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published Tuesday, Jun 22nd

Green Day: Rock Band Review (PS3)

Last year the Rock Band franchise tried its hand at a band-specific game with The Beatles: Rock Band, and it’s safe to say it certainly delivered the goods. However, they also managed to set their bar a bit high by choosing one of the most influential groups of all time for their first attempt. While some may see Green Day as a big step down musically from the Liverpudlian rockers, have Harmonix managed to once again work with the band’s strengths to produce another hit game, or will it simply paste new songs and characters over the Rock Band previous template?


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published Thursday, Apr 08th

God Of War III Review

Kratos is a very angry man with a penchant for violence. While this may be bad for the skeletons, centaurs, chimeras, sirens and cyclops of mythical Greece, it’s great for gamers and the reason that both God of War I and II were so critically acclaimed back in the days of the PlayStation 2. So much so, that as soon as God of War II launched, the final game and resolution of the trilogy was announced, and would be coming to PlayStation 3 in all it’s High Definition glory. So now the Ghost of Sparta has returned. Not surprisingly, he’s still a very angry man and his fondness for all things brutal is very much alive.


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published Friday, Mar 26th

Yakuza 3 Review

Konnichiwa! Watashi no rebyū wo kangei suru Ryū ga Gotoku 3… Oh wait, wrong language. Anyway Yakuza 3 is the fourth installment in the Yakuza series from Sega, which portrays the seedy and gritty underworld of organised crime in the streets of Okinawa. This isn’t the kawaii J-Pop you’ve come to know and love from Japan – unless you’re playing karaoke – and this is definitely not your latest installment of the Katamari series.

A key factor with the Yakuza series is its authenticity. Unlike similar open world environments, such as Grand Theft Auto, every store, logo and piece of advertising you see in Yakuza 3 is what you would see if you walk down a street in Japan. Once you get past the frustrating 5GB required installation of Yakuza 3, which takes up-to half an hour, players can begin to enjoy the authentic Japanese experience.

Yakuza 3’s plot is centered on Sunshine Orphanage and the land it’s built on. This land is run by the protagonist of the game and ex-Yakuza Kazuma Kiryu, and when the Yakuza are requested to take over the land for a big seaside resort, your reputation and friendship with the chairman of the Tojo clan takes a turn for the worse. Then of course, insert a plot twist or two here. Newcomers to the Yakuza series need not worry as you’re well catered for with an explanation of what happened in the previous installments.

Unfortunately your first few hours as a Yakuza won’t see getting involved with much action, as you won’t be facing off against men who compulsively want a fight, but instead you will find yourself helping out the kids in the aforementioned orphanage. With various problems such as offering advice on bullying, to catching a dog and playing baseball. After this initial gentle introduction to the controls and gameplay your character fly’s out to Kamurocho and quickly gets thrown into the deep end of typical Yakuza action, with plenty of fights to keep you on your toes!

Yakuza 3

Getting to grips with Yakuza 3’s gameplay mechanics is simple. Once outside the orphanage you walk the streets and complete your various missions. Typically these missions resolve in you partaking in a shirtless street battle, beating the enemy senseless with a usual smattering of square, square, triangle. Although this may sound repetitive, fear not, Yakuza 3 truly delivers where variety is concerned. Mini-games ranging from golf, karaoke, darts, fishing and more are all on offer, along with the usual smattering of collectables. There is plenty to keep you entertained when the main storyline is proving uneventful, with hours and hours of supplementary experiences to enjoy. Of course, button-bashing aside Yakuza 3 has the heart of an RPG, meaning that with a little effort there are plenty of moves you can learn. These additional moves can be gained via the surprisingly deep experience (EXP) system, or new moves can also be gained through the means of having an epiphany. These epiphanies take place when your character takes photos with his phone and then uploads them to his blog. This process adds a unique and fairly modern take on progression and was a welcome surprising addition.

Unfortunately slight faults and design annoyances do occasionally pop-up, which can taint some of the apparent endless fun to be had with this game. One small annoyance for example: The majority of side missions that take place do not include any location markers, which therefore requires you to mentally remember the street names of where such a side mission took place in order to complete some missions. Although this does sound like a minor annoyance, some of the Japanese street names found within the game, do sound similar to others.

