Thursday, 30 December 2010

Daddy Brown's Games of 2010

Action/Adventure: Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

Driving: Gran Turismo 5

Beat 'em Up: Super Street Fighter IV

FPS: Halo: Reach

Rhythm/Music: Rock Band 3

Platform: Super Mario Galaxy 2

RPG: Demon's Souls

Sports: FIFA 11

Strategy/Simulation: Gran Turismo 5

Best Online Mode: Halo: Reach

Biggest Surprise: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2

Best Downloadable Game: The King of Fighers 2002: Unlimited Match

Biggest Disappointment: Kinect

Worst Game: Kinect Joyride

Overall Game Of The Year: Heavy Rain


Honorable Mentions:
Alan Wake
Mass Effect 2
NFS: Hot Pursuit
God of War 3
Dead Rising 2
Red Dead Redemption

Industry Quote of the Year:

“Our games are not designed for young people. If you are a parent and buy one of our games for your child, then you are a terrible parent.”

Rockstar’s Lazlow Jones defends the firm’s violent games on BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat. 21/05/10

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Game Review: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves-PS3

Developed by Naughty Dog, (creators of the hugely popular, million selling franchise Crash Bandicoot ), Uncharted: Drakes Fortune was an action adventure game in the style of Tomb Raider, one that boasted lush visuals, an excellent script, superb voice acting and edge of your seat set pieces. Naturally the game was an immediate hit amongst the Sony fanbase and garnered favourable opinions from all corners of the industry so it came as no surprise when a sequel was announced for 2009.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves sees you once again take on the role of our grave robbing hero Nathan "Nate" Drake as he sets out to discover the legendary mystical valley of Shangri-La and the Cintamani Stone, a mythical rock that is said to grant one with great strength and powers. The adventure begins by throwing the player right into the thick of things with a wounded Nate hanging upside down in a train cart which hangs precariously over a cliff edge. From the get go you’ll be impressed by both the visual and cinematic quality on display as you help Nate climb his way up through the wreak before it plummets into the misty depths below. The snow and wind whips around Drake in such a realistic fashion that it adds to the sense of urgency in such a way it's hard not to catch your breath each time a piece of train breaks away threatening to send Nate to his doom. Eventually you claw your way onto the cliff edge and the game fades out, taking you back a few weeks to previous events.

Nathan's adventure begins when old friends Harry Flynn and Chloe Frazer approach him with a job offer to steal an oil lamp from an Istanbul museum. Nate accepts the job when he learns that the lamp may lead to the legendary treasures said to have been procured Marco Polo's lost fleet. It's here that you get a good sense of Nate's abilities from running, jumping, climbing and melee combat; all of which are much like those found in Nate’s first adventure on the PS3 but much more fluid and precise in their execution. Melee combat, for example, feels a lot more meaty and satisfying with both open combos and stealth attacks providing some small amusement in an affectionate nod towards the fisticuffs found in the Indiana Jones movies.

Control of Nate through his environment is tremendous fun. While it's often clear as to where to go next, which ledge to jump to and from, which crack in the wall to take a hold of and so forth it does it in a way that blends into the environment seamlessly thus creating the illusion that you're guiding Nate through a perfectly natural route as opposed to throwing up obvious way-points through some linear path. Of course that’s exactly what you are doing, but it’s a testament to the carefully thought out level design that makes the illusion that you’re not following some ridged, pre-determined path even more acceptable.

Combat is as intense as it is satisfying and makes much better use of the cover system found in the first game. You can also hurl gas canisters into the air before making them explode with a perfectly aimed shot from Nate's pistol causing walkways to collapse underfoot, vehicles to explode and walls to crumble onto enemies. Paying careful attention to Nate’s surrounding environment you’ll always find something to even the odds a little should you find yourself outgunned. Enemies are intelligent and will attempt to outmaneuver you should you hang around in one spot for too long, but in the same sense they're also dumb enough to be outmaneuvered by you, leading to some amusing moments during a heated gun fight.

As you progress thought the game you start to realize just how stunning Uncharted 2 is. Environments are highly detailed and simply ooze character and believability. It's obvious that a lot of forethought has been crafted into each and every area to give the player a total sense of immersion, even if you are essentially looking from the outside-in as you guide Nate on his adventure. Rain, wind and snow all act as they would in the real world and are perhaps some of the best examples of weather to be currently found in a video game. Wood cracks and splinters realistically, metal fractures and bends, explosions hurl chunks of debris through the air with incredible effect and so on. Character models are well drawn and all-from the main players to disposable henchmen-have believable facial expressions, realistic body language and a fluidity to their movement that captures both the action and set pieces superbly.

