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.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Top Tips for 2013 - Our pick of the best games (Part One)

Despite the imminent announcement of the release dates for the next Xbox and PlayStation, there are plenty of games to be getting excited about this year. So in keeping with tradition, we at Megabits have decided to choose a selection of upcoming releases we think will become essential purchases. Here's my selection of five games that are getting me a little hot under the collar and have already been allocated money from my meagre savings jar.

Fellow Megabits writer Ibwib and myself have a little wager each year, picking five games each and seeing who gets the highest review scores via Metacritic. Check his top five games here.

Watch Dogs
Ubisoft's Watch Dogs stole the show at last year's E3, and I wouldn't bet against it being a frontrunner for Game of the Year. Surveillance, computing, hacking, data control... what's not to love? Looks a little like a combination of GTA and Deus Ex, which can't be a bad thing! After Ubisoft's recent success with Far Cry 3 and Assassin's Creed 3, I'm expecting big things with Watch Dogs.

The Last of Us
Sony's survival horror adventure comes from good stock, with Naughty Dog certain to deliver an awesome experience. A desolate landscape and abandoned cities create an awesome atmosphere of fear and intrigue. As a couple of survivors of an apocalyptic event, you've got to trudge through a world full of the infected. A kind of zombie game with a really strong narrative...The teaser videos look fantastic - great graphics with a hint of the kind of strong storyline that wowed us last year with The Walking Dead.

Tomb Raider
I used to love Tomb Raider - and not just coz I was a young lad who enjoyed gawping at the busty models who posed in those tight shorts to publicise each game. And with the recent form of Square Enix, I have no doubt that this will be a title that truly delivers. The trailer suggests loads of gun-toting, cavern exploring goodness - with some lovely looking graphics and audio to boot. Oh, and hopefully, they'll be a nice busty model to pose in tight shorts to publicise the game too!

Remember Me
Capcom's Remember Me definitely makes it onto my list. Another game to feature a strong female protagonist, Nilin will surely give Lara Croft a run for her money as they fight it out this year. Expected around May time, this seems to kind of combine the futuristic Total Recall-type world with the likes of Syndicate and Deus Ex. Lost memories and cool combat make this a must buy in my eyes.

Army of Two: Devil's Cartel
Now I don't expect this to be one of the top scoring games of the year... but past form with this series suggests I won't care anyway. Both the previous games from EA have been right up my street and I've played them to death. Played alone, they boast decent - if slightly ridiculous storylines - and a reasonable challenge, but with a co-op partner, the entire experience is cranked up a couple of notches. Covering one another, rescuing downed teammates and drawing enemy fire makes for some absolutely brilliant moments. It's big, loud and stupid... but that's why I love it. Salem and Rios may have been replaced with some new blood, but I still can't wait until March!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Top Ten Tips for Hitman: Absolution

With Hitman: Absolution's new take on the franchise nevertheless having proved a big hit with old assassins and new, here's my top ten tips to be a hit in Hitman, and help you reach that coveted 'Silent Assassin' rank.

10) Possession is nine-tenths…

A good hitman is prepared for every situation – not least when you might need to distract an enemy, or knock them out by hitting them gently with a baseball bat. Always carry a random item in your jacket pocket, be it a brick, bottle or garden gnome – you never know when you might need a garden gnome.

9) Opportunistic
Occasionally, enemy patrols might need to take a short rest break, or go indulge their smoking habit – this is the ideal time to sidle over, ask for a light (obviously not if he/she is relieving him/herself, you'd look a bit bonkers), knock out or kill him/her, and stuff the body into a recycling bin/wicker basket/trash can/sewer. One less opponent is a good thing, always.

8) Take the scenic route
Most of the time, the direct route isn't the best route. Look around your target's area – there's bound to be a sewer or a balcony or a ladder to climb – there's no need to rush in all guns blazing, take the scenic route for better scores – and usually more interesting ways to take down your target.

