Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Canned Streets of Rage Remake Footage Leaks

Footage from the shelved Streets of Rage remake from Crackdown 2 dev Ruffian Games has leaked online.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Ubi Assassin's Creed II Fan Day Vid Featuring Yours Truly

Check it. A vid from when we visited Ubisoft Montreal last October to check out Assassin's Creed II. It's a bit old now, but screw it. We like to share anyways.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Probe Away - Check Out Kabuto The Python's ME2 Tribute to Mining

Who here loves Mass Effect 2's mineral extracting mini-game? Well Kabuto Python liked it enough to create a hip-hop track about it.

Listen to it right here via the link below.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Far Cry 2 Retrospective (Ubisoft, Xbox 360, PS3, PC)

Join The Shed, as we take a fond look back at one of the most divisive games in recent memory. Some love it for the challenge and the majesty of its African setting, while others hate it for being hard as nails and relentlessly unforgiving. Whatever your take on Far Cry 2 might be, you've got to admit, it's a hell of a feat and one hell of a game. Read on...

Anyone with even a casual interest in news and world events will know that Africa is a troubled nation, rife with disease and famine. What you may not know is that absolutely everyone carries a gun, drive jeeps with rear-mounted machine gun turrets and follow you relentlessly in a bid to kill you dead for no apparent reason.

OK, so that might not be true – in fact we’re certain that it’s not – but it is the Africa portrayed in Far Cry 2, where there are virtually no innocent civilians and the world is the most hostile and unforgiving you’re ever likely to encounter. Even the wildlife is far friendlier then the people. You could say Far Cry 2 is the all-time worst advertisement for Africa. Play the game for an hour and it’ll put you off ever wanting to go there for a lifetime.

You play as a shady mercenary who finds himself infected with malaria and working for various factions for your own personal ends. Amidst the deception and playing factions off one another, your goal is to kill The Jackal, a despotic weapons dealer who’s responsible for most of the conflict erupting in the surrounding areas. As such it’s up to you to locate The Jackal and take him down by whatever means necessary. Your first port of call is with The Underground, where you’ll be given invaluable malaria tablets that stave off your horrible mind-altering malarial pangs. You’re later introduced to weapons depots where you can spend any of the 200-odd diamonds found scattered all over the gameworld on new and more reliable guns. You’ll also meet a couple of helpful buddies that will help you out of tough situations later on in the game or alternatively, get themselves kidnapped prompting either a rescue mission or a brief sigh of indifference as you abandon them in captivity while you continue on your journey.

First, more on Far Cry 2’s weapons, of which there are many. You have two primary options when acquiring weaponry. You can either scavenge rusty old guns from enemies and end up carrying an arsenal prone to jamming during heated battles, or you can buy your weapons brand new from the weapon merchant, which means hijacking weapon convoys to unlock more guns for sale. It’s the latter option that proves the most sensible as salvaged weapons can suffer from severe unreliability issues and there’s nothing more annoying than having your AK-47 jam while surrounded by a rag tag band of mercs all intent on turning you into Swiss cheese. Incidentally, it’s at this precise moment that you’ll usually be assaulted by hallucinogenic malarial spasms, obscuring your view and sending you into panic mode. A stab of the left bumper is all that’s required to administer a malaria pill, but during a heated firefight, this can be a royal pain in the arse.

And there’s certainly no shortage of fraught gunplay throughout the course of Far Cry 2’s campaign to take down the morally dubious antagonist of the game, The Jackal. Apparently, The Jackal has issued the entire population of Africa with your picture and orders to kill on site, as almost every NPC you encounter in the wilderness will open fire in your direction. Even the most innocuous looking situation can be read wrongly, like one instance where we found ourselves out on a deserted dirt track when a small car approached in the opposite direction. Just one man driving said car looked innocent enough, when all of a sudden he jumped out brandishing a machine gun. Still one well-aimed bullet to the head sent him on his way to hell. This kind of thing is a common occurence in FC2, as everyone hates you.

This is but one example of the kind of blind hostility you regularly encounter in Far Cry 2’s unforgiving, brutal world. It’s accepted that you’re a hunted man, but FC2 takes it from the sublime to the ridiculous, throwing constant waves of enemies your way in a seemingly random fashion. Yet, this is really the only major negative in a game that stands as a quite astonishing achievement. FC2’s game world is not only incredibly vast, but possesses a majestic visual fidelity that makes traversing its jungles and stretches of savannah a real pleasure. There may be a great deal of repetition inherent in the game’s missions (especially the side quests), but then the landscape is so stunningly realised, so beautiful to behold that these structural shortcomings can be easily forgiven. When you’re driving along a desert road to destroy yet another enemy compound, the God rays flickering through the trees, the desert rain falling as zebras gallop alongside your vehicle make it a pleasant ride despite the fact you’re repeating a similar mission to the one you finished mere minutes earlier.

Far Cry 2’s beauty lies not only in its breathtaking vistas, but also in the explosive destruction you can wreak upon your enemies. You’ll often find yourself infiltrating enemy compounds to off a certain target as part of a contract, and in these instances your initial instinct is to favour a stealthy approach. The instances in which sneaking works in your favour are few and far between however and more often than not you’ll be found out, subsequently alerting every single person in the area. We found that it’s far more effective and fun to drive into the middle of the compound, mount a turret and blast the crap out of any explosives you lay your eyes upon. Doing this normally starts a few fires, which will flush out any enemies who you can then pick off one by one. Chuck in a Molotov for good measure and you can watch the flames propagate across the grass, up trees and through buildings. In minutes you’ll have reduced the zone to a smouldering heap of debris that you can now explore at your leisure. Works every time.

Ubisoft Montreal has crafted a game that they hoped would deal with adult problems, topical, important issues about poverty in Africa and so on. On this front Far Cry 2 is only a partial success. The Africa depicted therein is nothing like the Africa you see on the news and we refuse to believe that it is anything like what we’ve seen in Far Cry 2. Nevertheless, as a game Far Cry 2 is more successful although it is unbelievably frustrating and seemingly insurmountable at times. Enemy AI is often pretty dubious, with some blowing themselves up or running around like headless chickens. The sheer scale of the environment can seem very intimidating too and the moment you unlock the second half of the map, your jaw will hit the floor.

Forget about Far Cry 2’s veneer of unflinching realism and political commentary to just focus on the outrageous game beneath that allows you to set fire to anything that burns and you'll have loads of fun. Throw a few Molotovs around, blow everything to smithereens, and torch everything to cinders. Only then will you truly appreciate what Far Cry 2 is all about.

Score: 7/10

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Resi 5 demo: WTF?!

What the fuck is going on?
Is Resident Evil 5 a return to the old ways of the series - riding a good thing into the fucking ground?
I'm disappointed, even angry with the designers.
Nasty Fuckin Splitscreen

I can't believe they would do something this amateur. It looks SHIT. Makes it almost unplayable, no joke. Aiming, finding items, avoiding enemies, reading text, navigating menus - all a nightmare. Thought it might be a demo specific thing but this shot makes me think otherwise. Sigh.

The Controls
I'm a fan but this game highlights the need for some tweaks. More enemies, faster enemies, stronger enemies - bring em on, but don't make the shit UNBALANCED. Simple alterations would make a huge improvement.
Running with the analogue stick - shit is pressure sensitive, so fuckin use it. Running with a button held down feels a bit lame now - turning at speed is difficult, trapped on scenery, the usual problems. I'm not asking to be a gymnast, but come on...
Shooting and moving - damn this would improve things 50%. A slow walk wouldn't tip the scales in your favour but it would allow you to maneuver out of tight confines. Playing Dead Space I thought 'this is heavily influenced by Resi 4'. Playing Resi 5 I'm thinking 'this should have been influenced by Dead Space'. That game had the balance just right.
Personalised controller setup - should be able to assign that shit how I like it, not be given 4 different options, none of which are useful.

