Thursday, 31 December 2009

A look ahead to 2010

Christmas has traditionally been a time when developers release their blockbuster titles hoping to maximise sales as people scour the shops looking for presents. But there has been a shift in focus this year, with many big name titles set to land in the first half of 2010 instead of the usual pre-Christmas rush. I've highlighted six games which I'm really excited about that will launch in the first half of the new year

Heavy Rain - PlayStation 3

The spiritual successor to 2005's Fahrenheit, Quantic Dream prove they are the masters of storytelling with Heavy Rain - a rich and complex narrative-driven experience which sets the benchmark for visuals and animation in video games. Heavy Rain is a psychological thriller, which puts you in control of four characters, all bound to the activities of a murderer known as The Origami Killer. Through interacting with people and objects, the player slowly unravels the mystery, with each choice having a lasting effect throughout the game. The story is beautifully crafted and thanks to the jaw-dropping visuals, the player is sucked into the dark world Quantic Dream have created. I've had preview code for the last few weeks and can confirm the game is set to be something truly special. Its slow pace might put some people off, but those looking for a deep and rewarding experience will find Heavy Rain irresistible when it launches next month.

Mass Effect 2 - 360/PC

Bioware's original sci-fi epic was launched in 2007 and became a worldwide success. The sequel once again puts you in the shoes of Commander Shepard, as he and his team investigate the rise of a new enemy who are abducting human colonies in deep space. Mass Effect's galaxy has been expanded for the sequel, while gunplay looks to have been tightened up - something that was desperately needed after the original's slightly flimsy shooting action. Character interaction was one of Mass Effect's high points, with dialogue choices impacting on how others perceived your character. Knowing Bioware, this feature will again play a central role in the sequel. Mass Effect 2 also looks spectacular, boasting better animation and improved textures. With a raft of improvements right across the board, sci-fi fans looking for an epic adventure should be well catered for when the game blasts off on January 29.

Final Fantasy XIII - PlayStation 3/360

After years of waiting, the 13th installment of the most popular role-playing game on the planet is almost here. It's already shifted 1.8million copies in Japan since it launched in the middle of December and it's clear this will be one of the biggest titles of the year in the West. Following Final Fantasy XII's free-roaming, action-orientated approach, FF XIII returns to a more linear format. The Japanese demo only gave a small taste of what we can expect from the combat, but turn-based battles return, although random encounters have thankfully been canned. The art team at Square Enix have been hard at work and the sumptuous visuals are incredible, while gamers can expect another epic musical score to set the tone. Final Fantasy XIII is released on March 9.

Monster Hunter Tri - Wii

Monster Hunter has been the saviour of the PSP in Japan, where people simply can't get enough of the series. Millions of copies have been sold on Sony's hand-held, but for the first time since the PS2, the series is coming to a home console. Unlike traditional role playing games, Monster Hunter doesn't feature a main story to wade through. Instead, the player takes on a series of quests to slay wild creatures, and use their remains to craft elaborate and effective armour and weapons. Hundreds of items can be crafted, and it's this kill and craft gameplay which is so compulsive. Full online play will be included, with up to four hunters taking on quests together. This should make the Monster Hunter much more fun than trudging through quests solo.

Yakuza 3 - PlayStation 3

Following months of speculation, Sega announced they will be bringing part three of their celebrated series to the West. The Yakuza games focus on Kazuma Kiryu, a hard-hitting Japanese tough guy with a heart of gold and fists of steel. The storyline in the first two PS2 games was wonderful stuff, delving into the murky depths of the violent Japanese underworld, with plenty of twists, turns, backstabbing and memorable characters. While the combat was satisfying, it wasn't perfect - with the player often taking fresh air swings due to slightly clumsy controls. Judging from the Japanese demo, nothing much has changed in that regard. Still, with beautifully polished visuals and plenty of side quests - including golf, pool, darts, roulette, Black Jack, dice throwing, hostess clubs, videogame arcades, karaoke bars and 10-pin bowling, Yakuza 3 is definitely one to watch when it launches across Europe in March.

