Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Game Review – Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D

Format: (Nintendo 3DS)

No video game franchise does zombie killing quite as well as Resident Evil. The recent evolution of the series has seen old-school horror transformed into an action experience where the sense of helplessness we all relate to Capcom’s horror games, has unfortunately been lost somewhere in transition. However, the evolution has taken a turn for a more fast-paced zombie slaying adventure, one that Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D exemplifies perfectly.

The Mercenaries 3D is at it’s core, the survival bonus mode you played and enjoyed in Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5. This game mode is undoubtedly a whole load of frantic fun, but a lack of content makes it look like a glass that is half empty. The sense of sheer terror has evaporated from Resident Evil, but is replaced well with dramatic urgency as you attempt to rack up points in this zombie bashing frenzy. Fluid combat, a variety of characters and environments coupled with different weapons and an interesting upgrade perk system, makes The Mercenaries 3D an engrossing experience, yet too short to be considered a full game.

You take on the hordes of enemies using some of the series’ iconic characters including Chris and Claire Redfield, Jill Valentines and even some of the most memorable bad guys such as Albert Wesker and Jack Krauser. With a few more to unlock there is a good sense of variety in the character roster here. Your goal is to kill as many enemies as possible in the set amount of time, with more points awarded when enemies are killed in quick succession. You can find time-enhancers across the maps that award you an extra few seconds and each character’s special melee move also boosts your timer.

Your zombie killing abilities are then ranked and skill points are awarded based on your performance. These skills points can then be allocated to upgrade your characters’ various special abilities and load-outs. This is the key difference between the survival mode you know on home consoles and this stand-alone survival experience. There are actually quite a large variety of skills including standard abilities like Medic, which increases the strength of First-Aid sprays, to more fun skills like Lucky-7, which increases your time if you kill an enemy when there is a 7 on the timer. Other skills include Friendship that increases your health automatically when your partner is near and Thunderbolt, which adds the thunder element to your melee attack, causing a wide damage radius. With plenty more abilities to unlock and play around with, this is certainly the highlight addition to the handheld version of Resident Evil’s survival mode.

You will certainly be familiar with the enemies you encounter throughout your trials in The Mercenaries 3D. The bad guys make their way from Resident Evil 4 and 5, including zombie villagers, hooded monks and the massive Majini with axes and chainsaws. You will also be very familiar with your surroundings, which certainly helps when the action starts getting out of hand – eight maps from the aforementioned games are available to play including the castle Leon so eloquently infiltrated and the mines Chris and his partner traversed through. Both character models and environments look impressive on Nintendo’s handheld, but you will notice from a distance things can look at a little blurry, but when action is up-close and personal, the action is pretty and the game handles well with minimal issues. The 3D effects once again serve to create depth and while enjoyable for a small period of time, really don’t do anything to enhance the overall gameplay experience. The audio here has to be experienced using headphones to ensure you have become engrossed in the moment and at that volume you can even detect off-screen enemies based off the noises you here around you.

The Mercenaries 3D has done a fantastic job porting over comfortable controlling mechanics to nicely mimic the over-the-shoulder shooting modern Resident Evil is known for. The circle pad feels nice as you guide your characters around and the right bumper raises your characters’ weapon. If you have time to look away from the action you will notice that your bottom screen serves as your inventory and map – here you will find your load-out and various items your character is carrying.

I mentioned before that The Mercenaries 3D is troubled by a lack of content. While these small, easy-to-access missions are a lot of fun and seem a perfect fit for a handheld console, you can’t help but feel that your experience begins to become monotonous once you have played each level a few times over. Having only five levels set across eight maps, with only a few missions in each level means an experienced Resident Evil player will breeze through everything there is on offer here. Considering you have to choose what abilities you can use and they don’t stack, once you have found your preferred ability of choice, there’s no particular reason to go and unlock the others unless you want to force change upon your own play-style. If you want to see the other available characters you do have to unlock them and the various costumes will also need you to put the hours in. The game’s 50 collectible medals are pretty much a waste of time and were put in as a blatant attempt to try and prolong the players’ experience.

