Wednesday, August 31

Human Revolution's path of least resistance leads right into man-mountain

Originally, I had intended to invest more time in Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition and cover the PlayStation Network PLAY promotion; Deus Ex: Human Revolution has rubbished all chances of that happening. Well, happening in a timely manner at least. Perhaps that's another flaw of Sony's plagiarised marketing scheme? Instead of leading into the peak of AAA retail releases, they've decided to run with it concurrently. Brave (read: stupid) move

Believe it or not, I've actually to play Human Revolution on my laptop. It had nothing to do with renewed faith in my rig that failed to run The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings effectively, rather a new means of cost-effective grey importation is my motive for returning to the Master Race's platform of choice.

To my surprise - and my wallet's delight - the game runs reasonably well at default settings. Apart from some minor instances of screen-tearing during cut scenes, it looks just as good as - if not better than - a console game. Maybe I can buy more games on PC? Only time (and system requirements) will tell.

As for how it plays, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is nothing short of essential for those who enjoy the following intellectual properties: Batman, Ghost in the Shell or Metal Gear Solid. If you're like me, however, and you're a fan of all of the above, it's terrifyingly addictive. I can't stop thinking about it. I want to stop writing and play it some more..... right now!

Human Revolution's stealth mechanics work well enough, with the camera switching to third-person when players seek cover. The map details enemy movements and - with the right choice of augmentations - can even display cones of vision and the duration of an enemy's sense of alarm. At times, it even feels more fluid than MGS: an apparent source of inspiration. The ability to cloak also nods to both Konami's espionage action title and my favourite anime franchise. On the downside, you really need to invest in hacking upgrades if you wish to reap any benefit from reamining unseen; and the mini game that is the core of this aspect of the experience is just plain tedious. I dare say that Bioshock's effort was more endearing than that found in Human Revolution.

 Really, you're serious? No-one saw me?

For the record, the combat is awkward and there are some inconsistencies in context that are sometimes off-putting; but these faults aren't really enough for me to go shy of recommending this wholeheartedly. The aiming mechanics are a little too stiff, particularly with long range weapons. Also, NPCs don't really seem to mind when you perform suspicious actions, like decloaking after hacking a door that they were supposed to be protecting (provided of course that you're on the safe, publicly-accessible side of the doorway). I'm happy to suffer the combat issues (except for the instance outlined below), as I'm taking the stealth route, and the ignorant civilians and guards provide the odd laugh.

The lone boss fight that I've conquered was unenjoyable and contradictory in terms of the choices that I had made for both augmentations and strategy. No dermal armour or aiming upgrades meant that I was barely able to put up a fight or even jump between sources of cover. The clunky inventory system didn't really help matters either, as I had to constantly drop or rearrange items in order to hold ammo that I would then hurl at this burly bullet-sponge. In the end, I had to rely on my opponent's careless disregard for explosive devices - specifically, his own grenades - to have any chance at victory. After dying twenty-something times trying to take him on legitimately, I decided to cloak and find a hiding spot, and watch nature take its course. A noticable blemish on the otherwise fun experience that Human Revolution has provided thus far.

How are you enjoying the adventures of Adam Jensen? Are you opting for the stealth option as well, or have you chosen to employ the Schwarznegger approach?

Monday, August 29

PlayStation Network PLAY: Something old, something borrowed, something new

Having just recently survived Microsoft's Summer of Arcade promotion, I can't help but feel that PlayStation Network PLAY is a remarkably similar concept. Similar in that it is almost exactly the same in practice: participants purchase a handful (or in this case, just under) of polished downloadable titles to receive a free game. Remarkable in that no-one has really thought to reprimand Sony for their near-duplication of a competitor's marketing strategy; not even a week after they've finished proceedings. Sure, all retailers (digital storefronts and brick-and-mortar stores alike) employ different sales gimmicks regularly, and the "Buy X, Get Y Free" transaction isn't new either; but I can't help but feel as though my two consoles are only really different in name and appearance. The online experience, software offerings - even the way they are sold - are too familiar to generate any sensation that PlayStation Network PLAY is new, or even worthwhile.  

 Stop me if you've heard this one before...

Let's start with the lineup. Not one of the included titles is exclusive to the PSN: Renegade Ops and The Baconing will also be released on the Xbox Live Marketplace and PC while Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition and BloodRayne: Betrayal will only be made available on consoles. In the case of BloodRayne: Betrayal, it will be on sale via the competitor's service a week before it can even be downloaded by PlayStation 3 owners. That's right! Partake in the PlayStation Network PLAY promotion to play a game a week later than Xbox 360 owners; what an offer!  

Where the 2011 Summer of Arcade was a showcase for some promising new -and in one case, exclusive - IPs including Bastion, From Dust and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet; the inaugural Sony effort will feature only one, in the form of Renegade Ops. Fruit Ninja Kinect featured support for the Xbox 360's signature motion-control peripheral, whereas no PSN PLAY games will feature Move support. There is nothing about the promotion that effectively serves to differentiate it from the competitor or - worse yet - match it. The only positive thing I can think to say about PSN PLAY is that I won't need to spend as much money to take advantage of it. With only four games to buy and a discount thanks to my maligned and near-expired PlayStation Plus subscription, my "free" game will cost me about sixty dollars as opposed to the eighty-something bucks I ended up paying for Crimson Alliance.  

I will concede that the pre-order system is new in the context of the "PSN Vs XBLM" paradigm, but the benefits are questionable in terms of value. In the case of Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online at least, players are downloading a key for something they could've unlocked through sustained play. Otherwise we're generally looking at themes and (*shudder*) PlayStation Home items. It's better than nothing, however, once again we're looking at two promotions with little to separate them.  

What's the solution to the deadlock? I'm not sure, but duplication of services and benefits is not the answer.   


EDIT: Gamespot had the release date for BloodRayne: Betrayal listed incorrectly. The game was not available from the XBLM on Wednesday.

