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, March 27, 2013

Tomb Raider Review

Written by Matt Tudball 

Back in my life, and back in my heart. For a long time she has been absent, and her void was filled by a certain cheeky American treasure hunter going by the name of Nathan Drake. But now Lara has burst back in, guns blazing (well, arrows first, guns come later) and has since happily reclaimed her place as one of my favourite gaming characters.



The Tomb Raider reboot is an excellent game, and I’m enjoying it far more than I thought I would. I last dabbled with Lara in Tomb Raider: Underworld, and while that game was OK, it wasn’t a patch on any of the Uncharted series. I didn’t really care for the characters, and not knowing much of the previous games’ backstory (my last lot of tomb raiding came in the shape of Chronicles on the PC), I just couldn’t get as involved with it as I had with Drake.

But with Tomb Raider, I’m hooked. Hooked, attached, involved and engaged. I’m rooting for Lara, I care for her, and I want her to survive and conquer this Lost-like island that’s she’s found herself stranded on in her latest outing. I think what really works for this game is the open world element. You certainly do get the feeling of being stranded out there, and I’m enjoying being able to look around and re-visit areas before moving on to the next section of the story – something you’re not able to do in Uncharted.

But the game also doesn’t leave you totally out there on your own. The story moves along at a good pace, and guides you through the terrain with gentle encouragement. It keeps you wanting to know what exactly is happening on that crazy island – although, not wanting to blow my own trumpet or anything, I think I’ve already figured that out a quarter of the way through the game. There are also some good ‘shock’ elements to the storyline, such as unexpected deaths and the like, in the beautifully rendered cutscenes.

 

The gameplay also ‘feels’ good. Lara’s animation is a lot more fluid, and feels ‘lighter’ than previous incarnations. She’s fast and agile, and responds well to the controls. She’s got some new moves too (new to me at least), like throwing dirt in an enemy’s eye to temporarily blind them, or using her axe to scale rocky walls.

And then there’s her weapons. Her bow is surprisingly great, and can be used for a variety of functions. The guns also feel more sturdy, and seem to offer a higher degree of control than I’ve experienced in other Tomb Raider games (and kind of reminds me of Uncharted a little). Having the ability to upgrade Lara’s weapons and skills gives the game a more inclusive feel as well – something you don’t get with Uncharted.

The graphics are pretty damn amazing, and while I was initially shocked to see what they’d done to my beloved Lara (giving her a facelift and a breast reduction – this new Lara is only 21, after all, and so they had to de-age her somewhat), this newer, younger Lara has certainly grown on me. The violence and gore is satisfyingly realistic, and the environments are of cinematic quality.

 

My only gripe about the game (so far) is the voice acting. The new Lara sounds a little bit too un-posh for me, and *gasp*, slightly American? And also, she’s lacking any real drama in her voice. She’s being knocked out by pirates, tied up and dropped onto spikes, falling down cliff faces and being almost devoured by wolves, and all she can muster after these pant-wetting and death-defying stunts is a feeble ‘God, that was close’.
It just doesn’t quite do her justice.

Overall I was massively impressed with this game, and can’t wait to see where it goes. It really is an excellent origin story, and it does an excellent job of understanding what shapes Lara and made her into the kick-ass Tomb Raider she was when we first met her. I can’t wait to get to the end of this adventure, and hope the developers carry it on in such fine style soon. Watch out Drake, you’ve got some competition.

(For the record, there is a multiplayer offering included with the lengthy singleplayer campaign, but it’s not very good anyway.)


*First published on Andy Hemphill's blog, which you can find after the jump

Thursday, March 21, 2013

History Legends of War Review

Turn based strategy games seem to be coming back into vogue right now, thanks largely to the upsurge in iOS releases and 2K Games’ recent sleeper hit XCOM Enemy Unknown. This latest offering for Xbox 360, PS3, PC and PS Vita comes from Slitherine – well known for its portfolio of war games such as HISTORY Great Battles Medieval – and shoves you firmly into the boots of the legendary US General George S. Patton, commander of the Third U.S. Army during World War II.


 

The single player campaign takes place circa 1944 and tasks you with braving the beaches of Normandy and progressing through Nazi-infested Europe towards Berlin. It’s quite a journey too, with four separate operations and a total of 21 missions that require you to attack, defend or sabotage targets. Don’t be fooled – this is not your typical war game; it’s rather sedate with you and the enemy alternating turns until you either complete your objective or your squad of soldiers is killed.
 

