Friday, 25 March 2011

Game Review - Yakuza 4 (PS3)

Format: (PS3)

The Yakuza franchise has now almost certainly become a staple in Sony’s catalogue of games. Beaming with plenty of action and character, this Japanese style role-play / beat-em-up adventure continues the series and moves it in the right direction, but simply not far enough. Indeed coming hot off the release of Yakuza 3 only a year ago, little has really changed in Kamuro’s red-light district. This is not to say that there’s no fun to be had here, on the contrary, plenty of manic battles and a gripping story told from four different perspectives helps make Yakuza 4 an enjoyable game, but not quite up there with the best that the Playstation 3 can offer.

Yakuza 4 continues the story set up by it’s predecessors and does a good job recapping past events for those that are new or simply don’t remember the finer details of scenarios that have occurred. Shaking things up somewhat, this installment introduces three new playable protagonists that help pull the story along, until you are eventually allowed to play as the series’ hero Kazuma in the dramatic ending. The other characters all have very diverse backgrounds and motives, making each segment of the game relatively different from the last, all the while intertwining the characters and their paths to a great finale that sees a fantastic ending.

While Yakuza 4 certainly has an entertaining set of events for you to deal with, the way they are told can at times, be a let down. The cinematic cut-scenes that are voiced are beautiful and engaging, but a lot of the game is told through voiceless encounters. Last time I checked this was a Playstation 3, this is nothing but lazy as far as I’m concerned. Another somewhat frustrating thing I found was the complexity behind the story, the twists and turns can make it quite difficult to follow at times. For example, the recap segments early on in the game do a good job in explaining prior events, but there’s just so much to take in that you find yourself more confused than before.

Story isn’t the only thing that separates our heroes, each character has their own unique fighting styles, be it more disciplined, to a more brawler style; each character also has their own mini-games and side-quests to consider and complete. Fighting is of course the main element of Yakuza 4 and believe me, there is plenty of it. Enemies constantly barrage you as you are forced to battle your way out of ridiculous situations. Yakuza 4 doesn’t take itself seriously and this is partially why the fighting mechanics are so much fun here, as your characters line up unbelievable combos and ludicrous finishing moves, all of this plays well with the over-the-top tone that Yakuza 4 sets. It is unfortunate however, that Yakuza lacks any real challenge. The majority of the game can be completed with minimal effort and the moments that do require some patience are overcome without any real issues. I guess this allows you to go crazy with all of your combos and finishing moves, but it would be a lot more satisfying if you landed the aforementioned on a foe that actually knew how to block or dodge, as opposed to standing like a target dummy. This becomes even more of a joke when you do find yourself picking up random weapons throughout your battles and start using them to simply devour through groups of enemies with little resistance. Certainly a bit more work could have gone into the difficulty curve behind Yakuza 4.

Being an open-ended adventure, it is almost impossible to not compare Yakuza 4’s engine in some way, to Grand Theft Auto. Like the staple sandbox adventure, Yakuza 4 makes sure there is plenty to do in Kamuro City, even when you’re not following the story. All four different characters have very, ‘intriguing’ mini games and side-quests you can get involved in, be it training hostess girls in clubs, preparing fighters for tournaments or simply patrolling the streets and keeping baddies at bay. On top of this you have of course, the neutral entertainment, bowling, gambling, arcades and even karaoke. This stuff granted, you can completely omit, but its presence serves a very important purpose, helping to breath life into the red-light district. This is of course a place to satisfy all sorts of pleasures and the options to get involved in everything is a welcome addition and actually a surprisingly amusing way to spend your time in Yakuza 4. Ultimately it is these activities accompanied by the bristling life surrounding you that help to make you feel involved in an active world. You meet plenty of interesting people in your travels who are also keen for your help, so there is little shortage of people to help if games and activities aren’t your idea of a good time.

From a technical perspective, Yakuza 4 is hit and miss. The game does feel dated; graphics are indeed impressive during the cut-scenes, but in game things become monotonous and do little to impress. We have games like Final Fantasy and the new Crysis 2 showing off the power of next-generation consoles, so there is certainly a standard that must be kept. The same can be said for the audio. Sound can play a massive role in engulfing players into a world, the buzzing of people’s chatter, the sounds of people running errands and shopping etc, it is all there but to an extent, I just didn’t feel like I was being pulled into the world through the audio. The combat is definitely fluid, smooth and plenty of fun. The lack of a decent difficulty curve and the occasional repetitive nature can pose a problem, but the clever use of different characters helps to keep things fresh.

Yakuza 4 is a team effort on many fronts. It does have some issues and holes that could use filling up, but the combination of a thrilling world, excellent voice cast, great story-driven material and plenty of fun action to get your teeth stuck into, helps make Yakuza 4 a game with something to offer. That something is different for everyone and it’s kudos to Yakuza 4 for being so versatile in allowing players to become involved in the game, in whatever way they want. The game introduces three fantastic new characters into the fourth installment of a series, this is no easy task but they feel and belong in the Yakuza franchise. On top of that, it is everything you’d expect from this series, plenty of fun and lots of stuff to do. Kamuro City is the place to be to fulfill everything you’d want in a sandbox brawler.

Technical presentation – 7.0

Graphics – 7.0

Game-play – 8.0

Replay value – 8.0

Final score – 7.0 / 10

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Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Nintendo 3DS hands on review

The review team has snagged themselves a 3DS from the ones CeX have on sale because we feel it's our public duty to write a little hands on for you folks out there. First impression is that it's heavy, I'm a big guy and even I feel that the console weighs too much (is it really only 230g?!). Apart from that, I'm liking it.

