PS3 Review Archive

PUNISHER: NO MERCY (PS3)

Punisher: No Mercy is the latest videogame from the Marvel stable, available exclusively in North America and Europe as a digital download on the Playstation Network from today. Produced by Zen Studios, the game uses the Unreal engine to power the fast-paced first person shooter action.

Playing as Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, you battle hordes of villains, including comic luminaries such as Bushwhacker and Jigsaw as you make your way through familiar Punisher locations such as shipyards rife with contraband to the birthplace of Punisher’s archenemy Jigsaw. As you would expect from an FPS the game is incredibly fast paced, it’s very much a “think fast or die” game, much like the classic FPS’s Unreal 2 and Quake 3. You start Punisher: No Mercy with minimal weaponry and skills, with the ability to unlock more as you play the game. Alongside the option to unlock weapons, you also have the ability to unlock and play as other Punisher characters such as Silver Sable.

The story mode is wrapped in amazing cut scenes that tell a brand new story, brought to life through artwork from artist Mike Deodato. There’s plenty of Punisher-esque elements to the game, which includes very strong language – think of this game as more a Punisher Max game than Punisher: War Journal. In addition to the solo gameplay there is an amazing online experience to be had. Players fight alongside, or take on, Punisher allies and villains in traditional arena-style multiplayer matches that feature solo and team-based missions for up to eight players.

Punisher: No Mercy feels like an old friend, full of familiar gameplay but with a Marvel twist. Playing No Mercy online took me back to the days when we used to play LAN games of Quake 3 and Unreal 2 on the early shift at work before the boss came in! It’s obvious that the game owes a lot to the Call of Duty franchise and if you’ve played those to death like I have, you’ll feel right at home with Punisher: No Mercy.

Graphically the game is one of, if not the best looking game made for PSN, however there has been some compromise on graphics to allow for faster online gameplay – but not so much that it is noticeable to the untrained eye. Multiplayer works well – there were some early postings on Twitter regarding lag during online play, but I have experienced none so far via the EU PSN…

WATCHMEN: THE END IS NIGH (PS3)

You’ve probably all downloaded and played the demo version of the Watchmen game The End Is Nigh, I did, and I disagreed with the majority of the reviews I had seen: most criticised the monotony of the gameplay, whereas I loved the old-school beat-’em up style action so on Friday I decided to shell out for the full version of the game… If you’ve ever played the last-gen (PS2/Xbox) updates of the Double Dragon style side-scrolling beat-’em ups such as Final Fight: Streetwise, or Urban Reign then you’ll know what to expect – a lot of running around then button-bashing fights, trying to put together combos to inflict faster and harder damage on your opponents.

Watchmen: The End is Nigh is a prequel to the movie, and fleshes out some of the flashbacks from the graphic novel. You can play as Rorschach or Nite Owl as you infilitrate a prison riot only to find out that Underboss has escaped in the commotion! The rest of the game sees you tracking him down, till you finally confront, and defeat, him at the end of the game.

The gameplay is very simplistic: fight some bad guys, run to the next area, fight more bad guys, run to next area, pull a switch or open a door, fight more bad guys… It continues like that for the entire of the game. But thats what I LOVE about it! Watchmen: The End is Nigh doesn’t try to be some huge “event” game, rather it captures the spirit and the feel of the games we all used to play back in the day, Watchmen: The End is Nigh is a retro game for a retro film.

I enjoyed the combat aspect, there’s a great “counter attack” move that works beautifully when your surrounded by a gang of enemies, allowing you to beat up one enemy and then instantly grab one that is attacking and stun him, so you can concentrate back on the first enemy. There’s also tokens dotted around the game that unlock more and more combo moves, giving you a greater arsenal of attacks, PLUS if you play as Rorschach you get a “Rage Meter” that builds as you fight and this unlocks more moves and the ability to fight in “Rage Mode” which gives you more strength so you can decimate the majority of the enemies in only a couple of punches.

There are downsides: Throughout the game there are times when you have to walk up to a door, a switch, a drainpipe and hit a button to activate it which slows down the game. In particular, the cut sequences where Nite Owl lifts a door for Rorschach to roll under take too long, I personally would’ve preferred to have been able to skip the “chat” scene and get straight under into the next room. Also the camera angles sometimes are a bit dodgy, especially if you are fighting near walls towards the front of the screen – oftentimes the camera would flicker around a bit, which meant youy couldn’t see what was going on and I ended up random hitting butons till the camera righted itself. There’s also been complaints that the enemies were very samey: this is true, but you will find that some attacks are useless on some enemies, especially strong attacks, in the end you’ll work out which enemies you need to stun with a combo of light attacks BEFORE wading in with the heavy hits.

The major downside to Watchmen: The End is Nigh is that its SHORT! Very short! The game is only 6 chapters long and you should easily complete the game in 2-3 hours. But, what I will say, is that when the game was over it did leave me clamouring for more…

Overall I enjoyed playing The End is Nigh, and do plan on playing it through again a couple more times, once as Nite Owl and then again in 2-player co-op mode. If you’re a fan of the beat-’em up genre, particularly games such as God Hand, The Bouncer, or any of those I mentioned at the beginning of this review then Watchmen: The End is Nigh is definitely for you. **** 4/5

LEGO ROCK BAND (PS3)

What can you say about the latest entry in the MTV Games/Harmonix Rock Band franchise, Lego Rock Band? Well, as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it… This game is very much of that ilk. Lego Rock Band sees Harmonix join up with the team at Travellers Tales to bring together two of the biggest franchises in videogames today to create a whole new monster-franchise.

Following the uber-popular Rock Band 2 (which is still played at least once a week in my household), Lego Rock Band takes all that what good about that game and builds upon it, adding that special LEGO touch. Whilst the Rock Band experience is still as good as it has always been, with Lego Rock Band the series has moved forward, and expanded it’s appeal to a family audience, much like the recent rival “Hero” franchise entry Band Hero.

Graphically the game is nothing special, there’s definitely no strain on your system as you play, but the graphics are sharp and vibrant in high definition, plus it all look very cute – it’s actually a lot of fun to watch the LEGO characters dance around performing the songs you know on screen; and this time round the songs are aimed at more of a family audience with a mixture of pop, emo and rock tracks that span the last few decades. Unlike Band Hero, the setlist in Lego Rock Band is still pretty much rock-orientated but there are plenty of songs that kids will know like Rascal Flatt’s ‘Life is a Highway’ or ‘Accidentally in Love’ by Counting Crows both of which were featured in kids movies – Disney’s Cars and Dreamworks’ Shrek 2 respectively. For the older kids there’s pop acts like Pink, The All American Rejects, and Vampire Weekend. Round those out with hits by classic artists such as David Bowie, Elton John, The Jackson 5 and Queen; PLUS novelty hits such as Kung Fu Fighting and the Ghostbusters theme, and you have something for everyone – whether they want to sing, drum or play guitar..

The addition of the LEGO branding has allowed for a complete change of scenery for Rock Band, literally. Whilst you have always been able to customise your rockers in the tradition Rock Band entries, Lego Rock Band takes the concept of customisation to the extreme. You can change the appearance of your characters, your roadies, your manager, your “Rock Den”, your instruments – just like LEGO itself, you can combine anything you want, you’re only limited by your imagination, oh, and by the fact you need to earn enough money to buy items from the rock store and must unlock characters along the way!

Being a LEGO title means that this version of Rock Band feels more fun than other entries in the series – it’s the combination of the franchise tiger mascot made of Lego, the funny cut scenes that follow the misadventures of your Lego band and Lego versions of famous artists such as Freddie Mercury and David Bowie that work together to make that whole experience fun. What is also nice addition to the game is the recovery mode – unlike the previous Rock Band games, once you crash out of the game you have the chance to rejoin by hitting the correct notes to collect the traditional gold Lego pieces found in the previous LEGO titles, thus restoring your “health”.

There is also a new feature in Lego Rock Band called the Rock Power Challenge. At various stages in the game your band will have to use their rock skills to perform tasks like destroying a building or hunting ghosts. The challenge songs are typically befitting of the situation, e.g. Ghostbusters when you’re hunting ghosts, and completing the challenge earns you triple the score you would normally receive. Whilst it makes for a fun addition to the game, you have to wonder why the makers felt the need to have players take turns at playing instruments or singing? Whilst in a two-player game this is merely a distraction, when you’re having to sit portions of the song out in a four-player game it doesn’t make for a fun experience.

Hardened rockers may not appreciate the tamer songs or the changes in style, but like Band Hero, the move into a more family-orientated gaming experience and the addition of more vocal-friendly pop acts makes LEGO Rock Band another welcome addition to the Rock Band family. ***** (5/5)

KINGDOM HEARTS: BIRTH BY SLEEP (PSP)

With more than 14 million copies shipped worldwide, the Kingdom Hearts series is one of the most beloved RPGs in video game history. In Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Stitch, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs plus loads more of your favourite Disney characters, aswell as the original characters from Kingdom Hearts, unite once more in a brand new magical game world, set to engage players with its gripping storyline and action-packed gameplay, exclusively on Sony’s PSP.

Showcasing all-new characters and brand new but instantly recognisable Disney environments from the worlds of Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, the game boasts exceptional graphics, in fact some of the best I’ve ever seen on the PSP. However beautiful graphics do not a good game make – it also takes a good story and decent playability. Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep has both, but the game is not without its faults.

Playabilty-wise, the game improves over previous entries in the Kingdom Hearts series with a superb new combat system that makes it easy players able to buy and earn new moves (commands) and access them at the touch of a button – it keeps the action following whilst at the same time allows players to customise their characters abilities with ease. Square Enix have also improved the mini games system, making levelling up your character via the mini games a less laborious and more fun task than in previous games…

On the downside, despite the beautiful cut scenes and gorgeous graphics, the landscapes within the game are pretty bare and lifeless. Not that you’ll see much of the landscapes for the first 30 minutes – the game opens with cut scene after cut scene, each of which are proceeded by a lengthy load time. But bear with it and you’ll be rewarded with a great RPG experience.

MAFIA II (PS3)

Mafia II sees Vito Scaletta, a soldier who returns home to Empire Bay having been injured in battle during World War II to find his mother and sister in debt up to their eyeballs, trying to pay back everything Vito’s now-deceased father owes to the local mobsters. Wanting to help them and not looking to return to the battle front, Vito seeks help from his childhood friend Joe – who just happens to be friendly with some low-level gangsters – and before Vito knows it he has a new ID and a new job… working for the mafia.

And that’s where the game begins. I’ll be honest, I didn’t have high hopes for Mafia II. For one it was marketed as a sandbox game – and that’s one genre I’ve never really enjoyed playing; and on top of that I’m not a huge fan of the gangster genre either. So the game had a lot going against it. But wouldn’t you know it, Mafia II is such a superb game that it even managed get to over my prejudices!

Firstly, Mafia II is NOT a sandbox game. It’s more of a hybrid, with missions set in a sandbox-like enviroment – yes you can roam around freely stealing cars, robbing stores and committing crimes, but you still have to complete the mission and move from A to B to progress in the game. As someone who doesn’t like sandbox games, this was PERFECT for me. A set goal, and the chance to explore a little (causing havoc as you go) – heaven! As for the gangster aspect of the game – I needn’t have worried. Mafia II blows ALL other gangster games, movies, whatever out of the water. This may sound extreme, but the experience of playing the game – the backstory, the plot, the twists and turns – was for me better than watching what many consider the pinnacle of the gangster genre, The Godfather.

Graphically Mafia II is also superb, I didn’t spot any screen tearing or flaws whilst I was playing which, given the size and scope of the game, is impressive. That’s not to say there aren’t some flaws and frustrations in the game – I experienced some odd instances of collision detection whilst driving around, including clipping a lampost and dying one minute and then doing a 360 degree barrel roll in my car through the air, crash landing, and walking away uninjured! And then there’s the AI of the cops in the game – completely unpredictable would be an understatement! Whether this was a concsious decision on a part of the makers 2K Games or not I don’t know. All I know is that some cops could be hidden from by running (or driving) round a corner, whilst others would hunt you down across the entire city.

To be honest, my experience of Mafia II was surprising all-round – yes, it overcame my prejudices, but it also constantly left me wanting more. With each play of the game I wanted to play longer and longer and get further into the story and the game (it was almost drug-like in its addiction). So much so that Mafia II officially enters my hallowed hall of “games completed in the first week of purchase” alongside Uncharted 2, LEGO Batman, and Shadow Complex amongst others.

And damn, what an ending! Hopefully we’ll see the further adventures of Vito Scaletta in future. I for one can’t wait for Mafia III.

WWE RAW VS. SMACKDOWN 2011 (PS3)

The latest entry in THQ’s long-running Smackdown vs Raw video game series has finally hit consoles, but how does it measure up against previous entries in the franchise – and more to the point is it any good? Well, let me be clear from the offset, I am not the biggest fan of wrestling games, well not the modern iterations – yes I remember playing games such as WWF Wrestlemania Challenge to death on the NES, SNES and the Megadrive, but the move to the more “simulation” style of gameplay left me a little cold. However I did persevere right up until the last few iterations of Smackdown vs Raw on the PS2, by which time I had grow weary of the genre, and I will admit it wasn’t until TNA Wrestling on the PS3 that I picked up another wrestling video game…

Which brings us smack bang up to date, and WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011. How would the latest version of the oh-so-long-running franchise fare in the hands of someone who had abandoned the series many moons ago? Well, as it turns out, it would fare very well actually!

Despite having not watched WWE in about 8 months I dove head first into Smackdown vs Raw 2011 and into the “WWE Universe” branch of the game which sees you take part in weekly WWE shows Raw, Superstars and Smackdown on the road to one of the companies many pay per views – its a four week roster, with three shows a week, each with between 3-6 matches per show, lasting anywhere from 2 minutes to 30 minutes a match (well at least my matches did -I’m guessing theoretically they could go on for a LOT longer) – which is a hell of a lot of game. There’s also the “Road to Wrestlemania” mode, and much more…

Graphically the Smackdown vs Raw series has never looked better. There’s been some major improvements in character design, stadium design and best of all… in the ring entrances – THQ & Yukes have to be applauded for melding computer graphics with the actual entrance videos of the WWE wrestlers during the character ring entrances it really makes for a more television-like atmosphere and really makes you feel like you’re part of the WWE universe. The character roster is quite varied too, with plenty of well-known superstars such as John Cena, Kane, the Undertaker, Christian, Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio; and lots of newer superstars too – including Sheamus, Kofi Kingston, John Morrison, Dolph Ziggler, and R-Truth etc. There have also been a lot of improvements (well based on my experiences with previous WWE games) in the control system, it’s easier to perform really impressive moves such as suplexes, pile drivers etc., and with the “finisher” system you can perform some of the WWE wrestlers most famous moves – which, when you’re in control of Rey Mysterio, is REALLY impressive. There’s really nothing like pulling off a 6-1-9 in a video game!

There are some issues with WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 however, mainly in the controls and colour commentary. On the control side of things I found it very frustrating executing a counter – hitting the R2 button at just the right time was actually nigh-on-impossible on some occasions, in fact more times than I’d like. There was also the issue of running into a corner to climb to the top rope, a number of times I would run towards the corner and my character would end up bouncing off the ropes instead! As for the commentary – that’s the biggest issue I had with the game… There are a LOT of repeated lines in the game, making it obvious that the WWE commentators only recorded a handful of stings for WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011, but the biggest offence during the commentary? Calling the female wrestlers (yes, you do get to play as the WWE Divas) “he” instead of she! And it happens a lot… especially if you choose a different gender wrestler than assigned in Universe mode matches.

Despite the games flaws I still found plenty to enjoy in WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011, enough to make me seriously consider purchasing next years iteration of Smackdown vs Raw too…

THE SLY COLLECTION (PS3)

Sony continue their trend of re-releasing classic Playstation 2 titles on the PS3 in swanky new HD iterations with the latest line the Classics HD line, The Sly Collection.

Sly Cooper, a young adult raccoon and the latest descendant in a line of master thieves who pass down their expert techniques from generation to generation using the “Thievius Racoonus,” a book which contains all the Cooper family’s secrets and tricks. While the Cooper family has accumulated a massive amount of wealth through their thieving ways, Sly places greater value on his friendship with his partners, Bentley and Murray, and his flirting and teasing relationship with Inspector Carmelita Fox.

