Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Posted on: October 3rd, 2010 by

 

Introduction

The game is a German “Medieval Life Simulation RPG” which has probably made you stop reading already. The sequel to Europa 1400 it has you start a career opening various shops in a growing small town while trying to start a family and gain political clout in the local council.

Gameplay

You directly control up to three of your clan choosing a broad trade for each early in their lives, allowing access to construct specific buildings relevant to that trade, which can then be upgraded. While they can work in those buildings, it’s usually indentured serfs which do most of the graft, as meanwhile you have to start a family and optionally gain seats in the council. The classes are craftsman, patron, scholar and rogue and characters upgrade as they gain XP and buy new titles. You can micromanage everything the shops do, what they make and where they sell it for the best prices, sending their carts out manually, or leave the body of that to the AI with nice granularity in the options it can control. There is enough to do without the micro-micro, but it’s there if you want it.

Starting a family is how your dynasty lives on, so is essential. Each game “day” is a simulated four years in the world, so your characters age and die fairly quickly. The other dynasties in the game will try to eliminate you, either politically, economically or just by plain and simple attacking you and your buildings.

These will be logged as crimes you can bring them to bear for, but there will basically always be someone attacking or robbing your stuff. Of course you can do the same to them, rob them and attack their property – even waylay them on the way to bear witness in a trial for your misdemeanours, thus causing the charges to be dropped.

Positions in the council grant new priveledges and immunities, and each “day” in the council house has a trial in the morning and elections in the afternoon. You can be called upon to appear in court, or if you get elected magistrate, preside over cases yourself laying down judgement and sentencing – cannily to the detriment of your rivals.

Sights and Sounds

JoWooD, despite only being publishers, have in my eyes have developed a bit of a reputation for pretty-looking but slightly bugged games. This is no different. Graphical glitches and dodgy animations abound – nothing game-breaking and more often amusing than annoying – but prevalent. Also the spoken dialogue will randomly switch to German, but thankfully the text remains in English.

Stuff that sucks

The AI, while good enough at managing a single shop, doesn’t do everything you would want. It just sends carts out to buy/sell stuff at the best prices, but doesn’t take into account that you may own other shops, so will sell the gold from your own mine at the market even if you have a goldsmith that needs it. It also does nothing for the rogue buildings or your residence – you still have to plunder, spy and do your diplomacy manually.

There are options to escort your carts safely with thugs you hire at you residence, but this can only be done with any success if you’re directly controlling all cart movement, so effectively forces you to either micromanage or leave their safety to chance. It’s a bit picky about placement, and the best places (near the town hall) get taken very early in the game.

While the town grows in stature, it doesn’t really expand much, so your later shops don’t see much traffic. More problematically, the guards find your more rural buildings hard to navigate to, so are frequently unable to assist when they are attacked.

Conclusion

It’s been a fun sink of 37 hours so far, and I’ve only played a single small map in one (though admittedly the most open-ended) of the game modes. I guess it’s ultimately pointless, but then that raises debate about whether all games are pointless, even games with achievements have less tangible reward than the electrons which power them or the photons with which we see them.

I’ve enjoyed playing it, despite its bugs and frustrations, and that’s what matters to me. There are enough combinations of ways to do things to keep it interesting and enough new ways to play that I’ll be playing it a fair bit more. The as-yet-untried-by-me expansion adds a campaign mode and sea-based buildings.

Score : 7/10

Posted on: August 10th, 2010 by

Introduction

Poor Naughty Bear didn’t get invited to the Teddy Bear’s picnic, what should he do? Kill and maim every last one of those elitist fluffy mothers, of course. Shades of Conker’s Bad Fur Day with the some of the mechanics of Ghost Master/Haunting Starring Polterguy/Spy vs Spy and the violence of Manhunt you must murder or scare to death groups of teddy bears. But hey, they started it.

Gameplay

A third-person action game, the goal is mostly the death of the other teddies, but rather than an all-out assault this is best achieved with a little misdirection. Sabotage their barbecues and fuseboxes then lie in wait for them to come to fix them, pouncing on them while distracted to execute them in grisly fashion. Lay bear traps and land mines or hide in a cupboard to jump out and scare them so much they commit suicide. Do all this and other wanton acts of destruction in front of the other bears and watch as their panic escalates and spirals them into insanity. They call in The Fuzz (unless you booby-trap their phones) and other, harder bears, such as ninjas, zombears and RO-BO bears in later levels – though each have great weapons you can nick off their corpses.

