Friday, October 29


I like fighting. Whilst I’ve never physically fought anyone, I still enjoy watching two men in an octagon pummel one another. Yes there’s something primitive about it and yes when you are watching two grown, sweaty men rolling around on the floor in nothing but shorts it may hark back to the dark ages somehow; but it’s actually tactical, brutal and the evolution of sports that have lasted the ages.

Although the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) is relatively new, its roots are traced back through centuries, as it combines aspects of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, wrestling, boxing and other fighting styles.

The sport was popularised by the philosophies of Bruce Lee in the 70’s and gained major popularity when the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) kicked off in 1993. It’s ok if you missed it. You were probably too busy playing Wolfenstein 3D or the original Mortal Kombat. I know I was.

After a few years the sport blew up in Japan, got a major following and continued to grow around the world. Now fighters like Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz and Forrest Griffin are household names, with fight highlights regularly appearing in sports news and cameos in television and movies (Chuck has appeared in Entourage and The Simpsons among others).

Naturally once a sport gets big it needs to exploit its fans with as much merchandise and cross media deals as possible, so in 2009, UFC 2009 Undisputed was released on major gaming platforms. It rocks my world.

As mentioned earlier, I like fighting. This game, and its sequel UFC 2010 Undisputed, create a very real MMA experience, allowing you to be strategic while unleashing brutal attacks on your opponent. Although it’s detailed and intricate controls can put many people off (this game isn’t for button mashers) and its multitude of menus and pop-up screens can be annoying (how many ways do you need to tell me you are saving?) the gaming experience is rich and enjoyable.

An outstanding introduction to MMA and the UFC, Undisputed allows you to play as one of 82 fighters in a range of weight classes, start from scratch and create your own fighter to rise through the ranks of the UFC, or even recreate real fights such as the sensational Griffin vs Bonnar Ultimate Fighter Season 1 Finale in order to gain bonus features.

To successfully recreate fights you need to play as per the original fight, meaning you might have to throw a flurry of punches and kicks for 15 minutes and win by judge’s decision or you might have to win by rear naked choke at 2:19 of the second round.

Unlike some of the better sport games, UFC Undisputed was released by THQ. The reason being is that EA Games allegedly had no interest in supporting a franchise that wasn’t a real sport (

Funnily enough, with UFC, MMA and the UFC Undisputed series exploding in popularity in the last five years, it’s no surprise that EA Sports have now come to the table with their own offering – EA Sports MMA, which was released this week.

The production of this game has infuriated UFC President Dana White, resulting in a UFC blacklisting for any upcoming or existing fighter signing their likeness over to EA Sports.

Time will tell which series will be more popular – while EA Sports MMA has the EA Sports label, UFC Undisputed has the popular fighters and the support of the UFC. For many it will come down to content and characters but for others, the simplicity of game play.

I for one just want to pummel (but only with my favourite fighters).

What gaming do you prefer – steep learning curve with a realistic payoff or a simple game with the expected results?

Wednesday, October 27

In case you haven't played it: Halo:Reach Review (X360)

Halo:Reach is a game that requires little to no introduction. Many of you would have already passed judgement on the last instalment of the the Halo franchise to be developed by its creators, Bungie. To some extent I believe that's fair enough, as Reach is Bungie's response to close to a decade worth of innovation in console-based First Person Shooters. That is a slightly unfair assessment, as Halo has given more than its fair share, including worthwhile online multiplayer and vehicles that didn't handle like solar-powered forklifts. My biggest issue with the series however has always been level design. With the sole exception of ODST, I've never been able to make it through a campaign solo; co-op is not an option, it is the only option. With the last Halo single player campaign taking a step in the right direction, the new additions to the multiplayer formula had me believing that Reach could be not only the greatest game in the series, but also one of the best FPS games ever made. After 5 games across 2 generations, has Bungie refined the Halo franchise to perfection and put the competition to bed?

The Good
And so it begins - The single player campaign in Halo:Reach is by far the best in the series, and easily the best I've played this year. It may not have been paced as manically as Battlefield: Bad Company 2, but there are so many quality set pieces, vehicle sequences and expository cut scenes that elevate this experience to the top of the pile. I'll concede that some of the characters are a little on the vanilla side, but you can't help but feel moved by the constant misery that you'll witness. Bungie have accurately portayed what I believe it would be like to be on the losing side of a violent and vital conflict. It is a worthy beginning to the Halo saga, and it makes some of the previous instalments seem almost minor by comparison.

Let's not forget about the action. The scale of some of the firefights is particularly impressive, and allow you to feel as though you're actually fighting in a war, not just extinguishing resistance on the fringe. There's tense conflict in tight spaces, and also grand open battles on land and in space. The space combat sequence is short, but the controls are tight and reminded me of the fantastic Star Wars: Rogue Squadron games. The new weapons are all fun to use, and the Armor Abilities feel essential. Jetpacks, Armor Lock, Hologram, Dodge and (finally!) Sprint allow for a new level of strategy that the series has been lacking for quite some time. Perhaps most important of all, the last level doesn't suck. I won't spoil anything, but I will confirm that you won't be racing across collapsing platforms on a Warthog, or driving in a straight line for hours in a Scorpion tank. Excelsior!

What a wonderful world - I initially found the use of colour in the Halo series to be somewhat of a distraction. I was used to greys, browns and blood red. Halo (and to a lesser extent, the Timesplitters games) showed that there was still a place for purple and teal in armed conflict. Halo:Reach is even more vibrant than its predecessors, and everything from the insides of a Covenant Corvette, to the plains of Planet Reach are brought to life with an expanded palette of colour. The new graphics engine also allows for more detail on your equipment, the environments, the vehicles and your enemies. While there are dips in the frame rate, very rarely does it distract from the beautiful vistas and busy skies above. The score is also of the high standard typical of the series, and is an effective aural accompaniment to the beauty and brutality on screen.

