Saturday, 31 December 2011

Borderlands Guest Review

This review was written by Azeebo.

Borderlands is certainly an ambitious game, mixing both the dungeon crawling frantic loot collection of the Diablo series with the vast open wasteland of the fallout series. Add to this tunning environments and multilayer modes and you have a game that might just be worth your pennies.

Borderlands is set in the Wasteland, a desolate desert landscape full of nefarious bandits, monsters (both small and large) and hilarious civilians. Your goal is to find the Vault, an age old container of great secrets and loot...or so you have been told. It may just be a hoax. When you boot up the game you are met with 4 characters: Roland, a former soldier of a large military group the Crimson Lances, Lilith, the Siren, a phase walker able to fight invisibly and move at incredible speeds, Mordecai, a hunter who uses a bird of prey to aid him in his fights and last but not least Brick, a berserker who quite literally goes berserk and beasts things to death with his monstrous fists. The cast all have weapon specialties and unique looks however this is the first issue with the game, you have 4 seemingly unique characters, but since everyone of them can use the same weapons with no restrictions you soon find that there are only their special abilities that differ between them...and even then, its not enough to warrant second play through with different characters. 

Upon entering the Wasteland you perform various deeds for local which are usually found on Bounty Boards. These bounty boards are updated regularly and often supply you with cash, munitions or weapons to aid you in your overall mission of finding the Vault. It can feel like a bit of a grind as many of the missions are just rehashed from previous missions, and nearly all of them are: Go here and kill/fetch that quests. Despite this, it does add to the play time significantly if you go out of your way to complete them. 

One of the first things you notice when adventuring the vault is the sheer number of different weapons. They range from pistols, revolvers, automatic pistols, machine guns, SMG's, grenade and rocket launchers, shot guns or varying types, sniper rifles etc, on top of that each weapon has a stat line and various bonuses where it be elemental or something more passive. This is one of its greatest strengths and its greatest weakness. You will constantly be finding new and improved weaponry and discarding old weapons. You will rarely have the same weapon load out for more than about 30 minutes before you find something better. Unfortunately, with the many millions (if not more) of weapons scattered throughout the wastes, it is a shame they all look very similar with only slight cosmetic differences to differentiate them...if that.

Story wise the game is very weak, there is next to none to speak of. You will occasionally get stalked by some virtual woman trying to tell what to do next and thats about as much as you get. You enter the waste land, your goal is to find the vault, heres a gun off you go. Borderlands in a sentence. 

Story aside, the game play is very strong, as aforementioned, loot is the big draw to this game. Loot is everywhere and you treasure lovers out there will have a blast searching for secret stashes of loot, finding the next best thing etc. The loot driven game play is extremely addictive and when added to the light RPG elements you get a very enjoyable gaming experience. Leveling up is kept simple, kill enemies, complete quests level up, buy new skills to become stronger and repeat. Simple but effective and you will quickly find yourself gripped with Borderlands fever. 

Graphically this game is beautiful. The cell shaded world is jaw droopingly well designed with detail bursting out of every corner of the world. The art design is top notch with character models looking the bee's knees and the enemies looking particularly vicious. The variety of foes you face is quite refreshing, there is a bit of copy, paste and recolor going on however you fight everything from giant, muscle bound bandits, to tiny suicide bombing midgets to elite heavily armored soldiers. Unfortunately for all the graphical niceties you will require a hefty rig to max this game out.

Sound design is just as strong as the visual draw, it has great music and solid voice acting. Add to this the great sense of humor the game has and you have stumbled upon a winner. 

Multi player is where the game shines brightest. You can play then entire game Co-op with randomers online or with friends and when you do so all the shallow game play elements in the single player seem to vanish as enemies become stronger, loot becomes better and fun becomes even better. 

There is no denying Borderlands is a fantastic romp through the desert and Borderlands Fever will hit you hard at first. But once you get past all of it you are still left with a very shallow game. Luckily, you should remain enthralled in the experience for hours on end since the single player is very lengthy, add to this the DLC (most of which is top notch and varied) and multi player and you have a winner. 


Tuesday, 13 December 2011

DLC Quest Review

With Christmas coming up and the plentiful quantity of Mortal Kombat DLC, many of you may be running low on cash at the moment. That, and the fact that the first indie game review on this blog was more popular than Christ (compared to the other posts, anyway), has prompted me to write another review of a cheap indie game available on Xbox Live. With that in mind, here's DLC Quest.

Like many indie games, DLC Quest is a 2D platformer presented in old-school style, with 8-bit graphics and NES-style music. The protagonist is a generic guy with dinner plate-sized eyes, and the plot of the game is as follows: a princess is kidnapped by a bad guy, known as "Bad Guy", and the protagonist must journey to find her and rescue her from his clutches, jumping from platform to platform, collecting coins along the way. So far so unoriginal.

As hinted at in the title, there's more to DLC Quest, in that the coins littered throughout the game purchase the player not extra lives, but mock DLC for the game. As a disclaimer at the start of the game says, there's no actual DLC - it's all included in-game. Virtually everything in the game must be bought with in-game currency, from the ability to move left and jump, to the "Psychological Warfare Pack" which lets the player bypass an enemy using "psychology". The game brilliantly parodies modern-day games' barrage of DLC, as the DLC available becomes more and more ridiculous. While it's difficult to go into much detail without spoiling many of the jokes, there are plenty of clever references to past DLC, including Oblivion's infamous "Horse Armour" DLC, available for only 250 coins. This neatly-woven satire turns DLC Quest from a generic 2D platformer to one of the most original games this year.

It's not just the DLC available that will make you laugh. Numerous elements of modern games are parodied, from random encounters to a possible nod to Red Dead Redemption later on in the game. Every couple of minutes or so there's another clever joke, many you probably won't expect. There's also plenty of funny dialogue between the protagonist and the NPCs, in the form of text.

As for the gameplay, as mentioned earlier, it's basically a generic platformer. There's absolutely no challenge to the game other than finding enough coins to purchase DLC. This will often leave you back-tracking around the game world, which can ge frustrating. The worst part of the game is that it lasts less than an hour. Still, for only 80 microsoft points, it's not that bad value for money.

DLC Quest's gameplay is pretty mediocre, but for many its low price and brilliant humour will make up for that. While it's not the best indie game on Xbox Live, it's perhaps the funniest, so if you have a few points spare, give it a go.

Rating: 3.5/5

Thursday, 8 December 2011


A complaint one may hear about games these days is that they're just too damn expensive. Often, you shell out £40 or more on a hyped game, only to find out it's nowhere near worth the money (for evidence of this, feel free to pick up a copy of Modern Warfare 3). It's generally less risky to go with the independent market - cheap games, usually with simple gameplay, developed by small teams of people. One of these games is I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1 (yes, that's how it's written), a shooter available for download on the Xbox Live Indie Games market.

The game is simple: it's a game, there are zombies and other enemies in it, and the player must shoot them. Players must shoot as many enemies as possible for points with a limited number of lives. Rather than lasting infinitely, the game lasts around 15 minutes, becoming increasingly difficult. Attempting to play a game the whole way through will probably take many tries, and even then it's fun to try and set new high scores. It's controlled in a twin-stick style, like the Dead Ops Arcade minigame in Call of Duty Black Ops - use the left stick to move and the right stick to shoot. Power-ups appear frequently and range from flamethrowers and rocket launchers, to extra lives and shields. The game can be played by up to 4 players in offline multiplayer, and there are offline leaderboards. As the game progresses, enemies become more varied, including Asteroids-style, well, asteroids; and zombies which explode when shot. The appearance of the game world, as well as the music also changes as the game progresses. The music is a strong point of the game, largely consisting of grunge music reminiscent of the Smashing Pumpkins, containing humourous, self-referential lyrics.

