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.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

We live in amazing times

So how much did you spend on your last brand-new gaming title? Expensive, aren’t they? Or are they? In 1991, a loaf of bread cost about 30p, a Ford Escort could be yours for £8,000, or, if you were too young to worry about shopping and driving, you could pester your parents to splash out £40 on a brand new copy of the first game to address the huge gap in the market for sarcastic blue erinaceid roleplay: Sonic The Hedgehog.

Nowadays, a loaf of bread costs four times as much and tastes exactly the same. A swanky new Focus costs over as much as an Escort did and fulfils pretty-much the same task. But invest £40 in games nowadays and you get a product so much more technically advanced than its 20-year-old equivalent that you could barely believe they’re both powered by the same type of electricity.

But, just as the country has become much richer without becoming any happier, do today’s gamers derive greater pleasure from modern games than our illustrious forebears did from their 8-bit wonderboxes in the glorious gaming decades of legend? Or does the vast budget, team, and lead time required to produce a modern title blunt creativity and generate instead the sort of pop-chart mediocrity where it’s so expensive to fail that no risks can be taken?

Well, in many cases, yes. But, ‘twas ever thus: sure, we’ve a plethora of derivative cover-based first-person-shooters now, but let’s not forget that in the wake of every groundbreaking Manic Miner or Way of the Exploding Fist came a hundred me-tooers such as the 1984’s spark-free Fireman Fred, or the 1986 licence of Highlander - a game with the manners of a goat.

And let’s not forget either that the indie scene is alive and well and innovating happily. Who’d have thought that amidst the technical wizardry and gaming complexity of 2010 we’d see Minecraft - a blocky but instantly fascinating game of cube manipulation written in Java by one guy – garner pre-beta sales revenues of over €6m? And for those who prefer their pleasures to be galactically cerebral, it’s hard to fault Arcen’s AI War, a glorious space-age celebration of the adaptability of genuine artificial intelligence.

So let’s give thanks to the games industry! Compared with so many others, it advances at lightning speed, and we’re lucky to live in such amazing times.

But I for one am going to keep reading the reviews and buying carefully...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Review: Call Of Duty Black Ops

It would seem that with every annual Call Of Duty release, the unrelenting tidal wave of hype becomes ever more all-encompassing than the year before. Initial scraps of information blossom into vast marketing campaigns, feverous excitement surrounds the latest glimpse of gameplay footage, culminating in ever more elaborate midnight release events the world over.

From its humble beginnings in the trenches of World War 2 through the franchise-defining leap into the modern era, it's safe to say that Call Of Duty is now a global phenomenon. Of course with the accompanying furore that engulfs every new instalment comes the daunting prospect of living up to expectations. With the dust still in the air post Infinity Ward’s rather public battle with Activision, Treyarch once again take the reigns, and the responsibility.

We’re thrust into the clandestine world of Alex Mason, as he is imprisoned and interrogated by a silhouetted figure. The campaign’s narrative and mission structure operates via Mason’s flashbacks, instigating the adrenaline fuelled bursts of Hollywood drama that we’ve become accustomed to of late. Whilst the nature of Black Op’s story means you’ll be initially confused, the chronological progression means that you’ll eventually be bought into the present day more or less up to speed with events that have effectuated Mason’s current predicament.

Sam Worthington, Ed Harris, Gary Oldman and O Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson all offer their vocal talents to proceedings, resulting in some expectedly gritty interaction. Although the plot here is hardly staking a claim as the most original (the West being targeted by a chemical weapon strike is the underlying plot device), it is by far preferable to the distorted pretentiousness that drove Modern Warfare 2’s campaign. Grainy old news footage plays in the background during the interrogation sequences, adding a degree of plausibility to Black Op’s shady Cold War theme. By and large, in terms of storytelling and script writing it’s a single player experience that ranks up there with the best of the Call Of Duty series, although if that’s really a praiseworthy statement is subjective to opinion.

As soon as you take to the helm in Cuba during the Bay Of Pigs invasion, familiarity firmly cements itself on proceedings. The control scheme is rightly unchanged and remains satisfying, with the cover, aim, shoot mechanic repeatedly called in to use throughout the relative linearity of each mission. It's customarily Call Of Duty. The action is melodramatically cinematic; vast explosions, constant reams of gunfire and an occasionally enormous on screen enemy count keep the pace at a frenetic level. If you weren’t a fan of Modern Warfare 2’s relentlessly visceral bombardment then you’ll be once again out of your depth with Black Ops. However, those of us who revelled in MW2’s action packed eccentricity will be back in their element this time around.

