Xbox 360 Review Archive

FIRST PLAY: BATMAN ARKHAM ASYLUM (XBOX 360)

We all know that Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of the most eagerly awaited games this year. After being subject to a number of delays, the game is finally set to release in both a standard and collector’s edition; and thanks to the guys at Eidos UK, I got a chance to get a hands on with the game this afternoon and…WOW! Batman is as good as the hype suggests!

With a script by long-time Batman scribe (and fan favourite) Paul Dini, and featuring the voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, Batman: Arkham Asylum sees you assuming the role of Batman as you deliver The Joker to Arkham Asylum following an all too easy arrest. As is per The Joker’s de-facto behaviour, all is not what it seems. Once inside, The Joker unleashes hell upon Batman, trapping him inside Arkham with its cast of super-villains.

Graphically the game looks superb. It’s often said that official screenshots are not a true representation of the actual gameplay, as a lot of them are captured from game cut scenes, but Batman is different. The entire game looks like one long cut scene, I haven’t seen such a detailed looking game in eons. From the wrinkles in The Joker’s face, to the creases Batman’s gloves, not a single detail has been spared. The graphics are matched only by the excellent voice acting – Hamill, as usual, is excellent as The Joker; embuing his Joker with a terrifyingly maniacal edge, throwing quips at Batman at every possible opportunity. Kevin Conroy, as Batman, brings the same vocal gravitas to the game as he did to the Emmy award winning animated Batman series of the 90′s. The prior experience of Dini, Hamill and Conroy in the “world” of Batman shines through every pore of the script – it’s obvious that a lot of care and attention has been taken to make this the best Batman story possible.

The gameplay in Batman: Arkham Asylum is very intuitive, with different modes for different tasks. The fight system is very similar, but much improved upon, the fight system in the recent Watchmen downloadable game. Using only two buttons: one for attack and one for counter, you combine two button combos into a free flow fight system, stringing together attacks and counters to build the combo meter and when it’s full you’re treated to a slow-mo Bat-attack, which looks amazing on screen. The slow-mo’s are a brutal display of Batman’s power and strength, the first time I saw Batman do a slow-mo handstand and kick one of the enemies two-footed in the face I was blown away.

The game also features a “Detective Mode” in which you spot items to examine, objects to grapple onto and enemies to track – there’s a nice sequence where you, as Batman, must scour a scene in detective mode to find a way to defeat Zsazz without being seen by him. If you’ve played the recent Wolverine game, Batman’s detective mode is very similar to that game’s feral mode. This being a Batman game there’s also the typical Batman tools at your disposal – the batarang and the grappling hook. These are easily triggered by a combination of bumper button presses such as, in the case of the Batarang, left bumper to aim, right to fire. As with most modern games there are also plenty of unlockables throughout the game – character bios, skill upgrades and most interesting of all, combat arenas.

I can guarantee Batman: Arkham Asylum will not disappoint, everything about the game is nigh-on perfect. To compare the game to the Batman film franchise, in my opinion it betters Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, that’s how good it is.

JUST CAUSE 2 (XBOX 360)

Released by Square Enix London Studios, a part of Square Enix Europe, and developed by Avalanche Studios using the proprietary Avalanche 2.0 Engine, Just Cause 2 features over 1000Km² (400miles²) of South East Asian island paradise in one of the richest, most realistic game worlds ever seen. Snow-capped mountains, sun-kissed beaches, dense jungle and arid deserts create a stunning backdrop for a unique and compelling take on open-world gameplay. As Rico Rodriguez, the Agency’s most powerful weapon, players must take on the island of Panau and its military regime in order to track down Rico’s former boss and mentor, Tom Sheldon, who has gone rogue with millions in Agency cash and intel. Using a unique grapple and parachute combination, there is no vertical limit as the air becomes your playground: grapple a passing plane in flight, hijack helicopters, BASE jump from the tallest buildings or mountains and leave a trail of chaos and destruction in your wake. Just Cause 2 offers players the freedom to attack missions any way they choose and, with over 100 vehicles and countless upgrades and collectibles, the choices for relentless adrenaline-fuelled action are limitless.

Despite having had Just Cause 2 since early March (a couple of weeks before it’s release), it has taken me a LONG time to write this review… Why? Because I couldn’t tell if I like it, or hated it! First up the graphics (at least on the 360 version) leave a lot to be desired – there’s way too much screen tear during fast motion sequences, and even when you quickly turn your character around, and there’s some decidedly dodgy collision detection too. Which is interesting, as when I saw a preview of the game at the SFX Weekender back in February, there were none of these complaints! I have a feeling that the 30 minute demo I played wasn’t the compressed version found on the Xbox 360′s official release… Perhaps makers Square Enix had to cut down the game to fit the DVD format, as they did with Final Fantasy XIII? Who knows.

So there’s issues with the graphics, but what about the gameplay? Well, that’s not much better either! Just Cause 2 is one of the most frustrating experiences I have had playing a videogame since Mercenaries 2! The idea that you’ll be on a mission or just causing chaos on the island, and then say you get killed or accidentally die – the game can put you MILES from where you were, at what it calls the nearest safe point, and you’ll spend a good 30 minutes getting back to where you were… Argggghhhh!! This was particularly frustrating when I found myself doing missions on the outer islands – in fact I flew across the map in a plane and died on a mission, the AI then decided the safest place for me to re-spawn was at the opposite end of the island sans plane, car or any other vehicle in the vicinity!

I also found the “triggering” of islander reaction was flawed too, although I expect it’s really there to make the game harder to play – for example: I found a helicopter with unlimited missiles, flew to a village and started the destruction. Nothing. No reaction from the locals, no army showed up. But… If I landed the chopper and ran into the village and started shooting that would trigger a reaction! I found myself doing that, then running back to the helicopter to complete the destruction… A bit long winded, but it works.

Just Cause 2 is really an enigma though – despite the frustration and anger I had with the gameplay, I keep going back to the game… Why? Well yes the game has flaws, but it’s also FUN. Especially when you get your hands on the larger vehicles and weapons and cause huge amounts of chaos and destruction, or if you try surfing fighter jets, or jet ski-ing across oceans to out of the way enemy enclaves. Overall, despite my reservations, I keep coming back to the game, if only to spend half an hour blowing stuff up. Is that the sign of a good game? I don’t know.

PRINCE OF PERSIA: FORGOTTEN SANDS (XBOX 360)

The Prince of Persia franchise has long been a staple of video gaming, ever since the release of the original game back in 1989. As a huge fan of the original game and its immediate sequel, over the years I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the franchise. Sadly The Warrior Within was the last game in the franchise that I played, having come to the conclusion that the gameplay had drifted too far from that brilliant original concept. So could the latest game in the franchise, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands – released to coincide with the film version of the game – succeed for me where the others hadn’t? The simple answer to that is… yes!

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands returns the franchise back to traditional gameplay that made the series great – mixing a simple combat system with some superb, well thought out puzzles that had me coming back for more time and again.

The story begins with the Prince visiting his brother Mailk in Persia, just as an army invades. In an effort to fight back this devasting army, Malik unlocks the lost power of King Solomon – a power that unleashes an even larger army: an almost indestructible army of sand demons, along with that most powerful of foes, a jin (genie). It’s up to the Prince to reunite two pieces of Solomon’s legendary medallion and return the demons back to where they came from before Persia, and even the world comes to an end. And the Prince is not alone in his task…

This time out the Prince is helped by a beautiful godess who bestows magical powers on our hero which will help you complete some of the games more trickier aspects – be it the return of the rewind feature from The Sands of Time, which enables you to rewind the game if you should make a mistake or fall foul of the games many traps (and you will); to the really cool (literally) ability to freeze water (pictured above) to enable you to jump to pouring water as if it was a column, or run across waterfalls. You also get a flying attack that enables you to leap across huge chasms to enemies waiting on the other side, and the ability to recall missing parts of a stage.

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is one of the best puzzle games I’ve played in some time, with some easy and some REALLY not so easy puzzles. It’s fun to work out just how you’ll traverse an area using the skills at hand. It’s not so fun to try and work out how to turn cogs and wheels to pass the impassable – although once you do work it out, it is incredibly satisfying.

What’s not so satisfying about the game is the camera. There was many an occassion while I was playing the game that the camera was either not in the correct position, or was actually blocking my view of the next jump / leap /whatever. Yes you can physically change the camera angle, but there are times when either a) it’s not actually possible to get the angle you want; or b) you don’t have the time to change the angle – say you’re in the middle of a string of leaps across frozen water, the power is on a timer so you don’t have time to messing with camera angles etc. That’s not the only problem with the game – sometimes it’s just impossible to judge distances between you and an object, leading you to leap into mid-air and plunge to your doom. But hey, that’s what the rewind option is for right?

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands also comes complete with Ubisoft’s new Uplay feature that has appeared on a number of new Ubisoft titles, which gives gamers extra features that you unlock as you play the game. The main bonus this time is the option to play the game as Ezio from Assassin’s Creed II, plus you can unlock extra XP via Uplay and more..!

With brilliant gameplay and intricate level design combined with superb fluid graphics, this game has returned the Prince of Persia franchise to the heady heights of the original classic. Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is, in my opinion, a definite must-buy.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE UNLEASHED II (XBOX 360)

It was with mixed feelings that I booted up Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. I’d enjoyed the first game, but it had little replay value once you’d seen all the cinematics. Early reports were consistent that it was very much like the first game, but less engaging. Initially I was going to hold off on buying The Force Unleashed II until it dropped in price (especially as it dropped the same week as Rock Band 3 and Fable 3), but after reviewing the tie-in novel by Sean Williams I reconsidered in the hope that the game would be as action packed and thrilling as the novel.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is set months after the first game, and continues the story behind the formation of the Rebel Alliance before the start of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, and continues the adventures of Starkiller, Darth Vader’s secret apprentice and protagonist of The Force Unleashed. Or is he?

When the game starts Starkiller (or his clone) is being trained by Vader on water world Kamino, he soon escapes, and tries to find his love interest from the first game, Juno Eclipse. Vader doesn’t take this lying down, and hired Boba Fett to lure Starkiller back to Kamino. Plenty of old favourites from the first game appear, including Jedi Master Rahm Kota, PROXY, and Princess Leia, and as you’ll have seen from the trailers Yoda and Boba Fett both make brief appearances.

After playing through the main story of The Force Unleashed II, I think my first idea was correct. There’s nothing bad about the game, but it lacks that certain something that would make it a must buy. For a Star Wars game especially it just seems a bit bland, I ended up playing it to see the cinematics, rather than enjoying the game. Environments and characters look very nice, some the vistas are amazing to look at, but it’s mainly an update of the first game, with added Force Powers (Mind Trick, and Force Fury), having Starkiller wield dual lightsabers, and improved fight animation, now when Starkiller wades into Stormtroopers you see limbs and heads go flying.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II makes excellent use of the Havok, Euphoria and DMM engines, and the game feels more robust and controllable than its predecessor, but it’s still more “Attack of the Clones” than “The Empire Strikes Back”. Enemies rarely pose a challenge on normal difficulty; even the huge Gorog is easily defeated and it’s the size of a small town. Many Quick Time Events end up as just the repeated tapping of a button, and I found myself using only a couple of combos to defeat wave after wave of Stormtroopers.

The cinematics look amazing as they always do in a Star Wars game, but seem brief, that’s probably because the same scenes were so much meatier in the novel. The Starkiller – Boba Fett chase through the Salvation was gripping and thrilling in the novel, but LucasArts somehow make this section of the game a bit dull and annoying. I get the feeling from the final canonical cinematic that “there is another” Force Unleashed game planned, maybe with a meatier role for Boba Fett, let’s hope LucasArts managed to salvage their reputation with The Force Unleashed III.

DEADLY PREMONITION (XBOX 360)

Deadly Premonition is an open-world game set in Greenvale, a secluded rural town in North West America. Playing as FBI Special Agent Francis York, gamers are charged with solving the shocking, ritualistic and brutal murder of a local girl, unravelling the mystery via clues, lies and a trail of bodies. Agent York travels around Greenvale in a variety of vehicles – entertaining gamers with facts about movies along the way – encountering eccentric natives, supernatural creatures and a folklore killer, who stalks his victims in a blood-drenched rain coat.

OK, so you may have heard the rumours surrounding this game, but let me use this review to put the record straight. Deadly Premonition is one of the best worst games ever made. Period. That 10/10 score on the cover from Destructoid? Totally right. It’s hard to explain why Deadly Premonition is one of the best worst games ever made, but I’m going to try…

The Bad Points:
The first thing that strikes you about the game is the terrible control system – foregoing the usual “move with one analog stick, view with a second”, the game uses just one stick to move and view, you also have the option of holding a button to make you character run through the sub-par scenery; and yes, that’s another strike against the game – the graphics. Coming across as something you’d see in the early days of 360 gaming – and at the same time like something that should be on the original Xbox – the graphics look lo-res at times and definitely sub-par – especially when you compare them to the similar Alan Wake, but they do their job and they do it well (ish).

