Remember Me reviewed

Capcom's game has many memorable moments!

7.1 Surround Sound for the masses

Want cinematic sound quality? Then Mad Catz 720+ may be for you

DayZ: a new approach to survival horror

DayZ, a mod for Arma 2, is unlike any other horror game that came before

Best of the worst bad habits in gaming

Megabits of Gaming takes a look at five of its favourite gaming characters who have bad or slightly seedy habits.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Seven Deadly Sins Of Gaming

How the Seven Deadly Sins could be implemented in gaming and gaming culture...

Gluttony - Over indulgence and excessive consumption. Whatever you choose to label them, be it ‘score-whores, ‘achievement junkies’ or simply avid completionists; this demographic of gamers live for that extra morsel of gamerscore or another tiny, shiny trophy for their bulging digital cabinets. They don’t know when to stop, even buying and playing completely abhorrent games in their remorseless quest for an achievement fill. Indulging in breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and late night snacking sessions, never quite getting enough of that sumptuous sound accompanying the ‘Achievement Unlocked’ message. Some of the most die hard junkies will partake in ‘achievement farming’, boosting and manipulating their way to a few more precious points. Suffice to say that ‘farming’ and ‘boosting’ completely devalues the actual achieving process, but in the world of the gaming glutton, fast fixes and score-fattening boosts are far too tempting to turn down.

Lust - Remember when the pencil-pointed triangular bosomed Lara Croft first burst onto the scene? The first real sexual icon of videogames, lending her image to all manner of memorabilia and magazine covers the world over. It seems bizarre that such a crude character model back in 1996 was supposedly responsible for getting pubescent males all hot under the collar. It’s rather hard to talk about sex and videogames in the same context without fear of being accused of having some kind of pixel perversion. In other words; the embodiment of the age old ‘completely devoid of interaction with the opposite sex’ stereotype that many outsiders still afflict on gamers. Sexualisation in videogames is certainly more apparent since Miss Croft’s rise to fame, some instances more subtle than others. Anyone who’s played or is familiar with the Dead or Alive series will recognize it as being at the more conspicuous end of the subtlety spectrum to say the least. Options to increase breast bounciness in some incarnations as well as the pretty shameless Dead or Alive: Beach Volleyball are some brazenly obvious examples of trying to allure gamers with sex. Let’s face it, anyone who tells you that they bought DOA: Beach Volleyball because they genuinely like the sport is probably lying; and those who bought it for the other reason are most probably too embarrassed to admit it…

Greed - There always seems to be a self-pitying downtrodden attitude amongst gamers. We feel like the little guy, constantly mocked and feeling ripped off by the greedy corporations, and to extent maybe we have the right to do so. The recently announced XBL price hike has certainly not endeared Microsoft to Live customers any more. Coincidentally timed around the releases of Halo: Reach and Black Ops, two mammoth online juggernauts, its easy to sympathise with the murmurings of discontent. With an online community of “over 20 million”, the price increase should certainly see another vast influx of money into a company that to put it lightly, is hardly on the bread line. The new Playstation Plus service was bound to be initiated sooner or later with Microsoft doing so well off XBL’s success, but here’s hoping that the new premium charge service doesn’t become compulsory to PSN users. Downloadable content is another sure-fire feather rustler in the gaming community, with often seemingly extortionate asking prices for what are essentially deleted sections from the full game. Of course gamers have the right to choose whether they shell out for these add-ons or not, but with the luring bait of new achievements to tempt the gluttons and in many cases securing the catch; DLC remains a profitable and lucrative market. Some will view these examples as astute business and some of us will always act like we’re poor exploited victims of the greedy, cash hungry machine. One thing I know is, that as a gamer I’ll always want my Live subscription and as a result will adhere to the increase. I certainly don’t expect any sympathy, but it leaves a bitter taste considering Microsoft’s already ultra-powerful global position.

Sloth - Hardcore gamers and casual gamers. The former has no time or respect for the latter. The shiny, happy party game enthusiast, whipping out the Wii for a good old family golf session whilst we sit, gritted teeth trying to complete every game we play on the ‘Suicidal Insanity’ difficulty level. Well, maybe a slight exaggeration there, but the contempt aimed at the casual crowd from the hardcore enthusiasts is evident. With the explosion of casual gaming bought about by the Wii and subsequently followed by Microsoft and Sony with the impending releases of Kinect and Move, motion sensor controls are here to stay. The response of the hardcore gamer is of course one of disgust. Having spent X amount of years with a trusty controller the idea of actually applying any physical effort other than finely honed thumb twitches is met with fierce antipathy. Nope, we like normal controllers, we don’t like dancing and flailing around the living room, and above all we hate fitness games. I’m not opposed to fitness, in fact I’ve been known to go for the occasional jog, but if I’m going to do exercise I’ll actually leave the house and do it rather than perform ridiculous tasks in front of the TV while Wii Fit sneers at my physical condition. Sorry, but a comfy chair, pad in hand and a cold beer within reaching distance is the ideal way to enjoy videogames.

Wrath - Also appears in the sin list as anger. If any gamer has claimed to have never been pushed to near homicidal breaking point before then they truly have a commendable temperament. Rage quitting, pad throwing and expletive-screaming frustration are something that practically every videogame fan will have experienced at one time or another in their playing lives. Many walls have felt the fist of fury or the controller throw of uncontrollable frustration. Videogames do have a unique ability to make the blood boil. Having repeated and failed the same section of COD 4 on veteran for the four hundredth time I finally lost the plot: Grabbing the 360 controller firmly I proceeded to ram it into my forehead several times whilst filling the air with enough profanity to make Gordon Ramsay sound like a nursery school teacher. When you feel cheated by the game is when the rage fully flows. Seth from Street Fighter IV is a prime example. He unashamedly cheats, he connives, he’s a total cu… well you get the point. I’m no gaming god, but I’m by no means rubbish at them either, I do suffer from pretty bad frustration issues though. For this reason a game like Demon’s Souls, although critically acclaimed seems like a torturous test of patience that I know I’m simply not equipped to deal with. I’d worry for my sanity judging by the ridiculous and unforgiving difficulty level the game apparently has. It’s not just AI though, multiplayer certainly brings out the worst in people. Losing to a smug friend is one thing, but to a gloating online adversary is a circumstance that could well bring your console’s health into question. Multiplayer can be insanely competitive at times, and the line between delirious ecstasy and livid exasperation is very thin, yet one that we’ll repeatedly tread despite the highly probable fuse-blowing consequences.

