Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Gunstringer - 360 Kinect

While it's true The Gunstringer would have been perfectly playable with a standard controller, it definitely wouldn't be as much fun as it is with Kinect.

This on-rails shooter lets you pull the strings of an undead puppet as he sets out on a quest for revenge in the dusty Wild West.

The left hand is used to guide The Gunstringer, while the right hand is used to glide a cursor over enemies before unleashing bullets by flicking your wrist - and it works well for the most part.

While problems do crop up - getting our blue-boned hero back behind cover can be fiddly and boss battles are repetitive - the presentation and humour pull The Gunstringer through.

The decision to present the action as a theatre production - with a real audience and bric-a-brac set - is inspired and adds a unique flavour to the shooting action.

It might be too simplistic for some, but with plenty of unlockables and gold medals to snaffle, The Gunstringer is light-hearted fun with wide appeal.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Toren: A beautiful puzzle adventure

Although the team at Swordtales are currently keeping many of Toren's gameplay details under wraps, it has already won a place in my heart thanks to its vivid colours, dreamy setting and gorgeous art style.

Toren is a puzzle adventure and is built around a poem about the meaning of life and deals with the concepts of time and mortality.

Judging by the snippets of text scattered on the game's website - and the beautiful screen grabs - Toren features a princess who is attempting to escape the confines of a magical tower by scrambling her way to the top.

The team say they have been infliuenced by games such as Zelda and indie darling Braid, while the work of Hayao Miyazaki - co-founder of animation company Studio Ghibli - has also left its mark on the Brazilian developers.

If you would like to know more about the game and keep up with its progress, bookmark the official blog and follow the game on Twitter.

Here's a video of Toren in all its over-saturated glory, complete with depth of field filters and subtle use of tilt shift. Beautiful.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

One you might have missed: Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon - Wii

Rising Star Games released this atmospheric action adventure in March 2010 and while it has its flaws, it's a charming adventure that is definitely worth a closer look.
Created by the team at Tri-Crescendo - the developer behind 360 and PS3 RPG Eternal Sonata - the story features Seto, a young boy who lives with his grandfather in a world that has been ravaged by disaster. When Seto's grandfather dies, the lonely lad packs up his belongings and sets out to try and find other survivors of the cataclysm.
The first couple of hours are a joy thanks to the game's wonderful atmosphere and beautiful visuals. Control, too, is excellent with Seto moved by the nunchuck, while the Wiimote doubles as his torch. Illuminating dark and dusty corners of this nocturnal world reveals objects which Seto can interact with. However, after those initial opening hours, cracks begin to show in Fragile's glossy casing.
Combat is basic and clumsy, with stabs of the A button swinging Seto's weapon of choice. It's hard to judge distances between you and an enemy, while the camera angle often gets in the way.
The inventory system is equally antiquated, with Seto initially having only a minuscule item carrying capacity. Objects can be switched in and out at the game's save points but going back and forth between them is a chore due to respawning enemies.
Seto can wield a variety of weapons, but as each can break, he is often left facing a room full of enemies with nothing to defend himself with. Fortunately, the wonderfully eccentric Collector makes regular appearances at the game's save points selling weapons, health buffs and other useful trinkets.
Seto's world may be crumbling, but it's still a beautiful place to explore. An abandoned shopping mall, a dilapidated train station, a rusting theme park, a run-down hotel - each location is a visual treat.
Of course, the player can run through these areas to get to the next point in the story, but it pays to wander off the beaten track in search of treasures.
Unlike most games, the loot that can be found isn't shiny coins. Instead, objects such as torn photographs and mementos are waiting to be found.
Each item is linked with its owner's memories and every object has its own background story. These narrated snippets can be quite moving and give the player an insight into the victims of Seto's ravaged world. They add a tremendous amount to the feel of the game and are well worth hunting down.
The audio, too, is well matched to the action, with lovely melodies and eerie effects adding another layer to the game. Voice work is pretty good, and the option to switch between English and Japanese is a welcome addition.
It may not be perfect, but Fragile Dreams is still a beautiful and haunting experience. Its slow pace and clunky combat may put some off, but thanks to its inspired art design and original touches, it's an adventure you should definitely consider taking.

Monday, 19 September 2011

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron - 360/PS3

A game based on ancient religious texts, it’s safe to say that El Shaddai doesn't exactly follow a traditional videogame script. However, the quest to round-up seven fallen angels and return them to Heaven at the behest of God makes for a thoroughly engaging yarn.

