Posts Tagged ‘360’

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Posted: December 2, 2011 in Review
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Deus Ex Human Revolution Review

The first Deus Ex was magnificent, the original ‘free choice’ game. The less said about the second, the better. So how will this third title fare? It turns out to be a curious mixture of great moments and loathsome mechanics that combine to form an ultimately unsatisfactory whole.

The game revolves around the idea of augmentations, a series of upgrades to your fragile human frame that can change the way you play. You can’t get all of them (at least, you’re not supposed to – the game is so full of glitches that it’s possible to snare all the upgrades before you gain your first side mission) so you are forced to choose how your game unfolds. Do you put the emphasis into stealth, hacking, firepower or physical abilities? Seeing as how the game only congratulates you for playing stealthily and avoiding merciless slaughter, you have free will on the basis that you don’t care about gaining rewards.

The main problem with the game is that it wants to trick the player into believing that they are free to play however they see fit. This is a lie. You have exactly two choices – kill or not kill. Occasionally you’ll have the chance to talk your way through a situation, but this can be waltzed through with the right augmentation. The game also pretends that actions have consequences. This too is a lie. For the most part, interacting with people or completing side missions simply rewards you with an abundance of credits at a later date. Considering how much money you can gain everywhere else in the game, it’s irritating that you aren’t given any other type of reward.

The game’s lack of genuine free will in play continues throughout the entire game. It doesn’t matter how you play through because, if you’ve been a dick to everyone or become worshipped as Mr Nice Guy, there are only four endings. And all four can be unlocked during the final mission. To put it bluntly, there is nothing to gain from being a nice guy in this game. In fact, many of the game’s achievements ask you to play opposite to how you would choose to do things. One rewards you for not completing a sidequest fully, while another will pop up once you’ve allowed a vicious gunrunner to go free. It makes no sense.

Another irritating point is the size of the text in the game – it’s tiny. If you are playing on anything smaller than a wall-sized TV, kiss your chance of reading any ebooks or emails goodbye. There is also the problem of the hacking minigame – a tedious flag-capturing affair that you’ll be playing every five minutes – because it’s just plain naff. Because it’s the only minigame you’ll come across for the entire duration of the campaign, it means that absolutely everything needs to be hacked – people’s homes, storage units, safes, even military installations. You’ll be playing this tiresome game a lot more than you’d like.

The game does do stealth brilliantly, making you any successful infiltration feel like a work of genius on your part. Every enemy can be sneaked past without engaging, every camera can be turned off, every sentry robot can be disabled, and gaining access to a secure facility without raising a single alarm is a very satisfying experience indeed. Although, to be fair, it is one that will see you constantly reloading your last save.

Speaking of which, the load times are horrendous. Even after installing the game on your hard drive, the wait is roughly twenty to thirty seconds for every load screen. And when you consider that most, if not all, of the game’s sidequests ask you to go from one end of the map to the other and back again, you’re looking at a minimum of four load screens for each mission. Bring a book for the wait.

The game also comes riddled with bugs. These range from the exploitable (the ability to upgrade completely at the very beginning of the game with just a few hours’ effort) to the ludicrous (enemy AI seeing through walls). None of them are game-breaking, it’s just disappointing that a triple-A title has come packed with so many glitches.

On the whole, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a strangely unsatisfying game. The feeling on complete a stealth section perfectly is undeniably great, but the game’s appalling story, hateful load screens, loathsome characters and myriad of bugs and glitches render the experience somehow incomplete. For a ‘free choice’ game, that’s just not good enough.

65%

The Darkness Review

Posted: March 11, 2011 in Review
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The Darkness Review

Based on the comic series of the same name, The Darkness follows the escapades of mobster hitman Jackie Estacado, who, on his twenty-first birthday, is possessed by the titular Darkness. Fortunately, this happens on the same day that Jackie is set up to be killed by the Don, his Uncle Paulie, pitching Jackie in a race against time to bring down the boss and stop the Darkness from conquering his soul.

Essentially, The Darkness is an FPS with horror flavourings, although it actually works rather well here (as opposed to F.E.A.R.) because the entire game is coated in a thick layer of gloom. You get a pleasant variety of weapons, ranging from pistols to assault rifles, although they will often take a backseat to the more satisfying Darkness weapons.

