Monday, December 3, 2012

FEATURE - How To Sync Your iPod With Xbox 360

Tech today has always been about linking all your devices together. From your consoles to your iPhones and such, it's always more fun when you have to option to take control of all your media and tech from one station. This is why there are programs designed to link up your desktop to your PS3 and other devices along the same lines. However, when it comes to some tech, the borders of licenses and patents always clash, and you end up having to go through extreme lengths just to make each program get together. For this little tutorial you'll learn exactly how to sync your iPod with Xbox 360 and how you can play movies and music through this connection. You can also watch TV on your iPhone and iPod device by downloading certain apps.



The Program To Make It Work 

First off, there is an alternate way to make this work. You see, your iPod can also double as a means to store information as it acts as a storage device. The space that is not taken up when you store music or movies is empty on the iPod itself. If you upload any info on that space without the use of iTunes then it stores it away on the free space and acts like a USB or a portable hard drive. You can transfer your movies and music right on to the hard drive of your Xbox this way. However, sometimes this method does not work, as the two devices are at times incompatible.

The other method is through the use of another program from the Xbox marketplace. There are tons to look through and depending on your region; the download should be around the 400s for the US and the 200s in the UK. Just head on over to the games section of the Xbox marketplace and scroll down until you hit a game called 'Optional Media Update'. This will be the program so just download it and get the transfer started. The description should read something like 'play movies and music from your iPod'.

When you're done, hook up your iPod to the Xbox 360 and run the program. It should be able to see your iPod and play any media from that device. The problem with this method is that you can't replicate the results through the iTouch or an iPhone. It really is just limited to the iPod and that's just the bad news.



So there you have it, an easy way to make the best of your gaming console along with your iPod. Beyond the iPod syncing, you can also take advantage of the console you own through charging your iProduct. A few tweaks in the system and a quick modification should turn your Xbox into an all-around media center much like your PC. If you own another iDevice and would like to learn about syncing it to your Xbox as well, check out AppsPirate to learn how to do it properly.

A quick disclaimer before you try anything though. Make sure to follow instructions on mods down to the dot and make sure you're looking at reliable sources instead. If you do something wrong, those mods can destroy your console and a software replacement might take a lot more of your time, and in some cases, your money.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Medal of Honor: Warfighter Review


Despite being one of the most popular genres in gaming today, the war setting of a FPS is one most often explored away from the launch of the latest Call of Duty title. Electronic Arts are the only company brave enough to take on the Christmas periods in recent years, with moderate success coming from Battlefield 3 and 2010's Medal of Honor to some degree. Medal of Honor: Warfighter is the sequel to the latter title and aims to reveal the true hardship and danger involved in being a Tier-1 operator. Trailers and gameplay footage from pre-launch showed a beautiful game that is going to have all those massive action packed set pieces we are used to, but sadly it has failed to completely live up to the hype.

Presentation

The one true shining light in Medal of Honor: Warfighter is the outstanding graphics throughout the entire single player campaign. As long as you take the effort to install the HD content before starting the game, you will be witness to a showcase of what the Frostbite engine can offer. The cut scenes especially are absolutely stunning and at times can mislead you into thinking it is a television show you are watching and not a videogame. Character models are incredibly realistic and everything from gross movements to fine movements such as lip syncing are spot on.


The campaign is a non-stop action sequence aimed at showing exactly what the Frostbite engine is able to deliver. Right from the start there will be explosions and timed events that aim to provide a visual spectacle to the viewer. You either love this or hate it, but MoH: Warfighter does it as good as the best of them. Explosions constantly rocking your screen deliver the danger you are constantly facing and these little visual vibes take the delivery from good to great. You will be travelling through a large variety of locations which are all stunning. These range from dark dense pathways to a more open environment that has the sun pulsating in the background. There are a few low res areas that dampen the game slightly but it will take some nit picking to look negatively upon the overall package.

Player animations take a leaf out of Battlefield 3's book and aim to make you less stagnant than the basic set of animations provided in other FPS games. These games generally don't allow you to take advantage of the cover provided throughout levels. It is merely a setpiece that can be used to hide behind to regenerate your health. In Medal of Honor: Warfighter you can actually peek around cover and use that to shoot at enemies with protection. This is an intuitive design that should be in more games. Running, jumping, going prone and stabbing enemies all use fluid designs that perform more like their real world counterparts and makes it all just that little bit more believable.


The audio in the game is commendable but doesn't really do anything to make it a true standout in this day and age. The voice acting in the cut scenes and in game are nicely done, but sadly the dialogue is confusing and you will more than likely not even pay attention to it after a while. The guns sound great and the explosions from weapons will rock you with a good sound system. Bullets whizzing by you provide a sense of danger. The audio is at the same high quality as Battlefield last year essentially without really improving on it.

Gameplay

After looking at the game you would be forgiven thinking this is going to be a solid experience. Sadly the overall package Danger Close have tried to deliver is a failed attempt at providing all angles of the Tier-1 experience. In trying to show 'behind the scenes' into the emotional aspect of life as a solider the entire story becomes irrelevant and confusing to even follow what they are trying to say. The game starts off with no introduction, thrusting you into a short mission shortly followed by an attempted dramatic cut scene that quickly shifts to cocky soliders preparing to go into battle. You have no idea why you are fighting or what is actually happening and it becomes frustrating. It doesn't really improve and you won't find yourself getting attached to the various characters in your control. A stronger sense of direction and true introduction to the Tier-1 operators was probably needed, but sadly this games now strongly relies on the action.

Once again, MoH: Warfighter fails to completely hit the mark with the gameplay. The first thing you will notice is that the campaign is short, extremely short. I finished the game in around 5 hours and found no incentive or motivation to complete it again on one of the two extreme difficulties unlocked upon completing the game. I personally am a big fan of these games that mix up the gameplay with the sniper sequences, boat/driving/flying areas and explosive scenes that really get the adrenalin flowing. Warfighter does these brilliantly and are a definite highlight in the game, but the space between these are filled with mundane shooting. Enemies are complete idiots who just stay in the same spot and basically wait for you to shoot them as they pop up from the exact same bit of cover. There is no choice in this game as you travel down a predetermined path to dispatch wave after wave of enemies. It becomes boring and only the knowledge that something cool was around the corner kept me going on.


Multiplayer is another area that seems tacked on to provide a good experience, but again nothing that we haven't seen multiple times before. Being able to choose to play as a member of the special service from a large range of countries (even Australia) is very cool and the way co-op has been introduced into the game with a teammate are the real positives out of this mode. Battlefield 3 was about teamwork but knowing that there is one player who has your back and vice versa really emphasises this point if you want to be successful. Once again, this could be promising but some poor map designs and mediocre selection of modes and innovation leave a lot to be desired when Halo and Black Ops II are commanding everyones attention this Christmas period.

Conclusion

Medal of Honor: Warfighter is a game full of promise that ultimately falls short when it comes down to it. In a genre where you need something special to stand out, it just fails to push the envelope and ends up becoming just another title. Sure the graphics are something special and the explosive areas of the game are a heap of fun, but the body of the game fails to capture what Danger Close have set out to achieve. A disjointed storyline that never really draws you into the experience is at the root of the problem. You will find this game fun in parts, but if there is only one shooter you can afford to get this summer then you may be better off looking elsewhere I'm afraid.

Graphics - 8.5/10
Sound - 8/10
Gameplay - 4/10
Overall - 6/10

Sunday, November 11, 2012

FEATURE - Chaos on Deponia

This isn't a XBLA title but after receiving a 84 on Metacritic you could hope that it may one day make its way over to the console.


