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The Four Horsemen: it's a topic that hasn't much been explored in games, so it's nice to see that 2010 title Darksiders focusses on such a unique area. I bought the game years ago but, unfortunately, I restarted it several times, struggling to get into it. I recently tried it once again, and it turned out to be a lesson in patience. Get past the mediocre first hour or so and you are treated to a glorious and enticing world with great gameplay. It may be slightly derivative, but this is a superb title that any fan of action games will enjoy. Darksiders sees you control one of the Horsemen, named War. In the past, a battle raged on for years between the kingdoms of Heaven and Hell. The Charred Council came to suppress the fighting between the two, employing the Horsemen to enforce the peace. Meanwhile, a third Kingdom, Man, emerged. There would one day be a huge battle between the three and thus seven seals were made, to be broken when the war began and alerting the Horsemen. And so, War arrives on Earth when all of the Seals are broken. He learns, though, that the final seal was never broken and the other Horsemen weren't summoned. He is stripped of his powers as a result of his actions, and vows to find who did this to him. The story is quite good, with a new and intriguing concept. It makes for a beautiful world full of great characters and stunning scenery. It doesn't reach its full potential however. A large part of the game sees you finding monsters' hearts for a demon called Samael so that he will help you forward. It's uninteresting structurally and couldn't have much more of a 'filler' feel to it. Luckily, the actual playing part of working with Samael is good, making those six hours or so much less boring than it could have been. War, as the main character, is very good - he's cold and brutal, perfectly fitting the general idea of War's personality. The supporting cast is also far more than decent; from the Watcher, who keeps War on a tight leash throughout his journey, to Vulgrim, a slimy demon and salesman, there're plenty of enticing characters. Darksiders is a hack-and-slash title. In essence, the genre is full of swordfighting, item collecting and money-finding, and that description fits this game pretty well. You have available to you a large world which opens out as you go along. The game consists of two main mechanics: combat and puzzles. Combat sees you fighting against monsters with War's sword, the Chaoseater, and other weapons which are found later. The control scheme is simple, as you have an attack button and a button that initiates a brutal finishing move for weakened enemies. You can mash the square button constantly if you're not on the highest difficulty, but you're fortunately given a wide range of combos, mixing things up a bit. For example, you can hold two buttons down for a charged hit, or leave a gap in between tapping the attack button to execute a more powerful strike. You also get access to weapons like a scythe or boomerang-like blade. In addition, there's a 'chaos form' mode, which turns you into a huge fiery monster, but is only available occasionally. The fighting is not for the faint-hearted: the game's slogan 'heads will roll' couldn't be much more fitting, and there's plenty of blood (there's even a stat that tells you how much demon blood you've spilled). It's a surprise that it managed to avoid an 18 rating here in the UK, instead being given a 15 certificate by the BBFC. The puzzles are an even better gameplay element. At many points in the game you'll find yourself in many dungeon-like places, and in each one you'll have to get through using tools you have found. One, for example, sees you using portals and heavy blocks to raise platforms so that you can reach a surface above. Most of the bosses are puzzles too; you need to figure out how to defeat them before actually fighting them, making those battles more about your brain than skill with a sword. One of the most noticeable things about Darksiders is that it 'borrows' elements from other games. The Legend of Zelda is clearly a chief influence. The combat has some similarities but the puzzles and exploring are a bigger reminder. Like the Zelda games, Darksiders has dungeons and a similar chest system (i.e. a big chest will give you a map where a small one will give you a health vial). You can also collect 'souls' (equivalent to Zelda's rupees) which can be used to buy things from merchants. There're also parallels to Portal (an ancient device allows you to shoot orange and blue portals onto certain surfaces; stepping through one brings you out through the other) and Devil May Cry in its fast and fluent combat system. Opinion on the matter is varied, some calling Darksiders derivative and others saying that it is just full of homages. I personally liked it and thought it took the best bits from many games while making them its own. The title contains a lot of replay value. There are three difficulties, from 'Easy' to 'Apocalyptic' and finding souls by killing enemies or unlocking chests allows you to buy new combos and weapons. You can also purchase health upgrades and powers. I'd be tempted to play Darksiders again just to see if I could buy everything possible. There are also plenty of collectibles. There are artifacts to find, which can be sold - and they're ranked into three groups. The lowest one contains an easy to find and common set of artifacts, whereas the highest group contains one artifact which will give many trouble in locating. Lastly there are 10 pieces of Abyssal Armour, scattered around the world. Finding them all will give you a stronger and more epic set of clothing, but finding all 10 parts is no easy task. Unfortunately, there's no New Game+ mode (a feature in some games that allows you to start fresh with all the items you finished with) but a completely new playthrough is a pleasure anyway. The graphics of Darksiders are wonderful. There's a completely unique art style that's hard to describe, but it makes even the dullest of locations look beautiful. The game begins in a dark and grimy street, but things soon open out into more vibrant landscapes. It's no surprise as the game's creative director is Joe Madueira, who has worked on the 'Uncanny X-Men' comics. The fantastic visuals make the bloody decapitations worryingly satisfying, and navigating War around is a joy, both because he's great to control and also because seeing what's next is genuinely exciting. The audio is also excellent. The voice acting really pushes forward the violent and brutal world - War's voice is deep and growly, for example. Undoubtedly the most famous actor in the game is Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, no less). His voice here isn't really any different to that of his Joker in Batman: Arkham Asylum, but his work is great overall. Also featured is veteran video game actor Troy Baker. The music is superb, too. The main theme is loud and grandiose, and the same goes for the rest of Darksiders's score. It's great and, like just about everything else in the game, perfectly fits the theme. In summary, Darksiders is a very good game that reaches the potential of its intriguing concept. The story, while not quite brilliant, is interesting for the most part. It's a long and bloody revenge story, featuring a diverse range of characters. The plot greatly sets the scene for the gameplay, which is an excellent mix of puzzles and combat. The fighting is meaty and satisfying, while the puzzles are sometimes brain-bending and challenging but always fair. Even the bosses largely require your brains to complete. The value for money is rather good, as well; it lasts 15-20 hours on your first playthrough, and you'll just want to play again from the start. There're a large number of collectibles to get your hands on. The visuals are brilliant with a colourful and unique art style along with varied character design. The audio is another great aspect of the game - the voice acting is great and the music is epic. It's only let down by a slightly overlong length and the lack of a New Game+ mode. Thanks for reading! This review is also on Ciao under my name YoshiCheesePuff.
There's no denying that The Godfather is an absolute classic. Based on Mario Puzo's book of the same name and released in 1972, it holds second place on the IMDb's list of the top 250 films, and scores a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It's such a good and famous film that many consider it before the book. Despite its 41 years, the film holds up really well today, being excellent in every department from story to casting. The Godfather focusses on the Corleone family, one of the New York Five Families, in the 1940s. At the head of the family is Vito Corleone, a man who gets what he wants but is fair and much respected. Things are looking up for the family - Vito's daughter, Connie, has just got married and the last war with the other families was years ago. However, the peace is broken when a drug businessman, Solozzo, makes an offer to the family and Vito refuses, resulting in a long and bloody war between the families. The Godfather's plot is gripping and compelling, with a brilliant set of characters and superb writing to support it. One of the great things about it is that it finds plenty of time to explore the family life and the Corleone family. One particular is example is the wedding scene at the start. It could easily have been boring, but manages to make the viewer constantly interesting as we learn more about what the family does and the personalities of each character. There are many characters in The Godfather. The foremost one is Don Vito, the head of the Corleones. His patience and willingness to listen to an offer makes him a very likeable character, despite him being a part of a family that has killed many, many people over the years. But while Vito is normally considered the main character, I believe his son, Michael, is more important. He's a young man who joined the Army in the Second World War, much to his father's distaste, and is now a student in college, with a girlfriend Kay. He's initially quite irrelevant to the story, being the only son of Vito who isn't part of the family business. He soon becomes involved involved in the fallout of the Solozzo denial, though, changing him from an innocent man to a brutal and ruthless character. It's this progression that makes him one of the best characters I've seen in any media. There's also hot-tempered Sonny and polite Fredo, also sons of Vito. There're too many more characters to detail here, but many are all well thought out and genuinely intriguing to watch. The film has, may I say it, immaculate acting and the choice of casting is excellent - I couldn't think of any other actors more suited to a role. Marlon Brando plays Vito. He has a great presence when on screen, partly down to some decisions of Brando himself. As an example, he came up with the idea of stuffing his cheeks to give him the appearance of a bulldog. It seems small but really adds to the character's presence. Al Pacino plays The Godfather. This is the earliest film I've seen him in, and he's fantastic. His portrayal of a character who slowly decays is wonderful, although his performance is even better in The Godfather: Part 2. There's James Caan as Sonny, his strong figure fitting the role perfectly, and John Cazale plays Fredo, who's also very good, making it all the sadder that he died just a few years later. One of the final key roles is the new consigliori Tom Hagen, acted by Robert Duvall - who really well acts Hagen's obedience and loyalty. In all, the acting is superb. I can't say I'm anything close to a film buff, so I can't really say if Francis Ford Coppola's directorial style is still hugely impressive today, but it's clear in many parts that it's special. At the start, for example, the camera is zoomed into the face of the Don's client, Bonasera; then, it slowly pans out so that we can see the silhouette of Vito, which makes him seem more important and respected in the story. There's also, without giving away anything, the scene in the cathedral, the style of which has influenced many other forms of media. The scenery itself is also impressive. It's set in the 1940s, and even if the characters didn't make it clear, you'd still know the time period. The clothing, cars and buildings create a great 40s atmosphere, and there are many different scenes which are beautiful to look at. The film compares very favourably to the book, using the best and most important bits. However, there is still quite a bit of content missing. Johnny Fontane, Vito's godson, played a rather large role in the book and more emphasis is placed on his loss of voice and family troubles, but in the film his scenes are very limited, apparently due to Frank Sinatra's anger about how similar the character was to him. Also, most of the parts involving Sonny's mistress, Lucy Mancini, are absent, and the section focussing on Vito's younger days as a man working up the chain was reserved for the second film. Most of the good bits are intact, however, with the film maintaining focus and clarity. Plus, many of the great quotes from the book are included, from 'I'll make him an offer he can't refuse' to 'it was business, not personal'. Last but not least, the soundtrack is spellbinding. The deep and mysterious main theme sets the tone for the film, and the music for the rest of the film is just as good. In particular, composer Nino Rota's 'Love Theme' is magnificent, fitting in the more romantic and love-driven scenes. It's so good that I wouldn't hesitate to buy it if I were offered a sountrack. Overall, The Godfather is an outstanding film that deserves its status. The storyline is magnificent; while some parts from the book are missing, it is still extremely intriguing. The characters are all brilliant - from Don Vito to Tom Hagen, there's a character that people will be able to relate to. The film does a stellar job of letting us connect to a criminal family. The production and direction is also top-notch, and accompanying the great set of characters is all-round superb acting. There're an impressive number of memorable scenes, too, which inspired many other films to come. It's a masterpiece of a film, and possibly Coppola's magnum opus. Thanks for reading! This review is also on Ciao under my name YoshiCheesePuff.
