Archive for June, 2010

Perfect Dark XBLA Review

Posted: June 30, 2010 in Review
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Perfect Dark XBox Live Arcade Review

In 1997, Rare shaped the future of console first person shooters forever, with GoldenEye, one of the most beloved games of all time. In 2000, they released the spiritual successor, Perfect Dark. True to its name, it was absolutely perfect, taking everything Goldeneye did right and improvement. To this day it remains one of the finest FPS experiences of all time.

So here comes the ten year anniversary edition of a classic, mercifully, rare and converters 4D have resisted the temptation to do a George Lucas and inset Hayden Christiansen’s face anywhere. Instead the most obvious (and the best) change to have been made to it is a slight updated of graphics – textures, faces and details.

In the year 2040, Carrington Institute operative Joanna Dark is assigned a relatively simple mission – to infiltrate the DataDyne building and sneak out a man who has asked for assistance, Doctor Caroll. In doing so, Joanna sets in motion a chain of events that threaten Carrington, the President of the United States and the entire world…

There isn’t much to say about the game that wasn’t said ten years ago. It still – unbelievably, still – rates as one of the finest FPS experiences any player will ever have. In fact, if the multiplayer on the Modern Warfare games wasn’t so good, this would outclass them by a mile. The game is tight, focussed and hard as nails.

In the single player story, each difficulty adds in a different set of challenges to be overcome, such as more enemies, tougher enemies, new areas and more objectives. Players who haven’t got ten years of memory stored away in their brains might find the objectives a tad obscure and the hints unhelpful, especially given that there’s no marker to follow. This is true gaming – as hardcore as it gets.

Everything that was present in the original game is here again, in full, high-definition glory. The single player, co-op gameplay, counter-op missions, the multiplayer and even those challenge levels that range from too-easy to oh-my-god-the-bots-are-evil! difficulty. It’s all present and correct, even the game’s many secrets, hidden cheese blocks and glitches, which serve to make this one of the most satisfying and unbelievably necessary purchases to have ever been released on the Arcade.

While nobody has dared to bugger about with what worked so well the first time around, there are a couple of issues – just minor ones, mind – that need addressing. Firstly, the online aspects. The multiplayer is still as flawless as it was back then – fast, hectic, completely brilliant and endlessly replayable. The downside is that, for whatever reason, the co-op and counter-op feel like they’ve been dipped in treacle.

Play with a friend or stranger online in the story and you’ll find a bizarre, almost jarring slowdown. There’s a noticeable delay between control input and movement onscreen, one that makes it near-impossible to play the game beyond getting the achievements for trying it out. It’s annoying, stupid and downright irritating – a black mark on a perfect record.

But that’s the only problem. This is still Perfect Dark. Untouched by Rare’s recent failings and unbesmirched by that appalling sequel-prequel, this is still an utter masterpiece. With the game looking like a slightly dressed-up version of its former self, it’s even more likeable than before. Shame about the co-op, though.

If you’ve never played Perfect Dark before, bash your head against a wall and download this. If you played it ten years ago, you’ve already got it all over again. Savour it, that wonderful taste of ten-year-old perfection.

93%

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Modern Warfare 2 Review

With the first Modern Warfare becoming the biggest-selling action game of all time, the pressure is really on for developers Infinity Ward. Can they deliver a game that is not only worthy of the name, but an improvement on the original? The answer is, undoubtedly, yes.

The story picks up five years after the events of the first game. Original game’s hero ‘Soap’ Mactavish is now a captain in the elite Task Force 141 and leading newbie ‘Roach’ Sanderson on stealth missions to steal a Russian tracking module. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, US Ranger Joseph Allen is hand-picked by General Shepard to join Task Force 141. His goal is to infiltrate an Ultranationalist terrorist group headed by Makarov, a vicious gun for hire with no boundaries.

Naturally, it all goes mammaries skyward when Makarov catches on, shooting up a Russian airport and blaming it on the Americans. So begins a chain of events that threaten to change the face of the entire world…

This is the biggest, silliest, most explosive, over-the-top action game of all time. While the first game’s story was impressive because of its realism, this one aims to thrill through the sheer number of balls-out, jaw-dropping moments. It’s the closest games have ever come to being an interactive Michael Bay film- and that, for once, is a good thing.

The single player campaign is an absolute blast – addictive, fun, exciting and utterly ridiculous. There’s no other story mode like it. Even better, there’s more secret enemy intel items hidden away to be found than the last game, and it’s also been made a damn sight easier to complete on Veteran difficulty.

In addition to the impressive single-player, there’s also a whole new set of ‘Spec Ops’ challenges that can be played solo, with a mate, or online. There’s a huge variety of challenges, mostly based on objectives in the story campaign, all of which are set in levels from both the first and second game. Each of the Spec Ops provides its own incredible, unique and thought-provoking challenge, with the difficulty curve rising beautifully throughout. The Spec Ops themselves are divided up and categorised by how tough they are, with some remaining locked until the player has earned enough stars by beating the levels on all three difficulties.

