Thursday, 29 April 2010

Review - Infinite Space

  • Game: Infinite Space
  • Format: Nintendo DS
  • Other Formats: None
  • Developer: Platinum Games/ Nude Maker
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Genre: Role Playing

Out of all the fictional jobs that we wish existed in real life, starship captain has got to rank near the top. Exploring never before seen regions of space, fighting battles with guns that could take out a small country and sending anonymous crewmen to die pointlessly, it's got everything. Strangely, despite the number of games that try to mimic Star Wars in some way, this Star Trekian life is something of a rarity in gaming, but now comes Infinite Space to satisfy all your redshirt-sacrificing needs.

The story focuses on Yuri, who in accordance with JRPG tradition is a young boy coming of age who must face up to his great destiny and mysterious powers. Said powers in this case being an ability to activate the Epitaphs, magic space boxes that are somehow connected to the Void Gates used to travel between systems. He also needs to face up to the Lugovalian Empire that is rapidly conquering all galaxies that stand in its way. As generic as the overall plot sounds, the characters, dialogue and subplots are consistently well done, as are the numerous homages - and not just the expected Star Trek/ Wars/ Gate similarities either, Arthur C. Clarke fans will recognise a lot of themes within the story.

Frak! Smeg! Frell! petaQ! Drokk! It's not proper sci-fi until someone hurls a made-up swear word at you. Belgium!

At the heart of the game are your ships themselves. There are over a hundred in all, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The game offers an impressive level of customisation, with your design choices making a noticeable difference to how your fleet operates. Shields and armour let you go toe-to-toe with the enemy, radars and long range weaponry let you hold back and attack them from a safe distance, and security offices give a big advantage if you try to board enemy ships. Simply buying the best of everything is not an option, as your ship has fairly limited space for modules, so for every improvement you make there is a tradeoff in terms of something else that must be left out. You also need to manage your crew, hiring staff for everything from First Officer right down to accountants and the serving staff in the mess hall.

Ship upgrades are done through the medium of Space Tetris.

When battle begins, the two fleets are placed at opposite sides of a battleground, with the options to move forward or back, or to fire any weapons that are in range. There is a kind of rock-paper-scissors dynamic to the three main moves - Barrage is made up of three times as many shots as Normal, but can be almost completely negated by Dodge, dodging a Normal attack however just makes you easier to score a critical hit on. As the game goes on, you also gain access to fighters, AA guns, boarding parties and special attacks. The number of combat options is very limited when compared to the ship upgrades, but if anything this goes to underline just what a difference the right design choices make.

The battles use the strangely underused gimmick of turning the DS touch screen into a control panel

All this may seem somewhat overwhelming, and in truth it often can be. This fact is not helped by the often shockingly poor levels of user friendliness. There are dozens of stats to take into account, plus special skills for all your crew and many of the ships, but the only way to learn what they all mean is to drop whatever you're doing and go to the tutorials at a starbase. Ship customisation would also be a lot easier if you had the relevant stats visible on the top screen - as it is you are told what improvement the current module will give, but not how effective you already are. Most unforgivably, there is no way to look up your current objectives, so if you can't remember where you are meant to be going then your only options are a) fly to every one of the dozens of nearby systems, checking every building until you finally reach the one that sets off the plot, or b) GameFAQs.

These annoying problems with accessibility may well be enough to make many players give up in frustration, but stick with it and once it clicks the scale and ambition are truly impressive. A great game at its best, it's just a shame it makes you work so hard to see it.

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Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Review - Guitar Hero Van Halen

A Guest Review by Tom McShane
  • Game: Guitar Hero Van Halen
  • Format: Xbox 360
  • Console: PS2, PS3, Wii
  • Developer: NeverSoft
  • Publisher: Activision
  • Genre: Music/Rhythm
If there’s one guitar solo in the history of all music (nay, all sound) that makes women moist and gives guys the nut-chills, it’s Van Halen’s ‘Eruption’, and before now the only coverage the spandex-clad, harmony-fuelled rock gods have had in the world of music video games has been a cover of ‘You Really Got Me’ in Guitar Hero II, and a blisteringly-difficult rendition of ‘Hot For Teacher’ in World Tour. So is the addition of a Van Halen iteration to the roster of band centric Guitar Hero titles enough to give you those Eruption-esque chills all over again?

The answer, sadly, is no. Unlike the Aerosmith and Metallica instalments, this is quite a lacklustre effort from the folks over at Neversoft. Picture the scene; Van Halen are in their prime, rocking it with some of their best known songs with flamboyant frontman David Lee Roth. They’re leaping around the stage looking like they’ve been poured into the skin-tight spandex and leather… wait. That’s right – Van Halen’s major, non-musical traits (their typically 80s outfits; their over-the-top stage presence; David Lee Roth’s flowing hair) are all but absent from this game. The band appear as they did on their 2009 tour – complete with a short-haired David Lee Roth, a rather aged Eddie Van Halen and lacking both original bassist Michael Anthony and any of the band’s signature stage presence.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with the core of the game, mind you. It’s still Guitar Hero, and the plethora of classic Van Halen songs (all from the arguably superior David Lee Roth-era) are fantastic fun. Pretty much every single song that made Van Halen who are they is in here – ‘Panama’, ‘Jump’, ‘Eruption’, ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘Running With The Devil’… the list goes on and on for 25 songs of rocky goodness. In fact, you could take the songlist from this game and easily package it as a ‘Best Of’ that fans (myself included) would lap up and hand over a tenner for. But there’s nothing new here that stops the game becoming anything more than a glorified expansion pack that rapes your wallet of £40, which also unfortunately seems to be the way the whole Guitar Hero franchise is going.

