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(Single player offline review).
BioShock 2 is a stripped-down BioShock with emphasis almost entirely on combat. It's very good. That's the short version.
The long version is that after a wallpaper-chewingly long wait we can finally get back to Rapture, gamerhood's favourite rotting paradise. If you've any interest in the game then you'll probably know as much about the plot as you want to, so I'll say no more on that. What I will say is that it isn't quite as punchy as BioShock's, though it was never going to be, and despite the developers' best efforst still feels a little tacked-on to the original game, which was again unavoidable.
Combat itself is a joy, those splicers are certainly a lot meaner this time around, and the array of weapons on show is enough to make you smile (and hose down baddies with lead, yeaaah). It's just as well, the U-invent machines from the previous game have been removed, which is a shame since that was the one aspect of the game I was looking forward to being updated - :( :( !
Asides from quality combat, the game does have some minor downsides. The developers were a little stingy in terms of new enemies, the bestiary's underwhelming. Both of the previous types of Big Daddy only make a couple (if that) of appearances, this is explained away in the story but it seriously impacts variety when little sisters are guarded by only one type of daddy, for all intents and purposes. The plasmids and tonics are also unadventurous. They've been tweaked a little but there's little new on the menu. Big Sisters are another aspect which, when it boils down to it, aren't particularly impressive. They appear when a certain criteria is met, you knock them down, the end. So much for that. Ditto walking around outside Rapture, the water-based environments are combat-free tunnels with no remarkable features to speak of.
Despite not quite reaching the levels of its predecessor, this is a worthy game which gets better as you play further. It is -well worth- having a second playthrough, I was initially unimpressed but came to see the game for what it is after going through for the second time, once you're free of expecting it to directly resemble BioShock the combat aspects shine through.
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Cursed Mountain is an abortive attempt at survival horror which surely never even worked on paper. The majority of time playing is spent trogging through empty streets, mountainsides and villages, occasionally indulging in repetitive railshooter-esque combat with identical ghosts. There is absolutely nothing to do in the game, you literally push 'up' until you eventually get told to retrace your steps before you can move forward.
There's nothing to collect apart from a few scraps of paper (same old storytelling method delivered a lot less cleverly than we've seen with BioShock and the like) and healing incense sticks. You can occasionally find a permanent max-health boost but that's it. 'Puzzles' don't seem to happen, instead you're told to go back and wave the Wiimote at a previously blocked door, have a few more battles then press on. The character moves painfully slow making progress even more grating to achieve.
I find it hard to be eloquent or descriptive about the game since the hours I spent playing it just vanished leaving me with nothing to show for it. It needed puzzles, some interaction, some interesting combat (or a combat-avoidance mechanic like Clocktower 3). Even then I doubt it would pass muster, it's so hair-pullingly dull. As someone who's enjoyed survival horror since Alone in the Dark (never mind Resident Evil) I'm gutted that one of the hopefuls of this console generation has turned out like this.
Cursed Mountain is an extremely poor effort that will very quickly be forgotten, not least when one of tmodest few survival horror games hitting the Wii (hopefully) is a playable experience. If you're absolutely dying to play it then sure give it a rent, but I sure as heck don't recommend it to anyone for purchasing.
Dead Space: Extraction
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The odds of a Wii-only spinoff actually being worth playing, let alone owning, are not good at all, yet that's the situation here.
Extraction looks gorgeous, has an excellent plot and interesting characters, has a story mode lasting several hours and a challenge mode to boot. The developers have worked hard to make sure gamers' second trip to the Ishimura resembles their first, all of the sound effects like doors opening, ammunition being collected etc. are all present.
The biggest issue with Extraction was always going to be the on-rails aspect, and it's dealt with extremely well. The characters talk and the story continues during play, rather than through cut-scenes, keeping you knee-deep in the action. Having to be on your toes looking out for weapon upgrades always keeps you switched on. The upgrade system itself is lightweight but rewarding enough - each weapon has four pick-ups scattered throughout the story mode, each of which allows the weapon to have more ammunition loaded in a single clip. Your character's max health and stasis module are upgraded by performing well in story mode.