The Good Points:
Where to start? Well for one, this is (as far as I can remember) the first time your characters appearance changes in real time, meaning that shaving, showering and eating are essential – Agent York’s level of hygiene actually has consequences within the game as it influences the towns folk’s perceptions of him… Which frankly is a genius idea! And that’s not the only superb idea in the game – from the level design and character design to the story, Deadly Premonition is full of genius ideas. OK, some of the ideas may be the work of a completely mad genius but they’re still genius!

Oh, and the previously mentioned clunky controls? Bizarrely they work FOR the game! Yes, when you’re confronted with a huge number of supernatural ghouls within the game and your struggling with the controls – it definitely heightens the tension; and it’s the tension which really grabs you about Deadly Premonition. Much like Alan Wake before it, and even moreso Dead Space, this game is friggin’ scary! In fact I don’t think I’ve jumped out of my skin as much playing a video game since the first time I played Dead Space.

What Deadly Premonition has OVER Alan Wake is the longevity, between the main game, the side quests and mini-games – such as darts, fishing and collecting trading cards(?) – you’ll be playing this game for anywhere up to a reported 60 hours! I’ll admit I’ve been playing the game for a few hours a day for a couple of weeks and I still feel like I haven’t even ascratched the surface of the game. Admittedly you can finish the game without completing all the quests and mini games and just complete the main game, but you’ll miss out on some superb, if sometimes very weird, aspects of the game.

I hate to rewrite what other reviewers have said, but yes, Deadly Premonition is like playing Twin Peaks. It is in fact a Lynch-ian nightmare wrought big on the Xbox 360. Buy it now. Seriously. Or I’ll be round to force-feed you pickles…

TRON: EVOLUTION (XBOX 360)

Tron: Evolution is the video game sequel to 1982′s Tron and a prequel to this years Tron: Legacy, and fills the gap in the story between the two movies. Developed by Propaganda Games and released by Disney Interactive, Tron: Evolution sees you play as a Anon, a system monitor sent into the grid to combat a virus, called Abraxas, that’s spreading through the system, infecting the grid and its inhabitants. However it turns out that Abraxas was created by Clu 2 so he could trap his creator, Kevin Flynn, in the grid and take control of the system away from Flynn and declare war on the ISOs (isometric alogorithms), whom Clu sees as a blight on the grid. Only Anon, with a little help from a program called Quorra, can stop him.

That’s the main plot of Tron: Evolution, and that frankly is the best part of this game… Yes, despite some recent movie video games bucking the trend of bad tie-ins, this is not one of them. But that’s not to say there hasn’t been some effort put into making this a good game, you can clearly see there has in both the story and the graphics – however that doesn’t disguise the fact that Tron: Evolution is a broken game. So broken that it is actually a chore to play. So broken in fact that I’d rather get smashed over the head repeatedly with neon light tubes than play the game anymore.

The game looks gorgeous, I’ll give it that, with no visible signs more typical of a bad game – such as screen tearing – and the story line really works to tie the game into the Tron mythos and into the existing Tron properties. However neither of those “good” points can out-weigh the bad – the controls are some of the WORST I have ever experienced in my 20-odd years of gaming… Whoever had the bright idea of putting all of the key controls: running, wall-running, targeting, leaping – on too ONE button needs to never work on a video game ever again. Ever. Or perhaps even worse, should be resigned to creating crap shovelware games for Facebook for the rest of his/her life!

Sorry to blaspheme, but Jesus Christ! How the hell do Propaganda Games expect anyone to play a game where you have to hold down the right trigger to run through the majority of the game and HOPE you don’t accidentally get to close to a wall, otherwise you could wall run to your death? It’s no wonder the game gives you infinite lives – you’ll need them after some of the most ridiculous set pieces leave you wondering where to go just in time for you to be crushed by a falling building! What’s even more ridiculous – I actually found myself playing the game FASTER than the game was playing itself! Yes, for one sequence in the game I had to stand and wait for a tank to destroy the path ahead of me so I could get past. I had to do that not once, but TWICE. During the same part of the game!

But hold on I hear you cry, what about the cool light cycle sequences? Erm, I hate to break this to you but they’re crap. Steering the light cycle (for the brief 2 minute sequence at the beginning of the game) is like stirring treacle, only if the treacle was in a field of mud covered in treacle. Then there’s the issue of the magnetic grappling – yeah, that worked fine during the running and jumping sequences, but when I came head-to-head with a tank and had to use them to escape the tanks clutches, or get health and energy, guess what? FAIL! Epic fail! Stand too close and you can’t target them, keep moving and you can’t target them. Argh!!! That’s where my game ended, and I refuse to play anymore…

Tron: Evolution joins the ranks of all the other bad movie tie-ins we’ve seen over the years. Please folks, don’t waste your time or money.

BLAZBLUE: CONTINUUM SHIFT (XBOX 360)

BlazBlue: Continuum Shift is the swift follow-up to this summers heavily-delayed European release of BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger and adds three new playable characters, and a completely new storyline set a week after the original games ending.

First things first, I’m a huge beat ‘em up fan – and if it’s a traditional 2D fighter? Well that’s heaven to me! The one reason I haven’t upgraded my original 60Gb PS3 is so that I can still play the huge amount of PSOne and PS2 beat ‘em ups I’ve collected over the years… So when the original BlazBlue was released earlier this year I was ecstatic, so imagine how over the moon I was when I heard that we wouldn’t have to wait long for the sequel, BlazBlue: Continuum Shift. Well it’s finally here – was my excitement worth it? Hell yeah!

Like many beat ‘em up sequels, Continuum Shift is essentially the same game as the original – it’s very much of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school, and why not? After all, the original game is one of the greatest fighting games to hit consoles in years, and yes that does mean I think this game is better than StreetFighter IV and its sequel! Developer Arc System Works (who were responsible for the excellent Guilty Gear series) have taken everything that was good about BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger and improved upon it for the sequel: the characters are more even balanced, counters are limited to two per match, there are changes to the guard system, as well as the Astral Heat finishing move – all subtle changes, but ones which actually improve the playability of the game in two player and online modes. And BlazBlue: Continuum Shift still features the same gorgeous character renderings as the original, in fact the entire game is the most “beautiful” 2D fighter ever released – it just looks stunning.

If you’re a fan of 2D beat ‘em ups, or fighters full stop, then BlazBlue: Continuum Shift is an essential purchase even if you own the original. For the rest of you, if you didn’t pick up the original when it was released then I recommend you definitely go out and get the sequel – the you too can say you’ve played one of the best beat ‘em ups ever released.

SPLIT/SECOND (XBOX 360)

Disney’s Split/Second is the latest arcade style racing game to hit the streets but unlike most games of this ilk, racing is not the be all and end all of the game. In a twist on a familiar theme, Split/Second puts the player behind the wheel of a car in a brand new reality show where the aim of the game is to win… no matter what the cost!

The premise is simple. In a game that is structured just like a multi-episode television season, you must race against your competitors building your ‘power play’ meter by drafting behind other cars and drifting around corners. Once you’ve filled your meter you can trigger explosions to take out the other drivers on the track, be it by dropping bombs on cars, exploding objects and vehicles on the track side, exploding airplanes, destroying buildings and bridges which collapse on to the track and much more. In a truly spectacular move, filling you power play meter completely means you can trigger complete track changes at key points in the game – and in some cases if you time it right, you can take out EVERY other car in the race with one of these super power plays! Complete each season, unlocking new cars and new events, before moving on to the next season.

Besides the typical racing action, Split/Second also offers other game modes, including Air Strike – where military helicopters fire missiles on to the track in front of you; Detonator – in which the track explodes before your very eyes; and Survival – in which you must overtake lorries who spill their trailerloads of barrels on to the road in front of you. There’s also the Elite races, where you must face seven of the fastest and most skilled AI cars to unlock the next ‘season’.

Graphically Split/Second is stunning, with superb track layouts, fantastic colour palettes and amazing use of lighting (be it from artificial sources or the sun). In some stages it actually looks and feels like you’re in a Michael Bay movie ala Bad Boys, and the game sounded like it too. With a score that could easily be right at home in any blockbusting Jerry Bruckheimer movie, mixed with the screeching of car tyres and the roar of your engine, this is a game that screams to be played with the sound turned up, waaay up!

Where Split/Second succeeds above all other racing games in my opinion, is that it puts the fun back into the driving game. In all seriousness, I haven’t had this much fun playing an arcade racer since the original Outrun. Gone is the simulator style “crash and you damage your car”, to be replaced by Outrun-style drifting and the and a no-holds barred, bounce of the guardrails racing experience that screams playability.

Let me be clear on this, Split/Second is an amazing game and in my opinion is definitely a must-buy… and this is coming from a gamer who doesn’t typically like racing games!

POPCAP HITS VOLS 1&2 (XBOX 360)

The guys at Mastertronic, the UK’s leading independent publisher of computer and video games, have brought together some of the biggest and best Xbox Live Arcade games from publisher PopCap and made them available in retail stores with PopCap Hits Vol.1 and 2. Taking eight of the most successful XBox Live Arcade games and packaging them in two easily affordable releases, the two PopCap Hits volumes contain: AstroPop, Bejeweled 2, Feeding Frenzy and Peggle on PopCap Hits Vol. 1, and Feeding Frenzy 2, Heavy Weapon, Plants vs. Zombies and Zuma on PopCap Hits Vol. 2.

Of the games in the two collections, most people will have already played Peggle, Bejeweled 2 and Plants vs. Zombies in one form or another – be it on Xbox Live, Facebook, or iOS and Android mobile phone platforms. But for those that haven’t (as I hadn’t – at least in regards to Peggle) you’re in for a treat, with some of the most addictive gameplay I’ve ever experienced! Trust me when I say these game addictive – they definitely are. I spent a good three hours playing Peggle the first time I put the disc into my Xbox 360… I was only going to play for half an hour before going out!

PopCap Hits Vol. 1

In Bejeweled 2 players must match sparkling gems three at a time to make them burst in showers of colour and points. Match four or more to create power gems that boost your score and your mood with dazzling cascades and combos. Peggle is an utterly addictive blend of pachinko, pinball and pool. Featuring a huge 55 levels with 10 mystical Magical Powers, the challenge is to bounce a ball around the screen to hit coloured pegs until your have cleared all of the pegs. Feeding Frenzy is an action-packed deep-sea challenge where players must immerse themselves in stunning underwater environments as you slurp, gulp and crunch your way along 50 frenzied levels and eat anything smaller than you. Finally, rounding out volume 1 is AstroPop – a sort of reverse-Tetris in which you grab and blast bricks and clear a path to the stars.

PopCap Hits Vol. 2

Plants vs. Zombies is the ultimate tower defence game in which a mob of zombies is about to invade your home and your only defence is an arsenal of zombie-zapping plants. Use peashooters, wall-nuts, cherry bombs and more to destroy zombies before they reach your front door! Another Tetris-alike puzzle game, Zuma sees players fire magical balls from their stone frog idol to make matches of three or more and clear a chain of balls before they reach the golden skull. The sequel Feeding Frenzy 2 sees you dodge predators and eat your way up the food chain to save the sea. Featuring new fish and sixty new levels, your fish now having the ability to jump out the water, giving you the ability to catch prey that will not see you coming. The superb Heavy Weapon sees you fight through 19 story-based missions blasting your way through wave after wave of enemies, building your weaponary into an awesome unstoppable arsenal before taking on huge boss battles in a shoot-em up that is reminiscent of the classic Metal Slug franchise.

With four games per disc, both volumes of PopCap Hits provide hours of fun at a bargain price – with Peggle/Bejeweled 2 and Heavy Weapon/Plants vs. Zombies on each volume worth the price of entry alone. If you haven’t already downloaded these games on Xbox Live then snap up PopCap Hits Vol.1 & 2.

TOP SPIN 4 (XBOX 360)

Tennis games have long been a staple of video gaming ever since the early days of the Grandstand “console” and the likes of Pong with its paddle controls. Since then we’ve had numerous games on many different formats, some successful – Virtua Tennis, some not so much – Jennifer Capriati Tennis. There have also been different takes on video game tennis, from fun games like Wii Sports to true tennis simulations like Top Spin… Of which Top Spin 4 is the latest iteration.

Top Spin 4, developed by 2K Czech, published by 2K Sports and released on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii, is (as per the title) the fourth game in the Top Spin series and features licensed professional players and venues, including tennis superstars such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.

After the third installment, which overly complicated the technical aspects of the game and saw players befuddled by a complex control system and a mis-matched balance between game and simulation, Top Spin 4 returns the franchise on to a steady course and puts the fun back into simulation (if that’s possible) by making the game more like a television broadcast – complete with behind the player camera angles, slow-mo replays and even pre-game locker room shots of the players. Also adding to the sense of televisual spectacle are the fully licensed arenas – Roland Garros, US Open, Rod Laver Arena, as well as the O2 arena for the ATP World Tour Finals. However it is weird not playing on the courts at Wimbledon in a tennis game, but no doubt this is due to some ridiculous bureaucracy emanating from the club.

