Thursday, 30 September 2010

Game Review - Dead Rising 2

Formats: PS3, Xbox 360, PC

Everyone loves zombies; it’s a plain and simple fact because we all know how much fun can be had against hordes of the living dead. The original Dead Rising proved this by setting Frank West loose in mall filled to the brim with the horrible creatures, allowing you to use everything and anything you could find to get through the masses of infected. The game’s clever story that was controlled quite furiously by an in-game clock, joined hand in hand with the slaughtering of zombies to bring a fantastic game to the Xbox 360. Quite obviously the idea of not fixing what is not broken was priority number one for Blue Castle Games and Capcom, as Dead Rising 2 brings back the same action packed style of game-play, this time in Fortune City, a much larger and more expansive environment. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the game once again does a great job bringing an intriguing and twisting story to the table, while at the same time providing endless amounts of fun with brand new weapons, the ability to combine items into super weapons and of course, unlimited amounts of zombies for you to use those weapons on. Dead Rising 2 is let down somewhat however, by slight inconsistencies in hand-to-hand combat, some rather unusual fighting mechanics that weren’t passed on from the original and pretty heavy loading times unless you install the game onto the hard-drive. Nevertheless, this is one awesome package that holds so many positives that they outweigh these negatives.

The story behind Dead Rising 2 is meaningful and deep, allowing you to easily become attached to the main protagonist Chuck Greene. The goal for Chuck is two-folded, he must first keep his little daughter from transforming into a zombie by finding and giving her the anti-zombie drug Zombrex every 24 hours, while at the same time find out why he was framed for letting the zombies into Fortune City. This leads to a frantic paced adventure where you must juggle your time wisely to keep yourself from failing the game and forcing a restart.

This is not as bad as it actually sounds because to complete Dead Rising 2 you will probably have to restart at least a couple of times. This is largely due to the story mechanic employed where by if you do not complete the story missions in their set time, the game ends and you are simply free to run around and kill zombies in areas you have unlocked. This proves to be an excellent opportunity to level up and obtain the use of new combo weapons as this all crosses over if you start the story arch again. Due to Dead Rising 2 having so much content, hidden features and great environments to explore, it’s hard to juggle all of this while staying on top of the main story, which does move at a frantic pace. As a result, you might find yourself playing through once to level Chuck up and make him a zombie killing terminator, then attempt to clear the story missions and find out the horrible truth behind Fortune City. Even after that you will find yourself playing it over and over to uncover all the secret goodies this game has to offer. This may seem like quite a demanding and stressful approach to a campaign mode, but it is this unique experience that defines Dead Rising as a franchise and once you become accustomed to the pace of the game, it shouldn’t prove an issue.

Dead Rising 2 unravels the story in ever so funny fashion. The incredibly serious and over-dramatic tone of the characters is merged perfectly with the stereotypical cast of zombie survivors to create a pretty funny mesh of cut-scenes. What is perhaps most entertaining is the ability to carry over any clothes you find and put on Chuck in Fortune City, into the game’s cut-scenes. This proves to be hilarious time and time again when Chuck steps out to talk about his daughter’s life in a mankini. Dead Rising 2 never takes itself seriously and shows its playful nature over and over, making it an easy game to dwell deeper and deeper and get caught in the goings on of Fortune City.

The silly and over-the-top story presentation also seems to infect the actual game-play of Dead Rising 2. While not as strong in hand-to-hand combat as Frank West, Chuck Greene now has the ability to combine almost everything he finds in Fortune City, into combo weapons to deal explosive amounts of damage and gain valuable amounts of experience points. You are able to take items into maintenance rooms and experiment with them in order to see if you can make a whacky weapon, for example combining a metal bucket and a drill creates a drill bucket that you put on zombies heads and watch as their brains spill everywhere, brutally satisfying. The catch is you must find and uncover combo cards that not only show you the designated items to create certain weapons, but also give you the ability to use that weapons special move and therefore, giving you more experience points. These cards are obtained everywhere, from levelling up, to rescuing survivors, to even finding them scattered across Fortune City, so this opens up plenty of additional hours to try and find the best and craziest weapons, wheel chair combined with Uzi sub-machine guns anyone?

While you’re not spending time rushing from one cut-scene to the next or building weapons of mass zombie genocide, you will find yourself helping survivors in Fortune City. Most of your experience points will certainly come from saving these characters, who all have their own personality and style, making each and every rescue fun in its own right. Some will follow you willingly; others won’t budge until you find their partner, or until you do something for them. Regardless, once they get going you need to get them to the safe house as quickly as possible. The AI has been greatly improved over the original, but survivors can be still very slow and this can ruin the pace the game sets, especially if you’re trying to get some survivor points while attempting the story arch. Thankfully you can give them weapons and they will defend themselves while moving through the hordes of un-dead and eventually you will become adept at taking certain routes to get them home safe and infection free.

There are of course, other dangers in Fortune City aside from zombies and inevitably, they are man. Psychopaths serve as the boss battles during the game and while don’t bring anything technical to the plate other than bashing them around while they are not moving, it still changes the pace of the game for that period of time and helps the game’s versatility. Each Psychopath also has his own gruesome back-story that has been well thought out and is actually very enjoyable to listen to. Nevertheless, slightly sluggish controls are quite visible when you take on something that isn’t as slow as the zombies and this proves to be one of the only real drawbacks in Dead Rising 2, the omission of any real form of technicality in the fighting mechanics and the occasional non-registered punch here and there. Nevertheless, looters, insane motorcyclists, crazy chefs and many more hilarious yet demonic figures will stand in your way and it is every bit as satisfying chopping them down, as the zombies.

