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.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

30 Minute Playtest: Just Cause 2

Ok, this game has been out long enough to qualify for a full review or even a bargain bin review, but between Red Dead Redemption, Borderlands and my semi-annual OCD replay of ancient Resident Evil games, I’ve only just got round to this, so a 30 Minute Playtest it is. In fact, it’s tempting to refer to it as a 20 minute playtest, as the sheer immensity of the game map is such that I blew ten minutes of review time just driving around the island chain of Panau.

With over a third of the test time taken up by just one activity you’d be forgiven for thinking that there can’t have been enough other activities for me to have assessed the game, so to set your mind at rest, here’s what I did in the other twenty minutes: Harpooned a soldier to a jet plane which I then hijacked and crashed into a casino; rammed a jeep full of soldiers off a motorway flyover; grappling hooked my way aboard a flying helicopter which I used to wipe out an army base; bought and crashed three £30,000 micro-jets in the space of two minutes and, in an actof shocking cross-cultural callousness, wiped a Buddhist temple off the map using a mini-gun. Best of all, only one of those was part of a scripted sequence as opposed to something the game granted me the freedom to do during open play. Seriously, this is a game that encourages you to think like a Hollywood stunt director with an unlimited budget, a game in which the chase sequences look and feel like you’ve taken control of a Bond movie, a game which starts with the entire map open to you and swiftly lets you begin buying military hardware and experimental aircraft. Just Cause 2 is the very definition of instant and explosive gratification.

Readers of Bojeeva’s recent articles about the worrying easiness of modern games will no doubt find much comfort in Just Cause 2 as well. The difficulty here is perfectly balanced-squads of soldiers can take you out if you’re not extremely mobile, cars can quickly be machine-gunned into an exploding fireball and believe me, your first three or four jet flights will end in disaster just moments after take off. Nothing in the game is completely effortless, but none of it is ever difficult enough to get you frustrated either.

For all the glorious scale, gorgeous scenery and exhilarating freedom of the game, however, there are few drawbacks as well. The fast travel system only works on location you’ve already visited, meaning that you’ll spend a staggering amount of time just trogging around the map-as we’ve already said, a third of our playtime was taken up by travelling. Worse still, of the missions I carried out in the other twenty minutes of test time, no fewer than three of them were essentially identical, a trend which, if it continues, could suck a lot of the joy out of the game.

Finally, there’s the voice acting. The Asian characters in Just Cause 2 speak in a sing-song gabble of missing consonants and breathy tail-offs. Seriously, it feels like only a matter of time before one of them offers me “Egg flied lice, fi dollah”. It’s only the fact that the game’s American, Swedish and Hispanic characters are afflicted with equally poor dialogue and dodgy voice acting that makes you realise the Just Cause’s voice direction is just rubbish and not actually racist. Even so, Just Cause 2 is a game that provokes a shamefaced urge to turn the volume down whenever there’s anyone else in the room.

These mild complaints, combined with some even smaller ones (the long winded process of buying equipment, the wacky vehicle physics that causes sports cars and motorbikes to hump the road like motorised sex-limpets while saloon cars and jeeps handle like turbo-charged clown cars etc) take a lot of the shine off the initial exhilaration. This is a game that instantly establishes its five star potential, and just as swiftly undermines it. Nevertheless, any game where a rocket launcher, microlight and powerboat are never more than a button push away has a lot to recommend it.

Verdict after half an hour: Don’t bother going for 100%, but it’s definitely worth your time.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Review: Alan Wake

I don’t know what to make of Alan Wake as a novelist. His writings, while fairly manageable to comprehend, seem nondescript, ridden with clichés. I have a feeling that my former Creative Writing teacher would probably rip the pretentious drunk to shreds if he ever took a glance at his works. However, the game does make allusions to a series of “Alex Casey” books starring a presumably dashing male lead hero. This suggests that Alan Wake is intended to be a straight-to-drugstore novelist, the Dan Brown of video games. And then again, I’ve never read an Alan Wake book, I can only evaluate his typing prowess based on the loose pages scattered around his self-titled video game.

Alan Wake is indeed a video game about a successful book writer. He attempts to live the life of a book writer by way of sewing patches onto his elbows and balancing alcoholism with Vicodins, but the whole “success” and “loving wife” business interfere with his starving artist roots. So he and the missus take a trip to a suspicious and haunted town in the woods. The kind of town where everyone knows everyone’s name, and shotguns and pitchforks keep away outsiders with crazy ideas like “internet” and “Starbucks.”

Alan’s wife goes missing, and he must unravel the mystery to rescue his princess from the castle that was his cabin…or something. Or is it even something at all? Maybe all of the dark and spooky events of the game are happening in Alan Wake’s hallucinogenic head. Sadly, the pretentious “everything is a metaphor for something else” ending I was hoping for didn’t happen, though we may have to wait until Braid is a few years older before that concept is fresh again. But I did enjoy the story in its own way. The game is smart in throwing some kind of crazy cliffhanger at the end of each “episode” to entice in into continuing. And the end payoff for your troubles is mostly satisfying, with a slight dash of the pretentiousness I was gunning for.

The game does abide by its own unlikely conventions. Scattered throughout the worlds are pages of a manuscript for the very game you are playing, spoiling events that are yet to come. I get that including so many spoilers is meant to give these pages a haunted quality, but this is a game that already spoils itself too much. Before each “episode” is a recap of the prior events, a “previously on Alan Wake” package akin to a typical television drama. Like a typical television drama, you can pick out a handful of spoilers of what’s to come based on what is highlighted in these video reels. I get the whole homage business, but I’d rather not pick up crucial plot points before they happen. On a brighter note, I did appreciate the moments where a television flickers on, showing footage of Alan himself soliloquizing about “how books have a life of their own and the writing controls you and” blah blah blah. I laughed so hard watching these because THAT is what so many novelists and poets think of their work. Egotistical writers eat self-directed hyperbole for breakfast and wash it down with a glass of pride and Jack Daniels. So Alan Wake definitely lives up to the role.

Though the fact that he just so happens to be proficient with firearms could be a stretch, despite his coming from NYC. This, by the way, is an action game of sorts with horror-based intentions. Reminiscent of another famous action game of sorts with horror-based intentions. Lets call Alan Wake “Rural Evil 4.” During the day, Alan walks around in search of the specific spot to stand in to trigger the next cutscene, preferably a cutscene that’ll activate night time. During late hours, the dark forces of darkness appear with intent to darkly consume Alan Wake into darkness. Then the game becomes a third person gunfest, although Alan is a third of the man Leon Kennedy was. (For one, Leon doesn’t drop all of his weapons and ammunition every other cutscene.)

