Remember Me reviewed

Capcom's game has many memorable moments!

7.1 Surround Sound for the masses

Want cinematic sound quality? Then Mad Catz 720+ may be for you

DayZ: a new approach to survival horror

DayZ, a mod for Arma 2, is unlike any other horror game that came before

Best of the worst bad habits in gaming

Megabits of Gaming takes a look at five of its favourite gaming characters who have bad or slightly seedy habits.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

F1 Race Stars Review

I must admit I was pretty excited about the launch of F1 Race Stars, a cartoony take on the very serious world of Formula 1. And who doesn’t love karting games? The speed, the madcap thrills and spills, audacious jumps and intense rivalry? What’s not to like, right? But coming hot on the heels of the much-anticipated LittleBigPlanet Karting, the competition was fierce.

It’s testament to the quality of Nintendo’s Mario Kart series over these past decades that there have been few games that have come close to wresting the proverbial crown from the moustachioed one. Sadly, F1 Race Stars is yet another title that starts well but fails to steer its way to the top of the leaderboard; it’s certainly not the pits but really needed to step up a gear to make it a must buy!

You see, while it’s fun and colourful, entertaining and competitive, it tends to run out of steam after a few hours’ play. There just aren’t enough tracks, the characters aren’t very varied and the power ups/weapons fail to excite. It’s a real shame – but shouldn’t distract from the fact that this is still good fun and perfect for some high-speed hijinks with a few friends. You can either play solo or ramp up the excitement levels by pitting your wits against others in four player split-screen and up to 12 players online. There are also plenty of different game modes that will keep you interested for a while with your standard Career, Race and Elimination options among them.

As with other karting games, the handling has an arcadey feel to it and the whole experience doesn’t take itself too seriously. The big headed caricatures of your favourite real-life racers such as Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel or Kimi Raikkonen are instantly recognizable and visually appealing, especially as they sit in tiny representations of the Formula 1 cars emblazoned with all that obligatory livery and sponsorship. It’s just a shame that some of the huge names from the past aren’t included… there’s no Mansell or Senna on the roster, for example.

Brace yourselves though… there’s a twist. This is a kart racer without drifting!!! Sacrilege I hear you cry! Instead of gliding effortlessly round corners and taking bends at speed, you’ll instead have to use the brake to decelerate enough to stop you careering into nearby hoarding. It admittedly feels a little alien at first but you quickly get the idea. Otherwise the controls are simple to grasp.

To keep with the whole F1 theme, Codemasters has also employed the use of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), which allows you to charge up your car by running over starry bits of track and then boosting past your competitors. The small battery icon that hovers at the rear of your car informs you how much charge you’ve attained – you need to fill all three bars before zooming off. Hint: brake a little when you drive through these sections and you can fill the entire bar in one go!

There are plenty of others ways of getting ahead of the pack too. The Drag Reduction System (DRS) – one of the power ups littering the circuit – gives you a sudden speed boost, while a firm favourite is the Bottle Rocket that transforms you into a projectile that shoots down the track at breakneck speed. Then there’s the Teleport, which also helps you gain a few places. And there are also plenty to slow your progress: rain clouds, a sudden downpour that drenches the track, safety cars, shockwaves, balloons that trap you and others that splash ticker tape all over your screen and limit your visibility.

One nice touch is that your car gets increasingly battered and your speed slows to a crawl as a result. But it certainly doesn’t mean your race is over… a swift steer into one of the pit lanes and you’re quickly patched up and ready to resume the race.

Aesthetically, everything looks great and is nicely animated – the bobble-headed characters shifting from side to side as you steer and occasionally giving a thumbs up or gesticulating wildly pre-race. The cars look the part and the tracks are nicely designed, roughly imitating real-life. Monaco, for example, has the famous curves, seafront and tunnel before transporting you to altogether wackier environments. Other circuits feature crumbling Italian ruins, imposing German castles, quaint Belgian towns and so on, and are punctuated by loop-the-loops and jumps. Some tracks even include huge obstacles such as giant sumo wrestlers and hungry sharks. There may only be 11 circuits (if you haven’t pre-ordered) but you do get to play mirrored versions of them too so it doesn’t feel too limited.

