Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Saints are back in town!

Sorry about not posting in a while. Been playing so many games. I'll be trying to post a ton of reviews over the Christmas holidays. For now here's my thoughts on Saints Row: The Third:


Saints Row: The Third


You know what I miss about gaming sometimes? Fun. Pure fun and laughs. It doesn't sound right that I would say so would it, I mean gaming is about having fun?! But in a world of realism and heavy plots it’s nice to just sit back and play something that has a completely way-out story, tons of jokes, politically incorrect scenes and comments in the dozen, humorous violence and swearing like no tomorrow.  All backed up by blowing up cars, airplanes, people and firing endless rounds from heavy weaponry.


Welcome to Steelport then, or more precisely the game in which Steelport is a fictive city: Saints Row The Third. First let’s make it clear that I have only briefly played the first two Saints games and have very little prior knowledge to the series. There may be game elements that have been thrown away since the last games, but this third game is in a sense a reboot. Sort of.

"Freeze, dis iz da police!"
SR3 takes a more cartoonish look on its characters and simply takes everything up many notches in the let’s-go-all-the-way-with-ideas department. It kicks off with a laughable bank robbery that goes wrong. In which your character wears a large mascot mask so you don’t see him/her. Even this first mission goes an extra mile. From what is a normal robbery, it goes to hanging on to a huge safe being airlifted by a chopper off a skyscraper. All while gunning down SWAT-like teams. It starts off fun and action packed and thankfully it stays so all through the game.

You get to build your own character from either a finished figure or from scratch. The character creation is very free and you can make some very funny or great looking characters here, you can even change your appearance during the game if you felt like you didn't quite nail it the first time. This personal touch gives SR3 a cooler approach to sandbox gaming than taking on the life and troubles of a set character like in for instance GTAIV. It suits the genre well. It’s all about what you as a player wants to do.

My character, admiring the skyline of Steelport.
There are tons of options for the face, hair, clothing and physique in the character custimization.
And of course lots of really cool weaponry to blow stuff up with!
I like the sheer variation of the singleplayer in the game, or the main storymode if you like. Every single mission is different and it always feels like you simply aren't playing a typical GTA-like game. The shooting mechanics are free (no auto lock-on rubbish here) and feel precise, you can upgrade each weapon and there are lots to choose from. The missions put you in anything from ordinary shoot-outs against soldiers, gangsters, helicopters etc., while others put you in a wrestling brawl, air combat or car chases. You even end up in a simulated computer world in one mission. It so incredibly funny and combined with the really entertaining dialogue it’s a top-notch gaming experience. I must stress again, you don’t actually think you are playing a game in this genre during the missions, the game mechanics are actually so well made they feel like real third person shooter.

Add to this already solid game then; lots of side-missions, character levelling (which lets you become invincible against fire, bullets, police forgiveness etc.), buying different shops and taking over gang controlled city areas and you are in for hours, many hours of gameplay. We are talking about 30-40 hours at least of gameplay here. Speed through only the singleplayer hitting only about the seven hour mark and you have missed the point of a free-roaming game. You should, and are rewarded to explore. Wanna steal a plane at the airport? Drive there and do it! Want to dress up as a pink rabbit and fire rocket launcher rounds from a skyscraper before jumping off in parachute? Do it! Wanna jump through a front window of a sports car at the driver and kick him out, steal it and then drive it straight into a gang controlled area and start a shoot out with at least 20 people? Do it! Or stand surfing on a moving car, or drive an army motorboat with a canon or…..you get what I'm saying. Have fun!

The way the game awards you with money is also done in a perfect sort of learning curve. The really great awards are very expensive and the game never lets you get way ahead of it by levelling too fast. There’s always something that costs a little too much to buy that you simply want. Money is earned through for example missions, stealing vehicles, doing hitman work or buying up buildings and shops to get a timed income. You’ll never get bored, there’s always a next thing to do or something that distracts you away on a new adventure. You choose what to do yourself.

Stealing cars by jumping through the front window is hilarious and never gets old.
You can also jump in from the side!
Drifting around!
Are there some downsides then? Well there are some. The most obvious is the framerate the game runs in. It dips, and it does so a lot. Especially driving fast through crowded areas. It looks and makes the game feel sluggish when it kicks in. Combine this with a rather short draw distance I feel this game could have done with some more optimizing. There are also some bugs that occur and put you in awkward spots, but these type of games usually have a few of these. All in all though, this doesn't pull the game down so much for the whole experience. Large free-roaming games have a tendency to have an unstable framerate.

If GTAIV was simply to serious and very repetitive for you, I would warmly recommend SR3. In fact I actually think it’s one of the best games this year. Its release came as a surprise on me, it took itself far from serious  and I loved every minute of it. The storyline and main missions are incredibly varied and really fun to play. The city itself offers a huge amount of missions and tasks to occupy your time with, it simply drains gaming hours out of you. Hours which seem like minutes because the game has so much entertaining going on. You’ll simply be smiling and laughing all the time!


Rating

★★★★★☆

Friday, 4 November 2011

Cars, fighter jets and jungle warfare!

So it's time for some reviews again. A lot of games being released at the moment. Have decided to leave Batman: Arkham City and Assassin's Creed Revelations to play closer to Christmas.


Crysis

Remember I told you in the review of Crysis 2 that I had never played the original Crysis and I was a huge Far Cry fan? Well guess what, Crytek improved the lighting engine of the original Crysis and released it on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3! Straight up purchase for me on Xbox Live On Demand, a full title for a reasonable price and you can clock in a 1000 achievement points.