You play Enoch, a heavenly scribe clad in designer jeans and brilliant white armour, who ploughs through beautifully surreal locations to fulfil his quest.

At the heart of El Shaddai is a robust and enjoyable combat system, with Enoch mixing up styles and weapons to take down the game's colourful cast of foes. But rather than switch between them at will, he has to steal them from enemies to gain the upper hand - a system which encourages creative play.

Slashing sword attacks, ranged fire and a heavy-hitting punch and shield combo are the choices available and with bosses requiring the player to be adept at all three, it pays to experiment with what's available.

On easier difficulty settings it's possible to button mash your way through encounters, but crank it up a notch and blocks, dodges and timely attacks are the only way to make progress.

Visually, El Shaddai is quite incredible, with some stunning locations to romp around in. Grainy monochrome worlds, fizzing neon environments, sprawling futuristic cityscapes and organic watery levels are just some of the spectacular sights. But the visual treats don't stop there, with the game constantly flipping between 3D and 2D. El Shaddai isn't afraid to chuck convention out of the window, either and adds a smattering of jaw-dropping moments which surprise and delight.

Enhancing the atmosphere is the eclectic and quite brilliant soundtrack, which successfully infuses ambient soundscapes and harmonic tribal melodies to create a spellbinding score.

It's not a perfect game, though, with several problems cropping up regularly. Enoch's platforming antics are sloppy at times, with the swirling backdrops making it difficult to judge distances, while constant and repetitive battles in the game's final third sour some of the enjoyment.

Some will find it hard to live with these problems, but as an experience, there's nothing quite like El Shaddai.

One of the most refreshing and beautiful adventures I've undertaken in some time.

PS3 version tested

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Mari0 - PC

I love Portal. I also love Mario. So what better way to celebrate two of gaming's finest experiences than by combining them and producing a cracking 2D platform game? Well, that's exactly what the team at Stabyourself are doing with Mari0 and it looks great.

Check out this video to see the game in all its space-shifting glory

Friday, 16 September 2011

Rock of Ages - 360/PC

Last night, I finally got round to putting some time into Rock of Ages on 360 - a title I've been looking forward to since last summer.

I'm glad to say this latest game by ACE Team - the minds behind mental brawler Zeno Clash - plays just as good as it looks, with players hurtling their moon-like boulder down obstacle-strewn slopes in a bid to smash their opponent's stronghold.

But that's only half the story, as Rock Of Ages takes the player on a twisted and extremely funny trip through history, complete with angry bovines, pissed-off elephants and projectiles galore.

The game is split into two parts: the attacking stage - where the player guides their boulder down a twisting slope, smashing defences on the way to break open their opponent's gate - and a defensive stage - where the player erects defences in a bid to halt their foe's march to glory.

Every time your boulder collides with an object, money is dropped into your coffers, which in turn can be used to either construct a weird and wonderful array of traps and obstacles, or poured into your boulder to give it extra ramming powers.

It's a frantic game of cat and mouse as both sides desperately try and place defences before trundling their boulder to its destructive conclusion and it's heart-breaking when your rock tumbles off the edge of the course, giving your opponent a slight time advantage.

The art style and sound effects have a distinct whiff of Monty Python about them, with paper cut-out armies scattered around the sloping worlds, while historic figures leap excitedly around in full cardboard cut-out glory.

The humour runs through to the game's playful cut scenes, with plenty of pop culture references thrown in for good measure which adds to the off-the-wall flavour.

Rock of Ages is a delicious mix of tower defence and Marble Madness and a game which plays beautifully. And with multiplayer options to explore and a decent single player campaign to roll through, this is yet another unmissable game to add to your download queue.

Rock of Ages is currently available from the Xbox 360's marketplace for 800 points, while PC users can grab it from Steam for £6.99. A PS3 version is on its way, but no release date has been set.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

To The Moon - PC

It's not often I pre-order a game. However, after clapping eyes on Freebird Games' forthcoming title, To The Moon, I parted with my cash immediately.

The story is woven around two doctors, who travel through the mind of a dying man in the hope of fulfilling his final wish - to go to the moon.

Presented in a glorious 16-bit style, the game initially looks similar to an old Super Nintendo-era RPG. However, with no battles or level grinding, the game will play out in an altogether different fashion to those great mid-Nineties adventures.

It's a refreshing twist for an RPG, but if you've experienced any of Freebird's previous games, you'll know they are no stranger to doing things differently.

The company's three previous titles have provided short but compelling tales, with brilliant storytelling fused with magical sounds to create unforgettable experiences.