Using the Darkness creates some entertaining ways to play the game. Creeping Dark will send out a snake to make some quick stealth kills, while the Ripper can destroy lights and impale enemies. More amusing are the overpowered Darkness Guns and the Black Hole, which do exactly as they suggest. You’re also encouraged to take out the lights in areas you pass through in order to refill your Darkness energy, although there is no on-screen display to let you know how full it is.

The game is disappointingly short, too. If you ignore all the side missions and don’t get lost too many times, it can be blitzed through in about three or four hours. Add on another couple of hours for higher difficulties and completion of all the side missions and you’re still looking at a game that can be rattled through in a couple of sittings.

There are a number of problems with the game, however. Aside from being far too easy even on the hardest difficulty, there are no markers to help you figure out where you’re supposed to go next. The map is also next to useless as it’s far too small and difficult to read, so it can take the first half of your playthrough to figure out where everything is.

There are a number of bugs in the AI as well. The Darklings that you can summon veer wildly between being somewhat useful and totally rubbish. One section requires you to summon an explosive Darkling to sneak into a building and destroy the door for you. However, there’s a fifty-fifty chance that it won’t manage to do that at all and the only way to get around the problem is to turn off the console and try again, something that hampers the rest of the game’s blackly comic charm.

The Darkness might not be to everyone’s tastes as it’s too linear to be an RPG and too focussed on side quests to be that much of an FPS. However it does have a lot of charm and the writing is often exceptional. If you can look past its many issues, there’s a highly enjoyable, well crafted and immersive game underneath.

70%

Just Cause 2 Review

Posted: January 10, 2011 in Review
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Just Cause 2 Review

With open world games getting bigger and bigger everyday, it would seem the very idea of an ‘upper limit’ is becoming a thing of the past. Just Cause 2 sets a new gold standard for scale and it’s perhaps the largest game in open world history because it doesn’t believe in limits.

The game world is utterly enormous, with over fifty square kilometres of the fictional tropical island of Panau stretched out to absurd levels of detail. There’s the usual tourist spots – casinos, unspoilt beaches, etc – more native locations, like jungle-covered temples, villages hidden in the trees and so on, and massive cities that are the size of some whole games. There’s even a space centre with a working launch. On top of this is the ‘no upper limit’ that the game’s box bleats on about, where you can take an aircraft as high as you want to go. Add to this fact that you are encouraged to do things however you like with the double feature of possibly two of videogaming’s greatest items – a grappling hook and a parachute – and you have a world that feels alive, unique and teeming with fun possibilities, but also one that seems exclusive to you.

The plot revolves around going to Panau and taking down a mad dictator, which is just about reason enough to get stuck into the game’s main offering – blowing shit up. The game encourages you to ‘cause chaos’ in order to destabilise the regime and unlock new missions, but it’s simply mindless chaos for the sake of making things go boom. The crazy part is that this simple objective is bloody good fun and only starts to get old towards the game’s end.

You can do absolutely anything in this world. Being chased by a car? Why not grapple hook onto your roof and shoot them? Better still, why not grapple hook onto their car, shoot them all and then steal their vehicle? The same rule applies with helicopters. Hours of fun can be had in the skies of Panau, chucking oppressors of the people out of their helicopters and then commandeering them for some more explodey fun.

While the story missions aren’t particularly long (there are only seven), the game’s running time is padded out by carrying out jobs for the three factions on the island. These missions are often quite similar to each other, with each leader asking you to go somewhere and blow something up, or occasionally help the footsoldiers storm a military compound to create a new fast travel point for yourself on the map.

You can call in help at any time from a mysterious individual who will drop weapons, ammo and vehicles for you (even in the middle of a gunfight) and fast travel you to another point on the map. Even then it’s all about the player’s fun, as you’re dropped out of the plane as it nears the destination. Just Cause 2 is a game that wants the player to have the biggest, most ridiculous Hollywood gaming experience available and it succeeds so easily on this point that it’s scary.