Envy - Although the fanboy will tell you that he’s proud to be staunchly allied to one particular games system and one system only, deep down he’s resentful of the treats he’s missing out on. The Sony fan boy for example: he loves MGS 4, sings God Of War’s praises and will constantly remind there’s only one place where you can play Uncharted. But hang on… he goes on Youtube and there’s a new Halo: Reach gameplay trailer. He feels guilty, dirty almost but he can’t resist sneaking a quick look. He likes what he sees, loves it in fact, his Killzones and Resistances pale in comparison, but wait a minute, Reach is an Xbox exclusive and because of his strict allegiance he knows he can never have it. Confused by these strange feelings he resorts to his natural reactions, his defence mechanism if you will; he proceeds to leave little comments about how ‘gay’ and ‘crappy’ Halo is and starts muttering incoherently to himself about Blu-Ray capabilities…Now before I get accused of being one myself, this is plainly just from one perspective, there are of course many, if not more Xbox fanboys out there who’d do the same thing, yet would love nothing more than to get their hands on a copy of Guns Of The Patriots for their console. Fanboys will always exist, fuelling the flames of constructive argument and perhaps more predominantly instigating petty squabbles wherever they go. Deep down though they all like games, but their incessant tribalism means that they’ve completely and utterly affiliated themselves with only one console. For the fanboy, the mantra “want what you can’t have” rings ever true, and as the old saying goes - “jealousy breeds contempt”.

Pride - There comes a time in every gamers life where self righteousness takes centre stage. You have excelled beyond the average, soared above the mundane and personified absolute awesomeness. Your non-gaming friends may well fell indifferent about your exploits, but in your own mind you’ve ascended to a new plateau. Be it triumphing in online multiplayer, topping the leaderboards or finally conquering the game on the most nightmarish setting; if there’s no one around to appreciate your accolades then you’ll just have to give yourself a big pat on the back. It could well be the case that pride will only occur as a result of indulging in other gaming sins. For example, it could take a great deal of anger-filled hours in order to overcome a certain challenge and therefore be allowed to wallow in your smug satisfaction. Similarly, a ‘score-whore’s ’ overindulgence might be linked to his/her need to boast and engage in braggadocio. They derive a sense of pride from their stratospheric gamerscore, mocking their pathetic, less point laden underlings. Often the greatest sense of pride garnered is comparable to the amount of time invested in playing the game. It took me around 80 hours to fully 100% GTA IV; having found the very last pigeon perching on a nearby ledge, rather than do the humane thing and dispatching of it with a pistol, I blew it up with a rocket launcher from a about three feet away. The immense joy of fully completing the game was perfectly complimented by the plumes of smoke and reams of charred feathers. A fitting way to end an epic quest and certainly one of the most satisfying 100G’s I’ve ever earned. However, the old skool will say that we’re far too blessed in terms of ease of completion. Way back in the distant days of cartridges, when a whole day would have to be spent playing with limited lives and continues and if you failed? You had no choice but start all over again…games are undoubtedly easier these days, but try telling the masochistic fanatic that they don’t deserve a spot of proverbial pride-beaming from time to time. They may just unleash their wrath upon you…

(Photo credits: Wondermonkey2k, jasonEscapist, IsaiahHenryFernandez)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nintendo's 3DS to miss Christmas release

You know its big news when you see #3DS trending on Twitter and boy, not only is it big news, but it's mixed news. Nintendo has announced that it will launch its 3DS handheld console in Japan on 26 February 2011 rather than before Christmas, at a cost of Yen 25,000 (approximately £189).

A model poses with Nintendo Co Ltd's new 3DS handheld game console in Chiba, east of Tokyo September 29, 2010. Nintendo Co Ltd said on Wednesday it would launch a 3D-capable version of its DS handheld game console in Japan on Feb. 26 and in the United States in March, missing the crucial year-end shopping season. The new DS, which can be used to play 3D games and watch films in 3D without special glasses, will cost 25,000 yen ($298) in Japan, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata said at a launch event. REUTERS/Toru Hanai (JAPAN - Tags: SOCIETY BUSINESS)

It expects to launch the 3DS in the US and Europe in March (price not yet confirmed).

So it looks like I am going to have to ask for Santa to bring me something different this year, but I'm guessing it will be well worth the wait.

Let us know when you get your hands on the 3DS and what you think of it.

More about the 3DS after the jump.

Source: Twitter/BBC

Friday, September 24, 2010

10 of the best hybrid weapons in Dead Rising2

It’s been a long wait but Dead Rising 2 has finally hit the shelves. You can check out our review of Capcom’s zombie epic here – but if you’ve already parted with your hard-earned cash, you’ll no doubt be eager to cause some real zombie carnage. Just find yourself a maintenance room and combine a couple of everyday objects to create some truly devastating weaponry.

There are literally hundreds of objects that can be grabbed and used to stop a zombie dead (geddit?) in his tracks. Within your first half an hour you’ll no doubt have combined a baseball bat and nails or a powerdrill and bucket. Then there’s the motorbike and chainsaw combo or the garden rake and car battery... there’s plenty to keep you busy and coming back for more. Make sure you check out the pawnshops too – you never know, there may be a few ready-made weapons waiting there for you... although the better they are, the bigger the price!

Here, Megabits of Gaming looks at 10 of our favourite weapons.

HAIL MARY – American football + grenades
Lob the ball for explosive results – it may be only a single use weapon but when you lob it through the air, take cover and watch as the prestige points pop up on your screen. Great for chucking into a crowd!

