Thursday 25 November 2010

Gaming Reviews

Rock Band 3
Harmonix/EA Games
Available now - £34.99 (Wii), £49.99 (PS3, Xbox 360 (Version Tested)) & £24.99 (DS)
Review by Rob Wade

Casual player? Rock Band 3 has great new party modes for quick rocking sessions with friends. Serious player? A whole new universe of challenges awaits. The revamped Career Mode sets your band on a path to conquer the world, chasing 700+ goals and rewards. Pro Mode takes instrumental gameplay to the next level of sophistication. And seamless leaderboard integration keeps you always aware of how you're stacking up against your friends.

Rock Band 3 sees the same core gameplay experience delivered for the home consoles, with the ability as before to play previous downloadable content from previous games (and the actual disc track lists themselves, generally available for a flat fee), giving you over 2,000 songs to play straightaway if you have the older games in the series. If you haven’t, then those songs are still available using the Rock Band Music Store via Xbox Live or Playstation Network, so lifespan is not really a concern when talking about this game. Besides which, with artists like Queen on the list of songs available on the main disc, it’s not like the quality is lacking.

When it comes to Career Mode, probably the feature I like the best in this edition is the ability to just drop in and out of Career Mode gameplay. This is one of those things that always bugged me about the first game, as my sister and I (the fantastic ‘Cherry Gunrack’ in the absence of any creative inspiration when generating the band name) both worked shift pattern at our jobs, and weren’t able to continue without the other one being there. Plus we were stuck on instruments for the entire duration on the previous ones, whereas now you can choose the instruments song by song and switch out. In terms of making the Career mode more accessible and ultimately adding variety to an already varied game, it’s about the best thing Harmonix could’ve done, and for that I have to tip my hat.

Add to that the ability to save custom set lists and sort through songs more easily, and the navigation of the game is vastly improved in general. The gameplay, it has to be said , is not going to do anything different for people who never got into Rock Band, as ultimately the gameplay core is completely unchanged.

However, if you’re into these games, or even if you’ve never given one a try and just want to give one a go, this is the one. Get this one at all costs. Having played my fair share of music games, from Singstar and Lips even as far as games like Dance Dance Revolution and the new Dance Central for Kinect (which incidentally is pretty scary to watch – a 6’7” white guy with glasses dancing to Bell Biv Devoe’s ‘Poison’), I can say with conviction that this tops them all.

If you still need more convincing that this game has been bulked out significantly, the game now supports up to 7 separate instruments for a band size more along the lines of Less than Jake (though still no sign of trumpet support), and the game has a whole new instrument in the keyboard. As well as this, the game has a new Pro Mode, where you actually play compatible instruments just as you would a real guitar. While some might argue that one should just play guitar rather than this, nobody can really be surprised that this feature has surfaced: the game has been going this way since the beginning, and I suspect that if they could have implemented it into the game before now, they would have.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics: Clear and crisp graphics, but still possesses the same cartoon-like style as the previous iterations.
Sound/Music: All the songs sound great, as they’re generally the master tracks.
Gameplay: The same great Rock Band experience, with some welcome additions, particularly to the Career mode.
Lasting Appeal: With the ability to play over 2,000 songs out of the box, this game has absolutely epic lifespan.
Summary: Without a doubt, the best music game I have ever played. Stitch that, Parappa the Rapper! 10/10
The Sims 3
EA Games
Available Now - £29.99 (DS), £34.99 (Wii), £49.99 (Xbox 360 (Version Tested), PS3) – Also available on PC/Mac
Review by Rob Wade

Create Sims with unique personalities, fulfill their desires, and control their lives within a living neighborhood. Unlock all-new Karma Powers and unleash them on your Sims: help your Sim "get lucky," bless them with "instant beauty" or curse them with an "epic fail." But use these powers wisely, because they may have unexpected results! Design and build your Sims' dream home and share your creations with others. As you guide your Sims through life you can complete challenges to unlock additional items, town upgrades, and new buildings and landmarks. For the first time ever, upload and download content from your game, including furnishings, houses, player creations, and more!

As quite the keen player of many different versions of The Sims both on PC and console, one of the things that made me sceptical about this release of the newest addition to the franchise was simply that the console versions either didn’t work at all or had to be completely re-engineered in a way that was usually bizarre and just didn’t need to be done. I remember well the time I was playing as a hotel owner who fought crime as ‘The Raticator’, a giant rat, in his spare time and thinking “fucking hell, I could be playing Professor Layton right about now.”

Worry not, by the way, I traded in that copy of The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and did indeed invest in the puzzle-solving classic. It’s a strange quirk of mine that I can’t seem to justify to myself buying a game with trade in credit on any console other than the platform that the trade-in games were on, so DS games are traded in for other DS games and so on. Strange, and frustrating when buying games for my Xbox 360, as I’m somewhat of a hoarder on that console. I even still have my copy of Infernal: Hell’s Vengeance, a game so bad that the game and I occasionally discuss other bad games in a fictional dialogue in my head, our most recent exchange printed Here, during my review of Ninja Blade.