When it comes to visuals Yakuza 3 won’t be winning an award anytime soon, however it’s worth remembering that this game came out more than a year ago in Japan. Taking this into consideration, along with the highly detailed an accurate environment and it more than holds it’s own. A key factor which may be off-putting for a majority is that there is no English audio available. Everything is read through subtitles, both in the cut scenes and the dialogue with all the characters. For someone like myself who has a long history of watching subbed eastern films and anime it poses no problems, but for those who prefer a more immersive experience the constant reading may pose a problem. Additionally, during certain points in the subtitles can be difficult to read due to lighting conditions.

Sega’s Yakuza 3 has had it’s fair share of controversy? During the localisation process of the game various things were cut including, the shogi mini-game, the mahjong mini-games and a Japanese trivia game. However, these cuts were small and in no doubt necessary for the audience in question, compared to the most complained cut of all. Sega cut a mini-game involving a hostess club, which in-turn resulted in the cut of several other side missions in the process.

Despite the various cuts and the constant subtitles, overall Yakuza 3 is a game which will interest anybody with an allure to Japanese culture. Of course those with a curiosity surrounding the seedy lives Yakuza (or gangsters in general) will also find something of interest here. Yakuza 3 is a title which can provide endless hours of fun with its extremely well thought out mini games, random street brawls and deeply engaging storyline, which manages to capture your attention from the very first scene.

 


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published Tuesday, Mar 16th

Heavy Rain Review

Heavy Rain’s concept is a bold one. It’s not just a video game – it has attempted to blur the lines between a novel, film and humble gaming experience. Quantic Dream’s brainchild has distanced itself from the traditional elements a third person action/adventure title, instead deciding to concentrate on an in depth narrative. But there-in lies the problem; do video-gamers want an in-depth experience? Or is a player content with switching their minds off as they switch their console on?

Heavy Rain is indeed in depth. Its comprehensive storyline follows the aftermath of a notorious child serial murderer known as the ‘Origami Killer’. Upon the kidnapping their latest victim, Shaun Mars, players take control of four different characters, Shaun’s father Ethan Mars, journalist Madison Paige, Private Investigator Scott Shelby and the FBI agent investigating the killings, Norman Jayden. In order to progress through the game, players must participate in a series of chronological scenarios to achieve the ultimate end: find Shaun Mars and track down the Origami Killer.

Heavy Rain’s story is incredibly emotive, however despite its ability to draw the player in, its finer points border on the unoriginal and are often daft. The ‘tests’ that Ethan must take are reminiscent of the tests in the Saw series. Meanwhile, the majority of the support cast come from even the most clichéd crime films, seemingly created from one-dimensional moulds, with inexpressive voice acting to match. Perhaps most disappointing of all is that despite the length of time the script took to write (around eighteen months) it makes huge leaps in order to fit the scenarios together, often without paying attention to evidence or logic. For example, Ethan is made a scapegoat through out the game with no evidence. For a game that is so story driven, such oversights are stain on what could have been a well thought our crime thriller.

That said in Ethan, Madison, Scott and Norman, Heavy Rain has four lead characters that do more than enough to hold the plot together. Voice acting from the four protagonists on the most part is heartfelt (a few scenes are questionable, in particular when searching for Ethan son, which repeats the same unconvincing call). While the option to hear their thoughts not only provides a useful in-game guide, but provides an insight into the characters emotional investment in the unfolding events.

Although each character has their own back-story and reasons for their involvement in the investigation, it is FBI agent Norman Jayden’s view on events that is the most compelling. Fighting a drug addiction whilst coping with controversial co-workers makes for some difficult decision-making. Norman’s scenarios make for some interesting CSI style investigation. Norman possesses a device called A.R.I (Added Reality Interface), a sunglasses-like device that allows him to scan the surrounding area for evidence. Although it simplifies the investigation process and takes the challenge from it somewhat, it does allows the game to flow, ensuring that the player doesn’t get bogged down in finding that clue which could make or break the case.