*I played Metal Gear Solid on PS Vita, downloaded from the Playstation Store. It's exactly the same as the original, but some controls are mapped to the touchpad with the absence of R2 and L2 buttons.* The Metal Gear series is so long and complicated that even the name confuses people. The franchise began 26 years ago with stealth game Metal Gear, and more than ten years later, PSOne title Metal Gear Solid was released, which spawned several sequels, and now we also have Metal Gear Rising. Today it's a huge franchise and has made creator Hideo Kojima famous in the gaming world. After playing Metal Gear Solid 2 and being rather confused, I decided to go back in time and play the first Metal Gear Solid game. I didn't expect much, but it ranks alongside all the Metal Gear titles, and is very fun. 26 years on from the release of the original, the Metal Gear franchise has become known for its complex and often crazy stories, and Metal Gear Solid is no different. It's also very intriguing and full of twists and turns. Former operative Solid Snake is pulled out of his home in Alaska, desperately needed. Terrorists have taken over the snowy island of Shadow Moses, stating that they'll launch a nuclear bomb in 24 hours if the government doesn't hand over the body of legendary soldier Big Boss's body. Snake is forced to come out of retirement and see if the terrorists actually have the ability to launch a bomb. It's a good story and far less bizarre than the others - you won't find any fat terrorists on roller skates here. It's also quite deep, with a series of audio logs to listen to in order to hear more about the story before starting, though thankfully watching them all isn't really essential at all - it's really just backstory and extra detail. Metal Gear Solid is a third-person adventure game with a heavy emphasis on stealth. Your goal is to sneak through Shadow Moses to your objective, trying not to cause casualties or alert enemies. You enter the game 'naked', with no weapons or gadgets, but by the end you'll have many tools at your disposal. There are many different obstacles around the island to catch you out, such as cameras and trapdoors, but once you have the equipment they're easy to sneak past. Enemies also patrol, and while most are better avoided, some are easier to get past by giving them a knock on the head. As the game has so much of a focus on stealth, it's thankful that the stealth mechanics are decent and rarely frustrating, unlike that of some games. It's a simple system. You have a map (unless you're on the harder difficulties, in which case you don't get one!) which gives you the location of enemies and cameras, as well as providing their cones of vision so you know how far ahead they can look. In that regard, the game isn't very realistic - enemies can see around three feet in front of them, oddly - but the system works well, otherwise. You can get past enemies, but also dispose of them if it makes things easier. You can get behind enemies and choke them out, or use a silenced weapon so as not to get detected by others. You can also use chaff grenades to temporarily disable cameras. Overall, the stealth is robust. You'll inevitably get into combat sometimes, however, with some mandatory fights against both bosses and regular enemies. Unfortunately, the combat isn't too great, which isn't too surprising as this is a 15-year old title. Melee is handled by tapping the circle button. You can't call the hand-to-hand fighting stylish, and it's a bit clumsy, but it works in general. The gunfights are where things fall flat. Unlike future Metal Gear Solid titles, you can't aim with your weapon in first-person, resulting in a shooting mechanic that's imprecise and hard to use. Another key part is the Codec, which allows you to make calls to several characters, if you're not sure what to do next, or if you just want to here what they have to say. It's a cool system, but expect plenty of philosophical rambling. Metal Gear Solid is a game that other developers should look at when thinking about replay value. The game offers many reasons to play again. At the end of the game, you're giving a ranking based on how much you save, how many alerts you got and how many enemies you killed, and are affected by what difficulty you play on. The Big Boss emblem is a coveted award that every Metal Gear fan strives for, and sees you playing on the hardest difficulty while getting the minimum number of alerts and kills - plus completing it in a very short space of time. There're other reasons, too. There are two different endings, each one giving you a certain special item to use if you start the game again. It's also worth playing through once again to see what easter eggs you can find and if there's anything you missed on your first playthrough. It's a game that uses original ways to get you to start over, rather than resorting to including hundreds of tiny collectibles. As a PSOne game, Metal Gear Solid doesn't look fantastic. It's obviously pixely and character models don't look great. However, the island of Shadow Moses is quite impressive to look at overall, and has plenty of nice touches like footprints when you step on snow and enemies following the trail if they see it. At the time it was groundbreaking and ahead of its time, and that's easy to see here; even though it's a technically demanding title gameplay-wise, the graphics manage to resemble a game that looked good in 1998. The sound really holds up today. Though I enjoyed the score of Harry Gregson-Williams in the future Metal Gear games, the soundtrack of Metal Gear Solid could be my favourite of the whole series, as it's atmospheric and really fits in with the game's tone. The voice acting is also impressive. David Hayter is recognisable as the growly, rough-voiced Snake (but has now been replaced by Kiefer Sutherland, though it wouldn't be surprising if Kojima's trolling people once again) and does a great job. There's also Paul Eiding (Skyrim, Resident Evil: Revelations, some animated films) in the role of Colonel Campbell, Christopher Randolph (whose is good here but even better in MGS4) in the role of Otacon, and Jennifer Hale (pretty much every game ever made) as Naomi. It's a great cast that makes Codec conversations even more enjoyable than they would otherwise. In summary, Metal Gear Solid is a very good game that stands up well 15 years later. The story is intriguing, offering more believability than the future games, and there's an excellent cast of characters. Stealth is great even though it lacks some of the little features that more modern sneaking titles have, though the combat is poor. The series is known for its fourth wall-breaking bits, and they're most prominent here but don't work quite as well if playing on a downloaded version on PS3 or Vita - for example, at one point you're asked to look at the 'CD Case' in-game by a character to find a Codec code. People looked everywhere for this CD Case in the game, but it really wanted you to look at the game box, which had the code on. In 1998 this was a hilarious feature, but on Vita it's less funny due to the fact that you have to view the instructions from the menu, where you are given it. The graphics are unimpressive now, but the footprints-in-snow effect is a good detail. The sound is excellent, with a superb soundtrack and excellent voice acting. Lasting around 10 hours on a first playthrough, it's a game well worth picking up for a few pounds on the PS Store. Thanks for reading! This review is also on Ciao under my name YoshiCheesePuff.
It's easy to say that in recent years, the Rayman franchise has been slipping, bogged down by mediocre party games under the 'Rabbids' subtitle. Considering the original and its two sequels were so great, this was rather disappointing - so 2011 title Rayman Origins was a joy for many. As the name implies, it's a 'return to roots' for the series, back to the 2D platforming of the original, which was released in 1995. Origins could easily have been a reminder that Rayman's glory days were long past; instead, it's a return to the series, bringing back the fun of the first games while breathing new life into the series. The premise of Rayman Origins is simple. You're Rayman, everyone's favourite armless hero. When a force of evil creatures capture Electoons from around the world, he goes out to save them and rid the lands of the monsters in the process. Overall, it's an enjoyable concept - but it completely takes a backseat to the gameplay. Origins's gameplay, much like the story, is simple, but still very challenging and maddeningly fun. You control the protagonist from a 2D perspective across tens of levels. These are divided and placed into nearly ten different worlds, each one with a different theme and style. From jungles to icy caverns, there's plenty of wonderful imagery in store. Each level focusses on you ultimately reaching a cage, which you can destroy to save an Electoon. You'll need to punch through enemies and struggle over obstacles to reach the goal. There's loads of extra content however - levels don't simply involve you rushing through to reach the 'finish line'. Electoon collecting is, basically, the game's currency and by completing additional activities you can earn you more and more of these. Each level contains Lums, of which you can obtain a certain amount to earn Electoons. While many of these flying yellow objects stay put in plain sight, some will linger in less visible areas such as narrow holes in the ground or dark alcoves in a cave. Collecting these is very compulsive and just missing one might send you a tingle of frustration. In addition to a cage at the end of the level, there are up to two hidden away in each level. They aren't stupidly well-hidden, but involve a fair bit of searching around to find. Finding all 240+ Electoons is hard work, but the reward is worth it: you unlock new characters to play as, and extra levels. These additional levels can all be completed to unlock the 'Land of the Living Dead' stage. It's an ultra-hard, horror-themed level that's nice to see in a landscape of overly accessible and easy games. Unfortunately, there's a rather big omission from Rayman Origins when it comes to the Vita, which is the co-op mode. In the game on consoles you can play with up to three other friends. However, there're thankfully a few exclusive features on Vita. There are many more characters to unlock and a series of new collectibles to find called Relics. You can also take it on the go and is superior to the 3DS version, playing just as well and looking just as good as the console and PC versions. New and unique art styles are being used a fair bit in gaming nowadays. From the cel-shaded visuals of The Walking Dead and Borderlands to the vibrant style of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, many new games look brilliant even if they don't have a great amount of detail and realism. Rayman Origins is another example, and is arguably the best-looking game on the Vita. It's bright, colourful and just beautiful in general. The style really fits in with the game's child-friendly tone; monsters look quite threatening but still have a somewhat comical look about them, and the character design is wonderful. The sound is also very good. As with the visuals, the music is very different but enjoyable, suiting the charismatic and charming style that the game offers. It also has interesting ideas with sound design; for example, one level sees you running across pianos and jumping on bongo drums to make noises. To conclude, the graphics and audio is fantastic. Rayman Origins's childish look is deceptive; in fact, this is a game that would probably be more suited to older, more experienced gamers. At times it's very difficult, and a pleasant reminders of the superb and challenging platformers of old. The 2D platforming is a delight, and collecting everything the game has to offer feels like a necessity, because even the 7+ hour story mode doesn't feel like enough. Just as significant is the graphics; the game is superb to look at and has a brilliant art style. The music is also great, fitting in perfectly with the game's light-hearted tone. The Vita version is nearly every bit as good as the PS3 one, with the same stunning visuals and smooth gameplay, but the lack of a co-op mode is a disappointing omission here. Rayman Origins is a fantastically surprising game that should be experienced by everyone and - thank god - there's not a single Rabbid in sight. Thanks for reading! This review is also on Ciao under my name YoshiCheesePuff.
Grand Theft Auto IV came out a few years ago and disappointed some people with its focus on realism and seriousness. Many found it fun, but just not worthy when compared to its legendary predecessors. Clearly developer Rockstar had some work to do so that it could take back some let down fans - and it has certainly succeeded with GTA V. With a stunningly large and gorgeous open world, refined gameplay and a great band of characters, it's a fantastic game that will go down as one of the best of this console generation. GTA V takes place in the state of San Andreas - a place full of glamour, obsession with fame and crime. This is what the three protagonists of this game's story call home. Michael De Santa is a former criminal who faked his death years ago to lead a new life. He's now living in a lavish house with his wife, son and daughter...all of whom hate him. An even worse problem for Michael is that he's struggling to hold a crime-free life, and is seeing a therapist as a result. When he pulls an expensive house off a hill in a fit of rage, he's forced to return to his former way of life. Meanwhile, we have Franklin Clinton, a black gangster who's stuck doing small-time jobs with his buddy Lamar and lives with his bizarre Aunt Denise. His life changes for the better when he meets Michael, with better jobs and more cash to be made. Finally, Trevor Philips is a former friend of Michael and lives in the rural part of San Andreas, still believing him to be dead. He's a psychopath and proud owner of a meth lab. When he is given reason to believe his old associate is actually alive, Trevor enters the city of Los Santos to find him. Ultimately, the three characters all come together to perform heists and earn big money. GTA V's story isn't a masterpiece by any stretch, but it's very interesting and entertaining. As you'd expect from a Grand Theft Auto game, there's a wonderful cast of characters. The main characters have the most unlikeable characteristics of those in those in the whole series - yet, they're still great to play as. In addition to those there's an excellent band of supporting characters - highlights include Wade, a not-so-smart hillbilly, and Dr Friedlander, Michael's greedy therapist. In addition, the writing is genuinely hilarious. There are a huge number of memorable, gut-wrenchingly funny moments (even if they are pretty stupid). Admittedly, the writing might not be to everyone's taste. If you don't like strong language then stay well away as there's all sorts here - and even a few counts of that C word (and no, not 'crap'). The satire of today's culture is all well and present in GTA V, as it was in past games. It targets social media, modern video games and torture. In summary the plot is enjoyable but best of all is the writing and characters. GTA V allows you to explore the whole of San Andreas, including the city of Los Santos and the surrounding area, Blaine County. However you do it is your choice; you can walk around but there's plenty of transport, including cars, boats, planes and helicopters. It's a joy to explore, with plenty of variety such as urban, forested and desert areas. When you're not exploring, however, there are a series of missions to do which progress the story. There are 69 missions in the game, each one available to access at any time once you've completed the previous mission, but most of them are restricted to one of the three playable characters. On that note, a feature of the game that's new to the series is the ability to switch between characters. Whenever you're exploring the world, you can change to Franklin, Michael and Trevor. When you do, the camera will zoom out from the map and you'll be put into the body of the character you changed into wherever they currently are. For example, you might be roaming the tremendous Mount Chiliad as Franklin. Switch to Michael and things will move over to the city, where Michael might be arguing with his family or playing tennis. It's a great system which really adds to the immersion. The system goes deeper, however. Each character has a unique special ability. You can use it by tapping both analog sticks down. Michael's ability makes the world go into slow motion while in a gunfight; Franklin's also makes things go into slow motion, but while driving; and Trevor's activate's Rage mode, where he deals more damage and takes less. Missions are very varied and involve a large range of tasks, so things don't get dull. Initially the missions are quite mundane and boring - one sees you stealing a bike, another driving a car to a specific destination - but this is expected as these missions basically act as a tutorial. Missions get much better in a very short time, but best of all are the Heists. A mission in GTA IV, 'Three Leaf Clover' which saw you robbing a bank and escaping from the cops, was universally praised and considered the best of the game by many, so it's no surprise that that kind of thing has been added as a full feature in GTA V. There are several Heists in the game, and for some of them you have a say in how they get done. You can choose whether to go in loud or quietly, as well as the members of your team. You have a choice of several people to perform each job in a heist - jobs include hacking and gunning. Each one costs a certain amount based on their skill. Choosing a less talented, cheaper member may seem tempting, but they might cause consequences. Afterwards you'll actually be part of the heist. Unfortunately, half of the heists are rather disappointing, either being anti-climactic or lacking the epic heist feel. The other half are fantastic - offering film-like tension and superb action. When you're not living the life of the criminal in the game's missions, you can explore San Andreas as you please. The world is massive - much more so than GTA IV - and there's a crazy amount to do. You can get around in a huge number of ways, and the driving system is almost perfect this time around. In the GTA III era, driving was rather unrealistic and you could get around even the tightest of corners without breaking, where in GTA IV driving was criticised for being a bit too clunky and difficult, an attempt by Rockstar to make it more realistic. Here, it's a perfect blend of the two. It's smooth and nice to handle but stays true to life. Flying aircraft is also great. There's something of a learning curve, making the game's 'Flying School' a godsend, but the reward when you finally