HACKER – flashlight + computer case

A truly shocking weapon that stuns unsuspecting zombies. The combo card suggests you try it near an ATM!?!

SNOWBALL CANNON – fire extinguisher + watergun
Freeze the freaks. This is great for when you’re surrounded; simply aim and spray the horde to stop them shuffling. Spray them once more and they break into a million pieces.

BLAMBOW – bow and arrow + dynamite

First blood to Chuck. Become Rambo for a few minutes – your arrows causing a huge explosion when they hit the target. Fun but limited ammo.

TENDERIZER – MMA gloves + nails
Fight for your life. Not a big PP scorer but fun nonetheless. Useful for getting out of tight situations when the zombies are coming at you from all angles.

TESLA BALL – electric battery + bingo ball cage
Electrifying. A personal favourite and absolutely brilliant for racking up the points. Lob the ball into the distance and it rolls about electrocuting whatever it comes in contact with. It can be reused several times too – and isn’t too expensive in the pawnshops. Great for levelling up quickly!

FLAMETHROWER – gasoline + watergun

Does exactly what as you’d expect... burns those zombies to a crisp.

HELIBLADE – toy helicopter + machete

You could grab a helicopter from a toyshop and use it to belt the undead around the head. Alternatively, a few moments with some gaffer tape and the addition of a few blades and it’s turned into a decapitation machine. Set it off and it hovers for a while, scything down anything it comes in contact with.

POLE WEAPON – broom + machete
A fantastic weapon that allows you to slice and dice to your heart’s content.

POWER GUITAR – electric guitar + amplifier

Rock out with your power guitar and watch as powerful shockwaves ripples through the crowd. Absolutely awesome in congested areas – and pretty pleasant to listen to as well. Great for collecting PP.

Review - Dead Rising 2

PS3 owners have been positively salivating at the prospect of Dead Rising 2 – the first time Capcom’s multi-million selling zombie series has made an appearance on Sony’s machine. And not only is the exclusive nature of the game a distant memory (it's now available for the 360, PC and PS3) but Frank West and his camera are long gone too, replaced by former Motocross champ Chuck Greene – a tough guy type on a mission to clear his name and protect his sickly daughter, Katey.

Chuck finds himself in Fortune City – effectively Las Vegas in all but name – to appear in Terror Is Reality, the latest craze to hit our television screens and an homage to the popular real-life Gladiators TV show. His daughter’s been infected by the same virus that hit the Willamette mall that 360 and Wii gamers know only too well – and he needs the prize money to afford the costly Zombrex antidote.

But it’s not all plain sailing; someone’s gone and framed poor old Chuck and now the authorities want to track him down following a new outbreak. It’s a race against time to clear his name, cure his daughter and fight off thousands of onscreen carnivores. Fail and he’s dead meat.

First impressions suggest that Capcom and Canadian developer Blue Castle have paid a lot of attention to making the game look and play beautifully. Aesthetically, it’s far better looking than its predecessor. Chuck is less angular and more chiselled than Frank ever was and certainly looks the part. The environment is bright and brash - just as you’d expect of a gambler’s paradise, and it’s sharper and more colourful than the previous game, with the animations looking far more realistic. What’s more, there are now thousands of zombies onscreen at once, all baying for your blood. As you meander around the shopping malls, casinos, food courts and the huge TIR arena itself, the groans of zombies are punctuated by the sounds of fruit machines and ambient music. It’s fantastically atmospheric.

But has much else changed from the game of four years ago? Clearly, there’s a degree of familiarity as you roam about the place and undertake the various missions. But that’s no bad thing. The format of the game and missions is barely changed from the last game.... accept a mission via your radio transmitter and run from one end of the map to the other before the time runs out, constantly checking your wristwatch.
Along the way you’ll encounter stranded civilians who need to be helped back to the safe confines of the security room, and there are plenty of confrontations with the psychopath bosses too.

So it’s a case of business as usual for Dead Rising 2. The basic premise of grabbing objects to dispose of the undead is just as fun as it always was too. Strewn about the place are countless weapons and everyday objects that can be grabbed and used to stab and skewer the unsuspecting undead. This time round, however, you quickly realise that Chuck’s a bit nifty with gaffertape and tools. Gain access to one of a the many maintenance rooms dotted about the game world, combine two objects on the workbench and in a matter of moments our protagonist will conjure up a devastating weapon to cut those zombies down to size. It’s enough to make the A-Team proud. There are hundreds of variations, which are revealed by collecting combo cards.

Each of your victims provides you with prestige points – or PP – which, as mentioned earlier, replaces the photography element of the first game. Keep raising your PP and you’ll level up, improving your attributes and inventory.

Whereas the save system of the first game was deemed a major flaw, this is much improved with three slots now available. Not only can you pop into a rest room to save your progress but you’re also given the option to save fairly regularly after completing missions.

Fancy sharing the experience with a friend? Then why not invite someone to play the new co-op mode and within seconds you’ll both be slaying the undead.

The whole thing is laced with plenty of dark humour, which makes it stand out from the likes of the Left4Dead and Resident Evil games. It certainly makes you feel less guilty about massacring thousands of the undead for fun. And fear not, there’s still the opportunity to play dressy-uppy with Chuck if you so wish; watching some of the more dramatic cutscenes with chuck wearing a superhero outfit and a giant purple dinosaur head is good for a laugh.
Despite the comedy aspect, however, the tension is heightened thanks to the constant clock-watching necessary to complete missions and stave off your daughter’s infection.

There are still issues, however. Weapons still run out a little too early for my liking – especially grating after you’ve spent ages trying to find the required components to make something. Some of the psychopaths are insanely difficult and will probably require numerous attempts to defeat them. And not only that but with so many zombies onscreen, getting from one end of an area to another will either see you bitten several times or wasting your treasured weaponry. The lack of spoken dialogue when talking with NPCs is also a bit of a letdown - relying instead on written text at the bottom of the screen. But these are pretty minor gripes.

