Thursday 1 September 2011

Gaming Reviews

Virtua Tennis
Available Now - PC, (Version Tested) PS3, Wii, Xbox 360
Review by Blake Harmer

Virtua Tennis has always been a persistently strong series, but with so many other titles vying for your attention, what sets out Virtua Tennis 4 from the competition? Well, firstly, there is improved graphics, official likenesses and decent graphics. The controls remain simple and arcadey, like the previous games, but that does mean it is easy to pick up and enjoy with friends with little practice, although it is still difficult to master as well. Chuck in an improved online mode which allows you to pick challengers with ease, and a more in-depth career mode, and you have an enjoyable tennis game that will keep fans of the series happy for many hours to come.

These improvements aside, Virtua Tennis still keeps the same arcadey feel and has never truly evolved from previous games. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the franchise is due for a shake-up, and with competition like Top Spin beginning to delivering more realism, Sega should consider upping their game and giving Virtua Tennis a full makeover, like EA did with FIFA. Also, whilst this is a minor gripe, and one that can only be made at the PC version, I found it annoying that the game was obviously built for using a control pad, as at no point did it try to show you the controls using a keyboard interface. On top of this, the manual only shows the control layout using a control pad.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Good likenesses and animations from the players, the stadiums and spectators look good as well.
Sound/Music: Music gets a little frustrating in the menus but the sound effects, crowd noises and commentary are well polished.
Gameplay: More suitable for a pad really, but the controls aren’t too terrible once you get the hang of it. The gameplay sticks to its roots and doesn’t really reinvent itself over previous Virtua Tennis Games. That doesn’t stop it being fun though.
Lasting Appeal: Career mode will keep you entertained with some fairly decent AI, and the new online mode should keep fans of the series playing long enough until the next instalment.
Summary: Whilst still a thoroughly enjoyable game, Virtua Tennis 4 doesn’t bring lots that is new to the franchise and plays it safe by just improving the main modes. Those looking for a Tennis Revolution may be worth looking elsewhere, but fans of Virtua Tennis will find themselves well at home and basking in the fun of it all. 7/10

Pirates of Black Cove
Paradox Interactive/Nitro Games
Available now on PC
Review by Rob Wade

Pirates of Black Cove is a game which doesn’t really have much need for a storyline, but here it is. You mutiny on board a pirate ship (hardly surprising), and begin your journey anew as a pirate crew. You then sail the seven seas increasing your reputation with the various pirate gangs scattered around, in order to do more and more rewarding missions. Playing as a strategy game, with elements of both real-time unit-based combat and ship-to-ship combat, Pirates of Black Cove allows players that little bit more depth than some strategy games.

Indeed, it would have to be said that readers would be forgiven for automatically dismissing this game as a similar title exists, created by Sid Meier and starring pirates. I’ll let you figure the rest out. The simple answer is that although this game bears some resemblance to the classic swashbuckle-fest, this one does enough different stuff to keep you engaged. In fact, in some ways, it’s actually a more engaging experience.

What ways? You may well ask, and I may well answer. In fact, I will, since you’ve been good recently. The story structure, which sees you unite the three pirate factions over the course of the game, is linear enough to keep you engaged, while at the same time offering enough side-missions to keep you feeling that you’re not being shoe-horned into a storyline. On the other hand, the side-missions often do boil down to “travel to island, get onto island, kill all enemies, blow shit up.” Awesome though that is, it does get a little tedious when you do enough of them in a row.

The game looks really good, with the simple cartoonish style working really well for the subject matter. It’s not going to rival things like Crysis 2, but then it’s not trying to, and will still look pretty good on your computer even if you’re not tricked out with top of the range kit. The music’s really good, with a sufficiently piratey theme to amuse the enthusiasts, while at the same time not being annoying despite repetition. Any games developers reading this would do well to take note of this: I cannot stress enough how annoying it is when music is repetitive, as often you will find yourself hearing the same songs over and over again. Keep them simple, I won’t get annoyed. Deal?

Now, the voice acting doesn’t stand up so well. The pirate I played as for the purposes of this review was a guy with an Irish accent, and I could just about swing with that. But then you had a guy (with a typically pirate name which for some reason escapes me) who sounded like an old-time gold prospector. Nevertheless, Pirates of Black Cove may seem like one of those games that catches your peripheral vision and has you not quite curious enough to take a punt, but give it a try and you’ll find there’s plenty to enjoy.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics: Nothing particularly stunning, but it looks good and holds up well.
Sound/Music: Great music, shame the voice acting isn’t as consistent.
Gameplay: Simple, easy to pick up and engaging, but you’ll probably find it’ll only work in short sessions.
Lasting Appeal: There’s a whole lot of sea out there, and a fair bit to do as well.
Summary: 7/10


In this the twenty-fourth edition of his celebrated annual Mammoth Book of Best New SF (its 28th as The Year's Best SF in the United States), award-winning editor Gardner Dozois presents thirty-three of 2010's most outstanding pieces of short science fiction, along with his typically informative notes on each author. Many are the work of award-winning writers, but there are also some surprising newcomers. The collection is prefaced, as ever, by Dozois' 'Summation of 2010 in SF', a review of the year's highlights in publishing and film - including non-fiction, media and awards - obituaries and an insightful look at emerging trends.

Thanks to our friends at Constable & Robinson, we've got five copies of The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 24 to give away! For your chance of winning, send your name and full postal address to before midday on Thursday 8th September, making sure to put "SF 24" as the subject. The first five entries out of the electronic hat after the competition closes will receive a free copy!

Don't forget to put "SF 24" in the subject line. Incorrectly labelled or blank entries will be discarded.

The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 24 is available from Thursday 15th September, courtesy of Constable & Robinson.

Entries limited to one per household. Offer open only to postal addresses in the UK and Ireland.

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