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.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ten Games You (Probably) Didn't Play in 2011

With the number of "monumental" can't miss titles that often come out in a year, it's entirely understandable that you'll pass up on some of the games you're not sure about, and miss a few of those pesky lesser known titles. That's why it's handy after the holidays, when you have a bit of extra cash, to have a list of the games you (probably) didn't play.

Here, Megabits suggests 10 of the best gaming gems of 2011.

(10) Outland

Developer: Housemarque
Platforms: PSN, XBLA
Genre: Sidescroller, Platformer, Action-Adventure

Outland has three major driving forces, platforming, boss battles & color shifting. The platforming is pretty standard stuff. It's solid and it animates nicely. But what sets it apart from the similarly competent platformers out there, is the color shifting mechanic. Platforms of blue can only be used when your character is blue, red only when you're red. It's a simple idea, used to surprising results. Running and jumping at top speed, timing your shifts perfectly can be an exhilarating feeling. Combat utilizes this shifting to great effect as well. Enemy projectiles phase through you if your color matches, but you won't be able to inflict any damage unless your colors conflict. But perhaps the most amazing aspects of Outland are its bosses. Partly because each one is a spectacle of awe, but more importantly, because they always incorporate all of the game's best mechanics. You never know quite what to expect when the colossal door to your next boss encounter opens... and I'm not about to spoil anything here. So go buy it and see for yourself. With online co-op modes and single-player arcade challenges along with the Castlevania-esque adventure, it's a surprisingly reasonable price for what you get. Check our review after the jump.

(9) Bloodrayne: Betrayal
Developer: WayForward
Platforms: PSN, XBLA
Genre: Sidescroller, Platformer, Hack & Slash, Action

The first thought that came to my mind when playing the Bloodrayne: Betrayal demo was, "Well, these are some nice graphics". Immediately following was my second thought, "Meh, this is kind of dull". However, I played through the demo a few more times to experiment with the controls, & discovered that the move set was more varied than my initial playthrough had led me to believe. Suddenly I was making blood bombs out of vampires, juggling my foes to bloody bits, and dancing on faces with dagger heels. Realizing I was having fun, I decided to buy the full game. Further advancement into Betrayal had me continuously appreciating the "retro-lution" style, a lovely melding of new & old. With ever-increasing challenge as the levels progress and a healthy checkpoint system, this is the kind of game that forces you to become a better gamer, while keeping you from pulling your hair out. The combination of simultaneous platforming and combat in later levels are a particularly interesting set of challenges that should create some of those enjoyable palpitating moments we all hope for. And top it all off, Betrayal's boss battles can be a very "Castlevania" cool experience. A good combination of interesting character design, epic scale and pattern memorization, so we'll just ignore the two times we have to fight mecha-crab. Old school platforming challenge, smooth analog stick controls, sharp anime sprites and an unlockable 8-Bit soundtrack. All of this in one attractive, quaint and entertainingly hyper-violent title that truly stands out... if you actually play it.

(8) Hard Corps: Uprising
Developer: Arc System Works
Platforms: PSN, XBLA
Genre: Sidescroller, Arcade, Shooter

Hard Corps: Uprising (my personal favorite downloadable title this year) is one of the most action packed games I've played all year. It truly never lets up and as a prequel to Contra Hard Corps, I should hope that would be the case. Arcade mode holds eight stages of chaotic projectile dodging, frantic high speed chases, intimidating multi stage boss battles and bastard hard difficulty. Arcade difficulty aside, (seriously though, if you're easily enraged, your neighbors may call the police), Rising mode provides a more manageable experience for novice players, allowing you to spend your hard earned points on a hefty number of interesting and powerful upgrades. All of what is listed above, plus online/offline co-op, leads me to believe Uprising is a nearly perfect action title. The only significant complaint I could have, I can't really hold against it... The sound design is god awful, I mean really damn bad, but it's hard to care when you're laughing at just about every sound clip. I actually found myself looking forward to the next bit of bad. Perhaps the best of these moments was when a giant mech erupted from the earth, opened its serrated jaws and (instead of the expected tyrannical roar) let out what sounded like a homeless man screaming into a trash bin by the alley outside. For those that want to test it out first, there isn't really a bad level to try, no matter what part you play through you'll get a good idea of what to expect. Though the difficulty will probably be a bit much for some, if you can be patient, you'll find a very fun and rewarding experience with Hard Corps: Uprising.

(7) Rayman Origins
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Platforms: PS3, Wii, Xbox 360
Genre: Sidescroller, Platformer, Action-Adventure

With all the games on this list so far, it's starting to feel a bit like the year side-scrollers returned. And while it may feel that way (to the old schoolers playing them), these games are sadly overlooked by many console gamers. But with Ubiart (it's a developer platform, look it up), there may just be hope yet. Rayman Origins is an incredibly fresh and nostalgic adventure, with a big name designer behind it - creator and director Michel Ancel. And let's not forget the game's brilliantly talented composer Christophe Héral, both men of Beyond Good & Evil fame. As always, their works complement each other perfectly. Almost everything you do in the game is instantly met with a musical piece of the just the right fit, just play the demo and you'll see. Although Origins is clearly old school, it doesn't feel old. It feels like the cartoon side-scroller never died out on the home console, a natural evolution of the genre and one of the best games of the year.

(6) El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
Developer: Ignition Tokyo
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action-Adventure, Platformer

Definitely not for everyone, I can't even certainly say if it's for me. What I can say though, without hesitation, is that El Shaddai is the most visually striking game I've played since Okami. Nearly every moment your eyes gaze at the screen, you'll be struck with some form of beauty. But with beauty comes the beast, and with El Shaddai, that beast is the gameplay. It's too simplistic for its own good, and because this game is mainly a hack and slash platformer, that simplicity isn't helping to avoid repetition. I'm not saying this isn't a good game, I'm only saddened that the game's visual beauty isn't matched by it's interactive fidelity. If you enjoy art and can ignore the game's faults, you owe it to yourself to experience this retinal feast. Check our El Shaddai review.

(5) Catherine
Developer: Atlus Persona Team
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Genre: ???Puzzle, Platformer, Survival-Horror, Dating Sim???

I can't really say much about Catherine, I think it's because I don't have the full game yet. I've only played the demo... but the demo of of this game is so remarkably different, it certainly seems enough to warrant a purchase. I am now patiently waiting for my order to arrive. If you want to gain a deeper insight on the madness that is Catherine, check out the full review.