7) Instinctive
Agent 47 is a trained killer, bred from birth – and he knows what he's doing. Unless you're playing on the ridiculously hard 'professional' setting, you'll want to make use of his instincts – mark your targets, check their paths, consider your approach – and occasionally go nuts and point-shoot eight guys at once. Some consider using instinct to be cheating – I consider it to be badass.

6) Take your time
There's no need to rush, no matter how the game tries to make you hurry into a reactive kill.
Take your time with your approach, study the target's movement patterns, try to sneak into places you aren't allowed and seek out those interesting weapons and opportunities the developers tried to hide from you. You never know what you'll find, like a katana, or some rat poison… or a teddy bear.

5) Listen up
Listen to the conversations taking place around you. A surprising amount of information can be gleaned from loose lips, be it the location of a weapons cache, or an open air vent.

4) Leave no trace
Hide the bodies. Agent 47, conscientious fellow that he is, wouldn't leave litter lying around – he'd bin it, so be sure to hide the bodies of your victims (dead or unconscious). This will help your overall score, as well as keeping the roaming guards off your back that little bit longer.


3) Take a breather
Non-lethal takedowns are quieter than lethal ones. They also leave no blood trace, have a smaller negative impact on your campaign scoring, and help you meet that coveted 'Silent Assassin' rank. After all, a good assassin only kills his target, and his target alone.

2) Cross-dresser
Ignoring the fact that your opponents are idiots who can't recognise the tall, bald, tattooed man in their midst as a threat from the start, 47 is an expert at disguise and infiltration. Grab any and all disguises to infiltrate your target's location – you'll feel badass as you outthink your opponent, and you'll be able to slip away with ease afterwards.

1) Mercis Letifer
Hitman: Absolution is best played through three or four times. The nature of the levels allows for a huge number of ways to approach your targets, so be sure to improvise, take on the challenges set by the developers, or just make it up as you go along. I, for example, tried to kill every target set for me with a household object, such as a toilet plunger – more difficult than you'd think!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Past, Present and Future - Gaming in 2013

So there you have it. Another year over and it’s the same old story in the world of video games. A few decent – though muted – releases at the start of 2012, followed by a seemingly ever-lasting summer lull, and then the madness of the blockbuster release schedule as Christmas approached. Looks like it’s going to be much the same this year too... except the start of the year has some big guns too!

There’s plenty to get excited about on the new release radar in the coming months. Capcom’s Devil May Cry is being universally praised by critics so far, then there’s Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Dead Space 3, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Crysis 3, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Phew.

But wait, that’s not all. In March, we’re expecting to be wowed by Tomb Raider, Gears of War: Judgment and BioShock Infinite (finally!). Army of Two is my guilty pleasure too – so the third in the series is top of my wishlist too.

As if you didn’t know, 2013 is expected to see the announcement of the next generation of consoles as well – the Xbox 720, PS4 or Durango and Orbis, or whatever they’re being called nowadays. There’s already plenty of speculation about their specs, from memory, processing power, whether they’ll rely on digital downloads, have always-on internet, include motion sensing tech, and how much they will cost at launch. One thing is certain, however, by the time they actually reach the shelves, we’ll all no doubt be sick to death of all the conjecture. Come on Microsoft and Sony – just put us out of our misery already. Tell us some concrete information.

Personally, I love a good console launch – the eve of a new dawn. Last year’s release of the Wii U didn’t really count – it wasn’t uber powerful or particularly innovative. But the next box and new PlayStation have got me really intrigued. No doubt they will both promise “photo realistic” graphics again and conjure up images of me playing FIFA with players that actually look like their real-life counterparts rather than slightly deformed crash test dummies… but will they really be any closer to achieving this?  Probably not. But who really cares!?

As the seventh generation draws to a close – after a longer-than-expected lifespan – I’ll admit I’ve never been more addicted to gaming. As a past time, it’s no longer frowned upon and as gamers, we’re no longer a minority. Gaming is big business and celebrated. Long may it continue!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Things to do while holidaying on Rook Island

I've been spending a lot of time holidaying in the Rook Islands of late, enjoying Far Cry 3's hospitality, and excellent weapon shops… Here's my top ten activities for getting the most out of your time in paradise.

