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Ive read mixed reviews about mafia II, therefore waited until a drop in price before rushing out to buy it.
So, is it as bad as some make out? I would have to say a big NO! However, right from the onset you do have to realise this is not a remake of the first game. There are several references throughout but its a different city, with different characters and set around 20 years later.
So, the bad points.
Its not long enough; missions and subsequently the game is over far too quickly. This leaves you with the feeling the game was rushed towards the end.
To begin with, you find yourself thrust straight into playing an early part of his life, which is a little pointless. Its not long enough to work as training and therefore could have been taken care of quite easily with a cut scene. God knows one more at the beginning would not have made that much difference, Though I felt like it had been added at the last minute to bulk-out the game play.
Next the controls; There are simply too many keys to remember; it feels like Ive stepped back 10 years and is just bad design. And on the subject of controls; one of my favourite things in the original game was to drive using a game pad, configured to my own taste. However, in Mafia II there is simply no scope for game controllers configuration. Come-on guys, I was playing PC games back in the late 90s that allowed you to configure your joypad.
Too many cut scenes early in the game. At the very beginning the cut scenes take up more time than game play. Though all other faults pale when it comes to the one complaint that Ive read time and time again. No free ride option. This sucks!
Good points; and yes there are many.I have to begin with the city. The city is one of the most atmospheric Ive ever seen, especially early in the game during the winter missions. The amount of time and effort that has gone into this boggles the mind. Unlike the old Mafia, there is very little repetition, you actually feel like you are driving around an east Coats US city of the 40s and 50s. I just want to load the game and simply explore. Oh wait, I cant as there is no free ride.
The cars. I am a huge fan of old American cars and Mafia has never let me down. Weve moved from the 20s and 30s into the 40s and 50s and with it comes some of Detroits finest.
I also have to mention the diversity. This is something the designers have obviously paid a great deal of attention too. As you move from the more affluent side of the city into the poorer and more industrial areas there appears to be a shift in the type of traffic you see. Now this is a really nice touch as the lack of variation was a complaint I often read levelled against the original game. Another aspect of driving which impressed me is the various speeds at which different vehicles are travelling. This is further enhanced by speed variations within the city and freeway systems. Something else which appeals is that there are radios to be found in the cars.
You can choose your own station to listen to as you drive; music is period but varied and does change as you progress through the games timeline. There are some throwbacks to the original game but the move is towards music of the 40s and 50s. Though Im not a fan of Rock and Roll, it does make for an authentic backdrop. In addition to which are the DJs banter and radio commercials all add to the atmosphere of the game.
All in all, this is a very enjoyable game. Its not bug or irritation free, but there are some genuinely nice features and surprises along the way.
Thief: The Complete Collection
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This has to be amongst my all time favourite series of games.
I was given Thief, The dark Project as a birthday gift many years ago, and at first, just didn't fancy it at all. It was therefore relegated to a shelf and forgotten about. Until that is one weekend I was feeling ill. I had nothing new left to play so reluctantly, loaded it up.
All I can say is what a fool I was. That is, leaving it sitting there for such a long time. What can I say, Instantly, I was hooked!
Aptly labelled, 'First Person Sneaker' this game takes you into the world of stealth, where all out assaults will see you lying in a bloodied heap. There is just something about sneaking around, right under someone's nose that is so appealing.
Yes, by today's standards the graphics are dated, but don't let this put you off. The Thief series contains some of the must memorable and engaging environments I have ever encountered. Even more so given the mythical time period in which this game is set. With a combination of the medieval and Victorian world you will often find yourself just wandering around looking at stuff. But it's the stealth which really makes these games.
Sitting in a shadow may not sound like much fun, but don't be fooled. Sit, watching and waiting for your chance to blackjack someone, not knowing if they will see you, is very addictive indeed. Furthermore, once you venture out of the city and into the more barren locations, there is this sense of being truly alone.
And there is more! The environments are truly immersive; this is not your typical linear game; each new level and environment offering numerous variations in how it can be traversed and tasks completed. Which makes for a very enjoyable experience as it allows you to return and play these games time and time again; each visit discovering something new.
Thankfully, the creators didn't take the rout of the continuously sporning enemy. Rather, there are set numbers in each level which can be dealt with as you see fit. Though don't be fooled into thinking that they are all easy to deal with, or find for that. Nope, some are hidden within the depths of each level, and only true exploration can yield their location and the goodies which they often defend. Furthermore, as the difficulty settings go up, so do the tasks. Yes, you are there to make money for yourself, it is called 'Thief' after all!
Each environment has its treasures, some easily located, others requiring skill and patience. Not to mention, at higher difficulty settings, you are no longer allowed to kill none combatants, who, if seen by, will run off to find the nearest gaud.
Thief 2 and 3 both continue along these well though out lines, encompassing huge story arches which reach across all three games.
The Thief series has to be one of the best kept secrets in the gamming worlds. So go on, give them a go, you know you are just dying to sneek up behind someone and blackjack them for their gold. Mwhahaha.
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As we head toward 2010 I would have to still place this game within my top 5 of all time favourites. Graphics are good and game play excellent. However, I haven't given it the highest rating because it does have its flaws.
