Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Heavy on the Magick - ZX Spectrum

I wrote last month that I had bought a pristine copy of Knight Lore on the ZX Spectrum. Well, my love of all things Sinclair made it hard to resist when I recently saw a copy of Gargoyle's brilliant 1986 release, Heavy on the Magick.

Probably better know for their excellent Tir Na Nog and Dun Darach games, Gargoyle Games produced many wonderful titles in the Eighties, but it was Heavy on the Magick which really captured my imagination.

Taking control of the mysterious and hooded Axil the Able, the player starts the adventure as a lowly Neophyte - a low-ranking wizard who has been banished to the depths of a dank dungeon. It's up to you to guide Axil out of this dire situation, and it's not going to be easy.

The game plays very much like text adventures of old, with the player punching in commands such as 'Examine Object', 'Pick Up Book', 'Go North' etc. However, what separates Heavy on the Magick from classic Level 9 adventures such as Red Moon and Emerald Isle is the game's wonderful graphical style.

These games from the mid-Eighties used simple static screens to illustrate the player's surroundings. But Heavy on the Magick pushed the boat out to include full animation.

In fact, the animation and visuals throughout are still impressive - the wind occasionally tugs at Axil's cloak as he ponders his next move, while larger than life characters, such as the gormless looking Apex the Ogre, still exude charm and personality.

Stats are fairly basic, with only Skill, Stamina and Luck to worry about, but care must be taken as hindering Axil on his journey are lots of wandering foes, such as gargoyles and trolls. Combat is purely magic based and being a game from the mid-Eighties, Heavy on the Magick is incredibly tough, and often you'll be wiped out in a matter of seconds.

Heavy on the Magick is cumbersome by today's standards, and the game is unnecessarily complex at times, but it remains a classic in my eyes. It has a great atmosphere, still looks wonderful and is one of my favourite titles on the humble Spectrum.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

House of the Dead: Overkill - Wii

This revamp of the classic arcade and Dreamcast shooter is one of the most entertaining titles of the year so far.

Rather than churn out another remake of the original with bonus features, Sega have taken the series in a new direction. They’ve dispensed with the serious tone of the original, giving the development team the opportunity to let their imaginations run riot.

Full of B-movie shtick, the game revels in showering the player in buckets of blood, cheesy dialogue, an outrageous assortment of characters and copious amounts of bad language.

The game’s central characters - Agent G and Detective Isaac Washington - provide the backbone to the relentless and extremely gory action. Their love/hate relationship, leads to some entertaining foul-mouthed dialogue, which is extremely amusing for all the wrong reasons.

As you would expect from a light gun-style shooter, the action is relentless and the enemies varied. Grotesque mutants, insane clowns and festering hospital patients come at you from all sides. Luckily, the Wiimote was made for this type of game, and, aside from a few minuscule lock-ups during loading, the action is smooth and fast-paced throughout.

Each level has bonus objectives and collectibles to shoot at, while there's a great combo system in place which ensures multiple playthroughs. Not only that, but new weapons can be bought and upgraded and messing around with them is great fun.

Add to that an excellent two-player mode, and House of the Dead: Overkill is an essential purchase for Wii owners looking for some over the top shooting action.

Images courtesy of Sega

Monday, 23 March 2009

Ceville - PC

After enjoying a golden era in the 90s with titles such as Monkey Island and Grim Fandango, the point and click adventure genre eventually fizzled out.

However, the last year or so has seen the genre enjoy a renaissance, with old favourites Sam and Max and Broken Sword resurrected. There has also been a push to deliver new IPs, with A Vampyre's Story appearing a few months ago and now Kalypso's Ceville joins in the fun.

Set in a Shrek-like fantasy realm, Ceville is a bitter and mean old king, who rules the land of Faeryanis with an iron fist. As such, this miserable little tyrant isn't well liked by his subjects, so it's no surprise when an uprising leads to him being ousted from his throne.

Taking control of the pint-sized despot, your ultimate goal is to reclaim your position as rightful ruler of the land, but it's not going to be easy. Your first objective is to elude the dim-witted guards who are keeping you ensconced in your throne room. From this point, you embark on a highly amusing and colourful adventure.