There are some irritations, however, that conspire to hamper enjoyment of the game, though. There are a number of audio bugs throughout the game as well as the occasional graphical glitch. Nothing as appalling as pop-up, thankfully, but it’s still pretty noticeable. Perhaps the worst glitch that occurred in the review playthrough was one that made one of the factions disappear from the map, effectively barring access to a third of the game’s content. Fortunately, such a thing is not common and nothing that bad ever happened again.

Just Cause 2 is probably the biggest, silliest, most fun open world game ever made. While it might get repetitive by the end, it’s still extremely enjoyable up until then. If you’re not daunted by the size of the world or by how much freedom you’re given, this just might become your new favourite game.

80%

Link O’Clock

Posted: November 26, 2010 in Musings
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What are you talking about? This totally counts as one of my two a week.

Alan Wake: The Writer
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1
Dead Rising 2
The Walking Dead: Episode One
The Force Unleashed II (Wii)
The Walking Dead: Episode Two
GoldenEye 007
The Walking Dead: Episode Three

Black Ops Wii Will Have Zombies Too
First GoldenEye Wii Reviews Are In
Reggie: Wii To Sell 15m More Units Before Wii 2
Black Ops Patch On The Way

Call of Duty: Black Ops Wii Details Revealed
Deadly Premonition Review
James Bond 007: Blood Stone Review
GoldenEye 007 Review

Saw 3D Review – They Saved The Worst For Last

Prototype Review

Posted: November 12, 2010 in Review
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Prototype Review

The superhero genre has always lent itself fairly well to mixing with other genres, but perhaps the most underused combination is that with sandbox games. The last great success was perhaps Activision’s game of Spider-Man 2 which featured the entirety of New York, a limitless range of ludicrously over-the-top superheroics to be performed and the voice of Bruce Campbell. Sadly the next two attempts were flawed, with both Ultimate Spider-Man and Spider-Man 3 lacking in the fun department, although playing as nemesis Venom in Ultimate was fairly good fun. Now it’s time to prove once and for all that superpowers and sandboxing go hand-in-hand, and the result is a stonking good experience.

You are Alex Mercer, a man whose day begins by waking up dead with a ludicrous amount of deadly new powers and a craving for blood. With no idea who he is or what happened to him, Alex must work with his sister Dana to piece together the puzzle of his past. Complicating things slightly is the fact that New York is currently experiencing a slight zombie outbreak.

To start with, the city of New York is utterly massive and teeming with things to find, see, do and complete. However, this being a game based around the concept of destruction, you’ll probably spend most of your time blowing the shit out of the city and sniggering to yourself. It’s not a criticism – hell, it’s always bloody good fun – but it does seem to lessen the overall experience that there is literally nothing else to do apart from mindlessly slaughter anything and everything.

Alex himself is a fantastic protagonist – emo hoodie aside – and the feeling of genuinely fluid movement allows the player to really become immersed in the game world with ease. Alex can leap, sprint, run up walls, backflip, roll, do up to two extra jumps in mid-air, transform his and, later on, hijack tanks and helicopters. You really get the feeling of actually being a force out of control, which is why aimless killing fits so well with the rest of the game.

There’s a pleasing variety of main missions and side quests thrown together. Side quests see you forced to push your control of Alex to the absolute fore, with objectives ranging from killing specific targets with specific weapons, running a race across rooftops, using the glide ability to sail down onto a target and a massive free-for-all brawl between the military and the infected. Main missions also see a wide range of things to do, from sneaking inside military installations to protecting convoys and just plain ol’ blowing the hell out of everything within a time limit. There’s a much larger scope of activity on offer here than in, say, GTAVI and you can always be guaranteed to have a good chuckle at leaping into a helicopter and using it to destroy your pursuers before flying away.

Adding an extra option onto the violence and carnage is the stealth ability. Alex can consume literally anyone take on their appearance, allowing him to calmly walk inside a secure building, select a target and stalk them before consuming them in total silence. It’s a small feature, but it adds a slight option onto the usual murderous spree and helps to shake things up a bit.

It’s a fairly lengthy game and if you want to complete everything, you’re looking at putting in over twenty hours at the very least. It’s also highly replayable, with three difficulty options and the ability to restart the story from the beginning with all the powers you gain by the end. There’s an impressive scope of things to keep you coming back for more long after you’ve finished the story.