BioShock 2 - 360/PlayStation 3/PC


I'm not the world's biggest fan of first-person shooters, but 2007's BioShock completely changed my opinion on the genre. Let loose in an atmospheric underwater city, full of genetically modified freaks, was a thrilling experience and BioShock 2 - which is set 10 years after the events of the first game - is set to eclipse its predecessor. Taking control of the original Big Daddy - a hulking brute clad in ancient deep sea diving gear - the player will stomp their way through the decaying city of Rapture. Plasmids return, with these genetic super powers able to unleash chaos through the Art Deco inspired underwater city. With full multiplayer included this time and 2K's usual attention to detail, BioShock 2 is set to be one of the highlight of 2010 when it's released on February 9.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Games of 2009

Persona 4 - PS2
Despite being 10 years old, the creaking PlayStation 2 can still produce wonderful games. Persona 4 was a much more streamlined experience than its predecessor, but it retained the appeal that's made the series such as success. Unlike regular RPGs, Persona 4 mixes things up to create a unique experience. By day, your character goes to school, attends after school clubs and hangs out with friends. But at night, you explore randomly generated dungeons with the aid of your Personas - magical creatures which help you in battle. Persona 4 looks fantastic, and its fusion of social aspects and dungeon crawling make it one of the most memorable RPGs in recent years.

Flower - PS3
Flower is one of the most remarkable games of 2009. Controlling the wind by moving the Sixaxis, the aim is to open flowers that lie scattered about the game's beautiful locations, collecting petals as you go. Visually stunning with a beautiful relaxed atmosphere, Flower is perfect for late night gaming sessions. Lush, grassy meadows under bright blue skies give way to rocky canyons, sun-drenched amber vistas, midnight blue fields and rain-soaked plains - it's a marvellous experience.

Wii Sports Resort - Wii 
Nintendo bundled Wii Sports with their console to show off the Wii's motion-sensing capabilities. While it was fun, there's it lacked lasting appeal due to the shallow nature of the events. Wii Sports Resort features 12 events compared to the original's five and comes packed with the Wii Motion Plus - a device giving the player a greater degree of control. The events take place on sun-kissed Wuhu Island, and the game is instantly appealing thanks to bright blue skies and the island's cheery atmosphere. Table Tennis, Archery, Swordplay, Air Sports and Frisbee Golf were personal highlights, but everything on offer was a blast to play. It's still selling by the truckload and I'm sure Wii Sports Resort will be wheeled out in homes across the country after Christmas dinner this year.

New Super Mario Bros - Wii 
Super Mario Galaxy remains my favourite Mario title, but there New Super Mario Bros is a cracking game. Back to his 2D roots, Mario's latest outing on Wii is platform perfection. The old school single player action brings memories flooding back of Mario World on the Super Nintendo. Up to four people can take part in the fast-paced multiplayer mode, but the single player is no slouch. Later stages are a real test of nerves, but a handy help feature has been included to guide you through the more difficult sections.

Street Fighter IV - 360/PS3 
The best one-on-one fighter ever got a whole lot better in 2009. The culmination of years of fine tuning by the team at Capcom resulted in this spectacular brawler. While old combos and tricks from the past remain the same, the eye-popping graphics and sprinkling of new features make this the definitive Street Fighter experience. The announcement of Super Street Fighter IV might have taken the spotlight away from this in recent weeks, but this remains the best fighter on the market at the moment.