(4) Shadows of the Damned
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action-Horror, Third Person Shooter

Goichi Suda, Shinji Mikami, Akira Yamaoka. If you don't know who any of these people are, you are most likely one person out of about 6,980,999,002 others that don't pay attention to the important men and women of the gaming industry, for shame! Shinji Mikami was the director and co-writer of Resident Evil 4. That little piece of info alone should have been enough to get you to buy this, but just in case it wasn't, we still have two other guys you don't know. Goichi Suda is (a bit eccentric) the creator of Killer7 and No More Heroes... okay, not many of you know about those... moving on. Akira Yamaoka is the incredible sound designer and composer of the Silent Hill series. All of these great minds come together to create a title that is... almost nothing like any of the games any of them have worked on before. I'm not disappointed though, this is a great game. I don't know what I was expecting, but whatever that dream may have been, the actual outcome was far more obvious. A proper stack of their talents, rather than a perfect mixture. They all have their respective works shine through at different times, but it can feel like the game is competing with itself for attention... Though, that may have actually be intentional, it does add to it's whacked out acid trip charm. Shadows is a bit of a demonic filth-fest, but if you can handle the offensive and immature dialogue, along with a few overtly sexual situations... Oh, who are we kidding? Of course you can! Good times are sure to be had with Shadows of the Damned.

(3) Yakuza 4
Developer: Team CS1
Platforms: PS3
Genre: Action-Adventure, Brawler, RPG

Let me make something clear, I want you to play the Yakuza series. Not just this entry, but the whole series... Good now that we've gotten that out of the way I can talk about Yakuza 4 specifically. Don't play the demo, it doesn't even kind of show what the game truly is. Don't try it for an hour and say it's not your thing, just buy it. Buy it, play it, and give it time. You won't regret it. It's got fantastic brawler gameplay that continuously improves for each character through an RPG style upgrade system, as well as a campaign (spanning 15 hours or more) with a story full of action, emotion, intrigue, maturity, immaturity and humor. And a massive number of completely optional side missions (many with impressive stories themselves) and mini games, that can easily last an additional 30 hours at least. All in all, a unique and authentically Japanese game. You get a lot with Yakuza 4, and (if only to a core group) it's one of those "monumental" can't miss titles mentioned in the intro of this very list. And now that you can get it on the cheap, there's no reason not to try this remarkable addition to the gaming world.

(2 & 1) The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus HD Collection
Developer: Team Ico
Platforms: PS3
Genre: Action-Adventure, Platformer, Art

Okay, I'm cheating a bit here by adding this to the list, obviously these games didn't originally release in 2011, and I'm making it count for two. But I feel that it's important to remind the many people who passed on this years HD/3D collection, just how significant and incredible these two titles are. Actually, it's a damn fine set of games and there isn't much I can say that hasn't already been said, so...

Conclusion... Buy it. No seriously, go buy it people, it's good.

Well, that concludes this particular list of games you probably didn't play. But unless you're some kind of gaming wizard, I'm sure there are plenty of other games out there you missed, I know I haven't played them all. So go explore, keep your eyes & mind open to new opportunities in all aspects of life & gaming. Enjoy your New Year, & all it has to offer.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Review: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

It’s surprisingly difficult to review a game the size of Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. With a map so big that can take hours to walk from one side to the other, where does one begin? The incredible vistas? Meaty combat? Great story? I don’t know – so I’ll keep it simple. If you don’t already own this game, you should go and buy it. Skyrim is the best fantasy role-playing game I’ve ever had the pleasure to be absorbed by. While the previous title, Oblivion, was good, Skyrim is so much better in every way.

Set some 200 years after the events of Oblivion, in the chilly highlands of the province of Skyrim – home of the hardy, dangerous Nords (think Vikings and you’re almost there) - the game sets you in the fur-lined boots of a prisoner on his way to the chopping block. A few minutes later a dragon – one of the reptilian sky monsters long thought dead – turns up and rips the town a new one, and you’re cut loose in the world, with limitless freedom to explore and forge your legend.
After that, what happens is basically up to the gamer. You could become arch-mage or an honoured warrior, you could craft powerful poisons or just go sit in a bar and drink – the choice is yours. I personally favoured becoming a dragon-slaying mercenary prepared to do whatever the job – provided the coin was good. Oh, and save the world along the way.

A game of massive scope, Skyrim is rollercoaster adventure from start to finish. Literally everywhere you go in the snowy, frost-bound world there are quests awaiting you, be them simple go fetch one-liners or much deeper adventures. While the main plotline is lengthy and detailed (much more so than Oblivion’s rushed rubbish), the real meat of the game is found out in the wastes. Pretty soon you’ll find yourself doing everything from assassinations to clearing mines of giant spiders. At one point I even helped a mystical talking dog find his master. It’s that varied.

To keep you alive in the frozen beauty of Skyrim, the developers have provided a dizzying array of weapons, armour, magic powers and enchantments, keeping you hunting for the next big thing constantly.

The game also makes use of an entirely new branch of magic abilities, ‘shouts’. These powerful spells are learned as the game goes on, as your character isn’t just some border-hopping peasant but is in fact of the ‘Dohvakhin’ – the Dragonborn. How convenient... As one of these mystical people, imbued with the power to speak in the tongue of the dragon - and use their powers, the player can learn a variety of magical attacks and stat boosters from scraps of the ancient dragon language left in the world. Of course, in order to use these powers, you need a very special type of battery – dragons’ souls, and slaying these monsters is much more difficult than you would expect, with each encounter, both intended and random, proving a difficult fight.

The delightful part of exploring Skyrim’s frozen wastes is the sheer variety of both quests and random events, which instill the game with a wonderful variety. You could be making your way to a castle only to discover a cave full of necromancers summoning a demon, or get randomly attacked by a dragon while swimming across a lake – the game keeps you on your toes.
With a huge variety of scenery, from the high tips of ice-laced mountains to the deep green of meadows to the stygian darkness of the game’s many and varied caves (all of which have their own distinct feel – no copy-a-caves here), Skyrim looks amazing – from a distance.

While the sweeping vistas are brilliant to look at as you slide down a mountainside, get up close and the graphics can appear blocky and ugly, which is a little offputting. Gameplay bugs are also in attendance, featuring randomly spawning creatures, being talked to through walls and a werewolf armed with a battleaxe in its flesh-rending claws. My personal favourite was the housewife who yanked a broom out of her robes and charged a dragon with it – it morphed into a dagger after two swipes, then she got bitten in half...

The companions you meet on your path are also problematic at times, and while they can take a lot of aggro for the gamer, they’re often standing in the way, get lost easily or step into your arrows as you fire them. That said, it’s useful to have a pack horse along to carry all your loot, of which Skyrim is packed full.