There's not much else to say about the game. It's a simple, arcade-style twin-stick shooter with multiplayer and great music. At only 80 Microsoft points, it's an absolute bargain. Despite the basic graphics and gameplay, it's better than many Hollywood-budget games. It's highly recommended.

Rating: 4.5/5

Portal 2 Review

Released in 2007 as part of Valve's The Orange Box, Portal was an unexpected success. Barely 3 hours long, with only 2 main characters, reviews nevertheless frequently reached the 10/10 mark, and the phrase "the cake is a lie" circulated around the internet faster than a picture of Justin Bieber being shot in the head by a cat on a pop tart skateboard.

As Portal is considered by many to be the perfect game, Valve had a lot to live up to with Portal 2, released in April 2011 as a standalone game for the Xbox 360, PC and PS3. What could they possibly do to improve upon the first game?

Well, for a start, the game is more story-oriented than the original game. Portal told a simple story: the player assumed the role of Chell, a generic woman in an orange jumpsuit who awoke in a laboratory and had to navigate a number of perilous white rooms using a gun which she could use to create inter-spatial portals. Put one portal across the room, and one portal next to you. Go through the one next to you and end up across the room, and vice-versa. Eventually, it turned out there was something more sinister going on in the facility, something gradually discovered as the game progresses.

Portal 2 opens with Chell, after almost escaping in the first game, waking up in the facility once again. After a basic tutorial, Chell goes into cryogenic refrigeration and wakes up hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years in the future to find Stephen Merchant, who attempts to break her out of the facility. By the way, Stephen Merchant is a spherical computer core who talks. More on his character later. This leads to a technically brilliant sequence wherein the room in which Chell is located travels through the facility, pieces of the walls breaking off revealing the decaying ruins of the lab, derelict and damaged after being abandoned after the events of the first game. This derelict effect is present throughout the first hour or two of the game, and makes for some really atmospheric scenery. The announcer, a seemingly friendly voice in the wall, guides Chell around and gives some information as to what has happened since the first game, and is the source of much subtly dark humour, constantly reminding Chell that the facility is safe, while reminding her of the constant dangers to her safety. A number of of the android characters in the game fail to quite grasp how humans think, and this creates some genuinely hilarious dialogue throughout the game, enhanced by fantastic voice acting by Stephen Merchant, Ellen McLain and J.K Simmons, along with perennial voice-provider Nolan North.

Stephen Merchant is arguably the star of the show in Portal 2. His character, Wheatley - an intellectually impaired AI sphere- provides most of the humour as he guides Chell through the first half of the game. It's difficult to go into much detail without spoiling many of the best parts of the game.

Speaking of spoilers, don't look at the list of achievements, or trophies, until after you've finished the story. There's one which spoils a huge part of the game.

The story is intriguing and really well-told, from the awakening of GLaDOS, the villain from the first game, near the start, to the mind-blowing ending sequence. Easter eggs are everywhere: look around a testchamber closely enough and you'll find all kinds of secrets, some which add to the story, some which just look weird. The attention to detail in the game is unprecedented - the story even becomes somewhat of an allegory of Greek mythology if you look closely enough at the details.

Anyway, gameplay. As in Portal, the gameplay is stellar. The simple concept mentioned earlier, of the inter-spatial portal gun, expands to create dozens of mind-bending ingenious puzzles to test the player's mind and reflexes. After a while, Chell will be flying through the air, using momentum and extremely clever use of the laws of physics to navigate numerous challenges, from lasers to deceptively-lovable, muderous automatic sentry turrets (there are also the "crap" turrets, defective turrets which provide no challenge, but a lot of funny dialogue and the name of this blog). Gameplay is considerably more varied than Portal, and new game mechanics are introduced hours into the game. The difficutly curve is quite reasonable, becoming gradually more difficult. The game also last far longer than Portal, providing about 6 to 8 hours in single-player.

Admittedly, as Modern Warfare 3 showed us, even a fun single-player can be crippled by fleeting longevity. As those of you who nticed the adverbial phrase at the end of that last paragraph, or who have just played the game in the 8 months since its release, will have realised, there is multiplayer this time, in the form of an entertaining co-op mode. It can be played online or in split-screen, and adds a load of time to the game. Unlike the single-player mode, the story is kept simple: there are two robots designed for testing the portal gun. They test the portal gun. There's not much more to it than that. If you're not interested in story and just want a load of portal-based challenges, you may prefer the co-op mode to the single-player. Two characters means four portals, and this adds to the complexity of the puzzles. It's a great addition to the game, though it's recommended that you play it with someone who has already played through at least an hour or so of the single-player mode, or things can get exasperating and you may progress more slowly than John Terry in a game of "Nothing But the Truth" (its an obscure game show hosted by Jerry Springer).

It's difficult to find many faults in a game as great as Portal 2. There are parts of the game where the expansive rooms can at times leave you spending 10 minutes looking for a square of portal-compatible scenery, breaking the flow of the game. Fortunately, this is only a problem during parts of the second third of the game. The only persistent problem is the annoyance of the loading screens. They appear frequently and, while not at the level of Duke Nukem Forever, last for an annoying long time.

Portal 2 is still a brilliant game, though, perhaps even the best game of 2011. Its excellent story and clever gameplay make up for its faults by far. I can't stress this enough: buy this game.

Rating: 4.5/5

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Mortal Kombat Review

When Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe was released in 2008, one of the main criticisms which was levelled of it was the violence - there was nowhere near enough of it. As I said in my Batman: Arkham City review, it seems the developers were reluctant to portray Batman and co. involved in any significant level of violence. Fatalities, a trademark of the Mortal Kombat series, were significantly nerfed, and the game lost much of its fun value as a result. In Mortal Kombat, NetheRealm Studios have made up for this, and then some.

The level of violence in this game is absolutely ridiculous. If you haven't played the game, try checking out the Top 10 Most Violent Fatalities list elsewhere on this blog to see some of them, after ensuring there are no Conservatives within a 25-mile radius so as not to get the game banned, every copy burned to cinders and buried in a desert somewhere. Blood flies everywhere throughout fights and stays in the arena until the end. The new X-Ray moves mechanic allows characters to use a special move, which, if successful, treats viewers to a 5-10 seconds of gore in violence-o-matic x-ray vision. The fatalities, overly-violent finishing moves, cause limbs, blood and organs to fly in every direction. If you don't like violence, whatever you do, don't play this game.

For everyone else, though, I highly recommend it. It's arguably the best fighting game of this console generation, with a substantial character roster made up of characters from the first three Mortal Kombat games, now in HD. There are a vast number of special moves and combos for each fighter, which can be viewed at any time during a match, and range from the classic Mortal Kombat uppercut, to Sub Zero's ice projectile, to Scorpion's "Get over here!" spike-to-the-face attack. Each character has at least one alternate costume, and other characters can be downloaded, including Freddy Krueger, for some reason.

There are a number of different modes, the main modes being Ladder, the standard mode in which the player must fight through 10 progressively difficult fighters to reach the end, and Story mode. The story is an alternate universe re-telling of the plot of the first three games. Shao Kahn and the Outworlders challenge the fighters of Earthrealm, or Earth, as it's more commonly known, to Mortal Kombat, a fighting tournament. If the Outworlders win, Shao Kahn gets to take over the Earth. For a fighting game, the story is quite well-written, the interactions between the characters and good-quality voice acting making the story mode more than just a way of connecting a few fights together, and towards the end I started to actually like some of the characters. This does, however, mean that one cutscene involving Sindel will annoy a lot of players, without wishing to spoil the story.