Although you’ll be in control of Ceville for much of the time, other characters come under your command as the things march along: Lily, a sweet natured little girl, who is the antithesis of Ceville, and Ambrosius, the arrogant and self-obsessed Paladin.

As with all point and click adventures, using simple logic and combining items solves the puzzles. For example, a frothy tankard of ale is perfect for dousing flames, while an axe combined with a rope makes an excellent grappling hook.

Throughout the game, most of the head scratching conundrums can be solved with a bit of lateral thought and it's refreshing to play an adventure which doesn't handcuff the player with ridiculous, ill thought-out brain benders.

The voice acting and soundtrack are quite impressive, while the graphics are beautifully presented. From musty old dungeons, to sunny beaches and verdant rolling landscapes, every location in Ceville is a visual treat.

There is some repetition when it comes to background conversations, though, and it's advisable to switch the subtitles on, as some of the audio cues can be a bit muffled. However, these issues are small and don't spoil the game.

It's a polished title, and one that could easily be overlooked. However, Ceville is a highly enjoyable adventures and comes highly recommended.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Empire: Total War - PC

The latest entry to the hugely successful Total War series takes us back to the age of gunpowder, revolution, exploration and high sea scullduggery
    Set in the 18th century, Creative Assembly's take on the era is arguably the best in the series.
It's a hulking colossus of a game, full of impressive battles, complex scenarios, historical set pieces and absorbing gameplay.
    There's a lot to take in, and many will initially be put off by the game's incredible depth and seemingly endless options. However don't despair, because Empire: Total War eases the player in via the Road To Independence campaign. This acts as a tutorial of sorts and introduces the player to the mechanics of the game at a well-paced clip.
    While this mode is enjoyable, the Grand Campaign is where Empire: Total War properly starts. Taking place across Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean and North and South America, the campaign is epic in scale and structure.
    The game plays out alternating between two modes. The first has you positioning armies, engaging in diplomatic matters and creating the building blocks of your empire. The second involves massive land and sea battles, where nations vie for ultimate supremacy.
    The much touted naval battles are a joy to behold as your valiant fleet engage the enemy across swirling seas. However, it's not all smooth sailing. With so much going on, things can get chaotic, and it's easy to lose track of everything that's happening. Ships can also unintentionally go astray, but hopefully a patch at a later date will sort out this gameplay niggle.
    The game is all about tactics and tinkering with strategies and plans is completely engrossing. You will lose hours as you play out scenarios, attempting to crush anyone foolish enough to stand in your way.
    With so much going on, it's imperative the interface is up to the job. Thankfully, Creative Assembly have stripped this back from previous versions, making economic development and decision making much easier to handle than before.
    As you might expect, to get the most out of Empire: Total War you are going to need a high-end rig. Playing on anything less would be doing the game a great injustice. It's a graphical tour de force and one of the most visually impressive games I've seen running on a PC. The game is crammed with glorious details and once you command your first naval battle, I guarantee your jaw will hit the floor.
    It is impossible to mention everything this incredibly robust game has to offer, and trying to tell you would spoil half the fun anyway. It's a landmark title and, despite Street Fighter IV's best efforts, Empire: Total War is the best game I've played this year.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Chrono Trigger - DS

It has been a glorious few months for lovers of old 16-bit titles. Squaresoft’s wonderful Super Nintendo classic Secret of Mana arrived on the Wii’s Virtual Console in December. Now, Square Enix have released the equally brilliant Chrono Trigger on DS.

Chrono Trigger was never released in the UK back in 1995, which meant I had to import it from the US. Playing through it again 14 years later, it remains as much fun as it was back then.

The adventure starts in stereotypical manner, with Chrono, the central figure, undertaking a quest to find a missing princess. However, the story soon broadens out to become a memorable time travelling adventure, ripe with interesting and unusual characters and exotic locations to explore.

Unlike other RPGs of the mid-Nineties, there are no random battles in Chrono Trigger. Some enemies can be avoided if you wish, although skipping these encounters will leave your party underpowered as the game progresses.

