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, July 29, 2010

Red Dead and buried: 100% complete




So there you have it... after 46 hours, 23 minutes and 51 seconds, I've finally got redemption - all 100G of it! The Red Dead Redemption disc has been spinning in my drive for weeks now and it's with great sadness that I've now reached the 100% complete marker and there's little left to explore.

It may not be anywhere near a record time, but it has certainly helped me justify my outlay - and I've enjoyed it thoroughly.

I stand by my bold claims in an earlier post that many games are pitifully easy nowadays, at least where the main story missions are concerned - and Red Dead was no different. There may have been 57 of the blighters but they took little time to get through; my stats reveal there wasn't a single level I failed and had to retry.

However, tracking down all the scraps for the multitude of outfits, aiding the strangers, capturing the bounties and getting all the jobs, properties and weaponry proved far more of a challenge.

Some of the objectives proved a bit of a grind perhaps - those damned flower gathering and pelt collecting tasks drove me mad on occasion - but I enjoyed the majority of them.

I love it when games get under your skin - when you regret that moment you switch off your console to go to bed you start to wonder whether you should boot up again for just one more go...

Grand Theft Auto IV did that to me, as did Assassin's Creed II, Modern Warfare II and Batman: Arkham Asylum. Each sapped hours of my life and left me feeling hugely satisfied when the credits eventually scrolled up the screen.

I've got Fallout 3 and Splinter Cell Conviction lined up next. Hopefully, they'll keep me as engrossed as Marston did!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Golden eras of gaming: PlayStation 2

Sony's PlayStation 2 (PS2) was the king of the sixth generation consoles. It reigned supreme from 2000, trouncing the likes of Sega's Dreamcast, Nintendo's Gamecube and Microsoft's tentative steps into the console world with the Xbox. By late 2009, it had sold some 140m units, making it the most successful platform EVER!

It was a massive leap ahead of its predecessor with far more power under its black hood but man, was it an ugly beast - the ugly duckling of Sony's various consoles.

Nevertheless, it was - and still is - hugely popular among gamers and even all these years after its release is still selling, albeit now in a sleaker, slimmer form.

Here are my picks of a few of the PS2's gaming highlights...


10. ICO
ICO was years ahead of its time; graphically, at least, it would still look perfectly at home on the current crop of consoles. This was your typical story about a lad with horns (!), trying him damndest to escape a kingdom, while solving puzzles and slaying weird beasties along the way. Classic and still great looking.



9. Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament
Namco's Smash Court Tennis was an absolutely ace game (geddit?!), and seamlessly made the transition
to a more realistic looking arcade tennis game - with real players - from the cartoony style that made such an impact in its first incarnation (where each fictitious player had a massively oversized head). Simple to grasp but tough to master, it gave Virtua Tennis a run for its money.



8. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Hideo Kojima gave the series a massive facelift for Sony's new console, grabbing the tried and tested formula by the throat and giving it a firm shake. Sons of Liberty looked absolutely amazing and was rightly lavished with praise, becoming one of the console's best-selling titles. Granted, the story was a little convoluted and the inclusion of Raiden a disappointment to die-hard Solid Snake fans but it showcased what the PS2 could do.



7. This is Football
TIF was Sony's attempt to muscle in on the world of soccer simulation and was a pretty decent effort. Sadly, the photo realistic players, motion captured movement as well as real player and team names couldn't compete with the long-running, and much-loved, FIFA series... The game was definitely an enjoyable kickabout...it just wasn't in the same league as EA's franchise!



6. XIII
Cel-shaded comic book caper XIII - or 13 - remains a fondly-remembered title from the stable of Ubisoft. A clever take on the first person shooter genre that stands out from the crowd as much for its great storyline as its unique aesthetics. Struck by amnesia, your character has to find out his true identity and why he's being chased by hitmen and the FBI. X-Files' Mulder (aka David Duchovny) lends his voice to the protagonist too.



Part II follows after the jump...

(Photo credit: Bojeeva)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Nod to Nostalgia - part two


Nostalgia shouldn't be a thing of the past. Here's the second part of a trip down memory lane...

If you missed the previous article, read it after the jump.


Perfect Dark (Nintendo 64 – first played 2000)

Perfect Dark (PD), to coin an irritating phrase: “the spiritual successor to Goldeneye”. Being a staunch Playstation fanboy, it took a fair amount of inner persuasion to succumb to the N64’s charms, and as such, I was about three years late buying and playing Goldeneye. The positive side to this, however, was that I didn’t have to wait long for Rare’s follow up shooter in 2000.

The main thing I remember about PD was the accumulated price you had to pay to be granted full access to the playable content; £50 for the cartridge itself, followed by another £30 or so for the expansion lump to stick in the top of the console. Being only 13 at the time, this took a good few months of menial employment and scrounging to be able to afford.

As far as I was concerned though, any game where I could use a piece of martian technology that could shoot people through walls was worth the steep asking price and more. I spent hours earning all the gold medals on the firing range and trying in vain to complete the campaign on ‘perfect agent’ difficulty.

The sheer variety of weapons at your disposal, the hugely customisable multiplayer/bot sim modes and the challenges, meant that there was a wealth of replay value in PD that was relatively unrivalled at the time. Fair enough, Joanna Dark was unnecessarily irritating for a lead protagonist and the less said about Elvis the better, but PD had the arsenal to blow these small gripes out of the water.

The recent release of Perfect Dark on XBLA was a sad reminder that many games find it almost impossible to stand the test of time, feeling dated in almost every department. Still, nothing will take away the memory of wielding the Farsight for the very first time (though admittedly a completely unfair gun). Sure, historically speaking, PD will never receive the same accolades as 007’s most memorable foray into gaming, yet it remains one of the N64’s stand-out releases.


Shenmue (Sega Dreamcast - first played 1999 )

There were so many Dreamcast games I loved (Ready 2 Rumble, Crazy Taxi, Soul Calibur, Quake 3: Arena) that picking one was a tough process, but after some deliberation I picked Shenmue. What intrigues me the most, is how back then before the sandbox genre had really made its mark on gaming, how much freedom it seemed that Shenmue granted the player.

Nowadays, the epic worlds of Oblivion or GTA IV, make Shenmue look like more of a toddler’s shoebox than expansive sandbox, but in 1999 it felt like the pinnacle of free choice and exploration within the confines of a videogame.

