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.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

30 Minute Playtest:Deus Ex:Human Revolution

Don't leave your drinks unattended when this guy is in the bar.

I once had a colleague, a well known and widely respected gaming journalist who had written for just about every gaming magazine you’d care to name, and he swore he could review any game after twenty minutes: get through the credits and cut scenes, play the tutorial and start the first level, that’s all you need do to find out if a game is any good or not. As a newbie games reviewer at the time, it took me only a few months to discover that nine times out of ten, he was right.

The tenth game, however, is likely to be something like Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

The reasoning behind 30 Minute Playtests is simple. In these straitened times there’s now an enormous contingent of gamers getting their games from rental services such as Amazon, Lovefilm and the like. They’re no longer paying for a game, they’re paying for the time they spend with it, and they need to know fast if they’ll get a decent return on their investment or if they’d be better served sending it back in favour of something else. Games have to earn their keep sharpish.

The pitfall here is that 30 minutes with a game like Deus Ex: Human Revolution is just long enough to do some first person shooting. If I lived in an internet-free vacuum or were a young gamer with no memory of the original Deus Ex, what would half an hour tell me about Deus Ex: Human Revolution?

Well, it would tell me that the main character looks like a date rapist and that the stylish lighting and gold-tinged colour palette look as cool as the slightly stiff animations look dated. Between the jerkiness of the motions and the smoothness in the way your character rides up onto desks, boxes and other obstacles, you’ll get a strangely joyous feeling of PSOne nostalgia.

A game can’t get by simply by evoking the last time gaming felt genuinely fresh and creative. It needs to engage the player-and the first 30 minutes of DE:HR manages that. There’s an obvious conspiracy set-up and an almost immediate hint that there will in fact be plans within plans, schemes within stratagems.
The action has a similar hook. Solid cover shooting with a peep-and-pop mechanic meets opponents who react realistically to being shot in the face: they die, rather than shoot back. As a shooter alone, Deus Ex would keep you playing, albeit not obsessively.

And that’s it. That’s what you get from 30 minutes.

Of course, the name Deus Ex is synonymous with variable playing styles. The original was built around choice, with each level able to be carried out via sneaking, hacking, shooting or bashing, while RPG elements allow you to earn points from the action that can be spent on upgrading your weapons and body, improving the myriad skills the game lets you use. Deus Ex: Human Revolution will be no different, with its missions, side missions and an estimated 30 hour play time, all of which will sprawl beyond the confines of our initial 30 minutes. If you want to know how the many game elements mesh, whether the environments are interesting and the characters are engaging, then you’ll have to come back for our full review.

If you want a quick answer to whether it’s worth playing: Yes.

Deus Ex - Jensen loves to dance...

In Megabits' humble opinion, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a serious contender for Game Of The Year. We've played it, scoured every inch, hacked every terminal and completed every mission - it's pure awesome. In fact, we kinda miss it now it's finished... so this video cheered us up no end.

Jensen has got the groove! Quite why JoshuaMutter thought of this is beyond us... but it works... Enjoy. We particularly love it at 1:18 with the trapped scientist, and then 1:20 with the strutting robot in the background. Brilliant.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Heat-seeking moo-siles and cam-moo-flage

It's not so long until EA and Activision wheel out the big guns in the race for the Christmas number one slot. Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 are going head to head to determine which is the biggest and best shooter - and what a fight it will be.

While games nowadays clearly use plenty of artistic license to keep us hooked, in most cases they're steeped in realism and ooze authenticity. But I wonder... how far will games go???

I ask because I recently came across a story on the BBC's website that said defence giant BAE Systems had developed Adaptiv technology, which means vehicles can adapt to the temperature of their surroundings and mimic objects. A tank out in a warzone, for example, could be made to look like a harmless cow or truck when seen through a light sensitive scope. This is cool in itself but the technology means that invisibility could be possible in the not too distant future too.

The camouflage consists of a series of panels made of a material that can change temperature. About 1,000 of them should cover a small tank, according to the BBC article.

"The panels are driven by on-board thermal cameras that constantly image the ambient temperature of the tank's surroundings. This is projected on to the panels to make it harder to spot. The cameras also work when the tank is moving."

There's surely still time before the launch of these two shooters to include a cow-based weapon?? If not, come on modders... make your favourite FPS a little more realistic. Think how cool it would be to get a huge killstreak using nothing but a cow!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Review: Bodycount

With Bodycount, players get exactly what it says on the box. Codemasters’ newest first-person shooter offers intense gun battles with plenty of AI to mow down and enough explosive action to keep even the most trigger-happy of gamers entertained.

However, with all the great shooters out there, especially with the strong franchises which have earned themselves legions of loyal gamers, new titles need to be show they have what it takes to compete with the big guns, or at least offer something different.

Bodycount has gone down the second route and chosen a philosophy to provide hardcore shooter fans with what it thinks they really want: hoards of enemies to gun-down from all sides, using a fun if not limited array of weapons, and well designed destructible environments to blow-up.

In certain aspects of the game, Bodycount achieves what it’s aiming for and the developers have made shooting down a mass group of enemies coming towards you satisfying, while the explosions do look great.

Also the controls work well and are easy to learn. The unique cover system used, which allows players to quickly hide behind pretty much anything with a pull of the left trigger, is useful as most pillars or crates you hide behind in the game can be destroyed.

The character can also peek and shoot around cover easily with the left stick which is a nice touch.

Bodycount also rewards players for scoring kills, kill streaks and stylised shooting. The more baddies you defeat, the more points, or “intel” you gain, which in turn unlocks temporary upgrades including invulnerability, exploding ammo, an airstrike and a form of night-vision.

However, the reward-system is limited and the overall gameplay doesn’t really offer enough to warrant a play through the whole campaign.