The downsides are the same as they are for most sandbox games – there only seems to be a set way of doing anything and any action you choose will inevitably result in carnage and death. After a while it does get a bit tedious to constantly destroy everything – even after you finish, there’s no way to use Alex’s powers for good and battling the zombie-spawning hives doesn’t seem to actually abate the spread of the virus.

Still, if you want an open world game with a superpowered protagonist that manages to combine paranoid conspiracy thriller plotting with zombie apocalypse and simultaneously lets you watch a city slowly get overrun by an infection, you could do a lot worse than Prototype. For anyone who has a slight problem with nothing but merciless slaughter, however, you might want to stick to Imagine Babies.

85%

Batman: Arkham Asylum Review

The Dark Knight has made some great comics, brilliant films (as well as some crap ones) and even some tasteful underwear, but he’s never made a truly excellent game. In fact, the last good Batman game was based on the film of Batman Returns during the SNES era. Since then, the Caped Crusader has had to make do with terrible games that involve beating up identikit goons and exploring boring grey areas. While Arkham Asylum almost does the exact same thing, it gets away with it simply by having a genuine love for Batman.

Bats has managed to thwart the Joker yet again and is bringing his arch-nemesis back to Arkham. But something feels wrong to the world’s greatest detective – Joker gave up way too easily for Batman’s liking and so the Dark Knight accompanies his prisoner deep into the Asylum itself. That’s when the Joker, aided by Harley Quinn, springs his trap – releasing all the inmates and imprisoning Batman inside the Asylum. Now Batman is forced to battle through his worst enemies, his most terrible nightmares and his darkest hour…

The first thing you’ll notice about this game is that the combat is utterly brilliant. It’s such a deceptively simple system – X to attack, Y to counter, B to stun, A to dodge – but all of Batman’s attacks are context sensitive depending on the position of the enemy. You might unleash a punch, kick, backhand or spinning heel kick, it all depends on where Bats is standing. You don’t have any control over what attacks Batman uses, but you’ll always feel like you’re accessing Bruce Wayne’s unlimited physical prowess.

The second thing that will strike you like a Batarang to the face is how well-written it all is. Arkham Asylum benefits from an excellent script by comic scribe Paul Dini, who gives Batman and Joker some truly cracking dialogue. Additional villains Quinn, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Mr Zsasz and Scarecrow make up for their limited screen time with fantastic interview tapes that flesh out their backstory and characters. It allows the player to truly convince themselves that they are actually stepping into a rich tapestry formed by seventy-plus years of comics.

On top of the cracking script is the game’s marvellous voice acting. Head of the class is Mark Hamill as the Joker, a flawless performance that manages to capture everything memorable about the character all at once. Following closely behind is Kevin Conroy’s amazing Batman, who manages to make the character relatable, heroic, sympathetic and never resorts to using Christian Bale’s booming shout. It all adds up to probably the most absorbing and immersive superhero game ever made.

The variety of things that Batman can do is outstanding. You essentially have just two choices: you can fight, or you can sneak. The fun part is choosing exactly how to go about doing this. You could knock out one guy and hide in the shadows, dispatching of his friends as they come to investigate. Or you could drop down from a gargoyle statue, grab a goon and tie him up as a warning to the others. The choices might not be endless, but they’re damn good fun.

You’re also backed up by a sterling soundtrack and wonderful visuals. The gloomy appearance of the island meshes brilliantly with the moody music and the two always go hand in hand to make the experience intense and enjoyable. Batman also has a variety of great gadgets that can be upgraded and improved throughout the game and a fantastic ‘Detective Mode’ visor that enables the player to see hidden objects and the locations of enemies.

While the game isn’t that long (you can breeze through it in around six hours), the staggering amount of things to do and see will keep you coming back for more time and again. In addition to the main game are the special Riddler Challenges, tiny secrets that the Riddler uses to assert his intelligence over Batman. Finding all two hundred and forty of them will unlock additional challenge maps, eight based on combat and eight based on Batman’s stealth abilities. Attempting to beat them all will require an enormous amount of skill and provide a welcome challenge to an already challenging title.

