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Posted by moonhead on Jan 14, 2008
Post Christmas Reviews Round Up

Post Christmas Reviews Round Up

Having spent the whole of the festive period in the G4A drunk tank playing games rather than writing about them. Myself and Drew thought we would provide you with a belated mini review round up of the games we were given as presents over the now gone festive period. Some of these games have been out for absolutely yonks so this is why we are only doing mini reviews. First up is -:

Project Gotham Racing 4 -Xbox 360 – Bizarre Creations

After having been a little underwhelmed by Project Gotham 3 I really was not expecting a lot from the latest installment in the Gotham series. How wrong could I have been? The addition of bikes and more variable weather has reinvigorated the game no end. Trying to stay on you super bike surrounded by cars whilst hurtling full throttle around snow strewn icy tracks is a major thrill.

The career mode has also been given a much needed revamp and to an extent it works but sadly the mind-numbing cone challenges are still an ever present. The online side has stayed largely the same but the addition of the bikes and the return of lower powered cars like the Mini has seen the re-injection of much needed fun. There are also more team modes added for the racing clans and you can still post your photo’s and video’s for others to see and vote on with the PGR On Demand option.

Graphically the game has few rivals in the racing genre and even surpasses the visuals from Gotham 3 by quite a margin. The sound of the cars and bikes is second-to-none and although the soundtrack is very hit and miss there is enough musical genres to keep everybody happy. Special mention should go to the achievements too which are generally well thought out especially the “Back to the Future” inspired puzzle achievement.

There are very few Flies in the ointment with this game but there are the aforementioned cone challenges and although the bikes are incredible fun they make the game so easy as to make it feel like your cheating. Also there is the constant but slight niggle of de-ja-vue. In all though a welcome return to form to one of gaming’s premier racing titles.

Rating: – 8 /10

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption – Wii – Nintendo

Given the unique nature of the Wii’s control scheme most people expected the Wii to have a whole host of quality FPS games. It really has not worked out that way but thankfully Nintendo and Retro Studios have come along and shown the way in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. By using the Wii-Remotes pointer ability to look and the Nunchuck to strafe and go backwards and forwards the developers have produced a fine control method. When you add in the motion sensing controls you have a control scheme that rivals and if not betters the PC snobs and their mouse and keyboard rubbish.

The Metroid series of games have always been of a high quality and the Prime series successfully moved the series from 2D into a 3D first person perspective on the Gamecube and this the Prime series finale really finishes it in style.

Graphically the game again shows exactly what the Wii is capable of in the right hands, with some sumptuous visuals to feast the eyes on.

The story as usual revolves around the now iconic female bounty hunter Samus Arun. This game finds her having been contaminated with the poisonous chemical, Phazon and has you trying to destroy your nemesis Dark Samus whilst battling the growing Phazon threat within yourself. Yes you guessed its your usual B grade Sci-Fi schmaltz but this is a game about blasting and the story is secondary.

Big bosses have been the fare of Metroid games since their inception and this game does not disappoint. As you would expect the gameplay is solid and well thought out but its the little touches that elevate this game above its peers. Like having to twist and push in or pull out the remote to open doors or turn power sources on and the fantastic grapple hook which has you throwing out your nunchuck holding arm to attach it and yanking it back to pull open broken walls and doors.

The only things wrong with this game are its complete lack of multiplayer and online options and also the game, compared to its Prime forbears, is incredibly linear. The scanning of objects and enemies that plays such an integral role in the game now feels more like a chore because of the way the controller scheme works (the only fault in an otherwise supreme control scheme). In all this is one of the premier FPS games to be found on any system and yet to classify it as only a FPS is to do the game a massive injustice as there is so much more to it.

Rating: 8/10

Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games – Wii – Sega

For over a decade these two competing console company mascots were the worst of enemies and only in the wildest dreams of any gamer did anybody ever expect to see a collaboration between them. So it is actually a bit of a disappointment that when Nintendo and Sega finally gave a project the green light to star the blue Hedgehog and the Italian Plumber it ends being an Olympics athletics licensed title rather than a platforming super romp. But at least this could be the start of a beautiful relationship.

