Thursday, 27 January 2011

Crysis 2 MP Demo first impressions

The Crysis 2 multiplayer demo released this week, giving the Xbox Live community the chance to get some hands on time with what's looking to be the sequel of the year.

Team Deathmatch is the only mode available, and only one map is used. The map is set on a couple of rooftops high above New York City. The skirmishes take place usually near some greenhouses, although both teams seem to race to get to the highest point on the map, which has great cover and vantage points. If a few of the same team can secure that location, it's usually hard to kill them all. Being Crysis though, there are a few ways up. The nanosuit gives you some awesome powers. Huge jumps, invisibility, increased armour, immense sprint speed. Each one works really well and the satisfaction of sneaking up to an enemy to give him a shotgun to the face is just awesome.
The new setting makes the nanosuit even more fun

Like most FPS games, you can rank up to unlock new classes and abilities. Not many are available in the demo but it looks like the full game is going to have a lot on offer. There are also medals, which are basically the same as emblems from Black Ops. Completing certain challenges for the first time unlocks a medal to show to the world that you have done it. It's a great reward system, and I can't wait to explore it in the final game.

All in all, the Crysis 2 MP demo is nothing short of amazing. Boasting some of the best graphics available on the system, incredibly fun gameplay due to the nanosuit, and a glimpse at the deep levelling system, this demo should be tried by everyone. It only shows a fraction of what the final build will contain, and it's one of the finest fractions I've ever seen.

Anticipation rating: 9/10

by Louis Gardner

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Breach review

Breach is the new downloadable FPS, developed by Atomic Games. Combining the destruction of Battlefield and the tactical cover of Tom Clancy games, this game should have something for everyone. The idea of Breach is amazing, but can it deliver an experience so good that it draws people away from Halo and Call of Duty?

Breach has no single player mode, it is simply about the online wars. There are five modes, five classes and five maps (although one map is simply a night time version of another map, so technically there are four). There is a lot on offer, when you take into consideration that this is a download only game, costing around £10.

The modes are all team based, and are infiltration, convoy, retrieval, sole survivor and team deathmatch. Infiltration is a basic territories gametype. Five bases are scattered on the map, and the more your team controls, the more points you get. This mode can be both frantic and quiet. The start of these games is particularly fast, as both teams rush to score as many areas as they can before the bullets start to fly. The game soon takes a change of pace as the attack turns to defence. Find some cover and the game switches to third person view, allowing you to see both the surroundings and approaching enemies. The switch is seamless and not at all distracting, and will often save your life. This mode is really fun, particularly with two full teams, and will no doubt be one of the more popular aspects of the game.

Convoy sees you protecting a group of vehicles, as it makes it's way through the map. Obviously, the other team attacks. Depending on which side you are on, the game must be played in very different ways. The defence must be slow and precise, sticking with the convoy, trying to survive and also defeat the enemy. The attacking team can play all guns blazing, bringing the bullets and bombs like they're going out of fashion. These matches are also really fun as both teams gather around the convoy, instead of wandering around for minutes at a time without seeing a single enemy. These happen mainly in sole survivor.

Sole survivor sees you with one life for the whole round. No respawns. If you die, you wait and watch. This type forces the players to move cautiously and cleverly, as nobody wants to get killed, but everyone wants to win. This game is great fun when played with hardcore mode active, and is the most realistic mode. No respawns, only a few bullets kill you and there is no HUD. The combination of hardcore and sole survivor is brilliant, and is by far the most intense and exhilarating mode.

The tactical destruction in action

Retrieval is the usual capture the flag mode. Go to a random area of the map to try and capture the Bioweapon canister, and deliver it to the drop off point. Pretty standard stuff. This mode has fast gameplay, and is especially tense when chasing the opposition, who is trying to get the canister back to base. It's fun for a while but doesn't bring anything new to the genre.