There may be a fine line between epic, and ludicrously over the top, but Black Ops (although not entirely consistently) by and large manages to walk it and with entertaining results. One of the earlier missions requires you to guide a remote controlled rocket into a launching missile with expectedly explosive consequences. Later on you’ll be guiding a boat down a Vietnamese river, firing rockets while The Rolling Stone’s Sympathy For The Devil blares out in the background; an obvious Apocalypse Now inspired moment. The breathless pace rarely lets up, but this in itself poses some issues. Friendly AI can often hinder rather than help, assuming the most advantageous cover positions and leaving you exposed. On the lower difficulty setting this isn’t a problem, but anything from hardened up, and the frustrating hitch of your invincible allies hijacking the best areas often presents itself. In the chaos that constantly surrounds you, these niggles are irritatingly accentuated.

Enemy AI often suffers from the same problem. It’s the bizarre hybrid of blind stupidity and insane accuracy that will grate. Enemies often run straight past your passive cohorts will the sole mission of killing you and you alone; sometimes merely poking your head out will result in being peppered with a tirade of bullets. Admittedly these frustrations will really only come into play on Veteran, so they’re certainly not game breaking issues, yet many players will settle for nothing less than attempting Black Ops on the hardest setting.

Complaints and mutterings of discontent were aired at the relatively relaxed nature of MW2’s veteran campaign, but with Treyarch back in charge expect nothing less a painful grind from checkpoint to checkpoint. Thankfully the ridiculous grenade spamming of World at War has been toned down drastically, yet this is still an unforgiving challenge at times. There are sections where infinite enemy respawns (yes, like the hellish Heart Of The Reich) present themselves, and attempting to fight your way through the hordes to the next, occasionally harshly placed checkpoint becomes an exercise in sustained patience and reliance on luck.

Veteran can really detract from the enjoyment of an otherwise fun campaign, so in that respect it’s a wise move to play on hardened or regular from the start, and replay it on veteran if your seeking a stern test of your ability.

For many of course, the single player element of Black Ops is more or less irrelevant, and they’ll skip straight past Mason’s recollecting exploits into the multiplayer. COD online can often be an unforgiving playground, where the uninitiated will receive zero mercy. Thankfully, Treyarch has implemented a combat simulator, where you can enter in to free-for-alls and team deathmatches against bots of varying abilities; from the woeful recruit to the punishing veteran.

Combat training is a welcome addition as it allows novice players to get to grips with the ins and outs of multiplayer without constantly becoming cannon fodder for experienced human opponents. The levelling up and unlocking systems are fully integrated in combat training, although progress here will not be carried over into its competitive counterpart. It’s a nice inclusion to the package, utilizing a user friendly approach rather than throwing new players in at the daunting deep end. Once rusty skills have been honed and sharpened or the basic ropes learned, the real business then begins.

Fans will be pleased to here that competitive multiplayer is as addictive as ever. Varying degrees of XP can be earned, more so for completing the seemingly endless lists of challenges that are specific to weapons or game types - all very familiar so far. However, a new feature; COD points makes its debut.

COD points are earned along side XP and are effectively Black Op’s currency. Whilst weapons are unlocked as you level up, you’ll then have to purchase those weapons and their enhancements with your hard earned points. What makes this process all the more addictive is the greatly improved depth of customisation options in the latest instalment. Camouflages, attachments, reticules, clan tags and emblems can all be added to weapons, resulting in a more personal feel to your gun of choice. Face paints can even be applied as you ascend through the ranks, although additions such as this are purely for showmanship rather than offering a genuine advantage in battle.

Whilst the standard deathmatch and objective based modes return, there are a few new inclusions to freshen up proceedings. Wager matches add a new level of competitiveness to the already tense gameplay, as you’ll have to gamble your own COD points as 'buy in' fee in order to compete for the top three cash prize spots.

What’s already an intriguing mechanic is complimented by the game types available under the larger ‘wager match’ umbrella. The most notable of these for sheer adrenaline fuelled anarchy is the simply, yet aptly titled 'Gun Game'. Players ascend through twenty tiers of weaponry, from initially tame peashooters, through assault rifles, snipers and culminating in an explosive finale. Gun Game remains well balanced as players tend to struggle in the sniper rifle section whilst those slow off the mark play catch-up, resulting in a rocket fuelled crescendo as everyone involved struggles for top spot.

The much bemoaned boost instigating Nuke from MW2 has been sidelined altogether with the maximum killstreak reward capped at 11; the universally feared attack dogs making a bone tearing return to the fray. Throw in the return of the popular zombies mode (the two main protagonists being JFK and Fidel Castro, showing that amidst the often gratuitous violence Treyarch still has a sense of humour) and the 'hall of bragging rights' theatre, and Black Op’s multiplayer is content wise, very healthy indeed.