And sadly, the reward-system is not the only downside. The route of high-octane senseless shooting Bodycount has taken means that aspects like character depth and mission detail have all been overlooked.

To say the storyline is thin is an overstatement. The main character you play, who I still don't know the name of other than you are called the “Asset”, is working for an group called “The Network” and after landing somewhere in Africa for a vague reason about trying to prevent civil war, you come across a shady outfit called “Target” which are hell-bent on world domination.

It all feels a little rushed and incomplete and I found it disappointing that there wasn’t a genuine main character with a back story that I could be interested in or wanted to complete the game for.

The campaigns themselves are also a let-down, most missions are repetitive and consist of going from one point to another in order to turn on power, disarm a bomb or to collect some form of item to help the game progress.

Another disappointment is the open-ended level designs, which despite being colourful and good-looking in places, in particular Target’s Tron-like futuristic underground weapons facility, are repetitive with missions forcing players to replay parts of the map to complete certain tasks.

Lastly, I found Bodycount’s AI a serious flaw in the game. On more than one occasion I saw enemies running aimlessly past me or just standing watching a grenade that had just been thrown at their feet, waiting to be blown to pieces. They needed to be smarter, to provide a little more test to kill.

Online, Bodycount was actually quite fun, particularly the two-player co-op mode, but I still felt there still needed to be more options in multiplayer mode.

This game offers a lot of fun and action with moments of pure joy but still finds itself wanting in terms of longevity.

There is enough in this to make it a good game worth trying but it lacks too much which other shooters can offer to make this a great game worth buying. A little more polish and more time spent on the online aspects and the AI in the game could have made this a much better shooter.

It will fill a void and is easy to pick-up-and-play but if you are looking for a shooter with more of a substantial storyline and deeper gameplay then you will need to look elsewhere.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Achievement Chaser: The Ten Most Enjoyable

We love achievements, you’ve noticed that, right? But there are some we love more than most, some that actually enhanced our enjoyment of the game as well as enhancing our gamerscore. Picking our favourites was toug. We had to say bye bye to Fable’s Chicken Kickers and to numerous hair-raising racing achievements, but in the end, we settled on the following ten. What do you reckon?

Fight Night Round 4 / Pull No Punches 50G
It was a tough call between this and Fight Night Champion’s “I’m just doing my jab”. Both encourage stylish, fluent boxing over haymaker-spamming, and as a consequence make the game as fun to watch as it is to play. Pull No Punches gets the nod, however, as it’s a one match achievement: win a match and land 500 punches in the process. Circle your opponent and whip out plenty of jabs from a fast, rangey fighter like Thomas Hearns or the lethally speedy Shane Mosley and you’ll get this in no time. You’ll also feel like the most skillfull boxer the world has ever seen, a feeling you’ll need to get rid of before you get to the pub on a Friday night.

Red Faction Guerrilla / Disaster Area 50G
Destroying 1 billion credits worth of EDF property in a game that’s all about destroying EDF property obviously isn’t that hard, but it is great fun. Red Faction Guerrilla is a great game for achievement hunters due to the variety of achievements on offer and their tendency to be well balanced between challenging and frustrating. Disaster Area, however, is the quintessential RFG achievement, the one that fits most snugly with the games raison d’etre. To get it all you need to do is revel in the games structural physics by methodically destroying every office block, town hall, bridge and fuel dump you come across. It doesn’t care if you smash buildings with hammers, drive cars through them, blow them up with rockets or what, just as long as you’re smashing stuff up.

Just Cause 2 / Bridge Limbo 20G
The first time you get in a plane in Just Cause 2 you’ll enjoy a brief two or three seconds of flight before an inadvertant wobble of the joystick sets off an unrecoverable chain reaction of yaws and pitches that frustrate your increasingly desperate attempts to correct them and finish with you bailing out or ploughing into the ground, no more than 10 seconds after take off. The same thing will happen the second time. And the third. That’s what makes the Bridge Limbo achievement so satisfying. It asks you to fly under 30 separate bridges in a game where it initially seems impossible to keep a plane in the air, let alone fly complex manoeuvres close to the ground in cluttered airspace. The joy of finding a navigable river valley with plenty of bridges, the mounting tension as you successfully complete each fly past, and eventually the chime of the achievement, all add up to immense satisfaction. You’ve just done something that you originally thought would be impossible. Nice one.

GTA IV: TLAD / Get Good Wood 50G
Racing choppers and ‘rice rockets’ around the streets of Liberty City is one of the most enjoyable parts of GTA IV’s The Lost and Damned DLC. Races are where you can pull yourself out of the bleak and often sleazy story and just concentrate on the scale and complexity of the environment, and the joy of tearing through it on a motorbike. The races vary between comparatively easy and incredibly difficult, with some courses taking endless repetition to master and win, but while you’re racing over and over again, you’ll find that every baseball bat aided overtaking manoeuvre is bring you closer to an extremely generous 50G. Sweet.

Alan Wake / Child of the Elder God 10G
10G seems like a very small reward for an achievement that really cranks up the tension. Pursued by villains who are weakened by light, you find yourself at a farmstead owned by two retired rockstars who have set up a stage in their back yard, complete with strobes, spots and pyros. That’s handy, eh? Surrounded by roman candles and sweeping spotlights, you have to defend the stage from what seems to be never ending waves of baddies seemingly called in on you by the blaring heavy metal soundtrack, without being seriously injured. This being survival horror there’s limited ammo, and every time you think it might be over, another attack starts. The longer you last, the more euphoric you’ll feel, and the more terrified that one quick slash will bring your lucky streak to an end.

