When the Kinect launched it was fair to say that only titles published by Microsoft Game Studios got any attention for the first few weeks at least. Even today the Kinect market is dominated by the studio that created it, except for perhaps a few titles such as Child of Eden. One of the launch titles, and in my opinion the best one due to my two left feet and inability to be good at Dance Central, is Kinect Sports. This game instantly proved to me why the Kinect is better than the Wii and Move by taking a formula used multiple times on the Wii especially and improving it tenfold.
The moment Konami decided to port Sports Island Freedom from the Wii to a motion version on the Kinect it was going to be tough. Going from not even the best Wii Sporting game to coming up against the best motion sports game I've played would be hard. It is safe to say that while this certainly isn't the best or even the worst sports title (MotionSports takes that title), there are just so many issues dragging the experience down. When the frustration from the menu builds up before getting into the main game then you can just tell it wasn't going to be an overly pleasant experience.
Sports Island Freedom isn't a bad game to look at. The developers have gone for a very similar graphical style to Kinect Sports with Xbox Live Avatars and a cartoon world making up the entire game. With more sports available it is nice to see that every sport has a unique location to play in and a fair amount of detail has been put into the background of each. A nice and colouful palette makes up for the obvious lack of effects that add to the overall experience.
One disappointing area is the animations of the avatars. Not only do they not look good at all, the representation of your movements is poorly copied and often leads to frustration when the controls punish you for not making pinpoint movements. The fact that the game fails to expertly read your movements and doesn't allow for this in the game means the fun sporting feeling to this title is diminished. The menus are also poorly presented and provide the ultimate level of frustration as a terrible design layout refuses to make getting into any game easy.
There is minimal and basic sound effects for all sports as well as a nice soundtrack in the menus. Nothing spectacular is made of the music and will leave a bit to be desired with nothing but your stock standard sound effects. The overall conclusion consumers will feel just by looking and listening to Sports Island Freedom is the lack of fine detail and effort put into making this the best game possible. The package feels rushed and not enough work has been put into nice animations or faster response time. Even the lack of a better menu system shows how rushed this job was.
The one big advantage Sports Island Freedom has over Kinect Sports is choice. The game boasts an impressive selection of ten activities: tennis, beach volleyball, boxing, kendo, dodgeball, paintball, figure skating, mogul skiing, snowboard cross and archery. This is compared to only six sports (counting Track & Field as a single sport) in Kinect Sports. Having the choice should let Sports Island Freedom be competitive in the market, but the issues that plague every single sport just leave too much to be desired. The lag is simply terrible and makes games such as dodgeball unplayable due to the avatar not reacting quickly to your own movements. Other games are made easy such as again Dodgeball with automatic lock on when throwing, yet Paintball takes a FPS approach and has no lock on, making trying to hit anyone frustrating and nigh on impossible. The balance is out of whack and the game suffers greatly for it.
For those who are able to cope with the lag and frustrating gameplay, there is quite a bit to complete in the game. Apart from the single events there is also championships and other trophies to win by completing events that require you to play every sport or a variety of them. These do provide a bit of replay value, but the irritating menus and general frustration that I can't seem to remove when playing Sports Island Freedom doesn't give you the motivation to continue going. There is multiplayer but it is basically an idle mode as no one plays it and you will almost find it impossible to get into a game unless you and some friends organise to have a party night playing Sports Island Freedom. There are better Kinect games out there though..
The potential in this title is there and perhaps a sequel could fix up the issues that are simply ruining what could challenge Kinect Sports. Even if they only added one or two new sports yet fixed up all the issues that inhabit the current events, this would be a solid title. Being one of the first titles out it showed some promise but definitely gave all studios an idea of what to do to make a good Kinect title. Clean, crisp menus that are easy to navigate are vital, as are responsive controls that minimise as much lag as possible. It was disappointing to see this title fall into the disregard bin, but hopefully the developers don't give up and put out a sequel which can hopefully resolve some issues of Sports Island Freedom!
Graphics - 5.5/10
Sound - 4.5/10
Gameplay - 2.5/10
Overall - 4/10
Saturday, August 20, 2011
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Hey guys, THQ have just dropped the latest trailer for their upcoming smash hit Saints Row: The Third. Check it out below, I simply can't wait for this game!
The Saints may have owned Stilwater, but Steelport belongs to the Syndicate. As the Saints begin their takeover, nothing bigger stands in their way than Killbane. As a professional wrestler, he dominated, earning the name The Walking Apocalypse after ending the career of Angel De La Muerte, his former tag-team partner. But the ring wasn’t big enough for Killbane, and he helped create the fiercest gang in the Syndicate, the Luchadores, ‘roided-out wrestlers with a stranglehold on the Steelport weapons trade. Now, Angel has teamed with the Saints, and together they’ll take on Killbane once and for all, both in the ring and in the streets, in a battle royale that will leave Steelport shaking.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
The original Rush'N Attack was always one of my favorite Konami games from the 80s, one that could easily sit alongside many of their other classics, such as Castlevania and Contra. Not surprisingly, Konami's been pretty busy releasing updates to these and many other of their most venerated gems, and it was only a matter of time before the classic Cold War thriller joined the fun. Rush'N Attack: Ex-Patriot from Vatra Games tries to bring back the feeling of the classic arcade/NES game by way of recent HD recreations by mixing mixing updated visuals with a familiar 2D perspective and gameplay tweaks similar to recent updates like Bionic Command Rearmed (the first one) or Shadow Complex. Unfortunately, this is one update that doesn't begin to compare with either of those two, let along the action-packed greatness of the original.
