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Danscomp
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Member since: 07.01.2013

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    • Bioshock (PC) / PC Game / 65 Readings / 64 Ratings
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      08.05.2013 10:40
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      The best underwater city dystopian sci-fi horror shooter I've played!

      Background
      -----------------

      Bioshock is a first person sci-fi shooter that came from nowhere. It married dystopian visions from Ayn Rand and George Orwell, injecting them into a horror setting on the bottom of the Atlantic ocean. You play Jack, the protagonist and only survivor of a plane crash. Swimming from the burning wreckage, you find a lighthouse and a bathyscaphe that takes you down. Down to the city of Rapture.

      "Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his own brow?
      "No!' says the man in Washington, 'It belongs to the poor.'
      'No!' says the man in the Vatican, 'It belongs to God.'
      'No!' says the man in Moscow, 'It belongs to everyone.'
      I rejected those answers; instead, I chose something different. "
      - Andrew Ryan

      Designed by the magnate Andrew Ryan, the city was intended to be free of government and religious interference. A utopia for the best and brightest. When Rapture's scientists discovered Plasmids in sea slugs could alter a persons DNA, granting them almost superhuman powers, it accelerated the inevitable decline into civil war and madness.

      Now, Rapture's surviving citizens are insane. Pawns in a greater scheme. Orphaned girls have slugs implanted in their stomachs, allowing them to harvest dead splicers for the Plasmids in their system. They are protected in their duties by lumbering figures in diving suits, the big Daddies. Andrew Ryan is still alive, and has declared war upon you. Can Atlas, fighting against the tyranny of Ryan and little more than a voice on the radio help you survive?

      Adam and eve
      -------------------

      Played from a first person perspective, your primary means of attack is by conventional weapons and plasmid powers. Weapons can be bought and upgraded at rare stations in the game, and all require ammo with the exception of your trusty wrench. Firearms vary from a conventional pistol all the way up to a device that fires mines.

      Plasmids are many and varied. You can set enemies on fire, or shock them. Fire angry wasps from your hand, catch and throw objects, and others. A favourite tactic is to combine powers with the environment for greater effect. For instance, electrocuting multiple enemies who are wading through water. Another good one is freezing someone solid, then shattering them.

      Splicers, your principal enemies, vary from foot soldier types to more lethal varieties, like the wall-crawling spider splicers. One of the most disconcerting are ones that can teleport short distances. If you want to buy Plasmids, you need ADAM, a mutagen that typically comes from little sisters. If you can get past their formidable protectors, of course. You are given the opportunity to follow the good path by saving the little sisters by destroying their parasites, or kill them by absorbing the slugs yourself. Saving them grants you less ADAM, but you will be left occasional gifts. Killing them results in greater ADAM. Both paths substantially alter the game's flow and ending.

      EVE is another compound needed to activate powers. You'll be glad to know it, along with health packs and food are available all over, particularly from vanquished enemies. Each level will have a number of little sister and big daddy pairs. You don't have to target all of them in order to proceed, but it is advisable if you want the most formidable plasmids available to you.

      ADAM can also be used to buy tonics, smaller permanent powers which act as buffs for your other skills or abilities, like making melee attacks more powerful, or having longer to hack a terminal or fewer blocker tiles during the same process.

      Welcome to the world of tomorrow!
      ---------------------------------------------------

      The graphics in this game are excellent, particularly water effects. At the time this game came out, many PCs had problems running on the highest settings. Now, the majority can handle that just fine. Everything has that flash Gordon meets Nemo feel. Sharks and other oceanic wildlife are visible through the glass.

      With a stealthy approach, you'll be able to hear the insane ramblings of the splicers as they search for you. Being machine-gunned by a shrieking madwoman who's cut her own face up and is wearing a bunny costume is just one of the delights awaiting you. The voice acting is top notch, with a 40's accent. Getting punched into a corner, than drilled by a big Daddy is equally unforgettable.

      Flames and spot effects are great, although the blood looks rather fake. Despite some rather innovative level design and some great quests, there is a certain amount of repetition here. You do feel that there are too few different enemies to fight. Being careful to conserve ammunition is recommended. You can often find yourself reduced to just your wrench otherwise. Tonics make more and more sense, once you realise this.

      Hacking is done via a pipe type mini-game where you have a limited time to assemble pipework in the form of tiles, from one end to the other. The appeal of this mini game quickly wanes. The only real irritating thing in this game, as hacking can do everything from making vending machines cheaper, to opening safes, to making enemy gun emplacements and flying robots work for you instead. In the sequel, this was redesigned.

      There are a small number of sane people about. Many of these you will work with during the course of the game. Some will work against you. As you proceed, you will come to appreciate what a large game this is. There's always an arrow on hand to help you navigate what is often a maze. Count on about twenty hours of gameplay to finish it.

      Summary
      --------------

      Yes, the game engine is great, with the exception of the aforementioned mini-game and limited enemy types. The graphics and sound effects and voice acting are all top notch, but it is the plot and setting which are the overriding reasons to play this game. The ending depends on your in-game actions, and the "good" ending that I took was very emotional.

      Graphics: 8
      Gameplay: 9
      Sound: 8
      Plot: 10
      Overall: 9/10

      There is no real reason not to own this game. It has gone on to spawn two excellent sequels. One where you play as the progenitor of all Big Daddies (yes, it is cool) and another that abandons the bottom of the ocean for the roof of the skies. A scraped five out of five stars from me.

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      • Fullers London Pride / Beer / Cider / 64 Readings / 63 Ratings
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        07.05.2013 13:52
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        An excellent beer for those of us who like the taste of beer

        I've been through my first drinking days and the training beers that go with them. Your Budweiser's, your Fosters, all the sugary fizzy lagers you could shake the proverbial stick at. Now, my taste buds have matured. My palette has evolved and my choice of beer is far more selective.

        There are a few go-to beers I really enjoy, but London Pride is the Beer - the ale - that I consistently look for, whether in the off licence or down the pub. It has a deep golden colour with a foamy head that clears quickly, it is not overly gassy and the sweetness of the barley is nicely balanced by the bitterness of the hops.

        The resulting brew is nicely complex. It is thirst quenching, yet flavoursome. You can sip, or gulp. I've been known to finish a pint in a single quaff, or nurse slowly over dinner. There's a malted caramel base that is followed by an aftertaste that's almost like amaretto. It won't overpower anything you might be eating, from fish to meat to something sweeter. It doesn't sit heavily in your stomach like a stout might, and it won't give you the pressing need to belch as inconspicuously as possible as a lager would. It is the best of all beery worlds. The draught is 4.1% alcohol by volume, the cans and bottled stuff a little more, at 4.7%

        It's not the cheapest ale to be had, at about £5.50 for a pack of four cans, but it is my view, one of the very best that is out there. And one that I'm happy is associated with the city of my birth.