    Saturday, August 27

    You Can't Teach That

    I've had Deus Ex: Human Revolution pre-loaded on my computer for over a week now. I finally sat down to play it last night, only to be greeted with a message advising that the game files were fragmented. So, I did what any responsible, tired gamer would do: I gave the go ahead for a clean-up operation.

    I thought it would take no longer than five minutes; besides, how can files I've only just downloaded be in need of maintenance? Ten minutes passed; then twenty. "Stuff it," I thought. On to Street Fighter III: Online Edition.

    While I am still very much looking forward to playing Human Revolution, SFIII is somewhat of an enigma: a fighting game so deep and polished that I had very rarely engaged with prior to now. If you don't know, I love my fighting games and I spent the better part of my childhood playing Street Fighter II: Championship Edition on the Sega Mega Drive. I was addicted to Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Namco's Soul Edge, Soul Calibur and Tekken games.

    You could argue that the timing for Street Fighter III - across each of its three revisions - was just plain wrong. Arcade gaming was on the decline and Street Fighter III hit the console scene during a time of generational change. Not that I didn't have a Sega Dreamcast, but most titles of note were difficult to find in Australian stores; particularly when the machine hit "fire sale" status.

    Now, more than a decade after the release of each three versions of Street Fighter III, I finally have a copy of the game loaded on my PlayStation 3's hard drive.

    Last night I played solo. I tried the Challenge mode first up, hoping to get my head around the parry: a Street Fighter III fundamental that would only see light again as a "Groove" in Capcom Vs SNK 2: Mark of the Millennium. There's no hand-holding, you select a mission and are thrown in against an AI opponent who'll typically perform a move that you are to parry. There's not even any hint for new players on how to parry. "Just do it," Capcom says. The hands-off approach worked well enough: I can now confidently parry projectiles and even parts of super combos. Whether I have any chance of emulating Daigo's daring escape from certain defeat at EVO 2004 remains to be seen.

    I also had a bash at the standard Arcade mode and can report that the standard difficulty is pretty tough. Once again, Capcom doesn't appear to be interested in easing new players into what Street Fighter III has to offer. It is sink, or swim. 

    Just this eve, I spent a solid three hours playing the game in local multiplayer with my brother. When we did have access to a copy of Street Fighter III previously (via the Street Fighter Anniversary Collection on Xbox), he handed my own ass to me for a week straight using the blue-haired Guile clone, Remy. I learned that Ryu's forward strong punch could undo my brother's turtling (for those who don't know, that means blocking most of time and then performing the odd, opportunistic attack), but that time he had me pegged was unbearable. 

    Things were different this time. We were about even after it was all said and done, and we made some interesting observations:
    • Akuma is a wee bit overpowered
    • Double KOs are still hilarious
    • Half the cast was almost entirely disregarded: Twelve, Oro, Urien and Necro were the most unpopular.
    • Hugo and Alex were the biggest surprises. Their move sets are by no means accessible (lots of full and half circles), but they had enough power behind them to keep us both wary. 
    • I am no good with Chun-Li
    • There is nothing more satisfying than performing a much-needed parry
    I hope I get the chance to sit down with family and play this some more. Solid netcode is great, but fighting games are most effective when you're battling the people adjacent to you. 

    I haven't yet taken the game online but am enjoying it regardless. The persistent challenges (which measure projectile spam, super finishes and more) are terribly addictive and the game still looks beautiful. If you've got the money, the time and - most importantly - the friends: I strongly recommend that you give it a go. 

    What are you playing this weekend?

    Wednesday, August 24

    I survived the "Summer of Arcade," and all I got was this avatar shirt

    I also found a "Game of the Year" contender, but more on that later.  

    The annual Summer of Arcade promotion always presents some of the best downloadable games to be released in a calendar year. Previous highlights include the fiendishly-addictive Trials HD  - released in 2009 - and indie darling Limbo which dropped during last year's festivities. Not every title released during this campaign is a winner though. Turtles in Time at a premium price was a bitter pill to swallow, and multiplayer-centric Castlevania: Harmony of Despair was released to mixed reviews.

    All things considered, the 2011 iteration of Summer of Arcade has been the most inconsistent in terms of quality: Bastion was easily the best game of the five released, while Fruit Ninja Kinect was lacking in longevity and brought the surprise back injury that's been missing from previous years' offerings. From Dust was a technical powerhouse that delivered frustration in spades and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet's loose shooting mechanics was also cause to swear under your breath. Toy Soldiers: Cold War was cheesy, unadulterated fun by myself, but any attempt to bring other people to my toy box resulted in my Xbox 360 shedding bandwidth-flavoured tears.

    While I've already spoiled the revelation hinted at above: Bastion was a real treat, and easily one of the most enjoyable games that has been released so far this year. The seemless blend of familiar Action RPG play mechanics, touching story and innovative narrative mechanics stole my heart and has become somewhat of an obsession. I've since bought the soundtrack and a copy of the game on PC. I'm also desperately hoping for some other opportunistic merchandising to appear in the near future. Seriously, someone look at creating action figures of The Kid, the pet pecker, and Zulf; I can promise that one set would sell at the very least.

     Imagine this scene, faithfully re-created using action figures *squeals*

    I'm also glad that Microsoft have opted for the "free" game instead of the points rebate that was previously the norm. I have a tendency to spend Microsoft Points as soon as they're added to my account, and my recent choices have not been great. Rush n' Attack: Ex-Patriot: I'm looking at you.

    If I had to boil my experience down to a set of purchase recommendations, it would read as follows:

    Buy - Bastion.
    Definitely try - From Dust and Toy Soldiers: Cold War.
    Skip - Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet for now and pick it up when it is eventually subject of a "Deal of the Week" promotion.
    Throw to the wolves - Fruit Ninja Kinect. Pick up Fruit Ninja for your smart phone or tablet device -at a significantly lower price -instead; because the developer, Halfbrick deserve at least some of your money.

    Did you pick up all five Summer of Arcade releases? What was your favourite?

