So it’s here, without doubt the biggest release to the format this year. Gears Of War was a revelation in third person shoot ‘em ups with jaw-dropping presentation, incredible cinematic and a cover system that actually worked (and which numerous titles have gone on to follow) it provided what was and still is a true gaming experience. Of course Gears Of War 2 has a difficult task in following its predecessor, can a game that was so groundbreaking in the first place be justified other than to continue the plot?
Gears Of War was a beautiful game and Gears Of War 2 is no different, it’s still beautiful, is both sound and vision. This time round the unreal engine has been pushed to the limit. Backdrops made from forests, snow capped mountains and scenic environments that stretch out for miles sit beside the crumbling buildings and cave that is now such a familiar site. The score also deserves a special mention; designed by the man behind the transformers soundtrack it’s a score any composer would be proud of. It truly adds a sense of grandeur to proceedings.
Epic have delivered what is a familiar experience, it handles in a similar style to the original, the cover system is still in use, although the clumsiness that plagued it so much is also present. So the sequel still won’t turn those who weren’t enthusiasts of the first release. However what Epic has done is introduce little tweaks to the gameplay that make it that little bit more appealing. More melee attacks are available; ‘B’ will make Fenix give his opponent a blow to the back of their head. ‘X’ will still perform the ultra-violent curb stomp; ‘Y’ lets Fenix punch his opponent to death. ‘A’ is perhaps the most intriguing and useful addition, with it Fenix will pick up the injured Grub and use it as a ‘human’ shield, the downside to this is that it limits weapon choice to the pistol. Weapons have also been tweaked; the traditional arms have been altered to make them more distinctive. For example, the Locust assault has sluggish fore rate but is more powerful when compared to its COG counterpart. Fenix also has more at his disposal; new arms such as mortars, flamethrowers, and the boom shield have been added to the traditional arsenal, all new equipments to kill locust hordes in oh so violent means. Nice.
Tacticians out there will notice that Fenix is now unable to issue commands to his squad, it can be a wearisome omission especially when Carmine and co. storm into battle and to their inevitable professional suicides, on the plus side it means no more slanging matches with the television when Santiago or Carmine don’t follow orders. Despite this omission, the developers have addressed the balance somewhat; death now doesn’t mean death, instead Fenix will remain injured until someone heals him while pressing ‘A’ and a direction and seem him will seek cover. Sure, Fenix’s buddies leave him to be ripped to shreds by Locust bullets but at least someone will come back to heal him.
Campaign is enjoyable when in single player mode but it’s the multiplayer mode that will have people coming back for their fill of gratuitous violence. The campaign can still be done in co-op, however this time around there is a drop-in where another player can drop in and out of the action at any point with each player able to have their own difficulty setting. The other multiplayer modes have also been tweaked, Warzone, Execution, Assassination, and Annex all feature as does King of the Hill which previously was only available in the PC version. Continuing with the tradition of new features there are also four new modes. Submission, which is similar to capture the flag except the flag is a civilian, who can be a little bit hostile. Guardian is similar to VIP modes, where there is one team member who must be kept alive, although the rest can respawn and Wingman, which relies heavily on teamwork as players are split into teams of two. All new modes add longevity to the experience, however it’s Horde that steals the show. Horde is perhaps the closest to the campaign mode; it sees teams of five face waves successive of Locusts enemies, each getting progressively harder. Team mates can be revived but if at least one member is alive at the end then entire team will respawn for he next hoard. Horde reinvigorates online multiplayer as it’s all about teamwork and not shooting the hell of each other, that and it’s utter, utter fun.
Gears Of War 2 is not as ground breaking as the original but no one expected it to be, sequels don’t tend to be so. What sequels strive to be, or at least should strive to be, is an improvement on the original and this is what the developers Epic have achieved. Even the biggest Gears fan would have to admit the original had its flaws and while some of these have carried over Epic have still managed to make Gears Of War 2 bigger and better in almost all aspects but to mention them would be giving the plot away. It’s more intense, it’s more violent, and both the campaign and multiplayer modes are a lot more varied. Sure there are enough unanswered question for a third but for now this is one not to be missed.