The story of Chaos on Deponia follows on from the first game known simply as Deponia:

Rufus home planet Deponia is a giant scrapyard and in addition the elysian council just gave the order to demolish it.

Only the beautiful Goal could save Deponia and stop the explosion. But Goal is stuck with Rufus on the swimming black market which is the biggest rat whole. Furthermore her brain implant – which holds the codes that assure a save journey to Elysium seems to be damaged. At least it’s not just a saying, that you can get everything on the swimming black market. Even a brain surgery. But after mild complications Rufus finds Goal’s mind splitted into three different personalities. Now the chaos is complete.


Rufus has to deal with Goal’s three personalities in order to calm her down and to protect her from her angry fiancĂ© Cletus, from the Organon, from the unorganized crime or even a group of rebellions.

The most bizarre and yet sweet romance in gaming history takes place right between duckbills, burning saw blades, anti gravity socks and torpedo-dolphins. And therefore Rufus is not just responsible to safe the world and to prevent the evil plans of the Organon, but also to win someone’s heart who is literally three different persons at ones.

To make it short: The fate of the whole world depends on Rufus charm and his abilities to handle Goal… Well this might be a blessing in disguise.

I suggest you check out this cool trailer of the game, it may be worth your time.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Need for Speed: Most Wanted Review


After a few years where Need for Speed was at risk of becoming an irrelevant franchise, EA brought on Burnout developers Criterion Games to create NFS: Hot Pursuit. The identity crisis that had been rife in the series was over as they got back to the high octane arcade roots the series is known for. Last years NFS: The Run was a small dent in the progress Criterion had made, but they are again back with an even more ambitious title than their first effort for the franchise. Any other year this would be the arcade racer to get due to Criterion's name alone. Forza Horizon stepping up to the plate with a stunning title has made the decision tougher for those who need to decide. Is Need for Speed: Most Wanted what we hoped it to be, or has ambition gotten in the way of the true Criterion quality we know they are capable of.

Presentation

Criterion are no strangers to open world racing games. Burnout Paradise is still a highly regarded game in terms of gameplay and graphical feats to this day and the knowledge has put them in good stead for Most Wanted. The city of Fairhaven is a huge and full of so much detail thats its impossible to not appreciate what has gone into it. The roads are full of cars that can ruin a run if not successfully avoided and there are literally hundreds of short cuts and off-road routes to explore. The industrial setting looks spectacular and a nice degree of variation will let you distinguish different parts of the city. 

You are still able to admire the level of detail put into the world while tearing down streets in excess of 150 miles an hour. Sure, activating the nitrous sends you into a rush of speed that blurs the screen to convey the sense of speed, but the effect of the weather still pulsates through the game. Coming out of a dark tunnel into the blinding light will disorient you, forcing a split second decision to turn once the vision comes back. This isn't a bad thing though, the city is vibrant in the sunlight yet a dark and mysterious vibe surrounds the streets at night. It's hard to fault the experience as you can go from one corner of the map to the other with no loading times and the same high frame rate for the entire journey.


If you have such a beautiful world, why not show it off? Before each race is a nice introductory video that shows off the amazing views and areas on offer in Fairhaven. The great thing about these is that each race has a different one and with over 200 races on offer that is a lot of content being shown off. The video seamlessly leads into the racing action which is fast and intense. The huge crashes of Burnout and Hot Pursuit are back. While your own takedowns aren't slowed down and admired, everytime you crash a nice slow motion cinematic shows the destruction caused to you. The takedown camera was at its pinnacle with Burnout Revenge, but Most Wanted aims to keep you in the action instead of dragging you away every ten seconds.

Having the game completely synchronized with one seamless system is exactly what Criterion Games wants. The menu system is revolutionary and miraculously removes the static menus of practically every game ever made. Modding up your car, choosing races and the majority of all other options that you would usually press start for before wading through menu after menu are now accessed in-game as a little pop-up hud in the top left corner. You can actually modify your cars tyres or chassis while in a race which is really sweet, but not too practical unless you can successfully pull it off while not crashing. Just the fact that I can do everything I need while staying in the car is a huge positive and something more games should apply. RPGs that made a system this easy would have a lifelong fan from myself and others like me who get overawed by too many menus.


While Forza is the indisputable king of realistic car noises, Need for Speed: Most Wanted provides a very good experience none the less. The sounds lack the true grit and beef of Forza, but with the sound system turned up you will still be able to feel the power of each car as it slams through Fairhaven. Crashes sound great and the loud bang of getting t-boned makes you groan with the realisation of what happened. The cars are complemented with a bass heavy mix of music from artists such as Skrillex that blast through the car speakers to provide an additional adrenalin rush. I like the list of tracks in the game and found that they did a great job of getting me into the zone when faced against racers and cops alike.

Gameplay

What good is a pretty setting if the racing is terrible. This is what unravelled NFS: The Run, the stunning landscape across America was coupled with mediocre racing. Luckily that isn't the case here and those who played Hot Pursuit will feel right at home in the meat of the racing. Cars feel fast and handle spectacularly with drifting a big part of being able to successfully navigate your way through the bustling streets. The 41 cars in the game all have their pros and cons, making the races against the Most Wanted list a game of choice between handling of a Mitsubishi Evo or sacrificing that for the acceleration of an Aston Martin Vantage for example.

After exploring every nook and cranny of Fairhaven you can launch into the true guts of the game. Most Wanted consists of 215 races in total, 5 for each of the cars in the game and the ten Most Wanted races that really test your skill. Each car has an unique set of races suited towards it and they range from easy to hard in difficulty. Winning races with a car unlocks modifications that improve its stats and give it the edge in certain terrain such as off road portions of races. The types of races available at circuit races, sprint races and speed runs. The first two are your standard races against other competitors and quite often the intervention of the police to make it just that little bit harder. Speed runs are effectively checkpoint races where you must get from point to point averaging a specific speed to get the gold medal. This requires precision and the smallest crash or running into spikes dropped by the cops can ruin a solid run. 


Most things you do in the game will earn you skill points. Placing in races will earn you a fair amount, as will getting in cop chases and successfully evading their pursuits. Police pursuits raise your heat level and the more damage caused by yourself, the higher your heat level. The police will use more force to try and bring you down with armoured SWAT vans being the cream of the crop at the top heat level. Escaping from these pursuits earns you a huge swag of points while being busted lets you walk away free, but without points. Once you earn so many skill points a Most Wanted race will become available and you can challenge one of the top 10 racers in Fairhaven. Beating them lets you own their car and move up on the rankings board.

The seamless nature of the menu system isn't all Criterion Games tried to integrate into NFS Most Wanted. Social connectivity and access to the world are all present in ways never before seen in video games. First off, most open world racing games will put you in a crappy car and have you racing against other crappy cars until you earn enough cash to progress onto a higher class. This is the principle behind Forza's series effectively. Criterion Games have gone, 'you know what, lets make the entire game available from the very beginning.' There are no slow cars and they are all accessible from the very second you hope into the game. Apart from the Most Wanted's cars you can race around in the quickest car possible, as long as you find it. All the cars in the world are hidden in alleyways and other areas around Fairhaven and coming across one of these jackspots lets you pull up and simply hop in. While the sense of progression diminishes here, the incentive to actually explore the world to see what kind of cars you can find definitely counteracts it. 


Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit introduced us to the Autolog system that can become the staple of the series going forward. Other racing games are implementing similar systems but they don't come close in comparison to Most Wanted's effort. Short cuts in the world are hidden by signs on the side of the road and there are over 60 speed traps scattered over Fairhaven. Jumping through a sign will lead to your face appearing on that sign for all your friends. If someone jumps through it and beats the distance you landed then their face will replace yours. The same level of competition appears with the speed traps and all 215 races showing the times of you and friends. Everything about the game is connected together to encourage friends to challenge each other. Need for Speed: Most Wanted is also connected to the game on other platforms. Skill points I earned on the Xbox 360 carried across to the game on my iPhone and vice versa. I found myself levelling up faster than normal and being able to challenge Most Wanted drivers after only a handful of races since I'd put in a fair bit of time with the iOS version. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not, sure its good but I could technically skip out the meat of the console version because I had earned all the skill points necessary in the simplified handheld version.

Conclusion

Need for Speed: Most Wanted may not technically be the sequel to Burnout Paradise but it may as well be. What it lacks in simulation and pure technical polish of Forza Horizon it definitely makes up for with intense racing and the pure enjoyment that comes with being able to take out cars or flying through the air after jumping over an old highway. They aren't trying to compete with the simulation experience and that is a good thing since it sticks to Criterion's strengths. Some people may not like the open nature of the game, but it makes it accessible to those who don't want to grind for hours just to get 'that car'. A game best enjoyed with friends who also own the game, this is the ultimate social experience. I can't compare this to Forza Horizon saying which one is better because the simple fact is you need to own them both.

Graphics - 9.5/10 
Sound - 9/10 
Gameplay - 9/10 
Overall - 9/10

Friday, October 19, 2012

Forza Horizon Review


When I think of racing games for the Xbox 360 in recent years, there are only two real options. If you want an arcade racer you go and pick up Need for Speed Hot Pursuit by Criterion and simulation buffs will go straight to Forza Motorsport 4. While EA have successfully made a semi-successful jump to the simulation genre with the Shift series, no one has really attempted to merge the two genres together. If anyone should be put to the task, why not the newly formed Playground Games which is created from the best of racing developers past. These people have come from studios such as Codemasters, Bizarre and Criterion, and have been let free on the Forza engine to create the game Test Drive Unlimited 2 aimed to be. I wasn't sure if the Forza mechanics would work in an open world, but this truly is the complete package.

Presentation

Forza Motorsport 4 was a technical marvel, the lighting effects and sheer beauty of the game made it possibly the best game I have ever seen. You could swear it is a next-gen title with not only the look of the car against the environment, but also the environment itself. As amazing as it was, the environments were limited to the amount of tracks in the game. This doesn't even close to the amount of detail needed for an open world game and I was interested to see how much they would squeeze in to Horizon. You could probably forgive Playground Games if the Horizon festival was made of areas that had a slight tendency to repeat themselves, or if the exquisite lighting and reflections from Forza 4 weren't incorporated into this game. The fact that the same high level of Forza 4 is in Horizon is amazing, adding even more features absolutely blows my mind away though.

Driving through the many different environments of Horizon is spectacular. You will go from the epicentre of the Horizon festival which is bustling with life to beautiful areas that all present something unique to the area. One direction may take you through large canyons, another area will have you winding your way through a lush forest area with leaves falling on the road as you zip past. All areas seem packed with life as normal cars are on the road, as well as fellow racers that, like you, ignore common road rules such as speed limits and staying in your lane.


Cars look absolutely stunning in the different environments. The fading light in the distance gleams off the hood of your brand new Dodge Viper as it zips in and out of the darkness provided by the cliff you are driving alongside. Not only has detail been expertly crafted in the foreground, but also the backdrop to the Horizon festival is spectacular. Driving back to the main hub at night will let you see the fireworks show going off as you approach the party. Yes, thats right, for the first time ever in Forza there is a day/night cycle. The amazing scenic view provided at night is more than just the light from your car. Everything about the graphics is top notch and after this there is no real excuse for other developers to have shortcomings in open world racing games. Test Drive might have made us accept drops in quality for quantity, but Forza proves the impossible.

The Horizon festival is not only about fast cars, but there is a strong musical vibe to the entire event. It is great to see that the developers have incorporated this aspect into the game as the bass pumping opening to the game really had me raring to get into the swing of things. The music isn't the centre of things though so I'll cover the cars first. All the amazing sounds from Forza Motorsport 4 are back to shake your living room as you fire up a beastly car. Each car sounds unique and so realistic its not funny. No game can come close in comparison to the authenticity provided by Forza's sound.


While hardcore fans won't like it, there is nothing better than the pumping soundtrack that accompanies you on your way through Colorado. Turn up your sound system and you will experience an exhilarating ride that is heightened by the sheer power of the music which is blaring over the top of your engine. There are three radio stations to suit your preference of rock, indie and bass. I personally kept my radio tuned into the Bass Arena at all times which would really get the adrenalin flowing. I'd recommend a mix of the three though since hours of the same station will have you hearing the same songs over and over again. The radio hosts are good though and mention things related to your situation in the festival, as well as mystery barn finds among other items.

Gameplay

Forza has been let loose on the streets for the first time, and what a way to begin. There isn't much of a story here except for you are a nobody coming into the Horizon Festival and you are quickly introduced to Darius Flynt who is the champion of Horizon. You obviously can't take him on right away and must work your way through the festival ranks, earning fans and gaining wristbands that let you enter higher tiered events.

There are a number of race modes available in the game. Festival races let you earn points towards earning a new wrist band and are structured the same way as a standard Forza game. You start out racing in lower classed cars but as you move up in the world you require more horsepower at your control to be competitive. The next class of races are Showcase events, which put a bit of variation in the event as you are actually racing against something like a plane or hot air balloon. Outposts in the Colorado area will offer up PR Stunts that require you to perform special tasks to complete the challenge. There are also illegal street races and 1v1 races against rivals that net you a high amount of credits and the pink slip of other racers.


All of this occurs in a world full of life and things to do. Some illegal street races are in designated spots but you can also just pop in behind another driver on the road and challenge them to an immediate point-to-point race. Barn finds are exclusive cars that you can hunt through the 215 roads of Colorado for. These are found as old run down vehicles that are refurbished for your driving pleasure. It is a great idea that doesn't go overboard on the collectibles side of driving.

There is no point being a good driver without fans and this is where freeroaming around really comes in handy. Everything you do in Forza Horizon earns you points. Whether it is drifting, drafting, wrecking signs, passing cars or even some special rewards for crazy acts, they all add up. You can create large combos to increase your multiplier and earn a large amount of points which will have you travel from the 250th most popular driver to no.1. This is what solely keeps me from fast-travelling everywhere after hours of play, even though I have enough credits to be able to afford it.


The content and fun in the game is enough to make a solid title by itself. But putting the Forza title in the name makes us expect the 'Forza DNA' that has been reinforced constantly. The aim of this game was to be able to seamlessly take what you have learnt on the track and use those same skills on the open road. For the most part this is absolutely correct. There is still the difficulty options to turn assists on or off as you please, the cars still handle with brilliant precision and you can upgrade your car to your hearts desire. On the highway you may forget that you are actually playing Horizon and not Forza 4. Look closer and you will notice some 'arcade' aspects to the game. Drifting will be used a lot more but of course this is a purely optional choice by the gamer. The biggest difference is the fact that damage is now purely cosmetic so you can drive as hard as you want. Some may hate this, but the reality is who wants to be limping around a free roaming game with a car that doesn't steer at all. Maybe festival races could have enabled real damage as an option, but this at least partly makes sense.