I’ll be the first to admit that the Sly Cooper trilogy of games originally passed me by on the PS2. As someone who came to Sony’s then-flagship console late (I used to be a Nintendo fanboy, so sue me), I spent the majority of my time playing 2D fighting games and shooters of both the horizontal and vertical variety. It wasn’t until Dan Trachtenberg of the Totally Rad Show mentioned the series as one of his favourite games that I sat up and took notice and went out and tracked down Sly 3: Honor Among Theives at my local independent video game store… But it’s not until now, and the release of The Sly Collection, that I’ve actually managed to play the first two games in the franchise, and wow, what have I been missing!

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus (aka Sly Raccoon)
Originally released: September 23rd 2002
Sly must recover his family’s Thievius Raccoonus, a book listing all the special thieving skills his family has collected over several centuries, which was stolen by a rival gang, the Fiendish Five, led by Clockwerk, a mechanical Owl-manifestation of evil. Meanwhile, Sly and his gang must keep ahead of Interpol Inspector Carmelita Fox, who promises to one day capture Sly and put him away for his crimes.

Sly 2: Band of Thieves
Originally released: September 14th 2004
In this sequel a series of mechanical parts of the shattered Clockwerk have been stolen by the Klaww Gang. Together, they could be used to revive the defeated Clockwerk; separately, they each have super functions. While Sly and his gang follow these leads, they are pursued by Carmelita and her new partner, Constable Neyla, who are after both the Cooper Gang and the Klaww Gang.

Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves
Release Date: September 26th 2005
Sly has learned of the Cooper Vault, a gigantic store of the wealth his family’s accumulated over the years. He must find a way, however, to defeat Doctor M, who has taken over the island where it is located to try to break into it. Sly must regroup his old gang and recruit new members in order to succeed at reclaiming his family’s history, all while still on the run from Carmelita.

The Sly Collection is classic 3D platforming at it’s best. Combining great storytelling, superb gameplay, and all-new HD graphics – which look absolutely fantastic in the remastered 720p quality – this collection is a reminder of just how good, and how much fun a quality 3D platformer can be. Plus, it’s about time the Sly games got the recognition they deserve as some of the best games to grace the PS2.

With 3D TV and Playstation Move support (in the included mini games) and all three Sly games in one pack, at a bargain price, you really can’t go wrong with The Sly Collection. A must-buy for platform game fans.

GRAN TURISMO 5 (PS3)

Sony’s eagerly awaited and long-delayed Gran Turismo 5 has finally been released on ther Playstation 3 to much revelry – but is the long delay worth it? Does GT5 do anything bigger and better than it’s predecessors?

I didn’t pick up GT5: Prologue when it was released in the early days of the PS3, so the last time I played a Gran Turismo game was part 4 back in the days of the Playstation 2, since then my love of simulators has wained somewhat, to be replaced by a love of arcade racers – games such as Out Run Online Arcade, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, and in particular Split Second – so to come back to a simulator was, shall we say, an interesting experience. And not in a good way. It’s been six years since Gran Turismo 4 blew gamers away and in that time there have been many, many racing games released that attempted to steal Gran Turismo’s crown as king of the driving simulator and some that did. But now Sony and developers Polyphony are back with Gran Turismo 5 and having spent a week playing the game I can say it hasn’t quite been worth the wait.

I really didn’t want to be negative about Gran Turismo 5, but after such a long wait for the game I really was expecting a lot more…

The first thing that strikes you about GT5 is the convoluted menu system, really, what were Polyphony thinking? It’s a total mess, there are items hidden away in menus that should be upfront – but my biggest bug bear was that the online section is accessed by the tiniest of buttons on the menu page! In todays online multiplayer world that really should have been front and centre. And once you get past the menu system and into the game proper you might notice something particularly striking about the scenery – it’s dull. Very dull. At least the early track races are. Admittedly in some of the later stages there is some gorgeous scenery but it takes a lot to get there. My question is, how do you spend six years making a game and still end up with dull visuals? It shouldn’t happen.

Gran Turismo 5 does look good in some areas – in the menus and in the garage, the game, and the cars, look gorgeous. Sadly when you get your car on the track there are a number of graphics issues, in particular the dreaded combination of screen tear and anti-aliasing. As for the game itself, you’ll spend the majority of your time in the game doing the A-Spec events and in the early stages it’s way too easy – just choose the car with the greatest horsepower in the class you’re in and there you go.You’re a winner. Although with over 800 cars to choose from and a clumsy menu system, choosing the correct car will take you a good hour or more! So at least there’s some longevity there…

But it’s not all doom and gloom for Gran Turismo 5. The game is most definitely one of the great racing simulators, in fact you could call this the RPG of racing games – especially compared to some so-called simulators on the market, which makes it the perfect game for rev-heads everywhere. It’s just a shame that the long period of development is not visible in the finished product. GT5 is one for fans of the franchise only.

LITTLE BIG PLANET 2 (PS3)

British game studio Media Molecule are back with the eagerly awaited sequel to their hit PS3 exclusive game LittleBigPlanet. Taking the revolutionary gaming experience of the original game, LittleBigPlanet 2 expands upon the facets of that game, adding more wit and humour to the games story and in turn to Stephen Fry’s whimsical voiceover, adding more gameplay control options: Sackboy can now grapple along levels, spawn objects out of a hat, and grab & throw huge objects across the levels, and adding much-improved visuals.

Yes, the homemade look of the original game has been refined and streamlined into something more… beautiful. Aesthetically more pleasing to the eye, LittleBigPlanet 2 is full of new little graphical touches that, whilst don’t seem like much on their own, add up to a much richer gaming experience; and that sums up the sequel in its entirety – lots of little additions and tweaks that make up a much improved video game.

The introduction of the new gameplay mechanics works really well, with the first few worlds used to gently ease players into using the new tools at their disposal, with each successive level increasing in difficulty ensuring you get the full experience with each new tool. That’s not to say that there aren’t problems with LittleBigPlanet 2, namely in the jump mechanic and the leaping between layers – as per the first game. Sadly there hasn’t been any improvement in either in this sequel, although Media Molecule have added jump platforms to some of the levels, but it’s still not enough of an improvement. As per the first game there’s also community-created levels to explore, although at the time of writing there’s not many “great” levels available – which is the same situation the original game faced on its release.

Whilst LBP 2 is more cute, charming and, dare I say it, playable than the original it’s still an incredibly short game – with little over five hours single-player gameplay you really need a few friends, or the patience of a saint to wait for an online game to get the most out of LittleBigPlanet 2.

MARVEL vs. CAPCOM 3 (PS3)

If there was any game in the 2011 gaming calendar I was really looking forward to (besides Uncharted 3 of course), its was Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Combining two of my great loves: video games and comics, it should be a win-win for me right? That’s what I thought till I got my hands on the game…

First, the back story: I am a huge fan of fighting games – in particular the 2D fighters of old – having played just about EVERY 2D fighting game ever released on any system, from side-scrolling days of the NES, to the classic SNES/Streetfighter 2 era, to more modern takes on the genre such as Guilty Gear (PS2) and Blazblue (Xbox 360) – if it’s a fighting game I’ve played it and that includes both the PS1/2 and arcade versions of the previous two Marvel vs. Capcom games, so I was psyched for MvsC 3, but I knew that for a new game to really excite me it has to be special.

Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is not special. So where did it all go wrong for this game?

There’s a ridiculous amount of characters to choose from, which is always good in any fighting title. But of the characters available there are only a handful which truly suit the fighting game dynamic – many are cumbersome, slow and – when faced with more swifter opponents – are of ZERO use in a battle, even with the ridiculous mega-combo moves. Strike One.

Then there’s the graphics. I don’t know what other reviewers have been playing, saying MvsC 3 has “gorgeous graphics”, but to me it seems that somehow Capcom have managed to make all the characters look like poorly rendered CGI from the early 90′s! After playing other recent games (admittedly not 2D fighters) the graphics here look like a step backwards to the early days of this current gen of consoles. Shouldn’t we be moving forward, not backward? Strike Two.

The final flaw in Marvel vs.Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds (to give the game its full title) is the controls. Gone is the skill of learning combos and in comes totally random button bashing. Really. The attack system has obviously been “tweaked” (I use that term lightly) to make it easier for fighting game noobs to learn quick combos and pull off impressive looking moves – but by the same token it’s now stupidly easy to pull of the super-mega multiple hit combos and obliterate your opponents – even the computer controlled ones! Then there’s the addition of the long-range attacks… Oh what joy it is (note the sarcasm) to go up against a noob who hangs back on the edge of the screen firing long range attacks at you. Well done Capcom. Strike Three.

In all seriousness I haven’t felt this cold (and completely bored) towards a fighting game since Virtua Fighter 5 and I feel sorry for any gamer whose first experience of this franchise is this third entry. Don’t waste your money on paying full price for Marvel vs. Capcom 3 – even having only paid £30 for the game I feel cheated. Avoid.

I implore you, if you want the TRUE Marvel vs. Capcom experience go hunt down the game in a local arcade, or even download *shudder* an emulator and play the first two games that way.

DC UNIVERSE ONLINE (PS3)

I’m sure anyone reading this site has heard of DC Comics, the home of superheroes such as Superman, Batman and Wonder Women; and that they have recently released a new MMO game DC Universe Online where you can play as a superhero or villain. Me? I chose to play the game as a Superhero – cause I’m nice y’know!

The game is an online only title and Sony kindly bundle a 30 day free trial in the pack when you first purchase it (the trial will not work on preowned versions of the game) and after your trial is over it will cost you around £10 per month to play, which is only slightly more than the popular World of Warcraft.

You start out DC Universe Online by creating a character from scratch – or you can base it on your favourite character, choosing the style, appearance and colour of your outfit, your abilities and weapons,your “mentor”, and your power skillset. Although your original choices can be tweaked in game – it isn’t long till you can upgrade and change your characters skills etc., due to the equipment you can buy to improve your character (Note: so far the appearance of my character hasn’t changed).

It has been a fun, entertaining action MMORPG so far, but not as brilliant as I would have liked… There are some problems – graphical glitches mean your character seems to go bald when your too close to a object, the control system can be somewhat frustrating as you climb up and over objects you really don’t want to. Then there’s the camera – whilst you can control where the camera goes, there are times when it seems totally random and uncontrollable! The gameplay has its limitations too. Some of the quests are too RPG and not very “superhero” orientated and there’s some quests which are completely generic and could appear in any game – time trial anyone? The missions are also very samey – typically you see and talk to a superhero, collect a mission, kill some baddies (or for variety collect some characters) and voila! Mission complete.

Like Blizzard’s WOW, DC Universe Online has a capped skill level – in this case the highest level you can gain is 30 and after you reach this level it is capped and your skills also seem to cease to improve. Hopefully, like World of Warcraft, an expansion pack (no doubt DLC) will become available in the future to extend the level cap.

One of the biggest downsides to the game is updates – Sony have already issued an update to the game which was over 2 gig in size and seemed to take over a hour to download and install, all of which wastes precious playtime. Team that with the current level and skill limitations – and you have a game that may struggle to be a long-term playable release.

KILLZONE 3 (PS3)

Killzone 3 is the latest, and greatest, entry into the Playstation exclusive franchise which picks up exactly where Killzone 2 left off – only this time developers Guerilla Games seem to have taken on board all the fan criticism of the previous game, tweaked everything that needed tweaking, corrected everything that needed correcting, and created what is right now – in my opinion – the PlayStation 3 game of the year.

As I said previously, Killzone 3 literally picks things up immediately where the previous game ended, with Sev sitting on the steps outside the capital building as the remnants of the Helghast move in – and from there on in its fight, fight and fight some more! There is the odd lull, typically to tell some of the games rather convoluted story, but with the exception of one short level where you are told to go stealth, you’re constantly under fire. And I do mean constantly. Those lulls in the game in which the story is told are the real weak spots in Killzone 3, with a ridiculously convoluted plot that in essence demands nothing of the player other than to keep moving and keep killing – all in order to take down the Nazi-like Helghast. Nazi’s which despite the poor story, are voiced in amazing fashion by Malcolm McDowell and Ray Winstone, who voice Chairman Stahl and Admiral Orlock respectively.

Graphically the game is flawless – well, at least in my opinion – and for once the game isn’t all muddy looking and grey like a lot of FPS’s on the market today (Medal of Honor I’m looking at you!) and there’s a lot of variety in the level design too, from a devastated city, to a cool alien jungle and even and arctic based oil rig! Even the weaponry looks cool – from the standard assault rifle to utterly amazing heat-seeking missile launcher (which comes in damn handing in a tight spot). The audio matches the quality of the graphics too, with every explosion resonating from the screen and some great use of stereo – especially when you drop dead and hear your teammate running over to save you!

Killzone 3 is not without its flaws however. Occasionally the game will freeze during play as it obviously loads data on the fly and ammo is limited, as are the slots available for your weapons – there were a few occasions I regretted switching out guns as there weren’t enough slots available. Much has also been made of the controls, and whilst the standard set up isn’t very FPS-like (sorry Call of Duty fans) I had no issues with it. Plus you can always change them in the setup menu! If I had one major gripe it’s with your teammates AI. Those damn idiots run round like headless chickens at some times, which is damn annoying when you’re laying down on the ground slowly dying… Speaking of dying, your teammates also have a habit of walking straight into gun fire and then expecting YOU to save them!

But believe me when I say the pluses out weigh the minuses tenfold.

Sadly I haven’t had a chance to try out the multiplayer, Move support or 3D, but after just playing the single player campaign I can safely say Killzone 3 is a MUST-BUY for Playstation 3 owners. The game is available now.

WWE ALL STARS (PS3)

Over the years there has been a plethora of wrestling-related videogames, each game becoming more and more complex and more simulation-like. The early days of the button-bashing NES game Wrestlemania Challenge have slowly lead to the wrestling sim-esque WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011. Well now THQ are taking things back to basics with WWE All Stars, with an arcade-style wrestling game will no doubt appeal to both wrestling fans and more casual gamers – this is no sim, this is sheer pick up and play fun.

Featuring caricature recreations of some of the greatest WWE wrestling superstars in history, WWE All Stars is a who’s who of WWE wrestling history, with some thirty-odd characters all rendered in a beefed-up, over the top hyper-real fashion. From legends like Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior to modern superstars such as John Cena and Sheamus, the game allows you to pit old vs new and find out just who is the ultimate WWE superstar – its a fanboys dream come true!

It’s not just the characters that are hyper-real, the gameplay is too… The game mixes traditional wrestling maneuvers with glorious OTT combos that wouldn’t look out of place in a superhero videogame. For the majority of the time WWE All Stars wants nothing more than for players to bash away at buttons, but stick with it and you’ll discover that there’s actually a deeper element of skill required to truly progress through the games numerous “challenges”. The easiest moves to learn are the punch and the grapple, both triggered by pressing a single button for each move. Then comes the two-button combos – still easy to learn, but a lot more satisfying a result: Imagine running up an opponent, spring boarding off him to the turnbuckle then leaping back off the turnbuckle and catching your opponent in a over the head leg-lock and slamming him to the ground head first. All possible, and all with the press of two buttons and a swift move of the d-pad. The move looks amazing and really gives WWE All Stars the edge over other wrestling games in terms of sheer fun factor.

But WWE All Stars is not all about offense, there’s some rather tricking defense and reversals to learn too – and that’s where, for me, the game falls down. Reversals are just too damn complicated! Holding the L1 button AND rotating the analog stick clockwise, whilst concentrating on working out your next move does not for a pleasant experience make – and don’t get me started on the “targeting” system… Another frustrating element of the game is the targeting. Yes, its automatic in a 1-on-1 match, but when you’re in the middle of a fatal four-way it’s down to the player to target who to fight and its here that WWE All Stars really got on my nerves. Moving the right analog stick to change your targeting to who you want to fight, whilst getting your face pounded by the very same character your trying to target – not so much fun. It’s my one true bugbear about the whole WWE All Stars experience.

Graphically I had zero complaints – this is not a perfect recreation of your favourite superstars and as such it allows for both more flexibility in the gameplay and in the quality of the graphics – not having to simulate the hair movement of some of the big haired wrestlers of the 80s has, I’m sure, given the developers more room to make improvements in the overall sheen of the package – and boy are the graphics full of sheen, you can virtually see the character glistening as you play. The quality of the graphics do however put a strain on load times, but when you’re having this much fun playing a game things like slow load times and excessive amounts of loading can be forgiven (somewhat).