As for the gameplay, Top Spin 4 offers players one of the most in-depth and extensive career mode you will ever see in a tennis sim (at least till the next installment), then there’s the game’s Top Spin Academy, the new “training” mode in the game that introduces players to the new control system, and lets not forget the ridiculous amount of customization the your player can undergo – that’s if you not playing as one of the big names who’ve lent there likenesses to the game. Top Spin 4, like many other games, offers plenty of trophies and achievements to be earned, especially for those that wish to learn and conquer EVERY aspect of the game – from training to the career mode and more.

Whilst I’m not the biggest tennis game fan out there even I could appreciate the qualities of Top Spin 4, so for tennis sim fans this must be like manna from heaven.

GEARS OF WAR 3 MULTIPLAYER BETA (XBOX 360)

Gears of War 2 is one of the most played games I own, both the 2 player co-operative campaign and the multiplayer (mainly horde mode as I love online teamwork), so obviously I jumped at the chance to try the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta.

The Beta lets you try three game modes – King of the Hill, Capture the Leader, and Team Deathmatch, on four new maps – Oldtown (a quaint sea-side market town), Trenches (a network of trenches and barricades), Checkout (an abandoned shopping mall), and Thrashball (a Thrashball stadium with a downed Raven burning at one end, and an electronic scoreboard hanging over the pitch like the Sword of Damocles).

Being the third Gears of War game, Epic know what works and what doesn’t, and if you’ve played Gears of War 2 the Beta feels like welcoming back an old friend… with a revving lancer chainsaw. In Team Deathmatch each side has a number of respawns per round, if the other side runs out of respawns your team wins; King of the Hill involves holding an area that changes location; and Capture the Leader involves keeping your leader safe whilst trying to capture the opposing team leader.

All the little changes made since Gears of War 2 won’t be easy to spot, but Gears of War 3 seems to play faster, more executions are now unlockable including ones for the Mulcher and Motar, team mate locations and objective icons have been simplified and improved, plus include weapon spawn points. Top down plans of the maps are now available and are also used as match loading screens, so you’ll be spending less time aimlessly wandering trying to figure out where a certain weapon spawns. Animations and textures have been improved; the bayonet charge and chainsaw executions are amazing to watch and the character skins have been redone, with COG troops wearing less armour and Locust troops having a bit more variety. The Locus Queen in Capture the Leader looks disturbing.

Like many other multiplayer combat games, executions, weapon and character skins can be unlocked by scoring a certain number of kills or playing a certain number of matches. Also borrowing from other big online war games, targets can be marked, and ribbons & medals can be unlocked. The Gears of War 3 multiplayer has kept all the good bits of Gears of War 2 and added the ‘tracking you success’ bits from Medal of Honour, Call of Duty and Halo.

The Beta includes four new weapons: Sawed-off Shotgun – extremely short-range and low ammo capacity but can take our two or three people with one shot, Retro Lancer – a more powerful but less accurate version of the standard lancer with a bayonet instead of the chainsaw, Oneshot – a powerful rifle that can shoot thru cover, and the Incendiary Grenade – an effective area denial weapon. One addition that keeps surprising me is the ability to knock enemies over whilst jumping over their cover – grrrrrrr!

Early access to the Beta is available by pre-ordering the game at certain retailers, or via the Epic Edition of Bulletstorm.

YARS REVENGE (XBLA)

The classic Atari 2600 2D shooter Yar’s Revenge, which is considered one of the best titles to appear on the 2600 and at the time was also easily one of the most popular, has been brought bang up to date by developers Killspace Entertainment with a 3D shooter released on the Xbox Live Arcade last month.

This update takes the classic 2D gameplay and re-imagines it into a 3D on-rails shooter that, despite advances in technology, graphics and game design, still falls short in comparison to the original as it’s missing that all important factor – fun.

Yes, Yar’s Revenge is not a fun game to play. Firstly it’s too damn hard on anything above “easy” difficulty, and playing it on easy makes it too damn easy! Secondly the enemies within the game attack in waves, the same waves over and over, meaning you can study their patterns and (try to) avoid their attacks – on top of that there are only a handful of enemy characters types within the game, each “painted” to look different but they’re not. Thirdly, and finally, the controls are just plain awful.

The idea of having your character movements controlled by one thumbstick and the targeting reticle controlled by the other sounds, in theory, like a great idea. However in practice, not so much. In games like Sin and Punishment on the Wii the twin control system really works, but with Yar’s Revenge I actually found myself forgetting to move the target reticle whn faced with a screen over-populated with enemies – yes the system works, but you have to think about it too much, mapping the targeting and your character together would have made for a much more satisfying game.

One thing you can’t fault about the game however is how it looks. With it’s anime-inspired cell-shaded glossy and detailed graphics, Yar’s Revenge is a joy on the eyes and really lives up to what a modern-day remake should look like. It’s just a shame that pretty graphic do not a good game make.

If the game ever drops below its current price of 800 Microsoft points and you’re a fan of the original game, or other “3D’ shooters such as Space Harrier or Sin and Punishment then Yar’s Revenge may be worth a look. For everyone else I’d save your money.

LEGO PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN (XBOX 360)

LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game is the latest and (not so) greatest in the now long-running LEGO video game franchise and contains all the action, adventure and memorable moments of the Pirates of the Caribbean mythology (including the fourth film, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) and sees players take on the roles of more than 70 characters from the Disney franchise in more than 20 levels. The game tips its hat in homage to the four movies of the series and popular scenes from the movies are depicted with a balance of smash and bash coin chasing, swashbuckling sword play and environment puzzles.

As with all the LEGO video games, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean incorporates the same aspects of coin collecting, puzzles and humour that have made the franchise such a success – and after an unbelievable TEN movie adaptations you’d think Travelers Tales would know how to syphon everything that is good and iconic in LEGO form. However judging by this outing there’s still a lot for TT Games to learn… Like how to make games exciting. Yes, like the two LEGO Indiana Jones outings, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game suffers from that most indeterminable of problems – boredom!

The pick-up and play factor here is at its highest, but at the same time the game suffers from feeling, at least in my opinion, “dumbed-down” slightly – no doubt to accommodate the younger Pirates fans – which ends up being a major contributor to the boredom factor. The puzzles seems less important in LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean than the brick-breaking and coin collecting, furthering the boredom. Whether these detrimental aspect of the game are down to the game, or the movie series on which they are based is debatable.

But what aren’t detrimental are the graphics which, despite a few instances of screen tear during the cut scenes, are some of the best I’ve ever seen in a LEGO game, with a high level of detail even in the background environments. Coupled with the gorgeous graphics is a fantastic score, but sadly neither can compensate for the tedium. Hopefully the next LEGO outing will improve on efforts.

GREEN LANTERN: RISE OF THE MANHUNTERS (XBOX 360)

Video game tie-ins have, for the longest time, been seen as lesser – lesser when compared to the movie they were inspired by, and lesser in comparison to other video games on the market. Often rushed through production to quickly cash-in on a movie’s current popularity, video tie-ins have been the bane of movie marketing for quite some time. There have however been some bright lights amongst the dross – X-Men Origins Wolverine and the downloadable titles Scott Pilgrim and Watchmen to name the most recent, and now comes Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters

Can it break the curse or will it be doomed to the bargain bins of video game history? Well in this reviewers opinion it’s definitely the former. Yes, shockingly, given tie-in game history, Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters is a GOOD movie tie-in and a GOOD video game in it’s own right. Why? Because it takes from other good games, blending fun and humour into proceedings and then adds the Green Lantern mythos on top!

As per the X-Men Origins: Wolverine video game, Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters takes inspiration from the movie rather than be beholden to on-screen events, telling a whole new story that takes in Star Sapphires, Yellow Lanterns, and the former space-police (prior to the creation of the Green Lantern Corps) the Manhunters. Developers Double Helix have, thanks to the creative talents of Marv Wolfman, crafted an intriguing and likeable story for gamers to engage in – taking control of Hal Jordan (as voiced by Ryan Reynolds in the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game) as he battles the Manhunters and more in an attempt to save the universe, with a little help from his Lantern ring and the constructs which it creates.

Gameplay-wise, Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters is God of War by any other name and that’s no bad thing. Taking the great gameplay elements from the aforementioned game – the fighting mechanic incorporates combo attacks using swords, giant fists, hammers, mines, maces, and even a gattling gun (all courtesy of your Lantern ring) in a VERY similar fashion to the GoW games, and the third person perspective is indicative of God of War too. Developers Double Helix have not just paid homage to the GoW games, there’s also Panzer Dragoon/Space Harrier style flying combat sections thrown in for good measure… And to top it all the game looks bloody gorgeous too!

By all means Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters is not perfect – the combat can get repetitive very fast (TIP: upgrade your basic sword construct to full power ASAP to speed up combat), and the quicktime events are again a little monotonous, but in comparison to its peers the game is head and shoulders above the competition. Plus the lack of online co-op is a huge letdown, but hey, at least you can have a buddy come round and help out!

As a footnote, this may be the first time a video game tie-in is BETTER than the movie it’s inspired by. Possibly the first time its ever happened!

DRIVER: SAN FRANCISCO (XBOX 360)

Driver San Francisco is the latest in the long-running franchise set in an open-world San Francisco with over 200 missions to complete on 210 miles of road networks in over 120 licensed cars. The game also features a massive 19 multiplayer modes including co-op and leaderboard challenges.

The plot to the game is simple: Taking place a few months after the events of Driv3r, you play as Tanner who, after a near-death experience during Jericho’s prison break, ends up in a coma. The game then plays out inside the mind of Tanner who, mentally living out his mission to track down Jericho and bring him to justice, gains the power to “shift” – ie swap bodies with those around him! So unlike previous entries into the Driver franchise there’s no need to waste time getting in and our of cars, instead in Driver San Francisco you use your new-found “shift” abilities to swap places with ANY other driver within the game – just activate the power, target your new vehicle and voila, you’ve just switched bodies – and car!

I originally played the demo of Driver San Francisco on the PS3, and I was super-impressed with the short missions that were available to play and now, spending time playing the full version of the game – this time on Xbox 360 – has done nothing to dampen my enthusiasm. Let me just explain something to you that may convince you of just how good this game is – I (typically) hate driving games. Of ALL the driving games ever released on any system, since waaaay back in the days of the Atari 2600, I think I can count the amount of driving games I’ve enjoyed on two hands (actually; that gives me an idea for another Top 10 blog post)… And sand-box games? I loathe them even more than driving games – I want missions and goals to my games dammit! So to find myself a) loving a driving game as much as I love Driver San Francisco and b) loving a SANDBOX driving game as much as I love Driver San Francisco is, for me, the sign of not just a good game, but a superb game… And it looks really good too.

One of the main reasons I enjoyed Driver San Francisco so much is because its FUN. The game pretty much throws all the rules found in typical driving games out of the window, you can do almost anything with your car – and the game even encourages it with special “stunt” tasks. Jumps, crashes, drifts and even donuts are the order of the day and luckily for the more clumsy sofa-drivers, the damage tolerances are pretty high!

The controls are relatively simple, with the standard accelerate and brake buttons (RT and LT respectively), along with some game-specific controls including a cool “charge and ram” feature that allows you to slow down crooks your chasing, or even fellow racers, much faster than just slamming into them. The one control that is both new to the Driver franchise and to driving games full stop, is “Shift” – and thankfully developers Ubisoft Reflections have made shifting as simple as driving, with a mere tap of a button you enter shift mode, move “yourself” around the world, target a new vehicle, and then tap the same button to enter that car and the body of the person driving it. Besides negating the need to spend time running round looking or a new car to steal, what’s also innovative about shift mode is that it also doubles as the in-game map – entering shift allows you to freely move around the map, find a new mission or task and then go straight to it by entering the nearest driver/car. No more jumping in and out of the game to check out the map to see where you have to go anymore.

I think the simplicity of the controls, and the speed at which you can get from mission to mission are key to why I love Driver San Francisco so much – unlike many driving games, you literally don’t have time to get bored. Definitely an essential purchase…

DEAD ISLAND (XBOX 360)

Dead Island, the game that spawned this years biggest viral video in its beautiful first trailer, has proved somewhat of a barn-storming hit. Does the game live up to the hype of its trailer? Sadly not… and that’s despite selling out in many stores across the UK and the US as gamers clamored for what was said to be THE zombie survival game of the current generation. Which its not. Not by a long shot.

After that trailer I really didn’t know what to expect from Dead Island, all I knew was that if it lived up even by a small percentage to the trailer then we’d be in for something good. But by “small percentage” I didn’t mean 1%..! Its obvious that following the furore surrounding that first trailer that developers Techland and distributors Deep Silver rushed the game out to capitalise on the hype and the game has suffered for it.