It is a fighting game, though, and as a result, there is plenty of fighting in the Story mode. This leads to some quite daft moments where characters fight in violent, bone-shattering fights for the most contrived of reasons, such as when Johnny Cage kicks the crap out of a woman because she won't let him help her, or when Jax breaks Cage's spine because he makes fun of the fact that he's friends with a woman, after which Cage gets up and apologises. This doesn't make the game worse though - it makes it funnier. It doesn desensitise the player to the violence after the eighth time something like this happens, but fatalities make up for this.

Being a compilation of the stories of three different games, each of which ends in a boss fight, the difficulty is slightly inconsistent. It's mostly fine, but towards the end of each third of the game there are one or two extremely difficult fights to represent the boss fights in the original game, after which the difficulty goes back to a reasonable level.

Other modes include Tag Ladder, like Ladder with two characters, playable in single-player or offline co-op, and Challenge Tower - 500 challenges which the player can complete, hich range from defeating two enemies to defeating an enemy after your fighter's arms have detached. The challenges are quite varied and don't repeat themselves as much as one might think, there being 500 of them. There is also Test Your Luck mode, which adds a number of game-changing, often genuinely funny special effects to a match. This is especially fun in multiplayer.

Multiplayer can be played with up to 4 people offline, and is brilliant. Defeating a friend by punching their head into liquid can be a source of much fun, laughter and smugness. There's also online multiplayer, but Mortal Kombat is designed to be played with people in the same room, so you can laugh in their faces after a flawless victory.

There's not much wrong with the game, really. Some of the modes are unnecessary, such as Test Your Sight, which don't seem to have any reason to be on there other than to add a couple of associated challenges to Challenge Tower. Also, online multiplayer is only available to those who buy the game new. Finally, Shao Kahn, the main villain, is an extremely cheap fighter, but not on the level of Street Fighter IV's Seth.

Mortal Kombat is one of the best fighting games available for any console. It's excessevely violent to the point of ludicrousness, and should provide many hours of gory laughs. In single-player or multiplayer, it's an excellent game.

Rating: 4.5/5

Batman: Arkham City Review

From 1999's critically-crushed Superman 64, to the more recent Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe, games based on comic books are usually viewed as mediocre at best. Usually, developers are unwilling to take risks with the licenses for fear of alienating fans of the comics. This is why in the aforementioned fighting game, rather than seeing Baraka tear The Flash's head off and eat it, we had Batman and Shang Tsung resolve their differences with a game of Monopoly (or something like that - I try to forget the fatalities in that game). That all changed with Batman: Arkham Asylum, a game released two years ago, based on the similarly-titled graphic novel (thankfully without the disturbing scene involving Maxie Zeus), in which Batman roamed the halls of an inmate-controlled asylum, breaking the teeth of jabbering mental patients and using an extremely well-designed stealth mechanic to pick off armed henchmen one by one. The game received phenomenal amounts of praise and won multiple Game of The Year awards. The sequel, Batman Arkham City is here now after months of anticipation and hype. How does it compare to its excellemnt predecessor?

As usual, I'll start with the plot. Some months of the first game, Quincy Sharp, the warden of Arkham Asylum in, well, Arkham Asylum, is now the mayor of Gotham City, and has resolved to clean up crime in the best way possible: section off a large chunk of the city and turn it into Arkham City, a mega-prison in which the prisoners are free to roam around, fighting and killing one another. Sharp appoints reccuring weirdo Hugo Strange as warden of the facility. At the start of the game, Bruce Wayne, Batman's alter-ego, suspects a conspiracy and gets himself arrested by going to the prison and speaking out against it. Presumably, he also kills several thousand people while there, because he is immediately thrown into the prison without so much as a trial. That, or the legal system in Gotham City makes about as much sense as a neon-filled whale, as Strange is apparently to throw people in prison just because they annoy him.

Despite the questionable introduction, this does allow for an excellent first sequence in which the player, as Wayne, must fight through a corridor of bloodthirsty inmates before encountering The Penguin, now a cockney for some reason, and punching his face in, followed by an escape to a nearby roof to retreive Wayne's batgear. This part of the game is highly cinematic and sets up the rest of the game well.

Gameplay in Batman: Arkham City is solid, and mostly revolves around three elements: exploration, combat and stealth. Combat is simple and works incredibly well. Press X to punch, kick and generally assault the nearest enemy, while Y counters, B stuns enemies and A allows you to vault over enemies. The four buttons can be combined to create some satisfying combos as Batman leaps around a room, knocking out enemies and hearing their bones loudly being cunched into dust. Batman, as in the comics and movies, has a number of gadgets, many of which are unlocked from the start, some unlocked later on via an RPG-style XP system. They can be used in combat, or used for exploration, such as the Line Launcher, which allows Batman to traverse gaps in terrain.

They can also be used in the fantastic stealth parts of the game, during which Batman must silently makes his way around an enclosed area, silently taking out enemies one by one. The high-quality enemy AI and numerous ways of approaching these challenges, such as hanging from a gargoyle and grabbing enemies from above, taking out enemies from within grates in the floor, and even punching through walls to knock foes out make these sections great fun.

Variations of both the combat and stealth sections can be played in the additional Challenge mode, in which the player can either take out enemies in combat while avoiding taking damage for the most points possible, or eliminate henchmen in a stealth section in the shortest time possible. Buy the game new rather than pre-owned and get the ability to play as Catwoman, who plays similarly to Batman, with some different weapons and the ability to hang from ceilings. New challenges can be unlocked in Story mode, including a cool 2.5D combat challenge set on a moving train. Purchasers of the Robin Edition also get to play as Robin, who, again, plays similarly to Batman, with different weapons. To be honest, the Robin Edition, in my opinion, is somewhat of a rip-off.

One of the major additions to Batman: Arkham City is the fact that the game map is now open-world, set in a sunstantial area, which, while nowhere near the level of Just Cause 2, is expansive and offers plenty of scope for exploration. There are a number of side-missions, such s tracking down a serial killer and rescuing hostages from The Riddler, as well as approximately 400 Riddler challenges, around double the number found in Arkham Asylum. These challenges involve finding things hidden around the game world, though this often requires the completion of a puzzle, preventing this element of the game from becoming just a boring scavenger hunt. Combat is also intergrated into these challenges, as they can be found on the map by interrogating The Riddler's henchmen. As a side note, these interrogations are often hilarious, as Batman promises not to harm the criminal as long they gives up information, at which point they invariably do, and Batman punches them in the face, fracturing their skulls into pieces.

The problem with Arkham City being open-world, though is that it's less focused. In Arkham Asylum there was always a sense of urgency about getting to the next objective, and the best parts of the game were the sections with Scarecrow in them, largely as they could occur at any time without warning. There is nothing like this in Arkham City; when it's up to the player to move the story along, this effect disappears, and the villains pose far less of a threat. Much of the tension of Arkham Asylum is gone.

Boss fights have been siginificantly improved since Arkham Asylum, especially the fight set in a surreal, somewhat Oddworld-like desert. They are quite easy, though, and can almost all be completed in one try without too much difficulty. The final boss fight seems a bit incongruous, featuring a villain who doesn't appear until right at the very end, who can be taken out incredibly easily considering it's the final boss fight. I personally only died once during this fight, and the hint which appeared as a result gave away how to win the fight. After that, it was a walk in the proverbial park.