Dead Rising 2 also brings to the table a pretty entertaining online – cooperative mode. This allows a friend to jump into your world and help you do, well everything really, from rescuing survivors to continuing the story missions. The latter feels a little strange with a friend because the story is so personal to your decisions and you dictate the outcome, but going on zombie massacres is a whole load of fun with a friend. You have to stay in the same area as each other so you cannot go and explore all of Fortune City by yourself, but this is totally understandable as the processing power to handle everything going on and most importantly, the sheer volume of zombies, requires some limitations. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the online – competitive mode, which pits you against other players in mini-game like battles against each other for money to be spent in your campaign mode. These are all dull, repetitive and lack almost no inspiration and should for the most part, be left alone after a quick try.

Ultimately Dead Rising 2 offers a very clever open-ended adventure experience. It combines brainless fun with a structured and coherent story that guides you from objective to objective, insuring you are constantly moving and progressing. I cannot stress enough that it is the unique and clever driving mechanic of the in-game clock that really shines for this series. With a vast amount of reasons to replay the game, plenty of content, lots of ways to have fun and a serious story that holds it all together, there is almost nothing that you will not love about Dead Rising 2 and it’s fantastic campaign. Little can be differentiated between the two versions of the game on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, so you should purchase Dead Rising 2 for the machine that has hard-drive space in your household so you can install and shorten some of the elongated loading times but whatever you do, hurry up and get it!

Technical presentation – 9.0
Graphics – 7.0
Game-play – 8.0
Replay value – 10.0

Final score – 8.0 / 10

Igor, CeX UK Contributor
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Friday, 24 September 2010

Game Review – Metroid Other M

Format: Wii

There is little doubt in my critic’s minds of Metroid’s place in history as one of the most iconic video game franchises of all time. Samus Aran, the deadly female protagonist has gone from one critically acclaimed title, to the next, each bringing something new to not only the series, but to the whole of the video gaming world. Super Metroid on the SNES is widely acknowledged as one of the best side-scrolling adventures of all time and inspired countless games in that genre including such franchises as Castlevania. With a brief hiatus from side scrolling, Samus took up a first-person shooter role on the Nintendo Gamecube and Wii with the Prime series. These too were an outstanding success, but to some like myself, did not quite feel like a true Metroid game. Other M continues directly from where Super Metroid ended and as a result, goes back to the roots of what most consider being Metroid at it’s absolute finest. Side scrolling action is once again the mechanic of choice in this experience, coupled hand-in-hand with terrific and fast paced close-combat action, a dramatic and well told story that dwells deep into the protagonist, while at the same time re-inventing the series, making it fresh and exciting while still showing off hints of what made Super Metroid so excellent. This could very well be the best action game on the Wii to date.

The story in Other M is a huge aspect of the package, simply because story has never been a strong point of concern for the series. For the first time, Samus has been given a voice to express her emotions, this is also accompanied by many flash-backs that allow you to grow attached to the female lead as she explains her relationship with characters you meet along the way, the Metroid parasites and her fears as she progresses deeper into the galactic mess she finds herself in. Each cut-scene is beautiful to look at, especially on the Nintendo Wii, but at times, feel a little drawn out. There is no option to skip them, but there is no reason why you should want to because they are all so dramatically told and all add something new to the story. If a complaint was to be made, perhaps they are a little too long, sometimes the fast paced action can be halted and almost abruptly stopped by one elongated cinematic. Regardless, this is of little concern because you will grow so fond of Samus and the Intergalactic Agents you meet on the abandoned space ship, that you will want to watch each and every segment.

As with all great action games, their strength lies in the combat. Other M implements the Wiimote in a very unique and intuitive way, allowing you to control Samus with the D-pad by holding the Wiimote sideways, shooting with the 1 button and jumping with the 2 button. The real creativity however, comes in the ability to flip the remote to point at the screen and as a result, switching you into a first-person view mode where you can fire Samus’ missiles. Most boss battles and larger enemies will require damaging your enemy enough and then having good timing to allow yourself a few seconds to go into first-person and finish them off with a missile. The draw-back of this system is Samus cannot move while in first-person, but she can still dodge if you flick the D-pad when something comes at you. This removes you from first-person and Samus performs a ‘sense-move’ the game’s dodging mechanic, giving you time to flip the pad back to the horizontal position and try again. This proves to be very smooth and a lot of fun to play around with.

Unfortunately, the sense-move mechanic itself is a little busted in Other M, almost no enemy will hit you if you’re quick with the D-pad, flicking it in any direction as an enemy attacks you will allow Samus to dodge out of the way. There is no timing factor so you can spam the D-pad and you will almost 90% of the time dodge everything that comes your way. Even if you sense-move into an enemy, you still don’t get hurt. On top of this, if you sense-move and hold the 1 button, you immediately charge up a power beam, so continuously dodging and unleashing a powerful beam counter-attack from your phazer makes the game quite simple once you master that simple concept. What is super cool is Samus has the ability to finish off enemies with a special physical move that is unique to each monster if she runs into an enemy with a fully charged beam, these make the fighting segments look and feel fantastic. Considering Team Ninja helped design the game’s fighting mechanics, the guys who made one of the most infuriatingly difficult next-gen experiences, Ninja Gaiden, it is very difficult to believe that they didn’t make this dodge ability harder to implement. To balance this out however, Samus does take a considerable amount of damage if you do get hit, that suit isn’t as powerful defensively as you would like, especially when bosses get a hold of you, if you don’t learn their patterns quickly you could find yourself in a heap of trouble.