The game has plenty of longevity and tons of match-modes to choose from – including “make your own wrestler”, Path of Champions – a 10 match fight to a showdown with a WWE superstar, ala Road to Wrestlemania and its ilk; and best of all the Fantasy Warfare mode – where you really can pit old WWE vs. new.; and whilst WWE All Stars is no Smackdown vs Raw 2011, it is a fun arcade-style wrestlefest that finally allows fans to answer that age-old question: just who would win in a wrestling match between the Ultimate Warrior and Sheamus? Well that was the question in my case…

MOTORSTORM APOCALYPSE (PS3)

The fourth game in the Motorstorm franchise and the third Playstation 3 exclusive title, Motorstorm Apocalypse, is set in a apocalyptic urban area of the United States and sees players participating in races through towns and cities in the throes of a massive natural disaster. As you race through the tracks, buildings visibly crumble and collapse, the tracks change in real-time, bridges buckle and twist, tornadoes destroy everything in their path and rifts open up in the road beneath you as you drive… This is Motorstorm, but not as you’ve ever played it before!

Besides featuring a whole new style of in-your-face destruction, Motorstorm Apocalypse is also the first game in the franchise to really try and tell a story – a pretty crappy and really unnecessary story, but a story nonetheless – from three different perspectives, each dependent on the level of difficulty of which you select to play the game: The Rookie, The Pro, and The Veteran. Each “character” follows a different story path through the game and are privy to different unfolding catastrophic apocalyptic events. Although to be honest why developers Evolution Studios chose to add any story is beyond me – the whole “Motorstorm Festival” was enough of a decent plot thread to hold the game together without the need for animated story cut scenes and character arcs – all of which I skipped after the third or fourth scene…

What hasn’t changed about Motorstorm Apocalypse is the vehicles – the traditional Motorstorm vehicles: the MX bike, monster truck and quad bike are all present and correct, and this time round joined by all-new modes of transport: the supercar, superbike, muscle car, chopper and the hot hatch. Whilst the addition of a story was, for me, an unwelcome one, these new vehicles classes are most definitely not! Each new vehicle brings with it its own demands of the player, from controlling the speed and acceleration to quirky handling… and once mastered you’ll wonder how you ever played Motorstorm without them.

Of course the major gameplay difference in Motorstorm Apocalypse – and the most effective new development in this three-quel – is the aforementioned “apocalypse”. Besides looking absolutely amazing , the catastrophes which befall the track as you race make the game pants-wettingly tense – I for one have never played a game where you have to outrun a tornado as it tears up the track your driving on. Best of all the game actually offers you bonuses for looking at the catastrophes as they happen! The ever-changing track also means that players will never get bored making laps round the same course – if anything you can say this game definitely keeps you on your toes, which makes a refreshing change for a multi-lap racer.

Graphically Motorstorm Apocalypse looks amazing if a little “dirty”, my only qualm with the look of the game was the lack of definition in some of the tracks, the twists and turns aren’t clearly marked in some places and sometimes there isn’t really a traditional track to follow, meaning whilst the catastrophic events keep changing the landscape you still need to remember all the turns to avoid crashing – and crashing can REALLY cost you a race in this game… One too many and there’s no way you’ll ever make that necessary third place to proceed.

Probably my favourite of all the games in the franchise, Motorstorm Apocalypse is a welcome new twist on the traditional racer – now if someone could combine the explosive track-changing abilities of Split/Second with the catastrophic action of this game then I’d be one happy gamer!

DRAGON AGE 2 (PS3)

From Bioware, the developers that created Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2, Planescape Torment and Knights of the Old Republic, comes Dragon Age II.

I’m a big RPG fan – I enjoy the freedom to choose a character, choosing their class/type, customising the way they look. Now I typically always choose a warrior, which means if I want to switch character classes it typically means starting the game over. But the first thing that strikes you about Dragon Age II is that you can change characters during the game – which means you do have the chance to play as a different class throughout the game! Dragon Age II allows players to choose to play as any of the other characters you meet along the way, once they have joined your “team”.

Dragon Age II sees players embark upon an all-new adventure that takes place across an entire decade and shapes itself (literally) around every decision you make – and your choices can see you rise to power from a destitute refugee to the revered champion of the land. Dragon Age II also features new dynamic combat mechanics that put you right in the heart of battle whether you are a mage, rogue, or warrior. The game features an entirely new cinematic experience that grabs hold of you from the beginning and never lets go. The story begins with you are trying to escape across the water to neighbouring Kirkwall – you arrive, along with other people trying to escape and your welcome is predictably cold, but your uncle manages to get you in at a cost. The game then skips forward three years to tell the story of how you turned from working for your uncle to local hero.

Whilst playing Dragon Age II I couldn’t fault the graphics, they were just amazing, even the loading screens were just a great design – even though it seem to take bit longer than expected to load, however it’s not all good news – there is the odd occasion of screen tear, usually accompanied by moments of lag in the game.

Another great thing I just loved about this game was the map, I love RPG’s but one thing I get bored with is trying to remember where I you have to go to complete a task or continue with a task, but the map in this game not only tells you which town is related with which task, it also allows you to jump to that town (once you have already been there) and also allows you to change the time of day with three options – day, evening and night – which again allows you to easily continue or complete a task.

I haven’t fully completed this game (in fact I’m sure I haven’t even scratched the surface of this epic game), but I have been impressed so far – Dragon Age II allows you to choose your own path, you get options to choose how you wish to respond to other characters in the world of the game and in what manner: whether it being a angry reply, peaceful etc., which then has an impact on the rest of the game.

The game is, in my opinion the first RPG to really try and get you deeply involved on an emotional level, so you can feel faith and free will, revenge and passion, every betrayal and failure.

PLAYSTATION MOVE HEROES (PS3/MOVE)

Sony have taken six of their flagship character teams – Jax and Daxter, Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper and his sidekick Bentley, and plunged them head first into what Sony have deemed a “50 level action adventure game”, taking place in four different environments: Paris from Sly Cooper, Metropolis City on Kerwan from Ratchet & Clank, Haven City from Jak and Daxter and the all-new Planet X. Only Playstation Move Heroes isn’t an action game – it’s the PS3 version of Wii shovelware!

The idea of six classic Sony characters combined into one game sounds, on paper, like a genius idea and could have made for a superb platforming multi-universe action game, however developers Nihilistic Software have instead opted to take bog-standard game archetypes – the same archetypes that plague dozens of Wii shovelware titles: disc, whip, bowling, projectile and melee – and created a less than stellar reason for the characters to come together and a less than stellar game for people to play. Avoid.

SOCOM: SPECIAL FORCES (PS3/MOVE)

Billed as the fourth game in the SOCOM franchise in some territories, this is actually the SIXTH game in the series and is once again a third person tactical shooter, this time set in Malaysia. You control Cullen Gray, the leader of a 5-man NATO special forces squad deployed near the Strait of Malacca, and you literally take control of your team throughout the game: ordering squad members to waypoints, designating targets, and co-ordinating attacks on your command. The single-player campaign consists of 14 missions and the online multiplayer… well I couldn’t tell you about that thanks to the current Playstation network woes! What I can tell you about is the Move support – unlike Heroes, SOCOM: Special Forces is a game first and a Move game second, so despite being able to play with the Move I was worried that the Move experience would be somewhat lacking. But it turns out I was wrong.

Sort of.

To talk about the Move support you must first talk about the game as a whole – which sadly is a sub-par Gears of War meets Call of Duty: Modern Warfare clone that offers absolutely nothing new in terms of gameplay, even if developers Zipper Interactive have given tried and tested level archetypes new names. Yes, “Uplink” is a game mode I’ve never heard of before, but have a go and you realise it’s capture the flag by any other name – and “Last Defense” is a variation on the same gameplay conceit… SOCOM: Special Forces is a real case of wolf in sheep’s clothing. And not in a good way. The game is nothing innovative, so it’s all down to the Move to provide the innovation, which it kind of does, but only because the traditional controls are so bad. If you’re a fan of the SOCOM games I’m guessing you’ll probably enjoy this, but if you’re looking for a Move based shooter I’d stick with Killzone 3.

APE ESCAPE (PS3/MOVE)

Wow, just when I thought Playstation Move games couldn’t get any worse, along comes Ape Escape. Eschewing the platforming action of its predecessors, the PS3 iteration of the long-running Sony franchise is an on-rails “shooter” – well that’s if you replaced shooting with wafting a net around! Yes folks, Ape Escape is the type of crappy shovelware game that the Wii has become notorious for, just graphically superior (but not by much, as you can tell by the cover art above).

The game is viewed from a first-person perspective with Move controller used to control your on-screen gadgets, which include a net, a slingshot and a fan, all of which can be cycled through using the move button. You use the gadgets in a number of different ways – the trigger button fires slingshots, you gesture up and down with the net, and you can pretty much wave the fan around in any way you desire! The net captures the elusive escaped apes, whilst the slingshot can be used to catch far away bonus objects, trigger extra interactions or destroy non-ape enemies, and the fan destroys anything in its path and can be used to bounce back enemy fire (a la a baseball bat).

And that’s it. You move through each level on rails switching between weapons can capturing apes. It’s tedious, monotonous, boring, and all the other words of that ilk. Ape Escape is definitely one for the young kids or indiscriminate casual gamers only.

The one good point about Ape Escape? The anime cut scenes look pretty…

RED FACTION ARMAGEDDON (PS3)

The fourth game in the Red Faction franchise, Red Faction Armageddon takes place 50 years after the previous game and after the events of the recent Syfy TV movie Red Faction: Origins, and sees players take control of Darius Mason, the grandson of Martian Revolution heroes Alec Mason and Samanya, the main characters of Red Faction: Guerrilla, as he tries to “reclaim cultist fortifications on the disaster-ravaged surface of the planet and defend colonists from hostile Martian creatures” apparently. I wouldn’t know, I skipped all the story-based cut scenes to get straight to the good stuff – blowing shit up and believe me, you can do that in spades!

Yet another third-person shooter, Red Faction Armageddon has one feature that the majority of FPS games do not – fully destructible environments. This game goes further than any other in terms of how much of an impact players can have on the in-game environments – and thankfully you get plenty of high-power weapons to do it with, such as plasma cannons and rocket launchers! However said destruction is not without its flaws. Fair enough you can destroy buildings and the like with one shot of a fully charged plasma cannon, but said cannon doesn’t seem to do much damage when fired directly at enemies. On top of that you can actually destroy the path ahead of you, leaving you no way to advance through the level! Luckily you are armed with an electronic device, the Nanoforge, which will let you rebuild said destroyed scenery… otherwise there would be a LOT of disgruntled gamers out there! The device also comes in handy in boss battles, allowing you to rebuild/recreate cover destroyed by your enemy.

There’s a lot to like about the game, graphically it looks good – but not great – this looks likes the game has been ported to the PS3 (ie doesn’t make the best of the PS3 capabilities), with the Xbox iteration, what I’ve seen of it, looking slightly better than its Sony counterpart, and the control system works really well. Gameplay-wise, Red Faction Armageddon, is a standard mission-based affair. Once you complete the initial (and rather bland) first mission – saving the planets Terraformer – developers THQ throw in some variation to the game, with mech-suits a la Killzone 3, on-rails shoot-em up sections and more, for a further 21 missions…

Besides the single player campaign the game also features an “Infestation” mode and “Ruin” mode. Of the two it’s “Ruin” mode I enjoyed the most – doing exactly what it says on the tine, this mode sees playing trying to blow up as much of the environment as quickly as possible to earn as many points as possible. Unlimited ammo means you never have to waste time running round looking for ammo and can concentrate on purely blowing as much shit up as possible, and high scores equal more maps to use in Free Play mode. “Ruin” mode is all about destroying the enviornment in as many creative ways as possible. It’s fun. And lots of it.

Overall Red Faction Armageddon is an OK, if unremarkable, third person shooter whose true fun factor lies solely in the destructible environments. There are better shooters out there, but then there are a LOT worse. Worth a purchase if you’re a fan of the series.

With so many games released over the past few weeks it’s hard to find time to play and review everything – but we’ve tried our damndest to keep up to date with Sony’s latest game releases for the PSP and PS3, and so here is the “Sony Review Round-Up” for games released in the month of June…

WHITE KNIGHT CHRONICLES 2 (PS3) & WHITE KNIGHT CHRONICLES: ORIGINS (PSP)

Developed by acclaimed Japanese studio LEVEL-5 Inc., White Knight Chronicles 2 takes us back to the magic-infused kingdom of fantasy, swordplay and myth and follows intrepid adventurer Leonard on a brand new voyage set one year on from his original adventure. White Knight Chronicles Origins on the other hand takes the fabled White Knight legend 10,000 years into the past in a prequel to the original game..

I’m reviewing these two game together as essentially they are very similar in gameplay style and in boredom factor. Yes, you read that right, boredom factor. Now I’ll admit I’m not the biggest of RPG fans, but even a hardcore RPG-er would be hard pressed to not say that the latest two games in the White Night Chronicles franchise are slow-going. Fair enough, the graphics look excellent on both the PS3 and PSP iterations, but pretty graphics do not a game make. I’d like some semblance of moving the story forward, some semblance of action… of anything! I lost patience with both White Knight Chronicles 2 and White Knight Chronicles Origins after (what seemed like) the 150th conversation with one of the many in-game characters. Sorry folks, these two are definitely for the uber-hardcore RPG crowd, everyone else should go pick up one of the Dragon Age games…

INFAMOUS 2 (PS3)

InFamous 2 opens in Empire City as a massive explosion rips through the town signaling the birth of a new evil. Nearly escaping death by the dark entity known as “The Beast”, Cole flees the city. Upon leaving, Cole discovers that “The Beast” has destroyed Empire City and is heading down the coast annihilating everything in its path. In an effort to stop “The Beast” from destroying mankind, Cole heads to New Marais in search of a scientist who is believed to hold the key to defeating this dark entity. As the mystery of “The Beast” unfolds, Cole must learn to harness his powers for the sake of mankind.

It’s hard to review Infamous 2, on the one hand you have awesome electrical powers and can slide, fly and jump your way around whilst taking on the bad guys in hand to hand (or hand to electricity) combat and completing missions large and small. On the other hand it’s a sandbox game (which I loathe) that features on of the worst building climbing mechanics I think I’ve ever seen in a video game. I’ll admit, for the first portion of the game, prior to arriving and completing your first mission in New Marais, I was having fun – running around learning how to use my new (and old) powers, fighting bad guys and generally causing chaos. But then I finished the first big mission in New Marais and everything changed… Sandbox-style gameplay kicked in and instantly I was turned off playing. Give me missions dammit! Don’t let me wander round a town with nothing to do – especially if that wandering includes trying to climb up buildings! Unlike games such as Assassin’s Creed and Prototype, hell even the recent Spider-Man games, all of which had a really great, fluid wall-climbing mechanic, Infamous 2 opts to have you button bash your way to the top with the smallest jumps possible. It’s bloody infuriating, especially given that jumping OFF buildings can be done in an epically-cool fashion!

I’m still undecided how I feel about Infamous 2, I keep going back to playing it, but at the same time I get so damn frustrated with it. Probably one for fans of the original only.

F.E.A.R. 3 (PS3)

Taking place directly after the events of the previous game, this three-quel sees you playing as Point Man, who returns to the franchise in order to halt the evil Alma’s pregnancy (fathered by F.E.A.R. 2′s Beckett no less!), with a little help from Point Man’s now undead brother Paxton Fettel. F.E.A.R. 3 introduces divergent co-op, giving players the opportunity to play as Point Man and Paxton Fettel, each with distinctly different abilities affecting their own play as well as the experience of their co-op partner. Gamers participate in single player or co-op modes as Point Man, a genetically enhanced super soldier originally introduced in F.E.A.R., or they can play cooperatively as his conniving brother Paxton Fettel, whose incredible telekinetic power has given him life beyond the grave.

