Friday, 29 April 2011
Portal 2 is finally here, and is probably one of the most anticipated sequels in a long time. Continuing the story of Chell, the protagonist from the original game, it sees you back in the Aperture Science Labs after your "escape". Dragged back in from the parking lot, you awake after hundreds of years in a cryogenic slumber, in a homely chamber. Soon enough you will meet the first of the new characters, the hilarious personality sphere, Wheatley. And so the game starts.
Wheatley wants you to escape. He sacrifices a lot to get you to the escape pod, but unfortunately this is where it all goes wrong, and gets awesome. If you loved the original Portal, this game is perfect. It is twice the size, thrice the fun and even more mind-blowing. Characters are deep, with emotions, motives and backstories, and are all hilarious in different ways.
Aperture Science has evolved a lot since the original game, and has some awesome new gameplay mechanics. The most fun of these, which really shakes up the gameplay are the gels. Spraying one of the gels onto a surface completely changes it's properties, and playing around with them is really fun. Also new to the franchise are lasers, redirection cubes and tractor beams. You must use them all in a variety of ways to progress through the game, which spans the highest and lowest points of Aperture, the old and the new.
One of the new (or old) environments that you visit
And this is what makes Portal 2 so great. You learn about Aperture, the history, the people behind the madness and the people that influenced the Aperture of the present. You see changes in characters, you see reasons for questionable decisions and you can tell that Portal 2 was created with genuine affection from the team at Valve. It isn't a money grabbing sequel, not by any means. It is a beautiful, hilarious and at times, fiendishly difficult adventure.
So the single player story is great, but what about the cooperative? Having two portal guns, operated by two people, doubles the amount of portals and insanity, and certainly bumps up the difficulty. The thing is, you definitely need a friend for this. As with any multiplayer game, playing with friends makes it instantly more enjoyable, but with Portal 2 it's also about the practicality. Playing with a stranger means there are extra barriers and communication can often break down. So definitely play with a friend. Talk, plan, laugh, that's all there is to it. And it certainly will give you some laughs. The two robot characters, P-Body and Atlas are genuinely hilarious. They don't talk, but they don't need to. Their actions say so much more than any dialogue could. They tease GLaDOS, they giggle and play, and it's easy to become attached to the little guys. The puzzles are definitely more difficult in cooperative, as obviously more can be done with the extra two portals. For example, in single player, you could turn one light bridge into two, by using portals. With a friend, you can make it four. It is hectic, confusing but ultimately insanely fun.
The amazing Wheatley, and your old enemy...
Portal 2 is as perfect as it could have been, and it was always going to be. Valve have a habit of making amazing games. Portal 2 has the affection, hilarity and storytelling perfection to make it Valve's greatest accomplishment yet.
by Louis Gardner
Wednesday, 27 April 2011
The classic adventure game, Beyond Good and Evil, has been transported from the world of the Playstation 2, Gamecube and Xbox, into the present, and boy, it's good.
Remade and spruced up with HD graphics and an impressively smooth frame rate, BGaE HD is one of the best looking remakes on the current consoles. The game starts with an invasion on a small island, which is the home to many orphans, and Jade. Jade is the hero of this story, and with her camera and staff, will end this war. With a massive world, lots to do and a lot of pictures waiting to be taken, it's certainly an epic. You can explore on foot, or you can take to the water in your awesome hovercraft.
The game looks seriously stunning
The main thing that everyone remembers about this game is the ability to take pictures of creatures, in order to help with research. Snapping a shot of a new creature gives you money and eventually upgrades and pearls. This is what makes the game stand out from other, standard adventure games. Using the camera does get addictive, as you're always looking out for creatures, lest you miss any and lose out on some progress and upgrades.
The story and characters in Beyond Good and Evil are fleshed out and interesting, and the variety of species really keeps you interested, as well as giving the impression of a vast world, inhabited by many different lifeforms. You find yourself caring for the characters, particularly Pey'j, as he accompanies you on most of your adventures, and has some great lines.