Other M does very well to make you feel nostalgic towards Super Metroid, but it does omit a few key concepts from the series. The first of which is enemies do not drop health, missiles and bombs. Samus recharges her health at health and save stations and for some unknown and ridiculous reason, you have the ability to constantly reload your missiles by holding the Wiimote horizontally and holding the A button to perform a concentration. This identical concentration can also be executed to regain a tank of health when you are on your final segment of life. Normally however if you get to that point, you will find yourself in a fast paced battle and there won’t be enough time to concentrate, regardless, with skill you can avoid death. Missile tanks, accell chargers and energy tanks are all scattered across the map, just begging to be found, because they are pinpointed on the map. One of the biggest traits of Super Metroid was the idea of exploration and finding secret rooms by randomly bombing walls and so forth. Well here things are made ten times easier with all items actually being shown off on your radar. This definitely ruins the experience somewhat, but it is understandable as most items you won’t be able to access without power ups that you gain later in the game so you will have to come back and as a result, you are still exploring the vast space station. Speaking of power-ups, no longer are the days of the stereotypical ‘’oh no I seem to have lost my weapons and abilities at the beginning of the game, I need to go and find them!’’ Samus actually has all of her abilities ready to use, but she feels the need to hold back until given permission by the overseer of the mission, Alex. Horrendously irritating are the moments when you realise there is little to no reason why you shouldn’t be able to use your grapple beam to get over a certain ledge, but alas you must traverse the long way because Alex has not issued the order. There is even a section where you run through lava and almost die, after all that, Alex authorizes the use of the suit that protects you from fire, thanks Alex, nice one!

All of that side, the game plays at a furious pace, with boss battles coming in at just the right time with weapons and abilities being distributed at the exact right times to avoid boredom. Just when you think you’re done, another section becomes available for you to explore because of a new power-up. Due to this, it is sad that the game seems to be over all too quickly, most people say the game lasts between 10 – 12 hours, well I clocked in at 8:30:00 with a 60% completion ratio. Once finished, the game allows you to go back and find all the hidden items and areas where you will come across more enemies, a secret boss and the unlock for Hard mode. On top of that, a Gallery video mode is also available after completion that joins all the game’s cinematic together into one long movie that deserves praise in it’s own right. We must take into account that it is a Nintendo Wii title and as a result, this amount of content is actually quite credible.

Overall, Metroid Other M is a fantastic addition to an already legendary franchise. It takes the old and intertwines it with new ideas that makes Other M a joy to play through and be part of Samus Aran’s adventure. A few particular omissions and the game being a tad easy let Other M down somewhat, but with the inclusion of a Hard mode and some sticky situations thrown in every once in a while, it is a thoroughly entertaining and action packed adventure, the best of it’s kind on the Nintendo Wii.

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

Final score – 8.5 / 10

Igor, CeX UK Contributor
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Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Game Review – R.U.S.E

Formats: PC, Xbox 360, PS3.

Real-time strategy games have always been a personal favourite genre of mine; growing up on games like Command & Conquer and Age of Empires, the nostalgic young gamer in me can’t help but get excited at the prospect of another addition to the RTS family, especially when it’s as cool looking as R.U.S.E. This particular game offers you the ability to take control of forces during the 2nd World War from the American and German perspective, using an intuitive and easy-to-use interface. R.U.S.E is somewhat inconsistent with the amount of good content it offers, for example the campaign mode takes a while to really kick in and you feel it never actually reaches its full potential. Yet it offers a nice edge to the competitive scene, making each battle a lot of fun with challenging and diverse units coupled with great ways of using terrain and clever tactics to your advantage through the game’s intuitive game mechanic, ruse. While it is certainly not a perfect package, it is a great example of RTS done correctly on a console.

The prospect of playing RTS on a home console can be very daunting and has always been a major concern for developers in this genre. Can a pad be better than a mouse and keyboard? Well in truth, no, it probably can’t, however, a very simple system is put into operation in R.U.S.E. allowing you to zoom into combat and take command of individual or small sets of units, or zoom out and easily command large groups or factions of units as they are auto-grouped together. This helps keep concentration on the tactical aspect of R.U.S.E and the combat, as opposed to irritating controls that could potentially ruin this experience.

Unfortunately, R.U.S.E is also compatible with the Playstation Move. This is a fantastic example of development in its early stages as the Move is literally abysmal with regards to this game. The awkward navigational buttons, irritating camera functionality on the Movemote (that’s my new name for it) and the nonsensical need to constantly have it pointed at the screen at all times, including cut-scenes, is unbelievably annoying. Needless to say, sticking with your standard Six-Axis pad is the preferred control scheme here.

