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published Saturday, Nov 27th

WWE Smackdown Vs Raw 2011 Review

Wrestling games have always been somewhat ironic. Everyone knows that the real thing is always scripted and predetermined.  Wrestling games have done completely the opposite. They encourage the violence and arguably offer a deeper sense of realism then the actual WWE live show provides. Maybe this is best reflected in the games rating (certificate 15) where as the real world programme has shifted to a PG certificate. Still THQ have a job on their hands to prove that Smackdown vs Raw is still the champion, even against their own competition in UFC.


by
published Wednesday, Nov 17th

Championship Manager 2011 Review

As with any Championship Manager game, it’s the core gameplay that has made the series so engrossing. Thankfully Championship Manager 2011, which is an iOS exclusive this year, is no different – capturing the managerial process of the beautiful game perfectly, albeit with a few problems.

As ever players start the game as a newly hired manager, expected to meet or surpass a clubs expectations. Players must consider the implications of their decisions both on and off the pitch. Finances, player’s happiness levels and the relationship with the media must all be considered alongside the ever-important winning of matches.

Both before and during matches’ players can edit the standard options including squad, formation and set piece takers. Fortunately though the developers have seen it fit to simplify certain options for this portable version. For example, in previous games players could customize their desired playing style through a lengthy list of options. However, on the iPhone and iPod Touch players can simply select a playing style at a touch. Want to play football like the Man United of 1968 or counter attack like the Nottingham Forest of 1979? Then simply select that option. It’s a simplification that although doesn’t offer the same level of personlisation seen in the PC game, is a good fit for a mobile experience.

The matches themselves work like all Championship Mangers titles that preceded it; players are treated to text-based commentary, accompanied by the simple bird’s eye view showing goals and highlights. Despite being on a handheld device the matches flow well and are a feature that developers, Beautiful Game Studios, have got absolutely spot on.

Off-the-pitch managers must consider their many choices; a key example is found in the press conference feature.Each question asked garners a reaction from the press, the clubs fans and the board. Obviously it’s tricky to please all three, so players have to consider their answers carefully. Fall on the wrong side of one and the manager may find themselves in for a torrid time.

As you would expect games like Championship Manager tend to be loaded with a large amount of information. However, the issue with negotiating this vast amount of data, be it finding teams, players, formations, or matches, is that just finding it can be an annoyance. Scattered across multiple windows and menu systems, the reams of data on display can be overwhelming – even on a PC. So imagine playing the same title, with a similar mass of information on a tiny portable screen that’s 1/10th the size.

Truth be told this iOS iteration of Championship Manager is frustrating to navigate due to the iPhone’s touch screen. The home screen consists of eight options, which in turn lead onto numerous choices – after drilling down through this information it’s possible to navigate through a further five or six options, only to find that the information you wanted isn’t there. To remedy this information overload Beautiful Games Studios have included a quick-menu. For the most part this works, providing shortcuts to the most used features. However, due to the quick-menu’s diminutive size in comparison to other options, it seems like something of an after thought. The choice to customise menus with your most used stats is something that’s distinctly missing.

Transfers are another option that has fallen foul of the navigation issue. The transfers section covers the majority of options for signing a player, however managers must go through numerous filters before any players can be scouted. This makes the whole process incredibly slow and if it wasn’t for the prospect of that key signing, it’s almost tempting to avoid.

Football is a game of two halves and Championship Manager 2011 is no different. On the one side it does a lot well on a portable device. Scaling this data-intensive experience to a small display was no easy feat, with the text-based updates and match graphics being a prime example of how such a game can translate to a device which is limited in size. However, despite the simple touch input, there is just far too many screens to navigate through, with too much information to deal with.

The basics are here, but the iOS version of Championship Manager 2011 is one that could do with simplification. However, it’s clear that the Championship Manager series is one that is not easily simplified.


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published Friday, May 28th

UFC Undisputed 2010 Review

Last year, UFC 2009 Undisputed arrived onto consoles and finally gave fans of the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) a worthy videogame. Along the way, it even found itself some new followers. So with one success under its wing it was no surprise that the developers announced a sequel to follow in 2010, with the aim to further improve on the winning formula. But will it fall into the trap of most yearly sports titles and offer little more than a roster update, or will it truly set a benchmark for fighting simulations?


by
published Friday, Apr 30th

2010 FIFA World Cup Review

The FIFA games have long been established as juggernauts of sports games, developing more realistic character models and perfecting the control system for years through trial and error. The development of these games, as well as fans commitment, has well and truly established this franchise, allowing EA Sports to release a title every year to critical acclaim and excellent reviews. The last title in the series, FIFA 10 received glowing reviews, which included a nine out of ten here at Gamebrit.