Often the turnaround for gaming sequels is all too quick, in the time it’s taken to complete the first title the second has been announced. It’s welcome then that Fable 2 has taken it’s sweet time, the original was a breath of fresh air for the role playing game genre, it followed the life of an individual and their subsequent decision to follow a good or evil path. But will the wait turn people from the newest instalment or will it turn out that the old phrase it true? Absence does make the heart grow fonder.
It’s been a while since a title has put cinematic to such good use, the sequence that opens Fable 2 is impressive to the point it almost resembles film standards, even the bird poo that lands on our possible hero’s shoulder is remarkable. Pair that with likewise impressive orchestral music it makes for quite an introduction.
The training portion at the beginning sums up Fables premise, in which the games central character, a male or female street urchin depending on your choice at the beginning, carries out tasks set to him (or her). However there is a twist, each task has two outcomes either good or evil and the choice made has an outcome on the character and how the people around react to him. Make the moral choice and the character earns positive points turning him into a hero, make immoral decisions and negative points are earned transforming the once urchin into a villain who the townsfolk dread. This time around though our protagonist is accompanied by a canine companion throughout who will assist in finding treasures, secrets and alternative quest routes, which can prove to be useful although this does mean looking after it.
It’s in the training that the plot develops, after making a wish with a magic music box the protagonist and his sister are summoned to see King Lucian at Castle Fairfax, the two obliged believing it to be their wish coming true. But after some insane rambling about power the King injures our protagonist and kills his sister, cue a decade later and the imminent quest for revenge follows. Developers Lionhead Studios haven’t taken the realistic route in character or level design, instead characterized Victorian fashioned townsfolk and foes populate the fantasy world that is Albion, all which helps to envelop us into the to fairytale that is Fable 2. Environments are lush, grand forests, beautiful lakes and towns all built with superb detail make up a world that is ten times the size of the original. Journeying through Albion is simple and is made easier through the golden path that indicates the direction to take for quest based objectives however it doesn’t mean that it has to be followed, it’s there purely as an indication so the world is free to be explored. In fact some areas require certain criteria to be met before they can be accessed so exploration is actively encouraged.
Like all good RPGs Fable 2 is rich with options, of course there are the usual quests that see the plot through to its inevitable finale, these are supplemented by additional optional quests that can be found through talking to Albion’s various inhabitants. When participating in combat during these quests, experience orbs can be earned. Strength through melee attacks, skill through long-range weapon attacks and magic (called ‘will’) through magic attacks. Orbs are used to purchase more abilities. Combat takes form of hack and slash action and while it doesn’t take much skill, it doesn’t need to be, it simplicity makes it more fun.
As per all RPG’s equipment such as clothes, weapons, potions and titles (such as ‘chicken chaser’ or ‘nobhead’) can be purchased, but to do that cash is needed. Cash is earned from quests but it can also be earned through employment, these take the form of mini-games, the more the job is performed the more cash is earned. Real estate is another valid form of income, but for those who don’t want to sell their house then it can always be filled with a doting wife or wives (that’s correct, bigamy is an option) and screaming kids. All of which makes for a deep filled delicious experience.
Fable 2 is a game that does very little wrong, sure, with such a large world it would have been nice to know where each town is in relation to another, the menus are a little bland but that’s clutching at straws. Fable 2 is a fantastic game, the plot, while not ground breaking is enough to be drawn into, the added sheer size of the world it’s set in, the lush environments and brilliant voice acting (which seems to include a cast made up of nothing but British actors including the wonderful Stephen Fry) it makes for one of the most immersing games on the Xbox 360. A pure refinement on the original and that by a long shot is no bad thing. So what’ll it be? Good? Or Evil?
Let’s face it; a role-playing game with Hironobu Sakaguchi a, the man behind the more recent Final Fantasy titles, at the helm is going to receive a lot of comparisons to the acclaimed series. But to a certain extent it’s warranted. For all intense and purpose Lost Odyssey is Final Fantasy under a different name, it bears hallmarks that made the series such a success and Sakaguchi’s influence can be seen from the outset. But will Lost Odyssey stand out in it’s own right or will it pale in comparison to the ‘behemoth’ of RPG’s.
