Mercury Hg released on the PlayStation Network recently and received positive reviews including a solid 8 out of 10 in our review. So, as promised, the generous developers have released their first piece of downloadable content (DLC), known as ‘Heavy Elements’, has landed.
Weighing in at £1.59, this content once again follows the budget price trend set by the main game. The controls and general premise remain the same as before and that’s certainly not a bad thing. Players will still guide their mercury blob through each level trying to reach the end while working towards other goals such as collecting bonuses, achieving time limits and not losing any mass along the way.
Metro 2033, the post-apocalyptic First Person Shooter from 4A Games, hit stores in March this year to a respectable reception from critics including a distinguished score from our very own Rob Burgess.
When Capcom announced they were working on a new instalment of their ‘vs’ crossover fighting series, the chances of a western release were somewhere between slim and none. Firstly, the game would be matching Capcom’s popular fighting roster with those of manga powerhouse, Tatsunoko – a company with very little exposure outside Japan. Secondly, the Wii, a format not known or built for traditional beat-em-ups, was chosen as the sole home platform. To cap it off, the amount of effort involved in localising the title, including sorting out the tricky issue of licences, appeared too great for Capcom to bother with.
But Capcom have realised (more than any gaming company this gen) that listening to the whims of your fan base can reap big rewards, and Tatsunoko vs Capcom generated a lot of interest from western gamers when it was first announced. To cut a long story short, Capcom have gone through all the necessary hoops and here we are, with the PAL version sitting in our excited laps.
T vs C uses the same gameplay elements as previous versus titles like Marvel vs Capcom; it’s a 2-D fighter with 2 v 2 tag-team bouts. Characters can be switched on the fly or brought into the battle for a single ‘assist’ attack or a larger combo attack. Attacks are performed using three buttons (high-medium-low) instead of the six used for Street Fighter and similar titles. Despite appearing simplified on the surface, there are still the usual combos, specials, hyper specials and counter moves you’d expect from a fighting game. Capcom have succeeded in creating a control system that is both accessible to newcomers and yet deep enough to satisfy hardcore fighting fans. Button bashers may get a few cheap wins against lower level foes but to really excel against good players it takes quite a bit of time and effort to master the move sets and apply them in the heat of battle.
The list of combatants available is very impressive, despite the unknown roster on the Tatsunoko side, with 26 in all. Capcom themselves have got some iconic characters from franchises like Street Fighter and Mega Man, plus a few unexpected appearances, like Viewtiful Joe, Frank West (Dead Rising) and Soki from Onimusha. The Tatsunoko characters may not be well-known over here, but that doesn’t mean they are weaker fighters. Far from it actually – give them a few minutes and you’ll find them to be just as accessible and fun to play with as any of Capcom’s famous faces. Ryu and Ken the Eagle will soon feel as natural a pairing as peanut butter and jam. Overpowered characters were one of the concerns in the Japanese release but this has been tidied up considerably in the western version – the result is almost on a par with Street Fighter 4 in terms of variety and balance.
The same can be said about the game’s presentation, which replaces the 2D sprite art of previous versus titles with something a little closer to Street Fighter 4’s stylised 3D look. Character models have a soft cel-shaded, almost comic book, look to them which happily accommodates both the realistic characters and Tatsunoko’s manga style. The arenas are also very detailed, impressively capturing the look of the various games they have been plucked from.
We couldn’t end a review without mentioning the online modes. In a nut-shell, the online experience is far and away the most pleasing of any Wii game we’ve tried so far. Battles have been completely lag-free and setting up matches against friends or random challengers are mostly pain-free. Capcom have shown Nintendo how to handle online fights, putting Smash Bros Brawl to shame, and the only let down is the inclusion of friend codes, but then that is more an issue from Nintendo’s side. Capcom have also come up with a novel idea to stop people quitting before ranked matches have ended, a problem rife in SF IV. Persistant quitters will find themselves pitted against other quitters when they try and start another ranked match. This makes us smile inside.
Capcom really can do no wrong at the moment and this is yet another high moment. The game is a series of triumphs; the excellent control system, the near-perfect character balance, the wealth of extras and the solid online modes all make this a true success story. Wii owners who are itching for a decent fighter should look no further, and fans of SF IV or the previous versus games really ought to pick this up as it is hands-down one of the best fighters of this or any generation.