One thing that is needed with R.U.S.E is patience because it certainly is a slow starter. Opening sections of the campaign mode take a while to get started and tutorials seem to last quite a while, but unfortunately, this is all needed and once accomplished, prove essential to having an awesome time with the game. R.U.S.E may seem a simple RTS venture at first glance, but once the difficulty curve rises and the special ruse abilities are unlocked, the game sure packs a punch and requires plenty of thinking to prevail. The ruse abilities in particular are the highlight of the game, allowing you trick and deceive your opponents using different powers that are categorized into three different segments; powers that reveal information such as decryption, those that hide information, such as radio silence and those that allow for fake units and structures to confuse the enemy. It is these game-changing abilities that can break the deadlock in a heated battle and it is the ability to use these powers successfully that truly brings satisfaction from R.U.S.E.

As with the majority of RTS games, R.U.S.E shines online when playing other human opponents. When entering the competitive world, you are given access to four more nations, including the Soviet Union and Great Britain. Each of the six nations has slight differences but nothing to greatly change game-play, yet enough to make playing with each one worthwhile. The key to success is the implementation of an Advance Wars mechanic funnily enough, arguably the best handheld RTS game out there, the environmental cover. There are many key advantages to placing units in hidden woods or building that provide defense boosts and opportunities to ambush unsuspecting groups of soldiers. This tactical placement could be the difference between victory and defeat as units can be very easily defeated if attacked by those using terrain to their advantage. All the online maps accommodate up to four players but the console versions of the game for some ridiculous reason hold a unit and time limit count for all matches, something that the PC version of the game cleverly omits. This proves to be a pain, it doesn’t affect games as much as you’d think it would, but the fact that it’s there is irritating in itself. The time limit however, at least promotes offensive play at the end of the match, which is always tense and exciting.

What would an RTS game be without offline skirmish modes, the practice arena before you dive into the deep end of human opposition? In fact, it is more than likely that most of your offline time will be spent in skirmish mode as unlike the campaign, it actually allows you to fully enjoy and use the mechanics and game-play abilities that are R.U.S.E’s main strengths. The campaign itself falls short simply put, with terrible voice acting, lousy audio, not impressive cut-scene graphics and major fluidity issues, it just never really takes off. This is certainly a shame as looking at some of the best RTS ventures like Command & Conquer, we see that a gripping story can transform a game into an iconic franchise as it immerses you into its world. This I guess is quite difficult here with the time era of World War 2 being somewhat conventional without the use of fictional additions to the timeline. Nevertheless, more though and care could have been put into R.U.S.E’s campaign mode, right now however, it is lackluster.

R.U.S.E does deserve praise in its ability to handle a wide variety of occurrences on the battlefield without any major issues. This isn’t something breathtakingly incredible however as we have seen games such as Supreme Commander do the very same, regardless, it is still an important point to consider. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t boast anything spectacular in the graphics department and the bland typical World War 2 scenario certainly doesn’t help to add to the spice if you will. The game doesn’t look bad, by no means, but it just doesn’t jump out at you visually either.

Overall R.U.S.E’s greatest enemy is the shackles it placed upon itself. The game has plenty of potential and when released from it’s constraints, can be a thrilling and intriguing RTS experience. However, for the majority of the time, the game holds itself back by assuming that you are quite the simpleton and need everything explained to you in minute detail. Once you understand the game’s mechanics and jump online, you will enjoy yourself, there is literally no doubt about that because the RTS has been done perfectly here, so if you are a fan of the genre, there’s no reason that you won’t find something new and intuitive to explore in R.U.S.E. If a long and thought out campaign is what brings you to the genre, then my advice is to pretty much stay away because it certainly does not provide the flip side to the coin. An unbalanced package that holds bits of brilliance but falls short of consistency is a great way to define the RTS venture that is R.U.S.E.

Technical presentation – 6.0
Graphics – 6.0
Game-play – 9.0
Replay value – 8.0

Final score – 6.5 / 10

Igor, CeX UK Contributor.

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Friday, 17 September 2010

Game Review – Plants vs. Zombies

Format: iPhone and Xbox Live

The premise here is very simple, you are alone inside a house that must be fortified with an incredible variety of plants, to stop an invading army of zombies from getting inside and eating your brain. While this does sound kind of ridiculous if you say it out loud, the idea goes a long way, boasting lots of fantastic and challenging strategy based game-play in this Tower Defence title. While the weapons you are given to fight off the zombie horde come in plant form, they come in many shapes and sizes, all with their own unique and useful abilities. This coupled with a large variety of enemies to prepare for; Plants vs. Zombies is a refreshing marketplace purchase and no-brainer (get it?) for the iPhone.

The game itself is set in one of three locations, your front lawn, back yard and eventually, your rooftop. Each of the three levels is divided into a grid with each space allowing you to place your plants. The zombies’ goal is of course to reach the other side and your arsenal of vegetables will do everything in its power to stop that from happening. The game offers 48 different plants as weapons, the most important being the sunflower plant, which must be used to gain sun currency to then proceed to build your other green weapons. Some of my personal favourites include the Jalapeno Chilli, which destroys everything in the grid-line, the Pumpkin that serves as a protective shell for any plant inside it and the Cabbage-Pult, the self proclaimed cabbage launcher. Zombies will come in all shapes and sizes, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, before each level you will be given a sneak peak at what zombies will be invading your home and it is up to you to choose the correct set of seven plants to take with you into the level (this can later be upgraded to eight and nine available plants per level). For example, balloon zombies need to be shot down by cactuses because ground plants cannot reach them, while water zombies need to be destroyed by water based plants that can only be planted on lily pads. There is a large variety of ways to tackle the un-dead and inevitably you will find a successful formula that works for you, but trying and experimenting with each plant is fun in it’s own right. The levels also create variety by offering nighttime levels where lightning flashes are the only way to view the grid, or fog that prevents you seeing what zombies are entering the level until it’s too late. The swimming pool specifically offers the most versatility, as it requires water-based plants to be included in your roster to take down those specific zombies.