Conclusion

True simulation buffs won't like everything about Forza Horizon, but as far as I am concerned this is a damn good game. I love the fact that Playground Games have been able to incorporate the Forza experience and level of detail into a title of this scope. The driving is as fun as ever, the area of Colorado is beautiful and makes you want to drive around it. The Horizon Festival is an energetic backdrop to the racing and the music pumping throughout your journey gets the adrenalin pumping. Sure, there are areas where they have had to take an arcade approach but the positives of this game well and truly outweigh the negatives. This is the definitive example of how to do a free roaming game from here on out. No more repeating areas, no lack of quality, no poor handling of cars and desolate roads. Forza Horizon does it right and truly deserves to call itself a Forza game.

Graphics - 10/10
Sound - 9.5/10
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Overall - 9.5/10 

Monday, October 8, 2012

FIFA 13 Review


The ultimate soccer experience is back and better than ever. It's another year and Electronic Arts are back with one of the biggest franchises in gaming history. I reckon it must get hard for the developers to continually innovate after so many years on the same generation of consoles. FIFA 12 was a standout that brought real world physics to the sport for the very first time. This is more about fine tuning and calibrating to make a game that is still fun and accessible for both the lifelong player and first time adopters of the FIFA franchise. That is why it is so interesting that the developers threw in a level of unpredictability with their 'first-touch controls' that completely change the way you play the game.

Presentation

When you are making the same game every year on a platform that stays the same you are eventually going to hit a graphical peak. FIFA 12 was a beautiful game with excellent player models and detail in all faces when up close animations are shown. This years game isn't a big improvement on last years title, in fact you could put the improvements at minimal. A few players look more like their real world counterparts, but overall it looks just like last year. This isn't a bad thing though, FIFA 12 was one of the prettiest games around and still is to this date.


The main improvements come in the physics engine and a refinement in the reactions of players. Last year was the first year that players wouldn't follow a set animation in collisions and instead the speed, angle and force of those involved was taken into account. Often you would find a tangling of players bodies or glitches causing unnatural movements that would slightly detract from the overall game. The majority of these are gone and the players react more like their real world counterparts. A few more options have been put into the game like the ability for players to dive to keep the ball in, all minimal changes that just nudge the game a bit closer to the real thing. Overall its the prettiest and most glitch free FIFA yet.

Audio in FIFA 13 follows the same level of improvement that past titles have had. The commentators as always have a huge set of conversational pieces to talk about and react perfectly to whats happening in the game. There are a few new pieces added in, but essentially the same high standard has been maintained. The crowd sound great and a loud roar when you score the winning goal in overtime never gets old.

Gameplay

This years addition to the franchise has a host of key features that merely refine and enhance what we had previously instead of completing rewriting the book. Improvements to gameplay include what EA are calling Attacking Intelligence, First Touch Control, Player Impact Engine and Tactical Free Kicks. Modes receiving an update in this years title include the Career Mode and EA Sports Football Club, as well as a brand new mode known as Skill Games that replaces the standard practice session before a game started.


Probably the biggest change to this years formula is First Touch Control. This new system actually makes the game harder, removing some of the accessibility to players who are master ball handlers to begin with. Instead of players perfecting trapping a ball or being able to control a poorly timed pass, the result is now more uncertain. A player running at full speed won't be able to stop the ball and magically continue on. Depending on their skill level the ball could hit off their leg and go sprawling in a direction not originally intended. This is closer to what happens in real life and may infuriate life long players. Real world physics between the ball and the player are a first for FIFA and I actually really enjoyed the unpredictability of it all. Games feel more intense and even less skilled players can hold out hope for an errant pass allowing for them to capitalise the other way.

Attacking Intelligence is a big improvement on the decisions made by attacking AI players. Instead of running in a straight line alongside you, they make smart runs to drag defenders away and set themselves up in the best position for a pass. The player impact engine is more of an improvement on the impact engine from last year. It gives defenders more options to win the ball back and use their strength as an advantage when fighting for position. Tactical free kicks essentially allows for more elaborate free kicks with multiple players able to be lined up for dummy runs and passing options.


As well as being its own mode on the menu, skill games is also the new option for players while a game is loading. There are bronze, silver, gold and skill challenge levels to 8 areas of FIFA that can be completed at an entirely optional choice. They start out fairly simple and may require you to hit targets or complete goals in a set amount of time, but end up being elaborate courses with many challenges. Not being the best FIFA player out there, I found these very useful for seeing where I was at and techniques I could use. Ultimately I found that I actually improved as a player after attempting the skill games. In Career mode an array of small features have been thrown in to make it match what a real life player would face. For the first time ever international matches are thrown in among your club games. A players market value is also based on a number of factors including their attitude and performance.

Conclusion

FIFA 13 isn't a game changer, but it definitely an improvement all round compared to FIFA 12. A little tweak here and a minor adjustment there have gone a long way to making sure FIFA stays head and shoulders above the competition. This is the most realistic and authentic soccer experience to date. Sure, some players won't like the unpredictable physics between the players and the ball but those clever enough to judge their passes power and direction accurately will benefit from the fluidity in their game. Those failing to cope will be left behind, but this is where the skill games come in to finally give us a tutorial of sorts that will actually do more than teach the basics, actually enhancing your skill level. Millions of players worldwide online and the return of all the modes you love (or loathe *cough* MUT *cough*) will make this an irresistible package.

Graphics - 9.5/10
Sound - 9/10
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Overall - 9.5/10

Friday, October 5, 2012

F1 2012 Review


So many of our yearly sporting franchises have been annualised and cemented into a pattern of incremental updates to slightly improve the game. Ever since NBA Live fell away there have only been one sport with a competitor pushing it to greater heights (FIFA vs PES), but that battle is in the corner of one game. This is the third Formula 1 game in as many years, providing the true simulation experience that not even Forza can provide with its roster of 'super cars'. Codemasters could rest on their morals and simply put out a F1 2012 that is F1 2011 with a new roster since it was still a decent game, but they have gone out there to make sure the franchise is moving forward. Just like another new franchise in UFC Undisputed 3, this is a big step forward into becoming an elite sporting game that truly recreates the adrenalin rushing experience that is F1 racing.

Presentation

F1 2011 was already a good looking game that did a great job at conveying the notion of speed to the gamer. Codemasters this year have taken what they already had and merely tweaked whats on offer, putting a bit more detail into the smaller parts of the game. Probably the biggest addition to the game graphically this year are the more realistic weather effects. F1 2012's Active Track Technology allows rain showers to appear on certain parts of the track, with storm clouds able to be seen out in the distance. The water physically changes the track and is more than just a visual addition, making the player change their race strategy on these now treacherous corners.


Each and every track on the F1 schedule has been painstakingly recreated to create the ultimate authenticity for the player. Every corner and straight will feel just like the real thing so we can truly feel just like Vettel as he is pulling around a tight hairpin. The Circuit of the Americas in Texas is a new addition to this years game as F1 returns to USA in November 2012. These tracks aren't dead either, as a lot of detail has gone into having an active crowd supporting the drivers as well as an always busy pitstop with crew members receiving an extra polish of detail this year.

Simply put, the cars sound damn amazing. The engines are loud and you can feel the power of the beast you are controlling. Forza Motorsport 4 have mastered the meaty sounds that muscle cars produce but F1 2012 have done a brilliant job at recreating the sound of speed that accompanies a Formula One car that is travelling in excess of 300kmph. One thing that I wasn't expecting when booting up the game was the amount of audio put into a game like this. Your pit crew play a big role in practice and race day, providing advice and stats to keep you one wheel ahead of the other drivers. This adds to the whole F1 experience and is great to see it added into the game.