Now this is more like it! The F.E.A.R. franchise returns to excite and terrify with a game that had even this hardened horror fan quaking in his boots trainers. Starting out like yet another FPS, F.E.A.R. 3 seems to be a step backwards for the franchise and as a bog-standard FPS would pail in comparison to Killzone 3 (the pinnacle of PS3 FPS games). However… once you get to the Costco-esque supermarket all hell breaks loose and THIS is the F.E.A.R. we all know and love! Zombies, explosive zombies, downed choppers, creepy ghostly occurences, strange flashbacks (or are they flash forwards), it all makes for one hell of a gaming experience. Graphically F.E.A.R. 3 is not as polished as, say, Killzone 3, but what it does have is a damn good story, superb atmospherics and a killer sound design – possibly the best I’ve ever experienced in a video game.

If you like your games to be scary and action-packed then F.E.A.R. 3 is most definitely for you. The most fun I’ve had playing an FPS since Killzone 3. A must-buy.

GOD OF WAR COLLECTION: VOLUME 2 (PS3)
The God of War Collection: Volume 2 couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I’ll admit I was late to the God of War party, being a Nintendo fanboy for years meant I missed out on the golden age of the PS2 and I’ve been playing catch-up ever since. My first and, until the third game, only experience with the God of War series was a brief demo disc version of the second game, then of course God of War 3 hit the PS3 and I was hooked – I played the demo to death and then played and enjoyed the hell out of the finished game when it was finally released… More recently I’ve actually been eyeing up prices of the two PSP outings at my local stores and I almost snapped them up last week – I’m glad I didn’t as this bad boy landed on my doorstep today!

Much like the original God of War Collection transfered the original PS2 games God of War and God of War 2 on to the Playstation, so God of War Collection: Volume 2 gathers together the two PSP games – Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta in new high-def versions that bring the small-screen adventures of Kratos on to the big screen.

Story-wise nothing has changed from the original games – Chains of Olympus sees Kratos take on the goddess Persephone who is trying to destroy the world, and Ghost of Sparta sees Kratos trying to rescue/avenge his brother who is being held in the underworld. The gameplay hasn’t changed either, you play as Kratos as he goes round kicking mucho ass in a typial hack ‘n’ slash fashion. Be it man, woman or mythical monster, Kratos doesn’t discriminate – get in his way and you’re dead. Simple, effective, eminently playable. Oh and did I mention highly addictive?!

What is different about these games, at least compared to their handheld siblings, is the graphics. Remastered in high definition, both Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta look fantastic on the big screen. I don’t know what I was expecting from a PSP port, I think perhaps I was anticipating these would be “screen within the screen”, types of ports, similar to the 16-bit games you see on XBLA and PSN, but they’re not – these are 100% full screen and 100% HD. It’s not just the graphics that have been beefed up either – the two games now feature 5.1 surround sound and support Dualshock, meaning the rumble of the soundtrack is accompanied by the rumble of the joypad too… Plus, and here’s the biggie – the God of War Collection: Volume 2 supports stereoscopic 3D for those of you out there with 3D TVs!

Of course being ports of PSP game means that they’re not a graphically superior as their PS3 counterpart, but still they look damn good – think top-quality PS2 graphics and you’ll be somewhere near. Given the fact these are PSP ports there’s also a distinct lack of enemies on screen at any one time, obviously on a small screen this is a plus, but on the big screen it comes across as a little weak – plus a lack of enemies seems to make the games so much easier than the third in the series ever was. There’s also a lack of scale – God of War 3 felt absolutely huge when you were playing it, almost like you were a very small cog in a huge machine, from the massive monsters to the huge landscapes, but here everything is a lot more small scale – but again given the origins of the two games in the God of War Collection: Volume 2 that should be expected. That’s not t say that the PS3 versions of Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta aren’t as epic as GoW3 – they are.

I’ve heard talk from other reviewers that the Kratos in these HD versions is a lot more sluggish and heavy handed than his three-quel counterpart, and whilst this may be true when it comes to the characters rather sluggish “heavy punch” the rest of the time I had no qualms about the controls or the performance whatsoever. Of the two games, Ghost of Sparta benefits the most from the HD upgrade – already pushing the limits of the PSP, when converted to HD and played on the big screen it looks and feels superb. That’s not to say that Chains of Olympus is bad, it’s just lesser…

Overall the God of War Collection: Volume 2 is a fantastic package and great for those, like me, who have yet to experience the PSP outings of Kratos. And for those that have? I’d recommend snapping this up anyway, just for the experience of seeing the games on the big screen – as they say size matters!

WARHAMMER 40K: SPACE MARINE (PS3)

The year is 1991 and young Phil is sat in his room reading White Dwarf, painting Space Marines, Eldars and Tyranids and dreaming of fighting epic battles on more than a table top. Jump forward 20 years and Phil’s painting days are long-gone as is his Warhammer 40k collection. Then something happens… he pops the brand new Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine video game from THQ into his Playstation 3 and the memories come flooding back!

Yes, despite there being many Warhammer 40k based video games over the years, it seems THQ have finally hit the nail on the proverbial head and got it right with Space Marine - despite many other reviewers claims that this game is shallow of story, especially considering the vastness of the Warhammer universe, but this is everything *I* wanted from a 40k game as a kid many moons ago: hacking and slashing my way through hordes of Orks, all in the name of the Space Marine corp. Hell, its like Space Hulk [almost] brought to life!

Space Marine sees players take control of Captain Titus, a veteran ultramarine, who is out to defend Imperium Forge World Graia from an ork invasion. The game sees you battle your way through hordes of orks – and yes these are hordes – on various missions across Graia, be it collecting a power source, blowing up a cannon, y’know your typical battle-scenario style missions…

If the story is shallow then what really works about Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is the combat. With a choice a guns or melee weapons at your disposal. Guns are of the typical shooter variety: pistol, sniper, rifle, and grenade launcher, but these can, and will, be upgraded as you progress further through the game. The melee weapon is upgradeable too – you begin the game with a standard issue combat knife but its not too long before that’s upgraded to the awesome chainsword – then of course there’s the axe or hammer. And best of all it’s incredibly easy to switch between gun and melee weapon as one is held in your characters left hand and one in the right, and each hand is mapped to a different button on the joypad. Simple, easy and effective. And something which is REALLY needed when your faced with oncoming ork hordes – especially when the horde has a sniper/grenadier team backup.

Graphically Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine looks great, especially you and your Space Marine troops, but – and this seems to be somewhat of an issue for some – the level design is somewhat bland, with many of the early levels looking identical in both design and colour palette. Personally I was so enthralled by the combat action at hand that I didn’t pay much attention to the scenery!

Unlike many third-person shooters, there are no health pick-ups in Space Marine, instead you use combat to increase your dwindling health meter, and thankfully that, like the combat is easy too, acheived by stunning and then executing orks in a two-button sequence. And the executions look superb! If you’ve ever wanted to see an ork given a ride on a chainsword, bloody spewing everywhere then you’re in the right place with this game! The game also features the ability to build up “fury” through combat, which can then be triggered at the height of an ork horde attack, enabling you to do more damage, much faster. Fury mode, when teamed with sniper mode also allows players to slow down time – ideal when you fancy a spot of one-shot-one-kill action (bye, bye ork heads!).

I would comment on the multiplayer aspect of the game, only I – like many others – haven’t experienced that fully thanks to problems with wait times on Playstation-based servers. Sitting for over half an hour waiting for a match to be made? No thanks. There are reports however that a patch is coming to fix the multiplayer issues on the PS3, so this may improve in the near future. Thankfully I found plenty of fun to be had with Space Marine‘s single player campaign…

PLAYSTATION CLASSICS HD – ICO & SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS (PS3)

Sony’s latest release in their HD classics range for the Playstation 3 sees the high definition debut of two of the most talked about, and still two of the most sought-after, Playstation 2 games ever released - ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. Now as I’ve said before, I was late to the Playstation 2 party as I was somewhat of a NIntendo fanboy back in the day, I was also one of those gamers who tended to favour the generation before (mainly because the games were cheaper). So when the PS2 was first released I was still playing on my trusty N64, I did finally upgrade to the Gamecube and then realising that there wasn’t much for me in terms of gaming enjoyment on the machine I traded it in and finally got a PS2. But by then it was too little too late, I’d missed all the hype surrounding ICO and Shadow of the Colossus so the pair kind of passed me by.

It was only years later when I got into “retro” game collecting that I realised just how well-loved the two games were, so imagine how over-the-moon I was when it was announced that both games would be getting the HD treatment as part of the Playstation 3 HD classics range. I was even more excited after playing the first few entries in the range – the God of War Collection and the Sly Cooper Trilogy. Both of those were tremendous HD updates, God of War in particular, of the original games and with ICO and Shadow of the Colossus already two of the most beautiful PS2 games out there surely a HD upgrade would make them truly something special?

In a word, no.

What happened Sony? This entry in the HD Classics range looks like something slapped together at the last minute, with no attention to detail whatsoever. There doesn’t, on the face of it, look to be any graphical improvement over the original games – fair enough it’s actually probably cheaper to buy this release than try and buy second hand copies of the original (which still go for a pretty penny) – but surely a little more HD gloss would have done wonders for the games… I will say I couldn’t try out the stereoscopic 3D versions of either game but how that would be an improvement graphically I don’t know.

So no real graphical upgrade, the menu system is slipshod, the controls couldn’t have been worse, and to top it all off the games are dull too! Having never played either ICO or Shadow of the Colossus before, but knowing how highly they are regarded amongst fellow gamers, I was expecting something special from the two. Instead I got what felt like two side missions from a much bigger game – ICO being the “guide someone out of the level” style of mission and Shadow of Colossus is merely a string of boss battles. Disappointing. In fact the entire package can be summed up by that word too – disappointing HD upgrade, disappointing menu system, disappointing games, disappointing, disappointing… disappointing.

Unless you’re a massive (and I mean massive) fan of the original games and somehow don’t own them already then maybe Playstation Classics HD: ICO & Shadow of the Colossus is for you. Everyone else? Definitely try before you buy.

ROCKETBIRDS: HARDBOILED CHICKEN (PS3/PSN)

Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken , from independent developers Ratloop Asia, builds upon the original browser-based game (which sadly I never had the opportunity to play) Rocketbirds: Revolution! with new characters, missions, puzzles and more in a side-scrolling 2D platformer-come-shooter that sees you play as Hardboiled Chicken, a Rambo-esque “Coq of War” (groan) on a mission to assassinate the evil penguin leader Putzki whose has taken over Albatropolis and now runs it as a totalitarian penguin regime.

I was immediately drawn to the concept of Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken – after all what’s not to love about a chicken that uses force to take down his penguin oppressors, but what I didn’t expect was to be sucked into the world of Rocketbirds so much. The first thing you notice when starting up the game is the presentation. Unlike many downloadable games it looks like a LOT of time has been spent on making the game look and sound fantastic, with hand drawn animation and a soundtrack by Los Angeles based indie rock band New World Revolution which is perfectly orchestrated to the games numerous cut-scenes which together unveil the untold story of Hardboiled Chicken. The game looks so good that it made me wish I had a compatible television so I could enjoy Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken’s stereoscopic 3D support (which runs at a smooth 60fps/720p).

The game is playable in both solo and co-op campaigns, with 15 chapters in the solo campaign which sees you assume the role of Hardboiled Chicken, kick ass, kill penguins and take names; and 10 chapters in the co-op Campaign in which you can select a pair from the dirty half-dozen Budgie commando characters and set out on a mission to save the general’s daughter. Besides blowing the crap out of the evil penguin regime, Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken is also filled with a variety of puzzles which you must solve to move through each level – be it moving blocks from one place to another so you can climb to higher levels to taking over the bodies of your captors in awesome fashion with the cool brain bugs. Thankfully Ratloop break up the 2D side-scrolling platform action with a variety of rocketpack based levels (hence the Rocketbirds of the title) that see you blast the hell out of your enemies shump-style.

The game isn’t totally original, after all we’ve all played 2D side-scrollers for years, however Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken is a well-polished, well-executed title with beautiful visuals, an awesome soundtrack and some great penguin-killing fun – you really haven’t lived till you’ve killed a penguin by juggling it in mid-air with an AK-47!

BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY (PS3)

Where to start with Batman: Arkham City? The hype machine rolled into town months ago and it still hasn’t left yet, but in its wake it’s left a game which has been dubbed by some as “more important to Batman than The Dark Knight”, the “best game of 2011″, the “hottest game of 2011″. After all that the game can’t live up to the hype, surely? Yeah, it can’t. Can it?

I was a HUGE fan of the original game – I remember nearly wetting my pants in excitement when the PR company looking after the release emailed asking if I wanted an early play of the game at Eidos HQ. So my expectations for the sequel were high, very high – after all the follow-up isn’t a quick cash-in, it’s been two years since the original. But once again expectations are built on reputation and reputation alone – so between everything Rocksteady were teasing to the press and public and the myriad of trailers and screenshots released, Batman: Arkham City had everything expected of it (by me) and for me it fails to deliver to some extent…

The game looks fantastic, even better than its predecessor – in fact its one of the best looking games I’ve played – and it has a superb story, complete with twists turns, betrayals, surprises and more (and no I’m NOT going to spoil any of those in this review) but in terms of gameplay, it’s not really that much of a leap from Arkham Asylum, which at the time was a game-changer for superhero video games. At its core Batman: Arkham City is merely more of the same, only longer and glossier. There have been some improvements don’t get me wrong – including the awesome ability to fly using your cape and not just glide – but at the core is the same, albeit great, gameplay. There’s the same traversal across the (larger) landscape and the same free flow combat and stealth action as the first game, with a little tweak here and there to offer a modicum of improvement. The whole thing is once again “rinse, repeat” in the same way as Arkham Asylum was – if you didn’t enjoy that game you’re certainly not going to find anything new to bring you back to the Bat-franchise with Arkham City.

My biggest gripe with Batman: Arkham City, at least on the PS3, is the terrible controls – there’s been a lot of progress in some games with just how they use the sixaxis and dualshock controllers, but here the game seems to take a step backwards with a control system that feels clunky and inhibiting. The poor PS3 controls really put me off progressing further than I have with the game. However I (very) recently got a chance to play the Xbox 30 version at a Warner Bros. Bloggers Day and I have to say the 360 wins hands down in terms of controls – yes the buttons are all mapped the same, but for some inexplicable reason it just feels a lot more fluid and more responsive playing Batman: Arkham City using the Xbox gamepad. And I wasn’t the only one to express the same sentiment at the WB event.

Once again the story, from well-versed Batman scribe Paul Dini, and the voice acting from Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy et al. are the real stars of the game, as they were in the original, without them I very much doubt Batman: Arkham City would be such the great game that it is. And with plenty of side missions this time round, and the ability to play as Catwoman, Nightwing and Robin, there’s plenty of game for the money – it’s just a shame that it’s not that much of an improvement over the original…

MOVE MIND BENDERS (PS3/MOVE)

Bringing together three already available Move-compatible Playstation Network titles on one disc, a la PopCap Hits on the Xbox 360, Move Mind Benders features the puzzle games Tumble, echochrome II and Lemmings. All three make good use of the Move controller although whether the package as a whole is worth a purchase is debatable…

Of the three, easily the weakest is Tumble, a block moving puzzle game that requires a steady hand and REALLY good control over the Move. The game is a series of challenges that see you stack and manipulate varying sizes and styles of blocks using a simple point and click mechanism – think of a basic mouse-based flash game crossed with Jenga and you’ll have something close. The challenges include: Build High Challenges where you must build your tower, stacking different sized blocks to reach the required height without letting the blocks fall; the Use Them All Challenge in which you must place as many items on a table as possible; the Destruction Challenges, where you must place explosive mines on a tower, with the aim of launching blocks onto the score targets below; and finally the Laser Light Challenge, which sees you reflect lasers to its final target using angles mirrors and coloured blocks. Overly simplistic and tedious beyond belief, the game is the PS3 equivalent of the accursed Wii shovelware.

echochrome II is yet another platform-come-puzzle game and the sequel to the hit original (which I played on the PSP of all places). This Move-compatible version sees you manipulate shadows to allow a safe passage for a stick man to pass across the screen. Much like Lemmings you must create create steps, bridges and in some cases even holes in the platforms to allow safe passage for the stick man. To create said platforms players hold the Move controller like a torch, shining a “light” onto the screen, hitting other platforms and shapes to create shadows which in turn create new platforms etc., and as you move the light you move the shadows. Its a simple and very effective style of gameplay, yet at the same time echochrome II can be viciously difficult – especially when you’re juggling thinking about what shadow to create and how best to create it with the Move controller. Its taxing, but ultimately very satisfying.

