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.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Review: EA Sports Active 2

Combining gaming with fitness is an ingenious premise, don't you think? All that criticism about gamers being slovenly and bone idle go out the window thanks to the latest generation of consoles and developers' impetus to get us up off the sofa and stretching, sprinting and sweating in front of our televisions.

It's perhaps a little misleading to class EA Sports Active 2 as a game. Instead, it's a fitness title, aimed at both beginners and diehard exercise fanatics that should really help to boost your health levels should you keep "playing". Although it's now available for the Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 - as a recently converted fan of Kinect, Megabits couldn't resist the temptation to put the 360's version through its paces.

After a thorough playtest, our muscles agree that it feels just like going to the gym. There are over 70 exercises of varying difficulty available - although the non-360 versions apparently boast a few more. Even if you have only a few minutes to spare, that's no excuse: workouts last from a few minutes to almost an hour, and include your typical lunges, squats and stretches. More advanced exercises include floor work, mountain biking, football skills, dodgeball and boxing to boost your cardio. Alternatively, you can commit to a longer term program designed by trainers that will keep you puffing for three or nine weeks.

Within the hefty-looking packaging (it comes in a decent-sized box) EA have included a funky-looking heart rate monitor (and batteries), as well as a tension strip to make those exercises even more taxing. Being a gadget freak, these "freebies" more than justify a price tag that is slightly higher than your typical new release. Once you’ve synced your console with the monitor and strapped it on to your arm, your heart rate pops up onscreen and - along with a calorie counter - tells you whether you're efforts are really making a difference to your wasteline.

The main menu shows an array of options, although this can be slightly tricky to negotiate if you rely solely on the Kinect sensor – my recommendation is to keep a conventional controller handy. From this screen, you can dive straight into a preset routine or get one specially generated for you. If you don't fancy doing certain exercises (or your achy limbs can't take any more) you can deselect them as required. Besides exercise, another section explains how to adopt a more healthy lifestyle - a simple click and you're whisked off to a personalised nutrition guide and diary, which keeps track of your efforts and makes helpful suggestions. Like a lot of EA's titles, there's also the option to build up a profile, customize everything about your appearance, and even head to the game's website to check your progress and share results with friends.

After watching simple tutorials, your trainer (male or female, depending on preference) talks you through each workout. It's all set against subtle background music and takes place in a variety of outdoor settings akin to those fitness television programmes that feature beautiful people on some beach somewhere in Austrailia. Graphically, it's nothing exceptional but it does the job nicely and sets the scene. Initially, with all that music, it’s all very calming and relaxing... until the gentle warm up exercises are over and the real work begins. I guarantee you’ll quickly build up a sweat and feel the burn – which at least goes someway to justify your purchase; EA Sports Active 2 actually seems to work.

The software uses the Kinect motion controller fairly effectively although you need heaps of space in your living room for it to work as it should. There are occasions where lag is noticeable and the sensor fails to pick up movement (it doesn't seem as accurate or sensitive as Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, for example, or Dance Central for that matter).There's also a frustrating glitch that sometimes sees your workout suddenly interrupted and the menu screen pop up for no apparent reason – although forums suggest that turning off the voice recognition solves this. Some of the exercises and arm movements also fool Kinect into thinking you want to Kinect pause screen to come up.

As mentioned above, it’s also far easier to dispense with the arm waving when trying to negotiate the multitude of menus and refer back to the conventional controller – a bit of a shame considering Kinect’s “you are the controller” claim. Saying that though, none of these issues should be a deal breaker.

Floorwork is also a little hit and miss, with the sensor occasionally failing to pick up my frantic gesticulations. Sometimes my reps were ignored by my increasingly agitated onscreen trainer (she wasn't really - but beneath her grin I knew she wasn't happy) and I was forced to turn in a few more to reach the target - frustrating at the time but ultimately it's an additional boost to my fitness levels!

There are a multitude of sports and fitness that have already made their way on to Kinect but EA Sports Active 2 is one of the more comprehensive packages.
If you stick to the training program and resist the temptation to give in and return to your usual spot on the sofa, you'll quickly feel the benefits.

EA Sports Active is certainly better structured than the other fitness titles currently available and does feel like you've got a personal trainer right there in your home. At the cost of little more than a single month's gym membership, it's well worth a try - just make sure you take regular breaks and drink plenty of water as those muscles are gonna ache! Mine still are.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sony unveils Next Generation Portable

The internet is awash with news of the latest addition to Sony’s line up – the Next Generation Portable (or NGP to its friends). It may look just like the original PlayStation Portable (PSP) and, for that matter, it may sound like the original PlayStation Portable - but it’s got gamers bristling with anticipation. It’s due out later this year so there’s plenty of time to put some money aside - but should Nintendo be quaking in its boots?

The NGP specs sheet is suitably exciting: besides the fairly meaty processor there’s the 5-inch organic light emitting display (OLED) touch screen, a touchpad on the back(!), motion sensor, gyroscope, accelerometer, cameras on the front and back, dual analogue sticks, and good old Wi-Fi and 3G thrown in for good measure. What’s more, a new flash memory card is being introduced to store games and content (as if there weren’t enough memory cards already, eh?). Anyone miss the UMD discs from the 2004 PSP? No, didn’t think so.

Full specifications (from Sony)

CPU: ARM® Cortex™-A9 core (4 core)
External Dimensions: Approx. 182.0W x 18.6H x 83.5D mm
Screens (Touch Screen): 5 inches (16:9), 960 x 544, approx. 16 million colours, OLED multi touch screen, capacitive type
Rear touch pad: Multi touch pad, capacitive type
Cameras: Front camera, rear camera
Sound: Built-in stereo speakers, built-in microphone
Sensors: Six-axis motion sensing system (three-axis gyroscope, three-axis accelerometer), three-axis electronic compass
Location: Built-in GPS, Wireless location service support
Keys / Switches: PS button, Power button, Directional buttons (Up/Down/Right/Left), Action buttons (Triangle, Circle, Cross, Square), Shoulder buttons (Right/Left), Right stick, Left stick, START button, SELECT button, Volume buttons (+/-)
Wireless communications: Mobile network connectivity (3G), IEEE 802.11b/g/n (n = 1x1) (Wireless), (Infrastructure Mode/Ad Hoc Mode), Bluetooth 2.1+EDR (A2DP/AVRCP/HSP)

Must admit I quite like the rear touch screen thing - check out the video below at around 45 seconds...

A gaggle of journalists crammed themselves into the Sony press conference in Tokyo, Japan, yesterday to hear the news and coo over the sleek black device. Plenty of third party publishers are said to be getting onboard too, which suggests a raft of pretty decent games will soon be available. The prospects of playing Metal Gear Solid 4, Uncharted and Call of Duty is enough to get us positively salivating. There were some more social aspects regarding the console too – including the ability to use the 3G and check where nearby gamers are and what they’ve been playing.

The price for this new bit of kit hasn’t yet been announced but CVG reports that industry analyst Michael Pachter suggests it could cost around $250/£200. Can’t quite get my head around whether that sounds a little cheap considering PS3-equivalent gaming on the move, or whether consumers will baulk at Sony asking them to dip into their pockets so soon after the PSPgo!