For a game running on the Unreal Engine, the HD remastering of the game has some positives as well as negatives to add to the overall package. The game does look quite nice when zoomed out, with some pretty cool locations and as you would expect from a game boasting the Unreal Engine, explosions and finer details generally do look very nice in action. However, the sidescrolling action just doesn't look good with the background they have chosen for basically the entire story. It seems as if this has been shot in a location that is foggy 24/7 which does nothing more than distort the image a bit. It doesn't look good and it doesn't affect the game in any which way. I wish they just went for a cleaner, crisper image and did away with the 'retro flair' they have tried to keep in the game. Sure, keep it as a 2-D Side scroller, but please use the Unreal Engine to it's full potential.
The soundtrack is flat out mundane and leaves no lasting impression on the player. A good soundtrack can easily be recalled after playing the game, but when I picture Rush'N Attack all I see is a game with shocking voice acting. They are just poorly done and the cut scenes it appears in are also shocking. Zooming in to conversations or fights just doesn't do the graphics any favours. During the game you will get the stock standard grunting everytime the main character kills someone or just up onto something. Rush'N Attack just isn't a pretty game and the music and graphics are leading the way in proving the point. An overly poor presented game.
The original Rush’N Attack was a pretty simplistic game, it was essentially your basic side scroller and was trying to follow the trend of successful games of its era. Its sequel adds some layers of complexity, particularly more advanced levels and a focus on stealth. Most of the game will have you darting down hallways and exploring the nooks and crannies of the game areas. To accomplish your goals, you’ll often have to seek out switches that will eliminate roadblocks as such to reach the real level objectives. While sneaking about you’ll run into plenty of Russian guards, which you aren’t necessarily required to defeat, but it’s easier to kill them and get them out of your way.
Like the original game, you are armed only with a knife, but you can now hide in various preordained locations to eliminate guards from the shadows and avoid involvement in close quarters combat. the execution of stealth here is pointless for a number of reasons. The places where you can hide are predetermined which completely wrecks the process of stealth as the game is set around almost forcing you into these doorways or spots automatically. Stealth movements are always exactly the same, you sit in darkness and wait for a guard to approach before popping out and killing him with ease. These parts of the game do seem quite cool to start with and the combat is definitely one of the highlights out of this package. If it all put together with a complete game, there is a lot of potential for success but other areas are holding it back.
The movement of the main character as well the enemies in the game is often slow and sluggish, just missing that instant rush of silkiness that people who are jumping across huge gaps require. Being a platformer you are expected to make some pretty daring moves and you should have a character with the physical attributes to match. While it doesn't directly ruin the game, that coupled with some average controls makes parts of the game frustratingly difficult. Bosses are also in the same category as they manage to pin you in one area and kill you just a little too easy.
Rush'N Attack: Ex-Patriot could've been a great return to one of Konami's most underappreciated classic, but is misses the mark completely thanks to poor controls, cheap enemy AI, and visuals that actually detract from the gameplay, despite using the lauded Unreal Engine. There's also no co-op action or online multiplayer whatsoever, another unfortunate blemish considering even the original supported 2-player simultaneously. While some hardcore fans may appreciate the game's shift from pure side-scrolling action to Metroidvania-style exploring and leveling, and may even consider the lackluster combat a bonus challenge, most will probably want to get their updated retro-fix from superior reissues such as Capcom's first Bionic Commando Rearmed or Epic's own Shadow Complex.
Graphics - 5/10
Sound - 3/10
Gameplay - 5/10
Overall - 4.5/10
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Ghostbusters: The Video Game was a great use of that franchises license that delivered a great Gears of War clone. Sanctum of Slime is supposed to be a sequel to the that game but it's connection is minimized to just the Ghostbusters theme on the title screen. What it could be compared to is a broken down twin stick shooter slightly reminiscent of any stock standard dual stick shooter. Game play takes you from one room to another in a predetermined path, almost always locking the door and forcing you to kill off a few waves of ghosts before moving on. This formula is bland and the game simply does not deviate far enough away from it to make this even a mildly amusing title to play. I played this once and died on the 3rd level and really had to will myself back into exactly the same scenario.
Since Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime is presented in a top-down perspective, one would expect the graphics to be detailed given the amount of content that could be presented on screen. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here. The colors appear dull and uninspiring. In particular, the ghosts lack a crisp, glowing appearance and instead appear to be transparent and grainy. This game definitely doesn't seem like a HD title and rather something that is a direct port from an older console. Having ghosts and the oppurtunity of utilising some awesome guns could have given the developers a nice incentive to some excellent graphics to do this game justice. Instead all that has happened is your average graphics that don't even give the title a chance to shine if the gameplay held its own.
As for the musical score, it’s your typical instrumental soundtrack that attempts to add to the spooky atmosphere. Conveniently enough, it actually doesn’t seem to be repetitive or annoying mainly because it’s muffled. Even the sound effects seem to be lacking some degree of clarity. There are the occasional echoes from the ghosts, but they fail to add that needed element of creepiness. Being a Ghostbusters game I was expecting some of the classic music from the movies. I was disappointed with the overall offering, it is poorly presented and doesn't offer the wow factor that should accompany a solid title.
Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime takes place in New York City, where ghosts are terrorizing its residents, and it’s up to the Ghostbusters to save the day. You, alongside three CPU players or friends either offline or online, must defend the city against these ghastly beings. Everyone has an energy bar and if yours is depleted, you will need to be revived by your fellow players. Quicker kills in succession result in the multiplier increasing for earning cash faster. Strangely, the cash won’t actually let you buy upgrades or weapons, but instead is recorded on the leaderboards for bragging rights. You’ll actually acquire additional weapons by going through the levels. These guns are colour co-ordinated and a particular coloured gun can only kill ghosts of that colour. The ability to successful rotate between the guns does offer a bit of strategy to the game but mainly just adds more frustration onto what should either aim to be a fully fledged shooter or a simple yet fun dual stick shooter.
The real problem with this game is that it doesn't really know what it wants to be. At times it is playing like your genuine dual stick shooter with power-ups to collect such as invincibility and health bonuses but then you might jump into a level where you are on a truck shooting ghosts that come along. There is nothing to draw you into the game and even fans of a particular genre of game won't be pleased with the entire package here. There are 11 missions to complete but about halfway through you start visiting the same areas again. That is, if you can will yourself to get this far through the game. The game is hard and you will die before finishing it for the first time. If you die you go back to the beginning which can be demoralising for many. If the game was fun I wouldn't mind the challenge of fighting past your best, but this Ghostbusters just doesn't manage that.
Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime is a very average title that just doesn't offer any reason what so ever to invest your time and money into it. Poor soundtrack and effects, below par graphics and a frustrating game that can't even keep it original for the entire game leads a lot to be desired from this dual stick shooter. In a world full of dual stick shooters, this title will simply fall to the back of the shelf and honestly, that is where it should stay. I don't recommend this game to anyone unless you are truly in need of a dual stick shooter that you can play with 3 other friends.
Graphics - 3.5/10
Sound - 3/10
Gameplay - 4/10
Overall - 3.5/10
Monday, August 15, 2011
One of my favourite and most played games of all time has to be the $0.99 iPhone hit, Fruit Ninja. The game takes the simple, mundane activity of slicing fruit like an absolute boss and brilliantly transfers it to an on the go item that can be played in 60 second bursts. From the fairly bare bones launch product to the massive success featuring achievements and three game modes, it was only time before it came to the Kinect. Touch control gaming is the step down from motion controls and there are many games that are perfect for flailing your arms around with. Fruit Ninja is the first of I assume many titles and does a great job to finally show off some of the true potential for what is now a monthly arcade Kinect addition. The full game is back in this nearly identical port of the game, as well as new challenges and leaderboards which are now made easily to check your scores against all your Xbox Live friends. These Winter of Arcade titles in the past have always been about chilling out and enjoying some arcade fun, Fruit Ninja Kinect has gotten me up off the couch and excercising when the weather outside has thought otherwise. That alone is probably the best thing about this title, let alone the fact that we get to act like real life ninjas!
If you have played the original, there isn't much different to expect from this title. The background to the game is always a wood pattern and it depends on which background you wish to have at the time. These backgrounds are unlocked as you complete certain tasks and milestones within the game. One of the only additions to the game is yourself as a shadow in the background. The one part of the game they had to change was how it was played as fingers just wouldn't suffice anymore. Putting the player in the background as something that your eyes will phase over is a great idea and works really well. The other customizable area of Fruit Ninja Kinect is the colour and effect on the swipes. These range from musical notes to a fluro coloured stream of light and are really cool parts brought over from the iPhone version. Again these are unlocked the same way as backgrounds.
The music in the game attempts to bring a zen-like atmosphere to the game. While it is nice in the menus, it barely adds anything to the title and is one of the poorer elements of the game. iPhone games don't need that knockout soundtrack as half the time you will be playing them in silence on a tram or bus, more effort definitely needed to be added into a fully fledged arcade title. This is the first title to move from the quality we expect of a $0.99 title to one that should be selling for $10-$20 and I'm sure future developers will learn from this. The menus have also translated poorly to this version of Fruit Ninja. The icons seem to close together and the swiping action from the iPhone version just isn't as precise or simple to use. More thought, especially in the dojo and challenges section also needed to be used by the developers.
Fruit Ninja is made up of three main modes of classic, zen and arcade mode. Classic mode is essentially lasting as long as possible without missing three pieces of fruit or hitting a bomb which will automatically end the game. After a while this is the only mode which presents a challenge as you can genuinely attempt to go for a massive high score and beat your friends. This mode starts off slow yet gradually increases in difficulty and speed of the fruit until inevitably lose as the mode can't be beaten. Zen Mode gives you 90 seconds to get a high score without any bombs or lives to worry about. This mode is fun especially for new comers to the game who want to get the basics of the slicing downpact before moving onto avoiding items. Making combos is the key in this mode to a good high score. Finally the newest and most addicting mode, arcade is basically identical to zen mode except they have thrown in bombs which take away points and special bananas that can either freeze, double points or unleash a frenzy of fruit. This is my favourite mode in the game as the special bananas really add something unique to the slicing formula. I was a bit disappointed to see no true multiplayer mode or even a Kinect-exclusive mode to sink my teeth into.
Fruit Ninja Kinect controls quite nicely with the jump to motion controls. The game definitely doesn't feel as smooth or natural as a finger on an iOS device and the lag from slices will get on your nerves to start with. After probably half an hour of gametime I really felt myself getting into a slicing groove with a new tactic to slice fruit and reaching high scores that were near the ones I spent countless hours getting on my iPhone. The challenges and dojo items are always fun to collect, but the real issue with Fruit Ninja Kinect is any reason to keep coming back to the game. The iPhone version works because you can whip it out when your bored and play for 90 seconds. If you have that amount of time at home there is no point even starting up the Xbox and an online game of COD will probably come before an arcade round of Fruit Ninja Kinect. If they want to make this a must have Kinect title I feel like it needs some sort of battle mode or at least constant updates to make sure I continually return to it. While I love Fruit Ninja, some new to the game might not see the investment in a game you can seemingly finish within 5 minutes.