The games: The Mirror Lied, Quintessence - The Blighted Venom and Do You Remember My Lullaby are free to download from their website and they are all definitely worth a closer look and give you a taster of what you can expect from To The Moon.

If you like what you see, then throw a couple of quid in Freebird's direction in advance of their new title's release. To the Moon costs £6.63 to pre-order via the Desura website and will become available to play on October 15.

Oh, and this trailer is quite brilliant, too.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Dead Island - 360/PS3/PC

With a four-player co-op option and masses of drooling zombies to slaughter, Dead Island initially appears to be nothing more than a Left 4 Dead rip-off. But while it's clear Valve's survival horror has been a huge influence, Dead Island also tips its hat to modern Western RPGs such as Oblivion and Borderlands.

The flimsy storyline revolves around four individuals who find themselves stranded on the holiday resort island of Banoi in the middle of a hideous zombie outbreak. You choose one of these characters and using blunt weapons, blades and firearms, you fight your way through this tropical nightmare in the hope of finding some way to escape the holiday hell.

RPG elements run through the game, with the player levelling up and delving into tech trees to gain an advantage over the slack-jawed hordes.

These abominations come in various guises, including shuffling Walkers, fast-paced Infected, hulking, straitjacket-wearing Rams and horribly mutated Suiciders, who induce moments of blind panic whenever they appear.

Luckily, the player has access to a wide range of weapons to deal with these horrors, which either lie scattered about the island, or can be created at workbenches - similar to those in Capcom's Dead Rising series. Creating or repairing them is an expensive business, though, so concentrating on a few at a time is definitely the way to go. There's also a Borderlands-style thrill when stumbling across a powerful colour-coded item or when attaching an electrical modification to a weapon.

While guns are available, it's the melee weapons which pack the most punch - allowing the player to lop heads, arms and legs off at will or bash skulls into the ground. It's not the most refined system in the world, but it is deeply satisfying to kick a zombie into a wall and then pummel them with your choice of weapon.

Quests are dished out regularly by the island's survivors - who seem to be incapable of doing anything for themselves - but unfortunately they are repetitive fetch quests which usually involve finding lost items or powering up creaking power generators.

It's also incredibly annoying that respawning zombies level up with the player, which means even a trip back over old ground is never an easy task. This element also works against solo play - especially after the opening act - as it's easy to become overwhelmed by foes, resulting in constant and frustrating deaths.

That's not Dead Island's only fault - clumsy character models, broken quests, graphical glitches and poor texture pop-in show the game could have done with a bit more polish. There are also some bewildering missions, such as finding water for one survivor who is dying of thirst, when soft drinks lie only an arm's reach away.

But for all its faults and rough edges, Dead Island is still a hugely enjoyable experience, especially when played with a few friends. It might not win any awards for originality, but those willing to put up with its flaws are in for a bloody good time.

360 version tested

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

DenGo Yamanote Line - iOS

Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my love for the Densha de Go! series. I can't get enough of speeding through Tokyo and surrounding areas, trying to reach the next station on time with a carriage full of happy passengers.

Well there's a new addition to the series - this time on iPhone and iPad - called DenGo! Yamanote Line. Yes, once again Taito have based their neat little game on Japan's most famous rail line - but unfortunately, this is a half-baked version which fails to match the fun of previous titles.

Initially, DenGo! Yamanote Line looks to have everything in place - both inner and outer loops of the Yamanote line are here - complete with 29 stations - and all the familiar sounds from the series are present, including the announcements which are read out in Japanese and English.

The touch screen controls work extremely well, with vertical swipes used to control the train and the framerate is smooth, with no sign of the graphical pop-up which has blighted the series in the past.

The Arcade mode breaks the line into small chunks, challenging the player to reach a series of stations on time, while the Free Run feature lets players pick and choose their starting points. Even the menu's pop-rock track fits the bill perfectly but unfortunately, it doesn't take long for things to derail.

Part of the joy of previous games in the series was travelling at different times of the day and night in varying weather conditions. Sadly, you only ever seem to travel in the morning under blue skies - a real shame as the subtle lighting effects gave the game some much-needed cosmetic flair, while rainy conditions affected stopping distances and speeds.

Another problem is the lack of action on the tracks. All the games so far have featured other trains going about their business, something which helped liven things up a bit. But here, the tracks are always empty - especially strange as you are driving on Japan's busiest line.

The workmen from Densha de Go! Final are also sadly absent. A quick blast of the horn when approaching these white-suited gents rewarded the player with bonus points, but as they are now nowhere to be found, the inclusion of a horn seems largely redundant.