Sights and Sounds

Nice-enough looking, although the environments are a little cramped and the camera can be a little random. The bleating wails of scared teddies quickly erases any reticence you may have had about exterminating them.

Stuff that sucks

They like to recycle. There are only seven levels proper – each one has four or so replay modes with different objectives – but even the second one mostly reuses the buildings and interiors from the first. It is pretty replayable, but the lack of variation in the levels and the low number of them hints at short-term fun. DLC is promised on the box-front.

Conclusion

Hugely entertaining idea and great fun, which may like Dead Rising seem a brilliant idea at first, but later grow old – however I haven’t had this happen to me yet, there are certainly no game-breaking annoyances. However the campaign is rather short and it remains to be seen what DLC emerges.

Score : 6/10

It also has a multiplayer mode, with some interesting gametypes – here’s a video of them, which also gives a flavour of the singleplayer game:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOcc0Lgq9wg[/youtube]

Posted on: December 12th, 2009 by

Introduction

Project Gotham Racing is the successor to Metropolis Street Racer on the Dreamcast, which was one of the first games to introduce showing off to get more points, long before Ned for Speed went “underground”. This new version is shiny and stylish and features bikes racing alongside cars in various weather conditions on street and racetrack locations.

Gameplay

The showing-off element is more pronounced than the previous release, but there is still something for everyone. Lots of game modes including crashing into cones (but much easier than Crazy Taxi) and overtaking 2CVs mean there’s always something to do.

Riding bikes is a lot more fun that I thought it would be, while it’s quite easy to fall off – particularly with aggressive car drivers around – the penalty isn’t that great and your acceleration makes up for it. I had to use the third-person view for bikes though, as I was getting severe neck-ache.

Since you can test drive or split-screen race any vehicle without unlocking them, it’s a fun one to take to friend’s houses. Multiplayer over the internet I’ve avoided as it’s rarely a fun experience with driving games.

Sights and Sounds

Nice title music from the Prodigy, plus some surprising variation in the other tunes, from some distinctive classical titles to hideous genero-rock. Good car sounds, particularly on the quirky vehicles that make odd noises.

Graphically all rather nice, with very detailed in-car views, windscreen wipers and everything if that’s your thing (I favour the clean view of the camera stuck on the front bumper).

There is an okay selection of cars, but nowhere near as many as the other major titles – the same is true of the tracks, but the different weather conditions add quite a bit of variation. A lot of the tracks and cars will be very familiar, but fortunately seem very consistent with their appearances in other games.

Stuff that sucks

It’s not as “pure” as Forza, and the races which revolve around showboating can get a little tedious, but it’s easy enough to find something else to do. Superbikes, in the snow on a grand-prix track – it can get pretty silly – even sillier is the fact that the above-mentioned combination is not actually that challenging.

Conclusion

A fun driving title, not so realistic, but a good blast. A decent halfway point between the more serious and more frivolous racing games.

Score : 8/10

Posted on: December 12th, 2009 by

Dog smoking a pipe, annoying youth, sword-toting hero, feisty fire girl, wistful yet ardent princess. Yep: check.

Introduction

It’s a JRPG with cell-shaded anime-style characters and a real-time battle system. It is the tenth game in a rough series, but only the second major one to be released in Europe in sequence on its original format, the first being Tales of Symphonia on the GameCube in 2003. Lucky US citizens have had PS and PS2 releases either side of that. Tales of Symphonia remains quite highly regarded and even second-hand copies still command prices equal or higher than those on release.

Comparisons with Final Fantasy

One of our newsfeeds recently compared it to Final Fantasy VII, but while it has similarities it is far from a clone of it.

In towns you move around a pre-rendered background and interact with things in a way very similar to FF. In dungeons you similarly have roaming enemies and a map (which didn’t appear in FF until X) – but it differs in that the enemies are visible and avoidable. The overland sections look similar to FFVII in that you are as big as the towns, but again the roaming monsters are visible akin to FFXII. None of these things are exclusive to the Final Fantasy series though and I could list many more obvious parallels to other games which use those systems for travel.

Unlike FF the cut-scenes are rendered using the game engine, so it fits on a single DVD. It also has optional skits, where the characters talk to each in comic-book frames, in an improvement over Tales of Symphonia these are now voiced and the faces fully animated. Most in-game dialogue is in pop-up text windows and only voiced in the major scenes.