The Mercenaries 3D is at it’s most fun when playing with a friend in Duo mode. Here the co-op action can be enjoyed either over the Internet or through a local connection. Teaming up with a friend to battle the enemies is a huge adrenaline rush as you attempt to keep each other alive while pushing for high scores and huge kill counts. For a game that concentrates so much on high scores, it is an absolute sin that there are no leaderboards present, so there’s no competitive global element involved here at all.

Ultimately Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D is a great game that gives gamers an opportunity to taste the frantic and fast-paced excitement that is Resident Evil, in small bite-size time trials, on the go. For a gamer looking for a more engrossing experience, this is perhaps not the game for you, but those of you willing to accept that you will have a short yet exciting amount of fun by yourself and with a friend, it’s well worth checking out Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, which delivers survival mode to the Nintendo 3DS in all it’s glory.

7.5 | Gameplay |
Fast-paced action ensures you are always on your toes striving for the next kill. Controls have been ported well and although somewhat limited, what is on offer, is great.

8.0 | Presentation |
For a handheld game Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D looks great. Looking into the distance things look a little blurry, but you’ll be way too busy avoiding getting your head ripped off by a chainsaw.

7.5 | Replay Value |
Well, this game is all about replay value really, it just depends how much survival action you can handle before you get bored. Playing with a friend is an absolute blast and definitely helps enhance the experience.

7.5 | Final Thoughts |
Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D brings survival mode to the Nintendo 3DS as a slightly enhanced experience with a few unlockables and customization options, along with an engaging cooperative mode. However, minimal content makes this really feel like an add-on as opposed to a stand-alone title.

Igor, CeX UK Contributor.

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Thursday, 18 August 2011

Film Review - Super

The last decade or so has seen multiplexes the world over taken hostage by costumed heroes, be it the lurid, technicolour campery of Fantastic Four and Ghost Rider or the gritty, hard-hitting 'adult' comic book movies like V For Vendeta or Christopher Nolan's Batman saga. Not a summer has gone by in recent memory without at least a handful of our favourite spandex-clad uber-men (and women) being plastered across cinema screens. Despite comic books still being considered a relatively niche area of entertainment, mainstream audiences cannot seem to get enough high-powered vigilantism, though somewhere around the beginning of 2009 something went askew with this exquisite fantasy world. That thing was Zack Snyder's glossy, yet ultimately faithful adaptation of Alan Moore's cornerstone tale Watchmen. Though based on a 20+ year-old graphic novel, something about the notion of 'regular' citizens donning costumes and fighting for what they believe in seemed to strike a chord with film-makers, and in the 2 years since the release we have seen a new legion of Average Joe non-superheroes. The main meat of attention has been lavished upon Matthew Vaughn's regular-kid-turns-crime fighter flick Kick-Ass, a great-if-not-amazing film pushed into the limelight mostly due to Chloe Moretz' C-Bomb dropping child psychopath, Hit Girl. Also released last year (straight to DVD here in good old Blighty) was Defender, a bleaker affair featuring Woody Harrelson as a borderline-mentally-handicapped man trying to fight injustice alongside his own inner-demons.

It is here that James Gunn (Troma Studios veteran and helmer of alien-invasion splatterfest Slither) enters the fray with Super, a disarmingly dark take on the regular-guy-turned-costumed-vigilante angle. Rainn Wilson (he of the US version of The Office and surprisingly little else) is Frank D'Arbo, a downtrodden man whose life seems to have been an almost endless stream of misfortune, save for two perfect memories that he cherishes and has immortalised in crude, childlike drawings - the day he married his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler), and the day he helped point a police officer towards an escaping 'perp. When Frank's wife disappears into the clutches of local drug dealer Jock (a perfectly sleazy Kevin Bacon, on a Travolta-like comeback streak after this summer's awesome turn in X-Men: First Class) he appears unable to cope, until inspiration strikes in the dual headed form of a Christ-spouting TV Superhero and an unexpectedly trippy epiphany. Unwilling to sit and allow life to beat him around the chops any longer, Frank suits up to become The Crimson Bolt, scourge of wrongdoers everywhere. It's just that Frank's take on right and wrong offers very few shades of grey, and it soon becomes clear that whether you're dealing drugs, molesting kids or simply butting in line at the cinema, you're just as likely to be having an unfortunate meeting with the wrong end of Frank's trusty wrench.

