Archive for the PS3 Category

Review: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

Posted in Design, Fantasy, Games, gaming, General, opinion, PS3, reviews, xbox with tags , , , , , , , on March 30, 2012 by Jim St Ruth

Available on Xbox 360 and PS3.

There are two important things that are revealed within the first ten minutes of this game. The first is a twist given at the end of the introductory story, given in a wonderfully dramatic tone by an unknown woman; the story is likely to be a good one. The second is that all gnomes are Scottish.

Kingdoms of Amalur is a great game that builds on established RPG fare. Graphically it should be familiar to anyone who has played any of the Fable games; its look is slightly cartoonish, and wonderfully colourful with it. After the greys and browns of Skyrim, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, this comes of something of a relief. Your eyes are always stimulated and frequently the game comes across as beautiful. A lot of effort has gone into the art work for Amalur, and it’s paid off. There’s not a moment where things look drab or unappealing, and it’s very easy to lose yourself in its wonderful visual flow.

From the caves and forests, to desert plains and dark foreboding cities, this game is wonderfully appealing and a joy just to wander through.

The gameplay is also very familiar, with much owed to other well known titles; Fable, Skyrim and Fallout again, but the old tropes and methods are nicely played out, with the battle mechanics in particular a great deal of fun to play with. There’s none of the annoyances of Skyrim; press a button to swing your sword or staff or to bring up a menu in the heat of battle, and your command is instantly completed. Skyrim and Fallout 3 in particular suffered from this; if my character’s dying I need to drink a potion quick sharp, not stab the button with an increasing feeling of helplessness as the brutal creature before you viciously hacks you to death. So, from the word go, Amalur is a joy to play.

The AI isn’t particularly impressive and, although stunning to look at, there are aliasing issues around most of the characters when you’re viewing them up close. It seems that the development team would rather your character was made up of separate pieces of armour that move independently rather than flexing as a whole, whilst sacrificing some of the graphical smoothness to enable it. To be honest, I don’t mind the odd jagged edge to a model; I’d rather it moved more convincingly, and that solid plates of armour didn’t bend.

The game map is huge and, after playing through for a good ten hours at the start of the game, there’s obviously much still to do. Like other games of its type, the world map tantalisingly offers many places to explore and, unlike the open-world blandness of Final Fantasy 14, there are many crooks, hollows and ruins to run and fight through aside from those that are reliant on your main or side quests. There are plenty of side quests too, and it’s easy to find them; any character that can give you something to do is marked on your local map and on the main game screen with an exclamation mark over their heads. Want to travel to the other side of your map, then the ubiquitous Fast Travel is there to save you plodding through the woods and plains like a drunken, meandering yoyo.

There is a simply huge variety of weaponry to loot, steal and buy, and the game offers you the chance to make your own. The crafting elements are well thought out and never a chore; it would be nice for them to have been developed into more of a mini-game than a few clicks of your action button, but they’re simple enough and I’d much rather the developer take this approach than making crafting monotonous (again, Final Fantasy 14, I’m looking at you).

The character development has been developed well enough, with a skill tree that should be familiar to anyone’s that’s played Titan Quest. There’s lots to chose from, but one thing to note is that levelling isn’t quick. It’s usually the case that initial levelling is accelerated; many games want you to feel more accomplishment whilst the bad guys and monsters are easier to defeat, but although the levelling is much slower than you might be expect, it doesn’t detract from being able to enjoy the game. It rewards frequently with lots of loot, but doesn’t go overboard like Titan Quest did; you won’t be overladen with a thousand Bangles of Ageing-Moose or fifty Daggers of Eternally Tasty Bacon (would-be items from the RPG of my dreams), but there’s still enough for you to check your weapons for the most powerful dagger, staff or sword for you to use and, combined with the crafting elements you can easily obtain and build some great kit to dish out your wrath with. The ability to salvage parts from unwanted weapons is a bonus too, with component parts not too numerous to get confused over.

There are a few niggling downsides to the game, though.

Primarily, there’s no auto-repeat on your button presses when your navigating through your item and weaponry lists. Got fifty items in there and you’re after the item in position forty-nine? You’re going to have to press your down button forty-none times then. This is a simply omission, and a confusing one. I’m not a developer, so I don’t know what code or action from a game engine’s library should be called, but it isn’t there and sometimes it’s downright frustrating (see the above example).