The whole gimmick hook behind fighting the dark darkness is that you must first shine a light onto your enemies long enough to annoy them, then you riddle their peeved body with bullets. The game does kind of rewire your thinking to accommodate this pro-light stance. You’ll hunt down spotlights and exploding gas canisters as alternate means to defeat enemies, and suddenly a flare gun strike becomes the most visually spectacular video game explosion since the Modern Warfare nuke.

So Alan Wake works as an action game. An action game with a distinct setting, to be sure. The foggy forests of yore make for a decidedly more enthralling setting than your typical abandoned warehouses and fire temples of other games. But I should also profess that the game strikes me as a complete failure when it comes to the “horror” bit of the experience. I can’t quite put my finger as to why. Maybe it’s the complete lack of gore for this T-rated thriller. Maybe it’s because I was never short on ammo, or because a man with self-regenerating health has nothing to fear in the dark. Perhaps playing a harder difficulty would raise the proverbial stakes. Or perhaps it is because the forces of darkness only know of three methods of attack.

-Evil lumberjacks. (Numbering in the thousands. Bright Falls is very much a one-industry town. If environmentalists had their way with the logging industry, this town is toast.)
-Evil possessed objects. (Which Mr Wake quickly points out is a homage to Stephen King.)
-Evil possessed birds. (Which Mr Wake does not point out is a homage to Alfred Hitchcock.)

Except for perhaps a few moments near the end of the game, these three elements are spread out just far enough to never feel redundant. But that the evil force has no other means to surprise you yanks out some of the fear of the unknown that a horror game should have. Oh, and every time a force of evil ambushes you, the game is quick to slow down time and direct the camera towards their dramatic stage entrance. That’s a bit of a fear-killer too.

But at the same time, I was quick to welcome back these bullet-time sequences. And the game does not skimp out on the use of Bullet Time. I shouldn’t have expected anything less from the same development team that conjured up Max Payne. So I found myself readjusting my standards, deciding to anticipate less of a psychological horror and more stylish hard action, but with a properly-clothed protagonist. And I found myself appreciating the experience more for it.

And there are several other staples that you would anticipate seeing from a Remedy game. Like televisions airing a direct spoof of the show that influenced the very game you are playing. And great original music. And an idol worship for Norse mythology.

It took me about nine hours to finish the game. Keep in mind that this was a very dedicated 9 hours, with few breaks in between. So this is a game that knows how to sink its hooks into you. (To quote a cliché my teacher would hate me for using.)

Alan Wake is that Bioshock-kind of good. It’s the kind of game you are going to want to play once, and savour the experience for a long time. The catch being that in playing it once, you will get your fill and never yearn to touch it again.

There are two downloadable packs coming, including one that sounds like an arena challenge mode (which is kind of what some of the final level is anyways) so I have my reservations on the chances of interesting DLC. Nonetheless, this is a moody-fun morsel of action non-horror.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Megabits' pick of...Current Gen Co-Op

Ok, everyone knows that Super Mario Galaxy 2 was a triumph, losing none of its predecessor's inventiveness whilst adding a new twist in the form of co-op, but if we’re entirely truthful, we have to admit to being a little bit underwhelmed. Co-op should genuinely enrich a game, either by allowing you to share the spectacle or by adding an extra dimension to the gameplay or game mechanics. With that in mind, we at Megabits have wracked our brains and assembled our list of the ten best co-op games, the ones that, unlike SMG2, didn’t fall swiftly by the wayside. These are the co-op games that had legs, that gave us days of play rather than hours, that made us glad of our friends list.

Guitar Hero World Tour
I have to admit, I’m on record for my dislike of the all conquering plastic tat and pseudo-music franchises, largely because I hate the feeling that the gameplay is designed around the idea that the controller is an obstacle between you and the screen rather than a conduit into the game world. But for all my general distaste for the game, I have to concede that if you throw in a couple of mates the whole thing becomes rather more fun, as you argue over song choices, bicker over instruments, wrangle over whether to move on or retry songs or…ok, wait a minute, that still sounds rotten. Yet somehow that indefinable magic of gaming, that intangible something that separates a Halo from A Call of Juarez or an Oblivion from a Nier takes over when you get a group of mates on Guitar Hero, and annoyance becomes exhilaration.

Resident Evil 5
While the later entries on our list are marked out by a level of quality that makes them as good in single player as they are in co-op, it’s these early entries that can only muster strength in one category by being weak in another. Resident Evil 5 is a case in point. As a single player effort it’s easily the weakest in the Resident Evil series, a mess of bad QTEs, cheap shots and, unforgivably for a game bearing the name Resident Evil, no tension whatsoever. Played as a co-op, however, and Resident Evil 5’s weaknesses become strengths-those villains with hidden weak spots and superior maneuverability can be taken down with teamwork, as one player fills the role of stalking horse while the other plinks away. The lack of tension becomes irrelevant as co-op turns the game into a successful shooter rather than a failed horror, and the garbled inventory management becomes a much smoother process when not subject to the infuriating whims of Sheva Alomar’s gormless AI. As a failed solo horror, Resident Evil 5 makes an enjoyable co-op shooter.

Perhaps the most debatable inclusion on this list, it’s fair to say that the gameplay in Crackdown doesn’t change noticeably between singleplayer and co-op modes. In fact, it’s possible to spend hours playing in co-op and not experience anything notably different from the single player. The secret to Crackdown’s co-op success lies not with how good it is for two, but how good it is to share how good it is for one. The glorious, over the top leaping, skidding, shooting and bus-chucking that make the open world actioner such anarchic fun in singleplayer are still there in co-op, except now, you can get some extra chievos whilst yelling ‘Dude, did you see that?’ as another mob of Volk baddies are subjected to some comedy pyrotechnic physics. Except we’d never use the word chievos. Or dude. Honest.

Lost Planet 2
Kill big. That’s the idea behind Lost Planet. Well, actually, the idea behind Lost Planet is that a big snowy genocidal land grab is good fun, but that’s not very pithy. Kill big, on the other hand, sums it up nicely-Forget about shooting enemy soldiers not noticeably larger than you. Team up with your buddies and take down giant insects. Steal an exoskeleton and take out bigger insects. Have all your mates steal exoskeletons and combine them into one giant exoskeleton and take down enormous insects. With the sequel adding some jungle variety to the original’s icy tundra as well as creating multi part scenarios in which team work is vital, Lost Planet 2 is that rare breed of game where the co-op factor doesn’t feel like a half-baked bolt-on. The single-player is lumbered with the feel of a dumbbot-populated multiplayer and saddled with a frustrating save system that make it almost worthless, but if you’ve got a couple of buddies on your friend list, then Lost Planet 2 is worth a look

FIFA 2009
I’m among the small group of naysayers who feel that advances in gaming technology have taken a lot of the fun out of football games-the small play area and unregulated flow of action mean that context sensitivity can’t take as much of the burden off the controller, meaning that almost every chip, lob or pass has to be available at the drop of a thumb and the experience becomes a matter of pernickety button combos and less enjoyable than an actual kickabout. Having said that, however, FIFA 2009 still gets on the list thanks to the sheer unbridled joy of joining your friends for an 11 a side online match. The game that has the slightly contrived tendency towards the spectacular that infuriates Pro Evo purists but makes everyone else feel like Pele. The realisation that every Bergkampesque pass is not only delighting your friends but infuriating the opposition gives you an in-the-guts experience that doesn’t last for long, but is glorious for those first few games.

