Monday, 25 August 2008

Secret Agent Clank - PSP

The Ratchet and Clank series has proved to be extremely popular across all Sony’s platforms. The pair's blend of colourful, platform-driven fun, coupled with insane weapons and a healthy dose of humour have lifted the Lombax and his metal chum above the humdrum array of 3D platform games that flood the market.

Now, for the first time, Ratchet’s loyal sidekick Clank gets a game of his own, but does it do enough to differentiate itself from the classic R&C gameplay?

Well, for a start, forget about the crazy weapon sets which have come to define previous games in the series. Yes, shooting does play a part in proceedings, but most of the emphasis this time around is based around stealth.

Ratchet has been accused and imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, so it’s up to Clank - resplendent in his James Bond-style tuxedo - to solve the mystery and get his long-eared friend off the hook.

Along the way, Clank gets access to gadgets to help him through the quest, such as the tie-a-rang – great for taking out a succession of flying robots – and a blackout pen – which is used to blot out security lasers. While there's nothing wrong with the gadgets at Clank’s disposal, nothing here comes close to the the previous games’ weapons, such as the magnificent Groovitron or the awesome Jell-O gun.

For a game based on stealth, it's vital that proper camera controls are in place. Unfortunately the camera controls are frustrating and require constant manipulation. It’s such a shame as there's an entertaining game waiting to break out.

High Impact Games have tried to mix up gameplay styles along with the sneaking about. Clank will also have to undertake rhythm action sections, which are good fun, if a little fiddly. Guard robots can also be taken down by creeping up behind them. This initiates QTE sequences which must be entered quickly to succeed.

Ratchet fans will also be pleased to know that you're also able to play as the Lombax in levels reminiscent of the arena sections from Tools of Destruction. Captain Quark also makes an appearance and like Ratchet’s shooting sections, Quark’s inclusion is there to inject a different pace to the game.

The downside to these missions is they feel shoe-horned in. Playing as Clank is good fun, but just as you’re getting into the swing of things, you're dragged out of the experience to play a Ratchet or Quark mini-section which spoils the flow of the game. I would have preferred these sections to be added as unlockable extras upon completion of the main quest.

Secret Agent Clank’s graphics are certainly above average, although they’re not quite as polished as titles such as Monster Hunter 2 of even Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters on PSP. Voice acting is thankfully spot on, while the sound effects and music all carry the charm associated with the series.

Clank's first outing on the PSP is entertaining, but it ultimately suffers from trying to do too much.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Bionic Commando Rearmed - 360/PS3

Another week, another fantastic download game, this time courtesy of the team at Capcom.

Essentially a remake of the classic NES original, this version of Bionic Commando not only looks great, but has gameplay to match.

What separates Bionic Commando Rearmed from other platform games is the inability to jump. Instead, you use you bionic arm to grab and swing your way across the intricate levels, while wiping out unsavoury sorts with your weapons.

Controls are initially slightly frustrating as your mind attempts to grapple with the lack of a jump button. But after 10 minutes, things fall into place, and traversing the levels becomes fluid.

But the game is rock hard. Even on the easy setting, it provides a stiff challenge.

Screenshots don't really do the game justice, as the game looks stunning on both 360 and PS3, with great animation and gorgeous lighting effects. The music, too, is suitably fitting, with a fantastic retro vibe.

The quality of downloadable games for both the 360 and PS3 has been fantastic over the last few weeks and Bionic Commando Rearmed continues the trend.

For just 800 points on 360, or £6.99 on PS3, it's a game that everyone should check out.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

LittleBigPlanet - PS3

IT’S been 17 months since Sony and Media Molecule unveiled LittleBigPlanet to the general public. Its blend of ambitious user-based content and sumptuous looks have made this game top of people’s most wanted lists since then...myself included.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was, when last weekend, I was lucky enough to get my hands on the highly-anticipated game at the Edinburgh Interactive Festival, and I haven’t stopped smiling since.

