FIRST ISSUE SUE REVIEWED IN THIS IS
BIOSHOCK (X360, PC) NINJA GAIDEN SIGMA (PS3) RESIDENT EVIL 4 (Wii) POKEMON DIAMOND/PEARL (NDS) TRANSFORMERS (MULTI) GUITAR HERO ROCKS THE 80s (PS2) & MORE!
ELECTRONIC APATHY Is it time to give EA a break? METROSPECTIVE A look through time at the Metroid series
D-PAD 1. a tetradirectional control found on nearly all modern video game console gamepads and game controllers. Simple. Easy. Iconic. Simple in design and easy to use, the D-Pad shaped the industry. Imperative to practically every gamer on the planet, the D-Pad controlled the gaming world, soon becoming an icon within modern history. Going into Issue 1 I hope those same words will one day ring true of us. As I write this column after months of hard work, it finally all seems worth it. Your monthly intake of all the latest gaming news, reviews and features all rolled into one free download. We'll be talking to industry professionals, we'll be talking to industry amateurs. We'll even be going out onto the streets and tackling gaming head on, talking directly to you guys, getting your thoughts and opinions on the industry and finding out what you're looking forward to in the future. We'll be going all retrospective on you as well. Sure there may be a lot of household names in gaming now, but how did they start out? Everything began somewhere. It's a big journey ahead, and this is just the beginning. Ladies and gentlemen, guys and girls. Welcome to D+PAD. David Scammell Editor email@example.com
ISSUE 1 | SEPTEMBER 2007 EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
SUPER MARIO GALAXY
RESIDENT EVIL 4
Mark Longson CONTRIBUTORS
Richard Angus Jo Baynes
Andrew Bell BIOSHOCK
James Bowden Ian Freeman Stefan Goerke-Hewitt
METAL GEAR SOLID 4
Greg Latham Kevin Lynch Daniel Martin
John McCormick RETROSPECTIVE
Graham Naunton Emmet Purcell Richard Rohani
Ian Tellam HEAVENLY SWORD
MANHUNT 2 CLEARED IN US
XBOX 360 HARDWARE MEGATON!
Manhunt 2, the ultra-violent video game considered to brutal to be released back in June, has finally been rated as M for Mature by US ratings board “ESRB” after a cut version of the game was submitted by developers Rockstar.
Price cuts, launches, and special editions
Microsoft’s plans to drop the price of its Xbox 360 consoles finally came into effect this month. The Premium package, which packs a 20GB hard drive and one wireless controller, had its retail price cut by £30 and will now ship for £249.99. The Xbox 360 Core, primarily aimed at those looking to make their entrance into the world of gaming, has had its price cut by £20 and will now retail at £179.99. The price cut brings the Xbox 360 in-line with the cheapest next-gen console on the market, the Wii, also retailing at £179.99. This month also saw the launch of Microsoft’s new Xbox 360 SKU, the Elite, which launched across Europe on August 24th. The top tier Xbox 360 console retails for £299.99 and sports a variety of extras aimed at gaming enthusiasts, including the much touted HDMI port and 120GB hard drive and sporting a matte black finish.
Although the game is still yet to be passed by the BBFC, we’re hoping to eventually get our hands on it sometime this year. Manhunt 2 is due to launch Stateside October 31st. Coinciding with the release of Halo 3, Microsoft has announced the retail date and pricing details for the special edition Halo 3 Xbox 360 console. Sporting a green and gold Spartan colour theme, the console is set to retail for £279.99 on September 26th. The package includes the following features:
The Elite’s internal fans are said to be what’s causing the racket with many people reporting the offending fans to be those stickered up as "DC Brushless”. Whether or not you get an Elite with the quieter non-branded fans appears to be a lottery.
- Halo 3 Special Edition Xbox 360 Console - Halo 3 Special Edition Wireless Controller - Halo 3 Special Edition 20GB Hard Drive - Halo 3 Special Edition Wired Headset - Halo 3 Special Edition Gamer Pics and Theme (Exclusive download via Xbox LIVEÆ) - Component HD AV Cable - Ethernet Cable - HDMI Port - Play & Charge Kit - Xbox LIVE Silver Membership - One-month Xbox LIVE Gold Membership
There are also reports of some consoles making sharp grinding sounds when booting up, although it’s not yet certain whether the noises are a cause of concern.
Missing in action is the actual Halo 3 game, which will also be released September 26th for an RRP of £39.99.
Public reactions to the Elite have been mixed, with many people stating that the console actually runs louder than the previous editions of hardware.
PGR4 DATED Racing enthusiasts will finally be able burn some rubber in style when the next instalment of the acclaimed Project Gotham series hits stores on 12th October.
A new version of Geometry Wars has also been confirmed for inclusion, titled ‘Geometry Wars: Waves’. Although the new title is exclusive to PGR4, Bizarre have stated that it will not be the true sequel fans have been hoping for.
The latest headlines from the world of video games
MAFIA 2 ANNOUNCED
METAL GEAR SOLID 4 BEAUTIES AND BEASTS
2K Games have announced that a sequel to the PC title Mafia is in development. Illusion Softworks, the team behind the original which sold more than two million copies worldwide, are behind the development of Mafia 2 which is currently set to head to next generation platforms and Games for Windows.
The Metal Gear Solid series has always been renowned for its memorable characters and boss encounters. At the Leipzig Games Convention last week Hideo Kojima exclusively revealed the ‘Beauty and Beast’ unit that will antagonise the weary Solid Snake in his ‘final’ mission.
CALL OF DUTY 4 SET TO DETONATE Activision has confirmed that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is set to be released on 5th November. Players can experience the excitement, and horror, of modern warfare on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC, and Nintendo DS.
The United Kingdom has also been selected for the multiplayer beta, and those interested in experiencing the game before it hits retail shelves should head over to www.charlieoscardelta.com for more details.
"As the original Mafia was a big success, we are excited to leverage the power of next generation console technology to create an all-new experience, while embracing the elements that resonated with the previous game's fans," said Christoph Hartmann, President of 2K. "The 'wow' factor of Mafia 2 is definitely the benchmark-setting visual quality and action that you expect to see only in Hollywood movies."
The unit consists of four deadly females, all donning robotic suits characterised by animals that are sure to be familiar to fans of the series; Laughing Octopus, Raging Raven, Crying Wolf, and Screaming Mantis. According to the latest trailer the female’s minds have been tormented by the horrors of war, with the only traces of humanity “buried deep within”.
We’re hoping to get our hands on Mafia 2 in 2008.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is marked for a simultaneous worldwide release early in 2008, and you can check out our preview elsewhere in the mag.
WII COMES OUT ON TOP
According to an independent NPD group and internal Nintendo figures, the Wii is the highest selling video game system in the United States this month and has had its highest weekly sales rate since December.
Coming into the crucial months before Christmas this news is sure to please Nintendo, especially given that both rival platforms have had recent price cuts.
Why you won't be leaving the house for the next few months SUPER PAPER MARIO
PROJECT GOTHAM RACING 4
MEDAL OF HONOR: AIRBORNE
Finally making it's way to European shores 6 months after being released elsewhere in the world, Super Paper Mario should finally give us a good enough reason to turn on our Wii's again.
With little over a month to go as D+PAD goes to press, Halo 3 is shaping up to be the game that defines the generation. Having knocked up over 12 million hours of playtime during the beta alone, the world is on tenterhooks as it eagerly awaits the Master Chief's final chapter.
The recent revelation of DVD9's failure to cram in all the textures required has sent the console fan boys to war, and the resultant lack of space means that we'll have to settle for playing certain cities at pre-set lighting. Not the worst thing that could have possibly happened, but something that doesn't exactly fit in with Microsoft's argument of DVD9 being more than enough for next-gen.
EA’s rival to Tony Hawk is finally set to make its debut this month. skate is the latest sports game to receive the right analogue stick once-over and the recently released demo over Xbox Live Marketplace has received somewhat mixed reactions, some loving the ‘revolutionary’ Flickit controls, others hating them. Still it proved quite good fun and it’s getting some good feedback from other members of the gaming press, winning sports game of the show at this year’s E3.
The eleventh title in the Medal Of Honor series is set to take an all new approach to war when it launches at the end of the month. Taking on the role of paratrooper Boyd Travers, the main new gameplay element in Airborne sees you inserting yourself at will into each of the games environments.
Borrowing the RPG and platforming elements from the original Paper Mario, SPM follows the roots of a more traditional side-scrolling Mario game, only with the added bonus of being able to switch to a 3D third-person view to solve puzzles and traverse hard to reach locations. D+PAD will be sitting down with Mario and co. September 14th.
We can finally look forward to four player online co-op, so if you're not already subscribed to Xbox Live then get online now and start making some friends. On top of that the latest information to come out of Bungie is the announcement of the all new Flamethrower and Firebomb, so you'll really get to show those Brutes who's boss. Halo 3 launches September 26th.
Regardless, there's still plenty to look forward to in the latest game from the hugely popular series, including the introduction of motorbikes, dynamic weatherand PGR On Demand, the new in-game XBL service. PGR4 races onto shelves October 12th.
It’s also got quite an eclectic soundtrack ranging from David Bowie to N.W.A. We can look forward to skate September 21st.
Parachuting out of a military transport plane, the player can choose to land anywhere within the mission boundaries, opening up all sorts of new tactical opportunities within a rapidly-staling genre. Airborne paratroops into store shelves September 7th.
good morning, dickhead
Ladies and Gentlemen welcome to my column. My name is Grumpy Jo and I’m here as D+PAD's new resident non-celebrity columnist. Each month I’ll be sharing my thoughts on anything newsworthy in the biz and probably going off on several pointless tangents for my own amusement. Anyway, enough filler let’s boogie. First things first, BioShock. As a close, personal friend of the editor I was not so secretly hoping to snag the review copy. Unfortunately Dave robbed it and then as far as I'm aware buggered off to Germany for some conference or other. However, being the dedicated gaming journalist I am, I actually went and bought myself a copy. And you know what, it's simply amazing. Life is so full of disappointments (The Simpsons Movie I'm looking at you) that when a game you’re really excited about is released, you always have that sense of dread that it's going to be crap. Believe me BioShock is as good as, if not better than, the reviews are saying. I'm not going to go into detail because we've got a review of it later in the mag, but believe me, buy it you won't be disappointed. Now let’s just hope the other 400,000 games out before Christmas are anywhere near as good. Speaking of Christmas, ‘twill be the season to be jolly indeed. My main reason for saying so is that this will be the year Sony finally realise how badly they have messed things up with the PS3. Last Friday (see how up to date I am) saw the mighty Xbox 360 get a price drop to be reckoned with. You can now buy a Core for the price of a Wii and a Premium pack for £175 less than a PS3. Just think of what you could do with that money. You could buy BioShock and Halo 3 and Mass Effect and PGR4 or any of the other myriad quality 360 exclusives. Or you could buy a PS3 and sit there looking at that huge hole in your bank account while waiting for MGS4 (Dave). Which will be rubbish by the way. However one tiny bit of good fortune for Sony is that Manhunt 2 is actually getting a release. The game has been reclassified by the American ratings board “ESRB” as “M”, meaning it will be stocked by the big stores stateside. Of course this new modified version will be resubmitted to the BBFC as part of Rockstar's appeal to the initial ban so us Brits may also be in line for hunting sooner rather than later. I'm not bothered myself, the first one was a load of over-hyped arse just like every Rockstar game since Vice City. [Random Irritation] Not being able to work out whether Billie Piper is attractive or not. [/End Irritation]
So Leipzig, Europe's very own E3. And like E3 sod all happened. We got a couple of fancy videos and the announcement of Play TV, which is actually what I want to talk about. Play TV is a stupid idea. Sony should not be working out how to extort more dosh from put-upon European gamers, they should be working out how to bring down the price of the bloody console itself. I was working out the other day that in the US a PS3 is almost half the price it is here, and they have had a price cut. That is simply not right. Sony really do need to put their house in order and sort this out. I for one am sick of being done over by Sony whenever they need some extra cash. When I was reading about this Play TV thing I found it very telling that they were releasing it in Europe first. Actually that was the moment I realised it was going to cost extra.... Anyway, enough negativity. Some positives. We are finally about to end the summer software drought and I for one couldn't be happier. In the next few weeks it seems like a million games are coming out. Seriously go to the pre-order pages on Play.com (cheap plug now send me stuff ). In the next month alone you've got five or six 360 games each worth buying, not to mention all the yearly updates to your favourite EA games (no sarcasm there at all). I think the best thing about all of this is the vast number of original games headed our way. So, kudos to the game developers out there who would actually rather take the chance on something original than make a quick buck. Just don't release sequels to them all next year alright? One last thing. I've been racking my brains about how to end this column (I was thinking about fireworks but that’s not really an option), then it hit me. Well actually I nearly hit it. BioShock died. Yep, I was deep in the bowels of Hephaestus laying a trap for an Elite Bouncer (a nice row of proximity mines to be exact) when it just stopped. Talk about anticlimactic; this thing roars at me then me bloody Xbox dies. Worst thing being is that I had just killed one of these lumbering beasts and hadn't saved it. And that got me thinking, when did this start happening in console games? None of my previous consoles have ever died mid-game (not even my “modified” PSP). I know all you PC users will feel my pain but this never happens to me. I suppose owning a Mac has spoilt me somewhat, but really, in this day and age surely we should have moved past this type of thing. Consider me somewhat irked. And on that note I shall let you continue on your merry trawl through the inaugural issue of D+PAD. Hopefully I'll be back next month with another page of nonsense and sarcasm if the editor will let me. You never know I may even talk about something interesting, but I'll probably just rip on Sony and MGS4 some more.
