Monday, 18 October 2010

[MINI REVIEW] [PS3] Just Cause 2

Having being an owner of this title's predecessor on the PS2, I was certainly drawn towards giving this one a go. Where the previous title failed, this explosive belter of a game improved.

The missions are a non-stop ride jam-packed with explosions, vehicle interaction and some physics manipulation, aided by the main character's grappling hook wristband. At several points in the game, I did wonder whether the free gameplay sequences were quite good enough to merit the appalling blandness of most of the mission-instruction videos: each of the three faction's leaders arrive, leave and act in the same fashion and tell you a person/place/vehicle to kidnap/ hijack / blow-to-pieces and throw you a crate. Every time. But then I blew up a ballistic missile mid-launch using a helicopter's rockets after hijacking said helicopter using the grapple gun after jumping off the said missile's launch tower. Oh hell yes!

The free exploration available is very, very impressive as well. Although the towns/villages/military bases you come across are on the whole very similar (a clear copy-and-paste job for many) there are hundreds of settlements to discover across a 400 square mile environment which includes mountains, harbours, airports, satellite facilities and power stations to explore and destroy to your heart's content. Imagine looking ten miles North, South, East and West from your home town and getting in a jet and soaring across it in around 4 minutes; it's a stunning experience, I can tell you!
Getting around has been accounted for and you are able to quick travel to any previously discovered location after a small video clip (which does get annoying eventually) but this still means many hours of getting first time to the extremely scattered locations around the enormous map on offer. This is actually quite an enjoyable trek in spite of how daunting it is!

Overall, the scale and scope of this game really feels high definition and has given me about 40 hours of engaging gameplay, so long as you like blowing things up. Now out second hand for £10 to £15, it would truly be money well-spent.

Total: 87%

[MINI REVIEW] [DS] Dragon Quest IX

From start to finish, a hugely-enjoyable and remarkably polished RPG that blissfully balances children's humour and the expansive and gripping character and equipment advancement.

It is obvious in every aspect of this title that the developers have not only taken the time to give each element of the title unique charm but also to give the whole affair a charming personality that makes it a pleasure to play through.

Graphics, sound and controls are all spot on and well-suited to the DS screens and the multiplayer features are a joy on their own, allowing for you to not only play side-by-side with friends but also to have people simply explore and interact with your game world totally independently of your characters.

The only drawbacks being that the abilities associated with party member roles can be a little confusing and restrictive, and that for such a vast item and equipment creation system I would have actually liked to have gotten to create/use more of them (right through the game I wanted Tracksuit Bottoms and at no point have I found how to get them).

Overall, my personal favourite RPG on the DS and one of the most impressive and entertaining experiences to ever appear on a handheld.

Total: 90%

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad Of Gay Tony [PS3]

O.K. everyone, first post on this blog; a fresh outlet for my creativity, as well as a way of getting something slightly more tangible out of my incessant consumption of games, films and music! 

This game was a bit of an emotional and journalistic rollercoaster for me, and to  explain that a bit better, I should offer a little background.

 When I first played this title’s predecessor, Grand Theft Auto 4, on the PS3 at someone's house for about five minutes, I was blown away. The beautiful graphics, heavy and realistic physics and almost dirty grittiness made me assume the full experience would be phenomenal. Around 8 months later, when I finally got my hands on a PC copy, I sat down eagerly to play and found myself getting wound up with the piles and piles of piss-poor pedestrianism that you have to put up with. Yes, it is utterly fantastic to truly feel like you are in a living, breathing city, stacked-to-the-rafters with all the side-alleys, hotdog stands and walking targets you could ask for. The lack of any lasting consequences of your actions has always been one of the biggest appeals of the Grand Theft Auto series, and a lot of the rest of gaming also.

Then the developers foolishly added in a feature that dragged you back from joyous, Carmaggedon-style rampages to the boring grind of real life: they added in "friends". While everyone from time to time may feel that their social network can have a negative impact upon their life, this takes the fucking biscuit. Here's how it goes:

 Step One: Enter Annoying Character One (The one that you remember not really liking the look of in that cutscene earlier in the game). 

 Step Two: Cutscene plays of your character freely and happily handing over your personal phone number to this twat with a stupid accent. 

 Step Three: Annoying Character One phones up to ask if you want to "hang out". You, of course, say NO. Annoying Character One goes off in a huff and says they don't like you anymore. Throws toys out of pram.


In some ways, this made me feel a little better about real life. In real life, you would turn the fucking phone off. Then throw it away. 

So, all-in-all, GTA4 had all the fundamentals of a classic with several  features that just got in the way and could not be switched off.

Now to introduce The Ballad Of Gay Tony. 

