Sunday, 26 September 2010

Game Preview: WRC 2010-Xbox 360, PS3

It’s been five years since the last WRC title, and during that time the reigns have been passed to Italian based developers Milestone, with the title being published by Black Bean Games. While the small developer has predominantly produced racing games since founding in 1996, (most notably the SBK: Superbike World Championship), given the success of the series with previous developer Evolution Studios, landing the WRC licence has given Milestone quite a hill to climb when delivering a next generation rally simulation worthy of the sport.

As WRC 2010 carries the official WRC licence, all the tracks, drivers and cars are the real deal, right down to the decals on the tyre trims. In the demo you’re presented with a choice between taking the wheel of a Ford Focus RS driven by Mikko Hivonen or Sebastian Loeb’s Citroen C4. Once you’ve made your selection there are two courses to choose from; the quick, open, gravel and tarmac wooded lanes of an overcast Finland or the [infinitely more difficult] searing heat of Jordon with its tight, winding, loose gravel mountain roads. Whilst the front-end isn’t the most important aspect of any game it is important to note that – like the promise of a delicious meal – the first bite is always with the eye, and here Milestone have failed to deliver that all important first taste to get the juices flowing. After the impressive, three-dimensional design of Codemasters front-end in CMR: Dirt2, Milestones’ effort seems a little bland, offering not much more than a scrolling bar at the bottom of the screen with some rather flat, colourless option tabs. Whether this is down to it being early code is unknown, but with only two weeks or so before launch Milestone have to deliver something punchier to keep up with the competition.

Thankfully, moving into the game proper, WRC 2010 turns out to be well drawn, very smooth and extremely well detailed with some excellent use of lighting and effects. Thundering down open straights chunks of gravel and dirt kick up around the car as you throw your vehicle into tight corners, hairline window screen cracks appear and grow with time, headlights shatter and body work crumples and deforms realistically. Milestone have also put a lot of painstaking work into the sound of the vehicles and the surrounding environment, clearly believing that sound is as much an important part of the quintessential rally experience as any other aspect; the roar of the engine as you power out of a corner, the whistling of the turbo as you shift through the gears and the crunch and pop of gravel, dirt and rock beneath your racing machine built to take on all that Mother Nature can throw at it is very satisfying.

After playing this short trial it’s clear that WRC 2010 leans more toward the simulation side of proceedings than that of previous iterations, and as such can be quite arduous and may even prove a challenge for rally veterans keen to step into the shoes of their heroes. Even without the presence of rain, mud, ice or snow, not feathering the breaks at the correct points in time or putting to much-or not enough-emphasis on acceleration, or simply the slightest lapse in concentration can quickly find you spinning out of control after clipping that rock hidden on a blind corner, or send you hurtling sideways unerringly toward a firmly planted tree, your wheels locking up tight as you desperately fight to gain control. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that such errors will garner a swift rebuke from your co-driver who, as quick as he is to commend your racing ability is even quicker to condemn you.

If there’s a concern to be had then it’s that the cars at this stage arguably feel a little light, especially at high speeds. Having said that, the steering is tight and concise with the transition between tyre and road surface being – for the most part – satisfyingly tangible as you shift and move across varying grades of gravel and tarmac. How this will pan out in the full game when the WRC takes you over ice covered mountain ranges, rain swept roads or muddy woodland areas remains to be seen, but as it stands this trial run fills one with more confidence than not.

With F1 2010 already on its way to retailers shelves, Sony’s Gran Turismo 5 just around the corner and Codemasters promising to serve up a more rounded off-road experience early next year with Dirt 3, WRC 2010 certainly has its work cut out for it. But if this promising early glimpse is anything to go by, (and that the WRC licence is already an established brand in video games), then publisher Black Bean Games could find themselves in a good position in an otherwise saturated market. At the very least, certainly for the rally enthusiast, WRC 2010 is already looking like it might very well raise a few smiles.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Game Review: Tom Clancy's H. A. W.X 2-Xbox 360, PS3

Above all the most important element for any video game to work is fun. Without this key ingredient many a million dollar project has found its way into the pre-owned bins or had its original price slashed by retailers in the space of only a few weeks after launch.  ‘Fun’ is key to holding your captive audience when dealing with interactive entertainment; that and a good bit of PR.  Thankfully, French powerhouse publisher Ubisoft have delivered on both counts when concerning their award winning series of war games based on the works of pro-Cold War novelist, Tom Clancy.  Like the novels the games are an explosive mixture of brutal modern day warfare and technical espionage that have captured the imaginations of millions of gamers the world over, so when Ubisoft decided to take their lucrative franchise to the skies with Tom Clancy’s: H.A.W.X, good things were expected.

