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All posts by Colin Henderson
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published Wednesday, Aug 05th

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 Review

Tiger Woods PGA Tour is one of those games where there really isn’t much left for EA to cover. And despite being a great golf game in its own right, Tiger Woods is now a franchise showing signs of age, proven this year with little refinements and a lack of major features. If you’re fortunate enough to be diving into the Tiger Woods franchise for the first time, you’ll find a wealth of game modes, courses, golfers and online features to keep you playing for hours at a time.

Tournament Challenge is where you’ll be spending the majority of your time in Tiger 10, which replaces the Tiger Challenge mode we’ve become accustomed to over previous iterations of the franchise. Here, Tiger tells us some of his favourite tournament wins and shots before placing you in his shoes, attempting to match or beat his scores using your created golfer across the different courses in the game. Unfortunately you have no chance of finishing this mode unless you purchase a max-stats costume (using a LOT of in-game cash or real money via PSN store or Marketplace) as the final challenges on each course often place you against Tiger in near-impossible situations for a low-level golfer. Speaking of such, there are 30 pro and novelty golfers in the game to choose from. Unfortunately the game conditions are significantly more difficult for the rest of the golfers with average stats, meaning there is absolutely no point of you choosing anyone other than Tiger himself or your custom golfer (assuming his/ her stats are maxed out). It’s worth mentioning that the create-a-golfer feature is identical to that of last year: a wealth of options to customise your characters face, or plug in the PlayStation Eye or Xbox Vision camera to put your face in the game. There’s also the usual pages and pages worth of unlockable clothing items (who knew that wearing a watch could improve your putting?) to enhance your golfer.

Undoubtedly one of the biggest, yet subtle, changes in this year’s game is the inclusion of a live weather feed, provided by The Weather Channel (a huge TV station in the US). So if you’re playing on the 4th hole at St. Andrews (and connected to PSN or Xbox Live) and it starts raining at the Old Course in Scotland, then the downpour will be happening in the game too, resulting in slower greens, fairways and generally more difficult playing conditions. This has the opposite effect too. If you start playing a round using live weather feed while it’s raining and it stops, your game will reflect the change in weather mid-game. Of course, this is completely optional but is just one of the great ways EA have used online to enhance Tiger 10, with another being Live Challenges. Building upon last year’s GamerNet instant challenges, EA have introduced a ‘Play the Pros’ option which gives players the chance to play side-by-side with real golfers as they play in tournaments across the world. Did Colin Montgomery shoot a -5 under par at today’s round in the Open? See if you can beat that by playing in the same playing and weather conditions as the pros, and against the rest of the world online. In addition to the online challenges, Tiger 10 boasts a wide range of multiplayer game types than can be played online or off. A personal favourite being Battle Golf, in which winning a hole entitles you to remove a club form your opponent’s bag or return one to your own. Seeing a friend tee off on a Par 5 with a 4 Iron provided a great multiplayer moment.

Another change, again optional, to Tiger 10 is the addition of the Precision Putter. Instead of having multiple putters in your bag for different ranges, you carry just one putter to cover any distance on the green. This can be tricky to master at first, but emulates the putting aspect of the sport better than it ever has in the past.

An unexpected feature and one you’ll be grateful for is the option to mute commentary. Scott Van Pelt and Kelly Tilghman provide the strangest commentary experience you’re likely to witness. Kelly talks as if she has hours to live, whereas Scott shouts things like ‘get some’ and ‘call it’ if you sink a putt. More is needed by EA’s writing and sound teams to provide these guys with more interesting comments to better replicate the real excitement and drama of a real tournament of golf. Thankfully though, once muted, you can sit back and enjoy the stunning visuals of Tiger 10 which have seen a further improvement over 09, such as seeing the waves crash against the side of Pebble Beach’s number 18 or admiring the sandy bunkers at St Andrews.

The real question here is simple: Is it worth spending £40 on a game released just nine months after its predecessor? If you enjoy the occasional spot of golf and missed out last year then pick this up as it has some serious lasting appeal with its enhanced online and multiplayer features. But if you’re a die-hard golfer looking for major new features, be prepared for disappointment.


