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ISSUE 09 | NOVEMBER 2008


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Things have changed around here. D+PAD’s hiatus is over. The expansion is complete. We’re back. And hopefully you’ll agree; we’re better than ever. Gone is the grey void that we used to call our home on the web: in its place a multi-faceted concoction of news, reviews, videos and features. An easily-navigable hub that retains the simplicity that we’ve always stood by, but with content to encourage you back on a daily basis. We’re not looking to impede on those plentiful other gaming sites either; we know that you’ve all got your favourite news outlet. Instead of simply regurgitating articles from other sites ‘just because’, we’ll only post news that we’re the first to report, or that we think is that damn important that you simply need to know about. So whenever you see a news article posted on www.dpadmagazine.com, you should probably check it out. But enough of the website and onto the magazine. It’s been a funny few weeks in the world of D+PAD. Cliff Bleszinski kicked it all off by expressing his disgust for the PS3 controller. Then Treyarch took us aback by a) developing something good, and b) developing something good based on a movie license. The biggest surprise though came from Dead Space, which, despite my initial scepticism, actually turned out to be rather astounding. As a side note, I very nearly upped its score to top marks just before clicking the publish button. It’s that good believe. But this month it’s all about LittleBigPlanet. Take it away Sackboy. David Scammell Editor


ISSUE 09 | NOVEMBER 2008 EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

David Scammell

20 07

DEPUTY EDITOR

ANIMAL CROSSING LET’S GO TO THE CITY

Stuart Leech DESIGNER

34 STEPPING UP A GEAR

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David Scammell PRO EVOLUTION SOCCER 2009

LITTLEBIGPLANET

CONTRIBUTORS

Richard Angus Zoheir Beig James Bowden Stefan Goerke-Hewitt

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Tom Hoggins DEAD SPACE

Emily Knox Greg Latham Graham Naunton

14

Simeon Paskell 00HEAVEN?

Richard Rohani Rhys Simons Patrick Steen

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SONIC UNLEASHED

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SAINTS ROW 2

© 2008 D+PAD. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used, reproduced, rehosted or distributed without prior permission from the editor. All images used in this publication remain the property of their respective owners.


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The latest headlines from the world of gaming

NINTENDO REVEALS DSi

THINNER DS WITH PHOTO AND INTERNET FUNCTIONALITY COMING NEXT YEAR Japanese giants Nintendo have revealed that the company will be releasing a new model of the popular Nintendo DS handheld, the Nintendo DSi. The third console in the DS family ships with the ability to download games, play music and take photos with its two 0.3 megapixel cameras. The handheld sports a built-in web browser and internal flash memory allowing users to download games from the DSWare Shop and store them directly on the DSi. The unit also has slightly larger screens than its predecessors’, increased to 3.25” from the DS/DS Lite’s 3”.

LOCOROCO 2 COMING THIS NOVEMBER SCEE has confirmed that LocoRoco 2 will be shipping across Europe this November. The sequel to 2006’s PSP hit “uses both music and colour as part of the gameplay” reads the press release from this year’s Tokyo Game Show.

“The story begins when the happy and harmonious LocoRoco are attacked by the evil Moja army – who want to destroy their beautiful planet with their evil music.”

In the redesign, Nintendo have removed the Game Boy Advance slot, thus taking away the backwards compatibility feature of earlier models. Games that require the Game Boy Advance slot, such as Guitar Hero: On Tour, will be incompatible with the new unit.

And after falling in love with the first one we can’t wait.

FABLE SOUNDTRACK RELEASED FOR FREE

The new handheld goes on sale in Japan next month, and our sources have told us that Nintendo are targeting a European launch next spring. Mass Effect’s new alien race - the Batarians

HALO 3 RECEIVES STANDALONE EXPANSION PACK

Lionhead have made the soundtrack to Fable available as a free download as a means of apologising for the last minute cuts made to Fable II’s Limited Edition.

HALO 3: RECON DROPPING IN NEXT YEAR Bungie has announced a new standalone expansion pack for Halo 3, due for release late next year. The new game, titled Halo 3: Recon, is set during the events of Halo 2 and sees the player take control of a currently unnamed UNSC Shock Trooper as he fights off a Covenent invasion of Earth.

PGR4’s new hydrogen-powered Peugeot Flux

In an attempt to mix up the gameplay, the character is said to be more vulnerable to weapons fire than

Master Chief due to lacking his armour and abilities, forcing the player to act more cautiouslly. Stealth elements are also said to feature in the campaign. Shipping with an all new campaign mode and multiplayer map packs, Bungie claim that Recon will be the last instalment in the Halo trilogy. But we’ve all heard that one before...

The album, which contains selected music from the original Fable as well as three new tracks from Fable II, is available to download free from www.sumthingdigital.com.


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The latest headlines from the world of gaming

XBOX 360 GETS EXCLUSIVE TR: UNDERWORLD CHAPTERS

HMV CUSTOMERS TO GET BONUS FAR CRY 2 MISSIONS

HOST ADVANTAGE STILL PRESENT IN GEARS 2 Talking to us at a recent Gears of War 2 preview event, lead designer Cliff Bleszinski has delivered the news that online host advantage will still be present in GoW 2, despite saying otherwise earlier in the year.

“It’s been reduced [but] the person who is the host on a client server game will always have an advantage. It’s an unfortunate side effect of the client server architecture.” For more from Cliff and to see what we thought of Gears 2 when we went hands on, flick over to page 7. Eidos has announced that two new chapters for Tomb Raider: Underworld will be released exclusively for Xbox 360 over Xbox LIVE Marketplace.

HMV has revealed that customers who pre-order Ubisoft’s upcoming FPS Far Cry 2 from them will receive an exclusive code to unlock four bonus missions.

Titled ‘Beneath the Ashes’ and ‘Lara’s Shadow’, the two new chapters are said to offer “entirely new content specifically designed to extend the Tomb Raider: Underworld experience.”

The extra missions are said to tell of the events leading up to the beginning of Far Cry 2’s story, offering a backdrop to the Jackal’s mysterious past.

Tomb Raider: Underworld – Beneath the Ashes takes place after the Underworld story has finished and will feature an incredible new environment to explore, additional secrets to unlock and different enemies to fight. Tomb Raider: Underworld - Lara’s Shadow will introduce players to a new kind of playable character and create a unique Tomb Raider experience.” The two chapters are said to feature six extra hours of gameplay, with Beneath the Ashes hitting Xbox LIVE Marketplace before the year’s end. Lara’s Shadow will follow in 2009. Tomb Raider: Underworld releases on 21st November for Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PC, PS2 and DS, and a demo will be available on XBL Marketplace later this month.

The first mission revolves around someone known as ‘the Georgian’, an informant that has gone into hiding in UFLL territory. It’s your job to find him to gain more clues about the Jackal’s location. The second seems similar, instead focussing around a Bolivian informant on the run, attempting to escape the country by stealing a plane from a small airfield in APR territory. It’s your job to get to him before your predecessor does. The other two levels consist of a midnight raid on a safehouse and trying to stop a French smuggler from providing further weaponry to the Jackal. Far Cry 2 releases in the UK on October 24th on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC, and if you want those exclusive missions you better head over to hmv.co.uk.

TREYARCH WON’T BE DOING NEXT BOND

Quantum of Solace’s Adam Gascoigne has confirmed that we will be seeing a new James Bond game every year, but Treyarch won’t be developing the next one. “We wouldn’t be able to make a game with the quality we want in one year - we’ve done that before [with CoD 3] and it was too much!” he told us at a recent preview event. For more on Quantum of Solace head over to page 14.


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Five reasons why you won't be leaving the house for the next few weeks CALL OF DUTY: WORLD AT WAR

GEARS OF WAR 2

RESISTANCE 2

FALLOUT 3

LITTLEBIGPLANET

Call of Duty’s gone back to World War II and is back under the watchful eyes of Treyarch; probably two things that CoD fans really didn’t want to hear.

Epic’s “epic, yet intimate” sequel to 2006’s Game of the Year finally hits shelves worldwide on November 7th - and it couldn’t come sooner.

So what do you do if an alien force hellbent on death and destruction invades your world, infecting and enslaving your species as it passes through?

There’s only a few weeks left to go until Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic action RPG hits Xbox 360, PS3 and PC and anticipation has reached fever pitch.

But despite that, World at War is looking mighty impressive. With four player on and offline co-op appearing in the franchise for the very first time, as well as an open-ended mission structure throughout the game’s Pacific-based campaign, it seems Treyarch are desperate to make up for any wrongdoings they had with Call of Duty 3.

Delta Squad might be going soft on us with Dom’s desperate search for missing wife Maria, but having played through the first act we can safely say this is going to be one of the games of the year. And you know it will be too.

Well if you’re Nathan Hale, you die. Presumed dead by the Americans at the end of the first game, Resistance 2 is a direct continuation of Fall of Man’s storyline, picking up from the point Hale was taken captive by secret Black-Ops forces.

Taking place in a nuclear-obliterated United States, Fallout 3 sees our protagonist traversing the Capital Wasteland for his/her father following his sudden disappearance.

Gaming these days seems to be all about customisation. Custom-created characters, avatars, racing cars, weapons... you name it, the list is endless. But where do you go from there?

XBOX 360, PS3, Wii, PC, PS2, DS

But will it live up to Call of Duty 4’s genreleading standard? With only a month to go until its November 14th release date, it’s not long until we find out.

XBOX 360

The established multiplayer has now been expanded to cater for 10 players, while the five single-player acts are promised to last longer than the first game. And while you’re counting down the seconds until you get to play it, why not check out our huge preview feature over on page 7?

PS3

With 60 player online multiplayer, 12 new enemy types and multiple futuristic weapons (including the wonderfully gory ‘Splicer’), Resistance 2 is bound to be a must-have for PS3 gamers when it launches next month.

XBOX 360, PS3, PC

Of course, coming from the makers of Oblivion the game is positively huge, and with over 200 variations to the ending each determined by the player’s actions throughout the game, it’s bound to keep you occupied for a while. Fallout 3 launches on October 31st.

PS3

That’s what Media Molecule must have thought when coming up with LittleBigPlanet, a game that could be recreated entirely through its in-game creation tools. It’s obviously proving popular with you guys with beta keys snapped up in an instant, and it deserves to be. Check out our review of Sackboy’s debut adventure over on page 23, then rush out and buy it on October 24th.


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“It’s time to put bigger, better, more badass to bed” says Cliff Bleszinski, standing assertively in a room full of fixated journalists. “We now like to think of Gears 2 as being more epic, yet more intimate”, he proudly exclaims. The 33-year old gamer-cum-legendary developer looks weary-eyed; the London hotel we were filed into proving to be the last stop of a European press tour. “Game development isn’t just about making a great game anymore,” he says, “but about going on the road and selling it”. Nevertheless he stands there full of confidence, knowing full well that his North Carolina team has created a masterpiece. “We believe Gears of War 2 is truly special.” And having played it, we can only agree.

STEPPING UP A GEAR


STEPPING UP A GEAR

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If the original Gears of War was the troublesome toddler, Gears of War 2 is the rowdy, rebellious teenager: bigger, more boisterous and more worldlywise, yet it’s emotional. It isn’t just about the fight waging on the battlefield, but about the impact on those fighting it. It’s about making the player poignantly involved with the struggle; making the battle personal. “I keep this in my wallet with me” says Cliff, pointing to a photo of Coalition soldier Dominic Santiago pictured with his missing wife Maria, a reference to one of the major story-arcs in Gears 2. Quite literally, it’s looking for love. “It’s hard to accept complaints that this is just Gears 1.5 when you look at what’s happening on-screen” says GoW Community Manager Justin Korthof. And he’d be right; firing mortar shells at an enraged Brumak from the rooftops is certainly not something to be sniffed at.

Yet at the same time it feels oh-so familiar. The opening hospital level, the first of three chapters that we got to play, feels eerily similar to the original’s prison setting. Working our way through the war-ravished emergency rooms and cold, lifeless corridors brings back fond memories of the first time we ever picked up our Lancer. Ravens make a pass over the hospital’s decorative skylights, sending dust and debris flying into the atmosphere as the damaged venue rumbles. We’re warned of an impending Locust attack, duly taking cover on a hospital gallery and positioning ourselves above the foyer below in an attempt to ambush the repulsive force. On cue a squadron of Locust burst through the doors, eagerly searching the room for any sign of sentient life. Targeting a set of gas cylinders we open fire, with our squad joining the fight as Locust gibs flit about the screen. A huge smile gleams across our faces; Gears is back, and it’s better than ever.


STEPPING UP A GEAR

09 And we don’t just mean in terms of gameplay. It’s amazing what Epic have been able to do with the engine in the two years since the original. The contrast between colour palettes seems almost polar-opposite to that of the first game, the drab greys and browns replaced with vibrancy; most notably the underground cave level ‘The Hollow’, filled with sparkling dabs of blues and reds. Epic’s texture work is astounding; surely it can’t get much better than this? “I think we are pushing the 360; the system’s not going to get any more RAM or a faster processor,” says Cliff, “but at the same time that puts the impetus on our programmers and our artists to be smarter about what they work with. If there’s a future product, I have a feeling it’ll probably be better than what we are doing, but whatever percentage that is remains to be seen. It’s amazing what programmers can do so I wouldn’t count our guys out yet.” But with the increased amount of power available on PS3, does the developer feel held back by the 360’s maturing architecture? “I don’t really work on PS3 - I HATE the fucking controller! I love the Blu-ray player, I think there are some great games for PS3; I think Metal Gear’s great, Heavenly Sword was great, but right now I’ll always work on Xbox with Gears. I feel very comfortable with the 360. I like the controller!” It’s clear that Epic’s visuals are set to raise the bar again, but we have to ask Cliff how his team manages it when other developers don’t even come close to matching Gears’ visual fidelity, despite using the same engine. “I think Mass Effect and BioShock both looked quite good. In my opinion I think we have some of the best artists in the industry, if not entertainment in general. We’re incredibly picky with who we hire and they work extremely hard to make sure that every single itty bit of that model looks perfect. It’s the same toolset that our licensees get, every single thing that we have is shared because it’s in our best interests for them to have a game that looks amazing. I think the key is having amazing artists.”

7 + ( 7 2 * ( 7

: ,7 + $ 1 <

* ( $ 5 6 ) $ 67 ( 5 ”


STEPPING UP A GEAR

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“ EPIC ARE KEEN TO

PUT RIGHT ANY STORY-TELLING ISSUES OF THE FIRST GAME ”

Cliff is keen to show us the improvements made to Gears of War’s cover system, showing us more of the Rockworm, an animal cast with an impenetrable shell that slowly shifts itself across the floor like a centipede. “You know, since Gears shipped there have been all these other games come out that use cover. I’m ok with that, that’s cool, but ours is better”. And it undeniably is, now tweaked to avoid accidentally clinging onto objects you didn’t mean to, and with new animations being added to improve the gameplay. Marcus can now flip over tables to provide dynamic cover (though you’ll have to be wary of them disintegrating from the impact of bullets), while shooting down fruit attracts the Rockworm to its position, giving players a strategic decision to make over where to dig in.

“When I played the first game I thought we did a really good job, but then there were so many little problems with it too. You’d be running and accidently slam into a wall, or you’d dive towards cover or launch a swat turn and you couldn’t interrupt it, whereas you can now. And when you got knocked down I wanted to crawl around and all that stuff. We’ve tweaked all of those things to a very high level and that’s what I ‘m really happy with.” But what else have Epic looked to improve upon for the sequel? “The campaign and the story were the obvious ones. Josh [Ortega, GoW2’s writer] is a very charismatic guy; he’s a force of nature. You know he’d battle and push so that we got the product and, more specifically, the best narrative in the end.”

It’s obvious that Epic are keen to put right any issues they faced with the story-telling in the first game. Cutscenes, at least in this early part of the game, were considerably longer and far more theatrical than anything present in the original.