What’s more, Sony says that PlayStation games will soon be available for mobile phones that run Android! That will certainly keep us going until Sony launches the rumoured PlayStation phone we all want so much.

Me? I’m going to dust off my old PSP and give Lumines another go.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Golden eras of gaming: Wii Part II

While part one of our rundown of the Wii’s best games may have highlighted Nintendo’s habit of repackaging old content alongside newer goodies, the entries in part two just go to show why this isn’t a problem-old games can reach previously undreamt of heights on the Wii, whilst the best new titles are good enough not to be overshadowed.

5. Super Mario Galaxy
While its sequel may have added Yoshi-riding and some avant-garde level design to the mix, it’s here in Super Mario Galaxy that we first see the bulk of the features that make both games such deserving high-scorers. The differing gravity effects, clever power ups and the hub/galaxy/worlds structure all made their debut here, and as such, Super Mario Galaxy moved our expectations of both the Wii and the Mario series up a few notches. There aren’t many games that can change your perception of both software and hardware capabilities in one fell swoop, but this one managed it.

4. No More Heroes
Suda 51’s deft touch strikes so many perfect notes with No More Heroes. The cartoonish adventures of Travis Touchdown’s quest to lightsaber his way to the status of No:1 Assassin might have an underdeveloped open world structure, but in every other respect it walks a tightrope perfectly. It's a hardcore game that doesn’t resort to drenching the screen with buckets of gore, it musters a few touches of juvenile humour without actually becoming childish, it leavens its scatological moments with some higher satire and, amazingly, it actually makes use of the Wiimote in a way that feels natural and effective.

3. Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
I’ve complained in the past that Twilight Princess feels like a Legend of Zelda greatest hits compilation, a game that’s too busy pushing all the old buttons to find anything new to offer, and I stand by that assessment. Improved graphics aside, there’s nothing to experience here that you wouldn’t also find in Ocarina of Time. But before I damn too hard with this faint praise, lets just remember what an incredible game Ocarina of Time actually was. Simply being able to live up to it is an incredible triumph for Twilight Princess, so maybe we should give it extra kudos for matching its predecessor and being prettier to boot.

All those wonderful things you expect of a Zelda game are here: that wonderful childlike sense of anticipation as you explore new caves, forests and dungeons. The slow and painstaking untangling of plot points and puzzles that unfold over hours instead of minutes. The repeating learning curves of challenge, frustration and triumph, and the sweetly idyllic environment of Hyrule (admittedly looking a little beshadowed this time out) are all set out for your enjoyment. Plus, you get to play as wolf too, how cool is that? (Shut up Okami, I’m not placing you any higher.)

2. Metroid Prime Trilogy
As the first Metroid Prime game for the Wii I had intended to give this spot solely to Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, but the availability of the last-gen games ported to the Wii and bundled with MP3:C was too good a bargain to resist, even if it is enough combined gameplay to see you through till Summer.

The appeal of Metroid games is simple. You start out powerful and grow steadily more so as you try to unpick a convoluted space-opera plot by exploring and re-exploring numerous brightly coloured and cleverly designed worlds. There’s an enormous sense of satisfaction you get from returning to places you’d previously visited only to find that your new abilities will now help you enter areas that frustrated you the first time around, and the joy of progress is complemented by the exhilarating combat that results from the Prime series’ shift into first person shooting.

1. Resident Evil 4
As the game that started the shift away from survival horror and towards the action oriented meat-headedness of Resident Evil 5, there’s an urge to be a little dismissive of Resident Evil 4, but once you stop to give it some thought you’ll be swept away in how good it all is.

Hours and hours of gameplay unfold across rural backwoods, ancient castles and deserted laboratories, and are punctuated by numerous excellent set-pieces and boss battles. It’s actually impossible to pick a defining moment from the flood of excellence on offer. Your first hessian-headed chainsaw wielder? The chitinous headman in the burning barn? The knights in the darkened hallways? Those terrible, terrifying doughlike hosts? I could go on and on and on, the game boast so many high points.

Just being a great game isn’t enough to make it the number one Wii game, however. What really makes it stand out is the perfect implementation of the Wii’s motion controls combined with the inclusion of all the special extras and mini-games such as Mercenaries and the Seperate Ways storyline. More content and better controls than any other edition of the game makes Resident Evil 4 the ultimate rarity, a cross-platform game that is at its very best on the Wii.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Review: nail'd

Racing games nowadays pride themselves on being steeped in realism, of capturing the very essence of speeding round a track and providing gamers with the closest thing to actually being strapped into a vehicle. So it's perhaps refreshing that Deep Silver and Techland's ATV/motocross title, nail'd, does none of the above. Not even close. Nowhere near. It's about as far from realistic as you can get. Nail'd is just plain silly... but in a good, old fashioned, highly enjoyable way!

The game, pegged for an early-February release, is the daftest, most ludicrous racer I've had the pleasure of playing since my 8-bit days when Buggy Boy was the pinnacle of driving simulators. It's somewhat inevitable that nail'd may draw comparisons with Disney and Black Rock's Pure and it will, no doubt, be mentioned in the same breath as THQ's upcoming MX vs ATV Alive but nail'd is an altogether different kettle of fish. Afterall, it's just plain silly.

Physics don't get a look in - this is an arcade game, no doubt about it. Fast, furious and fun. The premise is simple: sitting astride your quad or motorbike, you have to jostle for position with rival riders and race
to the finish line along the most insane tracks you'll ever encounter. The tournament mode sees you progress through various routes inspired by locations around the world, from the arid landscape of Arizona to the historic Greek hills or the tree strewn terrain of Yosemite National Park. And it's fast. Very fast.

The various tracks are twisty with insane vertcial drops and huge bonebreaking leaps of faith. Trees, trucks, trains, planes, wind turbines, rocks, bridges, cranes and hot air balloons - there are obstacles aplenty and I'll wager that you will crash A LOT. But that's the point. Drive at breakneck speed and make it to the end before your opponents. When you crash or head off the track, the developers have ensured you respawn quickly so you're not out of the race. A nitro boost charges along the way, providing even more adrenaline-fuelled goodness and can be topped up thanks to "nailing" a perfect landing after a jump, or steering through flaming flags and rings.

Ah, yes, the steering; another element that cheekily tweaks the nose of realism. Harking back to the good old days of arcade racers, sharp turns are the order of the day - and prove essential thanks to the sudden inclines and turns in the track. Fortunately, unless you're airborne, the wheels of your trusty mount remain firmly stuck to the ground as though slathered in treacle. And when you are in the air, you can steer too - I'm not talking about a subtle lean to either side to influence your descent... I'm talking about full on steering - completely flouting the laws of gravity and meaning you can move your bike while aloft. Sounds daft - and it is - but it actually works.