The lengthy – and slightly repetitive - Career mode sees you travel the world to rack up the points and podium appearances but it can be pretty tricky and frustrating, particularly with the over aggressive AI constantly targeting you with their power ups. A healthy lead can quickly be lost and valuable points lost in the championship race.

Nevertheless, F1 Race Stars is great in short bursts but probably won’t sustain your interest long term. As with all karting games, it’s more fun with friends – but it’s a fun package that will particularly appeal to fans of the sport.

Reviewed on PS3

  • This review was first published on Check out more news, reviews and articles after the jump.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Megabits' Pick of Top Tropical Titles

Happy bloody Christmas! It's cold, dark, miserable and wet right now - and I can't help but feel sick and tired of this bleak wintry weather. It's hammering down with rain right now and roads are flooding... we've had snow and frost but to compound my misery, those weather "experts" say it's hugely unlikely we'll have a white Christmas afterall - just a damp one! So, to dispel my funk, I decided to think of sunnier climes and come up with Megabits' Five Top Tropical Titles - the games that boast the sunniest, brightest and warmest settings. Maybe it will lift my gloom a little. Bah Humbug. 

Far Cry 3
This isn't the first game in the series that featured an island setting with waves lapping upon the shores and sun beating down on the lush foliage but the latest epic from Ubisoft, by far and away, sports the most impressive tropical paradise. A vast map with enemy soldiers (with decent AI), boxes to loot, camps to explore, vehicles to swipe and animals to hunt makes this the ultimate open world adventure. The map is a staggering ten times that of Far Cry 2 - and that was huge! The draw distance is awesome too, which only adds to the sense of immersion. It's certainly somewhere we'd like to visit... if the locals ever calm down!

Sure, the graphics engine was phenomenal and the visuals absolutely stunning... sadly, few gamers were able to experience it because your PC needed to be a monster to meet the specs! Good thing that the developers could have a joke at their own expense in the sequel: the first achievement was called "Can it run Crysis" - a nod to the over the top requirements of the first game.

Mercenaries 2
This open world third person shooter was buggy as hell but great fun to play. With the strapline "World in Flames", you get an idea of what to expect before you even open the box. Fortunately, besides the explosions, fire and mayhem, you also got to see a fair bit of jungle foliage - and it looks lovely!

Dead Island
Yet another idyllic setting that rapidly becomes a holiday from hell when everyone gets infected with some bizarre zombie virus. Wish you were here? I think not.Still, if you can take a few seconds break from cracking some undead skulls with a paddle, why not soak up the rays and enjoy an idyllic stroll along the beach?

Just Cause 2
Far Cry 3 really reminds me of Just Cause 2... Whether you're running through the green hills, swimming across vast rivers, soaring through the air or zooming down some dusty track in a stolen vehicle, you'll have an absolute blast. Just Cause had Rico's trademark grappling hook, however, which allowed you to see more of the gorgeous setting than you'd expect... just tether yourself to a helicopter and gawp at the scenery. Beautiful.

LittleBigPlanet Karting Review

Take Mario Kart, stir in some ModNation Racers and a few hefty spoonfuls of Sackboy and what have you got? Yup, Sony has brought us LittleBigPlanet Karting, a cutesy racing affair developed by United Front Games along with Media Molecule.

Ever since ModNation Racers sped onto our screens in 2010, fans of Sackboy have been demanding this release – combining creativity, customisation and cars with one of Sony’s most-loved characters.

Clearly, the ‘Play, Create, Share' concept is central to LBP Karting and will literally provide you with an unlimited array of tracks to thunder round. You should know pretty much what to expect; this is your typical Kart racing game… cartoony graphics, solo and multiplayer modes, weapons dotted about the track and collectibles.

Stephen Fry lends his dulcet tones to the game, introducing the levels and offering comedic comments as you flick between the menus. In-game effects and the soundtrack are crisp, clear and fun and - along with the visuals - ensure the presentation is top notch.

This time round, Sackboy has to take on the Hoard, a group of ruthless scavengers deadset on stealing Craftworld’s prizes. While whizzing about the place snaffling all the goodies, one of the clan crashes his cart and Sackboy seizes the opportunity to nab it and start racing to get everything returned.

Sackboy controls the various menus from his pod – a cardboard spaceship. You can use various tools to change the shape and size of your car, as well as the sound of its engine. As you’d expect, you can give Sackboy an overhaul too should you so desire.