W ELECTRONIC APATHY
e all love to hate something. It’s part of our psyche to show our disapproval, whether it’s down to jealousy, misunderstandings, or (whisper it) it’s very well deserved. We see it in our national sport, everyone loves to have a good snipe at Chelsea, though it wasn’t so long ago Manchester United were the focus of our ire. “They’re winning, the bastards”. Many of Chelsea’s critics love to point out how they ‘bought’ the title. All business, no soul. The perceived parallel in the video game industry, many would enjoy pointing out, is Electronic Arts. Forums around the world rage at EA ‘killing our industry’ and ‘destroying originality’. Of course, there’s no smoke without fire...
EA are guilty of many crimes to video games; endless superficial updates to annual sports titles, shovelware movie tie-ins and a seemingly incessant amount of cash-in add-ons and expansion packs. Of course, the undermarketing of Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath was nigh on unforgivable. Many thought EA might have turned a corner, picking up on an offbeat, story-driven adventure. However, come the game’s release, the people outside of the videogame forum knew very little of Stranger’s Wrath. The almost clandestine release meant that it sold very poorly, which due to EA’s marketing might was an atrocious underselling of a game many felt was the finest on the Xbox. Indeed, OI were so disappointed in the commercial performance of Stranger’s Wrath that they pulled out of video games altogether. Many mourned their passing into the ether, pointed the finger at EA, and everyone hated them once more. Of course, Oddworld Inhabitants were not the only developer to have fallen by the wayside due to EA. In 1995, Peter Molyneux’s Bullfrog was snapped up under EA’s ruthless acquisition program. Molyneux himself left after increased EA interference, and the studio was closed in 2001. It was a familiar story, EA buying out promising studios, milking the most out of their games, before the studio either closed or was merged into its parent company. It wasn’t always this way. Founded in 1982 by Trip Hawkins, EA started life as an independent publisher, scouting out talented developers and bringing their game direct to retail. The ‘artists’ themselves were touted as much as their
games, the name Electronics Arts was decided on to promote video games as art and the company were keen to give the developers their time in the limelight. Compare that now to lawsuits filed against EA due to obscene working conditions and it’s easy to see how times have changed. Change, that in no small part was attributable to Trip Hawkins leaving for 3DO in 1991. Larry Probst took over, a decision taken by antsy shareholders frustrated at the lack of business progress under game developer Hawkins. Probst was a businessman, it showed in the years to come. Along with the rapid fire acquisitions, the early 1990s brought about the sports franchises that EA is so derided for. With the advent of the Sega Mega Drive, EA set about tweaking the same games with updated rosters for years, something unheard of at the time. Disposable and mass-market, it was a veritable goldmine for EA. Franchises such as FIFA, Madden and NHL sold like hotcakes around the world. EA is far from innocent of all charges levelled at them across the years. However, the landscape of video games today would not
“EA IS ONE OF THOSE COMPANIES PEOPLE JUST LOVE TO HATE” be the same without them. Almost as influential as the advent of the PlayStation, EA brought games to the mass-market. Money flowing into EA's coffers was money flowing into an industry in its infancy. Despite its rather dubious business practices, EA supplied the ‘casuals’ with what they wanted. Phenomenal sales of a lot of EA’s franchises such as FIFA, Need for Speed, Medal of Honor and The Sims are testament to that, as much as its advertising muscle. However, their get-rich-quick franchises did not sit well with the gaming enthusiasts starved of innovation in an industry in danger of stagnating as licences and annual updates filled the charts.
EA’s almost stubborn refusal to take chances, despite being the richest third party publisher in the industry was galling. With EA’s financial might, they should be taking risks and moving the industry forward rather than resting on their laurels and vacuuming the revenue coming in from their safe bets. The fact that EA is one of those companies people just love to hate is a big reason that gamers are perhaps not noticing the subtle but forceful shift going on at EA.
People like to forget that they brought We Love Katamari, an incredibly niche game from Namco, to Europe, when in all likelihood the terrific PS2 roll-em-up would never have seen these shores. Also going unnoticed is the steady but sure improvement of the much derided sports franchises. FIFA has seen dramatic improvements over the last few years, snapping at Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series’ heels. A franchise that itself has stood still for a few years, not as eagerly pointed out by the crowd baying for EA’s blood. NHL 07, Fight Night Round 3 and the Tiger Woods series all introduced mapping important controls to the right analogue stick, which in turn made a lot of rival sports games feel archaic in comparison. In a shrewd piece of headhunting EA have recently appointed Peter Moore, the highly respected former Xbox boss, as head of EA Sports. Lauded by gamers for his frank and forthcoming character while spearheading the Xbox 360’s impressive drive, Moore should prove an excellent capture. The Liverpool-born ex PE teacher has an impressive sporting background, taking Reebok into the football-boot business before moving into video games with Sega. Along with the improving sports titles, giving a company previously maligned for being a soulless corporation a face as well-liked in the industry as Peter Moore can only further EA’s bid to improve their image. Interesting also to note is that EA’s output on Nintendo’s Wii is among the best on the console. Besides Nintendo themselves, no-one but EA has got the best out of Wii’s innovative new control
system. While other developers, notably Ubisoft, have struggled, games such as SSX Blur, Madden07 and the film-licence Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix have introduced Wiimote control with style.
successful franchises. Ironic, perhaps, that as EA’s output shows a marked improvement, Activision have usurped them as the highest-grossing third party publisher for the first half of 2007, mainly due to Guitar Hero.
The blossoming rhythm action genre is also about to receive a timely boost with EA’s Rock Band ready to do battle with Activision’s Guitar Hero. A leap over the latter game, Rock Band plans to bring together all the aspects of a music group into one festival, as the happy concert-goers choose between drums, guitar and vocals as opposed to Activision’s now one-note axe-wielding.
Some celebrate their demotion to second place, much as football fans enjoyed Chelsea’s failure to retain their title. Is it the green eyed giant rearing its head again? Are they misunderstood? Or do they (whisper it) deserve it? Whatever the reason, people sure do love to hate EA.
Is Rock Band a leap into the next-generation of rhythm action and community gaming? Or a cynical bid to sell as many plastic instruments as possible? Is utilising the unique features of the Wii a sign of progress? Or a sign of bandwagonjumping to yet again make a quick buck? The one thing that no-one can deny EA is good at is making money, bringing home $2.95 billion USD of revenue during 2006 as well as owning many
“Besides Nintendo themselves, EA’s output on the Wii is among the best on the console.”
METAL GEAR SOLID 4: GUNS OF THE PATRIOTS PS3
KEY RELEASES THIS MONTH
07/09/07 Blazing Angels 2 (360, PC) Stranglehold (360, PC) Medal Of Honor Airborne (360, PC)
With the imperative Christmas market fast approaching, publishers are desperate to get their new games into your hands, and this month we take a look at some of the latest and greatest games due to be arriving soon.
14/09/07 Heavenly Sword (PS3) Super Paper Mario (Wii)
We sit down with Metal Gear Solid 4 as Hideo Kojima walks us through the latest build of the upcoming tactical espionage action title, and take a look at Mass Effect, the next big game from KotOR creators, BioWare.
21/09/07 Juiced 2 (Multi) skate (360)
Other than that we have a last minute peek at Heavenly Sword and Stranglehold now that demo's for both titles have been publicly released, as well as report back on all the latest findings from Super Mario Galaxy and Resident Evil 5.
26/09/07 Halo 3 (360)
And finally we get a first look at the annual update to the game that'll keep your wives and girlfriends at bay for another year, Football Manager 2008.
28/09/07 Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (PC) FIFA 08 (Multi) Sega Rally (360, PS3, PC)
ZELDA: PHANTOM HOURGLASS
SUPER MARIO GALAXY
X360, PS3, PC
D+PADâ€™S MOST WANTED
RESIDENT EVIL 5
WII FIT Wii
FOOTBALL MANAGER 2008 PC
METAL GEAR SOLID 4
GUNS OF THE PATRIOTS Hideo Kojima satisfied gamers’ thirsts everywhere when a substantial part of Metal Gear Solid 4 was finally revealed to an audience attending a post E3 Sony press event. Kojima narrated as the first in-game footage of the series latest and most ambitious outing yet was revealed. Panning around Snake the new Middle Eastern setting is brought to vivid life, a 3D camera now allowing us to navigate the environment with a level of freedom not previously seen in the core series. A shell of what must have once been a sprawling city is finely rendered, whilst jets that can be heard tearing through the skies above deliver payloads that echo ominously as they meet their distant target. Considering its early build, Konami have already done a solid job in creating a distinctive feel for the series next generation debut.
FORMAT PlayStation 3 PUBLISHER Konami DEVELOPER Kojima Productions RELEASE Q1 2008 PREVIEWED BY Greg Latham
Intruding on a seemingly placid moment, Snake spots incoming troops with his new Solid Eye, a device that doubles as a pair of binoculars and threat detector. Jumping off a ledge and moving towards a group of statues the appropriate camouflage is selected and Snake strikes a rigid pose, now undiscernible to the vigilant eyes of the enemy soldiers drawing close. An impressive set piece, greeted with a murmurs of approval from the audience.
As the statue crumbles to life, Snake begins to hunt down the soldiers with a wealth of new technology and close quarter combat techniques. Pressing up against any surface now activates ‘Octocamo’, an innovative new ingredient to the Metal Gear series that transfers the surface’s texture onto Snake’s stealth suit; a chequered surface swiftly recreated on Snake’s body to avoid a patrolling mercenary. Making his way through the battlefield with a restrained fluidity the player now has the option to manually disarm the enemy or restrain them with an array of martial art holds. Holding-up soldiers at gun-point also makes a return and we’re treated to a fearful and desperate mercenary giving up helpful items before being incapacitated, rather comically, by a crushing blow between the legs.
Making his way through the battlefield with a restrained fluidity the player now has the option to manually disarm the enemy or restrain them with an array of martial art holds. Holding-up soldiers at gun-point also makes a return and we’re treated to a fearful and desperate mercenary giving up helpful items before being incapacitated, rather comically, by a crushing blow between the legs. Kojima also took the time to introduce various changes to the gun combat. Namely an over the shoulder viewpoint that those who have experienced Resident Evil 4 will be familiar with and an FPS view that now allows the player mobility and, at the players discretion, the opportunity to play through the entire game from this viewpoint. Whilst an interesting choice, one hopes that the developers make this more of a challenging option instead of a genuine alternative given that an FPS perspective is not normally best suited to stealth. Having appeared in previous trailers, Otacon’s Metal Gear Mk.II now appears to be directly controllable, joining a list of gameplay additions seemingly growing longer from week to week. Awkwardly whirring past numerous explosions that kick up clouds of dust, the quirky machine is used to stun unaware enemies and effectively clear the way for Snake to proceed. This in itself offers a subtly different breed of tactical combat that the series hasn’t ever seen before, with the possibility of allowing Snake to craft elaborate diversions in order to proceed.
Nearing the demos climax, Snake makes his way into the slightly less volatile battle field ahead, taking only a few strides before bullets begin snapping at his feet. Almost instinctively he falls onto his back, eliminating the assailants silhouetted on a building behind him with the most lethal of precision. Coupled with the following fire fight it’s clear that Snake is higher on the food chain than in previous iterations and it would be no surprise to see combat take place on a much larger scale than ever before. As the title splashes across the screen once more the audience erupt with an unprecedented amount of applause, and so they should have. Although the new stealth mechanics were impressive, the open environment allowed for the more accessible and fine tuned combat engine to shine through. With months left until its 2008 release it’s uncertain whether some of the new additions could unsettle the series’ fine balance between action and stealth. What is certain though, is that the final product should not only be a truly exhilarating one but a clear progression for the much acclaimed series.
RESIDENT EVIL 5 There's no doubt that Resident Evil 4 is going to be a tough act to follow. Considered by many to be one of the defining games of its generation and even one of the best games of all time, it reinvigorated a stale franchise and breathed new life into both the action and horror genres through Shinji Mikami's brave re-imagining of an established formula. Where RE4 made bold changes to the fundamentals of the franchise its sequel follows closely to the ideals set out by its predecessor. The over the shoulder camera is again present, as are the 'non-zombies' that bothered Leon in the last game. Even so, Resident Evil 5 is no mere update, and thankfully appears to be moving the series forward in new ways of its own. FORMAT 360, PS3 PUBLISHER Capcom DEVELOPER Capcom RELEASE TBA PREVIEWED BY Ian Tellam
Gone is the perpetual gloom and gothic conceits of earlier iterations. In its new African setting the Resident Evil world is filled with glaring sunlight and stark, contrasting shadows. Its new sun-bleached guise is no less menacing though, and puts the power of its hi-def host systems to great use. Mobs of countless crazed villagers bear down on the player and the immense graphical fidelity the 360 and PS3 offer allow for some truly eerie enemies. Pleasingly it eschews the plastic sheen that many next-generation titles have fallen foul of, instead recalling the gritty, grainy look of RE4. Combined with an astonishing level of detail and the impressive number of simultaneous on-screen nasties that the in-game engine permits, Resident Evil 5 seems to be raising the bar in terms of both 'horror' and 'survival'.