While Crysis 2 took on an urban jungle and gave you city warfare, the original is all about natural environments and jungle warfare set on a huge island. It evolves around an object that has crashed from space on a pacific island and a race between US forces and North Korean forces to get to the crash site first. The jungle setting is followed by an outbreak of aliens, it gives way for a lot of enemy variety and environments. You play as an elite soldier with the newest technology, a nano-suit.

This nano-suit gives way for what Crysis is based around; switching between abilities and as a consequence makes you play differently with each of them. You can set the suit to strength which lets you throw heavy things easily, armour which makes you survive a lot of bullet damage, speed which lets you run really fast or stealth which makes you invisible opens a completely different way of playing the game. Much like in Crysis 2.

Gameplay is very open and I noticed from the very beginning that I started to play the game in a very different wary from other fps games. It actually reminded me of how I used to play Far Cry. Instead of rushing forward and being very set in a corridor or between buildings playing more like rambo than an actual hunter; I began to slow down and use the environment a lot. I would check far forward for enemies that have a tendency to get lost in the dense jungle and flank you. This makes it a far more difficult game than it's sequel. You feel like you are going hunting as you progress through the jungles, sandy beaches and mountains, scouting for enemies along the way and being very vulnerable. It's really nice feeling to play an fps game in such a different way.

Technically Crytek have done a very good job on porting such a demanding game over from high-spec pc's to a console. It looks very good and holds a fluid framerate. There are some framedrops on scenes with a lot of action and it sadly really slows down at the final scene at the end of the game, but all in all it holds the framerate well. The amount of trees, grass and bushes together with buildings, varied terrain and incredible ocean effects really makes you want to take a closer look at just the scenery! The game world is large and lets you take a path of your choice to get to objectives you must complete. It just might not be right up there with Crysis 2 graphically, but it's still a very nice looking game and beats a hell of a lot of the harsh competition out there in the fps genre.

I would really recommend this game, especially for fans of Far Cry, while it in my opinion doesn't quite beat it and could have been a slightly longer game like it's sequel Crysis 2. However you won't find many games that play like this in todays market because games are often to focused on rushing you through it's enviroments. A warm recommendation for fps fans that want something a little different then? Sure!

Rating

★★★★

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon

You have probably noticed the decline both technically and quality wise of Japanese games. Especially in their lack of changing and modernising themselves this generation. Most of them seem just to be a slightly enhanced versions of PS2 era games and add very little new. Most new IP's and innovations this generation have been from western gaming companies. It's taken a long time for Japanese developers to turn, some have even stated they don't care about the western market, but those who dare to modernise usually win. Let’s take a look at Namco's latest Ace Combat then shall we?!


Modern war is really popular in games these days, the trend all kicked off with Call of Duty 4. It's about making a believable plot set in our times based on politics and wars today. Ace Combat has always been about putting real life fighter jets in a fictional environments with fictional countries at war. Assault Horizon dismisses this and puts us right at the present state of the world, starting a conflict of it's own. Right from the beginning this feels much better, the story is believable is far less cheesy and melodramatic (this is so typical for most japanese storylines) and the western influence is present throughout. It also suits the airplanes better as they are assigned to the countries they are made produced in.

A game, though, cannot catch newcomers without radically changing gameplay and adding new features. The audience today is far less patient and want incredible action and smooth gameplay from the get-go. Especially in the modern war genre. ACAH fixes this by making the aircraft very controllable, yet different from model to model and adds a brand new sort of close combat feature. It works that by closing in on an enemy plane, and pressing the shoulder buttons, the camera is dramatically zoomed in and auto follows the enemy plane somewhat.


This gives the player some spectacular dog fighting, often close to the ground, between buildings and with many twists and turns. The zoomed in view allows for more use of the aircraft's machine gun too, and combined with lots of damage animation it looks awesome when you gun down an enemy and the plane disintegrates! There are also counter manoeuvres which looks spectacular when an enemy is tailing you. I enjoyed mostly the outside view of the plane to see all the really cool camera effects.

The missions are varied in all ways, you take control over fighter, multi-role and ground attack jets. There are chopper missions where you use the mighty AH-64 and even a bombing mission where you can fly a B2! Lots of variation in the scenery and locations, from snowy Moscow to rainy Miami and the warm deserts in Africa. Missing only with a bit puny sound, the missions being a door gunner in a Blackhawk are also really fun! Set together with great detail in the graphics, distinct airplane sounds and precise controls it's a joy to play this game!

Namco have dared to renew a famous brand, they have modernized, took influence from other games and really outdone themselves in quality and options. Has it paid off? Yes, yes of course it has. ACAH is a fantastic, fun game, it even has a very good online multiplayer segment complete with coop missions. The singleplayer should have been longer, but all in all they have really taken a lead on other Japanese developers and shown them that is pays off to dare to take a step forward and not just stay at the same spot forever!

Rating

★★★★

Forza Motorsport 4
It's taken Turn 10 less than two years from Forza Motorsport 3 to get to the fourth instalment. While most of the changes are fairly subtle, it's a nice update to a great franchise of racing simulators. You get a clear picture that Turn 10 has listened to the fans and fixed issues they had with FM3. The last game being one of the best racing simulators on consoles this generation.


Well what has changed? The first thing you will notice is the change of lighting ingame. A lot of people complained that FM3 didn't quite nail the lighting like it's racing competitor Gran Turismo 5 has. FM4 adds more real and contrasting lighting and while I quite liked the more dramatic and colourful lighting of FM3 when I first started playing FM4, I can now see the benefit of what they changed. FM4 still has some sunset versions you can choose of their tracks if you like dramatic sunlight, so in this regard everybody is happy.

