Saturday, February 25, 2012

Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection Review

When the Japanese create a game, you expect all kinds of weird and wonderful ideas to be conveyed in a stylish presentation not seen from Western developers. Hideo Kojima's highly successful series however could be deceived as a western game, as you control the main protagonist Snake in a stealth shooter. Metal Gear Solid is a highly successful series, even if the vast majority of gamers who use the Xbox 360 as their primary console will have probably never touched a Metal Gear title before. For the first time since Metal Gear Solid 2 made an expanded released on the Xbox, we again have Metal Gear on Microsoft's platform before Metal Gear Rising launches hopefully later this year. For those who haven't played it before, think of Snake as an old school Splinter Cell.


The Metal Gear series is an old one with only one game making an appearance on the current generation, albeit it 5 years ago now. That title isn't in this collection however so the developers were tasked with updating PS2 and even PSP graphics to todays current standard. Unlike standard anniversary editions such as Halo: CE where the graphics were given a complete overhaul, Metal Gear Solid was merely a remastering of the original graphics. That means that the same issues arise such as pop in and some dodgy animations, but these are what people remember from the originals so will give a sense of nostalgia. Comparing it to Halo is unfair as that game had immense expectations on it, compared to other HD collections Metal Gear holds itself high due to the standard of the original games.

All the audio from the original titles returns and are accompanied by the laughable lip syncing. It would've been nice for Konami to take a little bit of time to try and fix this up as cut scenes are an integral part of Metal Gear Solid, especially in 2 and 3. The one disappointing thing was the menu layout which was poorly designed and didn't offer a user friendly experience. The barebones title screen didn't offer me with enough choices as settings had to be altered for every game. While this is fair enough, the in game menus haven't changed a single bit from the original releases. Metal Gear Solid 2 in particular is ridiculous for newcomers to try and navigate. A more modern approach would've been better suited for this HD Collection.


The Metal Gear Solid HD Collection features 3 games from the franchise. The titles included are Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance, Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. MGS 2 and 3 are the expanded post-release versions of the originals and MGS: Peace Walker is a PSP title. Despite being a handheld release, Peace Walker gets a disc to itself while 2 & 3 and placed onto disc 1. The games are stealth shooters and are based in periods of time conflict with the Soviet Union rather than the modern approach taken by Splinter Cell for example. This sets up the series as more of a tactical game as the vast array of gadgets are now available to be used since they simply aren't available in the time period.

Despite the the original Metal Gear game not being in the collection, you still get a nice travel through time to see how the games have improved. MGS 2 brings a top down aspect to the adventure with first person aiming which was revolutionary at the time but commonplace nowadays. The controls will take some getting used to since they don't follow rules we take for granted such as aiming and moving at the same time. This offers up a nice challenge for those who wish to relive the glory days of gaming before undertaking the more modern experience presented in Peace Walker. Modern gamers who never played the originals will feel more at home with a third person aspect to the game.

The story in each game is confusing and you will have trouble picking up on it in the beginning. MGS 2 and 3 in particular really play out as an interactive film, with cut scenes and pauses in the game as someone speaks to you making a regular occurrence. Once you get past these though the game is a heap of fun. Finding ways to take out enemies will challenge you to think outside the box and other revolutionary aspects at the time such as collectibles are back. Veterans of the series are going to be seeing Metal Gear just as they loved it last generation and that is what HD collections are all about.

Outside of the single player, mutiplayer has never really been a central part of the Metal Gear Solid franchise, but that hasn’t stopped it from trying. Multiplayer was introduced in Metal Gear Solid 4 but greatly refined for Peace Walker, where the focus shifted from the standard deathmatch offerings in favour of co-op. The game still spots the usual deathmatch and team deatchmatch options, but the co-op remains the main attraction.
It allows you and a friend to team up when on missions or taking down bosses. Having a few friends by your side gives you a whole new range of options for eliminating enemies. You can work in tandem, with one of you distracting the guard while the other sneaks up from behind and so on. It’s a great feature and a great use of co-op that complements the game’s core mechanic rather then subtract from it.


Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection has packaged together some of the greatest old games going around and given them a new home and a new coat of varnish. Old players of the series will love the fact that the developers have kept the old formula intact while bolstering the graphics. Certain aspects which just don't make an appearance in todays game will bring a sense of nostalgia. Those who have never played a Metal Gear Solid game before should also be tempted by this package. Three full games for the price of one is a great deal and while they do take some learning to master, you won't be disappointed by the thrill you will receive by playing as Master Snake. Especially in Peace Walker which is especially close to the standards in the market today for shooters. A great package that I'm glad has been brought to the Xbox 360!

Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8.5/10
Gameplay - 9/10
Overall - 8.5/10

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Review

We are in such a brutal market today that AAA games require such large budgets to make that publishers are hesitant to take risks on too many new IPs. In the past few years EA has been one of the publishers which has reverted back to franchises it knows works and those that they have taken a gamble on haven't become smash hits like they hoped. Coming in the next month are SSX and FIFA Street, two games which took off last generation and haven't seen the limelight for a number of years. Despite this, the fan base is there and it is seen as less of a risk compared to a brand new game. That is why so much pressure is on Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning to jump into the brutal market of 2012 and make an impact against RPG's such as Skyrim which are arguably the best of all time. It seems like a mammoth task, but just like the freedom available in this game, Kingdoms of Amalur had the power to change it's own fate and become a smash hit. I believe it has achieved that.


When I put loaded up Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning for the first time I had to take a look at the box to make sure that I didn't accidentally receive a copy of Fable. The world is huge and full of towns which are separated by large explorable expanses, all in the cartoony style which is best attributed to the Fable franchise. The world has a bit of everything in it, from lush forests full of trees covered in cobwebs towering over your character to large desert expanses or dark caverns full of enemies that are just waiting for a decent fight. All of this is done to match the magical setting of the world, focusing on creating a magical lore in the world rather than opting for realism like Skyrim. Despite what people say about the Fable series, it is one of my favourite franchises and I appreciated a similar art direction in the world of Amalur.

Unlike Fable, this game is not dominated by humans and features a variety of races. Apart from humans which can belong to one of a few various clans, there are also fae (fate weavers), gnomes, mystical races such as the Dokkalfar and the main nemesis race against all who you interact with on your adventures, the Tuatha. Apart from these, you will come across a host of enemies and other creatures in side quests such as werewolves who all add to the diversity of Amalur. Each race has an unique relationship with other races and together creates a nice weave of bonds and alliances between various groups.

The musical score behind this game won't leave you humming along to it after you play. It does do a nice job of setting the scene for various locations and situations of battles. From an audio standpoint the one thing that really stands out in my eyes is the fantastic standard and volume of voice acting. Every single person in the game that you talk to has something interesting and unique to say from other characters. From main characters to those with side quests, even random villagers who have a couple lines of information are all unique and no repetition is anywhere to be seen. When undertaking quests you have options which will alter what answers you receive. There is also an option to ask additional questions to characters and they will explain the world to you, filling in information about locations or the history of Amalur. This is a great way to not shove it down the throat of people who don't want droves of text, but make it available for those who need that background knowledge.


While I have to stress that this is nothing like Fable in terms of gameplay, I must bring up another thing which has transferred over. Fable was one of the first games which really brought home the fact that everything you did in the world had an effect, whether positive or negative was up to you. It didn't completely deliver on its purpose, meanwhile Kingdoms of Amalur couldn't be closer to the truth.

The game begins with two gnomes moving a dead body to be disposed of, you then decide what type of character you are and soon learn that you are in fact not dead at all. The gnome Fomorous Hugues has successfully managed to resurrect you at the Well of Souls, a feat he hadn't achieved before with correct results. Then all of a sudden your meeting is disrupted by an attack by the Tuatha and you must escape. Shortly after you meet Agarth, a fateweaver who can see everyones fate. Fate is what holds the universe together and everyone has a designed fate which will happen to them. The thing is that your character has no fate, an unheard of prospect in Amalur and that your actions are changing the fates of other people. This has drastic effects on the world and it seems to even the simplest of actions can deliver major results to unknown characters. This is a god like power which you have to get to the bottom of.

Whether you use this power for good or evil is up to you. Many choices will present themselves across the large landscape of Amalur, which you can explore as much or as little as you wish. Sub-quests are a large part of the game and just travelling from one main quest to another you will come across people who have tasks for you. It is easy to get sidetracked in the lore of the world, as many aspects of Amalur entice many travellers to explore every nook and cranny of the interesting land. The world is large and all areas are connected which is excellent for movement, unless you feel lazy and wish to fast travel to all previously found areas. This is a game where grinding through side tasks isn't a requirement but rather an option which you will see incentive to complete.

Kingdoms of Amalur is a RPG and of course there are all the stat collection which comes with items and levelling up. You can acquire new skills, level up your weapons abilities and choose who own destiny (each of which has its own special perks) in easy to use menus. You have a large variety of stealth, might, range and magic weapons to choose from in two weapon slots as well as magic attacks and various armour and clothing to choose from to protect yourself. Items range from books and picks to loot chests to health and mana potions which can all easily be equipped so you can access them in battle. They have made it a very simple process that have enough depth for RPG pros but the layout won't over awe newcomers.