Medal of Honor / It Takes a Village Out 10G
Two things Americans need to know: 1, Honour has a ‘u’ in it. 2, Air strikes against villages are war crimes. Having said that, in Medal of Honor they’re also great fun. You’re tasked with pacifying insurgents in a hilltop village, but there are achievement points on offer for flattening 30 buildings in that village. The challenge, of course, is that while you’re concentrating your fire on the buildings, the insurgents are free to shoot at you, so chasing this achievement can often end in a points-free, Black Hawk Down scenario. When you nail it, however, you’ll pick up 10G and a slightly grubby feeling that makes you want to stop playing games and do something wholesome for a few hours.

Bioshock 2 / Master Protector 15G
It seemed unlikely that a sequel to a game as good and as ‘complete’ as Bioshock could ever be any good. Even if there was nothing wrong with it, surely it would feel superfluous? Amazingly, Bioshock 2 managed to avoid that fate. It was smart enough not to fix what wasn’t broken, keeping the gameplay mechanics and environments from the original, whilst trimming away some of the fat by eliminating the time-consuming pipe hacking. Best of all, while the mechanics didn’t change, it introduced new things to do with them: boss battles with the speedy big sister, and ‘gathers’ with the little sister. To get the Master Protector achievement, you need to defend a little sister while she picks over Rapture’s carrion. Squads of irate and speedy mutants will attack you from all angles, and surviving the assault will require careful pre-planning, clever defensive placements and lots of boobytraps. Your heart will sink if you get it wrong and the baddies sweep towards you unhindered, but a clever set-up will see you decimate the ranks of the Splicers with ease. It’s one of those lovely achievements that rewards a combination of careful thought and lightning thumbs.

GTA IV / Chain Reaction 20G
The great thing about GTA IV’s Chain Reaction achievement is the way it shows off the variety and versatility of Liberty City. In many games it might only be possible to explode ten vehicles in ten seconds at a certain place, or using a certain method, but not in GTA IV. It can be done with grenades or rocket launchers or just with a damn big vehicle. It can be done in tunnels, on bridges or at junctions. All you need do is take advantage of the persistent reality of Liberty City: blowing up vehicles is as plausible in that world as breathing air is in ours. The most common method for getting the Chain Reaction achievement is to block the end of a bridge with a bus, allow the traffic to build, then let rip with the rocket launcher. Or you could get it by accident, like we did, by barrelling across a junction at full speed, clipping another car and losing control. By the time we’d gotten out of the car and gotten our bearings all we could hear was screaming and explosions from 50 yards back where the accident happened. Before we could even look back, bing, we were 20G richer.

Fable III / If It Bleeds We Can Kill It 20G
Like its predecessors, Fable III’s combat system is a masterclass in combing several simple ingredients to make a thoroughly satisfying whole. Combat in Fable is never anything less than a doddle-it’s not a game about challenging fights, it’s a game about swashbuckling derring do, and nothing makes you feel more like an intrepid adventurer than effortlessly disposing of your foes. Just because it’s easy, doesn’t mean it isn’t cool, however. The thumbstick lets you choose your direction of attack, while the face buttons let you swap between swords, guns and magic. The result is an intricate ballet of bloodletting, as acrobatic as a Jackie Chan movie and as lethal as Smallpox. Spend enough time fighting and you’ll eventually pop an achievement for ridding yourself of 500 enemies with a certain style-for us the first to pop was for melee combat, but we soon popped the others as well.

Red Dead Redemption Mowing Them Down 20G
Red Dead Redemption has plenty of rewards for despatching 500 opponents with a variety of weapons from pistols to rifles to shotguns, most of which you’ll unlock in the course of ordinary play. Mowing Them Down, however, won’t just pop for any casual player. To kill 500 opponents with mounted weapons you’ll need to be truly dedicated to the cause of artillery assisted slaughter. The trick is to take over the Presidio in Mexico, wipe out the guards to get a wanted rating on your head, then take command of the cannons to blow up every posse they send in to get you. It can be time consuming, and you’ll need to pick the right cannon: they can break in and backshoot you at any cannon, but you’ll be safest at the one on the North-eastern corner. Sit there, zen out, and let those cannonballs fly.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Review: Rise of Nightmares

Kinect owners have been calling for games aimed at the hardcore since its launch. Most have had their fill of cutesy animal simulators, fitness trainers or dancing titles and want something to breathe live into the dust-covered camera that lies largely dormant beneath the TV. SEGA is among the first to pick up that gauntlet and accept the challenge of producing a game that doesn’t feature your avatar and isn’t aimed exclusively at children. Kudos to SEGA for trying something different…

As an adult rated title, Rise of Nightmares (RoN) rehashes a multitude of tried and tested elements from the survival horror genre – and for the most part is a fairly good effort. Right from the start, RoN positions itself as a classic take on the Hammer House of Horror movies – dodgy voice acting, stereotypically-scary environments and plenty of shuffling monsters all baying for blood.

You play as Josh, a tourist taking a train trip across Eastern Europe with wife Kate. An argument ensues and leads to her storming off in a huff. When Josh eventually goes to track her down and apologize, he sees her being carried off by a hulk of a man just before the train suddenly derails. Amid the train wreckage our hapless hero is left with only a few survivors to traipse through woodland, a swamp, cemetery and dungeons as he attempts to track down his beloved – before it’s too late.

Put the cheesy plot to one side and the way the game makes use of Kinect’s unique control method is probably the factor that will intrigue the most.

Forums are awash with doubters who suggest “proper” games can’t make use of motion control or that games involving movement around an arena can’t adequately be played without the traditional joypad. SEGA’s valiant efforts prove that there is more to this camera technology than we’ve seen already. Sure, it’s not perfect and can get tricky and frustrating at times but Kinect's application opens up a wealth of possibilities for the future. Perhaps a Call of Duty-style FPS is but a pipedream right now but there is certainly potential.