The main World Tour event has also been made a lot more varied and travels more frequently around the world to different tracks and adds more variety in types of events. Most of the world’s most famous racing tracks are in the game and they have even added a brand new track of their own set in the Swiss Alps. It looks incredible and has a really nice flow to it. The amount of cars in each race has been taken from eight to twelve this time too.


There is even a Top Gear feature put in with the Top Gear racing track, Jeremy Clarkson explanations of cars in the Autovista mode (here you can walk around and look at a small selection of really detailed car models) and some funny events like a car bowling, football and of course the event of TV fame: a star in a reasonably priced car.

Like always there are even more cars and the cockpit views seem to even more tweaked to look even more detailed, combined with the new lighting it's the view of choice to drive in! The handling has also been taken to a even more realistic level, and I really like the feedback when turning now when the game is in simulation mode. You really can feel when your grip loosens and how the car reacts to the surface and turns.

Multiplayer wise they have added a great new car club option, which lets you join or start your own club. Here you can add friends who also have FM4 and share cars in the club so everybody can drive them. It’s fun to be able to share not only a cool new car you have obtained, but also a design or tuning setup of your own.

All in all Forza Motorsport 4 is an excellent package, it might not take a dramatic step up from FM3, but the improvements are very welcome. Although Turn 10 have stated that they didn't add weather effects and night racing to maintain the silky smooth 60fps framerate (something that really benefits the gameplay in racing games imo), I would maybe have liked some variation in that department. If you already own FM3 my rating is that below, if you don't however, consider it a ten.

Rating

★★★★

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Get your bastion into gear!

Let’s not mess around and just review two awesome games! One full release and one arcade release!

Gears of War 3

That’s right bitches; I've played through the game! Actually I'm still playing the hell out of the multiplayer, but I got through the campaign in four player coop!


Let me first explain why I have always loved the Gears of War series. In my opinion, and probably a lot of reviewers opinion, is that this generation of consoles and games sort of began with the first Gears of War game. It combined next-gen graphics with precise and original gameplay. Introduced cover as a main factor and integrated it very well. The combination of atmospheric environments, dark and gritty fighting and creepy monsters help build a universe I really like.

I have enjoyed how the series has progressed through the three games. The first game was on a fairly small scale, dark and actually quite creepy in parts. The next was on a much larger scale, more varied environmentally and the third game is on an even bigger scale and very diverse in its locations. In fact Gears 3 is diverse in every department. There are more weapons, locations, types of enemies and characters than ever. It makes every fight and place you take part in different and refreshing.

The story involves around Marcus finding out his dad is still alive and he needs to find him. The travel there is long and the feeling of humanity crumbling under the Lambent infection really shows, in fact even the Locust seem to be falling under the Lambent infection. This fight between three types of species, makes Gears 3 even more exciting and the outcome so unpredictable. Gears 3 gives more depth to the main characters this time around. You get to learn more of their background stories. It also adds a couple of female characters just to tone down the very macho approach of the earlier games. The story will keep you guessing right up to the end, and will the third Carmine brother survive this time?!



Gameplay-wise Gears 3 is very familiar for those who have played the former games, but veterans of the series will definitely feel the more precise and smoother controls this time around. Combine that with the even better animations and easiness of entering cover and Gears 3 probably is one of the absolute best games in the control department this gen. The shooting feels heavy and different with each weapon, the active reloading adds such a simple yet great feeling of skill and the sheer variation in enemy types just makes Gears 3 so amazing! We have normal Locust drones, we have mutating Lambent creatures, zombie-like fast moving enemies, huge bosses and small creepy spider like creatures to mention a few. I don’t think many games have so many different enemies!

Technically Gears 3 is almost unsurpassed graphically by other games, beside Bulletstorm and Crysis 2 you will find it difficult to find a prettier game this year on consoles. Everything from the environments on board a ship, to deserts, to bombed-out cites to tropic islands to impressive and stylish indoor hotel environments will make your jaw drop. The lighting is also fantastic, it probably is the most colourful and bright of the Gears game and some may miss the gritty feeling of the previous games. But I think its good they vary, this is what makes Gears 3 such a pleasure to play, it may not drastically do new things, but it evolves and never uses things over from the previous games.

Multiplayer is also fantastic. Many different modes to choose from, real competitive close-combat style games. Dedicated servers have been added for the lag problem that bothered Gears fans on the earlier games. There is also an improved Horde mode with the ability to build fences and turrets to stop each horde, and every tenth level has a boss. Add the beast mode where you swap the roles and fight against humans and the multiplayer package is huge. Did I also mention that they made the campaign four player coop?!



There are some minor glitches aside like achievement unlocks and buttons getting stuck after dyeing in singleplayer. I would also have liked the vehicle section with the speeding cars to have been slower and more engaging; it simply was a big chaos. These though are minor faults in an otherwise fantastic game. You may criticize the game from taking a new direction from the more dark Gears games. Especially the scary parts of Gears 1, but I think that alley was explored in that game and I like the fact that Gears 3 does something completely different from the previous without letting the fans down.

To sum up: Gears of War 3 is in my opinion the best of the series. Epic Games have evolved the series to the height of my expectations. The singleplayer is fantastic, exciting story combined with good voice acting and colourful characters.  The gameplay is smooth and very fun to play, you are hard to find a third person shooter which even comes close. The variety of environments and sheer quality of the graphics is breath taking. Probably one of this generation best games with a huge lifespan both in singleplayer and especially the multiplayer. The competition doesn't come close to the quality.