During the course of development process, however, someone forgot to inject that all important fun factor into Ubi’s latest project and what was released onto retailers’ shelves was a shadow of the glory days of Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell. Dull, tedious and lacking in any real entertainment value, many considered Tom Clancy’s: H.A.W.X as perhaps a step to far in a series of games that was running out of steam and more importantly, ideas.

Fast forward a year and a half later and Ubisoft have decided to have another crack at the whip to once again try and claim dominance in the realms of tactical, aerial based combat. The first instalment left plenty of room for improvement; so naturally the biggest question on everyone’s lips was whether or not Ubisoft could take the criticism levelled at H.A.W.X on board, utilize it and succeed in delivering the kind of frantic, pulse pounding air-based combat simulator all were expecting the first time around.

The answer to that is yes and no. With Ubi’s sequel there’s a constant nagging in the back of your mind that not everything is working quite as well as it could, or indeed should. H.A.W.X 2 looks like a Tom Clancy game, feels like a Tom Clancy game, but rarely does it play like a Tom Clancy game. The thrills and excitement that are common place with the Tom Clancy franchise are to far a few between, and yet a part of you really wants to like it.

After a brief introduction you take command of an American Fighter Pilot who gets shot down and taken hostage by some militant force with a drum to beat. Soon after you find yourself in the shoes of a British Fighter Pilot whereupon, (with the help of an obligatory training section), you get to grips with the basics of manoeuvring, combat and landing. As with all games that involve war it isn’t long before it all goes belly up; your training is cut short and Allied Forces suddenly find themselves in a position of high alert. It’s not the most gripping of starts to a video game where the emphasis is placed on edge-of-your-seat-action and as such this slow, somewhat cumbersome introduction doesn’t bode well for what lays ahead. Next it’s off to Russia where you take command of a MiG29 Fulcrum and plunge headlong into your first taste of ‘real’ combat. Whilst there are flashes of inspiration and the ocasional sense of achievement to be had during these aerial clashes- like manoeuvring from out of the path of a volley of enemy missiles or taking out several enemy craft in succession as you pass over and around dangerous mountain peaks-all to often it can feel like a chore as you lazily move from one set piece to the next wishing for something exciting to happen.

H.A.W.X 2 is also painfully slow at times and like racing games of old it’s as if the world around you is moving while you’re in a fixed position. It’s only when you activate the ‘Assistance OFF’ mode which forces an, albeit impressive, external ‘dogfight camera’ that you suddenly get a sense of being separated from your surroundings as you bank, roll and sweep out of danger.


Takingyour craft low across open deserts, through tight canyons and over lush forests the expected rush of the environment zipping by never reaches its climax; there’s the ‘crack’ of thunder as the sound barrier is broken, but that’s all it ever is. As a result you’ll find yourself begging for something, anything, to make it seem like you really are rocketing across huge, open landscapes at frightening speeds in a MiG29 or any of the other 30+ fighter jets available throughout the game. While some might argue that the sense of speed is relative to how it might actually feel whilst sat in the cockpit of an F-14 fighter jet, that’s a moot point because unless you brave the unfriendly cockpit view, 95% of your time will be spent in a 3rd person mode.

As you push further into the games clich├ęd plot revolving around the occupants of some pissed off 3rd world country whom is intent on upsetting everyone ‘civilized’ and who now happens to have got their hands on a nuclear warhead, it becomes abundantly clear that the action packed set pieces which are the hallmarks of the Tom Clancy series aren’t quite hitting the mark in H.A.W.X 2. While a few of the missions are quite engaging many more drag on longer than is necessary and fail to really get the heart thumping; certainly not in the way one would imagine a video game featuring some of the greatest fighter planes ever conceived. Even when you take control of an AC-130 armed with a 40mm cannon in a level much like the one to be found in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, it lacks much of the intensity and drama found in Infinity Ward’s popular FPS.