Dive into the story mode and you’re presented with a series of planets and unlockable tracks, ranging from traditional races and waypoint challenges, to point-based arena battles and versus levels. The supplied tracks are decent enough but the promise of user generated maps is what should really appeal to the discerning gamer.

The cars handle nicely and you feel suitably in control when drifting around bends. There are jumps, swings, speed boosters and short cuts to make things interesting, as well as a wealth of obstacles and pitfalls designed to stop you in your tracks. It’s not too tricky difficulty wise, making this ideal for gamers of all ages. However, it does get massively frustrating when you get to the front of the pack only to be repeatedly targeted by your pursuers and lose a lot of ground when they unleash all manner of weapons on you. These aren’t as inventive as I’d have liked and you quickly feel you’ve seen what’s on offer; in fact, they often feel kind of underpowered and a little bit “meh”.

After you ride over an icon on the track and pick up one of the these power-ups, you generally have the choice to fire straight ahead to take out an opponent or keep it in reserve ready for one of your rivals’ attacks and fire backwards to counter it. In practice, it’s not that exciting and you can’t help but feel the best strategy is just to fire as soon as you pick something up so you're free to get something else.

The controls are reassuringly simple and you’re given a nice tutorial from Fry at the start of the game. Besides the obligatory acceleration, shooting and steering, you can jump, drift and reach out to slap opponents. Move is supported through the Race Wheel, although we didn’t test that for this review.

Set aside the racing element, and it’s being able to design tracks that is obviously the major attraction. A kit of tools allows you to create weird and wonderful routes, tailor the rules and tweak the settings. It’s comprehensive but awfully time consuming and tricky to master. You’ll need to dedicate time and effort to make anything decent – but do so, and the end result is fantastic. Obviously, you can share your creation with the wider community through PSN too and access other people’s maps. Given time there will no doubt be a wealth of content to choose from and I imagine you probably won’t need - or want - to delve into the map editor yourself in the future!

LittleBigPlanet Karting is fun and entertaining, and offers plenty of gametime - both alone and with friends. It's great to be able to customise your kart and character but it's the user generated tracks that make this worth a purchase!

Reviewed on PS3

  • This review was first published on Check out more news, reviews and articles after the jump.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Dance Central 3 Review

It’s heading towards party season so, regular as clockwork, Harmonix updates its mega-selling dance series for the 360 and Kinect. Dance Central 3 has few surprises for aficionados but remains a must have addition for anyone capable of shedding their inhibitions for a sweaty dance session with friends. There’s a greater emphasis on party play this time round, with a few new game modes (including one for up to eight players) to keep you strutting your funky stuff.

Everything looks reassuringly familiar, Dance Central 3 echoing the graphical style and feel of the previous games. Menus are easy to navigate either through gestures or voice control, and you can easily choose songs to perform, moves to learn or select characters and game modes.

Unlike Just Dance 4, Dance Central 3 takes itself a little more seriously and is a hard taskmaster. There are no easy rides here, the routines not only making you sweat but making you literally think on your feet as you try to master the various moves. It’s not a forgiving game; every limb is scrutinized by Kinect and will be highlighted red if you’re slightly out of position. You’re rated on your movement and when you earn a “Flawless”, you really feel like you’ve earned it. As with the previous games, you’ll probably get most out of it if you’re happy to practice routines, break them down and master individual moves. We played solo and with friends of various ages; if you’re thinking of a purchase to provide a few laughs when you’ve got a few friends over, it certainly ticks the boxes. Younger children, however, are likely to find the difficulty a little frustrating.

The Dance Central series has already earned a reputation for harnessing Kinect’s technology, with the players tracked pretty comprehensively. Being a Kinect game, there are obviously moments where it won’t seem to pick up your every movement but on the whole, it all works fairly flawlessly. Technically, it definitely seems more proficient than its rivals. As ever, the choreography is excellent and provides a full-body workout; it may genuinely even help you look better on the dance floor.

Dance Central 3 boast a huge soundtrack with over 40 diverse songs spanning four decades, including the likes of Usher – “Scream”, Cobra Starship - “You Make Me Feel…”, Jennifer Lopez ft. Pitbuill – “On The Floor”, Usher ft. Will.I.Am – “OMG”, 50 Cent - “In Da Club” and the infernal Gloria Gaynor - “I Will Survive”. Should you manage to master all those, you’re also given the option of importing the extensive playlists from the previous Dance Central games too – meaning you’ll be able to play through a staggering 140 songs!