Visually, it all looks great - the whole thing is more than a little reminiscent of Megabits favourite Split/Second (another game from the Disney/Black Rock stable - see our review after the jump). And the soundtrack is appropriately rocky, with the likes of Slipnot and Queens of the Stone Age lending their tunes to the proceedings. However, there is the sense that after an hour of two of play - you feel as though you've seen all there is to see.

What there is proves to be good fun, but a lack of tricks and stunts to pull off while racing, minimal upgrading and customisation options for your vehicles and a lack of variety aren't compensated for by the numerous game modes or the multiplayer online options.

Certainly, nail's is great fun. It looks, sounds and plays well and is great for a quick fix of adrenaline. Quite whether you'll be playing this in a few month's time is debatable - but it's definitely worth a rental.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Megabits column: Call of Duty Black Ops

A few months ago, Megabits of Gaming was asked to contribute a monthly column in Charged Middle East – a leading Dubai-based gadgets and games magazine that provides news, reviews and features on the latest home and consumer electronics.

Each month, Megabits takes a look at a new release in a gaming franchise and considers how its evolved over the years and what makes it great!

Here’s the first of the articles from the December 2010 issue. For more about the magazine, check out its Facebook page after the jump.

Hot on the heels of EA’s first foray into modern day combat with its Medal of Honor franchise, November saw the much-awaited release of Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops. US developer Treyarch – the brains behind Call of Duty 3 and Call of Duty: World at War – takes the reigns for the latest outing, hoping to surpass the astronomical sales seen Modern Warfare 2, the biggest selling title in the series’ history.

Virtual war is clearly big business. Black Ops’ predecessor amassed sales of over $1bn within just a few months of its release, and gamers have spent billions of hours online to keep it top of the most played charts. The launch trailer suggests that Black Ops is going to be bigger and better than ever before – new environments, weapons and vehicles, all accompanied by Treyarch’s typical grittiness and gore.

Award-winning actors Gary Oldman and Ed Harris lend their voices to the game – the former reprising his role as Viktor Reznov from World at War, with Harris cast as one of the main characters, CIA operative Jason Hudson. And what’s more, the zombies return to liven up proceedings.

It’s all quite a contrast to the series’ humble beginnings in 2003. Back then, World War Two was the theatre and the British, US and Russians were the players. There were no FAMAS assault rifles, sentry guns or UAVs – just good old rifles and pistols.

It’s inevitable it will be a huge success as it sticks closely to the original’s winning formula: the combination of its trademark arcadey feel with a strong narrative and immersive graphics and sound. The franchise doesn’t claim to be a tactical shooter like Codemaster’s Operation Flashpoint games, nor does it add paranormal elements like the Wolfenstein series – every edition is simply a fantastically atmospheric wartime shooter that’s forgiving on its lower difficulty settings but reassuringly frustrating on its toughest. WWII-based Call of Duty took you through 24 missions across four interconnected campaigns – but there was plenty of variety to keep things interesting, from large-scale frontal assaults to stealth and vehicle missions.

What’s more, you could almost justify the many hours wasted playing it by saying that you were actually learning something thanks to the authenticity of its weapons and environments. The pacing was unparalleled, putting you right in the midst of the D-Day landings, or the epic battles in Stalingrad and Berlin.

Perhaps its charm and longevity comes from its pick-up-and-play appeal; it’s not necessary to contort your fingers into some inexorable position to master the controls. Or maybe it’s the fact that once the compelling single player story-led component is complete, gamers can rest assured that they will get their money’s worth through the exhaustive online multiplayer options.

From your typical Death Match mode to the Capture The Flag or Free For All games, there was plenty to keep you coming back for more, as you pit your wits against others from across the globe. As the sales of its series suggest, this war-themed FPS somehow manages to bring people together unlike any other game.

All too often, titles are dubbed “Classics” or “Must Haves” but few would bet against Black Ops quickly shooting to the top of the charts. It may be set in the depths of the Cold War but it’s certainly the most hotly-anticipated title of the year.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Review - Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

So I’ve never read Journey to the West, the ye ‘olde Chinese storyline that Enslaved is claiming to be inspired by. Though I can extrapolate my experiences from the Dante’s Inferno game and pick out the parts of Enslaved that were altered for the American video game-playing public. I don’t think Journey to the West has, for example, a post-apocalyptic setting, or a hero so chiseled that he can regenerate health by flexing his traps. (Though the game’s one single homage to Asian fiction may be that the dude has spiky Dragonball Z hair.) And I loosely recall hearing that Journey to the West is about a Buddhist monk and not a shapely female whose tube top is eager to explode and reveal its contents. And I doubt China had gun-toting mechs or an electrical hoverboard back then, but I have no proper evidence.

And I don’t think there was any of Andy Serkis’ motion capture back then, but who knows. The events of Middle Earth could easily predate any of the four great Chinese novels. This is the labour of love of Gollum’s native studio in Ninja Theory, the people that brought us the great looking, not-great-playing Heavenly Sword. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is teaching me the lesson that people climbing the corporate ladder already know; that you can overcome a whole lot of weaknesses if you are very attractive and flaunt it. The environments are both technically stunning and aesthetically built to tell a story. Even without an official explanation, we know that some apocalyptic war happened in the game, and that it happened so long ago that humanity doesn’t quite know what any of this wreckage means. The motion-capture of the characters is done convincingly enough that emotions are conveyed and you can look them in the eyes to see a soul not buried beneath the uncanny valley. Enslaved is a very easy game to find yourself emotionally linked to.

So protagonist Monkey finds himself narrowly surviving the crash of a slaver ship, only to be reenslaved by the skimpy Trip and her mind-control headband. Thus, Monkey must navigate the wasteland that was…I mean is New York to take Trip home. I was half-relieved to find out that there little-to-nothing in the way of escort missions. There are sparse moments where Trip is in danger, but they are almost all pre-planned and never feel cheap like a typical video game escort mission failure. Likewise, Trip sometimes makes herself useful; she can create a hologram distraction of…star-thingys to get the attention of not-very-smart gun turrets while you sneak up behind them to perform a mo-capped Andy Serkis-style fatality. And she provides the hub for you to upgrade your abilities. (Believe me when I say that the sooner you get the Focus Attack, the sooner you will find the secret to inner peace.) So you do most of your fighting with Monkey’s funky staff. Combat is less preoccupied with improbable air combos than it is watching your back and breaking the enemy mechs’ defenses. So there’s a slight sense of strategy in trying to fight your foes. You’ll have to forgive the camera though, for it finds Monkey’s hair to be so entrancing that it takes every chance to zoom in and pay no mind to the enemies that are about to ambush you. The good news is that, except for maybe one or two segments near the end of the game, the combat sequences are spread out far enough that you never feel a sense of mech-fatigue.

The other literary-inspired game that I kept finding myself comparing Enslaved to is Beyond Good and Evil (a game that has damn near nothing to do with Fredrich Nietzsche’s piece.) This is more of a positive comparison; Beyond Good and Evil didn’t do any one gameplay element great, but was smart at mixing them up in a larger, cohesive adventure. Enslaved has about four different gameplay modes that are wisely intertwined together with dialogue of Monkey and Trip bonding. If you’re not evading gun turrets or smashing up robots, maybe you’ll be riding your hoverboard across aquatic terrain and through the minefields.