Given the brevity of the recently released trailer and the scarcity of available information, any speculation on the setting and storyline of the game is pure conjecture at this point. Nevertheless it seems clear the protagonist this time round is series veteran Chris Redfield rather than ex-S.T.A.R.S. rookie Leon Kennedy. The difference between the two heroes is immediately obvious. Leon, for all his bravado, always looked slightly too effete to be entirely convincing as a zombie slaying action hero. This time, though, the fresh-faced metro sexuality of RE4's own Beckham-a-like has been shunted aside for a hero practically oozing with steroid fuelled machismo. Muscular almost to the point of caricature, the newly re-envisaged Chris Redfield is perhaps an indication of how Capcom's gaze is straying ever more westward when it comes to marketing its games.
In the interests of hype the trailer does well to pose more questions than it presents answers. When will it be released? Who's the girl in the water tank at the end of the video? Can it ever be as good as RE4? Will it suffer now that Mikami's no longer on board? And can it avoid a LocoRoco style political correctness backlash as, letâ€™s face it, someone, somewhere is going to read far too much into the theme of the game. No doubt there will be many eager eyes trained upon the game as Capcom ekes out scraps of information over the next year or so. Fortunately, if these early details are anything to go by, it looks like it's going to be well worth the wait.
Ever since Heavenly Sword was announced it has been one of the great hopes for PlayStation 3. With exclusive titles still looking somewhat thin on the ground for 2007, Nariko’s adventure has never seemed so important.
FORMAT PlayStation 3 PUBLISHER Sony DEVELOPER Ninja Theory RELEASE September PREVIEWED BY Tom Hoggins
Developed by Cambridge-based Ninja Theory formerly known as Just Add Monsters, the team behind 2003’s Kung-Fu Chaos - Heavenly Sword follows flame-haired Nariko on her tale of death, revenge and redemption. Following the invasion of King Bohan and subsequent destruction of Nariko’s clan, our heroine takes up the magical Heavenly Sword on a quest for vengeance. Unfortunately for Nariko, the sword drains the life force of anyone brave or stupid enough to wield the blade. So far, so hokey videogame plot. However, a huge part of Heavenly Sword’s appeal is its cinematic aspirations, due in no small part to the intensive involvement of Andy Serkis, Hollywood’s premier CG actor. Given Serkis’s outstanding performance as Gollum in Lord of the Rings in both motion capture and voice acting, this is one time when a film actor’s involvement inspires real hope of progression in video game cinematics. He lends his body and voice
to the villain of the piece, King Bohan, but also has a large hand in the direction. It shows. While the game is losing its bleeding edge graphics in the face of impressive competitors due to a protracted development, the animation is second to none. We’ve been treated to many scenes from the game, displaying fluid movement and nigh-on perfect lipsyncing to go with the impressive voice acting. Of course, as impressive as the cinematics may be, they will be inconsequential if the gameplay can not live up to the presentation. Fortunately there is much room for optimism in this regard as well, though caution is advised. A hack and slash game at heart, Heavenly Sword takes much of its inspiration from wire-fu movies. Nariko’s vicious combinations taking on a balletic quality as she sweeps through the oncoming hordes with merciless grace. At first Heavenly Sword seems like one of the button mashers that permeate the genre, the simple oneagainst-all combat of Dynasty Warriors or NinetyNine Nights, where your clumsy tapping of the buttons translates into an impressive spectacle on screen. Stylish, but not skilled. Allow yourself to scratch beneath the surface, however, and a much deeper combat system comes to light.
17 air you can jerk the controller up to begin an aerial combo. It may seem a somewhat contrived use of the features of the PS3’s pad at first, but once you are familiar with all aspects of the controls you begin to realise you’re using the SIXAXIS to its fullest and battles can be exhilarating. Divided into three distinct stances, Nariko can shape the heavenly sword to her will. The ‘quick’ stance is the default, Nariko wielding two separate blades for fast attacks of medium power. The ‘power’ stance brings the two blades together to form a large, powerful but unwieldy sword. The third stance is the’ ranged’ stance where our fiery heroine launches two blades around her using chains, much like Athena’s Blades in God of War, for quick but weak attacks. Using these variations of attacks gives Heavenly Sword a fighting chance of distinguishing itself from the pack. Other aspects of the combat impress, such as the different coloured ‘aura’ that surrounds enemies as they prepare to attack. Each ‘aura’ represents a different kind of attack, which must either be blocked in a specific stance, or avoided altogether using the right analogue stick. As such you need to be aware of your surroundings to get out of a skirmish alive. Heavenly Sword also makes use of the SIXAXIS motion controls, flinging a foe into the
However, deep as the combat has the potential to be, it is wasted if the enemies do not require its full use. The brilliance of God of War for instance was its variety of enemies and breathtaking boss battles, which made the relatively basic combat a joy. In the short PSN demo, the enemies were a generic ragtag bunch that could be dispatched without ever having to explore the combat mechanics. The recent introduction of second playable character, Kai, whose catlike acrobatics and third-person shooting add some variety to proceedings, may be a desperate attempt to break up the mundane slaughter of sword fodder. There is much to be optimistic about with Heavenly Sword. It has a promising combat system and stunning art direction that brings hope of an epic action-adventure. However, if Ninja Theory cannot keep the foes and fighting fresh throughout, this goddess of war may need some divine intervention of her own.
STRANGLEHOLD JOHN WOO PRESENTS
Everything goes in and out of style, except war of course. But war is rarely as stylish as this. The videogame sequel to John Woo’s Hong Kong action movie Hard Boiled, Stranglehold sees Chow Yun-Fat return in digital form as Inspector “Tequila” Yuen. Insp. Tequila is the archetypal videogame character, a vigilante hero with a penchant for shooting things, a LOT of things.
FORMAT 360, PS3, PC PUBLISHER Midway DEVELOPER Midway RELEASE September PREVIEWED BY Tom Hoggins
Playing through the marketplace level available in the recently released demo, you’re under no illusions that Midway want to ram the very essence of the game down your throat; that you’re a one man army, hell-bent on taking down anyone and everyone that stands in your way. And if you can do it with dazzling panache, then all the better...
19 The opportunity for choreographed destruction is always at your thumbs. Sliding down a railing, blasting signs off their mountings to crush your unfortunate foes. Leaping straight onto a handcart, skating across the concrete dispatching your enemies while fruit and debris rain down. At times it feels like a parkour version of Tony Hawk’s- except with guns, lots of guns. Your reward for finding new and inventive ways of stringing together stylish kills, either by using the environment or entering ‘Tequila Time’, is the buildup of your ‘Tequila Bomb’ meter. This meter allows you to either heal yourself, or perform other special actions. The precision shot allows you to zoom in on an enemy and pick your spot in slow-motion. As you fire, your bullet is tracked to its intended target before ‘treating’ you to a visceral announcement of its arrival. It’s a feature seen before in videogames, namely Max Payne, which itself is homage to John Woo movies. That Stranglehold borrows heavily from Remedy’s action-noir ensures the tributes come full circle. Barrage allows you to go on a rampage without expending your ammo and the Spin Attack, as the name may suggest, is useful when you’re surrounded. Visually so far, the game is a mixed bag. Chow Yun-Fat is lovingly rendered and looks terrific. Watching him wince while under fire is an impressive show of facial animation, whilst his fluid movement throughout never falters. Some characters however seem
ARE YOU TESTING ME?
to have got the short end of the stick when it comes to graphic fidelity. Most are impressive, but others look like they’ve been crudely moulded out of Play-Doh. The environments have looked consistently good, especially with the almost total amount of destructibility present. However, the marketplace featured in the demo looks as if someone had just found the bloom lighting effect for the first time; concrete pillars should not have a day-glo sheen. There are also some noticeable clipping issues still present in the game. These are fairly minor niggles in what is generally a good-looking game and the amount of falling debris, explosions and enemies on screen makes for an impressive spectacle, with the engine holding at a steady frame rate throughout. Midway are reportedly spending $30millionUSD on Stranglehold, which would make it the most expensive ‘next-gen’ title to date. Midway Europe’s Managing Director Martin Spiess believes the investment is well worth it; "The early indications from retail and the consumers are there, so it is going to pay off," Spiess explained. "In order to recoup development money you obviously have to sell a lot of units, but what we're seeing to date is that we will sell those units. Stranglehold will be the top selling title this Christmas." Brave words, considering September boasts Halo 3 amongst its titles and Christmas 2007 is looking like one of the finest holiday periods in video game history. Nevertheless, Stranglehold is shaping up to be an impressive contender.
The multiplayer is something of an unknown quantity at the moment, but appears to be a standard deathmatch type affair. Midway insist that all the features of the singleplayer will be available during multiplayer matches, so Stranglehold could prove to be a popular game on Live and PSN, providing Midway deliver on their promise.
SUPER MARIO GALAXY Mario’s latest space hopping adventure is slowly being drip fed to hungry gamers in tiny chunks and with mere months to go until the portly plumber is bouncing around on your television at home, surprisingly it’s quite pleasant to not know a lot. What we are learning however are details concerning three key areas; gameplay as Mario, environmental gameplay and new pointer features. The major news as far as controlling our favourite Italian plumber is concerned comes in the shape of suits, a welcome return from the old Mario games in which he would happily adopt a bear suit and rather inexplicably turn into stone. For Galaxy, the plumber can be seen turning into a bee for purposes of flying short distances, walking on flowers and climbing certain surfaces, and a boo outfit for flying through paintings and drifting across gaps.
FORMAT Wii PUBLISHER Nintendo DEVELOPER Nintendo RELEASE November PREVIEWED BY James Bowden
The new suits also have their own set of unique weaknesses, such as the bee suit being lost if Mario falls into water for example, and they should also add a spot of variety to the proceedings as well as open up new puzzle opportunities. For example,
we’ve already seen Bee Mario clambering over a queen bee to collect pieces of a star portal (which you must assemble in order to leave each planet) that she claims are itching her and being rewarded with a star upon completion. We’ve also been treated to other snippets, such as Mario clinging onto a Koopa shell as it flies through space. As for environmental gameplay, one of the most crucial aspects revealed in the latest levels is that of black holes. Round planets feature their own gravitational pull that allow Mario to seamlessly walk around their whole surface, but the other flat planets are bad news, featuring a black hole beneath them and thus instantaneous death as Mario is sucked into the scientific marvel upon falling off the edge.
21 As for the pointer, that itself has received an upgrade in the form of ammunition. What were previously simple collectables (the weird spiky rainbow coloured objects known as ‘stardust’) can now be aimed and fired using the Wii mote, allowing you to stun enemies and hit other objects. In the same line of pointer related tomfoolery is the ability for a second person to pick up a Wii remote and join in; this second player can also shoot stardust as well as hold projectiles and perform various other actions to assist their friend. However, for the more malicious friendships out there, the second player also has the ability to hinder the player by tickling Mario or moving things into his way.
Super Mario Galaxy is looking amazing in every way, and it feels like Nintendo are only showing us a snippet of what the full game will have to offer. With only a few months left before the game hits store shelves at the end of the year, Nintendo are sure to let a little more information slip, but regardless of how much they tell us, Mario’s latest adventure is looking like it’s set to take platformers into bold new territory.
Wii Fit introduces us to yet another new peripheral, the ‘Balance Board’. Looking somewhat like a low exercise step, or perhaps a set of bathroom scales, the board features four pressure sensors that measure the way your weight is distributed on its surface. With this information the board can tell if you’re standing on one leg, which way you’re leaning and all sorts of surprisingly accurate data on your posture.
FORMAT Wii PUBLISHER Nintendo DEVELOPER Nintendo RELEASE Q1 2008 PREVIEWED BY Ian Tellam
So, you’re a video gamer, you must be a bit out of shape, right? Well fortunately, Nintendo are taking time to help you help yourself and the company that previously dreamt up Brain, Face and Observation training now brings you Wii Fit. Wii Fit is, in a sense, the next evolution of the concepts encapsulated in Wii Sports. Nintendo are calling it ‘Active Play’. In other words, instead of slouching about twiddling your thumbs while you gaze in rapt fixation at the screen, the player performs the physical actions that are then replicated on screen. Naturally, Nintendo have seen the possibilities that this kind of physicality offers and this new offering is obviously weighted towards the ‘active’ side of things.
When you first start the game Wii Fit takes this information and supplies you with your body mass index just to prove how out of shape your gamer’s physique really is. Just to rub in the fact it then takes your Mii and morphs it into an approximation of your own physical shape. Pot belly? Slumped shoulders? Well your Mii has just become that little bit more true to life. Of course, it doesn’t end there; you and your little Mii have work to do and this is where the game, such as it is, really begins. Directed by the on-screen polygon lady you’ll be put through your paces in various yoga-esque exercises. Throwing shapes, balancing on one foot, the sort of exercises designed to build on your ‘core’ strength. Tracking your every wobble the Balance Board will be able to tell just how well you’re doing. Your position on the board is recorded by a thin red line on the screen, with the aim being to hold the positions you are faced
with while keeping this line within the blue boundaries. Although standing in one place while remaining as still as possible may not seem particularly strenuous, all this yogic contorting is actually pretty tiring and over time the player can expect their BMI and fitness level to improve. Besides, nobody wants a podgy Mii! In order to keep track of your improvements Wii Fit opens up a new Wii channel and by using this channel you’ll be able to keep track not only of your own progress, but also compare yourself to other members of your household.