STEPPING UP A GEAR

11 One thing we did notice, however, was a disappointing lack of destructible objects other than the odd wooden crate or aforementioned table, despite their prominent showing in an early tech demo. Placing a grenade on a door didn’t blow it down, instead forcing Marcus to kick through it with a tap of the X button just as in the first game. The levels themselves are also far more sprawling, detaching itself from the ‘one-track’ linearity of the original. A good thing you might think, but not necessarily. With lesser-defined waypoints and the lack of an objective marker it wasn’t always obvious where we had to go; our time in the hospital being extended greatly due to running around in circles. Cliff was also quick to mention the fact that Dom’s AI apparently has been tweaked to stop him making daring runs and winding up dead. “What’s the use in him searching for Maria if he’s going to keep dying all the time?” he states. Unfortunately, it’s not something we noticed in our playtime; AI allies repeatedly ran across our line of fire to go it alone, or got lost if we ran too far ahead. And there are other minor annoyances. Rightly or wrongly you can’t collect ammo while holding an enemy hostage, while the cover system can still occasionally stick you to something you hadn’t intended it to. In the grand scheme of things they’re relatively minor and barely affect the overall gameplay, but they’re things you wouldn’t expect to see in such a polished and otherwise magnificent game.

One noteworthy improvement to the AI, however, comes in their ability to revive the player. Should you fall during the campaign, your AI counterparts can now revive you, hopelessly crawling around on your hands and knees as you await their help. It’s a similar system to that used in the original Gears’ multiplayer, but from what we could tell there didn’t seem to be any penalty for falling; we just hope Gears doesn’t lose its tactical focus as a result. Locust can also do the same so you’ll want to make sure you’ve seen them off properly before turning your back. Cliff also confirmed that Dom will be the only character you’ll be able to control in the campaign’s co-op, putting an end to the rumours currently circulating. “Adding more characters decreases the impact of the story exponentially” he says, keen to iterate that the decision to keep campaign co-op limited to Marcus and Dom was very much a conscious one. You’ll still occasionally get split up from your teammate though, now with added ‘casual splits’ that allow players to go back and choose the other route should they have a change of heart. Players will also have the option to choose individual difficulty levels for both players.


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“ SKORGE IS A

BAD MOTHERF*CKER! ”

Nearing the end of the demo we’re introduced to GoW2’s new big baddy, Skorge. “If Raam was a sledgehammer, Skorge is a Samurai Sword” says Cliff. “I don’t know if you’ve seen the Kantus which are kinda like Locust priests? They’re the guys that have all these abilities; they take a lot of hit points and can summon tickers and other creatures with their voices, as well as revive Locust that have been knocked down. If these are the priests of the Locust then Skorge is the head priest. He’s very high up in the Locust hierarchy, he’s a bad motherfucker.” And he certainly is. Quick and nimble, yet equally as deadly as Marcus’ previous nemesis, Skorge has an obvious Predatorinfluence to him, also tipping the hat to Metal Gear Solid’s Raiden as he elegantly slices through a tank with his dual chainsaw staff. And talking of tanks, despite the Junker mission of the original Gears being the game’s lowest point, why did Epic decide to throw in more vehicle levels? “The Junker sequence was one of those things where we were trying to do an original twist on the ‘I drive, you shoot’ formula and it turned out kind of meh. So we decided if you want a tank we’ll just give you a tank. Then we thought about what else we could do, so we looked at the Locust creatures, and have a sequence where you guys are on Reavers etc. These different kinds of combat really switch up the pace a little bit. It made sense to do them but to do a better job.” Not having seen these elements, we can only live in hope. Skorge wasn’t the only new Locust we were introduced to though, with all manner of as-yet unnamed beasts cropping up in the game’s Horde mode. “Horde is like SmashTV meets Geometry Wars” says Cliff, commenting on the new co-operative multiplayer mode that allows five players to team up and take down wave after wave of Locust. Character selection remains, initially at least, similar to those available in the first game, with options to select Marcus, Dom, Baird, Cole and Carmine. You’re also given the option to select your weapon load-out, so if you fancy going straight in with a sniper rifle, you can. Whether this carries over to the competitive multiplayer wasn’t revealed.


13 Each round of Horde lasts for as long as is required for everyone to eradicate the Locust threat, with around ten adversaries being thrown into the battle for every round. The difficulty and intelligence of Locust increases after each wave, with bigger and more intelligent enemies littering the killing fields as you work your way through. Weapon pickups are also reliant on grabbing them off enemies so you’ll have to kill that Flame Boomer if you want to cook your enemies. Using a shotgun felt massively underpowered in comparison to the first game, so we called Cliff on it, asking how the team have gotten around the host advantage that plagued the first game. “Shotgun host advantage is reduced,” he says. “The person who is the host on a client server game will always have an advantage which is an unfortunate side effect of the client server architecture. We’re not a peer-to-peer architecture, but we’ve authorised so much into that code to reduce it as much as possible as well as balancing the game better with the shotgun’s stopping power. Personally I found the host advantage to be very frustrating.” Epic know that Gears of War 2 will be this Christmas’ must-have Xbox 360 title, yet remain undeterred by the competition. “I think Gears 2 is really a perfect example of playing through an interactive movie,” Cliff replies when asked why gamers should choose it over PS3-rival Resistance 2. And yet he still has more up his sleeve; “There’s a couple more multiplayer modes that we’re not really supposed to be talking much about, and there’s some interesting stuff they’re doing with the marketing campaign with COG tags that I can’t really talk about yet. “I think the fact that you only get to see like three quarters of the first act when there is five acts tells you that there is still quite a lot that remains to be seen. If anything it’s a little frustrating that I can’t tell you about all the cool stuff. There are so many cool twists and turns in the campaign mode that I can’t show you yet.

“ THERE’S STILL PLENTY MORE TO BE SEEN... ”

STEPPING UP A GEAR


00HEAVEN?

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00HEAVEN? By Stuart Leech

Suave and sophisticated- two words that any James Bond fan will instantly associate with the worldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s most prestigious super-spy. The same two words couldn't, however, be used to describe 007's recent video game adventures. Ugly, uninspiring and ultimately downright poor, EA's takes on the 007 license were massive disappointments, potentially tainting the Bond name forevermore. But it wasn't always this way. Eleven years ago Rare showed the world exactly how a Bond game should be done. And from what we've played of Quantum of Solace, Treyarch are about to do just the same...


00HEAVEN?

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To compare Activision's first Bond game to a muchloved classic is certainly a bold statement to make, and not one that we're prepared to make lightly given Treyarch's recent track record. But as convinced as we are that Quantum of Solace will be a surprise critical hit when it launches later this month, it's one that we're prepared to risk. With a development period spanning almost three years, Quantum of Solace isn't looking like your typical movie license cash in. "We wanted to focus very closely on making sure that Quantum of Solace was a game and not just a license," co-design director Adam Gascoigne tells us. "License games get a bad rap, you know, we play games just like everyone else does. There's usually a simple route to take a license game which is to just take everything that's in the movie, put it in a box and that'll be enough. Well we spent two and a half years not doing that." And it looks like it's paid off. Sitting down with Quantum of Solace's multiplayer brings back floods of fond memories from 1997. Trying out the game's 'Golden Gun' mode, hunting down the player that can kill you with a single explosive bullet has never been

so enjoyable; even more so when itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s you on the rampage. Running on the Call of Duty 4 engine, the multiplayer levels are large and varied, with the maps on show instantly recognisable from the opening scenes of Casino Royale. The first distinct difference youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll notice from CoD4 is the introduction of a third person cover system. Working in a similar vein to Rainbow Six: Vegas, the system allows for a wider view of the battlefield ahead as well as any obvious cover elements, used by tapping A to stick to any useable object and squeezing the left trigger to poke your head out and pop a few shots. It adds an extra dimension to the gameplay - one that should be expected in a Bond game - allowing you to run in with guns blazing or with a little more tact and stealth. But why would gamers choose to play Quantum of Solace over other big name brands with established multiplayer components?


00HEAVEN?

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“The key is not to try and take them on at their own game,” Adam continues. “Just focus on what you’re doing and make sure you have a fun game. I think in print people say, well this is the difference between the games; this is why they’re worth playing. I think when it actually comes down to the gameplay, it’s just about whether it’s fun or not. What we have is a game that’s real quick to get into. It’s not as comprehensive as Call of Duty, we’re a little more lightweight and we know we are – we’re not going to kid ourselves. You’re not going to start a three-year career in our multiplayer game, it’s not like that. It’s something you’ll hopefully keep picking up and just playing it for what it is.” And hopefully you will, the excellent Golden Gun and Bond Versus modes shown today should prove to be more than worthy of your time.

than clichéd, enabling you to take out multiple enemies with a couple of well placed shots. Exiting to the roof of the train and the game steps up a gear; speeding through a torrential downpour leaves us in awe as we struggle to maintain our footing along the roof. With the mix of overhead power lines and opponents firing from carriages below, it’s not too long before the quality of the new and improved Bond stops you dead in your tracks. As a movie license game QoS has no right to be this good. We let Adam explain:

Sitting down with single-player we’re equally as impressed. We’re shown a train level - a scene originally cut short in Casino Royale now rehashed and playable in all its glory. It displays another knowing nod back to GoldenEye, with sneaking down the carriages bringing back more fond memories of Trevelyan's missile train. Bond has come a long way since then though, with highly detailed surroundings and interactive objects affecting the gameplay. They may only be explosive barrels and fire extinguishers, but in this context they feel typically Bond-like rather

“I think we changed the circumstances that license games are made in. You can’t underestimate having two and a half years – typically licensed games get six to nine months and there really isn’t much you can do in that time. For the most part casual gamers and publishers aren’t overly concerned about the gameplay - they want to see more of the movie. Well we’re trying to change that, we want to be different and appeal to the hardcore. We want gamers to say, you know, I don’t care if there’s a move about this or not, this is what I want to play.”


00HEAVEN?

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The quality shown in the train level doesn’t seem to be a one off. Ducking and diving our way through a science lab brings more direct interaction with the AI, who weave in and out of cover in an attempt to flank us. Yes, those dreaded QTEs rear their ugly head should you decide to take someone down unnoticed, but the close combat system here works where so many others fail. It isn’t overused and manages to complement the other gameplay functions beautifully. “I really think [making a successful game] is about polish,” Adam says. “I think that’s what makes the difference in a movie license game. There’s a lot of consideration and thought gone into making sure that Quantum of Solace is filled with longevity and to make sure that it’s a game, not just a license.”

As our time with the game comes to a close, our thoughts are much in line with Adam’s. It seems that Treyarch have managed to pull off the seemingly implausible idea of creating a great movie license game, doing an equally impressive job with the multiplayer as they have with the single player. What we’ve seen so far gives the impression of something that will hopefully be greatly varied, with the improvements in the AI mechanics making it a much more versatile game than CoD4’s scripted AI ever allowed, and appealing to those that loved Infinity Ward’s hit just as much as those that revel in the stealth operations of Rainbow Six. Quantum of Solace is certainly looking like it’ll capture the essence of Bond, delivering intense gun fights, extraordinary undercover operations and, perhaps surprisingly, one of the better multiplayer experiences we’ll see this year.


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PREVIEWS

SONIC UNLEASHED It must be hard being a Sonic fan. After all, it can’t be easy seeing your favourite childhood mascot fall from grace to such an extent that it’s difficult to expect anything but mediocrity from his new adventures. Since the jump to 3D, Sonic has struggled to find his place in the brave new world, and we have a theory on why. You see, back in the days of the Mega Drive and the battle for supremacy between Sonic and Mario, it was Sonic who was perceived as cool, Mario...not so much. Fast forward through the years and gamers have grown up, the average age falling in between the 18-35 bracket. While this isn’t really a problem for Mario with his youthful charm transcending his 20 years in the business, for Sonic, in the coolness stakes, he just can’t compete with the rough and ready David Beckham-a-likes that now flood the industry. Unfortunately, SEGA don’t seem to have accepted this and as a result Sonic, as previously mentioned, is in an uncomfortable position trying to decide what he wants to be - which doesn’t usually make for a great gaming experience.

FORMAT 360, PS3, Wii, PS2 PUBLISHER SEGA DEVELOPER SEGA RELEASE November PREVIEWED BY Rhys Simons

On the surface of things the Hedgehog’s latest outing, Sonic Unleashed, doesn’t look set to make many changes to the formula he has lived by throughout his 3D career. Each level sees you moving at high speeds either into or across the

screen in the style now accustomed to the series, last seen in the Wii’s Sonic and the Secret Rings. Running into the screen will force you into all manner of enemy encounters and thorny obstacles, while dashes across it will involve precisely timed jumps.

The hook this time around is Sonic’s newly found taste for the night life. Unleashed is essentially divided up into two different modes of gameplay, the aforementioned running during the day, and an action game set at night. The explanation for this split is that the Chaos Emerald wielding Dr Eggman has inflicted Sonic with a condition known as the Werehog, which only comes into play during these night time sequences.


PREVIEWS

19

When the darkness falls Sonic is transformed into a feral beast: pump a garden variety hedgehog full of steroids and you’ll get the idea. In this form Sonic can unleash 30+ combos as the game transforms into something akin to Godhand, and if we’re honest, these action levels do seem to be the weak link in Sonic Unleashed. Very few dedicated action games can pull off exhilarating fights with hoards of enemies, the most recent example being Ninja Gaiden 2. The trouble here is that, at his core, Sonic is not a fighter, becoming immediately apparent as you witness him, in feral form, clumsily moving around the environment throwing combination punches. He’s just not comfortable going slowly, something every one of his 3D outings has inflicted upon us. With some huge, playful environments and lip smacking visuals, it’s the traditional side-on levels that look to be the highlight of Sonic’s latest outing. Sonic Team are really trying to nail the replay value with alternate paths and a split-screen multiplayer. If they can add to this timed runs and high score coin counts then Unleashed does look set to provide some of the fastest fun since the MD era. We do worry about those 3D action elements, though. If Sonic’s history has taught us anything it’s that the hedgehog really doesn’t like being taken out of his comfort zone. You can find out for yourself if Sonic makes for as good a fighter as he does a sprinter when Sonic Unleashed is released in November.

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20

ANIMAL CROSSING

LET’S GO TO THE CITY FORMAT Wii PUBLISHER Nintendo DEVELOPER Nintendo RELEASE December PREVIEWED BY Rhys Simons

“If life were an endless vacation, what would you do?” That’s Nintendo’s opening question that sits atop the press release for Animal Crossing: Let’s Go To The City. But despite the fact that Reggie is proclaiming the new life-sim as one for the hardcore fans, we’re not entirely convinced that paying their mortgage, running errands and fossil hunting are the pastimes that most gamers would indulge in. Animal Crossing though has always been (and always will be) about so much more than what is on the surface. Musing on the possibilities for LGTTC and the appeal of the series with fans after Nintendo’s E3 briefing earlier in the year, the general consensus was that you only get out of Animal Crossing what you put in. Visit your town once a week and you’ll perhaps catch the odd new arrival and a rare fish or two. But by actively getting involved in the building of the blank canvas community that the game provides you with, you’ll see your town flourish with expanding settlements, new inhabitants, seasonal festivities and all the other jollies of the quiet rural life.

So what’s new to LGTTC? First and foremost, as the name suggests: a city. One of the most requested additions to Animal Crossing - after Wild World at least - was new areas to explore outside of your home town. Series producer Katsuya Eguchi seems to have answered these requests with the new urban locale. Familiar faces like Harriet the hairdresser, Lyle the insurance salesman and Gracie the ‘fashionista’ will all be making appearances with their own boutiques in the bustling urban hive. The city will also be home to a new auction house and theatre, which so far has only been confirmed as hosting comedy shows - though KK Slider performances must surely be on the cards.