10) Boogie on down
With explosions lighting up the night's sky, no trip to the Rook Islands would be complete without an awful evening's dancing. Take to the dance floor and strut your stuff like an American tourist in way over his head - the locals will love you for it.

9) Passive-aggressive
There's a fellow in the aptly-named Badtown who is rude and violent towards his female friends. While visiting the charming, rural location, be sure to jump up and down on his head, since you can't use your weapons – or simply drive into him with the nearest vehicle.

8) Hardly sporting
When hunting sharks, why not try Rook's excellent selection of unsporting weapons, such as grenade launchers, RPGs, C4 explosives or mounted heavy machine guns.
Take that, Jaws!

7) Burn baby burn
Turn up the heat with your own personal flamethrower – why not set fire to as much of the island scenery as possible, and watch as the dynamic fire programming continues to set everything ablaze around you, such as trees, bushes, tigers and pirates – then watch the tigers and pirates fight, while on fire…

6) Da da da daaaa… Dadada…
Loudly and tunelessly sing the Indiana Jones theme as you take on Rook Islands' many temples, hidden challenges and mysteries, all while trying not to fall to your death from a great height, or get poisoned by a black mamba.

5) Crocodile, dumb me
Take a dip in one of Rook's many small streams – be sure to pet the crocodiles. In fact, if you happen to be being attacked by other indigenous fauna, such as the lesser-spotted heavy pirate with a machinegun, why not dive into one of these streams in a fit of panic and get eaten by a crocodile instead – a far better option.

4) Come with me, fellas!
Why drive alone? Commandeer a vehicle from one of the friendly Rakyat tribe and drive a truck full of AK-47 toting crazies into the heart of an enemy encampment. Watch with joy as the tribesman die to a man, fighting off screaming pirates, as you quietly complete your objectives.

3) Endangered? My bad
Spotted a pirate outpost with a caged animal inside? Set that creature free (be sure to hum 'Born Free' as you do), and watch as the creature mauls the unsuspecting redshirts, clearing the way for you to take the safehouse as your own. For even more fun, set the animal on fire first.

2) Strike from the sky
A trip to Rook Islands wouldn't be complete without taking advantage of the many hang-gliders oddly left at high points on the area's many hills and mountains. Take a flight and enjoy the view, and remember to top off the experience by stupidly flying over a pirate camp, before letting go and landing atop an enemy like something from the circus. You're sure to be met with happy smiles… and gunfire.

1) Go Rambo
Channel the spirit of legendary soldier Rambo by seeing the sights armed only with a recurve bow and a selection of fire and explosive arrows. Marvel at the sight of exploding or burning pirates, or take it slow and quietly eliminate your foes with pinpoint archery for a fun, thrilling experience.

Welcome to the Rook Islands.
Enjoy your stay!

Top Ten With A Twist: 2012 Results

Ah, it’s that time of year again, when one of us lines the other’s pockets and, in the process, provides a handy recap of the past year in gaming.

Just in case you weren’t here this time last year, Megabits’ dread lord and master Bojeeva and I have an annual wager in which we pick the ten impending games we’re most excited about for the year, outline what’s got us interested and then, twelve months later, add up the Metacritic scores for our selections to see who has the best taste in games/prognosticating ability. For the winner there’s a nice, crisp £20 note. For the loser, public mockery of his atrocious critical faculties, and for you, the reader, a neat recap of the year's gaming highs and lows combined with a hopefully informative insight into your humble reviewer’s personalities. You can find Bojeeva’s list here and mine here.