Aegis Wing
An old-school side scrolling shooter doesn’t sound like it would fit with our desire to have a list of co-op games where co-op means more than just having two players on the same side, but Aegis Wing has more to it than just a backdrop and blasters. Up to four players can fly around the screen at once using ordinary and super weapons, but the real co-op fun begins when players combine their ships, Big Dai X style, with one player piloting the resulting ship and up to three more acting as gunners. In many ways, its the essence of good co-op gaming: everyone gets better and stronger by working together, whilst simultaneously inheriting the weaknesses of the entire team-a slow gunner or inattentive pilot can make you question whether the alliance was worthwhile as you sit, wondering if the teams one lifepod will be used to save you or someone else...

Halo 3
Much like Crackdown, it has to be said that Halo 3 is not a game that mixes it up for co-op gaming-it really is just the single-player campaign with the Chief, The Arbiter and up to two more Covenant Elites. But Halo is the game that took multiplayer gaming from painfully slow dial up Quakefests and the occasional late night on the office LAN and brought it into your living room, allowing you to play with friends remotely. Its almost as if playing Halo with other people is encoded in gamer DNA, so for the third instalment in the trilogy to include co-op play is an easy, natural fit, and feels like something you’ve been doing since you were a nipper. Add to that the sheer scale of the Scarab fights or the claustrophobic crawls through the Gravemind’s guts and you’ve got a game where company is always appreciated.

Take the aesthetic of 80’s scrapheap sci-fi movie Space Hunter: Adventures in The Forbidden Zone, mix it with surrealist punk western Straight To Hell. Overhaul the visuals with a cel-shaded art style reminiscent of Katsuhiro Otomo, and you’ve got...something that doesn’t quite describe Borderlands. Now what could be missing...? Oh yes, 17,000,000 guns! Essentially a loot driven scavenger hunt combining RPG upgrading with First Person Shooting, Borderlands follows a simple procedure-do missions, obtain guns, do more missions, get bigger, more preposterous guns: flame-throwing machine guns, lightning shotguns, you name it, just about any ludicrous combination is possible, and what do you want most when you’ve obtained a thermonuclear machine pistol? A friend to share it with-Borderlands is built for multiplayer co-op, with the number of enemies hitting hordelike proportions as you and your buddies back each other up whilst unleashing colour-coded ballistic chaos.

Gears of War 2
While your every urge is to dismiss Gears of War as ‘Lunk & Biff’s chainsaw-a-go-go’ , what seems to be one of the dumbest games you’ve ever played is in fact one of the smartest co-ops. Sure, it’s all about big action, gravelly voices and preposterous monsters, all presented in some of the sweetest graphics you’ve ever seen, but underneath all that is an intelligence at work to make sure that the spectacle is complemented by a game that is great for one but brilliant for two. The combination of cover mechanics and buddy revival allow you to feel a genuine sense that you’re supporting each other as you advance, the splits in levels that allow one player to head to an objective while the other covers him, the mix of short and long range weapons that a good team can combine to great effect when switching from claustrophobic tunnels to subterranean cathedrals and back...its all designed to allow players to form a working team without sacrificing their individual playing style.

Left 4 Dead
When it came to picking the top spot on this list it was always going to be either Left 4 Dead or Left 4 Dead 2. We agonised long and hard over it, and eventually came to the conclusion that it had to be the original. Sure, the sequel has the excellent scavenge mode, and the sheer joy of playing as a charger in VS, but the original’s hospital, farmyard and airport settings have a sombre tone that befits the games apocalyptic nature better than the fairgrounds and rock concerts of the sequel.
Beyond its settings, Left 4 Dead gets the balance for a co-op game exactly right: your allies can make you strong, or they can slow you down, and you’re tasked with the option of helping them or leaving them for dead, all the while knowing that they’re making the same calculations. Do you share the medical kit or save it for yourself? Do you backtrack to rescue a fallen team mate or peg it for salvation? Is it better to scavenge for a full supply of equipment or sprint to the next safe room as fast as possible? For all the frantic onscreen shooting, it’s these background questions that are the tasty rare meat of the game, and there’s the added frisson of tension that comes with the knowledge that the rest of your team might answer them differently in the middle of a pitched battle.

Review: Flower

Just to clarify, I am a man’s man. I love watching sport, enjoy swigging beer and am extremely fond of female attention. I sometimes sport stubble and can be found, on occasion, in the presence of power tools. I also have a penchant for violent games, with guns and gore.

It’s not that I feel I have to justify my emotional reaction to playing Flower on the PS3 for the first time, but the above had to be said. That aside, I must admit I did feel pretty teary eyed after a brief stint playing thatgamecompany’s creation. In fact, I bounded up the stairs to tell my wife all about my experience. But unless you play it first hand, it’s hard to explain. And she looked at me with pity. I managed to convince her to give it a go – and now she’s a convert too.

Now, take a seat and a deep breath and relax.

The game's all about poetry, beauty and the dreams of flowers desperate to leave the confines of their pots on the windowsill (!) Confused? Well don’t be; the concept is beyond simple.

You control the wind through a simple button press. Any button, it really doesn’t matter. It’s your job to guide a lowly petal on the breeze through the clever application of Sony’s coveted six axis technology. By gesticulating your controller, your petal will come in contact with other flowers, which blossom and add colour and life to dead ground nearby. Each flower’s renaissance sees another petal join you on the breeze – your trail growing until the screen is awash with colour.

The subtle sound of the wind is accompanied by calming melodies as you glide about the place, but the music reacts dynamically whenever you come in contact with another flower. In effect, you not only create colour and beauty but compose ever-changing harmonies too. It’s magical.

There are no enemies and no failure, just six levels of increasing loveliness and relaxation. It may only provide just over an hour’s gameplay but you will certainly come back for more – if not to show people exactly how amazing this game is and why you’re all overcome with emotion and happy thoughts.

For the experience itself, it’s well worth the minimal outlay for the download. Highly recommended.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Megabits' pick of...special edition games

Tin boxes, limited edition artwork, extra DLC, memory sticks or soundtracks… just some of the “bonus” items bundled with the latest games for a small premium!

But what's the deal with all these special, limited and collector's edition boxsets?