The final game in the Move Mind Benders package is the classic PC-puzzle game Lemmings. Having not played the PSN original, I was pleasantly surprised to see all-new high definition graphics combined with a fantastic pixel-perfect control system using the PS Move, so pixel-perfect it’s the most fun I’ve has playing the game since the heady days of the original PC version – it really makes you appreciate just how good it was to play this game with a mouse. Combine the great new control system with its pinpoint accuracy and then playing Lemmings on a big screen TV and you have something that, despite its age, actually feels like a breath of fresh air. Not bad for a 20 year old game which had – until now – lost some of its lustre.

Despite including the best version of Lemmings I’ve ever played, Move Mind Benders is not worth the purchase price. You’d be much better off buying a standalone version of Lemmings and leave the other two on the shelf.

CARNIVAL ISLAND (PS3/MOVE)

Everything that is wrong with Sony’s mentality surrounding the PS Move is summed up right here in this game. Billed as an exclusive to the PS3, this game is essentially a complete rip-off of the Wii title Carnival Games. Featuring and anime-style intro and two cutesy kids, the game does try to differentiate itself from that “other” carnival franchise. But when you have the same mini-games appear in both titles and the same bloody control system, it’s hard not to see where Sony’s Santa Monica Studio and Magic Pixel Games have taken their inspiration. Basically a set of mini games including ring-toss, bowling, and match-three, Carnival Island is a terrible game that in my opinion should never have even been contemplated for Sony’s flagship console, even if it is aimed at kids. One to avoid, or to give to someone you hate this Christmas.

MEDIEVAL MOVES (PS3/MOVE)

Not strictly another entry into the Medievil franchise, Medieval Moves is possibly the closest thing to that series of games without being sued for copyright infringement. The official description goes like this: “The evil Sorcerer Morgrimm has invaded Prince Edmunds Castle and plots to take over the kingdom, raising an army of skeletons from beyond. While trying to stop Morgrimm, the hero, Prince Edmund is also turned into a skeleton. Now named ‘Deadmund’, he must fight to save his homeland and defeat Morgrimm and his minions to restore order to the kingdom.” So that’s evil sorceror, knights, and a skeleton hero… Sure sounds like Medievil to me!

Medieval Moves is an “on-rails” videogame much like the on-rails shooters such as TIme Crisis and House of the Dead, but this time featuring hacking and slashing instead of shooting, with plenty of sword fighting and the occasional bit of archery and projectile throwing too. Much like Carnival Island, this is the sort of game that the Wii has become synonymous with – think Red Steel and No More Heroes, only Sony have aimed this squarely at children – and to have it appear on the PS3 seems to be yet another example of Sony playing catch-up just as Nintendo are moving AWAY from motion controllers into something altogether different with the Wii-U. Not as offensive to gamers as the aforementioned Carnival Island, at least there is some fun to be had from slicing and dicing your way through enemies and at least the presentation – which is all in a storybook hand-drawn animation style, is quite appealing, as are the graphics and its hard not to love little Deadmund as he goes about his quest…

RATCHET AND CLANK: ALL 4 ONE (PS3)

Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One, the latest (and tenth!) installment of the Ratchet and Clank series to appear on the Playstation 3 finally gets it right – with multiplayer! No longer are Ratchet and Clank fans forced to play the games alone as this new title features a four-player cooperative mode which allows for drop-in and drop-out online play as well as offline multiplayer. But whilst developers Insomniac Games get it right with mutliplayer, they get is so wrong in many other areas…

The game takes place after the events of A Crack in Time, and follows main characters Ratchet, Clank, Captain Qwark and Doctor Nefarious, when – after an evil plan set in motion by Nefarious to destroy his nemeses once and for all backfires – the four are sent back in time and must work together and cooperate in order to escape from a mysterious machine known as the Creature Collector and get back home. Its a simple premise for a simple game.

Decidedly more kid-friendly than its predecessors, Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One eschews the platforming and tricky puzzles of games like A Crack in Time and instead focuses on the co-op experience, with both a simplified and more linear style of gameplay with much simpler puzzles that rarely take more than a button press from one of the characters. One thing that does remain, even if too has been simplified somewhat, is the massive inventory of weapons. Weapons such as the Warmonger are back, joined by a number of new and inventive weapons, including a hoover which players are called upon to use time and time again to solve the many switch-based puzzles. The weapon-levelling system is also sadly dropped in favour of a “collect and redeem system” that allows you to upgrade each weapon only three times. No doubt this is because, even when playing with an AI team-mate, the auto-targeted fire – which grows in power the more players there are sustaining fire on a target – is enough to defeat all of the games enemies easily.

Visually the game looks fantastic, and its should given just how much graphical progress has been made in the rest of the PS3-based games in the Ratchet and Clank series. Plus the script is fantastic, with a great selection of witty one-liners from the cast of characters. Sadly, unlike say the LEGO series of games, there’s nothing more to Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One than the linear game – there’s no side quests, no hidden gems to collect, nothing. Fair enough developers Insomniac Games do throw in some variation on the standard platforming action including rafting, jetpacking, water skiing and more… But there’s just not enough variety to stop the game from become a little tedious.

As a single player game Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One is lacking that certain something which makes other Ratchet and Clank games great, but it’s decent multiplayer game, with some great fun to be had for four players. I just wish it wasn’t quite so linear… This would probably have worked better as a budget-priced PSN Store download rather than a full-price title. I can see a lot of people waiting for this to hit the bargain bins.

TEKKEN HYBRID (PS3)

Released by Namco Bandai, Tekken Hybrid is yet another of Sony’s “HD Collection” releases under the guise of a slightly different package. This release not only includes the full-length 3D compatible feature film Tekken Blood Vengeance 3D on Blu-Ray disc, but it also contains a HD redux of a PS2 game of yore in the form of Tekken Tag Tournament HD and what they are calling a “sampler” of the arcade game (hence the Prologue in the title) Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Prologue.

Tekken Tag Tournament HD is a high-definition remake of the classic beat ‘em-up from the PlayStation 2. Boasting a 20-fighter plus cast of characters, the game revolutionised the Tekken franchise (although we had seen it in other fighting franchises before then) by adding a tag battle system with two characters for each team. Bizarrely, this release also includess the minigame Tekken Bowl, which brings Tekken to the bowling alleys! Yes it sounds weird and it feels weird when you play it, but it is a lot of fun – trust me! Graphically Tekken Tag Tournament hasn’t looked any better and the controls are still as responsive as they ever were. However what lets down this redux is the combat – the moves available in Tekken Tag all look clumsy (in that they are clumsily animated) and actually in short supply! Given todays massive move lists in games such as Tekken 6 and Soul Calibur 4, the limited number of moves, and I’m not just talking special moves, really dates the game rather badly. Probably more worthy of a PSN download than a retail purchase, Tekken Tag Tournament HD is nonetheless a welcome addition to this Tekken package.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Prologue features four playable characters who also appear in the Tekken Blood Vengeance movie which accompanies the game – in fact each character in TTT 2 Prologue features the costume they wear in the movie (which is apparently exclusive to Tekken Hybrid) plus a costume from how the characters appear in the actual arcade game. Other than that, it’s yet more Tekken-style arse kicking action, only looking more gorgeous than ever before – and this time with a list of special moves to die for. This prologue features the characters of Alisa Bosconovitch, Ling Xiaoyu, Devil Kazuya and Devil Jin, and there’s a nice sleazy touch to the alternative costumes in TTT2 Prologue as you can play as both Alisa Bosconovitch and Ling Xiaoyu whilst they’re dressed as schoolgirls with upskirts-a-plenty! Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Prologue is, given its prologue status, a rather short affair and one that only wet my appetite for the full game even more… Roll on 2012 when Tekken Tag Tournament 2 finally debuts on Playstation 3. Both Tekken Tag Tournament and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Prologue install to the HDD to play, so bear that in mind before purchasing – I had to delete one to play the other – they’re about 1.5 – 2Gb each – on my old PS3 Fat.

With (almost) two games and a 3D movie included in the package, Tekken Hybrid will, for now, satisfy Tekken fans everywhere – at least until Street Fighter X Tekken, Tekken X Street Fighter and the home console release of the full Tekken Tag Tournament 2!

SAINTS ROW THE THIRD (PS3)

Now I’ve never been the biggest fan of the Saints Row franchise – for one they’re sandbox games, and we all know (or at least you should by now) know that I have a particular dislike for sandbox games, and two they always seemed to me to be a poor man’s Grand Theft Auto. So given the chance to review the third game in the series I thought would make for an interesting experience… How right could I be? And how wrong could this game be?

Starting Saints Row The Third I found myself really enjoying the opening heist, after all what’s not to like about a game that instantly throws you in at the deep end, facing hordes of enemies whilst taking the piss out of the fact your facing hordes of enemies! But then something happened. The bank heist was followed by an awesome sky-diving sequence that sees you not only have to avoid falling debris from the plane that you’ve just jumped out of, but also take out enemies in a mid-air gunfight. That portion of the game (actually the intro) ended I was left wandering about Steelport in a dreaded sandbox environment, engaging in gun battles, buying property and stealing cars… Boring!

However I carried on playing, partly because I needed to for this review, and partly because of the games inherent humour – sick, twisted humour that relishes in all that is morally objectionable. Which I found hilarious. As I said I carried on playing, buying more buildings, fighting gangs and cops. Same old, same old. Then after a while the game suddenly switched. Hurrah! The call came in from fellow Saint gang member Pierce and the more mission based aspect of the game kicked in. Thanks god for that is all I can say.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Saints Row The Third in terms of game play, its just (as I keep saying) I hate sandbox games, but thanks to the new missions I got back into playing the game for fun once more – pimping my car, then myself and then an awesome penthouse raid and helicopter chase followed. Fantastic fun all round. Of course you can still buy buildings to increase your control over the city and do all the usual (boring) sandbox activities, but the missions will always be there – which means for me I can balance out the dullness of travelling round the city with missions that have clear set goals. Perfection.

The fun aspect of the game only increasing the more you play. Starting out Saints Row The Third with basic weapons, etc is fine, but once you buy a few gun shops and start upgrading your weapons then the real fun begins – there’s nothing like uncovering rival gang activity – this time round you’re up against the Deckers, Morningstar and the Luchadores – and calling in an airstrike to take them all out. Beats fighting them one on one, which if you DON’T upgrade your weapons can lead to dying. A lot.

Now I’ve heard from some fellow gamers that Saints Row The Third doesn’t have the same well-rounded narrative ads its predecessor, but having not played it I can’t comment. What I can say it that this third game in the Saints Row franchise is possible one of the craziest games I have ever played. It truly is insane. And you can have insane fun with it too – there’s a reason this game is rated 18 folks! If the narrative is lacking, what isn’t are the graphics and the in-game physics…

The game looks gorgeous – even when the screen is full of explosions, human fireballs and death and unlike a lot of sandbox games, developers Volition have spent time making sure that the in game driving experience feels good as well – I particularly like the fact that should your tyres get shot out the car will pull to the same side (as per real life) and you have to compensate to keep the car going in a straight line. The city itself is extremely well rendered, with plenty of back alleyways, nook and crannies to (try and) hide in and a madcap collection of shops, casinos and dodgy backstreet “establishments” on and in which to spend your hard-earned cash.

In the end Saints Row The Third IS a sandbox game, but unlike any I’ve played before – rewards are not given for keeping everything under control, but for creating absolute chaos. Hell, even dressing like a madman earns you more respect on the street! And as for Professor Genki’s in-game reality TV show? Utter insanity. And that’s the keyword when it comes to this game, insanity. If you like balls to the wall mayhem and madness in your video games then snap up a copy of Saints Row The Third now.

UDRAW GAME TABLET (PS3)

THQ’s uDraw GameTablet is an interesting prospect. Blending classic tablet style controls in a gaming device, the uDraw turns TVs into digital art studios and allows players to tap into their imaginations, complete art lessons, engage in creative activity-based gameplay, or simply draw freestyle with a wide variety of brushes, color palettes and art tools – thanks to the uDraw Instant Artist software included in the initial package.

What uDraw also allows is DS-style gameplay on the big screen and quasi-mouse based gaming experience on consoles that previously have all been about first-person shooters, sports titles and the like. Originally released on Nintendo’s Wii, te uDraw has finally made its PS3 debut along with a number of new games including two that we were supplied for review – Pictionary and Marvel Super Hero Squad: Comic Combat.

Much like a tablet, the uDraw uses a stylus and a touchpad to move your cursor around the screen with a swift “click” or depress of the nib to select items (in place of pressing the traditional X button on the dualshock pad), however unlike tablets the uDraw has, at least for this reviewer, one major flaw… Unilke say a mouse or a professional tablet, the touchpad on the uDraw represents the entire of the TV screen, which means where you place the stylus is where it appears on screen – with a traditional touchpad if you lift the stylus the cursor will stay in the same place you left off and when you place it back on the touchpad the cursor will move from the position you left it at. But not with the uDraw, because its represents the entire screen when you return the stylus to the touchpad the cursor jumps up or down the screen depending on the position of the stylus. Which actually goes against anything I’ve ever learnt when using a touchpad, tablet or mouse! It meant that for me the uDraw felt completely unresponsive.

Aside from that (pretty major) flaw, I actually had a modicum of fun with the uDraw GameTablet – especially when playing Marvel Super Hero Squad: Comic Combat. Here the uDraw is used in a point and click adventure style, with the stylus taking the place of a mouse as you use the uDraw stylus to command Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and seven other Marvel Super Heroes in the battle against Doctor Doom and his evil cohorts – directing attacks, wielding weapons and building barricades. Thanks to the built in gyro sensors, you can even shake the uDraw to create an in-game earthquake!

Meanwhile Pictionary was more of a chore than a pleasure – I actually found using the uDraw to play the game more it more complicated than it ever needed to be. Instead of a physical board, counters and a die, everything is on screen: to roll the die you flick the pen across the uDraw tablet and the colour of square you land on determines what sort of subject you draw next – person, animal, object, etc. But the big “fail” as far as Pictionary is concerned is that the game all rests on the idea of making sure players close their eyes when revealing the clue – which seems completely ridiculous…

As a new peripheral the uDraw GameTablet is, as I said in the intro, an interesting prospect, but sadly the over-inflated price tag and the lack of “must-buy” games (although Comic Combat comes close) doesn’t make this an essential purchase by any means. Wait for it to hit the sales at a heavy discount before taking the plunge.

KING OF THE FIGHTERS XIII (PS3)

The flagship brand of legendary fighting game publisher-developer SNK Playmore, King of the Fighters is not only my favourite fighting franchise, it is also a household name in the genre, and so it should be, after twelve previous installments dating all the way back to 1994 the series has become synonymous with a quality fight experience.

So what makes King of the Fighters XIII different from the rest of the series? Well, there are now over 30 characters to choose from. Vast improvements have been made to gameplay as well, with new NEO MAX super special moves, faster gameplay, refined visuals and a tweaked in-game camera. But not everything has changed… Unlike the previous game in the series, this entry into the series continues the “Ash Saga” which began in 2003′s iteration, bringing back all the characters that were present in the previous title, adding new and returning fan favourite characters, including Mai, and this time the game tells an atual story – If there was one thing that was lacking in KOF XII it was a story, but thankfully SNK Playmore have seen the light and given players both the “dream match” fighter that we know and love and also an intriguing storyline told through a series of cut scenes and player chosen matches – think of it as a “choose your own adventure” type tale, with multiple endings depending on specific fighting team choices (yes, teams are back in KOF once more).

“But what about the gameplay?” I hear you ask. Well before we get to that, first off let’s talk graphics. Wow. SImple as that. Wow. King of the Fighters XIII takes the hand drawn animated characters seen in the previous game and ups the gorgeous factor to 11. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better looking 2D fighting game ever. Yes, ever. So why talk about the graphics first? Because it’s the superb graphics that will pull a lot of non-franchise fans into this game, but its the gameplay that will keep them coming back time and time again… As with many of the games in the series, KOF XIII is a four-button, 3 vs. 3 team fighter that blends traditional fighter-style controls with a more aggressive, in-your-face, gameplay that even punishes the more defensive players out there thanks to the guard crush meter. Which in my opinion gives it the edge over other fighters as that how I roll when it comes to 2D fighters! With 9 game modes including Arcade, Versus, Mission and Online, there’s plenty for gamers to go at – plus with the multiple ending story mode that will have you replaying various scenarios in a quest to unlock the entire story, you could be playing King of the Fighters XIII well into 2012.

