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All posts by Michael Slevin
by
published Saturday, Apr 10th

A Week In The Life Of A Real-Life Pokemon Trainer — Poke Walker Review

As you’re probably well aware of by now, there are two new Pokémon titles out (well, we say new, but ‘remade’ would be a more fitting term). Heart Gold and Soul Silver have taken the best bits from previous adventures and distilled them into two comprehensive packages. Like the other Pokémon adventures, they’re great titles, but essentially more of the same. You’ll know by now whether it’s your bag or not.

Poke Walker

What you may not know is that these new titles come with a fancy little toy you can play with. Dubbed the ‘Poké Walker’, the device allows you to take one of your monsters with you on a stroll in the real world, gaining experience, items and even new creatures with every step you take. It’s a brilliant idea in theory, but what about in practice?

Join us as we delve into the week-long diary of a real-life Pokémon trainer.


by
published Saturday, Apr 03rd

Retrospective: The History Of Call Of Duty

Call of Duty is the perfect example of a modern day success story, rising from relative obscurity to become the most popular game series of all time. From its roots in the World War II era to its contemporary ultra-modern, bleeding edge design, the franchise has thrilled and excited millions of gamers for the best part of a decade.

In celebration of the recent release of Modern Warfare 2’s Stimulus map pack, we here at Gamebrit thought it was time we charted the meteoric rise of the franchise. Shall we begin?

Call of Duty

Call Of Duty
While not the first shooter setting itself in the harsh battlefields of the Second World War, the original Call of Duty, developed by Infinity Ward and released in 2003 did do a number of things differently from its contemporaries. Unlike Medal of Honor and Wolfenstein before, the first instalment of the series saw the player fighting alongside different numbers of allies over the course of its missions, from small squadrons of British soldiers to entire regiments of Soviet tanks. The end result instantly felt more realistic than the usual one American soldier singlehandedly ending the war, making the action more grounded and the player feeling more connected to the action as a result. The fact that its gameplay was tight and responsive as well meant it garnered high review scores, something the franchise still does today.

The title also pioneered the use of the ‘shellshock’ system, where if the player is in close proximity to an explosion, they’ll become disoriented due to a combination of simulated tinnitus, muffling of audio, blurred vision, slower movement and drainage of colour. It was an effective way of telling players when they needed to get to cover and has stuck with the series ever since. It was also the first title to feature Captain Price, a name that anyone who has played one of the Infinity Ward titles will recognise.

Call of Duty 2

Call Of Duty 2

Released in October of 2005, Call of Duty 2 returned to the battlegrounds of the Second World War, making the player fight behind enemy lines as a Soviet, an American and two Brits. The satisfying shooting action was retained, only this time placed in campaigns that may have been unfamiliar to many gamers, such far flung El Alamein in the scorching African desert, the freezing cold Russian capital of Stalingrad, and the harrowing D-Day landings of Normandy. Captain Price also popped up, making evident the battle-hardened character’s experience of war.

Once again receiving rave reviews, the second instalment set the trend for the series to be highly received both critically and commercially. It was also the first title to be released on consoles, opening the franchise up to a whole new demographic, with the multiplayer facility being hugely popular on both Xbox 360 and PC. It was the release of this title that foreshadowed the success and popularity the series would eventually experience.

Call of Duty 3

Call Of Duty 3

The first of the series to be developed by Treyarch as opposed to Infinity Ward, Call of Duty 3 was once again focused on the deadliest conflict in human history, following the campaigns of American, British, Canadian and Polish forces. The majority of the story was told from the usual first-person perspective, but the Polish offensive broke convention by giving you third-person control of a tank capable of serious amounts of devastation. While different, these section were little ropey and by far the worst elements of the game.

While the fundamental gameplay still held up, Call of Duty 3 arrived amidst a glut of WWII-based shooters in what had become a tired and stale genre. While it looked nice and played well, its story was lacklustre and the multiplayer was something to be desired, marking the first time that Treyarch’s efforts have been eclipsed by Infinity Ward. Either way, they needed to pull something seriously special out of their hat to rejuvenate the flagging series…

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Call Of Duty 4

…Which is exactly what Infinity Ward delivered with their next creation. Smartly updating the series to the modern day, everything that made the series brilliant (the gameplay, the story and, of course, the weapons) was revamped and revitalised and all the better for it. In the previous games, everyone knew that, no matter who died and who survived, the Allies would always reign triumphant. The new timeline and modern setting meant that Infinity Ward were no longer restricted in their storytelling, allowing them to come up with any scenario they wanted, with the eventual victor never being clear.

