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i had never played the Fallout series before, so this was completely new to me.
the game itself is really really stunning! it does admittedly take a while to get into and takes some time and effort, but people who give that will also get in return (although your social life will no doubt suffer... cos i found this really absorbing and addictive)
graphically the game is really beautiful, the setting may be a post-nuclear war ravaged wasteland and ruined cities, but never before has desolate looked so stunningly beautiful! it really captures the imagination and grabs players.
the gameplay is good, offering the player a choice of 1st and 3rd person view of the game (3rd person is a bit rubbish in my opinion, 1st person mode is much better). the VATS combat system is a nice touch, while the games strength is offering the player alot of choice in how the game pans out and how your character develops. if you concentrate on building up lock-pick skills you then you can obviously pick certain locks you wouldnt normally be able to, but at the expense of what? weapon skills, medicine or computer hacking? but this kind of dilemma is all part of the fun!
the sub-quests are also great fun. while your choice in the main quest is not as flexible, in several of the sub-quests you genuinely have freedom to do what you want - do you help the weak and needy and punish baddies; or do you punish the weak and needy and help the baddies (the quests 'Strictly Business' and 'You Gotta Shot Em In The Head' spring to mind) or do you take the middle ground and be balanced?
the game universe is also truly massive, with hundreds of locations scattered across the map to explore, there is basically months worth of play in it if you take your time to explore every nook and cranny.
the game isnt perfect though. the 2 most noticable weaknesses are that the game has a nasty habit of crashing. im not alone in experiencing this, and many other players have also had this on a fairly frequent basis, and the makers Bethesda seemingly cant fix the problem with downloadable updates.
the 2nd weakness, is that despite having a massive game universe to explore, it is admittedly repetitive in some ways. sure it's a post-nuclear war wasteland and everything is suppose to be burnt out and rubble, but thats where the weakness is. everything is either ruined city; collapsed subway tunnels or vast irradiated plains. the number of enemy creatures is also limited as well, as i'd hoped for some more mutant enemies around to have a ruck with.
overall, this game is excellent. its a tough game to get into, but if you invest some effort then surely you will get a massive amount of fun out of it.
Halo Wars: Limited Edition
When I heard that Halo Wars would be a Real Time Strategy (RTS) war game, I was initially quite worried that the Halo franchise had taken a turn for the worst. Seeing the non-playable demo didn't exactly make my mouth water either.
However after playing the full game, I have to admit I was wrong. It's very simply to play and easy to pick up, and as with C&C, Red Alert, War Craft, Z etc... it's also incredibly addictive!
One of the main strengths is that the game is just easy to play. everything from commanding your forces, utilising secondary weapons and building and developing bases is easy to pick up. Halo fans who have not played C&C or other strategy war games before will probably enjoy this and decide to check out other titles in the genre.
however this simplicity is also the game's weakness. it can get repetitive especially as the campaign only follows the human UNSC side while the Covenant side is left to languish in the skirmish and online modes which is a shame. There are 15 missions in the story campaign, which is quite limiting compared to other RTS games. The number of units you can build is also very limited. It's good for the beginner. personally when I first played the recent-ish Red Alert 3, the number of units and secondary weapons/modes was mind-bogglingly confusing. Halo Wars avoids this, but once you've mastered your arsenal (and lets be honest, most people will do so after a few days) things become less interesting. there are 3 generic main ground vehicles while units like the Elephants and Gremlins are dependant on what sub-faction you're playing as. Same as applies to infantry.
There is a decent variation of missions though. Not all missions focus on simply destroying the enemy. there are missions where you have to escort certain 'key units' to certain locations, 'commando' missions where you cant build and have limited forces to use etc, so there is enough variaty in that respect.
Resource collecting is also very simple (you just build a supply pad) which is very reminiscent of Red Alert 3 and in some ways, Z (anyone remember that?) and works pretty well. The unit limits is also a welcome factor which keeps the playing field level.
the story is engaging, but in terms of the Halo universe, it's not consistent. small gripes of course, but any big Halo fan would also pick up on little things like this.
Overall the game is really decent. as far as games in this genre go, I prefer PC version of Command and Conquer 3 as it has more depth (the Xbox version has poor controls), but Halo Wars is hardly a disgrace. simple to play, enjoyable but lacking a some depth. There is plenty of fun to be had online though and that is where the games' longitivity will mostly come from.
Bloc Party - CD
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...but on hearing the entire album, im actually relieved and pleased with 'Intimacy'! when i first heard Mercury for the first time, i really loathed it, it sounded like the worst bits from 'A Weekend In The City' mixed with the worst bits from Radiohead's 'Amnesiac'.