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        • More +
          03.05.2013 10:00
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          It's not finished.

          Background
          --------------

          I had the pleasure of playing Knight of the old Republic on PC. It was everything a Star Wars based CRPG should be. It had a great storyline, interesting and varied companions, a Millenium falcon style ship of your very own and a hugely satifying main character arc. The sounds were great, the graphics were cool, all was well.

          When I heard that we would see KOTOR2, named The Sith Lords, I was rather excited. Unfortunately what I and others ended up playing was not a completed vision, but a box full of pieces of an unassembled puzzle. No, that's not quite fair. Parts of it were constructed. The easy bits. Other pieces were clearly forced in where they were never originally intended to go. And the rest of it was simply absent.

          What we have, is a game that was clearly sent to market before it was ready. And that is a decision that is less the fault of developer Obsidian, and more the fault of Lucasarts, the Publisher. This game could have been great. But it was butchered, packaged and sent anyway. Is it still worth playing? Sort of.

          Gameplay
          ------------

          Sith Lords uses an updated version of the Odyessy engine that Bioware created for the original. As a result, everything has a familiar, if slightly different look to it. There are some enhancements, particularly with crafting of items, but inventory screens can become cluttered and ugly.

          Speaking of ugly, the graphics are generally poorly chosen and populated. Drab seems to be the order of the day. While the original took care in how it spent its pixels, the successor seems to not care very much. Draw distances suffer also. Bare and functional are two other words which apply here. It looks in many cases like an early Beta, though there are a few exceptions.

          Sounds are generally just as good, though musically it suffers by comparison. Voice acting is also strong. You have the same facility to align yourself to the light or dark side of the force. Companions return, and your ability to recruit them depends partly on what sex you are and which side of the force you lean on.

          In summary, there is a strong visual clue throughout that the game is unfinished.

          Plot
          ----

          If the graphics were ho-hum, the plot follows the same vein. At least there is consistancy. In Sith Lords, you are an ex-disciple of the Dark Lord Revan - who you played as in the original. As punishment, you have been cut off from the force and spend much of the game recovering your original powers. In order to do this, you must find the Jedi who psycically crippled you and either beg their forgiveness or kill them.

          You will visit a number of locations, which suffer from the graphical blandness described above. The really frustrating thing about Sith Lords is that it contains the most interesting companion seen yet, the sarcastic, enigmatic mentor to your character. Kreia. A robed woman of advanced age and sour disposition. The Dragon age character Flemeth owes a huge debt to the characterisation of Kreia.

          There is also a far darker theme running through Sith Lords, and one that hints at just how butchered the storyline became. There are some nice touches in visiting the same Sith World of Korriban (and Dantooine) as the original game, now fallen into ruin. Many of your companions are similar or variations of what you've seen before. You get to train some of them as Jedi. This should be interesting, but feels rather contrived.

          The interesting companions are:
          Kreia - as above.
          Brianna - a "Handmaiden" (Fnarr, fnarr)
          Hanharr - Evil Wookie and general badass.
          Visas Marr - Blind Sith apprentice
          HK-47 - The assassin droid returns, but in bits. You will need to destroy a number of working versions to rebuild this one.

          The boring companions are:
          Atton Rand - A young Han solo type pilot.
          Bao-Dur -A blander than bland bald-with-bumps technician
          Mira - A human bounty hunter with requisite hot bod.
          G0-T0G0-T0 - Basic droid type

          Summary
          -----------

          The further you progress in the game, the more the cracks become apparent. The ending feels particularly awkward, and will leave many players as unsatisfied as I. As I've said, the most frustrating aspect of Sith Lords is not how broken it is, it is the glimpses you occasionally receive of what it could have been. There were groups of fans who found large sections of abandoned content in the game files and tried to restore them. I don't think they were ever fully successful, but did generate a beta before3 disbanding.

          Sith Lords was never going to be an improvement on the original, but if finished, it stood a chance of being just as good. Ultimately it is forgettable, thanks to Lucasarts. And I can't award it more than two stars.

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          • More +
            01.05.2013 10:52
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            You've never had it so good!

            Background
            ---------------

            Yesterday, I reviewed Civilization 3 and was quite open concerning the fact that its successor was even better. Today I am reviewing Civ 4 in all of it's legendary glory. Some might say this is a half-release rather than a full one. A Civ 3.5, if you will. For my money (and very nice money it is too), it does merit a release of its very own. If you have a PC and you enjoy strategy, there is no reason at all why you should not own this game.

            Civ 4 continues the turn based strategy, where you alternate between your turn and that of the computer, which controls a number of competing civilisations. A new feature is multiplayer, allowing you to compete directly with your friends. Your aim remains the same. Start your empire from a single unit and take it into the future, surpassing every other nation on the globe. No pressure then.

            Gameplay
            ------------

            You do get to choose your starting map. You can choose a predesigned scenario, or like 99% of everyone that has it, generate a randomised world map within set parameters. These include prevailing climate, land mass size and disposition. There is a choice of 18 Civs taken from History, or you can make one of your own up. A chance to show the world what The Muppet Show is really capable of! Difficulties range from the easy to the Christ, how did they get cannon so quickly?

            Different victories remain available, conquering all others, dominating all others, landing a space ship in the Alpha Centauri system, culturally controlling the planet or being declared world leader through a diplomatic victory. If you remain unable to do any of these by the year 2050, the civilisation with the highest score wins. So technically, six possible means of victory.

            The map will be mostly blacked out at the start of the game. While you can map out the terrain, units beyond the sight of yours will not be seen. The game world is made up of tiles. Plains, woods, hills, mountains, tundra, desert, river, sea. And each terrain type affects what can be gotten from it, or how easy it is to move through it.

            As you start with a single military unit (Zog, chop!) and a settler, you will want to found your first city in the best place possible. But you won't want to waste precious turns finding a good site. The sooner you dig, the sooner you grow. The sooner you grow, the sooner you can build more military units and settlers. The early game consists of expanding as rapidly as you safely can. Most of the improvements you will need to support and grow large cities won't be immediately available. Do you create another settler only when you have a military unit to support it, or take a chance at a fledgling city being torched by wandering barbarians or taken by an opposing civ?

            As the game starts to build, you will discover technologies and be able to build better units or improve your cities. Right here is where you start to decide your long term strategy. You are not the only civ expanding as rapidly as possible. Should you now decide to produce offensive military units and look to invade opposing civs, or should you build defensive units in order to protect your cities in case your closest enemies have decided on that first strategy. If you invade opposing cities, will you have the strength to keep them. If you do, will other civs ally together in an attempt to destroy you. Should you trust that ally that you made, and leave a lightly defended flank that he might take advantage of?

            That right there gives you some idea as to the game scope, and what is yet to come. At the same time, it just scratches the surface because the bulk of the game now begins. The building of larger cities, the cultivation of land, the advancement of technologies and the innumerable problems and delights that come with them.