Or perhaps you’ll undergo the most dominant of the gameplay mechanics, the traversal. Monkey can earn his name and leap around on ledges and cliffs as good as any Persian royalty can. The thing about this game’s parkour is that all of the ledges and pipes that you can navigate are glowing so that you can actually see them amidst all of the game’s Unreal-engine textures. And the game dictates that Monkey can only jump and climb to designated locations. You cannot, for example, jump off a cliff to your death, or make a blind jump into a wall. Thus the game leads to two different scenarios; either you will feel like the king of swing as you Serkis-jump from one nudge to another with relative ease, or get annoyed as you flip around the analog stick mashing the A button looking for the next ledge to climb.

Though again, you may not mind. Just like you may not mind the simplicity of the puzzles, which are almost all entirely about flipping switches and telling Trip to flip switches. (And Trip can lag for many seconds are you ask her kindly to pull that lever.) Part of it goes back to the game’s great sense of variety, but part of this is also the investment I found myself having with the main characters. The game is very good at developing the relationship between Monkey and Trip, two entities that gradually begin to trust each other in spite of their forced bond. More than most games, Enslaved seems to have a bit of a spirit.

But I found myself losing a lot of the goodwill I amassed by the game’s ending. A disclaimer; I am the kind of person who’s entire experience can be soured by a poor ending. Thank you very much, entire Assassin’s Creed franchise. The bulk of the game gives no identity to the villains, other than that they have murderous robot minions and like to take slaves. The ending makes a spontaneous attempt to paint the evil force as sympathetic in an illogical, very Serkis-like manner. The epilogue (which I guessed correctly about halfway through the game) clashes entirely against the gameplay experience you’ve been having thus far and kind of taints the rest of the game. I was decidedly pissed off, and it wasn’t until I started writing this review that I started remembering the better parts of Enslaved.

Not to give business advice to highly-paid corporate executives at Namco-Bandai, but do you think you could’ve waited a few months to release Enslaved? Besides giving Ninja Theory some time to smooth out the rougher parts of the game, it would also had a good deal less competition in the market, and thus garnered more attention. I wasn’t going to give Enslaved the time of day until recently anyways, and I was willing to pay full price. In its current form, Enslaved isn’t a mandatory playing experience, but one worth examining if you have a week or two that needs filling between your soulless first person shooter of the month.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Golden eras of gaming: Wii

It seems slightly odd to be doing a Golden Era of Gaming entry for a console that’s still on the market, but the Wii justifies it. While the Xbox 360 offers a limited degree of backwards compatibility and the PS3 has a generous stab at letting you raid the back catalogue, it’s Nintendo’s motion-control ground breaker that brings you Gamecube and Gameboy Advance compatibility along with the huge number of defunct gaming systems represented on the Virtual Console. In many ways, the Wii is several ‘golden eras of gaming’ rolled into one. But for all the old school love of the 16-bit titles available for download and the Gamecube discs that can be played once you pick up a legacy controller, it’s very easy to forget that there are some great games available in those white branded, current-gen boxes.

Lots of them are ports from the past gen, mind you. Nintendo is often criticised for rehashing past glories, but these days it’s actually just as likely that they’ll simply repackage them instead. In compiling our list of the best games for the console we were surprised to see how many of them were available on older consoles. Still, with the limited time, money and house space available, we’re choosing to be grateful that we don’t have to keep too many old consoles stacked up behind the TV just to play our old favourites.

It was an extremely tough list to compile. Among the honourable mentions are Little King’s Story, which is certainly among the most enjoyable and absorbing games the console has seen, but we felt that its mix of RTS and RPG elements didn’t have as broad an appeal as some other titles. Also missing the cut is Sega’s Madworld, a game that starts of as a glorious riot of lively action and impeccable visual style, but soon becomes juvenile and repetitive. Finally, there’s no Super Smash Bros Brawl. I know a lot of you out there adore it, but beneath all the particle effects and camera zooms, I’ve never found anything to hold my attention. (See internet: a polite and respectful difference of opinion, that’s how grown ups do it. Agree to disagree, marvel at the myriad diverse opinions that help make the world interesting, and move on. Without making death threats, you nasty little freaks.)

So here's the first part of our top ten picks of Wii goodness:

10. Resident Evil Archives: Resident Evil
What am I going to do when I have to write one of these lists for a console on which there are no Resident Evil games to choose? Well, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. In the meantime, this port or the Gamecube’s Resident Evil remake represents one of the high points of the survival horror genre. The puzzles genuinely engage your brain and give you a great sense of progress and satisfaction as they unlock ever more interesting and varied locations. There’s also real tension, as the zombies and monsters represent a serious threat to your perpetually outgunned character. There’s even that real rarity of videogames: a genuinely moving, tragic villainess. Frankly, if it weren’t such a direct, bare bones port, Resident Evil Archives: Resident Evil would be much higher on the list.

9. Mario Kart Wii
While there isn’t anything hugely innovative in this sixth instalment of the Mario Kart series, it succeeds by combining a huge amount of content with a gameplay model that’s a proven winner. Bikes, 36 karts of different power classes, 24 characters, 32 tracks, racing, time trial and battle modes-this version of Mario Kart offers everything. Well, almost everything. Frankly, we’d have liked to have had a free-for-all battle mode included. Still, that minor complaint aside, Mario Kart Wii offers plenty of ways to try out its accessible mix of skilled racing and lucky weapon use, and is one of the Wii’s stand out multiplayer titles.

8. Rogue Trooper: Quartz Zone Massacre
Using nearly a whole article’s worth of hyphens in one go, this is the third-person, sci-fi tactical-cover-shooter that was doing what third-person, sci-fi tactical-cover-shooters do before all the other third-person sci-fi tactical-cover-shooters started doing it too. Playing as everyone’s favourite vat-grown, genetically modified future soldier from the pages of 2000AD, you shoot your way across the war ravaged Nu-Earth, ducking behind handy waist high barricades whenever the gunfire gets a bit too heated, and slowly try to track down the traitor who sold out your unit and got your buddies killed. That all-action premise on its own is well executed enough to earn Rogue Trooper: Quartz Zone Massacre a high score, but the added twist is that the ‘ghosts’ of your dead buddies are preserved on microchips inserted into your equipment and offer all sorts of additional skills-you can hack computers, transmit decoy holograms, set up sentry turrets, throw your voice and more besides, meaning that there’s any number of ways to tackle each tricky situation the game throws at you.

7. Super Mario Galaxy 2
What can you say about the Super Mario Galaxy series? Well, if you’re me you could probably say “I don’t like platform games.” But despite my curmudgeonly distaste for carefully timed running and leaping, it has to be said the Super Mario Galaxy 2 has an abundance of that rarest and most wonderful of gameplay intangibles: the one-more-go factor. From its brightly coloured hub world to the seemingly bottomless invention of its many galaxies, SMG2 took the addictive platforming of its predecessor and adds some truly innovative level concepts that could have supported a game in their own right. The combination of familiarity and fascination means that you’ll always want see a little more, to try out the next challenge, to have another go, and another, and another, until it’s time to phone in sick for work.