Another benefit from battling monsters comes in the shape of the bestiary. This fantastic addition allows you to browse through all the monsters you've encountered and check out their stats. Filling all 246 slots is going to take quite some time and this feature adds a Pokemon-style flavour to the game.

Despite being 14 years old, Chrono Trigger's graphics and audio hold up extremely well. The colourful 16-bit visuals are excellent, while the soundtrack is magnificent.

Square Enix have added a few extras, including an improved script, two new areas and optional touch screen controls to make this the definitive version of this classic game.

If you enjoyed Secret of Mana or any of the old school Final Fantasy series, Chrono Trigger is an essential purchase. Despite its age, it is infinitely better than many of the bog-standard RPGs released over the last few years.

Images courtesy of Square Enix

Friday, 20 March 2009

Happy Birthday EverQuest

As EverQuest celebrates its 10th birthday this week, I thought I would take a look back at the game which changed my perception of what videogames could achieve.

Up until I took my first steps in Norrath, I was strictly a console RPG player – and I played a lot. From exploring the kingdom of Hyrule in Zelda: A Link to the Past, to delving deep into Square’s Final Fantasy series, I thought nothing of ploughing upwards of 50 hours into these deep and rewarding titles.

However, as magnificent as these games were, they all followed a familiar pattern, where the player was essentially led from one point to another to advance the story.

I had three friends who played EverQuest on PC, and I was intrigued by their passion and enthusiasm for the game – a game which didn’t follow a cookie-cutter storyline, and instead let the player create their own experiences in a rich and diverse world.

Social interaction was central to the experience, and by grouping with other players from around the world, previously inaccessible areas would open up, and memorable encounters would ensue. It might be the norm now thanks to the myriad of MMORPGs on the market, but back then, EverQuest’s style of play was a revelation to me.

It wasn’t until 2002 that I finally took the plunge, and thanks to the help of my hopelessly addicted EverQuest friends, my PC was built from scratch just so I could experience the wonders of Norrath first-hand.

After much deliberation, I chose to play as a Dwarf Paladin named Balderak on the Torvenillous server. Over the coming weeks, months and years, the world of Norrath became my second home.

It wasn’t just the exploration and discovery aspect which I found so compelling about EverQuest, but the social interaction within my guild, Twilight Brethren, which sealed the deal. It was a wonderful guild, full of lovely, helpful people from across the globe - people who would go out of their way to help a struggling beginner such as myself.

A full namecall here would be too much, but chief among these like-minded players were Tegout, Milliana, Atiyin, Morghana, Fedarov, Olympe, Sardaor, Mubadger, Rosi, Rabbie, Grippa, Mavis, Bellesin, Bereg, Gakrek, Sebbi, and Caminarra.

With our merry band of Brethren, we traversed the realm of Norrath and beyond: The dark, dank caverns of Lower Guk, the underwater ruins of Kedge Keep, the decrepit and deadly Estate of Unrest, and the haunted Castle Mistmoore were just some of the places we explored. Even the gods weren’t safe from our trusty band, with Norrath’s creators quaking in fear as Twilight Brethren ascended to the metaphysical planes they inhabited.

I seldom had the time to take part in organised raids, but I did manage to attend several memorable encounters, and fairly early in my EverQuest life, seeing the fearsome ice dragon Lady Vox in her frosty lair was a particular personal highlight.

I played EverQuest constantly for two and a half years until I left the game to explore EverQuest 2 and World of Warcraft. I have been back many times since to sneak a peek at what Sony Online Entertainment have added to the game. I sometimes even toy with the idea of going back full-time, although I truly believe I played EverQuest during a golden era and worry the old magic would no longer be there if I were to return.

However, I’m thrilled to see EverQuest still going strong and although I am no longer part of the community, the time I spent with Twilight Brethren - many of whom I still keep in touch with and many of whom are still playing! - will always remain special to me.

So here’s to another 10 years, EverQuest. Happy birthday.

Images courtesy of Sony Online Entertainment

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Valkyria Chronicles - New content

Some exciting news has just reached me regarding the PlayStation 3's best game - Valkyria Chronicles.

Sega have announced that three downloadable packs will be released for the gorgeous real-time strategy game later this year.