The game mechanics are exactly the same - in fact they might even be worse, seeing as Guitar Hero: Van Halen actually lacks the drop-in/drop-out play mode of Guitar Hero 5, despite the VH iteration being the newest game in the series. Everything looks the same (save for some gratuitous red, black and white Van Halen striping around the menus) and the on-stage models are much the same too – incredibly realistic looking, but when it comes to movements they’re stiff and lifeless. The animated band does move about a bit and pull off the odd stage antic (like the David Lee Roth spinning the mic stand) but it’s all very half-arsed. There’s just no Van Halen magic to it at all. Maybe I’m expecting too much for some 3D animated models to capture the same stage magic of the real-life Van Halen from way back in the 80s. Or maybe that’s the problem with the game and why the first statement sounds like I’m having to make excuses for a game that feels rushed and half-finished. I mean, what’s so ‘Van Halen’ about short, neat haircuts, a nice shirt and smart jeans, and a reserved, ‘in awe of a stadium audience’ stage presence and attitude.

David Lee Roth’s ability to hit those high notes is no surprise after you get one look of the spandex tightly hugging his crotch.

Yeah, ok, you can unlock stage models of the band from their spandex/ass-less chap era (late 70s/early 80s) but there’s two reasons why this is totally rubbish, the main reason being that it’s totally backwards. This classic 80s formation of Van Halen is that one that should be available from the very beginning; long hair and ridiculous skin tight, glittery costumes is the epitome of Van Halen and the glam rock era they championed. The rather polished, ‘we’ve grown up now’ look of the modern-day Van Halen is the costume and model set that should be unlockable – not the real Van Halen!

Which leads me into the second reason as to why the character sets are completely backwards – it means that for a large part of the game it just doesn’t feel like you’re playing as Van Halen. It feels like you’re just playing as some random collection of computer-generated rockstars performing away in the background on an extra-large Van Halen song pack on Guitar Hero: World Tour. And that’s all the game is really – an expansion pack. Hell, those lucky American folk got this for free if they bought Guitar Hero 5.

So if there’s a bottom line here it’s “don’t buy this game”. It’s such a shame as Van Halen are the perfect band for a game like Guitar Hero – catchy riffs, blistering solos (one thing to mention about the game is its racked up difficulty in comparison to a lot of older GH material) and screaming lead vocals. But it’s pulled off in such a way that will leave you feeling short changed. Maybe if some generous American fella is selling his free copy on eBay dirt cheap, or the market price responds to the abysmal press scores it’s been given (averaging less than 66% on GameRankings as well as a meagre 4.9/10 on IGN), then it’ll be worth it. Until then, it’s probably best to crank up that Van Halen record and air-guitar around your room like a buffoon. It’s cheaper and much more satisfying.

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Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Paint by Numbers - The Lightgun Game

Ah, the light gun game. One of the last bastions of UK arcade gaming. If you’re out scoring some strikes at your local Megabowl you’ll inevitably see a small cabinet next to the pool and air hockey tables, conjuring memories of those old classics such as Time Crisis, Virtua Cop, et al. Why not have a play for nostalgia’s sake? But then it hits you: £2 to go on a game I’m blatantly not going to last more than 4 minutes on?! That’s 1.2p per every second spent playing! Are you having a laugh?! Jambo spares no expense as the genre is torn apart…

1. Peripheral vision:
Okay, you’ve spotted a cabinet or picked up a game, but you’ll need to get accustomed to the controller. The most widely used home console gun is the G-Con series, created by Namco, and for the most part it’s pretty good - if a tad boring. For the real hardcore out there, you can find replica sniper rifles at all good online retailers (and some crap ones too). However, if that seems a bit too over the top for you, there are some other choices. The general consensus seems to suggest that the best way to play these games is with some wireless light guns (the Joytech Sharp Shooter series is pretty much gaming bliss in this field). If you’re feeling slightly frolicsome, you can purchase two of them and go through the two player co-op mode for some dual wielding fun. Sometimes, the gun you use to shoot with doesn’t represent the weapon you’re using in-game. It seems a common misconception that automatic handguns are capable of firing both grenades, flames and shotgun shells as well as your standard ammo. Some arcade cabinets will boast the holy grail of light guns: The recoiling assault rifle. This beaut’s got more kick than David Beckham had in the second round of the ’98 World Cup. Sometimes it’s worth the £2 just to feel the recoil against your shoulder.

2. The lead characters and the plot:
Who remembers this? Seventeen internet points if you do!
The lead characters are usually American CIA/SAS/FBI/random-abbreviation operatives who have been hired to save some kidnapped President’s daughter, fight off evil insurgents from neighbouring countries, or to kill the President’s daughter as she’s now working for the evil insurgents… or something along those lines. To be honest, you don’t play a light gun game for the stunning script, dialogue and cut scenes. Let’s be fair, the voice acting is usually a similar experience to hearing 5 year olds trying to read the long words from the Broadsheets and the characters have the charisma of a baked potato. The main protagonists are usually white males, mid to late 20s, and appear like they wouldn’t look out of place on the catwalk – certainly nothing like any special arms operatives I’ve ever seen.

3. Events in gameplay:
The scenery is pretty generic at best but when playing one of these games your attention is primarily on the enemies so you miss out on such stunning backdrops as forests, trains and the inevitable ship encounter (which predictably gets capsized making everything go awry), and your generic Hollywood-esque bridge explosion. The likelihood of fighting a boss in a helicopter or private jet (you never see a poor end of level boss, do you?) is very high and you can expect that once you dispose of them they’ll fall backwards (still shooting) and blow up their own vehicle. Silly sausages.

4. The enemies:
You’d think that a global enemy cartel would have stricter quality control when hiring goons, or that at least they’d give them a shooting range test - as they appear to be the worst shots in the world. They get less hits than Hanson's fansite, for God’s sake. For some baffling reason the ‘big boss’ decided somewhere along the line that they should colour code their thugs in order of how hard they are. A good - if slightly flawed - plan as it means you just bust a cap in the harder enemy’s head before moving on to the ones that camply leap out into the open in a ridiculously bright-coloured jumpsuit.

