Thursday, 13 January 2011

Gaming Reviews

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Ubisoft
Available Now £49.99 (Playstation 3, Xbox 360), Available from 25th March on PC (£TBC)
Review by Rob Wade

Live and breathe as Ezio, a legendary Master Assassin, in his enduring struggle against the powerful Templar Order. He must journey into Italy's greatest city, Rome, center of power, greed and corruption to strike at the heart of the enemy. Defeating the corrupt tyrants entrenched there will require not only strength, but leadership, as Ezio commands an entire Brotherhood who will rally to his side. Only by working together can the Assassins defeat their mortal enemies. And for the first time, introducing a never-before-seen multiplayer layer that allows you to choose from a wide range of unique characters, each with their own signature weapons and assassination techniques, and match your skills against other players from around the world.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood sees you once again playing as Ezio Auditore from the second game, and sees you this time in the city of Rome, which apparently was teased heavily at the end of the second game. As someone who skipped the second game, purely on the grounds that I had tons of other stuff to play, I was interested to see how much progress had been made since the first game, which for the enjoyment of open world game mechanics (of which I’m a big fan) suffered from some repetitive game mechanics, as well as ‘meh’ combat.

Thankfully, the developers have made some significant strides in improving the game experience for fans of Assassin’s Creed while at the same time keeping the core gameplay the same. The game still contains all the free-roaming delights fans have come to expect, but significant tidying efforts have been made to make the game more streamlined. The game world is now deeper, but for the better, with the ability to use currency in-game to buy new items as well as renovate buildings for additional income which arrives at your bank periodically. Think Assassin’s Creed with some elements of Mafia Wars thrown in, and you’re along the right lines.

The gameplay is much the same in terms of interface as previous games, but there are some nice touches that I particularly liked. For instance, you now have the ability to loot the bodies of dead guards, and sell items that you find for additional money. Combat has also been dramatically increased from the first game, with the counters working much more effectively, and allowing you to string together some awesome and visceral kill combos.

There are some issues, however, which stopped me getting totally immersed completely in the experience. Despite the refinements to the combat, the AI at times can still be a little strange. For instance, at one point I was on a rooftop fighting with someone, and was victorious. For a bit of mischievous fun, I decided to throw the corpse of the guard off the roof onto the crowd below, in the hopes that it would at least give me a laugh. Now, I was stood there for a few minutes, and not once did it result in any sort of investigation. At the very least, I’d expect them to have looked up!

This isn’t the only little niggle I found with the game. Despite the improvements to the combat controls, the free roaming still feels a little fiddly at times, with the jumping having to be pin-point accurate at times when grabbing ledges. The camera can also be a little dodgy at times, meaning that I found myself darting backwards and forwards at times when the perspective suddenly shifted.

All in all though, the game is very enjoyable, and there’s a certain grim satisfaction in stabbing someone through the face with your hidden blade. Fans of the series should definitely pick this one up. For those new to the franchise, the completist in me wants to say pick up the first one, but there is a story recap at the beginning of this game which brings in the main elements of the story.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics: Very crisp and smooth, with some big lush landscapes in the background. The character models could look a little better in cut-scenes though, if I had to find something to critique.
Sound/Music: Some really nice music and sound effects, the sword sounds being particularly satisfying.
Gameplay: Much better than what you’ve come to expect from Assassin’s Creed, but with a few of the little niggling problems that have plagued the series since day one.
Lasting Appeal: Fifteen hours or so of Campaign, plus multiplayer, so a fair bit.
Summary: A vast improvement over previous games in the series, and definitely worth a purchase if you’ve been a fan up until now. If you’re new to the series however, probably best to start with the first one, since there are some storyline elements. 8/10
Sins of a Solar Empire
Focus Multimedia/Kalypso Media
Available Now - £9.99 (PC)
Review by Rob Wade

Assume ultimate control over one of three galactic powers: an ancient civilization running from a terror of their own creation, a loose coalition of traders forced to annex their own people, or an exiled empire of powerful psionics bent on revenge. Through diplomacy, economic skill, cultural influence, strategic brilliance and sheer military might, their fate is in your hands.