Hard EX Mode will give you the opportunity to play through a tougher campaign, apparently without the help of mission stalwart, the Edelweiss.

The second pack, entitled Enter the Edy Detachment, lets you experience the game from Edy's point of view after becoming detached from the rest of your teammates.

The third and final pack is perhaps the most interesting, as it gives you the opportunity to play from the Imperial side in a pack entitled Behind Her Blue Flame.

As far as I'm aware, these three packs have only been announced for the US, and there's no concrete information on a European release. There's also no word on whether the new expansions will add trophy support - although we can but hope.

Valkyria Chronicles is one of the finest games I've played this
console generation and to get my full thoughts on Sega's
masterpiece, click here

Images courtesy of Sega

Monday, 16 March 2009

Aquanaut's Holiday - PS3 - Third update

After more than 30 hours played, I finally completed the last side mission in Aquanaut's Holiday today. For my trouble I was rewarded with a silver trophy. All that remains for me to do is complete all the Singer quests and find the remaining species to complete my Aqua Library.

According to my stats, I have completed 80 per cent of the game.

What a fantastic title, but unfortunately there is still no word of a Western release. What a pity, as I believe people would snap this wonderful game up.

Anyway, here are a few more pictures from my underwater adventures:

Soul Nomad and the World Eaters - PS2

Nippon Ichi, the company behind the magnificent Disgaea series, released this gem back in June last year in the UK. Without any publicity and what seems to have been a small production run on PlayStation 2, getting your hands on a copy now might be a challenge, but it's definitely worth tracking down.

With Soul Nomad, Nippon Ichi took elements from Disgaea and added a dash of Nintendo’s Advance Wars to create something a little bit different.

The story focuses on events from the past, when three colossal World Eaters, led by a dark and mysterious figure, almost destroyed your world. Fortunately, these behemoths were stopped in their tracks when their leader was imprisoned by the forces of good in a black onyx sword.

Now that your character has come of age, it has been decided your soul is to be fused with the soul of this dark being, in the hope that a mixture of good and evil will finally destroy the remaining World Eaters.

The game is strictly turn-based, but rather than the pleasing isometric view from their previous titles, Nippon Ichi resorted to a flattened view. Although the battle screens fizz with colour and charm, the world map is devoid of any such sparkle, making certain elements of the game less than appealing.

Thankfully, though, the gameplay shines, and give it a few hours and you'll discover that Soul Nomad is an absorbing and deeply tactical experience.

There are 26 classes at your disposal, from Soldiers and Knights, to Bards and Bandits and this flexible mix allows the player to tailor their squads to their liking.

Each character on screen represents a whole battle squad made up of multiple characters. Each squad can be tinkered with, and you can arrange party members into slots, such as front, middle or back.

Unusually when in battle, you don’t directly issue orders to these team members, the game decides on what attacks to use instead. While this is initially jarring, it actually works quite well in the heat of battle.

The real challenge is figuring out where to place each team member for maximum advantage. Add in the ability to create new teams, characters and implement special moves, and Soul Nomad reveals itself to be far more complex than you initially imagine.

Fans of Disgaea will definitely get their money’s worth from Soul Nomad, although those new to the SRPG genre might struggle due to the lack of explanations and slightly bland visuals. However, it is still well worth tracking down as it offers a rich and rewarding experience.

Images courtesy of Nippon Ichi

Friday, 13 March 2009

Demon's Souls - adventure update

Well after being killed four times by the dreaded Tower Knight (above) over the last few days, I eventually managed to take him down late last night.

In a similar manner to Capcom's Monster Hunter, Demon's Souls' hulking bosses initially seem impossible to take down. However, with careful blocking, dodging and timely attacks, you will eventually succeed.

It's a great feeling taking these foes down and more than makes up for any feelings of frustration that might start to creep in.

I've had several emails asking what character class I play. Well, I rolled a Wanderer - called Shiren, of course! His high starting agility and luck means he's very nimble and gets some pretty good loot drops. I have been dual wielding most of the time, but I switch in a shield for some of the enemies, such as the Mini Phalanxes.