The Inventory
Again, I gotta look to Dead Space and tip my hat. If you're gonna do that real time menu shit, do it right. Allow me to move whilst I'm selecting items, allow me to select, use, give items quickly. Or alternatively...STICK WITH THE MOTHERFUCKIN ATTACHE CASE. I was a fan, now its gone forever. I liked having that calculated pause to sort my shit mid-battle. I liked spinning a first aid spray to stuff it in there. Granted it wouldn't work very well in co-op, one guy spinning herbs whilst the other guy combines ammo. Wait...maybe that would make a good little minigame. Fuck you Capcom.

About the ONLY thing I can say that's a definite improvement is using the D-pad to quick switch between guns. Nice.
What the fuck, my enthusiasm has dried the fuck up.
Maybe I won't be riding into town to buy this on release day anymore.

Landon Garrett for The Shed.

This week in my world

This week we have a slightly late Street Fighter IV review on that can now also be seen at Nice, no?

On Strategy Informer we have a chat with Maxim Bodrikov, lead designer behind Elven Legacy and we preview the game too.

There's also an interview with Hearts of Iron III's Lead Programmer, Johann Andersson for your delectation.
Next up, a review of 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand and some exciting news about DLC for Midnight Club LA.
Until next week, friends...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Rich chats to Yuji Naka

Check out soon for our interview with Yuji Naka regarding Prope: his new company, and his innovative new control method for Let's Tap on the Wii!

Also on, a review of House of the Dead Overkill later this week.

On there's a review of Monolith's eagerly anticipated F.E.A.R. follow up and a preview of Wanted: Weapons of Fate.

Stay tuned for more updates.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Review: Mass Effect (2007. Bioware. Xbox 360)

A space opera with grand ambitions meets a writer with none. Can an RPG-phobe get to grips with a detailed sci-fi universe? Space-time was invested and Landon emerged from his gaming hypersleep 200 years later; a better man with hope for the future of gaming.

Way back in May 2007 Landon Garrett danced with Elder Scrolls IV:Oblivion and was unable to find his feet. He tripped and fell over and felt cheated by his ogre of a date. Yet there was light at the end of the mountain pass. To quote, he wrote: "Mass Effect...could be the RPG I've been waiting for. Maybe I'll be able to get my character drunk in some crazy spaceport nightclub. Maybe it'll be my entry ticket." Flash forward 10 months and Landon has been fulfilled and surprised by an RPG that welcomed him into an unfamiliar gaming fold, offering him food and shelter and sex with alien races.

Sadly it's not possible to fall off your bar stool in Mass Effect, but you can enjoy erotic nightclub dancing. Developing games is all about making compromises, it seems. Thankfully, ME compromises little. Original ideas abound and characters are painted vividly - whatever else you get out of the game you'll definitely be left with some strong memories.

I, YOU, WE...are Mass Effect
Nowadays most games give you a choice of creating a 'unique' avatar - it's pretty much industry standard. A limited choice of stock heads with optional beards is a step in the right direction but it's easy not to be saddened by such shallow thought. Mass Effect's character creation tool is in-depth in the same way that Oblivion's was, except with a slightly more limited range to create hideous freaks. Male or female, you decide - it's worth taking the time to tweak your look before you begin; by the end of the game you'll have analysed your minor flaws from all angles. Hopefully though, these flaws will become a part of your character's identity in a way you never thought possible.

As well as creating a look for your Commander Shepard you also choose a backstory and a combat class for her/him, all of which resonate into the story in subtle ways throughout the game's run time of 20+ hours. Identifying with your character is also down to the choices you make in the moment. The basic principle asks you to travel one of two roads: Paragon or Renegade (or if you crave chaos, a schizophrenic blend of the two). Interaction in Mass Effect's universe is conducted with an intuitive 'conversation wheel' that gives you quick dialogue options at the touch of the analogue stick. The fresh touch here is that you direct the tone of the conversation. Diplomatic, hostile or neutral questions/responses open up branching dialogue, often in unexpected ways. It's a nice system and largely avoids blank repetition unless you call for it, mostly due to superb voice acting and a commendable lack of expositional writing. The characters that populate the planets, bases and walkways of the galaxy are always coloured by personal bias and opinion, something so rarely seen in games and so well handled here. Most conversations, no matter how trivial in terms of the plot, will tell you something about the world you're living in. The combination of all these elements create a rich and very personal protagonist for the plot to orbit around.

From the hub of The Citadel to the farthest outreach planets, most of the environments are unique and thoughtful in their design and dripping in craft and finish - a couple of levels in particular are mind-blowing. You'll work your way through these places in well-paced story missions but naturally you have the option to get lost in the abundance of side-quests on offer. It has to be said that most of these are an exercise in levelling up your Shepard with experience, new items and that all-important ca$h (much more than you can spend, it's a bit like Brewster's Millions). That said, a handful of these tributaries do flesh out your chosen character's story and those of your rag-tag crew, and give a taste of scale and vision. Standing on a planet's hilltop gazing into the stars at a distant asteroid storm is a beautiful sight, enough to bring a tear to any sci-fi lover's eye.

This isn't an RPG!
Some RPG veterans will be disgruntled that the combat in ME is real-time and not turn-based. Most humans (chiefly Landon) will celebrate this new hybrid of light-strategy and shooter skills, as it is more immediate and visceral. The Unreal 3 engine sets a now familiar tone - aim, shoot, take cover, flank. It's light on any real deep strategy but each chosen member of your crew has a talent to bring to the fight and before long you'll have mastered a playing style that works for you. The squad dynamics can be a lot of fun and the wide choice of combat styles on offer for Shepard mean repeat playthroughs will be distinct. Slick weapons and technology sit comfortably alongside physics abilities, or 'biotics' - ME's equivalent to magic and one of the most enjoyable additions to the action mix. Such powers are, as always with ME, incorporated into the story itself and the world around it with grace and fine dustings of detail.

Every silver cloud has a dark lining
ME swells and overflows with ideas and potential and so it's no great shock that not all of it is realised. Graphically the game is superb but too frequently suffers from slow texture loading. It seems to be a common occurrence in these early days of the current generation, but here it really takes you out of the moment and breaks the spell the game works so hard to weave. Many of the games planets are barren and bland in a fashion that makes exploration feel repetitive, different colours and textures stretched over the same peaks and valleys. The identikit human outposts and colonies you repeatedly encounter can be explained away (just about) in context as pre-fab contractor's work and when they're situated in some often stunning landscapes it's hard to complain big; but still, when you're hearing the same music underscoring a similar encounter it's a sour déjà vu. The item menus are confusingly designed and often mean you're left carrying far too much equipment, most of which will be multiples of the same items. Most of these negatives can be overlooked though, it's only in retrospect that we mention them - whilst playing they won't stand in the way of progress or enjoyment.

DLC and beyond
It came as sour news recently that downloadable expansion missions can only be played if you are midway through the game. Wouldn't it have been a better idea to let the completists get involved too? Having invested so much time crafting a character - in look and personality - naturally one might want to experience new missions with them and continue the saga. We guess this is what they call repeat-play value, but in this case it seems to have a hidden catch.