The biggest change from the 3DS and previous DS' is, of course, the 3D. I've heard from some that their eyes are strained when trying to view the 3D and I have found that to be partly true. The 3D depth is adjustable via a slider and once you've found the sweet spot all strain is gone and you can see that tasty 3D graphics. I tried out Pilotwings Resort but there are a ton of awesome games out on release day; SSF IV, Ridge Racer, Rayman to name but a few! I'm not going to turn this in to a game review but it's safe to say that Pilotwings Resort is a lot of fun and uses the 3DS' potential to the max. The graphics look good, really deep, game play is enjoyable, it's a solid launch title.

Taking photos with the 3D cameras is pretty cool, normal images are pretty grainy and small but that's to be expected with a console camera. 3D images are saved as .MPO files meaning you can view them in your other 3D enabled gadgets (e.g. Sony PS3, LG LX9500 TV, Panasonic VT25). The 3DS also has a sound player that supports your typical file formats, an activity log so you can see how much your kids (or parents) have been playing, multi tasking (play a game and talk to your friends at the same time) and also 'Mii Maker' where you can make your own Miis to upload to the Nintendo “cloud”.

From afar it looks a lot like the previous DSs but up close it's very different. As I said before, I feel as though it's too heavy but then we have to be realistic here, it's packing a lot of features. I also think it's too busy, when you open it up it there's too much going on, the analog stick, d pad, XYAB buttons, select, home, start, power buttons and on the sides we have 3D depth, volume and WiFi sliders and the SD card slot. That's not to say that they don't get used (they're all necessities) and Nintendo have tried their best to make it look aesthetically pleasing. The LR buttons slightly stick out from the back and I can see them getting caught by your finger and being pulled outwards slightly (another DS Lite LR button fiasco?). The top lid also protrudes out more than the bottom half, most probably due to the larger screen the top half (3.5” compared to 3.0” on the bottom half). Overall it's very solid, the hinge is not too stiff and the glossy finish looks classy, it even has a gradient effect when viewed in sunlight.

The console is a definite buy for any Nintendo fan or avid gamer alike. If you thought the previous iterations of the DS consoles were pointless then this is surely going to change your mind. I'm surprised they even kept the DS name, but hey it works. With a slew of great launch titles and more to be released in the coming months, the 3DS is already a hit in my eyes.

Omran, CeX Towers

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Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Game Review – Dragon Age 2

Formats: (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

Dragon Age 2 certainly has a lot of weight on its shoulders. Following on from the terrific Dragon Age: Origins is by no means an easy task and you would be making a mistake if you chose to simply compare this sequel to its predecessor. A direct and simple answer for you impatient ones is that no, Dragon Age 2 is not better than the original, but this is largely because of the unbelievable standards set in Origins. Dragon Age 2 is a great game in its own right and you will surely agree once you finish traversing gorgeous lands and slaying demons and dragons. Unfortunately the story doesn’t live up to the glorious heights you would expect and the somewhat simplified fighting mechanics make the game feel a little stripped. On the other hand, these changes help speed up the game-play, meaning you sacrifice some technical assets in exchange for arguably a more enjoyable action experience. Whichever way you choose to look at it, Dragon Age 2 is another great role-play game from BioWare.

Immediate changes over the predecessor come as soon as you begin the game and start creating your own character. You will find that Dragon Age 2 now has a fully voiced protagonist but as a result, forces you to play as a human and pick only from three classes – the mage, rogue or warrior. This lack of customizability may shock fans of the original at first, but the variation in abilities and powers as you level up and the great voice acting and narration will win you over to see these additions as viable changes to the series.

The story certainly doesn’t have the same dynamism or impact that the original had, but that’s not to say you won’t have a great time going through Dragon Age 2. Your ambitions of being the Champion of Kirkwall are harbored by a lack of a clear goal, but many missions and side-quests still engulf you into the world and you inevitably become attached to certain characters you meet and events you participate in. It’s just a shame that the main story itself is poorly intertwined with the majority of your objectives and it never really feels like all the available loose ends are brought together in a satisfying manner. Dragon Age 2 also suffers from the inevitable climactic build up and then the all-of-a-sudden cliffhanger that is sure to irritate some fans.

As you would expect, Dragon Age 2 sets a new standard for the choice-mechanic in the role-play genre. Developers inevitably find it harder and more challenging to come up with intuitive ways to fill their adventures with consequential events that make up the world around you. The story, while not that deep, gives you plenty of opportunity to question your morality, the morality of others and shape people, guilds and whole cities around you. There are plenty of different paths to choose and ways of going about completing Dragon Age 2, creating plenty of replay value for those eager to see how events would pan out from different perspectives.

The characters that join your party throughout Dragon Age 2 also unfortunately succumb to the inevitable comparison of the prior team you assemble in Origins. It is really difficult to not compare the two games but if you do, you will once again realize that this assortment of entertaining and rich characters are, to put it simply, not as entertaining, nor as rich as the Origins cast. Again, this does not mean that your party is dull and lifeless, you will become engaged in their plights and goals and those new to the series will have a blast, but those moving on from the original will have a hard time adjusting to the new group travelling with you. Fortunately what Dragon Age 2 continues to impress with, is the fantastic dialogue and narration, which is present throughout all characters, party members and citizens alike.