There’s a Party mode that puts the tracks together in a large playlist. You and your friends can then jump in and out of the action as you wish without having to stumble round the menus at the end of every performance. It’s a great idea for non-stop fun. The new Crew Throwdown mode is also great for party play, allowing two four-strong teams to face off and try their damndest to outperform one another across several rounds. And then there’s the Keep the Beat mini-game, where dancers earn points based on their movement and rhythm (something I really don’t tend to possess but I still found this good fun). The Make Your Move mode  challenges dancers to come up with their own dance moves on the fly – particularly funny and enjoyable if you and your opponents have fairly equal abilities… but a little demoralising if you’re against someone who is far more skilled and confident that you.

Then there’s the story mode to get your teeth into as well… the evil Dr Tan is plotting to destroy the world so it’s up to you to work with Dance Central Intelligence to go back in time and master moves from the 1970s to present day. Sure, it makes little sense but look past that and it’s a great laugh and nice to watch the story unravel.

Dance Central 3 is a comprehensive package to be sure, but you have to wonder whether these dance titles really necessitate an annual update when each iteration seems only to cram in a few more songs and a few different game modes. A weighty DLC update may have been more appealing to anyone who already owns one of the previous versions, as they may feel they’re not getting a whole lot more bang for their buck. For newbies to the series, you can’t go far wrong with Dance Central 3. With a variety of party games this “dancing simulator” includes a comprehensive track listing and there truly is something for everyone. And you might just learn something too!

Personally, the more relaxed feel of Just Dance 4 would be my preference for fun and laughs with a few friends – but if you love dancing and are a bit more dedicated to learning the moves, Dance Central 3 is the better purchase.

Reviewed on Xbox 360

  • This review was first published on Check out more news, reviews and articles after the jump.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fable: The Journey Review

Never trust a blind woman who gives you a pair of magical gloves! That important life lesson is learnt quite early on in the latest Kinect-based instalment of Fable: The Journey from Lionhead. Taking place some five decades after the events of Fable III, you take the reins of Gabriel, a young dweller who loses his tribe and has to embark on an epic journey so they can be reunited. Joining him on his quest is his horse, Seren, who you’ll spend the majority of your time steering through the many perilous and often beautiful vistas of Albion.


Besides your trusty steed, blind seer Theresa (voiced by Zoe Wannamaker) is also along for the ride – you’ll recognise her from the previous games. She needs your help to rid the world of a powerful and evil force... she’s also the one who tricks you into donning those aforementioned gloves – sorry, gauntlets – that allow you to wield all kinds of magical powers and abilities. Saddled with all this responsibility, Gabriel evolves from a nobody to saviour – and it’s all made possible thanks to the application of the Kinect motion controller.

Labelled as the title Kinect has been waiting for, The Journey is a decent effort and has enough to keep you entertained throughout its relatively short 10-hour playthrough. Using Kinect is fun and liberating, although there remain the age old flaws and limitations surrounding accuracy. On many occasions your attacks will go awry and your actions won’t get a response from the all-seeing motion sensor. It’s not that much of a problem, mind…. The game is very forgiving and affords you the luxury of the occasional misplaced spell.

For this outing the developers have departed from Fable’s traditional third-person perspective that gives you the freedom to roam wherever you fancy, instead opting for a first person on-rails slant. Cue collective groaning. On the face of it, this is a shame but in practice it works well and is necessary for the use of Kinect to stand even half a chance.


Fable: The Journey is a low impact game that requires you to be seated in front of your screen, proving that there’s more to Kinect than fitness games and working up a sweat. It’s certainly refreshing that there’s no need to jump about like a madman, plus there’s very little risk of injury, which is certainly welcome for less athletic gamers like myself. In fact, it’s much like Capcom’s Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor in that respect (see our recent review) although the controls have been better thought out and they actually work… most of the time.