There’s very little gloss presentation wise and after a couple of static menu screens you’re able to opt for the single player campaign or a pretty limited multiplayer mode. The solo campaign is the core focus and can certainly be challenging on higher difficulty settings, guaranteed to eat up a fair few hours of gameplay – and potentially keep you coming back for more.

A short tutorial outlines the basics of movement, shooting and camera control, as well as a brief overview about recruiting, healing and upgrading your army. Each mission is fairly self-explanatory; your travails across France, Belgium and Germany requiring enemy soldiers to be tracked and killed, while other objectives could consist of sabotage, rescue or reconnaissance missions.

You’ll quickly be rewarded with new units and unlock upgrades to enhance your soldiers’ abilities. There are 36 different types of units on offer including regular infantry, paratroopers, snipers and commandos. You can even get your hands on tanks and aircraft – although limited fuel is available so even their selection requires some thought and tactical nous.

Every unit has a finite number of moves and shots per turn, meaning each turn needs to be carefully considered to prevent you being left a sitting duck with no cover nearby. There are plenty of decisions to factor in, from the importance of remaining outside an enemy’s line of sight to the type of weapon you’re carrying and the distance to your target when firing. If you’re further away, the likelihood of a hit is reduced – and bear in mind, you only get so many shots per turn so finding yourself surrounded by enemy forces and only able to shoot a couple of them will no doubt result in your untimely demise.



Graphically, everything looks decent enough and despite slightly “meh” title screens and mission briefings, war-torn Europe looks suitably detailed. From the cobbled streets and clusters of trees to the old farmhouses and watchtowers, it all looks very pleasant and serviceable with reasonable lighting effects and textures. Saying that, there’s certainly nothing to write home about and you wouldn’t grab the disc to show off your console’s graphical prowess. The same goes for the sound effects, which largely consist of a brief acknowledgment of “Yes, sir” when you make an order.

The game does feel slightly text heavy in places with plenty to read between missions, although this is alleviated during some sections thanks to a narrator reading everything aloud. I can’t help but feel that some movie clips or official History Channel content should have been peppered throughout and accessible from the outset (like it was in HISTORY Great Battles Medieval – although I did moan about this being low quality during that review), but it’s not a major oversight in the grand scheme of things.

While the game’s title suggests it is an accurate reflection of the times and carries the History Channel moniker, it does explain that some details of the war have been adjusted slightly to help the narrative move along. While this doesn’t detract from the feel of the game, these “Hollywood” tweaks may irk history buffs. In fact, realism isn’t really the main selling point of Legends. After a few times witnessing someone under your command still standing after countless direct hits at close range, or having survived an onslaught of tank shells or grenades thanks to the smallest bit of cover, the realism factor quickly fades.

Rewarded with XP - or Prestige Points - after each mission, survivors can be upgraded – their offensive, defensive or tactical abilities enhanced to make them more effective in the war effort. After a few soldiers have their accuracy ramped up, and have accrued more health or a larger ammo clip, you really start to feel like a bit of a badass – and you can’t help but develop a bond with the tiny fellas. On the downside, their eventual demise really does hurt that little bit more.


Just like the old days of Sensible Software’s Cannon Fodder, there’s a real emphasis on your squad and before long you’ll find yourself growing quite fond of soldiers who have been by your side through thick and thin. You select your squaddies before each mission, lead them through the varied terrain, complete the myriad objectives and wince as when they fall to enemy gunfire. As you progress you’ll take pride in the XP and medals they earn, and the abilities that they develop. It makes it all the more painful when they fall in battle and you can’t help but mourn their loss. There may not be a hill dotted with tiny tombstones as there was in Sensible’s day but the overall effect is pretty similar.

Once you’re done with the solo campaign and have tried the various difficulty settings, the offline multiplayer option allows you to pit your wits against a more formidable opponent. The so-called “Hot-Seat System” means two players take on the roles of American and German armies and can do battle on the same console, taking turns as they would in the main game. It’s a nice addition but unlikely to add too much longevity once the main single player portion of the game is complete. It is a shame that online play isn’t included, although I wonder whether there would be many opportunities to regularly find a willing participant waiting in the lobbies.

