Saturday, 31 March 2012

Video - Chuck Norris Vs. Video Games - 31/03/12 [DAILY DOSE]

SATURDAY 31ST MARCH 2012 - DAILY DOSE


Today's DAILY DOSE is a few videos that I thought would round the month of March off nicely.

Spring is in the air. 
Leaves are appearing on trees. 
Baby birds are chirping for the first time.
So here's 3 videos of Chuck Norris pwning video games.

Above is "Chuck Vs. Angry Birds" and below there is "Chuck Vs. Pacman" and "Chuck Vs. Super Mario".

I mean, come on - they didn't stand a chance.

So anyway, that's March over with! 
Now to look forward to April - where there'll be a few site additions and adjustments - hopefully some custom graphics to go along with reviews - and, of course, plenty more Eclectic Reviews and Daily Doses!



Feel free to post comments or contributions to improve the experience!
Any videos in this review are from Youtube and are subject to relevant copyrights. They are kindly provided by: http://www.youtube.com/user/daneboe

Friday, 30 March 2012

Video - Guitar Genius - 30/03/12 [DAILY DOSE]

FRIDAY 30TH MARCH 2012 - DAILY DOSE


Today's DAILY DOSE is a few videos demonstrating unusual or skilled guitar playing. I have played guitar for the past ten years or so, and have always loved creative or entertaining ways of making sounds with these wonderful instruments.

The video at the top of the page is a guy called Eric Mongrain, who is showing his technique in a song called "AirTap!". He has developed this over many years and he is now one of the premier guitar players who use this technique (sometimes called "Lap Tapping").

Below are a couple of others - the first being "Four Hands Guitar", played by two professional musicians who thought that one guitar each was too extravagant!


And finally there's the infamous scene from Deliverance - the "Duelling Banjos". 
How they are able to pick that tune out - I don't know. 
That's at a skill level waaaaay above my own - but still great to watch!


Feel free to post comments or contributions to improve the experience!
Any videos in this review are from Youtube and are subject to relevant copyrights. They are kindly provided by: http://www.youtube.com/user/erikmongrain
http://www.youtube.com/user/tommygauthier
http://www.youtube.com/user/justright3

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Crysis [PS3]

Was all about ready to say that Crysis is great - not mind-blowing but frikkin pretty and solid enough to get through.

Then came the final battle...

You play the role of NOMAD, a US Special Forces soldier equipped with an elite "nano-suit".


So What's The Story Here?
Crysis follows the story of an elite special forces unit sent into Korea to rescue some captured scientists. You have reason to suspect that a Korean General is developing some sort of top-secret weapon or other dastardly research, so the US sends some soldiers in to investigate/rescue/murderise the situation until it goes away.


The enormous island you are sent to, complete with a whole army of Korean soldiers defending it, would be pretty impenetrable with a standard army unit - but you are no standard army unit. Each member of your squad is both highly-trained and kitted out with a Nano Suit, a set of armour that gives you the abilities of super-strength and invisibility.

Sneaking up on peeing guards is now a lot easier - 100% better results thanks to the invisibility power


Is It Any Good Then?
+++ Nano-Suited and Booted +++
The nano-suit is the real game-changer here - allowing you to change your tactics on-the-fly and go from sneaky seal to violent vole whenever you want.


The suit has an energy meter, so you only get a certain amount of time using each power before you have to turn them off and allow it to recharge. This means that, although your powers make you much tougher in battle, you aren't ever invincible (or perhaps I should say, permanently invisible).


There are a lot of different way of using your suit powers as well - aside from just cloaking and strength, you can mix and match so that you silently sneak all the way over to a guard before switching to "brute force" mode at the last second and smashing him to Kingdom Come.


When you aren't sneaking and armouring yourself, you can use the suit to jump several metres into the air (over pesky walls and other such obstacles) or use it to turbo-punch enemies into dust... then the ragdoll takes over and away they fly.

When combined with the suit powers, the choice of weapon outfits in Crysis offer a good deal of flexibility in play.


+++ Brainy Battles +++
The variety of suit options isn't just for show - you really need all of those options in order to make it off this island alive. 


The enemy AI is adaptive, creative and cunning - hole yourself up in cover and you'll soon find enemies flanking you - evade the enemies for a minute and they will start search patrols to flush you out.


There are many games which have pulled this off in recent years, but with Crysis's leaning towards freedom of play, the AI gets its chance to shine.


You'll still get the odd occasion where you'll find a guard staring right at you for ten seconds before he realises "Oh, that's the guy I'm meant to be shooting", but all-in-all the AI works well and fits the gameplay perfectly.



+++ Level Difficulty +++
And while the action is challenging - you never reach an impassable wall in terms of the difficulty level. Generally, you just need to stop and take a look around your environment to find an easier way to get through.


The game tries to offer incentives for sticking with the challenge though - plenty of secondary objectives are located within well-guarded compounds and offer shiny new trophies if you succeed in all of them.


Certain sections can be a bit annoying - especially those involving vehicles or night-vision - but this is handily catered-for by you being able to simply run away if it all gets too much. That might not sound like a point in the game's favour, but I'd much rather be able to skip past an annoying section than have it ruin my experience.