The story and RPG elements aside, the shining light in Amalur is the awesome combat system which proves that role playing games don't need to suffer in order to have size and story. You have a heap of different weapons at your disposal, ranging from mages which unleash magical attacks to great swords that present devastating power in exchange for the speed of say, a dagger. You can also roll out of the way or choose to stand your ground, successfully parrying attacks or even pulling out your shield and protecting yourself in dangerous moments. The controls are super responsive and I felt confident that I would be able to roll out of harms way if it so required, which it often did in situations where you were greatly outnumbered. The great thing is that since you have no fate, you aren't restricted to a particular play style. You could go into a battle wielding a sword and hammer but find that these aren't very effective, so on the fly you can switch out your weapons and start hammering magic attacks with your mage. The levelling system means that you can choose to put all your points into a certain play style, but the freeness of the game allows you to go to a fate weaver and pay a fee to reset these points, allowing them to be placed into other categories if you don't feel like it suits you. This is absolutely spectacular and is leap years above the competition, setting the bar high for all future RPGs in how combat should be made.


Every now and then a new IP is brought onto the scene which is spectacular and warrants all the praise it can get. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is that game, bringing an ultimate sense of freedom never before seen and combat which truly means business. Not everyone is going to get truly involved in the storyline, many may be out of their depth with the amount of lore and information present in Amalur, but the main plot of you have the power to change peoples fate is such a strong one. I felt like a god knowing that my actions had true consequences to people in the world. Combat in the game is so much fun, its more of what we would expect in an action game rather than a RPG which is amazing. Little things in this game could do with some smoothing out, but overall this is a top title which warrants future adventures back to Amalur hopefully.

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

UFC Undisputed 3 Review

UFC is one of the fastest growing sports in the world and has been around on gaming consoles since the launch of UFC Undisputed 2009 in that year. Just over a year later THQ released UFC Undisputed 2010 and it looked like this was going to turn into an annual franchise like many EA Sports titles. While the game was good, it wasn't great and the developers realised this. Soon after UFC 2010 was released they announced that the development time would be extended to 18 months to allow a higher standard of UFC game in the future. So here we have it with a Q1 2012 release instead of a Q3 2011 title and wow, those extra 6 months have definitely allowed for UFC to become one of the great sporting franchises to this date. The UFC is back and better than ever before.


The Undisputed series has always had a step up on the competition (Mainly EA Sports MMA) with the big names of the sport and the television style presentation EA is generally known for. Previously though, the game really lacked in other areas such as quite average menus and misguided steps through the various modes. UFC Undisputed 3 cleans up the menus to make them easy to navigate as well as the revamped career mode which now has you guide through by some helpful words of advice. You are guided through the first few fights in such a way that you will instantly be able to feel comfortable continuing on by yourself.

The UFC series has always had brilliant graphics and a large roster of fighters which accurately reflect their human counterparts right down to smallest of bicep tattoos. Animations inside the octagon are immaculate and I could hardly fault them. Not once did I go in a fight and see glitches in the movements, odd body angles or the mysterious mixture of bodies in close combat fighting. It is amazing how seasoned titles such as NBA 2K will still have these graphical hitches on occasion and UFC can master it immediately. Fighting is a slick and easy experience that is limited by only your skill with the controller rather than the movement of your player in the midst of a fight, as it should be.

You could be forgiven to be mistaken for an actual UFC match when you get into this game. The same format as the television broadcast is present, right down to the opening scenes and match up statistics before a fight. Love him or hate him, Bruce Buffer is back once again in all of his incredibly loud glory introducing the best fighters in the world. One key aspect which was vital to providing a true UFC experience was accurately conveying the power behind every hit. Even when I hit someone on the head with a metal chair in WWE, I've never had one of those feelings when the pain is transferred to you. UFC has no such issues, every hit hurts. Bone crunching kicks or elbows to the face will have you cringing in pain for your fighter as you just hear the savage impact of fist on face. Rocking an opponent blurs the screen and allows for you to deliver some devastating blows which just feel completely brutal.


A large variety of choices has always graced the UFC series and this title is no different. Whether it is in game with the many fighting styles such as Muay Thai, Kickboxing and being a straight up boxer or the game modes where you can progress through a career or challenge the Title and Title Defence modes. All these modes are back and better than ever with vast improvements being made to each one, although career mode received the biggest makeover. The task of taking an unknown fighter from the bottom of the rung to being the best UFC fighter in the world was a tedious one in Undisputed 2010. The game focused on stat management more than actually fighting with degrading skills which would diminish in the blink of an eye if you didn't tend to them. The developers took the problem to heart and fixed it, removing the diminishing stats and instead putting the focus back on what should count, the fighting.

While it comes at the end of your career, you will learn early on about the exciting new addition to UFC called Pride mode. Pride is a now defunct league that had different rules to UFC and was fought in a boxing ring rather than the Octagon. The primary differences between the leagues is the sheer brutality allowed in Pride such as head stomps and soccer kicks. There is no surprise why this kind of stuff isn't allowed in real life anymore, but its great to be able to experience it here in UFC Undisputed 3.