Shitty zombies!
5. The unexpected…
As a rule of thumb in this genre, always expect the unexpected. Characters you thought you had killed have most likely been rebuilt (I’m looking at you Time Crisis 3) and some of the characters will show moments of unforeseen strength. For example, one enemy might tear off a gun turret and proceed to hurl it around like a baseball bat (again, I refer back to the Time Crisis series here).

Sometimes, the genre strays away from its traditional roots. Ninja Assault puts the player in control of a Ninja trying to rescue the kidnapped Princess from an evil Warlord (see, I told you the stories were all the same!). Now, you’d probably expect the light gun to be used to control a rudimentary crossbow or to throw shuriken or something like that. You’d be wrong. According to Capcom, Ninja wield pistols. Seriously. The less said about that the better, I feel.


It should be pointed out that Light Gun games provide a lot of fun and are a great source of fun in co-op so they are definitely worth a look. They’re like what the Bad Boys films are to the film industry; a trashy, unrelenting demonstration of explosions and headshots that does nothing to detract from the main action and for this they should perhaps be forgiven…

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Friday, 12 March 2010

Extolling the Virtues of DJ Hero

  • Game: DJ Hero
  • Console: PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii
  • Developer: FreeStyle Games
  • Publisher: Activision
  • Released: October 2009
This music-game fad might be over pretty soon if the sales of games like The Beatles: Rock Band and Guitar Hero 5 can be attributed to a trend of people falling out of love with plastic instruments that turn you into a Rock Idol. It's a shame, as Guitar Hero 5 really did move the genre forward far more than it's two previous instalments and The Beatles: Rock Band is… well it's The Beatles, for fuck's sake. And then there's DJ Hero. On the face of it, why would you spend £90 on a game that you just might not like, especially when you could spend £30 or less on Rock Band 2 and just use your Guitar Hero controller? Then there's the fact that there's literally no party aspect to be had with the game. Sure, you can try to find someone else who has the game to play against, but you don't know anyone who has it. Sure, you can get someone to play guitar while you play DJ, but the songs for simultaneous scratching and riffing are few… and shit. DJ Hero is purely a one player experience, and a hardcore game disguised as casual game. No, you can't fail out of a song, but if you're fucking it up all the fun to be had from it evaporates like the stanky sweat steaming from the drugged-up punters you're supposed to be playing this shit to. No, DJ Hero - as a way to corner the music-game market even more for Activision - is an abject failure. But as a game, as an addition to the multitudinous trudges of music-games that threaten to drown the store shelves in plastic and starve our wallets of our hard-earned, it's a complete success. As a game, DJ Hero can hold its head up high.

Daft Punk are kind of like the stars of the game, and there are a lot of Daft Punk mixes and songs in DJ Hero.

There's a certain feeling you get when you first play a rhythm game like Guitar Hero and Rock Band that has a very subtle excitement to it, like finding out Sean Lock is in the new QI episode you're about to watch. DJ Hero certainly has this, but it seems to extend it for much longer, as there are far more aspects to the game than mere strumming and pressing the right buttons. Firstly, there's the button presses, which are simple rhythm game fare, but then you've got the scratches, then the crossfader, then the directional scratches (which require you to scratch in a certain direction), then the Euphoria (DJ Hero's version of Star Power or Overdrive), then you've got the wiggly things with the weird knob thing, the samples, the rewinds, the crossfade-spikes (I think that's what they're called) and pulling off each and everyone of them gives you that buzz, and it's truly fantastic when you start to rack up the streaks on Expert. You're doing it, man. You're DJing!

And that's where most of the fun from the game shows itself. The peripheral is only an approximation of an actual set of decks, but it's far closer to the real thing than a plastic Guitar Hero controller is to its real-life counterpart (although drumming on an Ion Kit on Rock Band 2 is pretty much exactly like drumming), and because of that it feels like you're actually doing it. It's best to ignore the lower difficulty settings, especially if you've had a lot of experience with rhythm games, so go straight for the jugular on Expert, because when you pull off an up-down-up-down scratch perfectly and in break-neck speed on that difficulty, it genuinely feels like the movements you made on the deck are exactly what came out, which is probably a testament to how well made this game is. When you do perfect crossfades one after the other, with scratches and button presses in between, it's incredibly satisfying, and then PING! You've got a rewind so you can do it all again to prove to yourself that it wasn't just a fluke, and to knock that last highscore for that particular mix off its perch. It really is like spinning plates, and the amount of multi-tasking going on at some points is quite off-putting to the first time players, but if you keep at it, you can be shredding vinyl with the best of them.

That green thing on the left is a freestyle scratch section. You can do whatever you like here, so long as you're scratching. These disappear in the later difficulties for stricter scratch sections, which are far more satisfying to pull off.

So, to the mixes themselves, all 93 of them. That really is a vast number, and although some songs crop up more than once (Feel Good Inc. by Gorillaz and Fix Up, Look Sharp by Dizzee Rascal are notable for appearing several times), none of the mixes are that similar at all. The best mixes are the ones that really push your skills, but perhaps not to breaking point. There are some very, very hard mixes in the game but if you keep practising you can really get a lot of fun out of 5 starring them, and then beating your highscore over and over again. The amount of mixes and the different genres used (from electronica, dance, trance and dub, to mainstream pop, RnB and rock) means there's probably something for everyone. Unless you only listen to classical or whatever type of 'World Music' is fashionable this week, you'd be hard pressed to not find at least one mix that you enjoy. Also, because it's not all rock, then there really is some incredibly funky stuff going on, so while the guitar-based rhythm games let you rock out, this one will get you dancing, or have your ribs rattling thanks to all that awesome, awesome bass. When you do find those mixes you like best, you can stick them all into your own playlist that saves, so you can keep coming back to it and play all your favourite mixes in one chunk over and over again. Have more than 8 mixes you like? There's another playlist you can save, too! Why didn't anyone think of this before?