PREVIEWS

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From what we’ve seen, the city area seems to be a very natural step forwards for the series. On a quiet day in your home village you can catch Kapn’s bus to the city and receive a makeover from Harriet, maybe put a rare item or two you’ve acquired up for auction and then catch a show at the theatre before heading home. Nintendo hasn’t mentioned whether this area will play any further role (perhaps as a hub world for online play), but so far it sounds like a promising addition. Another big new feature for LGTTC is the addition of voice chat, which comes into play during the four player online mode via the new Wii Speak peripheral. Though it’s hard to get excited about a feature that we all knew must be coming, it’s nice to have it confirmed all the same. Taking your town online in Wild World was severely hampered by the clumsy text communication system, so the freedom to chat and organise fun and games, with friends, in one another’s villages is most welcome. Curiously, the Wii Speak device will not be bundled with LGTTC, and rather than being a traditional headset, it will sit atop the Wii’s sensor bar allowing everyone in the room to communicate online. Questions of how well this will work, and its cost, will have to remain unanswered until we can go hands on with the device. Elsewhere in the quiet world of Animal Crossing, the basis of the series remains unchanged. You’ll be plonked into a randomly generated village with randomly generated inhabitants. There will be a town hall/post office, allowing you to send letters to friends via WiFi (now with the helpful support of USB Keyboards), a local store for all your furnishing needs,

a museum and an improved clothes designer. Your new house, to decorate with new and old furniture lines, will be in one of four locations dotted around the town. Happily you’ll no longer have to share accommodation with friends or family choosing to move in, as they will be provided with their own quarters. When you choose to leave your house, all the activities from Wild World return, leaving you with plenty to fill your day. The final thing to say about Animal Crossing: Let’s Go To The City is that it’s had a real graphical touch up. While it retains the same basic style, everything from the landscape to the houses and menus looks a whole lot more colourful and vibrant. It provides the game with a lovely lightness, that’s extremely refreshing considering the dark greys and browns which seem to be colouring this generation. Let’s Go To The City is currently targeting a Christmas 2008 release, and hopefully Nintendo will deliver the kind of cross-market appeal to ensure a season of joy for all Wii owners.


22 23

LITTLEBIGPLANET

26

DEAD SPACE

28

FIFA 09

30 32

THE RATINGS

CLASSIC MOMENT

ESSENTIAL GREAT

PS3

360, PS3, PC

360, PS3, Wii, PC, PS2, PSP, DS

WIPEOUT HD

PS3

SAINTS ROW 2

360, PS3, PC

34

PRO EVOLUTION SOCCER 2009

36

SAMBA DE AMIGO

38

DE BLOB

40

PURE

42

VIVA PINATA: TROUBLE IN PARADISE

360, PS3, PS2, PC Wii

Wii

360, PS3, PC

360

GOOD BELOW PAR

44

YAKUZA 2

46

STAR WARS: THE FORCE UNLEASHED

PS2

360, PS3, Wii, PS2, PSP, DS

DISMAL THE EXECUTION OF AL-FULANI - CALL OF DUTY 4 - 2007

48

FACEBREAKER

50

SONIC CHRONICLES: THE DARK BROTHERHOOD

360, PS3, Wii

DS

52

’S MOST PLAYED

54 57 58

LITTLEBIGPLANET

DEAD SPACE

FIFA 09

FERRARI CHALLENGE

PS3

PLAYTV

PS3

FINAL FANTASY IV

DS

DRAGON QUEST IV: CHAPTERS OF THE CHOSEN

DS

59

MULTIWINIA

PC


REVIEWS

23 A WHOLE NEW WORLD

LITTLEBIGPLANET T

FORMAT PlayStation 3 PUBLISHER SCE DEVELOPER Media Molecule REVIEWED BY David Scammell

he release of LittleBigPlanet and the fanfare of expectation met with it will perhaps come as a bit of a shock to today’s industry. A side-scrolling platformer with an undeniably cutesy lead character, LBP’s structure hails back to days of old when figureheads were born and raised on side-on adventures; when gaming was less about crafting a photo-realistic environment (though Media Molecule has done a damn fine job in rendering LBP’s wonderfully lifelike textures) and creating something ‘fun’.

LittleBigPlanet could only be described as just that. If it were a film it would be one of the most joyous, feel-good movies ever created. It’s a timeless classic; something that no matter how many times you sit through never fails to raise a smile, appealing as much to you as it does your children, and inevitably will do to theirs. Our protagonist Sackboy and the fabricated world around him has an endearing charm that goes unrivalled in today’s gaming market; Mario and Sonic’s desperate clinging growing weaker by the second. But of course, LittleBigPlanet isn’t your typical side-scroller – far from it, in fact. As much of a toolset as it is a game, LBP isn’t just about traversing from A-B, solving puzzle C and defeating D, but openly exploring each of the design elements that make up such a game. The premise is simple: everything you see in the game can be rebuilt by you and your peers in the game’s Create mode. And you’ll want to give it a go, no matter how creatively challenged you may think you are.

In appealing to the widest audience possible, Media Molecule has managed to strike the balance beautifully between being overwhelmingly complex and restrictively simple, as well as implement every option that a user may conceivably want into the game as well. Objects are simple to place using the left analogue stick, while the right stick rotates and enlarges/reduces it in size. If you’ve created a once-in-a-lifetime object you can simply loop the model and save it, ready to copy and paste in again elsewhere. There are plenty of other options available as well, such as rewinding time if you make a mistake or using anchor points to delete certain sections of models. It sounds complicated, but the beauty of LBP’s creation tools is that they’re as simple or as intricate as you want them to be, wonderfully scaled to appeal to every type of gamer.

The game ships with an incredible amount of content to get your creative juices flowing which you can manipulate freely within the three-tiered environment. Objects range from various different materials used to construct the foundations of your level (each with their own physical properties affecting weight and density), body parts with which to create Frankenstein-like monstrosities, and various lights, stickers and items with which to adorn your level. On top of that you’re also given options to setup cutscenes and create photo opportunities, manipulating the camera, audio and speech cues for a more professional-looking level.


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24

However, you won’t be jumping straight into a creative workout. Following the short 60 second install (which judging by our installation file consumes around 400MBs) you’re forced to complete a few short levels to get to grips with the game’s platforming. Unfortunately, this is where you’ll see LittleBigPlanet’s few, but key, shortfalls come into play. Control over Sackboy isn’t as tight as it should be, with floaty jumping and over-enthusiastic z-axis correction occasionally causing problems when attempting to navigate through the more accuracy-imperative levels. There’s also the odd dodgy camera angle and occasional difficulty spike within levels as well, forcing a restart once you’ve exhausted all your tries at a particular checkpoint. It’s far from being anywhere near game-breaking but nothing’s more frustrating than breezing to the end of a ten minute level only to fall at the last hurdle. Thankfully though, LBP’s adventure isn’t just about holding right and jumping as you may have come to expect from a side-scrolling platformer. There’s plenty of variation

throughout the game’s lengthy story mode, of which you’ll find themes based around horror, the old west, a metropolis and plenty more besides. Using a jet pack to transport explosives for a jail breakout, navigating through tight crevices and wide-open canyons along the way certainly helps to break up the action, as does outrunning a Skulldozer- a vindictive bride’s destructive vehicle that tears across the screen, sending objects flying every which way via the game’s astounding physics engine. Each location also has score-chasing mini-levels, like a test of balance on a bucking bronco or a drag race, for example. Even if you weren’t yet online enabled, LittleBigPlanet still has plenty to offer.


REVIEWS

25 DOES FOR PLATFORMING “LITTLEBIGPLANET WHAT HALF-LIFE DID FOR SHOOTERS ”

And if you were, well you’re in for a treat. With the prospect of ingenious level designs, LittleBigPlanet hosts the possibility of almost infinite replayability. We’ve already seen a few online levels range from short score-chasers to movie-influenced epics; an inventive take on Space Invaders and a fantastic Indiana Jones set-piece recreated in LBP’s stunning aesthetics being two of our most stand-out moments. User-created levels can also be fiendishly addictive; you know it’s been made by a ‘real’ person who’s an active member of the PSN community rather than a faceless development team, and you want to beat them at their own game.

LittleBigPlanet is gaming’s equivalent to YouTube: an unprecedented channel of collective talent that offers a level of creative freedom never before seen in a commercial videogame. It does for the platform genre what Half-Life did for shooters and what Gran Turismo did for racers; injecting innovation into a rapidly-staling genre and paving the way for the future of the side-scrolling platformer. And it's finally brought fun back into gaming- something that’s gone wildly astray since the dawn of the HD generation. PLAY

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REVIEWS

26 IN SPACE, NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU COPY/PASTE

DEAD SPACE I

’ve just witnessed a disturbed young astronaut bludgeon her way through some poor soul’s intestines with a hacksaw before slitting her own throat, avoided being torn to shreds by a meteor shower on the exterior of a colossal deep space mining vessel, and laid waste to hundreds of horrifically mutilated beings intent on eating my face.

FORMAT REVIEWED PlayStation 3 OTHER FORMATS Xbox 360, PC PUBLISHER EA DEVELOPER EA Redwood Shores REVIEWED BY David Scammell

Sorry, let me rephrase that; I’ve just witnessed one of the defining games of the generation, and come October 24th you should too. Going by recent history, Dead Space has no right to be as good as it is. A decent sci-fi horror game is, after all, as rare as the proverbial rocking horse manure, and to be blunt, fresh IPs from EA have tended to be little more than underdeveloped ‘test the water’ releases than anything of real substance. But to call Dead Space this year’s BioShock wouldn’t be too far from the truth. The thoroughly engrossing atmosphere of the abandoned space station is brought to life by diffused beams of light piercing through billowing clouds of dust and smoke, the mute lead character is cast with paranormal abilities (albeit with the help of a futuristic armoury) and there’s a maniacal enemy hell-bent on reshaping humanity’s future through scientific experimentation. I can hear you sighing in reaction to that last bit: yes, there’s another mad scientist on the loose and yes, it soon becomes your job to stop him, but while the plot may not win any

awards for originality, the script is Hollywood-worthy and delivered convincingly by the game’s astute voice actors.

And, of course, it’s also bloody scary, a trait shared with the illustrious Resident Evil series; another title of which Dead Space borrows from heavily. Aside from the obvious Resi 4-style third-person camera and hunched “Leon S. Kennedy” walk, there are elements to Dead Space that aren’t just ‘borrowed’ from Capcom’s award-winning title, but practically re-skinned. The love/hate typewriter save points are recreated here through Save Stations, the trade merchant has been re-imagined as a futuristic vending machine complete with options to buy, sell and store items, while those little crates that we fondly remember swinging a knife at are replaced with ultramodern lockboxes. They still contain credits, though. It also seems that EA Redwood attended the Mass Effect School of Loading Screens, with elevator rides handily disguising any loading times. So why, then, does Dead Space just miss out on full marks, despite consisting of the best bits from two five star-scoring games? Well, while it’s mainly due to a few design niggles (objectives are far too often a case of retrieve X in order to get through door Y, and melee combat can often feel clumsy and unresponsive), it’s also due to the lack of innovation that Dead Space brings to the genre. What the game does it undeniably does well, but it’s far too comfortable riding on those other games’ laurels than introducing any substantial mechanics of its own.


REVIEWS

27

“AS ENTRANCING AS IT IS HORRIFYING,

A SPECTACULAR SCI-FI ROMP ”

Sure the Zero-G moments are something we’ve not witnessed before, but other than one admittedly cool boss scenario, they’re not expanded on as much as we’d have liked, instead doing little more than adding an alternative ‘jump-based’ method of traversing the environment. The use of Isaac’s kinesis and stasis abilities are equally disappointing, instead restricted to simply moving debris from your path and slowing down fast-moving objects in order to get past them unscathed.

But then I feel full of remorse having said that. There are so many moments throughout Dead Space that will have you frozen to the spot, either through awe or sheer terror. The first time you lay witness to some of the more memorable enemies and lacerate off various bits of their anatomy through the much-hyped (and deservedly so) ‘strategic dismemberment’ system, for example. Or the first time you step into a vacuum and hear nothing but Isaac’s heartbeat and the muffled thwacks as enemies swing their talons into your chest. Doubled up against the magnificent backdrop of outer space, it’s a milestone in gaming that you’ll never forget. Dead Space is one of those that you don’t just enjoy during your time spent with it, it’s one you go away and think about after. Not because it’s deeply disturbing (which it is, to be fair), but because you can’t wait to get back into it; the game’s twelve chapters just as entrancing as they are horrifying. It’s a spectacular sci-fi romp from start to finish, and one fully deserving of your cold, hard cash this winter.

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28

FIFA 09 LIFE’S A PITCH

M

uch like Manchester City’s recent 6-0 drubbing of FA Cup winners Portsmouth, last year’s face-off between the two domineering forces of football came as quite a shock. Not because of how tight the line between FIFA and PES was being squeezed, but by how high a margin EA’s efforts crushed Konami’s rapidly-ageing football experience. It was a whitewash, and the fans weren’t happy.

FORMAT REVIEWED Xbox 360 OTHER FORMATS PS3, Wii, PC, PS2, PSP, DS PUBLISHER EA Sports DEVELOPER EA Canada REVIEWED BY David Scammell

With roles seemingly reversed, PES now has a lot more to prove than FIFA ever did, but the real question comes in how EA can capitalise on their new found fame in the meantime. But when you’re limited by the rules of the beautiful game, where do you take the series for its sixteenth iteration? EA’s answer, it seems, is to polish the game engine until glistening; the refinements made to FIFA in this latest iteration reaffirming the series’ newly-found state as football pioneer. FIFA 09 plays a much slower game than the summer’s impressive UEFA Euro 2008, with tighter play allowing for a much more tactical approach. Scoring’s no longer a case of sliding a jammy throughball past the back line, but setting up the play first in order to get there. Defenders read the play a lot more intuitively and stick to their men more effectively than ever before, and crosses aren’t as goal-bound as they were in previous years, with interceptions and jostling for headers more commonplace than ever before. Quite simply, FIFA 09 has found itself in a league of its own, looking, feeling and playing just like a real football match. It’s an impressive feat for any studio, let alone one that’s been gazumped in the gameplay stakes for the past decade.

EA has also been keen to place more emphasis on player matchups this year, with speed, weight and power each affecting the outcome of shoulder-toshoulder jostles. Place Rooney up against a less portly defender and he’ll outmuscle his way to the goalposts, but put him up against someone of a similar size and it makes the contest much more interesting. The collision system is perhaps FIFA 09’s greatest new gameplay asset, effectively recreating the one-on-one scraps that litter the modern game. Further big additions include custom team tactics, allowing the player more control over their team’s structure. Manipulating the team’s configuration allows you to assemble your preferred playing style, and whether that’s taking slow and carefully structured build-ups or rushing towards the goal line, there are simple sliders that allow you to fine-tune your team’s organisation.

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REVIEWS

29 HAS A LOT “TOPESWORRY ABOUT

Online Be a Pro has also doubled in capacity to 10 versus 10, which, though can result in long (read: boring) periods off the ball, ultimately gives each player a much deeper sense of responsibility, acting as a vital part of the team’s structure. Of course the opposite can also be true, with wannabe-stars dominating the play and chasing the ball haphazardly up and down the pitch. However, just like last year, we imagine it’ll be the mode of choice for many online players. Unfortunately there was a slight amount of lag in the majority of games that we played - something which can quite often break a team’s performance in an online game of FIFA. Perhaps the most notable addition to FIFA 09, however, comes in the form of Adidas Live Season, a brand new feature that updates in-game player form on a weekly basis based on their real-world performance. It’s quick to setup and simple to use, though be warned, something the box handily forgets to mention is the additional subscription costs required for the service. A free trial is included in the box, allowing you to choose one league with which

to receive weekly updates throughout the 08/09 season, but additional leagues and seasons will cost you extra. You can alternatively pay for all leagues in one lump sum, but it’ll set you back 1,600 Microsoft points. But despite the level of polish there’s still the odd grumble. Goalkeepers can have schizophrenic tendencies, pulling off superhuman saves one minute and fumbling easy balls into the path of an oncoming striker the next. Some animations as well still aren’t perfect, with EA’s peculiar decision to make all players perform the same merry jig at kick-off resulting in some bizarre scenes. Then there’s FIFA’s infamous pass buffering that can create unwanted havoc when your next player touches the ball, as well as some slightly dubious offside decisions. You may well think these are all small irritations, and for the most part you’d be right, but they’re nevertheless intrusions that detract from the otherwise spookily realistic experience. As a heavily-tweaked version of last year’s game, FIFA 09 may not have arrived with as much flair as its predecessor, but nevertheless it’s a solid and impressive assertion of the ‘new’ EA’s intentions to be market-leaders, rather than simply settle for second-best. Unless Seabass can pull a few tricks out of his hat at the last minute (which, from what we’ve seen, is looking increasingly unlikely) PES has a lot to worry about.