Landon loved his female Shepard so much, became so attached to her, that if not given the option to play a sequel with her in it, he would seriously think twice about doing so. A lot of the Shed's goodwill toward this game is because we connected emotionally with our characters and believed in the world they inhabited. The experience is so personal, it could almost make a gamer hesitant to play through a second time.
There is something so brilliant about seeing your character in game - talking, interacting and leading the focus of an interesting plot. Bioware have done an exemplary job of tailoring the experience. The Shed only hope that this personal touch can be continued into future instalments.

Bioware have created an engaging and unique game world that draws the player in and allows them an admirable level of choice with genuine consequences. For that alone the studio have earned their seat on the Citadel council. But the flipside of such an accomplishment is that the player almost expects too much and it is easy to pick apart the less than exemplary aspects of ME. However, we cannot measure a game by our own expectations. That ME raises our expectations to such heights is testament to Bioware's accomplishment. They have deftly avoided the pitfalls of the genre and crafted a worthy piece of art. This isn't Star Wars, this isn't Star Trek - this is Mass Effect.

Galactic Standard Points: 8/10

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Review: Condemned: Criminal Origins (Xbox 360. Monolith, Sega)

Those of a sensitive nature should look away now. Condemned is not for the faint-hearted. Assuming the role of Ethan Thomas, a fugitive fed who’s been framed for murder, your mission is to track the real killer and clear your name. Your pursuit will take you through some truly dilapidated areas, inhabited by violent crack heads and depraved, crowbar wielding sociopath types. During your hunt for the sadistic murderer known only as Serial Killer X (or SKX for short), you’ll take in a variety of relentlessly dark and uninviting environments. Taking their visual cue from the serial killer movie Se7en, most of the levels are rendered in different shades of brown and grey - sometimes greeny-brown but always pitch black and always pant-wettingly scary. Thank god then that you have a flashlight with infinite battery power to rely upon, because without it, you’re utterly screwed. Mercifully, you can also pick up any blunt instrument you may happen upon, be it a pipe, plank, crowbar, shovel, sledge hammer, fire axe or paper cutter (ouch!) they’re all available for you to visit your own brand of horrific mutilation upon the slew of manic, flailing pariahs that stalk you throughout the game’s ten chapters. There are also a paltry number of firearms for your delectation, although none of them are much cop with their limited ammo. The game’s melee weapons are more than adequate however and will easily see you through the compelling, twisty, twisted narrative. As a 360 launch title, Condemned is now showing its age graphically but it still stands up as a fantastic game, which bodes well for the forthcoming sequel, out 14th March. Condemned constantly shocks and surprises with grisly moments, surreal monochrome scenes fighting demons inside Ethan's fractured psyche and an accomplished script that successfully keeps you hooked until the very end. Factor in the light CSI style investigative elements where Ethan can collect evidence and you have a unique FPS. We just hope that these crime scene bits are expanded upon for the sequel because they do tend to be a little on the simplistic side.

Still, Condemned is a brutal, terrifying experience that will give you nightmares for weeks on end. Heartily recommended then.
Well worth suffering the cold sweats: 8/10

Friday, February 22, 2008

Xbox 360 exclusive Gears Of War 2 announced at GDC 08.

Polish up your chainsaw bayonet and strap yourself into your bulky body armour because Gears Of War 2 is on its way. Epic's announcement at this years Games Developers Conference by studio president Mike Capps has got us salivating at the prospect of a sequel to 2006's best game and what many gamers consider to be the 360's finest title overall. Gears 2 will utilise Epic's Unreal Engine 3, the very same engine that brought Rapture to horrifying life in Bioshock and has since given us hulking great space marines blasting one another into chunky offal in Unreal Tournament III (out today). Specific details on the game are scant, but we can expect gameplay mechanics and screenshots to be slowly drip-fed in the run up to GOW 2's slated November release date. Until then we can look forward to spending our holiday season with Mr. Fenix and associates. Yeah!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Movie Review: Cloverfield (February, 2008)

What do we know about Cloverfield? We know that it's a monster movie from JJ Abrams, the man who brought us Alias and is still melting our brains with Lost. He's hot property in Hollywood right now, which is why he's been entrusted with bringing the highly anticipated Star Trek prequel to the big screen. But first, he's brought us this curio. A movie that for all intents and purposes is Blair Witch via Godzilla. It's what would happen if in real life, if a giant monster went on a rampage through New York and it had been filmed by an amateur cameraman. Well, that's the idea anyway. The big question is – does it work? The answer? A big yes.
Opening with a strangely voyeuristic sequence between main character Rob and girlfriend Beth, we’re immediately drawn into these people’s lives. This is further developed in the subsequent party where Rob and his too-beautiful friends are gathered to wish him a fond farewell as he leaves for Japan. It’s during this opening that you’ll probably make your mind up about Cloverfield’s approach. Reports have been circulating that punters have been walking out feeling sick because they couldn’t handle the motion of the camera as it whirls around the party from person to person as Hud (a name that is maybe a reference to the abbreviation for Heads Up Display, the on-screen furniture you use in First Person Shooters. Or maybe not) records the goodbye messages of Rob’s friends. Get through the movie's opening however and you’re on-track for a real treat. You inexplicably find yourself lulled into participating in the party; even if you’re not entirely convinced by the actor’s performances it’s unavoidable. You forget that disaster will inevitably strike and it’s at this point that it arrives with a bang. When Cloverfield gets started, it doesn’t let up. For the entire duration of the movie you’re placed into Hud’s shoes, wherever he goes, we go too, whether we like it or not.
Pedants will hate Cloverfield. They’ll ask how the sound can be so good on a handheld camera? Why does Hud suddenly become able to hold the camera nice and steady in the heat of an attack when he was struggling to hold the camera straight at the party minutes earlier? How come the group are the only ones in the whole of New York City to think the subway would be a good place to hide? You could go on and end up ultimately missing the point entirely. Cloverfield is essentially a Hollywood action movie and none of these pedantic questions matter when it manages to be such an entertaining one. What makes Cloverfield special is the same thing that made The Blair Witch Project unique almost ten years earlier: the visceral experience of being centre stage of incredibly frightening and ostensibly real events. The documentary style works well here, even if the fictional document involves a bizarre creature tearing a city apart, decapitating treasured national monuments and being an all-round nasty blighter. What’s important is that it feels real and never staged, you believe in the characters; believe that they were subjected to these terrifying proceedings and the images of NYC being destroyed, covering the population in dust and debris are still incredibly powerful even six years on from September 11th. The shock and awe of rumbling explosions erupting in enormous plumes of orange flame also recall the harrowing footage of the attacks on Iraq. But then perhaps we’re reading too much into Cloverfield, which at its core is a good action movie that has some truly great moments and few bad ones. There are flaws that may irritate some, but they’re easily ignored. Cloverfield is best enjoyed at the biggest cinema you can find: it looks stunning and sounds exceptional. Well worth watching.

Slimline PS3 revealed.