The second is more minor, but I think only because the side quests are so numerous that there’s always something going on, either to push you to your destination or just keep you entertained; the story, whilst obviously well thought out, seemed a little thin to me at the beginning. Plenty of good stories start out slow, but with so many actions to keep you busy it almost seems as if the main story isn’t that important. This will obviously be less noticeable later on, and to be honest it does therefore encourage you to explore rather than run straight to your next target; too many games lately have made me feel as if I’ve missed a load of content when I’ve finished them, and although I doubt this will be the case here, I’d still like things to feel more meaty dramatically.

An excellent game, full of colour, great gameplay and well implemented battle mechanics. Lots to do and without the clinical, ‘all to brief’ feeling that I got from Final Fantasy 13-2.

One to play.

Advertisements

Review: Rayman Origins

Posted in Funny, Games, gaming, General, opinion, PS3, reviews, xbox with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2012 by Jim St Ruth

Wow.

Every once in a while something magical happens in your life. Something that brings you joy; that special kind of pleasure that reminds you of what it was like to be a kid. No responsibilities. No bills to pay. A great red fish creature pestering you to be your friend… well, ok, maybe it was blue for you. The point is you can have such fun again and, for the price of a video game on your choice of format, Rayman Origins is the way to get that carefree wonder back in your lives.

Sometimes when a franchise returns, the results are disappointing. The story doesn’t go where you want it to go. Your favorite actor was busy doing something else… you know what I’m talking about – but there’s no fear of that with Rayman Origins. It’s pleasure is endless and captivating and full of an insanity that only The Muppets could surpass.

The game is simple platforming in all it’s glory. There’s nothing new that’s been added to the mix, and this game is an excellent example of why sometimes a great experience doesn’t need to be changed, only built upon. The end of area shoot ’em up levels make a welcome return; one that will have you replaying them just to get a high score.

It’s visuals are absolutely stunning; pure high-definition cartoon loveliness. All the characters have excellent ranges of animation, as does much of the environment – and what doesn’t move looks just as stunning. From the rippling image of your chosen character through ice, to the rocks, ice and jungle surroundings… and that’s before you even get underwater.

You start of playing as Rayman himself, but you quickly unlock more characters that you can change into at The Snoring Tree; even the name strikes a great, simple story-telling mood, and it’s one that’s carried out through the game. Each character has its own charm, though many are similar – but that doesn’t matter in the slightest.

The music too is fantastic, ranging from playful tunes to upbeat jazz, and the sound effects that go with them are perfect… I’m just holding my breath for a release of the sound track, and please Ubisoft, release it with the sound effects too. My mobile is crying out to have my new message alert cry the ‘Oooh’ of wonder when you discover a secret area. There’s shades of Carlton Browne of the FO in the music, as well as Mario and some other recognisable themes, and all have great charm.

Verdict

Frequently insane, occasionally frustrating, always fun. Rayman Origins is a game for everyone; kids, grown ups and red (or blue) amphibians alike.

Available on PS3, XBox360, and Wii. Highly recommended.

Opinion: Deus Ex: The Human Revolution

Posted in Fantasy, Games, gaming, General, opinion, PS3, reviews, science fiction, scifi, Uncategorized, xbox on August 28, 2011 by Jim St Ruth

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a game that I’ve been waiting to be released for a long time. The prequel to Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War, the game is a scifi shooter/RPG set in a 2027 where the power of corporations is on the rise, as augmentation technology offers the prospect of self-controlled evolution. It’s a world of have and have-nots, with the gap between rich and poor starkly obvious. It’s also a world where violent protest towards augmented ‘cogs’ and the companies that offer those technologies is on the rise.

It’s a beautiful looking game. Its look ranges from the luxurious and comfortable to the seedy and tatty, and all within a few feet of one another. The design is reminiscent of Blade Runner (which is set eight years previously – and in a different continuity), with its dark city skies, immense buildings and innumerable neon signs, but without the gothic feel to the buildings that were part of Blade Runner’s iconic look. The graphics that make up the world are well thought out and produced and, whilst there are other games that rival Deus Ex in terms of quality, there is variety in the layout of the game spaces and their textures that puts a lot of other shooters to shame. This is a Square Enix game at their visual best and, whilst the PS3 and 360 versions of the game are notably lower in visual quality than a version running on a high-end PC gaming rig, they are still a treat and utterly absorbing.

Graphics alone don’t make a good game, though, so what about the gameplay itself?