23 In addition to this straightforward exercise regime the package also includes several mini-games designed to get your heart pumping. Hoop Twirl sees you gyrating constantly as you attempt to keep an ever increasing number of hula hoops spinning around your characters waist. The computer players will throw hoops to you at intervals and you catch them by stretching your arms out in the appropriate direction. Soccer Ball Heading sees you, predictably, heading footballs away as the computer players kick them at you, all the while avoiding the other things that
get booted your way. Then there’s Ski Jumping, in which you’re required to crouch down to build up speed and stand up as quickly as possible at the last moment in order to hurtle as far as you can. But probably the ‘gamiest’ game of the bunch is the ball rolling mini-game in which the player attempts to roll a ball through a succession of tilting mazes in order to get it into the correct hole. None of this is likely to set the core gaming community alight, but then again it isn’t really aimed at that demographic, as Wii Fit is clearly more a lifestyle accessory than videogame. While mixing fitness with gaming may not be a completely new idea (Eye Toy Kinetic springs to mind), if anyone is likely to be able to make a collection of otherwise rather tiresome tasks fun and addictive it is probably Nintendo. As shown with their DS Touch Generations series, they are more than capable of taking a very simple idea and executing it to compulsive perfection. Despite a palpable degree of scepticism among a large portion of gamers, there isn’t really reason why a gamer wouldn’t get enjoyment and satisfaction from this, provided the title is accepted for what it is - an exercise programme with videogame elements rather than vice versa. The Balance Board itself also throws up some interesting
possibilities outside of its use in Wii Fit. If the title is successful and enough of the peripheral penetrates into the market it could well be used to augment existing genres. Games such as 1080 Snowboarding or Tony Hawk would seem perfect for use with the device and when used in conjunction with the Wii Remote and Nunchuck combination even more possibilities open up. Adding the ability to detect posture and weight distribution as well as hand motion and orientation could add a further dimension to a boxing game for instance. Perhaps Wii Fit’s greatest achievement will be to show that the Wii can maintain its position as the mainstream consumer’s system of choice. The universal appeal of Wii Sports has helped the system gain a lead over its more niche rivals. If, arguably, the novelty of its control scheme is a gimmick then Wii Fit shows that the next fad is just around the corner. By keeping the system fresh with quirky, yet well thought out products such as these the concern of long-term appeal may never be an issue. Wii Fit may well sell Wiis for another year, by which time Nintendo will have their ‘next big thing’ ready to roll out. Besides, whatever you think of Wii Fit and Nintendo’s new direction in general, it’s nice to read some positive things about gaming in the mainstream press for a change. For those looking to break into a sweat Wii Fit is due for release in early 2008 and should retail for around a consumer-friendly £50.
FORMAT Xbox 360 PUBLISHER Microsoft Game Studios DEVELOPER BioWare RELEASE November PREVIEWED BY John McCormick
Ever since its showing at Microsoft’s X05 event, even before the launch of Xbox 360, Mass Effect has continued to impress us, and the latest trailer shown at E3 last month was no different. Months before its November release, Mass Effect has already won numerous awards at the E3s of the past two years, including ‘Best RPG’ on both occasions...
25 Mass Effect tells the story of Commander Shepard aboard the star ship Normandy. This is where our description, for now, has to end, as Shepard can take form as a male or female, as well as be fully customised with a multitude of options, including changing his/her voice, clothing, armour and appearance through a hugely deep face and hair editor. Even the back-story of Shepard is the player’s choice. Shepard’s outfits alone come in three different varieties, and each are repairable, upgradeable and even washable for those who prefer the clean and presentable look over the fresh-out-of-battle style. This isn’t an anomaly or an aspect of the game that BioWare have concentrated on heavily, no, it is actually very representative of the extreme levels of depth that Mass Effect contains.
The Normandy is your main base of operations where you can deal with numerous crew members and travel to a vast amount (over 300 in fact) of explorable locations throughout the Galaxy. These are mainly discoverable planets, but there are also satellites and space stations to visit too, the majority of which visiting are entirely optional. As is standard for RPGs, Shepard gains experience through multiple ways throughout the game and can improve statistics within twelve core specialist skills. Each specialist skill falls under one of three different skill sets; ‘Biotics’ (using ‘Mass Effect’ energy to attain seemingly magical powers), ‘Tech’ (manipulating technology, whether that be your own or an enemy’s), or ‘Weapons’ (do we really need to explain?). As if that’s not confusing enough, there are also six different character classes, each specialising in different combinations of the skill sets. Interestingly though, not one covers all three, meaning there is no chance of a jack-of-all-trades Shepard. Whichever class you choose, Shepard will form one part of a three-man (or woman) party, and it’s you who gets to hand out the
invites. Your wing-men can be switched between a pool of six potential team-mates throughout the game, human or alien, of which there are eleven races. This leads to all sorts of team-balancing issues, and it’s this kind of freedom that really shines throughout all the different aspects of Mass Effect. Having two other characters with you has allowed BioWare to enhance the consequential-based emotional feeling the team are striving for. Often you’ll find yourself conversing with team mates during a mission, only to find that they have different opinions and motivations, not only to you, but to each other as well. The way in which you induct others into your party is through the revolutionary conversation mechanic that BioWare have developed, and rather surprisingly it’s arguably Mass Effect’s most remarkable feature. Instead of forcing the player into reading, or even skipping, pages of subtitles and hours of dialogue, you can interrupt at any time with a handful of responses. These replies will show various manners of brutality and subtlety, and, interestingly, are only presented to the player as short, written phrases giving merely an impression of what can be said. It seems like a smart move, as not only is it remarkably similar to how people communicate in the real world, but it should also make verbal exchanges more involving and less predictable, as you’ll never know exactly what Shepard is about to say.
26 In the words of Casey Hudson, Mass Effect’s Project Manager, “your actions, whether generous or ruthless will determine the fate of an entire universe”, and this is not only dependant on your physical actions, but conversation and character choices too. BioWare promise a strong story with multiple branching endings, and are aiming for Mass Effect to become the “ultimate sci-fi adventure”. It certainly seems as though they’re on the right track as the Mass Effect universe is incredibly deep, with each species playing its part with the political struggles abound. BioWare have also made noises over downloadable content to fill in between each game in the trilogy. The game is running on a modified form of the all conquering ‘Unreal Engine 3’, and as such, it is of no surprise that it looks absolutely stunning. Not solely in a graphical sense (though even the character models alone are superbly lifelike, with spotless lip synching and believable animation), but artistically too, as every location has its own distinct appearance and filled with immense detail. However, despite all the praise easily heaped on the game, there are some, ever so slight, areas of concern. Firstly, the combat shown so far seems all a bit too easy, and enemy AI appears to lack a real sense of self-preservation. As well as this, despite the vast appearance of each planet, there seems to be a fairly linear path through each of them stemming from a preset landing point. On landing you will also be given access to the ‘MAKO’ - a futuristic APC
complete with gun turret and an unusual hop function. The hop is thought to provide access to otherwise unreachable areas, but unwittingly highlights the lack of differentiated gravity levels between planets. One for the sequel, you’d hope. But, let’s not be overly picky. BioWare have three months until launch and Mass Effect is a hugely ambitious game filled with a whole galaxy of places to go, battles to fight and people to meet. There may even the occasional love interest, and, in the end, isn’t gaming all about being able to achieve what we can’t in real life?
FOOTBALL MANAGER 2008 U
nlike winter's usual yearly sporting updates, there is a very strong case to be made that more than any other title, the hugely successful Football Manager (FM) series demands annual editions. The unpredictable nature of football upsets and numerous transfers ensures that FM users salivate each year for the most bang up-to-date edition of gaming’s most unlikely success story the stat-based football management sim.
FORMAT PC / MAC PUBLISHER Sega DEVELOPER Sports Interactive RELEASE October PREVIEWED BY Emmet Purcell
The inevitable announcement of Football Manager has developers Sports Interactive (SI) promising evolution over revolution; a tighter, more user-friendly interface coupled with a few sizeable revamps to the old formula. Make no bones about it, in management stakes, Football Manager 2008 is the real deal, unlike the ambitious but ever so slightly-dodgy sounding upcoming MMO Football Manager Live. Some of the most notable additions SI has been hyping include Match Flow, which sets out to overhaul the match-day
engine by providing match previews, team talks, real-time tactical changes (with a mini-radar pitch to accompany it) and oppositional player instructions during play. In addition, the international management gameplay has been given a sizeable revamp with, amongst others, media improvements and international retirements and scouting entering the fray. Studio Director of SI, Miles Jacobson, recently singled out both features as to what the developers are "really looking forward to seeing the reaction of when people get to play it on release".
boots and a hypothetical all-time best eleven for all teams and nations will be introduced.
To allow greater personality for the fictional stars who fill the game as their real-life counterparts retire, in-game generated players will now be accompanied by pictures for the first time in the series, visually aging from season to season. Finally the developers are also promising a much cleaner skin to complement user-friendly features such as an updated tutorial, easier coach reports and a new calendar system to highlight important dates of the season.
“ THE BANE OF WIVES AND GIRLFRIENDS EVERYWHERE ”
Yet the match engine and International mode are not the only staples of the series being given an overhaul; the game’s finances have been updated to allow the transfer of wage and transfer budgets amongst a wealth of new information being brought to the player, such as season ticket news and improved sponsorships. SI also are promising a more accurate awards system whilst new awards such as the European golden
Quite a lot of change being promised from SI this season then. Yet like any franchise with such a hardcore fanbase, if you've never understood the appeal of FM, it’s unlikely that the 2008 version will be the one to sway your judgement. Football Manager has always been a series that has never been about polygon counts or next-gen presentation, rather it
revels in the user’s imagination and internal narrative for their side’s fortunes. The bane of wives and girlfriends everywhere, Football Manager 2008 arrives before Christmas and promises to keep players staying up till all hours working on those deadline-day transfers.
THE RATINGS An essential purchase. If you own the console, you need this game. A great game and one well worth checking out. Good fun in places but ultimately nothing special. If you're a big fan of the genre it might be worth a rental, but only just. Dismal, avoid.
At a time when new releases are at their yearly low, there still seems plenty to get excited about. This month we take a look at the sublime new entry into the Pokemon series, a perfect game for the summer holidays and one that people of all ages are able to appreciate.
TRANSFORMERS: THE GAME
GUITAR HERO: ROCKS THE 80S
360, PS3, PS2, Wii, PC, DS, PSP
We also sit down with the Wii-release of Resident Evil 4. Widely considered to be the best game of the last generation, does the modern classic translate well to the Wii controls? Just flick over to p.40 to read our thoughts on that one. Other than that we've got a review of the new Guitar Hero expansion-of-sorts, Rocks The 80s, and we take a look at ultra-violent comic-book adaptation The Darkness. We'll also be looking at the age-old problem of movie-game tie-ins, this month Transformers: The Game proving to be the dirty rat. But first, a game that needs no introduction. Welcome to Rapture...
BIG BRAIN ACADEMY
POKEMON DIAMOND / PEARL
NINJA GAIDEN SIGMA
MARIO PARTY 8
RESIDENT EVIL 4 WII EDITION
FLATOUT ULTIMATE CARNAGE
D+PADâ€™S MOST PLAYED
RESIDENT EVIL 4
GUITAR HERO II
BIOSHOCK Somewhere, beyond the sea...
roken promises and bare-faced lies, two things most gamers that have ever fallen into the hype-trap will have suffered firsthand. Developers and PR companies bandying the name of their latest game about like there’s no tomorrow, building hope and anticipation, bumping up their reservation numbers and, rather unfairly, selling a poor game to millions of disappointed gamers. We know not to fall for it, but inevitably we still do. Throughout its entire development, BioShock has seen the same treatment. Hailed by a torrent of remarks suggestive of the game being video-gaming’s secondcoming, BioShock had a lot to live up to. Thankfully, on this occasion at least, they weren’t lying, and BioShock doesn’t just meet the huge expectations labelled upon it, but exceeds them in every possible way.
FORMAT REVIEWED Xbox 360 OTHER FORMATS PC PUBLISHER 2K Games DEVELOPER Irrational Games REVIEWED BY David Scammell
Set in 1960, BioShock tells the story of the unnamed lead protagonist who, surviving a devastating plane crash over the Mid-Atlantic, discovers a rather dubious looking structure slap bang in the middle of nowhere. Desperately fighting for his life amongst the burning wreckage, you swim to safety only to find the seemingly barren construction isn’t all that it seems. Taking a long elevator ride down, we’re greeted to the lost city of Rapture, a sprawling metropolis created by mad professor of sorts Andrew Ryan, hidden far away from the rest of the world deep below the ocean’s surface. But all is not well in Rapture, the society having turned to civil war over the mysterious substance ADAM, and it’s your job to work out what’s going on and pick up the pieces. And for fear of us spoiling anything at all, that’s where the back-drop to the story must end. The first thing you’ll notice as you enter the world of Rapture is something a lot of games seemingly, and rather unforgivably, forget about; a spectacular atmosphere and a sense of absolute immersion within the environment that you’re placed in. BioShock doesn’t need, nor does it want, an intrusive narrative to make you feel engrossed within the gaming world, and as a result it feels all the better for it. You can see for yourself that you’re stuck in what was once the beautiful homeland of the advanced art deco loving civilisation, heart-shatteringly torn to pieces through the resulting fury over the enhancements created to generate the perfect population. You won’t know what on Earth is going on or why you’re even there, but you’ll prefer it that way, the fear of the unknown holding your interest throughout. It’s a game you’ll want to last forever, you’ll want to savour each and every moment, each twist and turn, each horrific revelation from deep within Rapture, but at the same time BioShock is something you’ll find yourself unable to put down, eagerly anticipating the next gut-wrenching moment.