The integral basics of what makes online Call Of Duty so addictive remain, yet some intuitive inclusions to the established formula mean we’re not simply playing a clone of Infinity Ward’s previous effort. Only time will tell, but all indications so far would suggest that Black Op’s multiplayer staying power could well outlast its phenomenally successful predecessor.

Call Of Duty fans will not need to be told whether or not they should invest in the series’ latest outing. The campaign is a big, brash action packed slice of entertainment (albeit with some frustrating niggles on harder settings), whilst not offering a great deal in the way of depth. In other words it’s a standard single player COD experience; its ultimately just a bit of fun, but then again the real money lies elsewhere.

Most Call Of Duty players will pay the asking price for the multiplayer content alone. Thankfully then, Treyarch has worked hard to deliver the goods in that department which will undoubtedly be reflected when the first online statistics emerge. Until the first snippets of the next annual Call Of Duty game surfaces and the cogs of the hype machine are once again set in motion, Black Ops will no doubt keep the masses content.

Friday, November 19, 2010

PES 2011 finally retuns to form

ISS, Pro Evo, PES - call it what you like. I call it the greatest series of football simulation games ever made. For years the battle between PES, and the gigantic, fat-arsed Elephant in the room, FIFA, was easy to define. The best game vs the 'best-looking game’.

Then in 2009 everything changed. EA released FIFA10 and Konami released PES 2010. Finally, the much maligned FIFA fans could fight back.

Konami failed. Since introducing the term ‘Evolution’ to the name of their flagship sporting title Konami had been less ‘revolutionary’ with every release of the game. Year on year, FIFA was catching up and finally in 2009 it not only caught up but overtook it.

Pro Evo fans were livid. I among them. How could Konami be so complacent? How could Konami be so lazy?

It’s not like they hadn’t been warned. From 2006, EA had openly admitted that they were trying to bring certain gameplay elements of their title more in line with Pro Evo. Since then, year on year FIFA eroded the advantage enjoyed by PES up until then.

Pro Evo fans like myself, so long sitting smug-faced on our high horses felt let down, some would even describe it as a feeling of betrayal. Many defected to EA's game; some of those I even called friends. Immediately I was bombarded with offers, requests, and entreaties. “Join us,” they bayed. “Pro Evo is ****” and "You’re playing the wrong game”.

And they were right. For years I had been telling anyone with a passing interest that it wasn’t about brands. It wasn’t about the player on the box. It wasn’t about who had Andy Gray in the commentary box and who was lumbered with Mark Lawrenson. But FIFA had become the better game. Surprisingly it didn’t look better... but it played better. Here was the truest representation of association football to be found on any games console.

They were right. It was time for me to go. Konami was about to lose their truest fan.

But I didn’t go. I stayed. Loyal? Stupid? It doesn’t matter, for I have been rewarded. PES 2011 is brilliant! ****ing brilliant!

The surprising thing about me absolutely loving this game is that Konami has only made one major change. As usual they’ve slightly improved the graphics. They’ve slightly improved the animation. They’ve slightly improved the gameplan. That’s what they ALWAYS do. That’s why fans both love and hate it. Seabass (Pro Evo creator) hit upon the magic formula years ago and has been riding that wave ever since. Seemingly terrified to change anything for fear of alienating fans.

However it seems the backlash against PES 2010 was enough to shake him up a bit. Seabass has taken a scalpel to the most fundamental part of the PES system, the passing; and made it the greatest passing system EVER.

Passing joins shooting in being based around a power bar - and once you get used to it you’ll fall in love. The first time you fire a 35yard pass between centre-back and full-back to your on-rushing winger you’ll want to get down on you knees and rejoice. If you misjudge the strength of a pass and lose the ball you’ll be just as angry as you were in PES 2010. But now you’ll be angry with yourself and not crappy AI.

If you’re a die-hard fan of FIFA, I’m not going to tell you to trade up for PES. But if you were once a PES devotee, it’s safe to say the prodigal son has returned!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review: Kinect Adventures

I thought about trying to review the Kinect sensor itself, but I think you already know whether or not you want to buy this peculiar device. A divisive machine to be certain, anyone that has heard about the Kinect for a great length of time has long since formed an opinion, so you don’t need mine. If your idea of fun involves having friends and family over and playing lighthearted entertainment for laughs while getting high on life, you want the sensor. If your idea of fun involves sniping off Middle Eastern terrorists, proclaiming racial epitaphs on a headset while high on something besides life, you don’t want the Kinect. If you can’t be arsed to move the coffee table in front of your television, you don’t want the Kinect, but I recommend a gym membership. And if you don’t have a coffee table to move, let alone a television, Xbox, living room or house, well I recommend the Salvation Army over the Kinect.

