Thursday 28 July 2011

Game Review – Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition

Formats: (PS3, Xbox 360)

When any gamer mentions the 2D beat em’ up genre, the first thing that pops into your mind is Ryu throwing a hadouken -- that is the iconic status of Street Fighter. Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition is an updated version of this generation’s staple fighter, which comes either on a standalone disc or as downloadable content. SSIV:AE adds a handful of new characters, tweaks the online content and rebalances the fighting mechanics. For hardcore fans of the series looking for the most up-to-date version of Street Fighter IV, Arcade Edition is certainly a necessity for you. On the other hand, players who enjoy a casual brawl every once in a while could find it hard to justify purchasing the extra content or buying another version of a game they already own.

SSFIV:AE follows in the steps of the first alteration to the series, Super Street Fighter IV, but does not add as much content as the aforementioned. However, four very engrossing characters join the roster, Evil Ryu controlled by the dark-hadou, Oni who shares similarities with Akuma and Street Fighter 3rd Strike favourites Yun and Yang, the quick-fighting twins.

It is not surprising that Evil Ryu and Oni share similarities in both their move-sets and aesthetics as Akuma, in essence only adding variation as opposed to stand-alone new characters. Their strong offence and easy combo ability is balanced by their low health and ability to take huge damage. Yun and Yang however, are certainly standout characters -- providing exciting rush-offence by constantly being in the face of their opponent and beating them down with lighting fast attacks. Naturally hardcore fans will of course lean towards playing with Yun and Yang because they are so different to the rest of the roster -- but the lack of challenge mode incorporation of these four new characters means newcomers do not have an easy way to learn their combos and advanced moves. This is certainly a big omission as the challenge mode was a staple part of any gamers’ way to learn the intricate elements of the characters they played with.

The rebalancing of the overall game has made Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition a different experience than its predecessor but is only noticeable to the hardcore gamers. For example, Ryu’s hurricane kick has had it’s backwards movement path modified to make it harder to avoid attacks with and Bolrog’s strafe cross now has a larger recovery time -- how many casual gamers will really pick these out as a points of interest? Most projectile-based characters have been modified slightly but these tweaks and changes won’t affect casual play in the slightest as characters are ultimately still themselves.

A welcome change has been made to the online experience -- allowing players with Arcade Edition to either battle using the Super Street Fighter IV balancing of characters, or Arcade Edition. This is handy if you are not happy with how characters have been changed in the new installment of the series and just gives gamers that little bit of choice and versatility. Of course online battling is an integral part of any Street Fighter game, so Capcom have ensured that a high quality service is present with no lag issues visible through my experiences online.

Super Street Fighter IV deserves kudos for its availability as a downloadable expansion for those who own Super Street Fighter IV, or as a standalone disc at a budget price for gamers looking to get into this generations’ Street Fighter. The changes made, predominantly the rebalancing of characters is a welcome addition to the hardcore gamers but will certainly not harm a casual players’ experience with the game. The four new characters are nice additions, with Yun and Yang being the highlights by a particularly long way and the revamped online experience helps fans of Street Fighter battle it out in even smoother conditions. Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition is an excellent beat em’ up that continues Street Fighter’s dominance as one of the iconic franchises in video game history.

7.5 | Gameplay |
Rebalanced mechanics make SSFIV:AE technically, the best installment in the series yet. Difficult learning curve between casual and hardcore players.

9.0 | Presentation |
A beautiful visual design both for characters and backgrounds make this a great game to look at.

9.0 | Replay Value |
The best online experience to date ensures gamers get the most out of this brawler.

7.5 | Final Thoughts |
Fighting games are not easy to pick up, but if you want to get into one, this is a great place to start. Be prepared to get hammered online while you get to grips with a game that has technically been out for a long time now and has seen a strong community develop over the past 3 years.