As is always de rigeur with Sony's games consoles, the PlayStation 3 is next in line to lose some extra pounds with a new slim and lite model. Following on from the slim and lite PSP launched last year, the new slimline PS3 looks kind of like a Wii with an extra bit stuck onto the side. As these new shots (shamelessly stolen from show, the new PS3 favours a very minimalistic approach, shedding all USB ports and memory card slots for a cleaner, crisper finish.
Available this autumn in sexy satin silver, the new PS3 looks lovely but doesn't quite have the bulky "look-at-how-powerful-I-am" shiny black presence of the original PS3. However, speculative rumblings suggesting this could be the much-touted 160GB model lend this redesign some extra credibility, making it a more desirable console rather than a mere gimmicky overhaul. One could argue that this was the case with the psone, pstwo and PSP slim & lite, which were simply pared-down versions of their forebears with no major extra features to speak of.
Here's hoping that Sony manage to squeeze in the rumoured 160GB into the new PS3's slender shell and give consumers a genuine reason to splash their cash towards the end of this year.
For more on the PS3 slim and lite, visit

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Review: The Orange Box (PS3, Xbox 360 (version played), PC. Valve, EA)

Value for money is a rare thing to discover when buying games. Sure you can pick up a two-year-old game pre-owned for a tenner if you shop around or you could get The Orange Box - the biggest bargain ever to hit the shelves of your local games emporium. What Valve have packed onto one tiny disc is nothing short of miraculous. One of the most compelling sci-fi sagas ever to grace the PC comes to consoles packed to the gills with brand new extra content, to make up a simply mind-blowing proposition. So, in order to accommodate the sheer candy store of delectable gaming goodness on offer here, this review will be split into three sections - one for each game. Simple really.

Half Life 2, Episode 1 and Episode 2
Half Life 2 is the Godfather Part II of videogame sequels. Epic in scope and narrative heft, the game follows on from the original incident at the Black Mesa facility. Silent hero Gordon Freeman returns, ready to beat zombies and marauding head crabs into pate with his trusty crowbar. The first thing you need to know about HL 2 is that it is an unparalleled masterpiece - the perfect marriage of relentless action and story that is perfectly paced and balanced. Visually, HL 2 may showing its age a tad - the game is over 3 years old now, but still looks sprightly thanks to the superlative Source game engine. Gaming pedants may baulk at the relatively low-res textures in the first two games, but there's no faulting the quality of Episode 2's graphical finesse - it looks stunningly silky smooth, especially compared to its predecessors.
Set in the shadow of City 17 where the omnipresent Dr. Breen spouts looped propaganda on gigantic screens from on high, there’s an unshakable feeling of genuine oppression pervading every inch of Half Life 2. Soldiers line the streets keeping the population in order, their crackling radio speech an ever-present noise whilst rebels hide out in deserted, burnt out buildings. It’s such a fantastically well-realised environment that fully succeeds in embroiling the player within its universe. Whether you’re fighting the Combine in a derelict building or squashing Antlions on a beach, the world is consistently solid and believable, so accomplished is the fine attention to detail.
There are some well-drawn characters in HL 2 too; strongest of these is love interest Alyx who is thankfully quite handy with a gun. You’ll need her in Episode 1 if you want to attain the One Free Bullet achievement on the 360 version of the game (we did – it’s not that difficult) and her AI is advanced enough to be helpful in a tough situation. She’s not much good when you’re trying to squeeze through a doorway though, but then she does apologise for getting in your way – bless. Barney and Dr. Kleiner return from the previous game to lend a helping hand and are welcome familiar faces. Most surprising of all though is the connection you feel to Freeman himself as he interacts with NPCs, you’re given a real sense of importance and purpose. By keeping Freeman mute, you’re able to soak up the words of those around you, listening and simultaneously gaining a real sense that your role is of major significance. Everywhere you go the city’s survivors will recognise you reinforcing Freeman's status as an almost mythical saviour of mankind. It’s incredible how Valve have achieved this – think of another FPS where you can remember experiencing an actual connection to the protagonist. Exactly.

Let’s get physic-al
Interaction is the watchword for Half Life 2. Boasting some stimulating physics-based puzzles aided by the indispensable Gravity Gun, the game really comes into its own. Every object can be manipulated in some way and each item reacts in exactly the way you'd expect them to in the real world. Break a wooden strut supporting a platform of oil drums for instance and the barrels will come crashing to the ground and roll all over the shop - exactly like they're supposed to - demostrating the exceptional Havok physics engine at work. It sounds like a minor feature but it isn't, it elevates the game to levels lesser shooters can only dream of. Lifting objects with the Grav Gun means everything can be treated as a potential weapon as you can hurl lifted objects with a stab of the right trigger. A well-aimed paint-can will blind a zombie or a high velocity breezeblock ricocheted off an enemy's bonce will kill it instantly. Brilliantly, there are some levels that give you circular-saw blades to play with. You don't have to be a genius to know that sending jagged frisbees of death towards enemies and cleaving them in two bloody lumps of offal is massive fun. Half Life 2 also rewards players for lateral thinking and there are plenty of opportunities to flex your grey matter as there are some fairly involving conundrums peppered throughout the game. We won't go into any of these as it'll ruin the fun, suffice to say, there are some satisfying head scratchers to overcome along the way.
These tasks are counter-balanced by a glut of incredible action-packed set pieces where you'll get to give the games weapons a good workout. Freeman's armoury consists of the usual pistols, machine guns, rocket launchers and so on, but each feels spot-on. The sub-machine gun sprays hot lead and kicks like a mule and toppling (frightening) Striders with the rocket launcher is every bit as thrilling as you'd expect. Every set piece also outlasts the game's end living on in the memory. You'll never forget the first time you bring down a Combine ship, your first encounter with a Strider or thrashing around in your buggy sending soldiers flying over your front bumper. It's all gaming gold.

Variety is the spice of Half Life - there’s always something fresh to challenge and engage so you’re never left wanting. If Half Life 2 were a meal (lazy analogy alert), it would be a big Sunday lunch. A substantially meaty storyline, a hearty weapons stuffing and a hefty steaming ladle-full of action gravy.
In conclusion, HL 2 and the accompanying Episode 1 and 2 are peerless chunks of cerebral first-person action gaming and despite HL 2’s age, that it still puts the majority of its genre stablemates to shame is testament to the inherent depth and longevity you'll find. Everything about Half Life 2 is fully realised, wholly imagined, flawlessly executed – there isn’t a single bum note in the game. In a word: pure genius.

As an expansion of the Narbacular Drop concept dreamt up by the DigiPen Institute of Technology, Portal is the simplest of concepts, but makes for the most intriguing puzzle game you’ll ever play. The idea is so straightforward that you’ll be amazed no one ever thought to make a game out of it until now. An explanation then for the uninitiated – Portal casts you in the role of a test subject put through a series of situations that make use of the Aperture Science portal gun. The function of the gun is to create two portals one entrance, one an exit. Launching a pair of portals, one orange, one blue, to avoid confusion, allows you to enter one and exit the other. From this central premise there’s a range of possibilities and ways to solve Portal’s brainteasers. Further possibilities are unlocked when you learn that falling through a portal builds up velocity meaning that you can shoot out the other side at speed to clear gaps and make high jumps. Add to the mix, energy balls that you can manipulate to open doors, gun turrets that will hamper your progress and the sure to become iconic companion cubes that prove crucial at certain junctures and you’ve a recipe for a varied first-person puzzler.
Between them, the brains at DigiPen- employed to build on their original idea - and Valve have crafted a refreshingly unique and novel game with a dark, deadpan humour all of its own (what’s all this stuff about cake?) It may be short, but it’s incredibly sweet and the most rewarding game you’ll have played in a long time. In fact it's better than the majority of shooters masquerading as full games at full price.

Team Fortress 2
The Orange Box’s online component arrives in the form of long, long, long awaited shoot-em’-up sequel Team Fortress 2. Boasting a quirky cartoon style, Team Fortress 2 looks stunning and thankfully plays as good as it looks. Choosing from nine different classes the aim is to blast the crap out of your opposition. No surprises there then. Each class is what gives TF 2 its edge. You’ll quickly develop a favourite, as each possesses a unique set of abilities.
Sadly, at time of writing we’ve yet to play TF 2 extensively so expect a thorough play-test when we’ve bought ourselves a wireless adapter bridge for our 360. (How much?!)

