Friday, 26 June 2009

Monster Hunter Freedom Unite - PSP

In Japan, the release of a new Monster Hunter game is greeted by mass hysteria, with some restaurants even serving up Monster Hunter-themed meals. Millions of copies have been sold in the land of the Rising Sun, but it's a series which has never really taken off in the West.

Some blame the control system, some don't like the cumbersome weapons, while others are put off by the insane level of customisation and depth at the player's disposal.

So it's great to see developer Capcom throw their weight behind this third PSP game in the series, in a move which is sure to entice more gamers into the gaping jaws of this gem of a game.

Unlike traditional RPGs, there is no overarching story to Monster Hunter. Instead, the player takes on a series of quests to slay wild creatures, using their remains to craft elaborate and effective armour and weapons. This kill, gather and create element is at the core of what makes the game special.

There are thousands of items to craft, and the promise of acquiring a shining new piece of armour or a magnificent-looking Greatsword really spurs the player on.

Monster Hunter has always been known for its hardcore credentials, and getting the most out of the game requires dedication, preparation, patience and skill.

Choosing the right weapon is fundamental to your chances of success, and there are many to choose from. From hefty Greatswords and massive Gunlances, to stout axes and nimble bows, each weapon has its own strengths and weaknesses and each takes time to master.

Even when you feel comfortable with your weapon choice, simply wading into battle desperately pressing attack buttons will get you killed quickly. Instead, the player must plan ahead and take useful items with them on their travels.

Whetstones sharpen your weapon, a well-cooked meal boosts your stamina, hot and cold drinks keep your body temperature constant and traps and bombs are used to hinder your enemies.

Taking these beautifully rendered monsters down requires skill and cunning. There's no lock-on mode - something which has irked some in the past - but chastising the game for this would be missing the point entirely.

Monster Hunter is a game of skill, with the player having to study each creature's attack pattern before combat takes place. A lock-on option would only serve to dilute the experience.

Monster Hunter isn't limited to fighting either. The player can mine precious ore, go fishing, plant seeds, cook, forage and catch bugs. These raw materials can then either be fused to create items such as potions, traps and fishing lures or blended with items taken from downed monsters to create bigger and better weapons and armour.

Taking on quests is made considerably easier when there are a few of you playing together. However, while the game caters for multiplayer, it's limited to Ad-Hoc multiplayer, not full online play. It's a glaring omission from Capcom, especially when you consider this is the third game to appear on PSP and online play still hasn't been implemented.

As if to appease single players, Capcom have added a recruitable Felyne companion to accompany you out on the field. These helpful cats can be trained in combat, while others can also be recruited to your kitchen, where they will cook up hearty meals.

Visually, Unite is spectacular. The attention to detail makes the beautiful settings come to life, while some of the monsters are simply jaw-dropping.

The learning curve in Monster Hunter Freedom Unite can be brutal and frustration creeps in as another seemingly impossible monster wipes you out for the sixth time of asking. However, persevere, and you will succeed, which brings with it the most wonderful feeling of satisfaction and elation you'll ever encounter in a videogame.

With thousands of cracking looking items waiting to be discovered, visuals to die for and hundreds of hours playtime, Unite is one of the finest and most addictive games on the PSP.

I have had a promo copy for the last three weeks, and already I am 50+ hours in. So whether you are an Monster Hunter veteran, or a rookie hunter, Unite is an essential purchase.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

The Sims 3 - PC/Mac

Since The Sims franchise first rolled out in 2000, it has split gamers' opinions. Some hardcore players look down their noses at it due to its broad appeal and heavy emphasis on home decoration, job seeking and meal making, while others have fully embraced the series, delighting in watching their Sims find life-long happiness.

I have always been intrigued by the series, but never immersed myself fully, mainly due to the excessive amount of micro-management needed for even the simplest of tasks. Thankfully, The Sims 3 is a more streamlined take on the hugely popular virtual life simulator and is all the better for it.

Creating a Sim - or a family of Sims if you wish - you get to control the destiny of your creations, leading them through life and love, while helping them to achieve their personal goals before they eventually get old and die. However, if the thought of losing your favourites is too traumatic - and you can get strangely attached to your creations - you can halt the ageing process and have as much fun as you want.

Starting with a wide choice of clothes to wear - from snakeskin jackets to funky t-shirts - the player then chooses five personality traits to bestow upon your newly-created Sim. These govern how your Sim behaves in society. There are 62 traits to choose from, including clumsy, artistic, hopeless romantic, flirty, over-emotional and friendly. However, if you want to really mix things up around town, you can create an insane, anti-social kleptomaniac - the choice is completely up to you.