grasp flying is immense. There's also a great sense of realism here. Go too high into the sky and you'll experience heavy turbulence, and there's even landing gear on some of the planes which you can retract when in the air. Unfortunately, there's one weak link when it comes to travel and that's, thankfully, the slowest method of travel: walking. Sprinting requires you to repeatedly tap a button, which is a slightly archaic system and can cause worries for your controller's health. When not travelling the massive state, you can get some weapons. By walking into the in-game Ammu-Nation stores, you can buy guns and other equipment. You earn money by completing missions and other activities, allowing you to buy these weapons. There's all sorts, from pistols to shotguns to rocket launchers. You can access your guns by viewing a radial menu, moving the analog stick to scroll around the circle and pick your weapons. Everything goes into slow motion as you decide. They're great tools for mucking around - firing rocket launchers at passing blimps or setting random cars on fire is a (sick, twisted) joy. Of course, a Grand Theft Auto game wouldn't be Grand Theft Auto without every criminal's worst enemy: the police. Just as in past games, committing crimes like killing innocent people and stealing cars will get the cops after you. The worse the crime, the higher the wanted rating you get. There are five levels in the wanted rating, each one represented by a star. Having one star means the police won't shoot, but a few police cars will come after you. A five star rating, however, results in tanks, armoured cars and much more being used to kill you. It's the first game to use five stars, rather than six, but this doesn't make too much of a difference as you weren't that likely to reach six in past titles anyway. You can escape the guys in blue by driving away and not encountering any police in your escape (though, doing this with a 3+ stars isn't an easy feat as helicopters will be in the air searching you out). It's a realistic but somewhat overly challenging system. The problem here is that there isn't much room to have fun without worrying about getting chased by the police. Firing a silenced gun in the middle of the desert might get you a wanted star. Shooting someone in a deserted wood might earn you a star. It's also annoying in other ways. I once saw a gunfight between a cops and criminals, and the police seemed to be losing, so I decided to run down some of the criminals. Apparently, I'm now the bad guy for killing people, so I'm given a two star wanted rating. Also, a police car might drive into you, and there's a fair chance you'll be given a wanted rating. The amount of time you have to wait before being cleared is also quite frustrating, plus the police seem to be to easily able to know where exactly you are. In addition to the fun you can have just doing your own thing, there's a load to do. First of all, you can act out your character's life through various activities. There's a hairdressers in which you can get your favourite haircut or beard; a tattooist where you can cover your character's body in ink; and a few clothing chains, allowing you to dress your character however you like. There are plenty of leisure activities as well. There's tennis; yoga; land or sea racing; parachuting; triathlon and more. All are rather fun, with the exception of the triathlon; there're three races, the last one requiring you to pretty much only tap X...for half an hour. It's the weak link in an otherwise great list of extracurricular activities. You can become a business mogul, buying properties like restaurants and cinemas which will provide you with missions and some extra cash. In addition, you can just hang out and do as you please. As Franklin, you can live out the gangster life: hanging out in the 'crib', drinking fine wine, smoking a bong, and sitting down and watching TV. Or maybe you'd prefer to live out Trevor's life, running around like the madman he is, drinking a beer, or lazing around in the strip club and watching women dance around on poles. If those weren't enough, there are plenty of side missions. Side missions are unlocked by playing through the story. There're plenty of 'colourful' characters you can perform tasks for. My favourites include Beverly, a sleazy photographer who makes you take photos of glamorous women living in the city; Barry, a man who's campaigning for the legalisation for marijuana; and, perhaps my favourite, Nigel and Mrs Thornhill, two elderly English people who both have an obsession with celebrities. Lastly, you have a phone, accessed at any time with a quick tap of up on the D-pad. It allows you to call you character's friends to hang out with them, read texts and e-mails, access the Internet, and take pictures - you can even switch the camera and, hilariously, take a 'selfie' of your character. You don't need to play GTA V by yourself all the time, as it has an online mode. It's a separate entity to the singleplayer game. That is Grand Theft Auto V; this is Grand Theft Auto Online. However, by buying GTA V you get it free of charge. Launched two weeks after the release of V, it had a troubled start. The lack of hate towards Rockstar was slightly worrying, purely because other companies like EA and Activision would get butchered for such a botched online launch - anyhow, it's all well and running now. You start off by creating a character, through the slightly dodgy character creation system. You make your character's appearance by choosing from the preset looks of his parents and both sets of grandparents. It's a rather odd system, made worse by the fact that you can barely see how the grandparents look as they are contained in small boxes. Once you're done making a character you're happy with (which might take longer than it should) you can get playing. There's a race to begin with but once you're done, you can jump into an online game. Each game can contain up to 16 players. You can do what you want online: if it tickles your fancy then you can run around the open world with others. Or, if you need a bit of cash, you can do missions, which include fighting through enemies to pick up a drug case. At the moment there aren't a great variety of missions but more will be introduced through updates, such as heists, plus Rockstar has said that new worlds will be available for GTA Online soon (here's hoping Vice City will be added so we can explore the neon-soaked city with friends). Gameplay is the same as in GTA V, with all the same mechanics in place. At the moment, the single-player game is my personal favourite of that and Online, but maybe that could change with all the updates sure to come sometime. Graphically, Grand Theft Auto V really is wonderful. The populated city of Los Santos and sunny Blaine County both look fantastic on the system, making it seem as though Rockstar has squeezed every last drop of power out of the PS3. Character models are superbly detailed and smoothly animated. In addition, there are clear improvements over GTA IV; V is more colourful (though it's down to taste) and has much more varied landscape, movement is far less of a chore, and the frame rate is better, even though there's far more content here. It's much better to play overall. The sound is a bit of a mixed bag but it is, in general, great. Voice acting is top-notch. There aren't any actors as recognisable as those in past games such as Samuel L. Jackson and Ray Liotta. However, actors Ned Luke, Steven Ogg and Shawn Fonteno play their roles as Michael, Trevor and Franklin (respectively) brilliantly. Luke perfectly puts forward Michael's mid-life crisis frustrations; Ogg portrays Trevor's insane personality extremely well; and Fonteno also does a great job as gangster Franklin. The supporting voice actors are also very good. Unfortunately, Grand Theft Auto V has the worst soundtrack in a GTA game to date, in my opinion. In your car you can choose from a huge variety of (not real-life) radio stations, but the selection is poor. There's too much rap (which, for me, ranks alongside dubstep as 'worst genre') and most of the rest is unmemorable and contains nothing of note. The only two radio stations I could really listen to were Los Santos Rock Radio and Channel X. Even there, there wasn't much good. I much preferred the rock and metal of GTAs 'Vice City' and 'San Andreas'. A redeeming feature is the original score in the game. It boosts the intensity of events such as police chases and heists. It's an excellent part of the game, and had the licensed music been better, then the audio could have been flawless. In summary GTA V is a fantastic game with a rather good online mode to support it. There's an entertaining story with colourful characters and achingly funny writing. Gameplay is superb: movement and combat is fluent and fun. There's a huge amount of content, with 60+ plus hours of play before you reach 100% completion. It's also notably better to play than GTA IV, with easier control over your character and better framerate, making far more satisfying gameplay. The graphics are fantastic, with vibrant colour and fantastic detail as well as flowing animation. The licensed music is disappointing with only a few songs of note, but the original score is wonderful and the voice acting is of high quality. It's an essential entry to the series, with the customary abundance of violence and profanity. Thanks for reading! This review is also on Ciao under my name YoshiCheesePuff.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time stands as one of the most important and loved games ever released. Enjoying a hardly modest score of 99 on Metacritic, even today many people rave about it. Therefore it came as no surprise that Nintendo decided to re-release the game in 3D with its handheld console, the 3DS. Fortunately, it isn't just a cash grab as the graphics are very much improved and the gameplay has been enhanced, taking advantage of the capabilities that the 3DS has. It's a great way to introduce the current generation of gamers to the game that inspired many other titles to come, and shows that The Legend of Zelda is just as fresh now as it was back then. The game begins with a flash into the future - we see a young girl being chased on a horse by a bizarre-looking man. Back to the present, our protagonist - the young, blond-haired Link - wakes up in his home in a small town named Kokiri Forest. Link is different from the others in the Forest, because he doesn't have a fairy. The nearby Deku Tree believes Link is special, and commands a fairy named Navi to join Link's side, asking her to send Link to the Deku Tree. The hero of the story makes his way there, where the Deku Tree asks Link to retrive 3 Spiritual Stones which will ensure the evil Ganondorf can't retrieve the legendary and sacred Triforce. Overall, the story of Ocarina of Time isn't a masterpiece but is definitely entertaining and epic. The game's main theme, time, is an interesting one, and the setting of Hyrule is great to look at and explore. Things don't get as dark as they do in the sequel, Majora's Mask, but the antagonist is a strong one and the story is recommendable if you're looking for an exciting adventure. The opening sequence of the game in Kokiri Forest acts as a tutorial, essentially. You're given the lowdown on most of the game's major systems, from swordplay and defending to the controls. The touchscreen acts as an inventory screen. You're shown what items are equipped to each button. You might have a bottle hotkeyed to Y, for example, and that is displayed on the touchscreen. You're also given two handy touchscreen buttons which you can map an item to. From the touchscreen, you may also access an intuitive menu. Clicking Gear allows you to look at your weapons; Map brings up a map of the area (should you have one); and Items shows your miscellaneous items such as sticks and masks. The gameplay itself is accessible and easy to use. Using a shoulder button you can lock onto an enemy, clicking a face button to attack, and tapping the other shoulder button to defend. The game has a non-linear structure. As soon as you complete the first dungeon, you're free to explore Hyrule. The whole of the world is accessed through Hyrule Field, which acts as a hub. Though you can rush through the story if desired, but it's better to explore the world and look for additional missions. The part of the game that's a staple of Zelda is the dungeons. Throughout the story, you'll have to enter these with collecting a certain item in mind. They're filled with puzzles and require you to find chests containing maps and keys in order to get around the dungeon and progress. Each one sees you fighting a boss at the end of it. The dungeons start off simply; the interior of the Deku Tree, for instance, has you ascending to the top, before jumping down to break through a web at the bottom, then exploring to find the boss. Then, they get more complex, such as the infamous Water Temple, in which you explore a large area, altering the water level in order to reach new places. Though at the core these dungeons remain the same, they've been slightly changed about since the N64 version. For example, the aforementioned Water Temple has had some of its major quirks removed, making it a bit easier to complete, removing most of the frustration players had with it back in 1997. Beside the story, there are a few extra activities to get involved in which range from basic to challenging. An early example involves you locating numerous lost chickens for a woman in a village. You can complete these extra activities or explore the world for Rupees, used to buy things like ammunition for your slingshot, a new shield, or sticks. There are also spider-like creatures which drop Golden Skulltulas, which can be exchanged for rewards like a bigger Rupee wallet. There are extra outfits to obtain besides the ordinary, ability-less green one that Link wears at the start; the red tunic provides resistance against strong heat, and the blue one allows you to breathe underwater. One of the main features of the game, however, is the Ocarina. You can play various tunes using the buttons of the 3DS; a certain combination of buttons makes a song, and each song has a specific function. One is the Sun's Song, which turns day into night and vice-versa, which is helpful as some areas can only be accessed at a certain time of day. Another is the Song of Storms, which - you guessed it - makes the weather cloudy and stormy. It's a great feature that ties in with the story well. Ocarina of Time 3D has a rather unique way of adding replay value. Instead of including a multiplayer add-on or including loads of collectibles, you can play through the game again in Master Quest, once you've completed the main game once. This mode wasn't available in the original N64 version - you had to buy it separately. Master Quest reverses the world, and enemies damage you twice the amount they normally would. It's a great addition which creates a great challenge, and one of the best 'one more playthrough' features I've ever seen, making me wonder why more developers don't include this type of extra. Still, the game still offers plenty of value even ignoring Master Quest - as your first playthrough could end in the 30-70 hour region; it's a big gap, but the length all depends on how quick the player goes through the story, and how good they are at figuring out the puzzles. Graphically, Ocarina of Time looks great on 3DS and is a massive improvement over the N64 version. The colours are much more vivid now and there's a lot more detail in the environment, making the world even more beautiful. The most noticeable improvement is in the marketplace - where in the original it wasn't very good looking at all, out of place against the rest of the game, here it's perfectly suited and looks great. The character models also look superb, not extremely detailed but colourful and fitting in well with the environment. It's great to see the diversity in the visuals, as well. One moment you'll be exploring a flame-filled, boiling cavern, the next you're in a freezing, icy cave. As for the 3D effect, it's not a game-changer at all but is a nice feature for the game - however, it isn't really worth trying to keep the 3DS in the right position constantly just for the 3D. The visuals do look great in summary. The sound is even better. Ocarina of Time is recognised as having one of the best soundtracks in gaming, and I certainly agree with that sentiment. In addition to the epic music you hear while exploring the world of Hyrule and the various dungeons, some of the music you play through the Ocarina is incredibly memorable. From the cheery Saria's Song to the slow and dramatic Song of Time, there are plenty of great tunes. Sometimes, I'd genuinely play some of the songs on the Ocarina just because I wanted to hear the music. As for the voice acting, the dialogue is all given through text boxes so it's impossible to actually comment on it, of course. Although, there is one voice in the game and that's Navi talking to you occasionally, which is the only bad part of the sound. Her high-pitched "Listen!!" when she reminds you to save or tell you, as is the usual for Nintendo, tell you that you've been playing for too long, gets pretty annoying. Otherwise, the sound is - may I say it - perfect. Overall, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D shows that Nintendo's classic really does live up to the praise piled upon it. It tells an epic and engrossing story that is no light-hearted romp, but just about anyone can get hooked in by the plot. The world is amazingly realised, with colour and variety. Gameplay is great and enhanced to suit the 3DS in great fashion. The touchscreen shortcuts which can be used to equip items is a great feature, keeping pausing to change your equipment at a minimum. Swordplay may be very simple and lacks the finesse seen with the combat in Skyward Sword, but going through dungeons and fighting enemies is great fun, and puzzles are a good challenge and change of pace. It also offers fantastic value. In addition to the 30+ hour initial playthrough, you can play through the Master Quest to make things a fair bit harder, plus it's great to set yourself challenges such as not collecting heart containers (used to boost your maximum health) from bosses when you defeat them, thus making death much easier. The graphics are impressive and while the 3D effect is disappointing, in my opinion this isn't too big a deal as the 3D feature of the 3DS has taken a back seat to the amazing quality of games released recently for the system. The sound is amazing, from the fantastic main theme to the many tunes you can play through the Ocarina. It really proves Koji Kondo is one of the best games composers out there. To conclude, this is an amazing experience worth playing whether you played it back on N64 or not Thanks for reading! This review is also posted on Ciao under my name YoshiCheesePuff.