    Summer of Arcade 2011 coverage:

    Monday, August 22

    Toy Soldiers: Cold War Review (X360) - Passive-Aggressive Tower Defense starring Sylvester Stallone

    The original Toy Soldiers - released early last year - featured World War I-themed tower defense gameplay with a twist: players could take control of towers to make more effective use of their respective abilities. Not being a huge fan of the genre, I didn't indulge in anything past the trial. This different approach showed promise, however, and all it really needed was a hint of colour and familiarity to click with me. Developer Signal Studios must have been reading my mind, as Toy Soldiers: Cold War is oozing with Eighties action hero bombast.

    The Good
    Toybox - Cold War is like a trip down memory lane. An uncanny amalgamation of Sly Stallone across every Rambo film, a mass of plastic vehicles and G.I. Joe-inspired packaging await any Eighties child with an Xbox 360 and an internet connection. All of the game's warzones are a heart-warming mix of familiar global landmarks and domestic locales. Whether it was in the training mission where you're breaking Russian dolls with a minigun, or towards the end when you're defending a scale miniature Washington Monument, I kept thinking back to the days when all I wanted was a Turtle Van, Optimus Prime and a Dino Riders T-Rex. It's odd that this game has created such a strong sense of nostalgia given that no popular toys are explicitly represented.

    Got it on tape? - Toy Soldiers: Cold War features some strong sound design that will have you in stitches on occasion. No matter how many times I heard it, the "Commando" unit always evoked a wry smile if not a full-bodied laugh. As above, he's an unashamed Rambo clone, complete with hilarious quotes and Stallone-esque wails and battle cries. The score is chock full of epic action movie riffs and more cheese than you could ever need. It definitely does justice to its multiple inspirations which include: Rambo, Top Gun, Rocky IV and G.I. Joe. 

    They drew first paint, not me.

    On the ground and in the air - Each of Cold War's numerous turrets and vehicles all feature intuitive and responsive controls that encourage extended play. I got through the campaign in two reasonably lengthy sessions and found that despite the repetition, the frantic action and numerous Barrage abilities - which include summoning the aforementioned commando, an AC-130-esque gunship, nukes and more - made for an entertaining experience that is easy to recommend.

    Gift set - Cold War offers quite a lot of bang for the 1200 Microsoft Point price tag. While the online competitive mode is near unplayable, you have a five hour campaign that includes eleven missions and five difficulty modes, survival mode - which can be played solo or in local or online co-op - and an assortment of minigames. Survival mode may only feature three maps, but I found the hectic twist on the formula to be quite addictive.

    The Bad
    Cake walk - I only failed once throughout the entire campaign on Normal difficulty, and that just happened to be in the first mission. You'll very rarely be challenged on the default difficulty setting, particularly in levels which have drivable vehicles available. Seasoned defenders may want to start on hard.

    Air support is perhaps a little too supportive

    Out of the way, please - The default camera setting in Cold War is just a little too close to the action. If it weren't for the helpful indicator on screen that shows how many of each enemy are left in a particular wave, you'd find that an unacceptable amount of traffic would slip through to the keeper (or toy box in this instance). Even with the indicator, it is easy enough to miss an enemy unit on dark or cluttered maps. The camera also has a tendency to get stuck behind structures when you're flying or driving vehicles.

    The Ugly
    Catch up! - Toy Soldiers: Cold War features a promising online versus mode which is completely undone by connectivity issues and unplayable levels of lag. I joined just over a handful of matches which either came to an early end due to losing the connection or my opponent quitting on account of the stuttering mess on screen. When I say promising, I don't mean to say that it would necessarily work with a solid connection either. The one match I did play to the end featured a ten minute stalemate that was only resolved when I placed my controller on the coffee table and made some lunch. The groundwork for an enjoyable adversarial mode is there, but the developers need to think about giving some incentive for going on the attack.  

    Stick to your strength - After completing each campaign level, players unlock the ability to play through again in "General" mode. General mode takes away the ability to control vehicles and turrets, meaning that it plays like every other tower defense game with one glaring difference: tower AI in Cold War is set at one notch below "completely inept." So many times I witnessed enemies walking within range of a whole field worth of turrets and not come under fire. Frustration guaranteed!

    The Verdict
    Toy Soldiers: Cold War offers hours of fun and little in the way of irritation. The cheesy Eighties vibe that permeates throughout every battle, menu and load screen is thoroughly relatable and likeable. While I wouldn't bother taking the game online, there's still plenty of content to play through and it's well worth the price of admission. A fitting end to the Summer/Winter of Arcade promotion.   

    Sunday, August 21

    Hearts on the line as an Owlboy waits in earnest

    Indie developer D-Pad Studios have put their collective hearts on the line with the release of the demo for their upcoming 2D platformer, Owlboy. The meaty trial (available after the jump) lasts over an hour and gives players a pretty good idea of what they can expect when the full game drops at the end of the year: beautiful, pixelated graphics, solid shooting mechanics and array of charming, whimsically-designed foes.

    Thanks to Alex for the tip via our Facebook page.

    Friday, August 19

    MadWorld Review (Wii) – Black and White Noir at Bargain Bin Prices

    Stranded on the desolate Jefferson Island, the chainsaw wielding Jack Cayman must hack, chop, disembowel and dismember the Killseekers as he battles his way through the DeathWatch Games. A violent version of Big Brother, the DeathWatch Games is the most watched series on television, with corporate sponsorship and big money payouts enticing every day citizens to pick up a weapon, find their neighbour and kill them.

    To progress through MadWorld you must roam the streets, take out as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, all while earning enough points to fight the boss. Once the boss is done, it’s onto the next level to start your violent rampage again.

    The Good
    For the most part, MadWorld is fun. It looks and feels like a Frank Miller graphic novel, with the only colours used being red and yellow. All the environments are created in black and white and as you make a noise, the sound bite is displayed on screen. For example when you throw your enemies into the Rose Bush (a big wall of spikes) it displays a very comic book SPLAT and CRUNCH. This mixed with the spray of blood is a very cool aesthetic.

