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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Megabits column: Portal 2

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

Who’d have thought that a chance meeting at a career fair would see a major developer uncover a new IP and snap up the group of talented student programmers behind the concept? Who’d have thought that the game would eventually be showered with praise, receive countless awards and become one of the most fondly-remembered titles of recent years?

Valve – the guys behind Half Life - clearly had little doubt that they were onto something special when they took the student freeware game Narbacular Drop and turned it into what we all now know as the first-person puzzler, Portal.

Since Narbacular Drop saw the light of day in 2005 and Portal, in 2007, diehard fans have been demanding a sequel. Finally, with the imaginatively-titled Portal 2, their pleas have been answered. And what’s more, it’s been dubbed the most anticipated game of 2011 at the Spike TV Video Game Awards.

The original Portal was an unequivocal success and the recipient of a healthy total of 90/100 from score aggregating website Metacritic; the critics impressed by its highly original combination of physics and fun.

Its plethora of accolades have included Game Of The Year, Most Original Game and Best Video Game Villain. It also received an award for Best Game Of All Time. In fact, it proved so influential that it even spawned a popular new phrase - The Cake is a Lie – which has come to mean chasing an unattainable goal.

You took the role of female protagonist, Chell, a test subject in a research facility charged with trying out a revolutionary new gadget – the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (or Portal gun). Overseen by the faceless and slightly mental computer GLaDOS, you were tasked with working your way through a series of increasingly devious challenge rooms to test the new technology.

To solve these puzzles – often requiring you to get from one end of a room to another - portals could be opened with the aforementioned gun, allowing you, or certain objects, to pass through. The gun allows you to fire an entrance hole and an exit hole, which you’ve got to cunningly place in the floor or walls to help you overcome each challenge. Lasers, sentries, and chasms stand in your way.

Fortunately, Portal 2 does not fall into the trap of most sequels – managing to retain its unique charm, trademark wit and engrossing gameplay. Ellen McLain makes a comeback as the voice of GLaDOS although the great casting of the first game is superseded this time round thanks to the dulcet tones of lanky funnyman Stephen Merchant (Ricky Gervais cohort and star of TV hits, The Office and Extras), and J.K. Simmons’ (Spiderman, Juno) role as Aperture Science CEO Cave Johnson.

Portal 2’s test chambers are larger and altogether more devious than their predecessors - boasting some 10 hours plus of gameplay and loads more puzzles - but perhaps the key selling point for the new title is the introduction of a two-player option. This new mode will feature its own unique campaign and characters, and require players to both act and think together. Valve certainly knows how to make great co-op games – and, just like it did in its Left 4 Dead zombie series, the developers are keen to emphasise the importance of working as a team rather than going it alone.
It’s refreshing to see a new IP garner such success in the gaming world dominated by sports titles, first person shooters and annual updates. While Portal 2 may not surprise as much as the original, judging from the initial review scores it definitely doesn’t disappoint. At time of writing, it had racked up an impressive 95/100 on Metacritic, with Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Mac owners enthralled by the devlish puzzles and meatier plot. The only real criticism so far is that the experience is over all too quickly.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Megabits of news: weekly roundup

Megabits of Gaming trawls the web for the tastiest morsels of news, so you don't have to...

Portal 2 tunes for free
As if it wasn't enough that Portal 2 provided hours of top entertainment, good old Valve has made the soundtrack available for a free download. Check out CVG for details.

Syndicate script surfaces
Fans of the classic shooter Syndicate are waiting with baited breath to see whether the cult game is about to make a return - especially as the remake script has been leaked...

PlayStation 4 already underway
Although Sony maintains there's still plenty of life in the good old PS3... the Japanese major has revealed that work is already underway on the PlayStation 4 - although no timeframe has been mentioned yet.

Trials HD downloads hit new highs
Trials HD has sold a mammoth two million downloads since launch - which are extremely good figures for an Arcade title. The game is no longer only available for download, being packaged as part of the Xbox Live Hits Collection, which includes Limbo and Splosion Man (take a look at Megabits' pick of top Arcade games after the jump).

L.A Noire DLC due soon
It's barely a few weeks since Rockstar and Team Bondi released crime thriller L.A Noire (reviewed here) but already there's talk of some new downloadable content.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Must-Play Arcade Titles: The Top 10

Welcome back folks for the second part of our rundown of 20 of the greatest games that the 360 and PS3 arcades have to offer. In part one we saw such shining stars as Monkey Island and Trials HD taking centre stage, and well, there's plenty more of that sort of gaming goodness in this instalment. Here we'll see little boys lost, a princess in need, battles from the past and we'll blast into the future. Oh, and a little newspaper delivery is thrown in for good measure.

They say time is of the essence so enough of this idle chat... let's dive straight in with number 10.

10. Paperboy
Alright, don't all moan at once! I know that Paperboy isn't particularly a shining star in the Arcade sky, but what it is, particularly for us gamers of a certain age, is a real blast from a misspent past. The premise of the game is as simple as they come, starting on Monday you must travel on your bike from one end of a street to the other while delivering newspapers to your customers - launching said broadsheets from the comfort of your saddle. Along the way there are a variety of obstacles to avoid, from screeching cats to dozy pedestrians, and if you manage to reach the end of the street there's a nifty little BMX style track to whizz through before coming to a stop and taking the applause from a Grandstand of adoring fans. It's not quite how I remember my own paper round but hey, let's just go with it. Paperboy doesn't look great, doesn't sound great and is at times frustratingly difficult, but for me it's a game that keeps saying 'just one more go' and for that reason along with it's ability to nudge the memory banks, it's on the list.

9. Ikaruga
It was games of this ilk that helped me no end as a youngster to maintain a decent fighting weight. This was largely due to the fact that on most days it was these machines that had an unhealthy appetite for my dinner money. Ikaruga is a classic old school shooter and holds one hell of a challenge for even the most hardened of gamer. Getting the best from Ikaruga and to be honest getting anywhere in the game takes genuinely skillful play; it's certainly not a game for the faint hearted or easily disheartened. The object is to destroy the swarms of enemy ships using the weapons on offer and clever use of the polarity shift between black and white. Only bullets of an opposite colour can destroy your ship and end your progress, while bullets of the same colour will be absorbed and used as energy for your craft's special weapon. As 2D shoot-em-ups go, Ikaruga is in the Premier League and if you've the got the patience and fancy yourself as a bit of a hot shot then it comes highly recommended.

8. Beyond Good & Evil HD
It was a crying shame that Beyond Good & Evil was so overlooked on it's initial release, it deserved so much more than the disdain and shrugged shoulders it was met with. But it's now a reason to rejoice as it's back for a second shot at public affection and this time it's even added glorious HD to it's armoury. So what is Beyond Good & Evil? Well, it's an action adventure game where you play as Jade, a photojournalist, and come armed with a staff and a camera. The story follows Jade's recruitment by IRIS and her subsequent investigations into the disappearances that have been plaguing the planet. The game fuses stealth and puzzles beautifully as you take on assignments and attempt to uncover the truth behind the unfolding events. Everything is in place within BG&E to make it the stellar hit it should have been first time around and I'd urge anyone undecided to give it a go and discover for yourself the masterpiece that lies within.