Igor Kharin, CeX UK Contributor.
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Friday 22 July 2011

Game Review - L.A. Noire 2nd Opinion

Format: (Xbox 360, PS3)

It was a hot day in May when I stepped out onto a sidewalk you could fry eggs on. The word on the street (a street so hot, you could cook bacon) was that L.A. Noire, the new crime-solving simulator from the egg-heads up at Rockstar games was back in town, and it was up to me to figure out the mystery surrounding it. So, after wringing the sleep outta my whiskey-fogged eyes, I set out to my nearest CeX to begin my investigations.

The hustle and bustle quietened to a low murmur as soon as I entered the joint. Shifty characters quietly slipped out, but I eyeballed them as small fry. I had a bigger fish to fry, and its name was Noire. I pulled my fedora low over my brow and shot the guy behind the counter a look that meant business.
"You know anything about L.A. Noire?"

A few more questions and a knuckle sandwich later, I left the place with new information and a copy of the game. Apparently those Rockstar boys had been busy, already guilty of four counts Grand Theft Auto, and were last seen up to some cowboy shenanigans out west. Would this latest case be their downfall? I was about to find out...

If you were thinking I’d keep up the Noir style for the entire review, you've got another thing coming! L.A. Noire continues Rockstar's legacy of genre-spanning sandbox games, this time taking on the gumshoes of Cole Phelps, a detective working his way up through the ranks of the L.A. Police Department, busting crime and solving mysteries in 1940s Los Angeles.

Things work differently on this side of the law, so you won't be assigned different missions and tasks from various characters as in Rockstar's previous offerings. Instead you are led to various crime scenes where you collect clues, which point you towards certain suspects, whose surroundings you inspect for clues and so on. The cycle of 'visit scene, search for clues, question suspect' continues on until you either extract a confession or a piece of evidence so damning comes to light that the suspect has no choice other than to make a run for it.

The pursuit sequences could have been real set pieces for L.A. Noire. After slowly building tension between cop and criminal as they battled wits, an explosive chase sequence would be a perfect way to satisfyingly wrap up a case. Unfortunately a lot of the chases happen out of the blue, with little to no build up, and are so heavily scripted that in most cases, you just have to make sure you don't crash for a long enough period. The ones that are on foot are even more tedious, with most completed simply by holding forward on the controller. These sequences also highlight the horrible controls that L.A. Noire suffers from. Any activity that doesn't involve simply walking and talking to people, i.e. driving, shooting or running, feels really clunky and awkward, even for a GTA-style game.

Happily these action sequences only make up a small percentage of your time, and most can be skipped altogether. The meat and potatoes of L.A. Noire is the game's investigation and interrogation gameplay, which takes advantage of Rockstar's new facial animation technology. After collecting clues, players must quiz suspects and determine whether they are telling the truth by observing their reactions and body language. There is no onscreen 'TRUTH' meter, you have no special x-ray vision to measure their heart-rate, you just have to gauge their response and behave accordingly, just like a real person (jeepers, fancy that!). Since the facial animation is so realistic this task is simpler than it sounds, and players will soon be able to pick the liars and killers out from the crowd fairly easily. But what impact will that have on poker games around the world?!

The new MotionScan facial animation technology is the real highlight of L.A. Noire. I can usually see through the smoke-and-mirror illusions that comprise most videogame effects, but the only way I can guess that Rockstar achieved their as-good-as-real-life lip-synching is through black-magic and sorcery. However, the bewitching facial animation is let down by the robotic character animation and AI, making it seem as though the realistic faces are just superimposed onto mannequin bodies.

Well, the gameplay might be a bit iffy but at least the story's good, right? Unfortunately, no. Cole Phelps is not the likeable down-on-his-luck private detective, the loose cannon who always gets results or the gruff veteran with a heart of gold. Instead he comes across as an annoyingly by-the-book jobsworth, who preaches about not making any assumptions without evidence while wildly accusing little old ladies as soon as you press the 'Doubt' button. The story is well acted but suffers from repetition, as many of the cases follow a similar M.O. (well what do you expect from a serial killer?)

L.A. Noire, like the automobiles of the 1940s, has some great ideas and incredible technology under the hood, but handles horribly and moves slowly. While some may appreciate the authentic setting and story, those looking for a post-war GTA had better investigate elsewhere.