Set on a tropical island which looks remarkably similar to the one found in Just Cause 2, Dead Island sees you travel around the beautiful locale hacking and slashing your way, FPS-style, through hordes of zombies whilst trying to complete various missions, level your character up, build new weapons and basically survive. If that sounds a little RPG-esque then you’d be right – in fact I’d go as far as saying Dead Island is the Fallout 3 of zombie games, without it ever achieving Fallout 3 levels of awesomeness. Fair enough, the leveling mechanic works well, but it just takes too long and it can be incredibly frustrating early on in the game to not be able to build and use the better weapons. I personally really got sick of waving around pieces of wood, baseball bats and flimsy cleavers!

Dead Island has many faults, including terrible collision detection that seems to have a mind of its own, ropey graphics complete with tons of screen tear, unfinished graphics in both the zombies and their surroundings and some of the strangest uses of shadows and light I think I’ve seen in a video game – since when do shadows wobble? Of all the problems, the collision detection is my biggest bug-bear with the game. The completely unpredictable way in which you can one minute be hack your way through crowds of zombies with ease, and then suddenly have your weapon literally pass through the same crowd of zombies WITHOUT DOING THE SLIGHTEST BIT OF DAMAGE is so frustrating it really put me off playing more than I needed to for this review. If I’d have paid for the game (thankfully I got a review copy) I would’ve been demanding my money back asap.

There have been many reviews from both critics and gamers alike that have said that Dead Island‘s multiplayer mode more than makes up for the issues with the single player campaign, but personally I don’t see it. If I want a great multiplayer zombie game I’d opt for Left For Dead and its sequel any day. If you’ve played that game, or Dead Rising and its sequel then you’ve already played much better zombie games…

Dead Island is probably worth a rental to see what all the hype is about but I wouldn’t waste my money.

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN (XBOX 360)

Yes, it’s movie tie-in time as Ubisoft release The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn on Xbox 360 and PS3. We’ve had our hands on both versions but, thanks to Kinect, the Xbox 360 version got a lot more play time, so for reviewing purposes that’s the one we’re taking a look at.

The game itself is, whilst a movie tie-in, does not strictly follow the plot of the film. Instead we get a VERY faithful adaption of Herge’s two books The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure, complete with the plot devices dropped for Spielberg’s big-screen version of the books and characters who never saw the light of day in the film – such as the Bird Brothers (the real villains of Herge’s books).

The first thing you notice when you start up The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is the poor graphics. We’re wandering very close to PS2 and Wii territory here, especially in the cut scenes – which is odd, as cut scenes are usually better than their in game counterparts! The loading screens, of which there are numerous (thankfully they are short) are of the same poor graphical quality. But, and here’s the huge but (snigger) I found myself overlooking the graphics thanks to the superb gameplay involved. Ubisoft seem to have taken inspiration from older games such as the original Prince of Persia, Another World and Flashback, and created a three-dimension version of those classic 2D side scrolling games, complete with puzzles et al. Then on top of that the game throws in driving, grappling and flying sequences in to break up the action.

To explain how much fun I was having i only have to tell you one thing: I spent the entire day dipping in and out of the game, playing it until completion. Now that doesn’t happen very often with me thanks to just how busy it gets here at Blogomatic3000 HQ, but with The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn I did. Granted its not the longest game out there, probably only running 4-6 hours for the core story depending on how easy or hard you find the puzzle, but given that I’ve still to complete half of the games in my collection it’s really saying something when I spend a lot of time on one game trying to see it through to the end. I think the combination of old-school gameplay and the fact the game was truer to the books made the experience a hell of a lot more fun than the actual movie!

This being the Xbox 360 version of the game means that once you’ve completed the story mode, either in single player or co-op mode – both of which are in fact different games entirely, you can then go on to play the Kinect “challenges”, which includes piloting a plane and sword fighting amongst other things. All of which give you one hell of a workout – especially the sword fighting! I actually found the experience of sword fighting more enjoyable, and a lot easier to perform the blocks and parrys, using Kinect than with the game pad whilst playing the actual game.

Of course this really is a kids game, and there’s a number of issues for “older” gamers with The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn because of that. For example you never die, merely get stunned and put back to a checkpoint, checkpoints which are way too frequent. Then of course there’s the driving, grappling and flying sequences which are very much toned down and simplified for the younger audience, although in the flying sequences it was nice to see a nod to the classic “pilot your plane” through the rings that so frustrated me as a kid playing the Aliens videogame (remember that?).

All in all I can’t really criticise The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn too much. I had a good time playing the game despite my issues with it, which for me is a positive sign. Yes the game is not graphically superior, yes some of it is way too easy, but it’s fun.

JUST DANCE 3 vs. DANCE CENTRAL 2 (XBOX KINECT)

We seem to have got a reputation here for enjoying our rhythm games, but I’ve no idea why? Actually… maybe its because we DO love them! But whilst I do love me some Singstar, We Sing, Rock Band, Guitar Hero et al., I’ve never been a huge fan of dancing games and I certainly haven’t bought any that’s for sure – I’m a lazy sit-down gamer after all. But there are folks out there who love dance games – you only have to see how popular the Dancing Stage stand is at MCM Expo every year to see that. What never appealed to me about the older dancing games is having to step on the correct arrows etc., in time to the music – if I want to dance I’ll dance goddammit it, not do stilted motions that aren’t more than mere buttons presses (can you tell I’m a frustrated dance gamer?). But with the next generation of consoles has come the next generation of controller – the motion sensor – and now dance games can really be abut the dancing.

Two of the biggest dance franchises out there right now are Just Dance from Ubisoft, which started life on the Nintendo Wii and Dance Central from Microsoft and Harmonix (the creators of the original Guitar Hero game and the Rock Band franchise), which is a Xbox Kinect exclusive title. And guess what? The two franchises are releasing their latest entries in the series – Just Dance 3 and Dance Central 2 – within weeks of each other! And furthermore, we were sent Kinect versions of both games for review. So I thought, seeing as the two games are going head-to-head in stores, why not put them head to head in a review, to see how each one stacks up against the other… in a Dance Off!

Just Dance 3 being the third entry in the franchise means that by now makers Ubisoft know exactly what they’re doing. Having never played the Wii iteration of the game, jumping into the Kinect edition I found myself working up a sweat in no time dancing to such songs as Apache, Party Rock Anthem and Gonna Make You Sweat. Straight out the box, the game is a quick pick-up-and-play, with each dance featuring easy to follow and clear moves. However Dance Central 2 is not so easy. The two differ considerably on how easy it is to follow the moves and see what moves are coming up – DC2 takes thing much more seriously (as I expected coming from the makers of Rock Band) and the moves are harder, and harder to follow, than their JD3 equivalent. The best way to describe the difference is the Just Dance 3 is a PARTY game that you and your friends can play after a few drinks and still have fun and still do (most of) the moves; Dance Central 2 on the other hand demands your attention – you really need to concentrate on following and getting the moves spot on, however when you do, DC2 offers much better rewards in terms of star power etc.

The songs on both games are also key to your enjoyment of each title - Just Dance 3 has a good mix of modern, classic and traditional party songs, whilst Dance Central 2 has more of a “true” dance music edge, mixing dance music with R&B – which isn’t always to everyone’s taste. I preferred the former to be honest, there was more enjoyment in mixing up the song and dance styles with the differing generations of tracks found in JD3. Presentation-wise, the clean and colourful neons of Just Dance 3 are light years (pardon the pun) ahead of Dance Central 2‘s character-lead dancers and I much preferred the ease in which you can just jump into a dance with JD3, rather than create/choose a character as you do in DC2.

The real measure of any game for me is how much I enjoy playing – now that’s not necessarily just how much fun you have, but also how well the game’s difficulties can be overcome, or how satisfying it is to complete a level, or beat a boss etc. With a dance game How much I enjoy playing is relative to just how long I keep playing for – as a couch-loving gamer playing a dance game takes some effort on my part – so to spend a good couple of hours dancing my way through Just Dance 3 was surprising, and compared to only dancing through a handful of games on Dance Central 2 it’s clear to see which game I enjoyed more.

Whether you prefer Just Dance 3 or Dance Central 2 depends on your taste in music and just how seriously you take you dancing. For me? Well Just Dance 3 is the clear winner – with it’s broader range of songs and dance styles and an easier to follow system I never felt bored, I might have felt like I was going to have a heart-attack with all the dancing, but I was never bored… WINNER: Just Dance 3

DISNEY UNIVERSE (XBOX 360)

The story for Disney Universe goes something line this: a virtual Disney amusement park has been created, allowing visitors access to worlds based upon their favourite films. Unfortunately, something’s gone wrong, and the attractions are turning on the guests, Westworld-style, all under the command of an evil computer program that looks like it stepped out of Tron by way of the old British comic The Thirteenth Floor.

The first thing you’ll notice about Disney Universe is how much it looks and feels like a number of other games out there – from the big -headed avatars that look like the love-child of Superhero Squad and Little Big Planet to the LEGO style puzzle-solving, coin collecting (in this case coins shaped like the iconic Mickey ears) and hidden pick-ups.

The aforementioned avatars can be dressed in a costume selected from more than 40 (once you’ve unlocked them all) classic and contemporary Disney character costumes and explore six different worlds inspired by legendary Disney and Disney/Pixar films including Pirates of the Caribbean, Wall-E, The Lion King, Aladdin, Monsters Inc., and Alice in Wonderland, with each costume offering a specific tool that changes and grows in power as you level up your character and costume. The six different worlds are then further split into smaller levels, each with their own objectives and puzzles to solve, be it building a cannon to shoot down a wall or dragging a object across the level to use to open up a new door – its all very LEGO-ish. It’s almost as if Disney have taken a look at the LEGO video game franchise and decided they want a piece of that family-friendly pie.

Graphically the game couldn’t be more kid-friendly if it tried, filled as it is with bright, colourful landscapes and characters and giant arrows and flashing objects that tell you exactly what needs to be done to complete each level. Of course these hints can be switched off in the main menu, but it does seem rather pointless to create a puzzle game (no matter how simple) and then have all the solutions pointed out to you – we all know that kids are savants when it comes to video games, so there’s no need to make the game quite so simple.

Essentially little more than a button basher, Disney Universe is still a fun game that requires little effort to play and yet still holds your attention, and it’s great all-round family fun for up to four players. There’s probably little by way of replayability for older gamers, but if you have young children they’ll definitely find something to enjoy time and time again.

DEAD RISING 2: OFF THE RECORD (XBOX 360)

Dead Rising’s hero Frank West returns to the franchise with this remake come re-imagining of the second game in the series with Dead Rising 2: Off The Record, which tells the same story as the first iteration of the game, only from a whole new perspective.

Reportedly conceived by Capcom as as downloadable add-on/sequel (think Case Zero or Case West) for Dead Rising 2, Off The Record sees you once again playing as Frank West and once again charged with surviving a zombie attack whilst at the same time gathering evidence about the real source of the zombie uprising. The game includes new missions, cutscenes, environments, enemies, and weapons. Plus, the photography mechanic from the first Dead Rising game returns to add plenty of chances to earn all the PP bonuses that entails.

As a re-imagining of Dead Rising 2, there are several changes from the original game – besides the obvious return of Frank West – including a new sandbox mode, a new theme park area in Fortune City entitled Uranus Zone, the removal of the character of Katie and the transference of her need for Zombrex vaccine to Frank, new survivors to rescue, new bosses to fight and Chuck Greene goes from star of the game to all-new, all-crazy, psychopath with whom you must fight. Of course now Dead Rising 2 stars Frank West it also means a return to the laughs and hilarity that marked the first game.

Whilst there have been a number of changes, Dead Rising 2: Off The Record is still in essence the same as Dead Rising 2. Despite claims that there have been technical and system upgrades, one such upgrade is NOT the graphics – they still look as last-gen as previous entries into the franchise. In fact I go as far as saying Dead Rising 2: Off The Record actually looks worse than the original sequel – Capcom have added a lot more zombies to this version of the game, especially in the new Uranus Zone, and that has led to more issues with the graphical lag than ever before… Which would be forgivable if this was a DLC release but its not, this is a retail release and as such should be held to a higher standard – even if its cheaper than Dead Rising 2.

Speaking of the Uranus Zone, this addition to the game does at least add something truly new to this release – including a lot of new innuendo-based comedy! Other than the new zone and the return of the camera, the gameplay basically remains the same: bash zombie after zombie whilst completing challenges and rescuing as many people as possible. It’s simple for sure, but it’s also fun. And now thanks to the return of Frank West it’s even more fun than before.

HALO: COMBAT EVOLVED ANNIVERSARY EDITION (XBOX 360)

Developed by 343 Industries in collaboration with Saber Interactive and Certain Affinity, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition is a full HD and 3D re-creation of the award-winning video game that revolutionized the first-person shooter genre for modern gamers with a recharging shield, a two-gun limit and the ability (in an FPS) to control vehicles.