DJ Hero is probably one of the best rhythm games out there. It's not all positives, though. As anyone who has been to a nightclub with a proper DJ will know, the mixes played there are mixed together, creating one seamless eight-hour cacophony, and although you can see the logistical nightmare it'd be to have each mix seamlessly mix with the next, it's a shame that it doesn't (or can't) to create that authentic nightclub experience without the sweat, sick and slags. Also, there must be a way to create your own mixes, surely. Maybe that's for DJ Hero 2? If that's the case, then I don't think this music-game fad is a fad after all (not that I thought it was in the first place).

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Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Retrospective - Black

  • Game: Black
  • Formats: PS2, Xbox
  • First Released: February 24, 2006 (UK)
  • Developer: Criterion Games
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • Genre: First-Person Shooter

There are moments in Black where you can’t help but think of ‘Team America’. Just as in that film, Black exists in a world where the destruction of property and buildings - no matter how valuable, or impressive the architecture - is all fair game, so long as it’s done by crack US combat teams in the fight against terrorism. In the first level of Black alone, you’ll find yourself storming a museum, firing rocket-propelled-grenades at city towers, and generally instigating more explosions than Steven Seagal’s entire cinematic output can muster. Take the very first task in the game: Opening a door. In this game, your key is a 12 gauge.

You play Jack Keller, a ‘black-ops’ soldier, with a reputation of being something of a maverick, a rogue, a lone-wolf – you know the type; prone to disobeying direct orders if it means getting the job done (admittedly not the most original videogame character of all time.). The game’s background is introduced by way of flashing newspaper headlines and fuzzy footage from newsreels, whilst the characters and main story slowly reveal themselves through the ‘interrogation room’ cut-scenes that precede each mission; Keller puffing on a cigarette and gruffly recalling his recent exploits. It’s a somewhat minimalist approach, which works, and works brilliantly setting the atmosphere and scene for each mission.

The visuals alone are startlingly good, even by today’s standards and certainly rank up there as some of the best the PS2 ever achieved. The game world is wonderfully moody and atmospheric; some of its darker environments conveying a sense of dread, and the quality of the graphics - combined with the suitably orchestral score, and meaty sound effects - serve to pull you into the game far more than most comparable console FPSs of last generation. In the cities, you can almost feel the crunch of glass beneath your steel capped boots, and you can sense the eerie chill in the air when wandering through the haunting forest.


The game has other ingenious tricks for involving the player too. Most engaging of these is perhaps the effects that kick in when Jack is critically injured; you can feel your heartbeat pulsing through the game-pad, and the visuals blur and slow-down, the sound becoming muffled and it stays this way until you either manage to locate a first-aid kit, or, more likely, die. This is a First Person shooter that well and truly puts you, the player, in the ‘first-person’; doing its best to make you feel what the character feels, and to make you value his survival, and seek to protect him from harm. Sure more modern games do this, some do it better than in Black, but it’s nice to know where your roots are.

The levels are big, and less linear than many FPSs, meaning that there is some scope to explore, and ‘find your own path’, and the missions are relatively varied (although most equate, ultimately, to killing lots of people and blowing up lots of stuff as per genre convention). There are a range of primary and secondary objectives within each mission, though the amount of these you’re obliged to fulfil depends on which of the four difficultly settings you’ve settled for. Normal mode, for example, requires you to fulfil all primary objectives, and just a few secondary ones. And of course, as is the game’s selling point just about everything you’ll come across is destructible in some way; from buildings, to vehicles, to road-blocks, to tree-stumps - the world is yours to destroy at will (or cower behind). The weapons with which you get to wreak havoc with are really just standard, bland, typical FPS-fare; pistols, shotguns, machine-guns, rocket-launchers, etc, all of them subject to the usual advantages and limitations. No big surprises there then, although considering its ‘real-world’ setting, there wasn’t a huge amount of scope for letting imagination run wild in this area. Besides, they’re all very, very satisfying to use; the shotgun is just as powerful and reliable as you’d hope (always my weapon of choice), and there’s little so satisfying as perching atop a ledge and sending a rocket into an enemy base, then sitting back and watching the chain reaction of explosions. 

Now, this is anarchy. This game dicks on The Sex Pistols.

Once you peel back the spot-on presentation, well-judged sense of involvement and decent level design, however, Black does have some shortcomings. Enemy AI isn’t awful, but it’s not nearly as well balanced as we’ve come to expect from the cream of contemporary shooters. I also feel some personal frustration with the cut-scenes that you CANNOT SKIP; each time you start a mission, you have no choice but to sit through them, which seems strange, considering how simple this would have been to resolve. It’s not an especially long game either; the seasoned gun-porn fanatic should have it wrapped up fairly swiftly and whilst the new objectives presented by higher difficulty settings offer some reason to replay, it’s unlikely that even the most devoted fan will trawl through the whole game more than two or three times. Which brings the biggest omission to the forefront: there’s no multiplayer mode. No frags or capturing flags. Considering how standard the multiplayer mode has become to the genre, it seems a shame that Black misses out, and whilst it’s sad that multiplayer doesn’t make an appearance, I feel that, overall, the game is better for it as the single player mode is so well made as a result of all the attention being placed on it.