Finally, there is team deathmatch, which needs no introduction. This mode gives the most opportunities to play with the destruction, and offers some nice senseless fun without objectives. The scoring on all modes is basic. Kills and captures get you experience points, there are no bonuses such as the ones present in Call of Duty. Whilst some will enjoy the back to basics, many have grown accustomed to the crazy bonuses, which can be very satisfying.

There are four classes to start with, and a fifth is available to higher level players. These are: Riflemen, who use assault rifles and pistols; Gunners, who have stronger weapons and defence but less speed; Support, who utilise shotguns for close encounters; Snipers, who deal heavy damage from long range and finally, the Recon class is trained in mid to long range weaponry. Obviously how they are used depends on the player and gametype. Snipers are amazing on sole survivor but not so much on Convoy, as the objective and skirmishes are always moving.

Overall, Breach is a decent game. It can be great fun if played how it is supposed to be played. Use the destruction, use the cover. Playing this as a normal FPS doesn't show the innovation and dramatically reduces the fun factor. Some lag issues and dodgy physics can be distracting, but can also be fixed. If they are, Breach will be a great addition to the FPS genre, and one of the best shooters available on XBLA.


by Louis Gardner

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood review

The third game in the incredibly popular Assassin's Creed series is here, bringing more of the murdering, looting, conspiracies and free running that we have been in love with since 2007. Instead of a new Assassin, you take control once again of Ezio Auditore, the badass protagonist from the second game. Is Brotherhood worth a retail release, or is it just big DLC? Read on to find out.

The first thing you'll notice about this game are the graphics. As always with Assassin's Creed games, they are among the best on the system. Each game pushes the limits a little further than the previous, and it pays off. The detail on Ezio's cloak is astounding, the draw distance is great, the water shimmers and reflects in all the right places, the list could go on. Ubisoft have pushed the boat out once more to create a beautiful, realistic world.

The world in question is Rome. Rome played a big part in the previous game, but nowhere near on this scale. Instead of being one of a few locations, the game pretty much sticks to Rome, with a few small sections in other places. It has grown immensely since Ezio was last seen here, and now has many districts and monuments, including the world famous Colosseum. Again, the detail is breathtaking. The city feels alive. The local drunk sleeping in an alley, the homeless on their knees, begging for money, the rich gathered in elite groups in the clean parts of the city. The guard positions even change at night time. A lot of time has been put into making Rome the best area in the series so far.

The Colosseum looks stunning

Being an Assassin's Creed game, Rome is also filled with the stuff of parkour dreams. Beams, poles, ladders and all the rest return to make this a free running playground for Ezio. A new feature which often shakes up chases and escapes is the lift. Grab the rope, kick a lever and the weight drops, launching you skyward, and depositing you safely on the roof. It is awesome to see and incredibly helpful when a large gang of guards is pursuing you. They aren't as common as the hide spots and other free running sections which is a good thing. They're so helpful in your favour that finding one on every corner would dramatically reduce the difficulty, which is already close to perfect.

Perhaps the biggest new feature, and one of my personal favourite features of the entire series, is the ability to recruit and new assassins, and use them in a variety of awesome ways. To recruit people, you must find some opposed to the guards. Usually surrounded by guards with swords drawn, help them to be victorious and they will join your cause. Once you have done so, you can go to a hideout or pigeon coop and see their stats, level and weapons, send them around Europe to complete contracts and assign skill points to armour or weapons. For each contract completed, the assassin's which took part gain experience points, and bring back money and trade items. It's an amazing feature, and is very addictive, even though you do not take part in the contacts. Levelling up your minions is always satisfying. If your assassins aren't out completing contracts, you can utilise them in a number of ways to help you out directly. Can't get past a large number of guards to kill your target? Simply call for your assassins and within seconds they will have either created a distraction, or killed the target. Lock on to your priority target and that is who will die first. Other guards nearby will rush to defeat them, but usually with not much luck as your high level assassins utilise smoke bombs and pistols. A nice feature if you have enough recruits, is to target a group of guards, hold the assassin signal button and arrows will fall from the sky, killing all of the guards. It is a quicker and more discreet way of getting rid of groups. The assassin's are an incredible new feature, one that hopefully they will include in sequels. The variety of ways in which they take out your target or create distractions makes it so much fun each and every time, and the higher level recruits will take out targets more stylishly than you could dream of.