Batman: Arkham Asylum - 360/PS3/PC 
Games featuring superheroes have been a hit and miss affair in the past, but the Dark Knight's appearance this year proved to be a definite high point. On the trail of the Joker - who has taken over Gotham's famous Arkham Asylum - the Caper Crusader is drawn into a quest to bring the Crown Prince of Crime to justice. Arkham Asylum is an amalgamation of genres - with stealth-based sections, environmental puzzle solving, and bouts of good old-fashioned fisticuffs fused coherently together to produce a slick and well-rounded package. The visuals are excellent, and coupled with the asylum's oppressive atmosphere, create one of this year's most distinctive titles. With a second game announced this week, there's plenty for Batman fans to look forward to.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves - PS3
Great things were expected of Uncharted 2, and developers Naughty Dog didn't disappoint, pulling out all the stops to deliver the finest action adventure to grace a home console this year. Packed with epic set pieces and thrilling gunfights, charismatic protagonist Nathan Drake's latest outing was a visual feast. Thanks to brilliant voice work, impressive in-game cut scenes and Naughty Dog's attention to detail, Uncharted 2 featured all the trimmings of a blockbuster film. The 12-hour single player campaign was a success, but for gamers craving more, a robust multiplayer mode was also added. The online fun is still incredibly popular and makes a great alternative to first-person online experiences. Uncharted 2 quite simply set the benchmark for future action adventures.

Assassin's Creed 2 - 360/PS3
The original Assassin's Creed was a great looking game, but was bogged down by repetitve tasks and awkward gameplay mechanics. The sequel mixes things up to give a better experience, making this journey through Renaissance era Italy a joy to play. Lead character Ezio is thoroughly likeable, which adds some much-needed personality to the series. Free-running across rooftops, scaling towers and exploring the beautifully rendered cities of Venice and Florence is wonderful, and with plenty of optional trinkets to collect and tombs to discover, Assassin's Creed 2 is head and shoulders above the original.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Pixeljunk Shooter - PS3

The fourth game in the excellent PixelJunk series is not only an elegant and engaging shooter, it's one of the best games to appear on the PS3's online store.

Armed with a gun, missiles and a grapple shot, the player whizzes through a series of subterranean caverns, rescuing trapped scientists and prising gems from rock faces. It's beautifully simple, but the genius of Shooter's level design becomes apparent after delving down through several layers.

Environmental hazards hinder your progress, blocking your path to the human survivors and your means of escape. Fortunately, impassable magma flows can be cooled by unleashing torrents of water, while chunks of ice can be melted by guiding magma on to slippery surfaces.

Carefully blasting chunks from rock faces allows the player to instantly change the cavern's layout and access new areas, but those with an itchy trigger finger should be warned that firing without thinking can spell disaster for the trapped scientists.

As progress is made, levels become fraught with hidden dangers and new hazards to overcome. Every new cavern is packed with wonderful ideas, keeping the game from ever becoming stale, while finding secret caves, hidden gems and locating special survivors adds to the overall package.

The wonderful electronic soundtrack fuses perfectly with Shooter's bold slabs of colour to create a delicious and strangely laid back experience.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Sword of Fargoal - iOS

Back in 1982, Jeff McCord created Sword of Fargoal - a beautifully crafted dungeon crawler on Commodore’s Vic-20. It’s been ported to other systems since then, but this iPhone version deserves special mention. 

Fargoal is a Roguelike, a game with its roots deep in the early days of computer adventures. Despite primitive visuals, Rogue and other similar games that followed, offered deep and rewarding experiences and are still popular today. They feature randomly generated dungeons and perma-death. When you die in a Roguelike, there’s no going back to a previous save. Once your dead, the adventure is over and you need to start again from scratch. To today’s modern gamer, such gameplay mechanics are archaic, but recent games such as Shiren the Wanderer on DS and Sword of Fargoal prove this type of game can be immensely enjoyable.

Fargoal has you fighting your way ever deeper through a devious dungeon in the quest for a fabled sword. However every step you take is fraught with danger. Elves armed with bows lurk in the shadows, grotesque gargoyles pounce when you least expect it, monstrous dragons try and roast you alive, while numerous pitfalls and traps hinder your progress.

Even when the sword has been collected - no easy task - the player must make their way back up through the dungeon to escape.

The iPhone’s touch screen has been used well, with finger swipes sending your hero towards his goal. Attacking another creature is simply a case of moving your hero towards the foe. Combat is instantly engaged and while early encounters are easy, care and intelligent use of spells is needed to best creatures deeper into the dungeon.

