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