I may be mistaken, but Shenmue was the first game where you could play a game within a game. Going to the local arcade and playing Super Hang on was a true throwback to my Mega Drive days, not to mention birthing the Quick Time Event (QTE), which even to this day remain a regular gameplay inclusion in third person action titles.

Although essentially a laborious task, having to work nine to five in Shenmue was actually a rather fun and rewarding experience. Replicating everyday tasks bought a sense of immersion to the gameplay and overall plot, a concept that current games such as Heavy Rain rely on to drive the narrative and build up the player/character relationship.

A play of Shenmue now (like many games on this list) shows how what we perceived to be the cutting edge of next generation gaming over a decade ago, truly does pale in comparison to the huge environments and HD graphics were treated to today. It’s such a shame that the series never went beyond Shenmue 2. I don’t think there’d be one person who played the first two in the series who wouldn’t love to see a third instalment for the 360 or PS3. We can but dream…


Timesplitters 2 (Playstation 2 – first played 2002)

Good old Timesplitters, an FPS that certainly approached the shoot ‘em up genre with tongue firmly implanted in cheek. Whether it was hearing gun wielding snowmen screaming pathetically “I’m meeeelting!” when they got fried with a flamethrower, or unloading a plasma rifle into a small army of ‘handymen’, Timesplitters 2 always had fun as its focal point.

Although the game was a light hearted affair in terms of mood, I remember getting terrified when playing the virus mode. You’re the last one left alive, frantically running away from a bunch of screaming infected through a disused hospital, seconds from getting the platinum award; pure adrenaline pumping tension. Stone golems chasing after you brandishing grenade launchers was also a stand out brown trouser moment.

With Free Radical going out of business it seems that we’re no closer to getting a next-gen instalment any time in the near future. Sad news indeed. It’s not too often that bucket loads of humour and FPS’s go hand in hand successfully, but the Timesplitters series made the union seem effortless.

Here’s hoping that the monkey-obsessed franchise can be resurrected one day, especially with the wealth of online options we now have access to. 16 player snowman/flamethrower deathmatch on Xbox Live? Yes please.


Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (Playstation 2- first played 2004)

Still my favourite in the long running series to date and one of my most loved games of all time. Of course, technically GTA IV was miles the superior game, but San Andreas is the one that evoked the most emotion in me whilst playing it.

From the sun soaked streets of Los Santos to the high rolling Casinos of Las Venturas, San Andreas made me feel a sense of journey that I’ve yet to come across in game since. It’s the ultimate rags to riches story with so much variety crammed into the sandbox that still makes it a joy to play.


Even now I’ll listen to all the K Rose songs on YouTube, remembering riding across the desert at sunset blasting out Juice Newton’s ‘Queen Of Hearts’ at top volume and singing along, or leading the police on an epic chase across the countryside with ‘One Step Forward, Two Steps Back’ as the soundtrack.

From monster trucks to superbikes, jet fighters to jetpacks, the vehicles of San Andreas were undoubtedly the most outrageous and fun of the series. Fair enough GTA IV went for a more gritty, realistic approach, but piloting airliners and soaring around on jetpacks mercilessly slaughtering innocent people was unrivalled entertainment.

I loved the balance between the urban and rural environments. After spending the first five or six hours in the gang ridden ghettos of Los Santos, when you come too in Angel Pine, there is a real sense of being stranded miles away from home, capturing the essence of two completely different worlds perfectly.

The scale of San Andreas took everyone by surprise when it first came out, dwarfing Vice City in comparison. Just walking/driving/flying around exploring, shooting and soaking up the atmosphere, to me was more fun than the actual missions, and an experience that will forever be etched in my gaming psyche. Is a San Andreas Stories too much to ask for? I hardly ever play the PSP but that would be one release I’d make an exception for.


Resident Evil 4 (Gamecube – first played 2005)

After reading numerous high scoring reviews and critical appraisals for RE4, the only thing I could physically think about doing was buying a Gamecube before its impending release. I thought RE4 would be good but not that good. It got to the stage when even my non -gaming friends were inviting themselves round just to sit and watch me play it.

All three of the main areas felt unique and dealt the horror out in generous brain splattering amounts. Every boss fight was unique and memorable, from hideously mutated fish and mountainous ogres to the tentacle lashing deformity of Salazar.

Some critics cited that for a ‘survival horror’ title, the game was too action orientated, but the vast majority praised the bold new direction the rapidly stagnated series had chosen to explore.
The very moment I finished RE4, I immediately started again, something I don’t often do with games. It was that brilliant that you never wanted the experience to end and although through replay you know what to expect, the essence of tension and struggle for survival remained ingrained during every play through.

Let’s be honest RE4 was a hard act to follow and RE5 fell quite a way short, but that’s the price Capcom had to pay for setting the bar so high. Being a follower from the very first, painfully slow door-opening debacles of the original mansion to RE5, I can say with clarity that personally, RE4 was the outstanding moment of genius from the franchise's lifespan. When I think about all the reasons why I loved and still love the game, the sudden urge to dust off the old Gamecube one more time is almost too much to resist. Who says nostalgia can’t be a wonderfully horrific experience too?



So there it is. I didn’t want to go too much further than 2005 as the closer it is to the present day, the less ‘nostalgic’ it becomes and more of just a recent memory. As I said in part one, I’d love to hear which games readers cast their minds back to most fondly and for what reasons, which titles, that when you reminisce about them had a profound impact on your gaming life.

It’s all good getting all hyped up for future blockbusters, but the odd bit of reflection certainly doesn’t go amiss either.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Do easy games deserve the kudos?

The current generation of games are technologically brilliant, gorgeous to look at and the result of thousands of man hours by dedicated teams of designers, artists and programmers.

Reviewers often fawn over the big budget triple A titles, smothering them with praise and adoration. But do games deserve their kudos when they’re so damn easy? Who doesn’t get irritated by buying a new title – perhaps based on reviewers’ hyperbole or pre-launch hype – only to complete the game in only a few hours?

Consider Alan Wake, Modern Warfare 2, Red Dead Redemption and Heavy Rain – all recent big budget, massively-hyped games that have seen sales large enough to support a small country. They’ve been lavished with praise and were the recipients of countless positive reviews.

But none of them were too taxing, were they? Did anyone else feel a little cheated when the credits scrolled up the screen a little too
prematurely?