There are a huge number of villains in Arkham City, some expected, some less so. The Penguin, The Joker and Two-Face are at war over turf in the prison, and this leads to some quite interesting plot points. However, it too removes some of the threat posed by the villains of the game, as they are no longer united against Batman as they were in Arkham Asylum. The vast number of villains also means that some get hardly more screen time than Scarecro in The Dark Knight. Some of these are quite disproportionate - fan favourite Two-Face only appears twice in the whole game for around 2 to 5 minutes at a time, calls Catwoman a bitch, gets effortlessly dispatched and then disappears. Meanwhile, The Penguin is around for about an hour, maybe more, despite arguably being the least interesting main villain in the game. This also applies to other characters, such as Robin, who literally only appears in the Story mode for around a minute before leaving. This also goes for the character of Vicki Vale, who shows up for one brief mssion and then is nowhere to be seen afterwards.

Batman: Arkham City is not entirely without faults, and in fact, is arguably not as good as its predecessor. However, it's still a great game which I highly recommend. The combat and stealth sections are even better than they were in Arkham Asylum, the graphics are great and the story is pretty good. If you only play the story missions, it should provide about 10 hours, with dozens more afterwards for everyone else. Arkham City is a great game for fans of the Batman franchise and action games alike.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Minecraft Review

After being in the beta testing phase for an extremely long time, Minecraft has finally been officially released. Even before its release, Minecraft has become immensely popular with PC gamers due to the vast amount of freedom it offers players and Youtube videos of things people have used it to make, going as far as a recreation of Earth itself.

Minecraft is a difficult game to review. Unlike most games there is no specified objective, and no story. The player wakes up on an island somewhere where everything is in retro-style 8 bit graphics, albeit in 3D. The environment is made up of lego-like blocks of things such as sand, dirt or stone which the player can pick up and re-arrange into structures. This also things like trees and objects which can be found on the ground. At the start of the game, it's a good idea to build a shelter by either digging into a wall, or arranging blocks to create a building and living inside it.

There are other ways to get blocks and items. For example, punching a sheep to death may get you a block of wool. This is one of the ways in which crafting comes into the game, as certain blocks and be crafted, or combined, to create items. For example, combine wood in the right way, and boom. Wooden pickaxe. Get some eggs from chickens and some other materials, and get a cake. These items may be purely aesthetic, or they may help you out in the game. Pickaxes can be used to mine stones, getting you more material with which to build structures. Swords help you defend against hostile creatures which appear every in-game night, Pikmin-style. These monsters help make the game more interesting, and come in a number of varieties, including creepers, who look upon the solid gold castle you spent hours building with contempt as they charge into it and blow it up; zombies, who chase the player around trying to kill them, and spiders, whose sole purpose seems to be to roam around letting out a screech specifically designed to scare the crap out of anyone wearing headphones.

Minecraft's sandbox nature and wide variety of blocks and craftable items means there's a lot of scope for exploration and freedom. There is no real point to the game: just build what you like, be it a shelter with which to defend yourself, a multi-roomed castle, or a 90-feet tall, diamond statue of Snoop Dogg. There are a number of different modes in Minecraft, depending on how you want to play it. There's Survival mode, which is the standard mode in which you gather resources to buld things and fend off monsters; Hardcore mode, where the player has only one life and every hostile creature kills in a couple of attacks; and Creative mode, which gives the player unlimited blocks of all types, unlimited items of all types, and the ability to fly through the game world. It's also possible to switch off hostile creatures, in case you just want to build without worrying about dying.

I recommend Minecraft. There's no clear objective, so if you're looking for a game with increasing difficulty or a well-written story, it's not for you. For those of you who want near-endless customisation and the chance to be creative, Minecraft is ideal. Download it and see what all the hype is about.

Rating: 4/5


There has been a slight change to the way games are rated on this site: ".5" scores may be now be used, such as 3.5 or 2.5, so as to make reviews more precise.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Review

This review contains spoilers.

In the two years since Modern Warfare 2's release, the combined sales of it and Call of Duty: Black Ops's combined sales have reached 47 million. According to the internet, that's one copy for approximately every single person in the Ukraine. It seems the formula of intense gunfighting, linear corridors, vast multiplayer and sequences wherein the spends 5 minutes watching a black-and-white aerial shot of an area, possibly dropping bombs on the place and blowing up enemies like ants in a microwave is consistently popular enough to keep this video game giant afloat and eliminate any competition from the many brown and grey FPSes on the market. Modern Warfare 3 has already sold so many copies that every member of Activision  can buy a solid gold house whose bricks are stuffed with money, but, after playing Modern Warfare 3, the possibility of this formula sustaining the series for much longer is called into question, and changes will have to be made to the next game to keep the money coming in.

First, the campaign. I would explain the story so far, but if you're reading this, it means you are a sentient lifeform and therefore have played Modern Warfare 2. Modern Warfare 3's story picks up directly after the ending to that tangled narrative mess and sees the player control Derek "Frost" Westbrook as he wakes up from (apparently) sleeping in the road of New York City as it is being bombarded by Russian forces, who invaded the US in Modern Warfare 2. The player then fights through the streets of the city, using some new gear such as the XM25, a weapon so over-powered Frost may as well just have a big button to press which reads "Kill Everything", moving through damaged buildings, including the New York Stock Exchange, followed by a dramatic helicopter dogfight. It's a standard Call of Duty mission: dramatic, linear, fast-paced fun. The rest of Frost's missions involve him taking a sight-seeing tour around Europe, battling Russian forces who are taking over the continent.

The reason for the invasion of Europe is never fully explained. I understand why Russia invaded the USA in Modern Warfare 2, but there doesn't seem to be any justification for this invasion other than for the developers to include another attempt to increase sales by portraying some civillians being killed, this time on their holiday to London. This scene is considerably less shocking than the "No Russian" mission in Modern Warfare 2, possibly so The Daily Mail don't firebomb Infinity Ward's headquarters. As well as the premise for World War III being virtually non-existent, towards the end of the game the war just ends for what seems like no reason as well. Russia ecides to chill out and leave other countries alone as long as they forget that they just murdered millions of people and go back to normal life. One more thing which doesn't seem to make sense is that in the last mission with the US forces, Frost is nowhere to be found. He's in one mission and then nowhere to be found during the next one, with no explanation given.

The other narrative thread in Modern Warfare 3 follows recurring protagonists "Soap" MacTavish and Captain John Price as they attempt to clear their name while tracking down and killing Makarov, killing as many poor people as possible. They are joined by Yuri, an ex-Spetznaz agent. Soap and Price are two of the few characters in the series with any actual depth, so their story is enjoyable, as well as being more varied gameplay-wise than the US side of the campaign. There are a couple of the old stealth missions and fans of the first Modern Warfare game will be pleased to see Captain Macmillan make a couple of cameos, having last being seen in the excellent Pripyat mission in Call of Duty 4.

In summary, the capaign is basically what you'd expect: a lot of action-packed shooting sequences broken up by vehicle sections and stealth missions. The writing, while better than Modern Warfare 2's, still has flaws. The gameplay is a lot of fun, but, on normal difficulty, lasts for less than 6 hours, making it completely insubstantial.,

Also included, as in Modern Warfare 2, is Special Ops mode, a number of bonus missions which can be played alone or in co-op, on or offline. These involve a variety of objectives such as sneaking around guards to find the Russian president, completing a training course, and even playing as a Russian terrorist during the hijacking of an aeroplane. There's also a Survival mode, in which the player must survive waves of enemies, unlocking new weapons and bonuses the longer they stay alive. These modes add an extra couple of hours or so to the gameplay and are quite fun.