Bojeeva/Ibwib: Syndicate
What we expected: All the early hints make this look like the isometric, upgrade-happy tactical adventure we remember has been chucked out ofthe window in favour of an FPS with a tech tree. So, that’s Deus Ex all over again. But have a little faith, this is Peter Molyneux we’re talking about. The man has one of the most consistent hit lists in gaming, and if he’s turning his hand to an FPS, then we’re sure it will be worth playing.
What we got: We were right about it being an FPS with a tech tree, but wrong about it being worth playing. Dull.
Metacritic Score: 74

Bojeeva: Dishonored
What we expected: A stealth-action game with the freedom to choose your own methods of completing missions.
What we got: Exactly what we wanted. Hooray. Sure, it got a little repetitive at times, but it does stealth, player impact and freedom very nicely, which is what we wanted.
Metacritic Score: 88

Ibwib: Bioshock Infinite
What we expected: The coolest art design in gaming, two-fisted shooter gameplay and a deep, immersive story set in a striking environment. What else do you expet from something with the name Bioshock on it?
What we got: Nothing, it slipped down the schedules and headed for next year.
Metacritic Score: 0

Bojeeva: Minecraft Xbox360 Edition
What we expected: A construction game where anything is possible, this should get your creative juices flowing and bring some real open-ending gameplay.
What we got: A trouble-free port of an outstandingly addictive game, a timesucker with not-so-hidden depths.
Metacritic Score: 82

Ibwib: Mass Effect 3
What we expected: “If there is a similarly enormous improvement between Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 as there was between ME 1 and 2, then Mass Effect 3 should be one of the best games of all time. Bioware have already replaced the convoluted menus with a streamlined interface, the bland planets with worthwhile exploration, and the mediocre boss fights with genuinely absorbing battles. Minor tweaks are all it will take to make the 3rd installment a GOTY contender.”
What we got: This game had been on my list in 2011 as well, and it’s no appearance might have cost me a win, but when it finally arrived, it was worth the wait. ME 3 continued it’s immediate predecessors action-oriented focus, much to the disgust of those who preferred the original’s Trek-a-like stylings. There wasn’t much that you could call new in the gameplay, but the story was huge, detailed, action packed and decisive.
Metacritic Score: 93

Bojeeva/Ibwib: Borderlands 2
What we expected:  Borderlands is all about loot. That addiction to crate-smashing and chest-searching that affect every RPG player are brought to the fore here-every time you think you should turn it off, you decide to just have another rummage in the next box, under the next rock, or in the next crate. Pretty much all you find is money or special guns, and pretty much all you'll spend the money on is more special guns. Get together with your mates, tool up with lightning shotguns and acid assault rifles, and go get yourself some money. It's a simple idea that bears plenty of repetition.
What we got: Pretty much what we asked for. More of the same. Much more, with better graphics and greater environmental and mission variety.
Metacritic Score: 89

Bojeeva: Hitman Absolution
What we expected: The usual Hitman combination of difficulty and creative freedom. The joy of Hitman is the ability to figure out how best to accomplish your mission, and then put your plan, be it a carefully constructed "accident" or a display of sniping prowess, into effect.
What we got: A story. A rather contrived one. Which has plot points to reach and narrative beats to hit. In order to do this, it sacrifices some of the sprawling freedom you were expecting in favour of shorter, to-the-point levels. This is just disappointing enough to make Absolution one of the weaker Hitman games, but not enough to actually make it a bad game in itself.
Metacritic Score 79

Ibwib/Bojeeva: Grand Theft Auto V
What we expected: We were hoping for something that combined the thoroughly convincing world of GTA IV with the scale of GTA: San Andreas and the lighter tone of The Ballad of Gay Tony.
What we got: The usual lesson that "Expected 2012" is a guideline rather than a promise. Ok, we knew that already, but the trailer had gameplay, and it looked so polished, we kidded ourselves into thinking it would make it.
Metacritic Score: N/A

Ibwib: Transformers: Fall of Cybertron
What we expected: It should be so easy to make a Transformers game. Giant robots mixing gunplay and fisticuffs with stealth and driving. Distinctive character designs, varied abilities, and a whole load of nostalgic fanboy love. How can you go wrong?
What we got: Well, the easiest way to go wrong is to repeat its predecessors major mistake, which is setting a game full of giant robots in their natural environment, making them all seem normal sized. Disregarding the physical side of the combat didn't help either. Bring them to Earth, make it fun, and don't use standard third person shooters as your model, please.
Metacritic Score: 79