7. Costume Quest
Costume Quest is another of those titles that have charm and gameplay in abundance. It's set in a quaint little town on Halloween and follows the adventures of siblings Reynold and Wren. You get to choose which sibling to play and then - after the other one is kidnapped by a monster mistaking them for giant candy - it's your mission to get them back. The game moves nicely between the cartoony style as you travel around the town, to the slightly more realistic looking turn-based combat sections. Throughout the game, various costumes can be collected and each has it's own unique powers in battle. It's full of cutesy characters and has a certain charm that makes it perfect for sitting back and spending a few hours with.

6. Outland
Outland is a new addition to the Arcade line-up and a very welcome one it is too (check out our review after the jump). The 2D platformer is an absolute beauty in both looks and gameplay. It manages to combine elements of a number of other games (Ikaruga and Limbo both spring to mind) and combine everything into a stunning slice of arcade action as you move from level to level solving puzzles, slicing enemies and leaping like a Ninja. The Ikaruga polarity system is evident in so much as you can use Outland's main characters use of switching colours depending on the enemy you're confronted with. Outland's use of colour and stylized artwork is truly a feast for the eyes and when the game underneath is so downright rich and playable, it's a sure fire winner.

5. Battlefield 1943
When Battlefield 1943 arrived it was a sign of the evolution of the console. Light years away from the traditional arcade title we'd become accustomed to, what we had here was a game that could support up to 24 players online and looked almost as good as it's full priced counterparts. This World War II FPS delivers traditional online warfare, three maps and a slightly disappointing solitary game mode. But despite a lack of maps and modes, and the fact that it's online only, BF1943 still gives countless hours of entertainment. As we've come to expect with a Battlefield title there are plenty of vehicles to man and plough headlong into the action, and the whole experience is well balanced and fun. Battlefield paved the way for ever more impressive arcade titles to follow and warrants a place on everyone's hard drive.

4. Banjo Kazooie
Rare was once hailed as a God alongside other, mere mortal developers and although there have been glimpses of past brilliance over the years since their purchase by the Microsoft money machine, they have never quite hit the same dizzying heights. Well, Banjo Kazooie is a game that harks back to Rare's golden era and is a masterclass in game design. Featuring the big cuddly bear Banjo and his bird sidekick, Kazooie, it plays as part platform, part action adventure and is as fresh today as it was when it made its N64 debut. The basic plot of Banjo Kazooie sees the evil witch Gruntilda kidnap Tooty, Banjo's sister and steal her away to her lair to steal her beauty. Banjo and Kazooie set forth on the rescue mission. The game is a great combination of puzzling and platforming, features fantastic characters, bright bubbly graphics and a superb soundtrack. Banjo Kazooie has become a part of the foundations of gaming and is a much loved title worldwide. You owe it to yourself to either discover or re-visit it's myriad charms.

3. Flower
Described as more of an experience than a game, Flower (review after the jump) is certainly an example of imagination and creativity still being alive and well within video games. Flower is an experience unlike any other, it asks the gamer to literally just float away on the breeze, worry free and tranquil. The premise of the game is to simply guide a flowers petal on its journey by orchestrating the wind on which it travels. Direction is controlled through movement of the sixaxis and wind strength via the push of the button. The aim of this gentle game is to carry the petal across the landscape, while spreading life into the unblossomed flowers that stretch before you. Each newly blossomed flower dispels it's own petal that joins you in your dance across the land. It's a stunningly beautiful looking game with a soundtrack to match and is the perfect antidote to today's more harsh, high tempo and less imaginative fare.

2. Limbo
If Flower is bright and breezy then here in the world of Limbo we have something altogether more sinister. Limbo follows the path of a little boy, lost and unsure in a strange twilight realm of shadows and silhouettes. The game's artistic direction is utterly stunning, adding layer upon layer of atmosphere and dark beauty to the world. The game begins with no pomp or ceremony, the little boy wakes, his piercing white eyes shine like a beacon among the gloom and the adventure begins. Gameplay-wise, Limbo is simple but effective 2D platforming and puzzling. The aim is to guide the boy along the path while avoiding death, and death in Limbo can take many gruesome forms. Limbo's looks, sound and gameplay come together to make one hell of a game, it may be a little short lived considering the 1200MS points price tag but it doesn't take away from the fact that this is a game that needs to be experienced. It's a beautifully macabre piece of gaming art and gameplay genius.

1. Braid
Braid has been placed upon a pedestal by many, it's merits shouted from the rooftops to all within earshot and had incredible amounts of praise heaped upon it. The reason for this? It simply deserves it. Braid is one of the most incredibly beautiful games you'll ever play. It follows the journey of Tim as he attempts to rescue the princess from the clutches of a monster and right the wrongs of the past. One of Braid's great strengths is its story telling. As the tale progresses you are given more insight into the demons that are driving our hero onwards. This story of regret and wanting to change the past adds wonderful depth to the game before reaching it's powerful conclusion. Graphically it's superb; the backgrounds look like they were done in pastels, colours dance and blend in a way that is always startling but never distracting, while the inhabitants of the land are bold and stand out amid the lush backdrops. The gameplay is 2D puzzle platformer style and is nigh on perfect, the puzzles are enough to genuinely test your mind but never become frustrating, Tim's ability to manipulate time is used to wonderful and ingenious effect from start to finish and it never gets old or becomes a chore. Braid is an incredible accomplishment and if you were to only have one game on your hard drive, then make sure that this is it.

And that, as they say, is that.

Arcade games on the PS3 and 360 have truly been a shining light for this generation of machines - an inspired move by the companies and a great benefit to us gamers. And while certain triple-A titles begin to stagnate, scared to change due to the pressure of selling huge numbers, it's refreshing to visit the arcade and see that, free of those shackles, imagination and creativity can still flourish and bloom and we can all be reminded of what it's like to play games in their purest, uncluttered form.

Friday, May 27, 2011

30 Minute Playtest: Brink

Regular readers may know that Brink has been on my radar for some time. The idea of a new style of FPS based on parkour and teamplay sounded fantastic. Throw in some great-looking graphics, loads of weaponry and a myriad of maps and this was definitely going to be on my purchase list.

Despite the delays, Brink is finally here but was it worth the wait? The first 30 minutes of gameplay suggest that it was... but that it may not quite live up to my lofty expectations given a more thorough playthrough.

The action takes place in a vast utopian city known as The Ark, a floating haven built to show we could all live sustainably. Unfortunately, a burgeoning population sent it spiralling on to the verge of civil war.

First impressions were positive. The graphics are big and brash, bold and beautiful - and although they hardly break new ground, I like the way cel-shading and the almost cartoonlike aesthetic is employed. Most notable after leaving the menu screen are the much heralded customisation options; creating a character could have eaten into the bulk of my half hour of initial playtime as there appear to be literally millions of different combinations of clothing, skin colours, face shapes, scars and shirts to choose from. For the sake of this article, a few quick button presses determined the size, shape and appearance of my character but a more extensive playthrough will require far more deliberation.