6. Okami
This cel-shaded, stylised work of beauty was originally a PS2 game from 2006, but we can all count ourselves lucky that it got a Wii port, as it is one of those challenging yet mellow and contemplative games that come along so rarely, and are talked about for years after. This is one of those few games that can be spoken of in the same breath as Ico or Shadow of the Colossus. Playing as the Goddess Amaterasu in the form of a wolf, you move through a woodcut version of pre-feudal Japan, adventuring, puzzling and platforming your way towards the lifting of a curse on the land. The Zelda-esque feel of the game combined with its particular setting would be enough to earn it high praise, but he ‘celestial brush’ mechanic that allows you to draw useful new items and elements such as wind or fire into the woodcut adds an extra dimension to this beautiful game.

Part two to follow...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gamerscore Challenge: first update

I have unfortunately failed to be as prolific as Ibwib this past fortnight (blame that on recently acquiring the legendary Demon's Souls on PS3), but I've made a semi-decent amount of headway. I've moved from 23,620 to 24,410 meaning that I've raked in fairly respectable 790G.

Since the proverbial gauntlet was laid down, my score can roughly be attributed to the following: around a further 400G added to AC Brotherhood, a ridiculously cheap 200G on freebie Harms Way, a further 90G from sombre indie platformer Limbo that I missed the first time around, and perhaps the pertinent thorn in the side of my personal quest - 100G so far from Oblivion.

Now I'm aware that Oblivion is not exactly a veritable goldmine of quick and easy achievements, but I've set myself a side challenge of getting the full gamerscore for it (DLC included) before the epic looking Skyrim blesses us with its presence.

In summary, I've had the most fun with AC Brotherhood, although I'll probably leave that for the time being at 770G (I think?, I may be mistaken) as I'm not really the sort of gamer that will spend hours scouring the world for flags that will give me a measly 20G boost.

By far the easiest 200G I'll ever earn was in Harms Way. A) the game is free, and B) it took me literally half an hour to get the full score. In the next couple of weeks I'll be relying on Dead Space 2 and perhaps a couple of second hand titles to reinvigorate my charge to the set goal.

Happy hunting to my fellow competitors...

New Year's Gaming Resolutions

Ok, it’s nearly three weeks into the New Year, but I’ve been busy. We all moan about the things we wish developers would and wouldn’t do, the cheap habits they’ve got into and the beloved mechanics we wish they’d bring back. Gamers are a demanding bunch, and it seems to me that if I’m going to demand greater effort and commitment from developers, then I should show greater effort and commitment myself, so here are my personal New Years Gaming Resolutions. I’m hoping the rest of the Megabits team makes a few gaming resolutions as well, particularly Bojeeva, who needs to resolve not to lend people Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard - not unless they’ve done something really rotten.

I will not get the hump...
I have a hard drive full of games that I’ve saved after the first twenty minutes and have yet to return to. And not bad games either, these are good games, triple A titles that I’ve bought and started with plenty of vigour and anticipation. The thing is, that first twenty minutes of a game when you haven’t yet accessed enough plot and abilities to get you truly engaged but are having to devote all your concentration to learning the basics tends to be enough to soak up all the enthusiasm I bring to a new game. Once that’s expended, the game is forced to sit on my hard drive for weeks or months until I regain my enthusiasm. They all get played eventually, but I do wonder if that enforced gap between prologue and act 1 has detracted from my appreciation of the plot or pacing of some games. Who knows? All I can say is that in 2011 I will get over that hump in the prologue, and won’t abandon a game unless I’m abandoning it for good.

I will not play on easy...
Honestly, I never used to play on easy. I used to regard at as only a few steps up from cheating, not to mention a waste of the money I’d paid for my games. You know how it is though: a mate lends you a couple of games, you buy a couple, a few arrive from Lovefilm, and before you can say ‘short attention span’ you can see an entire years worth of gaming stretched in front of you: no surprises, no impulse plays, just grind. At least, that’s what happened to me a few months back, and the only way I could see to loosen up my gaming log jam was to get through the games a little quicker. The thing is, I now look at the list of titles in my gaming library and see half a dozen titles that I just don’t feel I’ve finished, despite having sat through the credits. So, resolution number two is to ignore the easy modes. If time is short, I’ll just play fewer games.

I will not play on saddo settings...
And as a counterpoint, I can’t help think of the hours I wasted attempting to slog all the way through Call of Duty 2 on Veteran difficulty. It would normally take me about a week to finish a Call of Duty game (excluding the surprisingly short Modern Warfare), but in the case of CoD2 it took me about a week to finish the first three campaigns. At one point in the slog through Stalingrad I seemed to be spending twice as long staring at the loading screen as I was playing. There were times when simply moving from one room to the next would occupy days of gaming, and slowly but surely the game’s narrative broke down. How could it not, when each new section is preceded by hours upon hours of repetition? So, resolution number 3, I will not turn games from play into hard work by grinding through them on high difficulties just to get the GS.

I will not bitch about duration...
This one comes up time again in the reviews I read, and occasionally in the reviews I write, and I’m going to put a stop to it now. I am no longer going to moan about games being too short. I’ve just finished Split/Second: Velocity and it was very short, and perfectly sized. Any longer and it the joy of the explosive action would have worn off and been replaced by a feeling of déjà vu. Then there’s Portal: two hours if you’re good, six if you’re slow, and one of the most perfectly paced games I’ve ever come across. Conversely, the dumbness of the last two Call of Duties has made me wish they were over sooner. Dead Space was great, but those dim, creaking corridors got samey a couple of hours before the game had the decency to end, and don’t get me started on my tiresome slog through the first Mass Effect. No, I’ve decided, a game isn’t too short just because it’s good enough to leave me wanting more. I will only call a game too short if I feel genuinely short changed (say, less than six hours of good gameplay), and I’ll make sure that padded games don’t get an easy ride just because they give you a lot of play per pound.

I will not use mealy mouthed reviews to justify bad purchases...
Sometimes reviewers give bad games slightly wishy-washy, mealy-mouthed reviews because they’re trying not to give the game a thorough pasting in front of the PRs that supply the next disc of review code. But no matter how cynical you are, I’ve got news for you: that happens much less often than you think. More often, a review is wishy-washy because the reviewer is genuinely ambivalent. They may have identified plenty of strong elements that just don’t add up to an excellent whole, or they may have drawn the short straw and been forced to review a game that has excellent niche appeal but limited value for the broader audience. If you read and write enough reviews you soon learn to identify whether a game is great for a limited audience or rubbish, but in the hands of a gentle reviewer. Problem is, if I’ve got an urge to play a bad game, I’ll happily convince myself that the latter is the former. Nam games, American Civil War games, avant garde manga-styled roguelikes bursting with excellent character design, all these appeal to me. That’s why I convinced myself that the polite distaste in various reviews was more positive than it really was, and bought Shellshock: Nam 67, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, Darkest of Days and Baroque. Oh God, I can’t believe I spent good money on Baroque. Well from now on if I know something smells fishy I’m going to think tinned tuna rather than Thai calamari.

