Sunday, 26 December 2010

Rock Band 3 review

Rock Band 3 is the threequel to Harmonix' incredibly popular alternative to Guitar Hero. With better gameplay, a more pleasing interface and superior setlists, the Rock Band games have always been a thorn in the side of Guitar Hero. To everyone else though, they're the perfect music games.

Rock Band 3 has many new features and improvements, the main one being the complete overhaul of the career mode. Instead of playing venue after venue, you now complete road challenges. These consist of a small number of venues along one stretch of road, across a state, . You'll play a certain number of songs and earn stars, as usual, but you will also earn up to 5 bonus stars for completing the ever changing goals. These could be for getting high streaks or being accurate. As you are doing what the challenge says, a bar fills up along the bottom. Miss a note and the bar resets, putting you under even more pressure.

Each road challenge has bronze, silver and gold medals, depending on how well you play and how many stars you attain. More stars also equals more fans, and more fans unlock more extravagant modes of transport as your band becomes bigger and better. The road challenges change the game. Not only do you have to be good, you have to be really good. Accuracy and nerves of steel are needed.

The set list is the best ever seen in a music game. 'Free Bird' by Lynyrd Skynyrd is back, following it's debut in Guitar Hero 2, but now it is the original recording as opposed to a cover, and obviously you can now play with other instruments. Playing this song with others is truly incredible, especially in the later sections, as the pace picks up and the song becomes more challenging for everyone (bar the singer). Also present is 'Bohemian Rhapsody', the classic Queen track which was also present on this year's Guitar Hero. Other amazing songs include Night Ranger's 'Sister Christian', 'Heart of Glass' by Blondie and a selection of over 2000 songs available on the Rock Band Network.

The biggest new feature is of course the keyboard. Allowing for normal and Pro play, the keyboard is most definitely the hardest to master. Many advanced tutorials may help, but not much. It's better to get your bearings and play a few songs on easy. Once you get the hang of it, it's extremely satisfying. Playing your favourite piano songs perfectly makes you feel better than pressing buttons on a small guitar ever could. Awkward positioning of the touch strip and overdrive trigger do let it down slightly, but more advanced players will surely find a way to embrace it. Due to the price, the keyboard is a big commitment, so it's easy to see why a lot of people may miss out. But in the right hands, and with a LOT of practice, it is the most accurate and satisfying instrument in a music game so far.

Overall, Rock Band 3 is a masterpiece. From the slight improvements to the brand new features, everything is pitch perfect and it easily takes the crown as the best music game of all time. Beating this will be hard, but there is no doubt that whatever is next for Harmonix, it will be nothing short of amazing.

9.5/10

New Year Celebrations!

To celebrate the first New Year of Subspace Reviews, we're having our biggest giveaway yet!

With 15 prizes, we are hoping to make the New Year even more special for a number of lucky people.

The prizes include:
Rock Band 2,
The Beatles Rock Band,
Green Day Rock Band,
A World of Keflings,
Raskulls,
ilomilo,
Bomberman Live Battlefest,
Blood Tempest,
& Avatar Bowman!

There are prizes for Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii!

To enter, tweet the following message along with your platform of choice (Xbox 360, PS3 or Wii):

"I want to celebrate the New Year by winning awesome games from @SubspaceReviews! #SRNY"

Post a comment below with your email address or Twitter name for a bonus entry!

You may have one entry for each platform on Twitter, as well as one blog comment entry.

The winners of the downloadable games will be chosen on January 2nd. The winners of the retail games will be chosen on January 9th.

Good luck everyone!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Alien Breed 3: Descent review

'Alien Breed 3: Descent', is the third and final episode in Team 17's revival of the classic top-down Amiga series, Alien Breed. 'Descent' puts you straight back into the action where you left off. Mia, your companion from the previous episode is under the control of the deadly A.I. Klein and it's up to you to shutdown Mia and save yourself from death, as your spaceship plummets towards a planet's surface.

The gameplay is identical to Alien Breed 2, a tried and tested formula of running and gunning between locations while fighting off the alien horde. Although the game is enjoyable, the similarities from the previous two instalments do grind a bit and the trudging between waypoints begins to lose its allure. The environments start to feel recycled and the only refreshment comes from new bosses that, despite their unique appearance, do little to differentiate themselves from any other sci-fi shooter boss. Granted, the game's visuals have been slightly improved but for an indie series the quality of the graphics had always been top notch.

While the gameplay may at times be repetitive and a tad dull, the polish of the atmosphere is amazing. As you walk down the corridor security cameras turn and focus on you, providing a sense of eerie forebodingness as a chill runs down your spine. Everything looks murky and at times it's impossible to see ahead of you and all you can hear is the ambience of water trickling away. It's most certainly gritty and tense, almost like a top-down homage to Dead Space, but that's just coincidence. Any true flattery is aimed at the original Alien Breed.

Throwbacks to the Alien Breed of yesteryear are abundant in the form of computer terminals that let you save your progress and purchase weapons and ammo. Key cards make a reappearance as another retro aside for faithful fans. The revived series doesn't just take inspiration from its predecessor. As well as the obvious influences of the 'Alien' movies there are many more subtle references such as the names lifted from the classic novella 'Heart of Darkness' and the energy core reminiscent of Event Horizon. It's not all the doom and gloom of the 90's though. Team 17 has included several 'modern' additions including a survival mode, online leader boards and a unique set of levels for the game's co-op mode.

Whilst the original Alien Breed was renown for its two player campaign offering, Alien Breed 3's co-op rendition is limited to a series of unique maps. Despite the limitations this mode proves to be the gem of the package. With a friend you can you take on the role of two engineers trapped on the ship. Pitifully armed, your task is simple, bludgeon through the alien horde while amassing weapons and staying alive. While the aliens, the weapons and even the map design are no different to single player, it's the tension that makes this gametype shine. If both players die, it's game over and you have to restart from the beginning of the map. As you near your objective and the packs of enemies grow thicker the game begins to lull you into a false sense of security. You round a corner only to discover an empty corridor with only your partner and the barely audible hum of crackling computer equipment for comfort. These rare moments of peace are balanced by the adrenalin fueled massacres towards the end of each level as you and your partner attempt to bunker down as swarms of aliens rush your position. Health packs being a luxury, it's not uncommon to find yourself fending off waves of enemies from multiple directions singlehandedly, while you wait for the ten second countdown for your partner to revive them self and return to the action.

'Alien Breed 3: Descent' is not a casual game and certainly involves some extended play sessions, despite the generously distributed terminals to save at. However, if you're at all interested in the sci-fi/horror genre the Alien Breed series is certainly worth a gander at the bargain price of £7.

7/10

by Arran France

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Shadow Complex giveaway!

To celebrate the release of Chair Entertainment's hotly anticipated Infinity Blade, Subspace Reviews will be giving away their amazing XBLA sidescroller, Shadow Complex.

To enter, comment below with your favourite sidescroller of all time and your Twitter name or email address.


Contest will end on 11th December, 23:00 GMT.

Need for Speed Hot Pursuit review

Need for Speed games have been churned out to an average reception for a good few years now. Sometimes they're fantastic, sometimes they're not so great. Hot Pursuit is unique. It has been developed by Criterion, the speed junkies behind the Burnout series. If that doesn't get your heart racing already, check out the demo. If this doesn't have you pining for more, it's hard to see how any racing game will satisfy your needs.

Usually, you will start up a racing game for the first time and be given an old, perhaps rusty car. It won't break 100MPH and will only have a chance of winning because your opponents have equally crappy vehicles. Hot Pursuit is different though. The first car I found available on free ride was a Lamborghini. Instantly, the game is different to the rest. You are thrown in straight at the deep end. In fact, you're thrown from the highest diving board into the deep end. The reason for this is simple. The shallow end is no fun.

You will spend your time in Hot Pursuit playing both sides of the law. Cop challenges include Hot Pursuit missions, which see you taking down everyone in a race, taking down one particularly fast driver in Interceptor missions or racing against the clock to complete Rapid Response missions. Each of these variations are well developed and fun. Rapid Response is the weakest of the bunch, being a glorified Time Trial. It sees you racing against the clock to cut off a racer and be the final car in a road block. The best aspect of these missions is the fact that you are given a car that you usually wouldn't have unlocked yet. When you're used to driving an Audi TT, the sudden acquisition of a Bugatti is a real shock, and will no doubt have your pulse racing, as you fly past 200 MPH.

