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Dynasty Warriors 6
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Koei's well-trodden series finally makes it onto the Hi-Def screen, with Dynasty Warriors 6.
This is exactly what you'd expect from a DW title - gameplay hasn't moved on a great deal, same cheesy jap-rock soundtrack, looks slightly improved from the early PS2 iterations, plenty of characters to play through but not a whole lot of depth or variety. The stories are okay, mostly derived from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, so no surprises if you've already read it.
There are a few new features, as well as some new annoyances and a few familiar bugbears. The Renbu system is a great incentive towards stacking kills and combos, and the Skill Map allows some flexibility in developing your characters attributes. However, the new "freedom" in environments is only a half-truth. Swimming is immensely sluggish, and mounting horses or vaulting ladders is hit-and-miss at times. The AI is not worth mentioning, and the siege situations aren't the epic set-pieces they should be. Above all, the controls & camera are still as frustrating as they always were, and the combat is simplistic, yet functional.
Gamers may well be disappointed with the reduced number of characters and scenarios from earlier DW titles, and the challenge mode doesn't really make up the shortfall. However, if you're a fan of the series - and you'd have to be a hardcore fan to justify the price tag - you'll be on familiar ground, and it does recreate the nostalgia and spirit of the franchise.
Just Like: Dynasty Warriors, 99 NightsNot As Good As: Viking
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From Bizarre Creations (of Project Gotham fame) comes The Club. Play as one of 8 characters, as scoring through speed & combo kills and is the key to success, through a number of environments including warehouses, a cruise liner, a factory and a raging warzone.
That's it. Really, that IS your lot. It's a strikingly obvious flaw that was evident to most gamers who played the demo, that there isn't much in the way of depth when considering The Club. It's certainly fun for a while, and reasonably accessible, but the game modes aren't really anything new or particularly varied, and once you've played through all of the 8 combat zones with all of the characters, the single-player experience ends there.
Mechanics-wise, the game is your standard, unrefined 3rd-person shooter - no cover system, finicky camera (which worsens when asking the character to run), and an lumbering targeting mechanism which makes things a bit difficult, especially considering the emphasis on quick kills and speed. The graphics are okay, the soundtrack is forgettable ... it's just not doing anything that hasn't been done before, any better.
The one facet of the game that succeeds is the multiplayer, both online and offline. The nature of this title makes it perfect multiplayer fodder, and The Club doesn't disappoint initially in this regard - there are enough game modes to keep things interesting for a while, though the lack of variety may prevent this becoming a Live stronghold (Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, etc). The 4-player split-screen mode is also a welcome feature, something that we don't see enough of in modern titles.
It's ultimately the game's simplicity (which was widely touted in the hype) that proves it's own downfall - there just isn't enough substance to provide a satisfying experience. The multiplayer modes are probably worth budget price, but anybody paying a penny over £20 could end up feeling a bit cheated.
Buy This If You Liked: ShadowrunNot Quite As Good As: Stranglehold
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EA's franchise juggernaut rumbles onwards with Burnout Paradise, the latest release in the popular Burnout series. You'll know the drill if you're familiar with the earlier Burnout titles, though this takes enough deviations from the traditional formula to make it a worthwhile purchase ... though some may not appeciate the change.
For a start, EA has done a "Need For Speed" and made the game into a sandbox, which works in most measures. An open city awaits for exploration, and one of the true successes of the game is the depth within the city design, with plenty of hidden trails, tracks and areas to discover. This free-roam system is much more refined than the NFS incarnation - or Test Drive Unlimited for that matter - but at the same time it removes the true arcade feel of the earlier Burnout titles.
Most of the main elements of the typical Burnout game have survived, with a few casualties and some welcome additions. The standard Race, Burning Route and Road Rage events are all accounted for. The Crash games have been replaced by the new Showtime, which despite being a lot of fun doesn't really serve as a replacement. The new Marked Man game is essentially a hybrid of Race and Road Rage, and doesn't really add anything new. Aftertouch and Traffic Checking are also AWOL, which will more than likely be missed by the Burnout faithful, though it doesn't prove a major issue as far as gameplay is concerned. The progression system (in acquiring licences via winning a prescribed number of events) is pitched at a reasonable level for the average gamer, and the acheivements are much more achieveable than those in Revenge.