We all know that reviews are subjective and that these pearls of wisdom are only an indicator as to how good a game is, but rarely do they factor in how easy a game is or the longevity of its main storyline. Sure, this may get a passing mention but it doesn’t often seem to affect the overall score, does it?

Take Red Dead Redemption as an example. A fine game, epic in scale, gorgeous to look at and one of Rockstar’s greatest achievements… but with a main story so easy to complete, little likelihood of failing missions and debatable replay value, is it really worthy of such high scores?

Score aggregator Metacritic says Red Dead Redemption has an overall score of 95% on both Xbox 360 and PS3. That’s enough to make any potential buyer rush down to the store and grab a copy – but shouldn’t the scoring have been a little lower given that it’s unlikely you’ll replay it once you’ve seen the poignant but disappointing ending. Granted, there are stackloads of outfits to collect, animals to hunt and herbs to pick... but I doubt the majority of gamers will painstakingly traipse round the map to find them (I actually am doing this because I felt so short-changed by the 57 missions). The point is that story-wise, it's waaaaaay too short...


Triple A titles are expensive these days and we shouldn’t forget that we’re in the midst of a global recession; reviewers have a responsibility to mark games not just on their graphical and aural merits but on their longevity and replayability. Us gamers aren't made of money - and I don't know about you out there, but I see each purchase as a pretty big investment. I want value for money at the end of the day.

Just take a look on your shelves or in your cupboards and see how many games you've completed with little difficulty... and then consider how often you've booted up the disc and played it again and again. Of course, there are exceptions - for me, it's Crackdown. But I'd wager that the majority of those titles remain dormant, gathering dust.

Do easy games deserve to go down in history as classics? Do they deserve all the praise? Have some of the recent mega-selling titles been worthy of those high scores? What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Megabits' pick of... games in "Real Life"

Games are getting really good at emulating real life nowadays, right? Well, this is what happens when real life emulates games...

Here are some of the funniest, cleverest or downright silliest homages to gaming classics spanning several decades.

The Megabits team is particularly fond of Pac-Man's supermarket visit and the stealth displayed in Assassin's Creed... "Shhhhhh"


Assassin's Creed - Ubisoft 2007



Fallout 3 - Bethesda 2008



Heavy Rain - Quantic Dream 2010



Resident Evil - Capcom 1996



Pac-Man - Namco 1980



PaRappa The Rapper - NanaOn-Sha 1996



Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare - Infinity Ward 2007



Grand Theft Auto IV - Rockstar Games 2008



Tetris - Alexey Pakitnov 1984



Street Fighter II - Capcom 1991



Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Nod to Nostalgia - part one

It’s a strange thing nostalgia. Even the term seems to cast a reflective haze across the old grey matter. Revisiting past memories can often invoke both pleasure and sadness in equal measure. Casting one’s mind back to 'the good old days' often results in an overwhelming sense of retrospective contemplation. As you get older, inevitably, responsibility comes knocking, routines become a formality and the desire to recapture that lost essence of youthful simplicity often kicks around at the back of the mind.

For me, one of the main catalysts for spot of fond and often sombre nostalgia is video games. I’m often caught in a ‘back in the day’ frame of mind when it comes to all things gaming, the feeling constantly surfacing that as much as I love games, I can never quite recreate the same sense of emotive poignancy when playing as I had when I was younger.

Like many dedicated fans, my love for video games spans from a young age through to the present day, encompassing the many changes in the medium throughout that time frame. The following is by no means a list of ‘the greatest games ever’ (although a few could well befit that category), but rather a nostalgic nod to the titles that evoke the most memories to me personally.

I initially got hooked by gaming on the Sega Mega Drive when I was nine, so in that respect there will be no throwbacks to Commodore 64’s, ZX Spectrums or Atari ST’s, sorry folks but I had the unfortunate circumstance of not being born in that era. It would be brilliant to hear which games, old, new, good, bad and ugly make you the most nostalgic and for which reasons. Now that I am stroking my chin and wistfully gazing into the distance, here are a few of mine:


James Pond 2: Codename Robocod (Sega Mega Drive – first played in 1995)

Originally released in 1991, this was one of the first titles I bought after getting my Mega Drive for Christmas 1995. I expect my mum bought me this because it took a year of begging and fervent persuading that owning a games console wouldn’t send me off on a bloodthirsty rampage, and subsequently, all the games I was allowed to play had to happy, shiny and all round wholesome affairs.

Being so painfully unschooled in games in general, let alone the platformer, it took me about a month to figure out that jumping on the first boss’s head (a giant mechanical teddy bear) three times led to him exploding in shower of fireworks. Cue absolute delirium in my living room. I recall my sisters and I dementedly running around, whooping and hollering, screaming at the top of our lungs about having finally conquered our nemesis, a gargantuan robot teddy. It’s scenes such as that, had an outsider seen or overheard, would have probably sent them scrambling for the nearest telephone to get social services involved.



James Pond 2 first introduced me to ‘boss’ characters, the basic nature of platforming, endless frustration and uncontrollable joy at overcoming the most basic of gaming tasks that a younger, inexperienced me found mind bogglingly challenging to beat. It wasn’t until several years later having moved onwards and upwards to the Playstation, that I rebought a Mega Drive and James Pond 2 to relive its sixteen bit charms, and finally actually complete the game. The somewhat dusty cartridge resides in a cupboard back in my parent’s house to this day.


Micro Machines 2: Turbo Tournament (Sega Mega Drive – first played in 1995)

My first real introduction to the world of multiplayer gaming. The cartridge had two extra controller slots for epic four player shenanigans, no doubt insanely fun, but over excited controller yanking and elaborate arm movements often resulted in a heated race quickly becoming black and white screen fuzz. It may sound painfully clich├ęd, but this truly was the essence of multiplayer.

All four of you huddling around the tiny, ugly lump of a television set, micro machine clinging on to the toilet seat for dear life, one mistake and a watery pixelated hell-hole awaited. Hours upon hours were spent honing precise shortcut routes in time trial mode, a bitter rivalry of constant one-upmanship emerged staged across all manner of everyday surfaces and contraptions, often resulting the torturous pain of getting stuck in a blob of jam on your final lap. Micro Machines V3 on the Playstation, though still a fun addition to series couldn’t quite compete with the high thrills, drill dodging antics of Turbo Tournament. Spider, Walter, Dwayne and Davey etc… I wholeheartedly salute you.