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REVIEWS

30

WIPEOUT HD W BECAUSE EVERYTHING’S BETTER IN HIGH DEFINITION

FORMAT PlayStation 3 (PSN) PUBLISHER SCE DEVELOPER Studio Liverpool REVIEWED BY David Scammell

ipEout has always been one of those games that confidently falls into the ‘cool’ category each and every time. With its orgy of breakneck speed, futuristic race craft, neon environments, modish hoardings and a soundtrack that would make Ministry of Sound proud, it’s cooler than a polar bear’s toenails (or so the kids would tell you, at least). Spruced up with a splash of Cell power, WipEout HD finally races onto the track after some fairly lengthy delays. But it was worth waiting for. Let’s get the bad out of the way first. If you’ve played your way through WipEout Pure and Pulse, WipEout HD won’t offer you anything other than the opportunity to relive those experiences in full 1080p on your telly box. As an amalgamation of the two PSP games, WipEout HD is fairly short on originality. Each of the eight tracks have been lifted and remastered for the PSN release, as have the ships, race modes and campaign structure. Quite frankly, WipEout HD is nothing more than a high definition remake of what came before it. Which we usually despise. But it’s different for WipEout. Finally it’s unleashed on a system it was seemingly born for. The ambience and vivacity of WipEout explodes against the picturesque urban environments; the striking visuals dazzling on a system that finally does justice to the subsonic speed and ensuing carnage. Back are the destructive weapons, now more visually-exciting than ever, including fan-favourite Quake that sends a devastating seismic wave down the track and missiles that leave gloriously lit trails of colour. Of course, predominantly WipEout is (and most likely always will be) a test of both your

racing aptitude and knowledge of the course. Knowing when to initiate your airbrakes to maximise your racing line, or memorising the position of speed pads can (and often will) prove to be the difference between a first and last place finish. The inclusion of life-sapping barrel rolls also offer a sense of strategy usually lost in a racer. Do you perform a stunt to gain a boost of speed at the cost of shield energy, or do you sacrifice your weapon for a slight health advantage? It’s a game that keeps you on your toes and thinking of your options throughout; a turn up for a genre that often merely heralds ‘repeat lap until done’. To help make those split-second decisions, HD also retains Pure’s side shift function, whereby a quick double tap of the L2 and R2 shoulder buttons performs a quick dash in the appropriate direction.


REVIEWS

31 Otherwise, controls remain instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever picked up a console WipEout game in the past, using X to accelerate, square to fire, circle to absorb weapons and L2/R2 for left and right airbrakes. Of course, there’s also the option to use Sixaxis motion control to steer, something seemingly compulsory for every first party PS3 game these days, though most users will find it difficult to use effectively without scraping up the walls every 30 seconds. One new element to HD is the pilot assist aid that gently steers craft away from track edges should you wander too close. Including auto-assists into something fairly well established is always going to demand a delicate balancing act. Offering useful assistance is one thing, but taking control away from the player altogether is another. Thankfully Studio Liverpool has poised it beautifully. The system isn’t in place to encourage haphazard racing - crazies will still bounce off walls like no tomorrow - but it saves the annoyingly slight, speed-thwarting scrapes from ever coming into play. Rely on it on the faster speeds and you’ll pay the consequences.

“AN UNMISSABLE PACKAGE ”

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The game’s core campaign mode as well is lifted straight out of Pulse, played out across a series of hexagonal grids whereby completion of one event unlocks others adjacent to it. There are five race types to choose from, again all instantly recognisable from previous outings; Single Race, Tournament, Time Trial, Speed Lap, and Zone. The latter in particular is a highlight of HD and one of the most immersive experiences you’ll find in a video game, with track and environment textures replaced with soft, glowing colours and energetic visualisations. Given an infinitely-accelerating ship, WipEout suddenly becomes a test of pure concentration, navigating your ship throughout a euphoric backdrop filled with ever-hastening twists and turns until the inevitable fatal collision. It’s a moment of gaming bliss and worth the asking price alone. WipEout HD’s a satisfying climax to the recent splurge of quality available on PSN. With Siren: Blood Curse giving us the heebie-jeebies earlier this summer, and Ratchet returning with an impressive, albeit short, swashbuckling adventure a few weeks back, Sony’s really not getting much wrong with their download service at the moment. The wealth of features and enhancements ensure that WipEout HD is the best iteration in the time-honoured series so far. And while it might not bring anything particularly new to the formula, it’s the game that most WipEout fans will have always dreamed of, and if you weren’t already one of them, might just be the game to convert you. For the incredible price it’s an unmissable package.

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REVIEWS

32 BITCHIN’

SAINTS ROW 2

H

ere’s one for the tabloids. A title that has little to do with an empathetically personal tale of revenge and more for causing death and destruction on the streets for fun. A game that openly encourages the slaughter of police officers and innocents, a game that grants respect for headshots and dangerous driving. Saints Row 2 holds no bars; it seeks out to shock, but will it leave you in awe?

FORMAT REVIEWED Xbox 360 OTHER FORMATS PS3, PC PUBLISHER THQ DEVELOPER Volition Inc.

Call us pessimists but we have our concerns over Volition’s reasoning for making the game quite as socially-unacceptable as it is, particularly given the current climate. We do wonder whether the team designed Saints Row 2 the way they have done as a genuine alternative approach to the sandbox crime genre, or purely to stir up controversy - and thus media coverage - in its wake. You see, in principle Saints Row 2 isn’t that great a game, plagued with an abundance of technical issues including tearing, horrendous lighting, frequent slowdown, off audio levels and more bugs than you could shake a stick at. It’s ridiculously unpolished to the point of being unfinished, suggesting Volition’s reliance on Saints’ off the wall gameplay to see it succeed at retail rather than any other merit.

Which is fair cop, I suppose. The game’s sense of humour is wildly gritty and bound to appeal to the game’s target market. But at times it can fall wide of the mark, being a bit too near the knuckle for its own good. One particular side-mission named Fuzz sees you disguised as a police officer to ‘disband’ various members of the public: some outwardly innocent, some not so. The whole antic, however, is being filmed for a television show, encouraging the player to use flamethrowers, satchel charges and chainsaws (complete with Gears of War style roars and animations) to maim your victims and to boost the show’s ratings. It’s as fun as it sounds, but it raises more than a few eyebrows along the way. You’ll never feel any compassion for your character either, something that the first Saints also struggled with and, in such a story-driven game, an element that we had hoped would be improved upon for the sequel.

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“ AS UNREMARKABLE AS IT IS ENTERTAINING

In fact, Volition might have just gone too far the other way; your character so thoroughly unlikeable that you’re happy to see him or her (the game includes a pretty extensive character customisation tool, allowing you to define your character’s gender, race, voice, build etc.) taken down a peg or two. The more serious undertones to the game’s over-arching storyline also often fail to fit in with the wacky action taking place on-screen; something which isn’t helped by the atrocious voice acting. As a result we were never thoroughly convinced that Saints Row 2 started life with its tongue firmly set in cheek as it would like to suggest, or whether the approach was altered after Volition realised that they could never match GTA IV’s grandeur. Equally unpolished is the competitive multiplayer, whose matchmaking system regularly took around ten minutes to find a game. It all seems to work fairly well once you’re in though, with various tasks queuing up one after the other for a seamless multiplayer session. The overall idea is to earn more money than the other team within a set number of rounds, earned by various methods

as dictated by the task. The popular insurance fraud from the first game, for example, makes the jump, never failing to raise a smile when you see an army of gangsters jump into the line of an oncoming sedan. Other tasks include VIP, a more standard deathmatch style round that has teams swarming after a particular player, as well as races and destruction derby, whereby players seek to cause as much vehicular damage as possible in the allotted time. It’s just a shame that the game boots you back to the main menu after each successive play... At least GTA had a touch of class to it, but just like many of its characters, Saints Row 2 is a skanky ho; satisfyingly good fun while it lasts but rough around the edges and with a stinking attitude. It’s as unremarkable as it is entertaining, but if you’re willing to forgive it for its myriad of flaws and technical vulgarities, there’s a fairly meaty game at the heart of it all that should, if nothing more, satisfy your criminal cravings until Rockstar unleash their first wave of downloadable content later in the year.

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REVIEWS

34 CAUGHT OFFSIDE

PES 2009 F

FORMAT REVIEWED PlayStation 3 OTHER FORMATS Xbox 360, PS2, PC PUBLISHER Konami DEVELOPER Konami REVIEWED BY David Scammell

or years EA has been accused of stealing ideas from the people’s choice of football games, Pro Evolution Soccer, and implementing them into their own. But this year seems to be different- the boot, quite literally, is on the other foot. If you read our FIFA 09 review earlier in the issue you’ll have noted that we commended it for its lifelike gameplay and the innovative steps it’s taken to reflect real-life player form in-game. This year’s PES, however, isn’t looking to win any awards for innovation. Instead it’s chosen to sit on the sidelines and play catch-up; 2009’s biggest advancement ‘Become a Legend’ a near copy and paste job of FIFA’s renowned Be A Pro. And Konami has done a great job of it, implementing FIFA’s same sweeping camera and the sensation of being a vital component to an eleven man team. The sense of progression as well is far greater than it is in FIFA, with your young player offered better contracts earlier and far more frequently. It’s Master League dolled up in a player guise, and you can’t level much more praise at it than that. Admittedly it has its shortfalls; there’s no on-screen display of your ideal positioning

or the man you’re supposed to be marking, and neither does it feel quite as prestigious to play for a team known as London FC than it does Chelsea. The shortcomings are fine once you’ve become accustomed to the way that Become A Legend works, but jumping straight in can be quite overwhelming to the traditional PES player.

The same, however, couldn’t be said of the game’s more conventional modes, much more astute to the post-pub pick up and play nature of PES than FIFA’s in-depth realisation of football. There’s almost an arcade feel to PES 2009 with the terrific speed of play meaning that games unfold as a constant pinging back and forth between the two ends, rather than the slower, more tactical midfield build-up play of a real football match. It could hardly be called the true representation of football that the PES name once held aloft on its shoulders, but it unquestionably still has its place on the market. Players are far more responsive than those in FIFA, turning on the ball almost instantly after the push of a button and recovering from slide tackles much more quickly, but play is still limited to the eight directions. Traditional or archaic: you decide.


REVIEWS

35 PROGRESSED “ PES AS MUCH AS IT DESERVED TO ”

The much-touted UEFA Champions League mode disappointingly feels more like an exercise in marketing than it does anything else. Consisting of a simple tournament mode decked out with the iconic Champions League overture, it’s thoroughly underwhelming; Konami’s idea of acquiring a real license rendered almost useless when North London pick up the trophy. The shortfalls in 2009’s online modes will also come as no surprise to PES aficionados. Though much improved over last year’s disastrous efforts, online play can still be spoilt by consistent lag and connection failures. The interface as well isn’t the most user-friendly; itself a series of EULAs, server lists and lobbies with no option to jump into a quick match from the main menu, and the added annoyance of having to register for a Konami ID and separate Game ID in the PS3 version is enough to turn anybody off. When Konami eventually realise that their half-baked online components simply aren’t good enough they might have something, but until then you’ll find it more of a pain to play online than you will of any fun. But that feeling of being half-baked is the biggest problem we have with PES 2009. When put up against the competition it just feels so outdated and crude, crumbling under the weight of expectation that each annual iteration brings. The additional modes may make it the best PES on the current crop of consoles so far, but the rigid animation structure, pathetic commentary system and shoddy online component all add up to a game that just hasn’t progressed since the PS2-era as much as it deserved to. A crying shame for what was once king of the beautiful game.

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36 SHE TOOK MY HEART AND SHE TOOK MY MONEY

SAMBA DE AMIGO FORMAT Wii PUBLISHER SEGA DEVELOPER Gearbox Software REVIEWED BY Zoheir Beig

here is perhaps no greater authority on all things Dreamcast than this writer’s girlfriend (this bit may not be true); when questioned about her thoughts towards the semi-legendary Samba de Amigo she said “it was the Wii before the Wii existed…Sometimes even when I don’t have the Dreamcast connected I shake the maracas to hear the ‘chk-chk’ sound”. However strange that may sound (particularly the last part), there is an element of truth to both sentiments. Firstly the Wii and Samba de Amigo – one of the classic rhythm games, and certainly one of the first to suggest that the central theme needn’t be restricted to more ‘traditional’ instruments – are, in theory, a perfect match. Secondly, a large part of the affection that SEGA’s Latin-themed simian-fest still generates revolves around the maracas themselves. This Wii conversion falls frustratingly short on both counts: the controls are a good example of how even slight imperfections in motion-control can (potentially) undermine enjoyment, whilst the Wii remote and nunchuk inevitably pale in comparison to the original’s glorious replicas. Gearbox’s original impetus to bring Samba de Amigo over to the Wii was

obviously because they felt that the game’s motion-driven gameplay was tailor-made for Nintendo’s all-conquering machine, the raucous colours and street-party atmosphere a perfect compliment to the likes of Wii Sports and Mario Kart. In a sense they were right – play Samba de Amigo with non-dedicated gamers and it’s likely that several sessions will pass before the first cursory glance at a watch. The game is undeniably fun in a haphazard, consciously amateurish way; the sight of watching someone shaking their hands in the air like a chimp to Ricky Martin will raise a smile on the face of even the most studious gamer. Picking critically beyond the surface though places the experience in a far harsher light. The controls are simply not responsive enough on the higher difficulty levels – where speed is paramount – to be truly enjoyable. You can stumble through with exaggerated movements, attempting to hit every note by simply waving your arms around, but such an approach is simply not in the spirit of a rhythm game that, more than most in the genre, places such an emphasis on body position and movement as well as co-ordination. Even studying the tutorials and changing the way we held the controllers eventually brought more frustration than is welcome.


REVIEWS

37 FAITHFUL AS SAMBA DE AMIGO IS “AS AESTHETICALLY, THE LASTING

If Samba is a seductive, irrepressibly joyful dance worthy of Beyonce then playing this Wii version will at times remind you more of Mr. Bean at the local disco. It’s not completely broken, but neither can the game be played in the rightful spirit when a large part of the time is spent worrying if your movements will actually register (at least the bad gamers amongst us have an excuse now...).

IMPRESSION IS OF

A MISSED OPPORTUNITY ”

Aside from the core game there are a number of extra features, such as a selection of minigames (now as familiar to Wii owners as Achievements are to the Xbox 360) and a bizarre Love Love mode. The former is little more than variations on how fast you can shake the remote (though ‘Volleyball’ is possibly the worst bonus game this writer has ever played on the Wii), while the latter is a cute if superfluous addition that allows two people to play together on the same song before calculating their compatibility. The first time we tried this feature the game threw us with our Mii version of Michael Jackson, our rating a healthy 80%. Career mode is sturdy enough, the carrot of

unlockable songs (not to mention the wonderful cameo of certain famous SEGA faces) reason enough to persevere. Gearbox (not the first developer that comes to mind for such a game) should be commended on the visuals and music. The game is vibrant without being too over-the-top, the classic SEGA charm complimented by the appearance of your personal Miis dancing in the background, while the audio is of high quality throughout. The track selection may appear odd on the surface (since when have Chumbawumba been Samba-friendly?!) but everything works in practice. In a similar fashion to playing along with Poison on Guitar Hero 3, the world of Samba de Amigo is the only one where dancing along to that damn Ketchup Song is permissible… Overall, as polished and as faithful to the source material as Samba de Amigo is aesthetically, the lasting impression is of a missed opportunity. A tighter game would have made a massive difference, though the essence of the license is so strong that an impulsive purchase won’t be a complete mistake - especially if a games party is on the agenda. With the Wii MotionPlus technology just around the corner, perhaps the next rhythmaction game to arrive will truly live up to the expectation of motion controls. At least the Dreamcast’s legacy remains strong, maracas or no maracas.