But if you overlook these faults – which is very easy to do – Skyrim has a hell of a lot on offer for RPG fans old and new. Longtime Elder Scrolls devotees may be put off by some of the time-saving steps Bethesda took with Skyrim, such as keeping enchanting and alchemy to designated stations (found in all good wizards’ workshops). Learning new skills is also easier than before, and it’s possible to be a gifted archer, mage and two-handed axe-master at the same time (as well as a werewolf, which is really cool...).

Thankfully, Oblivion’s clunky menu interface has also had a tune-up. Gone are the complicated lists and in are constellation-based skill trees which have you looking to the skies when you level up. Similarly, equipping weapons, armour and magical abilities are also neater, and the addition of a ‘favourites’ list makes selecting that spell you really need while fending off frost trolls far easier.

There are some odd faults with the menu selection, however, which see the D-pad controls not responding when you enter the menus, leading to you having to go back to the game and back into the menu. This is infuriating in the middle of a fight and desperately needs a patch.
The combat on a whole, however, is by far the best yet in any Elder Scrolls game. The controls are sharp, the action intense and swinging a sword at an enemy actually feels right. The developers have also introduced Fallout-style slow motion kills, both for enemies and for players (I got eaten by a dragon - not pretty), which are rare enough to enjoy when they trigger.

All in all, Skyrim - despite its minor flaws - is as enchanting an adventure as I’ve ever had the pleasure to play. Its depth and breadth are second to none, and set in a beautifully realised, varied world which manages to inspire with every hour played (of which there are bound to be many). From the moment the game begins, you know you’re in for something special.

*Reviewed on Xbox 360

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Gaming in the cloud. Is it here to stay?

Cloud gaming, to some, is not a new concept. People have been playing games on the cloud via the OnLive service for over a year now. The service opened up to Americans in the June of 2010, beginning life with a subscription model that gave customers access to all the games on the service for a monthly fee.

At launch, the service offered very little in terms of content with only a few big name titles such as Assassins Creed 2 and Batman Arkham Asylum. In August of 2010 OnLive removed its subscription fee and the games became individually priced.

Jump forward around one and a half years and you can see that OnLive has made a lot of progress since it's launch. There are now 189 titles available and the range is constantly expanding with AAA blockbuster titles and long-lost classics. OnLive also tends to have regular sales, encouraging people to use the service.

Now to the topic at hand, is Cloud gaming here to stay?

The biggest plus of cloud gaming to most people is the fact that you don't need a top-end gaming rig to play the newer more graphically intense games as the game is rendered on the OnLive servers and the resulting image is sent to your PC. Also, as of the release of the OnLive application on Apple and Android systems the games can now also be played on device such as the iPad. This clearly offers a huge advantage to the people who don't want to continually update their hardware to keep up with the demands of modern gaming. It also means that you can game on the move, providing you have a sufficient internet connection. However, this does mean you never own a physical copy of the game or even have access to any of the files as you would if you purchased the same game on Steam. You pay for the right to stream the game to your chosen device.

On one hand this means valuable hard drive space is conserved and also makes mobile play on Tablet PC's possible. Unfortunately some people do not like the idea of never actually receiving anything other than the experience of playing the game.

As far as pricing for the games is concerned they are competitive to say the least, prices are often lower than their hard copy counterparts and on a par with Steam (excluding promotions and offers).

Cloud gaming is a simple idea and has made a lot of progress since its launch. The biggest challenge services such as OnLive face is having to compete with competitors such as Steam and finding ways to capture some of the audience still buying retail copies. Cloud gaming is, in my personal opinion, the future of gaming. Sony or Microsoft will eventually incorporate similar services into their consoles, most likely next generation, introducing this to a much wider audience. This isn't to say that traditional gaming we have come to know and love will be completely wiped out, just that in the near or distant future we could see many more gamers playing in the cloud.


Flying in the face of Microsoft and Sony's efforts to embed the console in the living room and make it our entertainment system of choice, new service Onlive has finally arrived in the UK - and will do its level best to convert us to cloud-based gaming.

Those attending this year's Eurogamer Expo and making it to the OnLive developer session apparently had a nice surprise in store... delegates who fought their way through the onlookers apparently got their hands on a free console. Sadly, Megabits wasn't one of the lucky few to grab one - but that's not to say we aren't tempted by the new service...

It's been available in the US for about a year now but for those of you who've never heard of this new gadget, you can basically stream the latest games via your broadband connection without physical discs. Users can play demos for free, pay for a rental (spanning three or five days) or buy unlimited access to a game for as long as it stays on OnLive - which it promises will be at least three years. And then there are the bundle packages to access all the games.

It all sounds fantastic, doesn't it? Question is, will most of us be able to access it lag free with our lacklustre broadband services. It's no secret that broadband speeds aren't all they're cracked up to be here in the UK. Many of us can only dream of attaining the speeds necessary to stream movies without them pausing every few minutes. Playing a game and seeing a delay onscreen before my button press is recognised or having my playthrough stop for buffering would be hugely irritating and make it almost unplayable - but I'll hold judgement until I see the service first hand.

My second concern is that my broadband provider, like many others, imposes a cap on my downloads each month. Considering the amount of time I like to spend gaming a month and contributing to this very site, I wonder whether my provider will be sending me either some very strongly-worded emails insisting I restrict my usage, or a hefty bill because I've exceeded my quota.

Either way, Cloud gaming is looking promising and it's certainly something Megabits will be monitoring in 2012!

For more details, check out the official OnLive web site. Alternatively, take a look at a pretty decent article from The Guardian.

(Photo credit: Extra Medium)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Review: Catherine

So I had recently been approached with the opportunity to write video game reviews for a website targeting teenage girls. Two thoughts popped into my head; one is that I can continue to procrastinate on editing that Spiderman Edge of Crap review I typed up weeks ago. Secondly, this would be a good chance to go reflect on my experience with this summer’s romance conspiracy puzzler, Catherine. After all, if there’s one thing teenage girls despise, its unfaithful men. Likewise, they may also like block puzzles, sake and baritone narrators. So should your very specific and unlikely combination of tastes match up, Catherine may also be for you.

Catherine was procreated by Atlus’ Persona team, the guys that made such hits as Persona 4 and I guess Persona 3. Many of the same sensibilities (or lack thereof) carry over into this demon child of a game. There is the best attempts of Japanese artists imitating American music since Bayonetta’s J-Pop version of Fly Me To The Moon. There is the litany of innuendos and hidden (often not well hidden) perverse imagery. There is an even bigger pile of exposition. There’s a divine supernatural force causing bad things to happen. There are many, many endings (including a very demented one that will go down amongst the annals of great game endings.) There is plenty of alcohol and sushi. I feel that for better of for worse, the legion of Persona 4 fans (and we are indeed legion, a loving legion at that) have already been sold on Catherine on virtue of really wanting more Persona 4.