Moving swiftly onto the combat in Dragon Age 2, this is a double-edged sword. Combat has been simplified and with this comes shorter times between moves and faster attack-animations. The game feels much more action orientated. The downside is this simplification does diminish the role-play element somewhat and does feel like a guns-blazing experience now. I personally think its for the best, as action is fast-flowing and exciting, but it is down to personal preference and you really have to experience it before you can make your mind up. PC players have even more issues to contend with as camera control has been taken away from you, meaning no more tactical movement and scouting the battlefield.

Another issue that I feel is never really properly acknowledged is that your party members seem to be stuck in a strange world where they want to be in an action-role play game, but don’t act all like they are in one. What I mean by this is the action-orientated combat doesn’t really play out with the rest of your party members unless you go into the menus and set up specific instructions and combat strategies for them. So I guess you could say that for traditional Dragon Age fans, there is potential here to slow the pace of the combat down and revert back to a more subdued fighting style that rewards tactics rather than button bashing and spell throwing. This is especially apparent on higher difficulty levels.

From a technical perspective, Dragon Age 2 is hit-and-miss. In comparison to BioWare’s recent outing Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age 2’s graphics suffer in almost all departments. Facial construction isn’t up to scratch, environments can look quite dull, low resolution and long load times all hamper the experience. However, on consoles the game looks better than Origins, so is there really scope to complain? The enemies do look amazing it has to be said, the demons, dragons and ghouls you encounter are all very menacing and are exactly what you’d expect from a Dragon Age game. The soundtrack is quite good, nothing to go particularly crazy for, it suits the game well but never really jumps out at you like a Final Fantasy score for example. The difficulty curve is quite jumpy as well, with the game being relatively easy on the PC especially, so jumping to higher difficulty levels is recommended from your first play-through.

To conclude, it is fairly obvious that there are two stances you can take when looking at Dragon Age 2. As a sequel, it is inferior, but I feel like that is such a harsh word to use because I cannot stress enough how good the original was. As a stand-alone title, Dragon Age 2 is a very good RPG that draws you in and keeps you invested throughout it’s long and exciting time-span. The story might not be as magical and engulfing as one might of hoped, but the incredible use of morality and plenty of missions and places to explore, it really is worth your time. Ultimately game-play changes I feel have been made for the better, but the game’s story and coherency is greatly overshadowed by its predecessor.

Technical presentation – 7.0

Graphics – 7.5

Game-play – 8.5

Replay value – 9.0

Final score – 8.0 / 10

Igor, CeX UK Contributor.

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Friday, 18 March 2011

Game Review – Fight Night Champion

Formats: (PS3 & 360)

Fight Night Champion begins immediately in the ring. You find the main protagonist Andre Bishop on the mat and it is up to you to recover the fight. This tutorial segment sets the pace for what ends up being a fast, flowing and incredibly satisfying boxing experience. Fight Night Champion boasts one of the most memorable sports career modes to date, accompanied by beautiful cinematics and truly believable story-driven cut-scenes. Alongside this the controls of the series have been revamped, allowing for much easier execution of a variety of shots and finishing blows. To round all of this off, a well-crafted online multiplayer is also offered for those wanting that little bit of extra competition against friends and foes alike. If you’re a boxing fan, this is a must own title.

The most significant change to the franchise does come in the shake-up of the controls. Previous Fight Night games gave little reason to use the right analogue-stick over face-buttons to launch your barrage of attacks, but now a simplified and precise mapping to the stick offers a very desirable method to play the game. Of course the face-buttons are still available, but the free-flowing analogue-stick allows for some beautifully crafted combos with minimal effort. What makes a realistic boxing game however, is finding that fine line between offence and defense and while the game might be relatively easy on the lower difficulty levels, when you step into the ring with the big players, the game becomes more than simply throwing bombs all over the place. Even the defensive game in Fight Night Champion is incredible easy to include in your fighting, with slipping, using the clinch and blocking all eventually going to be forced into your arsenal once you start tackling harder opponents.

The opening segments and tutorial fight introduces you to the game’s main character Andre Bishop, who comes back from retirement to allow you an exhilarating experience through Champion mode. You will become immediately invested in Andre who is a very likable guy as he shakes off his cobwebs and steps back into the ring. Plenty of interesting things occur in the story and a variety of wrenches are thrown into the works to make sure fights have certain win criteria for one reason or another, just to make sure monotony doesn’t set in. The game’s cut-scenes and narration are for the most part terrific, especially your ring-side coach and the ESPN commentators who do an accurate job detailing information about your fights. While certainly not the longest campaign, on the harder difficulty levels you can get a good seven hours out of it, which is a respectable time, considering it’s not the only game-mode offered in Fight Night Champion.

Your other main option in Fight Night Champion is creating your own fighter and jumping into Legacy mode. Very little has been changed from the previous versions of this mode, but you will notice little tweaks here and there that help smooth out the experience. First of all, the creation mechanics are pretty impressive, allowing you to create the perfect fighter, or use a variety of different means such as the console camera or digital photos to try and digitize yourself into the game. You can even just use a real life boxer and take them to the top if creating isn’t really your thing. Whichever path you choose, your character will look and fight like a badass. Then it is all up to you, training, maintaining your character, organizing fights and press events, leading all the way up the ladder with your eyes on the prize. Fight Night’s level up system is very easy to understand and use as you simply upgrade certain punches, as opposed to stats, for example the more points you put into the head hook or uppercut, the stronger that particular punch will be and the faster it will be executed. Put enough points into it and you will even unlock flash knock-outs with that particular shot, allowing for some incredibly cool finishing blows.