I’ve always loved space: Space is amazing. From Star Wars to Mass Effect, space occupies pride of place in my favourites of all time in pretty much any media. When a game comes along, therefore, that promises space strategy on an epic scale, it’s enough to pique my interest. Sins of a Solar Empire is one that’s been on my radar for a while, but regrettably one that had hitherto passed me by purely on time constraints. It turns out my concerns about having enough time to play it were well founded in the best possible way.

Sins of a Solar Empire is one of the biggest-scale games I have ever played. From the first time I played the game, I was blown away by the amount of detail in the game. Even in the first tutorial (which to give you an idea was one of about seven and still took me fifteen minutes or so to get through), the game has a tremendous amount of detail for a first tutorial. Make no mistake, this game will keep you busy.

The gameplay is really good and easy to get to grips with, a welcome feature considering the volume of information available in the game. Graphically, it’s ever so slightly rough around the edges, but I’m fairly confident that this can be remedied with a better spec PC than my antiquated (though awesome for its time) desktop rig. Sound and music are cool, a kind of Babylon 5/Battlestar Galactica style music.

A caveat, however: there is an absolute fuckton of content to this game. If you’re looking for something to add into a collection of several games you play for a small amount at a time, this may take you an eternity to explore in depth. However, if you can only buy the odd game, and you’re a big space fan, this is possibly the best investment you could make.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics: Massive space maps, with a tremendous amount of detail once you zoom in. A little rough around the edges, but still impressive for its time.
Sound/Music: Nice sci-fi style music.
Gameplay: Space strategy of the highest quality, with so much detail and yet really easy to get into.
Lasting Appeal: Three races to choose from, and a ton of content to play through as well as the ability to play custom scenarios as with other games of the genre.
Summary: This is ultimately a great game if you’ve got nothing else to play, and a sound investment at the price. However, if you’re into your PC gaming and already have a fair few to play, maybe look at something a little lighter. 8/10

LITTLE, BROWN BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS TO HOST AN INTIMATE GATHERING OF TWILIGHT FANS FROM AROUND THE WORLD TO MEET STEPHENIE MEYER

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, a division of Hachette Book Group, will host a special International Fan Event, featuring Twilight fans from around the world. Ten fans will be chosen to have an once-in-a-lifetime intimate meeting with the author of the bestselling series, Stephenie Meyer to coincide with the upcoming release of The Twilight Saga: The Official Illustrated Guide.

Little, Brown US is partnering with The Twilight Saga publishers around the globe to find the lucky Twilight fans who will attend this event. Each special guest will receive an advance copy of The Official Illustrated Guide and get to talk extensively with Meyer, who will answer their Twilight-related questions.

“The one thing I miss most about my first book tour was the chance I had then to spend quality time with my readers,” said Meyer. “At an event with just ten or twenty people, I was able to get to know everyone a little bit. I could also more effectively answer each person’s questions. I’m so excited to have that opportunity again, and to get to spend time with fans from many different places and backgrounds.”

Fans will be invited to upload a short video clip explaining why they are the ultimate Twilight fan. Finalists from Australia, India, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK will go on to a final judging round, from which the ultimate Twilight fan will be picked.

For further details on how to enter, visit www.stepheniemeyer.co.uk

The Twilight Saga: The Official Illustrated Guide will provide readers with exclusive new material and everything they need to further explore the unforgettable world Stephenie Meyer created in Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn and The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner. The Guide also includes character profiles, outtakes, a conversation with Meyer, genealogical charts, maps, extensive cross-references, and much more. The Twilight Saga: The Official Illustrated Guide will include illustrations from several artists, including Young Kim, the illustrator behind the #1 New York Times bestselling Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1.

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