30 To call the game world truly stunning would be somewhat of an understatement. The lighting, the character models, the animation, the textures, the art, each utterly perfect, made even more so with the incredibly well-crafted audio that adds another dimension to the immense depth to the atmosphere. Walking through the sprawling underwater city the graphics truly bring the world to life, and you’ll flinch in fear as you notice the eerie shadow of a deranged scientist experimenting on the body of his latest victim, the gruesome sound of the unfortunate victim’s last breath hollowing throughout the murky hallways. Immersive, exhilarating and genuinely unsettling, you’ll be hard pushed to find a more aesthetically impressive game on the Xbox 360, and if there was ever an excuse to get yourself set-up with the latest AV equipment, this is it. BioShock is a true next-gen experience, and Irrational know it. So whilst the ambience and art direction effortlessly sucks the player in, we’re yet to tackle the most important and ultimately over-riding factor of any game, the gameplay. BioShock isn’t what you’d describe as an ordinary first-person shooter, it’s not even something you should think of referring to as such. It’s not truly an RPG either, despite elements true to that genre working their way into the game. The most obvious comparison to make would be to that of System Shock, also developed by BioShock developers Irrational Games. BioShock has often been considered the spiritual
successor to System Shock 2, the ground-breaking space-horror game first released in 1999, and it’s really not hard to see how. Both games follows the same over-lying plot; something gone desperately wrong and a population in turmoil, with the player unaware of what’s happened or what exactly they’re there to do. But one of the biggest differences between BioShock and any other run-of-the-mill FPS is through the use of ‘Plasmids’, biological augmentations created to enhance your character’s abilities. Acting much like augmentations seen in games like Deus Ex, Plasmids are separated into different groups; Weaponry, Engineering, Physical, and Active. Active Plasmids essentially act as alternate weapons, such as fire, electricity, and ice etc., manually activated by the player in order to be used. Other classes of Plasmids, whilst of equal importance, each act passively, automatically activated when necessary. To say much else about the Plasmids would be to risk giving away a lot about the story, but rest assured these augmentations will completely change the way you think about gaming. Giving the player a vast amount of options in which to dispose of their enemy (or even turn foe into friend) means you’ll have something to think about rather than, as per a lot titles, brainlessly waving your shotgun in the face of oncoming hostiles. But it’s not just the augmentations that’ll lead to thought-provoking actions from the player, but each of the varied environments you’ll find yourself placed in as well.
31 Whilst the game itself is a fairly linear affair, there’s a certain element of discovery and experimentation for the player to divulge in within the submerged world of Rapture; secret areas and hidden objects each made readily available for the more inquisitive of us to discover. Of course, these discoveries don’t come easy and often end up placing the player in a position of puzzle solving or lacking in the ostensibly required firepower. Take, for example, a section early into the game. Having crawled into a locked office on my latest act of exploration, I become surrounded by a gang of unnerving Splicers, desperately pounding on the office window, craving for my blood. Frightened and out-numbered I could always back-track out and try to take them on myself. It’s a risky move and one that more often than not doesn’t come recommended. Or, having spotted a pool of oil trailing underneath the office door, I could set it ablaze and see what happens. Using the fire Plasmid on the trailing oil I manage to create a blazing inferno, engulfing the deranged and soon to be deceased Splicers in a blistering firestorm. It’s these moments that make BioShock the true classic that it is, the moments that make you sit up and take note of how insanely cool that just was, revelling in the fact that you made it happen rather than being led hand-in-hand through the horrific world. By the end of BioShock you’ll begin to look at gaming in a different light, not just looking at using the one dimensional weapons or accessories each game throws at you, but the way in which you yourself can interact with the
surrounding environment, and of course, the way in which it interacts with you. And of course what would be a review of BioShock without mentioning the game’s iconic characters, the Big Daddies and Little Sisters. You’ll know already what they’re there for, the Big Daddy protecting the Little Sisters whilst they collect ADAM, the currency and chemical that each of Rapture’s inhabitants depend upon. In a game filled to the brim with shocks and horrors, your first experience of going up against a Big Daddy will stay with you in your gaming memory for life, up there with the first time you led Mario around his new 3D homeland in Mario 64, or the first time you encountered the marines in Half-Life. In fact there’s so many of these memorable moments spread throughout the whole of BioShock it’s enough to satisfy even those of us the hardest to please.
“HANDS-DOWN THE BEST GAME ON XBOX 360 ”
But if there’s only one thing you take away from this review, let it be this. Believe the hype. BioShock is hands-down the best game available on Xbox 360, it’s better than Half-Life, and without doubt it will give you hours and hours of some of the best gaming you’re ever likely to experience. A masterpiece, a work of modern art and a truly unique gaming experience, BioShock is an absolute must-buy for anyone that truly calls themselves a gamer.
You destroy everything you touch Megatron!
FORMAT REVIEWED Xbox 360 OTHER FORMATS PS2, PS3, Wii, PC, PSP, DS PUBLISHER Activision DEVELOPER
TRANSFORMERS THE GAME
was nearly fooled, perhaps to do with my lifelong collecting of miniature robot-cum-vehicle toys, watching badly animated 80s cartoons and proclaiming Stan Bush a musical genius. “You’ve Got the Touch” alright, and for the most part it’ll be on just one button.
Traveller’s Tales REVIEWED BY Tom Higgins
Transformers: The Game starts off promisingly enough, marvelling at the superbly rendered Decepticon Blackout you’re invited to transform into a military helicopter and rain destruction on the nearby US military base by stand-in commander Starscream. Obliging, you can’t help but enjoy yourself as you plant missile after missile into the helpless fleshling buildings. The scenery blowing apart satisfyingly, you’re able to pick up
any debris and continue the attack by hurling trucks and lampposts at your quarry. Savour the moment however, as it’s as good as it gets.
The feeling that this may be one of those rare occasions when a movie tie-in is any good shortly dissipates as soon as you enter robot-on-robot combat. As a spectacle it’s pretty impressive, sparks and scrap metal fly as you lay into your opponent but the enjoyment quickly fades as you realise you’re hammering just the one button over and over and over, which produces the same combination attack over and over and over. This will deal with
most of the fodder sent your way by the opposing faction, your one-button reign of terror interrupted by some haphazard vehicle combat and some enemies that send you flying if you dare go near them. Your melee attacks useless, you bring yourself out of the stupor brought on by the constant button tapping long enough to realise that you can break their guard by throwing something at them, by throwing anything at them. So where a Cybertronian alloy punch and missiles fail, a nearby tree will suffice. Picking up these objects in the heat of combat can be tricky due to the fact your transformer has the habit of kicking them out of the way while bending
“ THE BIGGEST CRIME IS MAKING A GAME ABOUT GIANT ROBOTS BEATING EACH OTHER UP BORING ”
“IN ADDITION TO THE MIND-NUMBINGLY REPETITIVE COMBAT, THE MISSIONS THAT MAKE UP THE GAME ARE HORRENDOUSLY DULL. ” down resulting in something indicative of a slapstick giant mech comedy sketch.
particularly when things are getting chaotic.
The point of a Transformers game should reside in the fact that you can transform from robot to vehicle seamlessly with both modes working in harmony. Running around as a giant robot is fun enough, as is hurtling through the air as a F22 raptor jet or attack helicopter, but the road vehicles, which account for the entire Autobot roster, are a completely different matter. Each vehicle handles almost identically save for a slight difference in speed, which is as spongy as is imaginable, and keeping your vehicle in a straight line is no mean feat. Having no control over your car whatsoever isn’t too much of a problem though as Transformers: The Game helps you out by completely ignoring the laws of physics. Witness losing control of Autobot Jazz’s small, sleek Pontiac Solstice to find yourself hurtling towards a heavily armoured US tank. Ping! The sports car continues on its path unchecked while the tank performs a double back flip and pirouette landing half a mile down the road. These physics are just one of many issues in a buggy, obviously rushed, mess of a game. Popup and framerate issues are rife. The camera is schizophrenic, leaving it difficult to see what’s going on,
Technical issues are occasionally forgivable if the core game is entertaining, not so with Transformers. In addition to the mind-numbingly repetitive combat, the missions that make up the game are horrendously dull, invariably consisting of travelling to a green beacon on the map before smashing foes or scenery with your button of destruction. The biggest crime Traveller’s Tales have pulled with Transformers is making a game about giant robots beating each other up boring. The impressive visuals on the robots cannot paper over the other technical cracks throughout the game and everything they got right with the wonderful and charming Lego Star Wars they seem to have got wrong with the awful, insipid cash-in that is Transformers: The Game. A franchise that is full of potential for a great video game (see Melbourne House’s PS2 game based on the Armada series for Transformers done right) has been wasted on a shallow, repetitive car-crash of a game. It’s nonsense, and it’s certainly not heroic.
34 Do you wanna plaaaay with me
GUITAR HERO: ROCKS THE 80s M
FORMAT PlayStation 2 PUBLISHER Activision DEVELOPER Harmonix REVIEWED BY Kevin Lynch
usic and games, two extremely popular and entertaining pastimes that if were to ever bond together, would bond like a 99 flake in an ice cream cone. And whilst we’ve only really started to see this bond over here for the last year or so, across the waters in Japan these ‘rhythm’ games are just as common as the average first person shooter you’d so commonly find in the Western world. But with these rhythm games becoming more and more mainstream on these shores as well that looks set to change... Upon loading up 80s you’re greeted with the familiar Guitar Hero menu, except everything’s now been given a dash of pink and purple to try and make you believe your PS2 has gone through a time machine and landed in Blondie’s make-up room. It’s only when you get past the menu screen that you realise that not all that much has actually changed; character models and arenas haven’t undergone much alteration (bar the odd colour splash), and the same applies to the instruments themselves, homing in the fact that this really is a
mere stand-alone expansion pack for the famous rhythm game rather than a fully-fledged sequel. And this trend carries over to the core of Guitar Hero, the song list. Now, when I first heard there was going to be a 80s edition of Guitar Hero, tonnes of bands and singers from that period jumped into my head. Memories from the likes of Depeche Mode, Blondie, Bowie and Toto, classic 80s, all, presumably, a given for this game. But no, none of these popular artists have made it into the game and instead we’re left with what feels more like a cheap knock off of an 80s Mega Collection CD available from your local supermarket.
right at home playing "I Wanna Rock" by Twisted Sister. Then there’s "Holy Diver" from Dio, and the game’s final song, Extreme’s "Play With Me", is more than enough to give any Guitar Hero master a run for their money. One notable thing with this version of Guitar Hero however is how the songs are structured seemingly at random into each set list. Whilst Guitar Hero 1 & 2 both seemed to offer a fairly balanced difficulty progression, the song layout in 80s comes across as a bit of a rush job. Some of the later songs should clearly be in the first or second set list and vice-versa for a few of the earlier songs. It’s almost like Harmonix expect you to have played the previous Guitar Hero games and as a result any newcomers to the series may feel slightly overwhelmed.
“ EVERYTHING’S PINK & PURPLE TO MAKE YOU BELIEVE YOUR PS2 HAS LANDED IN BLONDIE’S MAKE-UP ROOM ”
It’s not all bad though. "I Ran" made famous by A Flock of Seagulls is an absolute joy to play, and anyone who enjoyed Vice City’s soundtrack will be
So with a surprisingly poor song list and not much else on offer, is this version of Guitar Hero really worth your money?
THE BEST OF ROCKS THE 80s SOUNDTRACK
• "Turning Japanese" - The Vapors • "Hold on Loosely" - .38 Special • "I Wanna Rock" - Twisted Sister • "Synchronicity II" - The Police • "Lonely is the Night" - Billy Squier
• "(Bang Your Head) Metal Health" - Quiet Riot • "I Ran (So Far Away)" - A Flock of Seagulls • "Shakin'" - Eddie Money • "Heat of the Moment" - Asia • "Holy Diver" - Dio
• "Wrathchild" - Iron Maiden • "Electric Eye" - Judas Priest • "Police Truck" - Dead Kennedys • "Seventeen" - Winger • "Play With Me" - Extreme
Well, yes and no. If you’re still rocking out to Guitar Hero on your PS2 and really crave for more, then it might just be worth it. Having said that, it’s pretty clear from looking at what’s on offer here that Activision are saving their music licensing budget for all the great tracks to appear on the true sequel, Guitar Hero 3. Guns N’ Roses’ "Welcome to the Jungle" a perfect example of a song that would have fit perfectly into 80s but instead making its debut in Guitar Hero 3. It’s best to look at Rocks the 80s as you would any game within the SingStar series; the game offers you pretty much what you already have, but because Activision know you want more they’re going to drip feed you exactly that. It’s Guitar Hero and so of course it’s still great fun to play, but based on the quality of the past two games, Rocks the 80s ultimately comes across as a huge disappointment. With a good soundtrack and a lower price Rocks the 80s could have been more than enough to tide you over but, unless you’re a die-hard fan of anything 80s or true Guitar Hero enthusiast, you’re best off cracking out those 80s hits and doing a bit of air-guitar yourself whilst you anxiously wait for the true sequel.