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published Wednesday, Jun 17th

Circuit_Strike.One Review

Circuit_Strike.One (h.grenade) for iPhone can be best described as a mix between Asteroids and Geometry Wars, with some added humour to keep things interesting. If you’re familiar with the Bizarre Creations franchise at all, you will instantly recognise that the visual style of the Geometry Wars series has had a major influence on the development of this title. Unfortunately the impressive visuals and slamming soundtrack are let down by an overly complex game mechanic and below par control methods.


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published Tuesday, Dec 09th

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 Review

After an extended hiatus Red Alert is back, on Xbox and (eventually) PlayStation 3 consoles. The Red Alert franchise is known for its excellent storytelling albeit through lengthy cut scenes and over the top characters and this title is no different. This, in addition to gameplay that spans the previous two titles have made Red Alert 3 one of the most anticipated RTS games of all time. The opening shows the Soviets on the verge of defeat as the Allies roll onto Russian soil. Thinking fast, the Russians employ the use of an experimental time machine, go back into time before all of the events of the Red Alert series, and eliminate Albert Einstein. With no Einstein, there’s no nuclear weaponry, and when the Russians go back to the future, they find that the Soviet forces are no longer on the verge of crumbling. Instead, the Allied forces are down and out. But the feeling of victory doesn’t last long, as a new threat emerges as a direct result of the timeline-tampering and the Japanese forces rumble onto the scene to create a three-way conflict.

The three different entities and a big focus on naval combat provide the beef of Red Alert 3’s gameplay. The good thing here is that the faction differences are meaningful enough to require you to employ different strategies, but similar enough so that no team has an advantage. The campaign mode takes you through all three factions and like previous C&C games, you’ll find bonus objectives to complete, and the story is told via full-motion HD video sequences that set up each mission. You’ll also get a lot of video during the missions in a window that doesn’t block your view of the action. This gives the missions a lot of personality and keeps you engaged in the Red Alert world at all times. All of the FMV and interaction between characters really makes the campaign a treat to see, as you’ll encounter a lot of great moments on all sides.

Another new feature of RA3 is that the game has been built from the ground up with co-operative play in mind. That means that you’ll always have a co-commander by your side, either a friend on Xbox Live or an AI-based partner that you can give limited commands to. In most cases this works great, as in some cases your partner will have a base in a different area of the map, making them better suited to attack immediate threats, or letting you double up on the offense. Unfortunately there’s no matchmaking for this, meaning you’re going to have to invite a friend every time you want to co-op campaign it up’. Probably a sensible decision, but it would have been nice to have it included in there for those without RTS buddies.

As said, there are large naval/water sections on the maps, in fact, every one of the game’s multiplayer maps has some water. This means you can now build most of your base at sea, with only the structures devoted to deploying ground units locked to land. This changes a lot of the strategy commonly found in real-time strategy games and really forces you to rethink the best ways to attack. But besides this rather notable difference to prior games, Red Alert 3 is still based on the classic C&C foundations. But this time you’ll find it difficult building gigantic forces and slowly evolving your base to completion before you even think about attacking the enemy. This is a fast-moving game, and pumping out small forces of multiskilled units and sending them off to fight seems to be the key to victory, rather than building up enough units to stomp around the map at will. As such, expect to see enemies heading your way pretty frequently, too. And sometimes managing your wide array of units gets to be a bit much. You’ll find yourself getting overwhelmed and even stressed when battles got hectic. But the game is rewarding. As you play more and more, you’ll learn when to employ each strategy in a more calm and collected fashion, and reaping the rewards as you go. During the course of the campaign mode, the cut scenes are more than entertaining and even humorous at times, with the likes of Jenny McCarthy and Gemma Atkinson on board as Tanya and a ranked Lieutenant respectively.