The multiplayer mode is another real success with Paradise, which again beats the likes of Test Drive Unlimited in the accessibility stakes. Straightforward race options are on offer, but the more attractive alternative is the free-roam challenge, where you can explore the city with friends on Live and tackle any of 120 various challenges. The webcam support is also a particularly nice touch. There's plenty to do, and it should take a while to get bored with this much on offer.
Don't expect a familiar friend in Burnout Paradise, because you won't find it. It's a brave pitch from Criterion, and it's a superb game in it's own right, but some may argue that the new direction is taken at the expense of the arcade feel and fun of it's predecessors. The best approach to this game is with an open mind - judge it by it's own merits, because it probably isn't fair to compare it against the earlier Burnout games.
Better Than: Test Drive Unlimited, Need For Speed Underground 2Worse Than: Burnout Takedown!
Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
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The Call of Duty franchise takes another step with the 4th in the series. Back once again in the hands of Infinity Ward (who put together the award winning Call of Duty 2), the main campaign follows a split story between the US Marine Corps and the SAS, with both pitted against psuedo-Soviet ultranationalist factions and fanatical fundamentalist types. "Modern Warfare" indeed.
Infinity Ward haven't strayed too far from the CoD2 engine with this latest incarnation. The player is afforded a limited degree of freedom in how to tackle the level, but as with it's predecessor there are a set number of objectives to accomplish - be it planting bombs on a tank, providing sniper support to an advancing army, or battling through a passenger jet plane. The presentation is, as you'd expect, superb, with a great score and voicework, and the map design is well thought out. The difficulty curve is well pitched, and while Normal and (to a degree) Hardened can be worked through reasonably quickly, Veteran really pushes the player to limits.
Then it's all over. Undoubtedbly, the major problem with this title is the length of the single player campaign. It's almost a victim of its own success - the game makes you want more, because what is there is delivered with such style and flair. The Arcade mode is, to be honest, a throwaway gimmick, and doesn't really add any value or inspire and desire to replay the game. The same can be said for the 'enemy intel' sub-objective. If you want to collect lots of meaningless artifacts, play Assassin's Creed. Developers need to quit this kind of padding in games, it certainly isn't necessary in this case.
The multiplayer is what makes the replay value here, which is truly excellent and on a par with Halo 3, though for different reasons. The action is fast-paced, the maps are well designed and the challenge & rank system means there's always a reason to keep playing (better weapons, abilities, etc). There are a few criticisms - this game really needs something akin to Halo's TrueSkill system, to pit people of similar skills against one another. Newcomers may well be put off by having to play against seasoned hardcore gamers who have already unlocked all the better weapons and skills.
Overall, this is a well-crafted FPS and worthy of the acclaim, but without XBox Live the short-lived campaign may raise a question over value for money, especially if you already own Call of Duty 2.
Buy if You Liked: Call of Duty 2, Halo 3Nearly As Good As: Call of Duty 2
Half-Life 2: The Orange Box
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If you've never heard of Half-Life or it's sequel (for whatever possible reason), then this is the perfect opportunity to get yourself acquainted. If you have already battled and beaten HL2 on XBox, then look again .. there's a lot more to this package.
The Half Life games follow the story of the somewhat perpetually miserable Gordon Freeman, a strong-silent type who battles alongside an underground resistance movement against a psuedo-tyrannical planetary goverment known as the Combine, which is largely made up of off-the-shelf masked enforcers. As well as battling these guys, Freeman has to deal with giant walker droids, a plethora of radioactive zombies and a handful of mutated creatures.
Valve has always known how to put out a quality FPS, and they didn't really need to do much to the existing merchandise - namely, Half Life 2 and Episode 1, which have been released for some time. The graphics have been jazzed up and look the part, but the fundamental physics engine and gameplay are left untouched. Probably for the best. Episode 2 is the first new offering within the package, and it's not a bad continuation of the theme. All the familiar characters are there, alongside a few new ones, and the mechanics are once again largely similar to the prior episodes, but the title keeps the saga flowing nicely.
So, hoping that the gamer is already well acquainted with Half Life and the Sons of, it's on to Team Fortress 2, a multiplayer-based, capture-the-flag centered game, which allows the gamer to choose from a number of classes with a variety of different skills. Yes, it IS online only. No, there aren't any single player campaigns. And yet, despite the limitations in maps and game modes, this title could stand alongside Halo 3 and keep it's head held high. It's a thoroughly enjoyable experience once the nuances of playing the different classes is mastered.