A major problem with a lot of creation and customization tools in many fighting games is the overload on different fighting styles available to custom characters. Taking the UFC games as an example, offering newcomers to the sport four different varieties of wrestling, different styles of kickboxing, variants on Jiu-Jitsu, karate etc, makes it very hard to choose a path for your fighter. Thankfully this isn’t the case in Fight Night Champion, although the seven available classes are relatively different, so it is recommended to play with the game a little before creating a fighter in order to find out what style of fighting you prefer. The game makes it possible to experience all the different styles of boxing such as up-close, counter-attacking, brawling and making tactical use of standard and south-paw stances, but ultimately with the limited points available to upgrade certain moves, you will find in Legacy mode that quite a rigid line will develop.

Just like in Champion mode, Legacy offers a variety of challenges and criteria in fights that can win you extra experience points to use on your character. These are exciting additions to each fight that demand crushing your opponents down and fulfilling goals like early round knockouts, cuts, persistent damage to a particular body zone, and other things that make the action more intense. Ultimately it is very difficult to choose a favourite game mode between Champion and Legacy, but both offer different and exciting game-play elements and there’s really no reason why you wouldn’t go through both.

Naturally there are only so many fights against the computer you can have before you need to test your might against other human players. Fight Night Champion’s great online mode allows you to test your strength in ranked or un-ranked bouts. There are also online gyms you can join with other players that allow you customize and personalize the experience with your own rules and the use of custom characters. Perhaps the most exciting online mode the Online World Championship, where you fight for supremacy on leaderboards and earn chances to win titles and belts. If you happen to acquire a belt, then prepare to defend it against a barrage of online opponents who will be lurking and waiting for you to come online for a chance at the gold. This really makes you feel like an important part of the game and really adds to the intensity and thrills that Fight Night Champion offers. The only minor issue with the online mode is the occasional lag present. While not a major issue, the game is so enjoyable that it is just irritating to have to encounter lag, especially considering Fight Night Champion is such a smooth game, it’s a minor issue but an issue nonetheless.

From a technical perspective Fight Night Champion impresses all across the board. The beautiful graphics and excellent sound design both in the ring and through narration, all impress. Camera angle is a very important aspect in a close-combat fighting simulator and for the most part, the action is framed well on the screen and aside from the referee deciding to occasionally jump in front of the camera, there are no issues.

Here we have a game with two exceptional offline game-modes, a good online experience and overall, a brilliant representation of the sport of boxing. Fight Night Champion is the best boxing simulator on the market and does so many things well, really well in fact. If you’re looking for an thrilling time in the ring, this has to be the preferred game of choice. With excellent customization and loads of different fighters to choose from, there’s no doubt you will have a blast with Fight Night Champion.

Technical presentation – 8.5

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, 15 March 2011

Game Review - Pokemon Black & White

Format: DS

I think that without a doubt my favourite games to review are the Pokemon titles on Nintendo’s handhelds. There’s just something totally mesmerizing and special with every installment of the series and I just can’t for the life of me, not buy them. Pokemon Black and White are unique additions to Game Freak’s franchise, predominately because this is the first time we have seen two sets of Pokemon games come out for the same handheld. Indeed as we come to the end of the Nintendo DS’s stint in the limelight, it is graced with one of the most solid RPG series to ever be created. This is not to say that this is the same game again; improvements have been made. While Black and White stick to the traditional formula that we all know and love, there are subtle changes in pretty much every aspect of the games, making them the most in-depth, enjoyable and fun installments in the Pokemon series.

From this point on I am just going to refer to the games as Pokemon to ease unnecessary pluralisation of everything that I say. Pokemon begins and feels much like every other Pokemon game you have experienced, a professor explains the world to you and gives you your very own creature to take on a life-changing adventure full of mystery, drama and excitement. At first glance little has changed, but it is still early days as the game has to cater for newcomers and explain how everything works. Speaking of newcomers, I write Pokemon reviews based on the assumption that everyone understands how they work, I find it hard to believe that no one has at least encountered a Pokemon game before. For those of you who are new, the premise is simple, the execution of said premise, is a wonderful adventure filled with challenge.

In the world of Pokemon you are assigned a Pokedex; a recording device. Your goal is two-fold, you must find all existing Pokemon and fill up your Pokedex, which is by no means an easy task considering there are now over 500 Pokemon with 5 generations of critters to see between games. A more realistic goal is to beat 8 Gym Leaders across the world and acquire their badges, which in turn allow you to partake in the Pokemon League and become the Champion of the Unova region. Using Pokemon also goes from simple to incredibly tactical if you choose to take the more competitive route. Pokemon come in many shapes and forms and all range in different elements. Certain elements are stronger against other elements and this rock-paper-scissor style mechanic is how the game begins. Once you dwell deeper into the game you will find that it is a lot more complicated than said mechanic, as Pokemon become available in dual-types, have different attributes, different abilities, different move-pools and plenty more to keep you occupied with. Needless to say, the stereotype that Pokemon is merely for children is absolute nonsense as RPG lovers alike will find an incredibly fulfilling and engaging game on their hands should they choose to partake in the Pokemon world.

So what does make this installment of Pokemon different from all the others so far in the series? First of all, an entire new batch of Pokemon, 150 to be precise. The new additions unfortunately are the worst the series has ever offered in terms of aesthetic design. Ice-cream cones, chandeliers, an actual schnauzer dog, ideas were certainly not flowing through the design team when they thought of these little guys. Fortunately and like with all the other games in the series, you will find certain Pokemon that you will like and even those who you don’t immediately take a liking to, you will bond with as Pokemon does what it does best, creates a bond between you and the creatures you travel with. If you do happen to be incredibly stubborn, you will be glad to know that upon completion you will be allowed to trade over all of your old favourites onto the new games and explore the new world with your previous teams.