Ares is great opener, with its distorted guitars, frantic jerky drums and Kele who sings in your ear one second, and then all of a sudden sounds as though he's in the next room and then is back in your ear again. its the little sister of Positive Tension. further in is Trojan Horse, which follows a similar mould and is another highlight.
after repeated listens, i have to admit that Mercury is growing slightly. still one of the weaker tracks, maybe i'll grow to love it, but only time will tell...
Halo is like the offspring of Luno and the 2nd half of Uniform. it will no doubt please the fans and shake the moshpit when the band go to tour this album! coincedently hot on Halo's heels, is Biko which sounds very much like the 1st half of Uniform. its a beautiful mellow moment. another of the album's highlights. Signs nods at 'Kid A' (Radiohead) and is further proof that Bloc Party can do reflective mellow songs as well as fast 'mosh' ones too.
however after so many consecutive great tracks, comes Zephyrus which shows that the band are fallable after all. for me it was the albums weakest song reminiscent of the worst bits of 'A Weekend...' what follows though, is arguably two of the most TRULY AMAZING Bloc Party songs - Talons and Better Than Heaven. the former is a more direct rock song, but nonetheless is brilliant. kele may not be a great vocalist, but his delivery in Talons is perfect and is what makes the song. Better Than Heaven is a song of two parts, the first being slow and mellow but stunningly brilliant all the same, before it explodes giving way to a dancefloor wrecking mother of a track!
after the amazing Better Than Heaven, its probably inevitable that the closing Ion Square will pale in comparison. its still a great track, but i fear it'll be overlooked. lyrically its a beautiful love song about settling down. it'll no doubt strike a chord with many listeners.
after the patchy 'A Weekend In The City', Bloc Party have really redeemed themselves in my book with this album. this is a truly stunning album which combines the right balance of experimentation, mad frantic moshability and mellow moments of song-writing beauty. one of the albums of 2008.
Bat For Lashes - CD
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first of all, i'd like to make clear that i most definately HAVE heard the album in full - i was lucky enough to get hold of a promo copy.
Fur & Gold was something of a sleeper album - released initially to little fuss and attention, but by the end of 2007 Bat For Lashes were one of th Mercury Music Prize favourites, sold out two nights at the Koko in London and by the summer of 2008 were supporting Radiohead all over Europe.
whether this album propels them to stardom is open to debate, but on the strength of this album, i'd say they definately deserve it! opener Glass was a highlight on the Radiohead dates and here it sounds as imperious as it did then, and then some as Natasha Khan delivers one of her best vocal performances to date!
The tracks that follow are equally brilliant. Sleep Alone is brillaint. to call it 'electro-folk' is probably misleading, but thats the only phrase that comes to mind to describe it. one of the strongest tracks. Moon & Moon which follows is a beautiful piano led piece which has been knocking about their live set for a fair while while the lead-off single Daniel dispels all fears that the new 'dancier direction' will fail and wouldnt sound entirely out of place on Debut (Bjork).
4 tracks in and so far so good. Peace of Mind and Siren Song are mellower moments, with the former being fairly average and the latter is very much a grower - every listen reveals new fruits to the listener.
Pearl's Dream is another of those 'dancier' tracks and is another standout while Natasha delivers another excellent vocal. think Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill meets Cocteau Twins circa mid-1980s.
elsewhere Good Love is reminiscent of Sad Eyes from Fur & Gold but also mixes the same intensity which characterised Bat's Mouth while claustropia-inducing Two Planets is not a million miles away from Trophy (but with tribal beats) and is another high point. the last two tracks however are quite disappointing - Travelling Woman is pretty bland while the Scott Walker collaboration The Big Sleep is merely an 'okay' track. its not poor, but considering the brilliance of most of the tracks that came before it, it pales in comparison.
overall, this is a really brilliant album. there are a couple of average songs on it, but this is made up for by brilliance such as Sleep Alone, Daniel, Pearl's Dream and Glass while there are also many 'growers' which dont grab you immediately, but after several listens emerge as further high points. Natasha Khan will feel justifiably cheated if this album doesnt propel her to stardom. either way, this is an album to be treasured and will doubtlessly be vying for my personal 'Best Album of 2009' crown come the end of the year.
No Line On The Horizon
U2 - CD
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it has to be said, Achtung Baby aside (which was a masterpiece), im not the biggest U2 fan in the world by any means. ive always felt that they were generally inconsistent (usually a 50/50 split in good/bad tracks) and over-rated.
hearing No Line On The Horizon however, i have to admit its a pretty good album. the last two albums were very U2-by-numbers, meat and potatos sort of standard rock - nothing spectacular. the opening title track misled me into thinking it would be another average album, but the second track Magnificent is, well magnificent really! it's got a strong melody, backed with The Edge's soaring guitars and marshalled by the bands' understated rhythm section as Bono sings with optimism 'only love can heal such a scar'. Moment of Surrender is the albums' slow-burner. it sounds like a mix between One and the woozy-sounding Kite before giving way to a guitar solo that David Gilmour would be proud of. both tracks will no doubt be crowd favourites when they come to tour this album.
