Wednesday, 26 January 2011

[MINI REVIEW] [DS] Ninja Gaiden - Dragon Sword

The fastest, slickest and most intense action title on the DS.
Boasting a very well thought-out and executed control system, some clever combat and a nice story played out through beautiful cutscenes.

The combat is controlled by slashing across enemies with the stylus to perform sword attacks, tapping far-away foes to launch ninja stars or arrows and using other combinations of taps and slashes to dodge and perform special attacks. This works very well and allows the combat to rocket on at a phenomenal pace.

The graphics and sound are varied and colourful, giving a bright and rich experience that is unlike anything else on the DS.

There is also a limited upgrade system that works well and allows players to spend experience points on new moves and more a powerful sword, although all of the upgrades can be purchased with some ease way before the end of the game.

And that leads me to the major criticism: it's too damn easy! The normal story mode offered absolutely no challenge and playing through hard mode afterwards wasn't any harder. Then there was the final boss battle. After using my projectile weapon for the entire battle (as it was the only thing that worked), I ended up dying and having to try again ten times. Why? An instant-death move. What the fuck? Don't bore me the entire way through, including not losing a single portion of my life on the final boss, only to have a move that kills you instantly. Total crap.
(Oh, by the way, the battle requires an awkwardly-timed dodge. You are then allowed to kill the fucker).

So, although the action is spot-on and it's one of most visceral titles to hit handhelds, the difficulty level never picks up and the final battle was a kick in the teeth.

Overall: 80% - very nearly there guys, just crank it up a notch!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Red Dead Redemption [PS3]

A game that deserves merit for its emotional and artistic endeavour, if for nothing else. When the vast array of side missions, exploration and mini-games are added in, this is nothing short of a superb gaming experience.

The game begins with you as John Marston, a man with a troubled past that keeps coming back to haunt him. The government is holding your wife and son hostage until you make amends for your previous criminal behaviour by killing your old gang friends. This is the backdrop for a story about the final days of the “Wild West” and all of the criminal gangs, vigilantes and common people caught in the crossfire. The story will explore the problems in both America and Mexico at the turn of the 20th century, and issues arising between these civil war torn nations. Don’t expect a piece that can be verified in the history books, just a snapshot of some of the bigger problems facing the citizens of nations undergoing great change and upheaval.

Your role as a player means that you will learn to carry out some of the tasks needed as a cowboy, such as cattle herding, lassoing and breaking wild horses, patrolling the corral at night to ward off rustlers. You will also have to ride and race carriages, hunt and skin all manner of wildlife and enjoy contemporary games such as poker and blackjack. This is the homely and authentic side to the game, which is yours to pick up and put down whenever you see fit. I found myself spending hours hunting for all of the different species in the game, and chuckling to myself as I went and sold off all of their hides for a ridiculous mark-up – go early capitalism!

The other side to the game is as a gunslinger- getting into duels in the main street of prairie towns, acting as a vigilante to return stolen goods to innocent townsfolk and hunting down all of your old accomplices to get your wife and son back. This is where the game becomes a little bit too “Hollywood”, with certain missions where you use a mounted gun to kill half of the Mexican Army and then no-one bats an eyelid when you turn up the next day hoping to get a bit of work form them. Another slight issue is the “Auto-Aim” system, which meant that as soon as you pull out your gun your aim snaps instantaneously to a bird of prey flying 500 metres away, totally ruining any satisfaction you got from killing it. That aside, the shooting sections can be very thrilling and enjoyable, and with the combat never feeling too difficult the story progresses quite a pace which may have been ruined with a more challenging difficulty level.

The graphics are as good as can be expected for a Rockstar sandbox game and although some of the finer details do look a little crappy, the wide landscapes that you ride through on your trusty steed are breathtakingly gorgeous, which totally makes up for it.

The sound is perfectly fitting on the whole, the towns having a hubbub and bustle that makes them feel all the more real. The slight noises of the wildlife out in the deserts are how you track some of the smaller creatures and this is brilliant and adds to the immersion. The only negative point regarding the sound is that the soundtrack can feel a bit out of place, with funky bass parts that may have complemented a spaghetti western but not an immersive gaming experience.