As a western European with a sizable basement living quarters and gainful employment, I like the Kinect sensor. I’ll put aside the half-second lag, the pointlessness of the facial scan ID feature and the possibility that the Kinect is the reason my Xbox suffer a red-ringed death. And it bears mentioning that the installation involves several minutes of complete silence, a luxury I wouldn’t have if I tried installing it on a relative’s household filled with screaming children. And the menu navigation is flawed; having to hold your hand over a specific spot is a slow method of accessing options. The voice recognition works but it leaves room for expansion; when I can say “Xbox! Super Meat Boy!” and thus boot up the anti-thesis of the Kinect sensor, I will consider this technology a true success. And above all else, it is the absolute freakiest experience ever in one moment during the install when your avatar is duplicating your physical movements with near-precision. It is especially freaky when your avatar is the giant TV-screen head from Risk: Factions wearing the Earthworm Jim supersuit.

Kinect Adventures is the pack-in title with the sensor, and the game that proves all this newfangled motion-sensing technology works. It’s a series of mini-games that grabs your full-body movements and makes you move in often unpleasant ways. There’s some peppy, annoying boy scouts/meets animal crackers-theme of a group of adventurers looking for treasure overbearing the game, and it seems that their means of finding treasure is to replay the exact same five mini-games over and over. I personally hate these treasure seekers, if just because they forced my avatar to take off his TV head and supersuit.

So you’ll replay five mini-games over and over again to earn badges and unlock weird trophies. Such trophies include Achievements (yes, this game treasures your gamerscore), avatar clothes to not wear unless you want your avatar to be a 20-something year old boy scout, and weird talking trophies that can recreate a vocal sample of your choosing. Ever want to see a furry critter recite some Wu-Tang lyrics? I sure as hell did.

The mini-games themselves are a mixed bag. “Duck and dodge wacky obstacles or else you’ll get pimpslapped” has you on an automated mine cart, physically avoiding obstacles by moving out of the way, and contorting your body in different positions to collect coins. This can be very amusing, although I think only Yao Ming [basketball player!] or someone with great armspan can truly get a perfect score with the way some of the coins are spread out. Likewise “I’m on a boat, bitch!” has you on a raft, moving your body to steer your raft across a raging river with ramps to collect coins along the way. Since there are somewhat dynamic courses here, this mini-game stays interesting longer than most.

“Deflect balls with your balls” (I can’t verify if any of these are the real game names since my Xbox died) has you using your arms, legs, torso and (usually) head to deflect balls towards a series of bricks. It’s not the deepest of games but you’ll get a kick of someone dancing around like Yosemite Sam is unloading at their feet. From there, the games become less intriguing. “Plug your hole” involves moving your hands and feet to block holes in a glass tank. You’ll get to see someone assume somewhat awkward-but-not-too-awkward positions but the arbitrary nature of this game gets old fast.

Like with the other games, Kinect will take a bunch of snapshots of you acting a fool, and the ones taken of you covering leaks are the least foolish, if that amounts to anything. The worst mini-game of the bunch is “act like you’re in that f***ing owl movie” where you have to flap your arms to float, drop them to sink, and try to collect all the orbs in the area. Besides being extensively shallow, the game treats “dropping your arms” like an additional flap, so you’ll get a quick jump in the air before actually dropping down to collect the orbs beneath you. So this is the one game where lack of responsiveness is an issue.

And that really is all that Kinect Adventures has to offer. The game certainly proves that the Kinect works and can be a barrel of great amusement. I felt like the Wii controller was too abstract and inaccurate for the tasks it would ask the player to accomplish; swinging that doohickey like a baseball bat didn’t always yield the result you would expect out of swinging a Louisville Slugger, for example (plus early adopters ran the risk of their remote smashing into their television).

What I’ve played of Kinect so far, the motions involve physically recreating motions with your body, and people that accidentally crash through their television set probably deserve their fate. So the Kinect itself is a thumbs up. Kinect Adventures, on the other hand, will provide amusement for yourself and the party for about 30-60 minutes before being put away in favour of Dance Central.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Halo Reach - the end of an era

Remember where it all began... You’ve all seen the adverts. No doubt intended to remind you of the feeling you had when you first played Halo: Combat Evolved. Perhaps the most important FPS since Doom.