Unknown Caller however, is a pretty standard U2 track - unremarkable but pleasant enough. the first 2 minutes or so, sound like a demo of them jamming Walk On - the guitar lines sound eerily similar. similarly I'll Go Crazy... is simply pretty bog-standard and doesnt stand out massively.
i loathed the lead-off single Get On Your Boots on first listen, and i cant say i feel any differently to it now on repeated listens. it's still my least favourite track on the album. Stand Up Comedy is an improvement, but again, for all it's omph not very memorable.
FEZ - Being Born is a work of beauty. by U2's standards, this is pretty radical and experimental but it works really well! it's an astonishing piece of music where lyrics are kept to a minimum while The Edge takes centre stage with layer upon layer of guitar from the shoe-gazey-esque drone in the background to the more prominant chiming guitars on the surface. White Snow is another highlight, much gentler than some of the previous tracks, but many times more powerful.
Breathe hasnt grabbed me much either. its a fairly good effort, but in alot of ways its very typical U2. the closing Cedars of Lebanon with it's spoken-word verses ends the album on a high. similarly to White Snow, it's brilliance is in its subtlety - its a song that reveals more and more on repeated listens.
overall the album is a vast improvement on the last two albums. there are still some weak moments, and a few average moments you couldnt care much about, but there are also moments of brilliance on here which would easily get into anyone's 'top 20 U2 songs ever' list. the band are still clearly struggling to break out of that mould of writing 'standard U2 songs' but when done well, they havent sounded this good for a long time (Moment of Weakness and Maginificent in particular). this album is a clear case of 'when it's good it's very good, but when it's bad, it's just plain boring'. a mixed bag.
in all fairness, while the critics may go on about 'a sense of adventure' with this album, i have to say that its hardly experimental by any stretch of the imagination. their one true venture into experimental territoy (FEZ - Being Born) is a work of brilliance however and one of the standout tracks. they really should try stuff like that more often!
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3
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...This is a must-buy for Command & Conquer/Red Alert fans, and anyone else who likes strategy games.
The graphics may be cartoon and very different from say, C&C3 but the gameplay is similar and remains very good. It retains the same control interface from Kane's Wrath (C&C3 expansion pack) which is highly accessible compared to C&C3 on the Xbox 360 which was clumsy and awkward.
Its great to have a third army in the game too (The Empire of The Rising Sun). The FMV sequences are superbly camp and fun! Just as Red Alert should be and the story is a fun exploration of 'what mightve happened...' and the units generally are much more versatile - many of whom have alternate modes or weapons, adding depth to the game (especially the imperial ones).
The campaign mode is short though (9 missions per side - 27 in total) but most missions themselves are pretty long as they are broken into smaller sub-sections.
The co-commander addition is ok. Its a nice idea, but flawed as the AI is at times, completely hopeless...
Overall, a great addition to the Red Alert series. It also shows that great games dont need great graphics!
Sega Mega Drive: Ultimate Collection (Classics)
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...for most old-school Mega Drive fans this is probably something of a wetdream for them. the fact its 40+ games is excellent value, but most of these 40 games arent just any old cack - most are retro classics which adds to this collection.
the highlights for me are the Streets of Rage series - with the 2nd game in particular being brilliant (although the 3rd pushes it very close). 2D side-strolling beat-em ups may be a thing of the past, but they still have their own unique charm.
similarly the Golden Axe series is also good fun. not as great as SOR, but worth a go.
the early Sonic The Hedgehog series is also included, and is another high point in this collection (Sonic 3D Blast and Spinball are a bit suspect, but not a complete disgrace either and are worth a play). all the other Sonic games here are truly brilliant. however the lock-on option for Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles (as well as Sonic 2), which combines the games together, has been left out which is heartbreakingly disappointing. Sonic 3 combined with Knuckles was THE GREATEST 2D platformer EVER! its the sole reason for me this collection doesnt get the 5/5 rating. maybe a future downloadable patch will fix this glaring mistake?
elsehwere the Ecco the Dolphin series, Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine and the Shining and Phantasy Star series' are all excellent additions, while hidden gems such as Alien Syndrome and Fantasy Zone are all excellent retro fun.
there are inevitably some weak games, like Alien Storm (a poor man's Golden Axe) while the addition of Shinobi 3 instead of the classic Revenge of Shinobi is a bit of a joke. not that Shinobi 3 is bad, but it pales in comparison to Revenge... while Flicky, for all its cutesy simplicity becomes repetitive.
another last weakness is the Gamerscore achievements - far too easy to get. i managed to get over 300 on my first evening without even trying! its a small detail because i always felt that Gamerscore achievements add replay value to games. But in all fairness with this collection fans will surely find much to revisit anyway.
overall, an excellent collection. not perfect but this is a great flashback collection for older gamers, while also providing younger gamers a glimpse into the world of retro gaming where games were just about the gameplay, and not the flash graphics.
