Friday, 29 January 2010

Endless Ocean 2 - Wii

Endless Ocean 2 comes out on February 5 for the Wii, but I've had my review copy for the last few days. Really enjoying it so far, and it's perfect to play following a night of Mass Effect 2 action.

The first game was beautiful, but the sequel is just stunning. I've only put around four hours in, but already there is a great deal of variety and exciting places to discover. The annoying limited exploration space from the first game has thankfully been ditched. You can now explore large chunks of the ocean at your leisure.

I've been messing about with the in-game camera tonight, so I thought I would post a few snaps of my aquatic adventure. Still getting used to the focus effects, but I'm impressed with the results so far. As you can see, it's now possible to go ashore at certain points, something that was missing from the original.

If anyone tells you the Wii can't do good graphics, point them in the direction of Endless Ocean 2.

Mass Effect 2 - 360

Developer Bioware has a rich history in producing well thought-out, captivating role playing games. But with Mass Effect 2, they have created a game which eclipses all their past successes.

Polished to perfection and brimming with confidence, Mass Effect 2 is simply one of the best games I have played in the last 10 years.

Mass Effect 2 continues the story of Commander Shepard. But two years after he saved the universe, he has now been relegated to hunting down small pockets of Geth resistance. That is until a string of spectacular events see him working for Cerberus - a shadowy pro-human organisation. They are investigating the disappearance of human colonies throughout the galaxy, so Shepard is tasked with assembling a crew of diverse races and personalities and heads off in search of answers.

The original game wowed gamers with its dazzling visuals and character-driven narrative, however Mass Effect 2 stands head and shoulders above its predecessor in almost every way.

It's a more streamlined experience, with a better menu system, smart loading times, stunning visuals and fluid conversation choices.

Much like the first game, Mass Effect 2 is a third-person shooter mixed with role playing elements. However the original's flimsy gunplay has been beefed up considerably, making the sequel's action much more satisfying.

The radial combat and abilities dial makes a return, with the player able to command team-mates' actions with the touch of a button. Everything from overloading mechanical circuits to changing ammo is done of the fly, and it's incredibly easy to get your head around.

The storyline is typical sci-fi fare, spiced up with a heavy dose of political intrigue, but it holds together remarkably well thanks to the game's cast of characters. Each figure has a rich and detailed background which the player is free to probe into.

As the game progresses, more can be learned about the supporting cast, drawing the player further into Mass Effect's remarkable universe. The bonds between you and your squad are helped enormously by the near flawless voice acting.

This depth isn't confined to the game's main players - random characters you encounter on your galaxy-wide travels are equally as interesting. Special mention goes to the videogames salesman on the rebuilt Citadel, who makes references to Grand Theft Auto, World of Warcraft and Second Life. It's only a small aside which many players won't discover, but it's details such as this which take Mass Effect 2 to another level.

The Codex system also makes a return and it's from this menu the player can discover a wealth of information on the Mass Effect universe. Details on planets, governments, alien races, starships, technology and organizations are available. For those who want to know everything about the game's setting, this is an invaluable tool.

Running alongside the main storyline are plenty of optional side-quests. Whether you're resolving disputes, exploring hidden pockets of the galaxy, shopping for starship miniatures or choosing fish for your personal aquarium, there's dozens of hours of fun to be had for those who like to wander off the beaten path.

The bland ground-based planet exploration elements from the first game have been replaced with a scanning minigame, which allows the player to mine moons and planets for rich ore deposits. These are used to upgrade your armour, weapons and starship, but unfortunately they aren't very exciting and prove only slightly less tedious than the old system. It jars slightly as the rest of the game is such a fluid and enjoyable experience.

Despite this small flaw, Mass Effect 2 sparkles on every other level. The game's visuals, which are jaw-dropping in places, are a step up from last time. A slight grainy effect has been used which gives the game a cinematic quality, while the alien cities and planet surfaces Shepard and crew visit are stunning.

It's clear the developers were inspired by Eighties blockbuster Bladerunner, and the film's influence can be found throughout. However, it's Bioware's attention to detail which is truly staggering. Where other developers simply black-out windows and fence off areas with masses of debris, Bioware have instead given the player plenty to gawp at.

Peering out of windows reveals spectacular cityscapes, stunning vistas and fields of twinkling stars, while the lighting effects are simply out of this world. Take my advice and savour the experience and stop every so often to drink in the scenery. It's worth it. I've spent longer than is healthy gazing at Nos Astra's bustling skyline and peering out of the Normandy's windows.

The soundtrack, too is quite incredible, with chilled-out soundscapes gently washing over the action, while more dramatic themes kick in as the combat ramps up.