When it came to The Sims 3, the main worry I had was how it would control, as the keyboard and mouse controls of the PC version are superb and get the job done very effectively. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to find that actually, the console version handles really well. Though it takes a bit of getting used to the location of certain commands, and the menu system is a little differently laid out, once you get over those hurdles the game handles really easily.

One new feature that is somewhat exclusive to the console versions is the addition of 'Karma Powers', powers that can be unlocked by completing certain challenges in-game. These can range extensively, from good ones like 'fill the needs of one Sim instantly' to negative ones like 'rain fire and brimstone down upon the house of one Sim'. The latter, it won't surprise you to know, is a lot more fun, but a lot less viable long-term if you keep inflicting it upon your Sim. The powers themselves, however, feel a little tacked on, and don't really add anything to the gameplay over the entire run, only really serving to randomly shake up what is presumably becoming boring (because let's face it, if everything's going well, you don't deliberately rain down fire upon your own Sim unless you're stuck for something to do).

One problem I noticed however, when it comes to performance, is that the game has quite a high number of loading screens and has to load each area of the town separately, a complete departure from the PC version where the entire city is loaded simultaneously. Obviously, this is done to handle the limitations of the console versions over the PC version, but this presents a slight issue in that you spend a lot longer waiting for things to load up when your Sim does anything so remote as going to work or even socialising. The game even has a loading screen that says something to the effect of “Want this to run better? Install it on the console” (true in the case of the Xbox 360 version, anyway – I imagine the installation is automatic on the PS3, as with every cocking game I’ve played on mine so far). The problem I have with this is that simply put, you shouldn’t have to install a console game for it to load reasonably quickly. If you’re one of the few readers who have an Xbox 360 Arcade (whether that’s the 512MB storage model, the 4GB model or whatever), it’s worth noting that this game will chug at times.

Apart from that, there’s very little else that needs to be said. If you like this type of game on PC, then this is the closest version I’ve seen to the PC game both in terms of controls and the variety of options available. Of course, this game has achievements/trophies on the Xbox 360/PS3 versions respectively, which may be a draw for some players, as they’re not impossible to attain without too much trouble. However, if you’re not into this sort of game, there’s not much new here: it’s the same quality of game that it’s always been.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics: The usual quality of graphics you’d expect from this series, nothing stellar there.
Sound/Music: The same sound effects and music that you’d expect from the previous iterations.
Gameplay: Solid, but a little stop-start until you get used to the controls, and even then there’s issues, most notably on performance without installation.
Lasting Appeal: The same sort of level as the PC games, if you like this sort of game you’ll end up spending hours playing it.
Summary: A strong conversion, and one to pick up if this sort of game is what you’ve been waiting for since the PC version came out. 8/10
LEGO Universe
LEGO/NetDevil/Warner Bros.
Available Now - £PC
Review by Blake Harmer

Whilst I will admit I am not an avid online gamer, and that my previous forays into the realms of MMORPG have left me feeling disappointed, as I consider them mostly a waste of money. So when top games like World Of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XI have failed to lure me in, I will admit I felt a little bit sorry for LEGO Universe. But has it been able to convert me to the fact that online gaming is the true way?

Just to be extra confusing, I’m afraid the answer to this question is both "yes" and "no". The game’s biggest benefit has to be that; like previous LEGO games such as Harry Potter, Batman, Star Wars and Indianna Jones; Universe has a similar exploring, fighting and building feel. However, Universe benefits by allowing you to build items brick by brick and even assign behaviours to your objects to give them life. This gives the game a powerful creation tool and allows you to create lots of different things. Sure it may not be as powerful as the likes of Little Big Planet on the PS3, but it is also a damn sight easier to use as well.

You also get the choice of four different groups (or "Guilds" as most RPG players would put it), depending on your preferred style of gaming. Be it fighting bad guys, building objects, exploring or being a bad guy and destroying stuff. LEGO Universe allows you to do it all.

Granted there is a lot of fun here "for all the family" but there were some flaws with the game that didn’t truly convert me to the way of the MMORPG. Firstly, I found the camera to be very fiddly at the times and it likes to zoom in too much when in combat so you can’t see what you’re doing very easily. Also, I found that with prolonged play you can complete most of the games challenges in a couple of days, which is worrying considering this is a MMORPG and should have thousands of hours of stuff to do here. However, this flaw can be fixed with added content, not to mention the large amount of fun you can have just building.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Fairly standard as far as most LEGO games are concerned.
Sound/Music: Playful sound effects and noises. The music can be a bit annoying after awhile though
Gameplay: An enjoyable MMORPG for younger gamers that has something to cater for all tastes. At this point there really isn’t enough here to entice hardcore gamers though.
Lasting Appeal: A pleasant distraction for the most part, but hardcore gamers will polish most of the quests in a short period of time. The building element will keep most entertained for a long time.
Summary: At the end of the day though, this is definitely for families and younger gamers who want an experience of their first MMORPG, and to this extent the game succeeds. However, this is not a game for hardcore gamers due to the lack of stuff to do at present, and with monthly fees applying like a lot of MMORPGS, the game’s success does come down to whether the parents wish to pay the fees so their kid can be glued to the PC every night (again, if there is enough here for people to keep them playing for that long). 6/10

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