Putting the player in the shoes of ‘Soap’ MacTavish from the S.A.S. (alongside a seemingly immortal Captain Price) and Sergeant Paul Jackson of the United States Marine Corps, Infinity Ward weaved a story filled with intrique, suspense and some genuinely shocking moments. Alongside the new story came brand new weaponry, a slew of new equipment and a completely revamped multiplayer. Gamers were no longer constrained to restrictive ‘class’ specifications: they could use whatever selection of weapons they wanted to (assuming they’d unlocked them, that is). Add to this an experience system that made unlocks tantalisingly near, but never frustratingly far away, along with perks that radically changed each unique loadout, and it’s not surprising that COD 4’s multiplayer elements has appeared perennially in most played 360 titles lists the world over since its release.

Call of Duty: World at War

Call Of Duty World At War
In what seemed like a bizarre move considering the success of its predecessor, Treyarch decided to return to the setting of World War II for its next title, World at War. This time, the action followed a group of gruff American G.I.s and two Soviets bent on avenging their butchered comrades, taking place in the Pacific theatre of war and once again in Stalingrad.

Despite the new locales and voice acting from Keifer ‘Jack Bauer’ Sutherland and a heavily-disguised Gary Oldman, not a lot here was new. In fact, World at War felt like what 4 would have been if it had remained in its 20th century roots, with even the multiplayer borrowing its structure from its forerunner (although it did add some unbalanced maps of its own). While not necessarily a bad thing, the ineffective storytelling and long slog involved in ranking up online didn’t work in its favour. Not even deadly new weapons (including the all-devouring flamethrower), an unfamiliar foe and gratuitous deaths could justify keeping the game in its original time period for another instalment.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Call Of Duty Modern Warfare 2

For some, the wait for Modern Warfare 2, the most eagerly anticipated videogame of all time, was practically unbearable and possibly even agonising, but the game generated a massive storm of controversy before it was even released. The announcement that there would be no party chat function in online games or no online servers for PC gamers, as well as that airport mission, lead to a huge fracas over whether it should even be released or not.

But released it was, becoming the fastest- and biggest-selling videogame of all time. The wait was worth it, with everything from the first game returning but much bigger and much better. The single player offering is a thrilling, hi-octane fuel ride from start to finish, punctuated by some truly memorable plot twists-and-turns (although the inclusion and worthiness of the ‘No Russian’ mission can still be debated), while the multiplayer stuck to the same template adding more weapons, bigger levels and better killstreak awards. Add to that the co-operative Special Operations and you’ve got a title with one hell of a lot of longevity. Infinity Ward and Activision’s recent treatment of their loyal fans has been questionable, but you can’t deny them the fact they know how to make a damn good game.

In fact, we’re off for a game or two now. See you online!


Gamer mum - by nateOne on Flickr by
published Sunday, Mar 14th

Five Games For Mothers This Mother’s Day

Ah, Mother’s Day. The day where mums can relax and take their minds off keeping their spawnlings in check (for a while, at least). That day of the year where mums around the country are guaranteed presents from their young ones, breakfast in bed and a night out to their favourite restaurant – or a combination of all three if they’re lucky.

But what do you do to whittle away the time between these events? How do you fill the gap between the morning box of chocolates and the time your restaurant reservation is booked for? Never fret, there are plenty of games that are perfect to play on Mother’s Day. Here are five of the best.

Super Mario Galaxy

Super Mario GalaxyEverybody loves Mario. The plump Italian plumber has inspired and ignited the imagination of millions of gamers around the world since his first appearance in Donkey Kong nearly 30 years ago. While it’s undeniably always good fun to play as him, jumping all over the colourful worlds (where seemingly everything has eyes), watching doesn’t come anything close to the interactive experience. It’s a good thing then that Super Mario Galaxy allows a second player to aid the first, by using another Wiimote to shoot stars at enemies Mario may have been too busy to deal with otherwise. Hand your charge that second controller and have them be your stellar wingman.

LittleBigPlanet 

If you can look at the faces of LittleBigPlanet’s sackpeople, no matter whether they’re smiling, sobbing, fuming mad or scared to death without cracking a smile, then all hope is gone for you. Media Molecule have created the cutest and most loveable characters of this generation (so far, at least) and placed them in one of its most charming platformers. With its playful design and floaty physics, it’s easy to pick up and hard to put down. The fact that four people can play simultaneously only helps to sweeten the deal. Playing this with your kids will ensure you’ll all have a great experience, filled with fun, laughter and the occasional frightened face.