With my preorder of Bioshock Infinite in March, I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the first game in the series, Bioshock, free of charge. It's no stretch to say I was excited to play it, as I remembered the rather disturbing and dark trailer it had a few years back. It's also considered one of the best titles of the generation, enjoying plenty of perfect scores so finally playing it was exciting. It's certainly a great game though it does show its age in various spots. Bioshock begins with an intoxicatingly shocking and fast opening. Set in 1960, you play Jack, a man who is left as a lone survivor when his plane crashes over the Atlantic Ocean. He's stranded and forced to take refuge in a nearby lighthouse, its interior filled with political quotes and signs. Jack enters a bathysphere which takes him down to Rapture, a breathtaking underwater city made up of huge, colourful buildings, but inside things aren't so beautiful as the first human he sights is ripped to shreds by a 'Splicer' - deformed people who have been genetically modified by 'Plasmids'. Jack makes radio contact with a man named Atlas, who offers guidance through the deadly city on one condition: Jack kills Andrew Ryan, the man who created Rapture, and ultimately caused its downfall. Overall, the plot of Bioshock is excellent. One of the best bits about it is the stunning city, which is shrouded in mystery and violence. The game also offers some interesting themes, and the story behind Rapture is hugely interesting, genuinely making you want to see what life was like before the city's spiral into darkness. In addition, there's plenty of intriguing backstory, encouraging scavenging. By examining propaganda and listening to audio diaries, you really feel immersed in the story. Offering a fantastic antagonist and a great location, Bioshock is worth experiencing for the story alone - thankfully it's more than interesting enough to get you through to 'that bit' three quarters of the way through the game. You control Jack in a first-person view, and the structure is simple - you progress through chapters, each of which gives you a new area to explore and a set of objectives. Primarily, you'll be fighting enemies in order to give you some room to scavenge. Rather than using regenerating health, Bioshock has a health bar; eating food or using health packs can replace lost health. You can fight using either physical weapons or Plasmids. As you advance through the game you obtain more and more weapons, from a simple pistol to a powerful grenade launcher. Each weapon has up to 3 different ammo types which should be changed based on the enemy you face; for example, anti-personnel rounds work well against Splicers, while electrical bullets are effective on turrets. You should also be wise with your weapon choice. Ammo isn't in abundance, so you want to try using the least resources possible. Using a flamethrower against a weak enemy won't be recommendable. The feature of Plasmids shakes things up slightly, removing Bioshock even further from other first-person shooters on the market. There's a large range of abilities that Plasmids give you. Incinerate places fire at your fingertips; Telekinesis allows you to pick up objects and launch them with force; Insect Swarm sends a crowd of bees towards an enemy - there are many more creative abilities too. However, you cannot use these powers liberally, as you have a bar which, when depleted, prevents you from using them. Much like health, you can gain it back through consumables, like drinks or EVE Hypos. Sadly combat is somewhat dated; you can't hold out your gun and Plasmid at the same time, plus firing is done using the triggers, which could easily be annoying for a lot of PS3 players. There's also the fact that when you die, you spawn in a nearby 'Vita-Chamber' which is basically a close checkpoint, allowing you to instantly continue fighting - somewhat diminishing the consequence of death. Otherwise, combat is great as it is tense and involves strategy. There are a number of role-playing elements in Bioshock to keep you interested through the 15+ hour playtime. As you go on you'll amass a number of tonics to equip, which are split into three categories. Combat tonics boost your offense and defense; engineering tonics increase your hacking skills; and physical tonics assist health and EVE (the bar that measures your Plasmid level). You can only have 6 tonics of each type at a time. Finding tonics is essential - without them you'll likely find yourself underpowered by the end. There's also an element of choice involved in the game. Terrifying enemies named Big Daddies roam each level and by pausing, you can find out how many are in the level. Some - but not all - of the Big Daddies guide small children named Little Sisters, who have been turned into evil little tykes by ADAM, the lifebane of Rapture. By killing a Big Daddy, you can choose either to harvest or rescue the Little Sisters. Harvesting Little Sisters give you more ADAM than if you rescue them, but for every 3 Sisters you rescue, you are given a reward such as a new tonic or supplies. You can use ADAM to purchase tonics, plasmids, and extra slots in which you can equip them. There is a hacking system in the game, which allows you to disable machines in order to reach new areas. There are security cameras and turrets all around Rapture, which can hinder your progress. Getting caught by a camera results in an alarm sounding, attracting Splicers, and being seen by turrets causes them to shoot at you. By hacking them, you can turn them to your side so they are offensive against enemies. The hacking system is easy to grasp - you are shown a grid of numerous squares, each of which contains a shaped pipe. To succeed a hack, you must use the pipes to guide a green liquid from the beginning of the grid to its destination. It isn't a bad gameplay mechanic initially, but does become irksome as you make your way through, as there are so many things to hack and it becomes repetitive. Finally, there are some weapon upgrade machines scattered around the city, and you can find items with which to invent new items at U-Invent machines. There are also some survival horror elements in Bioshock. In order to succeed you must scavenge for ammo, health pack and hypos as much as you can. Without doing so you'll likely have a lot of trouble in the tougher fights, particularly against the powerful Big Daddies. There are also dollar coins and bills hidden around, which you can use to spend at vending machines. The Circus of Values offers health packs, hypos and other general supplies; El Ammo Bandito offers ammunition; while the Gatherers Garden offers supplies bought with ADAM. There are also over 100 audio diaries for you to pick up. It's a great part of the game as it really creates backstory and giving you an image of Rapture before its downfall. Visually Bioshock is very impressive. It's more the art style and environments than the graphical quality itself that makes the game look good. The first sight of Rapture caused loss of breath among many gamers when the game was released, and today it's no surprise. The city looks fantastic, not to mention the fact that it's underwater. Inside things are just as good. As it's 1960, Rapture sports a wonderful art deco style, which is very unique in gaming. The art deco design is perfect, from the fonts to the propaganda to the buildings themselves. It creates a massive atmosphere. There's plenty of variety in the design; Arcadia is, simply put, an underwater jungle, while Fort Frolic is a rather posh area full of colour and of course, containing the memorable character Sander Cohen. The sound is also fantastic. The only real flaw I can think of in the game is that there isn't a huge variation in Splicer design, but that's made up for by the superbly-done Big Daddies. There isn't a great deal of voice acting. Your character speaks briefly at the start and Atlas occasionally contacts you - but even so, all of the voice acting is great. In particular, there is a good share of memorable performances in the audio diaries. The music is also excellent but much like the voice acting, it's infrequent. The music that accompanies that accompanies your first sight of Rapture is magnificent, but things are chilling when there's no music. Walking along a corridor, not knowing when a Splicer might jump out in complete silence is really intense. In summary the graphics and sound are both brilliant. To conclude, Bioshock is a great experience definitely worthy of your time. The story is one of the best in gaming; despite a slow-paced middle third, it's extremely atmospheric and intriguing. The combat, while aging, is unique, encouraging strategy. It's infused with plenty of different elements from survival horror to RPG, but it doesn't feel copied from other games - each gameplay mechanic feels like it has Bioshock's mark on it. Graphically it's amazing. The art deco design is awesome, adding to the already strong atmosphere. Rapture in general looks fabulous, making up for the slight texture pop-in (put simply, objects don't look detailed for a few seconds) that occurs when you load saves. The sound is also great, from the voice acting to the minimalist music. For just a few pounds, Bioshock offers a good 15-20 hours of gameplay. It's a superb experience even 6 years on - definitely worth a go. Thanks for reading - this review is also posted on Ciao under my name YoshiCheesePuff!
Despite developer Gearbox Software recently releasing some of the most disappointing games in history - Duke Nukem Forever and Aliens: Colonial Marines - I was excited to find its 2009 title Borderlands waiting for me as a free game via Sony's excellent service PS Plus, a few months back. It's a quirky co-op shooter with a cartoon-like art style. It's a lot of fun but, unfortunately, by the end I started to lose interest as it outstayed its welcome for me. Still, it can be picked up for a relatively cheap price now so provided you have a friend to play it with, Borderlands is definitely worth playing. Set on the lush planet Pandora, you're a Vault hunter - someone searching for the Vault, which is the subject of many myths and tales. No one knows what's inside, as it hasn't been opened in centuries. Beginning on a bus trip across long dusty roads, you meet many different people who assist you in your hunt for the Vault. Unlike the sequel, Borderlands has a largely minimalist story. It seems at times like it's being hidden from you. You're given details through text boxes, which depict characters' speech (but they aren't actually voiced). I personally ignored these, as it's easy to know what's going on, and I wanted to get to playing rather than needlessly reading blocks of text. So, overall, I found it a rather poor storyline that was hard to care about, and the awful ending shows that Gearbox put minimal effort into making a plot. Thankfully, the disappointment of the story is made easily forgettable by the gameplay. Borderlands begins with you choosing your character class, with four choices in total. Each has its own special ability and upgrades. The core gameplay, however, remains unchanged regardless of the class you choose. You have a gun and you kill any enemy in your way, put simply, controlling your character through a first-person view. The first ten minutes is a tutorial section, in essence, as you learn the ropes by being faced with a few enemies. Soon you enter a small friendly area in which you accept missions and buy equipment. Borderlands has an interesting structure, allowing you to do mandatory or optional missions at your own pace. The first area of the game, Fyrestone, essentially acts as a hub area. If you want to take missions, you can, but should a mission be too hard, you can go out to face enemies and boost your skills by levelling up. The pace is eventually shaken up slightly, as you enter new areas within Fyrestone and discover a new, smaller hub. The game is classed as an action-RPG; in addition to the shooting, there are various Role-Playing Game elements. There are a plethora of guns you can discover, which have damage, fire rate and accuracy stats. As you go along the game, you'll constantly need to upgrade your loadout. The guns you'll find at the start will be useless a few hours in. There is a big range of weapon types, from handguns to assault rifles to shotguns. Having different types of guns is handy as being able to equip a weapon based on the situation is essential. Guns also have numerous properties. In addition to standard weapons, some guns can fire electrical, fire or corrosive bullets. Having a loadout containing only fire-based weapons isn't a good idea, as there are some enemies with a certain status. For example, the 'Burning Psycho' or 'Fire Rakk' make your fire weapons less effective. There are numerous other role-playing elements, too. Much like other RPGs you can search enemy bodies for random loot drops. Enemies may drop ammunition, guns and money which you can use to spend on weapons and health kits. Weapons are split into colours based on their rarity, white being the most common and orange being rarest; as you progress, it's more likely that the item drops will be rarer than at the start. There's also a levelling system. By defeating enemies and completing objectives, you earn XP. Earn enough XP, and you will level up, being awarded a skill point. Skill points can be spent in the skill tree. Reaching Level 5, you'll unlock your class power, from where you can spend points. There are three different types of skills, each one with seven bonuses in. For example, the Hunter has the Sniper, Rogue and Gunslinger skills. In the Sniper part of the skill tree, you can upgrade your sniper rifle in areas like fire rate and damage. In the rogue part, you can upgrade your class skill and finally, in the gunslinger section, you can upgrade your general skills such as melee and pistols. By going through the game you unlock more upgrades to spend skill points on. It all sounds a little bit complex, but playing it, I instantly knew what I was doing. You can also find Eridian artifacts, which improve your class power. The Soldier can place a sentry turret; the Beserker can use his fists to create stronger melee attacks; the Hunter can sent out his 'Bloodwing' to kill enemies; and the Siren can unleash a strong blast of energy and become invisible. So, finding an Incendiary Eridian artifact for the Beserker, for example, makes his fists inflict incendiary damage. I played the game in two-player split-screen (the maximum number of people you can play with locally) but online, you can play with up to three other people. Unfortunately, you cannot mix and match local and online play - so you can't play both at home with someone and a friend who wants to play with you from his house. Still, the co-op really is the best way to play. It is exactly the same as the single-player, but you've got someone with you to help you on your way to the Vault. Enemies become stronger based on how many people you have playing with you. There are a few advantages and disadvantages to playing with others. The good is that things become much more fun and Class mods - equipment which gives you bonuses like team regeneration - creates a sense of teamwork. Also, you can be revived when knocked down, whereas in single-player, you have to kill an enemy within a time limit to continue without being taken to the last checkpoint. The first disadvantage is that looting can be an annoying system when playing online. Loot is spread randomly when you kill an enemy, so without a headset it's hard to know whether to pick something up or leave it for another player. This could have been improved by giving you all an equal amount of loot automatically. Secondly, if you're going to play online, it's almost essential to do so with a friend, as jumping into a random person's game may leave you at an area near the end, even if it's your first time playing. Despite these flaws, it's definitely preferable to play Borderlands with other players. So, overall, the gameplay is rather good. Gunplay is solid, and the range of role-playing elements is great. There's a lot of fun to be had in co-op, particularly. However, I have something of a major gripe with Borderlands, which is repetitivity. I definitely wouldn't be able to play it constantly for a whole day - a three-hour playing session was enough to bore me. Plus, after thirty hours of playtime, I nearly gave up. I realised there wasn't enough variety in missions. You simply accept a mission, and go off on another fetch quest, or kill a specified target. I'll give credit to Gearbox, though, as it took me so long to realise I'd been doing the same thing over and over for thirty hours - maybe I've experienced insanity for the first time. The graphics are a standout feature - seeing a screenshot of the game, it's instantly recognisable as Borderlands. They're somewhat cel-shaded; there's an outline around most objects and making the game look almost cartoony. They really suit the game's tongue-in-cheek style. Even so, the graphics are very detailed; every character model looks great, and the terrain is surprisingly realistic. Unfortunately, it's not perfect. There's a big problem with texture pop-in, similar to Id Software's wasteland-set Rage. When entering an area after a loading screen, things become much less detailed and blurry. For example, when entering an area with vending machines, the images and text are unrecognisable. Otherwise, the graphical style is wonderful, unlike anything else I've seen in a game. The sound isn't anywhere close to as memorable, but it's still pretty good. There's not much to say about voice acting, as there's not much of it. Characters speak when you approach them and at the start, the bus driver says something to you, but otherwise all the dialogue is placed in text boxes. The music is definitely fitting to the game. It changes based on the location you're in and whether you're fighting or not. It creates a good atmosphere, really suiting the wastelands in which Borderlands is set. Overall, Borderlands is a great effort from Gearbox. Despite the disappointing story and lack of dialogue (anyone looking for a good story will find a much better plot and writing in Borderlands 2), the gameplay makes up for it for sure. There's an extremely diverse range of weapons, and the RPG elements really make things interesting. Levelling up is compulsive, and co-op play is superb, despite some of its flaws. The graphics are excellent and unique - definitely one of the best styles I've ever seen in a game - and the sound is certainly decent. In summary this is a recommended play, although it does get repetitive, letting the experience down quite a bit. Thanks for reading - this review is also posted on Ciao under my name YoshiCheesePuff.