Later levels do become somewhat linear and can be tedious. The expanses within the early parts of the game give way to more linear and less explorable environments which is a shame. Part of the early enjoyment in this game is the many ways in which you can traverse the landscape.
I do however like the ability to sneak, rather than the usual, all guns blazing approach. And I feel Far Cry set new standards in this area which was at that time a refreshing change. Enemy AI is pretty good, and the creatures still send a chill down my spine.
Ironically, many people who first played this game back in 2004 will never have seen it at its best as its only been in recent years that we have seen affordable PC's which can run this game at its higher detail levels.
Overall, this is a must have game for any FPS fan.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow Of Chernobyl
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I recently purchased this game after reading a top 10 list of survival horror games for the PC.
First impressions were not good. It took almost 3 hours of patch tracing and installing before it would run under Vista, even after which, I was left with an annoying sound glitch. Though I eventual give up and loaded to an XP machine which still required patching. Okay that out of the way, and several days game play in hand.
This game was released in 2006 yet feels somewhat older. Gaming is nothing out of the ordinary which is okay. However overall, the graphics, although acceptable, are not as good as many online reviews led me to believe. Especially when you consider that this came almost two years after Half Life 2, Far Cry, The Chronicles of Riddick, Unreal Tournament 2004, Doom 3 etc.
Character animation is average and AI is reasonable, although the creatures never really instill any fear or trepidation. For the most part they are quite easy to avoid and lack that certain fear factor.
The overall environments feel as if they belong in something from around 2002-3. The landscapes vary; some appear quite extensive while others are very linear and restrictive. Yet, overall you don't really feel this unless you like to explore. Rather than running into the old school invisible wall, you often hit high radiation areas which eventually will kill you. These I feel are a nice touch and do distract from some of the more linear aspects of the game, but isn't quite enough.
Yes there are other nice effects but it just doesn't have that quality feel; rather, I cannot shake this sense that it was produced on a very tight budget. And forget technical support. If you can look past its failings and get it to run, then I'd say its an enjoyable, but forgettable romp. Story line and character interaction is mostly okay
Overall an okay budget title, however, I would have been very upset back in 06 if I had paid the full retail price for this game.
Tomb Raider: Underworld
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It's safe to say I wasn't counting down the days to the release of this game. Recent years have seen some very disappointing outings for Lara, yet, after playing the demo, I was somewhat optimistic. First impressions where wow, it looks stunning. Then came a huge surprise. This is the first Tomb Raider game that's come along in years that I have not wanted to stop playing. The graphics and environments are stunning, puzzles are well thought out and interesting. However, it does require a good graphics card to see it at its best.
BAD POINTS: The control system could be better. Lara has some irritating quirks left over from games of old. The motorcycle controls and physics feel antiquated which is a shame because other games cracked these years ago. And the combat is very dated. I doubt there was any real thought given to the AI programming.
The game is very linear. This isn't an issue to begin with but leaves little scope for playing the game differently a second time around. Although, Tomb Raider Underworld is not unique in this.
GOOD POINTS: Tomb Raider has always been about the adventure, exploring and puzzle solving and you will not be disappointed. The settings are well thought out and you will find yourself just wandering around looking at stuff. TAKE YOUR TIME. Crystal Dynamics have captured so much of what made the very first Tomb Raider so addictive. You feel like you are immersed in these worlds, rather than playing the role of a spectator.
IN SHORT: Beautifully rendered game with so very nice touches. Interesting characters and a good plot line. Some irritating quirks which really shouldn't be present in a game these days. HOWEVER, Don't let any of this put you off. Crystal Dynamic's have done an excellent job in breathing new life into Lara, and Tomb Raider Underworld is worthy successor to the name.
Lets hope this is not the last adventure we see.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary
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When the news broke about the remake, well, what can I say? I loved the original; it was the game, which brought me back into gaming. Therefore, a remake, modern graphic and technology, how could it fail?
Well, I replayed the original just before my new copy arrived and so set the standard for the latest reincarnation of the venerable miss Croft. The game arrived, it loaded and off we went.
First impressions were good. Nice graphics, no silly PC requirement and true to the original. However, after a day or so, one thing became apparent, although good, and this is a good game. It didn't quite deliver that certain something which a few days prior, a 12 year old version had poured upon me.
'So, what's wrong with the game?' I think it comes down to scale. The original give this impression of vastness, whereas, Anniversary feels small. You reach the end of a level and think, 'is that it?' All of the key elements from the original are there, yet I find myself searching for more.
Coliseum is a good example. In the original, this level was made up of a large number of sections, each as challenging as the last; yet, I completed the Anniversary version in about forty minutes and was very disappointed as this was one of my favourite levels in the original.
As the game progress, the emphasise moves away from puzzle solving toward acrobatics. The Temple of Khamoon is a good example, sequence after sequence, kill a Panther and a few crocs and it's back to leaping and jumping against the clock, and it becomes tedious. Frustrating and challenging movements were just part of what made the original great, but, there was a whole lot more to it, much of which is missing from Anniversary.
Is it worth buying? Well that depends on what you want from this game. As a stand-alone Croft adventure, it's enjoyable. As a worthy successor to the original? For me, it falls a little short. That said, if you are a fan of Lara this is a fun romp around the ancient world however, I would strongly advise against playing the original prior to playing Anniversary; you may just find yourself a little disappointed.