Rating

★★★★★☆

Bastion
"He double-clicks on the Word icon. He wants to start writing the Bastion review, but the words aren’t there. What shall the boy do?"

I hope you read that last sentence with the Bastion narrator voice! The awesome voice that narrates your every move and story progression throughout this fantastic RPG on Xbox Arcade from the very beginning!


The game literally starts with you get out of bed and explains that the Bastion has been destroyed and needs rebuilding. The Bastion is a sort of city floating in the air, which protects its inhabitants from the world around it. Your journey is to rebuild it piece by piece after the Calamity destroyed it. Each building needs to be resurrected with a crystal found around the games levels. Once you build one you get to choose what it is. Anything from an armoury, to a place where you add abilities to your character to even a shrine which lets you put extra difficulties to the game to make you level faster and more of a challenge.

Bastion is viewed from an isometric point of view and features beautiful hand drawn environments full of colour and variation. The levels sort of float in the air and it reminds me very of old-school JRPG’s from the 16-bit or PS1 era. The combination of the beautiful soundtrack, the artistic (and somewhat psychedelic) look of the game and the narrator just has to be tried to be appreciated! It’s such a breath of fresh air from other games around.

Gameplay is fairly quickly to get into. You have one melee weapon, and one firearm and a button for shield and one for a special attack. Along the way you can upgrade your weapons, buy new special attacks and level up your character. Various weapons will have various effects on the enemies on each level. I like how the game forces you to try out each new weapon you find. Often the level they are found in are best suited for the enemies inside them. There are even levels just for weapon challenges and wave levels with wave after wave of enemies to fight and survive.

I really enjoyed Bastion it’s a beautiful game in every way and an artistic approach to achieving a fantasy world without the high tech 3D graphics which all games now contain. The game introduces new elements and has a large number of levels to keep your attention from dropping throughout the game, I would have liked the story to have been a little more explained, maybe in some more animated cutscenes and maybe had a tad longer lifespan. All in all though, Bastion is absolutely one of the best arcade games I have played! It’s even fun the second time around.


Rating

★★★★★☆

I'll be back soon with more reviews!

Friday, 16 September 2011

I'm a slave to this game!

Once again there’s a storm of games incoming, this time towards winter and Christmas. I've ordered the likes of Battlefield 3, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Ace Combat Assault Horizon (the demo released earlier this week, was a little strange, I'll come back to that in a later post). That’s not counting Assassins Creed Revelations and of course; Gears of War 3:


That’s right, my web shop sent the game out too early so I've got to play it almost ten days before the release. So far my impression has been very positive. The controls feel lighter and much smoother than before. The graphics are jaw-dropping and are very colourful and vibrant for the Gears series. I've been playing multiplayer since I'm planning on playing the singleplayer with three friends. The multiplayer is mostly populated by bots now, but I'm sure there will be turning up more and more human players after a while!

The review this time is Enslaved, which basically is a cross between platforming and fighting. The game takes place quite far into the future in a post-apocalyptic setting, though not the typical grey and dismal one, Enslaved is actually very colourful and full of nature. You start on a slaveship carrier which you must escape and end up being controlled by a young girl (hence the title that she enslaves you with a headband), she demands that you help her find her way home.


The city you end up in at the beginning is actually New York, but it is abandoned and overgrown many years after our society lived there. Humans have been slaved and killed by robots which have taken over the world. What I love about Enslaved is that the characters actually don’t know anything about our time, so things like cranes, cars and such are just ancient, strange objects for them. Even the city is unknown to Monkey (the rather wild looking playable character) and Trip (the red-headed girl which enslaves Monkey) which are the main figures in the story.

Gameplay wise Enslaved is varied, it changes between Monkey having to fight the robot creatures which inhabit the environments to climbing and scaling through buildings. The climbing is very spectacular often with a sense of huge scale and heights. The Unreal Engine 3 once again shows it’s amazing power. The fighting is very solid and feels heavy. Different types of robots require various methods to killing them. There is even some shooting involved, but thankfully it stays mostly to hand-to-hand fighting. The boss battles are also fun and varied, so is the hoverboards you get to ride in some levels. I like the fact that Trip takes care of herself a lot and doesn't require you to constantly be with her.

The feeling of crushing a robot after a long fight with a horde of them, then climbing up an old skyscraper and swinging from ledge to ledge gives you such a rush to continue on playing. The game increasingly adds more difficult enemies and puts you in tricky situations like crossing a minefield or protecting a riverboat with a stationary gun. The game is very varied and you won’t tire of throughout the time it takes to complete.

I really enjoyed Enslaved, the game looks fantastic, the fighting is solid, the game is varied and fairly lengthy and it delivers an interesting story with two very different main characters. The climbing sections could have been a bit less automatic in their style, with more freedom to climbing where you want, but is still enjoyable thanks to the spectacular views over overgrown cities, canyons and mountains. All in all, a really entertaining game with gameplay focusing on something else than gunplay.


Rating

★★★★

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Shift the pace into 2nd gear!

I’m taking a break from the sunny weather (well it’s coming to an end now) this summer to tell you about my experience with Shift 2 Unleashed. Last year EA moved the Need for Speed series into a more realistic genre, aiming at being a real competition for the Forza and Gran Turismo series. While the game was good, it left a little bland feeling and seemed to lack the charm of the two latter series. However there was a lot of potential in what we saw and in under a year we got the sequel!