For some of us, it went deeper than that. We thought of the moments that defined a generation. The thing that separated you from the rest of the crowd. This was your game. Your experience. Your memory. The first time the Grunts ran away and regrouped. The first time you met ‘The Flood’. The first time you believed you were the ‘Master Chief’. The first time you forgot it was a still a game.

For me Halo was always a co-operative adventure. I have always faithfully followed the series with my elder brother. The two of us were always paired in combat. Saving the universe time and time again, from the tyranny of the Covenant, the terror of the Flood, and the total destruction the Halo rings themselves.

However for us it didn’t begin on Reach, it didn’t even begin with Halo: Combat Evolved...
It began in a crappy little Caravan park in Clacton-on-Sea.

When we were kids my mum and dad would drag us off every summer for a week or two in a relative's caravan. It was rubbish but we loved it. If the weather was nice we would go to the beach, have adventures in parks, or any of the other things people used to do before we had computers. If the weather was bad, we headed down to the arcades.

Once there we were in dreamland (at least until our money ran out). My brother and I were a team. We annoyed our older sister together, and we played Double Dragon together. The ultimate in co-op play, we became Billy and Jimmy Lee as we punched, kicked and clubbed our way through to Marian.

Halo: Combat Evolved brought us back to 1989 and we loved Bungie for it.

Since then they have released Halo2, Halo3, and Halo3:ODST. Each time we rushed out to buy it. Hoping to recreate the feeling of the caravan site. Each time we were disappointed.

Halo2 had a poor difficulty curve that took the fun out the campaign, Halo3 had poor level design for anything other than the online battle market. And ODST…I don’t even want to talk about ODST.

However with Reach, I think they have remembered....

Check out Megabits' review after the jump.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Review: Medal of Honor

It was inevitable that EA's Medal of Honor was going to draw comparisons with Activision's Call of Duty, especially as both series have now been brought bang up to date with a modern day overhaul. No longer is World War II the period of choice - today, every developer worth its salt is setting their games in the all-too familiar settings of current conflict.

In doing so, the latest iteration in the franchise’s 11-year history threw up a fair bit of controversy and hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. But that certainly didn’t deter gamers; a record number of pre-orders and two million sales in the first fortnight isn’t too bad, eh?

But the comparisons between the two hit franchises are perhaps a little unfair... and un-necessary. Afterall, the Medal of Honor games were suitably different from their rivals even when they were both focussed on war torn Berlin and fighting the Nazi regime.

The latest edition of Medal of Honor is certainly a welcome addition to the series and, and despite the fact it has been subject of mixed reviews, it's a really enjoyable game. But it is a game of two halves - with different studios given the task of pulling together the on- and offline modes. Danger Close was behind the single player element, whereas DICE – famed for the Battlefield games – was in charge of the multiplayer online mode.

The solo player component whisks you off to Afghanistan, with each of the missions putting you in the boots of Rabbit and Deuce – members of the elite Tier 1 special forces team – or US Army Ranger, Dante, and pilot, Hawkins.

You embark on what is literally a whistlestop tour (a run-through of the game only lasts four to six hours) of locations including the Helmand Valley to the debris-strewn city of Kabul. Visually, it's all very impressive. From the dust that spews across the tracks to the snowy mountain ranges and scorching rays of the sun, aesthetically it’s spot on. So much so in fact, that you can’t help but feel a little deflated during the frequent night time missions or when you venture into a cave, as you can actually see very little of the lush environments.

The game proudly states that it was developed through close consultation with the armed forces to add to the game’s authenticity – and you’ll soon be convinced because of the all the military spiel that flows from the speakers.

The controls are pretty standard, although the ability to slide your character into cover is a nice touch, and you can also “peek and lean” around obstacles to make you less of a target.

It’s a decent campaign too – but not without its flaws. During a playthrough I’ll wager that you’ll need to reload the occasional checkpoint after losing track of your team and not having the faintest clue which direction you should be heading. There’s also very little freedom as you’re led down pre-defined paths by your AI-controlled colleagues. Enemies respawn with aplomb, firing relentlessly from all angles until your reach a certain trigger point where the next sequence or dialogue kicks in.

Saying that though, there is a fair bit of variety; some missions require stealth, others see you hurtling over the hills on a quad bike. Later you’ll also spend your time in trucks, helicopters and controlling huge airstrikes.

After the fairly short campaign, players can take their new-found skills online - although it's an all-together different experience from the campaign, largely due to a different studio being in charge. Unlike the stealthy elements of the campaign mode, here you’re faced with a typical class-based shooter that is reminiscent of Bad Company 2. Take your pick from three different classes, arm them to the teeth and bound about the maps leaving a trail of bad guys in your wake.