Lego Rock Band

Lego Rock BandLego has been entertaining millions of children (both toddlers and bigger ones) for decades, so it was only natural that it would gradually make its transition to the interactive medium. It’s proved a massive success, with some of the coolest franchises, such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Batman and, er, Harry Potter being translated into some respectful and briliiantly irreverent platformers. The announcement that Rock Band, an already awesome party game, would be joining with the world’s premier brick manufacturer only made it even more awesome. Knowing its target audience perfectly, Lego Rock Band is perfect for children, incorporating features such as super-easy difficulties and automatic kick drum modes, meaning you’ll be a family force akin to The Jackson 5 in no time at all.

Battlefield Bad Company 2

Battlefield Bad Company 2If you’d rather have a break from the kids, then you can’t go far wrong with DICE’s Battlefield Bad Company 2. Focusing on the ongoing struggle of Marlowe, Sweetwater, Haggard and Redford as they try to redeem themselves in the eyes of the U.S military, these four boys certainly swear like the troopers they are. With f-bombs being dropped casually throughout, along with its fine shooting action, Bad Company 2 is strictly a no-child zone. It’s also great fun online – its exquisite squad-based gameplay lending itself to one of the finest multiplayer experiences you can find today. Find three other like-minded mummies and you’ll be showing younger generations how it’s done in no time.

Fallout 3

Fallout 3As you can imagine, the miracle of birth is integral to the foundations of Mother’s day, so this list would feel a little empty if it didn’t contain a title featuring one. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, precious few examples exist in the medium. In Fallout 3, the life of The Lone Wander begins at, well, the beginning. After being born, you’re told by your daddy what sex you are, what your name’s going to be and, through the marvel of futuristic technology, even shown what you’re going to look like when you’re all grown up. Although many mothers may happily remember the day of the children’s birth, events soon take a sobering and tragic turn for the worse, reminding us that unfortunately not everyone’s experience can be happy and that this is a day to remember the loving mothers in our lives we have lost.

What are your favourite games to play on Mother’s Day?


Bioshock 2 by
published Monday, Mar 01st

Bioshock 2 Review

Bioshock, an ambitious title from 2K Games mixing shooting, strategy and RPG elements, was arguably the landmark title of 2007.

The journey to the subaquatic dystopia of Rapture was a refreshing one from the identikit first-person shooters that came before it. For instance, wandering through the decaying art deco locales of one man’s dream gone horribly wrong, encountering and fending off the physically – and mentally – twisted Splicer population and the occasional monstrous Big Daddy.

It was fresh and invigorating. The gunplay was perfectly complemented by the range of plasmids you could augment yourself with, combining straight-up shooting with an elemental twist, along with the numerous traps you could set for your frenzied foes. Its frantic action and wonderfully emergent storytelling cemented its place as one of the finest games of this generation.

The announcement of a sequel, Bioshock 2, was roundly met with reservations: was there really a need for a second tale set in Rapture and if so, how could it possibly outdo, let alone match the brilliance of the original tale? Worrying is futile, though, as 2K have created a title that is thrilling, emotional and most importantly worthy of the Bioshock name.

Eight years have passed since protagonist Jack liberated the underwater hell that is Rapture (for better or worse). The reins, formally held by Andrew Ryan, have transferred from one tyrant to another with Sofia Lamb, an equality fanatic, instigating a regime change from extreme capitalism to extreme communism. Subject Delta, the first Big Daddy successfully bonded with an ADAM-collecting Little Sister, has awoken from a coma. The coma was induced by Lamb as she abducted his owner, Eleanor, almost a decade ago. In order to save Eleanor (and redeem himself in the process), Delta must come to her rescue and finish Sofia Lamb and her oppressive regime once and for all.

After a rather impressive opening cutscene (in which you violently stomp a splicer’s head), you’ll begin exploring new areas of Rapture, getting used to wielding weapons and plasmids simultaneously while drilling holes in Splicers. You’ll be having a great deal of fun, although you’ll be haunted by the nagging feeling that you’ve played all this before.

The storytelling, the greatest feather in the original’s cap, soon begins to kick in. You’ll quickly be reunited with Brigid Tennanbaum, still furiously attempting to save the Little Sisters from their dreadful fate, before meeting Sinclair, your new host and greatest ally in your quest to rescue Eleanor.