Consistently rewarding - Every action in Halo:Reach is rewarded. Whether you decide to spend a few minutes in the campaign, or spend hours playing matches in multiplayer; you'll earn credits that you can spend on unlockable armour parts in the Armoury.  You'll also increase your rank (however slowly) and work towards ambient achievements dubbed, "Commendations." There are also daily and weekly challenges that can involve anything from killing 400 enemies across single and multiplayer modes, racking up a certain number of kills in a single match or participating in multiplayer matches. You can now also earn medals usually awarded in multiplayer such as multikills, assists and close calls in the single player modes. I shouldn't forget that can also earn Gamerscore points as well. Everything you do in this game is consistently and meaningfully rewarded.  

If it ain't broke, fix it anyway - A solid suite of multiplayer modes return in Halo:Reach, and the new weapons, classes, assassinations and Armour Abilities make the action even more enjoyable. The controller layout which is consistent across both the single and multiplayer offerings has been tweaked slightly and similar to that found in other popular shooters. If you enjoy Bungie's brand of floaty physics, powerful melee attacks and varied weaponry, then Reach will deliver a solid, if familiar experience.

Buffet - I'm not done with Reach, and I'm not sure I ever will be. Apart from the campaign (which I am determined to complete on Legendary, solo), there's an extensive multiplayer offering, the fiendishly addictive Firefight mode which can be played alone or with company, and soon to be introduced: Campaign Matchmaking. The first map pack is also dropping next month, so there is even more fun to be had. Forge mode (I haven't used it as I lack patience and creativity) returns from Halo 3 as do extensive video editing options. On Saturday night I spent 2 hours watching a replay of a match where I performed the most spectacular sticky grenade kill. Never mind the fact that I got rolled for the rest of the match, but allowing for me to focus on 7 seconds of glory made the whole ordeal worthwhile.

The Bad
Prequel trilogy syndrome - A small gripe, but a gripe nonetheless; there are so many effective weapons that appear in Reach, and I must admit that I'm puzzled that devastating weapons like the Needle Rifle and Plasma Launcher were phased out of the Covenant arsenal. Perhaps that's why they eventually lost the war to the Chief. It's like the Droid Army from the Star Wars prequel trilogy: surely the Empire could have found a use for killer robots with shields?

The Ugly
Same old - While I have enjoyed the multiplayer offering of Halo:Reach, if you haven't been swayed by previous instalments, the incremental improvements on offer here will do little to change your opinion of the series. New modes like Invasion are great, but ultimately its the same dynamics with more players. My strategies haven't changed dramatically either; I still aim to wear down my opponents shield with the default weapons and move in for a quick melee hit. Despite a bevy of updates and improvements, I'm still just as shallow and annoying to players worldwide.

The Halo community - I've previously touched on this, but for some reason the average player appears to be twice as immature as the closest four year-old. Homophobia and purile banter is king amongst the majority of your contemporaries, and this does manage to detract from the experience. I suppose it's unfair to level this criticism against the game, as it not the fault of the developer; but you should be warned that you will be privvy to some regrettable, often hateful conversations when you play this game online.

9.0/10 - Halo:Reach is one of the best games to be released this year, and is easily the greatest instalment in the Halo franchise. The single player campaign is not only a worthy beginning to the Halo saga, but also a compelling and moving tale of courage against insurmountable opposition. The multiplayer is as strong as it has always been, but the experience is starting to become somewhat stale, especially in the context of the current console FPS landscape. Reach offers weeks, months, even years of sustained play; so if you're looking for a game to tide you over for a prolonged period of time, consider this an obvious choice.

Monday, October 25


With Carly busy composing an assignment, I was left to my own devices for an entire weekend. I'd have thought that with 7 recent releases to plough through, that I'd have no trouble finding something to engage with. My plate however, was too full. There were too many strong flavours to sample. How does one deal with an overabundance?

In my case, I set about procuring more games.

Crazy and nonsensical as it may seem, it was a solution of sorts; for the next game I purchased was so brutally difficult and sharply focussed, that it made the blockbusters in my entertainment unit appear convoluted, and lacking purpose. My last acquisition was Super Meat Boy, a devilishly difficult platforming game that catalogues the battles of the titular walking beef patty and his archrival, Doctor Fetus.

Super Meat Boy's defining elements should have made for a frustrating experience of questionable value, as in the few hours I spent playing the game I died more times than I could count. I could never blame any of my deaths on the controls though; as Meat Boy's deaths were either due to my ineptness, the fiendesh (though utterly inspired) level design, or a combination of these two factors. Even while falling from great distances, or travelling at blistering pace, the controls always responded immediately to my determination or apprehension. Thankfully there are no limits to the amount of times you can fail, save for the warp zone levels which emulate the 8-bit presentation of NES platformers and task players with completing sets of 3 levels with 3 lives. When I did successfully complete some of the more diabolical levels (the boss fights are particularly challenging), I really felt as though I had achieved something special. I can't stress enough for you all how refined an experience Super Meat Boy is, and I would strongly encourage any Xbox 360 owners to get behind Team Meat.

Despite the prospect of multiple (read: to the power of a thousand) bloody deaths, SMB's presentation makes for a puzzlingly light-hearted romp through forests, factories and medical refuse dumps. The cut scenes often parody classic games, with the opening of the first chapter presenting a gut-bustingly funny send-up of Street Fighter II's opening cinematic. Several times I found myself chuckling at Meat Boy's antics, particularly at the end of the second boss fight. The gameplay and level design also offered plenty of laughs, due mostly to the apparently proposterous nature of the challenges set before you. Save for one level which had me in hot pursuit of a turd, Super Meat Boy always left me with a smile on my face.