Problems? Well there aren't any, serious ones at least, new studio Visceral has pulled it off with style. For a horror game it must be said that it's very much 'atmospheric' and not at all scary, which is unfortunate but not a deal-breaker. There aren't as many boss encounters as I'd like (same as the original game), and avoiding their attacks can seem impossible at times, again not something which drags the game down much. One thing that continues to surprise me is how little the box art resembles the actual character in the games, the artists seem to have been given instructions to paint a woman rather than a particular character.
To buy or to rent? If you love Dead Space in all its forms then go ahead, it stands up well. If rail shooters aren't your cup of tea then I'd definitely go for a rent regardless, but don't rush out and buy.
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The Munchables is Katamari with platformer overtones which become more pronounced as the game progresses. Rather than rolling up misc objects the focus is on traversing stages like a typical 3D platformer and gorging on space pirates, who happen to be living fruit and vegetables. It's cute as a button, contains some replay and an acceptable catalogue of tunes to listen to.
The downsides are that it is only a clutch of hours in terms of a full play-through, despite being replayable in short bursts it isn't as replayable as Katamari games, and jumping requires the player to flick the remote rather than press a button (just plain silly, if the flailing control gimmick isn't needed then for God's sake spare us all and map commands to buttons).
Because of the above I'd say it's not a game to buy if you have a small collection, just because there needs to be a cool-down period before picking it up again. The kids should love it, however, as well as Katamari fans and anyone who likes this style of Japanese game.
Reviewers call it repetitive, but virtually any game could be called that, I think the main thing which holds it back, as well as the numerous other short-but-good games, is price. Play's offering this recent release for £10 (at the time of writing), it's a no-brainer. Save me a seat at the all-you-can-eat space pirate buffet.
Little King's Story
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Little King's Story should be something I'm pleased to have in the cupboard. On a certain level it is, but on many other levels it's an irritant. As someone who would rather play obscure survival horrors and RPG-esque mishmashes (not least Harvest Moon) this one should be right up my street.
The game is well presented, has some cute characters and the music is competent, but like everything else in my experience there's always a fly in the ointment. For all the box art and promotional materials focus on the little folk about their business, the view is zoomed so far out you can't even get a good look at them. The music is mainly classical tunes (Bolero, William Tell overture etc.), delivered well enough but with a twee edge to it and a total lack of any ooomph. Anyone who's played Parodius knows that there are any number of things that can be done with classical to kick it up a gear.
Managing the kingdom resembles nothing more than a static screen from any flash game you can play free at Kongregate. You increase your population by buying buildings, then you assign them jobs. Ho hum. Buildings go in preset locations, you just buy them and they appear, interaction is non-existent.
Combat resembles a simplified version of Overlord's system - something I didn't think could be stripped down any further, wrong again. You send your minions over to enemies one at a time, said enemy gives a grace period then attacks, before which you must recall your mindless followers before rinsing and repeating. Seriously, that's it.
The constricted kingdom management goes alongside the flawed open-world aspect. Though you are free to potter around the game's large play area, there's little to do except build bridges in preset areas, indulge in grinding combat and collect items. Items convert into random sums of cash when you return to your kingdom, allowing you to buy further upgrades and buildings. It's little better than grinding levels in an MMO. Another 'freedom' is the ability to wander into boss encounters whether or not you have the right personnel with you which are needed to defeat the boss. You are also 'free' to take on time-limited requests (basically fetch quests or 'kill this') which you are physically unable to access due to being unable to train the type of unit needed to bypass a particular obstacle (again nothing more complicated than having coloured keys to open matching chests).
TBH I'm suprised at just how negative an experience it's proving to be, I am managing to perservere in small doses but I'm really not getting any enjoyment out of the game after several hours trying. Watching a small army of followers hacking away at rocks for extended periods of time and the hideously repetitive combat is seriously having an impact now.
I would have traded it in before now but I'm still trying to find the probably non-existent hidden switch which is suddenly going to turn the game into a pleasant experience. While it's certainly true that everyone has different tastes, this game is every inch the sort of thing I love but it's just not coming together at all.
To rent or buy? Well worth a rent if it's the kind of game you enjoy, quite possibly worth buying (there's no shortage of gamers who are really enjoying this), but I can't recommend you rush out and buy it on the strength of other folks' experiences. For me this something which needed a much better-designed combat system and a lot more thought into the adventuring aspect, particularly as the kingdom management is so shallow. It fails in different areas and as a whole.