Plants vs. Zombies offers a fairly challenging campaign adventure. Integrated alongside the core game-play I have been discussing, there are also plenty of fun and entertaining mini-games available at the end of each campaign segment that helps find even more intuitive and fun ways to kill the zombies. The hilarious character known as Crazy Dave guides you along the campaign and the humour is very entertaining, coupled with the occasional letter you find from the zombies themselves, which also prove to be a giggle. Crazy Dave also has his own shop that will let you choose from lots of different upgrades for your plants to help you in your endeavour.

Both the iPhone and Xbox Live versions of the game are wholly entertaining and work a treat up to this point, but unfortunately it is only the latter that has competitive multiplayer available. Indeed Plants vs. Zombies offers a co-op and competitive game-modes, the former allowing two players locally to take on missions and maps from the campaign mode and the latter creating an epic battle between the plants and zombies. This in particular is a whole lot of fun as you are allowed to play as the zombies in much the same way as you do the plants, building up resources using tombstones instead of sunflowers and sending out your minions to try and get those brains. The variety of zombies isn’t quite as extensive as the list of plants, but with a total of fifteen powerful un-dead to choose from, the battles can be thrilling fun, for example the American football zombies move faster and are tougher thanks to their gear serving as armour. Some of the funnier zombies include the paper-reading zombie that gets upset when his newspaper is destroyed and suddenly becomes enraged and moves twice as fast. All of this can be customised in the options and can create plenty of fun and versatile game-types for you and a friend. It is a real shame these options aren’t available online, in fact you can’t play online at all, which really lets Plants vs. Zombies down.

I myself played this game on the iPhone first, so I wondered how the control mechanics would translate to a pad because the game required quick movements so it seemed touch-screen was the perfect control mechanic here. Fortunately, they translate really well, making planting easy with the analogue and collecting the sun resources has been made easier with them gravitating towards your cursor at all times. While this is indeed a great transition, I can’t help but feel that the touch screen is till much more fluid and enjoyable.

Plants vs. Zombies is a great looking game, the design of each plant and zombie is beautiful to look at and on the big HD screen, and it is even more glorious. On the iPhone the graphics are still very pretty and colourful, going a long way to further the experience. The audio is also very well presented, the zombies make cool sounds and each plant has it’s own sprites and sounds also. This helps bring Plants vs. Zombies together as an excellent technical achievement, gaining further credit with fluid and enjoyable game-play, great humour and plenty of replay value on the console version. Whichever way you choose to experience Plants vs. Zombies, make sure you do because it is a whole load of fun.

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

Final score – 8 / 10

Igor, CeX UK Contributor

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Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Game Review - Mega Man Zero Collection

Formats: DS

Gamers have it easy these days. With the introduction of recovering life bars, infinite continues and generously spaced checkpoints, it is nigh-on impossible to not finish any game, given you have enough patience. It's time for a wake up call for all you complacent gamers who whine “Henry Hatsworth was too harrrrrrrd”, so here's a game that'll kick more ass than Chuck Norris at a mule convention, and looks better to boot.

Mega Man Zero Collection compiles all four MMZ titles together on one cartridge, along with a sprinkling of extras. Fans of the series will know what to expect here, and if you're missing even one of the games from your GBA collection or have upgraded to a non backwards-compatible DS system, this is a definite purchase. For those of you who don't know what a Z-saber or a cyber elf is, read on.

The core gameplay of the MMZ games consists of navigating various stages from left to right, defeating killer robots, collecting hidden weapons and power-ups and destroying the level's boss. This all sounds fairly simple on paper (or on screen, whatever) but can be devilishly difficult in practice. While Zero (Mega Man's ever stoic foil) is a nimble character whose combination of sabre slashes and dashes make him a formidable foe, the game's design rises to the challenge to create a world where you never feel overpowered. Whether it is complicated platforming sequences, overwhelming enemy numbers or preposterously powerful bosses, each level presents an obstacle that is incredibly satisfying to overcome. The MMZ games also contain a huge array of usable weapons each with its own unique moveset, so murdering mountains of marauding mechanical monsters never becomes... monotonous.

The Mega Man Zero series picks up a century after the Mega Man X series, which itself is set a century after the core series. For those just looking for a meaty action game the story is not really that important, but the Zero games do contain a fairly in-depth narrative accompanied by some really neat hand-drawn art. One of my favourite aspects of the MMZ series is the art, and the visuals really take advantage of the bigger and brighter screens of the DS (or if you're lucky, the DSi XL). Beautifully animated and intricate sprites can be seen on every stage, as well as numerous examples of cleverly layered backgrounds. This new version also features hand-drawn character art which is displayed on the bottom screen and can be unlocked and viewed in the main menu's gallery, which is a nice addition, but touch-screen enthusiasts will be disappointed to hear that there's not much more bottom-screen functionality beyond that.