After a few hours on SMB, every other game I played felt like a cake walk. Further to that, my experience with the diabolical dowloadable title game me a renewed focus with which I finally conquered the single player campaign of Halo: Reach. A review for the last Bungie-developed Halo game will be forthcoming, and I must admit that I'm finding it difficult to render a score.

What did you guys play this weekend?

Thursday, October 21

The rise (and terminal velocity plummet) of rhythm gaming

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a hater. Ever since I was introduced to Guitar Hero 2 and decided to use it to procrastinate during university, I loved the game. The music, the challenges, the way it makes your vision go funny if you play it for too long in the dark – everything about the game made my day complete. Loyal to the core, I played it constantly and have bought each new major title over the years.

After finishing Guitar Hero 5 and Rock Band: Green Day fairly quickly, it dawned on me that I was a great player. Flying through each track with superior dexterity and with a consistently high percentage of notes hit, I decided to visit my roots and smash out a few new high scores on Guitar Hero 2.

It turns out I am not the great player I once thought I was.

Not only did I struggle through tracks from Avenged Sevenfold, The Living End and The Sword, I couldn’t even beat some high scores from my early days. It would seem my skills haven’t increased significantly; it’s just that the series has become easier.

And it’s not just a little easier either. Even my wife who plays once, maybe twice, per year can rock comfortably (and well I might add) on Medium. Half a bottle of Bacardi should turn my furious little fingers into mush but I can still stumble through on Hard.

And it’s not just Guitar Hero. Even Rock Band has suffered the touch of simplicity. While I never bought Rock Band 1 or 2, the few times I’ve dabbled in the series I’ve been disappointed at how easy the songs are to play (and the fact they included Jet). In fact it’s one of only two criticisms of Rock Band: Green Day. The other is they have you buy the game and then make you buy songs to finish it. A brilliant way to increase DLC numbers, but as a fan of Green Day, I feel ripped off.

And I digress. Back to Guitar Hero.

In addition to the simplicity, they introduced a whole bunch of pop songs that aren’t even rock. An action clearly taken to appeal to a wider audience. I don’t care what anyone says; Bon Jovi isn’t rock and should keep his Ally McBeal antics out of the game. And Beastie Boys? C’mon! They don’t even play instruments!

It’s with this in mind that I’m torn as to whether I pick up the newest addition to the Guitar Hero family, Warriors of Rock. Reading up on reviews it sounds quite promising with an all new quest mode providing power ups for your character (narrated by Gene Simmons!) and a diverse set list including AFI, Slipknot and DragonForce.

The quest mode is a welcome addition to the game and an aspect that I’ve missed from World Tour and GH5. Without a story the game seems pointless and I often wondered why I/my character was playing these songs. Far from memorable, all I can remember from previous titles is Sting falling from a rooftop and a giant flying boat from World Tour. GH5 finished with something to do with God and the Devil. Their relevance to Career Mode? I don’t know, I clearly wasn’t engaged enough.

Unfortunately the Xbox Live demo didn’t do much to help my decision either, although seeing Johnny Napalm turn into a demonic alter-ego and then roll straight into Dethklok’s Bloodlines was a nice surprise.

The demo’s other surprise was the return of a slightly more difficult Hard setting. Playing Foo Fighters No Way Back was actually entertaining, rather than the monotonous repetitive up/down strumming that songs in previous titles had delivered. Chances are that I’ll pick it up, but I’m just not in a hurry to add it to the collection.

Maybe it’s not necessarily the content that’s holding me back and more the knowledge that GH:WoR is most likely the last in the series; an unfortunate result of clear oversaturation of a niche market. Maybe I don’t want the rock to come to its inevitable end.

Or maybe I’ve just seen images of the controllers for Rock Band 3 and now have to clean my pants.

Wednesday, October 20

In case you haven't played it: Medal of Honor Review (PS3)

The first instalment in the Medal of Honor series hit the original Playstation in 1999; and after 10 years of Second World War themed shooters of declining quality, mega publisher EA mandated a reboot to reinvigorate interest in this storied franchise. From memory, my only experiences with MoH games was on the PSone as I struggle to engage with the WWII flavoured shooters typical of the series. The lastest Medal of Honor title is based on the conflict in Afghanistan, and I must admit the change of subject matter elicited the desired response. Well, the change of subject matter and, as previously mentioned, the fact that DICE (of Battlefield: Bad Company fame) was tasked with developing the multiplayer offering of the title. Now after having spent as much time as I can bear trudging through the caves, peaks and valleys of an inhospitable foreign land, let us explore the curious failure that is Modern Warfare Too.

The Good
Familiar Roller Coaster - Medal of Honor moves along at a brisk pace and features some memorable scripted events, elaborate set pieces and solid vehicle sequences. The core action is not entirely original, but for the most part you should find it engaging. The first level is particularly riveting, with several "wow," moments.

MoHdern controls - MoH employs a control scheme similar to that found in the Call of Duty games, with sprinting, melee attacks, aiming, grenades and firing all mapped to a comfortable and familiar controller layout. There are also some new additons such as the ability to peak out of, and slide into cover. This allows for some welcome flexibility in how players can approach firefights, and I wouldn't be surprised if these innovations are adopted by future console FPS releases.

A friend indeed - The AI of your companions is competent and at times formidable, racking up what I would argue was a greater kill count than I would have managed over the course of the campaign. Unlike other FPS titles where your comrades are almost purely for show, the Tier 1 Operators and Rangers are just as deadly as what I imgaine their real-life counterparts would be.