And then it's on to Portal, the title in the 5-piece which seems to have been making all the waves. It's not an epic, by any means - 3 hours would be taking your time. It's a simple concept, only one weapon, not a massive variety of enemies ... and yet Portal is absolutely flawless in approach. It's an example of a raw formula behind what makes a good FPS, and it's supported by an excellent script and a wicked sense of humour, all of which is so often missing in so many FPS titles.
By modern day reckoning, 5 games in one X360 package for £40 is reasonable value these days. 5 great games for the same price, however, is a real steal, and that's what you'll find in the Orange Box.
Buy This If You Liked: Half Life 2 (obviously)Better Than: Pretty Much Every FPS Out There*
*except possibly Halo 3, which it's on a par with. Or it would be, if Halo 3 came with 4 other quality titles for the same price.
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The long awaited release of Mass Effect from Bioware (of Baldur's Gate and Knights Of The Old Republic fame) follows the story of Shepard, a Human Alliance officer who becomes entangled in an intergalactic plot involving a renegade special agent (or 'Spectre'), Saren.
OK, to start: this isn't the free-roaming extravaganza that may have been billed, so don't bother comparing it with Oblivion. However, this game is huge, make no mistake. A number of systems and planets await exploration, alongside Mass Effect's answer to Coruscant: the Citadel, all of which are considerable in size and content. Be it pirates and slavers on one moon, thresher maws and geological surveying on another, there's lots to do. Gamers who stick to the main story will likely see the order of 20-25 hours, but if you want to explore and follow the intricacies of the sub-plots, there's easily 40+ hours in here ... and that's without the add-ons that are expected in the future.
The game looks stunning. That's probably an understatement. It does an excellent job of pulling the gamer into the story, with high-calibre graphics and superb score & voice casting. The main story is engaging and contains lots of twists and turns to maintain the interest levels. The main character is fully customisable, with a Paragon / Renegade system similar to KOTOR's Jedi / Sith feature. The dialogue wheels in particular are excellent, though again not far from KOTOR, and really add weight to the personality of Shepard, whichever direction the gamer chooses to take him.
Mechanics wise, the combat system is much improved from KOTOR's offering, with Shepard being fully controllable with an aim/cover system not far off Gears Of War. The team are also controllable to a considerable degree, though issuing commands via the D-Pad and the shoulder buttons (which manages weapons and special powers, or 'biotics'). The vehicle sections are mostly fun, though planetary battles with the thresher maws can be frustrating at times - say goodnight if one pops up directly underneath you.
In summary, it's not perfect, but it's hard to be overly critical once you've experienced it for yourself. It's obvious that Bioware have put a great deal of effort and care into crafting Mass Effect, and with such an expansive universe to explore and downloadable content promised, it's a title that offers a great deal of value and enjoyment for your hard-earned cash.
Better Than: KOTORNearly As Good As: Oblivion(but not quite)
Guitar Hero III: Legends Of Rock (3) (with Wireless Guitar Controller)
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The answer in this case is yes ... mostly. The Guitar Hero franchise has always been about the music and the difficulty curve ... it's fair to say the third installment finds a reasonable groove in these regards.
Considering the torch has been passed to Neversoft (as Harmonix are on with the imminent Rock Band), it's refreshing to see that the developer has mostly stuck to the groundwork laid by the previous two incarnations. The mechanics are the same, holding frets and strumming notes, hammer-ons and pull-offs and so forth. The one note of interest here is the error margin for hitting notes has been relaxed a great deal, so it's easier to pull off a lot of the advanced techniques ...
... which is handy, because there's a hell of a lot more to play. Seasoned GH veterans should have no difficulty with Easy or Normal, but Hard and Expert are much more of a challenge (if you thought Free Bird was tough, try a dose of Metallica's "One" or Dragonforce's "Through The Fire And The Flames"). Be warned that a lot of hard work is needed to get through these difficulties, practice is the key here. Additionally, the tracklist was well chosen and seems to suit the difficulty curve well between the earlier and later levels.
One welcome addition is the more fleshed out Co-op mode. The bass / rhythm parts seem to be more considered and much more technical on later levels, and the addition of a co-op career mode is great, though it would have been better having both online and local play here. The online co-op is limited to quick-play or competitive face-off & battle, but at least it's there, and it's great fun whichever mode you choose.