When you fancy a change, you can now also pit your wits against up to three other players online as you actually compete in the Terror Is Reality gameshow. Presented like a television broadcast with an exuberant host and excitable commentators, this new mode works particularly well and provides a nice respite from the single player game. Take part in a series of events and earn cash depending on your final position on the leaderboard; what’s particularly good about this is that your winnings can be transferred to one of your single player save slots – meaning you can buy awesome weaponry or much-needed Zombrex from the in-game pawnshops.

There are plenty of mini games to keep you going – from “Bounty Hunter”, where you have to shoot as many zombies as possible before the time runs out to “Headache”, which sees contestants place explosive headgear on the undead before pushing a detonator. A personal favourite is "Ramsterball" – where you control a giant steel hamsterball to ram both your opponents and those hapless zombies.

Overall, it’s a worthy update and a great addition to your collection. It builds on the groundwork of the first game and improves it. It’s fun and far better value for money than Dead Rising – thanks largely to the new multiplayer additions.

If you’ve got an insatiable appetite for zombie games, this is highly recommended! Even if you haven't, it's still definitely worth a try.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Review - Halo:Reach

So the proverbial curtain finally falls on the Universe that Bungie created and has meticulously nurtured for nearly a decade. Since the legendarily revered Combat Evolved and it’s subsequent impact not only on FPSs but on the entirety of gaming (Microsoft can owe much of the original Xbox’s success to Halo:CE), the general and occasionally disgruntled consensus is that Bungie have never quite been able to eclipse their own flagship masterpiece.

After two genuine sequels, an embellished yet entertaining expansion to the events of the third game and even a foray into the RTS world; Halo:Reach encompasses all that the studio embarked on and have evolved since 2001, and finally delivers on a title that stands proudly outside of the ever present shadow of the esteemed original. Halo:Reach is a product that’s representative of the passion and dedication that have made the Sci-Fi franchise so popular and celebrated over time and is a true monument to years of hard work. Though the series is by no means dead and buried, whoever takes up the daunting torch-bearing duties from here on in will most certainly have foreboding heights to live up to.

The story is thankfully a more straightforward, less contrived affair than in previous incarnations. In this sense, Halo titles before have suffered slightly from being unnecessarily confounding and as such end up detracting from the otherwise immersive gameplay experience. That is not the case here, however. Although a largely basic affair, the more accessible narrative style actually compliments the in-game action more than an overtly complex one. Stripping away the layers to essentially a ‘Humans versus Covenant’ plotline benefits the exceptional action and frenetic pace of the campaign.

As part of ‘Noble Team’ you assume the role of a Spartan, 'Noble Six' (adjustable between genders depending on preference) and are tasked with taking the fight to the Covenant post planet Reach’s invasion. Noble Six is essentially a faceless, non-emotive character so don’t expect any in depth bonding as such, yet this is by no means detrimental to the single player experience. You won‘t become sidetracked or bogged down in irrelevant or convoluted storytelling, and you're instead left to concentrate fully on the task at hand. The supporting cast are each well implemented throughout the story and are individual and interesting enough to give fighting along side them a different feel to their respective combat scenarios. Whether it’s wading in all guns blazing with the chain gun wielding Jorge, or accompanying the more stealthy, husky voiced sniper Jun on ‘Nightfall’, Noble Team are a likeable and for the most part a reliable bunch to partner throughout the game’s course.

Reach’s campaign is beautifully balanced and packed with memorable set pieces. Where campaigns previously have had lulls in quality, here, the highlight reel is running more or less constantly. The confined corridor clashes with the Covenant as well as open air, epic battles that we know and love from all Halo games return, but are realised better than ever this time around. Far more detail has been applied to your surroundings. Where Halo 3 had rather bland and flat textures, now we’re treated to individual blades of grass, trees, wildlife and realistic weather effects. It’s the overall scale of Reach that feels so much more expansive than in the past, lending a truly epic nature to the battle and importantly resulting in the planet feeling genuinely alive. Diverse landscapes, environments and skyboxes, a much ramped-up enemy count as well as often deceptively devious AI (especially from Heroic difficulty upwards) are all factors contributing to a greater sense of involvement in Halo’s plasma strewn world than ever before.

Of course the most integral part of Halo is the combat. Since the introduction of it’s namesake, the series has always prided itself on expertly balanced combat and intuitive implementation of weapon use, and Reach continues and surpasses that notion. Some old favourites return, the age old stalwarts of weaponry: assault rifle, plasma pistol, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, of course frag and sticky grenades etc… make a welcome reappearance as well as some fresh and outlandish additions to the arsenal. The DMR takes the place of the “you either love it or hate it” battle rifle, a sentinel beam-esque focus rifle, vehicle decimating plasma launcher and the deadly needle rifle are just a few of the new tools available, and each feels suitably unique and satisfying to wield. Arguably there’s a slight continuity issue in terms of why these can be seen in a prequel and not beyond, but that would be an unnecessarily picky and unfair criticism to level at Reach.

Weapon reticules now expand and detract depending on fire rate which in turn affects weapon accuracy. Hitting “the sweet spot” with each weapon will inflict greater damage, meaning that controlled bursts of fire will triumph over wild, relentless trigger spamming. When a particularly versatile Elite is evading fire, as on Legendary they inevitably will, it becomes a true test of patience and skill. Gone are the days when two or three headshots will send him crashing to floor. Some of the tougher enemies in Reach are as resilient as they are relentlessly punishing; thus the gratification of landing your last plasma grenade on his torso or narrowly surviving after a well timed melee strike is immense.

Those familiar with the multiplayer Beta will be aware of perhaps Reach’s most notable and radical new inclusion - armour abilities. Sprint, jetpack, armour lock, shield, active camouflage and the deceptive hologram all have their benefits and downsides in varying combat situations, but one never feels too overbearingly powerful or underwhelmingly weak. The jetpack for example; excellent for getting to high areas and covering large amounts of distance, but will also leave you worryingly exposed as you glide through the air- perfect for being sniped. Active camo creates a temporary veil of disguise but will scramble your radar, meaning locating enemies becomes a real issue.