Spec Ops is a fantastic addition to a cracking game, bringing in even more reason to play the game long after you’re seen the end credits on the main campaign. It’s fast, furious, incredibly hard and deeply replayable, thanks to Infinity Ward adding on their best times to the completed challenges.

But the best thing about Modern Warfare 2 is, like its predecessor, the multiplayer. This game takes everything that was great about the first version and improves it. There are more weapons, more unlockable attachments, more killstreak perks, death perks and even more improvements to make to existing perks. The result is an endlessly customisable game that can be adapted to absolutely any player’s skill. While new players will still owned up with relative ease, Infinity Ward have wisely added in a number of new ways to earn those all-important experience points. Now, instead of just gaining points through ranking, kills and challenges, you get points for stopping enemies in their killstreak, for killing the person who killed you, for scoring headshots, for getting one-shot kills, for ending your own losing streak… the list goes on. Needless to say, this is the only multiplayer FPS experience you’ll ever need.

There are a couple of downsides, though. While the multiplayer is great, it can become quite stale and repetitive, while some of the Spec Ops are too difficult, forcing you to find and exploit bugs in the design, something that goes against the point of the game. Having said that, these are small issues in a massive game with absolutely oodles of things to do, see and experience.

This is Modern Warfare 2. No introduction needed. If you don’t already own this game, you need to. It’s that simple.

96%

Resident Evil 5: Downloadable Content Review

It’s been over a year since Capcom’s co-op adventure finally saw the light of day and the developers haven’t been resting on the laurels. Instead, they’ve crafted several downloadable add-on packs to enhance what was already a great game and the result is this thrilling ensemble.

First up, ‘Lost in Nightmares’, a new story chapter and probably the weakest of all the expansions. The short (45 minutes or so) mission sees Chris and Jill infiltrating Spencer’s mansion from the flashback scenes in the main game. The scenario has players skulking around the usual, if delightfully familiar, gloomy mansion, solving rubbish puzzles and dodging the only enemy: the anchor-wielding, Executioner-cum-Lisa Trevor-alike ‘Guardian of Insanity’.

While it is a nice retro throwback to classic Resi, it is a very slow-moving, almost empty game. The problem is that it’s a horror game made by action developers, so there’s not much going on. You don’t have many guns and the guardians only crop up for only a few times before moving a side for a disappointingly easy fight with Wesker.

Saying that, there is one excellent centrepiece moment where Chris and Jill are disarmed and forced to take on a group of Guardians with a variety of sneaky traps. It’s a brilliant, intense and highly enjoyable section. It’s just a shame that the rest of the scenario isn’t as good as this section.

The other story chapter is ‘Desperate Escape’, where Jill and BSAA member Josh Stone race to flee an onslaught of Majini to get to a helicopter. It’s fun, fast, frantic and action-packed, easily rivalling parts of the main game for explosive thrills.

Essentially, all you’re doing is running down a really linear set route, but it’s the pace and the intensity that really drag you into it. At the beginning, only a few Majini are after to you. Towards the end, you’ve gotten the attention of dozens of them, all of whom attack you at once. To make the action even more exciting, the chapter ends with an incredible ten minute siege against waves of unrelenting enemies of all kinds and random appearances from the biggest nasties – Executioners, Gatling Gun Majinis, you name it. ‘Desperate Escape’ is easily the most enjoyable of the two story expansions.

The story add-ons come with two halves of an additional expansion – ‘The Mercenaries Reunion’, an update to the much-loved point-scoring killathon. The levels are the same as they were before, but this time a few of the time extensions and score bonuses have been moved around. While this might not seem like a lot, it does alter the game significantly for those who knew the maps like the backs of their hands.

What’s most exciting about the maps are the new playable characters. Chris and Sheva come in their two new costumes, both of which can be worn in the main game as well. Chris gets two slightly weird costumes – the hyper-camp, Mad Max-alike Warrior and OTT Heavy Metal – while Sheva has to make do with the token ‘sexy slut’ Red Riding Hood-inspired Fairy Tale outfit and sexy secretary Business gear. The other characters are a lot more exciting; letting you play as ‘Desperate Escape’ support character Josh Stone, the main game’s underused sub-villain Excella Gione and two classic Resi fan favourites – Barry Burton and Rebecca Chambers.