Featuring the original campaign that engrossed gamers on its original release, this new, slicker iteration of the classic Microsoft game features the same level design as the original game, and apart from features such as terminals, skulls, achievements and and updated graphics the campaign is exactly the same as it was 10 years ago. What is new in this Anniversary Edition is multiplayer – yes, it’s hard to believe, but when the original Halo was released on the Xbox there was no multiplayer, just split-screen and system link play (remember those days?) – the online multiplayer in this game is essentially a newer version of Halo Reach‘s multiplayer, so if you have played that game don’t expect anything new here.

When the original Halo was release those many moons ago I, like many PC gamers (which is where I exclusively played FPS games at the time) dismissed the game as little more than a wannabe, so to be able to revisit it now and truly appreciate the game for what it created, both in terms of changing the way we play FPS’s on consoles and the behemoth that is the Halo franchise itself, is actually quite remarkable. But on the other hand the sequels have done so much in terms of the multiplayer experience that the campaign mode seems somewhat stale.

But whilst Halo: Anniversary Edition is an HD upgrade of the original game, don’t expect state of the art graphics, yes Microsoft and developers 343 Industries have given this the current-gen makeover, but despite claims that the graphics are comparable to Halo Reach I just don’t see it. Of course for those who really don’t want to play a HD version of Halo can, at the press of a button. play the original game with the original graphics, poor textures and all. It’s interesting to note that comparing even the original Halo to todays FPS heavy-hitting titles little has changed in FPS gaming beyond the graphics. Whether that a statement on just how good the original Halo was or an inditement of just how bad the state of FPS gaming is, remains to be seen…

RAYMAN ORIGINS (XBOX 360)

Rayman returns!! One of the most beloved characters of the Playstation era of gaming makes his return to this generation of consoles without those pesky Rabbids with Rayman Origins.

Given the current climate of giving older generations of games a new shiny HD upgrade and re-releasing them for todays consoles, you could be forgiven that this new outing for Rayman is another of those re-releases. It’s not. Yes, the game still features the basics of “classic” Rayman – you guide the character through a side-scrolling platform adventure, collecting lums, freeing electoons, etc. etc. But this time round, not only does Rayman have shiny new graphics, he also has one thing the series has been lacking since its halcyon PSOne days… Fun!!

Yes, Rayman Origins put the fun back into gaming, and a little frustration too, thanks to a few of the more tricky levels! The aim of the game is as simple as it always was – progress through each level collecting as many lums as possible and avoiding death, along the way uncovering hidden areas which hold even more electoons. The more lums you collect the more electoons you’ll get for each level. The more electoons you earn, the more levels and costumes/characters you unlock and the more medals you earn. But there’s not just platforming levels this time round, oh no, Rayman Origins also sees you take to the skies on the back of mosquito for a little side-scrolling shoot ‘em-up action too!

Like any truly great platformer (of which this is), Rayman Origins can be played one of two ways – race through the level as quickly as possible without dying and complete as much of the main game as that will allow, or take your time and explore each and every corner of each and every level to uncover and unlock as much as possible.

Of course sometimes its fun to just hurry through a level, but thankfully in this game you can always go back and replay the level agin at any point to try to find all the hidden items you may have missed. In fact the game rewards re-playing, especially when you get given more and more “powers” with which to explore each level from some ever-so-sexy (well for a video game character at least) nymphs who appear at various stages throughout the game in need of rescue by Rayman.

It’s all very retro really… Which in this case is a good thing. A very good thing. Somewhat of a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, Rayman Origins pays both respect to the original game and respect to modern gamers, and in this day and age of first person shooters it’s absolutely fantastic to have an old-school side-scrolling platformer to play – especially one that looks as good as this. I can’t recommend the game enough. Go buy it.

DODONPACHI REURRECTION (XBOX 360)

After the turmoil caused by the assault on Lunapolis which sparked the “Blissful Death Wars” (as depicted in the previous instalment), peace seems to have been restored, with the legendary DonPachi Corps retreating to its HQ in a space-time fold. Six years later, anomalies are detected in the space-time fabric, yet tests reveal nothing out of order, with the portals regularly functioning for both teleportation and time travel; also, the leader of the DonPachi squadron Colonel Longhena Gottvin dismisses the matter due to the lack of actual danger.

Nevertheless, a technician delves deeper into the anomaly, discovering that something has infiltrated the HQ computer systems and is using the portals to send large quantities of materials and data to the past, spreading out like a virus and quickly evolving. Unsettled, the Colonel authorizes the last transport ship to time jump in order to fight back the invasion before future changes.

Once again, the three pilots jump back in time to 2008 and enter the fray, the transport ship being targeted as soon as it exits the portal: the Element Daughters, gigantic evolutions of the Dolls, are waiting…

The bee is still humming.

After the successful UK release of Deathsmiles, Rising Star Games follow it up with yet another CAVE shoot-em-up DoDonPachi Resurrection, the fifth game in the DonPachi series, which once again sees players given the task of fighting hundreds of enemies while dodging thousands of bullets in this renowned bullet hell shooter converted directly from the Arcade version for the Xbox 360 in full HD resolution.

This new Xbox 360 version of the game also features a remixed mode “Arrange B” which adjusts itself according to the user’s play style – with each clear, enemies get harder to kill and more bullets fill the screen leading to incredible scoring opportunities. And exclusive to the console release, “Arrange A” is the second remixed mode. Both modes borrow some gameplay mechanics from PS2 shooter classic and prequel “Daioujou” and as usual the game offers achievements and online leaderboards.

Graphically DoDonPachi Resurrection looks stunning, with absolutely no slow down during the bullet-filled firefights (and by bullet-filled i mean bullet-filled, sometimes you can’t even see the scenery below for bullets!) and a crisp vibrant look to both the scenery and the truly beautiful explosions – yes, I did say that. And if you’ve seen the explosions you know just how beautiful they are! My only qualm is that I’d love to see a full-screen version of a CAVE shooter, or even Tate mode available (who doesn’t like turning their TVs on their side?)

CAVE make great arcade shoot-em-ups we all know that and I’m pleased to say that yet again this is another fantastic port to a home console and one that which left me gagging for more. DoDonPachi Resurrection is, for me, an essential purchase. The game is out now on Xbox 360 in a deluxe edition featuring the three different modes of gameplay and the game’s soundtrack on a separate disc.

ASSASSIN’S CREED: REVELATIONS (XBOX 360)

“When a man has won all of his battles and defeated all of his enemies; what is left for him to achieve? Ezio Auditore must leave his life behind in search of answers, in search of the truth. In Assassin’s Creed Revelations, master assassin Ezio Auditore walks in the footsteps of the legendary mentor Altaïr, on a journey of discovery and revelation. It is a perilous path — one that will take Ezio to Constantinople, the heart of the Ottoman Empire, where a growing army of Templars threatens to destabilize the region.

In addition to the culmination of Ezio’s award-winning story, a refined and expanded online multiplayer experience returns with new and additional modes, maps, and characters, allowing you to test your slaying skills against others from around the world.”

I’m a fan of half of the Assassin’s Creed series of games, I skipped the original Assassin’s Creed after hearing it looked nice but was a bit samey, totally loved Assassin’s Creed 2 due to the unique and mind-blowing plot, the great visuals – there’s nothing like climbing a tower and seeing a sweeping vista of a city below, and the eclectic voice cast in the form of Roger Craig Smith, Nolan North, Kristen Bell, and one of my favourite authors Danny Wallace; Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is still sitting on my “to play” pile, so weirdly I’ve only ended up only playing the even numbered Assassin’s Creed games – it’s a counterpoint to the Star Trek movies ;-)

In Assassin’s Creed Revelations you play an older and grizzled Ezio… actually you don’t. Like the previous AC games you actually play Desmond Miles, who lives thru the experiences of his ancestors via a device called the Animus, but due to the events at the end of Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, Desmond is in a coma and his colleagues have plugged him into the Animus in the hopes of repairing his fractured mind.

Now even though Ezio is older and greyer he still manages to climb up walls and run along rooftops with ease, in fact due to the addition of the hook-blade he scales walls at a ferocious speed and can now use zip lines to get about the new city of Constantinople, the vibrant and exotic crossroads of the 16th Century Ottoman Empire. Another addition to Ezio’s skills is that of bomb making, you can now craft a range of bombs which can be used to distract, kill, and escape from crowds or guards.

The multiplayer aspect that was a hit in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood returns, and whilst I’ve only played a few matches it’s fun, but you need a lot of patience. As members of the assassin’s guild it’s all about blending in with the crowds and striking when your enemy least expects it. I quickly discovered that only player controlled characters ran, so they were easy to pick out and dispatch as they ran past the civilians I was hiding amongst.

In theory Assassin’s Creed Revelations should be the penultimate game in the series, with Assassin’s Creed 3 due out in 2012, as such this chapter ties together the stories of Ezio and the protagonist of the first game, Altaïr, in a quest for “The Apple of Eden” and the losts keys of Altaïrs library. Now I’m only a few hours into Revelations, but I am enjoying it as much as Assassin’s Creed 2, it can be a bit samey, but the game creates a hunger in players to uncover the story of the “First Civilization” and find out what disaster is due to destroy the world in 2012. The plot of the Assassin’s Creed games makes Dan Brown’s novels about secret orders and conspiracies seem like tabloid headlines.

To sum up, if you’ve enjoyed the previous Assassin’s Creed games you know what you’re getting, and you’ll enjoy it. If you’re new to Assassin’s Creed you’ll probably still enjoy this game, but would have very little idea what the hell is going on, you’d be better off starting with a bargain price Assassin’s Creed 2, which is heavy on the plot, and then working your way up to this one, otherwise it’d be similar to starting the Lord of the Rings trilogy in the middle and asking why everyone is so happy to see the OAP in white and who’s this Boromir everyone is banging on about.

SOUL CALIBUR V: PREVIEW REPORT (XBOX 360)

It all started with SoulBlade. Ever since then I have been hooked…

Of course I’m talking about the SoulCalibur series from Namco. Each installment has introduced new characters, new moves and a new way of playing the game. Some characters haven’t made it through each and every game in the franchise (Rock, we miss you), and some characters have been re-introduced in later iterations of the games, but for me none have lived up to the original SoulBlade on the Sony Playstation – the gameplay style with its book and maps and the way the story was told just captured my imagination in a way that no other game in the series has. Then came SoulCalibur IV… To put it bluntly, it was awful – yes it looked gorgeous, but the story mode wasn’t there and there was something seriously lacking when it came to my enjoyment factor, which is why the game has sat on the shelf gathering dust ever since.

And now comes the latest game in the series, SoulCalibur V.

We were lucky enough to get some hands on time with an early build of SoulCalibur V recently and I have to say my faith in the franchise was restored somewhat, even though we still didn’t get to play the story mode (oh how I love a good story). What we do know of the story is that the game is set 17 years after the events of SoulCalibur IV and the games new characters include Patroklos, the son of Soul series veteran Sophitia and her daughter, Pyrrha. Like the previous games in the franchise, the fifth iteration includes guests character, who have been revealed to be Ezio from the Assassin’s Creed games and Dampierre from SoulCalibur: Broken Destiny, who will be available as an exclusive pre-order bonus playable character.

From the brief time we had with the game, I can say that the controls havent changed and neither have the graphics – they have been polished a little, but when you had graphics as good as those in SoulCalibur IV there wasn’t much to improve on to be honest. So what has changed?

Well there seemed to be a lot more options in the start menu for the game such as versus mode, online mode. etc. The standard options are still there of course – you are still able to create your own characters, no matter how stupid looking (Phil decided to create some strange semi-naked ninja chick he *cleverly* called “Ninja Chick”). Like I said, the story mode wasnt available when we got our hands on, but I have high hopes for it – please dont let me down Namco – and a few of the characters werent available and some were still missing from this build, which is to be expected as our hands on was nearly 4 months before the release!

But what we did see of SoulCalibur V has excited me to get my hands on the finished game.

SOULCALIBUR V (XBOX 360)
As you know It all started with SoulBlade. Ever since then i have been hooked… Of course I’m talking about the SoulCalibur series from Namco. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a article (which you should read first) about my hands on with Soul Calibur V and now, having spent a lot more time with the game here’s more of my thoughts:

The story of SoulCalibur V opens up 17 years after the events of SoulCalibur IV. Siegfried has destroyed Nightmare and shattered the Soul Edge into countless pieces, but the land is far from achieving peace. We are introduced to Patroklos and the malfested. The Malfested are evil people infected by Soul Edge’s influence that still roam the land, and who killed Patroklos’s mother Sophitia Alexandra (as seen in the previous SC games) and abducted his sister Pyrrha. Pyrrha, is somewhere out there, and Patroklos is determined to find her and make his family whole again. Little does he know, his destiny suddenly becomes intertwined with the SoulCalibur.

Story mode follows a set plot, and unlike the previous installments where you can play the game with different characters and have different endings, in SoulCalibur V you can’t. Instead you play mainly as Patroklos – yes, I did have a few chances to use other characters including Siegfried, Z.W.E.I. and Pyrrha, but it was only to further the story’s plot. Whilst only playing as one character in story mode wasn’t too bad, the one thing that was hard to like is the fighting style – Sophitia’s fighting style wasn’t a favourite of mine, but it is the key on how to fight with Patroklos!