With some of the best gameplay this side of KOF ’98, pretty decent online play and a ton of unlockables, SNK Playmore have hit the proverbial fighting game nail on the head with The King of Fighters XIII. An essential purchase for not only fans of the franchise, but beat ‘em-ups fans everywhere.

WWE ’12 (PS3)

Wrestling. A sport I love to watch but hate to play. Every year there’s a new wrestling game thrust upon us unsuspecting gamers and every year there’s always something ridiculously frustrating about them. This year we’ve had two WWE branded video games, WWE All Stars at the beginning of the year and now WWE ’12 to close out the year. And I know which one I prefer.

Dropping the “Raw vs. Smackdown” moniker which has been prevalent for a number of years now, WWE ’12 has been billed as the one of the most TV-like versions of a WWE video game ever seen, with the same editing, camera angles and action that appears every week on television appearing in THQ’s game.

As I say every time I review wrestling video games (something I seem to keep doing every year), I am not the biggest fan of wrestling games, well not the modern iterations. Classic titles such as WWF Wrestlemania Challenge on the NES and later iterations of the SNES and Megadrive yes – but the move to the more “simulation” style of gameplay left me a little cold. What got me back into playing wrestling games was TNA Wrestling on the PS3, and since then I’ve picked up and played each and every wrestling title released. Played them all? Yes. Enjoyed them all? Not so much.

Graphically the game takes WWE video games to a whole new level and the series has never looked better. I don’t know how they’ve managed it but THQ have made improvements in character design, ring design, and the addition of the TV-style editing is frankly genius. Unlike the “Raw vs. Smackdown” branded games, WWE ’12 features wrestlers old and new and the roster is a fantastic mix of WWE Superstars from every decade.

Yet again there have been improvements in the control system, but yet again there are some issues with the controls… Whilst the improvements in the offensive control system allow for a quicker, more free-flowing gameplay, the defensive controls fail once more. I think if THQ are to make any real improvements next year it would most definitely be in the defensive/hold break controls as, like the last game in the franchise, hitting the button at just the right time was actually nigh-on-impossible on some occasions, in fact more times than I’d like!

Whilst there’s plenty of game to play in WWE ’12, with career modes that once again include the popular Road to Wrestlemania, I much prefer the arcade-y stye gameplay of THQ’s previous release, WWE All Stars. But if you’re a fan of the franchise you’ll love this latest entry.

UFC UNDISPUTED III (PS3)

The third game in THQ’s “other” big sporting franchise UFC 3: Undisputed is actually the first of the series I’ve had a chance to play – I do remember briefly trying out the demo of the very first game ages ago, but at the time I thought it wasn’t for me. So skip forward 3 years and here I am playing the latest iteration of the videogame franchise which comes, once again, from developers Yuke’s. Whilst not completely new to the world of UFC (we have reviewed a couple of discs here at Blogomatic3000) I am a complete newbie when it comes to fighters names and abilities, but thankfully that didn’t stop me from enjoying the game in the slightest – yes, there were a few fighters I recognised: Michael Bisping, Chuck Lidell and Brock Lesnar to name a few; but for the most part I was flying blind throughout my experience with the game. And you know what? Despite me having a distinct lack of knowledge of the sport and the fighters I found myself having a great time with the game – moreso than with THQ’s more successful WWE titles!

The first thing that strikes you about the game is massive amount of fighters who are available across the weight classes – which apparently numbers around 150; then of course there’s the presentation. Taking part in an in-game fight was just like seeing it on TV, from the introduction of the match, the intro of the fighters and the final winner announcement, it was all exactly like the couple of UFC DVDs I’d seen. Except for the loading times of course… And that’s my only bugbear about the game – the inordinate amount of loading screens and just how long you seem to spend watching them. But there is an obvious reason for this just ask my other half’s stepdad who walked in the room and asked why we were watching UFC. Yes, this game (in it’s PS3 incarnation at least) is one of the most gorgeous – can you say that about a bunch of male grapplers? – games I’ve seen in a long time. Sans any graphical glitches and with some of the most realistic computer generated characters this is a joy to look at. At least till you start pounding the crap out of each other and faces become bloodied, bruised and mangled.

The game itself supports a number of modes – the core of the game is the career mode, which is massive and daunting. I’ve been playing the game for a while and feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of my characters career – UFC 3 starts you at the very bottom of the UFC wrung in the minor-league companies and you have to fight (and win) your way into the major leagues. There’s plenty of training programs and tutorial-like mini games to get you started on the road to understanding the games complex system of standing strikes, ground work, counters, blocks and submissions. What’s really cool about the career mode is that you can fail and be sent back down the UFC ladder to train more and build up your skills – there’s literally no guarantee (beyond your own gaming skills) that you’ll ever face big-name opponents in the career mode…

Outside of the extensive career mode there’s also the more arcade-like free-play mode where you can pick a weight class, a fighter, a ring, a ref and even which fighting style – UFC or the newly added PRIDE – you wish to use (Pride, in my opinion, is both more brutal and more traditional-fighter like). Thankfully there’s also an option to choose just how you break out of holds and submissions. Both make use of the right stick but the more simpler option of merely moving the stick in one direction actually makes for a more enjoyable experience in-game. Why THQ can’t implement this for their WWE games is beyond me – breaking holds/moves in that franchise is my one major gripe and one that ruins my experience of the games in the end. It’s the “arcade” mode where I found most enjoyment with UFC Undisputed 3, picking up a controller and beating the crap out of someone never looked, or felt, so good and it’s damn satisfying to win by TKO I tell you!

The loading times aside, UFC 3 is without a doubt one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in a sports video game. If your a fan of MMA or not, you deserve to give this a go – you may, like me, find yourself pleasantly surprised. Forget the WWE games, with a fantastic fight engine, extensive career mode and great pick-up-and-playability this, for me, is THQ’s flagship sports fighter.

CATHERINE (PS3)

Wow, where to begin with Catherine? Originally released in Japan in February 2011 and the US in July of the same year, I originally played the demo of the game that was made available in the US Playstation Store, a demo I fell in love with (pardon the pun) straight away. The heady mix of puzzles, love-sim like gameplay and the strange survival horror aspect of the game made for an intriguing title and I looked forward to the game in earnest. Sadly the road to the UK was not as straight forward as one would have hoped and it is only now, some seven months after its US debut that UK gamers can, thanks to Deep Silver, enjoy the “epic-weirdness” that is Catherine.

Let’s get this straight, for all intents and purposes, Catherine is a sim-style game, driven by the story of Vincent a thirty-something man who drifts between his job, his friends, his local pub, The Stray Sheep, and his girlfriend Katherine (notice the subtle spelling difference). However Vincent’s life is thrown into turmoil, first by his girlfriend turning serious and talking of marriage and children, then by the arrival of Catherine – a woman ten years his junior and the total opposite of Katherine, a woman with whom Vincent has an affair… To top it all off the papers and TV are covered in the startlingly news that local men are dying in their sleep. Could everything be connected somehow? Well this is a bizarre Japanese video game so of that fact have no doubt!

Of course having an affair doesn’t come without consequences and Vincent’s are a little unusual… He suffer from bizarre nightmares in which he must climb a seemingly unending tower of blocks, pushing and pulling them in order to climb to the top. Where he meets sheep men. Yes, sheep men. A strange hybrid of man and beast, these “sheep” are literally that, following Vincent up the tower and offering pertinent (and not so pertinent) advice on what you, as Vincent, must do to complete your tasks. It’s in these nightmares where the real gameplay of Catherine can be found, as you must solve the block-moving puzzles that befalls Vincent. Puzzles which I may add get increasingly difficult the further into Vincent’s nightmares you get – it soon becomes clear that Catherine is all about trial and error. You could say a nightmare for player and character alike (groan).

The first thing that strikes you about Catherine is the presentation, the game starts, and plays out, like a TV soap opera – that’s if the TV soap opera was set in the same universe as The Twilight Zone! There’s even a host: Trisha, the Midnight Venus, who introduces the “Golden Playhouse” and it’s story of Vincent and Katherine when you first boot up the game… What you also notice is that majority of the games actual story is played out in a high definition anime, which comes from the legendary Studio 4°C, that switches to computer generated imagery when you need to interact with the world further than a mere click of a button. The main thing that strikes you though? Catherine is just damn weird! If you’ve ever, like me, wanted to play some of the more “out-there” games released in that region, then this is for you.

And whilst puzzle games tend not to afford much re-playability once the game is completed, Catherine is different. Developers Atlus have included a total of eight endings based on three central narratives – Katherine, Catherine, and Freedom (choosing neither woman) – which are revealed depending on the way certain questions and text messages are answered throughout the game. Of course the completist in me (and I’m sure there are many more like me out there) wants to see all eight endings, and the only way to do that is to replay the game, changing your actions and answers as you go. There’s also a rumoured ninth ending, but let’s not get into that now, its hard enough trying to see the first eight…

However what raises the game head and shoulders above others of its ilk, is that there are NO others of its ilk! Yes, for gamers that scream there’s no originality in video games any more, there is. It’s Catherine. Harkening back to the hard-as-nails, weird and wacky puzzle/platformers of the 80s and titles such as Head Over Heels and Impossible Mission, this is one of the most refreshing, yet frustrating, video game experiences I’ve had in years. A definite must-buy.

TWISTED METAL (PS3)

The Twisted Metal series was always one that passed me by – I’ve never played the original game or its sequels on the PSOne or the two later game released on the PS2 (including the highly-regarded Twisted Metal: Black) so I came to the PS3 iteration, simply entitled Twisted Metal, as somewhat of a noob and judging by reports, that may have actually benefited my enjoyment of the game.

Developed by Eat Sleep Play and more importantly David Jaffe, director of the Twisted Metal AND the God of War series, Twisted Metal focuses on contestants trying to win Calypso’s Twisted Metal Tournament – a tournament that sees you tool up your vehicle with armour and weaponry in order to crash, shoot, and destroy your fellow car-driving competitors. It’s a basic premise for what is a highly addictive game – if you can get the hang of the controls that is.

As someone who hasn’t played the previous games I have to say this new entry in the franchise has me hankering for more – between the indiscriminate carnage of both vehicles, people, and environment (yes, you can run into and blow up buildings in this iteration of the game) I had tons of fun with what is essentially a demolition derby… on steroids! As I stated previously, the controls do leave something to be desired, the overly convoluted mixture of buttons presses, movement of the analog sticks (including the occasional press of the right stick for a turbo boost) and keeping your eye on what weapons are available and when can get confusing, but once master – even in the slightest – there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had out of Twisted Metal.

I’ve heard a number of complaints that the single player mode in Twisted Metal is both un-engaging and too difficult, but I found it to be neither. The story is linear I admit, but the presentation of said story is first-rate and I love the nod to grindhouse style cinema. As for the difficulty, between all the power-ups and health bars/trucks available on each level there’s absolutely no reason to think this is a difficult game – in fact I’d say the opposite. The ease with which I tore through the first few levels of the game was ridiculous. The only real issue came in the boss battles, but even then there was nothing particularly difficult about them.

But a game like Twisted Metal is made to be played in multiplayer mode and despite the connection issues I had – I was booted out of games and back into the lobby a little too frequently for my liking, there’s a lot to be said for blowing the crap out of complete strangers on the internet. I know I found this games mulitplayer death and destruction a lot more fun than your usual FPS multiplayer (it’s a lot harder for 12 year olds to kill you instantly with a head shot for one).

I’ll freely admit I’m not a fan of driving games, so it takes something special to make me keep coming back and playing one – the number I do keep playing I can count on one hand (Outrun SP, Split/Second and Driver: San Francisco) – so if I tell you that I plan on playing more of Twisted Metal in the future then you know its got to be good.

JAK AND DAXTER TRILOGY (PS3)

Yet another in Sony’s recent Classics HD range, The Jak and Daxter Trilogy brings one of the most popular (both critically and commercially) PS2 franchises to the Playstation 3 in a remastered and revamped 720p HD with PSN trophy support, featuring Jak and Daxter, Jak II: Renegade and Jak 3 all bundled on one Blu-ray disc.

After being snapped up by Sony, Naughty Dog, probably now best known for creating the Uncharted series, turned their attentions from the Crash Bandicoot franchise (their first truly successful IP) to Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, creating not only a new franchise but also a brand new hero in Jak. Released on the Playstation 2 in 2001, the game is a traditional 3D platformer which, much like it’s counterparts at the time: Spyro the Dragon, Banjo Kazooie et al, sees you tasked with collecting items such as Power Cells, Precursor Orbs and Scout Flies; accomplishing platforming challenges; and defeating the usual end-of-level bosses. With the occasional “bonus” level featuring riding a Flut Flut bird, or piloting the A-Grav Zoomer, Jak and Daxter is a bright, colourful, easy to control game that, at the time, seemed aimed squarely at younger kids (but its not, believe me).

Following on two years after the original, Jak II: Renegade picks up the story some years after the original title, with a game that is much darker than the first and also much more difficult. Relocating the action from the island setting of the first to Haven City, a dystopia ruled by the evil Baron Praxis. Once again players must collect Precursor Orbs, but the idea of collecting power cells has been replaced by a more mission-based game which sees Jak armed with a range of weapons including a morph gun, scatter gun, blaster and more. New additions to this game include the ability for Jak to transform into a “dark” version of himself which increases your melee attacks and make you stronger for a limited amount of time; and the addition of a “driving”-like experiences on Jak’s jet-board and other hover vehicles.

The third and final outing for Jak and Daxter in this classic HD collection is Jak 3, the third and last game in the trilogy barring the two spin-offs: Jak X and Daxter, on the PS2 and PSP respectively. Like it’s predecessor the game continues the story from the previous title, only this time Jak has been banished from Haven City to the Wasteland (and Spargus City) and is set approximately 300 years after the first game in the trilogy. For this third outing the gameplay is further tweaked with the addition of yet more guns, more vehicles and more variety of gaming styles – there are now 12 guns at your disposal, and as well as the return of Dark Jak, this game also features its counterpart Light Jak, which instead of increasing your attacking capabilities, increases your defense. Vehicles play more of a major role in this game, allowing you to travel around the wasteland more swiftly – it’s easy to see where the inspiration for Jak X came from after playing this game. Whereas Jak II featured a much greater difficulty level than the original game, Jak 3 tones down the difficulty to a somewhat, making the game more family-friendly than its predecessor.

As stated in the opening, the The Jak and Daxter Trilogy features all three games in the original franchise, giving them a graphics overhaul to allow them to support 720p HD, with smoother gameplay animation running at 60 frames per second in normal mode, while in 3D mode the games run at 30 fps. The graphics looks clean and smooth and are certainly an improvement over the originals, and even over some the other remastered games in the “Classics HD” collection.

Couple the improved graphics with the original great platforming game play and this is an essential purchase, and not just for fans of the original games – if you’ve never played a Jak and Daxter game before you owe it to yourself to, after all this is some of the best platforming action ever available on the PS2.

WHEELS OF DESTRUCTION (PS3)

Gelid Games’ Wheels of Destruction is an arcade-style, class-based, car combat shooter set in a post-apocalyptic Earth. It places players behind the wheel of five different vehicles in five of the most dangerous regions of Europe in a demolish-or-be-demolished competition of deadly cutthroat vehicle combat with a unique futuristic aesthetic – all powered by the Unreal Engine.

An online multiplayer game featuring the classic FPS match types: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag, Wheels of Destruction is a game that takes the class-based system from Team Fortress 2 and mixes it with the chaos and destruction of the recently released Twisted Metal redux. However it fails it reach the dizzy heights of gameplay as either of those titles.

Sadly there’s ZERO by way of single player gameplay to Wheels of Destruction – unless you’re happy to play the same three match types against bots-a-plenty! Of course the multiplayer will hold your interest for a good while, but with no ability to upgrade your vehicles or anything to unlock beyond the original five cars this is a game that gets repetitive and dull quite fast.