Controlling your character in RoN is deceptively simple – albeit not always effective. To move, simply place your foot forward or back and hold it there. Job done. A turn and twist of the body will change your perspective and send you off in another direction. Raise your hands in a boxing stance and fists appear on screen, ready to attack. Although Kinect recognises your movement pretty well, it’s not always easy to make your onscreen persona go exactly where you want it to and I’ll wager you’ll often find yourself walking into walls or getting stuck on scenery.

Fortunately, SEGA makes your life a little easier by including an automated walk option for the majority of the game; simply raise your arm like you want to ask a question or need permission to go to the toilet and the game takes control, steering you in the direction of your next objective without having to carefully position your feet or contort your frame. However, if you’ve ever tried holding your arm extended for any period of time, you’ll be aware how uncomfortable it gets. It’s not a major gripe but, like all motion control games, regular breaks may be necessary for some.

Otherwise, running on the spot, swimming actions, climbing, crouching and kicking are all required at certain stages of the game too and do add somewhat to the feeling of immersion. Gesturing to open doors, turn keys and pull levers adds to your repertoire. For anyone that remembers back a few decades, think cult TV show Knightmare and you’ll get the idea.

Largely though, RoN is all about melee combat and dotted about the gloomy environs are a plethora of tools and weapons that can be wielded or, in some case, flung to fend off the zombie hordes. Anything from lead pipes and rusty knives to electric prods and ice saws can be found, making light work of anything that stands in your way. There are two grievances here though… firstly, only one weapon can be carried at a time and second, like all games of this ilk, they degrade rapidly and disappear – often leaving you in the lurch when surrounded by the undead. Fists just don’t seem to have the same effect as blades and are largely ineffective much of the time.

Graphically, it's not the greatest looking game - in fact the water and vomit effects that splash onto your screen every now and again are arguably the best looking bits. Nevertheless, it does the job; the dungeons look dark and foreboding, and the bad guys suitably nasty.

Ultimately, Rise of Nightmares is fairly engrossing once you master the slightly weird controls. It's very short but tracking down a mad scientist, roaming corridors, solving puzzles and cutting off monsters' limbs is a nice change for Kinect after countless cutesy kids games. RoN is not particularly scary so perhaps fails to live up to its billing in that respect, but it's a fun game for a rental if for no other reason than to see the potential of Kinect.

*Reviewed on Xbox 360

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Megabits Column: Sonic Generations

Megabits of Gaming contributes 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 latest of the articles from the September 2011 issue. For more about the magazine, check out its Facebook page after the jump.

SEGA’s iconic blue mascot Sonic the Hedgehog has done his level best in recent years to disprove the old adage that things get better with age. Despite his frequent appearances, some suggest that the prickly little guy - synonymous with the Japanese publisher since he sped onto our screens in 1991 - has sadly failed to keep pace with the rapidly changing gaming industry and our lofty expectations.

The 20 years since Sonic’s debut have whizzed by and he’s been ported to almost every platform – but has he really stood the test of time? SEGA says over 50 million people are said to have played at least one Sonic game, accumulating more than 500 million hours of gametime. Some 66 billion rings have been collected along the way too!

It’s certainly been a rollercoaster ride and arguably, he’s run out of a bit of steam in recent years. Even die-hard fans have begun to question whether everyone’s favourite will ever race to the top of the charts again…

Thankfully, the upcoming release of perhaps his most exciting self-titled game in many years may change things somewhat and help to pull his detractors back from the brink of indifference. Sonic Generations promises to be a return to form for everyone’s favourite and fastest protagonist.

Generation’s recently released trailer retreads the history of the Sonic franchise and some of the 30+ games, hinting at plenty of fast-paced fun in this follow up (hopefully, without the reappearance of his Werehog alter-ego (Sonic Unleashed, 2008).

First impressions suggest the new game will be heavily influenced by the good old days when he roamed the Green Hill Zone in search of rings and power ups. Once again, he’ll be aiming to thwart the evil egg-headed Dr Robotnik – who is also looking remarkably good for his age - and many of his other infamous rivals.

This time round Sonic must deal with the appearance of some mysterious time holes, which have transported our hero back to the past. Inevitably, this sets up the scenario that Sonics past and present will come face to face and have to join forces to ward off the powers of evil.

As a result, many favourite levels are set to make a reappearance. There will also be plenty of opportunities to step into the shoes of both classic Sonic with his trademark spin-dash attack and his modern self with his Sonic Boost move. Although SEGA is still keen to convince us that Sonic can successfully make the transition to three dimensions, fans can breathe a collective sigh of relief that opting to control classic Sonic returns the game to a 2D perspective. Combined with enhanced graphics and sound that you’d expect on a seventh generation console, the latest title seems to have all bases covered and could prove to be a welcome return to form.

The demo suggests that Generations will hit the mark, combining modern and retro gaming. The environments look dense and full of colour, while the trademark speed is still there.

SEGA marked his 15th anniversary five years ago with the release of a new 3D version of Sonic the Hedgehog on the 360 and PS3. With respective Metacritic scores of 46% and 43%, suffice to say they weren’t the happiest of celebrations for the spiky fellow.
There have been plenty of other attempts at a comeback since but most recently, the switch back to 2D in Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 (2010) proved that speed and simplicity was still a winning formula.

For all the niggles and veiled criticism over the years, Sonic remains a key figure in gaming history. He’s helped to attract a new audience to consoles with his running, kart racing, hoverboarding, pinball and countless other spinoffs. Question is, has nostalgia had its day? Perhaps - and for that reason Sonic Generations may be the aging hedgehog’s last chance at redemption.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Review: Dead Island

Some games allow you to see past the rough edges, past the texture pop-in, past the dodgy voice acting and, crucially, past the weak plot. Dead Island is one of those games. In fact, I can honestly say that Dead Island can take its place in the short list of games I consider 'good clean fun'. Which is ironic, considering I spent the majority of my time on the tropical island of Banoi, just off Papua New Guinea, up to my armpits in infected blood.