Lukao gives L.A. Noire 6 blood-stained car jacks out of 10.
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Friday 8 July 2011

Like music festivals?

Our friends organise this awesome music festival in the UK and we thought you should know about it.

Y Not Festival takes place this year on August 5th-7th in the heart of the beautiful Peak District. The festival is a showcase of the most exciting music of the moment and this year will see headline slots from The Go! Team, Feeder and Maximo Park. Other acts across the weekend include New Young Pony Club, Beardyman, Miles Kane, The Rifles, Viva Brother, Jamie Woon, Art Brut, The Duke Spirit, Dinosaur Pile Up, Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Danananaykroyd and Wolf Gang.

Weekend tickets are priced at £65 and children 12 and under go free. More info here
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Game Review - Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D

Formats: (Nintendo 3DS)

Of all the things the 3DS was advertised as being capable of, time travel was not one of them. Yet after slotting in the latest version of Nintendo's masterpiece, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, I found myself instantly transported to Hyrule circa 1998, a land even more wondrous and vibrant than my fondest memories. Would I be able to tear myself away from the land that time forgot in order to get back to the future?

Ocarina of Time is commonly regarded as being the greatest Nintendo games of all time, if not the best game ever made. With this in mind, Nintendo took a great risk giving the responsibility of porting the 3DS' first major Nintendo franchise to Grezzo, a lesser known Japanese developer. Luckily the title has been treated with great respect and care, and the love put into Zelda 3DS shines through. Never before have I played such a perfect version of Ocarina of Time, and in mind-blowing 3D, no less! And on a train! At 88 miles per hour!

If you've been stick in a wormhole for the last 15 years or come from the medieval period, Zelda OoT follows the excellent adventures of Link, an elfin child who is given the heavy destiny of 'The Hero of Time' and must travel back and forth through time to save Hyrule from the evil wizard Ganon. The same 'Zelda' format applies, Link discovers items and abilities that help him access and explore complex dungeons before defeating the boss hidden within. It is (ironically) a timeless formula, and is particularly enjoyable in this title, the first of the 3D Zelda games.

Now not only 3D in perspective, Zelda OoT displays some of the best stereoscopic 3D graphics seen on the system, ranging from subtle depth of field effects to startling in-your-face illusions. Run around Kakariko village with a chicken and try to not brush the feathers from your face! The original visuals have also been completely overhauled, with brighter colours, smoother character models and a higher resolution and frame rate. Time travel has never looked so good! (Samantha Mumba comes a close second).

Other improvements such as a touch-enabled inventory screen (a change the original sorely needed), in-game video hints for the directionally-challenged amongst you, and a remixed version of the GameCube Master Quest version are present, and are a welcome addition. Also included is a Boss-rush mode which provides some arcade-style fun if you're short on time.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D not only represents the best version of the title, it is also in my opinion the best game currently on the 3DS. Some minor issues still exist, such as slightly cryptic event scripting and dungeon design, and a finicky camera, but there is no doubt that this is a must-have for all 3DS owners. So jump in your DeLorean, Tardis, phonebooth or Victorian Armchair Time Travel Device and timewarp yourself to your nearest CeX.

Lukao gives Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D 9 fairies in jars out of ten.
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Monday 4 July 2011

Game Review – Child of Eden

Formats: (PS3, Xbox 360)

Everyone wants a place to escape, a place to let your mind wonder and be free. This place, however each individual pictures it, will have similarities to Eden. Set in the distant future, Eden is a databank of human thoughts--chronicling all our emotions and transforming them into vivid eruptions of colours and patterns. Your goal is to save Lumi: the memories of the first child born in space, from a virus threatening to destroy Eden. This on-rails shooter is as sharp as it is vivid, as exhilarating as it is relaxing and as fixating as it is mesmerizing. Child of Eden is a revelation in the music-rhythm game genre.