Bojeeva: Max Payne 3
What we expected: A continuation of the classic slo-mo shooter with some added innovations-after all, if Max Payne can popularise slo-mo gunplay, surely Max Payne 3 will try to popularise something new?
What we got: Well, there wasn't really anything new to be seen in the mechanics, but the move to South America was fun, and the gunplay was as enjoyable as ever.
Metacritic Score: 86

Ibwib: Half Life 2 Episode 3
What we expected: Nothing, really. HL2E3 is slowly turning into the Flying Dutchman of gaming, destined never to reach port, and we didn't really believe 2012 would be it's year. Still, Gabe Newell dropped a few hints in verse form that we shouldn't forget all about Gordon and the gang, so we stuck it on the list. More fool us.
What we got: Nothing.
Metacritic Score: N/A

Bojeeva: Inversion
What we expected: A shooter with gravity's not like that hasn't proven awesome in the past. Of course, in Inversion the effect of the weapons is all the larger, and the baddies have them as well.
What we got: A bog standard cover based shooter that occasionally uses the gravity conceit to invert the scenery. Nonplussed.
Metacritic Score: 54

Ibwib/Bojeeva: Prototype 2
What we expected: Bojeeva loved the first Prototype in spite of its flaws, I hated it for its flaws but thought the basic idea had potential. We both expected Prototype 2 to take the free-running, shape-shifting super-powered dice-fest to a new level, hopefully by including a more compelling environment and streamlining the interface.
What we got: Another tiresome plot, another unengaging lead character, a fractionally more engaging city, and a truckload of action. In all, an improvement, but this game should have been a world beater,  and instead it barely manages to better its middling first installment.
Metacritic Score: 74

Ibwib: I Am Alive
What we expected: A moody, post-apocalyptic wasteland, full of agonising choices, difficult inventory management and ever-present menace.
What we got: All of the above, yet strangely we were disappointed. The broken world was strangely gray and uninteresting, and there was no real sense of freedom or exploration.
Metacritic Score: 75

Bojeeva: Anarchy Reigns
What we expected: Sega and Platinum brought us the speedy gunplay of Vanquish, so naturally we  were expecting a similarly lightweight but enjoyable OTT beat-em-up from Anarchy Reigns. Flashing lights, pretty colours and violence, the fast-food of gaming.
What we got: Pretty much what we asked for. Simple and enjoyable, but just a little too lightweight to be a big scorer.
Metacritic Score: 74

Ibwib: Resident Evil 6
What we expected: We were hoping that after the cheap-shotting, tension-free mess that was RE5, the series would either go back to its survival horror roots, or to the perfectly polished action of RE 4. If it had done either of those things, we'd have been overjoyed.
What we got: Oh dear, it's amazing how far the mighty can fall. There was a time when Resident Evil was my favourite series, but RE6 is a dull shooter with cheap QTEs that bears no resemblance to the series we'd previously adored.
Metacritic Score: 67

And the winner is...Bojeeva, with a whopping and very neat score of 700 to my rather less impressive 551. Well done chief.

What a strange year. How many sequels grabbed our attention? How many games ended up on both lists? How many games failed to show up? Most importantly, how many sequels chose to merely polish their predecessor's laurels rather than build on them? If the 2011 Top Ten With a Twist shined a light on what a good year 2011 was for games, then 2012's list merely shows that we've spent twelve months treading water. Having said that, if we'd had Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss, Far Cry 3 or even Spec Ops: The Line, we'd have had more interesting things to talk about, which just goes to show-the games you get excited about are not necessarily the games you'll love by years end.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Top Ten: Gaming's Most Useless Weapons (part two)

You didn't seriously miss the first part of Gaming's Most Useless Weapons, did you? If you want to see our previous five picks, click here.

