Thursday, 28 October 2010

Gaming Reviews

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Mercurysteam/Kojima Production/Konami
Available Now - £49.99 (PS2, Xbox 360 (Version Tested))
Review by Blake Harmer

Set in a war ravaged Europe during the middle-ages where vile creatures such as lycanthropes and vampires wreak havoc, the story follows Gabriel Belmont (Robert Carlyle) who is out to avenge the death of his wife Marie at the hands of the dark forces known as the Lords of Shadow. However, when he learns from his ally Zobek (Patrick Stewart) that the Lords of Shadow each contain a piece of the God Mask, a relic that can make the wielder God’s vassal, Gabriel sets out to destroy the lords and purify the world and bring his love back to life.

As reboots to classic franchises go, Lords of Shadow has certainly pulled out of the stops, with its unique magic system and Gabriel’s whip like combat cross, the combat is graceful but devastating as you take on multiple foes at once...think God of War without the other the top deaths and gore and you’re pretty much there. However, it also ups the scale with huge enemies and lush environments that are some of the best seen on a multi-format game. With huge jungles and large mountains that rival Uncharted and colossal monsters that gives God of War titans a run for their money, the new Castlevania has definitely earned it’s place amongst the big boys of gaming. Chuck in a long twisting adventure spanning several hours and you truly have an epic experience.

However, this reboot is not without it’s flaws, it is quite evident that Lords of Shadow has borrowed greatly from God of War for its combat system and general feel, with even the controls being nigh on identical, and Gabriel just isn’t as interesting a character as Kratos or even other competitors such as Dante or Bayonetta. I also found that some of the button combinations were a bit fiddly to pull off in certain circumstances when under the pressure of combating several enemies, although this was only fairly occasional with other sections such as the platforming and puzzling working fine.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics:
Truly astounding graphics with lush backgrounds and huge enemies to destroy.
Sound/Music: Excellent voiceacting and uplifting and emotional music throughout. Truly epic feeling.
Gameplay: A deep third-person action adventure game with lots of meaty combat, some great puzzles and strong platforming to boot.
Lasting Appeal: A huge single player experience with plenty to unlock from revisitng areas to give it more replayability.
Summary: A truly epic reboot to Konami’s twenty-five year-old franchise that makes castlevania a AAA game again thanks to Mercury Steam and Hideo Kojima. Sure, it may not be the most original game out there at the moment, but it certainly pulls off everything to near perfection and definitely one to get if you love your action games like God of War or Bayonetta. 8/10
Scooby Doo and the Spooky Swamp
Torus/Warner Bros.
Available Now - £14.99 (PS2), £29.99 (DS, ii (Version Tested))
Review by Blake Harmer

Scooby Doo and the Spooky Swamp is a double-edged sword of a platform game. For a budget-end Wii title, it has obviously made an attempt to capture the feel of the Scooby Doo cartoons as accurately as possible, and I can happily say that it has achieved that perfectly for its target audience. However, it is because of its target audience that the game has dumbed down, which is a shame as younger gamers shouldn’t be treated in a way that they can only understand basic gaming and that any other game would be “too hard”.

Take the platforming, for example. The controls are pretty simple with the only difference in each of the members of Mystery Inc. being how they attack and what special ability they have for solving puzzles. For example Scooby Doo attacks close up and can fit through small vents, whilst Velma can throw books whilst decoding locks to open doors. The combat is very basic too with only three possible attacks, which includes your primary attack, a ground stomp when you leap in the air, or the ability to pick up a certain object and throw at them, and all bad guys can be killed in one or all of these ways.

However, as mentioned earlier the praise lies in capturing the feel of the show perfectly, the voice acting and sound affects are great, the plot very similar to your average Scooby Doo episode, and the graphics, whilst nothing to shout about, at least capture the cutesy feel of the show, even though the gang are in children form to be more in line with the new TV series. However, the only downside to this is the canned laughter that seems to follow whenever Scooby or Shaggy say anything in the show is also present here. Even if they say the least funny thing you could say about food, the canned laughter is sure to follow.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics:
Sub par with nothing really special to elevate it from other Wii games.
Sound/Music: Good voice acting and accurate sound effects, but did they really have to put the god awful canned laughter from the show in the game?
Gameplay: Basic platforming and adventuring and very simple puzzles and combat, pretty basic all round really.
Lasting Appeal: An incredibly short game with very little to do after completion aside from purchasing more costumes for the Mystery Inc. gang.
Summary: Whilst not a truly terrible game, the basic gameplay will only really attract younger gamers as something to tide them over till Christmas, and at quite a cheap price, you won’t feel cheated by the games brevity. However, if you can tolerate the accurate representation of Scooby Doo’s terrible comedy and canned laughter, then you are better than me. 5/10
Front Mission Evolved
Square Enix
Available Now - £34.99 (PC) & £44.99 (PS3, Xbox 360 (Version Tested))
Review by Blake Harmer

I love battlemechs, from animes like Gundam Wing and Macross through boardgames such as Battletech to video games like Mechwarrior, Zone of the Enders and even obscure games like Ring of Red. I love them. So when I was given the newest Front Mission game I will admit I was quite excited.

