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.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Assassin's Creed III Review

It’s always the way, isn’t it? You wait for a game that teaches you how to hunt and assassinate people to be released then two come along at once! But while bald-headed Agent 47 of Hitman Absolution may know a thing or two about killing, he can’t free run, hunt bears or set sail for spectacular sea battles without so much as breaking a sweat, now can he?

After more than three years in development, Ubisoft’s much-anticipated conclusion to the Assassin’s Creed series is finally here… but was it worth the wait? Hell yeah. Killing people has never felt so satisfying.



Assassin’s Creed III had already smashed records prior to its release, taking the mantle of Ubisoft’s most pre-ordered game ever – with worldwide figures doubling those of the previous record holder Assassin’s Creed Revelations. It certainly had a lot to live up to – and it’s arguably the best game in the series.

As usual, you start as the “as-mundane-as-he-sounds” Desmond who, along with his scientist buddies, is once again caught up in a bit of memory-based time travel. He’s transported back to the days of the American Revolution to piece together his fragmented memories. The story’s a little convoluted but stick with it…

The opening scenes set the stall for what is one of the most compelling adventures of recent years. From the moment you switch from the shoes of series stalwart Desmond in the present day and become embroiled in a murder plot at the Theatre Royal in London’s Covent Garden circa 1754 you’re hooked. From that moment on, it’s a rip roaring journey across the US in the lead up to the American Revolution.

Thanks to the new Anvil Next game engine, the visuals are phenomenal – with highly detailed environments and plenty of variety.



Just sit back and gawp at the animations, weather effects and the huge number of characters onscreen at any time; it’s all very impressive. There are loads of different settings and locations, such as the rapidly developing homestead in the country, to the hustle and bustle of the city streets (you can even run through houses now to avoid enemies), it really is an achievement – and we mustn’t forget the nautical scenes, which are absolutely sublime. The way the waves ebb and flow, with the weather lashing down on the deck – all while you’re in the midst of some tactical game of cat and mouse with a rival’s vessel. It’s both exhilarating and awe-inspiring at the same time, and certainly among the highlights of the entire Assassin’s Creed series (and that’s saying something).

Sure, close up, some of the textures and detail are a little shaky but you’re unlikely to really notice or care while your leaping from a tree top on to your unsuspecting prey. You can almost sense that Ubisoft are itching to get their mitts on next gen hardware to push the boundaries even further. It’s a small point perhaps, but the facial detail really impressed me too; the realistic eyes and accurate lip synching really helping to draw you in and add some personality to the myriad characters.

Besides the actual gameplay, the cut scenes and voice acting are decent too. I normally abhor lengthy cut scenes but found myself listening intently as the plot unfolded. It’s a nice touch to have background music and effects in each of the cities too, and the fact that there is a diverse range of accents really adds some meat to the weird and wonderful people you meet. They’ve even recorded authentic native dialect and include subtitles through some of the chapters! It’s also hugely atmospheric when you overhear conversations as you wander about the streets, with different voices chatting away – it really is a living, breathing environment.



Even more than the previous games, you really do get a sense of space and scale this time round too. While the confined streets and crowd scenes of previous games are included, it’s the enormous playspace of the countryside that really makes this stand out from the crowd. There’s a real sense of freedom as you yearn to see what’s over the hill up ahead or what that building is in the distance. The fact you can hunt as you go, just makes the experience even more enjoyable.

And it’s never been so satisfying to leap from a tree, dagger drawn, to impale an unsuspecting rabbit below. Cute woodland creatures haven’t had it so bad since Dr Robotnik got his thrills by chasing down all of Sonic’s friends. This is certainly a game that draws on other titles and melts them down into one mouthwatering package. The hunting elements and wilderness evokes memories of Red Dead Redemption, the free running reminds me of Prototype, the hugely detailed world of Skyrim and the ruthless killing is reminiscent of the aforementioned Hitman series. Assassin’s Creed III, however, arguably does everything just a little bit better than its peers.