The latest game in the series takes us into the World Cup setting rather than football leagues to coincide with the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which will be held in South Africa this June.

For those new to FIFA games, the prospect of managing an 11-player team may seem daunting. However, the in-menu narrative guides players through all the different match types and how to play. There are several match types on offer.

‘Kick-Off’, can be found on most football titles. This match type allows you to have a one-off match with the computer, online or with a friend. There is also the actual tournament mode, which lets you decide which teams you want to play. Tournament mode also includes an incredible amount of interactivity when selecting teams and the pitch you want to play on. ‘Captain Your Country’ allows you to play as a created player or an established footballer as you rise the ranks to captain your team in the World Cup. The challenge mode called ‘Story Of Qualifying’ sees you trying to reach certain targets or goals in allotted times, or to a certain standard. There is also a penalty shoot out mode if you want to practice your technique or precision when scoring as well as a training mode for anyone looking to brush up on skills. Lastly, the scenario mode allows you to play out situations and games from previous world cups.

New players will want to try the ‘Kick-off’ mode first to test their level of skill and to also get to grips with the controls. After picking your team, you will be straight away thrown into a game. The immediate reaction is how clean and detailed the footballers look. Visually, this game is excellent and you’ll find yourself watching the replays of footballers scoring just through sheer intrigue of the visuals.

The control system is incredibly easy to use, yet versatile enough to adapt your own technique and style whilst playing. Despite the easy to use controls, you may find yourself struggling to win the matches, due to the level of skill needed to win requires persistence and practice. The computer characters are smart, and take the offensive if given the chance and take the defensive effectively if you advance towards the goal. They have real skills and aren’t just aimlessly running towards your player.

The online aspect of the game allows you to play in a league style system, where you gain points depending on wins and losses. Not only this, but you can play online with friends, which can be much more rewarding than playing against the game.

One of the other things that is surprising about this game is the quality of the soundtrack. With artists like Florence and the Machine, Basement Jaxx and Damian Marley contributing, it truly creates a vibrant atmosphere and fits in well with the multi-cultured theme of the game.

2010 FIFA World Cup has 199 out of the 204 national teams that actually took part in the qualifying process, making for a more realistic take on the proceedings. You also play the game in the genuine arenas that the real footballers will play in, come June. The level of detail and work gone into this game shows that this isn’t just a re-hash of FIFA 10 with national teams added. There are separate statistics, skills and weaknesses for each team.

Overall, there are no major flaws in this game and a fan of football games will definitely enjoy it. If you have never played a football game before, this is the perfect place to start. The nationality of the game makes it so you don’t have to be an expert in football to know what team to choose and the controls are easy to master in a few matches. Passion and emotion is what the world cup is about, and it seems that EA Canada know this just as much as anyone. Once again, they have successfully managed to make a game which is both a celebration of the sport and the event, whilst maintaining the high quality that the series has established itself as.


by
published Wednesday, Aug 26th

Madden NFL 10 Review (Xbox 360)

Football! American Football that is. Those that love it are obsessed, those who don’t have no idea what’s going on. To the untrained eye it may appear confusing, with large men in colourful outfits running into each other in a vain attempt to chase a ball, whilst shouting out numbers and unusual words like ‘hike’. In actual fact, beyond the initial confusion, American Football is one of the most tactical sports there is. It’s only fitting that there’s a tribute to the great sport, and that’s this year’s iteration of Madden: Madden NFL ’10.

The game plays out in a similar fashion to the numerous previous installments. It’s difficult to explain how the gameplay works without going into detail regarding the sports rules, especially to those new to it. However the gameplay is, in a word, fantastic. Controls work as expected and allow even the more complex plays to be pulled off, adjusted or faked with a touch of a button. Of course there is a downside, due to the games fast paced nature, in particular when defending, plays can result in a button bashing fiasco. Despite that in game options can be selected before hand to be as simple or as in depth as required. A tactical wiz? Then try manipulating each play down to the last detail, move players and/or alternate plays. New to the sport? Then just select a play ignoring all that fine detailing. The problem is that the game doesn’t make clear what options are important and which ones are for those who want a complete experience, which can leave newcomers lost in a sea of options. A little more guidance is all we ask.