To break it down, Dead Island plays like a cross between Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead and Fallout 3 – on steroids... and filled with zombies. Taking place on the leisure resort island, the game's long (if weak) plot leads you into sewers, cliff-tops, cities, beach bars and more, all filled with the crazed party-goers – most of which, beneath the blood, are still in bikinis. It's a strange situation.

After a somewhat lacklustre opening, the game opens up into a 20 hour+ melee of zombie smashing, quest-driven gameplay, with more than enough fun and adventures to be had to override the doubts that spring to your mind at the rough edges the game occasionally shows.
Taking the role of one of four survivors of a zombie apocalypse (blunt weapons guy, throwing guy, gun girl and sword girl, respectively), you have to hack, slash, gun and loot your way through the game's huge and varied environments – and you can bring up to three friends along for the ride. Yes, Dead Island is all about the multiplayer.

While you can (and sometimes should) take on the zombies by yourself, the game really comes to life once you log onto Playstation Network and start some co-op slashing. Anybody can join your game, but of course it's best to play with friends if you don't want a newbie to take all the loot and leave a thuggish zombie to bash your brains all over the floor.

The matchmaking, while typically slow and clunky – as with anything on PSN – does get the job done, and the extra pair of hands in the middle of a pile of zombies goes a long way. This is especially true once you get hold of one of the scarce vehicles left on the tropical paradise – it's useful having a friend in the back of your pick-up truck with a baseball bat.

Featuring a complex skill tree, XP and mods for the hundreds of weapons on the island (some you can build yourself, from a nailed bat to exploding, electrified knives), there is a lot to see and do.

The varied cast of characters you encounter along the way offer a huge array of tasks, from fetch-and-carry to exploring shipwrecks and everything in between - and you can stack quests up as you go, making it easy to complete two or three at a time. Though the map and menu interface could use some work, getting around the island as you explore it is pretty simple – even with the zombies infesting every corner of it.

Thankfully, the combat – which is the core of the game – is crunchy and satisfying.
While there are guns, you're far more likely to spend most of your time using an array of blunt and bladed instruments to get through the enemies, as well as a very useful Duke Nukem-style kick (before Duke went bad).

Choosing how to upgrade your character is a difficult decision, but after a while you finally become capable of being the zombie-killing badass you've always wanted to be, with a whole bunch of perks to help you out.

Graphically, the game is often a little rough on the eyes. While it occasionally surprises you with a stunning vista, these moments are eclipsed by the times you see textures pop in, or lighting effects go a little wonky. Animation can also be a little off, and sometimes the combat gets so intense that the game suffers some minor framerate stuttering, but it's not really noticeable unless you go looking for it.

Likewise, while the musical score is excellent - and the sound effects (zombie screams, meaty chainsaws ripping the air) are without peer - this is sadly let down by awful voice acting. I don't know if the producers hired all the B-Movie stars they could, but even when the game's actors are trying to sound serious, it just makes you laugh. Or maybe that's the effect the team behind Dead Island were going for. I don't know.

What I do know is that Dead Island is an all-round good, fun game, with the range of Fallout 3 and the intensity of Left 4 Dead. While its rough edges can be an irritation, the core gameplay, quest system and multiplayer aspects make it all worthwhile, and don't be surprised if you get sucked into the island for hours on end.

*Reviewed on PS3

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Achievement Chaser: The 10 Toughest

Article by Ibwib

As you can tell from our annual
Gamerscore Challenge, we at Megabits spend a lot of our time thinking about achievements. At the start of this console generation the double chime of an unlocking achievement was an unnecessary distraction, but now we can’t imagine gaming without these little meta-challenges adding a little extra polish to a good game (not to mention providing the only mitigation for some of the turkeys we’ve thumbed-twiddled our way through).

We’ve come across achievements that were addictive, amusing and aggravating, ones that made us master new game skills and some that required a little lateral thinking. Having just engaged in a little ‘achievement expediency’ to polish off Portal 2 (why co-ordinate all your Portal playing mates, when you can just create extra Portal playing profiles with one friend?) we got to thinking about the toughest achievements we’ve come across. We say toughest rather than hardest, because some of these demand more dedication than skill, but all of them mark their recipients out as serious gamers. Just Cause glitchers need not apply!

We’ve excluded from this list achievements that simply ask you to play a lengthy game twice like Mass Effect’s Long Service Medal , or ones that require you to endlessly polish your performance on the same task such Guitar Hero’s gold star challenges. For us, Achievements and Trophies should be part of the game’s natural flow. Most of these are cross-platform, but we have a rule around these parts that says life is too short to chase points on both platforms, so we’ll be using Xbox terminology: Gamerscore and Achievements, not Bronze, Silver and Platinum. Some we’ve got, some we’re getting, some we’ve given up on. How about you?

Little Rocket Man / Half Life 2 30GS
It wouldn’t be a Valve game without some Gnome related shenanigans. At first glance, Little Rocket Man doesn’t look too difficult. Pick up the Gnome at the start of the game and carry it through the next six hours of shooty physics action, before depositing it in a rocket and broadening its horizons with a one-way trip to a dimension full of malformed alien fascists. Hey, we said it didn’t look difficult, we didn’t say you’d feel good about it. Problem is, what you think will simply involve a small amount of extra faff as you put him down and pick him up as required turns out to be much tougher than you’d reckon. You’ll be killed as you switch from Gnome carrier to machine gun. You’ll lose him as large enemy forces push you away from where you’d left him. Worst of all, when you’re being chased along deserted highways he will bounce out of your car, repeatedly, gleefully and occasionally unnoticedly. This Gnome doesn’t want to go to heaven.