Shift 2 Unleashed


Shift 2 seems to be moving away from the Need for Speed franchise title, an uninteresting detail you may say but thinking of the arcade nature of other NFS instalments this may be a quite clever move. EA wants Shift to be mentioned and recognised in the same sentence as Forza and GT, and actually they have made it with Shift 2!

The game starts off with an action packed night racing scene, where you quickly learn that the races in Shift 2 are aggressive and full of breath taking moments. You are then presented with an American Formula D driver who presents the game and explains all the things you need to know and how to get into your first race. The menus are easy to navigate and there are shortcuts like jumping straight to the car shop to get a car suited for the type of race you are about to take part in. The tuning screens should also be easy to use, even for people who have never done this in racing sims.

There are two things I really love about this game, first off it’s the sheer variation in race types, cars and locations. There are circuit races, drag races, drifting, city racing, even some Grand Canyon style races and really tight races on the docks in Tokyo. There are a bunch of racetypes and championships to join and the game quickly opens them up for you. This means that you can play the stuff you want to play, you don’t have to press yourself through endless circuit racing if you don’t want to! Yet it also makes you try the most of them out for the feel of them. There really is difference in driving American muscle around a countryside track to a drifting a high-tuned Japanese car around tight bends on an arena!

Combine this with the sheer variation and detail in circuits, with everything from real life circuits to famous city locations and then combine that again with the large amount of cars and car types. You simply will not get bored. Some of the tracks even are the same from the good old NFS ProStreet!

The second thing I really love about this game is the intense racing feeling. You really feel connected to the road, and you feel that the car is heavy and needs constantly to be manoeuvred and kept safe on the track. I absolutely love the cockpit view, in fact it’s the best one in the racing genre in my opinion. It moves a lot around and feels very dynamic. Here is the effect I love the most though; The game blurs the dashboard and surrounding edges of the screen when you reach very high speeds, which again give a great intensity and impression of speed. I love it!

All in all I really enjoyed Shift 2. It lets you try different racing genres, car types and gives you a really on-the-edge-of.-your-seat intensity while driving. You quickly get going, there are many championships to complete and the quality of the gameplay and graphics are outstanding. It’s right up there with the GT and Forza series!


Rating

★★★★★☆

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Mafias, dirty rallying and storms of bullets!

Well hello there readers! E3 has recently took place and there are many cool announcements! SSX, Bioshock Infinite, Forza 4, Halo 4, Gears of War 3, Far Cry 3, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3 etc. Looking forward to playing a lot of these games over the next year! I've also been playing quite a few games lately such as LA Noire; which I'm still playing through, so a review for that will be in a later post.


Mafia II



I’ll begin with Mafia 2 this time. I bought this game off the “Games on Demand” feature on my Xbox 360 at a very cheap price. I actually didn't have much hype for this game, but it turned out to be a very enjoyable playthrough!

The game sets off right at the end of WW2, your character which is of Italian descent is sent to fight in Sicilia as a US soldier.  This level gets you introduced to how the shooting mechanics work, and the surprise for me here is how well they worked! The gun feeling is heavy and cover mechanics are actually very good. The last weapon you get your hands on in this level is the mighty German MG42, which gives a very entertaining shootout!

The game continues to a snowy New York at Christmas and follows our main character as he returns home from war. From here you are introduced to an old friend who again introduces you to a mafia and this is your way into the games main theme. Mafia 2 takes you through the 40’s and takes a time jump to the 50’s to continue in a summer-filled New York. This leap is used well and gives a change in cars, style and music in the game. This jump from era to era is fantastic and gives the game a whole new life halfway through.

Mafia 2 seems like a traditional free-roam game like the GTA games but actually only lets you do this in the driving parts. Mainly you are following a story and doing various chapters in the story with a present motive for doing so. I actually liked this because it gave the game a nice flow and the story is excellently presented through really good voiceacting and well-made cutscenes. It’s like watching a typical mafia movie!

The chapters in the game are varied, and with such a good shooting mechanic that lies behind the action in the game plays really well. There is nothing more entertaining than ending in classic tommygun shootout, while shouting out Italian American remarks and shooting down gang rivals!

The game length is about right, the gameplay is very good (that’s the driving included) and the graphics look stunning for a game of such scale. I would maybe have liked the city to have more shops and such to make it more believable and actually even more shoot outs, but without doubt I really recommend this game if you like a good mafia movie and enjoy GTA type of games.

Rating

★★★★★☆

Dirt 3



Next up is Dirt 3. I got to start out by saying I've always loved Codemasters racing games. They may not always be the best at what they do, but they always give you really action-packed and at-the-edge-of-your-seat racing experience. Dirt is no exception.

As usual the driving in Dirt feels incredible and even more so with a racing wheel. You feel like a pro rally driver as you try to cut around each bend at alarming speeds through woodland and snow. New for this game are varied weather conditions, night races, rain and snowy tracks. There is also a huge focus on the Gymkhana events which have become very popular through rally driver Ken Block on Youtube. Personally I’m mostly interested in the classic rally stages. Herein lays my concern with Dirt 3.

You see with Dirt 2 the game became Americanised to suit a wider audience. The focus on long rally tracks in Dirt 1, got focused too far more truck, buggy and rallycross events. While the rallycross events in Dirt 2 actually were more of a show and spectacular than in Dirt 3’s more gritty look, the focus on classic rally was abandoned. There were only four rally stages and I hoped for more in Dirt 3. There are actually only four rally locations once again in Dirt 3 and the fact I need to participate in so many other type of events is really annoying.