Irrespective of size and importance, almost all decisions or actions made within the game have consequences. Some might affect the scenario that follows, for example, a scenario towards the game’s beginning see Ethan looking after his son, a decision as small as not asking Shaun to do his homework will leave him dejected in the subsequent scenario (as he was punished at school). Of course more substantial decisions or actions have more impact, even to the point that it could affect the game’s final outcome. An event as great as a character’s death is no obstacle, regardless as to which character or characters it is. Instead Heavy Rain’s immense depth works the storyline around it, making for a seamless narrative that reinforces the player’s choices.

For a title that requires the amount of attention that Heavy Rain does, no doubt due to its depth, it requires modest input from the player. For the most part, it adopts a context-sensitive control scheme – almost all actions are controlled through a button press, analogue stick movement or use of the Sixaxis, which appear as visual prompts. During the action and interaction sequences it works well; the button sequences create a realistic impression of control over events that gives the player a sense of involvement, despite the limited input. For example, miss a button prompt in a fight sequence and it could result in a character not connecting or dodging a punch. Miss enough and they could loose the fight or worse, die. General movement however is flawed in comparison, walking feels stunted and awkward at times and will often see the character walk past the object the player wants to interact with, sometimes requiring some delicate and frustrating manoeuvres.

Interacting with objects can also prove frustrating. No text description is given with the on screen prompts, which can result in the player doing something he or she didn’t intend to do. Generally, this flaw in the interaction doesn’t affect the narrative, however accidentally sitting down in a chair or switching a light on can spoil the games flow, thus reducing it’s cinematic quality.

Control faults aside, Heavy Rain’s cinematic approach is excellent. It’s beautiful visuals combined with some superb animation creates the experience of an extended cut scene. In fact, Heavy Rain’s presentation is film-like through and through. It utilises obscure camera angles and split screen to portray that unique cinema style, while its score is the standard of a BAFTA award winning film.

Although its presentation suggests a third person action title, for intent and purposes Heavy Rain is a role-playing game. However, despite its in depth story, it isn’t a game that will tax the brain. Heavy Rain is a game that the player experiences, one that a player invests their emotions in, and it’s asking nothing more than that the player pays attention. Of course, some will feel cheated with the lack of direct input, in which case it is one to avoid. However for all its flaws, its unoriginal storyline, occasional plot holes and sometimes-unconvincing voice acting, Heavy Rain is one of the strongest storyline lead games ever produced, and has set the standard for the cinema experience game.


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published Wednesday, Mar 10th

Blue Toad Murder Files Episode 3 Review

Blue Toad Murder Files (BTMF) occupies quite a niche market falling under the genre of murder mystery. On the one hand such games can be fun and addictive, whereas on the other they can be very frustrating. Think along the lines of the DS’ Professor Layton series, BTMF is basically a videogame spin on the board game Cluedo.

The BTMF story is set in the small town of Little Riddle, and by the time you jump into Episode 3 the mayor and the windmill-residing village idiot have been killed. A robbery has taken place in the mansion and the town hall has just been the victim of an arson attack. You naturally take it upon yourself to deduce who started the fire and for what purpose. After finding out the likely suspects behind the fire, you visit each in turn for questioning. However, puzzles need to be solved first, with each becoming slightly more complicated than the last. Puzzles range from deducing who ate the sausage to finding out where a woman’s slippers were buried. Don’t be fooled by the silliness of these puzzles though, as some require a lot of concentration and could leave you feeling frustrated if you fail.

In addition to the puzzles, your memory will also get a work out. At intervals you will be reviewing the facts of the case, with questions in the same vain as “What did X mention?” and so on. This is to make sure you’re paying attention and not ignoring the narrator, who has a habit of rambling. Of course, the narrator is useful (he does have his moments, especially when it comes to saying “murder”), but when it comes to BTMF, the citizens of Little Riddle are what really shine through. Ranging from the American Jewellers to the Librarian whose life involves nothing but books, all are contained in a little village with English charm. One old lady even squeezes your dog’s (who’s called Watson) privates!