Black offers one of the best FPS experiences available on a console; certainly the best on PS2. The visuals and audio are stunning, and the gameplay is pitched perfectly between strategic thinking and all-out, no-brains, balls to the wall action, providing an immensely satisfying all round experience, with no short supply of jaw-dropping moments. However, its modest length and absence of multiplayer options seriously compromise its longevity, and prevent it from reaching the status of classic.

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Sunday, 28 February 2010

Hardware - Turtle Beach X1 Headphones

A Guest Article by Funk
I've always played CoD4 and MW2 with headphones on as I think it's one of the best advantages you can have in the game. The downside is that although you can hear exactly where people are, you can't actually talk to people in games. It bothers me sometimes being in games where people are slagging me off because I'm winning and not be able to respond in some way. I've been on the lookout for a headset that had decent sound that matched my awesome Sennheisers and a mic built in that worked with the 360. Recently I got these Turtle Beach X1's.

Not being a sound engineer it's kinda hard to explain technically why they're good but they seem to have an advantage over my Sennheisers in that the sound is amplified and boosted in the right areas. There's a massive bass boost and a focus on the sound of footsteps, reloading and enemies using tech like predators etc. You can actually hear the briefcase opening!

The wires are a bit fiddly to start with because you have a usb cable to the console and an audio jack to your sound source and then another lead from the sound controller to the pad. This allows independent control of game volume in your ears and the mic volume of people in the lobby. You do get a slight humm through the phones when there's no game sound but this is because of the bass boost I think -and you never notice it during gameplay.

Overall I'm well happy with them, they've made me even more devastating and now I can verbally slap people who start talking crap at me during games. The X1's are reasonably priced and if you want to spend another 50 quid on top you can get the wireless X31's.

If you're serious about your FPS's and you want mic ability too. Get these - they're awesome.

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Sunday, 21 February 2010

Review - Football Manager 2010

A Guest Review by Barry Burton
  • Game: Football Manager 2010
  • Format: Microsoft Windows
  • Other Formats: Mac OS X, PSP
  • Developer: Sports Interactive
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Genre: Sports Strategy

It’s the eighty-fifth minute of a vital table-topping clash away to Manchester City, and my Manchester United squad is currently deadlocked with its rivals at 1-1. At such a vital stage of the season – what pundits, armchair critics and general football tosspots like to call ‘the business end’ – a victory would represent not only a major scalp for a United side tipped by most for, at best, a solid mid-table finish, but a major psychological boost to a squad whose recent form, following a storming beginning to the season, has been inconsistent.

I am satisfied with my changes.


YEEEEEEEEEEES!!!!!! You bastard!

2 – 1. Two to one. Two FUCKING one.

If you’re wondering why the above sentences are so short, it’s simple – they are typed as I play, and with every ounce of my brain sweating, every electrical impulse hard-wired and every cell containing a formation, a player stat or a training schedule, there is little left over for such frivolities as articulacy and explanation. (The use of the words ‘frivolities’ and ‘articulacy’ in that sentence, incidentally, coincides with the conclusion of the derby fixture; a 2-1 win for the home side, a victory for – fancy this! – the underdogs of United and the pure, flowing football drilled into the side by scholarly manager Barry Burton.)

With that all-important fixture satisfactorily concluded, we can crack on with the review. I would say the review of the game, but Football Manager is more than a game. It’s more than a game about more than a game. It’s a metagame squared. What it is… well. What it is, those of you who ‘get’ it will be able to explain to yourselves. To the uninitiated, Football Manager 2010 is nothing more than a fancy database with a graphical skin and, in a frivolous concession to aesthetics of the sort that have been embedded more and more within the thing in the last decade, a 3D match simulator. And objectively, they’d be right. But, much like football itself, Football Manager 2010 does funny things. It is more than the sum of its parts. Like football, it can be uplifting, it can be crushing, it can be depressingly dull or thrillingly tense. It can be anything.

Unlike most games, there is no ‘end’ to Football Manager 2010. There is no way to complete the game; it simply continues, on into the future, for as long as the player dares to engage. The beauty of it is that there’s always a new twist around the corner - there’s always something to keep you going. There’ll always be another wonderkid, another challenge to set yourself, another project to nurture. The game’s boundaries are set entirely by the player, and the player himself tests himself within those boundaries. For a game that is at once so simple and yet so tantalisingly complex, this is tantamount to giving a 12-year-old a vault filled with sweets; he just wants to try everything, to keep going and keep pushing himself till he’s completely and utterly sated. And then he wants to do it again, and again, and again; pretty soon, he’s sporting a not inconsiderable paunch and can barely move from his chair. But I digress…

If you can find something witty to say about this screenshot, then don't be shy.

There has been little talk, amongst the conjecture and the waffle, of what the bleeding Hell this game is actually like to play. It’s difficult to describe the interface and the tools at the player’s disposal without referring back to previous games, but here goes: The transfers are more realistic than ever, and now other teams will actually bid for your players after you’ve transfer listed them; the 3D match engine is rubbish, an irrelevance, a distraction from the task at hand; player stats seem to be lower even than in the 2009 edition of the game, and the more seasons you play, the worse the standard of player seems to get, a strange pattern that really ought to be patched, either by makers Sports Interactive or by some obsessive bastard with too much time on his hands;  some nice new touches have been added, like stadia being renamed after club legends. The overall ‘feel’ of the game is of a game that is quicker and easier to click through than the 2009 edition, but that is still bloated when compared to the iterations of my childhood. Damn that match engine and damn that pretty game skin!

Those of you who have never played a Football Manager (or Championship Manager pre-2004) game will most likely have no idea what I’m on about, and most likely won’t care either.  You’ll never know the almost paternal feeling of pride that comes from one of your youth team graduates flourishing; never know the feeling of tension that comes with a vital relegation six-pointer; never know the feeling of satisfaction when all of your side’s plans for the season come to fruition.

