Tuesday, 30 November 2010

"Walkin' in a winter wonderland........"

Snow eh? Well, depending on where you are in the U.K, you're probably getting some kind of snow. Down south or up north, it's pelting it down. And depending on if you're a light-hearted soul, or some Scrooge-type miserable bastard, you're either taking advantage and having fun, like my lady friends over there on the left, or moaning about the gritters aren't out, or it's the same every year....blah blah blah.

Anyhoo. I love the snow. Especially when i'm inside with the heating turned up to nuclear levels. So, what better time to look at some of the best snowy moments in gaming. This isn't a list of the best games featuring snow, and the list is in no particular order, it's just ten of what I consider to be the best snowy levels or settings in videogames. So....sit back, get your woolly hats and mittens on, crack out the mulled wine and have a look.

(Just as a quick disclaimer, depending on the video, you may have to bump it forward a minute or two to get to the bits I mean. I'll try and get it right first time, but if you're too fucking lazy to scroll over a bit well....god help you!)

#1. Goldeneye.

Goldeneye was a great game. You don't need me to tell you that. I remember playing it like it was yesterday. But one of the levels that stuck with me was the surface level. The one where you had to power down the communications dish and gain access to the underground bunker. I loved this level. It stuck with me more than most in the game. The N64 used to get its fare share of grief about the draw distances in games, but this was one level where the "fog" problems that permiated most N64 titles actually improved a level. The bit where the radar dish slowly emerges out of the snowy horizon left me with a huge smile on my face. I replayed the level again and again just so I could see it!

#2. Lost Planet.

Well, it kind of almost had to be on the list, what with being set on a snowy planet and all that. The game itself was pretty cool, essentially old school in it's stylings, but battling monsterous Acrid over snowy wastes never really got old. Some of the boss fights were epic, and the snowy wastelands, in places, are a thing to behold.

#3. Diddy Kong racing.

I love DKR. In my opinion, and that's the only one that matters, it batters the N64 version of Mario kart (yes it does.....YES IT DOES!). I spent hours and hours on the game, and one of my favourite levels is Frosty Village. Just hearing the music gives me a huge Christmassy feeling, and the level, with it's snow caves and villages lit up with decorations is beautiful.

And i'll say it YET AGAIN....it's a better racing game than Mario Kart. The end.

#4. Super Ghouls 'n' ghosts.

One of my favourite games of all time. Hard as nails, but so, so good to play. If you have never played it....well....kill yourself. Seriously. If you have played it, you probably remember the snow level. A REAL bastard of a level to finish, just down to the impared vision of the snow and those huge snow cat creatures with a severe case of ice halitosis.

#5. Super Mario 64.

I remember when I first got my N64. I lined up outside Virgin Megastore at 12 midnight. They were doing it on a first come, first served basis, and I was second in line. Hours later, with my new console in hand I shot straight home and settled down to play Mario 64, arguably still the best game on the N64. One of the levels that stuck with me was the snow level. Rescuing the little penguin, racing the big one down the big steep slope....just a complete excercise in fun, something some games these days should remember.

#6. Call of Duty 2.

It's still probably my favourite of the Call of Duty games....well, a toss up between this and Modern Warfare. The story, the sound effects, and when the game was first release I though graphics would never be as good....(how wrong I was eh?). The mission, where you start off training with the Red Army, which then descends into chaos as you have to go and attack the German forces, still stand out to this day. I really think they nailed the weather in this level. You can imagine how cold the Russians feet must be.

#7. Uncharted 2.

Uncharted 2 must take the crown for the most realistic snow in a game. Ever. Just look at it! It is, for all intents and purposes real snow. Apart from it's not cold. And it's not real. But in the videogame world it's real, and that's good enough for me.

#8. Virtua Fighter 5.

The best fighting game ever. Well....best 3D fighting game ever anyway. And one of my favourite levels? You got it, the snowy mountain stage (well...it would be, what with this being a snow themed article and all.....doh!). Why is it so good? Well, to me, it actually feels cold. Even though it's a glorious sunny day, seeing the fighters breath just shows you how cold it must be. And I love the way the snow gets kicked up and spread around as the fighters switch positions and kick.

#9. Metal Gear Solid 4.