Madden NFL 10 offers the usual extra modes that provide their 15 minutes, in the form of exhibition games, Madden moments, mini games and practices. Of course it’s franchise mode where the action is at, here entire seasons can be played as one of the professional teams. Seasons run from game to game rather than via a calendar. To some this might be a big omission, as it doesn’t allow pre-game practicing, however it does keep the whole process flowing. Like the main game, franchise mode can be a simple or as in-depth as required. Novices can stick to playing games; experts however can fiddle with team management, check NFL information, coaching options and finance information. All the information goes with (but isn’t vital to) a franchise mode. This mode is also where the biggest new feature is included in the online franchise mode, in that it pretty much runs the game as a single player franchise, except with up to 31 other people.

The obvious difference will be facing more difficult opponents. Other little additions have been made since Madden NFL 09, such as three to nine men tackles and an improved blocking scheme make for some hard hitting defensive action. However the most interesting addition is the fumble pile-up, which is as it sounds; a pile up to grab a fumbled ball. Simply bash the on screen button to grab it. Fun, but a rare occurrence. Although little has changed in terms of game play EA have gone some distance in attempting to make this a complete sporting experience. On a visual note this is the best Madden game to date (although we would feel let down if it wasn’t). Character models look immaculate, even when amongst a man on man pile-up. Stadia have been recreated in glorious detail and put across the grandness of 60-70,000 capacity arenas. Lighting is also well done; the light that casts reflections off the players’ helmet is a definite visual treat (and hot).

Games themselves are presented in a pseudo-television manner with ‘The Extra Point’, a TV-like highlights show which presents pre-game statistics, previews and players to watch all. This is continued into half time where the usual first-half highlights are shown. Of course with television coverage comes sponsorship, so expect product placement. While it does create a sense of occasion, all too often it’ll be skipped to get to the action. Perhaps the most engrossing new feature is the player interaction, where players and coaches alike can be heard shouting instructions and referees debate decisions amongst the crowds chanting, on top of the somewhat questionable commentary.

Like the previous installment, the Madden Test is available, where difficulty settings for each of the sport’s four main facets can be customised. That is offense rush, offense pass, defence rush and defence pass, in simple terms attack and defending. Each are presented in a series of in-game tests. So what’s the fuss about an aspect that was introduced in the previous game? Well it seems that the problems that plagued the test still do, in that the level gained in the test do equate to pitch. Do well in the offensive rush test, which isn’t to difficult, and it becomes almost impossible to complete a rush manoeuvre on the pitch. The same goes for the offensive pass test and defensive tests. In short, stick to the predetermined settings, but even then the difficulty curve can be steep.

Despite the steep difficulty curve EA deserve some kudos, the developers have managed to create a one of the most engrossing sports games. Crowds, team talk and coverage all create a unique atmosphere that will leave you hanging on each yard gained, or lost. Ignore those complex in-depth features and you have a fantastic sporting experience. The question is, does it improve enough on the last instalment? Well, no. While it is an improvement over Madden NFL 09, not quite enough as been done in the last year to warrant a follow up. But isn’t that a problem with most franchises?


Tiger Woods by
published Friday, Sep 05th

Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’09 Review

EA’s yearly updates of its major sports franchises are as predictable as the coming of the seasons. Now in its 10th year, and its fourth iteration of this generation, Tiger Woods PGA Tour has now hit the shelves once more. And from all accounts this year’s edition seems to be more popular than ever, judging by the series’ first number one slot in the UK multi-format charts. So are there any differences between this one and last year’s version?

Control-wise it’s just the same as it has been for the last eight or nine games; aim with the D-Pad, pull back on the Analogue stick and strike through the ball to let it fly. As usual, tapping ‘A’ like a mad-man can give you a bit of extra power on your shot or add a touch of spin if needed. Interestingly, this year EA have included the age-old three button technique (tap to start your shot, again to set the power, and once more for accuracy), which EA have re-named the ‘3-click swing system’. Seeing this control system in Tiger Woods makes you realise just how much more accurate the analogue system is, but it can be a handy alternative if you’re playing with someone who finds the default controls a little difficult. Maybe the Nintendo philosophy of inclusivity convinced EA to include it.