One major change this time around is there is now a whole neighbourhood for your Sims to explore. To add a sense of community, computer controlled citizens go about their daily routines from dawn till dusk.

This is a huge step up from previous games, where the gameworld tended to feel a little claustrophobic. The whole town buzzes with life and wandering around, knocking on doors and chatting to locals is always fun and an essential element to character progression. Depending on how you get on with others, new chat options open up, which adds to the almost limitless social options.

Initially, The Sims 3 can be incredibly overwhelming. There is so much to see and do that my advice is just to play, have fun and learn from your mistakes.

Throughout the course of your Sims life, you'll forge friendships, fall in love, get married, have kids, go fishing, take guitar lessons, read the daily paper, attend cooking classes, make meals, get a job, get promoted, get fired, pay bills, chill out in front of the TV, play videogames, throw parties, read books, plant seeds, water plants, clean the house, take showers, play chess, study paintings, take part in hot dog eating competitions and party until dawn - and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

As the days go by, you'll discover Moodlets. Fulfilling these boosts your Sim's mood and can range from phoning in pizza to buying a laptop. Keeping on top of these is no easy task, and can be expensive, but seeing your Sim happy is always reward enough.

Aside from the fabulous open world for your Sim to explore, the frustrating micro management which soured my enjoyment of the first two games has all but gone. Sure, you still have to make sure your Sim can cook, clean, wash and tidy up, but the fact your Sim doesn't need to use the bathroom every 10 minutes is a real bonus.

While not painting the town red at weekends, the player can buy new items for their Sims. From kitchen appliances and lawn ornaments, to new sofas, cars and flat-screen TVs, there are scores of tempting objects to buy. Of course, to pay for all the latest house-hold gadgets you'll need to find a job, while the bills still have to be paid and the weekly shopping bought.

Aside from the main game, The Sims 3 is lovingly looked after by a vibrant and friendly community. Via the game's website, players can share pictures, video clips, create new patterns, objects, houses and items to share with other players.

Many people play The Sims for this reason alone, while others never bother with this side of things. And that is the beauty of The Sims 3. You can be as involved or as hands off as you like.

The website also has an online store, where you can use real money to buy in-game items. When you register your copy of the game, the team at EA give you 1000 free SimPoints to spend - my first purchase was a lovely PlasmaTron TV for 100 points.

There is no real storyline in The Sims 3, but why would you need one? It's like having your own soap opera in your PC, with every day bringing new and exciting stories to share.

It's not all perfect, though. While your Sim is at work, you never see what they are up to, and although there are many buildings scattered around town, you are only able to properly explore the interiors of a few. I'm sure the future gaggle of expansions will remedy these niggles, but it's a disappointment nonetheless.

The Sims 3 is one of those magical experiences that every gamer should investigate further. It sold 1.4million copies in its first week, so why not join the party and see what The Sims 3 has to offer? Just be warned, when everything clicks into place, it's one of the most addictive games you'll ever play.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Ghostbusters: The Video Game - PS3

With Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd in charge of the script and plenty of quality source material to rummage through, Ghostbusters should be a highly polished, well-crafted, all-action romp.

While it largely succeeds in delivering the goods, this European PS3 exclusive title is far from the finished article, with a series of niggles preventing it from achieving greatness.

Set a few years after the second Ghostbusters film, you are cast in the shoes of a wet behind the ears, ghost bustin' rookie. You join proton pack-wearing favourites Venkman, Spengler, Stantz and Zeddemore just as another cross dimensional rift opens up in New York City.

Essentially a third-person shooter, the player is led from one point of interest to the next, encountering and trapping ghosts in areas which tingle the old nostalgia senses, such as The Hotel Sedgewick and the New York Public Library.

The ghost trapping element is at the core of the game and it works well for the most part. Choosing between one of four modes of fire, the player targets the specter, depleting it of energy, before guiding it into the the golden light of an awaiting portable ghost trap.

Other hulking trans-dimentional foes - hello Mr Stay Puft - simply require the player to chip away at their health until destroyed.

While this pattern repeats throughout the course of the game, it never feels repetitive due to the variety of ghosts, the variying locations and the quality of the banter between your fellow ghostbusters.

Ramis, Akroyd and Bill Murray all feature here, and their witty, tongue in cheek narrative keeps the story flowing.

The player is usually accompanied by at least one comrade while searching for Full-Roaming Phantoms or Class V Telekinetic Animators, and their one-liners really help immerse the player in the game world.

However, it's this game world which is also one of Ghostbusters weaker points. While the locations can be impressive - especially when the player crosses dimentions and enters the crumbling ghost world - the sloppy textures on display are a sorry sight.