This is not, in fact, more Persona 4. Though it would not surprise me to find out the protagonist of Catherine is also the silent hero of Persona 4, paying the price for all the simultaneous girlfriends he had within the Investigation Team. If that’s not the case, than your character is Vincent Brooks. He’s scared of the long-term commitment his girlfriend Katherine desires, whom also happens to be preggers with his kid. He also might be having an affair with a free-spirited ditz of a woman named Catherine. Also, people in his town are dying in their sleep of unknown causes. Also, he has dreams of being forced to climb a giant tower alongside many other sheep-like figures in the name of not croaking himself. Also, he has the unhealthy compulsion of going to the local bar Every. Single. Day. Nah, maybe teenage girls don’t want to relate to this game, nevermind.

Atlus’ intent for Catherine has an unlikely kind of ambition that I can’t recall ever seeing before on any game. Players are asked to choose between responsible commitment and unhinged freedom. I know this because I figured it out while playing. I unequivocally know this because the game felt obligated to explain its own themes to me point-blank. Subtlety has never been the strength of most Japanese game developers.

At the same time, the narrative doesn’t begin to get interesting until near the end of the game. That is largely on account of the game’s morality meter, and how it keeps Vincent from acting the way players want him to. Based on your choices, players fill a meter that swings between responsibility and freedom, and the side of the meter determines Vincent’s responses to certain scenarios. Well, in theory it does. In practice, he seems to respond to every conflict with tattered panic, indifference, stuttering, sweating and an inability to do anything but let the situation escalate.

At the least, I kept myself intrigued in the game’s murder mystery, and found the satisfying payoff within what the game deems the “True” endings. Now, the only way to get the true endings is to max out one side of the meter, which completely kills off the whole moral choice aspect. It means I’m no longer answering the game’s assorted dilemmas and moral issues based on my beliefs but rather for gameplay conceits. Call it the inFamous Syndrome.

Also, block puzzles. The actual game part of the game asks for players to manipulate cubes on a giant tower in a manner that allows Vincent to reach the top and mature as a person I guess. The blocks have their own unique ruleset that allows for many possible approaches to the top (multiple roads to walk before one becomes a man?). There are other variables, like power-ups strewn across the fields, or different block types like the block with a giant tongue as to make Catherine envious. There’s a surprisingly decent variety to what is otherwise the same form of tile manipulation to each of the game’s levels.

But I can’t claim to have enjoyed those block puzzles. I feel like it takes a certain kind of person to be able to navigate these geometric solutions. Someone with strong spatial skills, the kind that allows them to assemble the International Space Station with their mind. Even on the Easy difficulty setting, I found myself having to resort to move-for-move imitation of Youtube videos in order to climb these beasts and make Vincent’s parents proud.

Between puzzles, the game asks players to answer assorted random relationship questions. These should probably be approached with a more lighthearted flair than the game wants players to, with such issues as “would you change your wardrobe for your lover?” or “your girl wants to see a Twilight movie, what do you do?" (not really a question in the game). After, the game gives you a pie chart explaining how other gamers answered, with most of the responses leaning towards the responsibility side. This tells me that either there is hope for mankind’s future, that most players went for the perceived “good” ending on their first playthrough, or that most gamers were playing while their girlfriends were in the room.

When Vincent is not dreaming of electric sheep, he’s probably at the local bar, talking to whomever is willing to share their woes with him. While at the bar, he can respond to texts from the various K/Catherines in his life, which affect that ever finicky morality meter. He can talk to the locals. He can drink beverages and get random trivia notes from the mysterious narrator. He can play an arcade game based some hybrid of Rapunzel and his nightmares. And he can change the songs on the jukebox to assorted unlockable tracks from past Shin Megami Tensei games, because Atlus knows its strongest suit. Naturally, the Persona 4 songs are the hardest to unlock, because Atlus hates me.

That really is the game portion of the game. You are either interacting with NPCs in a bar or climbing assorted block puzzles. Catherine becomes a weird game to recommend in that respect.

What the game does well is so unique and specific that it takes a specific person to actually appreciate it. And yet, because its intentions are so different from every game on the market, I feel as though many young men and women kind of need to play it, if just to know. Men should look at Catherine to learn of the quandaries that come with coming of age. Women should look at it just to know what realities face the opposite sex. And I should play it as my holdover until that Persona 4 fighting game finally comes out here. Please hurry up.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3

It comes as no surprise that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was the biggest entertainment launch of all time. Fans once again camped out on the streets to grab a copy, and first day sales in the US and UK alone amounted to a staggering 6.5 million units – racking up a respectable $400 million. Within just 16 days, sales had surpassed $1bn! What’s more, other records were being smashed, with more Xbox Live gamers playing concurrently on Modern Warfare 3 than ever before - 1.4 million simultaneous users!

But underneath all those stats and the bravado, the latest edition is hardly genre defining; if you’ve played any of the previous games from the past few years you’ll know exactly what to expect. But the fact it’s more evolution than revolution is no bad thing. Everything feels very familiar – the controls, gameplay and looks.

There is still lots of testosterone oozing from the screen, plenty of oo-rahing and chest beating, as well as copious expletives being flung about as you and your compadres fight your way through various wartorn environments. There are stacks of weapons to find and fire, as well as scopes, riot shields, frags and flashbangs to help you progress. It all feels very comfortable and accessible.

The traditionally-short campaign is full of the usual set pieces; huge explosions, helicopters smashing into the ground, buildings being destroyed, grenades raining down upon you… all of which keeps you on the very edge of your seat for every second of your fun-filled six hour(!) playthrough. It’s nice that the action moves into recognizable cities too with Paris, London and New York among those given a virtual makeover.

Aesthetically, it's perhaps starting to look a little dated what with the release of the likes of Battlefield 3, RAGE and more recently The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – but it’s still great fun to play. As ever, the plot makes little real sense and you could easily be forgiven for thinking you were playing some DLC for Modern Warfare 2. While the Easy difficulty setting is painfully simple, Veteran is just as frustrating as before but hugely satisfying when you struggle on to each checkpoint. When all is said an done there is still plenty of reason to replay, fuelled by the nicely conceived achievements such as shooting terrorists before they hit the ground during some severe turbulence on a plane to taking out all the helicopters with only grenades from remote-controlled tank in another mission. Then there’s the usual intel that you need to hunt down if you’re after that illusive 1000G or Platinum trophy.