Players will experiment with armour abilities to see which ones fit their personal playing style the most effectively to achieve the greatest results. Tactically this adds a whole new dimension to the Halo experience. In the campaign these abilities are often found accompanying weapon stashes where they can be swapped for what you currently have equipped if you feel the replacement will benefit you in progressing through the section you’re tackling. Some missions such as ‘Tip of the Spear’ and ‘Exodus’ will require you to have the jetpack as a mandatory ability as the level design dictates that you’ll be required to get to otherwise unreachable areas both vertically and horizontally. In this sense, a broader choice of armour abilities really comes in to its own in multiplayer; the inevitable time-vanquisher once the single player campaign is finished and Reach has fallen.

Many fans will view single player as almost being bonus content accompanying the online multiplayer, which as expected, Bungie have pulled off with enthusiasm and dedication to make it the most complete, rich experience of any Halo to date. As well as the aforementioned armour abilities (abilities and loadouts can be chosen at the games start and switched on death) and new weapons adding extra depth to the multiplayer, there’s an influx of new modes that will instantly intrigue yet take time to master.

The Spartan versus Elites team based game mode ‘Invasion’ involving powering down the opposition's base and attempting to steal its power core, being one of the most tactical new additions, which forces a rethink of strategy beyond running and gunning or standard CTF tactics. The skull hording ‘Headhunter’ mode is more than a simple Oddball variant, with players gathering skulls from downed opponents and gaining points from depositing them in specific zones. More points are received in relation to the amount of skulls you deposit meaning there’s a temptation to risk death and collect more rather than painstakingly grind up the leader board, a decision which can lead to highly tense combat scenarios.

As appreciated as new game modes are, many players would rather stick to tried and tested formulae; with the Rumble Pit offering solo slayer and objective based matches, as well as the ever reliable social and team slayer options that are the most accessible to those who favour a more simple pick up and play online experience. Couple this with co-operative campaign (though the new difficulty scaling may well put off those who thought they could grab the Legendary completion achievement by getting their friends to help) and the new firefight matchmaking options, and Halo:Reach offers a deeper yet more accommodating approach than before that will satisfy both hardcore fans and recreational players in equal measure.

Bungie wants everyone to be involved in the Halo universe at a level they feel comfortable doing so, and, by and large, they have achieved this notion expertly. Although Halo already has an undeniably massive following, those not so familiar to the series are openly welcomed in, and navigating through Reach’s menus and options is a slickly presented and unrestricted affair. Even the new ‘Psyche Profile’ option allows you to cut out the irritating, immature players that find their way into matches by selecting preferences such as competitive or fun, chatty or quiet, all depending on how rowdy you want the game in question to be. The completely overhauled ‘Forge World’ promises new depths of level design and customisation to those willing to invest the time, and no doubt soon enough the community will devise some truly outlandish maps and game types. Daily and weekly challenges that earn you credits/experience to spend in the armoury are another addictive and replayable string to Reach’s bow, keeping players coming back for more if that shiny new shoulder armour really is too much to resist.

There’s so much content both above and beneath the surface of Halo: Reach that offers a wealth to gamers who are content in their comfort zone and also to those who are willing to explore, dedicate and create. Bungie stated that they wanted the Reach experience to “outlast Halo 3” and judging by what’s on offer here they look well on their way to accomplishing that.

Reach is not only one of the most complete FPS’s available, but represents nine years of Bungie’s devotion and commitment to the Halo franchise. It was never going to have the same groundbreaking impact as the original that evolved an entire genre, but Halo: Reach comes as close to perfecting it as possible, at least in the current console generation. A masterpiece and an absolute must for all Xbox owners.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Halo: Reach statistics

For those of you living in a box, you may not be aware that last week saw one of the biggest launch events in gaming history. You'll no doubt have guessed that Halo: Reach bounded to the top of the various video game charts around the world... but did you know that 31 million games have been played it since its launch?!?

And that's not all, Bungie's statisticians have been hard at work and published some equally staggering facts and figures. Behold:
  • 98,000,000 Player-games have been recorded
  • 8,214,338 Daily Challenges have been completed
  • 255,996 Weekly Challenges have been completed
  • 78,499,560,895 Total Credits have been earned
  • 953 Man-years have been spent in matchmade games
  • 1365 Man-years have been spent in campaign
  • 854,107 files have been uploaded
  • 577,804 recommendations have been sent to friends
  • 4,619,455 files have been downloaded

Video: FPS nominees for Golden Joysticks

First person shooters are among the most popular titles in today's gaming industry, the majority of them literally shooting to the top of the charts. Below is footage of the FPS shortlist for this year's Golden Joystick Awards.

In advance of the 28th annual Awards, gamers are being actively encouraged to take advantage of the final month of voting. The star-studded ceremony takes place on October 29.

The nominees for the ITN Game On Shooter of the Year are:

Aliens vs. Predator
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Bioshock 2
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Halo 3: ODST
Left 4 Dead 2
Metro 2033
Metriod Prime Trilogy
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat

- Must admit I'm torn by this one. My heart says Borderlands or Left 4 Dead 2... sadly, my head says Modern Warfare 2 will blow the others away. Shame.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Believe The Hype?

This week saw the release of one of the most eagerly anticipated games of all time, let alone of just 2010. This was the culmination of a relentless marketing campaign, subtly spun online promotion, in-house documentaries, and above all the ever powerful word-of-mouth effect (between said mouths salivating over the latest gameplay videos and screenshots of course), resulting in a tidal wave of delirium and hype. Of course the title in question for those with beneath-rock inclined living conditions is Halo:Reach. We can make our own minds up about whether Reach lives up to the stratospheric billing bestowed upon it from inside the industry and gamers alike; however, rather than simply focus on one game alone, let’s look at how the launch on September 14th is representative of how gaming’s progressive popularity has propelled it directly into the forefront of entertainment.