Gameplay

The drivers in the Formula One championship deal with some of the fastest vehicles in the planet. Only an incredibly small portion of the population could handle these cars, which is why it is so difficult. Codemasters have made sure that F1 2012 follows the challenging nature of these cars that require complete precision lap after lap. If players were thrown into one of these cars without adequate preparation I could sense a high rate of people abandoning the game. This is why the Young Drivers Test is a brilliant addition to the game. As soon as you boot up the game you are thrust into what is essentially a one hour tutorial that gradually introduces everything you need to know. Instead of being a straight up tutorial it is interactive and brilliantly introduces you to the pit crew and the options outside of the racing as well.


Opening up F1 2012 hoping for a walk in the park will leave you ultimately disappointed. Even on the easiest mode you will need near perfection and intense concentration to be successful. Cars handle well, as long as you abide to real world physics. Following correct racing lines and braking with enough time  to spare will let you run a successful race. If not then you will find yourself in the grass or sand. If you don't spin out then your tyres will pick up grass, affecting your grip for a few laps. The authenticity of this is beyond belief and I can't believe how realistic the entire race experience is. Those who can't perform to the same degree as Vettel lap after lap have the option of four flashbacks, which are essentially rewinds like in Forza. Unlike Forza, you only have four for the entire race and from experience I learnt to only use them for big mistakes and just cop trips to the grass on the chin.


There are a variety of game modes on offer to satisfy everyone from the casual gamer to the hardcore F1 champion. Proving Grounds is a nice area for newcomers to start at, learning the trade in time attack and time trial modes that strip away the physical competition and allow you to focus on getting a good feel for the car. Champions Mode is similar to other sporting games that have challenges set by some of the biggest names of all time. There are six challenges that have you pitted up against the best, this definitely isn't for the lighthearted and well have you pushed to the absolute limits. The bulkiest part of the game is of course the career mode. You start out in one of the smaller teams and work your way to objectives set by your crew. Eventually bigger names will see your talent and you will hopefully move up to a F1 powerhouse and be a contendor for the championship alongside the biggest names of the sport. For the social creatures, multiplayer is also implemented well with a vast array of online and local options available.

Conclusion

In some strange way, Codemasters have made the most realistic F1 racing game to date, yet also the most accessible. The array of modes as well as the Young Drivers Test opens up this challenging game to a whole range of people who previously may have been turned off by the sharp learning curve of annual franchise. Turn off all the assists though and this game is tough as nails, something racing enthusiasts can really admire. For me trying to play this properly it gave me a new respect for all the real world drivers of these beasts. F1 2012 is a superb game that provides the sense of speed and danger like no other racing game out there. I can't recommend it enough, this game will test your concentration, skill and anger levels but by gosh is it worth it.

Graphics - 9/10 
Sound - 9/10 
Gameplay - 8.5/10 
Overall - 9/10

Friday, September 14, 2012

Madden NFL 13 Review


As spring rolls around and the sun comes out once again, we are greeted with one of the first game releases every year that announces the start of the gaming period. In the coming months we will be receiving the biggest hits of the year. Now because there are some expensive weeks coming up does that mean you should just bat Madden off as 'just the same as last year'? Definitely not. Even though Australia isn't a huge fan of American Football it doesn't mean we can't enjoy a game like this. Madden NFL 13 brings some big improvements across the board that make this ultimately a more enjoyable and complete experience compared to any Madden before it.

Presentation

Usually when I consider the presentation of the game I first look at the graphics presented. When I loaded up Madden I couldn't even get that far since I was so impressed with the menu overhaul. Out of last years EA Sports games that only one that I could consider acceptable in its layout was FIFA 12 and it was barely a pass mark. Madden NFL 13 absolutely annihilates any previous attempt and stamps itself up there with the king of menus the NBA 2K series. 2K12 has a bright, vibrant and easy to use layout that uses simple tiles to fit a lot onto the screen and Madden follows this style. Whether they used a competitor as an influence or not, this is a great step forward and I commend the developers for making this overhaul a key aspect of it.


Madden was already a strong competitor on the field with realistic players models and a stunning array of movements to boot, but this year improves on them albeit marginally. It is a bit hard to keep improving at the tail end of this generation but adding more of the TV experience you get at home has made this feel like a more complete package. There has been a recent emphasis on making the game as close to gameday as possible. All the slight improvements add up to making this a better game.

The one big improvement graphically involves the Infinity Engine. This affects the physics of the players and is the equivalent of what has been in FIFA for a few years now. In the past when two players came into contact they would essentially run an animation of how the contact would play out and it would be possible to replicate the exact same incidence. Now with the Infinity Engine the speed, weight and direction of each player as well as external factors determines what will happen in the collision. No longer are players confined to designated animations and there are an endless amount of ways players will react to a hit. Just like in FIFA there is a chance of an arm to go flailing or bodies getting stuck together, but these are few and far between. Unlike Soccer, American Football is a true contact sport and these changes add to the realistic nature of hits in the game.


While some sport games are getting the biggest rap stars in the country to become executive producers, Madden is getting back to its football roots. Gone is the soundtrack of hip-hop and dubstep that many are adopting. These are instead replaced with orchestral sounds that bring back the feeling of a Sunday Football game. During my stints in America I watched lots of NFL and Madden NFL 13 brings back the sounds I heard on those days. The commentators also provide a lot of chat that is more representative of a real presentation. Complimenting the standard stats and facts is a lot of talk and banter between the commentators, something I can't recommend enough. Sure if you play it enough you will hear repetition but this is the same with every game. The crowd roars when the home team scores and reacts according to what is happening on the field which is great.

Gameplay

The casual player can jump straight into a game of Madden NFL 13 and notice no differences with the actual gameplay. Most improvements are small aesthetic fixes and changes like differences in flight trajectory from the QB's throws. The casual player can still enjoy playing football with the use of GameFlow to choose the right play for you, but the AI is more likely to exploit someone who favours a few plays more than others. The Madden gameplay you know is back, so is online play the the EA speciality in Ultimate Team. The real change is Connected Careers.


For the first time ever your career on Madden is now an universal experience that allows you to seamlessly integrate multiple modes into one. Connected Careers rolls Franchise and Create A Player modes into one in both an online and offline mode. Online mode lets you enter a universe with players around the world as you shape your own path, while offline lets you follow the generic path of a coach or player in a 30 season career. This is a huge mode that has endless possibilities, especially if you set up a group with friends that has a variety of players and coaches all in the same mode, yet living completely different experiences.

The great thing about Connected Careers is that the world is your oyster for the whole 30 seasons. You can start out as a quarterback and then after a few years decide that isn't for you, switch to a linebacker who is already in the NFL. After 10 years you might want to try your hat at coaching before stepping onto the field to cement yourself in the Hall of Fame. The best thing about this is that it is all incorporated into one big world. The effect you have will carry on even after you retire players and coaches, meaning that the adventure will be different for everyone.


30 years may seem like a long time to invest into a game, but EA do a great job at keeping you invested in the experience even if you are riding solo. Everything you do from pre-game practice and proper matches earns you XP which can be used to boost the stats of your player or team. A struggling coach may decide to horde his points knowing that he is going to retire at the end of the season and let a young rookie blossom onto the scene with a swag of skill points at his disposal. The more you put into Connected Careers the more you get out, which is really rewarding for players who have previously been stuck in Ultimate Team mode to feel this.