+++ Tropical Paradise +++
When Crysis was originally released on PC, it turned heads because of the graphical quality - and that remains true today. It really is a blisteringly gorgeous game - with environments, enemies and special effects all adding to a rich and detailed world that would be well-suited to a Summer holiday destination (if you like shooting Koreans, that is).


This version of Crysis is updated to the CryEngine 3, which was built for console title releases. I couldn't actually pick up on any areas where the graphical quality had improved, however it certainly makes the most of the PS3's graphical capabilities and delivers a stunning HD experience.

+++ Free-Roam Fun +++
The game's open-ended play is my favourite attribute - do you sneak through/blast your way through/run away/drive as fast as you can?

In reality you can do any one of these - and with the checkpoints system in place you can actually try a few of them out to see what works. If you find that something isn't working - such as a pesky building being right in the way - then you blow it up (handled beautifully by the physics engine btw). If you find that the enemies are shooting you before you get chance to mark them, go invisible. 

For every problem, there is a solution - and most involve elite ninja powers or lots of explosions..... which are all good.
The first half of the game stands out as the most fun free-roam shooting since Far Cry.....




--- Bizarre Alien Crap ---
Right from the start of the game, you are made aware that there is something else going on on the island. You find soldiers who have been mangled, you occasionally see large shadows sweep around the corner out of sight.


So what's the islands big secret? Aliens. Frikkin aliens.


Does every free-roam tropical shooter have to throw in some sci-fi crap to satisfy another audience base? Are soldiers - or other terrestrial foes - not enough to keep the action going through the fifteen-hour campaign? Apparently not.


When aliens are worked in from the beginning, they can sometimes make for an enjoyable baddie. When you have a fantastic action shooter that suddenly jumps from "U.S. Navy Seal" to "E.T. phone home", you feel a little missold. I didn't buy this to fight aliens! I don't want you to try and scare me with tentacled floaty creatures! I want action - and from about the halfway point there is less and less action you get involved in.
And then just like Far Cry, the second half is just ridiculous sci-fi scary monster shit.

--- 101 More Things To In Zero-G ---
Worse than the fact that you have to stop fighting soldiers and move onto aliens, you actually spend a whole level floating around an alien spaceship. Again, when you make this the sole-focus of the game then it can be quite fun (see the game Prey for a good example of this).


In Crysis though, you have trekked across lush jungles, blown up villages and swam in tropical seas.... before spending nearly an hour in metal tube floating aimlessly.


The objectives in the spaceship section are obscure - you basically just float around until you find the exit, then a cutscene plays, then you shoot some aliens, get lost and spend ages looking for the next exit.


This was one of the worst uses of zero-g gameplay I've ever encountered, and I'm having a hard time understanding why on Earth they thought it would be a good idea.


--- SINGLE PLAYER ONLY ---
Another disappointing discovery was the complete lack of multiplayer. The PC version featured 32-player multiplayer action that added a great deal of play time to the game.


In the PS3 update, there is only the single player campaign. 


While I understand that getting multiplayer functionality into a game is a lot of effort, and hosting the servers will be costing money - it still feels like PS3 players are getting a raw deal here.


The single player campaign is certainly good - it's just not full price good.

--- Grand Finale ---
And then we get to the horror that was the final level. You are fighting the mother of all alien baddies to save the island and the day - when this happened:


1) One of my allies kept shouted at me -  
"Use the TAC gun! Lock on and use the TAC gun!"

I did not have a "TAC gun" and so this was getting quite annoying. When I ran around the whole level looking for one, fought for 20 minutes, then got myself blown up a few times AND STILL FOUND NO TAC GUN, it was then that I decided to consult an online walkthrough.


2) Online walkthrough - 
explained that there's a glitch in the game


Yeah, a f***ing big one. Not only was I not given the TAC gun - which it essential in order to beat the big bad boss - but worse than that, I found that the game had actually SKIPPED HALF OF THE LAST LEVEL. There a whole mini-section where you run around helping a few army guys while they inevitably got killed by aliens - but that did not happen when I first played through.


3) So I did the sensible thing and restarted the level. 

So I started the level again, wandered through bored listening to the same bland dialogue, and played the section that Crysis decided we should skip the first time around. 


It was crap. I watched some blokes die. Picked up a TAC gun (will probably come in handy) and went back out to face the final boss.


So there I was - climactic finish - then the woman starts screaming about a TAC gun and..... STILL NOTHING.


I waited. I cried. I threw some things at the TV. This was the grand finale that is frozen in time because the game has a glitch.


A glitch - as it turns out - that was present in the PC version, still present when updated for PS3, and never fixed in a patch in the 3 1/2 YEARS since release.


The final level lagged like nobody's business too. I think it's something about the enemy's "freeze" weapon - but framerate dropped to "photo slideshow" speeds every time you were fired upon (every 10 seconds) and usually during this time you were killed. 


For such an excellent game to be ruined by shoddy design in the final boss fight is just shameful. It certainly put a major downer on my spectacular victory, I can tell you.



If you're anything like me, you'll soon hate these things with a passion.


Conclusion
Crysis looks great, it plays great, it feels great. You really get the feeling that you are elite, near-invincible and awesomely-powerful - which I got a major kick out of.