The game offers little in the way of something new, but that’s not a bad thing – especially if the game does what it sets out to achieve and uses well established mechanics, tropes and set pieces to good effect. I don’t want to give anything about the game’s story away, but it’s engaging and well paced and plotted. I can’t help but feel that a number of action and scifi films that I’ve seen in the last year could learn from Deus Ex; not all games transfer well into movies or TV, but Deus Ex has a well grounded background mythology (which I’m always a sucker for) and characters that have been crafted well with their own obvious motivations and idiosyncracies.

The gameplay mechanics are easy to follow and fun, with a great set of video tutorials (that, importantly, can be skipped if desired) that pop up and guide you through actions and menus without complication. Weapons are varied and are great and for the most part customisable, with a few notable exceptions. The Stun Gun, for example, lacks a cross hair when aiming towards a target from behind cover; a little frustrating, and I’ve no doubt it will outright annoy some players, but it does serve to make the game more challenging and I didn’t find my own annoyance detracting from my enjoyment of the game.

The game spaces are multi-levelled mazes, where a clear path towards your objective is not always clear, but that encourages the player to explore and there are plenty of items and XP bonuses to be had from creeping through air ducts, scurrying down side corridors and seeing where the odd ladder will lead you. It feels open, and there is some freedom as to how you reach your objective, but the world is not truly open and, if anything, it heightened the sense of urgency and the danger of being caught. The mechanics encourage stealth over outright confrontation and it can get tense at times. I’ve no doubt a seasoned shooter-player could storm their way through most of the levels with ease, but bonuses are granted for not being detected in several missions, and it’s fun to play hide and seek with the guards…

I even found myself tilting my head to see round corners. My monitor isn’t 3D in any sense of the label.

Battle is hard… but not unforgiving so. I decided to play the game through on its normal setting (whereas I’d normally do my first play-through on easy), and I died… quite a lot at first. Part of this is due to the way in which character abilities are unlocked; as with the level design, this appears quite open, but some missions are harder if the right upgrades aren’t bought for them. I’m only part way through the game, and this doesn’t appear to lock any missions completely out should you choose the ‘wrong’ upgrade; but if you increase your hacking skills over your armour or reaction stats for the bounty that can give you access to, you might find yourself dying more often.

The hacking mini-game, required to successfully access many computers and doors within the game, is good fun and can be a race against time. The NPCs will chat with you to varying degrees and, sometimes, useful information comes out of those exchanges. It’s nice to be playing a game that, whilst it is sometimes difficult, treats the player with respect and doesn’t talk down to you… if you read any of the many eBooks lying around the game world, you’ll quickly see what I mean, and see how much effort the designers have put into making a ‘complete’ world for the player to explore.

Comparing Deus Ex to other games isn’t necessarily fair, but I can’t help but think that Fallout: New Vegas was decidedly poor compared to it. It’s worth saying that I’m enjoying Fallout:NV immensely, but with its dated graphics engine, game crashes, troublesome controls and lag (why is it so hard to bring up my Pip Boy to change a weapon and recharge my health when I’m in the middle of a battle?), Fallout: NV can be a decidedly frustrating experience. All the big problems that Fallout: NV has just don’t appear in Deus Ex, and that alone makes this game much more enjoyable.

If you want a good scifi RPG romp, and like games such as Splinter Cell and FEAR, then this is one for you. There’s a well painted world to explore, with plenty of gun-totting action to be had and an excellent score by Michael McCann to keep you immersed. Highly recommended.

Nostalgia Game Play: Final Fantasy 9 and Sound Track

Posted in Design, Fantasy, Games, General, music, opinion, PS3, reviews, scifi, Soundtracks, Uncategorized on February 22, 2011 by Jim St Ruth

I’ve always been a huge Final Fantasy Fan. In the days when I had no pocket money, (the 1980’s) I used to gawk at the images and reviews in games mags, wishing that I could afford to play the games. Then, at Uni, I clubbed together with a couple of other lads to buy a Play Station and one of the games that I bought for it was Final Fantasy 7. It was one of the best gaming decisions of my life.

I was blown away, not just by the graphics, but the gameplay and the story as well… no surprises there. Although Final Fantasy isn’t every gamer’s cup o’ chai, FF7 remains one of the series’ most idolised games and, I think, with good reason. I’ve played all of the later games bar FF11, which was released when I didn’t fancy online gaming and the subscription charges that can come with it.

More recently, I loved FF13 (I know, I know, but wait for it…) It was a great game, but it had serious problems. The most important were, I think, the lack of ability to really explore and the fact that the game only moved slightly off the rails of a predetermined corridor after about 20 hours of gameplay. A lot of people said, “It’s great, but you have to play it for that long until it get’s good.” I think that’s only partially true, the game has a lot going for it and a great battle system, but when anyone’s giving that advice to perspective players, that’s a serious problem. It’s also a more mainstream game, a kind of Final Fantasy Made Easy, but I digress.