Conclusion

Seamlessly integrating multiple areas of the game into one experience you can have by yourself or with literally hundreds of others is a big risk. Whether the online mode works as designed, only time will tell. But from its current situation Connected Careers could be the next defining feature making it into all the major sport games around the globe. Madden NFL 13 is more of the football you love on a Sunday and less of the unnecessary junk shielding you from the real action in years gone by. This is an ode to football lovers with the easy accessibility that allows fairly novice users to still enjoy the Madden experience. One of the best Madden games in years and proof that presentation goes along way to an enjoyable and lasting game.

Graphics - 8.5/10
Sound - 9/10
Gameplay - 9.10
Overall - 9/10

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Deadlight Review


It is hard not to find yourself excited when Microsoft announce the next XBLA promotion they are releasing. They always feature the biggest and most ambitious titles at a bargain price. There is always that one staple game people are most looking forwards to in the 4-5 on offer and Deadlight is probably rivalling Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD for that title. The one thing going against Deadlight is that it is a side scrolling survival game. A lot of comparisons can be made to Limbo and Shadow Complex, two very successful XBLA games in their own right, as directly competing with them in a saturated genre is no easy task. Does Deadlight manage to pull it off though? It is certainly up there as one of the best XBLA games I've played to date.

Presentation

Deadlight tells the story of Randall who is out to save his wife and daughter from the obvious zombie takeover of Seattle. Randall is a 2 dimensional character that you will control as a mere shadow running along a darkened foreground. The background is a bright, vibrant setting that will have you staring in awe of its beauty despite the reign of terror engulfing the world. This art style should sound very familiar because it is exactly what Limbo did. If it is on your direct dimension of interaction then it is black otherwise enjoy the view. I am pleased to say that Deadlight takes this to the next level by creating an immersive world that really blends in with the darkened foreground, rather than simply pointing out the obvious rift between the two. Objects in the background directly relate to what you are in or your current location and there is movement in the third dimension as zombies are sometimes walking towards the screen, which is very cool.


Every aspect of the audio in this game is outstanding. The cut scenes features voice acting from a few different characters, but the majority of what you hear is the narration from Randall. His deep voice perfectly suits the mood of the character and the struggle he is going through. The musical score in the game sets an eerie feeling throughout the entire adventure. It manages to do this without interfering with the actual game by setting the mood instead of influencing the play. This lets you focus on the gameplay instead of unnecessary sound effects in the desolate world you find yourself alone in.

Gameplay

Deadlight is a game that will test the strength of mankind and the distances we will go in dire straits when motivated. This could've turned into a zombie shooter where you stroll into the area, kill everything you see and move on, but it is so much more. Randall never feels like he has a solid grasp on the situation, he is always stuck in that endless struggle between trying to survive while also moving closer to rescuing his family. Sure, you will sometimes have access to a weapon that will assist in disposing of the onslaught of zombies. Most of the time is spent using the environment to assist you and simply doing everything in your power to avoid conflict altogether. Moments where you are running for your life with a horde of zombies hot on your tail is an exhilarating experience that never stops sending a chill down your spine.


For your 1200 Microsoft Points you will be given a game that will take you approximately 5 hours to complete. This is pretty good for a game at this price and being shorter than a console game means that the lack of plot points won't make the experience stale. While there is the obvious struggle and pain Randall is experiencing for allowing himself to get separated from his family, it isn't an engaging story that it could've turned out to be. A huge twist at the end that no one would expect does make it worthwhile but just don't let the initial tales of the zombie outbreak put you off.

Controls are simple and the animation of Randall is fluid. Most environments should give you a fair idea of what you need to do but expect to die a few times. That car conspicuously hanging from a wire could be used to kill zombies, if you find the switch. Stuff like this is very cool and a rewarding way to engage the players brain. Some of the platforming from ledge to ledge requires some pretty precise timing that could put off some players, but with perseverance it will be the least of your troubles.

Conclusion

Sure, zombies have been done to death in almost every medium now, but one more title couldn't possibly hurt? Deadlight is a very strong title that kept me glued to the screen for the entire game. I never thought that running away from a horde of zombies I could see would be scary but this game provides moments that had me tensing up and praying for survival. Randall's struggle is perfectly portrayed to the gamer who is never fully in control and is relying on some smart decisions rather than a guns blazing approach. If you enjoyed Limbo then this game will be a welcome addition to your collection.

Graphics - 9.5/10 
Sound - 9/10 
Gameplay - 8.5/10 
Overall - 9/10

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Darksiders II Review


Here we are, the unofficial start of gaming season after months of waiting and news from games coming late 2012/early 2013. E3 has come and gone and months of irrelevant yet sparse game releases has finally brought some true players to our consoles. Darksiders II is the sequel to 2010's Darksiders, which I found to be a very enjoyable game that I was shocked by, since it hadn't previously been on my radar. This iteration promises to be bigger and better than ever as we follow Death on his mission to clear the name of War, his brother and fellow Horsemen of the Apocalypse. With a story in place that is three times longer in a world twice the size, does this set the scene for a game that truly steps it up to the next level?

Presentation

Darksiders II seems to have a case of mistaken identity as it doesn't know whether to blow you away with an amazing art direction or make you cringe with repeated textures or sometimes shocking draw distance. The positives easily outweigh the negatives but there are elements that lack the finishing touch that would take this title to the next level.


From the very beginning of the game you will admire the stunning art direction taking for this game. Character models are spectacular and a lot of effort has been into making every main character and boss unique from everything else in the game. Death is a stunning creature that has been crafted to not only be fierce and all-powering like the fellow Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but the colour palette used keeps him bright and vibrant. The animations of Death and his enemies are smooth and he reacts to the environment around him perfectly for the majority of the time. There are some glitches where you won't grab onto an object but they don't happen often enough to become a major problem.

The land is expansive and areas slightly venture away from the linear path with multiple areas and paths to choose from when moving from point to point. These environments can be spectacular areas that have you pausing and just wanting to take in your surroundings, or also ones that make you cringe. From the spectacular opening scene in a snow storm to the bland pixelated attempts in the standard 'in between areas' there is too much of a gap in polish. Stumbling across some places towards the end of the game that are truly epic showcases of what the developers are capable of almost make up for the bland and similar environments you had to travel through to get there, but it lingers at the back of your mind.


One of the standouts is the voice of the various characters in the world. While conversations follow the standard click, listen, click mode of RPG's and there is limited interaction outside of these cutscenes, it is still satisfying. Death is a deep character who knows what he believes and isn't afraid to speak his mind. They have hired well and the dark growl of Death compliments his attitude perfectly and this is the same for many of the other characters in Darksiders II. The musical score isn't the most memorable soundtrack you will hear this year but it does have some high points when the fighting gets intense. Overall Darksiders II is a tight package in terms of its presentation but doesn't set the house on fire.

Gameplay

For those who have never played Darksiders before, it is essentially a hybrid of platforming, hack 'n slash and a RPG. References has been made to be imitating the fighting in God of War, puzzles of Zelda and platforming from Prince of Persia. While some similarities could be pointed out, this is definitely an original game that obeys its own rules and makes an experience that will keep you entertained for the entire adventure. The mixture of various genres means that it fails to shine in any particular aspect, but somehow they have made everything click together into a workable package.

For 30 hours you will be following a semi-linear path trying to restore humanity while at the same time saving your brother War. The story is nothing that will pull at your heart strings but merely provide some encouragement and intensity to continue your quest. Expect it to follow a fairly similar set up of asking Death to collect x amount of items or find this particular person but it doesn't seem to get too stale especially as they mix it up towards the end. The real standout of Darksiders is the actual gameplay.