Finding your own way around these gorgeous environments and choosing how exactly you want to take out the baddies is brilliant fun - and shows off their graphics engine well.

Sadly, the alien crap in the second half - and particularly the final level - left me feeling pretty frustrated at the change of pace and tone. It didn't add anything - and it almost prevented me from finishing the game.

If you can get a copy on PC - then go for it.
If you're considering getting this on the PS3, then bear in mind that it's single player only and offers nothing that you can't get on PC for a fiver now.


Feel free to post comments or contributions to improve the experience!
Any images in this review are subject to relevant copyrights and are kindly provided by: http://www.ea.com/crysis-1/images

Chase and Status - No More Idols [CD] [QUICK&SHORT]

So What's The Story Here?
London electronic duo Saul Milton and Will Kennard, better known as Chase and Status released this album back in January 2011. Chase and Status's early work was more classically Drum and Bass, however the new album, No More Idols, is a much more varied, albeit more "commercialised" affair (which I'm not saying is a bad thing). The album had a number of Top 40 hits, including End Credits (feat. Plan B), Blind Faith (feat. Liam Bailey), and Flashing Lights (feat. Takura).





So Is It Any Good?
+++ Floor-Filling Singles +++ 
The album has clearly been built from the ground up with chart releases in mind. The album is split roughly 50/50 - with half the tracks being powerful and more simplistically-arranged (Blind Faith, Flashing Lights, Time, End Credits). 


The singles are all brilliant - catchy melodies, well-chosen samples and bass that vibrates my brain just right.


Have a listen to Blind Faith and Flashing Lights through a good pair of headphones and tell me you aren't almost religiously-inspired to find class A drugs and attend an illegal rave. 


Is that just me? Bugger.





+++ Great British Mash +++
The other half is an eclectic mix with collaborations from artists such as White Lies, Tempa T and Dizzee Rascals, that are clearly less "radio-friendly" (Hypest Hype, Heavy and Hocus Pocus.... all beginning with "H".... hmmm). 


These tracks are great in their own right, being diverse in musical influences and characteristics, such that the album as a whole dips into many electronic genres - and manages to pull each one of them off. Each track has its own personality, well-suited to the guest vocalist who features on the album - and a big bonus point for showcasing so many UK artists as well - this album is a fantastic reference when describing great contemporary UK music.




--- Personal Tastes ---
There is always this risk when you create such a diverse album - some of the tracks won't appeal to everyone. A few of the tracks on the album are certainly impressive - and really show off Chase and Status's musical skills - but sadly I found them a little off-putting.


Strangely, this wasn't the tracks that I initially disliked - the track Time has really grown on me, and is now one of my favourite tracks on the album. Tunes such as Hits and Embrace have never really appealed to me though - so I have to skip them when I put the album on.


It is just the odd track that lets the album down for me though - the rest of the album is still highly playable and thoroughly enjoyable... and has been on my MP3 player for most of the past twelve months.


Conclusions


An eclectic mix of tracks, artists and genres - this defies labels and redefines perceptions. People who have had no interest in electronic music whatsoever have still picked up this album and found a few tracks that they love.

Absolutely love the UK talent involved - and the guest vocalists are both well-chosen and well-utilised. Each track has its own unique flavour, with the genre and the vocals working together to create a series of distinct musical experiences. This is varied, thoughtful, clever stuff.

The only problem is that with such a diverse mix, you are bound to alienate some listeners with one track or two. The testament to the albums quality is that my personal preferences were changed by some of the tunes - and you end up with a more diverse set of songs on your playlists as a result.


Feel free to post comments or contributions to improve the experience!
Any videos in this review are from Youtube and are subject to relevant copyrights. They are kindly provided by: http://www.youtube.com/user/chaseandstatustv
http://www.youtube.com/user/IllusionParkour1

Sly Raccoon and the Thievius Raccoonius - HD Update [PS3] [QUICK&SHORT]


The original PS2 box art.
So What's The Story Then?
This is the first title of the Sly Cooper trilogy, which were released on the Playstation 2 between 2002 and 2005, and chart the antics of a master thief raccoon - Sly Cooper - and his gang of helpful animal friends. 


This review concerns the high-definition remaster of the first instalment, Sly Raccoon and the Thievius Raccoonius. Originally released by developers Sucker Punch and updated by Sanzaru Games in 2011. In this game, Sly is searching for the stolen pages of a family heirloom - the Thievius Raccoonius - an ancient manuscript which generations of Cooper thieves have added the knowledge of their special sneaky powers and secrets. These pages have been stolen by a gang of criminal masterminds and taken away to opposite ends of the Earth - so Sly must break into each of their headquarters in turn to steal back what is rightfully his! At all times he must be wary of the long arm of the law, always trying to chase Sly down, the form of the foxy Inspector Carmelita!


This is Sly swinging into action with the foxy Inspector Carmelita on his arm.... phwoar!


So Is It Any Good?
+++ Cartoon Colourful +++ 
Graphically great, excellent use of colour and with a really vibrant, cartoon style.... but that was all from the original version. This new HD update offers a higher resolution and some very minor graphical refinement - it's pretty much the same graphics but adapted for bigger TVs.