Two teams of up to twelve players can compete in the eight available maps across four different game types: Combat Mission, Team Assault, Objective Raid and Sector Control – which adds a fair amount of replayability to proceedings. It feels far less arcadey than its Call of Duty counterpart and rest assured, your first experience will be relatively short-lived as your opponents will inevitably be well-versed in putting a bullet right between your eyes from distance. Sometimes, it’s almost impossible to see exactly where your assailant was laying in wait – but I guess, that is what makes it even more like the real thing.

Another nice touch is the Tier 1 mode - tough single player challenges that pit you against the clock as you replay the campaign missions and rack up the scores. The aim is to complete them as quickly as possible to get higher up the leaderboards; head shots, melee kills and chain kills delay the timer.

The FPS is not exactly a rare breed these days but Medal of Honor is still a welcome addition to the genre. It looks the business and the sound effects are as good as any. Personally, I preferred the solo campaign as it felt like an altogether more substantial – albeit short – package; the graphics appear better and the story is robust and enjoyable. Online, the learning curve seems fairly steep and the maps are limited and slightly repetitive – although the new DLC (“Clean Sweep” and “Hot Zone”) help to make this less of an issue.

Overall, Medal of Honor is a robust effort and well worth shelling out for. The modern-day setting is welcome and the game is rewarding. Sadly, the timing of its release puts it almost head to head with the latest edition of Activision’s popular shooter and no matter what the merits of Medal of Honor, it’s going to have a tough time convincing the Call of Duty crowd to defect. Perhaps this is one to try before you buy. If you still fancy replaying the short campaign and get into your groove in the multiplayer, it’s then a top purchase!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Black Ops: best menu screen ever?

Rubbish opening screen for Call of Duty: Black Ops, eh? You've booted up the game and are ready for something special only to be faced with a drab old menu with a television showing the various options. Hell, who cares? You just want to dive straight into the action and rack up some kills, don't cha?

But wait! Why not waggle your analog sticks a moment, and press those shoulder buttons... Now you weren't expecting that, were you?

Check out the video below to see how Treyarch have hidden a secret game in the main menu - a top down, twin stick zombie shooter called Dead Ops Arcade. Not only that, but all you achievement hunters out there can also rack up a few points too.



Megabits is impressed - and grateful for the points - but we also took a few moments to look at some of the other impressive menu screens of games from years gone by...

Brutal Legend

Colin McRae Dirt 2

The Chronicles of Riddick

Half Life 2

Are there any other great examples that we've missed? Leave a comment below...

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Review: EA Sports MMA

The fastest growing sport in the world makes yet another appearance on the 360 and PS3 - and no, it's not another UFC Undisputed update... There's a new contender for the title of best mixed martial arts game and frankly, EA Sports MMA packs a pretty hefty punch!

Unlike its rival, EA's new fight sim lacks the big names that many of us may be familiar with as the THQ’s UFC game has the license for all of those guys... but it really doesn't matter. There are still plenty of famous faces from the sport in there - the roster of fighters including Shinya Aoki, the Shamrock brothers and Fedor Emelianenko - the uber-tough heavyweight who graces the box with MMA legend Randy Couture.

From the menu screen, there's the usual option to dive straight into a fight, where you can pick from the huge roster, arena types and rules – including Japanese, Vale Tudo, and Strikeforce. There’s also a quick tutorial or, should you feel a little more confident in your abilities, you can opt for the online multiplayer mode - a superb distraction with good matchmaking and no noticeable lag during bouts. Emerge from a fight victorious and XP is collected putting you within touching distance of a belt and that all important kudos.

Frank Shamrock and Mauro Ranallo provide the commentary, which is decent enough but a little odd on the occasions when Frank is actually slugging it out in the ring at the same time(!). Big John McCarthy is there as referee, while Jimmy Lennon Jr provides the fighter introductions before each event.

Fun though these options may be, it's the career mode - under the expert tutorage of fan favourite Bas Rutten - that really deals the competition a knockout blow. These lengthy campaigns can often be a bit of a slog but EA’s effort really reeled me in and I found myself sat in front of the screen until the early hours, trying to work my way up the professional rankings.

First step is to create a fighter and select his stance, style and swagger. How should your protege enter the ring and to what music? And after a win, how should he celebrate? Then there are the tattoos, shorts, facial features, hair styles and physique options to scroll through too - it's very comprehensive without being a chore.