Initially, you are thrust back to the 18th century to play as Haytham Kenway – father to the game’s main protagonist, a young, half-English, half-Mohawk called Ratonhnhak√©:ton – or Connor to his friends. It’s tricky to say much more without revealing the plot and spoiling the experience but suffice to say, you really do develop an emotional bond with Connor and quickly forget that Ezio et al are but a distant memory.

The first few sequences act as a lengthy tutorial, explaining the various controls, movements, weaponry and abilities of your character.



The fighting elements have been much improved and somehow, the multitude of button presses and combinations required to get Ezio and Altair about the place don’t seem remotely complicated this time round. The rejigged combat system, with all its counters and attacks, are lovingly animated and appear seamless in action. Perhaps it is all a little too easy to dispatch a group of bad guys this time round but who cares!

Importantly, the free running element – the crux of the gameplay – is flawless, especially as you now you also have the ability to scamper up trees and jump from branch to branch as well as buildings and spires. And yes, it’s still just as thrilling diving from a steeple into a hay cart as it was in the first game.

Besides your usual swords and hidden blades, there are plenty more weapons at your disposal too. Besides the bow, tomahawk and rope darts, Conner has plenty of other goodies in his inventory. Perhaps most important are the snares and bait that allow him to hunt in the woodland.

There’s just so much to distract you from the main missions that you’ll be glued to the screen for ages. There are also the obligatory collecting objectives and side missions to add some variety and longevity. What’s more, there’s the exciting multiplayer mode available too.

From London to New York, Lexington to Bunker Hill, whether wading through the thick snow or basking in the sunlight on a rooftop before partaking in a spot of parkour, Assassin’s Creed III has something for everyone. Who’d have thought the American Revolution would be a rip-roaring theme for a video game? Where else can you combine stealth with all out fighting, a powerful narrative, an amazing atmosphere – and meet the likes of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin??? Assassin’s Creed III is a triumph and definitely one of the highlights this year.

Reviewed on Xbox 360


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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Happy Birthday Xbox Live


Xbox Live will be ten years old tomorrow. Where does the time go? Ten years of putting up with arrogant teenagers, racist teenagers, sexist teenagers and…well…teenagers. But for all that we can grouch about some of the more egregious displays of social incompetence to be found on Live, there’s no denying that it is an incredible service, one that has lead where other online services have followed, and one that has turned games consoles from glorified arcade machines into the entertainment hub: the movie-streaming, music-playing, live-TV-watching, Skype-your-mates-and-browse-the-net wonderbox that rules the living room. Oh, and it lets you play Borderlands 2 with a transvestite from the Black Country. We’ve come a long way from Pong.

Poor old Sega. It was their Dreamcast console with its built in 56K that first posited the idea that online play should be a core part of console design, but the limited storage space on the console and the unreliability of dial up connections for gaming meant that the idea never took off. It did, however, tip Microsoft off to the possibilities, and caused them to include an Ethernet port on the Xbox in an era when broadband connections were still limited pretty much to business use only. It all seems very prescient now: broadband became a domestic product and gaming became a social rather than a solo pastime.

Of course, those soundproofed demonstration booths at E3 didn’t really hint at what XBL would become. At the time, it was just a way of shooting your friends rather than a sprite. Friends, however, became a significant driving force for the service. Think back to non-console gaming at the time and the first thing that comes to most people’s minds is a long list of handles. I was Chooof when playing Halo on the Mac, Ogami Itto when playing Age of Empires II on PC, and Radioactive Dan on the rare occasions that I took Rise of Nation II online. Thanks to the social evolution of Xbox Live, I’m now Ibwib across the board. You can kick my ass as Ibwib at Call of Duty. As a Black Phantom you can invade Ibwib’s world in Dark Souls. Hell, if you’re feeling really cheeky you can wait until Ibwib is watching the football on the Xbox Live Sky TV app, start a party, and mock me as Arsenal drop yet more points to teams we used rival.

Not only is the naming persistent, but the service is consistent: once you’ve connected your gamertag to that of your friends, XBL will make sure they’re always there, whether it’s for gaming, chatting, sharing a film or attempting to outdo each other’s gamerscore. And let’s be honest, it’s almost always the latter. 