The story of this game’s journey to a western release has been a long and intriguing one. Hopefully Capcom will get the happy ending they deserve and we’ll get the chance to get our hands on a sequel.
Naughty Dog have certainly been pushing the multiplayer feature in their epic adventure Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Already they’ve offered a multitude of double xp events, a number of holiday specific skins and even a new map but now they’ve got another surprise up their sleeves although this time you’ll have to pay.
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.
It’s not often that DLC warrants a review all of it’s own, but it’s not often that DLC, or indeed a game, like this comes along. Since the game proper launched in January, Burnout: Paradise has established a solid reputation as the best hidden gem frequenting Xbox live and PSN. Shying away from the hyper competitive arenas dominated by the likes of Halo and Call of Duty, Burnout instead offers something entirely different to its fans. Inside the joyous concrete playground of the titular Paradise City, players are given the freedom to race, do a series of co-op challenges or play a variety of quickfire games- stunt runs, cat and mouse chases or just about anything else the host can think of. The result is an accessible, purely enjoyable multiplayer experience that at times, when all the players are screaming along winding mountain roads purely for the joy of driving the games’ series of preposterously amusing super cars, feels like a Sunday driving club for adrenaline junkies.
Burnout’s reputation for a unique online experience extends in to the games’ fantastic DLC offerings and this, naturally, brings us to The Point. It’s become customary for console gamers to expect to pay for their downloads these days, so it came as no small surprise to discover that Burnout would be sporting a massive series of upgrades to the core game for free, with a schedule spanning an entire year. The latest in the series, following the release of a content patch for the multiplayer modes, is the addition of Bikes to the heady roster of vehicles available. This is a first for the franchise and it’s nothing short of an absolute pleasure to find out that Criterion have pulled out all the stops for the event, making this update one of the best pieces of DLC this generation.
In short, this feels like an entirely new game as much as a mere freebie. Most developers would be content with adding the bikes to the existing game structure and letting you get on with it. Not so here: to welcome in the new rides, Criterion have included 38 single player time trial races and 70 new multiplayer co-op events to do with friends. Although this won’t take you too long to finish, especially on single player, the fact that it’s included at all, and that it’s so fun, deserves huge praise.
But more importantly, how do the bikes handle? The answer is ‘utterly brilliantly’, which is nice. Ridiculously fast, the bikes feel responsive, weighty and exhilarating to drive and, with a smaller profile on the road and reduced traffic in the streets, feel hugely empowering as you explore the city afresh, roaring through previously difficult short cuts and dangerous back roads with ease- even in the darkest hours of the game’s new and customisable day/ night cycle.
In fact, it’s arguable that the bikes make things a little too easy- for experienced players particularly the single player content is far simpler to complete than the challenge presented by the cars. All the events are time trials from A-B and the problem simply seems to be that the allocated time limits are too slack. In one instance, I finished an event with fifty seconds on the clock going spare- enough time to cover half the city in vehicles this fast. Multiplayer, however, feels more substantial with 10 tasks to complete for every different player count from 2-8. These are still quite easy, but they’re particularly well designed anyway. Criterion clearly know their city inside out, and quite possibly the driving habits of their players too so many of the challenges are cunningly designed to send you down particularly fun parts of the map to tackle on a bike- be it gently swooping mountain passes or hairpin city rat runs the team make sure you see it all and doing so with a host of other bikers on screen, racing as a pack, is pure gaming hedonism, sparking that old Paradise feel of driving for the pure pleasure of the experience alone.
Sadly, there comes a point where driving for the sake of it is all that remains of the bikes update- bar the challenges, the bikes do not come with any other kind of multiplayer game, and the single player does not include any other kind of event, either. Stunt runs and racing are conspicuous by their absence. Online players, then, will be left to their own devices. Perhaps we’ll see more modes and games in the ‘Eastwood’ update which will conclude the ‘year of paradise’ DLC extravaganza by adding a whole new island to the game. Untill then, Burnout Bikes provides a brilliant, if possibly short lived, alternative way of playing an already impressive title.