Tomb Raider (Sony Playstation – first played 1996)

General widespread opinion tends to label the original TR, nearly a decade and a half later, as the best in the series to date. Tomb Raider was the main reason I invested in a Playstation all those years ago, still owning a lowly 16 bit Mega Drive myself, salivating with bitter jealousy when I first set eyes on Miss Croft’s first outing at friend’s house.

It’s almost incomprehensible by today’s standards how good the game looked back then, coupled with deep and intelligent level design, liberated because of the omission of two dimensional constraints. The levels were multi layered 3D playgrounds littered with devious traps and mind bending puzzles. The Lost Valley, Palace Midas, Cistern, the vertigo inducing Obelisk Of Khamoon, Atlantis and the climactic boss fight in The Great Pyramid, all unforgettable pieces of TR’s history.

One of my fondest gaming memories was when my sister and I completed the game from start to finish without dying, a feat I doubt we could come close to repeating now. 2006’s TR: Anniversary was simply a nod to the nostalgic fans amongst us (and one I was grateful for), still craving the sense of epic adventure and discovery the original gave us. Though stirring some fond memories, TR: Anniversary was never going to come close to emulating its ten year old counterpart contextually, in terms of scale, depth and originality. Lara Croft may still live on in current gen instalments and woeful movie cash- ins, but as of yet nothing has exceeded Core Design’s 1996 masterpiece.


Metal Gear Solid (Sony Playstation – played 1998)

When nostalgia and video games collide, MGS is one of the first titles that instantly stakes its claim to be involved in proceedings. There are so many stand out elements to MGS that the game could probably warrant having a list all of its own for genius moments; the plot, atmosphere, cast of characters, inventive weaponry and stealth gameplay, so integral to the game’s core brilliance. Who could possibly forget hiding in a cardboard box and getting urinated on by a wolf? (not a sentence heard too often I’d imagine). As far as protagonists go they didn’t come much better and let’s face it, cooler than Solid Snake.



The now infamously unpopular transition from Snake to Raiden in MGS 2, highlighting beyond argument why the former should always play the lead role in Kojima’s saga (the jury is yet to be out on Metal Gear: Rising, but time will tell).

I used to love the moment when Snake is about to face Vulcan Raven in the cold storage warehouse towards the end where Raven bizarrely says,

“There is another event that I excel at. It is called the ear pull. It is an event where two contestants pull each others' ears while enduring the harsh cold. It tests physical as well as spiritual strength.”

A statement that Snake feels rather bemused about, as the man is holding what appears to be the world’s largest gatling gun. There are so many brilliant and timeless quotes throughout MGS, as the characters are so unique and diverse, the legendary Psycho Mantis for instance, whose bonkers mind control tricks wern’t quite as threatening when you switched the controller over to port two. In fact I’ve still got a small plastic figurine of Mantis, probably lying around my loft somewhere…

Anyone who’s played MGS 4 will never forget the return to Shadow Moses Island and the ensuing flashback. An epic moment in gaming, Kojima letting the fans engage in a purely nostalgic moment, poignant, emotive gaming at its best, in homage to one of the finest titles of all time.


Spyro the Dragon (Sony Playstation – first played 1998)


OK, so I forewarned you that some games in my list were far from certified classics and here’s the undeniable proof. I must have one hundred percented this game around ten times over. I was a staunch Playstation fanboy back in the day, and this was an era where every platformer on the console inevitably got compared to Mario 64, and then instantly shot down to earth with a sickening thud. But I loved Spyro.

Back when most of my favourite games involved surviving an inner city zombie outbreak or preventing walking tanks from launching nuclear missiles, I’ve no idea why this nauseating purple dragon had me so hooked.

Collecting gems, gliding gracefully from platform to platform and releasing imprisoned dragons trapped in stone... is possibly the campest sentence ever. The level that sticks in my head for some reason is Wizard Peak, with its inexplicably infectious music and massive launch ramps. Every time I played there was one gem that I could never find, resulting in me traipsing around the level for an hour in order to clock the hundred per cent completion stat, often plummeting to an untimely death after a poorly timed swoop to a distant platform.

Spyro will by no means be ranked up there with esteemed competition as one of the greatest platformers in the genre (let’s face it Mario 64 and Galaxy 1 and 2 will top most lists), but for a console that was lauding titles such as Croc and Rascal as Mario beaters, it really was up there with the system’s most fun and accessible titles. I never really followed the Spyro series after the original, so therefore wouldn’t be in a position to compare and contrast the sequels, but it’s certainly one of my most replayed and remembered games of all time.


Part two to follow...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Review: UFC Undisputed 2010

Blood, sweat and tears. That pretty much sums up my time playing THQ’s UFC Undisputed 2010; plenty of blood and sweat onscreen, and tears of frustration as I once again failed to grapple with the controls and resist yet another painful-looking submission. The calluses on my thumb are testament to the immense difficulty of the game, even though I opted for the cowardly “beginner” setting.

So, here we have yet another sports sim cash cow, eh? Another barely tweaked annual update designed to wrestle the cash from fans’ sweaty mitts? Well, no actually. The 2010 sequel to arguably the best mixed martial arts game ever is a marked improvement and just as enthralling as the real life spectacle it imitates. It looks, feels and plays sooo much better than its predecessor… so much so that replaying the 2009 edition afterwards was a huge disappointment.

Boot up the disc and you can opt to create your very own fighter or pick from a huge roster of well-known stars in five weight classes. All your favourites are here from George St-Pierre and BJ Penn to Kimbo Slice and Quinton Rampage – there are over 100 photorealistic fighters to choose from, each with their individual signature moves, styles and swagger. You can either dive straight into the action and start slugging it out in an exhibition match or work your way through the tournaments, title fights, online and classic match game modes. A 12-year career option is thrown in for good measure too.


What’s more, the presentation is fantastic. I played this after watching a few bouts on the TV and was impressed at the similarity. The excitable Joe Rogan is among the commentary team, while the dulcet tones of announcer Bruce Buffer introduce each fight. The scantily-clad ring girls prance about the place holding placards before each round and Herb Dean and Yves Lavigne are a few of the familiar referees who also make an appearance.


The game is certainly more than just an update and there are plenty of improvements on last year’s version. Grappling and clinching is improved, there are more moves and submissions, there’s a new sway movement to improve your defence, you can now use the cage to your advantage and you can customize your fighter more than ever before.