You’re introduced to which gestures do what during a brief tutorial that initially outlines how you control your horse and caravan. Tugging slightly on the virtual reins and gently moving your hands back and forth determines direction, while a quick snap of the reins makes Seren up the pace a little, eventually going into a outright gallop if you require. When it works, it works well but riding along and steering occasionally is never going to win favour with hardcore gamers now, is it? Kinect’s failings are particularly acute during these stages with Seren as your actions often aren’t recognised. I often found myself steering her headlong into some inappropriately-place boulders or explosives in the road.

There’s very little to these horse and cart sections – of which there are many – besides ensuring that you don’t collide into walls and obstacles, and that you drive over as many of the collectible XP orbs as possible (these allow you to choose upgrades from a skill tree). You’re even advised to rest your hands on your lap during most of the sections so you don’t get too sore and tired – which highlights just how little there is to do.

It’s fortunate then – and a blessed relief - that in no time, Theresa will encourage you to slip on those gauntlets and you’ll be able to cast spells and manipulate objects. It’s these fighting and puzzle sequences that make this game so much more appealing; from the moment you dismount and have a Hobbe or Balverine bounding towards you, you really feel in the thick of the action; the first person perspective works very well and it’s supremely satisfying waving your hand to shoot enemies with fireballs and bolts or interact with the environment. You even get to earn more spells and upgrade them as you progress. In fact, in my eyes, the entire mechanic proved even more enjoyable than the likes of Sorcery on the PS3 (reviewed here), which itself made such good use of the Move controller.

And you can even apply a little aftertouch to redirect your magic midflight - very handy for getting those bad guys when they’re hiding behind obstacles.

With your right hand dedicated to shooting, you use your left hand to push, pull and drag objects, or magically pick up a bad guy and toss him to one side. Placing your arm across your chest allows you to counter attacks too. Leaning left and right lets you strafe – which is perhaps the most energy intensive movement you’ll have to call into action while playing.

But it’s not only riding and magic that makes use of Kinect’s unique controls. Lionhead really seems to have a thing about getting you to bond with your animal companions and it does its level best to cultivate and nurture your relationship with your horse. Besides urging her to move faster through woodland and caverns, you’re able to stop on occasion and perform simple gestures to groom, feed and heal Seren. Sadly, no matter how many apples she scoffed from my hand or wounds I patched up, she never stirred as much emotion in me as my canine friends in previous games. I mean, it’s not like Seren liked chasing balls or sniffing out buried treasure for me. Pfft. Heart of stone perhaps, but for me the sequences sans Seren are far better.

So there you have it, the majority of the game is divided between riding segments and magic-oriented combat and that’s about it - although there are some side quests along the way, new characters to meet, great-looking environments to gawp at and the occasional boss fight.

Sure, The Journey may feature hollow men and magic, Theresa and our protagonist’s weird infatuation with his animal companion but this is quite unlike the other games in the series. The lush visuals are still there and the mystical land of Albion is lovingly recreated using the Unreal 3 engine but The Journey really does have an altogether different feel to it. The world is apparently three times larger than previous Fable games – it’s just a shame that you don’t really feel you get to explore it. As mentioned above, much of the action takes place along a set path with you looking at Seren’s rump.
The plot is typically strong and the multitude of cut scenes really helps to push the story along. There’s plenty of that trademark Fable humour too, which along with the visuals makes everything seem nice and familiar.

Ultimately, The Journey really does feel like an epic trip across the map – and in a good way. Its clearly not going to be for everyone but it’s a nice slant on a traditional format and more often than not, highlights how Kinect can be incorporated nicely into a game.

Reviewed on Xbox 360

  • This review was first published on Check out more news, reviews and articles after the jump.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Halo 4 Review

Within a matter of days, Microsoft will celebrate a decade of Xbox Live – the online gaming service that has quite simply revolutionised the way we play games. To that degree, Master Chief – Halo’s lean, green killing machine – should be forever in its debt. Without it, Petty Officer John-117 would never have become quite such a phenomenon. He wouldn’t be constantly fighting it out with the likes of Call of Duty at the top of the online leaderboards, and as such, he probably wouldn’t be such an iconic character, finding himself in comic books and LEGO boxes.

Afterall, online multiplayer has become synonymous with the Halo brand; it’s where the series has always excelled. Halo 4 sure had a lot to live up to. It therefore must have been quite a daunting prospect when Bungie jumped ship and 343 Industries had to step up to the plate to develop the latest edition.