5) Eggs (Resident Evil 4/5)
Whose idea was it to use dairy products as weapons to take on the zombie horde? Nevermind that the series protagonists are walking powerhouses capable of kicking zombies to death with their size 13s, or shooting their way through reams of bioweaponised nightmares with little more than a popgun – who thought it would help to have your zombies coated in eggy gloop as they shambled towards you? Sure, the ‘rotten egg’ would kill a target in one hit – but that don’t bother the other five gnawing on my shins...

4) Apple of Eden (Assassin’s Creed)
The Apple of Eden is less a weapon than it is a slightly distracting lightshow. It doesn’t fire anything, all it does is create mirror images, which any astute warrior will see through in .1 of a second. I didn’t need an Epcot Centre lightshow in my pocket when the big sword strapped to my hip will do just as well, thank you.

3) Prod (Worms)
Admittedly, when the prod worked as designed – a humiliation tool for gently nosing enemy worms into piles of TNT or off a cliff – it was brilliant. At all other times, or when you get the prod wrong, it was merely a way of antagonising the worm slightly to your left, leading them to atomise you with a Concrete Donkey...

2) Cane (Jekyll and Hyde)
It... Doesn’ Anything! All it does is swing at the air, not pushing my enemies back, or hurting them, or even tickling them. It does nothing! WHY DO I HAVE THIS IF IT DOES NOTHING?!
Is it some sort of a sick joke? This game – and this weapon – is the reason I stuck with my Megadrive when the Bit-wars were in full swing.

1) Splash/Magikarp (Pokemon)
Bloody useless animal. Maybe it’s getting revenge on me for capturing it and stuffing it into a tiny metal ball, then dragging it out to fight other such caged animals, but Magikarp are bloody useless.
Its ‘splash’ attack does as much damage as you’d expect – sod all. The game even takes the piss when you use that attack, clearly stating ‘It had no effect’. That said, I’m told Magikarp are good with a nice butter sauce.

Top Ten: Gaming's Most Useless Weapons (part one)

We’ve had my pick of the best weapons in videogames, now here’s our pick of the most useless ones – the weapons that make you want to turn the game disk into a Frisbee, or as I enjoy – a coaster.

10) Poker chips/cards (Dead Rising 2)
Anybody who’s been to Vegas will know the fun Sin City offers – just as anyone who visited Dead Rising 2’s Vegas knock-off will know that poker chips – even when combined with gaffa tape – are a useless weapon for taking on a horde of bloodthirsty zombies. Aside from hurling several full-houses at the advancing horde, the best thing protagonist Chuck Greene can do with the huge number of chips and cards lying around is play patience while a zombie eats his face.

9) Blaster (Quake 2)
As the first weapon you start out with after crash landing on the planet Stroggos, you’d think that the standard-issue Marine Blaster would have enough power to take on the Strogg until you find something better. You’d be wrong. Ditched as soon as you get the shotgun, the blaster’s weak shots are more useful for lighting up dark corridors than for any sort of killing work.

8) Hammer of Dawn 
(Gears of War 3)  
The Hammer of Dawn is the most powerful weapon available to the immensely muscled Gears of the Coalition of Allied Governments, connected as the laser-designator is to an orbital weapons battery. It’s a shame, then, that it takes a good five seconds to acquire its targets, during which time you have to stand still. I can’t tell the locust chainsawing my head off to wait while I designate it, now can I.

7) Nuclear weapons 
(Total Annihilation/Supreme Commander)
Considering the enormous arsenal available to the commanders of both Supreme Commander and Total Annihilation, it’s a wonder the developers even bothered to include nuclear missiles as an option. Ignoring the fact that you can build immense stompy robots in about five minutes, building a nuclear missile silo can take 45 minutes+, and then when you do build it, you have to build the missiles separately. And then – If you even get to fire one – your enemy has already built a glut of nuke defence launchers. Worthless.