The Bad
Boom, Headshot! - This is somewhat of a quibble, but every time you manage a headshot, a little icon appears on screen (where depends on the difficulty). For a game that seems to be attempting to differentiate itself on the basis of its genuine settings and characters, I found this macabre notification bemusing.

Identity Crisis - MoH's multiplayer offering tries to strike a balance between the experiences found in the Modern Warfare and Bad Company franchises. Occasionally it all comes together, with some balanced classes and enjoyable modes like Combat Mission and Objective Raid offering strong, structured warfare. It all starts to fall apart when DICE attempts to create Modern Warfare-esque deathmatch and domination matches. The maps are too small, and poorly configured for these match types with players often spawning only to be killed almost instantaneously. It's not an outright failure, and I am sure there are those who will thrive in this brutal, unforgiving alternative to the better-established competition.

Blair Witch - The single player campaign is almost a direct rip off of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare titles; with a narrative that switches between characters with very strong signposting when the perspective changes. The story in MoH is thankfully nowhere near as melodramatic as that found in the MW games, but it also severely lacks direction. When the final, painfully cliched question is asked at the end of the campaign, I couldn't help but feel as though I had achieved nothing.

Afghanistan, beautiful one day - The single player component of MoH is one of the most visually inconsistent in recent memory. Powered by the Unreal 3 Engine, I was amazed at how often the game moved between stunning and just short of abhorrent. In the mission titled Belly of the Beast, during an exhausting firefight, the crumbling wall which I had used for cover soon became reminiscent of a surface seen in Duke Nukem 3D. The stone wall was covered in a veneer of heavily pixelated textures that harked back to FPS titles of an age long since past. Sure the mountain ahead was teeming with attackers, and amidst the hail of gunfire and explosions the frame rate remained consistent, but MoH is packed with visual quirks that severely detract from the experience. Another example, whilst sneaking up on a shepherd, I noticed the textures on his herd of goats had failed to materialise. They were blank, four-legged creatures that did not belong in a game hyped to compete with the ridiculously popular Call of Duty franchise.

Another refill - When playing on the Normal difficulty setting, you can request ammo from your companions at any time, as often as you need it, provided that they are carrying the same weapon. While at first this appears to be a convenience, I eventually found that it killed any sense of tension and at times even contradicted what my comrades were saying. Once again drawing from my experience in Belly of the Beast, my commanding officer kept repeating that our squad was out of ammo, but then he handed me another 300 bullets so that I could maintain fire. Further to that, your pistol has unlimited ammo. So, even if you decided to equip yourself with weapons procured from the enemy, worst case scenario meant that I could only fend off the Taliban hordes with my magical pistol.

The Ugly
After you - Medal of Honor loves to make you wait. Whether it's waiting for your squad to breach a room, or mount an otherwise unspectacular obstacle, these scripted sequences and invisible walls served to frustrate and at times, unintentionally amuse me. There were several instances during the campaign where some characters failed to acknowledge their cue and commence a scripted sequence, meaning that I spent several minutes waiting for my AI companions to open a door or jump over an obstacle before the action could proceed. Twice I actually had to reload the last checkpoint and hope that my allies would remember their part in this fractured tale.

Please sir, may I have some more? - MoH's competitive multiplayer offering features only eight small maps in which to wage war. Some of these maps can only be used for certain game types, further highlighting the lack of breadth of experiences on offer. In Combat Mission mode especially, you should develop a sense of deja vu very quicly. When you compare MoH's stark offering to that of its competitors (especially DICE's own BF:BC2), it becomes very clear that this is not all that it could've been. This lack of content isn't limited to the multiplayer offering, with a single player quest that lasts about 4 hours. You can replay missions in Tier 1 mode and compare ambient achievements with other players online, but there were very few segments of the campaign that I would care to experience again.

5/10 - With an enjoyable, though almost entirely derivative single player campaign and an inconsistent, however playable multiplayer component; Medal of Honor offers a dignified, enjoyable and ultimately, unneccesary experience. While there are plenty of disappointing design choices on display, there are times when MoH is just as flashy and refined as the competition. For those who haven't played any of the Modern Warfare or Bad Company games, you will probably find a lot to love in this title. Those who have engaged with the competitors however, will more than likely find that they would be better served saving up for the next instalment of their preferred franchise. Nothing new to see here!

Monday, October 18

Modern Warfare Too

It turns out that the best thing about Yakuza 3, was its trade in value. Helping to account for half of the purchase price of Medal of Honor, the baffling tale of shirtless Japanese gangsters was for me, best left unrealised. Anticipation for MoH has always been high for me. The principal reason for this being the assignment of DICE to develop the multiplayer offering. Even if the campaign had been critically lauded (which it has not been), I thought it was a pretty safe bet that I would be spending far more time competing online with this title. Now, after a few days of play, I don't know what's harder to deal with: my disappointment, or the fact that I was wrong.  

Medal of Honor is a mess. Now that you know, feel free to keep living your life knowing that better games will come along (better franchise reboots even). While there are some hints of promise littered throughout the campaign and in the online component, neither have proven to be essential experiences.

Medal of Honor's campaign is almost entirely derivative of the macho military formula found in the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games; all the way from how the credits are displayed at the outset, to the obligatory deaths to illustrate the price of conflict and the way the narrative switches between missions. Now that I think about it, the final moments of MoH and Modern Warfare 2 are remarkably similar. Save for the boat chase and knife shenanigans at the end of MW2, you could argue that Infinity Ward are due writing credits. The action is also comparable to the MW games, with the same brand of awkward (though not as strictly enforced) stealth, lengthy (read: exhausting) set pieces and staggered pacing. It is also a remarkably short adventure, and while it ended exactly when I needed it to, it only lasted about 4 hours. I'd be surprised to see whether it lasted longer than Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days, another shooter of questionable length and value.