I will try new games and genres...
Did I mention that I’ve just played Split/Second: Velocity and thoroughly enjoyed it? Not so strange you might think, except that I thought I hated racing games, and haven’t played one by choice since Wipeout Fusion. Granted, I’ve been forced to play Forza and Superstars V8 for work, but given my druthers I’d usually steer clear of racing games. This got me thinking-I used to be a stat busting micro manager, utterly at home in the menus of a football management game or an RTS, yet I’ve played neither for years. I love the thinking behind most JRPGs, but never play them as I’m convinced that the reality will be grind and tiresome turn based team combat. My experience with Split/Second has made it clear that I’m hidebound, and have ignored games and genres that probably deserved more than an offhand dismissal. With that in mind, I will try several new games and new genres this year.

So, anyone else got any resolutions?

HMV retails 3DS at £229.99

After the big 3DS reveal in Amsterdam and New York yesterday, HMV have become one of the first retailers back in blighty to officially put the handheld up for pre-order. And yes, it's rather expensive...

At £230 it's hardly a snip, and those hoping to get their hands on it come release day (the 25th March) had better get saving quickly. However, there's no doubting how impressive the 3DS looks from what we've seen so far, and the huge potential it has to revolutionize gaming on the move.

Only time will tell if it justifies the seemingly steep price tag. Here's hoping it will.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Xbox 360 is not a games console - it's official

Certain to get the old fanboys' tongues wagging on either side of the Xbox/PS3 divide, good old Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has revealed that he no longer considers the 360 a games console... it's a family entertainment centre instead!

Granted, Microsoft's little bundle of joy has seen many features added in the past few years to take the machine beyond gaming - from social networking with Facebook and Twitter, to the inclusion of Sky content, Zune, Last FM... and so on. And there's the ability to connect it to your home network, share photos, stream music... but in my home it's still firmly regarded as a gaming machine. I'm no fanboy but I'd argue that my PS3 is far more of an entertainment centre - it's got the web browser, Lovefilm, BBC iPlayer, Spotify and the ability to connect to your home PC. And what about the Blu-Ray player too?!

The debate will no doubt rage on - but personally, my 360 is used far more for gaming than Sony's black box, which I consider more of an overall entertainment system... your thoughts?

Gamerscore Challenge: The first grand.

So, this year’s Gamerscore Challenge has been running for a fortnight. I wasn’t really expecting to have to do an update just yet, but the start of the challenge appears to have coincided with the fastest accumulation of points in my gaming history (unless you count the happy hour or so I spent on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom shortly after discovering the ‘Jimbo’ poke).

Now, you could say that this high scoring fortnight vindicates my theory that it’s better to finish a lot of games for their superficial, surface Gamerscore than it is to drill down into one game chasing after the full 1000. Or you could argue that I received a rather lucky boost thanks to the 200GS available in Harms Way. Whatever way you cut it, my score has risen by 1115GS in fourteen days.

I had some games already under way, but purely in terms of points accumulated since the GS Challenge started, it breaks down this way:

Crash Course: 10GS

Harms Way: 200GS

Call of Duty Black Ops: 350GS

Split/Second Velocity: 490GS

Alan Wake: 75GS

Of course, it’s deeply unlikely there will be another bonanza fortnight like this. Frankly, not many games dish out 200 points in an hour like Harms Way, or strike that particular balance of irritation and compulsion that means you can’t stop playing Call of Duty, but do feel obliged to rush through it to put an end to the dumbness. Things will no doubt slow down now, but it’s nice to get off to a flying start, given that I had my doubts that 7691 in five months was possible for me.

  • Check back for progress updates from the team at the beginning of every month...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

VIDEO: LEGO Call of Duty Black Ops

Danish favourite LEGO has taken the gaming world by storm in recent years. No longer are the little plastic blocks only lurking in the bottom of every self-respecting child’s toy box… there are now countless (well, seven or so) video games that star the yellow-headed fellas too.

From Batman to Harry Potter, and Indiana Jones to Star Wars, no major brand is safe anymore – even Rock Band has a LEGO version. The common denominator is that they’re all crammed full of humour and fun. There are plenty of suggestions out there for future LEGO games but Megabits has come across this video for LEGO Call of Duty Black Ops. Think of the cool kill cam sequences and all those headshots if it were ever released!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Review: Super Meat Boy

While I do tend to talk a fair share about video games to the people in my life, I try to skew the conversation towards the interests of said person. My macho-would-be-tough-guy friends will hear about the time I diced up three straight dudes in a Gears 2 while chugging a Dew down like a man. The women can learn of my sensitive side as I discuss the charming merits of stitching a plush bear’s cut together in Kirby’s Epic Yarn. The older crowd will be excited to learn about the Tommy pinball machine I discovered in a bar at downtown Toronto. But the one dark secret I’ve kept from all of them is an insidious nightmare known as Super Meat Boy.

I can’t tell the casual violence crowd because they think anything that you can’t headshot a person isn’t a worthy video game. I can’t tell the ladies in my life about it because it’s a game starring a piece of meat that continuously excretes blood in a trail like a leaky truck. And I can’t tell the older crowd because the game has more than 4 levels and not a single barrel-smashing hammer to be seen. (Though there’s a great King of Kong reference in the game.) But I think I can tell you, the video game-loving public, the people that wear green mushroom hats and think downloadable games are a viable alternative to the evils of Gamestop, about Super Meat Boy. And I can tell you that I think you should buy Super Meat Boy. Even if it means buying XBLA points at Gamestop. Like I did. Sorry.

You play as the titular hemorrhaging Meat Boy, who is on a nary-ending quest to rescue his girlfriend, Bandage Girl, from the nefarious Dr Fetus. I imagine dozens of sensitive female classmates turning away from this review in disgust already. That is the extent of the game’s narrative. All of the cutscenes in between involve some kind of combination of decrepid Super Happy Tree Friends-like gore humour and parodies of old video games. While I tend to think that 8-bit homages are close to being horribly played out in video games, Super Meat Boy manages to find a few creative victims. When was the last time someone mocked Adventures of Lolo, for instance?

The gameplay is as rudimentary as sidescrolling platformers get. You move, you run by holding a button down, you jump, you do wall jumps. Meat Boy controls like Mario if Mario was perpetually menstruating. Already sounds like about every NES platformer and subsequent Flash game trying to pay homage to every NES platformer.

But as you progress through the game’s levels, things seem to get more and more unsanctimonious. Suddenly, there are more and more spinning blades. And fireballs. And missiles. And other things that will tenderize Meat Boy. If there isn’t a game world element that kills you in one hit, then it may be a fan or portal that transports you to something that kills you in one hit. As of this review, Meat Boy died 9317 times throughout my experience with the game. That is more than the number of women who die in childbirth in Cameroon. (I tried to find a morbid random stat to contrast, this was the best I could do.)