However, the controls still stink; it’s not just the onslaught of punches and kicks that give you a headache in this game, the controls are anything but simple. A laborious tutorial takes you through some of the basic moves and the manual offers a few tips, but it will probably take until the 2011 release before you can fully comprehend all the moves and, most importantly, how to free yourself from one of the many submission holds! Although it’s a fun game, it is hugely frustrating.

If you’re a fan of the sport and want to get as close as you can to experiencing life inside the octagon without actually getting punched in the head, then this is certainly for you. If you’re new to the MMA scene but fancy a decent fighting sim, then this is also well worth the outlay. Add the fact that its pretty much available everywhere at a hefty discount, then you shouldn't hesitate in snapping up a copy! Tough but rewarding, this is far from a game you can just pick up and play. Put in some hard work and learn the multitude of moves, however, and it's hours of fun.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Controllers: the graceful arc of unreality


Thirty years ago, Atari released Battlezone - one of the very first games to feature proper 3D vector graphics. Its game play is instantly recognisable to today’s gamers. You drive your tank around a landscape which features stationary terrain, moving enemies, and a pretty mountainscape in the background. Of course, today’s terrain is much more detailed, some of today’s enemies could be fresh from West Point, and today’s mountainscapes are rendered in glorious 24-bit Technicolor instead of by using a green line. And, of course, today’s control methods are much... um, worse?

So, how does one drive a tank? Well, if you’ve been brought up with 3D shooters, you’ll assume that a tank is controlled in the same manner as everything else in the universe – that is to say that you have a control to go forwards, one to go backwards, a way of rotating it, and possibly some means of making it go sideways whilst still facing forwards. But that’s not how you drive a tank at all. A tank has a track on each side which can be made to rotate forwards or backwards at a speed of the driver’s choosing. Make them both go forwards at top speed and you go forwards at top speed. Make them go in opposite directions at top speed and you turn quickly on the spot. Make one go forwards a bit faster than the other and you turn as you go.

Sure, you can replicate this with an up-down-left-right control, and this abstraction had been around for many years even when Battlezone was released. It makes perfect sense in the world of the 2D grid; the world of the linear straightjacket and the ubiquitous spreadsheet. But Battlezone’s designers didn’t live in a 2D world. They wanted you to feel like you were driving a tank around. So they gave you two levers – one to make the left track go forwards or backwards, and one to do the same for the right track. Oh, and naturally there’s a button to fire the gun. OK, so you couldn’t make the turret swivel, but to be fair, the game did only have 40K of RAM...

Fourteen years ago, id Software released Quake – one of the very first FPS games to feature six degrees of freedom. Its game play is instantly recognisable to today’s gamers. OK, I won’t go into detail this time - if you don’t know what Quake is, it’s about time you went and played it, but here’s the thing – in Quake, and in the vast majority of FPSs that have come afterwards, you play a human, or at least some sort of bipedal humanoid. And humans don’t move through smooth continuous impulsion. I sure as hell don’t sidestep right at a constant metre per second whilst rotating left at 45 degrees per second in order to get from my hallway to my fridge for a nice cold can of cider at the end of the day.

Human movement is discrete; spiky; jerky even – and the smooth linearity of a humanoid avatar - especially when combined with its apparent ability to run and jump ad infinitum - is a terrible blow to gaming immersion once you’ve noticed how wrong it is. I hope I haven’t spoiled it for you now, kind of like ruining Muse for everybody by pointing out how annoying the singer’s rasping, gasping breath intakes are, or explaining that none of Michael McIntyre’s jokes are actually funny if you stop and think about them, no matter how much he might wave his hands in opposing circles.

Of course, there are both practicality and desirability limits to realistic control movement. You don’t want to micromanage your metatarsal, and even if you did, there are around 750 muscles in the human body and I don’t want to see the PS3 controller for that. But maybe, just maybe, a sidestep could be a side-step – you accelerate, move a fixed distance sideways, then come to rest. Your head probably tilts a bit whilst you’re doing it, and because your feet are further apart, your viewpoint will be lower too. Hey presto, you stop feeling like you’re stuck in a very pretty version of Asteroids and start feeling like a real person in a real world again! One small sidestep for man - one giant leap for video games.

This is not to belittle Quake, which makes up for this relatively minor shortcoming by being quite revolutionary in many other ways. No, the problem is the laziness and lack of creativity that comes after. “Hey, can we have it like Quake, but with swords / lasers / a film franchise?” The vast majority of games, as technology advances, do the same thing, but more so. Ooh, more guns, prettier graphics, bigger levels. Er, same game though.

Maybe it’s time to try something new?

There is a sad corollary to this. Thanks to Atari, you can play Battlezone for free online... but they’ve changed the controls to up, down, left, and right!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Red Dead Redemption vs Grand Theft Auto IV

Ever since its release in May, Red Dead Redemption - Rockstar's western sandbox title - has been showered with praise and even tipped as a potential Game Of The Year winner. No one was expecting it to stink, so the praise came as little surprise.

What has been odd is the way that the Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA) comparisons ceased soon after its launch. For months we’d been hearing Red Dead Redemption (RDR) referred to as Grand Theft Wild West, Grand Horsetheft Auto, Grand Theft Horse and just about every other painful and poorly constructed play on the concept. As soon as the game came out, however, the comparisons disappeared. Why, we wondered? There’s no avoiding the similarities in style, controls, movement and structure, no denying the subversive and scatological humour underpinning some of the missions and entertainment.

I suppose the comparisons disappeared because when Red Dead Redemption finally arrived, it seemed only fair to assess it on its own merits. How nice. Thing is, we at Megabits loved GTA IV. It won our inaugural Head2Head contest last year and still gets plenty of play on our consoles, so we say to hell with fair, we’re going to pit Marston against Bellic and see who wins...


STRUCTURE

Ibwib: Unsurprisingly, the look and control of RDR closely resembles GTA IV, but the 'feel' is a little different. GTA laid on plenty of distractions from the main story, while RDR seems almost to lay on a main story for when you get bored of the distractions. It has similar mini games to GTA that take you out of the main game engine, but also far more activities that take you away from the main story but still keep you in game. Besides the stranger missions, there’s treasure hunting, law enforcement, gang hideouts, flower picking, animal shooting...the list goes on and on.

Nevertheless, RDR’s beautiful environments do feel a little empty. It falls short of GTA’s oft-mentioned 'living breathing city'. It calls on you to explore the deserts and towns in the same way that Fallout 3 did, but what's out there doesn't actually offer the same variety and inventiveness. GTA, on the other hand, saw exploring as little more than a means to an end, that end being, 'Dude, I've just landed a stolen helicopter on the Statue of Liberty's head!'