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38 COLOUR FADES TO GREY

DE BLOB I

n its two years on the market the Wii seems to have invented a new sub-genre of games that it refuses to let its friends play with. This new sub-genre appears to blend a mixture of solid gameplay, with a simple premise and pleasing aesthetic. Equally popular amongst traditional gamers and the new breed alike, many from this genre have gone on to achieve unexpected commercial success, the most recent example being Boom Blox. Blox

FORMAT Wii PUBLISHER THQ DEVELOPER Blue Tongue REVIEWED BY Rhys Simons

These new ‘family-orientated’ games tend to have some significant developing talent behind them, and may even be the ‘revolution’ Nintendo promised us. It’s quite often them, not the traditional games, that provide some of the most interesting and successful uses of the Wii remote. As we approach the holiday season we can expect much more from the genre, but first into our disc slots is Blue Tongue’s de Blob. De Blob is a third person adventure “colour revolution”, beginning with the evil I.N.K.T Corporation draining all colour from the city of Chroma, home of the Blobs (the game’s globule-like primary characters),

and outlawing all colour and fun from daily life. Those of you who may see this as a playful dig at the Wii’s competitors are not alone. After witnessing this heinous occupation of his home, de Blob’s eponymous hero embarks on a revolution to reinvigorate Chroma and free it from I.N.K.T’s evil oppression.

As we all know, military occupations never work and to quash this one you will have to guide Blob through nine separate districts of Chroma, spreading the colour liberally across the environment. Each of the nine districts is broken up into smaller areas with gates separating access to each, and to progress through them you will have to gain a certain number of Colourwatts. Luckily, Colourwatts are handed out for just about everything in de Blob, most commonly upon completion of timed challenges.


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39

OF GAME “EXACTLY THE KIND MORE OF

These challenges come in four separate varieties; standard racing, squashing a group of enemies, colouring buildings in a specific fashion and saving the city’s landmarks. While each of these tasks presents a new and enjoyable form of gameplay, over the nine or so hours the story mode takes to see through, they become a little repetitive. In the final few districts of Chroma we found ourselves ignoring the option to tackle them, instead choosing to just gleefully bounce around the environments colouring everything we could find in order to build up enough points to progress. It is this colouring of a grey world that proves to be the most satisfying element of de Blob. Each time our hero enters a new district he is colourless, just like his environment. However, the I.N.K.T. robots that have stolen the colour from the city are still scuttling around so a quick ground stomp onto them fills up de Blob. Once brimmed you can bounce your way around the imaginatively crafted environments restoring them to their colourful glory by bumping into buildings and embossing your current colour all over them. Before you know it, you’ll have navigated your way to the highest point of a particular area and find a massive grin spread across your face as you look down upon your primary coloured handiwork. It’s a joyous moment that arrives time and again throughout de Blob, and is perfectly at home on Wii. It is unfortunate then, that getting to these moments is often hampered by the Wii remote. De Blob contains a fair amount of platforming as you’ll frequently have to climb buildings to reach crucial challenges. While the often fiddly

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control stick movement and the giddy camera work make this enough of a test, it’s the motion activated jumps and attacks that really frustrate. On numerous occasions the game failed to recognise a swish of the remote at a key moment, allowing in an enemy attack or mistiming a jump sending us plummeting back to the ground. Though we learnt to factor in the motion control foibles, the physical factor of constantly having to jump and attack really began to play hell on our wrists. It’s simply remedied by putting the game down for twenty minutes, but when the swishes of the remote could (and should) have been mapped to the A and B buttons, it becomes an unnecessarily irritating flaw. All in all, you’re looking at an interactive toy that will provide anything up to twenty hours for 100% completion, not counting a pleasant multiplayer. It has a wonderful charm, with its wickedly funny story and finger-clickingly addictive tunes that kept us coming back for more. It has its fair share of flaws but we’re willing to forgive them as de Blob is exactly the kind of game we’d like to see more of on the Wii. It’s bright, it’s playful and most importantly, it’s gosh darn fun. Viva la Revolution!

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40 KICKING UP A (MOTOR)STORM

PURE P

ure is simple. Slide, skid, crash and boost your way around a wide variety of scenic tracks from deserts to mountains while trying to combine the best jumps and flips to keep your boost. Getting to grips with the fundamentals is easy; the challenge lies in mastering them.

FORMAT REVIEWED Xbox 360 OTHER FORMATS PS3, PC PUBLISHER Disney Interactive Studios DEVELOPER Black Rock Studio REVIEWED BY Stuart Leech

Pure’s core World Tour mode consists of an uninventive linear progression through various modes – Race, Sprint and Freestyle – the idea to acquire enough points to advance to the next section while unlocking parts for your ATV to improve its speed, boost or trick capability. Unlike the game’s progression system, Pure’s ATV customisation mechanic is fairly comprehensive, giving the user total control over each and every part of your vehicle – right down to the handlebars. Spending time comparing different parts and building an ATV to best serve each of the different race styles can seem daunting at first, and is definitely out of line with the straightforward nature of the rest of the game. Indeed, tweaking your ATV to perfection becomes key to advance through the later stages of the game.

To ease you in, you start off your career with just Race and Sprint modes. Each is categorically different; a race requires both speed and tricks as you bounce and shunt off your rivals to keep your racing line. The trick system works similarly to that of SSX, with each trick granting a portion of boost; the more difficult the trick, the more boost you receive. Gaining boost also unlocks a secondary strategy. As your boost rises you unlock the ability to complete harder and more time consuming stunts, resulting in a balancing act between using up what boost you have or waiting to pull off more impressive stunts for a larger amount. Boost too much and you lose your stunt ability; don’t boost enough and you won’t grab enough air to complete the harder tricks. Sprint mode, however, is all about speed. A time trial of sorts, it relies around completing five laps of the circuit in quick succession. Pure and simple. Pure comes into its own when you reach the Freestyle mode. Rather than simply


REVIEWS

41 DEVIATIONS “ THEADEEPER FROM SIMPLE ARCADE GAME KEEP PURE FRESH ”

requiring you to win the race, Freestyle is a high score chaser, giving you a tank of petrol that slowly depletes as the race unfolds. Keeping your gas topped up involves pulling off as many complex stunts as possible, each granting you a certain amount of points. It’s the most enjoyable of all the modes, with the impressive map variation keeping you entertained for hours. Which of course you won’t fail to notice. Pure looks beautiful, with vast mountain ranges and sand dunes all rendered to perfection; no matter how fast or high you go. Like similar games such as MotorStorm, there are multiple paths to take within each track, reducing the monotony of track repetition. The game isn’t without its downfalls though. Scenery can be hit and miss, with some foliage allowing you to plough straight through it, while others result in an untimely crash. The open plan racing can also lead you astray and taking the wrong path can inexplicably wipe

you out, losing whatever momentum you had in the process. The lack of splitscreen multiplayer also reduces your options to going online, something unusual for this calibre of a racing game. Online play, however, retains the game’s simplicity factor, allowing you and fifteen of your friends to make the madness personal. Keeping up with the fast paced nature of the game, there was neither any lag nor hanging around in the lobby for too long. Playing online does raise a huge a problem to Pure newcomers though; beginners are going to struggle to compete online against an elite A class ATV with your sorry slow D class version. But negatives aside, Pure really impresses. The astounding visuals and deeper deviations from a simple arcade game keep it fresh, and while it isn’t perfect, Pure still takes you for the exhilarating ride of your life. Unrelenting and totally addictive, it’s not easy to put down for long.

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42 DON’T BEAT ‘EM, JOIN ’EM

VIVA PINATA TROUBLE IN PARADISE D FORMAT Xbox 360 PUBLISHER Microsoft Game Studios DEVELOPER Rare REVIEWED BY David Scammell

ebuting during the same period as Microsoft’s ‘other’ big franchise in the latter part of 2006, Viva Piñata was very much an unappreciated and often misunderstood gaming gem. As clued-up gamers dared to purchase the gaudy gardening-sim, cries of “It’s a kids’ game!” and “WTF are you buying that for?” emanated amongst uneducated social groups. Trust me; this writer was one of them. And yes, while on the outside VP may very well look like a Saturday morning cartoon transferred into a video game (in actual fact, the geniuses at Microsoft tried to secure its success by taking it the other way), we all know never to judge a book by its cover. Tasked with turning a dishevelled piece of land into a glorious animal homeland with only a shovel, a watering can and a handful of seeds, Viva Piñata struck a chord with gamers willing to give the game a go. Emerging two years later as more of a glorified expansion to the elements explored in the first game than a fully-blown sequel, Trouble in Paradise brings VP back into the fray with a number of select enhancements up its beautifully chic sleeve. One of Viva Piñata’s biggest new features is support for the Xbox LIVE Vision Cam, which allows players to scan in cards and use their respective feature in-game. Imagine Sony’s Eye of Judgment minus the headacheinducing stats with a sprinkle of added sweetness and you’re on the right path. The cards range from new Piñatas through to money bonuses and accessories, and the process proves to be simple and easy. The Vision Cam quickly picks up the unique scan line featured on the cards, instantly popping

the bonus in-game over the area the cursor is placed. There’s also the option for players to create their own cards using an in-game camera option, allowing them to upload a photo to the Viva Piñata website and send them on to friends. The feature is quick and seamless and adds a wealth of opportunities for players looking to swap their Piñatas further than the simple crate send of the original game. And unlike the original where the overall aim was to simply build the finest and most populated garden you possibly could, TiP adds in bonus objectives for players to complete whenever they become tired of standard gardening fare. Langston, a new character that pops up alongside Leafos and co., for example sets out challenges for the player to make various Piñatas happy,

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43 encouraging the player to acquire Piñatas they normally wouldn’t. As a result there’s a definite goal-oriented vibe in Trouble in Paradise that was sorely lacking in the original. You can also challenge online players to races and beauty contests, the latter of which is decided on your Piñatas appearance. The Piñatas themselves still of course remain the stars of the show, with over thirty new imaginatively named beasties rearing their head throughout the game. However, Trouble in Paradise isn’t without its shortfalls. The interface can often appear cluttered and unintuitive, which can throw off younger and inexperienced gamers from the get go. Just why exactly can’t we have mouse support, Microsoft? Wandering Piñatas can still get in the way of another mid-action, meaning you have to reselect the first and re-order the action. Disappointingly, gardens are still built on a flat plain, leading to some dull, uninspired and often untidy environments. The tedious romance mini-games still pop up every time you tell a Piñata to ‘get jiggy’. The new Desert and Arctic environments simply act as a quick

diversion to catch newer Piñatas rather than build environmentally-themed gardens within them, and the included mini-games are poor and underdeveloped, acting as nothing more than a short hiatus for those with small attention spans, bringing with them terrible memories of last year’s abysmal Party Animals. But despite that, Trouble in Paradise remains tremendously good fun and far too addictive for its own good. Microsoft’s biggest hurdle lies with the fact that Viva Piñata remains undeniably niche, and unfortunately Trouble in Paradise doesn’t do anything to broaden its market potential. However, those of you who braved the first game, or indeed think the idea of evolving a Fudgehog into a Parmadillo sounds jolly good fun, would do well picking up Rare’s second, and possibly last, foray into the weird and wonderful world of Viva Piñata.

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44 ALMOST LOST IN TRANSLATION

he Metal Gear Solid series has taken a lot of flack for the length of its cutscenes, and when playing Yakuza 2, the same criticisms spring to mind, but has SEGA managed find the perfect balance between narrative and ultra-violence?

FORMAT PlayStation 2 PUBLISHER SEGA DEVELOPER Amusement Vision REVIEWED BY Simeon Paskell

Arriving in the PlayStation 2â&#x20AC;&#x2122;s twilight years (and almost two years after its original release in Japan), Yakuza 2 picks up from where the original left off, throwing you head-first into the violent world of Japanese gangsters. Staunchly Japanese in its themes, presentation and narrative, it will no doubt be instantly appealing to the Otaku among us but may struggle to reach a larger audience, and this is a real shame as it has a lot to offer. At its core, Yakuza 2 is a beat 'em up, and in many ways a fairly traditional one at that. Wander the streets of various Japanese cities, beat seven shades of shinola out of street thugs and clash with big bosses. Though a successful template going back to the first time Irem's Kung Fu Master high-kicked its way into the arcades in 1984, the beat 'em up as a genre has been out of favour for some time now. How then, does Yakuza 2 manage to be more than just a beat 'em up, despite the fact that the majority of the gameplay revolves around grinding thugs into the dirt?

The answer comes in its narrative, reasonably deep fighting and leveling-up system and living and breathing streets that can often match the likes of GTAIV for their atmosphere of immersion. Broken into chapters, Yakuza 2 follows the trials and tribulations of Kiryu Kazuma as he attempts to resurrect the fortunes of the struggling Tojo Clan and prevent all-out war between the Yakuza factions. In truth, this very brief summary could never encapsulate the complexity of the plot and sub-plots that are weaved around the many characters featured in the game. Rife with double crossings, power struggles, love interests and bravado, the game's plot is both a huge strength and, unfortunately, also likely to be point of contention for some. On the plus side, it is fantastically well told. Cutscenes (which, for the most part, are rendered in the in-game engine) feature sharp, snappy and realistic dialogue spoken by characters with real personality. Most importantly, characterisation is hugely convincing, and in many ways Yakuza 2 seems to deliver on much of what was promised from gaming when we entered this current generation of consoles - i.e. games that match films in their delivery of plots, action and drama.


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45 On the downside, cutscenes can be a touch on the long side, leaving your thumb hovering anxiously over the square button, itching for a bit of ultra-violence. Luckily, when all the talking has ended and you finally get to take control of the ice-cold killer, Kazuma, the combat proves to be both visceral and satisfying. Delicately treading the fine-line between button-mashing and more measured approaches, taking on a gang of irate Yakuza requires both skill and a strong stomach. The usual punches, kicks, throws and combos are there, but it is the wince-inducing special moves that make the most impact. Smashing heads against the corner of tables, faces into glass and hurling enemies over balconies, these jarringly violent moves avoid the more flowery executions of the Manhunt series, but are no less shocking, in part due to the believability of their delivery.

A SLICE OF JAPANESE GAMING

WELL WORTH EXPERIENCING ”

When not banging heads together, you are given the freedom to explore various locations, and this is where the game really impresses. Though by no-means as large as Liberty City (or even No More Heroes’ Santa Destroy, a game with which Yakuza 2 has

much in common ), the small free-roaming areas really are perfectly formed. The streets of Osaka are a particular highlight; bustling with life swarming under the neon glare of advertising hoardings and clubs; crowds of people gather, mingle, chat and just go about their business. Although interactivity in these sections is minimal (only certain characters - highlighted with a green arrow - can be conversed with), the illusion of a living and breathing city is hugely convincing. Add to this a range of gloriously detailed internal locations (shops, bars, arcades - with playable machines!), and you have a game that is punching above its weight. On the PS3 or 360 this would have impressed. On the PS2, it is at times a revelation. Yakuza 2 will without question have a love/hate relationship with gamers. Many will be put off by the lengthy cutscenes, or bored by the lack of variety in the gameplay; but for those for which the game clicks, it is a title that will be hard to forget. Though not perfect and certainly not for everyone, the boldness of its narrative, confidence of its mechanics and ambition evident in its delivery make it a slice of Japanese gaming that is well worth experiencing. If the upcoming Yakuza 3 can broaden the series' scope and capitalise on the power of the PS3 in the same way that this does the PS2, it will certainly be one to watch.

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46

STAR WARS THE FORCE UNLEASHED INTO THE GARBAGE CHUTE, FLYBOY!

T

FORMAT REVIEWED Xbox 360 OTHER FORMATS PS3, Wii, PS2, PSP, DS PUBLISHER LucasArts DEVELOPER LucasArts REVIEWED BY David Scammell

he Star Wars franchise is no stranger to over-hyped videogame spin-offs that unfortunately (and often far too predictably) fail to set the world on fire upon arrival. Despite being host to an impressive library of material and that signature sci-fi universe, the games never seem to live up to expectation. But for some reason we all felt that The Force Unleashed would be different. As a determined LucasArts battles to deliver on the lofty promises of its "multimedia project", were we right in getting our hopes up for this year's big Star Wars title?