I'm now exploring Stonefang, where my Falchion does little damage to the area's trolls, even though I have upgraded it several times. Instead, a piercing weapon is definitely the way to go.

If you like dungeon crawlers or challenging games with Roguelike elements, Demon's Souls is definitely worth picking up.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Ninjatown - DS

Last year, Pixeljunk Monsters introduced me to the Tower Defence genre, and Ninjatown shares many similarities with the PS3 title.

The basic aim is to stop an increasingly large and vicious procession of dark and evil forces from getting to the opposite side of your village.

To eliminate this demonic threat, the player has to place ninja huts across the map. From these homely quarters, ninja warriors will leap out and attack any aggressive foe that happens to be shuffling past.

The game eases you into the action thanks to a decent tutorial and a healthy dose of humour, but it doesn't take long before nastier enemies appear, which leads to frantic mass brawls.

Luckily, you have a decent selection of ninjas who each specialise in various forms of fighting. Melee ninjas like to get up close and personal with the invading demons, while ranged ninjas - such as the White Ninja - like to throw snowballs at the forces of hell, which freezes them, causing them to move slowly.

There's a fair amount of resource management, too, and decisions about what units to sell, and what ones to build plays heavily in the game. It's also important to upgrade your huts, which in turn increases your ninjas' effectiveness.

Graphics are functional rather than spectacular, but in a game such as this, it's all about the gameplay, and this is where Ninjatown excells. It's a wonderful little game that took me completely by surprise.

It's easy to play, but difficult to master and has been stuck in my DS for weeks. The DS also proves to be a fantastic platform for the game due to Ninjatown's bite-sized missions and well implemented touch screen controls.

Don't let this one pass you by, it's a cracker.

Images courtesy of SouthPeak

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Demon's Souls - PS3

I received my copy of Demon's Souls on PS3 from Japan this morning and I've played it for the last few hours. Even though I still have a lot to discover, I thought I would post some of my initial impressions.

The game was created by From Software, the team behind the PlayStation's King's Field series, and in many ways it's a spiritual successor to those classic titles. Demon's Souls is basically a very atmospheric dungeon crawler, featuring impressive visuals and great use of sound.

The atmosphere the game creates brings to mind PlayStation 2 classics Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, and there's a real sense of scale and solidity to the world.

Choosing between 10 different classes - from Shinto Priest and Knight, to Wanderer and Hunter, the player sets out in an epic adventure to capture the souls of demons.

The first 10-15 minutes acts as a tutorial, getting you used to combat and movement. This brief section ends with a boss battle, where you'll last approximately 15 seconds, as this grotesque beasts beats you down in one or two hits! Don't worry, though, this is supposed to happen.

You are then transported to the Nexus, the game's gloriously detailed central hub. Initially, all you can do here is store items and upgrade weapons. However, more opens up to the player later in the game.

It's then off to the first level proper. This is where things start to become interesting. Downed enemies release their souls, which you collect automatically. These green-tinged clouds are the game's currency. They are used for everything, from buying new gear to upgrading your stats.

However, if you die, not only are you sent back to the start of the level, but any souls you were carrying are dropped. To get them back, you have to find the spot where you died and collect them. It's an interesting concept, and one which brings back memories of EverQuest's notorious corpse runs. To make matters slightly easier, you retain all your equipment, so no Roguelike worries here, then.

When playing through this castle-themed first level, complete with ferocious fire-breathing dragon, you cannot gain levels or increase your stats. Only by completing the level does the rest of the game open for you to explore.

That means having to fight a giant fearsome boss. Now this giant black, gooey blob is a right pain, and it took me several attempts to vanquish him. However, seeing this greasy blancmange melt away was extremely satisfying. You can then head back to the Nexus, where you are now free to store items, upgrade weapons, buy new spells, increase your stats, level up and chat to locals.

All the game's other areas also become free to explore at your leisure from this point, all accessed via the Nexus and this is where Demon's Souls properly starts.