Of course, PSN and Steam offer similar services, but they do tend to come with their own drawbacks. PSN offers everything that Live does, but, you know, six months later. Granted, it has more users, but both PSN and Steam seem to spend more time preventing you from playing online by tying you up with mandatory updates than they do actually facilitating online play. Working on figures from the start of this year, PSN has significantly more users than Live, which in turn has more than double the users of Steam. As for the Wii owners, most of them are trying to figure out where to put that TV top microphone, and wondering what good it will do them to be able to talk to total strangers whilst feeding a virtual horse.

As an entertainment centre, Live is getting better and better, with every passing month seeing the introduction of new channels, increased sports coverage, and an ever widening on demand service. For gaming, one can only imagine what smart glass will one day bring to the party (personally, I’m looking forward to games that combine anytime, anywhere inventory management and strategizing on a tablet with controller based action).

Notionally, the Xbox360 is at the end of its lifespan, but in real terms no one is in any rush to release a new console into a desperately depressed global economy. Well, ok, Nintendo are, but that’s just because they need to show us 2005’s technology in 2012 with the Wii U. For most of us, it’s unlikely that we’ll get our hands on a new Xbox before 2014, which means that anyone desperate to see some innivation will need to keep an eye on Xbox Live rather than the hardware. Having given us Gamercards, Gamerscore, Trueskills, 1 vs 100, cross-platforming with Games for Windows and…er…interactive Miss World, we reckon Live is up to the task.

Happy birthday Xbox Live. If you were real, Megabits would give you a cake, one that’s not a lie.

Monday, November 12, 2012

30 Minute Playtest: Assassin's Creed III

Having been a fan of the AC series for some time, I was looking forward to spending some time in the world of revolutionary America – and I wasn’t disappointed. Having turned the game on, I was pleased to be met with a decent introductory video detailing the epoch-spanning battles of the Assassins and the Templars – rival groups working for freedom or order through control, respectively. So, if you were worried that you’d be dropped into the thick of it without a reminder of the AC series’ odd multiple-timeline sci-fi storyline, rest easy.


Stepping quickly into the boots of another ancestor of series hero Desmond Miles, AC3 starts out with sophisticated Englishman Haytham Kenway offing a gent at a theatre in Covent Garden, London, in the mid-1700s. This intro section does an admirable job introducing the gamer to the AC series’ trademark free-running gameplay, as the lithe Haytham shimmys his way around the theatre, before offing his target with a thrust of his spring-loaded hidden blade.


Fast forward a bit and Haytham finds himself being sent to Revolutionary-era America, just before it all kicks off and the yanks decide the rule of the King ain’t so good after all.


As usual, the true star of the show is the environment and historical period chosen for the game, and 1750s-era Boston, Massachusetts more than fits the bill. The city is bustling with settlers and pilgrims, full to the brim with British ‘Redcoats’, and offers a huge amount to see and do – but the majority has to wait for the next generation of assassins to make their first appearance in the colonies...


Control-wise, the game’s previous issues with the camera in fights and an overcomplicated interface has been largely done away with. Your character will now take actions which previously required specific button pushes, such as blending with crowds to disappear.


 

The combat is also a lot leaner, though as usual your character’s enormous arsenal beggars belief, also – weirdly – the black power pistols and muskets on offer in the firearm department take twice as long to reload as previous Assassin Ezio’s gauntlet-mounted weapon. This means that blades are still king, despite the advanced era – an admirable way of keeping AC’s swordplay at the forefront of the action.

Graphically everything looks better than ever, with only minimum pop-in and a little bit of rough textures in less-travelled alleyways.


The animation, score and voice acting is top-notch, as you’d expect from an Ubisoft game, and even my short playthrough left me wanting more. Whether you enjoyed the previous AC games or you’re a newbie to the series, you’re bound to love AC3, with its fresh, new feel and tighter gameplay.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

XBLA vs PSN deathmatch

Written by Debbie Lloyd

XBLA is ten years old this month and has been on an ever-evolving cycle since its release. Every now and then Microsoft decides to overhaul the interface, and add some shiny new features that more often than not splits the fan base... The dashboard update that came with in-built Kinect features was pointless to those without the extra peripheral, but was fantastic when it came down to Kinect fanatics.
 

