Sunday, April 29

Backlog Tweetbook Q&A: Why do you love Borderlands?

Controversial admission: I don't like Borderlands. Don't get me wrong, I've tried; and this response to the latest "Bitmob Wants You" callout marks my fourth attempt at taming Gearbox Software's RPG/FPS hybrid.

After investing a few more hours, I still found myself unmoved. Hoping to gain some insight as to why it has been so popular and how I could come to love it myself, I decided to take to Facebook and Twitter to ask friends, family, colleagues and associates the following question: 

Do you love/like/hate Borderlands? Please tell me why!

Via Twitter:

@TheL4stQuestion: Best played with friends. Solo, it's a bit meh. Good to just zone out and grind, but becomes another beast with co-op.

@GarciaINCIDENT: It was good for a bit and then got repetitive and grindy to me. Nice ideas though. Kinda fun with other people at least.

@RaygunBrown: I loved the art style & guns. Hated that quest givers were basically cardboard cut outs. Story/world felt lifeless.

@shiggyninty: Becomes better when its Broderlands. But I loved it. Art was different and loved the guns.

@neinhandle: Art, guns and loot.

@JoelGreenius: Borderlands is amazing when playing co-op with some mates! You'll like it soon enough :P

Via Facebook:

Alex Connolly: I like Borderlands. Actually, I quite like Borderlands...just needed a little more NPC action and non-enemy life out in the wilderness.

Reuben Damen: I like because its the best RPG fps, many hours playing LAN co-op, very awesome game.

Blake Thompson: I liked it, was a fun FPS to play more than anything. I can't stand most of the CoD/BF/CS games in comparison.

Matt Pfingst: Love. Awesome 2 player, graphics are brown, the end.

Lincoln Damen: Hate. Complete lack of plot/story, crappy controls and soulless environment and repetitive missions. Liked the robot. 

Jason Stubbs: Like. It just feels kind of pointless after a while though. Very cold. But the gameplay makes up for it. It could be likened to a one night stand.

Sam Phillips: Loved it. The mix of cell shaded graphics and hyper violence had me hooked. The dialogue was funny enough to make up for any lack of solid well defined story line. Like Reuben said, we spent alot of time shooting skags in their mouth flaps and being freaked out by the maniacal panting of those little midgets.

So for those in the love/like camp, a very strong theme was apparent: I should be playing with friends or, if that wasn't possible, with others at the very least. This observation troubled me somewhat, as I've always played Borderlands in public lobbies and very often with company in tow. Granted, very rarely was I playing with friends, but most always I had a few randoms along for the ride. Art direction was another much-applauded aspect of the 2009 release, and I'd agree that the cel-shaded look suits an apocalyptic wasteland quite well. Finally, the lovers and likers seem to have great affection for the copious amounts of loot (specifically: guns) on offer to players throughout their respective adventures.

The haters and the indifferent have all brought up the same issues that ultimately ended my last three attempted playthroughs: it's repetitive, it's (invented word time) grindy and the game's story elements felt lifeless. If you can't find good company for your journeys through Pandora, you're left with an inhospitable wasteland with few redeeming features. 

Equipped with knowledge of what to look for and what to avoid, I returned to Pandora with a renewed sense of purpose. I played from an open lobby for seven hours and saw of lot of what people liked. I saw, collected and sold an impressive cache of guns and equipment.  I found an explosive pistol that helped me rack up many a satisfying kill. I played with a diverse range of characters: some who helped with my quests, some wandered off and acted without rhyme or reason, none were known to me personally. I meandered throughout the great expanse of Pandora and let time pass me by on what was -- outside of the world rendered on my laptop -- a miserable, rainy day. It wasn't entirely unenjoyable. 

I was still able to see those flaws, however. They were still obvious to the point where I can say, with confidence, that I'll never be able to love it like a great many of my friends and fellow Bitmobbers. The quest radar is just plain useless: I lost about forty minutes searching for an item that the game was telling me was really close by. I battled scores (and scores and scores and....) of skags. I "interacted" with no more than three NPCs, all through the use of menus and with a bare minimum of spoken dialogue. 