External views have also been scrapped, leaving the player with the default bumper camera. Again, this is another cosmetic change, but it's unfortunate that Taito saw fit to scrap this extra feature.

Densha De Go! Final - and the PSP series of games - featured the chain point scoring system, which rewarded the player for hitting target speeds along the route. Sadly, since then, this system has been scrapped and Railfan (PS3), Densha de Go! Showa Yamanote Line (DS) and now this version all suffer because of its absence.

DenGo! Yamanote Line costs 800yen (£6.45) and it's possible to buy extra trains via in-app purchases. There are also 30 Game Center achievements to grab but the whole experience simply feels rushed.

Trundling between stations is fun in short bursts but those looking for portable Densha de Go! fun would be much better off hunting down any of the PSP games or taking the plunge with last year's fab DS title.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Bodycount - PS3/360

With Bodycount, Codemasters have stripped back the first-person shooter, dispensed with needless frills and delivered an explosive - but flawed - shooter.

You won't find hidden collectables, audio logs or intel documents lying about the game's levels, nor will you find the usual smattering of driving sections found in other titles. Instead, the development team have focused on gunplay, environmental damage and huge explosions, with the player tasked with taking out covert organisation Target who are stirring up trouble throughout Africa and Asia.

But while the guns on offer feel great, with the majority of the 10 varieties packing a punch, the rest of Bodycount is a mixed bag, with the game consistently struggling to deliver fresh ideas.

The open-plan exterior levels set in shanty towns, dockyards and rain-soaked city streets are a great setting for the game's explosive battles. Concrete pillars are chipped away under sustained fire, while windows are smashed and wooden walls turn to kindling as spectacular explosions rip through buildings.

But in direct contrast, the Tron-like clinical interiors of Target's bases are disappointingly similar. Essentially a series of corridors, stairwells and large rooms teeming with enemies, they lack the creative spark of the outdoor locations.

These levels also provide some of Bodycount's most frustrating moments, as mass battles kick-off, with sharp-angled - and scarily accurate - foes swarming the player, making success something of a lottery.

Luckily, downed enemies drop orbs which are used to fuel upgrade powers and careful use of these is essential if you want to survive these frantic episodes.

Although the action can be spectacular, a half-baked attempt at a combo system falls flat on its face. It's an insipid system which was presumably tacked on to try and add an extra dimension to the firefights by encouraging skillful play. However, it fails to engage or reward the player and comes up short when compared to the blistering point scoring fun of Bulletstorm.

Unfortunately, Bodycount’s issues don't stop there - the game is full of generic FPS staples, such as flicking switches, defending key points, backtracking, negotiating levels stuffed full of explosive barrels and enemy AI which is erratic at best.

Bodycount isn't a long game, either, with the closing credits rolling after 5-6 hours, but online play, a co-op option and replayable levels at least flesh out the experience.

Bodycount might be generic but there is still fun to be had shooting your way through the game’s saturated environments. It's just a shame it never reaches its true potential, leaving the player wondering what could have been.

PS3 version tested

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Legend of Grimrock - Windows, Mac, iOS

I love a good old-fashioned first-person dungeon crawl. I spent my formative years ploughing through games such as Eye of the Beholder 2, Stonekeep and Ishar, while the King's Field series - despite its stodgy controls - is one of my all-time favourites.

With a pad of graph paper by my side, I would tramp around gloomy interiors looking for lost treasure while fighting denizens of the dark. I quaffed strange-coloured potions, was rude to innkeepers, kept merchants happy by buying rusty loot and generally had a good old lark about.

So when I saw what Almost Human Ltd were up to, my jaw hit the floor and I've not stopped drooling at the prospect of losing dozens of hours to a modern take on my favourite genre since I clapped eyes on Legend of Grimrock.

Almost Human are a Finnish indie studio comprised of four veteran developers, who have previously worked on titles such as Alan Wake and Shattered Horizon. Their goal with Legend of Grimrock is to get back to basics and deliver an experience that "brings back the charm of simple dungeon crawl games".

I'll raise a foaming mug of ale to that!

The team are hoping to release Legend of Grimrock before the turn of the year but they are making no promises. However, even at this stage in development, the game is looking polished and quite fabulous.

If you want to try out some older dungeon crawlers, I recommend at visit to the Good Old Games website, which is choc full of cracking titles. I've just bought Might & Magic 7: For Blood and Honor which I'll write about in due course. However, if you're after some free fun, then Undercroft on iPhone is brilliant.

For more info on Legend of Grimrock, check out the official blog.