Lastly, there's multiplayer - the main reason most people bought the game. There are a number of game modes: Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and the like, with new modes Kill Confirmed and Team Leader adding slight variations to Team Deathmatch while not being particularly groundbreaking. The maps are standard Modern Warfare maps: mostly war-torn cities and corridor-filled industrial areas. Again, nothing too different from Modern Warfare 2. There are a number of new weapons, as well as a new Pointstreak system which allows players to keep killstreaks even after being killed, useful for noobs. The killstreaks themsleves are mostly the same as in Modern Warfare 2, with a few new additions such as a remote-control sentry gun. Fortunatley, while there is an equivalent of the Tactical Nuke from Modern Warfare 3, it no longer ends the game and helps balance out the multiplayer. Overall, the multiplayer is fun and may provide another few hours of gameplay. However, it's incredibly similar to the multiplayer in Modern Warfare 2. The guns, the maps, even the menus - they're almost identical, and the few changes Modern Warfare 3 brings adds little. If you haven't played Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer, this won't be a problem and the multiplayer will be great fun, but to the rest of you who buy the game for the multiplayer there isn't enough new content to justify spending £45 on what is little more than a large map pack.

In summary, Modern Warfare 3 is fun. It's action-packed and intense, but the campaign is far too short and the multiplayer adds very little more than some generic maps and some new weapons and killstreaks. I advise renting it for the campaign, and to try out the multiplayer for a while before it stops being fun. After that, stick with Modern Warfare 2 and/or Black Ops. There's no need to pay full-price for this game.

Rating: 3/5

Thursday, 6 October 2011

TRAUMA Guest Review

This guest review was written by Ross Smith.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be trapped inside a dream? Well though not exactly the same TRUAMA gives you a pretty decent attempt, creating an atmosphere not usually devised in modern video games. This little indie game was created almost single-handedly by Krystian Majewski, with a handful of other people chipping in with sound and voice acting, who had hoped to create an almost biographical game that took a stranger turn.

The entire game takes place from the perspective of our narrator, a young women who is recovering from a near fatal car crash, as she passes from lucid dreams revealing deeper parts of her psyche too her conversations with an unknown doctor telling her about the progress she has made. Though the story its self might not be the most engaging, and rather simple, it’s the narrative that really captures the player’s attention slowly unfolding as you delve deeper into the game.

While the story is lacking and the narrative does its best to patch it together the game play and visual style is something else entirely, this is what makes this game different from your usual title, though it doesn’t exactly make it a good game. Game play mostly boils down to navigating through a selection of photo’s strung together in a strange panoramic style, with augmented reality like effects added on top of some of the stills, as you search for specific clues to help navigate to the end of the level. Though end is a term used loosely as there is alternative ways of finishing a level as you learn more symbols to paint over the photos that create different effects.

Now the painting mechanic needs a little bit of explanation as it’s something that’s not apparent when you first enter the game and it’s not massively diverse in the things you can achieve. When you first enter the game, though you can play the levels in any order which might confuse some, you will begin to notice Polaroid photos stuck in some strange locations throughout the levels with each detailing a symbol you can draw with your brush, a location to use one of your symbols or possibly a memory which sparks a little monologue from our hospitalised protagonist. You then take these symbols, for example the first major one will lift a strange type of stone that are found throughout various levels, and paint them using your mouse and clicking. Though don’t worry the game does its best to recognise the symbols no matter how bad you botch drawing them.

So we’ve had Polaroid photos within photos that you can paint on, which sounds a little like a graphic design student’s wet dream, but that’s where the games diversity and originality ends and even things like the painting mechanic are very reminiscent of other games such as The Void/Tension. So that brings us onto the last major component of the game which is the voice acting and for what its worth I feel it was done well. The protagonist often seems depressed and uninterested, like she is viewing her life in third person wishing she was somewhere else, throw in the fact she is struggling with her environment trapped inside a hospital it actually makes the voice acting feeling genuine, with only one occasions where I can remember the protagonist chuckling as she delivers a line.

So finally my thoughts on the entire experience, as its difficult to consider it a game yet it clearly is, I had fun and my curiosity was piqued whilst playing and I am glad I did. Though it’s very difficult to recommend to others with its relatively short play time, dull tones and semi interactive game play, rather I would say check it out if your more interested in a piece of visual art and try the version available for free at leaving it up to you to say if it deserves your money or not.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

ACDC Live Rock Band Review

As a classic rock fan, I love ACDC. Their energetic, feel-good music makes them, in my opinion, one of the greatest bands ever formed. That's what makes it difficult to say that ACDC Live Rock Band is a bit of a crap game.

The title of the game pretty much sums the whole thing up - rock out to ACDC songs by selecting them from a list and pressing coloured buttons on a plastic instrument of your choice as their corresponding coloured oblongs move down the screen, optionally while duckwalking around the room. It's the classic Rock Band/Guitar Hero gameplay formula. As always, it's a laugh, as you pretend to be Angus Young, sitting in a beanbag chair pressing buttons, like he does on-stage. Fair enough, it's been done in previous games, but if something isn't broken, don't try and fix it, or you'll just end up with nails and bits of shelf everywhere.

As Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock showed us, this method of gameplay is only fun if there's some good music in the game, rather than all that new-fangled indie rubbish that assaults one's eardrums like an audio barge-pole. Fortunately, as the first paragraph conveyed, this is ACDC Live Rock Band's strongest point. There are nineteen tracks in the game, all classic songs like You Shook Me All Night Long and Thunderstruck. They're all great songs, if you're into the genre, and most of them are a lot of fun to play. The exception to this is the song For Those About to Rock. It's not that it's a bad song, but  anyone playing guitar will have to put up with sitting around in the lengthy, non-guitar part.

So, great music and same old Rock Band gameplay. Why, then, the criticism earlier? I'll tell you why, guy who asks his computer questions - it's the fact that ACDC Live Rock Band is far too insubstantial. There are no songs to unlock, and the career mode is just playing through all of the already-unlocked songs one at a time, linearly. There's also no character customisation, only one venue, and only one set of characters on the stage in the entire game. Other than on the game's box, there aren't even any cameos from any of the band members. On the plus side, if you already own a copy of Rock Band or Rock Band 2, you can transfer the songs onto those games and sell this game to get some money back, but otherwise it's a rip-off.

While the game does have a great tracklist, there's very little content to be found. It's a minimal single and multiplayer Rock Band game with a small list of songs to play and no customisation at all. My advice to anyone interested in this game, or rather, expensive song pack, would be to pick up the far better Rock Band 2 instead, and put some ACDC on Youtube. It's sad when Green Day get better treatment from Harmonix, as there was potential for a far better game here.

Rating: 2/5

Where are the posts!?

Fear not, readers. The blog has not been destroyed. Due to a combination of a new reviewing style I was trying out, the fact that WWE Smackdown Vs. Raw 2011 is more addictive than Starbucks' new "Crackuccino" flavour, and the fact that Brink is more difficult in places than coming up with analogies for these posts, the blog has not been updated for a while. However, it's back on track now, so look forward to more humourous articles and comprehensive reviews as the blog is updated more frequently.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Crysis 2 Guest Review

This guest review was written by Dan Jones.

Crysis 2 has a good start. It’s been born into the Cry legacy, and it’s also extremely hard to run on the PC but this is the Xbox 360 review so that’s not a problem. When I say Cry legacy I mean that it’s the sequel to Crysis made by Crytek on the CryEngine 3. See?