And the game manages to find ways to get more and more demented, in all of the right and wrong ways. Complete a level in a prerequisite time and you’ll unlock a Dark World variation that makes the same level a heaping buttload more difficult. You can find hidden warp zones (which include an announcer audibly vocalizing that you have found a warp zone.) These are fairly challenging sequences that adopt the visual style (and some kind of badass title screen) of old video games. Even more crooked is that you may sometimes stumble across some weird fake-romhack-glitchy stages that are also really, really hard. These are homages to…something I guess. I feel like for every reference to an old game that I picked up on, there were 20 that flew over my head. This is a gamer’s game.

At the same time, I feel like Super Meat Boy has discovered some kind of sacred recipe for how not to discourage a player for dying several times over in a single level, let alone 9000 times. When you die, you respawn instantly at the start of a level with no load time, and the music never loops afterwards. (And as far as video game soundtracks go, this is a gem set. Tommy Tallarico, your Video Games Live show’s setlist just expanded.) Hence, the feeling of repetition never sinks in. Likewise, when you finish a level, a replay of ALL of your previous attempts play at once, and its hella satisfying to watch hundreds of Meat Boys try so hard, followed by the one that ultimately succeeds.

And it helps that the controls on this game are just great. You have full control of Meat Boy’s movements and trajectory of his jumps. When you die in Super Meat Boy, it will always be your fault and not the game’s. Likewise, when you finally succeed in some of the more difficult levels, it is because you suddenly became awesome. You actually get a sense of improvement as you play; that one vicious warp zone level a few worlds back suddenly becomes a breeze once you’ve improved your skill set on subsequent levels. And the game moves super fast too; Super Meat Boy scurries around the areas like he’s in a hurry to change his tampon. The average level length is about 15-60 seconds long, and a Meat Boy’s life span is considerably shorter. Even if all you’re doing is tripping into a razor blade over and over, I rarely found myself bored and frustrated. Rather, I was entranced, constantly trying to get to the next level or overcome the next impossible challenge.

There are all kinds of hidden bandages hidden throughout the world (and they get progressively more and more difficult to dig up.) Collecting a whole hubby-dubby bunch lets you unlock a series of famous, semi-famous and not-quite famous characters from assorted independent games. Each one has their own unique ability; the Boy from I Want To Be The Guy can double jump, Tim from Braid can rewind his movements a tad and so forth. I still used Meat Boy the most for his rapid speed, but I’ve found a handful of moments where many of these hidden characters proved to be beneficial.

If the game has any flaws…well I don’t think I would call them flaws. I heard something of a technical gaffe exists with some of the completion percentages. I managed to unlock the final hidden character despite having 98 bandages instead of the required 100. And I got the “finish every level” achievement despite having some 8 stages to go. I am so not complaining about that. Otherwise, my issues with Super Meat Boy have nothing to do with the game itself. Like how playing Super Meat Boy further withered down the spring in the A button on my controller. Or how I suddenly found myself grinding up on walls and wondering why the wall jump wasn’t executing in Kirby’s Epic Yarn.

And I would like to brag about this; I did finish every level (presented so far, as of this writing) and with it, all achievements and that Meat Boy avatar pet. I feel like my street cred as a video game-playing guy has gone through the roof as a result.

So I found myself loving this game, and am blessed that there is a lot to love. There are some 300-odd levels, and the promise of many more free downloadable levels to come. (One set of 20 downloadable levels already exists, and it is a diabolical set indeed.)

Because of this game, I found myself exploring other “masocore” games in I Want To Be The Guy and Mighty Jill-Off. Those games are…well they are crooked evil in their own way. But I feel like Super Meat Boy is evil in the right way; it has mastered the tricks in getting away with being extremely difficult. In turn, I guess you can call it the Abbey Road of independent Flash based masocore super evil platformers.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Out of iTouch when it comes to modern tech

Unlike many gamers and techno addicts I am of the character that if I see something I want, I wait and wait, primarily for the product to fall in price, before I go out and purchase it. So it would come at no surprise that I have spent months and months debating whether I should get myself an iPhone.

However, my biggest holdback has been focussed on the fact that I already pay for a home Wi-Fi package and thus can not justify paying out a £35+/month fee on top of that, just so I can join the masses of constantly checking my social media apps etc...

So it came as a big surprise when Santa kindly brought me an iTouch. It apparently is everything the iPhone is but without the phone connection. The best bit is I can connect to my home Wi-Fi and ~cough~ join the masses as I randomly download every free app I can get my hands on.

Now many of you with small children are probably pestered regularly by them to play a game on your new gadget – which is great, as it keeps them quiet for a while after all... but be warned! When my four year old niece begged me to let her play on my iTouch, that was fine - I mean, what harm could it do?

Anyways, I'd downloaded a free Smurfs game, which brought back floods of childhood memories. I pass the iTouch to my niece and sit beside her as she happily plays the game.

After a while I notice she's getting a little frustrated and at this point she hands it back to me. To my horror I see that she has entered a ‘Smurf shop’ and is about to buy – yes buy - £59.99 of Smurfberries! I quickly press the cancel button but to my horror a message appears thanking me for my purchase. WHAT!?!?! What purchase? How? This is meant to be a free app!

After a lot of hassle getting my laptop out and trying to sign into my iTunes account, I see that she has bought (unbeknown to her) only a £3.99 bucket of Smurfberries – thank god it was only for that amount. I am really hoping that the iTunes account was up to date and that there aren’t more payment transactions to come.

What really annoyed me is there was nothing stopping her from hitting the buy button over and over – and I seriously can’t believe that it didn’t even ask for a password before letting you buy something.

Overall, it really put a dampener on the whole iTouch thing, to the point that I am now freaking out if there are going to be any hidden charges on any of the apps that I have already downloaded.

Still, teething troubles aside, the smart-looking iTouch does appear to have a great number of applications and uses – so let’s finish this on a positive note and highlight the 10 apps that I've downloaded and so far really love (NB: list does not include anything Smurf related!)

(1) Twitter – I never have time to check Twitter usually, but in this handy format I certainly will be able to dip into it a little more frequent than I have been doing;
(2) Sky News – speaks for itself but I am a news addict so it really suits me;
(3) Met Office – like many Brits I have an OTT interest in the weather, so again ideal for me;
(4) LinkedIn – Great app lets me keep in touch with lots of people on a work basis;
(5) Bar Code Scanner (not free) – really is a dream app for any shopping addict – you can hold it over the bar code of many products and find out how much it cost (great for seeing how miserly anyone may have been with your Xmas present this year);
(6) Argos – really quick and easy way of ordering something and checking if it is in stock;
(7) Bubble Shooter – I am totally addicted and just can't stop playing it – haven’t been this bad since Tetris on the Gameboy;
(8) Mood Finger Scan – simple things as they say - apparently today I am ‘Happy’;
(9) Paper Toss – again another fun addictive game;
(10) Talking Tom Cat – A pet cat that repeats everything you say and the plus is it kept my Niece and I amused for 5 minutes.