When playing as a racer, you will play the opposite role. In Hot Pursuit missions this time, you will be evading the cops, not destroying the racers. Whilst evading, you must still try to finish ahead of the other racers. These are the most fun challenges to take part in on both sides, playing as a cop or racer. Also available are Duels. One on one races in the fastest cars, with the fastest cops doing all they can to take you both down.

When trying to destroy the opponent, using blunt force is fine, but at your disposal is a range of gadgets and vehicles, which you can call in for help. The cops have spike strips, which can be deployed from the rear of your car, starting as a small box and extending to cover the entire lane. Drop one in front of a suspect and they will spin out, slowing down and taking damage at the same time. Next is the road block. Call one in and further along the road, in front of all the racers, a group of officers will assemble to attempt to slow down as many racers as possible. The EMP is a long range weapon which disrupts and temporarily disables the electrics of the unwitting speedster. Finally is the helicopter. Calling in one of these bad boys is insane. They fly along the road, identifying the lead racer and then waiting further along for them. As the racer approaches, the helicopter drops a spike strip, damaging the front of the pack whilst you deal with the back.

Playing as a racer also gives you the EMP and spike strips but switches out the helicopter and roadblock for turbo and jammer. Turbo boosts you faster than the nitrous and can send you sailing away from your opponents and the cops, if used at the right time. The jammer is the only true defence gadget in the game, and it's a big help. If you get targeted by an EMP and can not outmanoeuvre it, employ the jammer. As the name suggests, it jams the EMP radar and saves your ass.

The powers, when used successfully, will eventually level up and become stronger, last longer and have better overall performance. For example, levelling the roadblock sees bigger vehicles making the block, taking up more of the road and posing as a bigger threat to the racers. Taking down an opponent triggers slow motion and the camera focuses on the vehicle being destroyed. It's almost poetic.

The world is huge. Bigger than Burnout Paradise and much more beautiful, you could spend hours driving around aimlessly, finding hidden roads through caves and forests, discovering beautiful vistas to sit back and enjoy. Switch to photo mode to capture these moments, and your car, in glorious HD screenshots which you can upload to your Autolog wall for your friends to see. The sheer amount of detail in the game is most apparent in photo mode. Take the camera to the read of the car and zoom in on the badge. Sharp and lifelike, Hot Pursuit presents some of the best graphics of this generation. Action packed shots are definitely worth taking too. Switching to photo mode mid-crash can produce some beautifully destructive results. Take the motion blur to the top, allowing you to feel the speed, play with the contrast and brightness to make the image stand out, drain the world of colour of you so wish, making the cars the true star of the show. Photo mode shows every fleck of paint and every tiny piece of broken glass, frozen in the air as the chaos stands still in time.

The game is not easy, but it's not difficult. Some challenges may take numerous attempts but it doesn't get annoying. Even on the third or fourth attempt of a challenge, you will be having too much fun blasting down the highways to get frustrated. The Rapid Response missions are arguably the hardest, with extremely tight deadlines. No matter how hard the challenges, it is so rewarding due to the Bounty that you will accumulate.

Bounty points are basically experience points. You can level up by winning challenges and earning Bounty for not only placing first, but for driving skill, use of force and getting a time which tops your speedwall. The top level is 20, which you can achieve on both sides, cop and racer. Levelling up gives you new cars, areas and challenges, as well as new titles on your records. This adds a layer of replayability to the game, urging you to rank up to unlock all of the cars.

Once you complete a mission, your time will be automatically posted to the Speedwall. This is part of the brand new Autolog, keeping you up to date with absolute everything that your friends do. Whether it be ranking up, breaking a record or even uploading a photo, you will know about it. It's a gloriously competitive feature, making you strive to beat your friends times and earning you bonus Bounty points if you are successful.

Take the game online and play the most fun multiplayer racing on the console. 4 Vs. 4 cops and racers is the stand out mode, in which the players acting as cops must take down each racer before they reach a destination. The excitement of being a racer, seeing the cops catching up in your rear view mirror is intense. The feeling of achievement when you and your cop team mates work together to take down that pesky racer is great. Playing both sides online is fun, and offers two completely different experiences as your style of playing must dramatically change when switching sides. Pure speed and careful evading is needed for the racers, whereas the cops must be more tactical and deploy their back ups at the opportune moment.

The cars are all licensed, making the game a lot more involving and interesting. Included are all the modern exotic cars that you could dream of. Pagani, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Audi, Porsche; all present. The only noticeable absence is Ferrari, but there is so much choice that it's not a major loss. They are all perfectly realised models and look every bit as beautiful as their real life counterparts. The cop versions of the cars have decals and lights, notching up the level of awesome to 110%.

Need for Speed Hot Pursuit is incredibly reminiscent of Burnout Paradise, which is no bad thing. The speed is intense, the cars are breathtaking, and the world is gorgeous. The Autolog features are implemented perfectly, adding a social element to the single player game. The multiplayer is intense and fun, and taking down other players is much more satisfying than taking down AI. A must-have for speed junkies and lovers of Burnout, this game is damn near perfect.

9.5/10

by Louis Gardner

Monday, 29 November 2010

Bloody Good Time review

While generic shooter titles are far too common among the retail scene, arcade games typically take a more niche route. Ubisoft's latest multiplayer title, Bloody Good Time, is no exception to the rule, offering a mixture of stalker/shooter gameplay wrapped up neatly in a package of Team Fortress 2 graphics.

Bloody Good Time follows a movie theater theme with games taking place on one of three movie sets: a beach front complete with furnished property, a haunted house or a Vegas casino. Continuing to be true to the movie style players are given one of eight actor characters to play as, ranging wildly from brutal 'goths' to Playboy inspired 'beach babes'. Throughout, the atmosphere of the game is lighthearted despite the sadistic movie director overseeing the carnage.

The four game types are hunt, revenge, elimination or deathmatch; three of the four being a slight variation on a theme. The primary method of execution is Hunt where each player is assigned a quarry (only known to them) to find and eliminate, the catch being another player has you on his or her designated hit list. Execution follows the same principals but adapts it slightly. Instead, players have to eliminate the entire cast, one player at a time. Revenge adapts the theme further with players' quarry depending on whom killed them last. The last mode of the four, Deathmatch, is a simple free for all, and generally doesn't suit the game's style particularly well.

Playing this game like Call of Duty isn't the way to win in this game. Instead, more often than not, the game mode calls for a mixture of stalking as well as shooting. In Bloody Good Time players are not only rewarded for merely killing a player but also how they kill a player. At the start of a round weapons are randomly given a value between one and five stars, the point currency of the game. The higher the value of your weapons, the more points you receive for a kill. Instead of killing as many people as possible, it's often worth scouring for weapons for a higher value to place top of the leader board. Points aren't only dictated by the weapon you use but can also be gained through boasting; a pre-kill boast, pickpocketing to steal a weapon and humiliation; a post kill gloat.

Attempting to stop the carnage are security guards. These enforcers patrol the map and taser anyone they see holding a weapon, killing a player or humiliating a corpse. If you're caught comitting a crime you quickly have to run and hide until the security guards give up hunting for you, to avoid losing a star and any weapons involved. To a certain degree these security guards hamper the fun by slowing down the pace of the game but they do increase the difficulty by forcing players to learn their position on the maps.

The variety of weapons is impressive and despite the amount they all remain fairly balanced. The more powerful weapons are limited by their ammo and their accessibility on the maps and since you spawn with nothing, it's often best to scrounge the more reliable weapons rather than the most powerful. When it comes down to weapon choice you have often have to strike a balance between points, reliability and accessibility, a somewhat challenging task that adds a new dimension to the game. Murder Aids, secondary gadgets, add even more variety to the game. These items, while not as essential, do offer unique oppurtunities to set traps by luring or immobilising your victim.

This game most certainly isn't for everybody. The combination of stalker and shooter gameplay can lead to quiet and uneventful matches and with the average match lasting around half an hour it can become quite tiresome. The extended time limits aren't the only element that make Bloody Good Time inacessible. Characters must keep themselves in prime physical condition by eating, sleeping and relieving themselves. These awkwardly intergrated mechanics force players to juggle their character's needs during the short intermissions between rounds. Being caught by your hunter on the loo can lead to comical moments, but it can also lead to an instant death as you're flushed down the toliet.

Matches are broken up with a series of bonus rounds. A self explanatory free-for all, a hunt the leader gametype and my personal favourite, infection; a pass the bomb gametype where stars are earned for surviving and docked for being a zombie.