Another new feature included in the actual gameplay is a submission mini game which leaves the previous spamming of the right thumbstick to gain a submission. Rather than putting a premature end to the life of many controllers, a new mini game pops up which requires the person who initiated the submission to move their bar over the opponents (who is trying to escape) in an octagon shaped puzzle. The more damage caused to the opponent, the bigger their bar and slower that they can move so a submission can be achieved easier. At first I didn't like it, but after going back to UFC 2010 I realised how much of an improvement it is over the constant rotation of my thumbstick.

There are two main areas to a UFC fight. The stand up game is where you will be punching and kicking your opponent, delivering powerful blows which can deliver a knockout in an instant. Attempt a takedown however you will come across the ground game which is highly technical and is arguably the most strenuous part of a real fight. Fighters experience in Muay Thai and other eastern forms of fighting will be able to attempt many submissions as well as transition into favourable positions and deliver some devastating ground and pound to the opponent. As difficult as this was in real life, it was equally as challenging to learn in previous titles as difficult controls meant that new players often found themselves over their head in mastering the control setup. Probably the biggest change for Undisputed 3 is the inclusion of an amateur control setup to go along with the classic 'pro' controls. Instead of using specific right thumbstick movements, a simple flick up or down lets you transition and left or right to counter an opponents transition. This makes it easier for first timers, as well as allowing friends to come and play without being overawed as soon as the game goes to the ground.

There is just so much to do in this game which makes it a great purchase. Once you go through the lengthy career mode, complete the title and title defence modes then test out the pride league in exhibition with a few friends, we come across online. I found previous titles laggy and it really makes such a strategic game hard and often people reverted to slug fests since the precision of the ground game couldn't be achieved. Online is now cleaner and more accessible, I didn't encounter any issues when trying to play people online. Playing against other humans which have unorthodox fighting styles compared to the AI is really interesting and provides a nice challenge. You will be fighting and continually unlocking new content all the way to UFC Undisputed 4.


It is so great to see a game that is below the bar and the developers realise this so they take the necessary steps to correct the issues present. UFC Undisputed 3 is the definitive fighting game for this generation of consoles. Finally we have a game which is inviting for newcomers while also presenting a challenge for those who are seasoned veterans of the octagon. Fighting is again at the forefront of the experience in career mode and the vast amount of modes available creates an experience which is unrivalled. This is a definite contender for sports game of the year, there is not enough praise I can give for this title which has instantly become a favourite of mine.

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

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Final Fantasy XII-2 Review

A series spanning 25 years, 14 main iterations and numerous spin-off titles is a definite force to be reckoned with. The Final Fantasy series is one of the few in the world which can lay claim to being incredibly successful for a long period of time. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is one of the rare direct sequels in the series which is more like a series of events in the same universe. XII-2 follows on from where XIII finished, but will have you controlling Serah the sister of Lightning as she travels through time to try and rescue her sister. Since FF XIII had a definitive ending to their mission to protect Cocoon from the fal'Cie, players can come into XIII-2 without any previous knowledge of the story and still pick it up with ease. For those who need to know what happened, a beginner's Primer is available to help pick up the main pieces of the story.


I was absolutely blown away with the art direction and incredible level of detail in FF XIII. RPG's have huge extravagant worlds and this size generally doesn't allow for the finesse and beautiful graphics seen in smaller titles such as a FPS. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is beautiful, that is probably the simplest way to put this. The characters, the world, the animations are all truly unique and the level of detail is unmatched in the RPG genre. Cut scenes never ceased to amaze, the smallest things such as Serah's hair waving in the breeze or accurately moving as she turned her head are just some of the many ways that Final Fantasy excels. If you aren't looking for a RPG that you can appreciate graphically as well as with great gameplay, this is certainly the one to purchase.

For people who have never played a recent Final Fantasy title, you will soon notice that they are heavy on the cut scenes and live action areas of play. The start of the game will go for around 20 minutes and is a brilliant spectacle of cut scenes and cinematic areas which require the use of quicktime events to progress through. In most cases, the sheer amount of time you will spend watching the story unfold would get on my nerves, but the story behind XIII-2 requires the story to be told in such a way. The spectacular areas you visit and beautiful set pieces created by the developers deserve to be shown in a premeditated way to showcase the true spectacle.

During the game the presentation stays at the lofty standard produced by the cut scenes. Serah runs around like a you would imagine her to, with almost a prance in her step. I encountered no pop in what so ever in my travels and fluid animation even in the most intense of battles. The hybrid fighting style of Final Fantasy is unique to the series and brings the action of real time battles to turn based fighting. Big boss fights or those with lots of monsters can get quite hectic and all the movement on the screen still looks coordinated and beautiful to watch. The menus are slick and easy to use and set out well for both newcomers and seasoned JRPG veterans.