Naturally, each character has a different set of weapons that bring a different challenge to the table. Arguably the most difficult is Barry, who lacks a shotgun for crowd control, while Heavy Metal Chris carries only a Stud Rod and an infinite ammo gatling gun. There are also ten new unlockable figurines to earn of all the new characters in action poses, al of which are included in the download. ‘The Mercenaries Reunion’ is easily as great as the last time around, and the added bonus of familiar faces is highly welcome, marking this out as one of the many reasons to invest in the cost of the download.

The final add-on for Resident Evil 5 is probably the most exciting of all of them: Versus mode. Essentially, Versus is a slightly modified version of Mercenaries, where players still get swarmed with Majini, but this time you can target each other.

Versus has two game modes – Slayers and Survivors, both of which can either be played by four individual people or in teams of two. Slayers simply sees players battling for the high score with the added bonus of being able to kill other players for extra score, or dying to lose major points. It’s fast, fun and frantic, although it would really have benefited from having a separate rule system for not killing other players. Those who want a non-violent score challenge are forced to ask the other players nicely and hope everybody is listening, which can be infuriating.

Survivors is an entirely different kettle of fish. In this mode, the characters are all stripped of their secondary weapons, forcing them to rely only on pistols. Majini still attack constantly, but no points are awarded for killing them. The only way to get points is by killing other players, while bonus weapons are found only by killing the boss monsters – Executioner, Giant Majini, etc. It’s a tough game mode, but a very satisfying, highly enjoyable one. On top of all these additional gameplay add-ons are twenty new achievements – some simple (complete ‘Lost in Nightmares’), some insanely difficult (defeat a hundred players with melee attacks), but all of them add an extra layer of challenge to what was already a classic game. The only real downside is that you can’t use the new characters from Reunion in Versus.

There are two ways to purchase the new modes – if you have Xbox Live, you can download the whole lot for around 3,000 MS points (about £25). If you don’t have Live, you can buy the newly released Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition, which contains all the new content except for Versus mode. Gold Edition will set you back at least £30 – it’s far easier just to download.

Should you buy the expansions for Resident Evil 5? Essentially, yes. If you liked the main game and want more of the same, you couldn’t ask for a better series of add-ons. Even if you didn’t like the main game, it’s well worth playing Versus for sheer fun. As an investment, it’s one of the best expansions available for any game and well worth the money.

90%

There’s some more stuff on the way. Some pretty exciting stuff (for me, anyway.) More work. More websites. More writing. More money? Um… I do this out of love.

Doctor Who: Vincent and the Doctor
Doctor Who: The Lodger
Clash of the Titans: The Videogame
The Cleveland Show: Episode Twenty
Doctor Who: The Pandorica Opens

Iron Man 2: The Videogame (DS) Review

Ah, games of films. They’re always around when you need them and nine times out of ten they’re a big load of bum droppings. Mercifully, Iron Man 2: The Videogame (subtitle added in case you thought the film had accidentally been released on DS) continues this gloriously crap tradition.

In the film, Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark teams up with James ‘War Machine’ Rhodes to overcome the combined might of Ivan ‘Whiplash’ Vanko and power-mad weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer. In the game, Iron Man and War Machine split up to take on lots and lots of identical robots to stop ULTIMO, an evil supercomputer. So about as close to the film as gargling camel sweat is to making music (and about as enjoyable an experience.)

There is a story in here somewhere but, to be honest it’s so awful your brain will escape from your ears to avoid taking it in. Just enjoy the heavily-pixellated mug of Samuel L Jackson and try not to read the terrible dialogue.

Playing the game is like slamming your hands in a car door, only not as rewarding. As Iron Man, you fly left-to-right, destroying grey robots via the button controls. As War Machine, you fly left-to-right on the same levels, destroying the same grey robots but with touch screen controls instead. Die and you’ll play a touch screen game of dot-matching to carry on, something that’s irritating as hell when you’re playing as Iron Man.

There are plenty of secrets lurking in the levels (good luck navigating their appalling design, though), such as the completely useless comic book covers, unnoticeable suit damage upgrades and bonus outfits from the characters’ long history. None of them make slightest bit of difference to the game at all and the visuals are so ugly that it’s hard to tell any of the suits apart.

Also, as a reward for defeating certain numbers of enemies, you unlock combat simulation challenges where you, um, get to destroy more of the same enemies. Thanks?

Completing the levels gives you points to spend on moderately useful attack upgrades. While the features for Iron Man are complete rubbish, War Machine’s upgrades actually make a difference to the gameplay. In fact, there’s so much more thought gone into War Machine than Iron Man that the game should be called ‘big grey robot smackdown’.

All in all, Iron Man 2: The Videogame is pure bollocks. Playing as War Machine is the closest thing you’ll find here to something resembling mildly interesting. The rest of the game is a fun-sucking, soul-destroying harpy of a game. Go and watch animals get hit by cars instead – it’s just as depressing and much cheaper.