After nosing about at the top of this monolithic structure, I found a Hall of Heroes. People who have completed the game are enshrined here, and insignificant low level characters, such as myself, can gaze in wonder at these gods of the game. All their stats are layed out for all to see, accompanied by a rotating 3D model of their character - each one resplendent in fabulously shiny armour and gargantuan weapons and shields. If any inspiration is needed, this is the place to come.

As you explore the levels, other people who are playing can be seen scampering about in ghost form. It's also possible to team up with them at certain points, using special stones. I haven't had the chance to try this out yet, but it could be fun.

Now, Demon's Souls is incredibly tough. One mistimed block or missed swing, can end in disaster. You really have to plan your attacks and blocks, and there's no way you can hack and slash your way through. As such, it's not a game for everyone. Fans of Shiren the Wanderer and Monster Hunter will have a blast with this, but those who prefer their games light and fluffy should seek their enjoyment elsewhere. If any proof was needed, the game's cover features a noble Knight, slumped against a wall, obviously dead, with a volley of arrows embedded his shield!

Currently, the game is only available in Asia and Japan. If importing, try and find the Asian version, as all the voice work and text is in English. I was mistakenly sent the Japanese version - cue much gnashing of teeth. Although the voices are still in English, the text is in Japanese.

Demon's Souls will last dedicated players well over 100 hours, and with new modes open when the game is completed, this is definitely one for hardcore dungeon crawlers.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Street Fighter IV - PS3/360

Arcade aficionados have been banging on about how good Street Fighter IV is for months, but now console gamers have the chance to throw themselves into what - even this early in the year - could be game of the year.

For those unfamiliar with the series, Street Fighter is a one-on-one combat game. Throughout the years, new characters have been added and tweaks made to the gameplay, but the core values of playability and almost limitless challenge have remained intact.

Street Fighter IV is a culmination of years of fine tuning, and, after ploughing around 16 hours into the game so far, I think it's the finest Street Fighter to date.

Experienced Street Fighter players will instantly take to the game, with old combos and button presses yielding familiar results. However, new players needn't feel intimidated. Yes, there is a lot to learn, but picking up the pad for the first time, it's still possible to string combos together, win some matches in Arcade Mode, and feel like you are making progress.

For the old hands, Capcom have introduced some new features. First up is the Focus system. By holding down Medium Punch and Medium Kick simultaneously, the player can charge up a Focus Attack which results in a powerful and effective new move. It can also be used defensively, allowing you to guard against incoming blows.

Along with the Focus Attack, a Super Combo is also open to the player. As you fight, a Super Meter fills along the bottom of the screen, when it flashes blue, the player can pull off a powerful Super Combo.

The third new addition is the much talked about Ultra Meter. When this builds up, the player can execute a move which is not only incredibly powerful, but visually stunning. The camera shifts perspective and the player can sit back and watch this cinematic move in all its glory. It looks incredible.

All this might seem like a lot of hard work, and it's true that practice really does make perfect, but you can hone your skills outside of Arcade Mode in either Training Mode or Challenge Mode. It's well worth investing significant time in these modes to learn your chosen character's combos and special attacks.

The character roster this time around is sizable, with all the old favourites such as Ryu, Ken, Dhalsim, Chun-Li and Sagat returning to the fold. There are also many other characters to be unlocked, while Street Fighter IV introduces new characters Abel, Crimson Viper, El Fuerte - who's sure to become a cult favourite - and Rufus.

Visually the game is stunning. The detailed and well-animated characters now sport impressive facial animations, and the game action is played out in front of beautifully crafted backdrops.

These background canvases are animated and packed full of neat little details. It's sometimes hard to concentrate on the fighting with so many things going on. The game's intro is also worth mentioning, as it is one of the most visually spectacular videogame openings I've ever seen.

While the Arcade Mode is the main focus for unlocking new characters, the main draw for many will be the robust online aspect. I have now played more than 30 bouts online, and I've only experienced hiccups in the framerate twice. That is impressive stuff.

To add to the enjoyment, Capcom have also delivered a wealth of unlockable extras. New online titles, icons, medals, character costume colours, movies and artwork can be unlocked as you make progress, giving the player extra incentive to keep playing. Gathering Gamerpoints on 360 and Trophies on PS3 also adds an extra layer of rewards for those willing to dig deep into what Street Fighter IV has to offer.