As you’ll all no doubt know by now, the new game marks the long awaited return of our visor-wearing protagonist. We all knew he’d return though, right? That Halo 3 ending was never really going to be the end of him, now was it? His suit may be a little more battered and bruised than it was, but he’s back and he means business.

Set in the year 2557 on the drifting UNSC frigate, Forward Unto Dawn, our hero Master Chief comes out of stasis to find a mightily distressed Cortana, moaning about the fact she’s getting old. But our favourite hologram isn’t just having a mid-life crisis; this is literally a matter of life and death as she’s exceeded the typical seven-year life span of an AI. Uh oh. As a result, she’s about to “expire” and appears to be going slightly insane. And just to complicate matters, Covenant have boarded the ship and all hell breaks loose.

Eight missions, and some 10 hours of gameplay later, you’ll feel physically and emotionally drained – but will have had an amazing ride. We’ll avoid spoilers but suffice to say, you can lay any concerns to rest; 343 has done the brand proud and this feels like Halo, looks like Halo and is a must have for any Halo fan. Unload a few rounds into your first enemy or whack them round the head with the butt of your gun and you’ll immediately get into the groove and feel right at home.

A lot of the action actually takes place on a planet called Requiem where you’ll face familiar enemies as well as the Prometheans – a new smart badass species that poses quite a challenge. Fear not though, you’ll have plenty of weapons at your disposal to see them off.

There’s certainly a far more emotional feel to the proceedings than in the previous games, allowing us to get under the armour of our protagonist and understand his thoughts and feelings. Despite Master Chief’s imposing presence, however, it’s arguably Cortana that steals the show. There’s a clear bond between them and the story is very strong.

But you don’t want to hear about emotions and feelings, do you? Guns, that’s what counts, right? And as you’d expect of any Halo game, there are loads of them. The firm favourites make a reappearance but the entire armoury has been overhauled. They all have a very individual feel to them and different attributes – but they all sound awesome, each shot emitting a satisfying bang that adds a sense of power and realism. The sound adds hugely to the atmosphere and reels you in. I played using a surround sound headset with some decent bass and I was blown away. Speaking of the audio, the voice acting is particularly convincing and nicely linked to mouth movement.

From the outset you’ll be staggered by the game’s aesthetic. The visuals are amazing with lovely looking cutscenes, animation and motion capture making this the best looking game of the series, in my humble opinion – and perhaps the most attractive release on the 360 this year. As I touched upon above, I was particularly impressed by the facial detail, which on many occasions caused me to question whether real actors were talking at me or whether they were computer generated – they really are THAT good. Everything from the eyes, mouths, wrinkles, emotions and expressions are perfectly replicated and recreated – and I’m pushed to think of any better examples.

The environments are big, bold and gorgeous, thanks to their variety, colouring and lighting effects. Sand, grasses, mountainous settings, flames… it all looks incredible and you’ll be forgiven for wanting to gawp at the scenery, ignoring the fact that you’re under heavy fire. The fine detail on Master Chief’s armour or the metal frames of the vehicles is equally impressive.

Now I was pretty ropey playing the previous games on tougher settings but ramp this baby up to the harder difficulties and you’ll extend your playthrough by some considerable time.

Long after you’ve completed the main campaign and replayed it a few times with your buddies, it’s the infamous multiplayer that will keep you coming back time and time again.

Without doubt, the online element remains the most important aspect of Halo and, once again, it doesn’t disappoint! The second disc is crammed with multiplayer goodness and consists of Forge – allowing you to create and download new maps, and the Spartan Ops co-op story mode – offering weekly downloadable missions (a fantastic idea to keep you playing) that focus on the UNSC Infinity crew as well as the Majestic Squad Spartans. Finally, there's War Games, where you’ll find the likes of Death Match and Capture The Flag.

343 has taken some hints from the likes of Call of Duty and this time round you’ll find yourself able to select different loadouts for various weapons and abilities, and earn perks to upgrade and customise your Spartan, ranking up by attaining XP. Once you hit level 50, you can then select a “Specialization”, allowing you to enhance your character’s attributes with various skills such as stealth.