LittleBigPlanet allows players to express their creativity by creating new levels in real-time, build objects such as cars and rockets from scratch, shape objects and landscapes and decorate your own levels in any way you want and then share them with the PS3 community.

I was first taken through a couple of pre-made levels that will ship with the game this October by one of Sony's reps. The graphics, as you can see, are stunning, with the game’s lead characters - Sackboys - exuding charm and personality with every move.

Swinging on windmill sails, leaping over fire, dodging scary ghosts, flying around with the aid of jetpacks and using teamwork to reach new areas, were just some of the things we experienced during my 45 minutes hands-on.

Then it was time to check out the creative side of LittleBigPlanet. The first thing you’ll notice is how well laid out and easy to use the menu system is. A simple press of a button calls up the menus. Then it’s just a case of highlighting your chosen object and you are instantly able to place it into the world, scaling and rotating to suit your needs.

The first thing I did was give my Sackboy a cowboy hat, a goofy smile and a rather fetching moustache and then we got down to business building a car from scratch.

First we took some wooden blocks, sculpted them into a rough car shape, and added wheels. Next, we fixed a rocket to the back and added a grip point - which acted as the car's accelerator. While it was all very basic, the scope is there to create something truly spectacular with a little time and effort.

Once we were happy with the final look - not forgetting to add a classy tiger skin pattern to the chassis - we jumped on board and held on for dear life, as the tiger car lurched forward at some speed.

Of course, we had failed to attach the rocket properly and as a result, the car was forced off the ground and somersaulted a few times, sending our Sackboys flying through the air.

Next we created a towering statue, complete with moving fiery arms. A picture was then taken of my face using the Eyetoy camera and slapped on to the statue’s head for a neat finishing touch.

We were able to create these objects in just a matter of minutes and LittleBigPlanet is as involved or as simple as you want it to be.

If you want to recreate your favourite level from a Mario game, you can. If you want to create a sprawling, epic level incorporating hidden exits and objects, you can. If you just want to play through the game's 60 levels and never touch the creative tools, you can. Or if you just want to mess about for 10 minutes creating a mechanical see-saw with your friends, you can do that too.

Everything you create can be shared online and you can be rest-assured that some members of the community will pull out all the stops and deliver some jaw-dropping creations.

The first thing I plan to create is a sprawling rollercoaster/ghost house, complete with terrifying drops and fabulous special effects, while a toppling dominoes-style level is also at the top of my list.

There’s only two months to go before everyone gets the chance to play this PS3 exclusive title, and I’ll be at the front of the queue come launch day.

Here's a video of part of the level I played through:

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Braid - Xbox 360

This evening I have been engrossed in the fabulous Braid on Xbox 360. Created by Jonathan Blow, Braid could be mistaken for yet another run-of-the-mill 2D platformer, but after just a few minutes play, it becomes apparent that Braid is much more than that.

Braid plays like an old school Mario side-scrolling platformer, however the real gameplay twist in Braid lies with the ability to rewind time. Each level has jigsaw pieces scattered throughout, which must be collected and assembled. Some lie in easy to reach places, while others initially seem impossible to attain.

Rather than use time travel to simply correct your mistakes, it is instead central to Braid's gameplay and is used to alter the gameworld. Most objects and enemies in Braid follow the natural flow of time, so rewinding time affects them too. But there are certain objects which have a green glow around them. These objects remain constant even when you rewind time, and are the key to solving the puzzle set before you.

For example, in one early level you are faced with a locked door. Unfortunately, the key to the door is at the bottom of a pit with no way out. But by dropping into the pit and collecting the key, you can then rewind time to just before you leapt down, but you'll still be holding the key, allowing you to escape.

Each level throws up ingenious gameplay mechanics, and seemingly impossible situations become clear with a little lateral thought. I'm currently working my way through World 4, where the gameplay has just been turned on its head - moving right forwards time, while walking left rewinds it! I sense many headaches to come!