Once again, you’ll stumble across personal diaries scattered throughout the dystopia that reveal the background behind some of the city’s key events. The concept of finding diaries is a gaming cliché nowadays, but Bioshock started the trend and still proves to be the ‘big daddy’ when it comes to drip-feeding players a captivating and frightening story.

Moral choices make their reappearance; the majority of them once again concerning Little Sisters. After defeating a Big Daddy, you can ‘adopt’ their Little Sister, taking her to an ADAM-filled corpse and thus protecting her from the depraved Splicers. Afterwards, you can either save her, giving her a chance of a normal life, or violently taking all the essence from her body and killing her in the process. These moral choices, along with other decisions, have stronger implications this time, affecting the latter part of the story and determines the ending you will receive.

However, no matter how you deal with the Sisters, you’ll attract the attention of the ferocious Big Sisters – the female counterparts to the Big Daddy golems. The Big Sisters are the strongest, most agile and most dangerous foes in all of Rapture. Skirmishes with them are intense, resourcefully draining affairs, making the euphoria and relief that follows their defeat a suitable reward for winning the encounter and one of the high points of the title.

Like most current games, Bioshock 2 features a multiplayer mode which, rather than being an unappealing, tacked-on last-minute affair to increase longevity, is actually a surprisingly playable addition.

Inspiringly set in a civil war preceding the events of the original, you’re free to explore your apartment and customise your player and weapon choices before embarking out into one of several game modes (such as Capture the Sister and ADAM Grab).

Although the shooting mechanics are solid with a range of weapons and plasmids to be unlocked, there’s nothing new on offer to match the multiplayer of other titles. Though there is some great attention to detail, such as diary entries for the individual characters and your visual appearance becoming more spliced and horrific as you level up. Your mileage may vary, but you’re guaranteed to get at least a little fun out of the online element.

Nothing can recapture the feeling of exploring it for the first time, but nevertheless Rapture retains its status as one of the most astounding game environments of the last few years. It plays host to a variety of eerie characters, some frantically creative battles and a fantastic story. Bioshock 2 incorporates a pulse-pounding mad dash to the conclusion, offering possibly the most horrifying and disturbing set-pieces to ever feature in a videogame.

So should Bioshock 2 even exist? The answer is a resounding yes. A worthy sequel to such an influential title, where Rapture failed, Bioshock 2 doesn’t.


by
published Friday, Feb 12th

Army Of Two: The 40th Day Review

Videogames have a come a long way over the decades since the medium’s creation. Over the years, technological enhancements lead to greater processing power, meaning greatly improved graphics and play experiences. Titles such as Okami, Shadow of the Colossus, Assassin’s Creed 2 and Bioshock have blended stunning visuals, competent gameplay and compelling storylines to create titles that transcend their genres and create experiences that lend huge amounts of gravitas to the argument that the interactive platform can (and indeed should) be seen as an art form as viable as literature, theatre and film. But, as influential and significant as titles such as these can be, sometimes you just want to play a meaty shooter, and that’s where Army of Two: The 40th Day steps in with heavy jackboots.

Focusing on the return of EA’s two favourite beefcakes Tyson Rios and Elliot Salem, the duo find themselves in Shanghai on a routine mission kicking ass and taking names. After blasting their way through their assignment, things unexpectedly and spectacularly take a turn for the worst as the city’s skyscrapers suddenly begin exploding and toppling over, plunging the city into chaos. Rios and Salem make it their business to discover who or what is co-ordinating this massive terrorist attack and make them pay, wrestling with some moral conundrums on the way.

The 40th Day’s fundamental shooting mechanics are sound, with every weapon feeling substantial and satisfying, even if the aiming can feel a little twitchy at times. For the most part, however, the large majority of you and your partners’ shots will find their target. Like the original, Rios and Salem need to rely on each other in order to survive each battle and as such, Day is best played with a friend either online or via split-screen, with both modes being a feasible suggestion thanks to an adequate framerate being consistent over both methods. There is the ability to play through on your own with an A.I. buddy, but, while it’s satisfactory most of the time (in comparison to Left 4 Dead 2’s incompo-bots, anyway), it’s still capable of some pretty unforgivable mistakes, such as trying to drag you to safety when you’ve been downed by taking you deeper into the battle. For the best experience, playing with a second human player is essential.