Other than the narrator, the length of the episodes are also quite irritating. For someone who can complete puzzles at a reasonable level, the whole episode can take between between one and a half to three hours to complete. Unlike most games, there is also very little replayablilty involved in BTMF. However, developers Relentless have clearly taken this into account, because this episode of the Blue Toad Murder Files is free until the end of March (only if you purchased Episode 1 or 2, that is).

BTMF is a quaint and fun game to waste a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, either with up to four players or on your own if you feel like testing your mettle against the various puzzles. If you are on the fence about the game, you should definitely give the first Episode a try, as the episodes are certainly addictive. It was surprisingly joy to play, but quickly joy could turn to anger and frustration after getting a few of the puzzles wrong!


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published Wednesday, Feb 10th

Darksiders Review

The Apocalypse is a setting often used in videogames. Whether it’s a zombie apocalypse, such as Left 4 Dead, or a Post-Apocalyptic Fallout 3. Darksiders however is definitely THE Apocalypse.

Story wise, the Kingdoms of Heaven and Hell formed a pact after the humans came, and decided that the Apocalypse would not take place until the Third Kingdom – that’s us – could hold their own against the armies of Light and Darkness. Of course as always, thanks to betrayal amongst many things, the Apocalypse prematurely begins, and horseman character War is blamed for it. After having his powers taken away from him by his bosses – the Charred Council – War’s given the chance to clear his name, find his brothers (the other three horsemen) and those responsible for the premature Apocalypse.

Although these types of games usually aren’t good at conveying emotion, there are some parts of the game where War is torn when making a decision. The game really made it feel like he was struggling with what to do and the implications each desicion involves.

The game play mechanics are at the core extremely simple and easy to pick up. If you’re just looking for your Dynasty Warriors style hack n’ slash, the one button will serve your purpose. When you want to pull off combos with different types of weapons you can do so, with no overly-complicated Devil May Cry style combos. Weapon-wise, you have a small yet powerful inventory of weapons, including a boomerang style blade that becomes a key element in many puzzles afterwards. Chaoseater – War’s legendary sword – will be your main weapon however, as its two-handed grip matches extremely well with his bulky form.

Let’s not forget about War’s wrath. As you kill enemies, you slowly fill up your ‘wrath’ meter until you are able to do things like the aptly named Stoneskin, which toughens your skin in order to beef up your defence, or even summon up a hail of swords around you known as Blade Geyser. You also have some very nice finishing moves too. After “stunning” your enemies, pressing the respective button can result in a very nice arm/head decapitation, to blatantly copying Scorpion’s fatality from Mortal Kombat: tearing out your enemy’s spine.

The graphics – although nowhere near the quality of Uncharted 2 – are still awesome to look at as the art style, made by Joe Madureira, is unique to behold in this post-apocalyptic setting. It’s not all dark greys – there’s also a lot of fire. What did you expect? Hell is on earth! Which is sometimes hard to remember in this game, as some parts of the game look so outlandish, it takes finding real buildings and other human conventions to remind you that you are in fact on earth, and not in some demon realm. Another nice quirk on the regular Light and Dark forces is that the forces of Light don’t use swords, but guns.

If there’s one thing that a lot of people have complained about when it comes to Darksiders, is that it pretty much just lifts things right out of other games and throws them into a grinder. With a lot of influence from Zelda, and games ranging from Shadow of the Colossus to subtle Mortal Kombat style moments, Darksiders manages to blend them all together quite well. Therefore it can’t be said that it is a completely original game, but thanks to the way the developers implemented other game elements, most people will be able to forgive them.

Overall, Darksiders is a game that can be compared to marmite. Some people love the hack n’ slash/adventure style genre, akin to the likes of Zelda, God of War and so on. However there are some people who can’t stand these games (you freaks!) If you are a lover of these games however, then Darksiders is definitely worthy of your time. It’s a fun game with simple puzzles that make you think, but not long enough to make you bored. With the game slowly adding new abilities and weapons to keep combat interesting, it’s as non-repetitive as any hack n’ slash game can be made to be.