    The controls are simple enough, with regular movement of the nunchuck and wiimote required for tasks such as a variety of punches, quick escapes and finishing/special moves. It doesn’t take long to learn how to mix up different attacks and get a high score, with new combinations and unique killing methods regularly presenting themselves.

    Creatively killing enemies is another great aspect of this game. As you progress through each stage, more opportunities open up allowing you to expand your killing repertoire. Environmental objects such as meat hooks, circular saws and moving trains create a deadly world for both you and your enemies. Some of the more creative ways to die are shown in the BloodBath Challenge. These generate extra points and a bit of a laugh, with an entertaining pimp named the Black Baron introducing each challenge and falling victim to its trap every time.

    Creative killing earns bonus points
    The Bad
    The voice acting isn’t good and feels like a dodgy anime at times. While most sentences flow, it’s like some were just cut and pasted together to form dialogue, with a number of conversations between characters sounding very choppy. Agent 13 has a dodgy European accent and Jack feels like the producers wanted Hellboy’s Ron Pearlman but settled for someone else. On the flipside, the commentary from the TV presenters is often hilarious although repetitious. There are only so many times that you can throw someone into the Rose Bush or hack someone with a chainsaw and laugh at the same line over and over.

    The boss fights are disappointing and varying in difficulty, but not increasingly difficult. The second boss seemed harder than the third and fourth boss and although some are challenging at first, the second you get near to them you have the opportunity to go into close combat (shaking the wiimote/nunchuck then moving as per the onscreen instructions) and then ultimately finish them off. Do this twice and it’s game over for the CPU.

    The Ugly
    The view is fixed and royally horrible. Positioned above the head and slightly behind the body, you find yourself constantly hitting C to reset your view to see where you are going. Had it been further back and higher to allow greater scope, MadWorld would be easier to play and more enjoyable to watch. The targeting system is also flawed, with the ability to lock your view onto targets difficult due to the fact you can’t look directly at them long enough to make it stick. This is the main difficulty in any boss fight.

    Navigation is also frustrating with new bonuses opening up regularly but no real way to find them. Whilst all BloodBath Challenges and Boss Fights are marked on the map, unless I knew the map well, most new weapons, free lives and incentives went to waste.

    The Verdict
    7.0 Feeling like an early black and white cartoon version of Bulletstorm, MadWorld takes cues from such pop culture icons as Evil Dead, Death Race, The Running Man and Frank Miller’s graphic novels/movies, particularly Sin City. While the black and white visuals mixed with a red arterial spray or comic-esque yellow sound bites are a refreshing change, the repetition of the landscape and audio make it hard to want to pick it up again in the near future. Despite this, MadWorld is one of the Wii’s finest and is an enjoyable game, especially if you’re in the mood for ultra violence, mindless destruction and mayhem for less than $20.

    Wednesday, August 17

    Fruit Ninja Kinect Review (X360) - You'll want a tablet for your back

    Available on Android, iOS and Windows Phone 7, Fruit Ninja is a true success story for the Australian games industry and the casual gaming revolution at large. If you've never played an iteration of the game prior to now, it's safe to assume one of two things:
    1. You're still packing a Nokia 3320 and are of firm belief that Snake is as good as mobile gaming can get.
    2. You've awoken from a coma recently and are still unsure as to why you can't find Game Boy Colour games at your local games retailer. 
    Microsoft have opted to include a motion-controlled version of the game as part of its Summer/Winter of Arcade promotion this year with mixed results.

    The Good
    Bring the family - While I'm not a huge fan of Kinect-powered gaming or motion control in general, Fruit Ninja Kinect will get young and old off their feet and swinging their arms with gay abandon. My wife was more than happy to trial this title with me; something I can't say for any other game I've reviewed this year.

     I am NOT cleaning this up!

    Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! - Few would refer to me as patriotic, but I'm still very proud of Brisbane developer Halfbrick's tilt at world domination through casual gaming. To think that this touch and motion-controlled phenomenon was born from developers based in my hometown is enough to warm my cold, black heart.

    "Tuck-shop lady arms" be gone! - This an observation from my lovely wife: the frantic flailing of limbs required to succeed in Fruit Ninja Kinect will ensure that excess arm flab becomes a thing of the past. I'm no personal trainer, but my experience with the game produced a few litres of sweat and some sore appendages; but more on that later.

    Spirit of competition - Fruit Ninja Kinect employs a leaderboard system that allows for sometimes-spiteful fruit slashing fun. Upon finishing a game, your score will be ranked above or below your friend's best efforts which - in the case of our household - led to many incendiary hand gestures. While the gameplay itself wasn't always satisfying, smashing a friend's score always was.

    The Bad
    The question of value - Fruit Ninja Kinect is as much as fifteen times more expensive than other versions of the game. Sure, some may not have local multiplayer or properly functioning leaderboards (I'm looking at you, Windows Phone 7 version!), but whether you get more fun out of this exponentially-more expensive version is debatable.

    The Ugly
    Be sure to stretch - Embarrassing admission: I threw my back out something fierce after my first session with Fruit Ninja Kinect. To be frank, I was about two ibuprofen tablets shy of agony after flinging my arms around in front of my Kinect sensor like a madman. Halfbrick and Microsoft may not have thought to warn you, but I will: stretch, and stretch well before you play this game. You're welcome.

    Unfaithful - Fruit Ninja Kinect's gesture-based controls are inaccurate at best, and just plain non-responsive at their worst. Short slicing motions will often fail to register at all; meaning that you'll miss all of those smaller fruits that evade your larger swings. To make matters worse, almost every backswing would get picked up by the Kinect sensor and there was - at times - noticeable lag between a large swinging motions and when they appeared on screen.  I couldn't achieve scores anywhere near those you'd find on my Windows Phone 7 handset. I couldn't even hit triple figures in Classic mode.

    Good luck with that errant pear.