The only real downside to the game is that – Scarecrow aside – the bosses are a bit crap. They all have the same weak point and most of them are identical, just fought in slightly different sized rooms. The three appearances of the Scarecrow are a huge step away, forcing the player to sneak through a hallucinogenic nightmare that is nothing short of amazing. If only the other bosses were a bit more imaginative and relied on more than just one gadget being used over and over.

But, amazingly, that’s the only downside. The rest of the game is fluid and flawless, just like Batman’s combat mechanics. It’s a title that will delight Batman fans as much as any other player and finally the caped crusader has made a truly excellent game. In one single moment, Arkham Asylum has effortlessly managed to become the greatest superhero game in history.

94%

Dead Rising 2 Review

Finally, after four long years of waiting, after all the teasing videos and images, after that excellent taster in the shape of Case Zero, the sequel to one of the greatest launch games of all time is here. To say that Dead Rising 2 has a hell of lot of expectation on its shoulders is a bit of an understatement. Dead Rising 2 has so much expectation on its shoulders that anything less than a solid gold slice of zombie-based sandbox mayhem will be a complete waste of those four years. Happily, Capcom have risen to the challenge and delivered what might be the best game of the year.

It’s been a couple of years since Frank West and Isabella Keyes escaped the Willamette mall with the truth of what happened there. Zombie outbreaks have occurred in isolated pockets and have been more or less contained. The world has moved on and zombies have become a part of it.

Former Motocross champion Chuck Green managed to escape the Las Vegas outbreak with his daughter Katey and went on the run to Fortune City. Unfortunately, Katey managed to receive a bite on her arm. In order to keep the infection at bay, Chuck must give her regular injections of Zombrex every twenty four hours. To pay these expensive medical bills, he takes part in the extreme sports game show ‘Terror Is Reality, where zombies are brutally slaughtered for entertainment. After another victory, Chuck is knocked unconscious in an elevator shaft. When he wakes, he finds that the zombies have gotten free and taken over Fortune City. To make matters worse, a tape has been leaked to the press showing someone in his bike outfit releasing the zombies. With a military rescue arriving in seventy two hours, Chuck’s time is short: can he survive for long enough to prove his innocence?

If that plot summary sounds a little bit familiar, that’s because it is. In truth, Dead Rising 2 is so similar to its predecessor that you could be forgiven for thinking that Capcom accidentally released the same game twice. You still have a tight time limit. You still get around via a vent shaft. You still rescue survivors. You still defeat psychopaths. Items still break after a while. You still have to manage your time efficiently to survive. Even most of the achievements are identical! Half of this review could easily be a cut-and-paste job and there wouldn’t be a problem.

But where the game really comes alive is in those tiny differences, those few new features and adjustments that were sorely lacking from the unrefined first game. The most obvious new addition is the much-discussed ability to create new weapons out of old ones. It’s a fantastic idea that is introduced brilliantly, too – you’re shown the maintenance room, which has a bat and a box of nails. Everything that can be combined with something else has a tell-tale blue icon above it to help you. Not only are the new weapons far more durable than normal, many of them turn useless items into hysterical ways to make the dead deader.

Take the humble plate. Pathetic on its own, but mix it with a cement spinner and you have a destructive plate launcher, capable of clearing a room at a hundred paces. A bag of gems turns into a shotgun when combined with a leaf blower. The comedy hat becomes a death mask with a little battery power. The list is simply staggering.

Backing up the new weapons are the ‘combo cards’, special items that double the amount of experience points (PP) you get with each kill. They can be found anywhere – by levelling up Chuck, rescuing survivors, defeating psychopaths, even by looking at film posters around the mall. You’re rewarded for creativity and for trying out ridiculous ideas by levelling up faster, although you probably won’t want to use any other weapons after you create a new item called the ‘Defiler’.

Perhaps the biggest difference between this game and the first one is the amount of extra breathing room you’re given. There are only seven ‘cases’ (story missions) on offer, with breaks between every two to let you give Katey her Zombrex. With good time management, it’s possible to save over fifty survivors and complete the entire story in your first run – compared to the frantic dashes that occurred in the first game, the pace is nearly relaxing.