This fact that it is based on the Bejing 2008 Olympics should already give you a good idea of what to expect from this game. Athletics games have been around since the early to mid 80’s and the unforgettable “Track and Field” in that time very little in terms of control schemes has changed with either button bashing or joystick waggling being the order of the day. Disappointingly given the Wii’s innovative control system all that has happened is button bashing and joystick waggling has been swapped out for waving your Wii-Remote and Nunchuck about in different ways as quickly as you can and instead of holding a button down to get the correct angle for your Long Jump or Javelin Throw its delicate flicks of the Wii-remote. Although the new controls do not feel like much of a change they do feel more involving and immediate and in the track and field and swimming events, totally exhausting.

There is a huge roster of events to take part in from all of the various of sporting disciplines. They do vary in quality with standouts including the Trampolining which has you using the Wii-Remote bouncing up and down to get you jumping and once high enough whilst in the air copy the button combinations and Wii-Remote twists shown on screen to perform spins and somersaults. Also the Hammer Throw which has waving the remote above your head and releasing the hammer by depressing the B button. Low points are the Triple Jump, Archery and the truly awful Table Tennis. A special mention must also go to the Dream Stages which are a series of games that are a lot truer to the various aray of characters from the Sonic and Mario universes that allow them to use special power ups.

Graphically the game is very good with all of the characters looking as they should and the various official Olympics venues recreated in a cartoon style. The game is immense fun with up to 4 people multi player and it is a real party pleaser but unfortunately it is uneventful and boring in single player and this is compounded further by a complete lack of online options. Even just an online scoreboard with world records could really have added some bite to the single player but as it is the single player is a real non-event. This is a fun playable party title that whilst not pushing the envelope just does enough to warrant a purchase especially if you have a few friends on hand for some multi player larks.

Rating: 7/10

Assassin’s Creed – Xbox 360 – Ubisoft

This game has had a strange gestation period starting out as a PS3 exclusive that was demoed to the press first on the Xbox 360 and then as everybody knew would always happened moved to both the PS3 and Xbox 360. Also in the process it seems to have changed from being the recounting of a tale about a sect of Assassin’s during King Richard’s Crusades in the Middle East based on some historical facts. Into some Sci-Fi weirdness and part Middle East Crusade Assassin simulator. The plot is slightly convoluted and awkward, at the start of the game you wake up in a modern day laboratory held seemingly against your will and strapped in to a machine called an Animus which allows you to act out and relive the memories of your ancestors that are held in your DNA. Your captors want to see your Assassin ancestor “Altair’s” memories and are having trouble accessing them and need you to unlock them by having you act as some sort of DNA puppeteer. See I told you the plot was convoluted and awkward, but I will not divulge much more of the plot for fear of giving to much away.

So all the real gameplay takes part in Altair’s shoes and mighty shoes they are too. Altair is without a doubt one of the most nimble and agile game characters ever seen. He can run, climb and swing with all the grace and ease of a cat and he is not too shabby with a blade either. The control scheme for all of this is really intuitive and has you jumping about like a cat-burglar and fighting like a gladiator in no time. In fact with all his agile skills being so easy to pull off and looking so stylish the game has you feeling like a bad ass super hero in no time.

The first  of Altairs memories that you live through has you bring shame on yourself and to the order of Assassin’s you belong to. You are tasked with regaining yours and the orders honour by assassinating nine targets, you will need all of your feline-like abilities to achieve your goals. Each target is dealt with one-by-one and you will need to carry out reconnaissance missions before taking out your target. You have to climb the games many high points to get the intel missions to pop up on your map. These intel missions then include eavesdropping on conversations and pickpocketing to beating information out of people. Once you have built up all the information you can make your hit. There is a certain amount of freedom as to how you approach the game but each assassination is dealt with in a very linear and over-familiar fashion.

Graphically the game is absolutely stunning with an incredibly realistic looking recreation of the Middle Eastern, Holy Land setting. The first time you ride up on horse back to one of the games big city’s such as Damasucs you will be blown away by the scope and breadth of the games visuals. It really has you believing that you are in a fully realised living breathing world. Also, when you climb one of the games high points and look out over the games incredible vistas and then perform one of the games suicidal leaps of faith in to a pile of hay you cannot help but be impressed with the fluid beauty of the animation and the beauty of the game world.