Exacerbating the situation greatly is the intervention of the young and borderline psychotic comic book store clerk Libby (Ellen Page, disturbingly twisting her Juno persona into terrifying new shapes), who becomes Frank's only confidante and eventual sidekick, Boltie. Her unashamed glee at the notion of punishing 'evil' is at the dark heart of what at first appears to be a quirky, indie-tinged superhero flick, but soon reveals itself to be far more shocking and uncompromising than even Kick-Ass managed to be, foul-mouthed minors notwithstanding. Once The Crimson Bolt really starts dishing out the punishment, James Gunn's shlock-horror past manifests itself in fountains of gushing claret, brutal physical effects and as wicked a sense of humour as one could hope for in a film essentially about a broken man taking his inner turmoil out on what are often nothing more than rude or obnoxious bystanders. If anything, the mostly hand-held camerawork gives the film a raw, almost documentary-like grit (occasional tentacle-based fantasy sequences and animated interludes aside), which is a far cry from the studio gloss usually associated with the superhero genre.

The plot takes a few unexpected twists, and is at times quite uncomfortable to bear witness to, but the film is never without a sense of hope, even if it rears its head in the strangest of ways. The performances are solid if unspectacular throughout, Ellen Page's nutbar Boltie being the squirm-inducing highlight. Rainn Wilson manages to just about cast off Dwight Schrute's mustard shirt and obnoxious demeanour enough that Frank becomes believable in his own right, a broken and mis-guided man desperate to create control in a life he's had very little over. All in all Super is an enjoyable, dark, messed-up little movie that is far more subversive than its more successful cousin Kick-Ass and deserves as much attention as it can get. All together now, 'SHUT UP, CRIME!'

Super gets 8 severe wrench beatings out of 10.
James Lee from CeX Rathbone Place, London

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Thursday, 11 August 2011

Game Review – Earth Defence Force: Insect Armageddon

Formats: (PS3, Xbox 360)

I was recently flicking through channels on the T.V. and stumbled upon one of the worst joke-horror films I have ever seen, Eight Legged Freaks. This spider-fest saw hordes of mutant spiders lay waste to a small American village and needless to say, the residents had a pretty tough time dealing with 6-foot tall arachnids. This is definitely not a problem in Earth Defence Force: Insect Armageddon where your goal is to eliminate the insect threat, and boy are given plenty of firepower in this third-person shooter. Here you will find a game full of well-implemented action, made more enjoyable if played cooperatively with friends. While Earth Defence Force may be lacking in single player content, it more than makes up for with cooperative no-holds-bar, guns blazing action.

The premise here is very simple – the apocalypse brings about an insect invasion and you are Earth’s last line of defence. Expansive levels set the stage for absolute carnage but the game shines with the variation in which you can tackle each and every situation. Should you decide that keeping your distance if the most appropriate tactic, or whether jumping straight into the front line is the best course of action, the game will accommodate to your style of play, and indeed reward you for efficiency. It certainly helps that the maps are large in size, allowing you plenty of room to manoeuvre and even explore your surroundings, finding the best vantage points or key areas that you can take advantage of.

You are given absolute freedom to cause as much mayhem and destruction as long as the threat is eliminated. This is where Earth Defence Force shines; the sheer scale of destruction is aesthetically pleasing, while at the same time serving a purpose in combat. Collapsing large buildings with your rocket launcher can take out hordes of enemies should they get caught underneath the rubble, so you certainly play with a double-edged sword as you feel obligated to protect the environment around you, while at the same time you are allowed to massacre your surroundings to ensure the death of the bugs.