Of course, we all know that the solo campaign is not what die hard fans are yearning for. It’s playing with friends that will keep us all occupied long after the escapades of Soap and Price are forgotten. While many of us will have no problems firing off a few headshots, newbies will benefit from the inclusion of Deathstreaks as well as Killstreaks, which give less proficient shooters a helping hand and, as a result, makes proceedings far more enjoyable.

The various maps and innovative new game modes besides the usual Team Deathmatch and Free For All options certainly add to the immense longevity of the title and I’ll wager this will dominate your lives until next year’s release. Also the revamped strike packages – Assault, Support and Specialist – as well as the huge array of weapons and challenges make it more worthwhile than ever to spend some time in the Barracks honing the set up for your various classes before a match. There’s absolutely loads to unlock from guns and callsigns to emblems and perks. It’s fantastic, and addictive.

Much to this reviewer’s delight, however, the Special Ops co-op mode makes a very welcome return too, allowing you to take on a series of increasingly tough challenges alone or ith a friend. Completing them in a set timeframe or to certain criteria you’re awarded stars. One word of warning though, I got 1000G on Modern Warfare 2 after completing the Special Ops and they look easy in comparison to these new ones – even with a friend onboard! Smack Town is particularly tricky on Veteran, while another level saw us boarding a submarine but unable to make it out again. And those bloody training courses with their strict time limits have seen me throw many expletives at the screen. Hours have passed but those three little stars remain illusive...

The new Survival mode is akin to the Gears of War Horde matches, where repelling wave after wave of attackers is the objective. What makes this a little more fun is the addition of various stages around each level where money accrued for kills and completing each stage can be spent on various upgrades, ammunition or special weapons such as Predator missiles, claymores or sentry guns. It adds a really nice tactical feel to the mode, with the added pressure of having to make purchases or get into position before the short timer ticks down and the next wave appears. You’re immediately lulled into a false sense of security as you painlessly take out footsoldiers who stupidly run into your line of fire like lemmings, but things get tough very quickly and before long you’ll have attack helicopters, floods of soldiers and those almost immortal juggernauts lumbering towards you. It’s hellishly difficult with a friend and almost impossible on your own. Nevertheless, it will makes a refreshing change in six month’s time to just booting up the disc to play the online multiplayer maps.

The script and missions in the campaign won’t really throw up many major surprises beyond some nice set pieces for those accustomed to the series, but it remains an enjoyable way to spend a few hours – and it’s good to see Soap and the moustachioed Price again. Multiplayer remains great fun and as the first few days have shown, the lobbies are absolutely heaving with players ready to take up the fight. With Special Ops and Survival mode thrown in for good measure, this is a fantastic package and the hype is entirely justified. Definitely worth adding to your playlist.

Review: Super Mario 3D Land

Oh, PETA. I ironically love you guys so much. Not because I agree wholeheartedly with your beliefs. I can only do so much to defend animal rights with a Slim Jim in one hand and a fly-swatter in the other. But your oft-irrational attacks against unknowing targets serve more to assist your victims than harm. The “Tofu Boy” debacle from last year wound up giving the independently produced Super Meat Boy some much-wanted extra sales and an ingenious parody for Steam players. Now you’re accusing innocent little Mario of skinning tanookis and wearing their fur for fashion and superpowers. While Mario has spent some less-than-kosher time jumping on turtles and chasing a tie-spouting gorilla with a hammer, wearing a cute animal costume feels less like animal cruelty than belated Trick-or-Treat material. But alas, they made the Flash game “Mario Kills Tanooki”, which both makes Mario come across as a merciless badass and serves as free publicity for the pretty darn great Super Mario 3D Land.

So the Tanooki suit has come out of retirement in this game, and has weirdly become a driving force of the experience. In this game, Bowser has kidnapped the Princess because his DNA commands him too, but he also stole a lot of Raccoon leaves from Super Mario Bros 3 to help him. So, brace yourself for this… Bowser’s minions have raccoons tails! Goombas have tails. Bullet Bills have tails. Bowser has a tail. How can Mario deflect these weapons of mass destruction?

With leaves and tanooki suits of his own, of course! As well as picking flowers off the ground for fire attacks. You don’t see Poison Ivy getting her panties in a bunch over Mario’s treatment of shrubbery, do you PETA? (Sorry, still on the Arkham City kick.) I appreciate Mario 3D Land’s returning emphasis on power-ups that exist until someone hits you with a boomerang. All this in spite of how desecrating it is that a leaf gives you full blown tanooki outfit and not just the raccoon tail, or how you don’t get a tanooki suit that can transform into a statue until you finish the game, or how this tanooki suit has no flight capabilities, but that’s just me wanting to re-play Mario 3 again.

Mario 3D Land’s gameplay seems to be positioned somewhere between several different Mario games. Your controlled Mario moves around a three-dimensional area with about the same grace as Mario 64 Mario, and the stages have elements taken from the Galaxy games, but the progression of each stage is as linear and pro-jumping as old Mario sidescrollers, and now I’m sounding like I’m too into this shit. The camera angle is generally fixed in an isometric position designed largely to make three dimensions pop in as pompous a way as possible.

And pop they do. The 3D is often very clear and defined, and not exclusively used to make things exploitatively fly in your face. (Though expect an incoming Bullet Bill or two, because why not?) The 3D effects are actually given the tactical use of providing depth to the environment, and subconsciously helping you gauge jump distance in your platforming exploits. The game will even occasionally toss in a puzzle that demands you flex those eye-muscles to judge where certain parts exist in the environment. These are rare but novel, and a quick camera-angle change is all it takes to help players whom can’t use/despise all of this three-dimensional malarkey.

This is also a game of surprising length and content. There are 8 worlds, several stages in between them and a heaping dose of Mario series nostalgia spread throughout. The classic Mario series callbacks are all over the place, both in the level design and in the music. Also, finishing the game yields an entire second sect of levels that remixes all of the earlier stages in more difficult manners. The caveat is that your progression in the game as a whole depends on collecting the hidden “star coins” in each level. I rarely ever ran into a situation where I didn’t have enough star coins to advance to the next stage, but it’s still a buzz-kill when you do get stunted. I couldn’t give you an actual hour count as to the game’s length, but it did take me several full 3DS battery charges, which is more of an indictment of the damn system’s battery.

If this review feels decidedly less winded than my usual lengthy rants, it’s because this game doesn’t stray that far from the Mario MasterMold.