Sure, you could go looking for pigeons to shoot and stunt jumps to launch yourself from, but for all but the most obsessive gamer, those countless collectibles were bordering on grind. Conversely, the ambient challenges of RDR are broken into smaller, more varied and more appealing chunks.

Bojeeva: The look and feel of the mini games in RDR are perfectly suited to the arid landscapes and early 20th century environs. Horseshoe throwing, poker, arm wrestling and five finger fillet aren't simply addons but are insidiously woven into the storyline. All in all, they feel a little more integrated than GTA's bowling, darts and pool games - and are far more fun and rewarding as a result.

Reaching the 100% complete milestone and accompanying accolades in each game is markedly different too. Whereas GTA's jumps, pigeons, delivery missions and stranger tasks reeked of monotony, RDR’s tasks are reassuringly achievable. Simply by completing the 57 story missions, shooting the occasional pack of wolves or by helping out a stranger or two, you'll find yourself well on the way to 100%, which incentivizes you for that final push.

Saying that, Red Dead is painfully easy - far more so than the Liberty City-based forerunner. None of the missions prove overly taxing and only on occasion is it necessary to reattempt a task. The option to replay missions at a later date is very welcome though... what I’d have given to retrace my steps a few times in GTA (particularly the bank robbery and museum heist missions!).

Ibwib: I think the absence of mobile phones at the turn of the century played a big part in making RDR’s mini-games fit in with the game. Knowing that you had to maintain a 'like' stat in GTA meant that every telephoned request for a game of darts had to be carefully considered before you could reject it, and all too often you'd find yourself tediously trudging over to the bar when you'd rather be doing other things. In Red Dead Redemption, when you play a hand of poker or a round of five finger fillet, it's because you've chosen to.


On the subject of choosing how to play the game, GTA's missions always seemed inviolate - it was technically possible to stop part way through, but you never did. In RDR, you can find yourself travelling across the map after a bounty or to complete a task for a stranger, when all of a sudden the desire to see if you can gallop to the top of a distant escarpment takes hold, and the mission goes out of the window. What I'm saying is that, for me at least, RDR's distractions tend to be entertaining diversions that I choose to enjoy, while GTA's were an annoyance. You could have cut everything except the missions and the free roaming out of GTA and I'd have called it an improvement, but I'd be gutted if you did the same to RDR.

Bojeeva: Agreed. It always felt like you were in a kind of bubble with GTA... start a mission and everything else goes by the wayside - the mission is the be all and end all, and stray off the path and it's 'Mission Failed'. It didn't feel as open ended as RDR, which almost encourages you to get distracted, allowing you to pick up a mission at a later stage. RDR feels much more like a true sandbox game. Saying that though, I kind of like the focus of GTA – too many times I got sidelined by helping a stranger or shooting some critter for its pelt…

GRAPHICS

Bojeeva: Although only a few years separate the release of these titles, the graphical divergence is staggering. GTA, while accomplished and a definite improvement on all its predecessors, pales in comparison to the luscious vistas and varied tundra in RDR. Manys the time you start a path from one town to another, only to pause along the way to take in the gorgeous sunset, or watch a stagecoach evade bandits. Wolves will congregate in the distance, eyeing up an elk. Bears will watch you from afar before charging in the hope of some cowboy flesh. Lightening strikes, and a sudden storm soaks you and your horse... all really nice touches. It’s a magical environment that leaps from your television screen.

Marston's animation is far less clunky than Bellic's too. Facially, he looks suitably rugged and realistic, his movement is subtle and smooth. The horses have received widespread praise for their accurate gallop and elegant canter. GTA was undeniably attractive, RDR - although set in the past - is graphically, years ahead.


Ibwib: I'm quite surprised at that. Not that you think RDR is better aesthetically, as it is, but by quite how much better you reckon it is. The ambient effects such as the sunsets and lightning flashes work in a slightly more sedate and realistic fashion than GTA's swift transitions, and it certainly seems that there is a lot more texture and fine detail in RDR’s world, but I can't help but suspect that that's a result of a marginal improvement in the graphics meeting a much more expressive landscape.

I think Red Dead's edge in graphical terms is a function of it being set in a varied countryside rather than a single city. It also helps that GTA always had a strangely pastel-coloured feel to it, whereas RDR is a game of contrasts; muted scrubland dotted with bright sages and adobe walls splattered with the remnants of a passing sheriff.

SOUND

Ibwib: If this were simply a question of soundtrack, GTA would win hands down. Don't get me wrong, the geekier ends of my CD racks are bursting with the records of famed spaghetti western composer Ennio Morricone , and I love the way RDR has captured the evocative feel of his Once Upon A Time In The West soundtrack - but the incidental music will never be enough on it's own to top Grand Theft's truly enormous selection of licensed tunes. A few funny movies at the Armadillo house can't quite raise the laughs of "Oh no, 'ere come the fackin' dragons!"

But just when it looks like Red Dead has been trumped by it's twentieth century predecessor, you have to stop and consider the gunshots; the mixture of short, sharp crack and deep bass rumble compressed into a split second and garnished with a faint echo. I'll go on record as saying that it's the most powerful sound effect I've heard in a game, and that's despite playing Killzone 2 and Prototype on a proper home cinema surround sound system. It's a small point, but a vital one, those gunshots add a sense of physicality to RDR’s pixels.

Bojeeva: Specially-recorded radio shows and comedy sketches featuring the likes of Ricky Gervais (and Frankie Boyle's appearance in the DLC) were a fantastic inclusion to GTA. Add to that the TV programmes and banter of passers-by, and Rockstar's modern day tale came to life. The developers pulled off the same old trick with RDR but perhaps to a lesser degree. Although the movie theatres do provide a humorous five minutes, they're not in the same league as GTA's offering.

However, where atmosphere is concerned, RDR definitely comes out on top... Ride along and hear a shot in the distance, then the gallop of horse, a scream, and another gunshot - closer this time. No car radios here - instead, the grittier sounds of the American frontier are represented perfectly. And what of the sense of urgency and panic as you hear a scream in the distance and spy some scoundrel running along with hog-tied woman in tow? Brilliant.

There certainly isn't the same humour as in GTA, but RDR wins through on the scripting too - it's like sitting back and watching one of those old black and white westerns.