Unfortunately that’s about as much sentimental attachment you may feel in Earth Defence Force as you won’t get anything here in the form of a coherent storyline. The allure of utter destruction is reason enough to jump into the action and the lack of a narrative is easily overlooked. The bulk of Earth Defence Force’s content comes from the four unique classes available to play with. Thankfully this isn’t simply a run and gun game and care has to be taken with how you tackle the enemy – fortunately these classes ensure just that. Naturally all four classes have their strengths and weaknesses – Battle is the tank character, heavy armour, heavy weaponry and slow speed define this brute. Jet reminds me of those irritating Jetpack characters from Streets of Rage 2 and has an immediate environmental advantage with the ability to fly, but a lack of power and diminished health keeps him somewhat grounded. Tactical is your tech wizard, carrying turrets around the battlefield that can either serve as radar, increased firepower or well-placed traps for the insect threat. The final grunt is Trooper, the must-have jack-of-all-trades character – with the ability to wield all weapons and perform basic tasks at a decent pace makes Trooper a very versatile character.

Each character is a lot of fun to play around with and the vast amount of content to be unlocked for each individual soldier ensures that you will spend plenty of time with each class before you finally settle down and choose your favourite. A whole host of weaponry spread across different classifications like the assault rifle, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, grenade launcher, shogun and missile launcher prevent you from getting bored slaughtering giant insects. The distinct strengths and weaknesses of each class can be seen throughout battle and character choice is strikingly personal and clearly portrays the style of play you prefer. The ability to only take two weapons into each level also adds some tactical prowess to the game where the most powerful weapons may not necessarily be the best choice for a particular section or level.

I’ve mentioned that this is an alien-based bug invasion but what exactly are you going to be facing? Your standard arachnids and worker ants make up the bulk of the enemy forces. For some particular reason, these critters can explode from beneath the ground, but also be dropped down by UFO spacecrafts. You will also face more vicious insect foes as well as the incredibly dangerous robot units that take plenty of time and manpower to take down. The action is so fast-paced that you don’t really have time to ponder where these monsters keep coming from; you just need to eliminate all threats.

Needless to say this is a game that has to be enjoyed with friends. Teaming up with human allies can make defending the earth quite an entertaining experience. Trying to tackle Earth Defence Force solo on the other hand, is simply not worth talking about. Although the AI is surprisingly smarter than you would expect, the lack of communicating with a group of friends really brings out the boredom here. Levels last for just a bit longer than I would have liked and it’s utterly devastating having to replay segments thanks to the poor checkpoint system implemented here.

From a technical perspective, it is quite clear that all resources went into ensuring Earth Defence Force was as entertaining as possible, because the visuals and audio don’t really do the game any favours. This is to be expected due to the budget price tag, but more than anything, it is simply a shame as the on-screen chaos and destruction are not done enough justice and arguably could have been made into something rather impressive if more resources were available.

What Earth Defence Force does have going for it, is very impressive replay value. The 15-level campaign has to be completed on all the difficulty levels using all of the character classes if you wish to unlock all the weapons and upgrades. A revamped campaign mode is also unlockable, putting you against an even larger volume of enemies, testing your extermination skills to the absolute limit. A survival mode is also present but unfortunately does not allow you to use your upgraded campaign character; rather pre-set classes are available, which is quite disappointing.

Ultimately Earth Defence Force: Insect Armageddon is all about over-the-top action. If you’re looking for some fast-paced entertainment, plenty of huge explosions and a surprisingly intricate upgrade and class system, then this is certainly a game for you. It is a great multiplayer experience should you accept that this is a game that’s not meant to impress you visually and fails to impress in single player. Games are about playing with friends however, and this is an experience you will enjoy with them.