Final Fantasy games of old offer some of the most recognisable soundtracks to ever grace a video game. Titles such as FFVII still reveal a sense of nostalgia when I hear them and XIII-2 could potentially do this in years to come. The fun lighthearted nature of the musical score is fabulous and is tuned into Serah's sweet and innocent side rather than the evil she must face on her journey. The soundtrack is more vocal than past games, which isn't a bad thing. Not every game from Japan makes a smooth transition from being Japanese to English, but FF XIII-2 excels with strong voice actors really bringing the characters to life and successfully engages the player into the story. From the very beginning I felt connected to Serah and instantly felt like I wanted her to succeed in her quest. You can make an instant opinion of a character which will ultimately affect what dialogue choices you choose to make with them.


The first game in the story of Serah and Lightning was a good game, but despite that is was slammed by critics for the extreme linearity of the title. RPG's are all about exploration and running away from the main story to create your own adventure. Everyone who plays the same RPG should be able to have their own unique experience and visit places which other people who have played the game may not have. This ultimately hurt the title and have led people to be sceptical about XIII-2. The developers seemed to have made it their sole purpose to prove gamers wrong as they have expanded the game to shower you in choices and varying paths to take.

For me the FF series has always been about the breathtaking stories first and gameplay second. Strong character development and emotional finales have glued me to the screen for years. The world you are taken into is a big part of developing that story and expanding the world has improved the story for me personally. The game starts off with Lightning in a mysterious realm called Valhalla. She is soon in the midst of a battle with a man named Caius in order to protect Valhalla. A mysterious stranger called Noel soon appears, who is given the task by Lightning to find her sister, Serah, and bring her to Valhalla. We then learn that Noel is from the future and can travel through realms of varying periods of time. This opens the game up considerably and as soon as Serah and Noel begin their adventure the map opens up with winding paths and an encouragement to explore. The story is fairly unique from the original, a direct sequel in the Final Fantasy series mainly means that the same characters and universe are used. A newcomer can easily hop into XIII-2 and get on without a worry, but the beginner's primer can relive key moments from the past game if they feel the need to see a recap.

The battle system has remained same in a basic level, but a few interesting changes have been made. Probably the most drastic change is that Noel and Serah are the only human characters that will ever be in your party. The 3rd slot is now reserved for monsters which you can take control of after defeating them in battle. This adds a very interesting mechanic to the game as those millions of obsessive people who had to "Catch 'em all" in a certain handheld title will find the same experience here. Battling still follows the action turn based system of the previous title which is fairly easy. You can either choose what attacks you wish to line up or let it automatically fill your bar with attacks. While the second option may sound boring, it will be used a lot since the new Paradigm shifts in XIII-2 inject some much needed action. Paradigm's are kind of like game tactics or styles which designate how your characters will go about the fight. One paradigm may be designed to reduce damage on your characters while another paradigm will aim to confuse the monsters, making attacks and the ability to stagger them easier. It is rewarding to accurately use a paradigm shift in a big battle and automatically get the edge in the fight. While the majority of battles may seem easy in the beginning, accurate knowledge of when to shift becomes a vital tool later in the game.

A few various methods have been used to extend the life of the game. These come in the form of your standard side quests which generally involve fighting a certain monster or delivering an item. Sometimes a puzzle is thrown into the mix to change the formula up, but not often enough for my liking. These side quests are handy to level yourself and your monsters up using the crystarium system which returns from the last game. This is more of a visual tool to using points to upgrade certain abilities as well as unlocking new ones, but it is one I enjoy using over the standard menus of other games. The game also measures your progress in fragments, which can be either earned by finishing missions or found throughout the world. After finishing the game I had collected 50 or so out of the 160 in the game, so a lot of adventuring is still up for grabs.

There are a few areas of the game which do bring it down slightly. As much as I absolutely crave the story, the battle system and the amazing universe that you traverse through, some things don't live up to the incredibly high standard. XIII had a brilliant story and the large array of characters present kept the formula interesting as the chemistry between the group was constantly evolving. In XIII-2 you are always with Noel and Serah and they don't have the same charismatic style of characters such as Sazh, Lightning and Fang. It would've been nice for a few more people to help them along the way, even if they didn't have around for the entire adventure. Some people may not be happy with the simpler style of play compared to Final Fantasy's of old, but I am liking the mix of classic play and the new styles such as quicktime events which are now beginning to be prevalent in titles of every genre.


While Final Fantasy XIII-2 hasn't completely mastered where it wants the series to go from here, it is great to see that they listened to what people wanted and fixed it up for this sequel. The journey of Serah and Noel is a breathtaking experience which will be pulling on a few emotional strings towards the end in another classic story and world only found in the greatest of JRPG's. It won't go down as one of the true classics such as VI and VII, but signs are promising for the future. The ATB system is one that I enjoy and paradigm shifts are a great inclusion. Exploration is finally back in Final Fantasy and that can only be a great thing, definitely a game to consider even if XIII didn't take your complete fancy.