The camera is your most useful tool
Overall, it is a great remake, and gives an entirely new generation the chance to play a true classic. The main issue with the game is the camera control. It is unbelievably infuriating, and does often turn what should be a happy, nostalgic game, into an annoying one. But it is forgivable. To miss out on this game for literally the one problem would be a crime against gaming. If you're looking for a classic adventure game for a small price, look no further.
by Louis Gardner
Tuesday, 26 April 2011
Rush'N Attack: Ex-Patriot is a 2.5D action platformer. If you've played Shadow Complex, you'll know what it's like. Shadow Complex, without the amazing technology and polish.
Starting in a prison cell, a fellow prisoner arms you with a knife and unlocks your door, and so the game starts. You are a secret soldier, sent on a mission to save a fellow soldier, who has been captured and tortured. Making your way through the prison, releasing many other prisoners, you can see pretty much everything the game has to offer. And that's just chapter one.
The explosions look good, but the rest is disappointing
The first thing you'll notice, however shallow it may be, is the graphics and character models. They're outdated and unforgivable for a game released this late in the Xbox 360s life. The characters are incredibly blocky, and the animation robot-like. The animation is slightly better during gameplay, but the cut scenes are terrible in every department. The characters do not talk, instead comic style speech bubbles appear, with text of such a terrible quality, you'll wonder if someone has stolen your HD cable and instead given you a good old composite. Interaction between characters in cut scenes is minimal, which is definitely a good thing. Watching them pass each other objects is almost painful, as there is clearly nothing there, and their hands maintain their claw-like shape.
The gameplay is okay, but doesn't make up for the lack of quality in the other areas of the game. For the majority of the game you will use your knife to kill. There are unlockable melee combos, but there is not much difference aesthetically, and most of the enemies die after one or two standard hits, rendering the combos useless and unnecessary. There are some boss enemies, which require a bit extra than just melee attacks. For example, an early boss fight needs you to plant explosives on the walls, bringing a structure down onto the boss in question. It mixes up the gameplay a little bit and is definitely a welcome addition to the formula. As well as standard platform running and jumping, you can hide in doorways and floor panels, and you can crawl in the ventilation system, finding secret areas and hidden items.
The game all feels the same, despite the different backdrops
The game will last a couple hours, and it will keep you interested for a while, but perhaps not for the entire game. It is repetitive, the gameplay is not as good as some other similar games, and the graphics and character models are pretty bad. With a little more polish, this game could have been great. Instead, it is just an average platformer, which will forever live in the shadow (no pun intended) of the far superior Shadow Complex.
by Louis Gardner
Thursday, 14 April 2011
Monday, 11 April 2011
Dragon Age 2 tells the tale of the Ser Hawke. Forced out of Ferelden by the events of Dragon Age: Origins, Hawke and his family make a new home in Kirkwall. Forced to work in the slums to make a name for himself and earn some money, you play out Hawke's rise to power over a decade, and you see the events in which Hawke became known as the Champion of Ferelden.
The story is told by a dwarf, Varric. One of your allies later in the game, he is telling the story of how you became the Champion to Cassandra Pentaghast, a Seeker, and how you play the game influences the colour that Varric paints you in. The trademark BioWare mechanic, choice. Good and evil, right and wrong, selfless or selfish. Each character gets a skill bonus depending on how much they like you. You can gain and lose allies for making a single choice. It's a great system, and it's good that BioWare are sticking with it, as it's so much more interesting and engrossing than standard cut scenes.
Wouldn't be Dragon Age without one of these
Of course, actions speak louder than words, and the combat has received massive improvements since Origins. No longer is the combat slow and tiresome, more a chore than fun. Now the combat is fast, powerful and brutal. Severed limbs, exploding bodies and gallons of blood will be present in every fight, and it never gets old. The combat system had to be great in this game, to apologise for Origins, and it really delivers. Each class is also really fun to use for different combat situations. Rogues and mages are great for ranged attacks, whilst the warrior gets up close and personal to deliver an axe to their enemies face. Upon levelling ip your character, you are granted one ability point. These unlock new abilities which can improve attack, defence, stamina and can change the focus of attack. There are some devastating moves to be unlocked, and overall there are so many abilities.