Besides the extra artwork, there's also a mode for you casual gamers to enjoy. The new 'Easy scenario' mode allows you to play Mega Man Zero 1-4 all the way through, starting with all possible upgrades and weapons, and at a slightly less difficult setting. This is an excellent introduction for newcomers to the series, but the more hardcore among you may find the experience lacking.

The Mega Man Zero Collection represents great value for money, and while it may not have the fancy touch or dual-screen advantages of it's contemporaries, it more than makes up for it in quality and quantity. Just remember that I won't respect you as a gamer until you take it off 'easy scenario'.

Lukao gives Mega Man Zero Collection 8 cyber elves out of 10.

Lukao, CeX UK Contributor.
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Friday, 10 September 2010

Game Review – Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions

Formats: PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii & DS

As far as superhero to video game transitions go, for the most part our favourite web-crawler has enjoyed a fair amount of success as either a stand-alone experience such as Web of Shadows, or providing a supporting role in other fantastic titles like the Marvel vs. Capcom series. The ability to capture Spiderman’s abilities proved to be a difficult task in his long and illustrious video game career, but every once in a while a team of developers grasps the concept of web-swinging, frantic hand-to-hand combat and just the right amount of charm and humour to create a great Spiderman experience. In this case, that experience is multiplied by 4 as you are given the opportunity to play as different versions of Spiderman as you untangle the tale developing in front of you. With excellent game-play, lots of charm, great graphics and audio, Shattered Dimensions is a top-notch game that can barely be faulted.

The inclusion of 4 different Spider-Men is as a result of a magical artifact that breaks during the introductory segment of the game. It is these shards of the artifact that you must salvage across the different dimensions as Amazing Spiderman our beloved and standard hero, Ultimate that uses the powers of the Symbiote suit, 2099 a futuristic hero and Noir, which is set during the great depression of the 1930’s. Each Spiderman comes with his own personality, suit, and set of unique abilities, particular bosses and varied environments. You will come across some of Spiderman’s most hated enemies including Sandman, Goblin, Scorpion, Carnage and plenty more to keep your 4 Spider-Men occupied. It is a sheer joy to watch how each universe adapts that particular protagonist’s comic book story to the video game world as each set of bosses are tailored to that universe. For example, the Goblin that most people know from the series bares no resemblance to that of the Goblin you will meet in the Noir universe. This keeps things fresh for fans of Spiderman who have not diverged into alternate dimensions of the web-slinger’s long catalogue of comic books.

Shattered Dimension does a fantastic job re-creating a fluid and fast paced Spiderman experience, this ranging from the ability to swing with ease, participate in entertaining and exciting combat that can be long distance or close counters and enjoying the scenery by crawling all over it. While each Spiderman boasts his own subtle set of skills and abilities, the core game-play stays the same for all Spider-Men apart from Noir who’s universe mechanic is tactical espionage action. This seems like an odd one out as the other three universes strongly concentrate on fighting, but it seems to work well as a reprisal from all the action. The actual design of Noir’s universe is also worth mentioning as it is so strikingly beautiful with it’s classic grainy texture and subtly black, white and dull art work really helps get across the depression era in America. 2099 however, bares absolutely no resemblance to that as the future hold tall and colourful skyscrapers in New York. Overall, all 4 worlds have their own gems to admire and it is a joy to play through them all.

Unfortunately as with all adventure games, the camera must always be scrutinized, in this case Shattered Dimensions does a pretty good job keeping the silly thing behind Spiderman at almost all times, but there are segments where you could find yourself a tad infuriated over boundary inconsistencies and the inability of the camera to just pan upward and outward as you climb to the top of a building. Regardless, these issues are miniscule and should be omitted for what is for the most part, a very well technically presented game.

This wouldn’t really be a thrilling action experience if the actual fighting mechanics weren’t awesome, and fortunately, they very much are. The game thrives on combos and the use of Spiderman’s web to tangle foes and move quickly in-between them. With enemies changing and alternating in each dimension, you will find yourself under threat from new and entertaining villains, keeping combat fresh and exciting. On top of that you will be using experience points to unlock new moves and abilities for your group of web-slingers to add to your arsenal of moves to further the depth of game-play. Boss set pieces will also have you using your powers and abilities in new and interesting ways, keeping combat and game-play fresh and fulfilling.

To conclude, it is hard to not love Spiderman, that’s just how my generation was brought up. The game does everything you’d expect and want from Spiderman, making this as authentic and enjoyable as possible for those looking for a web-slinging experience. The great audio and voice casting help bring out a funny narrative that allows you to grow attached to each of the 4 Spider-Men as they progress and unravel the secret powers of the ancient artifact that is plaguing the whole universe. Accompanied by fluid game-play and beautiful artwork and presentation, this is an ideal adventure game for everyone, not just Spiderman lovers.

Technical presentation – 8.0
Graphics – 9.0
Game-play – 8.0
Replay value – 6.0

Final score – 8.0 / 10

Igor, CeX UK Contributor
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Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Console Hardware Review - XBox 360 Slim

Way back in the distant past of 2007 when the X-Box 360 Elite was announced, many of my friends told me that this was the console that should have shipped on launch day. It had HDMI, a large hard drive and was supposed to be a lot more reliable. At that point I only owned a PlayStation 3 and had been waiting to get a 360 for some time so I decided to bite the bullet and get one on launch day.