Gold lies scattered about the levels, which can be traded at temples in exchange for much-needed experience points, while bags can be unearthed which allow you to carry more loot.

Presentation is slick, with lovely lighting effects and a deliciously creepy soundtrack. Special mention goes to the descending stairs animation between levels which is wonderful.

For just £2.99 you’re getting one of the best games on the iPhone and with more updates promised, this is one adventure you should definitely undertake.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Avatar: 360, PS3

Hot on the heels of James Cameron's visually spectacular film comes the inevitable videogame tie-in and while it's better than the majority of movie-based games, it still falls well short of the mark.

The game doesn't follow the film's script, opting instead to flesh out the background story to the big-screen blockbuster. While the visuals hold up well, the repetitive missions, linear structure and loose combat mechanics suck most of the life out what could have been a great game.

There's an interesting twist when the player has to choose between fighting for the human-based RDA or side with the indigenous Na'vi tribe, but the game never rises above mediocrity. It's average at best and only die hard fans of the film will glean any enjoyment from Avatar's shallow gameplay.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Pikmin 2 - Wii

Sorry about the lack up updates recently. With longer working hours and the annual Christmas games rush well and truly underway, I've had little chance to update the old blog.

Anyway, I've been going through this year's releases trying to pick my top 20 games of the year - so far. All the usual suspects are included, but I thought I'd take time to highlight a few crackers which might have escaped people's attention, so let's start with the Wiimake of Pikmin 2.

Initially available on Gamecube, this year Nintendo decided to release a few old classics on Wii, adding motion control support. The 480p option also means that these old timers are looking better than ever.

Created by Mario's dad, Shigeru Miyamoto, the Pikmin series takes the form of a fun and light-hearted real-time strategy game.

You control Captain Olimar and his sidekick Louie, and are tasked with revisiting the Pikmin's home world in a bid to raise funds for their ailing freight company back home. To do this, everyday objects such as fruit, batteries and crushed cans must be collected, which add to your company's funds.

Of course, the two intrepid explorers can't do this alone, so they employ the services of the planet's Pikmin - strange plant-like creatures who are only too happy to lend Olimar and Louie a hand.

These flower-topped creatures come in five different flavours: red, yellow, blue, purple and white, and each have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Pikmin can be thrown at objects, which they will then carry to Olimar's spaceship, while throwing them at enemies causes the Pikmin to start fighting. Thrown en masse, they can also destroy most obstacles blocking your path.

To help manage the different coloured Pikmin, the player can switch between Olimar and Louie to command different armies, which helps things from getting too chaotic.

It might all seem a bit complicated, but with Miyamoto pulling the strings, Pikmin 2 is incredibly easy to pick up and a wonderful experience.

The added Wiimote controls add a great deal to the title, and commanding your Pikmin army is now far easier than it was using the old Gamecube pad.

For those who love collecting in-game items, Pikmin 2 has plenty to keep you occupied. The Piklopedia catalogues all the flora, fauna and creatures you come across on your travels - each one accompanied by a beautiful videoclip.

You can also keep track of all your treasures, each one featuring an excerpt from Olimar's diary. The attention to detail throughout is typical of Miyamoto-san and makes for an excellent all-round package.

With hundreds of objects to be collected above and below ground, lush and beautiful locations to explore, surprises around every corner, and two-player support Pikmin 2 feels as fresh today as it did back in 2004.

For those who played through the original back in the day, there's not a great deal more here to tempt you back. But for newcomers to the series, Miyamoto's masterpiece is an essential purchase and one of the finest games out on the Wii.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Jambo! Safari - Wii

I have long waited for a home console version of this Sega arcade classic - as I have very fond memories of stuffing handfuls of cash into the coin-op a few years ago.

However, don't be fooled. While this Wii version contains the arcade cabinet's core gameplay - based around rounding up wild animals from the safety of a jeep - it's changed from a tense bumpy ride across African plains into a long-winded, mission-based experience.