Overall, The Orange Box represents fantastic value for money. It also happens to be one of the finest FPS experiences you’re ever likely to come across. To ignore it is to do Valve and yourself a massive disservice. Buy. It. Now.
Verdict: 10/10

Friday, January 11, 2008

BioShock (Xbox 360, PC. 2K Boston, 2K Games)

It’s very rare that a game manages to successfully evoke a genuine sense of time and place, especially within an entirely fictional framework. BioShock sets its narrative in Rapture: an undersea utopia gone spectacularly wrong. A city that upon first sight appears majestic and inviting until BioShock’s compelling story begins to unfold and the reality behind the imposing statues and tall buildings quickly unravels before your very eyes. BioShock’s intro is one of the most jaw dropping we’ve ever seen. Beginning on an ill-fated plane journey, you wake up underwater struggling to make your way to the surface. Emerging from beneath the briny deep, you’re surrounded by bright orange flames and the disheartening sight of your plane gradually sinking out of view. The only place to go is the gigantic, foreboding black tower nearby. Apprehensive, you swim towards it. Who knows what waits for you within? It’s a humdinger of an opening that has you instantly immersed from the very second the game begins and the ensuing, serpentine plot is enough that you’re certain to be hooked throughout.
The strongest element of BioShock is its uniquely bold visual design. Utilising Epic’s much vaunted Unreal Engine 3, 2K Boston have crafted a solid and believable, intricate art deco styled nightmare filled with incidental details like 30’s styled propaganda posters, neon store fronts with twee slogans and haunting melodies of old, familiar songs. There are scenes of corrosion and desolation almost everywhere you go – exposed pipes spike out through cracked, rotting tiles, corpses lie against walls covered in thick, congealed blood. The devil here is most definitely in the details. With every surface of Rapture encrusted in filth or rust, the textures are so rich and tangible that you can almost taste the decay. BioShock is a visual tour de force and candidate for best-looking game on 360.

Walking around Rapture is simultaneously awe-inspiring and patently unsettling as hideously disfigured inhabitants known as Splicers threaten to pounce at any moment. Given that they too have had the same horrific graphical attention lavished upon them, they are truly terrifying – leaping towards you, screaming with fixed grimaces upon their clownish, surgically altered visages. Thankfully there’s plenty of weaponry and a steady supply of ammunition lying around in every crevice, desk drawer and cupboard in Rapture meaning that you’re seldom ill-equipped. Unfortunately, while this makes BioShock a lot of fun to play, it slightly drains the air of dread that pervades from the outset. After all, there’s always a checkpoint activating Vita Chamber where you can respawn an infinite number of times. Having the additional luxury of being able to save anywhere means that you’ll virtually never have to play through the same situation twice. While it keeps frustration to a minimum, (which is a very good thing) it does make finishing the game a breeze, even in hard mode (which is kind of a bad thing). You can purchase items like Medikits and Eve Hypos to replenish your plasmid powers, bullets and more from strategically placed vending machines. You’ll also come across U-Invent machines where a variety of scavenged items can be transformed into useful ammo and gadgets. Hacking said vending machines through a puzzle-based mini-game lowers the prices so you can save those hard earned dollars stolen from the still-warm corpses of anyone unfortunate enough to have been clubbed to death by your trusty wrench.
Central to BioShock’s premise is the acquisition of special abilities courtesy of power-ups called plasmids. Dual wielding plasmids alongside your conventional weapons quickly becomes second nature and makes you feel incredibly powerful. There’s a wealth of different abilities to discover, which you can upgrade later in the game to devastating effect. The best ones we found were the electro shock, incinerate and telekinesis, which are pretty self-explanatory from their names. Head and shoulders above the others though is the insect swarm which gives you the ability to cast armies of killer bees from your hand. Nasty. There are also downloadable plasmids available on Xbox LIVE meaning that there’ll always be scope for replaying the game, even if it’s just to see what new havoc you can wreak.

Invented by Rapture’s twisted founder and reprehensible wizard behind the curtain Andrew Ryan, plasmids are gained by accumulating a substance called Adam. Adam can be harvested from the macabre Little Sisters who roam the environments guarded by colossal, menacing Big Daddies who protect the Little Sisters at all costs. That’s where BioShock’s fundamental choice comes into play. Do you kill and harvest the Little Sisters for more Adam, therefore becoming more powerful at a much quicker rate, or do you rescue them and choose to build your powers slowly, gaining less Adam but potentially reaping greater rewards later on? It’s a no-brainer of a choice if you ask us. It quickly becomes apparent which is the better option dispelling any illusion that your selection has any kind of effect on the story. There’re two endings - a good and a bad one. You can probably guess which choice leads to each and which is the more rewarding. The choice that you ultimately make however will tell you a lot about your moral values (maybe). However, there are enough absorbing tasks and unpredictable plot twists to keep you occupied that you’re never really fully aware of BioShock’s (admittedly tiny) flaws until you’ve finished the game and had time to reflect on the journey that you’ve just taken. And playing through BioShock is indeed a journey, an intense experience that has few peers.
No other game in recent memory possesses the same brand of slow-burn psychological horror permeating every room, every passageway and every hall. BioShock doesn’t scare in the traditional sense; it quietly crawls under your skin and confronts you with unsettling scenes such as a couple lying in a lifeless embrace on their bed or a conventional family surrounding their TV set as static illuminates their grotesque, decomposing bodies. A game like Resident Evil would have you jump out of your skin as they spring at you, but BioShock doesn’t do cheap scares. It aims for something higher - it messes with your head. There are even moments that are scarily surreal, seemingly lifted from The Shining. A pair of Splicers gracefully dancing the foxtrot while a gramophone plays a crackling old record being one such instance. Setting them alight with your flamethrower just makes things worse though, which is where BioShock’s combat options come to the fore. You can play through BioShock in any way you like due to it’s flexible and varied system which allows you to upgrade almost every aspect of your character. It’s surprisingly in-depth; offering almost RPG levels of self-improvement such as quieter footsteps for stealthy wrench assaults, better hacking skills, stronger plasmids, better weapons, extra resilience and so on. Theoretically, you could play through without firing a single bullet; so plentiful are your options. You can set traps, enrage your enemies so that they fight one another, hack security bots to fight alongside you or even hypnotise Big Daddies to protect you instead of the Little Sisters. You don’t always have to torch your foes or shoot them in the face. The possibilities are vast and another reason why BioShock stands up as such an accomplished work of genius.
BioShock is an incredibly ambitious title, which more than delivers on its initial promise, managing to entertain and enthral from start to finish. Consistently surprising, shocking and eminently, compulsively playable, BioShock stands head and shoulders above any 360 title you’ll play this year. And even though the majority may argue that Halo 3 was 2007’s definitive 360 title, we enjoyed BioShock more. Even though it has far less features than Halo 3 (the lack of multi-player being a minor blow), BioShock possesses such scope and abundant imagination that for our money, it’s the finest game of 2007 and a bona-fide masterpiece.
I choose…Rapture! - 10/10

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Movie Review: The Golden Compass (December, 2007)

When it was announced that a movie adaptation of Philip Pullman's first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, Northern Lights had been greenlit the collective sphincters of millions of fans clenched in tentative anticipation of the result. With the director of American Pie and About A Boy, Chris Weitz drafted in to replace Shopgirl director Anand Tucker, fears for how the source material would be treated were amplified. Why on earth is the director of a puerile, gross out comedy being entrusted with such a high profile project? We as fans shared the fear that the worst would inevitably happen. That these fantastic books would suffer the same fate as Narnia and be reduced to kiddie-friendly popcorn fare with none of the drama and gravitas of the Lord Of The Rings movies.