Child of Eden does not stray far from Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s previous creation Rez. In fact, it builds upon the experience in intriguing ways. The mechanics for playing are very simple: an onscreen indicator is used to attack enemies, blue for lock-on and pink for rapid-fire. You can lock onto and destroy multiple blue enemies and use rapid-fire to shoot pink enemy projectiles to avoid taking damage. You are also given a euphoria mechanic that acts as an on-screen bomb, annihilating everything in a flurry of colours. The rhythm-based gameplay kicks in by forcing you to destroy blue enemies in time with the beat of the music and this is where Child of Eden’s Kinect compatibility really shines.

Although you can enjoy Child of Eden using a controller, the real experience comes using Microsoft’s clever camera peripheral. The camera allows you to use your arms and orchestrate a musical-visual simulation around you. Using your right arm you control the blue weapon and your left controls rapid-fire. Raising both hands in the air like you just don’t care unleashes euphoria. This simple control scheme works very well and apart from a few slight camera issues leaving you stranded on occasion, is definitely the best way to enjoy Child of Eden. That’s not to say that the game is less fun on the pad--in fact some people prefer having the button layout and vibration function to keep time with the music (even though you can stick a controller in your pocket while using the Kinect for the same effect). Whichever way you choose to play Child of Eden, the game certainly entertains.

Child of Eden continues to entertain throughout each unique level--each themed after a specific part of life on earth. Examples include the gorgeous Beauty level full of plants and water--feeling like a tribute to Gaia, a structured industrial city known as Passion and Evolution, concluding with an enchanting boss battle between you and a whale transforming into a phoenix. Speaking of boss battles, each level ends with a mesmerizing final encounter, which are certainly the highlights of Child of Eden.

You can’t really talk about Child of Eden and not mention the phenomenal soundtrack present. The euphoric techno-trance is emotional and powerful, bringing you back to each level as you want to hear the beautiful music over and over. The in-game sounds of enemies falling like water drops or shattering into shards of colour deserve just as much praise as the songs themselves, but you simply cannot explain how the visuals, sound and gameplay merge together to create such an ambiance and such a thrilling experience.

Child of Eden’s competitive appeal certainly derives from your need to reach the highest scores and completely purify Eden. The trick to this is to rack up multipliers by consistently purifying eight blue enemies at a time. At first I found the flicking motion required to eliminate enemies off screen with the right hand quite difficult--but after a bit of practice I was stringing combos together with relative ease. When you get comfortable Child of Eden picks up the pace and unleashes a barrage of colours and vibrant enemies your way--some of which were quite difficult to keep track on screen at times and I found myself taking damage but not knowing exactly what caused it. Repeating levels and becoming familiar with them is perhaps the best way to memorize some of the harder portions of the game, even though levels do change based on your scores and previous run-throughs.

Unfortunately your time with Child of Eden feels like an all-to-brief love affair because before you know it, you reach the end. Comprised of only five levels, you can complete it in one sitting. Child of Eden does leave you wanting more and offers some excellent extra content, percentage completion challenges and harder difficulty settings. Child of Eden is certainly not an easy game, especially if you’re looking to hit the high scores and fully purify Eden. This will keep perfectionists coming back for more while the more casual gamers can enjoy the Explore Eden game-mode that allows you to play without worrying about dying (note levels played on Explore Eden mode have to be completed and unlocked in the normal game first).

Ultimately Child of Eden is a bold attempt at something beautiful, engaging and entertaining. While seemingly brief, this artistic masterpiece has enough content to keep you coming back to the world of Eden and exploring every beautifully designed level. Simple and enjoyable mechanics and clever use of the Kinect ensure you will have a fantastic time with Child of Eden, however brief that may be.

7.0 - Gameplay
Simple mechanics and clever use of the Kinect finally make hands-on motion gaming enjoyable and entertaining.

10.0 - Presentation
A beautiful presentation alongside a mesmerizing soundtrack helps Child of Eden to create an atmosphere like no other.

5.0 - Replay Value
With only 5 levels, the extra content, challenges and high-scores are worth coming back for, but downloadable levels would be a fantastic addition.

7.5 - Final Thoughts
Child of Eden is a bold experiment, one that succeeds in giving gamers an experience they are unlikely to have had before. There’s no doubt that you will love every moment in Eden.

Igor Kharin, CeX UK Contributor. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
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