So how does the game deserve the title of "evolved"? Well for starters, it has moved on from previous instalments and gone for a more all-out action third person adventure, rather than the usual turn based strategy gameplay from previous games. However, apart from this change, the game hasn’t really stepped the mech-smashing genre forward but rather taken a sidestep.

Take the plot, for instance. When a terrorist attack destroys an orbital elevator, the military is mobilized to eliminate the threat and Dylan Ramsey, a young engineer who witnesses his father die in a battle, finds himself caught in the midst of the battle. This plot is even too clichéd for most animes, let alone video games, and I swear the idea of orbital elevators has been stolen from Gundam Wing, but I may be mistaken.

The combat doesn’t fair much better, the action plays a lot like Xbox classic Mechassault but with a lot more complex upgrading system to build your mech from hundreds of parts. Whilst this upgrading system is a good thing that mech lovers will enjoy, the fact that Mechassault had a similar combat system, is at least eight years old, and has more impressive explosions than this, means that something is wrong here.

However, that’s not to say there isn’t a perfectly functional and enjoyable mech based blast ‘em up here. Sure the graphics are below average when compared to most current generation games, and the plot is quite clichéd and short, but with plenty of customisation on offer, there is plenty here to keep Mech lovers happy whilst they wait for the next big mech game, and definitely not a game that will destroy my love of battlemechs.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics:
Below average graphics with poor explosions and detail, the cutscenes fair better but it still cannot compare to the likes of AAA titles.
Sound/Music: Fairly meaty gunfire and explosions, but the voice acting is pretty dire.
Gameplay: A bog standard mech based game that doesn’t really add anything new to the genre, however, with lots of scope for customising your mech and fast gunplay will keep mech lovers happy.
Lasting Appeal: A very short single player game with a sub-par plot, it’s really the large amount of customisation on offer that will keep fans of mech games coming back to this.
Summary: A disappointing entry in the mech blasting genre, especially as the game doesn’t really deserve the title of evolved. However, this is still a solid game with a deep customisation system for your mechs, so it is definitely worth mech lovers giving this a rental to tide them over to the next big game. 6/10
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2
CyberConnect2/Bandai Namco Games
Available now - £44.99 (PS3, Xbox 360 (Version Tested))
Review by Rob Wade

Naruto Uzumaki has been away from the Hidden Leaf Village for three years, training under the famous Lord Jiraiya. His return to the village should be a tranquil one, but before long he is embroiled in an adventure unlike anything he has ever faced before, and will meet old friends as well as new enemies hell bent on the destruction of the world as they know it…

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is an adventure game, set in the Naruto universe (understandably really). The main body of the game involves brawling in a 3D arena, but between two battles the character can explore the extensive game world as well as carry out side-quests which will usually yield financial rewards, or in some cases some cool items. Sounds like most Japanese role-playing games you’ve played, doesn’t it? Well, prepare to be nonplussed if you’re
expecting the usual fare. It is the usual format in most ways.

That’s not to say that this game isn’t any good; far from it, in fact. The gameplay is really good, particularly the battle scenes. The team-based gameplay (in which your main character can call on a couple of other team members to perform a random attack or defence manoeuvre), works well, although the support characters are sometimes a little confused when performing attacks, not actually going up to the enemy and just doing their move where you called in the support. The attacks themselves for the main character are easy enough to chain together for a good number of hits, and massive damage can be achieved by using the game’s power-up ‘chakra’ to charge attacks effectively.

Graphically, the game looks generally very good. Characters look great moving, and the backdrops are really well crafted, particularly on the 3D battle engine. However, at times the animation looks a little rough around the edges, just from having weakly placed lines around the character models. Some starker contrast may have helped the game’s models to stand out more effectively against the backdrops, but then this contributes heavily to the motion being so good, so maybe it was conscious.

The sound and music are pleasant enough, typical Japanese RPG fare really. The voice acting is very similar to the voice acting on the show, with the same acting cast used for the most part. Ultimately, the game is pretty enjoyable, and certainly an essential purchase for fans of the show. For those new to the series, it’s probably just as good as the series as a jumping on point, as the storyline follows pretty similarly from the anime. Incidentally, if you’re a massive fan, be ready for some story overlap, as the game follows a fair bit of the anime in terms of plot. Other than that, a great purchase.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics: Although it looks a little rough around the edges at times, the game is beautiful in motion, and the backdrops and settings are all well done.
Sound/Music: Some pleasant Japanese RPG style music, amped up during the battle scenes. Voice acting is the same as the TV series, if you like the series you’ll enjoy this.
Gameplay: Essentially a 3D beat-em-up with a Naruto skin, the battles divided with some generally tedious (but short) travelling and item collection.
Lasting Appeal: The game has a single-player campaign of reasonable length, plus the option to battle online as well.
Summary: Not just for the show enthusiasts, and a good jumping-on point for new fans. 7/10
Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light
Square Enix
Available Now - £24.99 (DS)
Review by Brad Harmer

In the small kingdom of Horne, Brandt awakes on the morning of his fourteenth birthday. Today is the day he becomes an adult, and the custom of the realm says that he must go to the castle to present himself to the king.