Epic in scope and littered with treasures, Mass Effect 2 sets the benchmark for future role playing games. It is simply one of the most absorbing and enjoyable games I've ever played, and, even in January, could be game of the year. An incredible achievement.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Dwarf Fortress - PC

I’ve been playing Dwarf Fortress for a while now, messing about with levers, traps, farms, stills, workshops and mining for precious metals. However, it takes a while to get into the swing of things due to the lack of tutorial and those ACSII graphics.

However, spend a few hours in its company, and Dwarf Fortress reveals itself to be one of the most absorbing games ever made.

Think of a mish-mash of Dungeon Keeper, The Sims, The Settlers with a dash of a good old-fashioned Roguelike and you’re almost there.

Starting with seven dwarves, the aim is to build a Mines of Moria style dwelling for your hard-working charges. Other migrants will flock to your fortress as the years pass, bringing their own unique challenges.

But along with carving a hole to live in a rock face, Dwarf Fortress incorporates other incredibly deep aspects which enhance the game, including hunting, fishing (watch out for the Carp), brewing, farming, trading, smelting, woodcutting, craft making and military training. There's plenty more besides, but that's a good enough start.

Along with looking after your dwarven community, you'll come across berserk dwarves, invasions and raids on your fortress which make the game unpredictable and utterly addictive.

There’s a tremendous amount to do and to keep track of. People talk about Grand Theft Auto as the ultimate sandbox game, but they have obviously never played Dwarf Fortress. You can do almost anything you want and with no end game to worry about, it’s fun to try new things. And if you fail, well, just start over. That’s the key - don’t be afraid of failure. As any Roguelike fan will tell you, failure is all part of the fun.

Each personal milestone is immensely satisfying and you’ll take great delight as your dwarves get married and throw a party, or when your armoursmith takes over a workshop, only to re-emerge with a beautifully detailed masterpiece.

It’s impossible for me to cover every aspect of the game, but it’s a marvel. And when you learn it’s still in its Alpha stage and has been created by one man - Tarn Adams, I salute you, sir – you begin to realise that Dwarf Fortress is something rather special.

It’s free to download and I would urge everyone to at least try the game. There are a fine selection of software tools to enhance the experience, including the brilliant 3D Dwarf Visualiser and a variety of tilesets if you can’t get over the default visuals, so give it a go.

And, if it grabs your attention, why not give Tarn a small donation for all his hard work.

Incidentally, a new version is planned, so keep your eyes on the Dwarf Fortress site for all the latest news. There's also an incredibly useful Dwarf Fortress Wiki, which makes interesting reading over a brew...that's a cup of tea, not a mug of foaming dwarven ale!

Official site/forums
Dwarf Fortress Wiki
Captain Duck's Video Tutorials

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Flipping crazy...

You can always trust the Japanese to unveil some off-the-wall products, but the latest Taito arcade game takes the biscuit.

Cho Chabudai Gaeshi is a game based on flipping tables out of sheer anger and frustration. The arcade cabinet comes complete with table, which players have to bang to get their family's attention - before the player finally cracks and launches the table across the room.

Check out this fantastic video of the game in action. Simply brilliant

Friday, 22 January 2010

Dark Void - 360/PS3

Nolan North is no stranger to voicing high profile video game characters. He's best know for wise-cracking, smooth-talking, all-action hero Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series. Once again his vocals have been called upon, as he pops up in Dark Void to lend his voice to protagonist Will.

The similarities to Uncharted don't stop at Mr North's vocal talents, as the opening hour or so of Capcom's first big game of the year bears an uncanny resemblance to the PS3 title. Trudging through a jungle location and diving for cover behind ruined walls, it's hard not to think of Uncharted.

Fortunately, the game transforms into an altogether different beast - but it takes a while to get there.

The story focuses on Will, a pilot whose plane crashes in the Bermuda Triangle. He soon finds himself in The Void, a world between worlds, where an evil alien race are based. Here, they shape-shift, secretly entering our world and worming their way into the hearts of governments across the globe. It's a ramshackle collection of incomprehensible nonsense, which involves alien robots, slick-skinned evil masters and dimensional portals.

Even Nikola Tesla makes an appearance, sharing his wisdom with Will in the shape of an unstable jetpack. Fortunately, the core gameplay holds up for the six short hours it takes to complete Dark Void. While the conventional cover system is ripped straight from other games, the vertical shooting action gives the game some originality.

Will nimbly leaps from one platform to the next, scaling huge structures, picking of sharp-shooting robots as he climbs higher and higher. It's great fun and leads to some genuinely vertigo-inducing moments. The jetpack is the main focus of the game, though, and Will can hover above his prey or fly like Superman depending on the situation.

It's a shame, then, that the first of three episodes fail to draw the player into the experience. It's not until Will actually enters The Void that the game starts to pick up. Swarmed by Boba Fett impersonators, he takes to the skies to do battle, but if truth be told, picking off these high flying enemies is easier if Will's feet are firmly kept on the ground.