But the game is not all bad. First off it looks great, especially for a cheap(er) Playstation Store downloadable title; plus the control system isn’t that bad, making great use of the PS3′s dual analog sticks; and there was zero lag when playing online, even if there weren’t enough gamers to battle! However despite those plus points, there’s not really that much to recommend purchasing Wheels of Destruction.

YAKUZA: DEAD SOULS (PS3)

Confession time: I have never played a Yakuza game before; whilst stylistically they did look appealing I knew I didn’t have the time or the patience to play them. After all they were, as far as I was aware, RPG’s and you probably all know how I’m not a fan of those…

But, and this – at least for me – is a huge but, the latest installment of the series adds in the one thing that will get me playing ANY video game… Zombies! Yes, the classic, quirky RPG series has gone all survival horror and whilst you’d think that changing the modus operandi of the series making it a complete departure in terms of gameplay and story, Yakuza Dead Souls ends up being nothing more than zombie game with a (large) number of flaws.

Where to start? Well I guess the beginning is the best place… A beginning that starts with one of the longest (barring DC Universe Online) installs I’ve ever experienced in all my years video gaming. A beginning that then proceeds to go through a ridiculous amount of cut scenes and loading scenes before you even get to press a single button! Talk about alienating newcomers straight away. When the game starts proper you’ll soon discover that whilst killing zombies makes for a fun time, the frankly terrible control system detracts from any enjoyment!

Why the developers of Yakuza Dead Souls decided on such strange, and non-standard, controls beggars belief. Essentially you control movement via the right stick and your guns (yes, this game replaces the melee combat of the previous entries in the franchise with tons of gun play) with the left. Seems simple enough right? No. The game features an auto-targeting system that is SUPPOSED to aim at any and all oncoming zombies, but I found that nine times out of ten it didn’t. Instead it targeted thin air in the last direction you pointed the right stick! So imagine this scenario – a huge horde of zombies are running at you, you turn and run away to make some space to blow them all away, then turn back to face them, only when you hit L2 to trigger the crosshair and auto-target your weapon it spins you back in the way you were running and the zombie horde pounces on you! It’s bloody frustrating I tell you!

And that’s the thing about Yakuza Dead Souls – whilst I ket on playing and playing I was constantly frustrated. Be it the ridiculous amount of loading screens, the un-skippable cut scenes, the terrible targeting everything works against the game. That’s not to say there aren’t some positives. The game looks amazing, with some of the most well-rendered characters I’ve ever seen on a current gen console. The story (despite my disdain for cut scenes) is well written, building layer upon layer of plot threads that both move on the story and open up a world of side-missions. Side missions that you can actually spend a inordinate amount of time playing; almost to distraction from the main game. And despite my hatred for the control system I will say that once armed with dual pistols the entire shooting experience was made more pleasant – It’s much more simpler to wildly fire at the zombies with two guns than with one whilst slowly walking towards them in strafe mode.

Whilst a good story usually means a great video gaming experience (see Dead Space – essentially an FPS but made so much more by the great script), I can’t help but wonder if more time had been spent on the controls and the load times rather than the script, would Yakuza Dead Souls have been more of an essential purchase. For now it’s for hardcore zombie fans who must play EVERY zombie game release, and fans of the franchise. Which, based on this entry in the series, doesn’t include me.

DOCTOR WHO: THE ETERNITY CLOCK (PS3)

The first of three planned video games for the Playstation 3, PS Vita and PC, Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock features Matt Smith’s Doctor and follows his adventures as he travels across space and time with River Song battling through the universe to try and save Earth.

Unlike many video game tie-ins, The Eternity Clock is actually considered canonical in Who lore, having been supervised by the BBC Wales team that produce the series. The game also features full voice-acting from the TV series cast – in particular Matt Smith as the Doctor and Alex Kingston as River Song, as well as villains from the series, including Daleks, Cybermen, Silurians and The Silence.

Developed by Supermassive Games, Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock was originally developed as a PSN title, before being released this past Friday in stores across the UK. The only reason I’m pointing that fact is that the games DLC background is more than noticeable in the sparse graphics, but then again, the very same sparse graphics match the low-budget nature of the show in some ways too! That’s not to say the graphics don’t look good, they do – the environments are very well realised, especially across the different time zones you visit: the present day, the 1800s, the 1500s, and the 22nd Century, the travel between which is very well implemented in the game, both in terms of the story and the design. Being the first of three games this does feel very much like a part of a larger story and much like Moffat’s tenure on the series there is a lot of foreshadowing of future events as well as references to past adventures and characters including the Doctor getting spooked by an angel statue, a brief mention of the Yeti and the Great Intelligence, and best of all Dalek portion of the game apparently takes place during the Dalek invasion of Earth during the 22nd Century!

As for the gameplay itself, Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock is essentially a side-scrolling platformer with puzzles and minigames interspersed throughout the levels. The puzzles themselves are surprisingly tricky, even when played (as I did) on the medium difficulty, what makes them so difficult is the often the time limits – there are a number of occasions where puzzles must be completed whilst under attack from enemies… too slow and you die! There are also a number of collectibles scattered throughout the game including hats (?!) and pages from River Song’s diary. The hats are utterly pointless collectibles, however the diary pages offer some insight into River; of course both offer some replay value for completists no matter how trivial they are.

Having played the PC-based adventure games also released by the BBC I can easily say the The Eternity Clock is the best game-based incarnation of Doctor Who so far. With a witty script, great voice acting from the two protagonists (and to a lesser extent the villains) and some great nods to the television show from which its spawned this will please Who fans of all ages.

DRAGONS DOGMA (PS3)

Dragon’s Dogma is an exciting new franchise which redefines the action genre from the team that produced some of Capcom’s greatest action games.

Set in a huge open world, Dragon’s Dogma offers an exhilarating and fulfilling action combat game with the freedom to explore and interact in a rich, living and breathing world. Alongside your party of three, also called pawns, you set out to track down and destroy a mysterious dragon. Your pawns fight independently of you, demonstrating prowess and ability they have developed based on traits learned over time from you and your actions.

Dragon’s Dogma offers a near endless opportunity to help develop the partner characters to fight alongside you. You can also share your pawns and utilise your friends’ pawns via Xbox Live or PlayStation Network.

Developed by the creators of Devil May Cry and Resident Evil 4, Dragons Dogma is a breath of fresh air. Taking elements traditionally found in action games and adding them to a more modern RPG framework totally revitalises the tired video game sub-genre.

The pawn system is one of the things that sets Dragon’s Dogma apart from other RPG. Your main pawn, whose appearance and vocation is decided by you, can be hired by friends and strangers from The Rift, symbolised by a huge grey stone and looking like the afterworld scene in Disney’s Hercules. Up to two pawns can be utilised at any given time, alongside your main (similar to Dragon Quest); and best of all the pawns learn, evolve and adapt to the game based on their experiences. The pawn system is not the only innovation in the game – Dragons Dogma features a superb dynamic 24-hour day/night cycle, which not only changes the way you play the game, but also provides different enemies and surprises depending on when you venture out into the world.

What also sets the game apart is the way in which it throws you in at the deep end with its prologue. Part tutorial and part background to the story, the prologue also serves to shock, with an unexpected “twist” that at first confuses, then surprises. When the game gets going proper and the story unfolds the prologue makes perfect, perfect sense. It’s a fantastic example of great video game storytelling.

But its not all perfection. Sadly the characters and pawns have a very limited script, which means that they end up repeating their one-liners over and over; and the more you play the more you notice it, until it actually becomes annoying enough to warrant taking a break from the game (although if you’ve platyed it enough in one sitting to get annoyed at the repetitive phrases you really should be taking a break).

An almost flawless RPG that will no doubt get lost in the shadow of Skyrim and its ilk, Capcom deserve major credit for trying to do something different with Dragons Dogma. Definitely the best of the RPGs on test here. A must-buy.

RATCHET & CLANK TRILOGY HD (PS3)

Robots and violent talking animals are a time-honoured videogame tradition. Be they the gleefully psychotic manipulator GLADOS from Portal or the furry fighter pilots of the Starfox series, it seems we just can’t get enough of a little anthropomorphism and personification in our interactive entertainment.

Ratchet & Clank first exploited this trend way back in the misty days of 2002 on PS2, putting together Ratchet, a cat-like mechanic, and his tiny tin pal Clank for what would become one of recent videogames’ most memorable partnerships.

You’re probably already familiar with one or more of the games, which have since graduated to PS3 and Sony’s handheld consoles, but here’s a primer anyway: you control Ratchet as the pair travel from planet to planet exploring environments and thwarting evildoers, mostly by hitting them with progressively larger and more inventive weapons, in an effort to prevent the galaxy from being blown up and stuff. That pretty much covers the story for the first three games that are included in the Ratchet & Clank Trilogy HD being released on PlayStation 3.

The games balance platforming and action excellently, with the planets offering oodles of space to explore and puzzles to solve, if that’s your kind of thing. If not, you can keep the pacifism to a minimum and just head straight to where the bad guys are. It’s a simple system, but one that allows for a more tailored game experience and is all the better for it. The weapons are increasingly a joy to use and the bad guys put up enough of a fight to make ploughing through them a worthy challenge, and the graphics upgrade accordingly as the series progresses.

What’s really a standout, though, is the series’ great sense of humour. The rapport between the eponymous leads is heartwarming, sure, but it’s the quirky supporting characters parodying everything from overblown generals to hammy actors, and the dialogue is knowingly – gloriously, even – cheesy to the nth degree. Many modern games suffer from overlong, indulgent cinematic cutscenes, but the brisk, functional nature of Ratchet & Clank‘s mean they never outstay their welcome.

If you were thinking about getting into this series (and if you’re a fan of underplayed classic Banjo-Kazooie, you really should), then there’s really no better place to start than this collection.

LOLLIPOP CHAINSAW (PS3)

I had been following the road to the release of Lollipop Chainsaw ever since it was announced that video game genius Suda 51 would be teaming up with filmmaker James Gunn. I expected greatness, and it turns out this game is as awesome as expected, with some cheeky one-liners from cheerleading zombie killer Juliet Starling, plenty of blood and gore in a game that feels just like that other fantastic Suda 51 title No More Heroes – although this games heroine is a lot more pleasing on the eye!

Lollipop Chainsaw sees you play as Juliet Starling, middle sister in a family of zombie hunters who must subvert a plot by an angry goth kid to destroy the world, with a little help from her boyfriend – well some of him. You see, shortly after being bitten by a zombie, Juliet is forced to behead her boyfriend Nick to prevent the zombie infection spreading to his brain and then casts a spell allowing his disembodied head to survive… Which you then carry around for the rest of the game strapped to your waist!

So there’s Juliet, the disembodied head of her boyfriend and a whole army of zombies to kill – sounds like fun right? It is.

A pop-punk journey into a post-apocalyptic world besieged by the undead, Lollipop Chainsaw looks like it has stepped straight out of an 80s comic book, complete with comic-styled menus and a visual filter that gives the game a dot-matrix look, a look which was so prevalent in comic books of the era. The game is also heavily influenced by music, with the films big bosses styled after various musical genres and toting musical instruments. And the gameplay is as wild and crazy as the visuals…

Yet another 3D beat ‘em-up, Lollipop Chainsaw features many of the typical genre mainstays – collecting power-ups, building combos, levelling-up, etc. However the game also adds new features not seen before in traditional beat ‘em-ups: most notably the “Sparkle Hunt” combo system, which sees you score massive multipliers for striking particular killing blows on the zombie horde. All whilst in a trans-dimensional space filled with stars and rainbows! Executing moves and combos is easy and it’s simple to pick up the basics – however the more specialised combos require work, but in the end payoff hugely.

The game is not without it’s issues however – there are times when the in-game camera will spin wildly and you’ll lose focus of the very zombies you’re fighting. There were also a couple of instances during gameplay, usually when Juliet is pushed into a corner, that the camera went into the surrounding walls and you couldn’t see a damn thing. It’s a minor frustration in a game that takes all that Suda 51 have done before and, very nearly, perfected it.

From the OTT visuals, to the banging soundtrack, to the wacky sense of humour, Lollipop Chainsaw is a wild and crazy video game ride. One that I don’t want to get off.

LITTLEBIGPLANET KARTING (PS3)

LittleBigPlanet Karting takes the ‘Play, Create, Share’ ethos of LittleBigPlanet and brings it to a fast-paced karting game that sees Sackboy and Sackgirl make the leap to 3D in a karting adventure to save the Craftworld universe…

Featuring the type of classic karting action we’ve come to expect from these types of video games, LittleBigPlanet Karting is reminiscent of the grandaddy of the Kart-racing genre, Super Mario Kart as well as the more recent Modnation Racers, which I must add comes from the same developers as this game – in fact it sometimes feels like the game is nothing more than “missing” levels from Modnation Racers, with the same types of customisation, controls and feel as that game. Of course this would not be LittleBigPlanet without a world of customisation so that aspect of familiarity can be forgiven somewhat, and thankfully LittleBigPlanet Karting comes loaded with a huge (and powerful) range of tools to create unique and varied levels. Creativity is not just limited to designing tracks though; players can also make their own game rules, as well as customise Sackboy, the karts, and much more.

As this is a LittleBigPlanet title, LittleBigPlanet Karting features the same cute, homespun graphics and homey atmosphere and is once again narrated by Stephen Fry, his dulcet tones bringing the same laid back attitude to this title – even though the game itself is much more fast-paced and frentic when compared to its platforming brethren. Thankfully this game also features the same multiplayer ethos as it’s predecessors, with ultra-competitive arena battles, split screen mode and online play via PlayStation Network.

If you’re a fan of kart racers such as Super Mario Kart and Modnation Racers then you’ll get a lot out of the game – just be warned, if you’re a seasoned race-game veteran, especially drift racers such as Outrun 2 and Split/Second, then you’ll find LittleBigPlanet Karting an easy beat… Thank god for the multiplayer then!

EPIC MICKEY 2: THE POWER OF TWO (PS3)

In Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, you play as Mickey Mouse and for the first time ever, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt Disney’s first cartoon star, in an all-new adventure which is, like the original game, designed and created by industry luminary Warren Spector and Disney Interactive’s Junction Point game development studio. The game follows the original and returns Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to Wasteland, an alternate world filled with 80 years of forgotten Disney characters and theme park attractions. But for the first time, Mickey and Oswald will join forces as true partners – Mickey with his magical paint brush that wields paint and thinner, and Oswald with his powerful remote control that allows him to command electricity.

Appearing for the first time on the Playstation 3, Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two has been given a high-def makeover, so much so that at times it actually looks like you playing a cartoon! This sequel has dropped the dark and brooding atmosphere that made the original game stand out so much from the “Disney game” crowd, but other than that when it comes to the graphics there is absolutely nothing to complain about – this is most definitely Mickey and co. like you’ve never seen them before in a video game; and the fantastic graphics are perfectly complimented by a superb script and great voice acting. So it’s just a shame that despite all the audio-visual improvements it seems lessons weren’t learnt from the franchises first outing on the Nintendo Wii as Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two once again features the very same flaws – the camera system can be very frustrating at times, leading to problems in actually traversing the platforms and I did have some issues with the paint and erase system too – it’s sometimes not clear where you can erase, or paint on, portions of the surroundings, leading to a lot of trial and error, which too can get repetitive.

You’d have thought that, given the same qualms were aimed at the first Epic Mickey game, that a sequel would iron out any problems – sadly this is not the case, and like the original game, what starts out as a fun platforming adventure quickly descends into a frustrating chore…And it gets worse in two-player co-op mode!

Admittedly there is less platforming action to Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, but what is here is made frustratingly difficult in split screen two player mode – especially when the game demands that both players cooperate to move further into a level. In fact the jump/hover combo move is SO BLOODY FRUSTRATING that I tried my hardest not to use it at all costs – even if that meant missing out on bonuses etc. It seems the developers of this game seriously need to take a leaf out of TT Games book when it comes to split-screen, their LEGO games get is spot on each and every time – if that mode of co-op play had been utilised here it could have alleviated at least some of the games inherent frustration!