Next up, the new set of bad guys. Team Plasma meddle in and around your journey preaching the ideas of equality between human beings and Pokemon and how essentially, we should not treat them as pets and make them battle each other, very anti-pet cruelty. In all seriousness, the game is a lot more story driven than any of the previous games that felt like any and all dialogue was completely pointless to your adventure. You do inevitably get sucked into the ordeals and these morale questions do get you thinking and it’s when you start engaging with your own morality is when you really feel engrossed in Pokemon’s story.

The graphics have also been upgraded somewhat. While characters in the world and Pokemon still look the same, environments are much more vibrant and finally the series has introduced large buildings and massive cities, which with the help of a brand new camera angle, really give you a sense of their size and depth. In particular is this ridiculous fascination with massive bridges; I guess the designers really wanted to show off their ability to understand scale of size, as they opt to make you pointlessly cross bridge after bridge for no apparent reason. Pokemon in-battle have been given some animation movement, but it is still the same throw a move at your opponent’s sprite and then they throw one back. Actually the moves have been cleaned up to and made more visually pleasing and destructive. It’s just a shame the Pokemon don’t react to the moves. Audio is perhaps Pokemon’s weakest attribute, as once again the annoying squeaks and squeals of the Pokemon feel like they have come straight out the original Game-boy. The music, while charming, doesn’t really add any drama to the serious moments the game offers, but the travel music plays the role well as you go from location to location.

The introduction of triple-battles and rotation battles is also an interesting and entertaining addition to the Pokemon formula. Triple-battles does pretty much what it says on the tin, pitting 3 on 3 with certain move restrictions, for example your left Pokemon cannot use a physical move on your opponent’s furthest right Pokemon due to the distance. Rotation battles are even more strategic, with only your front Pokemon being able to take damage, you and your opponent choose whether to attack or to use your turn to rotate another creature to the front line. This opens up for some exhilarating battles and is an example of how the series can progress.

Pokemon is all about interactivity and with every installment of the franchise, Game Freak have tried to make connecting and playing with your friends easier and easier. Well, with the introduction of the C-Gear, things have gotten even more accessible. Always on your bottom touch-screen unless in battle, C-Gear allows you to instantly battle and trade with friends wherever you are in the game and it even allows you to trade Pokemon in your PC, so no more needing to run back to a Pokemon Centre, fetching the Pokemon out of the PC and then running to the trade and battle corner, this is all stream-lined for a smooth and easy-to-access experience.

Ultimately Pokemon is an iconic franchise, one that has one of the best traditional RPG formulas of any game in the last 20 years. Constant improvements to the series’ have made it the absolute blast it is today. While the new Pokemon might not be the best the series’ has had to offer, the game itself is probably the best. This is the hand-held game to own, no other game will suck you in and keep you invested for as long, I should know, having averaged 70 + hours on every one of my copies I’ve owned over the years and a whopping 120 on Platinum. Pokemon Black and White are in my opinion an enhancement on the best game ever made. Pokemon is back and it’s freaking awesome.

Technical presentation – 7.0

Graphics – 7.0

Game-play – 10.0

Replay value – 9.0

Final score – 9.0 / 10

Igor, CeX UK Contributor.

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Friday, 11 March 2011

Game Review - Little Big Planet 2

Format: PS3

Following the rather tragic admission concerning my activities during Valentine's day within my Marvel Vs Capcom 3 review, I thought I'd do something different for this piece. I'm sure a lot of you reading are aware of the difficulties a gamer encounters while being in a relationship. Trying to make time for the object of your passion and affections and your girlfriend can be a daunting task (only joking, ladies!). So this time, I'll be writing a split-review, one side constructed from my perspective both as an experienced freelance journalist and gamer, and my girlfriend Carly, a woman.

Little Big Planet is one of the few games I've had success sharing with a partner. With its mix of simple physics-based platforming, cutesy arts-and-crafts presentation and upbeat music, LBP was the go-to-game when it came to spending time together in front of a console. LBP2 promises more of the great level design alongside deeper creation tools and character gadgets to provide the online community with even more options to create their own levels. What follows is a stage-by-stage account of our experiences with Little Big Planet 2. Let's get to it!

Lukao: Upon starting the game, I was pleased to see that all my unlocked and downloaded costumes were carried over. While initially unimpressed by the game's presentation, which seemed very similar to that seen in its predecessor, I was eventually won over by LBP2's charm and character. The inclusion of a grappling-hook tool was a welcome distraction, and in concert with the new 'bounce-pad' tiles, created some interesting platforming sequences.

Carly: I was happy about the number of new female costumes available. Being a fashionable woman-about-town, I was fed up of wearing pirate and ninja costumes designed for boys! I was a little irked at all the tutorial prompts, but loved the new grappling hook!

Lukao: During the second world the new, more fanciful design ethic became apparent, replacing the old ethnic motifs. I was really impressed by the dissolving effect seen on the game's more splodgy materials. Oh and throwing each other around the stage with the new 'power-gloves' was fun!

Carly: I'd just like to point out here that as a gaming widow, I've had extensive experience in spending time alone with cakes. So to see a whole 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' stage seemed fitting, although it did make me hungry. Like Lukao, I too was blown away by the realistic confectionery explosions. The new 'Creatinator' hats were interesting, and allowed us to shoot sticky cakes about the place. Sounds like my idea of Heaven!