Or at least, you won’t unless you’re a football fan. Football Manager is the football fan’s dream. Every football fan knows that if only he were in charge, if only he picked the team and set the tactics, things would be better for his team. Football Manager 2010, as it always has done and always will, takes this fantasy and makes it, if not real, then certainly…

Ah, fuck it. It’s real to me. Manchester United 2 – 1 Manchester City. There, on my hard drive, for all eternity.


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Thursday, 4 February 2010

Retrospective - Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

  • Game: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
  • Format: PS3
  • First Released: November 20, 2007 (USA)
  • Developer: Naughty Dog
  • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
  • Genre: Third Person Adventure

I know I'm late to the party. This game came out in 2007 just after the PS3's launch in Europe. I'm excused for being late for two reasons; firstly, I only got my PS3 in 2008 and, secondly, the PS3's just a glorified Blu-ray player, right? Wrong. Definitely wrong. And I'll tell you for why.

When you first load the game up the main thing that grabs your attention is the graphics. Everything is crisp, everything is clear and the backgrounds are gorgeous. A special mention has to go to the character models though, they truly are astounding. The developers have crammed the game disc with ten times more movement animations and 70-80 facial animations per character which when combined really enhance the game and succeeds in further drawing you into the game world.

So the game world looks real, but how does it sound? Pretty bloody good is how it sounds. The score is creepy when it needs to be, inquisitive when it wants to be, and downright dramatic the rest of the time. The music fulfills the objective of being atmospheric and adding a real sense of occasion to the play-through. A huge shout-out has to go to the voice actors. Nolan North does a great job of depicting the cocksure treasure hunter Drake but also, with the excellent character models, can portray sorrow, concern, pain, anguish, elation, bereavement, and any other emotion you wish to name. Other honourable mentions go to Sully and Elena who give the game some depth and perspective alongside Drake.

 Characters! Some of them!

The story is your typical treasure hunter scenario: Group A finds ancient clues that lead to treasure 1, group B steal it, group A get it back, both groups head towards the final destination where they inevitably cross paths and chaos ensues. It's all very National Treasure, but that's not to say it's not enjoyable. There's a bit of a twist around chapter 19 that left me feeling a tad bitter for being so predictable insomuch as it followed a typical videogame convention instead of sticking to what it was doing best, but the game soon explained itself and everything was forgiven. Well, nearly everything. The jetski sections are sure to haunt me for the rest of my life but thankfully they only occupy a minuscule amount of the overall game time.

"Aye, right, cheers Jambo but ye haven't told us aboot the game - ye've just gan an aboot facial animations and other bunkum." Alright! I'm getting there. I might even do it now. The game has a cover system - very similar to the Gears of War franchise's own - and it works great. Corners, boxes, fences, and bannisters provide excellent cover and the majority of it can be destroyed by a few bullets leaving you frantically scurrying around like fat kid who's misplaced his Freddo. The gunplay is also very satisfying with a nice range of pew-pews to choose from and they all feel crunchy and meaty.

 Shoot them! Shoot them with your gun!

The PS3 pad works very well with aiming and shooting being done with the L1 and R1 buttons. This is a great move as, quite frankly, the L2 and R2 buttons where these actions are conventionally mapped are rubbish on the DualShock3. The game also makes use of the SixAxis technology but thankfully it's few and far between. I don't say that because it's implemented poorly, I say that because motion control is a terrible, terrible idea that has only succeeded in saturating the games market with shovelware.

The game uses a few QTEs to advance the story but I feel these work very well within the context of the game. I know these can be controversial as a lot of gamers find them as a cheap way of forcing human interaction within a static scene, but I really enjoy them. So there!

All in all, Uncharted is an excellent game - worthy of any and all praise that is heaped at it, piling up by its feet. It's engrossing, encapsulating, atmospheric, delightful to look at and a pleasure to play. The game demands attention much the same way a Hollywood blockbuster does and it's certainly evident that films paid a huge part in the inspiration and design of the game so it comes as no surprise that an Uncharted film is currently being made. Games like this restore my faith in the PS3 as a console. Games like this restore my faith in videogames where bringing in a new IP is considered a costly risk. Games like this are why I play games in the first place. The promise of a second installment - already out - fills me with joy. Uncharted is the first PS3 exclusive I've played and thought: "y'know what, this is actually really good" and for that it can be considered a rare treasure indeed.

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Sunday, 24 January 2010

The Wonders and Woes of Achievements

To be completely honest, right from the get go, this article is probably going to be nothing but shit you already know, but I don't care. I've got the writing bug right about now and I need to type, type, and then probably type some more. Judging by the title, you probably already know what I'm going to be harping on about for the rest of the article, but seeing as I've not really decided on a title as I type this, chances are it has nothing to do with achievements (because that's what I'm going to be talking about), so that's for the benefit of all you Future People who are reading this whenever I decide this article is finished. Anyway, Achievements, and the Gamerscore you accumulate by getting them, are a brilliant new breed of the high-scores of old arcade machines, like some kind of giant meta-leaderboard. They have a broader appeal though, because you can show off your Gamerscore in that neat little Gamercard on your profile on Xbox Live, on forums, on Facebook, on your phone and so forth, etcetera. But the real reason they have proven to become such a success (and have been copied wholesale all over the industry) is because they extend a game's lifetime, sometimes by triple if not double.

I've played a fair amount of games for far more hours than I normally would have thanks to the wonders of achievements. Take Mass Effect for instance, one of my favourite games of this generation. I've played it through to completion at least 3 times, and while the game probably did just enough to make me want to play it through thrice, that overwhelming draw of getting achievements probably galvanised me even more, as that particular game's achievements are purposefully integrated to make you play the game, I think, five times all the way through to get that Holy Grail of 1000G. It maybe a bit extreme (the game is roughly about 30 hours long if you do the side-quests, which are necessary to get some of the achievements), but at least it gives you a reward for putting the effort in.