It's unfortunate but while this game had so much potential it falls far short of offering what the name promises. The game hasn't really caught on with the console audience leading to a lack of players, something that the crude AI is no substitute for. While this shooter may offer a unique and wild experience, all things considered, it's probably best to give this one a miss.

5/10

Words by Arran France

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Medal of Honor review

Medal of Honor is known for it's blockbuster tales of World War Two. But now the industry has changed, and gamers have grown tired of the same setting again and again. Aware of this, EA decided to shake things up a bit and introduce an all new Medal of Honor, contemporary and bad ass, in hopes of replicating the success of a certain other series which needs no introduction, Call of Duty. The trailers promised explosions, beautiful graphics and intense gameplay. And they keep their promises... Sort of.

The first thing you'll notice when you play Medal of Honor is the character movement. Slow and sluggish, no sense of urgency. This isn't a negative point however. Medal of Honor was created by the developers working with soldiers, in order to recreate the harsh realities of modern wars. The soldiers would be slow and sluggish, burdened by a huge amount of gear. It's a more realistic representation of war than Call of Duty. The enemies are ruthless and somewhat smart, and often outnumber you and your team, using a wide arsenal to try and bring you down. The guns are varied but it's hard to pick a favourite. There was not enough to differentiate between each weapon and therefore any weapon you could find would do the job. There is also no need to switch weapons as your teammates have a seemingly limitless supply of ammo which they will give to you on request. This vastly reduces the difficulty, with a few exceptions which see your character isolated from the allies.

These don't happen very often but when they do the game really shines. A level late in the game sees your character leap from a falling helicopter, in the middle of the night. Landing on a cold mountain with only a knife, your character limps, coughs up blood and his night vision optics flicker from the damage. Beautiful moments like this are few and far between which is a real shame. They show what the game could have been with more thought and time. There also isn't much time for anything to happen as an experienced FPS player can complete the game in less than 5 hours. Far too short for a franchise reboot.

The game does have some impressive set pieces and levels but nothing life changing. One sequence sees you and a large group of soldiers in a Chinook helicopter, when suddenly it is attacked. The game turns slow motion as bodies fly from side to side, then up to hit the ceiling of the copter, before slamming back down. All the while bullets are tearing through the fuselage, ripping through your friends. It sounds impressive on paper but seeing it in motion is really an experience that you need first hand. If the game had more of these well thought out and scripted set pieces, it would have been a serious contender for FPS of the year, but unfortunately it does not.

The graphics of Medal of Honor are hard to pin down. Sometimes you will be awestruck with the incredible looking character models and scenery. The graphics are smooth, detailed and wonderful to look at. Other times however, and they are somewhat embarrassing. Cast your eyes to the walls and floors on certain levels and you will see a blurry, pixelated mess. In the end, they are only walls and floors, and do not detract from the gameplay, but they do show a lack of polish and commitment to the game. The character models always stay amazing though, and they are obviously much more important than the textures on the floor.

The multiplayer on Medal of Honor was developed by a completely different studio than the one that worked on the campaign. The multiplayer is made by DICE, of Battlefield fame. This fact alone makes the game more enticing. Unfortunately though, the online play is not so great. All of what makes the recent Bad Company games so great is gone. No destruction, no vehicles, only a small selection of weapons and an odd levelling system make the multiplayer quite dull and uninteresting. Some gamers will obviously like the slower pace and lack of complex classes and perks from Call of Duty, but the majority will not. There's a reason they all go back year after year.

Overall, Medal of Honor is definitely worth a try. The campaign has some amazing moments, but not enough to say that this is a franchise reboot, bringing Medal of Honor into the 21st Century. For a first attempt at a new setting and whole overall style though, it's a commendable effort. A sequel is hinted at very strongly, which is great news. Hopefully Danger Close and EA will listen to the criticism and thoughts of this game, to make a truly kick ass follow up worthy of the Medal of Honor name.

7/10

by Louis Gardner

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Call of Duty: Black Ops review

Treyarch have not had a good track record with the Call of Duty series. Many gamers have generally preferred the efforts of Infinity Ward. Does their latest attempt, Black Ops, change anything? Not only is it Treyarch's best Call of Duty game, it is quite possibly the most immersive and jaw dropping in the whole series.

The game starts with your character, Mason, strapped into a chair in front of many TVs, each with different clips being played. Not only is this the setting between most of the levels, but it's a clever interactive main menu. One of the TV sets displays the options, which is nothing unusual. But move the right stick and you can look around the room. You can see your arms and legs strapped in, with flecks of blood on your clothes. It's a refreshing concept for the menu screen and if you know what to do, has some really cool hidden features.

The first level has you in Cuba in 1961. You and two allies are in a bar, gathering information from a local and making plans to assassinate Fidel Castro. In the first few minutes you are told these plans and instantly thrown into the action. The game doesn't let up on the action the whole way through, and sees you visiting many continents to complete special missions spanning a decade.

In the game you will do many things that have never been done before in a Call of Duty game. Be it riding motorcycles, firing explosives from a man powered slingshot or swimming silently to assassinate the occupants of a Vietcong boat. Black Ops introduces so many gameplay mechanics to the Call of Duty series, but the execution is so perfect that it never feels gimmicky.

A few missions set in Vietnam include some mind-blowing sections. For example, pilot an attack chopper, blowing up Vietcong bases and vehicles. But the most amazing, goosebump inducing section sees you driving a boat along a Vietnamese river, shooting rockets at soldiers and villages, with 'Sympathy for the Devil' by the Rolling Stones playing in the background. This sequence gave me shivers. Every level sees you doing something new, and you are never left disappointed. You are sucked into the world of Mason, Woods and Reznov, and you won't want to leave anytime soon.

The characters are really well developed and for the first time in the series, the player character actually speaks and has a face. For once we can empathise with the character. In past games there were no reactions to deaths, failures and victories. Now, Mason shouts along with what you are most likely feeling. But he doesn't get annoying. He's a perfectly constructed, terribly flawed hero. Woods, your main ally, is an all out action hero. He saves your life countless times and always has a plan. It's hard not to care for him as he is with you for the majority of the campaign. Reznov returns from World at War, but he is no longer the war hero that he used to be. Now he has been thrown into prison to rot. The first time you encounter him, he is leading the prisoners to overthrow the guards and escape the prison. He is seemingly invincible as time after time he escapes death to help you on your mission. The characters are vital to the story and without them, Mason would be nothing. Another character called Hudson is present throughout the story but only rears his head properly for the final few missions, in which he kicks ass and delivers some shocking truths.

The voice acting is also top notch. A-list actors voice the main characters. Sam Worthington as Mason, Gary Oldman as Reznov and Ed Harris as Hudson. With talent like this, the characters are really brought to life in an amazing way.

The Zombie mode from World at War returns, much to the delight of many fans. Two levels ship with the game (more are provided for purchasers of the Limited editions), and two is enough. Kino Der Toten, or Cinema of the Dead, is set in an old, destroyed and abandoned building. The second level, Five, is set in the Pentagon. It's pretty damn cool and if that isn't enough, you play as JFK. Bring in more players and they will control Nixon, Castro or McNamara. Whoever thought of the characters for this mode deserves a promotion. The Zombie mode works exactly the same as WoW. Gain points by killing zombies and buy new weapons and rooms with said points. Playing solo is fun, but lacks something. That something is allies. Throw in three more people online and the game really holds it's own. Worth it just to hear JFK talking about Zombie chowder.

Multiplayer is main reason a lot of gamers bought Black Ops. And it is incredible. No longer do you unlock items at a certain level. Now you can buy almost every weapon from any level. If you have the COD credits, that is. A new addition to the series, completing challenges, getting kills and bonuses all pay out a certain amount of credits alongside EXP. Then you can buy weapons, attachments, perks, equipment, killstreaks, emblems and playercard backgrounds. Phew. The online game is seriously customisable. Don't like the red dot sight? Replace the red dot with a pink heart. Not to your taste? How about a green skull? The multiplayer game is the deepest it has been in the series, without being overcomplicated. It adds almost RPG elements to the online experience and allows more than ever, the player to be truly unique. Multi layered emblems allow you to create masterpieces which can then be displayed on your weaponry. Another new feature is the ability to have your clan tag scratched into your gun. It's just aesthetics but is completely fun. Higher level players are given the ability to buy face paint. Being killed by someone with a skull drawn on their face is oddly creepy.