So in all this is sounding like the game should have lived up to all the hype it has been given and in its presentation and control mechanics it does. Where the game shoots itself in the foot is repetition, once you have completed the games first assassination you have done everything there is to do in the game. Every assassination is the same climb high points to update map, pickpocket somebody, eavesdrop conversation and beat information out of somebody then kill target and so on and so on. Ubisoft have tried to pack this out with other stuff like collecting flags (yawn), defend people from bullying guards and killing Knights of the Templar with 60 of these just hanging around the game world on their own conveniently waiting to be taken out. The problem with all these is exactly what they are, nothing but a time fillers. Where is the incentive to collecting flags that don’t give you any reward in the game and killing Knights of the Templar as you happen upon them who don’t even put up much of a fight?

Another problem is pacing whilst in the Cities carrying out your hits everything is lively and interesting but actually travelling between these cities either on foot or horse back is a chore. Whilst out of the Cities in the Kingdom you bypass plenty of guards and each time you do you have to slow down and press A to blend. Considering you spend a fair amount of time doing this it surely would have been better to just allow you to gallop past without having them all up in arms and chasing you down the second you do not hold down A to blend.

Any title that tries to deliver a Sandbox style experience lives or dies on its level of variety and things to see and do and unfortunately Assassin’s Creed dies a very sudden boring death right here. It is not a game without its merits and is thoroughly enjoyable but it is kind of like digital McDonalds it looks appetising and tastes alright but ends up not satisfying your hunger.

Rating 7/10

Mass Effect – Boiware – 360

One of the most hotly anticipated pre-Christmas releases was Bioware’s space based RPG Mass Effect. Anyone who is even remotely interested in sci-fi would have been salivating at the gorgeous graphics and movie look of the screen shots.

Yes I was one of those, from the first minute I played Mass Effect I was in love. The game promised to be everything I had ever wanted in a game. Command of a spaceship and a quest that spans galaxies and numerous planets.

Playing very much in a similar vein as Bioware’s massive hit Knights Of The Old Republic this is a squad based RPG where the emphasis is on story and character development. As in KotoR every decision you make influences your characters persona and the overall outcome of the story. The moral choices you are presented with are what shapes your character, be good, be bad or be a complete bastard, it’s up to you.

Bioware have spent a great amount of time making sure that conversations in Mass Effect feel natural and have developed a brilliant engine that makes all interactions between characters feel like a real conversation. This is helped by some excellent voice acting from the cast.

Graphically, Mass Effect is a tour-de-force. The character design and animations, especially the facial animations, are fantastic as are the locations. The Citadel, a giant space station which is the hub for the entire game is a thing of wonder. The scale of which really places you fully in the game world. Despite all its graphical wonder for some reason the screen seems to have some kind of filter on it, giving everything a grainy appearance, for the life of me I cannot work out why as it only serves to take some of the shine of the wondrous visuals.

Mass Effect was lauded as having an entire galaxy to explore and for the most part it is true, although you are unable to land on the majority of the planets, which is a shame but understandable when you consider the scope of the game as a whole. Even so the gameworld is still huge with tons of side quests to detract you from the main storyline should you so desire.

Where the game departs form Bioware’s previous RPG’s is in the combat. The developers have tried to blend their original pre-arranged combat system with an FPS style fight. Whats more they have almost pulled it off, almost. As a fight starts, you can click the right bumper and select different abilities from your squad and target them to an enemy on the screen. Then when you release the button you can play out like a normal FPS whilst your squad follow the instructions you have given them, this can be repeated at anytime during the fight too. For the most part it works well but you kind of find yourself wishing for one or the other not this half baked blend of the two. Maybe in the sequel they may get more time to refine it.

Another part that lets Mass Effect down is the driving sequences. When driving the buggy/tank you sometimes have to fight. This involves using a rotating turret on top of the tank. This turret is controlled by the right stick, which also controls the camera. I have found on more that one occasion that I have ended up looking at the underneath of the tank whilst trying to target an enemy. This is something that needs to be corrected as these arcade style parts just are not realised properly.

So apart from the minor criticism and they are few and far between. Mass Effect is a brilliant title and one that immerses the player in an experience that is believable and beautiful. The storyline is engaging and you want to keep playing just to see how it unfolds.

Overall 8.5/10

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