Making a repeat appearance are the stupidly extensive customisation options the original had to offer. Playing through the game will see you raking in silly amounts of cash which can be put towards unlocking new weapons and components (although some parts still need to be found in the game world). Conventional upgrades can be expected, such as putting a reflex scope on an urban-camouflaged G36C assault, but The 40th Day plays its best hand with the ridiculous modifications on offer.There’s nothing better than charging into battle wielding a Desert Eagle silenced by a fizzy drinks can, a solid gold shotgun made even louder thanks to an enhancer or a tiger-striped RPG. The customisation doesn’t end at the weapons, either. Designs for Rios and Salem’s masks can be created, downloaded and shared via the game’s website. It’s a good laugh making a mask to call your own (and also seeing how many words you can sneak past the automatic censor).

Unfortunately, The 40th Day suffers from a number of problems that no amount of customisation can fix. The story’s already short runtime is artificially elongated by the insufficient amount of checkpoints forcing you to slog through the same area time and time again, which wouldn’t be so bad if not for the fact that such sections can be aggravatingly difficult, and you’ll more often than not need to re-implement any changes made to weapons between save points. The game is also liberally peppered with non-skippable cutscenes, a sin in this day and age, only serving to frustrate even further. Sound issues make hearing dialogue difficult, a problem which would have been easily compensated for (not solved) by the inclusion of subtitles, of which there are none. Another element that’s inherently missing is any sense of a comprehensible storyline: nothing is fully explained (this reviewer still has no idea what the game’s subtitle actually refers to) and the aforementioned moral choices hold little gravitas, with each choice seemingly consisting of either being corrupt and getting some extra cash or playing the saint and not receiving anything, adding little to the already non-existential story. Those fed up with Nolan North’s voiceacting would also do well to stay away.

Army of Two: The 40th Day’s high level of customisation makes it a highly appealing and promising title: it’s just a shame that its design faults and especially brief story restrict it from offering a more well-rounded experience and greater value for money. There’s enough here to ensure you’ll have a brainlessly fist-bumpingly good time (if you bring along a buddy, at least), but lone wolves and those looking for more bang for their buck would be wise to save their money, perhaps even for a real golden shotgun of their own.


by
published Thursday, Jan 07th

Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City Review

What would a game be without its main characters? Zooming around the Green Hill Zone wouldn’t be the same if you weren’t playing as Sonic, Master Chief is the only marine suitable for saving humanity from the Covenant and raiding tombs without the delectable Miss Croft would just feel wrong. The starring role in Grand Theft Auto IV, the latest instalment in Rockstar North’s ground-breaking open world crime-sim, is undoubtedly Liberty City itself. Yes, you took on the role of Niko Bellic as he strived to survive in a harsh, dog-eat-dog world populated with gangsters, killers and other unpleasant types, but the way you interacted with the city, the way it seemingly moved and breathed even when you weren’t there, always made it feel as if Niko’s story just happened to be one entangled within a million others.
Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City enables you to play two more of these intricate, interweaving stories in the form of this year’s two downloadable content packs, The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony. Offering a perspective of the city from two massively diverse angles, each tale is as engaging, captivating and all-enapsulating as the main game’s original story.
The Lost and Damned sees you take on the role of Johnny Klebitz, vice president of The Lost Motorcycle Club and acting leader while president Billy Grey has been in jail for narcotics possession charges. In the absence of the headstrong boss, the club has flourished under Johnny’s management thanks to the deals and truces he has set up with the city’s other gangs. Billy’s release and ensuing irresponsible and anarchical behaviour threatens this precarious balance, however, causing tensions to boil over between the two on how the club should be run and casting the club’s future and crumbling hierarchy into doubt.
A tale concerning the values of loyalty and conflict in a brotherhood destroying itself from within, The Lost and Damned is an altogether darker affair, even when compared to the seedy underworld and confused morals of the main story. With an emphasis on maintaining squad formation on motorcycles (Johnny dislikes driving around in ‘cages’), alongside the introduction of some brilliantly devastative weapons, TLAD shows the player Liberty City’s most hostile side, offering one of the most sombre narratives you can experience in a videogame. The morose atmosphere will linger long after you’ve reached the game’s conclusion.
If The Lost and Damned showcases the darkest side of the city, The Ballad of Gay Tony illustrates the glitz and glamour the city can offer, or at least to the right people. Concerning the encroaching collapse of nightclub mogul ‘Gay’ Tony Prince’s social empire thanks to drug abuse, spiralling debt and vicious loan sharks wanting their money back (plus interest), it’s up to right-hand man Luis Lopez to salvage the situation and keep his boss’s rule over the city’s nightlife intact (or maintain it for as long as possible: whichever seems more likely).
While TLAD remains grounded in realism, TBOGT cranks the ridiculous factor to the max, flaunting some of the most outrageous missions to be found in any Grand Theft Auto instalment to date, such as tossing an unpleasant celebrity blogger from a helicopter before jumping out to catch him to ensure he doesn’t become a splotch on the tarmac and hijacking a moving subway carriage via helicopter while it’s still moving. With new weapons, such as the hilariously explosive shotgun, to terrorise the population with and base-jumping activities and more dotted throughout the city, there’s plenty to do with all the money and high profile offered to you in the final instalment.
Episodes cements Rockstar North’s position as the greatest storyteller in the industry, masterfully crafting two consistently intriguing and entrancing interlacing tales, deftly dropping in appearances from characters from all three stories, their inclusion never feeling forced for the sake of fan service. Each story has a satisfying ending, with the trinity of characters bringing the infamous diamond storyline to its humorous conclusion.
Rockstar North also plays its finest hand in the form of its impeccable characterisation. Johnny’s ex-girlfriend Ashley is a tragic figure tortured by drug dependency whilst the Kibbutz brothers feature in some of the funniest cutscenes you’re ever likely to see. However, it’s Yusuf Amir, the shameless Arabic playboy with a penchant for gold-plated objects, be they Uzis or attack-helicopters, who truly steals the show. The energy given to the character by comedian Omid Djalili leads to every inclusion of his character causing fits of laughter, making him possibly the greatest character to ever feature in a videogame.
Both The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony expand the GTA universe convincingly, immersing the player further into Liberty City all over again. With new weapons, added music and more mayhem, along with a combined length roughly equal to the main game’s tale, the only real criticism that can be levied at Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City is that it sadly has to end at some point. With its continuation of constantly pushing boundaries, Rockstar North has produced one of the finest pieces of downloadable content seen so far this generation. Criminally good, Episodes is a steal at any price.