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published Tuesday, Feb 09th

PixelJunk Shooter Review

Developers Q-Games have been populating the PlayStation Network with their PixelJunk series of downloadable games since 2007, and proving that 2D games can be just as addictive and captivating as those with that extra dimension. With three successful titles under their belt they set out to bring yet another unique voyage into their bright, vibrant world with PixelJunk Shooter, a game that despite its title isn’t quite you’d expect it to be.


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published Saturday, Nov 28th

FIFA 10 Review (PS3)

First Touch! Off the Ball! Target indicators for Free Kicks!!!! The back of the annual FIFA game case always fills any football fanatic up with both hope and dread. The story goes that ever year, EA chuck in some fancy few words in a vain attempt to persuade the generic football fan that their game is the best yet. Remember when FIFA 07 once said “This is the Season”. It wasn’t. Flash forward 3 years however… and it finally is. The truth is that Pro Evolution Soccer has faltered in previous years, going from being the purist’s choice like Christiano Ronaldo, to acting like Joey Barton being sent off in the opening minutes of a Tyneside derby. If last years FIFA and PES games were playing in a match, then FIFA 09 scored the winner in extra time, but this year, FIFA 10 has the potential to comfortably win 3-0 in normal time.

So what’s new? The big new feature this year is the 360-degree dribbling. Almost a godsend to everyone who plays football games and one that unlocks a new sense of freedom. This upgrade dramatically improves gameplay and allows for some brilliant, Arsenal like football. While in the past, football games felt restricted due to only allowing the player to run in predetermined directions, this new approach to dribbling makes that feeling of beating that last man even more satisfying. Of course there are one or two drawbacks, including the fact that if your winger receives the ball on the touchline, its difficult for them to keep the ball in play due to ball being harder to control. However, that is the case in real football, so why shouldn’t it be included?

Another big addition is the Be A Virtual Pro (BAVP) mode. Building on last year’s excellent Be A Pro Season (BAPS) mode, BAVP invites you to once again create a footballer to a design of your choice, place him in your favourite team and build him up to be the next best footballer in the world. In short, this is mode is brilliant. Unlike BAPS, for every game you play, online or offline you are rewarded points for certain objectives in a match. Whether it be scoring a goal, or perhaps performing skill moves round players, or maybe playing 10 match’s in the snow (another new feature, which is long overdue, but still a welcome addition) these objectives reward you with new customisations opportunities for you player like gloves or shirt designs as well as improving the skills of your creation. This adds a well-implemented, new dimension to an already great feature, adding almost a RPG element to the game and giving a sense of extra playability and longevity.

A past issue with the Be A Pro model of building a football superstar in previous FIFA titles was the tedium that set in after several games. Playing as only one player is fun for a time but eventually the monotony sets in due to nurturing just one player and not being able to be able to build a player while also progressing with a full club. Fortunately this years Virtual Pro lets you do exactly that and it’s great fun every step of the way. It’s also worth mentioning that BAPS does also return, but it’s less predominant and has the possibility in to be included in every other EA sports title out there. What’s more, if you head over to the EA sports website you can download what they are calling a ‘Gameface’. By uploading a picture on their website, you can have your face ‘scanned’ into the game to complete the feel of being an professional footballer. EA should be commended on a wonderful feature that is due to be expanded on in the future in future titles, as well as other EA games.

Manager Mode is still a big part of the FIFA package and once again it doesn’t disappoint. As with previous years, various small improvements have been made throughout but ultimately you still pick any team, work with them through tactics and go through the latest bargain windows. A new inclusion is the fact that there are two budgets to work with, a transfer funds budget, to search for the latest players, improve the squad, scout for new players or improving the training or the facilities, and a wage budget, which naturally allows you cast an eye over what you are allowed to spend in order to attract the world’s superstars. Sadly many bugs have been reported within the mode especially when it comes to players not accepting new contracts but hopefully a patch will shortly sort this out.