            The chance for a civ to create a "Great person" exists at random, and a number will pop up through the scope of an average game. No longer limited to generals, they can be Scientists, Artists, Prophets or Merchants. For instance, you can be greeted with the message that Leonardo Di Vinci has just been born in Florence. A General boosts military units he is grouped with. A Scientist can be sacrificed to gain an immediate technology discovery or construct a scientific building immediately.

            Military units can still be stacked, fortify themselves, go on patrol or automatically explore by themselves until you take direct control again. Work boats exist as worker type units, improving sea tiles as their land based cousins do with more solid ground. The cold war is here, with spies capable of stealing or sabotaging. Missionaries can be send to spread your religion in an enemy city.

            Direct city management through workers and specialists remains almost unchanged. Happiness or the lack of it remains the force it has ever been, as does growth, science and tax. Regardless of the city size, it can only produce one unit or building a turn. The amount of turns taken to produce something does depend on a city's specific resources and what it is that you are making. Production queues can be assembled, or a city can be set to just generate money, culture, growth etc.

            Wonders both great (world) and small (now called national) are available according to technological level and who has already built them. The movies for wonders have returned after a one-game absence. As you climb the technology tree, new resources will suddenly ping into being on the map. These range from Pearls to Uranium, and can boost happiness or wealth or allow you to build tanks or nuclear weapons. Trade networks can be setup within your own empire and from yours to others.

            Culture remains a useful weapon, and the only one that doesn't cause collateral damage in terms of city improvements, population loss or unhappiness. Religion plays a much larger part this time around, some would argue that it plays too large a part. You can set a state religion, but it is possible and indeed, inevitable as the game develops that many cities will have more than one religion within it. This can be positive for you, if your religion is paramount in one of your cities, but if another religion is, it causes unhappiness. And it's nothing you can root out without destroying the city. And so, religion becomes another weapon. Given the historical use to which religious bigotry has been used throughout history, perhaps that's accurate enough.

            Diplomacy is further developed, allowing two friendly nations to grow into inseparable allies. Resources can be shared from world maps to free passage across each other's lands, technologies to recurring trade in luxury resources for other resources, or simply for cash. Non-aggression pacts can form. At its closest ties, you can ask your ally to go to war against a third party or force a third party to stop attacking you.

            Summary
            ------------

            Civ 4 is arguably the best in the entire series, and unlike it's lower scoring successor Civ 5, doesn't force you, even if buy the game from a retailer, to authenticate it through the execrable steam client. To pay for a game, than be unable to play it because Steam has yet another problem is an incredibly infuriating experience. Quite why Valve have not been referred to the monopolies commission is beyond me. Steam is the reason why I find myself buying fewer games on PC.

            The game is quick to install and easy to play on full settings. The graphics are clear and have just the right level of detail. Background sounds and music add further class to an already classy game. There's so much replay value in here, I find myself playing it years later. I have gotten my moneys worth from this product time and time again, and cannot speak highly enough of it.

            If I were rating Steam, it would get no stars. As I am rating Civ 4, it gets the full five.

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            • Civilisation III (PC) / PC Game / 43 Readings / 43 Ratings
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              30.04.2013 14:25
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              Marvellous game, but not the best the series has to offer.

              Sid Meier's Civilization series will always have a special place in my heart. I've played all iterations except the latest (Civilization 5), and it's only my utter hatred for the intrusive and irritating Steam client that stopped me from buying that. But that's fine. Civilization 3 is a game surpassed only by Civ 4, a game so perfect I find it hard to see quite how they can improve upon it.

              Civ has the same sort of format. You choose a particular Civilization and guide it from humble tribal beginnings through the renaissance, industrialisation and the nuclear age through to ultimate victory. In this instalment you can win through a cultural victory, military (Domination) victory, successfully sending a manned spacecraft to Alpha Centauri or Diplomatic victory. This provides a welcome balance, allowing for a number of varied types of gameplay. Each Civilisation has two particular abilities, including specialised units.

              The world is made up on a grid of squares representing land and water. Land tiles can be improved by workers, depending on what it is. Grassland could be irrigated and then hold a farm. Mountains or hills, mines. This is on top of existing productivity or natural resource that tile already has. Roads and railroads can also be built, increasing production and easing movement of your units across it.

              All this requires the ultimate precursor, the building of cities. Each city has to be at least 2 tiles away from each other. Ideally, you're going to want more than this as each city can draw upon up to 20 surrounding tiles, dependant on population. Food is used to grow cities. Shields (production) are used to build everything from movable units to buildings and wonders. The third element produced by tiles is economy. A city's economy can be split between research, tax and luxuries. The balance is crucial, and may shift. One of the main aims of city development is keeping your citizens happy.

              Citizens become unhappy for a number of reasons. Being shelled by an unfriendly power doesn't help, but general unhappiness is caused by famine, religious unrest, insufficient sanitation, boredom, lack of luxuries or envy of another civilization. When the bulk of the population are unhappy, the city falls into disorder and nothing gets done, stored or sold. Leave a city in this state for long, and the population will start destroying city improvements. Get your balance right though, and Citizens celebrate your rule, boosting the economy.

              All a city's inhabitants are labourers, but you can take away labourers by making them specialists. Entertainers, scientists or tax collectors. It takes no great leap of the imagination to figure out what each one adds to your city.


              A city can contain a whole host of improvements, dependant on technological advancement and size. These can have military connotations, from city walls to keep raiders out, to barracks to train veteran troops, to missile batteries and more besides. They could have religious connotations, from Temples to Cathedrals. They can buff research through universities or commerce through banks, or population boosts through granaries and hospitals, reduce pollution through recycling centres or mass transits or general happiness through theatres and coliseums. Police stations and courthouses reduce corruption. Each improvement requires financial upkeep, so things can get dicey when your finances are in trouble. This richness of choice, effect and counter effect is what makes Civ so chest thumpingly addictive.

              You are going to want to expand as soon as possible, ideally by finding and building on the choicest tiles of real estate. Expand too quickly, and your new cities are vulnerable. Expand to slowly, and you can find yourself fighting a loosing battle with vastly larger empires. Wonders are back again, though this time around you have small wonders as well as wonders of the world. Small wonders can be built once by each civilisation, whereas their bigger brothers can only be built once per game by any civilisation. If an opposing civ builds one of these, the only way you're going to get your mitts on it is by capturing (not destroying) that city.

              Scientific research is as important as exploration, settlement and city development. Scientific advancements lead to new units, improvements and wonders. Technology can also be traded with other civilisations, though be careful you don't give away something great for something not.

              Another new feature is culture. Your city's culture expands out influence to nearby tiles. A common strategy is to build culture generating improvements in cities bordering other civs. Whereas a war can grant you cities, they are often in ruins. Use culture to conquer, and you get everything as is. The older the city, the more turns it has had to build culture. A 2,000 year old temple for example, will have generated more culture than a fifty year old university.