And that's not all. For PS3 players, it is possible to unlock Street Fighter T-shirts, which can be worn while you wander around Home - Sony's social networking hub. Again, it's another nice touch and shows that Capcom have tried to include as much as possible with this latest addition to the series.

Add to this feast of fighting fun the option to track your character's stats via the Player Data menu and the ability to change the English voices and music to Japanese, and Capcom have delivered the most comprehensive Street Fighter package to date.

The only downside to this magnificent fighting game is the controllers. The 360 pad and the PS3's Sixaxis just weren't build to accommodate the precision needed to get the most out of Street Fighter IV. While it's possible to execute every move in the game, it's sometimes harder than is should be. Of course, this is a criticism that has always followed the franchise on home consoles, but it is worth noting again.

Serious players might want to look at investing in something like the excellent Hori Street Fighter Arcade stick. It might be expensive, but it's certainly a worthwhile purchase if you plan on devoting yourself to this wonderful game.

I've never been much of a fighting game fan, but Street Fighter IV is one of the best games I've played in a long time. As you would expect, it's receiving great reviews acrosss the board, scoring a 93-94 at Metacritic and and an 8.7/10 from Test Freaks

Its rewarding gameplay, excellent sound and visuals and classic fighting action are second to none, and as a gamer, you owe it to yourself to check out this magnificent and landmark title.

Images courtesy of Capcom

Friday, 6 March 2009

Halo Wars - 360

Despite some sterling efforts, real-time strategy games haven't really taken off on consoles. Battle For Middle Earth and Command and Conquer both enjoyed success, but the genre has always been regarded as a staple of PC gaming rather than a genre to be enjoyed from the comfort of the sofa. However, by tapping into the popular Halo universe, Ensemble Studios hope to entice those who have never played an RTS before to take the plunge.
    Taking place 20 years before the events of the first Halo game, Halo Wars focuses on the UNSC's initial skirmishes with the Covenant on the planet Harvest - cue epic battles, lashings of lasers and lots of deafening explosions.
    Ensemble are well aware that many gamers find the real-time strategy genre overwhelming, so they have stripped the game back to basics. Gone are complex tech trees, time consuming resource gathering, complicated base building and micro managing your squad - everything has been replaced instead with a streamlined and easy to use interface perfectly suited to the gamepad.

The player starts by building a base of operations, and it's from this location where you are able to build and upgrade squads and create vehicles and defences. It's then off to do battle with the Covenant across more than a dozen missions covering a nice variety of objectives. There's definitely enough here to keep Halo fans smiling, and ploughing a Warthog into a squad of Grunts when things are getting a little too much never gets boring.
    I've played many RTS titles, and although Halo Wars is fun while it lasts and contains a comprehensive multiplayer feature, it's by no means a perfect experience. My biggest grumble is the lack of tactics involved. In many instances, tactical play is thrown out the window, and some missions can be accomplished by creating a mix of unit types then simply sending them into the fray at the same time. Another gripe is unit movement, particularly vehicles, which can get lost en route to a location and I started to get increasingly frustrated at vehicles being unable to make their way around simple obstacles.
    The visuals throughout are solid and certainly above average and Halo fans will delight in seeing their favourite vehicles and enemies in miniature form, while the cutscenes throughout look fantastic.
    Halo Wars is a great place to start for those new to the RTS genre and Halo fans who just want to kick back and enjoy some straightforward fun will have a blast. However, experienced hands will find the experience a little shallow and should seek their next RTS fix elsewhere.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Resident Evil 5 - 360/PS3