Yet when he arrives at the castle he finds the kind distraught and the youngest princess missing, abducted by the Witch of the North. With no one else to turn to, the king makes a shocking request: will Brandt save the princess? And thus Brandt's adventure begins...

Wait, I’m a teenage farmboy summoned to the king who then tells me to go and rescue a Princess?

Whilst I’ve never been a huge fan of the Final Fantasy games before I have always loved their storylines. The Final Fantasy series has been one that has pushed narrative in video games harder than most, and to see an instalment reduced to the this hack, clichéd and embarrassingly trite setting seems like a real let down. Anyway, I tried not to let this put me off, and soldiered on.

The learning curve is really steep, and I found myself getting fragged more than a few times before I managed to get past the first quest. This is largely due to them changing the “keep hitting attack and ignoring all the useless shit you collect” engine in favour of one that they don’t really want to have to explain and I could barely learn.

All the “innovation” is bad. It’s either pushing it away from what made it great, or pushing it so far back as to be embarrassing. One for JRPG and Final Fantasy nuts only.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Some fantasy/sword & sorcery type fighting and shenanigans
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A really uninspired addition to the Final Fantasy canon. Any attempt to “innovate” has either made the game that much worse, or simply catapults it backwards by twenty years. 5/10
De Profundis
Second Edition Core Rulebook
Cubicle 7

Available Now - £9.99 (Paperback and PDF Bundle)
Review by Brad Harmer

De Profundis is one of those games that has passed beyond “legendary” and has become “mythical”. For those not in the know, De Profundis is a Lovecraftian horror game, played by post. It is a bizarre half-LARP, half-PBM game, where the players send letters to each other to tell out a story, in character. It’s very free form and, to be honest, as there are no real rules as such, there’s really no need for any sort of rulebook. Thankfully then, De Profundis (Second Edition) skips all that bumpf and acts as a very thematic and well presented “how to” manual.

The book simply oozes theme from the outset and makes you want to set up your own Society (group of players) and get cracking straight away! As I mentioned earlier, don’t expect hardcore rules or anything, but if you’ve ever been curious, then this is a really good overview.

This version makes a good example of how to set up a game, and even how to go about finding over players out there. What’s more, it presents it – appropriately enough – as a series of letters, written to you by a friend, detailing his experiences with De Profundis. It’s immersive, fun and more than a little creepy, exactly like the game should be.

However, by virtue of its weirdness and immersive atmosphere, no matter what the author would have you believe, De Profundis is definitely not for newbies. If you’ve racked up a few years of Call of Cthulhu, then this is probably worth a look. If not, then you should probably pick up some role-playing experience before tackling this one. It’ll be waiting for you... 8/10
Wings of Prey: Wings of Luftwaffe
Gaijin/Iceberg Interactive
Available Now - £14.99 (PC)
Review by Rob Wade

In Wings of the Luftwaffe, the player takes the role of a German pilot and participates in explosive battles over Britain, Sicily, the USSR, Belgium and Germany. From blocking airdromes, to attacking aircraft, to destroying ground targets, the player will fight with honour and bravery for the glory of Germany. These new missions allow virtual pilots to see the war from the enemy's point of view and try out some of the most advanced fighters of the era.

The game expansion provides 10 new missions from the point of view of ‘ze Germans’, with battles such as the Battle of Britain told from the point of view of the Nazis. It’s worth noting, however, that the game requires you to unlock the missions with in-game currency unlocked by playing online. If you’re not into this game in any particular depth, this will require you to become more experienced with the game’s online modes.

In terms of mission selection, the expansion certainly adds some value to the game, with plenty of extra missions and plane skins. Added to that is the already robust suite of online options, as the game now incorporates a 4 player co-op mode. For your money, you could do a lot worse if this sort of game is your bag, and at the price it’s certainly worth going for if this is your sort of thing. However, as with the original game, the problem lies in that if you’re not an enthusiast for this sort of game, you’re unlikely to be swayed by this offering. The game still controls awkwardly with keyboard and mouse, and it’s not worth the investment to kit yourself out with a full flight stick outfit in order to play the game.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating : For fans of the original, who play a fair bit online, this expansion represents great value for money. 8/10

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