              There is a host of different military units, on land, sea and air. Fortifications can boost defenders. Artillery can bombard from a distance. ICBMs can ruin your whole day. That enemy sub off your coastline could be carrying tactical nukes. Some units will require not only technological advancement, but relative resource availability.

              The only real caveat owning Civ 3 has, is the sheer amount of time that you will be spending with it, and the fact that Civ 4 goes one better. With the addition of so many different ways of winning, the replay ability factor is huge. An unreserved four out of five stars.

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            • More +
              29.04.2013 13:46
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              A fascinating way to spend some time

              This excellent 2012 documentary follows the Stones journey as a band from breakout to 1994's rather forgettable Love is strong. Arguably, that's as good a point as any to bring down the curtain. Although the band has enjoyed the odd hit here and there, their halcyon decades were the 60's and 70's, and this Brett Morgan as director of Crossfire Hurricane is wise enough to realise it.

              Shot in a jarring montage style, it demonstrates that their breakout was primarily due to the press casting them as Villains opposed to the Beatles, being portrayed as relatively wholesome. This is, as it is now, designed to fill column inches and create controversy. As the success continued, controversy would peak with a famous drugs bust and prison sentence. Chart success was never far away, and decades later the real suprise is that they are (almost) all around.

              I'll hold my hand up now and say that I'm not a huge Stones fan. I would not pay outrageous prices to see them play live and I don't faint over the alpha to omega of their back catalog, but there is a lot to admire and most of it is covered by clips of live performances here. The Stones began as a blues cover band, though they tried their hands at pop style stuff also. Where they blossomed was by marrying blues to rock, even though it was heavy on the rock.

              In interviews, Jagger comes across as suprisingly calm and intelligent. Not every word that passes those famous lips is wise, and an errant gust of wind under the flared collar of his shirt threatens to send him airborne faster than Mary Poppin's umbrella, he's never less than quietly charismatic.

              Drugs are one word that comes to mind when you think about the Stones, or try and figure out the Roschach blot that now represents Keith Richard's face. Both Richards and Jagger were sentanced to quite stiff prison sentences for posession of some hallucinogenics, both sentences were vastly reduced on appeal to little more than a slap on the wrist, something that seems to have given the green light to Richards in particular who comes across as quite arrogant and pointlessly argumentative. Mick just smiles a lot, often nervously.

              The documentary doesn't shy away from the move onto regular drug taking, with video backstage showing Mick openly shorting white powder from a flick knife. Nor does it gloss over the gradual disintegration of the immensely talented Brian Jones up to his death at the bottom of a swimming pool not too long after the band finally asked him to leave.

              The band's reaction to the news was almost chilling, with Mick appearing relieved it was over. But put into perspective by Jones' often cruel treatment of his bandmates for many years, the innumerable times he'd let them down professionally and the constant negative atmosphere, I think Mick can be forgiven. He went on to write a tribute song for Jones.

              Was Jones the catalyst for the Band to turn their backs on drugs? Absolutely not. The snorting scene above was taken several years after Jones' death. The late 70's marked a decline for the Stones, one in which they would never recover.

              Most of the documentary's songs can be found in their best albums; Beggar's banquet, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street. All released within a year period when the Stones were at the height of their powers. If you want the best of the Stones in a single album, the Hot Rocks compliation album is your one stop shop.

              Regardless, Crossfire Hurricane is one of the better rockumentaries that I've seen. It doesn't set out to sensationalise, and it doesn't feel like fawning. Check it out. The Blu ray may not be able to add too much clarity to grainy black and white video, but there's plenty of more recent interview snippets to be had.

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              • Far Cry 3 (PC) / PC Game / 61 Readings / 60 Ratings
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                27.04.2013 16:57
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                The best Far Cry yet

                Background
                ----------------

                The far cry series began as a sci-fi/horror shooter, then morphed into an interesting African adventure with the protagonist as a mercenary in a faction-ridden war torn country where blood diamonds were the currency. Although it was at times excellent, it did have a number of intrinsic flaws. With the release of Far Cry 3, Ubisoft has managed to erase most of them to produce their best effort in the series yet.

                Beginning the game, you find yourself locked in a bamboo cage on an unnamed Pacific island along with your older brother. Captives of a ruthless pirate gang along with the rest of your friends, intended for ransom before being sold into slavery. A particularly deranged pirate with a Mohawk and a goatee has taken an interest in you both, and things are about to go from bad to worse.

                Gameplay
                --------------

                As a first person shooter, you quickly come to grips with the controls. You can walk, creep, climb, swim, run and jump. Aiming, firing and reloading are all easy to do. Where the first challenge comes is with a huge array of abilities which can be unlocked, some of which require some deft control movements to pull off. You do normally get a momentary visual clue, which is helpful.

                There are a number of different vehicles scattered liberally over the island (actually more than one island) that can be driven or commandeered. You're not only confined to land this time, and can use gliders in the air and water bikes and boats on the ocean.

                Exploration is a key experience of this game, with a vast array of places to visit from ruined temples to cave subsystems, world war 2 Japanese bunkers, towns, jungles, farmsteads and strongholds, you are never short of something to do. Two core activities you will find yourself repeating throughout are the unlocking of mobile broadcast towers and the conquering of enemy outposts.

                Unlocking a mobile tower involves climbing to the top, often a difficult experience with jumps over chasms. You will get to unlock weapons and get cash this way, as well as reveal all items of interest within a certain radius. Conquering an outpost will convert it to your side, generating useful experience and all the goodies you can loot. This is another improvement on its predecessor, where cleared checkpoints repopulate.

                There are a nice array of weapons, many of which can be upgraded and personalised. Fire makes a welcome return, with the game engine using projected burn rates and prevailing winds allowing you to cut off and incinerate enemies. Be careful you don't inadvertently incinerate yourself. Being on fire is an unpleasant experience, forcing you to abandon what your were doing in order to pat yourself out. There are more gruesome experiences though. You can heal yourself to a certain extent without having medikit, with attendant pliers pulling bullets out of bloody holes, or pushing shards of shattered bone back inside. Yum!

                Far cry 2 had degradable weapons. The more you used them, the crappier they became. Guns would jam. Knives became dull. I'm happy to report they pulled that function here. It would frequently become tiresome. You do have a limited number of weapons that you can carry, and that helps the suspension of disbelief that first person games often install, where you seem to be hauling a trailer full of guns behind you.

                I mentioned that you can unlock abilities, these translate to tattoos on one arm. You have three categories, Spider, Shark or Heron. Shark specialises in attacks, Heron in survival and Spider in hunting. An example of a combat ability is sneaking up on an enemy, killing him with your machete before throwing it for a second insta-kill on a nearby enemy.