The maps are many and varied, and feature a feast of weaponry and vehicles such as the Warthog, Mongoose, and Scorpion Tank. Weapons litter the landscape and are conveniently highlighted so they’re easy to find, and you can also call up some handy ordinance deliveries if you want to change gun mid-fight.

The matches are lengthy but never excessive and the team-based confrontations are particularly enjoyable. I can see me spending a lot of time transfixed in the multiplayer modes, lobbing grenades at rivals and trying to ramp up my XP in the coming months.

To summarize, any fears that Bungie’s departure and the return of one of gaming’s most iconic characters would be detrimental to this follow up have been allayed; Halo 4 is an essential purchase and a definite contender for Game of the Year. Suit up solider.

Reviewed on Xbox 360

  • This review was first published on Check out more news, reviews and articles after the jump.

Riffing on the Dying Art of Videogame Plotlines

A worrying trend has started to raise its head in the videogaming industry of late, as games become less about providing entertainment for the masses, and more about making money for shareholders - the death of the videogame plot.

Take three of the latest Triple-A videogame launches, for example - Assassin's Creed 3, the Call of Duty series and Mass Effect 3 - all games which were built on well-established storylines, all games with a good pedigree and a huge fan-following... and all which buggered up their plots in the last 15 minutes.

Naturally, in a post dealing with videogame plots, here be spoilers...

I just finished Creed 3, and despite the game's plot itself - both the modern action of Desmond Miles, and that of his ancestor Connor - being well executed, and neatly fitting into both the history of the Revolutionary War and the wider Assassins vs Templars overplot of the series, the ending was an utter let down. It was a cop-out, pure and simple.

Coming to the ending, I was expecting series hero Desmond to have to make some sort of a choice, or have some sort of a dramatic payoff. What I got was a confusing video sequence which detailed his actions - he pushes a big button, saves the world from a global catastrophe (which had been built up throughout the series, and turned out to be a damp squib), and - surprise surprise - unleashes another evil upon the world at the same time.
I think its fairly clear what happened here - rather than finish the storyline in a fulfilling way, by having the Templars and Assassins work together to save the world, and perhaps forge an uneasy peace, the shareholders screamed: "No! You must mercilessly milk the series until it's so worthless that it can't make another cent!", and lo, we have a wet fart of inaction and yet another threat for the Assassins to take on. Ho-hum.

The same problem - big business dictating the developers' control over their own work - was also clear in Mass Effect 3's ending - but I've waxed lyrical about that mess - and its subsequent 'fix' - in other articles.

As for the Call of Duty series, what was once a lovingly made game which focused on the smaller battles each soldier must face as a little cog in a big war is now becoming an awful, repetitive mess which is designed for one purpose - to sell copies, and make money.
So, in my view, the death of the cohesive, well-developed videogame plot is actually a symptom of the wider decline of videogame developers' freedom.

Games which once had a plot and a purpose have become relegated to the level of wrestling and football titles - desperately re-releasing the same old gameplay and slapping a '2013' on the box like series fans won't realise what the publishers are doing.

It's disheartening - especially to gamers who have enjoyed such titles as Deus Ex, Thief, ICO, Final Fantasy 7 and the like - to discover that Triple-A titles have become little more than cash-cows beholden to investors.

But, fear not, the industry isn't completely shafted - there are rays of hope out there. First, we have 'Indie' games – titles like the excellent Braid or Journey which aren't tied to investors and shareholders with iron chains, and are free to experiment and try new things.

Then there are the start-up companies (usually stuffed with ex-Triple-A developers) which are going their own way, and finally, services like Kickstarter, which offer gamers themselves to invest in titles they want to see - and reap the rewards when the games are released. Sure, these three are but a speck of dust on a beach shaped like the Call of Duty logo, but at least we're not completely consigned to a gaming future of 'FIFA of Duty Assassin's Call of the Creed 2020'...

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Gratuitous Space Battles Review

As soon as I saw this game’s name, I knew I had to buy it. Only a manufacturer confident in its product would be so blatantly obvious in titling its game such a bold way – and for once I was pleasantly surprised to find such a game title to be totally accurate.
Unlike you, Duke Nukem Forever...

GSB offers exactly what it promises with its ambitious title, and pulls it off with great aplomb. The game itself is simplicity itself. You’re presented with a number of starship hulls, each of which have a selection ‘hardpoints’. Some are for weapons, of which there are dozens, and others for engines, crew compartments, power generators, shields and the like.