The approach Microsoft is taking with a continual roll out of Arcade Kinect titles to make that $200 purchase seem worthwhile is a great approach. Fruit Ninja Kinect is a respectable for title even though it falls down in some areas that haven't been translated too well from the iPhone version to the big screen. While I expect more iPhone titles to be released, this is still a valant attempt and I am glad to have the chance to flail my arms like a health ninja. Fans of the original will still find plenty of fun in this game and those who want to see other ways to utilise their Kinect should also give this game a go for the cheap Summer of Arcade price of 800 Microsoft Points. Slice away my students!
Graphics - 8.5/10
Sound - 6/10
Gameplay - 7/10
Overall - 7.5/10
Saturday, August 13, 2011
One of the greatest XBLA titles of all time is the hilarious platformer 'Splosion Man. While Halo is seen as the trademark character of the Xbox, 'Splosion Man would be the closest we have to a definitive trademark of the Xbox Live Arcade. When Twisted Pixel announced a sequel to 'Splosion Man the intrigue started and I wondered how they would make the game worthy of the 'Splosion Man name without seeming like a simple sequel that added nothing to the original formula. Thankfully Ms. 'Splosion Man has taken the one button game to the next level, adding new features and turning the multiplayer into a 4-player co-operative mode, up from the 2-player mode from the original. Beautiful visuals and hilarious movements and sound from Ms. 'Splosion Man herself makes for one of the best games I have ever played on the Xbox 360. The sheer brilliance of this title turns something that is actually quite difficult and possibly frustrating into an addicting experience of sploding joy.
I absolutely loved the original games art style to pieces and this one is seemingly similar. The game takes Ms. 'Splosion Man around an arrangement of areas that have distinct backgrounds as well as many different platform styles that you will come across during the course of the game. While ultimately the areas you come across are the same, you won't notice it at all because they are cool and interesting areas full of scientists and other dangerous items to splode. The real graphical improvement comes with everything Ms. 'Splosion Man interacts with. In the original game everything would splode in an orange explosion of fun, while in the sequel the pink explosions had a new dimension to the game. Sploding scientists now doesn't just cut them up into many pieces, it can throw them at you where they hit the TV screen and slowly slide downwards. This is just one of the little variations which has mixed up the awesomeness of this game and taken it one step further. The menu of the game had also changed, with the level screen of the game now turned into a world screen that reminds me of the Super Mario days. While it doesn't work as good as hoped, the change is certainly positive in switching from the stock standard menus we experience today.
Twisted Pixel managed to take the process of killing countless scientists and made it fun and as something that is encouraged due to the immaculate sound effects. As the character explodes, the action doesn't sound deadly such as an explosion in your standard fighting game but instead as a positive and entertaining process. This sound effect along with the cool soundtrack that would have you bobbing your head along to made up the majority of the previous game. In Ms. 'Splosion Man more of an emphasis has been put on the main characters sound effects than ever before. It is hard to go more than a minute without a funny reference to the 90's. When you fail a section too many times and have to skip past it, you receive a fat ass on Ms. 'Splosion Man. The song that goes along with you after this is absolutely hilarious and will have you in fits as it is one of the best original scores to be in gaming to date. Twisted Pixel has made a hilarious game that is one simply not to be passed up.
Too many things in life are made more difficult than necessary. The same can be said for quite a few XBLA titles that feel the need to assign a pointless task to every button on the controller. Twisted Pixel knows that not every gamer is smart enough to play a game without having the instruction manual next to them to remember every move (UFC Undisputed I'm looking at you). That is why Ms. 'Splosion Man is one of the simplest and best control schemes on the market. All that is required is the left thumb stick to move the character and any one of A,B,X,Y as your button to splode. Anyone can pick up Ms. 'Splosion Man and play, something that an arcade title should be able to deliver with no learning curve.
The aim of Ms. 'Splosion Man is to get from the start of the level to the end in the shortest amount of time. To do this you will have to splode your way past obstacles while battling a number of enemies as well as traps that will do their best to kill you. The variation between objects that you come across keeps the game fresh and even the simple tasks of sploding from wall to wall appears often, you will never get bored by this game. From the massive boss levels that appear right from level 1 to the secret exits you can find which inadvertently give you secret levels to complete, there is so much to do here. After the lengthy single player there is a co-operative mode which can be played with up to 4 players adding to the thinking and planning involved in getting past stages. This mode is excellent because it brings a whole new set of levels as well as providing an online aspect to the title.
New features brought to this sequel include a marketplace that lets you choose your rewards as you progress through the game. Each level you beat will reward you with coins, which in turn can be used to unlock stuff such as avatar items and gamer themes in the order of your choosing. You can also unlock a cool mode that lets you play co-op while playing as two Ms. 'Splosion Man characters at once. I like the idea of this and it has been integrated into the game nicely. The other things added to the game are new objects to use along your travels in the game, including lines of light which you can latch onto while flying through the air. The games difficulty has also increased which means you will die more, but finishing a level will also prove more rewarding. I'm personally glad they didn't make the game easy as that would simply ruin the experience of the trial and error style of gameplay.