You’d think that all of a publisher’s efforts before the launch of a key title would go into tweaking code and getting the graphics and gameplay spot on, wouldn’t you? But with so much competition nowadays – and ultimately, so much at stake – games companies are having to pull out all the stops to ensure that potential customers opt to buy their wares rather than someone else’s.

Perhaps it’s for that very reason that several versions of many games are hitting the shelves – and I’m not talking about the various console formats but Limited Edition boxsets.

Quite why these are so popular amongst today’s discerning gamers is beyond me. Afterall, why double your outlay on a new title just so you can be the proud owner of a few postcards or a figurine? These gimmicky toys have little use when all is said and done, and I’ll wager that many are quickly consigned to the back of a cupboard to gather dust.

Are they being bought because of some misguided expectation that they will one day be worth vast sums of money? Who knows – but there are certainly many of us out there who are desperate to get our hands on these trinkets and keepsakes.

Megabits decided to see what all the fuss was about and found a selection of the weird, wacky and woeful… Sadly, some are region specific so don't get too disappointed if you can't track them all down!!!

To fuel our growing hunger for upcoming zombiefest Dead Rising 2, we decided that should be our first point of call. What we found was a prime example of the kind of superfluous mementos that have become so popular. The collector's edition incorporates not only the game but its very own syringe pen, which may prove handy for administering all that Zombrex antidote! Not only that, but there's a making of DVD tucked away in the box too. An appropriately-titled "Outbreak Pack" is also on offer, boasting a 12" zombie figurine.

For the less bloodthirsty amongst you, there are plenty of cuter options out there too. What about snapping up the LittleBigPlanet 2 collector's edition? Not only do you get your very own 7" sackboy toy but there are loads of DLC costumes in there too and some bookends (!)

Love them or loathe them, you have to concede that these collectibles are getting increasingly inventive, don’t you think?

The latest addition to the Call of Duty franchise even trumps last year’s efforts... a special version of the much-coveted Black Ops game is bundled with a radio controlled car!

Keeping with the car theme, and not to be outdone, there are plenty of Gran Turismo 5 goodies to be had by PS3 petrolheads too... Depending on how much money you have to splurge on Polyphony Digital’s upcoming racer, you could be the proud owner of a die cast model of one of the hundreds of cars featured in the game, a strategy guide spanning several hundred pages, postcards and a key chain among other bits and pieces.

Xbox 360 owners shouldn’t feel too left out though. Both Fable III and Halo: Reach will be bundled with plenty of knick knacks when they are released in the coming months.

Molyneux’s brainchild will come in a box cunningly disguised as an old book, and will feature character playing cards, exclusive unlockable locations on the map and an alternative canine to accompany you on your quest through Albion.

The Limited edition of Halo: Reach, meanwhile, will be packaged in an “recovered ONI black box", (which apparently is just as exciting as it sounds), and will also include exclusive Elite armour for multiplayer and a bag containing the personal journal of none other than Dr Halsey. Alternatively, there's the Legendary Edition that includes a hefty-looking statue and a flaming helmet Spartan armour addon.

But these are by no means the coolest or quirkiest extras that we've come across. Here are some that have already hit the shelves…

As mentioned above, the Black Ops Prestige Edition must take credit for being a pretty decent collectible. But it still doesn't trump the efforts of Modern Warfare 2 last year.

What self respecting soldier wannabe wouldn’t want to own their very own pair of night vision goggles, eh? Reviews of the nice-looking headgear have been pretty favourable too, which suggests that it's perhaps worth spending that little bit extra?

Perhaps the Batman: Arkham Asylum boxset comes close as a must-have package for fans? Not only do you get a behind the scenes DVD, map pack DLC and Arkham Doctor's Journal, but there’s also a rather nifty 14” Batarang with stand in there too!

If you're into your weaponry then how about a gun used by our scantily clad heroine in Bayonetta?

We glossed over the inclusion of figurines above but they're by no means a new trend. If you look hard enough you can still get a mini Ryu or Crimson Viper statuette with your version of Street Fighter IV or an Assassins Creed Altair figure.

Fallout 3 addicts had plenty of options available to them too. There's a chunky metal lunch box and 5" Vault-Boy Bobble-Head Figurine or... wait for it... what about this
replica of the Big Daddy? Even I’ll admit that he is pretty cool.

And who wouldn’t want a Chris Redfield statue on their shelf? Thankfully, I could get hold of one if I picked up the special collector's edition of Resident Evil 5. There are bags of goodies crammed into the box, including a Tricell bag, a BSAA patch, and a pendant. WOW!

For the more fashionable amongst you, what about sporting a Far Cry 2 T-shirt? Snap up the boxset and there’s also a book featuring artwork from the game, a guide, making of DVD and a map – ideal for traversing the absolutely huge gameworld.

On the face of it, the God of War III Ultimate Edition looks great too - but there's little inside the intriguingly ornate box to get the juices flowing. Besides the game, there's some artwork and DLC codes for the soundtrack and a documentary.

Last, but by no means least, is Starcraft II's recent effort. Flash your cash and you could be the proud owner of... yep, you guessed it, a 176-page book featuring artwork from the game!
Actually, the main selling point seems to be a 2GB USB flash drive replica of Jim Raynor's dog tag - including the original game and expansion pack. If that's not enough, there's a behind-the-scenes DVD containing over an hour of developer interviews, an official soundtrack CD "containing 14 epic tracks from the game along with exclusive bonus tracks". There's even a comic book thrown in there for good measure and some other sundries too.

There's certainly plenty out there to spend your money on - but, to be frank, there's very little that looks like an essential purchase. Granted, this is only the tip of an ever-growing iceberg of special edition boxsets but to continue the analogy, they all leave me cold (except perhaps for the goggles!).

The important part of any games purchase is surely the game itself, right? Personally, I'd prefer the time, money and effort went into adding a few more levels or a great multiplayer mode. Give me awe-inspiring graphics, sound and gameplay any day. Surely, there can't be THAT many people out there who would prefer a gimmick instead???

(Photo credits: Fable III, LittleBigPlanet 2, Modern Warfare 2, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Bayonetta,
Assassin's Creed, Fallout 3 bobble head, Fallout 3 Big Daddy, Resident Evil 5, God of War III, Starcraft 2)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Review: Bioshock 2

Adam, Eve, Big Daddies, Little Sisters and all manner of genetically altered ‘splicers’ in one submerged dystopia can only mean one thing. It’s time to return to Rapture…

Bioshock 2 is set ten years after the original Andrew Ryan-inspired nightmare, in which time Rapture has become more of a dilapidated hell hole than it previously was. Rather than assuming a human role in the latest outing, control is instead shifted into the hands of a Big Daddy prototype, referred to as ‘Subject Delta’. Due to the limitations of the cumbersome and slow paced nature of the Big Daddies, it’s obviously apparent why you won’t be playing as a fully-fledged incarnation of the overtly protective behemoths.