Battle System

The battle system however is unlike most other games – in that it has three modes of operation. In Manual it’s effectively real-time action-based where you directly control the characters, mash attack buttons and try to pull off combos. Semi-auto is kind of the same, but targeting is done for you, which is better for long-range characters. Auto does everything for you including attacking according to the tactics you set (conserve mana, all out, etc). Because you have a party of up to four characters, they can be set independently, so you could control the healer while the swordsman is on Auto. There are some skills which can only be used in a particular mode, usually Semi-auto.

The Auto mode is improved from Tales of Symphonia, where you felt like you weren’t doing anything at all, but it does still feel a little disconnected and takes a bit of tinkering with the tactics before you start to get used to influencing the battle more directly. You can switch between modes at will and keep yourself busy.

I like the Auto mode, it works pretty well for the random encounters. The game is too fast to specify turn-based commands and benefits from it. You don’t get bored inputting commands for each character when you know the first attack is going to kill everything, nor do you spend ages beating weak monsters on the way to somewhere interesting – battles against wandering monsters typically only last between 5 and 30 seconds.

Stuff that sucks

Stuff isn’t terribly well-explained. I had to load and re-do the combat tutorial as I didn’t realise I was meant to be performing the actions while the instructions were still on the screen. I have no idea how the weapon skills are transferred to the characters – it says it is possible, and I have “learned” them, but they don’t appear in their skills lists.

As is typical in the genre, it takes a while to get going. Not quite the 35 hours before the game gets started typical of the FF games, but in five hours play I’ve only encountered one “boss” fight.

Conclusion

Buy it if you like this sort of thing. It’s a good example of the genre and the hybrid battle system is a good compromise between chin-stroking strategy and button-mashing, although if you’re a zealous proponent of one of those, you’ll find it a little light.

It’s worth noting there’s an enhanced PS3 version planned for the Autumn (in Japan) with extra playable characters, towns, dungeons, bosses and other content. No word on a western release date.

Score : 9/10

Posted on: December 1st, 2008 by
Game front cover

Title:
Fallout 3 (PC)
Publisher:
Bethesda
ASIN:
B0017Y38H0
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

The setting: a post-apocalyptic version of the US that got stuck in the 50s culturally, but advanced massively in technology – I haven’t played the first two, but I just love that off-kilter setting. The SPECIAL system that defines your underlying stats (Strength etc) is familiar territory, while it’s slightly more complex than the standard AD&D ability scores, I’ve seen (for example) the Luck attribute appear in quite a few JRPGs.

Ok, it’s mostly Oblivion with guns, but with a few significant differences – the biggest being the VATS combat system. This is an optional mode where you can freeze the action and auto-aim at a specific part of a monster, as many times as your Action Points allow. It goes all slo-mo cinematic and your proximity, line of sight, skills (and Luck) take over, with you hitting like it’s a turn-based combat game – then it jumps back to real-time so you can dodge any retaliation while your APs regenerate. Non-VATS is just like a normal FPS, and the main reason the PC release shades the console ones, but it would be perfectly playable using only VATS. Since I didn’t play the earlier incarnations, I’m gonna continue comparing it to Oblivion.

Other good changes are fully remappable keys (there’s a line at the top of the readme about how to map the mouse, perhaps clumsier than it should be, but it’s there), a nice range of toys to shoot at stuff, a much-simplified crafting interface and more variety in costumery.

Bad changes would be that each weapon needs very specific ammo, the weapons break very easily and you need identically-described weapons to repair existing ones, so inventory space gets used up pretty quickly.

Another change is that all skills have to be bought at level-up, so while the enemies get tougher, you should theoretically be getting tougher yourself (rather than only leveling when you improved key class-stats) but you can no longer learn things like stealth simply by creeping around a lot.

What’s not changed are instant-travel nodes on the map, the clumsy way the map, inventory and skills are on separate tabs within the same menu and you constantly need to switch between them, the same rather basic compass, characters and monsters seeming to pop out of nowhere and giving you a heart-attack, and the monster NPCs having AI like the red ghost in Pac Man.

Still it’s a excellent game, the VATS system never seems to get old as you think it might and the setting is amazing.

Posted on: December 1st, 2008 by
Game front cover

Title:
Valkyria Chronicles (PS3)
Publisher:
Sega
ASIN:
B00197U1G6
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

It seems like forever since I saw the first examples of this game’s artwork. It’s anime-style, all cell-shaded with a watercolour-on-pencil effect and very fine indeed.  The style extends beyond the comic-book-like panes of the chapter-select menu, the artful stills and animated cut-scenes and into the 3-D part of the game itself.