There was once a time when a few in-store posters or at best the occasional TV advert were all that accompanied an impending big release. A handful of the bleary eyed yet dedicated followers may shuffle in when Game or Electronics Boutique opened its doors that morning, then shuffle off again with say, Tomb Raider 2 under arm. Contrast the aforementioned scene with the release of a ‘Triple A’ title these days and the difference is plain and obvious to see. Midnight openings, lively excited crowds and long snaking queues as well as all manner of outlandish promotional events are what we now expect to supplement the latest blockbuster’s introduction to the shelves. Even red carpet fanfares that we’ve always associated with the silver screen are now being rolled out for games.

I went to a midnight release of Reach at my local Gamestation in Wood Green, North London, which rest assured is hardly the pinnacle of glitz and glamour. A good fifty plus crowd had turned out however; admittedly far from the whooping furore that might be heard at some American store openings judging from various Youtube clips, but still a decent effort and one I genuinely wasn’t expecting. Suffice to say that the general demographic was the painfully stereotypical “male aged 18-25”, but to converse with like minded, excited gamers minutes before release at midnight, was for me personally a refreshing experience.

The fact is that due to gaming’s relatively recent rise in popularity, that attending a midnight release (just as one example) is not as tarnished by negativity or as ‘shameful’ as once it was perceived to be. There’ll always be people who regard gaming as a disdainful sub-division of entertainment rather than accepting it as a genuinely worthwhile one, favouring turning away and ignoring instead of willingly embracing and understanding. Gaming is changing the face of entertainment. It’s innovative qualities and popularity are testament to that, yet many people are unwilling to change their own stubborn assessments. However; with every colossal release, pre-launch hype machine, red carpet event and subsequently the vast amount of sales recorded, it seems that such detrimental nay-saying is steadily becoming a product of the minority.

A recent example of the transition from lowly pass time to mainstream medium was the release of Modern Warfare 2 in November last year. As previously mentioned, the ‘premier’ style treatment of Triple A titles is a relatively new concept in gaming, but MW2 really pushed the boat out at launch, basing the reasoning behind doing so, I’d imagine on the insane amount of hype that marketing and PR had generated surrounding the game (though obviously aided by an already successful franchise). A full blown West End bonanza, taking over Leicester Square with actors dressed as military personnel and even wheeling a tank into proceedings was a fitting introduction for a game that obliterated sales records worldwide. In one of the launch events for Reach, a mock Spartan warrior took to the sky in a jetpack over Trafalgar Square. Certainly an attention grabbing sight, and again a demonstration of the promotional power that publishers and developers of previous generations could only have dreamt of.

A slightly cringe worthy effect of gaming’s now crowd drawing prowess however is the celebrity factor. Still a long way from attracting the cream of the A-List crop, we’re treated to a handful of minor personalities who often look like they aren’t quite sure of why they’re there or what the event is for. Although arguably rather famous, watching Rio Ferdinand mumble incoherently about liking the guns in Halo and how it had “more weapons than any other game, I think” made for some pretty painful viewing. I’m all for expanding gaming and reaching (no pun intended - that would be shameful) out to wider audiences, but recruiting someone who has nothing really relevant or articulate to say about the game in question is a fairly shallow grab for attention.

The internet is a defining factor in the success of gaming with the allure of online capabilities drawing an ever increasing audience. XBL, PSN, the constant stream of news sites, forums for debate and thriving online communities means that gaming is inherently involved our lives more than ever before. XBL and PSN now promote themselves more as lifestyle accessories than simple online playing platforms, branching out into social networking, music and sports and encouraging a sense of integration between mediums. It’s this connectivity which seems to be integral to its continued success, as sharing and competitiveness are encouraged in equal measure. Rather than the anti-social ‘geek’ label gamers were once branded with, by and large the scene has developed beyond to a stage of sustained acceptability. Also, now that casual gaming has become such a huge force in the market, all manner of once untapped audiences are becoming involved with videogames. Fair enough they may not be queuing at midnight on launch day for the latest FPS release, but in itself this is an exemplification of the diversity between audiences.

Expansion of videogames has happened at an incredibly fast pace, to such an extent that now, gaming is always in some way connected, at least in the leisure sense to emerging technologies. Blu-Ray and HD are now cemented in the current generation of consoles and 3D was inevitably bound to follow. It’s this cutting edge nature that now, keeps gaming in the forefront of public consciousness. Despite the fact that the 360 and PS3 are comparatively ancient in console terms, Kinect and Move are essentially breathing new life into both, and although Motion Control is not a brand new concept, it is a new direction for both Microsoft and Sony’s machines and again a chance to reach new audiences.

Satoru Iwata, President of Nintendo Co., Ltd., speaks during Nintendo's E3 presentation of their new Nintendo 3DS at the E3 Media & Business Summit in Los Angeles June 15, 2010. REUTERS/Phil McCarten (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCI TECH BUSINESS IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Videogames and the surrounding culture has travelled a long way in what contextually is a very short time, and there are many smaller cogs that facilitate the running of the larger machine. In the grand scheme of things seeing fifty people turn up at a tiny Gamestation in one of London’s less desirable areas at midnight seems fairly irrelevant; yet is microcosmically representative of gaming’s evolvement from minor recreation to mainstream juggernaut.

(Photo credits: Craig Grobler, Weefz)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Screenshots: F1 2010

There's been a deluge of top racing games already this year but another much-anticipated release is now under starter's orders... F1 2010 from Codemasters is due to hit the shelves on 24 September and is a likely contender for pole position in the charts.

After the likes of Split\Second and Blur, it's kind of refreshing to have a real racing sim coming out again.
And I reckon it looks fantastic - fully licensed and featuring the official drivers, teams and 19 circuits from the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship. There's the usual career mode, online multiplayer and... wait for it... it claims to have the most advanced weather effects in any racing game!