35 Eat your heart out Dickie Riddick
or too long games have doused the light, unleashed the shadows and grafted elements of stealth into their games limited play mechanics. Thankfully Starbreeze’s The Darkness not only adds an interesting new twist to those looming shadows, but successfully builds upon the source material set out in the Mad Cow comic book series.
FORMAT REVIEWED Xbox 360 OTHER FORMATS PlayStation 3 PUBLISHER 2K Games DEVELOPER Starbreeze Studios REVIEWED BY Greg Latham
Settling into the shoes of Mafia hitman Jackie Estacado, the first moments of the game drops the player into a sequence that would sit comfortably in a Hollywood blockbuster, albeit one that doesn’t refrain from portraying a variety of gruesome acts. Beheading, torturing and ripping the hearts from newly departed adversaries all feature within the games paltry 8-10 hour long single player campaign. It’s refreshing and simultaneously disturbing, and of course, the violence unleashed couldn’t reach these grisly heights without the Darkness itself; voiced enthusiastically by Mike Patton, somehow becoming one with Jackie early into the games first act. Although gunplay still remains the predominant method of dispatching your foes, the Darkness’ abilities certainly gives the player far more options. Unfortunately a whole plethora of devoured hearts stand in the way between you and the unrelinquished power of the Darkness, and whilst this is
a fairly logical gameplay decision, the power in which you are exposed to in the first few hours tends to make the Darkness more of a hassle than something to be thankful for; the ‘darklings’ that can be spawned at various points in the game prove to be entirely useless.
Praise has to be given though for the stunning faux New York environments, allowing the player to, in theory, guide Jackie to any district via the games two subway stations. However, therein lies two problems. Firstly, the residents of this New York have an unusual affection for trains and as a result the stations are bustling with NPC’s. However well modelled and full of personality as they each are, it does seem odd given that the streets outside the station remain eerily vacant. This leads us to problem number two. Whilst the game tells a riveting and harrowing story, for the first two acts it feels guided and soulless. The sound and visuals are undoubtedly impressive, but New York only comes to life after battling through a sobering plot twist and a dire second act. Without spoiling the twist, the landscape is uninspired and the already limited but vocal A.I is notched down three or four pegs. Going to hell and back does have its benefits though, the remaining portion of
the game finally fulfils the games outstanding promise. The side acts that were merely shallow distractions before become more interesting and varied, and the Darkness finally feels like it’s an infliction with more than a few benefits for combat. With all these new and interesting distractions, the empty environments lying outside the subway start to become less linear and you begin to feel like you have more than a singular motive for paying a visit. Whilst the single player is a mixed but overall enjoyable affair, the multiplayer aspect of The Darkness never rises beyond dull and troublesome. The game suffers from an inexplicable amount of lag, and it seems the play mechanics aren’t best suited to taking out multiple combatants. What’s worse is that Starbreeze have focused more than a small portion of the Xbox 360 achievements on the multiplayer; an annoying choice if you’re the John McClane of completionists. Whilst the multiplayer is best left in the dark, The Darkness’ single player proves to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Although the games early stages occasionally move towards mediocrity, its top notch production values should hold the player’s interest into its undoubtedly strong final acts.
No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher's dirty looks
BIG BRAIN ACADEMY M
FORMAT Wii PUBLISHER Nintendo DEVELOPER Nintendo REVIEWED BY Richard Rohani
any gamers will take just one look at Big Brain Academy and dismiss it as a non-gamers game. For the most part they would of course be right, but dismissing it on this premise is foolish, as the game makes for some fantastic entertainment just as Brain Training managed before it.
Big Brain Academy is split into two sections; 'Solo' and 'Group Play'. Solo consists of working your way through five sets of various tests in order to determine the weight, and therefore magnitude, of your brain. Alternatively you can always sit alone building up a collection of medals in the practice mode. There are numerous categories to test your cranial strength within Big Brain Academy; Analyse, Identify, Compute, Memorise and Visualise, and each contain three different games relating to the particular category. Games are each played out in typical Wii fashion, asking the player to point the Wii-mote at a particular area of the screen, highlighting a target with the cursor and pressing A to select. Simple
enough really, although those with a less than steady hand may find themselves selecting the wrong answer from time to time, especially when under pressure to complete tests as quickly as possible. Once each test is completed your score and grade are both tallied up and a quick evaluation is shown in the records for you to compare against your friends. Ah, the records room, the home of bragging rights and the inevitable grudges formed amongst peers.
mini-game for yourself.
The second mode 'Brain Quiz' takes the form of a more traditional family game show and has players taking it in turn to select a game of their choice in their bid to complete as many as possible and accumulate points before time expires. To make things even more interesting the game randomly assigns a difficulty to each game as well as indiscriminately handing out 'x2' bonuses or the dreaded 'Expert' difficulty that’ll have your brain melting as you try to build up your score. Brain Quiz ends up being just as much fun as Mind Sprint, but with no option to turn off the bonuses the game can be unfairly swayed.
“ SIMPLE YET ADDICTIVE, EDUCATIONAL YET FUN ”
The Group Play section though is where all such social matters are settled, containing three different play modes for competing players to choose from. The first, 'Mind Sprint', pits two teams against each other in a race to complete a set number of questions sequentially before your competitors. The pressure of seeing your rivals get ahead of you by an activity or two can lead to some unfortunate mistakes and, to show example of one particular game, cries of “The Birds!” being shouted out as your friend gets hit with one of the harder trials. You’ll soon see what I mean once you experience the
Finally we have 'Mental Marathon', a game that involves players completing a sequential chain of activities whilst avoiding answering incorrectly. To add a bit more pressure the whole event is played against the clock with the timer increasing as each activity is completed. Mental Marathon is as close as Big Brain
Academy gets to a Time Attack mode, offering to send your high score over to a friend through WiiConnect24 for them to try and beat. Big Brain Academy could easily be described as WarioWare for non-gamers, and just like WarioWare before it, familiarity will give an unfair advantage in multiplayer as you learn the images and animations used in the activities. But that in itself is a key-point; Big Brain Academy successfully keeps the player wanting to come back for more. It’s simple yet addictive, educational yet fun and let's face it, nothing beats laughing at someone for not being able to work out that a planet is bigger than an apple or their inability to add up to five. For the budget price, Big Brain Academy for Wii makes a welcome addition to anyone’s collection and a game that everyone in the family will come back to time and time again.
POKÉMON DIAMOND/PEARL How do you get a Pikachu onto a bus? Pokémon
I FORMAT Nintendo DS PUBLISHER Nintendo DEVELOPER Game Freak REVIEWED BY Emmet Purcell
n just over 10 years since its first incarnation, the Pokemon franchise has proved that, despite its unstoppable success, it's the one title whose quality adult gamers are still loathe to admit. Perhaps it’s the marketing blitz that heralded its arrival in the late nineties, perhaps it’s the perceived shallowness of its turn-based battling, but nowadays most gamers would rather be caught playing Pippa Funnell than the latest Pokemon instalment. Yet ignore the countless dire spin-offs and pretend you never watched the cartoon, the pure nuts and bolts of this franchise are the pure RPG adventures. As the most popular handheld title on the world’s most popular handheld console, Pokemon Diamond / Pearl succeeds in providing the definitive instalment of the glorified cock-fighting series to date. To the uninitiated, little has changed with the release of Diamond/Pearl. The fundamentals of this title are no different from the original Red/Blue's release in 1999. Wild Pokemon must be collected and 8 Gym Leaders must be confronted whilst another nefarious crime syndicate (Team Galactic) is harnessing PokÈmon energy to further their own ends. The DS is barely pushed graphically and veterans will even recognise battle animations "borrowed" from the GBA instalments. Yet first impressions can always be deceiving as over time Diamond/Pearl becomes an addictive, time-consuming
(the starting Fire PokÈmon) to the ridiculous Buizel (a weasel with yes, a life preserver around its neck). It's long been a catchphrase of the series but with each new instalment, "Gotta Catch 'Em All" was becoming more and more an insurmountable task. Bless the gods at Game Freak then for the most well-rounded DS Wi-Fi experience of any Nintendo DS title to date, allowing players to trade, battle and even communicate through the recently released DS headset. With reasonable bargaining deals over the "Global Trade Station" (GTS), the task of catching all 386 elusive Pokemon is a completists pipe dream no more whilst two experienced trainers fighting online becomes a tense, strategic affair.
personal story of collection, trading and nurturing. A great asset of Diamond/Pearl is the open-ended nature of the story. If needs be the player can simply skip the story mode and devote their time to collecting new Pokemon in the wild or trading with friends online. Conversely, the same player could instead ditch the collecting and focus on training a formidable six-strong squad to battle strangers across the world. Despite the initially daunting span of the title's Sinnoh region, developers Game Freak ensure the games perfectly considered pace by
providing the gamer with new modes of transport such as bicycles or flight when Sinnoh becomes inconveniently large. Perhaps the genius of the Pokemon series is the mainstream acceptance it has brought to the humble RPG. The turn-based battling of a title such as Final Fantasy Tactics is enough to turn off any casual gamer, yet under the guidance of cute fighting quasi-animals it is a thrill to younger fans unfamiliar with the genre. Whilst the franchise might never find a cuter mascot than Pikachu, Diamond / Pearl's 107 new Pokemon range from the sublime, chimpanzee-inspired Chimchar
Despite the Wi-Fi additions, the over familiar interface suggests this is not the next-generation Pokemon experience many fans might have been looking for. Rather Diamond/Pearl takes the best from each previous instalment to bolster its pedigree and provide the most comprehensive, addictive adventure title for the DS to date. I assure you that long after the main quest has been completed the GTS will be calling you back and online rivals will be perfecting their skills for another battle. This is £30 that goes a very long way.
Ask not what your Ninja can do for you, but what you can do for your Ninja
NINJA GAIDEN SIGMA L
FORMAT PlayStation 3 PUBLISHER Eidos DEVELOPER Team Ninja REVIEWED BY Graham Naunton
aunching just in time to ease the annual summer drought, Ninja Gaiden Sigma, a port of Ninja Gaiden first released on Xbox, finally rears its head on PlayStation 3. But should you care about a three year old Xbox game being ported over to your shiny new PS3? Well yes you should, because rather fortunately you'll be hard-pressed to find an action game anywhere near as good as this released on the console so far.
So what's new and different enough to warrant this PS3 release? Team Ninja have managed to add a fair amount of new content whilst also balancing out the game in areas like your abilities, weapons and enemy AI. New enemies and bosses have been implemented as well as a few smaller touches made that any hardcore NG player will spot straight away, for example being able to throw shurikens whilst jumping or the increased amount of save points. The most noticeable addition however is the addition of a second playable character, Rachel, but unfortunately it’s also the worst.
Her missions feel much like an afterthought and their inclusion is generally random and unexpected. Playing as the scantily clad Vigoor warrior attempts to fill in small gaps within the narrative, but more often than not you’ll find it hard to care. It also makes the game feel rather disjointed, elegantly dealing death as uber-swift ninja Ryu one minute and suddenly swinging an enormous axe around as the slow but powerful Rachel the next. Playing as her isn’t significantly detrimental to the game experience and some might even like the change, but before long we were yearning for Ryu. On the whole none of these tweaks are especially drastic but they all come together to make the experience all the more enjoyable. Arguably, they make Sigma become the definitive Ninja Gaiden experience, and that can only be a good thing. Also improved, rather unsurprisingly, are the graphics. Character models and cut scenes look great (complete with surprisingly impressive lip-synching) and the environments themselves are a
beauty to both look at and explore. Since most of them have been ported over from the original Xbox title, they’re not particularly mind-blowing and to soften this admittedly pedantic blow, the games high-def makeover has added more graphical fidelity, such as increased foliage and improved lighting effects. Ninja Gaiden Sigma is easily one of the crisper looking games this generation, with extremely sharp visuals and impressive animations. Texture resolution is great, and the game runs at a blistering 60fps even at 1080p, and arguably this is what impresses the most; the sheer speed and fluidity at which the ninja carnage gets thrown around.
get hit many times, and enemies are no fools, coming at you in their dozens. On the flip side, you'll die…a lot. It’s arguable that the game has been deliberately designed to play this way, but this kind of steep (read: near vertical) learning curve can be alienating for gamers who just want to play through and enjoy a challenging but ultimately forgiving game. Luckily, there is a feature included with Sigma where you’re asked if you want it taken down a notch if you’re getting stabbed and slashed a little too much, but the beauty of Sigma is that you’ll not relent, you will not give up, and when you finally succeed, victory is that much sweeter.
One of Sigma's greatest assets and biggest foes is in its now infamous difficulty. It’s a veritable double-edged Dragon Sword, make no mistake. On the one hand, the challenge is definitively old-school, akin to platform/action titles of an era once thought forgotten and neglected. In this respect Ninja Gaiden can be a joy to play, training you to be a better gamer, and if you’re not good enough, it’s your fault. Ryu can't afford to
With perfect controls infused with jaw-dropping visuals, blazingly-fast action and a decent enough play time (and of course if you think you’ve got the elite gaming skills required to beat it), Ninja Gaiden Sigma is an essential purchase.
So tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1999
MARIO PARTY 8 A
FORMAT Wii PUBLISHER Nintendo DEVELOPER Hudson Soft REVIEWED BY Ian Tellam
nother year, another Mario Party. Now we've reached the eighth game in the ever popular series, Nintendo fans should know exactly what to expect; a slew of simplistic yet amusing four player mini-games strung together in a board game metaphor. In a sense Mario Party 8 delivers exactly what you'd expect. The core gameplay mechanics are present and little has changed from previous instalments, so if you've ever played any of the other games in the series you'll fit right in. There's a slight change in the power-up system which now takes the form of collectable candies that players can eat to give them extra dice rolls, warp to different areas of
the board and so on. It's a little less strategic than the sticker system from some of the previous entries but it works just fine.