Sly's special moves - dive bombing, quick rolling, rail grinding - are all great fun and get unlocked as you carry out robberies. Special mention goes to slow motion - this really brings out the best in the updated HD graphics - allowing you to let things smash up as you jump away and watch the action unfold at a quarter speed.


The sections where Inspector Carmelita tries to shoot you with her laser gun are particularly fun - you have to race across the level while she blows up the structures you are standing on - and when combined with the slow motion these sections look and play incredibly. 


The variety in traps and special moves is complemented by the an nice bunch of scenarios and villains - such as a Haitian swamp with a voodoo crocodile, and a Chinese palace complete with a firework-flinging panda. They're well characterised, fun to beat, and perfectly matched to the cartoon tone of the game.



+++ Glorious Platforming +++

This is a 3D platformer from the glory days when platformers rule the gaming charts. You can tell that a lot of effort was put into the design of the characters, gameplay and environments - but that was just the way we used to make games (ah, nostalgia trip...)


Early levels are nicely paced and allow you to get used to Sly's skills and try out a few robberies. Later levels are a web of platforms to cross, enemies to fend off, and traps to avoid - and if you fail at the end of the level you can find yourself having to trek a loooooong way back to continue. 


This is because the health system is archaic and punishing. By collecting a hundred coins, which are produced by smashing background objects to bits, you earn a shield to protect you from one hit of damage. Once that is gone, or if you still haven't collected all one hundred coins, then a single hit of damage and you're dead. You have to go back to the start of the level and try again.


That's not a bad thing, it means that you have to take care and not just run recklessly through the levels. It builds a sense of danger - the traps and enemies are all threatening because they can easily lead to a "Game Over".



Then we get to the bosses - they always have a sneaky change or a last-minute trick to catch you off guard - and then you have to start the whole boss fight again. No handy mid-fight checkpoints or autosaving in Sly's boss stages - you have to get from start to finish without taking any damage. Boss fights are three-tiered: the first stage is basic and you learn what the boss's moves are, the second mixes it up a bit and makes you do something slightly different, and the third stage normally has the boss do some sneaky attack (like a frog who bounces around all battle until at the last minute he starts viciously whipping his tongue around).


Again, even though they are quite challenging this is not a criticism - it makes you adapt and learn how to beat each of them - and you become a better master thief as a result.

You are aided on your quest by a tech genius tortoise and a hippo.... who drives the van.


--- Minor Sound and Control Issues ---
Some of the sounds can be distinctly "low-fi" - most of the music sounds great but certain effects can sound very tinny and unpleasant (especially when played over the music). This doesn't happen too often, but it would surely have been part of the HD update to remaster the sound as well so that it works on bigger stereo systems.

Again, a very minor gripe, but Sly can sometimes ignore commands because he is millimetres out alignment with the object you want to interact with. Rails, ledges and wires are the big culprits - leading to a lot of deaths on-screen and a lot of blood boiling in my veins.


With a game that demands you to make as few mistakes as possible, when you input perfectly correct button presses and still end up watching a raccoon plummeting to his death - you feel a little cheated.


The same goes for the two driving sections - your hippo friend takes over and you have to complete a three-lap race. The controls are so pants that these sections get really annoying - particularly when you have to try them a couple of times. Luckily you'll only be spending about fifteen minutes of your total play time in the driving sections.

Conclusions

This is a welcome blast-from-the-past - and surely a welcome addition to anyone's platformer collection. If you missed Sly's adventures the first time around then I strongly recommend you give this a go now.

Although this is a kids game, it still has enough character and depth to keep adults entertained until the end. The colourful graphics aren't quite High-Definition quality, but are functional and bright enough to make the game both fun and enjoyable.

Perhaps with a bit more time and care taken over the update to the graphics, sounds and controls then this would be a stand-out title. As it is, this is an excellent reminder of one of the PS2's treasures.

Feel free to post comments or contributions to improve the experience!
Any images in this review are subject to relevant copyrights and are kindly provided by:
http://www.suckerpunch.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=57&Itemid=107
http://www.sanzaru.com/wp/games/the-sly-collection/

Rumour - Playstation Orbis - 29/03/12 [DAILY DOSE]

THURSDAY 29TH MARCH 2012 - DAILY DOSE


Today's DAILY DOSE is a heads-up about the rumours floating around at the moment regarding the next Playstation - apparently codenamed ORBIS.

Now these sort of rumours spark up pretty regularly - often that someone guesses what graphics unit or processing power the next console will be packing - however this time there's a whole wealth of information being circulated.

Here's a round-up of the rumour:
  • It is currently codenamed "Orbis", which is Latin for "circle" or "ring". When joined with the latest PS Hardware, the PS Vita, you get "Orbis Vita" - which roughly translates as the "Circle of Life".
  • There will be AMD top-spec processors and graphics card.
  • There will be no backwards compatibility with the PS3 (lame).

AND THEN HERE COMES THE BIG ONE:

  • There will be strict second-hand game restrictions. You must register your physical disc copy of your game online, and then you be given a one-time access pass in order to play.
  • This is likely to be an effort to restrict the flourishing second-hand market, which currently means that poor, hard-up game publishers only get bucketloads of cash the first time you buy the game.
  • If the Orbis works the way described, then each consumer will have to pay the game publisher directly before they can play.