And guess what? It's not nearly as bad as we'd anticipated, but still plays out like a tick-box list of events from the book reeled off in a fashion that is completely devoid of any kind of drama, threat or suspense. When Lyra is gifted with the eponymous compass there's no feeling that the device is of any significant importance, possessing none of the fanfare that came with the one ring. Galling too is the relationship between the characters and their daemons and despite the obligatory exposition-spouting opening voiceover explaining how a daemon is a person's very soul, there's very little indication of how deep this relationship runs. When Lyra is undergoing the intercision process at the Bolvangar facility the tension in the books is so palpable that you're grinding your teeth and digging your nails into your own leg. In the movie the same scene is stripped of all suspense and is in keeping with the rest of the film in that it's over in a matter of seconds. Weitz is in such a rush to race through the book's key moments that there's no time to really get to know the characters, no time to savour the breathtaking scenery and accomplished performances from a strong ensemble cast. The Golden Compass marches on, determined to get you from A to B and out the door as quickly as possible. It's truly a crying shame. Were Golden Compass given an extra hour of running time to flesh out the book's major central narrative components - of which there are many, all intricate, all compelling - the result would have been a far superior movie to the one that ended up making it into local multiplexes. There are some fantastic moments, but they're just too few and far between, bogged down in a mire of clunky exposition spoon fed in such an unenthusiastic way that it's hard to care.

The Golden Compass is a huge disappoinment, not least due to the enormous potential this had to be a worthy successor to Peter Jackson's hallowed trilogy. Pullman's original concepts and ideas are so well-developed in the books that translating them to the screen with the original sense of wonder intact should have been an easy job. That the execution is so ham-fisted is beyond belief. There are high points. The witches and ice bears, - particularly Iorek Byrnison voiced grumpily by a gruff Ian McKellen - are beautifully realised as are the daemons. Even the alternate universe where Lyra's story unfolds is brought to life brilliantly. Golden Compass just isn't the sum of its parts. On paper it should be an unbridled success. In practice it only succeeds in being a perfectly serviceable and mildly entertaining diversion for its two hour running time. It won't stay by your side like a faithful daemon, it'll simply float out of your conciousness like dust. Ironic for a movie where a person's soul is represented in the form of an animal that it has no soul of its own.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Review: Guitar Hero III Legends Of Rock (Xbox 360 (version played), PlayStation 3, PC. Neversoft, Activision)

Let's clear something up before we get into this review. Standing in front of your TV gurning at the screen whilst concentrating on coloured dots ascending into view, clawing at a plastic guitar shouldn't be this good. And it almost certainly shouldn't be this compulsive. That it manages to be both addictive and fun is testament to the simplistic mechanic that's been at the core of Guitar Hero since its original inception. Couple this fiendishly simple device of strumming in time to coloured dots as they scroll up the screen with a setlist of seminal rock music and you've got party gaming gold. Looming on the distant horizon however is a more enticing prospect, Harmonix's new project with EA, post Guitar Hero II, the much vaunted Rock Band. Does this now mean Neversoft's efforts in developing a new Guitar Hero game are in vain, creating something that will inevitably pale into comparison when Harmonix and EA's monster eventually swaggers onto the scene? The answer is a resounding no. GH III more than stands up on it's own merits, deserving of it's own status as a rhythm-action game par excellence, though some will argue that Neversoft's game is now nothing more than a stop-gap before the main event. A supporting act if you will. This is partly true as it's difficult to ignore the huge shadow Rock Band casts over GH III. While playing GH III it's hard not to yearn for everyone in the room to get involved. With Rock Band providing vocals, drums, bass and lead guitar (at a hefty price no doubt) you can't help but feel GH III is lacking in some way.

Best thing about GH III is the track list. In our opinion it's the best line-up of Guitar Hero music yet, boasting tracks from The Who, Guns N' Roses, Queens Of The Stone Age, Black Sabbath and much more. There's something for everyone, whatever generation of rocker you happen to be, whether you're an ageing rocker or a lover of contemporary rock, you're guaranteed to find favourites you'll love and abominations you'll hate. You can take your thrashy metal bollocks for a start-we can't stand it. What are Slipknot doing in this game?! See, tracks you'll love and tracks you'll hate, just like we said. Irritatingly though some of the best tracks have been relegated to co-op mode only, which is howlingly stupid as you'll need to shell out for an additional guitar to be able to play them. So, if you want to play Beastie Boys' Sabotage or The Strokes' Reptilia and you only have one guitar, tough. You can't. It's a ridiculous oversight that robs the single player mode of several perfectly good tracks. Shame. And while we're on the subject of track choices, Metallica's One possesses none of the elan that playing Lynyrd Skynyrd's Freebird provided as a challenging final song, it's simply a trying test of patience that outstays it's welcome.

We still love Guitar Hero III though, it's ability to make you feel like a rock star and suck you into its inimitable caricatured world is still unique and although Rock Band may soon usurp it's predecessor there'll always be a place in our hearts for the original rockin' out game. And it's for this reason alone that GH III remains unbeatable amongst its (very few) rhythm action peers. Battling legends like Tom Morello and Slash provide the icing on GH III's excessive rock cake making for a satisfying meal of headbanging fun. There's nothing particularly new here that we haven't seen before in the last two games, but Legends Of Rock is still ace. Rock on.
Legendary: 8/10

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Review: Ratchet and Clank: Tools Of Destruction (PlayStation 3. Insomniac, Sony.)

The humble platform genre has been through a lot since the halcyon days of Sonic, Mario and their long standing rivalry. Now the spiny blue one and the portly, moustachioed plumber have buried the hatchet and platform games have evolved into the fully explorable, 3D visual feasts we've come to recognise on current-gen hardware. Ratchet and Clank have always served up such hearty feasts with fantastically realised cartoon sci-fi worlds packed to the gills with razor-sharp humour and equally well-honed gameplay. Possessing all the qualities of a Pixar movie (we're certain this comment has been bandied about a lot), the latest instalment of Ratchet and Clank is an HD treat, retaining everything that made its predecessors so emminently playable, Tools Of Destruction is brimming with ideas and imagination. R&C also happens to be one of the prettiest games on PS3 with lovely, high resolution textures fleshing out the bright, bold, outlandish characters and backdrops, successfully forming a solid and appealing set of environments.
Central to R&C's platforming premise is the array of novel and quirky firepower that you can wield and upgrade. Previous incarnations have always boasted a plethora of hefty weapons you can progressively upgrade and beef up as you use them during the course of the game. Later iterations introduced buying upgrades for bolts that still come spilling out of vanquished enemies and broken crates for you to hoover up. Tools Of Destruction offers the most complete and in-depth mechanic for uprading weapons yet. This introduces a degree of strategy as you are made to decide which weapons to lavish bolts and raritanium on upgrading with a view to what obstacles may await you further down the line. More than ever, this puts R&C's arsenal centre stage as you must carefully pick and choose your favourites or risk running around with an inventory of underdeveloped hardware leaving yourself potentially vulnerable when facing one of the many huge boss characters should you upgrade the wrong weapon for the job. Our firm favourites became indispensable in a clinch, consisting of the formidable Negotiator rocket launcher, Plasma stalkers, Mr. Zurkon and of course the Groovitron, which makes all on-screen enemies boogie uncontrollably. Thankfully, choosing to upgrade a useless weapon isn't completely detrimental to your progress. You can always die and continue to amass bolts and raritanium for upgrades. It's a system that allows you to be improving your weapons constantly so that the rewards and sense of progress is reinforced throughout the game's generous running time.