Daredevil / Grand Theft Auto IV 30GS

Ok, so I’ve escapd the police on a stolen superbike, raced through the sand and trucks of a building site, rocketed off the end of a half finished flyover, landed forty yards away on top of an unadorned support pylon and skidded gloriously off the top, plunging fifty feet into the chilly harbour waters below, and you’re telling me it doesn’t qualify as a stunt jump? Not only is GTA IV’s Daredevil achievement decidedly picky about what constitures a completed jump, but it also expects you to complete no fewer than a hundred of them. Worse still, they’re hidden all over the city in some pretty obscure places-without a map or a methodical approach to internet research it will take months just to find them, let alone complete them. It’s enough to make you wish you’d stayed in Serbia.

Seriously 2.0../Gears of War, Gears 2, Left 4 Dead 2 50/50/20G
Like we said, the toughest achievements aren’t necessarily the hardest. Gears 1 and 2 ask you to score 10,000 online and 100,000 single players kills respectively for their ‘Seriously’ achievements, while Dead Rising wants you to kill 53,594 zombies to get the Zombie Genocide score. We’ve lumped them together because they feel so similar-there are no special skills to learn or tricks to master. They simply take the core subject of the game, killing baddies, and push it to insane levels. Even if you’re boosting by reloading the same kill crazy section of Gears 2, it wills till take you upwards of 15 continuous hours of replaying the same two minutes of game to pick up Seriously 2.0, and it's even harder to achieve it ‘naturally’. If that sounds crackers, just bear in mind that Seriously 2.0 is the least grinding of these three achievements. Phew.

Mile High Club / Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 20GS
Call of Duty games frequently dish out big points for completing them on the veteran difficulty level, wherein an opponent can kill you with little more than a dirty look. Playing on veteran demands that you hug the walls and corners, use lots of smoke grenades, and move slowly and methodically forward in a low crawl, disposing of your opponents one by one, pausing frequently to recover your strength. Got that? Right, you’ve got 90 seconds to fight your way up the length of Air Force One, kill three dozen terrorists and sky dive out of the fuselage with the President. Yeep. Mile High Club is an achievement designed to make your aims incompatible with your methods, and it’s insanely difficult because of it. Strangely, it’s not that rare an achievement simply because of its brevity: less than two minutes to succeed, and even shorter if you die. People can get this simply by trying over and over and over again for an hour or two, but in that hour you’ll die hundreds of times. The death/success ratio of this one makes it one of the toughest we’ve come across.

XXL / Fight Night Round 4 75GS
You know you’re looking at a tough achievement when there’s an online petition begging the developers to patch it to become viral. XXL is one of three Fight Night Round 4 achievements that require you to beat the current online World Champion. That’s right, the one and only World Champion. There are over 20 million Xbox Live accounts, about half of which are used for gaming. Of those 10 million people, you’ve got to be ranked high enough to get a fight with one guy. But first you’ve got to find him or her. It’s such a rare achievement we couldn’t find a video for it, so here’s a video of someone using a fighter who ended his career as a heavyweight to defeat a fighter who started his career as a Light Flyweight. And getting points for it.

The Dollcatcher / Fable II 10GS
There are six dolls to be collected. You can buy one, and win another at the shooting gallery, but the rest don’t exist in your game, they exist in other people’s. Yep, in order to get the measly ten GS for this one, you have to open your game world up to the floating orbs and plaintive voices of all the other Fable II players on XBL, then find the ones that have the dolls you need and trade with them. In an otherwise enjoyable and light hearted game, there’s something a little skeevy about approaching children in the town square and offering them your dolly.

Orb Hunter / Crackdown 50GS
Of course, you could just use a map from the internet to get this, but internet research is work for lazy journalists, not play for motivated gamers. If you’re going to achieve this ‘naturally’ then you can expect to spend many, many hours leaping and climbing all over Pacific City’s skyscrapers. There are 300 orbs to find, and as each one boosts your climbing and jumping abilities you’ll initially find that collecting each one increases your ability to collect the next. Eventually, however, you’ll reach the tipping point, where the formerly abundant green glowballs are rarer than new Crackdown melee animations, no matter how adept you are at scaling and scanning the cityscape. By the time you’re down to the last 30 or so it will become the task you do at odd moments over several months, popping the disc in to have a quick orb hunt inbetween playing other games. If you get this one, you’ve displayed astonishing perseverance.

War Hardened etc / Call of Duty II 200/1000GS
You know how we mentioned earlier that Call of Duty games always dish out some nice bonuses for playing them at their most challenging setting? Well the best of the Call of Duty series takes that to it’s logical extension-there are only 13 achievements in the entire game, and they’re all for chapter completion. If you want big points you can go for the 200 on offer for finishing the game on Hardened or Veteran, but the pathological need of points obsessives will be unable to look at the word OR in that sentence and not conclude that if they’re going to play on hardened for 200, they might as well play on veteran for a full 1000. So begins an agonising quest for smoke grenades and cover, as you inch your way through the game dying with wearying regularity. Room clearances that would take a breezy 30 seconds on normal difficulty will stop you dead in your tracks for days at a time, killing your sanity while a voice clamours in the back of your head: “Nothing special, no fetch quests, all I’ve got to do is finish the game. Finish the game. finish tHe g@me. Funosh the gom. Finsh the gm?"

Mr Perfect / Mega Man 10 30GS
For a long, long time we couldn’t find anyone who had this preposterously difficult achievement. You have to clear the entire game without taking any damage at all, something which pushes the lightning reflexes and honed pattern recognition skills required by most arcade titles to their absolute maximum. Players have finally started mastering each level piece-by-piece and posting videos that can be used to study the enemies and attacks, and in doing so they’ve at least taken some of the memory and pattern recognition difficulty out of the quest. You’ll still need to maintain a several hour run of good luck and speedy thumbs though.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Review: From Dust

The 360's Summer of Arcade seems to be getting better with each passing year, don’t you think? Truth be told, Ubisoft’s From Dust has been at the top of my wishlist for some time – and suffice to say, it’s been engrossing enough to stop me spending as much time as I’d like soaking up the rays outside. The fact that From Dust is responsible for my slightly anaemic complexion over the past few weeks goes some way to explaining how great this game is.