                Another aspect of the game, and one that will prove to be controversial is killing and skinning wildlife in order to create bags or holders or straps so you can carry more weapons or ammo, or grenades, or whatever. You don't feel quite so bad killing an animal that suddenly attacks you, but hunting down a rare tiger in order to machine gun it to death before skinning it made me feel more than a little dirty. I would have liked the developer to have provided an alternative here, even if it was buying a synthetic alternative in stores.

                Plot
                ------

                The Pacific Islands location is great. You have crystal clear waters teaming with sharks, steaming Jungles to yomp through, all with a great clarity of colour and draw distance. You can get ambushed by wildlife. I almost wet myself as I tried to ford a river, only to get dragged underwater by a lunging croc! There are a number of antagonists, including the fella on the front of the case. Voice acting is generally excellent, but there is one huge fly in the ointment.

                You play as a American tourist who becomes this efficient killer. Fair enough, but prequel memories show you and your mates as little more than a bunch of douches, to the point that I was almost rooting for the pirates. You get to rescue a few of your friends, and at the drop of a proverbial hat, they seem perfectly fine with seeing people killed left, right and centre, even cracking wise. Or they suddenly and inexplicably become proficient soldiers themselves. It is incredibly jarring. Once they're safe, they lapse back into why's this all happening dude, mode. There's so much scope for further plot development here, and Ubisoft has wasted it.

                Friends aside, other characters are a mixed bunch. The main antagonists are great, Vaas particularly, though the silly dream sequences in which you fight them were an awful idea. There's also a white suited ponytailed CIA spy who is every cliché rolled into one. I loathed him with a passion, and he's supposed to be a good guy. Thankfully he's offset by the hilariously offensive Buck and the endearingly dotty Doctor Earnhardt, of whom we see far too little.

                Summary
                -------------

                This is a vast sandbox, just how I like 'em. With almost no exceptions, you can go anywhere you can see. The main missions are generally done quite well, with a few standouts, especially the dunking scene you may be familiar with and a "Flight of the Valkyries" moment that you probably won't be. Side missions vary between collecting items, racing against the clock or killing specific targets in certain ways. If I were assembling a wish list for Far Cry 4, it would be to invest additional work on the plot, especially character development, have less skinning and more of everything else! A worthy 4 out of 5 stars.

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                26.04.2013 10:13
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                One of the best CRPGs out there. Balanced better than a ten year old Bordeaux.

                In a galaxy far, far away
                --------------------------------

                The Star Wars universe has always been ripe for gaming. We've already seen some great spaceship simulators produced like X-Wing and Tie fighter. We've seen some first person blasters like Dark Forces, but then a slew of ho-hum games brought little but disappointment. Then Activision and Bioware brought out the seminal Knights Of The Old Republic.

                Great classic Star Wars locations abound. A republic cruiser, Tatooine, Dantooine, Kashykk (Wookie land) and others. Bounty hunters, Tusken raiders, Sith, Wookies, Twi'leks and more. Blasters and melee weapons, leading to the ultimate hotness; use of the light sabres themselves. Best of all, because the game setting is 4,000 years in the past when compared to the films, there's scope for a universe-affecting plot without the need to step carefully around established canon.

                Dungeons and Dragons in Spaaaaaaaaaaaaace!
                ---------------------------------------------------------------

                Knights of the old Republic (KoTR) uses D&D 3rd edition rules. You can choose between three starting classes which lead into three advanced Jedi classes later in the game. You have your basic warrior class (Soldier), a thief-style class (Scout) and a combination class (Scoundrel, or obvious-Han-Solo), half-way between the two.

                One of the main differences is that Soldiers will be more durable in combat, with greater access to feats while Scouts have far more skill points to invest. Feats are typically buffing "powers" that affect combat. Giving the ability to strike more regularly or with greater force, and many others. Skills are exactly what it says on the tin. A soldier is not going to be able to open that security gate. A Scoundrel may, while a Scout probably will.

                Playing as a soldier is the most straight-forward and probably the choice that most players will go for. Because you have the ability to choose from a pool of potential companions, you do have the option to play as whatever you want. More importantly, if your character falls in combat, things continue until your companions either win or join you. A very nice aspect indeed.

                Later in the game, you become a Jedi. At that point, you get to make the same class choice again. Only things revolve around force points. The soldier-type will get access to more force type attacks, but less force points than a Scout-type. The three Jedi classes are Jedi Consular, Jedi Sentinel, and Jedi Guardian. There's no reason why you have to choose the same class type the second time around.

                Combat is straightforward. You walk through a level until an enemy sees you, then the game auto-pauses, giving you the facility to issue orders to yourself and your companions. A queue of orders can be generated, such as throw grenade, followed by power attack, followed by use medikit. You can pause the game at any point by pressing the space bar and resume the same way.

                There are a number of conversation options, and your feats and skill can alter these. You really can persuade someone that these aren't the droids they are looking for with but a gesture. If you chose that power.

                One of the coolest aspects of the game for me was the way you could personalise your light sabres. You have a choice of colours, and can use either one sabre, two or a two-bladed weapon a la Darth Maul. Furthermore, special crystals could be found or purchased which give extra effects or damage.

                Another uber cool feature is the facility through free choice to ally yourself with the light or dark side of the force. Your appearance will alter accordingly, as will your cost to use certain force powers. You can still use force lightning if you're nicer than nice, but it will drain your force points far quicker. If you're evil personified, you can cast lightning all day, but healing someone will be very expensive.

                Spacebook
                ---------------

                As alluded to above, the plot is really something special. You begin the game with amnesia, and are quickly drawn into a fight between the old republic and a sith fleet led by Darth Malak, once protégé of the legendary Darth Revan. Locations are well thought out, leading to much raising of gooseflesh as you echo many of the film's greatest footsteps. Once example would be stepping into a dingy bar in Anchorhead on Tatooine. There are plenty of moments that belong to KoTR alone, such as when you masquerade as a Sith in training on their ancient training world, or lead a Wookie rebellion against a rapacious corporation.

                Not only is the plot great, you develop a pool of possible companions to crew your proto Millenium Falcon. All of them have rich backstories and side quests, excellent voice acting and none of them seem cheap or caricatured. There's something for everyone, though you'll want to go with whoever will compliment your own class choices most of the time. All have items, abilities or specific weapons to be upgraded.

                Bastila Shan - A smoking hot but rather preachy and slightly arrogant Jedi knight, recently graduated and possessing a unique Jedi power. She represents the first such character you are able to recruit, and is intregal to the major plot.

                Carth Onasi - A distrustful republic soldier, betrayed by someone he once idolised. A standard soldier class who specialises in the use of blasters. The pilot of your spacecraft.

                Canderous Ordo - Heavy weapons specialist and Mandalorian mercenary. Someone who lives for battle, and has little morals, regarding them as useless constraints.

                Mission Vao - Twi'lek scout and teenager. Close friend of the Wookie Zaalbar. Bubbly and cheerful. A bit like a care bear with head tentacles and a pistol. Useful for unlocking or decoding stuff.