Lukao: This next world introduced the mechanic of friendly 'sackbot' characters, little AI controlled robots that either ran away or followed you. These little fellas set up some pretty cool herding sequences where we had to work together to get them where they needed to go.

Carly: *Girly gasp* I LOOOVED THE LITTLE ROBOT GUYS! I especially enjoyed the competitive element of seeing who could get the most robots to love them, flashing heart eyes tugging at my heart-strings. Is there any way to teach cats to do this? Seeing any stragglers die unexpectedly caused me real pain, and an immediate restart of the level!

Lukao: I wasn't really a fan of the 'Controlinator' animals in the next world. While slightly novel, they just felt like more awkward ways of navigating the level. Speaking of level design, this one felt uncharacteristically lacking in character.

Carly: I really enjoyed controlling the animal robot things, especially the hamster. While unwieldy, I had a lot of fun careening around the levels, slamming into things.

Lukao: Ah, the fifth level at least seems more interestingly designed. No new mechanics were introduced here, but the established ones were combined together to create the first world that didn't feel like a tutorial level. It was nice to see some of the old characters from LBP1 in the background, but it made me realise how annoying I find the new ones.

Carly: This level had some really great ideas using the Creatinator to shoot water at plants to make them grow and to extinguish fire. The design also appealed to my environmental instincts! The boss on this world was easily my favourite: a gruesome vehicle sequence inside a character's brain!

Lukao: This final world had some of the best and innovative levels and ideas (including a neat game-within-a-game arcade cabinet). All the existing tools and gadgets were used to create a dramatic climax, and the levels looked great too.

Carly: I thought the level design a bit too busy, and found it difficult to distinguish foreground hazards from the background. The side-scrolling shooting section was really fun, and showed how different gameplay styles can be created within LBP2.

Chalk up another success to Media Molecule, they've managed to create another couple-friendly hit. Building on the strengths of the first game, LBP2 has greater variety and potential for budding level designers. There is already a huge and prolific community creating free content of a high standard, and I'm sure the online content will only improve with time. While the offline experience doesn't hit the same joyous highs of the first game (perhaps due to our own personal tastes), LBP2 has a vastly improved online component, including the ability for players to join your session mid-game (useful for getting those pesky multiplayer challenges). Definitely one for the collection!

Lukao and Carly give Little Big Planet 2: 9 jam-filled cakes out of 10.

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Monday, 7 March 2011

Game Review - Bulletstorm

Formats: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

Every so often a game is released that blurs the line between video games and art, that brings people together in appreciation of subtle beauty no matter what the medium. Bulletstorm is not that game. In fact it is almost the polar opposite of that, a game which rends friends and critics asunder with its foul-mouthed and violent agenda. But did that stop Duke Nukem from being a great video game classic?

Set on the abandoned resort-world of Stygia, Bulletstorm follows the misanthropic misadventures of Grayson Hunt, a grizzled smack-talking space pirate (think 'Escape from NY' Kurt Russel, but in space). Accompanying him on his quest are Ishi Sako, a former team-mate turned robot killing machine and Trishka, a tough trash-talking military assassin. As you can already tell, Bulletstorm's story doesn't exactly play out like a Shakespearian play. The characters are established, betrayed, separated and redeemed with formulaic timing, with each one seemingly playing the tough-guy. Happily, the storyline isn't Bulletstorm's strong point.

The much-publicised 'Skillshot' system is the main focus of the game, and the developers at People Can Fly and Epic went to great lengths to create a gameplay mechanic that was both fun and organic. Using a combination of different weapons, skills and environmental hazards, the player is tasked not only with defeating the hordes of space-bandits and mutants that seek your destruction, but to dispatch them in the most creative and convoluted way possible. Why get a headshot when you could shoot your foe in the balls, wrap a grenade around his head and kick him into a crowd of his friends? The pursuit of new and more difficult skillshots proves to be the main drive of the experience, superseding any storyline or character progression. The different weapons on offer are for the most part unique and the Skillshot system is a innovative and satisfying mechanic, turning what could have been another by-the-numbers shooter into a genuinely fun game.

Serving as a backdrop to the quest for bigger and badder skillshots, the game's beautiful environments, in-game dialogue and set-pieces work well with each other to create a overall tone for the game, that being: Over the Top. The incredible vistas, hugely exciting dramatic moments and grossly inappropriate dick-jokes make for a game which leaves the player little time to be bored. Towards the end however, the set-pieces happen with less regularity, the vistas are replaced by repeated scenes of collapsing buildings and even the dick-jokes begin to dry up. All in all, Bulletstorm starts off stronger than it finishes, and I found myself less interested with the game once I had unlocked most of the skillshots.

While some may complain about its predictable story and cheesy characters, I feel that Bulletstorm could've been better with even less story and character progression. If Grayson Hunt had been a foul-mouthed and lovable rogue from start to finish, rather than suddenly growing a conscience halfway through, the story may have made more sense to me. Maybe I'm just a cynic.

Bullletstorm is, without a shadow of a doubt, a fun game. Although it has its shortcomings (the shakey story, limited co-operative multiplayer and weaker conclusion) and feels a little unfinished (check out the ropey lip synch during the cutscenes), Epic Games and People Can Fly have created something unique and special.

Lukao gives Bulletstorm 7 ducks out of 10. That's right, ducks. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
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Thursday, 3 March 2011

iPad 2 - it's coming soon!