In a nutshell, this downloadable gem is a puzzler with some good old manipulation of the elements thrown in for good measure.

Anyone who remembers Peter Molyneux's first foray into God games with Populous in 1989 will know what to expect. Basically, you control a God-like entity called The Breath that has the ability to suck up earth, water or lava and deposit it somewhere else.

Effectively this gives you the ability to change the landscape, clearing land for villages, creating new pathways and generally helping to keep your nomadic followers alive by protecting them from the elements.

Your tribesman must be led across volatile landscapes towards sacred totems, where they can settle and build a thriving village. Five people are needed to activate each one so the route must remain open until they've all made safe passage. Problem is, the elements are against them and floodwaters and fires are among the hazards that they have to overcome. By absorbing matter, you can significantly improve their chances of survival. Once all the totems are reached and the dwellings and vegetation is thriving, an exit portal opens up - often in another perilous area -and The Breath must lead them to safety and the next level.

Time is not your friend in this game and often you're under pressure to expand settlements or divert the flow of rivers before the people meet their doom.

Earth can be moved to flatten the land, water can be absorbed to protect your tribesmen from drowning or to extinguish wildfires, whereas lava becomes solid rock when deposited, which provides some rather handy barriers from floodwaters.

The aforementioned totems and some special stones pop up every now and again earn you some additional powers too. Some provide the ability to repel an incoming tsunami, for example, while others allow you to temporarily solidify – or jellify - water (helping to divert waterways) or completely evaporate water, allowing safe passage across previously tricky terrain.

Levels vary in difficulty, some completed within a few minutes and others taking absolutely ages to fathom. Onscreen guidance is reasonably helpful, outlining the basic aim of each map but once it’s gone you’re very much left to your own devices and many levels will require a degree of experimentation to determine the best solution.

Beyond the many levels in the story mode, there are also around 30 challenge maps that pose smaller puzzles, often using only one of The Breath’s many powers. For example, one level may need you to quickly absorb water to protect your roaming followers, while another requires raging fires to be doused before they reach a nearby village.

Overall, it's a really enjoyable - albeit slightly repetitive - game and well worth a download. It can be a little frustrating using the clunky control pad, which doesn't always provide the accuracy you'd like... Perhaps a future patch allowing Kinect compatibility could add another dimension to the control system – and make you feel even more Godlike too?

And it also doesn’t help that the AI is also sometimes annoying – you'll often see your tribe take a different route from the one you've carved out, which leads them into trouble!

Minor niggles aside though, the charm of the game and its addictive, “just one more go” gameplay make this a frontrunner for one of the best arcade games of the year. For old school Powermongers or Mega-Lo-Maniacs, this new take on the God game genre will bring back many happy memories.

*Reviewed on Xbox 360

Monday, September 05, 2011

Megabits' Ten Greatest Train Levels

There's always been something romantic about riding the rails – though these days, the romance has been replaced by delays, costly tickets and chirpy customer service (stop treating me like I'm your friend dammit!).

Game train levels, however, are a particular favourite of mine, and there's been some truly brilliant levels in my many years of controller-cuddling. Here's my Top Ten: Videogame Train Levels.


10: TimeSplitters: Future Perfect
While the TimeSplitters series was never big on plot, Future Perfect made at least a half-arsed effort at stringing the time-travelling antics of agent Cotrez into something resembling a storyline – with a train-based level to boot. Taking place on a swanky train known as the Khallos Express, Cortez has to fight his way forward, taking on Monkey-powered robot minions, a helicopter and a whole load of explosions, all while dealing with his timeline sidekick – 70s throwback and one-man pun dispenser Harry Tipper. Naturally, this made for some great fun, despite the overpowered helicopter's constant attacks, and Tipper's terrible one-liners....

9: Sunset Riders
Who hasn't played this one in an arcade? If you haven't, then you missed out on a treat. I recently rediscovered Sunset Riders in an old arcade in San Francisco, and spent a good 30 minutes reliving my 14th year down the bowling alley in Tamworth, blasting my way through the levels with a couple of friends along for the ride. That is, until I hit the train level. I was never able to beat the damn train level. I mean, Sunset Riders was always a tough game, but this one really took the biscuit. The combination of rolling barrels, a legion of bad guys and (impossibly) an on-board bovine stampede used to drive me mad. Ironically, I couldn’t beat the level at 24 either.

8: Gears of War
While I great final level, anyone who played Gears of War to the end knows how annoying it was that all you managed to achieve was a damp squib in a bucket of Locust piss. That said, it did make for some great train-based action! Gotta love facing down armies of grubs, reavers and other bad guys – even if it was just for a chance to be driven mad by the final boss and his use of a swarm of bugs as a shield. Yeah, how does that work, RAAM?!

7: Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow

Less action-heavy - and more steeped in the traditional Splinter Cell brand of stealthy, neck-breakingly fun tension - Pandora Tomorrow, though a disappointing game overall, did produce a cracking train level. The level in question saw Splinter Cell Sam Fisher tracking a target to a speeding train, leaving him having to crawl around its steel skin to find what he was looking for, all the while keeping his body out of sight of the hundreds of travellers staring out of the windows. Naturally, avoiding the damn signal lights was also a high priority, as they existed seemingly to knock Sam off, and to do that alone...

6: Medal of Honor: Frontline
Medal of Honor's donation to this list is a fantastic level for a fantastic game. Though fraught with the typical Medal of Honour over-the-top action, this level was a rip-roaring adventure as you battle your way down the heart of a Nazi armoured train, on your way to a secret facility. Starting out with just a pistol, you gradually acquire the tools you need for the job, including the armoured train itself - when the Nazis go as far as trundling another armoured behemoth up next to your line. Gotta love mounted cannons!