Ratchet and Clank: TOD is an absolute joy to play as ever, but will be instantly familiar to veterans of the previous titles on PS2. So, business as usual then for our Lombax hero and his robotic sidekick? Well, yes, but there's so much more to see and do in R&C's next-gen debut. On-rails outer space dogfighting makes a welcome comeback as do the intense arena battles, but familiarity here, rather tha breeding contempt, actually forms a part of R&C's lasting appeal. These are characters you'll want to spend time with even if you've never played any of the previous titles. The action and narrative is so well scripted and actually, genuinely funny that every moment is a pleasure.
In terms of longevity, Tools Of Destruction is a bit of a step back, shorn of the multiplayer modes that made Ratchet and Clank 3 such a comprehensive package on PS2. There's still a lot of single player action to work through bolstered by replay value in the form of a challenge mode that lets you replay the game with your array of deadly weaponry, stacking the odds firmly in your favour.

Tools Of Destruction is as good as it gets on PS3 at the moment. Visually stunning, effortlessly playable, R&C's latest adventure stands out as one of the most essential titles currently available for Sony's under-represented platform. When games for the PS3 are so scarce, it's important to celebrate the really good ones. This is one right here and therefore deserves your time. Simple.
A raritanium treat: 9/10

Friday, November 16, 2007

Review: Guitar Hero II (PS2, Xbox 360. Harmonix, Activision)

Singstar and EyeToy on PlayStation 2 brought about a living room revolution a few years ago by getting the whole family involved in gaming. It was a masterstroke that saw Sony and the PS2 dominate social gaming. That is until the Wii was born and now everyone's at it, prancing and warbling around their living rooms like the latest X Factor rejects. No social gamer worth their salt will have bypassed Guitar Hero, the genius strumming game from the fellas behind rhythm action titles Frequency and Amplitude. Guitar Hero is essentially nothing new. Konami did the Bemani guitar peripheral thing years ago with Guitar Freak, but Guitar Hero is undoubtedly better. Lifting the scrolling notes mechanic wholesale from Harmonix's aforementioned efforts, Guitar Hero maps the notes to coloured buttons on the guitar fretboard and then adds a strumming switch and whammy bar to the guitar's body. The idea is deceptively simple; hold the corresponding colour to the one displayed on-screen as it scrolls up from the bottom of the screen and strum in time to hit it. You can tweak the whammy bar to add pitch and distortion effects to long notes thus garnishing solos with a touch of personal flair. Easy right? Well, yes but not to begin with. When you first pick up Guitar Hero, unless you're an actual guitar player your fingers will trip and slide all over the place like Bambi trying to walk on ice. Give it a few minutes though and you'll be surprised at how quickly you can pick it up. On easy mode Guitar Hero II is accesible to anyone, using three of the five fret buttons, it's fun and mildly challenging. Medium difficulty adds an extra button and ups the ante, whereas hard and expert are ridiculously complicated utilising all five buttons and requiring real-world guitar skills or insane dedication to master. However, nothing beats nailing a tough solo that you've been practicing for ages, giving you the same satisfied feeling you might get from beating a tough end boss in any other game you'd care to think of. And therein lies the brilliance of Guitar Hero II, it's the only game that actually makes you feel like a rock star. There is of course the argument that you could use the time dedicated to playing Guitar Hero to actually learn how to play the real guitar and yes, sometimes that feeling does creep in from time to time. Yet, it quickly subsides as you realise you're having way too much fun shredding your plastic axe to the strains of Sweet Child O' Mine or Freebird. There's really nothing else like it.

GH II's track list is expemplary, offering a varety of rock classics old and new to get to grips with. Obviously, you'll have your favourites (Jessica, Monkey Wrench and John the Fisherman since you ask) which you'll play over and over again 'til your fingers bleed.
GH II is compulsive, challenging and above all fun. Invest in a pair of axes and you can play rhythm, bass or lead in co-op or face-off head to head in a battle of riffs. Harmonix have covered all bases with this sequel, improving vastly upon its predecessor. It stands out as an essential title for 360 or PS2 and has the added bonus of making you everyone's best friend. So, get the beers and nibbles in, fire up GH II and rock on! Go on, melt some faces!
Te-riff-ic: 9/10

Playing Guitar Hero II seriously whets your appetite for the forthcoming sequel with development duties handed over to Tony Hawk stalwarts Neversoft. With its added boss battles against legends like Guns N' Roses' Slash, GH III is an exciting prospect. Not as exciting as Rock Band though, Harmonix's new pet project with EA that allows you to sing, play guitar, bass and drums. Outstanding. Will there be room for both games under your telly in the coming months? We'd say yes. If you're loaded buy both. Us? We're going to have to choose...unless we sell a kidney.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (PS3 (version played), Xbox 360, PC. Infinity Ward, Ubisoft)

Ever since Medal Of Honor exploded on to the gaming scene with its Saving Private Ryan (1998) style D-Day landing beach assault, World War II as subject matter has been exploited in countless shooters, Real Time Strategy games and more. Hell, even the grandaddy of the first person shooter Wolfenstein 3D was set during WWII, although we don't think Hitler in a mech-suit was entirely accurate from a historical standpoint. To say the subject is getting a bit stale as source material for a game is like saying Hitler was a bit of a mad git.
Thank God then for Call Of Duty 4, the first title in the series to ditch Nazi bashing in favour of something fresh and relevant, bringing the conflict into the modern day. The clue's in the title's suffix, it's all about Modern Warfare meaning a wealth of cutting edge contemporary weaponry at your fingertips.

You begin the game in the shiny boots of new SAS recruit Private 'Soap' Mc.Tavish under the tutelage of the outrageously moustachioed, gruff and instantly likeable Captain Price. The first task you undertake is dispatching wooden targets in a sparse training hangar. How fast you complete the tutorial determines your recommended skill level for the rest of the game and helps inform your decision when selecting your preffered difficulty level. Clever. After this brief training session you're plunged balls-deep into the action in the prologue level set aboard an enormous cargo ship in raging high seas. Your first mission? Find and secure a nuclear weapon hidden somewhere below deck. Easy. COD's opening stage is the perfect introduction to what the rest of the game has to offer. That is heavy, realistic gunplay supported by a squad with sharp AI who actually help rather than hinder your progress. Your team are so smart that you'll develop an affinity with them and you may even grow to care about them like we did. In having well-drawn and believable characters on your side, the moments where they're under threat are made even more poignant and tense. In fact there's high drama and awe-inspiring set-pieces throughout, which we won't spoil for you here, just know that each one is nerve-shredding and arse-puckeringly taut. Having to escape from a cargo ship that's being torn asunder and quickly filling with water is the first set-piece that has you on the edge of your seat. And that's in the first ten minutes. The action in COD 4 comes thick and fast, tightly scripted like the best Hollywood action movie imaginable, except you're the one in control, you're the star.
Call Of Duty 4 is probably the best shooter we've played this year and it succeeds in being such for a number of reasons. Key to the game's strength is it's guns that even without the rumble from the PS3's sixaxis still manage to somehow feel right. Shooting enemies is so incredibly authentic as they react to your bullets exactly as you'd expect them to, carking it in a well animated and completely believable fashion. Not since Black on PS2 have guns felt so meaty and lethal. When you pull the trigger things break. Masonry, bricks, walls-it's pretty much all destructible in some way and as such cover is no guarantee of safety, for you or your enemies. One such mission set in a TV studio is a perfect example of the kind of havoc you can wreak and the mess you can leave behind. In short it's just as you'd imagine war might be in real life, nowhere on the battlefield is safe and death will visit you quickly if you're not careful. Despite being brutally realistic, Call Of Duty 4 is real in the best possible way, enhancing the experience to levels of total delirious brilliance. You'll be punching the air and whooping 'boo-yah' like a jingoistic nutter (just make sure no-one's around when you are). You simply won't want the game to end which sadly it does after around 6-8 hours of wall-to-wall action and a dramatic pay-off that is quite possibly one of the best endings to a ever grace a videogame. All this and you get to play as good old British SAS soldiers for the majority of the game: a welcome departure from playing as America's Marine Corps or whatever. And the British accents actually sound pretty good for a change meaning you'll more than likely identify with the SAS team rather than the US Forces who consist of the predictable stereotypes we've come to know and love.
Call Of Duty 4 is unreservedly brilliant, boasting a storyline with characters you'll grow to love and weapons you'll love even more. Unfortunately, the experience suffers somewhat online as the game mostly involves killing and dying in quick succession without much scope to build any kind of momentum or longevity, but this is a minor gripe, which has probably more to do with our lack of online prowess rather than any inherent flaw. Also, it's a crying shame that the single-player campaign tops out at around eight hours if you're slow and methodical, less than this if you're a gung-ho Speedy Gonzalez. Thankfully, the on and offline multiplayer injects some longevity into the game and to be honest, COD 4's campaign is more than worthy of a second play-through.
So, the best Call Of Duty yet? That's affirmative soldier. Buy it now. That's an order.
Mission accomplished: 9/10