The combat is even better than before, with multi-weapon combos

Renovating shops and buildings is back, but no longer confined to Montigerroni. Renovate an art shop to buy some new paintings for your hideout. Renovate a few more art shops and you'll get a discount. A new feature is the ability to renovate faction buildings. You can convert the empty building into a headquarters for courtesans, thieves or mercenaries. In doing so, you unlock challenges for each group, which in turn open up more missions and rewards. There are now tunnels which, for a small fee, can be fixed up and used for fast travelling around the map. They're incredibly helpful in getting to the far reaches of the map. You can also renovate monuments and landmarks, greatly increasing the income of Rome. To be able to renovate buildings, you must first destroy the local Borgia tower. Before you can do that however, you must kill the Captain of the area. Not an easy task, as these areas are overflowing with guards, but clever use of your assassins can make this much easier. Once you kill the Captain, destroy the tower and the Borgia presence is greatly diminished.

The storyline is once again fantastic. The jump from the first game to the sequel was of course a huge change, and Brotherhood expands the storytelling from AC2 with even more varied missions and characters. Ezio must hunt down Cesare and Rodrigo Borgia and kill them, for the good of Roma. The game picks up literally where the last one ended. Ezio is still in the hidden room in the Vatican, utterly confused by the revelations for Desmond. You leave the Vatican and return to Mario's Villa, where you are reunited with Ezio's family and greeted by many admirers. All seems well, until a sudden attack on the town causes chaos and many deaths. Ezio realises he must return to Rome, and finish what he started.

Upon exiting the Animus, Desmond finds himself in Montigerroni, the very place he has just visited as his ancestor. Finding a way into the villa, your colleagues set up base as you find appropriate power sources. This is the first Assassin's Creed game which gives you a full, modern town for Desmond to explore using his parkour skills. There are no inhabitants as the historical city is closed, but each game sees us getting one step closer to a living city, and a huge playground for Desmond.

New weapons, characters, areas, features and amazing graphics, storyline and atmosphere, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood is by far the most impressive in the series. In fact, it's one of the most impressive games on the current consoles. Fan of the series? This will be a dream come true. Not a fan of the series? Give it a go and I promise you will be. Ubisoft really work hard each
time to create a more immersive experience. As that's the case, I bet I'm not alone in being extremely excited for AC3.


by Louis Gardner

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part 1 review

It's that time of year again. A blockbuster movie gets the usual game tie in, which is more often than not a half hearted attempt, doing nothing new and giving the industry a bad name. Now and then, a gem gets through, restoring faith in movie games. Is Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1 one of those? In a word, no. In many words...

The game starts with you riding on Hagrid's motorcycle, flying through the night sky and battling Death Eaters. When I say the game starts with this, it literally starts with this. There is no back story whatsoever. If you haven't read the book or seen the film, you will be completely lost. Anyway, you have limited movement, as you are in a sidecar, so you basically turn, shoot, turn, shoot, etc. You may think that it doesn't matter, it's just the intro to the game. If you're giving it a chance and hoping for a great improvement, you're in for a big disappointment. It literally happens again and again. From one location to the next with no real sense of what is going on. When the storytelling does happen, it is so uninteresting that it's easy to zone out and skip the cut scenes.

The game takes place primarily in third person, and the controls are fairly simple to get to grips with. Take a stroll around Bill and Fleur's wedding to get used to the movement, camera and eventually combat. The combat is quite dull. It is hard to differentiate majorly between spells, so it usually comes down to using the same spell over and over, which leads to some pretty annoying voice overs and sound effects. What makes this even worse is that not all of the actors voice their respective characters. A large number do, but for such a big franchise it is a shame that all were not present.