Max Payne's third outing came almost ten years after his last, but the long gap in time clearly wasn't too bad a thing. Instead of being developed by Remedy, who did the previous games, Max Payne 3 is made by Rockstar, the publisher behind Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption - so it's more famous for its open-world efforts than its linear ones, so Max Payne 3 is a refreshing change. Even so, this is a very good but flawed title. There's much fun to be had here, and anyone looking for a challenging eight-hour blast should look no further. Max Payne is a mess. His wife and child were murdered years ago, and his one hope for love, Mona, is lost. He has a job in Sao Paulo, Brazil, working a security detail for the wealthy Rodrigo Branco and his family, assisting another man named Passos. Behind closed doors, he's not doing too well - not at all. His daily routine is going to work, then returning to his apartment, drinking his sorrows away and taking painkillers. Max has his work cut out for him when Rodrigo's wife is kidnapped at a nightclub, beginning a long romp through the cities and favelas of Brazil to find her, alongside Passos. Overall, Max Payne 3 has an entertaining and enjoyable storyline, although it's overshadowed by writer Dan Houser's previous work in Red Dead Redemption. It's very interesting to see how much can go wrong for Max and it's hard not to feel sorry for him. The writing is great and hearing Max's monologues are a joy to hear. However, the supporting cast of characters is uninspired for the most part, with boring antagonists, and I got a bit confused with some of the Brazilian names used like the Cracha Preto and Comando Sombra. The trailers promoting the game prior to its release demonstrated how much effort was put into even the little details of the gameplay, and the end result certainly doesn't disappoint. At a glance, it appears as your common-or-garden third-person shooter. You face hundreds of enemies across several linear levels. Much like Uncharted, it alternates between gunfights and cutscenes or a set piece. There's also a robust cover system introduced to the series, activated by pressing square when near a surface. Any gun you see on the floor can be picked up, and you can dual-wield weapons. Look behind the general parts, though, and you'll find a sophisticated and fun shooter that's rather unique. Much like in previous games, you can use 'Bullet Time' and 'Shootdodge' to help Max in gunfights. The former simply puts you into slow motion, allowing you to more easily aim at moving enemies and dodge bullets. The latter is much more stylish; by activating it, Max jumps into the air in slow motion, in any direction you desire (with the great ability to avoid breaking his back when he lands on a hard surface). You can't use them to your heart's content though, as there's a meter, which depletes when you use either slow motion modes. It's a slightly odd system at times, though, as using ShootDodge depletes the meter, but can still be used when it's empty. Your health depletes quickly, so it's thankful you have a lifeline when near-death. You can find painkillers around the world which can be used when in a bind, but it's best to save them - having a painkiller handy when your health is fully depleted activates Last Stand mode, which sees you having to kill the last enemy to shoot you, within a time limit. Unfortunately, this doesn't always work well; for example, the enemy who last shot you might be behind cover, making it impossible to kill him. If you fail Last Stand, you're taken back to the last checkpoint. In summary, the gameplay is excellent but has one big problem: repetitivity. Even the best gameplay can't save a game from descending into repetitiveness and that's Max Payne 3's problem. By the end you'll be bored of the shooting, cutscene, shooting, cutscene routine. More variety would easily make this an essential experience. The average person will complete the game in a decent 8-10 hours, although there are numerous reasons to have another playthrough. Hidden throughout each level are parts; find all of them for a particular weapon at it becomes golden. As far as I know, it's a purely cosmetic enhancement, because, gold. Who'd turn down a golden gun? Playing through the game earns you 'grinds' of which there are several. Each grind is rather simple; get X number of headshoots, shoot X number of enemies while on your back. Each grind has four stages, from bronze to platinum. A bronze grind might be for getting 50 headshots, where a platinum grind might be for 500 (instantly making you feel nauseous about the number of brains you've destroyed in the game and questioning your humanity). Also, clues are scattered throughout levels. These include a photo on the floor of a car park, and a bloodied door. There is too the fact that this is a rather tough game. Years on from the days of the Mega Drive and the like, games are very accessible and player-friendly, so playing Max Payne 3 was a shock to the system. It's likely you'll die a good handful of times in a level, and I must have spent 20 minutes to half an hour replaying just one section in the last level, as I kept dying - and that was only on normal, and there are three difficulties above that! Finally, there are some game modes outside of the story. Arcade sees you beating a level, trying to earn headshots and slow motion kills to get the highest score possible. New York Minute involves completing a level within a time limit, with kills adding to your timer. If the timer runs out or you die, you're forced to play the entire level again, regardless of how close you are to the finish line. New York Minute Hardcore, lastly, is just stupidly hard. It's on normal mode (still pretty hard, as I said earlier), and has you playing through the ENTIRE game in a time limit. This time, if you die or time runs out, you must restart the game. Anyone trying to complete this might be mad. To conclude I enjoyed the range of additional activities, even if one of the extra modes you can play is just about insane. The graphics in Max Payne 3 are quite impressive overall. I was most stunned by the environments overall, which are very varied, rich and detailed. From a favela filled with violent gangs, to the darkened streets of New Jersey and an airport, there's a lot to see here. Character models don't fare quite so well, but they're still detailed and aren't too out of place against the beautiful environments. For me the best visual aspect was the cinematic touches added to the gameplay and animations. You can have a lot of fun with ShootDodge, jumping into things and seeing Max roll into a ball on the floor, and it's impressive to see the little touches added into the gameplay. There's been much effort into showing how Max reloads while holding two weapons at the same time and how he shoots backwards when facing away from the enemy. Another entertaining feature is seeing how things go into slow motion when you kill the last enemy in a fight, or shoot an enemy in Last Stand. Irish-born actor James McCaffrey returns as Max Payne and does a fine job. His downbeat, negative monologues are massively enjoyable to hear in particular. I have never heard of most of the actors of the supporting characters, which includes Julian Dean, Frank Rodriguez and Robert Montano. There's no one here that stood out as bad, plus it's nice to hear some different voice acting (these days it seems to be all Troy Baker and Nolan North in games). The sound design is also superb; the noise made when you shoot a gun is impactful, and the thud made when you hit the ground after Shootdodge is very satisfying. The music played while in a gunfight ups the intensity, as does the loud Brazilian voices you'll hear in shootouts. Overall, Max Payne 3 is a great game definitely worth your time if you want a fun third-person shooter. The story is no masterpiece, but interesting even if it can get a bit confusing at times and some of the characters seem a bit generic and boring. One disadvantage of the story is that the cutscenes last so long and most are unskippable (clicking X tells you 'still loading' most of the time), resulting in some impatience when you just want to re-run through a level to grab anything you missed before. The gameplay is wonderful. It's clear a lot of time has been put into making it as good as possible, with lots of cinematic touches and brilliant slow motion features. The replay value is good, and the graphics are at times beautiful, with top-notch animations. Voice acting is not particularly memorable but very decent, plus the music creates a lot of tension in battles. Max Payne 3 isn't perfect but for its first linear action title, Rockstar Vancouver has done an excellent job in making this appeal to fans and newcomers alike. Thanks for reading! This review is also posted on Ciao under my name YoshiCheesePuff.
The Shawshank Redemption is a 1994 film directed by Frank Darabont, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. There were a few things that attracted to me to the film, the first being that it enjoys a 9.3 rating on IMDb, making it the highest rated film on the site. Also was the fact that I enjoyed The Walking Dead, which Darabont had a fairly big hand in (even though I later watched Breaking Bad, which made TWD seem average). Overall I found it very enjoyable. It's not for everyone due to the slow pace and relatively long length (142 minutes) but those who don't just watch a film for the action should certainly take a look at this. The Shawshank Redemption tells the story of banker Andy Dufresne (Robbins). He is made to serve two life sentences in Shawshank Penitentiary in 1947 for killing his wife and her new lover. Initially he isolates himself from the other prison inmates but after a month behind bars, begins talking to Red (Freeman), who smuggles a rock hammer into Shawshank for Andy. Soon, the two become good friends, and Andy gets to know the other inmates. He also uses his expertise in money to get on the good side of the prison guards. His relationships and status grow through the many years he's kept in prison. I found an excellent, touching story in the film, containing many different messages and themes, such as hope and freedom. Things start out slow and largely, carry on that until the very end. However, things never get boring. From seeing Andy's risky attempt to help a prison guard on top of a rooftop, to the scenes featuring Bob Gunton's increasingly unlikeable (but still great) Warden Sam Norton, the film stays interesting throughout. It's also very well-paced. It's not always clear how far through Andy's imprisonment we are, but being told what year it is never evokes the feeling 'how on earth did we get here?'; skips forward in time never feel jarring. The acting in the film was absolutely excellent. Not shockingly, Morgan Freeman is fantastic. In some ways he could be classed as the main character as he frequently narrates - and does a sterling job of it. I was more surprised, however, by the performance of Tim Robbins. The only other films I've seen him in are Anchorman and Arlington Road (in which he played a terrorist...when compared against Shawshank, that's thought-provoking) so I came in not knowing quite what to expect from him. It turns out he's great in the character, and shows how versatile he is in his roles. He doesn't display a large range of emotions but this fits with his role as Andy is bound to be uncomfortable and confused in prison. Gunton is also very good as the God-fearing but aggressive Warden. Some of his actions late in the film make him one of the characters I felt most strongly about. Other noteworthy performances include those from Clancy Brown and James Whitmore, among others. Additionally, I was pleased to see Jeffrey DeMunn, who I recognised as Dale from The Walking Dead. Darabont's direction was very good. From the first look at Shawshank it is made clear that it isn't the nicest of places to be. The old outfits and grimy exteriors really set the scene, and there are plenty of memorable scenes early on that are important for the tone. An early favourite part of mine is where Brown's Captain Hadley brutally beats a new inmate who's upset about being behind bars. It's not particularly enjoyable to watch, of course, but demonstrates the violence of the guards, and therefore makes further scenes involving them much more tense. As I mentioned earlier, the jumps in time are well done. There's not much I can say on special effects and make-up, simply because there's barely any of it to speak of. I don't believe there are any special effects at all (and that's good), but the make up in general is done well. As the characters age, so does their appearance and that's made clear through the make-up. Robbins's and Freeman's hair grows and greys through the course of the film, though it's the Warden who changes the most - he goes through a large appearance change. One final part of the direction I enjoyed was how Shawshank alters as the movie progresses. The workers' activities change from washing clothes to digging, and automobiles become frequently more up-to-date with the time. Visually, the film is excellent. There's a vast range of scenery, from the unattractive inside walls of Shawshank, to bustling cities, to green rural areas. The DVD is also great-looking. The image is clear and the colours are vivid. Though initially it looks blurry, it's hard to notice after just minutes of watching. The soundtrack is also brilliant. Composed by Thomas Newman. It's mostly piano music, and always fits the tone, driving forward the themes represented in the movie. At the most uplifting moments the music is loud and epic, but when the situation for Tim or Red is bad, the music is more downbeat. The soundtrack was nominated for an Academy Award, and it's more than deserving. The audio on the DVD is perfect. Every single word is clear - there's nothing to suggest this is an almost 20-year old film, sound-wise. All in all, The Shawshank Redemption is a riveting film worth many watches. It has many memorable quotes and scenes, along with several themes which are meaningful, not just tacked-on. The acting is also top-notch, and the DVD itself is great, with superb visuals and clear sound. Essential viewing. Thanks for reading! This review is also posted on Ciao under my name YoshiCheesePuff.