    Bare bones - Apart from your friends inching ever closer to your high scores, there's very little to bring you back to Fruit Ninja Kinect. If it weren't for the room-hogging local multiplayer (co-op and competitive modes are available) and gesture-based controls, there's very little here that you can't experience on your phone or tablet - and I'm sorry that I can't get away from this - at a considerably-lower price.

    The Verdict
    Make no mistake, Fruit Ninja Kinect offers fun for the entire family. How much fun however, is dependent on how much time you've spent with the game previously on other platforms. The inaccurate controls and lack of longevity also make this hard to recommend.

    Monday, August 15

    Red Faction: Armageddon Review (X360): Of mice and men.... and monsters and magnet guns

    Save for this year's horrible downloadable release, Red Faction: Battlegrounds: the Red Faction franchise would have to be one of the most consistent in terms of quality. Not to say that any instalment was worthy of great praise, but each has provided me with a challenging campaign, interesting weapons and an enjoyable multiplayer suite. Never "Game of the Year" contenders, but each with enough redeeming features to warrant a purchase. Red Faction: Armageddon continues the trend; delivering a solid, though unspectacular experience, with a bland story, lengthy campaign and a magnet gun.

    The Good
    Controlled carnage - The Red Faction series is renowned for the ability to destroy terrain and structures in each instalment. Armageddon turns this trait on its head, allowing players to undo all the damage they've done with the Nano-Forge. Repairing an entire structure from nothing but wreckage can have an almost cathartic effect; particularly when you're almost walking on air as you piece a bridge back together.

    The ground beneath your feet - The level of destruction that you can bring to each of Armageddon's environments is at times breathtaking, if not hilarious. In the midst of heated firefights I would use guns and Nano-Forge abilities to literally melt the structures that my enemies were hanging from. Sometimes it was annoying to use "Impact" only to find that I had destroyed the floor I was walking on; but thanks to the ability to repair anything and everything, the frustration I felt was limited.

    This could hurt me more than it hurts you.

    Animal magnetism - Ammo can be scarce in Armageddon - particularly towards the end - so the magnet gun with its infinite ammo and ability to throw creatures and structures for miles is a master stroke. There are few things more satisfying than sending an entire level of a structure right into an enemy's face.

    On rails, in the air and through buildings - Armageddon is chock-full of varied vehicle sequences which are all a great deal of fun. Things start off pretty quietly with the L.E.O exo-skeleton, but by the end of the game you'll have piloted a Marauder Walker (my personal favourite), rode a mine cart and even taken to the air in an Inferno fighter. Each vehicle sequence features responsive controls and an array of powerful weapons which allow you to dismantle the game's environments even quicker than you could if you were on foot.

    Quite the looker - Despite some questionable (read: cliched) art direction, Armageddon features technically-impressive visuals with a bright colour palette. Very rarely did I notice the frame rate dip, and some of the environments were truly captivating; particularly when I was in the midst of ripping them apart.

    New Game Plus - If you're looking for easy marks from me, add a "New Game Plus" option. Armageddon affords players the ability to carry over their arsenal and ability unlocks to a new game upon finishing the campaign for the first time. Brilliant move, Volition! You also get access to Mr Toots, the most adorable and powerful weapon that Mars has ever seen.

    The Bad
    Slow start - Despite the combat-heavy opening sequence, Armageddon takes hours to hit its stride. When you do finally get your hands on some of the more devastating weapons and you hit the slew of enjoyable vehicle sequences, the campaign seems to be paced well enough; but it never seems to wash away those first three or so cave-filled hours.

    If I die, tell my wife: "Hello." - I didn't care for any of the characters in Armageddon. In more cases than should be allowable, I even forgot the names of some central characters. Every now and then I'd happen upon Chesty Love Interest and Old Army Buddy, but when I did there was no sense of warmth or connection. The anthropomorphised villains were just plain stupid-looking, dressed like bugs and all. There was not a single memorable plot twist or line of dialogue to be found either. Armageddon is about as vanilla as a shooter can get.

    Mars survival tip: Cleavage CAN save lives.

    The Ugly
    Accidental villain - Though not explicitly unlikeable, Darius Mason is somewhat of an irresponsible tool. I'll try not to spoil too much, but the lead character never shows a great deal of remorse and ultimately fails to acknowledge that he is culpable for a great many civilian deaths. As a result, he is never really redeemed in spite of his many victories.

    Meh-worthy multiplayer - It seems that Horde mode knock-offs - where players work together against waves of enemies - are the order of the day. There's nothing necessarily broken about it, but Infestation is never taxing - thanks to plenty of ammo pick-ups and quickly regenerating health - and lacks any shred of originality. Multiplayer offerings in the series' previous instalments have always been gimmicky, but they often had enough depth to warrant more than the glance that Armageddon deserves.

    Oh, the humanity! - In a lot of the marketing material that I consumed in the lead-up to its release, I somehow got the impression that Armageddon was supposed to be a survival horror game. It is anything but, with colourful monsters and lighting effects, and unconvincing gore. On the topic of monsters, there's not enough variety in them to stave off tedium either.

    I'd be scared if it weren't for all the pretty colours. 

    The Verdict
    While it's lacking personality and any sense of originality, Red Faction: Armageddon still manages to offer hours of fun. The vast arsenal of weapons, upgrades and Nano-Forge abilities should do enough to keep most players happy; and I have no trouble recommending it if you find it at the right price. It doesn't offer much outside of the campaign, but thanks to an unbridled amount of destruction and some quality vehicle sequences, it is another solid entry in the Red Faction franchise.

    Saturday, August 13

    The Cheevos of Life

    There must have been something very good in the water in November/December with a number of people I know either expecting children of their own or becoming an uncle or aunty for the first time.

    Personally, I’m expecting my second child in September and I believe Dutch has just become an uncle (or it’s very imminent). When I found out about Dutch, I suggested he come over and learn how to change a nappy, just so he could seem like the uber cool brother who already knew what he was doing, despite not having kids (and without appearing like some kind of child offender…). In true Dutch style, his reply was, “Only if I can earn Cheevos”.