There is a perfect blend of puzzling, platforming to complement the main action. None of the aspects of Darksiders dominate proceedings and you will find yourself switching between each one regularly. Combat is fluid and fun with a true hack n slash feel to combat for the majority of the game. Many enemies can be dealt with by some good old button mashing and dodging, but the awesome boss battles require you to use everything you know to defeat them. These battles are the real highlight of the game as Death will be going up against enemies sometimes 100 times bigger than himself in real titanic battles worthy of the God of War franchise.

The wide open maps joining areas are full of loot and treasures to find but aren't heavily populated which is a slight letdown for such vast openings. It is recommended that you go exploring not only for the items that you can find but to also level up your character. There are RPG elements in the game which range from finding and collecting loot to make Death more powerful to an abilities tree where you use skill points to develop Death in your own unique way. Adding this in mixes up the experience and can encourage multiple playthroughs by taking a difference path on the skill tree.


The last aspect of Darksiders II worth nothing is the platforming/puzzle aspect that is incorporated mostly into the 'dungeon' areas where most of your objectives take place. For the most part they are fairly simple puzzles that remind me of the Assassin's Creed catacombs that had you traversing across walls, ledges and conveniently placed items. Looking around and finding out your path beforehand is the best way to go about things. While it may get boring for some I love the platforming element incorporated into the game which really adds another dimension to Darksiders II.

Conclusion

Despite not mastering any genre, the mix and match of various game aspects has turned Darksiders II into a surprisingly strong title. Separate it into parts and this is a fairly mediocre package but altogether it is a great game that keeps you entertained right until the very end. Fighting through the grinding stages early on is definitely worth it as the game steps it up a notch in the hours before the fitting conclusion. Decent graphics and good voice acting pulls the story together and compliments the action nicely. This game will hook you in and I definitely suggest checking it out.

Graphics - 7.5/10 
Sound - 8.5/10 
Gameplay - 9/10 
Overall - 8.5/10

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

EA Officially Announces Battlefield 4 Beta with Medal of Honor Warfighter Pre-Orders


SYDNEY, Australia. – July 17, 2012 – Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ: EA) today announced access to the exclusive beta for Battlefield 4™, the next entry in DICE’s award-winning shooter series, to players that pre-order Medal of Honor™ Warfighter Limited Edition* prior to the game’s launch in Australia on October 25. The most authentic shooter this holiday, Medal of Honor Warfighter is the only game that puts players in the boots of the world’s most aggressive, precise and disciplined warfighters, fighting battles that are ripped from headlines around the globe. Powered by the ground-breaking Frostbite™ 2 engine, Medal of Honor Warfighter delivers tomorrow’s technology on today’s platforms with advanced gameplay, visuals and sound design.

The exclusive Battlefield 4 beta will be available in Spring 2013. Additional details regarding Battlefield 4 will be revealed at a later date.

“Though Battlefield and Medal of Honor Warfighter each offer players a completely unique experience, they are united by their underlying technology base – Frostbite. These are two of the hottest shooters, coming together to deliver a one-two punch of action, intensity and shooter entertainment,” said Frank Gibeau, President of EA Labels. 

Written by U.S. Tier 1 Operators while deployed overseas, Medal of Honor Warfighter is set to deliver this year’s most authentic military shooter experience inspired by real warriors, real operations and real places. From rescuing hostages in Abu Sayyaf’s stronghold in the Philippines to assaulting Al-Shabaab’s “Pirate Town” on the Somali Coast, Medal of Honor Warfighter puts players in the boots of today’s most highly trained and skilled warriors to experience missions that have a dotted line to real world terrorist threats. Medal of Honor Warfighter features real world hotspots in the single player campaign and introduces international Tier 1 Operators from 10 different nations in multiplayer allowing players to show their national pride online.

“Frostbite 2 is an amazingly powerful technology that challenges us to break the multiplayer mold. The unique premise of global warfighters in Medal of Honor Warfighter has inspired us to pioneer new multiplayer concepts such as Fire Teams and the idea of having Tier 1 Operators from around the world go head-to-head in online competition,” said Greg Goodrich, Executive Producer, Medal of Honor. 

Developed by Danger Close Games, Medal of Honor Warfighter will be available in Australia on October 25, 2012 and in New Zealand on October 26, 2012 for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system, PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system and PC. For more information on Medal of Honor Warfighter, please visit www.medalofhonor.com, and for the latest news visit www.facebook.com/medalofhonor or follow on Twitter atwww.twitter.com/medalofhonor. Press assets are available at www.ea-anz-press.com.

MEDAL OF HONOR WARFIGHTER LIMITED EDITION CAN BE PREORDERED NOW AT www.medalofhonor.com/bf4-beta 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier Review


Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon series has been one of the best squad based shooters for a long time now. However I was fearful that the influence of the big shooters in the past few years would destroy the tactical premise that made the series into stunning franchise we have today. Huge interactive set pieces and linear missions would destroy this game. I was also fearful that the promise of super smart AI wouldn’t live up to expectations, making this game fall into being a “squad” like Call of Duty or Battlefield where they are merely tagging along for morale. Two missions into the game though and all of my fears were quelled immediately. Future Solider is a spectacular game that hasn’t only taken in-game tech from the future, but AI with future intelligence as well.

Presentation

The Ghost Recon series has always had nice graphics without being the standout in the highly populated crowd. This is the same for Future Soldier as it mixes up some stunning set pieces and locations around the world with some cringe-worthy attempts at facial animations, particularly in the cut scenes. Close-ups of the Ghost members uncover some of the more ridged parts of the game and this can slightly detract from the emotion being conveyed during these specific moments. Apart from this the overall animation of all characters in the game is superbly done.


Your squad moves with precision and accurately reacts to the environment around them. It is promising to see you go into cover against a wall and manoeuvre behind it just like in real life to get the safest view around the corner. The cover system isn't only just worked out well control-wise but in the animations of your character in these positions exemplifies the superior animation and detail put into the major parts of the game. But having said that, even the smaller details like enemies and everyday civilians have been lovingly crafted. Enemies react accordingly to your movements and civilians will drop to the ground and scurry away at the sound of gunfire. While these people know that you are helping them, you can see the fear in their movements and are often bewildered when a ghost comes out of hiding.

As you jet set around the world to the different locations you will be tasked with missions in a variety of settings. These are all great environments that look downright spectacular, especially when weather effects are present. Going through the desert might seem bland, but a sandstorm and needing to use magnetic goggles or thermal vision will all of a sudden give you a different perspective of the area. Areas are full of small details and while it may force you to a given objective, you can reach it in a number of ways. Areas and effects are for the most part great and it's only the odd background that might not be perfect, but overall this is such a good looking game.


When you first boot up the game it instructs you to install audio for an enhanced experience. From this point onwards I had high expectations that this would be one spectacular game that would thrive with the sound system turned up high. Battlefield 3 for me was an audio beast with sound effects that would bring the house down. It was also accompanied by pumping beats that really set the scene for the action orientated game. Ghost Recon came out and for a while disappointed me with its sound. Gone are the action orientated tunes and sound is at a minimum. After a while though I came to appreciate how good it is. When sound effects are in place, they are awesome. The initial blast of a sandstorm will blow you away and guns all sound brilliant. Voice acting is spot on and the quiet nature doesn't only suit the stealthy gameplay, but allows you to listen to the tips from your squad that are actually helpful. This is a rarity in games, but you will want to listen to other members during the game which is pleasing.