6) Right hand (GoldenEye)
Inaccurate, unpowered, and instantly outclassed by anything that uses a bullet, James Bond’s right hand is a totally pointless addition to the super spy’s endless pocket-carried arsenal. Its only redeeming factor is that ‘Slappers Only’ matches on GoldenEye 007’s split-screen multiplayer were hilarious.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Bits and Bytes: The Ultimate Driving Simulator

Forgive the fact that this may be a little on the dangerous side and the car cum Xbox 360 is the ultimate boys toy. 

With a controller embedded in the steering wheel, spare pad by the gear stick and the console itself merged into the dashboard, this is perhaps the most innovative mod we at Megabits have ever seen. What's more, it's perfect for those gamers (you know who you are!) who opt to turn the controller from side to side when steering ingame! Wonder where you stick the monitor though?! 

Distracting? Hell yeah! Cool. Absolutely! Want one? Yes please! 

(Source: Pocket-Lint)

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Animals Get a "Ruff" Deal in Gaming

Megabits' enlightened gaming guru and resident grinch, Cursor, considers whether animals get a bit of a rough deal in video games and why there seems to be so little criticism for their treatment... 

I'm no animal lover. There, I confess. It's out there. I can't stand the little critters. Dirty, noisy creatures that require constant attention and feeding (no, pet lovers, they're not like children at all - at least they can be trained to wash the car or do the dishes... and they eventually leave home!). Cats are a little more bearable than dogs perhaps but pets and animals really grind my gears. Nevertheless, despite my mean streak, I can't help but think animals get a bit of a hard time in the world of video gaming. 

There's loads of criticism in gaming about the overuse of guns, grenades and grisly death sequences among human characters - but an often overlooked area is the amount of nastiness bestowed on Mother Nature's furry creatures. 

Take the recent mega-game Far Cry 3 as an example. I know it's all about survival of the fittest but you're positively encouraged to track, hunt and subsequently skin animals that are doing nothing but wandering around their own environment. What did the innocent-looking Tapir ever do to you? Why hack that cute little pig to death when it was just minding its own business? And what about those poor old rabid dogs (oh, wait. That's fair enough, I guess).

Like everything else in this greedy world, it's all about money - sometimes enjoyment - but largely money. Hunting and skinning creatures proves a very effective mechanic for earning extra cash to upgrade your inventory. There are plenty of other games that have done the same, so I'm not picking on Jason and his kidnapped chums. I'm just saying. 

Rockstar's epic Red Dead Redemption was equally keen to get you to track and murder ickle creatures. Collect enough of their pelts, or find the really rare creatures (again, morally wrong) and you'd even boost your achievement scores. So why don't all those animal cruelty organisations harp on about this? If pretending to shoot someone in the head with an AK47 in Call of Duty is enough to stir the emotions of the politicians, then why not all this animal murder? 

I know it's not really the same thing - I'm just putting this out there to gauge opinion... I personally think it a bit rich to place too much on the evil of gaming, who or whatever the virtual victims. Are there really people out there idiotic enough to carry out some deranged act of violence because they've seen it on the small screen? Movies do the same thing but there's hardly the same furore every time a video nasty is wheeled out, is there? I digress. 

Modern Warfare 3 encourages you to dispatch bitey dogs. Sleeping Dogs has its cock fighting - merging animal cruelty with gambling. Tsk. And what of Peter Molyneux and his Fable series? Fable II even awards an achievement for kicking a chicken, for goodness sake. However, it is only worth a "poultry" 5G (he he).


Rant over.


Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Far Cry 3 Review

The Far Cry series has both a fine pedigree and a couple of skeletons in the closet. While the original Far Cry was hailed as beacon of open-world gaming, Far Cry 2 was a bit of a flop – a wonderful, wide world to explore, sadly let down by a poor story and bad design. So, with Far Cry 3 returning to the tropical island setting of the original game, has the series returned to the greatness for which it was so renowned? Very much so.