In addition to co-op play, you can also set up 4 player matches both online against humans or as skirmish matches against the AI. In terms of graphics, the game looks fantastic on a large screen HDTV, with some beautiful explosions to be viewed during campaign. For someone who hasn’t played a RTS before would perhaps find the Xbox 360 controls much more manageable than mouse and keyboard on PC. However it can be difficult trying to remember every single option and the different unit selection controls, adding to the stress that can be had during frantic battles. While there isn’t a great deal to be said about the music, fans of the previous two games will be pleased to hear many of the original themes and sounds have been re-worked for the third game. From the banging, upbeat theme of the main menu to the interactive in-mission music that picks up whenever battles commence, music is just about as good as it possibly could be.

For the hardcore Red Alert and Command & Conquer players, the changes made in RA3 (thankfully) haven’t abandoned the core of what makes these games so good, which makes this the best console RTS ever. Unfortunately, the excellent cutscenes won’t be quite enough to grasp a new audience and keep the casual gamer at the command post.


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published Thursday, Nov 20th

Guitar Hero: World Tour Review

Guitar Hero is a franchise where it’s nearly impossible to look at the game without comparing it to its younger, hipper cousin that it really wishes wasn’t part of the family: Rock Band. However this review will attempt to minimise any comparison made between the two action/music-rhythm games until a feature coming later this year will pick a winner for your valuable pennies this Christmas. And valuable indeed, with the full instrument pack weighing in at £150, Santa may need some FedEx assistance this year for gamers. The instrument pack features the game (EA: Take note), a USB microphone, wireless guitar and wireless drums, which you’ll really need to get the full Guitar Hero: World Tour experience.

The inclusion of drums in Guitar Hero is without doubt the biggest new feature of this year’s game and with improved quality promised over its competitors the results have been… Guitar Hero Drumsdisappointing. The look and feel of the drum kit is excellent: 2 raised cymbals and 3 large pads have helped fill the gap between fun and realism. However the foot pedal has nothing to attach itself to and can be easily moved into awkward positions during songs. But the biggest let down with drumming? Star Power, which is activated by hitting both cymbals simultaneously. While this may sound relatively straightforward, hitting both symbols in unison without missing the previous and following notes of a fast chart is unnecessarily challenging. In addition to this, our drum kit didn’t recognise several attempts of activating star power, not only keeping our score down for longer than expected, but also killing our combo multiplier, making it near-impossible to activate star power during extremely fast drumming portions – when we needed it most.

Playing guitar in GH:WT is truly where the game excels, thanks to its bigger, yet quieter guitar. Improvements to this year’s model include a touch-sensitive pad, a palm sized button for activating star power and the Xbox Guide/PS Home button being combined with the analogue stick to provide a cleaner, more realistic looking guitar. The touch sensitive pad is great for insane solos, however the frets are smaller and it’s easy to disorientate yourself as there’s no indent on the middle fret, forcing you to constantly look down to check your finger placement. Minor nag aside, this is the best Guitar Hero guitar ever manufactured as the strumming is quieter than ever, with a sense of strumming feedback still in place. The guitar note charts are easier to play than Guitar Hero 3, thankfully, although some sections are flat out impossible to play without the touch pad, meaning a purchase of at least the guitar edition is essential for guitar enthusiasts. Not all note charts are entirely accurate either, almost as if Neversoft are attempting to make songs more difficult than they are on real guitar.

So far, not bad: The drumming experience can be frustrating but is made up for with an excellent guitar build. Singing in Guitar Hero was hardly going to be a deal breaker for the majority of fans, but an important factor nonetheless. Unfortunately, vocals are a disappointment thanks to inaccurate pitch charting and a lack of feedback to the singer on how well he/she is performing. But still, when singing Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”, will you really be that bothered?

In order to maximise the fun out of Guitar Hero, you’ll want to play the full experience with a singer, a drummer and a lead and bass guitarist. Simply put, this is the greatest Guitar Hero multiplayer experience if you have similarly skilled players in your band. Sadly, there are two minor niggles that completely destroy the party element of the game, especially for plastic peripheral noobies. The first problem is a pretty serious flaw: If someone fails their part of the song on any instrument, the whole band goes down with them; there’s absolutely no way to save a failed band member. Secondly, it’s next to impossible to tell if a band member is performing poorly as the only way to tell is by looking at said persons section of the screen, something incredibly difficult to pull off on higher difficulty levels. Better hope your band members have high communication.