I'll admit that even now, Borderland's visuals hold up really well. The unusual style isn't processor-intensive (I'm playing on PC nowadays), and it looks just as clean as more recent FPS releases. I'll probably even buy the sequel at launch and try once again to fall in love. 

 A quick thank you to all that responded, and here's some follow-ups for you readers: 
  • Do you love/like/hate Borderlands? Tell us why? 
  • What about Borderlands did you love the most? 
  • Did you buy any/all of the DLC packages? 
  • Are you picking up Borderlands 2 in September?

Thursday, April 26

Rayman Origins Review (PSV): Childhood's greatest hits

I've never played any previous instalments in the Rayman franchise; but if the latest multiplatform release, Rayman Origins is anything to go by, I've been missing out big time. The game condenses all of the energy, whimsy and difficulty of games from my childhood into a longer-than-average platforming romp that simply must be played.

That isn't to say that Rayman Origins looks dated by any stretch. The UbiArt Framework engine is simply glorious to behold with hand-drawn sprites and backgrounds, all animated with verve and proficiency. The frame rate is (for the most part) consistent and it's easily the greatest visual spectacle available on the PlayStation Vita at and since launch. All aspects of presentation are pretty strong here: a delightful soundtrack (the theme from the treasure chest chases being my favourite) and art direction that is without equal. It's an audio-visual delight.
Wonderfully-rendered visuals aren't the sole measure of a game. If the controls and mechanics don't hold up, you may as well be looking at mud. Thankfully, Rayman Origins rewards care, memorisation and good reflexes with controls that are responsive and unlockable moves that you'll use often in your quest to collect Electoons. When you fail in this game, you have no one to blame but yourself: it handles that smoothly, even against the eventual onslaught of fiendish gaps and inflatable foes. It's also worth noting that the Vita version includes touch controls that are used sparingly (which just happens to be my favourite approach to touch controls). The only criticism I can level against it is that you'll be forced to repeat most of the game's levels if you want to see all that this package has to offer.

Even if you didn't have to replay a lot of content, Rayman Origins has legs for miles. I got well over ten hours worth of play out of the game, including solid boss fights and the greatest chases seen in a platformer. There's also some really enjoyable side-scrolling shooter levels that are perfectly placed throughout this lengthy adventure. The Vita version may not include co-op play like the home console versions, but there are plenty of collectables and challenges to keep you coming back long after you've finished the final boss fight.

That final fight, and most every level you'll run through offer a level of challenge that I've not experienced since Super Meat Boy. Rayman Origins may not be anywhere near as difficult (read: I actually finished this one), but I felt a genuine sense of accomplishment when I nabbed each ruby tooth and bested every boss fight. In fairness, it can be expensive-system-throwingly frustrating at times; but as above, the player is almost always to blame for any failures. It's the best kind of torture.

All things considered, Rayman Origins is the best platformer available on current generation hardware. It offers hours of addictive, challenging action that captures my favourite elements from games of generations past: charming visuals, memorable music and ball-busting difficulty. Not to say that the game lacks originality or feels dated; quite the opposite, in fact. Well worth your time and money, and one of the best games I've played this year.

Monday, April 23

Rayman Origins will teach my niece how to game

For personal reasons that I won't detail extensively, my wife and I won't be having children.   It is -- more than anything else -- a matter of choice. We're not fundamentally opposed to children; if anything, my wife, the dedicated teacher says "My kids are everything to me" on an almost daily basis. It's just that she is dedicated to furthering education and hell-bent on changing the world. My ambitions are nowhere near as grand or altruistic, but I want to support Carly however I can: if that means not having kids, I'm cool with that.

Besides, I'm more than happy showering attention on my niece, Arabelle. She's only about six months old, but I'm fairly sure that she'll end up a nerd like her father, her uncle and her aunty. In terms of learning to love fantasy and the opportunities that come with a strong sense of imagination: Dad has her covered. When it comes to literacy and worshipping the written word, Aunty Carly will be a mentor without equal. What can I give my beloved niece, her potential siblings and cousins? I could show them the value of hard work, the benefits of networking, how to write maybe?

I'll give all that I can, in addition to the gift of game.
My brother loves gaming just as much as I do, but while this may hurt for him to hear it, he's almost always taken the easy way out with this pursuit: cheat codes, warp gates, Easy mode. I will teach her to persist in the face of adversity, to avoid the likes of and anything published by Brady Games.