As you can see I haven’t downloaded many games yet – so any suggestions and tips are most welcome…

(Photo credit: Apple)

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Review: Metro 2033

Whilst once the corridors of first person shooters were prowled by grizzled space marines with a intolerant attitude towards those of extra terrestrial origin, these days, the emphasis has shifted to a slightly more realistic depiction of armed combat.

From the trenches of WW2 to the deserts of Afghanistan, the FPS has packed its bags and joined the army. It would seem that bar the obvious notable exception, the space marine is verging on extinction whilst the battle hardened war hero is pinning ever more badges to his chest. Whether it's Battlefield, the ill fated Medal Of Honor reboot, or yes, the tyrannical Call Of Duty, the trigger happy are lacing their boots up and heading to the frontline - and that’s where it would seem that the big bucks are being earned.

So in the wake of this thirst for ‘realism’, where does this leave the less conventional FPS? Are developers willing to introduce an original IP into the market simply wasting their time?

Developers 4A Games and publisher THQ’s Metro 2033 can certainly not be accused of adhering to conventions, at least not so in terms of location and atmosphere. Metro is grim, gritty and oppressive, yet strangely, these are the very factors that work in its favour.

2033, and Moscow has been ravaged by a nuclear apocalypse, forcing any survivors below ground into the metro systems of the game’s title. Society has managed to continue functioning in small pockets at the city’s various underground stations, though at a distinctly more primitive level to how they once did.

Taking control of sombre protagonist and narrator Artyom after the prologue, and you’re granted an initial stroll though his home station. Where Metro succeeds is that it constructs a believable living world beneath Moscow’s surface, and an even colder and more unforgiving one up above. Whilst you’re primarily tasked with delivering a message from A to B, simplicity is never at hand in a post-apocalyptic environment.

There is a resilient community feel to some of the stations Artyom encounters throughout his journey across the network; with people conversing at bars, playing the guitar, or studying old pictures of the pre-apocalypse world, and a genuine sense of resistance is portrayed. However, beyond these safe havens, a war of ideologies between communists and fascists rages even despite humanity’s obvious situational plight.

Metro 2033 is an atmospherically strong title, catching the balance between the homely safety of the few dwindling communal stations, with the oppression and darkness that infests the tunnel complex beyond them. Perhaps the most arresting of the surroundings you’ll encounter however, is the dilapidated shell of Moscow when Artyom ventures above ground. Heavily radiated and in the midst of a perpetual snowstorm, this is where Metro really captures the desolation and destruction of post-nuclear fallout.

The safe havens, dark tunnels, war zones and frozen wastes make for compelling, if often suffocating surroundings. In fact, being on the surface - in Artyom’s own words - has a “gloomy charm” to it, when the claustrophobic nature of the metro tunnels threatens to venture into overbearing territory. To say that Metro 2033 is bleak would be an understatement, yet there is a keen attention to detail here despite the constantly aphotic mood.

Of course, as we’re all aware of by now, where there’s radiation there’s an abundance of hideous mutations and Metro doesn‘t shy away from that notion. While many of the surviving human race are intent on wiping each other, and you out, mutated creatures also stalk both above and below ground, meaning there’s no shortage of enemies to introduce to your firepower.

Being atmospherically rich is certainly something Metro 2033 has going in its favour, yet it also needs to stand up as an FPS in its own right without relying too heavily on its well crafted tone to see it through. Whilst going a certain way to achieving this, it unfortunately falls slightly short of the mark.

Whilst the surrounding environments are inspired in their portrayal, the gunplay unfortunately feels mundane in its execution. It seems like rather a wasted opportunity, as the game has gone so far as to establish a credible and potentially exhilarating battlefield, only to let itself down with mediocre combat. It’s by no means terrible, it’s efficient without fulfilling promise. Though it may sound somewhat contradictory, Artyom’s arsenal is devilishly satisfying to wield, though the context in which you actually get employ it doesn’t quite deliver.

The dark, foreboding tunnels and icy urban sprawls are the perfect setting for exhilarating firefights, which bar the occasional inspired set-piece ( keep an eye out for the ‘Librarian’ confrontation for an example of this) fails to truly materialize. As a result, fending off Nazi soldiers, winged demons and supernatural anomalies isn’t nearly as thrilling as it sounds on paper, despite being given the tools to make it so.

As mentioned above, the weapon roster is in fact impressive, and introduces an interesting mechanic. Firstly Metro 2033 knows how to pull off the shotgun with aplomb. Meaty to wield and with devastating stopping power, introducing both barrels to a Nosalis (scurrying, mutated dog-like creatures) at short range is initially smirk inducing in its pleasure, though repetition will inevitably rear its ugly head.

Interestingly, when using the double barrelled shotgun, a barrel is assigned to each trigger. This means that a double squeeze will unleash a devastating volley but will use up precious shells, or to conserve ammo, you can opt for a sparing but substantially less damaging single shot. Though you aren't able dual wield in Metro, most forms of weaponry employ this mechanic. Perhaps it’s emplaced most intuitively in regards to grenades. Holding down the right trigger will raise the grenade/pipe-bomb, whilst the left trigger lights the fuse, and releasing RT again will throw. It’s a slow process, and one that prevents wild spamming, but also a satisfying one, both aesthetically and in terms of effect when pulled off correctly.

Due to the primitive nature of life in the tunnels you’ll also get your hands on pneumatic weaponry. It’s highly powerful, but the drawback lies in having to pump each gun up from time to time as well as reload. When in a fire fight in the pitch black, unaware as to where you’re getting hit from, having to re-pump and reload can be a frustratingly fraught process, thus meaning that you may find yourself relying on a trusty old machine gun more often than not to simplify matters.

An intriguing system is implemented whereby military grade ammo (you’ll most likely be predominantly firing old, less potent bullets) also doubles up as the game’s currency. A predicament arises where using this ammunition on your enemies is highly effective, but you are essentially simultaneously firing off your gathered money. It really brings up a risk/reward dilemma. Should you take down this horde of ‘lurkers’ with military grade ammo, or use the less effective alternative to save currency for more quality fire power? Another fine idea that would have benefited from more intense and exciting gunfights to truly integrate it into the game further.

Metro 2033, besides under developed combat has a few other noticeable niggles: Inevitable on rails sections are marred by ludicrously over sensitive aiming; whilst realistic, when using your gas mask in radiated areas, it can often to fog up and irritatingly obscure your vision; and at times, attempted humour in the dialogue can feel misplaced with such an otherwise grim tonality to proceedings. Also, you get the impression that Metro thinks it’s scarier than it actually is. The potential is undeniably there for it to be so - if anything the hard work has already been done - yet it never grabs the notion of fear by the scruff of the neck and makes it become a reality.

A gripping and undeniably atmospheric game lets itself down by not fully capitalizing on its own strengths. The key term with Metro 2033 is potential. The horrific, expertly crafted post-apocalyptic world has obvious potential to be terrifying, yet rarely achieves it. With some excellent and original weapons, why do so many fire fights lack a much needed spark to really invigorate the combat? Metro 2033 draws up the blueprints of something special without fully constructing the finished article. However, in a world of near extinct space marines and ass-kicking super soldiers, it’s a game certainly worth delving into.