Presentation wise Dirt 3 has gone for a more realistic and gritty look which really suits the rally stages, but not so much the rallycross and truck/buggy events. They have returned from the 3D interactive menus in Dirt 2 to a more menu orientated style in Dirt 1. However they are trying to keep the feeling of you being in a team with these really annoying voices you can’t skip in the menus. But why?! At least Dirt 2 made you feel like you had a camper van in rallyteam and had pictures of real life competitors and you feel like you were part of something. Either go for menustyle like Dirt 1 or full teamstyle in Dirt 2 Codemasters, don’t end in the annoying middle!

Technically Dirt 3 is amazing, just like the other Dirt games they are probably some of the best looking racers this generation. The nature in Dirt 3 looks spectacular and the lighting looks so good. The feeling of cars is spot on and may not be the most realistic but at least they are really fun to drive. All in all, one of this year’s best racers, but I would like much more classic rally next time.


Rating

★★★★

Bulletstorm




My last review this time is Bulletstorm from Epic, the makers behind Gears of War. The game is a FPS shooter but is based around a fairly innovate idea. Unlike other FPS games Bulletstorm is all about killing your enemies in spectacular ways. To help you do this you have the ability to kick and pull your enemies around with a sort of gravity whip. The levels are also designed so that they contain loads of spikes, sharp edges and explosive items to throw helpless enemies into.  The more spectacular way you kill them the more points you are awarded, points again are used to upgrade weapons.

My first testing of Bulletstom was a rather confusing demo and I was left kind of unimpressed, however the main game eases you much better into the game mechanics. The learning curve is very good and you are introduced to new elements at a pace that never feels like it’s loading to much new information on you. At first the game plays like an ordinary shooter, then it introduces you to the physical elements like throwing and kicking enemies. Then again it adds the skill point system, and from here you start getting creative with your skills on your own.

Storywise Bulletstorm is very simple;  it’s very over-the-top and constantly action filled. The dialogue is rough and crude, so is the main character attitude. It opens way for some hilarious comments and fits the crazy style of the game. The characters you meet along the way are also very distinct in their ways and some of the arguments between the characters suit the style of the game well. You won’t be blown away by anything scriptwise, but then again a game like this doesn’t demand a deep story.

Technically Bulletstorm is spectacular, the graphics are some of the most amazing I’ve seen this generation. The game is running on the newest Unreal technology, Unreal Engine 3.5 so it should look good! The environments have an enormous scale to them with amazing lighting without actually being so large, the backdrops make them look it, but the actually playing space is rather normal path-based stuff. I love how the planet the game takes place on has some really spectacular design.  It’s has this Mediterranean look with a pink sky, beaches, light blue water, palms and added to that a really modern design on buildings. I guarantee you’ll need to stop up more than once just to look at how beautiful this game really is!

All in all I really enjoyed Bulletstorm in a light-hearted way; the story and dialogue is witty, the gameplay is very fun to play and makes you play the game in a very different fashion from ordinary FPS games with it skill points system and of course it look amazing. It hardly shakes the gaming world with innovations, could have lasted longer and actually made you appreciate the environment more but it does what it says it will do very well.


Rating

★★★★


Until next time have a nice summer!

Monday, 25 April 2011

Let me race you!

I like cars. No, that’s an understatement. I love cars! The speed, the cool designs and pushing the limits of control, it’s all stuff I love to experience through videogames in racing games. These days racing games are usually divided in three categories; the simulators, the semi-realistic racers (half sim, half arcade) and the arcade racers. So if you are looking from a console point of view (the really hardcore simulators are on the PC) Forza 3, NFS Shift & Gran Turismo 5 are in the first category, Project Gotham Racing 4, Dirt 2 & Grid are in the second and games like Blur, WipEout HD and Burnout Paradise are in the third. So lately then I’ve been playing two new racers, each in their category. I’ll take you through the paces.


Test Drive Unlimited 2


First off is Test Drive Unlimited 2, the sequel to one of my favourite racing games ever. The first game let you free-roam around the island of Ohau in Hawaii taking part in point to point races all over the island. You lived a rich lifestyle buying expensive houses, cars and clothes. I loved the game to death despite many of its flaws and rather rough edges. The sequel then was going to be really anticipated game for me this year. This time around not only was a remade Ohau included but also the island of Ibiza! Man was I excited.

The game starts of on Ibiza with a truly terrible party scene where you pick a character from a completely stupid slow-motion dancing scene and it’s followed by an equally bad introduction scene to the main cast of the game. The voice acting is so bad and coupled with really doll-like characters it’s so bad you’ll actually laugh at it. But hey, it’s a racing game and the story side is at least refreshing and something new, so I can’t really complain even though it’s cringe worthy to watch!

The game gets you settled in calmly and sets you up with a caravan to live in and a small car and so on. You’ll be introduced to easy races, how to obtain licenses (you’ll need different ones for the various motor classes and types of racing) and how to find your way around. In fact the learning curve is really smooth and nice. It adds elements at a perfect pace. The driving mechanics can feel a little nervous at the first but TDU2 quickly grows on you and you’ll have some truly enjoyable races. The environments, although completely empty for pedestrians and such, look really good. The day and night cycle and lighting effects are fantastic. The geometry and nature are truly incredible represented. The rain coated streets will definitely make you look twice in amazement!