Taking place on the idyllic tropical paradise of Rook Island, Far Cry 3 opens with a chronicle of good times – American tourist Jason Brody, his brothers and friends make the most of their holiday, taking in the sights, jet-skiing, drinking, dancing and tearing it up – until a fateful decision to skydive over Rook leads to their capture at the hands of pirate gang. It all goes downhill from there.

Captured by sadistic, insane pirate leader Vaas – a man so scary that even in game form you kind of want to get away from him – Jason is forced to step out of his hum-drum life and learn the ways of a warrior. Siding with the indigenous Rakyat tribe, which are fighting to free the island from the grip of the pirates, Jason – who initially reacts to the act of taking a life with utter terror – slowly becomes a consummate killer, learning the skills he needs to rescue is friends and family.

It is this journey that forms the central part of Far Cry 3 – and makes you question whether Jason himself is starting to lose his mind. After a quick tutorial level, FC3 dumps you in the depths of Rook Island's many forested regions with a machete and a pistol. With the help of the Rakyat, Jason must gradually free the island, completing side missions and advancing the story to learn new skills, be it the ability to multi-machete opponents, shoot straighter or run faster.

To do this you disable radio towers, in a similar vein to Assassin's Creed's synchronisation points, which reveals the considerable map, opening up areas for exploration, side missions and revealing the many collectable WW2-era letters, relics and loot dotting the island.

You can also take out pirate-held outposts, reducing their manpower in the immediate area and allowing you to fast-travel around the island – and unlike Far Cry 2, the cleared outposts don't come with endlessly respawning bad guys.

Thankfully there is plenty to do outside of the main campaign, and I would advise spreading the main missions about as you play, as it's all to easy to top off the storyline too quickly. Eventually Jason can become a tattooed, highly-skilled warrior – and it's a good thing too, as Rook is a very dangerous place. Apart from the pirates, the island is also home to any number of animal species, ranging from bears to tigers to giant birds, sharks and crocodiles – and they can make any simple mission into a crazed nightmare.

For example, after completing a mission which saw me quietly clearing a pirate base with my recurve bow – and feeling like Rambo – I accidentally triggered an alarm and decided to escape before the pirate's reinforcements arrived in a helicopter. Stealing a Jeep, I set off – before getting hit by a grenade, blown into a nearby river and landing on top of a crocodile, which promptly bit my arm off.

It's this insanity that makes Far Cry 3 so much fun – how you approach each mission is up to you, and the world around you adapts to what you do. Do you go in all-guns-blazing, or open the cages holding the white tiger in the middle of the pirate outpost and let the angry animal do the work for you?

Granted, the open-world nature of the game lends itself to bugs, and in my time I witnessed a field ablaze with blue fire, dancing corpses, a tiger drowning itself and an oil barrel flying like a bird – but that just adds to the fun and freedom the title does so well.

Outside of the singleplayer campaign, the game also offers a solid – if uninspiring – multiplayer, with all the usual modes. It's nothing special, and feels like it was tacked on at the last minute. There is also a co-operative campaign for up to four players, but this takes the form of a linear shooter, and doesn't really take advantage of the open-world setting. This is irritating, as the singleplayer could really do with a co-op mode – and from time to time seems to have been designed for one that was just never implemented. Nevertheless, the co-op is solid, fun stuff, despite its silly storyline and odd 'let's stop and race these jet-skis for no reason' moments.

Graphically Far Cry 3 looks lovely – after you've installed it to your Xbox's hard-drive. Running the game from the disk alone can result in extreme texture issues, considerable pop-in and other graphical oddities – some of which can take place even after you've installed it, however.

The score and voice acting is also top-notch, although the slightly electronic music can be a little out of place at times, as you stalk through the forest with a flamethrower, looking for a brown bear to toast, skin and turn into a loot rucksack.

Far Cry 3 is a brilliant game, and a resounding return to form for the series. The game's plot has enough strength to last the 15-25 hours of gameplay on offer, and though the co-op and multiplayer sections are weaker than they should be, there's more than enough replay value in a game as diverse as this.

Reviewed on Xbox 360