XBLA is clearly not the only online marketplace out there; the PSN is its main competitor. But which is best? Without jumping on the fanboy or fangirl wagon, here we'll compare visual appeal with raw content to find out which wins the battle of the marketplace. As usual, leave your thoughts below:
 

XBLA
 
When it comes to aesthetics, XBLA wins ands down. The constant changes to its appearance and ease of use make it a very simple way to download your content. The only downside is there is not always enough new content. The XBLA has been on a bit of a slow down recently, and even the Summer of Arcade was a bit of a let down. I for one didn't download anything as there was nothing as exciting as the likes of LIMBO to catch my attention.

The truth is the Xbox 360 provides small updates in size but huge in substance. An Xbox dashboard update might take about 20 minutes at most, and you can start using it straight away. There is always a massive change, and it’s normally a positive one.

The most recent update sees the introduction of a browser add on with Internet Explorer, something Microsoft have promised since before the console was even released, and the introduction of new video and music features. Unfortunately the browser just isn’t up to scratch. While it looks good, the interface feels as poor as it does on the Wii. Browsers don't belong on consoles, nor do they work.

The other additions in this dashboard update
unfortunately include more adverts, and an odd bunching of boxes in each section. To be honest, it looks like someone at XBLA HQ went mad with a ruler and decided that screens full of boxes were the way forward.

The final addition is Xbox Music & Video. While it is currently being offered as a free 14-day trial, the monthly charge for this is £8.99. Apparently this little piece of software is to rival services like Spotify, but it’s unclear whether Microsoft are a little too late to the party. With most other apps on XBLA being offered for free, it’s a bit strange to see a monthly subscription for this, especially when some are already paying for Gold membership.

PSN


The PSN has only been around for 6 years, but that should still be plenty of time to iron out the creases. It seems as though Sony just weren’t too fussed about appearances, as the PSN features one of the most hideous user interfaces I have ever had the "pleasure" of using. It works well on the PSP/Vita etc, but on the PS3 it just looks cluttered.  A UI like the one on PS3 just doesn’t work well visually. I have no desire to venture in and out of the menus as it feels like I’m working my way through lists at school.

Herein lies my issue with the PSN. It’s much more extensive than XBLA, with old and new content and a plethora of DLC, but it’s just so impossible to find. Using the PSN is like navigating my way around an endless maze with an infinite amount of alternative paths to take. I search for one thing, and something else entirely different comes up, leading me back the way I came so I can trawl through a list of games within a genre or alphabet category. It’s just a pain so while the content is there, I often don’t bother searching, as I know it’s not easily accessible.

However, when it comes down to pure content, the PSN wins hand down. Sure, all the content is in a slightly cluttered mess in a mountain of sub menus, but it is there. Need a load of pointless DLC for that obscure Japanese game? It’s there. Want to play a classic from the PS1 era? Well that’s there too. Even the Classics collection is better on the PSN than it is on the XBLA, and it’s usually cheaper.

The other issue with the PSN is its update system. I’ll admit it, I don’t use my PS3 as much as I probably should do, but every time I get that urge to get back into a game, I'm met with a system update. These are all well and good, but they take far too long and I have never actually seen a system update that changes the appearance of the home screen. When competing with the forever-changing appearance of the XBLA, the PSN falls flat on its face retaining its flat and boring interface full of lists and dull icons. It’s simply not as visual, even with a custom theme.




~ This isn’t a console war, but more a content war. The Xbox is older and more mature but it’s lacking in substance as time goes on. It’s got the style, but can it really keep up with the exclusive content the competition has to offer? The PS3, however, is like a teenager, keen to show you absolutely everything it has to offer, but it’s got issues. It likes to tell you it’s changing, but ultimately you are confronted with the same product over and over again, simply offering just that little something extra in a desperate bid to keep your attention.