On to Final Fantasy 9.

The week before last, I decided to give myself an early birthday present, and I bought FF9 from the Play Station Store, and I’ve had a fantastic time getting to know the game once more. From the cute, low-polygon characters to the beautiful pre-drawn sets, the fantastic soundtrack and the great battle system; this game took me back to a time when FF games were fun to play. The story, with its semi-medieval setting, has all the usual great components: thieves, kidnap, a Queen being manipulated into invading other countries, a princess trying to save the world and her mother’s mind and, that old favourite, a main lead with a big monkey-tail.

The battle system is enjoyable, even though some people would say that turn-based battles are a thing of the past. Levelling isn’t a chore, unlike FF12 and 14 where it simply took too long, this game lets you do it easily and earn new abilities at the same time. FF12 was annoying like that, the progression to better magics just seemed too arbitrary and too much to do with what the developers told you that you could do. The towns are charming and, unlike FF13, you can explore and talk to the characters – or challenge them to a game of cards.

The other mini-games, such as frog-catching, are a fun aside and, unlike FF12 and 13 in particular, you don’t get to the point where you want to quit the cut-scenes just to be able to play the game yourself, let alone fight. The balance is great and the game is absorbing. Effort has gone into creating a whole world and an engaging story, with characters that aren’t just whiny or crying because they’ve got super powers… please, no more Spider Man movie-like “boo-hoo I’m a superhero” moments, or characters forever whining “why me?

This game doesn’t do that, it tells a great story, the kind of adventure you liked to watch or read as a kid – something that was missing from the later games, when the stories just weren’t deep or gripping enough. Best of all, the game has the traditional FF end of battle fanfare that will quickly be transferred to my phone as my new-message alert.

This brings me onto the soundtrack, which is far better than I thought it would be. The in-game music is great, but somewhat of a lower quality than I’d like. Listening to it now, whilst typing, is wonderful. It’s relaxing, dramatic… and parts of it are going on to the playlist that I listen to whilst writing action sequences.

If you fancy some retro gaming that has plenty of charm, and if you love RPGs, I can heartily recommend you either revisit FF9 or play it for the first time. It’s on the Playstation Store for the PS3, but you can also pick it up through places like eBay if you’ve still got a PS1 hanging around in your cupboard. Go on, dust it off and immerse yourself in FF9.

You’ll have a great time.

Kinect: Review… Into The Second Week

Posted in dancing, exercise, Fitness, Games, General, music, opinion, PS3, reviews, xbox on February 15, 2011 by Jim St Ruth

It’s almost two weeks since the Kinect arrived, along with Kinect Adventures, Your Shape Fitness Evolved and Dance Central. Since my first post ion the Kinect was the most read article on my blog, I thought I’d follow it up now that I’ve had chance to play the games and use the shiny black nodding camera some more.

So, like the rush of stars that heralds the entry into hyperspace, let’s begin… Don’t get dizzy now. It’s only a special effect.

Kinect Adventures

After my initial excitement had worn off, I came to quickly realise how much I’d misjudged this game. In a rough, overall sense, the game is fun, but once you start to pay attention to what’s actually happening it becomes obvious that this isn’t even a good game to give away as a freebie with the Kinect itself. The game is, to put it mildly, laggy as hell. Jump in the game and your on-screen character will jump half a second later. meaning that you often miss jumps whilst playing white water rafting, or miss the balls bouncing back at you in the Kinect Adventures 3D version of Breakout.

Even my initial excitement at being able to animate and voice an unlocked character proved to be woefully embarrassing. The animals barely move, no matter how much you shake and jig, and the in-audio capture is terrible. I’ve got a low amount of background noise and the game only picks up a muffled, noise-filled signal. It’s dreadful and the game is hard to play. I got the distinct feeling that the Kinect was released before it was really ready for market… and perhaps that is still the case, but seeing as Dance Central and Your Shape were so much better, I think that it’s really just Kinect Adventures being a real stinker of a game.

It even gave my partner a headache watching me play with the lag. Launch games rarely make use of a system’s full capabilities, but there’s no excuse for Kinect Adventures, Microsoft. Truly diabolical.

Your Shape Fitness Evolved

Without a shadow of a doubt, this is finest fitness game or product that I’ve ever used, besides the home gym and dumbbells.