I must say - I hope these rumours aren't true. The second-hand market is great for so many reasons, and if publishers too their heads out of their asses then they could see what a great market it is:

  • It allows small businesses to operate without needing the massive capital to approach publishers to buy the latest releases.
  • It reduces waste - yes, the second-hand games market is more environmentally friendly!
  • It allows people the option of waiting a few weeks for the hype over big releases to die down, then buy a second-hand copy at a much more reasonable price.

Sooooo.... all-in-all I'm worried. Very worried. 
I'm hoping this is all hot air being blown around by inventive minds. 

If not.... my next hardware purchase may not be with Sony....


Feel free to post comments or contributions to improve the experience!
More information on these rumours can be found here: http://kotaku.com/5896996/the-next-playstation-is-called-orbis-sources-say-here-are-the-details

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Trailer - The Dictator - 28/03/12 [DAILY DOSE]

WEDNESDAY 28TH MARCH 2012 - DAILY DOSE


Today's DAILY DOSE is another film trailer - this one for THE DICTATOR, Sacha Baron Cohen's latest release.

After entertaining audiences as Ali-G, shocking them as Borat.... and then waving a penis at them in Bruno - now our favourite character comedian tries his hand at a fictional Middle-Eastern dictator!

Cohen has always tread a fine line between satirically-sharp and tastelessly-tacky - and this film is no doubt going to continue on that path. Whether his antics will amuse or offend remains to be seen...

The Dictator is out in cinemas on 18th May 2012 (UK).


Feel free to post comments or contributions to improve the experience!
Any videos in this review are from Youtube and are subject to relevant copyrights. They are kindly provided by: http://www.youtube.com/user/ClevverMovies

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Trailer - Borderlands 2 - 27/03/12 [DAILY DOSE]

TUESDAY 27TH MARCH 2012 - DAILY DOSE


WARNING: THIS TRAILER CONTAINS DUBSTEP

Today's DAILY DOSE is a trailer for a game due out this Autumn - BORDERLANDS 2.

The first Borderlands had its heart in the right place - it had a good RPG/shooter mechanic, a cel-shaded style that worked well with the environments, and best-of-all 4 player co-op!

The only problems I had was that the environments got a bit same-y (just lots of deserts, caves and run down bases) and that some of the missions could be a bit lame (Go shoot a windmill after the last mission had me blowing up a town full of monsters? Get someone else to do it!)

Borderlands 2 hopes to turn all that around, with a huge variety of settings (snow, jungle, industrial city) and so, so many guns that I may have a wargasm. Very excited to take 3 friends out into world and cause some carnage!

Borderlands 2 is due out on the 21st September 2012 (EU).


Feel free to post comments or contributions to improve the experience!
Any videos in this review are from Youtube and are subject to relevant copyrights. They are kindly provided by: http://www.youtube.com/user/gamespot

Monday, 26 March 2012

Video - The End of the World - 26/03/12 [DAILY DOSE]

MONDAY 26TH MARCH 2012 - DAILY DOSE


Today's DAILY DOSE is a video from several years back (2003... seriously?) that I found again the other day and it still made me smile - 
it is THE END OF THE WORLD by GROUP X.

The video became very popular on Albino Black Sheep back in the day, and has received over 5 million plays on Youtube. 
Why? Because it is frantic, ridiculous, scary and stupid..... much like international politics.

Check out more zany flash videos at:


Feel free to post comments or contributions to improve the experience!
Any videos in this review are from Youtube and are subject to relevant copyrights. They are kindly provided by: http://www.youtube.com/user/AlbinoBlackSheep

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Trailer - The Dark Knight Rises - 25/03/12 [DAILY DOSE]

SUNDAY 25TH MARCH 2012 - DAILY DOSE


Today's DAILY DOSE is another trailer for a movie due to be released this Summer - 
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES!

The sequel to the recent, massively-popular instalment of the Batman series, The Dark Knight, this film carries on the story of the criminal struggles within Gotham City.

Now Bruce Wayne has fled the backlash from the events of the last movie, the Joker is incarcerated, Harvey Dent is dead ..... so it's time for Bane to have some fun!

Due out in cinemas on the 20th July. 
Review to follow soon afterwards.

Feel free to post comments or contributions to improve the experience!
Any videos in this review are from Youtube and are subject to relevant copyrights. They are kindly provided by: http://www.youtube.com/user/trailers

Saturday, 24 March 2012

TV Show - Homeland - 24/03/12 [DAILY DOSE]

SATURDAY 24TH MARCH 2012 - DAILY DOSE


Today's DAILY DOSE is a TV show that's caught my eye on Channel 4 right now (UK) - hit US import, Homeland.

Homeland is a tense, sexual, violent drama centred around a CIA agent, Carrie Mathison (played by Claire Danes), and an American prisoner of war, Nicholas Brody (played by Damian Lewis).

Mathison believes that she has reliable intel that indicates that during Brody's time as a prisoner of war, he was indoctrinated to Muslim extremism and now, freed and returned to the US, he poses a major national security risk.