The game mainly takes place in Kirkwall. It's a decent sized city with the usual areas. Upper class streets of Hightown with beautiful flowers, mansions and snooty folk. Then there is Lotown, the slums of Kirkwall, home to all the degenerates and drunks. The names aren't exactly imaginative, but the places are all distinctive. Kirkwall is where you will complete the majority of the missions on the game. And therein lies the problem. You will spend a high percentage of your time travelling between the various districts of Kirkwall, talking to or killing some people, and then returning to whoever gave you the quest. Whilst the battles are fun, and the exploring and levelling system are certainly rewarding, it gets incredibly tedious, once you have travelled between two locations many times, just to talk to people. The side quests definitely need work, and the confines of Kirkwall soon become too familiar. RPGs of this calibre need a huge open world, akin to Oblivion. With Skyrim looming, you would have expected BioWare to put in more effort to ensure that this is a definite contender.
The battles are brutal and incredibly bloody
The main quest is good, however, and sees you visiting new locations, like the Deep Roads and many others, far from the repetitiveness that is Kirkwall. There is betrayal, transformations, deaths, and some pretty breathtaking boss battles. As you are playing Varric's version of events, and Varric is a great liar, you never know if what you are playing is what actually happened. Sometimes he is caught out, but playing through the lies is fun, as you experience enhanced skills and powers.
Dragon Age 2 is a fantastic RPG. So much better than Origins, with a much broader appeal. Better visuals, characters with interesting stories and emotions, a completely overhauled battle system and generally improved gameplay, it is only let down by the restrictive world. Fans of the original will completely lap this up. Don't expect anything on the scale of the Elder Scrolls titles, but definitely don't miss it.
by Louis Gardner
Monday, 4 April 2011
The previous Lego Star Wars games were incredibly popular, but how good could another be? In short, it's pretty good. Want the long answer? Read on...
The game has a number of storylines for you to complete mission by mission in any order you wish. You select missions from a cool little galaxy map, like a simple version of the Mass Effect maps, which shows the locations of missions and planets. Select a mission in story mode and you will be given the characters appropriate for the story. Free mode allows you to choose your own band of heroes to explore every nook and cranny of the decent sized levels. There are a few different mission styles, ranging from epic battles, to space flight missions and standard platforming levels. The diversity of the levels helps keep the game fresh and the vast amount of unlockables makes it quite a big commitment.
The battles are truly epic, even though they're made of Lego
The ground battles usually consist of destroying a number of enemy buildings and huge weapons. You can do this on foot, or you can hijack a vehicle, from a small, speedy ship, or a gigantic, bulky tank with awesome power. You can even hop on some native creatures, using the brute force of nature to kill your enemies. They are fun, if at times a little repetitive. There is no denying that they are ambitious however, and it's so great that it pays off.
Like most of the Lego games, there is a central hub, serving as so much it's hard to list. In LSW3, the hub is a ship, which you can find with a bit of exploring, is in a huge battle. From the ship you can buy new characters, the game altering red bricks and new vehicles. You can also explore the ship, finding new rooms, hidden mini games and eventually the ability to take a ship of your choice for a little flight.
The characters are all recognisable to fans of the Star Wars series, and the graphics, despite being Lego, are good. The lighting and textures are all top notch, and the more realistic environments look great. The battle sequences are amazing, on both land and in space, with enemies and vehicles everywhere and fights taking place independently of the player.
The diverse worlds look great
The trademark Lego game humour is here, with ridiculously childish pranks and pratfalls happening in almost every cut scene. It isn't just a kiddy game though, as more advanced players can get sucked in by the charm, the sheer depth of the game, and some of the most recognisable characters in history.
Lego Star Wars 3 offers a lot. So many unlockables, mini games and missions beyond the main story, it puts a lot of games to shame. It is great for kids, for adventure gamers and would make a fun party game. Everyone should give this a chance, and the free demo on the Xbox Live Marketplace gives you no reason to ignore it.
by Louis Gardner