Here are some great looking new screens.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review - Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions

So many comic book characters have been around for so long that they have undergone numerous reboots and reinventions in the name of relevance (or in the name of creating an excuse to retell the Green Goblin murdering Peter Parker’s love interest storyline again and again). Shattered Dimensions purports to combine the characters from various reboots in an unlikely crossover, and why not? I know I would love to see calloused, middle-aged and drunk Batman from The Dark Knight Returns team with Adam West to beat the snot out of George Clooney’s Batman.

Sadly, this game is missing the most important Spiderman of all; the 60s animated series Spiderman, with his peppy theme song and ability to swing from webs hanging off the moon. You also don’t get to knock some sense into emo Tobey Macguire for dancing the Spiderman movie series into franchisicide. What you do get are four different Spidermans: the traditional “Amazing” Spiderman that has been around for 47 years yet doesn’t look a day older than 20. The “Ultimate” Spiderman, a more recent reboot where Peter Parker is a high school kid and who’s sole purpose in this game is to wear that blasted black symbiote suit that won’t go away. Spiderman 2099 is the futuristic version, in a world with flying cars, holograms and other things us 90s folk thought would happen in the year 2000. And finally, there’s the Noir Spiderman, which combines Marvel wackiness with Sin City mood, depression, hyperbole and none of the sex and violence. I don’t think Spiderman Noir has his own comic book line at the moment, but after this game, he damn sure better get one!

All of these alternate universes are tied together because Amazing Spiderman accidentally broke some kind of superfunky tablet of funk. And now Madame Web (who’s career peaked with the 90s cartoon) is asking the four Spidermen to fix this. To be frank, Madame Web may be the worst part of this entire game, with her slow and plodding tutorials, predictable advice and tendency to say “good job” after every minor feat I’ve accomplished. Thanks for telling me the best way to beat a boss is to wait for his attack to miss and then counter-attack, Madame Obvious. Likewise, the best part of Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions is the narration from Stan Lee. The man is 87 years old, for Christ’s sake! And yet he still has more enthusiasm and energy than the combined attendance at Yankee Stadium. I’m pretty sure he could inject a sense of wonder and excitement into sock-knitting with his narration.

Though if I had to pick a second-best part to the game, it would probably be the effective use of the whole alternate dimension business, visually at least. The Amazing and Ultimate levels are bright, colourful and…err…comic booky. The 2099 levels are very neon, metallic, rich in blues and purples. It’s nice to see a video game version of the future that isn’t dystopian or ravaged in the greys and browns of war. The Noir levels rock that old film grain and evoke Dick Tracy and the like…but with more webs and less profanity. And as someone that likes comic book characters on the most casual of levels (there is only one Tony Stark and his name is Downey Jr), it was rather intriguing to see the different spins on famous characters. The Amazing levels were perhaps the least interesting since I’ve already seen their respective versions of Sandman or Kraven the Hunter done repeatedly. Rather, it was novel to see Vulture remade as a demented cannibal, or how plastic surgery advances so much in 100 years that Dr Octopus can get a sex change into a female supermodel in 2099.

And the game follows that new, unwritten-but-undisputed rule that every second or third Marvel video game, movie or other media property must feature some appearance by Deadpool.

However, the game kind of…er…shatters when you have to play it. Despite the advertised four dimensions, three of them play rather identically. Or to be exact, three of them are cheap God of War clones. The bulk of your time in the Amazing, Ultimate or 2099 levels are spent beating waves and waves of generic goons. Many of the enemies seem to have abnormally large chunks of health, leaving you with the non-sensation of button-mashing your way through one bout of repetition after another. Not all the levels are like this (the Deadpool level is 20 shades of awesome, though you wouldn’t expect otherwise) but the game seems to put its generic combat ahead of any other gameplay concepts. Occasionally, you’ll rescue civilians, and then protect them in escort missions, a concept I swore went out of style 12 years ago (before Ultimate Spiderman existed, in fact.) The levels are linear stages as opposed to the open-ended New York sandbox of past. Thus, the web-swinging, the best part of the last three or four Spiderman games, is relegated to simply a means to cross the occasional gap.

So you’ll fight many enemies, repeatedly. And that includes bosses. In fact, each level is named after its token Spiderman villain. Pretty much every major Spiderman rogue short of Venom appears in this game (and lets be frank, the big black symbiote dude needs a break from the public eye anyways.) It’s not uncommon to fight a boss once or twice in a level… and then for that boss to realize that superfunky stone grants superpowers, leading to a third, bigger boss fight.

Each level has its share of optional objectives, and completing them earns “Web Essence” that can be spent on various upgrades and moves. Most of these objectives fall in the category of “things you were going to do anyways” like beating up enemies and bosses, so you need not bother scroll through the needlessly bulky menu screen depicting your objectives. Each character has different variations of the same unlockable moves. Ultimate Spiderman can use a superpowered “Rage” mode that makes him stronger. 2099 Spiderman can use a superpowered “Accel” mode that makes him faster. Amazing Spiderman gets a raw deal in the special abilities mode. Otherwise, there is little difference in how the three characters handle.

But on the other hand, the Noir Spiderman is something else. His levels are reminiscent of the stealth levels from Batman: Arkham Asylum. A bunch of goons have guns and the hero is best served to pick each one off individually, from the shadows, like a man. There are a few differences between The Batman and The Spiderman; instead of gargoyles, Spiderman escapes to safety by merely finding somewhere dark to hide. You can takedown enemies from a distance, either from higher ground or while hiding on walls. And you’ll feel like a real badass in tights for sneaking up on an enemy and web-trapping them on the wall like a spider can. There are some technical issues that you’ll struggle with, mostly involving trying to figure out a safe distance for which the game allows said takedowns to trigger. You’ll also have to learn to takedown an enemy while no one else is glancing at you, for the takedown animations are canned, long, and involve obnoxiously loud punches to the face. And for whatever reason, you can’t perform a takedown on an aggroed enemy that isn’t walking on his predetermined patrol path. But I would be doing the brooding Noir man an injustice if I didn’t say how satisfying these stealth sequences can be. There’s something to be said about clearing out an entire room of enemies, unseen, while Hammerhead is in the next room scolding his numbskull henchmen. That’s what being a 60s superhero is all about. That and talking robots.