January 27 2010 was one of Apple's defining moments, on that day the Apple iPad was revealed. So what happened March 2 2011? The iPad 2 was revealed. Apple would like us to believe it's revolutionary, truth is, it's not but it's certainly different.

We previously shared our contributors thought on what the iPad 2 would be sporting in terms of hardware and software. On the whole, we were pretty spot on. The iPad 2 will have two cameras as previously mentioned, a front facing VGA camera for FaceTime and rear camera for capturing 720p video. Internally it will be packing 1 GHz dual core Apple A5 processor, this means up to 2x processing power and up to 9x graphics power of the original iPad and it is going to need that raw power considering the games lined up for it. Compared to other tablets currently on the market the iPad 2 is not special at all. All other major tablets including the Motorola XOOM and Blackberry PlayBook have dual core processors and tout graphics as their strong point. As we thought, the screen resolution has stayed the same, 1024x768 and so has the screen technology, no Retina Display for us! It's a 9.7 inch screen, very similar to the Motorola XOOM's and Samsung Galaxy Tab's 10.1 inches.

Apple are arguably the kings of industrial design of the 21st century and they've done it again with the iPad 2. The original iPad had a questionable design being outdone by the Motorola XOOM and Samsung Galaxy Tab (not the HTC Flyer, that thing is ugly) but the iPad 2 has been redesigned in its entirety. It's a more ergonomic, aesthetic design. Considering all this sweet new technology Apple has packed into the iPad 2, it must have become quite a bit thicker, right? Wrong! It's so slim and sleek *drools*. It's 1/3 thinner measuring in at 8.8mm compared to 13.4mm of the original. To put it into perspective, the iPhone 4 is 9.3mm thick. It also won't hurt your hands if you're holding it weighing in at just over 600g. The iPad 2 will come in both black and white (yes, really) and Apple have promised that they will both be available on launch day because we all know what happened with the white iPhone 4. There will be WiFi and 3G+WiFi versions again, my only question is, why stick with 3G? The future is 4G, in the US at least, yet the iPad 2 only has 3G. Apple trickling out features once again.

As was commonly known, the iPad 2 will be running iOS 4.3 which will be released in conjunction with the new iPad. Here's the low down on what was revealed about iOS 4.3. Performance has been improved, quite a bit apparently. There will be FaceTime for iPad meaning you can now “facetime” with your Mac and iPhone 4 friends. The much loved Photo Booth will also arrive in iOS 4.3 with all the same effects as its desktop counterpart, yay! Warped faces! New apps also include very polished and functional iMovie and GarageBand for the iPad. Interestingly internet tethering (Personal Hotspot in iOS) will only be available for the iPhone 4 and latest iPod Touchs. I have a feeling that it will be available for iPad soon though considering every Android tablet can do this already. Have an Apple TV? You'll be able to stream your iPad HD videos/audio/slide shows to it via AirPlay, awesome. iOS 4.3 will be released March 11. Don't forget that users' biggest gripe with iOS is that it's a closed system only allowing you to do what Apple want you to do, my point is that all these “new” functionality features in iOS 4.3 have been in Android for quite some time. The only redeeming feature is the polish and ease of use of Apple apps and iOS.

Smart Covers are a new range of covers Apple will be releasing for the iPad 2, all I have to say is they look pretty damn cool. These are polyurethane or leather covers that magnetically clip onto your iPad 2. They are foldable, turning into stands, contain microfibers that clean your screen when closed and automatically wake or sleep your iPad when opened or closed. Remember guys "It's not a case -- it's a cover" ~ Steve Jobs. Check out the video below.

You could argue all day long that they're gimmicky, pointless and could potentially scratch your lovely new iPad (scratches are already a huge problem on iPods) but this is a clever way of protecting your iPad, the front at least, without affecting its form factor and doubling up as a stand.

All in all, not a huge step up but definitely warrants a new version number which I was dubious about before. The new design just works and internally it's quite a step up but it's imperative that Apple keep up with the competition. I can see the cameras being used for augmented reality (very up-and-coming technology) bringing the powerful graphics chip into play. Thinking of upgrading? CeX will happily buy your used gadgets, the Apple iPad 2 will be released March 25th in Europe and 11th in the US. Remember to update your iTunes to 10.2!

Omran, CeX Towers
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Tuesday, 1 March 2011

CeX on The Gadget Show

TV's The Gadget Show chose CeX to sell an a pile old stuff for cash. CeX is the simplest way to sell and pays the most for games and phones.

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Game Review – Killzone 3

Format: PS3

Killzone 3 is a dramatic and inspiring first-person shooter in more ways than one. Guerilla Studios once again intertwine superb combat, beautiful graphics and memorable set pieces to bring together one of the best games Sony could have hoped to open 2011 with. Enhancing upon Killzone 2 in almost every way, which may I add is no easy to task, Killzone 3 brings more to the table in terms of action; you will come out of the experience in awe at the brilliant pace the campaign offers and the near perfect online multiplayer present. Unfortunately Killzone 3 does not maintain this exceptional level of quality on all fronts, especially when it comes to narration and story. The tale of the war between our two factions is dull and uninspiring, especially the Helghast segments that simply play upon Nazi stereotypes and other commonly used frameworks that we have seen a hundred times before. The main character Sev, who is stuck on an enemy planet with his squad, is not explored or deepened in any way shape or form. The result is an emotionless and non-involving battle for survival and a hilarious Nazi parody, making the exceptional campaign game-play, diluted with poor story segments. That aside, Killzone 3 is brilliant; it is the most realistic FPS on the market, which says something considering it is a Sci-Fi shooter.

