Archive for June, 2011

Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition

Probably the most essential title to be launched on day one, this is a full, complete 3D version of the excellent 360/ PS3 brawler. All the modes, all the characters – even the achievements are all present and correct. Absolutely everything from the console game has been ported across to the handheld perfectly, with almost no reduction in quality.

The setup is similar to every other fighting game in existence: you select the play mode, pick a character and off you go. There’s a pleasing variety of options, from the story-driven Arcade mode (with seven difficulties) to Trial challenges, where you need to complete a certain set of moves to pass through to the next level.

All thirty five characters are present and correct, from household names like Ryu, Chun Li and Bison, right down to the ones everyone pretends to remember – Cody, anyone? Each character comes with their own move set and their own speed, although you probably won’t play with most of them after you find the character that suits your style.

The 3D effect is perhaps a minor one, but it does add to the overall immersion of the experience. Swamps and jungles now seem to go on forever, crowds are more densely packed, warehouses larger and deeper than ever before. Landing a super or ultra move means that the final blow now happens right in your face, as opposed to taking place on a screen. This increases the intensity enormously and makes every single fight feel so much more epic and personal.

Perhaps the most significant difference is the addition of touch screen controls. Two of each character’s signature moves, as well as their super and ultra combo, are all mapped onto buttons on the touch screen, allowing even the most unskilled player the chance to unleash the devastation. For pro players, these buttons can be changed to other, smaller combos, like grapples and throws. Thankfully, there’s an option to fight online against players who use the same control type as you, meaning that button spammers will still be destroyed by those with skill.

In addition to an excellent online package, this 3DS version also experiments with the StreetPass feature in an interesting way, even without the game cartridge inserted. The figures you unlock by earning Figure Points (or by converting your hard-earned Play Coins) can be arranged into a team of five, each with a different set of stats. StreetPass anyone else who has done the same thing and you figures will battle, with the winner earning more Figure Points to buy more team members. It’s simplistic, but strangely absorbing, requiring real dedication to finding the ideal team.

Unfortunately, the game does still suffer from the same flaws as its bigger brother, namely in that it can become fairly repetitive fairly quickly. Playing online against people who simply spam attacks can be annoying if you don’t have the skill to counteract their moves and – StreetPass aside – there aren’t any features here that take advantage of the 3DS’s unique abilities.

If you’re looking for a great game on day one, then look no further. An enjoyable, reasonably replayable and exceptionally solid game, SSFIV3DE packs one heck of a punch.

90%

Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars

Gung-ho action franchise Ghost Recon isn’t the most obvious series to try and turn into a turn-based strategy game. It isn’t even the obvious candidate for a launch day game on a 3D system. In spite of those challenges, Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars turns out to be a surprise treat.

You take command of a team of (up to six) Ghost Recon commandos, each of which has a different weapon, secondary weapon, different armour and a different field of movement. Shadow Wars manages to avoid the usual rock-paper-scissors combat of strategy games by its clever use of squares. The battlefield is divided into squares of movement, with cover and height advantage playing an important role in deciding where to stand for your attacks. Another factor is your weapon, as each has a different range and some have splash damage that can play to your advantage – for instance, chucking a grenade causes damage to a group standing close together, while the knife will instant kill someone who is one square away.

The squad themselves are a nicely rounded bunch and their abilities make a difference in your approach to mission. There’s the all-rounder, medic, heavy weapons guy, sniper, invisible scout and engineer. Each successful mission allows you a maximum of two upgrades for each character (up to level twenty five), though it’s up to you which squaddies have priority.

Each time you complete a mission, you unlock either a bonus ‘challenge’ map or a multiplayer campaign. The two-player sections can be a little odd (you take it in turns using the 3DS, like the old Battleship board game), but the challenges are excellent. Set on the same maps as the missions, the challenges see you either racing against time to complete an objective, holding out against a superior force or simply trying to escape without losing a squad member. They’re fast, fun, hard and addictive.

As a strategy game, Shadow Wars may disappoint any that coming looking for more tactical gameplay – after all, Advance Wars is more in-depth than this one. However, it will probably have a wider appeal than any other strategy title simply because this game is far more accessible.

The story might be a forgettable excuse to have six Americans waging war against the entire Russian army and the final missions get bogged down in throwing hateful, too-hard robot enemies at you, but up until then the game is solid, enjoyable and extremely good fun. As a 3D strategy title, it doesn’t make that much use of the software – aside from really looking down into the playing field – but, then again, it’s good to see a game that places more value on being good than shoehorning in a silly way to play.

Shadow Wars is an enjoyable little game with plenty to do and even more to unlock. With three difficulties for each mission and a storyline lasting roughly ten hours, as well as a host of extra bonus challenges on the side, Shadow Wars comes highly recommended.

85%

507 – A Good Man Goes To War

And so the first half of the series draws to a close, with a US TV-style break and an almighty cliffhanger. The events of the past six episodes have all been leading up to this one, and it’s a doozy.

After revealing Amy to be a Flesh construct to deceive himself and Rory, the Doctor prepares an army to wage war on the ones responsible: the mysterious Eyepatch Woman and the Headless Monks, who are holed up on the military asteroid of Demon’s Run. However, the only one who refuses to join is River Song, as she knows what’s about the happen: her secret will at long last be revealed, and the Doctor’s struggle will see him lose harder than ever before…

What’s not to like about this episode? Memorable moments abound – from Rory’s fireblazing opening to that ending – stuffed with cracking characters that actually manage to have a little depth to them. The winner here is the excellent Sontaran nurse, both grumpy and excited by the prospect of combat, although honourable mentions to the Silurian swordswoman and her maid, who appear to have a lesbian thing going on.

