Archive for the Game Review Category

LiveBlog: Batman: Arkham City

Posted in Game Review, Games, Thoughts with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2011 by Bjorn Grainger

SPOILER WARNING. From here in out I’m going to be giving away story and plot points. If you intend on playing the game and want to remain spoiler-free, stop flipping reading, you idiots. For everyone else, welcome.

A little re-cap before we begin – Batman: Arkham City is the sequel to Rocksteady’s 2009 hit Batman: Arkham Asylum, in which you are tasked with stopping the nefarious Joker as he breaks free and takes over the institute for the criminally insane. Locked inside the asylum with The Joker and many other members of Batman’s colourful cast, you are the only thing that stands in their way of the total destruction of Gotham City.

Arkham Asylum is a brilliant game. Crafted with such care and attention to detail, it finally gave Batman, and superheroes, a videogame they could be proud of. It would of been my Game Of The Year, if not for a stellar Uncharted 2: Amongst Thieves. To say I was excited about Asylum’s follow-up, Arkham City, would be an understatement. Let’s get to it, shall we?

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9. FIFA 10

Posted in Game Review, Games with tags , , , , , on February 7, 2010 by Bjorn Grainger

I umm-ed and ahhed for a long time about putting this in my top games. I mean, football is football, isn’t it? Make the grass green, the ball white, and the winner is the one who can it in the net the most. How hard can it be? Well, quite difficult, actually. Earlier FIFA games looked good but played like dogs. They always lost out in the gameplay stakes to Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer. The balance of power has tipped towards FIFA in recent years. It is fast becoming the game real football fans play, and in my last few sessions I have been convinced too. By getting the ingredients right, it has become nearly as wonderful and heart-breaking as the real thing.

At first, you’d be hard pressed to see any cosmetic differences between FIFA 10 and its previous iterations. Electronic Arts have always been masters of flashy presentation, and nothing changes here. The majority of the players look pretty much like whom they’re meant to, and all the stadia and such are represented in full HD creamy goodness. The menu screens are accompanied by bland, inoffensive pop from around the world. The booming roar of the crowd reverberates in realistic fashion out of the surround sound speakers, with tannoy announcements and commentary provided by Martin Tyler and Andy Gray giving it the ‘Sky’ big match feel. Whether that’s a good or bad thing comes down to your tolerance of their banter. As I have already said, EA excel at this stuff.

So what about the game mechanics? They tinker mostly, there are no wholesale changes. They’ve improved the AI (as they do every year, of course). The defence seems to be more switched on, they react more quickly and are less susceptible to the ball over the top like they were in earlier games. Goalkeepers have meant to have been improved, though I haven’t seen any evidence of that. It’s more of a challenge to score from outside the box and good crosses are slightly more difficult to do, but that makes more satisfying when you do manage to pull them off.

The biggest changes are you can now set up your own custom free-kick and corner set-pieces, and the 360 ball control. I know, that just sounds like a bullet point you’d see on the back of the box, but it really does add to the game. Before this you could only move in eight directions – up, down, left, right, and all those in-between. Instead of running and suddenly changing direction, you can now make long arching Theo Walcott-like runs down the wing, or bend your run to perfection to avoid offside when waiting for that killer through ball. It’s a game-changer.

In single player, you can play the computer, though that really isn’t too much fun. You can manage your own team, picking the squad and dealing the transfer market to improve your club and win the league. Where the most time has been lavished is on the Be A Pro section. This is where you take control of your own player in a single position and try to hone the perfect professional. You start in the lower leagues before climbing the divisions to find yourself at your dream club. Though, none of these options really interest me. Where I think FIFA 10 stands out is its online and multiplayer.

It was an earlier FIFA game (FIFA 06, I think, on the original Xbox) that helped soil my opinion of online gaming. When playing in a tournament, I was one nil up with only a couple of minutes to go and my opponent lost his connection, leading to a rematch. I played the rematch, was two nil up and it happened again. Connection lost. Rematch. I played a final time, was one nil up and the fucking French prick pulled it again. So I quit, and that twat went through by default! Things have improved drastically since then. If your opponent quits or loses connection, you are awarded a two nil win. There’s also a stat showing the percentage of games your opponent has failed to finish. If their DNF% is high, they tend to be shunned by the community.

I never play this game on my own. I only ever break it out when my friend comes around. We sometimes play each other (it’s usually fairly even, though he is better than me) but in recent times we’ve taken to playing on the same side, taking on opponents online. It’s such a joy. After an initial bedding in process, we’ve become attuned to each other’s playing styles and things have taken off. We are now racing up the rankings. I take real pleasure in the smallest of things. When defending, I always drop off the player while my friend always goes to the ball. If he should miss his tackle and fail to get the ball, I’m there as back up. This is done without words, just a natural understanding. The same goes for attacking, if my friend picks up the ball in midfield he knows I’ll be busting a gut to make a run forward. As someone who has no physical aptitude for the beautiful game but has loved it for many years, to be able to this stuff is an absolute delight. It is this feeling that makes it one of my favourite games of 2009.