The actual game between the many cut-scenes is turn-based combat on individual battlefields. You start in map view, and decide which character to move, at which point you gain control of them in 3-D third-person. As you move, your Action Points decrease and any enemies which spot you are free to shoot at you, then you can select aim, target an enemy and fire upon them. It briefly switches to a cinematic attack view as you fire, the enemy gets to retaliate, and then you end your turn. Oddly you have to do alll this quite quickly as you can continue to take damage if you just stand there. Then you can choose another (or the same) character and repeat until you run out of Command Points and it’s the enemies turn to do effectively the same thing – but of course without the dangerous moments of indecision you face as a human player.

That’s pretty much it, it’s pure strategy with no exploration in-between, but you do get a big number of characters to choose from later on. It’s like any of the [JRPG-series-name] Tactics version with the third-person live-action-move mode added on, so if you’re looking for an update to those games, with some wonderful stylised graphics, your search is over.

Posted on: December 1st, 2008 by
Game front cover

Title:
Dead Space (PC)
Publisher:
Electronic Arts
ASIN:
B0019840GW
Rating:
1 out of 5 stars

Can’t remap the controls to my preference. This wouldn’t be a problem for most people, but I find it annoying and unnecessary for a PC game to dictate to you what the mouse buttons must do. No amount of remapping would improve the unresponsiveness of the controls, though.

The view is a rather nasty drunken-over-the-shoulder one and your character is drawn so large it’s really hard to look around. Being honest, I didn’t actually play long enough to judge how scary the monsters and stuff are, because if I struggle to follow some people down a corridor and open a door, I don’t need stuff jumping out on me.

Graphically it looks quite nice, but they ruined it with sluggish controls and your stupid big immersion-breaking head covering up where you want to look.

Posted on: December 1st, 2008 by
Game front cover

Title:
Far Cry 2 (PC)
Publisher:
Ubisoft
ASIN:
B0010DX5L2
Rating:
3 out of 5 stars

Nice-looking but not quite as jaw-dropping as the footage that’s been around for a while promised. Playing it, it’s a bit lonely – it is basically sporadic outposts of people with nothing in-between – I was hoping to be like Bear Grylls and kill some wild animals for no reason.

The fire effects are pretty, but makes the game crash if I get too carried away. The map/monocular thing is a bit clumsy, but the driving is way better than the first game (so a million times better than Crysis) but the view is a bit restricted in the jeeps.

While there are interesting advances, it doesn’t really feel like a sequel to the original Far Cry – that dubious accolade probably goes to Crysis. While all three games are pretty much tech demos with a game built around them, it’s Crysis that shares the ludicrous plot diversions which define the first Far Cry.

But Far Cry 2 is certainly the better game, everything in the other two felt rather a slog. It works pretty well most of the time, although you sometimes get murdered through a wall, if it’s flawed it’s that the missions are all pretty similar and you really have to get creative yourself if you want to keep your interest going.

Posted on: December 1st, 2008 by
Game front cover

Title:
Madden NFL 07 (Wii)
Publisher:
Electronic Arts
ASIN:
B000IMBUL8
Rating:
1 out of 5 stars

As wonderfully incomprehensible to non-fans as the actual sport. Woefully inadequate tutorial for the neophyte. Disappointing amount of Wii-interaction, involving a little flick at the right time, rather than a throw. Played for a full twenty minutes before discovering I was actually “controlling” the other team to the one I thought I was, though my performance actually dropped after realising this.

Posted on: December 11th, 2006 by
Game front cover

Title:
Nintendo Wii Console (Includes Wii Sports)
Publisher:
Nintendo
ASIN:
B0007UATDG
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Wii Sports – Wii

Wii Hardware
While this scarcely needs an introduction, here a few points about the hardware itself, that I hadn’t picked up from the prerelease chat.

It’s quite small. It looks rather like a white external CD drive, and only looks remarkable when mounted on its stand. The stand has a transparent circular attachment which keeps it pretty stable, although you only really need to go anywhere near it when changing CDs. It has little doors which open to reveal an SD card slot, four GameCube controller ports (!) and two GC memory card slots. It has phono+scart connectors and the magic sensor thingy. The sensor has a generous amount of rather delicate-looking cable, and sits either above or below the centre of your TV – tiny stand and extra stickies provided.