It must be said that there are several positives with the game’s presentation and design, such as the ability to create setlists to play in solo or band quickplay modes, making for a better flowing experience. Also, character creation in GH:WT is surprisingly detailed, with customised possibilities for almost everything from instruments and band logos down to individual tattoo’s for created rockers.

Another new feature in Guitar Hero: World Tour is the Music Studio, which lets players create their own tracks using a controller or compatible guitar or drum kit. While the concept is fantastic, the majority of gamers will be put off by either the complexity, poor audio (read: MIDI) quality of the programme or the complete lack of vocals support. Fortunately there are some gems out there on GHTunes (The free in-game service to upload and download songs made in Music Studio) but with a 3 minute/1200 note limit on songs, don’t be expecting the next Arctic Monkeys to be producing songs on Guitar Hero.

Speaking of music, the game comes with the most on-disk songs ever shipped for a Guitar Hero game, 86 to be precise, and features the most diverse range of artists ever seen on a music video game. Michael Jackson, Metallica, Coldplay, Muse, Sting, Willie Nelson and Lenny Kravitz are some of the artists you should expect to play in the game. At the end of the day the soundtrack won’t please everyone, and there are a fair few duffers to play on each instrument, but the promise of continuous DLC should help gamers tailor their soundtrack to their needs over time.

Overall, one word to sum up Guitar Hero: World Tour would be disappointment. An impressive setlist and decent instruments prevent this game from bombing due to its linear career mode, multiplayer disappointments and lackluster song creation options. This should have been an awesome party game that anyone can pick up and play, but simple design flaws have prevented newcomers to be left frustrated and denied the one thing this game should be all about: Fun.

 


Madden's Face by
published Wednesday, Sep 03rd

Madden NFL 09 Review

To most gamers August of every year means one thing, the beginning of the Christmas games rush, starting with the annual sports updates from EA.  First on the list, Madden NFL 09.

American football titles are always daunting to UK gamers with most (including myself) only really watching one game of the sport a year, The Superbowl.  With that said, those unfamiliar with the sport may find themselves starting the game up to discover if the game could help ‘teach’ gamers the sport and have a better understanding of the different plays.  The result is thankfully a fantastic success, thanks to the introduction of Madden IQ, a key feature for introducing newcomers to American football.

The concept of Madden IQ is simple.  As soon as the game loads up for the first time, you are given the option (which can be completely skipped) to perform a series of training drills, passing offence/defence and running offense/defence.  Depending on how successful you are during these exercises, you are awarded a Madden IQ, which then customises the game experience to suit your skill level.  Clearly, from the picture above, I need some work on my passing and defence game, whereas I have some serious skills in my running game.  Madden then tinkers with the game options behind the scenes and makes the A.I. easier to play against for passing plays, but provides a more difficult defence when I decide to run for the ball.  And it doesn’t end there, as novice players can let John Madden select the most appropriate play, Intermediate players can choose from basic play sets (e.g. Pass: short, medium, long or fake and Run: Left, Right, Centre, Fake) or you can choose the ‘Hardcore’ difficulty and have full access to every possible play in the game.

Once you’ve got your Madden IQ up and running, you’ll want to hit some of the game modes to improve it.  Franchise mode is, as ever, where most of the fun lies, as you have countless options to customise your NFL season with your favourite team on the road to the Superbowl.  Other popular modes such as Superstar have returned, which sees you control a single player during the entire match in an attempt to become an NFL legend, and mini-games such as passing and running drills have also made a comeback.

Online is an area where Madden has seen decent improvement from last years outing, thanks to the introduction of 32 player online leagues which has huge potential for groups of Madden players who play regularly (good luck finding those in the UK). However, the same goes for quick play ranked and player matches, most matches seem to be played by “quitters”, “glitchers” and “laggers”, a lethal combination that will probably put off most casual players from going online, even with dedicated rooms for new players.  As with recent games in the series, the ESPN ticker at the bottom of each menu screen can be customised to bring you news, results and match odds for just about every sport, in every country.  For example, as I was playing Madden during the closure of the FA and SPL transfer window, I was reading about the last-minute signings from the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City in-between games of my franchise.