Overall, this game goes to great lengths to make itself more accessible to newcomers, and a lot of these changes can be handy for veterans too. If you find you are having problems striking the ball cleanly take a look at the ball icon as you take your shot. Whereas previously it was just used to show your power boost and spin direction, now you’ll see a line going through the ball indicating how you struck the shot, so you can whittle down the times you fail to hit the analogue stick straight. I’ve all but eradicated the natural ‘left curve’ I seem to get, which has made my approach shot far more accurate and my tee-offs 73% more awesome. EA’s other little addition sees the return of the putting preview, albeit in a slightly different form. Check out the green, aim your putt and when you think you’ve got a good line, hit the left shoulder button and you’ll be given a preview of the shot. This can make putting a bit too easy if you choose to use it, but as you can only use it once per putt is won’t make every shot a sure thing.

The biggest shake-up in ’09, and one of the biggest changes for some time (although that doesn’t say an awful lot) is the new coaching system. Say hello to Tiger’s real-life coach Mr Hank Haney, who’ll be helping you refine your overall game and improve your skills. At the end of each round he’ll give you the chance to practise some of your less successful shots; perform them better and you’ll get a slight stat increase. Hank can also give you some assistance with your clubs; thanks to the new club-tuning options you can tailor your caddy to compliment your natural game. It’s not quite up to Gran Turismo but this is the closest a golf game can get to that level of fine-tuning.

When you first fire up the game, you’ll be asked to play a few shots so Haney can measure you up and will determine how good you initial base stats will be. These have been trimmed a bit since last time and now cover four main areas: power, accuracy, short-game and putting. Perform well and at the end of each game you’ll be seeing these stats climb; but post a bad round and you can kiss goodbye to your ‘mad skillz’. It makes for a more organic system that reflects your true performance instead of just rewarding stat-farming or allowing you to buy your way to the top. This really makes a difference when you’re up against human opposition as you’ll find outcomes based more on actual skill than simply who’s played it the longest (although stats can still make a difference).

Most of the multiplayer games have remained the same, with the standard stroke & match play being joined by a variety of fun diversions like the excellent battle golf. Also, there’s a new and very welcome addition for online, which lets you play against three other players simultaneously instead of having to wait for each player to perform their shot. Each player’s shot is traced with a different colour so you’ll know where everyone else is on the course. Online performance is slightly better than in previous years, with less lag during games and less connection errors, it also seems to load a bit quicker too.

Overall, Tiger Woods ’09 is probably the best version yet, but it’s not without its troubles. The graphics seem to be a bit of a mixed bag – the presentation is superb and the golfers and lighting effects have been upgraded, but some of the courses look really poor compared to last year’s version. The camera and commentary are also in dire need of some changes, and the woeful EA Trax are as terribly inappropriate and unnecessary as they’ve ever been.

If you’re in need of a decent golf title you can’t go wrong here, and even if you’ve bought the ’08 edition this is a worthy purchase.


Madden's Face by
published Wednesday, Sep 03rd

Madden NFL 09 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


by
published Saturday, Nov 24th

WWE Smackdown Vs Raw 2008 Review

Now in its 9th iteration, THQ’s Smackdown series has been going almost as long as the show it takes its name from. Every year they add more and more features and refine various mechanics – some of these work well, some of them don’t. This year boasts some major gameplay changes as well as a revamped single player mode, so let’s find out just how good (or not) they are…

First and foremost, the game’s single most major change is in its “fighting styles”. These work in giving each wrestler a little bit more individuality and serve in making fighting with them more realistic. Each wrestler has a primary and a secondary style, which match with their real-life fighting methods, and each one give the wrestler specific special moves and characteristics. For example powerhouses, like Triple H or Lashley, are able to power up and make all of their grapple attacks irreversible and can use a more powerful Irish Whip, amongst other specialties. High flyers like Jeff Hardy or Rey Mysterio generally move quicker, can pull off surprise pins, and so on. There are 8 styles altogether, and these are a big improvement on the actual gameplay, even if some of the styles just aren’t as good as the others.Unfortunately this is really the only change that affects the gameplay in any meaningful way.

The submission system has changed, and now relies solely on the right analog stick (you can rotate it to add pressure, similarly you rotate it to escape), however this doesn’t really make much difference in its effect. There are also some minor changes such as a simpler grapple system – pushing the right stick performs a simple grapple move as before, however holding the right bumper and pushing up or down performs a strong grapple, and pushing left or right performs an ultimate control move. Again, this is a slight improvement but nothing major. You can also run in any direction now by holding the left bumper and moving, but then this is something that should have been introduced years ago.The other major addition this year is the introduction of ECW, which includes several of the wrestlers from the brand, as well as the new ECW Extreme Rules Match.