5: Dead Space 2

Dead Space's contribution to this list was creepy as hell. There, I said it. Playing out almost entirely in patches of light and darkness, Isaac Clarke's battle against Necromorphs in a speeding railway carriage stuck in my mind for its intensity, speed and sheer terror. While dodging the claws, hooks and blades of the mutated specimens, Isaac has to deal with the collapsing infrastructure of the Sprawl (a massive space station), which seems to be actively trying to kill him in any number of horrible ways, forcing the player to dodge rogue girders at every step. Finally ending in a gut-wrenching crash, and another battle for survival, Dead Space 2's train level was a real corker, and well worth another few playthroughs.

4: Syphon Filter 2
I loved Syphon Filter 2. It had a fantastic plot, great gameplay – and a brilliant train level too! Taking place on a train hurtling through the Rockies, Syphon Filter 2's train action saw flak vest-wearing agent Gabe Logan jumping from train car to train car, gunning down bad guys or tasering them until they burst into flame and go flying. Add to this a grenade launcher which was somehow not affected by the laws of physics, and you've got some great run-and-gun fun, despite the now-dated graphics, and horrendous voice acting - seriously, Gabe sounded like he was a 400-a-day man...

3: Crysis: Warhead
While this train level was pretty much the same as the others – nanosuit-augmented agent Psycho has to move forwards up a train to stop its engine – it was so different when I first discovered it because it was so damn beautiful. Crysis, being a beautiful game (even if you needed a nuclear-powered PC to do it) rendered such a stunning corridor of greenery for the train to race through that I often found myself pausing in the bloodletting to admire the scenery. It got even better when Psycho had to get off the train to fend off a small army, then re-board it as it pulled away without him, springing on to its steel frame using the nanosuit's strength mode. It just felt so.... badass!

2: Chase the Express

I doubt you've heard of this one from the PS1. I've never met another gamer who played this unknown gem of a game. Or indeed anyone who had the patience to put up with its many sticky irritations or its abysmal voice acting – most critics panned it. That said, Chase the Express – a Resident Evil-style (in looks and control scheme, not zombies) action adventure was brilliant, in my opinion. Taking place almost entirely aboard a NATO armoured train named 'Blue Harvest', the game saw the player controlling hunk-for-hire Jack Morton, working to take down a bunch of terrorists who smashed their way aboard. Naturally it all goes to hell, and before long you find yourself crawling through a train consuming itself in fire - and on a collision course with another huge locomotive. Tense, and memorable.

1: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Ah, now this is how to pull off a train level. Wise-cracking hero Nathan Drake finds himself hanging from the side of a huge, rusty train as it races through the jungles, and eventually mountains of Nepal, facing down an army of troops, minigun-toting nutters and a helicopter - all while pulling off wry quips, hurling grenades and hanging from pipes as you dive out of the path of oncoming signal lights. On plot, action, graphics, score and voice acting alone, this train level rightfully takes its place at the top of my Top Ten.

Check out Andrew Hemphill's blog after the jump.

Friday, September 02, 2011

30 Minute Playtest: Driver: San Francisco

The original Driver’s mix of insane driving and hint of seventies gasploitation movie meant that it quickly became one of the PSOne’s must-have titles. Like other PSOne must-haves(Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy 7), however, it almost instantly squandered its good reputation on poor sequels. Driver 2’s on-foot additions were dull, poorly implemented and the game as whole suffered from poor graphics, while Driv3r received similar criticism a whole console generation later.

A few mobile deviations later we’ve now got Driver: San Francisco, which brings back series regulars John Tanner and the hoodlum Jericho, who starts the game by ramming Tanner’s car and putting him in a coma, which is where the bulk of the game takes place. The unconscious Tanner can now ‘shift’ into the driver of any car in the city. This has two main effects-the first is that it allows the developers to do away with the much maligned on foot sections of the last two games by simply having you swoop around ‘possessing’ drivers, and the second is that it makes players ask ‘what is this ludicrous $h!t?’

There’s no getting past it, the addition of an out-of-body element to game that has always shied away from any sort of paranormal content throws you off your stride. It shifts the tone of the game away from what you expect of the Driver series, as does the lack of a seventies feel. In its place we get poor dialogue and ropey voice acting. It’s not a good start, but despite the tone of the game going wide of the mark, the gameplay is right on target, at least as far as our first half hour revealed.

The cars feel speedy and handle brilliantly, occupying a perfect middle ground between the stodgy realism of driving sims and the gonzo physics of arcade racers. It’s not realistic driving, but it’s true to the action-movie feel that the game goes for.

The city feels big and lively, with a convincing ebb and flow to the traffic patterns and an organicly convincing street layout. Races in the city are fast and frantic, with the ‘shift’ mechanic allowing you to take control of multiple cars within a single race. Police chases are similarly lively, and the AI is just about perfect: far smarter and more tenacious than the cops in, say, GTA IV, but nowhere near as inescapable as the rubber-band assisted plod of Driver 2 and Driv3r.

First impressions suggest that aimless driving will be almost as much fun as playing the missions, and the missions we’ve seen so far include everything from the fundamental chase/race/escape style efforts along with some slightly more outlandish efforts built around the ‘shift’ feature. Half an hour isn’t long enough to know whether things will get samey, but so far there certainly seems enough fun and variety to keep things interesting.

It's not all Doom and gloom in Germany

Better late than never, eh? After 17 years, the powers that be in Germany have decided to lift a ban preventing the sale of the cult classic shooter Doom to teens. According to the BBC, the game was put on a list of banned games way back in 1994.

That decision has now been revised because Doom "is now only of artistic and scientific interest and will not appeal to youngsters", says the BBC report.