Once suited and booted, there are options to play online or the campaign mode - although these largely appear to be identical. The only real difference are the insertion of fairly dim AI bots who will work alongside/against you in the storymode. Their stupidity highlights why Brink is almost certainly more suited to online play with real people. Get a few friends together and much fun will surely be had! Working as a team should be a real laugh and some decent tactical nouse can actually be used - unlike the NCPs who never stand where they should or follow your orders - this will be tried more thoroughly in our full review!

A mention should also be given to the implentation of the SMART system - a single button press allowing smooth movement across the various terrain - like free running or parkour.

In this brief playtest, it remains to be seen whether the limited maps and repetitive missions will keep me coming back for more in the long term but Bethesda and Splash Damage have certainly done enough to keep me playing for now...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review: L.A. Noire

When a game that's been talked about as much as L.A. Noire has been over the last few months finally sits in your console ready for action, the sense of anticipation is matched by one of trepidation. Let's face it, we've all been here countless times before; expectations built high by hype, with the feeling you're about to embark on a gaming adventure of previously unseen epic proportions, see you utterly deflated after five minute's play. As I've written previously, it's a situation I've encountered more than a few times myself. In many cases the games involved have been superb, it's just that riding into it on the back of hype's wave left me, initially at least, feeling let down.

So, as I heard the familiar sound of L.A. Noire's disc spinning into life, trepidation was the order of the day......I don't know what I was worried about.

L.A. Noire is quite simply, stunning! Without a doubt what we have here is one of the most amazing games that this generation has delivered - in fact, make that any generation.

Team Bondi and Rockstar Games have done an incredible job. They've managed to create a wonderfully authentic game; the outfits, vehicles, music and dialogue all do their bit to transport you back to the 1940s, and the city, recreated using Robert Spence's aerial photographs, is truly incredible. L.A. Noire just oozes atmosphere from start to finish.

If ever a game blurred the lines between game and movie then this is it. Playing as Cole Phelps, a returning war hero, you begin life as an L.A.P.D. Officer walking the beat on the lovingly recreated L.A. streets, Phelps' ambition and drive to succeed sees you quickly climbing the Department's ranks and spending time on the various desks as detective. During your time working on the likes of Homicide and Vice you'll encounter the real underbelly of darkest 1940s L.A. and use a combination of wit and gunfire to deal out some much deserved justice.

The story is a sprawling, twisting, masterpiece. It has the power to grab you and demand your attention from the very off, and believe me when I say that once you take your first footsteps in Cole Phelp's smart shoes there will be little else seeing any action on your console. You can always tell a game is going to be something special when after an hour's play you're already worrying it's all going to be over too soon. Bearing in mind L.A. Noire spans three discs, that's quite something.

Gameplay wise there's a nice mix of styles going on. There are moments that will undoubtedly bring other games to mind. The action sequences are of the GTA and Mafia II variety, you can cruise around L.A. in a large array of vehicles with the music of the times coming merrily from the radio, interspersed with the usual radio DJ waffle. But, of course, in L.A. Noire we're playing the good guys so every now and then the police radio crackles into action with calls for assistance on a variety of incidents taking place at any given time throughout the vast expanse of the city. These can range from bank heists to a husband going nuts at home with a shotgun. Most end in either a shoot-out, chase sequence or hostage situation, but each of these missions has a neat little intro cut scene to at least adds some meat to the bones of the drama. The only problem I found with the side missions is that at times they seemed to be on the other side of the map from where my next main storyline objective was and it could be a bit of a drag getting there. All the side missions are of course optional but if you want to milk everything you can from the game sometimes the only option is to drive.

Shootouts in L.A. Noire are simple yet effective, anyone familiar with either the GTA or Mafia games will know what to expect. We get the classic over the shoulder view, a quick pull of the left trigger to aim and fire away with the right. You can move in and out of cover with the left shoulder button and that's all there really is to it. As I said, simple yet effective, but with one tiny gripe, sometimes movement in and out of and between cover feels a little clunky and it lacks a certain fluidity. It's not enough to ruin an action sequence but can certainly be a tad frustrating at times.

But enough of that because as fun as the action is in L.A. Noire, this is merely a side dish to the true main course of this game - the detective work. Each case within the realms of L.A. Noire is a total gem, from the early more straightforward affairs to the later spiralling, multi-layered mysteries, they're all wonderful. As each new case begins with a title screen, there's an overwhelming sense of intrigue and anticipation for what's to come. A case in L.A. Noire basically runs like this: quick briefing from the Police Captain, head off in the car with your partner to the crime scene, and upon arrival it's now your job to start piecing things together. Examining the body, searching the surroundings for clues and speaking to the coroner and potential witnesses are all key to solving the case. The clues and interviews you conduct at the scene will then open up new leads and the case evolves from there.

As you search the area for clues the game helps you along, firstly with a particular piece of music that plays in the background (the music will continue to play until all clues at the scene have been found), and secondly a chime and pad vibration will alert you when you're near a new clue. Thankfully these hints can be turned off at the menu and I'd strongly recommend doing so. With them on, it just feels a little too much like the game is holding your hand through the investigation and it's far more satisfying to piece everything together yourself.

The interviews throughout each case are superb. Open the notebook and choose to quiz the suspect upon a certain aspect of the case, then observe closely as the suspect answers, before choosing one of three answers to their statement. The choices are, Truth, Doubt and Lie, but beware, if you decide the suspect is lying you better make sure you've the evidence to back this up. Choosing the correct response will open up more dialogue and more potential suspects, get it wrong though and the interrogation will be short lived and fruitless.

Which brings us nicely to the nicely implemented Intuition feature. As you progress along the L.A. Noire road intuition points will be earned. As you climb the ranks these points will build up and can then be spent, hopefully wisely, during investigations. The first situation in which these points can be spent is when searching for clues at a crime scene. Drawing a blank? Then spend an intuition point to highlight where the remaining clues are. Even better is how the points can be used during interrogation segments. Basically, if you find yourself struggling to decipher truth from lies, the brilliance of the characters and voice acting means this can be a fairly frequent occurrence, then it's time to open the intuition bag and get some help.

In the case of interrogations, intuition plays like 'Who wants to be a Millionaire'. Spend a point and choose to either remove one incorrect answer or ask the community. Removing an answer narrows things down to a 50:50 chance of success, while asking the community brings up a percentage next to each answer highlighting the most chosen answer by other gamers. Thankfully, Chris Tarrant is nowhere to be seen throughout this process! Intuition points are a very nice addition to proceedings and at times prove invaluable to a successful outcome of your investigations.

It's hard to do justice to just how seamlessly all this fits together, lets just say that during your time back in 1947, for a few hours you'll completely forget that it's 2011. L.A. Noire's incredible combination of gameplay, graphics and atmosphere will hold you in a sweet hypnotic stupor. It's a game that's had me so involved, I'd probably be reading my divorce papers now had it gone on any longer .