A new online mode sees you taking part in Wager matches. These see you betting your hard earned COD credits on special matches. The most fun and hectic variant is Gun Game, and sees every person start with a pistol. Get a kill and you'll get upgraded to the next weapon tier. The weapons get increasingly powerful and the game soon turns into a frenzy of explosions. Get a knife kill to demote the victim, back to the next tier down. Other modes see you with one bullet, and the only way to get another bullet is to get a kill. Miss with your only chance and you will be forced to use the knife. It's best to experience it first hand, and you will undoubtedly have a good time.

Some problems with spawn points and connectivity do sully the experience a bit, but hopefully Treyarch are working on fixes to make this the must have multiplayer game of the year.

A story so complete and satisfying to rival the original Modern Warfare and fantastically deep and engrossing multiplayer modes make this the most impressive and well made Call of Duty game in a long time. Cast aside your doubts about Treyarch. This is the game we've all been waiting for.

9.5/10

by Louis Gardner

Monday, 15 November 2010

Sonic 4: Episode 1 review

While Sonic hasn't exactly been MIA from the world of gaming, many die hard Sonic fans have been craving a sequel to Sonic and Knuckles since 1994. Sonic 4 : Episode 1 attempts to fill the void and as it is labelled as a true sequel, you would be forgiven for thinking this would be an easy job. However, after a 16 year wait, the expectations of a generation are set high.

From the start, it's clear this game aims to please. Upon booting up the game players are greeted by the chime of collected rings followed by the familiar and comforting sound of "SEGAAAA". Quickly you're propelled into your first level, Splash Hill, a clear copy of Green Hill from the original Sonic game but in crisp, clear HD. They may not be the most elaborate graphics ever but the iconic fluffy clouds and rolling hills certainly look good, and more importantly they feel Sonic.

'Feeling Sonic' is the key to this game. Where this game excels is where it follows the series precedent and when it does divert it typically fails, with one key exception of the latest ability added to our furry friend's repertoire, the homing attack. In-midair pressing the jump button allows Sonic to hone in on an enemy or switch in the vicinity and unleash the full force of his curled up might. This attack may have the cheap feel of many of Sonic's more recent, mediocre incarnations but surprisingly, this ability is satisfyingly woven into the platforming.

While it may not have the same skill requirements as previous instalments in the series, it's not simply a matter of jumping and button mashing because enemies will frequently protect themselves with spikes, forcing you to time your attacks correctly. Sonic's homing attack also allows Sonic to home in on multiple enemies in a row to reach inaccessible areas. Overall, this addition does what Sonic does best; it makes the game fast, fluid and enjoyable.

The homing attack may add speed to the game but the game itself feels relatively slow. While I'm sure Sonic himself runs at exactly the same speed as before, the pace of games has changed dramatically since his last appearance and comparatively the gameplay doesn't feel as slick as it used to. Sonic takes far too long to reach his maximum velocity and when he does, the restricted field of view often sees you running straight into enemies. It almost feels as if you are being punished for going faster than intended. The rare moments of exhilarating speed are too few and far between especially once you finish Splash Hill.

Once you have completed the first act, four more zones become available including the compulsory Casino zone, a zone set in an ancient temple, during which the majority of your time is spent underwater, and a zone set among gears, which is in fact the most original of the lot. Each zone is strongly reminiscent of previous Sonic games of the series, even the 'Mad Gear Zone' shares strong similarities with the old 'Chemical Plant', but each individual zone now includes its own new feature, or rather, gimmick. The imaginatively named 'Casino Street' heavily features the positioning of firing cannons and also includes a novel section where Sonic surfs along a deck of trailing cards. The Lost Labyrinth was also scathed and features a brief mine cart encounter as well as undeniably the lowest point in the game; a painfully slow puzzle section where Sonic is forced to light a series of torches in order to remove a barrier that stops him progressing. Thankfully, moments like these don't occur very often but it's certainly not the only time that the player will be left feeling sapped of momentum and craving the traditional fast and furious Sonic gameplay.

It's unfortunate, but the innovation demonstrated by the inclusion of these gimmicks feels at best misdirected. While Sonic Team must be praised for creating such an accurate representation of the original games it's difficult to label it as a sequel. It feels more like a tribute to the Sonic of yester-year held back by the designer’s reluctance to change what was needed. Ironically, it's reliance on the Sonic template is its greatest strength as well as its Achilles’ heel. The overuse of reprised content is tiring, it might be familiar but it's from over a decade ago; Splash Hill in reality is nothing more than a slightly sharper looking Green Hill and the boss fights have been taken straight from the first two games of the franchise. It might take a while but after the sense of nostalgia wears off, you're really left with nothing but a bitter sense of déjà vu.
Overall, this game is something of a mixed bag. On the one hand this game offers everything you'd expect from a Sonic sequel, and more. But, it just doesn't deliver where it matters, the speed, the music and the repetition takes its toll on what could have been a promising addition to Sonic fans’ collections. Hopefully SEGA take on board the criticism while producing Episode 2. Until then, while this isn't the sequel we've been waiting for, it is a good step in the right direction.

6/10

Words by Arran France

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Play Assassin's Creed Brotherhood early!

From Monday November 15th at all major HMV GamerBase locations you’ll be able to play the full multiplayer version, a thrilling game of hunter and hunted between well-armed Templars. That’s a whole week of playing multiplayer assassination before anyone else!

On November 18th, we’ll also be doing midnight launches! Gamers will be able to play the single player story mode from 9pm until midnight (bring your memory cards!), at which point you’ll be able to buy the game for yourself. GamerBase will be running midnight openings on November 18th at its London Trocadero, Glasgow, Manchester and Reading locations. There will also be a few Assassin’s Creed prizes up for grabs. See you there!

For more details click here:

http://www.gamerbase.com/?a=post&id=87457

Monday, 8 November 2010

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II review

The Force Unleashed II is the follow up to 2008s new story in the Star Wars universe. Set between the two trilogies, the story focuses on Darth Vader's apprentice, Starkiller. Having not played the first in the series, I would have liked some sort of summing up at the beginning, but this doesn't happen. The first of a few disappointments.

The story follows Starkiller on his journey to find the woman he loves, Juno. The twist is, he isn't really Starkiller, but a clone. One of many Jedi clones to do Darth Vader's bidding. To aid your mission, you travel to a floating city to save a blind Jedi warrior, Rahm Kota, who is a slave being forced to fight in an arena. Starkiller then faces the tough decision: fight for the rebellion or save Juno?

The gameplay is exciting - for half an hour. Once you have used all of the force moves a few times, it's easy to get bored. Trying new combos with your saber and force powers is fun for a while but again, they are exhausted pretty soon. The mechanics of the game are the same in each level. Do a bit of running and jumping, kill the pathetically weak Stormtroopers, solve an insultingly easy puzzle and then fight some tougher enemies. It's too repetitive and on top of that, extremely short. The game can be completed in less than five hours, and ends with an awfully constructed final battle, which is far less exciting than it should be. You would expect more of Lucas Arts, it's not like they're short on cash or talent. They simply haven't tried that hard, and it is basically a cash cow they are milking too much.

There are some visually impressive set pieces, but they require no skill. Defeating harder bosses and enemies usually require pressing certain buttons at the right time. Quick time events are
majorly overused in TFU 2. It does however feel satisfying after bashing the B button repeatedly to push obstacles out of the way of your crashing ship, using the force. But that's about it. Visually impressive is good for a film, but in games you would expect more interaction and involvement.

The unlockables and upgrades add a bit of depth to the game and are the only reason to even think about playing the game again. The most exciting aspect of the game is the ability to unlock Guybrush Threepwood as a playable character. It doesn't bode well for the Star Wars universe that Guybrush is the best reason for buying the game. Upgrading the force powers does improve the game though, as your powers affect more enemies at the same time, making the mundane activity of disposing Stormtroopers look pretty awesome.

A number of challenges separate to the story mode add more length to the game, with medals and leaderboards bringing a competitive side to the game that it would not otherwise have. The lack of multiplayer is disappointing, although if the rest of the game is anything to go by, it would have been underdeveloped and a wasted opportunity.

It seems that Lucas Arts have not listened to the fan response from the first game and instead pushed out another with no solid story, not enough length to justify the retail price and only three real levels. The authentic sound effects are awesome, and the graphics are beautiful, particularly on Vader. Small roles for Yoda and Boba Fett are dissatisfying though, and the game is far more disappointing than impressive. Fans of the first game are likely to enjoy it, but not really anyone else. It's time for Lucas Arts to leave The Force Unleashed alone.