by
published Wednesday, Oct 21st

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 Review

Name your favourite comic book characters. While there may be a couple of other companies’ figures in your mind (Batman and Superman, most likely), your list will probably be populated mostly by Marvel characters. Be they Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man or any of the X-Men, the Marvel universe undoubtedly has a greater number of mainstream characters filling its roster. Individually, they’re all pretty cool characters, so how awesome would it be if there was a game where they all teamed up?

The concept’s been tried before in Marvel Ultimate Alliance, with mixed results. While it was fun stomping about smashing heads as your favourite Marvel heroes, the title left a lot to be desired. The graphics were average at best, there seemed to be little connection between your chosen foursome aside from the fact they were working together and the story was dire, its uninteresting locations only serving to make it exceptionally uninspiring and unoriginal. It was a bit of a blow for comics fans, so it’s excellent news that Vicarious Visions have more than made up for it with the spectacular (if not informatively named) Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. If this year’s Batman: Arkham Asylum perfected the template for titles focusing on lone heroes, MUA2 does the same for team-up titles.

The first indicator that this is something special hits you before you’ve even started playing. Upon loading, you’re greeted with possibly the most spectacular menu screens in recent memory. From the stunning start screen to the moody tableau’s of the main menu, the tone of the game is set from the get go. There’s a sense of reverence on display here: MUA2 treats itself as not just a game but an event, much like the Secret War and Civil War storylines the title’s plot takes its inspiration from.

Fueled by a tragedy resulting in the deaths of over 600 innocents in Stamford, Connecticut caused indirectly by a secret invasion of Latveria by Nick Fury a year earlier, the Superhero Registration Act is rushed through congress, decreeing that all active heroes must register their identities with the authorities in order to continue operating or face punishment. Naturally, this causes a rift between the adventurers and former allies quickly become sworn enemies. The choice falls on you to decide which side you’re on.

This story draws enough parallels with the comics to please fans while being different enough to keep things interesting. It also allows for the story structure to take an interesting flow: branching out at the approval of the SRA, it lets you follow one of two story arcs (depending on which side you’ve chosen) before cohesively merging into one path again as events become more menacing than anyone could ever have previously imagined, effectively explaining why heroes and villains alike are working together. It’s also quite long, which isn’t a bad thing since you’ll want to find out how the saga concludes.