The main reason that the game deserves so much credit is in the last few missions. No spoilers here, but it is in the confusion and calm that follows the hunt for your gang friends that makes the ending so utterly shocking. There is also a bit left up to you as to how the game should finish, should you seek vengeance or seek to let the past die? No other game has made me care about the lead and supporting characters so much that when the game does not offer the standard blockbuster finish, you realise what it has done. It has sacrificed the clich├ęd finale for an ending that moves the player, and I feel that Rockstar has done this perfectly. Trust me, it nearly brought me to tears.

With the wealth of loose ends to tie up and extra costumes/guns/trophies to acquire, even after the ending I found myself carrying on to work towards 100%. Not many games make me play on after completion but it is a testament to this games appeal that I did.

There is also an online element to consider, but I have not yet had the chance to explore this – damn internet not letting me play my games!

So, overall there is quite a few small gripes about the game but only because they stain what is actually a unique and powerful experience – one that I will remember for a long time to come.

Rating – 91%

Monday, 10 January 2011

[MINI REVIEW] [PS3] Call of Duty - Modern Warfare 2

The videogame equivalent of a series of 24, this is a Republican's worst nightmare fully realised: Russia invades America and nuclear war breaks out.

You play the role of one of several special forces soldiers in the run-up to, and during, these catastrophic events. The story plays out such that there are several major turns and a couple of unexpected, brutal twists as well. These work well and give the game a good sense of narrative, holding these global events together. Some of the scenes in the game are breathtaking and terrifying in equal measure, which many games just cannot acheive.

Graphically, it is high definition gaming all the way. Environmental effects such as weather and explosions are all handled very well with no drop in framerate. Sound too, is very good - but not quite as deafeningly realistic as the Bad Company series.

The gameplay is absolutely solid, just as you would expect from a COD game. The single player campaign is maybe a little short but is action-packed until the end. There are also a new set of short, bonus missions which add to the playtime but have not yet enticed me to play through thoroughly. Basically though, if you don't have an internet connection you just aren't going to get your money's worth with this title.

On that point, I should say that the online aspect is as frantic and enjoyable as ever. I would like to have seen more features or a better selection of maps on this title but alas, apparently we have to wait until Black Ops for those goodies.

The one major gripe I have with this game is the controversy. The now-infamous "No Russian" level sparked masses of public outcry against the content, so much so that the level comes with an optional "skip disturbing content" feature. Now I can accept that the political premise behind the level could be controversial, but the role the player carries out is to shoot a few innocent people in an airport. All Grand Theft Auto games for the past 15 years have allowed players to carry out far more violent and disturbing acts against innocent people! And if this is the case, why didn't the rest of the game have a "skip disturbing content" option, such as in the scenes where you shoot, stab and blow up hundreds of soldiers? Yes, they signed up for war but that doesn't make killing them graphically in the face any less harrowing.

Overall - 74% - Not quite as improved as it should have been, undeserving of any controversy, but still a thrilling and top-quality FPS.

[MINI REVIEW] [DS] Apollo Justice - Ace Attorney

A very quirky title that very nearly strikes the balance between a humourous, over-the-top storyline and engaging, challenging gameplay.

Graphics are stylish and appropriate, the music is suitably atmospheric and the sound effects do add something to the experience. The plot is like something out of a soap opera, with a whole host of likeable and not-so-likeable characters that give you a small sense of satisfaction as you try to fathom out their true motives.

The gameplay shifts between searching for clues (point-click), questioning witnesses (not much freedom here, just gathering information) before going to court and cross-examining witnesses. This is where you are required to take charge, but even though some of the twists are cunning and give a sense of satisfaction when deduced, others require a bit of a stretch of the imagination. This can mean that you are selecting all possible options fruitlessly in order to work out how to proceed. Another point where detective work becomes defective work is the "sixth sense" sections. In these, your character must pick up on the contradictions in a testimony by looking for tells or twitches showing their guilt. Although this is a great idea, some of the tells are very difficult to spot and you cannot quickly repeat sections of the testimony to double-check, meaning that these sections can take ages to get through.

All in all, apart from a couple of parts where the game is a little cryptic and subtle for its own good, this game is a vibrant and engrossing affair which has a story that keeps you interested, audiovisual detail that complements the tone perfectly and gameplay that ties it all together pretty damn well.

Overall score - 78% - Let down by minor points but still well worth a play through.