Ms. 'Splosion Man and her hilarious movements and sayings have delivered Twisted Pixel a worthy sequel of the great 'Splosion Man. New gameplay elements as well as an increased number of players allowed into co-op has allowed the game to develop into one of the premier titles on XBLA. There is just simply never a dull moment when playing through this title and despite the constant dieing you will never get frustrated and feel the urge to give up on Ms. 'Splosion Man. Simply put, this is one of the must have arcade titles of the year and does well to contend with even some of the better retail releases. Non-stop sploding action is certainly back at it's best.
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9.5/10
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Overall - 9.5/10
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Red Faction: Battlegrounds is a top-down arena combat game with very few noticeable links to the Red Faction franchise. I was excited to take a trip back to Mars, detonate some heavy explosives, and admire the new man-made craters dotting the landscape. I was surprised when I booted up Battlegrounds and found it to be a car combat game. It’s set on Mars, and some of the vehicles are somewhat familiar, but here the similarities end. Of course, distance from a set formula isn’t enough to make a game bad, and indeed, Battlegrounds isn’t awful. It is, however, rather mediocre, and it gets dull very quickly. The single player campaign is short and is basically bare of any story plot and multiplayer is a bit of fun but has absolutely nothing to keep you coming back after more than a game or two. The quality of content you are paying for isn't justified by this Red Faction spin-off.
While my initials impressions of Red Faction: Battlegrounds was that it looked like a nice game, the bland and mostly repetitive visuals began to grow old on me. The colour palette used in the game is just slammed full of orange, most likely inspired by being on Mars. Sadly the game doesn't pull this off though as there isn't enough variation between the landscape and the vehicles, explosions or even the menu screens. The visuals provide additional frustration as the overhead camera occasionally makes it difficult to tell where ramps are to higher levels or even if you are on an elevated platform. Worse, when the camera pulls back it becomes extremely difficult to discern where your vehicle is. The most enjoyable visuals in the game come during large explosions, most often caused by the detonation of environmental objects. These explosions had potential to make for spectacular explosions as you destroyed enemies. Sadly though you couldn't even tell if your enemy was destroyed until the smoke from the explosion cleared, making the game slightly frustrating. Between that odd font/color choice and the on-screen chaos, it’s often hard to tell what’s going on.
The soundtrack is mostly made up of a series of drumbeats, which may have been intended to fit the alien setting of the game. The tracks do complement the action quite nicely, until a few minutes in, when you stop noticing them and actually can't hear them over the new range of explosions which constantly couple the aciton in the game. The explosions accompanying the visuals do sound pretty cool but it does follow the same formula of repetition as the rest of the game. There is only so long that you can go around hearing the same car and explosion sounds without music before it gets irritating.
As there is no story to get you invested into this Red Faction story, Battlegrounds throws you into a set of training exercises, which make up the entire single-player segment of the game. Across different levels, and using different vehicles, you play four different game modes: Speed Trial, Survival, Annihilate and Shooting Range. These modes involve collecting flags, surviving an enemy assault, killing enemies in a set amount of time, and destroying targets that spawn around the level. The aim of these excercises is to complete the modes in a set amount of time or score to gain medals and in turn earning XP which lets you unlock vehicles for the multiplayer mode in this title. Bizarrely, the training missions in the single player mode are completely different to the multiplayer modes, which is the only other section of this game. I can't see why they would be called training excercises when you aren't using the skills you are specificaly training for.
There are 9 maps which are used in both the single player and multi player. Apart from two of the maps which I felt were well balanced and set out for the game style, the rest seemed clogged up with items and ramps that just confused the whole experience. When you enter a game you should be able to know whats going on, but the confusing nature of the maps meant that you would struggle to understand where stuff is. The camera doesn't allow for an accurate look at what is on one level and what is raised off the ground, adding more frustration. The multiplayer mode is pretty fun and the ability to play again other people is certainly better than against the computer opponents in the single player. The game controls are simple, working like a dual stick shooter but the grinding nature of XP coupled with a lack of content keeps it from being fun.
Sadly Red Faction: Battlegrounds doesn't do the Red Faction brand justice. It is confusing why they didn't just release this title an a new small IP which probably would have reflected better on the game. There just isn't enough content in the single player and a multiplayer mode that has little correlation to the whole 'Training Missions' set-up you need to play before it. While it isn't a bad looking or sounding game, it falls into the category of having too much of the same and nothing to stand out of the pack in an area where dual stick games are common place. Unless you are craving an arcade car deathmatch style game, there isn't much reason to invest your time or money in this.
Graphics - 5.5/10
Sound - 5/10
Gameplay - 4/10
Overall - 5/10
Monday, August 8, 2011
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is the latest title from Xbox's Winter of Arcade promotion. This game is a very unique title that puts you in command of a small creature in a space ship who must save his planet from an impending darkness which has taken over all areas of the game. The eerie environment reminds me of last years hit arcade title Limbo, with the brilliant contrasting colour schemes of a black foreground and coloured background to really highlight the action in the game. Saying that, this isn't much of an action game and is more about exploring all the many nooks and crannys in the Shadow Planet as you find items and destroy spectacular bosses on your way to saving the planet. This beautiful game manages to slow down everything and gives you time to appreciate everything that is going on. The stunningly exquisite game style works in a world now cluttered with explosions on screen every 5 seconds.