5/10

by Louis Gardner

Just Cause 2 review

Just Cause originally released in the mid 2000s, and whilst it was a refreshing take on the sandbox genre, fell short at a few hurdles. The game introduced a parachute and grapple hook combination. Why it had not been done before is a mystery, as the two go together perfectly. The game is basically GTA on LSD. The idea was genius, the execution wasn't nearly as awesome. It felt rushed. To have a session without seeing a glitch of some sort was nothing short of a miracle. Since the original released, fans wanted a sequel to do everything that the original should have. It took a while to get to us when it released earlier this year. Was it worth the long wait? Do the problems from the first game remain? Here's the verdict.

Just Cause 2 took everything that was awesome about the original, doubled it in every single way - size, action, stunts, one liners. Everything is bigger and oh so better.

Set on the islands of Panau, the game sees Rico Rodriguez, the same protagonist from the first game (with a different face!?), trying to overthrow the tyrannical dictator, Baby Panau. To do so, he befriends three rival revolutionary groups and causes a shitload of chaos. The story starts with you tracking down your old ally from the original game, Tom Sheldon, who is missing somewhere in Panau. From then on in, each and every mission is more action packed than an episode of the A-Team.

To unlock story missions, you must cause Chaos. This is literally exactly as it sounds. Blow up military bases, fuel depots, oil rigs, and maybe the most fun, Baby Panau statues. Once you have destroyed the statue, use your new and incredibly improved grapple hook to attach the statues head to a helicopter and there you have a makeshift wrecking ball. Cause enough chaos and missions, weapons and vehicles become available. This extends the life of the main plot line, and whilst in most games it would be a cheap way to add length, in JC2 you'll be having far too much fun to complain.

The grappling hook has the same functions as the one in the original game, but with some new features that should have been in the first instalment. For example, you no longer have to switch it out as a weapon, it is now kept on a wrist mounted mechanism. Also, instead of only vehicles, you can literally grapple any surface. In the first game, being stranded in the jungle meant a lot of running. In this one, just use your grapple hook on a tree, and whilst you're reeling in, deploy your parachute. The game is much easier to get around as it doesn't matter if you have no vehicles, the grapple hook is more than enough. The most entertaining new feature is the ability to duel grapple. Shoot a soldier with your grapple hook, aim at a vehicle and attach the other end of the line to it. Hop in and drag the soldier behind, much to your amusement. Attach a dirt bike to a helicopter and fly it to the top of a mountain, and then use the bike to do a crazy stunt. You can do that if you want.

The game is incredibly huge. Without a doubt the biggest open world game available at this moment in time. The first time you look at the map, you'll think it's pretty big. Then you'll find that you can zoom out and you'll have been looking at an island which takes about a tenth of the map. There are tropical rain forests, snow topped mountains, frozen lakes, huge deserts and massive cities. It's seriously big but never overwhelming as the range of environments justifies the size. The sheer variety of vehicles and ways of traversing the jungles and mountains means that the game never feels too big. Getting from A to B is not as dull as in some open world games. In Just Cause 2, you'll be crossing the desert on a dirt bike, a second later you can launch yourself into the air, dive down a mountain and grapple onto a helicopter. All in the space of ten seconds. After doing so, it's impossible not to feel like a hero.

It isn't just a huge world though, there is also so much to do. To put it in perspective, after completing the story and a few side quests, completing quite a few locations to 100% and collecting a few hundred collectables, the game was below 30%. It is seriously packed with things to do. Races of all sorts, hundreds of bases to sabotage, even more villages to secure, and over a thousand packages to find, it will take more time than any other game to fully complete.

The characters are one of the areas where the game falls a little short. The voice acting on some characters is really bad. The accents, the delivery of the words, and often the scripting is all a bit iffy. It's not a game that you play for the story, it's about the fun, but more time was needed on the writing and performances to make it a better and more complete game. The leaders of the three factions are particularly bad, especially the leader of the Reapers, Bolo Santosi. She has possibly the worst voice in video games history. She drags every word out and we accent is a confusing mishmash and is enough to make you avoid working for the Reapers.

The game is so much fun to play. The controls work well, the physics are fun, the world is beautiful. It does fall short in a few areas, mainly the voice acting and exclusion of any sort of multiplayer. But these can be fixed for the third instalment, if it happens. It would be a missed opportunity if it doesn't.

A must have for fans of sandbox games, it is easily the craziest and the most fun game of this generation. Bring on Just Cause 3!

8.5/10

by Louis Gardner

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood Character and Uplay videos



Meet Hellequin!



The fantastic Uplay is present once again in AC:B.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Singularity review

Singularity is a first person shooter from Raven Software and Activision that slipped under the radar of most, and it's a damn shame. While it may seem like a budget FPS, it's probably the most underrated game of the year.

The game puts you in the shoes of Captain Nathaniel Renko, sent on a mission to find the source of a huge EMP blast, which downed a US spy satellite. The blast came from Katorga-12, an old Russian island used for experiments with the powerful element, E99. As your chopper approaches the island, another EMP blast cuts the power and sends you plummeting. An exciting start to rollercoaster of a game.

The game takes part in one location, but in two different times. The game starts in 2010 but soon, a third blast takes you back to 1955. It's almost instantaneous and whilst the layout is the same, the aesthetics are completely different. What makes it more interesting is that in 2010, everything is rusty and broken, abandoned for decades. Jump to 1955 and everything is new, shiny and perfect.

The first time you jump back, you save a man from dying. If only Renko had seen Back To The Future. Change something in the past and the repercussions could be disastrous. And they are. The man who you saved eventually became an evil dictator. So when you jump back to present day, gone are the Stalin statues and posters, replaced with the very man you saved. The mission just changed...

The gameplay is what you would expect of a modern FPS. Throw in some time manipulation, gravity altering and energy blast devices, attached to your wrist, and the game really shines. Up until you get the device is a bit of a drag, but it's worth it. The aptly titled Time Manipulation Device is the star of the show, and allows for awesome combat and puzzles. It even makes traversing the corridors and buildings of Katorga-12 fun. Can't get to a higher level? Send some stairs back to '55, back to their former glory, allowing you to climb. Can't open a door? Send the lock to the future, where it is broken. Simple! It makes mundane things such as walking between locations fun.

Want more fun? How about a massive selection of weapons? With special powers? Check. Equip the sniper rifle, look down the scope and slow down time. Making heads explode has never been easier. A grenade launcher shoots out perfectly spherical explosives which you can then control. Send it around corners and through cracks in the wall, it's so much fun to use. A missile launcher allows you to control the projectile after you have fired it. Whether the enemy is above, below or behind you, nowhere is safe from the Seeker.

There are some really impressive set pieces in Singularity, rivalling those of the big titles like Halo Reach. The sense of power when you raise a sunken ship and revert it to being brand new is amazing. Climb aboard the ship and it starts to age rapidly. Paint peels off the walls, doors rust and fall of the hinges, holes in the hull reappear and take the ship back to it's grave. This game has so much atmosphere. Vast amounts of the time are spent alone. Minutes pass with silence from both allies and enemies. It's not particularly scary, but is definitely creepy.

As it's not one of the huge budget games, some aspects of the game have taken a hit for the team. The graphics are generally good. The characters look decent, but look a little closer and the textures are pixelated and blurry, the facial expressions are far from fantastic and the movement is often jerky and stiff. Textures on the environment are the same. Really nice from a distance but not so much close up. These are minor niggles and do not detract from the overall experience.

The multiplayer sees you playing as a human, or as one of the creatures from the single player missions. They vary from small and fast but weak, to huge and powerful, but slow. Experimenting with your team mates to find the perfect combination is great fun. There are only two modes however, and the overall multiplayer game lacks the depth and complexity that some of the big games have.

Singularity has been missed by so many gamers, and it is a shame. If it had been marketed a lot more, this game could have stood among the giants. Instead it will most likely gain popularity as a niche title, a cult classic. Even so, Raven Software have made one of the best new shooters of the year.

8/10

by Louis Gardner

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Gun Loco Character Vignette #3



The third and final character video has landed. Here's Mifune!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Super Meat Boy review

Super Meat Boy is indie developer Team Meat's sequel to the popular flash game Meat Boy. This wild and wacky arcade game puts you in the shoes of Meat Boy, a humble square piece of animated meat on a mission to save his kidnapped girlfriend, Bandage Girl, from the evil and devious Dr. Fetus, a suit-wearing-jar-clad Fetus and possibly the most unlikely villain you will ever come across. To complicate matters, between you and your girlfriend who is located at the end of each level, is all manner of hellish obstacles (rotating saw-blades, spikes ... salt) which must be navigated using a combination of Meat Boy's wall-clinging, jumping and sprinting abilities.