Killzone 3 continues upon the politically driven war between the Helghast and the ISA but for some strange reason, concentrates a large chunk of the story inside the war rooms and tactical meetings of the Helghast generals. All too often you find the well paced combat stopped right in its tracks by story segments that you simply don’t want to watch and this is a real shame for Killzone 3. The case is less so for the ISA portion of the campaign and Sev, but the complete lack of emotional connection between you and your soldiers means that even this portion of the story is difficult to get really involved in, making the skip button almost as important as the shoot button in Killzone 3.

This problem is rather more problematic for an FPS like Killzone 3 than say for example Call of Duty, because we expect the COD campaigns to be rubbish and if they are pleasantly entertaining, we are happily surprised. Killzone 2 developed such a brilliant story that with the arrival of its successor, everyone hoped for another dynamic, interactive and engulfing campaign mode and not just another dry first-person shooter with absolutely no story and full emphasis on multiplayer. Now that this is out the window, we have to contrast Killzone 3 on the same level as Call of Duty, which ironically makes my job easier in comparing the two.

So luckily for us gun fanatics, you do not need narration and story to have an absolutely killer time throughout Killzone 3’s campaign mode. The physics first of all, continue to gob smack, even though I saw the unprecedented realism of character movement and weapon fire in the predecessor, it returns once again to show off this incredible technical design. Your character feels real, the way he moves, runs, jumps, reloads, shoots, whatever the case you, feel like you are looking through the eyes of a human being, not simply a camera with arms. This is where you get emotionally invested in your character, in the heat of battle when bullets are flying and grenades are exploding, you fear for his survival because you feel like you are part of it, a simply incredible state of emotion created by Killzone 3.

Larger than life set-piece battles are what ultimately define the campaign mode here. Killzone 3 offers varied environments including industrial terrains, wintry mountains, jungles and devoured cities, all of which look gorgeous. In these locations you will find epic encounters including mech chases, jet pack battles and highway revolts, all of which are a heck of a lot of fun. It is these moments that will reside with you upon completing Killzone 3 and you will soon forget the shortcomings in story and narration as the real important action is told in bullets and Helghan bodies, not words. If you have access to a 3D TV then you can actually take the game to a stereoscopic level, adding an extra dimension to Killzone 3’s mesmerizing visuals, it is definitely worth the experience. You can also play the game using the Playstation Move, although not offering anything particularly game changing, if you fancy a different way to kill the Helghast, then give it a go, the clever auto-lock system makes using these remotes relatively easy.

Another important achievement that Killzone 3 continues is the wonderful AI that fills the game. Rarely do you find an experience as challenging against the computer, but here soldiers’ aim is deadly, their movements are precise and tactical and they want to spill your blood; taking them lightly is certainly not an option. Even your teammates show signs of actual combat intelligence, working together and holding down waves of enemies while you try to complete an objective or flank the opposition. To keep it from being totally computer driven you can bring a friend into the action with offline co-op but the lack of an online version of this mode is really quite outrageous.

The only way you are going to play online with a buddy is through Killzone 3’s brilliantly crafted competitive multiplayer. Killzone 2 was an impressive online shooter so massive changes to game-play have not occurred and why should they considering how good the predecessor was? Changes have come in various places including the removal of class progression so you unlock weapons and gear for your player in general as opposed to keeping them class specific. You still have to choose a class to play with and these variations offer some entertaining changes to the combat, being an engineer, or an infiltrator for example, offer a whole new perspective on the battlefield than a simple brute force. There is an addition of two new game-modes that offer team death match and objective based game-play including some of the most impressively designed maps any shooting game has had the pleasure having in its ranks. Warzone is still obviously the preferred way to tackle Killzone 3’s online experience, offering multiple objective based missions in one game, keeping action intense, engaging and varied. The online modes are all fluid, well paced and incredibly entertaining. The feeling of realism your characters portray give it an edge over your monotonous Call of Duty experience and it really is a great divergence from the former if you are tired of calling in Spy Planes and Napalm Strikes. My only wish is more people jump on the online mode to give Guerilla Studios more incentive to bring out packs and updates, keeping this experience alive and progressing.

And why shouldn’t you jump into the intense multiplayer combat? Not only are the game-modes terrific but they are also accompanied by the inclusion of the campaign’s jetpacks, which allow you to fly around certain battlefields with chain-guns attached to your back, raining hell upon your enemies. Some maps even include mech units that can cause serious problems for enemy teams who don’t have artillery to deal with these mechanized giants. Killzone 3 screams action and the online mode is a great place to take part in the experience.

Ultimately Killzone 3 is a fantastic game. It is one of the most beautiful games on the PS3, it is engaging, it is entertaining and it is thrilling. Fast paced and consistently brilliant action segments keep you on your toes and wanting more. The online is as great as ever; perhaps lacking from any truly innovative changes, but regardless the same brilliant experience is back for more. The unfortunate misjudgment with regards to the campaign’s story structure is a right shame, but it doesn’t detract from the game’s brilliant technical design and game-play prowess. I recommend this game all over and it would be a joy to see more gamers picking up a copy of Killzone 3, a true technical masterpiece, than Call of Duty: Black Ops, a lackluster rehash of the same formula. It may not be a massive step forward for the series, but Killzone 3 offers everything you would expect in a sequel to an already brilliant experience.

Technical presentation – 8.0

Graphics – 9.5

Game-play – 9.0

Replay value – 8.0

Final score – 9 / 10

Igor, CeX UK Contributor.

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