It’s the characters that make this game. The attention to detail is superb: the developers obviously adore their source material and it shows. They may pass regular gamers, but Marvel fans will love all the little touches found in their favourite characters, be it Spider-Man’s self-referential belters (“would you say that was amazing or spectacular?”), the inclusion of Wolverine’s fastball special and Stan Lee’s cameo as a politician. The character that steals the show however, no matter what your thoughts on him, is easily Deadpool. The Merc with a Mouth’s constant wisecracks and hilarious dialogue choices, alongside his unwavering belief that’s he a pawn in some kind of videogame, makes it worth the price of admission alone. Trivia offering experience points and in-depth dossiers on characters and locations help to ensure that once your time with the title is finished, your Marvel knowledge will be up to snuff.

One major flaw with the original was the soulless grouping of your four chosen characters: they may have worked as a team, but there was no gelling of personalities or any sense of teamwork, meaning that most of the action felt cold and dispassionate. The exact opposite is true of the sequel. Your chosen four convey their personalities and emotions through improved, colourful dialogue (although Thor sounds a bit like Tigger from Winnie The Pooh) and fusion moves– where two characters combine their abilities in a unique and devastating display to eradicate large groups of enemies– giving a greater sense of teamwork than the first title ever could. The fact that there are over 250 combinations of these pairings shows Vicarious Visions’ knowledge and respect for both the universe’s creators and its fans.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 betters its predecessor in every way. The overall presentation is far slicker, the story is infinitely more engaging and the graphics, with their glossy sheen giving a comic-like yet grounded look, are unequivocally superior. The niggles, such as subtitles taking up large portions of the screen, the removal of certain characters (no Moon Knight?) and the occasional moment where it’s hard to tell what’s going on don’t come into question when you’re simply having so much fun. Like Batman before it, it’s the faithfulness to the source material that makes this title so good. Marvellous stuff.


by
published Saturday, Sep 26th

Halo ODST Review

Like it or lump it, Halo 3 was undoubtedly a landmark of this generation. The flagship title of the original Xbox ensured the console’s success, revolutionising first-person shooters and creating an icon of Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 in the process. The third instalment in the franchise – the first for the 360 – was eagerly awaited by fans and critics alike, promising to make up for Halo 2’s controversial cliffhanger ending by bringing the epic tale spanning six years to its thrilling conclusion.

On its release in September 2007, Halo 3 became a phenomenon, grossing more than $300 millions dollars in its first week, eventually selling over 8.1 million copies worldwide. Its impact is still felt today: the multiplayer remains immensely popular, with Bungie announcing that over 1 billion online matches have now been played.

The announcement of a new instalment was met with a roar of approval. Bungie, being Bungie, weren’t just going to release more of the same: there would be the usual additions, such as an engaging storyline complementing the other instalments, new and improved weapons, new locations, etc. But the announcement of the absence of Master Chief from this entry worried some: wouldn’t the removal of the character so central to the story and the franchise itself be a massive mistake?

Now that ODST’s dropped, that question can now be answered. Is there life after Chief?


by
published Tuesday, Sep 08th

Batman: Arkham Asylum Review (Xbox 360)

There seems to be an underlying problem with the majority of comic book-based video games: they don’t appear to receive the love, care and respect that they deserve. While there are some quality titles, such as Spider-Man 2 and The Punisher, they’re inevitably followed up by dross like Catwoman and (Oh, Christ) the abominable Superman 64. As a result, there was some consternation when Batman: Arkham Asylum was announced. It had a lot to live up to: it would need to please both fans and newcomers alike, make up for all the dire Batman efforts previously unleashed upon the public conscience and single-handedly raise the bar for all comic-book videogames to come. Developers Rocksteady relished the challenge and succeeded spectacularly, creating the finest comic book title to date.

It’s been a long night for Batman and, having captured The Joker, things looks set to end as he escorts the clown to Arkham Asylum, Gotham City’s local loony bin, after his night spent terrorising the mayor of the crime-ridden city. Once they’re inside, however, The Joker initiates an island-wide lockdown while simultaneously freeing the inmates in an attempt to dispatch The Bat once and for all, setting in motion the events of the game.

There’s one thing that’s immediately evident during the opening cinematic. This isn’t the usual comic game based off a film based off a comic: this is a comic book game based on the comics. The developers weren’t limited to the contents of a movie, being free to play with all the characters and backstory that had been established over the comics’ 70 year history. As a result, there are hints and references to the comics peppered throughout the game, from the opening cutscene to the horrifying finale. This richness and eye for detail ensures that your interest is grabbed and held for the duration of the game.