There are a handful of personal training fitness programs ready for you to try, alongside ‘Zen’, boxing and a number of gym games, and Ubisoft have promised more on the way. I have to be honest that I’m a little wary of Ubisoft software, as they have released several games in the last year that I don’t think were fit for market – and where fixes were either heavily delayed or did nothing to sort out problems. (Yes Splinter Cell: Double Agent, I’m looking at you).

Your Shape, however, is an excellent product. The routines seem to be well thought out and, even if they seem focused on your lower body, they do give your torso and arms a workout too. The software is simple to use, though a little confusing in some areas. My only issue is that on completion of one of the personal fitness routines, it tells you that you have eleven sessions left until the end of that program… but if you decide to do another personal fitness program, you lose any progress made so far. You still keep your calorie count, and you gain nothing special by completing the full twelve sessions from each set, so you don’t lose anything at all… but it’s confusing and the official forums are full of questions about how this works. It’s just misleading, is all.

There has been some criticism from people saying that the Kinect doesn’t recognise moves, but you simply have to make sure that you’re doing what the trainer is doing – and they provide an on-screen mirror for you to see the trainer from the front as well as a two-thirds view from the back. Match their moves and face the camera and it’s great. If the trainer criticises you for not being in step when you know you are, just make sure your form is spot on and that you are face-on to the camera.

This isn’t Wii Fit, by any means, but in the best way possible. Wii Fit is, by Nintendo’s own admission, aimed at making people more aware of how much exercise they do and what foods they eat. It’s exercises are really only maintainance exercises. It won’t really give you any tone and you won’t lose any weight unless you go overboard with it, or do other exercise as well.

Your Shape, however, is much more the full on exercise program that I’ve been after. It’s demanding, but you’ll want to come back to it. It helps tone as well as burn carbs and, whilst I think I’ll stick to my weights routine away from Your Shape for muscle-building, the programs in Your Shape are great and I’ll continue to use them every day. I’ve used it eight times in fourteen days (it was my birthday, so hang overs have prevented more use)… but I’ve lost nearly an inch and a half off my waist in that time. I look slimmer, feel slimmer and I’ve even had people notice.

If you’re after a fitness program with some variety, whether it’s to compliment an existing routine or for something that you’ll use as your only main source of exercise, I couldn’t recommend Your Shape enough.

Dance Central

Wow! I’ve been playing on this almost every day, hang over or no hang over. It’s great fun, the dances range from easy to very challenging and there’s a reasonable range of music, with more to come for purchase through the Xbox Marketplace.

With its neon lights, colourful settings and funky dancers with attitude, it never ceases to entertain… and there’s a calorie counter on there too. I track the estimate number of calories I burn in any physical activity because it helps keep me motivated, and if I’m dancing in the living room for half an hour I certainly want to know where it’s got me. It’s easy to break out into a sweat playing Dance Central and the Break It Down tutorials make it easy to follow the dances – especially with the Slow It Down option for when it’s hard for me to track what each limb, hips and head are meant to be doing in one go.

I read on a forum that someone, a guy, was looking to get the game but was worried that some of the moves might be a bit too feminine. You shouldn’t worry about this at all. Some of the moves are pretty feminine, but so what? If you’re playing on your own, then just have laugh and get into it… the same if you’re going to play Dance Central as part of a group… and the more you put into the movements, the better your score.

I love this game to bits, and would cry if it were taken off me. Anyone that tried would face a dance-off, and if i still felt threatened I’d kick them in the shins. It’d serve them right. Dance Central deserves to be owned and, out of all three games, the motion controls for the game’s menus are the most easy to use and well thought out.

My only hesitation is that there are a few too many rap or hip-hop songs on the song list; for the most part, it’s just not my type of music. You can’t please everyone all of the time, though, and I think the team at Harmonix have done an excellent job at trying. There’s certainly plenty of other songs in there to keep me happy… a few more tracks (pop or disco, please Harmonix) at the easier end of the challenge scale would be appreciated though, but perhaps I’ll laugh at my noobiness to the game in six months time.

Highly recommended.

As for the Kinect itself, I think it’s a great product with a potentially interesting¬† future. I’m not a MS, Sony or Nintendo fanboy, I want all three consoles to do really well, but would be great to see some more compelling titles for the Kinect and the PS3 move, though. At the moment I feel that all my Wii has to offer me is Mario and, whilst I love Mario, the other two consoles seem to have much more going on for them right now.

Motion control, when implemented in games like Dance Central, is definitely compelling and great fun.