The first place most fans will look within an RPG, is the storyline as a well thought out in depth story will see a title compete with the best, anything less than that and it will fall short. Lost Odyssey certainly doesn’t fall short; the storyline is as, if not more in depth than even the largest Final Fantasy title’s but that should be expected when it has been penned by award-winning Japanese novelist, Kiyoshi Shigematsu and directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi.
Lost Odyssey is set in a world where magic is the primary source of energy, however this has lead to war between the three main nations, Numara, Gohtza and Uhra. Central to the plot is Kaim Argonar, who with Seth, Ming, Sarah and Gongora, are five immortals that have travelled from another dimension a millennium ago. However in the interested of conflict Gongora has removed the memories of the other four and proceed to abuse his new found position as president of Uhra and take over the world with the magic energy. Got that. Good. It’s in this premise that Lost Odyssey gains its depth, as the game develops so the characters back-stories, these are presented as ‘A Thousand Year of Dreams’ short text based stories that are trigged upon visiting certain points, or after certain events. These stories can be skipped, so as little or as much detail can be taken from proceedings as desired.
Detailed back-stories are useless without characters to back them up, so with the four immortal characters and five mortal characters that join Lost Odyssey the cast is far from lacking. Even the somewhat annoying Jansen can be warmed to towards the end. It’s Gongora though that lets down events, as the main antagonist he doesn’t warrant the usual satisfaction that should be gained from defeating him. He doesn’t fit the part; his animation is poor and dialogue stunted when compared to the other characters, and to top it off he has an annoying face.
Lost Odyssey takes a similar approach to most RPG’s, magic, weapons and equip-able items are all present in one form or another, however it seems that Lost Odyssey’s developers have simplified these aspects. Equipping a ridiculous amount of various accessories in order to increase certain skills, has been thrown out the window; instead each character is able to equip a single weapon, an item (which in the case of the mortal characters allows them to use the skill, which the item in their possession has) and rings (which are mentioned below). This is a welcome change; most RPG’s get to bogged down in the preparations for battle rather than concentrate on the actual battle itself.
The usual turn based system is still there, however the addition of rings have thrown an extra element into the equation. Rings produce an aiming system of sorts when performing a melee attack, using the right trigger button and some expert timing will produce a bad, good or perfect result, the better the result the higher the damage. Scattered around Lost Odyssey’s world are a plethora of unusual objects and items, these items can be used to assemble different rings; each has different effects on a characters melee attack, ranging from increased damage on certain enemies to status or element effects. As well as the ring system a more rational turn based system has been implemented into battles, certain moves take precedence over others. For example, melee attacks will be faster than magic and weaker magic attacks will be faster than more powerful ones.
Lost Odyssey’s developers haven’t drastically redefined the turn based battle mode but who would expect them to, don’t fix what isn’t broken. Instead extra additions add a twist that stops the turn based fighting system, a far from exhilarating but essential aspect, from becoming stale; so in that respect, kudos to them. But with an incredible, in depth plot and over 40 hours of gameplay without seeking out all the extras, it makes for a fantastic deep RPG. However it doesn’t quite manage to capture that epic feeling that is often associated with it’s Final Fantasy cousins, the action isn’t quite as intense and the music isn’t quite as impressive, but it’ll keep the fans amused until Final Fantasy XIII is released.
So, Halo 2? One of the biggest releases of the year and possibly one of the most important titles for any gaming platform ever. The hope of millions of Xbox gamers rests on the shoulders of Bungie’s Opus. So no pressure then.
With the sequel to the hugely popular Halo: Combat Evolved Bungie has slaved away for the past two years to create something that not only surpasses the original but redefines what gamers expect from their FPS’s.
What has Bungie improved upon since Halo? Well the first thing you’ll notice is the graphical overhaul. Gone is the slightly over used purple and grey colour scheme, say hello to Mr Bump-map and his friend Mrs Shiny. These are near enough the best graphics you are ever likely to see for this generation; everything has been lovingly crafted, the architecture is indeed as good as ever far surpassing the original; bump maps are here in abundance, on every character, tree and hill; and the amount of polygons, particle effects and stuff going on at once is very impressive.