Last generation, we didn't have anything like this. If you completed a game 100% the rewards for doing such a thing were pride in yourself and your gaming ability, but that was kind of it. The games themselves rarely ever rewarded you post 100% completion. Every other game might have given you a cool unlockable, but most of the time it was hardly ever worth the effort. Tell someone else about such an achievement and they either won't care, won't believe you or wonder if you have a life. Now, though, you have proof, and at the same time, reward! We all know just how satisfying it is to hear that "buh-doh" sound effect pop-up (and it not just being your friend signing in), then hitting the guide button and seeing what exactly that achievement was and how it has affected your overall Gamerscore. It truly is a joy. The proof of it, too, is now sitting on your profile, waiting to be shown off to your friends who, at one time, may not have believed you. Again: satisfying! There's not much to be done about those who don't care or wonder if you have a life, though. Balls to 'em, I say!

Well, I would say that, if I didn't agree with them. You see, to me, there is a line. If I'm not enjoying it, I won't do it. In my opinion, games are 1 part competitiveness, 2 parts relaxation, and 3 parts fun for me (unless I'm playing Modern Warfare 2, then relaxation gets thrown out of the door and gets taken over by competitiveness). So if I have to grind through a game, I'll just turn it off and find something else to play, and that includes having to grind through a game to get the achievements. I tried to get through Mass Effect one more time before Christmas to try and get a few more achievements before Mass Effect 2, but I died without saving (a fatal flaw in this game), turned it off and haven't touched it since. It's just not for me. If you do, however, enjoy the grind, then that's cool. Just don't expect me to understand it. Achievements, as good as they are, just don't seem really worth the effort unless you're having fun.

What also doesn't seem like a lot of fun to me is people using exploits in the game to get achievements. Now, this isn't glitching a game or cheating or anything that unsavoury and downright stupid, it's more getting around what needs to be done for an achievement and getting it easily or quickly. Say, for example, if a platform game requires you to jump 100,000 times for an achievement to unlock - some people would actually sit on their arses in front of their consoles tapping away at the A button waiting for that achievement to pop even though that achievement might be perfectly reasonable to acquire just by playing the game normally. That, my friends, not only defeats the point somewhat, can't be fun in the slightest, can't have any real sense of accomplishment to accompany it, but also really sort of puts to the sword the belief that the individual who would do this actually has a life. Just rent a game that has easy achievements; you might actually still have fun doing it, even if the game is crap!

In the end, though, it doesn't really mean much, but a score is something you can be proud of, whether it's 5,000 or 50,000, especially if you you've earned it legitimately. There might be a couple of games that you only played for the easy achievements, but you can disregard that knowing, at the very least, the majority of achievements you've acquired were obtained the hard way the right way!

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Tuesday, 5 January 2010

TGN Game of the Year 2009

It's 2010 so, naturally, we look back at the previous year in various different ways. The most popular form seems to be all over the TV in the form of list shows, but they're inexpensive to make and get good viewing figures (I think), so I'm going to conform to that because I'm pretty bored, and the Blog hasn't had a new article all year (hurr-durr). SO! I went into the GotY thread on TGN and tallied up the "votes" and came to a really unsurprising conclusion. I'm going to do it anyway. I'm bored.

Now, the nature of the thread means that this is all pretty sketchy, as Mr Party Hat couldn't select a single game, so he told everyone to list 5 and most did, though some only mentioned one, and one person put down 10. But it seems to work regardless of that (as per usual on TGN), certainly, my GotY hit the top spot. A bunch of games were only mentioned once, so I got rid of them for the countdown. I ended up with a Top 8. At least it's an even number…

Tales of Vesperia
2 votes

I haven't played this, yet, so I'll hand it over to quotes from the thread.

Master hunter:
"An example of how JRPG's should be done. Addictive story, likeable characters, awesome soundtrack, nice length, and I can't think of where they took a step wrong besides having unskippable cutscenes."

"Truly awesome experience. The fighting just worked, there were some unreasonably tough sections but the majority was do-able with challenge. On the second play-through it made you feel like God.

…it was simply a joy to play, and a truly epic experience."

Ghostbusters: The Video Game
2 votes

I've waxed lyrical about this game on TGN, or at least if I haven't I bloody well should have done. No, I definitely think I have. You see, it's Ghostbusters and it's a video game, but it's a damn fine video-game. Prior to its eventual and troubled release there was a feeling in the air that it might be a bit rubbish, as with most licensed games, but it really isn't. The ghost trapping is spot-on and it's incredibly fun, too, and the cast is there in their entirety… almost. You've got all the Ghostbusters, Janine and even dickless himself, Walter Peck. Only Dana and Louis are missing, but that's not really a problem. It's not as funny as the movies and certainly not as quotable as the first, but it's got a lot of legs, as you'll find on your third or fourth play-through. It's also got a fairly well-done and enjoyable multiplayer, even if it's a little difficult to get into a game with a friend. Then there's the fan-service; it references the film almost non-stop throughout the game, whether it's a dancing toaster or the portrait of Vigo (who will admonish you should you approach him), to the brilliant boss-battle with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, and the back-story given to the Gray Lady, the very first spectre the 'Busters encounter. Fantastic.

2 votes

Mr Party Hat:
"There isn't much that can be said about Borderlands that hasn't already been shouted from the forum-tops by an adoring Internet. It has more satisfying gunplay than any FPS released all year, perfects WoW's loot fetishism in a way even other MMOs struggle to do and is set in a strikingly pretty world. Above all else though, and perhaps more than any other console game this year, it was created out of the developer's desire to do so, rather than financial necessity, and this comes through in every acid bleeding, blood splattered, shotgun wielding Badass Midget Psycho."