From the word go it's obvious that LucasArts want The Force Unleashed to make a lasting impression. Thrust into the boots of the Dark Lord himself and thrown onto the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk, TFU is certainly host to a memorable and worthy opening. Using your sinister powers to electrocute, desecrate and suffocate every Wookie that dares to cross your path, there's a certain dark pleasure to be had from the death and destruction unfolding around you. But digging beneath that shiny Star Wars exterior reveals the unfortunate abundance of flaws that plague LucasArts' potential masterpiece. From using the Force to repel floods of enemies to throwing lightning bolts from your fingertips, playing as an apprentice of Lord Vader you have all manner of Force Powers to use at your disposal. But as a hack & slasher merely spruced up with a Star Wars Theme, The Force Unleashed can go from being a spectacular homage to a deplorable gaming experience in an instant.

Much of TFU's problem lies with the under utilisation of said powers, simply used as a method to dispose of your enemies (themselves remaining pretty much unvaried throughout the entire game â&#x20AC;&#x201C; a great shame considering the wealth of characters available in the universe), or as a means of progression through breaking open doorways or pushing a button. Of course, picking up an explosive barrel and throwing it into the path of a TIE Fighter often warrants a smile, as does plucking said TIE out of the sky and flinging it at an army of Stormtroopers. But this is the height of pleasure you'll gain out of TFU. Force pushing your way through a vat of repetitive soldiers soon becomes tiresome and you'll hardly ever stop to use the multitude of other skills and combos unless absolutely necessary.

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47

â&#x20AC;&#x153; AN EXCELLENT GAME IN PREMISE, NAILED THE BASICS â&#x20AC;?

One particular setpiece late into the game will undoubtedly become a fond memory of many gamers, but in many respects TFU's mechanics have a tremendous amount of untapped potential, resultantly ending up feeling grossly unsatisfying. Even moments that you'd expect to act as a sure-fire way of utilising TFU's USP, such as fights against AT-STs, Rancors and the like, are instead reduced to simple quick time events after dropping the health bar enough. Boss fights as well are disappointingly dull, relying on the use of a single tactic, rinsing and repeating until your adversary's health bar is drained enough for another set of QTEs to kick in. Rather than being the heart-pumping close-knit duels that they very well should be, they're instead dull and uninspired. While admittedly a visual spectacle, we have to bring into question LucasArts' apparent idleness at creating unforgettable fights. The same, however, couldn't be said of the levels themselves: each superb recreations of the original source material. Though occasionally made up of copy/paste corridors and the odd clumsy platforming section, the environments are a true highlight of The Force Unleashed, enough to appease even the most disdainful Star Wars fan. But rather than offer a consistent difficulty progression, TFU is over-reliant on archaic traits to artificially increase its difficulty.

On later levels enemies simply overwhelm you rather than offer a challenge based on your increased skill set. And when coupled with unrelenting enemy respawns and incessant attacks that continue to damage you even when you're on your back, The Force Unleashed can seem harsh at best, and downright unfair at worst. And that's not all that will cause you to tear your hair out. The Force Unleashed is riddled with bugs: some amusing, some potentially game-breaking. In our playthrough we experienced stuck cameras, vanishing enemies, characters (including our own) becoming stuck in and behind scenery, unexpected instant deaths, game freezes and many, many more. For all intents and purposes, TFU is very much an unfinished game, and even the most patient of gamers will find it hard not to lose their rag after being forced to restart a level for the umpteenth time through no fault of their own. But behind the myriad of technical complaints and the odd flawed section still lies an undeniably entertaining game. It's one of those games that you really want to love - being let loose with the Force and given some often spectacular scenarios to work through makes for an excellent game in premise, but LucasArts just haven't nailed the basics. Fans will love the excellent, if slightly predictable story, but unfortunately The Force Unleashed isn't quite the all-singing, all-dancing Star Wars game we had hoped for. Disappointment of the year? Quite possibly.

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48 OUT FOR THE COUNT

FACEBREAKER

W

hen SEGA launched the Dreamcast back in 1999, there was one game that kept our attention once the novelty of a certain 3D hedgehog and our favourite arcade-cum-console rally racer eventually wore off. Featuring a certain afro-endowed boxer and an inflated sumo wrestler, Ready 2 Rumble Boxing was the pinnacle of arcade boxing. Fast forward almost an entire decade and there are surprisingly few titles willing to fight it for its place. But who better to step up to the plate than EA Sports?

FORMAT REVIEWED Xbox 360 OTHER FORMATS PlayStation 3 PUBLISHER EA Sports DEVELOPER EA Canada REVIEWED BY David Scammell

Well, you would think that at least. But in spite of any pre-conceptions you may have of FaceBreaker’s comedic intentions, the actual game is about as much fun as going three rounds in the ring with Mike Tyson. It’s fun in the sense that it’s filled with larger than life caricaturised characters (yes, including Peter Moore), neon-coloured arenas and action shots of boxers flying through the air after being on the receiving end of a particularly powerful blow, but the game itself is the complete antithesis of what most people would class as entertainment.

your opponent’s health after someone goes down. And continuing with the ‘let’s be as far away from boxing as we possibly can’ theme, it’s not a case of the most knockdowns wins the match either: if you don’t manage three knockdowns in the allotted time a sudden death will decide the victor, where the first knockdown wins. It’s quite possible to dominate your opponent throughout the three rounds, only to lose in sudden death. Infuriating is not the word. Appalling design choice is.

But to say it’s possible to dominate would perhaps be an exaggeration. FaceBreaker is fiendishly difficult, filled with superhuman characters that do nothing but pull off the same incessant flurry of punches and clairvoyant parries. In fact, it’s fair to say that the insane difficulty level will throw off quite a few players from the start, as even the first round on the lowest difficulty of the game’s ‘Brawl For It All’ mode proves to

FaceBreaker audaciously asks you to forget everything you may already know about boxing games. Gone are stamina bars and the tight windows of opportunity to land a thumping haymaker, and in their place is button-mashing fuelled arcade gameplay that has more in common with Street Fighter than Fight Night. Each fight is played out through a series of three minute rounds, much like your typical boxer, but the winner is the first to three knockouts, like your typical fighter. To make matters more confusing, knockouts have the same effect as rounds, restoring both you and

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49 be uncompromisingly hard. The amount of frustration caused by beating your opponent to a pulp, only to suddenly be on the receiving end of an unblockable, all-powerful combo is enough to put the controller down in disgust. On the later levels, your controller will think itself lucky not to end up embedded in the wall. Foolishly, the game forces you to repeat the same tactics as your foes, knocking out non-stop mashes of high and low punches in an attempt to drain your opponent’s health enough to deliver a special move. To make matters worse, the block system is more a case of luck than of any real skill, reliant on fortuitously timed button presses. And against a barrage of erratic counterparts, it’s next to useless. Long-term players might find themselves picking up on opponents’ moves and learning their sequences in time to parry, but for all intents and purposes that shouldn’t be the case. And in a game launching EA Sports’ Freestyle sub-brand, a brand that claims to promote casual, pick up and play titles, it’s downright bizarre.

FaceBreaker’s one saving grace is the Boxer Factory, a brilliant supplement that gives players access to thousands of downloadable boxers created by the community. Ever wanted to see who would win in a fight between George Bush and Tony Blair, or see Borat square off against Austin Powers? We were witness to the hilarity in just a few quick clicks. And yes, the custom created characters are much more visually impressive than any Miis you might have been boxing with in Wii Sports. Hopefully we’ll see more of this feature in more established, and ultimately better brands. By removing any sense of strategy and skill EA has broken the two most fundamental rules of a fighter. Instead FaceBreaker is a mere exercise in button-bashing: the videogame equivalent of those plastic toy boxers where you mash the button until your opponent’s head pops off. We soon got bored of those and, unsurprisingly, we soon got bored of this. FaceBreaker’s not big, and it certainly isn’t clever. Come back Afro Thunder, all is forgiven.

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50 TEACHING AN OLD HEDGEHOG NEW TRICKS

SONIC CHRONICLES

THE DARK BROTHERHOOD

I

FORMAT DS PUBLISHER SEGA DEVELOPER BioWare REVIEWED BY Emmet Purcell

t’s tough being a company mascot. After firmly establishing himself as an indestructible pop culture icon in the 90s, SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog has since been trundled out for a quick buck time after time, be it to play tennis, or even ride hover boards. Each canon installment has also confirmed the anthropomorphic hedgehog’s reluctance to fully meld his traditional gameplay styles with the demands of 3D platform gaming, whilst overloading an already stuffed ragtag of series cast members. Thus much-vaunted Canadian RPG developers BioWare’s (Neverwinter Nights, Mass Effect) decision to breathe life and credibility into SEGA’s star was one that perplexed hardcore gamers and delighted Sonic devotees. Its outcome, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, is an admirable success, but one that falls short of satisfying both spectrums. Placing the world’s fastest hedgehog into one of gaming’s slowest genres was always going to be the biggest hurdle yet for BioWare. Luckily then, that the developers have introduced an intuitive interface for their first handheld title. The entire game is stylus-controlled, with special markers indicating character-specific abilities to navigate (Tail’s Flight, Sonic’s Speed etc). The bottom DS screen displays an isometric view whilst the top screen is a wonderful hand-drawn map of your area. In all, the art style is impeccable and Chronicles features some of the finest visuals on Nintendo’s

handheld thus far. As for the stylus control, for fans of Phantom Hourglass it will be of second nature but for newcomers it can prove irksome, particularly when trying to avoid the pre-determined paths of foes looking a battle. Speaking of battles, each turn-based conflict in Chronicles is indicative of the faith BioWare had in relying on stylus control. Each character holds a PP bar, reserved for upgradeable “POW” attacks. A POW attack’s full damage can tend to only be administered through a variety of Elite Beat Agent-style co-ordination tests. Fail a repetition in one POW attack and you’ll see your potential damage decreasing, whilst perfectly repelling a similar attack from your foe will cause them to miss the attack entirely. It’s a great idea in practice and initially spurs you into fighting as many battles as possible to discover the intricacies of the system. Sadly, it quickly becomes clear that each attack and defence only relies on 3-4 different stylus challenges.


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51

“ TROUBLED MASCOT THE A TITLE SURE TO WIN

MANY FANS IN THE MONTHS TO COME

The system also ensures that one cannot simply turn away once their turn has been chosen; their full concentration for each move will be required. For RPG veterans this approach, coupled with its repetitious nature, does the game no favours yet it’s a problem that could be easily solved should BioWare continue the series.

If there’s one thing that BioWare does manage to get right however, it’s turning Sonic’s ever-expanding cavalcade of supporting characters from painful irritants to likable allies. Yes, even Tails. That the RPG developers have somehow managed to wrangle empathy and personality from a series renowned for fast gameplay and shallow characters is a minor miracle. Faced with the challenge of translating their typical multi-layered console storytelling to Sonic was always going to be a challenge and while the storyline itself is uninspired, it is still perfectly pitched at younger Sonic audiences, and does an admirable job in that respect. Sadly for BioWare veterans, here dialogue tree choices rarely make any difference to proceedings (aside from constantly putting down the awful Amy Rose) and are a rare missed opportunity.

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If anything, where Sonic Chronicles succeeds and falters is in trying to appease both vastly different audiences - younger Sonic fans and hardcore BioWare veterans. Anyone that had looked at the developer’s impressive track record could be forgiven for hoping this title would be the modern incarnation of Squaresoft’s 1996 classic, Super Mario RPG. However this type of gamer is already well catered-for on the DS with a number of titles - most recently Square’s own The World Ends With You. In deliberately sidestepping this market BioWare has created a rare beast; a beginners RPG that is pitched perfectly for the hedgehog and handheld’s younger followers to identify with, while still possessing its developer’s unmistakable sheen of quality. Thus despite its flaws, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is the game that Sonic’s fans had hoped for since its announcement and a title sure to win the troubled mascot many more in the months to come.

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52 WELL ENDOWED

FERRARI CHALLENGE

C

FORMAT REVIEWED PlayStation 3 OTHER FORMATS Wii, PS2, DS PUBLISHER System 3 DEVELOPER Eutechnyx REVIEWED BY Stefan Goerke-Hewitt

onsole simulation racing games are increasing by numbers but there's a rudimentary problem with a large proportion of them. Some scientifically reproduce dynamics based on manufacturer data but seldom few have actually driven the cars featured in their games, and even then only a minority are attended to. To get anywhere near close, developers employ test drivers - human beings that have proven real-world experiences - to fine-tune physics systems and replicate the dynamics of racing. On paper Ferrari Challenge has the best chance of recreating the fundamentals of a good racing game. Unsurprisingly Ferrari supplied data to build the foundations, but project leader Mark Cale is a passionate Ferrari collector who can leverage real-world experiences of the marquee, hiring Bruno Senna, videogamer and nephew to the legendary Aryton Senna, as handling consultant, a proven racing driver participating in the GP2 championship and the European Ferrari Challenge series. Crucially the people involved have first hand experiences of Ferrari and the sport.

slipstream, race wheel-to-wheel and, sometimes with adverse consequences, peek their noses in to view by out-braking you and each other. In fact the testosterone fuelled AI can seem aggressively audacious, not shy of a little bump and grind resulting in bright tracers and shards of coachwork indicating impact. Play hard too much and you'll damage your car, albeit not performance affecting, losing persistent body panels to the track. The AI also reveals defensive manoeuvres like weaving to eradicate slipstreaming and cutting across your bow approaching corners protecting the inside line. Fortunately you can apply the same tactics to hoax the driver ahead and overtake on the other side of the track. This isn't a predictable on-rails experience. The AI clearly demonstrates a dynamic competitive nature not bound to racing lines, adapting to your track position numerous times and recreating an intense wheel-to-wheel experience better than any other in the genre.

Built to simulation rules, the handling model is challenging yet civilised. As expected your F430 faithfully looses adhesion in extreme circumstances, visibly twitching and stressing through fast corners and on surface undulations warranting feint opposite lock but, with moderation, it's possible to tail slide the full length of a curve. In chase cam with assists off the experience gleefully flirts with arcade characteristics, wonderfully replicating what you may expect of a modern mechanical OutRun, raising a charming smile from cheek to cheek. That's not to say things are always so playful. From rolling starts the fifteen AI are keen to

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53 The fifteen strong track roster is, without doubt, best in class. F1 circuits Monza, Silverstone, Hockenheim & Montreal and MotoGP's Mugello & Valellunga tender a mix of fast flowing corners, swift double-apexes, weaving s-bends and cambers garnished with swaying trees, dynamic flag-waving marshals, even moving clouds along with a plethora of other subtle effects and in wet conditions objects are reflected, cars are smothered and raindrops ripple the track. The pinnacle has to be Spa-Francorchamps, the world's grandest circuit that throws everything at you unravelled in over two minutes of pure joy and providing one of the greatest racing experiences you'll ever have. Challenge races are timed so when the clock reaches zero whoever completes the next full lap first wins, but the lack of a restart option means you'll finish in last position if you quit a race. Race length is scalable from 5, 15, 30 and 45 minutes as are difficulty levels, assists, wheel sensitivities and car set-ups. Progress unlocks circuits and you accumulate credits to buy Ferraris, old and new, offering a diverse range of handling models from the skittish 250 GTO and 365 Daytona to the breakneck Enzo FXX or F333 SP. Trophy mode lets you race unlocked cars in mini-tournaments to gain access to even more Ferrari's which you can decorate using the decal editor, however, the hapless controls and image manipulation aren't at all precise.

RAW EXPERIENCE THAT â&#x20AC;&#x153; AREWARDS EFFORT AND FLIRTS WITH YOUR EMOTIONS

â&#x20AC;?

Engineered to 1080p, the 30fps endures marginal dips in frames but not enough to distract from the action ahead. And although locations are detailed, people may be underwhelmed by the visual presentation even though the dark and gritty style perfectly suits. Cars are detailed with locking straps, consequential shattered glass, scrapes and full interior modelling along with the obligatory pan option. Replays suffer pop-in but are energetic and highlight the AI's competitiveness and frailties using various camera angles. The DTS sound is also solid; accelerating engines whine, bigger V blocks viciously roar on change down, kerbs rumble and bodywork creeks under the strain but collisions sound like grating sandpaper on impact.