I've been gaming since I could crawl, but I cut my teeth on some of the most brutal games of generations past: Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Shadow Dancer, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Super Thunder Blade, Ghosts n' Goblins. Before my sixth birthday, I came to know that death was a lesson, not punishment. 

As games became more intricate and arguably bloated, the difficulty of most was in turn scaled down. We could save our progress: we didn't need to finish games in a single sitting. I became soft around the edges with games that coddled me with tutorials and hundreds of checkpoints. The likes of The Ninja and Secret Commando would break me if I came across them in my later years.

Thankfully, a few developers have come to embrace the beauty of brutal but fair difficulty in recent years. I haven't shown much love for Dark Souls or its ilk, but some challenging platformers have jumped out at me in the last two years: Super Meat Boy and Rayman Origins to be specific. SMB is probably a little too gruesome for a young girl, but the latest Rayman title is full of whimsy, beautiful art direction and, most importantly, ball-breaking difficulty.

You may have the modern trimmings of save points, checkpoints and achievements in Rayman Origins, but you're made to work for every inch of progress that you make. I've replayed single levels for hours at a time to try and earn every last Electoon, and I've never grown tired of dying continuously as a result of missing or utterly mistiming critical jumps. The visual charm should reel Arabelle in, and with Rayman and friends in tow, I can teach her to love difficulty and adversity. I can teach her persistence. I can teach her the value of hard work and attention to detail.

With Rayman Origins I hope to show my niece the wonder of gaming and the beauty of the road less travelled.

 We'll suffer... I mean learn together

Friday, April 20

Litmus Test: Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City (PS3)

I didn't want to agree with my wife at first, but she's always right. Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is an affront to the storied franchise and one of my all-time favourite games.

To give you some background, Resident Evil 2 is one of those games that for me evokes warm, fuzzy feelings of nostalgia. Some may think that it's odd to feel all gooey and sentimental about a horribly violent, incomprehensible tale of evil corporations and the zombie apocalypse, but I love that game. Well, to be accurate, I loved the demo for that game more than most full releases from 1998.

Back in those awkward days of adolescence where it was hard to come by the one hundred dollar asking price of your average videogame, sometimes a demo would have to do. A good friend brought along his demo disc insert from an issue of the Official PlayStation Magazine which held a timed, thirty minute demo of Resident Evil 2. It is to this day, my favourite demo of all time. For the record, my Brothers and I finished the game multiple times, but the demo itself holds a place of prime importance for me.

"What does the demo for a nearly fifteen-year old game have to do with Slant Six's multiplayer-centric abomination for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC?" you may find yourself asking. For starters, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is set shortly after the events of RE2. In the co-op capable campaign, you act as part of an Umbrella Corporation clean-up squad that is sent in to erase any record of the antagonist's involvement in the T-Virus outbreak that was the focus of the preceding title's narrative. The game also features several characters from the successful sequel that are playable in various competitive multiplayer modes.

There's a few different team-based competitive multiplayer modes available that all sound great, but good luck actually finding a match. Anyone that follows me on Twitter (@UnbearableDutch, if you're interested) was witness to a series of miniature rants regarding the amount of time it took me to find a match. For the campaign I created a lobby and waited for forty minutes with no luck, and a further twenty minutes searching for a versus match until I finally found something playable.

After playing through a few missions and about four versus matches I found a common issue that irked me: everyone -- other players, AI-controlled operatives and zombies, everyone -- can take a shitload of punishment. I can remember lining up a clip's worth of headshots and not getting a single kill against live opposition. I scored direct hits on flunkies in the campaign with grenades and launchers with no effect. I stabbed the living shit out of hundreds of zombies, but they just kept coming.

For versus play, I guess you could attribute this apparent resiliency to latency. As far as the campaign is concerned, it shows ignorance on the developer's part as to what makes an enjoyable game. Challenge? Sure, we crave that; but Operation Raccoon City's difficulty is artificial. What I mean by that is: if I hit a human in the face with a shotgun at point blank range, I expect them to go down... and hard. There are times when it seems like you're not making an impact at all.