Graphically there's only one place to start really as it's received so much pre-release hype, and that's the facial animations. I'd read plenty about the incredible realism I was about to see within the faces of L.A. Noire's cast of seedy and dubious characters but it hadn't prepared me for playing the game first hand. To put it plainly, the characters within Team Bondi and Rockstar's new baby have a depth that is unparallelled; there's life behind the eyes of these folk. Even the bit part players seem to have stories to tell of living in these bygone times. Combined with possibly the best voice acting ever heard, it amounts to a game with more life and soul within it's fifteen or so hours than any game has managed before. This new depth of character and animation isn't just for show though, it's actually a vital ingredient in separating fact from fiction when interviewing suspects. They say a picture tells a thousand words and a suspect's slight shifty look here or worried look there speaks volumes.

Another nice feature here is the option to change between colour and black and white while playing. I played the first hour or so in colour and it's lovely looking. It's not a shiny and bright sort of lovely though, more a gritty, dark and subdued lovely, and still very impressive all the same. Then I made the switch to black and white and, well, wow! It seems strange to say but take away the colour from the streets of L.A. and the game just takes on a whole new dimension. The previously mentioned facial impressiveness is even more apparent - features take on more detail and it looks truly astounding. Also, of course, the switch to black and white adds a little more authenticity to proceedings and 1947 L.A. bounces out of the screen like some classic old movie you used to watch with Grandad at Christmas, albeit with added bodies and guts.

Sonically the game is solid. Cars sound as they should, guns are nice and loud and the sirens wail beautifully as you put pedal to the metal and roar towards a crime scene. But it's the voice acting that is truly setting the bar to previously unseen highs here. It's phenomenal. Never before have such a cast of inspired characters been put together in the video game world. Every sentence seems to have been well thought out and every performance is inspired. Captain James Donnelly is perhaps the most wonderful character I've ever "met", coming at you like Sean Connery in the Untouchables is a joy to behold.

So what else is there to say? Overall L.A. Noire is compelling, intoxicating, beautiful, dark and wondrous. It is a serious contender for Game of the Year and is a bright jewel in the Rockstar crown. It's adult in nature, some scenes are particularly disturbing, and it's brave in that it steps away from the usual high tempo, adrenaline fuelled bullet fests we've become all to accustomed to. It asks instead that you use your brain and wits to proceed. It still throws up enough action sequences to keep everyone happy but is so much richer for slowing the pace and relying on strong characters and beautiful storytelling to make it's mark.

It may lack a little replay value but when a game's as good as this it's of little consequence. L.A. Noire deserves - no, needs - to be experienced by adult gamers everywhere, it's simply incredible!

*Reviewed on Xbox 360

Raptr launches social news site for gamers

We’re sure many of you out there will already be familiar with Raptr - the social networking site for gamers – but today it launched an update that incorporates a rather nifty news option. The new platform now not only allows you to keep track of your games and achievements/trophies on your PC, Xbox 360 or PS3 (and keep in touch with gaming buddies), it now also features a personalized news feed.

Raptr now allows you to submit stories that are then voted on by the community – the more Thumbs Up votes it gets, the higher it goes up the rankings. It’s effectively combining the ability to vote on top content as you would in, and share experiences and views as you would on Facebook – but it’s all about gaming! That’s right, you can submit anything from news and videos, to screenshots and reviews.

Megabits of Gaming was approached to become an official launch partner for Raptr’s new initiative – so visit the site, search for us and click Follow to get the latest news, views and commentary!

We need you, our avid readers, to take a trip to Raptr and submit your favourite Megabits stories so others out there can enjoy us too!

Just head to Raptr, submit the link and make sure you tag it with “Megabits of Gaming". You can also follow us on our very own page (after the jump).

Dennis Fong, Raptr CEO:

“At Raptr we’re reinventing the way people stay connected and informed about the games they care about. We’re excited by the launch of the new community-driven website because it builds upon the success of our existing service and provides a new way to discover and share content.”

Megabits' Pick of Minigames To Love & Hate

A minigame can add a bit of challenge to an otherwise routine game task. It can provide a much needed break from a lengthy mission. If it’s ingenious enough, it can actually be the best bit of the game. Alternatively, it can be a piece of joyless padding thrown in by developers to get the playtime up, or worse still a frustrating obstacle to progress.

Below you’ll find a few of our favourites and a few of the ones we hated. For the sake of immediacy we’ve restricted ourselves to the current generation (that’s right, no Blitzball here), but we’d love to hear your opinions on the best and worst minigames of all time...

Minigames we love:

Dead Space/ Zero G Basketball
Unlike Dead Space’s other minigame, Asteroids, Zero G basketball doesn’t really serve the plot. Also unlike Asteroids, Zero G basketball isn’t a frustrating roadblock to game progress. It almost feels like they put it in as an apology! Making use of the stasis/kinesis module and the magnetic boots, Zero G Basketball is a gentle, mildly challenging diversion that allows you to explore some of the game’s mechanics in far less hair raising environment that the main game. It’s particularly nice to see how well implemented they are without simultaneously twitching and gibbering in abject terror.

Fallout 3/Lockpicking
A triumph of simplicity and perfectly pitched feedback. At first glance there’s not much to see in Fallout 3’s lockpicking: an almost immobile visual and some slow paced thumb twiddling. The reason why it’s stand out is because it’s a thoroughly tactile component of the game-it’s all about the gradually escalating pulse from your controller to your thumbs and the gently clicks and rattles from the speaker. Games so rarely aspire to offer more than eye candy that we have to applaud one that uses a skillset that can be applied while blindfolded.

Ooh, aren’t we controversial? Having to play pipes is just about the only complaint most people can raise about Bioshock, but we at Megabits bucked the trend and actually enjoyed it. The combination of simple gameplay set against a timer made it challenging without being frustrating, and the duration of the minigame was short enough to prevent it from disrupting the flow of the main game. Even the design logic, that you’re essentially routing Rapture’s wonderfluid, Adam, to a genetically engineered turret controller, made a certain amount of sense. Frankly, we can’t understand all the hate.

Call of Duty: Black Ops/ Zork
There wasn’t much to like in CoDBlops. Meathead characters, a predictable plot twist, atrocious dialogue and a few historical inaccuracies all combined to add another brick to the pockets of a slowly drowning franchise. Again, we’re aware that we might be out of step here, but really, what did CoDBlops offer that could compare with CoD 2? Well, there was one thing...tap LT and RT repeatedly on the menu screen and you’ll suddenly find yourself breaking free of the chair. A cursory exploration of the room will bring you to an old computer upon which you can play the classic text based adventure, Zork. Those of you who know your Rigel’s Revenge from your Quest for the Golden Eggcup will be aware of the high esteem in which Zork is held, and the fun doesn’t stop there, as there’s also a top down shooter to be found on the same machine.

Red Dead Redemption/Horseshoes
There doesn’t initially seem to be much depth to playing Horseshoes. It’s quite difficult to master, but once you have got the hang of it, there’s nowhere further to go. But amidst the betrayals, manhunts and widespread slaughter of the old west, you’ll slowly come to appreciate the quiet simplicity of the game, the gentle thud and clink of the horseshoes, and the calm moments they provide.