That works pretty much the same as a Hardcore match, however now you can pick whatever weapon you want from under the ring from a choice of 8, including chairs, tables, ladders, sledgehammer, etc. You can also set some of the weapons (and the table) on fire now, which is a nice touch that any old-school ECW fan will appreciate. Tournament mode has returned (now with the new Beat The Clock Sprint), as well as a new “Hall of Fame” mode which tasks you with recreating legendary moments in WWE programming (beating Bret Hart as Shawn Michaels in an Ironman match, for example) which is really nothing more than a renamed challenge mode from last year. All of the usual creation modes have also returned with very little added to them –create a wrestler, create a championship, etc. Create an entrance, though, does now allow the option of using custom music which works well enough and is a nice added feature. Next up is the new 24/7 mode, which is an amalgamation of last year’s Season and GM modes.

Unfortunately this is a pretty major step back from last year – gone are the days of just wrestling the shows every week, earning EXP from your match and getting involved with a decent story – it’s now been replaced with a calendar where you need to specify what you do on every single day, including training up your wrestler in a variety of disciplines, earning popularity by signing autographs, starring in a movie, etc. This sounds great on paper; unfortunately the execution is pretty flawed. The constant training needed to raise your stats is a real chore (for example, you need to perform as many strong grapples as you can in 2 minutes to raise your strength – yawn), and the other activities such as starring in a pay-per-view commercial, signing autographs etc don’t actually do anything except to tell you that you “gained 2 popularity” and “gained 20% fatigue” right after selecting it.

That’s right, fatigue. As well as worrying about your stats, you also need to worry about how much fatigue you have. Overexert yourself too much and you’re prone to injury, which causes one of your limb meters to be automatically damaged when you start a match (you can’t skip a match even if you’re injured). To combat this you need to rest up, however selecting a day of rest causes your popularity to plummet (because apparently taking a day off makes all the fans hate you). To combat this you need to reach a fine balance of how much work you do during the week with how much rest you take. Ultimately it’s a real pain and last year’s story was simply a lot more fun.

Speaking of the story, the days where you’re actually scheduled to compete on your respective brand (Mondays for RAW, Tuesdays for ECW and Fridays for Smackdown) are similar to season mode last year – you enter storylines, wrestle matches, chase the title, etc. Again these are a step back, with the story becoming pretty much non-existent outside of voicemails and magazine articles that appear, and half the time they don’t even make any sense. On more than one occasion I’ve received voicemails telling me my next match is against myself, and in cut scenes before matches (there seems to be only a few of these and they just constantly loop throughout your career) my wrestler was often seen shaking the hand of my arch nemesis. One time I was scheduled to wrestle my rival MVP, who ended up being Kane when I actually got into the match, who then seemed to transform back into MVP in the post-match cut scene. It all seems incredibly rushed.

The GM mode side is pretty much identical to last year – you draft a roster of superstars, create feuds, specify the matches to appear on your weekly shows, etc. Unlike real WWE programming however, you can’t set the outcome of the match, which is a real pain in the ass when you’re trying to arrange your champion to compete in a squash match only to have him lose the belt.

The roster of superstars you can pick this year is actually smaller than last year. At first glance you think this is probably due to the fact that WWE in general has fewer superstars right now than it did one year ago, but then you realise that the game has missed out a whole slew of worthy candidates for inclusion – London/Kendrick, Highlanders, Cody Rhodes, Hardcore Holly, Beth Phoenix etc. Not even the current Tag Team Champions Cade and Murdoch are there when they were included last year, which frankly boggles the mind. The roster of superstars that are there are somewhat out of date as well, with wrestlers such as Cryme Tyme, King Booker, Marcus Cor Von etc not even a part of WWE anymore. Triple H doesn’t have his current music or Titantron video (seriously, how much effort would it take to quickly update a video?), John Morrison still has his Nitro gimmick – this all adds up to making the game feel a tad outdated.