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

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Grand Slam Tennis 2 Review

EA Sports have proven for over two decades that they know how to make a damn good sport game. They have a strange hold over the NFL, Soccer, NHL and Golf genres and arguably set the stepping stones for 2K to wrestle control of the NBA series away from them. The big sports they have never touched in their time have been baseball, which has the PS3 exclusive The Show as well as 2K's iteration and tennis, which is led by the Top Spin series. After dabbling in tennis with Grand Slam Tennis, an arcade-like experience for the Wii it is glad to see that they have brought a true title to consoles in the only way EA know how. Grand Slam Tennis 2 is the only title this generation boasting all four Grand Slams, as well as a host of current and past stars of the game.


I have been a huge fan of the Top Spin series since day one. The reason why I chose a Xbox over the PS2 was because it came bundled with Top Spin (and a small game called Halo). The series has arguably mastered the tennis aspect of tennis, but Top Spin hasn't ever really got on board with a presentation which matches the game on-court. Matches are silent, there is no emotion displayed by the crowd and the commentators don't utter enough to make their presence felt. Grand Slam Tennis 2 has changed this with an ESPN presentation which features commentary by the famous John McEnroe and Pat Cash. Finally, this feels like a game on tennis just like you see on television. Highlights, constant commentary and instant replays replicate what the majority of us see when we tune into the Grand Slams. The larger sport franchises now have the presentation as a number one priority and it was great to see this focus transferred to EA Canada's new title.

From a graphics stand point the series has leapt over the competition bringing a new level of realism to the sport. Player models and animations are spot on, even down to the unique stances and swings of the featured players. It is so cool to see Rafa's unique forward whip in action against the silky smooth actions of someone such as Roger Federer. This P.R.O A.I. system adds photo realistic strategies and movements to these players and makes the game a joy to play. A lot of effort has gone into providing the greatest amount of detail to the four Grand Slam events. The ball will act differently depending on if you will play on grass, clay or a hard court and promotes realistic strategy changes for various environments.

The advantage of the P.R.O. A.I. system is that it doesn't only replicate the movements of players. Those unique sounds of particular women players are also in the game and you can enjoy laying back with your eyes closed while that piercing sound engulfs you. Anywhere else this would be a massive turn off, but in a tennis game Maria Sharapova's screech is iconic and it's great to see it featured in the game. Player sounds as well as the crowd reactions are realistic and superb, as are the commentators. Pat Cash and McEnroe will accurately react to what is happening in the game and respond to various situations in a match. Being their first game as commentators, they seem to be a bit short on the number of responses they have on hand. More additions to this franchise will fix this problem but for now it doesn't have the complete experience that FIFA or Madden provide for example.


In recent times it seems that board meeting at EA Sports HQ revolved around their complete disgust at buttons. While it is an option, the game encourages you to use their all new total racquet control system. Using the right analog stick, you are able to control every shot with precision and power in greater accuracy than the conventional button layout. It does take a bit to get used to, but the training sessions with John McEnroe helps ease you into it (As long as he doesn't need to shout at you for getting it wrong). After a few games you will be able to get a good handle on the system and be making shots where you want them to go. The game follows Top Spins importance of timing with good, early and late signals being made after every shot which determines the power and accuracy of the shot. With the serve, it isn't about timing and more about successfully lining up a moving bar with the middle of a power meter like older tennis games. It does work well with the thumb stick and getting it right to deliver an ace never gets old.

One of the two main games modes in Grand Slam Tennis 2 is the single player career mode. This mode takes you on a 10 year career which is completely focused on the Grand Slam Tournaments. Before each Grand Slam there is a minor tournament and possible training session with John McEnroe to improve your stats before taking on some of the giants of the tennis world on the biggest stage in the world. The difficulty spike is very odd, with year 1 being on the rookie difficulty, year 2 on the amateur, year 3 on pro and years 4-10 on superstar difficulty. What this means is that with the most basic stats possible you should easily prevail in most if not all of the Grand Slams. This isn't what happens in tennis, I feel like a more standard difficulty which makes tournaments hard while you are up and coming and Grand Slams a possibility later in life would benefit this mode. For a game that is all about realism, something as simple as pre-adjusting the difficulty has really wrecked the mode for me. There also aren't enough tournaments available. While the main focus is the Grand Slams, I would've like to see more of the ATP 1000 events featured as well as some of the more famous lead up events to the Grand Slams.

The other great mode in this game, which seems directly inspired by 2K's Legends mode in NBA 2K12, is the ESPN Grand Slam Classics. This mode puts you in the shoes of some of the greatest players from generations past as they overcome unlikely odds or amazing rivalries to finish victorious. These matches are challenging and a heap of fun to reminisce about some of the greatest moments in tennis. You start out with recent classics such as the Nadal v Federer rivalry before slowly working your way back through time taking on 25 different scenarios before eventually hitting fantasy matches which pit the best players of today against the best players of yesteryear. This mode is a heap of fun and provides the same fantastic experience that gamers loved with Michael Jordan originally in NBA 2K11.