Minigames we hate:

Brutal Legend/ The Death Rack
From the basic turret-wielding of your everyday FPS through to the carefully constructed gunship missions found in Call of Duty or Medal of Honour, the chance to become one with the machine and rain fiery death upon your foes is an integral part of modern gaming. Sadly, the attempt to similarly up your firepower in Brutal Legend falls a tad short. The controls are slow moving, the camera angles are unhelpful, there’s very little feedback and almost no connection between the feedback and the onscreen action. It feels like the part of the game they handed over to the work experience kid.

Mass Effect 1 &2
Maybe we’re being mean, but we’re having a combo entry for all the minigames in both Mass Effect titles. They range from the uninspired (matching pairs) to the clumsy (shape-matching bits of scrolling text) to the outright dull (Probe away, Captain). As a whole, Mass Effect is a slick and involving franchise, but there’s not a minigame in it that we’d choose to play in favour of, say, spending another three hours in a Mass Effect lift.

Left 4 Dead 2/Whack a Mole
The love that Megabits has for Valve in general and Left 4 Dead in particular, is as endless as a Mass Effect conversation tree. Sadly, our feelings don’t extend to the whack-a-mole minigame included in Left 4 Dead 2’s Dark Carnival level. It’s a nice way to make use of the game’s addition of melee weapons, but where zombie-thumping seems to have some genuine physicality to it, the wafts and swipes you make at the Whack-a-Mole’s bouncing Moustachios seem almost intangible. The only way you can tell that you’re making progress is to watch the score counter, and you’ll soon find that randomly hammering the trigger is as effective as any sort of timed and aimed shot. If you must have the achievement, cheat and use a machine gun.

Fable 3/Blacksmithing
Green, blue, green, blue, green, green, blue, green, blue, blue, blue...etc. It’s like Guitar Hero but without the music. It’s like playing Simple Simon at an age when playing such kids games should earn you a mandatory CRB check. It’s pointless, joyless and the button pushing bears no relation to the activity you’re simulating. Of course, you can spend rare and hard earned Guild Seals to upgrade the minigame. Do you know what that gets you? Green, blue, green, blue, blue, yellow, green, yellow.

Fallout 3/Hacking
Fallout 3’s terminal hacking combines an irritating trial-and-error premise with an eye-straining layout that manages to stop you dead in your tracks for lengthy periods of time whilst relying on a mix of luck and skill that can penalise even the most careful players. Add to that the way it makes your eyes swim as you try to make sense of the screen and you’ve got a recipe for both tedium and migraines.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What we want to see in GTA V...

Ever since the original Grand Theft Auto (GTA) hit our screens in 1997, the series has accrued countless awards, critical acclaim and controversy. It's evolved in form and function over the past 14 years - that distinctive bird's eye view shifted to 3D, celebrities have lent their voices to the radio stations and stand-up shows, while storylines have become deeper and more elaborate. The vehicles, weapons and environments became increasingly imaginative, and attracted a legion of fans. Nudity, violence, profanity, prostitutes and, of course, the notorious Hot Coffee minigame also helped to maintain its profile and kept the games on the front pages of the newspapers.

And now, rumours have it, we’re on the verge of getting the much-anticipated fifth instalment…

Regular readers may know that we loved GTA IV: we waxed lyrical about it in our inaugural Head2Head contest, considered how it compared with Rockstar's magnum opus Red Dead Redemption, and we looked at some of the greatest ever mods. But that doesn’t stop us at Megabits coming up with a few improvements that could ensure the next instalment is even better. As always, let us know your thoughts...

Human interaction and consequences...
It's all too common in all the games to run around with guns blazing, shooting a few people and then everyone runs around screaming. A few minutes later, you stop and everyone gets back to their daily routine. It would be great if the locals had more of a day you could ruin. Roads blocked for days, shopping rolling across the pavements, people lying and crying in the streets, stealing people's wallets and using their credit cards to pay for your drinking habits. Make it real.

Better booty...
Let us just trot out the ‘living, breathing city’ chestnut and point out how enjoyable it was to explore the incredibly authentic feel of Liberty City. Enjoyable, but not entirely rewarding. Shooting pigeons and performing stunt jumps was diverting but didn’t confer any benefits on the player. Of course, there were weapons and armour dotted about here and there, but it was generally more convenient to buy whatever you needed from the gun shops. In GTA V, we’re hoping that there will be more rewards for exploring the city: hidden weapons that can’t be purchased elsewhere, better clothes, custom decals that can be applied to cars, that sort of thing.

Money, money, money...
You could earn so much money in GTA IV, but what could you do with? Spending money on food, clothes and guns, or wasting it in the casinos and in strip clubs was really not good enough. We had loads left in the bank after buying everything. Let us play the gangster, buy cars, jets, helicopters, bling, drugs, an entourage of bodyguards and loose women. Let us buy mansions, penthouses and then pimp them out. Allow us to be extravagant and buy a big tiger so we can walk down the street with it on a leash. We've got the cash, let us spend it!

Dogged coppers...
The fact that escaping the police in GTA IV was easier than it has ever been was initially one of the reasons why many of us engaged with it more than any of its predecessors: the naturally unavoidable police chases were more of an enjoyable element of the gameplay rather than a frequently recurring and frustratingly difficult obstacle. After a while, however, the ease with which the police can be evaded made it feel like there were no consequences to any of the crimes you committed. In GTA V we’re hoping things are a little tougher, but perhaps not as tough as in the old days: ideally, GTA IV’s three-star wanted level will be GTA V’s one-star, and they can work upwards from there.

Balance the gonzo with the gritty...
When we're playing as CJ Johnson in San Andreas, racing a remote control aeroplane while wearing a dress with my junk food-stuffed belly wobbling, I wish for GTA: SA to be grimmer and grittier. When I’m playing as Niko Bellic in GTA IV, scraping my girlfriend off the church steps like 110lbs of meat jelly wrapped in a bullet-holed pants-suit, I’m wishing GTA would go back to being good old gonzo fun. Hopefully GTA V will find the middle ground and mix solid storytelling, engaging characters and powerful resolutions with yelp inducing moments of mania. The Ballad of Gay Tony was a step in the right direction, what with it’s low-speed golf cart chases, pitched battles between you, a train and the LCPD’s airborne wing, and the most sadistic driving range ever. That spirit, merged with the scale and overarching mood of GTA IV will set the tone perfectly.

Wider Customisation...
Following on from the last point, GTA IV seemed like a real backwards step in terms of what you could do with your character. You could choose from one or two outfits for Niko, but it was nothing compared to the amount of variety you could put into customizing the appearance and character of CJ.

Vehicle frustrations...
There was a large selection of vehicles in the game but there was a sense that whenever you needed to boost a car in a specific part of town, most of the car types seemed to be the same, as if all the neighbours were group bulk buying at the dealership. There were also not enough planes and boats on offer. Driving itself was tricky; steering should have been a little bit tighter as it was at times incredibly frustrating, especially moving at high speed. Sometimes all you could do was smash into a wall or another car, burst into a ball of flames and catapult yourself through the windshield, after which the guy you were chasing usually drives away. GTA V should definitely look to address the driving! And what about adding some aeroplanes and tanks? Two of the most fun vehicles to drive in any open world game that offer all sorts of possibilities for carnage.