10. Halo 3

Posted in Game Review, Games with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2010 by Bjorn Grainger

Ah, Halo. Halo, Halo, Halo. I remember when I first laid eyes on you. It was Boxing Day 2002, and I was up at my auntie’s. My cousin had got an Xbox for Christmas and was playing it. Less than a month later I had bought my own Xbox and Halo – Combat Evolved to go along with it.

I was blown away. The only FPS games I’d ever played were Rare’s GoldenEye and Perfect Dark. Since that generation’s leap to 3D, it had become hard to be wowed anymore. But Halo did. It really was “Combat Evolved”.

You play as Master Chief, the last of a group of genetically enhanced super soldiers called Spartans. He was thawed out to help save the human race who were at war with The Covenant, a group of alien religious fanatics. The Covenant had discovered an ancient planet-sized ring, a Halo, an artefact left by a long extinct race called The Architects. The Architects had built it as a weapon to destroy all life in the galaxy. The Covenant want to activate it. Master Chief is the only man who can stop them.

Graphically, it was stunning for a console at that time, it had lush vibrant worlds, a pounding orchestral score, and what made it stand out especially was the brilliant enemy AI. The Covenant had an easily distinguishable hierarchy.  There were Grunts, who were mostly cannon fodder, they’d come at you in groups but you’d taken out a few they’d scarper, shouting “Run away!” in a comical, Python-esque fashion. Jackals would take pot-shots at you from behind a shield. Hunters were a tough armoured foe. Elites were the sword-swinging commanders on the Covenant army, take one out and the Grunts and Jackals fall into disarray. It was these little touches that made it special. Heck, it even contains one of my favourite moments in gaming ever. Yet, I never finished it.

Halo 2. It took what was great about the first game and tried to make it better. It added a couple of new enemies. Drones, a flying insect race, and Brutes, giant hammer-weilding goons. They made the levels a little shorter and more varied (the first game suffered from repetitiveness. The levels were huge and symmetrical, which was clever from a design point of view, fitting in with the Halo universe, it made for a boring gameplay experience. You’d often run down a corridor and get a feeling of déjà vu thinking you’d accidentally back-tracked, turn around and go back only to realise you were going the right way in the first place! ARGH), had bigger set-pieces (an especially memorable one involving a giant mechanical spider), and took the very bold move of making you play as one of the Covenant’s Elites, The Arbitor, for half the game instead of Master Chief. It was also the first game to really bring online gaming to the masses, taking it from the preserve of PC gamers to console owners at large. Yes, then everyone could experience the ritual humiliation of dying all the time and being mocked by American children. And yet, in spite of the improvements and getting close to the end, I never finished it.

Halo 3. I’ll say it now. I have finished it. So why not the other two? The Flood. Simple as. The Flood are a virus/zombie-like enemy that infect everything they touch. They are everything The Covenant is not. The Covenant are intelligent and will use tactics to flush you out, The Flood are unrelenting and come at you in wave after wave after wave. I recognise the game makers were trying to mix up the gameplay a bit, but The Flood are frustrating, annoying, and ultimately boring. When the later levels of each game are made up of battling through The Flood , I just give up.

Halo 3 features The Flood, but thankfully in little more than a cameo role. Again, Bungie, the game developers, take the formula and refine it some more. The graphics have the fancy next-gen HD shine, the set-pieces are even bigger (battle not one, but two scarabs. AT THE SAME TIME), and they cut the controversial Arbitor as a playable character. It it rollicks along at a tidy pace, and ties the story up of the trilogy fairly neatly, but I can’t help feeling something was missing. That little spark of invention to really separate it from its earlier gen prequels. As it is, it’s a good game, just not a great one.

I should also finish by saying that a lot of people believe Halo 3’s online multiplayer is where the game comes into its own. I haven’t played it online so I can’t comment on it, but including the of recording deathmatches, and Forge, the ability to craft your own layout, weapons, and vehicles, within a map can only be seen as a good thing.

My favourite videogames I’ve played in 2009!

Posted in Game Review, Games with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2010 by Bjorn Grainger

Here it is, the beginning of a series of blogs I’ve been threatening to write for many many months – My rundown of the best games I’ve played in the last year (these aren’t necessarily games released in 2009, some are five years old, other released as recently as November).

2009 turned out to be one of my most prolific years in videogaming, both in terms of games bought and games completed. Not even in my ’90s heyday had I managed to complete so many titles. Before I start the rundown proper, I must give mention to those games that I didn’t find time for, to those which fail to make the list through mediocrity or sheer awfulness.