It’s also worth noting that with its witty, emotional, gritty and even sometimes cheesy dialogue Uncharted 2 arguably also has some of the finest voice acting and script writing of any video game. Combined with no apparent loading sections you could be watching any Saturday afternoon matinee as each scene moves seamlessly into the next as the story is carried forward. Alone the story is both compelling and gripping, but intertwined with such well presented voice acting and the games smooth progression from one act to the next it rides along effortlessly, conjuring up the kind of thrills and excitement one would expect from a blockbuster movie, albeit one that you are actively taking part in.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a masterclass in how to develop a video game; a finally crafted piece of work that brings video games one step closer to a more respectable place alongside film and music. Beautifully told and simply exhilarating to play it is easily one of the finest and most accomplished games of the last decade.


Game Review: Tekken 6-PS3, Xbox 360

In todays competitive games market where online gaming is the dominant factor in the success or failure of a title even the most popular franchises have to do more than a tweak here and a polish there to raise its head above the crowd in a bid for front room dominance. One such series is Tekken and from its early days as the king of Playstation fighters Tekken has always been a firm favourite amongst beat ‘em up fans by not so much re-inventing itself, but by staying true to its form as an accessible fighter that boasts huge amounts of hidden depth and character. It will come as a welcome surprise then to learn that Tekken 6 has stayed true to said formula.

Arcade, Vs, Online and Ghost Mode, (where you’re pitted against an endless stream opponents who’s skills are based on some of Tekken’s most proficient players as well as those you can download to test your skills), continue to deliver as satisfying a fighting experience we’ve come to expect from the series and will often have you reaching for the pad for ‘just one more go’. In a surprise move from Namco the game starts with every character unlocked; however there are also several new faces added to the roster with each bringing their own unique style to the proceedings. These new fighters come in the shape of all rounder, Spanish born Miguel; head popping cyborg Alisa; a rather large but deceptively swift Bob; wiry Egyptian hotty, Zafina; Lars who has connections to the Mishima’s; and Leo, who's is possibly the most accessible of the new breed. Along with these new characters there’s also two new systems present in combat; ‘Rage’ and ‘Bound’. The former gives players whose health is at a dangerously low level the ability to hit just that bit harder whilst the latter allows players who have begun a juggle combo to literally smash their opponent into the ground making them bounce back up into the air to unleash another barrage of strikes.

In past iterations Namco have included a handful of game modes with Tekken that stray away from the normal Vs modes. These have come in the shape of Tekken Bowl, (a very playable take on 10 pin bowling), Tekken Force and Devil Within, (both an awful take on the scrolling beat ‘em up of yesteryear), and in the sixth iteration we now have Scenario Mode. Much like Tekken Force before it Scenario Mode requires that you move from one area to the next happy slapping anyone in your path before ending each stage with the obligatory ‘Boss Fight’. Unfortunately it rarely raises itself above being anything other than a mild distraction and only really serves as a tool for which to add more features and customisations for other game modes whilst also allowing you to put your own stamp on your favourite fighters with new clothing and accessories. You could simply ignore Scenario Mode but, and here’s the rub, whereas before the unlocking of hidden characters, extra costumes, levels, cinematics and story came down to playing through Tekken’s single player arcade mode, in order to unlock many of Tekken 6’s bonus content you have to play through this dreary scrolling beat ‘em up many times over.

Thankfully then the combat proper in Tekken 6 looks and plays fantastic and is unquestionably the best of the series yet; both visually and in execution. Characters are big, bold and beautifully rendered with slick animations that are complimented with fighting arenas that are lavishly detailed and a musical score that carries the pace of battle superbly. While the traditional game modes may have-for reasons only known to Namco-taken a back seat to some half baked scrolling beat ‘em up, Tekken has a had long and favourable history where even the low points have always outclassed many other games in the genre and Tekken 6 is no exception to that rule.

Great to look at and-Scenario Mode aside-even better to play, Tekken 6 can safely hold its head high as a testament to the fact that while the humble beat ‘em up may have taken a backseat to the draw of the First Person Shooter in many a gamers homes it’s a genre that is still very much alive and kicking.