The other new addition to GHIII is the Battle mode, which requires hitting certain combinations of notes to unlock 'attacks' (such as broken strings, amp overloads) which you can throw at your opponent using the guitar tilt. It's a valiant effort in revising the formula, but in practice it's actually a waste of time, and not particularly engaging.
Despite the few criticisms, this is a solid third in the series, and credit has to be given to Neversoft for not dropping the torch. If you already have GHII, you may find more value in the Solus pack, but the improved wireless Les Paul in the full pack should be considered, especially if you're serious about the co-op mode (where you will need the second guitar).
Play This If You Liked: Guitar Hero IIWorse Than: Being Tom Morello
Guitar Hero III: Legends Of Rock (3) (Solus)
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After much fanfare and endless soundbytes from Jade Raymond and the rest of Ubisoft Montreal, Assassin's Creed finally materialises, following the tale of Altair, the troubled assassin forced to unravel a plot between his own order and the Templars ...
... or is it? After all the promotional spiel everybody expected an epic-scale action RPG set in the Crusades. That bit IS there, but it's shoehorned into a present day conspiracy theory tale, which has the unfortunate effect of making the main story a bit disjointed. Every time the story picks up momentum, the illusion lifts and you're forced into another laboratory cut-scene type section. It all seems a bit unnecessary ... as if Ubisoft weren't convinced the Crusades theme wasn't enough to hold the game up.
Gameplay wise, the control system is intuitive and you'll be flying across rooftops and climbing church spires with the best of them in no time. Combat in particular is worth a mention - button mashing won't always achieve results, especially against more foes. Getting good at countering is essential, which is focused on timing attacks. The environments are well crafted and look the part, and the sounds are authentic and work to create the feel Ubisoft were aiming for ... though the voice work is undeniably the weak link in the presentation. Why is everybody, including the natives, speaking English?
With all that said, the game's true flaw still pulls the rug from under it all: repetition. Climb a bit. Kill some guards, rescue a citizen. Climb some more, hide in a haybale. Climb again, kill a major target. Run, climb, hide, and repeat. Once you get past the second or third assassination, for many this experience will get stale. The filler elements such as horse-riding and collective flags aren't particularly captivating and aren't really enough to plaster over this substantial hole. It's not particularly challenging, either, and the steath element (again, touted widely in the promotional blurb) is virtually non-existent.
Whether you enjoy Assassin's Creed or not will depend on if you're prepared to overlook this crucial failing. The story is reasonable, if a little unnecessarily convoluted, but the main pull is the action and the free-roaming style in the cities. Don't expect a ground-breaking concept, but what's there may interest you for a while.
Better Than: TenchuNot As Good As: Hitman Blood Money
Kane & Lynch: Dead Men
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Kane & Lynch follows the story of a mercenary (Kane) and a psychopath (Lynch), who are forced to team up and work together when Kane's family are kidnapped while Kane is in prison.
This game has been highly hyped, to be fair - not quite to Assassin's Creed standards, but getting there. IO have a proven track record with the Hitman series and Freedom Fighters, so many will have bought this title under the premise of the developer's pedigree. Unfortunately the game does not live up to the hype.
It's not all doom and gloom: the graphics are, as you would expect, excellent. The story is compelling enough to keep you playing, and the characters are interesting and satisfactorily 3-dimensional, although it's a fair statement that neither protagonist are particularly likeable. You may not find yourself feeling sympathetic to the duo's plight, but the action may keep you hooked for a while.
The critical failing with this title, unfortunately, is the mechanics around which the action is built. The game's engine is based on the Hitman engine, which is fine for carefully considered stealth and pinpoint murder, yet woefully sluggish when up against a myriad of gangster henchmen and a helicopter. The cover system is hit-and-miss at best, and the team / enemy AI doesn't fare much better, certainly not up to the standards set in the last Hitman title.
Equally disappointing is the failing on the concept by which the game has been built on - multiplayer. For a start, no online support. In the wake of Gears of War, not an acceptable omission - also considering that the local co-op is made frustrating by the combination of poor camerawork and a vertical split-screen, which introduces an enormous peripheral vision blind-spot. Let's hope Army Of Two learns from this mistake.
Don't get me wrong, this isn't a bad title, by any means - just not up to the hype that has preceded it. The best course of action, if you're desperate to play this, is to wait for the price to drop below £20, at which point you may see value for your money.
Buy This If You Liked: Freedom FightersNot (Nearly) As Good As: Gears Of War