Hello? Hello? Get off the damn phone...
Perhaps one of our biggest bugbears is that damn mobile phone. It's not user friendly - especially when accessing multiplayer games - and it's irritating having to answer calls your annoying cousin who wants yet another favour! And while we’re at it, the internet usage was a bit hit and miss too – fun for a while, but ultimately time consuming and a little pointless.

Can't see me, I'm hiding...

What's with the clumsy cover system? Other games manage to make diving into cover completely seamless - look at Vanquish and good old Gears of War... Nothing is more irritating during a firefight with mobsters or the police that having to deal with a clunky cover system – sadly something that hasn’t really changed in Red Dead Redemption or LA Noire either. Either bits of you stick out, you can't get out of cover quickly enough or your visibility if rubbish, meaning you can't see the army of approaching bad guys.

Better soundtrack...
Anyone else think that GTA IV had the worst soundtrack of all the 3D GTA games? We much preferred the 1980s tunes like Video Killed The Radio Star in Vice City and all the country music from the K Rose station in SA. GTA IV felt a little too bland for our liking, so come on Rockstar – up your game!

Make it first person...

If you’ve seen the mod for GTA IV you’ll know how cool this would be. At the very least, there should be a first person option – many people have been critical of the current aiming system in GTA so this could be a possible solution… and the immersion could be superb via the first person view, like a modern day Skyrim.

Take GTA global...

Instead of trudging round the same city you could head off on a plane for various sections of the game. Experience different climates, different vehicles etc. Maybe hit some godforsaken hellhole with no amenities or electricity and lawless locals for a total change of pace, Manchester for example. At the very least… return to San Andreas!!! GTA San Andreas is among our favourite games ever. A return to San Andreas but in the current generation would probably be the pinnacle of the series. GTA: San Andreas remains a firm favourite largely due to the expanse of countryside. It really missed the mixture of urban and rural from the transition from SA to IV. So what about bringing it back - mix it up a bit. The next game should look beyond the confines of the big city.

This Generation's Most Awesome Moments

When compiling our list of the most awesome moments in gaming, we wanted to steer clear of the same old selections-the Psycho Mantis twist, Aeris, that sort of thing. Hence our decision to limit this list to this console generation.

Of course, there are a few omissions that might raise hackles. There’s no God of War, for example. Sure, those giant mythological monsters are pretty awe-inspiring, but we’ve been seeing them since the game’s appearance on the PS2. There’s none of Alone in the Dark’s firey escapes-they may be great but we can’t bring ourselves to praise such an awful game just because we enjoyed escaping a realistically burning building. We loved Vanquish, but everything from the gameplay to the visual spectacle was derivative.

On the other hand, we’ve included a few moments that are far from the loudest, most explosive scenes from this console generation, but which we thought summed up the many ways in which a game can get you in the guts and stay with you. Moments where developers have cultivated disquiet rather than excitement, for bathos rather than pathos, or where the moment stands as part of a pitch perfect build up or striking juxtaposition: those moments where the impact comes from more than just a big bang.

We’re sure it goes without saying, but here be SPOILERS...

Left 4 Dead 2: The Sacrifice
There are few games that put you so perfectly into the dramatic final reel of a good movie the way Left 4 Dead does. The ever-increasing odds against survival, the time slowly running out, special infected whittling away at your core group of survivors as the tension between the needs of the group and the individual desire for escape ramps up. It’s one of those games that usually has its finish greeted by a breathless chuckle and a few sighs of relief from the members of your XBL party. At least, until Valve released The Sacrifice DLC.

Gamers already have a Pavlovian response to the Tank’s leitmotif: the stomach knots in fear as the finger stabs the reload button in a mixture of panic and forlorn resignation. But in The Sacrifice, it’s not one giant, nigh invulnerable monster, it’s dozens of them, bellowing and swarming towards the survivors whilst one member of the group has to defy every instinct and weave through the advancing horde in order to make the ultimate sacrifice and save the team. When that one gets done, there are no chuckles or sighs, just awestruck silence.

Dead Space
Poor old Isaac Clarke. No face, no voice and a derivative name. Oh, and he’s clearly bonkers: he keeps seeing his girlfriend alive, despite the fact that everyone else onboard the USS Ishimura has been killed or turned into a screeching death-mutant. Every time she appears, she’ll be behind a window, across a crevice, on a screen or otherwise untouchable-her reality unconfirmed. Clearly, she’s nothing more than a phantom, a figment of Isaac’s guilty imagination. There’s no way she could really be there?

Red Dead Redemption
I very nearly put that hazy dawn-lit crossing into Mexico as my awesome Red Dead Redemption moment, such was its strangely stirring effect on me-the combination of relief and anticipation after my northern endeavours. But more than that evocative moment, the part of Red Dead Redemption that really got me was John Marston’s final shoot out. I knew the game wasn’t going to end with a string of farm chores, but I really didn’t expect to be offed by the posse. I waited for the twist, and waited, until the panicky realisation hit-there was no getting out of this. I took only two of them with me.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
No surprise here. Everyone who played Modern Warfare was blown away by the bit where they get blown away. The build up is perfect-as you play missions as the stealthy SAS you receive clue after clue that some nuclear weapons have gone astray, but in your stints as the gung ho US marines, there’s no inkling of what awaits you. You charge into battle after battle, penetrating deeper into the interior of an unnamed Middle Eastern country, wielding greater and greater firepower until you’re flying godlike above the city in your armoured helicopter, raining grenades and minigun fire down upon the rebels below, seemingly untouchable. The contrast between what the player knows and the character doesn’t is what makes the payoff so powerful. The bomb goes off, the helicopter falls and the seemingly invincible marine spends his final minutes crawling through the fire-lit wreckage.

Fallout 3
To give credit where it’s due, the awesome card Fallout 3 plays near its start is essentially the same as was played in its swords and sorcery predecessor Oblivion: the emergence from a dark, confined dungeon crawl into an enormous, brightly lit world so large it leaves you momentarily stunned and agoraphobic. But where Oblivion’s emergence followed a brief, linear mission, Fallout 3 had given you time to get used to your confined existence, had let you play through numerous missions in the cramped confines of the vault, and become accustomed to the presence of people and modern conveniences. The shock of the desolation you stumble into is all the more powerful for it.

Red Faction Guerrilla
From the simple joy of smashing down buildings with a hammer to the more *ahem* sophisticated approach of covering a truck with limpet mines and driving it into the foundations, Red Faction Guerrilla is full of novel ways to topple enormous structures. The playground of destruction reaches its physics driven zenith when you finally obtain Thermobaric rockets. These fiery monsters pack the greatest and most visually spectacular demolition power in the game, and can bring down even the biggest mega-structures in only a few hits. The first coming together of EDF base and Thermobaric rocket is one of this console generations most bizarrely uplifting moments.