Mario Party 8 is fun simply by virtue of it being Mario Party and, as always, your mileage with the game will depend on the people who you're playing with. It's incredibly accessible so non-gaming friends won't feel alienated and winning still relies on a fair amount of chance, so everyone's going to get atop the podium at some stage.
So far so predictable, but this latest iteration does have the benefit of the Wii-mote to spice up proceedings. Or at least that's the idea. Unfortunately, Hudson Soft have been less than creative with the new control method. In your first fifteen minutes with the game you'll more than likely encounter around five different variations of point and shoot and at least a couple of 'shake the remote really fast' games. There’s the odd mini-game that shows a little more flair, but overall the games seem a little dull and repetitive, lacking the imagination displayed earlier in the series.
“ FOR A GAME THAT COULD HAVE REINVIGORATED THE SERIES, MARIO PARTY 8 IS A HUGE DISPPOINTMENT ”
Graphically it’s good enough for a party game, being as bright and cheery as you'd expect. Sadly, aside from the title screens, the game runs in forced 4:3 format, meaning anybody with a widescreen TV has to endure big black bars down either side of the screen. It's a bizarre oversight and is pretty unforgiveable at a time when virtually every new TV set sold is 16:9. For a game that could have reinvigorated the series on a system that seems almost designed for it, Mario Party 8 is a huge disappointment. It’s not as if there isn't any fun to be had, but it is limited, and instead of being the raucous party staple it should have been, it'll get played a couple of times and then sit gathering dust on the shelf once something more exciting comes along. Regardless, the game will sell by the bucket loads, so hopefully the inevitable sequel will show a bit more spark than this lack-lustre effort.
¡Allí está! ¡Es el forastero!
RESIDENT EVIL 4 B
FORMAT REVIEWED Wii OTHER FORMATS Gamecube, PS2 PUBLISHER Capcom DEVELOPER Capcom REVIEWED BY Emmet Purcell
lame it on Lucas and Spielberg if you will, but only up until recently have videogame developers discovered the potential in re-releasing or "re-imagining" their own properties. And thus far, nearly every re-release from the GBA Mario Advance series to the glut of PS2 ports for the Wii have been met with narrow scepticism from gamers. Now Capcom believes they have what it takes to invigorate one of their own classic titles with Wii controls and still sell it on to us at full-price, only two years after it's release. Luckily for them, the game is Resident Evil 4 and it's worth every penny.
If you never got the chance to experience RE stalwart Leon Kennedy's mission to protect the U.S Presidents daughter upon its initial release in 2005, the Wii title is not only the perfect opportunity, but it's the version you should try first. RE4 - Wii Edition is primarily identical to the PS2 version (with the additional content such as Ada Wong's secret missions intact) but with two main differences; minorly spruced-up visuals and a majorly overhauled control system built around the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. And what a control system it
turned out to be. Holding the Nunchuk to control Leon whilst using the Remote to aim your shotgun's reticule or swinging it wildly to mimic your character's knife proves absolutely intuitive.
Players use the Nunchuk's analogue stick for movement whilst holding said controller's Z trigger allows Leon to run. For the Wii Remote players hold the controller like a gun, using the A button to fire and B to aim. The Shenmue QTE-like interactive cutscenes also make a welcome return, requiring gamers to shake the Remote or simultaneously press buttons as described on-screen. It sounds gimmicky and it is, but it still presents a welcome form of exertion after the game's tense mission scenes. Whilst at first these new controls can appear cumbersome, it should take 15-20 minutes until you begin to forget that you're holding two controllers, such is the heightened sense of immersion the system brings. If you haven't played RE4 before (shame on you), the title not only shook off the archaic structures that were beginning to plague successive RE titles (ink ribbon
save systems, fixed camera) but the new action-orientated gameplay and over-the-shoulder aiming system creates an unparalleled sense of immersion. Until you're facing down an overwhelming number of encircling, chainsaw-wielding, villagers smashing through from every corner of an upstairs cabin, you truly have never experienced "survival horror" before. It should be pointed out that currently, U.S. gamers can pick this title up for the measly price of $30 (£14.50), half the UK asking price. Which begs the question, despite the quality of the existing title, does Capcom's Wii-vamp justify the price tag for players that own previous versions? The answer is "just about". The new controls bring a fresh take to a trusted classic that ultimately erodes any such fears. Put simply, Resident Evil 4 is the best game of the last five years and this is the definitive version.
Rebuilt the motor 'cause she decided to blow
FLATOUT: ULTIMATE CARNAGE O
riginally released on previousgeneration consoles last year, FlatOut 2 is the latest game to receive a spot of next-gen sheen. Re-released for Xbox 360 under the guise of Ultimate Carnage, does BugBear’s destruction derby-esque racer warrant its next-gen revival?
FORMAT Xbox 360 OTHER FORMATS PUBLISHER Empire Interactive DEVELOPER Bugbear Entertainment REVIEWED BY Stefan Goerke-Hewitt
FlatOut is split into several different modes each with diverse gameplay variances. Ranging between hurling your driver through the windscreen and down a bowling alley or battling your way through dense woodland, you can be sure there’s always plenty of fun to be had with FlatOut. FlatOut mode, the single-player career path, allows you to buy, upgrade and sell cars and put your driving and destruction skills up against twelve opponents over a range of three classes - Derby, Race and Street. Initially, vehicles include a small selection of canny unlicensed pocket rockets, hot hatches, tuned cars, muscle cars and 4WD pick-ups, with plenty more to unlock as you progress. Each car class also follows a fairly generic pattern, smaller cars being more nimble but far less powerful than the durable heavy hitting muscle cars and pick-ups. All though, are completely destructible. And destruction is the name of the game in FlatOut. Smashing scaffolding, knocking down fences, displacing tyres or
barrels, igniting huge explosions or smashing into opponents; there are hundreds of ways to cause havoc by literally nose-diving your way through the hundreds of objects in each race.
cosmopolitan byways and a race prepared asphalt circuit. Each environment has multiple routes but it does little to enhance the experience as the tracks become repetitive over a career.
All of this tomfoolery adds value to your career and, in essence, the more destructive and daring you become the more you are rewarded. As you demolish scenery and derail opponents your Nitro bar increases and, if used carefully, can provide a great advantage in shunting slower vehicles or getting massive air from a ramp. Credits won through destruction can also be used to upgrade your cars performance.
But of course, should you ever get bored of standard racing, cheating environments and sticky cars, you can always try your hand at the Carnage mode. Split into Trials and Stunt events, Carnage mode is an absolute joy to play and a refreshing break from the racing action. There's a whole plethora of Stunt events available; catapulting your rag-doll driver in the High Jump, downing skittles in Bowling, hitting cards for a Royal Flush or netting your driver in Basketball, and the further you progress the more bizarre they become. Darts or Baseball anyone!
Although racing is fun, a couple of gut-wrenching issues do occasionally rear their ugly head. Instances of being in a strong position only to drive over a piece of debris flipping your car out of contention regularly irritates, and it wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for the fact that you've already driven over that same piece of debris for the last few laps without recourse. Also spinning a competitor becomes an adverse tactic as they become super-glued to the front of your car, slowing you down. Disturbingly there’s also a severe lack of variety in track environments across all three classes, namely dirt and tarmac. Dirt environments offer forest, field and desert settings while tarmac provides
Like many games of this generation however, online is where FlatOut truly shines. Taking everything that was great in the single-player and mixing it with up to eight friends becomes an absolute blast, creating an experience that’s set to go down as one the best on Xbox Live. Get everyone together, mix and match events and pray that you come out of it a survivor. With hundreds of persistent flying objects and twelve competitive racers on the screen the frame-rate remains surprisingly solid, a testament to the engine BugBear have created made even more
wondrous considering how great the game looks. Dirt landscapes populated with vast amounts of flora, detailed marsh land and lush dust trails all make up for an unexpectedly great looking next-gen remake. FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage provides a genuinely fun racing experience, however the single-player career mode becomes tearfully repetitive and the stunts soon lose their appeal. If you’re thinking about playing online on the other hand, the game is such tremendous fun over Xbox Live it's hard not to recommend. 'Here comes the revolution', as the title opener suggests, may be over-hitting the mark, but FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage is a more than worthy extension to the series and a game that any fans of pure racing carnage would do well to pick up.
D+PAD’S DOWNLOADS OF THE MONTH We pick the best games from Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and Virtual Console.
SUPER STARDUST HD
Bomberman LIVE, the first game in the series developed outside of Japan, has proven to be one of the best. Bareback have taken Bomberman back to its roots, mixing the same frantic gameplay of the much loved 16-Bit editions with modern 3D visuals. The game is packed with options, from varied game modes to extensive weapon sets, and you even have the option to customise your Bomberman to create a truly unique online avatar.
Nintendo have finally answered the prayers of Wii owners across the world by releasing the N64’s standout RPG on the Virtual Console. Paper Mario, unlike other more traditional Mario platformers, is an RPG set in a 3D environment with Mazza and co. rendered in paperflat 2D. The main adventure consists of rescuing the ‘Star Spirits’ from a variety of fortresses across the Mushroom Kingdom. This alone racks up a hefty amount of playtime, but on top of that there are a multitude of side-quests to extend the game’s lifespan even further.
Super Stardust HD is a rare gem these days; it’s not about how many kills you’ve racked up, how much of a percentage you’ve completed or unlocking ridiculous novelty character outfits. It’s all about one thing…the points! Remember when they used to matter? Super Stardust HD is delightfully old-school in its approach (being a remake of the original Amiga title) and it’s all the better for it.
Format: XBLA Price: 800 MS points
As the name suggests, Bomberman LIVE exists for multiplayer. Offering explosive matches for up to eight players, the game even allows you to take three of your offline friends with you to face another four online. In this situation the game becomes frenetic, with huge explosions relentlessly going off left right and centre - just how we remember it! The focus on Live does mean the single player has an incredibly short life, but ultimately that shouldn’t matter for a game like this. Bomberman has always been a multiplayer game at heart and this instalment offers a superb experience in that department. Set up an 8 player Zombie match online and you’ll soon see what we mean - it’s an absolute blast!
Format: Virtual Console Price: 1000 Wii Points
The turn-based battle system works a treat, partly due to the game’s ‘action commands’, a series of button prompts that, if timed correctly, can increase the damage inflicted upon your foes. Defeating enemies results in the collection of ‘star points’, and upon collecting 100 you’re given the chance to level up and increase some of Mario’s stats. The unique graphical style combined with a cheekily funny dialogue and quirky soundtrack help make Paper Mario one of the most charming titles available on the Virtual Console.
Format: PSN Price: £4.99 / $7.99
The game entrusts you with a simple enough task; to destroy everything in sight. Fortunately you’re given three weapons each with their own strengths, as well as some handy bombs and a nifty speed boost to get out of those tight spots. The intergalactic shenanigans occur in the atmosphere of 5 planets each enabling you to fly around the planets’ sphere at will. And you’ll be thankful for the freedom, as Stardust gets pretty hectic. The game throws around kaleidoscopic colours that are almost as gratifying to watch as the game is to play. Almost! The urge for ‘one more go’ to ace your previous best is as strong in SS HD as it has been for a long time. The best downloadable game available on PlayStation Store? Arguably. Worth your time and money? Most definitely.
MOVIES & MUSIC
Because we don’t just play video games!
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
RUSH HOUR 3
The Bourne trilogy finally concludes with The Bourne Ultimatum, one of the most anticipated films of the summer. The pressure is on not only to conclude the franchise story line, but to up the action ante from the previous two films.
In Judd Apatow’s latest, Seth Rogen plays a loveable loser who manages to get ambitious career girl Katherine Heigl pregnant after a one-night stand, with hilarious results. Whilst this may sound like a low concept Adam Sandler flick, Apatow manages to not only make it side-splittingly funny, but infuse it with a charm and sweetness that has shone through in his other work, such as The 40 Year Old Virgin. It is also a veritable who’s who of up and coming American comedy talent, and Apatow gives all his minor characters enough lines to let each shine. It’s Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd that steal the show though, with Rudd’s De Niro impression being worth the price of admission alone.
Nearly 10 years after the original, the new Rush hour film sees Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker reunite for more martial arts mayhem and buddy cop jokes. This time the duo head off to Paris to defeat the triads and save a beautiful girl. No surprises there then.
Largely, Ultimatum succeeds in doing this. The film is beautifully shot on location all over Europe and New York, and succeeds in ramping up the tension throughout. The plot is full of intrigue and moves along quite nicely, never getting in the way of the action or being too obvious, and proves a satisfactory conclusion to the trilogy. Fight and car chase scenes are excellent, and although they don’t quite manage to top those of the previous films, they never feel overly choreographed or unrealistic. Some may dislike the shaky cam style that persists throughout, and the film definitely isn’t for the easily motion sick, but The Bourne Ultimatum concludes the trilogy nicely, and is one of the better summer blockbusters to be released this year.
Part serious analysis of adult relationships, growing up and adapting to responsibility, and part gross out comedy (the birth scenes are not for the squeamish), it should be the hit of the summer, and well deserved.