Gameplay

Squad based shooters are not a new prospect, but have definitely been taken to the next level here. You have your true squad based games like Rainbow Six where you must hold your squads hand and command their every move. This moves all the way down to your Gears of War and Call of Duty games where the squad ranges from helpful in a fight to downright atrocious support. A lot of effort is often put into enemy AI but the same level of detail has never been pushed across to your teammates. Games have always encouraged you to play with friends which is advantageous in many titles such as Gears of War and Halo. Ghost Recon Future Soldier bucks this trend, creating an experience where you may not want your immature Battlefield playing neighbour on your team over the stealthy Ghost outfit.

Your team are clever and can actually help you out an incredible amount. When you haven't been spotted they won't give away their position but are still smart enough to line up a kill if you have tagged a player you want taken out. They act on their own accord and require only simple instructions which is what you would expect from a real life. For once you are a leader of a group worthy of being a specialist solider and playing with people that have an IQ higher than your friends is a real accomplishment for the developers.


Ghost Recon: Future Soldier will take you on 12 missions that have a story that lacks the true power to pull on your heartstrings, but does an adequate job at explaining the situation you're in. You are flown into places around the world and are tasked to eliminate or capture targets that will help you with the overall goal. This isn't a linear shooter and will present multiple options to get through it. This is first and foremost a stealth shooter that encourages use of the many gadgets at your disposal. Stealth and the clever use of cover is going to help you survive, because turning this into a Call of Duty shootout will never end well for you. The options come in how you tackle the various challenges, you can choose to tag opponents while scouting from afar and let your squad take them out simultaneously, or use your thermal sight to track enemy movements and intercept them one by one. Mixing it up will really benefit you in this game.

Being a future game we get a taster of some technology that is physically possible within the next 10-20 years. From the camouflage suit to the various drones you get to control, the game definitely prioritises the future. This may be a good insight at some of the things coming in this years Call of Duty, while actually being for their actual purpose, stealth.


In terms of online gameplay there are two main options. Standard multiplayer feels a lot like Battlefield with scout, engineer and rifleman classes that use specific weapons in an array of game types. These are all slight adjustments on popular modes such as search & destroy and capture the flag as well as a cool new mode called Decoy. There are three objectives on the map but only one of them is the real one so an element of chance is involved and gives both teams a chance to secure victory. Guerrilla Mode on the other hand is a nice take on Horde mode in Gears of War and Special Ops in Call of Duty. You must infiltrate and secure the HQ which is a protected area and defend it against increasing waves of enemies. This is a fun mode to play with friends and relies on good communication between the party to be victorious.

Conclusion

The real nit-picky members of the community will see the odd bland environment and laughable facial animations. They will pick up on the fact that the story isn't as strong as it could be. The reality is that these minor faults can be overlooked when this is such a great game. Ubisoft have progressed in leaps and bounds and lived up to all expectations that they promised when this game was announced years ago. Constant delays have paid off as they have created a powerful experience that keeps with the formula that has been successful in the past. This isn't just another shooter, this is the future of games and pulls off the stealth action better than any. A lengthy campaign and hours of more action online will have you playing this slick shooter months down the road. Don't dismiss Future Soldier, this game has all the credentials of the ghost unit itself.

Graphics - 9/10 
Sound - 9/10 
Gameplay - 9.5/10 
Overall - 9/10

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Fable Heroes Review


If you look on the internet then it would appear that I'm in the minority when it comes to the Fable franchise. Ever since the original game it has been one of my favourite RPG series and the only one I can proudly say that I've finished every single title. The RPG's are casual and provide a fun light hearted adventure with memorable characters and locations which I can still picture. The world of Albion has changed over the years and even jumping into Fable III brought back nostalgia from remnants of the past areas that have disappeared in future iterations. That said, going into Fable Heroes this isn't a RPG that I will enjoy like past titles. Instead it has taken on the casual hack n slash market that is strong especially with XBLA titles. Games like Castle Crashers are the best in the genre anywhere and Fable Heroes faces stiff competition. The thing is, does a memorable trip to a cartoon Albion with cartoon characters match these more unknown franchises?

Presentation

Now the Fable universe has always had the slight lighthearted theme to it. The graphics, while looking good, have always had that cartoon polish that directs the user to the casual side of the game. You could always tell that Fable wasn't the game that would have you undertaking serious quests killing heaps of foes but followed the fun nature of mystical creatures and the odd fart at local villagers. Fable Heroes has run with this fun natured experience but upped the ante but taking the most memorable portions of Albion and its inhabitants and mashed it all into a complete cartoon world. Rich colours and fine detail condenses the world into a brilliant little 'best of' package that perfectly mixes into the XBLA universe.


Those who know the areas and characters of Fable will enjoy this game. Making your way through Millfields or encountering the clumsy yet pesky Hobbes has always been fun and continues here. Animations in the game have you plodding around but can unleash some ferocious effects once you engage in combat. You will find coins flying around the screen as you defeat foes and that doesn't even include some of the awesome power ups found throughout the game. Even though it is a linear path, the art direction and amount of Albion incorporated into the background is excellent. This game makes sure it takes advantage of peoples familiarity of the series as much as possible.

The main protagonists in Fable are heroes of few words and that is exactly the same here. In replace of that we have the iconic score that has been filling Albion since the original game. As with the graphics, they aren't the best and most outstanding out there, but it is that familiarity with the series that will have you craving every single moment of the action.

Gameplay

For a beautiful game rich in Albion lore, it somewhat falls short as a complete package. The game is fairly repetitive and those who aren't liking what they have after one level won't see much of an improvement during the course of the game. This is all about the button mashing as a true hack 'n' slash game that really requires three more friends to become a fun experience. While having three CPU characters along for the ride will help you out, at times, you find yourself doing the bulk of the work that should be equally shared between four able bodied players. This is especially true for Dark Albion which requires teamwork once the difficulty ramps up.


The game progresses in a familiar way. You travel down a linear path coming across swarms of enemies from the Fable universe that you must kill. You do this repeatedly, sometimes using special power ups from chests that affect the hero just like they did in the main franchise, before coming to a crossroad. You can then choose one of two paths which will determine the final boss or mini game. These can be quite fun or boring depending on what they are. Boss fights are usually just larger counterparts of creatures that require constant mashing of the attack button, yet mini games such as running away from exploding chickens is a fun way to end the level. Kicking an exploding chicken at your friend and watching them die is hilarious and something you just won't experience anywhere else.


After the game ends you earn dice, which are then rolled and depending on what you land on, will offer the ability to buy power ups and new characters. Replaying levels is a must to experience both endings but ultimately its the will to do so that will be your downfall. Levels are all the same at the core and without that human communication these seem tiresome and daunting tasks that need to be merely grinded through. Playing through as my major protagonist from the series was great and as an arcade game it is good but not brilliant. The developers didn't seem to push themselves to create an experience to blow us away, instead merely trying to quench our thirst before Fable: The Journey.

Conclusion

I love the Fable universe and jumping into the setting once more in a completely cartoon setting is brilliant. As great as the graphics are however, this game is too repetitive and simple for my liking. Not enough variation in skill is required and linear levels become a drag to play. Having friends along for the friend greatly enhance the experience and some of the mini games available are a ball to play. That being said though, too much of the game is the same and doesn't completely utilise all of the weird and wonderful quirks that make Albion so unique. I went in expecting amazing things and only found a decent game. This game is good, not great, and I was really hoping for more.

Graphics - 9/10 
Sound - 6.5/10 
Gameplay - 5/10 
Overall - 6.5/10