Just Cause 2
Much like Red Faction Guerrilla, Just Cause 2 is great big awesomeness generator, full of things that fly, roll or float really fast, and other things that shatter, topple or explode. Bringing the two together in hundreds of different ways is a huge part of why Just Cause 2 is so much fun. Every car chase makes you feel like James Bond, every motorbike turns you into Eval Knieval, and the jets? Oh, the jets...

F.E.A.R 2
For the most part, F.E.A.R 2 was little more than a solid but uninspired shooter. Entertaining, sure, but the chills of its predecessor were pretty much absent in favour of explosions and occasional bursts of unexpected mech-warfare. But throughout the game you’re told that Alma’s psychic attack on the city has been devastating. You see grey skies, drifting ash, burning buildings and wrecked streets. It’s pretty messed up. But this is 2011, we’ve all seen some pretty messed up stuff, both in games and on the news, and it’s not till chapter 12 that FEAR 2 pulls back to give you the big picture, the shot that puts it in the Threads/Akira category of post-apocalyptic visions that will haunt you for weeks. A yawning crater, so deep that the bottom is out of sight and the far side shrouded in mist, its sloping sides littered with pulverised concrete, buckled metal and burning debris. Suddenly you get the sense that this fight is bigger than the usual videogame fare.

Half Life 2
Probably the best FPS ever features one of the most powerful levels ever. Where Call of Doofy will try to get you in the guts with torture scenes or explosions or a pitched tank battle, the Highway 17 level Half Life 2 opts instead for more of the same: a gun battle against the combine. Except this time it takes place on the stark iron latticework beneath a towering bay bridge. Climbing higher and higher, the ground disappearing out of sight hundreds of yards below as you combine gunfighting with tightrope escapades. Instead of the usual clenched jaw adrenaline, this is level serves up a helping of vulnerability and a cloud of butterflies in your stomach, and stays with you because of it.

Gears of War 2
Ranking up there with Killzone 2 and Just Cause 2 as one of this generation’s best looking games, and full of great co-op action, Gears of War 2 would find a place on most people’s best graphics or gameplay lists, but it’s not till the later stages of the game that all those pixels get put to work on creating something spectacular. The sinking of Jacinto, with its toppling walls, gouting waste water from fractured mains, the clunk and rattle of debris and the firey glow underlined the message the game had been trying to drive home from the very start-you were now playing for the very highest of stakes.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Review: WWE All Stars

The revelation that I’ve had over the past two weeks is that not only is wrestling goofy and ridiculous, but that it should be goofy and ridiculous. You take a look at today’s current WWE product and you have guys like Randy Orton speaking in solemn tones about his family and John Morrison staring awkwardly and uncomfortably at the camera attempting to “act”. This is not entertainment to me, John Cena as an inspirational amateur wrestler in “Legend” is not entertainment, Michael Cole berating women is not entertainment, the Nexus/Corre contingent of green bodies is not entertainment, people uttering the phrase “WWE Universe” in every third sentence is not entertainment. I want guys yelling in the camera about how they’re going to throw 29 other men over the top rope. I want exaggerated personalities that can walk into the room, eat all of the chips and dip, throw a television out the window and get away with it on sheer charisma. I want the guys from back in the day that forget more about wrestling in a single coke-addled binge than today’s guys learn in a lifetime.

WWE All Stars is the amalgamation of what we all wish wrestling was. Guys with really large bodies, yelling and spiting at Gene Okerlund’s face, throwing each other 20 feet into the air and then jumping for joy while their heel victim winces in exaggerated pain. This is wrestling with all of the controversy of steroids, concussions and death tucked under the sweaty carpet at Hulk Hogan’s gym. It’s also a gloriously raised Steve Austin middle finger (or perhaps a Juventud Guerrera naked and baked middle finger) raised at the WWE Smackdown vs Raw series.

THQ’s flagship wrestling series has been considerably stagnant and full of itself for the last 5-10 years. That is a franchise that has found itself getting more lost in systems after systems, making controls needlessly complex and chains of animations needlessly lengthy. If you like repeated arm-wringings and headlocks taken out of context, then perhaps you would dig last year’s game. But I consider myself enough of a wrestling fan that a Sim-style game (whatever consititutes simulating a fixed competition) should appeal to me. And yet those games have become so far removed from anything resembling fixed competition for me that I just can’t be arsed to figure out the nuances of analog stick grappling.

The all new WWE All Stars throws out arm wringers in favour of full-bore madness. Your casual weak attacks include the Canadian Destroyer and other ultraviolent indy wrestling moves that the real Steve Austin would balk at doing. Stronger attacks tend to involve some variation of wrestlers jumping 20 feet into the air, possibly with some flips, and then doing something really bad. The Randy Orton punt, a move that in the real WWE would “injure” a wrestler for weeks, can be casually done as a standard specialty attack, repeatedly, while the opponent gets up immediately for more combat. (Post review note: I used to consider that ridiculous, then I saw what fighters got up from after receiving X-Ray attacks in the new Mortal Kombat.) Wrestler bodies in this game are the ridiculous muscular exaggerations that would make the most barrel-chested comic book heroes a little insecure. These are the rubber action figures we all once owned from the 80s come to life, but more vascular.

And all of this cartoon insanity works thanks to what feels like the best wrestling gameplay system in a decade. Attacks are divided into weak and strong strikes or grapples. All attacks come out in a snappy, responsive manner that sparingly leaves you feeling locked in an animation cycle. Likewise, you pull off counters with the bumpers, and they come off just as quickly…as do the counters to the counters. A basic example; a flying arm drag, countered by the two wrestlers flipping in the air, recountered by another mid-air rotation into the actual arm drag. The health and special attack systems have also been brought down to their most basic; you have a set amount of health, losing it all makes you vulnerable to a pinfall or KO by way of a wacky finishing move. You have two meters that trigger special attacks and finishers. You fill these meters by way of administering the pain.

That I can explain how to play this game in a single paragraph speaks sweaty volumes to its accessibility. I’ve had little difficulty when it comes to introducing people who suck at fighting games on how to play and perform leaping top rope 360 flip strikes of doom. Most of these people are also considerably enthusiastic about half of the game’s roster. A decent cross-section of 80s and 90s stars from WWE’s past litter half the roster. Familiars like Randy Savage, Hogan, Warrior, Bret Hart, HBK, Rock, Austin and such are natural fits for a game about amplified madness, and make for easy conversation starters with people on the topic of “when wrestling was good.” Filling out the other half of the roster are WWE contemporaries like John Cena, Rey Misterio and such. Not to insult today’s “sports entertainers”, but seeing someone like Drew McIntyre in this game kind of highlights the thin star power of today’s wrestling. Still, seeing the mannerisms of either era’s wrestlers on screen is a delight, from Jack Swagger breaking into a set of pushups to signify a finishing move, to Roddy Piper delivering a supercharged airplane spin.