While I don't expect every surface and object to be fabulously rendered, I do expect a PS3 game to look better than what is essentially an upscaled Wii game.

Another niggle is also the game length - it took me roughly six hours to see the end credits, which is incredibly short for a single player experience. However, the player can go back and uncover hidden objects, while there are plenty of optional ghosts to scan and catalogue.

Unfortunately, the multiplayer servers weren't up when I was playing my review copy, but hopefully this will add some much-needed longevity to the game.

Ghostbusters might not be perfect, but it is certainly one of the best movie-based games I've experienced. With a bit more love and attention on the visuals, a few more chapters, and a little less lineararity, Ghostbusters could have been outstanding. As is stands, it's still a fun way to spend a couple of evenings.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Klonoa - Wii

Despite the fact the Klonoa series offers colourful, solid and brilliant platform fun, our long-eared cat-like chum has been criminally overlooked by large sections of the gaming public in the past.

Now, 12 years after Klonoa made his debut on PS1, Namco have resurrected his original adventure and brought it to Wii.

Despite being more than a decade old, Klonoa puts the majority of recent platform games to shame, with games such as the recent Sonic titles failing to come close to matching Klonoa's brilliance.

The game is played across pseudo 3D levels, which twist and turn, giving the game a real sense of depth. Although Klonoa can travel 'into' the screen from time to time, most of the action plays out like a familiar left to right platformer.

The one thing which sets the series apart from games such as Mario and Sonic, is Klonoa's ability to grab enemies to either use as projectiles, or to launch himself high into the air.

Although the game is a strict platform romp, the ability to use enemies to aid Klonoa adds a strategic element to the game. Nothing is ever too taxing, but sometimes you'll have to engage the old grey matter when tackling some sections.

Visually, the game is beautiful. Namco have lavished a lot of love on Klonoa and by incorporating progressive scan and widescreen features, the game looks simply gorgeous running on a HD TV.

Sweeping pastoral levels, giant clockwork treehouses, spooky ruins, ice caverns and rusting temples are all gloriously rendered, with a depth of field filter used to make foreground objects look even sharper. Special mention goes to the lovely water effects, especially in level 2-2, Over the Rising Waterfall.

Aside from Klonoa's traditional run and jump gameplay, other elements creep in occasionally, and riding a wooden mine cart and being swept down a river make a nice change of pace.

The one downside to the plethora of platform fun is the length of the game. Klonoa isn't the longest or the most challenging game on the Wii, although it does have its moments - the last few levels are tricky - but with optional collectables peppered throughout every level, there's plenty of reason to go back and explore.

Namco have also included the option to just use the Wiimote to control Klonoa, although adding the nunchuk is advisable for the tricky leaps towards the end of the game, while Gamecube pad support is also included.

All in all, Klonoa is a top notch game. It's packed with charm, good looks, a memorable soundtrack and is a title that all platform fans should check out. It might not be quite as good as Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil on PlayStation 2, but with a price point around £20, there's enough here to keep platform fans more than happy.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Shiren the Wanderer 3 - Wii

Regular readers will be well aware of my love of Shiren the Wanderer. The hardy Samurai's adventures on DS have provided some of the most thrilling gaming experiences I've ever had.

Now, hot from the E3 showfloor, word has reached me that Shiren the Wanderer 3 on Wii is heading to the US early next year.

Atlus picked up the rights to translate and publish the game in North America, and I can only hope and pray that a European-based publisher such as Rising Star take a chance on this excellent title.

Featuring more random dungeons, brand new ways to die (!) and a new roster of imaginative enemies, Shiren 3 looks wonderful. Anyone who has taken the magnificent Chocobo's Dungeon on Wii for a spin will be hoping Shiren 3 makes it to these shores.

Here's my take on Shiren's original adventure on DS
, and some thoughts about Shiren 2, also on DS.

Check out this vid to whet your appetite.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Endless Ocean 2 - Wii: New details

The E3 conference in Los Angeles has played host to dozens of games since Monday, and it's a bit of a shame that Endless Ocean 2 seems to have been pushed into the background by some of the more established titles on show.

Still, here's what we know: There is a constant story running through this sequel, involving locating the fabled Dragon Stone. However, it appears you can still dive into the big blue and explore at your leisure.

Your dolphn companion joins you again on this trip, but this time you'll be able to grab on and use the dolphin to propel you through the water.

It also appears that certaain creatures pose a threat to your diver - quite a departure from the first game, where the experience was very laid back.

Another big change is the ability to explore fresh water rivers, while the graphics engine has been given an extra layer of polish.

The game is scheduled for a 2010 release, but there is no word exactly when Endless Ocean will launch in Europe.

In the meantime, kick back and feast your eyes on this gorgeous trailer.