The lack of characters in story mode really does seem like a step backwards compared to the other SoulCalibur titles – especially when SC5 is actually leaps and bounds above the previous game. Another downside to this game is the removal of the ability to “upgrade” the characters weapon’s (maybe this is something that they can release as DLC) which was available in previous SoulCalibur games. My other main gripe is with the arcade mode. In the previous games when you finished 10 matches, it would show you a cut scene of the character you used featuring their “life story”, that’s sadly not present here – plus the arcade mode is now only six matches instead of ten. Minor issues, but issues nonetheless.

What I did like about SoulCalibur V was the return to the map system – the game uses a map similar to SoulBlade on the PSOne – and this new map is coupled with some very nicely utilised hand-drawn animation. I’ve tried Soul Calibur V on both the Xbox and PS3, and can safely say the graphics are still amazing and well animated. As I said in my hands-on report, the control system hasn’t changed, it’s still as fab as ever, and the outstanding soundtrack is a perfect accompaniment to the on-screen action.

So I do have my issues with the game but overall it’s one hell of an improvement over Soul Calibur IV, here’s hoping they can tweak the franchise that little bit more for Soul Calibur VI. I know I’ll once again be first in line to play it!

GOTHAM CITY IMPOSTORS (XBLA)

Gotham City Impostors is an original first-person shooter that sees up to 12 players battle for control of an unhinged Gotham City overrun by impostors inspired by the DC Comics characters Batman and The Joker.

Essentially an online multiplayer experience, the game is a fast paced unconventional shooter that, whilst not bringing anything new in terms of gameplay mechanics, still feels somewhat fresh and new – no doubt thanks to the completely madcap attitude that the game wears wholeheartedly on its sleeve. But Gotham City Impostors isn’t all about the multiplayer, there are some single-player offline challenges in which you can hone your skills, involving the various gadgets and skills that you use and need in the game. Offline challenges also earn you valuable in-game experience.

The array of customization options that let you personalize your Batz or Jokerz Impostor with insane costumes and a huge assortment of traditional and homebrew weaponry, equipment, and perks; and gadgets such as the Glider Rig, Grappling Hook, and Spring Boots give you a ridiculous amount of mobility options, while support items like bear traps, boomerangs, and body armor open up crazy new tactical options – this is most definitely NOT a Call of Duty wannabe!

And that’s the thing, yes this isn’t a Call of Duty clone, but at the same time it isn’t anything new, merely the same old gameplay styles (capture the flag, team deathmatch, etc.) wrapped in a more eclectic skin. Fun for a few hours, but probably not a game you’re going to keep coming back to.

SHOOT MANY ROBOTS (XBLA)

Developed by Demiurge Studios and published by Ubisoft, Shoot Many Robots follows in the grand tradition of side-scrolling shooters such as Contra, and sees you play as P. Walter Tugnut, a hillbilly who stockpiles guns, ammo, and beer in his dilapidated RV, awaiting the inevitable robot apocalypse. Can you say awesome (and fun) B-movie plot.

When the abandoned factory in the distance begins producing robots on its own, Walter sets off in his RV on a robot-killing rampage, hoping to save humanity from an onslaught of robot hordes as you run, jump, slide and shoot and drink your way through wave upon wave of psychotic killer robots, both big and small. Yes, if ever a game took its title literally it’s this one – you do indeed Shoot Many Robots.

Graphically Shoot Many Robots looks fab, the cartoony graphics perfectly match the fun humour, crazy plot and madcap gameplay; and much like Contra and other games of its ilk, you can equip Walter with a number of guns, from machine guns to rocket launchers and everything in between. Besides upgrading guns you can, in an RPG-esque style, change Walter’s clothing. Now that might not sound like much, but different clothing can actually effect your game – for example some trousers make Walter slide longer, and a beer hat provides extra health – did I mention that you regain health by drinking beer?

Again like many a side-scroller, the action in Shoot Many Robots can get repetitive but thankfully the frenetic nature of the gameplay alleviates the monotony somewhat. Plus the game features online four player co-op as well as two player local co-op, throwing players into a tidal wave of degenerated robots with an array of weaponry that would make any shooter enthusiast proud, and it’s in the multiplayer mode where the game really comes alive.

Shoot Many Robots is a great slice of old-fashioned side-scrolling action that thanks to some ridiculous humour and a great multiplayer mode is perfect for when you need some pick-up-and-play fun.

KINECT RUSH: A DISNEY PIXAR ADVENTURE (XBOX KINECT)

Ever watched a Disney•Pixar film and wished you could be a part of the action alongside your favourite character? Well, that wish will be granted in Kinect Rush: A Disney•Pixar Adventure as you immerse yourself in Pixar films such as Cars, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Toy Story and Up like never before! You can explore the depths of the Paris sewers, become the newest toy in Bonnie’s crew, scream around curves with a rocket-powered boost, or use your super strength in a pitched battle with the hulking Omnidroid.

Kinect Rush is essentially the exact same game as Disneyland Adventures, but skinned with Pixar characters and surroundings rather than Disney – hell, even the motion controls are eerily similar. However this game replaces the awkward hand gesture movement controls of the Disneyland game with a more solid “running” arm swing and slight shoulder movements denoting left or right turns for your on-screen avatar. Of course this is a game aimed squarely at kids, so whilst I struggled with some of the controls – running and jumping (literally) to grab a zipline in one of the Toy Story levels for example – I’m sure kids will easily get to grips with them, perhaps more so than those in Disneyland Adventures as it seems developers Asobo Studio have really learnt from the control issues found in that game and Kinect Rush: A Disney•Pixar Adventure is a lot more responsive, and from much more subtle player movements.

One of the most innovative aspects of Kinect Rush: A Disney•Pixar Adventure is the all-new KinectScan feature which uses the Kinect sensor to scan each player’s features to create a unique avatar for use throughout each of the five Pixar worlds featured in the game. However, the KinectScan is ultra-sensitive: you need to hold still for too long, the lighting must be just right (backlights or being in front of a window is certainly out) and it’s not “adult” friendly – I found myself having to stand too far away from the Kinect to fit my man-sized frame into the scanning area, and in the end I had to stand bended-knee for it to work…

If you’re a fan of the Pixar films then there’s a lot to enjoy about Kinect Rush and not just for kids. After all who wouldn’t want to work alongside characters such as Woody, Buzz Lightyear and Lightning McQueen to save the day? And despite my issues with the title, this is still a fun selection of mini games wrapped in a Pixar skin.

RIDGE RACER: UNBOUNDED (XBOX 360)

The Ridge Racer series has long bee been a mainstay of video gaming, it’s been around a whopping nineteen years to be precise – originally appearing in the arcades in 1993 and later ported to the PSOne in 1994, debuting as a launch title on the console.

And whilst the series has appeared on a myriad of formats over the years – including PS2, Nintendo 64, iPhone, PSP and most recently, with Ridge Racer 7, on the Playstation 3 – two things have remained the same: the setting of Ridge City and the iconic character of Reiko Nagase (although she was replaced for a couple of entries in the series between 2000 and 2004). However Ridge Racer Unbounded takes the familiar tropes of the franchise and throws them totally out of the window, rebooting the series in a style that will be very familiar to those that have played the Burnout games, or more recently Split/Second from the now defunct Black Rock Studios.

Yes, Ridge Racer has gone all “blowy-uppy”

Developed by Bugbear Entertainment, Ridge Racer Unbounded sees players join a group of lawless badass racers, terrorizing the streets of Shatter Bay. The mission? Drive and destroy everything in your path, using your car as a high-octane wreaking machine to plow through buildings, pillars, trucks, other vehicles and much more. Nothing is safe and everything can be destroyed! Now I’m not much of a race game fan and it really does take something special for me to enjoy any racing title but I really did enjoy Split/Second, hence I felt right at home playing Unbounded

Cruising the streets of Shatter Bay, drifting rounds corners, boosting past and into other cars and destroying the surrounding scenery is pretty much IDENTICAL to Split/Second, however unlike Black Rock’s racer which had a fantastic learning curve, slowly increasing the difficulty as each season progressed, Ridge Racer: Unbounded is hellishly difficult. Even from the first race it takes real skill (and a heck of a lot of luck) to qualify at the end of each race – I had to play the first track over and over, at least a dozen times, to even make it into third place! Even when you think you’re winning the notorious evil AI cars will proceed to slam into you or slam you into the scenery and you end up at the back of the pack once again.

Thankfully you don’t NEED to qualify at the end of each and every race to proceed to the next track – you can build up enough points to unlock new levels even when you’re failing. Still, the game looks great even when you’re crashing into the walls around you and the cars are easy to handle, with drifting around corners as easy as it has ever been. If only they handled consistently… Yes, it seems that like your AI opponents even the car you’re controlling can have a mind of its own at times.

Bizarrely despite the ridiculous difficulty level and the unpredictable handling of the cars I still found myself really enjoying Ridge Racer: Unbounded. I guess I’m just a sucker for games that actually want you to destroy your opponents than try and skillfully race round them!

TRIALS EVOLUTION (XBLA)

The original Trials HD was something of a behemoth in Xbox Live Arcade history, managing to capture the imagination of 360 owners everywhere. So when the sequel, Trials Evolution, was announced many were excited to see what Red Lynx would bring to the series with and whilst many, myself included, were worried that the sequel would change many of the factors that made the original game so great, it seems Red Lynx had other ideas…

Yes, in what is sure to be a crowd-pleasing move, developers Red Lynx have changed absolutely none of the core gameplay that made the first game so great. Instead they have tweaked, refined and “evolved” the physics, the graphics, the entire game, to make what I think is this year’s must-own XBLA title. There’s still the chance to grab huge air, perform back flips, front flips and more; the hilarious rag doll physics are still in place, as is the gradually increasing (and often times gradually frustrating) difficulty level.

Speaking of graphics, those present in Trials Evolution are a wonder to behold – especially given that this is a downloadable title (which is doesn’t actually feel like to be honest) – with an attention to detail, even down to the minutiae like birds flying across the sky and ripples on puddles. Best of all the game has been freed from it’s indoor setting and now the action takes place in a plethora of different outdoor locations; and despite it being a very linear game the graphics make it feel very much like an open world environment!

What made the original so great was that despite any frustrations with the game you kept on coming back to try and beat each and every level. And Trials Evolution is no different. But what raises the bar over Trials HD is the addition of multiplayer. There are two different multiplayer modes in the game, (up to) four player motorcross and then there’s the awesome Trials mode which sees you race the “ghosts” of three other racers, made up of your Xbox Live friends list – you can spend 2 minutes completing one level and getting the silver or bronze, and then another hour trying to beat your own score and get the gold and then along come your mates and play the game and beat your time/score. And you attack the level all over again, just trying to be the best… And through it all it never feels like a chore.

Trials Evolution is, in the end, exactly what it says: an evolution of the original game. It doesn’t reinvent the franchise, instead it takes what made the original so addictively great and makes it even better.

SKULLGIRLS (XBLA)

2D fighters are my gaming bread and butter, having been weened on to them at an early age thanks to side-scrolling efforts such as Double Dragon and Streets of Rage and discovering the grand-daddy of 2D fighters, Street Fighter at an arcade in Majorca back in the 90s. Since then I’ve played them all, from classics such as Final Fight and the King of Fighters series to more obscure fighters such as Spectral vs. Generation, Waku Waku 7 and Groove on Fight. So the release of any new 2D fighting game always gets me a little over-excited… and Skullgirls is one such release.

First off, let me say that Skullgirls is one of the best-looking 2D fighters ever, with gorgeously drawn characters and backdrops that are unlike anything that has come before. Stylistically it looks very much like an anime-style game, but with more of a Western influence. The fantastic artwork also extends to the games story mode, with a tale told mostly in drawings – which makes a refreshing change from reading line after line of text, or wading through talky cut scene after talky cut scene! And to top it all off, in the games expansive story mode each character has her own story and own unique ending.

Now as a fighting game “veteran” one of the things that gets my back up is fighters that are just too damn easy. Which is NOT the case here. Skullgirls manages to be not only a great looking fighter but also a damn hard one too, and even on easy the story and arcade modes will flummox the more casual gamer. But whilst the arcade and story mode may be tricky for some, for the less-hardcore Skullgirls does offer a fantastic two-player experience that will please everyone – from the button bashers to the skilled fighter fan.

Apparently developed by hardcore fighting fans, it really does show in the finished product – for the first time I would heartily recommend you tackle the tutorial before going anywhere near the rest of the game. You’ll be glad you did. Plus there’s plenty of button combos to learn via the games official website for those that really want to get deep into the game, although if that sound like you, you might want to invest in an arcade stick for an even better Skullgirls experience (especially if you want to use some of the 3-button combos).

A mix of hardcore fighting, gorgeous graphics, great characters and (for once) a worthwhile story mode, Skullgirls is an essential purchase for fighter fans.