MULTIPLAYER

Ibwib: You know what? I hated GTA's multiplayer. I really wanted to like it. I really appreciated the attempt to break away from the traditional flag capturing and death matches on a constrained map, and replace it with a similar sense of progression and changing objectives as you find in a single player game or class-based shooter. But while the idea of pitting teams against each other in opposing missions was great on paper, in practice it always fell flat, with players wandering off, missing their objectives, wilfully griefing, or simply losing interest whenever there was a lull in the action.

My one caveat to that would be the racing. GTA remains my online racer of choice. It occupies a perfectly balanced middle ground between the unsatisfying gimmickry of arcade and kart racers and the micro-management and stat bashing of serious simulators. GTA multiplayer racing offers a combination of preposterous speed, convincing yet not restrictive physics and bootloads of variety. I'd rather race in GTA than Forza, Toca or Gran Turismo!

Despite that one shining beacon however, GTA’s multiplayer is essentially a disappointment, it wouldn't take much for Red Dead to better it. In fact, RDR not only betters it, it makes it dance at gunpoint, humiliates it, shoots it between the eyes and buries it in a shallow grave somewhere in the Mojave Desert.

Sorry GTA, but when it comes to multiplayer, RDR has got you outclassed. The co-op missions are fun and varied and offer a genuine challenge, the deathmatches and gold gathering challenges take place on well balanced maps, largely free of chokepoints and littered with high calibre 'equalisers' that give everyone a chance even when pitched against more experienced players, and, of course, the icing on the cake-the free roam environment that lets you structure your own multiplayer fun.

Bojeeva: GTA's multiplayer didn't live up to its billing in my humble opinion – and I even disagree with you about the racing element. In fact, I thought the handling of the vehicles was shoddy and it was soooo unforgiving!

Despite the multitude of game modes, most of them were too similar. Cops and robbers was a nice take on a classic theme and some of the team-based japery was fun but the ease with which other players could pick you off with a single shot from their ridiculously powerful weapons proved a huge irritant and stopped me coming back for more. RDR's multiplayer, on the other hand, is far better balanced. The free roam map is a game in its own right. I spent ages trying to survive for 10 minutes as a Public Enemy – not only trying to avoid the NPCs but the other gamers who leapt into my free roam session. Great fun.

DOWNLOADABLE CONTENT

Ibwib: What we've seen of Red Dead's DLC so far has been a) free, and b) really enjoyable. Outlaws to the End added new co-op options to a game that had pretty much everything else, making it a complete package. Although the four impending DLC models don't look set to add new play styles to the game, they are set to add new missions and environments.

GTA, on the other hand, only had two DLC packs, neither of which was free. Saying that, The Lost and the Damned offered nearly 10 hours of extra missions, while The Ballad of Gay Tony brought some of the old gonzo insanity back to the GTA experience. These weren't simply tweaks, polishes and addons, they were fully realised games in their own right, and were subsequently repackaged and sold as such.

So the question is, what do you want from DLC? Small, inexpensive addons that prolong the original game, or big, pricey chapters that are practically new games in their own right. Much as I love playing Red Dead co-op, I have to say, GTA wins this.

Bojeeva: Again, I concur. News has just emerged that there are four new DLCs incoming for Red Dead - including a zombie addon (!)... but although these will certainly add to the package as a whole, the GTA DLC was truly exceptional. Each of the Liberty City Episodes put an entirely different slant on Liberty City, introducing some wonderfully fleshed out characters and adding a new perspective on the city you'd grown to love. GTA has to win this one.

OVERALL

Bojeeva: So there we have it, two of Rockstar's most successful titles - each having sold by the bucketload. But which comes out on top? For me, RDR improved upon GTA in almost every way; it looked better, the story was more engrossing, the side missions were more fun and rewarding, the multiplayer more entertaining and the varied environments refreshing...

However, GTA remains my Rockstar game of choice. The reason? Longevity. For all the plus points, I can't help but feel that RDR is dreadfully short. And easy. When all's said and done, the difficulty level is pathetically simple and there is little replay value in the solo missions. Coming in at a pretty dismal 14 or so hours, the single player missions tend to be run of the mill - ride from A to B, collect X and give it to Y. By way of contrast, I felt a real sense of achievement when I received the accolade for completing GTA within 30 hours - and even that was pretty tight.

RDR is a fantastic game and was well worth the wait. It kept me glued to the screen and is surely a contender for Game Of The Year. Nevertheless, I think I'll stand by the winner of last year's Head2Head showdown... GTA is, for me, the sandbox game of choice!

Ibwib: Now this is tough. As with last year's Head2Heads, I started this group test thinking I already knew the result, only to find that analysing everything in its component chunks made me think differently. I honestly thought GTA IV was going to win this hands down, but the presence of co-op and the excellent multiplayer has pulled me onto the Red Dead Redemption side of the line.

There's no denying the fact that RDR is shorter and slightly emptier than GTA, but for me length isn't the be all and end all of game value, and the emptiness of Red Dead Redemption feels like an atmospheric aid, and something that contributes to the game's enjoyably unhurried feel. I love GTA, and my heart says it should win. My head and my itchy trigger finger, on the other hand, are going for RDR, and they're who I'm listening to. For me, Red Dead Redemption takes it...

Bojeeva: Hmmm, a split decision. To the streets... we'll have to settle it with a duel!

Missed the Red Dead Redemption review? Read it after the jump...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Video: are games too easy?

I just romped through Red Dead Redemption and tamed the Wild West. And it wasn't long before I was standing on the winner's podium in arcade racer Split/Second. Are games getting too easy nowadays? I reckon so (you can rest assured they'll be a post on this matter very soon...) but what if games had a Super Easy Mode??

Check out this video from the College Humor crowd.

Is it possible to make Sonic easier? Were the aliens too aggressive in Space Invaders? And could you have done with some upgraded weaponry in Duck Hunt? Q-bert makes an appearance too, along with Pacman, Battletoads and, erm, Mortal Kombat!


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Innovation and the Cash Cow

The art of originality; to modernise, innovate and functionalise new and fresh ideas into public consciousness, in essence, the complete opposite of the stagnated mediocrity that makes something ‘normal’. Without originality where does that leave us? Humankind, technologically speaking, is constantly striving for positive and innovative change in both work and leisure...

Videogames, bar the occasional die-hard professional, is certainly a medium we’d associate with the latter, and until relatively recently, one heavily associated with progressive forward change.