                Zaalbar - Exiled as a madclaw by his clan, specialising in the use of his crossbow blaster-thing, but useful with a large blade due to prodigious strength.

                Jolee Bindo - An amusing old Jedi Knight living in exile deep in the dangerous swamps of Kashykk. Useful as a general buffer / healer for your party.

                Juhani - A struggling Jedi apprentice that looks a lot like Cheetara from Thundercats. Volatile and hot tempered. Good front combat tank.

                HK47 - My favourite companion. An at times hysterically funny assassin droid whose memory can be gradually unlocked. Alternates between obsequiousness and insulting. You're both master and meatbag to him.

                T3-M4 - Basically R2D2. The least developed companion. There's little conversational options to be had with something capable of only a series of beeps and bops. Surprisingly versatile as a companion however.

                Enemies are pleasingly varied. Sith come in both the foot soldier type and dark Jedi versions. The halberd-wielding piggies make an appearance, as do a whole range of other star wars regulars. Mandalorian mercenaries are a constant, concerted menace and there's a whole host of various beasties indigenous to each location, from the bizarre to the terrifying.

                Summary
                -------------

                The graphics may have aged, but the game is as good now as it has ever been. And you no longer need a powerful machine to run it at highest resolution. Upgradable items including weapons and armour are rendered nicely, with what was incredible textures at the time. Everything has a suitable Star Wars look and feel to it. Sound effects are great, from blasters to the hum and crackle of Light sabres. Combat music feels instantly recognisable.

                There is plenty of game here, at least thirty hours of fun to be had. The different locations keep plates spinning, avoiding the feeling of repetition. You even have the choice, once you have your ship, to visit whatever planets you want in whichever order. There's a few sub-games, including racing, gambling and ship combat, but they feel tacked on.

                The story is a great one and the general game polish is high, something that wouldn't be the case with its successor, the unfinished Sith Lords. If you have a PC and have not played this, and you like Star Wars. It's a genuine no brainer. Buy it now for about the cost of a happy meal.

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                • Fallout: New Vegas (PC) / PC Game / 52 Readings / 49 Ratings
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                  25.04.2013 10:40
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                  Inferior pseudo-sequel

                  Background
                  --------------

                  I loved Fallout 3. Elder scrolls developer Bethesda had taken a much loved series in an even more positive direction. Isometric viewed CRPGs were, if not dead, then certainly unwell. Long live the 1st person CRPG. When New Vegas was announced, I had extremely high hopes for a "Fallout 3.5" that would take the best of its predecessor and add enough skin in the game in the way of new features, plot and enemies that I would be playing it for more than the eighty or so hours I have invested in Fallout 3. It was finally released. The ads were on telly. The reviews were not glowing, but they were positive. And so I bought it, and was quickly brought back down to earth.

                  This game is less Fallout 3.5, and more Fallout 3.0.1.1. Yes, there are some tweaks in terms of gameplay, and there are new enemies and a new plot, and a new feature of two. But there are a number of reasons why as a sequel, Fallout: New Vegas turned out to be a vastly inferior game. I hope Bethesda learns from its mistakes.

                  It's all gone a bit Pete Tong
                  -----------------------------------

                  Graphics - Not only are the graphics no better than Fallout 3, a game released two years prior to this one, at times they seem to be even worse. As if a decision was made at some point to cut their losses and just take the product to market, as was. And it shows.

                  Setting - One of the best aspects of Fallout 3 was the setting. Seeing a famous city and attendant landmarks in post-apocalyptic ruin. A world of drifting, radioactive boulevards, deserted train stations and general decay. I knew in advance that New Vegas was going to be a setting untouched by nuclear bombs, but the designers decided the vast bulk of this new gaming world would be arid desert.

                  And here's the dirty little secret about arid desert. IT'S BORING. Mostly flat, almost completely empty, and looking same, same, same, it made travelling about a chore. A god - I've - got - to - walk - way - over - there approach replaced genuine expectation. When you do finally reach Las Vegas, it manages to be as dreary and drab as everywhere else. No matter whether you are in the part ruins outside, or in the strip itself. How do you make a casino tedious? Let New Vegas show you the way.

                  Another fail when travelling anywhere in Las Vegas results in oft-repeated loading screens. This is really, really poor level design. The greenest of mistakes. For example, there's a military base split into a number of regions that are largely fluff. Nothing to do, cluttered with crap you have to navigate around in order to get to one area of interest on the other side. And there are other locations just as bad.

                  Plot - Fallout 3 started with you being born and raised by a loving father forced to reluctantly leave you behind for reasons you fight to uncover. T-Dog broadcasted tales of your journey far and wide. Everything felt linked in the main plotline. You felt an integral part of the world, and what was happening in it. By comparison, New Vegas has you as a courier, double crossed. And that's it. That's your motivation. There's no information on who you really were, no family to look in on, nothing to flesh out who you are supposed to be playing. This is a not just a huge step back, it is a giant leap back.

                  As the game progresses, the main plot really doesn't get more interesting. Yes, there are some side plots which can be diverting, but they are few and far between. Much of the innumerable side missions are mind-numbingly repetitive and tiresome. And with the whole post apocalyptic world in ruins concept missing, what's left feels threadbare. There's no real pizzazz. Nothing excites like it should. There is a very good mission early on involving a rocket and a tribe of Ghouls, but it is over far too quickly and nothing gets as good again.

                  The one decent part of the side plot is the addition of Caesar's Legion, a slave organisation that tries to mirror the Ancient Roman army in dress, weapons and mannerisms. You can fight for them or against them. And that's it. It is also nice to see different types of bandits, including an American Indian type, but it adds nothing much at the end of the day. Another positive which doesn't manage to balance the large amount of negatives are the companions in New Vegas. They do have more of a backstory than Fallout 3, you do share XP kills with them and even care for them. To a certain degree.

                  Gameplay - There are some "improvements". You now get to craft items and ammo, but the time spent getting ingredients and investing skill points is wholly offset by the ability to just buy what you want. Yes, it costs more - but you don't have to faff around and you get to invest skill points in areas that will actually keep you alive.

                  You can use a weapon's iron sights, but that's hardly a game changer. You do get to mod weapons now, which is a nice touch, but generally speaking it's all very familiar. And that's a problem that repeats until it grates. There are improved criticals, but it doesn't so much add to the game engine as detract from it.

                  Final analysis
                  -----------------

                  In summary, New Vegas was a huge disappointment for me. It doesn't feel like a new game at all. It feels like an uninspired expansion pack, and that is why the price was quickly slashed from launch in an attempt to shift more units. Why it sells now for about or under the cost of its predecessor.