The direction the developers have chosen to go with the graphics is simply outstanding. You constantly find yourself gazing off into the distance of this alien world as the constant change of scenery is always shrouded by the looming darkness in the foreground. The living, moving, mostly deadly surrounds which create the path for the levels looks brilliant and creating such alien features out of solid black is an excellent move. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet draws the gamer in, constantly grabbing at them as if it was the darkness trying to suck in any form of life. The simplistic approach even falls onto your flying saucer which is also black to easily distinguish what in the game can affect you and what can't. The winding mazes are interesting and unique, you will never come across even slightly identical areas twice. The creations in this game, especially the massive bosses what dominate the screen in all of their dark glory, are a spectacular to withhold and make Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet one of the special games I've played this year.
The mysterious landscape is coupled with an equally mysterious soundtrack that perfectly delivers the sensation of loneliness. The world isn't one full of life and noise. Apart from the occasional growls of bosses, the world is full of beeps from the spaceship and ambient, almost eerie sound effects. A less is best approach works wonders for the game in delivering a solid atmosphere that doesn't give away what is around the corner. Playing through the game the sense that you are the only one left on the planet really kicks in as you travel for long periods of time with nothing expect your own noise to grace your eardrums. The sound design is amazing and perfectly captures the feel of the graphics.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet will be familiar to anyone who has had previous experience with Metroidvania and other games will love the adventurous style of this title. Shadow Planet is a large map that can't all be unlocked at once. The aim is to travel around the huge level finding upgrades for your ship and gear that will unlocked previously blocked areas. Exploration to find these items is the key to the game and the puzzles you have to solve with minimal instructions give you a sense of achievement once you have accomplished them. Apart from the actual environment that needs to be manipulated and sometimes attacked to get past areas, there are boss creatures which will appear at certain areas of the game. These are a lot of fun and really mixes up the gameplay after flying around the map for a while.
There are lots of cool gadgets that you can find for your spaceships including a claw to drag items and a gun to shoot back the many black things that will try to thwart your mission. The strategic approach to the many different objects in the game means that only certain items will defeat a specific object. This mixes the game up and stops you going from start to finish with only a single gadget. The disappointing thing about this game is that it isn't a long game, taking only 4-5 hours to finish the main game and little bit more to visit all the areas of the map that you hadn't previously visited. For a game that was so much fun and offered a lot of intrigue, I was a bit disheartened to see it end so quickly.
There is also a four player multiplayer game called Lantern Run where the aim of it is to carry a lantern as far as possible while avoiding the darkness which is rolling in behind you. The game is done on randomly generated caves and is a fun side scrolling ride that will have you and your friends panicking as the lantern accidentally gets stuck on a rock. This mode doesn't offer too much replayability over the full game however.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is a super title that really conveys the feeling of loneliness and provides some quiet moments in gaming which are far too rare for my liking. The adventuring side of the story is a lot of fun and the boss fights are simply crazy at times. For a game based on exploration, the length of the game is a bit too short for my liking, but it makes up for it with the wicked art style that never ceases to amaze me with all its contrasting beauty. If your looking for something a bit out of the ordinary then this is definitely the title to get, just don't expect it to suck up countless hours of your life.
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Gameplay - 8/10
Overall - 8.5/10
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Strania – The Stella Machina is an arcade shooter title developed by the Japanese company G.Rev. This latest entry shows an attempt to capture the spirit and gameplay style of the famous jet-fighter style arcade shooters that were popular in the 80′s and 90′s games markets. These games are now generally reserved for the iOS App Store and old school arcades where people can go to relive the glory years of gaming. This bizarre Japanese title has to stack up to some very successful arcade shooters from the modern era. Nostalgia will be a large part of buying Strania for the simple fact that it has gone back to basics to try and get the fundementals of a Shoot 'Em Up game right instead of adding newschool flair and modes we expect in a 21st century game. Incorporating strategic decision-making with the exhilarating action that defines the genre, Strania offers a dynamic game system and features some stunning effects plus a catchy soundtrack.
The Japanese origins of the game is immediately clear from the get go. If the player is not tipped off by the anime inspired opening screen and accompanying Japanese text, then it would most certainly be the general make-up and design of the in game graphics themselves. The characters in the game are Mechanical robots which instantly gave me the sense that I was playing through a Transformers or Gundam inspired title. The designs of the characters are a bit bland and simplistic, but there is enough personality in each robot to distinguish between each one. One of the visual aspects I enjoyed the most in playing this is the background animation. The flow of the backgrounds in Shoot ‘Em Up games like Strania often make a large difference to how well the game flows. The background is the only thing that will help the player determine the context of the battle they are experiencing. The limited graphics capability that exist with the production of arcade games is obvious, but I found that the level of detail providing in a majority of the visuals were highly appealing for a game attempting to get back to it's oldschool roots.
The techno soundtrack really worked well for this game. In fact, the soundtrack was one of its best elements. During battle scenes in Strania the pacing and intensity of the audio changed to match the situation, which worked a treat. For example, the audio dropped off to a slow, eerie pace as you went into a boss battle to set the scene for what was about to take place. Fast beats in the game during intense moments where lots of action took place on the screen gave you a massive adrenalin rush to keep playing. The developers should be credited to choosing a great soundtrack that differentiated itself from the repetitive themes of old arcade shooter games.
Strania is a pretty simple game to pick up and play due to the simplistic controls. The game plays on a 2D screen of movement with the D-Pad used to move your robot for the majority of the game. Some stages of the game changed the style of play as Strania moved to a 3D view, but the player is still restricted to 2D movements. I felt like if they were going to throw in these 'newschool' sections then the gameplay should at least match the graphics provided.