The controls are reasonably solid and allow for you to feel empowered (to an extent) in the sense that you can move more freely when compared to other games in the series. That sense of confidence all goes to shit when you actually try and kill something though. Not only because of the aforementioned durable enemies, but also the dimwitted friendly AI. In the final part of the second mission, your team is ambushed by Lickers: gruesome creatures that have no skin and tongues that can reach and stab you from across the room. You're tasked with escaping the room where the ambush occurs, but your three (once again, good luck finding human company) AI-controlled buddies stand still and cop as much punishment as they can before dying. You can't progress in most instances unless all buddies are alive, so this was an extremely painful experience that required multiple attempts. Worse still, your buddies don't fire at enemies half the time. It's a complete fucking mess.

On the bright side, versus multiplayer matches have tons of zombies wandering through every map. This keeps you on your toes as any large amount of damage sustained from your enemies will likely induce bleeding, which sends these guys into a frenzy. It'd be pretty tense if you could actually fucking die!

Is it worth a shot? 
Short answer: No. I'm not sure whether the whole resiliency issue can be fixed by a patch, but at the moment I would advise you to steer clear of this title. The worst thing is, you can see flashes of inspired design that are bogged down by some really bad choices. That, and the lighting in this game is terrible. Increasing the brightness does nothing to help you discern your surroundings, it just makes everything look washed out.

Will I finish it? 
No chance.

Have you had a chance to play Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City? What are your thoughts? 

Tuesday, April 17

The Kickstart We Need (Want)

Until a couple of years ago I was never into the social media scene. Hell, anyone who's met me knows I'm as social as a brick but despite this I'm stoked about the news from Kickstarter and Double Fine.

Tim Schafer, an innovator behind such projects as The Secret of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango and Brutal Legend, reached out to the crowdfunding site to get his next game off the ground.

Publishers weren't keen on his idea to revive the point and click genre for which Schafer is best known however fans had a different opinion. He was looking for $400,000 to start Double Fine Adventure but managed to pull in a whopping $3.3 million.

The success of his campaign has captured the attention of fellow developers and now teams looking to revitalize such franchises as Leisure Suit Larry, Wasteland and Shadowrun have hit the site in hopes of making their next project a reality.

If you are unfamiliar with Kickstarter it is a website where someone with an idea posts and if you like it, you can back it financially. More than just games, the site reaches out for movies, documentaries, inventions and more. Those who are successful might even opt to put a percentage of the finished projects profits back into crowdfunding while others roll around in a Scrooge McDuck style money pit.

Personally, I think Kickstarter is a cool concept because it allows you to become more than just a gaming consumer; now you are a part of the game (literally in some cases, see the $2,500 pledge here

Despite some truly horrible sounding ideas and the obvious flaws of potentially overfunding or not delivering/performing, what do you think about Kickstarter? Do you see its potential as a viable way to keep new games on the horizon in a shrinking market of developers?

Note: original story was found here Check it out.

Monday, April 16

Finally, I am a number

Pardon the self indulgence, but this past week I achieved a life goal: I had a review listed on Metacritic.

Since its inception, Metacritic has seemed like a mysterious arbiter for the videogame industry. It doesn't have as great an effect on me now, but I won't lie to you: the website has resolved a great many purchase decisions in my lifetime. Now, maybe I can contribute to someone else's. Not that people don't read my reviews here, it's just that thousands -- who am I kidding: millions -- more people inarguably consult metacritic than my humble blog or Bitmob. Perhaps even more to the point: I wasn't able to achieve this goal through my blog or Bitmob (although my experience with both surely helped land the unpaid writing gig).

Now I'm sure that there are plenty who see my now-acheived goal as naive, even destructive to my passion. I've read stories of developers being denied royalties on account of lower than expected Metacritic scores or sales diminishing due to middling review scores, but I refuse to accept that this is the fault of Metacrtic alone. To all of the nay-sayers -- particularly those who contribute to games journalism in any form which has a score attached -- I say we're all to blame. We (or perhaps, more appropriately and less self-aggrandising: you) contribute to those numbers in a lot of cases. If you're not comfortable with franchises ending on account of your words and scores, I have a simple message for you:

Give every game a perfect score, a zero score or better yet, no score at all.