MAD RIDERS (XBLA)

Released by Ubisoft as a digital download, Mad Riders comes from developers Techland and despite their being a number of ATV-based video games – such as Pure, MX vs ATV: Reflex and even Techland’s very own Nail’d – this is actually the first downloadable ATV game released on Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network.

Giving a game the title of Mad Riders you’d expect it to be filled with crazy characters, crazy action, and a madcap attitude. And you’d be half right. Whilst there’s no crazy characters (well not unless you consider wearing a monkey suite while riding an ATV “crazy”) and no madcap attitude, what there is in the game is plenty of crazy action with gameplay that will often drive you mad!

Booting up the game for the first time you’ll realise one thing – the game is ridiculously fast, possibly to its detriment. Don’t get me wrong I loves me some speedy racing action but when you’re going so fast the ZERO chance to pull off a corner there has to be something wrong with the game. It gets even faster in the boost mode – which you need to use to even stand a chance of finishing in the top three – however the faster you go the more uncontrollable your ATV feels. A fast game means more crashing and more damn respawning! And that’s one of the major frustrations with Mad Riders – the respawn. Land slightly off, respawn. Grab too much air, respawn. Go too far off the track, respawn. Respawn, respawn, respawn… Argh!!!!!

Like many a racing title there are various game modes to tackle including a single player tournament mode and the obligatory multiplayer mode. Tournament mode sees you take part in eight different events, each of which are split into five different races, each event unlocked by competing and receiving stars in the previous event. Players also receive experience points for every race no matter what position you place and these points see you level up and with each new level comes new unlockables including new ATVs and new paint schemes and different outfits for your rider. So far so par for the course… However where Mad Riders differs from the typical racer is in the multiplayer mode. In fact it not only differs from other racers, but from many other multiplayer games full stop! Everyone knows the unsatisfying experience of sitting in a lobby waiting for a game to play – but not here, oh no. Instead the game prompts you whilst in single player mode that a multiplayer game is available and it’s a simple left tap on the d-pad to drop into the lobby and into a multiplayer game. Simple.

A fast and furious racing game, Mad Riders – with a little more polish – could have been an essential purchase; however as it stands now I’d definitely say try before you buy.

FINAL FANTASY XIII-2 (XBOX 360)

She spent years fighting her destiny. With courage in her heart, she faced the false gods who ruled over people for centuries. Her unfaltering determination changed the world. The gods were vanquished, their plans to massacre the human race destroyed. As Cocoon fell, a single pillar formed, connecting the ravaged world to the one below-Pulse, the underworld. It was the beginning of a new era. However, she was nowhere to be found. Everyone was convinced she was gone-with the exception of her sister, Serah Farron.

Three years later – A single meteorite falls from the sky. As spatial distortions are created, bloodthirsty monsters appear, threatening the peaceful existence of the townspeople. In the midst of this chaos, Serah is rescued by a young man by the name of Noel. A hunter from the future, he appears in front of her with a message. “Come with me across the boundaries of time,” he says. “Your sister is waiting.” She is Lightning-protector of the Goddess who rules the realm of death and chaos. She is Serah’s sister, her heroine, her savior.

From the release of the first Final Fantasy in 1987, this RPG series has been a gaming mainstay across consoles and generations. The latest incarnation, Final Fantasy XIII-2, was essentially a “reboot” of Final Fantasy XIII after that game was badly received by critics and the hardcore RPG gaming community. It is a brand-new story which, set 3 years later, stems from the previous title, and features a battle system which has evolved and been updated from the original.

However, despite Square Enix’s claims that Final Fantasy XII-2 was an all-round improvement on FF XIII, the game still has many, many problems. Yes, for the most part the game looks stunning, the graphics have (at times) never been better, but it seems that despite polishing the graphics, the makers couldn’t fins the time to update the menus which look exactly the same as they did in the days of the PS2!

My major quarrel with FF XII-2 is the cut scenes and the games opening credits – both of which are ridiculously long with no option to skip ahead to the action. I know that the Final Fantasy games are all about creating a world and telling a story within that world, but with this latest incarnation Square Enix have taken the story aspect of the GAME too far… It’s almost like watching a movie rather than playing a game, its almost like the days of FMV gaming!

Yet another letdown in the long-running franchise, it will take some serious re-thinking from Square Enix to get the Final Fantasy series back on track.

THE WITCHER 2: ASSASSINS OF KINGS (XBOX 360)

The player is Geralt of Rivia, a professional monster slayer, a witcher. Entangled in the political turmoil that engulfed Temeria, Geralt helped quell the rebellion of the Order of the Flaming Rose. Soon after, he saved King Foltest’s life when the monarch was attacked by a witcher-like assassin. He continues to protect the king, serving as his bodyguard as Foltest strives to bring peace to his kingdom.

The Order’s last bastions have yielded to the royal army, yet one more task remains – the Baroness La Valette announced her secession from the realm, and her fortress must be taken. A month after the attempted assassination, Foltest’s armies stand at the gates of La Valette Castle, preparing for a final assault. Still at Foltest’s side, Geralt is among them, unable to begin his personal quest to discover the mysterious assassin’s origin and identity…

Originally released on PC, the critically acclaimed and award winning RPG was recently released on consoles (Xbox 360 to be precise) for the first time. It’s a huge, complex, expansive adventure in which every decision may lead to dire consequences. Featuring additional hours of gameplay with new adventures set in previously unseen locations, expanding the story and introducing new characters, mysteries and monsters; a new game introduction and cinematics with all new animations and cut scenes, including a new, three and a half minute pre-rendered cinematic depicting the assassination of King Demavend of Aedirn; upgraded interface, designed specifically for the Xbox 360; the camera and targeting have been redesigned for the Xbox; and upgraded pad controls.

The first thing you notice about The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is the graphics – the opening sequence with jesters dancing, men fighting, a magical fight takes place; a ship freezes and breaks and a running battle occurs looks flawless and very real and very graphic, with blood and slow motion kills. And that’s just the intro!

The next thing you notice is that this game is not for kids. It’s an RPG for adults, and hardcore RPG players at that. This is what I call an old-school RPG – creating spells, asking passers-by for clues, getting quests from other characters and then having to remember where you met that character, all very in-depth stuff. It also features a combat system that blends traditional RPG-based battles with a full range of tactical based gameplay. You really can tell this was originally a PC game!

Now that’s all well and good. But… The game is not without its faults – the fighting system being the games real bugbear. As previously stated you can tell The Witcher 2 was originally a PC game and it the games PC origins which hinder the fight mechanics. Whilst selecting an attack, then targeting the enemy and then finally attacking can be mapped to many buttons on a PC keyboard, the same attack system fails when only controlled by a game pad.

Not only were there issues with the fight mechanics, but I even had issues with the tutorial! On my first run through of the tutorial I couldn’t complete it as the instructions didn’t work, which meant I couldn’t move on to the next step. In the end I had to restart the tutorial from the beginning! I love a decent RPG but The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings wasn’t for me.

TEKKEN TAG TOURNAMENT 2 (XBOX 360)

Having played Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Prologue as part of the 2011 Tekken Hybrid release, I was aching to get my hands on the full version; after all TTT2 Prologue only featured four playable characters (who also appeared in the Tekken Blood Vengeance movie which accompanied the game) – Alisa Bosconovitch, Ling Xiaoyu, Devil Kazuya and Devil Jin. Other than that, it was 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. But given TTT2 Prologue’s “prologue” status, the game was a rather short affair and one that only wet my appetite for Tekken Tag Tournament 2 even more…

So now I’ve played the game and can say only one word… Wow.

From the awesome (and I mean that in the literal sense) opening footage featuring Anna and Nina, Jinpachi and Ogre, to the interstitials that introduce each stage, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 looks absolutely gorgeous. The stages, the characters, the effects and even the titles, everything about the games graphics scream quality. If only it played as gorgeously as it looked… at least on the Xbox 360. You see I originally played TTT2 Prologue on the PS3, where the controls were perfectly pitched for the experienced and non-experienced gamer. Not so much in the Xbox version – here the button combos are cumbersome and unwieldily, and often times button-mashing is the only way to go on Microsoft’s console. Maybe it will play better with a fighting stick? Who knows, but for the gamepad players out there expect a combination frustration and hand cramps!

Despite my qualms with the Xbox controls, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is still a great game. Namco Bandai know what makes the series work – even on handhelds – and with (almost) each and every release they tweak perfect the franchise even more. This time round they’ve added a multitude of features including online play – both single and multiplayer, the largest character roster ever, new moves, new environments and more. Check out the list below for all of the games myriad of features:

  • MULTIPLAYER MATCH – challenge your friends in a 2-on-2 tag-team battle, 1-on-1 or 1-on-2
  • PAIR PLAY – up to 4 players can each control a character in the ultimate team battle
  • FIGHT LAB – all new mode to customize Combot’s appearance & for the first time ever, his moves
  • LARGEST PLAYABLE ROSTER – more than 50 characters to choose from
  • NEW STAGES – fight in your favorite countries around the world
  • ENVIRONMENTAL FX – clothing condition alters in real-time with water & dirt effects
  • NEW MOVES – each character expands their fight arsenal with exclusive new Tag-Throws & Tag-Combos
  • ONLINE FEATURES – all-new features bring the community together like never before
  • OFFLINE BATTLE MODES – re-live the classic arcade mode, train in a first-class practice mode, customize your team/character appearance & much more

Thankfully, unlike some of its fight-game counterparts, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 does not favour the button basher, it may seem that way early on but it takes timing and skill to defeat your opponents in the later stages – even in easy mode. And having put in some quality time with the game already, no one here at Blogomatic3000 HQ has yet managed to defeat the arcade mode’s boss in the final battle!

In the end Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is another great fighter from Namco Bandai and is a worthy addition to the franchise. And whilst it may not have the sheer “fun factor” of fighters such as King of the Fighters XIII or Blazblue: Continuum Shift, it does reward the more dedicated fighting game aficionados that will stick with it throughout the more frustrating battles and learn all the combos and moves necessary to master the game completely. And as I said in the intro – it’s one of the most gorgeous looking games I’ve ever played.

TONY HAWK’S PRO SKATER HD (XBLA)

In my PSOne playing days there were a handful of games that got constant rotation in the CD drive – Re-Volt, Pandemonium 2, No Fear Downhill Mountain Biking, World’s Wildest Police Chases, Spider-Man and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (and it’s immediate sequel). So when I heard that a HD update of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was coming to console my heart skipped a beat. After all, I loved the original games, but had they aged badly? Would a HD remake do the original “memories” justice? And would this HD remake be as bad as some of the others we’ve had recently?

Well the answer are (in order): No; Yes; No.

If you’ve played the modern iterations of the Tony Hawk franchise you’ll know just how lame the recent entries have been and it turns out that despite attempts at changing up the gameplay (such as adding a plastic skateboard peripheral to the mix) all the franchise needed was to get back to it’s roots! Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is not a direct remake of the original game, instead it takes the best levels from the first TWO games in the series, gives them an update and a graphical makeover. But what it doesn’t do is try to be anything but a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game – by that I mean there’s no new additions or major changes to the levels (bar changing the hidden tapes to DVDs), no changes to the gameplay. This is Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater as its original and BEST.

And guess what? That was all the franchise ever needed. To be taken back to basics. This HD remake serves well to remind fans of the original game just how good it actually was, and to show new gamers what they’ve missed out on by only playing the new entries in the Tony Hawk’s franchise.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD opens with the classic warehouse level, complete with huge entry ramp and grind rail – just like I remember from the original. Booting up the game sees you given the choice of ten skaters (Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen, Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins Pastrana, Eric Koston, Andrew Reynolds, Nyjah Huston, Chris Cole, Riley Hawk, Jake Harrison and Emily Westlund) and three options to pursue: Career mode, Free skate or Single session. Picking your skater allows you to change up the colour scheme, etc. – the typical customisation options available in most games. You can also change skateboards and skills in the skate shop (once you unlock them in the game).

Actually playing the game feel very familiar and once you get used to the controls (or customise them as you wish) you’ll be ollie-ing, kick-flipping and grinding and racking up points in no time at all. As per the original games you must complete a number of tasks on each level to unlock the rest – from gaining high scores to collecting letters – it’s all very, very familiar to those that have played the games before. And for those that haven’t (where have you been?) it’s one of the easiest games to get to grips with… For those familiar with the original PSOne games, what you will notice about Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is just how amazing it looks! This is more than a mere HD upgrade of the original graphics – it looks more like a complete rebuild and re-skining of the characters and environments. It looks gorgeous and only adds to the playability of the game.

DOUBLE DRAGON NEON (XBLA)

Double Dragon, a franchise that’s had more up and downs that a prostitutes knickers, is back – and this time its gone all 80s with Double Dragon Neon! Available via the Playstation network or Xbox Live Arcade, this is the latest entry in a franchise that has literally spanned the decades. From the original game launched in arcades in the 80′s (which, fact fans, was actually a successor to popular beat ‘em-up Renegade) and later on EVERY home computer and console known to man, to the bizarre Brazil-made “Double Dragon” released in 2009, the franchise has seen FIVE sequels, numerous remakes – for GBA, mobiles and iPhone, a six issue comic, an animated TV series and a movie. Phew!