Being a Japanese game I was automatically wary that they wouldn't be able to convey a strong story to the Western gamer. There is hardly any of a story in Strania and I basically went through the entire game not knowing why I was fighting and whether I was even the good or bad guy. The game missions are comprised of both attack and defence missions, being able to identify enemy from ally and good from evil would better help players accomplish their missions. This is made all the more complicated by the fact that friendly fire capability is always on, with very little to help distinguish what should and should not be shot at.
While there is no multiplayer in the game, there is a co-operative mode that can be played through with a friend either locally or over Xbox Live. Sadly this mode has been simply tacked on for the sake of it as you are just going through exactly the same stages on exactly the same difficulty. I suppose if you want to relive your arcade life of playing with friends then this is the perfect mode for you, but I expected more to come from any additional modes thrown in.
While Strania hasn't totally recreated the nostalgic experience from arcade shooters from the 80's, it has added evidence of a modern feel to the game. Some great visual experiences and a cool soundtrack are definitely highlights of the game. The main game won't take a considerable amount of time to finish, but there is always the oppurtunity to go through it all over again with a friend. Lack of any meaningful story stops this being a truly addictive experience, but the combat and simplicity of the game keeps it from being a fun arcade title.
Graphics - 6.5/10
Sound - 7/10
Gameplay - 6.5/10
Overall - 6.5/10
For as long as I can remember Harry Potter has been a part of my life. This once in a century phenomenon has rose to be the biggest book and film series ever and not even a group of pasty vampires could overthrow the massive empire based around a single wizard. With every movie release has come a game that while not setting records like the other mediums, has provided a fun experience in the world of Hogwarts. The first six games as well as spin-offs such as Harry Potter Quidditch World Cup and LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 have allowed for a movie tie-in, they have also provided the fun adventuring aspect Hogwarts has to offer. Last year we received Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 with Kinect support, a title that was absolutely drilled by reviewers and critics alike. The developers had only a year to change this game and send the series out in style or risk a 3rd party developer in TellTale Games taking that honour when LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 is released later this year.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a commendable game, but is far from perfect. Gone is Kinect support, but the linear path that basically follows the movies plot stays. There is quite a bit of improvement over the first game and having a meaningful ending to the game is definitely a plus over the anti-climatic finish to Part 1. The developers aren't to blame for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 & 2, as they are trying to make the best out of a movie plot that simply can't be merged into a solid game that stays true to the story. Gone is the free roaming of Hogwarts as Harry, Ron and Hermione follow a direct path to destroy all of the Horcruxes. While this game can be fun at times, repetition and blatant areas of the game which will just simply irritate Harry Potter purists stop this game making the best of a bad situation.
Harry Potter has never been a bad looking game, but in current generation titles the art style has moved into a more realistic approach. Character models are generally acceptable even though lip syncing and general movements in cutscenes aren't the flashest looking moments in the game. The linear environments you spend your time wandering through are generally detailed and look great despite for many of the same items reappearing constantly, such as barriers to hide behind. One big aspect that hasn't been flexed by any of the previous games are explosions and effects from the many spells you cast in the game. The more physical approach to fighting in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 allows for more brutal effects to come from attacking enemies. Launching a massive attack at an enemy and watching them fly back before disapparating never got old and the uniqueness of every spell was a welcome addition.
The entire series has never had the characters being voiced by their actual human counterparts. Ever since the first game they have had to make do with impersonators who have generally done a good job at imitating the characters. While the main characters such as Harry, Ron and Hermione and recreated almost flawlessly, other characters such as Voldemort are shockingly bad and really deters from the experience of this being a true movie tie-in. The dialogue in the game also leaves alot to be desired. The game jumps from stating word by word what was in the movie to missing out key lines that would help fill in the story for those who haven't seen the film. Some lines have been dumbed down and just simply state something that even a two year old would have figured out. The cutscenes infuriated myself who has seen the film and hated the perfect recreation of some sections to the obvious shortcuts taken in others. As well as the limited lines of dialogue in game, the attempt to tell a story to someone who has never seen Harry Potter before is poor at best.
Life for Harry has never been darker than in the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Gone are the days of fun Charms classes with Professor Flitwick as they are replaced with wave after wave of Death Eaters who are attempting to kill anyone who gets in the way of Voldemort's plan to kill Harry Potter. The genre of this game has changed as a result, with this title being primarily a third person shooter. This is an interesting twist on the game and is probably the only way they could have built a game out of this movie.
You have an array of spells at your disposal that act like different weapons. They range from a quick fire weapon that reels off bursts of magic at your opponent to even a sniper rifle. These are pretty cool and the strategy of having to rotate being an array of spells using a simple button system is quite fun. The one issue I have with the spells is the names that they have used. Expelliarmus, a spell most will know as a method of disarming another wizard, is used to break a wizards Protego shield. Every now and then you will need to protect Hermione has she opens a door using Alohamore for in excess of 3 minutes. Quirks like this will annoy the most hardcore Potter fans as the basics of the world have been changed.
Unlike most previous games, you are able to control more than just the main trio. Special missions such as Seamus' attempt to plant charges on the Hogwarts bridge or Professonal McGonagall's fight to hold of a wave of Death Eaters and two giants are cool ways to mix up the game. Sadly though, the majority of the game follows one basic formula. The aim of the game seems to be run to a place with conveniently placed cover, wait for Death Eaters to spawn, kill the Death Eaters, move onto the next area and repeat. By the time you reach the end of the game you will be absolutely sick of this system and will probably vow to never play a cover shooter again.