There is also an online mode in Grand Slam Tennis 2 which lets you play a variety of singles and doubles matches as well as online tournaments. These are great fun to play with friends and the strategy of playing a real person is a lot different to trying to combat an onslaught from a CPU Djokovic. Speaking of superstars, I feel like this game just doesn't have enough. Games such as FIFA features hundreds of licensed players, yet Grand Slam Tennis 2 features 23 and 11 of those are past players. This has been a problem I've encountered in all tennis games, I would like to see EA crack down and secure licenses to all the main players on the ATP tour which would give them ultimate bragging rights over Top Spin. As I said before, more tournaments and increased commentary options would also bolster the appeal of this game.


Grand Slam Tennis 2 is a valiant effort. For their first attempt at creating a next generation tennis game they have got a lot of things right that other companies have failed to achieve after multiple sequels. The presentation is absolutely spot on and the tv experience is one which I feel is going to be matched by all tennis games from this point forward. The gameplay and controls feel solid, the classic matches are amazing but small areas let this game down a little. We need more players, more tournaments, more commentary and ultimately more options. The difficulty is the career mode is out of whack and erases the realism created in every other aspect of the game. I hope many people go out and purchase this game. With support I hope EA Canada can make future titles in the Grand Slam series and over time provide an experience which has potential to match that of the companies premier sport franchises.

Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 7.5/10
Gameplay - 7.5/10
Overall - 8/10

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

NeverDead Review

In a game market saturated with sequels and games which follow the exact same formula as titles which proved to be successful, it's rare to find a new experience. NeverDead has jumped onto the scene, trying to be that title which is the standout new experience of 2012. On the surface NeverDead looks like your standard third person shooter, following along the lines of Gears of War among others. It's not until you get around to the fact that you can't die as the main dot point of this game which makes things interesting. Does immortality make this game into one of the great new IP's that we will see this year?


For an unknown title, I launched into it not expecting me to blow me away in the graphics apartment. NeverDead went against my initial hypothesis and has turned out being a beautiful game which has created some stunning environments and characters. I was particularly impressed by the amount of animation going on throughout the course of the game. Battlefields can become hectic as the environment is destructible and explodes just as spectacularly as a downed foe. Explosions are plentiful and destruction of the environment as well as your body will come often as exploding red bottles are littered throughout the game.

For all this destruction, the mess it creates forms a sticky situation for the main character in more ways than one. Moving around some of the closer combat environments once they are littered with rubble becomes a challenge due to the controls which don't allow for smooth movements. An explosion which throws your head metres away from your body can become a real challenge when there are multiple immovable objects blocking the way. Odd camera angles don't help with the process all that much.

Character models are very good for the main characters, as are the voice acting for them. The main character Bryce will convey his negative attitude to everything adequately and his one liners attempt to bring some humour into the game. His partner, Nikki, will often complain about everything. While both are fine, the repetitive tone of the characters becomes annoying after a while and doesn't do anything to advance the storyline as no real chemistry is created between character and character, or even character and the gamer.


Despite how exciting the prospect or being able to dismember yourself and continue fighting may sound, the execution of this process would determine the overall outcome of this game. Initially the game is a heap of fun and the fact that you can be walking around one second and rolling around as a head the next is a true novelty. I played through the first stage thinking that I would have an absolute ball with this game. But then all of a sudden the game progressed, but nothing changed to the overall formula. Soon enough, losing body parts became a hindrance rather than a vital part of the experience.

In all fairness, the depreciating appeal of the key mechanic isn't caused by the mechanic itself. The failure of NeverDead to evolve in both a gameplay and story telling aspect is this titles ultimate downfall. Stages aren't varied enough, there are only a handful of enemies which you encounter the same types far too often and even the boss battles become tiresome. The game leads you in with little backstory to Bryce's immortality except he fought a demon 500 years ago. Why he is a demon hunter and the whole story is disjointed and doesn't provide a satisfying ending.

The controls are also a bit hit and miss. Controlling Bryce works fairly well and he accurately reacts to his current form. You may be able to move around with ease, but then once you lose a leg your mobility is decreased as you hop around on your remaining leg. Regaining your body parts is as simple as body rolling over them, even if this does become a frustrating process if an enemy happens to stand over your body ready to behead you straight away. Shooting uses the two triggers as you dual wield weapons. One cool thing is that while aiming gets disabled, you can still shoot if your arms have been severed from your body. My weapon of choice due to it being severely overpowered in respect to the guns is the sword, which uses an awkward thumbstick system which I would like to be replaced with the conventional button or even a basic thumbstick action.

The game is more of an arcade shooter, with experience points found throughout the maps allowing for upgrades. Only so many 'perks' can be equipped at a time but allows for some customisation of Bryce. Apart from that, this game just follows the same formula or go into a room, fight all the enemies that appear and find a way to move on. Being immortal you don't have to worry about dying for the vast majority of the game. One monster can suck your head into its mouth, but a simple mini game will let you escape and continue on your way. This game suffers from too much repetition and the fact that almost everything you use is at the start of the game. No story and no evolvement from any element of NeverDead has me wanting more than I got.