I'll elaborate more on the multiplayer in my forthcoming review, but you should know that it does not compare favourably with either its direct competitor, Modern Warfare 2, or DICE's last offering, Battlefield: Bad Company 2. You may have read that it was somewhat unforgiving, and depending on the modes you end up dabbling in that may be true. In the case of Team Assault however I believe it has more to do with horrendous map design than a steep learning curve or realistic damage (more realistic than most, but still far from lifelike). 

I'll try and invest a few more hours in the multiplayer, but I dare say that I will be trading in Medal of Honor before the end of the week. Has anyone else picked it up? Your thoughts?

Friday, October 15


I forgot about something when I ordered 3 new release games online: I would have to wait for them to be delivered. Now I know the courier has my games in a facility located about half an hour down the road; problem is they are only prepared to deliver them to me during business hours which is when I work, for money. Money which I need to buy games. We've reached an impasse, and soon I may be forced to do something desperate, like pay them an extra $50 to deliver the games to my modest workspace. I could just get them to leave the precious package somewhere on my premises, but I couldn't handle the heartache of someone pinching my special delivery.

On another topic, I'm finally finished with my secondment as of 4:30 this afternoon, meaning that I can spend less time commuting and more time gaming. I assumed this would bring me joy until I loaded up Crackdown 2. I know it's been out for a while, but I managed to find it for a reasonably low price, and I loved the original. Not that Crackdown was a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it did manage to get the feel of superheroism down pat. Towards the end of the game you could leap over buildings in a single bound, and throw cars (as well as many other inanimate objects) at your enemies. A couple of years on and it appears as though nothing has changed for the better, if anything the milk has gone bad (so to speak).

The most bothersome new addition is the announcer and his non-stop commentary on anything from orbs, to combat and the unlocking of achievements. I understand the allure of the achievement, but does the game need to explicitly refer to them each time you knock one over? There is already the usual visual and aural cues, typical of every achievement unlock in any other game; having a voice actor piping over this in addition, adding emphasis to the word almost cheapens the acquisition. When I first acquired my first 360, I quickly became an Achievement Point addict. I would play games that I had no interest in to acquire precious cheevos. Sometimes this allowed for me to discover some exceptional titles that didn't fit the typical Dutch mould (sandbox games, shooters and fighting games), but more often than not it meant playing Fusion Frenzy 2 and King Kong to add a few hundred to my Gamerscore. A few years on and I believe that I have bested my demons, and the heavy handed announcer in Crackdown 2 seems to be only helping with my recovery.

There are other annoyances too, flashes of tedium from the demo released months ago now fully realised. There's the worthless targeting system, the (dull as) dishwater AI and predictably, a completely disposable storyline to consider too. I honestly can't see myself completing a second tour of Pacific City, especially when Enslaved, the new Castlevania and NBA 2K11 are on the horizon.

Finally, I have a very exciting announcement. Next week we should see the work of another Dutchman, Tim Dawson. Tim answered the call I put out about a month ago seeking authors to not only cover my absence during my honeymoon at the end of this year, but offer some more breadth of opinion. Tim and I attended the Queensland University of Technology together, and now he works in marketing, is keen on games and has a hot wife (from the horse's mouth Carly, please don't hit me!). TJ owns a dusty Wii (his daughter probably won't grow fast enough for it to be of any use, I'm afraid) and regularly plays his Xbox 360; preferring games of the shooting, rhythm and fighting genres. Please welcome Tim to the team (more of a dynamic duo for the moment), and I hope you will comment on his work as vigorously as you have for my own.

What are you guys playing this weekend?

Wednesday, October 13

Taking the Fun out of the Force

When the demo for the original instalment of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed hit, I was blown away. I can say without hyperbole, that I would have played through it over fifty times. Starkiller was a force-powered monster, laying waste to stormtroopers en masse, throwing Tie Fighters across a crowded hangar, and taking on an AT-ST. One man versus an Imperial Walker! Such heroism had not been seen since Empire (Strikes Back for the uninitiated). After playing the demo to the point where every enemy movement, piece of twisted metal and scream was imprinted in my memory, I desperately craved the impending retail release. After playing through the first level, which thanks to the demo I had become intimately familiar with, I finally saw more of the game. After experiencing many cheap deaths, and pathfinding issues, I quickly fell out of love with SWTFU; so much so that I returned it to the retailer within 7 days.

Almost 6 months later, I decided to re-engage with the title and eventually saw it through to completion. I didn't love it; particularly the brutal boss fights and what was the most relentlessly frustrating sequence in recent memory. Spoiler Alert: For those who have not played through the game, know that using the Force to plunge a Star Destroyer into the ground is nowhere near as fun as it should have been. Still, I was able to forgive its flaws and saw a few glimpses of nerdy brilliance.

With the inevitable sequel I had high hopes. At the very least I had hoped that the developers had learned that long, difficult boss fights were not fun. That awkward, unneccessary platforming sections were not fun. That dying repeatedly was exhausting.

If the demo for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is anything to go by, not a single lesson has been learnt.

I understand that most of the powers have been fully upgraded for the trial, so that the taste of the power of the Force should be irresistable; but when your enemies, mere stormtroopers, can despatch you with surprising efficiency, the taste has been almost irreconcilably spoiled. Maybe I've forgotten how to play, maybe I lack the requisite level of skill, but know that I died a lot while playing through the trial. Also, Force Lightening and Force Grip have been scaled down in terms of effectiveness, while Force Push is unexpectedly powerful. There's also a new mechanic called Force Fury, which essentially makes you temporarily invulnerable and able to call on an immeasurable supply of Force power. This ruined what could have been the most exciting battle in the demo, as I couldn't die and the most fearsome foes were rendered obsolete thanks to my near unlimited power. Perhaps most disappointing of all, is that very little appears to have been added with the sole exception of combos and the new "I WIN!" button.