Elements from Crazy Taxi and Sega Bass Fishing are present, but the game is let down in a number of areas. Sega have aimed straight at a younger age group, padding the game to appeal to kids with an abundance of side shows to detract from the main gam. That's fine for newcomers, but it's sad Sega saw fit to add extra layers where they're not needed.

The Wii controls are well used, with the player forced to swing the Wiimote and flick it as they let the lasso fly. Straining to capture the captured beast is a test of wits, as a careful eye must be kept on line-tension in case the animal manages to break free - hello, Sega Bass Fishing! It's during these moments when fond memories of the arcade original are most keenly felt.

Graphics are unfortunately nothing special, with a poor draw distance causing objects such as trees and rocks to pop into view at the last moment. However, it's still a pleasure taking the jeep for a spin across the sizeable levels, while African beats drum away in the background.

Jambo! Safari is still enjoyable, but the needless side missions detract from the simple beauty of the arcade game. Kids will get a kick out of caring for sickly zebras, but coin-op fans should approach with caution.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders - DS

Taking elements from the Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright series, this murder mystery unfortunately fails to come close to either.

Playing the part of Captain Hastings, Hercule Poirot’s right-hand man, the player attempts to unravel the mystery behind several grizzly murders through riddles and investigations.

Multiple choice questions let you attempt as many of the answers as you'd like, so sifting through these is a piece of cake and lacks any decent challenge.

The tougher head-scratchers require the player to input the answer using the touchscreen, but with no hint system available these puzzles often lead to frustrating dead ends.

Visuals are unspectacular, failing to match the appeal of Phoenix Wright’s cartoon look, while spoken dialogue is few and far between. Ultimately, the lack of hint system and obtuse puzzles are the game’s downfall. With Layton and Wright still sitting on shop shelves, there really is little reason to pick up this below average murder mystery.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier - PSP

Eight years after their debut outing on PlayStation 2, Jak and Daxter are back for another round of platform shennanigans.

Sharing many similarities with the Ratchet & Clank series, the dynamic duo’s latest outing on PSP is unfortunately spoiled by weak camera controls and sloppy shooting mechanics. While there are plenty of enemies to take down and a plethora of platforms to negotiate, flimsy controls spoil most of the fun.

This leads to frustrating moments and as the game lacks a lock-on feature, fighting straightforward enemies can be more trouble than it should be. The Warhawk-inspired flying sections fare better, with the tight air-to-air combat much more enjoyable than the on the ground action.

With plenty of sidequests, game altering unlockables, weapon upgrades and some snazzy graphics, Jak and Daxter’s latest adventure does plenty of things right. But it falls on its face when it comes to the cumbersome controls - something which plagued Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters on PSP.

Perhaps Sony's hand-held console isn’t the best platform to show off this type of action adventure, where a snappy camera and tight controls would make all the difference.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

PlayStation Home - PS3

Sony's social networking hub, Home has had its fair share of criticism. Some virtual clothing and items cost real cash, while the European experience lacks much of the content North America and Japan currently enjoys.

On the plus side, more companies seem to be getting on board, and the interactive EA Sports space is a great place to hang out, while the Buzz! space is attracting gamers thanks to its multiplayer quiz questions and colourful setting.

The latest patch brought with it a camera to take snaps, so I thought I'd take a few and share them. Oh yeah, the guy dancing is my avatar!

Monday, 12 October 2009

Shiren the Wanderer 4 - DS

Sporting a new day/night system and a tropical island setting, forthcoming Shiren the Wanderer 4 is at least trying to add something new to the dungeon crawling formula.

As a huge fan of Shiren's previous outings, I can't wait to play Shiren 4. However, like Shiren 3 on Wii, there is no word of a European release.

Fingers crossed someone like Rising Star Games takes a punt on these two titles and brings them over here. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of Shiren and Koppa's latest adventure.

