Thursday 8 October 2009

Video Game Reviews

EA Sports
Xbox 360 (version tested), PS3, PSP, DS, Wii, PC, PS2
Review by Rob Wade

EA Sports have a tough job, let's be honest. Every year the EA top brass go to them and say "Good work on FIFA 09, now let's REALLY step it up for FIFA 10!" This is a task made all the more difficult by the fact that FIFA 09 was a really strong game, with absolutely bucketloads of features for every type of player. From the Live Season mode, that updated players' real life progress to their in-game stats, all the way to the Be a Pro mode which allowed you to take any player (including a created one) from reserve level all the way to international superstar.

How then do EA Sports add more features to an already robust catalogue? Simple: they don't. Well, they do, but it's complicated.

Let's get straight to the good stuff. This game retains all the things you liked about FIFA 09 in terms of graphics and all that jazz. Most of the features are in the game from the previous version, although some have been tweaked and refined. The Live Season for instance has been augmented to Live Season 2.0. Instead of the stats updating automatically with the real-life results, you're given a chance to have some more fun with the stats. In Live Season 2.0, the entire league's fixtures is downloaded every Wednesday, at which point you can play the same game and see if you can do it better (or worse, as I found to my cost - I'll happily admit I'm still a little crap at this game).
The Be a Pro mode has also been tweaked, allowing you to transfer the character across different game modes, a nice little feature that makes the character more valuable than ever before.

However, the game is by no means perfect. The new controls have been added in to attempt to streamline the game, and for the most part these controls do feel quite good. Despite this, they seem to have left certain things as they were. Granted, the tackling has been improved to the point that you can actually WIN free kicks, something that was decidedly lacking from the previous version. On the other hand, the defenders have been shored up to the point where you're lucky to get into the penalty area at all sometimes. Despite this, I can't say for sure that I'm not just crap at the game, and it does encourage more tactical thinking in some ways.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Presentation/Graphics : The same quality and polish you've come to expect from the FIFA series, with the focus now being on shifting the presentation as close to TV-quality as possible. To EA Sports' credit, they get closer every year.
Sound/Music : The usual commentary from Andy Gray and Martin Tyler. Adds somewhat to the atmosphere, and is progressively less annoying with each passing year. The music, the EA Trax playlist, is enjoyable enough and comes with a similar mix to previous years.
Gameplay : The same FIFA system we've come to know and love, with some minor tweaks to improve the gameplay. Some of them work (the new dribbling system), some don't (the tweaks to the AI and defenders).
Lasting Appeal : There's absolutely loads here to keep you busy. From the normal kickabout all the way to the new improved Live Season mode, the FIFA series always offers value for your money.
Summary : A solid entry in the FIFA franchise, with enough new features to keep you interested until FIFA 11. 8/10

Need for Speed: Shift
EA Games
Xbox 360 (Version tested), PS3, PC, PSP
Review by Rob Wade

When I worked for a major games retailer, there were certain home truths that were inherent in gaming. Stuff made for Playstation 3 at the time would have no more features than the Xbox 360 version, and Need for Speed was for chavs and the Vin Diesel admiring portion of the population.

Imagine my pleasant surprise, then, to play a Need for Speed game that actually turned out to be awesome. From the intro, I had a good feeling about this game, as it seemed to share a lot of similarities (stylistically at least) with Project Gotham Racing which I am a tremendous fan of. My interest generally in racing games is quite casual, so I tend to be into the odd one every year or so that grabs my attention. I think I've found 2009's racing game for me.

Need for Speed Shift allows you to race through a career mode initially, but other features unlock once you've done a few races. As you start the game, you're given a test lap to evaluate your driving game skill and earn some money to buy your first car. Thankfully, I was sufficiently versed in driving games to be able to finish high enough for a half-decent car (and when you consider that a "half-decent" car in this game is a Mazda RX-8, you can't really complain). From there, you compete in time trials and contests of various different skills (drifting, time trials etc) to earn stars to unlock the harder races, earning yourself money along the way for new cars and upgrades.

Let's get to the good stuff. This game looks PHENOMENAL in motion. Even on an SD television, the polish is obvious. The cars look fantastically detailed, and the backdrops are superb. There's a decent amount of detail in the background, but it's nice to see that the framerate doesn't suffer from over-reaching on detail. A lot of effort has clearly gone into making this game run fast and smoothly, and it shows.

That's not to say that the game is completely flawless. I personally found the HUD to be quite congested at times on certain races, and although the developers seem to have made an effort to keep everything sufficiently separate, they don't seem to have taken into account the fact that you drive on both sides depending on what kind of car you're sitting in, as on a right hand drive car you find yourself trying to look in the mirror only to see the track map in the bottom left corner blocking your way.

That being said, doing laps round a Nascar track is AWESOME if your car is fast enough.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics : Absolutely gorgeous car models, as well as fast-moving technically excellent backgrounds. Slick presentation and menus and everything works really well. Driving games are somewhat underrated for their graphics, and doubtlessly this will be no exception. Astounding.
Sound/Music : The standard stuff you'd expect. Some rock songs for the menus, some noises of screeching tyres and engine revs. Nothing to write home about.
Gameplay : Really strong racing, with plenty of options to keep people happy in the vein of the standard driving game fare. Very enjoyable racing, and a sufficient challenge to keep you going (especially if, like me, you aren't so hot at the driving games).
Lasting Appeal : 4 Tiers of racing, with more bits and pieces unlocked as you go along. Plenty here to keep you busy.
Summary : A really strong driving game with absolutely loads to do that's tons of fun. What more do you need? 9/10

"Did the games have an autosave?"
"Yeah, both of them did. It's a fairly common feature."
"Not for me...I AM INFERNAL!"
"Fucking right you are..."

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