As the sequel to a best-selling and multi award winning title, it’s fair to say that 2K Marin have opted to stick to an already proven formula in favour of further bold experimentation. This is evident in both the gameplay and narrative driven structure of Bioshock 2.

The antagonistic (and now deceased) Andrew Ryan is relieved from his sinister, over-seeing role by Sofia Lamb, who along with her fellow, ever untrustworthy cast of characters is in constant radio contact throughout proceedings. This familiar set up to fans of the first game instigates a series of linear objectives through Rapture’s confined corridors (inevitable plot twists aside), primarily to rescue Subject Delta’s bonded ‘daughter’ from the entrapment of the nefarious Lamb.

The bizarre and often clichéd cast of Bioshock 2 play second fiddle, as arguably they did in the first outing, to the submerged city itself. Rapture is still as foreboding and disconcerting, yet beautifully realised as ever, if not more so in the sequel. Graphically the game is a sharper, more defined affair than previously. The neon lighting and aquatic backdrops clash bewitchingly, yet brilliantly with the morbid sense of doom laden claustrophobia of your surroundings.

When passing through a glass tunnel for example and taking in the sea-life, coral and Rapture’s crumbling walls and skyscrapers, it’s truly possible to imagine it as the utopic vision that was originally intended before its downfall, adding to the immersive nature of the game world. This is complimented by the musical score throughout that lends itself appropriately to differing set pieces, be it 1950’s style pop music or an adrenaline fuelled orchestral piece during combat sequences.

It can be correctly argued that these are all praises bestowed upon the first Bioshock, and as such, demonstrates a lack of ambition to push the boundaries of an already original franchise. True indeed, Bioshock 2 is really not attempting to make any wholesale gameplay changes to the inspired original, but then again, that was a title correctly lauded as one of the most ground-breaking FPS’s of all time. It would be hard to alter the sequel too radically for fear of eliminating the true essence of what made Bioshock so good in the first place. Granted, the developers have played it safe but not without well founded reason.

This notion extends itself into combat. The basic mechanic of having a left hand for plasmids and the right for firepower is still intact, only this time there are some well-conceived Big Daddy ready inclusions to the arsenal. The most notable of these being the splicer severing drill, which requires fuel but is destructive to soft skinned foes at close range. Other inclusions include the rivet gun, heavy machine gun, spear gun and of course the ever reliable shotgun returns, all of which can again be upgraded at the Power to the People stations throughout the city, often turning a simple piece of weaponry into a devious and deadly trap laying device. Thankfully the arduous pipe connecting hacking mini-games have been ousted in favour of precisely timed button press events, which are more tolerable if not still an overly common occurrence.

The core plasmids; Telekinesis, Electric Bolt and Inferno all make a return as well as some new faces including; Decoy, Scout and Cyclone Trap, each of which are initially intriguing to experiment with, but more often than not it’s the tried and tested plasmids that are the most useful when overrun by enemies. Although both Bioshock games often promote tactical forethought and diversity of attack, in the midst of a heated battle, all gunz blazing, sticking to one or two plasmids and making sure you have plenty of health and eve is normally enough to see you through.

As with the guns, plasmids can be found, or alternatively purchased at Gatherers Garden outlets and subsequently upgraded provided that you have sufficient Adam for the transaction. Gene tonics can be applied which will affect various characteristics of Delta, from the speed he moves to the ease of hacking a desired object. Again, if you’ve played the first title, these are all very familiar yet proven gameplay concepts.

However, there are some minor inclusions to the formula that certainly add an element of variety. Rather than simply being given the option to ‘harvest’ or ‘rescue’ the little sisters in order to gain Adam, this time around you can adopt one prior to her guiding you to corpses to begin the extraction process. This is essentially an exercise in defence; the splicers and later on the fearsome Alpha Series opponents will relentlessly attack you and the gathering sister until the sequence is complete.

It’s these instances where forethought genuinely does reap rewards as you are granted time for preparation. Laying the ground with trap rivets, proximity mines and mini-turrets before the onslaught starts will undoubtedly aid you and the little sister’s chances of survival and therefore of stockpiling the Adam at stake. After accomplishing this process twice and you’ve taken her to a vent, the ‘rescue’ or ‘harvest’ question presents itself, the latter yielding more Adam, the consequence being however that you will miss out on useful and powerful gifts from the little sisters in the future.

One of the most fearsome new enemies is without a doubt the ‘Big Sister’. Incredibly powerful, strong and lightning quick, they’ll eat through your health and ammunition before taking a fall. When the words “A Big Sister Is Coming – Prepare Yourself” appear on the screen you’ll be frantically scrutinizing your inventory of guns and plasmids, praying that you have enough firepower to hold her off. To say that these formidable beasts make the Big Daddies look tame is an understatement, yet there is an immense amount of satisfaction to be garnered from their eventual elimination.

Somewhat annoyingly, the Big Sisters will attack regardless if you save or harvest the little sisters, which isn’t really in keeping with the storyline. Instead, it would have been far more sensible to have to endure a forced encounter when harvesting only, as the lucrative amount of Adam gained from doing so should in-turn be punished by being confronted by such a powerful assailant.

The rather drawn out conclusion aside, Bioshock 2 is a worthy yet unambitious addition to the franchise. There’s plenty for Bioshock fans to love here but they certainly won’t be blown away by any wildly innovative new inclusions. There is a fairly standard multi-player mode (Deathmatch/Capture The Flag variants) to briefly mention, but being nearly nine months old as well as facing stiff competition from the ever dominant Modern Warfare 2, it’s pretty much vanished from the online radar.

However, retailing at around £10-15 these days, Bioshock 2 is a worthy inclusion to any gamer’s library, but be advised, if you took issue with the first game, there’s nothing that will sway your opinion here.

The few snippets we’ve been drip fed of Bioshock Infinite certainly look to be as bold and brave as the original back in 2007. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Golden eras of gaming: PlayStation 2-Part II

Slimmed-down consoles are in vogue nowadays, aren't they? Late last year, the PS3 slim helped sales of Sony's flagship console soar, and more recently the Xbox 360 lost a few lbs and boosted Microsoft's coffers somewhat too. But the most remarkable weight-shedding exercise of recent years has to be the smaller, lighter and quieter version of the super-selling PlayStation 2 back in 2004 - four years after the launch of its bigger (more ugly) brother.

All these years later you can still snap up the slim PS2, which is selling well by all accounts. If you do - or have the console tucked away in the cupboard somewhere - here are a few more suggestions for games you simply must add to your collection.

If you missed the first part of our top 10 picks, take a look after the jump. Otherwise, stick around and enjoy...