In terms of game play, a lot has been improved. From masses of new animations, to more freedom in physical play when it comes to challenging for the ball and better player urgency with your team mates calling for the ball more often. This makes it so refreshing and absorbing playing a ball to a player who is pointing to his feet or spooning a one-on-one with the goalie only to see your team jumping up and down in frustration. The play-on rule has also been improved and will irritate players less often. Sadly the referee will still have a tendency to cause frustration for his decisions on daft fouls. The shooting has seen improvements, although that can be sometimes seems unbelievable, especially when you end up hit the post 5 times in a match. That said, scoring that 35-yard screamer is certainly easier.

The commentary is very impressive, with Andy Gray and Martin Tyler banging on about the former glories days. From Manchester City’s silly spending spree, to a big derby between Liverpool and Manchester United. All of this history helps build the atmospheres and allows for a more enjoyable experience. The crowd also contribute to this by chanting everything from club anthems to England’s “God save the Queen” and when it comes together it makes you believe you’re part of a big match environment. The music, as with previous FIFA titles, is on the money once again, and with the likes of The Enemy and Wyclef Jean, guarantees it to be stuck up your head for weeks.

So is FIFA 10 worth another £40 pound? In truth, yes. It’s a very enjoyable game and with so many modes, trophies and BAPS achievements to unlock, you’ll be playing this past FIFA 11. It will frustrate in places due to bugs in the manager mode, the shooting proving to be utterly baffling on occasions and the CPU being virtually unbeatable on the Legendary difficulty, but ultimately EA have succeeded in producing another winner. From the great new modes to the introduction of Ultimate Team mode (due in January) and the updating of squads every week through Live season. FIFA 10 is poised to be the best football game out this year and now the pressure is on for Konami to see if they can get this to extra time.


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published Monday, Nov 16th

Tekken 6 Review

For many gamers out there, the Tekken series is probably one of the best-known and well-loved 3D fighting franchises out there. It made its debut back in 1994 in arcades before moving to the first PlayStation console just under a year later. The outstanding characters and addictive combat brought the series success through multiple PlayStation platforms, all the way up to the PSP.


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published Wednesday, Oct 28th

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Review

For most PlayStation 3 owners Uncharted 2: Among Thieves needs no introduction. However, for the uninitiated here’s a little history lesson. The original game appeared seemingly from nowhere in 2007 and managed to combine an engaging story, puzzle solving and environment traversal previously attributed to the Tomb Raider series as well as duck and cover shooting reminiscent of Gears of War. This amalgamation of gameplay styles worked fantastically, but sadly the game wasn’t without flaws. The melee combat felt weak, the aiming was inconsistent, and enemies soaked up bullets far too easily. Though the potential was clearly there, so when a sequel was announced expectations were certainly set very high. So is Uncharted 2 able to improve on these flaws and deliver on this potential?


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published Monday, Sep 21st

The Beatles: Rock Band Review

The Rock Band franchise has become very well established since it’s inception in 2007, but despite Guitar Hero’s Metallica and Aerosmith artist-dedicated games, Harmonix had yet to dip their toe in the water of a band centred release. So when they announced they had secured the rights to create a standalone title based on one of the most influential bands of all time, The Beatles, it was certain that they had some pretty big expectations to live up to, not only for the legions of fans around the world, but also for the legions of gamers around the world.


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published Monday, Sep 07th

Batman: Arkham Asylum Review (PS3)

Since Christopher Nolan took hold of the Batman reins for the last two films, there’s no doubt that Bruce Wayne and his winged alter ego have become very hot property. Sadly, this trend hasn’t been transferred over to the video game world and despite ‘Batman Begins’ having had a game tie-in, it received average reviews and was criticized for being too linear and having very lacklustre gameplay mechanics, especially when it came to the game’s key element: intimidation. Nolan’s follow-up film, The Dark Knight, didn’t get an accompanying game as Rocksteady were busy cooking up their own take on the world of Batman with the help of script writer Paul Dini, who wrote for the animated series, as well as Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy who provided the voices of Batman and The Joker. If that wasn’t enough to whet the appetite, Eidos also stated that this game is the closest they’ve ever come to perfection. Quite a claim indeed.