From the word go you can tell that the developers have gone back to the drawing board for what they want the gamer to experience when they start playing. Rather than being put in as an immigrant starting his life in the US in the slums, you are Luis Lopez, the (ahem) business partner of the owner of two of the biggest nightclubs in the city. Of course "business partner" is simply a euphemism for the series' usual mix of delivery driver/bodyguard/hitman.  

You start off driving around in swanky saloon cars, bumping shoulders with the rich and famous and generally keeping things cool as your boss/partner, Tony Prince, moves between one drug-fuelled bender to the next. You start to make a few connections, some with characters might remember from GTA 4, only this time you're not necessarily going to be their bitch from the word "GO".

New characters to the series include the very marmite-y Yusuf Amir, a larger-than-life and often hilarious property developer from Dubai. When I saw this character I thought, "Oh, it's like that guy Omid Djalili off the telly". And then as I heard some of the character's catchphrases and mannerisms I thought, "Oh, they've copied that Omid Djalili guy off the telly". Later it became very clear that, "Oh, it IS that Omid Djalili guy off the telly, and he's playing himself. How inventive". In spite of this, the game would not have been the same for me without the fantastic, over-the-top voice acting and missions associated with Yusuf, and he will hold a teensy tiny place in my heart.

The missions are just perfect. Back to the old, destructive and extreme type of missions, involving skydiving, tanks, SWAT teams, Russian gangsters, and a subway train hijacking that has to seen to be believed. The balance of missions is fantastic and keeps you hooked-in until the very last. There's also the addition of a "targets" system, where you can replay the missions once the game is completed and try to complete the mission without taking a hit, or blowing up all the police vans, which adds to the replay value. The "quick mission restart" feature is again present, which makes trying that arse-of-a-mission for the fifth time just a little more bearable as it skips the sections of a mission you have completed previously.

Another point to dwell on is the addition of several fantastic new weapons which do truly add a bit extra to the experience. The explosive shotgun makes any rampage fun: watching cars crumple and break away with blissful realism as you hammer five shots into the bonnet will never cease to put a smile on my face. Yes! Finally! Realism and fun combined beautifully! Go Rockstar!

A further feature to bring a smile to my face was the parachuting. Implemented into missions very well, not just varied but exciting also. One mission sees you take a critic of your boss up in a helicopter, only to throw him out and catch him on the way down using your parachute. This is nicely balanced so it’s thrilling but not particularly difficult, adding to the enjoyment. The mission is topped off by watching this critic waddling away with brown stains all down his arse, indicating that he found the trip thrilling as well. Grand Theft Auto was finally coming home.

The final point I’m doing to talk about is the storyline overlap. I mentioned earlier that there are characters from GTA 4 in the game. In actual fact, the trilogy (formed of GTA 4, Gay Tony, and Lost and Damned) has an interweaving story that interacts with events from other games and offers you a different perspective on key scenarios from the saga. Seeing the museum diamond trade off from Luis Lopez’s perspective was a very satisfying experience and as the game went on I started to realise: I was actually finding enjoying elements of the plotline of GTA 4!

Not only had this game regenerated my interest and hopes for the series as a whole, but it was started to heal the wounds formed by Grand Theft Auto 4! Was there nothing this game can’t do!?! Well, just putting a small plaster on one corner of the wound, but that’s a start!

To summarise, the game is an entertaining and comfortingly familiar experience, much more akin to the first few 3D Grand Theft Auto games in its sense of ridiculous fun and destruction. Some annoying elements are still present but I hope that Rockstar will keep that exaggerated entertainment value once we’ve moved away from the depressing and bombastic age of GTA 4. If you happened to enjoy GTA 4 then you’ll enjoy this game; if you didn’t then you’ll actually APPRECIATE this game.

GRAPHICS:    9 / 10 – still one of the best-looking game series in existence.

SOUND:         8 / 10 – OK soundtrack but exceptional effects.

GAMEPLAY:   9 / 10 – well thought out and easy to have fun with.

CONTROLS:   6 / 10 – still not perfect cover system and bikes don’t feel right.

STORY:         8 / 10 – on its own: good. As part of the trilogy: very good.

LONGEIVITY: 8 / 10 – complete in around ten hours. Good mission replay value.

DIFFICULTY:  8 / 10 – felt a little like a walkthrough but much preferable to a slog.

PERSONALISATION: 5 / 10 – needs that San Andreas customisation back, that ruled!

CONTRIBUTION: 8 / 10 – solid PS3 title, but why the year’s wait?

MULTIPLAYER: 7 / 10 – not really what I bought it for, pass-and-play works for me.

TOTAL: 77 %           
An explosive and enjoyable experience that’s infinitely better than GTA 4.