Eagerly expected, this already award winning title is the gaming equivalent of a Quentin Tarantino movie: humorous, daring, unafraid to be graphic and a love letter to the medium it adores. It's packed full of gaming clichés, 16-bit inspired graphics and music, and features an array of unlockable characters from other indie games.

Don't be under any illusions that this is just any platformer. Hidden under the facade of quirk and humour is a serious game, and it's hard. In the first few levels you're lulled into a false sense of security as you breeze through what appears to be a game with the difficulty of Super Mario Bros., but reality hits fast and hard half-way through the first 'world' and from there on in you're regularly presented with increasingly insurmountable odds to overcome, to the point that wanting to throw your controller across the room is not an unfamiliar feeling. This frustration is only further amplified by the knowledge that the game is fair. Every obstacle is obvious, the levels are completable and on average take less than twenty seconds but, for some reason you've died again. The whole experience should be enough to make you quit, but it doesn't. The perfectly styled visuals, the retro feel and the gaming clichés are enough to make you want to improve, and you do.

While the main game is more than enough of a challenge for your average gamer, if you manage to complete a level within a set time limit you're awarded an 'A+', your ticket into the dark world, an alternate version of the level. These alternate versions are harder and contain more than their fair share of spikes, saws and rockets.

Seperate from the main game and it's alternate dark world counterpart are warp zones, small purple vortexes which can be found scattered through levels in the game. These zones disappear after a few seconds, but if reached in time send the player to retro styled bonus levels, usually with only limited number of lives to survive before it's 'Game Over'.

Lives or no lives during this game you'll die a lot; chain-saws, spikes, bio-hazard waste, anything you touch will kill you. It's inevitable, expected and integrated beautifully into the game. To Super Meat Boy, every failure is simply an opportunity to put you in your place. Not only does it keep a record of your all-time death count, a figure that'll be well into the tens of thousands by the time you've completed all three hundred and fifty levels, but at the end of every level it also shows you a replay of your successful run – overlain with Meat Boys from every other failed attempt, which all meet their maker until only your one successful Meat Boy remains. Not only is this feature a humorous addition, but it is also serves as a testament to your efforts and spurs you on.

While the indie roots of the game are more than apparent in the game's style and appearance, the near-perfect gameplay would suggest nothing of the sort. It's fast, addictive, and well designed and while the levels maybe themed, they manage to maintain a variety that avoids making progressing through the game feel repetitive, while still providing increasingly difficult and new challenges.

This game is undoubtedly one of the most solid titles available from the arcade store and with the promise of more free quality content for a game oozing with replayability and hidden content at the price of 1200 Microsoft Points it is most certainly a worthy addition to any gamer’s library.

9/10

Words by Arran France

Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock review

Guitar Hero has fought off the competition over the years to be one of the most successful party games of all time. Each new incarnation brings new songs and every now and then, a new mode and some characters. Warriors of Rock ticks all the boxes, and in doing so, becomes the most complete Guitar Hero to date.

Anyone who has played more than one rhythm game, like Guitar Hero or Rock Band, will know that the "campaign" mode is always the same. Start at a small venue with crappy instruments and no fans, and work your way up to be the greatest band of all time. Travelling the world, getting sponsors and more than enough money. If you've played one, you've played them all. Warriors of Rock uses the same system of playing a setlist consisting of a certain amount of songs, playing an encore after you do well enough, and finally unlocking the next venue. Where it differs is that you aren't trying to make your band awesome. This time, you are gathering an elite group of rockers to defeat The Beast. To recruit each guitarist, you must play through songs and earn a certain amount of stars. These are not just the typical 1-5 star ratings, you can earn additional stars by completing song and character specific challenges. It adds a level of replayability to the game, and trying to get as many stars as you can becomes quite addictive. Each of the eight characters also has a unique power to help boost your score and achieve more stars. These powers vary from giving you a small percentage of star power for every ten note streak, to not just doubling your score for star power, but multiplying it by six. Whilst these are nice new additions, it makes it easier for the player to get a high score, and takes away the challenge in some cases. In the past, trying to nail a certain star phrase could be infuriating, now it doesn't matter too much because every ten note streak will build up the star power anyway. The powers reward beginner players more than expert players, and it seems a disservice to loyal fans.

The new QuickPlay+ mode is by far the greatest feature of the game. It works the same as previous QuickPlay modes, but if you want it to, it has a lot of depth and will take up days of your life if you want it to. Each song has 13 challenges, and each one will award you one of three medals, depending on how well you do. It is more impressive than the Quest mode, and is the Best in Show as far as I'm concerned. Earning stars and medals will help you level up. Levelling up gives you new instruments, venues, concept art and more. QuickPlay has had a massive overhaul and is all the better for it. Warriors of Rock is worth buying just to experience and master this mode. What also makes it fantastic is that if you just want standard QuickPlay, you can ignore all these features and simply play some songs.

The song list has taken some hits for being too broad, not focusing on one genre. If anything, I see this as a positive point. As the game utilises all of the instruments, it makes most sense to have many genres, otherwise the essence of the Party game would be lost. There has to be something for everyone, and Warriors of Rock has, in my opinion, one of the best setlists to date. The inclusion of Bohemian Rhapsody is a stroke of genius, and makes you wonder why they haven't included it in previous iterations. The song is fantastically good fun to play, and provides a challenge for each instrument and especially the vocalist.

While the sales may have been below par, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock provides a refreshing experience. It may not be the best game for GH loyalists, the difficulty from previous games does not rear it's ugly head, but it is a great party game with songs to suit every mood and person. Worth the price for QuickPlay+ alone.

7.5/10

Monday, 18 October 2010

Super Meat Boy contest!

We have two Super Meat Boy codes up for grabs!

For one entry, tweet this message:

@SubspaceReviews has two codes for Super Meat Boy! RT & follow and visit http://tinyurl.com/39mr58f for a second entry!

For the second, post your Twitter name in the comments section below. Closes Wednesday 20th October, 13:30 GMT.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Gun Logo Character Vignette #2



Meet the star of the second Gun Loco vignette, Maddox!

Gun Loco Character Vignette #1



Meet the Gun Loco character, Nuts!

£10 Voucher Giveaway for 250 followers!

Thanks to everyone RTing my posts over the past few weeks, I finally got 250 followers on Twitter!

To celebrate I will be giving away a £10 voucher for a site of your choice (or equivalent value if winner is outside of UK).

If you can get me 35 more followers by the end of October, the prize will increase to £20 split between two winners. So if you want a bigger prize fund, Tweet this message:

"@SubspaceReviews is giving away 2 £10 vouchers if he gets 25 new followers in 7 days. To enter, RT and follow!"

Already existing followers are eligible to win and do not need to RT, it's simply to help towards the bigger prize, and winner will be selected at random when the giveaway ends.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

DJ Hero 2 Event at St Pancras!

DJ HERO 2 STORMS ST PANCRAS INTERNATIONAL WITH GIANT TURNTABLE

WHAT? Flex your musical muscles on the World’s Largest Turntable.

WHY? To mark the upcoming launch of DJ Hero 2 (22nd October), the World’s largest turntable is being installed at St Pancras International providing early morning commuters with a musical treat.

Former DMC world champion and radio 1Xtra mix master specialist DJ Blakey will be mixing it up on the decks whilst members of the public get the chance to live-out the fantasy of being a superstar DJ, scratching and mashing up tracks in front of a huge audience.

WHEN? Friday 15th October 2010
Arrival @ 7.45am for a 8am start

WHERE? St Pancras International / Pancras Road, London
In front of Eurostar check-in

For further information on the DJ Hero 2 and to RSVP please contact:

Heropr@frankpr.it 0207 693 6985

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Comic Jumper

Comic Jumper is the game that we've all been waiting for since 'Splosion Man. Ever since The Maw, Twisted Pixel have been on the radar, and the success of the aforementioned 'Splosion Man just cemented their position as a triple-A XBLA developer. Does Comic Jumper help them to defend their title? Short answer, yes. Long answer...

Comic Jumper is the 2.5D platformer which tells the story of Captain Smiley and Star, a crappy hero with a talking star attached to his chest. He is the star of his own comic book, which would be great if the readers didn't hate him. His comic is cancelled due to poor sales, but a mysterious company called Twisted Pixel come to the rescue. They have invented a ship which will allow Captain Smiley to jump to other comics, and being a guest star for 3 issues. By doing this, he makes money to restart his own comic.