More colourful than its predecessor, without the dark edge which attracted gamers (myself included) the first time round; and clearly aimed at a younger audience, Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two will frustrate kids and all but the most patient of adult gamers. And worst of all this game can be completed in a ridiculously short amount of time – which could not be said of the original. Where the franchise goes from here I don’t know…

RATCHET & CLANK: Q FORCE (PS3/PSN)

Following on from the release of Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, perennial platformer Ratchet & Clank is back for yet another curent-gen outing. It’s been 10 years since Ratchet & Clank made their debut on the PS2, where the franchise gained great acclaim for the fantastic mix of platforming and action. Since then we have seen only a few releases on the Playstation 3, including a HD redux of the original trilogy and the aforementioned All 4 One, which took the franchise in a new direction – offering 4 player multiplayer in a series known for typically being single player.

Coming once again courtesy of Insomniac Games, Ratchet & Clank Q Force (or Full Frontal Assault as its known in the US) brings something new to the franchise once again – tower defense! Mixing gameplay styles once again, this latest game in the series blends the platforming and shoot-em-up experience we’ve previously seen with tower defense strategy-style gameplay, as you defend Q-Force bases and generators from an alien invasion by the Grungarians. It’s an interesting combination – whilst you can to defend your base through combat, you also have to buy/build mines and gun turrets to defend it, all so that you can keep your base and generators safe whilst traversing levels and complete tasks a la old-school Ratchet & Clank games…

Yes, Ratchet & Clank Q Force brings back the classic mechanics of the franchise, including a much more traditional camera view and the ability to jump, attack and shoot a la the original games (the only thing mising from the classic game is the ability to crouch). This iteration also brings the nifty hoverboots from A Crank in Time into play, allowing you to swiftly fly about the landscape in order to return to your base to defend it if needs be.

Very much a sequel to Ratchet & Clank 3 (aka Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal) Ratchet & Clank Q Force features characters and weapons first seen in that game, including Captain Copernicus Leslie Qwark and the Q-Force of the title, both of whom appeared in the third game. There’s also some familiar weapons to get to grips with including the Combustor, Mr. Zurkon, the Cryogun, and the Groovitron Glove; plus plenty of other weapons from various other Ratchet & Clank games.

Visually the game looks fantastic, and its should given just how much graphical progress has been made in the rest of the PS3-based games in the Ratchet and Clank series. Plus the script is fantastic, with a great selection of witty one-liners from the cast of characters – especially the clumsy oaf that is Captain Copernicus Leslie Qwark! Ratchet & Clank Q Force also features both co-op and competitive multiplayer, neither of which I got a chance to play for this review, and the retail version (the game is also available as a downloadable title) has the cross-play functionality, meaning you get the PS Vita for free, as well as the ability to play cross-format multiplayer.

TALES OF GRACES F (PS3)

JRPG, or Japanese role-playing game as its known, is quite a niche area of gaming and unless you go for the Final Fantasy style big name games you tend to miss out on quite a lot of the good titles. Some don’t even make it into Europe, but when they do we often find a jewel in the crowd that deserves more attention than it often gets. Tales of Graces F is one of these, originally a Wii game that never made it to our shores it has since had an HD upgrade and come to the PS3, giving us our chance to play what is in ways a typical JRPG and in others an experience that may be fairly formulaic but still feels unique.

In the game we play as the character Asbel Lhant, first as a boy then as an adult. As a child he makes mistakes which lead to his feeling of being a failure and leaving his home to become a knight, where he feels he can make a difference. When we leave childhood, which works as an introduction to how to play the game we find Asbel and his friends are now adults and are stronger, with Asbel given the chance to redeem himself for mistakes of the past. More importantly though we also have the character of Sophie who, although she appears to be a normal girl appears to be a lot more than she seems, and even though she originally died in the childhood section of the game magically reappears looking exactly the same, but not remembering who she was, or is, of if she is even this person at all.

The focus of the game is on the friendships between the characters of the game and relationships between them. The events that take place around them drive the game on, but we see more of the effect on the people rather than the world that surrounds them. This makes the game feel much more personal to the characters themselves as we grow to care about the people we are on the adventure with. It’s a positive aspect to the game that we actually recognise these people as they grow older and have an interest in what they can give to the team, rather than just how to get the story to progress. The mystery of Sophie for example is one of the game’s biggest enigmas and one you spend a lot of the game trying to figure out.

With the personal feel to the game this also makes the combat, and system used for the combat quite interesting and in ways it’s the most important aspect of the game. To make progress you need to understand the combat system itself and the use of things known as Artes which is one aspect of the game that can be quite confusing, especially for people new to this style of game. I for one was glad though to know that this is a more real-time based gaming system rather than turn based, which I find I dislike. People with experience in JRPG will know that this is something that will obviously cause problems as most use that system.

The combat system though is easy to use, and based on building up combination attacks, and finding the enemies weaknesses which can be brought up on the screen to highlight what Arte is needed to defeat them. Artes range from different styles of attack such as Asbel’s ability to use lightening, of course the higher the level of the character the more devastating the attack.

Graphically Tales of Graces F is very cartoon like, feeling quite reminiscent of Zelda at times. Unlike Zelda though and even other games like Final Fantasy, Tales of Graces F to a point has a fairly unique style of creature to fight, and with bigger enemies we move into the more mechanical world, and also of course magical, there are constantly new monsters and characters ready to enter battles with you though it’s quite refreshing that you can choose to sneak past some of the least important battles, unlike some games where you can be thrown into fights ever few steps you take (Final Fantasy I’m looking at you).

Tales of Graces F is really one of the jewels that people should hunt out, even if they don’t often go for Japanese role-playing games. Yes, it’s been out in other parts of the world for quite a while (around three years) so it’s not the newest game out there, but now we finally get to play it it’s about time we made up for lost time. With around at least fifty hours of gameplay it’s one you’ll be playing for a while too.

NI NO KUNI (PS3)

If you ever thought that computer games can’t be a work of art then Level 5 and Studio Ghibli disagree with you. With a mixture of beautiful animation and JRPG gameplay that is a pleasure to watch Ni No Kuni: Wrath of The White Witch is a pleasure to play not only for gamers but for fans of the Ghibli animated movies. If you ever wanted to know what it would be like to take part in an animated movie such as My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle now is your chance.

In Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch you play the part of Oliver, a young boy whose mother has recently died. Grieving over his mother he finds that his tears brings to life his stuffed animal, Drippy the Lord High Lord of the Fairies in the Land of Ni No Kuni. Drippy informs Oliver that there is a chance of getting his mother back by freeing her “soul mate” a mage who has been trapped Shadar, an evil Djinn who Oliver must defeat. Providing Oliver with a magic book they both travel to Ni No Kuni to first learn how to use magic, and then prepare himself to do battle to bring his mother back while all the time being hindered by the White Witch who wants Oliver to fail.

The story of Ni No Kuni is one of learning to grieve and dealing with the death of a mother, this is quite typical of a Studio Ghibli plot, which makes the game itself something of interest for the animated movie fan, but of course we can’t forget that for the most part this is a game. The good news is that this is probably one of the best Japanese style role playing games that has been released in quite a few years. Using a Pokemon-esque system of collecting “familiars” these act as fighters for Oliver in his battles, although he can take part in them instead with his stronger magic. These battles in turn give you the chance to collect the monsters themselves through defeating them and collecting ones that become randomly available soon you’ll find you are levelling them up and making them evolve to be more effective in battle.

As you progress the game you’ll also find friends who join your quest to aid you, you’ll find that you and these friends travel between Ni Nu Kuni and Oliver’s world to solve some problems that require a more complicated fix. During the battles you’ll find bringing in friends make the battles more hectic, meaning you have to handle the tactics of the fight this often means telling them when to defend themselves or go “all in” with the fight. This is easy to do though and, in one of the few weaknesses of the game it is the level of challenge that does seem to be lacking, and the friend AI is not the best, they tend to die quicker than Oliver if left to their own devices. This may sound negative, but for story progression it’s not really. It’s just a case of making sure you keep your levels progressing at a good pace, if things are getting to be a little too difficult when fighting bosses (and there are some pretty amazing bosses to be encountered) you’ll just need to fight a few smaller creatures to raise your levels up then find the right tactics for the battle. Some players may complain about the challenge level not being that hard, but to be fair this game is mainly more about the experience so it being a little easy is better for the story and the enjoyment level.

To get back to the animation, Studio Ghibli have excelled themselves with the style of cartoon like graphics, and of course the cut scenes. The characters such as Drippy do tend to steal the spotlight from Oliver though, with Drippy the obvious star. Whoever decided to make Drippy Welsh chose very well, when you travel to his home island this probably one of the most unique and enjoyable parts of the game, but also gives you quite a heart-breaking decision which turns out to be just a ploy to mess with your emotions slightly and make you realise just how the game pulls you in.

There has been quite a buzz about Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch with gamers with people generally falling in love with it from the first play, and it deserves all praise it gets. It may not be the most challenging of games, but the fact is you are playing a Studio Ghibli game with a story that can sit alongside others like My Neighbour Totoro as one of their most memorable. Some movie fans may wish there were more cut scenes, but for the people who want to concentrate on the game these scenes are balanced just right. With plenty of side quests and managing of your familiars that will keep you playing this game for a while too, it’ll be one you won’t be putting down anytime soon.

BEN 10 OMNIVERSE (PS3)

There have been plenty of Ben 10 videogames already over the years, across many formats – from Xbox 360 and PS3 to DS, iPad and Android… So when it comes to new titles in the franchise it takes something special to stand out. And Ben 10 Omniverse certainly does that. The first, and latest, video game in the franchise to be based on the fourth installment of long-running Cartoon Network TV series. The brand-new show spans two time periods between Young and Teen Ben Tennyson, and introduces a hero sidekick, Rook – and in the game you can can play as either character…

“When a change in Ben’s Omnitrix goes wrong, his new partner, Rook, is sent back in time, finding Ben from when he was 11. Young Ben and Rook enter into a fight with the villain Malware that absorbs Rook’s Proto-Tool to get new powers, leading to a terrible alternative future. Play with both Young Ben and Teen Ben and work with his new partner Rook to solve the crime, fix the past and present, and defeat the evil intentions of Malware on destroying the world!”

In Ben: 10 Omniverse, gamers can play as franchise newcomer Rook, a skilled but inexperienced Plumber graduate ready to fight alongside Ben, who comes equipped with a Proto-Tool, a swiss army knife of the future, that can transform into a variety of weapons that will bring a whole new dimension to combat. Or as Young and Teen Ben who can switch forms between 13 playable alien heroes, including new aliens like Bloxx and Gravattack, as you fight in an assortment of action-packed levels throughout the subterranean alien city of Undertown and other show-inspired locales.

Based on the family friendly series, the game can be played in an epic single-player campaign or journey with a friend or family member in two player co-op mode, where one player controls Ben (both young and teen) and the other controls Rook in a title which plays very much like the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series of video games – a third-person perspective beat ‘em-up that sees you fight, jump and solve small puzzles throughout the various levels and each level sees players able to destroy most, if not all, of the surrounding scenery. Co-op gameplay is of the standard drop-in variety and graphically the cell-shaded animation suits the character and the game perfectly.

PLAYSTATION ALL-STARS BATTLE ROYALE (PS3)

If you’ve ever wanted to find out which Sony character would win in a fight, then Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale answers it. Featuring 20 of Sony’s biggest and most popular characters, including Parapa the Rapper, Sackboy, Nathan Drake, Dante (from DMC), both versions of Infamous’ Cole (good and evil), Big Daddy, and more – this is multiplayer heaven for gamers and a damn good advert for the diversity of games and characters available on Sony’s platform…

OK, before I go any further with this review, let’s get this out of the way first. Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale (PASBR) IS the Sony equivalent of Nintendo’s famous multiplayer fighter. However there are just enough differences – thanks to the wide range of characters – to make this stand out from it’s Wii counterpart. However what this game can’t do is compete with that other game. Yes, despite featuring a range of characters with more abilities and skills than those in Super Smash Bros. (there I said it) you can’t help play the game and think “I wish this was as fun as Nintendo’s offering.” Playing PASBR is more of a chore – especially in the risible story mode – than fun, and even in multiplayer mode the game has a number of problems. No more so than the ridiculous combat system…

Unlike traditional fighting games, Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale opts for an extremely complex system of meter-building. Yes, in PASBR you don’t hurt your opponents by hitting them; instead each hit builds YOUR “super” meter. Your meter has three levels,? each of which allows you to unleash a super move, and it’s only through these super moves that you can actually kill your opponent. Each level of your super meter corresponds to damage you can do to your opponent: Level 1 has limited range and effect, Level 2 causes damages on a larger scale and allows you to score multiple damage, whilst Level 3 can cause serious damage and kill your opponents instantly. However if you are hit by your opponent, you super meter bars are gradually reduced – which means, despite not causing physical damage to your character, you still have to avoid getting hit.

It’s a very odd fighting system that can easily confuse, especially given that to win a battle you have to have the highest amount of kills at the end of the round – and if no one is “winning” then rounds are extended on and on until someone actually defeats their opponent enough… Only there’s no clear distinction on how many kills each player has, or even a damage bar! And as if the strange fighting system wasn’t enough, graphically Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale isn’t all that. The developers have spent that much time making the levels look expansive and large-scale that the actual character graphics are way too small to impress.

All in all, Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale is a bit of a letdown. Whilst it can be fun for a short while, especially if you get four players around the TV, there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before or hasn’t been done better. Much like the PSMove and LittleBigPlanet Karting, this is too much like Sony chasing a piece of Nintendo’s gaming pie but getting it all wrong.

LEGO LORD OF THE RINGS (PS3)

Based on the multi-million dollar motion picture trilogy, LEGO Lord of the Rings follows the original storylines of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers AND The Return of the King, taking players through the epic storylines crafted by director Peter Jackson, only reimagined in the humour-filled LEGO style. The game sees players take the form of their favourite members of the Fellowship and relive momentous events from the films in easy drop-in, drop-out co-op gameplay as they partake in the iconic Helms Deep Battle, explore The Shire, escape the fiery pits of Mount Doom, and battle against Shelob, the Nazgûl, and the Ringwraiths.

As is typical for the franchise, LEGO Lord of the Rings sees you solve puzzles, collect and use a variety of weaponry and items – this time with a including the Light of Eärendil, Elven rope, swords, and bows. As is also typical of the series, the game looks and sounds fantastic. Tieing in the voices of the original movie cast – only this time spoken by cuter LEGO renditions of the familiar character – is a great idea, although I much prefer the nuanced umms and arrs of the original titles and then there’s the colourful landscapes, from the shire to the dark (and frankly quite eerie) villains of the game, there’s plenty to like graphically about this title. It’s such a shame that the gameplay is so ridiculously dull…

Of all the LEGO games, be it Star Wars, Batman, Rock Band, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter and now Lord of the Rings, it’s sadly this game that ends up the worst of the series – I thought LEGO Indiana Jones 1 & 2 would take some beating in terms of tedium levels but LEGO Lord of the Rings has those games beat hands down!

It looks good, it sounds OK, but plays bloody awfully. LEGO Lord of the Rings is for completists only.

LEGO BATMAN 2: DC SUPER HEROES (PS3)

A few years ago Warner Bros released the original LEGO Batman – a game that Kat and I played for 3 hours everyday, taking a total of 21 hours to 100% complete the game. Fast forward four years and Warner Bros/ TT Games have released the second LEGO Batman title, LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, this time squeezing more out of the DC roster with characters such as Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Superman and Green Lantern teaming up with Batman and Robin, and Superman’s arch enemy Lex Luther teaming up with Joker and the rest of the Bat-cronies (Penguin, Catwoman, Riddler etc).

Whilst LEGO Batman 2 is very similar to previous titles in the franchise, there are two major differences – for the first time in a LEGO game the characters have voices… and… like the original LEGO Batman game, this title has an ORIGINAL story, even though the game is based on a popular licensed property. However despite some new “additions”, if you’ve ever played a LEGO videogame before you know what to expect from this one. Players control any one of a wide assortment of characters in a third-person perspective – primarily fighting enemies, solving puzzles, and collecting LEGO studs (this franchises version of currency).

Batman fans of all ages will enjoy LEGO Batman 2‘s new and original story filled with classic LEGO videogame action and humour as players fight to put the villains back behind bars – it’s another great family-friendly game that can easily be played over and over again!

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