Perhaps I am exaggerating with that last point, but apart from the new Mind Trick power, a lot of the new additions feel superfluous. There's a sequence where you plunge from a tower and have to destroy incoming obstacles and a painfully unenjoyable chase sequence. The plunge sequence offers no real challenge and serves as an obvious reminder that the Force can be used to blow stuff up. How insightful!

The quality of the visuals has noticably improved, however I encountered many an invisible ceiling when throwing enemies in outdoor environments. Character models are particularly better looking than those found in the original. There were some instances of screen tearing, but no overly unsightly visual blemishes.  Stormtroopers are also more prone to lightsaber-induced leprosy: you'll notice a lot more dismemberment when comparing the sequel to the first game. There were some anomolies in terms of art direction that I observed. In the case of the demo there's a massive battle droid which carries a shield that shoots carbonite foam. It seems like it would've been a pretty effective tool for culling ewoks, so why did the Empire decide to shelve these killing machines during their final battles? I understand that the developers needed to add new types of enemies to freshen up the gameplay, but it just seems to bugger the source material. An argument for another time perhaps?

One last thought: I would argue that the most memorable character from the original game was not Starkiller, but rather the Force itself. Depending on how you played the first instalment (Spoiler Alert), one outcome was that Starkiller died. Why not give the best character a new conduit rather than (what at least appears to be) breathing life into what was a corpse from my first playthrough?

Did anyone love Star Wars: The Force Unleashed? Anyone interested in picking up the sequel?

Monday, October 11


Until about 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West had inspired not even the faintest trace of interest from me. I had downloaded the demo over a fortnight ago, and had finally gathered the will to put it through its paces. After a matter of minutes I was completely engaged, having not seen visuals of this calibre since the opening sequence of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. To be blunt, we've all played this game before, with tried and true (read: entirely derivative) gameplay with flavours sourced from the God of War, Uncharted and Prince of Persia franchises. Even with such a familiar feel, the experience almost demanded the purchase of the retail release; the cinematic flair of the trial leaving me hungry for more.

When I say that I wasn't interested in Enslaved, I mean to say that I had only read one article about the game since it was announced. Screenshots looked pretty enough, but the thought of another action RPG failed to excite in anyway. I was interested in Castlevania: The Lords of Shadow, but that was more because of the input from Kojima Productions rather than the prospect of another Castlevania game (with borrowed gameplay mechanics). Having played the demos for both though, I can safely say that Enslaved looks as though it will be a more enjoyable adventure. If only because of the striking colour and less tough guy-centric tone. Both are now on the way to my place from Hong Kong, via Play Asia, thanks to a far stronger Aussie Dollar.

Also soon to arrive is the first sports game I've purchased since Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09, NBA 2K11. In my youth, through adolescence and even into my adult years I had failed to engage with a sports game (with the sole exception of NBA Jam, BOOMSHAKALAKA!!!). After tagging along for the ride through many an instalment of the Madden, FIFA and Pro Evolution franchises; I finally found two games which stole my heart and months of my life: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 05 and NBA 2K5. Both games marked the first time that I ever played through season modes in sports titles, and I would wager that I spent as much time playing these games than those you would normally associate with my palette. More than five years on, I've decided it's time to make my return to the court. I don't know if I'll get through another two seasons with the Mavericks (Dirk + Nash = Epic Win), but I'm sure I'll invest a great mass of time in it all the same. The inclusion of the Michael Jordan focussed challenge mode is probably the greatest draw card. I never saw much of MJ on the court, but there is no denying that some of the feats he achieved in reality would be damn near impossible to replicate even if it is in a videogame.

One final (disturbing) note about my weekend. On several occasions this weekend, I had to strenously resist the urge to buy Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock. Up until the release of the 3rd instalment, the franchise captured much of my attention and money. After several underwhelming releases, I desperately want to believe that the series is back on track. I doubt it will have found its past glory, especially with Nickelback on the setlist.

Did anyone make any new acquisitions this weekend? What did you end up playing?

Friday, October 8

Long Way Home

In an attempt to further my career (outside of amateur writing of course!), I've been working in higher duties for the past few weeks. The pay is good, the experience is great, but there is one problem: a far longer commute than I'm used to. It's a little too long to sit and listen to music, not long enough to justify whipping out a laptop to watch a ridiculously violent action film in plain view of the public (you'd be surprised how many have engaged in this puzzling behaviour). In desperation, I've turned to a game that I have played across multiple corrupted saves, for about 50 hours total and on two models of the PSP: Dissidia - Final Fantasy

Not quite a fighting game, and not quite a role-playing game; Dissidia both suffers and benefits from this identity crisis. On the upside, there are visually distinct characters, beautiful settings, as well as fast and tense conflict featuring awe-inspiring attacks. On the downside, there is an overly convoluted storyline, painstakingly-slow character advancement and severe balance issues.

Dissidia features what I believe is the most counter-intuitive progression system ever seen in a fighting game. I'd call it grinding, but I don't believe that adequately portrays how often you have to repeat actions, missions and chapters in order to remain competitive against the painfully-cheap AI opponents. For each "light," character in Dissidia, there is an individual storyline; after each character's tale is complete, you unlock a story where all their fates intertwine: Shade Impulse; Shade Impulse also has several chapters that feature characters of exponentially greater strength than the hero you leveled up in the original, individual character-focused chapters. When fighting through an individual character's quest, you encounter opponents of varying strength. You can opt out of the more difficult fights, but that makes character progression a far more sluggish affair. The difficult fights involve characters that are about 10 to (in the case of Shade Impulse) 30 levels higher than your current fighter; UNLESS you repeat an individual character's quest add nauseum, and eventually even the strongest opponent pales in comparison to your hero. This takes a great deal of time, and after a while the process should not even vaguely be reminiscent of fun. I can't understand why I still play it.