5. Jak 3
Naughty Dog's platforming/shooter hybrid made a colourful comeback, thrusting our protagonist Jak and his trusty sidekick, Daxter, into the deserty Wastelands. It's your usual blend of running and jumping about the place, with some decent vehicles thrown in and some very tasty weaponry. Jak 3 is widely recognised as one of the greatest PS2 games, achieving a respectable 84% from aggregator, Metacritic!

4. Devil May Cry 3
Starring everyone's favourite half human, half demon, Devil May Cry 3 proved damn tough - its difficulty levels were positively hellish. Nevertheless, it looked sublime, and improved in many respects over its predecessors - including a new-look combat system.

3. Tekken 5
A firm favourite, this addition to the long-running Tekken series kicked the others in the guts and proclaimed itself deserving champion. It was more attractive, had more fighters and included a multitude of game options - including Jin Kazama's Devil Within mode. Buy this and "You Win".

2. Gran Turismo 4
What can you say about perhaps the greatest driving simulator to date? For those of you not keen on the Forza series on the Xbox 360, to this day Gran Turismo 4 remains the ultimate stop gap until the fifth game in the series hits our shelves for the PS3. Hundreds of photo-realistic cars, faithful handling and bundles of tracks made this a must have for every PS2 owner.

1. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Opinion remains divided as to which is the ultimate edition of GTA. For some, it's San Andreas, whereas others prefer its fourth incarnation on the PS3 and 360. Vice City, however, for its 1980s focus remains a firm favourite. Retaining all the charm of the previous games, Vice City perfectly captures the music, fashion and feel of the period - helped of course by the multitude of vehicles and radio stations!

Agree/disagree? Let us know...

(Photo credit: Bojeeva)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Review - Castlevania: Harmony of Despair

I’ve spent the last few days indulging in Harmony of Despair and I’m still not exactly certain what exactly Harmony of Despair is trying to be. Is it supposed to be a Diablonian gear-driven fire sale? A co-op adventure where players are made to work together to reach a common, anti-vampire goal? A developer trying to showcase as much low-resolution art on a single screen as humanly possble? An attempt to fill my heart with as much despair as humanly possible? A harmony of desperate guitar riffs?

This is what I can tell you with some certainty. It’s a Castlevania game that reuses all of its visual assets from Symphony of the Night and its Game Boy Advance/Nintendo DS offspring. The problem with that approach is that all of those games already had a problem of reusing assets within each other, making Harmony of Despair some kind of inbred child born in a part of Japan existing below the Mason-Dixon line. You can elect to play as Alucard or any of the characters from the DS games, with all of them succeeding at being very androgynous and not having the last name “Belmont.” They each have their perks that are semi unique to their native games, but all share the same affection for swords and weapons that slap-chop the undead.

I can tell you that Harmony of Despair has no storyline, which is a freaking godsend. All of these Castlevania games have horrible, overwrought anime-esque plots, and it’s nice to see this game take the simple approach of “here’s something evil, please knock it’s smile off its face.” There are six stages, each has a boss of varying ugliness. The levels are really sizable in length, which would normally inspire the intrepid Metroidvanian explorer to venture forth in hunt of treasure. Except there’s an inexplicable 30 minute time limit per level. Why? Is that the period of time before Dracula leaves for his pedicure? I can’t understand the rhyme or reason for this time limit business. People playing single player may want to peruse the levels at their pace. People playing multiplayer will breeze through each level faster than a washroom break, the kind of washroom break where you realize “Alucard” is “Dracula” spelt backwards. And the time limit doesn’t stop when you pause the game or manage your inventory, even when you are going solo. A strange game indeed.

As mentioned, this is meant to be a multiplayer game. Up to six players can collaborate on a mixtape of death-dealing in any given level. Even if the online settings are a bit of a joke; I an unable to use the “Quick Match” option for the game searches for players in your country only. And Canada hates Castlevania, Canada likes manly things like Mixed Martial Arts and Slap Shot. Just as bizarre, the “Custom Match” option only has one option, letting players elect to only search for games in their country or worldwide. A bizarre game, this is.

And granted, you could just work through each level on your own. But the path to the boss will always be the longest, and those bosses seem to have really large health bars. With several players working together, you can access shortcuts activated via contrived switch-flipping, and take down those larger bosses with relative ease. Hell, I’ve been in games where bosses were damned to the great beyond without me ever laying so much as an exhaled breath on them in person. I almost feel like a full six-player game is too easy; I once reached the Count Dracula in about half an hour, and stuck a stake in his heart within the span of 2 minutes.

You can, at any point, zoom the map out and see all of the activity happening on the level. There is some kind of unusual novelty to this, if just because it halfway justifies the reusing of nasty Nintendo DS sprites. It also lets you track the progress of your teammates. Speaking of things that suck like Dracula, those giant block indicators that point in the direction of your teammates occupy way too much screen space. The visual cue telling me where the four other Alucards on the map often get in the way of the enemy skull monsters I’m trying to whip fireballs at. The game does manage to find some novel uses for the large overworld, the kind of pseudo-logic that only makes sense in 2-dimensional side scrollers. One boss will discharge vomit-lasers across large portions of the screen in the face of someone’s poor Alucard. Another boss is so danged tall that you need the wide-view just to glimpse at his thighs.

But at the same time, there comes a point where a man sits and asks himself, “why?” Like “why am I replaying these same six levels repeatedly”, or “why do I allow myself to play as this excessively feminine man?” Leveling up might be a good reason, except it really isn’t. Your character doesn’t level up, though certain attacks do become more powerful with repeated use. Rather, you enhance your character via the stat-boosting equipment you acquire.

Except your character sprites don’t wear the equipment you pick up. So the hot chance you have to show off your gear to the world will not present itself. Worse, most of the equipment you pick up is worthless, repeating junk. Someone needs to sweep Dracula’s castle and donate to Goodwill all of the loose coats, capes and corsages lying around. Better the homeless have them than my wealthy looking androgynous sprite. If Harmony of Despair was meant to be a Diablo-like loot quest, it closer resembles a spreadsheet charting a recycling plant.

I almost feel like there is a good idea somewhere within Harmony of Despair. I would like to see a sidescrollers whose co-operative focus reaches beyond the dick-around-fest seen in New Super Mario Bros or LittleBigPlanet.

But there isn’t much of anything in this game that’ll maintain your interest longer than an hour or so. Revisit any of the DS Castlevania games, or go online and buy Symphony of the Night or Shadow Complex or the Wii’s port of Super Metroid. Maybe someone out there likes the idea of having a Castlevania game that they can enjoy with their friends. I am not one of those people. I don’t want any of my friends knowing I played a game starring Soma Cruz.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Review - Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty

Maybe my brain functions a little differently from the rest of the world, but I always find the hardest part of writing reviews to be the introductory paragraph. I know what I don’t want to do with my beginning and go into the usual spiel of “it’s been a long time coming, the sequel to the all time great strategy game is here” because quite frankly, everyone starts their Starcraft 2 review like that. (And I wish people would stop quoting the Tychus Findley “Hell, it’s about time” cutscene.) So bear with me for a moment, this is the best I could slap together.