Unfortunately the online mode doesn't always work. You'll occasionally manage to participate in a race but for the majority of the time you'll be joining empty lobbies or become the sole contender on the racetrack. There's also a Time Trial option to compete against gamers worldwide but it's inconsistent, not recognising posted times plus no ghost option is available. It may be hard to believe but Eutechnyx have punched above their weight by such a margin other racing games may start to feel lifeless. The senses are consistently battered revealing a raw experience that rewards effort and flirts with your emotions. It may be not be the technical tour de force gamers might expect but the game has an abundance of detail and playability created with passion, by people who own and race Ferraris. The fundamentals we talked about earlier - the handling, AI and track selection - are the heart and soul of this experience that absolutely cement Ferrari Challenge as one of the finest racing games this writer has ever played.

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54

PLAYTV JUST PUSH PLAY

A

s the battle to produce the ultimate multimedia console continues to wage between Sony and Microsoft, Sony brings PlayTV to the battlefield, a no-frills digital video recorder looking to invade your AV setup later this month.

FORMAT PlayStation 3 RRP £69.99 PUBLISHER SCE DEVELOPER Sony REVIEWED BY David Scammell

The first thing that strikes you about the PlayTV box itself is its uncharacteristically drab aesthetics. While small, lightweight, cool to the touch and completely silent, the unit feels cheaply made with a dull finish and an unsightly USB cable trailing to your PS3. If ever any evidence was needed that the PS3 should have shipped with USB ports on the back, PlayTV is it. Beneficially, the power drained from the USB port negates the need for an external AC adaptor, so that’s one less wire to worry about at least. Turn on the unit, however, and all is forgiven. Initial setup is simple, taking around 5-6 minutes to install software and tune channels. The frontend is clean and easily navigable with separate sections for live TV, recorded programs, scheduled recordings and the 7-day EPG, and using the on-screen menus to find a programme is just as intuitive as any other DVR interface you may have come across before. And in spite of the unit itself not upscaling the feed (picture resolution remains at 720x576), the PS3 does an outstanding job at rendering a crisp and clear picture. Unsurprisingly, PlayTV’s interface is one of the most visually pleasing and intuitive we’ve ever seen in a DVR, with HD graphical elements making for a slick on-screen menu and fancy zoom and fade effects kicking in as you flick between channels.

While using the Sixaxis or DualShock 3 with PlayTV may not be the most natural method for channel hopping, it nonetheless remains relatively simple. Using L1 & R1 to switch between channels, L2 & R2 to fast forward and rewind, Start and Select to pause and record, and the d-pad and face buttons to navigate the menus, finding your way around PlayTV is a doddle. If you've got a BD remote control you'll find navigating the interface even easier using the supplied adhesive overlay, which sticks securely to the top of your remote highlighting PlayTV’s functionality. Like many other DVRs, PlayTV also gives you the option to pause and rewind live TV, though you have to enable it in the settings menu beforehand – live buffering is disabled by default. Bizarrely, we were restricted to fast forwarding and skipping back and forth between scenes when using the BD remote during ‘Replay TV’, but when using the DualShock 3 we could also rewind. Hopefully that’s just a pre-release software glitch and something easily fixed in time for launch. The two tuners mean you can watch a


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55 second programme while recording the first, though you can’t record two programmes simultaneously. Scheduling a programme to record is simple, carried out by highlighting the chosen programme and hitting Select. You can also use Replay TV to pause a second programme and leave the feed buffering, should you really need to temporarily record a second programme.

remove the aerial partway through, before putting it back in five minutes later to see how the DVR responded. When playing back the programme, a warning notified us of an error within the recording and took the initiative to remove the five minutes from the file. So rather than having to sit and stare at a blank screen until the picture came back, Play TV combined the problem-free parts seamlessly.

Other features include the ability to search the week ahead via keywords, enabling you to find and record particular shows up to one week in advance. Unlike certain other DVRs however, you can’t tell PlayTV to record every show in a particular series. Instead, a manual recording has to be set up for the day and time that it’s broadcast, much like how you’d set up an old VCR. The lack of this basic feature comes as both disappointment and of annoyance, spoilt as we are by series link features in rival DVRs.

We also found background recording to be free of any problems. Alarm bells started ringing amongst prospective buyers when Sony sent out a warning stating that background recording may affect gameplay and/or Blu-ray/DVD playback, but thankfully during our testing we witnessed nothing of the sort. Sitting through the first half hour of our Casino Royale Blu-ray proved to be just as enjoyable as ever, with no untoward side effects on the playback or with the recording. We then tested the first chapter of Metal Gear Solid 4, which again seemed to have no adverse effects on either the gameplay or the recording going on in the background. Finally we loaded up our PSN download of Gran Turismo 5: Prologue. Booting from the hard drive we expected this to come off the worst, but again we saw no problems with either the gameplay or the recording. Load and save times remained consistent and there was no untoward graphical behaviour.

When scheduling programmes to record, PlayTV also estimates how much space will be needed for each programme. It’s an incredibly useful and highly accurate feature that’ll inform you of any potential space issues beforehand, rather than cutting out the recording half way through. For the record, PlayTV estimated that 30 minutes of a Channel 4 programme would consume 0.8GB of our hard drive, with the actual recording turning out to be 761MB. Should there be an error during a recording, PlayTV helpfully notifies you before playback. While recording a programme we decided to

Despite the warning, it seems that Sony has done some fairly extensive playtesting to ensure that problems with background recording are minimal, should they even exist at all. One word of warning though. We found that we had to boot up the game/Blu-ray from the in-game XMB in order for the background recording to work. Quitting PlayTV first and booting from the main menu resulted in failed recordings. And contrary to some reports, our PlayTV box didn’t lock up once during the time we spent testing it, proving to be reliable even after hours of continued use.

THE WARNING, IT SEEMS THAT “ DESPITE BACKGROUND RECORDING PROBLEMS ARE MINIMAL ”


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56 PROGRAMMES CAN “ RECORDED BE EXPORTED TO AN

EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE ON YOUR PC”

AND PLAYED BACK

Unfortunately, the PS3 has to remain switched on while recording, rather than being able to record while in standby. Thankfully, the PS3 will automatically wake itself up from standby mode to record a scheduled programme, before turning itself off again at the programme’s end. The PS3 doesn’t beep when turning on and off for a recording either, so if you’ve set up PlayTV to record something overnight in your bedroom, you won’t be disturbed by the PS3’s activity. You can also export recordings to the PS3’s XMB and play them back as you would a downloaded video, negating the need to boot up PlayTV to view recordings. These exported recordings can also be backed up to an external hard drive as .m2ts files, which can then be played back on your PC using VLC Media Player. Unfortunately, the PSP doesn’t recognise them. PlayTV is, however, compatible with PSP through Remote Play, perfect for when you fancy watching an episode of EastEnders under the covers, or perhaps more importantly, when you’ve forgotten to set up a recording. So if you’ve gone out for the night and forgotten to set Dragons’ Den to record, no bother. If you’re at a Wi-Fi enabled venue and happen to have your PSP on you, you can get your recording set up

quickly and easily – given you’ve left your PS3 in Remote Play mode, of course. Unfortunately PlayTV's isn’t without its setbacks. The biggest irritation users will incur is having to switch on the PS3 and boot up PlayTV whenever you want to watch television which, unless you buy an RF splitter, is exactly what you'll have to do. It’s not a particularly long process, but 40 seconds of waiting for software to load is never going to be favoured over the quick, one button start-up of your typical TV set. The inability to record HD footage also means that there'll inevitably be a hardware revision should a firmware update not be good enough, and the fact that most modern TV’s come packed with a digital tuner also questions PlayTV’s value. Of course the only other limitations come down to how much hard disk space you have left. What with the numerous PS3 titles needing installation, those using a 40GB PS3 may already be pushing single digit figures of remaining hard disk space. To make the most out of PlayTV, the only option for them may be to upgrade to a bigger hard drive. PlayTV’s lack of certain basics is counter-balanced by some fantastic features. It’s undoubtedly a useful add-on to those looking for an easy solution to recording Freeview television, but the range, ability and ever-decreasing price of rival DVRs ultimately casts doubt over PlayTV’s position in the market.

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57 ONE MORE TIME

FINAL FANTASY IV B

FORMAT DS PUBLISHER Square Enix DEVELOPER Square Enix REVIEWED BY Zoheir Beig

eing a self-confessed novice to the entire JRPG genre I approached this review with a certain trepidation. The experience of plunging head-first into a world of levelling-up, item management and – gritted teeth – random battles is to all intents akin to hearing heavy metal or reading, say, Dostoyevsky for the first time. Unless it’s all that you’ve ever known there’s a certain natural sensory hurdle to clamber across. But then, what was once overwhelming, be it the sheer impact of Slayer’s ‘Reign In Blood’ or all 500-plus pages of ‘Crime And Punishment’, suddenly becomes accommodating – even vital - and before you know it there’s a whole new world of cultural discoveries to make.

Many would have felt the same way playing Final Fantasy IV upon its original release. The first SNES entry for the legendary series, released as Final Fantasy II to maintain continuity for western gamers, the game is generally regarded as a milestone for the series for the introduction of Square’s Active Battle System which, for the first time, allowed you to input commands during real-time. Indeed, much-missed Nintendo magazine Super Play ranked FFII/IV the 20th best SNES game of all time, saying that “the story, soundtrack and finely-tuned gameplay make it essential playing to all RPGers”. That was back in 1996. Twelve years on and FFIV is now the latest in Square Enix’s series of polished remakes for the Nintendo DS, just two more instalments away from that hallowed seventh game. The first thing that really stands out is the faultless way a strong narrative thread and characters are introduced; within the first hour a theme of redemption and the imperialistic ambitions of a power-hungry monarchy are established, Cecil emerging as a principled, engaging protagonist (referred to amusingly as

the Dark Knight, though this is apparently a regular character class within the series). The plot and gradual arc is subtly implemented; it’s only thinking about the game later that I realise just how strong the translation and voice acting is.

This at times compulsive momentum truly carries FFIV, and goes some way to explaining just why JRPG devotees regularly cite story as the most significant part of the genre. Without this investment in a cast of heroes, this need for catharsis and the expectation of wrenching twists, the abstract battle system (well, abstract to someone reared on the Zelda games) and attendant exploration would be little more than numbers and an exercise in mind-numbing repetition. Granted FFIV does come across as the equivalent of jumping in at the deep-end for someone new to the genre, but even something as pivotal to the game’s mechanics as levelling-up can take on a certain relaxing quality. The game is hard, often annoyingly so, but deeply rewarding if the effort and patience are spent. Visually the 3D makeover does a solid job. There are enough effects and functional animations (e.g the swirling screen preceding every battle) that nod to the title’s origins, balanced by elegant presentation and a superb score (from series staple Nobuo Uematsu). The DS isn’t used to its full capabilities, but like the previous remake of Final Fantasy III Square Enix’s agenda with these new editions has been less about dragging the series kicking into the next-generation and more about preserving the games for new audiences to discover

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them as they were meant to be played – much like the manner in which folk songs would be passed from one singer to the next, or the periodic remasters of classic cinema. FFIV may be a form of heritage gaming, but it’s no less a pleasurable example of videogaming for being so. Returning to the theme of trepidation, aware that Final Fantasy attracts passionate and vocal debate unlike any other series, I contacted a best friend and ardent fan to explain just what the games personally mean to him, and what I could expect from this undeniably superb example of the series. His reply referenced everything that becomes clear after a dedicated playthrough: the overarching themes, the engrossing plots, the superior level of characterisation, the depth, the worlds, the music…Final Fantasy may still be too overwhelming to some - this writer included - but like, er, Slayer and Dostoyevsky, FFIV is a great and demanding art. Consider me converted.

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58 DUNGEONS AND HANDHELDS

DRAGON QUEST IV THE CHAPTERS OF THE CHOSEN

A

FORMAT DS PUBLISHER Square Enix DEVELOPER Square Enix REVIEWED BY Simeon Paskell

s David Brent from The Office once said, “a good idea is a good idea forever”. Take the wheel as an example - since its conception the idea of ‘a round thing that rolls’ hasn’t really changed much over the years. Unfortunately, videogames can often be an exception to this rule – titles that were genuinely at the cutting edge of game design 15 years ago can look horribly dated and maybe even unplayable today. With this remake of Dragon Quest IV for the Nintendo DS (released now with the sub-heading of The Chapters of the Chosen), Square Enix have taken a chance that the mechanics of the eighteen-year-old original have managed to survive the test of time and keep up with the relentless pace of technology. As it turns out, The Chapters of the Chosen is every-bit as robust as the wheel and despite the time that has lapsed since it first debuted on the NES in 1990, this faithfully translated and lovingly embellished DS version goes a long way to suggest that Slough's finest might have been on to something. Strip away its gloriously vibrant exterior, and what lies at the core of TCotC is strong game design held together with excellent characterisation and genuine charm. On the surface, this is a fairly traditional role playing game. Delve a little deeper and it becomes apparent that, yes, this is a fairly traditional role-playing game. Aside from an interesting narrative structure, it adheres to the conventions that have become genre staples (and that the series no doubt played a large part in shaping); turn-based combat, party management, grinding through a

generous levelling system and rescuing cowering villagers from the forces of darkness are all present and correct. In some respects then, TCotC is unlikely to blow you away. In fact, one of the first words that springs to mind is ‘cosy’ and for hardened RPG fans, the game will probably feel like a pair of favourite pair of slippers; lacking in surprises, but pleasingly comfortable all the same.

This may suggest that TCotC is little more than a solid, if unexceptional RPG, but this would do the game a great disservice. Firstly, the care and attention that has gone into sprucing up its source material is evident from the moment you first start exploring the painterlyrendered villages and dungeons. It appears that Square Enix were on a mission to wring every last drop of colour from the DS’s frail frame, and as a result, the game is often a feast for the eyes. The understated yet often dazzling visuals impress even further when you first realise that the world can be rotated 360°, a touch that manages to impress more than it probably has any right to. Spread this kaleidoscope of colour over two screens, and you have a game that makes great use of its host consoles capabilities, although some use of the touchscreen would have been welcome. Visually, there are rough edges. Though never short of charm, character sprites are fairly rudimentary and the world map can be a touch on the drab side. Additionally, some of the villages can look a little over familiar, with architecture being repeated and simply

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rearranged. However, these small quibbles are easily forgotten when you're locked in combat against a team of ill tempered stick-insects or shovel-wielding moles. It is in fact the combat sections that most neatly sum up Dragon Quest. Although technically basic in presentation, the vibrant, imaginative and often quirky character design effortlessly washes away any need for huge polygon counts and bump mapping. Smaller but no less intelligently applied touches such as the day/night cycles - subtly shifting from the bright royal-blue skies of the daytime to the warm orange glow of sunset - further add to the sense of immersion. Split over five chapters TCotC’s narrative structure strays somewhat from RPG convention. Rather than following the classic hero's journey, we are instead presented with four individual narrative threads that tie together in a final chapter. Through this simple idea the game remains engaging and intriguing - and discovering how the four chapters relate to each other is immensely rewarding.

The Chapters of the Chosen is a deep, well conceived, measured and expertly delivered title that is as rewarding to play as it is aesthetically pleasing. It is a title that is both a fascinating glimpse into the past and a wonderful vindication of the importance and durability of solid game design. Though there are areas that may not appeal to some (the emphasis on grinding will no doubt test the patience of more actionorientated gamers), the game will no doubt serve as an excellent introduction to the RPG genre, as well as an opportunity for European RPG fans to play a previously unreleased title. That it can still hold its own as an excellent game in its own right, remake or not, speaks volumes, and with this as evidence, the upcoming Dragon Quest IX is an exciting prospect indeed.

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REVIEWS

59 FIT NOT FLAT

MULTIWINIA:

SURVIVAL OF THE FLATTEST

G FORMAT PC PUBLISHER Introversion Software DEVELOPER Introversion Software REVIEWED BY Emily Knox

ames like Multiwinia are a rare breed to be treasured; every once in a while something refreshingly different rears its head, in this case an amalgamation of genres and a unique graphical style, only baring comparison with its predecessor, Darwinia. The original was a tale of destroying a computer virus inhabiting a fully realised digital world: if removing a virus was as fun as this in real life, we’d all be opening our spam folder and eagerly downloading dubious attachments right now.