Overlord II (2)
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Sequels are great, they allow devs to fix up what's wrong and boost what's right. That's the theory. Unfortunately Triumph didn't get that email, and have instead broken what was fixed.
The danger in all action adventure games is that play devolves into nothing but holding a thumbstick and watching the player character trog around 3D areas which took god-knows how much time to put together, whilst being bored out of their wits. It killed Tomb Raider and is exploding the 'sandbox gaming' myth before our eyes (see GTA4). The original game avoided this with tight areas where new enemies and situations kept things fresh. Here? No.
After rescuing the umpteenth minion from a spiderweb only to see the same scripted descent of attacking spiders it becomes abundantly obvious that this didn't occur to the devs. The sprawling areas dotted with not a lot and nowt really make it worse.
The big 'thing' with the game is being THE Overlord, no niceties, hapless peasants are enslaved or butchered. Cute, but if that was the intention then why have they thrown in these pointless minon-possession macguffins? These sections (where you control a minon, for no real reason) are artificially limited by force-fields and irritating as sin.
The other misc. problems include the constant loading, the fact that the Overlord's tower is now more spread-out than ever (more loading, more holding that thumbstick up), an apparently drunk floating camera, and most new additions achieving nothing. Minion mounts are .. well they're meaningless in the grand scheme, the new Roman army 'menace' is just a bunch of guys standing around with shields (big whoop) who need to be defeated using the same sloppy minion controls. Deciding whether to enslave or slaughter the populace involves chasing them down and whacking them (snore) or zapping them with the enslave ability which takes several seconds (zzzzzzzzz).
There's several things that could have been done to change the game, not least having mistresses accompany you. But no, they just hang around the tower, apparently cleavage provides reason enough, and titilation for our TOTALLY EVIL anti-hero. Er, no, try again. The minion control's sloppyness prevents combat being anything more than sweeping over enemies or dumping greens and waiting for them to backstab, that part of the game really needed work in order to stop it being 'small enemies = sweep browns, big enemies = backstab with greens'. There's no variety. The Overlord also continues to be outwitted by small embankments which he could physically step up on, invisible walls and other drivel, so much for being the man, he can't even lift his feet up.
The Overlord's equipment now has a lot of different effects (such as doubling the value of souls absorbed) which is a nice touch. I wish there was something else to big up, but after several hours play that's genuinely it.
With the sprawling, boring play area, completely uninspiring additions and retention of the downsides from the original this feels like a huge step backwards. The most damning evidence for me personally is that I've not managed to get the disc back in the console after the last time I stopped, revisiting crusty old Oblivion is a far more interesting proposition than playing through Overlord II.
Wait until it's £20 or less, there's no way this is worth top-dollar and the devs shouldn't be rewarded for handling this sequel so cack-handedly.
Sacred 2: Fallen Angel - Collector's Edition
Let's get the 'collector's edition' out of the way. The figurine is misleadingly positioned in the shot, the perspective makes it look larger than the couple of inches it actually is. It's like a gashapon toy, with a bendy sword. The Map/Poster is a double-sider rather than separate (cheap), orchestral background music renders the CD fairly meaningless. In other words, don't bother unless you can get it for the same money or a couple of quid extra. Publishers really need to do better.
The game. It's flawed, glitchy, and constantly threatens to tumble over into "why am I doing this?" territory (similar to Two Worlds, which it closely resembles in numerous ways). The skill system is initially impenetrable, choices made are unreversible and result in players being forced to advance their characters without knowing if they're actually doing it 'right'. If any game needed a strategy guide, it's this one, and as sod's law would have it it's one of the few recent console RPGs which have none.
Combat consists of holding 'attack' for the most point, the skill system does have depth but it literally takes several hours to even start to get a handle on it. Skills are mysteriously locked when on horseback for no reason, quests are generally of the fetch or "kill this" variety. The voice acting is so bad it's funny, yet the hammyness stops it being flat, which is where Two Worlds fell. The teleportation system is patchy, glitchy and travel can sometimes be a chore.