15%

Left 4 Dead 2: The Passing Review

‘The Passing’ is a downloadable expansion with a real emphasis on ‘expansion’. While the two new chapters on offer are fairly short, Valve have cleverly attached a fantastic new set of challenges, all of which are a part of the content.

‘The Passing’ is set between the survivors’ mall escape in ‘Dead Centre’ and their arrival at the fairground in ‘Dark Carnival’. In it the survivors are forced to abandon their car and head underneath a river to lower a drawbridge. The twist this time is the cameo appearances of two of the previous games heroes – Zoey and Francis.

This two-chapter campaign might be a fairly short ride, but there are plenty of great ideas stashed away, like a devastated wedding with a gown-wearing Witch and a phenomenal scramble through a water-logged sewer with alarm bells bringing the horde down with you.

There are no new enemies on offer, but there are a couple of ace new weapons – the slow but wide-swinging golf club and the non-reloadable belt-fed M60. Both of them are a welcome addition to the weaponry roster and bring a great slice of zombie-exterminating mayhem into the bargain. There are also new weapons stashes, metal lockers that carry an unlimited assortment of random goodies and a new Uncommon Infected – the freebie-carrying Fallen Survivor.

‘The Passing’ also has new maps for Scavenge and Survival modes, as well as ten new achievements. But all of this is nothing compared to what comes with the download: Mutation Mode.

The Mutations are brand new, weekly game modes with new rules created by the developers. Every Friday a new game mode is tested out and after four mutations, the players get to vote on which one is made permanent. This means, essentially, that the game gets bigger each and every week. Already players have installed the excellent ‘Realism Versus’ mode and tested out the likes of ‘Last Gnome on Earth’ (carry the gnome to the end), ‘Bleed Out’ (health depletes rapidly) and ‘Room For One (first player to get to the campaign’s exit wins). Each of these add a thrilling new layer onto what was already a phenomenal game.

If Left 4 Dead 2 is the definitive co-op game then ‘The Passing’ is the definitive add-on. New chapters, new weapons, new maps and a game that has the potential to expand endlessly, all for just 800 MS points. An absolute must have.

98%

Left 4 Dead 2 Review

Posted: June 17, 2010 in Review
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Left 4 Dead 2 Review

The first Left 4 Dead was an overrated pile of twaddle. Sure, it was fairly good fun online, but the levels, weapons and zombies were poor, repetitive and boring. If anything, it was a tech demo for a much better game.

Speaking of a much better game, here’s Left 4 Dead 2, a game that seizes the promise of the original and amplifies it by a thousand. Better characters, better levels, more guns, more special infected all equal more fun.

The keyword is variety. While the gameplay is identical to the previous game – four people work together to run from A to B – the sheer variety of great new ideas is staggering. Buildings catch fire, smoke obscures visibility, thunderstorms slow progress, level layouts change, the list goes on. As for the levels themselves, they’re leaps and bounds ahead of the first game. Malls, gunshops, fairground attractions, swamps, crashed airliners, construction sites and even war-torn cities. In short, the levels are so wildly, so visually, different to each other that they’re all truly incredible.

Even the end-of-campaign horde slaughter is made more enjoyable by various new ideas. While some missions are the same old ‘survive the onslaught’ affairs, others are more cunning. One sees the survivors sprinting around a mall, trying to gather gas cans to fill a car with, while another features a tremendously exciting headlong sprint across a bridge.

The special infected also add a brilliant new variety to the existing bunch, including the head-leaping Jockey, the destructive Charger and the goo-spitting, um, Spitter. All of them serve the purpose of splitting up the human characters and each adds a fantastic new layer to the challenge of survival. In addition, each level has unique zombies that new threats – infected riot police wear body armour, dead clowns have horde-attracting squeaky shoes and reanimated construction workers wear ear defenders, making them immune to pipe bombs.

The new weapons add tactics to the gameplay as well. Do you have dual pistols, a single desert eagle or swap handguns for one of the eight melee weapons? As for the primary weapons, the choices are extensive – silenced submachine guns, new machine guns, burst-fire guns, more shotguns and even a new version of the nigh-useless sniper rifle.

On top of this are laser sights for accurate shooting, special incendiary and explosive bullets, jars of horde-attracting Boomer vomit, speed-boosting adrenaline shots and even defibrillators for resurrecting fallen survivors. The wealth of imagination non offer is truly head-spinning and it asks the question, ‘where the hell was all this the first time around?’

New game features include gas can collect-a-thon Scavenge and the purer challenge of Survival mode. While Scavenge can only be played online, they are both a hell of a lot of fun and will see players returning to enjoy more time after time.

One the whole, Left 4 Dead 2 is the fun, frantic, highly replayable game the first should have been. More gameplay options provide more fun. Offline, it’s a damned enjoyable blast, but online it might well be the definitive co-op experience.

95%