8.0 | Gameplay |
Destructive entertainment makes sure you kill so many enemies you’ll be dreaming about the insect invasion for weeks to come.

5.0 | Presentation |
Although acknowledged that this is a budget game, the visuals are average at best and the audio fails to do justice to the on-screen destruction.

8.0 | Replay Value |
Strong replay value only with friends. Plenty of upgrades, unlockables and versatility in the class system ensures you will come back to at least try the other classes.

7.0 | Final Thoughts |
Earth Defence Force: Insect Armageddon has a target market, those looking for a gun-driven, explosive and entertaining experience. You know exactly what you’re going to get here, aliens, insects and a massive arsenal to deal with them.

Igor Kharin, CeX UK Contributor.

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Friday, 5 August 2011

Game Review – Shadows of the Damned

Formats: (PS3, Xbox 360)

One can’t help but notice that the video game world is filled with adaptations of hell, demons and Satan himself. Franchises such as Devil May Cry have made the demon-killing business extremely lucrative for developers and especially fun for gamers, so when a game comes around offering you a 1st class trip through hell, it’s difficult to refuse the offer. Shadows of the Damned is just that game – intertwining an excellent protagonist, entertaining characters and a hilarious narrative with well-implemented 3rd person shooting and some outstanding boss sequences. Make no mistake, this game isn’t for everybody, the excessive use of crude humour, sexual innuendos and swearing can be off-putting, but if you look past those childish antics you will find an engrossing and engaging experience.

Shadows of the Damned puts you in the shoes of Garcia Hotspur, a demon-hunter with a score to settle after the ruler of the underworld (Fleming) kidnaps your girlfriend and forces her through an endless cycle of death. Naturally you’re way too bad-ass to stand by and let this happen, so you jump through a portal and end up on hell’s highway. Garcia is strong lead character, but is exemplified by his trusty sidekick Johnson, a floating skull that serves as a torch, tour-guide and weapon (that is an efficient friend right there). Johnson provides the witty humour and tips in his posh English accent while Garcia serves as the brute of the story, but together they form an entertaining partnership that resides on, well, plenty of genitelia jokes. That’s not to say it’s all crude because Garcia’s constant chase for his beloved Paula keeps things in perspective, but over the course of the story you will come to peace or get fed up with the consistent flow of innuendos in the narrative.

At heart, Shadows of the Damned is a 3rd person shooter, concentrating on slick weapons and fast-paced action. Garcia can move while aiming his weapon and can swiftly dodge enemy attacks with a well-timed dodge roll. The enemies themselves are all variations of demons, starting from your basic ghoul to armored enemies. The camera can be frustrating at times as it feels stuck a little too close to Garcia’s back, meaning enemies that come from the sides have the upper-hand.

Your trusty sidekick Johnson can transform into a number of weapons, but your handgun (named Boner, seriously) is the most fun to use. Smooth slow-motion cut-scenes trigger when you blow an enemies head clean off their shoulders and the Boner feels fantastic (did I just write that?) with each and every shot. For versatility Johnson can also transform into a machine gun to tackle groups of fast enemies, and a shotgun to blow through hordes of compact foes or bigger demons. You can even use his basic torch form to perform melee kills to conserve ammo. Each weapon has customization options that include power, speed of reload and capacity, alongside the key enhancements to each weapon at particular points in the game, which also upgrade the aesthetics and add cool additions to your weapons like multi shot or timed explosives.

So far Shadows of the Damned sounds good, but doesn’t quite provide a trump card to make it stand out above other 3rd person shooters. Well the unique mechanic here is the darkness. Constantly throughout your time in hell, an ominous vale of darkness that not only saps away at your health, but also makes enemies around you invulnerable, will surround you. The only way to remove the darkness is to find a source of light and shoot it with your weapon’s Light Shot ability. The light can come from a goat’s head on a wall (goats are a source of good apparently), condensed barrels of light for momentary reprieve, or even fireworks to light up the sky. Sometimes however, Garcia is forced to enter the darkness to see things that you simply cannot see in the light – this allows Shadows of the Damned to implement some nice puzzle segments to split up the combat. Some bosses for example, can only be hit in the vale of darkness, forcing you to play with a double-edged sword. The darkness is an excellent addition to what could have been quite stale combat as it forces you to act quickly under pressure to avoid being engulfed.