Review: Warhawk (PS3. Incognito, Sony)

It's not often that you get a pleasant, unexpected surprise in the form of a game. You can usually gauge fairly early on whether a game is going to turn out to be a complete turkey or not. Warhawk initially appeared to be such a game. A flight-sim set in the near future? Pass. No thanks. It's been done a million times before and flight-sims tend to be stuffy, lifeless fare based entirely upon the player's ability to keep a crosshair steady for a couple of seconds to achieve a lock-on. Yawn. As console gamers our attention spans are inherently short and as such flight games normally don't fulfil our fast paced gaming needs unless you're talking about Namco's Ace Combat series which generally errs on the side of being pretty good. So, what makes Warhawk so special? Well quite a lot as it turns out.
Pitting the Eucadian armies against the malevolent Chernovian, the game is a bit like Star Wars in its set-up. The Eucadians even look like the Rebel Alliance with their battle scarred craft and khaki fatigues. And as you'll have guessed by now, the Chernovians look typically Darth Vader-esque in black garb and samurai helmets. It's the perfect excuse for two factions to blow each other to kingdom come and requires no further plot, exposition or any other pointless details. Hell, there's not even the back-story blather that you'd expect to find in the manual, it's just good versus evil and that's it. What else do you need to know?

Warhawk isn't just any old flight-sim as our first snap judgment had us assume. It's actually an insanely tooled up playground of weapons, vehicles and gun emplacements all for your delectation. Will it be the heavily armoured tank or the nippy jeep today, sir? Everything is tailored towards creating multiplayer destruction and mayhem on a huge scale. Whether you're manning a gun turret, tank or you're running along on foot, everything feels perfectly balanced and weapon pick-ups are littered all over the place so you're never without a formidable arsenal at your disposal. Sometimes on foot you can get stranded in the middle of nowhere, say if you happen to flip your jeep en-route to a fray, meaning you have to hoof your way to the nearest vehicle or area of activity, which can sometimes grate. This happens rarely, so doesn't really matter. Still, a sprint button or handy pushbike that you can grab from your backpack would have been a helpful addition.
All of the usual game modes are present and correct, as you'd expect. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag being the obvious suspects. Best of all though is Zones in which you attempt to capture as much enemy territory as possible. There are also straightforward, no nonsense dogfights where you begin at the controls of a warhawk and stay there for the duration, shooting down as many enemies as possible within the time limit. This is Warhawk at its purest.
The most fun to be had playing the game is in piloting the titular warhawks. Effortlessly manoeuvrable, quick, nimble and deadly the warhawks are the real stars of the show. You can hover mere feet from the ground raining minigun flavoured death down upon unfortunate soldiers, jeeps and tanks although you leave yourself vulnerable to being shot down. You can spin through the sky gracefully dodging missiles, navigating your way through narrow gaps and canyons (although you'll need to turn pro flight controls on to get the most out of your hawk) shooting down foes with aplomb. Get the hang of Warhawk and you're in for a treat. Hours will pass in what seem like minutes as you play just. one. more. game! It's fiendishly addictive and will have you hooked on its great, big candy shop of weapons and destruction.
Warhawk is a game so flawlessly executed that it's a compulsory purchase for anyone with a PS3 hooked up to the PlayStation Network and a penchant for blowing things up. Be warned, Warhawk is online multiplayer only and will consume hours of your life without you realising it. Unashamedly undemanding and unreservedly brilliant, Warhawk is completely and utterly indispensable.
Fuel: 9/10

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Movie Review: 30 Days Of Night (November, 2007)

Based on the cult graphic novel of the same name, 30 Days Of Night sees a small town in Alaska terrorised by a band of marauding vampires out on a feeding frenzy during the titular time frame. It's a fantastic set-up for a horror movie, ramping up the tension as the days roll by.

<-- Melissa was disgusted by Josh's big farts

Barrow, Alaska is a friendly little place inhabited by hard working locals and tourists: the perfect location to be pillaged and torn apart by bloodthirsty
monsters then. Especially since the town experiences a month of perpetual darkness, spurring most people to leave, so tear the town apart they do in what proves to be an explosive, edge-of-the-seat movie.
Beginning with a relatively slow-paced exposition, the film’s opening establishes the minutiae of everyday life for Barrow’s residents as a whole chunk of them flee before the arduous month of pitch black ensues. And it’s not long before the action gets going because when the fanged menaces arrive, all hell breaks loose. Quick and brutal, the action is bloody, yet largely off-camera, probably to keep its audience-friendly 15 certificate. Don’t let that certificate fool you though because 30 Days is still pretty graphic in parts. Efficient and butal 30 Days vamps quickly wreak havoc, nicely captured using a sweeping overhead crane shot, the chaos they bring is unexpected. David Slade's assured direction means 30 Days is beautifully shot, the Hard Candy director executing Hollywood horror duties impeccably. The landscape is relentlessly bleak and oppressive amplifying the atmosphere as well as the innate feeling of helplessness and pessimism.
Recalling the claustrophobia and desperation of John Carpenter’s The Thing, 30 Days has moments of genuine tension that owe a debt to the 1982 classic. On the whole the performances are good, Danny Huston oozing a snarling, shark-like menace as lead bad guy Marlow although his band of followers are annoyingly resilient, popping up again when you think they’ve been offed. We thought we saw one particular bald vamp die about three times. Perhaps this was wishful thinking as his agonising, high-pitched screeching slowly drove us potty.
Strong too is Josh Hartnett’s performance as the squinty sheriff, delivering his squintiest and best performance to date. His journey from clean-cut lawman to beardy, worn-down, dead-eyed vampire slayer is seamless and convincing.
At its core, 30 Days Of Night is a fantastic popcorn movie, entertaining and relentlessly intense for the most part, boasting some explosive set pieces and interesting – if lightweight – human drama. Just don’t go in expecting traditional vampires in the Bela Lugosi mould, you’ll just feel incredibly disappointed. Vampire purists are better off thinking of 30 Days as a monster movie rather than a vampire one.
An accomplished horror-cum-action fest that justifies its exceptional US box-office performance by delivering terse atmospherics and good, solid performances. And it doesn’t skimp on the claret either. Well worth a watch.