Every year EA Sports go all-out to ensure that Madden is the best possible looking football game on the market, and this year is no exception.  The graphical details on the players and stadiums is simply phenomenal and although the fans in the stadium don’t share the same attention to detail as players, this rarely becomes a factor that effects the enjoyment of the game.  The soundtrack is also fantastic, with some heavy hitting rock tracks in addition to some rap music there is sure to be some tracks to appeal to everyone.  Commentary is also flawless, although as-ever repetitive, which sees John Madden make a return to make studio introductions and provide you with a rundown of your personal Madden IQ.

When it comes down to the nitty gritty, 2009’s Madden iteration (and the series 20th) hasn’t seen the evolution that was expected from the next gen jump.  Sure, there are some nice online improvements, some new features such as rewind (undo the last play), “Backtrack” which analyses a mistake such as a fumble or interception and teaches you how to avoid them in future games in addition to the (gimmicky) area-based end zone celebrations.  But all in all, this is a fantastic American Football title but there really isn’t enough here to catch the attention of the UK audience.  Why not put Wembley in there as a playable stadium (an official NFL game was played there last season)? The game was released almost simultaneously with the highly anticipated US version, if EA were to put a small delay on the title and include some UK/Europe specific teams or features, we might see this title go much further in the UK sales charts.


UEFA by
published Thursday, Apr 19th

UEFA Champions League 2006/2007 Review

Football, with cards. In little over a year, EA has managed to churn out four FIFA games. The single biggest question needing answered in this review then: what’s new? The simple answer is not much. UCL is near identical to its FIFA 07 counterpart which, depending on your loyalty to Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer 6, can be great news or a kick in the balls (Footballs, of course).

Gameplay-wise, passing and shooting are frighteningly accurate, with pinpoint passes and shooting varying not only on direction of the analogue stick, but almost all passes can be lightly or heavily hit depending on the length of the button press. This makes for a more realistic experience, something EA are trying to hit home on in a bid to catch up with the legion of Pro Ev supporters. However there are still problems. Changing players seems to take slightly longer than it should do and players still wait stationery for the ball if he isn’t the ended target of a pass. So the game can be a frustrating experience, but highly rewarding if your pinpoint passes and crosses yield some spectacular goals.

Now the Cards. Essentially this is the feature that will make or break your decision to pick up UCL. The manual and in-game tutorial overly-complicate the card collecting process. Essentially, you have a starter pack of cards containing players, kits, coaches, stadiums in addition to non-tangible items such as contract extension cards. Collecting cards can prove addictive, plus you can even trade cards online with players looking for cards you might be looking to ditch. Ultimately, the aim is to assemble a dream team with the best players, taking into account each players nationality, age and preferred formation to ensure everything runs as smooth as a freshly oiled machine. On the flipside, it’s football… and cards. Some will take one look at ultimate team mode and revert back to the traditional modes, and miss out on potentially tens of hours of playing and collecting. For those less pessimistic about the FIFA franchise, this is without a doubt the best new game mode seen a football game since online was introduced.

Another game mode worth noting is (surprise, surprise) Champions League mode. Here you pick your favourite team, whether they were involved in the CL or not, and guide them from the group stages all the way to the finals. A cool new addition to this mode is live updates that pop up from relevant games at the top right hand side of the screen, with the commentary team noting the significance. A minor detail, but adds to the authenticity nonetheless.

Speaking of which, ITV’s Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend provide the commentary, and do a decent job too. They do however become repetitive like most sport games, and you’ll be wanting to enable the custom soundtrack option after a dozen or so games.

Chances are if you’re buying the Xbox 360 version of UCL, you’ll be interested in the online component. Quite frankly, EA have nailed it. If one-on-one is your fancy, you can have it old school. However get together 3 friends and you can jump into four player co-op action (that’s eight players, folks) over Xbox Live, and take your created team with you. Offline multiplayer is also great fun, supporting up to four players in any shape or form you wish. Also, the lounge mode from FIFA 07 returns, where you and seven friends can play each other and keep track of your history and statistics. Based on how well you play, you can unlock power-ups to swing the odds in your favour.