    This got me thinking – if life were a game, what would you earn achievements for and what would they be worth?

    Games like Guitar Hero reward you for failures (and epic failures at that), while Duke Nukem Forever rewards you for finding a poo, picking it up and throwing it. You don’t get much for these actions but I suspect if it were to happen in the real world you wouldn’t receive much praise either.

    PGR4, Burnout and Need For Speed reward you for traveling at high speed and driving dangerously, whether it be a part of the game or an actual XBLA/PSN achievement. Last time I checked, those little yellow pieces of paper from QLD Police, stern conversations from the man in blue starting with "Get off the bike we'll be here for a while" or the photo of your car going sideways through an intersection aren’t achievements. There are points involved but they decrease on your license and make you take the bus to work.

    When it comes to families and having kids, game oriented couples should definitely implement a cheevo system, especially if the man of the house would rather play games than wipe a smelly bum.

    The content is the same, only the packaging differs...

    You could earn points for most consecutive nappy changes, biggest ‘disposal’ of the week or even most times spewed on after a feed with bonus points given if it’s a midnight feed or just before you’re going to work (and therefore need to find a new shirt and iron it before going to work because the same thing happened last week but on a smaller scale and you didn’t notice until lunchtime but wondered what the smell was). Negative cheevos are given if you go to work with spew still on you.

    What do you think? Can cheevo’s translate into the real world? What are the points worth and what should you get once you hit a milestone?

    Wednesday, August 10

    Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet Review (X360) – Inviting, Tedious, Short, Pricey.

    In the lead-up to its release, many had likened the elaborately-named Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (ITSP) to classic platformers such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Metroid Fusion. In terms of concept, I believe the comparison to be accurate enough; as the game gradually introduces new weapons and equipment that allow for players to explore parts of the play area that were previously inaccessible. In terms of execution however, there is very little left to go back to, and the expanded arsenal doesn't necessarily need to be implemented in combat. Striking visuals aside, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet doesn't have the depth to be mentioned in the same breath as a quality "Metroidvania" title.

    The Good
    Delicious direction - Much like the other releases we've seen in this year's Summer of Arcade promotion, ITSP features striking art direction with wonderfully animated organic and mechanical foes and obstacles set in clean, colourful and varied environments. The game's cut scenes while used sparingly are well produced and beautiful to behold. 

     ...AND THAT is how babies are made!

    Sounds evil - The sound design featured in ITSP is sufficiently dark to draw strong contrast to the vibrant visuals. Upon taking damage, players are treated to a Jaws-esque audio cue that creates a real sense of tension. Each of the corrupted planet’s inhabitants are also capable of stirring players to action with a cacophony of screeches and roars to let you know that they mean to do you harm. 

    Momentum – There were some parts of the game – particularly early on – where it felt almost whimsical. The colour and weighty movement mechanics made for a genuine sense of discovery.

    The Bad
    Watch where you point that thing - This is more a quibble than a genuine problem, but on multiple occasions I found some of my weapons getting caught in tight spaces or slowing me down when they brushed against the earth or the planet's florae. The momentum-killing potential that my deadly appendages afforded me was often annoying.

    Missed multiplayer potential - Lantern Run is a more visually-appealing take on F.3.A.R's "F$@king Run" mode, with up to four players tasked with escaping death at the hands of a large, tentacled monster in a tunnel punctuated with “arenas”: where groups of smaller creatures must be dealt with quickly to progress. I could never find a full match and connection quality was spotty at best, but working together with complete strangers to escape certain death was fun for a little while. Lantern Run could have been a worthwhile addition to ITSP but ultimately it fails to deliver. 

     Insert Iron Maiden lyrics.

    The ends of the earth – After completing the campaign proper – which takes about six hours - there is very little left of the shadow planet for players to explore. I didn’t even really try to find most of the collectable upgrades and artwork scattered throughout the map, and yet there’s still very little for me to find after besting the final boss battle. There just isn’t enough content here to justify the asking price (1200 Microsoft Points).

    The Ugly
    That's not a weapon! - Most of the unlockable weapons in ITSP have a very specific purpose: generally they're used for puzzles in one of the game's environments. There's no mixing up your arsenal to get the edge in combat: more often than not I would just spam my alien foes with the saw blade appendage. The majority of the nine attachments on offer have some very specific applications that make for cheap and repetitive combat.

    How bad is it, Doc? - During several boss fights - and just about any time I found myself in a large, open space - the camera zooms out to a point where it is very hard to discern how much damage your little ship has taken. This was particularly frustrating during the final boss fight, where I was little more than a black blemish compared to the hulking monster below.

    Got a light? - The last of the shadow planet’s five zones is played out in a darkened area illuminated only by some bright lines in the background and a lantern that players must carry along with them. This disorienting experience was made even worse by barely visible enemies and a wide camera angle. I could hardly see my ship, I died a lot, and I didn't have much fun.

    Stormtrooper syndrome - Aiming in ITSP is inconsistent, often inaccurate and a real blight on the entire experience. In several boss fights a sure hand is required, but the finicky aiming controls had me missing the mark and meeting my demise more times than I could count. This may have been alleviated with an on-screen reticule, but for the majority of the game I was cursing under my breath on account of the loose targeting controls. 

     You'll know what you need to do, but good luck making the shot.

    The Verdict
    Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is dripping with charm in terms of presentation, but it’s too shallow and frustrating to justify the steep price of admission. The art direction and sound design are of an equally-high standard to its Summer of Arcade contemporaries, but it doesn’t match them in terms of fun and longevity. Good, but hard to recommend given the cost.

    Monday, August 8

    Minus PlayStation Plus

    I'm not renewing my PlayStation Plus subscription. A decision I reaffirmed after reading an email from Sony last week, reminding me what PlayStation Plus offered me over the course of a year and a bit: a mass of  (usually dated) content that I couldn't possibly need or find the time to play through.