Luckily though, for those just wanting to end the experience you will be happy to know that this game is terribly short. There are reports of the game being finished in under 3 hours. It took me a bit more but for a full priced game it is hard to recommend this kind of content. There is a challenge mode which is basically going through levels and getting timed for the chance to win a medal and a few achievements, but it really adds nothing to the game.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 isn't the definitive send off to the series that we were given by the film. The game has been hurt by having only a 12 month period to develop a game and fix all the major issues of the last title, as well as a movie plot that can't simply be transformed into a fun game. While all the blame can't be put onto the developers, the very short playing time and repetitive elements of the game make this product something that will struggle to entertain anyone other than the true Harry Potter fans. While there are some good improvements in the game and certain fun elements towards the end of the game, it is definitely hard to recommend Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 as a full price game.
Graphics - 5.5/10
Sound - 5/10
Gameplay - 7/10
Overall - 5.5/10
Monday, August 1, 2011
The second title from the Xbox Winter of Arcade promotion is a interesting title that provides something we have never seen before in a game. From Dust is a game where you play the God and are in charge of a small community of primitive villagers. Unlike previous games where you are in charge of the world such as SimCity and Age of Empires, From Dust doesn't give you the power to create good and evil and build up vast empires at the click of a button. You are a seemingly 'natural' God who has the ability to use sand, water and lava to your will in an attempt to move villagers from totem to totem until the next level unlocks. An unique experience that takes the SimCity experience into the early days of human life is something I haven't previously seen before.
Starting the game opens with the creation of the mystery god figure you control that is called The Breath. A small orb figure that can move around the landscape at speed is responsible for moving earth at will to raise mountains and create land bridges, diverting rivers and creating inland lakes, creating solid rock from molten substances and allowing for the creation of villages and forests. Being The Breath and saviour of these people also means you must keep these villages safe from all too frequent fires, volcano eruptions and landscape changing tsunamis. Being an evil god is frowned upon in From Dust and you won't achieve anything by dumping a large amount of water on an adventuring human except delaying the end result.
A landscape that changes in layout but never in appearance is at risk of becoming a bland and boring spectacular to control for hours of levels. One aspect where From Dust flourishes more than the forests protruding from villages is the physics engine behind the game. Picking up a ball of water and dropping it on the side of a hill will force the water to roll down until it ends up in an indent in the landscape. Grabbing sand and placing it in the water to create a bridge may be unsuccessful if the force of the water is powerful enough to wash away the clumps of sand you deposited. Natural disasters from the landscape altering tsunamis to the powers totems allow you to perform, such as jellifying and moving water, look beautiful and is certainly one of the best aspects of this game. The realistic movement of the elements in your control is outstanding and it is a real shame that this game is focused towards timed challenges in order to avoid a natural disaster, rather than one of exploration where you can experiment with your creation tools.
This game is visually pleasing and the excellent graphics for a game that is constantly changing and evolving as you progress is quite remarkable. The constant beauty of this game really provides it with an edge against many other similar games, also making it one of the best looking games on the Xbox Live Arcade. The soundtrack compliments the action in the game with a peaceful, almost soothing theme. That is until some sort of natural disaster arrives and the full effect of the incoming disaster sparks a change in music and tone. From Dust is a pleasing title that easily stands up to retail titles in it's presentation and graphics.
Sadly though, From Dust fails to completely match the presentation with solid gameplay. The developers have tried to incorporate a story into the game which I found lacked little meaning and added nothing to the overall experience of the game. The clip is always the same as well, with villagers appearing out of a hole and a narrator talking in an ancient language and subtitles appearing at the bottom of the screen. If they were going to add any kind of story, it needed to influence the game more than being a simple reason to open another level. Having this game as a level based experience rather than a watch and grow formula used by other games where you are the god was a brave decision. The levels are quite fun in the beginning but it does become old after a while. Continually adding new features to the game does throw the strategies and gameplay mechanics around, but some people will not finish the game simply for the fact that the objective is exactly the same.
Apart from the Story Mode there is a Challenge Mode which have 30 challenges that take a couple of minutes to complete, testing your skills at manipulating the environment to victory. This mode is the most exciting in the game and I found myself coming back to it to try and get a better time. Challenge mode really compliments the main game and adds much needed variety to another Winter of Arcade title that has gone without any multiplayer modes.
One problem that becomes evident soon after the inclusion of constant natural disasters in From Dust is the sharp difficulty spike. Working against the clock is something that isn't needed in a game like this, where peaceful and an almost zen like setting should rely on creation rather than destruction. Knowing an incoming disaster to absolutely destroy any progress made and not protected by a totem's power means you are often rushing to get things done. It will get frustrating to see villagers constantly killed and levels repeated over and over because you aren't able to finish before an almost too frequent bush fire or eruption halts your progress. While special powers and disasters are excellent additions to this game, they are used better in challenge mode compared to the main game. In real life we never know when natural disasters are going to occur, it should be less frequent and have that feeling of unknown when playing From Dust.
Despite the short comings of the main story mode, From Dust is a great game that has successfully managed to take the creation game into the earliest days of civilisation. Breathtaking visuals and one of the best physics engines I have seen in a game like this makes From Dust a spectacular to watch. The ability to use your powers in natural conditions as well as 'god-like' uses from special totems makes for a fun and interesting game. This game won't please everyone though and the sharp difficulty curve once you get into the game will throw off many players. From Dust is a commendable Winter of Arcade title that provides a fun and pleasing experience for those willing to give it a go.
Graphics - 9.5/10
Sound - 7.5/10
Gameplay - 7.5/10
Overall - 8/10