Man, I badly wanted to like NeverDead. It offers so much promise and uniqueness, something I have been craving from an industry based on repetition. In an attempt to create some new and interesting, the developers have suffered from internal repetition. A poor storyline and game which doesn't really change from start to finish hurts this game more than you can imagine. With a gripping story and characters that we can connect with then the cheap attempts at humour and immortal factor could be great. Instead, this game just leaves me glad that the experience is over instead of having the feeling of excitement when I put the disc into my Xbox. This is a classic example of one fact, you can't make a good game without a story to go with it.

Graphics - 7.5/10
Sound - 5.5/10
Gameplay - 4/10
Overall - 6/10

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012 Review

Despite the best attempts of Microsoft, the Kinect has so far been a flop in terms of gaming sales for Kinect-only experiences. There have really only been three titles that have attracted considerable attention of consumers and suitably so have all received sequels in 2011. Until Electronic Arts truly bring Kinect to big name titles such as Mass Effect 3 and Microsoft unveil some more exclusive titles we are stuck with dancing in Dance Central 2, various sports in Kinect Sports Season Two and getting fit in Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012. The latter is the title I will focus on in this review. When the Kinect launched it was really a battle between Your Shape and EA Sports Active 2 for the personal fitness title crown. The simplistic approach of Your Shape without any extra add-ons made it the favourite with consumers and have now allowed improvements to be made along with new content for those who still enjoy working out on a daily basis without the hassle of gyms.


Last years title went with the minimalistic approach seen with slick devices from Apple. White backgrounds with colours of shapes as well as a coloured outline of yourself instead of a dodgy avatar attempt worked a charm and made Your Shape a more serious game. Nothing would've been worse than living in a cartoon world with an Avatar flailing its arms everywhere while you try to burn calories. Your Shape 2012 has kept with the same concept but expanded it a bit further by adding in more set pieces. Working in a gym setting, you will now see dumbbells on the floor and other fitness equipment around the place. A more peaceful exercise however will have you outdoors in a zen-like environment full of trees, rocks and ponds to create a sense of calm. It doesn't go over the top but rather sets the scene perfectly.

There is an ambient musical score in place which like the previous game delivers a soothing sound. While it isn't much, it has a decent effort on your mindset for more relaxing exercises. I would've liked some more up tempo music available for higher intensity programs however. The fitness instructors will talk to you and explain what is going on, as well as giving slightly helpful instructions as to how you should improve. These are fairly basic things such as to keep up with the instructor or lift your arm up more, but they are do seem to help go from a good performance to a 'perfect' performance based on the tracking system.


Your Shape 2012 is merely an enhanced version of the original, but that is completely fine as the original worked perfectly. For months and months I slaved away with weights in my hand as I lost calories. Despite being quite fit and slim myself, this game was still handy as I felt myself getting fitter and improving over time. The best part about the Your Shape experience is exactly that, this game has something that will help every shape and sized body. People who want low intensity exercises will be at home in yoga while those who want to tone those abs can hop into a cardio session.

The game is set up by analyzing your body and asking a few questions to try and recommend programs suited towards your goals. Inevitably though the choice is yours which is good, I would hate for the game to accidentally think I wanted to lose some baby fat when in fact I was after a torturing session of push ups and bridges. Speaking of push ups, they are just one of many new exercises in this years title. The game has now gone to the floor and offers a number of exercises that are commonplace in gyms but unavailable in the first iteration. The Kinect needs to see you from side on to accurately track the movements and some head cringing to see the screen will be necessary, but you will get used to it over time.

Unlike a majority of single player games which I will commonly finish in anywhere between 5-10 hours, Your Shape is one of those titles which you will use for the entire year. After having a nice holiday I was unfit and hadn't used Your Shape 2011 for over a month. This was the perfect time to put Your Shape 2012 to use for this review. I picked up some similar cardio based programs from the last game to work my way through, completing various sessions per day until the program was complete. After 2 weeks I was feeling better after completing the sessions, I had more energy throughout the workout and could notice a difference in my VO2 Max. While the game tells me approximately how many calories I have burnt, that is irrelevant for me but a handy indicator for those who are conscious about their weight.


Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012 has indeed envolved from its predecessor while still managing to keep the formula which made it successful in the first place. While the game isn't perfect and the Kinect without it's own processor means that we can't get completely accurate tracking of the body, it does a great job for what it's gone out to do. People will enjoy this game, it makes getting the gym experience simple in an easy to use manner within a persons home. The public nature and high costs of gym will turn people off going to them, but if you can pay $50 for a game to play for years then why not? If this game gets people off the couch and encourages them to participate in exercise where as they previously wouldn't then I see this game as a complete success.

Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 6.5/10
Gameplay - 8.5/10
Overall - 7.5/10