The best – and most subtle – difference between the two games is the notable improvements to the NPC survivor’s AI. Where before a perfect run could be scuppered by a lone plant pot, this time survivors can move, climb, navigate and dodge with Chuck. They also no longer go sprinting into a horde of zombies while unarmed. There’s even a new symbol that flashes to let you know when a survivor is close enough to travel to the next area with you. It actually turns the rescue operation into a fun activity, as opposed to a chore, although some of the survivor’s demands before they’ll come with are absurd – one semi-naked woman asks that your be in your pants too, while another forces you to take part in her painfully boring button-matching mini-game.

Being in a city just outside of Vegas, there’s also an obsession with money. It can be found littering the floor inside casinos, won from slot machines, gained from rescuing survivors, beaten out of ATMs (or withdrawn, with the correct tool) and the cash goes a long way to helping you. It can buy vital doses of Zombrex for people who need it, be given to survivor as a bribe, or buy a variety of colourful weapons from the rip-off merchants (sorry, looters) who set up shop in key locations around the city. While it’s initially a worry, you’ll soon have more than you know what to do with.

The save system has also been vastly improved, allowing you to recover from accidentally wrecking your run with ease. You can also port over any progress made in Case Zero and begin the game with a level five Chuck and several valuable combo cards. Of all the new features, the improved save system is the one that is the most vital and it should not be underestimated.

The other major differences to the single-player experience are small, subtle, and completely brilliant. Vital items (money, keys, etc) come with you when you restart the game (not Zombrex, unfortunately), you can kick while carrying people and deliver wrestling moves to a downed zombie. The visuals have been given a shot of adrenaline and the game looks like a proper next-gen game, with crisp textures, facial expressions and some excellent attention to detail throughout. There’s also more music pumped out through the many casinos, making the experience much less quiet than before. There’s also a last-minute plot twist that transforms this gory comedy into a genuinely terrifying horror game. Even Fortune City feels somehow more alive – despite being dead – than the mall in Willamette, heaving with things to do, see and explore. The scope of the place is staggering, easily housing a space at least three times the size of the first game.

The other new features added to the game are all online. Two players can now team up and take on the dead together in a co-op game, although, weirdly, you’ll both be playing as Chuck. While it’s a great new feature that adds to the variety of the experience, it is perhaps a bit disappointing that you both have to be doing the same thing at the same time – you can’t split up to seek out different objectives. Bizarrely, if one player is experiencing lag, the cutscenes seem to play out without the character models in them, which somewhat damages the experience.

You can also take part in the Terror Is Reality games and go head-to-head against three other players for the prize money. It’s a great way of earning extra cash – anything you make can be put into your save file immediately – but the games themselves veer wildly between fun and dull. Target shooting game Bounty Hunter can be fairly entertaining, as is the excellent finale SliceCycles, but most of them are incredibly boring. Zomboni, for instance, sees you all squirting crushed zombies into a container, while Master Shafter has a multiplayer quick time event sequence that is almost painful to endure. Terror Is Reality also suffers from the same flaws as the Resident Evil 5 multiplayer, in that it can take ages to set up a game, leaving you forced to watch the same cutscene over and over every single time you want to play. There’s no option for playing again with the same group either, while the lack of computer-controlled bots mean that you simply have to wait or other humans to join your game.

While there are some flaws with the multiplayer aspects of the game, the single-player experience is practically flawless. It actually feels more like a true ‘go anywhere, do anything’ title than any other sandbox game. You could spend your run attempting to use the myriad of new weapons, seeking out the survivors or just sticking to the main plot – it’s entirely up to you and the game will constantly put a smile on your face with the sheer lunacy of the design. From the hilarity of the electric wheelchair to the sight of a fat virgin in dominatrix gear, you definitely won’t forget your short stay in Fortune City.

What is there left to say about Dead Rising 2? If you didn’t like the first game, you won’t like this one either. However, the many fans will be more than satisfied by the improvements, no matter how small and subtle they are. Were the four years worth the wait? Absolutely. No doubt about it, Dead Rising 2 is the ultimate zombie game.