In the unplayed pile :-

Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and Okami. These are highly regarded PS2 action/adventure/puzzler classics that hardcore gamers insist “must be played”, yet I haven’t. I WILL play them sometime this year. Promise.

Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2. Again, highly rated, these are zombie first person shooters. The innovation and key to the enjoyment comes from their online co-op modes. The problem for me, though, is I haven’t any friend to play online with (Well, there is one, but he’s too chicken to play. No, REALLY). And there’s no way I’m going to play with strangers. What am I? Gay?

Killzone 2. A must-have PS3 title. I downloaded and played the demo. The graphics definitely showed off the power of the console, but it was all so grey and brown, and well, depressing, that it didn’t inspire me to play the game one little bit.

Fallout 3. This is a massive FPS RPG, and it the 40+ hour playing time needed to finish it that’s putting me off. Kinda like when you wanna watch a DVD, The Godfather Part 2 is just sitting there, everybody says it’s a masterpiece and you know you really should watch it, but the running time scares you off and you end up watching Three Men and a Baby instead.

The Orange Box. This a collection of the apparently awesome Half-Life games and spin-offs all on one disc, and it’s the number of titles and where to begin that’s putting me off.

Ghostbusters The Video Game. It came, I saw, I never got around to kicking its ass.

And now the games that I did actually play :-

Gears Of War. This is considered a must-own on the Xbox 360, though I beg to differ. It’s not a bad game as such, the third person shoot and cover mechanics work well, what i saw of the story rattled along at a pace, the set-pieces suitably big and bold. Graphically, it’s all in pristine HD, but it suffers from a modern-day phenomenon where the everything in the game world is a dull sepia brown, or grey and murky. I can only assume is to give a more grounded, grown-up feeling to the visuals, to escape  the multi-colour garishness of gaming’s past generations. That’s all very well, I suppose, but for me, one of the joys of gaming is to escape into a new world, to avoid the dull greys of the trudge to work, not to get home and do it again.

That is not what stopped me playing the game through to end. Oh no. What stopped me was the characters. Urgh. They are the worst kind of macho American jock types from which every other word that slips from their mouths is a swear. I’m no prude, quite the opposite, but the dialogue felt like it was designed to appeal to the most moronic of children. I mean, didn’t swearing in videogames stop being edgy and cool about two generations ago? It certainly can’t be seen as a substitute for character.  Anyway, it wasn’t long before this really began to grate with me and I just gave up. And, of course, if I haven’t finished  this, there’s no point me even beginning the sequel, Gears Of War 2.

Call Of Duty 5 – World At War. Ironically, this has to be my most played game of the past year, yet I’ve never finished it. Heck, I didn’t even make an attempt at the single player campaign. It was the online multiplayer where I got my jollies. This was less down to the game and more to do with the company I kept, mainly that of one of my very bestest best friends. There we would sit, blowing the shit out of digital versions of Nazis, Ruskies, Japs, and Yanks while whispering sweet nothings into each others ears. That’s not to say the game wasn’t enjoyable, it was, in a solid, unspectacular way, it’s just the game became a means with which to spend considerable amounts of time in the company of my friend. It’s that company which led to the most enjoyment while playing and this is why the game doesn’t make it into the final rundown.

Street Fighter IV. I bought this on the back of the good reviews, but mainly down to fond memories of its predecessor from the ’90s, Street Fighter 2. The game itself is undeniably brilliant, amazing graphics like a cross between CGI and cel animation, a return to the “easy to learn, complex to master” controls of the earlier Street Fighter games, and the addition of the online battles allowing you to fight people from all over the world. The problem is I’ve changed from those obsessive days in the ’90s, I’ve become a very lazy gamer. No longer do I want to have to play through a game x amount of times to unlock every character and all the bonus content. I want it all and I want it now. And in that way, Street Fighter IV is resolutely old school. If you want this stuff, put in the time and get good at the game. This is true of online too, you have to put in the effort or you will have your ass well and truly kicked. Nobody likes losing all the time, and that’s all I bloody did at this game.

Chrono Trigger. Got this on a whim for my DS after reading a review of old school titles which called it one of the best role playing games of all time. I put it in, wandered around for 30/40 minutes, furthering the story, before getting to my first battle. I die instantly and it sends me RIGHT BACK TO THE BEGINNING! ARGH! So I plough through the same 30/40 minutes again only to die at the exact same point as before! Fuck me, games were hard back in the day.So me being me, I gave up. It didn’t help that the game has a turn-based fighting mechanic, something I loathe. I know this is something that’ll anger the RPG purists out there, but turn-based fighting sucks. I’d rather my progress in a game was down to my own ability and skill, not some random throw of a computerised die. So, file Chrono Trigger under “never to be played again”.

Right, that’s it for the “nearly, but not quites”. Here are my favourite games that I played in 2009!

10. Halo 3

9. FIFA 10