Overall, credit is due here to EA for trying something different. Mixing football and cards might not seem ideal for everyone, but it’s new, it’s addictive and, if you stick in there, it’s fun. It’s a shame then, that frustrating gameplay has once again riddled EA’s latest attempt to outdo Konami’s famed franchise.


FIFA 07 by
published Sunday, Nov 12th

FIFA 07 Review

I inserted the Fifa 07 disk into my Xbox 360 optimistic that EA’s “All new game engine” would result in a vast improvement over previous releases (07 marking the third Fifa game in one year on Xbox 360). Sadly, this iteration is a step back from the ‘inferior’ current gen versions with less teams, less modes and less fun.

The basic gameplay in Fifa 07 is where the game really lets itself down. Two games in, and I’d had enough. The passing is insanely frustrating, as most of the time the receiving player stands still waiting for the ball to come to him instead of making the effort to move towards the ball. For example: you hit a poor through ball to a striker which ends up being closer to a midfielder, yet the midfielder won’t move an inch to try and gain possession, leaving the opposition to casually gain the ball under control.

Dribbling in Fifa 07 is also an issue, with some defenders having seemingly unlimited supplies of stamina, sprinting down the touchlines to deliver a cross. Also, players seem to be running on ice rather than grass, however this seems to be down to the faster pace (note: unrealistic) and style of the game. On the default difficulty level (Semi-Pro) where you’ll want to play on to get those achievements (more on them in a bit), scoring goals is as tough as nails. The majority of goals I bagged came from deflections, set pieces, long range efforts or tap-ins after a saved shot. One-on-one’s require luck more than anything, making the gameplay frustrating and most importantly: not fun.

There are only two real game modes in Fifa 07 (don’t believe the back of the box, folks). The first is basic exhibition matches, where you can play either offline with three other mates or online with potentially eight players (two consoles, two gamertags, six guests).

Online is much better from last years, with the addition of proper tournaments and cups but most importantly most games are lag-free. In addition, offline games played with some friends can be good fun, and even the loading screen before the match is enjoyable. Before (and after) every offline game you are taken to ‘the arena’ where you can play as your favourite player in the game against a generic goalkeeper, dribbling and shooting at your own leisure.

Staying offline, manager mode is what will eat away at most of your time playing Fifa. Pretty self-explanitory here: pick your favourite club, pick the side, make signings and either simulate or play the matches. If you don’t meet your objectives for the season then it’s game over. Don’t expect Football Manager style stuff here, but it’s one of the better elements to this years update.

Presentation is an area where EA nails perfectly every time, and Fifa 07 is no exception. Like all Fifa games, all the licences for clubs, players and stadiums are here. In addition, Sky Sport’s premier commentary team Martin Tyler and Andy Gray provide some excellent commentary during matches, in which is possibly one of the best efforts on a commentary scale ever seen in a football game. Continuing with sound, EA have added a new innovative feature for users connected to Xbox Live: Football headline updates. Taken from Talksport’s hourly news update, EA give you the option to hear the latest football news whilst browsing through the menus. If the repeating headlines begin to annoy you (they will), you can just view them in text form too. Nice one, EA.

Visuals are another area where EA typically shine, however Fifa 07 is a bit of a mixed bag. In-game, the players look pretty tall in proportion with the field. However commit a foul, substitution or other event that triggers a cut-scene and you’ll be impressed with the detail on player’s faces.

Another couple of gripes I have with Fifa is the exclusion of certain teams for the 360 version. For example, the entire Scottish Premier League has been left out, despite it being in the PS2 and other competing versions. Also, achievements in this game are some of the most difficult to obtain. Some of these include win 300 games and having a 60 match winning streak. Sadly, Fifa doesn’t appeal to either football enthusiasts with its awful game engine nor achievement whores who typically buy Fifa for EA-sy achievements.

If you like a more “arcadey” route-one approach to football games, then this could be for you. However if you are a true fan of the beautiful game and want it replicated in video game form, look to Konami’s (slightly) better Pro Evolution Soccer series. And if you must get a Fifa game, sacrifice those visuals and achievement points and buy the better PS2 version.