Next up, it's all about learning the basics. Standup and grappling skills are first on the agenda, with a series of kicks, punches and takedowns explained through various mini games. Unlike the UFC titles, the controls are intuitive and reminiscent of EA's acclaimed Fight Night series, the buttons responsible for your fighter’s various limbs. Should you not take to the Total Strike Control, however, a simpler Classic variant is available too - either way, you’ll soon get to grips with the various manoeuvres.

A few bouts in and it's clear that this guy may look the part but his skills are seriously lacking. So it's off to one of the various training camps around the world to determine exactly what your fighter will be capable of. Each specialises in a different area from boxing to ju-jitsu. There are 16 special move slots available – which can be filled by performing a series of exercises of varying difficulty, often within a specified time limit. Achieve those and your chosen move is unlocked and added to your repertoire. All your favourites are available, such as the spinning kick, takedowns or the kimura submission. Your efforts in these mini games are graded from A to D, the higher the score rewarding your stats with a heftier boost. You can revisit these gyms before each fight to polish your skills and abilities. It’s a nice touch, allowing you to tailor your fighter to your strengths, be it the ground game or standup – and requires you to be tactically astute too as you don’t want to waste any of the available slots.

It's then a case of fighting your way through the various minor leagues to rise through the ranks and chase that sought-after belt. Rematches and titles defences add to the tension, allowing you to try out new tactics against former opponents and further hone your skills.

Regular news reports chart your successes and failures while Bas keeps in constant contact with emails and messages via your phone, choosing your next opponents and swamping you in his endless enthusiasm.

Button-mashing won’t help you much either as you’ll quickly see your stamina bar deplete making you more susceptible to strikes and less likely to recover. Instead, a more strategic take on the sport is supported and well-timed button presses and stick gestures will reap rewards.

Perhaps the area that really shines is the ground game, and specifically the submissions – a hugely infuriating aspect of the UFC titles. There’s an element of skill to pulling off the choke and limb submissions in the heat of battle, the former requiring gentle gesticulation of the stick until you hit that “sweet spot” that will force your opponent to tap out or pass out. The limb holds, meanwhile, need careful button presses and pacing to prevent your stamina from draining. A nice X-ray effect depicts the pressure inflicted on the bones and indicates how close you are to pulling off the move.

As you’d expect from the stable of EA, the presentation is spot on with great sounds and realistic character models, which perfectly mimic their real-life counterparts. Graphically, it looks fantastic – the blood, sweat and bruising effects a nice touch and becoming more obvious as each gruelling bout continues.

It's a shame that the sport, while growing rapidly, is still often overlooked but hopefully EA’s latest effort won’t be; it really is a fantastic game that perfectly captures the essence of the sport. There are few flaws – especially impressive seeing that this is the first in the series – and it provides plenty of replayability with the various career and online modes and customisation options. If I had to choose between the two excellent MMA titles – UFC Undisputed and EA Sports MMA – the latter would win it, by unanimous decision.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Review: Fable III

I feel like every time I’ve talked to someone about my experience playing Fable III, the net result is the receiver of my discussion being turned off Fable III. This might be because it’s hard to translate “Stephen Fry is hilarious in his vocal performance as a crooked industrialist” to someone who doesn’t know who Stephen Fry is, or how to spell industrialist. It could also be because, well, explaining how the pause system works is an instant turn-off for anyone that can comprehend how to use the Start menu in Windows XP.

You see, pressing Start doesn’t result in a menu screen that lets you access your inventory, map or even save the game. Pressing Start transplants your character inside a small room. Your character has to physically walk to different rooms and approach mannequins displaying the new weapon, clothing item or tattoo in order to equip/wear/ink up. To use the map of the world, you must saunter up to a map of the world in this aforementioned sanctuary. Meanwhile, a butler in this room periodically spouting suggestions and compliments. This whole attempt to visualize the pause screen doesn’t take any of the complexity out of menus but rather removes the immediacy of accessing these things. I would like to have instant access to a map to know where in the universe my character is at any given moment (although the Fable III map isn’t so hot at that…more in a jiffy.) And the lack of a pause menu is a bit unsettling. When a game is paused, you KNOW the game world is frozen, and nobody around you will question that this game is in session while you take a prolonged washroom break. Even though the actual action of my quest is halted, there is still an active visual on the screen, complete with a butler that doesn’t shut up while I’m in the lavatory. So somebody walks by and notices this unpaused game is going to be very confused.

So when you come home from work or school or what have you, walk up to your booted-up game console, pause whatever game is inside and give the menu screen a big hug.