Friday, 9 October 2009

3D Dot Game Heroes: Update - PS3

3D Dot Games Heroes is less than a month away from release and with every new screenshot, it's hard not to be excited.

The story is fantasy fluff with a curious twist. In the Kingdom of Dotnia, six wise sages kept watch over six orbs which contained the power of God. However, when a demonic overlord attempted to lay waste to the kingdom, a hero took up the challenge and defeated him.

After the epic battle between good and evil, Dotnia became a tourist attraction, but eventually people stopped visiting. The King then had a brainwave that would hopefully entice visitors back - transforming the flat, 2D gameworld into glorious blocky 3D.

However, with the land now full of monsters, this course of action didn't go according to plan, so it's up to your character to explore the kingdom and find out what went wrong.

There's obviously more than a passing nod to Zelda, with similar gameplay elements and weapons, including a boomerang - which is used to hit far off switches - and bows. Even the game's music has a Zelda flavour.

It's still not clear how long the game will last, but with four character classes to choose from - hero, prince, scholar and - unusually - the lead character from the classic underground adventure Spelunker, plenty of items to find and an optional hard difficulty level, hopes remain high that 3D Dot Game Heroes will be a lengthy quest.

There's even a character editor packed in so you can throw your own blocky character into the action.

3D Dot Heroes is released in Japan on November 5. Check out the official site - complete with wonderful music HERE

Images courtesy of FROM Software.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing - 360/PS3/Wii/DS

While the wait for Shenmue 3 goes on - it's been eight years since Shenmue II hit Dreamcast - Ryo Hazuki is back, but not in a free-roaming, quicktime-driven adventure.

Instead, Ryo is the latest character to be added to the forthcoming Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing.

A strange fit alongside Sonic, Dr Robotnic and Amigo from Samba de Amigo, but who cares when it looks this much fun?

Check out the vid to see Ryo race the opposition on a motorbike and strapped in to his famous forklift truck.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Epic Mickey - Wii

With Warren Spector on board - the man behind Deus Ex - Disney Interactive are due to get something a little different in their next big-budget Mickey Mouse title.

Concept art for new game Epic Mickey has been released and it's jaw-dropping.

Fusing recognisable Disney characters and settings with a steampunk aesthetic could ruffle a few feathers at Disney, but Spector looks like he's bringing a fresh approach to the table.

Actual game details are extremely thin on the ground, but just look at these pics!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Spelunky - PC

I've spent most of the evening playing Spelunky on PC. It's a fusion of ZX Spectrum classic Fred and a Roguelike. The aim is to try and pilfer as much treasure as you can, while making progress though the subterranean levels.

It's full of neat touches - I picked up a golden idol, which resulted in the ground shaking before a huge boulder chased after me in an Indiana Jones style. Unlike Indy, however, I didn't survive.

You have access to ropes and bombs to help you through the mines, while shops are scattered throughout the levels selling extra bombs and weapons.

In typical Roguelike style, there are many fun ways to die, and as the levels are randomly generated, you never have the same game twice.

It's free to play and can be downloaded from here

It's also coming out on Xbox Live Arcade in the future.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum - 360/PS3

It's fair to say that previous games featuring superheroes haven't exactly set the pulse racing. As a result, titles such as Crackdown and InFamous have filled the void, allowing players to leap over buildings, throw cars into the air and unleash justice on the bad guys.

However, if anyone was going to redress the balance, it was going to be Batman. With his fighting prowess and reliance on gadgets, he's the perfect subject for a videogame hero, and Arkham Asylum is a game which does Gotham's finest proud.

Set in the confines of Gotham City's famous psychiatric hospital, the story opens with Batman escorting The Joker to his cell. Of course the grinning goon manages to escape, Arkham is locked down, and the hunt is on to track the Clown Prince of Crime down before he unleashes chaos.

Arkham Asylum is an amalgamation of genres - with stealth-based sections, environmental puzzle solving, and bouts of good old-fashioned fisticuffs fused coherently together to produce a slick and well-rounded package.