At first glance everything seemed perfect. This was building up to be everything I wanted TDU2 to be. Then the bugs hit it. First off from day one the servers for the game were fucked. They were down, which destroys the MMO part of the game and it didn’t help that some of the menus were on the servers either. After this the game just plainly did not allow you to even get into the game, it just froze on the title screen. This was closely followed by a bombshell: My whole save got corrupted. The one single thing that really pisses me off is when a save gets destroyed by the game itself. I refused to play the game before they fixed it. A month later and they fixed the save and added a patch. Thanks, but man my motivation for playing was seriously dented.

Although some of bugs have been smoothed out and the online part seems to be more stable now, there are annoyances. For instance the automatic gearing on the faster cars is completely messed up and gets stuck in one gear for at least 2-3 revs before shifting, making races with many bends and a lot of acceleration/deceleration almost impossible to win. I also hate the fact that I can’t sell ugly painted cars I’ve won from my stupid competitors. The whole game should have been postponed and released after such things were fixed.

I wanted to love TDU2, I truly did. I loved the hell out of TDU1 and forgave it for its faults and lack of polish (it too corrupted my save file back then) and wanted TDU2 to perfect the formula. Instead I’m annoying myself over a lot of the same faults. I’ll be kind and give it credibility for still being very ambitious and original compared to the mainstream racing market, but they should have had plenty of time to fix the game better and made a far better end result.


Rating

★★★


Need For Speed Hot Pursuit



So if TDU2 was a semi-realistic racer, Need For Speed Hot Pursuit is a pure arcade racer. A lot of people have waited for a fast NFS game going back to the classic formula of long races with the police pursuing you. I was very excited when I heard Electronic Arts had put the Burnout creators Criterion on the job! In fact I actually though this could be a spiritual successor to the fantastic Burnout Paradise game by Criterion. That thought however would not quite match my expectations.

Yes, the game has a large free-roaming map like BP and yes the driving mechanics are quite similar. You throw your car at any speed into corners, hit the brake shortly then put the whole machine into a wild Ridge Racer like powerslide. It’s easy to drive, it’s fun and it’s action packed. The map is however sadly not used in a free-roaming or exploring fashion. You simply are sent from point to point race around it. In fact if you want to explore you have to ask for this yourself (this is just like NFS Most Wanted). Why even have a map?

The game is divided into two parts; one where you play as a street racer and the other as a cop. Each part has its own level ladder and race modes. As you progress through the game you access new gadgets to use in races and using them a lot will automatically upgrade them. Racers have a jamming device, EMP, spike traps and boost, the cops have the same devices except that boost is replaced by police helicopter support and the jamming device is replaced by a roadblock. In fact these races where the “weaponry” is available are the funniest. You’ll literally by laughing and smiling each time you either take out a police car, cut unscarred through a roadblock or smash a racer off the road in a horrible accident. The downside however is that the crash physics are a little “off”. It seems to be that you need to hit the cars at certain spots. I would have like a more Burnout like crashing style.

There is no denying that NFS HP is really fun to play. It looks amazing, with its varying weather, day/night cycles and detailed environments (the textures are really sharp), is really fast and flows perfectly when you don’t do mistakes on the track. Accompanied by an awesome list of music tracks (EA always deliver awesome soundtracks to their games) you will indeed have the need for speed playing it! There are many types of races to choose from; hot pursuit (racers vs. cops), time trail, ordinary races, duels etc. The hot pursuit mode clearly being the best. In fact this mode works well online too (apparently Swedish DICE wrote the online code!) and you’ll be wasting hours playing against friends or randoms. The car list in the game is very impressive, with all the newest supercars at your disposal. I wonder how they got all these licenses when you consider you are allowed to really smash these cars into anything?!

At the end I’m feeling excited and at the same time disappointed over the game. I would have liked the game to feel more like Burnout Paradise and have had a similar layout. In fact a Burnout Paradise 2 only with the NFS style, 60fps graphics, wild crashing and free roam would have been amazing! I believe the developers have done a far too “safe” option making the game suit everyone. It delivers what the NFS series is supposed to, but very little else. You will have a lot of hours of entertainment in front of you buying this, but don’t expect it being anything revolutionary.


Rating

★★★★

I'll be back with a look at Mafia II soon!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

There's a Crysis in the Killzone

So people, it’s been a while. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been playing lots of fantastic games though! I’ve got four new titles I’ve been through lately: Test Drive Unlimited 2, Need For Speed Hot Pursuit, Crysis 2 and Killzone 3. Since they’re two games from each genre, I’ll review two and two of them starting with the latter ones.

Crysis 2




I must confess something, I’ve only played a little bit of the original Crysis and therefore the story and the sequel was new to me. I’ve played the hell out of Far Cry on pc back in the days from the same developers though, but I’ve since gone over to console and missed out on the original Crysis and its Warhead expansion of the story.

Crysis 2 takes place in New York, where an alien invasion takes place. All the inhabitants are being evacuated and the US army are the only ones left, the city is also taken over by The Cell, an organization with interest in your Nano suit and alien technology. The game starts with a fantastic and large scale intro followed by a claustrophobic submarine scene putting you into the perfect mood for the huge scale this game has. The storyline takes you through many famous landmarks in NY and it makes a huge variation in level design despite the same city location. It’s truly incredible to see some of the destroyed areas in the city later in the game and get the feeling of something truly terrible on a large scale has taken place. The plot really picks up towards the end and thickens, though somewhat a little to late.

The Nano suit is what the Crysis games are based around. It lets you have a assortment of super-hero like abilities. It can be used in stealth mode or armour mode. This paves way for the game to be played in two very different ways; I actually played with the armour mode mainly the first time around gunning my way through everything. Second time around I used stealth. It was like playing two different games. C2 has a lot of these neat ideas, it lets you for instance upgrade your suit and change equipment on your guns on the fly. The variation in fighting aliens and humans is also really good, although inspired by Half-Life, it’s a formula that works very well.