Don’t expect any surprises or groundbreaking innovations. You don’t even get to see Mario skin a tanooki and wear its skin Cruella De Vil-style. But you get a reliable, entertaining Mario handheld game, one whose levels are succinct enough to suit quick playthroughs on a portable device. Also, the game ranks up there with A Harold and Kumar Christmas and Jackass 3D as the most respectable, dignified use of 3D to date. Finally, it makes me yearn for the sequel, where Bowser kidnaps the Princess and powers all of his troops with frog suits.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Top Trailers Told In LEGO

We at Megabits have played and reviewed our fair share of LEGO games over the past few years and doff our caps to their accurate block-based re-enactions of popular movies. But we've also stumbled across many renditons of game trailers, lovingly crafted by fans from the humble LEGO block... Here are two of our favourites, which coincidentally are frontrunners for top-selling title this Christmas.

(Hit Play on both videos at the same time!)

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

Assassin's Creed: Revelations

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Megabits Column: Batman Arkham City

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 December 2011 issue. For more about the magazine, check out its Facebook page after the jump.

There are many truisms in the world of gaming. One is that comic-based games are invariably poor and tend to pale in significance alongside their traditional paper-based representations. At least, that used to be the case...

Until Rocksteady Studios wheeled out one of the hits of 2009, Batman: Arkham Asylum, superhero games had somewhat of a poor reputation and seemed most popular among fans rather than diehard gamers. Arkham Asylum dispelled that myth and it was the worthy recipient of numerous Game of the Year awards. It also held the honour of holding a Guinness World Record for Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game Ever.

Fortunately, the bat signal has been reactivated and the Dark Knight has swooped back onto our screens. And what’s more, its review scores are already surpassing those of its predecessor. Combining elements of action, stealth and puzzle solving, Batman: Arkham City basically offers more of the same but is bigger and better in every way.

Everyone’s favourite billionaire, Bruce Wayne, once again dons his cape and cowl and steps into the dark and seedy parts of Gotham that few dare to talk about. Sections of the city have been transformed into a maximum security prison that houses all the most dastardly and despicable hoods and hoodlums.

The game opens with none other than Mr Wayne being grabbed by the cronies (oo-er) and manacled before finding himself in that very prison. Fortunately, after a quick punch up – and the help of his trusty butler Alfred – he’s back where he belongs, hanging off tall buildings and dressed as his alter ego, Batman.

It’s a veritable feast for fans of the caped crusader and you’ll come face with his most-loved arch rivals including The Joker, Penguin, Harley Quinn, Hugo Strange, Mr Freeze and Two-Face to name a few.

On paper, at least, it seems so simple to replicate this winning formula: an expansive play area, plot that stays true to the comics and loads of our favourite villains would surely equal a surefire hit... But the path to comic-based greatness has not been smooth and there have been plenty of disappointments over the years. Iron Man, X-Men, Spiderman are all guilty of failing to live up to their super status.

Superman was the first superhero to make an appearance on the Atari 2600 back in 1979, coinciding with the original Christopher Reeve movie. Batman didn’t make his first appearance until a few years later – but his 8-bit debut in 1986 in Ocean’s isometric adventure proved popular among fans and promised great things. Sadly, besides the 1989 rendition of the Tim Burton movie, Batman Return of The Joker (1991) and more recently, LEGO Batman (2008), Bats has appeared in more than his fair share of turkeys over the past 25 years.

Rocksteady’s rendition of the Caped Crusader is certainly a long way from his less than auspicious escapades in Batman: Dark Tomorrow (2003) on the GameCube and Xbox. There are many parallels with Rocksteady’s efforts, with him trying to stop a gang war that’s raging in the city and infiltrating Arkham Asylum. Eerily familiar, he? However, this was arguably his worst ever outing and critics rounded on the dodgy camera angles, poor AI and the linear nature of the game.

Catwoman also failed to break the Batman curse when she made an appearance in a self-titled game in 2004 and struggled to make an impact on the gaming world. That was despite Halle Berry lending her voice talent to the game and curvy form to the character model. In fact, it’s sad to say that the game is probably best remembered for its fantastic idle animation, which sees the sultry Miss Kyle preening herself after a few motionless minutes!

After years of disappointment, comic book fans certainly owe a lot to Rocksteady. Finally, gamers can rest assured that puzzles, gadgets, arch villains, and combat combined with our favourite superheroes is now more likely to mean the game earns a place in our hearts rather than the bargain bin.

Review: Legend of Zelda-Skyward Sword

Yup. Thrust upon us once again is another Zelda game, released at naturally the worst time of the year for people who wish to do things like accomplish work, see loved ones or even play other video games. How long has it been since a non-Bioware, non-Bethesda game was released that was over 30 hours long? I mean a game where all 30 of those hours were dedicated to the main story. I feel like Nintendo dedicated Skyward Sword to my 12-year old self, the person who was only getting one game a year and was going to play that one game after school every day for the next three grades (the life of a Nintendo 64 owner was a simple one). There is enough content in this game to last many missed English assignments. How many games can get away with claiming that without riddling themselves with sidequests about rescuing and escorting hookers? (Oh Saint’s Row the Third, I masochistically love you).

So I chose to put off Skyrim until I finished Skyward Sword, which is the equivalent of putting off a CN Tower stair climb to do the Terry Fox Run. This is a lengthy game. Link will traverse dungeons. He will explore far away lands. He will pick up small keys. He will engage in a fetch quest. I may have had small complaints about the sailing fetch quest in Wind Waker, and I have thrown many violent, hysterical fits over the many annoying fetch quests in Twilight Princess. Skyward Sword is the kind of game that isn’t afraid to make you revisit some old areas in the name of buying the game some time before it’s finished and left to die on the used shelf at Gamestop. But except for one repeated-too-often boss fight and one brief but extremely annoying fetch quest (which is more annoying because it involves swimming, the bane of most every game), Zelda at least earns the right to be redundant by spicing up its treaded ground. An area that you forced to revisit may suddenly have vicious archer goblins that require some tactical elven sniper skills from your bow to proceed.

The next obstacle you’ll have to cope with is your own sense of pacing. Years of playing non-Zelda-styled games may have gotten you adept at a certain pacing structure. You know, the “doing things will progress the game” style of pacing that kind of defines, well, storytelling. Here’s an example of how a normal video game would progress.

You need to be at Burger King because you want an Angry Whopper. You run across your street. You may have to fight off some hoodlums in a test of your combat abilities, but your path to the Angry Whopper is clear. When you reach the Burger King, there is a cutscene of you buying the Angry Whopper.

Now, in Skyward Sword, the scenario plays out differently.