    Ironically enough, that was one of the reasons I championed the service at first. Upon signing up for my first year I was gifted with Little Big Planet and could download a further six games.... that I had previously purchased. I did have better luck with the second month in that I didn't already own most of the content on offer, but it turns out there was a reason for that: it was all shite.

    The subsequent monthly offerings rarely impressed. Only once was I genuinely caught off guard, with Stacking made available to subscribers at no cost. Red Faction Battlegrounds was another complimentary title, but let's face it: it is the worst game to be released this year. My Plus subscription also afforded me access to some "exclusive" betas, but few were actually worth the time and bandwidth. I could never find a match during the SOCOM: Special Forces beta. The inFamous 2 User-Generated Content beta was an abject failure in terms of user-friendliness and participation. The Uncharted 3 beta went public before I even got the chance to play it. There were also two Killzone 3 beta trials, but more on that later.

    There was one issue however that sealed the fate of my Plus subscription months ago. Believe it or not, it wasn't the whole hacking saga. My personal details being compromised and my privacy being violated was a concern; but by this point, my decision had already been made. That, and Burnout Paradise was the reparation delivered to PlayStation Plus subscribers - which at that point was pretty much anyone who owned a PlayStation before April - which is a game that I had once again previously purchased.

    I'm cancelling my PlayStation Plus subscription because of the Killzone 3 closed beta. For those of you who don't know - or have understandably forgotten - participation in the closed beta was afforded to the first ten thousand Plus subscribers who downloaded a Killzone 3 XMB theme. Paying just-under seventy dollars a year wasn't enough to gain access to a multiplayer demo; you had to jump through another little hoop to have the honour.

    That just about did it for me. The much-publicized PlayStation Network outage didn't help matters for sure, but I didn't appreciate the audacity of Sony asking me to do even more to get my money's worth.

    Funnily enough, I recently extended my Xbox Live subscription even though I rarely play multiplayer games on my 360. Maybe it has something to do with that service being a necessity where PlayStation Plus is a luxury.

    A luxury in which I no longer wish to indulge.

    No thanks, I'm on a diet.

    1. Welcome Back to PlayStation Plus - EU PlayStation Blog
    2. The Killzone 3 Beta Starts On The 25th October (and here is your chance to get in!) - EU PlayStation Blog
    3. The PlayStation Network Returns; Normalcy Won't - Kotaku

    Saturday, August 6

    Portal 2 Review (PS3) – Bouncing off the walls…again.

    This week’s review comes from long time friend, first time contributor Petey. I got a call early one morning about Portal 2 this and Portal 2 that. With so much enthusiasm, I had to capitalize on an opportunity to discuss what is essentially a great game and the follow up to Valve Corporation’s critically acclaimed 2007 release. So, without further ado, here are the words of Petey on Portal 2.

    Taking place directly after the conclusion of the original, protagonist Chell wakes many years in the future since destroying the rogue AI unit GLaDOS who took over the portal testing facility. When she wakes, the facility’s once pristine appearance is now decrepit and overgrown.

    As Chell and another character, Wheatley, move through the test chambers, GLaDOS is inadvertedly reactivated and puts the two through the paces as she rebuilds the facility. Wheatley tricks GLaDOS, trapping her core in another body, then becomes drunk with power and banishes both Chell and GLaDOS to an abandoned area of the facility deep underground. From here, the two characters must work their way back to the main chamber and take control from Wheatley.

    The good
    Having not played the first game, the concept really intrigued me. I love the idea of being able to access another room just by being able to point my Portal Gun (which by the way is the only thing you can see of yourself in your view) through a hole in the glass and opening a portal on a ‘white’ surface. You start off nice and easy just getting from one room to another, from down here to up or over there which can be as far as you can see.
    The concept of using the portal to get to higher ground (source: Wikipedia. Yes I went to Wikipedia)

    Some of the puzzles you need to solve are pretty easy, some are really hard and some are a little stupid; for the most part it's great. Challenges lay not only in picking the correct path, but firing out one portal, then another in mid air (on an angle no less) in order to build momentum and get you to distant, and otherwise inaccessible, areas of the testing grounds.

    With a number of challenges presenting themselves, the game introduces gels with different properties to assist Chell with her journey. For example, the blue repulsion gel allows you jump further while the orange propulsion gel makes you run faster. A mixture of the gels and correctly placed portals will get you where you need to go.

    The introduction of wormholes that are used to slowly get you from one side of the room to another puts an interesting spin on things and makes up for the very annoying gun turrets. Despite their frustrations, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game is the challenge of getting around them, specifically, making them fall through the floor then the roof to the floor or on top of one of their own, ultimately leading to their destruction. :)

    In addition, the voice acting of each character was also well done with the music providing great ambience for the game.

    The bad
    At times the game’s layout and design can be a little annoying as you only follow the one path laid out for you even though the game’s challenges are meant to occur by chance sometimes. You never get the opportunity to stumble upon something new and there is only one way to do each level. A little variety in design could’ve made this game much better.

    Some of the challenges aren’t well weighted, with many challenges either much too easy or ridiculously hard. Albeit puzzle games are designed to stimulate the mind, working out what you need to do to move through the last door and finish each level can be a killer on the brain.

    The ugly
    The only truly ugly aspect of this game is one particular level that had me stumped. It’s near impossible requirement of having to destroy three turrets behind a glass wall kept me up at night. Once I worked out the resolution to the puzzle, I was far from impressed.

    The verdict
    8.0 All in all Portal 2 is a really good game. Simple in design yet very challenging, the mind bending concept and application is a brilliant way to capture the attention of gamers everywhere. Unlike a FPS or common puzzle base game, it truly pushes the boundaries and makes you think well outside the box to resolve the challenge.

    Wednesday, August 3

    Post-Scripts and Amateur Video

    I'm not bringing anything new to the table today.  Some recent industry news had me thinking on some of our older posts, so it's time for some reflection..... and awful, amateur video.