91%

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%

With so many zombie horror games about these days, I thought it would be a good idea to take two of the biggest – both exclusives to the 360 – and pit them against each other in a vicious fight to the death. Zombie death. Brains!

Dead Rising

Going to the mall can be hell. A zombie apocalypse can be hell. Combine the two and you have… fantastically fun survival-horror comedy gold.

The objective of the game is simple: you are photojournalist Frank West – he’s covered wars, you know – with three days (six real-time hours) to kill in the mall before your helicopter comes and picks you up. What this leads to is a furiously over-the-top race against time as you rush across the huge arena trying to get all the missions, side quests and fun things done before the game ends.

It’s an incredibly intricate game that rewards multiple playthroughs. Adding to the replayability is the excellent RPG-type stat boosting that allows you to go back into the mall with a much tougher Frank. At the beginning, Frank will be lucky to run from one end of a plaza to another without suffering nigh-mortal wounds. By the time he’s completely maxed out, zombies are little more than an annoyance – heads are kicked off, guts torn out, faces stomped, bodies thrown and zombies generally wiped out before they can groan at you. The major problem with this is that by the time you’re good enough to earn huge amounts of EXP (or ‘PP’ as it’s known here), you don’t need it. Maybe a few more levels above fifty would have been a good idea?

The game’s excellent running time makes it perfect for both casual bursts and long stints, with the game falling neatly into both categories, while only really allowing the truly dedicated to uncover the mystery and escape the mall with all the survivors. The genius of this is that the game can be played in any number of ways – missions, survivors or both – it’s totally your choice.

Throughout the three days, Frank is kept on a pretty tight leash thanks to a fairly irritating character who constantly rings him up to inform him of other survivors that have been spotted across the mall. From that moment on, it’s another race against the clock to find them and bring them back to safety before the zombies eat them. It’s a great idea that works in theory, but is fatally flawed in execution because of one simple fact: the AI in this game is atrocious.

All the NPC survivors (you can escort up to eight at once) have a unique personality, from running on ahead to trying to murder everything to – annoyingly – crawling on hands and knees, but they all share the same problems. The pathfinding in Dead Rising is among the worst in videogame history. Any item of any height – be it an ankle-high plant pot or a wall – becomes a serious obstacle for the NPCs and instead of trying to find another route, they will instead keep blindly running straight into it, unable to figure out what is stopping them from getting to where they need to go.

Another problem is that the final hours of the game (one hour in real-time) is incredibly boring. Whether or not you’ve completed the main missions, there is absolutely nothing to do – it’s even worse if you have because all the obstacles in the game are literally removed for the last fifteen minutes, leading to a really pointless spot of clock-watching. A further point of contention is the terrible handling of all the game’s vehicles. All six of them have the feel of being completely bolted on in the final hours of development, with little thought being done to implement them in a clever way.

However, when Dead Rising is good, it’s very good. One minute you’re dodging zombies and carrying a limping woman across a huge park whilst armed convicts drive past and try to kill you, the next you’re shooting at a deranged chainsaw-juggling clown for the right to switch off a children’s ride.

All in all, this is a truly excellent game with an incredible amount of thought gone into the development, and it shows. With perhaps a few more tweaks, this could have beaten the mighty Resident Evil to the King of the Zombies crown. Worthy of carrying a franchise on its own, this is one shopping trip from hell not to be missed.

90%

Dead Space Review

Posted: April 5, 2009 in Review
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Dead Space

You’re trapped on an old ship stranded in space. There’s no way off. The power is down across the ship. You know that there are over one thousand corpses on board. There’s a vicious alien life form stalking you. And you have no gun.

That’s the intro in-game cinematic to Dead Space, a master class in isolation, both virtual and psychological. Within ten minutes you know the situation, the enemy, the problems you face and the challenges that lay ahead. If the opening proves anything, it’s that EA Redwood is one of the few Western developers that totally understand horror.