On the flip side of the coin we have the desire for material gain, economic prosperity, or to put it bluntly; raking in the cash. When innovation and the cash cow have conflicting interests, as would seem to often be apparent within the current state of gaming, the cogs stop turning, the original ideas dry up and generic blandness can slowly creep over a once flourishing playing field.

There is no doubt that videogames are enjoying the most profitable time of their contextually short lives, but what effect does the desire to generate maximum revenue over a fulfilling playing experience have on us, the gamer?

Lets start by looking at software. It seems that the underlying trend for studios in the current games market is to play it safe, stick with what’s been repeatedly tried and tested, and subsequently not stray too far away from the beaten track. Ideas that once were at the forefront of gameplay innovation become over saturating core mechanics encompassing entire genres, often resulting in an abundance of mediocre titles littering the shelves.

One example that springs to mind would be the cover system, most notably popularised by Epic’s Gears Of War in 2006. A relatively simple concept, somewhat avant garde for the time, can now be seen in practically all third person action/adventure titles; if there’s enemies to be killed, there’s objects to hide behind, almost to the extent that you’d be surprised if the developers didn’t at least attempt to include a cover system just to place a tick in the box next to ‘generic gameplay inclusions synonymous with this game type’.


When the system is executed well, fits within the context of the game and therefore merits its own inclusion, then there is no problem to bemoan. A recent example I’ve played however, where this is not the case is Red Faction: Guerrilla, where the cover system is sticky, unresponsive, and in fact I found to be detrimental to my chances of killing enemies. This was often because of the randomness with which the game decided which pieces of debris I could and couldn’t hide behind. It basically seems like a rather unnecessarily contrived and ill-conceived inclusion along side the heavily destruction based ‘Geo-Mod 2.0’ engine that is integrally important to the strategic nature of the combat.


Of course I’m just highlighting one small mechanic in the entire medium of gaming, but the point could be microcosmically representative of the wider problem of stifled creativity. The same generic building blocks that make up so many games simply because it’s a ‘working formula’ can be seen everywhere. If it works it’s more likely to sell, and its hard to begrudge anyone, be it minor or major developers or publishers for wanting to make money, but originality is often the sacrifice to secure even a relatively minor degree of success in the market.

So often, it is the case that bold originality and economic success simply don’t go hand in hand, hence the endless uninspiring sequels, bland shoot ‘em ups and dreadful cash-vacuuming movie tie-ins dominating the retailers, but can we say the same of hardware? You’d have to take one look at the phenomenal success of the Wii, the impending release of further rival motion control technology and the answer is glaringly obvious.

The console’s stratospheric sales figures massively aided by Nintendo’s breaking of the ‘casual’ market have triggered a response from Microsoft and Sony, obviously citing the area as one where the cash cow has become somewhat gluttonous. Motion control will now be accompanying Japanese and American giants with the impending release of ‘Playstation Move’ and ‘Kinect’ respectively in an attempt to convert the swelling fan base of their competitor, and perhaps to win over some of the staunchly hardcore demographic simultaneously. Once again, a novel idea well exploited by Nintendo in 2006 onwards, has ruffled feathers in Sony and Microsoft HQ, eager to tap into the motion control, and therefore the casual gaming goldmine.

The latest publicity videos make it hard to argue against the notion that currently both system upgrades (‘upgrade’ being a contentious definition when looking at some of the retail prices currently being banded around, often near enough full console costs) seem to be graphically glorified incarnations of previous Wii titles;





Fair enough the technology is superior to the Wii (no one can dispute that no controller, although not to many gamer's tastes, is an inventive way to play) but the gameplay elements on display; boxing/fighting, improving fitness, driving sims etc… are nothing that haven’t been previously attempted, played and placed aside.

Move and Kinect are impressive modern updates of a proven, money spinning formula, which if they sell even a fraction of what the Wii has, will have done well, but as for innovative gameplay, many of us currently remain under whelmed. Having said this, its unfair to dismiss the systems before they have had a chance to establish themselves and flourish. However, if the main focus switches from the hardcore, whom lets face it, Sony and Microsoft owe a great deal due to the success of their current consoles, to the casual, then they run the risk of alienating a loyal base of players. That said, cash talks and these two global giants will certainly follow the money trail, no question.

It’s easy for the little guy to take essentially harmless pot shots at the gaming powers that be, but are we the buyers, the ones sat pad in hand (or flailing our limbs spasmodically in the case of motion control) also to blame for innovative shortcomings?

Perhaps our own unwillingness as players to embrace change is equally to blame for the lack of diversity and ambition in gaming at the moment. The constant reliance on the safety net means that for many gamers, branching out beyond an established comfort zone is a rarity. Games that challenge ingrained conventions and attempt to push the boundaries beyond the common standard are often unaccredited with the success they rightly deserve. We’ll flock in our millions to buy the latest Call Of Duty instalment, yet titles such as Psychonauts, Okami and more recently, say Bayonetta, though met with critical acclaim, fail to convert praise into unit sales, and therefore its easy to see why studios become disillusioned with the idea of bold experimentation.

It must be noted however that sometimes innovation and commercial success can go hand in hand. Bioshock for example challenged the conventional norms of the first person shooter in terms of morbid, noir story telling and art deco scenery design. Four months after the game's release in 2007, Bioshock had reportedly sold two million copies worldwide, a figure that one can only assume to be practically double that three years later, especially after the PS3 conversion.

With that level of success, the inevitable sequel arrived earlier this year, the overriding criticism levelled at the title being a distinct lack of progression from the original. Once again, the cash cow seems to have halted the initial radically thinking intent and replaced it with a ‘more of the same’ philosophy, something that as we’ve seen is becoming glaringly commonplace.

Ambition and business, occasionally it works; creative, innovative talent justly rewarded by critical acclaim and commercial success. In many cases however, the two simply won't flourish and one becomes a driving force while its respective counterpart never gets out of first gear. Money makes the world go round and the games industry is certainly no different. When a breakthrough concept in hardware or software reaps financial rewards, the cloning process begins and what was once lauded as cutting edge originality slowly becomes a generic formality.

Let’s hope that in this rapidly advancing and relatively young medium, there’s still an abundance of innovative, progressive products in the near future and beyond, excelling ahead of the overwhelming sense of undistinguished mediocrity.

(Photo credit: Cayusa, z--x, Colony of Gamers)