The PS Vita is the latest in Sony's range of handheld consoles, and at a glance it's the company's best yet. In the past Nintendo had the upper hand over Sony when it came to portable gaming devices with its popular DS, but the Vita has improved on the original PSP in almost every way. Though it has its problems, the device could soon be an essential product provided some improvements are made. The design is undeniably sleek and is one of the main refinements Sony has made over the PSP. The two most obvious new features are the two analog sticks (which is more important than most casual gamers may think) and the rear touchpad. Other than those, the Vita contains all the buttons you'd expect from a normal PlayStation controller: a D-pad, four PS face buttons, start/select buttons, and L/R buttons. Only missing are the normal L2 and R2 buttons which can be a disappointing omission, though it's a wonder how Sony could have implemented them on the device. In addition, there's no UMD slot to talk of this time; instead, physical games are in the form of small cards, inserted into a slot on the top of the Vita. Other improvements over previous Sony handhelds are smaller buttons (looking at the PSP now, it looks alien), a more curved shape, and 5" touchscreen. Lastly, gone is the arguably irksome power slider, replaced with a simple button. Now it's a simple case of tapping the button to standby, and holding to power off. Overall I'm pleased with the design of the handheld - it looks great and all the buttons are placed well. However, the rear touchpad is questionable. I'd like to be able to hold the Vita how I want, so I get quite annoyed when games utilise the touchpad forcing me to hold it in an awkward way. Those who have experienced the PS3 and PSP for years will be in for a shock when they turn the Vita on. The XrossMediaBar has been ditched; instead, Sony has opted for LiveArea. LiveArea is made up of pages, each of which contains several bubbles. Each bubble has a certain function; click one and it may take you to your trophy list, games, settings, music, or more. Although it's a divisive new interface, I like LiveArea as it's clean, simple and easy to use. In my opinion, the only flaw with it is that you can't customise it as much as you can the XrossMediaBar on PS3. While you can choose a background for each page, there are no dynamic (moving) themes. Also, the new interface makes it easy to multitask. When you're on an application, you can click the PS button to access the LiveArea and visit another one, before closing it when desired and returning to the app you were on initially. The only limitation is that you cannot multitask with two games; say you are playing Uncharted then press PS to play LittleBigPlanet, you'll have to close Uncharted first. Since the first PSP was released, tablets and smartphones have become a great deal more popular, so Sony has included several social applications and more in the Vita so that it can be used for many other functions beside gaming. Still, I can't say I won't ever be using my tablet again as the company has stumbled in this regard. The browser, first of all, is very disappointing. It's slow, clunky, and just doesn't work well in general. There are also a good selection of social applications to download. I've got Facebook and YouTube downloaded at the moment. The former does its job and is pretty intuitive, although in my opinion there aren't enough news stories before you need to click 'show more'. Youtube works great but there are some drawbacks; there's no thumbs up/down system, and before signing in you need to authenticate the Vita application through email before signing in. I can't speak for Skype or Twitter, as I don't use them, but it's good that they're available for download. There's also an implemented Maps feature. It's good enough but, unlike most other applications of this type on other devices, the landscape isn't taken by satellite, so the visuals are not detailed at all, mostly made up of greys and whites. Unlike the PSP, in which you needed to purchase a camera separately, the Vita has front and rear cameras built-in. Both have 0.3 megapixels (yes, disappointing) at 640x480. The results are disappointing. Photos are really grainy and of low quality, making the cameras inferior to those on other devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab and iPhone 3G. Colours are far less vivid than most portable devices. Nevertheless, people who aren't looking for top-grade camera quality should be able to put up with it, and the sound that comes with recorded videos is of decent quality. With this and the 3DS XL, it's clear that even the best handheld consoles have a long way to go before being able to produce good cameras. The Vita is, first and foremost, a gaming device so this will be the most positive part of my review, naturally. It uses a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 core processor with a 512MB GPU. In the case you don't know what this means: basically, it's fantastic. The visuals are close to those found in the early days of PS3 and will only get better from here. Even the most graphically demanding games run perfectly on Vita, and the fact that there are two analog sticks (in contrast to the PSP's one analog nub) means that games are a total treat to play. Below, I've included a list of the top PS Vita games, which are essential if you have the device. UNCHARTED: GOLDEN ABYSS - set before the events of the PS3 titles, Golden Abyss is the latest game in the ultra-popular PlayStation exclusive franchise. It has great action, an exciting story and very good graphics, making it one of the best choices for adventure fans. It lacks the amazing set pieces of Uncharted 2 and 3, multiplayer is absent, and there are no bonuses. As long as you enter it not expecting the same quality of previous games, you're bound to have a fantastic time. RAYMAN ORIGINS - I played this superb platformer a while back on PS3, and was lucky enough to get it for free on Vita with Sony's subscription service, PS Plus. It has challenging gameplay and the best art style in a game I've ever seen. Seriously, it's beautiful. A lot of games are lacking colour now so it's nice to see a change. METAL GEAR SOLID HD COLLECTION - Unfortunately this collection only features MGS 2 and 3; Peace Walker is missing unlike it is in the console versions. Still, this is a great part of my Vita game collection. The lack of L2 and R2 has been remedied well with controls that are well suited to the device. You no longer have to hold two buttons just to aim, and you don't need to switch to the D-Pad for the sake of sneaking up on enemies. The only thing really letting it down is the omission of Peace Walker. STEALTH INC. - A wonderful title from Curve Studios, Stealth Inc proves that indie titles are very important for gaming. Progressing through short levels split across several stages, you must sneak your way past cameras and turrets. Guided (or taunted) by projections on the wall behind, getting through levels quickly and without being spotted becomes an addiction. HONORABLE MENTION: OLD GAMES - In addition to PS Vita titles, there are loads of PSOne and PSP games to buy from the online store. I've got plenty downloaded, from Spyro to Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Who ever thought they could play Metal Gear Solid or Tomb Raider on the bus? I'll add that if you get a Vita, PS Plus is an essential service. For just £40 per year, you get 2 games every month plus 2 more available for download around the year. All the Vita games I mentioned above, beside Stealth Inc, were obtained through Plus. I also have Limbo, Lego Lord of the Rings, Unit 13, Gravity Rush and When Vikings Attack because of my subscription. It means you won't have to buy a single game as you'll almost always be occupied. Unlike the PSP, the Vita let's you interact with the PS3 in many ways. You can message friends, whether are using the PS3 or a Vita, play several PS3 games through Remote Play such as God of War (in essence, you have your PS3 on your Vita) and you can look at friends' profiles. You also have the ability to look at your PS3 trophies on the go. There are lots of PlayStation social interactions too, from party chat to group messaging. To summarise I was pleased with the many ways in which the Vita is connected with PS3 and I'm sure people will be pleased with party chat which isn't available on PS3. It's apparent that the Vita will have even more interactivity with PS4, so it's likely that then will be the best time to be a Vita owner. Overall, the Vita is a really good console but there are some improvements to be made. The design is fantastic; I particularly liked the curved shape. The buttons are laid out well and the OLED touchscreen is wonderful - it's more responsive than on most other devices I've used, and is very sharp. My only problem with the design was the rear touchpad which made holding the device awkward at times. I enjoyed the new interface, LiveArea, and the good selection of social networking applications, although browsing the internet is disappointing on the Vita. But gaming is where it really shines. It does need more absolute essentials in order for more people to buy it, but the selection now is very decent. There is also the huge downside of having to pay for memory cards. That alone is a negative, as in this day and age memory should be implemented into the device. However, they're also really expensive. A 4GB card costs around £14, while a 32GB card costs around £55. That's a massive expense, considering you can find a 640GB PS3 hard drive for £60. Plus, you can't even use cheaper, third-party cards in the device. If you can get past this big issue, however, the Vita is certainly worth purchasing. A PS Vita with Wi-Fi can be found for £170 on Amazon. This review is also posted on Ciao under my name YoshiCheesePuff. Thanks for reading!
Nowadays, buying an Apple product such as the iPad comes down to whether you are against the company or not. The company used to be well-respected by many but has now gone downhill in terms of its reputation, with high pricing and lack of innovation being used as arguments against it. As such, not everyone will buy the iPad 2 after being told it's a good product. I can recommend it, however, to anyone who, a) doesn't absolutely hate Apple, and b) can afford it. The iPad 2 has its shares of flaws and doesn't outweigh the competition but it should be one of your first choices if you're buying a tablet. DESIGN Design is a very important part of a portable device and the iPad 2 doesn't fail to impress in this department. Looking at the front, it's very similar to the previous iPad and all of the iPhones. The 9.7" screen is surrounded by a black or white border, depending on what colour iPad you have chosen. Thankfully, the face isn't cluttered with buttons. The 'home button' is located below the screen, and the front camera above it, with a microphone ever-so-slightly visible above that. The headphone jack and Power button are found on the top, while the volume controls and mute/screen rotation lock buttons are on the right side of the device. In addition, you plug the charger into the port at the base. Overall, it's a brilliant design. It's simple but effective. Adding to the neat design (in both a literal and colloquial sense) is how thin the device is. The iPad 2 is 0.34 inches deep and has curved edges, as opposed to the square edges that Apple opted for with the iPhone 4 and onwards. You could criticise the tablet for looking just about the same as every mobile device from the company released over the past few years, just bigger. It's a valid concern, maybe, but considering it's such a great design it isn't a massive problem for me. USER INTERFACE The user interface, at the core, is exactly the same as all the 'iDevices' before it, with the exclusion of the non-Touch iPods. Using your finger, you can scroll through a series of pages, each one containing a maximum of twenty applications, or 'apps'. In my opinion Apple needs to make a new user interface if it wants to innovate. It has held up quite well over the years, though, and being very basic it is very accessible to anyone who isn't familiar with tablets or other portable devices. Saying that, the fact that you must hold down an app icon to move it or double tap the Home button to close apps means it's not a completely intuitive interface. The screen is one of the standout features of the iPad 2 and to think that it has been improved upon in the third-generation iPad is astounding. With a resolution of 1024x768, the screen looks sharp and some games look stunning, with titles such as Infinity Blade II coming close to current-generation console graphics. The range of wallpapers available to you, from an image of Earth to a dark mountain, is a great showcase for the graphical power of the device. You can also personalise your iPad by saving images from the Internet or taking screenshots and using them as your wallpaper. It's worth noting that, naturally, games made for the iPhone are available but don't look anywhere near as good as native iPad apps. If used in fullscreen, they look very blurry, but you can reduce the size down to that of an iPhone if preferred. CAMERA Taking pictures on the iPad 2 isn't brilliant - the front and back cameras offer a relatively low 0.3 MP and 0.7 MP respectively. You'll need perfect lighting to get the best quality picture possible - neither too bright nor too dark. However, the fact that you can record in 720p HD using the back camera is great. The picture is slightly fuzzy, but the detail is there. On the other hand, the front camera uses more standard VGA while recording. The iPad 2 shouldn't be your camera of choice if you want to take pictures on a safari, then, but it's great if you want to record your child's last Christmas concert. An app that comes installed on the iPad 2 is great if you want to take barmy photos of yourself or others, for the most part. In addition to the normal camera mode, you get thermal, mirror, X-Ray, kaleidoscope and light tunnel camera modes to play around with. In addition, you can use the squeeze, twirl or strech effects that can lead to some...interesting shots. It's not an excellent showcase for your iPad, but is a great bit of fun while it lasts. GAMES Using the App Store, there are plenty of games available to you, whether free or not. I've listed a handful of my favourite apps available and given them a small review, so you know which apps to look for if you buy an iPad: GRAND THEFT AUTO III (£2.99) - It's unfortunate that the Grand Theft Auto series is thought by many as only good for turning children into murderous psychopaths, because that isn't true. The third game in the series, this is the first GTA title to be played from a third-person viewpoint. The developers have done a great job of porting to the iPad. As a bonus, you can move on-screen buttons around to cater for your own wants. The only big flaw with the game is the shooting system. Hit the fire button, and the nearest person is locked onto and shot at. It means you might end up killing an old, innocent lady crossing the road instead of the guy you actually want dead. MINECRAFT: POCKET EDITION (£4.99) - The portable version of Minecraft isn't up there with the PC version but there is plenty to get your hands on. Important features like smithing and crafting are present and correct, plus the unique graphical style is replicated here. Maybe one day it'll end up like the current PC version - the game is improved through updates, so your experience is improved without you having to pay a penny. BASTION (£2.99) - I was incredibly happy when this game was announced for iOS (the operating system which the iPod Touches, iPhones and iPads use) as previously, it was only on PC and Xbox 360, the former of which I don't really use and isn't powerful enough to play today's PC games, and the latter of which I don't even have. There's always the issue of poor ports to touchscreen devices, but the end result here is excellent. Touchscreen controls have been implemented well, so they feel very natural to use. Admittedly, I haven't yet completed the game but the several hours I've played of it have