Well now, to coincide with the franchises 25th Anniversary, comes Double Dragon Neon. An 80′s inspired reboot of the series, the game comes from developers WayForward Technologies and publishers Majesco Entertainment, and comes with the co-operation of franchise creator Yoshihisa Kishimoto (a first for a new Double Dragon title) and a soundtrack by Jake (Contra 4) Kaufman. Keeping the classic 2D side-scrolling action alive, this new entry in the series is the first to feature 3D characters rendered in a 2D environment and, at least graphically, looks very similar to the HD remake of TMNT: Turtles in Time which was released on XLBA back in 2009 (and is since no longer available, for shame).

Unlike many a franchise reboot (Final Fight Streetwise I’m looking at you), Double Dragon Neon doesn’t go down the gritty neo-realism route, the post-apocalyptic route or the haven’t changed a bloody thing route. Nope, instead it takes the classic Double Dragon gameplay and coats it, as the title suggests, in a neon glow – a glow which hasn’t been seen since the death of video game arcades in the 90s – which sees special moves, often highlighted by flames in the original games, now marked by a gaudy pink neon. Plus there’s the added bonus of the gloriously over the top stylings that sees our heroes high five each other (yes there IS a button for that) and crack out the old guitars after completing each level for a bit of quick shredding. It’s all done in the best possible taste! (Get the 80′s reference there folks!)

Fans of the franchise will be happy to here the gameplay hasn’t changed – but why should it, having spawned a million imitators, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the kick-ass (literally) side scrolling beat ‘em-up action. However Way Forward haven’t quite rested on their laurels when it comes to the gameplay – they have implemented a whole new “Song” system which sees players collect cassette tapes which are dropped by the games many enemies; these tapes unlock new special moves – such as shooting fireballs or a spin kick – only TWO of which can be utilised at one time. So the trick is to find the correct combo that a) works for the level you’re playing, or b) works for your particular gaming style For example I like to wade fist first into fights, therefore the spin kick comes in very handy when I get surrounded by enemies! As with previous entries in the series, Double Dragon Neon is best played with a friend; in fact this time round the game has been configured much more for the two player co-op experience (or bro-op as they call it) – the aforementioned high-fiving between Billy and Jimmy actually splits your health evenly between the two of you – which comes in remarkably handy when you;re about to pop your clogs mid-fight!

Capturing everything that was great about the Double Dragon games, whilst adding some new OTT touches and an 80s aesthetic, Double Dragon Neon is a welcome addition to the series and one that bodes well for the future of the franchise. An essential purchase for fight-fans and non-fans alike.

DARKSIDERS 2 (XBOX 360)

The eagerly awaited sequel to the 2010 original, Darksiders II follows the exploits of Death, one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, in a tale that runs parallel to the events in Darksiders as Death tries to redeem his brother War, the horseman blamed for prematurely starting the Apocalypse in the original game. Along the way, the Horseman discovers that there are far worse things than an earthly Apocalypse, and that an ancient grudge may threaten all of Creation…

Released (at least in the UK) a month before EA’s high-profile and much more well-marketed Dante’s Inferno, which featured a very similar hack ‘n’ slash game mechanic, the original Darksiders was somewhat of a dark horse. It was also a modest hit. Jump forward two years and we have the sequel, which features NOT a sequel but a parallel story that is set during the same event period as the first game. So straight away those looking for a more adventures of War will be disappointed, but what about the rest of us?

Having been one of the few gamers to have NOT completed the original game (between the amount of films and games we have to review I never get time!) I was worried that I wouldn’t a) be able to follow the story and b) be missing part of the bigger picture. However you only need a passing knowledge of the original game to enjoy Darksiders II as it only touches on a few aspects of the first game. All you need to know is that this game is bigger, brasher, louder and much more polished than Darksiders, with a much larger world to explore, more controls at your disposal, more platforming style gameplay and a greater RPG “feel” than the original.

One thing you’ll notice when you first play Darksiders II is just how different War and Death are – whereas War was a strong, almost cumbersome character who relied on strength and power to get through the levels, Death is an altogether different prospect – with more climbing abilities and fleet of foot, he’s faster, although not necessarily stronger. If War was like Kratos from the God of War series, then Death is like Dante from Devil May Cry - they’ve both got similar skill sets but playing them feels totally different. Fair enough there are familiar elements in this sequel, including the puzzle-based dungeon-crawling, but Darksiders II throws in more Prince of Persia like gameplay alongside the RPG elements of levelling up, and collecting loot; and a huge expansive world to explore – it’s just a shame that said world is way under populated and you spend way too much time riding around on your horse looking for the next enemy to fight, platform to jump on or puzzle to solve! It’s a niggling issue in a game that would otherwise have been a spot-on sequel.

With superb character design, more honed gameplay and a story that keeps you intrigued Darksiders II is a fantastic action RPG sequel that will please fans old and new. And best of all you don’t have to have played the first game to enjoy this.

FORZA HORIZON (XBOX 360)

“I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of the Forza franchise, however this new “spin-off” from the core series, from British game developer Playground Games, may go a long way to converting me. Part traditional Forza title and part Outrun-style arcade racer, Forza Horizon has one key attribute going for it. It’s a hell of a lot of fun! Graphically stunning, with real-world physics alongside a great competitive storyline, the game is unlike anything else in the Forza series – and for me that’s why it succeeds.”

Those are the words I wrote when briefly reviewing the game from my hands-on time at the 2012 Eurogamer Expo and now I’ve had even more time to play the game I can safely say nothings changed…

Forza Horizon is unlike any other game in the franchise. Taking a leaf out of the Outrun/Split Second arcade style of racer, it blends the real-world physics that the franchise is known for an applies them to street racing – be it on road or off. More Need for Speed than Forza, this game is a revelation, eschewing the so-called authenticity of the series for the fun factor. Which is good news all round in my book!

Mixing the open-world gameplay of NFS: Most Wanted with the open road landscape of the US, Forza Horizon offers a whole different type of arcade racer. Thanks to the real-world physics and realistic handling the franchise is known for, the choice of car for each type of race is essential. From the muscle cars whose back ends slowly drift out as you turn a corner at speed, to the Japanese sports cars that effortlessly speed up and down the highways, drifting round bends at jumping the slightest bump in the road… The choice of car also essential to your enjoyment of the game – you only have to try out a few cars to know what suits your gaming style (Me? I’m a corner drifting, sports car driving, type of gamer).

The aim of the game is actually quite simple: you race to earn cash and wristbands, both of which help you earn cars and build your car collection, towards the goal of impressing the crowds at the fictional Horizon car and music festival. You can also race against AI characters to earn their cars from them – all of which go towards building your respect in the racing “community”. There are various modes of race – simple three lap races, point-to-point sprint, off-road, illegal street racing and even OTT races against flying vehicles such as airplanes and hot air balloons – and various locales across this fictionalised version of Colorado: including deserts, canyons and mountains. All of which bring a huge amount of variety to the game – and even when you’re not racing there’s still plenty of fun to be had driving from race destination to race destination via whichever route you please! (For those who just want to race there is however a built-in instant travel feature).

With fantastic sun-drenched graphics, a huge variety of races and tracks and a near open-world to explore, there is much to like about Forza Horizon. Those hardcore fans who love the series for it’s authenticity and sim-like qualities might not love it, but gamers who grew up on Outrun and Need For Speed will find much to love in this new direction for the franchise and I for one would love to see more.

ASSASSIN’S CREED 3 (XBOX 360)

“The American Colonies, 1775: A brave young warrior fights to save his homeland. But what begins as a struggle over territory turns into an extraordinary journey that will transform him into a master assassin – one that will forever change the destiny of a newborn nation.

You are Connor, warrior son of a Native American mother and British father. As the colonies draw closer to revolution, you will dedicate your life to the freedom of your clan, becoming the spark that ignites the revolution into a full blaze. Your crusade will lead you through blood-soaked battlefields and crowded city streets, to the perilous wilderness and stormy seas. You will not only witness history… you will make it. Set against the backdrop of one of the bloodiest Revolutions in world history, prepare to be drawn back into the centuries old battle between the Assassin’s Order and their sworn enemy, the Templars. Unleash lethal new skills and experience a stunningly realistic world created by Anvil Next, a new engine that redefines gaming. Welcome to an entirely new chapter in the Assassin’s Creed saga.”

So we finally say goodbye to Ezio, our Assassin hero of the last 3 Assassin’s Creed games, and say hello to first Kenway, and then his son Connor. The Assassin’s Creed games really are generational and family seems to be a driving theme of these games. Ezio’s love of family in Assassin’s Creed 2 led to him becoming a master assassin so that he could protect and avenge them, Desmond’s feelings for Lucy, William’s need to protect his son, and now Haytham and Zilo’s love for each other that leads to the birth of our newest hero – Connor.

As well as playing the opening as Haytham Kenway, and the main game as Connor, you also play Desmond Mile again, but this time he actually gets to put his training to use in his quest to save the world, by collecting power cells for the hidden temple discovered at the end of the last game.

Even though the game engine has been redesigned for Assassin’s Creed 3, the game is still a good old third-person action-adventure, and the controls are easy to get used to. Hand to hand combat has been improved, with events slowing when you counter an enemy, so you’re not rushing to press the disarm button. New weapons have been added, such as flintlock pistols and muskets, tomahawks, and rope darts, and weather simulations such as snow, fog and rain have been added, which not only look nice but have an effect on gameplay; fog makes it easier to hide, whereas snow slow your running speed.

Being a historic game you get to meet historical legends such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, as well as take part in the America Revolution. The cities of 1700s New York and Boston have been recreated, and much of the American frontier. This is easily the biggest Assassin’s Creed game so far, and the vistas are just as breathtaking as previous games. Connor is not just limited to waging war on land; you can also take command of your own naval warship and take the battle to the high seas.

Similar to Red Dead Redemption you can trap and hunt animals for skins, whilst wolves and bear hunt you. A nice touch is that the value of an animal’s hide is determined by how cleanly you kill it. The open world nature of the game also introduces the Homestead, a community you can build and maintain with missions for NPCs. The goods generated by your Homestead can then be sold to finance your war.
The voice cast is filled by recognisable names, with Noah Watts as Connor, Robin Atkin Downes as George Washinton, and with Nolan North, Danny Wallace and John de Lancie reprising their roles as Desmond, Shaun, and William respectively.

As with the last two Assassin’s Creed games, multiplayer makes a return (on its very own disc), and includes new characters, maps and modes. The Wolf Pack mode is particularly fun, as you team with your friends to take down targets in the most effective way.

To sum up, Assassin’s Creed 3 is more of the same, but better. Easy to get into for a first timer, but a much better experience if you’ve played the other games in the franchise. For me, story is key in games like this, and I can’t wait to dive back into the story of Connor Kenway.

SPECIAL FORCES: TEAM X (XBLA)

Special Forces: Team X, which comes from publishers Microprose (I haven’t heard that name in some time) and developers Zombie Studios, creators of the hit Blacklight series, is a fast-paced tactical third person online shooter that features tons of customisation options. For instance, you can build the perfect load-out through customizable skillsets using distinct tactics and special abilities; create and upgrade an arsenal of lethal weapons, including from rocket launchers, grenades, machine guns, and exclusively licensed weaponry like the Kalashnikov, Famas, and Sig Sauer; and there are even attack dogs that can be unleashed into battle…

Graphically Special Forces: Team X is yet another in the long line of cell-shaded games a la Borderlands. In fact it shares a lot in common with that game and it’s sequel. From the crazy weaponary – who would have thought it would be so much fun to play a third person shooter WITHOUT a gun? Chainsaws all the way folks! – to the cartoonish feel the to game. Yes this is ultra-violent and there’s plenty of blood shed on screen, but it never really feels violent, perhaps that’s down to the animation or the ridiculous ragdoll physics in play.

But what really marks Special Forces: Team X out amongst the many first and third person shooters out there is that it features a real time map selection system where the battlefield is divided into three zones, with the layout of each determined by the teams prior to the match. There are apparently over one hundred possible combinations give every match a unique look and feel and a constantly changing tactical challenge. Special Forces: Team X also features five multiplayer modes that include new gametypes like Hot Zone and High Value Target, as well as more traditional types such as Capture the Flag, each supporting 2, 3 or even 4 teams. And teamwork has never meant so much in a game – players are rewarded for actually sticking with their team, often racking up bonuses and multipliers the longer you stay together.

Seemingly coming out of nowhere, Special Forces: Team X is a real surprise. Forget the cell-shaded graphics, the cartoonish gameplay and even the huge amounts of customisation, what really stands out about the game is how smooth it is – it’s fast pace combined with a great cover system (think Gears of War meets Assassin’s Creed) and easy targeting means that Special Forces: Team X is a fantastic addition to an over-crowded genre, deserving of a place in any FPS fans collection.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>