Tom Clancy’s: H.A.W.X 2 is by no means a terrible game and the development team have obviously tried to re-address some of the issues that plagued the first in the series; and in some ways they have succeeded in their endeavours. However, even the most stalwart of fighter plane fans and Tom Clancy die-hards will have a difficult time finding H.A.W.X 2 to be a fulfilling experience worthy of those marvellous feats of engineering depicted. It’s frustrating because there’s genuinely a decent game in there trying to fight its way out. Visuals are detailed and consistent, boasting some great effects whilst being accompanied by a solid musical score and superb sound effects throughout. It has its moments, there’s no doubt of that, and when it works it can be quite exhilarating, but at the same time it’s also marred by the kind of clunky gameplay that constantly switches back and forth between being almost masterful in one instance to downright appalling the next.

Ubisoft have clearly tried to reach for the skies with Tom Clancy’s: H.A.W.X 2, but have found themselves losing control and stalling just as the clouds were about to break. It’s getting there, unquestionably, and if a H.A.W.X 3 is planned for the near future then all that’s needed is a tweak here, a polish there and perhaps a little more ‘need for speed’ injected into the proceedings for the guys at Ubi to have real winner on their hands .


Sunday, 12 September 2010

Game Preview: Vanquish-Xbox360, PS3

If Gears of War was instead developed as a coin hungry, arcade machine sat somewhere in the secluded corner of some arcade in Western Pier; then this how it would have turned out.  Everything about Vanquish smacks of classic arcade gaming at its very finest.  Big, bold, beautiful and wonderfully designed, Platinum Games’ chaotic, 3rd person blast-a-thon is every inch the twitch gamers dream.

At first glance it comes across as an accessible, pick up and play title yet within your first few moments you’ll realize that Shinji Mikami’s latest offering is anything but accessible.  Not only is Vanquish eye wateringly fast paced and ludicrously chaotic in its delivery, it demands a level of skill and quick reaction time that it will have even the staunchest of trigger happy gamers catching their breath as swarms of enemy AI cleverly outwit, outflank and outmanoeuvre you.   If that’s not enough each level promises to end with a gargantuan boss tooled up with an arsenal that has one purpose and one purpose only:  absolute destruction.
Given how Vanquish plays out it wouldn’t be unfair to assume that it’s geared toward a more ‘hardcore’ audience, and in some way it is. However, with its sci-fi setting, awesome weaponry and a protagonist suited in an ultra-cool Augmented Reaction Suit, (which allows you to knee-slide at ridiculous speeds across the combat zone pumping hot lead into your enemy at any and every angle), Vanquish has buckets of mass market appeal.  Once you have mastered the basic controls and combinations the insanity is a joy to behold and it isn’t long before you’ll begin to see that your patience is rewarded, and frequently.  As soon as the training wheels are off it simply never lets up and like Bayonetta, as your skill with the outwardly complex control system increases so does the countless cool ways to dispatch the myriad foes, and all the satisfaction that comes with it.

Like with many games of this ilk boss fights are breathtaking.  Huge, lumbering machines destroy all in their wake as they rain down a barrage of missiles, molten-fire and proton-lasers in your general direction, all intent on your total annihilation.  It’s a real test of skill and will push your gaming prowess to its very limits as you duck, dodge, dive, roll and flip in a bid to keep out of harms way whilst simultaneously unleashing your own wanton barrage of firepower as you desperately try bring down your quarry by exploiting the weakest points  in its seemingly impenetrable armour.  It’s like David & Goliath, only this time with huge laser cannons and bagfuls of attitude.

At its core Vanquish may not offer up the most original of concepts, but as a stand alone title it’s already looking to raise itself head and shoulders above the competition; the gauntlets are definitely off in the SEGA camp.  Fast, furious and unrelenting in its delivery, Vanquish pushes at the boundaries of what we’ve come to expect from the 3rd person shooter and will have your senses reeling.  Bring it on.


Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Game Review: Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days-Xbox 360, PS3.

Having only played this for about an hour I was so appalled by what was on offer, due to it being humongously shite, I couldn't even bring myself to write a review so decided to let Zero Punctuation share their view with you, dear readers.
Hit the link:

Zero Punctuation : Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days