been excellent. If you are interested but can't take my opinion for granted, as I haven't completed the game, there are plenty of reviews elsewhere. ANGRY BIRDS (£0.69) - Owned and loved by many, this should be one of your first app choices if you enjoy a slice of casual gaming. The premise is extremely simple: you must launch birds into the air to kill some odd-looking pigs. You simply pull back on the bird and let go to launch it. Levels can become very hard later on and even some of the first levels are challenging - you need to be very precise and know where to aim. For all the content you're getting, it's more than worth your purchase. TEMPLE RUN (free) - I'm sure most iPad users know that most free apps are cash-grabs. You are made to pay REAL money for certain things in-game. Temple Run is an exception to the rule. Although you can spend money towards coins, it's much more fun to actually play the game and earn coins. It's slower, but you're not spending your own money. The game utilizes the touchscreen and tilt functions of the iPad very well. Your character is running from demon monkeys, and you must dodge obstacles to survive in this endless running game. You simply swipe left or right to turn in the desired direction, swipe up to jump, swipe down to slide, and tilt the iPad left or right to move. As you run further you amass a higher score, and you can collect coins to buy character skins, wallpapers and power-ups such as a coin magnet or limited invincibility. Warning: it's very addictive! Of course, games wouldn't be much fun if the device weren't powerful enough to run them. The iPad 2 uses a dual-core Apple A5 chip with 512 MB of RAM. Every game that I've played has run very smoothly, even some of the most graphically powerful games such as Infinity Blade and Real Racing. Rock Band: Reloaded is the only game I've played which has suffered from occasional lag. It's a fantastic tablet gaming device, then, which is highly recommended if you want to play games on the go. MUSIC My experience with an iPod Nano tells me that headphones are absolutely essential if you want to listen to music, because the audio didn't sound very good at all without them. The iPad 2 sounds great with or without headphones. Every album in my library, from Queens of the Stone Age's 'Songs for the Deaf' to Nirvana's 'In Utero' sounds brilliant both through the speakers and through headphones. The only downside to listening out loud is that the speakers are on the back of the iPad, so having the device on your lap isn't completely ideal - you'll need to hold it up or put it down on its face. Other than that small issue, it is great as a music player. MY VERDICT -NEGATIVES- There are a number of issues I have with the iPad 2- these aren't major, but not ignorable either. My foremost worry is that the device may become dated in the near future; much like the original iPad is now. This is evident with the recent iOS 6 update, which was available but didn't make Siri available on iPad 2, while it was available with the update on certain iPhones and the third-generation iPad. In all honesty, I don't really care about Siri but either the hardware is becoming old or Apple is encouraging us to upgrade to the next iPad. We'll see in the future. Neither camera is great at taking screenshots which is no surprise considering the small MP sizes. The front camera isn't all that good at recording either, though this isn't too big an issue unless you want to film your face. The battery of the device is disappointing; on average it lasts the length of a day. An hour of gaming can suck the battery life down considerably, so think twice before buying if you think you are going to be playing games a lot on the device. Innovation is another flaw, as this is just a larger version of an iPhone but without the call function, and more/less powerful depending on which iPhone you are talking about. -POSITIVES- There are plenty of good things about the iPad 2 that make up for the negatives. The design is excellent: simple but effective. It is definitely an eye-catcher, and looks very nice whether you have it in black or white. The screen is a definite 'wow' factor, as it looks very sharp and the graphical potential is very high. The back camera, although not perfect, can produce some nice looking videos provided it's the right time of day. This is one of the best devices available if you want a tablet gaming device. The App Store offers some brilliant games, with plenty of choice that rivals that of the Android Marketplace. There's something for everyone whether you want to play casually or play games for more experienced gamers. Music is a strong point of the device, too. Whether you're listening through headphones or not, music and games sound fantastic. The user interface is a mixed bag, but is possibly the most accessible and easy to navigate tablet out there at the moment. The iPad 2 isn't perfect, but the wealth of great features means that overall, it's a very good device and worth buying. OTHER DETAILS The 32 GB version of the iPad 2 is a great choice if you're going to install a lot of games and have lots of photos and videos. If not, my recommendation would be to choose the 16 GB version. The iPad 2 is admittedly quite expensive. At 16 GB it has dropped quite recently to the under-£300 mark, but purchase the 32 GB iPad 2 and the price goes up by around £100. If you want a tablet on a budget my recommendation would be to get the Google Nexus 7 tablet, which you can purchase from around £160. This review is also on Ciao under my username YoshiCheesePuff.
If you've paid any attention to the realm of video games recently, you'll know that Mass Effect is one of the most respected and enjoyable series around. The original title offered a fantastic role-playing experience, while the sequel had a bigger focus on action but was still excellent. The pressure was on developer Bioware, then, to make a third title that offered a mix of both exciting action and role-playing elements which fans of the original requested. There's been a lot of complaining from fans for various absurd reasons, but there's no question that Mass Effect 3 is a brilliant and epic conclusion to the series. It surpasses both of its predecessors in nearly every aspect, hindered only by some minor flaws. It's recommendable that you complete Mass Effect 2 before playing this at the very least (the original isn't available on PS3 so you'll need a high-spec PC or Xbox 360 to play it, but if you have one of those, go for it) so that you are more accustomed to the story. STORY Mass Effect 2 turned from the original slightly and focused on the enemy Collectors, but like the first game in the series Mass Effect 3 has a much larger emphasis on the Reaper threat. Your aim, as Commander Shepard, is to destroy the powerful Reapers, a force which appears every 50,000 years. Beginning your adventure in Vancouver, you leave and travel around the galaxy, preparing for the final battle back on Earth, or more specifically London. Plain gunfire isn't enough to put an end to the Reapers. As if this isn't enough to contend with, you have to fight a pro-human organisation known as Cerberus, who you allied with in Mass Effect 2. There is no definite ending; depending on your level of success in the game, you can choose from various endings. The plot may not sound that interesting to you, but where the story really succeeds is in the characters and how you care for them. Over the course of the game you assemble a crew (which is notably quite a bit smaller than it is in ME2) and you get to chat with them in the game's two hubs: your ship, the Normandy and the Citadel. From the blue-skinned alien Liara to the arrogant but likeable James, there is a very diverse cast here. As you learn more about their history and develop your relationship with them, you really begin to care for them and are determined to make it through the story alive. Developing a bond with the other characters feels as integral to Mass Effect 3 as the gameplay itself. As this is a Mass Effect game, there are many important decisions you have to make throughout the game which can affect how the rest of the title plays out. Most of these scenarios involve one choice that benefit your war assets (I'll explain after) and another, much more personal and moral decision which, if not chosen, could result in the death of one of your teammates. These are genuinely tough to make and at several points I even paused to think. GAMEPLAY At first glance, Mass Effect 3 seems like your run-of-the-mill third-person shooter and I can't say 'that couldn't be further from the truth', but being a role-playing game there are a number of features that make it stand out from the crowd, as described below. The core gameplay is made up of gunplay and using powers. The combat has been compared with Gears of War, though I wouldn't know as I don't own an Xbox 360. Diving into cover using the X button is integral, as standing out in the open will result in a pretty fast death. Simply use L1 to aim and R1 to shoot. The health system mixes the contemporary regenerating health with...well, non-regenerating health. Your shields quickly deplete as you are shot at and then your armour, which is split into five segments, goes down. After a few seconds, the armour increases to the highest part of the segment it is currently on and your shields regenerate. You can only maximise your health again using medi-gel. Powers are also important. Holding the R2 button down activates the 'power wheel' in which you have access to yours and your teammates' powers, all of which have different effects on your enemy or yourself. Overall, the combat system is excellent and Bioware have done a great job, considering combat in more than a few RPGs is weak. Bioware have clearly taken fans' requests into account. While Mass Effect was a true RPG experience, the sequel was slightly more action-orientated and had less role-playing elements. Here, you can choose from three different modes of gameplay. 'Action' is self-explanatory - there is a much bigger focus on the action and less on levelling up your character or dialogue choices - while 'Story' is for people who care most about the - guess what - story and less about the combat, which is much easier in this mode. I chose RPG mode, which caters towards fans of the series. This allows you to pick dialogue choices (which are a rather rare occurrence in comparison with the previous two games) as well as upgrading your character. You slowly level up as you progress through the game, earning you points which you can spend on powers and general boosts for melee abilities and more. To add to the role-playing side of things, you can customise your armour and upgrade your weapons. There are various parts of your armour you can change such as the helmet, shoulders and chest. Each piece provides a boost to your stats. Want to improve your shields? Wear the chestplate that provides a shield bonus. You have to find different armour parts throughout your adventures. Otherwise, you can just choose whatever looks best. In addition, there are 'casual' outfits which you wear while on the Normandy and Citadel. They differ for the male and female Shepard. Upgrading your weapons is simple; it levels up when you spend a specified amount of credits on it, boosting its power and ammo capacity. It's very simple and disappointingly you can't select ammo types and the like, unlike in the original Mass Effect but it works. In the war assets system, you can increase your military strength by collecting from planets or getting help from others, including someone series veterans will recognise. The system has been controversial, mainly because multiplayer is heavily involved in increasing your readiness rating. Not that playing online is bad, but a lot of people prefer Mass Effect as a single-player experience, and that's what it was meant to be. This is the first game in the series featuring it, after all. Depending on how high your military strength is, new endings are available to you. GRAPHICS AND SOUND Mass Effect 3 certainly looks impressive, with lots of excellent set-pieces and plenty of detail. Characters look fairly realistic (even if some are aliens) and there are a lot of small details on their faces. The environments also look amazing, whether you're aboard a giant space station or standing on a rocky planet. You'll certainly be impressed. One negative, however, is that some cutscenes could be quite jerky, even ones in which not much is going on. Whether this is a problem across all platforms or the result of a lazy port, I am unsure of. The audio is just as good. The voice acting is, as expected, top-notch. Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale do a great job as male and female Shepard respectively. Also, as was with Mass Effect 2, Martin Sheen puts on a splendid job as the Illusive Man. Some parts of the writing aren't up to scratch but for the most parts it is good, and each of the voice actors portray their lines well. The music is fabulous, too. From the loud, fast-paced music which accompany the intense battles, to the slower piano-based tracks that amplify the drama of the game. MY VERDICT NEGATIVES There are only a small number of problems in Mass Effect 3, and the majority of these are only minor. The main one is the ending. I won't spoil it, but considering one of the main staples of the series is choice, the fact that you must choose out of a rather limited number of decisions is disappointing. More questions are left than answers, though various theories have circled around the internet which are very interesting and mean it makes more sense. Some may also be disappointed by the toned down RPG elements in comparison with the first Mass Effect, even though there are more here than in the series' second title. Other flaws include some rather jerky cutscenes and, though I haven't experienced these, some people have complained of squad members disappearing during missions. A major issue which I came across was that a glitch meant I couldn't complete one fairly important side mission. A recent patch fixed various problems, however. Some of these things may annoy you, but the game doesn't nearly deserve the heavy criticism that many users have given it. POSITIVES Mass Effect 3 is a superb end to possibly the best game series during the PS3's life. The story is very personal and has emotional depth. There are plenty of great characters that are integral to the plot and learning about their history really is intriguing. Mass Effect is a universe with a lot of history and you can learn all about it in the in-game Codex. This is basically an encyclopaedia which tells you all about previous events, species and much more. It's brilliant, as learning all about a game's story requires you to look at an online wiki. The gameplay, as ever, breaks away from the often poor combat of RPGs. Whether you go for the shooter approach or are more interested in using powers, the combat is fantastic. The graphics are also very impressive with lots of detail on both the characters and environments. To support the excellent story is some superb voice acting - every actor does a great job - and the music mixes slow piano-based tracks with faster and tenser music during battles. The multiplayer is also good, though I haven't hour upon hour into it (I will deliver a more detailed section here soon) but the single-player really is the way to go. Also, you won't be disappointed with length. I invested around 40 hours into the game, so you get plenty of value for money. This is an essential experience and shouldn't be missed. TO SUM UP... The Bad: -Ending is disappointing with only small differences between each one -Certain cutscenes can be quite jerky -RPG elements still aren't quite up there with the original -Some glitches may frustrate The Good: - A breathtaking story with lots of interesting characters - The combat is excellent whichever way you play - There's lots of detail wherever you go - A brilliant soundtrack - Great voice acting -Offers great longevity -Most complained about elements of ME1 & 2 have been removed -Multiplayer shows promise Thanks for reading! This review is also posted on Ciao under my name YoshiCheesePuff.