You need to be at Burger King because you want an Angry Whopper. You run across your street. You may have to fight some hoodlums and run over some quicksand because running is the best way to avoid quicksand. When you get there, you learn that the store manager locked himself out and you need to travel to three different dark, hoodlum-filled alleyways to collect the three parts of the key. Once you’ve gone out of your way to collect the key, you enter the Burger King, where the manager asks you to travel across three different, perilous dungeons to obtain the bun, ground beef and fried onion rings needed to create the burger that vanquishes evil.

What I’m trying to get at is that Skyward Sword has no qualms about leading you on, for as long as it thinks it can get away with it. This isn’t to be mistaken with the game having drawn-out fetch quests, but rather that you will not make as much progress in a single play session as you think you will. I learned quickly not to set time goals; you can’t say to yourself “I’m going to reach and finish the water temple by the time the turkey’s done” without risking a burnt bird and a very ungrateful Thanksgiving. Play the game at your available time, and don’t set goals.

But I found that I rarely minded that. Past Zelda games felt like they were checking marks off a checklist on a tourist guide. You knew Link was going to visit Death Mountain, hang with his Goron homedawgs and throw a few bombs in a Dodongo’s mouth. Been there, done that, played that nostalgia card so much the edges are worn down. So I was pleasantly surprised to see Skyward Sword grant players some new sights and smells. There are new tribes of wildlife that need aiding, new items to create, new gameplay mechanics, creative new dungeon ideas and puzzles, and some of the best boss design since, oh, I don’t know, the pro wrestling match in Saints Row the Third. Even Ganon has been replaced by a new and appropriately creepy surrogate force of darkness that wants to destroy the world because that’s what forces of darkness do.

Though Zelda fans will still find plenty of ties to their beloved series… Of course there’s a Link and a Zelda here. Of course there’s a recurring character here and there. You know, story-vital characters like Beedle the shopkeep with no self-esteem. Of course you’ll keep fairies in bottles the way PETA hates you for. Actually, Zelda fans will appreciate this game the most on account of how there are a handle of reveals explaining the nature of things. There is still enough of a standalone story as for new players to not be left in the dark, but one can assume Skyward Sword precedes the entire story, offering little bits of insight into the land and lore.

Speaking of, the land here consists of a civilized floating land mass called “Skyloft”, and an unexplored plane of wild land called “the rest of the f#@king world.” The sky is the main hub, and Link’s equivalent to a horse or talking sailboat is a giant-assed red bird that responds to motion-controlled orders. The game does well to tap into the Wind Waker mentality of giving a wide-open expanse to encourage the player to explore, while trumpeting a powerful orchestral soundtrack. You’ll find sidequests on the other lands and treasure chests that you unlock via smashing blocks on the ground, and feel kind of awesome for nose-diving across the sky on your sweet ride of a PETA-Flash game waiting to happen. Also, the game taps into Wind Waker’s light visual style by presenting the world in colourful, painterly colours as to give the world some personality. It doesn’t go all the way silly like Wind Waker, and doesn’t get as straight-laced and boring as Twilight Princess. Skyward Sword finds the best of both worlds.

I guess I should talk about the motion controls at some point, being that they kind of are the centre of this game’s marketing. You will need a Motionplus adaptor or Wiimote Plus to play this game. I feel less like an idiot now for buying the Motionplus to play Tiger Woods Golf on the Wii (hey, if you haven’t played Tiger Woods on the Wii, you are missing out on the system’s best implementation of motion controls. I’m not even joking). Now, the second best implementation of motion controls is Skyward Sword. You will need to move your remote around to fly your bird, aim your arrows, whip bombs around, turn strange-keys that locksmiths must’ve spent centuries designing, and so forth.

I was partially at odds with the game, largely because I’m a sloth trying to play a motion-controlled game lying down. There were moments where I had to position my arm off my bed so I could tilt the remote down. There were times where I froze on a tightrope because the mechanism for balancing requires you to hold the remote horizontally and my arm was too busy holding up the weight of my upper body. First world problems, I know. You learn to be deliberate with your actions, as the game is smart enough to discern the difference between throwing a bomb and holding a bomb in the air as to say, “hey look I have this bomb it goes BOOM, BOOM, POW check out my hyrule swagger.”

And then there’s the swordplay. You swing your remote in different directions and Link will respond accordingly. Like with other control mechanisms, you have to be deliberate and precise with your motions, or else Link will think you’re doing cartwheels and respond with a goofy backflip sword attack. A goofy backflip sword attack that the final boss outright mocked me for doing over and over out of my adrenaline-soaked intensity. Enemies are designed to respond to different sword attacks; the guy who just happens to be holding his sword up in the air leaves his belly open for a horizontal c-section from the Skyward Sword. A very early boss is designed to lick his lips at the thought of players who “waggle” the controller and can only be thwarted via skillful wristmanship.

Like every combat action game, the challenge becomes in learning enemy behaviours and responding with the according sword swipes. This is not to be mistaken with, say, every Kinect game, which gives players insane amount of leeway to commit to a complex motion. Enemy plants will only leave their maws open for short periods of time before mocking your slow wrist and taking a chunk off Link’s face. So I feel comfortable in saying Skyward Sword is the first plausible case of a motion-controlled game designed for the “core” group of gamers who think motion controls have dumbed down the industry in a swarm of mini-games and Rabbids.

Actually, I feel comfortable recommending Skyward Sword to anyone short of the most abject Zelda franchise haters. You could think about playing it because the motion controls are the closest we’ve gotten to realizing that dream of “holding a lightsaber for a Wiimote”. You could think about playing it because the world it creates is an exciting place to go adventuring in. You could play it because it has no shortage of content. You could play it because you like collecting bugs and there’s an entire mechanic dedicated to catching bugs with your one-to-one controlled bug net. I can at least confirm that it is the first, second or third-best “Sky” related game to ever come out (can’t speak to Skyrim’s quality, but I can say Crimson Skies on the Xbox was pretty sweet). You should probably play this.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Top Five With A Twist: The Winner Is...

For many years Bojeeva and I had a rolling wager on which of our respective football teams would finish highest in the league each season. In the late 90s/early 2000s it was a fairly open bet, but in recent years the bet has merely facilitated a regular drip feed of money from my bank account to his. So at the start of this year we decided to shake things up a bit. The wager changed from sports to video games and we bet £20 on the combined Metacritic scores of our five most anticipated games of 2011. You can find Bojeeva’s list here and mine here.