Mateal Gear Solid 4 had it's haters....namly the people that couldn't be arsed to sit through a 90 minute cut scene....no matter how amazing that scene was. Me? I lap anything Metal Gear related up, and I loved every minute of MGS4. One moment in particular that is one of my favourite moments in gaming is the return to Shadow Moses, the setting of the first MGS game. Not only was it the flashback to the first game as you travel there in the helicopter, not only was it the haunting music that starts as soon as you go over the crescent and see the entrance to the facility, it was the snow. A real blizzard of a snowstorm, sneaking past the mechs, getting covered in snow and having flakes hit the screen and melt in front of you literally made my tummy banana stir.

(Jump to around 2.45 in the video....unless you want to see the awesome PS1 flashback at the start!).

#10. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

The FPS equivalent of Marmite, you love it or hate it and i'll be the first to admit that the games story is as confusing as using the same organ to both piss and have sex with, but I love MW2. Partly because it's got the S.A.S in, and I taught then everything that they knew. Partly because of Captain Price and his awesome moustache, but I love it mostly for the following level. Yourself and Soap infiltrate a base, starting with a hazardous mountain insertion, you make you way through the base, silently taking down any enemies you come across using the blizzard for cover. The snow though, and weather conditions in general, such as the freezing breeze rippling your clothes that make the level a standout. It's a blinder of a level, literally in places, and it's one of the reasons I love videogames. Enjoy.

So there you go. Gamefreaks top ten snow levels in videogames. Please feel free to leave your comments, and of course if i've missed what you would consider to be a better one, don't bother getting in touch....you won't beat mine.

(just teasing....)

Friday, 19 November 2010

Rock Band 3 review.

Rock band 3 is now released. Well, it's been out for a couple of weeks now actually, but i've needed that much time to really see what the game has to offer, AND i've also been waiting for the pro guitar to arrive so I can tell you all about it. Still no sign of the guitars in the U.K, so i'm going to forge ahead and review the third game in Harmonix series anyway.

The plot:

Well....there isn't one. You basically start off in a band, and you travel from venue to venue, playing gigs, building up your fan base and being blown by groupies. Well, that last bit was a bit of a fib, but i'd imagine that it happens. Funnily enough in non of the bands i've ever played with.

What I liked:

Pretty much everything. Harmonix, who of course started out work on the original Guitar Hero and it's sequel before jumping ship and making the Rock Band series, have essentially polished up this game to the nth degree, and it shows. There isn't a single aspect of the game that hasn't been tweaked to perfection. There are 83 tracks on the disc, some forgettable, and some absolute classics on there. The disc based tracks aren't really the be all and end all, as you can transfer content from all of the other Rock Band games into this one (for a small fee, of course). Include this with any DLC you already own and your tracklist should be swelling. There are a wealth of song filters in the game, so finding tracks is never an issue, it even recommends DLC tracks down to your own personal tastes.

You can go in and just have a quick play, start a career mode, play different challenges, almost any game type you want is on there. The road challenges are great. You get to drive from gig to gig, building up fans and unlocking outfits by completing certain challenges. Some setlists will have you keep up as many streak multiplyers as you can. Others have a spotlight challenge, so when the spotlight comes on you only by sucessfully completing a streak will you net the points, and then the spotlight shines on another member of your band, who has to do the same. There is, you will be glad to hear, several variations in these challenges. There are even certain achievement challenges too, such as play 5 songs from bands that feature Dave Grohl........awesome! All in all there are over 700 different goals for you to complete.

The new pro mode is the big one. As before you can play Rock Band as you know and love it, strumming up and down and using the 5 buttons. Now there is the added Pro-mode, which for all intents and purposes has you training up to play real instruments. I've only been able to get my hands on the pro keyboard and drums (curse you EA for your weak-ass non-existant supply of Mustang guitars) and these additions are amazing. There are a wealth of training options which get you used to playing on these modes, which believe me you should dive in on first. Pro drums has the three additional cymbals, so you will using these as well as the four drum pads as normal. It's slightly confusing at first, but after a few hours of training you'll be banging away like Keith Moon falling fown the stairs if you're anything like me. Keys are slightly harder. The actual keyboard is a gorgeous piece of kit, a 2-octave half sized keyboard. The challenge comes from having to look constantly at the screen, so you can't really see what your fingers are doing. You'll be cursing it at first, and then after a while, when it clicks and you're tinkling away to John Lennon's "Imagine" you'll get that butterfly feeling swell up in your stomach and it's one of the greatest things in gaming.

Add to all of this a revamped graphics mode, customisation options for your band, being able to chart a bands career through the Rock Band website, and all in all it's a package you can't help to be pleased with.