So where's the fun? I don't know exactly, but it's mixed in there somewhere. After spending umpteen hours wandering around, completing quests, discovering the mechanics of the thing ("so that's how you increase your running speed" etc.) it dawned that I'd gone past the point of the initial must-collect-stuff frenzy and gotten to the point where the game sinks or swims on what it allows you to do with all that stuff. That's the point where even the most persistent Two Worlds player will start to lose the reason for playing and where Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom breaks down completely. That hasn't happened, in fact the game is getting more and more enjoyable.
I've only used one character so far, but there's six to go at, and both light and dark story paths. One of the coolest things (and it seems insignificant) is that skill levels are raised with randomly dropped items, whereas attributes such as strength raise with character levels and an additional point per level for you to distribute. What it means is that you get the predictable character improvements while at the same time given more reason to power through mobs of enemies, moar skills!
Despite exploration being muted by the fact that you can't actually do anything with the different locales except trade and get more quests, the sheer volume of quests does buoy the experience because of the constant drip-drip of background info. Suddenly coming across a village which isn't marked on the world map (the majority of points of interest and settlements aren't) and the promise of more quests is a real shot in the arm. The little touches like that and the shared hoard for all of your characters to dip into really helps round it off.
It's not the easiest game to describe, but in brief: if you like your RPGs ultra polished steer clear. If you want to play co-op then approach with caution, bugs ahoy. If you have managed to stick with Two Worlds, then jump right in. If you don't mind imperfect RPGs then get now or wait for a price drop, cos If you do like what you play with this one, it has just as much gameplay to offer as Fallout 3 or Oblivion. Their superficial thieving and scavenging facets don't really do more than what Sacred 2 manages. Hope this helps you.
Silent Hill: Homecoming
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Homecoming is many things: Amateurish, unoriginal, short-lived, frustrating and dated. One thing it isn't is a serious contender for your money, particularly not at full price.
You may well have heard about the new combat system, how it -changes- things. Actually, this oft-repeated view held by journalists is puzzling - Homecoming is totally derivative of the entire Silent Hill franchise. The tweaked combat doesn't alter that, it's just derivative with tweaked combat.
Rip-offs and outdated baggage include: a kid running away for no apparent reason while the player-character just stands and watches in a cutscene (cute a decade ago, irritating as sin now), an unseen person wanting something retrieved in order for the player to progress (was done a heck of a lot better in the 'extra' Maria bit in Silent Hill 2), sparse restoratives and ammo placed at specific locations (renders replays exceedingly tedious) and a lack of genuine rewards for exploration (there's no reason to 'explore' whatsoever). Pyramid Head's appearance is totally naff and irrelevant, references to the film's cult don't sit well. The big problem here is that not only have they sidelined an opportunity for a clean break and a fresh story, the developers have not handled these rehashes as well as the originals. Inviting direct comparisons like this is more than a tad silly when you're finding your feet with a series.
Combat.. what a mess. Despite the game being chained to decade old limited item mechanics numerous monsters are thrown at you. "You play a soldier who's more combat effective" chorus the journos, cobblers. If you use a firearm, you get a cross-hair view and it -is- a lot easier to aim, but you're no more given a heap of bullets in this game then any other Silent Hill.
In melee combat you first must lock onto an enemy so you can circle them, and cannot swing your weapon until you have done so, no dashing past and swiping. Melee combat involves circling an enemy and swapping slaps, trying ot avoid their attacks by rolling away or moving out of range. This comes with a host of issues. For a start, this comes with a game which limits your restoring items yet throws multiple enemies at you. You are totally vulnerable to attack if more than one enemy is present, as you circle one while getting torn at by the other. It is very easy to circle an enemy and run out of room in a narrow space, leaving you open to attack. Young Sheperd is also very finnicky in response to roll attempts and only blocks when he feels like it, some monsters are darn near impossible to avoid getting hit by. By the time you've got close enough to attack you need to start rolling away again in order to avoid getting hit. Last but not least, melee combat revolves around getting in first, if your enemy hits you once they can easily do it again while you stagger, more damage and limited supplies to heal it.
Wandering from A to B in this relatively small game world is joyless, swathes of it are devoid of enemies, navigating the junk yard for instance was almost sleep-inducing. At other times the computer chucks endless enemies at you when out on the street. I don't mean a good few of them, I mean more monsters will actually come out of the drains to replace the horde you just slew. Idiotic.
You drag yourself around waiting for the game to happen, then it ends. Ugh.