Dark Void also offers large chunks of air-to-air combat. Will can either take part in these mid-air skirmishes with the aid of his jetpack, or commandeer other craft such as enemy flying saucers. These sections are entertaining the first couple of times, but in an effort to pad out what is still an incredibly short game, these high flying escapades are repeated throughout.

Along with Uncharted's influence, the game shamelessly rips elements from a bunch of other titles including Mass Effect, Prey and Dead Space. Ancient quicktime events also rear their head, usually when taking on a boss or smacking an alien in the face at 20,000 ft, so expect lots of frantic button mashing and furious stick waggling.

Dark Void provides a handful of enjoyable moments, but really there's not much here. It's certainly not better than the titles it's influenced by - perhaps the sequel will improve the formula.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Problem solved, Professor...

I've never been a particular fan of videogame merchandise, but this Japanese Professor Layton figure certainly caught my eye. It's been created by Revoltech and it's wonderfully crafted. It comes with various accessories including handbook, chair, pen and the obligatory teacup and saucer. It will go on sale at around 2400 Yen, which roughly equates to £20. It's utterly adorable, but guaranteed to sell out when it launches in Japan in March.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Bayonetta - 360/PS3

The battle between Heaven and Hell is hardly a new plot device in videogames, but never has it been conveyed quite like this.

Bayonetta, a sassy leather-clad witch with super-human powers, is on a one-woman mission to reveal the truth about her past in a game that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Devil May Cry series. The story is somewhat absurd and at times is almost impossible to comprehend, but that doesn’t stop Bayonetta from being a flashy and highly polished rollercoaster ride.

From the guns on her ankles to the panther-like way she nimbly outflanks her opponents, Bayonetta is one of the most striking videogame characters of recent times. Her ice cool demeanor in the face of some truly jaw-dropping foes marks her out as the most recognisable female protagonists this side of Lara Croft.
Although the game is a largely linear experience, it’s the fluid combat which sets Bayonetta apart from other hack and slash titles. Button mashing is effective, but getting the most out of Bayonetta requires careful study of the game’s rich and deep combo system.

Bayonetta’s every move is beautifully choreoagraphed and as you would expect from a game featuring a sultry vamp who conjures giant stilettos from thin air to pummel her foes and summons demons from her jet-black hair, every aspect of Bayonetta is deliciously over the top.

From running up the walls of a towering structure and leaping through dimensional portals, to messing with the flow of time and battling gargantuan celestial beings, Bayonetta oozes quality throughout the 12 hours you’ll spend in her company on the first play through.

Combat is further refined by the addition of Witch Time, activated when Bayonetta successfully dodges an enemy attack at the last possible moment. Slow motion kicks in giving the bespectacled protagonist precious time to unleash a devastating series of strikes. It helps, of course, that the control system is beautifully implemented. Each press of a button gracefully moves Bayonetta into action, making the game a joy to watch and play.

While it's easy to heap praise on Bayonetta, it's not the perfect game some would have you believe. While the heavenly hosts you face in battle are impressive, many of the same creatures pop up throughout the game. This lessens the impact and leads to some monotonous trawls, as Bayonetta smacks down the same enemies time and time again. The game's visuals are eye-popping, but occasional slowdown and screen tearing spoil the effects, while the cut scenes tend to drag in places.

Checkpoints are well placed, but you can only save to the hard drive after every level, something which caused me a bit of grief in latter stages.

There's nothing game-breaking here, but there's just enough to blot the copy book. Still, the good outweighs the bad by a considerable margin and even after completing the main quest there are still plenty of unlockables stashed away to entice you back.

Bayonetta is simply a brilliant title. Play it for an hour and she'll have her hooks in you. Time flies by as you zone into the action, becoming one with the controller as your thumbs effortlessly press in button combos to unleash deadly attacks. A magnificent title that falls just short of being an all-time great.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Greetings from Azeroth

I’ve been playing a bit of World of Warcraft recently, well quite a lot actually. I’m still on the European Draenor server where I have two characters: Balderak, a lvl 62 Dwarven Hunter, and Balorn, a lvl 13 Dwarven Paladin.

I’ve been playing on and off since launch - I was involved briefly in the Beta - but still like booting it up every so often. I’ve joined a new guild and although I’m a strictly casual player, I’m having a great time. I’ve been taking snaps from my time with the game, so I thought I would share some.


Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Army of Two: The 40th Day - 360/PS3

Hard-nosed, back-slapping buddies Rios and Salem are back, in a game which although improving on its predecessor, still comes up well short of the mark.

Dropped in the middle of Shanghai just as terrorists attack the city, the duo battle their way through crumbling buildings, Buddhist temples and the local zoo to get to the bottom of a terrible atrocity. Really, it's just an excuse for the two US mercenaries to compete in trying to rack up the biggest body count.