What I loathed:

Not a great deal. I'm STILL not a big fan of the hammer on/off situation. I hate the way that the game dictates to you where and when you do it. The one good this Guitar Hero has on this are the hammer ons/off.....you can do them anywhere in GH. You could say that the track list is slightly weak, maybe the weakest in the series, and if you don't have any of the downloaded content you may only find yourself getting into a few of the songs. Harmonix still haven't given any details on reverse engineering older songs with keyboards or pro modes (as of writing some of the songs like the recent Bon Jovi DLC do have the options to upgrade to pro modes, but at a cost of around 160 ms points PER SONG!!!). And my one big gripe, something i'm actually going to contact Harmonix about, is the crowd. On the older games when you were playing well and giving a belting performance, the crowd would start to sing along with you, giving it that big arena feel. It's now gone, and I want the bloody thing back........NOW! And once again, if you're not in the States you get shafted over the equipment. They seem to have supplied ample keyboards, drums and 5-button guitars, but not a sausage about any concrete release date on the pro model one. No shop i've visited seems to have a clue either. Seeing as how the pro mode is essentially the big selling point for the game, not to have the pro guitars available is a bit shite really.

The verdict?

Rock Band 3, as the original game did before it, redefines the music game genre. Everything it's ever done has been polished, inproved and thought over with the love that only developers like Harmonix do. With the addition of pro mode, which finally gets you on your way to learning and being able to play a real instrument, it blurs the line between game and musicianship. If you're a fan, get hold of the game and do so right now. It's the game that's made Guitar Hero redundant.

Rating: 9/10

(Xbox 360 version reviewed).

Friday, 12 November 2010

Call of Duty: Black ops review.

Well, it's here. The big one, le grande fromage. Call of duty: Black ops, the latest release from developers Treyarch, has already reached staggering hieghts sales wise, with reports already coming in that the game has made $360 million in North America and the United Kingdom alone in the first 24 hours of its release. So is the game a return to form for Treyarch, or is it just retreading of old ground? Let's have a look.

The plot:

Based on Black ops in and around the sixties, player take the role of Alex Mason (voiced by Sam Worthington of Avatar fame). Whilst being interrogated by an unknown group, we are sent in via flashback to certain operations that Alex was involved in, as the interrogator wishes to find out information Alex has, but he cannot remember. This takes us on missions that sees Alex and his squad take on missions in Cuba, Vietnam and other such theatres of war, while the story of political intrigue and conspiracy weave their narrative in the background.

What I liked:

Firstly, I loved the story. It's still pretty complex due to the multiple character and story threads running through it, but it made a whole lot more sense than Modern Warfare 2. The gunplay is very tight, as is usual with the Call of Duty series. Several new weapons are introduced, such as the rape-machine like minigun and a crossbow with explosive tipped arrows. Graphically I thought the game was amazing. Several levels, such as the one where you have to disrupt a missile base can be pretty much summed up as "stunning", with some gorgeous lighting and sunsets. The game mixes up the levels very well. You'll be storming a base one minute, piloting a Blackbird the next, and then steaming down a river in Vietnam with your squad in a gunboat, raining down carnage with 50.cal machine guns and rocket launchers whilst the Rolling Stones play in the background, the highlight level in the game for me.

Multiplayer seems like more of the same. I have to admit i've only stuck a few hours in, but the wealth of options is impressive. All the usual modes are there, free for all, team deathmatch etc. There is also a multiplayer bot mode, where you can go and play the multiplayer maps with AI bots, so you can get used to the maps and modes without taking a battering online. Other modes, such as wager match, have you wager points on the outcome of battles, and having suceeded you're awarded with points to spend on equipment and kit outs etc. On top of all of this is the theatre mode, where you can record that killer game to show off to all of your friends. All in all, a pretty comprehensive package.

What I loathed:

Well, not a great deal. The most frustrating thing is once more the appearance of respawning enemies. There are STILL bits in the game where until you cross that invisible line in the level, the enemies keep respawning. In this day and age it's lazy and inexcusable, and puts a tarnish on the good work Treyarch has done with the game. Certain set pieces have you die again and again as it's not quite sure what you have to be doing, until the advice prompt at the top flashes up and says things like "you need to sprint to get over the gap". Thanks....you could have warned me BEFORE I plummeted down the ravine and smashed my face to bits on the rocks beneath. Multiplayer still has it's fair share of glitches....i've had a few games where someone had the infinate care package glitch, so the game descended into napalm strike, rocket strike and helicopter strike every two seconds. Hopefully a patch will be released to sort this out.

The verdict?