Metacritic: The future

That may sound a bit cynical, but ultimately, the Quantitative Cultural Zeitgeist will be rendered impotent if there are no numbers feeding into it. I've read some games journalists argue that their reviews (and the scores that are a part of them) are nothing more than opinion. Like it or not, collectively, your opinions determine the fate of developers, new and existing intellectual properties and the industry at large.

For now though, seeing a strategically-selected piece of my work on Metacritic marks a teenage dream realised. That awkward excerpt from my Street Fighter X Tekken review may be the first and last time I see my opinion in the same arena as Game Informer and IGN, but I'll take it.

Friday, April 13

That night in Vegas, I felt your breath upon my neck

This past long weekend, my brother and I engaged in a ritual that I fear had been lost in a sea of AAA releases and the pressures of modern life. We went hunting.

Before you get any crazy ideas, I've never been one for the outdoors, so this wasn't your average trawl through the woods. We weren't interested in traditional game: rabbits, deer and bears would be saved from the wrath of our customizable arsenal. We were hunting the scum of the earth, dear friends. We were baggin' us some terrorists.

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas 2's Terrorist Hunt mode is quite simply, the most terrifying cooperative multiplayer experience available on current generation hardware. No matter what difficulty you play it on or how dense you set the enemy population, these bad guys are ruthless. They will swarm around you, they will find you, and they will kill you.

Rubes and I thought we had a winning strategy: find a corner and create a cacophony of noise to stir the proverbial hornet's nest. This works on the smaller maps; but in some that span multiple floors and have a wealth of open spaces, the call of your hand cannons will yield few takers. We got lucky sometimes, but when we had to leave our sanctuary, my heart leapt into my throat and my bowels loosened (sadly, the latter observation is not hyperbole).

Those moments when you're leaning against a source of cover only to see your customizable avatar turkey-slapped by a shotgun barrel are equal parts hilarious and startling; particularly on the higher difficulties when ammo and respawns are scarce. If you love tactical shooters and splitscreen multiplayer, you simply must play this game. Hell, if love survival horror, you have to play Vegas 2's Terrorist Hunt mode.

Tuesday, April 10

Street Fighter X Tekken Review (PS3): Peanut Butter X Chocolate

Note: For my review of the Xbox 360 version, check out AusGamers!

I can't imagine how my fifteen-year-old self would have greeted the promise of Street Fighter X Tekken. Back in the days when fighting games were my religion and Tekken 3 and Street Fighter Alpha 3 were my daily prayers, the logistics of how Namco's quasi-3D brand of pugilism was to meld with Capcom's projectile flinging madness would have tormented me until its eventual release. Thankfully, I only had to know of its existence for two years before I could experience dream match-ups like King versus Zangief, or Rolento versus anyone with a pulse.

For the most part, Street Fighter X Tekken handles just like a beautiful, unrestrained dream. The visuals smack of colour and are styled in a fashion similar to Street Fighter IV. The action is scored with emphatic riffs and hyper-kinetic beats that match the intensity of the on screen action. There's also a bevy of move lists and mechanics to master: not so many as to make it inaccessible to genre veterans, but enough that you'll want to access the tutorial system before you encounter live opposition.

The greatest strength of this package is its roster, which offers the best of both worlds. There are few notable omissions (Blanka, anyone?), and those that made the initial cut offer a satisfying mix of old and new. It's worth noting that the PlayStation 3 and (the yet to be released) Vita versions have an additional five fighters at your disposal. These fighters don't add too much to the product, but I concede that I'd prefer to have the likes of Megaman and Cole (of inFamous fame) to be available for use as opposed to being locked away on the disc (source: Kotaku). The fighting system may employ more of the quarter and half circle maneuvers that are synonymous with the Street Fighter brand, however, feel assured that the Tekken characters can hold their own in a solely two dimensional playing field. The first to fall tag mechanics (similar to Tekken Tag Tournament) allow for encounters where speed is critical and momentum swings often.

