Thursday 9 September 2010

Gaming Reviews

Madden NFL 11
Available Now - £49.99 (PS3 & Xbox 360)
Review by Blake Harmer

So here I am, a British citizen with only a basic knowledge of American Football from bits I have seen on the telly and Brad’s article explaining it to me in the best possible way. I decided to sit down and tackle the latest American Football title from EA Sports most famous franchise: Madden 11. And surprisingly, this British citizen actually liked it, even though this may be because I have also played a lot of Blood Bowl in my youth.

Firstly as a newcomer, I enjoyed the games newest feature, which is the game flow system, which helps you to choose the best play whilst not being completely infallible. This means that as gained more experience I you will found yourself wanting to make my own choice of play more often than what it suggested, but this just goes to show that the game wishes to grow with you if you are new to the franchise. Secondly, I liked the simple dual stick controls that have become the norm in a lot of EA Sports games, as this made it easy to barge my way through the defensive whilst using the games excellent animations to determine whether it would be better to pass when my character is looking like he is going to go down.

However, the game does have a few flaws. The commentary has flowing problems which makes it sound disjointed although not as bad as a PES game. Also, I found it a lot easier to play offensive rather than defensively, not that it was so one sided it broke the game, but it just felt less challenging as if the game was slightly in favour of the offensive player. Finally, I noticed that the campaign mode, whilst in depth didn’t look overly impressive like FIFA or NHL which makes me think that it may have been overlooked in this year's game in favour of the more simplified control scheme to hook in new players. Whilst this is not technically a bad thing, more hardcore NFL lovers may feel disappointed with this.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Excellent animations and TV style presentation makes everything feel authentic. Graphics in the cutscenes are really good as well, especially with the Superbowl victories, and replays look great too.
Sound/Music: Good crowd sounds but the commentary is disjointed.
Gameplay: Simple controls and the new Gameflow system makes this accessible for newbies whilst being in depth enough to keep everyone happy.
Lasting Appeal: All in all, an enjoyable American Football game that encourages newer or more mainstream gamers into the franchise, and to this end it succeeds. However, I feel that if you are a more hardcore gamer or life-long fan of American Football, you may want to give this year's game a miss and stick with Madden 10. 7/10
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
Square Enix
Available from 10th September - £29.99 (PSP) & £34.99 (PSP Special Edition)
Review by Blake Harmer

What with the cutesy nature of JRPGS, it is not surprising that Kingdom Hearts, the love child of Square Enix and Disney, is such a successful franchise. Acting as a prequel to the other Kingdom Hearts games, ...Birth by Sleep centres around three characters, Aqua, Terra and Ventus, who are training to become Keyblade masters and prove that they display the mark of mastery. However, they soon find themselves amidst a crisis affecting worlds other than their own (namely other Disney universes) when another keymaster, master Xehanort goes mysteriously missing and monsters known as the unversed begin to appear.

This PSP only outing, like Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, has enough going for it to be treated as a separate entry into the series rather than just a handheld spin-off. Firstly, the story is well told and tells you the story from each of the character’s perspectives, so you only get the full story after completing each of the character’s campaigns. Secondly, it has an excellent combat system, aside from Kingdom Hearts’ usual mix of real time action and Final Fantasy-esque command system for special attacks, you also have the ability to create a D-Link with other characters and use their attacks as well. Also, if you fight in a certain way you can change your attack stance to do even more damage and charge up a "limit break" style attack. It is these different methods of dispatching your enemies that keep the gaming fresh.

However, despite this, the game does have its flaws. The camera can be a bit fiddly at times when the action starts to heat up, and having to fight wave after wave of unversed can become a bit repetitive when you are trying to move from one section to the next. I also found that the loading times were incredibly long, although this can be rectified if you install it to your memory stick or PSPGo hard drive. However, when you are using your magical powers and swordsmanship to solve quests such as helping Cinderella getting dressed, or waking Snow White from her death sleep by handing the queen’s arse to her, you’ll probably forget about these faults and just enjoy the ride.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Lovely graphics that use the full potential of the PSP’s specifications. But what else would you expect from Square-Enix.
Sound/Music: Some good sound effects and thematic music depending on what world you are in, this music may grate though if you get stuck in a particular world for too long though,
Gameplay: An enjoyable mix of real time action with strategic RPG elements, this is the best combat system to grace the franchise yet.
Lasting Appeal: Plenty of worlds, and with three different characters to play through, this RPG will keep you thoroughly entertained for many hours to come.
Summary: A strong entry into the franchise as well as being a great handheld game altogether. A must for fans of Kingdom Hearts and action RPG’s alike. However, if you’re looking for a more strategic or bloodthirsty RPG, the cuteness and fast pace may put you off. Not to mention the continuous fighting of the same types of baddies as you move through the game. 8/10
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Disney Game Studios
Available Now - £19.99 (DS)
Review by Rob Wade

In The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, you play alongside Balthazar Blake (which has to go into the annals of history as one of the stupidest names anyone’s ever given a character) in his quest to defeat the evil witch Morgana and restore order to the magical world. Players navigate a top-down 3D world using the buttons to move and the stylus to cast an array of magical spells.