After all the problems with the death of Infinity Ward, Treyarch have stepped up and made an extremely polished and solid game. Not without it's problems in both single and multiplayer, the game still manages to shine, and throughout the single player campaign not once did I ever think about putting the controller down (and indeed I didn't, I played it through to completion). Multiplayer seens like more of the same, but since Modern warfare the COD games have almost never been out of the top three games played online, and there's a reason for that. A compelling story, sympathetic charcters with excellent voice work from the cast (including Ed Harris and Ice Cube) made this edition of Call of Duty one that you really need to play.

Rating: 8/10
(Xbox 360 version reviewed)

Rock band up for sale??

Viacom announced yesterday that they are to sell Harmonix, developer of the Rock Band game series and the new title for Kinect, Dance Central.

The reaons being is that by their own admission they have not been able to sucessfully break into the videogames industry.

As reported on gamesindustry.biz, Viacom state that their decision is down to a change in focus, and that "The console games business requires an expertise and scale that we don't have".

What this means for Harmonix is that they are in need of being snapped up. Who this will be is not yet known. The important this is that for the time being, Harmonix will still be supporting both Rock Band and Dance Central. A statement released yesterday on the Rock band forums by John Drake states "This morning's announcement does not affect the ongoing work at the studio as we continue to support our existing franchises, Rock Band and Dance Central. As stated earlier, Viacom is in discussions with several potential buyers and will continue to fully support the business until a sale is completed."

So there we go. Just after bothe Dance Central and Rock Band arrive to ctitical acclaim (see my upcoming Rock band review), the rug seems to have been pulled out from under them.

No doubt publishers are alreading lining up, with rumours that EA, Microsoft and indeed Activision are having a proverbial "sniff about". And still no word on what this means with the deal with MTV. But i'll be keeping you all informed as to the goings on.

But if you're reading this Harmonix, please....stay away from Activision.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Force Unleashed 2 review

Well, it's here. The sequel to the multi-million selling Force Unleashed has arrived. The first game, despite it's flaws, became a fan favourite and THE fastest selling Star Wars title in videogame history. So, is the sequel the Empire strikes back, or more like the Star Wars holiday special? Read on, my apprentice.

The plot: After defeating the Emperor and for all intents and purposes dying in the first game, Star killer has returned. The dark lord of the Sith himself, Darth Vader informs you that you are a clone, and not just the first. You are the only one that has got to the stage of being somewhat like the person that you once were. He orders you do go and kill the Jedi master Rahm Kota, who we met in the first game, and end the uprising Rebellion. Upon finding him, Master Kota tells Starkiller that he can't be a clone, as it's impossible to clone Jedi. So unfolds the story to find your identity and rescue your love, Juno Eclipse.

What I liked:

Firstly, the moves have been streamlined somewhat. It's easier to keep track of your combos and to mix up attacks with force powers. Some of the levels are great, the rescue of Master Kota from a battle arena that culminates in a boss fight with a monster that makes a Rancor look like an actual Star Wars toy is pretty much the highlight. Sound effects and cut scenes are also of the highest standard.

What I lothed:

AAARRGGGHHH! Another review that's going to have me mention the length of the single player game. It's very short. Around the 4-5 hour mark I clocked it in at. Shocking value for money. Most players will have it finished in an afternoon. The story is pretty much balls....the whole game turns into a search to get Juno back from the clutches of Vader. Unlike the first game, where you travel from planet to planet, set piece after set piece, this game features a stunning total of around 4 locations, one of which, Dagobah, is only there for the purposes of a cut scene and to shoehorn bloody Yoda in there. The other oft featured level, Kamino, sees you start AND end the game there. Cheap. You essentially have the same powers as you do in the first, lightning, force push etc. This time you have the added, almost useless Jedi mind trick, which is basically only of use when fighting one certain enemy. It's also horribly inconsistant with what you can actually do in the game power wise. There are places where you can literally pull Tie fighters out of the sky with your force powers, crush them into a ball and fling then at other ships, destroying them in an instant. Those same force powers however, fail to even lift up human-sized enemy robots or little Scout-walker type machines. It's having powers where the games designers want you to have them, at no point are you just given the tools and then allowed to run and play with them.

The verdict?

My initial excitement of the games opening soon left me with a bad taste in my mouth. By no means a terrible game, it's just not very good. Bland, short, devoid of character and if you were to take away the Star Wars license, you would be left with pretty much a below average title that would be straight to the bargain bin. If there is a sequel (and judging by the end, there probably will be), it has a whole load more to do.

Rating: 5/10
(Xbox 360 version reviewed)