The first comic you play in is Captain Smiley's own, before it gets cancelled. Basically an extended tutorial level, it gives you a taste of what to expect throughout the game and introduces the main enemies and more importantly, Captain Smiley and Star. The relationship between the two is not a good one, resulting in hilarious consequences and arguments. There are some amazing lines said by each and every character, and the script is clearly well written, unusual for an XBLA game. The best character is by far Star. He has a major attitude problem. He is chauvinistic, rude, and clearly needs to go to anger management classes. Captain Smiley always has good intentions but always manages to make sure people hate him. Whether by killing innocent villagers or destroying a museum, he never really does the right thing.

The first comic that you guest star in is Nanoc the Obliverator. Set in stone age times, Smiley gets an awesome costume which includes a horned helmet and a dead big cat as a cape. His look changes in every level, and as well as the savage look, he also rocks out a cute manga style and a cel shaded 70s version of himself. Each of the three main comics have distinctive styles, so the game always feels fresh in that department.

The main criticism I have with the game is the repetition. If you look past the graphics, every level is basically the same. They all have the same things to do, ranging from melée sections, to vehicle sections, to 3D sections, with the odd bit of climbing. Whilst that is quite a few things to do, it needed more to keep the player interested. Once you have played one level, you have pretty much played them all. The most interesting levels are unfortunately the first and last. They have the best pace and enough action to keep you hooked, especially the final level which just doesn't hold back at all, and also has a cameo from a previous Twisted Pixel game. I assure you, you will be surprised.

There are a vast amount of unlockables on this game, all in classic Twisted Pixel style. These range from fake interviews with the cast, to models of the characters, to full Captain Smiley comics. To unlock the extras, you buy them with money earned in-game. There really are a lot, and it's nice to see that the devs have taken a lot of time to include these in the game. So many games have no extras but Twisted Pixel deliver, every single time. One of the coolest extras that you can buy is DLC for 'Splosion Man. You can tell they care about their loyal fans when they reward them like this, and other developers should definitely think about doing the same.

Another awesome thing about Comic Jumper is that it's jam packed with references to other games and films. For example, in one of the Nanoc levels, keen eyes games will spot one of the 'Splosion Man cakes in the background. Also take notice of the scrolling text in the base above the desk. It definitely provided chuckles.

There is no doubt that this was always going to be good. The guys at Twisted Pixel just get better and better, each game outdoing the last. They never let their humour and wit falter, incorporating it into fantastic game design, and it is clear that they care about the games they make. Their storytelling skills have without a doubt improved, but the gameplay is too repetitive and needs more variation.

Even though this is the case, Comic Jumper should not be missed. Twisted Pixel have an ability to create games that you will love, with the best humour, wit and characters that anyone could ask for. If you love 'Splosion Man and The Maw, buy this. If not, try the demo and you'll still probably buy it.

8/10

Monday, 4 October 2010

Halo Reach review

Remember Reach.

Reach is where it all began. Before Spartan 117 and Cortana, before the Flood and the Arbiter, there was the fall of Reach. But is the fall a pleasant journey? No, definitely not pleasant. It's a story of sacrifice. It's a story of courage. It's the story of the Covenant invading the planet, Reach, and doing all they can to destroy all signs of life. And who stands in the way of their objective? Noble Team.

The player takes control of Noble Six, the newest and last addition to the team. Your five teammates are all very different, ranging from the calm and loyal Jorge, to the battle crazy Emile, and other clichéd characters. This isn't a bad thing, the wide range if personalities and skill sets keep you interested in the team. Nobody wants a team of clones, boring you to the point of murdering them.

The missions are typically Halo. Travel here, kill enemies, defend from Covenant dropships, travel somewhere else and repeat. This is a tried and tested Bungie formula and it is fine, but it was starting to get old. And Bungie knew this, so they went a few steps further and introduced a whole new range of gameplay mechanics. Space battles? Check. Low gravity battles in a Covenant ship? Check. A whole range of armour abilities including a jetpack? Check. This game throws a lot at you, and it's damn satisfying. The space battle sees you disabling a Covenant ships engines in order for you to land on it and plant a bomb, which is followed by a breathtaking cutscene. It's this kind of thing that Halo needed, and Bungie nailed it.

Whilst it has these set pieces, they aren't as dramatic and Hollywood inspired as those in Modern Warfare 2, but Halo doesn't need these ostentatious displays, it instead relies on a solid story and characters, and has a layer of emotion unseen in many first person shooters.

The multiplayer is Halo through and through, with a modern twist. At the start of each game, and optionally each respawn, you select a loadout. These mainly change your armour ability, and now and then change weapons too. The ability to use jetpacks, active camo, holograms, sprint and armour lock online changes the way we play Halo forever. It opens up the battlefield, making it much more tactical and allows players to gain some awesome new skills. The maps are detailed and varied, with gametypes changing almost every game, it's hard to get bored. One of the most interesting and unique maps is set aboard a Covenant ship in space. Everything seems normal until you step onto a gravity lift. Shot out the top of the ship, the sound is suddenly muffled, your movement slow and gravity is virtually non-existent. Step back through a one way shield to fall into the ship and back to normal. The first time you experience this will definitely be a moment you won't forget.

The all new Invasion mode gets a worthy mention too, taking objective based combat one step further. The two teams are split into Elites and Spartans, and depending on the map, either one could be the attacking or defending team. Invasion is split into 3 Phases. The first can see you destroying a shield generator, allowing access to the next Phase and extra time. Then the attacking team must capture a territory in the defending base. If successful, they will be granted access to a Data Core, which they must then get to the security of a Pelican for extraction. They're almost like co-op missions, and have a massive fun factor, especially in the final Phase.

Making a welcome return is Firefight, with a few improvements. Now the player has the ability to search for teammates. This blows Firefight wide open, making it so much more accessible and fun. The different variations of Firefight include the awesomely insane Rocketfight and Sniperfight. If you have Reach and haven't tried this out, go do it right now. These modes give the player infinite rockets and sniper bullets respectively, making the battlefield light up with a thousand explosions and enough pink mist for a lifetime.

Forge is back and, like the rest of the game, is bigger and better than ever. If Forge was your thing on Halo 3, this will be your dream come true. Gone are the clunky controls and physics, replaced with some awesome new tools that should have been standard the first time around. You now have the ability to let go of an object and have it stay in that position! The old trick of stacking objects and deleting the lower object to make it float is no longer necessary, now it's standard. Also included is the ability to place an object through another object, or part of the map. These two new tools would be enough for many Forge fans, but not for Bungie. They gave us Forge World.

Sure, it sounds big, but is it? One of the most jaw dropping moments in Reach is the first experience of Forge World. Take a Banshee to check it out, it'll still take a while to see every section. Already there are custom map variants. Race tracks spanning the whole map, taking over five minutes to navigate. Ambitious? Most definitely, but ambition is what drives Bungie. They don't want to make just another FPS. They want to push boundaries and set the bar.

Halo has been around so long and now the final piece of the epic tale is here, it's sad to say goodbye to Halo as we know it. Microsoft will continue to churn out Halo games, but without Bungie's love for the series, it will never be the same. Bungie have given their all to this one last masterpiece, and while it's not perfect in every way, it's sure as hell close.

Remember Reach? Impossible not to.

9/10

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Comic Jumper contest!

Comic Jumper codes up for grabs!

I should say that I can not give out the codes this early so the competition will be open for at least 4 days.

To win, simply answer this:


If you could jump into any comic, which would it be and why?


Post your answer in the comments section below along with your Twitter name or email address.

For an extra chance, tweet this:

"Captain Smiley needs my help, let me rescue him, @happyloubear! #happycomicj"

Good luck everyone!

Hydrophobia contest!

HYDROPHOBIA CONTEST NOW CLOSED

Two Hydrophobia codes are up for grabs, and to win, answer this simple question:

Hydrophobia is the fear of water. What are you afraid of and why?

Simply post your answers in the comments section below, and I will choose a winner in 24 hours.

For another entry, Tweet: "Gimme Hydrophobia now @happyloubear! I neeeeeds it. #happyhydro"

Good luck everyone!

Monday, 27 September 2010

Dance! It's Your Stage review

Dancing games are rare on Xbox 360, and even more so on the Live Arcade. The fact that the player can use the control pad brings Boom Boom Rocket to mind, and makes it easy to get excited about the game. The thing is, it's not like that. And boy, it should have been.