Combat is excellent, with simple button combos unleashing meaty hits and well-placed kicks, while pulling off counter attacks is intuitive and hassle free. At times the combat feels more like a rhythm game, with the player stringing together well-timed flurries with ease.

What Arkham Asylum does better than the majority of superhero games from the past is create an excellent - and slightly uncomfortable - ambiance. The dark, oppressive atmosphere exuding from the asylum's walls brings to mind 2K's BioShock.

And while the asylum isn't an open world for Batman to play about in, the developers have given the player ample opportunity to wander off the beaten track, throwing in a wealth of collectables to discover for those with a sense of adventure.

Chief among these shiny baubles are The Riddler's trophies. The green-clad fiend has scattered hundreds around the asylum, while the criminal mastermind also poses wonderful optional conundrums to solve in most of the levels.

Interview recordings with several high-profile patients are also scattered about, and these audio clips are a definite highlight thanks to the cast's stellar voice acting. Special mention goes to Mark Hamill's portrayal of The Joker. He's voiced the cackling criminal before in Batman's animated series, and his return to the fold adds an incredible amount to the experience. He chatters away over the asylum's speaker system, adding another layer to the game's already excellent atmosphere.

Each new discovery and successful fight rewards the player with experience points, which can be spent on upgrading the Dark Knight and his gadgets.
There is a fair amount of backtracking throughout the game, but usually when making your way across previously explored areas, you'll have a new gadget at your disposal, allowing the player to reach new places. This takes some of the monotony out of trudging across familiar territory, but there's still a bit too much repetition for my liking.

Thankfully, Batman's gadgets are fun to use - from staples such as the Batarang and grappling hook, to more inventive creations such as explosive gel, which blows chunks from walls, revealing hidden alcoves.

Another important feature is Detective Mode, a scanning device which allows Batman to see enemies through walls and reveal clues which are invisible to the human eye. Frequent use of this is vital, as stealthily locating enemies and taking them down quietly is vital.

Failure to take gun-wielding inmates down silently usually results in Batman meeting his end in a volley of machine-gun fire. Luckily, the stealth-based sections are solid, with Batman able to take down foes from behind with a simple button press, before the Caped Crusader returns to the shadows to await his next victim.

All of this would be enough to elevate Arkham Asylum above most of this year's games, but there's plenty more packed on to the disc. Character bios can be unlocked, featuring personal details and back story of some of the comic's most famous characters, including Killer Moth, Mad Hatter, Catwoman and The Penguin. What's more, there's a fine collection of 3D character models to unlock and peruse at your leisure, while a generous selection of challenge rooms adds immensely to the game's replayability.

I finished Arkham Asylum with 73 per cent completion rating - a task which took me a little over 12 hours, so there's plenty of reasons to go back and dig a little deeper.

With its attention to detail, excellent play mechanics, wonderful atmosphere, and engaging storyline twists and turns, Batman: Arkham Asylum is the most polished and enjoyable title I've played all year. Believe the hype, Batman is back.

360 version tested

Endless Ocean 2 - Wii: New video

I've completed Aquanaut's Holiday: Hidden Memories on PS3, and the original Endless Ocean on Wii. But at last, we have a new video of Endless Ocean 2. No, your eyes don't deceive you, this is running on Wii.

It looks gorgeous and I can't wait to play. I'm pretty sure a Western release is due to land next year. Until then, check out this clip.

I'm off to boot up Endless Ocean again...

Friday, 21 August 2009

3D Dot Game Heroes - PS3

FROM Software, the team who brought us the excellent Demon's Souls on PS3, have unveiled their latest title, and it looks wonderful.

Details are still sketchy, but we do know some parts of the story. Following the defeat of an evil demon, the king of the land has decided he's had enough of his flat, 2D realm and has transformed it into eye-popping blocky 3D.

The game is scheduled to launch in Japan in November, and I'll definitely be keeping a close eye on this magnificent looking title.

Here are some screens, and remember to check out the official Japanese website