“I was having burritos with a fairly lovely lady friend of mine after she had just travelled across Europe. After telling me her plans to abandon many upcoming parties in the name of representing Aiur, she had sold me on revisiting this Starcraft business for the first time since high school. I subsequently unsold her on this game she had bought the night before by telling her that Wings of Liberty is merely the Terran campaign and we would have to wait a considerable long time before Blizzard comes around to presenting their story from a creepy alien perspective. Oops. Sorry.”
The campaign is a good point of entry in talking about the ever tender package of Terran meat that is Wings of Liberty.

The game presents an all-Terran campaign, which comes with natural disadvantages. Being that the traditional Starcraft 1 campaign served as an introduction to the various traits and units of each faction, one can see how disadvantaged the Zerg and Protoss become in the field of presenting its new recruits. While the human campaign does make quick introductions to some of those races’ new concepts (with a particular fixation on those lumpy little junebugs of love known as Banelings), I still felt like several of the new units don’t receive proper explanation. I had no way of learning the function of the Zerg’s new brain slug monster, the presumed mother of the brain slugs from Limbo. A Starcraft newcomer will have to learn the hard way that “creep” is the Zerg’s bread and butter and not something you don’t want staring at your Facebook page.

But the upside to that focused campaign is that it very successfully fleshes out the Terrans, both as an RTS video game faction and a deranged lifestyle. Between missions, you can explore your spaceship, converse with the crew, watch Intergalactic Fox News, listen to Skynyrd covers and soak in the Southern charm of your rebellion. That your space-faring military army is so delightfully below the Mason-Dixon line gives what is otherwise a cliché story with cliché characters using cliché lines in cliché scenarios more intrigue than it ought to have. (There is a bearded dwarven mechanic and a dreadlocked, African-accented voodoo-practitioner. A friendly reminder that this franchise started as Warcraft in space.) Small tweaks, like seeing new pieces of equipment in the Armory after they debut in missions, or new conversation cutscenes that open up after missions, or the fake arcade game named after Trine’s mistress, give incentive to explore and take breathers after your last Alamo-caliber slaughter.

If anything, I am now dreading the Zerg and Protoss games, because neither race present themselves to me as any more charming. I want to be free as a bird, not serving a collective alien tribe.

The missions are also much better thought out. The main idea behind Starcraft is still “mine resources to spend on buildings and goons, and use your goon-building in a manner more efficient than your enemy’s goon-building.” And while the majority of Starcraft 1’s missions were of the “build a goon-factory and use it better than the AI”, Starcraft 2 manages to find more hooks and twists to trap you with. Like Uncharted 2, the problem with reviewing Starcraft 2 is that you can’t go into detail without giving away the better moments. If you’ve read any number of reviews, you’ve no doubt heard ad nauseam about the zombie mission, the lava mission, or the train mission. (Because video games in general love zombies, lava and trains, eh?) Perhaps there are too many missions built around time limits for my liking, and my brain doesn’t handle being rushed as well as it handles introductory paragraphs. But I still managed to get to the ending on the Normal difficulty. I’ll just say that the game finds plenty of unique mission ideas to maintain your interest, and manages to exploit the assorted unique twists of the Terran race. Expect your fair share of flying buildings, bunker cuddling and Tychus Findley enjoying himself too much.

That rugged, handsome man with the cigar from that ever popular reveal trailer did wind up becoming my favorite character in the Starcraft universe. Though I can’t help but feel the endgame does poor Tychus a severe injustice. Likewise, some plot threads remain untied by the game’s end, and I am reminded that Wings of Liberty is the first of a trilogy. You know, like every current generation game. The game hopes that players find contentment in wrapping up a prior storyline at the expense of several more (and by the way, Starcraft 2 very deliberately ignores the existence of Brood Wars. There was only one real Overmind, folks.) How much positive or negative energy you walked away from the ending of Assassin’s Creed 2 will probably be similar to how you view the end of Wings of Liberty.

There’s also an online multiplayer component designed to scare the bejeebusses out of you. I am reminded very quickly that people have been playing Starcraft for over 10 years while I’ve spent much of that time on things like education and education-defeating liquor. A disclaimer: I can’t figure out hotkeys to save my life and my micromanagement skills don’t exceed setting an alarm clock. My video gaming brain functions better with the “point at something so it dies” set of motor skills than the “arrange these things in efficient killing order” set of skills. I’ve gotten killed many times over playing online and I haven’t even left the beginner mode. This is not my game, and I can’t help but feel like the “challenge mode” missions included, designed to introduce the concepts of rush defense and build order are not enough to brace me for the cruel, harsh world of the internet. Somewhere within the last ten years, “harass the other guy’s SCVs” became a popular strategy amongst players. Players that hate me.

And looking at the Achievement list, this game is designed to be played for another 10 years by those very same maniac individuals. Online avatars and decal designs unlock after playing 100, 250, 500 or 1000 games…per race!

But I will be the better man and admit that this is merely not my cup of tea. The functionality seems to be effective at its job. It’ll quickly find rival players to pit you against. It’ll divide the online strangers on your friends list from the real friends you know from Facebook. It lets you post its own version of Tweets on (Bweets?) . You can review build orders and stats after each match and find out how your opponent punked you out in detail. The game being all of two weeks old as of this writing, I still don’t have a feel for how the user-created maps function. One of my favorite aspects of Starcraft 1 was the custom maps with custom rules and gimmicks, with certain maps renaming the units as Pokemon or West Coast rappers How they will fare on a more closely monitored, Activision-dictated server, I don’t know.

And the online game still serves the proper Starcraft experience, changing just enough to feel fresh. The new units seem pretty intriguing, from the giant Protoss mechs to the giant Terran mechs that sound like my favorite governor. And you can still click on each unit repeatedly to annoy them to great comedic effect. Certain Protoss units seem to excel in the field of being angered or flattered by your mouse. The underlying message I’ve been trying to get across is that Starcraft 2 is not my style of game. It’s either too ridiculous for my tastes, or too smart for them. However, it still found some ways in which it forced itself to be my kind of game for a few weeks.

Even if I’ll never make any kind of impact on that notorious Korean tournament scene, I was still hooked on the campaign for a long enough time to hamper both my social life and my progress playing through Okami(!) So while I’ll never figure out the secret to defending the dignity of my SCVs, I’ll at least submit myself to the upcoming Zerg and Protoss campaigns and see what crazy ideas Blizzard conjures up next.