HOW much enjoyment you glean from Resident Evil 5 depends entirely on how you feel about the titles that have gone before. Those who love the panic-inducing moments, when, down to your last bullet you are confronted by a horde of salivating zombies, will revel in Capcom's latest survival horror. However, those who have found the series' archaic control set-up and clunky interface a pain, will be turned off immediately.
    Rather than moving the series forward, Capcom have instead decided to play it safe and have given fans essentially the same game they've been playing for years, albeit now in shiny high definition.
    The story this time starts in the fictional shanty town of Kijuju in Africa, where a biological outbreak has turned the residents into tongue-lolling zombies. Series fans will be giddy with excitement to discover the central character is Chris Redfield, the square-jawed protagonist from the series' 1996 debut. Joining him on the journey to get to the bottom of the terror sweeping the streets of the African town is Sheva Alomar. And while she can be something of a hindrance while playing the game solo, everything works a little better when two players join forces - either in local co-op, or online co-op.
    In single player, she often stands doing nothing while you are overwhelmed by the red-eyed undead. However, when a second player is introduced to the action, strategies materialise and the reassurance of a helping hand make the experience much less frustrating.
    I've already mentioned the archaic control system and it really does detract from the game. The main problem is you can't move while aiming your weapon. This leads to all sorts of problems when you're faced with a mass of festering flesh running towards you. You simply have to stand your ground and try your best.
    I understand this lack of movement adds to the feeling of panic, but EA's Dead Space lets you move when aiming while still managing to keep its panic-inducing gameplay intact.
    On the plus side, the pacing throughout the cinematic adventure is top notch, and Capcom have maintained their usual high production values. From the well animated characters and the cracking cut scenes, to the lighting effects and variety of locales, Resident Evil 5 is a visual treat.
    Ultimately, it's Resident Evil 5's co-op mode which saves it from becoming just another run of the mill survival shooter, but it's hard not to shake the feeling that Capcom could have done so much more with this latest entry in the popular series.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Densha de Go!

Taito's Densha de Go! is a series that has always fascinated me. It's a name that kept cropping up as I explored the world of Japanese videogames.

All I knew about it was it was a game featuring train driving. Deciding to explore further, I imported Densha de Go! Pocket: Osaka Kanjousen Hen on PSP from Japan around three years ago to see for myself what the game was about. Since then, I've become something of a Densha de Go! nerd...and I'm not even vaguely interested in trains!

The common misconception is that Densha de Go! is a strict train driving simulation. In actual fact, it's more of an arcade game with simulation aspects.

Basically, the aim of the game is to get passengers to their destination on time. When you are driving, you must obey speed limits and ensure the passengers are safe and happy.

As you journey along the route, marker points are set out. These require you either reach a certain speed or pass the marker point at a certain time on the clock.

When you approach a station, you must bring the train to a gradual and gentle stop within a set zone. Failure to do so will anger passengers and you'll be docked points for sloppy driving. At the end of the route you are given a score and graded, and the aim is to get a gold star rating.

Not only does the series feature different trains, the game also takes place at various times of the day and night. Densha de Go! also features weather conditions such as rain and snow, which affects how quickly you can stop the train.

Densha de Go! has been released on various platforms, including the Game Boy Colour, Dreamcast, PlayStation 2 and even in Japanese arcades. However, it has never - as far as I'm aware - been released in the West.

Densha de Go! Final on PS2 - in my mind the best version of the series - introduced a new scoring mechanism where you would accumulate ‘chains’ depending on how well you had driven the train. Final also features the most comprehensive amount of routes and really is the definitive version of the series.

Despite the fact the graphics are looking slightly dated, driving at dusk in the rain is very atmospheric and some of the lighting effects are very nice, too.

The other version I have on PS2 is Densha de Go! Shinkansen, which gives you control over the famous Japanese bullet train. Unfortunately, due to the high speed and space between stations, it can get a little boring - although you can unlock pictures of Japanese landmarks, sweets and what Japanese train drivers eat for their lunch!

When the PS3 launched in Japan, one of the first games you could get was Railfan. It uses Blu-Ray footage of actual train lines in Japan and Chicago. While it's fun, it doesn't really capture the charm of Final on PS2. In fact, I haven't played it recently, so I should really dust my copy off and take another tour around Chicago.

Densha de Go! is definitely something of an acquired taste, but it's pretty straightforward to play, and the language barrier shouldn't throw up many problems. It's great fun, strangely compelling, and has become one of my favourite series from the Far East.

For people interested in importing, the Densha de Go! Pocket series on PSP is the best place to start. As the PSP is region free, it's probably the most accesible way for Western gamers to experience the series.