Friday, 3 December 2010

Game Review: Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood-Multi-format

If there’s one certainty with Ubisoft Montreal’s Assassin’s Creed series is that it’s home to a plot that makes about as much sense as a Japanese VRC instruction manual being read out loud by some guy called Desmond* and his nerdy mates, so you’ll excuse me if I refrain from attempting to iterate it back to you here. What I can tell you is that it’s set directly after the events that took place in AC: II whereupon you relinquish the role of renaissance assassin Ezio Auditore da Firenze and his ongoing struggle against the Borgia. While one might be forgiven for thinking of this latest installment in the series as Assassin’s Creed 2.5, Ubisoft have actually crammed in a wealth of content, missions and side quests, combined with a single player campaign spanning over 20 hours and a competent and engaging multi-player for Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood to stand on it’s own two feet as a worthwhile inclusion to the franchise.

Save for a few new combat manoeuvres little has changed in Ezio’s repertoire of moves and abilities since the previous game, which makes for a familiar suite of inspired gameplay and clumsy awkwardness. Bounding across the rooftops of Rome with cat-like grace to then take out ones intended target with deadly precision is as satisfying as ever, but for every glorious moment of satisfaction there are [nearly] as many moments of teeth-gnashing frustration. As you nimbly run and jump from one roof top to another, what seemed like a simple combination of button presses only moments before suddenly has you bouncing off walls, leaping in the wrong direction or falling helplessly to the cobble stoned streets below. It’s the same with combat which shifts between you skilfully felling several enemies in an audacious whirlwind of steel to clumsily tripping over your own sword just as move in for the kill. You haven’t changed how you approached these situations any differently from the last time and you certainly haven’t lost all feeling in your fingers and thumbs; the game has just suddenly decided that you’re no longer quite that skilful.

It’s this lack of consistency during gameplay, (something that has been prevalent since gamers first donned the white cowl in Assassin’s Creed), that threatens to break what is-for the most part-one of the most intuitive combat-cum-platformer in years. As gamers we’re accustomed to making our own mistakes and if we lose then it should be down to our own lack of skill, not because the game suddenly decides we’re going to have a bad day by wresting control from us, if only for a few fleeting moments. Having said that, when it does all come together and you find yourself perfectly in tune with what’s happening on screen you can forgive these shortcomings and revel in its brilliance; even if it does mean reloading that previous memory and starting again.

As before Ezio can call upon the aid of the thieves, courtesans and mercenaries to help him in combat and out of tight situations, but this time around there’s the added bonus that upon Ezio destroying a Borgia Tower he can then recruit and train an assassin, (up to total of twelve), to do his bidding. Not only can you call upon these Ezio clones for support, but you also send them out into Europe to complete various assignments and contracts in order to progress their experience. XP can be spent to improve their skills, change their appearance and so on thus making them better, more efficient killers. While not a terribly new concept it is, however, another example in cementing the knowledge that AC: Brotherhood is more than just a cash cow hastily developed for Christmas and is, in fact, perhaps more of a nod towards what Ubisoft have in store for us with Assassin’s Creed III sometime in the new year or thereafter.

Of course it should come as no surprise that, like those gone before it, AC: Brotherhood looks and sounds absolutely spectacular. With noticeable improvements to character models, (facial animations and general movement being the most obvious), and sound throughout, nowhere is Ubisoft’s aesthetic overhaul in their best selling franchise more apparent than in Rome itself. Older gamers, (myself included), often speak in awe of just how far video games have come since we were children and AC: Brotherhood is one such video game that will undoubtedly stir these emotions and prompt discussion. From Rome’s sundrenched, tightly packed rooftops to its bustling, winding streets and overcrowded, sweltering market places it’s a remarkable re-creation of the ancient world in digital form; one that’s’ been so meticulously and loving crafted by its development team and the artists therein that you can almost drink the atmosphere. I’ve never been to Rome, but I doff my hat to Ubisoft for at least giving me a taste of what it may have been like to stand at the highest point of the Colosseum and look out over Rome during the 16th Century. You may find yourself plummeting to your death from the highest of towers after battling with the controls more than once in AC: Brotherhood, but at least you’ll look good doing it.

So to conclude then, this latest adventure into the world of Assassin’s Creed is unquestionably the best in the series yet. It’s story still might not make a great deal of sense and there’s still some work to be done with regards to the general flow of combat and movement, but as it stands Assassin’s Creed is a series that has gone from strength to strength with each new release and AC: Brotherhood continues that trend with aplomb. A flawed, yet beautifully crafted diamond.


* For those not in the loop, in Assassin's Creed you are, in reality, playing as a modern-day man named Desmond Miles, who through the use of a machine named the "Animus", is allowed to view and control the protagonist's genetic memories of his ancestors. In the first game it was Alta├»r ibn-La'Ahad, a member of the Hashshashin during the third crusade and then Ezio Auditore de Firenze in AC: II and AC: Brotherhood consecutively.