Technically C2 is the best looking game I’ve seen on consoles yet. Seriously, none of the other FPS games stand a change next to it. The textures are detailed, the lighting is awesome and the sheer size of each level is breath-taking. I guarantee your yaw will drop at the sunlight effects and the incredible night fighting scenes. The whole atmosphere and feeling you get from its size is like a Hollywood budget blockbuster where aliens invade the earth, only here you get to play it yourself! Crysis 1 took place in jungle like environments, C2 takes place in an urban jungle and the feeling of size, detail and emptiness is incredible.

Gameplay wise C2 plays and feels great. The guns are believable and feel heavy with satisfying physics when firing at objects, aliens or people. I like the fact that there is quite a bit of destructible scenery to take out. The open feeling of levels also helps you play in a rather different fashion from the standard corridor like FPS games we see today. You simply get better at using the environment and its very fun to choose your own path. You get the feeling of being a hunter when there is so much space to move around in; a lot of modern fps game look shamefully linear compared to C2.

A short mention of the multiplayer too, it lends a lot of ideas from Call of Duty’s success story in multiplayer (levelling + points per type of kill) and it holds up very well. While it probably won’t catch so many people attention, it’s a close combat online FPS (it’s actually the opposite from the singleplayer) with the Nano suit abilities thrown in. Very fun to play and it has some great maps. It’s fairly easy to get into too.

If there are things to complain about and the reason C2 misses its 10/10 (yes, it’s that fucking close) is the somewhat untidy storytelling. It grips you at the start with its epic scale, but I would have liked it to show more of the disaster movie style presentation throughout. The game jumps between areas in New York with only a boring map screen and a voiceover. The story should have been explained in more movie-like cutscenes in my opinion. Altogether though, the games ends in a truly epic fashion and in the end you’ll sit back with a big grin on your face. Kudos for the game being about twice the length of your average shooter too.

If there is one singleplayer FPS game to buy this year, hell even this generation of consoles, it is this game, without doubt.

Rating

★★★★★☆


Killzone 3



If you own a PlayStation 3 you may have heard about this game! The hype train behind most PS3 exclusives usually surpasses most other consoles and KZ3 is no exception. I’ve played all the Killzone games so far and while Killzone 2 this gen was an entertaining blast it was a somewhat forgettable experience.

After playing the demo of KZ3 a friend and I were left very impressed, so the purchase was unavoidable. We played the game in splitscreen coop, a feature I missed in KZ2. Strangely enough it’s only local coop and not online (why?!).

The story picks up on the abrupt ending of KZ2 and it may therefore be a little confusing for new players of the KZ series. Bottom-line is that the humans have to retreat from the Helghast planet after a huge bomb goes off, but the Helghast are planning a counter attack and developing a new kind of weapon. The desperation of the human becomes apparent very early and once again the series manages to convey the sense of desperation and gritty warfare very well and believable, even though it’s fiction.

I’ll be happy to report that KZ3 is an action-packed shooting fest to play through with a lot of variation. The best level actually being the one from the demo with the jet packs. It just feels very well designed. The game looks stunning as well, with its gritty presentation of a violent war between two human races. The variation in locations is very good, ranging from icy mountains, to deserts and strange alien landscapes. I only missed some of the urban warfare from KZ2, but I guess that was used up back then.

The feeling of the game has improved a lot from KZ2. It has a more toned down accelerated aim and gone for a more sensitive and responsive one. It still has a slight sluggish feeling, but it’s hugely improved. I love the feeling of having to slowly advance and take cover a lot. There are many weapons to use and some of them are simply amusing to play with just to find out what they do to the enemy!

There are some issues though, the story is shown off in action packed cutscenes but lack substance and has a very messy storyline. Jumping back and forwards and not really explaining reasons to new locations. They also pop up a bit too often for my liking when you are suddenly getting into a great battle you are interrupted by yet another cutscenes which does all sorts of wild things then just puts you back in a new area. Let us play interrupted please! This is especially noticeable on the demo level where the amount of freedom is very good, KZ3 really could have taken the Crysis 2 approach and left you wandering around and fighting the way you want yourself.

Just like in KZ2 the field of view is too low, I’m having to turn my head constantly to see things that are a few inches away from what should have been in my eyesight. I guess they are doing this to get the shaky-cam feeling of a war documentary, but it gets a little tiresome in lengthy game sessions. The framerate sadly dips at occasions too and they could easily have cut back on some of the confusing and just uncontrolled vehicle sections.

All in all I really enjoyed the playthrough of KZ3, it’s fairly short, but keeps you on your toes throughout. The coop mode was very entertaining and probably leaves you with a better experience than playing it all alone. For the next game I’d like the pace toned down a little, the open environments used even more and the cutscenes to be more plot heavy without the cliché evil guys.

This will go down as one of the best fps games this year and for any PS3 owner it’s a must-buy. If you haven’t played KZ2 either, I’d recommend playing both for the variation and to get more out of the story.


Rating

★★★★★☆

So I'm guessing you are thinking; which is the better game? C2 or KZ3? Well both games dare to be inventive and different in their genre, they are both technically very impressive and the gameplay is fantastic. The prize however has to go to Crysis 2, it just goes that distance further to release itself from the generic fps genre, it dares to be different and it does it in a very impressive way. It will most likely go down as one of my truly favourite fps games this generation.