The story itself is strung together rather well, with boss fights being the particular highlights of the experience. Your constant struggle to find Paula helps keep focus while Fleming’s personal army engages you at particular points in the game. These creatures range from a Minotaur to a giant Demon Bird and you even get to take on the Grim Reaper sisters (who knew the Grim Reaper was female and had a twin sister right?). The most heart-racing boss comes quite early on but a chase through a market place ensures you will be panicking and dive-rolling for dear life to avoid this particular psycho. It’s stuff like that which keeps Shadows of the Damned fresh and unique, it certainly has its own version of hell and all these stylish twists are fun to engage with.

Shadows of the Damned does an excellent job being unpredictable. This 3rd person shooter builds upon itself in fantastic ways as you progress through the game, ensuring you are never stuck with the same weapons for too long or facing the same batch of enemies for a lengthened period of time. It even sets you free from the shackles of the 3rd person shooter and implements some neat segments that use other styles of gameplay, for example a rather crude rail-gun portion of the game sees Garcia pull out his Super Boner and wipe out a group of giant demons. Another section sees you ride a chandelier to the top of a tower using your mode of transport as a bulldozer, smashing everything in your way. These sections help pace the action and ensure you are always looking forward to the next thing Shadows of the Damned will throw at you.

Shadows of the Damned impresses on many levels, including audio. The superb sound design certainly helps to draw you deeper into the bowels of hell, ranging from melancholy piano pieces, to hard-rocking guitar solos, all the way to spine-tingling ballads – there really is everything here to ensure your senses are touched in a multitude of ways. The excellent sound design goes further than the music, with the slightest of sounds being tinkered to perfection, from the howl of a deranged demon, to the crying of hung babies on top of trees (yeah, I know right) – the darkness is a terrifying place but is exemplified by the sounds coming from within it. Shadows of the Damned is certainly an example of a game that benefits greatly from the audio that comes with it and it certainly heightens the experience in many different ways.

Unfortunately with all this praise, there must be a complaint – Shadows of the Damned is a relatively short experience, clocking in at around 10 hours. This isn’t so much of a problem because it is a concise and tightly packed game, ensuring that you get the most for your 10 hours of gameplay. The issue is there is no New Game + option, meaning you cannot carry over any upgraded weapons for another run-through. Providing very little reason to come back to Shadows of the Damned once you’ve completed it once is a major disappointment. With no new unlockables, no extra content, there’s no reason to go back.

I must stress however, that this takes nothing away from the experience. Shadows of the Damned is a terrific ride through hell, it is engaging, it is intuitive and innovative – Garcia Hotspur is a terrific lead character helped greatly by his sidekick Johnson and together you will take on one of this years most exhilarating games. Just because there’s no incentive to play it again after completion, doesn’t mean you won’t want do so just to go on that ride all over again.

9.0 | Gameplay |
Well-implemented 3rd person action, excellent pace and some interesting divergences ensure you will never be bored throughout Shadows of the Damned

8.5 | Presentation |
Hell has character in Shadows of the Damned, this is a unique ride through our worst nightmare and this is clearly conceptualized with a stunning visual design.

5.0 | Replay Value |
No New Game + or unlockable content means the only incentive to play again is if you want to go on that crazy ride one more time, which is a decent enough reason.

8.5 | Final Thoughts |
Shadows of the Damned is a great game that does everything to a high standard. It provides gamers with a variety of fun and interesting things to do, while constantly keeping them on the edge of their seat in anticipation. It’s just a shame there isn’t more content after the credits roll.

Igor Kharin, CeX UK Contributor.

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