                  I mentioned that the graphics often seem worse than Fallout 3. Sometimes they are downright ugly. Yes, there are loads and loads of possible side quests, but as pointed out, they are boring. And all set in a huge, bland environment. This is a rare fail from Bethesda for me. It feels as though I played (and was blown away by) Skyrim, and several years later got Oblivion and a whole bunch of empty promises. I cannot in all good conscience recommend this.

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                    24.04.2013 17:02
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                    Great, if short horror tale

                    The hellbound heart is a novella by England's best horror writer, Clive Barker. It is a relatively short work with a memorable plot device and antagonists that would go on to inspire an entire film franchise. Barker is, as the New York Times has noted, far more than a genre writer. This is not my favourite work of his, but word for word, you'll not find anything as powerful.

                    The main premise of the book revolves around Frank, a Hedonist addicted to pleasures and sensations, no matter how exotic or depraved. Legal or otherwise. Now in his thirties and bored by everything he has experienced, he is hungry to experience more. Rumours of Lemarchand's puzzle box, the Lament configuration reach him on his travels. A gateway to a realm of indescribable carnal pleasure. It becomes his reason for being.

                    At the start of the novella, he has found it. Locked in the attic room of a house his brother has bought, but not moved into yet, he constructs a shrine of flowers, dove heads and urine. Hours pass as he unlocks the box designed to trap those just like him. And the little room that is his realm is visited by inhabitants of quite another.

                    It is not a plot spoiler to say that not only are the hideously disfigured Cenobites, members of the order of the Gash not what he had in mind, they are utterly unable to distinguish extreme pleasure from extreme torture. Their "gifts" are experiments conducted with a horrific combination of both. And twisted Frank, their ideal lab rat. They accept the latest supplicant even as he screams to be free, but this bargain is one struck for eternity.

                    Awhile later, Frank's brother moves into his house with his new bride Julia. Unbeknownst to Rory, Julia and Frank had an affair a week before their marriage and Julia, a foul person still fantasises of renewing her acquaintance with Frank. Before long, the shredded remnants of Frank manage to escape to the attic room. Will Julia be willing to commit multiple murder so that Frank can consume bodies to repair his own?

                    As a Novella, you will finish this one quickly, and be left hungry for more. But that is all there is on paper. His books of blood series are probably the closest thing he's done since. It speaks volumes (sorry!) that Barker has not revisited this world a number of times, cashing in on the concept's popularity. There are a number of differences in the Novella compared to the film that it inspired. But this work is ultimately scarier. Barker would go on to write two most excellent novels above all his others, Imajica and Weaveworld. Neither of which are Horror books per se.

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                      24.04.2013 13:36
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                      A great novel. Perhaps we will see a great screen adaptation one of these days?

                      Background
                      -----------------

                      King is a prolific author. Many of his novels have been translated to the screen with varying degrees of success. The Shining, The Langoliers, The Stand, The Tommyknockers, Salems lot, Misery. And more. Because of this, some of his lesser known works have remained just that. Lesser known. With some of these, you definitely feel that there was a reason for it. Some concepts don't turn out well. Sometimes even King loses perspective and writes self-indulgently.

                      But there are some diamonds among the coal. And Rose Madder is my favourite King book to date. What makes this statement even more unlikely is the subject matter. The protagonist of the book is an abused wife. Someone who has been hospitalised, miscarried and suffered mightily at the hands of her husband, Norman. Someone who is making the bed one morning after years of this, when a single solitary drop of blood falls from her nose onto the pillow.

                      The plot (no spoilers)
                      ------------------------------

                      Immediately she comes to a simple realisation. If she does not leave, sooner or later she will die. Making matters infinitely worse is the fact that Norman is not just a beast, but a decorated policeman. Beyond this, he is a police detective. One who has convinced her that any call to the police will be futile. That cops band together like brothers. That no matter where she runs, he will find her and hurt her worse than he has ever done before.

                      Having abandoned her previous identify and use of credit cards, Rose begins a new life. With every week that passes, she feels ever so slightly more at ease. She has discovered a career and bought a painting of a woman in a Greek gown stained Rose madder (a crimson colour). But Norman is coming. He is using all his experience and resources and brutality, he is slowly but surely going to shatter the uneasy peace his wife has found. But that painting is not what it first appears. The woman within it is both insane and inhuman, and pursuer and pursued will be drawn towards her.


                      The book
                      --------------

                      The book itself was published in 1995 and is a healthy 432 pages long. Not a house brick like The Stand, but hardly a novella. It is the perfect length and the pacing is precisely correct. In some ways, it has three distinct acts. The escape. The chase. The resolution. By marrying domestic violence and a thriller with horror and Greek mythos, King has struck upon a winning formula.

                      I would find it difficult to write from a woman's perspective, but the author manages it effortlessly. There is a small, but well defined supporting cast. Many of these are also women. It is to King's credit that none of them come across as stereotypical or contrived. Underlying the first half of the book is a great deal of emotion.

                      By the end of the first chapter, we really feel for Rose and what she has endured. We genuinely hope she will succeed. In Detective Norman Daniels, King has created a monster. Not one with one eye, fifty feet tall or with claws and fangs, but all the more believable for all of that. And if there's one thing Norman likes to do best, it is bite.

                      The sudden turn from a very real world to quite another could have been jarring, and not in a good way. Instead, it has a dreamlike quality. One which intertwines with a nightmare. This is a Stephen King book. Horrific things will happen, most of them perpetrated by Norman. The quality of his writing has never been better. There are no wasted words. No fluff. No needless exposition. It is the literal page turner, and one I am happy to recommend.

                      Rose madder can be bought for under ten pounds, either in store or online plus delivery. A kindle edition exists for a fiver. Buy it, read it, enjoy it. ISBN 1444707469.

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                        24.04.2013 10:12
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                        On the move compromise

                        It's a fact of life that sometimes the gym is not an option. The two most common situations for me are when I am on holiday or travelling away from home on business. Short of carrying some fairly heavy kit around with me, the best overall option is this resistance band from Ripcords.

                        When you think of resistance bands, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this is something for girls to use when they're doing yoga or a little Pilates. Then you might read promotional literature from the company which suggests that they are incredibly effective. There is a patently untrue claim by the maker that it works your muscles "more effectively than free weights and machines."

                        The truth is to be found somewhere between these two points. The first thing I had to do was stoically ignore the fact this product was called "Black Sniper". Honestly, is their marketing department crewed by a bunch of geeky twelve year olds?

                        What you get for your money is a reasonably strong elastic band with durable handles. The company promotes a training method, but it is one I ignored as quickly as the brand name. It is possible to do a range of resistance based exercises with this. They do sell a door hook to be used with this, but my advice is to avoid this like the plague. You are asking for trouble, or at least a shot at an appearance of you've been framed - assuming there's someone with a camera recording when you get twatted.

                        The best way to use this is with a foot on the cord. If you want to increase the tension, place both feet on it, about eight inches apart. I can chug out bicep and hammer curls, shrugs, shoulder raises both front and lateral. It is difficult to do overhead raises as the length of the cord is a real restraint to anyone over six feet in height.