Ibwib: Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
What we said: To be honest, we thought this one would slip until next year. We got really worried when reviews seemed to be embargoed until the release date, and had visions of a New Vegas style decision to release rubbish rather than miss the release date. Amazingly, despite all the ill omens, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim turned out to be a winner. The same breadth and depth as Oblivion, the scale and complexity of Morrowind, but now with added trolls and dragons. What’s not to love?
Metacritic Score: 96

Bojeeva: L.A Noire
What we said: An impressive display of motion technology and new gameplay mechanics that initially blows you away, L A Noire loses a lot of its initial shine when you realise how irrelevant much of the game is. There’s a giant open city, but there’s nothing to do in it but play through the story. There’s an evidence and investigation mechanic, but it has an individual and inflexible logic that reduces it to a high-tech version of hunt-the-verb, and it soon becomes apparent that the plot has overridden the gameplay - it will chug along no matter how badly you play, and deliberately force you down dead ends where both you and it know that the conclusions it will ask you to reach are inaccurate. Keep playing through these weaknesses, however, and you’ll get one of gaming’s most compelling stories and some unexpectedly good shootouts.
Metacritic Score: 89

Ibwib/Bojeeva: Batman: Arkham City
What we said: Our only shared pick, Batman: Arkham City continues its predecessor’s tradition of looking like a surefire Game Of The Year, only to be almost instantly eclipsed by a flurry of top releases. It just isn’t fair. The strengths of Batman: Arkham Asylum were found in its beautifully animated, smoothly flowing combat, detailed designs and the depth of its detailed, nerdbait packed environments. The sequel transfers those strengths to an open-world setting that will reward free spirited players, and also pulls back slightly on the only real drawback of the original, its intrusive ‘detective mode’. A lot of people bitch about sequels, but as far as we’re concerned, as long as you’re taking a good game and making it better, you keep right on with it.
Metacritic Score: 94

Ibwib: Portal 2
What we said: And here’s Portal 2 to prove our point about sequels. The original was an inventive puzzle game with a great comedic performance. The sequel was an inventive puzzle game with several new gameplay mechanics, three great comedic performances, a clever story and an enormous co-op section so good it could have been released as a game in its own right.
Metacritic Score: 95

Bojeeva: Uncharted 3 Drake’s Deception
What we said: Nate returns for the third instalment of the PS3's hit series. From a scuffle in a dingy London pub to plane crashes, vast deserts and ancient ruins, there's barely time to catch a breath. The story is perfectly paced, the voice acting, humour and graphics are all top notch. The only downside is that there's little new on offer - not entirely a bad thing - but it just doesn't surprise as much as the second game. Was it just me or was the ending much the same as Among Thieves too???
Metacritic Score: 92

Ibwib: Mass Effect 3
What we said: Booo! In last year’s Top 5 with a twist, two of Bojeeva’s games were delayed, giving him a score hurdle that was almost impossible to overcome. This year, it’s my turn. Mass Effect 3 has been pushed back to next year, so that’s no score for me. Interestingly, we hated the tedious conversations, clumsy controls, gormless companions and indecipherable inventories of Mass Effect. On the other hand, we loved the simplified interface and action-oriented story of Mass Effect 2. Time will tell if Mass Effect 3 continues the improvement.
Metacritic Score: n/a

Bojeeva: InFamous 2
What we said: The original was a firm favourite of Megabits but Sucker Punch brought Cole back bigger and better than ever for the sequel. Anybody that can shoot electricity from their fingertips is a worthy protagonist in our book. It looked great, boasted some insane superpowers and had plenty to see and do. Turned out though, that it wasn't quite as well received as we'd expected.
Metacritic Score: 83

Ibwib: Fight Night Champion
What we said: The simplified controls of Fight Night Champion were a massive disappointment after Fight Night Round 4, as was the Champion mode’s cliché riddled story and the lame, contrived challenges it built into the fights. These failings were compensated for by the addition of an XP and Stamina management aspect to the game’s Legacy mode that made it much more challenging and absorbing. On balance, Fight Night Champion wasn’t a bad game, but it did fall short of its predecessor.
Metacritic Score: 86

Bojeeva: Gears of War 3
What we said: Testosterone oozes from every pore of Gears 3, Marcus and his chums making a welcome return against the Locust horde. We expected lots of explosions, guns, ducking and diving for cover, game modes and huge set pieces - and that's exactly what we got. As expected, it hit the target and scores of fans lined up into the night to get their grubby hands on a copy. It was a worthy conclusion perhaps, but again, was it a little too similar to its predecessors?
Metacritic Score: 91

And the winner is...Bojeeva, with a combined score of 449, compared with my much less impressive 371. So, that’s me £20 out of pocket, but what’s been really impressive about this year’s selection is how few disappointments there were.

Last year’s picks contained games full of disappointment and unmet potential. This year, however we had very few let downs, and several games that exceeded even the high expectations we’d burdened them with. The great thing about Top 5 with a twist is that it puts the entire gaming year into perspective, and lets you see what a cracker 2011 has been.

Bring on 2012!

30 Minute Playtest: Saints Row The Third

Crazy. That's the best way to describe the first 30 minutes with THQ's new sandbox epic. Before I'd even had time to catch a breath, I'd been involved in a bank heist - on a scale similar to that brilliant moment in GTA IV - evaded the cops, been captured by a rival gang, flung myself from an aircraft, and bought a giant pink dildo to give passers by a sound beating. Oh yeah, and there was the little incident at the heavily defended army base where I stole an armoured vehicle and shot Predator missles into incoming tanks. And a helicopter flight. And a few car thefts. Shoot outs. And a bit of character customization! Phew.

Put aside the craziness, however, and those first 30 ludicrous minutes of gameplay left me craving more and suggested that this is certainly bigger, better and even more outrageous than the fantastic second instalment and its jailbreak intro.

Since those first few scenes of mayhem, it's clear that the Third Street Saints have their work cut on by taking on the new kids on the block, The Syndicate - a well-funded gang that wants its share of the spoils in Steelport. Your assets have been frozen so you're starting with no money and no hideout, and it's not long before you're mugging pedestrians and completing insane missions to earn some cash. More money means more weapons and upgrades - including the adorementioned giant floppy dildo!

If you were a fan of the previous games in the series or other sandbox epics like GTA IV, the format will be instantly accessible. Accessing your phone brings up a map and allows you to set the GPS for the best route between locations. From this handy menu you can also call for help from gangmembers, as well as checking out upgrades and mission information. A scrollwheel also gives access to those all important weapons.

There are loads of missions to enjoy and the dialogue is funny as hell - but there's also plenty of enjoyment to be had from straying off the beaten path, stealing a car and exploring the vast map. You'll be hooked from the start. It looks and feels better than the second game - but one thing hasn't changed... the fun factor!