Ever since Final Fantasy X I've been allergic to grinding, even when this RPG element has been adopted by other genres. The classic example of this is Borderlands; a visually-appealing, loot-heavy, First-Person Shooter. The Dutch of 10 years ago would have eaten up Gearbox's ravenously popular shooter/role-playing hybrid. Modern Dutch could barely roam Pandora for half an hour before the tedium set in.With Dissidia though it is different. I can spam the Shield of Light from Helensvale to Loganlea, and still smile when I land the final blow on a flighty opponent. I can read mail from Moogles (kupo!), and not shudder at the cheesy dialogue found in the story chapters. I can cop losing out to Jecht's multi-hit bravery attacks, or Kefka's ridiculously effective Havoc Wing without switching off the PSP in a fit of rage.

I've narrowed my appreciation of this game down to two factors:
  1. It is one of the best looking games on the PSP, and it adequately emulates the quasi-Dragonball action seen in the nonsensical CGI feature, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. The frame rate rarely dips, and the character models are meticulously detailed. Some of the attacks that you unlock after hours of play are a real visual feast too. The vast, destructible environments effectively showcase the spectacular action. You can run or smash your opponents through walls, ceilings and thick stone columns; this my friends, is awesome.
  2. The risk/reward fight system. Initially it lacks depth, but once you unlock some more abilities (including both attacks and support actions such as Air Dash and Controlled Recovery), the tension and visual flare of these battles intensifies severely.    

It doesn't hurt that the game features characters from some of my favourite titles. That being said however, the memorable cast is diffused almost entirely by some wooden voice acting, and a laughable script. Tidus is the primary stain on the narrative, but Cloud and Squall try hard to out-ham him with their tough (but I'm actually really scared) bullshit. I should skip it all, but I can't look away from this cheese theatre.

With one week of higher duties left, I'm hoping to finish Dissidia (with the Warrior of Light at least). What's your favourite way to pass time on the commute? What are you playing this weekend?

Wednesday, October 6

In case you haven't played it: Kane & Lynch 2 - Dog Days Review (PS3)

The demo for Kane and Lynch: Dead Men was such a headache-inducingly painful experience, that every time I see the box art, I become nauseous. I greeted the announcement of the sequel, Dog Days with a mix of bemusement and cynicism. I couldn't comprehend why IO Interactive (makers of the inconsistent, but often enjoyable, Hitman titles) would insist on a follow-up to what I'm pretty sure was their worst-received effort since the original Hitman: Codename 47. Now that I've played through the single player campaign of Dog Days I think I understand why: the developers wanted to redeem themselves, and the potential of the intellectual property. They haven't exactly succeeded, however this almost broken game has captured my attention more effectively than the underwhelming Dead Rising 2.

The first thing you should know is that Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days is a brutally short game. My playthrough on the Normal difficulty setting lasted what I believe was less then 4 hours. That would make it shorter than the videogame adaptation of the last Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, TMNT (an easy 1000 achievement points for anyone wondering). It has a well-intentioned, yet regrettable script laden with about as many F-Bombs as an afternoon in the coach's box. It moves at a brisk enough pace, but you can only say fuck in so many different ways before it becomes tiresome. You can frame the word in different sentences too, but that doesn't make it any edgier; especially when you've said it twenty fucking times in two minutes. It also ends not with a bang, but a whimper. Still, it's an enjoyable ride while it lasts.

The greatest thing about this game is the oft talked about, presentation style; reminiscent of a Youtube clip, complete with pixelation, colour blur and screen tearing. As you run around Shanghai, the camera bobs and shakes as though someone with a handycam decided to follow the two protagonists. It's disorienting at first, but after about fifteen minutes your eyes (and stomach) will settle. The bland (and heavily repeated) character models, and plentiful clipping errors are masked by these visual effects. What would otherwise be an ugly videogame by current standards is pulled from the depths of mediocrity by some neon lights and a shaky camera.

The action is your standard cover shooter fare, made near unbearable by bullet sponges en-masse. The Shanghai Police, gang members, and understandably, heavily-armoured operatives can all take a remarkable amount of punishment. In the initial stages it's not overly obvious, as most battles take place in tight spaces such as alleyways and crowded parking complexes. When you start to move into open spaces however, and you have to engage in long(er) range combat, it becomes painfully apparent that your opponents are made of stronger stuff than the average human. Not even headshots will do in some cases. Add to that, a sticky, meddlesome cover mechanic that cost me more lives than it saved. This may sound like an experience best avoided, but it's not all bad. Dog Days features one of the best on-rails sequences in recent memory, as you circle a high-rise building and shower the Shanghai skyline in bullets and broken glass. It's a short sequence, but it was one of the more satisfying battles in recent memory. There are some portions where I forgot about the seemingly invincible gangsters, and I could move as intended, and I genuinely enjoyed the game. It is short, but Dog Days has a sharp focus that other recent releases seem to be lacking.

I've tried some of the multiplayer modes, but as expected, Kane and Lynch 2 has already fallen to the stronger, established competition. When I did manage to connect to a match, the connection quality was typically poor and often disconnected before a match would run its natural course. In one heartbreaking incident, the connection was lost during the final round of a Cops & Robbers match. During this particular match, players' models darted around the map at breakneck speed. In one instance, a player started levitating above the action, rotating and firing wildly. Funny? Very much so, but it also didn't do too much to sell me on the multiplayer offering. That being said however, the different match types offer something very different to the norm.