Anyway, Crysis 2 takes place in New York. Except that it’s now been infected by a disease which kills people. There’s probably more background to the virus but unfortunately I’ve never played Crysis 1. Boohoo. The US Army is apparently doing something else because the US Government has put martial law on New York under supervision of a corporation called CryNet. Well done Crysis, you’ve got Cry in again. Anyway they have an alarmingly large security force called C.E.L.L, who have tanks and gunships. You play as Alcatraz, a US Navy SEAL with no personality at all. Anyway, Alcatraz gets very nearly killed by a random group of aliens, but is saved by Prophet a guy in the all-powerful Cry Suit. Seriously? Anyway, the game follows Alcatraz in the all-powerful death suit on his journey to not get killed by a group of mentally deficient mercenaries.  You can upgrade one of three power trees, Cloak, Armour and Weapon. The upgrade system is annoying with Alcatraz twitching his fingers for whichever one you want to upgrade, which makes it a bit fidgety.

I played the game as an overdressed ninja, sneaking around the enemies and imagining their boss shouting at them when I get to the blow up a helicopter ten miles past a checkpoint set up to kill me. There’s also a flaw in the core of the stealth gameplay, when you get spotted and are surrounded by enemies the game should rip you to shreds and send you back to the last save. But at some points you get spotted and you are so overpowered you can just rip through them anyway. Without the stealth elements Crysis 2 is just another shooty shooty bang bang FPS just where you can jump like you’ve got a pogo stick lodged in your rear end and can buff yourself up with armour. This sort of brings to Crysis’ biggest problem. The balancing issues. The difficulty curve is like a rollercoaster where the end is one of the easiest points in the game. If you have an action game where the action doesn’t escalate properly then there’s something wrong.

Crysis 2 isn’t a bad game. It’s not brilliant. It’s mediocre, but one thing everybody says about Crysis 2 is that it has brilliant graphics. And honestly they are the best graphics I’ve ever seen in any game. Ever. I recommend Crysis 2, but it has lots of problems. It’s fun, the story isn’t very good and the characters aren’t likeable. But this is worth the money. 

Duke Nukem Forever Review

Since its announcement way back in 1998, Duke Nukem Forever has become synonymous with vapourware, a game thought to be in development hell which would never see the light of day. After an inexplicably protracted development time, Duke Nukem Forever has finally been released. Was it worth the wait?

First of all, unlike some reviewers, I am aware that the game's development time does not decrease the game's overall quality, and should not be considered bad just because it's not the kind of competitor-toppling, solid diamond game one would expect to take over a decade to complete. However, I do question why exactly it took so long to bring out this average, generic first-person shooter.

The story is simple: twelve years after the events of Duke Nukem 3D, aliens invade Earth in order to abduct human women so they can be impregnated and a new generation of tentacle-monsters can be spawned. Duke joins the fray when his "babes", the Holson twins, are taken to the alien hive. Quite why he chooses to so this, I have no idea, as the facial animation of the women in this game make them all look like creepy, quasi-life-like robots, and the Holsom twins creepy laughs recall the Peg Dolls from that freaky episode of Doctor Who. Without wishing to spoil much more of the story, this particular plot thread ends disappointly, with one of the most disturbing scenes I've ever seen in a video game, after which the story switches to "Duke kills aliens for no reason".

As hinted at earlier, there's a real animation problem in the game. If you want a laugh while playing the game, stand in front of a mirror and jump around the room. Duke becomes an Irish dancer who keeps his arms at his sides at all times while prancing around a room. The characters all look unnatural, and the advert-hogging strip club level becomes a nightmarish quest to escape a building full of horrific robot women who ask you to find them popcorn. In addition, when the action picks up on-screen, there are time when the frame rate drops dramatically, spoiling some of the genuinely fun parts of the game.

Duke Nukem Forever, like virtually every Xbox 360 game on the market which doesn't require the player to have a living room the size of the Red Square, is a first-person shooter. Like in most first-person shooters from the last few years, the player is only able to carry around two guns at a time, and has regenerating health, in this case represented by an "ego" bar, the maximum capacity of which can be increased by defeating bosses and interacting with the environment. There are plenty of action-packed shoot-outs in the game, and some of these are a lot of fun, as you run around blowing the heads off of enemis with the shotgun, which by far outshines the largely lackluster assortment of other weapons in the game in terms of pure fun. There are also a number of boss fights, as mentioned. While some of these, like fighting a gigantic alien wielding a minigun that would make Team Fortress 2's Heavy Weapons Guy's head explode with joy, make for some of the best parts of the game. Conversely, some, like using a turret to shoot down the alien mothership, are highly boring. There are also parts of the game which are unreasonably difficult, causing the player to die over and over, having to wait around 30 seconds for the game to load each time.

The single-player campaign lasts a decent length of time. The first few missions, set in urban Las Vegas, are mostly boring as hell. However, after a couple of hours or so the game really picks up, with a variety of weapons, enemies and gameplay alterations making the game a lot of fun to play for a while. Unfortuantely, the last couple of hours consist almost entirely of running down brown and grey corridors shooting enemies with little variation other than frustrating and boring underwater sequences, then at the end there is a completely insubstantial ending which parodies Jackson's death from Call of Duty 4, a game from four years ago.

This brings me to another problem with Duke Nukem Forever - perhaps due to its development time spanning over ten years, far too many of the jokes are just pop culture references to media from years ago, and are rarely funny. There is also humour to be found in Duke's endless one-liners, which are hit-and-miss. Duke is just not a likeable character, and the supporting characters will pretty much all leave you hoping that they'll die at some point in the game so they'll shut the hell up.

There's a multiplayer mode, too, which consists of Duke Nukem-themed variations of standard game modes like Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag. It's possible to unlock new items with which to customise your appearance, as well as furniture with which to decorate Duke's pad. This last feature doesn't really add anything significant. The multiplayer is quite fun and should bring about an hour or so of fun, but there are far better online first-person shooters available already, for lower prices than Duke Nukem Forever.

After over ten years in development, Duke Nukem Forever is perplexingly average. The game really does become quite good fun for the second third or so of the campaign, but before and after that it's a standard FPS which won't live on for anything other than its development time. Buy it if you see it for a discount price, but otherwise, stick to the better shooters that are already available for the Xbox 360.

Rating: 2.5/5

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Introducing Guest Articles

Greetings, blog perusers.

This blog will now feature "Guest Articles". These are articles, including reviews, that are written by someone other than myself.

If you have an idea for an article, send me it at

Please note that my computer does not support Microsoft Word, so either put the text in the email, or send a Google Doc.

Dragon Age 2 Guest Review

This guest review was written by Dan Jones.

Dragon Age 2 is the sequel to Dragon Age: Orgins, a classic swords and elves fantasy RPG, which before playing Origins I used to say “HA, what kind of a nerd plays fantasy RPGs?”, but after several playthroughs of Origins I excepted and embraced my status as a nerd. And Dragon Age 2 is no different. It’s a game designed to bring out your inner nerd.

Dragon Age 2 starts a during the start of Origins, the army of Fereldan(aka Medieval Britain) had been destroyed by the evil darkspawn at Ostagar. You play as Hawke (you get to choose your first name), guiding your family from Lothering, a small village near Ostagar which has just been attacked. You flee to Kirkwall, a city state in the Free Marches which somewhat resembles Medieval Germany, yet the majority of people sound English. So, you are in Kirkwall and what surprised me is the lack of over arching threat. In other fantasy games, some evil Beast of Gamgaroth or something has risen and you must go on a quest to defeat it. In DA2, the first major quest when you reach Kirkwall is to make money, and lots of it for an expedition into the Deep Roads. However you soon realise that Kirkwall is a powder keg of conflict just waiting to go off. There’s the Qunari, a group of horned giant warriors who hate society and act like emo teenagers, who are trapped in the city. Oh and the Chantry(Catholic Church) hates them. There’s also the mages and their Templar overlords that are at edge largly due to the fact that the Templer leader isn’t a very nice person. There isn’t any kind of major goal, until the game kicks it up a notch and everything comes tumbling down.