In blockbuster style, every building the pair come close to blows up in spectacular style, while identical enemies attempt to gun the dynamic duo down at every opportunity. While the visuals are fine, the game suffers due to repetition. It's just one killing arena after another, with only the sporadic introduction of hulking armour-clad brutes mixing up the standard pop-and-stop gameplay.

The single player campaign can be polished off in around seven hours, but two player co-op proves to be a longer-lasting experience. Teamwork leads to daring escapades as you and a friend tactically find the best way to take down enemy soldiers.

Army of Two: The 40th Day is an improvement over the original, but ultimately repetition lets the game down. Good, but not great.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Into the depths

OK, so I should be playing Bayonetta, and I really need to give my preview build of Dark Void more time. Then there's Heavy Rain, which is having a comfy lie-in inside my PS3 debug unit...

However, being a bit of a Roguelike fan, I've been engrossed in Dungeon Adventure on 360.

I found it on Saturday while checking out the 360's indie section. I snapped it up straight away, not bothering to download the demo. After all, it was only 240 points and it's a Roguelike, so what's not to like?

It may not be as deep as Angband or Nethack, but slouching on the couch playing an ASCII style adventure is surprisingly relaxing. The tile set is fine and dandy, but the ASCII characters give the game a charm that I find hard to explain.

There's something magical about old-school adventures - maybe it's the way your imagination runs riot as you visualise an emu pecking your eyes out. Whatever it is, I can't get enough of 'em.

I've only made it to the depths of lvl 6 - I starved to death - but it definitely gets the thumbs up from me.

Monday, 11 January 2010

I'm still here!

Hi folks. Just wanted to drop by and say that I'm still here and the blog is still alive and well. The last few months have been incredibly busy at work, while the annual Christmas games rush knocked me for six and left me all gamed out.

However, I'm refreshed and ready to go again, but there will be a few changes to the blog going forward. First, updating the blog was taking up a lot of time. So I've decided the days of long reviews and previews is over (for the most part).

I'll instead try and concentrate on regular, smaller, bite-sized nuggets of gaming goodness, ie what I've been playing, my thoughts on gaming in general and some random games-related gibberish.

I'm still passionate about gaming and continue to play a broad selection, so there should be plenty to get my teeth into.

Plus, you'll find links on the right-hand side which take you to my Raptr and Playfire accounts. Feel free to browse my games collection and add me as a friend on both.

So worry not, the moose is on his way back :)

Happy new year!

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Darksiders - 360/PS3

The new year kicks off with Darksiders - a solid hack and slash adventure that isn't afraid to wear its influences on its sleeve. 

Elements from God Of War, Devil May Cry, Prince of Persia and Panzer Dragoon are immediately apparent, while the game also doffs its cap to Nintendo's Zelda series. A strange and varied mix, then, but while this smorgasbord of ideas and influences could easy fall apart, the team at Vigil Games have fused them together to create a cohesive and enjoyable action adventure.

The player stomps around in the iron-clad boots of War - one of the four horsemen - who has been blamed for the premature start of the apocalypse. It's a stitch up, of course, and War sets out to clear his name and bring to justice those responsible for the fall of mankind.

The game is primarily a hack and slasher although a heavy dose of puzzling solving and item collecting has been thrown in for good measure. The combat system is robust with quick jabs of the attack button unleashing a flurry of satisfying combos. However, experimenting with secondary weapons and transforming into War's fiery Chaos Form unveils a surprisingly deep and fluid fighting mechanic. The excellent lock on feature helps enormously and gives a cinematic view of the battles, making camera issues during large scale skirmishes largely redundant.

New weapons and special moves can also be purchased, adding to the horseman's already impressive arsenal, while War's existing items can be levelled up through use.

Following Zelda's template for rewarding the player with new items and weapons is a stroke of genius as the player is constantly spurred on to discover what new trinket lies at the end of a particular dungeon. The puzzle solving aspect of Darksiders also owes a great deal to the Nintendo favourite, with the Crossblade bearing an uncanny resemblance to Link's famous boomerang.

It's easy to be unimpressed with the game's visuals during the first hour or so, with the player free to roam about a drab, uninspired cityscape. However, give it a few hours and you'll encounter stunning gothic temples, water-filled valleys and light dappled forests.

With his steely glare and chunky armour, War, too, looks the part - appearing like a beefed-up World of Warcraft Blood Elf with a bad attitude.

Darksiders is let down by a couple of niggles, though. The gladiatorial tutorials peppered throughout are awkwardly placed, stopping the flow of an otherwise well-paced game, while some of the boss battles are an over elaborate slog.

However, as a package, Darksiders is a towering success. It might be completely unoriginal, but Vigil Games have delivered a highly polished and visceral experience. A great start to 2010.