The really interesting point isn't the torture, US politics, or terrorism angle that's the main focus - it's the mental health and interplay of the main characters. Mathison is on the edge, and is suffering from some as-yet undisclosed mental health problem, and Brody has come back from the war suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Is Mathison a reliable operative to trust with a mission of such high importance?
Is Brody driven by extremism, or is he just having a hard time getting used to life in back home?
And will Brody lose his family, who have presumed him to be dead for the last 8 years?


Feel free to post comments or contributions to improve the experience!
Any images in this review are subject to relevant copyrights and are kindly provided by: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/homeland/pictures/homeland-series-1/1aeaca9c-c85c-4cd7-a755-8b760b05ab48

Friday, 23 March 2012

Mass Effect 3 [PS3]




Final instalment of the Commander Shepard trilogy - the sci-fi epic of the generation.


Oh, and have you heard that Mass Effect 3 has a multiplayer mode?

Well, I think 
MASS EFFECT 3 IS THE MULTIPLAYER.

The story is great and this really is the grand finale that the trilogy has been building to... but I just can't stop playing the 
absolutely awesometastic multiplayer!

That big evil-looking thing is a Reaper - and they've invaded Earth.


So What's The Story Here?
In Mass Effect 3, you play as Commander Shepard - human hero and captain of the Normandy, one of the most awesome space ships ever built.  The game is an epic sci-fi role-playing adventure, with tech gadgets, special powers and weaponry. Now, those things sound fairly nerdy and off-putting for some people when put together, but the whole experience of playing as an elite and customisable space ship captain is just too fun for words. 



I always play as kick-ass bitch Shepard.

You get to choose:

  • a male or female Shepard
  • what they look like using a fairly decent character creator, including face, colour and style of skin/eyes/hair/lips etc.
  • whether you are justly heroic or pragmatically renegade (basically save as many lives as possible for the good of the team, or sacrifice as many as needed for the safety of the Galaxy)
  • what missions you take - to some extent - in that you can choose to take or leave certain missions if you feel you can do without the benefits of completion, but there are still "key" story missions that you have to play through in order to complete the game
  • what character class you are - 6 to choose from - which are as follows: Soldier (pure firepower), Adept (pure powers), Vanguard (guns and powers), Sentinel (powers and armour), Engineer (drones and hacking), and  Infiltrator (stealth and sabotage)
  • what loadout of weapons and armour you take into battle
  • which powers and special abilities your experience points unlock
  • which squad members to take on missions - and which to sacrifice at key points along the way.

You choose who to save - and who to let go.

When you're not fighting various enemies, there is a lot of time spent talking to the different species of the Galaxy - gaining their trust in order to combat the greatest threat ever known - the Reapers.


The Reapers are the most fearsome beings the Galaxy has ever seen - coming back every few thousand years and wiping out all life to "restore the order". Shepard has been fighting Reapers in small numbers for the whole trilogy - but now the Reapers have come out of hiding and have invaded the Earth!


Oh come on, that's pretty scary. The War of the Worlds-esque laser is equally pants-staining.


So what are the really good bits to Mass Effect 3?


+++ You Can't Take The Sky From Me +++
As I mentioned earlier, this is just the kind of major sci-fi epicness that's right up my street. Being able to pilot your own spaceship, choose your crew, carve your own path through space - this has all the things that make me drool over the TV show Firefly. Man, I want my own spaceship.


Anyway, the tense and spectacular climax to the trilogy is pulled-off pretty well. Right from the word go you know that things have been cranked up a notch - the Earth is being invaded, millions of people are dying right across the Galaxy and you are the last hope. 


It sounds very similar to previous games but throughout the previous games there never had the same sense of urgency or drama to them. You are constantly reminded of the impending threat and meet up with the relevant parties to discuss the situation regularly throughout the story.


It all adds to the grand and gripping experience that the main story is - it has been slowly building to this point for 3 games and it's time for the big showdown.


And you get to kit out your crew with sexy blue aliens - like Liara here.


+++ It's The Final Countdown +++
And this really does go all out on the "end of the world finale" thing. I played through as a renegade bitch - always taking the "bad" or "reckless" options - and bloody hell did it mean it changed my experience. I told myself "whenever the option comes up to choose a really badass action - I'll go for it". 


I ended up sentencing several of my oldest friends to death. 
Oh yessiree. 

I actually saw 3 of my oldest friends die due to my actions during my first playthrough - 2 were killed by my hand and the third killed herself when she saw what I had done to her people. 


This is do-or-die time. They aren't holding anyone back for a sequel here - pretty much any of your crew can and may be killed off during your campaign, which just adds to the tense feeling of responsibility and power you get when playing. You can choose to save people - which will only work to some extent. You can choose to kick ass - if you're prepared to put a bullet in the back of your friend's head.

Oh Mordin, I'm sorry .... but you left me no choice...

+++ System Refinements +++
In terms of the improvements in terms of gameplay between previous ME titles and this one, they are all quite subtle. There are a few extra powers available to you - and these are good fun to play around with and see what new destruction you can cause with them - but they aren't too spectacular.

The big positive changes are in the way that you allocate experience points and equipment. When you are spending experience points to improve your skills and powers, at higher levels you get the option to choose bonuses as you unlock. These can be things like "damage an additional nearby target" or "reduce recharge time by 50%", so if you know how you like to use your powers then you can now spend your experience points more efficiently and effectively.