Fast forward to E3 this year when Microsoft unveiled a brand new design 360 with loads of new features and built-in support for their new Kinnect device. Obviously, I had to have one.

I was determined to have one, and I had my elite ready to trade in along with a couple of games and an old iPod. About a week after it launched my CeX store finally got one and I instantly bought it. It was perfect, new and almost untouched. I was a very happy man.

PS3 slim & Xbox 360 slim

Now let’s get into the meat of the review and talk about the differences in the hardware. First, just as advertised it is a lot smaller. It’s not much larger than a Wii now, standing upright comfortably in the space where my old 360 had to lie down. Secondly it’s a lot quieter, the only sound the console makes when playing an installed game or an XBLA game is a tiny ping noise when you switch it on or open the disc tray. There’s so much more ventilation this time, the system is pretty much always cool even after playing Alan Wake for a whole afternoon.

There’s no real speed difference or anything like that, games don’t load faster and they don’t look better but the controller has been upgraded. It has a great all black new look with a shiny Live button and the d-pad is now much more accurate.

All in all, the new 360 S is a fantastic system. It’s sexy, small and supposedly much more reliable and is ready for Microsoft’s Kinnect device, which I will definitely be purchasing as soon as I can. As somebody who has used both models of 360 I would definitely recommend it and especially if you’re thinking about getting Kinnect as that will save you on cable tangle.

Sam Harrison, CeX UK Contributor
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Friday, 3 September 2010

Game Review - Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days

Formats: PC, Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3.

Mario and Luigi; Ratchet and Clank; Ryu and Ken. These are the double teams that will live on forever in gaming history. Now with two games under their collective belts, can Kane and Lynch hope to reach the same heights as these dynamic duos?

Warning: ADULT rated trailer.

Following on from the decidedly mediocre Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, Io interactive had a lot to prove when crafting a sequel. Their previous game, while rife with great ideas, suffered in its execution and was considered by many to be a flawed experience. With this in mind, you can see that Io went to great efforts to overhaul the visual style and presentation of K&L2: Dog Days.

Indeed it is this aspect that impressed me the most. From the photo-realistic menu screens to the YouTube/Handycam camera style, Kane & Lynch 2 exudes a gritty realism that goes beyond simple graphics. The environments you progress through are exquisitely realised, from the grim and grimy halls of a greasy apartment block to the sweaty neon-drenched streets of Shanghai. Even a quiet moment spent sprinting across an abandoned building site conveyed a heady feeling of sleepless twilight. The combination of environmental detail, lighting and cinematic filters, while if taken individually do not astound, become collectively convincing. Even the neat finishing touch of 'censoring' particularly gruesome head shots and, erm, body parts adds to the realism. Even more confusing then is Io Interactive's choice of making white 'X' markers appear on your enemies when hit, shattering their carefully constructed reality. Unfortunately, the same can be said for K&L2's game play.

By now you will all be familiar with cover-based third person shooters, and this game does nothing extraordinary with the concept. For practically the entire game you will be asked to clear room after room of bad guys, with few options beyond stay in cover and shoot from afar or dart across open ground and risk getting shot. The enemy AI seems to have the same dead-eye auto-lock-on as Sniper: Ghost Warrior, and has no scruples killing you within seconds of being exposed, or even while you are still in cover.

The controls for movement and shooting feel spongy, and lack the precision and snappiness of more refined shooters. Throughout most of the game, you have access to an assault rifle type weapon and various kinds of shotgun. I had a hard time figuring out the differences between most of these weapons, as most of them seemed to do the same amount of damage. However, since none of these guns were even remotely accurate, and the AI prefers to stay in cover at least 30 metres away, I spent the entire game wishing I could get my hands on a more precise weapon. Towards the end of the game you do get to handle a sniper rifle or two, but the ammo for these were so few and far between that I was almost too afraid to use it. Ultimately I found the single-player campaign grindingly repetitive, and while it only lasts around 6 hours, entirely too long.

Happily the same innovative multiplayer modes from K&L Dead Men returns, with a few new additions. Rather than a bog-standard deathmatch, the game type 'Fragile Alliance' has you and a team of criminals committing a heist, killing any AI controlled cops that get in their way and escaping with the loot. The twist is that at any point, you can turn on your allies and kill them, making your getaway with their share of the swag. Anyone killed in this fashion re spawns as a police officer, making everyone else's escape all the more difficult. Conversely, anyone who betrays a team-mate is marked as a traitor and a reward is offered for his head. This sets up a tense guessing game on who, if anyone, will crack first, and makes for an interesting multiplayer experience.
There are several variations on this game type, but the basic idea remains the same, with players sometimes controlling the cops, or even as an undercover agent within the group. What I found while playing is that while team killing is common in games where it is prohibited, the people I played with were incredibly well behaved and unwilling to betray each other, even though such behaviour is encouraged. I guess that goes to show that there is honour among thieves!

While Kane & Lynch 2 excels in its presentation, it lacks in gameplay and even fails to tell a compelling story. The clichéd tale of greed, betrayal, revenge and escape frame the two principle players whose characters bleed into each other (literally) until I had trouble telling them apart. Which one was supposed to be the psychotic one again?

Ultimately, I can only really recommend this game on the strength of its visual style and multiplayer. However, upon visiting the forums, even they don't seem convinced that the community will last. Perhaps it's best to leave sleeping dogs lie.