The first Noir Spiderman level is the best level in the entire game, due to how it consists entirely of one stealth sequence after another. The subsequent Noir levels intersperse fun stealth levels with annoying forced combat sequences, dragging them into the same interdimensional mud the other Spidermen have to deal with. And then there are the numerous other technical issues. Expect to have many tizzies with the camera and the various controls for climbing and web-swinging. I’ve had moments where the game froze my progress because one of the goons I needed to beat fell off the game world…and moments where Madame Web congratulated me on a job well-done and the sealed door was opened, despite me never laying a finger on any enemy in the room. The final sequence of the final boss is also rather poorly designed, and will lead to confusion and doubt if you don’t follow the unmarked path the developers want you to follow. And the game crashed on me four times. Excelsior.

The game’s about 7 to 8 hours long. But it’s not a particularly entertaining 7 to 8 hours.

I feel like there’s way too much drawn-out filler, repetition and
technical issues interfering with my ability to appreciate the game’s novel concept. Plus there’s no 60s Spiderman, which is a gross oversight. At best, Shattered Dimensions is suited for a curiosity rental. I feel like after Arkham Asylum, the bar for a game based on a comic book game has been raised enough that this grossly underpolished title won’t cut it. And besides, Spiderman deserves better than to be trapped in a God of War knockoff.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Proof - games are good for you

How appropriate that, on the day of one of the biggest launches in gaming history, academics publish a report declaring that gaming - and specifically, shoot 'em ups - are good for us!

As you read this, die hard gamers across the globe are sat cross-legged in front of their TVs pwning at Halo:Reach. Their eyes are glued to the screen, their thumbs are starting to suffer from repetitive strain injury and their loved ones are being ignored. But on the positive side, researchers from New York's University of Rochester in the US have confirmed what I have always maintained... games improve the mind. Not only that, but they help us hone our decision making processes and provide us with lightening quick reflexes!

According to an article in today's Independent newspaper, scientists carried out numerous tests to determine the effects of gaming:

The researchers tested dozens of 18- to 25-year-olds who were not ordinarily video-gamers, splitting them into two groups.

The first group were told to play adrenalin-packed action games such as Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament, in which participants dash around online arenas shooting each other.

The second group were given The Sims 2, a more sedate, strategy-based game that mimics the pace of everyday life.

Despite the fact that those subjected to The Sims must have been bored senseless, the study showed that those lucky people playing the faster-paced action titles apparently made decisions 25% quicker than their peers.

There you have it, proof that gaming is good for you! It must be true - scientists say so!

Five things we’re not looking forward to in Halo Reach.

The countdown is over and Halo: Reach is finally here. We’ll be slitting the plastic on our copy later this evening, and already we’re overjoyed at the prospect of new Covenant baddies, a graphical polish and the chance to experience the moodiest part of Halo’s backstory. But amidst all that excitement, something occurred to us, something we noticed when Halo 2 was released and again for 3, Wars and ODST. It seems that every time a new Halo game is released a small but noticeable collection of niggles created by fans, developers and journalists appear to take a little bit of the shine off things, and we’re betting that Reach will be no different. So, here are our five predictable things we think Halo: Reach could do without.

1. Copycat Cabooses
I loved Red vs Blue. You loved Red vs Blue. We all love Red vs Blue, it has a gorgeous mix of foul-mouthed humour, running gags and hilarious characters. But you know who loves Red vs Blue too much? Those plonkers in blue armour with names like xxCaboosexx and Cabooooose13 who hang around in multiplayer games wittering on about sandwiches in sub-par impersonation of our favourite lackwit. Enough. He was funny, you’re not.

2. 30 seconds of cheap
As a game design ethos, Bungie’s famous Thirty Seconds of Fun is great. Attempting to build a game around a string of breathtaking half-minute shootouts strung together with breathers for restocking is laudable, but it’s still only an ideal. Between the two weapon loadout, unpredictable AI and broad landscape, there’s enough unpredictability in Halo to make clear that the 30 seconds of fun is a guiding principle, an abstract concept, not a concrete part of the gameplay. Yet every time a new Halo game hits the stand we have to read reviews and even entire features in which deadline strapped hacks talk about the 30 Seconds of Fun as if it’s real.

3. Uninspired Forge maps
A year before Little Big Planet offered UGC creators the toolbox of their dreams, Halo 3 brought us the Forge, a multiplayer game maker that allowed users to insert objects and weapons into existing maps, beefing up the firepower, closing up the choke points, building new ramps and ladders-it was all down to your imagination. And what was the best that the imaginations of most Halo 3 players could come up with? Rocket launchers and grav hammers in a map the size of a postage stamp. Loud, tiresome and repetetive, it’s the gaming equivalent of a Saxon album. And now we have Forgeworld to look forward to...

4. Clicking to sprint...
...oh, no, wait, we’re not playing Call of Duty. Although the absence of a sprint button almost makes me wish I was. While I accept that the first Halo can be excused due to its comparatively limited multiplayer options, would it really have hurt to add a sprint to Halo 2 or 3? The inability to vary your speed when under fire is one of the few things we’d change in Halo multiplayer.

5. The great debate...
Is there a more frequently debated topic in gaming than this? On some message boards there might as well be a ‘Start a tiresome “Is Halo Overated?” thread’ button right next to the log in. Over and over and over we read the same basic complaints-the guns are unbalanced, the vehicles are brilliant, the library is awful, the AI is great. Point and counterpoint ad infinitum. The fact is, it’s here in all its six games, seven novels and numerous action figure spawning glory. Let’s just say there’s got to be something to it, and not have yet another tedious debate as to the actual value of that ‘something’.