The game allows the player to use a dance mat, or the control pad (it should be said that I reviewed the game using the control pad). After you create a character, you get a brief tutorial from a dance teacher, with a very annoying, patronising voice. Then the first song. If you were expecting another Boom Boom Rocket, you'll be sorely disappointed.

There are two lines that come down the left hand of the screen, one for each foot if you're on the mat, or one for each thumb when playing with a pad. The first few songs are incredibly slow affairs, with each thumb moving in the same direction, with no real pace. The later songs add a bit of a challenge but nothing that gives you a feeling of satisfaction for beating. There are no difficulty levels for each song, they just progressively get harder. This works quite well in career mode but the option would have added lots of potential replayability.

After each song you get the tried and tested rating, bronze, silver or gold, and after most levels you earn an item of clothing. The customisability isn't so great either. There are an average of eight items for each body part, and they are generally quite ugly. To wear them in real life would be out of the question, so it's a shame that the player has to have a badly dressed dancing avatar.
One of the best factors of the game is that each and every song is completely original. That's not to say that they're fantastic, but they are all good quality and have definitely had some thought go into them. The graphics on the dancers are also pretty good. The animation of the dancers is also top notch, it's clear that they have done research with some good, contemporary dancers.

The game could have been better with a whole different control scheme for the controller, various difficulty options, much more customisability, and even some real songs. But unfortunately, this isn't the case. It does nothing new, finds it difficult to keep your attention, and is aimed at an audience which is too small to be a viable reason to make a game. The numbers of Xbox users with a dance mat must be very small, and I don't see this game making a profit. Disappointing.

3/10

Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter second contest!

SERIOUS SAM HD: TSE CONTEST NOW CLOSED

To win the final code for Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter, answer this question:

I am in Manchester, UK. I am standing at a film set, where they're making a HUGE film. What I want to know, is the codename for the movie. So if you find the actual title, that's wrong. Try to find the codename. Google is your friend!

I will pick someone at random from all the correct entries. One entry per person, as usual, and you must be following @happyloubear on Twitter.

Contest is open for 24 hours.

Good luck everyone!

Friday, 24 September 2010

Serious Sam: The Second Encounter giveaway!

To celebrate the release of the Serious Sam sequel, I will be giving away two XBLA codes for the game!

All you have to do to win the first one is post a comment with why you should win. Make it original! I am going to choose the most creative answer.

Don't forget to post your Twitter username along with the entry.

Monday, 30 August 2010

"Hydrophobia" Q&A

This week I had an email interview with Rob Hewson, Senior Creative Designer at Dark Energy Digital. If you're aware of Dark Energy, you'll know that they're working on the awesome looking "Hydrophobia". I had a few questions about this game, and after reading the answers, I really can't wait to play it.

Can you tell me about the plot and characters of the game?

Our remit for the game was to create a 'tangible future', something intricately connected to the contemporary world politically and scientifically. The UN is forecasting a global population of over 9 billion by 2050 and not enough resources to sustain it, and there are a number of natural consequences to that scenario. Firstly there's conflict over the most precious resource of all; water. Secondly a new ideological divide arises, as the existing Malthusian and Cornucopian movements become increasingly relevant. So that's the political backdrop to Hydrophobia.

As always, it's emerging technology that defines which ideology ultimately wins, so continuing our 'tangible future' remit we investigated the upcoming trends in science and technology. Nanotechnology is cited as the big revolution over the next few decades, and one of the anticipated application is water purification at the molecular level.

The Malthusians and Cornucopians fundamentally disagree about the nature of the population problem. The Malthusians argue that there are too many people and governments need to control or reduce population growth, but the Cornucopians believe the focus should be on developing the technology to increase resources and feed the population.

The Queen of the World is a giant city sized vessel where the wealthy elite live in exile from the problems of the outside world. It is a Cornucopian state essentially – self sufficient and independent from any traditional nations. The contempt of the outside world is counterbalanced by the existence of NanoCell; one of the Five Founding Fathers of the Queen of the World who is at the cutting edge of nanotechnology and is promising to deliver the water purification breakthrough the planet so desperately needs.

The game begins on the night of the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Queen of the World, when the whole world is anxiously anticipating a breakthrough announcement from NanoCell which will bring about a massive boost for the Cornucopian movement. At this moment, a group of radical Neo Malthusians rise and attack the great vessel. Kate Wilson, a humble systems engineer, is caught in the wrong place at the wrong time on the flooding lower decks and the player takes on the role of guiding her back to safety.

Why did you choose to have a female over the stereotypical male hero?

We wanted to get away from the gaming cliché of a 'beautiful but deadly' female lead and, more generally, the idea of having an action game protagonist who begins the game as a kick ass character. We took inspiration from characters like Ripley and John McClane, who redefined the heroes role in action movies at their time and taught us that the star could be flawed, reluctant, vulnerable even - but still have a strong presence. Kate's goal at the outset is simple; she wants to survive, she wants to escape, she doesn't even have a weapon at all in the opening sections. Kate will be forced to grow and evolve, learning that to survive, first she has to fight. The Malthusians have blocked all the escape routes except the ones which are important to their dark objectives – so Kate is drawn into the politics and the wider battle as a matter of inevitability. Ultimately this is the genesis of a more nuanced heroine.



From what I've seen of the game, there are some aspects similar to Bioshock. The flawed utopia, the dark, aquatic setting. Can you tell me about the influences of the game?

Bioshock gets mentioned a lot, presumably because of the water element, but as you say it was more the atmosphere and the narrative elements that were an influence in that game. We also looked at Uncharted 2 in terms of action, Dead Space in terms of atmosphere, but at the end of the day Hydrophobia is utterly unique thanks to HydroEngine. It's a real physics simulation so it never repeats, you get a torrent of emergent gameplay – it's an entirely new element in gameplay terms and players are going to have huge amounts of fun experimenting with it.

How long have you been working on the game? More importantly, how long did it take to develop the HydroEngine?

On and off, it's been about 5 years. That's going from the original concept document right up to completion, developing InfiniteWorlds and HydroEngine from scratch and experimenting with a new kind of gameplay. That's also given us time to grow and evolve this really deep universe for the back story – there's a huge amount to dive into.



It is definitely groundbreaking technology, is there a chance that we could start to see it used by other devs?

We've been approached several times already, but we wanted to put Hydrophobia out first to show what HydroEngine can do. It's certainly a possibility in the future.

How will reactions to the game shape any future sequels or DLC?

Good question! So far reactions to the game have been really, really overwhelming which has been a real relief, because it's vindicated our belief in doing something original and bringing a compelling new experience to the player. We are always very open to the opinions and ideas of the players – they are who matter at the end of the day, so we'll always be influenced in the regard. It's really exciting now it's getting close to release that we'll finally have our baby in the hands of the players.

Was there ever a question of making a retail game instead of episodic XBLA games? If so, why did you opt for downloads?

Initially we set out to develop for retail, but we wanted to show that you can make a kick ass AAA action adventure with a small team and limited budget. That meant making the process of development much more efficient, so we developed InfiniteWorlds with features like Instant-Edit-Play and Multi User Editing. To do this our tech guys developed bespoke procedural technology and it worked; we were able to iterate much faster and cheaper – and it made experimenting with a new type of gameplay that much easier. It also had another side effect; the games filesize footprint was massively reduced and it occurred to us that we could deliver the game as a download title. Not only could we introduce the worlds first fluid dynamics engine and a whole new type of flow based gameplay, we could push back the boundaries of download gaming too. Microsoft were blown away with the technology and so we created this partnership to expand the spectrum of XBLA.



If the demand was high enough, do you ever see yourself making a retail game?

Never say never. We believe in digital distribution as the future of our industry, but ultimately if the demand is there, who knows.

Are there any multiplayer modes in the game? If not, were they ever considered?

Pretty much everything worth considering has been considered, but we decided to focus on a really solid single player experience.

What can we expect to see in future games of the series? Change of setting? Eventually a completely new narrative arc?

Hydrophobia is an epic new IP, and there's so much material to explore in that universe. We've conceptualized a lot of narrative arcs, characters and locations and you can expect to delve deeper and deeper into the world of Hydrophobia as the series evolves.

Any word on a release date yet?

I could tell you now and risk assassination, or I could force you to wait a couple more weeks and live a long, happy life ;)


So there you have it! Thanks to Rob Hewson for the awesome answers, and I don't think I'm only speaking for myself when I say that I can't wait for this game to release!