Street Fighter X Tekken is best enjoyed like the fighters of old: with company in tow or on your lonesome. The story mode can be enjoyed solo and also supports co-operative play. There's a comprehensive training suite -- with Trials that allow you to master each character's move set and a Mission mode that tasks you with winning under certain conditions -- that's a step in the right direction, albeit far from able to teach newcomers effectively. Most importantly, the versus mode allows you to smite family and friends and bask in their collective shame. The controls also seem to hold up better in local play; maybe I'm a bit rusty, but I swear the block button wasn't working for the majority of the time that I fought online. It also goes without saying that the PlayStation controller (be it Sixaxis or DualShock 3) is far better suited to fighters than the standard Xbox 360 controller.

You'll need to have a firm grasp of gems, launchers, the do-or-die Pandora system and the plethora of fundamentals in order to be competitive in the online arena. Fights over the PlayStation Network ran at an acceptable speed, but the controls often felt unresponsive. Whether this had anything to do with the calibre of my opponents, I can't say. When compared to the Xbox 360 version, I'd say the PlayStation 3 held up slightly better when I was pitted against live opposition. To make matters worse, online bouts are plagued by a glitch that has the audio completely out of sync with the action on screen. It's not unplayable, but it's unfortunate that the online offering isn't as satisfying as offline play.

There are some annoying quirks that I discovered after sustained play on both versions. Firstly, the Xbox 360 versions appeared to run faster than the PlayStation 3 version. I had the PS3 version installed on my hard drive and fights still seemed to take longer to load when compared to the uninstalled 360 version. There's also no way to create gem sets that you can apply to all characters: you need to make these on an individual basis. Finally the DLC pricing model employed for this game is akin to extortion. It costs an additional forty dollars to purchase additional outfits for every character. Worse still, an additional twelve characters are locked away on the disc for players to buy at a later date.

Ultimately, the marks against this joyous union are few and -- in most cases -- have the potential to be remedied. Street Fighter X Tekken manages what I had previously thought unthinkable: merging the personalities, rosters and history of two stalwart franchises into one enjoyable package. If you have love for either brand of fisticuffs and you've got some friends to fight within close proximity, I can't recommend this highly enough.

Friday, April 6

The Seasonal Gift That Keeps On Giving

Easter eggs aren't always made of chocolate and in my opinion, the best are those found as hidden bonuses in games, DVDs and music.

There are thousands of Easter eggs available on hundreds of games and add a little something extra. Some are interesting artwork (GTA) while others are hidden characters (Mortal Kombat) and game options (COD: Black Ops).

Mortal Kombat
In some renditions of the original game, if you see a shadowy figure fly across the moon on The Pit stage then beat your opponent untouched and without blocking, you'll get the chance to fight Reptile. If you win, you earn a cool 10,000,000 points. If you lose, you've wasted a rare opportunity.

Grand Theft Auto IV
If you fly a helicopter to the Statue of Liberty and jump down to the highest platform with four doors on it, walk through the door with blood stains and the sign 'No hidden content through here'. Climb the ladder and you'll find the beating heart of the city (and if you shoot it, it bleeds).

Call Of Duty: Black Ops
From the main menu when you are held captive in the chair, look around. To break free of your bonds press the left and right triggers in quick succession. This will release Mason as he struggles and earn you an achievement/trophy. Furthermore, move to the computer and if you type DOA or ZORK into the terminal you'll unlock playable mini games and another achievement/trophy.

Hardly a game but if you open this popular bit torrent program, select About in the Help menu and press T you'll be able to play Tetris.

There are heaps of little treasures scattered in games and has many listed. Have you come across any? What's your favourite, be it found or heard of?

Wednesday, April 4

Shameless advertising (because I love you)

EDIT: Just Cause 2 is no longer on promotion and is now being sold for the regular retail price of $29.79 on GMG. Hope you were able to act fast enough to take advantage. If not, the Blur and ozgameshop deal are still active. 

There are three deals that I've happened across in the last few hours that I have to share with you. Why? Because I love you all, that's why.

You have until April 6 to pick up the criminally-underrated racer, Blur for a fiver. One of the last releases from the shuttered studio, Bizarre Creations; Blur is essentially a kart racer with licensed cars. Be prepared for an abundance of colour, crashes and chaos in the rich man's version of Mario Kart. Much like Nintendo's signature racing game, you'll lose quite a few races cheaply. Unlike Mario Kart, you'll get seamless multiplayer and action that is perfectly set to Fucked Up's 2008 opus: Chemistry of Modern Life (note: album not included, but I highly recommend this aural accompaniment).