    The Man Vs The Fan: My First Impressions of Duke Nukem Forever
    Dawson's impressions of DNF pretty closely mirrored my experience with the undewhelming return of "The King." I didn't find the game disappointing so much as there was no way - realistically - for 3D Realms, Triptych Games and Gearbox to deliver on over a decade of expectation. That being said though, it is near impossible to recommend the game to anyone; even the most die-hard Duke fan. Even with Play-Asia selling the game at under twenty dollars (US) last week, I'd still opt for the classic, Duke Nukem 3D on your platform of choice.

    I'm still determined to finish it one of these days. Just so I can say that I conquered this ugly, buggy, and broken trip down memory lane. I'm not far in, but I did capture some footage of a glitch in progress. Please forgive the following:
    • My questionable camera work
    • My whiney voice

    Worse still, minutes later and the situation still hadn't resolved itself.

    I ran into this glitch minutes after loading my save. I didn't have the heart to sit through another loading screen, so I opted to finish up with From Dust.

    Ageing Gracefully: The 3DS Virtual Console and Nostalgia's Warm Embrace
    This was a timely piece. Weeks after this post and the trickle of classic portable releases slowed to whatever is slower than a trickle. Qix one week,  then Mario's Picross alone after that. One painfully-boring release after the next and my interest in the 3DS Virtual Console had flatlined.

    After some grim financial reports from Nintendo and the situation is set to change.

    Early adopters of the console will be gifted with twenty free downloadable games: ten NES games and ten Gameboy Advance games. I was also most pleased to hear that Metroid Fusion and Mario vs. Donkey Kong will be included as part of the deal. Those who come late to the 3DS party may not get free games, but they do get the console for a substantially-lower price. Anyone who logs onto the 3DS eShop before August 12 2011 will be eligible for the free games.

    Source: Kotaku AU

    Collector's Editions: Lots of dollars, not much sense
    I just wanted to gloat about this: my lovely wife just pre-ordered the Collector's Edition of Batman: Arkham City for me. Because I love anyone who reads this blog, you can order it for sixty dollars less than the asking price at

    What do you think of my amateur camera work? I'm sorry, if that counts for anything. Hey, who wants to see some more awkward, amateur video of From Dust? 

    Monday, August 1

    From Dust Review (X360) - The gods control the elements, but can't reign in the people

    I'll state this for the record: I have never enjoyed playing a god game, let alone any strategy game on a console. I've never played an instalment of the Populous franchise, and I didn't enjoy my time with Black & White. That makes the purchase of From Dust somewhat uncharacteristic for me, but I took the plunge on account of the striking art direction and - in all honesty - the fact that it's part of the Summer of Arcade promotion. In some ways the gambit has paid off, but shelve any illusions that From Dust is the first strategy game to work properly with a control pad. 

    The Good
    Breathtaking - From Dust is easily one of the most visually impressive Xbox Live Arcade titles available: from both artistic and technical perspectives. With awe-inspiring environmental effects, and a refreshing colour palette, players can literally shape the earth that their subjects tread on. The impact of the visuals is stronger still in the later stages, where you must protect a nomadic tribe from the combined threat of floods, volcanic eruptions, bushfires and tsunamis.

     Play it, you'll have a ball!

    Man Vs Wild - The special abilities players are granted throughout the campaign are not only amazing to behold, but also enjoyable to experiment with. Using the "jellify water" ability, you can recreate some Old Testament stories by parting the sea and even stop a tsunami dead in its tracks. "Infinite earth" grants the ability to make mountains from nothing to impede the flow of flood and lava. Players are sufficiently empowered with planet-shaping traits to combat Mother Nature's unrelenting attack. 

    Brain bender - Some of the final levels of the campaign are genuinely perplexing. The solutions that I employed - some of which I'm ashamed to admit were not my own - produced some grand visuals and a sense of achievement not found in the average strategy game.

    More than your money's worth - From Dust may be priced at 1200 Microsoft Points, but there is more than enough content to justify the cost. The package includes a lengthy (read: it took me about eight hours) campaign that spans thirteen levels of increasing difficulty and thirty challenge maps that task players with completing objectives with a limited set of abilities. Unlockable "memories," also afford some replay value for those who appreciate the game's chaotic brand of disaster management.

    The Bad
    Quiet, I'm trying to think - Even when you know the solution, things don't always go as planned in From Dust. This on its own is understandable, but it's nothing short of painful with tribesman screaming at you repeatedly for help. The sound design lacks the depth and impact of the visuals, and you'll have heard every sound the game has to offer after fifteen minutes of sustained play.

    Was it all a dream? - I'll try not to spoil anything, but the conclusion to the From Dust's story is far from satisfying.

    The Ugly
    The Lord commands you! - As glorious as it is to witness, From Dust suffers from some near-unforgiveable AI pathfinding issues. I can't count the amount of times that I had constructed two or more valid paths to an objective, only to have my subjects find a longer, more dangerous path or simply fail to acknowledge that one was available. Towards the end, this problem is even more apparent and frustrating. In some cases, my computer-controlled tribe created setbacks that - while easily remedied - led to another half hour of play. All of this could have been remedied if you could have some finer control over the tribe itself, but as it stands you can only tell them where to go; not how to get there.

     If you can't stand the heat, get out of God's kitchen!

    One trick god-pony - As varied as the environments are, the way that you interact with them is ostensibly the same. I found the simplistic play mechanics to be exhausting towards the end, particularly when the land and people didn't always react in a consistent matter. When the game worked, I genuinely felt like a god. When it didn't, my anger knew no bounds; I would often drop lava on uncooperative villagers and swear like a sailor. From Dust made me a vengeful god on account of its sometimes cheap and repetitive gameplay.

    The Verdict
    Many could be sold on From Dust based on visuals alone. The game looks magnificent when players enact god-like abilities to battle Mother Nature's fury. It's gratifying when it all works as intended and you manage to stop potential disasters at the touch of a button. More often than not however, AI pathfinding issues and other inconsistencies serve to cheapen the experience. I recommend From Dust to any fans of the god game genre, just be prepared for controller-throwing levels of agony and frustration.