Online is identical to last year, which means that it still feels rushed and tacked-on. Why can’t you team up with a friend and then search for another tag-team to fight? Why does it boot you out of the lobby when you finish the game, forcing us to remake a lobby just to play again? This is an ever-important area that is in desperate need of attention. The graphics, thankfully, are as good as ever. Most superstars look uncannily like their real-life counterparts, and most of the entrances are spot-on. The hair still looks terrible though, and this is something that THQ really need to work on. The animation is also starting to look a little dated.The game’s commentary is downright terrible, just as it was last year. Delivered lines are badly timed, are said over and over again, and by the time you’re playing your tenth match you’ll just want to turn it off. I know that Umaga is an unstoppable machine; I don’t need to hear that again and again. The entrance announcing is just as bad this year as well. These are things that really need to be sorted out, because it’s been going on for a good few years now.

It’s a shame that this year’s iteration of wrestling goodness is lacking in decent new content, because it only serves to highlight how flawed some of the existing areas of the game are. Saying that, this is by no means a “bad game” – the core gameplay is still fun to play and wrestling fans will get a kick out of it, but at the end of the day what’s there is just too similar to last year with some of it being a step back.


UEFA by
published Thursday, Apr 19th

UEFA Champions League 2006/2007 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


NBA by
published Wednesday, Nov 22nd

NBA 2K7 Review

I have fond memories of playing NBA Live back in the days of the Sega Mega Drive. It was a great arcade style experience, a blast in multiplayer, and had legendary moments such as Michael Jordan jumping from one side of the court to the other, dunking the ball, and so on. This was how I always remembered basketball in the form of a videogame. Now however, we live in a generation where HD graphics and realism seem to rule the roost.

NBA 2K7 is a Basketball Sim, much like Pro Evolution Soccer is too the football genre. It is rated on how faithfully it can recreate the game and how realistic it looks, plays and even sounds. As expected, NBA 2K7 faithfully recreates all the major teams of the NBA, and also includes an up to date roster of all players any basketball fan would expect.

The game also boasts several game modes and features. There is a quick play mode that will get you into a game in less then 10 seconds, great for quick games before heading out to school or work. There is a fully fledged Season mode featuring all the teams from the NBA. A new mode found in this years game is the ‘24/7: Next’ mode; this is essentially a story mode where you create your own player and you progress through the street courts to try and prove you belong with the NBA’s elite. Other modes that feature include, The Association, Street, Tournament and Practise. The Street mode, which is essentially a 1 on 1 match up set in the urban street of the city, could have been a lot more padded out, as overtime it can get a bit monotonous due to the lack of enough opportunities to show of your new found skills. But never the less the dizzying amount of single player gameplay modes will no doubt provide endless single player replay value. In addition to the vast variety of modes, there are tons of unlockables which can later be viewed in ‘The Cribs’, which is essentially a home for your player, which features a trophy cabinet, hockey tables and other objects to keep the player amused, making room for tons of customisability.

If that wasn’t enough to keep you busy the game also has plenty of Xbox Live features. You have choices ranging from quick plays, to tournament to an entire season all online and fully customisable. There is also opportunity to save replays from matches, edit them and send them to your friends for them to view. This is a great example of how online sports game should be delivered. The usual suspects during a match up against an online opponent are present, such as voice chat and so forth. But the online certainly provides a benchmark to future sports titles.

“… the visual treat that follows is completely seamless…”
On the court is where the games main focus naturally lies. Upon starting a match, you instantly notice that the development team have taken their time in perfecting the presentation of match ups. Once a match loads, the visual treat that follows is completely seamless. The animation of everything is very well presented, although the overall animation of the players could have been improved slightly. Die hard fans will realise some of the more unknown sports personalities have not been digitally recreated so faithfully in comparison to the accurate portrayal of the bigger named stars. During play, you notice such subtleties such as cloth movement on the player’s team uniform to the very detailed reflections on the polished floor, all of which adds to the immersive experience. Despite this entire visual pleasantry, there are a few bugs that can be rather distracting, like when the play stops, the camera focuses on a player here the animation starts to get very jumpy; of course this is a bug that can easily be addressed in the future however, and does not hinder the gameplay at all.

The gameplay itself is where the game shows how difficult it can be. The face buttons are the mainly for shooting, passing and intercepting, and you also have the opportunity to use the right analog for shooting more accurately, although this does have a very steep learning curve. This right analogue technique also handles the free throws, which when a player is awarded, you are required to nudge the right analog down, and then hit it up with timing, this gaming mechanic is incredibly hard, and takes a lot of practise, and in later stages can be one of the crucial aspects of winning a game or losing it. Rewarding once perfected.