The single-player portion of Crysis 2 is... ok. There's not much more to say about it. Yes, the visuals are stunning with a ruined Manhattan setting being a perfect showcase for it, but it doesn't offer the freedom that the original gave to players and it's short. However, to say the multiplayer is impressive would be an understatement. It isn't completely original, but you'll have loads of fun with it unlike the mediocre single-player. If you're looking for a great shooter to play by yourself, you should avoid this. On the other hand, this is definitely a recommendable title if you want to play with others. This seems to be the verdict on a lot of recent action games - it will be nice to see a good single-player experience soon! ---Story--- I'll start by giving you my overall opinion on Crysis 2's 'plot' (it may as well be non-existent). It's awful. You control Alcatraz, a US soldier. We don't know anything about him, possibly because he doesn't talk. Mute heroes are becoming too common in first-person shooters - just because Half-Life did it, this doesn't mean every shooter after it has to. Your aim is to track down a scientist named Nathan Gould for some unexplained reason, but your squad is attacked. You are saved by soldier Prophet (if you played the original, you'll remember him) and he gives you his Nanosuit - more on that later - before he kills himself as he is infected. From there, you make your way through a crumbling New York, fighting aliens, soldiers and more aliens. What's your motive? Why are the soldiers in New York? What are the aliens doing there, or more importantly, why does Crytek insist on filling every one of its games with aliens? If (most of) these questions were answered in the game, the story would have been made slightly better or at the very least much more understandable. As I had no idea what on Earth was going on, though, I came to the conclusion that the story was garbage. The characters aren't great, either. Alcatraz isn't developed at all and seemingly has no personality. Gould is a sweary scientist who isn't likeable in any way. Then comes your villain, the generic, macho soldier Commander Lockhart. That's pretty much the main cast and as you can probably tell, they are boring characters to say the least. Even more infuriating is the fact that the lead writer of the game is Richard K. Morgan, a famous sci-fi author. Oh dear. ---Gameplay--- Strip away the Nanosuit and this is basically a futuristic Call of Duty. Crysis 2 does give you access to this powerful piece of kit and gives you access to a range of abilities. The first, most game-changing one is cloak mode. This allows you to sneak about areas undetected, and makes stealth kills easier to perform. Second is armour mode, which doesn't impact your playing experience. It protects you from explosions and you can absorb more bullets. The third power is the ability to jump higher. Not much more needs to be said really. You also have access to tactical mode, which shows you routes around levels you wouldn't think of taking otherwise. Of course, having unlimited use of these powers would be stupid. An energy bar at the bottom of the screen depletes as you use these powers. In cloak mode, sprinting means your energy is reduced very quickly, while crouching makes it go down much more slowly. The traditional first-person shooter elements are all present. In your inventory is a primary weapon (submachine gun, rifle et cetera) and secondary weapon (pistol) as well as a set of grenades. The basic controls are similar as well. One feature not seen in many other games in the genre is adding attachment to your weapons in single-player. It isn't groundbreaking, obviously, but it's nice to have some freedom of choice. However, not all of the similarities are positive. For example, the linearity of the game. The first Crysis had a beautiful setting full of green and while it wasn't an open world, there were many paths you could choose from to meet your objectives. On the other hand, Crysis 2 doesn't give you that freedom and so the linearity makes it feel like typical shooters today - Battlefield or Medal of Honor, for instance. There's another big problem with the game: AI, or artificial intelligence if you're not familiar with these terms. The CryEngine 3, which Crysis 2 uses, apparently has intelligent and realistic AI, but nothing could be further from the truth. Enemies don't do much to keep themselves alive and they seem to have forgotten to put their contacts in. Here's one example: I'm in an enemy's line of vision, I run to a nearby box and the enemy starts looking around for me. It's unacceptable, although it is a good laugh. It doesn't end there, though. Doors are as much an obstacle to your foes as is an electrified floor. I'm really not making this up. ---Multiplayer--- Finally, I'm here, the bit I've been waiting to talk about. Crysis 2's multplayer may have more than small resemblances to Call of Duty, but that doesn't make it any less brilliant. The system is simple: unlock things by ranking up through kills, winning games and reaching milestones. There's also quite some depth, too. Completing skill assessments (for doing things such as winning 25 matches, getting 50 kills with a weapon and more) and ranking up your suit powers will unlock modules for your suit's abilities. An example of a stealth module is lighter footsteps, and armour modules include faster health recharge. You can choose one module from each category to tailor your needs. There's no real need to explain gameplay here, as nearly everything I covered earlier applies here. The suit powers are still at your disposal and the shooting feels solid and powerful. The AI issues don't apply anymore, of course, as you are playing online, so most of the issues present in the single-player aren't present. Where the multiplayer really succeeds is in how fast-paced and intense it is. You never know when a player is sneaking up behind you, which keeps you on your toes. Looking around in every direction becomes necessary if you want to stay alive. Like most other multiplayer features in games, the maps are based on areas from the single-player. There is some good map design here. Most of the maps have a large size, and appeal to a lot of playing styles. For example, Skyline has some big open areas which suits the Gunner class while there is a building in the middle of the map which can be climbed upon, which is great for snipers. Other highlights include Wall Street and Impact. The only map I find lacking is Terminal - it's fun to play, but is basically a whole open area. On the whole, though, the maps demonstrate Crytek's potential and are quite varied. ---Graphics and Sound--- Crysis 2 genuinely pushes boundaries in terms of visuals. While the Manhattan setting shows a huge ruin, the graphics makes it beautiful. There are some minor issues, such as bushes and plants not parting as you crouch through them, but otherwise the graphical quality is faultless. It's on par with the visuals of Uncharted and Killzone - whichever looks best is arguable. In terms of sound, things aren't quite as impressive but it isn't bad. Voice acting is quite generic, but there's emotion in the characters' voices. On the music side of things, the main theme is fairly 'epic', if you will, but the music in the game itself isn't particularly memorable. You can listen to the music from the collectibles menu though, which is good. There are some technical issues with the sound, however, such as music being amplified when in an online lobby for some odd reason. ---Content--- Strong violence and bad language warrants Crysis 2 a 16 rating, from the PEGI. In my opinion, this is just right but there's nothing bad enough that should prevent a 12 year old from playing. Stealth kills allow you to stab enemies and twist their necks and there's a small amount of blood splatter when you shoot at an opponent. The aliens aren't very gruesome and won't scare younger players. There is some strong language, with uses of f**k and minor uses but there is no very strong swearing. ---My Verdict--- --NEGATIVES-- The main criticisms of Crysis 2 sprout from the single-player. First is the abysmal story. It's basic and there are too many questions left unanswered, such as 'what the hell is going on?' That's never good. The gameplay itself is great but the campaign is too boring and easy for the first few hours. By the time things finally get going, you've nearly finished the game. Then there's the frustrating AI, or more suitably AU (artificial unintelligence). Cheesy jokes aside, enemies can't open doors. I'll say that again: enemies can't open doors. If there's a game anywhere with worse AI, I haven't had the fortune to see it. The linearity is also an annoyance. Here's hoping Crysis 3 will feature a bigger world. --POSITIVES-- It's a shame about the poor story and single-player as a whole, because had it been average at least, I would easily bumped up the rating to five stars. The gameplay is superb, offering different playing methods. Overall, the multiplayer is amazing. It's fast-paced, full of tension and loads of fun to play. The Nanosuit makes you feel powerful, and the shooting is solid. The graphics are fantastic - they're full of detail. The sound is good, despite some technical issues. If you're not a member of the PlayStation Network and don't intend to be one, then drop my rating down one or two stars. For anyone who has a PSN account, however, should rush to purchase this. You'll be hooked for hours and hours. This review is also posted on Ciao under my name YoshiCheesePuff!
Batman first emerged over 72 years ago, yet he's better than ever today. Batman: Arkham Asylum, released back in 2009, was a great surprise and overtook Goldeneye 007 as the best licensed game ever. So there must have been a lot of pressure on the shoulders of the devs at London-based Rocksteady Studios to make a worthy sequel. After a long wait, it's out - but can it quite reach the high expectations? Thankfully, it does! An excellent story, improved combat and hugely impressive voice work make Batman: Arkham City strong contender for Game of the Year. If you're a console owner, this should be the next title you buy whether you are familiar with the comics and films or not. ===Story=== The game doesn't tell you exactly how much time has passed since the first game, but I'd presume it's a several month gap. Bruce Wayne (the man behind Batman's mask) is displaying his concern for new prison facility Arkham City in front of a crowd of reporters, before being captured and taken away by TYGER guards. We hear Hugo Strange explaining to Bruce that Protocol 10 would begin on that night, and if Bruce would even attempt to stop him, he would reveal Batman's identity to the world. Naturally, our protagonist goes out and tries to find out what this Protocol 10 is. Along the way, we meet some old enemies from Two-Face to Penguin and, of course, Joker and also some unexpected friends including Catwoman. The game has a very dark tone - anyone that has committed even the smallest of crimes are sent to Arkham City, or even politicians campaigning against the mega-prison. The place is crawling with rough henchmen that are either part of Joker's, Penguin's or Two-Face's gang. It's good that the storyline allows for lots of classic allies and villains. There are several returning characters from Arkham Asylum, including Victor Zsasz, Bane and Poison Ivy, as well as a cameo appearance from Killer Croc. There are also many new ones, though - Penguin, Mr Freeze and Catwoman are just a few on a long list. Don't worry if you're not a fan of the DC Universe, however, as you get a bio on each of the characters you encounter which tell you about their history, powers and even small details like facial features. ===Gameplay=== Combat was clearly one of the things that made the original so good, so that's where I'll start. At the core, it remains the same here but is improved in some ways. You use one button to punch and another to counter at the basic level. It may not sound very good, but the fluidity of your character's movements and the array of animations is great. There's more to it than that, however. When you attack and counter successfully, your multiplier builds up earning you points. Earning a number of points means a level up and this allows you to purchase upgrades, ranging from improved armour to special moves and more. One certain upgrade, for instance, allows you to snap an enemy's weapon by tapping two buttons on the controller at the same time. Another gives you the ability to stun opponents around you within a distance by hitting two other buttons. The final big feature, is being allowed to use a variety of gadgets while in combat but much more easily by using the button combination unique for each gadget. It can be difficult at first, but when mastered it could be handy. Stealth was another gameplay mechanic that made Arkham Asylum the success it was, so Rocksteady haven't appeared to change it at all. Here's your typical stealth scenario: you're in a large room with a group of thugs with guns. Melee combat isn't an option, as Batman is pretty defenceless when it comes to gunfire. Grappling up to the nearest gargoyle or platform is the best option. For me, it was sadly a case of 'hang from platform, wait until enemy walks under and tie them up (you can hang enemies from platforms, which can be quite funny), make sure no one is looking'. This was possibly a result of the rooms being more open than in the first game, so unfortunately I sighed as I entered one of these situations. Possibly the biggest new thing is the open-world you can explore. Initially it seems quite big, but as you get used to it you realise it's nothing compared to Just Cause 2. Despite the small size, there's a lot to do and plenty of buildings to glide over. There are over four hundred Riddler secrets to discover, including riddles, Riddler trophies, Joker teeth plus balloons and cameras to destroy. These give you points, but doing these things is a reward in itself. There's plenty of content here, then, to keep you occupied for hours and hours and you're sure to come back for more later even after completing the game 100%. Overall, the gameplay is much improved so it's near perfection now. The combat is fluent and easy to get to grips with. The multiplier system makes it even better and in each fight, you'll be pushing even harder to get your highest score yet. A variety of animations, new moves and upgrades also make the game even more compelling. The stealth needs improving in my opinion, however. I felt there wasn't much strategy to it but this is made up for by the open world and loads of unlockables. The city may not be that big but is extremely detailed and fits in well with the dark and gripping story. In addition, there are loads of challenge maps to play, which place you in combat and stealth scenarios so there's much more than plenty to get your hands on. ===Graphics & Sound=== The graphics aren't of the quality in Uncharted 2, but are still very good. The dark city looks beautiful and extremely well detailed. The characters also look good and Batman's suit gets torn and battered as the game goes on, which is a nice touch. There is a lot of concept art to get your hands on too, which shows off drawn designs of characters and elements of the city. The sound is another strong point in the game, with a brilliant voice cast. Kevin Conroy returns as Batman, and Mark Hamill (best known as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars) also comes back as Joker. Nolan North plays Penguin (sigh) but at least he proves he can be quite versatile in his voicing, using a Cockney accent here. There are loads of other great voice actors, too. The music is top-notch - there are some epic pieces which really deserve to be heard. ===Content=== Arkham City has a BBFC 15 rating for 'strong bloody violence and images of injury'. I didn't see much blood at all in the game, but it is quite violent, with brutal fights occurring frequently across the course of the game. There is also some language but there's nothing really strong. I'd say it's suitable for anyone of 12 and over, ===The Verdict=== NEGATIVES It's really hard to point out anything wrong with Arkham City, but there are a couple of negatives. There aren't as many 'bloody hell!' moments as there were in Arkham Asylum. Nothing comes close to the Scarecrow scenes, for example. Also, I didn't enjoy the stealth sections. But other than those, there's nothing to complain about. POSITIVES The story is fantastic and is much darker and complex than the first time round and from the dark beginning to shocking ending, you'll be gripped. The gameplay is excellent, with combat really impressing and some great improvements. There's a great world to explore - it may be small, but is greatly detailed and full of hidden secrets to find and collect, meaning 40+ hours of searching around. The graphics are fabulous, and there is loads of great voice acting. The music is excellent too and the atmosphere is nailed; you really feel like Batman. This game proves that Rocksteady are a developer to look out for in the future. NOTE: The Catwoman levels available in the game require an Online Pass to play, meaning you won't be able to play them if you have no internet or a pre-owned copy of the game. If you have a pre-owned copy, you can pay £7.99 for them but in my opinion it's not really worth the money for only a few hours of gameplay. Though, you need this to complete the game 100% so its really your choice. Thanks for reading! This review is also posted on Ciao under my name YoshiCheesePuff.