Next up is 2010's "Most Surprisingly Good Game" and also powerfully-underrated open world actioner, Just Cause 2. In retrospect, this is easily one of the best games released since I started writing and unlike Halo: Reach and Red Dead Redemption, I still play this game. Green Man Gaming are selling this gem for slightly more than a song ($7.49 USD to be exact). If you have a capable PC, I can't recommend this game highly enough. Take the plunge -- from a soaring fighter jet, from a helicopter, from a truck you've just driven off a cliff -- you won't regret it.

This is actually one of the more innocuous activities in Just Cause 2.

Finally, for Xbox 360 owners, a deal that is simply too good to be true. Online retailer of choice,  ozgameshop is selling a download code that gifts Gears of War 2, Halo: Reach and Fable III for $22.99 AUD. That's less than eight bucks a game; two of which are nothing short of essential, the other is a reasonably inoffensive Action RPG which may just be your cup of tea.

If you're on a small budget, there's three bargains that include three of the best games released in the last two years. If you've got a little bit more disposable income, stop reading and take advantage of these deals already!

Monday, April 2

Unbearable Dutch Annual - Issue 2

I'm a little late to the party, but Unbearable Dutch enjoyed its second birthday two weeks ago. Our first year was good, but Dawson and I are now writing for about eight times as many people as we were this time last year. I'm proud that we're picking up more readers with our different approach to games writing. We may not have publishers on the line itching to gift us with review code, but we're better for it (read: will drop pants for free games).

The space between brown and grey
It is with great sadness that I acknowledge the passing of Zipper Interactive. I'm not going to lie: I wasn't the biggest the fan of everything they've developed, but they have some genuine classics under their belt.

Unit 13 will surely rank as my favourite from their extensive catalogue of brown and grey shooters.

It's not brimming with personality, nor is the control scheme without its quirks; it is, however, as close as I'll get to a portable version of underrated score attack shooter, The Club. Now Bizarre Creations' (also sadly shuttered) third person fragfest was also lacking a distinct sense of identity and featured somewhat awkward controls, but it had some thoroughly addictive mechanics that I've desperately wanted to re-engage with.

Save for the hilarious intro video (skip to 1:40 for stylish lols), Unit 13 feels like a spiritual successor to The Club. The gladiatorial gameshow theme has been eschewed in favour of an arguably more popular "modern warfare" look. It's not the most original or appealing approach, but if you're playing score attack games for the story: you're doing it wrong.

Different characters and weapon loadouts keep the action fresh across a small selection of maps that are rearranged and truncated to make up a chunky single player offering. The stealth mechanics are somewhat busted, but the shooting and cover controls are solid. The scoring and combo system is less reliant on speed when compared to Bizarre Creations' effort, and this ultimately works in Unit 13's favour as it's somewhat more forgiving and responds to a variety of approaches. It also features a Ron Perlman look alike, which remains a topic of fevered discussion amongst a good friend and I.

Stop haunting my dreams, Hellboy!

A lack of competitive multiplayer and forced implementation of touch controls are the only real warts on this package. Zipper may have also set the bar too high in terms of the amount of effort required to unlock all of the High Value Target missions. Nothing less than perfect scores in the majority of the game's thirty plus missions will grant you a shot at all of the terrorist masterminds that prevent the titular group of soldiers from attaining... erm... I'm not actually sure what Unit 13 wants, now that I think about it. As per the above though, story isn't really a priority when you're trying to line up consecutive headshots and achieve the highest score possible.

I'll prepare a more conventional review in the coming weeks, but if you have a Vita and like military or score attack shooters, you should pick this up.

Change of focus
You know that job I was talking about a few weeks ago? I got an offer and eventually accepted. I'm able to work at a venue that's closer to home for a few days each week, so I'm satisfied that I'll be able to progress my career and have time with my beloved family. I'll still be travelling a bit though, so I'll spend more time playing games on my portables; I might even dabble in some iOS games if nothing else of note is released on the 3DS or Vita (not bloody likely, but I remain open to the possibility).

Wherever possible, I'll sneak some time in with some of the bigger home console releases; but more often than not, you'll be reading about me and my handhelds.

Thanks again for reading, and I hope you all stick around.