HP&TDH P1 allows you to play certain missions in whatever order you like. An odd decision, as this is no RPG and the order you choose has no effect on any outcomes whatsoever. Still, it gives the illusion of freedom. There are certain hints of RPG, like the ability to level up and upgrade Harry and his spells, but they aren't so great. They don't detract from the experience, but don't seem essential.

There are some locations which automatically switch you to first person view. There is no explanation for it, but presumedly it is for easier navigation of the slightly more claustrophobic settings. The game also switches to first person when you activate the invisibility cloak. Again, it's hard to see why this happens. Unfortunately, when in first person view, the controls don't work quite as well. The sense of scale and distance is completely thrown out of sync by the sudden change and it's easy to fail missions repeatedly because of it. The fact that the invisibility cloak runs out of power if you walk for too long is another incredibly annoying feature. It's funny, I don't remember this happening in the film.

The game lacks variety. Missions consist of running between battles, collecting items and sneaking by enemies. Considering that the combat and sneaking with the invisibility cloak are both subpar, the game doesn't really have much going for it.

This game is disappointing. It's a movie tie in, so it's always expected, but with some past Harry Potter games being decent, this one had potential. Unfortunately it does not live up to the standards set by the early games in the series. Pretty graphics are not enough to save the game from failure. The game will undoubtedly sell well, as it has the Harry Potter name on it. If you're after a quality Potter fix this year, stick with the film.


by Louis Gardner

Saturday, 8 January 2011

EA Active 2 (Wii) review

Games that push you physically are not so common. Mentally, sure, but not physically. EA are out to change that with the follow up to EA Active. The first thing you'll notice is that the game has a bunch of peripherals. Motion sensors, a heartbeat monitor, a resistance band and a USB receiver. They all work together to create an intense and precise workout plan, tailored to your needs.

The game starts with you choosing a trainer, from either the hard working, fun loving Devon, or the focused and motivated Nikki. They use some different workouts, but the difference between the two trainers is not huge. After you have picked, you are asked to input height, weight, age and gender information. Finally, you create a character to represent yourself. The options are very limited, but this isn't The Sims, so it's not a big problem.

The game has nine and three week workout plans, which both give you a few rest days, so for someone new to exercise, it's not too intensive. If you don't want to commit to something long term, you can complete a quick exercise, which chooses random workouts which last for around 15 minutes. This is probably better to start with as it eases you in slowly. Jumping straight in to a nine week plan could be a little overwhelming.

The activities themselves are fun, and can be exhausting. They each last from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes, so the variety in even a 15 minutes workout is enough to keep you interested. They vary from running on the spot, doing press ups, squats, skipping, jumping. Some activities incorporate two or three other activities, to really push you. A particularly fun and intense workout is cycling. On downhills, you must squat to increase speed. The lower your body, the faster your character goes. To go over ramps, squat and jump, and a jump at the perfect time triggers a stunt. Finally, to cycle up steep hills, run on the spot. This is one of the most varied and fun workouts to complete, and finishing the course is really satisfying. Whilst working out, your chosen trainer gives tips and words of encouragement, which is at times awesome, and at times a tad annoying. Some of the phrases are overused and it is often tempting to mute the game and use your own music.

The heartbeat monitor is a great feature, showing you how each of the activities affect your body. The motion sensors also work really well, especially when used with the Wii Remote. Your character does not follow your movement 1:1, not by any means, but it does follow the workout motions as you do them, giving great visual feedback. These all work together to give you, at the end of each workout, the amount of calories burned, your heart rate across the various activities and how well your performance was. This information is great in helping to decide which sort of workout is best for you, be it cardio, upper body, lower body, etc.

EA Active 2 is a great workout game. With lots of feedback and great tutorials, it is easy to get into and enjoy. The price obviously may put some people off, and it's not for casual gamers. This game demands a lot of attention and time, and whilst it will definitely be worth it, some gamers may underestimate the effort that needs to be put into this game. If you are looking to get fit, can afford the game and have strong willpower, this game is for you.


by Louis Gardner