Once you’ve customised your ship’s hull to your liking, you can name the ship class, pop over to a selection of space battles (each of which are unlocked by completing the previous battle) and try your designs against enemy fleets of different sizes and races.

You can issue your fleet a limited selection of orders before the battle, or pass on instructions to target a specific vessel or type of vessel. You then place your newly-designed fleet of ships on the battle grid, hit ‘fight’... and sit back and watch a gratuitous space battle, complete with shiny, brightly colored beam lasers, massive explosions, space hulks drifting about and screaming fightercraft.

If you win the battle you get honour points, which can be spent on new ships’ hulls, races, weapons and hardpoints, allowing you to build newer, more advanced ships. The less you spend in points and crews to win a battle the more honour you get for winning it. It’s a deceptively simple Pavlov’s Dogs reward system... but with explosions. And who doesn’t like explosions?

The battles themselves offer a pleasing variety of enemies and environments, with certain alien races preferring huge starfighter fleets - requiring you to design a new anti-starfighter frigate - or gravimetric anomalies leaving weapons at half strength, or shields unusable. It requires thought to win these bouts with anything but overwhelming firepower, and that’s how the game remains so addictive.

My only issue with GSB is its occasionally fiddly user interface – the buttons you have to press are all rather small for an iPad screen, and moving your fleets around on the battle screens can be very irritating, but these are minor issues, and shouldn’t stop you from jumping into what is a fantastic title.

Plus, with five playable races, dozens of hulls, hundreds of options and a charming, colourful graphical style, GSB just keeps you coming back for more.

Reviewed on iPad

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Angry Birds Star Wars Review

Usually I would be mildly annoyed as yet another product comes out with the Star Wars name branded on it, as George Lucas (or Disney, now) continues to whore out my beloved IP for petty cash. However, when I heard that this particular title was in fact a cross with seminal avian-flinging fun fest Angry Birds, I admit I was a little excited.

The Angry Birds games have been a runaway success for developer Rovio, with their simple, addictive gameplay and charming visual style making whiling away a long commute a thing of ease.

The developers are also very generous with their free downloadable content as well, which keeps their fans wanting more. So, in all honesty, it’s no surprise that with Angry Birds Star Wars the developers have once again hit the nail on the head – or the Pigtrooper with a lightsaber, in this case.

As with all previous Angry Birds games, the aim of the game is to use a selection of suicidal avians to wipe out a level full of green piggies who’ve robbed the bird’s eggs – except this time, the piggies happen to be wearing a selection of Imperial army uniforms and Stormtrooper armour, and wielding blaster rifles.

There’s even a Pig Vader, who uses his Force powers to suspend the game’s many destructible objects in the air, blocking the birds’ attacks. The birds themselves have had an appropriate facelift, with red bird ‘Bird Skywalker’ wielding a lightsaber which can cut through objects, Obi Bird Kenobi being able to use Force Push to move items, and Han Birdo firing three pinpoint blaster shots on target. There’s also Chewbirda, a massive walking carpet who destroys everything in sight with his immense bulk.

Drawing from both Angry Birds and Star Wars’ worlds, the game offers a selection of tricky levels and challenges, which force (pun intended) the player to think laterally about your style of attack. The gravity wells of Angry Birds Space are used to great effect here, as are the new additions of blaster fire, which can be reflected by Birdwalker’s lightsaber to hit other targets.

Generally, it’s a solid addition to the series, and you could buy it for that alone – but true Star Wars fans will find a lot to like in the game’s little nods to the films. Han Birdo, for example, is launched with a cry of joy which sounds suspiciously like Han Solo’s roar of victory after the destruction of the first Death Star, while the R2D2 and Threebirdo’s bonus levels are a blast, with the prissy bird-bot’s metallic body exploding offering a reminder of The Empire Strikes Back.

Even the ‘Space Eagle’ has been changed – now if you use this method to clear the screen, the Millennium Falcon comes roaring in and blows everything to shreds, it’s brilliant. Overall, there’s a lot to like here. The game does a great job telling the story of the first Star Wars movie (but with angry birds), and even without the clever use of the Star Wards license it would be worth buying – especially as there appears to be a Hoth level on the way.

Reviewed on iPad