Now, the combat. A lot of people say that the combat means that DA2 should be PC exclusive, and I tell those people that the Maker will spit on them, and immediately go back to chopping people in half with rather large swords. I usually play as a warrior, decked out with a two handed weapon. I like the combat, the warrior class can be a little underpowered against big bosses, the rogue goes down quicker than Didier Drogba and the mage is just way overpowered but at the end of the fight, when you’ve won you get this sense of satisfaction that you don’t normally get in games like Call of Duty. And Dragon Age 2 isn’t shy with showing off blood, guts and gore either.

The environment is brilliant, Kirkwall is a beautifully rendered city but it’s outside the city, in the dungeons of the Free Marches the problems lie. The game can become repetitive in the recycled dungeons with enemies spawning in the same areas all the time. However, the characters are brilliant. From the hairy chested dwarf Varric to mage hating emo elf Fenris, Dragon Age 2 features a range of brilliant characters. With a whole new speech system that gives you more fun and makes the characters much deeper than in Origins. For example I romanced pirate tart Isabella, but there’s a lot more to her character than meets the eye. The same goes for most major characters.

The fact is that Dragon Age 2 is a brilliant game that I have no doubt will go from strength to strength with DLC releases. With an ending that screams Dragon Age 3 is a reality to its glorious fantasy rooftops , this is one game, and one franchise that you definitely shouldn’t miss.

Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection Review

The release of Mortal Kombat earlier this year probably created a lot of fans of the series. It was a wise move on the part of its developer, NetherRealm Studios, then, to release Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection for the Xbox Live Arcade and PSN, so that fans of the series can see what the series was like in the 20th century by playing the first three games. Are they any good? It's a mixed bag.

As mentioned, Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection is a bundle of the first three Mortal Kombat games, available for download for 800 MS Points, or £6.29 on the PSN Store. Each game features online play, both friendly and ranked, complete with online leaderboards so you can compare your killing power to that of people worldwide.

Other than online play, pretty much nothing has been changed from the original versions. The graphics are tolerable, with nice-looking (for the 90's) character animations and backgrounds. Blood splatters around stages as characters brawl against one another. It's not as violent as the 2011 version (as you may have already seen in its Top 10 list), but there's still plenty of action to be seen.

The sound, on the other hand, isn't so high-quality. It doesn't seem impossible to have improved the sound quality since the games were originally released, but, at times, the quality of the sound is really low, especially in the first Mortal Kombat.

Gameplay-wise, the games are the same as almost every other non-puzzle game in the series. You select a character, then progress through a series of fights against increasingly difficult fighters, eventually battling the main enemy at the end of each game. Each character has a number of special moves, and, of course, a signature finishing move, known as a fatality. Most of these fatalities are brutal ways of vanquishing an opponent which are quite entertaining to watch. In the second and third games, the number of fatalities and special moves increases for each character, eventually including Animalities, Friendships, and Babalities, with Mortal Kombat III giving each character up to 6 fatalities available.

Unfortunately, the increased choice offered in Mortal Kombat III is largely wasted. At the end of each fight, the player only has approximately two seconds during which to perform a fatality, and the match often ends before one can be performed. Furthermore, the game fails to recognise button inputs unless they are done extremely specifically, making performing fatalities in Mortal Kombat III virtually impossible.

Other than that, Mortal Kombat III is still a lot of fun to play, and features a number of unlockable characters to increase the game's longevity. Mortal Kombat is arguably the most fun of the three, despite having the fewest fighters and signature moves, due to its responsiveness to the controls and reasonable difficulty curve. Opponents do become highly challenging towards the end of Mortal Kombat, but the difficulty increases gradually.

Mortal Kombat II, on the other hand, is different. This game is almost completely broken, with a ridiculous difficulty curve that makes finishing the game unreasonably difficult. From around the second fight, opponents become incredibly difficult to defeat, using unbelievable combos and destroying anything in their path. Unless you possess savant-like abilities beyond those of Dustin Hoffman's character in the movie Rain Man, it's inadvisable to attempt Mortal Kombat II if you want your controller to remain intact.

To wrap up, Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection is three games: one good, one decent, and one terrible. There's multiplayer for each one, online and local, and the games have decent graphics with low-quality sound. Even only playing two of the three games should last a decent amount of time, and at quite a low price, Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection is a decent deal. It's not as good as the Mortal Kombat game released in April 2011, but it's pretty good nonetheless.

Rating: 3/5

Poker Night at the Inventory Review

As crossovers go, Poker Night at the Inventory is a strange one. The game is available on Steam, and consists of an invisible, player-controlled protagonist playing poker against four characters: Max from the Sam and Max series, The Heavy from Team Fortress 2, Strong Bad from the Homestar Runner web series, and Tycho from the gaming webcomic Penny Arcade. The game is set in the titular Inventory, a secret underground club. That's as complicated as the story gets.

Like the story, the gameplay does not feature very much depth, unfortunately. The only poker game is available is Texas Hold 'Em, and so the gameplay does get somewhat repetitive very quickly. It is possible to unlock new card decks and designs for the poker table, as well as weapons for Team Fortress 2 based on the characters in the game, including Max's handgun and Tycho's watch, the latter of which can be used as a cloaking the device for The Spy in Team Fortress 2.

Arguably the best thing about Poker Night at the Inventory is its humour. Each character has many lines of funny dialogue, and it's fun to listen to exchanges between characters as they play poker. These are, at times, lauh-out-loud funny, but also repeat themselves after a while.

The game can be downloaded for the low price of £3.25, so it is good value. If you like playing poker and are looking for a poker experience beyond the generic games that can be found in an internet browser, the game comes recommended. It's also a good idea to buy this game if you want some new Team Fortress 2 items (though none of them are tradeable), but it won't last more than a few hours or so before the limited gameplay variation starts to grate somewhat. It's good value, but if you don't care about any of the series in which the characters star, and you're not looking for new Team Fortress 2 weapons, it may be a good idea to look for a free poker game online and save your money.

Rating 3.5/5

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Top 10 Most Violent Fatalities in Mortal Kombat

It's no surprise that the latest addition to the Mortal Kombat series, creatively named Mortal Kombat, is an extremely violent game. The series has always been well-known for its brutal finishing moves, or "fatalities", and this game is no different.

With that in mind, let's watch the 10 most violent fatalities in the new Mortal Kombat. Be forwarned though: these videos are not for the faint-hearted.

10. Kintaro - Reverse Rip

Yes, that is the least violent move on this list. Four-armed Kintaro actually rips off the arms of his opponent, then rips off their head. Then, for aparently ro reason other than to anger the people at the ESRB, Kintaro rips his fallen enemy's head into pieces. In slow-motion.

9. Baraka - Take a Spin

It goes without saying that any character with blades protruding from his arms is going to have some pretty violent attacks. Rather than stabbing his enemy and leaving the fight there, Baraka picks them up and spins them around, causing their limbs to fly off. Pretty creative, actually.

8. Kenshi - Split Ends

It's clear from the thumbnail of that character's bisected corpse that Kenshi is a damn good fighter. Clearly, he decides that merely cleaving his opponent in half is not badass enough, and decides to do it in style by throwing them at the sword.

7. Kung Lao - Razor's Edge

Kung Lao, one of the series' protagonists, may be a nice guy, but make fun of his hat at your own peril. Based on this fatality, it seems Kung Lao has been taking inspiration from videos by The Lonely Island, throwing his hat on the GROUND!