Finally, if ever you think this is a dark age we live in, remember that we are in a time where a new Starcraft game and Civilization game are being released within the same year. To me, THAT is amazing.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Review: Far Cry 2

Four years after Jack Carver’s mutated tropical exploits and the subsequent remakes and ports for the consoles, Ubisoft Montreal took the reigns from the original developers Crytek, for the latest instalment in the series that has always prided itself on overtly foliaged first person combat .

Far Cry 2 bears no real direct comparisons to its predecessor in terms of the tropical scenery, and both the original protagonist Carver and his mutated abilities have been discarded altogether in favour of providing a more recognizably realistic impression to the setting and storyline.

Set in a fictional African region divided into two lawless and ungoverned territories; the North, Leboa-Sako and the South, Bowa Seko, FC2 revolves around the ongoing power struggle between the UFFL (United Front for Liberation and Labour) and the APR (Alliance for Popular Resistance).

Arriving in the area as a lone mercenary, you are tasked with eliminating an infamous arms dealer dubbed ‘The Jackal’ who is profiting from supplying arms to both rival factions, essentially fuelling the conflict between the two for the procurement of personal wealth. In order to reach him, the player must complete missions for both the UFFL and the APR, often playing the two off against each other to progress.

It’s a plot that would certainly struggle to win too much critical acclaim in the originality stakes, yet FC2 is by no means intending to be a game driven by a powerful or emotive narrative. The basic premise of the story gives you a licence to do what is integral to the games core factor for enjoyment; a healthy dose of death and destruction.

FC2 is not an FPS that sticks to the linear conventions we’ve come to expect from the genre. Rather than opting for claustrophobic corridor based action or the deceptively large, yet fundamentally restrictive set pieces encountered in say, Halo, here, there is a vast expanse of map to traverse, with mission markers and points of interest highlighted via your in-game GPS.

While the hybrid of and FPS and a sandbox title is a relatively original concept, it can be detrimental to FC2’s overall pacing. This is due to the long and often arduous treks you’ll be constantly asked to take from A to B. Missions will often seem particularly ground out and chore-like because of the sheer amount of travelling between locations involved.

The gradient of the landscape is often far to steep to simply cut across country and instead you’ll have to stick to the roads and as a result constantly become embroiled in fire fights at the many guard posts scattered throughout the world. At first, it’s undoubtedly entertaining dispatching of these foes in new and elaborate ways, yet after a while it results in achieving a simple task such as; leave the safe house at point A, and assassinate the target at point B, become excessively and unnecessarily drawn out affairs. There is a fast travel system implemented at coach stops, but these themselves tend to be in very remote and hard to reach locations, often raising the question if it’s actually worth detouring to one to speed up proceedings.

The key to maximising appreciation of FC2’s undoubtedly brilliant aspects is maintaining a degree of patience. This is by no means an all action, openly accessible pick up and play shooter. You will have to invest a substantial amount of playing time and endure some decidedly frustrating gameplay aspects in order to truly acknowledge the finer inclusions the title has to offer.

Although the constant guard post battles can grate when trying to complete a primary mission, the combat, though not without drawbacks, is where the game earns its appraisal.

Compliant to most FPS weapon systems, you start with some pretty basic and shabby weaponry, but by earning diamonds (FC2’s currency) through completing main objectives and side quests, powerful and ever more reliable upgrades can be acquired, thus making gunplay an all the more a joyous experience.

Starting off with a rusty pistol, you’ll often find it jamming mid combat as well as being woefully underpowered and inaccurate. Frustrating at first, yes, but once that rusty pea shooter is replaced by a lethal Mac-10 you’ll gain a real sense how well the developers have implemented the upgrade system to reflect the improved quality and feel of the weaponry throughout. They’ve captured the feeling of gradual empowerment expertly, never giving you an outrageously overpowered weapon early on, but rather making you earn the right to use and perhaps most importantly, to have fun with them later in proceedings.

Those initially exasperating situations when attempting to dispatch of a small army with a pathetic array of guns are all forgiven when rolling up to an encampment armed to the teeth with an Uzi, Dragunov sniper rifle, flamethower or RPG just to name a few.

This is where the aforementioned need for patience truly cements itself. Stick with FC2 and there is immense fruition to be extracted from the experience. Mounted machine guns, grenades, molotovs and IEDs are also involved in an extensive arsenal of nearly thirty different instruments of death, each feeling suitably unique and pleasurable to wield. This variety lends itself to a sense of tactical foreplanning, choosing either a highly explosive or long range load out depending on your desired style of combat.

Unfortunately the AI can often feel rather imbalanced. For instance, whilst up close, enemies seem to loose all sense of tactical awareness and are laughably easy to outflank and outwit. Contrast this to a battle at range however, and they can appear unfeasibly accurate. You may end up darting around, hiding behind cover constantly getting hit by an enemy you can’t see, let alone return fire towards, which is irritating to the extent that simply counting your losses and running away is often the favoured outcome in the hope that he will come to you instead. However, these are minor shortcomings that shouldn’t be too detrimental to an otherwise excellent combat system.

The buddy system is certainly worth noting and is a welcome inclusion when inevitably overwhelmed at some stage throughout the course of the game. Buddies are recruited via specific missions (releasing them from imprisonment more often than not) and will return the favour by dragging you to safety (if a bond has been built up and you have gained enough ‘history’ with each ally) when your health reaches zero. They will constantly ask you to subvert missions given by the factions, often involving fulfilling a sub-task for them before returning to the main objective. This will cause the mission to become stretched out, usually involving more time spent on foot or in a vehicle, however, complying with your buddy’s wishes is entirely optional if you don’t fancy the elongated alternative to the primary mission.

The mission structures of FC2 are relatively straightforward and tend to involve destroying a rival factions hardware, assassinating a target or eliminating a convoy carrying opposing goods. These are admittedly fairly basic and standard objective conventions but they often result in some stunning fire fights and explosive set pieces across the African terrain.

By and large the games looks stunning. Beautiful lighting effects compliment the jungle, rock face and desert sections across the two regions. Waging war at sunrise or dusk is a visual delight, the backdrops playing host to some particularly atmospheric and immersive action scenes. Although there is a day/night cycle implemented in FC2, simply to appreciate the games graphical qualities and for ease of spotting enemies, you will most probably opt to go about your mercenary duties from morning onwards rather than in darkness. That said the more stealth favouring players may well choose do the exact opposite as you’ll never be forced into doing a mission at a strict time period.

Two years after release, Far cry 2 can be picked up at most second hand shops for less than ten pounds, a veritable bargain, especially for FPS fans who have grown disillusioned with the endless reams of mediocre shooters that tend to populate the shelves.

The game undoubtedly has its faults and frustrations that will require time and patience to overcome, yet it is also big (around 25 hours of campaign playing time), different, and once immersed in the scenery and extensive arsenal on offer to the player, immensely enjoyable and rewarding.

Invest time in Far cry 2 to fully appreciate its qualities, certainly worth purchasing for the cheap price tag alone.