To Lose My Life
White Lies - CD
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...and that is that this album is simply a 'good' album. nothing more than that. there was alot of hype behind White Lies well before this album came out, and at the time while there was some potential, i dont feel that this translated to actual substance.
this album definately has its moments. opener Death marries soaring synths to a driving bassline and the same pop hooks that made the likes of the Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode so big. the titled track and recent single is a brilliant slap of synth-rock with the arresting chorus of 'lets grow old together/and die at the same time' which mixes Morrissey-esque melodrama with something quite darkly moving.
A Place To Hide however, is mediocre while Unfinished Business and From The Stars follow a similar mould. Fifty On Our Foreheads is halfway to being a great song, but is let down by vocals that dont seem to fit into the song. maybe that's the point, but it sounds disjointed in a very unappealing way. the lyrics arent particularly good either.
elsewhere in the album EST and Farewell To The Fairground are truly brilliant tracks, mixing stronger lyrics to the same dark pop energy that drove The Cure in the mid-late 80's. the final two tracks however, are pretty weak. Nothing To Hide's vocals are hideously reminiscent of Brandon Flowers (The Killers) while The Price of Love is simply bland in my opinion.
overall, there are glimpses of brilliance, but the album is far from consistent when it comes to quality. To Lose My Life is a reasonable effort and White Lies have potential to be great, but for the moment neither album nor band live up to all the hype just yet.
Gears Of War 2: Limited Collector's Edition
When a game as good as gears of war is released, there is inevitably a sequel. Sequels of course, are greeted equally with anticipation but also a bit of worry that it wont be as good as the predecessor.
With GOW2, i can honestly say that it's brilliant and even better than the original! I bought it when it first came out, and since then have bought several other new games for christmas (Red Alert 3, Fallout, COD World At War), but have barely touched them cos im glued to this!
The story is much deeper and envolving, i guess its similar to how Halo expanded between the first and second games. the first game being very self-contained 'fight to survive against aliens/monsters' while the sequel is much more panaramic creating an entire universe for fans. the story mode levels have more variety, the graphics are much better (the last section of chapter 2 is also quite sick for it's detail, but i wont go into any more detail...), the online multiplayer modes are all an improvement while the new survival mode-esque Horde is also a brilliant addition.
theres lots of nice new weapons as well (Mortar, Mulcher Minigun, Flamethrower, Ink Grenades etc) which add to the game alot. theres also lots of new enemies (Bloodmounts, Kantus) and variations of old ones (Flame Boomers, Maulers) to get your chainsaw into! and of course, for the truly evil and brutal players (or just plain show-offs!), there are lots of different ways you can finish a downed enemy from using them as a meatshield, stamping their head or decapitating them with the Torque Bow.
Its not the perfect game of course. There are a few little glitches, exploits (the shotgun jab-shot combo in online games) and kinks (hopefully a download patch will fix them?) and of the storymode its annoying how effort has been made to bring in new characters, only to have them killed off relatively early on. Small complaints, but it's easily my game of 2008. If the 3rd installment is anywhere near as good as this one , i'll die a very happy man! My housemate was only a casual gow player from the 1st game, but this has turned him into a fullblown fan.
The collectors edition artwork book is nice as well. Worth the extra money.
Call Of Duty: World At War
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The storymode seemed a fair bit shorter than modern warfare (or am i imagining it?) which seems a shame. I hear people complaining about the storymode being linear, but then wasnt modern warfare? In fact, arent pretty much all 1st person shooters pretty linear (kill enemies, move on, kill enemies, move on etc)? I didnt see the difference in that respect and its not a complaint for me. Its a great game, slightly different (with old school weapons, more countryside-based levels) and its nice to see the russians in it (as far as im concerned, the Nazi's wouldve historically won in europe if not for the russians). Graphically its a big improvement on modern warfare though, just little details like rain drops glistenning on your gun barrel or heavily wounded soldiers crawling with a leg blown off (i was shocked and pleased at the same time).
I prefer Modern Warfare, but this is a really good addition to the COD series. There are some kinks in the game like that gunslinger achievement - how many times do i have to do it before i get the achievement? Or grenades exploding times seem a bit erratic, but maybe im imagining it... and theres also bugs that cause you to get 'stuck' in objects/the environment. hopefully a download patch will fix these little problems.
Well worth buying. Modern Warfare may be better, but if you're a 1st person shooter fan this is still a must-buy, and even alot of casual 1st person shooter fans will enjoy this. it aint perfect, but you could do far worse than this.