You have a few single player options. “Fantasy Warfare” is where you unlock hidden wrestlers by competing in a series of dream matches between yesterday and today’s stars. Some of them make sense, like a clash of giants between Big Show and Andre the Giant, or an alcohol-morality battle between Steve Austin and CM Punk that makes you really wish that feud does happen soon. Some of them range from forced (Kofi Kingston fighting Ricky Steamboat over who is the bigger innovator?) to outright preposterous (John Morrison has no business being deemed as charismatic as Randy Savage, nuh huh) but all of them are preceeded by sweet video compilations of past events in wrestling history. Likewise, “Path of Champions” has you fighting a series of opponents leading up to a confrontation with either Randy Orton, the Undertaker or D-Generation X. During your rise to the top, cutscenes of your future adversary play as they taunt your rise to the top. If nothing else, a great deal of care went into the creation of these brief interludes, and there may have never been another moment in history where more programmers spent more time and energy rendering a digital Paul Bearer.

Admittedly, the above mentioned boil down to a series of fights against the AI, and can be breezed through relatively quickly. This is better served as a multiplayer experience, both online and off. Up to four people can compete in handicap, tornado tag, free-for-alls or cage matches. It’s a small selection of match types in comparison to the Smackdown series, but all of them are viable and entertaining options. You can play all of them online, and notwithstanding the bizarreness of having ranked handicap matches (and a leaderboard dedicated to handicap matches), the online play is a mostly smooth, only occasionally-laggy experience.

There’s a create-a-wrestler option, and it is barren compared to other wrestling games in regards to customization options. But long gone is my passion to spend many an hour fine-tuning the chin structure of my created Bret Hart. (Plus the game has the real Bret Hart in it.) My only actual issue is that I wish the load times were a tad more brief, though an installation helps some.

I’ve gotten a surprisingly amount of mileage playing All Stars. I got this at launch and that it took so gosh-darned long to get around to reviewing it attests to as much. Your enjoyment will depend on whether or not you dig muscle-busting dudes online or have a posse of buddies to clash with. But the unanimous consensus amongst everyone I’ve played the game with is that All Stars is stupid-crazy fun, the version of wrestling everyone can hop into with little sense of shame.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Review: Killzone 3

I sometimes wonder if the art of the plot is dead. 
Take Vanquish, for example - great game, rubbish plot.
 Or Final Fantasy 13. Rubbish game, long, boring plot.
 And now we come to Killzone 3, the third in a trio of games which have plots consisting entirely of:
"Oh no! Space Nazis have invaded our planet!" (Killzone.) "We beat them! Now we're going to take the battle to their planet!" (Killzone 2). And Killzone 3's plot? "The Space Nazis are going to do bad things! Let's stop them!"
 And that's about it. Hardly 'Animal Farm'.

That said, if you're looking for a gorgeous shooter with some brilliant set-piece battles, chunky action and addictive multiplayer, look no further.
 The game's plot (predictable as it is) picks up right after the events of Killzone 2. 
ISA troopers who invaded Helghan, the homeworld of the Helghast - red eyepiece-wearing space Nazis with a major bee in their collective bonnets - have been left scattered and demoralised after the leader of the Helghast nuked his own capital city.
 The rest of the game sees our two heroes, stocky and gruff Rico (who is still lacking the giant cannon he favoured in Killzone), and snippy Sev facing wave after wave of space Nazis, while taking time out to drive around in giant walkers, a neat scooter dripping with weapons and a couple of tanks, in scenery that will make your eyes water.

While the plot does make an effort to detail the political infighting of the Helghan high command (who are so much a caricature of the Nazis that it's plain silly), this is sadly under-developed, and though the cutscenes are top quality they often interrupt the action at precisely the wrong point, and ruin the flow.

Aside from this, Killzone 3 is another brilliant slice of shooter heaven, offering a continuation of the gritty feel the series does so well, with all the hefty gunfighting and brutal close combat you've come to expect – and a surprisingly good stealth section thrown in for good measure.
 The majority of the game sees Sev-and-co blasting their way through gritty urban environments as huge battlecruisers meet in the skies overhead, and aircraft crash all around.

Later the action shifts to the planet's jungles, and finally the polar ice caps, and you'll find yourself zipping between glaciers and icebergs on a flying landing craft, blowing the hell out of oil rigs, before taking to the skies in a rather nifty jetpack which, for a few levels at least, makes the blasting a thrilling blend of dogfighting and gunplay.
 Though the action goes from burnt-out city to lush jungle to blasted icecap, the general gist of the shooting is all well balanced and hefty. 
Sev can take cover behind most objects, allowing you to pop out for a snapshot or to lay down some covering fire.
The weapons on offer are a nice blend of old favourites (the explosive boltgun being my personal weapon of choice) and a few new additions, including one BFG-like weapon, which kills anything it touches in a ball of green fire.

There are also a few close combat attacks which are pretty brutal, and thankfully the developers have ignored the Sixaxis controller's motion sensor, so your sniper rifle doesn't wobble about as badly when you're aiming down the sight.
That said, the game also features support for the PlayStation Move controllers, but I wasn't able to test that - I don’t like waving my arms around when I want to play games.
 Nor was I privy to the 3D TV support the shiny disk comes boxed with, but honestly I wouldn't bother - boy, does this game look good.
 In HD, Killzone 3 looks amazing. There's no draw distance, no texture problems and you can see the effort the developers went to to get the feel of a battlefield right. There's smoke gushing from piles of blazing machinery, the shadows on the snow as rifle fire blasts cones of light, the eerie glow of the Helghast's orange eye lenses in the darkness of a gutted building - it's all bought off to great effect.

The sound design is also brilliant. The guns are meaty, and the sound of a firefight can turn your living room into a battlefield in mere moments. 
I'm particularly unnerved by the throaty rasp of the Helghast's rebreathers - guttural snarls and threats that can make you jump when you get charged by one of the neo-Nazi nitwits.
This brilliance in visual and sound design extends into the game's multiplayer offering, which is just as much fun as the previous title's offering - and is actually a little too similar for its own good.

For the most part the battles follow Killzone 2's particular style of multiplayer - teams facing off against each other on one map, with the objectives changing every few minutes - making what was a standard team deathmatch become search and destroy in one fell swoop, turning things on their head in a surprisingly refreshing way.

The gameplay is mostly dominated by the various character classes available to the gamer, and the powers given to them. 
An engineer can assemble a handy turret, while a team leader has a mortar strike and the infiltrator can disguise himself as an enemy trooper - and get a few sneaky stealth kills in.
 This time around the maps are bigger and more suited to snipers (which is a good thing for me). There are also a few exo-suits (massive, bipedal walkers) dotted around, and jetpacks take the battle vertical at points, it’s all very good fun.
The skills progression has more than enough length in it to keep even the most committed gamer going, and the servers are fast and well designed, making matchmaking a breeze.

So, despite the poor story and general similarities to the previous titles, Killzone 3 has more than enough bang for your buck, and will keep shooter fans absorbed for hours. A fun, if predictable, singleplayer campaign has some brilliant gunplay and set-piece battles, and the multiplayer has more than enough action and skills progression to keep feeling fresh, despite the slightly generic nature of the fighting. If you've got a PS3, this is well worth a look.

*Reviewed on PS3