After some decent play time, I really enjoyed Legends. It successfully combines turn based strategy with RPG elements. It’s slow paced but occasionally frenetic, and the various difficulty levels mean there is a fair bit of replayability. For the achievement hunters out there, attaining maximum Gamerscore is perfectly possible too. While it lacks the polish of XCOM, Legends is an engrossing and fun game that will certainly appeal to gamers who have tired of first person shooters and fancy a slightly more sedate and thoughtful experience.


Reviewed on Xbox 360

Monday, March 18, 2013

Crysis 3 Review

Having been a long-time fan of the Crysis series, my initial reaction to the news that Crysis 3 would be set once more in New York City ran along the lines of 'what…again?' My second comment was 'they gave him a….a bow?'. However, despite the action once again being set in the most invaded city in the world, Crysis 3 is a fitting end (for now) to the series, taking the open-world action of Crysis and the story-driven campaign of Crysis 2 and forging both into an alloy all of its own.
 


Picking up a number of years after the explosive conclusion of Crysis 2, the game opens with nanosuit-wearing supersoldier Prophet being rescued by a team of freedom fighters. In the time since the apparent defeat of the alien 'Ceph', evil corporate empire CELL has expanded to become the world government in all but name, holding a monopoly on power from its New York headquarters.

As for the city, it's been covered in a gargantuan 'nanodome', and has regressed to an 'I Am Legend'-style urban wilderness, complete with bogs and roaming herds of deer. 


Prophet – now an entity made of alien technology, a dead man's body and a disembodied soul – is convinced the Ceph are still a threat, but consents to help the freedom fighters fight the power. Naturally, it all goes to hell. Thankfully, however, you're still the nanosuit-wearing badass you always were.

The action will feel instantly familiar to anyone who's played Crysis before. Prophet's alien suit allows him to turn invisible, run an stupidly fast speeds, jump like a cat, punch through walls and deflect bullets like chaff. How you use these abilities is up to you, but most players will likely find it best to mix and match the nanosuit's powers for the task at hand.



However, the inclusion of Prophet's new toy – a compound bow with a selection of different arrowheads – demonstrates the game's heavy slant towards using the nanosuit for stealth and hit-and-run attacks. Thankfully, that’s the kind of play I like best. The bow can be used while cloaked, allowing the player to take out a room full of bad guys like Rambo, leaving the last remaining enemy to panic about being hunted and fire desperately in every direction.

There are, of course, a selection of other weapons on offer, but you're likely to find yourself coming back to the bow more than most, unless you prefer to hit the armour and rip that heavy machine gun off its mounting. Hacking enemy turrets and drones is another option now available, and one which can come in very useful as a distraction.


While the game's levels are fewer in number this time around, the arenas Prophet must negotiate are far bigger and offer a number of ways to approach your target, be it through stealth or force. This plays to the gamers who experienced the freedom and sandbox nature of the original Crysis – but sadly includes the awkward-to-drive vehicles and occasional poor AI.


Thankfully, this time the enemy won't wade into shallow water and drown trying to find you…
Graphically the game looks amazing as usual. While I was initially irritated at the setting, seeing New York transformed into a wilderness can be a fascinating experience – such as finding an overturned, rusted taxi being used as a bird's nest. 



The character animation and AI are a lot better this time around as well – good thing too, as the brilliant voice acting makes the cast so much more three-dimentional than in previous titles. My personal favourite is former series protagonist Michael 'Psycho' Sykes, an ex-nanosuit soldier who was tortured almost to death and 'skinned' of his symbiotic suit. It's intriguing to see how he adjusts to being 'only human' once again. In two words: not well. 


The sound effects and score are top-notch, as usual, and maintain the illusion that the excellent graphics create.
 

As for the multiplayer, which was pretty shoddy in Crysis 2, only minor improvements have been made in the series' final instalment. While the matchmaking is a little faster, the game still suffers from occasional but debilitating lag issues, resulting in players ignoring headshots until five seconds after you pulled the trigger. That said, the new 'hunter' mode – which sets two nanosuited agents against unaugmented human soldiers – is great fun.

Overall, Crysis 3 is an excellent conclusion to a brilliant series. While it doesn't get everything right, there's more than enough to keep both longtime series fans and newcomers alike happy.

Reviewed on Xbox 360


Check out Andy Hemphill's blog after the jump