Enough said, I think.

Assassin's Creed 2
3 votes

Now, this only got two mentions in the thread, but I got it for Christmas and I'm adding a vote for me. I haven't even completed it yet, but I'm absolutely loving it.

Apocalypse Dude:
"A perfect example of how exactly to do a sequel. They took on board everything that was criticised from the first game and corrected it, improved everything that was already great, and then threw a heap of new stuff in on top. Utterly superb.

Also, best last boss ever."

I can't say anything at all about the last boss, but I've played enough to know just how good a game AC2 is. It takes a while to get into the game proper, but it's a testament to how good a game it is that it doesn't matter, as you'll still have a lot of fun. The parkour elements are just as fun as ever, and I found myself climbing the tallest buildings just for the sake of it. There's nothing like the immense sense of satisfaction to be garnered from pulling off a perfectly executed assassination without being seen and without your notoriety going up.

Street Fighter IV
3 votes

A game I've got and have played, but not a game I've played a lot or know much about. I do know it's got fantastic graphics, and what I did play was a lot of fun. Here's a couple of quotes:

Boss Man:
"Brings the classic characters and gameplay from what we loved from SFII. Got this game when it came out and I'm still playing it today."

"Surprised only Boss Man has mentioned it so far, given that it was officially declared as GOTY 2009 when we did the 2008 thread last year

Can't fault it, aside from the lack of an online spectators lobby...looking forward to Super SFIV fixing that though (and adding in Cody!...GOTY 2010 for sure!)"

Uncharted 2
3 votes

Mr Party Hat:
"So beautiful it makes me want to get my cock out, so I've got a third eye to watch it with."

I'd like to leave it at that, but I have to add more stuff in so the box-art doesn't get messed up with the next game.

"For me, this is unquestionably the Game Of The Year. Surpassing the original Uncharted in almost every aspect, Uncharted 2 is a blooming masterpiece from start to finish. Stunningly rendered locations, the best acting on a videogame to date, and a fantastic action-adventure romp.

Perhaps most impressive is the almost complete lack of filler. No endless repeating corridors, no copy-and-paste areas, and none of those endless waves of enemies from the original game. You're always moving forwards, and there's something round every corner. A fast moving river to cross, a collapsing bridge, being chased by a tank, scaling to the top of a ruined luxury hotel… every single minute is gold. With the possible exception of a slightly cheap final boss."

Batman: Arkham Asylum
6 votes

Ah, finally, a game I can talk about. Arkham Asylum is pretty much as perfect as a game can get. It's challenging without being unfair, the story is entertaining and thrilling without going over the top or being too convoluted, the graphics are superb and there are close to no glitches whatsoever. It makes you feel like Batman; you spend most of the game using your grappling hook to get into vantage spots to take out the enemy in the most impressive or efficient way. It's a joy to finally play a game and know that whenever you get hurt, it's pretty much your own fault completely. It must be possible to go through the whole game even on the hardest difficulty and not get hurt at all. That's one of the beautiful things about Arkham Asylum, it never gets frustrating and stays at the right side of challenging throughout. Whenever Batman gets hurt, it's because you've fucked up. You never feel like you've been harshly done by, and whilst there might be times when you'll get a bit angry, it'll only be anger directed toward yourself, never to the game. You might say something like "how the hell was I supposed to know that was going to happen", but deep down, you'll know you did something wrong and could easily have stopped it from happening were you looking in the right direction or what have you.

Every part of this game and every part of Arkham Asylum has been paid so much attention to, it's surprising when you realise that it was made by a little known developer from London whose only previous game was Urban Chaos: Riot Response on the PS2. No, I've never heard of it, either. I can't wait to see what Rocksteady are up to nex– oh, wait Arkham Asylum 2! Sweet.

Number 1
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
7 votes

Predictable? Yes, but as you can see from the votes, it only just won. Undeserved? Definitely not. While the single-player story might be a bit of a mess, it's not so much about the story but rather the situations the game puts you in. In a recent interview with, some of Infinity Ward's lead designers talked about the process of the story's development, and said that they had an idea of a bunch of different set-pieces, then crafted the story around that. You can see that quite clearly, as set-pieces such as invading the Gulag, scaling a glacier and the infamous 'No Russian' level are talked about far more than the actual story. Even with all that said, the single-player campaign is, for most people, only about 10% of the actual game. It's the multi-player that makes up the reason this game is so lauded. It's predecessor, Call of Duty 4, was so good it dominated Xbox Live play-time over the likes of Halo 3 and Gears of War, but Modern Warfare 2 makes CoD4 obsolete in every way shape or form.

At first, even to CoD4 veterans, the sheer amount of new perks, killstreak rewards, deathstreak perks, weapons, weapon add-ons, equipment, challenges, callsigns and game modes can be overwhelming. Once I first started playing the multi-player, I didn't know where to start, and found myself just staring at the screen with my mouth agape. After a few games, though, I was squeaking down my microphone at my friends with sheer delight as I tried out the new care-packages and called in a Precision Airstrike. The amount of times in CoD4 where I've lamented a perfectly placed airstrike missing every opponent because of the random angle the airstrike came in at. Now you have full control over where it strikes and where it comes from. But this isn't even the best killstreak reward; the AC-130 might not be the most effective form of air-support, but it sure is fun and the Chopper Gunner is just ruthless, with a cannon that unloads molten death onto anyone you care to aim at. Then you've got the Nuke. The End Game in its purest form. Incredibly satisfying to use, especially when you're on the losing team. It sounds a little unfair, but, believe me, if you can get a 25 killstreak, you deserve to win the game. I haven't even mentioned Spec-Ops yet, and I can't bothered to, either.

So, there we have it. 2009's best games as (kind of) decided by the gloriously proportioned members of TGN. 2010 will probably be better…

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