Finally, NBA 2K7 delivers what can be expected from a Basketball game in terms of audio and soundtrack. Strong Hip-Hop based attire accompanies your gaming, which is fairly predictable, and caters well to the genre. Alternatively you may use the custom soundtrack feature to dunk to your own tunes. During gameplay a great variety of sounds can be enjoyed, the crowd sounds are crisp, to the squeaking of the floor, all the way down to the commentary. All this adds to an already immersive experience making the world of Basketball all the more fun and believable.

Plenty of modes, and an impressive roster of features make this a must have for any basketball fan, and those new to the genre can also find plenty to enjoy.


Tiger Woods by
published Saturday, Nov 18th

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07

When EA signed Tiger Woods to become the face of their PGA Tour franchise in 1999 it not only gave the series a shot in the arm but reinvigorated Golf games in general. It brought a new degree of control to console renditions that had been stuck with the same control system for over a decade. Shots were no longer determined by stopping a cursor on a power bar, but instead brought a refined analogue control. It let players to choose how much power to use by how far back they pulled on the analogue sticks and also allowed for draw or fade to be added on the fly. Now the latest edition is available on the Xbox 360 and it’s the best yet.

While it has never strayed from the same control system the series has gradually refined it with each new game. In TW ’07 players can now add height to their shots more accurately by tilting the right control stick before they strike the ball. The control issues from last years 360 debut are thankfully gone as the 360’s pad feels tailor-made for this game. Most importantly, power and spin have been assigned to the controllers ‘A’ button, making the mad tapping action for power boosts less ‘crampy’. Which is nice!

EA have now got more experience with the 360’s power and that certainly shows here. Last year’s game felt quite empty and looked as if it had been rushed to meet the 360’s launch date. Now every course has a superb level of detail not just on the course itself (all of which are blessed with hi-res textures and impressive grass effects) but in background details too. Buildings and foliage are properly modelled and the crowd now react to every shot you play. It’s actually quite hard to resist hitting a few balls at them just to see their reaction, something you’ll probably see regularly early on as this year’s Tiger is a bit harder to tame.

It may take you a while to get to grips with the difficulty level which seems to have been ramped up due to a number of refinements geared at making the game more realistic. Wind affects your shots more often and you now need to pay more attention to where your ball lies and adjust accordingly. Putting is also more difficult as the caddy tip, which used to tell you exactly where to aim, has been replaced by an ‘ideal line’ which only gives a rough idea of how to aim your putt. Early on this can be very frustrating as your putting can feel quite random (playing two shots in exactly the same way won’t always give you the same outcome) and you will find a lot of shots stopping short or flying right past the whole.

Everything gets easier as you play more though and it does get more enjoyable as you improve your golfer’s stats which are no longer bought by prize money. This year feels more like an RPG as skills like Driving Accuracy and Recovery are increased by playing those kind of shots more often; if you attempt a lot of long putts or find yourself hitting from the rough or a bunker, your putting and recovery skills increase accordingly. This means you have to put more effort into stat-raising but ultimately it is a lot more satisfying and you will see noticeable improvements as you progress.

If you’re worried about potential Xbox Live opponents simply stat-farming their way to online supremacy you don’t have to be as the stats are capped until you’ve completed events in the main game. Any skills you raise past your current level are saved as ‘untapped potential’ and automatically improve as your cap increases so you won’t lose any precious skill points in one area just because the rest aren’t high enough. When your skill cap increases there are plenty of training holes to practise on and you can now choose which skills to focus on. There has obviously been a lot of thought put into the stat-raising side of the game and it helps to make this game enjoyable and satisfying than any of its predecessors.

The EA game face, which for so long has been one of the best in-game character editors has been given a huge facelift (no pun intended), with a massive range of stats that can be tweaked to create scarily realistic avatars of yourselves and friends. Couple this with the superb animation on your golfer and for the first time you really will believe you are ‘in the game’.

Not only is this the best-looking Tiger Woods yet it is also the best to play with more game modes than ever before and some fun new multiplayer variations that are fun against friends or online. Menus are easier to traverse and EA have even reduced EA Trax to a selection of fittingly easy listening tunes that don’t intrude on play like previous games.

Tiger Woods 07 is not only the pinnacle of Golfing on consoles or PC but is one of the best sports titles around. The 360 houses the best version and unless EA do something special with the upcoming Wii or PS3 versions it looks like that will be the case for another year at least.


FIFA 07 by
published Sunday, Nov 12th

FIFA 07 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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