With your equipment, you now have a lot more options - you can buy upgrades for all of your weapons, new parts for guns or just whole new weapons, new armour with unique bonuses - each of these gives you more options to tailor your play style. There is also a new melee attack system, so you can take out baddies up close and personally if you so choose.

Whether you like guns, powers or tech skills - there's a play style for you.

Another great addition is the trade-off between power recharge time and weapon weight. The more weapon weight you are carrying, the slower your powers will recharge. This means that if you are carrying 1 of each of the 5 types of weapons then your powers will take 10 to 20 seconds to recharge after use. If you go in with just a pistol and a light assault rifle, then you can knock out special powers every 5 seconds. 

Again, this is just adding in more flexibility in the game to create a more unique and tailored experience - and in terms of the combat then Bioware has succeeded. It is just as tactical and tight, and with the new customisation options and powers then you really can see your choices in action. Explosive warfare action!

And now you can melee people to smithereens using the omni-blade.



+++ THE Multiplayer +++
And now the bit I've been looking forward to getting round to - the online stuff. This took me by surprise - I knew there would be a multiplayer mode but I always thought it would just pan out the playtime of the single player. As it turns out, I've probably spent as much time on the campaign (30 hours) as I have in the multiplayer. But... why exactly? 

The multiplayer lets you start a whole new character - or any number of characters - from the 6 available classes. You then are put into a match, based on the settings you choose, with 4 other online players. The match is 10 waves, starting off easy and progressing to the tough enemies - during which time there will be a few objectives to complete. 

Later levels in multiplayer feature big buggers like this. Lots of them.

The main tasks in each wave is to kill all the enemies. Killing enemies gives you experience, as does helping to kill enemies - you are always given a fair "portion" of the available experience based on the damage you caused. When you kill a certain number of enemies you get a bonus, by completing extra objectives you earn credits that can be spent on better armour and items.

There's extra characters you can unlock with special powers, rare armour sets that offer you bonuses - basically the more you play, the more cool stuff you unlock.

And you can just keep mixing it up as you play. Try 1 match as a different class for a change. Try some new powers. Spend some money on rare unlocks and see how much that improves your game. Again, this works like the single player - you can choose to play however you want to.

When you are ready, there are harder difficulty levels that offer greater rewards but with greater risks. There's a lot of play time on offer here - you can spend hours at a time honing your skills and showing off in front of your mates. Really, I don't know what Mass Effect was like before multiplayer now. This is how it always should have been.

Working together to take out foes is one of the multiplayer's greatest joys.

The only real problem with the multiplayer is that there's no mute setting for other players. Thanks to one git with a french accent, the ending was nearly ruined for me. Thanks "Noel242LePoo", I had to jump off my sofa and run over to turn my speakers off to stop you from spoiling the whole finale. What a douschebag. I got my own back though - if you think I'm going to revive that asshat when I see him bleeding out on the floor, you can think again!

So now I'll spend some time talking about the areas that they didn't get quite right.


--- Space Soap Opera ---
Both the dialogue and the story in this game are hammy. Really hammy. Like daytime soap opera hammy. It's things like this: after successfully fighting off 400000-bazillion monsters with your soldier buddy, it seems there are a couple left to deal with. Then delicate piano music comes in as he says:


You go on without me .... Time to die...


Hmmmm.... I wonder what's going to happen here then? 
And then he is slaughtered 5 seconds later


Here's Admiral Londoner now.


Then during the finale, your commanding officer questions whether they have what it takes to tackle the Reapers. The conversation between Shepard and the Admiral goes:


Don't worry Sir, they'll do whatever it takes to beat them. 
Good. Because that's what it's going to take.


Wow. That is award-winning pap. In fact, that didn't even make sense.



Another sad example is when you are required to escape from a robot AI mothership. The main robot tells you that there are no escape pods on the mothership, because they are like robots and shit. So it recommends using a robot fighter ship to fly off on. When Shepard and your 2 crewmates get in the fighter ship, the robot AI says:


"Is there enough room there, in the storage bay, Commander Shepard?" 


Aw... I would have assumed it was a storage bay if you hadn't said it. But the fact that you went out of your way to slip in an explanation for why 3 extra humanoids can fit into a single pilot robot fighter just makes me suspicious. 


Are you trying to hard to avoid bitching from nerds, Bioware? 


There's a lot of times in Mass Effect 3 where it really feels like the writers are trying far too hard to cram in story (or fill in plot holes) during the dialogue. It leaves a lot of conversations feeling desperately unnatural.



If you've ever fancied a job as an outer-space diplomat then it's your lucky day!



--- To Boldly Gay.... ---
Another key change is that you can now form gay relationships - yay! Now this is quite a progressive move for a videogame - and certainly a welcome one in my opinion - if only I weren't so annoyed with the way it was offered in ME3.


Really, I wanted to get in bed with Liara. She's the really gorgeous blue one in the screenshots above. I didn't manage to. Maybe I didn't give her enough time, or chat her up right... I don't know.


Then my secretary starts trying to jump me at every opportunity! Hey! Alright, you're kinda cute... but I'm still holding out for Liara!


And so while the Universe was being destroyed, she kept inviting me upstairs to play "Chess" (one of the lamest and least-romantic euphamisms I have ever heard).