In Fragile Alliance, team members work together to steal large amounts of money, get to the escape vehicle and share the loot. Or, you can take out members of your team, steal their takings and keep all the money to yourself. Much to my surprise, most players were more than willing to work together, and I survived every round that I played. Cops & Robbers splits players into two teams, one obviously trying to steal money, while the other sides with the law and attempts to stop them. I could never find enough players for a game of Undercover Cop, and it was also the most interesting concept: one player is assigned to the role of undercover cop during a heist, and must attempt to stop the looters from escaping. The potential of Kane & Lynch 2's multiplayer modes is undeniable, it's just a shame that very few people have decided to try it out.

For those interested in the concept of Fragile Alliance who either can't find a match online, or haven't introduced their console to the interwebs; Kane and Lynch 2 also features an Arcade Mode. Arcade Mode allows for players to play games of Fragile Alliance on each of the multiplayer maps with AI companions. Much like it's online counterpart, players can choose to turn on their team in an attempt to earn more loot, or be an honourable thief. Your companion AI is very well behaved, so it is entirely up to you as to whether there is honour among thieves. You continue to play rounds until you lose three lives, and your cumulative score is posted to local and online leaderboards. Unfortunately, you continue to play on the same map until you run out of lives. I believe this mode would have had some legs if players were forced to tour a different map for each round. As it stands however, it is good, repetitive fun.

5/10 - Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is a much stronger game than I had anticipated. The distinct visual style, brisk pace and at times, satisfying gunplay make for a short, but thrilling ride. It is deeply flawed action, with impregnable enemies and the obtrusive cover system offering plenty of frustration. There are glimpses of brilliance however, with some sequences that demand to be played. I can't say much for the multiplayer offering, as it appears it has already fallen prey to other, better-established competitors. As a value proposition, Dog Days is a hard sell. When you consider that some single player DLC offerings for other titles (Bioshock 2 - Minerva's Den for one) offer more playtime, are more polished, and cost a fraction of the asking price of this full retail product; it's no surprise that sales of the game have apparently been poor. Perhaps the greatest criticism I can make of this title, is that you can experience all that it can offer you within a matter of hours; and unless the online community grows exponentially in the next few months, you've got the campaign and Arcade mode. But if you can find it cheap, and you enjoy gratuitous violence, the F-Bomb, and poor quality Youtube clips, do yourself a favour and give it a go. Fucking dogs!

Monday, October 4

Lost in Translation

Instead of continuing with the September heavyweights this weekend, I opted to look through my collection and play through some titles that I had rightly or wrongly neglected over the course of the year. First cab off the rank was Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days, which proved to be quite the surprise packet. I won't delve too heavily into my experiences with this title, as I will post a review on Wednesday; you should know however, that it was not the unmitigated failure that I expected it to be. The single player quest while brief, features several memorable sequences. Also of note: the multiplayer modes on offer in Dog Days are so drastically different to anything else on the market, and if it weren't for the small community and generally poor connection quality seen in matches played; I would argue that it could warrant further investigation.

I also logged a few hours on the single player portion of Bizarre Creation's latest racer, Blur. If nothing else, Blur is the most visually spectacular racing game to be released this year. With the amount of cars, explosions and related chaos on screen, I was suprised to find the frame rate never dropped. It is a shame though that the racing action itself is not as consistent as the visuals. During some events I sped through courses unhindered, yet still failed to place. Conversely, sometimes I found myself copping more punishment than a beligerent school boy, and still managed to win by more than a few lengths. After several hours driving solo, I was keen then to test my skills online. Much to my disappointment though, I found less than a hundred players total, playing in the available lobbies. Almost slimmer pickings than Kane and Lynch 2 right there!

Recently I've been able to experience the Eastern and Western flavours of organised crime. With 2K Czech's Mafia II, I learned that mob life in the US was not without consequence. Vito Scaletta's meteoric rise was peppered with tragedy, but also with excitement. The thrill of car chases, shootouts and fist-fights. There was a heavy focus on narrative, and I was engrossed in the entire experience; warts and all. Then there is Sega's Yakuza 3, and after three hours I still have no idea what it's about. In its defense, I opted to watch movies that catalogued the events of the previous instalments of the franchise prior to starting Kazuma's latest adventure: lots of people died, there were a few double-crosses, there were reunions and even a tale of unrequited love. Still, after this hour of narrative catch-up I failed to make any sense of the opening cut-scene. Someone was killed, I'm sure he was a prominent figure, but I can't tell you who he was, or why his death was pivotal to the plot of Yakuza 3 (or the series as a whole).

The confusion didn't end there, and nor did the boredom. Pages worth of text-based expostition, punctuated with repetitive combat have left me exhausted, and restless. I've spent such a short amount of time actually playing Yakuza 3, and I can't stand the prospect of sitting through another pointless exchange on a rooftop, somewhere in Kamurocho.

What did you all play this weekend?

Friday, October 1

Xbox 360 Dashboard Preview - Impressions in Haiku

A fortnight has passed
My Dashboard now updated
Two months too early

My first impressions
So much white, my eyes blinded
Where's my Dutch jersey?

Paid Avatar clothes
Not available to wear
No more Orange pride :(

Dutch is taller now
Slimmer too, Kinect ready
No fatties allowed

Marketplace Channels
They now take longer to load
Hurry up Xbox

Worthwhile new features
Exclusive to the US
Shouldn't have bothered

Slower, bright, pointless
Wishing I could turn back time
Less is more, my friends