I've also gone back and collected all 12 jigsaw pieces in the opening world - strangely, named World 2. I was stumped for a while, but the feeling of accomplishment when things fall into place is incredible and some moments will have you grinning like an idiot.

While the gameplay is spot on, the graphics in Braid are equally special, with artist David Hellman creating a beautiful watercolour effect that shifts and changes hues. From gorgeous golden backgrounds and gentle falling rain, to lush green foliage, Braid is simply breathtaking.

To round off an already incredible experience, the soundtrack is outstanding, and possibly the best I've heard all year. Tinkling pianos, gentle string arrangements, calming violin and cello pieces and folk driven scores - it's spellbinding and sets the atmosphere perfectly.

Initially the 1200 point price tag seemed a little on the steep side, however, it has taken Jonathan Blow three years to create this masterpiece, and as a result this is a small price to pay for something as magical as Braid.

Everyone with a 360 owes it to themselves to play this incredible game. Whatever you do, though, don't use a walkthrough - that would spoil everything. Just be patient and everything will become clear in time.

A magnificent achievement.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune - PS3

Last December, developer Naughty Dog released Uncharted: Drake's Fortune on PS3. It's a fantastic game, successfully blending elements of Tomb Raider with Indiana Jones to create a classic all-action adventure.

Not only does Uncharted look incredible, with some stunning lighting effects, but the game's characters are thoroughly likeable, thanks to Naughty Dog's incredible attention to detail. The cast's mannerisms and personalities shine through and the story and dialogue are excellent throughout.

Not only has the game been re-released on the new PS3 Platinum range for £19.99, but Naughty Dog released a patch for the game on Monday which adds PS3 trophy support to the game. The only downside is you'll have to start your adventure from scratch to activate them, as the new update doesn't take previous accomplishments into account. The good news, though, is that the game is so good, it deserves to be played again - and that's exactly what I'm doing.

While I know achievement points and trophies are completely meaningless, I've always found the 360's gamerscore feature irresistible, and now the same thing is happening with the PS3.

Only three games currently support trophies: Super Stardust HD, PixelJunk: Eden, and now Uncharted. In the near future, Burnout Paradise and Warhawk will be joining in the trophy fun, while the forthcoming PS3 version of BioShock will also have them.

If you've never picked up Uncharted, now's the perfect opportunity to take the plunge.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

The Last Guy - PS3

Along with the magical PixelJunk Eden, most of my gaming time this weekend has been taken up playing the magnificent and utterly bonkers The Last Guy on PS3.

The Last Guy plays in a similar way to the mobile phone game Snake. However, rather than playing on a bland background, here, the action takes place on maps taken from real satellite images.

Due to an invasion of zombies, giant roving eyes and humongous insects, the citizens of Tokyo have taken to hiding in the city's buildings. As the heroic Last Guy, it's up to you to round these frightened folk up and lead them to safety - not easy when you have horrific hungry creatures on the prowl.

As you approach a building, the occupants flee on to the streets and join your growing group. As you have to get a set number of people to an escape point on a strict time limit, the real skill is knowing when to cut loose and run to safety. A train of too many people is likely to attract unwanted attention, but you'll struggle to meet the target by only leading a small group home.

To add to the challenge, five VIPs are scattered across the map, and it becomes scarily addictive trying to find each one. Power ups, such as the invisibility pellet, are also waiting to be discovered, while pressing 'x' also brings some help, as it displays a thermal image of the area, enabling you to see where the people are hiding - but not the monsters.

The development team have done a great job cleaning up the satellite images, and have also added cosmetic details such as water effects and birds flying overhead. As for the music, unfortunately The Last Guy only features one track, although it's a good one, and it will be stuck in your head for days. Sound effects are excellent, with members of the public screaming in terror one minute and whooping for joy the next.

The three levels are set in Japan, but from the looks of the trailer, other regions will have their own cities to run around in: Australia looks like it's getting Sydney, USA has San Francisco, while the UK will have London.

For only 500 yen, The Last Guy could be the bargain of the year.