In fact, it’s a highly adult, pitch-black episode all round, really. There’s a lesbian couple, a gay couple, people having their heads cut off and shut in a box, severed necks twisted into stumps and more shocking sights, but that would be spoiling it.

All in all, this is probably the finest Doctor Who series that’s yet been made. Dark, twisted, clever, tricky and so bloody good, it makes everything Russell T Davies ever did look laughable (which is, you know, accurate). One tiny flaw – we have to wait until autumn for an episode titled ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’. Moffat, you tease.

506 – The Almost People

Come on, people, who wants another episode of more of the same thing? What’s that, ‘not really’? Well, tough, because that’s what you’re getting.

After spending all of last episode failing to convince the humans that the Gangers are real people and deserve to be treated as such, the Doctor now finds himself in the quandary of having his very own Flesh creation. However, they are both trapped in the middle of a crumbling castle, sitting on top of a very explosive series of acid mines and the Gangers want to go to war with the entire human race…

It’s a strange episode, this one. Roughly half of it is simply more of what was in last week’s instalment – ‘I’m a human!’/ “No you’re not!” – but the other half is the stuff you actually want to see – plastic flesh shapeshifting and going mental. There’s violence, carnage and death on offer, which is why it’s such a shame that the episode wasn’t halved and done as one story instead of two.

Slow burning, a little bumpy and quite cheesy with a far too simplistic climax, the entire two-parter is pretty much saved by excellent CGI, cracking monsters and cliffhangers that will be discussed continuously until the next episode.

505 – The Rebel Flesh

And now for the token, unnecessary, very cheesy two-parter that seems to be required in every Doctor Who series. At least this one is trying to be a bit different.

The Doctor, Amy and Rory arrive on a small planet in the middle of a solar storm, where the only inhabitants are a small group of military contractors who are experimenting with extremely dangerous acids. In order to do their jobs, the group have to use ‘Gangers’, realistic flesh creations with their faces and personalities that remain under their control at all times. However, after a particularly violent solar storm, the compound is damaged and when everyone wakes up, nobody knows who’s real and who isn’t…

Honestly, this doesn’t matter because it’s easy enough to figure out and the idea of who’s a Ganger and who isn’t is discarded pretty early on, meaning that it’s purely a bit of filler designed to pad the episode out to double-length. Most of the episode sees the Doctor trying to convince everyone that the Gangers are real people, before it inevitably goes tits up.

The best part about this episode is that its cliffhanger is really quite good. It’s just a shame that you have to sit through forty five minutes of nonsensical blathering in order to get there.

So… where have I been?

Posted: June 25, 2011 in Musings
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It’s been a mental month.

Firstly, changes to the house. Two out, two in. The house still looks like a bombsite a week later. No access to the living room – therefore, no Wii or Xbox. Mercifully, I made sure to keep my 3DS out of the carnage, otherwise I would be going spare.

Loads of people have been ill or on holiday at work, so I’m now working as much as possible. These shifts tend to be the most unsociable hours going and leave me little time to do anything else.

That Gaming Site has shut down. Connected Consoles appears to be beginning its own death spiral. So I’ve decided to focus on this portfolio for the time being. I’ve written a bunch of reviews for this (Doctor Who, several 3DS games, etc), but haven’t had the time to do anything with them. So now they’re all going to get the posting treatment. Yay.

Portal 2 Review

Posted: June 1, 2011 in Review
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Portal 2 Review

The original Portal raised the bar for puzzle games. Lasting just four hours, it introduced players to the mind-boggling concept of portal guns that create magic wormholes, as well as encouraging creative thinkers to try and break the rules.

Now Valve are back for a second go at breaking the brains of their players and the original game’s beautiful design is more or less left completely untouched. You’re still challenged to find a way from A to B, except now the number of variables has increased. Alongside un-portalable surfaces and weighted switches are new puzzles like laser beams, reflective boxes, gravity tubes and a variety of surface-altering gels that all need to be manipulated into serving your purpose.

Those who grasped the concept of portals quickly the first time around will be able to blast through the first half of the game with little difficulty, but the game’s gentle learning curve is deceptive, sneaking in some real head-scratchers amongst the simpler puzzles, often tricking you into over-complicating your thinking.

But the best part of Portal 2 is not the ingenious puzzles or the incredible mental gymnastics that solving them requires you to go through. No, the best part of Portal 2 is the sense of joy. Literally everything in this game is designed to have its players pumping their fists in the air, or howling with laughter, or both. Incredible set-pieces crop up with an intense regularity – be it seeing part of the facility collapse or watching the lab get built up around you as you walk through it – and the script is perhaps the best one ever written for a game.

Naturally, GLaDOS’s hilariously biting sarcasm makes a welcome return, but it’s Stephen Merchant who really steals the show as incompetent robot sidekick Wheatley. Whether it’s shouting unhelpful advice or rambling off on a tangent about birds, Merchant’s hysterical dialogue will act as a kind of magnet, pulling you on through the rest of the game if only to hear what he says next. Considering that there are only three voices to be heard throughout the entire single player campaign, the script is nothing short of a triumph.

While the dialogue is outstanding, it wouldn’t be half as entertaining if the core game wasn’t so good. The great thing about Portal 2 is that you’re never penalised for going at your own speed. You’re presented with a room and the exit. How you get there is completely up to you and the longer it takes to figure it out, the more satisfying the payoff.

On top of the excellent single player is an equally gripping co-op campaign. However, this does suffer slightly in that you need a partner of equal skill, otherwise it can become frustrating.

Portal 2 manages the impossible – by taking a damn-near perfect game and making it damn-near perfect in an all-new way. More than just a worthy sequel, Portal 2 is easily one of gaming’s greatest achievements. Consider the bar well and truly raised… again.

97%