The plot of Rush Hour 3 is minimal, but then that has never been the appeal of the franchise. The film contains some good action sequences, but they feel a little disappointing in contrast to both previous films and what else is out there at the moment. Chan and Tucker exhibit good comic chemistry again, and thankfully not all the jokes rely on bashing the French. Ultimately, the film looks back to what has worked before, and stays in safe territory. The ending is overly clichÈd, and you can spot the bad guys and plot twists five minutes in, but if you can let these things drift over you, you should find something to enjoy here.
MOVIES & MUSIC
Rock your body, mic check, one, two
HARD-FI ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST
KATE NASH MADE OF BRICKS
THE CORAL ROOTS & ECHOES
Let’s get one thing out the way, Hard-Fi were never going to make any friends with their over the top protest album cover. For starters “NO COVER ART” is still cover art. Secondly, they are a mainstream Radio 1 act and as much as they didn’t seem to want to pay a photographer they happily paid out for a boring music video. Double standards I say.
Maybe I have too traditional tastes for this kind of album but either way I don’t see how music like this can come with such great success. This incessant fad of singing in a completely fabricated accent is getting thoroughly boring. Kate Nash is a middle class girl from North London yet she sounds like she’s come straight out of the ghetto. Not only is that a problem, but the fact that she’s a less than competent piano player means that every song is punctuated with the same chords.
The Coral have a strange but nonetheless unique history, arriving back in 2002 with their self –titled debut. Mixing psychedelic rock with the remnants of Brit-pop they were somewhat a breath of fresh air. They never quite hit the big time (although scoring a number one album with Magic and Medicine), but thankfully after one dreadful mini album and a poor full length album later they have returned and the sins of those past two releases can be forgiven.
So her voice is irritating and she can’t really play piano, but as if that wasn’t bad enough, her lyrics are appalling. There’s too many to reference but take "I've got a family, I drink cups of tea" for starters.
“Roots & Echoes” is a step in a different direction after “The Invisible Invasion”, and although not being an album with the variety of their first two outings, you can see again why the Coral have Alex Turner and Noel Gallagher amongst their loyal fans. Mainly acoustic based, the album only has a couple of tracks that step up from pedestrian pace but one can only hope that they have another “Skeleton Key” left in them somewhere.
Anyway I’ll try and forget about the album cover and give this album a decent hearing. First thing to mention is that this album doesn’t sound much like the debut; the raw angst is gone and replaced by layered orchestral arrangements and they also seem to be making use of some very weird backing vocals as displayed on “Suburban Knights”. Even tracks with some of the intensity of “Hard To Beat” are let down by the content it seems, in “I Shall Overcome”, urban struggle has now given to way to sap “In my heart, there’s a pouring rain”. “Help me Please” is about the death of Archer’s mother, which is a noble sentiment, but unfortunately this is not why they sold 5 nights out at Brixton Academy and he couldn’t sound anymore like Noel Gallagher if he tried. People will say Once Upon A Time In The West has more depth than their debut and that is true. The music has developed with better melodies and more noteworthy production, but for all of that, everything that Hard-Fi were about has disappeared.
The stark production is also interesting but it’s hard to work out if it’s intentional or whether time constraints played a part in the desultory nature of it. There are occasional sparks of what could be something promising, a glimpse of an interesting melody or a bit of lucky piano playing but on the whole you can tell this album was rushed out to catch the wave of Foundation’s success. There are plenty of far more talented female singer songwriters to choose from than Nash. Ten years ago Alanis Morrisette released “Jagged Little Pill” and she managed to get the point across without saying “dickhead” twenty times in a song.
The album has been released at a perfect moment, coming towards the end of summer, the slow bittersweet acoustic tracks are the perfect soundtrack for any reminiscing and contemplating before the leaves start turning. Thankfully The Coral are destined to return; “Roots & Echoes” is a solid album showing a different side to a band that want to be much more than just a quirky side act.
This month we take a look back over the Metroid series Being one of Nintendo’s pioneer franchises alongside the platforming perfection of Super Mario and the sublime fantasy adventure that was Zelda, Metroid supplied the Nintendo gamer with a healthy dose of sci-fi alien blasting. Where it is simple as shooting everything in sight, Metroid would likely have been lost under a pile of Contras and Megamans, and so it’s in its design, rather than its raw gameplay, that made Metroid stand out from the crowd. Created by Gunpei Yokoi, Metroid was first introduced to Japanese Famicom owners in 1986 before migrating west over the next two years. The game starred Samus Aran, a character that looked like any old generic sci-fi militia, and it was a genuine shock to gamers when it was revealed at the end of the game that Samus was actually a young female. Metroid’s concept is simple, drop the player onto an alien planet with one key objective, but fill the game world with objects that help the player overcome obstacles that present themselves. Found a small tunnel? Use the morph ball. Blocked by a door that will not open? Blast it with a missile. Confronted with a high ledge? Come back when you can jump higher. Metroid encourages
investigation that reaps rewards, eventually culminating in the completion of your objective. This type of gameplay separated itself from other shooters due to the complex nature of remembering key locations and area layouts on top of the typical enemy and boss strategies, while flowing as a seamless experience rather than a series of levels. Of course as they say, imitation is the best form of flattery and unsurprisingly the template has since been used by other designers, the most notable being the Castlevania title ‘Symphony of the Night’ on PlayStation, and continuing titles in the series on GBA and DS. The earliest games in the franchise each used a side scrolling perspective, but the Prime instalments each managed to bring new innovations to the franchise, including a first-person perspective, whilst still managing to follow the design set down by the original adventure. The first game in the Metroid series, simply titled “Metroid”, saw Samus tackle Space Pirates inhabiting planet Zebes, whose intentions were to use the Metroid species as a means of conquering the galaxy. The Metroids are, as this game revealed, evil jellyfish-like creatures that have a nasty habit of attaching themselves to living things and sucking the life right out of them. Fortunately for
us, some ice and a missile (or five) easily make short work of them. The classic adventure introduced the non linear design of Metroid as well as introducing players to some series staples such as the power beam, morph ball and missiles, alongside villains such as Ridley (the big flying lizard who seems to attain metal body parts all too often) and a menagerie of creatures that would be recycled in sequels to come. The second game, “Metroid II: Return of Samus”, saw Samus shrink onto the Game Boy and heading out to planet SR388 on a mission to eradicate all Metroids. Metroid II was seen by many as the worst in the franchise, perhaps due to the more linear game design (by killing enough Metroids, lava on the planet lowered and allowed progress). Despite this, Metroid II offered solid blasting with a similar flair for exploration expressed in the original game, as well as introducing a number of other upgrades that would return in later games; the spider ball, space jump and screw attack. Following on from this was the seminal “Super Metroid”, what many believe to be the pinnacle of the series. The last Metroid game made under the watchful eye of Gunpei Yokoi before his tragic death, Super Metroid was bigger, better
THE STORY SO FAR Metroid: Samus scuppers the space pirates’ plans on planet Zebes. Metroid Prime: Samus flies to Tallon IV on a distress call but finds the dangerous energy source Phazon and plenty more pirates to kill. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes: Samus investigates Aether and reverses the effects of Phazon on the planet. Metroid II Return of Samus: Samus attacks SR388 destroying all the Metroids, but takes away a baby for analysis. Super Metroid: The intrepid hunter finds herself once again on Zebes foiling the pirates’ plans. Metroid Fusion: Samus takes on the X parasite, the natural prey of the Metroid at large on SR388 after Samus wiped out the Metroid species.
46 and more atmospheric than ever before. Returning to Zebes, Samus is forced along paths that now literally dripped with atmosphere, and encountered boss’ that towered over Samus, some with jaws more than twice her size! The player also had moves far more advanced than anyone playing the original version could ever have imagined. Full eight way combat was added, making fights more enjoyable and Samus less restrictive, and she also had access to moves such as a speed boost, X-ray visor and grappling beam that made traversing Zebes more interesting, let alone harder. Arriving eight years after the SNES adventure came two GBA games; “Metroid Fusion” and “Metroid: Zero Mission”. Metroid Fusion was an interesting step for the franchise, becoming more story-driven but distressingly too helpful, effectively holding hands with the player and walking them through the game (see ‘To be helped?’). Zero Mission retold the classic Metroid adventure, encouraged sequence breaking (see ‘faster than light’) and was a step back towards the classic Metroid template while working to flesh out Samus’ back-story. In the same year Metroid Fusion released, the “Prime” series also reared its beautiful head. Created by Retro Studios based in Austin Texas, the development team were given the daunting task of translating the Metroid formula into three dimensions. The task was so important to Nintendo that they took it upon themselves to cancel all of Retro Studios other projects (including a car combat game and an American football game) so that they could focus on Prime and deliver a 3D masterpiece. And deliver they did. The team looked back at the pinnacle of the series, Super Metroid, and in a sense made that game 3D. The games shared a lot of common ground in terms of world design but Retro handled the move to 3D with such ease that gamers chose to ignore the stolen components and instead enjoy one of the best
3D adventures available. The major problem that Prime overcame for its new dimension was the way in which it dealt with combat. Instead of being a generic FPS, Prime used a simple lock-on feature that kept combat simple and clean, and with the introduction of new variances to the laser beam and visor the player had to actually think about how to dispatch enemies and solve puzzles. Prime took Metroid into the third dimension with gusto, packed with all the elements a Metroid game should, and while gamers had been forced to wait eight years since Super Metroid, they were satisfied that, alongside Mario and Zelda, Metroid worked just as well in 3D as it did in 2D. Going on to sell almost 1.5 million copies in the States alone and winning award after award from the gaming press, including the coveted Game of the Year award from no less than five of the world’s biggest gaming publications, Metroid Prime became a rip-roaring success. The Prime trilogy received its second instalment two years later with “Metroid Prime 2: Echoes”, and whilst it followed much the same scheme, it too went down the path of fiddling with the franchise. With Samus answering a distress call from some Galactic Federation troopers she comes across a planet torn asunder by Phazon, which has created two alternate realities and two warring races. The game also followed a more driven route, with Samus being told what she should be doing by the last remaining ‘Luminoth’ and it’s not until the final part of the game that Samus truly ventures off in traditional Metroid style. The two world gameplay was interesting if not as expanded as it should have been, and the ammo system, a new concept to Metroid outside of missiles, was jarring. Whilst not as good as the original Prime, Echoes was an interesting experiment with different ideas that also saw the return of the wall jump (albeit context sensitive) and the screw attack.
TO BE HELPED, OR NOT TO BE HELPED? THAT IS THE QUESTION A key feature Metroid games have continuously flirted with is in how much it should help the player. The three original games refused to help the player, simply leaving to their own devices. At the other end of the scale is Metroid Fusion, a game that locks off unessential areas of play and marks your ‘current objective’ on the map. Perhaps the ultimate middle ground is that of Metroid Prime in which a hint system kicks in if you wander around for too long without progression, but can be turned off entirely for those after that classic Metroid experience.
The two ‘other’ games in the Metroid series are the DS titles “Metroid Prime: Hunters” and “Metroid Prime Pinball”. The first title, Hunters, was an FPS action game more focused on its multiplayer aspect. Metroid fans were ultimately disappointed by the lack of imagination (the same boss’ being repeated throughout the game) and the games linear approach regardless of there being multiple planets. The multiplayer was a fun mix of blasting and morph balling (or whatever else your character transformed into) but the game ultimately couldn’t live up to the standards seen in the rest of Metroid series. The second title, Metroid Prime Pinball, deserves a mention purely because it is the series’ first real spin off title, and considering Samus’ tendency to turn into a ball during her games it’s strange that it took quite so long. Prime Pinball provided a surprisingly solid game of pinball with some fun Metroid themed tables and events. Looking into the future, the Wii title Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is due to be released in the States just as D+PAD goes to press. Corruption, the final game of the Prime trilogy, will be looking to close the side story and hopefully play more like the first Prime title and less like the more guided Echoes. But of equal importance to Metroid fans is the future of the 2D titles. With the Castlevania games showing that the DS is the perfect system for this kind of game it is surprising that Nintendo would rather release a disappointing multiplayer FPS over a true Metroid adventure. Hopefully Super Metroid will do well enough on Virtual Console to open Nintendos eyes and release a stand-out DS game that reverts back to Metroid’s outstanding heritage.
By James Bowden
FASTER THAN LIGHT Metroid was one of the first games to offer multiple endings depending on your in game performance. These were originally obtained through completing the game as fast as possible, the fastest showing Samus stripped down to her underwear, practically giving birth to the art of speed running.
What are your thoughts on the delay of Grand Theft Auto IV? Delays are rarely a bad thing for the consumer. While it can hurt developer costs, taking the time to tweak or fix certain aspects of a game before its release only benefits us gamers all the more. The Gamesta
Now i have to wait longer to play the same old game with better graphics? Oh no... Pheonix Blood
It will be nice to see if games that are often overlooked due to AAA titles like this will get more attention The UK Resistant
At first I was devastated but having thought about it, it's good for my wallet, it's good for GTA IV and it's good for publishers of other games. It's good you see! SchminkyPinky
D E AY
L E D
A little disappointed but overall it's probably better. There was no chance of me giving it the attention it needs with all the games out this Xmas. Rog
I'd rather wait a little longer and have a perfect game, than have it on October 16th and it be flawed. MCN There's been a delay!?!?!? traveljug
This month we’re asking: Which console do you think is best to own this year?
Send your opinions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll print the best in next month’s issue.
the 4am showdown www.rolandtamayo.com