Basically, while I welcome the option to have a gay relationship in-game, they went a bit overboard on the lesbian love interest here....because she wasn't very interesting.


Maybe I should've tried my luck with the reporter, Diana Allers. She looked up for it.

--- Minor Bugs ---
There's also a lot of little problems that don't affect gameplay too much but still cause irritation. The sound can be a bit jumpy - especially when loading up or moving into a new area. When the rest of the audio features a tense, bassy, epic soundtrack (and so I'm playing through with massive headphones turned up full blast), when the sound skips it can be quite uncomfortable. It only happens once a level, and doesn't cause any real trouble - it just feels slightly unpolished for such a big-budget title.


Another little issue arises when there is smoke on the battlefield. The smoke is meant to visually cover up enemies, but also stops your targeting system working so that you lock-on to enemies. The problem is that it is too powerful and a bit glitchy, meaning that even after smoke has cleared you can aim at a target and have your shot miss because some non-existent smoke clouded your vision. Again, this is a fairly rare and minor issue so I shan't dwell on it.


You should be able to nail these guys... so long as they aren't obscured by smoke.

--- Violent Mood Swings ---
The AI, particularly in multiplayer, can fluctuate between mind-blowingly stupid and swarmingly genius at the drop of a hat - so keep your wits about you. There are certain enemies in game which you know to be wary of anyway, such as Geth Primes and Reaper Banshees, but now other units can become really tough in an instant.


I think this is again due to the AI changes. Most units are pretty stupid - bang, bang, hide behind cover, pop out, bang, bang, dead. However, it seems that when certain special abilities are used, such as the type that instantly deplete your shields, and they all jump out and fire heavily at the exposed targets. This leaves milliseconds for you to either find cover or take out all nearby enemies. No amount of first aid kits in the world can save you if they all fire on you at once. No use of powers and tactics can prevent this - you just get pwnd. 


The Reapers big red giant killy laser thing is dangerous. Bet you're glad I told you.

So the difficulty level can be a bit unbalanced - with the majority of missions being quite short and relatively easy, some are frustratingly difficult. Special mention goes to the final section, where you take down dozens of high-level units only to be taken out by an instant kill-o-death Reaper laser. It takes a few goes to work out the annoyingly erratic pattern of the laser so you have to fight off the build-up troops quite a few times. Urgh. I hate instant kill lasers.

Cerberus troops are a piece of piss though.

--- Cerberus Bites ---
One thing I am still left to work out is why on Earth so much of the game is spent killing humans. The main human-biased organisation in the galaxy, Cerberus, is causing all sorts of trouble and seems to have lost all sense of moral bearings. 

While the rest of the galaxy is burning, you find that the troops have started massacres in various bases around the place, mutated people, manipulated and used influential figures, tearing civilisation apart even further. 

And the thing is - they're meant to be trying to stop the Reapers too! Not quite sure why Shepard spent so long clearing up after Cerberus, why no-one sees that perhaps they're somehow connected to all this - and why none of the Cerberus foot-soldiers didn't stop and say "Er... with all this impending eradication of all life in the galaxy, don't we have better things to do than to hunt down defenceless civilians?"

All the answers should reveal in the climactic ending - so here it goes....


+++ The Grand Finale +++
So what about this controversial ending that I've been hearing about? That has sparked mass protest in the gaming community? Well apart from it having some obnoxiously difficult combat sections, and being the culmination of several plotlines that made very little sense - the ending wasn't too bad. The last action level is set in London.... so far as there's Big Ben's tower in the background. Several of the characters mention being born in London, so this is really bringing the final fight back home.

The last sections and dialogue choices allow you to get your last defiant grunts in - and they take place in a truly blissfully pretty environment with a massive space battle in the background. 

There then is of course around an hour's worth of cutscenes to sit through, but you are rewarded with a final moral/decisive choice you are left to pick (a bit like Deus Ex: Human Revolution). 

The war can be ended. 
It's up to you to say how that will be achieved. 

There is enough closure to the storylines in the very short final cutscene to round the story off. All in all, it was as good as it could have gone. I felt Shepard had played her own way throughout, and was given the choice to be a suitably kickass hero at the end.

I'm just glad that you don't need a huge great additional section in order to explain the ending (a la Assassin's Creed Revelations). Oh, what's that Bioware? You're releasing some extra DLC to explain the ending? D'oh.

Conclusion
The finale to the series is suitably epic and in many ways a clear improvement over its predecessors. It wraps up the story nicely and gives some big set pieces to end with - I really liked it.


Bear in mind though - although the action and visuals are blockbuster - some of the plotlines and dialogue are distinctly lacklustre.... bordering on ridiculous. 


The stand-out feature for me is the multiplayer, which more than makes up for the flaws in the rest of the game. With the many hours of fun I've had online, I can overlook one or two minor issues and am completely satisfied that I've gotten my money's worth here.


It only remains for me to say a fond farewell to 
Commander Shepard.
Kick ass space ship captain.


You can choose to have female Shepard as your physical game inlay cover. Coooool.


Feel free to post comments or contributions to improve the experience!
Any images in this review are subject to relevant copyrights and are kindly provided by: http://www.masseffect.com/images/
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