The controllers are equally smaller than I expected, and the length of cable between the mote and the chuk, while less than my full armspan, has not been a problem so far gameplay-wise. Changing between mote-only and chuk config is fiddly (and necessary when you switch games) if you connect the strap how they say, infact even passing the mote to another player is harder than it need be. Ideally the straps would have been quickly disconnectable from the mote, with spare straps provided.

Setup’s fairly simple, even typing by pointing the mote at the letters was easier than I expected, plus there’s an on-screen phone-like TXT pad available which is probably a clever move. Internet setup is easy if you router’s setup is standard and your neighbourhood isn’t wireless-infested, but their servers are very busy.

Wii Sports
A collection of five games, with training modes and some basic games. Sometimes the training modes are more fun than the actual games, and there is very little depth beyond the standard game-types.

Bowling
Perhaps the most sedate-seeming of the games, but I actually managed to split my jeans playing it on Saturday. Fortunately I was saved any embarrassment as everyone just assumed I had blown off.

This is the only one in my experience that you pretty much have to stand up for. Standard game is ten frames of normal-rules bowling, spin seems to be a bit difficult to get right, becoming easier as you approach the screen. The training is way more enjoyable – with barriers to spin around and up to 100 pins to knock down at once – where else can you do that?

Up to four players can swap a single mote to play.

Golf
Another supposedly-restful sport, this one really gets you carried away. While it is possible to play seated, and kind of flick the controller from over your shoulder as if fishing – it’s much more fun to pretend it’s a real golf club. It’s the best of the games, so it’s a real shame there’s only a single nine-hole course. Doing short hits can be a bit problematic at times, there are no options for vertical ball control, and landing off the fairway can be catastrophic. It’s great fun, but really just leaves you wanting a “proper” golf release on the system.

Up to four players can swap a single mote to play, although there is a lot of swapping to be done. Also, check you are not underneath the lights – it’s an easy one to get caught up in.

Baseball
This is a nice bit of exercise, but possibly harder standing up. When batting, the timing is hard to get right, and the aim a little erractic. It seems the timing’s more important than the direction, as you can play seated and swing to the side. Pitching’s a bit random too – you can control direction and speed a bit, but not with any consistent effect on CPU batters. You sometimes annoyingly swing when repositioning the mote, missing critical shots.

You need a mote per player for this one. Also the pitching action is the most likely to see your mote flying towards the screen if it’s not strapped on.

Tennis
Bit lost with this one. While actually hitting the ball is quite a natural, satisfying action, subsequently directing it is a bit random. Playing standing helps, as underarm motions seem to be more directable than the smash or volley-height strokes possible when seated. As with baseball, it’s easy to miss-swing when readying – thus missing your stroke.

Multiple players need a mote each. Important to stand still, despite the sluggishness of your character’s running.

Boxing
Easily the most knackering, but that’s mostly (perhaps realistically) because most of your blows seem to go wasted. Haven’t quite got the hang of dodging, and the sparring training ended with a punch I found impossible to throw, no matter where I aimed. Probably only included because it needs the chuk, it’s a rather poor game. A shame, as I thought it had a lot of promise, but any dreams of pummelling your opponent with a windmill flurry of blows are quickly shattered – this particular game doesn’t reward quick, repeated movements, only “well-timed” ones.

Multiple players need a mote AND chuk each, which isn’t currently worth the expenditure in my view – also, the facing player has a horrible perspective to play from.

Sights and Sounds
Graphics aren’t what this system’s about, and certainly aren’t the focus of this game – they’re…okay. It’s quite hard to see the flags in Golf, otherwise not noticeably good or bad – your extra Mii’s make appearances in your Baseball squad, which is kind of cute. The little sounds from the mote really add to the feeling of personal involvement.

Stuff that sucks
You’re never quite sure if you’re doing stuff…correctly. Some actions seem a bit random, as things like slow putts in Golf just don’t seem to register. The system does have it’s limitations in the motion it can detect, and it can frustrate if your on-screen persona isn’t doing exactly what you are. It’s more a question of training yourself to move as the game expects, rather than getting too carried away with the perceived realism. I’ve actually played all these sports in real life, and it’s hard to shake some habits, particularly leg and head movements, which of course aren’t registered by the game.

Conclusion
A very entertaining get-everyone-playing introduction to the system, well worth the price of admission, disappointing in some areas, but leaving hunger for more in others. While the system shows massive potential, this game on it’s own, while hugely enjoyable, isn’t the best this system is capable of.