It's hard to dredge up strong feelings about Homecoming, it's such a damp squib. To rent or buy? If you still haven't then don't bother. The franchise has become irrelevant to the gamer masses these days anyway, what with Dead Space and Resident Evil. A shame, yes, but the series peaked with Silent Hill 2 and is suffering a long drawn-out death.
Resident Evil 5
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(Disclaimer: Review based on offline single-player experience).
Resident Evil 5 = Resident Evil 4 with co-op/AI controlled partner, a streamlined (but real-time) inventory system and shop system with no sense of exploration whatsoever. It looks nice, the AI works fine (if you want to see how badly Capcom could have messed it up see Dead Rising) and it is fun to play.
OK.. problems. For one the new take on survival horror brought in by RE4 has been gutted and ignored in favour of a slightly more involved third-person shooter. Survival horror works great and can be further improved, this stripped-down excuse for SH isn't cutting the mustard.
Instead of being able to retrace your steps and have a look around for treasures, you're constantly pushed forward and each new area means the previous area is lost to you. The shop system is streamlined (and effective), but all the personality and quirky fun has been removed, why is the gun merchant the only character they didn't bother to copy into this game? (See below).
For some reason, and this is a killer, Capcom have been breathtakingly brazen in copying the enemies from RE4 (and a few from earlier games) and just pasting them into RE5 with a new lick of paint. You won't belive this: Dogs (-10 for originality.. actually -20), lickers, soldiers with stun rods, mini-gunners, El Gigante (with a beard, unbelievable), killer aligators (RE2). The vast majority of enemies are basically Ganados (with some new name). In RE4 they ripped off Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre (y'know, bag on head, chainsaw). That was forgiveable, fun even, but it was a rip-off. They've only gone and ripped themselves (and us) off with the same character.. utterly obnoxious. Why is it that a company of so-called pros are so incapable of thinking up some genuinely new enemies, considering they're one of the most important aspects of these games? They can tie together a mind-boggling list of plot strands and characters, but between them they couldn't come up with anything remotely as memorable as the likes of the Regenerator or the Garrador.. It's pathetic.
The plot is strangely hollow, a few characters are introduced and killed off or removed from the story before any chance is given to care about their fates, again a step backwards from RE4. There's a strong underdone of rushing or hitting the creative wall, and when it's all said and done it isn't satisfying.
To buy or not? If you're remotely interested then at the very least rent it, for all the mockery the company's earned with its copy and paste antics this remains an enjoyable experience, much more so than the half-baked Silent Hill: Homecoming. If a lot of the fun you derived from earlier games in the series or survival horror in general came from puzzles, and RE4 was a disappointment to you, then buying or even renting is probably a waste of your time.
For those who enjoy third-person shooters but also like a little bit of tinkering with weapons this is a decent purchase. I don't regret buying the game, particularly looking at some of the post-game goodies available. It's just a crying shame that Capcom have reverted to pumping out copies of its earlier successes (like the decidedly below-par sequels to the original RE) instead of honing what's good and adding a splash of imagination.
Sega Mega Drive: Ultimate Collection (Classics)
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You can see the list for yourself, so rather than comment on the games let's look at the way they're presented:
This package is basically an emulator, carrying several of the best features you can find in the advanced emulators, such as the ability to pause and save, the ability to smooth over the graphics (takes off the blockiness, these are after all straight emulations, not mucked around with). The result is that games look fantastic but are still true to the originals, the sound is identical to the originals, and you can, thank goodness, save and switch off without starting games from scratch.
In addition to the megadrive games listed, there are a smattering of Master System and arcade games, such as the original Phantasy Star, Space Harrier, Fantasy Zone, Golden Axe Warrior (the MS' answer to Legend of Zelda) and even the classic Zaxxon.
In comparison to collections offered by various publishers, this is the real deal and worth every penny. If you've got an inkling you'd enjoy them then you probably will, and supporting Sega would hopefully encourage them to follow this up with another collection.
The only problem I have with the collection is the same one everyone will have: "aw, why doesn't it have...." Fingers crossed they'll get the likes of Soleil and Toejam & Earl on another disc, perhaps even convincing publishers like Konami and Capcom to release some of their back catalogue too.
Time to go fire up Streets of Rage 2, sending Skate barrelling across the screen and knocking over baddies never did get old.