The game’s strength lies in its ability to constantly deceive the player. The Necromorph enemies are smarter and far more mobile that you; if you see one across the room, it’ll dive into the nearest air vent and attack you from behind. Corpses tip-toed past several times in empty corridors can suddenly become a major hazard if they aren’t immediately stomped into pieces first time through. Necromorphs will shrug off direct hits to the chest or head. Make no mistake, this is a game truly designed to terrify from the off. In fact, it feels like an even darker version of Resident Evil 4 in space – high praise indeed.

The cinematic influences are felt throughout the game. Obvious nods to Alien and its sequel are the most obvious, with traces of The Thing, Night of the Living Dead and even Event Horizon getting a nod. The game plays as though the greatest, scariest parts of the best horror films have been ripped out, boiled down to the basics and shoved into a pitch-black ship with no exit. Yes, there are scares and set pieces designed purely to make the player jump, but these are lovingly crafted, rarely repeated (the ace tentacle-dragging moment is worth playing the three times it occurs) and never feel out of place, hinged on the shock of sudden action lunging out of the ever-present dread.

The atmosphere that Dead Space seems to bathe in leaks out of every pore – it delights in forcing you to walk down a long, dark passage, armed only with a measly pistol, passing dozens of air vents that could crash open and reveal a Necromorph at any moment. Adding to the atmosphere is a series of top-notch design choices by EA Redwood – Isaac, the protagonist, is armed with a torch throughout. However, by choosing to spread light in the gloom, you sacrifice the option to run. Also, in a potentially disastrous move, there is no quick-turn option, turning every battle into an outstandingly gory intense run-and-stop-to-shoot brawl.

And this is a violent game, make no mistake. Enemies’ limbs are their weakest points, forcing you to cripple arms, legs, necks, leaving a writhing torso dripping with gore, waiting to be stomped into the ship’s deck.
Another brilliant design decision is the addition of zero gravity areas, where both you and the Necromorphs have the ability to jump to almost every surface accessible – walls, ceilings, the sides of pillars – creating a wonderful feeling of paranoia to offset the dread.

The story is totally engrossing and deftly handled. While it is almost exactly like Aliens, it is riveting and engaging enough to keep dragging you back. The two side characters, Kendra and Hammond, are very well written, with not a single stereotype between them. Borrowing from Valve, EA Redwood have made the wise decision to not allow Isaac to have a single line of dialogue in the game. This simple idea instantly makes Isaac a standout protagonist who doesn’t become irritating at any point.

However, there are problems with the game. Whilst the atmosphere forces breathless intensity, the various puzzles often pull you back out of the lovingly-crafted world. Each of the twelve chapters features one major set piece puzzle that get harder to solve as the game progresses. Unfortunately, the penalty for failure seems to be fixed on ‘instant kill’. Fail to time a jump onto a meteor correctly and you’ll be sliced in two, or sent drifting out into space. The excellent navigation system (a small line pointing to your objective, available at the touch of a button) sometimes appears to have logic issues, wanting you to walk back two feet, turn around, and continue where you were headed. Also, the camera has a habit of getting confused in zero gravity, which leads to enemies attacking you from off-screen. It can also become very repetitive – after just a few chapters, you’ll become familiar with the way the game works. Every button pressed plunges the room into total darkness and sends a swarm of horrors towards you. By the end of the game, you’ll be prepared for them before they happen, the exact opposite of the spirit of fear. Similarly, there’s very little variation in the enemies. The monsters met at the game’s opening simply become faster and tougher by the closing.

Upsetting all the great design decisions lovingly placed in Dead Space is the use of text. Like all good horror games, backstory and extra information can be gleamed from finding and reading various text logs scattered around. Unfortunately, the text used is so small, only a 52-inch plasma screen will be able to see it clearly, meaning anyone playing on a normal TV will have to choose between squinting or ignoring text logs completely.

The game’s biggest problem, however, is in the weapon selection. By choosing to upgrade from a mere pistol to one of several other sci-fi inspired weapons, ranging from flame-throwers to saw blade launchers, you unwittingly make the game easier. Enemies can be killed almost as soon as they appear in one hit with no thought, while ammo can be purchased with little fuss.

Problems aside, it’s an engrossing, incredibly well designed horror game with enough scares and suspense to last it at least a handful of replays. Play it in a darkened room and pray for daylight: Dead Space is the new king of this generation’s horror.

87%