                        You can't really do abs with this. Pilates is far more effective at core exercises anyway. You can't really pump your chest with it either, but press ups, raised or standard are always simple enough. At the end of the proverbial day, this device is lightweight and portable. It can let you do the sort of exercise that you would typically have used a towel to achieve before, and it can do it better.

                        One last piece of advice is to not put too much tension into it. These sort of devices have been known to snap. Getting a replacement free will be little consolation for an injury or damage to a hotel room that you will a) have to explain and b) have to pay for.

                        Available from Amazon for under a tenner. Worth getting and using. Just take the company claims with a small pinch of salt flat.

                        Note to self: Don't suggest a product, then wait to review it ;)

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                          23.04.2013 15:14
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                          Great way of avoiding torn callouses!

                          Gold's gym is a well known franchise that began on muscle beach in California and expanded. Many famous hard core bodybuilders were members, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Lee Hanley. But you don't have to be in order to benefit from buying and using their equipment, in this case their mesh weight lifting gloves.

                          Weight lifting gloves are something that you often see young men using with sports club equipment. By that, I mean machines. These are all well and good, but provide only unilateral resistance. Furthermore, the handle design and weight limits mean that there is very little benefit at all, in my opinion, to use gloves at all.

                          So when would you need to use weight lifting gloves? The answer is a simple one. Heavy weights, particularly with the use of free weights. Free weights are dumbbells or barbells, both of whom tend to be of a steel construction with mesh cut into the metal for a better grip. This is where the use of gloves becomes apparent. Not only can hands become sweaty, affecting your grip, if you are using heavy weights the bar can move in your palm. Callouses are one thing. You do expect them. But torn callouses are quite another, and one that will take you away from training for at least a week.

                          These gloves provide a much needed barrier between the bar and your skin. The cotton mesh helps the skin still breathe, something that can be forgotten or deliberately omitted in cheaper examples. It has a double stitched leather palm that helps grip and an elasticated wrist so it doesn't feel loose. This is all good stuff, but because there are no proper reinforced wrist straps on these, it is limited. If you are serious about lifting, you will need something that provides that additional support. For the rest of us, these gloves from Gold's give us all we will ever need.

                          I have used these to bench about two hundred and twenty kilos on a smith rack. Nothing that will give any lifters cause for concern, but as heavy as I will go these days. Using a smith rack involves curling the bar hooks off the pegs. These gloves remained in place while doing this. The bar is chunky and has been the cause of a small tear in my palm before. But I've never had this happen once I started using these gloves.

                          In summary, these gloves are a good buy. The price tends to vary on the size that you need. Mine cost £8. This is a tiny investment that can help maximise your time in the gym and avoid injury. But if you only use exercise machines, you don't need them.

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                        • York Leather Belt / Sports Equipment / 46 Readings / 43 Ratings
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                          23.04.2013 11:21
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                          Great help, but never lift heavy free weights alone

                          Weight lifting belts provide crucial lumbar support for mass building exercises. These are your typical bread and butter movements. Squats, deadlifts and the overhead press. York is the prime entry level player. Cheap, but not particularly nasty. And for many cash strapped weight enthusiasts, they represent a manufacturer that they will buy from again and again.

                          It is extremely important that a weight belt is worn properly. The wide section across the back needs to be perfectly positioned to provide the protection you will need. The best gauge for this is for the buckle to be over your belly button and tight enough to feel reasonably restrictive. If the belt is pressing into your ribcage, it is too high. You should be unable to get as much as a little finger in anywhere. This belt is nowhere near as easy to position as some that I have tried, but obey these simple rules and you should be fine.

                          The leather in this belt and metal hardware are both fit for purpose. I've had this belt a few years now, and apart from some discolouration and wrinkling of the leather, it is as serviceable now as it has ever been. There are a number of holes that can be selected, but you have to be careful - and honest - when choosing the size. There may be seven double-set positions available, but if none of them is just right for you, you may well end up paying for it.

                          Please note that this belt does not make you immune to injuries, particularly if you squat without a partner, as I have done in the past. It can give you a false sense of security, and ending up with a tear in your spinal erector muscles and spending a week on your back is no fun. I speak from personal experience. Bruce Lee once tried lifting without following his usual precautions and it almost spelt the end of his career. (For those of you that have seen the unintentionally howlingly funny "Dragon", it wasn't due to a secret Chinese underground fighting bout!)

                          If you don't train with a partner, using a smith rack for these exercises is a very prudent thing to do. As you can push things a little further, and not be in a position when you are unable to complete an exercise and have no way of dumping the bar. You will still need to ensure that you use correct form when doing the exercise, belt or no belt.

                          In summary, this is reasonable quality for a reasonable price. If you lift seriously, you should spend more in order to get something that much better.

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                          22.04.2013 18:12
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                          Good top for running, rowing or gym

                          I'll start by saying that I don't run any great distance. Cardio for me means cross-trainer, bike or rowing machine. Anything that's not high impact. I have an old injury in my back that even medium distance running will trigger. The reason for this backstory is to explain why I have a singlet designed for running. It was a present. Simple as.

                          Even though I don't run, I get sweaty enough in my cardio and weights session. And this is where this Hermes top really does start to shine. The fabric appears to separate sweat from my skin. It does this really well. So well, it's almost like sorcery. Removing the top post-workout is a doddle, and I don't feel like I am stretching the material beyond its design or risking a tear. Even better, the top doesn't need washing after every workout. After it has dried, it seems as fresh as when it first came out of the packet. This freshness does fade exponentially with further visits to the gym, though.

                          I have the black on black version, which you can't see in this picture. Nicely understated, I think it looks far better than white and far less garish than orange. There is, apparently a "Carribean" colour, which I've not seen but will leave to your imagination. It certainly doesn't show the sweat anywhere as badly. It also hides the mesh inserts which look rather pretentious. All that stands out is the reflective logo, front and back.

                          The material will stretch and nicely shows off my shoulders and arms. Unfortunately, I still have a little Christmas belly, but it manages to hide as best as it can. It boasts UV protection, which I can't really understand. Either my skin is covered, or it is not. A bit of ill thought out marketing fluff, perhaps.

                          If you thought this top was made by Hermes, the Paris based high fashion house, you would be wrong. It is named after the Greek god fella with the winged sandals. The manufacturer is ASICS, a Japanese company with a turnover in excess of two hundred billion dollars that I have never, ever heard of before. If you are wondering what the acronym stands for, it is the Latin phrase "anima sana in corpore sano" A healthy soul in a healthy body. Yeah, me too.

                          In summary, this is a great top that makes me look good. It provides me with the incentive I need to keep plugging away, and several gym buddies have already asked where I got it from. I didn't buy it, but it was bought through Amazon. A quick search there shows it currently listed for £12.50.

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