Arkham Asylum is a masterclass in games design. Every aspect of the title, from the gameplay mechanics down to the smallest detail, has obviously had time spent pondering over them to try and make them the most interesting they can be. The combat mechanic, arguably the crux of the title, is the optimum balance of skill and ease. Using only the most spartan of button combinations, it’s simple to take out a bunch of bad guys, but difficult to do it stylishly and effectively. Time your button presses correctly and you’ll be kicking ass with a combination of martial arts kicks, punches and precisely thrown Batarangs. The fact that each final takedown is emphasised by a slow-motion zoom only serves to make every brawl a whole heap of fun.

The greatest weapon in Batman’s arsenal is his fear tactics: make it into a room with gargoyles and you can zipline between them, picking off goons one by one via a variety of stealthy maneuvers. Dropping down behind enemies and silently taking them out and delivering flying kicks from the rafters are both viable (and satisfying) methods, but the coolest has to be the inverted takedown: hanging upside down from the rafters, Batman swoops down and grabs an enemy before hanging him feet first from the dark recesses of the roof. Naturally, his pals will come to investigate, and one well-thrown Batarang will result in a game of upside-down human bowling. Your other gadgets can also come in handy here: rigging sections of the floor with explosive gel can result in volatile crowd dispersal, while the Batclaw allows you to pull weak walls down onto enemies’ heads. It’s fun seeing enemies start to panic as you pick off their friends one by one. The thought-provoking nature of these sections and sheer variety of takedown methods, along with your ability to use your zipline to traverse to virtually any ledge quickly and quietly, succeeds brilliantly where other efforts have failed; it makes you feellike the hero.

It’s not just generic mooks you cross swords with either. Where would The Dark Knight be without his rogues gallery? This being an insane asylum, and with the majority (if not all) of Bats’ foes having some sort of mental disorder or other, you’ll come across a lot of villains from the comics over the course of the story. While The Joker naturally steals the show (and so he should: Mark Hamill imbues the role with the perfect mix of crazy and creepy, giving Heath Ledger’s celluloid counterpart a run for his money as best actor for the part), you’ll come across villains both popular and obscure, including Harley Quinn (in new hyper-hot mode), the frightful Killer Croc, the back-breaking Bane and, in more than one unnerving encounter, the Scarecrow.

While each character plays their part in the story, it’s the Scarecrow’s sections that are by far the most compelling. With a new needle-fingered image, gasmask-concealed visage and potent fear gas, Dr. Jonathan Crane is more frightening that ever, particularly showcased in the game over screens that follow if you fall victim to his toxins. Serving up more than one unexpected trip into Bruce Wayne’s nightmares, alongside one moment of genuine panic in the greatest mindfuck in gaming history (you’ll know it when you come to it), the Scarecrow portions are among some of the best of the title.

The Riddler, even though he’s only heard and never seen, is also a foe you’ll have to conquer, although this time you’ll need to use your intellect. Having hidden numerous challenges around the island for the caped crusader to overcome, it’s your job to find hidden Riddler Trophies, collect audio interview recordings of certain inmates of the asylum and solve cryptic riddles set by Mr. E. Nygma himself. While the tapes are interesting to collect, each detailing an innocent psychiatric reviews’s descent into horror, it’s the riddles that are the most rewarding to solve. Putting your detective skills to use, it’s up to you to find an item in the levels that correspond to a certain friend or foe from Batman’s past. Finding these clues unlocks a specific character profile, a subtle and fitting nod to the rich history of the series. Also worth discovering are the Spirit of Arkham artefacts, documenting the mental decline of the asylum’s founder Amadeus Arkham. It’s extremely satisfying solving each of The Riddler’s puzzles and you’ll finding yourself wanting to collect every last one, even if it is just to make him shut his condescending mouth and chuckle as his inferiority complex kicks in.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a thrill ride from start to finish. The combination of an excellent combat mechanic, tactical stealth and cryptic detection results in the most satisfying, exciting and faithful comic book game available. The skillful integration of aesthetics from both the comics and the films, alongside the multitude of reference to the source materials and the retention of voice actors from the animated series, make it playful yet dark in atmosphere, appealing to all generations of Batman fans. It’s not perfect (the same boss battle rolls itself out numerous times, it’s occasionally easy to get stuck and there are some fiddly platforming bits) but these are well compensated for by several nice touches (such as Bats becoming visually more and more battered and exhausted as the story progresses) and the numerous crowning moments of pure brilliance found throughout the story (the ending is guaranteed to make you smile at just how brilliant it is). The Riddler’s brain-teasers and challenge rooms only serve to add to the already lengthy playtime of the title. Arkham Asylum shows other comic book games how it’s done, making itself essential in the process. Once again, The Dark Knight reigns triumphant.