Now, in Multiwinia: Survival of the Flattest, the iconic 2D Darwinians have transgressed and are no longer locked in a single-player fight against a computer virus. Instead they’ve split into numerous factions, fighting each other for control over the digital recourses Darwinia holds; oil, solar power, fuel, and so on. In this altered setting, Multiwinia allows players to battle against each other (both offline with the AI and online amongst other human players), across a selection of different multiplayer modes. Although we’ve seen the likes of King of the Hill being done before, the game also plays host to more complex types like Rocket Riot, pitching players in a race against each other to activate solar panels, refuel, board, and blast off in a rocket. Multiwinia maintains the distinct looks from its predecessor Darwinia, taking the appearance of a videogame down to some of its simplest forms. Characters are predominantly 2D, inhabiting an incredibly basic yet effective 3D environment. The graphics are simple, endearing and distinctly retro, dominated by block colours and free of small detail, which perfectly complements the game’s story of

controlling a digital world. In a way, playing Multiwinia even for the first time somehow manages to feel nostalgic; it’s remarkable to see two-dimensional characters inhabiting a video game today. The comparatively low requirements will come as a breath of fresh air for many PC gamers, and it’s easy to argue that by avoiding a photo-realistic experience, the developers have been able to focus efforts on simply making the game fun and unique (not to mention something that runs brilliantly smoothly despite thousands of units running around shooting each other).

Although at a glance the gameplay may appear to be a simple RTS affair, this is not the case. Unlike other RTSs you can construct a gun turret and fire it at the masses yourself, and similarly there are specific units you can move around, take aim and fire with. Elements like this force you to get up close and personal with individual units despite the massive scale of the battle around you. Arguably making Multiwinia stand out from the crowd further are its crates. That probably sounds a little crazy; as we all know, crates are easily the most overused, commonplace object known throughout the entirety of videogames. But these aren’t your bog-standard crates. Multiwinia’s crates drop gracefully from the sky and land randomly around the map, but you’ll have no idea what’s inside until you’ve opened the contents.

PLAY

PAUSE

STOP

Crates have to ability to swing the entire tide of battle. You could be blessed with friendly monsters to crush your opponents, the ability to place a turret or summon a UFO to recycle souls and boost your population, but alternatively you face the risk of opening an effective Pandora’s Box, with the potential to push you out of the game. Thankfully it’s also just as likely that a giant space ship will loom overhead and indiscriminately suck up units from any team, only to land them back down on the map as “Futurwinians” – a new enemy race to contend with. It’s a double-edged sword; on one hand you could be dominating most of the map, your Multiwinians see a crate and rush to open it only to unleash a virus that spreads throughout your population, destroying most of it - while on the other you could be losing, grab a crate and launch a missile attack anywhere on the map. Unfortunately crates can throw what feels like a massive unfairness into the mix, so the ability to alter crate settings to ‘weighted’ so

they tend to land nearer players in last place, or just turn them off altogether is a welcome option. The risk crates have to offer is worth it, if only for the satisfaction of dropping a bundle of eggs on the enemy’s doorstep, and watching Multiwinian’s running away while they hatch into giant beasts. Multiwinia has a ton of longevity to offer; the game will surprise you constantly, while coupled with formidable AI and an exciting variety of match types means there’s plenty of manic multiplayer fun to be had.

VERDICT


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61

PR ROBOT OR ZEALOUS HUMAN? The Developer’s Internet Conundrum By Patrick Steen The internet is a dangerous place for videogame developers. Crawling with trolls that feast on the opinions of journos, you’d think it’d be a cinch to ignore the fanboy fluff. Yet some developers can’t help but take the bait, venturing into the forum pit with an aim to defend their game and influence the buying public. Naturally, internet forums are made up of both the crazed and the rational; but differentiating between a learned adult and a pre-pubescent helmet wearing cat is nigh on impossible, that is unless you’re particularly savvy at forensic linguistics. So is the risk worth taking, or does the public nature of internet forums render them unsuitable for input from the creators of the products they discuss?

FEATURE


FEATURE

62 In 2007 David Jaffe experienced a forum backlash after openly expressing disappointment to reviews for his PlayStation 3 game Calling All Cars!. The hole grew deeper when he replied to critical forumites with the creative insult “GO F*** YOUR MOTHER UP HER JIGGLY ASS T***.” As crass as this star encrusted response might be, he was somewhat justified in calling out those who badgered him for simply speaking his mind. He continued:

“ ‘Cause jeeze man, what am I supposed to be? A f***ing robot? I make games for a living, we care if people like what we do. We are not perfect, our games are not perfect […] and it sucks when people don’t love our stuff as much as we had hoped.” It’s hard not to sympathise, but he plainly highlights the topic in question: should developers bite the bullet and be “f***ing robots” when it comes to the internet? Jaffe’s mind was made up for him. After evidently upsetting friends in “the biz” (read Sony) he decided to “go dark.” Still, his separation from the infectious web was short lived. Now his own employer, Jaffe made a return to blogging two months later, although with a noticeably less bolshy attitude. Whether Jaffe’s trash talking actually had a negative effect on the game itself is unclear. In fact, the respect for his hard-nosed attitude may have influenced some of the games more generous reviews: how long were you playing the cops and robbers game?

A F***ING ROBOT? ” “ WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO BE?DAVID JAFFE, CALLING ALL CARS


FEATURE

63 So Kratos’ architect escaped relatively unscathed, but there is an outspoken and provocative developer who experienced a more tumultuous downward spiral: Denis Dyack. It began with his studio, Silicon Knights, presenting an unpolished demo of their game Too Human at the video games trade show E3 in 2006. The media was unimpressed, but sympathetic. The forums were less kind, scouring previews for insults to hurl at the game like an army of angry squirrels. Their antics should have been ignored, but Dyack took it upon himself to make a personal appearance, displaying mounting frustration and eventually undergoing an intellectual fit over the gaming community’s flaws: ‘Previews corrupt the public’s perception of the final product;’ ‘forums are unregulated gatherings of fanatics carping on about unreleased games.’ And lets not get befuddled here: Dyack makes a very reasonable point. No other entertainment medium is critiqued before it’s ready for consumption. Even so, there’s a time, a place and a conduct to pop the cherry. Preferably at a respectable publication, using a composed manner and after the release of your magnum opus. At every step Dyack fed the trolls tasty morsels, until the saga culminated in a warning to arguably the biggest gaming forum of them all; NeoGAF. Calling all naysayers to stand and be counted, he waged a gruesome bet to forever be damned by the forum if his game failed critically. He vindicated his questionable crusade as follows: “NeoGAF and other forums like this that don’t have good management are not only hurting society and hurting the videogame industry, they’re in decline, and they need to reform quickly before people stop listening to them.” Dyack’s controversial ranting bought him a first class ticket into the media’s clowns club, with members including the likes of Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and Jack Thompson – their crazy antics reported on just for the sake of a catchy headline. “It’s only a matter of time before something bad happens,” Dyack said. He fulfilled his own prophecy. Hypercritical reviews of Too Human surged, forum dwellers slammed the title for minor blemishes, and ‘the GAF’ put him out of his misery by banning him. It’s true that the game isn’t a masterpiece, but there was certainly a whiff of exaggeration. The trash Dyack brought to the table soured the media’s view of him and they had their revenge.

“FORUMS ARE HURTING THE VIDEOGAME INDUSTRY ”

DENIS DYACK, TOO HUMAN


FEATURE

64 Lionhead developer Peter Molyneux suffered a comparable backlash after the release of Fable, and expresses sympathy for Dyack’s adventures: “talking about a game before it’s released is a dangerous game. You can just say a few things wrong and then it’s like an avalanche.” Self-censorship is the key. It’s cringe worthy to watch a games developer invest so much energy jousting with individuals intent on provoking an emotional response. The urge must be resisted. Dyack’s observation that “if you don’t understand something, you immediately attack it,” was originally in reference to Too Human’s critics, but it elucidates his own failings. Dyack attacks online gaming communities because he doesn’t understand them, unlike David Jaffe who has clearly learnt his lesson: “People don’t read the whole post, hell people don’t tend to read the post at all, but rather a truncated version of the post posted on another website with just the part of the post that is inflammatory enough to get the haters in a tizzy and get hits on the site in question.” But is silence really the solution? There’s something charming about open developers, and some, like Insomniac and Bungie, do get it right. The secret is for interaction to be both measured and positive. Ultimately, bad previews fade in the wake of good reviews, but make a fuss and the stigma will stick. Ignore the rampant trolls and definitely don’t insult the media, or else expect a gaggle of egos to take offence. Then again, we might just regret the day our David Jaffe’s and Denis Dyack’s are replaced by vacant press releases and robotic developers devoid of human passion.

“TALKING ABOUT A GAME BEFORE ” PETER MOLYNEUX, FABLE


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THE HYPE TRAP

Each month two members of the team argue over a particular hot topic from within the world of gaming. This month we tackle the hype trap. We all fall into it, but should we? Should gamers get excited over promising early material or remain indifferent until a game approaches its final moments in development?

“IT’S HARD FOR EXCITEMENT NOT TO TAKE HOLD” I’m not going to sugar coat the fact that hype is a double edged sword; for all of the joyous highs, the nervous tapping of fingers and the awkward fidgeting that accompanies the wait for a blockbuster game, there is inevitably a succession of lows. It’s a cruel, indiscriminately addictive drug particularly prevalent around the Christmas period. But for all of its nail biting inducing tendencies, hype and gaming will always go hand in hand; it’s part of the gaming ethos and culture. Whether you’re pro, negative or nauseatingly neutral on hype, you can’t help but be sucked in by its grasp. Even before a game hits shelves most people have already partaken in some kind of pre-release excitement and fragmentary hysteria, be it discussing said game on an internet message board, flicking through a magazine scouring for glossy screenshots hoping that they’ll reveal the tiniest titbit of information, or simply counting down the days on a calendar. The excitement that will often draw mystified looks from close family members is something that, while not strictly limited to gaming alone, is particularly prevalent in this industry and our hobby. Games are unveiled years before they eventually hit shelves, and millions of dollars (presumably, given certain companies marketing budgets) are now spent on advertising campaigns that range from

your typical television commercials to confounding and, some would say, needlessly complex viral campaigns. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that hype is a good thing, simply that it’s effective in persuading the general public to part with the money that lies in their wallet. So is hype a good thing? There’s no other possible avenue to look down; whether hype is a good or a bad thing entirely depends on how it affects your playing experience, which in it’s very essence is a very personal thing – perhaps not on the scale of marmite, but similarly significant. Most likely it will depend on the hype preceding a particular release and the actual quality of the game itself. A useful and somewhat controversial example is GTA IV; a game that was unanimously acclaimed by gaming press across the world, and by our very own editor who bestowed the title with five stars way back in April. Since then, the verdict has been slightly cloudier with many gamers claiming that the title isn’t as groundbreaking and fun as we were first led to believe, which in turn has led to a subtle increase in hype for the only vaguely successful imitator to step out from GTA’s shadow; Saints Row 2. But whatever your opinion may be now, casting a critical eye back to April, it’s hard not to get ever so slightly nostalgic about those last few weeks before release and

the hours spent with a controller in hand detailing every nuance of every police skirmish in Liberty City. The hype had undoubtedly swept the gaming community and had even managed to nestle its way into the public sphere. Everyone was talking about it and it was hard for the excitement not to take hold, making you wish you could experience more of 2008’s supposed ‘it’ game. And then the rollercoaster ride of excitement finally hit its apex, and gamers started to come down. It would be pointless not to admit that many people may have experienced a slight bitter twinge in the pit of the stomach as they realised twenty hours into the game that what appeared to be revolutionary, was merely tried and practiced gameplay wrapped up in an expensive advertising campaign. Yet for this slight disappointment over what was essentially not revolutionary but simply great, the months of eager tension and kid-like excitement followed by brief gaming ecstasy must surely have been worth the wait? Surely so, it wouldn’t be within our nature to be so nihilistic; after all, that would be exhausting. Greg Latham


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“HYPE REPRESENTS MUCH OF WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE INDUSTRY TODAY” Choo-choo, all aboard the hype train, calling at unrealistic expectations and disappointment, this train will terminate at disillusionment with gaming. Unfortunately, hype is not the playful aspect of gaming to entertain you before a big release that my opponent in this debate would seem to suggest. Neither is it a double-edged sword that has redeeming qualities. No, hype is merely a dagger in the side of gaming which represents much of what is wrong with the industry today. It was not always this way. Back before the rise of the internet, gamers’ primary source for news were magazines, and while these dabbled in the spread of hype for future games they always did so in manageable doses. Screenshots and hands on previews got us all excited for the big releases but not to the extent that we would be expecting the second coming by the time the game was eventually released.

Hype as we know it today has only really become a problem in the last three years with our current crop of HD consoles, the reason being that everything looks so damn gorgeous: case in point Assassin’s Creed. We got our first glimpse of Ubisoft’s medieval-em-up at E3 06, a whole seventeen months before the game was actually released. Seventeen months!? That’s 515 days of looking at how pretty it was before we all actually went hands on. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if it wasn’t for the natural assumption that great graphics and great gameplay went hand in hand. After all, if so much time and effort has been put into making something that looks great surely the developers made sure it was terrific fun first. But because we’ve gotten used to it providing the very best visually, by the time the game’s eventually released and it doesn’t do the same gameplay-wise, we toss our controllers out of our prams in disgust. Assassin’s Creed wasn’t even that bad. If this was just an occasional occurrence then it would be easily forgivable, but as previously mentioned everything this generation looks gorgeous. Unfortunately, not everything can deliver the goods in the gameplay department. My misguided adversary raises a valid point when he writes “whether hype is a good or a bad thing entirely depends on how it affects your playing experience”. The example he

A case of style over substance for Assassin’s Creed

uses to support his pro-hype reasoning? GTA IV, admitting that in retrospect the game wasn’t as tremendous as we were led to believe, but hey, at least we all enjoyed the hype driven anticipation beforehand. In my opinion that’s not a fair trade off. Before GTA IV was released, what Rockstar promised and what we all wanted got muddled up in the hype. At times there was talk of all kinds of features it would include: planning your own missions, car customization, forming a gang etc. How did none of this making the final cut affect your enjoyment of the final product? Would it be presumptuous of me to assume you were even mildly disappointed? So who’s to blame for the situation we currently find ourselves in and how do we fix it? Well the blame has to be placed communally. Developers: don’t promise things you can’t deliver, and hold off showing games until you’re assured of their quality. You’re not pressurised into meeting a release date that you guaranteed a year and a half ago and instead of disappointing gamers you may surprise them with unexpected features; happy gamers equals happy sales. Journalists: don’t push developers for information they’re not ready to divulge and don’t allow yourself to feel forced to give a game a score that the hype you’ve given it warrants, nobody wants a repeat of the GTA IV debacle [Ed – Sorry Rhys, I still think it

Labelled as a GTA beater, The Getaway didn’t stand a chance

was well worth five stars!]. Finally, gamers: we don’t need to buy into the hype. If we ask ourselves whether we enjoyed gaming more before we obsessed over every screenshot then I think we could learn something. Sure we’ve never had it better with the number of games released and their overall quality, but in the transition from the days of the humble magazine to that of the frantic RSS feed did we lose something that got us into the hobby in the first place? I think I did; the feeling that gaming was an escape, that I could go on adventure I knew nothing about having not frantically scoured the web for every last detail in preparation for my quest. I’m done with the hype, I’m locking myself in a closet until the next Zelda is released. Won’t you join me? Rhys Simons

Another supposed AAA title from Sony, this time proposed Halo-killer Killzone


GALLERY

stanley ‘artgerm’ lau

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chunli style http://artgerm.deviantart.com


GALLERY

kerem beyit

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assassinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s creed http://theartofkerembeyit.com


GALLERY

adele lorienne

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dark warrior http://meadowhaven.net


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