Lukao gives Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days 4 You Tube comments out of 10
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Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Game Review – Mafia II

Formats: PC, Xbox 360 and Playsation 3

The classic mobster movie is an ever-favourite genre in our hearts, from Scarface to The Godfather, the life of a gangster is thrilling and entertaining to embark on. From a games perspective, this genre can potentially create for one pretty incredible game and fortunately here we have Mafia II leading the way with a great rendition of the Mafia lifestyle recreated with great game-play, superb story-telling and packed with a whole load of style that tips this to be a great package.

You play the role of Vito Scaletta, who becomes tangled in the wild and exhilarating lifestyle of a mobster, with little to do but dwell deeper into the dark and twisted world, you will find a well told and engaging story, unveiled by talented and embracing voice-actors, which provides the necessary story line for you to get involved with 3rd person gun-shooting, fist-fights and even a cheeky element of well structured stealth action. This triangle of game mechanics all work side by side to make Mafia II one of the brighter gems in the current catalogue of released titles.

The story is set in 1945, the beginning of World War 2. Indeed the world around you immediately feels naturally old-fashioned and life-like. It is easy to get engrossed in the visuals of the world around you, be it from the old-school automobiles, to the great length taken to ensure everyone is dressed how they should be for that time period, it is clear effort and care was put into the technical aspect of the game. As the story progresses and the years go by, your world begins to change around you, the 1940’s become outdated and aesthetics around you begin changing to the 50’s. This is a sheer joy to behold as cars begin to change on the roads and people’s lifestyles evolve to the post war climate. This is of course accompanied by the protagonist’s emotional struggle throughout the years of organized crime, especially as he considers the weighting option of getting out of the business, or digging deeper in exchange for the delights that reward him. The struggle feels natural and you begin to care for Vito as you play the game, realizing he is more than a thug, but a man of morals and principles, doing what he has to do to stay alive. It is a compelling story that involves many intriguing and fun characters, giving players every reason to push further and further into the intertwining story of Vito Scaletta.

Upon beginning the game and jumping into the action, you will unfortunately be somewhat tricked at first sight. The Empire City around you seems like a potential playground for fun, side missions and exploration. You will find however, that this is not like Grand Theft Auto because while the city may be large, there is very little to do aside from drive around and engage in the main story missions. This is a real let down as you just feel the need to spot random side-mission markers on your mini-map or go on a tangent and do something else to create some diversity from the main missions, but this is just not available. You will at times be stopped by the police if they catch you doing something illegal, but these segments don’t ooze the kind of urgency and thrill you would expect them to. Playstation 3 owners are indulged with some day 1 downloadable content that varies game-play slightly, but more time and effort should have been taken into Empire City to make it a more entertaining place to be in, not just a glorified run way from one mission to the next. There are some entertaining segments in the car scenes such as the occasional drive-by or chase scene with your friend hanging out of the side of the car with a machine gun, but these are few and far between, which again, is a great shame.

I guess the intention here was to not bring nonsensical and mindless entertainment to the streets of Empire City, rather 2K Games have provided you with an incredible story mode. As stated before, the game works around three mechanics, the first and most important being cover shooting. This resembles the cover and pop out action of games such as Gears of War, where you will find yourself moving from cover and occasionally popping out to shoot your enemies. The weapons are all authentic and fun to use, enemies put up great fights and with lots of great environments to destroy, almost all sections that involve guns are brutal and stylish.

There will be times where guns aren’t necessarily and an old fashioned bar brawl is the way forward. The games animation and audio help make these fights feel real, with bone-crunching hits landing easily thanks to the great control mechanics. Finally, taking a page out of Splinter Cell, you will also on occasion, be forced to sneak around in the shadows picking off enemies from behind and hiding their bodies in darkness. It is very rare to see a game have three different mechanics so well integrated and it is technically very impressive that they are all fluid and enjoyable to engage in.

All of this content sounds really great, it is just a shame that there’s more story line than action. While both are fantastic, a better balance of the two would have been nice as you seem to be watching cut-scenes a lot more often than engaging in heated action segments. On top of this, the beginning of a mobster lifestyle isn’t exactly all shoot outs, for a lot of the missions you will be doing boring and menial tasks for the big bosses, which although make sense for the story line, feel boring and irritating, after all it’s not very often you want to drive around in a truck and give out contraband, unless that contraband was bullets out of your tommy-gun. It just strikes me that 2K Games had a winning formula, but weren’t confident enough to give gamers enough of it to play around with. The game shows segments of utter genius, but then coats it with quite a bit of boring missions and a lot of story.

Taking that into account, Mafia II is still an excellent game, it is a vast improvement over the original, but you would expect that after this long a time going by. Still, it tells literally, one of the best video-game stories we have had in recent times, so this alone is worth the experience. I think you will ultimately be disappointed in what the game omits, rather than what the game gives, because it dishes out excellence in abundance, all the mechanics work perfectly from the great shooting encounters, to the hand-to-hand fist fights and all the way to the stealth missions; it is engaging with great graphics and audio. It just misses out on what I’d have to say are, pretty staple things for a Sandbox game and as a result, taints slightly, what could have been a ten out of ten game.

Technical presentation 9.0
Graphics 8.0
Gameplay 9.0
Replay value 5.0

Final score 7 / 10

Igor, CeX UK contributor
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