular racing games, Bizarre now turn their attention to the arena of combat racing. Similar in principle to Burnout, Split/Second and Mario Kart, Blur surprisingly has more in common with the latter than the other grittier racers. Don't confuse that statement, Blur still uses realistic cars and physics, but the gameplay places emphasis on collecting and using power-ups, which are found strewn across the race course.

Blur features an interesting set of racer power-ups: A red homing attack (shunt), an aimed triple attack (bolt), an area of effect attack (barge),mines, nitro, shield and repair. A final rare 'shock' attack offers an interesting alternative to the infamous 'blue shell' attack from Mario Kart. Players who are lagging behind can trigger this attack to summon pillars of lightening to appear in front of the leaders of the pack, forcing them to weave between them or suffer speed-reducing damage. Each racer can store up to 3 power-ups, and almost all of them can be used both offensively and defensively, forcing the player to use them tactically.

The single-player component of the game has you competing in various events, winning 'lights' and 'fans' in order to unlock more races and cars. The events vary from standard races and time trials to destruction derby-style elimination rounds. Once enough lights have been acquired, you may challenge your rival, a high-ranking opponent who races alongside you in most of the events. If you are skilled enough to beat them, you win their car and progress to the next set of events. This kind of 'mixed-bag' gameplay keeps things fresh, giving the player different objectives for each event.

The one snag I hit during the single-player was the difficulty. The AI controlled racers seem to have no qualms in using their power-ups against you with 100% accuracy, and seem to be able to accelerate past you for no discernible reason. Having consulted more accomplished racing game fans, I found this was a phenomenon experienced by many. I would suggest novice racers set the difficulty to 'EASY'

The online component of the game doesn't suffer from the same imbalances, and is a lot of fun to play. Earning new cars, perks and abilities to suit your method of play, you can create your own monster-truck powerhouse, or a speedy Japanese drifter!

Blur's presentation, however suffers from some Bizarre (pun intended) design choices. While Blur has a fully licensed sound track (not by the Albarn-headed brit-pop band), it is turned off by default. The tracks and cars are realistically rendered, while the power-ups and their attacks are realised in shocking neon. In contrast to the purple bolts and hadouken-like shunts, the tracks (which are mostly set at night or during twilight) seem drab and washed out, and perhaps a little indistinct.

While Blur may not exactly be my cup of tea, I'm sure many others will find its frenetic charm appealing. There's plenty of achievement-style challenges to complete within the single-player campaign, and the online component will probably hold your attention for even longer. Me, I'm off to play Uncharted 2 again.

Lukao gives Blur 7 car-hadoukens out of 10

Luke Rosales McCabe

CeX UK Contributor

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