Truth be told, the menu screen fiasco is a very insubstantial issue, it’s just such a bizarre one. I should mention that Fable III is a fantasy-oriented action/RPG. You are the son or daughter of the character you theoretically played as in Fable II. Your brother is an atypical corrupt king and you are charged with travelling the land to gain allies for your rebellion. I feel like I’ve heard this story in a fantasy-RPG before…

Though also to be fair, Dragon Age didn’t have Fable II’s high quantity of Britishness. Like previous Fables, this is a game that soaks itself in juices of smart-assed humour. During your travels, you may run into a posse of table-top RPG cultists, an undead pub party and some very bitter talking gnomes. I mentioned a great evil industrialist earlier; I was so used to Stephen Fry as the voice of encouragement and wonder in LittleBigPlanet that it was a genuine shock to see him turn around as the pro-child-labour, pro-logging, pro-all-things-evil businessman Reaver. And Fable III even nails the simpler joys of life. The animation for farting in someone’s face is just something special that every current or former frat boy should witness.

But like a lingering fart, Fable III kind of stinks up the room for a bit. I felt like everything surrounding the belches and taunting of civilians wasn’t so amusing. Actually, forget that; the belching and taunting of civilians isn’t fun either. Because now you can only use expressions to impress/harass one person at a time, and each expression takes several seconds of button holds. And now, to make someone really like you, you have to do some kind of random digging fetch quest thingy. I kind of miss the absurdity of Fable III’s ability to let you marry and procreate with a stranger you had just been dancing with for a minute.

And the whole questing bit isn’t quite as interesting as it used to be. There are no puzzles, and item collecting feels needless since your first set of weapons upgrade as you level up. just you walking a straight path and outmashing the local monsters. Though the “path” part can be a bit difficult since the golden trail that is supposed to lead to your next objective tends to periodically flake out of existence. And the fast travel option on the Map sometimes will not take you anywhere near your targeted area. There were side-quests that I gave up on solely because I couldn’t find out where I should be going. And I knew that following said side-quest would only result in more of the same walking, fighting and dig-spot-digging pattern damn near all of the game’s quests follow.

Mind you, the actual combat isn’t terrible. You have a button for melee swipes, your gun shots, and your magic spells. Holding the button down yields stronger attacks. It’s a very basic combat system that, if anything, is more unique than the three-hit-basic-combo styles of most action games. In fact, there are some pretty damned humourous finisher animations that spice up the fun of killing knee-high-tall trolls. But combat is about the only video game-like aspect to this video game. And since the punishment for death is minor (lose your progress towards your next single experience point, but otherwise get right back and continue fighting), you need not worry about strategizing your equipment or stocking on potions. What we have here is another case of a game where finishing it is an inevitability rather than a test of wits. Not that every game need be Super Meat Boy-like difficult, mind you. My real issue with Fable III is yet to come.

I don’t think it becomes much of a spoiler to reveal this aspect of the plot. At some point, you are going to overthrow your brother and become the King or Queen of Albion. The plot then takes a strange turn and forces you to make a series of moral choices. It’s hard for me to reveal much about this section of the game without ruining an otherwise solid plot (And the many degrees of brilliance Stephen Fry brings to this section of the game.) But I will say that the moral choices here suck the righteousness out of being good, and the sadistic fun out of being evil that Fable II brought to the table.

If not made apparent earlier, I am trying hard to dance around the issue of how this end-game unfurls. But the breaking point involved me making a long-term plan that involved buying properties and collecting rent. A bizarre-stable of Fable II, after all, was making a ton of cash as a land owner. But with no warning or provocation, the game took me across a point of no return, and straight to the ending. I could have revisited the game and made a grasp at the various side quests, but what the endgame does to Albion left me in a rather bitter mood about all things Molyneux.

I’ve considered past games like Comic Jumper and No More Heroes to be so damned funny that they are more than worth overcoming their flaws. But Fable III is pushing the limit of my need for quirky humour. It’s got oodles of cheeky blokishness and memorable characters, but it’s also not particularly enjoyable on numerous fronts. Playing Fable III did give me the strong urge to play Fable II, which is readily available for cheap prices, so maybe you should just revisit that instead.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Black Ops... only a week to go...

It's literally a week to go until one of the most coveted games of the year hits the shelves. Signs promising midnight opening have been posted up in store windows everywhere and the trigger fingers of eager Call of Duty fans are twitching in anticipation. November 9 is Black Ops day.

To keep you going until you venture out into the cold night air to queue and pick up your copy, why not feast your eyes on the new launch trailer? Not enough? Then check out the multiplayer and customisation videos below too:

Still want more? Take a look at the official site after the jump.