6. Ermac - Mind Over Splatter

Ermac's battle cry of "We are many, you are but one" seems to no longer apply after this fatality, as Ermac uses his his telekinetic powers to rip his opponent to pieces.

5. Goro - Limb and Body Rip

Ah, the Limb and Body Rip - it does exactly what it says on the tin. Like Kintaro, Goro violently rips his opponent to pieces, then unnecessarily rips their corpse up in slow motion. I suppose anyone who has four arms and Herculean strength is going to want to make the most of their abilities.

4. Baraka - Up the Middle
Once again, Baraka makes creative use of his blades as he delivers a truly brutal fatality. Arguably, it's the sound effect towards the end whch really move this fatality from "gruesome" to "now you're just trying to get the game banned".

4. Shao Kahn - Fore

Nice and simple, this fatality. Basically, Shao Kahn throws his opponent into the air, then, with a swing of a hammer, repaints the area a colour known in painter's circles as "Entrails Red".

3. Kintaro - Quad Rip
That thumbnail pretty much summarises this fatality. The sad thing is, Kintaro wasn't even trying to kill his opponent - that's just his version of a handshake.

2. Noob - Make a Wish

I know what Lu Kang's wish would be in ths video - not to be slowly torn in half by Noob and watch his guts fall out of his body. Unfortunately, this wish doesn't come true.

1. Shao Kahn - Double Down

When you see someone who wears a skull for a helmet, don't mess with him. This is made abundantly clear through this fatality, as Shao Kahn rips his opponent in half from the inside, all in glorious slow-motion.

So, there you have it. Next time someone stubs their toe and starts complaining about it, point them to this article so they can see that things could be much worse.

LA Noire Review

As you will no doubt know if you’ve been a member of the gaming community for the last few years or so, the mainstream media has a constant habit of using games as a target for criticism and wild accusations. No-one knows this better than the people at Rockstar Games, whose popular Grand Theft Auto series is accused constantly of warping players’ minds and turning them all into deranged serial killers after an hour of gameplay, to the point that a person can’t bump into someone in the street in the US without FOX News linking it to the fact that it was outside a shop selling a game by Rockstar anymore.
Consider the irony, then, of LA Noire, a game by developers Rockstar and Team Bondi, wherein you play as patrolman-turned-detective Cole Phelps as he fights to rid the streets of all forms of crime and criminality. Of course, what with the game being set in 1940’s California, there’s still a degree of racism and sexism, particularly on the part of Phelps’ partner Roy Earle, to keep the media jackals happy.
The gameplay differs somewhat from previous Rockstar titles such as Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption, in that, while the game world is a huge, wide-open sandbox, in this case the town of Los Angeles, hence the title, there’s an emphasis on investigation and interrogation, making the game feel somewhat like a more mature, dynamic version of the Ace Attorney series, without the psychic readings and ghosts stabbing people. The gameplay is nicely varied, including investigation, interrogation, cover-based shooting, car chases and fist-fights, all split up between five different areas of the police force.
In the investigation sections, the player controls Phelps as he examines a crime scene, looking for clues, which is done quite intuitively: when Phelps approaches certain objects, the controller will vibrate and the player may press a button to pick up the object and examine it in more detail. Not all objects are relevant, however, which prevents these sections from becoming too easy. There are also options to turn off certain things, including the aforementioned controller vibration, to make them even more of a challenge. These sections are fun for the most part, but occasionally become frustrating when the game won’t let you progress because you haven’t notice an insignificant piece of paper somewhere in the corner of the room.
Interrogation sequences are also fun; these involve questioning suspects or witnesses for more information to aid you in the case. The player selects a line of questioning, and the person responds. The player may then choose to either believe them, accuse them of lying, or present evidence to the contrary. This is where LA Noire’s new face-tracking feature comes into play - the player can examine the facial movements of the character to determine whether they are lying or telling the truth. This is a great new feature and really makes the interrogation sequences rely on skill rather than simply guesswork. Unfortunately, when a character is lying it can sometimes be incredibly easy to tell, as characters shift around and their eyes dart around the room.
The interrogation and investigation sequences affect the direction of the case: depending on how successful the player was when questioning a suspect, the gameplay and story seen in the rest of the case can change. In some cases, the game asks the player to choose between two possible suspects based on clues and information gathered earlier on. However, no matter how badly the player does in these section, it is impossible to fail the case as a result of them, and even in the two cases where the player must decide for themselves who committed the crime, in both cases it turns out to be someone else entirely, as revealed later on.
These sections are broken up by traditional Rockstar action sequences, most frequently fast-paced cover-based shooting, as well as car chases and fist-fights with suspects. These are highly entertaining, but, with some exceptions, such as having to chase a criminal recklessly commandeering a carriage full of civilians, these sections don’t really have a lot of variety within them - the fist-fights in particular are pretty much the same every time. Then again, the individual sections themselves are all different, and never really stop being fun - it’s just that once you’ve punched one murderer in the face, you’ve punched them all.
Unlike the aforementioned interrogation and investigation sequences, the action sequences are possible to fail. However, like in Nintendo games like Super Mario Galaxy 2, if you fail too many times, it’s possible to skip them. However, I don’t recommend this, as most of them, including a memorable sequence where the player is chased by a man in a bulldozer, are a lot of fun.

So, the gameplay, while not perfect, is a lot of fun and is varied enough to keep the player going for the 25 or so hours it take to complete the game, but what about the the story?
As mentioned earlier, the game takes place in 1940’s Los Angeles. The protagonist is detective Cole Phelps, a straight-talking, by-the-books cop who seems determined to make the world a better place. For around the first half of the game, he seems like quite a one-dimensional character, one who hates criminals and is sympathetic towards everyone else - at least until he erupts with rage when a widow can’t remember the exact condition of her late husband’s glasses. Through the second half of the game, though, it is revealed that there is more to him than is initially apparent, and he has a pretty dark past. I don’t wish to spoil the story, but if you’re not a little shocked by any of the later flashbacks to Phelps’ army career, you must be made of rock.
Throughout the game, Phelps interacts with many characters, changing from partner to partner as he moves through different departments of the police. Most of these partners are likable, and provide plenty of banter to keep the player entertained as they drive to their next objective. Like Phelps, they have their own narrative arcs, and more about them is learned throughout the course of the game, including their histories and attitudes towards Phelps.
The story is brilliantly written for the most part, but can sometime get slightly difficult to follow, particularly in the final cases. Furthermore, while the developers have successfully made the majority of characters believable and realistic, mostly avoiding making criminals commit crimes just for the sake of being evil, one part did annoy me. If you wish to avoid spoilers, feel free to skip ahead, but for a while during the game, a series of similar murders are committed. At the end of each case, the last person to have been arrested turns out not to be the killer after all, despite often having piles of evidence to show that they did it. At the end of this storyline, the real killer is revealed. I’m not going to reveal his or her identity here, but absolutely no motive is gven for why they did what they did, and this story arc ends very disappointingly. It really is a shame a shame after spending around 4 cases trying to catch them to have it end in such a way.

Having said that, the rest of the game is extremely well-written, with a number of twists and turns making it comparable to an incredibly long crime movie. If you want a good story, this is the game for you.

The soundtrack is of a good quality, building drama and pace at key points in the game, as well as some old-timey songs on the radio of cars. This helps to build the atmosphere and immersion of the game effectively.
In summary, while LA Noire is not perfect, the story is top-notch, and the gameplay is entertaining and varied. If you’re looking for an immersive, thrilling and dramatic game that will last for dozens of hours, this game come highly recommended.