Let’s get to the good stuff first. The game’s music is good, with developers really getting to grips with what the DS can and cannot do, leading to some good quality music that isn’t over-ambitious in its attempts. The sound effects, too, are not grating or annoying despite the repetition. Unfortunately, that would be my one word review for this game: Repetitive.

The graphics, while fine, can’t really be said to push the DS’ capabilities, and the colour scheme is unmistakably kid-friendly (hardly surprising considering the subject matter, but nonetheless making it more obvious than it needs to be who the target market is).

Most damningly of all, as stated above, the game is criminally repetitive and confusing to boot. Half the time I couldn’t work out how I was supposed to work certain spells which appeared on my main screen. Considering that this screen was on the touch screen, you’d think that it would be simple enough to map it to a button and have it explained it properly to you at some point in the game. Even more confusingly, half the time in the game’s challenge mode (which you go through to upgrade powers, though the effects aren’t at all obvious in practical gameplay), you meet monsters that you have no magical counter for, simply because you’ve not faced them in story mode yet. Does that make no sense to anyone else?

The gameplay though is sadly just not engaging enough to keep a player going, and the idea of replay value is more or less null and void.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics: Meh. That’s all I can describe them as.
Sound/Music: Not bad, at least they didn’t cock them up by making them too ambitious.
Gameplay: Bland, uninspired top-down 3D dungeon crawling essentially.
Lasting Appeal: I can’t see how anyone would want to play this more than once.
Summary: For fans of the film who have to own absolutely everything licensed. Otherwise avoid. 4/10
Hackmaster Basic
Hackmaster Core Rulebook
Kenzer & Co.

Available Now - £13.02 (PDF) & £13.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

You know what the world needs? More tabletop RPGs with a fantasy/sword & sorcery setting.

Oh, no, wait. That’s the one thing that the hobby doesn't need. We’ve got them coming out of our earholes. The gaming world is very much saturated with Dungeons & Dragons knock-offs, and if you’re going to try and sell another fantasy RPG, you need either a licensed product, or something that’s really bringing something different to the table.

HackMaster falls greatly short of this challenge. Despite all its claims that it’s something different, it’s really not. The character classes are ones you get everywhere else. The skills are the same. Everything is the bloody same.

The rulebook itself is, for all this, actually pretty endearing. There is a very nice sense of humour that adds a real levity missing in most RPG rulebooks. There are few things in this world that make me piss myself laughing more than a night spent playing an RPG with my group (The Dengar Appreciation Society), yet the games themselves are always so heavy. On reading the rulebook for HackMaster it’s nice to feel that you not the only one who finds these things fun.

Ultimately, HackMaster is trying to fill a gap in the market that doesn’t exist. It’s a shame, as there’s a lot of fun to be had here with the right group. If you find Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer Fantasy or any of the other fantasy games too heavy or bland, then this could be worth trying out. If you’re happy with your fantasy system of choice, however, there’s no need to switch. 5/10
3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars
Core Rulebook
Box Ninja/Cubicle Seven

Available Now – £6.51 (PDF) & £9.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

We like military sci-fi round these parts, and there can be no denying that the cap’ troopers of 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars wear their influences on their little Weyland-Yutani sleeves. The setting itself is cool enough, but you could easily dress this into a Starship Troopers/Aliens/Terminator: Salvation style dice-‘em-up with very little effort. That’s not a bad thing, you understand. A lot of people buy “generic” games to do that.

3:16... is, for all its Paul Verhoeven overtones, a role-players role-playing game. The fact that the two main stats are “Fighting Ability” and “Non-Fighting Abililty” (ie. literally anything else that isn’t fighting) would seems to send the message that role-playing takes a back seat to roll-playing. Nothing could be further from the truth. The main crux of the game is taking the minimal stimulus and running a story with it.

Characters can win or fail by playing “Flashbacks” which require a player to present a brief narrative from their past, which is pretty tricky. Newbies to the hobby would certainly be intimidated by this, but if you take your hobby seriously (ie. You’re not in The Dengar Appreciation Society), you can fall in love with this game easily.

The rulebook itself is clearly laid out, but I’m not a big fan of the landscape orientation. I find them pain in the arse to look things up in. Maybe that’s just me, though.

Definitely not for beginner’s, but definitely worth having a flick-though. If you’re serious about role playing, and the genre appeals...tuck in. 8/10


A terrible disease is striking everyone over the age of fourteen.

Death walks the streets.

Nowhere is safe.

Maxie, Blue and the rest of the Holloway crew aren't the only kids trying to escape the ferocious adults who prey on them. Jack and Ed are best friends, but their battle to stay alive tests their friendship to the limit as they go on the run with a mismatched group of other kids - nerds, fighters, misfits. And one adult. Greg, a butcher, who claims he's immune to the disease. They must work together if they want to make it in this terrifying new world. But as a fresh disaster threatens to overwhelm London, they realize they won't all survive

Thanks to our friends at Penguin Books, we've got three copies of Charlie Higson's The Dead to give away! For your chance of winning, send in your name and postal address to before midday on Thursday 16th September. The first three names pulled out of the electronic hat will win a copy each!

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